Friday, May 29, 2015

One Million Reasons to Protest

Recently, One Million Moms decided that the new show Lucifer deserved to be protested.  I can’t say
Because Satan is worse than anything!
enough good things about a group that suggests they have a million (or more) members, but in reality only have a few thousand, and use that imaginary clout to cow advertisers and networks into their bidding.

The wants of the few, or the one, truly do outweigh those of the many.

Having seen the light, I reached out to One Million Moms via Twitter and let them know I not only agree with their heavy-handed approach to censorship under the guise of Christian morality, but that they should also protest my book Tears of Heaven.

Here's the Tweet I sent them:

Protest this book @1milmoms—Strong female character saves the word and doesn’t cook

Unable to come up with 666 reasons for why they should protest, I settled on the following:

#6 Reason to Protest
It's chock full of strong female protagonists fighting pirates and slaying demons!

#5 Reason to Protest
You read the book. Did you ever see Del cook, clean, or get her husband a Scotch on the rocks after work?

#4 Reason to Protest
Strong, witty, female protagonists who kick butt and take names SHOULD NOT be allowed into the hands of impressionable readers!

#3 Reason to Protest
Get on board with decent Christian values and morality. Men and women fighting together to save the world? The Bible won't stand for this and neither should we!

#2 Reason to Protest

#1 Reason to Protest
Reading might make people think.  Thinking might make people . . . ummm . . . I dunno.



Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Hell Becomes Her — Another Excerpt

Break out the good Scotch my friends!  Hell Becomes Her has passed muster with my editor.  It is
This is Marrin's BOOM STICK!
now off to the proofers, and from there it will ride a winged-horse to the upper levels of Truth™ and Glorgy®!  In honor of this moment, I offer you another excerpt from the book:

“There was some dabbling in the early days,” Marrin said. “Quite a few mythic creatures aren’t mythic at all.  Although most don’t exist anymore.  They’re extinct or nearly so.”

“Like us,” Del said and shook her head.  “Typical Throne policy.  But how don’t I know about these Viking elves?”

“Viking is a job title, not a people,” Marrin scolded, but he smiled after he said it.  “How much time have you spent in the Nordic countries?”

“Some, but I’ve never been a fan of the cold,” Del replied.  “I went there for assignments, and left when I was done.”  She turned to Jane and asked, “You?”

“A bit,” Jane said.  “But my . . . education comes from Jaccob and Joshua.  We had rumors of a tribe in Northern Nevada.  They’re either incredibly good at information control, or they aren’t doing anything out there worth notice.  Jaccob favored the later, and Joshua figured why go looking for trouble.  There’s plenty in our region to sort out.  We didn’t need to borrow more.”

“Oh wow,” Marrin said suddenly.  He bounded off the ground fast enough that it made Del’s head hurt.  The big man practically bounced into his room.

“If we’re going in for Ljosalfar,” he said, his voice muffled by the walls, “I’m glad you talked me into this.”

Del looked a question at Jane.  The other woman shrugged in confusion.

Marrin re-emerged from his room carrying a leather shoulder harness with a pair of heavy looking revolvers sticking out of the holsters and three boxes of ammunition.  After the events in Utah, Del had made a point of insisting that Marrin update his firearms.  Previously, it’d been a chore to get him to carry more than his sword.  Nephilim, except for Del, generally loathed change and often didn’t update their weapons with the times.  It was a combination of their divine half that didn’t have to adapt, and their human half that didn’t want to take the chance.  Del’s cousins ended up a few decades to a few centuries behind the times, often with tragic consequences.  Humans might fear change, but for Nephilim is was downright deadly.

Han Solo wishes he had one of these.
Before Salt Lake, Marrin had conceded the argument by compromising with an archaic Broomhandle C96 Mauser, and an original issue Colt M1911.  Neither of them was less than a hundred years old.  She’d insisted he keep them well-maintained, but didn’t like that he had to carry two kinds of ammunition for outdated weapons with disadvantages compared to more modern handguns.  It had never become an issue, but Del had made a much stronger argument that in the future it could.  You didn’t want a misfire at a critical moment in a fight, and almost everything was critical when going up against rogue demons.

As far as Del knew, he hadn’t settled on a weapon.

Marrin grinned as he pulled on his shoulder harness and worked the straps into place.  The leather was old, age and use darkened, which suggested it was the one he’d used to tote his Mauser and Colt.  But the holsters were new and customized to fit his updated weapons.

“You got the Matebas,” Del noted.

The grin on Marrin’s face was contagious.  He looked like a little boy with a new puppy.

Where were you when you received the good news?

