Wednesday, December 12, 2018

IDW's Transformers vs. G.I. Joe Volume 1

There are those of us out there who *GASP* grew up reading comic books at a time when publishers didn't reprint them as trade paperbacks. Yeah, I'm that old. I'm so old my parents let my twelve year old self ride two miles on my back to get to the comic shop alone or with a friend. They thought nothing of it. Yet, the fact remains that I am no longer twelve. I have a car now. And comic book publishers do indeed make trade paperbacks now. So, one day when I went walking into my Local Hobby Shop (that sells comics) in search of a Dungeons and Dragons game to join, I came across something that made me smile. (For the record, I didn't manage to find a game to join. Sucks to be me.)

You see, up on a shelf near the door was a stack of trade paperbacks marked Transformers vs G.I. Joe. I had been dimly aware of the series, but when it started back in 2014, I was fresh off of a divorce and five dollars a month was an amount I just couldn't afford (no, I'm not joking). So I missed it the first time around. I'm going to do my best to make sure I don't miss it the second time around though. Admittedly, it'll be around longer than it was last time. That's one of the things that I love about the trend toward TPB. It makes it much easier, and cheaper, to catch up on the old stuff.

As a wee little Jimbo (which I actually was, back in the Dark Ages) I loved both the Transformers and G.I. Joe. I had way more Joe stuff, but that's just me. I watched the cartoons religiously. I didn't have anything approaching the same amount of Transformers toys as I did G.I. Joe but I enjoyed both immensely. I'll be honest in stating that a lot of the rest of this review is based on nostalgia and less on cold, hard professionalism, but it's my job to call 'em as I see 'em and I loved this book.

See, when I was a kid Transformers vs. G.I. Joe wasn't just the title of a book. It was a game we played. You should have seen what the First Generation Optimus Prime did to my G.I. Joe MOBAT. (That's Mobile Armored Battle Tank for you non Joe loving communists out there.) It was a good time. I'm really glad someone saw an opportunity and decided to tell this story in visual form.

And the visuals are really awesome. The art in this book is highly reminiscent of the comics I had as a kid. I had copies of both  Transformers #1 and G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #3 (yes, really, even if both were hand me downs and in bad shape when I got them) and they looked a lot like this. I'm not saying bad things about the art of the modern era because it's good. I'm just saying that, the whole Transformers vs G.I. Joe concept is nostalgic for me and the art makes it more so.

Growing up one of my greatest disappointments in both franchises was when they released a new generation of toys and the old generation straight up disappeared from the comics and the TV shows. That made me do a major sad. But, I'm happy to say that IDW, in the form of writers Tom Scioli and John Barber, did the right thing by including characters from all generations. Even in the animated Transformers movie from the Eighties all of the older characters are killed off in the first few minutes.

I especially enjoyed the commentary at the end with the writers. I've always said that I would listen to the commentary while watching some of my favorite DVDs but I never have because listening to someone talk over my movies sucks. This is different. It's at the end of the book so I was able to flip back and forth and find out what they were talking about while not having the story interrupted. I get why that wouldn't work for DVDs but it works great here.

I also like the fact that they included some of the rough drafts of the actual panels as they were working toward a finished product. Any writer knows the process of writing followed by revising, followed by more revising and the revising your revisions, but for some reason it had never occurred to me that actual comic book artists do the same thing. It's good to see that other groups of people deal with the same crap that we have to.

I may be just a bit bitter because they gender-swapped one of my favorite characters. I've talked about this before. I am not at all against representation. Hell, it can be a good thing if it's done right. Of course, doing it right means that the groups of people who wish to be represented should create their own characters and write their owns stories instead of expecting someone else to do it for them. Especially since G.I. Joe has plenty of female characters already. I'm not a fan of pandering to the SJW set and there is no reason for it to happen here. That was the one place where I'm going to call bullshit. The rest of the story was interesting and engaging. This was just rampant liberal politics and therefore an unnecessary detraction from the story.

Overall though, this was an enjoyable book and I'll be picking up Volume 2 as soon as I'm able to. Actually, I need to check my email because I think I have a coupon for a discount because my birthday is this weekend. Yep, two more days and I'll be the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything. I'm old. I'm not sure what that has to do with the price of tea in China, but what the hell? It's my bloggie and I'll be goofy if I want to.

