Friday, December 27, 2013

Foto Filler Friday

It's the last post of the year so what better time for some filler?

And what better time for Batman to smack his bitch up?

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas! Buy My Books!

Amazon royalties are enough to pay taxes but not enough to pay rent. Let's get those numbers up, people!

A kick in the teeth to the modern vampire novel! Fiend is the story of the unapologetically monstrous Tomás Martinez de Vasco, from his early nights terrorizing the Continent to his globe-spanning depredations to his centuries-long obsession with his own estranged creation, Anna — all delivered in a breathless monologue to his psychiatrist. Fast, funny and mean!

Read the excerpts:

Life and Undeath

Barbary Nights

The True Story of Jeannot

A Very Red October

Goin' Out West

Available through Amazon, Smashwords, and CreateSpace!

* * *

The first female presidency hits America with such force that no one could ignore it even if they tried. Madame President is determined to protect the freedoms of all Real Americans - as she defines them. Follow a confused young man, a desperate girl, a paranoid reporter, and a superstar pastor with a terrible secret as they try to survive an all too possible world where homosexuality is a disease, abortion is a crime, and Jewish citizens find "emigration notices" in the mail.

Read the excerpts:


Mr. Cornflower

The Sanctity of Life

Pray the Gay Away

A Flu

Available through Amazon and Smashwords!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Games Without Gameplay

I have in-laws now. In-laws with a whole lot of disposable income. Because "disposable" is exactly what money is, if spent on a Day One edition of the Xbox One - which I shall henceforth refer to as the Xbone.

Being family - of a sort - I got to sit in on it and even play a little. And man, do the new launch titles suck. Dead Rising, Call of Duty, Ryse, all very shiny and impressive and absolutely devoid of actual gameplay.

Okay, I'm not being fair. I only watched the new Dead Rising and as zombie killing mayhem goes, it looks pretty fun. The game never stopped so CGI actors could try to emote at each other and there was a road sign that fired lightning. And I didn't even see the new Call of Duty but I feel safe in declaring it to be linear and clunky as its own PR campaign has proudly proclaimed they didn't change a damn thing about the formula.

Whereas this formula should never be changed...
I did get to play Ryse though. As much as one can play Ryse, in between the cut scenes and quick-time events and scripted turret sections. I managed to waddle around like an angry turtle for two minutes. And climb a thing. I'm sure it has a deep and complex story framed by its pretty skyboxes, but I only had a few minutes in between beers so found the hacking and slashing of this purported hack and slash game shockingly minimal.

But it did give me an idea for a new metric by which we can quantify video games: The Half-Life Minute! Start a game, any game, and count how many minutes between when the game starts and when you get to actually do anything. If there's a title or loading screen, it doesn't apply for these purposes - though a cutscene does. Additionally, playing the game can be anything from jumping on top of goombahs to pressing "X" to not die. The only requirement is some form of input from the player.

Now compare that number to how many minutes it takes after starting Half-Life to get to the gameplay. You may notice that everything but old-school platformers and Doom immediately fail this little test. That's okay though, you can't expect every sequel and movie tie-in to achieve Half-Life perfection. It just serves as a handy baseline - the closer a game gets to the zero minute mark, the better it is at getting you to the whole damn reason you're playing a game in the first place.

And in its defense, Ryse gets you to the action pretty quickly. After a few minutes showing off the Xbone's processor with lots of gaudy Roman imagery, it drops you right into a big bloody barbarian invasion! So you can waddle around and stab things.

However, the Half-Life Minute has more applications than just game start time. Let's say we count the minutes from when we first start the game to when we're interrupted by a cut scene. Believe it or not there is indeed a cut scene in the original Half-Life!

After about five hours of play, depending on how l33t you are. And this doesn't apply to set pieces, like Half-Life pioneered and like you find littered across modern shooters, because while a set piece is scripted it doesn't stop you from running off to a corner and trying to find the secret portal to the old-school sprite dimension or just twirling around in a circle trying to make the textures pop when you stop.

Let's be generous and not count the first cut scene in Ryse. It doesn't help much because after a minute of stabbing, we're back to watching the Jerry Bruckheimer cut of Gladiator. And it goes on for so long I was able to go grab another beer without missing any gameplay, so let's use the Half-Life Minute for one final test: how many minutes of gameplay between cutscenes.

This one will require a little more quantification. Let's have our variable M be the Half-Life Minute, and our variable R be the risible Ryse. Starting from that five-hours-in cut scene in Half-Life, how long until you have to sit there and let the game talk at you again? Again, depending on how fast you blow through alien critters and inexplicable ninjas, anywhere from forty minutes to four hours. So let's just say M = 100.

Now for Ryse. Again, we'll skip over the whole opening as it's mostly exposition anyway. Going from when the game actually actually begins, with Marius seeing his whole rich Patrician family stuffed in the fridge, we have a grand total of... Well, about five minutes of stabbing between every movie break. And the movies last about as long, or longer. And there was gonna be an equation of these two variables but math jokes are not funny.

Let's try another take - how many minutes between gameplay being interrupted by instructions on how to play the game? Or so you can hit one button to trigger a scripted finishing move that's so much spectacle you can set the controller down and grab some popcorn?

Now I'm just picking on Ryse but my God - I have never played a game so ploddingly slow, uninteractive, and so dominated by expository cut scenes that they could've cut out all the gameplay and just released the damned thing as a movie! And this is a launch title for the Xbone? This is the face of next-gen!?

"It's-a me! Marius!"
Ryse did have one redeeming quality though - a gladiator mode where you waddle around in your Grecco-Roman pull-ups, stabbing waves of barbarians and starting fires to the cheers of the debauched Roman crowd. No cutscenes, no turret sections, just waddle and stab. If you play "Yackety Sax" in the background, it's actually fun.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Fiend Friday: Get Yer Xmas Fang On!

A friendly reminder from the good people and elves here at VectorPress to go buy Fiend from these wonderful online retailers!




And if you don't know what Fiend is, you clearly haven't been paying attention!

Life and Undeath

Barbary Nights

The True Story of Jeannot

A Very Red October

Goin' Out West


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Viva Extropia

What would happen if a black hole formed in your ass? It's a fun little question to ponder - what with tidal forces and the curvature of spacetime interacting with the curvature of yo' big fat ass - but it's strictly theoretical. A black hole is not going to form in your ass, so while the question is interesting it's utterly meaningless.

Similarly, there's Singularity Sky by Charles Stross. I picked it up in the library while looking for more Dan Simmons to drool over and while it has some pretty glaring issues I want to talk about the fun stuff first.

Set some billions of billions of miles from Earth in a future where the far future had its posthuman way with the past, a backwater planet ruled over by a star-spanning empire gets a surprise uplift from visiting space cyborgs. And while that's the big picture of what happens it never feels as confusing because Stross has mastered that most elusive skill of speculative fiction writers - he only tells the reader what they need to know of his ginormous imaginary world to appreciate this one specific story. For the most part... There's some dips into infodumps later on but they're in the context of characters explaining themselves to other characters so it goes down a little easier.

What stands out - and is quite clever - is how Singularity Sky contrasts two of the most popular subgenres of science fiction: the transhuman singularity - in which increases i n computing power turn everyone into immortal Olympians - and the battles of deep space navies, where all the malarkey of the Age of Sail gets recycled in spaceship form. The heroes come from a transhumanist Earth where everyone is augmented to Hell and back and super science has made traditional hierarchies at best quaint... But then they're dropped into the universe of Honor Harrington taken to its logical and terrible extreme. Royalty, misogyny, and cultivated ignorance rule the New Republic, complicating matters for the two leads as they wish to bone without first getting married. They have other motivations of course - plot motivations - but the romantic comedy aspect is a little overt...

Fortunately, that all gets shoved aside once The Festival arrives. A really brilliant creation - alien and familiar all at once, wreaking havoc without understanding, laughing god children like in the opening sequence of Robot Carnival. It drops super-science replicators down on the feudal backwater I mentioned earlier, turning the strict social order inside out and terrifying the leadership back on the homeworld enough to launch a time-jumping expeditionary fleet so that the outer space cyber-psychosis doesn't get out of hand and inspire something crazy like women's suffrage. The heroes are along fro the ride, providing snarky commentary as a traditional Space Navy encounters a force that operates on more modern understanding of physics.

