Monday, May 27, 2013

"Star Trek" Fan-Fic Plot Idea

On my alternate history message-board, someone presumably inspired by Star Trek: Into Darkness posted a new thread asking what might have happened if Khan Noonien Singh's colony on Ceti Alpha V had survived and prospered instead of suffering an orbital shift that left it a desert wasteland and paved the way for Star Trek II:  The Wrath of Khan.

There are a lot of possibilities discussed in the thread, but the user whose handle is GuillibleCynic suggested that with the theme of acceptance on display in the Star Trek media, it would be reasonable to see an Augment on the crew of the Enterprise during the Star Trek: The Next Generation period. After all, the Enterprise had Worf, a Klingon despite being an adopted Federation citizen, so an Augment wouldn't be too weird.

I figured that had Khan's colony survived and regained space travel (a realistic possibility, given how the Augments have lifespans of centuries and Khan has memorized the Original Series Enterprise's technical manuals and has Lt. Marla McGivers to assist him), they might petition for membership in the Federation someday. As long as Ceti Alpha V remains an official or unofficial dictatorship of Khan or a successor (be it a child of Khan and McGivers or his lieutenant Joachim), that isn't going to happen, plus the Federation's psychotic Luddism as far as genetic engineering of humans is concerned isn't helping either. However, for realpolitik reasons, I could imagine Ceti Alpha V becoming a Federation protectorate or being placed under some kind of formal Starfleet quarantine to keep Khan groupies (or people who want to kill him because there's no statute of limitations on war crimes) and aspiring Augmentation enthusiasts from visiting or hostile aliens like the Romulans (or Ferengi, who might like the idea of selling Augment slaves) from messing around.

Although Worf and B'Elanna Torres are Federation citizens, the U.S. military allows non-citizens to serve. The son of the Shah of Iran underwent U.S. Air Force training (and when his father abdicated, made a claim to the throne himself), while many aliens serving in the military were formally given citizenship while serving in Iraq. Allowing an Augment to serve might be good PR about how accepting the Federation is, plus said Augment could serve as a hostage for the good behavior of the Ceti Alpha V government if he or she is well-connected.

So here's my challenge for you. Write a Star Trek: TNG (or Star Trek: Deep Space Nine or Star Trek Voyager since they take place at the same time) fan-fic featuring a surviving Khanate colony sending its sons or daughters to serve in Starfleet. They would be very effective no doubt, but they would also face prejudice from their brothers (or sisters) at arms and have the whole "superior abilities breed superior ambition" (or as Star Trek: Enterprise put it, inborn aggressive tendencies) flaw to face.

Here's a more specific idea I had. The snippet of the Khan novel To Reign in Hell I read online depicts McGivers not becoming pregnant despite years of marriage to Khan and Khan, rather than cheating on her as she feared, instead grooms Joachim as his successor. If you handwave that situation as being caused by stress from the planet's environmental problems rather than her simply being sterile (or having some other reproductive problem the Augments' limited technology can't fix), this Augment original character could be a child or grandchild of Khan himself. I would imagine "Ensign Singh" would face even more suspicion, especially aboard the successor to the ship that their mother or grandmother betrayed to a war criminal. Plus they might harbor fears that history could repeat itself and they could betray their fellow crew. If you want to center a story around this, have him or her get captured by an enemy like the Romulans, who know their history and send in an attractive Romulan as the carrot to the tortuous stick during interrogation.

Good luck, and keep me posted.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Writing Contest Update and Summer Goals

These last few days I haven't been able to get any work done on my personal writing projects due to paid writing obligations, leaving my current word count for May at 14,000 words. This will give Nick, who has more time commitments than I do but can write the same amount if not more material when he does have time, a good shot at catching up. Hopefully I won't need to buy him lunch this month, although later in the summer it's looking more likely.

(That being said, I've got a week left and my most severe deadlines have passed, so it's back in the saddle again...)

However, regardless of who wins the contest this month or overall, I'm thinking of setting two goals for the summer.

1. Finish the first draft of The Thing In The Woods. It's getting clearer and clearer this is a young-adult novel, so I don't need to worry about it being so short. If I can get it to 60,000 words or so, that'll be fine with me. That being said, Delilah S. Dawson's upcoming young-adult novel is 80K to 90K and Jeff Baker's recently-completed young-adult horror novel (he described it as Harry Potter meets Lovecraft) is 100,400 words, so maybe I need to be careful. My graduate school classes start in late August and I imagine the reading and paper commitments will be extremely challenging, so let's see if I can get it done by August 26. Delilah and James R. Tuck manage to get whole first drafts completed in months and they have much more familial and other real-life responsibilities than I do, so it's time to crack the whip.

