Saturday, December 31, 2016

A Three-Day Battle At Pearl Harbor? Check Out "The Battle at Dawn"

I'm still self-banned from the alternate-history forum, but logged out I can still view the public sections. In the Post-1900 forum there's a new thread entitled "The Battle At Dawn: The First Battle Between The United States and Japan Dec. 7-10, 1941."

The divergence from our history is that Admiral James O. Richardson, who vocally opposed moving the U.S. Pacific Fleet from San Francisco to Pearl Harbor and was relieved of his position as commander in chief of the U.S. fleet as a result, is summoned to Washington by Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, who persuades Richardson to keep his mouth shut. Knox, Richardson, and Roosevelt meet and agree that although the Pacific Fleet must remain at Pearl Harbor, the base's defenses will be strengthened.

(Richardson thought the fleet too vulnerable to air-sea attack where it was, a position that was ultimately vindicated.)

Richardson is given a partial demotion that ends up being better for everybody--he's placed in direct command of the Pacific Fleet in preparation to face the Japanese threat. Admiral Husband Kimmel, who was relieved of command of the Pacific Fleet in actual history due to Pearl Harbor, is sent to command the Atlantic Fleet in the undeclared naval war against Germany.

As a result of Richardson--who helped create War Plan Orange to deal with a possible war with Japan--commanding the defense of Hawaii, the U.S. is much more prepared for the Japanese attack when it comes. This might not be an unmitigated blessing, however--if the U.S. fleet left Pearl Harbor to face the Japanese in deep water, every sunk ship would have been lost for good (many ships sunk at Pearl were raised afterward) and many more lives would have been lost. The situation could have gotten so bad that Admiral Chester Nimitz said the fleet not sortieing was "God's blessing."

At this point in the timeline the bloodied but angry Pacific Fleet is about to face the Japanese Combined Fleet near Midway Island (the Battle of Midway is coming early this time, but there's no guarantee who'll win), so we'll have to see how that goes...

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Movie Review: Rogue One (2016)

The other night I saw the new Star Wars movie Rogue One, the first of the "Anthology" films set in the Star Wars universe now that it's owned by Disney.

How was it? Here goes...

The Plot

The opening crawl of Star Wars: A New Hope describes how the Rebel Alliance has won its first victory over the evil Empire and how the plans for the new Imperial weapon--the Death Star--have been stolen.

How did that happen, you ask? Well, the movie begins with the sinister Imperial weapons developer Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) coming to take into custody runaway scientist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), in the process killing wife Lyra Erso. Their young daughter Jyn (played by Felicity Jones as an adult) flees the scene and when we next see her, she's an adult in an Imperial prison. A group of Rebels spring her--without much enthusiasm on her part--and Rebel leader Mon Mothma assigns her and Rebel spy Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) to retrieve information on the Death Star sent by her father, who sufficient to say is not pleased with what the Imperials are making him do.

Although we all know that the Rebels will get their hands on the Death Star plans, just how that happens is where the fun is...

The Good

*I really like the concept of anthology films in general. The Star Wars universe is so gigantic that you can tell lots of different stories that don't ever touch on the main characters like the Skywalkers, Han and Chewbacca, etc. In the case of Rogue One, only Darth Vader, Mon Mothma, Bail Organa, and a couple others are established characters. The rest are new.

*This is basically a war movie in a science fiction universe. The last third or so of it is a gigantic battle sequence that's very well done and makes it far clearer just what this movie is about than, well, "Star Wars."

*Vader only appears in two scenes, but in the second of the two, well, hot damn. It's more like Star Wars Rebels than the original trilogy in terms of Vader's combat ability. Heck, some reviewers describe that scene as being more like a horror movie.

*The movie gets more into the moral ambiguity that fighting a galaxy-wide war will necessitate. We have Rebel groups excommunicated by the Alliance for excessive violence, we have assassinations, etc. Waging war against a ruthless opponent is pretty much impossible to do with clean hands and this is made clear.

