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Nice Kicks!-April, 2014

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I love crowd-funding!  It combines the heart-warming pleasure of supporting friends and projects I believe in with the thrill of gambling on a project’s success.  Here are my latest finds:

Queen City Conquest:

Hosted by Mark and Chris from the Misdirected Mark Podcast, Queen City Conquest is a 3-day table-top gaming convention in Buffalo, NY. It’s a smaller, more intimate convention, and a lot of fun. This year’s con is going to fall on September 19th-21st, so of course they’re going to have a pirate theme. They are mostly looking for pre-sale tickets and sponsors, but if you are near the Buffalo area, back this project and come game with me!

 

Make Movie Fighters Free:

Another podcast related project, “Movie Fighters” is a premium bad-movie podcast hosted by Matt Wilson and Chris Sims of War Rocket Ajax. They began the ‘cast as an incentive when their sponsoring site, Comics Alliance, briefly shut its doors. Every episode, they watch a b-movie of a certain style, and follow up with an in-depth review. They’ve watched live-action video game adaptations, wrestling movies, and the worst in holiday films. The original cast was hosted on Band Camp, which is not a great system for longer podcast files. They want to move the podcast onto iTunes, and this project will pay for another year of terrible cinema expirences.

 

Storium:

Storium is an online game that combines storytelling with tabletop RPG elements to let groups of people make their own stories. I’m not exactly sure how this is going to work in practice, but the game has support from some of my absolute favorite new writers. Mur Lafferty, Saladin Ahmed, and Chuck Wendig are all providing settings for the game, amongst others. Have you and your friends ever wanted to play in the head of your favorite author? Storium looks like your chance.

 

Ginnie Dare: Blockade Runner:

On the Indiegogo side of the fence, Scott Roche is crowdfunding the sequel to his original all-ages Sci-fi novel Ginnie Dare: Crimson Sands. I greatly enjoyed the first one, and am excited for Ginnie’s next adventure.

 

Hugh Likes Comics: Rat Queens

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ratqueens

Written by Kurtis J. Wiebe

Drawn by Roc Upchurch

Published by Image Shadowline

Perhaps I wanted to like “Rat Queens” a bit more than I did. It’s a very good book, make no mistake. The art is gorgeous in an ultra-violent sort of way, the characters are interesting, diverse, and well-used, and the action is intense. But there’s just something about this comic that didn’t impress me as much as I hoped it would.

It sounds like I’m damning this book with faint praise, and I suppose I am. It is a gory, snarky ‘Swords and Sassery’ comic in the exact same vein as Jim Zubb and Edwin Huang’s ‘Skull Kickers.” Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite hit its beats as well.

The eponymous Rat Queens are a quartet of adventuring ladies in the familiar mold: Dwarf Fighter, Human Cleric, Elf Wizard, and Smidgen (I E Halfling) Rogue. They, and the rest of the adventuring parties, are causing a problem for the town of Palisade. All they do is drink and fight, and it’s hurting property values. When the local Captain sends them all out on quests to get them out of his hair, the Rat Queens soon discover that they’ve been set up, and assassins are on their trail.

The dialogue is snappy, filthy, and funny, but the plot is pretty bare-bones. It feels a bit too caught up in the conventions of a certain unnamed table-top Role Playing Game. While the comic starts out as a parody there comes a point where you’re not lamp-shading tropes, you’re just using them. I think that’s what disappoints me about this comic. It’s so gamey that it doesn’t have much weight to it, even when extras are being cut in half and stabbed in the eye. There’s not any real conflict in all this slaughter. I’d have liked the Rat Queens to have come up against something a bit more epic. This first volume is all random encounters.

I do like the fact that Wiebe and Upchurch really put some thought into the design and structure of the world, giving it a real multicultural feel without seeming as forced as the other aspects. The all-female team of adventurers is not presented as strange or even particularly transgressive in the world of the comic. This doesn’t just apply to gender roles, either. Race in Palisade means a bit more than white with pointed ears or white with a beard and a highlands accent. “Rat Queens” presents modern fantasy pulp perfectly by including modern gender and racial equality, and never even calling attention to itself for it. Diversity can be a touchy subject in science fiction and fantasy, with a small but vocal minority demanding the ‘authenticity’ of confirming a bias towards Straight, White and Male. The Rat Queens are here to kick ass and quaff ale, and they don’t care how much blood gets on their outfits. That’s really refreshing, if messy.

