Friday, July 25, 2014

Game of Thrones Itches

There are no martial arts on display in Game of Thrones or in Song of Ice and Fire. There was the one sword master who taught Arya. The spooky ninja guy doesn't count, since that's magic. In all of Westeros, it's slash and hack. Once again we have a situation in which reality is cooler than fiction.

That's the European Middle Ages. The one on the left is, I think, a hip throw. We all know the one on the right, a  Jujutsu choke popular in MMA.

This one, a joint lock straight out of Judo. On the right, another chokehold.

Look familiar?

Even unarmed techniques against armed opponents.

The martial arts in Europe weren't restricted to unarmed combat and fencing. Specialized art forms for dagger combat, mace, war hammer, and pole arms were also developed.

I see no smash-and-bash here, do you?

Another little fact, peasants in some societies weren't helpless lambs. The deeply fearsome Swiss mercenaries were peasants. English longbowmen...peasants. For their own protection, peasants sometimes formed militias and trained regularly as military units, the militias of medieval Flanders, for instance, made up of peasants and ordinary city-folk. Just as in Japan and Okinawa, farm implements became weapons. The most fearsome of these was the Bill.

Based on a farm implement called a billhook, in use today for clearing brush, it was particularly useful in killing armored cavalry.

Then there's a unique weapon of the lower classes, in a class by itself. Can you say "Good day"?

That's the goedendag. Another way to meet and greet people. A "Hi there!" for the Middle Ages.

So where is all this marvelous inventiveness in Westeros? I haven't even seen a war hammer or pikeman. Daenerys's army, the Unsullied, are out of the Hellenic Age, for crying out loud.

All I have to say: George, TV producers, pick up the pace, would you?


Saturday, July 12, 2014

Saving Warrior's Way

Neither here nor there, up or down, but I finally saw that bizarre Koren/NZ action film The Warrior's Way. I'm not bragging when I say I could have saved that movie from ignominy.  Most of the rest of us could have done the same as well, but I'm the only one talking about it. I will tell you straight up how, call them The Four Sacred Secrets of how to save The Warrior's Way: over-the-top Anime doesn't work in live action, voice-over is only effective if making The Seventh Seal or a hardboiled detective movie, everyone hates effortless success, begin in the goddamned middle. One other thing, so maybe it's Five Secrets: cliches about ninjas are boring - true shadow warriors would adopt the latest killing technology.

First, this movie is a failure, a serious fuck-up from the dimension of epic fuck-ups. It grossed - grossed, mind you, I'll explain in a second - a little over $11 million on a $42 million budget. It's even worse than it sounds. The movie gross is divided up between the theaters and the distributor, which means only $5.5 million started its way back to the investors. Add the costs of distribution and marketing, which can be upwards of half or more of the production costs, and you have a return of $5.5 million on an investment of around $63 - 70 million. That isn't ordinary fail. Fail that heavy distorts spacetime. A tiny fraction of this is made back through DVD/blueray/streaming sales and broadcast fees from cable TV. But still, not enough to prevent the collapse of reality near the event horizon of this loser.

But it didn't have to be this way.

First, decide what you're going to make. You wanna make an anime, good for you, I love anime...only thing is, anime is animation, not live action. Even then, there's a big difference between the conventions of anime made for television, mostly serialized, and film anime. What works for Naruto or Bleach ain't gonna play in say, a Ghost in the Shell movie. The problems only multiply when trying to take Naruto into the realm of live action. Much of Warrior's Way reminds me of the "It's Raining Men" trailer for Kung Fu Hustle. This obvious attempt at replicating the antics of a fantasy anime TV show just won't play when real human beings are in frame. Ever since Stephen Chow started lampooning wire-work in his satiric kung fu movies, to do such things with a straight face is...well...ludicrous. Keep in mind, most of the people who will see a movie have already seen hundreds of movies and TV shows in their lives - and that's only the deprived. People who will go to see a movie like Warrior's Way will have seen most of Stephen Chow's movies, they'll have watched Naruto as kids, they'll be tuned into the joke. I just saw Warrior's Way on cable TV, but I can imagine what I would have heard in a movie theater: "Fuck, if I wanted to watch shit like this, I could have done that watching TV for free." Let me say it in all caps just to get my point across: THE CONVENTIONS OF TV ANIME JUST DON'T WORK IN A LIVE ACTION MOTION PICTURE! Don't do this. You wanna make a movie inspired by Naruto, do it as an animation. Maybe that's a little over the top, there is one way this could have worked. Hire Stephen Chow and make an action comedy farce.

