Playing James Bond

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Bond Actors, Image Source: 45-Magazine.com

I don’t really have a ton of time today for a full fledged blog entry–in the middle of grading and trying to play catch up with my own school work this week.  It is midterms and unlike most midterms, I actually have midterm exams in both my classes this year and plus I have to get midterm grades ready for the students that I teach, so this weekend and upcoming week promises to be super stressful.

However, last night a YouTube channel did a feature on their favorite actors who have portrayed James Bond.  As a James Bond fan (I’ve seen all the James Bond movies except one–which I intend to rectify ASAP–and I disagree with their assessment of the actors.  I’m linking the video below, but later in the week, I will do my own ranking of James Bond portrayals.

Well, that’s all I have time for today–sorry, this is a shorter one, but I thought I’d better keep it short and sweet rather than not have one today.  Gotta’ run.  See you next time!

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Character Sketches

 

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Character Sketch slide, Image Source: Slideshare.net

This will be a shorter blog post–limited time before class.  However, watching Star Trek:Deeps Space Nine has helped clue me into the fact that there is a piece missing from my writing: Character Sketches.

I can see clearly the importance that character sketches can add to the story.  In fact, this idea was one that I discovered sometime last year, but haven’t really put into practice when I saw a young lady on a motorcycle last autumn in Chattanooga.  She wasn’t riding a scooter, but a full on Kawasaki motorcycle with black leathers.  The only concession to her gender was a pink motorcycle helmet with the black sunshade pulled down.  I remember her vividly because I have a project that calls for a someone riding a motorcycle over the dunes of Mars and she fit the bill perfectly, but I never “wrote” her down in my notebook or anything.

Of course, I promptly forgot about this image and have limped along barely completing projects and wondering why the projects I’ve finished so far aren’t being accepted–and that’s the reason.  The young lady on the bike was compelling because of distinctness–she was a unique individual with a character all her own.  I create characters that are just ciphers for the actions that I want to happen in the story.  I need to create character sketches that match the complexity and uniqueness of the individuals that I see in daily life.

You can be sure that after class today, I will take a moment to put her sketch (& any other unique people I run across today) down in my notebook in order to remember that Sci-Fi is about people affected by science.  It doesn’t work without both parts.

Leave It To Chance: Monster Madness and Other Stories

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Leave It To Chance: Monster Madness and Other Stories is the third book (Vol. 3) to the Leave It To Chance  series (yes, I know I’m out of order, but Vol. 2 was longer than I had time to read this week with grading and all) that I reviewed last week.  While I like this volume, I don’t like it quite as much as I liked Volume 1.  It tries to do something fairly unique, but the story (as presented) doesn’t quite work as well as it should.

Monster Madness takes the idea of what would happen in “movie monsters” came to life in the “real world” of Devil’s Echo (the city where the Chance stories take place).  However, it seems to focus more on Chance’s interaction with a “mysterious” character named “Lightfoot” than it does with her actually trying to solve a crime.  In fact, her dragon is knocked out for most of the story, and she is relegated to the sidelines while her father does most of the sleuthing/fighting the bad guys.  It doesn’t help that while Lightfoot is intended as a “possible” love interest in that Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys way of dropping similar characters of the opposite sex together and watching the sparks fly as their similar ways cause conflict (and interest), Lightfoot is drawn in such an unappealing manner that I (for one) was actively routing against Chance having anything to do with him.

I think Monster Madness (and the other story, which has heart, but still isn’t as good as the first volume’s story).  I think that while this was a good volume, Chance’s strengths are when she’s the center of the action, doing the sleuthing, rather than as a standby character who merely interacts when the action comes to her.

OVERALL GRADE: C+

Nostalgia: The Last Ninja (Commodore 64)

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The Last Ninja Intro. Screen, Image Source: http://www.lemon64.com

So watching TMNT: Out of the Shadows got me thinking about other “ninja” related things that I’ve enjoyed and one of those was an old C-64 game called the Last Ninja.  It may have been out on other computers/platforms, but I played it on the C-64 and had a blast.  It was an isometric adventure game and there were simple elements of combat and exploring (and some slight puzzle elements in figuring out how to defeat traps and barriers in order to progress).

The main character was a ninja (dressed in full ninja garb–which would have been like catnip to me during my teenage years).  The game, as I remember it, was both fun and hard.  You lost life quickly in battles and in the devious traps laid out by the designers.  Taking a trip through the game’s manual, I see that there are six levels in total.  I think I only ever made it to level 3 and I’m not really sure to be honest (I may have only made it to level 2).  I seem to remember completing level one a couple of times, but as I recall, it was a very rare occurrence.

In many ways, this game was the “Dark Souls” of the day.  It was insanely difficult, but it was so beautiful that I would often come back to it again and again to try my luck at it, hoping that “this time, it would be different and I could get deeper into the game’s levels.”  Most of the time that didn’t happen–the dragon trap on the first level was particularly insidious–but every now and then I managed to have a good run.  Perhaps The Last Ninja–and other games like it–are the reason why I don’t play Dark Souls today; perhaps I’ve sated myself on ridiculously hard experiences while gaming and I’m looking  for things that are fun to play (which isn’t to The Last Ninja wasn’t fun, but it was very frustrating, much like the Dark Souls games are today).

