Friday, April 20, 2018

Life:Science Fiction 100 Years of Great Movies

Sometimes when you're a cab driver working the midnight shift you make a pit stop at the local gas station at three in the morning. And sometimes you're a bit tired because it's three AM and you're eleven hours into a thirteen hour shift and dammit, you need something to keep you up in case you get a call. So you buy a really cool looking magazine and then...

Proceed to fall asleep with the magazine in your hand. It's three o'clock and you were already half asleep when you bought it. Whatever, it's all good. What that means, really is that you've got something to look at when you get to the laundromat a week later. And, if it's a cool magazine then it's worth the wait. Fortunately, this magazine was definitely worth the wait. Actually, it was double fortunate, because when I read it, I noticed a tag on the front cover that said “Display until 9/23/16.” Oops, I guess I was later than I initially realized. Whatever, I still enjoyed it.

The magazine in question is Life: Science Fiction 100 Years of Great Movies. It was a lot of fun. It was kind of like walking into a room with an old friend and talking about some of my favorite movies. All of the best ones are here. The best stuff that you grew up watching is in the magazine. This thing is full of classics. Godzilla (the original), Star Wars, Planet of the Apes, 2001: A Space Odyssey (not that I liked it, but it is a classic), The Martian. They're all here.

Now, I don't agree with all of the choices. I get including Star Trek. I don't get making it the 2009 edition. Avatar is in here. Seriously. Avatar? Why? I mean it wasn't all that good of a movie. It's not as bad as some people have said, but it's maybe a 3.5 out of 5 Annoying Blue Dudes. I mean, how did that land in here? Overall though, I really do appreciate the choices that they made and it's pretty much inevitable that I wasn't going to agree with them on everything.

This magazine is gorgeous. The cover is beautiful. The table of contents features the Millennium Falcon taking fire from a TIE Fighter. Every movie has a layout of big, awesome pictures. Someone put a lot of work into laying this out and it shows. OK, so maybe the Invasion of the Body Snatchers pictures were a little gross, but it's Invasion of the stinking Body Snatchers. They couldn't NOT look gross. It just wouldn't have worked that way. I have a feeling that some of the older pictures may have been digitally remastered. The 1953 War of the Worlds was never that clear. It was clearly improved. That's good though, because they kept the content of the picture and made it look better.

There is a lot of political commentary included in SF100GM. It's not overwhelming and some of it actually fits. Some of it I'm not so sure of. Specifically, they quote Jack Finney as saying he never wrote Invasion of the Body Snatchers to have a message... and then assign a message to it. Call me crazy, but I'm a bit more convinced by what the author says than by someone else's interpretation. That having been said, a lot of movies are influenced by cultural and political zeitgeist and most of it fits.

There is a story to go with each movie that is featured. In many cases (Star Wars, Star Trek, etc.) there is talk of the series of flicks that come after. It's weirdly awesome to see a story about the original Star Wars (before it was known as Episode IV) and seeing a picture of Rey and BB8 but it works. It seems appropriate to talk about each films legacy and, let's face it, sequels are part of that legacy. Without Star Wars, we don't get The Last Jedi. Without Back to the Future, we don't get Back to the Future II and III. It just makes sense. Oh, and we also get more of those gorgeous pictures that way. This makes me happy.

The work begins with an introduction. It's a good one. As Science Fiction fans, we all remember the first movies we saw in the genre. For me, there will never be anything to match sitting in a theater with my mother watching Return of the Jedi just a couple weeks after it's initial release. That was my first. What a lot of us forget though is that before we were born, even before the classics that so many of us watched on TV because they had been out long before we were born, there was the foundation. Le Voyage Dans le Lune was the first ever SF movie. It was released in 1902. Metropolis (nothing to do with Superman) was released in 1927 and had the biggest budget in movie history up to that point. (It's also the subject of a beautiful picture on the back cover of the magazine.) They don't spend a lot of time on it, but it's good information. A lot of fans will tell you that modern day SF is simply a recycling of old tropes. These old, old flicks are where those tropes come from. Would I read a thousand page book about them? Probably not. The fact remains that giving them a few pages in a magazine makes sense and is entertaining.

The magazine is further divided into sections entitled “The Age of Anxiety”, “A New Hope?” and “Reel to Reality.” Each includes a couple pages about the cultural background at the time. I like this a lot. Speaking as a man with a history degree, it's important to remember that the past is a foreign country. That may be more true now than ever before. I remember watching an episode of House. It featured a man coming out of a coma. He had been asleep for like two to three years, I believe. In the backseat of one of the doctor's cars, he found and Ipod and didn't know what it was. (Granted, it's an older episode, so they were still kind of new.) Technology had changed that much in only a couple of years. I'm still pretty young but I remember turntables and eight tracks. My parents had both. I owned a tape recorder. I owned a CD player. I even owned an .mp3 player, but who needs one of those anymore? I 've got a cell phone now.

Along with all of the technological changes come the cultural changes. Sixty years ago, McCarthyism was prevalent. People were investigated for communist leanings. In the here and now, you're more likely to be investigated for NOT being a Leftist. When the cultures change, the movies change and spending a page or two to set the stage for what comes next is the smart thing or two. Movies don't happen in a vacuum.

All in all, I really enjoyed this. Oh, and I got all my laundry done too, which is a plus. A trip down memory lane is good for the soul. My wa is very settled now. I had a blast.

Bottom Line: 4.75 out of 5 Classic Flicks

Life: Science Fiction 100 Years of Great Movies
Life, 2016

Life: Science Fiction 100 Years of Great Movies is available for purchase at the following link:



Thursday, April 19, 2018

CONtroversies

I'm sick. I'm tired. I'm concerned. No, actually it's worse than that. I'm flat out worried. I've studied too much history. I have a degree in it. I've studied the use of propaganda. I actually wrote an the use of propaganda on the Eastern Front during World War Two for a class. (No, it didn't get published. I've never been published for anything. Don't bother looking to tell me I'm not published because I already admitted it.) Does that make me all seeing and all knowing? No, but it does give me some insight into what I'm about to talk about. So what am I going to talk about? I'm going to talk about the treatment of conservatives at science fiction conventions. I'm going to talk about Jon Del Arroz being banned from Worldcon. I'm going to talk about John Ringo and his mutual agreement with the concom to not attend ConCarolinas. What I'm really going to talk about though, is why it matters.

