BLACKWOOD FARM CHAPTER 29

Jul. 21st, 2017 08:23 pm
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BLACKWOOD FARM CHAPTER 29

“My first manly task was to get to the Hermitage” He and one of the Shed Men, Allen, gather up all the chains there. Quinn and he bury the chains with Rebecca's remains. I guess Allen finds this funny, since when Quinn tells him that's what they're gonna do “he went into a state of sustained hilarity.” Not cool, Allen. And this from a guy Quinn says plays Santa Claus at the Christmas parties!

Quinn says he doesn't feel any “shimmer of Rebecca” so he says a long prayer for her to “go into the Light” and “so my first manly task had been completed.”

Way to ruin the moment with that, Quinn.

“On the second: of course Allen knew where Terry Sue lived”

Aw damn we gotta start with the slut-shaming already?

There are two rusted cars in the yard (curiously, one is a limousine) and a pair of toddlers “roaming” with “filthy faces and diapers”. Quinn knocks, then goes inside without being let in. Rude, Quinn. Rude, and a good way to get shot. This is the boonies, after all, from what I can tell.

“Tucked in the very end of the trailer there was a voluptuous woman in the bed, a woman with the face of a big china doll, nursing a baby, and a little girl, perhaps ten years old and barefoot” who is stirring a pot of grits and has bruises on her arm. The place feels crowded and damp to Quinn, overwhelmingly so, and smells of urine, vomit, and mildew, as well as rotten fruit and shit.

Without introducing himself or saying what the hell he's doing in her home, Quinn congratulates her on the new baby. The woman likewise doesn't even seem confused by a stranger barging in, and asks if he's brought any money. Though she has the face of a “Renaissance Madonna” her voice is “full of meanness, perhaps it was just practicality.” And she's got reason to be practical (as well as irate) since she then says she's broke, her boyfriend Charlie has walked out, her stitches are torn, and she's got a fever. Quinn gives her a thousand dollars from his pocket that he tells us he took from the “kitchen petty cash box.”

….petty cash. In the kitchen. They have a goddamn cash jar in the kitchen with apparently at least a thousand dollars in it. Holy smokes. That's so rich it's kind of disgusting. Also maybe a little weird? I may be wrong, but at some point I got it in my head that the mega-rich seldom actually touch cash? But everyone is different and, well, the Blackwoods are more than a little weird.

Terry Sue is "appropriately flabbergasted" by this, so I guess Quinn does know how insane it is for someone to just get handed a thousand dollars at random, even if it's apparently just "petty cash" to him.

Quinn's “heart went out” to the baby, which he finds “miraculous” in terms of how tiny and nearly-newborn it is. Terry Sue (I assume this must be her) tells the little girl, Brittany, to hurry up with the grits and put on the bacon and “go get those kids”, and that she'll need to go to town for groceries later. Poor kid. She offers grits to Quinn, which I think is quite kind of her, given the circumstances. Quinn says he'll take Brittany into town for the groceries (Quinn, a strange man offering to a little girl's mom to take that little girl in his car alone isn't a great idea) and asks where Tommy is.

Terry Sue, still with no idea who the fuck Quinn is, tells him that Tommy is out in the woods reading a book, which she says he stole and is sure that the woman at the store is “as crazy as he is” and “going to come get him”. Quinn asks if he has any other books, Terry Sue replies “Who's got money for books?” and tells him to look around the place, pointing out things like the broken window, a washing machine that doesn't work and another little girl who she says doesn't talk. She adds that she thanks God every day that he sent her Brittany, and he sent her first. Poor Brittany. She adds that “Pops never gave me money for books.” Again, Quinn hasn't introduced himself, so I wonder how she knows to mention Pops...maybe he was Pops to everyone? He seems to have been a community figure, given his funeral attendance.

Quinn goes out and finds a little boy reading on a log. It's a book of art, with picture by paintings of people like Van Gogh and Seurat. The kid has bruises and a burn, so the first damn thing out of Quinn's mouth is to ask if Charlie (the mom's boyfriend) hit him and pushed his hand up against the heater. Tommy does not answer.

Yeah, Quinn, be a total stranger, walk right up to an abused child, and openly ask them about the abuse. Goddamn what a dumbass. But I also can't say that this idiocy, same as saying Brittany can come to town with him, seems out of character or unlikely for such a tremendously sheltered and privileged and pampered guy. Why should he know to do otherwise? I just wish other people reacted to him with equal realism. Which I guess Tommy is here by not responding.

Quinn tells him with equal bluntness that he is Pops' grandson, and that Tommy is Pops' son, and everything is going to change. Tommy still doesn't say anything. Quinn tells him one day he' ll get to go to Amsterdam and see Van Gogh's work in person. Tommy says “I would settle for New York so I could see all the Impressionists and the Expressionists at the Met.”

Quinn is stunned and replies “You're some kind of genius.” Tommy says that no he's not, he just reads a lot. I'm with Tommy; being a kid who likes art isn't the same as being a genius. That's not what being a genius means. This reminds me of when I was twelve, and I would try to establish my child characters as being geniuses by having them like adult writers like Michael Crichton and Stephen King, the same adult writers that I was reading at the time. It also seems to me to be more of Anne Rice's idea of liking “fancy” things making you a better, more important person than the rest of the crowd.

