Monday, December 30, 2019

Movie Review: Beyond Skyline (2017)

Once upon a time, I saw the 2010 science fiction movie Skyline and was probably one of the few people to enjoy it. I liked the design of the aliens, the use of nuclear weapons immediately and their more realistic effects (it's not immediate death to absolutely everything and against something as big as an alien mothership with regenerative capabilities it might not even fully work), and the unorthodox ending.

So when the sequel Beyond Skyline came out, I was willing to see it, although other things took priority and I didn't get around to seeing it until Christmas break. So here's the review...

The Plot

Police officer Mark Corley (Frank Grillo), having just lost his wife, is retrieving his troubled son Trent (Jonny Weston) from jail apparently for the third time when the alien invasion from the first film starts. Avoiding immediate abduction due to being in the subway when the harvesting starts, he and some other characters like the homeless blind veteran Sarge (Antonio Fargas) and transit worker Audrey (Bojana Novakovic) soon find themselves collected by the aliens as well. They avoid having their brains harvested to power the aliens' bio-machines and after meeting Elaine (Samantha Jean) and the alien-ized Jarrod (Tony Black) from the first movie, escape to Laos when the alien ship they're on crashes.

Now they have to team up with some martial-artist Golden Triangle drug traffickers to fight the remaining aliens from the fallen craft. Said aliens are after Elaine's baby, who might not be fully human...

The Good

*For all its foolishness--I'll get to that later--it's a very fast-moving, entertaining film. I watched this on Netflix on my Kindle in three elliptical sessions at the gym and it kept me nice and focused.

*We once again see human counterattack in Los Angeles from the first movie, including a grounds-eye view of "the little UCAV that could" (there was a funny meme about that I'd link to if I could find it) that nukes an alien mothership and temporarily grounds it. They even throw in a bit of nuclear strategy--the homeless veteran Sarge, despite being mostly if not completely blind, knows that it's a short-ranged, low-yield nuke. A military commander seeking to destroy armored alien ships the size of the Astrodome without killing the hundreds of thousand of human survivors in the immediate vicinity would start with small tactical nukes and only break out the city-killers if the city and its population was irretrievably lost and there was no other way to protect the rest of the country.

*When the Los Angeles characters meet the Southeast Asian ones and hide out in what I'm pretty sure is Angkor Wat, I liked how the Laotians describe how the temples that were once built to honor the gods are now bases to fight them. Good line. I also liked how (I assume) the children of the Vietnam War generation, when the Americans claimed they're in the middle of the apocalypse, viewed the aliens as just another "apocalypse" they could survive. The various wars in Southeast Asia, if you include WWII, lasted from 1941 to 1990 and killed millions of people. An alien invasion, at least at first, might seem like more of the same.

*There are martial-arts battles between the Asian characters (and some of the American characters who have police experience or simply use handguns) and alien infantry that, despite the ridiculousness of the whole situation (the alien infantry are armored, at least 1-2 feet taller, and at least 50-100 pounds heavier), are still quite entertaining to watch. And occasionally pretty funny.

The Bad

*During the early sequences in Los Angeles it was hard to keep track of some of the lesser characters' names.

*Too much reuse of clips from the original film. It was difficult to tell when they were doing it for the nuclear-attack sequence, but it was obvious when Elaine was talking to Mark about how Jarrod was able to retain his own personality (despite being transplanted into an alien body) due to repeated non-terminal exposure to the alien hypnosis.

*The childbirth sequence is rather poorly done and entirely too short. They could have prolonged it to build suspense--perhaps alien-Jarrod is fighting off other creatures to keep them off Elaine--but it's completed in-universe in maybe five minutes and Elaine somehow has her pants on the entire time.

