Tuesday, September 12, 2017

DragonCon After-Action Report: The Right Geek Podcast

Last night I talked to Stephanie Souders, The Right Geek Blogger/podcaster and a life-long science fiction fan, about my experience at DragonCon. Stephanie has volunteered at DragonCon for many years, while this was my first visit, so it was interesting to compare our perspectives.

We discussed the general Con experience, from getting around to making the most of the panels to the inexplicably addictive PB&J sandwiches at the Con Suite. Since I was fortunate enough to be invited to speak at two panels, I also describe my impressions from interacting with panelists and audiences who were very much outside my comfort zone in terms of political leanings. (Spoiler: it appears SJW's have not yet ruined all of the fandom, although not for lack of trying.)

Probably the most important lesson I took away from the Con, and I think it's very much applicable outside the fandom, was that people can unite and have fun together on a massive scale in spite of serious disagreements. It does not solve our current problems of being a politically and culturally divided country, but it does give me a measure of hope. Perhaps this is why the Left is working so relentlessly to divide the fandom and diminish what we have in common, but they will not succeed. 

Seeing the sheer number of people from all over the world gather to share their passion made me appreciate how small the internal squabbles really are. When it comes to fandom, fun rules. Let's give the fans what they want: great stories, full of imagination, unimpeded by demands and complaints of petty people. Let's support fellow creatives and make new friends. And most of all, let's not forget to enjoy ourselves in the process. 





Tuesday, September 5, 2017

DragonCon Mini-Highlights Reel

Happy to report that I survived my first ever DragonCon. I will do more write-up once I've had more than four hours of sleep, but for now, enjoy this highlights video, including some stills from the Cruxshadows concert. Parade video is coming separately because I went a little insane with the photos and will have to put them in a separate file.




Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Book Review: Dangerous by Milo



I bought this book on principle because I wanted to support Milo, especially after Simon and Schuster pulled it from Amazon after the latest manufactured outrage proved too much for their tender corporate feelings. (And before you ask, yes, I've seen the infamous interview that precipitated the breach of contract from S&S. Considering this is the same company that published Lena Dunham, color me unimpressed.) Be that as it may, I forked over the big bucks for the hard cover, or rather had my husband pre-order it for me for our wedding anniversary, with the full expectation of having it in my book case as a conversation piece and not much more. After all, having gotten into the habit of listening to Milo's broadcasts on Youtube while doing housework, I was very familiar with his views and could probably repeat most of his jokes verbatim.

Unlike most nonfiction from popular commentators, however, Dangerous is not simply a "best of" collection from previous speeches and blog posts. It's a combination of a personal manifesto and solid cultural analysis, complete with references and statistics, and it flows seamlessly from hilariously irreverent to deadly serious. Much as I enjoyed this book, I wish Milo would consider writing fiction because oh my does he have a way with words.

Dangerous is  divided into three parts. The first (Foreword, Preamble and Prologue) is an introduction to who Milo is, what he does, and why so many consider him dangerous. Prone as he is to exaggerations, the claim is absolutely true. Mention his name in mixed company and you're likely to encounter an equivalent of the Kingsman finale minus the pretty fireworks.

Personally I think he nails it with the following:

"I am a threat because I don't belong to anyone. I am unaffiliated."

This goes beyond identity politics, which insists on putting people in neat little boxes and proceeds to predict everything from the food they should eat to books they should read to politicians and causes they support. In addition to being impossible to classify, Milo is also immune to social and peer pressure. The fools who rejoiced at him resigning from Breitbart (where he already had essentially free hand) didn't realize that he would become even more unstoppable with private funding and self-made platform. This is one scalp not up for the taking by Social Justice Brigades, and it has to drive them insane.

The second part is eleven chapters, nine of which are titled "Why [insert a group here] Hate Me." If you believe the adage of knowing the man by his enemies, the list is impressive (or should I say fabulous?):

Progressive Left
Alt-Right
Twitter
Feminists
Black Lives Matter
The Media
Establishment Gays
Establishment Republicans
and finally...
Muslims

Some on this list hate because they should be able to control him and claim him as one of their own, but can't. Some because he is the only one pointing out the unspeakable truths in a way that's actually accessible, therefore reaching the audience most others can't. Some because he's a direct threat to their comfort and power. It's a mix-and-match kind of thing with a lot of overlap. He does not hate all of the groups back, by the way, cutting some of them more slack than I would do personally, but the nuance is not reciprocated by the other side. No matter. The haters don't win, and their attempts only result in getting him more followers and better hair products.

