Thursday, February 22, 2018

Best Villain Ev-ARRRRRR!!!!!

(There will be spoilers for The Walking Dead below.  I don't mean a couple and I don't mean minor. They're big time and there are oodles and bunches of them. They're unavoidable)

I am an aspiring writer. As of yet, I have not been published and seeing as I'm currently writing this while I should be working on a submission for an anthology, I guess I'm not getting a whole lot closer. That much being said, I do have several kind of goals. (I'm told it's not REALLY a goal unless it includes a date.) I want to be able to write a world spanning epic like Harry Turtledove. I want to write a space battle like David Weber. I want to write a character as complicated as Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman's Raistlin Majere (Dragonlance Chronicles, Dragonlance Legends, The Lost Chronicles, The Raistlin Chronicles and probably some other stuff I'm forgetting. No, the Meetings Sextet doesn't count because it wasn't written by Weis and Hickman.) I want to be able to conceive a universe as optimistic as Star Trek and make it as believable. I want to write an epic as magnificent as the Lord of the Rings. I want to write a Hero's Journey as engaging as Luke Skywalker's. I've had most of these goals for years and I'm still progressing toward them. I may never make it, but there is honor in the pursuit. Today though, today I've adopted a new goal: I want to write a villain that is as entertainingly capricious and evil as Negan.

Negan is a slimy fuck but he's charismatic. He uses methods that can charitably be called questionable. I mean, he crushes skulls with a baseball bat as a method of teaching a lesson. He shows up and within a few minutes he's murdered both Abraham and Glenn. That was one of the most shocking moments I've ever seen on television. Seriously. I mean, I watched the series late (I just finished season seven about thirty minutes ago) and I knew Glenn was going to get it. I remember when the entire internet lost its shit over his death. But dude, I've never seen it done that way. The murder of Glenn and Abraham was as much about theater as it was about killing. Negan killed the two as an example to their friends and to excite his followers.

It's worth mention his other side though. Negan rewards those who support his rule. As big of an asshole as a guy like Eugene is, he's well taken care of. I mean, who else gets to have a video game system after the zombie apocalypse? Who else gets to hang out with the bosses wives? He provides his most important followers with anything they want that he can provide. All they have to do is ask for it.

Of course, his method of acquiring assets is not exactly polite. He forces others to work for him. They have to get what he wants somehow. Whether it's the Kingdom growing produce for him or Rick and the rest of the crew at Alexandria foraging for whatever they can find that he will like, they do it. I find this interesting because basically what Negan does is basically taxing a conquered population but the way it is presented is as the horrible thing that taxation really is. He seizes merely because his position as leader of a group of armed people allows him to do so. It makes us hate him more when he takes more than he should.

While his followers get anything they want, his enemies get hurt badly. He's so twisted that he doesn't even kill the person who wronged him. He kills someone else that the wrongdoer knows while they watch. He imprisons people. Negan tortures the families of those who won't follow orders. If you can think of something horrible Negan has probably done it. Well, except for one thing. Negan does not commit rape.

It's a weird thing. Negan won't hesitate to kill a woman if he feels it's necessary. He has a whole freaking harem of wives. Yet the women are all welcome to leave him if they wish to. He kills a man in cold blood once Negan realizes that said individual is about to rape a woman. Upon walking in on  Mr. Rapey McShitface, Negan pulls a knife and runs it directly through his neck. He does it quickly but with no hesitation and no remorse. Negan then apologizes to Sasha, the potential victim who was in prison for trying to kill him.

The weird thing is that it almost makes him feel more slimy. Negan is not insane, at least not by the legal definition. He knows right and wrong. He is an enforcer of rules and talks about how they're all that are keeping his people alive. He has a twisted sense about of constitutes right and wrong but he definitely has one. And if he sometimes gets a little weird and talks about Lucille, his baseball bat, as if she is a real person, well maybe it's just an eccentricity.

All of this adds up to a leader that people will follow. His methods are harsh toward his enemies but his followers love him. In the climactic battle of Season 7, he is nearly eaten by Sasha, newly turned to a zombie after committing suicide as part of a plan to save her friends. One of Negan's followers gives his life to save him from Sasha. Another follower, Dwight runs out into gunfire to pull Negan to safety. As evil as the man is, he inspires incredible amounts of loyalty in his followers.

Negan calls his faction The Saviors. He believes that he is going to save the entire human race. How he is going to do so given his methodology is something only he seems to make sense to him yet he believes that it will work. It almost seems like he believes in himself as the savior of humanity all on his own. I'm wondering if the writers of the series didn't speak to a trained psychologist or psychiatrist to get an idea of the symptoms of megalomania. Negan genuinely seems to be afflicted with it.