The game was published by Activision and had several sequels (which, as I didn’t buy/subscribe to gaming magazines back then due to a limited allowance, I didn’t know about until the rise of the internet).  I probably would have bought the sequels had I known about them, but it surprises me that Activision has never tried to modernize or bring back this old series (if they indeed do hold the rights) like Ubisoft did with the Prince of Persia series.  While game development has perhaps passed The Last Ninja by due to exorbitant budgets and massive development schedules, I’d love to see what an open-world ninja game might look like–something like Assassin’s Creed, or something totally different that we can’t even conceive at this point in gaming?  It’s interesting to speculate, but if nothing else, discussing this game was a fun trip down memory lane.

Mini-Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Out of the Shadows

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The four turtles in NY.  Image Source: YouTube

Okay, so I’m an original TMNT aficionado.  I grew up during the first independent comic craze of the mid 80s and then watched as TV struggled to get to grips with the new resurgence of comic mania (the original Flash TV show mania and hype (and letdown) in the 80s is probably a reason why I never got super invested in the hype for the current slate of DC/Marvel TV shows).  I didn’t have access to a (dedicated) comic shop at the time (I had to buy my comics from the spinners at Waldenbooks or Eckerd Drugs–now Rite-Aid), or I probably would have picked them up as I was into all things ninja/martial arts at the time.  I’ve seen the original trilogy, the multiple incarnations of animated series, and own the animated movie version that existed before this current reboot of the franchise.

So, coming from a TMNT aficionado (won’t say fan), is this movie any good?  In a word, no.  This is from Nickelodeon films and it all but screams “kid movie.”  It is if they took the cartoon (from the 80s), mixed it up with the original movie with the goofy suits, changed the goofy suits to slick CGI actors, and threw in an 80s/90s mixtape because, hey that’s what Guardians of the Galaxy did and it worked for them, so it’ll work for us too. There are so many elements that don’t work in the movie–the dialogue, the shift in tone from goofy to serious and back to goofy.  The motivations of characters or lack of motivations.  The forced plot lines and betrayals that seem forced.  And so on.  I can’t tell you how many times I had to suspend my disbelief in order to keep watching the movie.  Even from the opening sequence where the Turtles are “skating” across the buildings of the NY skyline–which seemed like a good, cool intro.,–had me wondering about all the damage they were causing.  There’s a reason why city officials go out of their way to build skate-parks and encourage skaters to use them instead of city streets and curbs–the damage skateboards can cause is enormous, and that’s on cement.  I don’t think the glass that most skyscrapers are made of would fare any better–yet, the filmmakers didn’t even take that into account when designing, planning, or displaying that scene.  And it just goes on from there.

Yes, TMNT is supposed to be campy (they are teenage turtles who know ninjutsu), but Eastman and Laird were able to find the right balance of farce and heart in their depiction of the characters.  This one is all farce, right down to the “flatulence jokes” of the henchmen, which begs the question of why the “baddest” villain of all time (aka Shredder) would tolerate his newest henchmen if that is all they could do.  It would have made a better movie, had the two henchmen been created within the first ten minutes of the movie and hunted the turtles “to extinction.”  Sort of like what Kraven the Hunter does to Spider-Man in several of his storylines.  Then it would have made the “moral crisis” of the movie (manufactured as it was) at least relevant: “hide among the humans as humans to save ourselves or stay true to our turtle forms and find a way to beat these two hunters as a team/band of brothers.”  As it stands, the way this actually plays out in the movie is very weak and not very convincing.

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Character Sketches for BeeBop and Rocksteady.  Image Source: TeenageMutantNinjaTurtles.com (a TMNT fan site).

On the whole, I only finished the movie because: 1) for completeness sake–I’ve seen most everything else Turtles-related, so I might as well see this since it is on streaming and 2) I’m trying to stop abandoning movies mid-stream (I have at least four movies–Terminator: Genisys–I looking at you that I started, but did not finish because of the overall hokiness to them) and I’m trying to stop doing that (although this movie sorely tested my resolve).

OVERALL GRADE: D  (My suggestion–watch this ONLY if there’s nothing else to watch and make sure that you understand that you are going to most likely need to metaphorically “dive into the kiddie pool” in order to get through this one.)

(Not) a Short Fiction Market Renaissance

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Science Fiction Fantasy Writers Association Qualifying Markets Word Cloud, Image Source: KLWagoner.com

I was listening to the Writing Excuses podcast and one of the presenters mentioned that there is something of a short fiction renaissance market happening right now.  The presenter mentioned that there were more fairly well paying markets for short fiction (speculative–sci-fi/fan) right now and that in the past there used to be only the big three (such as Asimov’s, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Analog).  As someone who is currently “in the trenches,” I have to take a bit of an issue with that characterization of the market.