Bottom Line: 4.5 out of 5 Energon Cubes

Transformers vs. G.I Joe Volume 1
Tom Scioli and John Barber
IDW, 2014

Transformers vs. G.I Joe Volume 1 is available for purchase at the following link:

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Declan Finn's Death Cult

Ladies and Gentleman (and you in the back) I present to you a plot synopsis of Declan Finn's Latest Book, Death Cult.

Hi
OOF!
OUCH!
Dude, don't
He did?
Really?
That sounds like it hurt.
That had to have hurt
Them again
I'm not sure that's physically possible
I KNOW that's NOT physically possible
COOL!
HOT!
The End!

 You may all now return to your regularly scheduled lives.

Kidding!

And honestly, I don't thinking I've quite done it justice. There is a slight chance that I'm oversimplifying a bit. The book is after all, quite a bit longer than that so called synopsis. It's worth reading every word though, because Death Cult kicks ass.

In Hell Spawn Saint Tommy fought a demon. It was ugly. There was lots of fighting and many people died to death. It was quite horrifying. I loved the book, but I was a bit worried. Don't get me wrong. Finn is a good author. But when you're writing Christian fiction and you go up against a demon, what comes next? I mean, I didn't see Finn bringing Satan himself to Earth for a straight up rumble, although I'd buy that book. The threats need to get bigger if you're going to keep it entertaining. So what do you do and who do you do it with? You fight a death cult. (No, that's not a spoiler. It's the title of the stinking book.) It works. It's deadly dangerous and definitely something that most Christians in general, and Catholics in particular, would find themselves at odds with.

I will say this much: Some of the symbolism in this book is both funny and a little blatant. I'm thinking of one thing in particular which I'm not going to mention. It makes massive amounts of sense. It's pretty gross. It's kind of funny in a sick sort of way because of how well it fits. I enjoyed it and it works but it's pretty hard to miss.

Finn has built his world very well. We're treated to some old friends and some new acquaintances and they all fit together nicely. I really like it when a book stays true to the universe it is written in. Death Cult does so nicely. The internal logic is consistent, the characters stay true to their own motivations. I don't mean that the book is predictable because it's not. There is, however, a difference between logical and predictable and Finn has found his groove here.

Having said that, it's worth mentioning that not every saint was Mother Theresa. I mean Saint George slew the dragon and the Catholic faith has seen it's share of fights as well as saints that were involved in them. Tommy is no exception. Yes, he's a nice guy when he can be. That doesn't mean he's always a nice guy. My pastor (who admittedly is not Catholic) just did a sermon a few weeks ago about the sixth commandment and talked about how it's not wrong to kill in the defense of life. Trust me when I tell you that Tommy has plenty of reasons to fight God would approve of all of them.

In a way, part of the reason I think I liked this book so much is because Finn picked a villain that made sense in the context of that selfsame commandment. The villain is the kind of person you just want to slap and can't. They are evil personified (and I'm guessing that's intentional) and hide behind a facade of providing a useful service. They really boil my butt. It did me heart well to see Tommy after them.

Finn has always (or at least as long as I've been reading his work) been able to write an awesome action sequence and Death Cult gave him a chance to show off his skills. You start to feel bad for Tommy after awhile because of all the crap he is going through but that doesn't mean it's not fun to "watch". I will say that I have no intention of ever getting on Finn's bad side though. It would appear to be a bad idea. If he can conceive of violence at this level, he might just be able to get the drop on me. That would be a bad thing.

The politics in this book work for me. I have no trouble seeing a liberal mayor cover for an unmitigated evil within his city if it fits his ideology. Finn does a good job of displaying things in a way that would not please the mainstream media, but fits with the beliefs of roughly half the country. It is presented in a manner consistent with religion (his main character is a saint in the making after all) but without being overly preachy. There are conversations I've had with family members that cover some of the same subjects. I'd like to get some of them to read Death Cult specifically, but since they don't really do horror...

UGH

Let's face it though. Family or not, if you can't enjoy a Declan Finn book you pretty much suck at life and your opinion doesn't really matter. Seriously, you all need to read this book right now. I'll wait to finish the review. Hie thee off to Amazon and purchase the thing. The link is down there somewhere. Okay, okay. If you haven't bought the first book, Hell Spawn then I'll wait for you to get back after buying both of them. Go ahead.

...

...

...