*I'm not overly familiar with the cartoons like Clone Wars and Rebels, especially the former, but I know that Saw Gerrera, the rebel too extreme for the Rebellion, was originally from Clone Wars. And I'm told the Ghost, the ship from Rebels, appears during the fleet-action scene. It's good to see Disney integrating all the different Star Wars properties.

*Speaking of the fleet-action scene, my favorite scene from Return of the Jedi was the Battle of Endor. The Battle of Scarif that serves as the climax of the film is a lot smaller-scale, but it's still well-done.

*The ground-combat portion of the Battle of Scarif is well-done as well. We see combined-arms and a much more effective demonstration of the importance of air support than the hovership-looking things used to trip up AT-ATs in The Empire Strikes Back.

*The reprogrammed Imperial enforcer robot K2SO, voiced by Alan Tudyk, is pretty fun. He gets some good lines.

*The movie is really dark. That might not be to everybody's taste, but given how the Emperor is building a superweapon and is on the verge of dissolving the Senate and cementing himself firmly as uber-dictator, these were not good days. Obi-Wan calls them "the dark times" for a reason.

The Bad

*The movie is extremely long and the first parts of it are rather slow. That was my single biggest problem with the movie.

*Owing to the importance of the Death Star, they needed Grand Moff Tarkin, but Peter Cushing (who played him in the original) is dead. They briefly had him at the end of Revenge of the Sith, seen from a distance, but that wouldn't work this time. However, rather than recasting him with a new actor made up to look like Tarkin, they used CGI to paste Cushing's face onto actor Guy Henry's body. It kind of looks funny and I wish they hadn't done that.

*No title crawl. This is petty, but it might provide some good context.

The Verdict

Better than The Force Awakens by far. Hopefully the first of many to come. 9.0 out of 10.

Monday, November 28, 2016

LITTLE PEOPLE, BIG GUNS, My Third Original Novel, Is Done

This is a little late, but here's some good news. My third original novel Little People, Big Guns is now finished.

It's actually been finished for a couple weeks now, but I wanted to run the last three chapters through the writing group, go through a backlog of older critiques I'd set aside due to real-life obligations, review the comments from a friend who'd read the whole thing in a couple days (it's around 28,000 words, which technically makes it a novella), and then finally give the whole thing a once-over before I sent it out. I've got a contact at a small bizarro press whom I'd pitched an earlier version of the story to at the World Horror Conference 2015, so I sent it his way and hoped for the best.

Okay, maybe I should actually describe the plot. A few years ago I read a news story claiming TV chef Gordon Ramsay's dwarf porn star double was found dead in a badger den. It turns out the story might not actually be true, but at that point the earliest version of the story, entitled "Badgers vs. Midgets," was born. Basically a little person (a whole lot people with the condition actually consider "midget" a slur) is killed by a predatory badger, the local law enforcement declines to investigate, and so the local little persons take matters into their own hands.

Unfortunately, as I learned from the gentleman at the pitch session, that would only work as the first act. What happens next? Fortunately I was quick-thinking and spun out a plot involving militant animal-rights activists and a bear-sized super-badger. As my writing-group cohort Katherine Mankiller would put it, "peak silliness" has been achieved. I spent the last year and a half banging it out and now it's in someone else's hands.

And although the story seems tasteless and exploitative, it's actually much more thoughtful. LPBG touches on issues like the abortion of fetuses with dwarfism, mobility issues little people face, people rubbing little persons' heads for good luck (Tyrion Lannister has something to say about that), etc.

And that might make it an awkward fit. It's too farcical for a book seriously exploring the issues people with this condition face, but it might be too thoughtful for straight-up exploitation. I might well have to independently publish it like I did with a bunch of my short stories. There aren't very many publishers of bizarro fiction (which is the literary equivalent of a cult movie--think Bigfoot Crank Stomp or Shatnerquest), so I might exhaust those fairly quickly. I'm going to pitch it Thursday through #Pitmad, but that hasn't gotten me a lot of luck with more mainstream fare.

