Thursday, September 11, 2014

Always remember…

That’s the other part of “Never forget,” the American mantra on 9/11. That’s the part that a lot of people overlook. Yes, we should never forget the injustice done to us as a nation; never forget those who died needlessly in a cowardly attack (and if you think it wasn’t cowardly, you can go fuck yourself); never forget those who gave their lives to help those in need. There are many things that we should never forget.

Personally, I like also to always remember some things. Always remember how America came together as a nation, if for just a brief moment, and put aside our differences in the face of a cold enemy from beyond. Always remember the Muslim-Americans who came forward in spite of raw suspicion and ignorant hatred born of blind rage, and helped their fellow Americans. Always remember that, if you had family who survived that day, you were given a gift that so many were denied.

There are some who would like to forget that tragedy happened. Would like to forget the death, the sadness, the anger, and especially the aftermath. They would rather pull the blanket over their head and pretend the monsters aren’t there. Well, they are. And those monsters outside did more damage than a few planes could by revealing the monsters hidden in our own back yard.

Politicians who seized on the fears of the everyman to put into effect legislation that hurt us as a nation. Cabinet advisers who pressured an overwhelmed president into decisions he should not have made, for reasons no one can truly know. Not to mention hatemonger groups who were given a new face to hate, and a new tool on their belt to help them try to distort the truth, and mold America into their own, twisted version of reality.

We are still feeling the aftershocks of that day. America’s trust in the world was diminished. And in turn, the world’s trust in America was diminished. But it’s not over. At the risk of sounding like a Reagan-era Cliché, we’re Americans. We don’t lay down. We aren’t defeated. We will never give up the fight, even though the nature of the fight and the face of the enemy may change.

We will never forget, and we will always remember.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Movie re-watches

I am a self-proclaimed “movie guy.” My wife is passionate about music, and I am the same way about movies. I like to see new ones whenever I can, but generally I am relegated to re-watching older ones. And now it has become a tradition to re-watch certain movies on a regular basis. Below is a short list of movies that I make it a point to watch once every few months.

(Note: long-time readers may recognize two things. First, that I have discussed many of these before, and second, that most of these come from a specific period in my life.)

Conan the Barbarian (1982)
No matter how much time passes, this film will probably always be in my top 5 movies of all time. When I was in high school, I was gifted with a hand-me-down TV and VCR from my parents, and while wiling away hours in my room doing fuck-all, this was one of two movies that was most likely to be playing in the background (the other was The Empire Strikes Back). The film catches a lot of flak from Robert E. Howard purists, and for good reasons. But, it is arguably one of the best sword & sorcery films ever made, with the greatest soundtrack in history, IMHO.

The Wild Geese (1978)
This is gritty mercenary action at its best. With a stellar cast, a fantastic story, and some really memorable acting, this is the movie I immediately think of when I hear the word “mercenary” (followed closely by The Expendables). This film was largely responsible for my interest in military action, and lead directly to me starting to read Mack Bolan books. I would say it probably even influenced my decision to become a paratrooper myself. Although my favorite war movie is A Bridge Too Far, it takes some real stamina to watch. The Wild Geese gets more viewings, simply because it is so straight-forward and fun.

The Dark Crystal (1981)
I can still remember seeing this one in the theater. I was mesmerized by the visuals, haunted by the overtones, and I felt like I was on that emotionally turbulent ride right along with the Gelflings. Lord Chamberlain scared me, but I also felt pity for him. Fizgig made me laugh, and Ogra made me smile. Even though there were no human actors featured in this film, the voice-acting and characters were so wonderfully done. Honestly, this movie should be used to teach film classes. It’s damn-near perfect. And I still enjoy the hell out of it to this day.

Lone Wolf McQuade (1983)
Everyone knows that Chuck Norris is legend. As the indestructible Karate Cop/Soldier of the 70’s and 80’s, he has made a lot of movies that, while the overall quality may have been hit or miss, he still kicked ass in every one of them. This one is my favorite of his, and I can’t really say why. It’s got a great story, some superb supporting cast members (including a young Robert Beltran, aka Chakotay), and some of the best, gritty action scenes. But, the one element that stands out the most is the fact that Chuck kicks David Carradine’s ass. I have never liked Carradine. He was a mediocre actor with questionable fighting skills, and I really never understood how he became as popular as he did. Personally I always viewed this movie as Chuck getting some on-screen revenge on behalf of Stallone for his having to suffer the indignity of being beat up by Carradine in Death Race 2000.