Back now? Did you put your credit card number in right? Actually, I don't really care as long as you didn't use mine. I bought the Indiegogo with the ARC and the autographed copy so yeah... I dished out the loot already.

Ok, so maybe I talked a bit of trash there, but this is a really good book and I'm seriously looking forward to number three. I think he announced a title, but if so, I'm pretty sure I forgot what it was going to be. That's okay though. I'm gonna read it anyway.

Bottom Line: 4.75 out of 5 Hail Marys

Death Cult
Declan Finn
Silver Empire, 2018

Death Cult is available for purchase at the following link:

Friday, November 30, 2018

Battling in All Her Finery: Historical Accounts of Otherworldly Women Leaders edited by Dawn Vogel and Jeremy Zimmerman

So when a dude with a love of strong female leads (that's me) gets a chance to review a book named Battling in All Her Finery: Historical Accounts of Otherworldly Women Leaders he takes it. I mean, why not right? If it's what I love and someone is going to give it to me, why wouldn't I take it? I'd have to be stupid to turn down a chance like that. I'm glad I took the chance too, because I really enjoyed this anthology.

I'll get into the individual stories in a minute but I just wanted to include a note about how many different types of leaders there are here. I'm the guy with the history degree and an interest in both military and political history, so when I saw the word "Battling" I immediately thought politicians and warriors. They're the people who fight battles right? I mean, I wasn't wrong but I seem to have left some other types of leadership out of my original thought process. My bad. A lot of these are military type stories, but not all.

Oh, and if you haven't read anything from the Mad Scientist Journal and/or Defcon One Publishing you need to check out them out. Pretty much all of their stories are told in the first person perspective and there are two biographical blurbs at the end of each story about the main character and the author that wrote the piece. I really enjoyed that feature.  

Having said all of that, this is an anthology review. And following my usual pattern for anthology reviews, here are my thoughts on each individual story:

"The Dissolution of the Niamh" by Alicia A. Knaff is a story about a group of women trying to escape from a ship. It's a good one. The only problem I find with this is that it reads like a series of excerpts from a novel instead of a true short story. The solution to the problem is obvious: Somebody throw money at Ms. Knaff until she agrees to write the novel that would tell the whole story. The quality of the writing here is better than some novels I've read and we could get a chance to see what's missing. It might never happen, but if it does, I'm in.

"Curiassiere" by Blake Jessop is an alternate history piece. As such, I'm supposed to hate it because I have a history degree and it might fool some people into believing incorrect things about the history of the Napoleonic Wars. In reality, I loved this story. A woman fights for her country and rises through the ranks by earning the respect of those around her. I was impressed by the character and the story. Blake Jessop is an author worth keeping an eye on.

"Self Selection" by Mathew Murakami is the story of a serving girl who rises above her station to become a warrior and serve with a princess. There is a lot here for such a short story. It's the story of both girls maturing into women. The battles themselves are never detailed. They don't need to be.

"Chasing the Wombship Echidna" by L. Chan was kind of a weird experience. I originally found myself bemused by the concept of a "wombship" and not at all convinced that this would be a good story. Oops. This is a story of survival and escape. It is an action packed tale of fighting and winning at all costs. It's the best story in the whole anthology. I should know better than to judge a story by its title. This story isn't really long enough to make a movie out of it and that's too bad because I bet it would be a special effects extravaganza and a lot of fun to watch.

"Swing That Axe" by Nathan Crowder is a story about a band in search of their missing leader. The method they use to find her will surprise you. It's crazy because I can almost hear the music in my head and it hasn't actually even been written. I'm going to call this one an Urban Fantasy out of lack of a better fit, but I love Urban Fantasy. It's a good time.

"The End of the World" by Matt Moran is the story of facing off an army of intelligent undead. It is a tale of a forlorn hope and a battle lost. It's still a strong story. It could stand to be a bit longer, I think, but that's a good thing. A good author always leaves his audience wanting more.

"Iron Out of Vulcan" by G. Scott Huggins is an alien invasion story with a twist. I don't want to give too much away, but just know that the secret to fighting the aliens isn't what you think it is. Our heroes are a highly unlikely lot but they do what they need to. I really enjoyed this.

"The Dishonorable God" by Priya Sridhar is the story of a young girl forced to rule in a male dominated world after the death of her father and brothers. This is another one that needs to be longer. I mean, I really enjoyed the story but there is a novel to be written her, as she fends off challenges and raises her little brother. Regent-Queen Rajani is the kind of woman I'd like my daughters to be someday. She literally faces down a god. That's guts right there.