Tommy does seem to be a gifted reader though. He says he's read everything he wanted at the library and now he's working through the Books-a-Million store, that art books are his favorite and Pops bought him a few books on art. I do have to note, as a reviewer on Goodreads pointed out, that isn't it coincidental how the only kid like this in Terry Sue's family is the one related to Quinn and all the others are just silent dirty background noise? I like Tommy though, I get reading to get away, and I like that he doesn't jump on the “genius” compliment.

I certainly like him a lot more than Quinn, and he's sure as heck probably smarter than Quinn, who thinks the following:

“That was an astounding revelation. Pops and books on art. Where would Pops get books on art? What did Pops know of books on art? Yet he had done it for this bastard son whom he allowed to live in the squalor of this place.”

Quinn, getting books on art is not a goddamn feat. You got a book store, you ask for books on art, problem solved. It's not difficult. What is with this wonder? One of my friends thinks this book was originally written to take place a few centuries ago, and then at some point Rice decided to rewrite it in modern times and added stuff like the computer, but failed to take out shit like Mona saying “quadroon” so casually. That would make this passage make a bit more sense. Only a bit though, since I don't think obtaining art books would be difficult then either for someone with Pops' wealth.

Seriously, what a fucking dumbass.

Quinn gives him fifty dollars for books and says not to steal anymore. Tommy says he didn't steal it “That's my mother talking. You listen to my mother, and you'd think Charlie pushed my hand up against the heater.”

So I guess that means Tommy is either trying to deny, as many victims do, that Charlie is hurting him, or he means it's someone else, probably Terry Sue herself, who did it.

They talk a bit more about art, like Quinn asking him what painting he would save if he could only save one, then Quinn asks him if he'd like to get out of here and go to a good boarding school. Tommy considers but says he can't leave Brittany, it wouldn't be fair. He sighs and says that his mother really doesn't want them, that it was okay when it was just him and Brittany but now with the others, she hits them a lot, and sometimes he has to get between her and the others.

Quinn is understandably “revolted” but “I had no solution”. He reflects how he's always heard that there are problems with both the welfare system and foster care system and so he doesn't know what to do. I'm kind of curious who he heard this from; it doesn't seem like anyone in his household would have experience with it, and he doesn't get out like...at all. Maybe from television and books? This isn't saying it's wrong for him to know this, just in my own experience, most people who aren't on welfare are usually saying the only problem with it is that it exists.

Quinn agrees with Tommy that he can't leave them behind, and Tommy says he's going to a better school than Brittany as it is, but that Brittany is still smart and does her homework and is getting a good education anyway. Well, good for her.

Quinn says he'll be back with more money, and maybe he can make things better so she won't hit them. Tommy asks how, Quinn says to let him think on it. Tommy then randomly asks him about the lost city of Atlantis. Tommy says he believes in it and want to find the ruins one day.

...okay, given Rice's most recent book being about Atlantis and aliens and the spirit Amel, which created vampires via Akasha, being from Atlantis, was this like...deliberate foreshadowing? Did she already have this idea in mind? Or at this point did she just think Atlantis was neat but didn't yet have any plans to work it into her mythos, she just had Tommy mention it because hey it's cool and a kid would like it, right?

Quinn says he has to go to work now, Tommy says he thought Quinn was so rich he didn't have to work, which is completely correct. Quinn says he means work on his problems, because I'm so sure a kid wants to hear about that. Especially a kid in Tommy's position.

He asks if he can give Tommy a hug, which Tommy allows, and Quinn concludes “he was a solid, loving little creature. I really adored him.”

Quinn calls Aunt Queen on the car phone to ask about purchasing a house for Terry Sue, fully insured and fully furnished, as he hopes that she might not hit the kids if conditions are improved. He calls Grady, the family lawyer, about the same thing, how they're gonna take care of the taxes, cable, utilities, everything else, get her a nanny and a cleaning woman, give her an allowance, so she'll have no cause to hit her kids.

I think this is just, like, a fix-everything fantasy? Like Terry Sue's situation is a genuinely shitty and sad and complicated one for which there's no easy answer. Except, there is, apparently. Just throw an insane amount of money at it.

I can't get mad at Quinn for this of course, it's great he's using his money to do this, it's just...why even set it up if it's all going to be resolved with a neat little bow within the chapter? Assuming Quinn is right and this does make her stop hitting them, which it admittedly might not. But if it does...what's the point of this? Just to make Quinn look good, I guess.

Oh yeah and it gets dropped in that Charlie isn't the new baby's father because I guess we had to know that. Quinn suspect it belongs to Pops too. He also "judged Pops, though I tried not to do it, for leaving his son, Tommy, in this mess, and how loveless he had been to this woman, Terry Sue. But then, maybe there was more to it than I in my youth could understand."

He has hopes that Tommy will come one day to live at Blackwood Manor, and travel the world with him and Mona and Aunt Queen and Nash and maybe he'll even find Atlantis. He then tells Allen to go back with the pickup take Brittany to the store and buy her groceries. I kinda wonder why he specifies to use the pickup to transport Brittany when they went there in the Mercedes.

He goes home, puts on an Armani shirt and Versace tie, goes to a florist to get a bouquet, and is off to see Mona.
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And so we come to War for the Planet of the Apes, the latest in what now seems to be an ongoing series of films rather than merely a trilogy. We see where events since the last movie have led us, as man’s arrogance encompasses his own downfall. Will the unexpected consequences of bio-technology offer other primates a chance at the top slot?

