Monday, May 31, 2021

(Current) Book Copy For SERPENT SWORD: BATTLE FOR THE WASTELANDS #2

Just submitted Ch. 9 of Serpent Sword, the sequel to my military fantasy novel Battle for the Wastelands to my writing group. Per my earlier blog post, I hope to get the novel completed and published before the end of 2021, and based on word counts I'm probably around halfway to finishing it. Running it through writing group, getting professional editing, etc. will take time so I imagine it'll be close, but it's still doable.


In the meantime, here's the current draft of the book copy. Spoilers for the first novel, so be ye warned.

“Killing Jasper Clark was just the beginning. Now there’s a war to win, and the odds are getting worse.

For the role he played in capturing a dirigible belonging to the cannibalistic Flesh-Eating Legion and rescuing rebel chieftain Alonzo Merrill, Andrew Sutter was promoted to corporal. Now the rebel armies are carving a bloody swathe toward the old capital of Jacinto. Victory seems near as the man-eaters crumble before the Merrills’ salvaged Old World arsenal.

But Grendel, first lord of the Northlands, arrives with his elite Obsidian Guard and his fearsome airship the Nicor. Although he had planned to betray the Flesh-Eaters and replace them with his son by Alonzo’s captive sister Catalina, Grendel cannot allow the death of the Flesh-Eater ruler to go unavenged. He comes with hundreds of thousands of reinforcements and Catalina herself as bait.

With Jacinto under siege and enemy armies drawing ever-nearer, Andrew Sutter — now responsible for more than just his own life — and his friends must descend into the occupied city of Long Branch to rescue Catalina and confront the dreaded first lord himself.”

The title is the operational name for the assault on the Long Branch citadel. Given how Grendel's personal dirigible is called the Nicor — a Norse word for "water-monster"  and bears a dragon-head on its prow, giving the mission to kill him that name seems appropriate.

(Look closely at the cover and that's the Nicor floating over Long Branch's citadel. Imagine a Viking longship updated for steampunk warfare.)

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Lions Will Fight Bears: Britain In WWIII

I still check on the alternate history forum for interesting stories even though I'm still self-banned (and intend to stay that way). Most recently I checked out the section dedicated to finished timelines (content only, no reader comments like in the main forums) and found the scenario Lions Will Fight Bears: Britain In WWIII. The gist of it is that the hard-liner coup against Mikhail Gorbachev happens in 1988 rather than 1991 and rather than causing the Soviet Union to collapse as it did in our history, it imposes an unstable regime that soon goes completely paranoid and launches an attack on NATO thinking that NATO is going to attack them. Although the conflict only lasts a month or so and no nuclear weapons are used, it's still a pretty ugly situation, especially if you're a West German or a Dane.

I don't know the author, but he (when I was there the forum was very male-dominated) seems to know quite a lot about British politics and his focus is on the British, although obviously there's plenty about the US and Soviet Union too. And there's a lot of stuff in here I haven't read in the WWIII fiction I'm familiar with like The Third World War, Red Army, or Red Storm Rising.

*Something I'd never read before in WWIII fiction but should have been more obvious based on what happened with the COVID lockdowns is how disruptive war preparations would be to the societies in question even before the shooting starts. The author devotes several chapters to the problems the "transition to war" process causes the British public, problems that escalate into armed confrontations between cranky British civilians and American soldiers and even rioting due to transportation restrictions, business and school closures, etc.

*It was my understanding the British had lists of people to intern in the event of WWIII, which I assumed were people like British Communists who would be security risks. However, just who is on this list and why becomes a major issue.

*Also a 1988 WWIII is in the middle of The Troubles in Northern Ireland. Not only did the Soviets support various factions of the IRA (which is, unbeknownst to enthusiastic Americans of Irish background in Boston, a Communist organization), but part of their pre-war destabilizing plan involves encouraging them to attack British and Loyalist forces more aggressively. This includes, among other things, killing future UK Prime Minister John Major. Between that, the stuff I referenced above, and the fact that most of the British military is fighting the Soviets, Northern Ireland collapses into civil war. And it gets ugly--Nationalist and Loyalist paramilitary groups routinely commit crimes against civilians from rival communities and it escalates into open ethnic cleansing, with the understrength British Army unable to do much to stop it. Prominent republican Gerry Adams ends up being tortured to death by Loyalist paramilitaries, for example.