2. Finish the "Coil Gun" script. I'm around 85 pages in and the minimum page count for a script to be taken seriously, according to a friend of mine who lives in Los Angeles and writes for Elementary, is 90. I think I could finish that in a week if I really put my nose to the grindstone, since I once wrote 40 pages in a week and I'm adapting one of my own short stories, not devising entirely new material. Then take it to an Alpharetta group I'm in (that I haven't attended in months) that has a monthly screenwriting meeting and register it with the Writer's Guild of America to be safe.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Reblog: Shandra McDonald To Teach Directing Workshop in Atlanta

Here's a blog post I wrote for Kiss The Limit Productions, a film company I intern for. It originally appeared on Hands Off This Girl, the site for the company's planned anti-sex-trafficking webseries:

Kiss The Limit CEO To Provide Directing Workshop

ATLANTA, Ga. — Kiss The Limit Productions President and Award-winning Filmmaker Shandra McDonald will teach a directing workshop June 8.

McDonald, a graduate of Howard University, has taught advanced directing classes at several colleges in the Atlanta area and has won awards for her film projects.

“There’s just such a need for it,” she said. “I think directing is a mystery for a lot of up and coming directors.”

The class will be an intensive, but a very practical intensive. She will be teaching directors how to visualize a scene using floor plans, directing beats, and other important elements. She will also explain how to get to the psychology of the scene, visualize and and break down a scene. 

McDonald feels very strongly that understanding the psychology of a scene is key to knowing which shots to use, camera lenses and other technical aspects of filmmaking. She cited the film “Children of Men” as a film that isn’t overly-shot. A lot of times young directors are taught to start with a wide, then go to medium, then go to close up, but the film uses the wide shot effectively to go to the heart of the scene. McDonald plans to talk about this film and other successful films. 

McDonald will also cover: 

*Theoretical side of directing...

*Working with actors...

*Post Production....

*Analyzing a script....

*Working with a Producer...

“I love directing and I love teaching young directors how to become better directors,” she said.
Directing is a lifetime pursuit. She said Mel Brooks recently spoke about how he has finally been recognized as a director, but it takes a lifetime to nurture one’s craft.

Participants will receive a comprehensive notebook with the tools they can use to continue to grow. It will be a strong entrĂ©e into the world of directing. Participants will start understanding the foundations of directing and end learning some advanced techniques. This is a great class for beginning directors who are just getting started, or more advanced directors who are looking to refine some skills that they already have. 

“The goal is to demystify directing,” she said. "It can be extremely effective if done correctly."

Space is limited, so participants are advised to register soon. To find out more information and to buy tickets, go here.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Khan Will Screw With Your Mind...

Apparently Benedict Cumberbatch did some videos from Khan's perspective in which he analyzes the weaknesses of Kirk, Spock, and Uhura. I didn't see any of them until last night.

Here they are, courtesy of YouTube:




"Star Trek: Into Darkness" Review (2013) (Spoilers)

I saw Star Trek Into Darknesslast Sunday and now I'd like to review it...

The Good

For starters, the film was fast-paced and entertaining. I don't recall ever being bored. One goes to movies to be entertained, after all, and this one did a good job.

Secondly, it was great to see iconic Trek baddie Khan Noonien Singh back in action. The reboot of the Star Trek franchise (well, with the exception of stuff like Enterprise that takes place earlier) allows for the best stories of the old universe to be done again and Khan was among the most terrible enemies the Enterprise has ever faced. He would have won in "Space Seed" were it not for Lt. Marla McGivers' attack of scruples and made the named characters (as opposed to the disposable red-shirts) bleed the most--in Star Trek II:  The Wrath of Khan he killed Scotty's nephew and (temporarily) killed Spock. And he's a complicated character in his own right, not some one-dimensional killing machine.

