Monday, July 29, 2019

Three of My Digital Fiction Publishing Short Stories Are Now "Wide"

Once upon a time, I independently published a bunch of short stories on for the Kindle. Digital Fiction Publishing took a liking to many of them and bought the rights to re-publish them as standalone stories and in collections for a generous royalty package. However, since the short stories are often available elsewhere as part of collections, they and the DFP collections are not part of Kindle Unlimited. This means they can be published anywhere.

After checking with the publisher to make sure he had no plans to publish the stories outside of Amazon (having "his version" and "my version" of the stories on Barnes and Noble, Kobo, etc would just be silly), I have published several of my DFP stories "wide" beyond Amazon's borders. They come with their original cover art courtesy of Alex Claw, using the mighty Draft2Digital.

"The Beast of the Bosporus"-This is cosmic horror in the vein of H.P. Lovecraft, but instead of being set in rural New England (as his stories typically were) or in rural Georgia (as my novel The Thing in the Woods is), this is set in the early modern Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans have rebuilt their navy after the defeat at the (Battle of Lepanto), but the empire's decline is already beginning. What is Grand Vizier Sokollu Mehmed Pasha to do? It might involve a creepy book bound in human skin. Non-Amazon links here.

"Beast" also had some tie-in short fiction on the blog to go with it. One piece is a faux historical journal article about Sokollu's death that also ties in some incidents in real-history that might be explained by what happens in the story itself. I also have journalistic interviews with Sokollu himself, as well as his rival don Joseph Nasi.

Picking Up Plans in Palma-This is an alternate history novelette set in my Afrikanerverse, in which an earlier Dutch settlement of the Cape of Good Hope leads to a world where the United States and the League of Democracies face off against the apartheid-like Afrikaner Confederation and its illiberal allies. You can see the mostly-completed timeline here. Connor Kelly, an American defense analyst of Irish Catholic background, has to infiltrate the Confederation to retrieve plans for an orbital battle-station. Problem: He has only the most minimal training in espionage fieldcraft and he's romantically involved with an Afrikaner emigre. This is going to be fun. Non-Amazon links here.

Illegal Alien-This is a story about a group of Mexicans trying to sneak into the United States in search of better lives, only to encounter actual extraterrestrials instead. What can I say? I really, really like bad puns. :) Non-Amazon links here.

This story also has some short tie-in fiction. One is a faux report on the aftermath of the incident from a government agency of some sort, while the other is an interview with Patrido Guzman, the story's protagonist. The latter gets into what's going on in Mexico that pushes Guzman to try to emigrate to the United States--NAFTA, the Mexican drug war, mistreatment of women in factories, etc.

Two of my remaining DFP short stories--"Lord of the Dolorous Tower" and "Lord Giovanni's Daughter"--aren't wide yet because they were first-rights purchases and don't have cover art. I'll need to commission some if I want to release them wide as well. The same applies to "Coil Gun," the first story DFP purchased for Digital Science Fiction #3: Pressure Suite, since it was never released as a standalone either. I'll let you know.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

My FALLEN EMPIRE Novellas Are Now Wide!

I'm a regular listener to The Science Fiction and Fantasy Marketing Podcast and one of the regulars on the show is Lindsay Buroker, author of (among other things), the Fallen Empire series. When she announced that Amazon's now-defunct Kindle Worlds program had picked up her work, I wrote two novellas featuring original characters set before the main events of the story--"Ten Davids, Two Goliaths" and "Discovery and Flight" and helped contribute to the KW story bible. I even created a TVTropes page for the series and wrote a lengthy comparison of the fictional world to the Arab Spring. KW eventually shut down, but Buroker allowed all of us to re-publish the stories through Kindle Direct Publishing.

The first one, which introduces the original characters
Geun Choi and Tamara Watson and features some of my ideas

The second one, in which I include the canon characters
Alisa Marchenko (the main series protagonist) and Bradford

On an episode of the podcast, Buroker and the others discussed how a good time to go wide-release (i.e. to leave the Amazon-exclusive Kindle Unlimited program and sell on other online platforms) is once the KU "borrow" money stops coming in. Although I've made a couple novella sales this past month, I haven't gotten any KU borrows in quite a long time. Buroker has apparently already moved on; the Fallen Empire novels are no longer in KU on Amazon and are available for purchase in other online markets. Here's Kobo, for example, which has a massive presence in Canada, Europe, and Europe-linked countries like South Africa. Although I couldn't immediately wide-release my novellas (you can only opt out of KU every 90 days), I decided I would follow her into wide when I could.

