I am Thankful For…

1. Being Alive. Especially given the events of the summer.

2. Believing in God. Because it makes the universe wondrous and unlimited. I feel bad for people who don’t believe in God. Your universe is so small.

3. Some people I’ve known these past sixty years or so. We still talk. And we still laugh at things.

4. Writing five books. Actually, I’ve written nine, but the remaining four aren’t readable. Yet.

5. Getting older. Even though the side effects suck. This is the best time of my life, hands down. I don’t owe anybody anything. I’ve got great memories. I’ve got bad memories. I ain’t rich, but my bills are covered.

6. A wild, insane, cringe-worthy life that no one would believe. But I do.

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Free. Free. Free. Did I say, “Free”?

 

Free at Smashwords. Eventually, free on Amazon, too. Only thing it’ll cost you is time and memory. I mean on your EReader, not your brain.

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Luke Cage

I love the 21st Century. My entire childhood is being brought to screens, both silver and small and…whatever size you consider smartphones and mobile game consoles to be. I’m referring, of course, to the Marvel franchise and its explosion over the last few years. Avengers, Iron Man, Thor…every comic book I bought and every superhero I worshiped, right up there live and in color, including the less galactic ones like Daredevil, Punisher, and now, Luke Cage.

Luke Cage? You mean, Power Man? (not the original Power Man,who was an Avenger enemy and minion of Baron Zemo)

Yeah, him.

Now, admittedly, I was not big into Luke Cage when he made his Marvel debut in those yon 70’s. I was very big into Iron Fist,

though, so had passing familiarity with the character. About the time the Hero for Hire series started, though, I’d drifted away from comics so the familiarity remained passing. At least I knew who he was when he showed up on Jessica Jones, so I was looking forward to the Luke Cage series, especially since Jessica Jones was so outstanding.

Luke Cage, unfortunately, was not.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s good, just not as good as Jones. Or Daredevil…at least Daredevil’s first season, and the Daredevil second season episodes that focused on Punisher. And maybe that’s why Luke Cage didn’t fare so well: it lacked the focus of Jones’ and Daredevil’s best episodes. A single villain, for one: Daredevil had Kingpin; Jessica had the Purple Man. Luke Cage has Cottonmouth and Shades and Stryker and Holy Hannah, guys, you kinda went all over the place. It was like they were trying to do the entire Luke Cage saga right up to the Thunderbolts in one season.

It’s a bit difficult to figure out the timeline here, but it looks like Luke Cage begins right where Jessica Jones ends. Problem is, the Jessica Jones episodes are treated like they happened on another continent and a few hundred years ago. Luke Cage comes as a complete surprise to everybody. Even when he makes himself very obvious, everyone is surprised. This, after the Avengers leveled New York. Twice. Think people are a bit more tuned in, fellows.

There was too much of a blaxploitation feel to the episodes, too. Yes, yes, I know, Luke Cage debuted back in the middle of Shaft and Foxy Brown but, c’mon guys, that was decades ago. Just do a straight up story.

There’s one truly great Marvel moment when Luke puts on his old costume

…for about three seconds, tearing it off when he realizes how ridiculous it looks. Good scene.

But moments like that aren’t enough to save the series. And it needs saving, because we have Iron Fist

around the corner and Misty Knight needs to acquire her cyborg arm and Jessica needs to marry Luke…okay, wait, maybe that’s the problem I just complained about: too much coming at once. So maybe slow it down a bit, re-establish Luke as a Hero for Hire and then ease Danny Rand and Matt Murdoch into it while Luke deals with Mariah Dillard and maybe Punisher from time to time. The story kept simple, and powerful.

And better.

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Oh no! There Goes Tokyo Again…

 

Godzilla! Or, more accurately, Shin Gojira, the latest iteration of the much beloved rampaging monster, who has been everything from a Hasbro Toy to a Saturday morning cartoon. Nothing endears more than destructive forces.

This version is all Japanese, which makes it a lot of fun. For one, Godzilla’s actually IN this movie, and not just making a cameo as he did in the recent American production. Nope, the Goj is right there big and bad and on screen in the first five minutes or so after the Japanese Coast Guard discovers a boat drifting aimlessly about the Bay (said boat becomes important later on. Sort of. If you’re paying attention. And you might not be by that time) and suddenly there’s steam and blood―yes, blood―pouring into a tunnel…wait a minute, tunnel disaster? Did we not just see something like this? Then Godzilla appears…in the guise of a giant sock puppet weasel. With button eyes. Kinda cute, in an Ultraman kinda way. But then it evolves into the Godzilla we’ve all come to love…actually, the most insane looking Godzilla ever. Really. This guy looks completely deranged, teeth and all. With a tail twice as long and a mind of its own. And lasers and an air defense system. Really.

