Sunday, May 31, 2020

"Son of Grendel" Is Here! And It's Supporting a Food Bank!

My newest independent writing project, the steampunk-fantasy novella "Son of Grendel" is here at last. It is a prequel set approximately a year before the events of Battle for the Wastelands.

Here's the book copy.

A tyrant’s heir must go into the mountains to face a band of insurgents on its own ground. Not everybody will emerge from the confrontation unscathed, not least him.

Falki Grendelsson, eldest son of the first lord of the Northlands, serves as a company commander in his father’s elite Obsidian Guard. Though many lords would keep their sons close and out of harm’s way, Grendel is determined his son learn the business of war firsthand for the day he puts on his father’s cloak.

But when Robert Dalton leads displaced farmers armed with stolen Old World repeating rifles in a raid that kills a favored officer, Grendel sends Falki to make an example of them.

Falki has never fought this type of war before. Although the Obsidian Guard has the deadly weapons of the ancient world and dirigibles to rain fire from the skies, Dalton’s insurgents know the land and the mountains hold terrors beyond his increasingly-desperate men.

In order to cement his father’s new order, Falki has to triumph not only over a physical foe who would gladly kill him, but his own demons. And victory over one might mean falling to another…

"Son of Grendel" and the character of Falki Grendelsson more broadly allow me to explore the issue of race and ethnicity in the Wastelands world, something that dates back many years to a meeting of my now-defunct Cobb County writing group. Author G. Gerome Henson (you can find his work in the Thunder on the Battlefield: Sword anthology) asked me if Wastelands was a generic fantasy world where everybody is white except for a few fringe characters. I hadn't really put a lot of thought into it at the time, but Henson's comment got the wheels spinning...

The major ethnic groups of the Northlands, the realm bounded by the mountains, the Iron Desert, and the two seas are as follows:

Sejer-A sort of pan-Scandinavian culture. Very Viking. Grendel is a Sejer. The Obsidian Guard, Grendel's equivalent to Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard that is exclusively equipped with Old World (pre-apocalyptic) weaponry, recruits heavily from among them.

Jiao-The primary cultural base is Chinese, but there are elements of Japanese culture as well like taiko drumming. Grendel's late queen and only formal wife, Falki's mother, was Jiao. Alongside the Sejer, the Jiao comprise the bulk of the Obsidian Guard.

Flatlanders-Sort of generic Old West white people. Robert Dalton and the people of Jenner's Ford are flatlanders. In the main novel, Grendel's warlords Alexander Matthews, Travis "Mangle" Steuben, Stephen Quantrill, and Jasper Clark and the bulk of their troops are flatlanders, as are most of the people under Grendel's rule. However, the Obsidian Guard does not recruit from among them.

(More importantly from Falki's point of view, other than his de facto stepmother Signe Allansdottir, Grendel's concubines are flatlanders and so are their children. Although Falki is the eldest, the only one born of a legal marriage, and the most experienced soldier, he is alien to his father's flatlander subjects in a way that the majority of his siblings are not.)

Nahada-Arabs. Falki's lieutenant Thomas Nahed is a Nahada. I haven't delved too much into his back-story, but since he is an officer in the Obsidian Guard (exclusively recruited in Sejera, where Grendel was lord for years before conquering the rest of the Northlands), he was probably a member of Sejera's Nahada minority. Most Nahada live further south under the rule of Grendel's subordinate Alexander Matthews.

Menceir-Colloquially known as "the trading folk" and less flatteringly as "pikeys," they're sort of a hybrid between the Roma (Gypsies) and an Indian caste whose name escapes me at the moment who traveled around carrying good to trade on bulls. I think said group are the Banjara, but I'm not entirely sure.

Also, the Amazon links for "Son of Grendel" and Battle aren't Amazon affiliates as usual, but links supporting the charity Feeding America. With so many businesses shut down or operating at reduced capacity due to the coronavirus outbreak, food banks need help more than ever. If you use a link, make sure it's set to Feeding America to benefit that particular charity.


Friday, May 29, 2020

Some Indiana Jones Humor For You Today...

In the first Indiana Jones film Raiders of the Lost Ark that takes place in 1936, adventurer-archaeologist Indiana Jones reconnects with his old girlfriend Marion Ravenwood, but by the time of the third film The Last Crusade in 1938 they're no longer a couple and he has a different love interest, Elsa Schneider (who it turns out is a Nazi). The controversial fourth film The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull reveals that he and Marion were engaged but he "broke it off a week before the wedding."

