Thursday, December 1, 2022

Book Review: WILLOW Novelization (1988)

Since Disney+ is putting out a next-generation sequel to the 1988 fantasy classic Willow, the film podcast Myopia Movies recorded an episode that came out alongside it. I enjoyed the movie, but there were a number of flaws, most notably the lack of explanation and worldbuilding. Given how the movie was intended for children and as-is the host's kindergartner was losing interest toward the end, I figured the novelization would be a big improvement. Fortunately it is available for purchase on Amazon, so I decided to give it a spin.




The Plot

In a faraway land, a prophecy predicts that a child will be born who will overthrow the evil Queen Bavmorda. To that end, Bavmorda, imprisons all late-stage pregnant women and has their child inspected after birth to see if they bear the prophesied mark--and one day the newborn Elora Danan does. A sympathetic midwife smuggles the child out and Bavmorda dispatches her grim General Kael and warlike daughter Sorsha to pursue the child.

But the child falls into the hands of gnomish farmer and family man Willow Ulfgood, who aspires to do magic. Assigned by the gnome village elders to find a human to look after said child, Willow soon encounters the rogue Madmartigan and the transformed sorceress Fin Raziel. Soon they're all allies on a quest to overthrow Bavmorda, with some surprising twists and turns along the way.

(The novelization appears to be based on an earlier draft of the screenplay and includes content cut from the actual film.)

The Good

*The novel beefs up the characterization of Willow himself and emphasizes the danger his quest to protect baby Elora puts him in besides the obvious problem of Bavmorda's murderous soldiers. Basically he's been pursuing his dreams of becoming a wizard to the detriment of working on his farm and owes the bullying village prefect Burglekutt money. Friendly neighbors have had to give him seed for this year's crop and he's apparently one payment away from foreclosure. Although the situation is largely his own fault, if his children had never found the baby he could have easily turned his situation around--he gets a lot of plowing done in a single day.

*Bavmorda, Fin Raziel, and their Fae mentor Charlindea get a lot more back-story and characterization than in the film. In the movie, Bavmorda is basically a live-action version of Snow White's Evil Queen, Fin is a rival she's transformed, and it's not even clear what exactly Charlindea even *is*--on the podcast, I refer to her at one point as the "non-union Mexican equivalent" of Galadriel.

*A monster cut from the film and a monster that appears later in the film have reasons for being there that further build Bavmorda's character. Not only is she a powerful sorceress, but she's also a planner who has fail-safes for her various schemes.

*Burglekutt isn't just an obnoxious small-town moneylender...he's also a prefect in the local government and owns the town's sole seed shop. Willow is not the only person he antagonizes either. If it weren't for his physical cowardice and being completely out of shape physically, he could have been a PG version of small-town gangster Wesley from the Patrick Swayze movie Road House.

*The novel explains some stuff that, in the film alone, don't make a whole lot of sense. For example, the midwife escapes the sinister Nockmaar Castle with the infant Elora by hiding out in some secret passages she knew about (and apparently the guards didn't) until Bavmorda's pursuers are far away before setting off into the wilderness. And once away, she's assisted by people opposed to Bavmorda's regime and even friendly animals. This explains why Elora is a newborn at the beginning of the film but looks significantly older by the time the midwife sets her adrift on the river to save her from the Death Dogs...they've actually been on the run for months. A character who gets captured by the heroes in the film because they insist on being the first one to search a room displays a bit more common sense and sends minions in first.

*The war depicted in the film is also explained in more detail. Bavmorda, having usurped her late husband, rules all the territories he did, and has been making war on the nearby kingdom of Galladoorn. The various rebels, armies, etc. we see in the film are survivors of Galladoorn's army, people within Nockmaar opposed to Bavmorda's rule, etc. The film doesn't really explain the politics of the situation very much or very well.

*There's a scene where we see Nockmaar's army in battle in large numbers (as opposed to Kael and Sorsha's death squad that numbers about fifty people at most) that's pretty cool.

The Bad

*The prose is not very descriptive and doesn't move very quickly until about halfway through the book. There's a lot of telling rather than showing.

*Some of the worldbuilding and back-story is rather silly. Before Bavmorda, apparently all living things in the world lived in harmony and several times characters are assisted by friendly animals. Yes, I know this is a novelization of a children's film and friendly animals are a fairy-tale staple, but still. Although I criticized the movie for oversimplifying matters, the more complex attempts at worldbuilding and back-story raise more questions than they answer. The Willow Blu-Ray has an interview with Ron Howard in which he explains how a whole subplot involving Sorsha's father--the previous king at Tir Asleen and Bavmorda's husband--was ordered cut by the studio and frankly the movie version is better than what's in the novelization. 

(This fan-fic keeps Sorsha's dad dead like the movie at least strongly implies and explains the whole situation better than either the novelization or the film, but beware spoilers.)

Elora's role in the novel is also needlessly complex--some commenter on TVTropes states that she causes Bavmorda's downfall in the film, not by anything she does, but the actions she inspires others to undertake. There's also a lot of Chekov's Guns that aren't fired--worldbuilding that doesn't really tie in with the immediate plot but mostly serves to add pages.

*The way Bavmorda's and Madmartigan's back-stories are explained feature gigantic info-dumps that are basically characters telling stories around the campfire. This is especially the case with Madmartigan. Yes, the back-stories are interesting, but they go on for far too long and are kind of clunky.

*Some stuff from the movie gets left out, like scenes in Nockmaar Castle where Bavmorda interacts with Sorsha and Kael. This would explain the unhealthy family dynamic between Sorsha and her belittling, affection-withholding mother (and why a character's romantic speech, drug-induced though it may be, has such an effect on her) and show the evil kingdom's political dysfunction. Sorsha's first film meeting with the heroes that sets up a lot of stuff that happens later is also left out. Although Willow and Madmartigan benefit from the expanded characterization in the novel, Sorsha (to a point) and especially Kael lose out.

The Verdict

A library read, unless you can get it super-cheap somewhere. Only worth reading once. 6.0 out of 10.

Movie Review: WILLOW (1988)

On the 100th episode of the Blasters and Blades podcast, I briefly discussed the movie Willow with the hosts. I referred to the movie as being "before my time" (it turns out I was actually around four years old, but at that point I was mostly interested in cartoons), much to the slightly-older host's annoyance. At the time I had not seen it, but lo and behold some time later, the film podcast Myopia Movies added it to the Season Nine lineup. So not long after DragonCon 2022, I watched it for the podcast...


Here's the link to the podcast. And now for the review...

The Plot

In a faraway land, a prophecy predicts that a child will be born who will overthrow the evil Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsha). To that end, Bavmorda, imprisons all late-stage pregnant women and has their child inspected after birth to see if they bear the prophesied mark--and one day the newborn Elora Danan (twins Kate and Ruth Greenfield) does. A sympathetic midwife smuggles the child out and Bavmorda dispatches her grim General Kael (Pat Roach) and warlike daughter Sorsha (Joanne Whalley) to pursue the child.

But the child falls into the hands of the farmer and family man Willow Ulfgood (Warwick Davis), who aspires to do magic. Assigned by the village elders to find a human to look after said child, Willow soon encounters the rogue Madmartigan (Val Kilmer) and the transformed sorceress Fin Raziel (Patricia Hayes). Soon they're all allies on a quest to overthrow Bavmorda, with some surprising twists and turns along the way.

The Good

*For starters, Willow and his kindred are a very specific fantasy race--they're gnomes. This is the first and so far only time I've seen gnomes in an actual film. For the scenes in the gnome village it looks like Lucasfilm hired every dwarf actor in Hollywood--every adult seems to have some form of dwarfism and there are a lot of them who can play musical instruments, fight with weapons, etc. The only ordinary-sized people seem to be the children. This is a good thing on multiple levels--it's more authentic and real-looking and it provides employment for people who often live rather difficult lives. And their characterizations are varied--the gnome village has an obnoxious moneylender who covets Willow's land, there are full-time soldiers (who are actually fairly skilled--on Twitter I called them "the littlest pikemen"), and even a wizard. We even see their form of government--they seem to have a town council and direct democracy on certain major issues. These aren't a bunch of circus performers, but an actual complex society.