The Negan character is so well written it's disgusting. It should not be humanly possible to  write a villain this well. He's complicated. He's motivated. It makes sense that those who follow him do so. (If you disagree, think about it. Would you rather have a comfortable home and a good meal or a baseball bat upside the dome?) He has a semi-definable goal. He has a twisted code of honor. What a sick, twisted, disgust slimeball shit. Negan says things that should be shocking but coming from him it's just what's expected. He's freaking perfect.

Now listen, a WHOLE FREAKING LOT of the credit goes to actor Jeffery Dean Morgan. That guy can play a villain like a stinking champion. I don't watch awards shows. They're just not my thing. But seriously, if there is a single show that gives awards to American TV shows and hasn't at least nominated Morgan for an award they've lost all credibility. Tell them to shove their award up their ass and stop watching because they no longer matter. The fact remains that the character was conceived by the production team and without them, Morgan wouldn't even have a job.

So long live Negan! I mean, at least until Rick and Company finally hunt this POS down and take him out with extreme prejudice. On one hand, I can't wait to see it. On the other hand, I'll miss this guy when he's gone. He has added a lot to the show. A good hero gives us someone to root for. A good villain gives us someone to root against. Combine the two and you've got one hell of a story. Negan has made a terrific show even better. I can't think of a better compliment.

The Walking Dead
American Movie Classics
2012-2018

Some The Walking Dead merchandise is available at the links below











Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Richard Paolinelli's Escaping Infinity

I keep hearing that modern SF/F is simply a recycling of old tropes. "There is nothing new under the sun" I keep hearing, "And you should not concern yourself with trying to be original. Just try to tell a good story." It is a point I keep trying to refute while getting back to my current WIPs which are a coming of age story, a post-apocalyptic rebellion and an alien invasion. Ummm.... At any rate, I'm not here to talk about my work, I'm here to talk about Richard Paolinelli's Escaping Infinity. And speaking of tropes, it involves one of my favorites. It's the story of our heroes becoming trapped in a maze (or in this case, hotel) and forced to find their way out. It echoes back to the stories of the Minotaur and the Labyrinth from Greek myth,  Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Royale" and Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman's The Death Gate Cycle. This is one of the most popular tropes in SF/F for a reason: It's a hell of a lot of fun. And Escaping Infinity delivers.

I don't do spoilers, but I will say that there are enough surprises in this book to keep things moving. At one point, I actually had to check the page count to make sure the book wasn't going to end where I thought it was. It didn't. The feeling was there though, right up until reality smacked our MC right in his face. Paolinelli seems to live by the theory of "If things get too easy on your characters, drop a mountain on them." Things never get boring. You can never take a minute off. And quite frankly, if you're parked in your cab at two in the morning and reading this you're not going to get the nap you were planning on. Errr.... Don't ask how I know that.

As is often the case in these types of stories, the Infinity Hotel itself sounds like a place I'd love to visit. The amenities are apparently awesome. I don't even gamble and I want to see the casino. The park seems really nice... for the most part anyway. The staff certainly seems like a friendly group of people. It's a bit bigger than what I would expect for a hotel, but this is science fiction, right?

In many ways, this reads as two separate novels. One made up of the prologue and the last eighty or so pages, and one made up of everything in between. That's okay though. The transition from prologue to chapter one is a bit rough, but they often are. What comes between is a story that is sometimes awesome, sometimes wrenching and quite often surprising.

Peter Childress, our main character, is beset on all sides with questions he has to answer. Should he stay knowing that he will be happy in this fake place? Can he run away without his friend Charlie? How do you find an exit to a hotel with no doors?  Should he keep fighting or give up? Who can I trust, if anyone?  How big is this place? Why is it here? The more questions he asks, the deeper the mystery gets. The deeper the mystery gets, the further we get drawn in.

Probably the biggest question Paolinelli asks (and answers without getting preachy) is this: Who is responsible to clean up a massive mess after someone messes up? Is it the person who commits the act or is it his government? Should a person do what they can to make up for the fact that they have committed a horrible sin or should "society" be responsible for it? This isn't the question of "Who watches the watchmen?" It's the question of "I screwed up. Should I atone for it or should everyone else?" It's an interesting question and one that needs to be answered. For what it's worth, I think he comes up with the right answer. Of course, we don't all have the resources available to Paolinelli's ship captain but the point remains valid.

Equally as important is another question: Is it more important to do what's right or to follow society's rules? This is a question I've seen asked over and over again in fiction from Star Trek (Prime Directive anyone?) to Law and Order: Special Victims Unit (Should I give this heroin addict a medicine to cure his addiction or let him suffer and possible die because it's not approved by the proper government agency?) Once again, I find myself agreeing with Paolinelli's answer. This is a lesson that many of us may need to take to heart in the coming months as the conversation over taking our rights away continues.

I know I mentioned ST:TNG episode "The Royale" earlier and the comparison fits in a lot of ways. Something I want to make clear here though is that this is not a carbon copy. The premise is very similar but the cast of characters and the solution to the puzzle are not even close to each other. Paolinelli does this his own way. 

