So You Want To Be An Editor

Recently, I was joking about how I want a 1920/30’s movie about some paranormal or occultish investigators, similar to a Call of Cthulhu game.  I threw out the title ‘Fedoras, Flappers, Tommyguns, and Tentacles’ and said that might actually make a good title for an anthology.  It was mentioned that I should make that anthology and instantly my mood changed from a joking “What if” to a very serious “Oh, hell no.”

Being an editor is a lot of work. And by that I mean, BEING AN EDITOR IS A METRIC SHITTON OF HARD WORK.

It can be fun to imagine what titles or collections you might produce if you were in charge of some press, but it’s a huge responsibility that I am more than happy to let better suited people handle.  Just to be clear, when I say “Editor,” I’m not just referring to the basic line-editor that many people imagine.  I’m referring to the Grand Poobah Editor-in-Chief that for most publications means that they are Line-Editor, Layout Supervisor, Publicist, Author Relations, Payroll, and a dozen other duties all rolled into one.

Band

Pictured:  Standard Editor

The cost and ease of e-publishing and print on demand has given many people the opportunity to don the Editor Hat and try their hand at it.  For many, this is good. For many others, this is a terrible idea.

I’ve worked with several editors in my limited time in the industry. I’ve worked with award-winning veterans and I’ve worked with first-time newbies.  Strangely, the experiences with them are the opposite of what you might expect.  But with all of those experiences, let me break down what a would-be editor needs to understand before they take that step.

YOU WILL RECEIVE 3,000X MORE SUBMISSIONS THAN YOU EXPECT

Thanks to the Internet, making a call for submissions will get you a lot of exposure and many authors will send you their work.  How many, you ask.  About 300.  That’s for the first one, before the real word gets out, and then you can expect many times that during each submission period.

Inbox

This is why some publications are only open for submissions for like 4 weeks a year.  In that window they get enough to allow them to spend the next 48 weeks reading.  For the would-be-editor, this means that if you make a call for submissions, don’t do the classic, “We close for subs on this date, and expect a release within the next 30 days,” because that ain’t happenin’.  You will be flooded with submissions to read and that’s before we even get to the part where you edit them.

AUTHORS CAN BE CRAZY ASSHOLES

Yeah, I said it.  I’m an author and I know my kind.  I like to think that I’m pretty chill with my editors, but I’ve spoken to enough editors and heard enough horror stories to know that there’s a whole lotta drama with authors.

Jack Shining

Pictured:  Standard Author

Evidently, many authors will hostilely resist any changes to their work.  I understand the, “This story is my art and you can’t change it,” mentality, but here’s the deal: An editor edits.  That’s what they do.  That’s why the job is called Editor.

An editor not only wants each story to be the best that they can be (They are running a business and great stories are good for business) but they want to keep the readers’ attention and keep the story going at a good flow.  They make suggestions and those suggestions should be good.  Still, a lot of authors evidently go shit-house-mad when an editor comes back with, “There are some changes I’d like to suggest.”  The thing is, they’re suggestions from someone who is looking at the story from the outside and knows the industry.  This should be considered sage advice, and not worthy of vile contempt.

One of the reasons that authors should put previous writing credits on their cover letters isn’t just to brag that someone other than their mom thought that they were good, it’s a way to say, “Hey, I’m cool.  I understand how this goes. I’ve worked with editors before. I’m not as likely to go crazy on you.”

And it’s not just the editing where authors can go nuts.  You can expect about a million, “Hey, did you get my submission?” and “Hey, did you read my submission yet?” and “Hey, I haven’t heard back, is this email address correct?” and “Why haven’t you read my submission yet when I know you have it?” emails.  If the project gets delayed because life happened, or your slush pile is bigger than expected, or whatever else, expect the number of, “Hey, when is it coming out?” emails to exponentially explode.

Helpful Hint:  Publicly post dates and changes where authors can see them.  It might suck to admit a delay, but in the long run it will calm the masses and allow less time responding to check-in emails and more time for editing.

Speaking of Editing….

YOU’RE GOING TO NEED TO EDIT

I’m going to keep names out of this, but about 2 minutes of research on my site will tell you if you just really need to know who I’m talking about.  My very first sale was to a well-known magazine with a highly regarded editor.  He was the first to take the risk on me and I’ll always be grateful for that.  He was also a terrible editor.

My first story was accepted August of 2005.  I was told it might be a while before it hits print.  That is 100% of the information I had, and if I had known the truth, I’d still have accepted it because it was my first sale and a huge one at that.  The time between acceptance and print was two and a half years.  After thirty months of waiting, my story was printed February 2008.  During that entire time I received exactly zero edit requests and my story was printed with no changes from the one I submitted.  That year, the same editor was nominated for a Best Editor award.

My second story was picked up by an editor going by the handle Crystalwizard (and yes I’m going to use her name because she is freakin’ awesome and deserves to have more people talk about her).  She was editor for Flashing Swords, a very unknown magazine.  She picked up The Porvov Switch and within a couple months sent me the first round of edit requests.  My manuscript was so red that, “looked like it was bleeding,” barley gives it justice.  I quickly made the changes and sent it back.  The next day she sent me Round 2 that was just as marked up as Round 1.  Then came Round 3, followed by Round 4.  Each time she meticulously went through that story and tore it to hell and together we built it back better than it had ever been.  By the time it was done, we had a great story.

Crystalwizard and I worked on several more stories and each time she threw it through the grinder.  Yes, we disagreed. Yes, she was usually right.  Yes, it was exactly what I wanted an editor to do.  She is a badass and treated her small obscure magazine with the passion and detail that you’d expect from any large house publisher.

Anyone serious about editing needs to do that.  It’s not just typos.  It’s the whole package.  You need to make sure everything is crystal clear, check for overusing words, passive voice, unrealistic physics, continuity, and everything else a story needs.  If you can’t edit, don’t be an editor.

YOU NEED TO PROMOTE 

There are some scam publishers that think anthologies are great because they know that the friends and family of each author will pick up about 5-6 copies.  You publish 10 authors per anthology and you just guaranteed 50-60 sales.  Bam! Free marketing, right?

No.

 

Self Promote“You know what has two thumbs and just released the best book ever?  This guy!”

An editor must promote that work more than everyone else combined.  They need to send copies out to reviewers.  They need to blast social media. And if they have the budget, they should buy some ad space where they think it will be the most effective.  Simply expecting your authors to do the promotion for you is lazy and outright inexcusable.  If you want to sell more books, make more money, win that award, and quit your day job and became an industry rock-star, you’re going to need to go out there and work it.  You’ll have to give books away.  You’ll have to spend money, time, and energy on getting people to notice it.  The publishing house is your show.  The authors are merely guest stars. Their careers will grow without you.  So you need to promote yourself and your publishing house more than all of them.

YOU NEED TO PAY YOUR AUTHORS

Publishing books, even ebooks, is really expensive.  You have to spend a lot of time and you have to get some sweet art (Helpful Hint: Don’t ever cheap out on the art).  This has led a lot of startup presses to pay their authors with “exposure”.

