Saturday, June 21, 2014

A Less Ridiculous "Captain Planet"

Earlier today, I came across a discussion on my alternate-history forum on how the infamously Narmish television series Captain Planet could be a critical and commercial success. For those of you not in the know, it was an environmental-themed cartoon featuring a bunch of teenagers fighting incredibly unsubtle "Eco-Villains" (I think the idea was to avoid upsetting children whose parents worked in ecologically-difficult industries like logging) with the aid of some kind of magically-summoned warrior-type being with a green mullet.

It's actually not all that difficult if you put some thought into it. Here are some suggestions I came up with:

*No "Eco-Villains." Instead, have the Planeteers respond to problems resulting from ecologically unsafe practices. Ideas include pollution-spawned mutant monsters (like the movie Prophecy with the deformed psychotic bear spawned by mercury pollution), killer mudslides caused by deforestation, loose Soviet nukes, etc. Maybe there's an antibiotic-resistant plague resulting from excessive use of antibiotics in agriculture and the Planeteers have to bring in the one effective drug and fight a bunch of criminals trying to steal it and sell it? I remember one episode features a panic about a shark leading to mass killing of sharks and a resulting plague of jellyfish, so it's not like the idea wasn't there.

*Subtler, less ridiculous portrayals of polluters. Nobody seriously wants to destroy the environment, regardless of what the show depicted. According to one of my writing books, the "polluter" character in The China Syndrome is not a bad guy--he cuts corners to cut costs to create more jobs. One CP episode featured an Indian prince who allowed a forest to be cut down to build a resort to generate jobs for his people--since this was something they did in real life, it's not like they weren't capable of subtlety.

*If there absolutely must be Eco-Villains, dial them down a notch. I had the idea for a pollution-spawned mutant messiah who thinks his kind are the next stage of evolution and wants to rule the world. It turns out there actually was such a character--Verminous Scum. Obviously he'd have a more subtle name--I suggested "Lord Vermin" as a name he gives himself to scare people. Alternatively, just buy the rights to the Skaven from Games Workshop's Warhammer Fantasy--they're not as well-known a fantasy race as Orcs, Dwarves, Elves, etc. so they'd be new and innovative. They can be depicted as a dangerous race of mutants, with some moral grayness courtesy of "good" Skaven who want to share the Earth with humans and murderous racist humans who want to kill all Skaven no matter how peaceful (some of) them are. Another idea could be to have the Planeteers prevent a bin Laden-type figure from getting his hands on unattended Soviet nuclear weapons and he swears revenge, becoming a recurring foe. A PC-type like Ted Turner isn't going to go for that, but he could still be an interesting enemy.

*Don't make Wheeler (the American character) a hothead dumbass. Seriously, do you think Americans are going to want to watch a TV series depicting them so poorly?

*More focus on non-Western environmental pollution. There was one episode where the Russian girl went home to find her hometown getting wrecked by a slipshod Soviet-era mine or something. Depict how environmentally-destructive Communist regimes have historically been. Dedicate a whole episode to the draining of the Aral Sea, for example. The "loose nukes" episode could have Linka pontificating about how horrible life under Communism was in order to put some Western environmentalist who's green on the outside and red on the inside in their place, with the Soviet regime's nuclear weapons now getting bought up by terrorists and malevolent dictators.

Here's a suggestion the board member whose handle is Admiral Hook came up with:

*Captain Planet is actually some kind of being summoned from a ecologically-devastated future back into the past to change history. When he's in the present-day, his body in the future is comatose, which could present some real problems Indian in the Cupboard-style (IIRC a WWI soldier brought into the present-day as a figurine was killed while asleep in a trench due to being summoned). If there's a parallel future storyline (perhaps involving a war on the blighted future Earth), that could be a way to build up some suspense.

Some of these ideas make an appearance in this special episode of The Geekly Oddcast, "Pitches Get Frankenstitches." They also show up in this episode of the Myopia: Defend Your Childhood in which we discuss Captain Planet.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Israel Founded Before WWI?