"Cassiopeia, Queen of Ethiopia" by Aimee Kuzenski is a stunner. About all I can say without spoiling the story is that it takes place in the ancient world and involves an invasion. It didn't go the way I thought it would, that's for sure. I enjoyed it though.

"The Weeping Bolo" by D. A. Xiaolin Spires is not set in the Bolo Universe created by Keith Laumer. It doesn't need to be. Not only is this story action packed but the main character has a unique method of solving problems that is absolutely unexpected and awesome. Although really, how can you go wrong with a sword that weeps blood? Does it get any cooler?

"Caro Cho and the Empire of Light" by Lin Darrow is a story of technology and subterfuge. This is one of the stories I talked about in my introduction. Our female leader here is a corporate mogul and not a kick ass military type. Her weapons are illusion and deceit. It's not a spy story per se, but it kind of works like one. This was a fun one.

"Why are we standing on the broken wall, clutching swords too rusty to take an edge" [sic] by Tais Teng is a war story but not. It tells of building an army and conquering territory but never gives the specifics of the battles. It held my attention though and I really did enjoy it.

"Dropping Rocks" by Jennifer R. Povey is a story about a war between humans as told by an alien. Something I always enjoyed about Star Trek is the way that Gene Roddenberry and his writers liked to include an alien point of view to make commentary on the human condition. Povey does that here and does it well. Her bio notes that she's working on an urban fantasy series. I'll be looking for it.

"Paladin" by Shirley Vogel is a story about uhh... well, I don't want to spoil it. Let's just say that it satisfies my sense of justice and I'll let it go there. I liked it.

"Unbroken" by Elisa Bonnin is the story of growth from an injured youth into a leader of explorers. It is also the story of a girl and a boy and some complications. It deals with both responsibility and the mental consequences of combat, but in a fantasy setting. There is a lot here in a little space. Oh, and our heroine Eshai is a bit of a badass. That's a good thing.

"Aquarius Ascendant" by Christine Lucas is the story of the search for humanity. We have left the planet and abandoned all of the mythological creatures there. When the rules are broken...

Yeah, read it. It was good.

"There is Only the War" by AJ Fitzwater is a story of reunion, ambition and disappointment, with more than just a bit of disillusionment. I like this one.

"Adelita" by Frances Sharp is a story about a war. It is also a story about responsibility and the cost of power. It is a story about refusing to fail. This is a really good story.

"Pop Magic" by Patrick Hurley is an Urban Fantasy about a messenger and is flat out full of awesome. I love the way magic works in this world. I love the fights there.  I love the ending.

"Breath and Roses" by Leora Spitzer is a SF story with a socialist bent. I can't really evaluate this one because of political differences. Let's just say that I don't doubt that corporations could act the way they do in the story. I just find her belief that a socialist government wouldn't act the same way for different reasons to be a bit naive.

"The Leximancer's Rebellion" by Jennifer Lee Rossman is awesome and needs to be a series instead of a short. The main character is a badass. The fight is important. I find myself trying to decide if this is an Epic Fantasy in an urban setting or an Urban Fantasy with epic overtones. Either way it kicks ass and the magic system here needs a bigger exploration.

All in all, this was a really good anthology. I had fun with twenty out of twenty-one stories (assuming that I counted that right) and the one I didn't like wasn't really poorly written, it was just too far out of alignment with my politics to work for me personally. Seriously. This one is worth both your time and your money.

Bottom Line: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Battling in All Her Finery: Historical Accounts of Otherworldly Women Leaders
Edited by Dawn Vogel and Jeremy Zimmerman
Defcon One Publishing, 2018

Battling in All Her Finery: Historical Accounts of Otherworldly Women Leaders is available at the following link:

Fantastic Beasts 2: The Crimes of Grindlewald

I just finished watching Fantastic Beasts 2: The Crimes of Grindlewald about two hours ago and decided I'd share my thoughts about it.

