Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Waters are Dark and Full of Horrors! (also, I use also a lot): The Oceans Edition

(The idea for this post came as kayaking season got started this year and everything I read took place on the water, then noticed that there is some freaky stuff in novels, games, and movies that take place on water.  I wrote two posts, then decided that rather than fill what is supposed to be a western blog with nautical horror I would just start a Tumblr of short notes on books and movie... hmm, sounds like how I started this one.  I'm posting the original two this week, and if you like what you see you can read more as it develops over at The Seas are Dark and Full of Horror.)

Take a walk along a New England sea shore.  Go ahead, I dare you, especially if you can do it in a tidal marsh.  You’ll find legs of strange creatures, bits of shell, half-devoured horseshoe crabs, and tentacles off of… something… from the deep.  And that’s just the stuff that washes up, much less what actually survives out there.  No wonder H.P. Lovecraft feared the horrid fishy stench of the unknown depths and turned it into Cthulhu mythology.  (Actually I think it was being raised by a hated pair of spinster aunts and being terrified of their lady parts, plus a mix of standard early 20th century anti-immigrant xenophobia as well).  None the less, the seas are crazy, and home to terrible sea stories to rival last week’s river tales.

Sunless Sea (Failbetter Games): London has fallen into Hell, which is actually a sunless ocean of eldritch abominations and infernal bureaucracy (and I suspect the inside of the enormous skull of some ancient god, a la No-Space from Guardians of the Galaxy).  Kind of like the Sid Meirs Pirates! games, but resource management includes managing terror and the possibility of eating your crew.  Also, the Mongols got there first and are pissed that London fell on top of Xanadu.  The kind of video game that you would get if you put Verne, Coleridge, Conrad, Lovecraft, and Melville in a room full of programmers and absinthe. 

The Terror (Dan Simmons):  What happened to Arctic exploration vessels that go missing in the long dark nights?  Brilliant writing, that’s what.  Well researched, totally believable, even with the HORRIBLE UNKNOWABLE THING out on the ice (and maybe there is a HORRIBLE UNKNOWABLE THING out on the ice, how do I know? Have YOU ever been on the Arctic ice shelf?  Didn’t think so).  Also, why the fuck would you name an Arctic exploration vessel “The Terror”?  That’s just asking for trouble.  Okay, it's named after a mountain in Antarctica, but it's still a terrible idea.

Black Tide Rising series (John Ringo):  After the Max Brook’s Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie Wars books (very different from the movie), The Walking Dead comics and series, and a million “vet from the Sandbox pops caps into Z’s” novels, how do you make zombie apocalypse tales fresh? By shipping the whole plot out into the ocean!  In Ringo’s four book series the surest way to survive is to take to the sea, and even there people with the zombie virus can turn.  Most survivors are found in groups, locked in sealed compartment after weeks or months at sea.  Also, most of the women who come out of the compartments are pregnant.  What happens in the compartment stays in the compartment.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Jules Verne):  I haven’t read it since I read the children’s version as a wee youth, but Mrs. Slap just read it and says it’s awesome.  Also, always trust Mrs. Slap.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Waters are Dark and Full of Horrors! (also, I use also a lot): The Rivers Edition

(I started writing so many notes about kayaking, oceans, horrors from the depths, and pirates that I decided to just start a tumblr for that writing.  Here are the ideas that got me heading in that direction; you can read more at The Seas are Dark and Full of Terror.)

"Fuck.  You don't get a chance to know what the fuck you are in some factory in Ohio."- Apocalypse Now

Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad):  The Horror!  The Horror!  Generally, people suck.  Also, interesting discussion of rivers as the real places of exploration of the self and humanity (which as a river kayaker I completely understand).

Fevre Dream (George R. R. Martin):  The tale of a tired riverboat captain reaching for a last chance at riches and glory on the antebellum Mississippi… but his business partner is a fucking vampire!  In the middle of a vampire war!  Also, Martin later went on to write a little known series called A Song of Ice and Fire, starting with an obscure book called Game of Thrones.

Apocalypse Now Redux (Francis Ford Coppola):  You probably already know all about the original film, but after the “behind the scenes” documentary Hearts of Darkness came out a revised edition that included cut material shown in the documentary was released.  The stopover at the French plantation, which may be a literal ghost town, is one of the best scenes in any version.  Also, Apocalypse Now Redux is my 2nd favorite reimagining of Heart of Darkness after the misunderstood (and terribly named) console game Spec Ops: The Line by 2K Games.