But what holds Singularity Sky back is that it is at heart evangelical writing. It's trying to win converts to a particular Theory of Everything - and not the fun physics sort. Rather, the book and Stross himself present an argument for a sort of post-scarcity technolibertarianism which while appealing relies too much on fantastical hardware that doesn't exist and so is currently untenable. Whatever message could have been conveyed about the freedom of information and how an informed citizenry terrifies governments - like how access to Wikipedia has smashed the two party system - is lost in so much speculation on the level of what I opened this post with.

Stross also fires off standard libertarian boilerplate, like taxation being slavery, as a matter of course. Now maybe that's the way it feels to him, living under the tyranny of a functional and free health care system, but us rugged individualists in the free market frontiers are more likely to get squeezed dry by a private bank - or our own employers - than by a public institution.

It's a very 1984 thesis in a brave new world where 1984 never happened. And it's a real shame because Stross has a better prose style than Alastair Reynolds. His ideas are just bollocks.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Fanfiction Done Right

You should recognize that word if you've spent any amount of time on the internet looking up your favorite films or TV shows. Fanfiction is exactly that, stories written by the fans. And it is with rare exception the most godawful writing in the English language.

Dracula, currently airing on NBC is one of those exceptions. It's not an adaptation and it goes above and beyond a reimagining - Vlad Tepes arrives in London under the guise of Alexander Grayson, in league with Abraham Van Helsing and assisted by the brilliant Black Renfield in a grand revenge plot against the Ordo Dracul.

And he has a katana. Because katanas.

This is the stuff of steampunk paperbacks but it works surprisingly well here, thanks mainly to casting. Jon Rhys Meyers looks every part the superior vampire lord and, as anyone who's seen The Tudors should know, can work up a head of crazy so good - and hammy - that you forget he's usually the smallest person in the room. Especially alongside Nonso Anozie as Renfield, Dracula-Grayson's stoic and stubbornly loyal dogsbody, who carry's himself with a stern and silent dignity no matter how much Anglo racism is thrown his way.

Because he's smarter than all of 'em put together. And has better teeth.
Instead of coming out of his ancestral backwater to menace Englishwomen, like in Stoker's novel, this Dracula comes across more as the Byronic hero, "implacable in revenge yet capable of deep and strong affection." He hates the Ordo Dracul and would like very much to rip and tear and impale them to the last man now, but Van Helsing - the real diabolical genius here - urges caution. So his own revenge can be that much more complete. And Dracula himself is a little distracted by Mina Murray, again the reincarnation of his centuries dead wife like in Coppola's film - when not bedding the Ordo Dracul vampire slayer played by the unfortunately named Victoria Smurfit who is  a cross between Buffy, a femme fatale, and a whole mess of plastic surgery.

The female mantis, after copulation, removes the male's head...

Aside from vampires and character names, this Dracula has damn near nothing to do with theoriginal novel. And that's a good thing. Stoker's Dracula, while a seminal work of gothic adventure fiction, has been adapted to screen and television and comic book more than any other intellectual property. It's reached the point where people who've never even read the novel can recognize the characters, the plot, even the odd line or two like the one concerning children of the night. Dracula (2013) is a welcome change from all that, even when it can get a tad silly at times.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Fiend Friday: Goin' Out West

I marched ever westward after... No more stomach for war or soldiers or whatever may have crawled out of that shallow grave. I followed a trail of displaced peasants for a league or so, picking at their elderly and infirm in the night. Helped to disguise my predations but Coña Maria - how thin and oily their blood tasted! How relieved I was upon waking one night to smell that thick odor of civilization on the breeze!

Besancon wouldn't have the peasants - at least I assume so, as so many remained outside the walls. But walls, dear Doctor, are but an inconvenience for me - I bounded over them that first night! Had to cross some water first, leading to the happy discovery that I can't drown. After thrashing around for a bit...

Ah! A French city! But still an Imperial city - un Ville Libre d'Imperial, as they were so proud of declaring, even to each other. Frequently. Though quite different from all those other imperial cities I'd known before, both day and night. Much cleaner for one, much more varied peoples - more flavorful, if you will permit me Doctor. I took a room on the Rue de Savoie, overlooking Batten Bridge to the east and the Citadel with its gleaming white walls - gleaming even in blackest night! - visible from the roof.

I am rather fond of clambering over rooftops, I must admit...

A good house with a good proprietress. She left me to a small room near the top and even supplied me with heavy curtains upon request. She never asked why I should need them, nor why I never appeared downstairs until after dark and returned just before dawn. A rarity - an old woman who does not go about sticking her nose into the business of others!

I shared the house with some other drifters and vagabonds. Madame Boulin, the proprietress, held no prejudice against race or creed so long as there was hard coin in the bargain. A delightfully mercenary old woman - she also offered hot food and mending and the services of her sickly daughter Amanda. All for a price!

She needed to be so enterprising. Counting myself, only half a dozen boarders ever called that heap of a house a home. Always felt like more though, what with Amanda's own children getting underfoot. Three of the buggers with a fourth that thankfully ran away. All from different fathers too, their mother being such a loyal and hard worker...

The two longest boarders - besides myself - were an Abbe by the name of Valenod and an old grump calling himself Herr Ganz. Now Valenod, he was a local boy - went to seminary right there in the Citadel! Ganz was, naturally, a German gentleman and all around pain in the arse. Always grumbling over this or that, always blocking the narrow stairwell, always engaging that young Valenod in some blithering argument over religion.

Oh, Ganz was a Lutheran! And proud of it, for whatever reason... I saw him only ever enjoy himself when either haranguing the young abbe or stuffing Madame's sausages in his mouth. "You priests!" he would say around fat gibbets. "You dress yourselves in gold and claim to speak for the humble Christ! And then you... You eat him!"

That really put Ganz in a fury. Not just eat - understand, Doctor, those Lutherans all had a bumpkin's understanding of theology. They took all the talk of transubstantiation and sacre sange literally. Poor Ganz believed little Abbe Valenod shat out Christ every Sunday!

The Abbe took it all in stride, though. He'd sit there at Madame Boulin's table, withering the old German's condemnations and spittle, and hit right back - "But how can you yourself claim to speak with authority on such matters? How can any common man?"

"Christ speaks to my heart," Ganz would intone with what I'm sure he intended as pious humility but always sounded like sanctimonious pajer. He had the provincial's confidence in his own senses and experiences and would have none of the educated Abbe's high-minded and scholarly arguments.

"'For since according to the definition of the Stoics, wisdom is nothing else than to be governed by reason,'" the Abbe intoned, his voice light and mocking. "And on the contrary Folly, to be given up to the will of our passions, that the life of man might not be altogether disconsolate and hard to away with, of how much more passion than reason has Jupiter composed us?"

"'Faith is a living, daring confidence in God's grace!'" Ganz fired back. "'So sure and certain that a man could stake his life on it a thousand times. To be a Christian, you must pluck out the eye of Reason!'"

Hang them both - that's how I felt. Thank their Christ I had no need to join them at the dinner table - or don't thank Him, come to think of it. Madame Boulin didn't mind the ruckus though and Amanda...

Well, she had too much of a fixation with me to be really bothered... Truth be told, she wasn't my type. A plucked chicken with hair like old straw, though she couldn't have been more than twenty-five. How she'd survived squatting out those little beasts of hers... well, they likely wouldn't live to adulthood. Not all of them...

Amanda dotted on me, as much as she could... Laundering my shirts or polishing my boots or greeting me every evening as I descended to the parlor with a cup of chocolate... How difficult it was to throw surreptitiously, always under the eager eyes of that eager and unwanted admirer! Thank God for her screaming brats, distracting her long enough for me to to fling it out an open window or - a last resort! - swig it all down, to be wretched up later.

Though I really couldn't blame the girl... All those children out of wedlock... A pimp for a mother... And no eligible bachelors in sight save for Ganz - who'd much rather prattle on about religion!