Rocky III (1982)
Speaking of Sly, what list of mine would be complete without at least one entry of his? I am a huge fan of all of the Rocky films (even V, which Sly himself doesn’t like). I remember my first exposure was seeing Rocky on my grandparents’ 13” b&w TV. I only saw bits of it (mainly the scene in the ice rink), but I thought the character was pretty cool. Then I saw Rocky III in the theater by myself (first time I ever got to do that) and I was hooked! Been an unabashed fan of the character, and of Stallone himself ever since. When I first moved to Wisconsin, I discovered that my wife (to be at the time) had never seen any but the first one. So, we binge-watched all five over the course of a few days, and now she regularly suggests we need to do that again (along with all of the Rambo films).

The Hobbit (1977)
This film was a very important piece of my childhood. The story itself is one of my all-time favorites (I like it better than LotR), and this presentation is like a Reader’s Digest version. The visuals are very cool for the time, and carry a certain charm unlike anything else. The voice-acting is great, and whenever I read anything by Tolkien, I hear John Huston’s voice. Smaug was the standard by which all dragons would be judged for years to come. Bard the Guardsman was my primary inspiration during my first forays into playing D&D. And the music! Magical to me. I even downloaded a program that allows you to strip the sound files from YouTube videos, just so I could have the soundtrack on my iPod. My kids even like this one, and Connor sat in my lap and watched most of it with me one time when he was barely 4 years old.

Honorable Mentions – I don’t watch these with quite as much regularity, but I do still put them in on occasion.

Enter the Dragon (1974) – Bruce Lee at the top of his game.
The Last Dragon (1984) – Corny, campy, and oh so damn much fun!
The Empire Strikes Back (1981) – The best Star Wars movie ever made.
First Blood (1982) – The godfather of the modern “lone hero” action movie.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) – Still my favorite Star Trek movie.
DC Cab (1981) – First movie I ever memorized from beginning to end. Hilarious!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Once more unto the breach!

School begins today. Already posted my introductory post, and will need to respond to two more of those this week in order to get full credit for the week. The class only has two books required. An art history book, and The Prince by Machiavelli. I’m hoping to find both at Half-Priced books this week. Read over the syllabus and it looks to be a somewhat busy class. Two 1500+ word papers, and two 2000+ word papers, plus the weekly discussions. Not too bad, actually. I should be ok.

And with the beginning of school comes the inevitable slowing of my leisure reading, not to mention my already undisciplined writing schedule. Over the course of the summer I managed to read three novels (after a few false starts), and a graphic novel. The graphic novel was a Punisher volume collecting the first five issues of his first unlimited series in 1986, in a story arc entitled “Circle of Blood.” It was pretty good. Sort of a reboot from previous mini-series and guest shots in other comics. It begins with Frank in prison, and it just gets wild from there. The art was pretty good, with a strong Buscema influence on the breakdowns (always a good thing). And the writing was pretty stable and interesting.

I checked that out from the library, and at the same time I got a Thor collection entitled “If Asgard Should Perish” collecting Thor #242-253. This has long been on my Amazon wish list, as it is drawn by John Buscema (with a cool Jack Kirby cover image). I doubt I will buy it now, but I’m glad to be able to read it.

I had started using my Kindle a bit more lately, so I decided to just read from that instead of paperbacks for a while. I had started David Drake’s Redliners, as noted before, but I suddenly had a hankering for something a bit more fantastical. So, I queued up Wings Over Talera, book 2 of the Taleran Cycle by frequent commenter, Charles Gramlich. I had enjoyed the first book immensely, and now with a fourth book coming in the future, I figured I should read these up. Just a few chapters in, and Charles already has me. Highly recommended stuff!