These chapters are useful not just as a recap of Milo's detractors, but also provide a refresher on the history and current state of each group,  and whether or not there's  hope that one or some of them would ever turn towards the light, so to speak. He has surprising amount of respect for intellectuals, considering how vocally he had been denounced by nearly every Conservative pundit. And, as he points out at the end of the Establishment Republicans chapter, "No movement has ever survived with just moderates and intellectual, and no movement has ever survived with just hellraisers. If we want to win, we need both." To which I say, Amen. In spite of the current frictions, the two sides of the pro-freedom coin need not be at odds.

There are two additional chapters dedicated to the folks who DON'T hate him: Gamergate and college kids who love free speech. If you're still unfamiliar with Gamergate, this chapter provides and excellent summary. And apparently we have Allum Bokhari of Breitbart to thank (or blame) for kickstarting Milo's career by sending him information on Gamergate. Or should we more accurately thank Zoe Quinn? Well, you get the idea.

The chapter on college tours gives me hope. The protesters and general therapy-dog-demanding whiners get all the attention, but Milo would not BE doing college tours to begin with if there weren't large groups of students eager to see and support him. Perhaps there's no need to be overly down on the new generation after all. There's a lot of free thought and bravery to be found among the current crop of college students, and they could very well fix the world we of the Gen X allowed so carelessly to slide in the wrong direction.

The third pard, Epilogue, has a title I will leave for you to discover. Suffice it to say, it's essentially a call to action, and a guide on how to be successful if you want to try your luck as a Milo-style Culture Warrior. While there's only one Milo, the field is wide open for ambitious copycats.
The gist of the advice is as simple as it is challenging: work hard and be fearless.

Not everyone can be hot.
Not everyone can be outrageous and funny.
Not everyone can risk denouncement and loss of employment.
But everyone can do something.
Find that something.
Then do it.

In the meantime, go read the book.

Purchase Dangerous on Amazon



Saturday, July 22, 2017

Movie Musings: Escape from L.A.


I saw Escape From L.A. in the theater back when it came out and loved it. There's always a risk in revisiting a movie or a book after many years because our preferences change and, especially when it comes to movies, the special effects can feel dated, taking away from the enjoyment.

And then, of course there is the plot: originally written as a near-future dystopia, for me as a current viewer the story is set in the past. As someone who has written a near-future dystopian novel, I know full well how some predictions work out better than others.  (Chasing Freedom is set more than two decades from now, so I suppose there's still a chance for Canada to become the Land of the Free, but I would not bet good money on it.) On the other hand, John Ringo is known for complaining that his near and not-so-near future predictions come true too soon, making some of his work seem less "out there" futuristic.

In that latter respect, Escape From L.A. is very much a mixed bag. With an obligatory disclaimer that I will not wish mass death on my fellow citizens and human beings, I have to say the idea of an earthquake breaking off L.A. from the rest of the country and having it subsequently turn into a place to house those who don’t fit into the “polite society” made me chuckle more than a little. For those unaware, California secession movement is in fact a thing, and while those of the Right might gleefully egg them on, the brain trust behind the idea is very much on the Left.

L.A. in this film, however, is not a Marxist paradise, but a place of anarchy. Gangs roam the streets, shooting random pedestrians. Debauchery abounds. A Beverly Hills "clinic" provides organ transplants to those who've had too many plastic surgeries and need new organs to survive. A charismatic leader, who looks like a reincarnated Che, provides bloody spectacles for the masses in gladiator-style arenas. Then again, the surf is great and you can still wear a fur coat, so, YAY?

The "good" part of the U.S. is not exactly paradise, right wing or otherwise. Some of the points are laughable now (a woman exiled for "being a Muslim in South Dakota" was particularly funny, all things considered). It's important to remember, though, that the movie was made at the height of a bi-partisan drive to censor songs and video games and conservative Christians, being the most vocal, got stuck with the image of hating fun. The President is clearly supposed to represent a deranged TV Evangelist who has been allowed free hand in imposing his views on the rest of the country after the Constitution has been flushed down the toilet.

In a way, Escape From L.A. is a journey to the more innocent past when religious Christians were the worst of the boogeymen. In modern times, while there are still religious groups protesting metal concerts, the fun-hating mantle has been firmly taken over by the Left. 

The Left, and not the Christians, are the ones wishing to ban red meat, fur coats, and wrong-thinking art. 

The Left, and not the Christians, speak of earthquakes as punishment to humanity for wanting a better lifestyle that includes cars and air-conditioning. 

The Left, and not the Christians, openly speaks of overturning parts of the Constitution they find inconvenient. 

The Left, and not the Christians, wish miserable death on those with whom they disagree.

I can go on...

