The Yes and No of “Wonder Woman”

WARNING: THIS BLOG CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS REGARDING THE FILM “WONDER WOMAN” (2017). 

I’m not a fan of superheroes. After all, I’m 60 years old and what is a 60 year old doing in a fan-world made up (on the whole) of people much younger? I don’t deny they can be a lot of fun, and it’s not the genre itself, it’s the idea of the superhero I just don’t “get”.

But that has nothing to do with this blog. I’m not here to trash the superhero genre of fiction. I can see why many people love the concept, and that’s great.

So ordinarily, I wouldn’t watch a film like “Wonder Woman”. Just not my thing. But I did decide to watch it because I’d heard a lot of people saying great things about Gal Gadot’s performance in the title role and I also wanted to see what DC would make of a female superhero. (Or is that superheroine?)* I watched it on DVD, which I actually purchased over the counter, so I invested not only time but also money. I also knew the film was set during World War One and since I am fascinated by that historical event I also wanted to see how “real” the war would be slotted into a fantasy film.

Let me say I really enjoyed the film, probably more than I thought I would.

I thought Ms Gadot did a wonderful job. Her Diana was suitably regal, tough, naïve and just plain likable. She could do humour well and the character served as a great role-model for women. Her reaction to the historical era, which clashed so much with her own upbringing and world outlook, worked really well. I also found the supporting actors did a great job. I have no beef with the special effects, the production itself or the performances.

That’s not why I’m here now.

All that I just said above was the “yes.” The “no” comes at the end of the film, the last half hour or so. Actually it may be longer or shorter than that, I was so absorbed in the film I lost track of time.

Halfway through the movie there is a brilliant sequence where Wonder Woman steps out of the trench alone and walks into No-Man’s Land carrying nothing but a sword and shield and proceeds to remove the heavily-armed Germans occupying the village of Veld. I loved this sequence. It had excitement, action and danger. The moment when Diana is cowering (yes, cowering) behind her shield as it takes the full force of a machine gun aimed directly at it is superb. The look on her face shows the doubt that has started to creep in that she might not make it out alive. She is rescued by her merely mortal friends–this, too, is superb and shows even superheroes need help occasionally. It was a wonderfully “real” moment in the sequence. The silly gymnastics and slow-motion FX didn’t jar at all (as they usually would with me). The idea of a woman (almost) single-handedly taking on hundreds of enemy with nothing more than her own battle skills and lightning-fast reflexes was the highlight of the movie for me.

Another very effective moment came after the battle when Diana and the others were having their photograph taken by a villager. The exhausted look on Diana’s face shows the liberation of the village had a personal emotional cost for her. The overcoat thrown over her superhero outfit is a magnificent touch that demonstrates deep-down she is just another person, scarred by war and thankful she is still alive at the end.

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And then there’s the battle at the end, when she’s fighting Ares. This is the “no”. This battle between a god and the daughter of a god (a demi-goddess) is far removed from the “real” and frightening combat we witnessed earlier. Here, the SFX take over, the immortality of the characters intrudes itself and I lost interest in the plot.

Until then, it all worked. Diana was fun, kick-ass and had a touch of humanity about her. Of course, the Amazons weren’t exactly human, they were specially created by the gods as superior warriors. They could, however, be killed by ordinary bullets, something I’ll get back to. In this last sequence between Diana and Ares, we sit back for a long info-dump by the bad guy who gives us some background as to his motivations and explains Diana’s origins. (Meanwhile all hell is breaking loose with the ordinary soldiers trying to destroy a gas laboratory before the rest of humanity is destroyed, but never mind that–this is important stuff and the gods are going to force us to listen.) And here’s the important thing: at this point in the movie Diana casts off her last traces of humanity and becomes a goddess in her own right.

And I lost interest.

Gods are hard to write. They are just so damn powerful. They start throwing tanks around, creating explosions, defying the laws of physics and proving even more than your usual superhero that we humans are utterly weak, worthless crap. Sure, Diana’s friends do succeed in destroying the gas laboratory and Steve Trevor (played admirably by Chris Pine) sacrifices himself for the cause, but that’s stuff any suitably brave and committed mortals could have handled. The battle between Diana and Ares is what disappointed me.