Technologically, the film is a tour de force. What motion capture and CGI can do is astonishing – you really cannot see where reality stops and special effects start. So far, so increasingly common these days. But great special effects are not enough, as rather too many movies fail to realise. A film like this must also have sufficiently strong central performances to make it a drama, not merely a spectacle. Andy Serkis and Woody Harrelson deliver absolutely what’s needed. The dynamic between Caesar, leader of the apes, and Colonel McCullough, commanding an embattled remnant of humanity, is tense and compelling from start to finish.

Mankind’s inhumanity to man is front and centre, compared and contrasting with the apes’ mutually supportive culture. All Caesar and his kind want is to be left alone. Colonel McCullough needs an enemy to fight though, and unable to attack the virus that’s been humanity’s downfall, finds the scapegoats he needs in the apes.

As a war film, the movie wears its influences unashamedly on its sleeve, most obviously, though not exclusively films exploring the Vietnam War. It can absolutely and legitimately be called Ape-ocalypse Now. This is not merely retreading those footsteps though. Such echoes, and other references such as the slang names for servile apes, serve to tie this dystopian future to our own reality. There’s also the inescapable fact that the Vietnam War proved the hollowness of the American doctrine of ‘peace through superior firepower’. That undercurrent continually runs beneath our viewing of events where armed men seem to have an inescapable whip hand over apes with severely limited abilities to fight back. Beware assumptions.

Issues of gender in this movie are more complex than they might first appear, certainly as far as I am concerned. I’m using words like ‘man’ and ‘him’ advisedly because this is very male-gaze apocalypse. Not however, one where masculinity-under-threat-in-this-modern-liberal-world can finally come good, with its guns and its manly men taking charge of helpless women and children to save the day.

This is a story about the dead-end destructiveness of arrogant white male masculinity so used to solving everything with aggression that it's incapable of thinking outside that self-defeating box. That influences my response to the widespread online comment about the complete absence of female voices in the dialogue (apart from possibly one female soldier’s scream?) The one significant human female role is mute and childlike in the most literal sense, and while a couple of female apes have things to say, they do so through sign language. Could one view the lack of female voices as a feature rather than a bug, if one were prepared to squint a bit...? Then there’s the almost-gender-neutral appearance of the apes apart from the females’ apparent (and to my mind inexplicable) inclination to unflattering central partings and rustic ear decoration. I think there’s more to be discussed about the absence of female characters here than might be first apparent. Is that very absence what permits masculinity to turn so toxic?

Not that this excuses the use of perhaps the laziest motivate-your-male-protagonist cliche in the first act of the movie. There are other script-writing choices I can quibble with, most notably some utterly bone-headed human tactics as the film rushes to its conclusion.

A fourth movie is reportedly under discussion, or development, depending on what you read. I’ll be very interested to see it, provided that the writers can offer something more than man and ape in conflict. These films have done that, and done it well, but the story needs to move on. In my head at least, there must be other corners of this world where the post-apocalypse is working out differently, with male and female voices contributing equally to co-operation rather than conflict. I’d like to see how that’s working out, given so many challenges will still remain to drive a story.

1st Chapter Friday – Southern Fire

Jul. 21st, 2017 10:51 am
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After the holiday-and-other-stuff hiatus, here's where you can find the opening chapter of Southern Fire, Book 1 of The Aldabreshin Compass.
I've mentioned before that I am always determined not to rewrite the last book each time I start a new one. This time round, I was absolutely determined to write a very different series.

Meet Daish Kheda, absolute ruler and warlord, unquestioned master of all he surveys. Of course that means when trouble arrives, absolutely everyone is looking back at him, expecting him to have all the answers. That's a problem when the trouble that's turned up is invaders backed by violent sorcery, and all Aldabreshin law and custom bans magic on pain of death...



Southern Fire - Artwork by Ben Baldwin
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Spiderman: Homecoming continues to build on, and expand the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While, and oh, thank heavens, it’s not another Spiderman origin story retread, it does an excellent job of refocusing the character on its original appeal at the same time as updating and integrating the High School Hero into the modern day. As a decades-long fan of the comic, I’m thrilled to see a young, nerdy Peter Parker, while also very much appreciating a younger, more modern, far more relatable Aunt May rather than a grey-haired granny stereotype.

With its smaller scale and 80s-teen-movie vibe, the film is in many ways lighter in tone than other recent and forthcoming MCU movies. A story feels much less oppressive when the oncoming disaster is humiliation at a teenage party rather than global annihilation by aliens or android armies. On the other hand, that tighter focus and scenario simultaneously makes this story far more personal. We can empathise far more readily with the reality of that situation whereas we could only ever be onlookers in need of rescue from Ultron or the Chitauri. When a shop which Peter regularly visits, where we know he chats with the owner, becomes collateral damage - that has an emotional impact which can sometimes be lacking in the CGI-spectacular destruction of faceless hordes.