Thursday, May 21, 2015

No Mr. Jones, We Expect You to Die!

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Magical Refrigerator makes me into a big ole science geek.  Gut reaction to the famous “nuke the fridge” scene was immediately and, generally correct.  I’ve only ever run into one fan who claimed that the scene was wholly plausible for Indy to survive, let alone walk away from generally unscathed.  Here’s the scene for you to review:

There’s a punch line to all this, but stay with me here.  First, let’s review a few details about an atomic blast that I spent several hours researching to talk about the scene:

Concussive Force
The shock effect alone at point-blank range crushes most objects in its path, including the parked cars, all of the houses, all the items in the house and the car the bad guys are trying to get away in.  A reasonable review of it stands that hollow cubes of metal, even lead-lined, wouldn’t be up to the task structurally to a) survive the force of the blast or b) ride that wave like a surf board.

If I remember correctly (and please correct me if I’m wrong) the thermal radiation from an atomic bomb in the initial blast is somewhere around 50 million degrees F.  The movie rightly shows houses and mannequins bursting into a flame.  Steel melts at 2750 F, and lead at 327 degrees F.

Gamma Radiation
Alpha and beta radiation are pretty easy to stop, and sure, a thin sheet of lead such as that lining a common household refrigerator would be up to the task.  Gamma radiation, however, is a whole different ball game.  Even a small amount of radiation exposure would do great harm (and we’re not just talking about splitting your personality into a large, indestructible hulk).  To successfully shield against that, you need lead about 1.3 feet of lead.

At this point Indy should be a flat piece of glowing charcoal.  But ok, let’s forget the heat and the concussive force and radiation and accept that Indy safely blasted out of ground zero and was perfectly protected by his lead-lined coffin . . . sorry, refrigerator!

Impact Force
Indy’s magical fridge survives being blasted out of a house that was being crushed and burned to nothingness (along with everything inside of it) fast enough that it could fly out of ground zero, ahead of the blast and catch up AND PASS the speeding car of the bad guys (so we see them get theirs!).  It impacts the ground at 100-120 MPH (a conservative estimate given the time in which the car had to accelerate and still be caught by the shock force), and BOUNCES.  It bounces REPEATEDLY!  This is awesome.  I love watching this happen.  I laugh every time because of the silliness of this in particular.  The same thing happens in “Iron Man” and I laugh there too.  With NO OTHER SAFETY MECHANISMS IN PLACE such as might be for a trip over Niagara Falls, of which most people who attempt do not survive, and bouncing around inside his fridge while he impacts over and over, somehow, Indy still opens the lid and walks away almost completely unscathed.

Wow, that was so much fun.  Give me another!

Or, I could have saved myself a great deal of time and effort and turned to science.  My Google-fu is weak.  I just nuked the fridge!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015


CHAPPiE is one of the latest in a slew of near science fiction films that explores the idea of artificial
Do you want to play a game?
intelligence (AI) and all the issues that go along with that.  What amazed me most about the film was not the portrayal of the titular character, CHAPPiE (Chappie) as an infant intelligence learning through direct exposure (although Neill Blomkamp certainly delivers on that score), but rather all the issues that the movie touches on, only to barrel right past.

These missed opportunities for potential depth are not necessarily a bad thing.  Blomkamp has a good sense of pacing, and the movie stays on target throughout the climatic scenes to deliver on all the promises offered from the first two acts.  But the questions of AI, and its seemingly inevitable birth into our world, are ones that both fascinate and frighten me.  Given proper time, Blomkamp would have had to make three (or more) movies to properly explore the major themes he offers more in passing through this scifi/action thriller.

In Ex Machina, a very slow-paced and thoughtful look at the question of AI, when character Nathan Bateman (well-played by Oscar Isaac) is accused of creating artificial consciousness without considering the effect, he offers (and I’m working from faulty memory here) that AI was never about one person creating it.  Instead, it is an inevitability of a process that we mere mortals put into motion long ago.  It’s what theorists call the Singularity.

If you’re thinking that this is pure science fiction, you’ll definitely want to check out this Ted Talk with Martine Rothblatt, who created Sirius Radio, and founded United Therapeutics.  We may be days, years or decades off from true AI, but it’s certainly coming, and the myriad uncertainty and questions that come with it remain wholly unanswered.

This is where CHAPPiE falls down, not as a movie, but as a vision of the future where AI, placed into a police/military-grade robot, has abilities far-exceeding human limitations.  One of the first missed opportunities comes when Chappie himself has the chance to question his creator Deon (excellently played by Dev Patel) as to why he would put the AI into a body doomed to die.  This is exactly the conversation most people would love to have with our own “creator”.  It’s the start of a slew of deep self-aware questions for which humans have been struggling to answer throughout our existence, and which have led, directly, to the creation of AI. 

