King Khan making books reading: King Khan the boy words
by Harry Connolly
The day when everyone, supposedly, starts their holiday shopping online. Try not to be surprised by what I write next:
The short version is that it’s the pulp adventure game tie-in I wrote. If you’re reading this on my blog, the cover is just to your right at the top of the sidebar. If not, click through that link: it’s full of pulp adventure nonsense like shrinking beams, infra-purple light, Aztec mummies, and a certain giant ape movie from 1933. Fun!
If you already have that one, don’t forget that I have a page full of books for kids recommended by my own son. Nothing in that list is there because I thought it should go there; everyone got the thumbs up from the incredibly fussy kid who sleeps down the hall from me. As they used to say: Kid-tested, kid-approved.
What’s more, there are new entries on the list. Check it out.
This is the post for my latest book: Spirit of the Century presents: King Khan. Frankly, this has been a little late in going onto my blog because the book published in the middle of my Kickstarter, and it became available at different times in different vendors and formats. Anyway, I think at this point it’s available everywhere.
What’s it about?
Spirit of the Century is an upbeat pulp fiction adventure setting about heroes (and villains) born on the change of the century who embody certain aspects of the century. The game materials feature wacky adventures against villains like an army of cloned intelligent gorillas, Ebenezer Scrooge, and “Der Blitzmann, Electrical Madman.” There’s magic, superscience gadgets, and whatever goofy thing you want to throw together.
KING KHAN was initiated as one of the stretch goals for this Kickstarter, and it features the good guy version of those intelligent gorillas as the hero. Here’s the pitch:
Professor Khan, learned ape, has traveled through time, fought psychic dinosaurs and shark-men, visited Atlantis, and battled across the sands of Mars. He has seen it all-—until an arrow shooting out of the sky sends him to the strangest place yet…
The story features shrinking beams, Hollywood phonies, Aztec mummy princesses, corrupt LAPD cops, and super-science archery (all the kids love archery these days, don’t they?)
It’s not nearly as grim or downbeat as the Twenty Palaces novels, and for me it was a challenge to write a book very quickly, keeping the pace as fast as possible and filling the book with fun ideas.
Check it out.
Okay. First, I’m not going to say that ARROW is a great tv show. It’s not. It’s flawed in some pretty glaring ways, unconvincing in others, and not exactly brimming with complex insights into the human condition.
However, it is a compelling show, and I think there’s something to be learned from it.
First, let’s contrast Oliver Queen in the comics and in the show. They have similar origins: billionaire playboy asshole is marooned on an island for five years, where he’s forced to learn how to survive and learns to shoot a bow and arrow with inhuman accuracy.
In the comics, Oliver Queen is blissfully unaffected by this. He puts on a green suit and little Robin Hood cap, then heads out with his bow and trick arrows to play superhero. Worse, most everyone writes him as an old, annoying hippie. I guess there’s a New52 version that’s a bit different, but let’s come right out and say that, according to Science, Green Arrow sucks worse than Aquaman.
The show handles it differently: The pilot opens with his rescue and BOOM, he’s immediately returned to a hospital room in his home city. His mother stands anxiously at the door while the doctor explains that he’s covered with scars and has obviously suffered numerous broken bones. Whatever happened to Oliver Queen while he was marooned, it was really, really bad. The doctor warns her that he won’t be the same guy who vanished five years before.
As Jim Butcher would call it, Oliver Queen has exotic position in this world. He’s famous and infamous. Every new character he meets recognizes him instantly and most think they know everything they need to know about him. Also, the story slowly builds up “the island” as Hell-on-Earth and deliberately does not go into much detail about it. Oliver refuses to talk about it with his family, and as he pursues his plan in the current timeline, flashbacks cover his time on the island where he learned all the skills (and earned all the scars) he brought home.
So he’s a ninja, he’s Robin Hood, and he’s the Scarlet PTSD-pernel (except he targets the upper class instead of rescuing them). Who he is sets him very much apart from the other characters on the show. Exotic position.
If you followed the “exotic position” link above, you saw a note about “Exaggeration,” too. Oliver Queen isn’t just regular guy, he’s heir to billions. And he wasn’t just a spoiled jerk before being marooned, he was a complete asshole: When his ship went down, he was in bed with his girlfriend’s sister. Not only did he cheat on her, it was her kid sis and he’s responsible for her death. Also, the dead sister? Her dad is the detective who ends up investigating the vigilante.
