Monday, July 31, 2017

ArmadilloCon This Weekend

This upcoming weekend is ArmadilloCon, which is my hometown convention, and is a favorite of mine.  So this is a bit of a busy week of prep for me, on top of editing Lady Henterman's Wardrobe and coming through the home stretch on the draft of Parliament of Bodies, AND finalizing critiques for the writers' workshop.

Anyway, if you're in Austin (or near enough for a drive in), come down to ArmadilloCon, come say hello.  Here's my schedule for the whole thing:

Friday, August 4th
Writers’ Workshop
9:00 AM - 4:00 PM
I’m teaching the Writers’ Workshop again this year (but not running it— I’ve passed the torch to the able and talented Rebecca Schwarz), so much of my Friday will be doing this.

Meet the Pros Party
7:30 PM-9:30 PM Ballroom Foyer
Here's an opportunity to meet your favorite author or artist.

Saturday, August 5th
12:30 PM-1:00 PM Conference Center
I’ll preview material from Imposters of Aventil, and probably read from Holver Alley Crew, and possibly a tease of Lady Henterman’s Wardrobe.

Clarke's Law
1:00 PM-2:00 PM Ballroom E
L. Antonelli, D. Cherry, S. Gonzalez, A. Latner*, M. Maresca, A. Martinez
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." With this pronouncement, Arthur C. Clarke joined Asimov (with his Laws of Robotics) and Sturgeon (90%...) in having epigrams transformed into "Laws". It's even been turned around! Our panelists discuss the continuing influence of these ideas at the boundary of SF & F.

You have a great idea for a story -- Now what?
8:00 PM-9:00 PM Southpark B
L. Marley*, M. Maresca, J. Moore, T. Prevost, B. Wright
Ideas are everywhere. Most writers have more ideas than they know what to do with. How do you take your awesome idea and build it out into a short story or a novel?

Sunday, August 6th
Research techniques for worldbuilding in Science Fiction and Fantasy
11:00 AM-Noon Ballroom D
J. Comer, N. Drayden, M. Maresca, L. Marley*, T. Pierce
Am I going to talk about Bottom-Up Worldbuilding? Yes, I probably will.

Planning and writing a Series
Noon-1:00 PM Ballroom E
S. Brust, M. Maresca, C.J. Mills*, T. Pierce, S. Skorkowsky, J. Wells,
Tips, tricks, and pitfalls

Best SF TV Series Evah!
2:00 PM-3:00 PM Ballroom E
J. Conner, Mi. Finn, M. Maresca*, A. Porter, J. Rountree

3:00 PM-4:00 PM Dealers' Room
M. Maresca, R. Rose, S. Skorkowsky, S. Gonzalez

Thursday, July 27, 2017


THE IMPOSTERS OF AVENTIL is out in a little over two months, so it's high time to start talking seriously about its release.  And what better way to kick things off than with an excerpt?

THE IMPOSTERS OF AVENTIL releases on October 3rd, 2017, and is available for pre-order at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and more.

The Aventil streets teemed with Uni kids, and Lieutenant Benvin had to be a damned prefect to the lot of them. The captain had made it clear that he didn’t give a barrel of sewage what Benvin was working on. The Grand Tournament of the High Colleges was starting, so every able body in Green and Red needed to show the color on foot, horse, and wagon throughout Aventil.

Benvin knew it made sense. With the Tournament, the population of the Uni campus, and therefore Aventil, increased tenfold. Athletes came from every major college in Druthal, as well as friends, families, and other supporters. Every bed was filled, every pub was packed, and folks were pressed against each other so tightly in the street that even the city’s worst pickpocket could make a year’s pay.

Add in the sweltering summer heat that hadn’t broken all month, and the neighborhood was a stinkhole of trouble just waiting to burst.

“How many nights of this, Left?” Pollit muttered. “Because if it’s more than three, I can’t promise folks won’t be eating their teeth.”

“It’s eight,” Benvin said. “And I wouldn’t believe that promise anyway.”

Pollit flashed a smile. Pollit was part of Benvin’s Loyals, the squad he had put together that he trusted weren’t in anyone’s pocket. Just four footpatrol regulars—Tripper, Pollit, Wheth, and Mal, and two cadets, Jace and Saitle. The rest of the Aventil Stationhouse, they were fine enough folk, but Benvin didn’t have faith that they would really have his back in a pinch. Only his Loyals, and he knew they gave their best because he believed in them. All of them had all been outcasts amongst the Aventil regulars. Benvin had made them his.

“You don’t totally hate this, Left,” Pollit said.

“What makes you say that?”

“You usually don’t wear that pin on your uniform.”

Benvin glanced down at the pin on the lapel of his coat, marking his first-place win in oars for Riverview University at the Grand Tournament of 1202. “Man has a little pride in his school . . .”

“Wouldn’t have pegged you for a Uni type, Left. Certainly not one of the Elevens.”

“Drop it,” Benvin said. He wasn’t in the mood to talk about the things that led him from prominent law student at a prestigious university to street stick busting up cider rings and dice games. “Something over there.”

A handful of Uni boys—Royal College of Maradaine lads by their purple and yellow colors—were getting heated in front of the Rose & Bush. Looked like the server was telling them they couldn’t come in, and they weren’t pleased with that at all. Also, they clearly had had their fill of any pub for the night.

Saints, it wasn’t even seven bells yet. The sun was still casting long shadows down Rose Street.

“Gentlemen,” Benvin said, Pollit right at his arm. “What seems to be the dispute?”

“She won’t let us in!” one of the RCM boys said, wagging an accusing finger in the server’s face. “We gotta eat something before the opening ceremonies!”

“We’re full up!” the server snapped. “Ain’t barely room for me to walk from bar to tables. Can’t put another soul in the place!”

“Find another place,” Benvin said. “Or perhaps your beds for the night.”

“Pfff,” the lead RCM boy said. He didn’t seem to have registered who he was talking to. “We ain’t about to head in yet. We got—”

“Oy,” Pollit said. “Maybe you should note who’s telling you. Unless you want us to find you some special bunks for the night.”

