Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

Several of my novels are free today on amazon. My way of saying: "Merry Christmas!" to my readers. Take care this holiday season, take a Lyft if you are worried about your ability to drive. Who knows, I might be behind the wheel if you do. If I am driving you, please tip heavily.

Here's my author page on amazon:

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Case of the Haunted Computer

Back when I had a life, at least a part-time life, I fixed computers. I was also a college history instructor, but I took little joy from that job. Why? Two examples will suffice. A student disliked a grade I gave her. She complained to someone, we actually had a hearing, at which I was exonerated after many wild accusations were hurled at me. Second example: at most of my teaching gigs, I had upwards of nine bosses - supervisors on top of supervisors on top of supervisors. What the fuck?

Though it paid less, and I only worked for Gary of Gary's Computer Repair part-time - full-time during the summer - it was much more rewarding. People were actually grateful that I was able to fix their machines, retrieve files from crashed hard drives, and otherwise cure their computer ills. So I look upon my repairs with pride...unlike my other career. Even a letter of apology from the young woman who tried to get me fired didn't help. She graduated from community college and started at a big four-year university, and almost sank without a trace. Only the skills I tried to impart to her saved her. It was an awakening. That's when she sent me the note.

Long-way round to the central topic of this essay, fixing computers. One of my more memorable fixes involved sound.

This was during the summer, when Gary and his henchman were off laying CAT5 cable for a company and I was mostly alone in the shop except for another part-timer, a kid who showed up every now and again. A man brought in his PC.

    "It's making a funny noise, moaning sounds. I think the power supply is failing."
    "I'll check it out," I replied.

After he left, I took it in the back and hooked it up. There really was an odd throbbing sound coming from the thing. It was hard to locate, somewhat generalized around the case. It diminished a bit when I took the side of the case off, but it didn't go away. I started with the cheapest fix first, disconnecting the cooling fan. That stopped the noise. Not the PS after all.

Quick aside: "power supply" is a misnomer, it's just a transformer to turn alternating current from a wall socket into the direct current the computer components need. I didn't invent the term, that's what it's called...even though it's just a fucking transformer. Please don't poke screwdrivers into them, you'll get electrocuted. It's the only dangerous component inside a computer case.

I inspected the fan. After years of DIY, of part-time repair work, I could tell when a fan has gone. One sure sign: it stops spinning. Just kidding. Nope, it spun fine, no hesitation at all when reconnected. Next, the feel of the fan blades when turned off, moving them with a finger. There was none of the gritty hesitation normally apparent in a failing case fan. Good case fans "bounce back" when moved slightly with a finger. I was puzzled. I blew the thing out with compressed air, cleaned the entire case out, in fact. I even used the little homemade cleaner attachment for the shopvac on it. Dust bunnies be gone!

Another aside: fortune smiles on you if you've never had to clean out and repair computers owned by heavy smokers. Holy shit, it's disgusting. Black tarry crap over everything, gummy stuff...and it stinks. Literally stinks.

The sound was still there, especially loud when the case was put back together. I was leaning over looking inside the case when the moment of enlightenment came. My hand was inadvertently covering some of the back ventilation holes. The noise stopped. I removed my hand, the noise started. I then began to experiment with the placement of my hand. Noise starts, noise stops. It was as if I were working a flute. Which is exactly what was going on. For some reason, air flowing out the side of the ventilation grid at the back had started to make noise. By experimentation, I discovered just a few holes along the edge of the grid of vent holes were responsible for the sound. I went into Gary's office, got some scotch tape, and taped those holes along the edge closed. It wouldn't affect cooling, since only one short line was involved - like 95% of the vent holes were still open. Sound stopped for good. When the man came back for his machine, he was astounded by the fix. I showed him which holes were involved, just in case the tape needed replacement in the future. I charged him the base fee for any repair, $25, nothing more. He was so happy at the absence of that sad moan, he didn't care.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

I'm still obsessing over No Country for Old Men

Don't ask me why. The story plagues my mind. There are two possibilities: the author's a scam artist who intentionally put the antagonist from a slasher movie into a noir crime drama, or it's a "metaphor." Fuck metaphors, though that choice is less damning of Cormac McCarthy. Either way, the story could have been grounded, put into a shape I might have liked, by one change.  Wells, the other narco errand boy, played by Woody Harrelson in the movie, is taken out by Chigurh in true slasher movie style. Chigurh appears from nowhere, corners Wells, and murders the hell out of him. One change would make it all better. Wells isn't sent by a competitor, he's sent by the same boss who sent Chigurh to recover the money. The boss is pissed at all the attention Chigurh's mindless rampage is bringing down on him. This has a basis in reality, unlike the story as it is. Local law enforcement isn't hung out to dry in the real world. In a drug case involving lots of bodies, the DEA, the FBI, and various state agencies would pour into the area. There'd be so many cops, they'd be bumping into each other. So the boss sent Wells to get Chigurh under control. One scene and Chigurh is transformed from a hellish Jason Voorhees into a real-world hitman. Chigurh corners Wells, but Wells reacts this way...