*Also, this is a world where there are non-human fantasy races in addition to ordinary people. In a world of only Homo sapiens sapiens who often look different, practice different religions, etc. we're often bigoted enough toward each other. Willow and the other gnomes get repeatedly referred to as "pecks" (a reference to a unit of measurement, approximately 12-14 pounds) even by people who are supposed to be heroic. It's a major sign of a character's moral growth that this person starts referring to them by how they call themselves (Nalwyn) rather than "peck."

*The film also has a good cast. I liked all three of the main trio--Davis, Kilmer, and Whalley.

*The movie is fast-moving and entertaining, albeit a bit on the cheesy side.

The Bad

*Unfortunately, I can kind of tell where the filmmakers are getting a lot of their inspiration from. Willow and his friend Meegosh, after being captured by the brownies, are sent on a quest to protect Elora by some kind of forest sorceress whom I refer to on Twitter as Galadriel's "non-union Mexican equivalent." Apparently the novelization explains more--including her relationship to Fin Raziel and Bavmorda--but I shouldn't have to refer to the novelization, deleted scenes, etc. for a movie to make sense. According to the novelization she was a senior sorceress (and also a forest fairy of some kind) mentoring Raziel and Bavmorda, the latter of whom went bad. In the film it's not even clear if she's human or some kind of elf, fairy, etc. Hence "Galaldriel's non-union Mexican equivalent." Making her human--and perhaps involved in the military resistance against Bavmorda we see elsewhere in the film--would be more original, but again, it's not in the film.

*Per the above, there's a lot of missing material that's included in the novelization, earlier drafts of the script, comic books, etc. that would have helped the movie make a lot more sense. For example, Bavmorda believes that even if she killed baby Elora, she'd be reborn in a new body and the prophecy would kick back in. Hence the elaborate ritual to banish Elora's soul to another dimension and/or destroy it completely so that never happens rather than simply murdering her at first chance. There's also a character's defection that has a lot more back-story in the extended universe, but in the actual movie it seems like they're mostly doing it out of love (or at least lust) for one of the good guys.

(I suggested in the podcast the movie could be a bit longer to fix these issues, but Nic cited the example of his own child getting bored later in the movie to point out this risks losing the attention of the primary audience. The deleted scenes pertaining to the defector character--beware spoilers--don't add many minutes to the film, although the last bit involving a character conscious while imprisoned in a crystal is so ridiculous and cheap-looking. A few bits of dialogue here and there would be fine, but lots and lots of new scenes, not so much. I still think it'd be doable, although we're about 34 years too late. If you want an alternative take that's not overly elaborate, check out this fan-fic here. Spoilers beware.)

The Verdict

Not perfect, but a fun and entertaining fantasy film. Also a means of teaching good values to the target audience (kids) without being preachy and annoying to adults. 8.5 out of 10.

And while you're at it, check out my novella Little People, Big Guns. Although it on the surface it looks rather tacky and exploitative, my intention was to get into the real life issues little people face--people ignoring them because they can't see them, problems functioning in a world designed for people much larger than themselves, health difficulties, bullying by bigger people, and even weird fetishization. Davis actually runs an acting agency that started out representing his coworkers with dwarfism and later included those who were unusually tall.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Oda Nobunaga Finishes Unifying Japan, A More Plausible Draka Timeline, and an Uglier Tanker War

It's been awhile since I've posted about alternate history. Here are some scenarios from the public sections of the forum I used to be a regular member of that you might find interesting.

Nobunaga's Ambition Realized: The Dawn of a New Rising Sun-In real life, warlord Oda Nobunaga was betrayed by one of his own commanders and committed suicide to avoid captured and execution. His efforts to reunite feudal Japan were continued by others, including Tokugawa Ieyasu. The latter brought peace to Japan, but at the price of isolating the country from the world, the functional extermination of Christianity, and establishment of what sounds like an early modern police state. In this timeline, Nobunaga avoids the coup attempt and continues his historical course. He ultimately reunites Japan as the new shogun (a military dictator who rules in the emperor's name), but his government pursues very different policies. Although his successor Hideyoshi's war with Korea is avoided, he and his successors do successfully colonize Taiwan, and Christianity remains a tolerated faith even if some of the excesses that provoked the Tokugawa crackdown (slave-trading by foreign priests, Catholic lords forcing peasants to convert) are firmly dealt with. It looks like Japan is on the way to becoming a major power in Asia rather than turning inward. And this is already having some effects, most notably on China...

Snakedance: A Plausible Draka TLIAM-The author wants to have this whole timeline completed in a month (hence the title) and she seems to be making good progress so far. For those not familiar, here is the canonical Draka timeline through the 1950s. Although it's not particularly plausible, the fiction is entertaining and it's one of the founding texts of modern-day alternate history. The author is focused on the early Draka expansion in southern Africa and depicts the natives putting up a more realistic and much better fight that they did in canon and avoids the Draka's too-fast early industrialization. She also emphasizes sports, the arts, and culture among the Draka, something that is often overlooked in alternate history, and seems like she's planning on emphasizing class conflict among the Draka elite more than canon does.

(The first book Marching Through Georgia has female lead Sofie Nixon pondering the social gap between herself, the daughter of a dock foreman and granddaughter of a Scottish mercenary, and her commanding officer and love interest Eric von Shrakenberg, but I don't recall very much from the later books. The Citizen caste seems rather united on most issues of importance and the points of disunity are limited to grousing, like the urbanite-dominated Security Directorate sneering at the planter-dominated military as living in the past.)

Crushed In Infancy-In this timeline, the "Tanker War" phase of the Iran-Iraq War escalates into a series of direct battles between the United States and the new Islamic Republic of Iran. The Islamic Republic soon goes into a different, more US-friendly direction, after some events I'm not going to give away for spoiler reasons. This in turn leads to some very different politics in the United States, the declining Soviet Union, and a China that is just starting to liberalize after the death of Mao. We're looking at a very interesting late 1980s and early 1990s here.

Saturday, November 12, 2022

THE HOWLING, The Heroes Of Other Stories, and Fan Fiction Ideas

In the 1981 film The Howling, TV news anchor Karen White (Dee Wallace) discovers a rural California community run by her station's psychiatrist has a dark secret. A very hairy dark secret...although the cover pretty obviously gives away the fact it's a werewolf movie, this isn't confirmed until about an hour into the film.

Although the film is kind of dull (I gave it a grade of C on my blog), the characterization is interesting. Several supporting cast members seem like they could potentially be the heroes of their own stories. Anybody who's a fanfic enthusiast (Archive of Our Own has a lot of Howling fanfic stories) is welcome to give these a spin. I posted about this on Twitter earlier this morning; here is my rambling in more coherent form, with some fact-checking.

Spoilers for a 30-odd year old movie below. I'll post the YouTube clip of the relevant scene that reveals a lot about the lesser characters to further block it off.


Dr. George Waggner (Patrick McNee)-The station psychiatrist and basically the cult guru in charge of "The Colony." He tries to get the werewolves to control their animal nature and live peacefully, but he cannot control the violent Quist siblings--serial killer Eddie, homewrecker Marcia, and creepy little brother T.C. Under California law, he's an accessory after the fact to several murders (possibly with rape to boot), since he knows about Eddie's crimes and seems to have done nothing but try to conceal them by luring the only surviving witness to his commune. If the cops (other than the local sheriff who's a werewolf himself) get involved, he's going to be doing some pretty serious time.

