Monday, June 15, 2020

How I Would Have Done Ramsey Campbell's THE HUNGRY MOON

A week or two ago, I read British horror author Ramsey Campbell's Lovecraftian tale The Hungry Moon. Although I liked the title and the concept and there were some good moments (like a psychic vision revealing the monstrous Lovecraftian moon god's full back-story), overall I didn't enjoy the book. The American evangelist Godwin Mann came off to me like a massive anti-Christian straw-man, the ending didn't really make a lot of sense, and there was too much psychodrama and not enough otherworldly stuff.

However, it's easy to complain. Like I've done before on this blog with movies like The Last StarfighterMortal Kombat, and Priest and on Myopia Movies' Patreon, here are some ideas I had that could improve the book. Warning--here there be spoilers.

*In general, I'd tighten up the cast. There are lots and lots of characters and it's hard to tell them all apart. And so many of them have problems that the story is filled up with their drama rather than focusing on the "American preacher accidentally unleashes a Druidic moon god who now wants nuclear weapons" that brought the story to my attention.

*Ix-nay on how the outside world forgets the town of Moonwell exists. If the events of the story took place on a faster timetable, there'd be no need for it. Furthermore, the fact people in London are forgetting about a town in the Peak District hundreds of miles north raises questions as to just how powerful the moon-god is and whether it even really needs to storm the nearby nuclear base in the first place. Why not just mind-control Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and have her launch one at Moscow?

*Play up the nuclear fears. The placement of U.S. nuclear weapons in Great Britain was a very controversial topic in the 1980s, but other than anti-nuclear protests being mentioned and the danger that the moon god would seize control of nearby nukes in order to effect its revenge on mankind for defeating and imprisoning it, this isn't a big part of the story. It's a massive missed opportunity, especially since the climax of the story involves several characters trying to escape the town to get to the missile base ahead of the moon-god and its minions. Female lead Diana Kramer is already an American working in Britain; in my version, she's the wife or daughter of a soldier on the base who got a job working in the town's British school (perhaps the base's school didn't have any teaching positions but administration knew someone who could get her a work permit) rather than someone who emigrated to Britain on her own. She sees what's going down in Moonwell and owing to her direct connection to the base and greater knowledge of what's there, she knows exactly what could happen if the moon god and its devotees gain access to the nukes.

*Consequently, when the possessed Mann fully manifests as the monstrous moon-god, Diana and her remaining allies (after some are killed by the moon-god or its devotees) rush back to the base to warn them of impending assault by "Mann" and its followers. Meanwhile, the cultists are in hot pursuit and the moon god is tormenting them with psychic visions. The book would then climax with something more like a zombie apocalypse outside the now-warned base's gates but with an extraterrestrial monster as the commander and heavy combatant, rather the rather strange and sedate failed escape sequence and the Deus Ex Machina ending.

*Play up the fears of losing control of one's country more broadly. The British once ruled most of the world, but they lost their empire in the 1950s and 1960s and endured a stagnant 1970s. The defeat of the Argentines in the Falklands War boosted their self-esteem, but at the same time they did receive logistical help from the U.S. The placement of American nukes in Britain--weapons that could be launched at the Soviets and invite retaliation on British soil theoretically without any input from the British themselves--is a particularly extreme symptom of a bigger cause.

To that end, I'd connect the nuclear fears and the semi-villainous Mann. Rather than just randomly showing up, I'd have him associated with the nearby American base in some capacity. Perhaps he's a military chaplain or someone associated with the American Christian Right who pulled strings to travel with some followers to live on the facility and use it as a base for his own evangelical efforts.

(A hanger-on would be better, as a military chaplain has very specific responsibilities and is subject to the chain of command. If the base chaplain is spending all his time having rallies in a nearby town and neglecting his soldiers, his superior officer can put a stop to it. A civilian employee or someone who's associated with the base but nobody can explain how might have more leeway.)

