Valor’s Cost Coming Soon

No, really, I promise!

“Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.”  -Norman Cousins

Jiden Armstrong has seen death and destruction, visited upon people around her.  She has spent the past three years attending the Century Military Academy in the hopes that she can protect her people.  Now, though, she has lost those most dear to her.  Worst of all, the people who did it were coming after Jiden.
She’s going to have to rebuild her life.  Jiden will have to fall back on her friends and her family to recover.  She’s going to have to find a new reason to live and come to terms with her losses… and her enemies haven’t given up.  To them, Jiden Armstrong is another pawn in the game… one that is inconveniently placed.  They’re going to keep coming after her so long as she stands in their way and if Jiden can’t stop them, then the people paying the cost of Jiden’s valor may well be those closest to her.

Since there’s some rather… impactful events that happen in the first chapters, I will not be snippeting Valor’s cost.  But it will be out and live on 28 September.  Mark down the date!

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A Worthy Evolution: The Predator Movie Review

Hey everyone.  I went and saw The Predator this weekend.  It’s getting rather mixed reviews, so I thought I’d put in my own two cents.

You know the scene in Ant Man, where Luis  is explaining something and it rambles everywhere and doesn’t make a lot of sense, but is probably the best part of the movie?  That’s Shane Black’s The Predator.   It’s fast, it rambles, there’s scenes & dialogue that you think are going somewhere and end up going off on a tangent instead… and it’s a lot of fun on the way.

I’ll note that I didn’t give The Predator a very high bar to success.  It had to be better than the last Alien vs Predator movie (which was about as bad as dousing my eyeballs with lime).  It surpassed that by a wide margin.   In fact, I’ll rate it as one of my favorite movies this year.

There were a ton of 80’s references in the movie, everything from “get to the choppas” to the fact that the movie opened with no previews, it went straight into the movie sort of like movies *used* to do.

The humor was good, the characters were just strong enough that you could root for them without having to worry about a lot of angst as they died.  The Group 2 military folks were… well, very accurate in a lot of ways, from the inter-service rivalries to the fact that they dealt with horrible situations with dark humor and an unwillingness to give up.

The action was over-the-top and in some ways, just totally unbelievable.  But it worked with the overall story.  The Stargazer project boss was sufficiently crazy and evil that after a first couple scenes with him, you know he’s going to die horribly and you’re actually rooting for a predator as he dismantles his henchmen.

There’s some story and plot elements that either weren’t made clear enough or that they could have spent some time on… but I’ll accept the hand-wave in a combination of (very) unreliable narrator and the limits of the movie.  There’s details that we don’t need to know and that Shane Black streamlined the movie is obvious.  The couple of scenes where we get a break from the relentless pace are used to establish characterization and to add depth to the movie.

I’ve got a couple of complaints as far as the use of actors.  Yvonne Stahovoski’s character was almost criminally underused.  She’s a fantastic actress and I would have like to see more of her.  Olivia Munn’s scientist was a bit too much of a bad-ass for her background, but she pulled it off well enough.

Story wise, I felt like it was a combination of Lethal Weapon and Predator, with the gritty buddy-cop feel to the two lead military characters.  Which worked very well for me, especially with the blend of humor.  The references to 80’s and 90’s action movies were great.  I feel like it needed a scene with Danny Glover sitting on a toilet saying “I’m getting too old for this shit,” but other than that, I think it was far more “predator” than the last few movies in that vein.

The ending, too, sets the stage for a sequel I’d actually like to see, with humans using and adapting alien tech.  I don’t want to spoil anything here, but I definitely think it’s a great ending (even if they jump ahead missing some key details on how they got there).

The movie is surprisingly pro-military and at the same time, very anti-authority.  The ‘authorities’ have private mercenaries and conduct experiments and authorize murders and false-imprisonment of innocent people.  The actual military members we see are trustworthy, work hard, and sacrifice everything to do what’s right, even when they know they’re going up against something they can’t defeat.  There was a lot of the Aliens vibe from the “military” characters in this one, and I really liked that.

So don’t believe all the internet rage and certainly don’t judge the movie based on the critic reviews.  It’s crazy, it’s messy, but man is this movie a whole lot of fun.  So loosen your tie, sit back, and just enjoy the ride.

Painting the Kabal of the Joker: Why So Serious?

Note: I was going to post this back on the 17th, but then my father-in-law passed away, so priorities shifted (I didn’t end up going to that tournament, either).  I didn’t finish all the detail work on these models, but I hope to get to it when I get time again.  Best laid plans of mice and men, as they say.