It’s those damn bullets, you see. Diana proves herself almost invulnerable in this sequence. So why was she worried about bullets earlier? Ares kicks her butt several times and she just stands up again and keeps fighting. Not a scratch. A goddess. Her fellow Amazons aren’t immune to bullets, and for the bulk of the film Diana spends a lot of time knocking them aside with her arm braces (and hiding behind her shield from a machine gun). So why now does she seem utterly impervious to any form of mistreatment?

In my opinion, the final battle between deities became “unrealistic”. I use that term not because I thought the rest of the film realistic, but in the sense that I lost my concern for Wonder Woman. I no longer feared she could be killed or even hurt. She absorbs the power of a god and redirects it back at him. At least, her arm braces do, which isn’t quite the same thing. We know, and she knows, they can do that sort of thing from a sequence early on in the film, but the realisation still doesn’t quite ring true.

Gods are hard to write. Gods fighting each other even harder. Had Diana remained “mortal” and still kicked Ares’ butt I would have stood up and cheered. But making her a goddess just levelled the playing field and suddenly I didn’t care anymore.

Still a great film. I’ll watch it again, but maybe skip over that last fight scene. The earlier one recapturing the village of Veld knocks the later one out of the ring. The Veld sequence belongs at the end of the film as the climactic battle, not half way through.

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  • A lot of occupations these days are gender-neutral. “Actress”, for instance, is not a word often used these days. Actors are “actors”, whatever sex. “Poetess,”, “Aviatrix” etc are out the door. They are poets and pilots. So I’m not sure if superheroines are legitimate anymore, or if they are all just superheroes.

Russell Proctor  –  www.russellproctor.com

 

 

 

Tomorrow’s Authors: B. L Sherrington

Today the first of a series of interviews with unpublished fantasy writers. That’s right, those out there still trying to get their fantasy stories read by the general public. I envy them…they have the opportunity to determine what we’ll be reading in the future. This is a chance  for you to learn what to expect from the fantasy writers still to come.

We begin with B. L. Sherrington.

“Opportunity isn’t going to come knocking on your door. You need to break down their doors to take yourself to the next step” B.L. Sherrington.

B.L. SHERRINGTON was born in London in 1989. Sherrington developed a passion for stories following a childhood filled with many nights reading fantasy books, thanks to the influence of Sherrington’s mother. Sherrington delved into an imagination filled with creativity and boundless possibilities using the people as characters and the backdrop of London as inspiration.

“I’ve always been the kind of person, whose head was bouncing around with ideas. As a child I would make up scenarios my toys would get up to and narrate them to my dad who’s blind. This was around the time my mother bought me a typewriter”. Growing tired of reading other author’s stories, Sherrington developed an affinity for fiction and at the age of eight wrote A Fallen Star, about a star who fell from the sky into the arms of a midwife and was nursed back to health before lighting the sky again over Barnet General Hospital.

“Over the past twenty years, I’ve explored writing in a lot of different mediums. I started as a blogger, and then became a journalist. My favourites have been writing film, theatre and book reviews for Exeunt Magazine and Litro Magazine. In 2015, I took my creative writing more seriously. I was penning short stories and poetry daily and a year later, I began my serialised fantasy novel, Wish Upon A Star on Channillo.”

 

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Cover of “Wish Upon a Star” (artwork by Tatev Ghambarian)

 

“Mother Nature is a force to be reckoned with. Living on a gold-plated cloud on her planet named Lemsi, she is situated above the planets. With control of the weather, the ability to create and destroy worlds, her reputation speaks for herself. Respected for her ability and fearing her level of power, many try to stay as far away from Mother Nature as possible. All except for Martay, a wizard on Mars who rules it’s colony of Foxous”  – WISH UPON A STAR.

I put some questions to B. L. Sherrington:

1) Tell us about your work-in-progress.

I have quite a few! I have just completed my dark fantasy screenplay for a feature film entitled The Legend of Kuse House and I’m collating my short stories and poetry into two e-books, Orphic and Heart of Lion, to release in February.