And if it does get published, either from a small press or as an Amazon original, it'll probably be under a pseudonym. I want the "Matthew W. Quinn brand" associated with more highbrow content like The Thing in the Woods (a teen horror novel that ultimately becomes a tale of interstellar war--think Down The Bright Way with monsters), Bloody Talons (an oral history of an alien invasion a la World War Z), and Battle for the Wastelands (post-apocalyptic steampunk Western--think Dark Tower meets Game of Thrones). A lowbrow exploitation farce, even one with a heart, doesn't really fit.

(A lot of writers have different pseudonyms for different brands. Delilah S. Dawson's fantasy-western Shadow novels Wake of Vultures and Conspiracy of Ravens go out under Lila Bowen, while James R. Tuck's Lovecraftian Red Right Hand is published under Levi Black and Bryan Cohen's Cinderella Dreams of Fire is published under Casey Lane.)

And the planned sequel, should this one take off, gets even more farcical. It involves a hidden community of little people called the Shire under threat from a master criminal code-named Santa Claus who kidnaps members of the community to force them to work in a mine. And his muscle is a blue-eyed white-furred Bigfoot. Nope, not classy at all.

I'll keep you all posted once I get more information.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

FREE Supervillain-Protagonist Story on Thanksgiving and Black Friday

For Thanksgiving and Black Friday 2016, I've made my short story "Ubermensch" FREE. Those of you interested in superheroes, supervillains, villain-protagonist stories, and diversity in speculative fiction (lead character Andrew Patel is Indian-American) should take a look.

(Alex Claw has illustrated many of my Amazon stories, which can be found here. I think "Ubermensch" is the best cover. Here's his DeviantArt account if you're looking for an artist.)

And now for some background you might find interesting. I first started writing "Ubermensch" sometime in 2011. I published it independently on Amazon in early August 2013, with the sequel "Needs Must" appearing just under two weeks later. I've got a lot of potential stories to tell with this character, as the fact I've made it a series on Amazon indicates.

If you read the story, please leave an honest review, good or bad. I've got a cover made and a fourth (but not a third) story written for a four-story Andrew Patel collection. If and when it goes up, it will tie Andrew Patel and his world in with my Lovecraftian novel The Thing in the Woods. But I'd like to know if there's sufficient interest first.

Here's the cover for the planned collection for those who'd like to know more:

Alex did this one too.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Free Stories! Happy Halloween!

I know it's not Halloween yet, but I get up really early in the morning for work and so I figured I'd put this out there now, lest I forget. As a Halloween gift for all my fans out there, I am setting TWO of my Kindle stories FREE on for that day only.

The first one is "I am the Wendigo," my first professionally-published story. I sold it in 2006 to a webzine called Chimaera Serials that no longer exists. Like many authors whose work has gone out of print, I found it quite nice to have an easy republishing route and I've made about as much if not more as an indie that I was paid for the first rights.

The second one is "Melon Heads." I wrote that one when I was in college after reading about the Melon Heads, an urban legend centered in rural Ohio, on the Internet. I tinkered with it over the years and ultimately revised the story to be a dark comedy based on suggestions from Katherine Mankiller.

Both of these stories bear the Sean C.W. Korsgaard stamp of approval.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Gary Johnson and Evan McMullin Ought To Collaborate

In order to make sure the 2016 U.S. presidential election goes into the House of Representatives and consequently somebody better than Donald Trump (a lecherous authoritarian oaf who isn't the great businessman his supporters think) or Hillary Clinton (who will tilt the Supreme Court leftward, is opposed to gun rights, will empower the "illiberal left", and may get the US into more confrontations abroad) becomes president, the two most significant third-party candidates, Libertarian Gary Johnson and #NeverTrump Republicans' unofficial nominee Evan McMullin, should enter into a vote-sharing arrangement.

This idea is not my own. Casey Cho, an online pen-pal whom you can follow on Twitter here, suggested that Johnson and McMullin enter into an arrangement to maximize each others' chances of winning electoral votes and pushing the election into the House. 

