Sunday, March 31, 2019

Giving Gun Shows Another Spin This April

Last May, I attended one of the Eastman gun shows in Gwinnett County to sell books. Although I sold fourteen print copies of The Thing in the Woods and seven print copies of The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly Vol. 2 (and likely sold at least some e-books with my cards), I didn't make too much profit owing to the high costs of the table, underpricing the books for lack of small bills, and not yet knowing how to best attract people to my table. I also wasn't yet aware of the importance of getting e-mails for the mailing list, reducing my long-term profit opportunities from the event. I decided to lay off gun shows until Little People, Big Guns (more obviously a "gun book" with the cover and repeated reference to "Stand Your Ground" laws) or The Atlanta Incursion (the sequel to Thing that people might buy with it) was published and focus on science fiction conventions in the meantime based on the $160 profit I made at The Atlanta Sci-Fi and Fantasy Expo the previous March.

However, after ordering a lot of books to ensure I was adequately stocked for a planned summer of sales, I found myself with many books and a lot fewer venues than I'd anticipated. Although I'm definitely going to the Northwest Georgia Comic Book and Collectible Toy Expo, I'm on the waiting list for Augusta Toy and Comic Show and the "standby list" for the Atlanta Comic-Con (where I made an absolute killing last year and was hoping to sell lots this year) and I don't know when the next Atlanta Comic Convention (where I made a decent profit last December splitting the table with Robert Jeffrey) will be. I intend to work shifts with the Atlanta Horror Writers of America chapter and the Atlanta Writers Club at the Decatur Book Festival Labor Day weekend and I've queried MultiverseCon and am considering Monsterama, but those are farther out. Based on how people at this year's Atlanta Sci-Fi and Fantasy Expo remembered me from the last convention and how I didn't make as much money as I anticipated, I'm worried that I might be "tapping out" the Atlanta SF/F/H crowd with Thing and HFQ.

(Little People, Big Guns won't be released by Deadite Press until November 15 and I doubt I'll get Blood on the Border done over the summer like I planned. And only two books doesn't really justify out of state travel--I lost money on last year's Lizard-Man Festival and that was with convenient relatives to crash with. Although I'd probably have better luck with events in big cities like Charleston and Columbia, I'm a high school teacher and most of the South Carolina events seem to be during the school year. The Soda City Comic-Con might work, since it's close to relatives I can stay with and it's before the school year starts and it seems to be a much bigger deal attendance-wise than the Lizard-Man Festival.)

So I've decided to give gun shows another spin, taking into account the reasons I didn't make much money the last time. I'm going to the Gem Capitol show in the last weekend in April that's got cheaper tables than the Gwinnett show. I'm also splitting the already lower cost with T.S. Dann, who is a gun enthusiast and an artist with lots to display in addition to being a writer. I'm going to make sure to have lots of small bills to make change and try to be more engaging with passers-by like I was at Atlanta Comic-Con. I'm also going to collect e-mail addresses this time, to build my fan-base much like Larry Correia did. Even if I sell the exact same number of books as last time, I'll make significantly more profit due to lower costs and a higher per-unit price. I'm feeling a bit more optimistic and less naive this time. :)

If this works out, there are plenty more gun shows in metro Atlanta and Georgia this year. Eastman is having events in Marietta/Cobb in later June, July, and December. And if it doesn't work out, then it's back to the original plan of waiting for LPBG and TAI so I've got more to sell.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

All Art Is Political: Yes or No?

Lately something I've seen a lot on Twitter, where I follow a lot of writers and other creative types, is the notion that "all art is political." Here is a detailed explanation of this belief from someone who popularized it and here is a rebuttal. I first heard of this notion many years before from a college acquaintance who's now a minister in a very conservative non-denominational church and an active Christian home-schooler (he said that all art has "a message" and essentially there's no neutrality), but it has gained especial prominence in recent years with the rise of various social justice movements online.