The other night I found a timeline on my alternate-history forum you all might find very interesting. It's called "A Mound of Spring: An Early-Developing Israel in a Late-Developing World." The user whose handle is yboxman (who wrote another timeline I've blogged about before) wanted to write a 20th Century that went the way Theodore Herzl and the other early Zionists thought it would go, with a Zionist vision to match.

The development of this world's Israel, starting with a late 19th Century colony in the northern Sinai fed by a diversion of the Nile River that could've happened in our world, is really interesting. Their solution to the problem of raiding Bedouin is really clever and effective. Yboxman explores the effective of a prosperous Jewish colony on the economy of Egypt and it's interesting. He also gets into what Judaism would look like if the Holy Land is reclaimed by Jews (the soldiers of the Egyptian colony, as allies of the British) in the pre-Holocaust era. These are some really fun aspects of the scenario.

However, on the other hand, things get really dark in the former Ottoman Empire. It's basically broken up Treaty of Sevres-style (to a point--the final disposition is rather different) with a lot of ethnic cleansing of Muslims, forced conversions, and straight-up genocide, with warlords fighting over the rump Turkish state in the interior of Anatolia in something resembling A Game of Thrones. It's a horror show.

Right now we're in the immediate aftermath of WWI with Russia--strained almost to the breaking point--experiencing a lot of civil unrest. This is going to lead to a lot of Russian and Polish Jews (including a very young Ayn Rand) emigrating to the Jewish colony in the Sinai and the British protectorate of "Canaan." There's also (probably) going to be a WWII in the future, although it's going to be rather different in this timeline.

Blast from the Past Movie Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)

Awhile back I did the first "blast from the past movie review," for the 1998 Godzilla. Now it's time for a second one. I just got back from watching the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film for a friend's movie-review podcast (actual podcast link here), so I'll review that one tonight.

The movie begins with a crime wave wracking late 1980s/early 1990s New York City, with most of the criminals never even seen. Rumors spread throughout the city, in particularly that of the Japanese immigrant community, that the infamous Foot Clan of ninja thieves have come to America. Television reporter April O'Neill investigates the clan, earning the ire of the clan's deadly leader the Shredder, but finds allies in a mysterious group of green-skinned warriors.

I saw the movie in theaters when I was a little kid (I would have been five years old) and I remembered some bits very clearly for over two decades, including the Shredder's telling Splinter, "You will hang there until you die." Since Nick's podcast is basically about watching childhood movies to see how well they've aged (something I did before with The Secret of the NIMH, which I saw in kindergarten class and I remember scaring me to death), I was all for seeing this one.

The Good

*The movie is quite often hilarious. Granted, a lot of it is due to it being an incredibly goofy rather than it being deliberately funny, but it's still entertaining.

*It's a superhero story (for a certain definition of "superhero") that isn't an origin story. The recent Batman films started with Batman's origin, we've seen the birth of Spider-Man twice in the last decade-ish, and most of the recent Marvel Cinematic Universe films were origin stories (Captain America, Iron Man, the Avengers for the team as a whole, etc). Only Spider-Man is really egregious, but seeing the origins of the Turtles explained as flashbacks as part of a larger plot rather than being the plot is refreshing.

*I like the interpretation of the Foot Clan as being a martial-arts based youth street gang, with the Shredder and his henchman Tatsu as being a sort of co-Fagins a la Oliver Twist. They have a clear motive as well--stealing goods and then fencing them for profit.

*Although we first see the Shredder as a silhouetted figure ordering April be silenced, when he's first seen in the full it's incredibly well-done.

*Splinter's origin as the mutated pet of a Japanese immigrant makes a heck of a lot more sense than the various television shows' depiction of him as a human being who has somehow mutated into a humanoid rat.