To that end, Gary Johnson voters should support McMullin in Utah and other states in the "Mormon cultural sphere" (Casey said Idaho and Wyoming) and McMullin supporters should vote for Johnson everywhere else. This would be especially crucial in New Mexico, where Johnson was a popular governor and where people are predicting he could get an upset victory. I'm not basing my position on one news story--here's another source citing Republicans defecting to Johnson in the aftermath of Trump's "Grope-Gate."

Why, do you ask? According to the 12th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, if no candidate gets a certain number of electoral votes (270 in this election), the contest goes to the House of Representatives. Congress will then pick from the top three electoral vote earners. This has not happened since 1824's infamous "Corrupt Bargain" election. No third-party candidate has won any states since 1968, so this has never been a realistic possibility, even though Ross Perot pulled nearly 20% in 1992.

Until now.

Before McMullin entered, I assumed that #NeverTrump Republicans would support Johnson by default. In one poll, in one district in Utah, Johnson was tied with Clinton and Trump, so the possibility he could get electoral votes in Utah (historically Republican, but owing to conservative Mormons not likely to support the libertine Donald Trump) and push a close election into the House was a very real possibility. 

However, McMullin, a Mormon himself and more palatable than the pro-choice pro-legalization-of-drugs Johnson to Utah's Mormon majority, came in. Now McMullin is polling 22% in Utah, just 4% behind the tied Trump and Clinton, while Johnson is polling at 14%. This article claims McMullin is in a statistical tie with the Big Two. If even half of Johnson's supporters in Utah vote McMullin, that could be enough to push him over the top and secure Utah's six electoral votes. Trump may yet collapse further to McMullin's benefit, but given the reality's of America's electoral system, this is the easiest way.

McMullin doesn't appear to be a significant factor in New Mexico and Johnson, depending on the polls, is as few as four points behind Trump and Clinton and as many as 14, in order for Johnson to push ahead of the Big Two, all hands will need to be on deck for him and every little bit will help.

Depending on how the states break down November 8, a McMullin victory in Utah and a Johnson victory in New Mexico alone might push the election into the House. In that case, McMullin will be the third candidate, not Johnson (Utah has six electoral votes, New Mexico five), but depending on how badly Trump implodes and how much damage Wikileaks does to Clinton, there might be more states in play.

Still, Johnson can't win Utah at this point and McMullin sure as heck can't win New Mexico. Working together is the only way I can think of that they can win electoral votes and (potentially) stop Trump and Clinton.

So make this go viral. Make Mr. Johnson and Mr. McMullin take notice of it. We can still save the Republic.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Geekly Oddcast Star Wars vs. Star Trek

On September 23rd, the fifth episode of The Geekly Oddcast premiered. I listened to the whole thing while at the gym and it turns out I'm actually in it--it's one of the episodes I contributed to via Skype because I couldn't actually get to Grand Master Thomas Herman's house on time.

(Yes, I actually forgot I was in a podcast. Sue me.)

The topic: Star Wars vs Star Trek. This has apparently been the subject of many a playground fight, although one of the podcast crew wonders what kind of playgrounds Thomas has been hanging out at. Based on my own childhood, it seems like playground fights had more to do with kids making fun of each other's parents or similar silliness--Star Wars vs. Star Trek seems to be the stuff of never-ending squabbles on Internet message boards.

Stuff I contributed a lot to in the episode:

*How the two franchises appeal to different groups of people. Star Wars is an epic fantasy story in space--although there are spaceships, laser weapons, etc., the science behind them is rather vague, you also have fantasy archetypes like the commoner-turned-hero (Luke Skywalker), the abducted princess (Princess Leia), the dark knight (Darth Vader), and both good and evil wizards (Obi-Wan Kenobi and Emperor Palpatine), and the Force is a kind of pseudo-magic. Star Trek is more realistic and the science is harder--based on its logo the Federation seems to be a successor state to the United Nations, the warp drive is theoretically possible, and members of the crew are from still-extant Earth nations (Kirk is American, Sulu is Japanese, Chekov is Russian).

