Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Memorial Movie "Madness"

Blame! it on the rain, that was falling, falling!
Some movie watching occurred over the weekend (when I wasn’t ripping and replacing sprinklers).  Here’s the details:

Uneven, but with a great premise, and some interesting world-building, Blame!, based on the manga, is a post-apocalyptic world where technology has run amok.  An “infection” caused automated systems to spiral out of control and humanity is now on the brink of extinction thanks to their own advances.  Giant, mostly benign Builders continually reshape the world with no rhyme or reason, while Safeguards actively hunt and destroy humans.  A small village of humans, somehow protected from the Safeguards, is running out of food.  When a small team of young villagers ventures out to try to find a solution, they meet Killy the Wanderer (great name) who is seeking the “net terminal genes” which may unlock the system and save humanity.

The biggest problems with this adaptation is that world-building is done by characters who should already be aware of the world they live in.  They should all know that the Builders are generally benign, and yet when one appears, a character freaks out and aims his weapon at it, only to be told off by another.  This occurs with such annoying regularity, that it detracts from the greater plot.  The dialogue needs an editor, and some of the voice-over actors should be told to calm down—anger/yelling isn’t the only emotion available.  There are also too many characters, probably better developed in the manga, but with the limited scope and time of the film, suffer from becoming mostly cardboard.

I burst out loud with laughter at the end which was unfortunately directly stolen from another, better, classic post-apocalyptic film.  Overall, Blame! is a fun bit of eye-candy, with a lot of potential that suffers from mediocre execution.

La La Land
You can dance to it, but it's not catchy.
Aside from some great outfits, including Ryan Gosling’s shoes, and some really fun musical numbers (though none that are catchy enough you’re humming them days later), there really isn’t much to this film.  Damien Chazelle creates a beautiful update of the stock musical boy-meets-girl and they both have big dreams—AND YOU SHOULD TOO!  Lines like Mia’s “I hate jazz.” so that Sebastian has to school her (and us) on just how great jazz is, are forced and awkward.  Honestly, who actively “hates” jazz?  It’s like saying, “I hate music.”  Fortunately, there aren’t too many of those, and the lessons of having to work hard for your dreams—sometimes with compromise—are repeatedly underlines.  Overall, the movie is enjoyable as a beautifully shot, amazingly staged film, but that’s also where it end as a piece of cinema.  You won’t regret watching it, but you’ll be just fine if you don’t.

The Decoy Bride

If only he had a time machine . . . 
This little known rom-com stars David Tennet, Kelly Macdonald and Alice Eve, with most of the classic tropes, but just enough reality thrown in to not prove annoying.  Katie (Macdonald) a writer frustrated with her life, returns home to the fictional island of Hegg in the Scottish Hebrides.  At the same time, world-famous actress Lara Tyler (Eve) and suddenly-famous writer James (Tennet) are trying to find a paparazzi-free place to get married.  Tyler sends her team to Hegg, which famously “inspired” James’ book.  Romantic comedy hijinks ensue.  What sets The Decoy Bride apart from most other rom-coms is its cast of supporting characters.  Hegg, as its own island world where everyone knows everyone else, is idyllic offering equal measures of eccentric and silly that are quite endearing.  Some of the more annoying rom-com tropes are turned on their heads, but not enough to take the film off the well-beaten path.  Also, writers may well enjoy some of the funnier moments Katie and James endure.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

A Timeline I Want to Hold Onto

While it’s important to remember that gold may make the rule, historians agree that slavery, at the time of the US Civil War/War of Northern Agression, was a major, practically a single-voting issue.  A quick review of history bears this out:

1854 – Lincoln declared in his “Peoria Speech” his opposition to slavery.  Prior to this, he had been on the fence, wanting to keep slavery out of the new territories to the west. He will vacillate on this position when politically expedient, but what’s clear is he opposes slavery.
1854 – Unable to obtain a majority in six rounds of voting, Lincoln withdraws from a Senate race and instructs his backers to vote for Lyman Trumball, an antislavery Democrat.
1856 – The Whig Party splits over the issue of slavery.  Drawing from antislavery Democrats and the abolitionist Whigs, the Republican Party is formed.  Lincoln is instrumental in this.
1856-1857 The Southern press reports that the newly formed Republican party only represents the anti-slavery advocates of the North, and not the whole Union.  The Richmond Examiner specifically wrote: "[Republican] party founded on the single sentiment of hatred of African slavery."
1857 – Lincoln publicly denounces the Dred Scot decision, stating that it’s part of a conspiracy to support Slave Power.
1858 – Lincoln-Douglas Debates revolve on a single topic—slavery.  Douglas wins re-election, but Lincoln gains recognition and a national platform.
1860 – Lincoln gives his “Cooper Union” speech in which he argues that the Founding Fathers sought to restrict slavery.
1860 – Lincoln begins presidential campaign as The Rail Candidate, and is depicted to be carried by the issue of slavery.  He will win solely from votes in the West and the North.  Not one Southern state will vote for Lincoln.  Southern secessionist states make clear they will leave the Union before Lincoln takes office.
December 1860 – South Carolina adopts an “ordinance of secession”.