Although I would have rather an Indian actor (or at least someone who could pass for Indian) play Khan, Benedict Cumberbatch did an excellent job. I liked his speech to Kirk when he reveals his identity and how the Federation needed a warrior and a savage like him to fight the Klingons. Khan is supposed to be charismatic and that speech works. And he has so many great lines ("no ship should go down without her captain") that he delivers so awesomely. And apparently Cumberbatch was willing to learn how to fight hand-to-hand as well, something he shows off taking on waves of Klingons (and some of their ships) while dual-wielding some very large guns

Speaking of that, I liked how all the baddies had reasonable motivations. Admiral Alexander Marcus wants to militarize Starfleet and after the events of the first movie (in which a Romulan ship from the future destroyed many ships and the entire planet Vulcan), that's not completely unreasonable. The original series featured the Klingons as the Federation's great enemy, and that was without the enormous losses the Federation took at the Narada's hands. Marcus points out the Klingons have seized two worlds--with the Federation damaged, I imagine they'd be more aggressive than they were in canon. If the Federation's peaceniks are still in charge, Marcus trying to do things on his own--like finding the Botany Bay and employing Khan, who described himself as "an engineer of sorts" when introduced in "Space Seed" to covertly advance Starfleet's weapons program--makes a lot of sense. And Khan, who views himself as genetically-superior to Marcus, no doubt rankles massively at being forced into servitude, especially since Marcus is using the last remaining (to Khan's knowledge) Augments as hostages.

The movie also does a lot more with Uhura, which was really cool. I particularly liked her interactions with the Klingons.

Also, like its predecessor, the film has plenty of humor. In particular I liked Scotty and his little alien sidekick, plus the scene where Chekhov is assigned to engineering and given a red shirt was funny.

The Bad

I didn't mind call-backs and references to earlier "Trek" material, or even references to previous adventures featuring Khan. However, toward the end of the movie it started getting ridiculous. Kirk's self-sacrifice to save his crew is identical to that of Spock at the climax of Wrath of Khan, even down to the touching-hands-through-the-glass part. And this time it's Spock screaming "KHAAAN!" That came off as unintentionally hilarious. Plus the reason Spock sacrificed himself was that he was the most physically durable of the bunch and could withstand the radiation in the core long enough to get the drive functioning again. Kirk would probably not have been able to do that in the first place.

Once I began to suspect the villain would be Khan and he'd be played by Cumberbatch, I got mildly irritated. Khan is supposed to be northern Indian, a Sikh specifically. The original Khan, Ricardo Montalban, wasn't Indian, but he was darker-skinned. Cumberbatch is VERY white. Cumberbatch did a great job, but I'd rather have someone of the proper race playing the character. Hollywood has a not-very-pleasant history of racial miscasting--in my "ethnic cinema" class in college, I remember reading about how a great Japanese actor was denied a part in a movie in the 1920s because everyone else was played by white actors in heavy makeup and he'd stand out too much. I'd suggested Hrithik Roshan play Khan, since he's a major Bollywood star who looks the part. The only major Indian actor I can think of who's well-known in the U.S. is Kal Penn and he seems too young, plus the fact John Cho plays Sulu risks people calling this "Harold and Kumar Go Into Space" and that'd be a strike against the movie from the get-go.

There's also the problem of knowing just who Khan is. When Harrison reveals he is Khan I knew who that was, but the movie doesn't go into detail about why he's such a bad guy. Terrorists are a dime-a-dozen, but evil overlords who once ruled a quarter of the human population and are now back to wreak even more havoc aren't. Comments from Khan, Marcus, and both Young and Old Spock drop hints, but more exposition through dialogue or even a flashback to the Eugenics Wars would have been better. That would have involved dealing with the nature of those wars (most of the ST expanded-universe material makes the EW sound like a world war complete with the original U.S.S. Enterprise being destroyed in battle with a nuke, but a pair of novels attempted to make the events of our 1990s the result of Augment machinations), but it could have been really interesting to see the last days of the Great Khanate, the launch of the Botany Bay, etc. In the second "How I Would Have Done It" post, I recommended introducing Khan at the beginning of the film in a Eugenics Wars flashback, only played by a different actor so the big reveal would still work.

(Plus when Khan was introduced in "Space Seed," he got a mixed reception from the Enterprise crew, some of whom outright admired him. In the film, Young Spock calls him a genocidal monster bent on exterminating all he deems inferior to himself, something Khan doesn't deny. Although Spock in "Space Seed" is the one most skeptical of Khan's worthiness of admiration, I don't think he hated Khan like that, nor was Khan that blatantly monstrous.)

