Sunday, April 23, 2017

Movie Musings: The Fate of the Furious

***Cross-posted from***

On one level, The Fate of the Furious is the easiest movie to review:
1. Great fun
2. Leave your brain (especially the part that understands physics) at home

And now, folks, your seat belts (HA!) because I will try to make this post deep. How deep? Glad you asked. I’m going to take the recent discussion of what qualifies as superversive fiction and apply it to this movie. If you’re rolling on the floor in fits of laughter, I don’t blame you. But stick with me here. Just because something is lowbrow, doesn’t mean it can’t be superversive, at least in part. And if we can see superversive elements in this piece of schlock, maybe they would become easier to identify elsewhere. Thus, let the experiment begin!

Aspiring/Inspiring. Our heroes are far from being role models, that’s for sure. But are they reaching for something higher? Are they attempting to improve the world, what little of it is in their control? The opening segment includes a prolonged drag-racing sequence that ends with Dom Toretto acting with both generosity and honor towards a person who really deserves neither. Much later, when the villainess questions why Dom seemingly rewarded the man who tried to kill him, the response is, “I changed him.” Does it work like that in real life? Probably not. Thugs don’t choose to join the side of light because of one event, not commonly anyway. Is it possible? Yes, I suppose it is. Is it something we’d like to occasionally see in our art? Absolutely.

Virtuous. I can see how this requirement can be viewed as problematic at first glance, but we need to remember that superversive heroes don’t need to be perfect. They do, however, need to know right from wrong, and more importantly, the story itself must be clear on the matter. An advantage of a well crafted dumb action movie is that the central conflict is very clear. The good guys are… maybe not all that good, not all of them, but they are working for a good cause. And the villainess Cipher, played with obvious delight by Charlize Theron, is as cold and vicious as they come. Her purported justification sounds vaguely noble from throwing around words like “accountability,” but at no point are we sympathetic or thinking, “Well, she’s kind of right…” Nope. Not even close. In this story, shades of gray are non-existent.

Heroic. This one is easy. Unlike in some of the other entries in F&F franchise, the protagonists’ motives here are mostly pure: family, loyalty, honor and oh yeah, saving the world. There is revenge mixed in for some, and an opportunity for a second chance for others. In particular, Deckard (Jason Statham), a villain from one of the previous films, is at first hard to accept as one of the good guys, but he does redeem himself in one of the more spectacular and absurd scenes in a movie that’s full of them. In the end, they all rise to the occasion and do what they must to fight evil, no matter the cost. Additionally, in what to me is the stand-out moment of the movie, Letty bets her life, without hesitation, for a chance to reach and save her husband who appears to have gone rogue. It plays much better if you know the history of these characters, but it’s powerful in either case.

Decisive. Again, easy, as per requirements of the genre. The protagonists don’t have time to agonize over their choices, in part because there aren’t too many. Saving the world is a non-negotiable goal. While there are heart-breaking scenes, we see not a hint of the modern “why me?” angst that has infected even many of the superhero movies. They hurt and they grieve, but never stop moving towards the goal.

Non-subversive. You’d think a movie in a franchise built around essentially glorifying outlaws would be subversive by definition. Not so. This entry in particular has a villainess whose main intent is destruction of the current order, but there’s even more than that. In one of the obligatory Villain Exposition scenes, she’s intent on convincing Dom Toretto, the man who values family and faith, that he is wrong in his priorities. It’s not enough for her to use Dom’s skills. She has a need to destroy who he is, to prove that his life has no meaning, and by extension, no one’s life has meaning. This is an important point. If life is of no value, if family, faith and honor are but an illusion, then mass murder is a perfectly acceptable stepping stone to one’s goals. The villainess is a nearly perfect embodiment of subversion. She would not, in fact, be out of place in an old-fashioned fairly tale, from the time before our culture has developed a need to understand, justify, and sympathize with villains rather than to advocate and celebrate their unconditional defeat.

There were other things that are remarkable on that front. For all the banter and joking around, there’s not a hint of irony when it comes to good old fashioned values. Dom talk constantly about family as if it’s some kind of magic mantra needed to pull him back to the light. (One reviewer commented that at times the movie has a feel of a GOP convention, with the word “family” being mentioned over 50 times.) They pause before a meal to say grace. Crosses figure prominently, both in the visuals and once actually in the plot. Two young hot-blooded men are courting an attractive woman, but that’s where it stays. There is no obligatory danger-inspired hookup, but on the flip side, no blanket rejection of men or romance either. It’s a small scene, fun and light-hearted, but also old-fashioned. And in the end, for all the ridiculous special effects and action, I think this is one of the reasons the franchise has endured. These movies entertain and amuse without tearing down, and they leave you, if not inspired, at least satisfied with a simple tale that shows the world working mostly as you know it should. Not so bad for a piece of dumb action after all.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Book Review: Live and Let Bite by Declan Finn

I admit, I started this book with a bit of trepidation. The Big Bad in the previous installment was so big and so bad and so near-indestructible that trying to top it could very well veer into the ridiculous (think some of the more unfortunate James Bond movies, for example). Wisely, the author didn't go that route. Oh sure, there's a worthy adversary for our favorite couple and their merry crew, but this novel is more concerned with adding more layers of plot and character development in between the 'splosions and bursts of machine gun fire. Yes, we get machine guns added to the mix this time, because, well, why not?

The story starts off... angsty, for lack of a better word. Marco and Amanda are separated, causing much brooding for them and pain for the baddies. When those two brood, the soundtrack is more death metal than country, if you get my drift. In the meantime, Merle the international man of supernatural mystery, discovers/confirms a connection between the U.N. and the vampires, both of whom, it so happens, want Marco dead at all costs. The rest of the plot revolves around our heroes facing and dealing with the new super-assassin, while trying to finally resolve their feelings for each other.

