Monday, June 29, 2015

An Addendum To My "Other Authors' Sandboxes" Post...

The other day, I posted about how cool it is to let other writers write material set in your world and how this is ultimately enriching toward your own projects.

Well, longtime blogger buddy Sean C.W. Korsgaard was so kind as to post this video in the Comments section.

This is video he recorded himself at RavenCon, a big sci-fi/fantasy convention in Richmond named for Edgar Allen Poe, and posted on his YouTube channel. The authors present are Rich Groller, John Betancourt, Philippa Ballantine and Robert Waters. All of them have written tie-in fiction set in worlds originally created by others.

Topics discussed include Kindle Worlds, why established authors (typically) avoid reading fan-fic like the plague, etc.

So if you liked my recent blog post about playing in other people's sandboxes and if you're interested in writing using someone else's intellectual property, this is a video you might like to watch...

Sunday, June 28, 2015


The other day I learned that my friends James R. Tuck and Danielle Tuck have got a new podcast, THE FANBOY AND GEEK GIRL POWER HOUR. The podcast is focused on comic books and comic-book-related pop culture (that latter bit I didn't initially notice). I'm not a major comic-book junkie even though I'd seen the recent Marvel and DC movies and own Gareth Hinds' Beowulf and Watchmen graphic novels, so I didn't initially think I'd like it.

Well, I was wrong. The banter between the two of them was really engaging and they brought up a lot of interesting topics. I'd thought it might be them talking about comics I'd never read or wasn't interested in, but they made discussions even about those really interesting.

Some highlights of the first two episodes:

*Discussion of Image Comics as a company whose creators ultimately own their intellectual properties. Image just produces the comics in exchange for a cut. In contrast, DC and Marvel own the IP and hire people to write stories for them. If I had a hot IP, I'd be more willing to work for Image (or Icon, Marvel's creator-owned imprint) because I tend not to want to let go of my ideas. Image Comic even has a page of submission guidelines. Hmm...

*Some thoughts on the representation of women in Mad Max: Fury Road vs. Transformers: Dark of the Moon. The most damning indictment of Michael Bay for objectifying women comes in how two different movies handled Rosie Huntington-Whitely. In Mad Max we can see that she's actually a very capable actress and despite the nature of her character she's NOT objectified. However, in Dark of the Moon she's mostly there to be looked at, and how they introduced her is particularly obnoxious.

(And to make matters worse, she and her male co-star have no chemistry at all, even though they're supposed to be lovers. I was not a fan of Dark of the Moon and not a fan of her replacing Megan Fox as the franchise's female lead, no matter what offensive comments Fox made. I'd thought Huntington-Whitley wasn't a good actress and was simply chosen for her looks. Mad Max proved me wrong--she's not just eye candy and she really can act. If the writers give her something to do and the director puts in the effort, of course. George Miller clearly did in Mad Max; Michael Bay clearly didn't.)

*Discussion of the adaptation of the Kingsman graphic novel into the Kingsman: The Secret Servicefilm and some commentary on some stuff that didn't work. I really enjoyed The Kingsman, but I admit I thought they took a joke at the end of the movie too far. I wasn't as offended by said joke as much as James and Danielle were, but it went on for far too long. It was funny at first, but then as the joke progressed, it just got crass.

*Discussion of the Old Man Logan comic (Marvel) and the rebooted JLA (DC). There was also some criticism of Man of Steel that I didn't agree with and some concerns about the upcoming Batman vs. Superman (that it would be too GrimDark) that I did.

So if you're a comics fan, a film fan, or a cultural connoisseur in general, check out this podcast!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

New ASOIAF Fan-Fic: Domeric Bolton Lives

The alternate-history forum I've been a member of since high school has spawned another road not taken in the fantasy world of A Song of Ice and Fire. It's called "Domeric Lives: The New Trajectory of House Bolton."

In canon, Domeric Bolton returned from being fostered in the Vale and learned he had an illegitimate half-brother. He had no other siblings--apparently they all died as infants or children--and so he decided he was going to befriend him. Unfortunately said illegitimate half-brother was none other than the infamous Ramsay Bolton (then Snow). Soon after visiting him, Domeric fell ill and died. Roose and others suspect Ramsay poisoned him, but as Roose later tells Theon, "if the kinslayer is accursed, what is a father to do when one son slays another?" Lacking options, Roose made Ramsay his new heir apparent and so Ramsay's career of carnage (beyond whatever bad stuff he might've done as an unstable miller's son in a village somewhere) begins.

This time around, Domeric asks Ramsay a question about how he amuses himself, prompting Ramsay and his henchman Reek to decide on a "hunting accident" later rather than poison now. This eventually teaches them the lesson that you never challenge someone on their strengths--it'd be easy to poison the naive Domeric, but attacking a trained warrior and exemplary rider is not a good idea when you lack military training and all you've got is low cunning and extreme aggression. Reek ends up dead and Ramsay a prisoner in the Dreadfort dungeon, since Domeric has taken his father's teachings about kinslaying to heart.

This is where things get interesting. Roose lets Domeric decide Ramsay's fate, as both a punishment (he'd explicitly forbidden Domeric to seek out Ramsay) and as a lesson in lordship. Domeric won't kill Ramsay himself, nor will he send him to Lord Stark to be executed. Nor does he take the next best option and send him to the Wall, where the Night's Watch might get some use out of him.

Why? Domeric doesn't want to be like his father Roose or their infamous forebears. He has bigger and grander--dare I say it, more "legitimate"--ambitions for House Bolton than being a family of monsters and maniacs. He wants the Boltons to be respected and loved by nobles and commoners alike, not just feared, and thus more politically powerful. As his first step along that path, he decides to tame Ramsay rather than get rid of him.