February 1861 – Six more states follow South Carolina.  They declare themselves the Confederate States of America.  In their articles of secession, four of the succeeding states specifically state slave-holder rights as the issue.  Texas mentions slavery 21 times, and said, “[the Union was established] exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity.”

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Nine Heroes For Free!

Yes, these are my swords.
No, you cannot touch them.
A long, long time ago, easily more than twenty-five years back (which is ancient according to my sons), I wrote a short story—Through the Sting of Fairy Smoke.  It was simple, straight-forward, based on a thumbnail understanding of samurai and medieval Japan, and riffing on a few themes of interest.  More importantly, the story was one of my first where a strong, female character kicked ass and took names.  Josai wasn’t the main protagonist in Through the Sting of Fairy Smoke, but she was important, and a protagonist in her own right.

Here’s a nice little sample that outlines exactly Josai:

“Stop.  I found the Marked man,” Josai said.  “Your so-called Circle had power enough to cover his trail, pay off enough people, and burn his possessions, but you didn’t dare get rid of a Marked.”

The blood in Pershin’s face drained, leaving him pale with a sheen of sweat on his forehead and lips.

“The Circle cannot be broken,” Pershin insisted, but his voice quavered as he spoke the words.

Josai’s smile came quickly, all feral teeth with no hint of humor in her gaze.

“It already is broken,” she replied.  “How do you think I found you?”

For the first time in their conversation, fear filled the tax collector’s gaze, and Josai knew she had found her leverage.

After Tears of Heaven was released, and before Hell Becomes Her, I was asked to submit a
Yep.  Nine.  Enjoy!
short fantasy story for a collection of new and upcoming authors.  Honored, because I was so new to the world of publishing, I didn’t really think I could live up to the other, more experienced stories that were sure to be submitted.  But . . . I agreed.

The problem came when I couldn’t find the full, original text of Through the String of Fairy Smoke.  The introduction to the characters and the rise of the conflict was intact, but there was no conclusion.  Tearing through all the old records (which makes it sound organized, when really it was just a pile of papers) turned up nothing.  I reached out to old friends and family members to see if anyone had a copy.  Nothing.

Finally, with the deadline rolling inexorably toward me, I did the only thing a writer can do: I wrote.  A new rising conflict, a new character, and a new conclusion.  It would never be what the old one was—those words are now lost forever.  The new conclusion was its own thing, and it turned out better than I could have hoped.

For free, you can now read Through the Sting of Fairy Smoke, along with eight other excellent examples of fantasy heroes found in Nine Heroes: Tales of Heroic Fantasy.

And if you’re so inclined, please leave a review.  Even if it’s to say you liked/loved the book and nothing more.  The more reviews a book gets, the more likely it is to see greater exposure through the Amazon algorithms.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

I'm Writing, So . . .

. . . there aren’t any updates and likely won’t be unless some fit of pique takes me.  Most of my piques are now fitted to writing Company of the Damned and thus less interested in making other comments.

Of course, my brain works in mysterious ways, even to me, so there is always a possibility.  For example, I recently worked out the Trump Lie Cycle.  Enjoy:

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The Man in Black Fled Across the Desert . . .

. . . and the Gunslinger followed.
The trailer for The Dark Tower released today, and it’s something of a mixed bag.  The theme offered is, “There are other worlds than these, Gunslinger.”  That’s certainly a part of the book series, but here it’s clear that Nikolaj Arcel—who has directed nothing you will have heard of—is shouting his caveat emptor to the fans of the series.

Viewer beware indeed.

Go ahead and give it a watch or three.  I’ll wait here:

All set?  Groovy!