I also like the way that Peter’s school and classmates are portrayed. He’s attending a specialist science and technology school, where being intelligent is the norm, not a reason for ridicule. Yes, he has a bullying nemesis, in keeping with the High School vibe, but that lad doesn’t mock Peter’s brains, rather he’s jealous of his place on the Academic Decathlon team. Yes, there’s a roly-poly, nerdy sidekick, but he’s extremely bright and capable when it comes to playing his own vital role in the plot. Success in the Academic Decathlon is presented as a worthwhile victory to strive for. All of which might be merely worthy if it wasn’t for the presence of Tony Stark. We all know Tony’s off-the-scale-brilliant but one thing his involvement in these events highlights is the difference between intelligence and wisdom. Tony doesn’t listen, he’s arrogant, and he shrugs off what doesn’t interest him. That sets the tone that his employees adopt. It’s Peter who learns the lessons that result from the consequences of Tony’s mistakes – as well as his own teenage missteps, of course.

Michael Keaton is a stellar villain whose coherent motivation is so much more convincing and complex than mere motiveless malignity. Beneath the patent injustice and/or callousness that sparks his initial grievance, there are also a good few questions posed about the roles of big business and government and what happens to ordinary people when politicians and billionaires organise the world to suit themselves. With great power, comes great responsibility. Someone should remind them of that. Which is not to say Adrian Toombs is some misunderstood and wronged individual who warrants our sympathy. He has made his own choices, consciously and deliberately for years now, and as we see, is utterly ruthless in pursuit of his goals. We can believe that Peter is in very real danger, thanks to Michael Keaton’s performance and the personal nature of their conflict.

So far, so good, however ... there’s still no getting away from the most abiding and persistent problem of superhero movies based on characters with a decades-long back story. Yes, I mean the roles for women, drawn from source material written when very different cultural archetypes went unquestioned. Once again, the girls are peripheral to the male-focused action, only present in the stereotypical roles of objects of desire, domestic helpmeets and damsels in distress. The writers and actors make heroic efforts to lift the female characters above such clichés but even with the appearance of Mary Beth Lacey, apparent now working for Homeland Security or some such, there’s only so much they can do here. I can only hope that the hints of more and better to come in the next movie are fulfilled, from Michelle in particular – as long as they can do that without mangling the essence of the friendly neighbourhood Spiderman whom we know and love. I’ve had quite enough of that sort of thing with DC turning Superman supposedly dark and edgy and in the process erasing so much of his core character.

Oh hey, how about some more female-led superhero movies? That would work to elevate women and to offer girls their own role models, without eradicating the men. How about we stop looking at this as a zero sum game?

DICE TALES is out in the world!

Jul. 19th, 2017 10:29 am
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I should have posted this yesterday, but appropriately enough, I was too busy prepping for the game I ran last night. 🙂

Dice Tales: Essays on Roleplaying Games and Storytelling is out now! If you play RPGs and have an interest in them from the narrative side of things — the ways we use them to tell stories, and what GMs and players can do to make them work better in that regard — you may find it of interest. Follow the link to buy it from Book View Cafe, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google Play, iTunes, Kobo, or (in a first for me) DriveThruRPG. And if any parts of it wind up working their way into the games you play or run, let me know!

Also, the New Worlds Patreon has headed off into the wilds of rudeness, with two posts on “Gestures of Contempt” and “Insults.” The theme will continue through the end of this month before turning in a new direction for August. Remember that patrons at the $5 level and above can request topics, so if there’s something you’d like to see me discuss, you can make that happen!

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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For once, I manage to write my book reviews on a Wednesday.

Sam Bourne: To Kill the President

It was to be expected: the first Donald Trump era thriller (that I've read). Which takes full advantage of the fact that when previously any critic worth their salt would have complained about the one dimensional characterisation of the villains and the lack of realism in the US voting someone like that into power and then the Republican Party falling in line, followed by no checks and balances from any institution after even the Supreme Court caves due to the stolen seat being filled by the new President's choice, now all this looks like, well, realism.

Spoilers from an age where reality beggars caricature )


Philip Kerr: March Violets.

This is the first novel of a mystery series which I heard/read about via The New Yorker. The article in question was enthusiastic enought to overcome my instinctive squick at the premise, to wit: hard-boiled/noir detective novel set in the Third Reich. Basically, what if Philip Marlowe was German? Wandering those mean streets as a cynic with an ethical core takes a whole new meaning if the authories aren't just corrupt but a dictatorship preparing for war and genocide. Our hero is Bernie Gunther, former policeman who quit the force in 1933 for the obvious reason given that the novel positions he has ethics, and became a private investigator instead. Kerr serves up all the usual hard boiled/ noir tropes - untrustworthy millionaire clients, corrupt cops, shady dames -, complete with Chandleresque language, and he did his research - the novel's setting is Berlin in 1936, around the Olympic Games, and in addition to the well drawn Berlin geography, there are some great nods to Fritz Lang's movie M via some of the supporting cast, gangsters (given that Bernie Gunther originally gets hired to recover some diamonds, though of course it turns out it's far more complicated and what everyone is after is something else altogether. The brief appearances by historic figures (Göring and Heydrich, to be precise) are drawn credibly, which is to say their vileness comes across without Kerr employing sledge-hammery moustache twirling; in fact, he uses Göring's bonhommie manners to make him chilling.

