Saturday, April 30, 2011

Red Ripper- Conan at the Alamo

Back in 2000 I remember seeing a book called The Red Ripper plastered on every drug store and supermarket book shelf.  It had a vaguely celtic, proto-Outlander cover, and I assumed it was some sort of Scottish romance novel.  Years later I connected the author, Kerry Newcomb, with a series of oddball westerns about a family that were all secret agents of George Washington, or something like that.  Turns out I loved The Red Ripper, despite (or maybe because of) it many glaring historical inaccuracies.

Any time that you read a Kerry Newcomb book, you have to be willing to completely push reality out of your mind. Although he writes historical novels, Newcomb is a fablist and a teller of tall tales, not an historian. Take the author's note, for example: "The Red Ripper is a work of fiction, and that's a fact. I have taken liberties with time and events where it suited the yarn. If you're writing a thesis on the Texas Revolution this probably isn't the research novel for you, unless your topic is tall tales, high courage, dangerous days, and a legendary hero."

And the there's the opening page: "This is his story, just as he lived it. And what isn't true... ought to be."

You can't read this opening and expect a fact based novel. Red Ripper is actually almost entirely fictional. The novel takes place from 1829 to 1836. The real William "Big Foot" Wallace didn't arrive in Texas until 1838. Almost nothing in the story is accurate, but that isn't the point. Newcomb probably saw that the Texas revolution was a great story, that Big Foot Wallace was a great character, and the two should be stuck together. So what if it isn't exactly true?

What you do get is a big, crazy, Kerry Newcomb story. I've read almost a dozen of his novels, and they all start the same way. An incredibly heroic young white man suffers tragedy, is betrayed, and spends the next couple of hundred pages exacting a bloody revenge and finding forbidden love. His novels don't read as westerns so much as sword and sorcery novels with the sorcery replaced by the mythic West. If you replaced Big Foot Wallace's red hair and sombrero with dark hair and a loin cloth, this could be renamed Conan and the Alamo (Conan was also created by a Texan).  The Red Ripper isn't accurate, but it is a ripping yarn, and that's all that it needs to be.

The Battle of the Alamo if Conan was there.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Pioneer Bacon

From the 2011 Daily Bacon Calendar:

“The pioneers who journeyed west in covered wagons brought bacon with them for sustenance.”

Outstanding.  No wonder so many people moved West.

"I'd trade all my gold some for some tasty bacon!"

Friday, April 22, 2011

Badass of the Week

About five years ago I was in the middle of a brief obsession with Doc Holliday (really, though, can you blame me?) and while trolling the interwebs for obscure facts on Doc I found a profile of him on a web site called Badass of the Week.  Although Badass of the Week was not quite a year old at this point, the author was well on his way to crafting a writing style combining half-baked historical ideas, D&D and Star Wars references, and overwhelming profanity into weekly genius.  Every Friday, the site puts up another crazy biography of someone overwhelmingly badass man, woman, animal, Greek god, or machinery that makes your man parts hurt (even if you don’t have man parts).  For example:

“Here's an example of why you didn't fuck with Doc if you knew what was good for you.  At one point during his colorful career, Holliday owned and operated a saloon in Las Vegas, New Mexico.  One of the babes that worked there had a crazy ex-boyfriend who had just been discharged from the Army, and this guy wanted her to stop working as a Hooters Girl and getting ogled by a bunch of middle-aged perverts.  When she told him to go violent hump a chainsaw, he got pissed, went outside the saloon, and started shooting out this windows with his pistol.  Doc didn’t even fucking flinch.  He calmly put down the beer mug he was polishing, drew his Colt Peacemaker revolver, sauntered outside, and dropped the punk with one shot.  Then he probably went off and slept with the dead guy’s ex-girlfriend just to be a dick.”

Over the years Badass of the Week has profiled a number of mountain men, road agents, Indian fighters, and Indian fighter fighters, include Cherokee Bill, Geronimo, Liver Eating Johnston, Josey Wales, Osceola, William Barret Travis, Pancho Villa, Andrew Jackson, Captain Jonathon Davis, Crazyhorse, Hugh Glass, Teddy Roosevelt, and the Honey Badger(ok, the last one has nothing to do with westerns but really is the best thing on the interwebs).