The RCM boy looked at the two of them, his friends now all growing quiet as they recognized the Constabulary coats in front of them. This boy had definitely had too much cider though, as his eyes didn’t focus on them for a moment. When they did, they settled on Pollit.

“Saints,” he snarled. “You a bird or a bloke?”

That was the wrong thing to say.

In a flash, Pollit had knocked the boy in the teeth. Before he could even blink, the boy was face down on the cobblestone, irons going around his wrists. “Someone found a new bunk for the night!” Pollit shouted.

“Pollit—” Benvin tried to give a gentle rebuke, if Pollit would pick up on it.

Pollit looked up at the rest. “Any of you?”

“Going somewhere else,” the other RCM boys all said, hands up defensively. They quickly dispersed.

“Good.” Pollit had the boy up on his feet, arms bound behind him. “You see a lockwagon nearby, Left?”

Benvin leaned in. “We can’t arrest the boy just for firing your hairs, Pol.”

Pollit whispered back, “Can we have him sit in a wagon with irons on for an hour or so to cool off?”

“Twenty minutes,” Benvin said. “There’s one over there.”

Pollit gave a salute to Benvin, and then one more to the Rose & Bush server with a wink, and took the RCM boy over to the wagon.

Folks in the stationhouse talked about Pollit in not-so-hushed whispers, but Benvin paid them no damn mind. Pollit was a damn good stick, that was all that mattered.

Whistle calls pierced the air—and not just a general call. Three sharp trills: long, short, long. Corpse call.

“Pol!” Benvin didn’t need to look to know that Pollit would soon be on his heels as he ran in the direction of the whistles. He hoped Pollit at least left the Uni with a wagon driver.

“Aside, aside,” he shouted as he approached the source. A crowd had inevitably formed at the mouth of a narrow alley—not that every damn inch of this neighborhood wasn’t a crowd right now—and Benvin nearly had to beat his way through. “Constabulary, people, stand aside!”

The crowd parted just enough to let him pass, to see a young man blocking the alley entrance, whistle in his mouth. He stopped blowing as soon as Benvin approached.

“Hey, Left,” he said, dropping the whistle out of his mouth and catching it. “We’ve got some nasty business here.”

“Jace,” Benvin said, looking the cadet in the eye. “You’re supposed to be off-duty.” The boy was in civvie clothes, at least. But this kid, he never stopped working. Benvin admired him, to be sure, because he had a heart that was pure Green and Red as he had seen. Came from a family eight or nine generations deep in the Constabulary. When that crazy stampede went through the neighborhood two months ago, Jace had nearly got himself killed jumping onto the lead horse to blow out warnings. That was why Jace was part of the Loyals, but Benvin had to fight the boy to get him to go home sometimes.

“I was, Left, honest. On my way home when a couple folks spotted this. Had to put in the call, and then keep these folks off the scene.”

“Fair enough,” Benvin said. “Body?”

Jace nodded into the alley, while popping the whistle back in his mouth to make a new call, signaling that an officer was on the scene and they would need inspectors and the bodywagon to come.
Not that Benvin really wanted any of the Aventil Stationhouse inspectors to come. None of those chairwarmers were worth their rank, none of them could be counted on. Odds were they would come, glance at the body, and leave the work to him.

Pollit was now at the scene, giving a slight nod of regard to Jace. “Sorry about that, Left. Just getting that tosser comfy in the wagon.”

“Anything good?” Jace asked.

“Ain’t you supposed to be home?”

“In this crowd?”

Benvin ignored them, instead looking at the body. Definitely a murder. Four arrows were buried into his chest. Young man, about twenty or so. Scruffy, dirty, and unkempt. Face beat bloody, head cracked. Shirtless, but wearing a fur-lined coat. “A Red Rabbit.”

“Ain’t seen many of them since the last big street row,” Pollit said.

“No,” Benvin said pointedly. He pointed to the chevrons on the coat, and tattooed to the boys’ neck. “And a captain at that. Is this Keckin?”

“Could be,” Pollit said. “Saints, this is brutal.”

Benvin had to agree. The four arrows were all from head-on. Keckin—if this was Keckin—wasn’t running or even fighting back very well when this happened. Looked like he was shot, beaten, and then shot again. Someone wanted to make him suffer.

“Didn’t happen here,” Benvin added. He looked up to the top of the building. “Maybe on the roof, and he was dropped down after shooting him?”
Pollit gave his own glance up and down. “Makes sense. This couldn’t have gone down around this crowd.”

Benvin pulled one arrow out of the body. “And not too many people would use a bow in this neighborhood.”

“You think it’s him, boss?” Pollit asked.

“Nah, couldn’t be,” Jace said. He seemed almost spooked. “I mean, he’s never left a body like this before.”

“Then he’s stepped up his game. Let’s add it to the list of charges we’ll lay on the Thorn when we catch him.”

“I don’t like it, boss,” Jace said. “It ain’t that simple.”

Benvin didn’t like it at all, either. With everything else going on in the neighborhood, the last thing they needed was for the Thorn to move on from being a vigilante menace to a vengeful murderer. This might have been a Red Rabbit scum that Benvin would have ironed and locked up given the chance, but he didn’t deserve a death like this. Nobody did.

But it did mean one thing. Now Benvin had the cause he needed to act.

“Spread the word, boys,” Benvin said. “As of right now, I’m calling an All-Eyes out on the Thorn.”

Summer and the Grand Tournament of High Colleges have come to the University of Maradaine. If the heat and the crowds weren't enough to bring the campus and the neighborhood of Aventil to a boiling point, rumors that The Thorn is on the warpath—killing the last of the Red Rabbits—is enough to tip all of Maradaine into the fire.

Except Veranix Calbert, magic student at the University, is The Thorn, and he's not the one viciously hunting the Red Rabbits. Veranix has his hands full with his share of responsibilities for the Tournament, and as The Thorn he’s been trying to find the source of the mind-destroying effitte being sold on campus. He’s as confused as anyone about the rumors.