(You don't get the misdemeanor accessory charge for covering for a serial killer and Eddie has committed multiple serious crimes. That jail time piles up real quick, and him trying to plead coercion would involve revealing that he's the guru of a colony of werewolves.)

However, his options to deal with the Quists are rather limited. At the climax of the film, Marcia and one of her friends openly assault him when he tells them he won't let them kill Karen and it seemed to me his bad deeds (largely of omission rather than commission) are basically for damage control purposes. If not for him, many if not most of the werewolves in the community would start hunting and killing people before the government comes in and gives them the Waco treatment. He can't exactly go to the police for help--they wouldn't believe him if he said they were all werewolves and if they did believe it (say if he transformed in front of them), he and his would be hunted down and killed as monsters.

You could depict him as this morally gray version of Charles Xavier making harder and harder "lesser of two evils" choices to the point it's a relief when Karen's colleague Chris Halloran shoots him with a silver bullet. Hell, you could make him a full-on tragic hero. If Macbeth (traitor and murderer of families), Othello (domestic violence), and Hamlet (causes several deaths and the foreign invasion of his kingdom through sheer bumbling) can be tragic heroes, well, Waggner's crimes are much less extreme.

Jerry and Donna Warren (James Murtaugh and Margie Impert)-In this scene here, the werewolves detain Karen after Eddie kills her colleague Terri and she realizes just what's going on. The Warrens seem intent on recruiting Karen for the cult. Although I'd initially thought they'd found The Colony's secret on their own, had been given the choice between accepting "the gift" and being killed, and were desperately hoping Karen would be shown the same mercy, that doesn't seem to be what happened. It sounds like they'd be been bitten earlier and tried to resist the effects rather unsuccessfully, but then found Waggner on their own and Waggner taught them how to deal with it effectively. Just how that played out could be an interesting story, especially if the werewolf who infected them was unaffiliated with Waggner and The Colony. Who else is out there?

Erle Kenton (John Carradine)-He's the one who looks like Willie Nelson and attempts to kill himself when we first meet him. One could write him as someone who wants to follow Dr. Waggner's teachings but finds his struggle against his own nature so difficult that he becomes outright suicidal. When Eddie killing Terri causes a crisis at The Colony, he just says "screw it" and gives in to his animal side. This could be the story of someone with a mental illness suffering a breakdown or someone who's really repressed finally, to quote Elsa from Frozen, "Let[ting] it go." Only he's a bigoted murderous a-hole.

Bill Neil (Christopher Stone)-We see his whole arc on-screen so he's not really the hero of another story, but showing the whole situation from his POV could be interesting. He goes from being a vegetarian and a faithful husband to Karen (he even gets violent with Marcia when she puts the moves on him) to killing and eating animals, cheating on Karen with Marcia, and assaulting Karen when she calls him out on it. And some viewers think he's the one who infected Karen in the climax of the film. What is it like to have your worldview shift so much in less than a week?

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Blast from the Past Movie Review: THE HOWLING (1981)

Back in the days of Blockbuster Video, I got my own membership later in high school and could rent any movie I wanted. One film I rented was The Howling, a well-regarded werewolf movie from the early 1980s. October 2022 is werewolf month on the film podcast Myopia Movies and this was one of the films I really wanted to do.

Here's the episode. And now for the review...

The Plot

In 1980s Los Angeles, television anchor Karen White (Dee Wallace) has been getting phone calls from serial killer Eddie Quist (Robert Picardo). In order to catch him, she agrees to meet up with him--with the police close by. As one might expect, this turns violent very quickly and the traumatized Karen can't remember precisely what happened. Dr. George Waggner, (Patrick Macnee), a local psychologist, invites her and her husband Bill Neil (Christopher Stone) to a rural commune called "The Colony" so she can rest and undergo group therapy. They arrive and meet various colorful characters living there, including Marcia Quist (Elisabeth Brooks), who is a little too interested in Bill.

And did I mention that Eddie's corpse has disappeared from the morgue? Karen's colleagues Chris Halloran (Dennis Dugan) and Terri Fisher (Belinda Belaski) investigate that as things get progressively weirder and more dangerous at The Colony.

The Good

*There is some good foreshadowing, like a character early on who specifically wants to commit suicide by fire.

*There're some moments of humor, like when a snoopy character is caught going through a filing cabinet.

*There is also some good development for the supporting cast, like how Karen's boss at the station is depicted as a jackass. He signs off on the scheme to bait serial-killer Eddie never mind that it's putting one of his employees at great risk and a good number of people openly object to it, and when she's clearly upset by the experience, says it's just as likely she could be pregnant (sexism) and casually and profanely butchers the name of an Asian anchor the station could use if she can't handle being on-air (racism). The guy is a real tool, and we get that mostly in one scene almost as an aside.

*I can't go into too much detail for reasons of spoilers, but they do develop the villains as people. Some are content with living in isolation and hunting animals and even peacefully coexisting with ordinary people, but others are more overtly predatory and violent and the former have to resort to increasing concessions to the latter in order to (barely) keep them under control. The politics of it could have been developed more, but they are interesting.

*I liked the side story with Chris and Terri investigating the aftermath of Eddie's attack on Karen and how it ultimately links back up with Karen's stay at the Colony.

The Bad

*After the initial confrontation with Eddie, the movie slows down considerably. Not much happens of note until Karen and Bill arrive at the Colony and Karen starts hearing wolves howling outside. This section of the movie functions more like a mystery than a straight-up horror movie in the vein of Silver Bullet or An American Werewolf in London. If that's what you're into that's fine, but be aware.

*Per the above, the internal politics of the Colony could have come up earlier--perhaps when Terri comes to see Karen, the residents could argue among themselves about this new development.

The Verdict

A bit dull if you go in expecting a full-on monster movie, but if you go in expecting a mystery, it's better. 7.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Films I Bought Because of Myopia Movies

As my readers know, I'm a regular participant in the film podcast Myopia Movies, organized by one of my friends from the Boy Scouts. To that end, I've probably watched dozens if not hundreds of movies I haven't seen in forever (or never saw at all) over the last eight-odd years we've been recording. Some of these I liked so much I actually purchased them on physical media so I'll have them forever and not lose them to the whims of the streaming company or IP holder. Seriously, the streaming services giveth and the streaming services taketh away.  Netflix in particular has shed a lot of films over the years. And per The New York Times, you don't actually own your digital movies.

And so here are the DVDs or Blu-Rays that I've bought...

How The Grinch Stole Christmas-This is the Jim Carrey Nightmare Fuel edition that my colleagues didn't like but I thought was hilarious. Those damn materialistic Whos needed a wakeup call. The movie even opens with a Black Friday commercialistic nightmare. The episode is slated to premiere December 15 to coincide with the Grinch parody film The Mean One, so I'll update this page when it is.

The Abyss-This underwater science fiction extravaganza was something I first saw in elementary school, but didn't see again until we recorded a podcast on it. Here's my review and here is the episode. It's a blast. Also check out my YouTube video.

The Rocketeer-This and Shipwrecked were the first movies I saw with my mother when I first moved from Kennesaw-ish to East Cobb as a child. The episode was originally recorded for the show's defunct Patreon and won't be out until the planned sequel, but re-watching the movie again was a blast. I even got my college-student younger cousin watching it.

Labyrinth-For years I avoided this film due to seeing some creepy-looking production stills, but I'm glad I finally saw it. Here's the episode and here's the review. I also came up with some other posts based on and even created my first meme. I'm going to be on a panel about the film at the Atlanta fantasy festival CONjuration in early November, where some material from "Labyrinth is Hellraiser for Kids" (here in blog form and here on YouTube) will make an appearance.

Howard The Duck-This was a movie I'd wanted to do an episode on for years and it was a blast. Here's my review. I think I'm one of the few people in the world who non-ironically loves this one. Here's to hoping they let the original Beverly Lea Thompson direct an official MCU version, with one of her daughters playing the new Beverly. As of October 2022, Thompson is still campaigning for job.

