Sunday, December 27, 2015

Visit Where Your Story Takes Place, Or Why Google Maps Isn't Everything

I spent most of Saturday 12/26 (Boxing Day for you Commonwealth types) taking MARTA around Atlanta to do some research for two of my writing projects.

The first project is a short story entitled "Actions Have Consequences," which will feature my supervillain protagonist Andrew Patel. It will be part of a collection featuring "Ubermensch," which introduces him and his nemesis Silverbolt, the second story "Needs Must," and a fourth, "New Friends, Old Enemies."  The second is a novel entitled The Atlanta Incursion, the sequel to the teen Lovecraftian novel The Thing in the Woods I'm currently shopping around.

"Actions" features some gang members pursuing Patel around Atlanta. The action starts in East Point, so I took the train down after eating lunch at Peachtree Center. I soon realized the limitations of Google Maps--although I had used it to map out some buildings, I soon realized I'd gotten a lot of the detail wrong. Downtown East Point is more spread out, much more like Griffin, the town where I had my first newspaper job, than Atlanta or another larger city. It would be difficult for Patel to run down an would-be assassin without too many inconvenient witnesses. Fortunately there's an area that's built up enough for the scene to work, so I was able to get away with just tweaking it a bit. I also discovered the big pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks connecting downtown to an industrial or ex-industrial site, which I'll work in there somehow.

I later took the train over to the East Lake MARTA station, where I planned to have Patel and a friend make a long run down Howard Avenue for downtown Decatur after the train is delayed. I found the station sat squarely in the middle of a bunch of single-family homes and was well-attended by MARTA police. It's also right by the city of Decatur's water tower. That whole area is not going to be having gang shoot-outs, at least not ones that don't get squashed immediately. I thought about having the final confrontation take place around the King Memorial MARTA station instead, but the whole area is surrounded by lots of brand-new apartments. That's not the kind of place where gun battles are going to be allowed to happen either. I'll need to think about how to deal with that.

For The Atlanta Incursion, the protagonist is a student at Georgia State University. I found via Google Maps there was an apartment complex near the Garnett MARTA station one stop south of Five Points, the station I got off at when I was a student at GSU. So I (briefly) stopped at Garnett. The station is jammed down amid taller buildings and I couldn't find any apartments. There's the Atlanta jail, some courthouses and police buildings, and a lot of people loitering around. I don't think anybody actually lives there. And a lot of the buildings are run down. Probably most students--especially my protagonist--wouldn't really want to live there even if there were student housing available.

As a result, I needed to make some fixes. One fix was pretty simple--just change where the character was going when he had a PTSD episode. The other fix required changing a scene more substantially--instead of taking the train from Five Points to Garnett, he's walking through campus.

So let this be a lesson in writing research for you. If you're writing about real-life places and you're able to visit them, do so. You might avoid some obvious missteps.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

How I Would Have Done STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015)

It's a philosophy of mine that criticism is easy but suggesting useful alternatives is hard. I've applied that philosophy to my critique of the movie Mortal Kombat and suggested some ways to improve the movie while retaining the basic plot.

So now I'm going to apply this philosophy to the science-fiction film Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which I saw last weekend but thought was mediocre. Here there be spoilers, so be ye warned...

*The non-movie new canon as I understand (I haven't reach much of it, other than Delilah S. Dawson's story "The Perfect Weapon") has the Empire implode relatively quickly after the death of the Emperor and Vader at Endor. Disarmed and forced to pay reparations but otherwise left alone by the New Republic, it reorganizes as the "First Order" like it does in the new canon. That aspect can stay. The Republic, preoccupied with internal issues, writes off the First Order as some kooky non-problem, much like how many people view North Korea.

*However, the First Order is secretly in league with a Dark Side cult called the Knights of Ren. Luke Skywalker has revived the Jedi with trainees of his own, possible survivors of Order 66 or those they trained (think Kanan and Ezra from the Rebels television series), but one of his students early in the film horribly betrays Luke and massacres most of the New Jedi Order alongside the Knights of Ren. Luke is married to Mara Jade at this point and they have a daughter Rey--and during the betrayal, Mara is killed and Luke and the young Rey are separated. This could be the prologue to the film. The Knights of Ren are led by a masked "Darth Caedus" and Luke seems to know who he is, but we never get the name or relationship during the prologue. In the aftermath, Luke disappears to seek out the first Jedi temple and learn how he went wrong. Some suspect the First Order was involved, but the First Order denies it and the Republic doesn't pursue the matter.