    "Point that little toy of yours somewhere else or I'll ram it up your ass. You know who sent me, dickhead. You know what will happen to you if you ignore what I have to say."
    Chigurh's demeanor changed slightly. A flicker of doubt crossed over his eyes. He lowered the mutated shotgun and hid it under his jacket.
    "What the fuck do you think you've been doing here?"
    "Getting back his money."
    "No, you've been spreading bodies all over the landscape. The fucking feds are involved. A couple of the dead men are linked to men who are linked to the boss, so now the boss has heat on himself thanks to your fucked up killstreak. What otherwise would have been a bunch of dead narcotraffickers in the desert has become a manhunt for you. They have a hard-on for the boss, they want you to take them to him. That's not going to happen, because you're going to ditch your weird little toys. Throw them in a lake. I've brought some tools we'll use, but only if we have to. Nobody anybody gives a shit about dies. No store owners, no cops, nobody. The cartel has people involved..."
    "We'll have to kill them."
    "Well, yeah. They're only here because of the mess you made."
    Chigurh was now contrite, as if the murders he had committed were school-boy pranks. His face took on some character, it was no longer dead. He looked at Wells with appealing childish eyes. "Will I be forgiven?"
    "You're already forgiven. You do good work, but you get carried away. Need to calm down, man."
    "You're here to help."
    "Yes. He would have sent the other ones down if you were in serious shit with him. Let's go out to the car and get my bang-bangs."
    Chigurh smiled. He must have smiled before at some point in the past, because the expression did not surprise Wells. "What did you bring?"
    "Clean weapons. Silenced .22s, a silenced Mac-11. I figure you'll want the Mac."
    "Yeah." It was drawn out. "Too bad about my other stuff."
    "We're going to have to ditch those. You can make more later."
    They left the room.


See? Metaphor or misplaced Freddy, keeping Wells alive, shaming Chigurh makes him human, which also makes him more sinister. Wells and Chigurh wipe out the cartel guys, leave with the money. Moss's wife isn't murdered by Chigurh, she's killed in a car accident driving back from his funeral. To me, this is a more satisfying story. I hate Jason and Freddy anyway. Don't mind Pinhead too much, though. Regardless, they don't belong in noir crime fiction. Noir addresses the underlying harsh realities of human existence. To mess with it by inserting metaphors or creeps from horror movies is an insult to the genre.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

You Will Hate Me: MIni-Reviews

One might ask just why I review what I review. I confess: I'm cheap. I save money by not renting videos or going to movies. What I see is mostly on cable TV or some free promo at Amazon. Go ahead and complain - did you pay to read this? There's enough here for everyone to hate. Be patient, if not now, I'm sure at some point in the near future I will piss you off. Several provisos - "excuses" if you want to use that term - all opinions on creative endeavors are prone to disagreement, tastes vary, and nothing is static. Translation: don't get too upset, everyone has a different opinion and that's all right, and I might change my mind.


No Country for New Ideas

Why does anyone like No Country for Old Men? Book or movie, doesn't matter. This is prompted by its showing on cable TV the other night. Don't think it is just this one book, I don't care for anything Cormac McCarthy writes. Never did. Don't know what people see in his fiction. This one in particular, can't stand it. He pulled off a neat trick when he wrote this. It's actually a genre mash-up, sticking the antagonist from a slasher-horror movie into a noir thriller. Chigurh is Jason. He stomps around, killing aimlessly, unbeatable, immortal. Good trick if you can get away with it...and apparently McCarthy has. Congrats, you jerk.