That last part, in my opinion, takes up most of the energy of the novel. Let's face it, in an ongoing series we can't be overly worried if the main characters make it through the next chapter. Finn is not entirely averse to killing someone we care about, on occasion, but he hasn't been affected by the Joss Whedon disease (looking at you, Terry Goodkind, grrr...) and let's hope he never does. So the assassin subplot becomes more of a "journey, not a destination" kind of deal. You know she will be defeated. You don't know how, or why she's on the job in the first place, or even who the heck she is. Also, did I mention 'splosions? So there's a lot of pure fun to be had along the way, but to really make us care, there has to be something else. Something beyond the heroes' survival to the next installment, and beyond the intellectual challenge of solving the fundamental mystery of the overarching plot. That leaves us with...

If you guessed, "romance," congratulations! You're in for a treat. If not, and if your reaction is, "Oh no, not that!" rest assured that it's not your usual YA drama. These are serious people, with the fate of, if not the world, at least thousands of lives on their shoulders, who cannot function at full capacity till they address what is delicately called the issues of the heart. I'll give no spoilers in this regard since I consider this particular narrative thread the most suspenseful. Suffice it to say that there is a level of progress achieved, with hints of more to come. Stay tuned and wait for the sequel.

Purchase Live and Let Bite on Amazon

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Awards and Amusements

It's that time of the year: the snow is melting, the new flowers are blooming, and the book awards season is coming into full swing. Unlike with the Oscars and other movie-oriented awards, where audiences tune in to see lavish dresses and occasional on-screen celebrity meltdowns, most of the book awards entertainment comes from--you guessed it--reading. Thus this week's roundup for your online entertainment.

First, an award that's near and dear to my heart, as I co-founded the group that runs it:

Conservative-Libertarian Fiction Alliance 2017 Book of the Year.

The competition for this one was stiff, with the Top Two contenders vying for the lead until the final hours. In the end, Peter Grant claimed the first place with his Post-Civil War themed Western Brings the Lightning.  John Ringo/Larry Correia collaboration Monster Hunter: Grunge came in second, and John C. Wright's wildly imaginative fantasy Iron Chamber of Memory rounded up the Top Three.

For complete information on the award, full list of the finalists as well as the nature and goals of CLFA, please visit Conservative-Libertarian Fiction Alliance website.

(I especially recommend the visit to those who had the misfortune of visiting a certain blog, where some of the commenters took it upon themselves to re-write both the nature and the history of CLFA to suit their narrative. Amusing as it was to read the conjectures, it is important for the truth to come out, and going to the source is usually the best solution. Also, please feel free to post questions in the Comments section.)

Second: The Hugo Awards finalists have been announced.

I'm happy to see John C. Wright's excellent short story from God, Robot getting the nod, even if the environment surrounding this particular award is guaranteed to keep him from winning.

The same comment applies to Jeffro Johnson and Castalia House blog, in their respective categories.

If you're looking for more analysis, here is some from Declan Finn (I think the headline provides a hint of how he feels, but you may want to read the whole thing to be sure). Jon del Arroz crunches some vote numbers, for those who are into math. And finally, since I promised amusement, John C. Wright, in the comments on Vox Popoli blog, reacts to receiving the nomination. Kind of.

Third: The Dragon Awards nominations are open.

Larry Correia provides this timely reminder as only he can. Personally, since the eligibility period for that one runs into the current year, I'm holding off a little longer. But there's no doubt that for sci-fi and fantasy fans, this is the award to watch (and for the authors, to strive to win).

I guess this is a good time to mention that I will be going to Dragoncon this year, for the first time ever, and for some reason have been accepted as an Attending Pro. Soooo, if anyone has hints and tips, or wants to meet up, please comment below. Hope to see many of you there!

Till then, as always, Happy reading!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Book Review: Renegades: Origins by Kal Spriggs

As the title implies, this novel, while following a coherent and moderately exciting plot, is more of a collection of shorts giving us individual characters' history and insights into what makes them tick. If you like your fiction character-oriented, but shy away from the so-called "literary" works where that's ALL you get, this one is for you. Each part of the plot is told from a different POV (some characters get more than one chapter, and a couple don't get any, but that's the general structure).

There's a risk to this method of storytelling because the readers' engagement hinges on whether or not they like the characters and care what happens to them. For that reason, it took me a while to get into the story. At first glance, these characters can appear obnoxious, annoying, or both, and even though I intellectually knew they were the good guys, at least in comparison to their opponents, I honestly wouldn't have minded to see at a couple of them knocked off. I am, however, a patient reader, and was willing to give the story a chance to convince me otherwise. I'm happy I did because the characters do grow on you, and as it happens, the story as a whole gets better until, about half-way through, I was overstaying my lunch hour to finish a particular section.

One thing the author does very well is managing a large cast while never confusing the reader or making the characters seem interchangeable. The three aliens not only come from vastly different species, but have different goals, personalities and, strangely enough, considering two of them happen to be psycho killers, enough quirks and hangups to make them both entertaining and relatable. In fact, somewhere along the way, I realized that Rastar is actually what Jar-Jar Binks should've been in George Lucas were a half decent writer: funny, friendly to the point of annoyance, but with a heart and skills of a mighty warrior. In case I didn't hate the Jar-Jar character enough, now that I see the possibilities, I'm even happier that Lucas has given up his death grip on Star Wars. But I digress...

The humans are interesting as well. All of them are running, not just from their former alien jailers, but from the things they've done, or are accused of having done, and in some cases, just things that live as unending nightmares in their heads. While some of them are natural jerks, there's usually a reason for what seems to be irrational or downright immoral behavior. I won't give it away because the slow revelations of their backstories is what makes this work special, but I have to give the author credit for understanding the difference between and explanation and an excuse when it comes to the characters' more questionable actions. Redemption, or at least a second chance, is one of my favorite themes, and is very much the thread that unites both the characters and the overall story. While it's impossible, or desirable, to resolve all of the issues in what is by design an origin story, we're given hope that the characters, both human and alien, will find a satisfactory conclusion to their individual stories when all is said and done.

If you're expecting wall-to-wall action or a One Hero Does Everything type of tale (not that there's anything fundamentally wrong with those), go elsewhere. However, if you're looking to meet some interesting people and aliens in space and watch them fight for their lives while also battling their inner demons, this is your kind of story.