“Rat Queens” is a style-over-substance battlefield romp with four lady mercenaries who say ‘fuck.’ Quite a lot, actually. It’s not for kids, but it is an entertaining but character-sheet thin comic for adults. If you’re caught up on “Skull Kickers” and nostalgic for your multi-sided dice, “Rat Queens” might be the comic you’re looking for.

 

Fiction: The Freelance Hunters in “The Gold Equations”

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Thanks again to everyone who gave a review or spread the word about Glory’s Gauntlet.  Here’s a brand-new short story featuring our not-quite-noble heroes!

The Gold Equations

With a final howl of rage and pain, the beast died on the tip of Incisor. When it fell limp, Joachim pulled the magical spear from the thing’s heart, and stared down at it. He watched the still form and weathered the rush of emotion and sensation he always felt after a battle. The Filcher did not seem quite so monstrous now, clearly visible under the torchlight. It was not a creature made for fighting.

It was a chimera, a monster created by magic from the parts of several beings. It had the mottled wings of an owl, patterned in gray, brown and black. Its teeth and claws had a rodent-like quality, for climbing and gnawing through any obstacles. It had the delicate limbs and body structure of a great cat, and the face and hands were distinctly humanoid.

The creature had never spoken, but Joachim could sense the intelligence in it. The Filcher was something of a local legend. As the name implied, it was a tool created for the purpose of sneaking into villages or country estates and stealing valuables. Over the years, many attempts had been made to track down and kill the beast, but even sightings of it had been rare enough that it was still considered a myth by most. One nobleman, the Duke Hideikon, was so certain he was plagued by the beast that he had hired the Freelance Hunters to bring back the creature’s head. But the small retainer he had offered was nothing compared to what they found in the beast’s underground lair.

They had tracked it though fens and swamps to a chamber hollowed out beneath a pair of huge, skeletal trees. The tiny entrance was nearly impossible to spot, but Glory moved the earth with her magic, and Bingo had secured a rope. Joachim had climbed down and finished the beast. His surprise at finding such a huge space under the swamp was nothing compared to what filled it.

Everywhere Joachim shone his torch, the flame was reflected in gleaming gold. Coins of every denomination had once been scrupulously piled against the cave walls, but their sheer number had collapsed them into massive heaps. There were other precious things as well: Statutes and carvings, bits of gleaming dress armor, paintings rotting and mildewed in gilt frames, an armory’s worth of ceremonial swords and daggers inlaid with silver, and a small pile of gems, in an endless variety of color, cut and clarity. And in the center of the room, a skeleton in tattered robes. Glory stood over it, making notes. She had the faraway look in her eye that told Joachim that she was examining the corpse with a wizard’s sight.

“Judging by the amount of residual ley connections between the corpse and the chimera, I think we can assume he was its creator,” she said.

“Can you figure what offed the sparker?” Bingo asked. He paused in his inspection of the cave. The space was a hollow of earth and rock, probably not all-together naturally formed. It was nearly invisible, and almost dry when the Filcher was using it as a lair, but they had widened the entrance, and a steady stream of water and mud had begun to collect in the basin.

“I think he was killed by his own creation. Look at the rough treatment of the clothing. The chimera stripped him of anything valuable and then continued with its programming.”

“Wait,” Joachim said. He had never been quick to grasp the workings of magic. “Are you saying this was a mage-made creature?” Glory sighed and dusted off her hands on her coat.

“Obviously. Just look at it. It was clearly a creature stitched together for the purpose of creating a perfect thief. And the bastard used a Hillfolk to do it. I’m almost sad I didn’t get my hands on him myself. This is the grossest misuse of magic.”

“So he flashes up this side-show attraction, trains it to prig, and then gets owned by his own monster? Is that even legit?” Bingo asked.

“I’m no expert in Chimerstry, but from what little I’ve studied, I’d have thought it impossible. Chimeras aren’t technically alive. They’re basically golems made out of different animal parts and patched together with healing magic. So most would be programmed not to harm their creators, but this one obviously had some very specific programming as well.”