Smand of God

It's...okay. Sorry, I wish I could say I loved Hand of God, the Amazon Studios TV series. I have been a huge Ron Perlman fan for time out of mind. I wish I could like it. I'm not the one to ask for a review of this, not really, since I don't watch much in the way of conventional crime dramas. I deeply enjoyed both Fargo and True Detective, but more conventional TV, as this seems to be, is not to my taste. The pilot was strongest when it was on Perlman, when he was experiencing visions, and weakest when it was away from him on the standard apparatus of conventional TV crime dramas - scheming politicians, pliant cops, corrupt preachers - it is as if it were trying to be two things, an offbeat story about a man led by visions, while at the same time trying to abide by conventional expectations. Can't be both. It is also very reminiscent of an old Rod Serling screenplay about a man taking revenge on apparent strangers for his wife's assault. The recent film Broken City also comes to mind, along with a little flavoring from a bit of Breaking Bad. Too derivative for my liking. Very sorry I couldn't give it a thumb's up.


Alpha House

This is Garry Trudeau's satiric take on a small group of Republican congressmen, bound together because they are sharing a townhouse. It is apparently in its second season. Amazon Studios has the first episode for free, that's how I got to see it. It is occasionally very funny - Trudeau wrote Very good writing - Trudeau, again - very professionally made. John Goodman is the main lead.  Bill Murray had a cameo in the opening sequence, hilarious. Why do I seem so...subdued? For the same reason I often dislike Saturday Night Live. When the comedic writing is excellent, when the acting is superb, sometimes it goes horribly awry. The satire becomes so refined, so well-done, it becomes indistinguishable from reality. Where the fuck is the fun in that? Partly it comes from the quotidian premise, following around congressmen in their corrupt ordinary weaselly little lives. My mind sees vast expanses of possibility: why can't Trudeau see these vistas? John Goodman stars in a comedic TV series about the head of the DC division of the FBI corruption department. He and his henchmen HUNT congressmen...and it's a comedy! The Office marries NYPD Blue and they have a baby. Comedy crime drama about FBI agents who hunt congressmen! Am I the only one to see the lofty mountainscapes in that?


The Roosevelts, or How to Make History Boring

This is Ken Burns' latest historical miniseries on public television. TR and FDR are right at the top of my personal list of Best Presidents Ever. One could not ask for more drama in history than the times in which these two men lived. So just how did Burns manage to make it so fucking boring? And what's with the soundtrack, does Ken have money in elevator music companies? Holy shit, the music of TR's and FDR's age was vibrant, alive, powerful! Jazz, the Blues, Ragtime, Swing, American classical composers, music that will drill into your heart. Do we get any of that? Nope, just like everything else in this fiasco, drained of light and life. And what the fuck are a bunch of DC pundits doing in this? More air time is given to George Will than to anyone else. Is Kenny-boy having a secret love affair with that right-wing nut job? Why is Will in this at all? He's a winger, he hates FDR with a passion, he continually advocates for the destruction of every last bit of FDR's heritage. What the fuck?

Kenny-boy did okay with the Civil War, but it's been downhill ever since. If I remember correctly, he had Shelby Foote, the renowned Civil War historian, to keep him on an even footing. Much of what FDR did during the New Deal years is still controversial with the DC establishment, even our illustrious socialist leader - not really. I'm a socialist, give me at least a tiny bit of credit for being able to recognize my own. President Obama is not a socialist, he's a slight variation on the standard centrist politician. To deal with FDR honestly, you'd have to get other people into the act, economics guys like Krugman and Stiglitz, to talk about things like Keynesian economics. Those guys, Krugman included, scare the shit out of the "centrists" in Washington. And where was mention of the Business Plot, a real conspiracy to overthrow the US government by rich businessmen? Even Alf Landon didn't get the right punch line. Landon, governor of Kansas at the time, didn't win his home state when he went up against FDR's re-election campaign. When you can't win Kansas against a liberal progressive Eastern politician, you know you're shit out of luck.

Burns has created junk history here, with the apparent intent to undermine the fundamental values TR and FDR espoused. It's another in a long list of crimes against American history perpetrated by the mainstream media...and the presence of so many talking heads from Sunday morning talk shows illustrates that Ken Burns is the quintessential Washington insider, bent on maintaining the status quo, dedicated to the destruction of progressivism - because that's what TR and FDR were, progressives. Those ideas must be destroyed, for if they live on, even if only in history, someday they will lead to the fall of the neoliberal order. Ken can't have that.


