Monday, May 21, 2018

Hack/Slash Omnibus 3 review


     Pfft, this one is a tough one to review. Well, okay, it's not. Hack/Slash volume 3 isn't actually that good. I was a huge fan of the first two volumes but this omnibus and its stories pushed me away from the franchise. Basically, the omnibus takes some of the flaws of the previous volumes and then exaggerates them a great deal before adding a few more.

    The premise of Hack/Slash is Cassie Hack is a young beautiful Goth girl who is the daughter of a Slasher. Slashers are human beings with homicidal impulses who, if killed, resurrect from the dead as unstoppable revenants. Traveling with her deformed but pleasant-mannered friend, Vlad, she attempts to wipe out all Slashers everywhere. This basically being the case of a Final Girl and a good aligned Jason Voorhees versus an endless horde of horror movie villains.

    This volume is filled with a lot of returning "favorites", crossovers, and the introduction of the Black Lamp Society that I have issues. I was a big fan of some elements like the introduction of the character Samhain who is a pretty transparent homage to the character Angel from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The thing is, if you're going to take inspiration from other works for your wn then you should take from the best.

    In general, the omnibus shows there was perhaps just a little too much effort to appeal to older fans as well as try to gain crossover potential. One of the appeals of Hack/Slash is its a violent R-rated antihero comic book with a high body count. Cassie Hack kills her opponents and they should, if not stay dead, at least have a pretty big interlude between appearances. New varieties of slashers should be created since it shouldn't be like Spiderman with the same villains popping up again and again.

    I'm also not a fan of the Black Lamp Society or how it comes not only to dominate the story but the entire mythology of Hack/Slash. The origins of the Slashers are revealed to be an ancient Greek sex-hating cult that is misusing a sacred flower of an African tribe to create an endless army of murderous Michael Meyers types. How do I feel about this revelation? Roughly the same way that If did about Michael Myers being controlled by a secret cult of druids. It is a silly origin no one really needed for the monsters.

    Samhain is a good love interest for Cassie and I admit I kind of like her a bit more than Georgia Peaches (though I don't like her). I know how this story ends, though, and I feel like they could have gone deeper with the relationship between our heroine as well as our Jack-o-Lantern themed killer.

4/10

Sunday, May 20, 2018

GUEST POST: THE TIMELESS ENEMY by Jesse Teller



The Timeless Enemy
by Jesse Teller

When I was a boy, my parents took me to the movies. This was back when we had no money. No money at all. We had to fight to get food on the table and we were always strapped. Well somehow, my parents found the money and the time to take us to the movies, and I saw Sleeping Beauty.

I don’t remember much at all. Colors, I think, is all I could take away from it. I was about six and I had no recollection of the story or the images really, but I do remember very distinctly the dragon. I remember the colors, the breath, and the black. I remember this tiny man striving to fight it, and the way it seemed impossible. I remember thinking no force in the world could rival a dragon, and that is all I took from it.

Years later, I was watching TV in the morning on a Saturday, and I saw Bilbo Baggins take the first steps of his journey. The artistry of it consumed me, the way those particular animation artists moved the characters across the screen. They were the same animators that did The Last Unicorn and I will never forget the way they drew the line. The movie The Hobbit was fun until Bilbo and I found ourselves at the feet of Smaug.
 
Too tough for one arrow. Even Jackson agreed.

So huge that dragon was, nothing Bilbo could do could ever stack up. There was no weapon to grasp to bring death to that monster. No hope, however slight, could be held when the idea of fighting that beast was at hand.

I do not accept the death Tolkien gave to his god of dragons. It is too convenient, too simple. No one arrow ever made could take down the beast I saw in that cavern, no matter how well shot, no matter the target.

I remember thinking if ever a power could exist that could rival a being that great, it would have to be me who found it. No other creator could reach within and pluck out the shred of hope that stood up to a creature so mighty.

Well, of course, I was wrong. Writers and artists have been killing dragons as long as dragons have been around. St. George cast one down centuries before I was born, and people have been doing it ever since. But Smaug stayed supreme in my mind, a creature of such immense power that no one dare stand before him had they not a ring of power.

So then I set to work. I began, time after time, crafting a hero or heroine strong enough to crush the monumental monsters of my mind. Soon wizards. Then warriors. Then one after the next, I began to put together an army of people and beings so invincible that they could stand up to Smaug. They could face the Nefarious, the Tempest and the Wrath of the greatest forces of darkness that any mind could find. Any mind anywhere. With this devotion to craft and heart of a creator, I plumbed the darkness within my mind to find magic.
 
Maybe a lance?

When I hit teenage years, I wanted warriors. Arislan, Aragorn. Caramon Majere. I found Mycenae Kark and Sai Sibbius Summerstone. One after the next, I sought and found one swords smith, then another, to battle the monoliths of my mind. Twenties found assassins. Thirties, barbarians. One great hero after the next filled my mind, always with one goal in sight: Crush Smaug.