The Japanese response is to legislate Godzilla to death. Never have you seen the formation of more and more elaborate committees, themselves evolving from “Basic Emergency Committee” to such things as the “Ad-Hoc Cross Party Unexplained Creature Smashing Us Committee for Peace and Well-Being and the Next Elections” committee, which can’t make a decision so they bring together the “Committee of Nerds, Dweebs, Mavericks, Rebels, Outcasts, Druids, Compound Interest, and A Couple of Guys who Are Standing Around” to make a decision but they can’t, either, but at least they can do research. Guys running around the instantly well-equipped and prepared conference room (I mean, wow, the moment a new committee is formed, phalanxes of toadies are putting tables and chairs and servers together in pleasing and tasteful manners) throw laptops at each other the moment they discover something interesting, like radioactivity is rising everywhere the insane sock puppet goes. You will be amused.

But, mostly, you will be baffled.

The onslaught of subtitles will blind you. There are two sets, a top one superimposed on the kanji explaining which committee this is and who comprises it (very important because you can’t know the players without a scorecard) and what their relationship to the government is, and the bottom set of subtitles telling you what everyone is saying. Essentially, it’s a movie sandwich, and I advise you to stick with the bottom ones only because the committees change so fast you don’t really care anymore. There is US intervention, honchoed by a Japanese woman who’s a US government representative…suuure she is…who essentially wants to nuke Japan. Again. The committees take a dim view of this and they invoke a National Emergency (finally! Someone makes a decision! We don’t know who!) and unleashes the Japanese military on the sock puppet.

Hoo boy. Shoulda nuked it.

Because vintage Godzilla swings into action as the sock puppet shakes off missiles and tank rounds and smashes Tokyo like the Hulk under the influence of the Scarlet Witch (see what I did there?) A couple of US bombers show up and put a hurtin’ on the Goj (to the enthusiasm of at least one cabinet member. Nice to know we’re still appreciated) but all that does is make it mad. You wouldn’t like him when he’s mad (see what I did there, again?). And the smashathon, radioactive-breathathon of Tokyo goes into overdrive. Oh no. Let’s freeze him.

Yeah. Freeze him.

But, don’t be put off. This is, indeed, a very fun movie…as long as you stay awake between committee changes.

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Down and Out Under the Earth

Korean films are over-the-top crazy. And they are over-the-top good. If you haven’t seen A Hard Day yet, stop right now and go watch it…see what I mean? Well, Seong-Hun Kim, the director, has a new one: The Tunnel. And it’s over-the-top crazy. And over-the-top good.

A car dealer, Jung-so, just closed a deal for a fleet of cars and it’s his daughter’s birthday and he’s driving home with her cake and happily enters Hado Tunnel Number One (which apparently runs for about 475 miles through the most untraveled stretch of highway on the Korean peninsula) when it collapses. Always something, isn’t it? And not just “collapse,”…a friggin’ apocalyptic cave-in of not only the tunnel but half the mountain, leaving only a few feet of the far exit still open. Jung-so’s Kia sedan withstands a pummeling of rock and earth that would have flattened an Abrams tank (good cars, them Kias), living him dirty, bruised, intact, and trapped.

He whips out his cell phone, which doesn’t explode, and calls the most incompetent 911 dispatcher in the Korean peninsula, triggering the most epically inept rescue operation in human history. Apparently, about the only things that work well in Korea are Kias and cell phone towers (and the battery in Jung-so’s phone, which lasts forever, and even his car battery which lasts even longer. Without exploding) because it turns out the tunnel was built by the most incompetent construction company in all of Asia, one that put in too few support rods and doesn’t know how many fans it installed, nor where they installed them, and didn’t bother to draw up the blue prints to any kind of scale or accuracy. And, which is in charge of building Hado Tunnel Number Two, a few feet away from where Jung-so is trapped. After about an hour, said company starts lobbying to resume blasting on its new tunnel because, hey, Jung-so is trapped in our first shoddily built tunnel so he’s a goner so let’s stop wasting time here and get on with it. All of which drives the rescue commander, Dae-kyong (played by Dal-su Oh of Oldboy fame)―the only competent man in the entire Korean government―nuts to the point he drinks a bottle of urine in solidarity with Jung-so.