So now let's have an amusing counterfactual scenario. The marriage goes through, but when his father is kidnapped in 1938, Indiana sets off to rescue him (leaving Marion, who at this point might be pregnant with this timeline's version of Mutt Williams and not really in any condition to go adventuring) and the events of Last Crusade still happen. AKA Indiana Jones commits adultery, or Professor Henry Jones has another reason to slap him.

Indiana, a very pregnant Marion, and Elsa (who for the purposes of this scenario is still alive) end up on The Jerry Springer Show to discuss the matter. As often happened, Marion and Elsa get into a cat-fight live on television and we get the following exchange:

ELSA (gasping): "Indiana, there's another man"

INDIANA (angry): "What? Who, Hitler?"

MARION (angrier): "You're one to talk, Jones!"

INDIANA: "Your name is Jones too, you know!"

MARION: "We'll see how much longer that lasts!"

JERRY SPRINGER: (smiling evilly): "Another man? Well, let's introduce him!"

Camera cuts to the audience where we see Sean Connery standing there. Indiana turns bone-white pale.



I posted this in the Concellation 2020 Facebook group where people who'd be going to all the sci-fi and fantasy conventions that got canceled can hang out. It was well-received. 30 reactions so far, mostly the laughing variety.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Jim Henson Buys Disney? So Crazy It COULD'VE HAPPENED

There's a new scenario on the alternate history forum called "A Hippie In The House of Mouse (Jim Henson at Disney, 1980)." The thread's creator Geekhis Khan made the argument that Disney in the early 1980s was in such bad shape that none other than Jim Henson, made wealthy by the success of the Muppets, could have potentially bought out the company if he wanted.

Preposterous you say? The mighty Disney bought up by a shaggy hippie and some singing puppets? Not really. The author posted a lengthy bibliography that includes a lot of history of Disney, biographies of Henson himself, etc. to show that it could've been done if it was handled carefully by Henson and in this case some more grounded Hollywood allies to handle the less-than-straightforward things (shell companies, company politics) Henson might not be comfortable with. This is also the period where Disney is at its weakest, with Walt dead and the company stagnating under his unimaginative, bean-counting successors.

(This is when Don Bluth left Disney to create The Secret of NIMH, An American Tail, and The Land Before Time. Here's one interview I did with Bluth and Gary Goldman that goes deep into the history there and here's another.)

Disney's situation got so bad, especially after the failure of The Black Cauldron, that it was subject to a "corporate raid" that could have sold the company for parts. It was defeated and new management brought in that revived the company, but it shows how bad of shape they were in despite their appearance of great power and wealth.

Although the scenario is still in its early stages, there's a lot of potential for serious changes to some very well-known properties:

*The Black Cauldron might not have bombed so badly. As was discussed in the Myopia podcast episode about it, TBC throws together bits and bobs of several books in the Chronicles of Prydain fantasy series and it comes out a mess. Several people in the thread were convinced Henson could save the project, although something not involving puppets might be a bit out of his wheelhouse.

*Something really interesting is what might happen with The Dark Crystal, which at one point got shelved due to some corporate mergers and skeptical money-types. To get it released Henson had to buy it from the new owners and release it with his own money. With Disney's resources behind it hopefully it'll be something more lively than our history's version--we did a Myopia podcast episode on that one too and although it was beautiful, it was very dull. And hopefully more successful too. The Netflix show Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is set in the same world and is very fun and entertaining. Disney was capable of producing darker fare in this period (see The Black Hole), so it's possible this could be the return of the old magic.

*Hopefully nothing bad will happen to Labyrinth, which was a pretty good film as-is. Maybe with Disney behind it, the film could be even better, but things could also be worse, or at least different. At least we could have Sarah (hopefully still played by Connelly) as a Disney Princess. And ye gods, Jareth as a Disney Prince.

(Also we did a Myopia podcast episode on that one too.)

*Henson apparently had a vision for making puppetry a lot more than something for little-little kids. And puppetry can be used to that effect--The Dark Crystal, especially once you factor in Age of Resistance and hopefully sequels, is something like the Lord of the Rings. And the original Pumpkinhead shows just how scary puppets can be.

I'm definitely looking forward to more. So to paraphrase Epic Rap Battles of History, let's hop on Walt's steamboat with a puppet-loving hippie at the helm and see where it takes us.