With all due respect to the presenters on the podcast, they are named authors.  They don’t have to worry nearly as much about the fierce competition from all of us unnamed authors trying to earn recognition and money in this system.  No matter how much people may say having a recognizable name doesn’t matter, it does.  I received another rejection letter yesterday (it noted that the story was well-written, but the publisher decided not to publish it (one of these days I may do a postmortem on a rejection letter in a blog post, but I digress).  That lowered my average acceptance rate (tracked via Duotrope) to 7.9%,.   Try going to your boss and telling him or her that you have succeeded in 7.9% of your tasks and because you’re doing more than others, you deserve a raise.

Also, what the presenters on the podcast don’t realize because they are both named authors and they don’t have to try to make a living at selling short fiction/this isn’t their primary “gig” so to speak, is that only half of the markets are available at any given time. Sure, there are a lot of markets, but many of the higher paying markets that they are alluding to are either “on hiatus” or “temporarily closed,” or worse yet, “permanently closed.”  Some even have fairly ludicrous submission requirements just to limit the number of submissions that come in.  Nearly half of the places where I’ve submitted stories to in the past are currently unavailable for submissions and those that are available either pay little to no money or are brand new on the market place (& usually can’t afford to pay writers or pay them very much as they have no audience yet).

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Fantasy Scroll Mag Cover (currently listed as DNQ on Duotrope at the time of this writing).  Image Source: nerds-feather.com

For example, Lightspeed, a well paying market is temp. closed and has been for most of the year.  The Leading Edge (where supposedly a couple of the named authors on the podcast got their start as listed in mag’s description on Duotrope) has 0.00% acceptance rate of authors who have tracked their submission through Duotrope and currently has an astounding 444.9 day(!) response time to authors who submit stories to them.  That’s a year and half (approx.) for short-fiction.  Imagine waiting 444.9 days for your next burger and fries!  One magazine is only open for submission 4 weeks out of the year (one week in Apr., June, Sept., and December) and if you miss those periods, too bad.  One magazine is only open for submissions between for about 24 hours every Monday/Tuesday, and I could go on.  Looking at my list of submissions, I see so many Temp. Closed, On Hiatus, Closed, Defunct, and Does Not Qualify (DNQ–the publisher has made some change, no longer lists guidelines, no longer accepts submissions from unagented writers, etc) listings that it gets harder and harder to find places that I haven’t sent the story (that actually pay money).

So, while I enjoy listening to the podcast and I have learned a lot about writing, and being successful in writing, I simply must take issue with the characterization that we’re in short fiction market renaissance.  I respectfully submit, having been in the trenches for way longer, that the waters are as turbulent as ever for writers trying to make a name for themselves through short-fiction markets so as to make the jump to the more lucrative novel writing profession.

Leave It To Chance

Leave It To Chance is a young adult graphic novel that I really, really like.  I wanted to take a moment to highlight this great (& short) graphic novel series.  I just finished rereading the first volume this week (I’m trying to read all my graphic novels as a way to remind myself of the graphic novel format since I’ve been away for so long).

Leave It To Chance was published in the early 2000s (2002) and it was written in the height of the GrrlPower movement (James Robinson’s Forward is dated 3.25.97 and this is in the height of the movement, but as the hardcover collection wasn’t published until 2002 which, by then, was the tail-end of the movement).  The protagonist is Chance, a young girl who is the daughter of Falconer, a mage of eminence and importance in the city of Devil’s Echo.  She is “protected” from the magical intrigue and derring-do by her father, but she is of age to take up training to become the next in the line of Falconers who are sworn to protect the city.  Her father refuses to train her simply because of her gender (noting that this “burden” of training is passed from male heir to male heir).  Chance decides that this is horribly unfair and seeks to rectify this (& gets into adventures on her own).

James Robinson and Paul Smith collaborated on the story and art.  This is actually my first (and I think, my only) examples of their work, but I really enjoyed the story when I first read it at the Public Library–so much so, that I bought a copy for my personal collection.  I like Chance’s character–they made her very much like a Nancy Drew detective and set the world in a Neo-Noir setting (grim, dark alleyways merged with aircars).  Chance also has a “Jubilee”-vibe to her and dresses similarly (who in turn, has bit of the Frank Miller’s female Robin from the Dark Knight look) as well.  You can almost see a direct progression from Miller’s female Robin to Jubilee from the X-Men, to Chance.  I own all three books in the series (will be doing reviews of the other two as well), but as a pure story, I think this first volume, “Shaman’s Rain” holds up the best storywise.

I think too, that the setting of Devil’s Echo was very well used.  It definitely precedes the entire Urban Fantasy craze that authors like Jim Butcher, Charlaine Harris, and Kim Harrison (to name a few) helped popularize in the mid-to-late 2000s & early 2010s.  I personally love the fact that Chance has her own (mini-)dragon–as it recalls to mind Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsinger books of the 1980s.  This one is a great series for both Young Adult Readers (& younger children), but has enough complexity, character development, and setting that will at least keep older readers from being completely bored with it, even if it doesn’t completely captivate them.

OVERALL GRADE: B