The Hobbit: Murdered by Peter Jackson

The Desolation of Smaug is dismal. If you haven't seen it...don't. This warning is a little on the late side for a simple reason, I long ago had to cut out such things as movie attendance, too hard on the budget. Don't buy many books anymore, either. I'm not complaining, just explaining. My complex has free cable TV and free internet, so I finally was able to see Desolation. It came as a surprise to me when I saw just how bad it was compared to the first Hobbit movie. That one took some liberties with the book, but at least stayed close enough to it - it was also somewhat entertaining in its own right. Desolation is neither of those things. It is a clumsy, ill-conceived, blundering attempt at a motion picture. It contains so much that is not of the book, it is no longer the story of the book. The sense of distrust that came over me after I discovered Peter Jackson's original ending for the Lord of the Rings movies was validated in Desolation. Jackson is a Hollywood hack.

Who's the real hero of The Hobbit? Bilbo is the observer, the truth-seer, the peacemaker, the narrator, but is he the hero? No, mostly he's along for the ride. Who's the hero? Not Thorin, he ends up as a quasi-bad guy, who essentially deserves his fate. Who's the hero? Bard? Maybe, but he only gets to act the hero because of the real hero's actions. Who's the hero?

The thrush. Not the eagles, but the smallest, least menacing animal in the book. A little thrush. It braves danger, misery, and a great journey to deliver vital information just when it is needed. The three most important people in the novel are a nobody of a hobbit, a tiny bird, and the captain of the archers. Not the Master of Lakeview, not the elven king, not the dwarf-prince, not the dwarves. No. The creatures who save the day are the ordinary nobodies of everyday life. Kinda reminds me of Lord of the Rings, where the one person most responsible for the destruction of absolute evil and the salvation of Middle-Earth is a middle-aged middle-class nobody of a hobbit.

Gee, you'd think there's a theme going on here, like maybe Tolkien, the guy who wrote The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, had something in mind, something so fucking important, he said it in a series of novels. That many words, that many stories of so many characters...and the same damn theme over and over again. Ya think it's important? Do you?

Watching Twelve Years a Slave now. Tolkien is just as deep, just as profound. Both wrote, one from experience, one from the imagination, about fundamental aspects of the human condition, of human suffering, of our redemption at the hands of the least among us, a carpenter or a small bird...yeah, even in a kid's book. The Hobbit is written as a children's book. I'm guessing, but maybe Tolkien thought this theme was so important, children should be exposed to it at an early age.

Peter Jackson thinks none of this is important. He pretends he isn't, but he's a Hollywood boy. He almost destroyed the Lord of the Rings with his brain-dead idea to have Sauron and Aragorn fight it out in a duel at the end - how we should thank Jackson's production assistants, who refused to go along with it. Now he actually is destroying The Hobbit. Congrats, Mr. Jackson, I'm sure you'll be paid in full for this.

Skip watching the last one...I know you won't, you want to watch the big battle...but try. Step out of line, go home, open up one of Tolkien's books, and put Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man on the stereo. As you read, think on Tolkien's service in the front lines of the British Army during World War I. Think on Tolkien watching his beloved country bombed to ash in World War II. Maybe think on when Copland wrote Fanfare and just why he named his composition "Fanfare for the COMMON MAN." There is a deeper meaning to Tolkien. His books are not merely primordial Skyrim. They make you think, they inspire, and they ennoble the low while they throw a revealing light on the mighty. Read them. Fuck Jackson and all his works. Read the books instead.


Bowfinger Saved Me: Or How A Movie Taught Me to Love My Pathetic Life

For those who don't know, this 1999 movie starred Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy. Martin assumes the role of Bowfinger, a down-and-out movie producer, the kind of guy who makes direct-to-DVD/direct-to-streaming movies. He has the idea of stalking the rich movie star Kit Ramsey, played by Murphy. Bowfinger thinks that since the clandestine recordings are in public places, he can use them in a film. The movie itself is a horrible remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The vibrancy with which Martin and the rest of the cast capture the nearly uncontrollable urge to create takes my breath away. He and his merry little band will do almost anything to make movies, even abandon successful careers, give up day jobs, cheat, steal, screw anybody, just to have the chance to create. It reminded me of who I am, what I'm up to. I won't lie, times are hard. I have less than a year's worth of money left before I either have to get a day job or starve to death on the street, and that's after squeezing the pennies so hard, Lincoln starts to cry. I constantly question my decision to spend my savings on this endeavor...but I'm older, and if not now, when? It has to be now. Martin's performance reminds me of this. Like his character, like Bowfinger, I have to create. It's not a choice or a scam.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Kill Us, Vol. 2

How is the ongoing drama in Ferguson, Missouri like the movie Kill Bill, Vol. 2?  No, I am not saying Tarantino is a racist, far from it. There is no superficiality in this comparison. I will supply the hints, you will try to see the pattern. At the conclusion, we'll see if you're right or not.