*The scenario also includes Soviet attacks on the United States itself even though the war stays conventional--Soviet bombers operating from occupied parts of Scandinavia and even the Soviet mainland and Soviet naval forces are able to strike New England, the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, and Hawaii. Soviet and Cuban forces raid the Florida Keys and even Florida itself. Usually in WWIII fiction the war doesn't come to the American homeland until the nukes start going off (think the film The Day After, in which there's fighting in Europe that soon leads to strategic nuclear use, or the novel Alas Babylon where the fighting starts in the Middle East). However, given the ranges of Soviet aircraft, the fact Soviet submarines and long-range aircraft would be equipped with cruise missiles, etc. that makes a lot of sense.

(In one of the "SDI Punk" blog posts, author Ken Prescott makes the point that cruise missiles made virtually every US Navy ship a potential threat to the Soviet homeland and thus the Soviets would need to hunt down all ships, not just the carriers and submarines carrying nuclear missiles. There's really no reason the Soviets couldn't do the same. And given the US's open society, it'd be a lot easier to infiltrate spies, commandoes, etc. in the fashion of the television series The Americans than the reverse.)

*And then there's the fun the KGB and other secret-police organizations get up to in occupied areas. Americans generally don't have to live with the concern that they'll be targeted on an individual level by an occupying army, but I imagine that was a very real concern for Europeans on the frontlines of the Cold War. It would be very easy for Soviet agents in open societies like West Germany, Sweden, Norway, etc. to assemble lists of people to arrest or kill in the event of Soviet occupation--local businessmen, politicians, clergy, retired soldiers, etc.

(The third of S.M. Stirling's Draka novels features American soldiers deploying into fallback positions in the Appalachians right before the balloon goes up. It's made explicit they've been erased from military records to forestall exactly that.)

In particular, American General John Shalikashvili--born in Poland and viewed by the Communist Poles as a traitor and son of a traitor despite becoming a U.S. citizen as a child--finds this out the hard way. And at a macro level there's the Nightmare Fuel of what the East Germans soldiers do in occupied West Germany, which they intend to absorb into a united Communist Germany. We're talking mass killings of captured military officers, removing books from libraries, civilians and captured enlisted men put to forced labor, etc.

*Speaking of him, since this is written well after the end of the Cold War and is intended to be faux history rather than an action thriller, we see a lot of real-life personalities. At the political level there's Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, U.S. President Ronald Reagan, and Vice-President George H.W. Bush, but there's also the British Michael Jackson (who prevented escalation between NATO and Russian forces in Kosovo in 1999 in real history), American Wesley Clark (who gave the orders in that situation), Colin Powell, and the victor of the Persian Gulf War Norman Schwarzkopf whom I remember being the great hero when I was a little kid.

The main problem I have with the scenario is that it's incredibly, incredibly detailed. We're talking beyond Clancy level in terms of descriptions of military movements, technology, etc. Although this reflects well on the author--he clearly knows his stuff--it's very dense and kind of a slog to read. Even though this sort of thing is ordinarily something I enjoy reading, I was skimming a lot. It took me three-odd days to finish reading the whole scenario.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Books Make Good Miniseries: S.M. Stirling's DRAKA

Once upon a time at DragonCon, author S.M. Stirling said that books typically make good miniseries and short stories make good movies. I'm an administrator of a Facebook group dedicated to his works and recently the possibility of films or TV series based on his notorious Draka series from the late 1980s and early 1990s came up. This set the wheels spinning--I'm inclined to think that each of the three main books would make for a good three-hour TV miniseries.