Well, the KU period ended earlier this week, so here's the Universal Book Link for "Ten Davids, Two Goliaths" and "Discovery and Flight." They're available (or will soon be available if they're not up yet) via Kobo, Bibliotheca, Tolino, Overdrive (which means a lot of libraries), Apple, Baker and Taylor, Barnes and Noble, Playster, Scribd, Australian biggie Angus and Robertson, and 24 Symbols.


Monday, July 15, 2019

Another Alternate Draka Timeline for AH Enthusiasts

One of the founding texts of the modern alternate-history subgenre is S.M. Stirling's Draka series--three novels assembled into the omnibus The Domination, the distant sequel Drakon (which provides the frame story for The Domination), and the anthology Drakas! that tells stories from different points in the timeline. One of the more common criticisms of the world is how implausible the timeline is (the proto-Domination's white overlords expand rapidly in an area that was a lethal disease zone for Europeans, the British tolerate a dominion practicing slavery-in-bad-disguise after formal abolition, etc), which has led to a lot of alternate versions of the Draka timeline. Most of them feature the Draka not expanding as much or getting straight-up squashed, which they eminently deserve for combining the imperialism and murderous behavior of Nazi Germany with the cruelty of Atlantic slavery and much more brains than either.

(Here's one I created--there are some updates I didn't post on and I'm not going to petition to be unbanned to copy them, so this is not likely to ever be fully finished.)

Now the premiere alternate history discussion forum online is hosting a new one, "Separated At Birth: America and Drakia." So far only a couple chapters in, but it's got some interesting features, including:

*The early death of George Washington and a different founding of the United States, which as a result is much more hostile toward slavery and also has much wider suffrage for (white) men from the beginning.

*A rebellion by free blacks and white allies against an attempt to disenfranchise black voters leads to a black-governed Georgia within the United States, which undermines much of the intellectual-cultural rationale for racism.

*A much uglier War of 1812 and surviving Republican France.

*In-universe writings that explain the rationale of the different political systems, including a very Draka take on the line of Cain in the Bible.

I'm definitely looking forward to more. The timeline's author has earned awards from the site's membership for his timelines, so hopefully this will keep going and stay interesting.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

What If The Paris Commune Had Survived, Expanded...?

A couple weeks ago one of my church friends clued me into the Revolutions podcast by Mike Duncan, which has been going on for awhile and has episodes on the various intricacies of the American, French, Haitian, and Mexican revolutions and a lot of discussion of the different strains of Marxism and anarchism as they build toward the Russian Revolution. I haven't had a chance to listen to all of them yet, but over the last few weeks a lot of driving (especially during my trip to Hypericon--driving from Atlanta to Murfreesboro and back plus a jaunt from Murfreesboro to Nashville to see about getting my books in the city library) meant I could listen to all of the episodes about the Paris Commune. For those of you not in the know, it was a brief Communist-anarchist takeover of Paris that got gruesomely suppressed and the lessons learned from it were quite influential on the Communist revolution in Russia.

One of my big interests is alternate history and although I had myself banned from the premiere AH discussion forum online, I do check in now and then. I decided to see what I could find on the Paris Commune and found a full alternate timeline called "The Spectre of Europe" written by the user whose handle is Reydan. It diverges from real history when conservative politician Adolphe Thiers has a stroke just before the revolt breaks out, preventing him from playing the instrumental role he did in crushing it. As a consequence, the revolutionary Louis Auguste Blanqui isn't preemptively jailed and able to make it to Paris and provides the necessary leadership for the Commune to avoid being crushed, although they do have to make a deal with the Prussian devil to do it.

Highlights of the timeline include...

*The division of France into a very left-wing republic (seriously, most conservative parties are outlawed, although given certain recent circumstances I wouldn't blame them for worrying about the Bonapartists) and a restored monarchy. When said monarchy is defeated in a later war it goes into exile in France's North African colonies, which the monarchy retained when France was partitioned.

*William Jennings Bryan becomes the president of the United States.

*Reform and partition in China.

*One of Kaiser Wilhelm's character flaws is that he was, in addition to being an erratic blowhard, is that he had some very Yellow Peril ideas about the rise of China. Since our world's WWI doesn't happen, we get to see these tendencies flourish and the results are not pretty.