How that old German would fill everyone's ears with the Protestant line! With the tyranny of Catholicism! Never mind Bohemia and Breitenfeld - nothing was settled! I once broached that particular subject to Ganz, who got a glistening look in his eyes and declared, "I rode with Gustavus himself when I was young! There was a true champion of God!"

When he was young! Doctor, understand the shock this was to me! Though time had passed since that first night in the church - so much time - I'd taken no notice of it. I looked then as I did on that first night - as I do now! - but had never before taken notice of the fact.

How it thrilled me! Again, I had no more understanding of my condition than my own experience. So I did not expect to be somehow beyond the vagaries of age! That night, I danced across rooftops and when swooping down on a pair who left a tavern too late I had a smile on my face and a twinkle in my eye!

It's not the last time transports of joy have compounded my misfortunes though... Had I kept a more level head, I might have paid closer attention to what bits of real news managed to worm its way through the Besancon streets to Madame Boulin's table. Imagine my surprise one night, while scampering across the Besancon rooftops, to see far out beyond the city walls and encamped army!

I'd seen enough such encampments - been encamped enough myself! - to recognize a siege in preparation. I resolved there and then to flee Besancon as fast as possible! Though a task easier said than done, I soon learned, as that army had already put a lockdown on all travel to and from the city - therefore my old trick of smuggling myself in a peasants caravan was right out. Horses wouldn't come near me and I'd seen enough of the open countryside on the way in to fear being smote to ashes by the dawn should I just leg it.

A bothersome development... And then the artillery started...

I was roused by the plucked chicken - in the middle of the day! The terrible light of the noonday sun beating against my heavy curtains! The girl shook me awake with pitiful pleas of "Oh, Monsieur Vasco! You must get out! Now!"

I muttered some oath in my native tongue to convince her to piss off. Little idiot didn't understand a word of Spanish though...

"The cannons!" she persisted. "They are battering down the city! We must all take shelter in the cellar!"

And for emphasis, one of our neighbors on the narrow Rue de Savoie was smashed to pieces just outside my window.

That got me going! Just enough - I dragged and scraped my way downstairs after the silly girl, recoiling at the blinding, searing sunlight that poured in from the open windows. I must have smelled like burnt bacon when I reached the cellar but either it didn't show or no one could see my fresh scourging in the gloom...

"Damned Catholics..." Ganz muttered, sitting heavily on a sack of grain that looked ready to burst either from its contents of his great self-importance. "Damned damned damned..."

"Leave off the Catholics for once," Abbe Valenod called to him from one of the few chairs, next to a lopsided table with a lone candle. "This is all political! The king wants the city for his dowry or some such..."

"Then why's he going about smashing it?" demanded Ganz. And he answered himself, "A plot is why! A Catholic plot to seize a free city!"

And on and on and on... I retreated to the darkest corner I could find and huddled next to a molding cask of wine. I shut my eyes, seeking some peace or at the very least distraction in my dreams...

And awoke to a night buzzing far away with activity but utterly silent in this little cellar. Ganz and Valenod had mercifully tired themselves out, arguing over which of them was to blame for the siege, and slept peacefully. With great snoring from Ganz... Madam Boulin had a mat for herself and her daughter, the children clustered about them like piglets in a hutch.

Stretching the stiffness from my limbs, I climbed the stairs to the house proper, hoping to find someplace new to spend my days, someplace more private... Until I reached the door and found it would not budge.

The cannons! They'd smashed the entire Rue de Savoie! A collapsed wall or some such no doubt held the door from the other side and the only windows in the cellar were too small even for Amanda's little brats to scurry through. We were trapped!

Oh no! See the exciting and bloody conclusion in paperback or the ereader of your choice!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Infinite Space, Infinite Terror

I have a soft spot for Alastair Reynolds. His prose are about as organic as a lead pipe but he's got a strikingly original imagination and a penchant for the cosmic horror vibe first pioneered by Lovecraft. So in between reading "serious" books, I've been going through what works of his I could find in the Brooklyn library. It's slim pickings but I got hold of a novella collection that's well worth your time - Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days.

The first concerns an expedition to some alien construct. Dubbed "Blood Spire" by the rich eccentric leading the rest, it's a towering puzzle box floating just off the surface that sprays out the pieces of those who can't keep up with it's mind-warping math problems. Remember that bit in the film Contact where they had to think in entirely different dimensions to make any sense of the wormhole schematics? Yeah, it's like that but more obtuse.

Narrated by the rich eccentric's friend, things take a fairly standard course of delving deeper into the alien labyrinth, finding ever more difficult problems, and experiencing ever more creatively horrible dismemberments. Narrator and Rich Guy resort to drastic physical augmentation to not only survive but to think faster, to react quicker, to fit through the ever narrowing hallways of Blood Spire until they literally resemble diamond dogs.

And to what ultimate purpose? What cyclopean secrets does Blood Spire hold? Hell if I know, 'cause that's not what this is really about. It's about the very human desire to explore and learn taken to obsessive extreme. How much would you sacrifice to learn the capital "T" Truth of things? How much would you mortify your own flesh to get at a secret so strongly kept? Diamond Dogs is Reynolds asking these questions, writing beyond the usual limits of his genre to touch on deeply personal and human themes.

Turquoise Days, in contrast, comes across as weaker. Set on a planet of endless oceans and continent-sized intelligent algae, it follows a young woman who finds herself caught up in a whole mess of political intrigues and outright invasion when all she really wants to do is study sea life. One sea life in particular - the alien algae that ate her sister.

Well, not "ate" really. The pattern-jugglers - which you Revelation Space fans will remember - have a curious habit of absorbing certain humans that prove overly receptive to their "communion" practice of interlocking consciousnesses. Big Sis was just such a human, leading Little Sis to fear she will come to the same fate... and secretly longing to. Since people absorbed by the pattern-jugglers don't exactly stay gone, their neural pathways preserved inside those massive islands of algae.

"We shall swim out to that brooding reef in the sea and dive down through black abysses... and in that lair of the Deep Ones we shall dwell amidst wonder and glory for ever." ~ H.P. Lovecraft

It's actually quite touching and it's what links this with the much more overt and visceral Diamond Dogs. Reynolds, despite writing the hardest of hard sci-fi, never neglects the human core of his stories. On the contrary, these very familiar desires for love and understanding are all too human, all too applicable to our daily lives trapped on this boring blue rock. That's what makes Reynolds one of the best in the game today, despite his stiff prose.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Fiend Friday: A Very Red October

The following is an excerpt from my novel Fiend, available in paperback and on the ereader of your choice!

The train soon arrived in Petrograd and my senses reeled at the glut of fresh blood! How things do change with the centuries... The backwater of Russia I'd heard of in the War had sprung into a sprawling city! Modern industry smoking alongside those shimmering, oriental churches. All the intricate splendors of Paris - covered in soot and perpetually cold.

Carriages and carts filled the cobbled streets, surrounded by all manner of peasant and burgher - though the high born, as always, did not deign to mix with them. Even that sewage stink I remembered seemed to be absent, or covered over by the heavy clouds of burned coal...

Ack, that coal! It fired the engines of industry, drove progress, and clouded the blood! At first a harsh flavor, like the clear vodka or vit so adored by Swedes... But soon I tasted nothing but acrid and ashes in the common people I fed from. I endeavored to find myself some higher society! Some cleaner vintage!

Those Russians didn't keep to the farmer's schedule - thank God! Like Moors, they kept up passed midnight at all these little clubs, tossing back tea and champagne in equal measure if they could afford it, common wine if not. Though getting into such clubs proved difficult at first, the man at the door turning away any rough looking characters. Wearing the functional clothes of a Tartar and having been so long in the barren East of that wide empire, I looked very rough indeed...

But what luck I had, one evening, while trying to talk my way into yet another club full, a prospective patron should happen upon me!

"Monsieur, sil-vous-plais!" I begged the doorman. "I am so cold and thirsty! Only a few moments to warm myself!" Not entirely a lie...