Believe it or not science fiction conventions are, in essence, a microcosm of society. It's true that most of us may not be as interested in sports as some others. It's definitely true that the average fen is much more interested in science fiction than pretty much any mundane. That's what makes us us. In a lot of ways though, it doesn't matter that much. At the end of the day, we're all products of the society we live and grew up in. Native born (and by that, I mean anyone born in the United States and not just Native Americans) individuals are a member of just one cultural group. Yes, I said that. Race does not define culture. A person's surroundings do. Immigrants who remember what it was like to live in another country are members of two cultures. The children of immigrants kind of are and they're kind of not. They may have parent(s) who are a little different than everyone else but they themselves see the differences between their parents and the native culture than anyone else. '

What we are looking at here is a split in fandom, as well as in the greater United States, into two ideological camps. This in and of itself would not be a problem. Disagreement is healthy in any society. It's how things move forward. The problem is that it's also how things can move backward. Sometimes disagreement can stop progress. At its core though, disagreement is not a bad thing as long as both sides in any disagreement understand that there are two sides and give their ideological opponents enough respect to allow them to disagree.

We no longer have that in fandom or in this country. Things are getting out of control. The accusations flung around by Leftists in this country are damaging not just to the arguments of the Right but also to the rights and freedoms we're all supposed to share. They don't get this. Actually, they sort of do, but they don't think of things in those terms. When a Leftist hears something they disagree with, they immediately pull out the race card, or the gender card, or the gay card, or the transgender card, etc. It's because they honestly believe that once they've declared your argument one of the above it becomes invalid and they win. It's why we're all told that we have to take each accusation of racism, sexism, etc. seriously. If they let us debate them, we might lose. It's all about silencing dissent. The thing here is that Leftists actually believe that once they've tossed an -ist out at you that your right to speak is over. They call it hate speech and say it should be illegal. What they're really saying is that you should have no legal right to disagree with them.

The Left loves talking about the Right and all of the “code words” that Rightists use. They're projecting. They do it all the time. Don't believe me?

“Diversity and Inclusion” = Affirmative Action
Rape is a crime which no man should ever commit, in which a man forces a woman to have sex against her will.

“Rape” is a man disagreeing with a woman and trying to win an argument.

“Feeling threatened” is having someone disagree with you.

“Violence” is arguing with a liberal who already called you an -ist.

And so on.

At the end of the day, it's all about silencing people that they disagree with. The ironic part (and the Left has no sense of irony when it applies to politics) is that these same people will run around carrying signs about how “Silence is Violence,” but never stop to consider that silence is precisely what they are requiring from their enemies. But it doesn't just stop there.

The hallmark of any totalitarian society is silencing dissent. Whether we're talking about Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union, The People's Republic of China or Cuba under the Castros it all comes down to that. Any dictatorship destroys those that disagree. Even in Medieval Europe it was considered treason to contradict the king. Dissent wasn't just supressed, it was all but destroyed. That's what the Leftists are trying to do to us. They want to destroy those who disagree with them and their ideas.

Listen, I get the fact that John Ringo has said some things that some people find offensive. He is who he is. He was threatened with physical violence for the potential crime of showing up to a con he was invited to. Let that sink in for a second. We're not talking about some crazed commando who threatened to run into a con in a paramilitary uniform and armed to the teeth. We're talking about a science fiction author who has sold literally millions of books who was invited to attend a convention. A man who would have drawn in fans who would not ordinarily have come, thus generating revenue for the con and helping to fund it for future years. His only comment was to accept the invitation.

He was frozen out because he is a conservative. Listen, I'm not going to act like I'm best friends with the guy and know his every private thought. I've never even met John Ringo. What I do know is that he has said some things that weren't always polite and he has written some books that weren't exactly in line with the things my mother would want me to read. Does that mean he's a bad guy? I don't think so, but even if you do that doesn't give you a right to threaten the man with real violence. And yes, I'm speaking of the Right's definition of violence, which means physical harm. I don't agree with calling words violence, but honestly if you want to call the man names, go ahead. He was asked, and agreed, to cancel his engagement with the con because people were threatening to hurt him. Please note that I'm not blaming the concom. They had to do what they had to do to keep their con from becoming a riot.

The most ironic part of the whole thing is that Mr. Ringo is now facing blame for threatening violence. It's like the time those feminists called in a bomb threat to the restaurant where some of the guys involved in Gamergate were meeting up and then blamed them for bomb threats. Seriously. I want to say I can't believe it, but at the end of the day, I can.

Threatening your enemies and then throwing the blame on the is some damn good propaganda. It's worked throughout history and for things much more serious than a con. Hitler himself had several Jews dressed in Polish Army uniforms and left on his side of the border to justify his invasion of Poland. No one outside of Germany was actually fooled (and if anyone in Germany saw through it they were smart enough to keep their mouths shut) but he did it. So, commit the action, then make it look like the other side did it. Good job folks. You're imitating one of history's greatest murderers. I hope your proud of yourselves.

Jon Del Arroz had a somewhat similar situation with Worldcon, only he was a paying customer. They denied him entry due to his politics. They accused him of threatening to troll the con when the truth was (once again) that he had been threatened with ostracization and basically a good shouting down if he dared to attend. He was scheduled to be on precisely zero panels and didn't even have a showcase for his Evil Conservative ideals. The other fen decided he wasn't welcome because he said something they didn't like and the concom agreed with them. Mr. del Arroz is currently engaged in a lawsuit against Worldcon. I wish him luck but I have no legal background and thus no way to evaluate his chances in succeeding. I really hope he wins millions. It would make me happy to see the Left and its cons hurt for purging people who they see as guilty of thoughtcrime.

There is a term that Leftists use: Othering. It's supposed to dehumanize the object of othering. It's seen as a way of encouraging various -isms. If you other a race, or a gender or whatever it makes it easy to hate them. It makes sense. It really is a good propaganda technique. It's one that was used by Pol Pot too. He made all of the uneducated people hate the “other”, the people with educations. Then he opened the killing fields. It worked for Stalin. Anyone who disagreed with him as “an enemy of the revolution” and got sent to Siberia. It hasn't reached that level yet here. That doesn't mean that it can't or even that it won't. It just hasn't happened yet.