Purchase Renegades: Origins on Amazon

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Guest Promotion: Dating the It Guy by Krysten Lindsay Hager

Krysten Lindsay Hager is a fellow author I "met" through Clean Indie Reads Facebook group. While I don't limit myself to reading strictly clean fiction, I think it's important to give readers a variety of choices. Clean fiction, once used limited mostly to Christian publishers, it's beginning to gain traction in the mainstream. There are plenty of great stories out there without excessive violence or explicit sex, and I'm happy to do my small part to help them get read. (Full disclosure: my own novel Chasing Freedom has been accepted for listing on Clean Indie Reads website and will be linked there within the next couple of weeks).

And now, for Krysten's new offering:

Dating the It Guy by Krysten Lindsay Hager
YA contemporary romance
Published by Clean Reads

Emme is a sophomore in high school who starts dating, Brendon Agretti, the popular senior who happens to be a senator's son and well-known for his good looks. Emme feels out of her comfort zone in Brendon's world and it doesn't help that his picture perfect ex, Lauren seems determined to get back into his life along with every other girl who wants to be the future Mrs. Agretti. Emme is already conflicted due to the fact her last boyfriend cheated on her and her whole world is off kilter with her family issues. Life suddenly seems easier keeping Brendon away and relying on her crystals and horoscopes to guide her. Emme soon starts to realize she needs to focus less on the stars and more on her senses. Can Emme get over her insecurities and make her relationship work? Life sure is complicated when you're dating the it guy.

Short Excerpt:
“By the way, did you hear Lauren got into Senator Agretti’s old school?”
“Seriously? I wonder if she applied there because Brendon did,” I said.
Margaux snorted. “Duh, of course. Seriously, she might as well just pee on him to mark her territory.”
“Margaux, shut up,” Kylie said.
“Whatever. Anyway, the important thing is if Brendon knew she was applying there,” Margaux said. “Em, do you think he knew?”
I hoped Lauren was just trying to follow Brendon, but what if they had planned this whole thing while they were dating? What if he convinced her to apply there so they could go to college together, wear matching American flag sweaters with big scarves while drinking hot chocolate, and jump into leaf piles just like a preppy clothing catalog. At least now I didn’t have to worry about them reciting poetry to one another in South Bend, but still, what if they had made plans to go to school together?
“Don’t worry about it,” Kylie said. “She was probably trying to follow him—like she always does. She’s so pathetic.”
Kylie was trying to make me feel better, but Lauren was far from pathetic. After all, she was pretty much the “Most Likely to Succeed” poster girl. While she was out overachieving and saving the world without messing up her perfect, bouncy hair, I was trying to get through each day. I tried to push away the image of Lauren and Brendon holding hands and drinking hot chocolate under a stadium blanket.

Barnes and Noble:

 Follow Krysten

Bio: Besides mining her teen years and humiliating moments for her novels, ​Krysten is a also a book addict who has never met a bookstore she didn’t like. She’s worked as a journalist and writes young adult, middle grade, new adult, and adult fiction as well as humor essays. She is originally from Michigan and has lived in Portugal, South Dakota, and currently resides in southwestern Ohio where you can find her reading and writing when she’s not catching up on her favorite shows (she's addicted to American Dad to the point where she quotes episodes on a daily basis and also loves Girl Meets World). She's also a third generation Detroit Lions fan.
Krysten writes about friendship, self-esteem, fitting in, frenemies, crushes, fame, first loves, and values. She is the author of True Colors, Best Friends...Forever?, Next Door to a Star,  Landry in Like, and Competing with the Star (The Star Series: Book 2). Her debut novel, True Colors, won the Readers Favorite award for best preteen book. Krysten's work has been featured in USA Today, The Flint Journal, the Grand Haven Tribune, the Beavercreek Current, the Bellbrook Times and on Living Dayton.

Praise for Dating the It Guy:
“A sweet, endearing story—you’ll fall in love with Emme just like I did!” --Kimber Leigh Wheaton, YA/NA author

"Hager's authentic characters will resonate with readers of all ages as they are immersed in the story  - complete with teen drama and angst, but also the relationships which make it all worthwhile." --  Leslie L. McKee, book reviewer, Edits and Reviews by Leslie

Friday, March 17, 2017

Netflix Review: Downfall

Downfall is a strangely compelling film. Not only do we know the ending, and the fate of all major characters, before we start, but we also have no heroes to root for, and the villains... well, we really couldn't hate them any more, could we?

And yet, unlike so many yawn-inducing historical dramas, this one holds our rapt attention throughout, and leaves us with much food for thought afterwards. Why is that? Are we still so fascinated with all things Hitler? Do we find satisfaction in seeing evil men and their immediate enablers get their due? Does the girl-next-door character of Traudl Junge provide enough of a different perspective to make us care--something impossible to do with the more important historical figures?

I suppose all of the above are true, but there's more depth to this particular version of the well-known story. The claustrophobic setup, both in the physical location and in the sense of immediate, inevitable doom, allows us to see all the players as we perhaps had not seen them before, at least outside of obscure historical documents.

The elephant in the room, of course, is the claim that Downfall humanizes Hitler. Some would even say he is shown as sympathetic. I admit there are moments where, having been accustomed to think of him as an abstraction, a stand-in for "monster," the viewer is surprised that he is, after all, just a man. He is kind to his employees. He clearly loves Eva. He personally makes sure his dog dies a quick death rather than starve in the ruins of Berlin or be shot by a passerby. It's almost tempting, especially considering his many temper tantrums, the best of which has been turned into a Youtube sensation, to attribute the horrors he inflicted on the world to insanity.

That, however, would be a lie. After all, the movie provides us enough moments of Hitler, perfectly relaxed and coherent, casually dismissing compassion as weakness; refusing to grant mercy to his former associates and German people alike; and counting the destruction of Jews as his crowning achievement. He might be delusional in some ways, particularly in his insistence during the first half of the movie that a military victory is still possible. But he isn't insane. If anything, while most of his underlings (and his lover, for that matter) spend their remaining time drinking themselves into oblivion, Hitler doesn't as much as break his dietary restrictions. His very last meal is vegetarian, and he makes a point to thank the cook after he is finished.