*In the new canonical Star Wars comics, we meet a character named General Tagge, who Palpatine puts in charge of crushing the Rebellion after the destruction of the Death Star. Tagge believes in more conventional military tactics like an enlarged fleet and army, as opposed to superweapons like the Death Star. With the destruction of the Death Stars in A New Hope and The Return of the Jedi, one would hope Tagge's way of thinking would win out.

To that end, the First Order is conducting a massive military buildup. Mon Mothma or whoever is in charge of the Republic at this point does not take the threat seriously, so Leia (a civilian politician), Han Solo (one of the Republic's generals), and some other heroes of the first story resign from the government and set up their own private military effort against the First Order. Enough people believe that the First Order is in league with the Knights of Ren and their years-ago attack on the Jedi Order that they get a lot of support from within the Republic.

They find that the First Order is seeking the lost Katana Fleet, which would give them a massive advantage over the increasingly-complacent New Republic. Han has to go back into the underworld he'd long abandoned to reactivate old contacts and search for the Katana Fleet. This causes him to run into trouble with old enemies who now know he's not an untouchable military hero anymore. Perhaps we can even bring back Boba Fett?

*As part of Han and Leia's secret war, Poe Dameron finds the location of the Katana Fleet and is forced to hide it within his droid BB-8. We have the whole canonical plot with Poe and Finn escaping the First Order and finding the droid on the custody of Rey, who's grown up into an anti-social scavenger type like in the canonical film. The trio encounter Han and Chewbacca (perhaps they're on some kind of secret mission) and then try to get the droid to Leia per the film. They do--but not before the First Order somehow gets hold of the location of the Katana Fleet. We can still have Captain Phasma, General Hux, etc. Rey can find the old lightsaber and have flashbacks to her past (which she doesn't remember due to PTSD) and "take up the sword" so to speak.

*Instead of the attack on Starkiller Base (far too derivative of A New Hope and Yavin 4 for my tastes), the Resistance races the First Order to the Katana Fleet and starts capturing and/or destroying as much of it as possible before the First Order can take control. The First Order and the Knights of Ren led by "Darth Caedus" arrive and we have the confrontation between Han Solo and what turns out to be his son, Jacen Solo aboard one of the lost ships. I liked how Han reveals Kylo's real name by shouting "BEN!" to get his attention. Have Han shout "JACEN!" and you'd get the same effect. Jacen can then kill Han. Chewbacca wounds Jacen and he fights Finn and Rey. Even wounded he's still a dangerous opponent and stalemates Finn and Rey (possibly incapacitating the former like in the movie), but the arrival of Luke Skywalker and some new Jedi trainees forces Jacen and the Knights of Ren to flee. The Resistance has captured much of the Katana Fleet, but most of it has fallen into the hands of the First Order.

*The movie ends with the First Order, having taken control of much of the Katana Fleet, declaring war against the Republic and the Jedi. The admiral who will command the First Order's enlarged fleet is revealed to be none other than Grand Admiral Thrawn.

This would be the best of both worlds--it would be Disney "starting afresh" after de-canonizing most of the Expanded Universe but would retain enough of the EU to satisfy the EU fans. After all, the new canon includes characters like Quinlan Vos and Depa Billaba from the original canon, so it's not like Disney is averse to including EU elements.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Kindle Christmas Present 2.0

Last year I made several of my short stories free for a few days around Christmas as a present for my fans. This year, even though I've taken some of them off KDP Select due to the new rules, I still have a few I I can use to help my fans fill their Christmas (or Hanukkah or Yule if applicable) Kindles.

The following stories are part of this promotion:

"Illegal Alien"-Free Christmas Eve (12/24) and Christmas Day (12/25). I'd make it free for Boxing Day (12/26) as well, but I ran out of free promotional days. This tale of the titular undocumented immigrants facing off against extraterrestrials features probably my best cover so far. It's one of the ten stories featured in my collection Flashing Steel, Flashing Fire and has gotten good Amazon reviews.

"Melon Heads"-Also free for those same two days, for the same reason. This is actually a dark comedy featuring evil frats, hydrocephalic midget cannibals, and urban legends. It's also one of the stories included in Flashing Steel Flashing Fire and, along with "I am the Wendigo" was my first Kindle indie.