When The Thorn imposter publicly attacks the local Aventil constables, the Constabulary bring in their own special investigators: Inspectors Minox Welling and Satrine Rainey from the Maradaine Grand Inspectors Unit. Can Veranix find out who the imposter is and stop him before Welling and Rainey arrest him for the imposter’s crimes?

Available for Pre-order at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and more!

Monday, July 24, 2017

KRULL: A Bad Movie I've Watched Many, Many, MANY Times

Bad Movies
As I’ve said before, there’s something to admire about a movie that points to the fences and swings with everything that it has.  Because Krull is just that movie.  It really wants to be the epic fantasy movie-- it wanted to be the movie that did for epic fantasy what Star Wars was for space opera.   And by god, it throws everything it can think of up on the screen to become that, and more.  I mean, it’s not just an epic fantasy movie.  It’s an epic fantasy movie that’s hiding inside a full-on sci-fi space-opera, like a Russian nesting doll.  On top of that, it’s got prologue and epilogue voice-over to let you know that this is just the tip of the iceberg of the total amount of story here.  Yes, it was laying the groundwork for sequels and prequels and all sorts of things that were never meant to be.

It is truly, gloriously insane, but it is not lacking in ambition.

So, the movie is set on a boilerplate medieval-tech fantasy world.  Kings and princesses, wizards and castles, swords and crossbows.  Everything you need for your epic fantasy. Except, who should be landing on this planet?  YES, LANDING, because they are ALIEN INVADERS OF PURE EVIL.  Seriously. they’re aliens, but they might as well be demons, and they’ve got a certain degree of “sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” thing going on.  Of course, the bad-guy grunts are, in essence, second-rate Stormtroopers, including being terrible shots with their rayguns, at least when it comes to shooting at the protagonists.  The main difference with these guys is, when you smash their helmet open, some lizard-snake inside the suit shrivels up and disappears, complete with shrieking noise.

I’m getting ahead of myself.  See, once the Dark Lord lands his Black Mountain on this planet, we’re pretty much in pure fantasy mode, save the rayguns.   The Black Mountain moves from place to place on the planet, teleporting to a  new location each sunrise.  This is actually a key plot point.  I’ll get back to that.  Anyway, while this is happening, we get some more boilerplate fantasy: the prince of one kingdom (Ken Marshall) is arranged to marry the princess of another kingdom (Lysette Anthony), so they can unite their kingdoms in harmony.  Even though it's an arranged marriage, they actually seem to like each other-- they're far more into it in terms of "we must united our kingdoms" while their fathers are not as keen.  Also: Ken Marshall is just a trifle too cocky.  This is his primary character trait.  So, the wedding begins, and wouldn’t you know it: halfway through the ceremony, it’s interrupted by second-rate stormtroopers who murder ALMOST everyone, save Ken Marshall, who is just knocked out for long enough for the plot to get going, and Lysette Anthony, who is kidnapped.

Why does the Evil Alien Overlord kidnap her?  I want to say “something something prophecy something something name of ancient power” but the main reason is because THAT’S THE PLOT, PEOPLE.  The plot is pretty much just Ken Marshall has to go save his bride, since their wedding was interrupted (even though, both fathers and just about everyone else of note in the two kingdoms: dead.  I'm saying, this political wedding is something of a low priority at this point.)  Wedding ceremony interrupted, by the way, is also a Key Plot Point.

Pictured: Hair that won't last.
Pictured: Hair that won't last.
Ken Marshall really just floats through this moving on pure Handsome and Charm.  But it works, it really does.  And he has glorious hair, which Deep Space Nine fans will recall, doesn’t last.

So once the Prince comes to, he’s joined by a Not Obi Wan—literally, it’s just, “Hey, you’re the old hermit who lives in the mountains.” “Yes, I know more than I let on. Let’s go.”—and it’s full on Quest Time.  Since it’s Quest Time, there are a few Plot Tokens to collect.  One involves the Prince getting some ancient and powerful weapon that’s up the top of some mountain in a volcano.  This pretty much involves the Prince dealing with some lava before he can get The Glaive, which is a spinning bladed star that he can throw and control magically, since he earned it by sticking his hand in the lava.  Even though he has it from the beginning, he LITERALLY NEVER USES IT until the end.  It just sits there, Chekov Gunning in his pocket the whole time.

Next order of business is the Assembling Of The Party.  Honestly, most of the rest of the first half of this movie is gathering a handful of people to join the Prince on this quest, and then the rest of the movie involves picking those people off.  First there’s the Bandit and his company of Redshirts.  Seriously, it’s a large group of thieves, and they’re pretty much here to die in various skirmishes over the course of the movie.  But among them are future famous people Liam Neeson and Robbie Coltrain.

Half of these guys will not make it to the end of this movie.
Half of these guys will not make it to the end of this movie.

Really, the meeting between the Prince and the Chief Bandit (and his Redshirts) is pretty funny.  They set upon the Prince to rob him, and he’s all, “No, join me on my mission.” And they respond, “Why would we do that?” “I’m the KING.”  “King of jack all.”  Because, really, the Dark One’s devastation has been pretty complete.  But then the Prince is all, “Yeah, but I’ve got the keys to your shackles.”  “Oh, then we’re in.”  Except for the Chief Bandit, but he’s got a bit of the Noble Thief in him—which is kind of a sudden change, but whatever.  He decides to keep his manacles on, nobly, until the quest is over.

More companions include a Cyclops, who first hangs on the outskirts, a little boy whose master was killed and replaced by the evil—I’ll get to that—and Ergo the Magnificent.  First, the Cyclops.  They have this whole thing where the Cyclopses made a deal with the Evil One where they traded one eye for the power to see the future, which: dumb plan.  And the Evil One only gave them the power to see their own death.  Which kind of sucks.  Now, how this mythology works, since the Evil One is flying around on his spaceship, and hadn’t come here before, I don’t know.  I mean, they actually know a lot about The Evil One, it appears, which means he must have come to the planet before, and... this just makes my head hurt.

ANYWAY,  the Cyclops is big, tall, has one eye, and throws a mean spear.  He doesn’t really join the group until the boy’s master is killed.