*The alien attack on Hawaii is a major a missed opportunity. If Hawaii was bypassed during the initial invasion, that leaves the US navy base at Pearl Harbor untouched. That's a crapton of navy ships with long-range missiles (the submarines and cruisers/destroyers all carry substantial cruise missile complements and the subs can launch cruise missiles from underwater) that could engage the aliens from beyond visual range (i.e. their crews can't be hypnotized). The military brass in Hawaii has no doubt been sitting out there getting reports from the mainland about the aliens' strengths, weaknesses, and what isn't working and planning accordingly. Instead, all we see are some of the big warrior-aliens landing at Honolulu Airport and smashing up some buildings before the alien ship moves off toward Asia. If depicting the battle is too expensive, they could just depict the Los Angeles ship arriving to clean up afterward--lots of sunken Navy ships, sailors getting sucked up from the water, some of the alien ships damaged and repairing themselves from local materials, etc. The Los Angeles ship could simply supply some extra warrior-critters to help mop up the area around the base and then move on.

(Somebody write a fan-fic called "The Second Battle of Pearl Harbor," since I don't have time. There's so little Skyline fan-fic out there you'd be a big fish in a small pond.)

*Given Sarge's apparent age, there's a missed opportunity when everybody ends up in Laos. He could easily be a Vietnam vet and could possibly recognize the place from the smells and sounds despite not being able to see. Hell, he could serve as an interpreter between the English-speaking Americans and the Laotians.

*Just how fast is the alien ship moving? It gets from Los Angeles to Hawaii (2,558 miles) in what seems like an hour or two (an airplane flight would take around 5.5 hours) and then travels the 6,500-ish miles from Hawaii to Laos very soon after that. Something that big moving that quickly shows how advanced these aliens are (after all, one of the Los Angeles ships is able to repair itself and fly again after being grounded by a nuclear strike), but it came off to me as the writers not having much of a sense of scale. Especially the latter part. They could have had the damn thing crash in the Philippines, except even that is still over 5,000 miles from Hawaii. The Pacific Ocean is freaking big, people.

*Where are they getting the clothes for the rapidly-growing baby? She gets from a newborn to looking like a preschooler halfway through the film--in-universe that's only in a day or two. Are they stopping by houses along the way to trade clothes?

*And speaking of the baby, she becomes a Macguffin with a bunch of science so weak it would make Star Trek blush.

*There's a big time skip at the end and events taking place after said time skip that don't make a lot of sense.

*There's a weird flashback/flash-forward thing that doesn't really work that ties in with the above.

The Verdict

An improvement over the original if you don't think too hard. Will see the upcoming sequel (yes there is one). 7.5 out of 10.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Future STAR WARS Plot Ideas If (SPOILERS) Had Lived

As those of us who spend way too much time on social media know by now, there's a lot of discussion out there about The Rise of Skywalker and in particular a lot of fans are upset that


Ben Solo, aka the Dark Jedi and First Order Supreme Leader Kylo Ren, dies using the Force resurrect Rey, who fell in battle against her undead grandfather, none other than Emperor Palpatine. Given how The Last Jedi converted me to the "Reylo fandom" and the two of them are absolutely Adorkable when they have the Big Damn Kiss, this was a tad bit disappointing.

(Seriously, look at their facial expressions. It's so cute.)

However, given the magnitude of Ben's crimes, it would have been really awkward for him to just show up at the big Resistance victory party, especially given how many people he'd grievously wronged (mind-raping Poe, killing Chewbacca's best friend, lots of battle casualties for the characters without names) are all there and happy. That's why Redemption Equals Death is such a common trope--someone who'd done that much bad, even if they switch sides and do something useful (kill Palpatine the first time for Anakin, revive the dead or dying last Jedi for Ben), isn't going to be readily accepted by the good people.

That said, if one is willing to put in the work, one could come up with all sorts of interesting plots:

*Ben, owing to his brief tenure as the Supreme Leader, provides the intelligence necessary to more quickly destroy the First Order forces that weren't involved in the battle at Exegol. Realistically they'd be overextended (the movie references "free worlds" so the New Republic hasn't yet been completely conquered) and there's a major leadership vacuum with General Hux, Allegiant General Pryde, and Palpatine dead. Given how the First Order was formed out of Imperial survivors who were allowed to remain, albeit disarmed, or die-hards who fled to the Unknown Regions, nobody is going to want a negotiated peace or anything resembling the First Order left intact. Think WWII unconditional surrender.