Kill Bill, Vol. 2
The movie mostly centers around Bill's drunken brother Budd. He's a real sad sack. He lives in a mobile home parked out in the middle of nowhere, probably because Budd can't afford the rent at a trailer park. He works as a bouncer in a low-rent strip low-rent, most of the time there are no customers for him to bounce. His boss is an abusive coke head. His life sucks.

The Bride wants to kill him for his participation in the wedding-day massacre a few years back, the one that left her in a coma for years. The Bride is a former top assassin, an assassin of assassins, a complete professional.

His mobile home is in a gully out in the middle of nowhere. I did mention that, didn't I? Budd is a man of routines. He goes to work. He goes by a liqour store, a package store, for his daily needs. When he's not at work, he's in his old mobile home drinking himself silly.

What does the Bride do? This exemplar of assassins? She charges right in the front door. Budd disables her with a rock-salt blast from his shotgun. He then carts her off to an old cemetery and buries her alive.

These quotations are from the Guardian article:

Figures published last year by Missouri’s attorney general showed that seven black drivers were stopped by police in the town for every white driver, and that 12 times as many searches were carried out on black drivers as white, despite searches of white people being far more likely to turn up something illegal.

The penalties issued for minor offences uncovered during these stops make up almost a quarter of the town’s annual revenues, leading to resentment that poorer residents are being milked to fund the salaries of white bureaucrats. Some say that one of the defining sights of Ferguson comes on the days when traffic court is in session: a queue of black residents wrapped around the block, waiting their turn to be punished by a white prosecutor in front of a white judge.

Patricia Bynes, a Democratic committeewoman for Ferguson, concedes that the failure of black residents to vote in local elections has perpetuated the problem. But, she says, many "don’t show up because they are too busy working out how they are going to eat and feed their families the next day."

Tentative Conclusion
What do you make of this little puzzle, this conundrum of cultural tropes and sad history? "Racism!" you shout, but how does that fit in with a completely non-racist action movie?

A few more hints are needed.

Kill Bill Vol. 2
I believe in character-based fiction. The people embedded in the story drive the story, not the other way round. It's hard to see what I'm talking about in Kill Bill v2 because so much of the movie is wrapped around very good dialog. I'm a fan of noir dialog, and this movie has it, every damn word is Red Harvest gold. The truth of KBv2 is covered up by excellent filmmaking and dialog straight out of the heart of hardboiled fiction. Here it is, so simple, yet so easily missed. The Bride is a lethal creature, the deadliest assassin in the history of assassins. She wants to kill a man, Budd. He lives in a trailer out in the middle of nowhere, at the bottom of a gully, one road in and out. How does an ace assassin kill Budd? Well, she sure as fuck doesn't charge in the front door. She has to know, in part because she left one of Bill's henchwomen alive to tell him in volume 1, that Bill knows she's coming to kill them all. Bill would tell everyone, including his drunken brother Budd. Budd will be waiting for her, he'll probably be sitting just inside his door with a shotgun. So how does she kill him? The ace assassin would either...

...firebomb the trailer and cut Budd down when he runs out.

...or, the better approach, build a sniper nest on the hill overlooking the trailer and shot the man when he opens his door the next morning. If she wanted to kill him up-close, spine-shoot the bastard, then walk down and cut him to pieces with her blade.

But she doesn't do that. All the surface layers are a lie. The good dialog, the great acting, the sets, the noir ambiance, a lie. Underneath, Kill Bill Vol. 2 is another typical plot-driven piece of Hollywood shit.

Under racism, which is real, which is oppressive, is a system of control utilizing racism as one of its tools. Racism controls both the people oppressed by it and the people supposedly benefiting from it. It feeds fear and misapprehension. It is the perfect misdirection. The economic and political system in place in Ferguson is a microcosm of modern America. We are kept distracted by this or that thing. We are kept divided by race and economic class. We are told to fear each other. All the while, wealth is extracted from us, keeping us so busy with our daily lives, we cannot see the inequalities, the rigged game. Ferguson ably demonstrates what the rich have long known: it is possible to make money off of poor people, even against their wishes. The political power structure of Ferguson is parasitic on the black population. They use racism as a tool in this parasitism.