Nor is Hitler alone in this duality. Martha Goebbels is at once a proud mother and a cold-blooded killer. She also is sane, at least by legal definition, choosing loyalty to her lost cause over life itself. In perhaps the best demonstration of the power that evil ideals can have over seemingly normal human beings, she methodically poisons her children in their sleep. If the future is not the way she had envisioned, then it's not worth having. In her mind, it's as simple and logical as that.

Mind you, there are a few sympathetic characters sprinkled in: a father trying to convince his last remaining child to come home from the street fighting; doctors trying to save lives in the midst of carnage; even one of Hitler's close associates risking his life in coming back to Berlin in the last-ditch attempt to convince the boss to give up on the needless destruction. And then, of course, there is our nominal protagonist Traudl Junge, a young secretary who is so clueless of her surroundings that she takes the appearance of the Goebbels children in the bunker as a sign of hope rather than a harbinger of doom. The scene when she finally understands the truth is one of the more heartbreaking moments because we realize just how very innocent she is.

Except... as the older, wiser Traudl reminds us at the conclusion of the story, youth is no excuse, and it wasn't a case of true innocence, but willful ignorance. At the age of twenty-two, this smart, poised woman went to work for one of the most evil men in history and ended up providing a measure of comfort to him in his last days. As sins go, it's a minor one, but it's easy to understand why she spent her life feeling guilty for not choosing a different path.

I think in the end, Traudl is the character who discovers the lesson of the movie, and the reason it's so fascinating to watch. Fantastical creatures, cackling hags and monsters under the bed make for great fiction because storytellers are able to distill evil to its essence. But in real life it's very likely to appear only as a middle-aged man with funny hair who loves his dog and eats his spinach. As the last line of the movie reminds us, it's possible to find out the truth. All we can hope for in our own lives is to see the truth before it's too late.

Highly recommended.

Purchase Downfall on Amazon

Traudl Junge's memoir on Amazon

Thursday, March 2, 2017

CLFA 2017 Book of the Year Voting is now Open!

No obnoxiously over-priced gowns. No celebrities telling you how unworthy you really are. No falling props or envelope malfunctions. Just great books by freedom-loving authors, and you decide who gets the award! My novel Chasing Freedom is among the finalists.

From Conservative-Libertarian Fiction Alliance website:

The nominations are in and counted, and the CLFA is thrilled to present our ten finalists for the CLFA Book of the Year 2017!
Beginning in January 2017, CLFA members have been hard at work, compiling a list of our favorite 2016 releases. We ran several rounds of voting to refine the list to the top ten in the survey. For the final winner, we always open up voting to the public.
Click here and follow the big red button to vote. Good luck to all and may the best book win!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

New Blog Reviews for Chasing Freedom

Yesterday, I was delighted to receive two glowing reviews on my novel.

From Jagi Lamplighter Wright of Superversivesf:

Chasing Freedom is a lovely tale in the tradition of the old distopias–Brave New World, Animal Farm, We. Unlike nearly every other distopia, Chasing Freedom starts in a world that is practically our own and shows the disintegration of a world in the grips of bureaucratic tyranny and the rise of a new resistance full of hope and willing to bear the terrible price...
A chilling yet inspiring tale beautifully told.

From Daniel Humphreys, author of A Place Outside the Wild and Fade:

This is no ‘Red Dawn’ or ‘Equilibrium’. Yes, while the freedom fighters are more than willing to use force and violence to achieve their means, it’s not the preferred method. In a sense, this answers the question, and quite well — how would one put a nation back together again, should it come to arms? 

Read more of the review here. By the way, Mr. Humphreys gets instant cred from yours truly for even knowing what Equilibrium is, let alone referring to it in proper context. Personally, I enjoyed the movie very much, but was always bothered by an abrupt "we won, now what?" kind of ending. It's not uncommon to dystopias, and is definitely something I wanted to avoid in my novel. It sounds like I succeeded, at least in that regard. 

And now, to quote Scott Adams, "Buy my book! It has words!"

Saturday, February 25, 2017

A Day in the Life of Joe (Blue State Edition)

***Cross-posted from***

NOTE: The following is a response to “A Day in the Life of Joe Republican,” meant to demonstrate the usefulness of Progressive policies in everyday life. The original is in italics, and my “re-write” is in bold.

Joe gets up at 6 a.m. and fills his coffeepot with water to prepare his morning coffee.
Joe gets up at 6 a.m. to prepare his morning coffee. Then he remembers that he doesn’t have any real coffee. All the coffee beans are now Free Trade and Organic, so he can’t afford to buy them anymore. He measures out the instant coffee powder into his mug and fills it with water.

The water is clean and good because some tree-hugging liberal fought for minimum water-quality standards.
The water trickles very slowly into the mug because his kitchen is equipped with low-flow faucets, as per the new regulations. After a couple of minutes, the mug is full and he heats the coffee in the microwave.

With his first swallow of coffee, he takes his daily medication. His medications are safe to take because some stupid commie liberal fought to insure their safety and that they work as advertised.
With his first swallow of coffee, he takes his daily medication. It’s not as effective as the one he used to take, but FDA banned the medication that worked for him because it could cause miscarriages. Joe tried to explain to his doctor that he was not in danger of a miscarriage, but there was nothing to be done.

All but $10 of his medications are paid for by his employer's medical plan because some liberal union workers fought their employers for paid medical insurance - now Joe gets it too.
The medication used to only have a $10 co-pay, but now Joe has to pay $50 because the union negotiated the new insurance plan that covers in-vitro fertilization for female employees, and the cost had to be made up by reducing pharmacy coverage.

He prepares his morning breakfast, bacon and eggs. Joe's bacon is safe to eat because some girly-man liberal fought for laws to regulate the meat packing industry.

He prepares his morning breakfast, a bowl of organic oatmeal. He misses his eggs and bacon, but a carton of eggs is $10 at his local supermarket because the eggs came from free range chickens who only eat organic corn. Bacon is illegal in his town because it offends his Muslim neighbors.

