Saturday, July 4, 2015

In Defense of Independence Day and Other Disaster Movies

Posted by: Kelly Jensen
I love a good disaster, the more apocalyptic the better. So it should come as no surprise that I enjoy apocalyptic movies—even the ones on the SyFy Channel. Especially those. My love of such movies is life long, fostered by Hollywood’s fascination with making things burn, even in a ship flipped upside down and sinking to the bottom of the ocean. I could list my favourites, and The Poseidon Adventure would be near the top of the list. But the list would spill off the end of this page and onto the next one—and it is Independence Day. I’ve got a party to get to. So I’ll restrict my rambling to movies where the entire planet is under threat of destruction and the fate of the human race teeters on the knife edge of extinction. Movies like Independence Day.

Roland Emmerich is one of my favourite directors, and not only because he has destroyed the White House three times. More, it’s that he understands how to communicate the idea of an apocalypse. How it affects people on every level—individually and globally. Blowing up the White House is a pretty big statement. It’s the death of a very important facet of America, it’s also a symbolic move that every other country on Earth will understand. So it makes a great scene. But even though I’m all about the pyrotechnics, the scenes that really get me are the little ones. The small, apparently meaningless chats between a pair of secondary characters that illustrate the stories of the untold millions, all reacting in very different ways to impending doom.

Though I really like Independence Day, my favourite Emmerich movie is The Day After Tomorrow—because it’s an ecological disaster and those are not only timely, but based on a scary reality. Also, it has The Journey. The Journey is one of my favourite plot devices, from fiction to science fiction. Done well, it’s a compelling narrative and emotional thread. In The Day After Tomorrow, Jack Hall treks across America looking for his son. That his son, Sam, is played by Jake Gyllenhaal is only coincidentally related to my love for this film. Sorta. As the world freezes, his trek becomes more perilous and the stakes are raised. By the end of the movie, hope is as bleak as the landscape, despite all the warm, fuzzy moments between characters figuring out how to survive.

Why do we find apocalypses so appealing? The chance to watch large scale destruction is a definite draw. Movie makers and watchers alike love ‘splosions! I went to see San Andreas for exactly two reasons. One: Dwayne Johnson. Two: to watch a cruise ship ride a tidal wave over San Francisco. I don’t care if it’s plausible or possible, I just wanted to see it—and I did—and it was glorious!

There is more to disaster movies than toppling buildings, fiery tornadoes, and gaping holes in the fabric of reality, though. Disasters—apocalypses in particular—show the truth of humanity. Sometimes it’s ugly, but the reason these movies are so popular is because more often, it’s not. Inevitably, by the end of the movie, an unlikely hero has emerged. A stranger has made a sacrifice. People with differences have banded together to do something more important than bicker. Folks even find love. So, while everything’s going to hell in a handbasket, people are doing what people do best: they’re being human. And being human, to me, is being filled with hope. We have to be in order to get past that fundamental question of ‘Why am I here?’

So what makes a good disaster movie? There’s a definite formula. The first scene should involve a warning. The rumble of the Earth or an alien mothership hovering overhead. A wind that’s just a little bit too strong to be natural. A crack appearing in the sidewalk. Then we meet the mad scientist. This is the guy who has been prophesying ‘The End is Nigh’ for his/her entire career. They’ve written books and have a cult following. But no one takes them seriously until that crack in the sidewalk widens far enough to swallow a something or someone. Which brings me to the ritual sacrifice. The first to die. It’s a stupid and ignoble death and no one wants this part, but it’s essential. If people don’t die, no one will take the mad scientist seriously. And if the ritual sacrifice is related to someone important, it’s even better.

Next, we have the estranged couple—two people who are separated or divorced. They’re going to find their way back into one another’s arms by the end of the movie. It’s that whole working together to achieve a goal thing mixed in with holy-mother-of-God-we’re-all-going-to-die.

On to the kid with skillz. Doesn’t have to be a kid, but kids are cute and when they’re threatened with serious bodily harm, the audience naturally leans toward the front of their seats. Either way, someone needs to figure out how to defeat the aliens, close the wormhole, protect everyone from the triple-twister/falling building/big freeze/mutant alligator-turtle-orangutan.