The shocking thing, whites go along with the inequality for almost the same reason the black community does. They're too busy, they're afraid, they're distracted...except they're afraid of their black neighbors. They've been told by word, deed, and image that they need to be afraid. They've been told it's a zero-sum game. They can hear the subtext of the message the police in Ferguson deliver: "You benefit from the system, look what we do to people who don't support the system." The cops could make it more blatant and shout, "It's all for you!" They don't need to, the message is clear. It's the other side of racism. Still the same coin. Control is still there. The present neoliberal regime sees the absolute necessity to divide the lower classes, to distract them, to make them afraid, to make their lives an unending rat's maze of difficulty. Like Tarantino's movie, this is at the bottom of the experience. Racism is the distraction, the tool, control is the plot.

Someone else gets it. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and I think alike. Here is the link to his essay:

One little point from Kareem's essay. Notice the power of racism to control not just the population, but the reaction to oppression. After Kent State, outrage and protest. After Jackson State, crickets.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Value of Fiction: We Can Dream It All Over Again

To those who have not heard, an unarmed young black guy named Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri was shot for jaywalking. According to the witness, his only crime was in trying to argue with the cop who approached him. I grew up around cops, and not one of the cops I knew would have shot a kid for a little lip. In my mind, I put one of them behind the wheel of the cop car that night.

    Officer Mucklow turned onto Green street. It was a quiet night. Two young black men were walking down the middle of the street. He had seen them around before, they were local kids. He wasn't sure, but he thought they both lived somewhere along this block. He eased the cop car slowly up parallel with them.
    "Hi, guys."
    "Hey, man."
    "Do me a favor and get up on the sidewalk."
    "We live just up there." The kid pointed to a house a few doors down.
    "Still, it'd be nice if you got up on the sidewalk."
    "I don't see why. There aren't any cars out. You just like bossing people around. We're almost home anyway."
    Mucklow smiled. "Tell you what. It's a slow night. I'm going to drive up to the end of the block. I'm going to wait there. If you two haven't gone home, if you're still walking in the middle of the street by the time you get to me, I'll give you each a fifty-dollar jaywalking ticket. How's that sound?"
    Without another word, Mucklow pulled out ahead of the kids. He drove down to the end of the block and got out of his car with his ticket book in his hand.
    The kids were still defiant, they continued to walk in the street...until they came to their houses. They each went inside.
    Mucklow got in his car and drove away. Quiet night.

There is also a chance that the real Officer Mucklow would not have said a word to the kids, it being a small town, no traffic on the side streets. Knowing Lloyd Mucklow, growing up across the alley from him as a kid, if he even turned down that street, he would have passed the kids in his patrol car, giving them both a friendly wave as he did so.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Old Man Shakes Fist at Draft2Digital

I was going to shift my free short stories over to, mostly because of the zany and burdensome formatting requirements at That plan is in the wind.

I tried again and again and again to arrange the formatting on my first short story, but I could not get rid of the chapter formatting their programming insisted on inserting into the ebook. It's a short story, it doesn't have chapters!! So screw it, screw free stories other than on my own web site. I'll add some value to the short stories, free chapters from my novels, and put them up at Amazon for 99 cents. I'll give more free stuff away on my web site as acrobat files. Too bad about smashwords. I can no longer afford to hire people to format my stuff for them. Perhaps I'll explore putting up mobi and epub stories on my web site.

After Draft2Digital's failure to handle a simple short story, I....I lost my temper. I changed my name to "F... Draft2Digital." There's no way to delete an account, you see. No way to delete a story draft, either. So I changed the name of the story to "F... Draft2Digital." What was I going to do, write a polite note to people who failed the first day of comp sci 101? Honestly, compared with the ease of use over at Amazon, D2D, smashwords, and all the rest are abject failures.

Not that I'm particularly happy with Amazon, but they are the best of the lot.


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.


Monday, June 2, 2014

Podkayne of What?