Coming from who it does (conservative Christians and the Internet social justice crowd), the whole idea sets my teeth on edge. Although historically the former has had more power than the latter (disapproval by the Catholic Legion of Decency could doom a film), political criticism of art and culture has become more prominent lately with the young-adult fiction controversies. The author-withdrawn novels Blood Heir and A Place for Wolves (the links go to discussions of each controversy individually) are two significant examples. Seriously, the apologies the YA community (or at least some of its more belligerent members) have extorted from the writers in question sound like something out of a Cultural Revolution "struggle session" (I'm not the only one to think that) and speaking as a historian this also brings to mind things like McCarthyism. It sets a precedent for political critique of works not intended to be political and, at worst, political control.

(The U.S. constitutional arrangements make legal censorship all but impossible, but the outrage machines on both sides of the political spectrum can lead to books or movies getting shelved, creatives' careers getting ruined, etc. Criticism isn't censorship, but it can become that de facto if the critics can intimidate the object of their critique or convince gatekeepers like agents, book studios, movie publishers, radio stations, etc. Look how #NoConfederate is threatening to deep-six HBO's first alternate-history project since Fatherland or the hammering of the Dixie Chicks' career.)

However, whether all art is truly political or not depends on how one defines "political," as the rebuttal article above points out. Some books or films are clearly "message fiction"--Margaret Atwood wrote The Handmaid's Tale as a response to the growing power of the Christian Right and the Iranian Revolution and the TV adaptation is clearly about Donald Trump, while It Can't Happen Here is a warning of possible fascism. Get Out is about how even white liberals can be dangerous to minorities and Starship Troopers was written in response to the US limiting nuclear testing and the Soviets breaking their promise to do likewise and has a lot of commentary on citizenship and responsibility. Less subtly there's Orson Scott Card's Empire and the neo-Nazi The Turner Diaries (nope, not linking to it) or the gun politics of Newt Gingrich's 1945.

(German commandos mow down nuclear scientists and their families in Oak Ridge while gloating about how banning guns from the site only made them defenseless against armed attackers and are ultimately defeated and left hogtied by Tennessee good old boys led by either the recently-demobilized Audie Murphy or the retired Sergeant York. I'm not a fan of gun control but this is seriously overplaying one's hand. I would have depicted the good old boys ambushing the Germans, killing a bunch and slowing them down enough for the scientists to escape, but not defeating them so thoroughly and not without taking significant losses themselves once they lose the element of surprise. Considering how poorly 1945 sold, a bit of nuance would've probably been helpful.)

By the above standard, most literature isn't political. I can't think of any sort of "message" in the monster movie Deep Rising or The Hobbit (the book). Tolkien himself objected to the idea that The Lord of the Rings was "really" about World War II or that Mordor was Germany and even described what the story would have looked like if that were the case.

However, if you define "political" to include "reflective of the author's values" or "reflecting the historical or cultural context in which they're written" rather than explicit author soapboxing, things get a bit broader. Tolkien's work in general is all about human fallibility (and there's a lot of criticism of industrialization and nostalgia for rural England) and the story of the hobbits in particular is about how the humble can be more important than the great. The film adaptations of The Hobbit included the new character Tauriel because Tolkien's original book lacked female characters completely and although there were a few women in The Lord of the Rings, their roles were not substantial compared to the men. Meanwhile, Highlander has a moral of self-sacrifice--the Immortals are sterile and Connor's refusal to abandon his wife leaves her to grow old and die without the children she wanted (something she blames herself for). To avoid repeating this mistake (and save himself the pain of watching his lover age and die while he remains young a second time), Connor eschews romantic relationships for centuries.

Now to examine some of my own currently-available work to see how it counts as "political," especially if one incorporates a more expanded use of the term.


The Thing in the Woods-I didn't intend for this to be a "message book" but it does reflect my values in that it's pro-gun and anti-racist. And the context of the early 2000s in the United States plays a major role in the characterization of most of the cast. Although I didn't go in intending to write a "message book" (I was inspired by a Call of Cthulhu scenario about "Lovecraft country" getting suburbanized and wanted to set it in Georgia and not New England to be different), the tale grew with the telling. The immediate sequel The Atlanta Incursion (with the publisher now) ties in with Black Lives Matter, while the in-progress third novel The Walking Worm ties in with the opiate crisis. Early 2000s cultural-political context ahoy!

