Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Grimdark Drinking Game

Every fantasy story and most sci-fi has something dark or grim in it. When does it hit the boiling point and become "grimdark"? When you feel like it does. Every reader has their own standards of dark and gritty. Alternatively, it's whether the AUTHOR says they're grimdark.

Still, I think this is a subject which deserves to be handled by a checklist of common factors which can tell you whether or not a work is grimdark or not? A work can be grimdark if it has all of these or none of these but this is some of my experience with the genre.

Take a shot for every "Yes" answer on the sheet. If you're drunk or dead by the end, it's probably grimdark.

1. Is war portrayed as a terrible thing where lives are senselessly lost in a futile struggle?

2. Is the central conflict one where there is no good or evil side? Just people?

3. Does the protagonist's side of the conflict ever commit war crimes?

4. Do the protagonists ever commit war crimes (torture, execution of prisoners, or worse)?

5. Is at least one of the protagonists someone who has done something unforgivably awful in the past?

6. Are idealists in the setting portrayed as painfully naive?

7. Are the cynics in the setting portrayed as factually correct?

8. Are romances likely to break up or fail versus true love or redeeming?

9. Are the romances unhealthy or obsessive in some way versus romantic?

10. Is sex just something people do versus romantic?

11. Are the nobility portrayed as mouth-breathing snobs with nothing redeemable about them?

12. Are the peasants portrayed as dirty superstitious ignorant louts?

13. Is the local religious system portrayed as hopelessly corrupt or a scam?

14. Is the government dirty and corrupt too?

15. Are the protagonists motivated by revenge, greed, or something wholly selfish?

16. Does the heroes triumphing make no noticeable difference to whether the world sucks or not?

17. Do they use real or made up curse words?

18. Is violence portrayed as visceral with bodily fluids and crippling versus neat little slashes or shots?

19. Do any of the heroes die?

20. Do any of the heroes die in a manner which is not heroic or dignified?

21. Do any characters have their ideals smashed painfully?

22. Is there no sign of beneficent supernatural forces?

23. Is the revelation of the world's mythology one where the gods are evil, indifferent, or nonexistent?

24. Is magic or psychic powers something which is innately evil or comes with a horrific cost like sanity or blood sacrifice?

25. Is there some historical but values incorrect practice going on in society like human sacrifice, forced marriage, or slavery?

26. Are the protagonists involved in any of these values incorrect practices?

27. Is acting in a selfish manner likely to reward heroes rather than punish them?

28. Is acting in a heroic manner likely to punish heroes rather than reward them?

29. Is prejudice against a religion, race, sex, or otherwise just a part of the setting?

30. Is said prejudice something the protagonists engage in without commentary or learning a lesson?

31. Are there prostitutes in a prominent role?

32. Do the protagonists engage in prostitution?

33. Are the protagonists likely to engage in adultery, drinking, smoking, drugs, or other vices?

34. Do the protagonists ever lose a battle or conflict?

35. Does the protagonists' side ever lose?

36. Do wounds ever get infected or characters maimed?

37. Is the ending bittersweet or outright a downer versus happily ever after?

38. Have the protagonists actually made the situation worse for their actions?

39. Do the protagonists ever bemoan the pointlessness of it or engage in an existentialist crisis without a clear answer?

40. Do any of the "bad guys" escape without suffering any karmic punishment for their actions or even end up better off than they started?

There you go. There's plenty of other ways to show whether a work is grimdark or not but this should give you a rough estimate even if you decide to drink with Coca Cola or Pepsi versus any sort of alcoholic spirit.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Hard Luck Hank: Robot Farts by Steven Campbell

    ROBOT FARTS is the latest of the HARD LUCK HANK series that I find consistently entertaining. It's a sci-fi series about the continuing misadventures of an immortal almost (but not quite) indestructible professional thug named Hank. Hank is a fairly awful person and has committed a number of murders for no other reason than he was paid to. He's also a person who has saved the universe on a couple of occasions.