So, on that, and more to the point, the quest plot, before I get to Ergo the Magnificent, who is indeed magnificent.  Remember how the Black Mountain teleports every day?  It makes trying to get to it a challenge.  So the plan is to go see some Green Wizard in the swamp who can see the future, and he’s a blind old man with a little boy to guide him around.  To get a read on the Black Mountain, they need to go to some sacred shrine in the swamp, and on the way there, the Green Wizard is murdered and replaced with an evil double while no one is paying attention.  Then he leads the Prince to the sacred shrine, but alone, so he can kill the Prince, but before he gets the chance, the Cyclops (who found the body of the real Green Wizard) charges in and spears the bastard.

Which means A. the kid might as well tag along, because where else is he gonna go?  and B. they still don’t know how to find the Black Mountain.

I’d love to say: Enter Ergo the Magnificent, but he actually showed up a lot earlier.  And he has little to do with solving this problem.  Ergo is a magician, but kind of a pathetic one.  He’s all talk and bluster (“Ergo the Magnificent: Short of Stature, but Tall of Power; Wide of Vision, but Narrow of Purpose.”)   The main thing he does is be useless, changing himself into animals, and not helpful ones. Except he does change into a puppy to cheer up the little boy.  But he’s also just awesome, because the actor totally commits to Ergo.  I’m not sure if David Battley did a lot more work in England in the 70s or something, but the only other thing I know him from is playing Charlie Bucket’s math teacher in Willy Wonka, where again, he commits brilliantly to the absurd.

To get back to the plot: needing a new way to figure out where the Black Mountain is going to be, the Old Man suggests The Widow Of The Web.  Everyone loses their shit, because the Widow of the Web is BAD NEWS.  But this is part of what I love about this movie, because it totally comes off as a D&D Campaign where the original plan got messed up, so the Dungeon Master is just winging it.  Random battles and other dangers pop up all the time, and the Plot Coupons come out of thin air.  Anyway, the story is that NO ONE sees the Widow and survives, but Old Man thinks he can do it, because they have history.  So he goes to climb up with mountain, while everyone else hangs out in a village with one of Liam Neeson’s girlfriends.  YES ONE OF THEM because he has many, because it's Liam Neeson.
This whole sequence sets up the prequel that never happens.
This whole sequence sets up the prequel that never happened.

The Widow in the Web sequence is pretty neat, in that the Widow is in this little nest in the middle of a giant spider web, with a GIANT FRICKING SPIDER guarding her.  So the Old Man starts climbing the web, and the Spider comes for him, and then he calls out to the Widow, using her real name.  And this is one of the points where it really feels like the Rules of Magic are just totally arbitrary.  Because she has enough power to, like, keep the spider at bay, but only for a little bit.  So it’s a matter of buying him enough time to get inside the nest with her.  Then once he’s in there, they have this whole thing about how he loved her once, but it wasn’t meant to be.  And he plays it like it was his fault, but it strikes me that she was the one who chose to live in the middle of a mystical death trap for no good reason.  I don’t know, this is all laying the groundwork for the prequel that never happened. She tells him where the Black Mountain is going to be, but then he can’t get out without the spider killing him.  Really, I don’t get this: she doesn’t have control over the spider.  It’s just there, screwing with people who try and get to her, and keeping her trapped.  So she does something with an hourglass—because, sure, why not—and breaks it open and gives the sand to the old man.  The sand is now his life, as long as he can hold onto it, and the spider won’t go for him.  Cool.  But then he leaves the nest, and the spider goes totally shithouse, going after the Widow, and she, the Spider and the whole nest go up in electricity.

I don’t even know what that was all about, but it looked cool.

The Old Man manages to get back to camp with the last bit of sand falling out of his hand, so he dies right after he tells them where the Black Mountain is going to be.  Of course, new problem: where it’s going to be is REALLY FAR AWAY, so this information is nearly useless.  But then Ken Marshall remembers a nearby field of magic horses that run really fast.  So they go there and catch some horses.  I mean, there’s probably more to it than that, but that’s the next plot token: Superfast Horses.
So, they catch those, and get ready to ride, but the Cyclops stays behind, because that’s where he’s supposed to die. And if a Cyclops tries to avoid his foreseen death, all he gets is a more horrible death.  A little bit of bitter goodbyes, but fine.  They ride, and it’s a cool riding montage.  Did I say "cool"?  I mean "way overlong".  I mean, I know they ride a thousand leagues, but we don't need to see it ALL.
If you're twelve years old, this is the most metal movie poster ever.
If you're twelve years old, this is the most metal movie poster ever.
 They get to the Black Mountain right as the sun is rising, and they have a hell of a time getting inside it, since the Not-Stormtroopers are shooting like crazy at them, everyone is pinned down, and they’ll be screwed if they don’t get inside before the sun rises.  But then!  Out of nowhere, the Cyclops comes charging in on his Firehorse.  And he pretty much blazes his way up the mountain, taking no shit from any of the Not-Stormtroopers (their blasts don't even slow him down), and kicking every ass.  He gets to one of the automatic doors and holds it open so everyone else can scurry inside.  And as they get in, it shuts on him.  And, seriously, without it being gory, it’s looks as painful and gruesome as the filmmakers can pull off.  This scene haunted me as a kid.

The heroes all move through the fortress, getting picked off and split up by randomness.  At one point Ergo and the boy are separated from everyone else. When they’re attacked, Ergo breaks his pattern of uselessness by turning into a goddamn tiger and just mauling the hell out of the Not-Stormtroopers.  And that's pretty awesome.  But, really, Ergo, that tiger-form would have come in handy earlier.
Ken Marshall FINALLY uses his spinning-death star to cut through walls and get to his lady.

Meanwhile, everyone else trapped in a spike-room.  It's in there that the last of the expendables gets killed by being an idiot. Like, there's these spikes coming out of the wall, and when everyone trapped gets close to the door and stays still, the spikes stop.  Good.  But then Idiot is all, "Wait, I dropped my knife" and goes back for it, and what does he get for his trouble?  Gruesome, slow death.  It’s what they do here.