But . . . what does it mean!?
For those who haven’t followed as closely as some of us (ahem—me!), The Dark Tower is actually something of a strange sequel to the books.  Within the scope of King’s series, readers learned that Roland, the titular gunslinger, has actually been wending his way through these events before (several lifetimes at least), trying to set everything to rights.  In mid-2016, as part of the marketing for the film, King himself tweeted out a picture of the Horn of Eld, with the caption “Last Time Around”.

In some ways, this is a really smart maneuver.  King’s original novella, The Gunslinger, was a collection of five short stories that had previously appeared as a magazine serial.  As a standalone, it’s an outstanding piece of work.  As the gateway to Roland’s world and the rest of The Dark Tower series, it had certain flaws.  Lovely, beautiful flaws, but flaws nonetheless.

The trailer makes it clear that this is another of those trips around for Roland.  The first half hedges very closely to the original The Gunslinger.  Chills and goosebumps accompanied my particular viewing.  Even thinking about the gunslinger’s “reloading trick” as visualized makes the butterflies in my tummy go flitter-flap.

Yeah, that’s what it would look like.  Yeah, it’s amazing!

The second half of the trailer . . . well, fans of the books will likely be less interested in watching the Gunslinger run around New York City in “our world”.  To some, it may feel like a cheap cop-out to save money on what should be a long, dark trudge through a post-apoc “world that has moved on”, a world eerily similar to our own.

Stand true, Gunslinger.
That still might be ok.  Arcel seems to have captured one of the key story elements—the relationship between Roland and Jake.  That relationship, without offering any spoilers, impacts and shapes many of the events throughout the series, and it appears that’s the case in The Dark Tower movie as well.

Unlike Aliens: Covenant I’m cautiously optimistic.  I’m not yet certain if this movie is worthy of one of my rare trips to the theater, but it certainly has made the shortlist.

If you haven’t read it, you should.  At least read the first book, The Gunslinger which is more of a novella at just over 55,000 words.  It’s a damned fine piece of writing, and encapsulates a whole story on its own.  For my money, I recommend the 1988 Plume trade paperback version with the excellent illustrations by Michael Whelan.  This also avoids the "corrections" that King provided in the 2003 revision.  They're relatively inexpensive to pick up just about anywhere.  Nothing at all like trying to track down a Grant first or second edition (which you are welcome to get me for my birthday).

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

As If You Needed Another Reason

This goes on the list of Reasons-Getting-Old-Sucks.

Yesterday, about a half-mile into my run, a cramp tore through my left calf.  It felt like something vital had been torn.  In my 40+ years of running, I’ve never cramped while in the middle of a run.  Side-stitches, heat exhaustion, dehydration, and even tripping on flat sidewalk and scraping the hell out of my knee are all things that have happened.

Cramping so bad I could barely walk back to the locker room was a first.

Apparently, my limp was so pronounced, and my face such a rictus of pain, a very nice young lady stopped and asked if I was having a “heart attack or something”.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Aliens vs Couples—More Meh for Your Moolah

Sums it up nicely.
Have you caught the trailer for the newest Aliens installment?

Underwhelmed is the term that comes to mind.  Maybe the series has just panned out, and there's no real point anymore.  At least George Lucas tried to ratchet up the effects and provide greater "depth" to his stories.  Sure, he stripped Star Wars of everything that made it fun and worthwhile, but he tried.

This just seems like more of the same.  Not even an interesting level of the same—Alien: Covenant still has scientists putting their faces right up to an alien pod-thingy as it opens up for a "jump scare" that has to be in quotes because it will not be a scare worthy of jumping, hopping, or even adjusting in your seat.  Here it is:

It's not even a red-band trailer!  Green.  C'mon Ridley, baby.  Give us the goods.  Embrace your hard R!

Certainly, like the Fast & Furious crowd, I’ll continue to watch these.  I’m a completist, after all.  But I’m certainly not going to spend a babysitter’s worth of effort, time and money to catch this one in the theaters. 

Home theater will be just fine.

Prometheus probably bugged me (haha, get it!?) the most, when supposed space archaeologists, anthropologists, and other "ists" randomly stomped around, over, in and through an ancient find that should pretty much shatter all scientists minds on a level of Tunguska Event proportions.  But nope.  Blundering 2D characters making obvious, forced-scripted errors so we can get to the "good stuff" of the Aliens doing their Alien-kill thing.

Well, alright then.  But this is the second to last time, do you hear me!?