Pulverize the immense. Bring down the invincible. I write high fantasy. If that means I am not grimdark, then so be it. There is a boy in here, deep where no one can find him. He is fighting a monster, a monster deeply rooted in the fiber of his mind. That little boy will not let me go small. He has a nemesis. He has a nightmare, and one after the other, he will pump out the mighty and the brave to bring it down. I have never killed Smaug. He is, as far as, I know unkillable.

But Rayph Ivoryfist would get close. Smear Kond could sneak up on him. Dreark would make Smaug tremble. I fear that somehow the mighty, world-moving powers within my books will make me less grim, that I might lose some street cred. I might have readers who shrug and drop me, thinking they want lower fantasy than I am prepared to give them.

To them I say, please forgive. There is a monster in here. He scares me. I must fight him the best I can. Smaug is watching. Smaug is waiting.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Friday the 13th: The Game review


    I've been holding off on this one because I knew the game was going to be not really what I wanted but was probably going to be enjoyable. Just probably barely so. You see, I'm a huge Friday the 13th fan. What introduced me to the series? I'll tell you what, THE NES GAME! When I was a wee tiny tot, I got to face Jason Voorhees in one of the mostly badly designed games of all time. Except, I still remember I beat Jason ONCE during one of the boss battles. That stuck with me and made me think I could someday play a great Friday the 13th game.

This animation reached meme-proportion early on.
    I was a Kickstarter supporter of this game and while I don't play on PC, I picked it up on Xbox One as soon as it came out. I had a somewhat mixed set of feelings from the beginning because, well, it was a multiplayer only game and I'm not a big fan of multiplayer.

    Still, I was ready to trudge on with the game because I have a spectacular love of Jason Voorhees. I was bitterly disappointed that the 2009 Friday the 13th movie didn't become a new franchise. I'd accept almost anything from the series because I want to see it continue. I also was happy Jason Voorhees was in Mortal Kombat and got more attention than being another boss in Dead by Daylight.

    So what did I think of the game? It's okay. The premise of the game scarcely needs to be explained. There's a bunch of counselors partying at Camp Crystal Lake when Jason Voorhees interrupts with a murder of an unfortunate teen. The surviving counselors flee in every direction and Jason has to hunt them all down while they try to escape. You either play Jason or you play the counselors and matches take about 15 minutes to complete.

Counselors vs. Jason is the classic set up.
    The game is presently a lot more playable than it was at launch with the addition of an offline mode where you can fight against a bunch of dumb-as-post bots. I actually had to turn up the difficulty to Hard to get any sort of challenge and I'm a perpetually casual gamer. They've also added a number of additional maps to the game versus the original, including some spots from the original series like the Jarvis House as well as the Higgins Farm. I'm looking forward to the eventual spaceship design from Jason X and hope we'll see the ship Jason goes to Manhattan on.

    The developers have been pretty good about uploading free content but that's not something I can give them too much credit for because the game was barely complete at the start. The fact they only charged 40 dollars for it is a sign they knew this but I can't help but wonder what the game would have been like if it had managed to get full funding from a larger studio. Well, honestly, we probably would never have seen a Friday the 13th licensed game then so maybe I should quit my bellyaching.

Try to run Jason down with a car. I dare you.
    I love the fidelity of the game developers to the franchise. There's every variation of Jason available from the movies except for Jason X (who is coming) as well as Jason vs. Freddy and the remake version (which is a rights' issue). There's even the NES retro-Jason which is just plain awesome. I also like the counselors, that include most of the archetypes found in the movie as well as a couple of homages to older characters. I loved the Jarvis and Voorhees Tapes that chronicle what passes for backstory in this game.

    I was especially fond of the counselor Tiffany for being the pretty cheerleader type that usually gets offed quickly in these games as well as Chad, who is the rich doofus who has equally poor survival prospects. All of the counselors have different states which makes them a surprisingly variable character to play. I also appreciate they put in Tommy Jarvis as a character that "dead" counselors can play if they're killed during the match (or escape). It's extremely hard but possible to kill Jason using Tommy and that's extremely satisfying.

All versions of Jason and a couple of new ones are available.
    Surprisingly, the thing I enjoyed most about the game was the Virtual Cabin that contains a cornucopia of franchise trivia. Unfortunately, even that is sort of tainted because there's no clues except the internet to resolving the complicated parameters to "solve" the puzzle. Even so, I had a huge amount of fun with it in a 7th Guest sort of way. It makes me think a Telltale Friday the 13th game or outright adventure game would have been a lot more fun. Maybe I should write Telltale about doing it. I also loved the soundtrack and am looking forward to buying it when it finally comes out.

    As for bugs? Yeah, this game is buggy. There's clipping issues, dropped connections, missing hits, and more. Even logging onto the game was an enormous hassle. There's also a number of weird elements that render combat problematic. Jason can't reach through windows, cross over knee high fences, or crawl through spaces. This is meant for game balance purposes but it reduces Jason to doing a lot of tedious door chopping. I would have made the counselors faster and had Jason have multiple ways of entry to make the game more fast paced.