Ken Marshall gets to the princess, and has his big battle with the Beast, using his spinning-death star, which works pretty well until it gets stuck.  The Beast is ready for Round Two, though, and Ken is unarmed.  Except for the power of LOVE.

And I mean this in the most literal way.  Remember I said the “interrupted wedding ceremony” would be important?  Yeah, it involved a passing-of-magical-fire ritual between husband and wife, and now that comes into play.  Lysette Anthony gives the fire back to Ken Marshall, because she's still had it all this time since she didn’t get to pass it back to him in the ceremony.  So now he can just open up with FLAMETHROWERS OF LOVE.

With the Beast defeated, the Death Star… er, the Black Fortress just falls apart, at exactly the right dramatic rate for the surviving members of the party to run away.   Survivors make it out as the thing blows up for good, and everyone has a good relaxed laugh.  End of movie.
Except for that epilogue voice-over—repeated from the beginning-- which lets us know that Ken Marshall and Lysette Anthony will rule their world, and they’ll have a son that will RULE THE GALAXY.  Uh, spoilers for Krull 2?

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Scrapbooking for Real Inspiration

I don't tend to-- consciously any way-- mine too much of real life into my novels.  Obviously there's bits and pieces, some of it more overt than others.  Well, there are two minor characters in Lady Henterman's Wardrobe who are, in fact, very real-life inspired, but I think I'm going to keep the details of that close to the chest for now.  Have to save something for the memoirs.

Now, one thing I do like to do is draw inspiration from places I've been.  A lot of how the city of Maradaine looks in my head comes from places like Mexico City (specifically Coyoacan), Montreal (specifically Old Town) and Boston.  I don't know if I necessarily do a perfect job getting those inspirations across, but it's what I strive for.

 Image result for coyoacan church
In other news, I'm going to be at ArmadilloCon here in Austin from August 4th-6th.  If you're in the area, stop by and say hello.  There might even be a shiny ARC of The Imposters of Aventil in it for you.  More details on that to come.
Now back to the word mines.  Plenty of work to do.

Monday, July 17, 2017

ELECTRIC DREAMS: A Bad Movie I've Watched Many, Many, MANY Times

Bad Movies
The Eighties got a lot of mileage out of the idea that computers were magic.  I mean, the fundamental principle of Weird Science is that Wyatt has, like, a 386 with a 14.4 modem and a scanner, which he can connect to the Pentagon and make a goddamn genie with it.  Most Hollywood movies today still let computers be magical, but not to the same degree.  And few movies go as full out crazy with the idea as Electric Dreams.

   For those not in the know, Electric Dreams is a relatively small, simple movie, in which an architect named Miles (he might be an engineer—something to do with buildings) lives in the downstairs part of a duplex, below gorgeous cellist Virginia Madsen.  And he gets himself a computer so he can design an earthquake brick.  So far, all normal.

So, he really gets himself a high-level, top of the line ultra-computer, but this is 1984 or so, so we’re talking about little more than a first-gen Macintosh.  The first thing the operating system does is ask his name, and he screws up and types “MOLES” because Computers Are Hard, and the computer calls him “Moles” from then on.  The computer also comes with remote plug controls, so you can program the coffee maker to turn on at a certain time or something.  Actually a neat, useful thing, but I don’t think you could do that in 1984.  Certainly didn’t come standard.

Anyhow, for one reason or another, Miles is trying to figure out how to use his computer, and attempts to connect it to the office computers (because big, office computers are SUPER MAGIC) , but then something goes wrong and it starts to smoke, so he pours champagne on it.

And, as we all know from Eighties Science: Computer + Modem Connection + Champagne= Artificial Intelligence.  Seriously, this 80s era desktop becomes sentient.  Because champagne and Computers Are Magic.

So there’s a period where the computer is “waking up”, and it is responding to sounds and music.  Mostly cello music from Virginia.  It then starts play music back, so she presumes Miles is a musician, and gets interested in him.  And he gets interested in her, because she’s Virginia Madsen.

After a bit, he starts to realize that his computer is sentient, and they start talking.  The computer calls him “Moles”, of course, and is like a needy child.  Miles copes, partly because it’s fascinating, and partly because of Virginia being interested in the computer’s music.  And the computer is actually composing original stuff, so it’s not just sentient, it’s creative.

This brings us to fundamental conflict: a Cyrano-esque love triangle.  Miles and the computer both love Virginia.  Miles has the advantage of being a person, but the computer is the one doing the thing that actually sparks her interest in the first place.  This comes to a head when the computer confesses its love for Virginia, and Miles mocks it.  AND THEN IT’S WAR.

The computer does some high-level screw-with-Miles stuff, cancelling his credit cards and getting him declared “armed an dangerous”.  You know, magic stuff that computers can do, especially in 1984.

Once Miles gets home, he’s all in for battle against the computer. It’s quite a fight, since the computer can, like, turn on the blender and the vacuum cleaner.  Miles eventually hides in the bathroom, where the computer can’t get him, and sneaks out while using an electric razor as a distraction.

Meanwhile Virginia’s cello is destroyed in a freak elevator accident.  This really has nothing to do with anything, except giving her an excuse to come back home in the middle of the day and have an emotional scene. It also demonstrates that she and Miles really aren’t a good match, since he doesn’t seem to care that her cello was destroyed.  Not that that goes anywhere.

Eventually he takes a baseball bat to the computer, which doesn’t destroy it, but makes it even more sad and emo.  Viriginia goes into the apartment and finally realizes where the music is really coming from, but she and the computer don’t talk to each other.  He just plays some emo notes and she cries.
Miles goes back in, and he and the computer decide to be nice to each other.  And he hugs the computer.  And the computer calls him Miles.  The computer also reveals his name is “Edgar”, and the movie makes it feel like this should be significant, but I can’t figure out for the life of me why.  I’ll note that the posters for this movie told you the computer’s name was Edgar, which makes me feel like something got lost in a rewrite or editing.