In the end, the movie gets a pass for getting the future (now in our past) so very wrong in so many ways, for two reasons.

One, the repeating theme of "The more things change, the more they stay the same." The rebels inside the L.A. walls want to take over the country and institute their version of Paradise, with a different set of horrors from those found in the mainland U.S. Neither flavor of authoritarianism portrayed in the movie can claim high moral ground. The current threats to freedom in real life come from the Left, but there is no telling where the pendulum will swing decades from now. Although human beings do have an yearning for freedom, the free society is a fragile, easily destroyed, and in need of constant vigilance to protect it.

Two, in spite of being ridiculously over the top in its portrayal of the two-sided dystopian society, the movie is still a lot of fun, with special effects that hold up well after all these years, and has one of my favorite endings of all time. It might be technically classified as message fiction, and I don't 100% care for all the details of the message, but unlike a lot of the current Hollywood offerings that purport to have "social relevance" this one never, not for one moment, forgets its primary mission: to entertain the audience. For that alone, I recommend it to anyone who prefers their action movies a bit on the thought-provoking side. It's also a suitable movie to watch and discuss with your teens with minimal eye-rolling in response. Enjoy! 





  

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Book Review: Rules for Revenge by Ian Graham



Having enjoyed Ian Graham's thriller Veil of Civility, I was happy to accept a copy of the sequel to give an honest review. Rules of Revenge picks up where the previous book left off, allowing the reader to jump back on the roller coaster and keep moving. 
 

As might be expected of a thriller series, Declan McIver did not in fact ride into the sunset after derailing a major terrorist plot by the end of Veil of Civility. In fact, he does not even get much by the way of thanks. On the contrary, now that his identity as a former IRA member is known, his days of idyllic average-Joe life are over, and his once solid marriage is barely holding together. And that's before he and some of his close friends become entangled in  ruthless power struggle that involves the upper echelons of the U.K. government. 

Declan, however, refuses to be a pawn in someone else's game, nor is he as lacking in allies and resources as it appears. His quest to clear his name and get back the life he had worked so hard to build is equal parts thriller and mystery as he is pursued across Europe by a gang of brutal thugs, evades law enforcement and tries to figure out who is responsible for his predicament. Agent Harper, his somewhat accidental partner, is an interesting character in her own right, caught in the conflict between her professional obligations and the need to serve the cause of justice once it appears the two might not necessarily coincide. 

The secondary characters are well developed, and the author conveys well the feeling of despair and betrayal a few of them feel when they find out the darker side to the system they dedicated their lives to serve. While their loss of innocence is heartbreaking to read, it's also a refreshing change of pace to not have every single character follow the "trust no one" rule 24/7.

There are several villains in this novel, some more despicable than others. In a bold choice, the author lets us know early on who the main baddies are, so rather than waiting for the Big Reveal at the end, the reader experiences a sense of dread as at several points in the story the evil seems unstoppable, with no one the wiser. I liked that the author knows the difference between an explanation and an excuse when it comes to his villains. Most people have reasons, sometimes good reasons, when committing despicable acts. However, that doesn't change the objective right and wrong, nor is a measure of sympathy become a get-out-of-consequences-free card.

As was the case with Veil of Civility, the settings themselves become part of the story. The author's ability to create a sense of place, to put the reader right into that remote village, or on the mountainside, or in a creepy abandoned building is worthy of the old-fashioned literary fare. I'm always glad to see proof that high-quality descriptive prose is not confined to the novels that torment generations of high school and college students, but can be used to entertain fans of genre fiction like yours truly.

Last but certainly not least, I appreciated that the novel provides serious, at times brutal, action without going graphic and an undertone of sexual attraction without the semi-obligatory casual hookup. While I don't demand my fiction to be clean, I do admire the care and skill that go into crafting an engaging tale without using gore and sex as crutches.

Whether you're a dedicated thriller fan or just want a palate cleanser in between epic fantasy door stoppers, this novel will not disappoint. Highly recommended.

Purchase Rules for Revenge on Amazon


Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Dragon Awards Post, Procrastinators' Edition

EDIT: Turns out, June 30th is the eligibility cutoff, and the vote deadline is July 24th. Good news is that you do have more time and might even squeeze a book or two into your reading schedule. Bad news? Apparently I'm an accountant who's not-so-good with numbers. Don't tell my boss. I need my day job while I'm waiting to become a famous author. 

____________________________________________

Let me guess: you meant to vote for Dragon Awards nominations. You just needed more time. After all, you had until June 30th, so there was no rush, right?
:Looks at the calendar:
Yeeeah, about that...