Nicor-The story is antiwar even though it's on the surface an action-adventure monster story. Also a commentary on the things a man will do for women, particularly in a warlike and patriarchal society--the protagonist hopes to get enough loot and glory from going a-Viking to get a wife "or two."

Ten Davids, Two Goliaths and Discovery and Flight-Two novellas written in Lindsay Buroker's Fallen Empire universe, during the rebellion against the tyrannical Sarellian Empire rather than the troubled aftermath. Although my stories avoid the shades of gray of Buroker's work (which I've noted resembles the Arab Spring), that the Empire created its own enemy by drumming the protagonist out of the Navy for disobeying orders by destroying the bridge of a hijacked ship with beam weapons rather than blowing up the whole ship with a torpedo and his friend is a recovering drug addict who'd been sentenced to personality-altering medical treatment of questionable value is a moral judgement. The world-building I did for Buroker goes into detail about how the Imperial system and its Alliance successor state function and that's definitely political. Basically the Empire is corrupt and abusive toward dissidents, politics and big-big business are incestuously entwined, and many of its economic policies are focused on make-work projects to keep the masses busy while the Alliance in seeking to avoid the tyranny of the Empire is rather weak militarily and perhaps a little too hands-off.

Lord Giovanni's Daughter-I didn't plan for this to be a "message story" either, but Adriana is deliberately characterized to not be a passive "damsel in distress." I also wanted to subvert the fantasy-barbarian stereotype with protagonist John Fiore, who wants to build a library with his mercenary wages. Encouraging women to take initiative? Statement on the importance of education?

Illegal Alien-This started out as a joke about the different meanings of the word "alien," but I wrote it at the time of the Si Se Puede immigrant marches and deliberately hoped to play on that. Plus the protagonist and his friends wouldn't be trying to sneak into the U.S. illegally if there was a guest worker program like the WWII braceros and the hero's back-story touches on NAFTA's effects on Mexico.

Ubermensch and Needs Must-Two stories featuring an Indian-American supervillain protagonist and his rivalry with the hero Silverbolt. I did write an Indian-American protagonist because I actually agree with people's concerns about the lack of representation. The superhero antagonist Silverbolt hates guns due to a domestic violence incident in his past and one character is a stripper and totally unapologetic and unashamed about it. Plus there's a whole lot of Nietzsche quoting. :)

"Coil Gun"-Part of the Pressure Suite collection, this one depicts global nuclear war as survivable (albeit still extremely, extremely sucky) with proper civil defense preparations and ground- and spaced-based missile defenses. It's also critical of racism and religious bigotry, as is the Afrikanerverse in general. You can see my discussion of that here and here.

Picking Up Plans In Palma-This one gets more into religion than politics in that a character (a Catholic) being in a sexual relationship with another (a Protestant) but not married is a major plot point, but it does share the same anti-bigotry moral of "Coil Gun." There's also the added twist that it's a critique of complementarianism and "biblical patriarchy" from a Christian perspective, something I also discuss in the above blog posts.


Melon Heads-Not written with any political intention. However, the frat boys of Pi Iota Gamma are much more dangerous (and morally worse) than the titular Melon Heads, who are already suffering from diminished mental capacity and have been reduced to an essentially animalistic state by medical mistreatment and decades living in the woods. A #MeToo story written nearly 15 years early? And in the original draft the frat boys were a drug dealer and a couple of his goons, so you could argue the story makes moral judgments on drug dealing.

The Beast of the Bosporus-I started writing this as essentially "a Lovecraft story in the Ottoman Empire and not New England," but I elaborated on Sokolli's Janissary bodyguard a bit due to concerns from members of my writing group that the story could be interpreted as anti-Muslim. Now there's a Muslim character who isn't a drunk (Sultan Selim II) or a practitioner of dark magic with possible anti-Semitic tendencies (the protagonist Sokolli). Still not a "message book" and not intended to make a statement about anything.