The crazy part is that they've actually claimed that our policies lead to death. Try again folks. Gun control made the Holocaust possible. As a matter of fact, gun control started in the United States when black people started shooting the Klansmen that were coming to lynch them. Socialized medicine and Human Rights courts killed Charlie Gard by denying his parents the right to seek an effective treatment until it was too late. Sixty million died in China due to the policies of Chairman Mao. Stalin killed twenty five million in the Soviet Union. Yes, I'm comparing them to Communists because people who run around railing against Capitalism, taking guns away and destroying free speech rights are Communists. They can try to deny it but I, for one, am too smart to believe them.

It's time to take a stand, both in and out of cons. This is an SF/F blog and so I've focused on cons, but what happened to John Ringo at ConCarolinas isn't all that different than what happened to Milo Yiannopoulos at Berkley, except for the fact that Ringo backed down. I'm not sure what can be done about the cons themselves, except for starting our own. It's only right if we let the Lefties speak there, but if we make more cons in the vein of Libertycon, which is a con for Rightists, maybe we can lead by example and shame them into fairness. I doubt it. The average Leftie has less self awareness than the average earthworm, but maybe it's worth a shot. We just can't act like them or we become as bad as them. I won't stand for that. I don't know how to fix this, short of actually doing what they're accusing us of threatening. I'm not willing to take it there. What I know is that we cannot allow this to stand.

For now, I'll just urge you all to buy the works of Ringo and del Arroz. Show some support for our side in a way that matters, with your dollars. I've seen a lot of people raging on Facebook. They're all swearing that they'll never go to ConCarolinas and that they'll urge all their friends not to. Guess what guys. The con didn't cause this. The fen did. Even more than that, let's face it. You weren't going anyway. It would be like me boycotting Cuban cigars. I don't freaking smoke. I mean, I'll legitimately never buy one but I wasn't going to anyway. It doesn't hurt them. Raising awareness can be a good thing, but it is not a be all end all.
If hating on our enemies doesn't work then our only remaining solution is to support our own. I'm certainly not suggesting that anyone needs to send hot cocoa and blankets to either man or create a safe space for them. They're real adults who don't need that. Seriously though, buy their work. Promote their work.

Get our ideas out and don't allow yourself to be silenced by some screaming Leftie. Scream back. Seriously. Nothing shocks a Leftist like someone standing up to them. I've stopped more than one in their tracks simply by refusing to back down. They're so confident in their position as the town bully that they don't know how to respond if you don't immediately fold. Poke holes in their arguments where they can hear you. Don't give in to emotional arguments. If we don't hold the line with words, it's going to require greater measures later. Don't give up. Don't give in. Go to cons. Speak your peace. Support your beliefs. Just don't stop.


A few of the works of John Ringo and Jon del Arroz are available at the links below:










Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Altered Carbon on Netflix

So, being a nerd with a Facebook addiction, I kept hearing about this whole Altered Carbon thing. Some were praising it. Others were a little less impressed. The one thing that no one can deny, though, is that the show had generated precisely one metric bunchaton of buzz. Oh, and it's on Netflix. I have Netflix.

*SIGH*

Alright, you stupid meanie heads are making me do this. I don't wanna! I don't have time. I work sixty-five hours on a slow week and I need to read these books so I can review them (Note: Jimbo loves his authors. Thank you for submitting!) and I have stuff to do as far as keeping things clean and washing clothes and you're all a bunch of Commie-loving, evil weenies and oooh...SHINY! I like this!

I'll be honest. The first time I watched the first episode I missed a lot of it because I was falling asleep. This is not the show to be watching in bed while falling asleep after working a fourteen hour shift. It's just not. There is too much in that first episode that you need to understand to make the rest of the show work. This is a rich universe with an absolute buttload of backstory and new technology like I've never seen before. I've been a science fiction fan for as long as I can remember. Yes, there are people out there who have been watching/reading SF longer, but they're all older than me. I thought I knew all the tropes. I didn't, or more accurately, whoever wrote the book that this is all based on came up with some new ones . Altered Carbon puts the whole world on its head. The most important piece of tech changes basically the entire society that we're viewing.

What is that technology you ask? It's called a Stack. Basically, it gets installed in the base of the human head/top of the neck and it works like a hard drive. When a person gets one installed (done at some point in childhood) all of their thoughts, feelings, memories, everything that makes them them is uploaded into it. A stack is updated continuously. If you choke to death while eating a steak you can still remember the taste of the meat and the sense of panic when it lodged in your throat when you're “spun up.”

Spun up? Yep. They cut the spot where your stack was implanted open, then pull it out and slap it into another body. In the show they're known as “sleeves” and if you die but can still be loaded into a new sleeve, that's called “sleeve death.” Hey presto, you're alive again. As long as your stack doesn't get damaged or destroyed, of if you have paid big money to have it backed up on a satellite just in case it gets damaged or destroyed you can be brought back to life. New sleeves come from convicts, who have their stacks pulled and are placed into a Matrix like construct to serve their time, or from cloning. Victims of violence get new sleeves on the government dime. Others can purchase or be gifted new ones. The sad part is that not everyone gets one.

The whole world changes because of this one invention. Sleeve death isn't all that scary to a person who has someone else to buy them a new body. Rich people keep clones of themselves stored so that they can be spun up immediately if something kills their sleeve. A fight to the death for the entertainment of a crowd is no big deal. The fight promoter can simply replace both sleeves. The dead person lives again and the beaten up but still alive person gets put into a new, uninjured sleeve. Life goes on just like before only now they have a new look. Oh, and is your wife not as hot as she was twenty years ago? Buy her a new sleeve, move that stack over and BAM! She's hotter than ever and she's still all yours. Yeah, it's awesome but it's a little weird until you get used to it.