No, seriously.

All of which emphasizes the point that, if you’re trapped in a tunnel in Korea (or a haunted island, or a sealed apartment) you’d best start thinking about getting yourself out of this pickle because the government honchos in this movie don’t put a whole lot of value on your individual soul. I don’t know if that’s Seong-hun Kim’s particularly political viewpoint or the result of having a lot of crazy people to your north with nukes, but it doesn’t take long before the ministries and bureaus and the population decide to write Jung-so off and get on with it. Now why they would allow the obviously inept construction company to get on with it, I can’t say, but it may be due to the particularly gruesome death of a rescue worker (apparently saw blades in Korea are made by Samsung) which is blamed on Jung-so’s wife, who apparently has the last say on whether Jung-so should be rescued or not (someone should check to see if she recently upped his life insurance). Scratch of the ole noggin’ here because rescue workers who die on duty in the US are considered heroes, not victims. ‘Course, we don’t have crazy people to our north with nukes. Just bacon.

It doesn’t end all happy and resolved, but it does get resolved, primarily through the individual effort of the one or two motivated and competent people in this whole cockup. Which is a lesson. No one’s going to save you but yourself.

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Capclave 2016

Now that the torture laughingly called cardiac “rehab” is about over, I’m easing back into my former life of conventions and conferences, starting with Capclave. I love Capclave. It’s small, informal, and all about books. No cosplay, no movies, just a bunch of famous and semi-famous scifi and fantasy writers mingling with the Great Unwashed. And I almost missed it. Only by a casual glance at my calendar last Wednesday did I realize it was two days away. Too late for me to grab a hotel room, so I drove up on Saturday morning and spent the day.

First thing I did was drop by the cleverly hidden Seneca room for Scott Edelman’s

(guy in the red shirt) reading of his story, 101 Things to Do Before You’re Downloaded, coming out in a Dark Regions Press anthology pretty soon. For the two or three of you who don’t know, Scott Edelman is Marvel royalty, which makes him my Leige Lord and Ruler. And, he ain’t no slouch in the short story department, needer. Blown away, I was.

The next reader was Doc Coleman,

a guy I didn’t really know, and I stayed more out of politeness because seems a rude thing to walk out as an author is walking in. Boy, am I glad I did because his story, The Shining Cog, in The Way of the Gun anthology, blew me even more away. Coleman is a master story teller, perfectly paced, does all the voices. Good stuff.

Two more anthologies I gotta buy now. Oy.

Sarah Beth Durst

and Tim Powers

were the Guests of Honor but, through some inexplicable set of circumstances, I didn’t see them until the Saturday night ceremonies. I think the Secret Service was involved…

…hey, look! It’s Hugo Award-winning artist Steve Stiles!

Some highlights:

1. Putting Real Science in Science Fiction panel, with Bud Sparhawk, Michael Capobianco, Alan Smale, and Ian Randal Strock. Interesting observations made by all, including that, as science reveals even more details of the physical universe, there is less and less set in stone, meaning imagination is set free. For example, the New Horizons mission to Pluto revealed a planet unlike anything expected (which, seems to me, is fertile ground for a whole slew of new scifi stories). Back in the Gernsback days, science was in the forefront of the scifi story, almost as a means of teaching. Now, because we’re all older and smarter, there are two scifi short story models: the Analog style, where the science is prominent; and the Asimov style, where the story rules. Bud Sparhawk noted that most of new scifi is about engineering, not science, and engineering, itself, is becoming denser. Michael Capobianco said if you’re old enough, you can remember when things were comprehensible, which I thought spot-on. Who works on their own cars anymore?

2. I drifted over to the Dealer’s Room and immediately ran into Mike McPhail

and his lovely wife Danielle Ackley-McPhail, two of the best small press people around. Mike is into military scifi and has several titles and anthologies out now and planned for the future. I managed to snag the last copy of his 2007 anthology, Breach the Hull, and then spent the evening hunting down several of its contributors and forcing them to sign. Mike has a Kickstarter (http://tiny.cc/Novels2016) that may be finished by the time I get this posted, but go take a look. Danielle and he were gracious enough to let me sit with them at their table during the autograph session

and hawk some of my own titles, of which I got barely even passing interest. Eh. One day. Danielle is at the end of the table. The two women in the middle are Jean/Jeanne of the David Bowie song.