Also, although I'm quite willing to admit Alice Eve is good-looking, the scene where her character Carol Marcus strips down to her underwear was gratuitous and stupid. I know from canon that she and Kirk will get together and she ultimately bears his son, but non-Trekkies won't. This scene got on so many people's nerves that one of the writers even apologized for it, which is a pretty big deal.

The Verdict

Overall a good movie, even if the plot could have been more creative. 8.0 out of 10.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

How I Would Have Done "Star Trek: Into Darkness" v.2.0 (SPOILERS)

My earlier post on how I would have done Star Trek Into Darknesswas based on a scenario I devised on my alternate-history forum before I even saw the movie. I've seen the movie and I think the basic premise is sound. However, I'd make some adjustments...

Begin the film during the tail end of the Eugenics Wars. Depict Khan Noonien Singh and notable Augments like Joachim making their last stand in occupied Australia. My message-board featured a Eugenics Wars collaborative timeline and I suggested that India, with its much stronger democratic tradition, might've rebelled against Khan while he was visiting occupied Australia, leaving Khan and company stranded far from their homeland. Khan is prepared to drag as many enemies as possible into hell with him, but Joachim (who, based on his characterization in The Wrath of Khan is more rational and can at times get Khan to calm down) points out they've captured a slower-than-light starship prototype, the Botany Bay. They can flee Earth and found their "perfect" Augment society elsewhere. Khan thinks for a moment, and smiles.

This Khan will be Indian and played by Hrithik Roshan, who according to my friend Sanjay Matthew (a Singaporean of Indian background) is a big hulking sort of guy. Ricardo Montalban, the original Khan, was really built (those pecs were real), so having a big dude play him matches up nicely.

Having the incident on the alien planet take place immediately afterward reeks of a "second prologue," but it does introduce the film's conflicts between Kirk and Spock and Spock and Uhura, so keeping it is necessary to have the later stuff. Jurassic Park had raptor attack on Isla Nublar as the prologue and then we meet Donald Gennaro in the Dominican Republic, so a "second prologue" might not be that bad. The film will continue as it does until the scene where Khan reveals himself to Kirk while captive aboard the Enterprise.

Yes, I'm suggesting Benedict Cumberbatch should play Khan in the movie's present day. People will remember the Indian-looking Khan at the beginning of the movie and will think "John Harrison" is someone else entirely. Then when Cumberbatch does his big reveal ("My name is Khan"), have Kirk put two and two together (his name is Khan, he's hundreds of years old, he's got a superior intellect) and gasp, "Khan Noonien Singh." Alternatively, have Lt. Marla McGivers there and have her, the ship's historian, recognize Khan. Kirk, shocked, will stammer something like, "How could this be?" and Spock will helpfully point out that the melanin levels in the Augments' skin adjusted to their environment. If Khan had been in space (with no sunlight) for an extended period, he would have gotten really pale.

(Spock's attitude and people skills--or lack thereof--make for good info-dumping. Alternatively, McGivers could have this line, as the Eugenics Wars could be one of her areas of interest. "Space Seed" depicts her as having this fetish for strong men from the past, so she might have done her dissertation or whatever on Khan.)

One issue some people on my message-board had with the film was that nobody seemed to know who Khan was, until Young Spock called Old Spock. In "Space Seed," once the Enterprise crew deduced who their guest was, they knew that Khan was "the best of tyrants" from the 20th Century Earth. In my scenario, somebody will at least recognize him for who he is much faster.

Then things continue as they did in the canonical film. Having Spock do his "Vulcans cannot lie" routine in the beginning re: Kirk's falsified report foreshadows his tricking Khan to cripple the Vengeance (Khan demands the torpedoes and gets them--with the Augments taken out). However, I would definitely avoid the reversal of Wrath of Khan with Kirk dying instead of Spock. Having Kirk die to save his crew is important because it shows he listened to Christopher Pike's criticism of how he will someday get all his men killed, but it could be done rather differently. And definitely NO Spock screaming, "KHAAAN!" That was pure Narm. With the whole "Khan's healing blood" thing established already (the Starfleet officer Harewood's daughter, the Tribble in the lab), Spock and Uhura can tag-team Khan and use his blood to save Kirk, regardless of just how he's killed. Then Khan and friends can be put on ice wherever it is Starfleet has them.