It’s not just one thing working against him, it’s several all woven together. The vigilante isn’t just pursued by the cops, he’s pursued by the cop with a deep hatred of Queen’s family. Queen isn’t just pining for the girlfriend he betrayed (who’s picture he mooned over on the island) he’s forced to keep his distance from her because he’s got the whole vigilante thing going, and she has no respect for him because of the Scarlet Pimpernel-ish playboy act he puts on, and his best friend is in love with her and trying to make it work, and the more she learns about the vigilante the more she admires that dude, who’s trying so hard to help others.
Every complication is multiplied as much as possible. It’s deepened and made more complicated so that the relationships between the characters are incredibly twisty. (More on that in a minute)?
Another smart choice is that rather than just follow the usual model and creating a character who fights whatever generic crime appears, the show’s creators have given him a list of bad guys to take down. In fact, it’s was his father’s dying wish that Oliver undo Papa Queen’s wrongs.
Comic books are generally bullshit when it comes to portraying families. Bendis manages it pretty well, if you can stand the dialog tics, but most comics are all about jumping and kicking and massive battles. In the midst of all that, hashing over family drama is trite as hell.
On TV, the most cost-effective screen time you can get is two characters talking to each other on a pre-built set. There is no better special effect than an actor’s face. There just isn’t.
Of course, there are a lot of shows with friends and family squabbling at each other, but Arrow is really well cast. What’s more, although the dialog is trite and the drama is too often “Second Act Shouted Accusations/Fourth Act Reconciliation”, the actual drama itself is pretty fresh.
There’s a love quadrangle with Laurel, the woman Oliver loved like crazy but betrayed and hurt, his best friend who loves her, too, and the vigilante, who has all the traits (basically, acting like he cares what happens to people) Laurel wished Oliver would show but never does.
Oliver’s little sister grew up into a teenager while he was away, and now she’s becoming the party girl asshole that he was before he disappeared and still pretends to be in his Scarlet PTSD-pernel persona.
What’s more, that list his father gave him of bad guys to take out? Oliver’s mother has the same list, because she’s part of the conspiracy. In fact, it’s clear very early on that there’s a real conspiracy here, not just a catalog of assholes, and it takes a long while for Oliver to catch up.
Finally, the main villain is motivated by revenge for the loss of someone he loved very much.
Back when I was still trying to figure out how to be a successful writer, one of the earliest skills I mastered was the exciting action scene. I could make them inventive and weird, full of unexpected twists and odd moments.
What I couldn’t do was assemble them into a story. I couldn’t connect them.
Once, my friend and (although he might not know it) mentor Bill Martell talked about using theme to create character. Actually, I think he meant the lesson to be “using character to explore theme” but we take our lessons where we can grab them.
As an example: an author is writing a mystery about a wife suspected of killing her husband in a marital dispute. Marriage, amiright?
So, in creating a cast of characters, the author consciously explores every facet of marriage she can think of: maybe the detective is still mourning the loss of their own spouse, who died of Spouse To A Sad Cop Syndrome. The bride’s parents have been happily married for thirty years. The groom’s parents refuse to divorce even though their relationship is a DMZ. The bride’s best friend is in the middle of a divorce. The groom’s BF never married and is ecstatic about it. The neighbors are ooey-gooey newliweds. The detective’s partner is bored with his wife.
And so on. It doesn’t have to be obvious (in fact, better if it isn’t) but it gives the story unity.
On ARROW S1, the theme relates to (as Helena Bertinelli says) “going through a crucible.” Oliver was shipwrecked, watched his girlfriend and his father die, and struggled for five years to stay alive. When he returned home, he was transformed.
The other characters in the show reflect that theme: Thea responded to the pain of losing her father and brother by trying to grow up just like Oliver. Worthless billionaire bf Tommy had never gone through any kind of test or transformation, and he starts the show as the same boy-man he was five years before. Moira Queen, for her part, mourns and moves on with her life, marrying again. Diggle can’t get past the death of his brother. Finally, there’s Malcolm Merlin, the season’s villain, who can not get past the pain of his wife’s death.