*The rise of a sort of militant agrarianism (in Scandinavia of all places) as an analogue to our timeline's fascism.

The timeline is so popular that it even has a TVTropes page. I would definitely recommend checking it out. Also, don't forget to check out The Revolutions podcast or his History of Rome podcast, all of which are really interesting.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

On Halle Bailey's Ariel and the Egyptian 25th Dynasty

Disney recently announced that Halle Bailey, an African-American singer and actress from Atlanta (represent!), has been cast as Ariel in a live-action version of the Disney animated classic The Little Mermaid. Although I haven't seen any ugly commentary on social media about it myself, I have heard some people are getting upset and I can easily imagine this being true, either due to authenticity concerns about the source material, straight-up racism, or other issues.

Firstly, although The Little Mermaid is based on a Danish story (by author Hans Christian Anderson), the mermaid civilization is not connected to my knowledge to Danish society in any significant way. If it turns out they're descended from Vikings mutated by some kind of magic let me know, but it's my understanding that's not the case. The mermaids could easily be migrants from somewhere else who settled in the vicinity of Denmark, perhaps due to the Medieval Warm Period making their original homeland in the Mediterranean or even West Africa inhospitable. Therefore, even though the landlubbers nearby are white, the mermaids could be Semitic or even black. Although I'm generally not a fan of "if it's fantasy it doesn't have to be 'realistic'" attitude, the above explanation is a plausible one for a large Middle Eastern or black (mermaid) population in an otherwise European setting. After all, the Gypies (whose actual name for themselves is Roma or Romany) are originally from India and the Hungarians are a Turkic or Finnic people originally from Russia.

Secondly, even if the mermaid population generally is of European in appearance, ruling elites don't necessarily match up with the local population. Much of northern England was ruled by Vikings for awhile, the whole of England was ruled by different French dynasties from the Norman conquest of 1066 until the Welsh Henry Tudor took power in 1485, parts of or all of China were ruled by non-Chinese steppe peoples on many different occasions, etc. More appropos would be the 25th Dynasty of Egypt--although the Egyptians were a Semitic people, the 25th Dynasty was originally from Nubia, much farther south.

So here's where it gets Game of Thrones. Triton is originally from somewhere else and is the founder of a new dynasty, either elected by other members of the mermaid elite after the previous king dies without an heir or who seizes power in some kind of civil war. As king he exiles Ursula, ostensibly for practicing witchcraft and other sorts of bad behavior but really because she's a member of the previous dynasty. However, not only is Triton foreign, but Triton is a widower with no interest in remarrying and has only daughters, no sons. This makes his regime vulnerable and Ursula plays on Ariel's interest in human culture as part of some kind of scheme to seize power.

Yes, that's needlessly complicated for a kids movie, but they did elaborate on the original Aladdin to make the new live-action version more elaborate (Jasmine seeks to become the next ruler of Agrabah in the vein of Razia Sultan, the only female ruler of the Muslim Delhi Sultanate, Jafar is a "street rat" himself who rose to become the grand vizier). If this is too much and if Disney wants to keep Triton as a white Zeus-alike, they can always depict his late wife as being black and Ariel takes after her mother rather than her father in looks.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

My 2019 Hypericon Schedule

Ever since my debut Lovecraftian horror novel The Thing in the Woods premiered in 2017, I've been selling books (both Thing and the collection The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly Vol. 2, in which I have a short story) at conventions in the Atlanta area. I feared I've been reaching the point of diminishing returns and so I started looking for conventions or events outside of Atlanta I could sell at until I've got more books available. Thanks to the Southern Fandom Resource Guide's calendar I found Hypericon, which is usually in Nashville but this year is in Murfreesboro. I've never done any authorial business in Tennessee, so this will hopefully be lucrative.

Here's my schedule for the convention, which will be July 5-7 this year. All events are in Central Time and will take place at the Clarion Inn in Murfreesboro.