This is where a lot of disaster movies fall under criticism. The solution. It’s either too easy, or utterly ridiculous. The aliens are afraid of water? We can take down the shielding of an advanced species’ aircraft by using a computer virus? Nuking the sun is basically just like hitting a light switch? Thing is—if it wasn’t doable, we’d all be dead, and that’s really not a fun movie. And it has to be doable by ordinary people. Yeah, often it’s the mad scientist who has the solution, or the heroic dude with all the muscles, or the intelligent woman thrown in for the sake of diversity. But for it to work, it has to be something the last man, woman or child on Earth can accomplish. I have to be able to do it. Therefore, it has to be simple.

Next up is the Hail Mary. The solution IS too simple, or the first, overly complicated version is broken. This is where you hold your breath. Someone usually dies at this point, and it’s not a ritual sacrifice. It’s a heartfelt one. The anti-hero is often thrown on the pyre here, and later, when everyone emerges from the rubble with artistic streaks of dirt across their faces, they’ll say good things about him or her. It’s usually a him.

Finally, the movie wraps with a hint of the next disaster. An eyelid opening, another crack in the sidewalk, a puff of smoke from the dead volcano. This is in case they want to make a sequel—but it shouldn’t detract from the point, which is that we survived, and that we all learned something along the way. Might just be to move away from major fault lines, but more usually it’s that feeling of hope. Human ingenuity and spirit triumphing against all odds. That, right there, is why we love disaster movies, and why Independence Day embodies the spirit of the genre. America has always been a fiercely independent nation, and you can believe that if aliens did blow up the White House on the most celebrated date on the calendar, they’re going to get mad enough to put their president in a fighter jet. Fighting tyranny takes more than a reckless spirit, however. It takes a nation as a whole. It takes people working together. It takes hope.
_____________________________________

If aliens ever do land on Earth, Kelly will not be prepared, despite having read over a hundred stories of the apocalypse. Still, she will pack her precious books into a box and carry them with her as she strives to survive. It’s what bibliophiles do.


Kelly writes the CHAOS STATION series with her best friend and writing partner, Jenn Burke. The latest release in the series, LONELY SHORE, came out on May 25th. Visit the Chaos Station website at http://chaosstation.com to read an excerpt of both books. While you’re there, consider joining the mailing list for advance notice of upcoming releases, excerpts and short stories.


Catch up with Kelly to talk disasters and books on:
Twitter: @kmkjensen

Friday, July 3, 2015

Excerpt from Star Cruise: Marooned

Posted by: Veronica Scott
Thought I'd present you with an excerpt from my new best-selling science fiction romance adventure, STAR CRUISE: MAROONED (A Sectors SF Romance) Only 99 cents!.