    The series is notable for the fact every iteration has the station of Belvaille going through some dramatic change. Sometimes it's the capital of the galaxy, sometimes its a impoverished hellhole, sometimes its a slightly less impoverished hellhole, and other times its (just) the football capital of the galaxy. In Robot Farts, Belvaille has come full circle back to the crime-ridden hellhole it was in the first book with everyone virtually back in the same place they started.

    Well, not quite, as Hank has finally discovered he's not a mutant but a member of a long-thought-extinct race of aliens who tend to be as fat as himself (except for Hank's new girlfriend who is the attractive schoolgirl-meets-guerilla on the cover). While Hank is about as apolitical as they come, the allure of sex is something which easily convinces him to go along with said race's plans to get revenge on the present galactic government for their homeworld's destruction. You know, despite not being the government which did it.

    There's multiple interesting plots going on in this book, not the least being Hank's attempt to save organized crime on the station by taxing every ship coming through. This, of course, blows up in Hank's face. However, sadly, the series falls back on its least interesting villain to once more make a threat to the galaxy which I felt should be shied away from. Hank is always at his most interesting when he's saving his wallet rather than the universe.

    The cycle of Belvaile going through rich, impoverished, feral, rich again, and back is interesting but has worn out its welcome a bit. I'd be interested in seeing the characters start to move forward but, admittedly, a large part of the series fun is the fact they're so incredibly pig-headed and greedy that they refuse to evolve into better (or worse) people. Even so, I'm kind of sad Hank didn't get to keep his guerilla warrior girlfriend as she was quite entertaining even if I knew the relationship was doomed from the start.

    Robot Farts is a decent enough novel with the same likable characters and screw-ups which made the previous novels. This one lies a bit more on continuity than it should as well as too much in the way of "threats to the universe." I'm hoping future installments will be more about Hank trying to line his pockets instead. Still, I'm glad I read it. I'm also sad Hank's girlfriend didn't play a bigger role as she was always entertaining. There's nothing quite so humorous as a die-hard capitalist gangster signed up with an idealistic to the point of stupidity pseudo-communist revolutionary.


Monday, August 7, 2017


 I finished I WAS A TEENAGE WEREDEER this week and I'm very glad to have yet another book coming for my wonderful fanclub. It's 83K words long and will be followed by a sequel novel called AN AMERICAN WEREDEER IN MICHIGAN.

What are my next projects as I work on these? I will be finishing up LUCIFER'S NEBULA and 100 MILES AND VAMPIN' which are the sequels to LUCIFER'S STAR and STRAIGHT OUTTA FANGTON. Both of those books are 2/3rds of the way done.

Hard Luck Hank: Stank Delicious review

     STANK DELICIOUS is the fifth novel in the HARD LUCK HANK series and I'm running out of things to say about the novels but still enjoying them tremendously. While I had a lot of complaints about the third book, the fourth book completely subverted them. Stank Delicious is even better because it manages to go in a completely unexpected direction. In a series primarily about a thuggish rogue on a space station negotiating treaties between various hostile powers, this is a book parodying pro-football. Yes, you heard me correctly.

    Stank Delicious is the story about how Hank is coerced, through the power of $$$, to become the equivalent of a line backer for a superpowered fictional version of football. Given it is the most popular sport in the galaxy, Hank quickly finds himself richer than he's ever been in his life even as he's shelling out massive portions of his paycheck to his manager as well as butler (and the team's manager in what is TOTALLY not a conflict of interest since Clifton uses different personalities for his negotiations).

    Being as this is Hard Luck Hank and Not Friday Night Lights IN SPACE, Hank does get roped into his usual unwilling investigation. Someone is kidnapping the galaxy's best pro-ball players and making them disappear. Hank is given an even bigger salary than his athlete's if he can find out the truth and our anti-hero does his absolute best to try to stumble onto the truth. I do mean stumble, too, because he's a bad investigator as well as player.

    I thought Stank Delicious was funny from beginning to end. Hank actually being dumped into something he has the talent for, only to screw it up because of his greed, is awesome. I also loved his difficulty with the fact the hottest player in the mixed-gender league wants to have sex with Hank but he keeps getting screwed out (pun intended) of the opportunity. I also love how his actual encounter turns out to be a lot more than he bargained for.