If you want to torture Ben, this means he has to sell out people who were loyal to him when he was evil, including people who might well have been actual friends. Furthermore, as my uncle pointed out, "no one trusts a traitor" and Ben has betrayed both the New Jedi Order/Republic and the First Order at this point. He'd need to provide some really good stuff, with independent backup. If you want to crank the awkwardness up, he might even have to work with Finn, whom he'd deliberately sadistically injured but not killed in The Force Awakens, to engineer defections of stormtroopers from First Order armies units he knows are prone to discontent and mutiny. More on the drama with Poe and Finn next...

*Although Poe, Finn, and Rey are the new power trio in the vein of Luke, Leia, and Han in the original trilogy or Ron, Hermione, and Harry in Harry Potter, Rey's romance with Ben could destroy this. In The Force Awakens, Ben mind-raped Poe in what's clearly an extremely unpleasant process and let's not forget the lightsaber-to-the-spine with Finn. Although Poe only saw Ben with his mask on, it's my recollection he was unmasked when he fought Finn and Rey the first time. They're going recognize Ben (or at least Finn will and he'll tell Poe) and they're going to feel massively betrayed. Given how they're two of if not the two senior leaders of the Resistance at this point and will likely have correspondingly high positions in the New (New-New?) Republic, Ben might end up exiled or even a fugitive and Rey will have the sadistic choice of abandoning him to stay with her Resistance friends or joining him.

*When Chewbacca learns of Leia's death, he falls to his knees in agony and pushes away any attempt to comfort him. As someone pointed out on Twitter, this is the third friend he'd lost because of Ben--Han got straight-up murdered, Luke burned himself out Force-projecting to distract Ben from finishing off the Resistance at Crait, and Leia burned herself out Force-projecting to jump-start Ben's redemption. Although Chewbacca flew Rey to the First Order fleet in The Last Jedi in order to facilitate what everybody hoped would be Ben's defection, at this point he may well be of the opinion, "Screw that kid." He might be violently (emphasis on violently) displeased to see Ben again. I recall Han's comment about Wookiees pulling arms out of sockets and depending on just how remorseful Ben is for his bad deeds, I'm imagining him letting him do that.

*Per the above, the fleet that arrives to relieve Poe and his pilots over Exegol seems to have been organized by Lando. Lando, Han's longtime friend, friend enough to Luke to help him with his "rebuild the Jedi" project, and given his past I'm pretty sure "send Leia my love" was him trying to hit on Leia like in The Empire Strikes Back now that Han is no longer in the picture. Even though per some of the new-canon material he was a sort of uncle to Ben as a child, he's not going to be happy with him either. Since it was Lando who brought the fleet to Exegol and he has actual governing experience (running Cloud City), I'm imagining him as the new Chancellor (with Poe probably being naval commander and Finn being the commander of ground forces) once the Republic is re-established and he'll be able to express his displeasure far more forcibly than just punching Ben in the face until he wears out his arm.

*Given how Snoke had forbidden Ben's true name from being spoken by the First Order and most of the galaxy might be only vaguely aware of him (as opposed to Kylo Ren), he's not going to be most hated man in the entire galaxy, at least right away. However, word is going to spread and then he will be.

Perhaps the Resistance leaders agree to accept him back to help clean up the First Order survivors (depending on how well-known his defection is, he could order surrenders or withdrawals out of Republic territory as Supreme Leader in addition to the intelligence he can offer), but as word spreads, popular outrage builds. Think how in the new-canon novel Bloodline, the revelation that Leia concealed that her father was Darth Vader caused a massive popular outcry and derailed her political career. And in this case, said outrage would be far more justifiable given Ben's actual crimes.

Ironically enough, if a surviving Ben works with Rey to rebuild the Jedi Order, a separation between the Jedi and the New Republic--either the Jedi Order has to be rebuilt outside the Republic's borders because one of its two new leaders is going to be shot on sight or Rey and Ben are allowed to remain (probably as a favor for Rey rather than out of any love for Ben) but the Republic's leadership doesn't like or trust them--might be for the best. The Jedi aren't going to be part of the political system with all its distractions and corruption and can basically serve as an order of teachers, mystics, and knights-errant (I'm thinking a visit to Canto Bight to free some child slaves and recruit broom-boy for the New Jedi Order is a good idea) rather than a close ally or arm of the state.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

My Planned Events of 2020 (So Far)

As 2019 drew to a close, I made sure to snag vending tables and guest/speaker slots at events around Metro Atlanta for 2020. This way I could get in at a lower price and make sure the slots didn't fill up, which unfortunately happened with the January Atlanta Comic Convention.