This...uhhh... leads to a lot of depravity honestly. I'm not just talking about the show's indulgence in gratuitous amounts of sex and nudity, I'm talking about straight up twisted shit. At one point in the show, a hooker actually suggests to a visiting client that he could stab her and then, in her words “fuck me in the hole you made.” I mean, I've seen a lot. I've done quite a bit. I'm a bit of a dom myself. That much being said, DAMN THAT'S TWISTED. Eat your heart out John Ringo, because you can't touch that. It's done for plot purposes though. The villains are the people who patronize these places and put these people through all of this crap. I loved the show, but I will give you this warning: If you find yourself bothered by nudity, sex and/or depravity, this is not the show for you.

A word to the wise since I know I have some Conservative readers. There is a lot of Leftism in this book. Rich people are assumed to be both corrupt and depraved. Religion is well... uhh... not mocked, but more like treated as backward. Catholics, in particular, are called believers and treated as weirdos because they don't believe in re-sleeving. To a Catholic, you are meant to stick to the body you were born with and accepting a new one is a one way ticket to hell. It's weird though because the hero of the whole things is pretty damn well funded. At one point, a terrorist/freedom leader tells her followers that they have to be against re-sleeving because it will created an immortal existence for the rich and they will take over society and suck the life out of it. I'm paraphrasing. It doesn't linger long over it though, or become overly preachy.

Our hero is Takeshi Kovacz. He is a terrorist from (I think) one hundred fifty years ago and he is an utter bad-ass. Seriously. Not only can he kick your ass in a straight up fight, he can probably outshoot you too. He's got a problem. I wasn't joking when I called him a terrorist. His stack has been imprisoned for over a century. He is freed by an uber rich individual, the aforementioned Laurens Bancroft, whose sleeve was murdered, stock shot out and damn near had his satellite backup deleted. He's more than just a little pissed. Bancroft wants to know who tried to kill him. Kovacz spends the entire first season trying to put together a team and figure out who did it.

Along the way, there is plenty of action. Altered Carbon features fight scenes that are both intense and bloody. There are twists aplenty and nothing is what it seems. This thing was really well done. I haven't read the books (Hey, don't blame me. None of my Adoring Public [TM] told me they existed.) but I've been told by people that have that it's a good translation. That makes sense. It takes ten hours to do a good translation of a novel, not two. You get your ten hours here. I think I'm going to check the books out though.

Yes, I did say books, plural. I'm hoping that translates into more seasons of Altered Carbon. Takeshi Kovacz is apparently involved of lots of things. I'm not sure how far we are into the series but I'm guessing that it's only one book based on the way the storyline works. There's only one major resolution. It only makes sense if this is only one book. At the end of the day though, grab hold and ride hard because this is one wild ride.

Bottom Line: 4.5 out of 5 Stacks

Altered Carbon
Netflix, 2018

Altered Carbon (the book) is available at the following link:



Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Jennifer Brozek's Battletech: The Nellus Academy Incident

(Author's Note: This review is dedicated to the memory of friend, grognard, and brother-in-gaming Jason Caldwell.)

WARNING, WARNING, WARNING: Blatant fanboying ahead. I've loved Battletech for twenty-fivish years. I make no apologies for it, but you have been warned.

I have, in the past, admitted to possessing a love of both Young Adult literature (I blame J.K. Rowling) and Science Fiction. You were just warned about my fascination with the Battletech universe. (It occurs to me that I haven't been to the Battletech Universe website in far too long.) I guess that's why I'm in love with Jennifer Brozek's Battletech: The Nellus Academy Incident. Seriously. Those are some hardcore cadets. The plot moves. The kids perform in combat and action abounds.

I'll be honest: The beginning of this thing had me a bit worried. B:TNAI starts out as a bunch of cadets from the Nellus Academy find out that they'll be touring a refueling station in space. It sounded like a photo op kind of thing. I immediately became concerned because Battletech novels have always been about fighting.  It's not Knitting Tech, it's Battle Tech. Actually, that's not totally true. Ilsa Bick did a BT novel that was a detective story. It was good but I wanted a more traditional BT novel. I wanted to go to war. I wanted to see some serious action. I got over it quick. This book is action packed.

I don't want to get into too many spoilers because that's not my style but suffice it to say that things take a left turn at one point. What seems like a joyride is actually not a joyride. I hate to use a comparison to Scooby Doo, but I think I'm going to have to. The gang shows up in town, things aren't how they originally seem and then everything goes to Hades. That's awesome though. I didn't see things going the way they went but it actually made sense than it did.

Also at the beginning, The Nellus Academy Incident really felt like it was going to be a mystery novel. When the big plot twist hits that changes quickly. This thing goes from a whodunit to a canwesurviveit at the drop of a hat. The kids adjust quickly and that makes sense. The Nellus Academy is a military academy. It's what they've been trained for.

I like the way these kids work together. It feels real. One would expect an author to show her cadets in a panic. It's not realistic when you've got a trained group working together but it's the cliche. Brozek is better than that. I wonder if she's had actual military service because these kids react correctly. They use their advantages unashamedly. They instantly know what their hierarchy is based  on existing rank. They don't always agree on a course of action but they do follow orders.

Another reason that I suspect that Brozek may have some military experience is her firm grasp on the principle of Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome. Brozek's little unit manages to find ways to do what they need to do even when they don't have the tools that they're used to. These kids don't screw around. If an opportunity to get closer to their objectives shows itself they do what they need to do.

That's not to say that the cadets are perfect. They do make mistakes. They don't always move precisely when they need to. They find themselves having trouble dealing with losses. They're people. That's what I want to see in any work: Believable protagonists worth rooting for. And believe me, these cadets are worth rooting for. It would have been way too easy for them to just go with the flow and hope the enemy would show some mercy. They didn't because they were trained better than that. Good for them.

Of course, one of the biggest thrills of Battletech is the 'Mechs. I don't want to spoil too much here, but we do get to see some 'Mech action. We get dropships and aerospace fighters too. This thing goes a bit bonkers at one point and that's not a good thing. It's an AWESOME thing. There is nothing so pleasing in a Battletech novel as when it all drops in the pot and things start to explode. Brozek does a good job of keeping the action that we need to see crystal clear and sharp and the background violence where it belongs... in the background.

Something else that Battletech has always done well, and that Brozek does well, is political intrigue. There are troubles brewing on the border of the Free Worlds League and the Lyran Commonwealth. It's about to get ugly and the opening moves are occurring. This is what our heroes find themselves dropped into. It's the foundation of the entire story. It works.