A bit of a change of pace, but here’s something I’ve been working on over the past couple of weeks.  I’ve been playing Warhammer 40k since 2002 (Warhammer Fantasy Battles since 2001), and I’ve had a Dark Eldar (now Drukhari) army since 2003.  My Kabal of the Joker has been an army since the relaunch of the entire model line back in 2010 or so.  At the time, I thought that nothing quite captured the Dark Eldar’s cheerful nihilism quite like the Joker.  I’ll probably post pictures of my legacy armies at some point, but I’ve been slowly working my way through painting some of the stuff that fell by the wayside between military deployments and the whole getting married and having a kid things.

I’m getting everything painted up for a tournament this weekend, which is why I painted the models I did.  I have, well, let’s just say “a lot” of 40k models and my Dark Eldar armies are a little out of control (I’ve got a lot of painting to do to ever get them all done, much less the other armies I have).

One of the first things I did was “update” and touch up my Archon, the Joker.  He’s loosely based off of Heath Ledger’s Joker from The Dark Knight.  As you can see, I swapped out the arm (mostly because packing him up  that spear was a pain).  I also changed the color of the base (I’d originally gone for some kind of lava theme and I wasn’t happy with how it worked out).  I think the update worked well, over all.

Going on with the theme, I already had a Harley Quinn (Lillith Hesperax), so I decided my other Succubus would be Poison Ivy.  I went counter the normal DE themes and went with light green (Citidel Paint’s Moot Green) for her armor, with darker green for her body-suit and I kept the Joker theme going with purple for her weapons and some accents.  Overall, I’m pretty happy with how she turned out.  She’s ready to dish out poisonous kisses and murder things, just like a Dark Eldar should.

One of my ongoing projects was my Haemoculous Coven, and one of my hold-ups with them was finding a theme.  I finally decided to go with a Mr Freeze theme, sticking with the DC Villians idea.  I’d already acquired some Rat Ogres to convert as Grotesques and I decided to update my old Talos as a new Chronos as well.  All in all, I used pale skin with a blue wash to make them look “cold” and made use of blue crystals on the bases (and in their flesh) to put in a cold theme overall.  For Mr Freeze himself, I updated my older Haemoculous to fit the theme.

 

 

 

I also finally painted up my squad of “new” (are they new if I’ve had them for 8 years?) Talos models (Taloi?).  I stuck with the same theme and all in all, I’m pretty happy with how they look.  To escort them into battle, I repainted a squad of my older models, what were originally Grotesques and which I now use as Wracks (Oh, GW, some of your original DE models were terrible).  Since the new Wracks are finecast and I hate finecast with the passion of a thousand burning suns, I’m sticking with the old models until I can decide on an appropriate conversion.

I also painted two squads of warriors and their raiders to accompany the Joker into battle.  As you can see, I stuck with the green & purple theme for them, along with their Ravager and Razorwing Fighter.

 

 

 

All in all, I’m pretty happy with how they turned out, especially since I painted them all in two weeks (about 2-3 hours in the evenings).   Depending on interest, I may post more of my models as I pull them out and work on touching them up.  Thanks for reading!

What Is Success?

Many writers and would-be writers aspire to be successful authors, with on-track careers, big publishing gigs, and the much-discussed “NYT Bestseller” attached to their names.  But when you come down to it,  how do you measure that?

The obvious one, the one that most people can wrap their heads around, is fame.  Most people can name famous authors in the genre of choice, reeling off names like George RR Martin, JRR Tolkien, Michael Crichton, and Tom Clancy.  These are people who have sold millions of books… they have movie (or TV) franchises.  They’re famous, that means success, right?

But then again, Phillip K. Dick has a ton of movies based upon his books and short stories (even several remakes).  His life, if you look him up, isn’t what most would consider “successful.”

As for the vaunted NYT Bestseller, there’s been multiple times that people have scammed it, with the latest example being just last year (link).  When you dig into what it involves, too, you see that the stamp represents sales in a very specific, very small part of the US.

Amazon bestsellers, you say?  Amazon’s algorithms have been fooled before (link).  I’ve earned the status the hard way, selling actual books in the genre they’re meant for, but there’s plenty who haven’t and lots of them are eager to sell new authors books, lectures, and videos on how to be a bestseller.

So these two metrics, fame/notoriety and the Bestselling category may not be the best method of determining success.  What is?  Total sales?  Depending on your genre, a few dozen sales a day may be very good, whereas for some others, upwards of two hundred purchases a day is normal.  The advent of Kindle Unlimited has changed things a bit, too, where power-readers treat Amazon like their library.  Some authors see practically no sales at all in their genres but they see thousands (or tens of thousands) of page reads a day.

The answer there seems to be money.  In fact, American society often judges success by money.  That guy has a nice car, he must be successful.  That person has a big house, they must be successful.  But I have to ask, is money why you’re writing?  I mean, there’s lots of easier ways to go about making money.  You can avoid the crippling self-doubt and the long hours of forcing words out and go into something far more lucrative and more likely to actually make you rich.  Larry Correia’s has a fantastic post on the different levels of authors based upon their “success.”  His is focused mostly on money and fame, too, which I can’t fault.  But the number of authors who make enough from writing to support their families, much less buy a McMansion is relatively low.