So many young and nubile victims.
    Still, there remains hope for the game as they've got plans for uploading single player Challenges that will allow Hitman-like missions where Jason must kill his prey in a variety of interesting ways. If they can do these and maybe add something like a "Final Girl/Final Boy" single player experience then the game could go from being okay to something great.

    The best time and place for this game is to get a group which enjoys playing the role of Jason as well as a group of counselors who enjoy communicating during the game. Sadly, like with all online multiplayer, there's no way to determine what sort of players you'll get. You may get a Jason who enjoys stalking and taunting the other players or you can have one who just wants to murder you as quickly as possible. Thankfully, the leveling system is a minor issue as experienced players as well as inexperienced don't have much difference in what they can do except how they look killing people.

I love how the campers freak out when they see Jason.
     There's also the Counselors who work with their particular Jason and wreck the balance of the game. Supposedly, they're creating "Salt Mines" where cheaters, rage-quitters, and griefers are assigned. It worked for Grand Theft Online so I hope that will help things as well. This is a fandom problem, though, not a gameplay problem.

     One thing I do recommend is that players purchase the beachware and Halloween costumes for their character at the store. While they aren't dolling out micro-transactions, I think the alternate costumes and emotes are really quite good this time around. I'm hoping they'll continue to update the game with more content even if they have to be purchased. Plus, I don't supporting games which actually add things I might use.

    In conclusion, Friday the 13th: The Game is okay. Slightly above average and playable. I feel like I got my forty bucks out of the experience due to the love of the franchise on display. This is a game made for playing with headphones and those who don't have them or friends willing to play are missing out. The Offline version is playable but quickly bores due to the fact the counselors are ridiculously easy to kill.

6.5/10

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

I WAS A TEENAGE WEREDEER excerpt


Here's an excerpt from I WAS A TEENAGE WEREDEER available in ebook, paperback, and audiobook formats.