Another related point before moving on: anyone else ever see one of the Lone Wolf and Cub movies, or read one of the Lone Wolf and Cub comics? I don't mind the idea of a man and the child/baby he's protecting on the run from assassins being used in Warrior's Way, it's just, by using a trope so familiar to fans of martial arts and action movies, you are going to create expectations. By making the movie the way he did, the director/writer Sngmoo Lee set himself up for failure. Know what you're doing. If you don't, this is what happens.

Second, narration, really? If your name isn't Billy Wilder I really wouldn't try it. Voiceover narration works well in noir, in crime dramas, in very serious films, and occasionally comedies or action comedies - the protagonist's narration in the first Kick-Ass worked pretty well. But it's a crutch when most other filmmakers use it, a cheap way of telling the story without having to actually think about what is the best way to tell the story. Just slap a voiceover on to explain shit that doesn't need to be explained in the first place, or that can be explained by the protagonist later in the film, or by a flashback. It hurts more than it helps in most instances. In Warrior's Way, which is essentially a flashy remake of an episode from Lone Wolf and Cub, it only drags on the audience as a frequent, unnecessary infodump. This is the truth at the core of narrations. When it provides insight into the character, necessary information, or entertainment, it's a welcome addition to the film. When it's not, and 99% of the time it's not, it's a crutch used by a bad storytellers to inflict unnecessary information on the audience.

Just had a thought. Given that the writer/director Mr. Lee has zero credits to his name and his only claim to fame, he has a master’s degree in cinema studies from New York University and helped found the film department at the Korean National University of Arts. Is it possible that the original screenplay was a vanity project that had lain fallow in the Wasteland of Discarded Ideas, only to be discovered by some idiot fifteen years after it was written? If this movie had been made back around 1998, before wire-fu and the endless homage to Hong Kong fight movies that was Kill Bill, yeah, it might have made its money back. Probably not, though.

Third, everyone hates effortless success. In some of the action sequences, we don't even see how the hero, the lone assassin Yang, defeats his opponents. Happens behind a screen, flash cut and they're dead, whoosh, magic sword death. Smoke and dust, dead. Yang kills hundreds with the effortlessness of a sociopathic child killing ants. Compare this to the master swordsman Kyuzo from Seven Samurai. He undertakes a solo infiltration mission in which he kills three bandits and steals one of the muskets. When he returns, he is breathless and sweaty. Early in the movie, we see how he can kill so effortlessly, he practices constantly. Even goddamned Naruto is constantly practicing and being tested by his instructors. Yang has no such mortal concerns as practice or fatigue, he is apparently some sort of god, able to wave his sword in the air without effort, killing millions with a thought. It gets boring after a while. If we know he won't have to struggle or fight, that he merely shows up to win, where's the fun in watching that? This flaw incapacitates an action movie, making what should be thrilling into an exercise akin to chewing gum...flavorless, tasteless gum.

Fourth - I switched up here - ninjas are boring. Seriously boring. Their standard tropes are on display in this movie: they arrive in vast herds, they are relentless, for some reason they charge straight at people, they only use swords and shuriken, and no matter how many are portrayed as arriving, there are even more hiding away somewhere nearby. The hero can kill millions, yet millions more appear by magic. How about a more sinister portrayal, which also happens to be closer to reality. According to one myth, a ninja with a poisoned spear huddled in a shit-filled cesspit for days in order to stab a great lord in the rectum. Another used poison in a prince's food. Another supposedly used a primitive hand grenade. Others used firearms. Then there are the myths that ninja practiced black magic, could change shape like werewolves, had the allegiance of demons. But even here, someone else has been there first, as anyone who is a fan of anime can attest. How about no more ninjas? To action filmmakers everywhere, use your fucking imaginations. No more Jason Bournes, no more ninjas.