Anyway, the computer decides to let Miles have a normal life, and commits a sort-of-roundabout suicide by sending an electric pulse through the phone lines or something.  I don’t know.  I feel like the movie wanted Miles and Edgar to have a “while Edgar is dying” scene, but the source of Edgar’s death is arbitrary and self-inflicted, so the emotion doesn’t work.

electric-dreams-1984-movieBut then the call comes, and Edgar “dies”.

Except he doesn’t, and instead we enter a dystopian nightmare with our benevolent electronic overlord.

I’m not kidding. This is what happens: Miles and Virginia are driving off somewhere, and over the radio we suddenly hear Edgar say, “Hello!  This song goes out to the people I love!”  And a song plays—ON ALL FREQUENCIES, EVERYWHERE—and Virginia and Miles smile, and there’s a whole montage of people grooving to the song, and the occasional shots of the people in the radio station being all, “WHAT THE FUCK IS HAPPENING?”, but, you know, played for laughs.

Because there’s nothing to be concerned about that an emotionally unstable intelligence has the power to be everywhere and nowhere, and take over the airwaves in the process.  Nope, nothing at all.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Mailing Lists, Black Gate and Imminent Imposters

So the topic on hand this week is Mailing Lists, and how to do them well. Frankly, I'm still learning that one. I've only recently launched my mailing list, and my main rule of thumb is "only post when there's news".  Just today I saw a friend comment that she's on a writer's mailing list that has multiple posts a day.  That, my friends, is spamming.  I won't do that.  Heck, emailing more than once a month seems overzealous to me.

However, if you want a not-too-inconvenient mailing list:

In other news, Black Gate Magazine just recently posted a nice write-up detailing all the books, including the upcoming ones, of the full Maradaine sequence.

And speaking of upcoming books, The Imposters of Aventil is less than three months away.   And if you have access to NetGalley, it's already available to review.  And I should have ARCs to give away in the near future.  You know you want an ARC, don't you?  Of course you do.

Monday, July 10, 2017

STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER: A Bad Movie I’ve Watched Many, Many, MANY Times

Bad Movies
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
Of all the Star Trek movies, The Final Frontier, the fifth and penultimate of the original crew movies, has a very special level of infamy.  It’s definitely considered one of the bad ones, but it doesn’t have the grandeur of The Motion Picture to excuse it, or the blandness of Insurrection to ignore it, or even the utterly garbled black-hearted mess of Nemesis to vilify it.

Because, say what you will of The Final Frontier—and I will—but its heart is more or less in the right place.  Like an old dog that stumbles around, half-blind and randomly peeing everywhere, there’s really nothing good about it, but at the same time you kind of love it out of habit.

This movie also represents William Shatner’s one and only time in the director’s chair.  I can only imagine that, with Nimoy having directed the last two, he figured he was due for his shot.  I don’t know.  Clearly, it was a bad idea, though the aspect of the film you can see it in the most is the acting.  The Enterprise Seven all do fine, of course.  They wear their characters like comfy sweaters at this point, so it’s pretty hard for them to screw it up.  And seasoned professionals like David Warner as the Federation Ambassador to Nimbus III also do fine.

But then you have Cynthia Gouw, playing Romulan Ambassador Caithlin Dar, who had very little business saying lines in front of a camera.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

So, we start out on Nimbus III, “The Planet of Galactic Peace”.  This actually has the germ of a good idea: a planet that was supposed to be a neutral place for Humans, er…  I mean The Federation, Klingons and Romulans to send ambassadors, and was open for anyone to settle on.  It would be a central place for openness and communication.  Except it failed, because no one except the backwash of the galaxy went there, so it was an utter mess.  Frankly, that’s cool.  A better movie might have found a way to keep that idea at the center of it.  But this is not a better movie.  Instead, we get a strange teaser involving a laughing Vulcan who needs a starship.

And then we get the crew of the Enterprise, who are all on vacation.  Well, mostly.  Kirk, Spock and McCoy are camping together, and Chekov and Sulu are… also camping somewhere else, it seems.  (And I should point out, we know from Generations that Sulu has a spouse and daughter, so… he’s blowing them off?)  Scotty is staying on the Enterprise because it’s in shambles. For reasons never properly explained, it seems the Enterprise-A was just a mess from the get go.  I like the idea that while Kirk has been “rewarded” a new Enterprise after the events of movies III and IV, someone in the top brass is pissed at him and gives him a lemon of a ship.  Also, Uhura is sticking around on the ship, because she seems to have a crush on Scotty at this point.

That’s a loose thread of plot that never quite goes anywhere.  It’s not something that’s picked up from the previous movies or the original show, nor does this movie actually do anything with it.  It’s a bit odd that hear is when she gets sweet on him.
Anyhow, Laughing Vulcan and his band of ragamuffins capture the three Ambassadors on Nimbus III, and the Federation calls in Kirk and the Enterprise crew to take care of it.  Here, at least, they do a clever twist on the “only ship in the area” canard that most of the Trek movies use  (especially since most of the time “the area” is in orbit of Earth, so it never makes any sense.)  Here, at least, the admiral sending them says, yeah, there’s other ships that are closer, but none of them have Jim Kirk.

So, it’s a rescue mission.  The Klingons are coming as well, but they aren’t coming to rescue their ambassador.  Really, they’ve got no stake as far as that is concerned.  The Klingon captain is only coming because he wants to shoot at Kirk.  That's his entire motivation in this movie: he wants to shoot things, and Kirk will be a good thing to shoot.

The Romulans, by the way, aren’t sending anyone to rescue people.  I find this interesting, especially since of the three ambassadors, Caithlin Dar is the only idealist.  She actually believes in Nimbus III.  So of course her government leaves her to hang when she gets kidnapped.  That might be because the Romulans shipped her away because they were sick of hearing her talk about peace and happiness.  (There's a deleted scene where she says she volunteered, but I imagine the Romulan government was thrilled to send her away.)  Their response was likely, “Oh, she was kidnapped?  That’s a real shame, we ought to do something about that.”

Anyway, the Enterprise stumbles to Nimbus III. Chekov stays on the ship and pretends to be captain to negotiate with the Laughing Vulcan, while everyone else goes down to the planet.  And here is possibly the most WTF scene in all of Star Trek (including the Hyperevolved Salamander Sex of Voyager), where we learn that Kirk went to the Jayne Cobb School of Strategy.