Don't worry, he's only an analog!
The film also provides a very brief, nearly glossed over religious response in the character of Vincent (Hugh Jackman).  Blomkamp provides no hand-holding with Vincent’s character, and so if you’re not careful, you’ll miss his all-too-few religiously-based, wholly negative, responses to the question of AI.  Time really isn’t on Vincent’s side to share with the audience the basis for his feelings and his personal bias (which is strange for a guy in the heart of the robotics industry).  But the message is clear enough—a spiritual crisis will likely exist for humans in general and theists specifically when mankind creates unique, individual, self-aware life.

Finally, and possibly the worst sin of the movie, is the question of consciousness.  If you watched the Ted Talk about with Rothblatt, you can see that she’s not talking about transference of everything that is RobRoy into an immortal frame.  Instead, she’s talking about (nearly) everything that makes up RobRoy, to the extent that technology currently will allow, and creating a unique analog that is RobRoy 2.0.  Such a creation is separate from me in all respects, except how others will view him, and how he will interact with them.  For Chappie, though, consciousness, despite Deon’s admittance that human don’t understand it, is wholly definable by the AI, and potentially transferable.  This isn’t RobRoy 2.0.  This is RobRoy, leaving his 40+ year old, frail, battered and disease-stricken body, and being place . . . anywhere.  In a computer mainframe, in an internet cloud, in the titanium body of a military-grade robot with the potential for immortality.

Don't hate me because I'm better than you and may destroy
you're entire world and life as you know it.
That, right there, is the real question, the real concern, the real fascinating and frightening idea.  That is where AI peers through the void to find an answer and finds something peering back.  I don’t fault Blomkamp and CHAPPiE for hand-waving past a question that theorists, philosophers, and scientists struggle with.  It’s as if he glanced at the idea and ran (screaming) right past it.  That serves the pace and plot of the movie, but it’s another missed opportunity to really look through another door that Blomkamp cracked open and never shut.

The future is AI, and thus AI movies (along with scientists and philosophers) will delve deeper into the questions in, and of, our future—while having robots fight and blow things up for our amusement.  Despite all that, CHAPPiE delivers what it promises, and offers just a glimpse into more.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Another Hell Becomes Her Exceprt

Not a real elf.
Thank you so very much for following me here on my blog, on Facebook, on Twitter, wherever.  It’s great.  Every little bit helps.  As a small token of appreciation, here’s another preview of my upcoming Hell Becomes Her, the sequel to my award-winning Tears of Heaven.  Enjoy!

“Elves?” Del asked.  “They’re a myth.”

“You’re a myth,” Jane replied.

Del narrowed her eyes at the other woman before she realized the Jane wasn’t doing a grown-up version of I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I.

“Fair point,” she said.  “But elves?  Like live in a tree, sing songs, make cookies, elves?”

“Those are Keebler cookie whores,” Marrin replied.  “They aren’t real elves.”

“Do they sing songs?” Jane asked him.

“Focus,” Del ordered with impatience.  “It’s all I can do right now not to start running to Nevada.  I know that’s insane, but that’s where Jordan is, so that’s where I need to be.  Jordan didn’t go a single night without nightmares for three weeks after Salt Lake.  She still has them from time to time.  She’s tough and resilient, but she’s twelve years old and she doesn’t deserve this.  Let’s try to keep the conversation short, sweet and to the point.”

“The Ljosalfar,” Marrin said in a perfect, melodic accent, “are Light Elves, sort of like Tolkien’s elves, but with fewer Rings of Power.  They aren’t warriors either.”

“Light Elves suggests . . .” Del let the thought hang.  Marrin nodded to her.

“Right.  The Dokkalfar.  Dark Elves.”

“That sounds racist,” Jane said.

“You’ve been living in the U.S. too long,” Marrin said, “but they are separate races.”

“You try being a minority, in a minority, in a country that would prefer homogenized skin tones,” Jane defended herself.

Del gave her a sympathetic look.  She could understand the sentiment of being outcast through no fault except existing.

Del looked back at Marrin.  “How?” she asked.  “How are there not one but two separate sentient races?”
Not a real viking.

“The suffix, alfar,” he said the word as if he’d invented it, “more easily translates to spirit.  So they’re—

“Light spirits and dark spirits,” Del interrupted.  “Got it already.  That’s not what I’m asking.  How are there elves, of any color, running around and I don’t know about it?  And don’t start saying, ‘There are more things in Heaven and Hell, Del . . .’ I swear I’ll find something dull to stab you with.”