Having read and enjoyed Escaping Infinity though, I can't help but think that this should have been a series. There is enough story crammed into the last eighty-ish pages to fill at least two novels. I'm serious when I say that. I mean, obviously he would need to add a lot more detail to turn eighty pages into like five or six hundred but he has the talent to do it. Don't get me wrong. I really enjoyed the ending. I just wish it had been a lot longer because there is a lot there.

While I'm kvetching, I also ran across one part of the book that kind of threw me for a bit. I don't want to spoil to me much but Peter had a need to uhh... set trap at one point. The way he did it seemed to be well thought out and researched but honestly, where did Peter get this knowledge? The Infinity has no cell service or internet connection so that's right out. I found this part a bit puzzling. I know I'm being that guy here but if you've ever met a person who can build this kind of stuff, then you know they've spent a lifetime accumulating the knowledge. Childress is just like “Oh, that'll work.” I found myself scratching my head a bit here. Still and all though, I suppose it was plot-necessary and the rule of cool DOES apply here. And oh yes, it was cool. All in all though, the story was very entertaining and if I ended up wanting more that says good things about it.

Bottom Line: 4.5 out of 5 Missed Naps

Escaping Infinity
Richard Paolinelli
Tuscany Bay Publishing, 2017

Escaping Infinity is available at the link below:




PS: Richard Paolinelli is currently in the process of starting an organization of people who create Science Fiction and Fantasy. Anyone interested can find them here.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

We're Living in a Science Fiction Novel

Technological progress has reached levels previously only seen in the works of science fiction. Things are possible now that were not even seriously thought of when I was just a wee Jimbo. Seriously.  The Terminator (1984) was a  story of a future robot, but no one took thought it could actually happen. Keith Laumer published Bolo: Annals of the Dinochrome Brigade in 1976 but no one really expected it to come to fruition. Robert Heinlein published multiple novels that included reusable rockets that landed on their tails. The list goes on.

It's hard to fathom just how far we've come in a remarkably small amount of time. I'm forty-one years old. When I was a kid, the eight track was the newest form of musical media. It was amazing in that you could immediately find the track that you wanted simply by pushing a button and switching to the right track. It was about the size of a stack of pancakes. Of course, by the time I hit my teenage years you could flip on the TV and watch Captain Picard call up a song to listen to on the computer. But that would never happen, right? WRONG. There are people who have entire hard drives filled with music now and who can find the specific song they want to listen to in seconds. We haven't reached the level of being able to produce an actual holodeck, but with Netflix you can instantly pull up a movie or television episode in a similar manner. And while reproductions of novels may not be available there, ala Picard's playing in the Dixon Hill novels and Data's  propensity to imitate Sherlock Holmes, it would definitely be possible. If HBO can do Game of Thrones, someone should be able to do Sarah Hoyt's A Few Good Men. (Hint: I'd pay to see AFGM.)

Yesterday, Space X launched their Falcon Heavy rocket with a spaceman dummy riding a Tesla car inside of it. In case you missed it, at least on person drove their Tesla for six-hundred and seventy miles on one charge. That's further than most cars will go on a tank of gas. I drive a cab for a living. I go through half a tank at about two hundred miles when it's warm. (I have a tendency to leave the engine on between runs so the heat will work when temps are in the single digits.) Six hundred and seventy miles is really impressive.

After that launch, two of three boosters were successfully recovered. One ran out of fuel and crashed into the ocean at three hundred miles an hour, damaging the recovery ship. Still though, the two that were successfully recovered landed on their tails on a pad in front of a crowd. Although Elon Musk says they won't be used again (apparently they're an older version and only newer versions will be used going forward. (Unfortunately?) it appears that Musk has overshot his mark and the capsule will end up in orbit in the asteroid belt instead of near Mars. Oops.

I want to take a minute and appreciate that though. A human-made spacecraft capable of transporting  a living being is headed for an in the asteroid belt. That seriously happened. Now that does not immediately equate to asteroid mining. There are serious technical and medical issues to be solved first, not the least of which is that the Falcon Heavy isn't expected to get back for a billion years. The economic benefits of getting a load of ore back a billion years later are dubious at best. It is a long step in the right direction though. A way of returning is going to be key. The science fiction reader/(as yet unpublished) writer in me wants the solution to both returning a spacecraft to Earth after a trip to deep space and the medical issues experience by astronauts to be a spacecraft capable of generating a continuous (not, not measured in impulse-seconds, CONTINUOUS) one-g of thrust, which would cut out only for a few seconds to rotate the craft in space in order to generate a continuous one-g of thrust in the opposite direction, thus bringing the spacecraft to a stop. What can I say? I'm a romantic.