Here's the story:
Meg Antille works long hours on the charter cruise ship Far Horizon so she can send credits home to her family. Working hard to earn a promotion to a better post (and better pay), Meg has no time for romance.
Former Special Forces soldier Red Thomsill only took the berth on the Far Horizon in hopes of getting to know Meg better, but so far she’s kept him at a polite distance. A scheduled stopover on the idyllic beach of a nature preserve planet may be his last chance to impress the girl.
But when one of the passengers is attacked by a wild animal it becomes clear that conditions on the lushly forested Dantaralon aren’t as advertised – the ranger station is deserted, the defensive perimeter is down…and then the Far Horizon’s shuttle abruptly leaves without any of them.
Marooned on the dangerous outback world, romance is the least of their concerns, and yet Meg and Red cannot help being drawn to each other once they see how well they work together. But can they survive long enough to see their romance through? Or will the wild alien planet defeat them, ending their romance and their lives before anything can really begin?
And the excerpt, where Meg gets the first hint that things may not be the way she expected:
Moments before she was ready to serve lunch, Red checked in with her again.
“Anything else you need?”
She realized her party hadn’t cleared their presence yet with the park rangers. Pushing her bangs off her forehead, she said, “Yes, can you do me a favor and run to the ranger station on the far side of the landing field? Usually, someone would have come by to check our permit, but maybe there’s a staff meeting running long or something. Tell the person at the desk our permits are in order, and I can show them after I’ve served lunch. Our line has a good reputation, so the ranger should be okay about it.”
“No problem.” Despite his cheerful answer, he hesitated. “What does Drewson do on these trips ashore?”
“As little as possible, believe me. Privilege of rank, or so he says. Actually, he’s not too good with the guests, so his absence is probably better for all of us, as far as the size of the tip at the end of the voyage.” Meg hoped she hadn’t said too much to the rookie, but her frustrations with Drewson grew every time he was assigned as the pilot bringing her ashore with passengers.
As Red walked away, she served the buffet luncheon, which met with approval from their guests. The Far Horizon featured one of the Virochol Lines’ most experienced gourmet chefs—he shipped out as a package deal with their Captain, so her ship was much sought after for charters.
Red came to report in the middle of lunch service, a puzzled frown on his face.
“What did the ranger say?” Meg asked, plating more mini sandwiches.
Shaking his head, Red said, “No one there.”
“What?” She paused in the middle of drizzling artful condiments on the individual Azrigone beef patties. Laughing, thinking perhaps he was kidding, she said, “Are they out to lunch or something?”
“Place is all closed up. I knocked, on the off chance someone was left as a caretaker, but the station shows all the signs of being abandoned." He ran one hand through the dark maroon hair that gave him his nickname.
“Impossible. The rangers and their families live here year round. I’ll go check for myself later.” Annoyed at his failure to complete the simple task, she said, “Mr. Trever asked to go fishing, and that’s your job.”
“Any hints on the best spot?” Red surveyed the lake.
“I never paid much attention. I think there’s a sand bar off to the left. Try there.” She gestured vaguely. “The fishing gear is in the boat module, which you’ll have to bring from the shuttle.”
Red departed to handle the task and she kept serving lunch and drinks. A few minutes later, she heard the purr of the small boat’s motor and raised her head long enough to watch Red skippering three guests onto the beautifully colored lake.
Finishing the lunch service, she had a bit of free time before the mid afternoon snack. Mingling with the passengers held no appeal for her. She wasn’t working charters to try and snag a generational billionaire or intergalactic businessman. Meg sent as many of her credits as she could to her family, on their home world, to buy more land for the Antille spice farms. Scanning the beach for a moment, she considered the primary guest and the men he’d brought along on this cruise. A mix of businessmen like himself and faded celebrities to fawn over him and impress the men he wanted to do deals with. Shaking her head, she couldn’t wait to see the last of this bunch.
Taking a glass of the refreshing faquilada fruit drink, she wandered toward the TDJ pavilion, hoping she knew a few of the cruise staff or crew. A woman in the other line’s uniform came to meet her, waving cordially. Delighted, Meg recognized Sallira, a casual acquaintance in the Guild. Their circle of mutual friends was wide, so catching up on gossip took a few minutes. Then Meg said, “Hey, what’s the deal with the ranger station? My guy said it was closed. Did you see anyone official when you landed?”
Sallira shook her head. “No, he’s right, the staff is all gone.” Making a funny face of regret, lips scrunched, she sighed. “Too bad, I had a flirtation going with the senior ranger last time I was here.” One eyebrow raised suggestively, she sipped her drink. “I was anticipating more fun and games this trip, if you know what I mean.” She nudged Meg in the ribs with her elbow. “Harmless fun, but he sure was cute.”
Meg stared at the Falls and then the lake. The park gave the appearance of order, serene and beautiful as always. Maybe the Sector Thirty government had decided to cut costs by eliminating the rangers? But then why hadn’t she seen a bulletin to that effect? The captain gave her the permit token before the shuttle left the Far Horizon this morning, so he must not have known the permanent staff was gone either.

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Thursday, July 2, 2015

Happy Day After Canada Day!