He wasn't having it, of course... Or didn't understand French... And I was weighing the risk of storming the place, how much blood I could take before soldiers arrived... when some young aristocrat swaddled in more elegant furs than the woman on his arm came bounding over, beside himself with joy!

"Oh, francais! Magnifique! Bienvenue!" he squealed with more excitement than coherence. "Pavel Pavlovitch, let this man in! Such a wonder!"

And lo and behold, the big brick of a doorman let me pass! The inside of that club greeted me with warmth, tobacco, and the heady aroma of alcohol flooded blood. I had to express my gratitude to this young fop and his lady - but before I could again open my mouth, he was on me with a million questions in broken French.

"What is your name? Where are you from? However did you learn French?"

"Tomás... The West... The Army..." I replied, when I could get a word in.

"Haha! How droll! I simply must show you to everyone!" And not letting me a moment to acclimate to the warmth and welcome of the club, he dragged me into a thick knot of other dandies - all in fine suits or even uniforms, all puffing away at cigars while sipping heavy brown liquors, all sporting the same miniscule style of mustache. As I said, Doctor - Russia had no want of princes in those days.

"Felix Felixivitch!" one of these young gentlemen declared upon seeing us. "What's this business, bringing a Tartar into the club!"

"Ah, but he's an educated Oriental!" Felix explained. "He speaks perfect French!"

Those Russian princes were quite tickled by that - an oriental speaking French! Because what little Gitano features I inherited from my mother were oriental enough for those featherbrains...

They crowded about, lobbing their own clumsy French at me, and twittering like tickled chambermaids as I answered fluently. Ah, how the mighty do fall! How aristocracy degenerates! To think these mincing mariconas of Petrograd could have ever shared blood with the likes of Gustavus! Of le Roi-Soleil! Of mi Alfonso sangre! 

And my benefactor, Prince Felix, just basked in the reflected glory. He was that sort with so much wealth that he quickly grows bored of everything and soon needs something - anything! - new. Claiming me for himself after all the other princes had gotten their amusement, he sat me down by the fire and talked my ear off.
"But my dear fellow - how did you ever come to be dressed so... so... Ghastly!?" he asked.

"I was set upon by bandits," I explained, hoping such things still happened with enough frequency to sound plausible. "They took everything - my money, my boots, even my good waistcoat."

Oh, that struck a chord with the young prince. His heart bled for me, he wept for me - really! I was embarrassed for him... "We must see to it that you're returned to your station," he said with the sudden determination of the fickle. "No gentleman should be made to skulk about in those..." and he waved a disgusted hand.

I appreciated it of course. So appreciated it that I snuck off when some goon in a hussar's uniform came over so that he and Prince Felix might be alone to gossip about the strange foreigner. It proved fortuitous timing - I ran across the prince's pretty little lady, whom I led deep into the dark and smoke of the club where I could help myself to her pretty little neck...

Though I did not abandon Felix Felixovitch that evening. Sated, my mind a whirl with that youthful, aristocratic blood, I returned to find him at the fire. "You have shown such charity to me," I said to him in the finest French I could muster. "That it shames me I must ask of you... I have recently arrived and as I explained, I was robbed of all my possessions..."

"Say no more, my brilliant friend!" And he rose to give me an unexpected, unwelcome embrace. "You may stay at my home for however long you wish! It would be my honor to host such a distinguished traveler!"

Nastinka didn't object either - and she mattered more to Prince Felix than his actual wife. I met her briefly, a sad and spongy creature, like that English girl likely grew into when her father finally married her off... She greeted me tersely upon our arrival, some few hours before dawn, having grown so accustomed to her husband being out all night, returning with strangers, keeping Nastinka in her own wing of the great mansion overlooking the Moika river.

That mansion, Doctor! I'd seen the bold projects of Louis XIV and they looked like so much driftwood in comparison! The rococo walls, the pillars, the gold filigree running across every corner - Prince Felix put almost as much effort into decorating as he did into dressing himself. And more than he gave almost any other endeavor - he tried engaging me constantly in French but it was like trying to carry on a conversation with a child just dropped on his head. Though I noticed he always adressed me as "tu" rather than "vous" - a small slight, if he even knew the distinction...

Nastinka proved far better company - and not just for her sweet blood. Well, related to that... While so many of those I drink from are struck dumb by the experience, their memories a blur, this Nastinka remembered exactly what occurred that first night in the club... and didn't object. On the contrary, she enjoyed it! Because, as I soon learned, Nastinka's role as mistress to the prince involved very little in terms of traditional intimacies...

Felix beat her, Doctor. Not just with the back of his hand, though that he did quite often. But rather with riding crops and belts and even buggy whip! Nastinka showed me the scars from that one, laced across her back. Oh, not to plead for any sympathy or mercy - she was proud! At enduring such brutality! She wore her petticoats unconscionably tight, so as to feel the material grind against her sore flesh!

The Prince did not lay with her as a man, though. He battered her, knocked her to the ground, had her crawl about naked on all fours - but never did he take her as one would expect... Such tenderness he reserved only for his fellow princes. He even tried to bring me into such confidence on nights when he'd drunk enough champagne to choke an elephant - "Tomás, you scoundrel! You rogue! Kiss me!"

I turned him down every time but still he let me stay on... He dressed me in the latest suits, bought me the finest hats, paraded me before all those clucking Russian aristocrats - I was his star!

I could have stayed much longer than I did, though it's probably for the best I left eventually... While frequenting the clubs with Prince Felix and his pretty blood mop, I couldn't help overhearing the politics of the day - "Can you believe what the rabble did this time?" was a common opener. All the young and wealthy would gather round the speaker, clucking like old village women at some latest outrage committed by the peasantry. If they weren't rallying for democracy they were deserting at the front. If neither of those things, they dressed too shabby. If nothing else, they did not cringe to the speaker's satisfaction when he went out riding. If only a small slight the Dutch had been such a trifle for King Philip...

But this was all whining, Doctor. No different than I'd heard from a thousand different men in as many taverns and nations and languages. I didn't take note until my host began to make the same complaint... But on one peasant in particular... 

"A drunkard! A rogue! A blackguard who chases good Christian women!" is how it began, if anyone else mentioned the man. If not, Prince Felix usually found a segue into the subject - such as the drunkenness.
"He's got the Tsarina wrapped around his crooked finger!" the Felix said to the other princes. "And worst of all, he's so vulgar! His every aspect is an obscenity - especially his boots!"

The Tsar was not really their father. A curious Russian affectation, addressing all those in authority in familial terms...

But Felix would stir up the outrage in that pampered lot. They cried out in agreement - "Quite so!" and "All his fault!" and "Something must be done!" Understand they were just as vulgar and obscene and drunkenly - arguably more so! What set their blood boiling and their little mustaches twitching was that a common muzhik should share in the same pleasures.

You know what I think, Doctor? That mincing maricona was jealous! He'd put the moves on the old muzhik and been rebuffed, been thrown aside for someone younger and prettier... and certainly more interesting!
So the villain had to die! For the good of the Motherland and - more importantly - for Felix Felixovich's wounded pride! He'd show those muzhiks not to rebuff his clumsy advances!

Muzhiks... If one subject united those tottering fools it was contempt for the peasantry. They wouldn't even deign to violate such scurvy beasts - Nastinka was herself a countess! All that good breeding and upbringing, that fine foreign education, all so some prancing pajero could plant welts across her arse!

That's what the good blood could expect. But those muzhiks - oh, to be born in such a low state was surely a sign of moral turpitude or punishment from God. Those dvoryanin - dumber than Calvinists!

In all fairness to Prince Felix, I never met the Muzhik in Question myself. We moved in different circles - rather I made it a point to move out of the Prince's circle when he indulged his pastime of peasant bashing. He would accompany his hated enemy to low public houses full of beer and sausage, where after a few pints the Prince would try and pick a fight with any man who appeared to his boggled eyes. A slight wisp of a man, more accustomed to servants and cross-dressing than rough labor, and relying on his privileged status to keep the stout peasants pulling their punches...