Here are the events I've already signed up for...

Atlanta Comic Con: This is the big kahuna of comic events in Atlanta--I made $400 profit on $600 gross in 2017 when I split the table with C.S. Johnson. This time around I'm splitting the table with Venessa Giunta, another member of Atlanta Horror Writers Association. I had tried to get a vending table in 2018, but I ended up getting wait-listed, so getting a spot here early was of particular importance. If I made that much profit with two books, one of which was a short story collection (those typically don't sell well), I anticipate making a lot more money with at least two additional books. Owing to its relatively short length (118 pages), Little People, Big Guns might be appealing to comic readers as well.

Days of the Dead Atlanta: I split a table last year with T.S. Dann and made a good amount of money with just The Thing in the Woods and The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly Vol. 2. Now I'll be back with Little People, Big Guns and Battle for the Wastelands (more on that later) as well as my earlier books. This time around I'm splitting the table with Nathan McCullough, another member of Atlanta HWA.

AnachroCon: I'm going to be a guest and panelist on this one, although what panels haven't exactly been ironed out yet. Definitely writing panels, perhaps some history ones too. This is where I planned to officially premiere Battle for the Wastelands, which would be appropriate because AnachroCon is focused on steampunk and alternate-history and Battle is at least steampunk-adjacent. However, Days of the Dead is a week prior. However, since I'm going to be a panelist, I'll be talking a lot about it rather than just calling at people from behind a table.

Atlanta Sci-Fi and Fantasy Expo: This will be the third time I've been here. The last time I hit diminishing marginal returns--people recognized me from last year and asked if I had new books. This time around I'll have Little People, Big Guns and Battle for the Wastelands as well.

Next Chapter Con-Although Ringgold is a hike from Atlanta, I made a good bit of money last year and even got a copy of The Thing in the Woods in one of the local libraries. I definitely want to be back with more to sell, especially since this event taps into the Chattanooga market more so than the Atlanta one. I imagine the 2020 event will be larger than the 2019 one, since if I remember right the 2019 event was the very first one.

I will probably be signing up for more events as the opportunity arises. The Atlanta Comic Convention is a quarterly event and I definitely want to participate in the Q2 one even if the Q1 is sold out. If I've got more stuff ready by the time of Q3 and Q4, even better. I've made good money the times I've been there, even with a relatively small inventory. Not only will I try to sell at the next MultiverseCon in October, but I want to be a guest/panelist as well. I've already applied to be a guest--now to see when they get back to me.

Finally, there're the Atlanta gun shows. My first time selling at a gun show I made $10 profit on 16 hours of work because I didn't anticipate so many people would prefer to pay in cash rather than use their credit cards for privacy reasons. I under-priced Thing at $10 in order to more easily make change when it should have been $12 and I also wasn't that good at bringing people to my table. The second time I split a table with T.S. Dann, anticipated the cash problem, and ended up making equivalent profit to my second time at the Atlanta Sci-Fi and Fantasy Expo. The Gem Capitol gun shows (like the one I'm selling at 12/28-29) have a relatively low table cost, so even if I don't gross as much as I would at a science fiction and fantasy convention, my costs are also lower and I could potentially make larger profits.

That said, if I don't have new material, I'll eventually start hitting diminishing returns again. I'll need to make sure I actually write and complete projects this year, so hopefully I won't spend too much time selling at events and too little time writing.

Friday, December 20, 2019


Here we go, folks. The final film of "The Skywalker Saga," the three Star Wars trilogies focusing on Jedi Knight turned Sith Lord Anakin Skywalker, his children Leia and Luke, and his grandson Ben who becomes the evil Kylo Ren. The Rise of Skywalker is here at last. Although it had its fun parts like the various lightsaber battles and the Big Damn Kiss, what were supposed to be stand up and cheer moments (like Kylo's betrayal of Snoke in The Last Jedi) didn't really work and plot/lore-wise there were some parts that could have been done much better. Spoilers below the image, so be ye warned...