I am working on two adult fantasy books: Basilar and The Legend of the Rastafari. A Young Adult book series Bobita and two children’s fantasy books, Akila and Deep Sea.

I’m 20K words into Basilar, a story of a sixth-generation fisherman who during rough seas meets a 50ft sea creature, Basilar, who kills using the elements, travelling in between the different seas. I’m hoping it will be completed by mid 2018.

“A creature emerged from the water . At fifty feet tall, with red scales, a curved tail, a square shaped head and long blue horns, Paul was astonished to say the least. The creature scratched through the ivory flag with its razor sharp ivory thick trunk like nails. Paul, terrified, looked at the creature, examining its face. It’s eyes were enlarged black pools of darkness. Soon the creature backed away breathing out a flood of water to the deck of Diana, disappearing instantly.”  From BASILAR

2) Why do you like Fantasy as a genre?

Reality is filled with boundaries and limits. Fantasy gives the freedom to say anything is possible and as a creative writer, I’ve been intrigued by the idea of creating my own world.

3) Who do you see as your writing influences?

So many! Madeline L’Engle, JK Rowling, Neil Gaiman, L. Frank Baum, Terry Jones, Caroline Thompson, Linda Woolverton and Winnie Holzan.

4) What is the future of fantasy? Do readers still want the same old thing or are they looking for something fresh and “different”? Are there things about the genre you find worn-out or over-done? Is there a particular direction you’d like to see fantasy take as a genre?

I think a bit of both. There are some who like the tradition manner of fantasy writing, but I think the majority are moving towards wanted majestic on a whole new scale. I think Chris Colfer’s Land of Stories, is a good blueprint for where fantasy is going. Blending reality with a combination of fairy tales is where the genre is headed.

So many books get adapted into films within a year or two, I think that needs to be considered in the writing process. How will this play out on screen? Or on stage?

5) What have been your struggles as a writer? What have been your personal triumphs?

Having the confidence to share my writing with the world has been a challenge. But once I did build up the courage to leave myself open to criticism by sharing extracts of my book with my followers on my social media channels, I was pleasantly surprised to the reaction.

I’ve been told Wish Upon A Star is gripping, Bobita has inspired other writers to start their own story and The Legend of the Rastafari, made me someone’s muse. So far, the best experience I’ve had as a writer, is managing to navigate my way through my grief by using it as a backdrop to my stories.

6) What fantasy books or films have you enjoyed and why?

My favourite stories are the ones where the authors create new worlds. They inspire me to think outside the box.

Books: A Wrinkle in Time, James and the Giant Peach, The Chronicles of Narnia, Alice in Wonderland.

My favourite films are full of creativity, ingenuity and slightly eccentric, so I love Tim Burton’s films such as Maleficent and The Nightmare Before Christmas.

I also love a musical. Both film genre and the theatre. My top two would be Labyrinth and Wicked.

7) What fantasy books and films have you not liked and why?

The Golden Compass and the Twilight series didn’t resonate with me. I felt Twilight was more focused on the love aspect and I didn’t find Lyra in The Golden Compass likeable.

8) Why is fantasy an important genre?

Fantasy goes across religions, age groups, sexual orientations, and race. It manages to unit us all, teaches the power of imagination and in present day when reality is riddled with lies and stress, it’s an escape to bring a bit of happiness.

You can keep up to date with all B. L. Sherrington’s work at www.blsherrington.weebly.com, or follow at @blsherrington on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest & YouTube.

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The Eyes Have It

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I’ve off-line for a while, at least as far as my blog is concerned. This is because of a number of reasons, the most memorable of which, for me, was the eye surgery I had back in April.

I have suffered from glaucoma for years now. I even have congenitally deformed eyeballs, which hasn’t helped. They aren’t quite spherical, which causes focus problems. I’ve worn glasses since I was 17. In March this year my ophthalmologist suggested I have cataract surgery and at the same time get drainage stents inserted to deal with the glaucoma.

