Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Five-star review of Chaser

A five-star review of Chaser was posted about an hour ago.

Quote from the review:

This is an extremely fun book, that will keep you on the tip of your chair. You are truly worried about Boiler and what will become of her. Boiler has a great personality, and you will enjoy her. Therefore I give this book, Chaser five stars. Fred has entertained me once again! I feel he will do the same to you, so give his book a look, see! You will be glad you did!

I'm pretty happy with that. :D

On a technical note, some of the images didn't show up when I read the review. Could be my browser misfiring. Wouldn't be the first time it's done something weird.

In case the images aren't showing up for anyone else, here they are.

In the interview section, in the answer to question #3:

And in the answer to #8:

Star Trek Beyond trailer first impressions

So ... just watched this a few minutes ago, and it looks fun.

First off, I need to get something off my chest. I don't want to tell anyone that they can't voice their opinions because I wouldn't want anyone silencing me the same way. But having said that ... I'm sick of the haters spewing their vitriol at these movies. Most of them bitch about the exact same things the others keep bitching about, and to me it looks like they're hating things just because those things aren't exactly what they want them to be.

Specifically, a lot of the complaints I've heard is that these are mindless action movies that aren't true to Star Trek, or they're a betrayal of the spirit of Star Trek, or something along those lines. Well, I grew up watching the original series back in the 1980s (weekday afternoons at 4:00 on KPTV from Portland, Oregon), and the show was more of an adventure than TNG and the other sequel series ended up being. It was more action-packed and more focused on exploration and finding new wonders while often dealing with real-world issues (sometimes more successfully than others). But more than anything else, it was an adventure. It was fun.

I loved TNG and enjoyed the first few seasons of DS9 (despite its similarities to Babylon 5 and my opinion that B5 did a much better job of telling its story). I lost interest in DS9 later on, and only saw a few episodes of Voyager. But the sequel series kind of gradually became their own thing, in that episodes were often characters just standing around and talking. Which is fine, I actually love that kind of stuff (some of my favorite moments in Babylon 5 were the characters just talking to each other). But it was a very different approach than the original series, and there were times when I felt like the newer series were doing too much navel-gazing.

When people complain that the new movies are somehow a "betrayal" of the "spirit" of Star Trek, it seems to me like they're thinking only about TNG and the rest, and completely forgetting that TOS ever existed. The series that started it all was very different. It was an adventure.

And that's what the new movies are. Not only that, but they're a reboot of the original series, not TNG or the others. If the rebooted Trek were extrapolated to its own version of TNG, I'd expect its tone to very different from these three movies. But the rebooted Star Trek is a different take on the first series, which, as I keep saying, was an adventure and had its share of swashbuckling moments.

I loved the 2009 movie. I still think the best film in the series was The Wrath of Khan, but I'd actually rank this one very close to it. It was a breath of fresh air after the TNG movies (which I enjoyed when I saw them, but on repeat viewings I've felt more and more "meh" about them). And I loved the fact that time travel, which has been an overused trope in the franchise, finally had actual consequences. Everything wasn't returned to the status quo at the end. For once, history was changed and it stayed changed. Now we get to see the setting taking shape in a whole new way, which I'm perfectly okay with, even speaking as a lifelong fan of the original series.

I had a few issues with Into Darkness, but I still enjoyed it. My biggest problem was Khan being brought into it. Mostly because as soon as I heard rumors that he'd be the villain in this movie, I thought it was a mistake because it was just the obvious way to go. If the writers were going to revisit anything from the original series, I'd like it to be the planet-killer from "The Doomsday Machine." I'd love to see a modern take on that.

Anyway. I did end up liking the way Khan was used in Into Darkness. Montalban's version was terrifying, but Cumberbatch's take on the character was equally frightening, just in a whole other way. And though the opening sequence set up a conflict that resonated through the rest of the movie, it was mostly played for laughs and was focused on an already overused trope -- a population of primitive aliens who see the Enterprise soaring overhead, have no idea what it is, and immediately begin worshiping it like it's a deity. It was an amusing sequence, sure, but it's been done too many times to be that interesting.