I know a lot of authors.  By a lot, I mean I personally know a couple hundred and I’ve met and interacted with thousands.  I’ve seen quite a few who get into indie publishing very excited and enthusiastic about this one book they wrote… and one year later, I don’t see them at conventions anymore or when I do, they’re sitting in the crowd, not up on a panel (which is fine, mind you, I sit in the crowd, sometimes, because I like listening in on what some people have to say).   But a lot of people massively underestimate the sheer work involved in self-publishing.  They underestimate the grind of getting out the next book, and the next.  And they fall behind.

There’s a saying that when it comes to jumping out of perfectly good planes, the second jump is the hardest.  The first time, you have no idea what’s going to happen, no frame of reference.  The second time, standing in the doorway, you know exactly what it’s like, the rush and exhilaration… but also the understanding of what you’re doing and the lizard brain kicks in.  Lots of people freeze in the doorway, unable to move.

The same thing happens to aspiring authors.  They may have hit publish that first time, or even the second and third, in a rush of “this one will be great!”  Writing that first book is hard.  Writing the second or third one is just as hard, but a lot of aspiring authors have gone that distance.  Writing that fourth book after the first one or two didn’t land a movie deal or pay the mortgage… or sometimes it didn’t even buy the bottle of wine to drink while you hit refresh on your Amazon page while you wait for reviews/sales.  It’s hard.  It’s brutally hard to get back to writing when it feels like all your dreams have shriveled and everyone has rejected you.

How authors feel after a book launch sinks…

Success is the person who keeps on writing after that.  Success is the author who gets on the never-ending treadmill and churns out a novel regardless.  That person is a successful author, because that writer puts words on page, day in and day out.  It’s part of being a professional author.  There’s lots of “good” writers, some of them are best-sellers with tv-shows and movies, who can’t do that.  And sometimes, getting up the strength to put even a single word on the page is a herculean fight.

Success is never giving up.  If you’re still writing, if you haven’t stopped, you’re successful.  Now go out there and write your next book.

Taking a Knee

No, this isn’t about spoiled rich idiots kneeling for the national anthem, I’m using the term in the military sense, in that when you’re dealing with a lot of sh– stuff, you have to just take a knee and catch your breath.

My father-in-law passed away last week, after losing a 2 year struggle with cancer.  Combined with the new job I’m working, some health issues of my dad, and some other things, I’m behind on writing, behind on editing, and generally, needing to get my bearings.

So I’m taking a knee, for a bit.  I need to be there for my wife and I need to have the emotional and mental time that my family needs right now.  I’ve still got blog posts scheduled, I’m still writing, I’m still editing, I’m still here, but I need to focus on my family just now.

Unfortunately, that means that Valor’s Cost is going to be delayed.  I just don’t have the time to get the edits done before the 31st, as much as I wanted to get it done.  The nature of the story is such that I really want to deliver the best story to my readers, and I can’t do that without being able to devote more time and effort to it than I’ve had.  Valor’s Cost will come out in September, date to be determined (hopefully by the 14th, but let’s see how life goes, right?).

 

Worldbuilding in SF Part 3: Those Little Details

Wordbuilding is an important tool for any writer, particularly for science fiction.  It adds depth to a book, it helps to develop character backgrounds, and it provides a pallate on which to paint your story.  In Part 1 (link), I talked about the foundations of building your universe.  In Part 2 (link) I talked about building worlds and star systems.  Here in Part 3, I’m going to talk about those little details that really contribute to the story.

Where Does It Come From?

One of the questions I find myself asking as I read a book is where things come from.  Who made the flying car, was it a fully automated factory or the hand-crafted work of a mad-genius inventor?  All the “stuff” that your characters use and interact with has to come from somewhere, whether it’s the weapons they use to mow down the bad guys, the starship they use to travel from one world to another, or the hand-distilled gasoline they use to roam the wastelands.  As an author, knowing who made it and how the character acquired it can be important.  Maybe that ship was made by a renegade faction and they want it back, or the fuel is a rare and precious resource that people will kill over.  These are world-building elements that can tie directly into plot points for your story.  Knowing where it was made, who made it, and how it got to the characters hands can give you a lot of material to work with in your story.

Who Are The Big Players?

Knowing who the big players are in the universe is a key part of worldbuilding and crosses over into plotting out your novel.  Knowing that the antagonist for the main character in your first novel is the henchman of a greater villain that your characters will have to fight further on down the line is a perfect example.  Knowing that the ally of a player is the child of a world leader sets up some potential help or conflicts of interest down the road.  Putting names in your book isn’t necessary, but it does add some depth.  Knowing how those people interact and whether or not they get along also adds some depth and can help you to write your story.  The main characters getting caught up in familial disputes is part of the driving element of my Children of Valor series, and its something that most people can easily relate to, in that family can often be as much a hindrance as help.