Yeah, there are problems. Too much of the dialog is trite and on the nose; people complain about the actors, but I think the scripts are the real problem here. The first two episodes have a really unfortunate voice over, which doesn’t work at all. And the pilot introduces the Queen’s house maid, who was supposed to… actually, I’m guessing here, but I think she was supposed to humanize our good-looking billionaire hero by showing he could be friends with a poor, but it was really weird to see him be so warm with the maid when he was so cold to his mother and sister.
Also, if you can’t get past the idea of a ninja archer who can’t be hit with machine gun fire while he nails baddies with arrows, this ain’t the show for you.
There are also shallower pleasures. I showed my wife a video compilation of all the workout scenes from S1 and she was all “When is this show on again?” Fit, muscular dudes with their shirts off. It’s a feature.
Another thing they’re doing right: integrating existing DC characters and concepts into the show, after retooling them for TV, which is something I said AGENTS OF SHIELD should have done but they haven’t. Deadshot is an obvious addition, and The Huntress, too, (although I thought they miscast the father). They even retooled the Royal Flush Gang, cutting the budget so much the gang only had four members.
(Of course, the head of the Royal Flush Gang had his own crucible, and he made his own choices because of it. More unity.)
So, yeah. There are clumsy flourishes in the execution, early missteps, and action scenes that require reinforced scaffolding for your disbelief.
But! The show handles the lead character’s exotic position really well, and ties everything back to it in a unified, intelligently exaggerated way. That’s why a show I expected to be a dime-store BATMAN BEGINS is one of the few must-watch programs on my schedule.
Complete two blog posts for the week
Clean kitchen floor
Take out trash and compost.
Not to self: Twitter will not help you get any of these things done more quickly.
I’m trying out a new mopey British detective series, and if they main character is surprised by the twist I’ve seen coming for 40 minutes, I’m deleting it from my queue. In ep one he said he goes where the evidence leads without jumping to conclusions. If the twist comes and he does not say “I knew this was a possibility from the start,” I’m out.
This will have to cover two weeks because I didn’t do one after the session on 10/20. It will also be somewhat abbreviated compared to previous writeups, which I’m sure will be a relief to those of you scrolling past big blocks of text.
At the end of the last writeup, the team (which was down a member because a player was out sick) managed to lure one of the alien bad guys out to a remote location and overpower him, taking him prisoner. For those who don’t remember from previous updates, the alien is called a Shailun and, as we only recently discovered, they are the innocent aliens who have been taken over by a conquest-minded parasite called the Shinkara. In fact, the entire alien invasion was an attempt to destroy humanity to deny the Shinkara their next hosts, as the Shailun are just about all used up.
But! The first step in defeating the parasites is to learn more about them, so trickery and kidnapping.
Our missing character from that previous session was Evan, our degree-less mad scientist and anti-alien
terrorist resistance-fighter, so we wrapped the alien (named Gerlik) in an impromptu Farraday cage (during his abduction he showed a distressing ability to do Ego attacks and it was thought the cage might block them) and rushed to Evan’s secret lab. Unfortunately, upon arrival we discovered that someone had broken in and, judging by the security footage, used gen-en superpowers to overpower and kidnap him.
(This is what the GM does to you if you miss a session around here.)
Travis gets a call from his brother. Chandler has become a bigwig in the Roman Industries hierarchy, and he smugly reveals that he has a Shinkara parasite inside him and feels pretty sweet. He reveals (unnecessarily) that he has Evan and wants to trade him for Travis. Travis reveals that he would rather trade Gerlik for Evan, and Chandler agrees so readily that he confirms Travis’s suspicion that Chandler is a big fibber.
It’s unclear how much of the host’s memories the parasites have access to, but if the Shinkara knows what Chandler knows, Travis is the kind of guy who says “Let’s order Thai food” when he actually wants pizza, so nobody is trusting anyone here.
The party and the narrative split. Evan was held prisoner inside an extremely well-guarded Ex-Agg facility, getting alternately questioned and punched. Finally, he was put into a cell, where he used a metal spork to dismantle the light fixtures and turn them into a magnetic something or other to break the secure keypad. After overpowering the guard outside the door, he stole the dude’s uniform and began to sneak out.