    We also get the addition of a great new character in Frank's equally-immortal uncle. He's a character who fits in well with the narrative. Hank is deeply-underwhelmed by the fact his only surviving blood relation is every bit as much a lowlife as himself, just far far less successful. Nevertheless, Frank is a great character who kinda-sorta loves his nephew.

    The only complaint I have about the book is the re-using of who I consider to be the weakest villain in the series and someone who really doesn't work too well with the Hard Luck Hank universe. I do think it adds a layer of mythology to the setting but that's not something you need for a series about an indestructible professional goon.

    In conclusion, buy it if you love the series. Which I do. It's a funny, well-written, and over-the-top silly collection of stories about an equally silly, well-written, and over-the-top hero. The fact they did something as silly as parodying football makes it even better.


Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Dark Tower (2017) review

Warning - This review will contain spoilers for The Dark Tower book series.

    The Dark Tower is a movie which is difficult to summarize my feelings regarding. Well, no, I hate it. I really-really hate this movie. It's problematic because I don't hate this movie because it's bad. If this were a completely generic action movie with a sci-fi premise, I'd put it up with Resident Evil as a multiple re-watch. However, this is THE DARK TOWER. It is one of the most signature pieces of American fantasy which exist and up there with George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones, Stephen King's other masterpiece The Stand, and The Wheel of Time for "iconic presentations of what US authors are capable of." How do I feel about this movie? Mrs. White?

This is how I feel.
     Thank you. I mean, this is a movie that isn't bad if you don't know the source material and I hate to be that guy. Idris Elba is one of the few people in the world who could actually pull of Roland Deschain due to the fact Clint Eastwood isn't available. Ironically, Matthew McConaughey is probably one of the others. Race change aside, Elba is a Hollywood actor capable of projecting the grim determination and unchangable force of personality which is the essence of the literary Roland.

Fun comic book action gunplay. There's that.
    I'm not sure McConaughey could turn off his good old boy charm enough to make Roland work, who is anything but charming, but he manages to do a delightfully comic book Man in Black. Even though this movie is forcing me to forget the face of my Father, I would love for him to play Randall Flagg in a two part movie adaptation of The Stand. I wouldn't mind a sequel to The Dark Tower but I have no idea how they'd salvage it. Maybe by somehow doing The Gunslinger as the second movie. Because this movie has almost nothing to do with the first volume.

    Indeed, I feel the need to point out both actors are incredibly good casting and even acting against incredibly bad direction and writing, they do fine jobs. If I need to liken this movie's two lead performances to anything, I'd say they're similar to Liam Neeson's performance in The Phantom Menace. They're all three comfortable in worlds of CGI and ridiculousness that serve as islands of believably. In effect, they feel like they were performances cut and pasted from better movies.

Lots of stunning visual imagery in the movie.
    I mean, McConaughey overacts like hell but that's part of the character. The Man in Black/Walter O'Dim/Randal Flagg/John Farson are the salesman and evangelical preacher of the person the Devil is terrified of. He's a little out of his element as he's heading up a vast technological conspiracy designed to harness stuff to do stuff but I can easily attribute this to Flagg if not O'Dim and they are the same person.

    As for Roland? There's a moment where Roland says, essentially, "The war against evil is over, the forces of good have lost, the Dark Tower is coming down whether we like it or not, and I don't care about any of that because all I want to do is avenge my father." Which says, somewhere, someone among the screenwriters (if not Elba himself) got what the books are about.

They should never be this close. That's part of the futility of Roland's quest.
    Roland is not a good person. The Gunslingers of Eld were hard men, more like the Stark ancestors than Ned himself, but they were honorable. Roland was the most ruthless, hard, and fanatical of them. It's both why he survived and why he's actually kind of a terrible choice to be a hero. He's a guy who unleashes a terrible monster on the world because he wants to shave a little time off his quest.

    Hell, the very fact his quest is arguably completely unnecessary is a major part of the story. The Dark Tower doesn't need saving as Roland and the others in his group are fictional characters existing within its purview. The Crimson King is on a quest to kill God and Roland is on a quest to turn back the past--both equally futile endeavors they've deluded themselves into believing in.