“We need a distraction.  I say Uhura gets nekkid.”

Now, I don’t know if 50-something Nichelle Nichols actually did that fan dance or not.  And it’s not explicit or anything.  As a bit of sci-fi tinged burlesque, it’s not that bad, in isolation.  But it’s so damn random and out of character for everyone involved.  Was this why the admiral insisted he needed Jim Kirk?  “No one else would have his communication officer do a fan dance!”

Anyway, they “rescue” the hostages, who in turn don’t want to be rescued, because they’ve teamed up with the Laughing Vulcan—screw it, Sybok.  Everyone gets on the shuttlecraft and goes back to the Enterprise, but not before the Klingons show up and start shooting.  So there’s another good bit where they essentially crash the shuttle into the shuttle bay so that Enterprise’s shields are only down for a second.  But then Sybok gets the upper hand (since Spock won’t shoot him despite Kirk’s direct order), imprisons Kirk, Spock and McCoy, and brainwashes Sulu and Uhura.

This movie apparently got a lot of rewrites, and was cut for time and budget, so there’s a lot of scribbling in the margins of what's happening on screen.  The whole bit with Sybok’s brainwashing is a big part of that.  He “removes your pain”, which seems to involve using Vulcan mind-meld techniques to find your most painful memory, and then helping you heal from it, and as a result you totally want to work with him.  There’s an underlying sense of cult-leadership in there, because almost everyone he does it to then has unswerving loyalty to him.  But despite this solid concept never quite works, especially since the only people we get a strong sense of the process is with Spock and McCoy.  But he does something that makes everyone go, “We totally have to go to this god planet in the center of the galaxy”.  It also means Uhura more explicitly demonstrates her crush on Scotty, like she now feels free to express things she kept under wraps.  There’s also a bit of… almost romantic chemistry between the Federation and Romulan ambassadors.  But like I said, that’s all scribbled in the margins.  There might have been a more interesting movie here if it wasn't forced to keep it at 100 minutes.

Back to the core—Kirk, Spock and McCoy escape from the brig with Scotty’s near buffoonish help, but said escape is meaningless, since Sybok catches them in a few minutes, and then explains his plan and tries to do his brainwash/psychic healing thing.  Also, he’s Spock’s half-brother.  I’m not quite sure why that’s here, since it doesn’t seem to really have a huge impact.  There are brief moments where Spock is hinted at having some divided loyalties, but never in a meaningful way.  It wouldn't have been significantly different if Spock and Sybok were just close childhood friends.  But it all leads to McCoy and Spock’s attempted brainwashing.

Let me tell you, Spock’s makes no damn sense.  I mean, yeah, his secret pain is that his father hates him for being half-human, which is kind of a sucky way for Sarek to be, what with marrying a human woman and all.  Of course, the implication is it’s more Spock’s issue over objective reality.  But I really fail to see how anything Sybok does with this “heals” Spock’s pain in any way.  “You think Dad hates you.” “Yes.” “All right then.”  McCoy’s is at least something dynamic, and it’s a nice bit for DeForest Kelley to play, where he euthanizes his sick father, only for there to have been a cure discovered shortly afterward.  Of course, the big flaw is the scene plays like it only happened a little while ago, and at best McCoy’s already ancient father was only robbed of a few years.  If it had been clearer that this was from McCoy’s youth, it would have worked better, and all it would have taken would be to cast someone in their forties as McCoy’s dad.

Brainwashing doesn’t take, though, as Kirk refuses to participate.  "I need my pain!" is a bit cheesy, but it fits Kirk's character-- a lesson he learned way back in "The Enemy Within".  (Yes, I am an old school Trekkie.) Since he doesn't do it, Spock and McCoy keep their loyalty to Kirk. Sybok is surprised, but ultimately doesn’t care, since he’s taking the ship through the Great Barrier in the Center of the Galaxy anyway.

So let’s talk about this bit, because here’s a key part where the movie really falls short. The Great Barrier, we’re told, is something you just can’t get through.  Ships have tried and failed.  Except Sybok totally thinks he can do it.  Why?  HE JUST CAN.  He compares this to breaking the sound barrier or warp speed, which implies he’s got some sort of science-doing behind his plan, or at least figured out some secret key to it.  Nope.  It’s just, “We’re gonna do it!” and Kirk is all, “Can’t be done!” and Sybok counters, “Gonna!”

And he does.

Seriously, he just goes through it.  No big.  The Klingons do it ten minutes later.  There’s no trick to it or anything.  It’s just, go through it.  Which makes you think the whole “No ship has made it through the Great Barrier” was really, “Nobody tried, because they took some readings and said, ‘screw that!’”

Once they are through, Sybok kind of becomes a good guy.  I mean… I think that Sybok is never a bad guy.  He’s determined and passionate, and does troubling things for his goals… but even his brainwashing comes off as more “lifting the scales”, and he gives hopeless people purpose.  But once they are through the barrier, he’s won and proved his point, so he just gives the ship back to Kirk.  And Kirk, being Kirk, is all for checking out what they’ve found now that they are through.
What they find, of course, is not God, but a prison for a powerful God-like being.  The details of which we never really find out—the being says something along the lines of “eternities I’ve been trapped in this place”, so you presume he was put there by equivalent beings of power who found him dangerous and destructive.  Now, whatever he is, he’s a Trickster.  It’s made implicitly clear that he somehow contacted Sybok to make his escape.  Sybok’s self-sacrifice, trying his whole “I couldn’t help but notice your pain” line on the Trickster, is played like a bit of redemption for him.  I’m not sure if that works.  It almost does, in that it feels like it's supposed to.   Most things don’t work with the ending, save Kirk’s line, “What does God need with a starship?”  They apparently ran out of money and effects didn’t work out, but I don’t think Kirk fighting a rock monster would have made the difference.