Yes, that is my right eye in the picture above. And yes, it is scary. That’s how my eyes look, and have looked for years now. The bloodshot effect is caused by the glaucoma medication. I’m on three different eye drops for that. I use them three times a day and will do so for at least another month until it can be determined if my stents are working properly. I will then, hopefully, be able to go of the medication and my eyes should return to normal.

As for the cataracts, they are gone and artificial lenses have been inserted. That was fun an experience.

The surgery consisted of two operations (one for each eye) two weeks apart. The old lenses, the ones I was born with, were destroyed using a sonic lance rather similar, I guess, to Dr Who’s sonic screwdriver, except that it had to be actually inserted into my eye to break up the lens. The bits were then sucked out by a vacuum pump (I’m not kidding here) that was also inserted into my eye. The new lens was then put in place and the stents inserted in the bottom of each eye in a part called the trebecular mesh.

Naturally, I was under anaesthetic during these operations, which only took about twenty minutes each. The first one was fine. Although the anaesthetics were the “twilight” kind (which means I remained conscious during the operation, not that I fell in love with a sparkly non-vampire) I have no memory of the first operation. The anaesthetist introduced himself and said he would knock me out completely for about five minutes during which he would insert a needle under my eye to deliver the rest of the knock-out drops that would numb my head. That was fine by me, since I had no desire to witness (at the closest possible quarters) that part of the proceedings. He inserted a catheter into my arm and the next thing I remember was waking up in recovery. I have to this day no memory of the operation itself, or even being wheeled into or out of the theatre. My doctor said later that I was fully conscious, said hello the surgical team and followed instructions well. But the actual operation itself (mercifully) is a complete blank. Such is the nature of twilight anaesthetic.

Not so for the second time around, the operation on my left eye. I woke up during that one.

Strictly speaking, I was “awake” the whole time. But I have a memory of the last few minutes. The last thing I remembered the anaesthetist delivered the initial drug, while we talked about Canada for some reason. Then I became aware of being on the operating table. I couldn’t see anything: my right eye was closed and my left, the one being operated on, “saw” some weird things. It was like looking at a white sheet of paper over which someone had smeared orange marmalade. I know that sound bizarre, but that’s what I saw. I became aware of things “moving” behind the whiteness. I suppose those were the instruments inserted in my eye at the time. I could hear the surgeon talking. He asked me to move my head slightly to the left, which I did.

I wanted to let them know I was awake, so I emitted a groan. While I felt no pain  at all, there was a definite feeling of discomfort which made me afraid that I would start to feel pain. I wanted them to know I could sense something going on, in case they didn’t know that and it wasn’t supposed to happen. I groaned a second time.

There came more voices, I felt myself being moved and then a voice asked me to step down. I climbed off the gurney as my vision came back and sat in the recovery room where a kind nurse gave me a cup of tea and sandwiches.

I’m glad the “awake” episode occurred on the second operation. Had it happened the first time, going back for the second operation would have been much harder psychologically.

So here I am now, awaiting laser surgery next month. This is remove some “thickening” around the lenses and tweak the final touches to my eyes.

I now need glasses for reading, which I didn’t before. I used to wear glasses to correct my short-sightedness and now don’t have to, although I do wear some very weak corrective lenses when I drive because my long vision still isn’t quite perfect, and never will be.

So that’s been my health issues in the last few months. Recovering from such surgery doesn’t take long, but there is an extended period while the vision settles down and, as I said, I still need laser surgery in July.

Certainly not something I wish to do again.

Russell Proctor

 

 

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Child of the Night Guild – Andy Peloquin

Today, another review, this time of the fantasy novel Child of the Night Guild by Andy Peloquin.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00060]Andy Peloquin isn’t afraid of a challenge. He likes his fantasy to explore the darker side of human nature, and with his book Child of the Night Guild (Book One in the Queen of Thieves series), he has certainly done that. His story about an innocent girl transformed through brutal training into a thief and killer is a gripping read all the way. This is partly because it’s a damn good story. The other reason is that, like his heroine, Peloquin successfully tackles a number of challenges many authors would quail at. In the hands of a lesser writer, much of this story could have gone tragically wrong.