"Sam"-This one will be free Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day too. "Sam" tells the tale of a loyal Doberman facing off against a Bad Thing that only he can see. If you liked the novel (Thor) or the movie adaptation (Bad Moon), this story is for you.

Got to give credit where credit is due--this was inspired by Seventh Star Press's Christmas discount (which can be found here) and my friend Chris Nuttall making his novel The Empire's Corps free for a time for Christmas.


Saturday, December 19, 2015

Movie Review: Turok Son of Stone (2008)

The other night I was fooling around on TVTropes rather than revising Battle for the Wastelands like I was supposed to and found that the comic series Gen 13, which I remember being aware of but not reading when I was a kid, had been made into an animated movie. I saw that someone had posted the movie (which was never officially released in the U.S.) on YouTube and also recommended was an animated film called Turok Son of Stone. I remembered playing the Turok video game when I was a kid, so I decided to give it a watch.

And now for the review...

The Plot

Native American warrior Turok is exiled from his tribe after killing several men from an enemy tribe and accidentally wounding his brother. Sixteen years later his nephew Andar comes to seek his help fighting said enemy tribe, which he refuses to provide. It turns out the enemy is armed with guns and makes short work of Turok and Andar's kin. The villainous leader Chichak even kidnaps Andar's mother Catori. Turok and Andar pursue them through caves into the mysterious Lost Land, where dinosaurs, extinct giant mammals (like this one), homicidal Neanderthals, and some people who are apparently distant kindred to Turok's people live. Turok and his family befriend them, but Chichak has made himself king of the Neanderthals and seeks to continue his vendetta...

The Good

*The Turok series has a whole lot of Rule of Cool going for it. There're dinosaurs and various other prehistoric monsters, lots and lots of action, terror-bird cavalry (terror-birds are underused as movie monsters, which is unfortunate), and more. It's great.

*Animation in the United States is usually considered kiddie fare, but this is most assuredly not. The movie starts out with the young Turok killing a whole bunch of enemies with an axe, with blood and limbs flying. And that's just the beginning. Turok's people's foes obliterate them with muzzle-loading rifles, there's neck-snapping and spearings aplenty, etc. It's an action movie that just happens to be animated.

*I like the animation style generally. Turok looks very much like his comic-book and video-game counterpart.

*Turok in one sequence performs some awesome physical feats, but due to a previous injury loses so much blood that he passes out. Although he's able to get up and move around within hours, it's several days before he performs similar athletic feats. That's rather more realistic than a lot of action movies.

*The movie is fairly creative in its choice of predatory antagonists. Instead of the usual Tyrannosaurus Rex, the major animal predator is a Carnotaurus. The Disney film Dinosaur and the novel The Lost World have those as enemies, but that's about it.

*The cave people are ruled by a female warrior chief, but there's no attempt to shoehorn in a romantic plot between her and Turok even though I suspected there'd be one.

The Bad

*The movie is a little on the short side. It's maybe an hour and fifteen minutes tops. Perhaps it was originally intended for television broadcasting? Its extreme violence would make it unlikely to be shown anywhere except perhaps Adult Swim on the Cartoon Network.

*It's fun, but it's not really that entertaining. There are much more fun movies out there.

The Verdict

It's fun to see once. Six out of 10.

Spoiler-Free STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015) Review

At long last, after weeks of looking forward to it, I've finally seen J.J. Abrams' science fiction film Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I've managed to avoid spoilers so far, and I won't sully your experience, so the following review will be spoiler-free...

The Plot

Thirty years after the events of Return of the Jedi, the Republic has been re-established and is supporting a resistance movement against the First Order, a successor state to the fallen Empire. Luke Skywalker has disappeared and both the Resistance, led by Leia, and the First Order are seeking him. Ace pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) receives a map showing where Luke went into exile and leaves it with his droid BB-8 on the planet Jakku before being captured by the First Order and its Force-wielding enforcer Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). While rebellious stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) helps Poe escape, the droid ends up in the ends of scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley), and the hunt is on...

The Good

*The movie is quite entertaining. It starts out with a bang--the First Order attacks a village in order to capture Poe and the map he has--and keeps going. A lot of movies I end up looking at my watch multiple times throughout, but not this one.

*There are some fun action sequences, including a Big Damn Heroes moment where the Resistance arrives to rescue some characters captured by the First Order and various battles between X-wings and TIE fighters.

*Finn is pretty funny, especially his interactions with Han Solo. I liked a lot of his lines.