*SIGH*

Once upon a time, during a decade of my life best forgotten, I was told that I should always start off with something positive when critiquing someone else's work. That's good advice, so let's start with this:

The special effects crew for Fantastic Beasts 2: The Crimes of Grindlewald deserves an Oscar. That was one of the most intense visual experiences of my life. The magical creatures lived and breathed. There was an underwater scene that looked better than anything similar I've seen in movies, TV or gaming. Barely a minute went by when there wasn't something awesome looking somewhere in my view. I seriously hope that whoever did the CGI for The Crimes of Grindlewald gets a raise or a promotion, or maybe a raise AND a promotion. I didn't watch the credits but WOW, WOW, WOW, WOW, WOW. I wonder if somewhere out there some other special effects people weren't watching this movie in awe wondering how they managed to pull some of this stuff off. It was that good.

Unfortunately, I have to wonder if they didn't spend too much of the budget on effects and not enough on a good team of writers. I mean that seriously. It hurts to write this because I've been a fan of Harry Potter since my then-GF (now ex-wife) put me in a spot where I had no choice but to read the first one. I loved all of the books. I loved the movies almost as much. The first Fantastic Beasts was awesome. That doesn't change the facts about The Crimes of Grindlewald though, and the fact is that this was not a very well written movie.

I remember way back in the day, during the same decade I mentioned earlier, I posted the first few chapters of my first attempt at a novel on a website known as Baen's Bar. It was a rough draft, but I thought it was non-sucktacular. That kind of scared me though, because most of the writers I know who feel confident about their work probably shouldn't. I was happy though because the community was very supportive. The worst comment I got was something along the lines of "This reads more like a collection of events than a story." I took that to heart, re-read what I had written and decided that the poster (I don't remember who it was) had a point. I re-worked it and made it suck less. It was a good experience.

It's also something that I wish the writers of Fantastic Beasts 2 had experienced because their work had the same problem. There was no plot here. There's no narrative thread. This happens over here. That happens over there. They're somewhat related, but let's face it, as a human being I'm somewhat related to the Pope. It's something that I can see happening to anyone in a rough draft. It's not something that makes sense in a script that has been edited enough times to appear on the big screen. Someone needed to take charge in a production meeting and get some stuff ironed out. It's glaringly apparent that no one did.

It's not that I'm opposed to large casts and stories taking place with widely dispersed points of view. I've read enough Harry Turtledove and David Weber to be used to it. Hell, I enjoy it. It has to be done well though, and in this case it really wasn't. I'm going to cast an aspersion in absence of knowledge of the facts here, but I honestly believe what I'm saying, even if I can't prove it.

The Crimes of Grindlewald feels like it was written more as a way to show off special effects than as an attempt to tell a good story. The underwater scene that I mentioned earlier was awesome but it had nothing to do with the plot. It just looked cool. Grindlewald did some really impressive looking magic but that's all it was. showed up and got everybody to do one really impressive looking spell but that's really all he was there for. That was as big a disappointment as anything else.

I've got to wonder if the reason this wasn't all that good is because J.K. Rowling wasn't writing it. She invented the universe. She created the characters. She engineered Hogwarts. She was conspicuous by her absence. I really missed her input here. She could have made this story sing. As it is, it barely hums and is badly off-key.

The Crimes of Grindlewald is such a disjointed mess that even when it tries to advance a relationship between two of the most important characters it falls flat. Seriously. The payoff, when it came, didn't move me at all. Seriously.

The worst thing about the movie is that it left me bored. Fortunately for me I went to see the two-thirty matinee and was the only person in the theater. That came in handy when I pulled out my phone and started Facebooking. There was no one around to complain. Yes, I really did need something to hold my attention while I was watching a movie that I had paid to see. I almost got up and left early. There really wasn't much there.

I'm up in the air as to whether or not I'll see the next one. This is, after all, the tenth movie (count again and remember that the seventh book was two movies) set in the Potterverse and they were just about due for a stinker. This should be a fairly easy act to follow as well. It's not like it could be all that much worse. On the other hand, what if it doesn't get better? I'm not rich and even a reduced price for a matinee is seven bucks. I might be better off spending that money on a couple of jerky sticks and a two liter. I guess I'll have to see how the trailers look.

Bottom Line: 2.5 out of 5 Broken Wands

Fantastic Beasts 2: The Crimes of Grindlewald
Warner Brothers, 2018

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Selecting our Stories - A Guest Post by Dawn Vogel

(Many thanks to Dawn Vogel for the following piece. The anthology mentioned, Battling in All Her Finery, is quite enjoyable and will be reviewed here in the next day or two. This is kind of cool because I received my first ever rejection letter from the Mad Scientist Journal. It was richly deserved.)