Not Really

I am the Wendigo-My first story for which I was paid and most definitely not a "message book." However, it's also incredibly short. Furthermore, one could wring a moral out of it--the human father is a predator (albeit under utterly extreme circumstances) and is prey himself. However, that's really pushing it.

Lord of the Dolorous Tower-Two young men go meddling in the tomb of a fallen Dark Lord and trouble ensues. One of the two is clearly the dominant party in the relationship (stronger personality and somewhat more educated) and both parties' motivations include impressing girls so one could make some kind of sociological commentary, but really?

Sam-A Doberman vs. a monster that only it can detect. Perhaps a commentary on not being believed when one warns of danger? That's pushing it too.

So getting back to the original point, based on my own work alone I argue that not all art is political, but the stories that are longer and have more depth often touch on significant political, social, or cultural themes. And in the long run, it's these works that have staying power. The Handmaid's Tale will be discussed for years to come, while many schlocky paperback space opera or monster books written at the same time are sold at library book sales for a buck each. It is my hope that The Thing in the Woods is and its sequels are remembered as "horror of the early aughts" and discussed by cultural historians and the like in the same way as, say, the horror of the 1980s.

What do you think?

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Guest Post: Adventures in Amazon's Algorithms

It’s a pleasure to be asked to write about my experiences self-publishing on Amazon. My name’s Dave Schroeder (SHRAY-der) and I’m in a metro-Atlanta-area writing group with Matt.

Amazon’s algorithms can be powerful allies for authors. I’m about to self-publish my eighth novel and so far have sold over 26,000 copies of my books in paperback, via Kindle, as pages read on Kindle Unlimited, and through Audible, so Amazon and its algorithms have been kind to me.

What I discovered with my own books is that it takes time to build a loyal group of fans who eagerly look forward to your books and buy them whenever you release a new one. I work hard to cultivate fans using Facebook, my mailing list, and face-to-face conversations at science fiction and fantasy conventions. My Xenotech Support series of science fiction humor books about tech support for alien technology helped me build a loyal following. Many of them bought The Congruent Apprentice, the first novel in my Congruent Mage fantasy series, on the first day or two it came out, thereby bumping it up high on Amazon’s Young Adult Epic Fantasy sales list.

Once the book was in the top twenty for that category, Amazon’s algorithms started featuring the book in its You May Also Like suggestions. That resulted in more people discovering and liking it, thereby feeding a virtuous cycle that’s led to sales of over twelve thousand copies of The Congruent Apprentice and twenty-one thousand copies of the books in the series total, since the first book came out in March of 2017.

The key, to my mind, is to pick a narrow category and work hard to get a lot of sales of your title right up front, so Amazon’s algorithms are aware that people are buying your book. I expect those algorithms will have a minimum sales threshold that varies by category. Once that threshold is met, the algorithms themselves will do the work of spreading word about your book to wider audiences.

Most self-published authors can’t afford to buy advertising to drive big sales numbers, but we can use less expensive approaches and the power of our fans to have Amazon’s algorithms work for our benefit. For many narrow categories, it doesn’t require a lot of sales to put you in the top twenty in sales. Just over a hundred buyers could be enough, at least in my experience.

Sales of my fantasy series on Kindle and Kindle Unlimited led to a contract with Podium Publishing, a Toronto-based audiobook publisher, who noticed my books’ big numbers and offered me a contract to create audio versions of the Congruent Mage series, which led to even more sales though a different medium. Without my good Kindle sales, they never would have reached out to me. One word of caution—Audible listeners want to get value for their credits, so I’d advise you to bundle your books into at least ten hours of spoken content—typically a hundred-thousand words plus, depending on how fast your narrator speaks.