On one of these outings, he had a discussion of sorts with his nemesis. He confessed it to me later - "The man will make our Father surrender!" His mustache curled at the ignoble thought.
I just nodded, not seeing the harm in such a course. Having seen the remnants of their Grand Army scraping by in the Petrograd gutters...

"I am resolved to put an end to this, mes amis," he continued, more in a fire than he'd been over that English carpet. "For the honor of the Empire! By the blood of my noble ancestors!"

"Yes, yes... Honor and blood..." I nodded along, thinking how I might pass some days outside the house...
As the Prince set about his task with all the dignity of a French dramatist, I relocated to a flat as far on the other side of Petrograd as I could get. Nastinka joined me, preferring the relative tenderness of my Thirst to the sharp hand of the Prince...

I wouldn't call it a happy time... But I did find some sort of contentment, looking out over the sooty streets and bleeding that little countess. I could trust her to keep the windows covered while I slept away the daylight - and not just because of the enthralling force of my feedings. She cleaved to me without reservation...

Free of that cluster of hens calling themselves an elite, I found the common Russians much more to my liking. Those muzhiks had survived Huns and Mongols and Napoleon - and went marching off to the Western front for more! Fine soldiers - even the women!

And mixing down among those muzhiks, I heard familiar rumblings... The same that rose from the slave quarters in Hispaniola, that grumble that soon turns into a full-throated roar -

"Why this slaughter? Is Germany not our brother?"

"Where is the common right? Where is the social contract!?"

"The worse, the better!"

Pamphlets made the rounds in those grimy public houses... Pamphlets declaring war on the old order, demanding the high be brought low, the leveling of all things... So much like what the Protestant rabble used to spout against the Church, what the Jacobins used to grumble in the Antilles, what the enslaved Negros grumbled back...

I recognized this movement of the people, naturalmente... I had a final warning of such when some months later, I ran into Felix Felixovitch at one of those public houses he stooped to patronize.

"Ah, mes amis Tomás!" he declared in his awful French, his eyes glowing with an entirely new madness.
"Your grace," I replied. Maybe I could distract him with a shiny bauble while I beat a hasty retreat...
Throwing his arm around my shoulder with more familiarity than was comfortable, he whispered conspiratorially, "I have news... The great work I told you about... It's done!"

Few things surprise me these nights... Fewer surprised me then, which just shows how much I thought I knew... My mouth all but hit the floor at Felix's confession! I had to turn away fast, lest anyone catch a glimpse of my distinctly sharp teeth. "You mean to tell me -"

"Indeed!" The Prince looked beside himself in ecstasy. "You should have been there! We tried poisoning him, but the devil proved too resilient! We stabbed him, shot him, beat him, threw him out the window! He finally died in the river!"

Awfully tough, those muzhiks...

"Now you'll see," he continued. "Now they'll all see! Russia will not bow to those Germans or anyone else! Our Father shall sweep the board!"

It didn't happen that way, of course...

Buy my book and get yer fang on!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

It's Raining Spam!

Amazon is making the dreams of reality-averse tech dweebs come true just in time for Christmas!

"And look! I brought cookies!"

Not this Christmas of course, but one soon to come. Amazon honcho Bezos expects his little octocopter to be delivering DVD sets across America in about five to seven years, a stary-eyed fantasy echoed by every pinhead from Gizmodo to Forbes.

The closest to skepticism any of the big name press gets is fretting over whether or not the government squares or the luddite prols will go in for this cool new thing. Because that's what really matters when converting sophisticated military hardware to commercial use - ad slogans. What the well paid pundits don't want to talk about is the biggest problem with this scheme -


That most boring of military sciences. The thing Lee slept through at West Point, along with all the other romantic dunderheads who signed on with the pro-slavery side. And who were thoroughly stomped by Ulysses S. Grant - 'cuz he aced the logistics class and went on to make sure his troops had enough food, enough shoes, and more than enough bullets.

And logistics is what makes drones a superb weapon system and a terrible commercial delivery system.

Let's start with the obvious - how do drones go from point A to point B? They ain't programmed for it - not yet, thank Christ - and so there's this little control room full of monitors and keyboards and joysticks, like a bleeding edge video game cave from the '80s. Two operators steer the little drone through the sky, worrying about all the little things any other pilot worries about, except for dying in a fiery crash.

Outside the control room, you've got a ground crew. They clean and refuel the drone, make sure its flaps and engine work properly, all the same stuff as your local mechanic except that one little mistake means the drone plunges out of the air, halfway to point B. Or maybe the ground crew does everything right and it still plunges out of the air due to inclement weather.

All these logistical concerns cost money. Not even close to the millions wasted on the same for jet fighters - that are even more fragile, less agile, and built around a squishy human - but still more than some scale model enthusiast at the park could ever hope to afford. And, as explained, even with everything going right a drone can still miss its target or crash. It's used anyway because the benefits of doing so outweigh the costs. For starters, ya don't lose a very expensive USAF officer if it gets shot down.

But that's war, not business. Assuming all the legal and marketing hurdles are cleared by the octocopter, Amazon is looking at a steep premium to do what guys in vans can do with more reliability and much less money. I've got nothing against robots doing all the menial work - so we can all kick back and just plain kick this "honest days work" nonsense but that's another rant - though I just can't see that Amazon Air will ever make it off the ground. Too expensive, too many moving parts, too much work when there's already a viable alternative.

Not that the tech dweebs care. If it's possible, who cares if it's useful?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

I Shot JFK

With the anniversary of Kennedy's death, Americans once again have the opportunity to engage in the most cherished of national pastimes - obsessing over the minutiae of an elaborate fantasy, rather than engage with the real world...

It's gotten to the point that it doesn't matter what "really happened" or what little bits of trivia might be revealed by the unsealing of sixty year old files now that everyone involved has died of old age. Assassination Conspiracy has had decades to germinate and is now its own culture so facts no longer matter - as demonstrated most recently by 9/11 Truthers. What does matter is the sense of group identity, the sense of purpose in facing a common enemy, and - most important to the common American mind! - the sense of being one of the few who know the truth of things. Being one of the elect.

At this point, any further information released on JFK will only serve to bolster the conspiracy theories. Even photo evidence of Oswald firing from the book depository will be determined to be deliberate disinformation, a conscious act by The Government to dispel the conspiracy theories and thereby be another piece of evidence in their favor!

That's the beauty of conspiracy theories - they can never be proven wrong. Any and all disconnected bits of information can be cobbled together as evidence, while anything to the contrary is clearly planted by some shadowy cabal, so terrified of the lone dweeb posting The Truth on a web forum. It's a power fantasy for the utterly powerless.

But let's say for the sake of argument that Oswald didn't do it. Does that imply a wide ranging conspiracy of Cubans, mobsters, the military-industrial complex, and gay orgies? Does it imply Jack Ruby killed Oswald to maintain some elaborate facade, only to die himself so as to tie up all possible loose ends? Or does it merely imply that the US Government can tremendously screw up?

We're talking about the same institution that has been forced to exonerate hundreds of people convicted on shoddy, sometimes falsified evidence. An institution that has twice occupied foreign countries when there was absolutely no strategic reason for doing so. An institution collectively dumb enough to grant Ted Cruz a salary.

And the thing is, it wouldn't be that surprising if Oswald really had nothing to do with it. Not because of that old "back and to the left" joke - perpetuated by people who don't understand ballistics and don't want to - but because 1) It was a very poor angle from the depository and 2) Connolly and the rest of the car were hit by a lot of bullets. Just as a basic understanding of ballistics makes Kennedy's death throes understandable, so does it stretch credulity that all those other holes were made by a single slug.

But again, all that really implies is "some other guy or guys got away with it." That premise does not naturally lead to military-industrial-orgies, no matter what Alex Jones tells you. But acknowledging that as an unknown - and an unknown of which you have no power over, because you're not special - is a terrifying prospect to a culture as systemically narcissistic as America. And it's why, even sixty years later, we're all still stuck on that grassy knoll.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Fiend Friday: The True Story of Jeannot

Today's Fiction Friday is a slice from Chapter 14 of my novel:

We put ashore as the sun rose over the ocean. A stirring sight - even more so as it brought such annihilating heat to the two of us. I overturned the longboat in a lagoon, making a solid shade for the day. We rested in low tide, little fish swimming and wriggling through our clothes as crabs pinched at our dead flesh... We awoke looking like we'd crawled seven miles through brambles!

