Shady Rays – PRODUCT REVIEW FOLLOWUP

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Back in December I left a review of the Shady Rays sunglasses I’d just picked up. I also promised a follow-up on that review. Six months have passed since then, making it time to fulfill my promise.

Miraculously, six months later I still have both pair of sunglasses. Part if this is luck. I haven’t lost either pair yet. My spare pair is momentarily misplaced, but it’s somewhere in the house. I haven’t needed them in a few months, so I haven’t looked for them. I set them aside when I first bought them, but I had to use them when I left my primary pair at work one day. They never made it back to their designated set-aside location. When I need them, though, I feel confident that I’ll find them.

A nice bonus, however, is that neither pair has broken in the past six months. That’s hardly a record for my sunglasses, but by my standards it’s a good run. My experience over the past few months also confirms my initial impression: Shady Rays built a sturdy product. I don’t know how they hold up to expensive sunglasses like Ray-Bans, but their construction quality definitely exceeds the Iron Man sunglasses I’d been wearing.

I do have one complaint after some time with them, but it’s relatively minor. The rubber nose pieces detach easily and unexpectedly. My primary pair is missing a nosepiece at the moment. Shady Rays sells replacement nosepieces at a reasonable cost. I’ve never bothered to order any, but the option exists. Next time I find my nose piece – or, more likely, whenever I finally buy replacements – I plan to superglue them in place so that they don’t fall off. I would recommend the manufacturer do something similar in future pairs.

In every other way, I’m even happier with my Shady Rays than I was when I first bought them. They’re durable, affordable, comfortable, and stylish – at least by my standards of stylish! I heartily recommend this product, especially if you manage to find one of their “two pair for $45” deals. Even at $45 a pair, however, these are reasonably priced for what you get.

The Secret Kings – BOOK REVIEW

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I need to begin this review by offering my friend Brian Niemeier a sincere apology. I promised him this review a long time ago. [Full disclosure: I received a review copy free of charge.] In my defense: The Secret Kings is the first non-Silver Empire fiction book that I’ve read in 2017. Yes – that’s for the last five months. Thankfully, I’ve had some time to catch up a bit. I’m I lucky, I might clear my backlog before Monster Hunter Siege comes out.

I should have made The Secret Kings a bigger priority, and not just because I promised Brian. This is a heck of a read. The story is crazy – and I mean that in the best possible way. Old friends return – beaten, battered, and bruised, and then thrown into the fire one more time. This tale will take you from one end of the galaxy to another – and it revisits the premise that started the series. Once more, the space pirates return to hell. Only this time everything is different, and the stakes are even higher.

This stunning space opera carries you all over the known universe – and outside of it. The intriguing characters will stick in your thoughts long after you’ve finished the book, leaving you thirsty for more. Furthermore, this book ties together books one and two a bit more clearly, pulling the whole thing into a cohesive whole.

If you loved Nethereal and Souldancer, you’ll love the latest five out of five star entry in the series. And if you didn’t, you should check them out now.

The Decline And Fall Of The Ordinary Man

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Jeffro’s new post on Jupiter Rising hits upon a key insight I’ve wanted to discuss for some time.

But the acting and the dialog is not what ultimately ruined this film. Structuring it around a female romantic lead did. Here’s why:

Stinger: Bees are genetically designed to recognize royalty.

Jupiter: Boy, are you going to be surprised when find out what I do for a living.

Stinger: It’s not what you do, it’s who you are.

This is an inherently anti-pulp premise that is being grafted onto an otherwise pitch perfect expression of classical space opera. Granted, Tarzan was Lord Greystoke. Arthur was the son of Uther. And Luke Skywalker turned out to be part of a space dynasty. “Who you are” does matter in these things. But what these characters do matters more. And these characters proving their worth and their mettle matters even more.

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend over the last four decades or so (and perhaps longer). The iconic heroes of my childhood were all ordinary men. Luke Skywalker, John McClain, Rocky Balboa, Indiana Jones, etc. At least, in their original incarnations.

Consider Luke Skywalker from A New Hope (and, for a moment, pretend that none of the other films exist). He’s a nobody farmer on a backwards planet. His parents aren’t amazing to speak of, and certainly aren’t shown as royalty. He’s the son of a knight, nothing more. Even so, it proves to be a huge step up from his own life. Yet he goes on to rescue the girl, defeat the bad guy, and save the rebellion.