Even better, it seems that a group of fans in lockup told the writer to stop being such a wuss and do more Old West entries.  Awesome.  Check it out every week!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Red Faction- Monkey Wrench Gang on Mars

Last year I wandered into a local video game store in a bad mood, and was looking for a game that would help me vent my frustrations with the modern world.  Yes, I understand the irony of using a video game for that, but bear with me.  In a rare case of judging a book by its cover, I was struck by the image on game box: a shadowy figure in a duster, carrying a rifle and a sledgehammer, on a stark desert background.  The game description, about a revolution by Martian miners against the Earth Defense Force, who had gone from liberators in a previous installment of the series to brutal occupiers, certainly looked intriguing.  I took the box to the front counter and asked about the game.  “Awesome”, I was told.  “You can blow up ANYTHING.”  I was sold.

Red Faction Guerilla was not at all what I expected.  First off, there were the moral challenges.  I tend to play role-playing games, which present many solutions to obstacles in the game, often with a “good” solution and an “evil” solution (or light side / dark side of the Force, Renegade / Paragon, Open Palm / Closed Fist, etc).  Red Faction made no such distinctions.  There are a lot of things that need to be smashed when destroying the occupiers, and you have to find your own way through the game.  For example, I took it upon myself to blow up a refueling station for the EDF vehicles that looked suspiciously like Hum-Vs.  Charging the gate wasn’t going to work.  I found canisters of explosives in an abandoned shack nearby, but I couldn’t carry them in.  Eventually it occurred to me to put as much explosive as I could into the back of a truck, attached a small bomb with a remote detonator to it all, then ram it through the front gate into the fuel tanks.  That’s when the moral challenges set in.  This game was more about car bombs, EIDs, booby traps, and sniper rifles than it was about big machine guns and the BFG-9000.  There was no scale to show how evil my character was becoming, nor where I fit on the line between freedom fighter and outright terrorist (although it did track the number of civilian bystanders who were casualties to my exploits); it was for me to remember faces of friends and co-workers in harms way in our various wars while I was drawn further into the game.

A soldier in Iraq playing an insurgent in Red Faction.  Too much irony.
And I was drawn further into the game, particularly the Red Faction’s motivations for the revolution.  There was a lot of ending the occupation, liberating Mars, etc, etc.  One crazy voice, however, decided that Mars needed to be purged of all outside influence.  This was Jenkins, or as I thought of him, Edward Abbey in Space.  Under Jenkins guidance, I found myself destroying construction equipment, demolishing bridges, going on rampages against billboards (thanks, Doc Sarvis!), and listening to Jenkins’ long, drawn out rants and philosophies about Mars.  It was, quite frankly, like listening to an audiobook of Desert Solitaire with explosions and gunfire in the background.  I found myself regularly blowing something up, running into the desert being chased by gunhands and flying gunships, and being reminded of Hayduke’s flight from the Search and Rescue Committee in The Monkey Wrench Gang.  After a few hours in the game, it became clear that Red Faction Guerilla was as close as I was going to get to Monkey Wrench Gang- The Game.  If you don't know what The Monkey Wrench Gang is, shame on you, and read this blog.
Doc Sarvis destroying a billboard.  He would love Mars.

Not as cathartic as a long run or a mountain hike, but sometimes you just want to play Hayduke and start smashing.  Mars First!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Boba Fett, Intergalactic Gunslinger

I realize that while I have not posted in some time, I do have a stack of half-written emotionally stirring blog posts that I am still wrapping my head around.  Since it may still take me a while to get these out, I thought I’d pass the time with some alternate takes on every nerd’s favorite intergalactic bounty hunter, Boba Fett.

Also, for the truly brave, you may like this very NSFW blog.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

God Bless America and God Bless the Banjo

In Ecotopia, Ernest Callenbach’s middle finger to the modern world, the pre-enlightened protagonist explains to the reader what he values in life.  To be out on the town with a beautiful woman, who catches the gaze of the people around him, to be seen by the best people, to be with the best people.  Well, readers, that was me last night. 

I went to a local Bluegrass show, a quadruple booking of regional bands.  The gig was held in the auditorium of a somewhat run down community center.  One web site listed it as a BYO show, which it turns out is different than BYOB- it means feel free to bring your own snacks, but we’ll have candy bars and bottled water in the lobby.  Our wine bottle stayed in the car.

Bluegrass shows are all strings, from mandolins to fiddles to banjos, guitars, and vocal cords.  There are no preening rock stars on Bluegrass stage.  The band literally shares the stage, moving in and out of the lead mike throughout each song in an egalitarian way.  God Bless America, and God Bless the Banjo.

By our count the average age of the attendees was around 50.  That is actually younger than the average age of the musicians, which was closer to 60.  Bluegrass shows tend to attract a mix of aging hippies, vegans, cowboy dreamers, retirees, and environmental activists.  These are the best people, and I was with them.