Though I'll give that intro credit for giving me the idea for a technologically primitive alien species that went in the complete opposite direction -- the zorai, which I introduced with a character in my novel Game Over and had her appear again in the short story "Mission to Bellatrix" (which I'm fleshing out into the full-length novel Uncharted Territory, by the way). The zorai were always very rational and never made up explanations for anything they didn't understand. For example, they didn't see lightning strike and come up with an entity like Thor as an attempt to explain what it was. Their homeworld was so hostile to life that the zorai were barely avoiding extinction, and too many of them were killed by natural disasters or predators while they were still children, so they tended to focus their efforts on just getting through the day alive. If the zorai saw the Enterprise rising out of the ocean and flying overhead, the conversation might go something like this:

"Uh, what the hell was that?"
"No idea. Maybe we'll find out someday. As long as it doesn't hurt us, it's enough of a victory."
"Fair enough. Well, let's see if we can gather enough food for the next few days without becoming something else's food."
So, in a twisted way, I guess that opening scene in Into Darkness is a good thing because I might not have thought of the zorai (and a fun character like Grishnag) if it hadn't been in the movie.

Also, the bit at the end of the movie, with Kirk talking about not giving in to the urge to seek revenge, and how we need to be better people than we are, is very much in the spirit of Star Trek. One of the problems I have with the TNG-era series is that humanity is portrayed as a little too perfect. In TOS and the reboot movies, humanity hasn't gotten there yet. We're still in the process of figuring out how to become better as a people, and I think makes for a more interesting story than it would be if we had already achieved that. If Star Trek had an overall message way back then, I think it was that we're not there yet, but we should always keep trying.

Now, on to the new trailer. A few things that went through my mind when I watched it ....

  • This movie is probably set somewhere around the year 2260, so you'd think Kirk would have access to a better stereo. Whatever he's playing that music on, it sounds like it's coming from the five-dollar speakers I bought for the Walkman I had back in 1990.
  • The Enterprise getting its shit wrecked looks like it's becoming a running gag in these movies. Still, it should work to the story's advantage by stripping away assets and resources and leaving the crew to get by with whatever they can get their hands on. And maybe they'll redesign the Enterprise when it's repaired/rebuilt. I always had mixed feelings about the rebooted hull design, particularly that phallic protrusion the navigational deflector is mounted on. My favorite Enterprise is the one from the TOS-era movies. There's just something majestic and beautiful about it.
  • Looks like the uniforms have been redesigned again. I like some of the jackets the actors are wearing, but the day-uniform shirts ... well, on the one hand, they look more plain and resemble the ones from the TV series a lot more, which is kind of cool. But on the other hand, I actually liked the spiffier shirts from the previous two movies. I'd actually like to someday see the rebooted-Trek take on the uniforms introduced in The Wrath of Khan.
  • Hmm, an action-comedy style moment with Bones and Spock. Almost like a scene from a buddy-cop movie from the 1980s. Still, McCoy's comment sounded exactly like something he'd say at a moment like that, and the Spock-McCoy bickering, "Vitriolic Best Buds" routine was well established back when TOS was first on TV in the late 1960s.
  • The transporter effect looks kind of boring. I really liked the more dynamic effect from the previous two movies. It made the transporter process look like it wasn't entirely risk-free yet.
  • Also, it looks like a big chunk of the story takes place on an alien planet and it's going in a different direction rather than rehashing something from the TV show, so I consider that a positive.
  • Kirk on a motorcycle. Don't know enough about the plot to know how he got his hands on it, so I'll wait till I see the movie. Seems anachronistic at first glance, but then, the 2009 movie established that antique vehicles are still a thing, so ... shrug.
  • Next we see an alien woman beating the shit out of several dudes. It passes by too quickly to see much, but I like her already. I'm kind of a sucker for female characters who kick a lot of ass. <3 Also, since TOS was made in the 1960s, there was a lot of sexist stuff in it, despite its progressiveness, and the previous two films reflected a lot of that, aside from Uhura's moments in Into Darkness. (The cast being mostly male, and all.) The way she dealt with that Klingon, and later, shooting Khan repeatedly to distract him, holding her ground without flinching even as he advanced on her, were two of my favorite scenes. So it's good to see another female who appears to be a much better fighter than even Kirk.
  • Seconds later, there's another glimpse of this same character damn near hurricane-kicking a guy's head off. I can watch that kind of stuff all day. <3
  • Then there's a glimpse of another alien, presumably the movie's main villain. And he has a strong resemblance to the Narn species in Babylon 5. The skin color is different, but the overall shape of his head looks a lot like Ambassador G'Kar as he appeared in the B5 TV movie/pilot episode. Interesting ... but on the other hand, it's good to see aliens that actually look like aliens, rather than humans with bumps or ridges on their foreheads.
  • Hmm ... looks like Kirk is getting his ass kicked again.
  • Again, I like that the movie appears to be going in its own direction this time, rather than reworking something from the TV show. And from the dialogue, it seems the Enterprise has been exploring new areas of space and encountered something that doesn't want the crew there.
  • Related to that, the planet the Enterprise is torn apart above. Again, it passes by too quickly to get a really good look at it, but I'm pretty sure I caught several glimpses of ship wreckage strewn over the planet's surface. Whatever that swarm of small objects is, it appears to have shredded a considerable number of ships. Could be an automated defense system or something similar. 
  • "Okay ... let's never do that again!" Haha! Okay, I actually laughed out loud at that. The exact same thing happened to Kirk in the 2009 movie, when he rescued Sulu. And I can't blame Kirk for getting a little tired of it.