Fifth, don't start at the beginning. We had to sit through interminable narration while watching just how Yang met the baby, why he did what he did, why he ended up in the old town out west. Who cares? SHOW US why we should care by starting in the middle, then building the story out from there. Start when he arrives in the town. Make the local bad guy into a corrupt sheriff instead of a supervillain leading innumerable witless minions. I'm not asking that Warrior's Way be made into a serious drama, I'm asking for minimal competence in storytelling. START IN THE MIDDLE. It's called IN MEDIA RES. Use it.

"Who the fuck are these guys?" See the magic of In Media Res? It creates an environment in which only the protagonist knows things, everyone else is in the dark. Jokes, serious dramatic moments, all sorts of humor, and action sequences can roll out of this disparity like fruit out of a cornucopia. Just one of the gifts from the storytelling device that keeps on giving. For instance, I'm convinced that the Conan reboot movies failed because they started from the beginning. Even the creator of Conan, Robert E. Howard, didn't do that. His first story featuring the Cimmerian started at the height of Conan's career, when he was king of Aquilonia. His second Conan story featured his hero as a young thief. Only the third story goes back to Conan's youth, and even then he's a teenager.

What did I like about this movie? I really liked the 1900 steampunk elements - cowboy bad guys with machineguns - I liked the failed amusement park in a decaying town in the middle of nowhere with a  troupe of stranded carnival workers stuck there - so reminiscent of the actual decayed remains of failed theme parks scattered all over the USA, not only the USA, but in Japan, China, everywhere. I like the idea of the hardcore killer learning to be an ordinary human being - and enjoying the process of becoming quotidian. But the rest, meh, I can watch an episode of Naruto and get the same.

This applies to all action movies, so go forth, make a film, and entertain me!


Thursday, July 3, 2014

Moshe Hogeg is under my skin

This fucker not only got under my skin, he's in my nose, stinking the place up. This rich asshole gave a guy a million dollars for the Yo app. That's all the app does. It says "Yo." It took the guy an afternoon to code the thing. There are similar message apps for free, like the Hodor app, so it's not like Yo is an original idea. Amount of money it's earned: $0. Amount of money it's expected to earn: $0. Technically it's "seed money," but it's still a million bucks and the kid gets to do anything he wants with it.

How would I utilize a million dollars? Well, I sure as fuck wouldn't give it to an ex-teenager for an app others have created as a gag for free.

First, in order that I could continue writing, and thus contributing in a small way to the intellectual life of humanity, I'd put half aside to live off of for the rest of my life.

What about the other half? I'd start two businesses. There'd be enough money to keep them running for a year. I don't know what they'd be, I'd want them to be self-sustaining, so probably a bakery, a coffeehouse, or maybe a restaurant. Thought I'd say a bookstore? Bookstores new and used are near saturation in Albuquerque right now. Maybe a computer repair shop. I don't know, I would figure it out. Even after the two businesses are up and running, employing upwards of ten to twenty people, there would still be money left over.

I'd send ten poor kids to votech or community college...or five kids to a four-year university. For free. No strings attached...well...maybe one. They'd have to go into the sciences or a technology field. If I went the votech route, they could choose to be anything - baker, accountant, car mechanic, anything useful. But for an undergraduate degree, something useful or utilitarian or in the sciences.

I'm not against some fun. Those big-budget movies, they employ thousands - if you include the theaters, and why wouldn't you? - most of them have a return on investment, and they are a creative endeavor in furtherance of the intellectual life of humanity...however small that contribution might be. Amusement parks, the same. Videogames, the same. By all means, make movies, write novels, employ people, enrich us.

Let's tally it up. My plan: two businesses started, eventually employing upwards of twenty people, five or ten kids on their way to a good sustainable life, and a writer who can continue to write.

But what did little Moshe get for his million? An app that says "Yo." An app that employs zero people, earns zero money, zero utility, entertains no one, and has zero sustainability.

That's what I'd do with a million dollars, Moshe, you clueless rich fuck. Kinda outshines your idea...and I'm not even that smart. You and your money are wasted space. Move to Singapore and stop stinking up the USA. We don't need you.


Monday, June 30, 2014

The Confusing Life of a Polymath

There are blogs about keeping parrots, ones about pornography, ones written by the fans of a particular porn star...there are an infinity of political blogs, an infinity plus one of writer's blogs, even blogs about cats pretending to be written by cats. Don't expect such consistency here.

