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'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.