Cut to the kidnapper portion of the party (as opposed to the kidnappee), where Finlay is using her underworld contacts to find a mob doctor (not that there’s a mob) with illicit imaging equipment so we can get a look at this parasite. Before we “trade” Gerlik, we might as well get everything we can from him. While searching, we discover that Walt, our gen-en soldier, has been framed as a terrorist. The Ex-Agg assault on his home (that nearly killed his daughter) is being sold to the public as a terrorist attack that killed way more people than were actually affected by the firefight. Travis and Finlay immediately get to work on a disguise for him, since there is a big fat reward for him, dead or alive.
Of course Finlay knows a guy (it’s one of her stunts) named Lynch and the only thing he wants in return is a date with her: he doesn’t even ask for movie and a dinner, just coffee. Of course, that was his offer before he saw who we’d brought to his door.
Turns out the mob doc has a deathly fear of aliens, but we pressure him into running the scan.
And we see the alien we’ve been fighting against. It turns out to be made of energy, in that Star Trek:TOS alien sort of way.
Lynch is thoroughly freaked out. We assure him he has good reason to be, and Travis shares the link to the Video That Explains It All with him, asking him to spread the word as much as possible.
At that moment, Walt, in a spirit of full and friendly disclosure, takes off his disguise and reveals himself as the guy who’s been all over the news because nothing says “Join Our Resistance” quite like “I am the man everyone blames for the deaths of several hundred people oh, and also, Mr. Criminal and his several bodyguards, my cooling corpse is worth six figures.”
You know, sometimes I tease my buddy Jim about the in-game choices he makes, but I think everyone reading this will realize that I’m completely justified in doing so.
Luckily, Lynch is too freaked by the alien to realize what a profit center his new visitor would be and we carry the still-unconscious Gerlik out of there before the light bulb switches on.
In the meantime, Evan is searching for an exit when he passes a pair of guards speaking Shinkara-ese. It would cost a Fate point to pass them by without incident but he opts to accept a Fate point for spinning and shooting them both in the back. The gunfire draws a bunch of Ex-Agg baddies, including the two gen-en supers, but Evan remembers that he has a sturdy +2 Deceive and sends them on a wild goose chase.
Eventually, he makes his way to a hangar bay and steals a hoverjetcopterthing.
The kidnappers are in the midst of planning the quintuple-cross that will rescue Evan without losing Gerlik when Evan calls them. He is, obviously, the self-rescuing sort of kidnappee. Unfortunately, he was unable to recover his two Extras, although he probably can whip up spares.
Evan has yet another secret lab (the last one without a stunt or something, our GM assures us) and we carry Gerlik down a secret hatch, through a long dirt tunnel, into Evan’s last (absolutely last!) secret lab.
He finally wakes up in the lab. Travis tries to use Empathy, Deceive and Rapport to control him, but Gerlik is no mook. He also reveals that, rather than being the glorified shipping clerk we’d originally been told, he was actually in charge of security for everything shipped to the space station. So, he’s actually an important dude.
Then Gerlik gives Walt a hard look and Walt staggers back with a sudden nosebleed. Travis has been on the sharp end of Gerlik’s mind powers before, so he doesn’t buy Walt’s assurances that nothing was wrong. Unfortunately, his Empathy roll is a huge pile of ass, and he is forced to succeed at a serious cost, which is that Gerlik panics and triggers the mental suggestion he’d just planted into Walt’s mind.
Hey, everyone on the team is pretty competent, but Walt is built for fighting. His duplication powers return and he cuts Gerlik free.
Fight scene! Gerlik is a difficult opponent on his own, but with the hardest hitting in the party on his side (not to the point of murdering his former teammates, but punching is allowed) we’re in for some trouble. Finlay moves to the door and draws her pistol. My notes are unclear on what she’d planned to do, but her roll was so terrible that she just couldn’t bring herself to squeeze the trigger.
Walt had no such hesitation and he “sweeps the leg”, putting Finlay on the ground. Gerlik, rather than kick Travis’s ass (again) bolts for the exit, making it as far as opening the door. Travis shouts at Walt that he’s fighting the only people who are willing to help him with his daughter, which pushes one of Walt’s aspects and breaks Gerlik’s hold.