As opposed to To Kill a President, this actually is a good novel. But. I still struggle somewhat with the basic premise. This is the first novel of what according ot the New Yorker article I'd read are twelve so far, and already I'm having to suspend disbelief about Bernie's continued survival. There's no reason why Heydrich at the end of this first novel shouldn't have gotten him killed, for example. And since we're in 1936, Bernie would still have the possibility to leave the country, and given what happens to him in this novel, it's hard to wonder why he doesn't, given he has no dependants who'd suffer for it. Yes, the decision to emigrate wasn't as easy as hindsight would have it if you weren't rich and didn't have friends abroad, but again, some truly harrowing things happen to Bernie in this novel which would serve as an incentive to get the hell out of Germany if ever there was one beyond the general situation of the country.

With this caveat, I'll keep reading.
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It’s been an interesting last little while in the SFF genre, notably for those of us keeping a watching brief on gender issues alongside our uncomplicated enjoyment of superheroes and the fantastic. But rather than demand your time and attention for an extended read on them all at once, here’s the first in a series of related (and hopefully not too spoilery) posts.

Wonder Woman was good fun. I most definitely appreciated seeing strong, athletic women taking charge of their own destiny on Themiscyra, and wearing costumes that drew far more on classical Mediterranean leather armour than on lingerie. Putting Diana into Great War London and seeing the clash of cultures that followed worked well, both in terms of the film, and incidentally to highlight today’s obdurate misogyny. Lucy Davis as Etta Candy gives a performance that’s central to exploring those particular themes all the more effectively through humour. I thought Chris Pine gives a good account of himself, and personally I didn’t feel his presence turned the film into All About Steve. Mind you, there really should be a law against anyone called Steve flying off alone a plane in a superhero movie now. There’s no telling what will follow...

Is this an particularly feminist movie? Not to my mind. Let’s not forget, Diana’s plot ultimately revolves around a response to male aggression. So far, so predictably defining a woman’s role as reactive to a man’s. On the other hand, there are some thoughtful asides on the causes of war and no over-soft-pedalling the dire practical and psychological consequences for men and women alike. Having a female villain in Doctor Poison was a good choice, though let’s not forget she is subservient to a man. But then again, this is set in 1918 ... so ... would a female villain with more overt agency have been anachronistic? There are arguments on both sides. Not least because a more overtly feminist movie would have offered endless ammunition to those primed to attack it as ‘message fiction’ long before they’d seen the opening credits.

All told, I felt Sameer and Napi were badly underused which meant their contribution ended up as primarily ‘see how prejudice extends to race as well as gender?’ rather than having that assuredly valid point made incidentally to more rounded roles for those particular characters. That said, making such roles meatier would mean extending a film with a run time that’s already well over two hours. Oh, here’s a thought? Maybe dial back the extended CGI-spectacular scenes just a bit here and there? Use those saved minutes for more interesting character exploration?

The film did drive a galloping coach and horses through established Greek myth, as I observed as we left the cinema. ‘I thought Greek myths had all sorts of variations?’ remarked one son. ‘That’s your biggest problem with a story set in a universe where a man dresses up as a giant bat to fight crime?’ queried the other. Well, yes, fair comment, both. The unexpected appearance of Spud from Trainspotting did also distract me. Just like my flashback to Renton’s toilet-dive when I watched Obi Wan Kenobi et al visit the underwater city in The Phantom Menace. But that’s probably just me...

So overall I thought it was a good, fun film rather than a great, deeply-meaningful one. I mean, compared to ... oh, wait, there are no other female-led superhero movies to compare it to, are there? So let’s not get hypercritical here. As a foundation to build on, and as a film that proves that a female superhero can light up the box office with a good, fun, adventure story that everyone can enjoy, it’s exactly what we need at the moment.

Spider-man: Homecoming (Film Review)

Jul. 18th, 2017 05:43 pm
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Okay, that's it. As Civil War made me suspect, Tom Holland is my platonic ideal of Peter Parker, at least in his teenage phase. Also, while I had liked the first Raimi/Maguire movie and parts of the rest while increasingly disliking other parts of those films, and liked the first Garfield without thinking it needed to exist while extremly disliking the second one, this latest cinematic go at Spidey was a complete delight to me and I love it.

Ramblings beneath the cut )
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I had the pleasure of meeting Michael F. Haspil at Denver Comic-Con recently, and he had me at the word “Egyptology.” The hero of his debut novel is a mummy and former pharaoh — how could I not be interested in that! But I’ll let Michael tell you about how it took a different character to bring his mummy’s story to, er, life for him.

***

cover art for GRAVEYARD SHIFT by Michael F. HaspilI wrote the original version of GRAVEYARD SHIFT during NaNoWriMo some time ago. However, I still remember when the story really jumped into gear and, regrettably, that wasn’t truly in the first draft, though at the time I thought it was.

As I began revisions and sorted through the aftermath of a NaNo first draft, certain aspects stood out as being decent. The main character, Alex Menkaure, an immortal pharaoh now working in a special supernatural police unit in modern-day Miami, and his partner, Marcus, a vampire born in ancient Rome, needed minor work. The climactic battle at the end against the villains needed a lot of polish. While the action was solid, I wrote the section in a blur and it showed. Also, there was something missing. While Alex and Marcus are formidable, the villains I’d set up for them to go against were more so, and they needed help.

The help came in the form of Rhuna Gallier, a young but vicious shapeshifter with her own agenda. I’d had an idea for her character while brainstorming another novel, but realized with some minor tweaks, Rhuna and “The Pack” could fit into GRAVEYARD SHIFT’s story and world.