I'd also play up the clash between the more easygoing Anglicans represented by the more liberal-minded local vicar, who protested against the nukes and apparently lost congregants as a result, and the more zealous American preacher and his converts. We do see a little bit of that with the Americans' children bothering British children in the school about the sins they need to confess and Mann's Americans followers willing to work without pay to get teaching positions and making the local school, which already had problems, much more unpleasant, but we could get more theological. Mann could cite Revelation 3:14-22 to claim the Anglican churches are the area are "lukewarm," for example, and that he, being British on his father's side and the son of a celebrity to boot, is particularly qualified to revitalize it. Meanwhile, the older vicar thinks Mann is a combination of "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing" and too much enthusiasm (Proverbs 19:2 comes to mind) and when he starts trying to interfere with the annual ceremony at the Druids' cave, he's stirring up something that's beyond him. Even from a Christian point of view he might think it's something Mann cannot handle--see the biblical story of the demon the Apostles couldn't drive out or the misadventures of the sons of Sceva.

*I would also tone down Mann. The back-story for him Campbell establishes explains his mentality pretty well--as a result of drug use and sexual abuse at the hands of his British actor father's friends culminating in a suicide attempt, he converts to a very zealous sort of Christianity and then devotes himself to spreading it. And Campbell does avoid the temptation of making him a hypocrite stealing money from the till or sleeping with his secretary--he may be a meddling zealot, but his willingness to confront what he thinks is a demon (the imprisoned moon god in the druids' cave) shows great physical courage (the ropes he uses to rappel into a seemingly bottomless cave could break) and faith that whatever lurks there, his God is stronger. He's an antagonist, but he's not a cliche.

However, although Campbell states that he based him on Billy Graham after seeing him at a crusade in Liverpool, his beliefs and actions (and those his followers undertake in his name) are very out of character for Graham. I have never heard of Graham exhorting his followers to burn "ungodly" books, for example, or engage in subversive and control-freak behavior. Really hard-core fundamentalists objected to Graham's openness toward Catholicism, for example. This Catholic writer agrees with their claims about Graham's ecumenism, although he obviously doesn't think this is a bad thing. The same with this one. And it was the Klan who burned Beatles albums, not Graham or his followers. Graham seemed primarily focused on spreading the core Christian gospel above all else, especially after his association with Richard Nixon burned him so badly.

If Mann is supposed to be an evil (or at least arrogant and bone-headed) version of Graham, once he's possessed by the god he confronts in the cave, it would make more sense for him to have near-continuous rallies--the worshipers' fervor is reviving the moon god to its ancient potency--rather than meddle in the town's affairs overmuch. That would also provide a reason for his followers to persecute those who don't go along--he/it needs as many people fueling it as possible and they're not helping. That way we could still have the confrontation with the local comedian who mocks Mann and the eventual killing of the vicar--"Mann" doesn't want any distractions or rivals for attention.

*Furthermore, although Mann does convert some locals to his way of thinking, the vibe I get is that most of his followers are actually Americans who have moved to Moonwell. I'm not even sure how mass importation of foreigners, even white, English-speaking Christians who won't raise so many hackles, is supposed to work--in order to get a British job visa, an American needs a job offer from a British employer and must meet a bunch of other requirements. And although those are the current rules, Britain in the 1980s was tightening its immigration control, not loosening them. Here's more. If one of the local skeptics complained and was told they had valid tourist visas that would make more sense, but it seems they're living in the town, getting jobs, etc. rather than staying in the local hotel. Tourist visas specifically bar working or drawing on public funds, although the willingness of a couple of Mann's followers to teach for free at the school is a convenient workaround.

It would make much more sense that the majority of his followers are Britons from the town--youth bored with formal Anglicanism, conservatives who objected to the vicar preaching against the nuclear base, people feeling guilty about sins they'd committed (one of his converts is a girl who confesses to stealing from her employer, for example) attracted to the notion of forgiveness, spiritual-seeker types, or bored small-town people just looking for something new and interesting. Rather than leading an army of outsiders, Mann is a charismatic cult leader type who, despite being a foreigner and coming from a religious tradition the villagers find strange, is able to sway most of the people of the town to his side anyway. That would make him more sinister, not less. And the fact the villagers who don't go along with Mann, be they liberal Christians like the vicar or irreligious people, become pariahs so suddenly might crank up the horror even further--it'd be like Jews in early Nazi Germany before the killing starts suddenly finding most of their Gentile friends either don't like them anymore or are afraid to associate with them.