What it really comes down to is there is a seed of a better movie hidden with it, but the script, and more to the point the direction, don’t let it come out.  There was a lot of public goodwill from The Voyage Home when this was made, and I think a lot of its problems come from A. coasting on that goodwill and B. trying to recapture the easy comedy of that movie, and it comes off very forced.
But, hey: fan dance.  Seriously.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Need More Space For...

What do I need more space for?

This is a trick question, right?

We all know I don't have a dedicated work space.  I'm a writing vagabond, going wherever I can with my rolling case carrying my laptop and writing notes.  Today I'm at the kitchen table, tomorrow I might be on the couch, next week: we'll see.   Maybe using the kitchen counter as a standing desk.

I would love a dedicated office, desk, etc.  Right now it's not an option, but when I do have that space, it'll be lovely.

I've mentioned this online before, and someone unhelpfully pointed me toward this cartoon of a Charles Bukowski quote.  As if to say, Hey, man, if you were really serious about your art, you wouldn't need a special office space.  You'd do just fine without it, because you'd be DRIVEN, man.

Screw that.  I mean, yes, I don't need it.  I think I've actively demonstrated that point plenty.  I can continue to work and do fine with nothing but my rolling-bag-vagabond-office and whatever flat surface I find.  I can.

That doesn't mean I don't want more.  That doesn't mean I shouldn't strive for having it, like it would make me soft.

Though, on some level, it's a nice metaphor for my writing career.  I mean, I'm doing pretty good.  But there's still plenty to achieve, and I kind of like that I still have to be hungry and fight for it.  That it hasn't gotten too easy.

If you've been following me for a while you're probably aware of my feelings of how this business is supposed to be.  I'll let Tom say it one more time.


Monday, July 3, 2017

UNDER THE RAINBOW: A Bad Movie I've Watched Many, Many, MANY Times

Bad MoviesYou know, a movie like Under the Rainbow really helps you appreciate the screenwriters of the 70s and 80s.  I mean, some of what they did—including Under the Rainbow—was completely batshit crazy, but at least you never went, “Oh, this same old thing again.”

Because, while Under the Rainbow is chock to the gills with uncomfortable levels of racism, sizeism and general bad taste that probably should have raised an eyebrow back then, let alone now…. you can’t say it’s predictable formula.

To whit: Depression Era Kansas, where a midget named Rollo is eagerly awaiting the news that Hollywood Wants Him.  After almost killing himself falling off a barn fixing the radio antenna, he gets word that, in fact, Hollywood does want him.  Or, at least, midgets and dwarves in general, since the casting call for a little picture named “The Wizard of Oz” has gone out.  So Rollo is off to Hollywood.

BUT also on his way to Hollywood is a German Spy, since the Nazis are on the move!  This spy?  Also a midget, played by the always reliable Billy Barty.  He’s supposed to meet a Japanese agent in Hollywood, and give him a secret America-invading map.  This is a crucial point that really gets glossed over: The Nazis already have a secret America-invading map.

BUT also on their way to Hollywood is a paranoid Duke and his half-blind wife, under the protection of Secret Service agent Chevy Chase.  The Duke is convinced someone is trying to assassinate him.  And that’s because someone is, but for a while Chevy doesn’t believe that.

BUT due to some sort of mix-up involving a secretary not doing her job, hotel reservations aren’t made properly, and the end result is poor Carrie Fisher is the poor movie studio lackey tasked with finding a place to put 150 midgets and dwarves.  She shoves them all into a hotel, which is the same one as the Duke and Duchess, as well as the German Spy and his Japanese counterpart.  Oh, and a tour group of Japanese photographers.

See, there’s the joke: the German and Japanese spy were supposed to have an easy time finding each other, since they’re looking for a midget and a Japanese man in a white suit with a camera, respectively.  Which, normally, would be things that stand out in a crowd, except the crowd is nothing but midgets and Japanese men in white suits with cameras.  And a Duke and Duchess, Chevy Chase, a series of suicidal dogs, a beleaguered Adam Arkin as the assistant hotel manager (desperate to prove his worth to his father), and Carrie Fisher in her period appropriate underwear.

That’s a lot of story balls in the air, people.  This movie is 97 minutes long and it uses them all.  Not well, mind you.  But it’s always got stuff happening.  Batshit is better than boring.

A big problem is the movie doesn’t commit to who the hero is.  It kind of wants it to be Rollo (Remember him?  Way up at the beginning of all this?), but it second guesses having him be the center of the movie, so it sticks Chevy Chase’s Secret Service Agent in the mix to do the real Hero Work.  But it keeps Rollo in orbit of Chevy, probably because when it comes time for someone to throw down with Nazi Billy Barty, if Chevy Chase did it, it’d just be weird.

So, while Chevy and Adam Arkin are mostly just replacing the Duchess’s dog (they keep dying, but she’s too blind to actually tell the constantly replaced lineage of dogs apart), Nazi Billy Barty gives the map to the wrong Japanese man, who is then accidentally killed by the Duke’s incompetent assassin, but not before he leaves the map in Carrie Fisher’s copy of the Wizard of Oz script.  So Nazi Billy Barty, of course, holds her at swordpoint, takes the script and her dress, and leaves her locked in the freezer.

You think I’m kidding about Carrie Fisher in her period-appropriate underwear, but it’s a prominent aspect of this movie.  The poster for the movie features her in her underwear, front and center, as if that's just how she is the whole movie.   It isn't.  It's just for this dramatic action centerpiece where she waits in the freezer with Rollo until Chevy rescues her.

Things come to a head as the assassin confronts the Duke and the real Japanese spy kills him, but Nazi Billy Barty escapes with the map, and Rollo chases him on a wagon… but then the wagon crashes.

And Rollo wakes up, having just fallen off the barn from the beginning of the movie, and it was all just a dream.  Chevy and Carrie and Adam Arkin and the Duke and Duchess and even the Japanese spy are all amongst the Depression-Era hobos living in the barn.  But the radio really does work, and there really is a casting calling for Rollo in Hollywood.  He gets on the bus, and the driver is: Non-Nazi Billy Barty!

It was just a dream, right?

No, but it was our collective nightmare.  Despite that, I know I saw it many, many… well, you know.