Gremlins-This one came out the year I was born and I saw it for the first time at The Plaza Theater in Atlanta. Here's the podcast and here's my review. This one is definitely a hoot.

Highlander-I first saw this one as one of Joe Bob Briggs' late-night movie shows and was a big fan of the spinoff TV series that featured a younger relative of Connor MacLeod, with Connor dropping in now and then. Here's my review and here's the episode. The appearance of the villain Grendel from my steampunk series Battle for the Wastelands was inspired by the evil Kurgan's medieval war-gear, especially the helmet.

Willow-This movie came out when I was in pre-school, but I don't remember being interested. Cheesy and fun. The episode won't come out until December 22 to coincide with the Disney+ spinoff series featuring an older Willow training a new generation of heroes. Watching the film inspired me to purchase an ancient copy of the novelization and gave me more fodder for the 1980s fantasy film panel I'll be on at CONjuration.

Secret of NIMH-The movie that scared me to death in kindergarten. Here's the episode and here's the review. It's a beautiful film with excellent voice-work and animation.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Blast from the Past Movie Review: AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981)

Back when I was in high school, one of the first movies I rented when I got my own Blockbuster card (remember those?) was An American Werewolf in London. For Myopia Movies' October werewolf month, a movie pretty much everybody wanted to do was this one, so away we went. Here is the podcast episode. And now for the review...


The Plot

David Kessler (David Noughton) and Jack Goodman (Griffin Dunne) are backpacking through Europe and detour (for some reason) into rural northern England on their way to meet up with friends in Italy. After an awkward encounter with some villagers, they're warned to stay on the roads and stay off the moors--and they don't. Something big and vicious attacks them, killing Jack and chewing up David before the villagers arrive to kill it.

David awakens weeks later in a London hospital under the care of nurse Alex Price (Jenny Agutter) with a bunch of new scars--and the unwelcome presence of the ghostly, decaying Jack, who warns him that he's now a werewolf. To allow Jack to move on into the afterlife and not take any more lives, David needs to commit suicide pronto.

What happens next? Well, watch the movie to find out...

The Good

*The performances and characterizations are very good. Noughton does a good job playing David as he goes through all the mental and physical changes his condition imposes on him. Dunne does well as Jack, and keeps it up well even though he begins to increasingly resemble Achmed the Dead Terrorist. And Agutter's Alex is good as well--although she doesn't exactly display a lot of common sense (more on that later), she is well-developed as a compassionate nurse who cares about David and the children in her ward.

*Although the comedy is quite dark, it's pretty funny. The hijinks of the undead Jack are a big part of it, but there's plenty more.

*The transformation sequences are very well-done, especially since we're using 1981 technology. All practical effects, including effects that are actually attached to the human body.

*The movie gets a lot of British cultural details right, like how British police typically don't carry guns and have to call in special units with rifles when things get out of hand.

*David is Jewish and it's implied Jack is too. That's not something one typically sees in horror films--most characters don't seem religious at all, and those that are are at least nominally Christian.

The Bad

*There are a couple scenes, like one where David is pacing around Alex's apartment, reading her books, and generally moping, that don't seem to serve much of a purpose. That scene, for example, would have made more sense if Jack had put in another appearance warning him about what's coming that very night. The opening at least has the point of establishing the desolation of rural northern England--setting the scene--even if it goes on for too long.

*One scene kind of defies common sense--the famous transformation scene takes place in Alex's apartment. Do the neighbors not hear the screaming? There's a missed opportunity for comedy--since Alex is a nurse, a neighbor could comment that she must be bringing her work home with her. Or, since Alex is fairly open about her promiscuity, perhaps the neighbor is smirking and says something like, "I wonder who it is this time?" There's a joke about people mistaking a werewolf killing someone for "hooligans in the park," so this type of humor would fit nicely.

*London is a pretty distinctive city and probably a better draw for viewers, but if David and Jack are attacked somewhere in the northern part of England, it would make more sense to set the movie in a big city like Manchester. More creative too, since London is in movies a lot but the North of England, not so much.

*David is unconscious for three weeks? He was conscious when the villagers rescued him and his injuries were largely superficial. Not only does that not make a lot of sense, but as we briefly discussed on the podcast, being immobile for that long should lead to him losing a lot of strength. He should have trouble walking. I would keep the coma a bit shorter and then depict him doing physical therapy with Alex for the rest of the time it takes to get to the next full moon. To avoid taking up too much time, this could be a montage, possibly even set to an appropriate song. That would explain how they bond so quickly and a patient and the person assisting them becoming involved romantically is something that does happen. Alex having worked with David regularly for weeks is a much better basis for a relationship that "I've been taking care of you while you were unconscious for three weeks and a couple days after you woke up." 

Also, even if Alex is promiscuous, inviting someone you've known for maybe two days to crash with you is dangerous, especially given that Alex is aware David was involved in some kind of violent mishap (why he's hospitalized in the first place). Even if Alex does not object to premarital sex on moral grounds, one would hope a nurse (i.e. an educated professional) has the intelligence and common sense to not invite essentially a potentially-violent stranger to live with her.

A prolonged courtship between Alex and David could also be played for laughs--Jack's increasingly decayed ghost is hanging around David's physical therapy routines, commenting on his relationship with Alex and urging David to kill himself while David keeps coming up with elaborate excuses as to why he's talking to somebody nobody else can see. Alex and/or the doctors could just write it off as symptoms of PTSD or head trauma, much to Jack's increasing frustration.

*David being Jewish could be built up a bit more--although this is supposed to be a horror-comedy, perhaps that's one reason he won't commit suicide. "There aren't enough of us left in the world." David at one point has a nightmare about Nazis and assuming he was born in the late 1950s or early 1960s, the Holocaust is something that would weigh heavily on him. Given how Alex clearly isn't Jewish, Zombie Jack can also make some shiksa jokes.

The Verdict

Definitely worth watching again. 9.0/10

Sunday, September 25, 2022

CONjuration 2022 Panel Schedule

On November 4-6, the Hilton Atlanta Airport in Atlanta, GA will be hosting CONjuration, a convention dedicated to magical fantasy like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, etc. The panels are already being assembled and here are the ones I'm slated to participate at present. More than three panels means I don't have to pay for a table, so I anticipate this one being profitable. :)

"The Problem of Fenrir Greyback"-This one is led by Marlena Frank and Kelley Frank from the Atlanta Horror Writers Association chapter. I applied on the strength of my long-ago Harry Potter fanfic "Lord of the Werewolves," in which the werewolf terrorist Greyback plays a prominent role. Although he's still canon's "big bad wolf," I depicted him as someone who'd realistically serve as the war chief of Britain's werewolves--intelligent, strategy-minded, more knowledgeable about Muggle politics and warfare than most of Britain's wizards, and all-too-aware that once his ally of convenience Voldemort has triumphed, he and his aren't long for the world. Since Greyback doesn't appear very often in the actual books, one could imagine his more intelligent actions take place off-screen...not every mastermind type is as dignified and classy as Vito Corleone and someone could be a brute in public and much cleverer in private. 12 PM on Saturday 11/5, Rabun Room.

(And definitely check out "Lord of the Werewolves"--before I started putting out my own books, it was probably the best thing I ever wrote.)

"Unleash the Kraken"-This one is about editing your work, including avoiding being too precious about your own words to judge them objectively. I'm going to talk about my experience with writing groups and professional editors. 4 PM on Saturday 11/5, Ogeechee Room.