This is how I would have done the book. Obviously I'm not going to try to tread on another author's turf so blatantly by trying to write "Matthew W. Quinn's The Hungry Moon" or something with the serial numbers filed off in a more subtle fashion, nor am I going to write a "How I Would Have Done It" fan-fic like I did for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. I don't have the knowledge of 1980s Britain, nor do I have the time with my own things to work on. Still, this was a fun thought exercise. :)

Sunday, June 14, 2020

After-Action Report: ConFinement 2020

On Saturday (6/13) and Sunday (6/14), I attended ConFinement, an impromptu convention in Dalton, GA put together by people who really, really wanted to go LibertyCon in Chattanooga, canceled this year due to coronavirus concerns. My main goal was to sell books, although networking and just plain enjoying myself was a nice plus.

Before I get into the sales part, here are some fun things that happened:

*I'd anticipated only fans from Georgia and Tennessee and maybe a few outliers from states that are farther out but still nearby, but people came from all over. I spoke to a young-adult librarian volunteer from Florence, Texas about their possibly stocking The Thing in the Woods and met people who'd come down from Raleigh, Detroit, somewhere in Virginia, and even New York City. And although the Facebook event only had 60 confirmed and 80 maybes, around 118 people actually showed up. For a convention that only had two months to prepare and wasn't heavily advertised, this was impressive.

*One person couldn't leave Sunday morning because a cat had gotten into the engine of her hybrid van. The hybrid part is important because the undercarriage is sealed off rather than being open like a conventional engine--the cat would either have to get in/out via the axle/wheel well or up through the engine. I got some of a breakfast casserole to try to lure it out with the smell of meat, but that didn't work. I called the county animal control in hopes they had people with the skills and tools to get an animal out (maybe some kind of lasso or hook), but we had three police cars show up instead. It must've been a very slow morning. :) I ended up going back inside, since I doubted I could be of any more use than three policemen with flashlights and the car's actual owner. I later went back to check on everybody and both the driver and the police were gone. The hotel manager said he didn't know exactly how the "crisis" was resolved.

(Cue the Unsolved Mysteries or X-Files theme songs. The great mystery of ConFinement 2020--what happened to the cat?)

*Enough people came that the convention organizer--Baen Books author Michael Z. Williamson--ordered Chili's for everybody. Given the severe hit that COVID-19 inflicted on the economy in general and restaurants in particular, I'm willing to bet that huge order of sliders, ribs, Southwestern egg rolls, and vegetables with ranch dipping sauce was well-appreciated.

*Since the hotel only provided the most basic continental breakfast (i.e. honey-buns), people chipped in food for a con suite. We're talking homemade cookies and brownies, candy, fruit, pastries, deli-type sandwiches, soft drinks, and water. I tend to bean-count to make sure I cover my costs at every event, so not having to buy any meals (other than some McDonalds in Acworth when the sugar crash from the birthday cake I'll get to in a later anecdote hit on the way home) was really nice.

*The whole event, including the panels and all the vending, was in one large room. So from my table I could hear everything being discussed. For example, on a panel about actually running conventions, I learned a bit about labor laws and why chocolate or cheese fountains at conventions are not really good ideas. :)

*Sunday was somebody's birthday, so a big sheet cake was acquired. Another nice boost for the local economy. And free cake. :)

*Late Saturday night, I got to listen to Baen Books Acquiring Editor Gray Rinehart play on his guitar a parody of Looking Glass's "Brandy (You're A Fine Girl)" about a fan who wants to go to LibertyCon. He also played "Another Romulan Ale" (a Star Trek song that also references other science-fiction franchises) and a short parody of "Freebird" about not playing "Freebird" on request. That song was pretty funny. And he's got a BandCamp page, so if you want to listen to his songs, here you go.

(And although Baen had rejected Battle for the Wastelands, Mr. Rinehart was so kind as to send me all the commentary, both positive and negative, from the editorial readers. I used that to make the final edits before hiring Jason Sizemore to put together an independent print and e-book edition for me. I showed him the final product and he liked what he saw.)

*Baen Books Publisher Toni Weisskopf gave me a free copy of the science-fiction novel Frozen Orbit because I'm a teacher. Ms. Weisskopf went all-in on the free books--for teachers, for parents of teens, for people who'd never attended a Baen "road show" at a convention before, etc. I think I'll review Frozen Orbit when I've got the time to read it.