Marching Through Georgia-This would be based on the first novel and depict the Draka's entrance into this timeline's World War II. While the Draka armies surge into the southern entrances of the Caucasus mountain passes, paratroopers under the command of young officer Eric von Shrakenberg land in the northern entrances to trap the German defenders, accompanied by American reporter William Dreiser. Although Dreiser doesn't like the Draka's practice of large-scale slavery, he is intent on convincing his American audiences to cooperate with them to stop Germany, which has conquered European Russia and is currently enslaving and killing Jews, Russians, and Poles by the millions. Here we can see all the consequences of Generalplan Ost in their horror. 

However, throw in enough about the Draka as the story goes along that we get the creeping realization their winning might be even worse. Through Eric's memories and Dreiser's heavily-regulated visit we see just how horrible life in the Domination is. On leave Eric has to stop two Janissaries (soldiers drawn from the slave population) from raping his driver, millions of slaves are worked to exhaustion in military factories to prepare for the coming war, Dreiser is threatened by a Security Directorate minder who thinks he's going to try to spread sedition among the slaves, and Eric's father Karl tells Dreiser it's in the US's interest to help the Draka stop Germany and Japan from becoming great powers because the alternative to their dividing the world between them (and the Draka enslaving everybody under their control) is Germany, Japan, and the Domination allying against the United States. Draka small-talk reveals even more horrors. For example, Eric's fighter-pilot sister thinks buying a female Russian guerrilla as essentially a concubine would be doing her a favor (the master-slave sexual dynamic encourages a lot of situational lesbianism among Citizen women), other soldiers talk about how "it's a long way to the Atlantic" as though they've planned to conquer their ostensible French allies from the get-go, Dreiser thinks that the Draka view the rump Soviet state in Siberia as a "caretaker" before they take over themselves, and even the "distressingly liberal" Eric advocates the Domination merely "regulate and tax" occupied Europe rather than enslave the entire population and casually discusses sterilizing alcoholics and "retards." 

Ultimately, even though the Nazis are defeated, the Security Directorate assassins sent after Eric for his liberal-minded ways are dealt with, and Dreiser makes arrangements for Russian guerrillas who helped the Draka to be evacuated to the United States, we have a more ominous ending than a happy one. It's been a long time since I've read this book, but the first half could be the everything leading up to a large-scale last-ditch Nazi attack that threatens to destroy Eric and company and relieve the trapped Germans and the second half could be the Nazi attack itself and the aftermath.

Under The Yoke-This one is based on the second book and would be a straight-up horror show, albeit with a slightly happy ending. All the stuff the Germans were doing in Russia and Poland? The victorious Draka are doing it on a somewhat more subtle level from the English Channel to the Pacific Ocean. American secret agent Frederick Kustaa, pretending to be a brain-damaged Draka veteran (i.e. so he doesn't have to imitate their very distinctive accent, spar, dance, etc), is sent in to facilitate the defection of a European nuclear scientist who'd been given Citizenship but soon found he could no longer bear working for the absolutely worst people ever. However, while trying to smuggle the scientist out of Draka-occupied France, he gets involved in the internal politics of a newly-established Draka plantation, including rebellious young Communist Chantal LeFarge who has attracted the attentions (ahem) of both the master and the mistress and Polish nun Marya Sokolowska, a Resistance agent. 

The first half would be everything leading up to Frederick's arrival at the plantation. Frederick's insertion into Finland and helping Finnish rebels fight Draka occupation forces while bachelor Draka officer Andrew von Shrakenberg is unknowingly hunting for him would be a big part; meanwhile you have Marya and Chantal arriving at the plantation and becoming part of the household staff. The second half would be everything that happens after Frederick arrives. The ending features a pregnant Chantal escaping with the American extraction team while Frederick, Marya, and Andrew give their lives to stop a dirty bomb from detonating--for Chantal at least it ends somewhat happily and the other three essentially become martyrs saving thousands of people from death by radiation poisoning.