"Sorting B-Movie Monsters"-Which Hogwarts house would the giant ants from Them! belong to? I'm thinking Hufflepuff, since ants are hardworking and group-oriented. It'd be easy to shove movie monsters into Slytherin ("any means to achieve their ends"), but I imagine many are more complicated than that. The Predators could be suited to Gryffindor--physical bravery and martial honor. If the selfish and cowardly Peter Pettigrew can end up in Gryffindor because he wished he were as brave as James Potter and Sirius Black, then the Predators who actually do demonstrate at least some of these qualities would fit in. Various mad-scientist types would fit in Ravenclaw, especially the more well-intentioned or tragic ones. Hive-monster types like the Xenomorph or the vampires in Priest would fit in Hufflepuff; the latter's villainous Black Hat might straddle the line between Gryffindor (courageous, daring, proud) and Slytherin (ambitious, cunning, treacherous). Lanier, 7 PM on Friday 11/4.

"Ladyhawkes, Beastmasters, Legends and More: Fantasy Films of the 1980's"-I just saw Willow for a Myopia Movies episode slated for a premiere in November and even went so far as to order the novelization to go deeper into the story. I've also seen many 1980s fantasy movies for Myopia, and plenty on my own. Ogeechee, 4 PM, on Sunday 11/6.

"The Light to Dark Duality of Labyrinth"-Although many people who saw Labyrinth as children will remember the Jim Henson creatures, there's some surprisingly adult content in here. And David Bowie as a threatening yet strangely alluring older man is just part of it. Check out my blog post "Labyrinth is Hellraiser for Kids" if you'd like more. 7 PM on Saturday 11/5, Ogeechee Room.

"Southern Fried Fantasy"-What extra flavor does Southern culture bring to fantasy? I applied for this one because my "Long War" novels (The Thing In The Woods and The Atlanta Incursion) have some distinctly Southern tics even if they're more horror and science fiction. I've also read the sleazier Bringing Home The Rain by Bob McGough, whose protagonist is a meth-addicted small-town wizard. Incidentally, McGough himself will be on the panel. 6 PM on Saturday 11/5, Rabun Room.

"How To Get Your Book Published"-This is about the state of the publishing industry and the ways to get one's books published. I have a good bit of experience with small-press and independent publishing, so this is where I can make myself useful. 3 PM on Sunday 11/6, Harding Room.

Here are the convention membership prices. If you'd like to come see me present and check out a bunch of other cool panels, come on down!

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Movie Review: SOYLENT GREEN (1973)

Once upon a time, there was a Charlton Heston film called Soylent Green, set in the far-off year of 2022 in which Earth has become massively overpopulated and...desperate measures...are required to keep everybody fed. Since we have finally reached that year and the human population has actually started to decline, the film podcast Myopia Movies is doing a very special episode on the film. Here is the podcast episode. And now for my review...

The Plot

New York City Police Department officer Robert Thorn (Charlton Heston) and analyst Sal Roth (Edward G. Robinson) live in an NYC where there are 40 million people, at least half of whom are unemployed. Real food is rare and ludicrously expensive, with most people living on different varieties of "Soylent" made--supposedly--from processed vegetable matter.

When the wealthy William Simonson (Joseph Cotten) is murdered, Thorn investigates and soon finds himself unraveling a conspiracy with the help of Shirl (Leigh Taylor-Young), Simonson's former concubine (more on that later).

The Good

*The film touches on a lot of issues that are still timely. Although the movie is clearly a product of a time where overpopulation was the major ecological fear, the movie also mentions the greenhouse effect and other types of air, water, and soil pollution. Those are still problems, especially the former. It also touches on wealth inequality--New York City in 2022 has a population of 40M people, at least 20M of whom are unemployed. Thorn and Roth are police officers living in a tiny apartment with unreliable power, while most people live in even more wretched conditions. (I'm assuming) due to the massive unemployment and poverty, many women are willing to serve as concubines so degraded they're referred to as "furniture" and can serve particular individuals or whomever happens to be resident in a particular apartment. That's some Epstein-level stuff there. Homeless people literally fill the streets and fire exits. Food prices are rapidly skyrocketing--at one point Roth mentions $150 for a jar of strawberries, and the rarity of real beef reminds me of the early days of COVID when many meatpacking workers were sick.  Crime is so severe than the superintendents of ordinary apartment complexes carry assault rifles--although urban crime is nowhere near the levels of the late 1960s to early 1990s, it has been rising in recent years. Meanwhile, there is a ludicrously wealthy elite living in extreme luxury and fenced off from everybody else like something in Latin America or Africa.

(Someone on Twitter claimed dystopia is when privileged people are subject to the same horrors as the poor and marginalized--a lot of the stuff I've mentioned exists in real life, but for the most part not in the United States. Yet...the film mentions supply chain problems affecting day-to-day living in New York City, even for the wealthiest people, and even causing the decline of the book-publishing industry. Sound familiar?)

The film even touches on the alienation of people from each other...Simonson, who is wealthy enough to afford personal servants and even a concubine, has no next of kin to receive his death benefits. The "furniture" girls, exploited by their employers and on at least one occasion bullied by senior employees, seem to have only each other to rely on.

*Even though the film was made in 1973, there doesn't seem to be any overt racism. The (I assume) WASP Thorn banters with his black boss and Jewish roommate without any hint of snobbery or friction and he treats Martha (Paula Kelly), not only a black woman but the "furniture" of a suspected criminal, politely rather than lording it over her as a police officer and as a man. Although there are obviously still problems that need fixing, the negative of impact of discrimination has been in decline for some time.

*The acting is good. Heston is good as Thorn and Robinson is good as Roth, while Leonard Stone is appropriately reprehensible as the abusive butler Charlie. 

*Rather than a talkie-talk explanation of how just everything went bad, the dystopian aspects of the world are depicted initially by an opening-credit montage depicting population growth and pollution and then by details on-screen...heaps of homeless people, food lines, old people reminiscing about the days when the planet was more habitable, casual discussion of ludicrously-inflated food prices. No infodumping.

*The more you think about it, the more morally gray the situation becomes. Is the conspiracy investigated in the film the lesser evil, in order to reduce human pressure on the already collapsing environment?

*Finally, although this is pedantic, there's no TVTropes Bottomless Magazines here. In one fight sequence, the fact Thorn has to stop and reload his gun is important.

*When we see the cover's "riot control bulldozers" unleashed, the shots are so well-timed that they're actually a bit intimidating. It reminded me of the scene in The Wolfman where a man beats the wolfman to death with his silver-headed cane, but all the audience sees is the rising and fall of the cane over the fog.

The Bad

*The opening montage could have been tightened up a bit. The point could have been made a lot faster.

*The movie overall is rather slow-moving. There's a lot of "this is what dystopia looks like" where not a lot actually actually happens. Things do pick up later in the film though.

*Given the importance of the Catholic Church to the events in the film, there's a missed opportunity to depict the Catholic hierarchy conniving with the villains. Given how we see ordinary Catholic priests and nuns caring for the poor and providing spiritual solace, it wouldn't make the film anti-Catholic. All you'd really need to make the point is to depict a bishop or archbishop involved, which would make the ending more impactful and less vague.

The Verdict

Worth seeing once, but not the classic I expected. 8.0 out of 10.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Donald Trump and the American Principate

Back when I was in college and soon afterward, I plotted out a dystopian novel called The American Principate, named after a period in early Roman history in which the emperors reigned but the Republic continued to theoretically function. The gist of it was that the abuse of federal war powers in the name of the "War on Terror" would lead to civil war and a presidential military dictatorship in the U.S. initially established by Not George W. Bush and solidified by Not Dick Cheney. It was heavily tapped into 2001-2007 anxieties about the Patriot Act, Guantanamo, etc. and its time came and went, so don't expect me to finish writing it.

(I suppose I could go full alternate-history like Lindsay Ellis did with Axiom's End, but this really isn't something I'm interested in doing anymore.)