Marrin held up his hands to ward off the threatened attack.  “The Choirs and mortals weren’t the only sentients the Throne created.  There was some dabbling in the early days.  Quite a few mythic creatures aren’t mythic at all.  Although most don’t exist anymore.  They’re extinct or nearly so.”

“Like us,” Del said and shook her head.  “Typical Throne policy.  But how don’t I know about these Viking elves?”

“Viking is a job title, not a people,” Marrin scolded, but he smiled after he said it. 

Friday, May 8, 2015

Frustrated? Me Too!

I'm the greatest writer ever, but only half the time!
Writers get frustrated all the time.  We dwell in a world of diametrically opposite emotions.  On the
one hand, we’re the GOD EMPEROR OF THE UNIVERSE, able to build up or tear down entire civilizations.  We give and take life on a cruel, cruel whim.  We throw good, kind, strong characters into a meat grinder and laugh with evil, maniacal glee.

On the other hand, we wallow in self-pity and self-depreciation.  Writing blocks, filler words, telling-not-showing and the deep, dark, depressing knowledge that every line—every single line—is boring, repetitive and could more easily have been constructed by a three year-old on a Thorazine drip.

Into this manic-depressive world as crafted by Two-Face—Enter the critic.  Feedback is integral to the writing process.  No writer works in a vacuum, and having someone tell you, “No, no, I’m sorry, but this doesn’t work!” is of the utmost importance.  Critics can also go too far, especially if they’re friends.  They may not understand that telling you, “Your writing has literally destroyed more hope and joy in the world than all the evil ever imagined,” can be a bit much to bear.

Don't harsh my calm!
Two solutions present, if you're interested:

1 - Stop showing other people your writing. If you're writing for your own enjoyment and anxiety, that's great. Keep doing that. There's no compulsion to show it to others. I showed nothing of my early writing to anyone ever, and I'm quite happy that I did. But, if that's not going to work . . .

2 - Instead of getting upset, ask for direct feedback and start improving your writing. Read books like Stephen King's "On Writing" and Strunk & White's "Elements of Style" (as well as a million others). Find those authors that appeal to you most and study what they've done. Until you can emulate it, simply imitate it.


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Excerpt — Dark Holes Between

Here's a bit of a steampunk short story that I'm finishing up for an anthology.  This is set in the same world of Aubrey Hartmann who debuted in And Into A Watery Grave, but this time in the neighboring realm of Hamill—who you may remembered fought against our hero in the short Grenadiers and Dragon's Fire.  We're a decade or so previous to those events, so Hamill is still a kingdom, and not yet the Glorious Republic of Hamill who fight against the Estro-Breitag Empire.


Alissa dashed among and around the trees.  She leapt over shrubs that
snatched and snagged her.  Her hands pushed off from dark gray and deep brown trunks in her desperate attempt to get away from the Brazen.  The second set of clockwork boots caught up to the first and two whistles sounded in near unison.  A thrill of fear down her back at the sound.
“Do not fear,” they said together, their voices almost exactly the same.
She cried out in frustration and panic.  There was no escape.  She could only run for so long on her human legs.  They were metal and wheels and gears.  They would never grow tired.  They only had to keep after her, keep pressing her, and eventually she would stumble, fall and they would kill her.
Another brush of air and she felt the back of her dress catch and tear as the Brazen’s blade ripped through the tattered cloth.  A new line of pain scratched into the back of her left calf as she kicked away, the very tip of the Brazen’s falchion had caught her.  Alissa’s breath was ragged and her lungs burned from the effort.  The strength flowed out her arms and legs like water from overturned cup.  In minutes they would have her.
She fought her way up another small hill and scrambled down, half falling as she struggled to maintain speed.  Alissa rounded a large tree trunk and a thin ravine gaped open before her.
“Go, duchess,” she heard Nitta tell her. “Go!”
Alissa dug deep, used the slant of the hill and pushed her abused body to gain as much speed as possible.  A part of her mind told her she’d never make it—the gap was too great.  She ignored the warning, and drove herself to the edge and up into the air.  The open space of the ravine yawned wider.  A jagged pile of rocks loomed beneath her.  She wind-milled her arms and legs, as if she should somehow push against the nothingness and thrust her body forward a few precious inches.  The edge of the far wall drew closer, almost within reach.  Alissa started to fall.  The sharp, coppery tang of fear filled her mouth.  She reached out her arms, willed the edge into her hands.
Her chest slammed against the edge and she heard a harsh crack in her ribs.  The air whooshed from her lungs with an explosive grunt.  Alissa scrabbled at the cold, wet dirt, desperate to find a grip.  Her nails dug and tore furrows into the ground.  None of her attempts were deep enough to hold her.  She slipped, her own weight dragged her further off the edge toward the ravine.  Her left hand caught on something, a small root or stone.  She grabbed at it, and her slide down stopped.
The sound of the pursuing Brazen cut off abruptly.  A clang sounded and a moment later a pair of metal boots impacted the edge of the ravine only a stride from where she clung to the wall.  The impact from the Brazen rattled through the wall of the ravine and Alissa’s handhold.  If she hadn’t been clinging to the side of the ravine for her life, she would have leapt from her skin in fright.