The Bad

*The fight choreography hits and misses--and mostly misses. I'm not going to claim to be the greatest martial artist in the world--I did take Choi Kwong Do and Ho Shin Do for several years in elementary school and that's it--but still. The TVTrope of "Mook Chivalry" (i.e. if there's a whole bunch of bad guys present, they attack one at a time) is present in rooftop battle where the Foot Clan takes on Raphael, or at least a substantial part of it. It's most blatant in the rooftop confrontation with Shredder at the end, where the Turtles repeatedly attack one at a time and the Shredder beats them off one at a time. He then stands there allowing them to have a huddle where they discuss the situation.

*The movie does drag a fair bit in the middle, after the Foot force the Turtles, April, and vigilante Casey Jones to flee the city to an old house Jones' family owns in the country. That does make some sense given how Raphael is injured and both the Turtles' lair and April's apartment have been wrecked by the Foot, but it stretches on for far too long. And then there's the completely random astral-projection thing by Splinter.

*There's a romantic plot between Casey and April that doesn't really work. They argue a lot and at one point Casey pushes a shoulder massage on April, but as far as I can tell that's the only basis for their big dramatic kiss at the end. I might've missed some of the material given the amount of Mystery Science Theater 3000-style commentary and laughter when we were watching the movie, but still.

*Some things don't exactly make a great deal of sense. On at least one occasion April's boss Charlie comes to her house with his teenage son Danny in tow, either to discuss business or see to her welfare after she's attacked by the Foot. Does anybody in this world have telephones? It does seem rather inappropriate for a male boss to visit a female employee the way he does. It does provide a chance for the audience to see that Danny has become involved with the Foot clan, but that could have been done another way.

*The father-son plot with Charlie and Danny could've been explored more. I liked how Charlie's involvement with the Foot stemmed from his desire for a father figure (a void that the Shredder and Tatsu filled), but just why this situation exists in the first place could have been explained. A throwaway line about a divorce (we never see the mother anywhere) or Charlie not attending his son's activities to instead focus on work "Cat's in the Cradle" style would have been helpful. This is especially important given how Danny's "father hunger" plays a role in the kidnapped Splinter plot.

*Finally, the New York City police chief is just ridiculous. I would expect someone in his position to have a much thicker skin and not lose his mind just because a reporter is asking him some tough questions.

The Verdict

It drags in places and its hilarity is mostly from how bad it is, but it's entertaining. 7 out of 10.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Flashing Steel, Flashing Fire Is Here...

At long last, my collection of ten short stories--three of which have not been available anywhere before this--can be purchased on Amazon in both Kindle e-book and paperback.

Here's the cover:

And here's what you'll get. Three of the stories have been professionally published and three have never been seen before. Here are some highlights:

"Coil Gun"-Science fiction and alternate history both. On the opening night of WWIII, an American spaceport official faces off against an Afrikaner intelligence officer in a deep bunker with their fate of both their nations in the balance. This one previously appeared in Pressure Suite: Digital Science Fiction #3.

"Lord Giovanni's Daughter"-Purchased for an issue of the print magazine Flashing Swords but never published before now, this sword and sorcery adventure follows scholar and adventurer John Fiore as he vies with the fierce Talassos, prince of the serpentine Naga, to rescue the titular daughter.

"Nicor"-A teenage Danish boy on his first Viking raid encounters something fiercer than the Anglish. First published in Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, but now you can have it on your Kindle or in print.

"The Beast of the Bosporus"-A Lovecraftian tale set in the medieval Ottoman Empire instead of the more typical 1920s New England, this dark tale follows Grand Vizier Sokollu Mehmed Pasha's quest for power, a quest that brings him into contact with forces man was not meant to encounter.

"Westernmost Throne"-A young receptionist working on a politician's campaign discovers on the eve of the election that he's much more than he's been letting on...

This collection would not exist without the help of James R. Tuck, so if you could check out his work, that'd be awesome. And for those of you who buy print copies, if I at any point run into you in real life, I will sign them.