Call Down Thunder (Kerry Newcomb)
My favorite book ever, which separates the man Mike Fink from the legend of Mike Fink by making them two different characters, who frequently come into conflict.  Perhaps not as creepy as everything else on this list, except for the Shawnee torture practices, the really detailed romp with a serving wench, and Fink's constantly speaking to the Mississippi, Ohio, and Monongahela like they were lovers.  Also, you may not have any idea who Mike Fink is, but once upon a time he was as legendary as Davy Crockett and had his own ride at Disney.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Fine Cinema of Mad Max: Fury Road

The Australian Outback after a nuclear and biological disaster is dominated by three city-states, each of which controls one vital resource- food, fuel, or ammunition.  As part of a periodic exchange of goods one of these city-states, the Citadel, manages a heavily guarded merchant caravan that connects the three city-states.  Despite being the best source of water (via a well-pressured underground spring) and food, the Citadel struggles with radiation and birth defects among its population.  The leader of the Citadel manages the social tensions generated by these birth defects in three ways.  First, by enslaving healthy men and using them as living blood banks. Second, by enslaving healthy women to act as brood mothers in hopes of birthing a generation of fit children.  Finally, by creating a Norse-inspired cult that reveres death in combat before succumbing to radiation-linked diseases.

Enter the film’s main conflict- the Citadel’s best warrior and caravan leader is a woman kidnapped from a distant matriarchal city-state as a child, who wants to free the brood mother sex slaves and with them return to her homeland across the desert.  As an experienced caravan leader she is familiar with terrain, the unusual weather hazards, and has made deals with the scattered bandits and tribes along the way for protection.  When the caravan leader makes her break for her homeland we see start to see the importance of healthy potential mothers to the new society and the strong connections between the city-states as all three bring their warriors together to recapture and re-enslave the brood mothers.  This sets up the film’s ominous question: what is more important, the continuation of a stable society, or the personal freedom of individuals?  In the finest tradition of the Western films, a lone silent gunslinger enters the plot to challenge the assumptions of the main characters and drive them to greater levels of personal understanding and introspection.

That’s Mad Max: Fury Road in a nutshell.  Or, it’s a two hour car chase with almost no dialogue.

Honestly, it’s both.  There is a rich story going on in Mad Max: Fury Road, and it’s right there for any viewer to note.  But you can also completely ignore that story and go right for the constant rev of engines and beautifully choreographed mayhem (Cirque du Solei did some of the stunts in the big fights).  If director George Miller did a film of nothing but two hours of motorcyclists in the Namib desert I would pay to see that, but have them jumping over trucks on fire?  Awesome.

My favorite part of Mad Max: Fury Road came about 2/3 of the way through, in a brief pause in the action, as Max Rockatansky himself spoke his first full line of dialogue: “Hope is a mistake.  If you don’t fix what’s broke, you’ll go insane”.

This film is brilliant.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Sixth Gun Coming to Savage Worlds

The Sixth Gun is a weird western comic book that for some weird western reason I never seem to read, besides the few trades I picked up at a Borders going out of business sale.  It is still coming out monthly, and now is part of a Kickstarter campaign to create a Deadlands compatible game with the Savage Worlds rules.  Check it out,

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Manifest Destiny- Lewis & Clark & Monsters

Every friendship needs a Lewis and a Clark.  This was the conclusion of one of my closest friend, President Thomas Jefferson, as we gathered to ruminate on life one day.  One to be a starry-eyed dreamer, one to confront reality.  We conducted this conversation as His Excellency and I switched roles in our friendship, where my Meriwether Lewis years of being a student of history and philosophy were being overtaken by a life of Clark-style tearing up the corporate ladder, interspersed with adventures on mountains and in deserts.  In honor of this notion of our friendship His Excellency, who has settled into the role of Lewis to my Clark, gave me the graphic novel Manifest Destiny, the true story of why Thomas Jefferson sent Lewis & Clark to the West.

President Jefferson implores you to go West

Vampires.  Monsters.  Buffalo minotaurs.  Crazy plant creatures that turn you into walking moss.  Yes, the French conned us back is in 1802, because the Louisiana Purchase was just one vast Dungeons & Dragons adventure.

In the kind of story that works best in comic books, Manifest Destiny tells an alternate version of the Lewis & Clark expedition, including the secret, undocumented army of river rats and convicts brought up river as cannon fodder and Sacajawea’s warrior princess skills.  The keelboat is full of guns, wooden stakes, and Greek fire, and our heroes dutifully slay monsters with dreamy wistfulness or ruthless precision, as fits their particular styles. 

For all the wilderness adventure and original monsters, Manifest Destiny excels as a character driven story.  The relationship between the two men has been explored in Steven Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage and in M. R. Montgomery’s Jefferson & the Gun-Men.  But while Manifest Destiny is a fictional fantasy, I felt like I got to understand the nature of the two men, particularly the violent and taciturn Clark, in a way that I haven't before.

Manifest Destiny!  Still being published monthly by Image, with two trade volumes out and a third on the way.  Go buy a copy today!