CHAPTER ONE

    I was a teenage weredeer. Specifically, I ceased to be a teenager as of eight o’clock that morning. I was an adult, eighteen years of age. I couldn’t legally drink but I could vote and… Hmm, actually, that was pretty much it. I graduated from Bright Falls High School a year ago due to skipping my freshman year and started taking community college courses a month before. So my birthday was less of a rite of passage than it might have been.
    Mind you, I was glad none of my family was making a big deal out of my birthday. Being a shifter meant you went through a lot of rites of passage, especially in my family. Your first change, your first antlers (thankfully, I didn’t get those), when your Gift comes (mine was reading objects), and that thing that involved a sweat lodge I’m not looking forward to. I was Jane, Jane Doe.
    Which, yes, was probably the least imaginative name you could come up for a girl you expected to be a weredeer. Then again, my father’s name was John, and my mother’s name was Judy. I had a sister named Jeanine and a brother named Jeremy. So, really, I should be grateful I lucked out and got the name most identified with anonymous female murder victims.
    Yes, could you tell I was bitter? I was busing tables at my mother’s diner, the Deerlightful. It was a groan-worthy pun but far from the only one I’d had to deal with from my family. Most weredeer seemed to find them fascinating.
    My cousins owned the Deerly Beloved wedding supply, my uncle the Stag Party strip club, and my brother planned on opening a funeral home called the Deerly Departed. He was just dumb enough to believe this would fly. The Deerlightful was a 1950s-style diner that fits in well with the fact Bright Falls was stuck in said decade.
    Well, aside from most of the townsfolk moving out and drugs replacing lumber as the primary source of employment. It was two in the afternoon, so the lunch crowd had left. It meant I had a chance to think in between busing tables. Jeanine was cheerfully taking the order of two flannel-wearing lumberjacks at the end of the room as the song “Bad Moon Rising” by Creedence Clearwater Revival played in the background.
    My dad had thought it clever to make just about everything moon-related in our music selection. Other shifters in the town— and there were a lot— seemed to find it cute, so maybe there was something to it, but aside from this song and “Blue Moon” by Elvis, I wasn’t a fan. Jeanine was pretty much my opposite in appearance, being a tall and curvaceous curly-auburn-haired girl who resembled the weredeer ideal of beauty.
    I was thin, an A cup, and had flat black hair that I kept in a bowl cut. The fact that the Deerlightful’s yellow uniforms were made for women quite a bit more, uh, well, ample didn’t help my job. I’d said my mother shouldn’t try to make her own daughters into Hooters waitresses, but she’d said I’d fill in. Not what you wanted to hear when you were seventeen.
    Oh well, it was money for college and getting out of this one-Starbucks town. My dad pronounced it Star Bucks. Ugh. Hefting a bus box full of plates, I grumbled about the fact I could be writing my great American novel instead. It was a mystery-romance about my heroine caught between two handsome suitors in the unsettled seventeenth-century frontier.
    Alas, it was presently more Twilight than Catcher in the Rye. You could take the teenage weredeer out of the forest, but you couldn’t take the forest out of the teenage weredeer. “If at first you don’t succeed, give up and decide to sell real estate,” I grumbled aloud.
    Jeanine called over to me. “Oh, Jane, would you do me a solid and take the rest of my shift? Brad and I are going on a date and I need to get ready.” I stared over at her and wondered if my older sister was actually just going to dump all of her work on me. Oh, right, of course she was. “Do I get your share of the tips?”
    Jeanine frowned. “You know it is hard living away from Mom and Dad.” No, I didn’t, because I couldn’t afford to.
    “Sure, Sis, I will gleefully do even more work so you can mack with your incredibly rich boyfriend.”
     “Super!” Jeanine said, waving at me, then walked through the doors to the kitchen. I stared at her then followed.
    “Clearly, sarcasm is not my strong point.” The Deerlightful kitchen was a single large room with a walk-in fridge, bathroom on the other side of the room, office for my mother, and a series of fridges as well as stoves.
    There was a calendar and bulletin board to my right, listing all the various messages my mother tended to get for her other job as the town shaman. Jeanine was already skipping out the backdoor and I didn’t have a chance to correct her misassumption about my volunteering to cover for her. I guess I was stuck with it.
    I looked for my mother, but didn’t see anyone but Dad and Jeremy. Judy ran the Deerlightful while my father cooked. They were also weredeer or Cervid (I thought was a secret name for our kind until discovering it just meant “deer” in Latin) who’d married at eighteen in an arranged union. Both seemed cool with it and genuinely seemed to love each other.
    Thankfully, John didn’t seem too eager to follow in late Grandpa Jacob’s plan to keep the bloodline pure and hadn’t talked to me about any of that. John, a tall, broad-shouldered man with a brown mullet, was presently grilling three burgers while singing “Achy Breaky Heart”. I swear, I could hear him call it ‘Hart’ in his inflection.
    "And yet you do sarcasm so well,” my brother, Jeremy, said from my side. He was currently doing a fresh load of plates in the sink.
    Jeremy was more like me than my sister in that he was thin with short, dark hair. Jeremy was wearing a white apron over blue jeans and a House Baratheon t-shirt. He had a pained look on his face that never seemed to go away which had started when he hadn’t made the Change by eighteen.
    That was two years ago, and given that I’d made it by fourteen, it was pretty clear he was never going to be a weredeer and was just an ordinary human. Personally, I didn’t see the big deal, as it meant he didn’t have to do the family runs every full moon, but I could tell it bothered the hell out of him.
    “Yeah, you know me,” I said, putting the bus box by the sink. “I’m always trying to bring a little dry hipster sarcasm to our lives.”
    Jeremy half smiled. “You realize being a hipster is a bad thing, right?”
    “It is?” I asked.
    “Yes.” Jeremy nodded, sharing his sage wisdom of being two years older. Putting his arm over my shoulder, he said, “I’m afraid you have yet to realize you are not a sage source of post-modern ironic wisdom.”
    “I’m pretty sure those words don’t actually mean anything when strung together,” I said, smiling and hugging him back.
    “It means that I, too, am studying Mr. Jameson’s philosophy course,” Jeremy said, referencing our shared desire to go to college and escape Bright Falls. The chances of either of us escaping my small Michigan hometown were pretty slim, though. In 2008, the vampires had done all the world’s supernaturals a “favor” by coming out and revealing themselves to the world, which had resulted in all the others getting revealed in short order.
    While there were plenty of people who hated the undead for being blood-drinking parasites and almost, to the man, sociopaths, shifters actually got the worst of it. Of forty-eight states— Michigan and Vermont exempted— if you were shot by someone then all they had to do was prove you were a shifter for it to be justified as self-defense.
    Also, it was entirely legal to discriminate against shifters in the marketplace, so if I ever were to leave town then my options were to go to Vermont or Canada, and that felt like a lateral move at best. My cousin, Jill (God, what was it with the J names?), had moved to the newly revitalized Detroit, but that meant she was in the power of the vampires.