Posted by: Jenn Burke
Yesterday was party day! We celebrated the 148th birthday of our nation. Here in Canada’s Capital, Parliament Hill is normally swarmed with crowds of 100,000 or more, and museums have free admission. It’s pretty cool! In one of the early drafts of Her Sexy Sentinel, I actually had a Canada-Day-on-Parliament-Hill scene, but that subplot ended up getting cut.

In belated celebration, I wanted to share with you some of my favourite TV shows and movies from Canada.
Imdb.com
This movie is filled with Canadian in-jokes. You’ve got the tension between English Ontario and French Quebec, you’ve got a murder mystery entirely centred around Canadian hockey teams moving to the U.S., and an entire scene devoted to explaining how to swear in Québécois French. It’s pretty awesome.

I was a HUGE fan of this TV series when it was on. First of all, it features a do-good Mountie stationed in Chicago, partnering with an American detective to solve crime. Secondly, the guy’s deaf husky is named Diefenbaker, after one of our prime ministers. And lastly, Paul Gross is hot, man.

Imdb.com
In this series from the early 90s, Nick Knight is a vampire cop struggling to find redemption. It’s set in Toronto and was one of my first introductions to the whole “vampires as good guys” trope.

This show is based on one of my favourite book series, Women of the Otherworld by Kelley Armstrong. It’s mostly set in Toronto and northern New York and centres around the one and only female werewolf. I haven’t seen all of the episodes yet, but I can tell you that the books…wow, the books are awesome.

Speaking of books, if you’re looking for some fun Canadian spec fic, check out:

Moonheart or the Jack of Kinrowan series by Charles de Lint. These books are set in Ottawa and the surrounding area and effortlessly blend Old World and First Nations myths and legends with the real world.

Tanya Huff’s Vicki Nelson series is set in and around Toronto. Vicki is a former cop with degenerating eyesight who partners with the vampiric bastard son of Henry VIII to solve paranormal crimes.

Light by ‘Nathan Burgoine is a recent favourite of mine. Set in Ottawa during Pride Week, the story focuses on a reluctant superhero struggling to find love and prevent hatred and bigotry from spewing all over the celebrations.


And, of course, there’s mine…

The most dangerous thing they could do is fall in love...

Callie Noble fled to Ottawa to escape danger. But she is far from safe. Overwhelmed by a strange new power she can't control, Callie is terrified and painfully incapacitated. Her only hope is to seek the help of the one man who broke her heart...

Derrick Llewellyn is one of the Sentinels charged with the protection of the city's mysterious secret. Seeing Callie again is a shock enough, but the electricity between them is stronger than ever. Still, loving another marked individual is forbidden, and Callie needs his help—not romantic complications.

But there are forces at work in the city, and Callie finds herself inexorably drawn into a world filled with danger and untold magics. A world where loving Derrick isn't just forbidden...it's the surest way to drive them both mad.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

From the Archives: Gamer Geek Me--Why I Love Paper and Dice Games

Posted by: Jax Garren
Veronica sez: one from the Archives, written by Author Jax Garren for your enjoyment! Her latest 2015 release is STRIPPED WITH THE VAMPIRE.

I play RPGS--not the World of Warcraft kind, the sit-around-a-table-and-roll-dice kind. Like that one with the dragons and the dungeon-crawling, although I don't play that one very often. The basic idea behind P'n'D RPGs is that everyone agrees on a setting then one person creates a plot and the other players create characters. Together you sit around a table and tell the story, using dice rolls or some other form of chance to determine the success or failure of specific actions. Typically each character has a different specialty appropriate to the setting, like piloting, thieving, conning, doctoring, fighting, etc., and the group works together to achieve a common goal. On the geek hierarchy this apparently puts me somewhere between people who can quote Isaac Asimov and erotic furries.

I was in college when I started playing. A group of friends from the Madrigal Choir I sang with (I think I just slid further down the hierarchy) invited my bestie and I to join them for an Advanced Dungeons and Dragons campaign set in Ravenloft, a medieval vampire setting. (Yes, I know what THAC0 stands for. If you do, too--without looking it up--comment and tell me!) The GM* asked us to describe ourselves, and I asked him what the fashion of the world was like. He looked at me blankly, and I persisted, "Well, is it normal to have tattoos? Colored hair? How long? How many piercings are average? You asked me to describe myself." He turned to the rest of the table and barked out a laugh--he had, and still has, this amazingly rich bass voice. "Well, gentlemen, the ladies have joined us." And then he proceeded to give me a very serious rundown of the fashion of the place and era. I later found out he was incredibly pleased somebody bothered to ask.