I’ll be honest, if your sales pitch to me includes the word exposure, I’m going to walk away.  No shit there’s exposure.  That part is assumed.  Any press will give me exposure.  No, if you want to be in the business you gotta make it a business and pay your talent.  As you grow, increase your rates.  Make your goal to be one of those publishers on the SFWA Qualifying Market List.  If you, as an editor, want exposure for your press, that list is a serious spotlight.  Make getting on that list your goal.

Also, promising to pay your authors and actually paying your authors should not be separate things.  Remember that award-winning and well-respected editor I was telling you about?  Two months after my story hit print (32 months after he accepted it) I had to send an email asking when I would get paid.  He apologized and sent me my money.  All was forgiven, but the mere fact that I had to remind him to pay me was unnecessarily awkward and unprofessional.  I might have even forgotten about that as some 1-time fluke if it wasn’t for the fact that I never got edit requests.  As an editor you not only have to pay your authors, but you have to instigate it.

IT WILL NEVER GET EASY

So you think that you can spend a couple years busting your butt reading slush, handling authors, line-editing, promoting, and keeping your bookkeeping straight before you make enough cash and reputation that you can just pay people for that and then just live the high life collecting Hugos and teaching workshops?  Guess again. 

I’ve spent enough time with editors to know that the job constantly changes and while some parts will get much better, it will never get easy.  The industry changes. Drama happens.  The market slumps. A million factors will happen and the editor must stay on top of it or fail. It’s a full-time job. It always will be.

So once again, while I think the world needs ‘Fedoras, Flappers, Tommyguns, and Tentacles’ I’m not the man to make it happen.  I’m very grateful that there are people who can look at the job of Editor, knowing everything it entails, and think, “Oh yeah, I can totally own that shit,” because that isn’t me.

-Seth

 

 

The Riddle of a Good Conan Movie

Recently in an interview, Chris Morgan and Fredrik Malmberg, producers of the upcoming Legend of Conan, gave us all hints and promises of what to expect with the long-awaited sequel.  Like with many fantasy fans, the original 1982 film Conan the Barbarian is a treasured classic. And with the exception of the recent Fury Road movie, Hollywood has been more than a little disappointing with sequels and remakes.

I grew up with cheap sword and sandal movies always playing on TV, and I never really differentiated between them. Beastmaster, Red Sonja, Deathstalker, Steve Reeves’ Hercules movies, and Conan the Destroyer seemed to play every single Saturday on one channel or another.  I never really thought of Conan the Barbarian as different than the others, I’d seen the last half of it a handful of times.  Then one day I saw it from the very beginning and the movie instantly elevated from the rank of cheesy muscled barbarian flick to a well-made film.  I love the 1982 Conan.  So I want to take a little time to explain what separates Conan from the rest of the movies, including the extremely awful sequel.

1:  It’s Not About a Hulking Hero

Hercules

Conan the Barbarian launched Schwarzenegger’s movie career.  He looked wonderful in the role of Conan.  He was huge.  But a super-muscled hero is not what made Conan so good.  If that were the case, then Red Sonja, Kull the Conqueror, and the Jason Mamoa remake wouldn’t have been so bad.  Hell, Mamoa looked even more like the Robert Howard Conan than Schwarzenegger and that couldn’t even save that movie.  Having a massive hero was essential in Conan the Barbarian’s success, but it was only one part of it.  Many of the knock-offs only saw a bodybuilder lead and incorrectly assumed that’s all it was.

2:  Using Fan Art as Storyboards

One of the many things that I loved about the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings movies was that when he was deciding on the look of Middle Earth he immediately turned to Alan Lee and John Howe, two artists that have spent decades drawing and painting the look of Tolkien’s world.  Not only does that mean the movie has a look that came from decades of thought and effort, but it also captures the image that many movie-goers wanted because we’d grown up with the art. 

The John Milius Conan used the art of Frank Frazetta to capture their looks. The sets were designed around Frazetta’s paintings, even the actors (most notable in the witch scene) were told to move in ways that emulated the captured movements in Frazetta’s work.   

Frank_FrazettaThis man was a badass

We’ve now had 30 more years since the first Conan and an entire generation of very skilled fantasy artists have emerged.  They, as well as Frazetta, should be used to capture the look.

3:  Real Sets, Real Stunts, Real Extras

CGI has made massive scene very easy.  But back in the 80’s there were only a few ways to capture the scope Milius wanted for Conan.  There were matte paintings, models, and going out and building that shit for real.  Milius chose the third.

Conan used real sets.  That snake tower…real. Thulsa Doom’s fortress….real.   1,000 extras dressed in white robes and chanting Thulsa Doom’s praises…real. 

In case you’re wondering why real sets work better than CGI, I’ll give 2 reasons: 

  1. They look real.  CGI, unless spectacular, looks CGI.  The colors are too perfect, and there’s a cartoonish quality because of it. 
  2. The actors can interact with their surroundings and get into a different frame of mind than dancing in front of a green screen can give.  Just compare The Hobbit to Lord of the Rings.  Peter Jackson used real sets and forced perspective to make Lord of the Rings and it looked spectacular.  Yeah, CGI was used, but not as much as one might think.  Then in The Hobbit they used way more CGI and the entire movie looks like a cut-scene in a video game.

And stunts.  Recently, superhero movies have made impossible stunts and action sequences look just too damned easy.  It has passed the realm of realism and into a netherworld of cartoons.  Then you have Fury Road where the stunts are real and it’s so noticeable and so drastic that you can’t even ignore it.  Conan deserves that.  Don’t CGI that shit. Make it really happen.  Conan The Barbarian set the Women’s Free-Fall Record when a stunt woman fell 182 feet.  Legend of Conan should see this as a personal goal to set that record again.

4: Realistic Violence

Conan Blood

Unlike the slew of PG-13 rated knockoffs, Conan was violent and bloody.  We have a massive audience that loves Game of Thrones, Spartacus, and other violent shows.  Making it PG-13 to get a wider demographic will ruin the movie.  Making it a stylized, slow-mo, 300 knock-off will make it look like a 300 knock-off.  Make it R.  Give us blood.

5:  The Supporting Cast is Essential

Conan followed three heroes, Conan, Valeria, and the highly underrated Subotai.  And while it’s hard to remember now, all of them, even Schwarzenegger were unknown actors.  However the supporting cast was spectacular and respected actors.

James Earl Jones plays the villain. Max Von Sydow plays the king that send them on their quest, and Mako plays Conan’s chronicler.  Those three men probably deliver 75% of all the dialogue in the entire movie.  Sydow’s performance where he talks about how one day all the gold losses its luster and all that remains in a father’s love for his daughter was so good that I hope they have Conan deliver it in the new movie.  I also want Jones’ monologue about how steel is weak and flesh is stronger and how THAT is the Riddle of Steel. 

Jones and Sydow are so straight-faced and perfect in their performances that they lend absolute credibility to the rest of the story.  These days, it feels that when a major and credible actor is given a small role that they are either held up high like, “Hey look we have a badass actor here. Look at them!” or there’s a cheesiness to the role, “Hey look, we have Judi Dench and she’s being weird. Isn’t that cool because she’s letting loose?”

No.

The new Conan needs serious actors playing serious roles.  No tongue in cheek. They need to be the kind of actors that when they walk into a scene you instantly pity all the other actors because they OWN the camera.  Just throwing out some suggestions here:  Morgan Freeman, Ken Watanabe, Meryl Streep.

6: Music is the Most Important Character

In the interview with Chris Morgan and Fredrik Malmberg the biggest thing that they didn’t mention is the most important. Music.

Basil Poledouris’s score for Conan is probably one of the best damned scores made.  There, I said it.

Conan Soundtrack

Remember when I said that my entire opinion of Conan the Barbarian changed when I saw it from the beginning?  Here’s why.

The film opens with an entire song as the scene of the sword forging and the introduction to Conan and his family is shown to us with zero dialogue.  We learn to love this sword.  Then we have a couple minutes of Conan’s father telling him about Crom, then BAM, another full-length song where we watch a grand battle and the death of Conan’s family.  His mother, who never once speaks, comes through as fiercely brave and we genuinely mourn her death and the reason for that hinges on the music.

Music touches us emotionally. It moves us, and Director John Milius knew that. He harnessed that and the opening of his movie plays more like some fantastical opera than any of the well-muscled sword and sandal flicks that copied it.  Without the help of a full score, perfectly timed and edited with the movie, Conan would be nothing but a fantasy action movie, not much different than those that came before or after it.  The masterful score is what propels it into being a great film. 

 

I want Morgan and Malmberg to be correct that Legend of Conan will be the sequel that the first film deserves.  We’ve been waiting for this movie for 33 years, ever since we saw a glimpse of old-man Conan sitting on a throne.  I want them to succeed.  But Hollywood has burned me.  Too many producers/directors don’t seem to understand what makes an original film great when they’re making a sequel or remake and they latch on to the most obvious thing and crank that shit up to 11.  Conan the Barbarian was a wonderful film and what made it wonderful was a perfect combination of many things.  It should be treated like a gourmet dish. Mix the flavors and don’t just focus on one specific spice.

That’s what Conan deserves.

Conan Throne

The Influence of 80s Cartoons

Recently on the  Reddit r/Fantasy page, a member posed a simple question, “What got you into Fantasy?”.  My first thought was, “The Hobbit.”  I read it when I was 12 and it opened the door for my reading of fantasy novels.  Then I realized that by the age of 12, I was already a huge fantasy fan.  The Hobbit was only the first true fantasy novel I’d read.  So I started thinking further back, searching for what exactly was the origin point for my love of the genre.

The answer I decided was cartoons.  While movies like Robin Hood, Last Unicorn, Sword and the Stone, and plenty of others certainly had their influences, my biggest ones were either every Saturday morning or every day after school.

The Smurfs (1981)

Yeah, the Smurfs is cheesy. But we have magic, castles, and all the foundations of fantasy right there.  The Smurfs was a weekly ritual for kids of my generation and certainly had its influence on us. It also had the catchiest and stupidest theme song ever, composed of only the words, La la la la la la.

 

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983)

He-Man was awesome.  It was some sci-fi/fantasy hybrid where characters were just as likely to use a broadsword and magic as they were a laser gun.  I owned all the toys and watched the show religiously.  I even watched She-Ra which was the spin-off show aimed at girls and that 8-year olds like myself were’t supposed to admit that they watched (now that I’m in my 30’s I can openly confess that I freakin loved She-Ra).  There’s a debunked rumor that the toy line was originally meant to be for the Conan movie before Mattel realized how much violence and sex was in it, but that was only a rumor. However, He-Man’s inspiration is still obviously from old pulp stories and art for Conan and John Carter.

 

Thundarr The Barbarian (1980)

It amazes me how many of my friends don’t remember this show.  It kicked so much ass.  We have a post-apocalyptic fantasy setting where every week they somehow work some famous monument into the background.  One week Thundarr is battling in front of a chipped and overgrown Mount Rushmore, next week he’s stomping heads in front of the Eiffel Tower. While my sense of geography was certainly thrown off by the show, I loved it every time it came on. Thundarr was probably the most original and purest pulp of all the cartoons from my childhood.

 

ThunderCats (1985)

Probably one of the best made of the lot.  Thundercats was awesome and the art was great.  It was in the same Sword & Laser or Sword & Planet genre as He-Man, but was about freakin cat people.  An entire generation fell in love with Cheetara (myself totally included).  This was unquestionably Pulp-era inspired.  Years later, when I finally did read R.E. Howard’s Conan tales, I had the strangest deja vu when the story ‘The Devil in Iron’ started out exactly like an old ThunderCats episode I remembered from years before. And while I could remember episodes with such detail for years, I had also somehow completely wiped out any memory of Snarf.  When Cartoon Network first started carrying ThunderCats I first thought that they had somehow added the horribly annoying creature because my memory had perfectly removed him.

 

Dungeons & Dragons (1983)

When I was little, I had no clue that Dungeons & Dragons was a role-playing game. I thought it was a roller coaster.  No clue why the show’s creators took the roller coaster route, but they did.  The cartoon follows a group of kids that are magically transported to a D&D world. Each of the kids fills one of the classic D&D archetypes as they set out on adventure to make their way home.  They show was fun, but very short-lived.

 

Dragon’s Lair (1984)

I never played the video game from which the cartoon was based and didn’t even know it was a video game for several years later.  What I most loved about it was that before commercial breaks our hero, Dirk the Daring, was confronted with a choice on how to proceed (like fight the mud-men or battle the tentacle monster). After the break, we would see the results if Dirk chose incorrectly (i.e. how he dies) and then show Dirk choosing the correct path and then the story continues.  The Choose Your Own Adventure aspect was very cool. It was also the only show that stressed the danger our hero was in because things like death was a real possibility for him.

 

Adventures of the Gummi Bears (1985)

Gummi Bears followed a group of adorable bear people in a classic European fantasy setting.  While considered nothing but myth to all but a few humans, the Gummi Bears go around using magic and helping people.  When they find themselves in some kind of bind they’d down a bottle of their super-secret gummiberry juice which would make then bounce around like rubber (a superpower that you wouldn’t think would be as useful as they make it out to be).  The villain, Duke Igthorn, is always seeking for the secret of the gummi bears’ magic, especially the juice because when humans drink it they don’t become bouncy flubber, but gain super-human strength.  I’ve heard some criticism of the show because the gummiberry juice promotes drug use.  Honestly, I suspect that anyone who came up with that idea was either stoned themselves or were some fantasy-hating troll that can’t understand the idea of awesome.

 

Super Bonus Show

The Pirates of Dark Water (1991)

OK, so this one isn’t 1980’s, but it came out prior to my reading of The Hobbit and was also so awesome that I’m counting it.  Pirates of Dark Water was freaking fantastic.  Here we follow a young pirate that is trying to save the world from a substance known as Dark Water.  Unlike the other shows, this cartoon followed a linear narrative and singular quest.  Of course they had to throw in an annoying Jar-Jar character, but unlike Snarf or Scrappy Doo, Monkey Bird was tolerable.  Sadly, Pirates of Dark Water was cancelled before the heroes’ quest was completed, so we’ll never know if they succeeded in saving the world.

Of course saying that these shows were specifically what got me into fantasy or if my love of fantasy is what got me into these shows is debatable as a chicken versus egg argument.  Maybe I’m just hard-wired to like genre fiction. But if I am, the doors were definitely opened a bit wider by these cartoons.  Either way, to answer the r/Fantasy question, it definitely wasn’t The Hobbit.

Review: The Devil Rides Out

Devil Rides OutWhile fantasy forums and websites frequently gravitate to the newest and hottest titles, I have a serious soft spot for the classics, especially Pulp-Era fiction.  Readers today have been able to categorize everything into neat micro subgenres, but there was once a period which was more like the wild west of fantasy, where anything goes, and stories were constantly forging new ground.  And though authors like Lovecraft and Howard were certainly the most remembered trail blazers, they were hardly alone.  Among them was Dennis Wheatley.

I first became aware of Wheatley when my wife and I were visiting some older friends of ours.  While discussing writing and my love of Lovecraft, our hostess mentioned that when she was growing up in New Zealand, her favorite horror author was Wheatley.  I’d never heard of him, and quickly picked up a copy of his most famous horror novel The Devil Rides Out (1934).

The Devil Rides Out is the first of Weatley’s Black Magic series, but also a sequel to the extremely successful novel Forbidden Territory (1933), which was an action/adventure novel.  Please take a moment to appreciate this. Wheatley followed a normal and extremely popular adventure story with a supernatural horror.  This is pretty much the equivalent of Liam Neeson fighting vampires in Taken 2. Having not been aware that this was a sequel, I was very happy to see that the novel was written so that a newcomer like myself would quickly be brought up to speed on the characters and their histories.

The story follows five characters, their leader the Duke de Richeau, is pretty much Christopher Lee.  Seriously.  Take Christopher Lee, the most bad-ass Renaissance man alive and just call him de Richeau.  Being that Wheatley wrote the character in the 1930’s we can assume that one of the following happened: A) Wheatley had access to a crystal ball and modeled the Duke after the future Lee,  B) The universe was so impressed with what a bad-ass the fictional Duke was that it immediately aligned the stars to make a then 11 year old Lee into the Duke, or C) A young Christoper Lee read the about the Duke and said, “Holy shit, I’m going to be this guy,” and promptly succeeded at it.  Given what I know about Christopher Lee and of Wheatley’s extremely thorough research into the occult, all of these are equally possible.  In fact, Christoper Lee enjoyed the novel so much that he played Duke de Richeau in the 1968 film version when he was finally old enough to play himself.

Duke de Richeau Christopher Lee

“Now the circle is complete.”

The heroes find themselves at odds with a group of Satanists who have kidnapped their friend in order to find an artifact of unspeakable evil: The Talisman of Set.  That doesn’t sound so bad, until you find out what exactly that is.  I’m not spoiling it for you, but trust me, the Talisman is kinda gross.  Armed with their wits, their devoted friendship, and the Duke’s formidable occult knowledge, the heroes endure hellish horrors as they chase the Satanists across Europe.

I found the story a lot of fun.  Yes, it’s dated.  But it’s also a fascinating time-capsule of pre-war British horror.  Wheatley gives a good jab at the Nazis at one point and it was interesting to see the thoughts about them so far before the start of the war.  It’s obvious that Wheatley did some incredible research for this book. I even read somewhere that he interviewed Aleister Crowley about it.  However some of the thorough occult information Wheatley pumps into the novel skates a narrow line between absolutely fascinating and boringly tedious.  But the histories and debates the Duke gives when convincing his friends that magic is real are simply wonderful.

The eternal 15 year old in me snickered several times through the book.  Not just the use of “ejaculated” as a means of speaking, but several strangely uncomfortable moments that they sort of charged through without the least acknowledgement of how weird that would be.  My favorite was when the heroes encounter a Satanic rite and they have to ward all of their bodily orifices with sanctified holy water to keep the evil out (Nine for men, ten for women).  For some reason you can not do this yourself and your friends have to apply the warding water to all of your holes.  I’m immature, I admit it, and if I ever found myself lurking in the woods outside a sabat with a hundred cannibalistic Satanists performing their evil before Baphomet himself, I doubt I’d have a single scruple in dropping my pants and ordering my best friend to ward my openings for protection.

Rex and the Duke

“I’ve changed my mind.  Please seal my holes from evil.”

Another thing I enjoyed was the American character of Rex.  Being a proper British author, Wheatley made Rex the most steretypical loud-mouthed gung-ho kinda dense but lovable character he could.  It’s pretty clear that Rex epitomized Wheatley’s opinion of Americans and I found it quite entertaining.  I also wanted to reach into the book several times and choke Rex out.  He’s a nice guy, but damn he’s dumb. Best to think of him as a huge lovable dog.

Being a 80 year old book you can also expect some racism.  I’d been warned before hand and I didn’t find Wheatley’s racism to be that bad (I cannot say this about the next book, Strange Conflict).  But be warned.

Racism and awkwardness aside, I thoroughly enjoyed The Devil Rides Out.  I even used some of it in my Call of Cthulhu games.  I recommend it for anyone that enjoys classic horror or might be interested in something a bit different than the standard tropes we find in today’s Horror and Urban Fantasy stories.

After reading the novel I picked up the sequels.  I read Gateway to Hell(1970) and Strange Conflict(1941) out of order by mistake and am happy that I did.  Gateway to Hell was an OK sequel.  The first half was a tedious and boring travel guide to 1950’s South America, but the second half did a fine job of redeeming it (The book gets good the moment the Duke finally shows up). Still, I wouldn’t recommend it unless you LOVED the Devil Rides Out.  Also…bit more racist that the first book.  The second book, Strange Conflict, was terrible.  Fucking awful.  The setup was great, brilliant even.  It was awesome to read a story about the London Blitz that was written during the Blitz. Then we find that the Nazis are using occult powers to locate British ships and sink them. It started out so good, but much of the Duke’s dialogue was recycled word for word from Book 1, the beautifully set up plot plot fell absolutely flat and devolved into plain silly, and the incredible racism expressed was difficult for me to get through.  Seriously, please don’t think this is a call to act and see how bad it is.  It’s bad.  Best to avoid it. Also, with the incredible research Wheatley did on European occult in the first book, he did extremely little research into Haitian Voodoo, and pretty much latched on to the horror tropes that were coming out at the time.

The versions that I read were the Audible editions read by Nick Mercer.  Mercer did a fine job narrating and it greatly added to my enjoyments of the books.  If you want to try some classic British Horror, check out The Devil Rides Out.

Highlander: My Favorite Urban Fantasy

When people discuss the most influential or most genre-defining Urban Fantasies, the two most common names I see are the Dresden Files and the Anita Blake series.  And while both of those did forge serious ground in the Detective Noir Urban Fantasy genre, they’re by no means the first Urban Fantasies and aren’t even close to being my favorite in the genre.  That title belongs to the 1986 film Highlander.

For anyone not familiar with Highlander (which is a serious offense that I’m sure you will rectify the moment you are done reading this), the story follows an immortal who has secretly lived among us for 450 years. He must sword fight other immortals, killing them by severing their heads, and then absorbing their power.  As the centuries roll on, the last of their kind are drawn to New York City to battle each other until only one remains.  The movie spawned several terrible sequels (I secretly enjoyed Highlander III), a TV show, and even a cartoon that we’ll never discuss and that I shouldn’t have even acknowledged. It also gave Nerd Culture the infamous cry of, “There can be only one.”

I was 11 when I first encountered Highlander.  My brother came home from college, handed me a VHS tape, and said, “Watch this. You’ll love it.”  So, having no idea what the movie was about, or even what the word “highlander” meant, I popped it in.  Within a few minutes I was treated to a sword fight in a parking garage. The movie definitely had my interest.  In fact, even to this day, I can’t walk through a dark parking garage without picturing two men battling to the death with swords.  Then one of them got decapitated.  Being 11 years old, this was one of the most violent and awesome things I’d ever witnessed.  And right when I thought it couldn’t get any better, I was treated to lightning, exploding cars, and straight-up magic. At this point Highlander had my absolute and undivided attention.

Which was good, because moments after this completely unexplained awesomeness, we’re suddenly transported back to 16th Century Scotland.  Only after several more flashbacks, and some rockin’ Queen music, we meet Sean Connery, who is a 2,000 year old Egyptian Spaniard with a Japanese sword and a Scottish accent (just go with it) who arrives to explain what’s going on.

Sean

After the movie I walked out of my house with the distant-eyed glaze of a prophet having just seen the future.  I told everyone about it.  It was the most incredible thing I’d ever encountered and I wanted the world to know.  Even now, 25 years later, I can look at Highlander, and while I now see its many flaws, I can’t help but be amazed at how mind-blowingly original it was.

That’s right, I just called an 80’s B-movie mind-blowingly original.  So let me explain…

Storytellers draw on the works written before them to craft something new. It’s pretty easy to see a story’s DNA.  For example, Dresden Files follows a style template that came from Pulp Era detective stories like those of Hammet and Chandler.  Those drew their inspiration from the earlier works of Sherlock Holmes. While yes, they’re very different with original elements, the influences are undeniable.

Highlander, however, is so freakishly original that there’s nothing else you can compare it to.  There is a teeny bit of inspiration they drew from Ridley Scott’s The Duelists, which follows two men who spend their lives repeatedly dueling one another.  But the whole immortal head-chopping lightning-shooting part seems to have come out of nowhere.  It’s so strikingly original that it’s impossible to use that element without being an obvious rip-off. Highlander is the beginning and the end of its own subgenre.

When I was a kid, I didn’t dream that I’d find some droids and get swept into the Star Wars Universe, or that I’d get a letter from Hogwarts or Xavier’s School for Gifted Children. I dreamed I’d be a sword-fighting immortal, battling it out behind the 7-11. I wanted a world where magic and and the fantasic were’t in some far away time or land, but right now, living in secret in our very world.

 

In the end, there can be only one.

The Love For Unlikely Names

Hello My name is

A few weeks back I was lurking around on a fantasy forum and reading a post about Hounacier’s release.  One commenter stated that while he liked the concept of the story, he hated the name Matt Hollis. They went on to state that Matt Hollis would be the name of a garbage man or some office worker, and that they just couldn’t believe that a badass demon hunter would have such a blasé name.

My response was a simple eye-roll without comment.  Can’t please everyone, right?  However, the idea that our badass heroes are expected…nay…REQUIRED to have equally badass names stuck with me.  I mean, how many heroes have sweet, sweet names?

As an author, the task of choosing the perfect name for a character can be very stressful. I mean, we get to name them anything and we want it to be something that fits them.  We want a name that potential readers will see and instantly think, “Badass.”

 While the first names can be real short and basic, like something from a Dashiell Hammett crime novel – Jack, Nick, Sam, or Frank – sometimes they can also have some of those end of the alphabet letters, such as Xavier, Zane, or Vince.  Those are all real names. I’ve known someone named each of those. But the real kicker is in the last name.  A perfect last name is usually a word with a double meaning – Cross, Knight, Steele, Reaper, Fury, Cage, Thorn, Castle, Crow.  Colors are also good – Grey, Black, Scarlet, even White (But as Steve Buscemi will tell you, Pink just isn’t as cool.)

Fictional characters aren’t the only ones with cool names.  Many actors change their names to something more punchy (Did you really think his name was Nick Cage? Did you not read the formula above?).  And not just Hollywood actors either, porn stars have some spectacularly unlikely names. 

Personally for me, I don’t like names like that.  They feel fake. They feel forced or just full of themselves.  I think of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves when Robin asks Azeem if he gave himself that name.  Of better yet, the scene in Mystery Men when Monica asks what Mister Furious’ real name is.

Mystery Men Roy

 I write fantasy. My goal is to make you believe on some level that magic, monsters, and convenient circumstances are all perfectly believable.  Suspension of Disbelief is a finite resource, and I’d rather not waste it by giving my characters names that are only slightly more likely than the fantastical things that they do.  (At least Harry Dresden has a perfectly good in-story reason for his name).  My biggest goal when naming Matt, Allan, Luiza, or any of my other characters*, was that they were believable.  My second goal was the names weren’t already taken by some real-life celebrity or ruthless criminal that I wasn’t aware of.

I’d always thought that unlikely names were acceptable only for comic book or James Bond characters. Evidently I was wrong.  To each their own.

 So, what’s your favorite unlikely character name? 

 

*Except Malcolm…I named him after my favorite space cowboy, I totally admit it.

 

11 Things No Longer Around That I Actually Miss

Every few weeks I see a list of “Things You’ll Never See Again”, or “Favorite Snacks from the 90’s That Millennials Will Never Know,” or some other list of products or shows that are no longer around.  Most of the time, it’s Crystal Pepsi, or some failed breakfast cereal that I never ate and only vaguely remember commercials for.  These lists rarely apply to me.

But there are a lot of dearly loved and missed things from my younger years that are never on these lists.  A few of these may be around in some limited form in little pockets of the country, but for the most part, they’re gone.

 

1:  TSR

Tsr_logo_gold_disc

Back when I was cutting my teeth on gaming, TSR was king.  This was the company that started it all with Dungeons & Dragons.  And while many other RPG companies have come and gone, and D&D is still being printed by Wizards of the Coast, there was a certain mystique to the name TSR.

 

2:  Vampire Hunter D

Vampire_Hunter_(1985_film)_DVD_cover

This was one of my very first animes (from back when we still called it Japanimation).  I fell in love it.  I’m a proud owner of the sequel, Bloodlust, but never got around to buying a DVD of the original movie. And while the manga, toy lines, and cute purse/lunchboxes are still being produced, the two Vampire Hunter D movies are no longer being made.  You can find used copies online for $60.

 

3 & 4:  Ral Partha & Grenadier

Best of Guthrie

I remember going into gaming shops and poring over miniatures for hours.  I own hundreds of lead and pewter minis, and the gold standard of figurine lines was Ral Partha, followed by Grenadier.  The current standard is Reaper (which is located about 2 miles from me) but I mourn the loss of so many of the old minis that are no longer around.

 

5:  Flashing Swords Magazine

flashing swords 8

Flashing Swords was an awesome quarterly magazine that served as a platform for many starting writers.  Some of my very first work was published by them.  Their last Issue was in 2009.

 

6:  $.49 Video Stores

video-store

In today’s world of streaming video and Redbox rental we forget the bygone joy of going to a Ma&Pa video store.  I don’t mean Blockbuster. I’m talking about the cramped little shops with worn and faded shelves and an Adult Section in the back hidden behind a pair of saloon doors.  Every one I ever visited had an unique odor and a candy machine stocked with Runts.  They always carried the coolest box covers (many of them better than the movies inside them).  There were no instant ratings, so it was always a crap shoot if the movie was worth a damn.  In college we had a local place that had one of the greatest collections of cult and weird-ass cinema ever assembled.  As much as I love streaming movies, there was an excitement to video stores that other mediums will never have.

 

7:  Dragon Magazine

Dragon Magazine - 65

Freaking awesome magazine.  Every month I’d go into the local bookstore and look for the newest Dragon cover.  First, I always flipped to the back and read the comics. Then, ‘Through the Looking Glass’ where they reviewed the newest Official AD&D Ral Partha miniatures.  I loved the articles on redefining or introducing new character classes, or the ecology of some classic monster.  Probably my favorite issue was October 1986, which introduced the ‘Witch’ class.

 

8:  Vampire the Masquerade LARPers

Vampire Clan Pins

I never got too into Vampire, but I really loved how many people LARPed it.  You could go to a bar or club and see (mostly) normal looking people wearing a little pin that represented which vampire clan they belonged to.  There were several years at The Church (a Dallas goth club I frequented) when there was easily 30 people playing on any given night.  Eaves dropping on their conversations was a bit surreal (They are playing vampires after all). The storytellers worked in teams, and it was impressive to see how they orchestrated the whole thing.  Imagine herding cats while both you and the cats are drinking.  I’ve heard some people still play there from time to time, but the epic games and battles unfolding around us ignorant mortals are no more.

 

9:  Hawkwood Medieval Fantasy Faire

Hawkwood

This was a small faire up in North Texas that ran August through September in the middle of the Texas heat. We used to refer to it as Heatwood, then when the September rains came, the grounds turned into a muddy slop and we called it Bogwood.  But there was a magic to it that I’ve never been able to capture since.  The faire went under in 2001, but I made more friends and faire-family during the few years I was there than I’ve made in all the faires since.  I’ve met many rennies that were also there, and even though we never knew each other at the time, we immediately bonded.  Last month we had a reunion of a lot of the old patrons and participants.  It was an amazing place.

 

10:  Video Arcades

arcade

I love arcades.  They have eaten more of my childhood dollars than I can imagine. I wish there were more of them.  I recently re-read Neuromancer, and as prophetic a book as it was, the part where everyone hangs out at an arcade was either completely wrong or Gibson’s insight into the future shows that one day they’ll make a comeback.

 

11:  Star Frontiers Knight Hawks

KnightHawks

There are several space-based combat games out there, but my first taste of them was Knight Hawks. I’d played the Star Frontiers RPG a few times, but one rainy Sunday our GM busted out Knight Hawks and I was in love.  I’ve spent many hours blasting the hell out of my friends’ fleets and while I’ve tried my hand at a few of the newer space battle games, none have ever really filled the spot Knight Hawks did.  

I am very happy to say that while researching this, I discovered that FASA is still around.  After nearly a decade hiatus they are back and kickin’.  Vampire Hunter D just got re-released in Australia last month.  The fan-run Knight Hawks games and supplements seem to be pretty popular and I’ll be picking some up.  Maybe there’s hope for the rest, after all.

 

The Black Cauldron: Darkest Disney Movie Ever

The Cauldron

The Early 80’s was a magical time when kids movies like  NeverEnding Story, The Last Unicorn, The Dark Crystal, and Secret of NIMH all subscribed to the theory that the most effective way to entertain children is by scaring the living crap out of them.    Not to be out-shined by any one else, Disney tried their hand at terrifying children, too.  After some test runs with Watcher in the Woods, and Dragonslayer, they perfected their sinister craft and laid down the child-scaring law with the darkest Disney movie of all time, The Black Cauldron.

black_cauldron_posterThe poster is about as cheerful as this movie gets

PLOT

The movie opens with a tale of a king who was so cruel and evil that even the gods feared him, so the threw him alive into a molten crucible to hold his demonic soul, and forming the Black Cauldron (One minute into the movie we have tales of throwing people into molten iron.).

Fast forward to “present day” and we meet Taran, an assistant pig keeper who protects a magic pig that knows where the cauldron is hidden.  Because the evil Horned King is after the cauldron so that he may summon a deathless army, Taran, Princess Eilonwy, a pathologically lying minstrel, and an annoying creature named Gurgi (who is essentially Sméagol mated with a schnauzer), quest to find the cauldron before the Horned King can get it.

So far, this sounds a lot like Star Wars.  Nothing too dark in that.  Taran even has a light saber glowing sword that can cut through anything (which he stole from a corpse).  But hold on, this is about to get a whole lot darker…

 

EVERY FRAME OF THIS MOVIE IS DARK

the-black-cauldron-brightBright and cheerful = 5%

black cauldron castleHeavy Metal album art = 95%

Disney movies (at least the good ones) all have dark scenes, and I don’t just mean dark-theme, I mean visually dark and uncomfortable scenes.  But the Black Cauldron ups that by making every piece of this movie foreboding and bleak.  Even the normally bright and cheery scenes have a darker quality than other animated movies.  They called this The Black Cauldron and by-god Disney wanted some blackness.  That being said, the art in this movie is extremely good.  Disney spared no expense in hiring the best animators to show your children the blackest pits of their souls.

 

THE VILLAIN IS THE STUFF OF NIGHTMARES

The villain is a terrifying creature called the Horned King.  The best way to describe him is to take Skeletor from He-Man and Darkness from Legend then mix and concentrate only the scariest parts.  Disney chose actor John Hurt to lend his gravelly voice to their perfect evil overlord.

The-Black-Cauldron-Horned-King

Most Disney villains have a light moment, such as a joke at their expense or maybe a funny expression.  But not the Horned King.  His always serious and always scary.

 

NO SINGING

The Black Cauldron was the first Disney animated feature with no singing.  Our hero never sings how misunderstood and different he is.  Our villain never sings about his nefarious plans.  Singing lightens the mood, and Disney wanted none of that.

Black Cauldron Dead RoomInstead of singing about it, the Horned King just monologues to thousands of rotting corpses about his evil plot.

 

THE LIVING-DEAD MURDER PEOPLE

The_Cauldron_Born_Rise

Once the Horned King gets his claws on the Cauldron, he creates his undying army out of the mountain of bodies he keeps lying around.  Now alive, terrifying, and insanely evil, his Cauldron Born (Sorry, another Heavy Metal band already took that sweet name) immediately kill and devour(probably) the Horned King’s living and loyal army.  They die screaming.

 

THE HORNED KING’S GRAPHIC DEATH

In the end, The Horned King dies.  Now many Disney villains die, but rarely is that death the kind of death normally reserved for Nazis in Indiana Jones movies.  Namely, having the flesh graphically stripped from his bones as he screams.

black-cauldron-deathGoing…Going…

The_Horned_King_Death…Gone

 

A CHARACTER COMMITS SUICIDE

So you’re probably thinking, “Yeah yeah, I get it, Seth.  This movie is a bit dark.  But that doesn’t make it darker than the others.”

OK, but how many children’s movies have you seen where a character kills themselves because they have no friends?

Death

During the climax, when the Horned King has summoned an army of skeletal warriors to murder everyone in their path, Taran volunteers to destroy the army the only way possible, by selflessly throwing himself into The Black Cauldron, and dying.  Gurgi stops him, saying that Taran shouldn’t kill himself because he has many friends.  Since Gurgi has no friends, he should die instead.  And with that uplifting message, Gurgi kills himself.  That’s right, a Disney character outright commits suicide because the world is a better place without him.

For obvious reasons, The Black Cauldron was a box office bomb.  It’s only started gaining a cult following, mostly from the generation that grew up scarred by it.  And it’s actually a very enjoyable movie and I plan on reading Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Pydain novels on which it was based.


“Escape into a world of darkness…”
Can’t say they didn’t warn you.

 

-Seth

 

Role Playing Games – What I Play

Hi all,

Tabletop Role Playing Games have been a huge part of my life for over 20 years, now.   Some of my closest friendships have been forged over the gaming table. Because RPGs have been such an influence, I figured I’d write a little bit about what I like to play.

Like most gaD&D Box Setmers, my love affair with RPGs began with Dungeons & Dragons. When I was 13, my mother bought me the D&D box set.  It came with some basic rules, a poster, some dice, and a little adventure.  (That red dragon poster lived on my wall until I was 22.) Shortly after that, I found some friends that played in my Boy Scout troop, and one of the dads was an experienced DM.  He opened my head to the awesome possibilities of gaming.

Second Edition D&D had just come out, and my DM refused to buy new books, so we plundered garage sales and used book stores.  Even today, when I play D&D, it’s 95% First Edition (talking it back to the old school ’cause I’m an old fool)

cyberpunk rpg

A few years later, when I was 18, a friend introduced me to a completely different type of game, Cyberpunk 2020.  Cyberpunk is a near-future setting featuring evil mega-corporations, cyber technology, and punk-rock attitude.  The rule-system itself was brilliantly simple and I enjoyed it.  In fact, the Cyberpunk universe is the most well-crafted game setting world I’ve ever encountered.  However, D&D was still my true love and Cyberpunk was usually reserved for special occasions.

Over the years, my friends and I would occasionally try out 1-off games on the side. We did vampire hunters, zombie apocalypse survivors, battled Nazi mummies, and other fun scenarios.  For those we used the Cyberpunk 2020 Interlock rules.  It was the most versatile system, and makes combat extremely cinematic and brutal.

Eventually I got frustrated with D&D and decided to run Cyberpunk 2020 as a primary game.  I picked up the remaining few books that I didn’t already own and started running a campaign.  Around this time, I found Datafortress2020, which is an amazing fan-run site.  Among their resources is an improved rules system called Interlock Unlimited (IU).  IU uses all the simplicity of the original Interlock system, but streamlines it, making it usable for any setting and situation.  I was in love.

IU

After running a couple campaigns of Cyberpunk using the IU rules, we switched to a historic fantasy setting for about a year.  It was fun, but just wasn’t D&D (you can’t mess with the king).  Meanwhile, I was reading Lovecraft for the first time (yeah, I’m a late bloomer) and went on some crazed Hellraiser/horror movie bender on Netflix.  Then I discovered Call of Cthulhu

Call of Cthulhu 1920’s isCthulhu Chaosium a historic horror RPG that focuses primarily on story, investigation, and role-playing.  It’s not very combat-oriented (Most of the monsters will simply shatter your mind and eat your face.  So it’s best to avoid them directly).  It was exactly what I needed. 

The only problem I saw with it was that playing in a strictly Lovecraftian setting would quickly bore me.  I wanted to bring in The Mummy, The Shadow, King Kong, Tales of the Golden Monkey, Indiana Jones, and all the other 20’s and 30’s pulp adventures, as wells as some classics baddies like vampires and lycanthropes.  So again…Interlock Unlimited to the rescue.

It took me a few months to convert and write rules, but we now have a fully-functional game set in 1925.  I call it Pulp-Era Unlimited, but when people ask me what I play, I simply tell them Call of Cthulhu.  That’s a lot easier than saying that I play a home-made game inspired by Call of Cthulhu and Brendan Fraser movies that uses a fan-modified Cyberpunk 2020 rule system.

So there it is.  I’m a massive nerd.  I admit it.

 

-Seth

 

 

 

3 Origin Stories They Totally Dropped The Ball On

Whenever we’re introduced to a great an interesting character in a movie or TV show, we want to learn more about them. How did they get that cool?  Why are they so evil? What’s up with that hair?  So our favorite writers will sit down and toil away for hours/months/years to craft a beautifully fitting and awesome origin for these characters.  Other times, they just puke something out, hand it to us, and cash their check.  Below is a few of those.

(Warning: Spoilers of old Movies and TV shows)

 

3 – Anakin Skywalker
You should have seen this one coming.  How could you not?  When George Lucas told us that he was going to reveal the story as to how Darth Vader got so evil, and so damned mysterious, the Nerd World was literally lining up to hand him our money.  This is the same guy that beautifully explained that Indiana Jones became such a badass guy because his daddy was James-Freakin-Bond, and his fear of snakes was because of a circus train mishap while he was being chased by his future alter-ego, oh, and Indiana was the dog’s name.  Brilliant!  And now that same beautiful mind will tell us how a young Jedi became Thulsa Doom. (Author’s Note:  If you understood incoherent rambling above, you’re my people.)