    Plus, she was a stripper and while that was her choice, it wasn’t a career path I wanted or was equipped for. I was going to try to find somewhere other than the shifter capital of Michigan to live, but that was going to take more than the education provided by Bright Falls Community and Technical.
    “Well, I suppose I should be grateful for the work,” I said, muttering under my breath. “It nicely avoids my parents having to pay for my college. Keep it all in the family. Specifically the money.”
    “Hey, maybe she’ll marry Brad and then his family will eat her and we’ll collect a big insurance payout,” Jeremy said cheerfully. I chuckled.
    “Yeah, I don’t think so. We can’t afford the insurance and the O’Henry family owns the insurance company.”
    The O’Henry family was one of the twelve shifter clans in the town, and by far the most powerful. They were actually powerful on a national level, with lobbyists in Washington working on shapeshifter rights (badly) and rich enough to own a senator or two. The fact that they chose to live in Bright Falls to lord over the few thousand shifters here rather than someplace nice told me everything I needed to know about them.
    “It’s a dog-eat-dog world with them,” Jeremy said.
    “Hey, some of them are nice,” I said, thinking about my friend Emma. “I mean, there’s Sheriff Clara, who hates me, and… uh, nope, can’t think of any others.”
    “Victoria is hot,” Jeremy said.
    “Ugh,” I said, thinking about her and trying not to let my blood boil. “Talk about a woman needing a silver bullet.”
    Victoria O’Henry was my own personal Mean Girl archnemesis and one of the chief reasons I was glad to have graduated from high school. She was a year older than me and one of the worst people I’d ever met. Werewolves were pack hunters and she’d assembled a little gang of her cousins around her to rule the school.
    The fact that her Gift had turned out to be able to learn people’s deepest, darkest secrets had made her the terror of Bright Falls as a whole. The fact I’d been best friends with her sister Emma growing up made her desire to ruin my life doubly strange, but I guess Victoria didn’t want her sister crossing the predator/ prey divide. Now Brad and Jeanine were seeing each other, which meant we might become sisters-in-law. Yikes.
    “You shouldn’t say that sort of thing,” John said, turning his head to look at us. “The O’Henrys are like royalty.”
    I rolled my eyes. “Dad, it’s the twenty-first century. No one actually takes the whole royalty thing seriously anymore.”
    “We do in this house,” John said, his voice low. “If they’re not royals then we’re not shamans.”
    That was another thing about shifter culture that annoyed the hell out of me. Every one of the twelve clans had a specific role assigned to them. The werewolves were the rulers, the weredeer were the shamans, the werebears were the guards, and so on. It was like any other caste system in that the modern world had left it behind, but there were shifters, like my dad, who took it way too seriously.
    “Mom’s a shaman, you’re a short-order cook,” Jeremy said, saying more than he probably should have.
    Dad stood still for a second and I thought he was going to blow up. “You just keep doing your job, son, and focus on what making a connection with your true self.”
    That was even worse because John was the only member of the family who still thought Jeremy had a chance of changing. I understood why Dad wanted it to be so: he was the one who believed most in the Old Ways, the old religion, and it was a stinging cut to know he didn’t have enough of a Gift to be a priest. But to sire a human? Someone without any Gift at all? That was bad. Made worse because I knew Dad loved Jeremy best. It sucked, but it was true.
    “That’s it,” Jeremy said, pulling off his apron. “I’m gone. You can find someone else to do your damn dishes.”
    “Jeremy—” Dad started to say before noticing the hamburgers were burning.
    “Dammit!” I sighed and watched Jeremy walk away before looking to Dad. “Please tell me you don’t expect me to do the dishes.”
    “I’ll do them,” John said, sighing as he started over the burgers again, tossing the burned ones into the trash. “I mean what I said about talking smack about the royals, though. They’re dangerous.”
    I blinked and sighed. “What, is Victoria going to have my head cut off?”
    John turned around and crossed his arms. “That’s not so farfetched an idea. You’ve grown up in a time when the supernatural was public. In my day, though, they had the power of life and death over their subjects.”
    “Which is creepy,” I said, looking out to the restaurant beyond and seeing if we had any new customers. Thankfully, we didn’t. It was a slow Thursday.
    “In any case, I’ve hated on Victoria for years and she hasn’t had my head cut off yet."
    “Yet,” John said. “The royals still have all their old authority. They don’t use it often, but most of the other clans respect it.”
    “Dad…”
    “Just cut it out with the silver-bullet threats. Please.”
    Seeing my dad was serious, I sighed and nodded my head before going to get a pad to take orders. That was when I heard thunder outside and my ears perked up. There was something in the air that made me uncomfortable and I couldn’t quite put it into words.
    Closing my eyes, I saw a storm coming and felt a terrible thing was coming. I’d only had that kind of impression of the future a few times, one of which had been right before the vampires had revealed themselves and the subsequent violence.
    All weredeer had the Sight, just varying degrees of it, with Dad having the ability to sense absolutely nothing more than his next dinner while my mother was able to see things years in the future as well as talk to the animals like Doctor Doolittle.
    I was somewhere in the middle and could pick up impressions from objects as well as get visions of the future on occasion. Knowing something bad was going to happen didn’t give me a way to stop it, though, and my stomach turned a bit. Should I tell my father? Tell him what— I have a bad feeling about this? My mother? Maybe.
    “Dad, where’s Mom?”
    “Off,” John said.
    “Off?” I asked.
    “Off,” He repeated. “Shaman things.”
    “Oh joy,” I said, knowing that meant she could be anywhere from the middle of the woods to selling scented candles at a party. I went back to work instead.
    As Jeanine’s and my shift finally came to an end, I was pretty tired on my feet and debated going out back to change so I could regain my energy. A rainstorm had already been going for the better part of an hour, though, so I didn’t want to.
    You’d think being part-wild animal I wouldn’t mind getting wet, but it turned out weredeer really resented thunderstorms. Heading to punch my time card— weird with a mostly family business— I watched the backdoor open up and my soaked best friend run through the door.
    Emma O’Henry was about six inches taller than me and gorgeous in the same way my sister was, except with bright-crimson-red hair. Emma was wearing a pair of cut-off jean shorts and an open flannel shirt over a House Stark shirt my brother had given her.
    A little silver locket was hanging around her neck in the shape of a wolf. I, personally, had never seen the need to advertise my animal type to the world. I was about to greet her warmly when I noticed she looked horrified. Her makeup was smeared and her eyes teary. I blinked.
    “What’s wrong?” My father looked over at us.
    “Are you okay, Emma?” Emma grabbed me in a hug. “It’s terrible. I came here right away.”
    “Eh?” I said, wondering why I was the crisis person all of a sudden before remembering my earlier bad feeling. “What’s happened?”
    “My sister has been murdered. They’re looking at your brother.”
    Okay.
    Crap.