Next consider Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Again, pretend that the other films don’t exist. He’s an ordinary, everyday American. His parents? Not even mentioned. He earns his position himself, through hard work.

John McClain? A New York cop, an ordinary guy. Rocky Balboa? Another nobody. Every single hero Heinlein ever wrote? Still ordinary, self-made men.

Now, consider the transformations even some of these same characters have undergone over the decades.

Luke Skywalker? It turns out he’s the scion of the greatest royal family in the galaxy.

Indiana Jones? His big-name archaeologist dad set the stage.

But who are the big pop culture heroes of the new millennium?

  • Tony Stark, heir to a megafortune
  • Harry Potter, “chosen one,” son of great, heroic, famous wizards.
  • Thor – a literal god, and son of the Allfather.
  • The Starks of Winterfell, descended from kings.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer – another transformation from just a random girl to a “chosen one.”

The trend isn’t universal, but it trends distinctly in favor of aristocrats and away from self-made, ordinary men. This isn’t a healthy sign for our society. Indeed, it’s one more symptom of our devolution from democratic rule to aristocratic rule. Jeffro rightly picks up on this as being anti-pulp. Yet it’s more than that – it’s distinctly anti-American.

I leave with one last passing observation: note this particular moment and its distinct reactionary nature to this phenomenon. I cite this as one (of many) reasons that this franchise performed so well.

The Rock is the Living Embodiment of Pulp

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In the ongoing discussion of the pulp revolution making its way around the blogosphere, one question has vexed many who have entered the fray: what, exactly, does it mean to be “pulp?” Many have tried to answer. Most have struggled. The current winner seems to be answer by exclusion: defining what pulp isn’t. Today I propose an answer by analogy: Dwayne Johnson (aka “The Rock”) is the living embodiment of Pulp.

Consider:

His entire career is built on charisma. But where does his charisma come from? He’s not a particularly great actor. Many of his movies aren’t particularly great from a writing standpoint, yet people love them. Why?

It’s because he’s having fun. And that fun is infectious. It doesn’t matter if the movie concept is patently absurd (The Fast and the Furious). That’s ok – in fact, it’s a great Pulp trait. It’s crazy, but it’s fun. It doesn’t matter if it’s a mediocre remake (Get Smart). We don’t care if he’s a good guy (The Scorpion King) or a bad guy (The Mummy Returns). It doesn’t even really matter if the movie’s any good (most of his films actually aren’t). Watching him on screen is always tremendous fun.

The Rock picks films that have an absurd – but cool – premise. He plays over-the-top roles, and he plays them as larger than life. His sense of fun shines through in every role, and his fun is infectious. He doesn’t care that people don’t take him seriously – because he never takes himself too seriously, either. His style plays to the tastes of the masses, not the elites. He’s never afraid to make fun of himself.

You ask me, “what is Pulp?” My friends, I give you The Rock.

NASA Is Too Good At Science

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NASA released a plan the other day to build a manned space station orbiting the moon. I’ve already seen a lot of talk about how bad a plan it is. And it is a pretty poor plan – but not for the reasons everyone says. A lunar orbiting base isn’t stupid in and of itself. It’s only a bad idea because of how NASA’s doing it. The critics say that this won’t produce enough science. They have it exactly backwards. This station produces too much science – like everything else NASA does.

Understand something important: NASA is really, really good at science. They do a lot of wonderful work. I have friends and family who do some of this work for NASA, and it’s brilliant. But NASA’s focus on science prevents the agency from focusing on what should be its primary mission: making access to space regular, easy, and cheap.

The biggest cost contributor, launch costs, will already fall dramatically over the next ten years. The private space race and companies like Space-X, Virgin Galactic, and Blue Origin, are already winning that battle. Space-X’s rocket system is already far cheaper than competitors, and as they make it more and more reusable it will become even cheaper.

But launch costs still won’t become “trivial.” As such, we’ll need to ensure that we’re using the mass we launch effectively. And the best way to do that – as I’ve noted before – is to build space infrastructure.

That is what NASA’s primary mission should be. Private industry will likely redo everything NASA does on the infrastructure front – and do it better and cheaper. Eventually. But planting the seed of that infrastructure would have huge payoffs.