The first thought that came to mind upon reading about Domeric's ambitions was actually Michael Corleone. For those of you not familiar with the film The Godfather and its sequels, he wanted to legitimize all of his mafia family's operations. I've seen it said online that although people tend to idealize Domeric Bolton due to his playing the harp, his innocent desire for a brother, and the bad end he suffered at the hands of the vile Ramsay, he was still a Bolton. And even if he's not as nasty deep down as the other members of his family, the story makes it clear that in order to win the respect of his father and House Bolton's sworn men, soldiers, etc., he's going to have to be hard-core.

So will Domeric's naivete and good intentions doom him somewhat later than in canon, or do we have an alternate-universe Michael Corleone on our hands? We'll have to see...

Friday, June 26, 2015

Movie Review: Jurassic World (2015)

Last Friday for the podcast Myopia: Defend Your Childhood's special month-long Jurassic Park series, we watched Jurassic World. Now that the podcast is up for you to listen, here's my usual review...

The Plot

Twenty-two years after the events of Jurassic Park, Hammond's dream has come true. There's a functioning dinosaur park on Isla Nublar where children can ride baby dinosaurs in a petting zoo (there's a particularly cute bit where a child hugs an infant sauropod), people can kayak down rivers where stegosaurs and hadrosaurs drink, massive enclosures where herds of giant herbivores like the triceratops roam, and feeding the mosasaurus a la a bloodier Sea World is always a big crowd-pleaser.

However, as park manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) points out to some visiting dignitaries, the park, though profitable, is not profitable enough, and focus groups suggest the people want something bigger, scarier, and with more teeth. So Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong) and his staff have played mix-and-match the dinosaur to create a creature they call Indominus Rex. As you can imagine things get difficult--with Claire's visiting nephews caught in the mix no less--and it's up to trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and his pack of semi-trained raptors to save the day...

The Good

*Once we actually get to the island with the dinosaurs, the movie is never boring. I had some issues with what they did with the plot, characters, etc., but the film was really entertaining.

*I liked how Owen pointed out that the Indominus is so dangerous because it never interacted with any other creature (other than a sibling that it ate). The book The Lost World depicts the raptors of Isla Sorna being particularly brutal and anti-social with one another because they were born in a lab without socialization from parents, other members of the pack, etc. The Indominus was basically raised alone and fed meat from a crane, so we might be dealing with a creature that has the dinosaur equivalent of Reactive Attachment Disorder. After all, when dealing with aggressive and dangerous animals (I'm thinking primarily of dogs), bad animals are generally the fault of bad training or upbringing.

(Granted, we are talking about a customized tyrannosaur here, unlike dogs that have been bred for generations to be human-friendly...)

*There's a bit of social commentary about how people grow bored with what were once marvels and constantly want more and more interesting things. I thought it ridiculous that people would be so spoiled they'd get bored with living freaking dinosaurs, but perhaps I'm being unduly optimistic. There'd be a whole generation (the park has been open for ten years, with the events of the first two films happening before that) to whom this isn't new. There's also commentary on focus groups and the focus on short-term profitability. I agreed with this message far more than the pantheistic nonsense Malcolm spouted in the earlier films (or Grant's implication in Jurassic Park III that the people who created the park were outright evil). See director Colin Trevorrow's quote here.

*The scene where Owen and Claire find a mutilated, dying sauropod was legitimately sad.

*I liked how they brought back Dr. Wu from the first film. Although I don't like what they did with his character, it provides a nice bit of continuity. Furthermore, as one of the senior (surviving) InGen personnel from the original park and the one with the most technical knowledge of the cloning process, that the company would bring him on-board makes a lot of sense.

*And Wu provides a great explanation for new park owner Simon Mizrani (Irrfan Khan) about why the dinosaurs, among other things, don't have feathers. The lack of feathered dinosaurs in the original film is a product of the lack of knowledge at the time, but the writers managed to explain this understandable oversight in a really clever way.

*I liked Mizrani as a character. He's the inheritor of Hammond's dream (Hammond seems to have passed the torch onto him personally) who has brought his vision to reality. Furthermore, he's learned from Hammond's mistakes in regards to the velociraptors at least--when ambitious InGen security chief Vic Hoskins (Vincent D'Onofrio) wants to use them to hunt the Indominus, he flat-out says there will never be free-roaming velociraptors on Isla Nublar, ever. He's also eager, brave, and confident, which comes back to bite him in the end but still reflects well on him.

*Of all the cast, Owen is the most purely fun character. He's strong-willed enough to tame the raptors and his interactions with Claire are a really funny bit of odd-couple. Like a a good trainer of big predators, he knows damn well how dangerous these creatures are and unlike many other characters, he actually respects them. This works out for him later on, when things all go to hell.

*The writers do a good job of showing, not telling, how distant Claire has become from her family. She can't remember how long it's been since she's seen her nephews, she doesn't know how old they are, and falls back on treating them like the little-little kids she remembers later on.

*There are a lot of humor. The interactions between the laid-back and irreverent Owen and the anal-retentive, hyper-organized Claire are funny and in one scene, there's actually a cameo by Jimmy Buffett. Yes, the god of beach music has come to his people.

*I liked the greater variety of prehistoric critters. For example, in the pterosaur aviary, not only is there the classic Pterandon (which we know from the end of The Lost World and from Jurassic Park III that InGen had cloned too), but also the Dimorphodon. My dinosaur knowledge has clearly decayed since elementary school--in the podcast I refer to it as a Rhamphorhyncus. The Mosasaurus (which due to its sheer size would probably be a Kronosaurus actually) was also cool.