In the morning shower, Joe reaches for his shampoo. His bottle is properly labeled with each ingredient and its amount in the total contents because some crybaby liberal fought for his right to know what he was putting on his body and how much it contained.
In the morning shower, Joe reaches for his shampoo. It doesn’t clean his hair very well, but it’s made of bio-degradable vegetable based ingredients that are safe for the local wildlife. He takes care to finish the shower after 2 minutes to comply with the city water restrictions.

Joe dresses, walks outside and takes a deep breath. The air he breathes is clean because some environmentalist wacko liberal fought for laws to stop industries from polluting our air.
Joe dresses, walks outside and takes a deep breath. He coughs from inhaling the car exhaust fumes. His street is now much more crowded with cars because one of the two lanes is reserved for bikes. It’s the middle of winter so no one is riding a bike, but the law still applies.

He walks to the subway station for his government-subsidized ride to work. It saves him considerable money in parking and transportation fees because some fancy-pants liberal fought for affordable public transportation, which gives everyone the opportunity to be a contributor.
He walks to the subway station and sticks the Metro Card into the slot. It’s rejected because the fare just went up again and he needs to re-charge the card more often. Luckily, he has plenty of time because the loudspeaker just said something about a delay, and judging by the crowd on the platform, he may not even get into the next train anyway. Joe had to give up his car last year because the new 35% parking tax at the garage. At least he doesn’t have to worry about gas prices going up. The thought energizes him enough to push his way through the crowd and make it inside the train just before the doors slide shut.

Joe begins his work day. He has a good job with excellent pay, medical benefits, retirement, paid holidays and vacation because some lazy liberal union members fought and died for these working standards. Joe's employer pays these standards because Joe's employer doesn't want his employees to call the union.
Joe begins his work day. He’s an excellent worker, but only received a 2% increase last year because he reached the top of his pay grade and can now only get inflation adjustments. His usual partner has been on paid leave for the last week to take care of a sick pet. The union fought very hard for that concession, and Joe was happy when they won. Now he’s not very happy because he needs to cover the station on with a less experienced employee, but it’s worth it to have the union benefits for everyone.

Joe is home from work… He turns on a radio talk show. The radio host keeps saying that liberals are bad and conservatives are good. He doesn't mention that the beloved Republicans have fought against every protection and benefit Joe enjoys throughout his day.
Joe is home from work. He turns on the evening news. The news anchor keeps saying that conservatives are bad and liberals are good. He doesn’t mention that the beloved Democrats have passed laws and regulations that caused many of the difficulties and sacrifices Joe faces throughout the day.

Joe agrees: "We don't need those big-government liberals ruining our lives! After all, I'm a self-made man who believes everyone should take care of themselves, just like I have."

Joe agrees: “It’s a good thing we don’t have those free-market conservatives in charge! After all, I’m just a regular man who believes the government should make everyone’s lives easier, just like they’ve done for me.”

Friday, February 24, 2017

Heroes. We Keep Using that Word...

Here it comes. My obligatory Milo post. The Internet is full of them. Here are a few of my favorites that I think cover the situation very well. If your first inclination is to run away screaming, you probably need to read at least a a couple before moving on to the rest of the blog.


To start, one of the the more level-headed articles from Dystopic. A good summary of facts, including the actual video. A short piece from John C. Wright is a good companion because it explains more about the mechanics of the editing that was done to the original source. (More from Wright below).

Here are a couple of posts talking about the wider implications, for those who care about the culture war (less level-headed, but on point):

Conservative-Libertarian Fiction Alliance
Brian Neimeier

Still don't care? Sarah Hoyt tells you why you should.

Finally, Moira Greyland Peat offers a unique perspective. A hard one to read because of the subject matter, but necessary.


Assuming you're still here, a few thoughts that have been bouncing around my head for, oh, a few months now.

As much of a political junkie as I am, my other passion is for storytelling, as per the tagline of my blog. During the Presidential election, something started bugging me and has now, with the Milo revelations and the fallout, coalesced into a two-part question:

Why does modern storytelling standard demand the heroes to be flawed?

And if that is the case, should we not be more tolerant of flawed heroes in real life?

The answer to the first is many-fold:

Flawed heroes are generally more interesting, in part because they're more likely to fail and thus provide us with more suspense.

Since we the readers are also flawed, and since we have been conditioned to seek out fictional heroes who are "more like us," most of us have developed this preference.

A redemption-based story arc, that by definition demands a flawed protagonist, is one of the most enduring, and shows no sign of falling out of fashion.

On a more disturbing side, both Hollywood and traditional book/comic publishing have become enamored with undercutting the traditional hero archetype, bringing us anything from Superman the Deadbeat Dad to the "terrible people doing terrible things" story lines, of which The Game of Thrones is perhaps the most successful.

The second question is more puzzling.

If our artistic preferences indicate that we have internalized the fact that no perfect heroes exist, and art is supposed to represent the Truth, why are we so blind to it in real life?

For that matter, why are we so quick to make heroes out of athletes and celebrities, but overlook those who are actually working, and taking risks, to make a difference?

I think the rather tragic truth is that we're desperate for true heroes. But we have been told over and over they don't exist. So in one of those cruel ironies beloved by storytellers, we eagerly fill the void with remote and glamorous celebrities, while gleefully tearing down those among us who might be admirable but are proven on close inspection to be imperfect. It confirms our pre-conceived notions. We tell ourselves there wasn't much worth appreciating in the first place, and we go on our no-so-merry way on the road that leads, not to finding better ideas and people to admire, but to the dead end of nihilism.

To be sure, real heroes are not immediately obvious. Sometimes it takes years, even generations, to see the full extent of a person's sacrifice and achievement, if that ever happens at all. But what I ask is, when you do see a spark of the heroic, even when it's wrapped inside a less than stellar package, do take time to notice and appreciate it, even if only for a while. Disappointment is always a risk, in fact almost an inevitability. Yet the alternative of retreating into a permanent state of cynical dismissal, of accepting that the days of heroes are forever behind us, is not one worth contemplating.