It's not just that though. High-powered lasers are a real thing now. Right now, the scientists and engineers producing them are focused (no pun intended) on using them for further research but anyone who can't see the military applications here has never read John Ringo's Hot Gate series, or watched Star Wars or... Well, you get the idea. Also, I read somewhere that the United States is not participating in the current research but I wonder. It's entirely possible that we're sleeping. The US is, after all, the country that had to import captured German scientists and engineers to build a rocket in the post World War II era because it had done no research. On the other hand, I did a paper about the Manhattan Project and the security surrounding it as an undergrad and I have to wonder if there's not a Top Secret project out there. I have zero evidence that there is but it's possible.

Think about this too. Computing power has reached the level of insanity. We have literally gotten to the point where a calculator has more power than the entire Apollo mission. A cell phone has more. Forget about your laptop/desktop. It's crazy what computers can do now.  In her 1999 novel, The Veiled Web, Catherine Asaro posits a search engine that is the rough equivalent of Dogpile. With all due respect to Mrs. Asaro (and I'm a HUGE fan) there is no way that it would be able to keep up with the modern iteration of Google.

Robot technology is taking off as well. Sex bots are a thing now. Sony has a robot dog that can do amazing things. Russia has a robot tank and claims that it can outperform manned vehicles. The US Army is moving toward robot vehicles to accompany its M1 tanks. It already uses robots to accompany its helicopters on missions as per the same article. Of course,  the military has been using drones for quite awhile now, but this seems to be something different. These are autonomous or semi-autonomous. Things keep getting better.

I can't help but wonder what's next. I'm only forty-one and would appear to have at least a couple of decades left barring anything unforeseen. Is it possible that I could actually live to see an offworld colony established somewhere? Could Luna Base become a real thing in my lifetime? Is it really possible that I could flip on the news one night and see a human bootprint on the surface of Mars? Ten years ago, I'd have laughed at both thoughts. Now I think it might seriously happen and no, I'm not talking about those goofballs from Mars One. I'm talking about something that might actually have a chance to succeed. I can't wait to see what the future holds. For once in my life I'm optimistic not just for myself but for the future of my species. It's all about to come true my friends. We need to aim for the Good, prepare for the Bad and find a way to prevent the Ugly but we're finally moving forward in a meaningful way. I'm headed into the future with a smile on my face. Come with me, my friends. The future is us. The future is now. The future is bright. Let's seize it with both hands.

Some future related merchandise is available at the links below:








Tuesday, February 6, 2018

A Fistful of Credits edited by Chris Kennedy and Mark Wandrey

(Author's note: Sorry I've been gone so long. I've been suffering from an overdose of interesting life. The good news is that I seem to still be alive. The bad news is that I'm not quite sure how. I know I owe reviews to like eleventy-billion people. I will get to you. Things are just a bit crazy right now. At any rate, on with the review.)

I have to admit to being a bad boy. I had heard a lot about the Four Horsemen Universe but I hadn't tried it. This is a bad thing for a guy like me. I love military SF. I love stories about mercenaries. I freaking love mecha combat and I can't get enough of plucky little humanity stories. It was obvious that I needed an in to this universe and so I jumped at the chance to get a copy of A Fistful of Credit, an anthology edited by Chris Kennedy and Mark Wandrey. I figured to be thoroughly entertained and to learn about this awesome universe. I wasn't disappointed on either count. This anthology really rocks. I'll get to each story in a bit, but I wanted to share a few thoughts on the anthology overall first.

Each story starts with notes about the author. I find this to be excellent. I love indie authors but I haven't had time to read them all. The information about each author, what other things they've had written and published and where to find them was awesome. I'm not promising to read the all (I, like most of you, have limited resources of both time and money) but I'll definitely get to a few at least. So good work there. Chuck Gannon's preface is pretty awesome too, as it provides a gateway for those of us (yup, guilty) who haven't had a chance to read the stories previously. I really wish I hadn't need it, but I did.

I also want to get into the organization of the anthology for just a second. The first story is called “The First Alpha” by Mark Wandrey. I'll get to a review of the story itself in a second, but for now I want to express a bit of frustration. This is an anthology set in the Four Horsemen Universe. The premise of the entire series is that humanity has been introduced to a wider universe full of aliens and can only survive by selling their services as mercenaries. When I opened this e-book I wanted to walk face first into a kick-ass mercenary story. I wanted a battlefield with bodies and explosions. What I got was a crime thriller. It's a good story (more on that next paragraph) but I really don't think that it was the right tale to kick off the anthology with. I was a bit disappointed here because it wasn't what I was expecting. Overall, it didn't really detract from my overall enjoyment of the collection all that much but it was a bit jarring. Other than that, things seemed to flow smoothly, but honestly if I were to read AFoC again, I'd probably skip this one and come back to it.'

The First Alpha” by Mark Wandrey was a look into life on Earth in the Four Horsemen Universe (4HU). Things on humanity's home planet are not good. People are broke to the point where most of them can't afford a simple breakfast out. Crime is rampant and infrastructure is crumbling. Our “hero” is a guy named Zeke. He's sneaky. He's resourceful. He's got a plan. This was an entertaining story with a surprise ending that I never saw coming but that made sense once I read it. Overall, I really enjoyed it once I got past the fact that it wasn't a merc story.