3. Panel: Social Media Promotion Without Being Obnoxious. Kate Baker, Inge Heyer, Natalie Luhrs, Michael A. Ventrella. Being obnoxious off the Richter scale, I figured I could use some pointers and did, indeed, pick up some pretty good tips from the panel members, like don’t waste your money advertising on Facebook and don’t be a jackass on Twitter. Too late for both but, hey, validation is its own reward. I was surprised to hear some newbie authors scattered about the audience contend with the notion that reviews are for readers, not authors. Absolutely true. Authors shouldn’t read their reviews…okay, I do, all two of them, because I’m thick skinned and I’m interested in what I’m doing wrong and I appreciate criticism. No, really, I do. And no, I’m not upset. Those are tears of joy.

4. Bill Freedman

is a Rebel E compadre, both of us sharing scars and wounds inflicted by our editor, Genghis Jayne, and we tend to commiserate on Facebook. So, there I was, sitting in the lobby doing a few Capclave tweets when I noticed Bill, too, was doing Capclave tweets. Wouldn’t you know, dude was sitting right in front of me. First time we had ever met so went out and grabbed some lunch at the most incomprehensible Japanese bento booth in America and then hung out with the McPhail phalanx. If I don’t get some rye whisky, I surely will die.

5. Panel: Military SF: More than People With Guns. Tom Doyle, Walter H. Hunt, Bud Sparhawk, Hugh Taylor. I was rather surprised that Mike McPhail was not on this panel because he IS Mr. Military SF, but, hey. There was much discussion between the audience and the panel about the execution of battle plans versus seat-of-the-pants strategizing in a FTL (faster than light. See? I know the lingo) space war because, you know, FTL, space, and things are moving a bit fast. “You, Squad A, go over there and do this! You, Squad B…” just ain’t gonna cut it. It’s more, “Fleet, Execute Plan 152!” The old military maxim that ‘no plan survives first contact’ leapt immediately to mind so, dudes, you’re gonna need a seat-of-the-pants guy nearby when things go TU (I’ll leave that one to your research). Yes, this is true, the panel acknowledged, but innovators would not do very well in a future command structure that favors Plans so there is little likelihood such a person would be in a high enough command position to pull chestnuts out of fire when things went TU (got that one, yet?). Which, to me, leaves open the possibility of novels and stories where some lowly lieutenant pulls said chestnuts out. When things go TU.

6. Neil Clarke

is an American treasure, editor of Clarkesworld, which has the good sense to reject my submissions (one day, one day) and he finally, FINALLY, after ten years of being nominated, won the WSFA Small Press Award. So, he read Susan Lucci’s acceptance speech. At some point, he meandered past our table and he and I sympathized with each other about the torture of cardiac rehab.

 

So, a good time had. Acquaintances renewed. Autographs hawked. Far too many books bought (holy moly when am I gonna get the time to read all this?). Definitely going back next year.

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Done

Col’m, that is. It comes in at 98,500 or so words. Mind you, that’s the first draft; I’m sure the word count will alter as I go through subsequent drafts. The story, though, should survive because it ended up where I wanted it, even though it took some rather surprising roads to get there. Who says writing is a controlled and carefully planned activity?

This ends the Partholon trilogy, at least this portion of it. There may be another trilogy to follow. Dunno. We’ll see.

I’ve noticed lately that a lot of readers are irritated by trilogies. They don’t want to wait for the subsequent books; they want the entire trilogy available at once. You might think I’m referring to Game of Thrones but I’m not. That’s a series, not a trilogy, and any frustration a reader feels about Martin taking his time is misplaced. You  want it quick, or do you want it good?

I write trilogies instead of series, because I want the story– at least, this portion of the story–to reach a conclusion. Readers do, too, but it is a sign of these modern times that readers get angry if there’s a delay between Book 1 and 2, much less 3.

I’m a bit baffled by that.