*There are a lot of good callbacks to the original film, including a scene involving the T-Rex and flares. The T-Rex also still has the scars she got fighting the raptors at the end--yes, that's the original T-Rex, 22 years older and still kicking. And as one of my fellow podcasters pointed out, the way the blood drips onto an InGen security guy's wrist is just like how Malcolm dripped water on Ellie's wrist in the original film. Go to the TVTropes page to see them all, but beware of spoilers...

*They don't retcon the middle two films. They just don't mention them at all (with the minor exception of Ian Malcolm's book, mentioned in JP III, that some characters are reading). Those of us who enjoyed LW and JP III (I liked LW, but I doubt JP III held up) can believe that Isla Sorna is still out there under military quarantine as a neo-Mesozoic nature preserve (with Malcolm's book as proof the middle films are canon) and those who didn't can believe that the book is something completely unrelated and the middle films never happened.

The Bad

*The beginning is a little slow in a way that the original film never was.

*The Indominus is far too capable. In the scene where Owen and Claire come across a dying sauropod, they soon find the Indominus has wiped out several more. This isn't a spoiler, since this is from the commercials/trailers--the "she's killing for sport" line. The Indominus is as big if not bigger than a tyrannosaurus rex, but you don't see single lions killing one adult elephant, let alone four or five. A group of sauropods with their sheer bulk and whipping tails should have been able to absolutely destroy the Indominus. After all, an Ankylosaurus puts up a pretty good fight against it, and it's significantly smaller and alone.

And then there's the initial interaction between the Indominus and Owen's raptor mafia. Seriously, we're getting to Villain Sue territory here. Plus since the Indominus is an unsocialized, isolated monster, how does it know pack behavior?

*The Indominus could have been much more simple. Instead of a chimera of multiple animals, have the park find the DNA of a Giganatosaurus, a carnosaur that's bigger than the T-Rex. This would let them keep the whole "people want bigger creatures" plot and do it more simply. They could simply depict it as being more monstrous and aggressive (killing its sibling, needing to be contained more strictly) rather than some kind of less-sympathetic Frankenstein monster.

*There's this whole subplot involving Hoskins wanting to train the raptors for war that could be eliminated completely. Hoskins is obnoxious (and some people on TVTropes are convinced he caused the whole catastrophe to happen), Wu's participation (which leads into an obvious Sequel Hook) makes him into a semi-villain when in the original film he seemed like a pleasant and chipper young man, etc. They could have just simply had "Indominus escapes and evades or destroys attempts at capturing or killing it and the only thing standing between it and 20,000 tourists is Owen and his trained raptor pack" as the plot. No need for Hoskins, his conflict with Owen, and making Dr. Wu into a (mildly) Fiendish Dr. Wu at all.

*To that end, they could have referenced the Isla Sorna quarantine from the middle two films. Owen and his raptors have to stop the Indominus before military units from Isla Sorna (which is part of the same island chain) invade the park to protect the tourists--something that would definitively prove InGen too incompetent to run the park ever and likely lead to its closure. Owen and his raptors represent the park's chance to deal with the problem on its own and keep Hammond's vision alive.

*Claire's nephews get lost in the park and come across the ruins of the original Visitors' Center and a lot of leftover gear from the original film, including Tim's night-vision goggles and the original gas-powered Jeeps. It seems really foolish and wasteful that InGen would allow the nearly completed park to just rot while they built a completely new park elsewhere on the island.

(Apparently some extra materials suggest it was years between the failure of the original park and the building of the new one, but even if the original buildings were too far gone, they could have tried to salvage stuff. Maybe they helped finance the new park by selling all the metal and what not from the original to China?)

I like the callbacks to the original generally, but not this one.

*There's CGI blood. That never ends well. If you ever make a movie, dear readers, please use real fake blood.

The Verdict

A generally entertaining movie, but with some issues. See it once, preferably at a matinee price. 8.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Star Trek: Utopia's Fall, Or The Federation Gets A Bit Darker...

One complaint I often hear from science fiction fans is that Star Trek, in particular Star Trek: The Next Generation, is too utopian and preachy. I've only seen a little bit of TNG (the main Star Trek series I watched was Voyager), but the "we've outgrown our infancy" quote you can find here (I tried to find the video on YouTube and couldn't) is a fairly blatant example.

(Later Star Trek series have moved away from this, one example being the Maquis plotline in Voyager and Deep Space Nine. It's exemplified by the "it's easy to be a saint in paradise" quote from Sisko here. If I may be a bit self-promotional, here's how Star Trek would look if it was me implementing the basic concept...)

Well, here's an alternate-universe fan-fic from the alternate-history forum entitled "Star Trek: Utopia's Fall." It diverges from canon with the failure of Operation Return, the mission to recapture Deep Space Nine from the Dominion. To let you know the tone of the work, I'll leave you with this quote from Quark, which is largely a canonical quote from a DS9 episode:

"Let me tell you something about the Federation. They're wonderful, friendly people, as long as their bellies are full and their holosuites are working. But take away their creature comforts, deprive them of food and sleep, sonic showers, put their lives in jeopardy over an extended period of time and those same friendly, intelligent, wonderful people...will become as nasty and violent as the most bloodthirsty Klingon. You don't believe me? Look at those faces. Look in their eyes."