Oh, and since I mentioned the Free Worlds League...

It's nice to see something set in the FWL. We don't see much of them. They weren't involved much before the Clan Invasion. They weren't really part of the Clan Invasion. I don't remember hearing anything about them in the Mechwarrior: Dark Age either. I mean, they exist but we don't hear a lot about them. So kudos to Brozek for putting her story in an area that really needs a story. I'd love to see more.

Oh, and by the way, I'm excited. Brozek has a Young Adult Battletech Trilogy coming soon. I can't wait to read it. The e-book that I received had an excerpt in it but I don't do excerpts. I will say that if she writes this well in this universe I have more than enough confidence in her to lay down some loot (err... ok, plastic some loot over the internet. I miss having easy access to a local bookstore.) for a copy. I want to see more stuff go boom! Brozek has more than proven that she's got the skills to make it happen and keep it entertaining. I do find it a bit strange that Battletech: Rogue Academy will be the first YA BT trilogy. I did read the blurb though. That looks good. I'm geeked.

I don't really have any major complaints about the book. Brozek did a really good job here.  Usually a blatant fanboy such as myself can find an excuse to bitch about a book because it's not perfectly perfect but I don't have one. So good job, Jennifer Brozek. Take a bow.

Bottom Line: 4.75 out of 5 ER PPCs

Battletech: The Nellus Academy Incident
Jennifer Brozek
Catalyst Games Lab, 2018

Battletech: The Nellus Academy Incident is available for purchase at the link below:



Saturday, April 14, 2018

Memories Surface: A Celebration

(Author's Note: This post and the review with shall follow shortly are dedicated to the memory of friend, grognard, and brother-in-gaming Jason Caldwell. There are a lot of Battletech terms listed below. I haven't taken the time to define them. Sorry to anyone who gets confused but it is what it is.)

Recently I received a request to review a Battletech novel (The Nellus Academy Incident by Jennifer Brozek). It's a good book. The review will be up in a day or two. I really enjoyed it. But, at it's core, the book is not what this post is about. This is a post about memory. It's a post about missing someone you haven't thought about in a long time. It's about something SOOO cool happening that you have to share it with one specific individual... and that individual is gone. Very few people will get all the specifics of this post, but many will get the gist.

Back in the early nineteen-nineties I first met a guy named Jeff Caldwell. He was, and probably still is, a really cool guy. What that actually means is that he is (or at least was, I haven't talked to him in awhile) as geeky as me. We had biology together. I got sent to Locker 19. It was fun. I mean, I never want to see another microscope, but whatever. Between us and John Morris, who sat on the other side of me, we had a riot. We made up stupid songs about our teacher (That's my science teacher's name Doo-da, Doo-dah [It was actually Duda, but close enough.]) John made drawings. Jeff introduced me to the Dragonlance Chronicles and inadverdently caused my lifelong love of fantasy and cost me thousands of dollars in book purchases. My nickname was Scribble. If you've seen my handwriting that makes sense. Not long after, Jeff introduced me to his brother Jason.

Jason was even cooler than Jeff, by which I mean geekier. And yes, I said was because we lost him a few years back. It had to do with a kidney condition. I'm not sure of all of the details because I hadn't spoken to him in years. Don't get me wrong. I wasn't mad or anything. It's just, well... Jason wasn't Jason anymore. He had left his house to walk to mine (it was less than a quarter mile) and collapsed. It was that same kidney thing, only it caused his heart to stop. His family immediately called 911 but he had suffered severe brain damage due to lack of oxygen to the brain by the time the paramedics got there. I don't blame his family. They did everything they could. I don't blame the paramedics. They got there as soon as they could. I don't really blame anybody. It just sucks that it happened.

I received a letter from his mother that I never answered. I'm sure it hurt her, but I didn't know what to say. I'm basically a coward who pulled a total bitch move. I was seventeen and didn't know what to say, so I didn't say anything. I'd apologize if I could get hold of her. But that's not what this post is really about. That's all just background. I know. I know. I'm getting there.

See, Jason is the guy who introduced me to a thing called Battletech. I fell in love with it. Giant 'Mechs duking it out on the field of battle with the fate of all humanity hanging in the balance. I came in right around the time of the Clan Invasion with all of its associated fiction and Technical Readouts. There was new tech available! The most powerful foe in history was invading the Inner Sphere! It was time to go to war. With an implacable enemy headed straight for Terra and hell bent on conquest there was an enormous need for warriors to stop them. Enter the Jolly Rogers mercenary company, Jim McCoy commanding, Jason Caldwell as the executive officer.

We did it right. I kept a Table of Organization and Equipment. Jason kept the unit history. We fought battle after battle. We'd set up the board on my bedroom floor and it would sit there until we were done. We'd fight each other for hours. One of us took charge of the Jolly Rogers. The other took Opfor. It was kind of ironic. My favorite faction in BT has always been either the Federated Suns or the the Federated Commonwealth, depending on era. But, being the GM as well as a player, I decided that I could have a one of a kind 'Mech that I had designed with the appropriate rules. It was called the Renegade and it was a prototype liberated from the New Avalon Institute of Science when Jim (and yes, we really did use our real names for our characters) decided he didn't want to be a member of the Fedcom military anymore. So not only did we have to deal with the Clans and their invasion, we had to fight off the odd Fedcom raid with them trying to get their 'Mech back. It was a hoot but I'm afraid that I never made Victor Steiner-Davion's list of favorite people.

We did the whole "growing unit" arc thing. We started off with a company of 'Mechs fighting off water raiders from the Periphery. By the time Jason was no longer able to continue the campaign, we were a mixed-arms unit with a full regiment each of 'Mechs, armor and infantry to go with multiple dropships and two squadrons of aerospace fighters. We even had our own jumpship.  We had gone from fighting weak-ass water raiders to reconnaissance-in-force of Clan held worlds. We even took one from second-line forces and returned it to  the Free Rasalhauge Republic by "accident". (Oops, sorry guys. Thanks for the bonus! Oh, and we're keeping that mostly undamaged Behemoth. I'm sure we can find a cockpit somewhere.) We were openly talking about a future attack on Strana Mechty. Those were heady days my friends.