See, back BK (Before Kindle), I had to wait for the 2nd and concluding books of a trilogy I was reading. Best example is Philip Jose Farmer’s Riverworld series. I read the first one, To Your Scattered Bodies Go,

and was blown away. I got the second one, The Fabulous Riverboat, a few months later…and then waited five YEARS for The Dark Design. Was I PO’d? No. I had a delicious sense of anticipation each time I went into a book store and bee-lined for the scifi section to see if the third one was out yet. And the day of joy when it was and I bought it…and the disappointment when I read it and it didn’t turn out the way I had hoped (and, yes, I know, Riverworld turned into a series because Farmer wrote a few more books about it, but it will always be a trilogy to me). And I will always keep that delicious sense of anticipation waiting for subsequent books of other trilogies to appear, like I did recently with Kate Elliot’s Crossroads series.

But, I get it, so, from now on, I will not release a book if it’s part of a trilogy until all three books are ready to go.

Which might be a hint of coming attractions.

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He Ain’t Heavy, He’s my Husband

This is Weinsberg, Germany, a town about ten miles from Heilbronn:

Nice, huh? It’s one of those towns we visit every time we show up because it’s scenic and crazy. Scenic is obvious:

It’s on a hilltop surrounded by vineyards and there isn’t a bad view anywhere. Pretty much all of Germany’s wineries are in this area…well, okay, there’s wineries all over Germany  but Weinsberg has a goodly portion.

As for crazy…

See that field on the upper right, next to the steeple? During WW2, that was the location of a POW camp for British and Canadian officers, where my grandfather:

saw nothing, heard nothing.

Weinsberg also figured prominently in the horrific Battle of Heilbronn

because most of the German artillery that made life so miserable for the US 100th Division was located in the hills around it. But the craziness goes back even further and involved this place:

Castle Weinsberg, on a promontory overlooking the town.

Back when Christ was a corporal, King Conrad besieged the place for some reason or the other. No telelvision, nothing to do, I guess. The Weinsbergers put up such a fight that Conrad was really PO’d when he finally broke the gates down, and was going to put everyone to the sword except the womenfolk. He said they could leave with whatever possessions they could carry on their backs. So, they piggy-backed their husbands down the hill:

Conrad, being a man of word, said, okay, you get to keep your husbands. But Conrad, being possessed of an excellent sense of humor also, said okay husbands, you now belong to your wives.

Ever since, Weinsberg has a festival where the women carry men piggyback down the steps. I asked my wife if she wanted to give it a whirl but she said something rude.

Castle Weinsberg didn’t fare too well in the subsequent years:

Peasants burned the castle in the 16th C. and slaughtered the royal family, sparking outrage. You know it had to be pretty bad to outrage Germans, and they retaliated by burning the town itself.

No television, nothing to do.

 

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The Adventures of Gracie the Wander Cat: No Rest for the Weary

I don’t know what the deal is, but that Krauss guy is messed up right now:

to the point it’s cramping my style. Used to leap onto his stomach and settle in for a nap, but now, the guy screams and throws me across the room. How rude. This is about the best I can hope for:

which is not going to work. So lately, I’ve had to settle for alternatives:

all of which have their merits. But, tell ya, nothing beats a warm stomach or chest.

Krauss, ya gotta sleep sometime.

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Bath Bath

Since my summer is pretty much shot down, what with three months of recovery to go through, thought I’d load up some photos from the trip to Germany earlier in the year.

This is Baden Baden

which got its start as an R&R spot for Roman soldiers stationed nearby at Marseilles. All those hot springs, ya know. It pretty much stayed an R&R spot over the next several centuries, finding itself in competition with lots of other Badens that sprang up throughout Germany. To make sure you went to the original, they changed their name to Baden Baden, so there.

Beautiful place, chock full of spas and hotels and a casino and the requisite ruins:

It was Christmas Eve and, naturally, there was a Christmas market ongoing:

where we bought nougat cakes from this French guy:

The Kaiser liked to hang out here:

Jethro Tull??? Damn, can’t go, I’ll be back in the States:

Baden Baden is purt near France, something I discovered when my German GPS decided to exact a little Axis revenge by directing me in the completely opposite direction I needed to go. First clue was a sign that said “Bienvenue a Alsace-Lorraine.” Oopsy. So, turn around and began a comedy of stopping at every little German gas station in every little German village deep in werewolf mountains where hump-backed proprietors could only point in a general direction when I queried, “Heilbronn?” and merrily careening through moonlit S-curves and sheer drops until I finally stumbled across Schwaigern, where my nephew Steffan:

lives, and I knew my way back. Didn’t stop because there are no restaurants in Schwaigern and everyone was at the house waiting on us for Christmas Eve dinner, anyway.

Inconsiderate Americans.

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