Breach of Contract” by Terry Mixon is a detective story. It gives us an insight into the workings of law and justice in the 4HU and it really rocks. Of course, I'm partial to story featuring ass-kicking attractive women, but this one has plenty of action and just enough back story to hold everything together without bogging the story down into long reminisces that would make it drag. The tech is awesome. The search for vengeance is fun and the daring of our heroes Jackie and Anton make “Breach of Contract” a winner.

The business end of the merc business meets good old fashioned ass-kickery in Jason Cordova's “Paint the Sky.” It's the story of Mulbah Luo, who buys a mercenary company and finds out that there's more to running it than just having some gear. He ends up leading his men in the field and learning a few lessons along the way. The character arc is amazing. The action is a ton of fun. And this is the type of story I was looking forward to when I cracked this book. There's a bit of a surprise at the end of this one too. I really had a good time following the mercs into the field on their first assignment under a new owner.

Dude. Dude, dude, dude, dude, dude. I loved “Surf and Turf” by Jon Osborne. The only problem I had with this story comes in the introduction. Despite the fact that there is at least one other story in AFoC that includes a tag about an upcoming novel, this one does not. Our main character is Bjorn Tovesson III and he's the reluctant commander of a mercenary unit. He's got an amazing back-story and he's a lot of fun to hang out with. He kicks ass, drinks hard and really does care about his troops and the people they're protecting. In short, he is way too cool of a character to be wasted on only having a short story. The story itself is awesome. The combat is gripping. There's a flirty attractive waitress. The villains are sentient crabs with shell mounted weaponry. “Surf and Turf” drips with awesome. NOW WHERE IS MY NOVEL?!?!?!??!?!?!?! (Please?)

Stand on It,” by Kevin Ikenberry takes a tried and true trope and makes it amazing. This is the story of a mercenary unit who ends up with more of a challenge than they bargained for – and a missing member to boot. Don't you just hate it when the employer lies about what the mercs are going to be facing and hangs them out to dry? I don't. I mean, I would if I were one of the character in “Stand on It,” but from the point of view of the reader it rocks. I see that Kevin is already signed for a novel in the 4HU. I'm looking forward to it.

You know what's really fun? Enemies that are pretty much invincible but that need to be beaten or we're all gonna die. Seriously. I love it when the Big Bad shows up ripping shit to pieces and the heroes have to save us all, only they NEED MORE POWER. “Lost and Found” but Jon Del Arroz delivers my favorite premise and it just make my day. The solution to the problem is one that I probably would not have come up with, but it makes sense and it works – barely. The ironic part is that it's not more power that gets the job done. I'll be reading more Jon Del Arroz as soon as I can.

Gilded Cage” by Kacey Ezell is a story of drug addiction and enslavement. It is aptly named as our heroine, Dr. Susan Aloh, trades her drug addicted lifestyle for a life as a pet to an alien. It's a fun story about a woman who learns to love.

Chris Woods gives us an epic in adventure in “Legends.” You can't beat a bunch of mercs in a bar telling war stories, especially when one of them is about to retire and his nickname is “The Legend.” This one was over way too soon. It was a great time. Sergeant Martin Quincy is really a bad ass, despite the fact that he really never wanted to be a merc. This hits a lot of the quintessential themes in merc stories. I had a lot of fun with it.

Doug Dandridge brings us “With The Eagles” a story of a merc company battling on a poisonous planet. The dual threats (the enemy and the native flora and fauna of the planet) keep this one suspenseful. We never know what's coming next and neither do the mercs. With the enemy being a fearsome Besquith and a hostage to recover things heat up quickly. This one was a lot of fun.

PP Corcoran's “Dead or Alive” brings us the story of Nikki Sinclair, a Peacekeeper and daughter the owner of Sinclair's Scorpions mercenary company in search of a criminal. Nikki is deadly and armed with a M1911 pistol. I'm a huge fan of that much firepower, especially in a world dominated by laser pistols. I just find something satisfying about a weapon that goes BLAM instead of pew. The fact that she gets a couple of friends and tears up the inside of a space station in CASPer power armor is pretty bad ass too.

Christopher Nutall's “Hide and Seek,” is a story about a conflict between Allen Jermaine, a security officer aboard a ship and the government of the planet his ship is orbiting which wants to snatch one of his passengers. It fits very well with my attitude toward government and their greedy, imperious, right violating ways. I had a bad case of the screw yous while reading about these damned government agents. I was all up in arms. Good job, Christopher Nutall. You tell it like it is and make the right guy the hero. (HINT: It's not the government.)