*Although Leia does not appear to have undergone Jedi training like she did in the original Expanded Universe, the filmmakers do remember that she's Force-sensitive. She's capable of picking up on another character's ultimate fate from possibly light-years away.

*Although the film is too derivative of the original trilogy (more on that later), there are a couple scenes where Han riffs on events from the first film for comedic effect.

*I liked how a character reveals another character's real name. Very dramatic. And the resulting confrontation is very well-done. One character makes a particular decision and is clearly very torn about it, to the point you think they'll make a different one.

*The First Order soldiers are clearly trained to take on opponents armed with lightsabers, indicating a certain adaptability on the Empire/First Order's part.

*Domhnall Gleeson does a good job playing General Hux, one of the First Order's commanders. He's very good at making dramatic speeches.

The Bad

*The movie is overall rather derivative of the original trilogy. The First Order's new superweapon is too much like the Death Star, as is the attack on it. There are even sequences that are obviously copied from the original films, including a scene where the Millennium Falcon and X-wings flying away from an explosion. The galaxy far, far away is a pretty big place and there's plenty of room to do new stuff in the old world.

*The superweapon doesn't make a whole lot of sense. The Death Star was pretty straightforward--it was a gigantic laser capable of destroying a planet. Not going to go into more detail for fear of spoilers.

*The political situation doesn't make much sense. The resistance is a separate entity from the Republic and is clearly under-armed, but yet it has a bunch of important people from the Rebellion in hands-on command. I would expect them to be better-armed. It's like if the Afghan resistance movement against the Soviets was commanded by a U.S. general from WWII, Korea, and Vietnam but didn't have anything beyond their own small arms.

*I don't particularly like Kylo Ren's robotic voice. James Earl Jones as the voice of Vader was much more impressive. Heck, given how Ren has Vader's helmet, it would be interesting if he plugged in Vader's voice-machine and had James Earl Jones' voice. Characters could even comment on that.

*There are some obvious matte paintings for the background.

*I liked what Han and Leia were up to in the original EU--her one of the civilian political leaders of the New Republic and him a military general--after the fall of the Empire rather than what they're doing here. The reasoning behind it makes some sense--and I think in the EU Han did something similar after the death in battle of Chewbacca--but I didn't particularly like it. And how on Earth would he lose the Millennium Falcon?

*Why Rey doesn't want to leave Jakku is incredibly foolish. I remember another reviewer saying she acts like a realistic young person, including making bad decisions, but I didn't like how they handled it.

*Finn goes from wanting to desert the First Order after a war crime to killing his former comrades pretty quickly. I would expect more internal conflict.

*Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) is rather underused. She doesn't even take her helmet off. Christie was pretty impressive in Game of Thrones, so this is rather unfortunate.

*Why is there a map to where Luke is hiding? I could understand something like manifests of the ship he left on or records of "Luke Skywalker sightings" or something to that effect, but how would this map be made?

The Verdict

It would have been a lot better if they'd adapted Timothy Zahn's Thrawn trilogy instead. Let's hope the new trilogy improves from here. Six out of 10.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

THREE Cool Sci-Fi and Fantasy Movie Trailers For You!

A couple more cool trailers for movies I'd like to see have graced my laptop in recent days.

Here's the first one, the science fiction/alien invasion saga Independence Day: Resurgence. For anybody who hasn't been hiding under a rock for the last twenty years, that's the sequel to Independence Day.

Looks pretty cool. When I first saw the trailer I was wondering why there was another attack on Earth itself. One would think the aliens would have learned not to descend into a gravity well to battle the natives, while we would want to engage them as far away as possible. I was hoping for human-made City Destroyers to duke it out with alien City Destroyers in deep space.

Well, this website chronicling "The War of 1996" kind of explains that. There are bases on Mars and Saturn's moon Rhea, so either the alien attackers bypassed them (not hard given how planets orbit) or blasted through them. And now the battle has come to Earth itself, to the older survivors of the war (including a crazy-seeming ex-president) and new heroes...

And here's something that came out Monday, Star Trek Beyond.

If I remember right, the Enterprise leaves on "the five-year mission" to explore uncharted space at the end of Star Trek Into Darkness. So it seems that, not long into the mission, the Enterprise is wrecked by hostile aliens and its crew stranded. Furthermore, they're in the hands of hostile aliens intent on "push[ing] back" against the Federation itself.