I'm a polymath. To be fair to the polymaths of the world, I may be an eclectic and not a polymath...or am I both? I find it extremely hard to confine my thoughts to just one area. A narrow perspective is a horror to me.

It's a curse to be a polymath. No matter what day job I have, I write every day. No matter how much I try not to, I do a few math problems before going to bed. No matter how much I try to resist, I read in science and history - or sometimes the history of science, a twofer - every day. What's it get me?

Nothing, that's what.

We live a in a culture where everything I value is devalued. The only high point of recent months, Cosmos came back. Neil deGrasse Tyson temporarily reminded us of the grandeur and importance of science...which everyone forgot five minutes after it left the air. The only people who seemed to notice it were those opposed to science, because science asks hard questions.

Hard questions are seriously lacking elsewhere. For instance, Penn of Penn and Teller likes to brag about his Libertarian chops. Someone should say this in his exalted presence: It's awfully convenient for a rich man to believe in Libertarianism. Enshrine the winners, no matter that they might not be real "winners," and cast the losers in the dirt. Not exactly the path of the Buddha - Gautama Buddha, aka Siddhartha Gautama, was a prince who gave it all up to found Buddhism. By "give it all up" I mean he fucking gave it all up, all his wealth, all his power, everything, to beg for food, exchange his wisdom for simple nourishment. Either way, big fall from neoliberal grace for a Libertarian. There's also this question, which I'd also like to ask Rich Guy Penn: What is to prevent the concentration of wealth and power in a Libertarian state, since all but the most necessary taxes are banned? Gonna bring back Athenian ostracism? Assassination? We live in a quasi-Libertarian state now, with neoliberal economic doctrine dominating every aspect of life. How's that working out for us? Wealth and political power are being concentrated among fewer and fewer people. A majority in a recent poll of MILLIONAIRES demanded more taxes to reduce income inequality - you know the 1% are out of hand when the top 10% ask for more taxes. A quick historical peek at neoliberal economies will show that they naturally tend to the concentration of wealth, power, and societal control among a shrinking class of elites. How are Libertarians going to prevent the loss of their liberty? The easiest and least violent means would be taxes and regulation. Ah, can't do that, then they wouldn't be Libertarians. So it's violence then. I'm all for whacking billionaires, but in a Libertarian state they'd be expecting it, so they'd have a private army around themselves with nothing to prevent the formation of that private army. Libertarianism leads in the fullness of time to tyranny. Nothing preventing it, like, say, a government with laws about illegal tampering with the democratic process, a government that can cure wealth inequality through taxation.

Every now and again, I restart my study of mathematics from the beginning. I'm up through algebra now. I'm reading and working my way through two books, either of which, if I had them when I was a kid, would have made a tremendous difference in my life. Functions and Graphs, written by three Russian guys in the middle of the last century, translated into English and published by MIT Press in 1969. You can find a Dover reprint for sale at their site or Amazon. If I had access to this book - shit, if I had access to the first ten pages -  man, would my life have been easier than it was. The second book, published originally in 1976 and in print since then, is How to Solve Word Problems in Algebra, by Johnson and Johnson. This one is a feast of riches. It teaches more than math. If one takes the book seriously and does all the problems, the potential for duplicity in the use of language very rapidly becomes apparent, along with ways to tease truth from obfuscation. The reader's confidence only grows when it is revealed how to come to a solution while only knowing one solid fact and the relationships between that fact and the unknowns. Simple things, both books show simple ways to find underlying realities.

In science, I'm reading The Infinity Book. In history, The Wizard War by RV Jones. In fiction, reading an Ian Fleming short story collection.

In writing, three short stories in process, one science fiction, one fantasy, and one crime fiction...also working on a novel.

In computer technology, taking apart a faulty graphics card confirmed to me that the fan failed and the microprocessor has heat-induced hardware faults. It's fried, gotta get another one.

Gonna havta get a day job in a few months...hope not, it will slow things down.

That's a day in the life of an eclectic...or a polymath. Since this is the blog of an eclectic, I might discuss quantum mechanics next time...or the plot to a videogame...or my favorite novel...or why I hate ties. Death to routine thoughts in the everyday world!


Friday, June 20, 2014

If I were President...

We would have invaded Afghanistan just long enough to smoke Osama, then we'd build a hospital or two, a couple roads, and LEAVE. Total time there, less than three years.