Information Overload” by Charity Ayres is the story of a crew just trying to survive after their ship was sabotaged. Her captain, Janna McCloud, is resourceful and focused and works her tail off to save her crew. Seriously. She does a lot of the work herself. This isn't exactly normal for a captain (unless this is ST:TOS and there's an away mission DERP, DERP, DERP) but it makes sense in the context of the story. She manages to overcome betrayal and get on with her mission. She's a member of the Information Guild, but she gets things done as well as any merc in the book. I like this chick.

Enough” by Chris Kennedy is probably the best story in AFoC It's the story of a betrayed group of mercs being hunted to extinction by humanity's oldest foe. It kicks large amounts of ass. Since I just mentioned ST: TOS, I should probably bring up another reference: The Kobayashi Maru, only this time there's no way to cheat the way Kirk did. No-win scenarios suck, and when you're pursued by a force that has a massive numerical superiority and has accepted a contract that can only be fulfilled by killing every member of your unit things get desperate, especially when your commander gets offed in the first paragraph. (No, I don't do spoilers. But if it happens on the FIRST PAGE it's not a spoiler.) Captain, cum Colonel Dan Walker doesn't give up on his people or their survival. He does fall for one rather obvious ploy, but maybe he was just tired. And he does what he needs to in the end, regardless of the risk to himself. I really loved this story.
Brad Torgersen was the victim of one of the earliest reviews on this blog. I love Brad's work and his entry (also the final entry of the A Fistful of Credits), “CASPers Ghost,” did not disappoint. When Blue Platoon hits the surface of Echo Tango 11, the fecal matter hits the rotary air impeller. They're seeking a deposit of F11 (the compound that powers spaceflight) and everything goes haywire. Torgersen makes a habit out of dropping surprises in this one and I don't want to spoil it. I'll just say that this “CASPer's Ghost” cooks with grease and it freaking rocked.

Bottom Line: 4.5 out of 5 Massive Paydays. Honestly, if the first two stories in the anthology had been like the fourth and fifth it probably would have been closer to 4.75 or maybe 5.0. Leading the anthology off with two non-mercenary stories detracted from my enjoyment of the anthology as a whole.

A Fistful of Credits
Edited by Chris Kennedy and Mark Wandrey
Seventh Seal Press, 2017

A Fistful of Credit is available for purchase at the link below:



Friday, August 25, 2017

Famished: The Gentleman Ghouls Omnibus by Ivan Ewert



I'll be the first to admit that I should read more horror. As part of the generation that grew up on A Nightmare on Elm Street  and Friday the 13th. I should love it, but I just don't read it that much. That may very well be about to change though and it's all because of Ivan Ewert's Famished: The Gentleman Ghouls Omnibus.  Don't read this one right before bedtime kiddies!

Seriously, Ewert nailed the setting for this. The perfect horror setting is one that's close enough to the real world as to be indistinguishable on the surface, yet is terrifyingly different underneath. Ewert got that to perfection. The first book starts with what appears to be a normal Christmas Eve dinner. Unknown to Gordon Velander, our main character, it is anything but. It's not until after Gordon goes to Christmas Eve Mass that he finds out that there is something wrong. It's not until a few chapters later that he realizes what it is.

Which leads me to my next point. Ewert manages to get us totally immersed in his world without infodumping. That couldn't have been easy. We're given whatever information we need at the moment without having it all force fed to us quickly. Part of the reason this is possible is because Gordon begins the story unaware of what lies beyond and what part he plays in it. Part of it is just good writing. Admittedly, there is a lot of overlap between the two, but that's how I see it anyway.

The story is thoroughly entertaining, but I can't quite grow to love Gordon. He's sort of an anti-hero. (Minor spoilers ahead. Sorry, can't figure out a way to avoid them) The people Gordon is fighting against are cannibals, although they would be disgusted to hear someone call them that. They use torture and kidnapping to get what they want. In a way, you could argue that they poison Gordon to bring him to The Farm, which is the name and primary setting of book one. They're not nice people and it is very easy to root against them. Lord knows I did. I mean, we're talking about people who farm other human beings for food a la the Creepies in William W. Johnstones' The Ashes series.

The Gentleman Ghouls make a smart, crafty, tough opponent and I've always loved books with a strong enemy. Seriously, GI Joe was fun as a kid but no one wants to read about a dumbass enemy like Cobra Commander in their forties. Ewert has delivered in spades. The Ghouls know their stuff and use it to the best possible effect. Gordon's only real advantages tend to be his guts, his brains and to a certain extent the element of surprise. Gordon holds the initiative and can call the shots and they still almost beat him repeatedly. This isn't a Saturday morning cartoon. There is real suspense here.

Ewert's backstory for the Ghouls is awesome as well. The guy has done enough historical research to have picked a group that everyone knows existed but whose eventual outcome is unknown to history. This gives him a good way to root the group in the modern day United States while adding deep roots and not giving anyone a reason to be suspicious that there is anything untoward going on. This could not have been easy to do but he pulls it off with aplomb. I won't say who, but this is a historical group that I have often wondered about myself. They're just popular enough that people will get the reference. Granted, I'm a nerd with a history degree but this makes me happy.