The first of these challenges is the fact that his protagonist is a thief. She steals without remorse or compunction in order to survive. We like to think of our heroes as the good guys, but this girl is no noble-hearted Robin Hood, robbing people for a higher cause; she’s a crook. Making a criminal into someone we admire is a hard ask for a writer.

Secondly, he writes from the point of view of a pre-teen, and later teenage, girl. From Peloquin’s promotional photograph, I assume he isn’t one (the beard is a bit of a giveaway). As a writer of female protagonists myself, I understand how hard it is for an adult man to think like an 8 to 18 year old girl.

The final challenge he sets himself is that the premise of the book is based on child abuse. There’s no polite way of saying this. The dark side of humanity that he chose to write about in this book is the brutal, unforgiving—and unforgiveable—abuse of innocent children. There are publishers out there who refuse to deal with such stories, and so basing an entire series of novels on the idea takes guts. At times reading the book was a little disturbing, even for a seasoned horror and fantasy writer like myself.

Fortunately, Peloquin comes out on top with all three challenges.

The book is a bildungsroman, the story of an individual’s growth physically, mentally, morally and emotionally. We follow the heroine as she learns about the world in which she lives. There is no long introductory world-building in this book. Our view is as limited as the lead character’s for most of the first half. It is only later that the view opens out and we find out more about the world of the book. We adapt with her, suffer, eat, train, win and lose with her. I found within a few pages of the book that I desperately wanted to know more about her, empathised with her, cried for her. The reader learns along with her to hate the Night Guild as much as she depends on it to survive.

Peloquin has done his homework. The detailed descriptions of how to pick pockets, how to fight, how to climb walls, how to acquire other people’s property without their knowing add verisimilitude to this already character-rich book. I’d love to have dinner with the man sometime to find out more about him.

I look forward to the second book in the series, Thief of the Night Guild, out in mid-2017. I also will avail myself of Peloquin’s other books.

So I conclude with a heartfelt thank you to Andy Peloquin for writing probably the best story I have read in the last year.

Check out the excerpt below for a taste of Child of the Night Guild. And go to the links and buy a copy. If you don’t, the Night Guild might pay you a little visit when you least expect it, and you wouldn’t want that to happen.

Want to buy his book? Go Here for Amazon Kindle or here for Amazon Canada.

Peloquin

Writer Andy Peloquin. The beard is a giveaway: he ain’t no girl.

Andy Peloquin’s website here.

EXCERPT from Child of the Night Guild:

“Are you sure you’re doing it right, Seven?”

Seven scrunched her face, concentrating hard. “I’m doing it just like he showed us, Three. See?” She attempted to snatch the purse.

Three patted the oversized waistcoat Master Velvet had given him.

“I could still feel it. So you’re doing something wrong.”

Frustration mounting, Seven tried again, doing exactly as Master Velvet had taught them. Walk toward the mark. Bump into him. Dip two fingers into his pocket to hook the purse. Apologize to the mark and touch him with my free hand. Hide the purse in my palm and hurry away.

He shook his head. “That time, too. I can feel you pulling the purse out when you move away. Maybe you need to do it faster.”

“I can’t do it faster, Three. Not yet, at least.” Seven clenched her fists in frustration.

He held up a hand. “It’s okay, Seven. Give it time. You’ll get it.”

“Here.” She threw him the bulging, cloth-stuffed purse. “Let me try again.” Even as she tugged the purse free, the look on Three’s face told her she’d failed.

Her friend shrugged. “Still felt it.”

Seven ground her teeth. Master Velvet said this is supposed to be easy. So why can’t I get it right?

Three tugged the vest over his head. “Let’s give the bump a break for a moment.” He pulled a dun-colored cloak around his shoulders. “What say we give the snatch a try?”

Seven nodded. The snatch required timing and dexterity, but she’d grown adept at it. She walked toward Three, brushed against his cloak, and lifted the purse from the hidden pocket, all without breaking stride.

Three’s eyes widened. “Damn, Seven. I didn’t feel a thing!”

She beamed. “Well, at least there’s one thing I’m good at.”

Master Velvet strode up behind her and took her small, muddy hands. “You’ve got good finger-work, tyro.” He ran his calloused hands over her fingers. “They’re quick and nimble. With the right training, you could become quite the purse collector.”