And please believe me when I tell you that when the Jolly Rogers showed up to conquer your planet, we conquered the bloody fucking shit out of your planet. We'd fight you to break out of the jump point. We'd fight you in orbit. We'd fight you on the ground. We'd invade your cities. We'd get in bar brawls with the citizens of your world. We straight up kicked every ass we could find and went looking for me. And bro, you don't know what it's like to take an ass-kicking until you've had your position strafed by a Leopard-CV class dropship and its aerospace fighters and then weathered the follow-on assault by 'Mechs upgraded with captured Clan tech. It got ugly. We came loaded with Gauss ammunition and massive amounts of Fuck You. We didn't lose. (Whaddaya mean GMing and leading the unit was a conflict of interests? I would never...*GAG* *COUGH* *CHOKE* I can't say that.  I can't even type that. I think my fingers just cramped.)

Jason had a pretty decent BT collection, but he traded it all to me in exchange for other things. I think he did it on purpose because I wrote the scenarios and I needed the stats and rules so that I could set things up. By the time we were no longer able to play, I had the original BT box set with the cardboard cutouts for 'Mechs, BattleForce, Battletroops, Aerotech, Battlespace (WARSHIPS!!!) and the original Mechwarrior pen and paper RPG rules. We used them all. I used to set up the game on my bedroom floor and it would stay there for weeks. We stopped using Battleforce after we lost a whole lance in like two rounds. Wargaming a battle between company sized elements with a game intended for lance sized units at best took time. It was cool. We played a lot and we played for hours. Unfortunately, I lost my collection when I lost a storage unit and it got auctioned. I want to just look at it right now.

We didn't just play though. We read the novels. We bought the sourcebooks about the Clans and the various houses.  We knew the lore. We talked about where the books were going. I remember telling Jay that they should publish a Battletech novel called Malicious Intent. We both knew it was never going to happen, but then it did. Seriously. This was in the pre-internet days. I didn't know that the thing existed until I rond it at the bookstore. You should have seen the look oh his face when I showed him the book. His eyes got real big and we laughed for like ten minutes. Thank you Michael Stackpole. You made my life.

Dude, I didn't cry when Jay had his heart attack. I didn't cry when he passed. Why am I crying now?

You know, my mom always referred to wargaming and RPGs as "sit on your butt dice games." I can't say she's wrong. That's on one hand. On the other hand, fuck that attitude. There was a friendship build through BT, just like many others have been built through all kinds of gaming. If you've been there, you know what I mean. If not, try gaming. It's fun and you'll never forget the good times you have or the people you had them with. I know I'll never forget Jason.

So, Jason, my friend, rest in peace. Wait for me where the old grognards go. Set up the board. We're gonna hit Strana Mechty and we're gonna hit it hard. Screw the house militaries. We're gonna burn in hard and we're bringing Wolf's Dragoons and whatever remnants of the Gray Death Legion we can find. We're going to win this Trial of Possession and we're going to look good doing it. I'll pilot your Hatchetman into the bay myself before I load up my Renegade. Let the Kerenskys know it's on. The Jolly Rogers are here and we came to kick ass and chew bubble gum. Too bad the quartermasters forgot to load the bubblegum and it's hundreds of light years away. And don't worry. It might take me a minute to get there, but once I do we've got eternity to win this fight.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Redcaps Rising: A Walter Bailey Misadventure by P.A. Piatt

Somebody call Piers Anthony, because I found an author who actually knows how to do humorous fantasy and it's not the way he did it. Seriously, I read two of the Xanth novels. One on purpose and the other because I was book starved and in a position where I couldn't get more. One of my friends gave it to me for free. I almost asked for my money back. I mean, it sucks because I really loved his Bio of  Space Tyrant series but Oh my God, did the Xanth novels suck. Every joke was a bad pun. At least they eventually ended and I was able to get somewhere to buy a new Battletech novel. Now that I'm done nerd raging about something that has nothing to do with what I'm writing about...

I recently received a copy of P.A. Piatt's Redcaps Rising: A Walter Bailey Misadventure. He warned me that it would be funny, and he wasn't wrong. I love a good comedy, but very rarely have I seen it done well in a novel length work. P.A. Piatt managed to knock it out of the park though. I'll be honest. I found P.A. asking how to get more reviews in a Facebook group and told him to send me a copy. He sent me one, then told me it was humor. I got a little nervous and flashed back to dandy-lions and hypnogourds. I mean, dude's intials were even P.A. I was about to get Anthonied. The Xanth bomb was dropping. Oh God. Oh God, Oh... Wow. I'm actually enjoying this. How did that happen?

Seriously, the humor is well done and not always tasteful. That's okay, tasteless humor is my favorite kind. I'll say this much: Don't ever get hit with a curse in a Walter Bailey Misadventure. The cost of breaking it is just too damn high. Oh, and I'm not a fan of anything that involves a mullet. Really. Even if I end up with a curse sticking to my achy, breaky ass. I just couldn't do it. I'd have to live the rest of my life like that.

Redcaps Rising also turns into a written version of one of my favorite movie genres: The roadtrip flick. I have to admit that I've never seen a movie with quite as motley a crew as Redcaps Rising but  it works. Our main character, Walter Bailey ends up in situations he never anticipated with friends and enemies he never would have believed possible and ends up traveling cross-country on the run. There are food fights and shenanigans. There are serious, worrisome moments. There is hijinks and hilarity. It's really well done.

And then Boosh farted.

BAM!

Anyway...

It occurs to me that Redcaps Rising included one of a very few prologues that I have ever enjoyed. It was entertaining. It set the stage for the story and it included characters that were in the rest of the story. Ordinarily prologues are against my religion, but I'll make an exception here. It's actually relevant.

Redcaps Rising started off like a mystery novel, but that only lasted a couple of chapters. I like that though. Not only does it show a bit of range as writer on the part of Piatt, but it was a good lead-in to the rest of the book. Walter needs a reason to start on his journey of laughs and the first couple of chapters do a good job of getting things headed in the right direction.

The cast of characters Redcaps Rising is slightly non-standard, but I  mean that in a good way. The garden gnome is nutty. The elves that live in the shed are... well... not Tolkien-esque to put it mildly. The main character doesn't really seem to be the Chosen One. Seriously, Walter is just a guy doing what he can in a situation that he never really wanted. I don't want to spoil too much but the supporting cast isn't exactly archetypal either.  He does an excellent job here.