Gordon on the other hand is not always such a nice guy himself. He consorts with demons. He tortures people. He does whatever is necessary to achieve his goals, uses whatever means he can find but there are some steps he takes that I don't necessarily approve of. I'm not saying this makes him a terrible person. Drastic times call for drastic measures and he's fighting against cannibals. I'm just saying he's a little more morally ambiguous than some other heroes I've read. In a way, that's almost a good thing. No one is perfect and Gordon certainly is not.

On the other hand, you would never mistake Gordon for a hardcore anti-hero in the mold of Thomas Covenant who is often wantonly cruel and has to be forced to save the world. Gordon has his good side as well. He fights hard to find and protect his mother. He tries to save his girlfriend and fails, but at least manages to show her that he respects her in the only way she would understand. even that was a little weird though. He's a complicated guy and I respect that about him.

The demons in the books have a very, well, demonic feel to them. The delight in death and destruction as well as the pleasures of the flesh. They do whatever they want and answer only to each other. They show no sense of responsibility whatsoever. I like these demons, by which I actually mean that I hate them.

Ewert has a gift for description. Some of the scenes in this book make my stomach turn. In and of itself that's no surprise in a horror setting but I've seldom seen it done so well. There is one scene in particular where a description of a  demon, emerging from someplace uhh... unique makes my skin crawl. This is a good thing though, because my skin NEEDED to crawl there. It's horror. I needs to make you uncomfortable and it needs to do it the right way. Ewert succeeded in that.

This is the part where I mention any drawbacks to the works but at the end of the day, I really couldn't find any. These things just work. The characters are believe. The plot movies. The setting is eerie. Gordon's motivations are believable as are those of his adversaries. Ewert has done a phenomenal job.

Bottom Line: 4.5 out of 5 Cutlets

Famished: The Gentleman Ghouls Omnibus
Ivan Ewert
Apocalypse Ink Productions, 2017

Famished: The Gentleman Ghouls Omnibus is available for purchase at the link below:










Thursday, August 24, 2017

Guest Post by Ivan Ewert


(Editor's note: I promised this the day before the release of the book, which was at Gencon. That was last weekend. I thought it was this coming weekend. I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to Mr. Ewert, Sarah Craft (the publicist I've been dealing with) and Apocalypse Ink Productions for my tardiness. I'm such a turdface. My review will be up tomorrow. I have a few more pages to read yet and I can't wait to see what happens next.)

Whenever I talk to an author about hosting a guest post by them, I ask for a column about either: A.) Their current or most recent release, B.) Their writing process or C.) Some combination of both. Ivan Ewert, author of the Famished: Gentleman Ghouls Omnibus, sent me the following about his writing process. Thank you Mr Ewert! I enjoyed this one.