So, overall, the trailer is really lighthearted, making the movie appear to be a comedy/action/adventure. I've heard people bitching about that, too, but if that's what this movie is, it wouldn't be the first time Star Trek has done full-on comedy. A few episodes of the original series were almost entirely comedic, so this would fit. But then, the trailer could be misleading, which wouldn't exactly be a first time a trailer has done that. It's possible that, since this is just a teaser, it could be focusing on humorous and action-oriented moments to get the attention of a broad audience. The next trailer might focus more on serious moments or character interaction.

I'll wait for the next trailer, and go see the movie before I decide whether I like it or not, as opposed to all the people who start screaming, "It sucks!" or "RIP Star Trek!" before they even see it. The reboot and Into Darkness could be considered action movies, but there's more to both of them than that. That could be the case with Beyond, as well.

And even if this turns out to be little more than an action-adventure with a lot of humor throughout? Well, I'm okay with that, too. From what little I've seen so far, it looks like fun. All I really ask from a movie is that it entertains me. I often hope that certain movies will also make me think, but it's not the end of the world if they don't. As long as I enjoy it, it's one in the 'win' column.

I'll wait and see.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Closing the door on 2015

Now that the end of the year is coming up, I've been looking back over 2015 and thinking about what an absolutely awful year it's been for me, yet it's finally looking like I'll be able to end it on a positive note, with the store I work at getting a company car I can use for deliveries and thereby keep my job, and the publication of Chaser. Not that there haven't been any other good things that happened in 2015. There have been many. But overall, it's been overwhelmingly a net-negative, and I'll be glad when it's over. I understand that things won't automatically change for the better just because the calendar flips over to January 1 ... it's just kind of a psychological thing -- I'll be relieved to close the door on 2015 and hope the coming year is more good than bad.

Aside from the struggles I've been going through all along, which took a nosedive in the past few months -- having the engine in my car blow up, failing repeatedly to get a loan to cover the $3,900 it would cost to replace it (just my luck, there was only one other engine in the entire country that would go in that car), my hours at work being cut because I couldn't take deliveries anymore and having to let the car be repo'd because I couldn't keep making the payments, and nearly ending up homeless three or four times within a three-month period, only avoiding it by borrowing money from family to pay the rent ... 2015 has also been a year during which many icons of my childhood have left us. Leonard Nimoy, Harve Bennett, James Horner, Roddy Piper, just off the top of my head. It feels like pieces of my childhood have been taken away.

There's one other loss I thought I'd talk about here, because though he was probably less well known than the others, he had more of an influence on my own writing style: animator and total badass Monty Oum, who worked for several years on the Red vs. Blue web series and had just gotten started on his own creative project, RWBY. Early this year, he went into the hospital for a simple medical procedure, had an extreme allergic reaction, went into a coma, and never regained consciousness.