When I wrote the next draft, as I seeded Rhuna’s presence throughout the book, she threatened to take over the entire thing and make it hers. This may sound weird to non-writers, but she didn’t seem to understand this was Alex’s story and she was a supporting character. So I promised her besides the climax she would get a cool action scene. I knew in the scene Rhuna needed to be mostly on her own with minimal support so I could showcase her lethality.

In GRAVEYARD SHIFT’s world, a practice goes by the underground name of S&B. It stands for Sangers, a derogatory name for vampires, and Bleeders, humans who willingly let vampires feed on them to experience the pleasurable sensations that come with it. Participants meet in bloodclubs, which are akin to prohibition-era speakeasies. Many unsavory activities such as human trafficking, blood and drug dealing, and murder, happen near the clubs and they are part of Miami’s criminal underbelly.

In the early draft, I had a criminal vampire who liked to prey on young girls, take one of his victims to the club. It was an unhappy chapter and ended with the vampire killing another victim. In the new draft, Rhuna showed up. That’s when the story jumped to life. Rhuna took the place of the victim and suddenly where I had a naïve girl falling prey to an old vampire’s wiles, now I had Rhuna going in as a Trojan horse and the vampire and his companions never knew what hit them.

I rewrote the sequence, several chapters long, in one sitting. Now, I can’t wait to write Rhuna’s novel. It’s going to be great fun.

***

From the cover copy:

Alex Menkaure, former pharaoh and mummy, and his vampire partner, Marcus, born in ancient Rome, are vice cops in a special Miami police unit. They fight to keep the streets safe from criminal vampires, shape-shifters, bootleg blood-dealers, and anti-vampire vigilantes.

When poisoned artificial blood drives vampires to murder, the city threatens to tear itself apart. Only an unlikely alliance with former opponents can give Alex and Marcus a fighting chance against an ancient vampire conspiracy.

If they succeed, they’ll be pariahs, hunted by everyone. If they fail, the result will be a race-war bloodier than any the world has ever seen.

Michael F. Haspil is a geeky engineer and nerdy artist. The art of storytelling called to him from a young age and he has plied his craft over many years and through diverse media. He has written original stories for as long as he can remember and has dabbled in many genres. However, Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror have whispered directly to his soul. An avid gamer, he serves as a panelist on the popular “The Long War” webcasts and podcasts, which specializes in Warhammer 40,000 strategy, tactics, and stories. Graveyard Shift is his first novel. Find him online at michaelhaspil.com or @michaelhaspil.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

Doctor Who and Orphan Black 5.06.

Jul. 17th, 2017 02:03 pm
selenak: (Missy by Yamiinsane123)
[personal profile] selenak
Spoilery Doctor Who talk about the big casting spoiler. )

On to Orphan Black. Which was a good spy hijinks hour that moved the plot forward.

Read more... )

Versailles (Season 2)

Jul. 16th, 2017 04:09 pm
selenak: (Max by Misbegotten)
[personal profile] selenak
Since the other Borgias left me in the mood for over the top historical melodrama, and since it was available, I marathoned the second season of Versailles. (My first season review is here.) Aka, the show with the general accuracy of The Tudors (which is to say more than than the all around anachronistic crack like Reign, but generally not that much, though the occasional clever use of historical fact actually happens), produced by Canal just as Borgia, with the main selling point to internet fandom that there’s canon m/m prominently featured, courtesy of Louis XIV.’s brother Philippe d’Orleans, aka Monsieur, played by the increasingly gorgeous Alexander Vlahos. The second season tackles the affair of the poisons, one of the most notorious events in the reign of Louis XIV., but just as it did in the first season with just about any historic event fictionalizes the hell out of it, including, mystifyingly, changing the name of the main supplier of the poisons in question. Instead of La Voisin (first name Catherine), we have “Madame Agathe”. (Otoh the black mass celebrating renegade priest gets to stay Father Etienne Guibourg, which means the first time he is introduced in a seemingly benign undercover identity, the more historically versed parts of the audience know who he is and what he’s infamous for.) In terms of historical characters, we also get introduced to the delightful Liselotte von der Pfalz, the Princess Palatinate, and may I say that I was hugely relieved the Versailles version is great, because the original is one of my favourite figures of the era, due to all those vivid letters she penned for the folks back home, and as Versailles’ first season unfortunately reduced Monsieur’s first wife Henriette to a very passive, agenda-less character, which the original definitely was not, I was a bit afraid something similar might happen to Liselotte, the second Madame. But no. She’s blunt, no-nonsense, determined to make the best of a bad situation, as all versions of Liselotte should be. (Mind you, this show still obeys the Hollywood rule of plain and beauty, so when Monsieur’s lover, the Chevalier de Lorraine, ridicules Liselotte’s fashion and looks, it’s not clear what he’s on about since the actress is pretty – whereas historical Liselotte cheerfully admitted to her plainness in youth and weathered stoutness in age, comparing her looks as a middleaged woman to a roasted pig – and so is her wardrobe.)