Friday, 7 PM, Oakland Panel Room: "In The Cauldron Boil and Bake." This is a panel dedicated to mixing genres. Think The X-Files, in which we had a wider science fiction plot involving alien colonization mixed in with "monster of the week" horror plots, more conventional crimes, and fantasy plots like the episode involving voodoo to raise the dead and another one featuring the ghost of a charismatic preacher who set out to forgive the man who murdered him. On my end, although The Thing in the Woods is straight-up monster horror, I drop some hints about the creature's otherworldly origins in a scene from the creature's point of view. The sequel I've sent to the publisher (and will self-publish if he doesn't want it) gets into the Grey/UFO/MJ-12 mythology and the third novel I've just started writing is more "small town creature horror," only with an old-school nuclear-test monster instead of something from another world. We'll get back to the alien-invasion stuff in the planned fourth book.

Friday, 8 PM, Oakland Panel Room: "My History With Horror." This is an autobiographical one-man show in which I discuss my own history with the scary stuff. It goes waaay back, beginning with watching Earth vs. the Spider on TV in pre-school, not being allowed to see Gremlins 2 and Arachnophobia in theaters (probably a good idea on my parents' part), seeing Jurassic Park when it first came out, and those elementary school staples, the Crestwood Monsters books and Calvin and Hobbes. I'll also discuss my first attempts at publication in high school, my first sale (the short but gruesome "I am the Wendigo"), and ultimately Thing itself.

Saturday, 1 PM, Oakland Panel Room: "Building a Better Beast: Monsters and Other Things That Go Bump in the Night." Something I've realized recently with the rise of "torture porn" is that I don't necessarily like horror movies per se, but monster movies. "Monster" being defined broadly to include things like dinosaurs, aliens, etc. After all, serial killers and depraved pervert torture types are real and should be feared, but giant bugs, alien energy beings building bodies out of human technology, vampires, formerly human S&M monsters, etc. aren't. I've written a lot of monster stories, so I think I'll fit in nicely here.

Saturday, 5 PM, Oakland Panel Room: "World-Building." This is an area of writing where I'm very good, if I do say so myself. And members of the different writing groups I'v participated in have said the same thing. :)

Saturday, 7 PM, Oakland Panel Room: "Marketing and Social Media For Authors." This is where I can discuss things like blogging, Twitter, newsletters, etc. This is an area where I need to improve, so hopefully I'll be able to learn from this panel as well.

I'm also going to be allocated slots at the author table to sell my books. Those haven't been finalized yet, but when they are, I'll update this post with the times. I'll also bring some books with me to each panel for anybody who's interested.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Movie Review: Fire and Ice (1983)

One of my favorite fantasy artists is Frank Frazetta, who was known for painting a lot of the Conan book covers. I even own one of his art books Icon, which I snagged at a library book sale for $1 when it would have cost much more on Amazon. In Icon, they discuss the film Fire and Ice, whose animation Frazetta was heavily involved with but unfortunately didn't do too well at the box office. Although I'm a fan of traditional animation (Don Bluth stuff like The Secret of NIMH, The Land Before Time, and even Titan A.E. are particular favorites), I never actually got around to watching the movie.

Well, T.S. Dann (author of Nightmarescape and a regular convention table partner) mentioned that he had seen it recently and that made me curious. Many years after hearing about it, I decided to give it a spin. Here goes...

The Plot

At the end of the Ice Age, the evil sorceress-queen Juliana (Eileen O'Neill) and her son Nekron (Sean Hannon) attempt to conquer the world, driving southward in a fortress atop a mighty glacier that Nekron can move using magic. Human refugees flee their armies of Neanderthal-esque savages toward the equator, where King Jarol (Leo Gordon) rules a volcanic realm from Fire Keep. Juliana and Nekron's agents kidnap Jarol's daughter Teegra (Cynthia Leake), but they fail to reckon with Larn (Randy Norton), a survivor of a tribe thought exterminated, and the mysterious warrior Darkwolf (Steve Sandor).

The Good

*Western animation is generally seen as the preserve of children, so there's little realistic violence and heroes don't kill or seriously hurt villains (often winning through contrived circumstances), but Fire and Ice clearly doesn't have that problem. There's plenty of bloodshed going on around here. It's good to see an animated movie intended for more mature audiences in the same way Titan A.E. was. All the action means the film is never boring, which is a big plus.

*There are some impressive set-pieces, like a diplomatic delegation entering Nekron's fortress with his hooting and howling Neanderthal minions watching from the cliffs overhead. There's also an air raid using "dragon hawks" (pteranodons) that's pretty cool. Generally speaking I liked the concept and ideas behind it.