We're putting out our anthology of stories, Battling in All Her Finery, and wanted to offer a look behind the scenes. Choosing the stories for an anthology is a big chunk of the work, but not everyone knows how that process happens.

For this anthology, we were looking for stories about women leaders. We opted for a broad definition of "leader," which included not only generals and royalty, but also CEOs, musicians, and more. The end result is an anthology of 21 fantasy, science fiction, alternate history, and other speculative fiction stories of women leaders.

We held an open call for submissions for this anthology and received more than a hundred stories to choose amongst. Submitting authors were from all over the world, including some from non-English speaking countries, and representing diverse races, gender presentations, and sexualities. We received a wide range of story lengths, from very short pieces to longer stories. We had a budgeted word count based on the success of the Kickstarter that funded this anthology, so we looked at story themes, types of leaders, and word count when making our decisions.

For the themes of the stories, we wanted a nice mix of stories with happy endings, bittersweet endings, and even some with more melancholy endings. While we probably tended toward more of the first two of those, that wasn't always the case. Some of our personal favorite stories to emerge from the slush pile were the more bittersweet endings—those that ended on a positive note, but with some sacrifice made by the woman leader in order to reach that ending.

Because we wanted to have a broad range of leaders, this sometimes meant comparing two stories with similar types of leaders to see which one overlapped less with a story that we'd already decided on. It also meant focusing on those stories that didn't have a traditional leader—we received plenty of queens/princesses and generals/other military leaders, so the stories that featured non-military and non-nobility/royalty often provided us with a unique type of leader that couldn't be replicated by another story.

For the word count, we accepted stories between 500 and 8,000 words, which gave authors a wide range to play around with. In past anthologies, we've sometimes selected flash fiction pieces, but for this anthology, our shortest story selected wound up clocking in at 2,000 words, while our longest was right at 8,000 words.

In addition to the other factors in our selection process, we also wanted to create an all-ages anthology, which we wouldn't feel weird about handing to our young nieces, nephews, and other children and teenagers in our lives. While some of the stories still touch on darker themes and subjects, we tried to keep the general "rating," as it were, to a PG-13 at worst. Most of the stories would be easily classified as PG.

It can be a very delicate balancing act to get the right mix of stories for an anthology, but by looking at these factors, we think we managed to put together a collection of stories that readers will enjoy, while still embodying the themes of our anthology, the focus on women leaders, and within the budget we had.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

David Weber's On Basilisk Station

(Before I even get started: I am a huge fan of this writer and this series. I am, in fact, a member of The Royal Manticoran Navy, the fan club of all things set in the Honor Harrington universe. My recent re-read of this book was because I had joined the TRMN and gotten nostalgic.You may find yourself questioning my objectivity while writing this review. I assure that your suspicions are well founded. Then again, if it wasn't a good book, would I really be a fan?)

Once upon a time I worked at a Super K-Mart in Warren, Michigan. There I had a friend who WOULD NOT STOP telling me what an awesome author this David Weber guy was and how I ABSOLUTIVELY, POSILUTELY had to read his Honor Harrington books. Like, since I was a science fiction fan, I had no choice whatsoever. He pretty much redefined the phrase "overenthusiastic pain in the neck." The thing was we had zero authors that we read in common and I was skeptical. I did my best to ignore him.

Then one day I found myself at the mall (Oakland, if you're local) with my then-girlfriend (now ex-wife) and she decided to detour into a shoe store. Being me I gave the battlecry of all real men who refuse to be mistreated in such a way (Uhh... Honey? I think maybe I'll head over to the bookstore. If... That's okay?) And trudged off in search of a good time and aiming to misbehave.

I then checked over the work of my favorite authors at the time and found zero new books by them. I had narrowly avoided the hell of the shoe store in vain. I was going to die of boredom anyway. But then I remembered that I had to look at my friend the next time I went to work and figured I might as well pick up one of those Harrington novels.. Only, uhh.. Which one was the first one again? I had no clue. I'm not too sure he had mentioned it.

So I walked up to one of the cashiers and asked her if she knew what the first book was. She got excited. "Oh, my dad and my brother both love those books. The first one is On Basilisk Station and it's right over here." She actually took me by the hand and led me to the book. That makes twice that a woman has done that. The other time was when I first found out that The Lord of the Rings existed. ( I was the only geek in my house. These things happen.) So, yeah, I bought the book and took it home. That was a damn good decision.