On to more spoilery musings beneath the cut. )

Nominations and observations

Jul. 15th, 2017 12:32 pm
selenak: (The Americans by Tinny)
[personal profile] selenak
Emmmy nominations: as a fan of The Americans, I'm pleased that Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys and Alison Wright were all three recognized at last. Will root for them accordingly, which is all the easier since frustratingly, Bates Motel' final year went without an Emmy nomination again. Freddy Highmore has been fantastic throughout, and especially in this last installment where the show had to at last enter the same narrative territory as Psycho, and succeeded with flying colours, very much because young Highmore has managed to make an iconic role his own. (Very Farmiglia would have deserved nominations in all preceeding years, but I can understand she didn't get one this year, since she played "only" Mother, not Norma anymore.) My loyalties might be slightly split for best actor because of Bob Odenkirk for Better Call Saul, and I'd be happy if he wins, too, but if I had to decide and push came to shove, I'd go with Rhys over Odenkirk. Speaking of Better Call Saul, I call fail on the nomination of Jonathan Banks for best supporting actor over Michael McKean (Chuck). Or for that matter Michael Mando (who plays Nacho). Look, I get the Mike cult, and Banks is always solid, but Mike really did not have all that much to do this season. Whereas Nacho got core emotional dilemma stuff, and the actor rose to the task. And McKean may have played the most disliked character on the show, but I don't think the most fervent Chuck hater on the planet would dispute he did so amazingly, and this season, it was a lynchpin performance, with Chicanery and the s3 finale as the two particularly outstanding episodes in this regard. As for the utter lack of nomination for Rhea Seahorn as Kim, don't get me started. Though, again: makes it easier to root wholeheartedly for Keri Russell and for Alison Wright in their respective categories.

_____

Yesterday there was a lengthy interview with Christopher Nolan in one of my regular papers, apropos his upcoming movie Dunkirk. Two issues caught my particular attention: a) he mentions having written the script for a movie about Howard Hughes, only to be foiled by the Scorsese/Di Caprio movie "Aviator", which made it unlikely for a few years studios would finance another movie about Hughes, and now when the time would have been right again, Warren Beatty struck first and made Hughes a non-subject for a few years more. But, quoth Nolan, he hasn't given up and swears this script is the best he ever wrote. To channel some writerly frustration, he added, he put some of his Howard Hughes characterisation into Bruce Wayne in his three Batman movies. And suddenly Bruce's utterly self indulgent hermit phase between movies II and III as well as his bizarre rewriting on why things didn't work out with Rachel in I as voiced by him in II appears in a new light. :) Or maybe Howard Hughes' decades in Las Vegas hotel rooms do - clearly the cover for a secret vigilante identity. Come to think of it, old Hughes sueing unauthorized biographers does resemble the Frank Miller version of Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight Returns somewhwat, no?

Anyway: b) the other particularly interesting-to-me Nolan statement was that in preparation for Dunkirk, he watched All Quiet on the Western Front (classic 1930 film version of Erich Maria Remarque's WWI novel, directed by Lewis Milestone) and was amazed such a movie was possible in 1930. But, says Nolan, it probably only was because it was an American movie based on a German novel, because an American director would never have presented American soldiers in this way, and the Germans wouldn't have made the movie to begin with, "so hooray for one culture speaking for another in this case", ends Nolan. Thinking about it, I concluded he was right that the German film industry would not have made All Quiet on the Western Front in the early 1930s - the book had been a big bestseller in Germany, but the movies were utterly dominated by the UFA by then, and the UFA was owned by Alfred Hugenberg, hardcore conservative who'd go on to support Hitler in his 1932 and 1933 election campaigns. As it was Goebbels orchestrated an anti All Quiet on the Western Front campaign when the movie was released in Germany - SA guys loudly protesting in the cinemas, white mice released, I kid you not -with the result that the movie was quickly withdrawn and most Germans saw it only once the Third Reich had come and gone. (My paternal grandparents back in the day did see it in the cinema, but they had to travel to Belgium to do so, which they did because not only did Granddad own the book, but he regarded it as a matter of local pride - he was born and raised just a few streets away from where Remarque, the author, had been born and raised in Osnabrück. And my grandfather, who'd lost his father in WWI when he, Granddad, was still a toddler, always regarded the book as a way to figure out what his father might have been like.)

Last year, when I heard a lecture by Elizabeth Bronfen on war movies in Zurich, she compared the aesthetic and thematic treatment of All Quiet on the Western Front with what WWII movies and news reels quickly established as standard in US movies, and it really is strikingly different. Not being an expert on war movies, my lay woman opinion would be Nolan is right in the American part of his statement as well, that an American movie about US soldiers like All Quiet on the Western Front at the time and for some time to come would never have been made. Probably not until the genre of Vietnam movies started, and that came and went again; more recent US movies, no matter about which war, which present US soldiers being lured into a war by propaganda and then fighting pointless battles and dying with no heroic justification or reward whatsoever (i.e. not even saving a comrade's life or turning a battle, or getting an epilogue declaring that their cause lives on or their sacrifice is remembered or what not), don't come to mind, either. Or am I missing something?

The Battle for the Net

Jul. 12th, 2017 01:06 pm
swan_tower: (Default)
[personal profile] swan_tower

I posted a little while ago about today, July 12th, being the “Battle for the Net.” The short version is that the FCC is trying to roll back the “net neutrality” protections we currently enjoy, which would have the effect of letting corporations control how you interact with the internet. Think of your cable company: you know how they charge you more money for “premium channels”? You might find yourself paying your internet provider extra fees to access “premium sites.” (Not paying the sites; paying Comcast. Or whoever provides your internet connection.) Sites they don’t have a financial stake in might load more slowly. Streaming sites could be throttled to the point where you can’t watch a video or listen to music or play an online game without constant hiccups.