McConaughey does a fine job. You should like the Man in Black even as he's a monster.
    His quest for the Dark Tower is a dangerous obsession that is only tangentially related to saving the universe from the Crimson King. He is willing to let the innocent die and kill any number of people to achieve his goals. He would be a villain if not for the fact he is faced against opponents much worse than him and capable of faking softness. I say faking because he only protects his Ka-Tet and loved ones as long as they don't stand in the way of his quest for the Dark Tower. This is not that Roland.

    I said before I saw this movie that they only needed to get two things right: 1. Roland killing an entire village of Walter O'Dim's worshipers with a cold blooded diligence equivalent to the Punisher. 2. Leaving Jake to die because it was a choice between him and the Dark Tower. Unfortunately, this is not even a loose adaptation of The Gunslinger. It's the story of Walter O'Dim versus Roland with a character that is yet another incarnation of Jake. Which, for fans of the series, means that I am entirely able to consider this an event which could have happened to Roland across his travels but it's not THE event.

Some amazing Easter Eggs here.
    I think part of the reason I'm so disappointed is it's clear the movie makers included many people who saw Smaug but wanted a Balrog. The Dark Tower is the only series I know you could seriously adapt to get Game of Thrones levels of prestige with similar levels of character complexity but only if you want complexity. It's a story which wants to frame Roland as a reluctant messiah, more Aragorn than Boromir but missing that robs his character of any actual depth. The same is done for the Dark Tower itself. It is re-imagined as sort of a giant containment unit for demons as it holds the monsters at bay versus holding all of reality up.

    I keep forgetting to mention Jake in this review, which is a shame because Tom Taylor does a job well above his age. It's just, unfortunately, it belongs in a different movie. They give Jake the gifts of Danny Torrance from The Shining and make him Roland's Robin-esque sidekick. The guy who is there to inspire him to come out of his funk and become the hero he was meant to be. This actually isn't bad because that's Jake's role in The Gunslinger. It's just that Roland REJECTS this role and commits an act of unforgivable evil. Can you guess whether he does this in the movie?

I half-expect this to become an Underworld-esque franchise.
    The movie is fine. It's okay. It's just not The Dark Tower. It's not one of the books I used as the basis for my Cthulhu Armageddon series. It's weirdly, The Dark is Rising. An Arthurian quantum physics universe-jumping children's book about fighting demon worshipers with a child learning to become a man. I mean I could go and describe it's plot but it's mostly, "Shoot the bad things and save the children."


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

I Was a Teenage Weredeer cover sketches

Hey folks,

I thought now would be a great opportunity to share the cover art sketches of I WAS A TEENAGE WEREDEER. This is my upcoming urban fantasy novel taking place in the same world as STRAIGHT OUTTA FANGTON but which I'm actually a lot more impressed with. Jane Doe (oh, her poor cruel parents) is probably my favorite character along with Gary and Lucien.

The premise of IWATWD is the following:

From the best-selling author of The Supervillainy Saga:

The unfortunately named Jane Doe is one of a long line of weredeer living in the town of Bright Falls, Michigan where not everyone is a shapeshifter but quite a few of the townsfolk are. She also has another gift, though, which is the ability to read objects. When the beloved daughter of the town's most powerful family is murdered, Jane's brother becomes the prime suspect. Teaming up with her werewolf best friend, a magic-using FBI agent, a dragon, and a host of other quirky supernaturals--Jane sets to prove her brother's innocence. Unfortunately, she gets more than she bargains for when she discovers her sleepy little town has a dark history involving things much darker than murder.

I Was a Teenage Weredeer is the first volume of the Bright Falls Mysteries and set in the same universe as the Straight Outta Fangton series.

In addition to I WAS A TEENAGE WEREDEER, we'll also soon be having a release for LUCIFER'S NEBULA and 100 MILES AND VAMPIRE, the sequels to LUCIFER'S STAR and STRAIGHT OUTTA FANGTON respectively.

I think fans will love all three books.