One core piece of that infrastructure, as I’ve also discussed before, is that a system should be in place for earth-moon transit. And that system should largely consist of a ferry that travels only between two space stations – one in Earth orbit, and one in Lunar orbit. We already have a station in Earth orbit, so NASA’s new lunar orbit station could fulfill the role for the second part of that, right?

Possibly. But it would be a pretty crappy system if we built it that way, even by government standards. Both stations really need to serve two purposes, and only two purposes:

  • They need to be good transfer points to move people, cargo, or better yet, a space equivalent of standard shipping containers from one vehicle to another.
  • They need to be good supply depots, storing air, water, food, and most importantly fuel.

Basically, we need two giant truck stops in the sky.

The ISS is horrible at both of these tasks. It wasn’t built for it – because it was built to do science. And NASA’s new lunar orbit station looks poised to be built for science, also. As others have complained, there’s not enough science it could do to justify the cost.

But if we built it to support infrastructure, then the future science done – not by it, but by those who use it as a layover – could more than justify the cost.

Alas, NASA is too good at science to follow the better path.

The Peluda Dragon

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Tales of the Peluda dragon come down to us from French legend. According to the tale, the Peluda terrorized the village of La Ferté-Bernard, France during medieval times. Its name comes from the Occitan language (still spoken today in southern France and northern Spain). It literally means “shaggy beast,” as if someone let a three year old Stark of Winterfell name his dragon.

They named the monster honestly, however. Although its basic shape follows the form of the traditional European dragon, the details meander a bit. Rather than scaly lizard skin, the legend tells us that hair covers the dragon (or, depending on the version, porcupine-like quills). The hair ends at the long, serpentine neck. The head resembles a snake more than the traditional lizard-like head of a European dragon, and the beast also carries a snakelike tail. It walks around on the stumpy legs of a tortoise when not in flight. The green creature grows to roughly the size of a large ox.

According to myth, Noah denied the Peluda entry on the ark. The beast toughed out the flood in a cave in France, where it hid for many years. Eventually it returned to terrorize the countryside. In addition to the typical fiery breath of a dragon, the beast could ruin crops with its breath, spit acid, or shoot a stream of water rather like an evil fire hose. Tales tell of at least one occasion where it flooded the region simply by stepping in a river, and it could shoot its poisonous quills at will. Its tail could kill a full grown man with a single blow, and beast proved invulnerable to all attacks.

One day the Peluda ate the wrong maiden, as dragons do. Her fiance tracked down the beast and, enlightened by the wisdom of an old crone, cut off its tail – attacking the Peluda’s only weakness. The beast died instantly.

I cropped the picture of the Peluda above from the cover of my forthcoming novel, Post Traumatic Stress. My cover artist, Andy Duggan, drew a wonderful representation of the beast. I flavored the creature a bit to fit my novel, choosing the hairy version rather than the quilled version. Also, the full powers of the beast don’t come to the fore in this novel. That tale is brewing in the followup novella, Vigil, due out in late 2017 or early 2018.

Superheroes Anthology – Submission Deadline Extended!

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We’ve received some fantastic submissions for our upcoming superheroes anthology – and I mean that in every meaning of the word. However… the submissions continue to roll in, and we’re still getting good ones. And I’ve got one or two specific authors that have promised stories that I’d really like to have. So we’re extending the deadline by just a little bit. We will continue taking submissions at least through May 31.

You can find the submission requirements here.

Post Traumatic Stress – CALL FOR BETA READERS

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The second draft of Post Traumatic Stress is DONE!

It took me a few months to get back to it, but once I did it took less than two weeks to finish the second draft. In a way, it’s better that it took me a while. A little bit of distance from the manuscript meant that I looked at it with very fresh eyes. I’m quite happy with the current state of the manuscript. The ultimate judgement lies, of course, with the readers.

I’m looking for an additional ten beta readers. Beta readers will receive a free copy of the manuscript in its current form sometime in the next week. Anyone can apply to be a beta reader, but I need a commitment to the following:

  1. You must be willing and able to answer the following two question survey:
    1. What parts of the book bored you?
    2. What parts of the book confused you?
  2. You must commit to leaving an honest review on Amazon.com or Goodreads.com – or preferably both – within 1 week of release day.
  3. You must be able to read the book and return the survey by May 31, 2017.

If you’re interested, send your request to betareaders@silverempire.org.

If you’ve already signed up to be a beta reader, thank you! There is no need to sign up again.

Lyonesse is LIVE!