I really like the way that Piatt brings fantasy races into the modern world. He is hardly the first author to write urban fantasy, but he gives an interesting take on the way the classic races would act in a modern world. His non-human  races are not just cardboard cut outs either. They're real people who just don't happen to exist. They do things for the own motivations. From orcs to elves to gnomes to all kinds of crazy stuff. I kind of wish he had included a dwarf but that's just me. I have a thing for dwarves in fantasy stories.

This novel cooks. Something is always happening. There is no downtime and even a stop for dinner can turn into a riot. You never know what's coming next but it gets here quickly. I loved that aspect of this book. Redcaps Rising is far from being the longest book I've ever read, but it has more action than a lot of longer books. It doesn't take long to read and I never got bored. This one had me hooked all the way through.

My only real beef with Redcaps Rising is that I needed to see our chief villains more. My favorite part of any fantasy is hating the villain. The Redcap sisters are portrayed as evil and power hungry. Their minions are out for blood. It would be fun to spend more time with them though. I'd like to get to know them more. There is the potential for these three to be every bit as classic as the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz but he just hasn't taken them there yet. Then again, the series is The Misadventures (plural) of Walter Bailey, so maybe we'll get to know and hate them a bit more in future novels. Here's hoping anyway. 

You know what? Yeah, I'm going to take it there. I was going to nominate Declan Finn for the Dragon Award for Best Fantasy. I think I'll still nominate him, but I'm going to move him down to Best Horror. He writes vampires after all. That makes it horror, right? I'm going to nominate Redcaps Rising for the Dragon Award for Best Fantasy Novel. I would urge all of you to buy and read the book and if you agree with me to nominate Piatt as well. How cool would it be to see someone you nominated on the final ballot. Help your boy out! Let's get this thing done. This work is that good. Take a bow, P.A.

Bottom Line: 4.75 out of 5 Cursed Elves

Redcaps Rising
P.A. Piatt
Self Published, 2018

Redcaps Rising is available for purchase at the following link:

Saturday, April 7, 2018

SF Awards That Do Matter, SF Awards That Don't Matter, and Why

First off, let me begin by stating what this post is not: This post is in no way meant to denigrate females, minorities, LBGT+ individuals or any damn other person who thinks they have an excuse to whine. I mean that. I want to see the fields of Science Fiction and Fantasy expand. I want to see people of all races, colors, creeds and all of that other crap come together over a really awesome hobby and have more fun than they know how to handle. Seriously. I review books, movies and comics. If you produce any of the above and would like to see your work reviewed here then please see the top right corner of the page and submit your work for review.

Oh, what's that? Right. You're reading this on your phone and can't see what I'm talking about because blogger shrinks things to make it all fit on your phone. Gotcha. That happens to me too.  It's annoying as all get out. Well, here's what it says:

All submissions must be in .epub, .mobi or .pdf format. Only novella length or better works will be reviewed. All entries must be in the science fiction or fantasy genres. All submissions should be formatted in exactly the way they will be (or have been) released. Any exceptions to any of these rules will be deleted without reading. Please send any and all materials to thatjimboguy@gmail.com.

That's simple. It's easy. And I won't delete your work without reading it if you follow those guidelines. Nor will I ask you what your race/orientation/age/whatever else you think matters. I'm looking for good stories. That's all. If your story is good, you will get a good review. If it is bad, you will get a bad review. It's that simple. That's the way it should be. If you want equality, well, that's what it looks like. Same rights, same rules, same standards.

Unfortunately, it seems that neither the Hugos nor the Nebulas get this. Both seem to think that their awards should be limited to members of a small slice of the population. Both would have you believe that they're trying to be more inclusive, but they're lying. You don't become inclusive by excluding large segements of the population. That's not how it works. If you want to make an award "inclusive" then by all means allow PoCs and women and whoever compete. That's the way it's supposed to work. But handing someone an award simply because they're a female PoC (I'm looking at you Nebulas) is not "inclusion" it's EXclusion. Seriously. No, it's not a response to historical injustices. It is an injustice. Really.

Look, I know that the Nebula Award was limited to white writers for a long time. I'm aware that no woman won a Nebula the first three years they were given out. (The first female winners were Anne McCaffrey in 1968 for her novella "Dragonrider" and Kate Wilhelm for her short story "The Planner") And yes, I fully acknowledge that was sick, twisted and wrong. Yes, I'll use the word racist (and this was a racist practice) although that word is so overused that it no longer has meaning. In this case, it's actually true. Here's the thing Nebulas: You're acting the same way.

Yes, you read that right. There is no difference between excluding minorities and excluding white people. None whatsoever. I mean, you can make whatever excuses you want, but that's what it boils down to. The worst part about limiting the field (and that's what you've done) isn't even that you're leaving out talented people, although that's bad enough. No, the truth is even worse.

You're wronging your winners. When you deliberately excluded anyone who was not a female PoC in 2015 what you were in fact stating is that they couldn't write well enough to win an award if they had to compete with other demographics. Seriously. I'll be honest in stating that I don't know what percentage of SF/F authors are Female PoCs but I'm guessing it's pretty small. How many deserving authors who were not Female PoCs got screwed out of their chance to win an award because of their race and/or gender? I'm guessing it happened. What that means is that we have no  way of knowing if those women actually deserved their award or not. Seriously. They didn't win that award for writing the best story in their category that year. They won their Nebulas for having dark skin and a vagina. Maybe their stories would have been good enough to win in a year with the full field competing, but maybe not.We'll never know. Oh, and when you've limited the field that far, it's not really a victory for "diversity" either. There's no "diversity" in a group of all PoC women. That's one demographic, not many.

Once you've destroyed an entire year's worth of your own awards you no longer matter. Sorry Nebulas, but you're irrelevant now. It's sad too, because when I first started shoveling snow for cash (no, my parents didn't pay me for that, but my dad let me borrow the snow shovel and go around the neighborhood) and later started making money with my first job in June of 1991 (I was fourteen) I used to look for books with a Nebula logo on them because it meant that I was getting a good book. Now publishers don't even bother putting a logo on the cover because the logo doesn't boost sales. Why? Because winning a Nebula no longer means that you've written a good book.