Alternatively, Spock's trick fails and Khan transports the torpedoes out of the Vengeance before they can explode. Perhaps McGivers contacts him on her own and warns him or he's able to detect the warheads are live. This "pays off" the "Vulcans cannot lie" bit, but shows just how smart and dangerous Khan is (either because he's able to figure out the trick on his own or because he's seduced McGivers in a really short time and made her his spy). He then denounces Spock as a murderer and begins to attack the Enterprise again, only for Spock (or McGivers, if she's still online) to reveal he'd be killing his own. Khan makes his life-support threat again and Kirk and/or Spock points there are other Starfleet units approaching. This is in the Earth system, after all, and after the Narada incident it should have been better defended. Instead, he offers him a deal. Khan will surrender, avoiding risking the lives of his remaining kin, and he'll get a trial for what he's done. With other Starfleet units closing in and with the remaining Augments as hostages, Khan surrenders.

The film will end with Khan (looking a bit more Indian due to the melanin issue referenced before) and McGivers awakening Joachim and the other Augments in a pastoral clearing. The camera pulls back to show them, the 72 other Augments, and the Botany Bay itself on the surface of a virgin world, with the Enterprise in orbit. After one last communication with Khan (or McGivers, given how she's a Starfleet officer after all even if she's a traitor), the Enterprise warps out. Given the military aid Khan has provided to a Federation critically weakened by the Narada incident only a few months to a year before and whatever goods he can give up on Admiral Marcus's remaining conspirators, he might be able to talk his way out of a noose or being put back on ice. Given how Marcus references the Klingons conquering other worlds, the idea might be that Khan's new Augment society could be a buffer against Klingon expansion.

(Assuming they can build up to the point they could defend themselves against the Klingons quickly, which is a highly dubious proposition. A couple Birds of Prey in orbit could bomb them into bits in a few minutes.)

This ending is a bit of a Karma Houdini for Khan, but given his relatively sympathetic portrayal and what happened to him at the end of "Space Seed," it might work. And like the canonical ending of Into Darkness, it leaves us with the option of seeing Khan again.

What do you all think?

Sunday, May 19, 2013

How I Would Have Done "Star Trek: Into Darkness" (SPOILERS)

Just got back from seeing Star Trek Into Darkness.Fun movie and I'll probably do a formal review later. I'd suspected we'd be seeing Khan Noonien Singh again, since the way the reboot was handled (time-travel to the pre-original series era) meant that all the old plots could be redone again and Khan is one of the most beloved (if that's the right word) Star Trek villains. Given the complaints I'd heard about how redoing Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan would be insulting to the original, I had the idea of making the famous enemies James T. Kirk and Khan allies this time around.

Alternate history is one of my hobbies and one of the terms used in the AH subculture is "butterfly" as a verb. Basically, events that happen after the point of divergence from our history are likely to be "butterflied" away. This is an allusion to the butterfly effect. The events of the Star Trek (2009) pretty much "butterflied" the entire Trek timeline after the arrival of the Romulan time-travelers, considering how many Starfleet characters from the original series were likely killed in battle with the Narada, Vulcan itself (with most of the Vulcan population) was destroyed, Kirk seems to have become captain much earlier, etc.

This meant the five year mission of the original series would not have happened as it did, which means either the Botany Bay isn't discovered or someone else finds it first. Since the Klingons were active in the region of space the Enterprise was exploring, there was a good chance they'd find it.

So here's what happens. The Klingons discover the Botany Bay, defrost the Augments, and essentially enslave them for some purpose (similar to how Admiral Marcus puts Khan to work for him in the film). The Star Trek: Enterprise TV series depicted some kind of virus derived from the Augments infecting the Klingons, so perhaps the Klingons want the Augments to assist them in dealing with that, or they simply want them to help with the Augment technology they'd captured. Starfleet learns of a group of humans apparently working for the Klingons and orders the Enterprise on a covert mission to destroy them. Kirk and friends end up rescuing the Augments and Kirk and Khan work together to foil whatever it is the Klingons are doing.

Then Section 31 shows up, acting on intelligence collected from Old Spock. They detain Khan and the Augments and for a helping of dickishness, Lt. Marla McGivers as well. Never mind that this time around, she hasn't done anything wrong. Khan manages to turn the tables and escape with his kindred (and Lt. McGivers as well). Bonus points if it's on the U.S.S. Reliant. This shows the Federation isn't nearly as utopian as it initially seems and might sow a rift between Young Kirk and Young Spock and Old Spock. It also gives Khan a modern spacecraft and allows him to be a recurring nemesis to the Federation and to our heroes (if he thinks they betrayed him). Plus it provides a roughly similar rationale for "Into Darkness"--the Federation has shown its darker side, our heroes are at odds with each other, the events of the film might kick off a Federation-Klingon war, and one of the most dangerous men in human history has now got a second chance to wreak havoc.