And now as promised, more from John C. Wright. The quote below had me giggling throughout the day, but it's not a happy laughter. There are some people who need to read this one and realize that this is exactly how they come across. It isn't pretty.

Is he [Milo] a shameful and terrible spokesman for our beautiful Church? Yes, indeed, I fear he is. When I get to heaven, I will certainly chide Saint Mary Magdalene the whore and St. Matthew the tax-gathering collaborator, wag my finger under their noses, and demand to know why persons of doubtful morals speak up for Christ, embarrassing the righteous and the just.

Read the whole thing here.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Culture War and the Cost of Silence: a Sequel.

Only a couple of days after a blog post regarding the choices we on the Right have to make about speaking up in a potentially hostile environment, I came across this article in New York Post.

At first glance, the story of Chadwick Moore, a gay journalist who saw his life fall apart as a result of, essentially, doing his job too well, is tragic. Losing friends over politics is hard enough, as many on both sides of the left/right divide had discovered over the last several months. How much harder must it be for someone whose social circle is already limited? In this case the circle in question is the gay community in New York City, but the particulars are almost irrelevant.

In this day and age, politics invades every part of life. As the saying goes, you may not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in you, and boy oh boy, is it ever. Whether you're a gay man who just wants to grab some drinks with a friend, a geek author looking forward to attending a con, or a suburban mother trying to have fun on a Girls' Night Out -- the danger of being condemned and shunned for a single show of non-conformity seems to lurk around every corner.

But wait, you might ask, doesn't the article, and many similar, less newsworthy examples, argue precisely for the silence, not against it? After all, who wants to suffer such terrible fate?

Ah, but if you read to the end of the story, you will discover that it has as much of a happy ending as one might expect outside of a feel-good Hollywood movie. I know, those are hard to find nowadays, but stick with me here. Having been forcibly ejected from his comfortable bubble of "friends" who liked only their perception of him, not who he really was, Mr. Chadwick had to look beyond. He opened up to new ideas (Ann Coulter, of all people?), re-connected with his Iowa farmer father, and even, in defiance of a strange post-election phenomenon among Leftists, started dating again. A Republican construction worker. No matter what your views are on homosexuality, this has to make you smile, just a little.

And so, to expand on my prior comments about the cost of silence, there is one that I overlooked. The biggest cost, when it comes down to it, is ignorance. My husband, upon reading the story, compared Mr. Chadwick's experience to that of someone taking the red pill in The Matrix. Believe it or not, unlike myself or other politically inclined Internet dwellers, he had never heard of "re-pilling" being a popular expression in certain circles. It truly just came to him as the best analogy, and he is, of course, correct.

To be clear, I don't encourage anyone to endanger their livelihood. Heck, nowadays even physical safety is not a given, what with the Soros thug brigades prowling the streets looking for "Nazis" to assault. But IF you can, WHEN you can, it might be a good idea to find out which parts of your life are solid, which of your friends are real, and what else could possibly be out there. Otherwise, you're just stuck in an artificial world, vaguely wondering why you can't sleep at night and everything seems to taste like chicken.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

CLFA Booknado: New, Free and Cheap Books from the Good Guys!

Another month, another great list of New Releases, Freebies and Sales from members Conservative-Libertarian Fiction Alliance: just in time for Valentine's Day. Surprise your special someone with a gift of reading, and grab one for yourself as well!

Amazon purchase links can be found on the CLFA Website.

New Releases

Live and Let Bite (Love at First Bite Book 3) by Declan Finn
The third book in the Dragon Award nominated “Love at First Bite” series.

The Undercover Captain (Captain Nancy Martin Book 2) by Henry Vogel
It will take every bit of skill Nancy and Erica have to track down the evil genius behind the disappearances. Defeating them will be a different matter entirely.

Letters from Aztlan by John L. Wolf
In a dystopian, post-meltdown United States, a cynical, aging gunfighter receives a letter from an old friend in desperate need of help. He must fight his way across cartel occupied territory to find her.

Sales and Freebies:

The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin by L. Jagi Lamplighter
Fringe meets Narnia at Hogwarts. **99 Cents**

The Raven, the Elf, and Rachel (A Book of Unexpected Enlightenment 2) by L. Jagi Lamplighter
Rachel Griffin returns for more rousing adventure and humor! **99 Cents**

Tears of Paradox (Storms of Transformation Book 1) by Daniella Bova
America has fallen to a Marxist bureaucracy, and the parents of an unborn child go underground to keep their baby’s existence a secret. **FREE**

A Place Outside the Wild (Z-Day Book 1) by Daniel Humphreys
Eight years after Z-Day, the surviving remnants of mankind face the unknown. The scars of the long war run deep. And hope is a dangerous thing when the real enemy might just be the survivors themselves. **99 Cents**

Bulletproof Vestments (Father Jay Book 1) by Jane Lebak
A former gang member has tracked down the man who ratted out his brother 10 years ago. It’s time for some good old-fashioned revenge, except the man in question is disabled. And he’s a priest. And no one’s going to let him go down without a fight. **FREE**
Happy Reading!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Superversive Chat: Love Is In the Air

For those who missed today's live chat, the replay is below. Romance is a part of life, so naturally it plays a large part in fiction of all genres. Whether you're a writer, a reader, or just someone interested in cultural trends, this chat has something to offer. Among the topics: how cultural/political changes affected the way romance is portrayed in fiction; thoughts on writing male and female characters; including romantic subplots in non-romantic stories; rise of fan fiction and "slash" fiction and many others. In addition, participating authors discuss their own works as they relate to the topic of romance.

Thanks to Jasyn Jones (a.k.a. Daddy Warpig) for hosting the chat and L. Jagi Lamplighter Wright for moderating.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Culture War and the Cost of Silence

Jon Del Arroz is an online friend, a science fiction author, and as of very recently, a conservative culture warrior. His story is interesting in part because it's so very common. Many conservatives spends years, even decades, trying to fit in, form relationships and build professional reputation in a Leftist-dominated environment by keeping a low profile about their beliefs. Sometimes, they do it out of politeness, and sometimes out of fear of confrontation and retribution; often it's a combination of the two. There are, after all, valid reasons not to antagonize friends and co-workers, not to jeopardize valuable contacts and relationships over something as seemingly ephemeral as political philosophy. For most interactions, from dating to interviewing for a job to attending social events, we are advised to keep our politics private, especially if we suspect our views are in the minority.