"How far from Cap Francois are we?" asked Anna

"Damned if we're going back there!" I snapped, pulling off my boots to drain the seawater.

"Are we to live in the jungle then? Like maroons?" She smiled. That still beautiful smile - so rare and loveless by then - turned my stomach.

Idiota... "Not a bad idea."

We didn't, of course. But we found the next best thing - a sugarcane plantation! Just one of the hundreds dotting Hispaniola, crawling all day with slaves while the planter and his family sat with their feet up in a house to make Louis XIV envious... You'd think we'd be turned away, coming as we did in the dead of night, our fine city clothes ruined by water and wilderness. But no sooner had an elderly Negress answered the door than my Anna fell into an inspired performance -

"Oh, pity on poor travelers!" she cried, throwing herself at the surprised house slave's feet. "God's grace and pity! Our carriage was overturned and looted by maroons! And if not for my brave uncle, they'd have had my virtue too!"

The Negress immediately went for her master - who was asleep, so she had to settle for the lady of the house. A sentimental old biddy who about fainted as Anna repeated her lurid tale. With more embellishment, naturally - "A dozen mad maroons! Screaming voodoo prayers to Beelzebub! My brave uncle beat them all off with a root he tore from the ground!"

Such a clever girl...

We received a royal welcome after that. Madame Bullet put Anna up in a fine room once occupied by her daughter - who'd since been married off to some other planter somewhere. Anna had her pick of the dresses left behind and the Negress brought me some of Monsieur’s older suits that didn't fit anymore. Even then, they hung a bit too loosely around my waist and shoulders. I took the guest room, an equally lavish cavern decorated liberally with every furniture and fashion to come out of Paris in the last fifty years...

And outside, perhaps the most important boon, a banquet of slave blood. The Bullet plantation was ringed with gulleys, deep and steep and filled with the dead and dying. Monsieur Bullet had so many slaves he didn't have to bother with their health! Those that suffered from disease or injury or too many whippings, those that couldn't swing a machete at the sugarcane anymore were cast into the gullies to be claimed by the island. Any who thought to bring them food or water lost the giving hand straight off before receiving a stern talking to...

Bullet was fond of talking, as we learned the following evening. We awoke to a grotesquely obese man, bustling about the mansion, putting on a great show of his management skill for us rare visitors - "Sweep out this mess!" he shouted to an old Negress, already sweeping. "We have company, by God!"

Turning to us, "Ah, Monsieur et Mademoiselle! How long you slept! I was about to send for a doctor. This jungle air can be hard on the humors, you know..."

"I fear my niece suffers from a disorder that makes the light of day unbearable," I told him. "I myself find it difficult, owing to many voyages across the North Sea."

He straightened up - not an easy feat with such girth - "A sailing man, eh? But not a sailor, surely!"

"I've captained a ship or two," I replied.

"Ah-ha, I knew it!" He led us into the front room, where Madame Bullet waited to entertain us, a younger Negress at her beck and call with a tray full of fruits and sweet meats. "You have the look, if you don't mind my saying. You've got the sharp eyes of a master... One master to another, eh? Ah-hah! I almost captained a ship myself, not too long ago. It was that or this land and - no offense, monsieur - but land is a much better investment than a ship. Of course I suspect you'd agree with me after last night..."

Fond of his own voice, to tell the truth... , a petite bourgeois who'd bought his land for centimes an acre and worked it to desolation.

If Sothanax was a crude hypocrite, Bullet was simply crude... Loudly celebrating the sanctity of wealth and station, sputtering at the mere mention of "Natural Rights" or any other "Jacobin merde! Those sly devils, thinking themselves equal to who God Himself has ordained! Why, were I a younger man, I'd set sail for France this very night! Pledge myself to King Louis! Show those low and treasonous enfillates what for!"

Never mind this petite-bourgeoisie owed his livelihood to such Jacobin merde...

Oh, he was a rotten sort! Talking himself up, running down his neighbors, bragging about his own fine clothes and how only a fine gentleman such as himself - "And honored guests!" - could wear them properly... I tell you, Doctor - give any common imbecile a little money and he'll start prancing about like you've just crowned him king of the dandies!

Bullet's only other passion? Tormenting the blacks. He collected slave heads like lesser men collect stamps, skewering them all around his vast estate as decoration. He beat and raped black children whenever he drank too much taifa - or not enough. Even his wife - that sentimental Madame who doted over Anna and I! - she had their cook thrown into his own oven one evening when a pie crust was not to her liking!

Anna and I witnessed all of this without comment... As did one other. One of Bullet's many slaves, a middle-aged Negro he called Jeannot - an intentionally diminutive name, and the Negro knew it. He kept the house, commanded its staff of flinching and twitching Negresses, and bore the brunt of every one of Bullet's rotten whims.

"Oh Jeannot?" Bullet would call, all snickering malice. "Jeannot, what do you make of this vintage?" and he would hold out whatever he happened to be drinking at the time. Wine when he wanted to look particularly sophisticated, but usually taifa...

Jeannot would look at the offered drink, then look back at his master with a weary caution. "Ain't supposed to drank, messer," he'd say, his voice a tired quaver.

"Oh don't be such a stick in the mud! Of course you can drink!" Bullet would persist. And they would go back and forth like this - Bullet sometimes winking at us - until Jeannot obeyed.

And Bullet had him wiped. Because slaves weren't allowed to drink in his house...

It does something to a man - a grown man! - to suffer such constant humiliations. Whipped for drinking or whipped for looking too long at Madame Bullet or whipped just because it was a Tuesday... Bullet drove Jeannot enough to inspire a brutal hatred, but not as badly as he did the rest. For starters, Jeannot still had both hands...

And he had this look to his eyes. Cold, hard, biding time... I can't say if the Negro ever planned to do anything about his situation but his eyes said it plain - he wanted to. Oh how he wanted to!

"I hear him in the early morning," Anna said to me once. "He whispers what he would do to that enfillate, if he could..."

"Idle talk," I replied dismissively. "He's no match for all of those whip-hands employed by El Mala Hostia and he knows it..."

And maybe that's why my Anna gave him such a bloody gift...

One hot evening out in the fields - we took our blood from the slaves who'd collapsed during the day, left there by their fellows for fear of the overseers - when I heard a terrible screaming from the house. Fearing another of Anna's indiscretions, I made a dash back through the sugar cane, barely touching the the ground.

Oh it was one of her indiscretions alright. The most overt yet! I denied her making any more of our kind and had thought that to be the end of it. Like a fool... In the open ground at the front of the Maison Bullet, Jeannot had just pulled an overseer in half with his bare hands! The screams came form Madame Bullet, who he fell upon next, silencing her with a swift bite!

And up on the porch, beside an ashen with terror Bullet, my Anna smiling at her handiwork. Gah, esta coña idiota! She'd turned that battered Negro into one of us!

I sprang up the steps, ready to knock her block clean off. "Te demonia! What have you done now!"

"Don't tell me they don't deserve it," she said coquettishly, still admiring her handiwork

Jeannot, dripping overseer gore, lurched his way up the steps to the big house. His black eyes - so like mine, so like Anna's - looked right through me to the cowering Bullet. "Out of the way..." he commanded, his voice a far away atrocity.

"Oh l'aide!" squealed Bullet, stumbling back into the house he'd built off so many other brutalized Negros. Like Jeannot. "L'aide!"

I glared back at Jeannot, seeing all that misery and hunger for vengeance he'd held so tightly no flowing through his every movement... I thought of Bullet and his prancing and his misquoting and his self-satisfaction... And I stood aside, welcoming Jeannot into the house with an "All yours, mon frere!"

Read the book that just got four stars on Smashwords! Thanks, Julia!

And here's an honest-to-god paperback for all you luddites!