*Although the animation comes off as a bit dated (it reminds me a lot of late-1960s Hanna-Barbera cartoons like Mightor or even Herculoids as well as the Disney movie The Black Cauldron released two years later) and the colors dull, it's good to see old-school cell-drawn animation. I'm less interested in the Pixar-type stuff that has dominated the field since The Princess and the Frog. And I'm a big fan of Frazetta's overall style. The landscapes, the monsters, the ominous ancient ruins, etc. are all a lot of fun. A pity this movie bombed because I would have loved to see more films like it.

*I liked some of the characterization. Teegra is pretty clever and puts her brain to use at critical times, including one scene early on where she uses her looks to manipulate a bunch of Nekron and Juliana's Neanderthal minions. She's also not a passive damsel-in-distress type at all--although she gets captured a lot, watch out if she can get hold of a knife. And Nekron and Juliana's dynamic suggests a strong-willed son rebelling against an overbearing mother and Nekron's petulance shows that on some level he knows her wisdom is superior (i.e. she wants him to marry Teegra to father a dynasty and cement an alliance with Fire Keep) and just doesn't want to admit it. And although Darkwolf is underused, he's pretty cool when he does show up.

The Bad

*Larn is supposed to be the male lead of the movie, but he doesn't seem to have much personality to speak of. I found Darkwolf to be much more interesting, but he's only in a few scenes despite his prominent appearance in the poster.

*Has the concept of armor ever occurred to anybody in this world? All this world's cultures have metallurgy (swords, axes, etc), but nobody wears armor. Even animal skins would be an improvement over going into battle wearing only a loincloth. Yes, I know Frank Frazetta liked to show off his anatomical skills at every opportunity, but how pretty much everybody's standard outfit was a loincloth if not a straight-up thong was just ridiculous. Even in the Neolithic Era where this supposedly takes place people probably knew they needed protection from the sun and elements. This is especially blatant in the last third or so of the film that takes place in Nekron's glacial fortress where people are running around semi-nude even though it's got to be incredibly cold.

*Per my remarks about clothing, everybody is wearing what looks like animal skins and yet Teegra is wearing essentially modern lingerie? Hell her bottom is so sheer in the back she might as well not be wearing it. At least the "sexy cave-girl" outfits in One Million Years B.C. and When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth were made of the right materials and more useful as clothing.

*The animation for the facial expressions, especially Teegra's, could stand some improvement. Her kidnapping early in the film is not well-drawn, especially her supposedly-terrified screaming.

*The character naming conventions are just bizarre. You have all this garbled fantasy names like Teegra and Larn, you have English animal names like Darkwolf, and then you have Jarol (which I initially thought was "Gerald") and Juliana. It's kind of grating, even though it's so common there's even a TVTrope for it.

*I'm not sure if it's Leake's voice or the script, but Teegra's dialogue is often rather annoying.

*Nekron and Juliana's minions are all darker-skinned and the one female of the group has what looks like an Afro. They're explicitly referred to as "the sub-humans" despite their having metallurgy and spoken language. Meanwhile, the heroic characters are all white. Seriously, either provide the minions with more development beyond them being childlike and violent goons who speak in gibberish (Lord of the Rings had Sam wondering if one of the Haradrim was truly evil or had been deceived or outright coerced into fighting for Sauron and the Haradrim language is very impressive to listen to) or diversify their appearances. And nix "sub-human" for people whose main difference between the heroic character is their skin color, teeth, and apparent intelligence. As-is the villains come off as a mother-son Goth duo sending out dull-witted and sadistic black cavemen to kill or abduct white people and given how this was a movie kids would have likely seen (due to it being animated), that's not cool.

*The world's technology level is rather inconsistent--both Nekron's and Jarol's coalitions seem to be at roughly Bronze Age levels, but there's one city that looks like ancient Rome or Arabia during the Islamic golden age. If it turns out the battle between Nekron and Jarol is a tribal sideshow that wealthier and stronger civilizations view in the same way as Americans view a conflict in the Third World that's one thing, but the opening narration of the film makes it seems like this is the Apocalypse.

*So many shirtless men but nobody seems to have nipples. That's weird.

The Verdict

If the description "the world's most violent Hanna-Barbera cartoon" appeals to you or if you're a Frazetta fan you should definitely check it out. It's not as campy and ridiculous as I expected from watching the trailer, but it's still pretty up there. Worth a rental at best. 6.0 out of 10.