And although Benedict Cumberbatch did a good job as Khan, it would have been better to have an Indian (or someone who could more credibly pass as Indian, which Cumberbatch really can't) portraying him. Ricardo Montalban, the original Khan, was Mexican. Were I casting Khan for this film, I would have sought out Hrithik Roshan. He's the right ethnicity to play Khan and since he's a handsome fellow (I think he's a Bollywood sex symbol), it's plausible he could include sexual seduction (see McGivers in "Space Seed") in his bag of tricks.

Friday, May 17, 2013

An Alternate History Webseries? Video Included.

Here's something I found via the Alternate History Weekly Update yesterday. It's an AH webseries entitled "The Confederation" in which the Confederacy successfully secedes from the Union (as some kind of "butterfly" of the French beating the Mexicans at the Battle of Puebla) set during a Vietnam-esque war in Cuba.

Here's the trailer:

And here's the fundraising video they posted on their Kickstarter page:

I'll probably chip in some money at some point, but they're going to need more than I can provide to get this thing funded. $50,000. Points for ambition at the very least, but that's a lot of money to be raised in $100 increments. I do like how they're offering speaking parts in exchange for money. Find someone with the right combination of cash and vanity and that'd work.

This does remind me of one of my own ideas involving a disintegrating Confederacy with steampunk air pirates. Cuba plays a role in that world, but it's basically a "bridge too far" the Confederates try to cross in the late 19th or early 20th Century and fail massively.

Writing Contest Update Halfway Through

A couple weeks ago, I announced that I'd begun the writing contest that began with just my friend Nick and I and expanded to include Sean Korsgaard and Lauren Patrick. I even included a selection from the first Mortal Kombat movie for your entertainment.

Well, here's my progress:

1. The Thing In The Woods, which is turning into a full-blown young-adult Lovecraftian horror novel, is now at 18,063 words from a beginning-of-the-month figure of 6,349. Right now, I'm concerned that it's actually going to be too short, although I've seen minimum YA word-counts as low as 45,000. I've added a small unrequited romantic plot involving our rather snobby Buckhead transplant hero and a small-town community theater enthusiast that should add to the word count some, include more female characters (before she showed up, the only ones were the protagonist's mom and little sister and they didn't really do much), and show some character growth on the protagonist's part.

Now an aside about the young adult genre: My friend James R. Tuck said what made my first complete (original) novel Battle for the Wastelands NOT a YA book even though the protagonist Andrew Sutter was in his teens was that his difficulties were "grown man problems" (hunger, genocide, war), with some teen-romantic drama being a tertiary issue. Contrast that with Thing protagonist James Daly's problems(before the tentacled swamp god and his redneck cult get involved), which are basically having to contribute to paying his parents' mortgage in the aftermath of the housing crisis, not being able to afford the college he wants, and his little sister trying to hook him up with this artsy girl who has a crush on him. That explanation makes a great deal of sense.

2. The Cybele Incident, my hard SF novel and hopefully beginning of a trilogy (with a fourth novel set a generation later), began the month at 15,817 and is now at 18,380. I wrote a new beginning for the first chapter to make protagonist Commander Thomas Briggs more sympathetic (the original beginning depicted him trying and failing to pick up women at a bar) and various odds and ends throughout the story. I did expand an attack sequence to depict the female lead/villain/anti-heroine doing something rather sneaky, as opposed to straight-up throwing nukes around.

Just over 14,000 words written and two more weeks left. At this rate, I might hit 30,000 words, which is 60 percent of the National Novel-Writing Month figure. If I had to guess, I'm probably going to finish Thing first, since it's going to be shorter to start with and it's a one-shot.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

How I Would Have Done The Mandarin ("Iron Man III" Spoilers)

A week or so ago, I went and saw Iron Man III with my friend David. Overall, it was a really enjoyable, interesting movie, and Ben Kingsley's performance as the Mandarin (or, more specifically, a drug-addled British actor hired to play the Mandarin in al-Qaeda-esque terrorist videos) was really funny.