On writing, I’m still plugging away at a few different projects. I mentally switched gears to my “Orcspendables” book (Orc mercenaries in space!) last week, and I am re-working the outline a bit to make the story a bit more interesting and logical. I realized in going through it that I had my protagonists just being lead through the story. So, I am re-writing parts of it to make them more pro-active. I’m also looking at it with an eye towards making it a series. For a model, I am looking at the Mack Bolan books that have been in constant production since 1968. There is a market for books like this. It may not be very large, but it’s definitely there.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Summer is almost over

Fun read!
Ok, not the season, but the break from school is. Especially for me. It’s been nice, since this is the first break of more than a week I have had from school since I started my Master’s program. The downside is, because of the break, my school has not reported to Sallie Mae that I am enrolled in the next term, so they are already harassing me about making student loan payments. Uh, no? Blood from a turnip and all that.

Anyways, I start back up a week from Monday, with my final History class (Renaissance and Reformation). Also, if my transfer credits come through from my single semester at Capella, this will actually be my last full class. After that it’s the comprehensive exam and that’s (hopefully) it!

I’ve also looked into what I’m doing after that. One of the local college campuses has a WI Teacher Certification program that is only 18 months long. I’ve started the paperwork for that, just in case that’s the direction I decide to go. Part of that process will probably be to see if I can shadow a local History teacher or two, just to get an idea of whether being a high school teacher is a good fit. I’ll try to do that a few days this coming fall.

My next read.
The biggest plus to this summer has been that I have gotten to read a lot more. After a few false starts with books that didn’t “grab” me, I managed to finish a few paperbacks in the last couple of months (that’s pretty good for my pace). Just yesterday I finished Another Fine Myth by Robert Aspirin. I had picked up the entire series for a pittance a while back, and decided I could go for some lite-hearted fantasy. It delivered in spades. Very fun and quick. Today I started Redliners by David Drake, which has been languishing on my Kindle for several months.

I’ve also determined that I am going to start taking in more historical non-fiction in my leisure reading time. Going to compile a list of “essential” works that I need to read, and just start digging in. If you have any suggestions, I’m all ears. I’m mostly focusing on ancient cultures. But I would like to read more about American history as well. For now I will probably start with A History of the Vikings, by T.D. Kendrick. Mainly because I already own a copy. It was a good source for my research on the Varangian Guard.

On the writing front, a bit of movement here and there. I have a sci-fi story I’m shopping around. I have the Gorus story about ¾ done. And I was picking at the orc mercenary book yesterday. I figure I’ll be ready to be a “professional” writer in about 10 years or so.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Conditioned

I think I’m too conditioned to be Eurocentric in my reading tastes. I’m reading the first Horseclans book, and while I am enjoying it, I have to admit that the Hispanic vernacular, names, titles, and everything kind of throws me off a bit. It almost feels like Adams took a basic Medieval European-style world, and threw a 19th century Mexico skin over it. All of the names and titles bring images of Zorro into my head. It’s taking some getting used too.

In the meantime, I picked up a recently acquired copy of Thongor and the Wizard of Lemuria the other day, and casually started reading it. Before I knew it, I was hooked into it, and it has become my primary reading now. I had never read any Thongor before, but in my quest to get at least a little experience with all of the “Clonans” of the 60’s and 70’s, I decided I need to give it a go. Pretty cool so far. Lin Carter wasn’t an extraordinary writer, nor was he all that original, but he did weave a fun yarn.

On a side note, I have the edition pictured above. Obviously the cover artist was working from a basic description, because the “flying boat” in the scene depicted isn’t supposed to look anything like a spacecraft, the way that one does. I saw it more like the flying ships in the Barsoom novels. Basically, a flying boat, but with a sail.

Anyways, with the long weekend (I took Monday off too), I hope to have some reading time. Maybe even some writing time, though I’m not holding my breath.

Speaking of writing, struggle as I might, I don’t think I am going to be able to get that Gorus story up to 17k+ like I’d hoped. The story is just too simple, and would require way more fluff than I’m comfortable with at this point. The downside is that, as it stands now, it will probably still be about 12-13k once completed. That’s too short for a novella, but too long for most short story markets. So, the plan is back to finishing this one, and then write another story of similar length, with a bridge story in between, thus creating a (short) novel-length narrative.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Not my world…

…I just write in it.

An idea occurred to me this morning. Would I want to live in the worlds that I write about? Let me explain.

We all know that Facebook (and other social media) have become hotbeds of socio-political discourse, debate, and downright argument. Generally, I try to avoid those subjects, as I have a wide variety of friends, from all over the spectrum, and I don’t generally like to antagonize them (except at the gaming table, but that’s a whole different issue). That being said, occasionally there comes a subject that I feel strongly enough about that I want to say something. Most recently, it is this whole “open carry” issue.