However, in a discussion with a friend about dystopias in fiction and what in particular I might find dystopic, I sent him the blog post. He said it seemed like a more subtle dystopia that many Americans would tolerate and could lead to a true dystopia later on. I'm inclined to view it as a dystopia already, but I remember that long-ago World Book encyclopedia set that differentiated between "authoritarian" and "totalitarian." An authoritarian state regulates its subjects' political participation but doesn't meddle overmuch in other aspects of their lives. A totalitarian state will try to control everything. The American Principate, with a few exceptions, is the former rather than the latter...it's much more like the very early Soviet Union (in which the Communists, Left Socialist Revolutionaries, and Mensheviks were legal parties and the CP was more democratic internally) than the reign of Stalin in which the whole society was reorganized in a bloodthirsty revolution from above.

And the above brings us to Donald Trump. The American Principate allows the two major parties to operate (the Greens and Libertarians are straight-up outlawed on the grounds they undermine the war effort, which given how Twitter partisans of the two major parties are all convinced they're evil spoilers controlled by their rivals or foreign powers would probably be popular), but the range of acceptable political opinion is narrow. The neoconservative/unitary executive crowd is in ascendance and political positions outside that window are only somewhat less verboten than being a Kadet, Right Socialist Revolutionary, Octobrists, etc. were in the early Soviet Union. Democrats like Joe Lieberman, possibly Joe Biden (who supported the 2003 Iraq War), etc. may operate and at least sometimes win (the election system is federalized), but the ones who opposed the Iraq War, especially the more militant ones, not so much. The paleocon wing of the GOP is probably gone too, especially since I had Not Ron Paul as a prominent opposition leader executed by military elements loyal to the president as the civil war drew to a close. Donald Trump, who was advocating against the Iraq War as early as 2004, would probably be staying very carefully out of politics or else some politically-motivated investigations into his finances and other possible crimes would shut him up real quick.

However, should the American Principate suffer a significant reverse, things might change very quickly. Even with a military version of the bracero program allowing large numbers of Mexicans and other Latin Americans to earn U.S. citizenship for themselves and their families, I imagine the occupation of Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Syria, and Afghanistan and consequent counterinsurgency operations have stretched the military very thinly and cause the U.S. significant financial problems. If something like our world's Arab Spring breaks out, the US might be put in the position of either having to openly, violently crush a non-violent democratic movement in front of the entire world or abandon the post-invasion governments they set up. The latter might end up being inevitable because of fiscal factors alone, especially if China isn't willing to loan the U.S. money anymore. That's going to generate a massive backlash that even the Principate's more authoritarian system might not be able to contain.

And then is where Trump, assuming he hasn't been conveniently jailed already (and possibly even if he has, if he can spin himself as some kind of antiwar martyr jailed by the Deep State--after all, Hungary's semi-dictator Orban was an anti-Soviet political dissident as a young man), might come in. Despite getting only 50% of the vote in the Republican primary, he was able to bend virtually all of the GOP to his will very quickly, and all this despite having personal issues (multiple divorces, avoiding the Vietnam draft, outright contempt for soldiers) that by the standards of 1990s anti-Clinton Republicans would totally disqualify him and one might think would vex the Principate's more militarized society even more. Right now there are 1.9 to 3 million "War on Terror" veterans--more than the two million who served in Vietnam--and in this timeline there are a hell of a lot more due to the occupation of Iran, Egypt, and possibly other countries. Trump calling soldiers "losers" is going to piss off even more people--including party elites who have even more power in this scenario as well as ordinary veterans--than they would have in our history. Although a majority of veterans supported Trump, younger ones didn't, and there are a lot more of them this time. Although this would represent a potential anti-Trump bloc, if he's able to play on their resentment of the system that sent them to a war they couldn't win without indulging in the excesses of the Vietnam-era antiwar movement (yes, they did happen), he might be able to bring them on board or neutralize them politically.

Given the much more aggressive "War on Terror" in this timeline and likely radicalization of U.S.-born Muslims (see the San Bernardino shooting and the Pulse nightclub shooting), I imagine the primary targets for a much more empowered Trump would be Muslims. Trump pushed for a ban on immigration from Muslim countries and although existing US laws limited what could ultimately be implemented significantly, those legal checks are going to be much weaker or nonexistent and terrorism-related precedents could be used to override whatever precedents remain. I would imagine Muslim immigration and/or asylum claims would be sharply limited if not barred completely in this scenario, and American-born Muslims would be subject to much greater surveillance and harassment by state authorities or hyped-up Trump supporters. The Principate would likely play up Bush's post-9/11 "Islam is a religion of peace" rhetoric (especially when they need Muslim cooperation for the expanded "War on Terror"), but under Trump the radicalized base would be in the driver's seat.

Another target for a much more powerful Trump would be Hispanics. Although Hispanic support for the Republican Party grew during his administration, he was very zealous about border enforcement even if it led to human-rights violations. In this world, Hispanic immigration to the US was much, much higher due to the "service for citizenship" program and rather than working and going home, they and their families are staying permanently. I imagine the replacement theory enthusiasts will be losing their minds even more so than in our history. Many, many of the January 6 rioters came from areas where the Hispanic population was rising and the white population was declining. Although the Principate would come down hard on anything resembling January 6 (if Not Bush jailed antiwar protesters using anti-terrorism laws and Not Cheney fought a civil war to crush congressional opposition to what was essentially a presidential military dictatorship, I imagine anything resembling J6 in this timeline would be dealt with much more aggressively), this world's Trump and his allies might be able to channel the same sentiment into support for a more aggressive program against further Hispanic immigration. Given how climate change is still going to be a problem in this world, at least some asylum-seekers in recent years were fleeing natural disasters like hurricanes, and this is projected to get worse, I could imagine a much, much uglier migrant crisis. And there would almost certainly be crackdowns on the enlarged U.S. Hispanic population, especially if they object to the stricter border enforcement regime or some other pretext for jailing or deportation could be found.

And Trump does not take criticism or insult well, much less so than Bush 2.0, Cheney, or Obama. According to the upcoming book Holding The Line, Trump sought to have the Justice Department investigate his critics, including former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. In a world where criticism of the government is considered helping terrorists (look at some of the more obnoxious behavior by Republicans in the 2001-2005 period), wartime restrictions of civil liberties were much more severe, and an expanded overseas counterinsurgency to test out new repression techniques, there's plenty of precedent for a President Trump to be much more destructively vindictive than real history. And then there's the prolonged attempt to overturn the 2020 election results, only with a lot fewer if any guardrails against presidential overreach.

So to sum it up, in the world of the American Principate, Donald Trump is much less likely to become president, but if he does, he's going to be much more likely to become a tyrant whose opponents are worthy of the title "the resistance" than the Trump of real life. If Bush 2.0 is Julius Caesar, Dick Cheney is Augustus, and whomever is holding the bag when the Arab Spring breaks out is Tiberius or Claudius, Trump could be the American Caligula, Nero, or Domitian.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Blast from the Past Movie Review: LADY IN THE WATER (2006)

Hey everybody, it's been awhile since I've actively posted, but I've been working a lot on Serpent Sword, the sequel to my novel Battle for the Wastelands. However, I've still been actively participating in Myopia Movies and we're doing a month on M. Night Shyamalan's films, ranging from his high point (at least among the movies were watched) with Signs to his decline.

So here's my review of Lady in the Water, the first film of his I actually skipped due to negative reviews. Here's the episode. And let my commentary begin:



 The Plot

Long ago, humans were in contact with a civilization of mermaids known as Narfs, who provided spiritual guidance. But man grew greedy and moved inland, multiplying conflicts and wars without the mermaids' advice. As the world grew darker and more dangerous, the mermaids have taken the initiative to contact humans again, but the mermaids have their own supernatural foe, the lupine Scrunts. Into this conflict comes Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti), an apartment superintendent with a stutter and a tragic past who encounters a Narf named Story (Bryce Dallas Howard) in the complex pool one night.