We're still in the early stages of the story, but the gist of seems to be that the Dominion wreaking more havoc against the Federation in the early days of the war burns away the complacency, laziness, sanctimoniousness, and arrogance of the TNG-era Federation and forges the sword that will ultimately destroy them.

A hint of things to come: The author references Section 31 building Genesis Devices...

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Smart, Tough Joffrey? A Euron Greyjoy POV? Check out "Dancing Stags"

Here's another Song of Ice and Fire alternate-universe treat from the alternate-history forum. It's entitled "Dancing Stags," available on and on A03. The divergence (at least what I figure so far) is that Joffrey "Baratheon" (whose parentage might be a bit more complicated than in canon, since he's Lannister-blonde but has blue eyes) is born a bit earlier and gets some better parental attention. He's still not totally right in the head, but he's a lot smarter and physically tougher than in canon. There's an unfinished fan-fic in which the mind of Octavian from the HBO series Rome gets put in Joffrey's body and this portrayal of smart-Joffrey reminded of that, although Octavian in the show avoided doing violence himself if he could and Joffrey in this story is clearly well-trained for war.

The story begins with Joffrey learning of the death of Jon Arryn and coming up with some ideas of his own on who should be the new Warden of the East, ideas that don't really match up with his unpleasant mother Cersei Lannister's. He's got Waymar Royce as his buddy and henchman and is soon seeking to expand his influence farther in the Red Keep. From the way the story is told so far, we're going to have POVs from Jon Snow, Renly Baratheon, Balon Greyjoy, and (drumroll please) Euron Greyjoy.

Euron is an interesting character. He's an out-and-out monster with a thing for grand over-dramatic gestures, ironic punishments for his enemies (cutting an Ironborn who had adopted the Faith of the Seven into seven pieces, for example), and playing mind games with even his own family members, but he's got a serious Evil Is Cool thing going. It's ultimately revealed that he practices sorcerery and is intent on marrying Danaerys Targaryen and using a supernatural horn to take control of her dragons so the Ironborn can conquer Westeros. I find the character of Euron so interesting I actually came up with an "Euron Greyjoy with the serial numbers filed off" character for a fantasy trilogy who starts out in a fantasyland version of the Kingdom of the Isles and ends up in the fantasyland version of Morocco in his quest to tame dragons. There's some stuff from Norse mythology thrown in there too--hint: It involves just how and why Odin lost his eye. I've got a friend who's into Villain Protagonists, so he might like this one.

In any event, other than the story with Octavian-in-Joffrey, I have never seen a story where Joffrey is anything but a worthless little piece of garbage, let alone an evil mastermind in his own right. This could go some very interesting places...

Monday, June 8, 2015

Stannis Isn't The Mannis Anymore... (SPOILERS)

So I watched Game of Thrones last night, and it was generally an entertaining episode. I liked what happened in Meereen, especially the dramatic return of Drogon and the incineration of a whole bunch of Sons of the Harpy.

However, there was one major aspect of the story I didn't like, and given its magnitude, it really put a dent in my enjoyment of the episode and the series generally.

Stannis letting Melisandre sacrifice his daughter Shireen. To be perfectly blunt, that's incredibly out of character and straight-up character assassination.

Here's a handy graphic showing what happened in the books, courtesy of @lenlovecraft on Twitter:

The creators have generally done a good job consolidating and simplifying a huge, complex book series into something that would work for television. I understand that even with a season per book, there's still a lot of material that would need to get left out.

However, there's a difference between that and giving a character a personality transplant. Stannis's overriding cause is the rule of law and dynastic legitimacy. His older brother Robert's "trueborn" children aren't really his and his actual children are all bastards, so that means Stannis is the legal king. Renly challenges Stannis for the kingship and refuses to back down, so Stannis kills him. He continues the war even after the defeat of his army on the Blackwater, even after one of his in-laws comes up with a peace proposal (marry Shireen to Tommen) behind his back, because of rule of law. He abandons his seat of power to defend the Wall because defending the kingdom against an external threat (the 100,000 wildings and the White Walkers driving them on) is another means of gaining legitimacy--instead of getting the throne to save the kingdom, he saves the kingdom to get the throne.

And should anything happen, Shireen is Stannis's heir. In the pre-released Theon Greyjoy chapter of The Winds of Winter, Stannis explicitly tells his henchman Justin Massey to continue the fight to seat Shireen on the Iron Throne even if Stannis himself is killed in the coming battle with the Boltons.

“It may be that we shall lose this battle,” the king said grimly. “In Braavos you may hear that I am dead. It may even be true. You shall find my sellswords nonetheless.”
The knight hesitated. “Your Grace, if you are dead — ”
“ — you will avenge my death, and seat my daughter on the Iron Throne. Or die in the attempt.” 

Does this seem like something a man who would kill his only daughter, his only heir, would say? Given his wife's fertility problems (all those miscarriages in jars), if anything should happen to Shireen, House Baratheon is dead.

People are claiming that Stannis in the books and Stannis in the show are not the same character, and that people who complain are "Book Puritans." However, are there any characters besides Stannis that get personality transplants like this? Every other character is generally the same as they are in the books, but Stannis, instead of being an atheist obsessed with the rule of law and justice (because in the absence of gods, justice must come from men), is now a crazed religious fanatic.

In the discussion on the alternate-history forum of the episode, someone posted a video in which the showrunners claim Renly would have made a great king (instead of a selfish narcissist who'd set a VERY dangerous precedent--do we want a civil war every time the king dies?). See 3:30 and 4:30, especially the latter. If they hate Stannis for killing Renly and have been character-assassinating him from the very beginning (I haven't watched much of the show pre-Season 4, but I remember complaints that he was too in the thrall of Melisandre), well, they're incredibly, incredibly petty. We're talking "Paul Verhoeven butchering Starship Troopers because he read one chapter in the book and didn't like it" levels of pettiness here.