Monday, June 2, 2014

New "Beast of the Bosporus" Cover

Based on advice from James R. Tuck and J.H. Glaze, I have decided to revamp at least some of my Kindle stories' covers. In particular, Glaze said to prepare for the long run--should I have a "real" novel available for purchase, there'll suddenly be a lot more interest in my short stories and I want to be able to capitalize on that. Although I didn't want to make any investments that wouldn't pay off for a long time (I think I've only just now paid off the cover for "Illegal Alien"), the long run is the long run.

So I decided to replace the cover of "The Beast of the Bosporus," since it was one of my illustrator's first projects as a freelance artist and he's had just under two years to improve his craft. Here's the new cover:

You like? It's a lot more detailed and colorful than the original. The covers for "Melon Heads" and "I am the Wendigo" are going to stay the same, as are "Ubermensch" and "Needs Must." I might consider an upgraded cover for "Picking Up Plans in Palma," but that might not be necessary--it's still a pretty good cover and it's got the most reviews of any of my Kindle projects (and they're good ones).

And "the long run" might come sooner than you think. I'm pretty sure the collection Flashing Steel, Flashing Fire James is helping me with will be available sometime this month and my friend Jeff Baker said (based on something he heard at LibertyCon) that one needs many items (20-25) available on Amazon for your sales to really start feeding off each other. And The Thing In The Woods is almost ready for submission to agents...

Sunday, June 1, 2014

May 2014 Writing Contest Results

Here're the results of my writing bet with my friend Robert for May 2014:

*For The Atlanta Incursion, the sequel to The Thing in the Woods, 3,740 words. I imagine I wrote somewhat more, since I'd thought the bet had lapsed and wasn't careful during the first week. I ended up accounting for this by putting 2,500 words under "various." I took the prologue to my writing group that meets in Lawrenceville and got some good feedback there, including advice on how to expand the section to make it more action-packed. The expanded prologue gave me some direction on the military technology of the antagonists, so that was very helpful. I'm bringing the first chapter before the Lawrenceville group today

*For The Thing in the Woods, 3,357 words at least. The goal is to get it as close to 60,000 words as possible, since many publishers will only put out a print edition if it's that long at minimum. My friend Nick suggested that if Thing and The Atlanta Incursion were both short, they could be combined into a single print edition. There's precedent for this--the Warhammer 40,000 Space Wolf and Chaos Marine omnibuses consist of several short novels glued together into one larger one, and of course there's The Lord of the Rings. Still, if each can be a standalone print novel (albeit a shorter one), that'd be even better than two short e-books and one long print book. My plan is to have it ready for sending to agents before I start taking summer classes at Georgia State and since these classes don't start until the second week of June, that's still doable. The plan is to write three new scenes--all of which have useful character-development purposes--early this week and then send it to the first four prospective agents I've picked out.

*Nick also put together a summer writing bet with the goal of writing a short story per week. Between work on my novels and graduate school participating every single week is going to be tricky, but I used the bet to light a fire under myself to write the first new short story in months if not over a year. I was inspired by this anthology call to write a dieselpunk story, in particular one set outside the Western world. And so in around five days I wrote a 3,230-word story entitled "Man of Iron, Rising Sun" set in the aftermath of the Battle of Nanking involving diesel-fueled powered armor. Nick might want to do something with the different stories at the end of the summer and the anthology won't send out acceptances and rejections until after the August deadline. In the meantime I'll cycle the story through my writing groups and send it to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (noted for its weeklong response time).

*For The War of 2512, 1,372 words. In an earlier blog post I referenced consolidating a short story into the novel and ending up with a new POV character, so now I've got more things for him to do. I have long-run plans for the character (a very long-lived genetically-engineered starship pilot), so I've gotten him involved in a bit of political intrigue.

*The rest of the word count comprises various other projects, including one I'm rewriting from the ground up. Life lesson: Don't delete an entire project unless you're absolutely certain you won't go back to it--and then think carefully, because even if you're absolutely certain, you can change your mind. The current version has a somewhat different emphasis that makes for a better work, but I had to rewrite many scenes I'd have been better off keeping in the first place. I also made a bunch of edits to Battle for the Wastelands before sending it out to several agents over the last month, which accounted for just under 500 words.