Available on Amazon.com

Saturday, May 12, 2018

A great podcast interview with me on SCI FI SATURDAY NIGHT


A great interview where I discuss the Supervillainy Saga, Agent G, Trump, and Weredeer all at once.

http://scifisaturdaynight.com/?p=8994

Continuing with our on again off again theme, what’s so funny about science fiction, on this episode our guest is C.T. Phipps, author of, among many other things, The Rules of Supervillainy series that features the unlikely anti-hero Gary Karkofsky. The discussion is a typical author interview, talking about bizarre pop culture references, the use of Bill and Ted Go to Hell, why Gary’s wife is killed multiple times and where in the hell does all this cone from. The bottom line is, TC is a very interesting guy who puts those interests into his books, and for that matter is a rather prolific writes currently working in 3 different series:

Friday, May 11, 2018

I am Providence by Nick Mamatas review

   
    When I first became an internet reviewer on my website, THE UNITED FEDERATION OF CHARLES, I had one simple rule: don't review stuff you hate. It was something of a self-imposed rule because there was a temptation to exaggerate the negatives for publicity. A negative review inherently got more interest than a positive review--it was just one of those rules. I didn't want to be unfair, though, or crush another author's dreams. Besides, if I hated something then wasn't contributing to its obscurity a better criticism? But this book? This book I feel the need to explain why I hate it.

    I AM PROVIDENCE is basically the Big Bang Theory except even more vicious in its hatred of nerds. It's a weird mash-up of creating a book which could only be understood by nerds with its many references as well as convention experience but makes it utterly clear how much it hates nerds. Specifically, H.P. Lovecraft nerds. I hesitate to speculate on an author's real life views or history but it feels like Nick Mamatas had a really bad H.P. Lovecraft con experience and then wrote a novel all about how much he hated it. Given Nick wrote the Nickronomicon, Shadows over Main Street, and Future Lovecraft--I am assuming the divorce was a bitter one.

    The premise is Colleen Danzig is a small-time Lovecraftian horror author (is there a big time version) who attends Tentacular--a horror con. She's roomed with Armenian co-narrator Panossian and the two get to (briefly) know one another. There's a murder there but none of the weird and depraved fans there seem to care so it's up to her to solve it. There's a bunch of occult stuff that follows and secrets unveiled.

    Here's the first problem: Colleen and Panossian are two of the most singularly obnoxious human beings to ever live in fiction and I include Kvothe as well as Holden Caulfield in that. Her nightmarish convention experience is her turning her nose up at every single person having fun at it. Panossian is a sexist jerk who has own hatred of Lovecraft that he continues reading/writing regardless of the many problems therein. He's rude to his only friends in the world (disgusted by the fact one loves every Tweet he makes) and constantly brings up the fact Lovecraft was racist.

    Which, fine, is a perfectly valid critique of the man WHO YOU ARE STILL WRITING FANFIC OF. Basically, the premise of the book confuses me because we have two people who hate Lovecraft fandom but are part of it anyway. The book tries to frame Providence (The Lovecraft con Tentacular is based on) as a nightmarish experience but it seems either like a typical fan experience and a lot of fun. Except for the murders. Well, actually, especially for the murders. Let's be honest. The whole thing is treated as heinous when there's Lovecraft tours, talking to dealers about their fanworks, and seeing people in costume.

    It's also a one-joke book which is repeated in multiple forms across the book that was never particularly funny to begin with. One line summarizes it up, "It was high school all over again, except that all of the kids with a measure of social intelligence were t the homecoming dance and the kids left behind were the meatheads, glue-sniffers, nerds, and minor league bullies." My rebuttal is, "Who is the more fool, the fool or the fool who follows him?" Not Lovecraft but still apropos.

    I wish I could say there's much more to the book than throwing shade at Lovecraft fans but that's pretty much the majority of the book. The occult mystery takes a backseat to the fact our protagonists are surrounded by repulsive nerds they're so much better than. Yet, for whatever reason, she and Panossian decided to come to the con in the first place for.