Okay, sidebar: Yes, there is a long history of women in SF/F. No, there was no need for a work entitled Women Destroy Science Fiction because women have been in the field for decades. For those that missed it, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was the first ever Science Fiction novel published in English and probably first ever period. Happy anniversary, ladies. Women have been making contributions in the field of Science Fiction since 1818 at the latest. That's two hundred years of inclusion. Anyone telling you otherwise is lying. Anyone publishing a collection claiming that they're "destroying" SF is either lying or an idiot. I'm guessing idiot since most of the people who push that kind of drek don't bother to learn the history. They just assume. But honestly, that's a different subject for a different blog. For further reference, see Kristine Katheryn Rusch's Women of Future's Past: Classic Stories.

Now, the Hugos. The Hugos lied to us for decades. They told us that they were the peoples awards. The were "voted on by the fans." Ummm...No. They're the awards of a cabal of self-interested individuals who give each other awards for having the correct political opinions. When Larry Correia started the Sad Puppies movement he remarked on this. He talked about the political bias of the voters because of the way he was treated at the Hugo Award Banquet as a nominee for the John W. Campbell Award. (For those who may not be aware, the Campbell Award is for Best New Author and is given out at the Hugo Awards Banquet.) He wanted to expose the awards for what they were. He succeeded.

Once "the Peoples' Awards" found out the wrong people were voting, they lost their minds. Larry Correia urged people to nominate his novel, Monster Hunter Legion. His goal was to make the establishment freak out because an author who did not push the correct political agenda had been nominated. It didn't attract much attention. The next year, however, it got ugly.

Correia put his own book, Warbound up for nomination, along with some other books that he had enjoyed.  The Hugo voters lost their minds. Controversy flared. How dare this upstart author who had owned a gun store and supported the incorrect political causes encourage the great unwashed to vote in their awards? This guy was a *spit* conservative. He didn't belong here.

Then it got worse. The next year, the Puppies put together a strong campaign and dominated. Once again, the voters and officials lost went crazy. They decided to trash their own awards. The Pups had put forth more votes in the nominations than had ever been cast in one year in the history of the award. There were record numbers of memberships purchased. (A membership in WorldCon is required to vote. There is a cheaper membership offered for those who wish to vote but will not be attending the convention itself.) The members of the convention voted for no award to be given in most categories rather than allow someone who was nominated by people with the wrong politics to win.

And there you have it. Another award that practices inclusion by exclusion.  Not only was the Hugo not the award of the people as they claimed to be they decided that they'd rather lock people out because they didn't conform to an archetype.Not only that, they risked destroying their own awards ( If the No Award result is elected in two straight years in a single category, the category is scrapped. They didn't know what would happen the following year. If the Pups had dominated the nominations again they could have ended up with no Best Novel award.) in order to keep people they didn't like off of the ballot.

 Oh, and after decades of claiming to be the award of the fans, they exposed themselves as liars. The Hugo Award is an award given by the elites in the field to the people they like on a personal level. If you eat at the right table at the banquet and support the right causes you can win the award. It's not a Science Fiction award. It's a circle of people awarding their own for loyalty. It is not given for producing a good story and therefore has no relevance to the general public. Seriously, these awards are beneath notice and I'd like to thank Larry Correia, Brad Torgersen and Kate Paulk for their work in pointing that out.

It sucks. An award that was once prestigious has turned into a shadow of its former self. I used to search for Hugo Award winners on those same trips to the bookstore when I was looking for Nebula winners. Now I'd be more likely to leave a book on the shelf if I knew it were a Hugo winner than I would be to buy it. It's not an SF/F award anymore. It's a political award.

The only award that  matters in a modern sense is the Dragon Award. Why? Because it is truly an award given by the people. Don't get me wrong. A black transwoman lesbian in a wheelchair could very well win the award, but so could a straight white male, or a gay Arabic male, or a genderfluid Asian person, or well.... you get the idea. The catch is that they would have to write a good story, invent a good game, be in a good movie, etc. to win the award. You're not going to get the votes just because of your demographic

There is no requirement to vote except an email address and you can get one of those for free. I would know. I have multiple email addresses and I don't pay for any of them. Most public libraries have computers you can use for free as well. That's if you don't have/want to use a smart phone to vote/nominate. (I personally don't like to use my phone. I've got fat fingers and the fields are too small and close together.Then again, I have a desktop computer.) Having said that, if you're the person nominating and you want to see your favorite genderqueer Native American then by all means nominate them! If you want to see them on the list of finalists though, you'd better get some friends to nominate along with you. If they're fans though, it shouldn't be hard to do. It won't cost them anything either and they should be happy to support the person/project they're a fan of.

This is an award that hasn't been spoiled by politics. It doesn't go to the same small clique of content producers every year. It goes to whoever the fans want it to go to. This really is the Peoples' Award.  Anyone can win it if they can attract a big enough following. Anyone can get their favorite content producer nominated if they can organize a movement to do so. Seriously. Don't believe me? The nomination form is here. Go nominate some good stuff. If you want to nominate in every category, do so. If you don't want to nominate books and nothing else do that. You don't have to nominate in every category. I personally haven't played any new SF/F board games so I can promise you I won't be voting on that, but I will be voting in some other categories. I may share my slate, I may not. I'll nominate what I like. You nominate what you like. That's how it works.

Nominations are open until July 20, 2018. Not long after that, finalists will be named and the award will be given out at DragonCon which, according to the World's Most Awesome Girlfriend (TM), takes place at the end of August on the first weekend of college football season. I uhh... don't have the date handy, it's five thirty in the morning and I want to get this written and go to bed. I'm sure the dates are easy to google, but I'm just not feeling up to it.

So, just to quickly recap, if you freeze people out of your award for political or racial reasons (even if those people are white) you suck, you're irrelevant and you're not worth acknowledging. This includes both the Hugos and Nebulas, specifically. An award that accepts all (and all includes minorities, women and liberals but it also includes men, whites and conservatives) is worth voting for and getting excited about. Now go forth and vote! Err...Nominate now, vote later. Let's enjoy this thing together with everyone.