Right out of college, my bestie and I put a group together--4 women and my fiance--to have a weekly dinner and game night. We were pretty pleased with ourselves because even though we let guys in, we were a female-founded group. We ladies got to set the gaming tone (storytelling over beating up monsters for treasure, with a focus on trying different settings and systems as opposed to sticking with fantasy) and the food tone (cheese plate and wine followed by real food, which everyone takes turns bringing; we placed an early ban on Doritos and Mountain Dew). I started us off running a game set in the expanded Star Wars universe. Our favorite quote was when one of our friends got frustrated and announced to the table, "Shut up! I have diplomacy!" while stabbing at the statistic on her character sheet. 

I had no idea then that thirteen years later, that group would still be meeting. There've been people who've come and gone, but we've had the same 5 member core group for ten years, three of which--my bestie, my now-DH and I--have been meeting since the very first time we gathered around that cheap, just-post-college table in our old duplex.

Things look a little different. The quality of wine and food has improved. (Our last meal was slow-roasted pork shoulder with cracklings, mashed sweet potatoes and bacon-braised collards paired with Chianti and right bank Bordeaux; we have enough foodies in the group that we have a running joke "our gaming group eats better than your supper club.") We tend to talk things out more than the roll dice and frequently pick a rulebook for a setting we make up, instead of using the book's pre-generated material (though we do that, too!) Our children have to be babysat or put to bed before we can start, and early mornings for day jobs and older bones have to be accounted for in our ending time. 

But I wouldn't give that group up for the world. For a few hours on Monday nights, I get to be somewhere else imagining something wild--flinging magic, investigating a mystery, traveling through time, beating up badguys--and I get to do it while writing stories with some of my best friends. P'n'D gaming is writing, acting, reading, improving and interacting with friends all at once, and my life is infinitely better for being a gamer.

Have you ever gamed? Do you have a favorite system? 

*GM stands for "game master" and it's the person in charge of writing and running the plot. Yes, in Dungeons and Dragons the GM is technically called a Dungeon Master--just like in White Wolf s/he is a storyteller and in Eden System's Buffyverse s/he is called a director. I just call all of them the GM. Or "the person whose glass I keep filling with wine in hopes s/he'll be nice to my character."

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Blogging the Distance

Posted by: Jenny Schwartz
I think I've been blogging five years, now. I'm always a bit shaky on dates, so it could be a while longer. When I started out, I was enthusiastic and had multiple posts every day. Thank goodness for the emergence of Twitter and Facebook which take that overflow of ideas.

My blog is small. But it's part of my website, so updating it is a good way to flag to Google and other search engines that my website is active with new content.

One of the ways that I ensure regular posts is a weekly column. Every Monday I share a "Flower Fortune". The idea for this came from my love for photography (even if I'm not very good at it) and a decision to brand my author self as "a hopeful romantic". So now, every week, I share a photograph of a flower and a few paragraphs along the lines of an inspirational star sign prediction.

I can't say that Flower Fortunes bring me loads of new blog followers, but I have had some lovely compliments and that is encouraging. It also means I'm a content creator as well as a curator (which is mainly what I do on Facebook and Twitter - i.e. share articles I've found).

In between the weekly inspirational posts, I post my writing news and occasional advice posts. Most recently, I've been obsessed with Amazon's Kindle Unlimited lending library and algorithms.

The important thing when blogging is to be realistic about what you can commit to delivering. Your blog is part of your promise to readers, part of your brand. If you can leverage a hobby or interest, that's a win (and makes it seem less like hard work).

What do you blog about?