But Story, and now him, are being hunted...

The Good

*I liked how Howard played Story...although she's a supernatural being, she is unfamiliar with our world and its social conventions. Hence the brutal honesty, which can be encouraging or discouraging depending on the situation, and misunderstandings like "I need to wear clothes" or "someone who looks and acts like a teen runaway strung out on drugs hanging out half-naked with a middle-aged (apparent) bachelor might give people really wrong ideas." She also helps other characters follow their dreams, but she's by no means anything remotely resembling a typical Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

*I also liked Giamatti's Heep. When we first meet him, he's going out of his way to introduce a newcomer to the complex to the various eccentric characters that populate the place. It would have been nice if someone had done that for me when I moved to various complexes over the years. It's also a good foreshadowing of a later reveal--in order to make that work for a complex as large as the one he manages, Heep would have to have a very good memory. And that ends up playing a major role in the story.

*A young college student Young-Soon Choi (Cindy Cheung) and her mother (June Kyoto Lu) who cannot speak English play a major role in the storyline. I liked their dynamic--a strict Asian-born "tiger mother" and her more free-spirited Americanized daughter--and the fact Young-Soon has to be her mother's translator in her dealings with Heep is pretty funny.

*Sarita Choudhury is having a lot of fun as Anna Ran, part of the brother-sister duo with her writer brother Vick (Shyamalan himself). I liked her performance.

*One of the new residents of the complex is a movie critic who has some very...sharp...comments about the state of storytelling and the film industry. I thought that was pretty funny.

*In an age of remakes, legacy sequels, etc. a film with a completely original plot (it's based on a bedtime story Shyamalan told his children) is pretty refreshing.

*The difficulties the characters have with their roles in the story (not going into any more detail for spoiler reasons) are pretty clever, even if later on they do slow down the film.

The Bad

*One reason I recall for all the negative reviews when the movie came out was the bizarre names for the creatures. Seriously, Narfs and Scrunts? This sounds like Shyamalan was channeling Luna Lovegood from Harry Potter when he was writing this one. One review said it would be much simpler if Story were just a fairy (naiad?) or a mermaid being hunted by a werewolf. I know this whole thing is based on a bedtime story Shyamalan created for his own children, but the ridiculous species names were one of the major negatives from the reviews I can remember when the film came out. Listen to the podcast for all the times we mimicked Pinky, the deranged lab rat from The Animaniacs whose trademark saying is "Narf!"

*In the podcast, Daniel described the movie as "surreal" and it really is. It's just plain weird.

*Someone pointed out on the podcast that given the Narfs' isolation from humans, why does Story know how to speak English? That might merit an explanation--maybe she learned English from watching human fishermen? Then you could have BDH using sailor lingo and that might actually be pretty funny.

*Shyamalan casts himself as a major character in the film rather than his typical cameo. He's fairly flat in contrast to his character's lively sister and he doesn't really stand out like his costars do. This wasn't a problem with his character in Signs, who probably had a lot of guilt and possibly PTSD from falling asleep at the wheel and killing Reverend Hess's wife and whose main interactions are with the man he (unintentionally) widowed, or the non-entity park ranger in The Village who has only two lines. I can see why giving himself such a large part rubbed people the wrong way, especially given some revelations about his character's ultimate fate.

*The narfs and scrunts get introduced pretty early in the story, but there's another supernatural threat dropped in halfway through the film that seems a little abrupt.

*Like The Village but unlike Signs, it starts to drag in the middle.

*There's some additional information revealed about Story toward the end of the film that really needed to be foreshadowed better.

The Verdict

I don't think it really deserves the hate it got (four Razzie nominations?), but it's not a particularly good film, especially the more you think about it. At least it's short. 7.0/10.

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

New Comics Purchase: FRANK FRAZETTA'S DEATH DEALER (2022)

Hey everybody, it's been awhile since I posted anything, but I've been working a lot on Serpent Sword, the sequel to my novel Battle for the Wastelands. However, I'm writing to let you all know that I've bought some comics from a comic shop for the first time in probably over a decade. Here goes...

A couple weeks ago a friend, his wife, and new(ish) baby were visiting from out of town and after lunch we went to a Marietta comic shop in the same shopping center where, many years ago, the son of our old Scoutmaster worked. One of the comics I saw--but ended up not buying at the time--was based on noted fantasy artist Frank Frazetta's iconic fantasy character The Death Dealer. Given how I'd read the 1990s-era Death Dealer novels at the library when I was younger and own the Frazetta art book Icon, my curiosity was piqued. And when I found out via CBR that Frazetta's family intended the new Death Dealer comic to be the beginning of a "Frazettaverse" incorporating characters and creatures from his art, I decided to give it my financial support.

So I went to a comic shop closer to my home in Atlanta and purchased the first, the second, and the third issues, which is all of what seemed to be available. According to this website, the next issue is slated for August 24.


The Plot: I would describe this as "Conan the Barbarian meets Venom." The protagonist Kur, once a warrior seeking power and glory, put on a supernatural horned helmet, which he cannot take off. The helmet has a mind of its own, generally egging him on to more violence and talking enormous amounts of smack. Kur lives alone and is contemplating suicide when he rescues the red-haired witch Admira and her young son Mesh from wolves. He takes them back to his underground lair, where Mesh takes a liking to him and Admira, tending to his wounds, quickly gets physical. Awakening the next morning, Kur finds both of them kidnapped by dark forces and, against his better judgement, sets off to rescue them. He encounters a sorceress--who seems to be an old flame who has a history with the damned soul dwelling in the helmet--and it turns out there are more supernatural doings afoot.

The Good: Giving the Horned Helmet (in the novels it was capitalized) a mind of its own rather it just being a device that amped up the protagonist's physical prowess and aggression was interesting. This allows for Kur to have an Eddie Brock/Venom-type relationship with it. That was one thing I really liked about the first Venom film (I haven't seen the second), even though the movie was basically a buddy comedy and this...isn't. The Death Dealer is such a cipher character--in the painting he's just a big scary-looking dude--that one can do a lot with him. In the novels he was a noble savage trying to defend the valley that would someday become the Mediterranean by any means necessary, while in this one he's a much more tired and anti-heroic figure. Given how the Horned Helmet can go from person to person, it's possible the novels (and an earlier attempt at comics) take place in the same continuity, although the novels were explicitly set on prehistoric Earth and this comic seems to be in a totally different fantasy world.

The art is also really good. It's very colorful and vivid. I also liked how they worked specific Frazetta concepts into the comics--not only is the titular character a direct draw from a Frazetta painting, but they also worked in another one in which the Death Dealer confronts a gigantic crocodile.

The Bad: I must be a bit spoiled from graphic novels (which are typically collections of multiple issues that tell the complete story) because I thought the comics were a bit short. This is especially blatant with the third issue, in which two side quests (a unicorn and a wizard) that might merit expansion into an issue each are dealt with in a few pages. And since this is a monthly comic, it means a lot more waiting in between. If each comic were a bit longer, this wouldn't be a problem. Also, although I wouldn't expect a Frazetta adaptation to be particularly modest--Frazetta wasn't known for that at all, even if he wasn't nearly as raunchy as other fantasy artists--the way we first meet the sorceress is kind of dumb.

I emailed the comic company to see about the possibility of subscribing (since unlike the 1990s X-Men comics there's nothing to mail in with a check) or whether the individual comics would be consolidated into larger graphic novels. At $5 per comic, a graphic novel consolidating all the individual comics into one larger issue covering an entire storyline would be the better buy. However, the comic is so new (and it's from a smaller company) that it might not get to that point unless it does well enough financially. And that requires people buy it now. The comic shop offered to set me up with a subscription (i.e. they let me know when it's in for me to pick up or they mail it to me), which I might well do if I don't hear back from the company.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Book Review: Pteranodon Canyon (2022)

Do you like the Old West? Do you like dinosaurs? Or perhaps even both? If so, you'll love author Tim Meyer's new novel Pteranodon Canyon.