“Such as, ‘Defend the horde from anyone who enters?’” offered Joachim.

“Quite so. And when he came to collect the treasure the Filcher stole, it must have been unable to resolve the contradiction and went berserk. Foolish, really.”

“But his loss is our gain, right?” Joachim said, rubbing his hands together in excitement. There was enough treasure here to set all three of them up for life!” His companions shared an embarrassed look.

“Joachim, I don’t think you’ve considered the Gold Equations,” Glory said. A new fall of mud and earth splashed to the cave floor, as if to punctuate her sentence. Monsters and traps brought many would-be adventurers to an early end, but nothing killed one surer than greed.

“A treasure hunter can only leave with as much as he can carry safely,” he said, as though quoting from a shared text. “Of course, but look at it all! We can’t just leave it here!” Glory brushed some mud from her sleeve and fixed him with a hard look.

“How do you expect to get it out of here, then? Our only exit is up a long rope tied to a dead tree.”

Bingo pulled a foot-long sword with a saw-like blade out of his pack and handed it to the wizard. Then he took the warrior aside.

“Joachim, We’ve been out here bug-hunting for a week. Going crow-wise back to the apple-sellers will take at least to days. The rainy season’s coming on, and we Jemmied the area but good getting down here. We’re out of time, mate.” He splashed his boots in the ankle high water to emphasize his point.

“But there has to be another entrance. The filcher got this much treasure in, after all,” Joachim protested.

“A kennuck a time adds up over forty years. It busts me, too. If there was another seeker out of here, I would’ve Palled it.” Glory carefully handed the short sword over to Joachim. The blade was glowing white hot. Raindrops sizzled where they struck it. He stared at it for a moment before starting to work freeing the head from the Filcher’s neck.

“Alright, what about magic, Glory? Can we shrink it all down, maybe? Or make it lighter than air?” Glory rolled her eyes behind his back.

“That’s not really an option. First of all, Gold is an element. That’s much more difficult to alter than a compound substance.”

“What, like Earth and Fire?” She sighed.

“It’s a different kind of element. You know what, never mind. I could do it, but we don’t have the time, and besides, the gold would be worthless afterwards.”

“Why?” The idea of worthless gold had no place in Joachim’s head.

“Alchemy, man! She wasn’t the first magician to try and get rich quick through magic. It’s not exactly honest, but turning base metals into valuable ones is one of the cornerstones of the discipline. Bankers started looking for the signs, and an honest one wont touch so much as a coin if there is magic on it.”

“But, gold is gold, isn’t it?”

“Would you trust coins a magician gave you?” He didn’t have to think about that one.

“I see your point, but we’ve got a few minutes, surely?”

“This place was kept dry by spells tied to the Filcher. Now that it’s dead, everything’s gone unstable, and water will go the path of least resistance.”

“You mean, we’re about to be flooded down here.” He sighed, and went back to work removing the head from the Filcher’s shoulders.

“Exactly. How’s that head, coming. We can carry that out, at least.” He finished chopping the head off of the monster and shoved it into a sack. At least their reward would cover the trip’s expenses.

The earth was dripping and sliding all around them, now. Piles of treasure were swallowed up one after another, and Joachim found himself unable to do a thing to stop them. He let his companions, being much shorter than himself, climb up the rope out first. The mud was up to his waist by the time he started his own escape. He heard the groan of roots slipping in the mud under his weight, smelled the damp rushing of water and soil. He felt his dirty hands slip on the wet rope several times. It was as harrowing an escape as he had ever attempted in his days as a mercenary, and by the time he reached the surface as was back in the storm with the other Freelance Hunters, there was nothing left but a watery sink hole beneath a pair of dead oaks.

Joachim stared down at the hole for a long time, knowing it was impossible to go back, but unable to leave the treasure behind.

“There was enough down there to live a soft for a dozen lifetimes,” he said. Bingo came up beside him and clapped him on the back. It was a long reach for the Hillfolk.

“Like you’d be able to settle down,” he smirked. That got him to smile, at least.

“Maybe,” he admitted.

“You win some, you lose some,” Glory said. “Those are just the way the Gold Equations play out. You can’t spend what you drown trying to carry. We completed the mission, and we’ll be set for a little while when we get back to the Duke. He’ll show us his gratitude, and I have a few things I can look up when we get back to the city. It wasn’t a total waste.”