*Comparing the Star Wars prequels with J.J. Abrams' rebooted Star Trek films. I like Star Wars better in general, but I think the new Trek films are better than the new Star Wars films (and that includes The Force Awakens). Spears were shaken. Comparisons of Into Darkness and Wrath of Khan occurred. 9/11 Trutherism and the "the real enemy is your own military" tropes were denounced.

*The quality of Star Trek: The Next Generation, whether or not it was preachy, and the influence of Gene Roddenberry. I found Captain Picard extremely sanctimonious at times, but I think the point of Star Trek First Contact was that he was a giant hypocrite--he disdained 21st Century people as savages but when pressed (the Borg) he could be just as violent ("THIS FAR AND NO FARTHER!").

*In which I sing Iggy Azalea's "Fancy" and mimic Jar Jar Binks, much to Daniel's irritation.

Want more details on those topics or want to know what else we discussed? You can listen to it via Podbean here.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Geekly Oddcast: How To Improve The Star Wars Prequel Trilogy

The fourth episode of The Geekly Oddcast has come forth, and this time we're discussing the Star Wars prequel trilogy. One of the major topics discussed was how to improve the prequels. Here's my chance to elaborate on what I said...

For the record, I didn't hate The Phantom Menace or Attack of the Clones, at least when I saw them in late middle school and in high school. In fact, I remember enjoying both movies. However, Revenge of the Sith came out when I was in college and when I saw it, I was incredibly disappointed. My disappointment culminated in the infamous "NOOO!" that, instead of being tragic (Palpatine claims Vader, who had sold his soul to Palpatine to protect his wife Padme from dying in childbirth as he had foreseen, had actually killed her--and in a way that was actually true), was unintentionally hilarious.

Watch it below and weep. Or laugh.

So how to make things better?

*For starters, nix the bit about "midi-chlorians" from The Phantom Menace completely. It's established in Return of the Jedi with the whole "I have it, my father has it, my sister has it" bit and followed up with Han and Leia's son in The Force Awakens that Force-sensitivity is often hereditary, but there was no need to actually explain it. Just leave it mysterious.

*Daniel suggested following a single character the way the Original Trilogy followed Luke Skywalker. Even if the story is ultimately about the damnation of Anakin Skywalker, we can see him through someone else's eyes. Daniel suggested Obi-Wan and that's a really good idea. One of Thomas's friends (I don't know his crew that well so I don't know his name) suggested Anakin's fall would have more impact if we focused on how it affected other characters and Kenobi watching his beloved student turn into a monster would really hurt. In Return of the Jedi, he tells Luke about how he thought he could have been as good a teacher as Yoda..."and I was wrong." The guilt that might have been tempered by time in the original trilogy would be red-hot in the prequels. Boba Fett, as someone who isn't a Rebel or a loyal Imperial, could be another possible central character.

*I liked Christopher Lee's performance as Count Dooku, but his name is just so ridiculous. Apparently they had to change his name in Portuguese and Brazilian releases because "Dooku" actually means "from the ass." Plus the name "Dooku" in the U.S. at least seems to have some scatological connotations, which further undermine him.

*One of the worst parts of Revenge of the Sith was Hayden Christiansen's awful delivery in what're supposed to be some very important scenes. Either he should have been recast with somebody who could actually act (I didn't mind him in Attack of the Clones, although I do remember a reviewer claiming he was "vapid, not Vader"), or they should have brought on a different director.

*Heck, the different director might've been the best way to make a difference in the quality of the acting. The Empire Strikes Back, widely believed to be the best Star Wars movie of them all, was directed by Irvin Kirshner, while Return of the Jedi was directed by Richard Marquand. Although one must give credit to Lucas for writing and directing A New Hope, by the time we got to the prequel trilogy (in which he wrote and directed them all), he might've been wearing too many hats.