That being said, the Mandarin is a character with an old and venerable tradition in the Iron Man comics. He's Iron Man's greatest foe and his appearance is foreshadowed by the not-al-Qaeda villains of the first Iron Man film calling themselves "The Ten Rings" and seeking to build a pan-Asian empire. For those of you less familiar with the comics, the Mandarin is a Chinese noble (of sorts) who has ten rings made from a fallen alien spacecraft that give him superpowers. Finally unveiling him as Tony Stark's most dangerous enemy yet would have been glorious. However, due to the incestuous freaky coupling of Hollywood's political correctness and Chinese investment, we end up with yet another white male military-industrial complex villain like Obadiah Stane in the first film and Justin Hammer in the second. Apparently for all its vaunted power, the MIC hasn't got a lobbying group or the ability to unilaterally deny Hollywood access to 1.5 billion customers.

I am not so insensitive that I can't see how the Mandarin could be perceived or depicted as some racist "Yellow Peril" cliche. However, it is possible to have a powerful Asian male villain who isn't some stereotype with foot-long fingernails, dragon robes, and a goofy-accented evil laugh whose mouth movements don't line up with the soundtrack.

So here's how I would have done him...

The comics' Mandarin was born apparently in the last days of the Manchu Dynasty of China. However, since Iron Man's Vietnam origins have been updated to Afghanistan, the Mandarin's can be updated to World War II. Instead of being the son of a Chinese noble and a British woman, he could be the son of a Chinese resistance fighter and a British woman he rescued from Japanese rapists. He grows up to become Communist China's super-villain (much like how in the Captain America film, Red Skull was Nazi Germany's) and to make things more fun, have him playing a part in the death of Tony's father Howard Stark sometime during Tony's childhood. All Tony knows is that his father left the family, but that might not be the whole story.

However, with China and the United States growing closer economically, the Mandarin becomes a liability. Hunted by his former masters as a dangerous loose end, he wanders off into the wilderness and finds a crashed alien spacecraft like in the comics. He gathers this technology into his own hands and begins assembling a following, intending to use the Ten Rings terrorist organization and various technological goodies (Stark Industries' weapons, captured Chitauri and Asgardian gadgets) to once more make China the center of the Earth. As the member of my alternate-history forum whose handle is Cambyses the Mad put it, he can be a competent, intelligent foil for Tony rather than some "HAHAHAHAHA" kung-fu movie cliche and to make things better, he can be played by an esteemed Asian actor. And as the movie Mandarin damned the United States for the Sand Creek Massacre, so my Mandarin could complain about the Opium Wars, China's division into spheres of influence by the Western powers, etc. and wax poetic about how China is one of if not the oldest civilization on Earth, the treasure fleets, etc. And if the Mandarin's scheme is foiled but he survives, he can show up for future Marvel Cinematic Universe adventures.

I'm not the only one who's willing to propose an alternative suggestion rather than simply complain. This fan here has plotted out his own Iron Man III story, which makes the Mandarin an especial bastard who gives Tony a very good reason to want to kill him and brings in the Hulk as well.

What do you all think?

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Iraq Goes Into Saudi Arabia? With Allies?

Here's a new timeline from my alternate history message-board. The gist of it that the Persian Gulf War begins a few months later than it did in our history, Iraq invades Saudi Arabia as well as Kuwait, and Yemen joins the fun by attacking Saudi Arabia from the south and mining the entrance of the Red Sea (presumably to prevent naval interference via the Suez Canal).

Behold, Lines In The Sand: A History of the Gulf War.

I was around six years old during the Gulf War and my uncle was in the Marine Corps. He went to the Persian Gulf and was part of the decoy force that made Saddam think the liberation of Kuwait would come by a naval invasion rather than "Hail Mary" offensive that hit the Iraqis from the west through their own country. Given how my uncle was involved, I was greatly interested in what was going on and watched CNN a great deal. I was obviously very glad to see Saddam defeated and retained the rather negative image of the man in my head for many years, contributing to my early support for the 2003 Iraq War.

(Which was not a good idea for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with Saddam and his sons being a bunch of wicked hooligans who deserved what they got. Once exposed to anti-war arguments that consisted of something other than war-for-oil conspiracy theories and race-related tangents, I came to oppose it.)