 So now you have just a couple of days to scour your Kindle trying to remember which books you read over the last year, then look up when those books were published to make sure they're eligible, and THEN decide how to classify them in the most appropriate way. Good luck with that last one if you're like me and read overwhelmingly indie/small press books. Those authors don't have the publisher forcing them to squeeze a story into a pigeonhole for the best Barnes & Noble shelf placement. They write what they write. Great for reading. A nightmare for category designations.

Fear not, my fellow procrastinators, for much of the work of finding, listing and categorizing some outstanding eligible books has already been done for you. Below I will link a few websites/blogs with nomination suggestions. You will see that many of the suggestions overlap. It's either a "great minds think alike" thing or the Russians rigged it. (Not me. Other Russians.) In any case, if you read the books and liked them, now's the time to give them some love. If you haven't, what are you doing looking at blogs? You've got some great fiction to read.

Useful sites with suggestions, in alphabetical order.

Declan Finn 📖

Happy Frogs 🐸

Injustice Gamer 🎮

Russell Newquist 📚

Speaking of all things Dragon, I will be at Dragoncon this year, and because my novel Chasing Freedom was a nominee last year I actually get a spiffy Attending Pro badge. What it means, I don't know, but it sounds like fun. Hope to see lots of you there!

Dragon Awards vote link is here. There is no cost to participate, and you know what that means: more money for books 😀   Best of luck to the contenders and as always Happy Reading!


Monday, June 19, 2017

Book Review: For Steam and Country by Jon del Arroz



A couple of weeks ago, I took my 12-year-old daughter to the town library in search of something to read. When I asked the librarian in charge of the YA section to recommend something without suicide or sex, she said, without hostility but quite firmly that we were in the wrong section. Apparently those were the predominant themes of modern YA literature. (Mind you, this is the stuff offered to them as pleasure reading, in addition to the doom-and-gloom highbrow literature they're already required to read for school.) And then we wonder why so many of today's teens are A. depressed and B. avoid pleasure reading at all costs.

It is therefore with great pleasure that I report on this latest offering from a science fiction author Jon del Arroz. For Steam and Country is, as the title implies, a steampunk adventure first and foremost, but it also succeeds brilliantly as YA.

The protagonist, Zaira von Monocle, is a 16-year-old, who--shocker!--actually behaves as a normal teen, even though the circumstances of her life are anything but ordinary. Sure, she is a daughter of a great adventurer, who inherits her father's airship and goes off to far away lands and gets involved in battles that might decide the fate of her country. Yet at the same time she is subject to the same challenges and emotions as any teen. She has a secret crush on a neighbor boy who, frustratingly, only sees her as a friend. She feels sad about having lost her mother at a young age and devastated at the news that her father is presumed dead. She has a comically adorable attachment to her pet ferret (yes, there's a ferret named Toby, and he's important to the plot!). And, as most teenagers, she has her flaws: she is stubborn, occasionally rash, doesn't know her limitations while at the same time being insecure... Did I mention the "normal teen" thing? If you don't have teens of your own, just take my word for it. Zaira is true to life, perhaps more so than the cynical and too-smart-for-their-age creatures that populate modern YA fiction, especially the kind geared towards girls.

That's not to say Zaira is the only interesting character, or even the only one in whom the reader gets invested during the story. James starts out as a somewhat of an obligatory sidekick/love interest, but his story arc is separate and, while he doesn't get a lot of "screen time," is interesting in its own right. (I am in fact hoping for a spinoff because the whole Knights angle has a lot of potential that was only explored in a cursory way in this novel). Captain von Cravat is more than your garden variety Strong Female Character. The Iron Emperor is a fascinating villain who appears just long enough for us to wonder who or what exactly he is. And Toby the ferret is just begging for a whole series of his own, if he could ever be convinced to leave Zaira's side.

The plot moves along at a brisk pace, and the prose is just right for the type of story this is: clear without being dumbed down, with enough information on the world and the basics of technology to be interesting, but not so much that we get bored with the minutia of the steamship operations. The battles are well choreographed and descriptive in a way that we can visualize exactly what's going on while providing enough tension and excitement. There are a few twists along the way as well as some loose ends likely to be addressed in the rest of the series, but on the whole the story wraps up in a satisfying way.

I'm told that this particular take on steampunk is unusual, so I will simply recommend it to anyone who likes old-fashioned adventure free of sex, graphic violence or so-called "social commentary." It's also a great way to introduce your teenager to the joys of adventure fiction. As someone who grew up reading Jules Verne and Robert Louis Stevenson, I am glad to see that there are modern offerings in the same vein available to the new generation, even if they have to go beyond the local librarians' choices to get to it.

Purchase For Steam and Country on Amazon