“Thank you, Master Velvet.” She flushed at his praise. It was the first full compliment she’d ever heard pass his lips.

“Keep it up, Seven. Three.” With a nod, he moved to the next pair of tyros.

Three slapped her on the shoulder. “Look at that! You’re getting there.”

“Yeah. Now if only I could get the bump down properly.” She held out her arms. “Here, give me the vest and cloak. You’ve got to practice, too.”

As Three passed her the clothing, Twelve’s shout echoed through the Menagerie. “Damn it! You’re doing it wrong, you stupid sack of shite.”

Two met Twelve’s glare without a trace of fear. “How in the Keeper’s name can I be doing it wrong, Twelve?” Two was taller than Twelve, though not as broad. “I’m standing here in this vest. You’re supposed to be pulling the damned purse.”

“Well…” Twelve faltered, his face reddening. With a snarl, he threw the purse in Two’s face and stormed off.

Three snorted. “Looks like he’s not doing much better than you are, Seven.”

Seven glared at her friend. “That’s not saying much for me, you know. With those fat sausage fingers, he can barely fit his hands in the pocket.”

“There you go.” He gave her a broad grin. “You’ve got the advantage, at least over him. Just give it time and you’ll get better at it.”

She rolled her eyes. “Well, let’s see how good you are.”

“I’ll bet you a peach I can do the bump better than you.”

“You’re on!”

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More about Andy Peloquin:

I am, first and foremost, a storyteller and an artist–words are my palette. Fantasy is my genre of choice, and I love to explore the darker side of human nature through the filter of fantasy heroes, villains, and everything in between. I’m also a freelance writer, a book lover, and a guy who just loves to meet new people and spend hours talking about my fascination for the worlds I encounter in the pages of fantasy novels. Fantasy provides us with an escape, a way to forget about our mundane problems and step into worlds where anything is possible. It transcends age, gender, religion, race, or lifestyle–it is our way of believing what cannot be, delving into the unknowable, and discovering hidden truths about ourselves and our world in a brand new way. Fiction at its very best!

Unlikely Hero – Richard G. Lowe Jnr.

Today another review, this time of Richard G. Lowe’s short story, “Unlikely Hero.”

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Traffic cops often have a bad day. Think about for a minute: while they are out there protecting us from bad drivers, whoever they pull over isn’t likely to be someone pleased to see them.

So take pity on Don, a motorcycle officer who is just doing his job when he pulls over someone he sees as driving very badly. Except there’s a reason for the bad driving. An urgent one. Like end-of-the-world urgent.

Richard  G. Lowe Jnr has crafted an exciting and quick-moving tale about what has to be the worst day in a patrolman’s life—or anyone else’s for that matter.

I admire Lowe’s simply-crafted words. He doesn’t bother us with long descriptions or great detail about motivations. He just gets on with telling the story, a style which matches the urgency of his narrative perfectly.

I found myself caught up the story and desperately hoping things weren’t as bad as the author paints—not because I necessarily wanted a happy ending for the characters but because the implications were just too ghastly. This is a scenario that might actually happen, which removes it from the usual thriller style of story.

I asked for something different and Richard G. Lowe delivered. I remain a happy and wiser reader. And a terrified one.

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Richard G. Lowe, Jnr:

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After spending over 33 years in the computer and information technology industry, Richard decided to take an early retirement to pursue his dreams of becoming a professional writer and published author. Richard is a leader in the computer industry, serving as Vice President of Consulting at Software Techniques and Beck Computer Systems before settling down as Director of Computer Operations at Trader Joe’s. During his twenty-year tenure at that esteemed company, he focused on computer security and preparing for the possibility of disaster.
In addition to creating hundreds of articles for the web and blogs, Richard actively works as a professional ghostwriter. In that role, he has completed books on a wide variety of subjects including memoirs, business volumes, and novels. Because of his in-depth background in software management and computer security, Richard has ghostwritten a number of major books in those areas.
Additionally, Richard has published books of his own. His first two volumes, Safe Computing is Like Safe Sex and Real World Survival Tips and Survival Guide, respectively touch on the subjects of computer security and how to survive emergencies and disasters. Richard has also written and published a series of short eBooks on the aspects of freelance writing, including blogging and ghostwriting. Other published books include How to Plan a Party and How to Surround Yourself with Beautiful Women without Being a Sleazeball.
An avid adventurer, Richard has been a photographer for much of his life, with a focus on nature, scenic, performance and event photography. He has done everything from hiking in dozens of national parks throughout the country, to photographing various unique festivals and events, such as the Labyrinth of Jareth Masquerade Ball and the World Mermaid Awards Convention. He is well known in the Renaissance Festival and Belly Dance communities, having photographed over 1,200 dance events and 400 festivals. For several years, he photographed the Tournament of Roses parade in Pasadena, California.
Richard is currently working on a large number of short Kindle eBooks on a wide variety of subjects. Beginning in 2016, the first of a ten volume series of Science Fiction novels will be published.
One of Richard’s passions is to use the power of words to educate people on human rights. He believes the world will be a better place when human beings are treated with the full respect and dignity they are due.

Russell Proctor – http://www.russellproctor.com

Story Review: “When the Fleet Comes”

A review of a short story today: When the Fleet Comes by G. Scott Huggins.

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I wanted something different, a story that didn’t follow traditional paths in sf. Here we have a fresh take on the “Stranger in a Strange Land” scenario, a man on an alien world surrounded by its native inhabitants (only this time he isn’t the only one).  This one has aliens, creepy but not too creepy, just enough to be different. I liked the way the aliens, the Hrredin, are different in subtle ways: Huggins drops in enough hints to show this is a very alien planet with very alien inhabitants, but not so much to crowd out the story with unnecessary detail. He paints a vivid picture with a few fine brushstrokes, letting us know only what we need to know, and inviting us to fill in extra detail as we see fit. I like this talent in a writer, letting the reader take a part in the creative process.

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 As Sean, our protagonist, works his way through an unusual (and long) day he encounters people and events that raise questions about some all too human problems and traditions. Racial prejudice, the plight of immigrants, the nature and value of faith and the relentless need to preserve one’s species at all cost, including at the sacrifice of personal dignity and ambition, all receive treatment here, and Huggins is careful enough not to provoke us with one-sided answers.

 One of my reactions to a story is “would I read this again”? Is it captivating, thought-provoking, and just plain important enough for me to want to go through it at least one more time?

 The answer with “When the Fleet Comes” is an emphatic yes.

Russell Proctor http://www.russellproctor.com

 You can purchase a copy of the story here: When the Fleet Comes.

 

The Horror of Children’s Stories

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This is repost from an earlier one. It’s still relevant though.

Picture this: a little girl has just thrown a bucket water over a Witch. What happens next is quite disturbing.

With these words the Witch fell down in a brown, melted shapeless mass and began to spread over the clean boards of the kitchen floor. Seeing that she had really melted away to nothing, Dorothy drew another bucket of water and threw it over the mess. She then swept it all out the door. After picking out the silver shoe, which was all that was left of the old woman, she cleaned and dried it with a cloth, and put it on her foot again.”

Now let’s get this straight… a little girl calmly melts an old woman, sweeps the gooey slime she has become out of the door like so much swill, and then calmly cleans her shoe like this sort of thing happened every day.

You might think the extract is taken from the latest gore-filled treat from Permuted Press, but it’s actually from L. Frank Baum’s children’s classic The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, published in 1900. A children’s book. Of course, if you are only familiar with the 1939 Judy Garland film, you may remember the witch-melting scene was a little more wholesome. Certainly in the movie Dorothy didn’t have to clean up the disgusting sewage of what used to be a human being like she was doing a simple household chore. And in the movie version Dorothy felt pretty upset about the whole thing as well, even though the witch was evil and had tried to kill her.