“True, but there was an entire fortune down there,” Joachim muttered petulantly.

“I wouldn’t say an entire one,” Bingo said. He reached into his jacket and with a flourish like a stage conjurer, produced an emerald the size of an apple. “I pulled this while you and the wizard were debating the Gold Equations.” He winked.

While the Duke was not as quite as generous with his gratitude as they hoped, the Freelance Hunters still managed to winter very comfortably that year. When they passed by his estates the next spring, the swamp was completely unrecognizable, and they could not find the site of the Filcher’s nest. To this day it has never been found, but it remains a topic of local interest, and occasionally an old coin is discovered in a stream or under a field. They are considered practically magical by the villagers, and are said to change the fate of whoever finds one.

Hugh Likes Comics-”Down, Set, Fight!”

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Written by Chad Bowers and Chris Sims

Drawn by Scott Kowalchuk

Published by Oni Press

One punch can change your life forever. Chuck “Fearless” Fairlane was a rising football star, set on his life path by his inveterate gambler father from an early age. That is, until he punched out an opposing team’s mascot, then the opposing team. Then HIS OWN Team. Then the coaches. His brawl went in League history, but he retired rather than blame the mascot for his outburst.

Ten years after leaving pro football, Chuck is working as a football coach for Darius Rucker High School (Home of the FIghting Blowfish.) One day, a man in an elephant costume appears and picks a fight with him . Soon he finds himself in search of his father, pursued by a bear, and a shark, and a tiger, and just about every other mascot in the U.S. Plus, one determined FBI agent.

While this comic is on the surface a story about a dude beating up hordes of mascots, there was surprising depth in the relationships Chuck has with his father, as well as agent Harrison. Ostensibly a fight comic with a good dose of humor, “Down, Set, Fight!” turns out to be an unexpectedly effective character study.

The art has quite a 70′s grind house feel to it, and is very detailed. Kowalchuk brings the steadily escalating fight scenes, which ramp up exponentially as the series progresses, to the page with economy and skill. The colors have a muted, washed out feel as well. This reinforces the exploitation style, but it doesn’t show off the colorful mascot costumes as well as it could have.

“Down, Set, Fight!” was not my usual sort of comic, but I enjoy the creators’ other works and was glad that I took a shot on it. Much like Oni’s smash-hit “Scott Pilgrim,” this is a fight comic with hidden depths. For full disclosure, I recently interviewed all three of them on the Way of the Buffalo, so I might be a bit biased on this one, but I’m giving it a recommendation.

“Down, Set, Fight!” is available in print as a Graphic Novel, or as digital issues from Comixology.

The results of Operation: DBtBFS!

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Thanks to JRD, Rosemary, Janelle, Tibbi, Nuchtchas, and Line Noise for your reviews! Also, thanks to everybody who spread the word about the operation. We didn’t reach the goal of nine reviews, but I’ll be posting a new short story, “The Gold Equations,” to this space soon!
Congratulations to our prize drawing winner, TIbbi!

Bang! Biff! Pow! Justice League: War isn’t just for um, well, actually, who is this movie for? (Review)

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Let me begin by confessing that I have not read a single page of Justice League comics in the DC New 52. So I have no idea how accurate or off base “Justice League: War,” the new animated adaptation of the first arc is. Initial previews and reviews led me to believe that DC’s new direction just wasn’t my thing, and this movie did nothing to convince me to give them a second look.

The plot is rather thin and familiar. A group of well-known superheroes who don’t know each other discover something bad is about to happen. They slowly begin to gather to address the threat and do so just in time for an unstoppable alien army to jump through some portals in an American city. Towards the end of the film, their big bad leader shows up and they gang up on him. They find a way to close the portals and then the threat is suddenly over. The end.

It may not be fair to compare the film to the blockbuster live-action “Avengers,” since the comic “War” is based on appeared close to a year before that film was released, but the similarities are unavoidable. I just wish that “War” had borrowed a little bit of “Avengers” wit and charm.