This freaked me out because it happened just days after I was in the hospital for hernia surgery -- a completely routine procedure ... but when I heard the news, it was kind of a jolt because, if something similar had happened to me, that would've been the end. That kind of realization is hard to shake loose.

As I mentioned, Monty Oum's fight choreography was a huge influence on how I write action scenes. Seeing his work started me thinking in ways that had never occurred to me before -- how the characters move, differences in fighting styles, how they can use their environment and nearby objects. I wrote the first draft of Chaser back in 2006, and rewrote it several times over the years, before Monty started working on RvB, so my writing style back then was very different. I've learned a lot from other sources, but his work on RvB had the biggest impact on me (and the comedic elements in the series overall affected my use of humor, as well). I think the action I write is much more dynamic now than it used to be. I think I wouldn't be writing such scenes as well, or having as much fun with them as I do, if I hadn't seen any of his work.

He also had a work ethic that makes me feel like a slacker no matter how much I think I've accomplished. He enjoyed his work so much that he never wanted to pause, even to sleep. From what his coworkers in the following video said, he didn't sleep so much as "power down"... sometimes he'd work on a project for thirty hours before finally falling asleep. And when he finished a current project, he immediately wanted to begin work on the next.

Anyway ... this stuff has been on my mind lately. Have a look at the video when you have time. If you've never heard of this guy, you'll be introduced to a truly awesome individual. And there are several things writers and other creative people can take away from this: Always be observing everything around you and taking it in -- for me, that means watching how people and characters move, and watching how people interact and getting ideas for conversations or little quirks for my characters.

Also, never take anything for granted, because you just never know when it might all go away. Accomplish as much as you can -- I stopped making New Year's resolutions a long time ago because I never managed to stick with them, but I'm going to make one right now -- write more, try to write better, try not to let various everyday-life setbacks get in the way, and finish more of my work in a reasonable time so I can get it published. My last novel, Project Revenant, took four years to finish because I kept letting myself get distracted. It should've taken one year, or less. So one of the things I learned from Monty Oum is that I really need to up my game.

And one other thing. Something Monty Oum said a lot: "Keep moving forward." Just writing a story or a book has the effect of generating ideas for new stories on the fly, which is awesome since I tend to write entire series of books. It can keep the momentum going, but it also results in so many ideas I'm often sure I can't keep up with them. But keep moving forward.

And here's a pretty good example of the choreography I'm talking about. The good stuff starts about 1:17 in, and bits of it directly inspired a car chase/battle sequence in Project Revenant.

Since I've finally gotten a book and a short story officially published, and the use of the company car for deliveries has prevented me from becoming homeless, things are finally looking up. I'm finally looking forward to the future rather than dreading it. Let's see what 2016 brings. I'll keep moving forward.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Five-Star Review on "Game Over"

An interview and a five-star review on one of my older books, Game Over, was posted yesterday. A brief quote from the review:

I give this book five stars, because it is an amazing story, that keeps you wanting more, and keeps your imagination going, thinking about these unique characters and how they look and than what will happen to them. I truly enjoyed it very much! If you’re into sci-fi you truly need to read this book!
As you might guess, I'm pretty happy with this. It's always gratifying to hear about someone being so entertained by something I wrote.

Check out Deneale's Book Buzz for more reviews and interviews with authors. It's a fantastic place to find more books and authors that just might become new favorites. And for authors, it's a great way to grow your audience.

The interview section on Game Over also has info on many of my other works, including the newly-published Chaser. So for authors, Deneale's Book Buzz is also a good way to talk about your other books and stories in addition to the one that's being reviewed. Check it out to expand your library or your readership, or both. :D

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Promo video for Chaser

So here's something I decided to experiment with. Usually I just sit in front of my webcam for these videos, but I'm just not comfortable being on camera. So for this one, I just talked about Chaser while recording video of my GTA character riding around on a bike (and occasionally getting hit by a car), just so there would be something interesting on the screen while I'm bloviating. A still image with just my droning voice would've been boring. So if this works, I'll probably do more videos like this, and get back to some topics I've left on the back burner for way too long.