You might wonder what the point of posting about this is, given how the movies are years old now and nothing's going to change? Well, some people might be inspired to write "fix fics" that showcase how they would have done the films. Think my fan-fic "The Revenge of the Fallen Reboot," which is how I would have done Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. If this post inspires some fan-fics that improve upon the prequel trilogy and fill readers' hearts with wonder and joy the prequels ought to have inspired, I will consider myself well-rewarded.

(Heck, "The Skywalker Heresy" is a good "fix fic" for the prequel trilogy that makes Anakin's characterization more akin to that of the television series The Clone Wars rather than the whiner of the movies. You all should check that out.)

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Dan Wells DragonCon Panel: "I Am Not A Serial Killer"

Dan Wells, author of the mystery-horror novel I Am Not A Serial Killer that was recently adapted into an independent film, was allowed to spend over a week on the film set, a rare honor in the film business.

At the 2016 DragonCon screening of the movie (you can see my the spoiler-free review of the movie here), Wells said most of the time writers of the source material aren't included much. He cited the case of one writer who was only allowed on-set one day and not allowed to talk to anybody. However, the director of IANASK was a friend of his. So Wells got to be on-set ten days and talk to the cast members about their characters. Speaking as someone who'd love to see his books adapted into movies (Battle for the Wastelands could easily be a cross between Gettysburg and Lord of the Rings), this would be a high honor indeed.

Furthermore, the film's low budget--$1.2 million--gave them a lot more creative freedom than a big-budget film with a lot of studio money people involved did. Executive Meddling is a common problem in the film business, especially if there are concerns the filmmakers' vision might alienate audiences. With costs so low, it's easier to make a profit and thus more risks can be taken.

During a Q&A session after the movie, I asked Wells about why the movie looked so old-fashioned. He said it was shot on FujiFilm that's no longer made. The director of photography had two movies' worth of this film stored in a refrigerator in his garage. They wanted an "old, gritty-looking" feel to the movie and this they got. I read elsewhere the film was shot on 16mm film. I'm not familiar with how movies shot on different media look (although I did notice when I last saw Dog Soldiers that it looked in part like it was shot in the 1970s and apparently older Dr. Who episodes were shot at least in part on video), so I guess that's why movies shot in particular time periods look the way they do.

I also asked why the killer didn't attack John when John came across him killing another character and Wells said it was clearer in the book that the killer was too weak to do both.

Wells also said he wrote the book he wanted to write and the book served as a test for finding "his people." Wells paraphrased how they'd react below:

"I thought this was a crime novel. Holy cow, this is a monster. This is so cool!"

The audience also learned that half of the I Am Not a Serial Killer extras also worked on the television series Fargo. Given that both stories take place in the cold Upper Midwest, this is a pretty good choice.

Before the film, Wells' Writing Excuses cohort Brandon Sanderson (yes, the one who finished the Wheel of Time series when Robert Jordon died) interviewed Wells. They spoke about their long friendship and the easygoing competition they have with each other. That got the audience a tale of the origin story for IANASK--Wells worked for a scrapbooking company and read serial-killer biographies to ward off the excess of kitsch. When Sanderson gave him a ride home, he regaled him with the MacDonald Triad, which informed the first line of the first draft.

"There are three traits common to serial killers. I have all of them."

Wells also said that he wanted his adaptation to be different from the book. After all, he's written the book already and knows what's going to happen. For example, John's love interest (as much as he can love) Brooke in the novel is blonde, but the actress is brunette. Although he was skeptical at first, after seeing her performance it was hard for Wells to see Brooke as blonde afterward. And although he and the director had some "friction" over how the movie had a different ending than the book, Wells did say it looked good on film and overall, it was fun to see others' interpretation of his ideas.

Finally, we also learned the first version of the script had a lot of voice-over, reflecting how the novel was told in first-person POV. However, this ended up cut out--people will assume the protagonist is safe. Furthermore, Wells said that actor Max Records, who plays Cleaver, conveys all the V.O. stuff through his facial expressions anyway.