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My writing process has changed over the years that were consumed by Famished: The Gentleman Ghouls, but it’s changed for the better, which is nice. It’s also different for long-form, short stories, and poetry, but I’ll focus here on the long-form.
I start by writing up a review of intention, chapter-by-chapter, as if I were describing the action of each to a friend. Those typically take between 2-3 pages in Word and give me an idea of what’s generally needed for each of the chapters to move forward and make sense.
Generally speaking, I write in order, chapter to chapter. Sometimes a scene will pop into my head that’s far in advance, or hasn’t been planned out yet, so I type that up as quickly as possible and save it for later revision. For the most part, though, it’s 1-2-3-4. I find it much easier to keep track of motivation and causality that way.
At this point, I don’t worry much about descriptions. The world will come together later. With my stage background, I think of this stage as similar to table reads: the actors are going through their lines while the set, lighting and sound designers in my head listen and take notes. I’ll go over the broad strokes, of course – where the characters are going, is there a door or a chair, etc. – but I don’t bother with the model of car, color of door, material and style of chair.
These days, I send each chapter as it’s completed to a group of alpha readers after a brief proof-writing pass. These stalwart folks have the unenviable job of reviewing what’s happening in its roughest form and keeping me on track. I learned this lesson after completing Famished: The Commons, only to be told by everyone I knew that half the book needed to be tossed and re-written. Receiving chapter-by-chapter feedback serves as an early warning system.
Once complete, I let the work cool off for two weeks or so prior to printing the whole thing out. Reviewing in a different presentation gives me a way to physically interact with the work, writing notes or edits longhand rather than in comments on Word. That breaks up the sometimes monotonous and ethereal feeling of what we do on the screen.
After making those edits, I print off a second version and read it aloud to myself. That helps me adjust dialogue to sound more natural (or unnatural, depending on the character for whom I’m writing) and highlights any clich├ęs or awkward turns of phrase in the description.
The next go-round includes adding in layers of description and foreshadowing. By now I’ve got an idea of the feel of the overall work, which colors the descriptions. If the book is despairing, you’ll get low cloud cover and dim, flickering lightbulbs; if it’s confrontational, electrical storms and fireplaces, etc. That’s part of the reason I don’t worry about the descriptions earlier on – while I have an idea of the feel and theme of the book at the beginning, these often change and shift as the words are pouring out.
Additionally, now that I know the order in which things happen, I can go back to reference them. Do I need to highlight there’s a gun on the mantelpiece earlier? Has a character morphed into a turncoat who needs to give signs of unreliability in previous conversations? Does a car need to break down, so hints should be dropped?
When all of this is done and I feel more or less satisfied, the beta readers get the entire book. I generally ask them to mark the document up in Word with Track Changes activated. As those reports roll back in, I go through and immediately fix any typos or awkward phrases in my master file, and file the various thoughts and comments away in the back of my mind.
When ALL the readers have got back to me – or indicated their regrets that they won’t be able to return it in time – then I look for common threads in their comments. For example, in Famished: The Ranch, everyone agreed that the torture scenes needed to be more gruesome and lavishly described. I’d done a fine job technically, but they didn’t drive the horror home. After three rounds of revisions, everyone agreed that I’d made them deeply uncomfortable enough to consider them ‘done.’
Then it’s finally off to the editors. In general, I accept their revisions without complaint. They’re more experienced with what sells and what turns people off, so unless I strongly disagree I go with the flow of their requests. When I’ve returned the manuscript, it’s just a waiting game until the work is published.
At that point, I reward myself. Since writing isn’t my primary stream of income and doesn’t pay the bills, I use any proceeds to reward myself upon publication. Generally speaking this means a good bottle of Scotch, a shipment of Baby’s Coffee, or a new piece of consumer electronics, although when my paycheck coincides with some disaster in the world I’ll earmark some of it for additional donations.
Throughout the process I’ve generally got bandcamp.com or mynoise.net playing in the background. Music or ambient sound effects help keep my subconscious critic occupied with feel and atmosphere rather than the technical perfection of the work. When editing, though, it’s noises off all around, just me and the manuscript at a writing-desk.
That’s how the work gets done, snout to tail. It’s not an hour a day or a certain number of pages a week, but it does seem to do the job for me.

Famished: The Gentleman Ghouls Omnibus is available at the link below:

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Fire Breathers Wanted!

Friends, Romans, Countrymen lend me your...

Actually, to hell with that. Stop listening to me and make yourself heard for a change. Do you know what time it is?

It's time. It's time. It's Dragon Time!

Yup. Nominations for the Dragon Awards are due July 24th. That gives you less than a week to nominate your favorite new Science Fiction and Fantasy related products for the coolest awards ever. I mean seriously if ypu've read or played something that was Just... Too... SWEEEEET!!!! since the last nomination period ended, here's your chance to get it recognized.

Jimbo 3:16 says that all fans should be allowed to have their voices heard. Go ahead and cross the boss. Worldcon may have erected the Walls of Jericho to keep their geriatric main eventers in the spotlight, but this is your chance to give your favorite author a Money in the Bank match. Actually, it's not just your favorite author.

The Dragons are awards that are truly given by the fans. The Hugos make the same claim but they made a heel turn about twenty years ago and haven't been worth a damn since. It's hardly surprising given the fact that Mae Young and The Fabulous Moolah are both too young to get into Worldcon to share their opinions. Seriously, even a midcard blogger like yours truly can vote. Speaking of which...

Do you know who can vote? Anyone who damn well pleases. Just follow this link and nominate one work in each category. Well, unless you want to skip a category. I didn't vote for Besy Board Game because I haven't playef any new SF/F board games in the past year. I did vote for Best Video Game (Blizzard's World of Warcraft: Legion). There are also categories for things like Best Comic Book, Best Movie and Best Mobile App. They don't solely recognize fiction and treat everyone else like a member of the Job Squad. It doesn't have to be One,Two, Three for life if you more than just writing.

Seriously,  the Dragon Awards are about what this blog is about. There are a lot if awards given in writing categories and that's awesome. There is a lot more to Science Fiction and Fantasy than what a bunch of blue hairs and their traveling convention will recognize. There is a lot more to Science Fiction and Fantasy than what a bunch of blue hairs and their traveling convention will recognize. This is an award that recognizes all of the areas that the other cons should.

I want to make this point too. It's something Declan Finn offered me a chance to explain when I appeared on his podcast, The Catholic Geek, but I let the chance pass. What should have been a snap suplex turned into a missed spot. (Cue ECW fans.) Things like this are the key to introducing the next generation of fans to the classics of SF/F.

If you want to tell a kid about Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake you do it while he is watching John Cena. If you want to tell kids about Larry Niven's Ringworld is while they're playing, watching or reading Halo.

So it's time to lay The Smackdown on that old garbage and put your favorite works over. Last year's winners are going to drop the strap. Nominate your favorite works to pick it up.Everyone wants to see their favorite win a title, right?