The movie’s not all bad. The action is well animated, and although it can’t fully carry the ball, there are plenty of neat super-powered displays. I was actually shocked by the level of violence and profanity in this cartoon. The Justice League prevents Darkseid from using his Omega Beams by literally stabbing out his eyes. ‘Just like Oedipus!’ Wonder Woman exclaims when they hatch the plan. It’s the one smart bit of dialogue in a film that portrays these iconic characters as vulgar, petty jerks.

The depiction of characters is where this movie really falls flat. This movie has a cynical edge that it perhaps shares with ‘Man of Steel,’ portraying the public as distrustful ingrates and the heroes as the worst versions of themselves. The writers were going for more extreme, gritty versions, but unheroic, downright stupid, superheroes just leave a bad taste in my mouth. The dialog eschews cleverness for playground vulgarity, but if you really wanted to hear Green Lantern call Batman a douche bag, this is the animated film for you.

The film ends with the characters not having really learned anything, just left a pile of destruction in their wake. It left me with the question of who this adaptation was for? Fans of the New 52, presumably, but with such a high level of violence and vulgarity, it seems inappropriate for younger fans. Older fans like myself will find the thin story and unpleasant characterizations a pale shadow of the Bruce Timm and Dwayne McDuffie eras of DC Animation. I can’t recommend this movie.

The Plan for 2014: The Page of Awesome

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My goal for 2014 is to act more professionally as a writer, and to keep myself motivated. In order to complete this task, I have to keep myself working. When I began submitting short fiction in 2009, I created a spreadsheet to keep track of what I’ve sent where. It has been very helpful, and when I reviewed it late last year, I discovered that I have a tenancy to let a story sit after it gets rejected. This doesn’t do me any good.

I also noticed that I let my blog go fallow, writing in fits and spurts rather than consistently. I want to have a steady output of work in 2014. This means not just showing up at the page, but being visible to editors, and my audience. So I devised the Page of Awesome.

The Page of Awesome is the front page of a very handsome writing notebook I received from my In-laws this Christmas. It works much like my submission-tracking spreadsheet. Each time I make progress in one of my goals for the year, I make a tally mark, and I’ll be posting my goals throughout the year. But unlike systems like the Magic Spreadsheet, which track showing up at the page, I’m keeping track of work that I send out into the world. My goal is to have three-hundred tallies on the page by the end of 2014. Here is how the page breaks down:

Short Story Submissions:

This is probably the most important box for me personally. The most important skill for a writer, even more than craft, is overcoming the sense of rejection inherent in submitting fiction. A rejection, particularly a form rejection, feels like a punch in the gut. And you’re going to get rejections FAR more often than you will acceptances. Sharing your work is the real wall a writer needs to climb over. Having a slush pile myself for The Way of the Buffalo helped. It became much easier to empathize with the mysterious editors behind the rejection emails when I was writing them myself, looking for the right words to say that the story was good, but not what I wanted. It was also good to get a sense of what kind of stories go into a slush pile, just how towering they can get, and what are good stories, and what are bad ones. But I was still letting stories go idle after they were rejected. So the first part is dedicated to short story submissions to magazines, and I’m hoping to send out at least 100 in 2014. I have five active stories in rotation right now, and I’ve got maybe three or four short stories that need just a little more editing before I send them out. So far I’ve been able to add one new story a month. I’m averaging one to two months per rejection, so I should make this goal fairly easily, I hope.

Podcast Releases:

This will almost certainly be the shortest of the three columns, because I release about two episodes a month, and I’m not great about keeping to a set release schedule. I’m hoping that I can use this motivation to keep me going regularly, and I still have The Dark Wife to finish, so this might be a solid 50 by the end of the year. I’m also hoping to take part in this year’s “31 Days of Podcasting,” so that will add to my numbers as well.

Blog Posts

Finally, there is this humble blog, which you may have noticed I’ve been a bit more active with this year. I’m still not the kind of blogger who posts every day, but I’ve been trying to implement more regular, recurring features, and increasing my output. I’m trying to get at least two posts out a week, and ramping up from there. I’d like to post 100 articles this year.

So how am I doing so far? Not including this post, my stats are:

Short Story Submissions: 9

Podcast Episodes: 3

Blog Posts: 13

I’ll certainly update this figure on the blog as the year rolls on, to let you know how this current motivation experiment plays out.

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