Ships within the week. Kitchen table not included.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Beyond Blunderdome

The Hunger Games is in the news again because you swine have no taste. I gave the first book a try and promptly dismissed it as a pathetic escapist fantasy for reactionaries looking for their own version of Twilight. And I sure as hell ain't reading the sequel that just got its own holiday blockbuster.

So I sat down and suffered through the first film - with some help from the good people and bots over at Rifftrax. I'm reminded of John Dolan's view of the Lord of the Rings films - all of the higher themes are buried under bathos and the more vile aspects. Except The Hunger Games, both the original novel and the broader series, have no higher themes. They're vehicles of pure narcissism and so there's nothing to emphasis in a film translation but the vile.

It's starts with Jennifer Lawrence. A good enough actress but far too clean and healthy for some post-apocalyptic survivor hero. Her whole podunk town is too clean and healthy. And pretty. All unblemished white WB kids and the sort of middle aged white people you see as "middle class" shmoes in Republican campaign commercials. I counted all of three black people in the entire two and half hours and the only one who lives is Lenny Kravitz. And he doesn't count.

See, when just reading Suzanne Collins terrible prose, I can at least visualize a properly dystopian setting with properly worn down protagonists. Jennifer Lawrence sure doesn't look like any coal town girl I ever saw - and I've actually been through Appalachia, something the filmmakers didn't do. Instead, they just cribbed from Depression era photographs for the aforementioned pretty poor white people and then just smoked a whole mess of crack when dreaming up the super-rich capitol city. Everything is so clean there, in contrast to the squalor of the Heroes' hometown. Clean and filled with ridiculous clown people, like some guy with an exaggerated beard stencil and what I assumed was the ghost of Liberace.

"Lady Gaga, I am your father!"

And don't try to argue this shit isn't important. Film is a distinctly visual medium and the visuals in The Hunger Games go against it's attempted depiction of some pseudo-soviet state because the contrast is so sharp. The actual Soviet state could put on a kick-ass parade once in a while but the apartment blocks of the elitny got just as moldy and run down as that of the prols, not to mention how no city ever has been just rich people. After all, who would do all the real work?

It just gets worse when the two white-bread, corn-ball leads finally make it to the killing fields. The film briefly becomes passable, as all the kids rush to kill each other. But that's more fast-cut editing, the same thing Sam Raimi did to make the epic battle in Army of Darkness so punchy and engaging. As soon as Lawrence runs off into the woods, it just devolves into an hour of her and the baker boy making moon eyes at each other, when not being menaced by the Jocks. And only menaced - not like the heroine is gonna be proactive, stalking and killing them methodically like that whole opening of her hunting a deer implied...

But there I go again, expecting a coherent story from another geek stroke book. The whole "evil opressive government" deal is constantly undermined by the absurd delivery - which goes on for bloody ever, reducing the dramatic effect. And the supposed horror of the Camp Kill Your Kids is watered down to make it broadly palatable. Yes, in the book too! It's not just the poor man's Battle Royale, but an insultingly bad retread of the great unknown Series 7.

You wanna see people hunting each other for sport? You wanna see a commentary on violence in contemporary American entertainment? Series 7 is all of that and more - nominally a marathon of hit reality show The Contenders, it follows a clutch of unlucky lottery winners compelled to hunt down and murder each other for U the viewer! And not in some sanitized forest but all across suburbia, culminating in the two romantic leads trying to rebel against their own tyrannical government and meeting a much more realistic result.

Shot dead beneath the snake cakes...

But you don't want any of that. Not really. You want some corn-fed white kids to enact all your violent, paranoid fantasies but through contrivances that allow them to strike a moral pose.

Well listen up you primitive screwheads - you are not the brave hunter or huntress frolicking in the woods and bringing the strawberries. You are not a threat to the government or anything but small animals trying to cross the road. You are oppressed though - by your job and social convention and a kleptocratic system that rewards wealthy failures and gambling addicts. And you're just fine with that set up because it placates you with escapist fluff like The Hunger Games, where you can try to feel those real human emotions so alien to your craven, sedentary existence.

Monday, November 11, 2013


American elections are like herpes - they just keep on giving!

Not that you particularly want any. Since Tuesday, the news sites of every persuasion have been flooded with noise that's not so much analysis as it's just rationalizations of what the authors want.

Like all the "progressives" celebrating how Christie won with bipartisanship and charisma and whatever. News flash for all you pseudointellectual post-irony hipsters - Chris Christie is as crooked as any other corporate suck-puppet. He'll even veto a bill that passes the New Jersey legislature by 91% if it means he can score a few votes in Iowa in 2016. His bipartisanship is a means to an end, which is his wide end planted in the oval office. He's ambition unclouded by any sort of principle and just because he doesn't look like the screaming crazies currently in the House doesn't mean he's your Great White Hope.

And on the subject of governors, let's take a look at the Commonwealth. I have yet to see any pundit acknowledge the demographic split that drove McAuliffe to victory. They all want to give the credit to the shutdown, or deny the credit to the shutdown, or entertain the Tea Party persecution complex.

Here's the thing about Virginia - the shutdown was viscerally important to one demographic and totally foreign to another. And you can see that in any district map. Northern Virginia - where all the money is federal money - went decisively for McAuliffe. My birthplace of Fairfax, not exactly a liberal hippie commune, swung blue by 72%! And the second most populous area, Charlottesville and surrounding Albermarle county, also voted Democrat. Because UVa is there and you'd best believe the Wahoos didn't want four years under the witch-finder general.

Now C-Ville may be dominated by university liberals but Northern Virginia has been strongly Republican since I can remember. Old-school, old money Republican. The kind who tolerate the anti-sex hicks who swoon over Cuccinelli if it gets them the good contracts and tax cuts. They rallied against Clinton, rallied behind Bush, supported McCain and Romeny... but they also voted for Tim Kain and Jim Webb. Because they don't give a shit about all that "liberty" and "constitution" and "islamo-commie" blather. They don't like the Democrats but they want the damn government to at least function.

And if the Tea Party has made one thing abundantly clear, it is that it will break the whole system. No matter what. If they don't get their way, smash it all. If they do, smash it all anyway. Cuccinelli demonstrated his commitment to that nihilistic jihad, pursuing one deluded cause after another as attorney general. Blocking Obamacare, criminalizing sex - if it was in the Tea Party pamphlet he did it.

That endeared him to the same mean and stupid hicks who always vote Republican anyway. I lived in central Virginia for seven years so I know these people in my goddamn blood - they are just mean and stupid. They will vote for whoever flatters their craven vanities while promising to do the most harm to coloreds and queers. This is the same third of Americans who supported Bush in 2007 when every other Republican with a career was jumping ship. The same who bought into every one of Glenn Beck's Saturday morning conspiracy theories. The same who honestly expected Romeny to win because they have as much contact with reality as the island of the lotus eaters. And they account for all of Virginia, save for little islands of blue like Arlington and Albermarle.

The only real lesson of 2013 is the one nobody will admit - for Democrats to win, campaign hard among urban non-whites and leave the hicks to stew in resentment. And if you think Virginia is somehow an aberration, just take a look at the NYC election map. American elections are now the billionaires and the hicks versus everyone else. The rest ain't even commentary.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Fiend Friday: New Paperback Available!

My novel Fiend 2.0 is finally available in paperback! Look for it at these fine internet retailers and get your fang on!

Create Space

The more money I make from this, the more time I can spend pissing off libertarians for your amusement!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

When Elections Don't Matter

The grand contest between Bill de Blasio and Joe Lhota for mayor of New York City wasn't so much "sound and fury... signifying nothing" as it was a big sucking hole of a non-issue. Not just in the staggering lead de Blasio held over Lhota but in how every issue supposedly framing the election was not something the mayor of this crooked city could or would ever change.

New Yorkers pay the highest taxes of anyone in the country and for increasingly little return. Bill de Blasio campaigned on getting Wall Street pinheads to pay more, earning him the admiration of everyone scraping by - so about 99% - and a hilarious front page meltdown over at the New York Post.