For no apparent reason, this evening I've been distracted by Podkayne of Mars. Heinlein was under contract to write a juvenile SF novel. In his first draft, returned by the publisher, he kills Podkayne off at the end. He was forced to re-write the ending. Heinlein was enraged at this.
Heinlein complained that it would be like "revising Romeo and Juliet to let the young lovers live happily ever after." He also declared that changing the end "isn't real life, because in real life, not everything ends happily."
Two things. First, Podkayne was killed because, after escaping from the terrorist hideout, she suddenly remembers she left a little Venusian fairy-baby behind. She goes back to get it...boom. This in itself is a plot gimmick to get her killed. No bright teenage girl of my acquaintance would take more than two steps before remembering to bring the fairy-baby along. Seriously, think about it. Just about any person who's owned a pet would, BEFORE escaping a place, make sure their pet was with them. We're talking pets here, too, not a helpless semi-intelligent infant. In the real world, Podkayne and her uncle would have brought the fairy-baby along. Her brother Clark might not have, but as he's portrayed, he's a borderline psychopath. You have to let your characters act as they want to, not shoehorn them in with clunky plot gimmicks. This is dedicated clunky, too, not ordinary lack of care. In just about how many thousands of movies, novels, TV shows, and comics does this little piece of trash appear? Hero forgets someone/something, has to go back, gets into trouble. Bah.

I might add that I remember reading this book as a child. The re-written ending had quite an effect on me. Podkayne was seriously injured in the explosion, but she and the fairy-baby lived. Seeing her hurt affected a change in Clark's personality. He dedicated himself to raising the fairy-baby, because it will please his sister when she recovers.

Here lies a secret I touch on in Suzie's Technical Support. I'll let Suzie explain: "Nothing's ever like a movie. People get stabbed, they get shot, they get blown up, but they aren't dead like they are in the movies. They're torn up, they hurt, they bleed, they moan, they scream." I knew this from my own childhood, from my own injuries, from my long days in a hospital. The revised ending wasn't a cop-out. It told a truth to those who read it. Life can fuck you up so much you'll wish you were dead...but you won't be.

Second. "It isn't real life because in real life, not everything ends happily." Happy endings are a cliché...but so are "real life" endings. What isn't a cliché, letting your characters tell you how the story ends.

Lastly, it isn't professional to tell your publisher you are writing a juvenile SF adventure novel...and give them noir instead. This is another example of the petty egotism some writers exhibit once they begin to have a little success. If ever I become successful, remind me of this essay.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014


The internet is vast and deep. I had no idea such things as "neoreactionaries" or plans for a "Dark Enlightenment" existed until I read this article at The Baffler. Among the article's insights, these followers have an affection for Carlyle's essay on re-enslaving the recently freed slaves of the British in the Caribbean. But back in the day, another voice was heard from, a week later in the same magazine.

SIR,— Your last month's number contains a speech against the "rights of Negroes," the doctrines and spirit of which ought not to pass without remonstrance. The author issues his opinions, or rather ordinances, under imposing auspices no less than those of the "immortal gods." "The Powers," "the Destinies," announce, through him, not only what will be, but what shall be done; what they "have decided upon, passed their eternal act of parliament for." This is speaking "as one having authority;" but authority from whom l If by the quality of the message we may judge of those who sent it, not from any powers to whom just or good men acknowledge allegiance. This so-called "eternal act of parliament" is no new law, but the old law of the strongest — a law against which the great teachers of mankind have in all ages protested — it is the law of force and cunning; the law that whoever is more powerful than an other, is "born lord" of that other, the other being born his "servant," who must be "compelled to work" for him by "beneficent whip," if "other methods avail not." I see nothing divine in this injunction. If  "the gods" will this, it is the first duty of human beings to resist such gods. Omnipotent these "gods" are not, for powers which demand human tyranny and injustice cannot accomplish their purpose unless human beings coöperate. The history of human improvement is the record of a struggle by which inch after inch of ground has been wrung from these maleficent powers, and more and more of human life rescued from the iniquitous dominion of the law of might. Much, very much of this work still remains to do; but the progress made in it is the best and greatest achievement yet performed by mankind, and it was hardly to be expected at this period of the world that we should be enjoined, by way of a great reform in human affair, to begin undoing it.
"The Negro Question"
by John Stuart Mill
Fraser's Magazine for Town and Country, 1850
It is an exhilarating thing to read, but you must make allowances for the 160 year old prose, which can seem dense at times. This is part of my  heritage as a progressive. We have deep roots.


Monday, May 12, 2014

George RR Martin, Game of Thrones, and Hollywood Sword-and-Sandalism

I've met George RR Martin. I like him, he's a nice guy. This is saying something in a set of genres - science fiction and fantasy -  that seem to attract assholes. Sometimes interacting with SF&F authors is a long wade into a deep cesspool full of adolescent behavior, alcoholism, preening, and rampant egotism. I've been called names and mocked by Harlan Ellison. I was spit on by a drunken Jerry Pournelle. I've been reviled by an apparently endless line of writers. So Martin stands out as a legitimate nice guy.