However, some points in the showrunners' favor:

*I heard on Twitter that George R.R. Martin himself actually said to do this. It's confirmed in this video here. Martin is the creator of the book series and thus the ultimate authority on what's canon and what's not. However, Martin said it happens in a later book. If that's the case, what I think will happen is that Stannis's men who remained at the Wall get the letter claiming Stannis is dead and Ramsay is coming and decide to sacrifice Shireen unilaterally to call down some Red God juju lest they all get flayed alive. Another theory I've heard is that Melisandre burns Shireen to resurrect Jon Snow as the real Azor Azhai. Either way, Stannis does not do this and that's the important part.

*If Shireen must die, there's still a way to do it that's not so grossly out of character for Stannis. We've seen Melisandre work magic from the blood of Robert's bastard Gendry, who has the "king's blood" she needs. This she accomplishes by drawing blood with leeches. There might not be leeches in the North, but they could always do good old-fashioned bleeding. Shireen is eager to do this to help her father (per her pre-burning speech) and Melisandre praises her for her zeal. The first bleeding causes some kind of minor miracle, so Melisandre does it again and again. Shireen starts to weaken and sicken, but she's eager to help and it is working. Eventually Stannis puts his foot down, but Shireen is now really anemic and between that and the harsh conditions, dies.

That sequence would have all the tragedy of what happened without Stannis being so murderous and out-of-character.

Furthermore, this only happened because Ramsay's "twenty good men" plan actually worked, which is incredibly unlikely. Given Ramsay and his Northerners' knowledge of the terrain and Ramsay's sheer audacity I could imagine them doing something besides getting killed trying to kill Stannis (which I thought would happen), but they were way, way too successful. They get in and out of the camp (where they've never been before) without losing a man, they destroy the siege engines and the food specifically, etc. Ramsay is capable, but this is getting into Villain Sue territory.

So yeah. Poor story decisions (Ramsay the Ubermensch) breeding more poor story decisions (Stannis murdering his own daughter).

Still, it's mostly been a great show so far and I'm definitely going to watch the season finale.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

A Different Weasel Makes a Difference...or Old Walder Dies Early

Here's another fun story from the alternate-history forum. The world of A Song of Ice and Fire is so complex and so many roads not taken that playing the alternate-universe game can go in some pretty cool directions.

So I present you with A Different Weasel Makes a Difference. It diverges from canon just before the War of the Five Kings breaks out, during the events of A Game of Thrones. Lord Walder Frey dies soon after wedding his eighth wife, making Stevron Frey the new Lord of the Crossing. Soon afterward, Jon Arryn is poisoned and Gregor Clegane unleashes his reign of terror in the Riverlands, kicking off what will become the War of the Five Kings. Or, as he calls it in the story, the War of the Eight Kings...

There are all sorts of interesting consequences. The change in the lordship of the Twins sets the butterfly wings a-flapping, spawning more changes from the canon timeline as the war goes on.

*A Mallister ship is lost to "unknown causes" in the Sunset Sea, alerting the Starks and their allies that the Greyjoys might be moving again. Consequently, Catelyn Stark is sent north as regent after Robb is hailed as king and the Starks make more preparations for possible attack from the sea, including reinforcing Moat Cailin.

*When King Renly Baratheon is killed by Stannis's shadow, his lover Ser Loras Tyrell impulsively leads a cavalry charge against King Stannis Baratheon's encampment near Storm's End. Sufficient to say, impulses have their drawbacks...

*Stannis's sorceress Melisandre unleashes her magic on an army-level scale, fueled by mass human sacrifices. It is terrible and it is awesome.

*The battle for King's Landing is a multi-chapter morass of mayhem called the Battle of the Four Armies. A nice little call-back to The Hobbit there... :)

*We have the morbid irony of the armies of Robb Stark--a secessionist from the Targaryen-created Kingdom of Westeros--enforcing Maegor the Cruel's laws against the arming of the Faith. It'd be like Polish rebels enforcing the laws of Russia, Prussia, or Austria-Hungary on their political enemies.

*The long-oppressed thralls of the Iron Islands get their moment of glory.

*Asha Greyjoy does something radical and totally awesome that changes the balance of power in Westeros forever.

*The Vale isn't nearly as peaceful as canon. Hint: Somebody definitely earns the title "the Mad Widow."

Although the version of the story is behind that on, there's still a whole lot of material present and it's getting updated regularly. So check it out!

Independent French Equatorial Africa After Limited Nazi Victory?

Here's another goodie from the alternate-history forum. The member whose handle is Jonathan_Edelstein came up with the idea that in the event of a German-British peace early in WWII (his idea is that Hitler dies in 1941 before the invasion of the Soviet Union and his successors decide to postpone the plan to finish Britain first), not all of France's colonies would submit to the Vichy regime even if it was recognized as the legitimate government of France as part of a compromise peace.

In particular, he suggested French Equatorial Africa might rebel against the new government and ally with the Free French. The basis for this is that the governor of French Equatorial Africa was Félix Éboué, the only black French colonial governor in the French Empire at the time and possibly the only black colonial governor anywhere, ever. Éboué decides he has no future under Vichy and rebels using Chadian troops, gambling on Vichy France's lack of a navy to avoid immediate invasion.