All of those things are bad. But here’s what’s worse.

Think about the flood of online political activity we’ve had in the last year. All those petitions, all those videos, all those political blogs. Right now, the only thing controlling your access to them is your level of interest and will to engage. But if we let the FCC empower internet providers to become the internet’s gatekeepers, then it may get a hell of a lot harder for us to make our voices heard. A lot of the groups speaking out right now are precisely the ones being disadvantaged by the current administration’s policies; they’re the ones who can’t afford to pay prioritization fees to keep their sites from being buried. This would be another way to screw them over, to make sure the voices we hear first, last, and loudest are the ones with money behind them: a negative feedback loop that ensures that power stays in the hands of those who already have it.

We can’t let this happen. Call your senators. Call your representative. Write a letter to the FCC. Speak up now, while you still can. As tools for speech go, the internet is up there with the printing press and the invention of writing itself — and our democracy depends on freedom of speech. We have to protect it.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

Bounty Offered: Book for Cartoon

Jul. 11th, 2017 09:18 am
swan_tower: (gaming)
[personal profile] swan_tower

This started out as a joke yesterday, but then I figured — why not?

SO! I am offering a signed book from my stash of author copies for someone who can provide me with a quick cartoon-style/chibi/super-deformed sketch of this man:

standing on a pressure plate and looking extremely grumpy, while this woman:

armed and armored like a D&D rogue, skips around sticking pink companion cube hearts on him:

. . . because yeah, last game session my PC left the Blackjack standing on a pressure plate in a hallway to disarm a trap while she went inside to plant a magical surveillance device. Which led to jokes that he was her companion cube, a la Portal. And then my sister said she would totally draw this cartoon if she could draw, except she can’t, and neither can I, but maybe one of you can! There’s a signed book in it for you if you do. 😀

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

The Other Borgias

Jul. 11th, 2017 05:49 pm
selenak: (Borgias by Andrivete)
[personal profile] selenak
Aka the European-produced series which debuted exactly in the same year as Neil Jordan’s The Borgias did, and got three seasons as well. I had seen the pilot back in the day and hadn’t liked it much, but as Amazon Prime put it up, I thought, why not. Also back in the day: at least two articles proclaiming Borgia (with each of the seasons having subtitles “Faith and Fear” (s1), “Rules of Love, Rules of War” (s2) and “Triumph and Oblivion” (s3)) being the superior show with more “historicity”, which put my back up, since I happen to be fond of The Borgias (well, fond of the first two seasons and two or three s3 episodes). That was another reason why I delayed watching Borgia beyond the pilot until this year.

Having now accomplished this, here are a few impressions: Borgia on the one hand does use a lot more actual events from the historical characters’ lives than The Borgias did (including such very Renaissance trivia as Lucrezia’s later father-in-law, Duke Hercole d’Este of Ferrara, collecting nuns with stigmata, I kid you not) , but on the other hand is no slouch when it comes to breathtaking dramatic license. (Cesare Borgia did many gruesome things, but I don’t think ordering pants made of the skin of his enemies was one of them. Also, I really doubt that a bunch of 15th century cardinals would have conspired to replace the Pope with his daughter, no matter how impressive a job she did when the Pope made her regent while he was indisposed. Michelangelo creating the David in Rome instead of Florence is almost harmless as an invention by comparison. And then there’s the drug addiction plot complete with cold turkey conclusion…) The first season suffers from several instances of telling over showing when it came to some important relationships. However, this was mostly remedied in subsequent seasons. And it was really interesting to see both the differences and similarities in the storytelling choices based on the same basic material. Not to mention that the series Borgia actually includes the decline of the family fortunes; Rodrigo dies mid s3, and the rest is Cesare’s falling apart until the series finale ending with his historic death and some other spoilery (not for history) stuff.

One of the biggest differences is the overall emotional arc for the Borgia family. In The Borgias, we start with the featured members more or less affectionately close to each other (even the Cesare-Juan relationship isn’t yet worse than mild fraternal rivalry), and end with them having outwitted and outplayed all their enemies, but lost each other in the process, or have their former closeness turned dysfunctional. In Borgia, otoh, we start with the Borgias dysfunctional and estranged (this Rodrigo hasn’t yet admitted to his children that they are his children but still employs the “niece and nephews” excuse even in private), it gets worse except in one regard from there until Juan’s death at the end of the first season… and then it gets better. From mid s2 onwards, there are family reconciliations all around, and for the rest of the show, the strong affection the Borgias have for each other are often their saving graces, so to speak. When near the end of the show Lucrezia’s third husband, Alfonso d’Este, ruefully observes to his wife that the D’Estes are worse than the Borgias and that she can show them how to be better (as in, a family), he’s not kidding.

A lot more spoilery ramblings and comparisons ensue )

Orphan Black 5.05

Jul. 10th, 2017 03:44 pm
selenak: (Cosima by Karlsefni)
[personal profile] selenak
Wherein we get a Cosima episode and find out what Neolution wants from Kira.

Read more... )

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