However, I vaguely remember something from that time period about people getting their hands chopped off.  In retrospect, I'm thinking those were arguments the anti-war people were making about how oppressive the Saudi and Kuwaiti governments were. This article here references anti-war people mocking the idea that the Gulf War was a war for freedom/self-determination, while there was an article in the (very) left-wing magazine Counterpunch that claimed the Iraqi annexation of Kuwait was welcomed by oppressed foreign workers and others. The article I linked to isn't the one I remember, but it makes the similar point. The Kuwaiti government promised to let women vote once the Iraqis were ejected, something that took quite awhile to accomplish.

(To be fair, that seems to be the result of popular sexism being represented in the Parliament, not Kuwait's ruler being a particularly sexist fellow.)

And then there's our dear friends the Saudis, who persecute Christians (and to add insult to injury would have hanged an underground church leader on Christmas Day), support al Qaeda, spread the poisonous Wahabi ideology, persecute Shi'a Muslims, tyrannize women and foreign workers, execute people for witchcraft, etc. The ruling class imposes a harsh brand of Islam on the people while blatantly not following it themselves. They interfered with U.S. soldiers' religious practices (trying to ;find third-party corroboration of this is hard), even though there was a joke going around at the time that the Saudi anthem should be "Onward Christian Soldiers." The House of Saud deserved a post-9/11 liquidation far more than the Ba'athist regime in Iraq did, if we're using support for terrorism as the metric.

So sufficient to say, the idea of Saddam and some allies kicking the hell out of the House of Saud is greatly appealing. And the Saudis took the Asir region from Yemen back in the 1930s, so them joining the fun is perfectly understandable. And author Neo_Desperado said that if things go well, the Jordanian monarchy might throw in with Saddam in order to reclaim the Hejaz, which the Saudis took away from Hashemite dynasty. In the timeline, the U.S. is rushing to reinforce the Saudis, but the author has compared it to the early days of the Korean War, in which our boys didn't do so well at all.

The idea of the U.S. losing a war doesn't appeal to me (or taking over-many casualties in a victory, which in this timeline could easily include my uncle), but the dismemberment of Saudi Arabia (I suggested a restored Hashemite state in the Hejaz, an independent Shi'a state in the Eastern Province, the Yemenis taking back the Asir, and the al-Sauds reduced to a rump in the Nejd where the al-Rashids can destroy them later) would be quite interesting. Perhaps after the Iraqis get the thrashing the timeline's opening photo implies they (eventually) get, some kind of arrangement that liberates the peoples of the Arabia Peninsula (natives and foreign workers both) from their backward feudal rulers and from the looting-happy Ba'athists would be in order.

If I didn't have so much else to do, I'd gladly help write an alternate-history story or even a novel set in this timeline. It could be told from the perspective of the Jordanians marching south into the Hejaz, to provide relatively sympathetic protagonists. The Iraqis could be, in TVTropes terms, the "Token Evil Teammate" and when the time comes for the U.S. to go all Norman Schwarzkopf on them, they can get the worst of it.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Matthew W. Quinn's First YouTube Interview

Earlier, I told you, my loyal readers, I would soon be on YouTube. Well, the video is done and ready for your entertainment:

(That's me on the left, with Thomas on the right. Here's the original video on YouTube. You can use that as a base to look at Thomas's other YouTube videos.)

I hope you all like it. I came across Delilah S. Dawson video-blogging earlier this year and thought that would be a good idea, but my lack of a dedicated video camera and editing equipment would make doing that more difficult. Luckily I've got friends with YouTube channels... :)

This interview features my providing some background to my self-published short stories and advice for aspiring writers.

Here are the Amazon pages of James R. Tuck and Alex Hughes. Here's my Amazon page, where you can buy the short stories I'm talking about here. Here's Katherine's blog, which includes a bibliography.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

IT HAS BEGUN! (The Writing Contest, That Is.)

Earlier, I referred to a writing contest between my friend Nick and I. May, June, July, and August. Minimum 10,000 words for per month. Loser buys the winner lunch.

Well, in the immortal words of Shang Tsung in the Mortal Kombat movie I saw in the fourth grade...


Yesterday was the first day of the contest. I wrote 2,800-ish words for The Thing In The Woods, finishing the first two chapters (or at least the first drafts of them). I also added  fair bit of material to the last chapter and created a new third chapter. Although it widens the gap between the prologue (which features the titular thing) and its next appearance, it does build up the protagonist some.

Thus far I haven't done much today. However, I got the first critiques from my Kennesaw writing group for The Cybele Incident, slated for discussion on May 11. I'm thinking by the end of the month I'll have added to that one too.