On Basilisk Station is the kind of book Space Opera fans spend their entire lives looking for. It's that good. Our main character, Honor Harrington takes command of her first cruiser (she had commanded a destroyer "off screen" previously) and is as excited as all get-out. Things, however, don't go as planned initially and well...

Life gets interesting, in the sense of the ancient Chinese curse. This is Honor Harrington though. She could lay down and die but she doesn't. Seriously, reading Honor was good prep for my eventual divorce because I could use those books to remind myself that no matter how much life sucks it's possible to keep on keeping on. This is just the first lesson but it's a good one.

As things start going wrong, we not only get to see how Honor reacts to it, but we get to see how her subordinates react as well. Making a crew run right isn't always easy and it's harder when things start to suck. Honor gets that, Weber gets that and On Basilisk Station centers around those conflicts. Don't get me wrong. There is violence galore and ugly doesn't begin to describe some of it, but at the end of the day this is a book about people. To me, that's what separates a great work from a merely good one.

Listen, Star Trek in all it's iterations (except possibly ST:DIS which I haven't watched because I don't have CBS All Access) contains a large amount of Social Justice, but it's not a Social Justice show. It's a show about people and the liberal parts of the agenda come through story and not sermonizing. The History Channel show Mail Call was awesome and it was, in theory about questions regarding the military but it was really about R. Lee Ermey (RIP Gunny) and the people he was working with. Yes, SF in particular and especially Space Opera features cool widgets and big ships and lots of traveling, but dammit it's the people who make it fun. Weber gets that.

And, of course, not everyone is a hero. I can think of one particular character in On Basilisk Station that I would dearly love to strangle. Believe me when I say that there is no more deserving person. Fortunately, he's fictional and so I won't end up in jail but that dude irritates me.

Of course a good story is more than just a conversation between two people and Weber gets that too. On Basilisk Station never stops moving. It starts with a promotion and a blow-up and finishes with a bang. There are no boring moments here. This thing never drags. It never lets up. It's freaking captivating. I sat down yesterday to read a couple chapters before I jumped in the shower and ended up reading over four hundred pages and finishing the book and oh, by the way, I knew how it ended. Thankfully, I'm a Lyft driver so I didn't get myself in trouble for starting late.

I have no complaints about On Basilisk Station. One that I have frequently heard, though, is that Honor is too good at too much, but I'm not sure that's the case. She's simply a quick-thinking woman who gets stuck in bad situations and has to find her way out somehow.What some see as competence, I see as refusal to fail. Feel free to disagree if you must, but I calls 'em as I sees 'em.

Bottom Line: 5.0 out of 5 Energy Lances (even though they're non-canon now)

On Basilisk Station
David Weber
Baen Books, 1992

On Basilisk Station is available for purchase at the following link:

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Reflections on Post-Apocalyptic Fiction

I just got done watching The Day After (directed by Nicolas Meyer for the ABC Television Network, 1983) and it got me thinking. I have watched, read and loved a ton of post-apocalyptic fiction. Today was my first time watching The Day After, but I grew up on the Mad Max movies. The Hunger Games is, of course, set in Panem after a nuclear exchange. The latter two series in the Robotech universe take place in a world that has been savaged by aliens. I could go on forever. Science Fiction fans love post-apocalyptic settings. It's just what we do.

I guess the difference between The Day After and the vast majority of other Post-Apocalyptic settings is that it shows the actual apocalypse and the time before it on a level I've only ever seen exceeded by Jericho. At the beginning of The Day After life as normal is taking place. There is a wedding coming. People are registering for classes. If it weren't for the constant chatter about worsening tensions between the US and USSR from TVs and radios in the background they couldn't have made things more average if they tried. Actually, I'd be willing to bet that they DID try and this was the best they could do. They did a damn good job of it too.

So in a lot of ways, The Day After is one of the few post apocalyptic thrillers that truly shows the cost of the apocalypse itself. The cost of the apocalypse is not just measured in the mess made of a ruined city. The cost is measured in real human beings, shattered families and ruined lives. It is measured in the attempts to come back from the horror of an honest to God nuclear exchange. It's something we've never had to witness on the scale envisioned in the movie and thank God for that, but it is truly terrifying.