Evan decides this is a good time to throw a grenade. I have to admit I facepalmed this harder even than Walt stripping off his disguise in front of Lynch–Gerlik was standing right beside Walt, with Finlay on the ground beside them–but it turned out the grenade was for the dirt tunnel outside. Evan rolled well (luckily) and the grenade bounced down the long tunnel and blew it, collapsing Gerlik’s escape route.
So, that turned out to be a better move than it seemed at first. Walt and Finlay turn their aggressions on Gerlik and put him down again.
At this point, Travis becomes pretty much useless, especially since he failed the Empathy role that would have downgraded Walt’s Will consequence. Walt gets busy digging out the tunnel with his duplicates, which Finlay and Evan get to work separating the Shinkara parasite from its Shailun host. Travis plays Candy Crush or whatever.
Actually, I stepped away from the computer to get my kid some food at this point, but Evan and Finlay work together to give themselves serious boosts and make some stupendous rolls. Not only do they remove the Shinkara parasite, but they manage to save the Shailun host’s life.
Oh, actually, Travis did have a role to play in that last part; he had to convince Evan that saving the Shailun was worth the effort.
The session ended with the Shailun comatose and the captured Shinkara, bereft of a host body, died. At this point, we need to figure out a way to weaponize the process Finlay and Evan created to separate parasite from host, then mass produce it.
Also, will the Shailun still go by Gerlik when he wakes or was that his Shinkara name? Hey, as long as he can resume his post as head of security so he can sneak some fun gadgets into that space station stronghold, we’ll all be happy.
The outside world: comics film funny games interesting things people publishing
by Harry Connolly
2) Steve Rogers: Premature Anti-Facist. h/t James Nicoll
6) Pacific Rim in the Power Rangers style! Video.
7) Want to deter pests without using chemicals or traps? Try an automatic lawn sprinkler with a motion-sensor attached.
Let me start with this: I think THOR (the first movie) was underrated. No, it’s not a great movie, but the performances were solid and there was a human story buried under all that cgi and hammer-swinging. Two brothers, a father disappointed by them both, an heir disinherited and forced to live among common folk where he learns humility, the bond of love and resentment between the brothers… Strip away all the stuff about frost giants and being worthy of Mjolnir, and you have a basic story that anyone can relate to.
In T:TDW, you don’t get any of that. You have a villain trying to destroy the universe with a hidden superweapon that was taken from him, like The One Ring, in a long ago battle. Now the weapon has attached itself to the humblest of creatures, a Jane Foster, and the Big Bad Villain is hunting for her so he can reclaim it.
Except that The One Ring was a ring you could wear that had magic power in it. Everyone has heard of magic rings. In T:TDW the deadly weapon is a cgi liquid that flows through the air like a movie special effect.
And the baddie has to get the weapon in time to use it during The Convergence, when the nine worlds are aligned, and he has to use it in a special place…
Look, I’ve written my share of climaxes that take place at the site of a magic ritual, and the big danger is that the whole thing can seem so arbitrary and artificial. It’s not a conflict between members of a family, it’s a race to stop a guy from doing a thing in a place that looks good on camera.
So, the visuals are cool. The dark elf masks are creepy as hell and Asgard, while not as beautiful as the first movie, is still eye candy.
But where are the complicated relationships? Thor and Loki still have their thing, although it’s evolved to be less complicated than it was.
There’s nothing that hooks the stakes into a real-world concern we can relate to. It’s not an invading army. It’s not lost love (a theme that gets toyed with but not taken seriously). It’s not family drama (seriously, the first THOR could have been moved to a mundane corporate setting without too many changes).
It’s just a bad guy who wants to take the universe back to the state it was in before there was light, which is a thing you can do with magic/superscience floaty liquid, apparently.
Another thing I can’t say I’m fond of is the decision to make the Asgardians and the other members of the Nine Realms aliens. In the comics, Thor is the Thunder God, and what that means cosmologically is whatever the story needs it to mean. He controls the weather, he’s super tough, he comes from a distant place.
In the film the dark elves are given ray guns and space ships with fancy readouts. Yeah, they fight Asgardians with glowing not-light-sabers, but the Asgardians have ray gun anti-aircraft emplacements and flying Viking boats with missile launchers.