The Plot

In an Old West where dinosaurs survived west of the Mississippi and have made life...interesting...for the settlers, the conservationist-leaning federal government has just heavily restricted the hunting of pteranodons. To deal with illegal hunting, the feds hire bounty hunter Charlie Archer, who has a very personal grudge against the outlaw Francis Burner. Acquiring two companions along the way--the female gunslinger Elinor Watts and the mysterious Finn Hampton--Archer sets off on his mission, facing threats both reptilian and human along the way.

The Good

*The book is fast-moving and fun to read. I read a lot of it on the elliptical at the gym and it's a fast read. It's never boring.

*The timing for laws against dinosaur poaching does make sense historically. Yellowstone National Park was founded in 1872 and the conservation movement was very active in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. The possibility of dinosaurs--extinct in the Old World and in much of the New--being threatened in their last surviving redoubt could potentially galvanize the conservation movement even earlier than in our history.

*Meyer's use of Old West dialogue is clever and as far as I know, period-accurate.

*Meyer also clearly knows and loves dinosaurs. His descriptions of the animals and how they hunt is well-done.

The Bad

*There are some plot threads that could be developed more deeply. I'm not going to go too deeply for reasons of spoilers, but late in the book certain medicinal uses of pteranodon parts come up. I don't recall this being discussed earlier in the book.

*Also being vague here for reasons for spoilers, but one character has lost a body part to another character and bears a grudge over that. During their inevitable confrontation they rant in very specific detail about how this has hurt their life, but I don't recall those specifics coming up in earlier scenes featuring the character.

*Finally, the U.S. and Old West seem pretty much the same despite there being a surviving dinosaur population. Assuming there was no impact beyond the Americas (no pterosaurs making their way to Europe via Iceland and Greenland?), European colonization, the Native American cultures, etc. are going to be very different with dinosaurs being around. No attempts to weaponize the dinosaurs during the Mexican War or Civil War? No attempts at dinosaur domestication? What impact did mega-carnivores have on the bison? Meyer could have gone in a lot of different directions with this. Obviously he can't go too far and create a totally unrecognizable world if he wants a Western with dinosaurs, but there could've been Easter Eggs like references to Sherman setting loose raptors on his March to the Sea to further devastate whatever Confederate livestock he couldn't steal or Lewis and Clark bringing dinosaurs back to Washington D.C. to show Thomas Jefferson.

The Verdict

A fun read for the elliptical, although I'd recommend more for Kindle Unlimited borrowing than for buying. 8.0 out of 10.

Monday, April 18, 2022

Movie Review: The Northman (2022)

Thanks to an online group I'm in getting perks, I was able to score early passes to see The Northman, much like I did Dune. And just like I did with Dune, you're getting an early film review out of it. :)


The Plot

In ancient Norse Ireland, King Aurvandil War-Raven (Ethan Hawke) returns from raiding and slaving to his queen Gudrun (Nicole Kidman) and young son Amleth (Oscar Novak). Treachery arrives with his brother Fjolnir (Claes Bang), leaving his son to flee and vow revenge. Years later Amleth (now played by Alexander Skarsgård) is a Viking raider pillaging in modern Russia, but a religion vision reminds him of his vow of revenge. Allying with the Slavic sorceress Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy), he sets off for the end of the world -- Iceland -- and a final confrontation with his uncle.

The Good

*The cinematography in this movie is simply beautiful. Even though the film is rather ponderous (more on that later), the film simply looks so good that it doesn't matter.

*The soundtrack is also marvelous. I don't claim to be a great expert on authentically Norse music, but it stylistically sounds a lot like the Scandinavian-themed and actually Scandinavian music I've found on YouTube, like the Norwegian band Wardruna.

*The film does an excellent job captured just how alien the pagan Norse are to modern Westerners. Lots of strange (and often bloody) rituals, hallucinogenic sequences, unrepentant violence, and eschewing common sense in favor of belief in Fate. From what I know about Norse history and culture, they get it all correct. The fact that it was co-written by the Icelandic poet Sjón no doubt helps quite a bit.

*The acting is generally good, particularly Bang's Fjolnir.

*There are some unexpected and creative plot twists.

The Bad

*The movie is rather slow-moving at times. It's even divided up into sequences with title cards, something I found objectionable in The Free State of Jones.

*Per the above, Skarsgård stares at the camera a lot. Although he's by no means a bad actor, he's one of the least interesting performers in the bunch.

The Verdict

Definitely worth seeing once. 8.0 out of 10.

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Apex Publications Is Having Big-Time Sale

The other day, I spotted a blog post saying that speculative fiction stalwart Apex Publications is "retiring" 42 titles and was offering a substantial discount until the end of January Given Apex's importance to the small-press scene and the business I've done with publisher Jason Sizemore, this was somewhat concerning, so I checked it out.



It turns out that Apex is reverting the rights to many of its older titles to their original authors, to "trunk" or republish as they see fit. Apparently they're not generating enough money to cover the administrative costs of maintaining them, paying the writers, etc.

From a business perspective, this makes sense. I've looked over the list (more on that below) and a lot of them seem to be short-story collections or shorter works. Collections are generally not strong sellers--on Amazon I've sold three copies of Flashing Steel, Flashing Fire in the last six-odd weeks in comparison to five sales of The Thing in the Woods and three sales of its sequel The Atlanta Incursion. And that's fairly unusual--Thing, TAI, and Battle for the Wastelands typically sell at least all right, while FSFF languishes. This is even more blatant at conventions, where I move lots of novel-length works but few copies of FSFF, my novella Little People, Big Guns, or, in recent years, The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly Vol. 2. I put all of my shorter work (with the exception of Battle prequel "Son of Grendel") on Draft2Digital for wide release and only "Ten Davids Two Goliaths" and "Discovery and Flight" (both set in Lindsay Buroker's Fallen Empire universe) seem to sell.

Since I'm a one-man show without any authors to continue to pay or actual employees (the artists, designers, etc. are all contractors), keeping FSFF and the other shorter works available for purchase is no big deal. However, if for every sale I had to do the paperwork, royalty computation, etc. for multiple authors, that wouldn't be worth the minimal return I get. However, I do have to store my convention stock and the fewer boxes sitting around my apartment the better.

I took a look at the books on the Apex list and here are some that interest me. Appalachian Undead is a collection of zombie stories set in, well Appalachia. It leads with a story entitled "When Granny Comes Marchin’ Home Again," which is certainly attention-grabbing, and even has another story alluding to a John Denver song. Harlan County Horrors operates in a similar vein, with lots of ugly doings in coal country. Breaking The World is about what might happen if the apocalypse actually started during the siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco and certain sounds interesting. HebrewPunk is a group of short stories or novellas featuring characters based in Jewish tradition, culminating in all of them joining forces for a heist. Kentucky Kaiju is a Dungeons and Dragons-style monster manual for large creatures inhabiting Kentucky of all places. Severance is about the mishaps that can befall a generation ship bound for another star system. Stay Crazy has a pretty interesting concept--is this woman insane, or is there a being from another dimension recruiting her to fight another extradimensional being? Starve Better by Nick Mamatas is about the writing life; I already own it, but it's been awhile since I've read it. To Each Their Darkness and Yours to Tell also books about the craft of writing, and I'm seriously considering snagging that one while I still can.

My to-be-read pile (including several library books that might lead to fines) is pretty substantial as is, so I'm not sure which of these I'll actually purchase when all is said and done, but those all sound cool. However, if you're interested in helping out someone who's helped me, Sizemore has done a lot for my independent novelist career, including editing Battle back when I was still pitching it to publishers, connecting me with cover designer Mikio Murikami and laying out and assembling some very well-designed e-books.