2/10

Monday, May 7, 2018

An interview with Ben Bequer and Joshua Hoade, authors of Blackjack: Villain




1. So, please tell us about the Blackjack series for new and prospective readers?

B: Blackjack is the story of a guy who has everything going for him yet still makes every mistake in the book. It’s not so much the story of a mustache-twirling villain as much as how easily a person can go from good to bad with just a few errant choices, and how hard it is to travel the road back from damnation.

2. I understand Blackjack was originally inspired by a roleplaying game?

B: Book one followed a similar paradigm to an RPG game that I ran for some friends using  the old Aberrant game system. In that game, my co-writer/editor Joshua Hoade played the Blackjack character in a similar fashion to what you see in the book. It was an attempt to give my players an experience that they’d never had before: to play a real villain.

3. How would you describe the main character?

B: Blackjack is a mess. He’s smart but he does dumb things, he’s well read but sometimes he’s unbelievably ignorant and he’s skilled and talented but he’s lazy and never met a short-cut he didn’t like. He’s not a villain in the traditional sense, his villainy presents itself more in a lack of dedication to the things the rest of us find important about society. In essence, he doesn’t know how to “people.” He’s also got the worst luck in the world. 

His first attempt to be a super was as a hero, trying to stop a bunch of bank robbers. Using his archery as an extension of his power, as an effort to avoid using his undetermined strength, he misjudged an explosive charge and almost killed the bank robbers. Showing up on the scene, the hero Atmosphero saw a guy with a bow, dressed in black and figured he was the bad guy, and the rest is history. Josh described Blackjack’s luck beautifully, “Blackjack’s true super power is mind control - to make people think the worst of him.”

4. I love the supporting cast, especially Apogee. How do you come up with so many colorful superheroes?

B: I’m married to Apogee, writing her is almost therapeutic. As far as the other characters, they come to us from the weirdest places. Cool Hand Luke was nothing like the original guy in the RPG game. I sat down to write him and it was like something possessed me. Now, Dr. Zundergrub was almost exactly as he was in our game - including his final betrayal. We find inspirations in a lot of other different places, including friends of ours, characters we play in our games, and even famous people. Dr. Retcon, for example, was inspired by Michael Gambon. First, his performance in the movie The Insider. It was a small role and he’s on-screen for only a couple of minutes, but it struck me how great a villain he was. Oh, and there was this interesting picture of him wearing a purple suit that seemed to speak volumes.

J: Invincible, The Boys, and The Incredibles were also big influences in crafting the world that Blackjack lives in. We wanted something lived in, a world pretty close to ours, with one huge difference. The heroes weren’t these secluded individuals. They were everywhere, doing everything. We put a lot of thought and talk into making sure the line between hero and villain was thin. 

5. Who were the inspirations for Blackjack and Apogee? Assuming they have any among the many comic book heroes and villains.

B: Well, Blackjack has a lot of qualities from a lot of different people. Josh, as I mentioned above, was the originator, but the real character is more a mixture of my worst impulses combined with a lot of the life experiences of my father. He’s a good man, and has been a great father, but I think lacking strong parental experiences himself cost him dearly - leaving him a fractured person. His life has been a struggle to heal the wound of losing his father at the age of 9, his country at the age of 17. Most of Blackjack, though, comes from my own experience, my own struggles.

Apogee isn’t just my wife, she’s also a reflection of all my experiences with my wife, all the hard lessons I’ve learned. I’m sort of exploring our relationship in a similar fashion. Apogee is probably the biggest challenge to a guy like Blackjack, a guy who’s completely unready for a serious woman, and nothing in the fourth book is as much fun as writing their story. Josh and I have had a ton of fun exploring Blackjack’s natural progression through their relationship.

And this brings another thing to mind that I think is a big factor of the Blackjack series: we take pleasure in writing the stuff that most stories seem to fast-forward. In the typical movie or book, the protagonist comes to a moment in their live where they have to change dramatically. This scene is usually done with a quick ride across the Hudson on a ferry. Cut to the next scene where the lead character comes into work with a new attitude, and everything changes. Another example is the typical Romance Comedy. 

In the first act, the guy spends his time trying to woo the love interest. In the second, they’re together and things quickly unravel (because he’s too much of a man-baby). She inevitably leaves him. Then comes the smashed third act where the lead stops smoking dope, gets a job and cleans up - leading to getting his girl back. Well, that’s not how things really work. Most books and movies don’t have the time to show how hard and slow real change comes. With Blackjack we’re able to spend time with some of this stuff. We’re going to take our sweet time with Apogee, with his turn to good, and with the world’s response to all of this.