According to Edelstein, Éboué's government wouldn't be a fully decolonized state, but a sort of paternalistic limited-franchise regime with a lot of French government officials and a strong influence by the Catholic Church. He also suggested the different factions within the state could be at odds with each other, including the Catholic civilian government on the coast, the Muslim Chadian soldiery, etc.

The user whose handle is Pikers3 said he doubted it would last long. In order to maintain its legitimacy, the Vichy regime would have to claim all of France's colonies and could not tolerate a rival French state anywhere. With Britain at peace with Germany and (Vichy) France, the Germans and what remains of the loyalist French navy will invade Éboué's state (possibly with the support of Franco, who is no longer deterred by the threat of British attack) and quickly take control. There might be Free French troubles in the interior, but that'd be it. He said historians would remember this as the last gasp of the Free French.

However, there is a way around this. Depending on how long it takes until Britain is brought to the table, the German and Vichy surface navies could be totally wrecked in the meantime. The German fleet took heavy losses invading Norway and the British waged war against the Vichy regime as a co-belligerent of the Nazis, including at one point attacking and sinking much of the French navy lest the Nazis get it. If the Germans and the Vichy allies bring the British to the table by fighting a war of attrition at sea and in the Middle East and North Africa, they might have no surface navy left by the time this is done.

In that case, although the Germans could blockade French Equatorial Africa's ports with submarines, no surface navy means no immediate invasion of FEA. FEA could putter along for years as some kind of blockaded unrecognized state in the vein of Rhodesia.

I'll send this to Jonathan_Edelstein and see what he thinks...

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Playing In Other Authors' Sandboxes...

This morning I ordered a copy of the new short-story collection The Change: Tales of Downfall and Rebirth set in S.M. Stirling's Emberverse. This is not the first time Stirling has let other authors play in his sandbox. Back when I was in high school, when that wonderful place called Media Play still existed, I flipped through a copy of Drakas!, a collection of short stories other authors wrote in his Drakaverse.

I haven't started reading The Change yet beyond the first few pages and I don't remember Drakas! all that well beyond a few particularly interesting (or particularly silly) stories, but I do love the concept. Many authors have played in other authors' sandboxes before--I read Robert Jordan's Conan stories in high school and Brian Herbert has been filling in the blank spaces his father Frank Herbert left in the world of Dune--but short stories are different from letting another author write a novel-length work set in the same world.

A full-blown book is a pretty momentous--Brian Herbert's novels describe the Butlerian Jihad and much of Paul Atreides' reign as Padishah Emperor, stuff that was left out of his father's books completely or only alluded to. However, short stories allow for much smaller brushstrokes that wouldn't have large effects on the wider worlds.

For example, my BattleTech short story "Skirmish at the Vale's Edge," which I sold to BattleCorps and so it's now canon, depicts the relatively small Battle of the Jallington Vale described in a single paragraph in the Clan Wolf sourcebook. The good people from Catalyst Game Labs advised me to stay away from the major events and people, lest my story get nuked for contradicting established canon. Given how enormous the BattleTech world--like the Emberverse and the Drakaverse--is, there's plenty of blank spaces to fill without impacting people like Victor Steiner-Davion, Phelan Kell, etc. The same principle applies to the Emberverse and the Drakaverse as well. It's even been applied to Charlaine Harris's world of Sookie Stackhouse--see this collection Dead But Not Forgotten.

Perhaps someday my own work will be popular enough to justify similar projects. The world of Battle for the Wastelands I've plotted out thus far covers three generations and spans a whole continent, plenty of time and space for other writers to play in my sandbox without causing undue problems for the main plot. The world of The Thing in the Woods, although what I've plotted so far only covers a relatively short time period, could also host works written by other writers. The world depicted in my unfinished space opera The Cybele Incident and a current project I'm keeping under wraps for now also have plenty of space, especially the latter one.

All I need to do is make those projects successful enough. Time to get cracking. :)

Monday, June 1, 2015

No Ottoman Interregnum--Ottoman Italy?

Here's another goodie from the alternate-history forum I've been a member of since high school--"TLIAW: Kayser-I Rum." For the record, TLIAW means "timeline in a week." Basically bang out a complete alternate timeline in a short period rather than just theoretical discussion, which most threads in the main forum consist of.

The point of divergence in this scenario is that the Mongol warlord Tamerlane, rather than invading Asia Minor (where in our history he defeated the Ottoman sultan and kicked off a four-sided Ottoman civil war), instead wages war against the Mameluke Sultanate in Egypt after the latter launches a preemptive strike on his forces in Mesopotmaia. Consequently, Constantinople falls to the Ottomans under Bayezid I "The Thunderbolt" in 1403. This in turn provokes a new crusade by various European Christian states, a crusade that ends badly for them. After Bayezid's death, his son Suleiman takes the Ottoman throne and openly wonders, "If we have the Second Rome, why not the first?"

Highlights from this timeline include:

*The Ottomans forcing the Venetians into submission after a protracted naval war. This has its benefits, including the growing Ottoman Empire becoming a massive Venetian free-trade zone.

*The Ottoman Empire remains focused on expanding into Europe and stays out of the greater Middle East for much longer than it did in our history. Suleiman follows Roman precedents more strongly--he's basically a Muslim Roman emperor and is compared to Marcus Aurelius as well as the Caliph Umar. I imagine this timeline's Ottoman Empire is going to be much more "European" in nature even if it is a Muslim state.

*Extensive Ottoman expansion on the Italian mainland. Per my earlier point, Suleiman even recruits Eastern Orthodox soldiers for the war by selling it as a crusade in retaliation for past Catholic misdeeds. The Duchy of Milan takes advantage of this to expand its land empire.