As far as selling went, I sold that second backer copy of the tabletop war-game Stalin's Final War that I helped fund on Kickstarter. I'd helped fund the game because I liked the concept, not because I'm a gamer, but realized that I could independently sell my backer copies much like I independently sell my books for money. I also sold five copies of Thing, five copies of Little People, Big Guns, two copies of Battle, one copy of my short-story collection Flashing Steel, Flashing Fire, and two copies of the short-story collection The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly Vol. 2 in which my Viking monster story "Nicor" appears. I sold a bunch in "two for $20 deals" and made one "three for $30" deal that, although they meant less per-book profit, meant more books got moved.

Having reviewed my figures, if I don't include the cost of SFW (which I backed more to be a patron of the arts rather than get a product to sell), I made a profit of $34.19 for the whole weekend. If I include the cost of SFW, however, it's a loss of around $35. Not including SFW, period, means a loss of $15. I also got ten e-mail addresses for the newsletter, which will be of particular importance with The Atlanta Incursion (the Thing sequel) slated for release in later June or early July and one person saying they'd prefer Thing and Battle as e-books.

Still, for the fun had and most if not all of the costs covered (I definitely got more than my money's worth on all the food), I would count this as a success. :)

Monday, June 8, 2020

ConFinement Impromptu Convention Set for 6/12-14 in Dalton, GA

Owing to the coronavirus epidemic, I wasn't anticipating attending any conventions until the Atlanta Comic-Con July 31 to August 2 or the Atlanta Sci-Fi and Fantasy Expo, originally slated for March but punted to August 15-16. Since books are non-perishable, I figured I'd sit on my inventory and wait.

Then I learned through Facebook about ConFinement, an impromptu convention organized through the group Emergency Holographic Summer Convention. If you join the group, you'll be able to see and sign up for the event. From the look of it, it's being organized by a bunch of people slated to attend LibertyCon and when that was canceled, organized this one instead. At least one official from Baen Books is going to be coming. It's going to be 6/12-14 at the Econo Lodge in Dalton, GA. Address: 1507 N. Tibbs Road, Dalton, GA, 30720.

Here's the full schedule:

Friday, June 12, 2020

10:00 AM - 1:00 PM: Trip to a nearby shooting range

2:00 PM - 3:00 PM: Opening Ceremonies and Cocktails

3:00 PM - 5:00 PM: Random Author BS Session

9:00 PM - 11:00 PM: No Kidding, There I Was (True War Stories from veterans, agents, and others)

Saturday, June 13, 2020

10:00 AM - 11:00 AM: How A Convention Actually Runs--not this emergency seat of the pants thing, but a real one.

10:00 AM - 12:00 PM: Improvised Workout Panel (proper name to follow), MEETS IN PARKING LOT

11:00 AM - 1:00 PM: Classic Weapons Show and Tell--A handful of exotic items you won't get to see often

1:00 PM - 4:00 PM: Doc Osborn's Science and Climate Presentation--What Do The Stars Say To Actual Scientists

4:00 PM - 6:00 PM: Baen Traveling Roadshow, The Cozy Edition (tentative)

6:00 PM - 7:00 PM: Operation Blazing Sword

9:00 PM - 11:00 PM: I Hate Trek--by people who hate Trek so much they've seen every episode at least twice and taken notes

Sunday, June 14, 2020

11:00 AM - 1:00 PM: How Do We Research All This Stuff?

I'm going to be selling books at the event on Saturday and Sunday. Last time I was in North Georgia (a toy/game show in Dalton and the Next Chapter Con in Ringgold), I had only The Thing in the Woods and The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly Vol. 2 to sell. Now in addition to those, I've got my steampunk fantasy novel Battle for the Wastelands (and the companion e-novella "Son of Grendel"), the short-story collection Flashing Steel, Flashing Fire, and my bizarro novella Little People, Big Guns.

So if you're looking to get out of the house (don't worry, I'll be wearing a mask and I'll have hand sanitizing wipes for anybody who'd like them), come on by the Econo Lodge. With so many events being canceled, this seems like it'll be the first one since the lockdowns began and one of the few events for awhile.