Without going into detail about my views on the 2nd Amendment in general, I can honestly say that this idea of openly carrying assault rifles and shotguns in public frightens me. It feels like a social step backwards. We’re not living in the Old West. We’re not just a bunch of fledgling colonies trying to shrug off the yoke of an oppressive regime (though I often hear arguments to the contrary). This is the 21st century. I don’t feel we need these guns in the hands of just anyone, and brazenly in the open.

But, some of the worlds I read in and write in contradict this. My favorite fictions are bloody, violent, and rife with guns and swords dealing wanton death and mayhem. I enjoy the stories and the settings in a vicarious way. But would I want to actually live there? Hell no! While I consider myself a somewhat courageous person, who would fight to defend those who are important to me, I don’t think I could stand living in the state of mind required to constantly be vigilant against that kind of threat.

I like to imagine that, if my family were killed by the mafia, I would take up arms and wage a guerrilla war against them. Or that, if my kingdom were beset by a horde of orcs, directed by an ancient and evil sorcerer, I would draw steel and stand against the tide. But, in truth, I am very happy that I don’t live in a world where either is probable (or even possible, in the case of the latter). Dying for a noble cause is still dying. And I’d rather live, thankyouverymuch.

The bottom line, for me, is that there is a line between fantasy and reality that is being crossed. Rather than prepare for an imagined world of “What if..?” I’d rather try to solve the problems that plague the real world. I’ll leave the dystopian fantasy to movies and novels.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Updates and Whatnots

I finished The Silver Crown the other day. What a fun book! Really captured the setting well, without a lot of pretension and verbosity. If’n ya know what I mean. I started reading another Werewolf book I have, When Will You Rage?. It’s an anthology of short stories, so I thought it would be cool to just digest the World of Darkness in smaller pieces. However, this morning I changed my mind and perused my bookshelf for something new and different.

What I settled on was The Coming of the Horseclans by Robert Adams. It’s the first book in the Horseclans series, and I’ve heard good things about it. Good, old-fashioned post-apocalyptic swords (& sorcery?) adventure. Sounds perfect! But, with my track record of starting and not finishing novels, we’ll see how it goes.

Been wanting to work on a couple of writing projects this summer, but things have been chaotic in my head, and I can’t seem to focus on anything for very long. So, instead I have been working on smaller projects, like RPG material, and some ideas for short stories. I’m pretty sure that’s where my niche is always going to be. The longer forms of literature just intimidate me to the point of creative paralysis.

Also had a bit of wake-up call yesterday. Got an email from Sallie Mae about my student loans. Basically it was an update on my loan balance and my projected payments. Yeah. I’m definitely going to be looking for higher paying jobs. In fact, after some financial upheavals this week, I already have. Which conflicts me. I like where I work, and who I work for, if not what I do. But, it simply isn’t enough to support my family these days. Submitted a couple of applications yesterday, and am looking at what I will need to do to get into the education field.

I know a lot of people say education is not a good field to be in if you are looking at making a decent wage. However, the people who say that obviously have very different standards than I do. Right now, we do ok. And the average starting salary for most teachers in this areas is already about 25% more than what I make. So, it’s all relative. My only real concern is whether I have the temperament to be a teacher. Or if I have the confidence to stand in front of a group of students every day and try to sound like I know what I am talking about. I’m looking into ways to test that before taking the plunge into certification.

In other news, finally got to have a date night with the wife last weekend. We had a nice dinner out, and then saw X-Men: Days of Future Past. Honestly, I think it’s the best X-Movie to date. I mean, I’ve liked them all to greater or lesser extent. But this one really pulled a lot of things together, into a very cool story. Was it predictable? Of course. Were there plot holes? I dunno. I seem to never be able to spot those on first viewings, so I don’t care. But, like a good comic book movie, it was made for the fans, not the critics. And in that, I think it did pretty well. And Hugh Jackman should just change his name to Huge Jacked-man. Cuz, holy crap!

Oh, and if you haven’t seen it, but plan to, make sure to stay for the after-credits scene. If you are a fan of the X-Men comics, you will geek out. If you aren’t up to speed on X-Lore, you will most likely be at least intrigued.