And so we stay silent. Oh sure, we vent in private to our very close friends or significant others (unless of course we followed the advice above so well, that even those closest to us are not aware of what we really think). Sometimes we even make up anonymous accounts on social media or join secret chat rooms where we can be ourselves. But as far as the rest of the world is concerned, we are "the good guys": mainstream, respectable, open-minded. It's all good.

Except silence comes at a cost. As I mentioned in my old Censorship blog post, there's always the nagging doubt of "what if." How would things be different if we hadn't stayed silent? What new friends could we gain? What battles, presumed lost before the fight had even began, could we win? How many people out there are just like us, living in silence, thinking they're all alone? Unless we speak up, all we will ever do is guess and wonder, and watch little pieces of who we are flit away as we pretend that conformity is our only choice.

Fortunately, there are some in our midst no longer willing to bear the subtle but very real cost of being muzzled. And every time one of them comes out into the light, countless others are encouraged to do the same. This is the only way we can prevail, but prevail we will.

And now, without further delay, here's Jon's story. It's not fiction, but a good read nevertheless: disturbing yet inspiring, and worth sharing with a friend.

The Science Fiction and Fantasy writing and convention scene is one of the worst SJW converged subcultures. While Hollywood promotes extreme perversion and hedonism, they don’t push nearly as hard as SF/F literary groups when it comes to the intellectual aspects of identity politics. My name is Jon Del Arroz, I write Science Fiction, and this is my story.

Read the rest of the post at Vox Popoli.

To support Jon, you can purchase his book here.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Book Promotion: Freedom's Light Anthology

The following is not quite a book review because this anthology from CLFA authors and friends includes my story. However, since there are many other stories alongside mine, and since this is a charity anthology to benefit the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), I decided that it would be appropriate to share my thoughts on my own blog. The stories are reviewed in the order they appear.

1. The Tenth Righteous Man by Nitay Arbel. If you think this story has basis in the real world, you would be right, but you have to read and find out the specific source of reference for yourself. First-person narration is used for great effect here, and the ending, plus the final reveal, surprised me. If I have any criticisms, the style seems a bit dry considering how emotionally charged the story actually is. Very different, and a great start for a freedom-themed collection.

2. Martian Sunrise by Matthew Souders. In spite of the otherworldly setting, this is probably the most literary entry. It's also the least political, and is more about facing one's demons and the fact that sometimes the worst prison of all is the one we create for ourselves. Lovely and touching without crossing into the maudlin territory, which it easily could have done.

3. Backwater by Lori Janeski. A solid demonstration of the oft-repeated truth: "You might not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in you." It's set on a colony planet where most of the residents think themselves safe from government overreach, and find out the hard way it's not the case. The story is a setup for another work, so the ending is intentionally incomplete, which might bother some readers more than others.

4. The Birthday Party by Daniella Bova. Unlike the many dystopian entries in this collection, Ms. Bova's story takes us back to the past (some of the incidents are in fact connected to the author's family history). It makes us appreciate how far we've come as a country, both in terms of civil rights and just general tolerance towards those different and less fortunate. As we continuously strive to promote freedom and preserve out rights, it helps once in a while to step back and appreciate the progress we've made.

5. Dollars on the Nightstand by Bokerah Brumley. Although set firmly in the real world, this story is similar in its message to Ms. Janeski's Backwater. The government, left unchecked, will eventually overreach and make criminals out of citizens who just want to be left alone. The "crime" revealed at the end is, in fact, already a crime in some parts of the country, so even though the premise seems ridiculous, we're only a step away from it being true.

6. The City by A.G. Wallace. Here we get firmly into the dystopian territory, although the society presented seems entirely benign. This is very reminiscent of The Giver and the Matched trilogy, where all seems well until one finds out the cost of keeping up the apparent utopia. I appreciate the fact that the author acknowledges that a society of this type will need an escape valve to deal with those who don't wish to comply, without resorting to mass murder. The ending is abrupt, but in a way that makes one want to know more rather than leaving the reader frustrated.

7. Nomod by Henry Vogel. Another not-quite-dystopia showing the logical conclusion to the dreams of a perfect society achieved through bio-engineering. Although predictable, it's a fun read and not at all dark. Honestly, I would have preferred  it in the form of a full novel or at least a novella, to allow for events at the end to actually unfold before our eyes rather than be described.

8. Sara by Chris Donahue. I think I now understand why some authors write in shared worlds. The setup described is pretty much next door to the world of my novella The Product, although there are differences. The reveal happens early on, which allows the author to really get into the details of what drives those who choose to defy the society's norms, and how they manage to stay safe from the all-powerful government. I won't discuss the ending, except that I absolutely loved it.

9. Room to Breathe! This story is set in the world of my novel Chasing Freedom. For those who enjoyed the novel, but want to see a little more of the world, this is a backstory for one of the side protagonists. It is entirely self-contained and is meant as a tribute to free artistic expression in an oppressive environment.

10. Victory Garden by Tom Rogneby. A very low-key dystopia that shows the world ruled, essentially, by an HOA on steroids. Neighbor spies on neighbor and corruption abounds (which is why it all seems so low-key: pay off the right people and you'll be fine).  The ending surprised me by bringing in some new elements that hint at more possible stories in this world. Or at the very lease it points to potential start of serious resistance. It's a good balance of closure and leaving the reader wanting more.

11. The Unsent Letter by Brad Torgersen. A military fiction story that surprisingly has no military action. It focuses more on the military as an eternal brotherhood of people dedicated to a worthy cause. A worthy inclusion in a freedom-themed collection that reminds us of those who protect our freedoms on a daily basis, often at a terrible cost.

12. Credo Man by Carol Kean. A true genre bender that starts as a small town family drama, turns into a whodunit mystery, and adds a sci-fi plot twist seemingly out of nowhere. Does it work? I think so, but you have to accept the quirky turns and just go with it. The author's German heritage adds authenticity to the sometimes over-the-top tale.