But lost in all this noise was the fact that the mayor cannot raise taxes beyond a certain level. And that's a state law, not city. Not to mention the asshole bankers pulling down the big fraud bucks all either reside in Connecticut or list their primary residence as their vacation home in Aruba. Hell, there are people down in Mill Basin puling that second trick! It's a lot like Greece, where raising taxes on the wealthy doesn't even begin to get around the central problem of the wealthy refusing to pay taxes at all.

Stop and Frisk
This was the big one. Even bigger than the red-baiting and fake tax talk. And nothing will come of it. As Anthony "No Balls" Bologna should have taught everyone two years ago, the NYPD is already a straight-up fascist operation. Doing away with a tactic won't change their essential character - they'll continue to terrorize black men and pepper spray unarmed women as long as they exist.

And make no mistake, the NYPD budget is as sacrosanct as the DOD. New York City has more armed men in uniform than most third world dictatorships and for the exact same reason - the powers that be in this city are absolutely terrified of the peasants. Whoever is mayor has to see to the interests of those powers first, so even if de Blasio orders the cops to stop touching black men's junk they'll still have the broader mandate to keep everyone terrified.

The Subway Kittens
About a month ago, there was a huge delay in the subway system when kittens were found on the tracks. Everything shut down so they could be rescued, causing a lot of people to be late but come on! Kittens!

Except Joe Lhota came out and argued that the trains should have been allowed to run anyway. So that's the one upside to this election - the kitten-hating asshole lost.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Game Over

I didn't go see Ender's Game this weekend but I did once read the book. So here's a review that'll hopefully score me some more blag traffic!

The one thing that always confused me about Ender's Game was how everyone insisted the titular Ender Wiggins was some sort of tactical genius. Yeah, I know there's supposed to be some stuff about loyalty and friendship and the horrors of war and blah blah blah... But all I ever heard from sci-fi nerds is how clever the main character was.

So I read the book and his brilliant battle tactic? More dakka. Really. No feints, no deftly timed maneuvers, just "Ender smash!" Threw me a bit...

In fairness, while zero-g training, Wiggums figures out that his team can use their own legs as a shield for the opposing team's fire. Because it's just lazer tag and differentiates between vital organs and extremities. But this doesn't change the essential plan of four yards and a cloud of bullets. And he sticks to the same kill 'em all style all the way through, until he's vaporized the alien homeworld while thinking the whole thing was still just training. And the character bits in between all the shooting in a white room... it's thoroughly forgettable.

In fact, that's a good way to sum up the entire book. Not bad, at least not enough for me to work up a good rant. It just kinda sits there, like mayonnaise. Which shouldn't be surprising, being a Mormon's attempt at grafting Starship Troopers to The Forever War.

So then why is Endgame so popular in nerd circles? I propose it has nothing to do with the story or the prose style - which is godawful, though still not enough for a proper hate-down. No, Eddie Wiggles is a popular genre character because he is the embodiment of the common Waffentwerp fantasy - the smart dork triumphing violently over everyone and everything.

It's a distinctly teenage boy mentality. It's always the put upon dweeb and the triumph is always of some violent or martial sort. Luke Skywalker, Paul Atreides, that goon from The Last Starfighter - all nobodies who redefine themselves through violence and all beloved by the real losers out there. In Paul's case, he goes on to seriously question what his killing name has wrought on the universe but the fandom doesn't usually dwell on that as it gets in the way of giggling over all the badass wormriders. Badass is the whole raison d'etre of these characters - and Ender - as far as the geek hordes are concerned because being badass - wreaking tremendous, righteous violence - elevates one from the loserdom that is the common American male's everyday existence.

And finally, it's a fantasy because it supposes that "genius" in war is even a factor. Ulysses S. Grant, a truly great general, saved most of his genius for logistics while Robert E. Lee was off doing the romantic tactician stuff. Grant won. Napoleon packed the Grand Armee with as much cannon as it could hold, like the battalions of Gustavus two centuries earlier -

Okay, so More Dakka is a highly effective strategy. But it doesn't take a whole lot of thought. The stuff that does - insurgency, counter-terrorism - takes a little more smarts but then only a little. You'd think twelve years of irregular, asymetric warfare would have taught people this stuff. Osama bin Laden scored one heck of a tactical victory on 9/11, but he also believed in Allah. Not a Mensa candidate is what I'm sayin'...

But there's nothing badass about any of that. So rather than a film treatment of the long grind and moral ambiguity of warfare, we get Indiana Ford and Ass Butter acting out the power fantasies of a Mormon milquetoast. Go read up on the Thirty Years War or the Battle of Rivoli if you wanna know what military genius looks like. If you wanna see Ender's genius, do a Zerg rush in Starcraft.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Vampires Don't Suck: An Anti-Rant

It's Halloween! Rejoice, fuckers!

Well, technically the day before Halloween.The eve of All Hallow's Eve. But if I have to look at Christmas decorations going up already, ya'll get to suffer through a premature Halloween.

And what better way to suffer than with that most abused of folkloric monsters, the vampire? Ever since Anne Rice struck it rich with her yaoi fantasies, vampires have been getting squeezed through one cornball work of girl porn after another. It's a shame because the vampire retains plenty of good horror uses - in the hands of a competent writer.

So here it is, your Halloween 2013 guide to vampire fiction that doesn't suck!

Let the Right One In
Leave it to a Scandinavian to do a grim, uncompromising exploration of childhood. Protagonist Oskar has little to fear from blood-sucking Eli, at least when compared to the bullies at his school. And rather than turn into some stoic Protestant masochist, he seeks to strike back at the world that abuses him. And as it fits her own utterly selfish interests, Eli is happy to help...

Lost Souls
Anne Rice ain't the only one who can do gay vampires - Poppy Z. Brite's little dip into the genre is all the gothy homoeroticism you gals out there crave. But unlike Rice, she crafts a very un-romantic coming of age story out of it all. Her modern vampires travel the back roads of the south in a busted up van, drinking blood and booze in equal measure, and wreaking horrible life-destroying violence on anyone who crosses their path. They're the Near Dark crew after an extended stay in New Orleans, goth meets southern gothic. And there's not a moment of pity for anyone!

Before Vlad Tepes took the ladies of London by storm, Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu gave literature an equally sexual predator. Except his is another girl in one of - if not the! - earliest lesbian romances. The titular Carmilla has a sweet scam going, ingratiating herself into a noble family and slowly bleeding their impressionable daughter, in every sense of the word... It's a bit melodramatic compared to the rest of this list but it's also the shortest. And I know what really matters to you all.

Salem's Lot
When you write as many books as Stephen King, a few of them are bound to be decent. This not so little tale about Old World vampires descending on the New England town of Jerusalem's Lot is one such book - and in so many ways! On the surface, you've got a solid little horror tale full of vampires that are actually scary. But as you dig deeper, you see that King is a serious craftsman - the inversion of the Superstition versus Science theme that dominated the original Dracula, the misery and petty malice endemic to small town America, all conveyed in a style at once literary and familiar.

I Am Legend
No book has been adapted to screen so poorly so many times. From Charleton Heston to Will Smith, Hollywoood keeps trying to focus on the man and not the monster. Matheson not only wrote the definitive post-apocalypse survival tale, but turned the entire vampire genre on its head in a way that no other work has managed to deal with since. I won't just say it, as I'd be giving away a big part of the ending, but what do you think when you hear about a guy who wanders around while you're asleep, murdering all your friends and neighbors?

Sunglasses After Dark
Okay, this is a purely personal indulgence. The vamp slayin', face stompin' heroine of Nancy A. Collins ain't gonna be made into a movie anytime soon. It's not just too raw but too cosmologically confusing - Sonja Blue inhabits a world full of much more than vampires, slipping unnoticed among humanity in a manner Joss Whedon ripped off shamelessly. And neutered. But the Blue woman's breakout adventure is a rollicking good time of revenge, unapologetic monsters, and I swear to God a cameo by John Constantine!

So there ya go! The vampire books you can really sink your teeth into. And there's one more, but you'll have to wait until midnight...


Fiend has been revamped - har har - and re-released, now on the ereader of your choice! 

So come get your fang on!
And for all you luddites, check back here for details on a spankin' new Fiend paperback!