Putting It All Together

At this point, you’ve gone from the big questions all the way down to the characters that fill your universe.  Hopefully you have a good grasp on how it all ties together.  That’s all great news, but right now you don’t have a novel, you have a setting.  Putting it all together, making things happen, requires characters.

Creating interesting and dynamic characters is much easier when you draw them from the backgrounds of the worlds they live in.  A renegade heir to a corporate empire who has forsaken his family’s ill-gotten gains can be all the more real when you know that his parent’s company utilizes the equivalent of slave labor in their factories.  The never-do-well mercenary with a heart of gold makes for a more dynamic and realistic character when you know that he once served in the military and was a decorated war-hero, before everything went south.

Your setting, the world you built, comes to life with characters.  They bring with them all their experiences, all their background, and they are the paintbrushes with which you tell your story.   Remember, also, that you’re here to tell a story, not to show every detail of the world you created.  Sprinkle in those details throughout, but treat them like spices when you cook, a little bit can go a long way.

Thanks for reading, and feel free to check out my other posts on world-building.  I’ve got one on Steampunk and one on Fantasy.

 

Worldbuilding in Science Fiction: Part 2 Worlds Upon Worlds

Worldbuilding Part 2: Worlds Upon Worlds

It may seem a little backwards, but my second post on world-building is actually going to talk about worlds.  (See the first post here)  While geography / celestial cartography is important, I don’t think it’s the foundation of building your universe in SF.  Why is that?  Well, you need to know how easy or hard it is to get there through technology, know how people will react when they do get there through culture, and who the players are by knowing the people.

The rest, as to what’s actually there?  That’s going to influence those things in return, but it’s still not quite as central.  The earlier post was about preparing the conditions to tell the story you want.  This one is more focused on developing the actual setting.

Worlds

Writing science fiction gives an author an amazing set of possibilities.  As writers, we can explore distant worlds that can be whatever we think up.  Those can be desolate waste-lands like Tatooine or thriving paradise planets and everything in between.

This is all about determining the setting and this is where a lot of the Science Fiction greats did things really, really right.  Frank Herbert’s Dune is a book where the planet itself is a character, which at various times tries to kill or save the people in the story.  On Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, the Moonis every bit as central to the story as anyone else.

Whether your worlds are arid, airless rocks or a lush tropical planets, you need to determine what your story needs.  A survival story set on a paradise planet might not be nearly so interesting as one on a world where literally everything is trying to kill you.  The Martian is a great example of a science fiction survival story where the writer makes the planet’s conditions central to his story.

If course, the conditions of the planet may tie into other things…

Star Systems

The system’s star or stars can be a huge element of a planet’s habitability.  The movie Pitch Black explored this in a pretty interesting fashion, creating a star system where a planet existed in continued light… right up until it got dark for a very long time.

Asteroids, comets, moons, other planets, all these can be important to your story.  Maybe the system has not just one but two or three inhabitable planets, maybe they’re claimed by different nations, maybe one of those worlds is undergoing a cataclysm of some kind.  The Dragonriders of Pern series had a rogue planet that brought terror with it’s return every few hundred years.   David Weber’s Honor Harrington series has a set of wormholes that made Manticore an economic powerhouse due to their central positioning for trade.

The physical world and setting is going to directly impact your characters.  Society, technology, and people will indirectly shape them, but the physical world is what they’ll see, taste, touch, hear, and feel.  If a planet is a garbage world, does it smell?  Do people from there lack a sense of smell because it has been burned out?

Beliefs and Themes

Lastly, we come to one of the non-physical elements of setting: beliefs.  This is a product of the physical and societal elements and it in turn shapes both.  What do the various cultures and sub-cultures believe in?

Has humanity spread out with a manifest destiny?  Do they shove aside non-Earth life, terraforming worlds in their own image?  Or is there a fundamentalist religion that has taken over a culture, instilling them with a reverence of all life, prohibiting violence for any reason?  Has faith in science driven a group to pursue all manner of otherwise unethical experiments, delving into human modification and genetic engineering upon their prisoners?  You decide, you shape it based upon the history and setting you’ve built, and then decide what you need to tell the story you want to tell.

Conclusion

While developing the technology level, cultures, and people of your setting was the foundation, this is like the basement.  This is the structure that supports your book. It’s there, its visible and the characters will interact with it all the time.  Building stuff here gives you the tangibles that readers will notice and that will ground them in the worlds.  Fill out these details for the story you want to tell.  Next week, we’ll tie it all together in Part 3!

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