And speaking of quirky...

13. The Fighting Beagles and the Attack at Dawn by Nick Cole. This has all the makings of satire, with all the ridiculous character names and fictional battlegrounds. In the end, though, it leaves you with a very earnest appreciation of both the absurdity of war and, more interestingly, of true old-fashioned manhood. At least that's what I got out of it; it's quite possible If the author meant something entirely different. In any case, it's a wild ride of a tale.

14. Shirt Story by Arlan Andrews. With all the talk of the New Civil War and the irreparable ideological split in this country, this story is perhaps the most timely of all as it shows a potential logical conclusion if we continue on this path. It's disturbing in a way different from most dystopias because the concept seems ridiculous, yet at the same time we're THIS close to already living it even without the technological aids envisioned by the author. I think it attempts to be satirical, but for me cuts to close to the truth to be funny. Be that as it may, the story is well done.

15. Polk's Prophetic Property by W.J. Hayes. Probably the strangest story of 'em all. A businessman works to convince Cthulhu (yep, you read it right) to leave his land alone and go wreak havoc elsewhere by quoting from the American founding documents. 'Nuff said.

Obviously, as a CLFA co-founder and one of the contributors, I am biased, but hopefully this extended review will give you more of an idea of what you find within this volume. It truly does have something for everyone, and I hope you find it an enjoyable read.

Purchase Freedom's Light on Amazon

Link to the FIRE website

Link to the CLFA website

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Guest Post by Amie Gibbons: A Novel Is a Seduction

When I was finishing up my Accounting degree, there was a rumor of a CPA prep course where the instructor helped the students understand and/or memorize crucial sections of the material by using analogies to sex. Aah, those were the days... Anyway, I couldn't afford the class and decided not to take the CPA exam, but I always wondered about the technique. Now I see it can be done, at least when it comes to writing. (Sorry, CPA hopefuls, you're still on your own!)

And now, for the main event:


A Novel Is A Seduction

Here’s what I’ve noticed while trying to write out my climax.  (Younger readers, some of this is dirty and probably crosses the line into Not Suitable For Minors.  Under 18?  Don’t read this.) Writer over 18?  Read this.  Male over 18 at any level of experience?  Definitely read this   I got this idea mostly because of the word climax, a novel is like seducing your reader and having a romp of (hopefully) good sex.

No really, think about it.  It’s dirty but that word climax is not a coincidence.  Now, I’m going to be describing this in terms of seducing “her” because in my mind, the man is the seducer.  I’m sorry if this offends anyone’s modern sensibilities but I’m the girl who likes to be seduced and you really can’t take all the ol’ fashioned Utah out of the girl.

First up, you get the reader’s attention.  Either you look damn good and they pick you up off the shelf and turn you over to read your back, or you go up to them (advertising) and make them want to talk to you without going too overboard and annoying them.  This is the fine art of the approach and no one has it down pat.  Usually you take the shotgun approach, get attention and smile at the entire room in the hopes that one out of a hundred likes your type.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Speculative Fiction Cantina: Writing, Dystopia and Making Friends

On January 6, I had appeared once again on a Speculative Fiction Cantina podcast with host S. Evan Townsend. Evan was nice enough to book my friend and fellow dystopian writer Daniella Bova for the same show. This resulted in a very productive discussion since we're both indie writers specializing in a dystopian genre. We talk writing (of course!), the difficulty of crafting a dystopia in a world that unfortunately keeps outpacing some of our imaginary setups, and being a conservative pro-freedom author in an environment still dominated by the left. Dramatic readings from our works are included!

You can listen to the archived podcast here.

The interview included various mentions and shout-outs, which I will link below for the curious:

Goodreads Small Government Book Fan Club
Conservative-Libertarian Fiction Alliance on Facebook group and website
Superversive Press website/blog

Foundation for Individual Right in Education (FIRE)

And last but not least, book links:

My Amazon Author Page

Daniella's Storms of Transformation Trilogy on Amazon

Freedom's Light Anthology

Many thanks to Evan for having me over and for Daniella for agreeing to appear with me to make the show even more fun!

Monday, January 2, 2017

2016: Year In Review

To (badly) translate a line of Russian poetry, the longer we live the shorter the years. It seems only yesterday everyone in my social circle was toasting the end of the horribleness that was 2015. And here I was, all of last week, wading through post after post about 2016 being The Worst Year Ever. The proper response, even from those of us willing for the moment to ignore history, is not to tempt fate, for the same reason that it's a bad idea to ask "What's the worst that can happen?" (Answer: "Let's not find out.") My general attitude towards New Year celebrations is the same as towards birthdays: "Yay! I made it another year. Cool." No more, no less.

Not that there is anything wrong with acknowledging milestones, or with using a specific date, whatever it happens to be, as an excuse to look back, re-assess, and make decisions for the future. And so it is in that spirit that I offer my version of 2016: Year in Review.

Personal News:

I would say my oldest getting into the college of his choice was probably the biggest even in my life. Sending him off to live on his own was much harder than I thought, and although he has come to visit since, and might move closer to home after graduation the separation is irreversible. He is now his own man, making his own choices on a day to day basis. No matter how connected we are, how accepting he is (so far) of our advice, or how ready we are to step in and help should he need us, the relationship has changed. It's a good thing, and a necessary process, but it's also on the scary side, at least for me as a parent. The young tend to be fearless, and that's also how it should be.

Creative News:

2016 has been an amazing year for me in that respect. In January, I published my first novel, Chasing Freedom, which was nominated for a Dragon Award in the summer. I didn't win, but the thought of having enough fans to even have my name mentioned among some many wonderfully talented authors was a mind-blowing experience.

Sometime over the summer, I also had the privilege to get connected with the fine folks at SuperversiveSF and to have my novella The Product picked up by their newly created publishing division (Superversive Press). It was a very different experience from doing it alone, and I learned a lot from going through the process. I also got to work with a professional editor, who not only helped make my story better, but also gave me some pointers on writing that I am using even now while working on completely new material.