The Stone Dogs-This one, based on the third book, would be a generational saga like something out of James Mitchener. To tighten it up, I'd start right before the 1970s secession of India from the anti-Draka Alliance for Democracy and the consequent Draka invasion to keep the focus on Frederick and Marya LeFarge (the twin children of Chantal, fathered by a Draka rapist but born free in America who become secret agents), the young Draka officer Yolande Ingolfsson, and the returning Eric as a reformist Draka politician. To tighten it still further, the miniseries could focus on the race for a stalemate-breaking superweapon. The Draka have the titular "Stone Dogs," a bioengineered virus intended to drive the Alliance military insane, while the Alliance has a computer virus that causes Draka military assets to self-destruct when the Domination goes to war footing (and an almost-afterthought sleeper ship The New America in the event of a Draka victory). The first half of the miniseries can end with the cornered Eric forced to launch a nuclear attack on the Alliance when the spiteful Yolande engineers the escape of the enslaved Marya, whom she'd deliberately told about the Stone Dogs. The second half can cover the resulting nuclear war and the peace treaty in which the Draka grant Citizenship to the Alliance survivors on the Moon and beyond (but not on Earth, for more horror) and allow the New America to leave the solar system and establish a colony at Alpha Centauri. It'd be a combination of 2001 (or 2010 since that involves a US-Soviet confrontation) and The Day After.

Drakon-Per Stirling himself, this fourth book would be the one that would work best as an actual movie--I think he compared it to Predator. Only the very beginning and a couple minor scenes take place in the world of the victorious Domination and most of it in modern-day New York City. Basically an accident with wormholes deposits female Homo drakensis (the Draka genetically-engineered themselves into a superhuman master race) Gwendolyn Ingolfsson in our world and she begins building a personal empire with the ultimate goal of bringing in a conquering Draka army. A naval vessel from Samothrace (the colony established by the Alliance exiles) sends cyborg secret agent Kenneth LeFarge through a wormhole after her and the battle is on. Given how the book was written in the late 1990s, maybe make it a 1990s period piece? In an age of smart phones and online videos, concealing the events of the climax would be very difficult, but in the Domination frame-story, it seems only a few people are aware of what really went down.

Hmm...make a Drakon movie first, with the victory of the Domination depicted in flashbacks or something Gwen or Kenneth tell their respective servants/allies? If it does well enough, then go whole-hog on the original trilogy.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Movie Review: ENOLA HOLMES (2020)

In that long-lost year of 2019, I decided to enter the 21st Century and get Netflix streaming. Although the main shows I watched--The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance and V-Wars--weren't renewed, there was other fun content to be found. The Netflix production I ended up enjoying the most was Enola Holmes, so much so that I wrote a review of it for my Mailchimp newsletter and wrote an earlier post about the casting of an Indian actor to play Inspector Lestrade.

Now that a sequel has officially been announced, I figured I'd share my review with a broader audience.


The Plot

Britain's greatest detective Sherlock Holmes (Henry Cavill) didn't have just one sibling, older brother Mycroft (Sam Claflin), but a much, much younger sister Enola (Millie Bobby Brown). Sherlock and Mycroft were adults (or nearly so) when she was born and their father died soon after, leaving her to be raised by her eccentric mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter). Eudoria taught her all sorts of things that Victorian society wouldn't approve upper-class young ladies knowing (i.e. martial arts, explosive chemistry, etc.) and Enola is as extraordinarily intelligent and perceptive as her brother.

Then Eudoria disappears. Mycroft and Sherlock  investigate and Mycroft, vexed that Enola isn't by his standards particularly "ladylike," sends her to a ladies' finishing school run by the domineering Miss Harrison (Fiona Shaw). Enola runs away, seeking clues her mother left behind and stumbling across a conspiracy to kill the young Viscount Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge) that's connected to legislation that would expand voting rights in Britain. Meanwhile her two brothers are looking for her...