We wouldn't have invaded Iraq. I would have strengthened the Kurds, essentially eliminating Saddam's control over the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. I'd have several divisions semi-permanently deployed to Kuwait, no more invasions. I'd start talking to Iran, if only to play with Saddam's head. But under the "Break it you buy it" rules, I would have never, ever invaded Iraq...and if I did decide to fuck them up, I would have done it for reals with 500,000 soldiers. "If I decide to fuck you up, I'm going to SERIOUSLY fuck you up."

Universal health care. Americans are a rough, tough sort, at least in my neighborhood. Even the toughest boxer needs a good corner man. Medicare for all.

After that, well, let's just say I'd let my Socialist freak flag fly. I wouldn't do away with capitalism entirely, parts of it are useful, but I'd definitely put in play the first steps in transforming the USA from a capitalist oligarchy into a nation of small businesses, entrepreneurs, and risk takers - who know they can take risks because they won't end up homeless and starving if they fail. Capitalism for the people, not for the rich.

Like that will ever happen, except in my science fiction novels.

Suzie's still free for a few more hours. Get your copy and discover the Brienne of the modern age, the Lethal Lady at work.


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Suzie's turn to be free!

To celebrate the success of my Causality promotion - a thousand free ebooks given away - I bring you now a free three-day promotion for Suzie's Technical Support. To be honest, I don't expect as large a result for Suzie, since her story has only been up a couple weeks. A bunch of people have purchased the novel, but no reviews yet. Now is your chance to change that. Read about the foul-mouthed Afghan War veteran who now hires her gun out to corporations. She's the consummate problem-solver with a pistol.

Suzie's not normal. Abusive parents, grief, and multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan saw to that. Now she's a problem-solver for major corporations, problems usually needing guns to solve. This time, a researcher wants to leave one company for another, only, a simple plan to transport him from San Francisco to Paris is complicated by greed and the Mob. Violence ensues, it's left to Suz and her friends to sort out the mess.


Friday, June 13, 2014

Causality is free!

...but only for the next five days.

The elites of our time discovered immortality - and kept it for themselves. Over the millennia, they bent nanotechnology and quantum physics to their will, becoming gods. Their power is undeniable, belief is mandatory. In a distant future, one in which humanity has spread itself out across the galaxy, the lesser gods war among themselves ceaselessly while the high gods glare down at them.

Of all the trillions they rule over, only one small group of mercenaries does not bend a knee. They are the apex predators of warfare, it is said that Victory is their friend. They are called the Hana. While the gods plot against each other and employ the Hana in their wars, the Hana secretly plot against the gods. At the end of days, the long knives of the Hana will strike out at the divine.

The Hana are not alone in their opposition. Out there, somewhere, beyond a stellar wilderness abandoned by the gods, are those few who stood and fought, the distant home of the Human Nations, the realm of non-belief. All the wars over that little sliver of choice, all the power and majesty of the gods, and yet they still exist.

The god Soleon plots war against them. He has begun a muster of his worlds and journeys to each in turn to raise the war cry. Debeb is one of his newly acquired worlds, taken from another of the gods. Soleon has hired the Hana for this war. A Hana division travels with him for the muster. Soleon thinks to raise himself up into the ranks of the high gods. Not everyone is pleased by this - not the people of Debeb, not the other gods, and especially not the secret protectors of the Human Nations.

It starts innocently enough, on what should be a day of celebration during Soleon's visit, but it turns into an open revolt. If the Hana cannot suppress this revolt, then the god will burn this world to ash. Nothing is ever easy for those of the long knives, their path beset by traitors and fools. Billions of lives depend on them, on one lone Hana soldier named Tremmel in pursuit of an assassin, of the last stand of small isolated units besieged by religious maniacs, one led by Tremmel's girlfriend Dram, another led by his uncle Erramm, and of one boy and a game called pankay. Victory and life, defeat and the death of a world, dependent upon their sharp knives.
Small reminder: free kindle reader apps are available for smart phones, iphones, tablets, Macs, and PCs. Just about any device has a kindle reader app...well, maybe not toasters, not yet anyway.

Enjoy Causality, my gift to my readers. Please write a review of it if you like it...and buy the other two Realm novels, Essa and Contravallation.