There’s something in self-publishing known as the fifth book phenomenon, where sales don’t really pick up until you’ve released your fifth (or fourth or third) book, so that readers know you’re “real” and will be sticking around. They don’t like making investments in an author when there’s only one or two books out there. Releasing four or five books somehow gives readers permission to fall for a particular author and indulge in a natural tendency to read everything they’ve written. That’s a lot harder when you only have one or two books out, so don’t feel bad when the sales of your first few books aren’t stellar. Building your audience—and collecting loyal fans who will buy your next book en masse and bump it up in Amazon’s algorithms—takes time. Continuous cultivation of your fans is part of what it takes to be successful in today’s small press and self-publishing world. Best of luck in building your own loyal followings. Amazon and its algorithms will repay you for it.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Blast from the Past Movie Review: The Nutty Professor (1996)

Once upon a time I saw the film The Nutty Professor at a friend's house and got into trouble, since I wasn't allowed to see it in theaters when it came out. I would've probably been in early middle school at the time. Not that long afterward I was on a trip to Disney World with my little brother and Myopia podcast host Nic, whose little brother was on the same traveling baseball team, and this movie was the bus ride entertainment. This would've probably been in the 1997-98 range. I haven't seen the film since, but Myopia being what it is, the time soon came to see if the film held up.

So did it? Here's the podcast. And now for the review...

The Plot

Sherman Klump (Eddie Murphy) is a good-natured but clumsy and morbidly obese genetics professor working under Dean Richmond (Larry Miller), who for some reason blames him for the college losing funding. Just after the film begins, graduate student Carla Purdy (Jada Pinkett-Smith) comes to teach at the school and Klump is infatuated. Shrugging off his enabling family (for the most part also played by Eddie Murphy), he begins trying to lose weight to impress Purdy, but it's not progressing fast enough. He decides to experiment on himself with a fat-reducing formula, spawning a lecherous and (literally) testosterone-addled alter ego Buddy Love (also played by Eddie Murphy) who proceeds to wreak havoc.

The Good

*At the time I remember Eddie Murphy got a lot of attention for playing multiple characters at once, most of which involved extensive makeup and/or fat suits. He does a good job playing all the different characters and differentiating them--there's the No Filter sex-crazed grandmother, the healthier and more fitness-focused brother who encourages Sherman to exercise, and Sherman's squabbling parents. There's Sherman himself, who's jovial and clumsy but has a melancholic streak we see in his conversation with Jason (John Ales), his lab assistant. Murphy's also clearly having a lot of fun playing the loud and charismatic Buddy Love. I found the "ALL SPANDEX" scene hilarious back then and it's still funny now.

*Although I remember family members criticizing the film for mocking overweight African-Americans, the film's treatment of obesity is surprisingly balanced. Klump has an extraordinarily poor diet and doesn't exercise, but at the same time he and his family do seem to have stockier body types (this is specifically mentioned) and Klump himself seems to be an emotional eater using food to essentially medicate depression and low self-esteem. His poor eating habits seem to stem from his upbringing--as depicted in two dinner sequences with his family--and based on some of the dialogue, the way Sherman's father dresses and habitually carries a knife, and what they eat, it seems that the Klump family originally came from the country. There such a diet would be fine if you're burning 6,000 calories a day working on the farm but not if you have a more sedentary lifestyle. Look at the obesity rates in the South and Midwest, for example. And Sherman's father Cletus echoes the most dangerous parts of the so-called "fat acceptance movement" by claiming nothing is really wrong with them and they just happen to look different/have different body types rather than their atrocious diets, too much TV (after dinner Cletus sits down to watch Roseanne rather than go for walk), etc. Sherman's brother, although still heavier, is nowhere near as fat as the rest of them and he is specifically described as exercising.

*Furthermore, although exercising does improve Sherman's stamina and agility fairly quickly, he doesn't immediately slim down. This kind of thing takes a lot more work, as well as diet changes Sherman doesn't immediately make. And the film makes it clear that shortcuts can be dangerous. Although spawning a destructive split personality clearly isn't going to happen, a former member of my writing group who's a nurse said she would never work in a weight loss clinic because (according to her) they basically give people legal speed to get rid of the pounds rapidly but don't teach them how to deal with the other issues that caused them to become fat in the first place--poor diet, low self-esteem, depression, etc. We see this with Buddy Love continuing Sherman's poor dietary habits, which would probably give him heart disease and other issues even if he didn't pack on the pounds.