It’s a deeply odd set of design choices, especially since the villains have a major advantage with their powerful ranged weapons. Honestly, it would have been better if they’s stuck with magic and pre-gunpowder war-making; Odin would have seemed like less of a tool sending his soldiers into combat with spears and shit.
If you like spectacle, there’s spectacle. Hemsworth, so winningly cheerful in the first film, is mopier here. Yeah, it makes sense that he’s missing Jane but come on. The guy is incredibly charismatic. Let that show. And since this is the spectacle paragraph I’ll mention that he only goes shirtless once, which seems like a missed opportunity.
Anyway, I should have waited for other peoples’ reviews. I wish I had. I liked THOR but THOR: THE DARK WORLD did not live up to expectations.
Yep! The Fate books I pledged for on Kickstarter arrived, and so did my first ever author copies of one of my translated novels. The German language translation of CHILD OF FIRE turned up a mere four (?) years after selling the rights. Maybe it was only three years. Anyway, Russian, French, and I believe Polish books are still out there waiting to be mailed to me.
But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t! Go to town, have fun with it, and if it seems that 50K is a lot of words to write in a month, use this as an opportunity to stretch your boundaries. Some writers do that much in a week, and if you want to be more prolific, you can work on that.
I’ve written about NaNoWriMo before; if you want to read my thoughts on it (and links to other people’s thoughts that I think are worth looking at), please do.
Okay! The jack o’lanterns are lit, making a path from the top of the stairs to my apt door. Spooky lights are lit. Dracula is on the Netflix, but it won’t load because I can’t imagine why a horror classic would be slow to load on Halloween seriously can’t imagine.
I also have a candy bowl with four Butterfingers, four Snickers, four Nestle’s Crunches, and four (meh) Milky Ways.
There is also a cold beer in the fridge, waiting for my kind attention.
I’m going to live blog the number of kids who come, what treats they take, and what costumes they have. Assuming any show up at all.
Anyway, movie’s playing. I always liked swapping out Renfield for Harker at the start of Lugosi’s Dracula. It simplifies things.
6:28: HOORAY! A tiny little girl dressed as “a rabid raccoon” selected a Crunch candy bar. One kid, at least, has come by.
7:00: No other kids have come by.
7:39: No other kids. Should I just give up? Shut out the light and stuff the candy into the freezer?
7:59: Seriously considering the freezer now.
making books reading: beautiful moi? publishing words
by Harry Connolly
making books: a blessing of monsters internet publishing
by Harry Connolly
Writers complain. A lot.
And really, they have reason to. Does the guy who drives the truck full of books from the warehouse to the bookstore have to hold down a day job so he can pursue his love of truck driving? That’s a nope, but the people who create the objects he’s transporting often do. Most people in publishing do not make mint, but most of them don’t live as though their job is a hobby.
For writers, most of them have to squeeze writing in between work and family duties. Then, when they’re published, they find that things completely out of their control threaten to (or do) sink their book.
Lousy covers. Delayed royalty payments. People who send nasty reviews because they want the writer to see the reviewer’s contempt. There are a million indignities to be endured and worst of them all is the strong possibility that a writer will outlive their own career.
But there are good things, too. A review by someone who gets the book. An enthusiastic bookseller. Beautiful cover art. Beautiful design. A kind word from another professional. A happy reader.
I think that anyone within a (virtual) mile of me knows that I’m running a Kickstarter. In fact, I’m writing this post on Friday night but scheduling it for Saturday morning, 12 hours before the campaign closes.
Going into this thing, I knew I would have reason to be grateful. Even if it never funded, I would be grateful to everyone who pledged and everyone who helped me put the project together. My wife was endlessly patient with that damn video shoot. My kid was enthusiastic about making art for the stretch goals (and the Tejohn Minecraft skins). And others, too, that I’m not sure I should specifically name, who looked at the preview version and told me what to cut or change.
But the response from readers has really been beyond my expectations. I could type out thank yous until my fingers fall off and it still wouldn’t seem like enough.
And you know what? This is pretty much on par with my experience as a writer. The fact that I can string together words into a narrative means that I have been the recipient of astonishing kindness, from things as simple as a word of praise to as complex as offers to replace my writing computer or attend events at a convention.
If there’s one thing about being a writer that has surprised me, it’s the tremendous amount of gratitude it has brought into my life. So thank you.