The first part was pretty cool, although I would have the crawl to establish that the First Order, now having taken over most of the New Republic, is becoming overextended and various resistance movements (in addition to the actual Resistance) are causing them serious problems. No references to certain evil emperors. Kylo Ren/Ben Solo (Adam Driver) and his generals, seeking to bolster their numbers, have learned where the mysterious Katana Fleet (for those not familiar with the old Expanded Universe, a fleet of low-crew mostly-automated starships long thought lost) is and seek it out. Kylo finds the fleet parked around a mysterious evil planet Exegol, lands, and makes his way through a labyrinth of weird mad science (but no clone Snokes in tanks--they didn't explain that and it raises more questions) to find...

The revived Palpatine and a cult that used various Dark Side schemes to raise him from the dead. Though his body is unstable and decaying, he is potent enough to bring Kylo on-board, offering him the Katana Fleet in exchange for Rey (Daisy Ridley). Kylo, however, has his own plans--he hopes to recruit Rey to help him defeat Palpatine ("let the past die; kill it if you must") to seize control of the Katana Fleet and ultimately the galaxy for himself.

Meanwhile, through their spy in the First Order whose identity we discover later, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega) learn about the Katana Fleet. Given how the fleet was designed to operate without significant numbers of crew, this would be a boon to the depleted Resistance. Rey abandons her Jedi training under Leia (Carrie Fisher) to join a mission gathering support for an attempt to seize the Katana Fleet, including meeting Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams). The middle of the film goes roughly as the actual film does, although it's depicted explicitly that Poe had left Kijimi to join the Republic Navy rather than the Resistance directly--per the books and comics, Leia had poached him off the military for her budding private army and the canon needs to be consistent. And although their confrontation is similar to the canonical film, there's no reference to a "Force Dyad"--just have Ben pull his "become my apprentice/marry me" routine some more and have Rey turn him down.

Kylo/Ben's redemption plot--the duel aboard the ruins of the Second Death Star, Leia burning herself out to distract him psychically, Rey mortally wounding and then healing him, and Ben's vision of his father forgiving him and his subsequent throwing his dark saber into the ocean--remains, as that part I really enjoyed. However, in the process Rey learns her true identity--she's some kind of science-project spawn of the Dark Side cult, perhaps a female Palpatine clone--and in horror she flees to Ach-To.

(Palpatine having a son and daughter-in-law whom he later has killed raises all sorts of questions the movie doesn't have time to answer. Where was he during the Imperial period? Would he or Vader be the designated successor if Palpatine slips in the shower or something? Better that the people who left Rey on Jakku were dissidents who abandoned Palpatine's cult when he wanted to sacrifice Rey to the Dark Side to build his new body or something like that.)

However, before she can destroy Ben's TIE fighter and strand herself there, Luke's shade appears and we have a similar conversation. Rey is her own person--she isn't Palpatine, she isn't his "daughter," and Leia trained her as a Jedi despite her being a Sith science project because she knew that. Rey takes Ben's fighter to where the Katana Fleet is located, giving the Resistance the location. Seriously, Luke's X-wing flying again after having spent decades underwater was way too fan-servicey for me, plus it's more likely that a Rebel craft would attract attention from the First Order.

Rey descends into the depths of Exegol to confront Palpatine and face her fears as a Jedi should, only for Palpatine to start trying to suck the life out of her to regenerate his sickly decaying body. The redeemed Ben battles his way through the remaining Knights of Ren and interrupts, allowing for a two-on-one lightsaber duel like the scene in the animated show Clone Wars where Palpatine battles his former apprentice Darth Maul and Maul's brother Savage Opress. Meanwhile the Resistance tries to seize or destroy the Katana Fleet, only to find it much more manned and battle-ready than they thought. Things start to go pear-shaped for the good guys as Palpatine throws Ben down a convenient pit and battles Rey alone. Palpatine knocks her down and starts trying to do his soul-vampire thing again but Rey, spurred on by the voices of previous Jedi, rises to her feet to battle him again, this time using the Force lightning she's shown herself capable of using when sufficiently angered or stressed. Meanwhile, Lando and his allies come through, turning the tide against the Katana Fleet.