*The film also deconstructs the "nice guy" archetype a bit. Although Sherman is a legitimately good-natured and nice person, years of mistreatment over his appearance and his own shyness and clumsiness have spawned a resentful streak that, combined with overdoses of testosterone, literally creates a monster. It doesn't take long at all for Buddy Love to become a completely different person than "Sherman Klump who's 300 pounds lighter." Although Buddy and Sherman seem to be split personalities, the film does make it clear there's overlap. And Sherman does show some minor signs of Buddy Love-ism himself, like showing up at Carla's home uninvited to ask her out and perhaps pursuing a relationship a bit too aggressively, especially since she's a junior colleague.

(Carla isn't one of Klump's students like the love interest in the original film, nor is she a direct subordinate, but just because it's not explicit sexual harassment doesn't mean it isn't something that could spawn all sorts of problems if not handled carefully.)

*Jada Pinkett-Smith does a good job playing Carla. She's intelligent and compassionate and recognizes the goodness in the unattractive Sherman, but at the same time she can be wowed by the charismatic and handsome Buddy Love even though he's really over-dramatic and obnoxious. And she won't put up with nonsense.

*Dave Chappelle, who plays the odious comedian Reggie, also does a good job. He's pretty funny, but at the same time his humor has a cruel streak and he's most definitely set up for a fall.

*There are some good visual gags, including the film opening with a campus gerbil apocalypse and various pratfalls involving Klump's clumsiness and weight. Klump's "fat nightmares" are also pretty funny. Some of the humor also serves the greater story--Buddy Love's behavior grows obnoxious even before the exact "scientific" reasoning behind it is revealed.

The Bad

*Dean Richmond claims Sherman has alienated all the donors, but how exactly did he do this? Sherman is clumsy both physically and socially, but he's too good-natured to get into political controversies, harass colleagues and students, etc. Does everybody just hate him because he's fat? That would make sense story-wise, but I'm having a hard time believing all of the college's donors would be assholes like that. Or have incidents like "the campus gerbil apocalypse" happened before? It's my understanding that in the original film Jerry Lewis's character has a history of causing explosive lab accidents, but we don't see anything even implying Klump has caused mishaps before.

*How does Buddy know how to drive so well? Sherman might be relatively well-paid for an academic if he's been there awhile or if he's made a lot of scientific discoveries, but I doubt he'd have access to the type of car he'd need to practice the mad driving skills he demonstrates in one scene.

*There's a bit of inconsistency with Carla's character--she hated Reggie for how he acted toward Sherman, yet she's enjoying fat jokes? Yes, people are often contradictory, but it kind of grated a bit.

The Verdict

A surprisingly deep, funny film. 8.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Philo-Semitic Mussolini? Israeli PM Anne Frank? PRESIDENT PATTON?

Still self-banned from the alternate history forum, but I still drop in now and then to see if there's anything interesting. I found this timeline The Footprint of Mussolini and so far it's pretty cool. It diverges from our history when a Communist attempts to assassinate Mussolini in 1932, only for a Jewish Blackshirt (Mussolini early on included prominent Jews in the fascist movement, had a Jewish mistress, and only began to implement anti-Semitic laws to suck up to Hitler later on) to take the bullets instead. This makes Mussolini rather more friendly to Jews than in our history (he narcissistically equates himself with Italy and therefore a Jew dying for him translates to the idea of Jewish loyalty to Italy), which has a lot of important consequences.

*The alliance with the Nazis is more distant (there's a Dual Pact between Germany and Japan but no Anti-Comintern Pact that formed the basis of the Axis), leading to Mussolini having a more cautious agenda in the Balkans. He and allies like Bulgaria dismember Yugoslavia and later Greece on their own, avoiding participation in Operation Barbarossa and the war with the Soviet Union.