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Lyonesse is now LIVE! Kickstarter backers should have already received their login information via e-mail. If you haven’t gotten yours, check your spam folder.

We have 23 stories live in our back catalog at the moment, all available in EPUB, MOBI, and PDF format – or readable for subscribers straight from the web site itself. Our first new story, The Dreaming Wounds by Anya Ow, will go out later this afternoon.

Base subscriptions start at only $6.99 per year, so don’t wait – get yours today!

Beauty and the Beast 2017 – MOVIE REVIEW

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On Friday evening, Morgon and I got a rare date night. We dropped the kids off, grabbed a quick bite to eat, and then dashed off to the theater to catch the new live action Beauty and the Beast.

Now, I should start by noting that the 1991 animated film is a favorite of both myself and my wife. We’ve seen it many, many times. It’s enough of a favorite that on our honeymoon at Disney World, we shelled out for our own wedding gift to ourselves – a numbered, limited edition painting depicting the title characters. Not a print, mind you – hand painted, and priced accordingly. It’s one of the centerpieces of our living room, and has been for nearly ten years. Our kids are huge fans, also. Indeed, they’ve watched the animated film at least four times this last weekend.

There’s a bit of a personal connection, you see. My wife is an introverted bookworm, noted for being rather odd. And it only takes one look at my hairy self to recognize the connection to the Beast. Morgon has awaited the new film with breathless anticipation. I, however, have been less enthused. I loved what they did with Cinderella. But the trailers haven’t moved me. Part of it is because they made a conscious choice with the first trailer to mimic the original animated trailer – shot for shot.

In one sense, it’s pretty cool. But the trailers in general have left me fearful that the film would hew too close to the original, failing to stand on its own legs. That first teaser didn’t help.

Thankfully, the film we actually got doesn’t suffer from that problem. To be sure, it hews very closely to the original. And for the first thirty minutes or so, I still feared that it wouldn’t find its own voice. But that mostly stemmed from the one major problem the film does have: an extremely weak female lead.

Emma Watson is not an untalented actress. She is also, however, simply not one of her generation’s great acting talents. Furthermore, her singing… well, it actually is rather untalented. Even I could hear the autotuning in effect, and I’m usually the guy missing it when everyone complains about it. Her voice just doesn’t live up to the rest of the cast’s.

As if that wasn’t enough, they made too many subtle changes to the character. Belle in the animated film is unfailingly kind – even when she has every reason not to be. It’s a deep part of her character. This Belle, however, is downright rude. She isn’t merely withdrawn and odd, she stands aloof over the village peasants. I find it hard to sympathize with her because she treats them so poorly. No wonder they dislike her.

But the biggest issue is her interactions with Gaston. Now, I love this version of Gaston. They toned down the cartoon buffoonery – especially early in the film. He’s a far more likable character. In fact, one can easily see why the entire village loves him. Yes, he’s still a bit of an oaf. He’s still a bit hung up on himself. But in this version, he’s portrayed as a man trying to gather up his courage. He is, after all, about to propose to the most beautiful girl in the village. Even his famous pub song is portrayed more as his friends trying to put him back together again. It works wonderfully.

Except for the fact that Belle is exceptionally rude to him, when this version of Gaston hasn’t quite earned it. Yes, perhaps, she’s right to actually turn him down. Certainly she’s within her rights to. But she doesn’t just turn him down, she beats him down, hard. Her reaction is over the top. The film relies on our recollection of the annoying Gaston from the animated film to make us dislike him. It’s a shame, because they improved his character arc in every way.

What’s most interesting is that this almost works in completely the opposite way as intended. It gives the character of Belle a bit of a character arc that’s missing in the animated film. Yet because of its accidental nature, it never quite seals the deal.

Still, everything else about this film is top notch. Have I mentioned Gaston yet? He steals the show. The Beast himself puts on a good act, too, however. Everything you’ve heard about La Fou’s gay character changes? It’s actually good. It’s funny. Riotously funny. The backstory of Belle’s parents is a nice touch, as are several other subtle additions: the perpetual winter surrounding the castle, the forgetful nature of the spell, Maurice’s imprisonment being due to theft rather than mere anger. The touches of period setting, costumes, and props added back in – such as Gaston’s crossbow becoming a pistol – are wonderful.

This could have been a five star film. It should have been a five star film. In the end, however, Emma Watson’s Belle hurts. The best I can give this film is four stars.

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