*France becomes a centralized state with a standing professional army much, much earlier than in our history. Although many historians attribute French national identity to the French Revolution, my reading of Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century would suggest an earlier origin (at least for the upper/educated classes), the 100 Years War. This time around, it's cranked up.

*There's a war between the Ottoman Empire and Switzerland of all places. It goes rather differently than one might think.

The timeline hasn't been updated in awhile, so it's probably dead, but it's a pretty interesting read regardless. Enjoy!

Blast from the Past Movie Review: The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)

For the special Jurassic Park series leading up to the release of Jurassic World, my friend Nick's podcast Myopia: Defend Your Childhood has just done the film The Lost World, the sequel to Jurassic Park loosely based on the novel of the same name. Here's a link to the podcast. And now my review...

The Plot

After a vacationing family stumbles upon InGen's Site B on Isla Sorna, where most of Jurassic Park's dinosaurs were manufactured prior to being shipped to Isla Nublar to be displayed, John Hammond (Richard Attenborough)'s "unscrupulous" nephew Peter Ludlow (Arliss Howard) uses this as a pretext to take control of InGen. In order to foil his bid to capture the dinosaurs (who have been roaming free after a hurricane for years), Hammond contacts the disgraced Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) and persuades him to join an expedition to Site B to document the dinosaurs in their habitats. Malcolm agrees once he learns his girlfriend Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore), who studies African predators, has already gone to the island. Off they go, to an island with dangerous predators and an InGen team ready to take the dinosaurs to their planned new zoo in San Diego...

The Good

*The opening scene where the little British girl Cathy Bowman (played by Camilla Belle, who is still an active actress) encounters and feeds a compsognathus, only to attract the attention of a swarm of them, is very well-done. The writers did a good job of showing rather than telling the disagreements between her parents (the mother is overly protective and the father objects), depicting Cathy's kindness (she tries to befriend the first dinosaur by feeding it), and her innocence and fear (when the swarm appears and starts behaving aggressively, she tries to tell them there's not enough food to go around, not knowing, she's the food).

*The hunter Roland Tembo (Peter Postlethwaite), one of Ludlow's minions, is more sympathetic than many of the ostensible heroes. He's a lot more competent in wilderness survival than Ludlow (I liked his "base camp or buffet" line when Ludlow ignorantly wants to set up camp on a game trail) and chivalrous toward Sarah Harding, whom he helps up the cliff after the trailers are destroyed (along with her male compatriots too, I might add) and later expresses his concerns about her when he thinks she's injured. There's a deleted scene (which I thought was in a prequel comic) where he gives a slimy customer harassing a waitress a violent lesson in manners. Here's the scene if you want to watch it, which also builds on his relationship with his friend Ajay. He's also the only character in the film I'm aware of who has an arc--he initially wants to kill the male T-Rex like it's another trophy animal and after another character is killed, instead opts to tranquilize it so it can be captured for Ludlow's proposed zoo. He then rejects Ludlow's offer of employment, stating he no longer wishes to be "in the company of death."

I'm not familiar with most of Postlethwaite's career, but I do remember seeing him in some bits of the 1980s television series Sharpe on YouTube. He played the vile Obadiah Hakeswill, a Napoleonic sergeant who abuses his soldiers, sucks up to the officers over him, rapes and steals, and is generally a depraved scumbag. Hell, his introduction to the television series features him attacking Sharpe's girlfriend immediately upon seeing her (and then trying to kill her with a pitchfork when she fends him off), so we know he's bad news. The fact he plays a much more honorable and non-misogynist character shows his range.

*There's a good match cut juxtaposing the screaming Mrs. Bowman with the yawning Ian Malcolm--who has been reduced to borderline hobo status--on the subway early in the film.

*I liked the scene where Malcolm senses the approaching T-Rexes and the water ripples in the puddles on the ground. That's a nice call-back to the original film.

*I liked how the scene where we first meet the raptors is shot. We see them start to stalk a group of InGen employees and then there's an overhead shot showing them closing in from all angles, with the InGen team completely unaware they're there. It's very well-done. Don't go into the long grass indeed.

*I liked the shot where we first meet Sarah. It's very well-done and funny.

*There are some good shots where a character's death is revealed by blood in the water rather than an on-screen gnawing that would get the film rated R.

*The producers of the film clearly remembered the "lysine contingency" (the animals were made deliberately deficient in this enzyme so they'd die within days if not fed properly) from the first film. The herbivores have learned to eat certain foods rich to lysine and the carnivores eat them.

*The film does build on Malcolm's family life, referenced in the first film when he talks about how he has three kids and he's always on the lookout for "the next ex-Mrs. Malcolm." Here we actually meet his daughter Kelly, adapted from another character from the novel. The film shows how he's not the most attentive father, but does give him a really good line about his daughter being (or not being) on the school gymnastics team.

*Kelly is black, but nobody seems to really care other than one person who makes a comment about there not being much of a family resemblance between her and Malcolm. It's not done in a mean way or even in earshot of the characters (where it might offend them), but it does honestly show that somebody might be curious.

*We see an older Lex and Tim at Hammond's home in a brief scene. Good callback to the original movie.

The Bad

*There is a major plot hole when the InGen ship the SS Venture (a nice King Kong allusion there) arrives in San Diego with the crew dead, Dracula-style. There's nothing aboard the ship that could have done it--the dinosaur they're carrying is too big and contained in the hold. I remember reading somewhere that there was this deleted plot (TVTropes claims it was cut from the shooting script) involving a group of stowaway velociraptors, but they either cut it out or never filmed it at all! Seriously, either reshoot the ship's arrival completely or don't cut out the second batch of dinosaurs that killed the crew and made said arrival possible!