The Good

*Millie Bobby Brown does an absolutely amazing job as Enola. Seriously, she's the best part of the movie. She puts so much emotion into the part, both positive and negative, and she's so entertaining to watch. Her facial expressions in particular are often hilarious. Cavill and Claflin are good in their parts as well--although they're much less entertaining than Enola is, Cavil projects Holmes' intelligence and Claflin is downright hissable as Mycroft (more on that later). Although she's not in the movie very much, Carter's very good as well and the scenes between her and Enola have real poignance.

*The script is generally well-written. Enola has a running commentary on everything (including at times breaking the fourth wall) that made me laugh out loud several times. I'm sure the people near me at the gym (I watch a lot of Netflix on my Kindle on the elliptical or the bike) really appreciated that. :)

*The movie moves along at a quick clip and is rarely dull. It make running on the elliptical and ironing clothes so much more tolerable.

*The film gets a lot more political than I remember the Holmes stories being. The stories I've read seem to focus on him solving crimes and what-not, but during the time Sherlock would have lived (the last story is set at the start of WWI and he's a very old man), British society was rapidly changing. A major plot point are the Reform Bills (based on the time period I'm guessing The Representation of the People Act of 1884) and there was also a lot of agitation by women for the right to vote. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle might not have been interested in making his stories about "issues" (and in-universe Holmes might be too monomaniacal about solving crimes to care about politics), but this is a pretty interesting vein to mine.

*The importance of women being able to control their own money is a major plot point. To quote TVTropes, Some Anvils Need To Be Dropped.

The Bad

The characterization of Enola and Sherlock's older brother Mycroft is grossly unsubtle. The filmmakers needed a villain and apparently the people involved in a plot to murder a teenage boy weren't good enough. So they depicted a man characterized in the original books as being as smart as Sherlock but just too lazy to do anything with it into a cranky, snide reactionary (he's clearly disdainful of the Reform Bill) who's downright mean to Enola and is explicitly depicted as not having either of his siblings' intelligence. That last part is just really petty on the filmmakers' part, especially given what I said a minute ago about how in the source material he's as smart as Sherlock, just lazy and hidebound.

Yes, I imagine most Victorian men of their social class would find her exasperating and embarrassing, but she's still his younger sister. He can want to send her to a mind-numbing ladies' finishing school against her wishes and pull rank as her older brother (and legal guardian in the absence of her parents) without being that nasty. He also doesn't seem particularly concerned for well-being--a pretty young woman without much real-life experience on the run in Victorian Britain is probably in great danger and that should worry both him and Sherlock, but he seems more vexed that she's gotten out from under his control than concerned about her not getting raped, killed, etc. And as I mentioned earlier, just to make sure we know he's Bad, he thinks letting more people in Britain vote will be the downfall of the nation.

If the goal is to critique Victorian society as a whole rather than a few bad apples, he could still love his sister and mean well but still plan to to shove Enola's square peg into society's round hole because He's A Man And He Knows What's Best. It is possible for good people to make bad and even downright cruel decisions thinking it's The Right Thing To Do, so there was no need to make Mycroft into such a spiteful, mean-spirited jerk.

The Verdict

An absolutely delightful film and I hope there's a sequel. After all, the film is based on a book series. 9.0 out of 10. Oh and by the way, Netflix came up with a clever way to promote it.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Two THE ATLANTA INCURSION #BookTube Reviews In Two Days

One strategy I've been using to promote my work is seeking out booktubers to discuss my books on their channels. Early-mid May has been, to quote the great Borat, "Very nice." I have gotten two largely positive video reviews on YouTube for my novel The Atlanta Incursion, the sequel to The Thing In The Woods.

Here's the one posted May 9 from Jeremy Fee, a Texan who liked the small-town feel of the original Thing and followed the survivors to the big city for the sequel:


And here's the one posted May 10 from Lady Jane Books, who got very excited about it:


This was a very nice couple of days. If you're interested after watching these videos, you can find both The Thing in the Woods and The Atlanta Incursion on Amazon. They're both in Kindle Unlimited. And if you're not, check out their YouTube channels--they might have books you would enjoy.