I'm wondering how Kirk and friends get out of this pickle. And I also like McCoy's "isn't this just typical" line. :)

Finally, there's this Harry Potter spin-off, the film adaptation of Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them.

Author J.K. Rowling created a fantasy world that's so huge that there's plenty of room for more stories other than those about Harry and his friends. The fan-fic covering the Marauder Era (when Harry's parents were in school), the next generation, etc. shows that.

But all of that is in Great Britain. Here we get to see what the American wizarding community is like. There's not much here, but it looks nice.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

LEGEND OF TARZAN (2016) and THE BFG (2016) Trailers

Here are a couple more interesting movie trailers I found in the last couple days.

I first heard of The Legend of Tarzan courtesy of a comment a fellow writer made online. I forgot about it for a bit, then remembered it and hit YouTube to learn more. As far as I know it's been a long time since there's been any live-action Tarzan material--Casper Van Dien was in the box-office bomb Tarzan and the Lost City and there was a live-action WB television series featuring an American teenage heir to a corporate fortune instead of a British nobleman that if I remember correctly got canceled pretty quickly.

Based on the trailer the movie looks really cool. It seems to be set in the colonial era with all the steamships and Maxim guns (and even features the British Punch magazine from that era), but it also has all the unknown-civilizations stuff from an old-school Edgar Rice Burroughs story. Not sure when precisely it's coming out, but it certainly looks fun.

And now for the next one, which I was alerted to the other night by my friend Nick. It's a film adaptation of Roald Dahl's novel The Big Friendly Giant, which I remember reading in the third grade.

I like the trailer's style--they basically introduce the idea of giants and giants abducting people and end with the little girl saying that this is how the story begins. It's a good way of hooking the audience and getting them to want more.

Saturday, December 12, 2015


Over the last couple days, I've gotten a couple really nice cinematic bones thrown my way. The trailers for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows and X-Men: Apocalypse have just been unleashed.

If the Turtles are giving interviews to the media (the whole "we're brothers who hate bullies" thing), I'm guessing the masquerade has been broken. Of course, when it looks like there's a straight-up alien invasion happening in New York, I think people would be a lot more tolerant of "freaks" than they would be before.

And enter Casey Jones. Pretty impressive--able to take down a bunch of Foot guys in seconds and even evade a gigantic mutant. If the movie is anything like canon he and April are going to hook up. I imagine her cameraman and Michelangelo are going to be so disappointed. :)

I also like what they did with the Foot this time around. They basically seem to operate like a Special Forces battalion and even dress the part in the scene where Casey rescues April from a bunch of them. They still kept the Shredder Japanese, although with recasting he's now a skinnier guy with a goatee. Did the mutagen we see him keeping at the end of the first film make that happen? It could be a nice in-universe explanation.

My one quibble is it looks like in the trailer April is taking off her clothes in public for no reason. Given how this movie is being produced by Michael Bay (albeit directed by somebody else I think), I suspect there's his typical silly Fanservice going on. And I say this as a Megan Fox fan.

I enjoyed the first one, much to some of my friends' horror. Hopefully this new one will be fun.

I admit Apocalypse was not one of my favorite villains back when I was an elementary schooler reading the X-Men comics and watching the X-Men animated series. However, this trailer succeeds in making him really cool.

And Jennifer Lawrence is back as Mystique. I liked her better than Rebecca Romjin, who played her in the X-Men films that came out when I was in high school. She's a great actress generally, plus Mystique in X-Men First Class and Days of Future Past is a much more complicated character. And in her speech to Cyclops, we have her going full-blown Katniss Everdeen, which is always cool. We also have Sophie Turner, best known for Sansa Stark in Game of Thrones, as the young Jean Grey. Interesting...

Hmm...Magneto as one of Apocalypse's Four Horsemen? Never seen that before. Given how in Days of Future Past we see an elderly Magneto lamenting how stupid he'd been as a young supervillain perhaps it's his alliance with (or subservience to) Apocalypse that's his wakeup call.

And it looks like they're bridging the gap between the 1960s/1970s First Class era and the 2000 films both chronologically (this is the 1980s) and thematically (Xavier losing his hair).

I wonder if they'll bring in, or at least hint at, Mr. Sinister? I remember reading in the Age of Apocalypse comics--in Mr. Sinister's death scene specifically--that he'd made a Faustian bargain with Apocalypse to gain immortality and the freedom to pursue his scientific research.