Personal aside: detective, mystery, and hardboiled writers have treated me like a prince. One of them, James Lee Burke, became one of my mentors in college. Even guys who write about hardcore gangsters doing the most despicable things have answered my letters with great kindness.

It pains me to say this. I mean, it really does. I can't stand anything George RR Martin writes. I wish I admired his writing, a nice guy deserves that. But I can't. I don't like his books. It isn't for lack of trying. I've read several of his SF novels. I forced myself through two of the Song of Fire and Ice novels, Storm of Swords and the next one, forgot its title. Hated them all. Most of the time, in order not to harm the gentleman - nice guys deserve to be treated nicely - I evade or dissemble when asked my opinion about "the Game of Thrones books." But now that the series has become a full-fledged cultural thing, I no long have to remain silent. The guy's sold over 24 million copies, he's set for the rest of his life. So with a light heart, knowing I won't be doing a nice guy any damage, I can shout at you, DON'T READ THESE BOOKS, THEY'RE TERRIBLE!

Read Fritz Leiber instead. He pursues the same themes of reality-in-fantasy, human cruelty, tragedy, and non-sensational magic as Martin does. His Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories are a complete joy to read. I'd also recommend Lin Carter, Robert E Howard, C. L. Moore, Karl Edward Wagner, and a bunch of other dead people from whom Martin has borrowed his themes and tone.

However...this essay ain't about my affection for George RR Martin despite my dislike of his work. It's about the most recent episode of Game of Thrones, the television series based on his series.

It was a very good episode, mostly because of the trial sequence at the end.  Peter Dinklage is the actor behind the portray of Tyrion Lannister. Dinklage is a freaking genius, an actor with more talent than any five other actors you could name. He managed to unleash the rage that character has been carrying around in his heart since birth. Wow.

The rest of the episode was up to par if not to the epic standards of the trial scene...with one very notable exception: the fight sequence in which Theon Greyjoy's sister tries to free him. The punk-torturer shows up essentially naked, armed only with an axe, and charges straight at a heavily armored Ironborn, who also has a shield and an axe. I summarize this for easy comprehension: NAKED GUY charges STRAIGHT AT an ARMORED soldier holding a SHIELD. The naked punk-torturer wins?  This is the worst sort of Hollywood Sword-and-Sandal heroic bullshit, this in a series supposedly claiming to be more "realistic," more "faithful to the true nature of the Middle Ages." LIKE FUCK.

We're to believe that a heavily armored man carrying a large shield, armed with either a sword or fighting axe, is to be overcome by a naked guy armed only with an axe running straight at him?  Maybe it could happen, if there were another thousand naked Celts right beside him. But there aren't. Everyone else is armored up. One cut from the naked guy's opponent, one deep cut, the naked guy's gonna bleed out. At the minimum, the naked guy will lose an ear, a nose, fingers, be crippled by a blow to the get the idea. It would take him time to overcome the shielded, armored soldier, time he doesn't have given that one cut coming at him. This is shit out of a kung fu movie, not one of the good ones, either, one with everyone flying around on wires. It's Hollywood Magical Armor, which looks like real armor, like a real helmet, like a real shield, but offers zero protection even from glancing blows. Armor as a fashion statement? This completely dilutes the great scene about armor and combat between Arya Stark and the Hound in the previous episode. It undermines a major plot element right there. Naked guy charging into a shield wall held by heavily armored soldiers? Who knew PCP existed in Westeros!

What's really going on, gotta fill up that fucking plot point. Never mind that one change in the scene would have made sense of everything. We've seen that the punk-torturer likes to kill helpless people. He isn't into putting himself at the least risk. We've fucking seen this in previous episodes!  So why isn't naked-torturer-guy AT THE BACK of his crowd of minions?

Goofy Hollywood shit strikes again, even undermining the drama and epic talent on display elsewhere in the series. This is why I both love and loathe the TV series. In one thirty minute stretch of the same episode, it can be both epically good and epically bad.  If I can see the bad parts coming, I walk away from the TV, do dishes, fold socks, something meaningless for five or ten minutes. It's back to being epic by then.

It's the way things are with fantasy and science fiction in film and on television. It's why we can't have nice things. Hollywood must have its way, even if it fucks everything up.
R. P. Bird: Professional writer since 1989. Author of the IN THE REALM OF THE GODS series and the SUZIE crime novels. Crazy, but highly reliable. Can fix about anything.