*The film starts to drag in the middle. Given how the film is supposed to be entertaining--and quite often is--this is a bit of a problem.

*The problem with the beginning--which as I said was great--is that the dinosaur attack on the little girl would probably be a much bigger deal than a pretext for Hammond's nephew to take control of the company. Seriously, a cute little girl was attacked and injured by dinosaurs. InGen might not find out about it until it's too late, and the family seems wealthy enough that bribes or legal threats wouldn't stop them from making a stink. I imagine it would be a major news story, there'd be media swarming about, etc. Perhaps Costa Rica (which doesn't have a standing military but does have a small security force for border policing, etc.) quarantines the island and Hammond's unauthorized expedition has to sneak onto Isla Sorna in a suspenseful scene? The larger InGen force then comes as a nasty surprise, as they didn't expect the Costa Ricans to let them in. Upon seeing the helicopters and vehicles coming in, Malcolm could then make some nasty comment about money making the world go round, which would answer any audience questions about how they got in.

Instead of trying to pre-empt his nephew, Hammond could send the scientists in as part of a plan to document the dinosaurs in their natural habitat and pre-empt any attempt to exterminate them that might result from the attack on the girl? We can see Ludlow and Hammond arguing (foreshadowing InGen's attempt to capture the dinosaurs), but Hammond never explains what they're arguing about, to make their arrival a surprise. The first film depicts Hammond as being close with his family and the second film continues this by having Lex and Tim visiting him. He might not want to tell Malcolm there's trouble at home, especially if he and Ludlow had once been close (they work together and Ludlow seems to have the same dreams and ambition Hammond once did) and had become estranged. Furthermore, making the arrival of the InGen team a surprise could be suspenseful--the scientists hear the sound of the helicopters and assume it's the military coming to kill off the dinosaurs.

*The movie depicts Nick Van Owen (Vince Vaughan)--an eco-terrorist--in a far too sympathetic light. Heck, this movie, like the first, goes out of its way to vindicate Malcolm's insistence that displaying dinosaurs as a tourist attraction will never, ever work (which he has no logical reason to believe--it's all based on his pantheistic version of Chaos Theory) and Nick's Greenpeace shenanigans. InGen's team, rather than capturing a few smaller dinosaurs and leaving the island immediately, instead goes whole-hog trying to capture all of them (or at least most of the major herbivores), which would cause most of the carnivores to starve and destroy the neo-Mesozoic ecosystem completely.

Seriously, Nick and Sarah freeing all of the dinosaurs wrecks InGen's camp and nearly kills Tembo and Ajay. Nick later steals Tembo's ammunition, which would have come in handy when they're attacked by the T-Rex. TVTropes points out that Nick is indirectly responsible for all of the (human) deaths in the film. Honestly, to make Van Owen sympathetic, the filmmakers made Ludlow and InGen (once he takes over) into massive straw-men, even though the film does give him a chance to defend his position (the dinosaurs are InGen property) and gives Tembo a scene where he calls out Nick as "an Earth First bastard." See here for the whole dialogue. TVTropes points out that although he's condescending and unpleasant, Ludlow isn't truly bad and nothing he's doing is illegal.

Another problem with the film is that Van Owen disappears for the last act. Maybe they could depict him getting arrested for what happened on the island? There's a lot of destruction of property, reckless endangerment, and possibly even multiple counts of negligent homicide. If the producers want to gin up audience sympathy, perhaps he claims sole responsibility and takes the fall for Sarah, who was also involved in sabotaging the InGen team. In the event any InGen survivors claim she was there too, he could claim that she followed him into the camp to try to stop him or that even that he somehow coerced her. Given how he claimed to have joined Greenpeace for the women, falling on his sword to protect a woman from jail would be a good arc for him.

*The film does not explain any possible relationship between Sarah Harding and Jurassic Park's original veterinarian Gerry Harding. Hammond references Harding traveling to Costa Rica to meet the hospitalized Malcolm for years before, but how would she know what happened? Some of the games and other material do establish that she's Gerry's daughter, but the movie doesn't. I've theorized on the blog somewhere that perhaps Harding kept the non-disclosure agreement in public but told her what happened on Isla Nublar privately, which would explain her interest.

*Speaking of Sarah, she's incredibly hypocritical. At one point she straight up interacts with (even touching) an infant stegosaur, but then tells the other members of the expedition they're not there to interact with the dinosaurs and to not to bend even a single blade of grass (!).

Also, for someone Hammond thinks is an expert in surviving predators, she doesn't abandon the jacket covered in blood from the baby T-Rex, which is probably what brought Mom and Dad Dinosaur down on them later in the film. Hypocrisy is a character trait, true, and the bloody jacket explains why the T-Rexes found them, but the stupidity of the latter bit in particular undermines her character.

*The fate of most of the InGen team. Yes, they're panicked, but they're still armed. I would have expected them to put up a better fight than they did.

*When Malcolm's crew arrives on the island, finds Sarah's damaged backpack, and assume she's been attacked, Goldblum doesn't sound too terribly upset when he's shouting "Sarah!" His delivery in that scene wasn't very good.

*Some of Kelly's dialogue when she's arguing with Malcolm is too spot-on and verbally advanced for someone who is, at most, in her early teens. Yes, she has Malcolm for a father (and presumably anybody Malcolm would be interested in dating would have to be smart herself), but still.

The Verdict

See it once, especially if you want to get the complete film series in before seeing Jurassic World. 7.5 out of 10.