            “Do not fear,” the Brazen told her and lifted its falchion for the last time.

This steampunk world, and Aubrey Hartmann, will return in the full novel Constable of Aqualinne: The Constable Comes to Town.

Friday, May 1, 2015

I'm Gonna Ride On

How we deal with death is at least as
important as how we deal with life.
Maturing and becoming an author with aspirations towards it being a full time gig has really changed
out how interact with folks online, especially social media.  It used to be that I was always up for a good debate.  But not everyone understand that a debate is vastly different from yelling, “You’re wrong!  You’re wrong!  You’re wrong!”  As a consequence, I’ve grown more circumspect in how I approach topics of strong emotion.

But not always.  Not every day.

Today, for example, a buddy of mine posted up a comment equating freedom of choice to his decision not to wear a helmet when he bikes.  His bike doesn't have an engine, and neither does mine, but I still wear a helmet every time I go out.  I don’t even know if it’s the law around here, but my perspective on this particular choice doesn't take that into account.

Now, I don't fault my friend his choice.  Not at all.  I disagree with him (and he with me) on a lot of issues, but I have a great deal of respect for the man.  But it occurred to me that wearing a helmet isn't a personal choice at all.

Let me offer a bit of perspective here on how I arrived at this conclusion.  Way back in 1997, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, a nasty version of IBS that causes the intestinal tract to inflame and potentially cause partial or full restriction.  The result of this is, at the outset, incredibly painful cramps, and can, if untreated, lead to a rupture.  That is, as they say in the medical field, like being nuked from orbit.  There is no cure for Crohn’s and most patients end up in the hospital at one point or another, some of us get to have surgery—bowel retraction.  That’s a fancy way of saying they cut out a chunk or your intestine.  In my case, I lost a foot or large and a foot of small intestine and I now get to live in a state of constant, but generally low-level, pain.  It also means I’m on medication and under the care of a couple of doctors for the rest of my life.
Melt your face off—WITH PAIN!

I could, of course, say “Eff off, bro!” and not take my meds (which can have some fun side-effects) and not go to my medical appointments, and not be probed liked a cow on an alien mother ship once a year.

What does that have to do with bike helmets?  The same logic applies.

Unless you're a hermit that lives in a cave, if you go down and are injured or killed because you weren’t wearing a helmet that impacts every person around you. Worse, if you're in a vegetative state don't you leave your friends and family in a medical limbo of horrible choices—maintain your body on life support indefinitely to increasing medical costs, or make the hard, hard, hard decision to terminate your life? Thankfully, in my 40-mphlmrphl years, I haven't ever had to make that kind of decision. But I assume, for those who have that kind of choice has a deep, resounding and guilt-ridden repercussions, yes? You and yours may forever question whether or not they made the right decision.

It would seem like your choice to wear a helmet and my choice to follow my doctor’s recommendations are personal choices.  Your head and my gut are owned by no one else.  On the face of it, that’s true.  Your body, your rules.  Unless you’re a woman who wants to take control of her own reproductive system in the United Sates . . . but I digress.

Me, personally, I have family and (supposedly) friends.  I have a wife and three beautiful little boys.
If you bleed, you should wear a helmet!
  In short, I have responsibility.  My life is not wholly my own, and I’m thankful for that.  It would be a very boring existence otherwise.  But if I want to claim that I care about and love any or all of my friends and family, then I need to do the things my doctors tell me in order to stay upright, reasonably health, and long-lived while still suffering my condition.

What about you?  Do you still think it’s a groovy expression of independence and “stickin’ it to the Man”?  Do you really feel that not doing the very least in safety is somehow making you a stronger, better, and more righteous dude?

It seems wholly irresponsible, not to mention fashion-backwards, to make this about "personal choice" when the impact goes way beyond the individual.

Also, there's this helmet you could be wearing!