I grew up during the time when The Day After was made. I turned seven in 1983. I remember checking books out of the library about military everything. I remember reading about the USS Enterprise (The aircraft carrier CVN-65, not the Galaxy Class NCC-1701) and the nuclear arsenal it carried. I remember watching the news with my dad and my grandpa hearing about some guy named Khadaffi and some bombs that went off in Libya. I was way too precocious and I was reading things I had no business reading at that age. I didn't realize that at the time (what seven year old really understands how young they are?) but I should have waited until I got older. Lesson learned, I guess. I took my daughters to see Wonder Woman and my twelve year old thought that poison gas was fake, so I didn't push her as fast as I pushed myself, right?

What I've never understood though, is why we (I?) like it. I mean, it's exciting and suspenseful. If you don't know what's out there, you don't know what the threats are. If you don't know what the threats are, they could be anything. If you're surrounded by threats, survival becomes a problem. All stories need a problem. Just ask your high school literature teacher. (Mrs. Maloney are you out there?). But why this setting and this problem. What's fun about a setting where ninety-plus percent of the human race is dead?

That's the interesting part for me. I've heard people with doctoral degrees in psychology claim that it's because people wonder about their own death and wonder what the world would be like without them. With all respect due to the people who know what they're talking about, I don't think they know what they're talking about. I seriously think that whoever came up with that thesis never bothered to have a conversation with a real fan of post-apocalyptic fiction. Think about it.

Every fan of the PA game that I've come across thinks that they're Rick Grimes from The Walking Dead. We, at heart, are all The Chosen One, who will survive the crisis and restore order to the world. When the world falls we'll be the finest scrounger. When we set up the camp, we'll be the one who leads the defense of it. When the first new crops are grown, we'll be the person who found the seeds. When civilization is re-established we'll be the person leading it. Us. The nerds. The real science fiction fans who grew up reading about/watching this stuff. I mean, I'm even working on a Mafia/PA mashup. My main character is THE MAN... Or he will be if this freaking mob boss quits telling him what to do.

Anyway...

I think the fact of the matter is that the attraction of post-apocalyptic fiction is really a desire to be in charge. We want to run things our way and it's never going to happen that way. Even most presidents don't make the difference they thought they would. We all know that the world would be better off if we could just get rid of the corruption and fix the system. The real problem is that the system is so broken that it can't be fixed. It has to be disposed of and the only way to get rid of it is a nuclear war, or a zombie apocalypse, or an alien invasion, a terrible disease....

You know, whatever caused the thing. It really depends on the writer, but at the end of the day something wiped out everything that came before and this time we're going to start over and get it right. This time, there won't be any corrupt politicians because if they try that bullshit, we'll just feed them to a zombie...

Yeah.

The average post-apocalyptic fiction fan has a heroic fantasy. We're going to save the world. We don't necessarily count the cost because it's just a fantasy, right? I mean, I spent how many hours playing Everquest and slaughtering the orcs in Crushbone? The people in the fantasy don't exist. Except...

Except, I wonder.

Every power mad dictator in the history of history has had a vision of a world (or nation) that he ran himself and how it would be "for the people." They all thought that they would be the one to save the world. Lenin thought he would feed all of the people instead of starving them. Mao thought his Great Leap Forward would put the Chinese economy on par with the economies of industrialized world instead of killing tens of millions. Pol Pot thought that moving backward was best for the people and created his own apocalypse by killing half of its inhabitants in order to murder the educated and save Cambodia. Yes, even Hitler thought that slaughtering millions would prevent them from breeding and result in the eventual evolution of a Master Race that would then improve the world. Every one of them thought they were working for the betterment of the human race (in Hitler's case he had a narrower view of what constituted a human than I do) and they were all wrong. Every last one of them was a disgusting excuse for a human being. None of them should be remember positively by anyone.

And those were the closest we've come to an actual apocalypse, especially with Hitler and Pot. (Hitler killed more people. Pot killed a larger percentage of the population of the territory he controlled. I'll leave it to the reader to decide which is worse.)

So, nerd friends, I guess my point is this: Be careful what you wish for. The cost is too high and the outcome is probably not going to be what you desire. Even if you get what you want it probably won't turn out the way you want. But, as long as we're keeping it to people who don't actually exist I guess we're okay. Just don't let the zombies eat T-dog. I know, too late, but I miss that guy.

Some Post- Apocalyptic entertainment products are available at the links below: