Coming Soon: Sudden Danger

I have good news for those of you who enjoyed my first full-length novel, Sudden Rescue, winner of the prestigious Happy Frog Award.  Sudden and Karenina return in their first action as members of the Star King’s intelligence service.  Sudden knows that every simple job has the potential to get real complicated real quick, especially when a guy has to show his naïve and adventurous new wife the ropes.  In Sudden Danger, the two of them uncover a hidden conspiracy on the fringes of the Ragged Edge – a plot by the local corporation to steal the land of a few humble farmers that leads them into a larger web centered in the very court of the Star King.  This novel’s look at one small corner of the Sudden-verse delivers all of the thrilling fights and chases and escapes from certain doom you’ve come to expect from my work, and the deeper meaning of heroism handled with a light touch that will leave you smiling and ready for more.

Those happy few, that band of brothers that signed up for my newsletter saw this cover a few weeks ago (hint hint).  Get in on all the latest news and early updates by entering your email into the field on the top of the right hand side-bar today.  It’s what Sudden would want you to do.

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Confusion in Cell Block 99

Give Brawl in Cell Block 99 credit, it’s a gutsy movie. It has the guts to make the primary hostage of the film an unborn child – that this conceit slipped past the Hollywood gate-keepers astonishes me. It has the guts to cast Vince Vaughn as a near-superheroic brawler – despite his age and soft physique. It has the guts to cast the bad guys as a Latino drug cartel – rather than the near-obligatory Russian mafia that seems responsible for 99 percent of American crime these days if Hollywood’s output is anything to go by.

(Spoilers: It isn’t.)

You have to respect a film that takes as many risks as this one. The list continues. The protagonist is a straight up drug running bagman. His wife isn’t a stronk wimmin who don’t need no man. The lead pair actually love each other and fight for each other. The first half of the movie is a slow burn character drama that leads to a second-half bloodbath as brutal as any put to film. The secondary henchman is a stomach-churningly emotionless abortion doctor.  It’s both a slow-build character study and an over-the-top gore fest all at once. This film does so many things that simply aren’t done that it’s hard not to recommend it.

And yet…after some serious consideration, I can’t recommend it.

Brawl in Cell Block 99 (available on Amazon Prime) starts with a down on his luck tow-truck driver, who in fine Country-Western fashion loses his job and finds out his wife has been cheating on him on the same day. His response is measured and provides the first real handle on the character. We learn his marriage hit troubled waters after a miscarriage, but we also see them begin to work things out and choose to salvage the wreckage of their marriage.

Brief aside – the casting doesn’t work here. Vince Vaughn only has ten years on Jennifer Carpenter (the wife), but she looks so much younger than he does in this movie that it took me several minutes to understand that she wasn’t his daughter. Kudos to Carpenter for playing romantic leads into her late 30s, but if Hollywood is going to keep pushing May-November couples on screen (hello again, American Made!) they’ve got to learn how to distinguish husband-wife from father-daughter with more speed and clarity.

So we’re given reasons to root for this struggling couple, and it’s enough for us to forgive the fact that Vince Vaughn is a drug runner. He seems troubled by his career choice, which helps us sympathize with him, even if we can’t forgive him for helping to destroy the fabric of America. It also helps that the heavies in this film are shown to be uncaring, vicious, and stupid monsters. If the film had been consistent in this regard, I might actually have been able to recommend it.

As it stands, the film tries too hard to be gritty, and makes a few strange choices that suck the burgeoning emotion out the experience. What’s left is another schizophrenic film that elevates internal conflict above emotional manipulation.

That’s not a compliment. Movies are supposed to be manipulative. When we got to the movies, we are paying to be manipulated. We pay for a comedy trusting that the film will manipulate us to laugh. We pay for a romance trusting that the film will manipulate us to feel the love. We pay for exciting films because we want to be excited. The only manipulation this film provides revolves around confusion. If you want to be confused, go see a mystery. A straight-ahead action film stiff-arms any attempts at audience engagement when it fails to ground the protagonist’s struggle in doing the right thing.

Two examples from this film help illustrate.

  1. Our hero has been remanded to medium security prison.  He needs to be transferred to the nearby maximum-security prison by showing himself to be a raging psychopath.  He can do this by beating the holy hell out of the sadistic guards that surround him.  The set-up is there, but moments before the pay-off, the worst of the guards is given several moments to show a touch of humanity that sucks the cathartic release out of his defeat.  The heel-face ruins the emotional impact of the fight, turning it from a well-deserved come-uppance to a sad and nauseating display.
  2. Later, our hero needs to moved from Cell Block 56 to the worst, blackest hole in the maximum-security prison.  He makes a reasonable request of a violent gang, knowing that his request will spark a fight.  The tension of the fight carries far more weight than the previous one specifically because it’s more fun watching people who deserve a beat-down get one than it is watching a decent guy get beat down.  For decent people, anyway.

Sometimes they get it right. Sometimes they get it wrong.

In the final analysis, despite everything the movie does right, those repeated little mis-steps and risks that don’t pay off cost my firm recommendation. The barrage of difficult choices thrust upon Vaughn’s character left me repeatedly thinking, “I don’t know if I like that.” It became a litany that I still feel when thinking about it, and as a result I don’t know if I feel like recommending it.

Hey, Brawl in Cell Block 99, you succeeded in manipulating me into feeling very conflicted about you.  Congratulations on that, I guess?

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Anti-American Made

Say what you want about the man, Tom Cruise movies usually meet the half-way decent mark of quality entertainment. They always have a few problems, but rarely do those problems ruin the rest of the movie. The most recent Mission Impossible film suffered from the usual complete lack of romance, but otherwise represents a solid entry in the spy-thriller genre. Which makes his most recent film, American Made, all the more disappointing.

The whole point of the movie is to show that Ronald Reagan was simultaneously a bumbling incompetent that couldn’t control his administration and a master conniver and deceiver responsible for America’s convoluted attempts at international real-politik in the 1980s. That was the point of the film. The plot revolves around a bored pilot who eagerly signs on with the CIA, at first to conduct low-altitude fly-bys of Central American military camps. When the pay proves to be insufficient to warrant the risk, the pilot – Tom Cruise’s character is so bland I can’t remember his name and will only refer to him as “the pilot” – starts to run drugs for the nascent Medellin cartel. Busted in short order, the pilot turns his operation over to the CIA, things spiral out of control, and before the end everyone betrays Tom Cruise, and as the middle-man, he’s the guy that takes the fall*.

That’s an interesting premise, hampered by a number of factors, chief of which is the movie’s sheer schizophrenic nature. It can’t decide whether it wants to be a comedy or a tragedy. It can’t decide whether the real bad guy is a rogue CIA analyst, the cartel bosses, or Ronald Reagan. It can’t decide whether the drug enforcement agencies are bumbling fools or ruthless villains themselves. What’s left is a film that can’t decide what it is, and that translates on screen to a rootless story in which the viewer has no idea who to root for, what to hope for, or why to invest any emotion into the tale.

Take a look at the pilot’s character. The closest thing we get for a reason to root for him is a moment where he turns down easy sex in a city far from his wife. Throughout the film we see that he is loyal to his family – to his wife and kids anyway – and that helps, but that’s trivial. It’s easy to be loyal to your own children. As viewers, we need more than that. To complicate matters, the film spends more time showing that the pilot has no qualms about acting like a dick to a planeload of passengers just for a cheap laugh at their expense than it does showing his one positive trait. That’s not how you engage an audience, that’s how you get them to tune out.

Likewise, the film’s constant intercuts to shots of Ronald Reagan, particularly late in the film, serve as jarring interruptions in the flow of the story. Things for the pilot heat up as the film progresses and he finds himself caught between a multitude of factions, fighting to hold together an ad-hoc organization built to serve two masters. Into that struggle, the film-makers just can’t resist pausing the action on a regular basis to remind the viewer that this is all Reagan’s fault. Hey kids, remember when Reagan fought drugs while his administration did all these things?

That might make for a fine movie in its own right, but it seriously undercuts the impact of scenes that explicitly show the CIA operating as an independent agency. From the film’s perspective, the scenes of the CIA covering their own tracks so as to implement plans that go against the stated goals of the Administration, lifts the burden from the main CIA antagonist. In fact, by showing this aspect of the unaccountability of the mandarins operating out of Rome on the Potomac, this film winds up serving as more of an owl goal for the globalists. Particularly so given that the release of American Made coincides with a litany of revelations that the FBI, CIA, and the State Department, all operate independently of the man in the Oval Office. Made In America provides a classic example of what can happen when the bureaucracy grows too large and unwieldy, and makes as strong a case as any for the drastic reduction of state power, if only to make the wielding of that power more manageable – and by extension to make it easier to hold the man who wields that power more manageable.

Bear in mind, the “show the facts, let the viewer decide” is a valid approach to storytelling, and one that can work well, but that is not what happens in American Made. The film clearly sides with the murderous communist regimes in Central America, painting them as sacred defenders of the people they brutalize while painting American involvement as the source of all woes. Somehow, the film wants the viewer to sympathize with Tome Cruise’s pilot, despite the fact that he is working against the heroic and noble blood-soaked regimes that the film takes pains to respect. The result is a cognitive dissonance in the film that distracts more than it entertains.

“Why am I watching this?” Is not a question that a film-maker should want a viewer asking himself mid-movie, but it is a question that crops up over and over again while watching American Made. Aside from a few quick laughs and a train-wreck look at the collapse of a criminal Deep State enterprise, there’s really no good answer to that question. Do yourself a favor and don’t put yourself in the position to have to ask it of yourself.

*Yes, I spoiled it for you.  You’re welcome.

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The Programming Continues Apace

O daughter mine insisted that I watch this stunning and brave take down of the much ballyhooed vidya, Life is Strange, as reviewed by the incomparable E;R.  If you’ve seen his next level Plinkett take-down of Star Wars, The Cancer Years, then you already know to brace yourself for the bad language and highly controversial noticing of things we aren’t supposed to notice in these enlightened days.  He does a great job, but misses one very important subtlety to this game.  Watch first, or skip it, I’ll cut to the chase below the fold.

The whole point of the entire…game…?…is to deliver you to one single decision point.  Murder your horrible friend or murder the entire town.  That’s it.  That Sophie’s choice is the whole point of the game, and it is as subtle as it is evil.

First things first, the game is a long string of decision points, many of which represent that exact same dichotomy.  False choices that force the player to decide who dies and who dies.  Neat huh?  The big whammy occurs regardless of the choices you make, and only after a whole lot of time invested in the game.  The big choice waits until you throw in the towel and can’t even imagine cutting the Gordian knot of that fateful ultimate choice.

This whole game is predicated on training the player’s mind to become increasingly comfortable making “lesser of two evil” choices.

As Wikipedia puts it:

The lesser of two evils principle (or lesser evil principle and lesser-evilism) is the principle that when faced with selecting from two immoral options, the one which is least immoral should be chosen.

(Brief aside: Normally, I’d use the Infogalactic entry, but Infogalactic makes a subtle but important distinction by using the word ‘harmful’ in the place of ‘immoral’.  If you don’t already, you’ll understand the importance of that word change shortly.)

Life is Strange represents nothing more than one giant argument for relative morality, which is itself one giant argument for no such thing as morality.  And it does it in a very circumspect manner.  It never comes right out and expresses the idea that one should always be running their choices through a calculus of relativity, but by designing the game in this manner, they’ve boiled the universe down to a constant stream of, “which sin should I commit here?” decisions.  It demands the player chuck any semblance of principles straight out the window in favor of expediency and in-the-moment feelz.

That calculus is like a cancer that infects your thought processes if you don’t prune it on a regular basis.  It starts with a game like this, but it infects your thinking until you consider an infant’s death a fair trade for its mother’s financial well being.  Or the ruin of a stable North African nation a good price to pay for choking Europe with a flood of vibrant diversity.  Or the costs of invading a Middle-Eastern nation on false flag pretexts worth living in a world where…you know, something something it’s all Bush’s fault anyway.

People who play Life is Strange are training their minds to run through those channels, to reject any sort of principles or even a belief in any sort of underlying truth.  It’s sick and twisted and just one more sign of how low the post-modernists have driven our culture.  Yes, our culture – this stupid game is much beloved by the sorts of anti-West media types responsible for ruining everything from movies to film to literature to…well, video games, of course.

As with most games built by SJWs and leftists in general, the only way to win…is not to play.  That goes for you and your kids, and if your kids have already played the game, show them E;R’s review – it won’t just make them laugh, it will make them think, and that’s something that the makers of Life is Strange never intended.

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Too Hot for Prime Time

This little bit of meme magic was meant for a recent Castalia House article that veered off in a different direction than intended.  Since it didn’t match the new thrust of the article, it has languished, alone and unloved, on my drive.  It’s really too good not to share, though.

Now might be a good time to sign up for my newsletter.  (See the top right sidebar for the link.)  You get a free novella, and pretty soon I’ll be sharing the artwork for the cover of my next novel pretty soon.  It’s a bit of a departure from my normal pulp style, but fans of E. Z. Sudden will appreciate it.


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Adventure Constant, The Dead Tree Version

Great news for you adventure fans that prefer the touch of good old fashioned pulp in your hands when you read your good old fashioned pulp adventures.  My latest novel, Adventure Rising, is now available in dead tree format.  Jack Dashing (kind of) returns to action in this sequel to his first thrilling escapade, Adventure Constant – a book reviewers have loved.

Check out this review from Guy Buttersnaps:

[It’s] got everything a reader could want: sword fights, espionage, crocodile men, and spaceflight. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

The sequel features a much more intimate look at the New York City of a parallel world where things are much darker, much more grim, and where it takes a hero like Jack Dashing can make a difference.  Whether you love New York City for its vibrant bustle, or roll your eyes at its smug sense of superiority, you’ll get a kick out of the Big Apple in Adventure Rising.

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Cirsova 7 Triple Play

The last three stories in this spring 2018 edition of Cirsova are shorter works that make for a welcome change of pace. The earlier stories in the issue bring the emotional heat or the high-stakes adventure, but there’s more to life than pathos and pulse pounding adrenaline. Putting the two lightest stories back to back strikes me as an odd decision. One of the selling points of Cirsova is the eclectic nature of the stories it contains. Each issue represents a grab-bag of fun fiction that runs the gamut, and that “box of chocolates life” approach serves it well. Sliding one of these light pieces in between a couple of heavier works would help serve as a palate cleanser to help those of us who read the collection straight on through decompress after the heady wine of a Machu Hampacchu or the dark sliminess of The Iynx.

If you’re a fan of sci-fi then you are familiar with the trope of a massively powerful galactic civilization meeting humanity for the first time. That central premise lies at the heart of Criteria for Joining the Galactic Community, by Michael Tierney, and in fine traditional form, the President of the United States finds himself Earth’s unexpected ambassador. In a compact story like this, one gag is enough, but Tierney manages to squeeze in a nice one-two punch with a deft touch of humanity for a President in way over his head. He also does it without the sort of cheap shot political theater that would bury the story under a pointless virtue signal. Another point in this story’s favor.

Anna and the Thing, by Abraham Strongjohn starts off as a typical sci-fi bounty hunter struggling to bring his beautiful target back alive without getting killed in the process. The set-up is standard, though well executed, and fits in perfect with a couple of the earlier stories in this issue. The resolution hits the reader with a nice little curve ball that in the hands of a lesser writer would feel cheap. Given the skill with which Strongjohn slings words, it works.

My Name is John Carter (Part 6), by James Hutchings rounds out the issue with the usual celebration of masculine adventure told in fine traditional mythopoetic form. If the choice were mine, Hutchings would serve as this nation’s poet laureate, and we’d see a lot more epic ballads proclaiming the greatness of the American system and way of life – including poems about clean limbed warriors and hot chicks with long blades and radium guns fighting alien hordes on far flung frontiers – and a lot less of that free verse nonsense you get from celebrated hacks like Angelou.

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Blooded, A Chuck Dixon Novel

“He left the bar with a girl he didn’t know for the wildest night, one that would never end, of his life. Her gift to him was immortality. The gift came with a price: a diet of human blood.

Forget capes, coffins, bats, wooden stakes, and garlic. Follow a former real estate salesman on a journey that begins with his death and leads to a life of a living dead full of hunger, hunting, and betrayal.”

Intrigued by a down to earth vampire story that treats vampirism as the curse that it would really be?  Don’t have time to read even a short novel like this?  Stuck in traffic?  What are you waiting for?  More rhetorical questions?  Get off your butt and pick up a copy of the audio book of Chuck Dixon’s Blooded, and brace yourself for the kind of high energy and verisimilitudinous vampire book that doesn’t belong on the Romance shelf.

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The Toads of Machu Hampacchu

My expectations of this story were low for no other reason than the title. Something about the name “Machu Hampacchu” just doesn’t work for me. It’s the kind of name I’d expect to see in a satirical Lovecraft story about a ruined city of pig worshipping luchadores. That’s probably just me, and I’m happy to report that the title doesn’t do the story itself justice.

Louise Sorensen takes us back to the Deodanth, a city of that ancient time in earth’s history when no-fooling Elder Things walked the planet and flew the not-so-friendly skies. Having killed an Elder Thing back in Issue Five, Darla decides to lay low for a while by guiding a small cadre of clueless Strangers – humans not of Deodanth to a ruined city on the slopes far below.

It doesn’t work.

It turns out that leaving a city lost in the mists of time by hiding out in the ruins of an even older city that was itself lost in the mists of that first city’s time is a lot like jumping out of a leaking boat into the safety of the waiting jaws of an alligator. Or perhaps that should be the waiting jaws of a frog god. Darla and her companions run afoul of the things worshipped by the people of that ruined city, which in fine tradition means waking a slumber god.

As with many of the Eldritch Earth stories of Issue 5, The Toads of Machu Hampacchu is kind of hard to follow. Not for the plotting or the events, but by dint of the sheer alienness of the setting. Told in the first person by a native of the strange time and place, the descriptions of the setting and events are chock full of holes borne of the assumption that you know what Darla is talking about despite the eons between her writing and your reading. It lends the story an airy dreaminess that enhances the weirdness of the story in a completely natural way. Louise’s writing here reminds me a lot of that of Dominika Lein’s.  If you’re read her works, you know what I mean.

That dreamy quality also takes what could have been a cliched resolution of the showdown at the end of the tale and turns it into something uncannily unknowable. Sure, twas beauty that slayed the beast, but in a way that makes just enough sense to be understood without making enough sense for it to feel natural.

And that’s a nice spin on the elder days.

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Gomers: A Tale of the Zombiepocalypse

Zombie fans, your listening options got bigger.  Audible now brings you Chuck Dixon’s Gomers, the story of one family of wandering grifters, two nerds, one hardened vet, and the dog that brings them all together.  Voiced by the always entertaining ME, the end of the civilized world never sounded so good.

Like most zombie stories, this one features a gang of survivors worse than the zombies.  Unlike most zombie stories, this one does not feature survivors who take turns carrying an idiot ball just to ensure drama happens on schedule.  The fully fleshed out characters all take the end of the world as seriously as you would, and any mistakes they make are the sort of understandable ones that a reasonable person might make in such dangerous situations.  Give it a listen, you won’t be disappointed.

And if you like this, stay tuned – there’s more on the way soon!

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