*In order to strengthen Italian control over Libya, Mussolini essentially buys a substantial number of Jews from an increasingly resource-strapped Hitler. These tend to professional and educated types and in particular German and Austrian Jews, whom he thinks would be loyal to him because they would clearly have no fondness for Hitler. One such family is that of German businessman Otto Frank and rather than gaining posthumous fame as a writer, his daughter Anne goes on to have a political career in Israel.

*Using the above situation as an example and under heavy pressure from the increasingly-deranged post-Stalingrad Hitler, Hungarian dictator Horthy dumps his Jewish population on the Italian border. When it's reported to Mussolini that these Jews are all chanting "Il Duce, save us!" he apparently has a flashback to the day a Jew saved his life and agrees to allow them in. The SS sent into Hungary to remove Horthy and round up the Jews for slaughter don't take this well and soon we have a war between Italy and the Third Reich. The Hungarian Jews (including none other than Elie Wiesel) turn the tables on their persecutors big time by requesting not Italian soldiers to protect them (as Mussolini expected) but ships to evacuate women, girls, and boys who have not had their bar mitzvah and guns so the older boys and adult men can hold Trieste against the Nazis. Seriously, it's a Crowning Moment of Awesome for an entire ethnic group and there's one line ("next year in Jerusalem!") that several readers claimed brought tears to their eyes. I admit it impressed me.

*Mussolini, seeking to aggrandize himself while the bigger players are a bit busy, sets up Italy as the guarantor of neutrality for various Mediterranean nations, creating a fascist bloc there. Although we haven't gotten to the Cold War as of March 2019, a Mussolini-led third force in the Mediterranean would be quite the wild card.

*With no African campaign and invasion of Italy to create Stalin's long-desired Second Front, D-Day happens in 1943 and not 1944. It's a much bloodier affair, as the Allies are less well-prepared without the experience fighting the Italians and the Germans haven't been bled as severely fighting in Russia.

*There are some hints that General Patton will have a political career of his own after the war rather than rather ingloriously dying in a Jeep accident.

Although some people might be concerned this scenario whitewashes Mussolini, he still commits plenty of ugly deeds in this timeline. Sufficient to say the Slovenes pay and pay and pay for their collaboration with the German invaders and there's still the matter of Ethiopia. And given some hints in the content published thus far, there's still more to come. This whole scenario is pretty interesting, so I'm definitely keeping an eye on this one.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

What If: The US Government Cracked Down On Scientology

Still self-banned from the alternate-history forum and likely to stay that way, but the users whose handles are GeographyDude and WhiteDragon25 posted an interesting alternate timeline in which the U.S. government cracks down on Scientology.

Why would it do that, you ask? Doesn't the U.S. Constitution protect religious freedom? Yes it does, but the Church of Scientology itself is involved in a lot of nefarious practices. The trigger in this alternate timeline is that when the FBI raids Scientologist offices in the late 1970s as part of the investigation into Operation Snow White, things go a bit pear-shaped and the Scientologist leaders are able to get word out to their agents in the IRS and other federal agencies.

(Yes, there was an extensive Scientology espionage/infiltration operation against the U.S. government. I wish I was making this up.)

Said agents panic and make mistakes, screwing up IRS records and Americans' getting their tax returns processed in a timely fashion. This spins up quite a lot of outrage against the "Church" once word gets out as to who is responsible. The number of FBI raids mushroom, more abusive Scientologist practices are exposed, and Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard himself ends up sentenced to a lengthy prison term. Given the widespread fears of New Age cults at the time (the fact that deprogramming was acceptable speaks volumes), I could easily imagine Scientology getting no mercy from the justice system or the wider public.

This in turn leads to a wider crackdown on cults and even more mainstream religions, although I think some of the commentary on evangelical mega-churches does seem like it's shading into wish-fulfillment territory. That said, given some of the televangelist scandals of the later 1980s, it's not like there weren't sins and crimes committed on that front either.