(Palpatine doesn't attack the Resistance fleet that's thousands of miles away with Force lightning--that was one of the most ridiculous parts of the old comic Dark Empire and in my scenario he's a little busy.)

Endgame time. Rey beats down Palpatine and kills him, but is mortally wounded herself. Then it's time for Ben to climb out of the pit and use the same Force Heal technique she used to save him to save her. Then they have the Big Damn Kiss like in the movie, but unlike the film Ben survives. The two return to the Resistance base and Rey has her emotional reunion with Finn and Poe while Ben stays aboard the ship (probably the one he used to get there in the first place, since a TIE is too small for two) to avoid the kind of complications his presence would cause.

In the epilogue, we see the stable-boy on Canto Bight from The Last Jedi getting abused by his masters at the racetrack and Ben and Rey show up and mind-trick them into letting them take the boy off their hands. They go back to the ship and we see other Force-sensitives, humans and aliens both, that they've collected from all over the galaxy.

(Hell, if you want some fan service you could have the older Ashoka Tano and Ezra from Star Wars: Rebels there as well. The trainees also don't have to be all kids--the fact Ben and Rey are still obviously a couple and recruiting adults as well as children indicates they're ditching the no-attachments/culty crap the Jedi Order had gotten into by the time of the Old Republic's fall.)

They go off into the sunset together to train a new generation of Jedi, with the Sith gone for good. All is well.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019


Once upon a time I was probably spending time reading articles on the Internet when I should have been writing or doing something else useful and came across an article originating in the British tabloid The Sunday Sport and spread throughout the world claiming that a gay dwarf porn star who looks a lot like TV chef Gordon Ramsey was found dead in a badger den. Although most people laughed and moved on, that got my creative wheels turning...

Now the fruit of my spending way too much time on social media is here--my second published novel (novella really), Little People, Big Guns from cult horror Deadite Press. On 11/23, after the print and Kindle editions were synchronized, I sent out my MailChimp newsletter and spent most of the day tweeting to people who'd expressed interest in or supported my Twitter pitches (on things like #pitmad and #pitdark) and got a lot of retweets and likes. We're talking thousands of impressions (views) on lots of different tweets here. This ran the US Amazon e-book sales rank from #122,342 in the Kindle store on 11/22 (the first day with an actual sales rank) to a high point of #30,861 on 11/23. It rose as as high as #73 in Amazon's horror-comedy category, beneath a bunch of "harem" books and even World War Z that don't look like they belong in the category.

In addition to enough sales to spike the rank, I got one review on Goodreads, one review on Amazon Canada, and one blog review from Canadian writer Matthew Stienberg, whom I know from an online alternate history forum and who offered to read and review as soon as possible. In Amazon Canada it was #68 in "Horror Parodies and Satires" Thanksgiving morning and is #128 in the category today. Although sales dipped severely over the next few days, I got another nice spike December 2 when an interview with me on the the Bizzong podcast dropped. Although on Amazon US I don't have any also-boughts (I suspect due to US buyers being Matt Quinn fans with disparate tastes), Amazon Canada's also-boughts feature books from Deadite Press like Lakehouse Infernal and Killer Lake as well as the new White Trash Gothic Part 2 from Section 31 Productions, a new publishing house headed by former Deadite Press editor Jeff Burk. I've got an interview scheduled for sometime in January with Arm Cast, the podcast of author Armand Rosamilia (who, like Burk, I met at the World Horror Con in Atlanta in 2015) that will hopefully increase sales as well.

So if you hadn't seen any of my binges on Facebook or Twitter or aren't a regular listener to Bizzong, check out Little People, Big Guns! Let's keep the momentum going. And if you know any podcast hosts in need of an interview or bloggers who might be interested in hosting a guest post connecting a topic their readers would like with LPBG, let me know.