Monday, June 29, 2015

Here Be News

Posted by: Eleri Stone

New Releases


FREE

A Reapers novella

Cassius Flynn is a smuggler. An outlaw. A scoundrel. Charming, devilishly handsome in a maverick sort of way and fiendishly clever to boot. He's also the only man Molly McGuire has ever loved.

Molly'd left him a year ago. Stolen his airship, broken his heart and made him look like a damn fool. Still, he's rushed to her rescue, storming into Reaper territory to snatch her out from under the repulsive bounty hunter who brought her in.

High above the plains, up among the clouds in the most rarefied Scraper city of them all, a ruthless statesman has stolen everything Cassius considers important. And without Molly, without her quick hands, sharp mind and pretty face, he doesn't stand a chance of getting it back…

This novella was previously released in serial format on my publisher's site. It can be enjoyed without having read the other books in the series. Be warned: While there is a complete adventure and the story is romantic, Flynn and Molly are recurring characters in the series and they don't get their happy-ever-after until a bit later.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

From the Archives: The Best Villains Ever

Posted by: Steve Vera
Veronica sez: One from the Archives today...I vote for Ming the Merciless myself:

So. Who's the best fictional villain of all time?

I know, it's impossible to answer, but it's a great conversation starter. In fact, next time you find yourself in an awkward silence with several people you have no idea what to say to, give it a shot; it's clutch. 

What I love about this subject is that it gives us a reason to scroll through our internal Rolodexes of awesome movies and epic novels, a chance to remember and relive those characters. Pennywise the clown scared the sh*t out of me. I was twenty. I never looked at drains the same again. 

But does scariness make a villain great? For some people. I put up the question to my FB crew last night in preparation for this blog and got so many novel, witty and contrasting answers that it made me think. What makes a villain great...to everybody? One of my best friends came up with a great line that I told him I was going to steal. Jesse DeStasio commented, "The real menace comes from having a part of us slightly agree with them [villain]." Isn't that true? Colonel Jessep from A Few Good Men comes to mind for me, but there are so many others.  

Maybe it's because I was such a wuss when I was growing up (everything gave me nightmares) but I liked villains that were scary but...funny. One of my all time favorites is the Kurgan from The Highlander movie. He was this huge, scary-looking, predatory immortal who could only die if his head was cut off, but he was funny in a grotesque kind of way--leering and blunt. He had personality; I can still hear his deep, gravelly voice and I saw that movie several eons ago. 

It was pointed out to me by Mr. DeStasio (he takes his movies seriously, even had a list of this very subject in his phone already to go) that the Kurgan's flaw is that we can't sympathize with him. Maybe so. But he's still one of my favorites. 

Then you got your creepers. Javiar Bardem's character in No Country for Old Men anybody? He was good. Quintessential Darth Vader? Hans Gruber in Die Hard? Lord Foul in the Unbeliever series? I could fill three pages and I bet you could too, but there's a secret ingredient that they all have, an overlapping theme that ties them together. Ready for it? *drum roll* 

They all evoke emotion. 

They make us feel. Whether it be fear, anger, outrage, horror, fascination, dread--take your pick. Without emotion, a villain is just a car without an engine. A guitar without strings. Captain Crunch without the crunchberries. And that's no good.   

Here's some of the votes I got last night:
  1. Frank Booth in Blue Velvet (never seen)
  2. The governor in The Walking Dead (I've only seen the first season)
  3. Maleficent in Maleficent
  4. Vincent in Collateral Damage (never saw)
  5. Smurf Cody in Animal Kingdom (never saw)
  6. Heath Ledger Joker in The Dark Knight (I saw this one!!)
  7. Hannibal in Silence of the Lambs
  8. Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter
  9. Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest
  10. Wicked Witch of the West Wizard of Oz
And of course, in keeping with the theme of Here Be Magic: Sauron


Feel free to add. :)


Afflicted with wanderlust at the age of seventeen, Steve has lived in seven states, served briefly in the U.S. Air Force as a Pararescue Trainee, and has a profound aversion to mint chocolate ice cream.

Author of the Last of the Shardyn trilogy:
Book I  Drynn
Book II Through the Black Veil
Book III Blood Sworn













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