Instead of awesome, we got this:

AnakinAnd the Nerd World wept.

After Qui-Gon Jinn’s SR 71 Blackbird spaceship lands on Tatooine, they meet little annoyingly cute Anakin Skywalker whose force-power is through the roof.  When they ask his mom who this kid’s dad was, she said he had no father.  This leaves us to believe one of the following…

1: She’s lying and is ashamed of the father’s identity (I’m guessing Watto)
2: She was impregnated by a swarm of midi-chlorians (They swarm, right?)
3: This is a virgin birth and Anakin is Jesus.

Younglings DieWWJD?  I’m guessing not murder a room full of cute kids.

Why it Sucks:
There is no need for a mysterious origin like this.  If Lucas wanted to say that there was something more at play to a random slave child on a back-woods planet to be the most powerful Jedi in the world, he could have given us more. 
Fans have theorized that Anakin’s origin was the clever manipulation of midi-chlorians by Darth Plaugeis, but that’s just a fan theory to explain the unexplainable.  Now we’re to believe that the already ridiculously elaborate plan of Darth Sideous to get himself on the Senate included the part where they stop for gas on Planet-X and happen to pick up a child that they will bring home for him to corrupt.
Lucas could have had Anakin’s mom be impregnated by a mysterious man that came out of the desert and loved her for one night, or a mysterious man with a hypodermic needle, or she was on a medical ship that crashed on Tatooine and was sold into slavery and has no idea what experiments were done to her, but 9 months later Anakin came flying out.  Those then lead to further questions and more mystery and not some goofy, “I swear I’m a virgin” excuse.

 

2 – Starbuck.

DirkBenedict - StarbuckNo, the other Starbuck.

 

Starbuck-KaraYep, that Starbuck.

The reboot of Battlestar Galactica turned a fun and cheesy 70’s sci-fi show into a kickass series filled with intrigue and commentary on current events.  Among the cast is Kara “Starbuck” Thrace.  For most of the show Starbuck is a cocky, overconfident, emotionally damaged, extremely religious, very artistic, likely an alcoholic, badass.  We loved her.  As the series goes on, and the Cylons begin revealing themselves, we learn of the #7 model, Daniel.  We never meet this Daniel, but learn that he was a very artistic model, and that he and his entire line (of very religious robots) are dead and the Cylon ability to regenerate (come back from the dead) won’t even work on him.

Meanwhile, Starbuck dies.

Never mind, she comes back in a brand new Viper, that’s just like her old one, but not.

Logically, everyone believes Starbuck is a Cylon.  But then we learn that she’s not.  Then we have flashbacks of her dad, a musician that’s been dead now for several years.  Her dad teaches her a little song that also just so happens to be the key coordinates to Earth, a song that the half-breed Cylon child of Athena and Helo also knows.  At this point, everyone has come to one of two conclusions.

1: Starbuck’s piano-playing father is this Daniel guy who made a unique model (Kara) and Kara is a Cylon (or half-Cylon) and she has the ability to regenerate somehow.  Maybe before Daniel died, he gave her all the clues in her databanks and that’s where all her visions come from.
2: Kara is Daniel in a different body.  She’s created her own regeneration ship that’s been following the fleet and she and has learned the key to Humanity’s salvation.

In the end we learn that neither are true.  Kara is an angel (or something) and in the last few minutes she vanishes into thin air.

Why it Sucks:
Fraking angel!
Seriously? After all the good writing and twists and turns, we have Starbuck just vanish for no real reason? I have no problem with there being angels on the show. They already had two of them. But neither followed the weird incoherent rules of the Starbuck Angel (such as being corporeal and killing things). The Starbuck explanation was terrible writing in an otherwise great show.

 

 

 1 –  Shepherd Book.

BookBadass space-preacher

Out of all the great characters in Firefly, the most mysterious was by far Shepherd Book.  At first, he’s this nice priest that ends up on a crew of smugglers, fugitives, and Jayne Cobb (which is a classification unto itself).  As the series progresses, we start learning little tidbits about our good Shepherd, such as his in depth knowledge of the criminal underworld, master proficiency with military weaponry, and one freaky moment when psychic River sees him being all kinds of sinister beneath his normally sweet facade.  At one point, bounty-hunter Jubal Early mentions that Book, “ain’t no Shepherd.”  The biggest mystery, however, was when Book was shot, and the desperate crew brought him to an Alliance ship for help.  The captain was about to dismiss Book to go off and die, but then sees Book’s ID card, craps himself, and gives Book the best medical attention the future has to offer.  Why would they do that?  Then the show ended and he Nerd World wept.

Then the movie “Serenity” comes out.  In it, we learn two things:

1: Book knows a hell of a lot about super-secret Alliance spies.
2: Book won’t reveal his past and it will forever be a mystery (and the Nerd World wept.)

And that was it…until…

TheShepherdsTale-CoverSeriously, if you have not read this, do not keep going.

In this origin story comic book, they just couldn’t leave well enough alone and decided to reveal who Book really is.  In short, Shepherd Book is a super-elite Independence Movement spy that infiltrated the Alliance, worked his way up in the ranks until he could sabotage it from the inside.  He was responsible for the “single greatest disaster in Alliance history” in which thousands of people died.  Disgraced, he was politely asked to leave the service by being shout out of his ship in an escape pod.  Eventually he found God, joined the Monastery, and then wandered onto Serenity.  Oh, and he has a bionic eye and his real name isn’t Book.

Why it Sucks:
OK, so if Book was a disgraced Alliance Officer that was responsible for the “single greatest disaster in Alliance history,” why would an Alliance captain even bother to fix Book’s injuries?  He wouldn’t.  Book was dishonorably discharged out of an escape pod.  They don’t care if he dies.  They WANT him to die.  This makes no sense.  Also, it’s just too easy that Book was a super-spy for the good guys.  This was a cop-out.

There are dozens of fan theories out there as to who, and what, Shepherd Book was supposed to be.  Here’s mine: Shepherd Book was Alliance.  Possibly high-ranking officer or even an Agent.  Book is hailed as a freaking hero because during the Rebellion, Book was instrumental in the victory at The Battle of Serenity Valley.  He won the war.  However, the carnage and death he witnessed was too much for him and he faded off into obscurity.  He found God, joined a monastery, and then finds himself on a ship captained by a man that lost his own faith in God when his men died at the Battle of Serenity Valley.  Book sees this as a sign, and the reason he stays on the ship is because he believes that the key to his salvation is to restore the faith to the man he stole it from.

Now imagine that the series was never cancelled.  Now imagine the conflict that would occur when someone found out that sweet Shepherd Book was responsible for all the mental anguish that Malcolm and Zoe endured.  Imagine what they would do if Mal or Zoe found out.  Beautiful, isn’t it?

Unfortunately, they went with the bionic eye story, instead.