6. After the two leads, who are your favorite characters in the universe?

B: I love Cool Hand Luke, Mr. Haha 2000 and Influx, though we didn’t get to see too much of her. I love the villains in all three books - Zundergrub, Mighty (and Dr. Z again) and Brutal. I love Claire (and no, you haven’t seen the last of her). I love all the guys in Battle and I love all those crazy heroes and villains in the 3rd act of Book 2. Bubu is inspired by one of my oldest, dearest friends, but my favorite character of all is probably Superdynamic. He’s the guy that’s the real hero of the story and as we follow his story through the upcoming books, he’ll start to take on a meatier role.

J: I have a soft spot for Haha. His detached, clinical sociopathy speaks to me. He’s also hard to get right, so when we do, I feel like we accomplished something. Battle, as a group, are my people. I love them as individuals, and hope we can also do them some justice in the near future.

7. Supervillains are a very common protagonist in superhero fiction (Soon I Will Be Invincible, Confessions of a D-List Supervillain, my own Supervillainy Saga). Why do you think so many superhero writers want to do stories from the perspective of the bad guys? Why did you?

B: Well, I didn’t have the foresight you guys did. When I started to put Villain together, it wasn’t blaze new trails or to do something different than everything else that was around. I’d recently lost my best friend to kidney disease and was in the lowest point in my life. Writing the story was a form of therapy. He was Cool Hand Luke, so writing his final scenes were very emotional. Blackjack one was meant as an homage to my dear friend and I never intended or even hoped for any sort of financial return. I never tried to get it traditionally published, and it was only the advent of Amazon’s self-publishing model that made it possible. The overall success of the series still leaves me in awe, and I’m eternally thankful to those that have supported us throughout. The positive response has kept me going as I learn this business and as my partner and I make a pivot toward a Patreon ongoing story model. A full Blackjack book is still coming to Amazon every year and a half or two, but with Patreon we’ll be able to involve our fans with the entire process of crafting the book, from ideation of characters to final publishing.

J: The villain perspective has gone mostly unexplored in the world of comics. There are exceptions, but readers gravitate more towards their heroes. There is a philosophy that says villains are better in small doses, but as the market for superheroes continues to explode, it was a natural turn that people would be interested in the flip side. Like Ben said, we were ignorant to that while working on Blackjack: Villain. If it was a passion project for him, it became an obsession for me. He started sending me pages, and I was smitten. There was so much going on in that first book, both on the page and behind the scenes. I shouldered my way into the process, and Ben was kind enough to let me contribute. 

8. Assume there's an Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny for all comic book characters, how do you think Blackjack would fair and what superhero or villain do you think would finally take him out?

B: Blackjack does good in big scrums, but against serious heroes in a big showdown? I’m not so sure. Say we put original Blackjack in the Marvel Comic Universe and put him in a ladder versus all-comers - I think he doesn’t make it past a guy like Colossus. I think Thing puts him down, too. he doesn’t make it to the higher tier guys. Now, post-Shard World Blackjack (aka Blackjack Prime), is at the highest power levels of Marvel. Blackjack’s power level is a source of a lot of criticism - and rightly so. But people have to remember that Blackjack is in first person, we’re getting his own feelings and thoughts on things - which might not always be accurate. Also, what happened to him in Shard World is, as of yet, unquantifiable, and something we intend to explore further in the upcoming book, Messiah, and in further sequels.

J: Blackjack takes a punch better than anyone. He will need a whole new body, but everyone of those goombas will die.

9. What's the most difficult thing you've had to deal with being a self-published author?

B: I’d say the transition from writing as a hobby, as a passion project, to writing professionally. It’s something that we’ve only gotten a handle of recently, the idea of writing and editing every single day, of putting 40+ hours weekly. I tell you what, I wrote Blackjack 1 in about a year, B2 in about 18 months, and B3 took even longer. Well, B4 is going to go from idea to first draft in 3 months. After that, it’s in the editor’s hands.

As far as publishing itself (that was the question right?), I’m thankful to Amazon and their staff for making the whole concept feasible, and for making the process as painless as possible. Self-publishing has some additional pressures over traditional publishing, such as handling your own fan base, promoting your next book or compilation, and the preparation of a proper manuscript. It’s a lot harder for someone starting out, who can’t dedicate a majority of their day to it.

J: Finding a balance. I work a full-time job and this has become part-time job. Plus kids and family obligations and all the other things that crop up. When life is nipping at your heels, writing and editing like it's the most important thing in the world is challenging.

10. What's the next book in the Blackjack series going to be about, at least as much as you can learn from a blurb?

B: Blackjack: Messiah is the next logical step in our lead character’s growth as a person and as a super. He’s making a turn for good, and has some important people in his corner, but he still has some “red in his ledger” and needs to atone for all those sins - something that he isn’t very good at. He’s also starting to deal with the aftermath of his and Apogee’s experience in Shard World, and the strange changes that they’re going through - not all of them good. Blackjack has become a polemic figure in his world, adored by those who love a ruffian, hated by those he’s wronged, and pursued by strange forces curious to harness the strange energy emissions that he and Apogee possess - the same kind that created supers in the first place.