Take another story: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Now there are no violent scenes in that timeless classic, surely? Admittedly the Queen of Hearts threatens everyone with having their heads chopped off, but no one is unfortunate to actually have it done. But most of the violence of the Alice books is more subtle. According to Hugh Haughton in his introduction to the Penguin Classics edition of Carroll’s books (1998), there is an underlying theme of eating and being eaten in the book. The characters are in more danger of being consumed by other characters than anything the Queen of Hearts might threaten. Alice eats and drinks various substances and changes size; the baby oysters are consumed by the Walrus and the Carpenter; the Hatter is obsessed by tea and bread and butter. There is also, of course, more overt violence: the Duchess physically abuses her baby son, the March Hare and the Hatter try to drown the Dormouse in tea, and the terrifying Giant Crow threatens Alice in the forest.

It doesn’t end with those books. In Peter Pan by J.M Barrie, the fairy Tinker Bell is a right bitch. Her first act on seeing Wendy is to get Tootles to shoot her with an arrow in an attempt to kill her. He almost succeeds. Tootles is so distraught he asks Peter to kill him.

Now, the point is that these are probably not events most people recall when remembering these tales. But they are there in the original books.

There have, of course, been many criticisms of traditional fairy tales as being too violent. Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and so forth contain considerable murder and mayhem. The difference between them and the more modern stories I’ve referred to is that these stories are folk tales, handed down over many years and added to, extended and changed over generations before being recorded by people like the Brothers Grimm. They were not written specifically for children. The adventures of Alice, Dorothy and Peter Pan were.

So what do we make if this? Are these stories in their original forms just too violent? I say “in their original forms” because each of those I mentioned has been “toned down” when made into films. Disney and Warner Brothers made a point of changing things so the stories were more wholesome for tender readers (or, in their case, viewers). Dorothy melts the Wicked Witch, but feels bad about it at least. Admittedly, modern versions of Alice (I refer specifically to the recent Tim Burton CGI extravaganza) may take liberties with the plot in which they do present a more dangerous version of Wonderland than the Disney version. But this is a modern trend, I submit, and I’ll mention it again later.

My point is (and I’ve taken a while making it) is that there is a wealth of trauma available to writers in children’s tales. Quite often where you wouldn’t expect it. In The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, Toad not only steals a motor vehicle, he is actually in involved in numerous car accidents and is thrown in prison as a result. And I’m sure most of us remember the Narnia series by C. S Lewis, which tells of children not only fighting in wars but killing their adversaries with barely a nod at any feelings of guilt afterwards.

Writers might well find ideas in these tales. And that’s a good thing. While I’m not condoning the exposure of children to violence, death and horror, it certainly can entertain the adult reader and inspire the adult writer.

Back when these stories were written, I submit the world was a more violent place. There was no such thing as being an adolescent. One went from the caterpillar stage of childhood to the butterfly stage of adulthood without any inconvenient chrysalis stage of adolescence in between. People grew up earlier. Children’s books were violent because life was violent. It still is these days, but we don’t like to admit it and try to protect our children from its excesses. An example of this is the scene in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland where the Duchess throws her baby boy to Alice (who only just manages to catch him) after singing a song about how beating a child was a justifiable punishment for it sneezing. This would hardly have raised an eyebrow back in 1865. Children were beaten. The world was perhaps no better or worse than it is today, but violence was condoned more and seen as an acceptable solution to social and domestic problems. Carroll was using violence as nonsense, and perhaps as a comment on the philosophy of child-rearing at the time: the air in the Duchess’s house was full of pepper, the baby sneezed as a result, and so the Duchess beat him. Problem solved.

We would not condone such a practice today, even as nonsense, which is why this incident has not, my knowledge, been incorporated into any film adaptations of Alice so far ( I don’t include the Burton film there, as it is so far removed from the original story as to be a separate entity).

Burton’s film does, however, seek to make an adult vision of Wonderland (with a bit of Looking-Glass Land added into it). And that is how the horror of children’s stories can be used to good effect. Tales like Frank Beddor’s The Looking-Glass Wars is a classic use of a classic to create something new and insightful.

So horror is there in children’s stories. If you sit and read the originals and wonder why they all seem so different to what you thought they were about, or what you remembered when you read them as a kid, then I hope you can take a whole new delight in these children’s stories for grown-ups. And, as a writer, that they inspire you in your own tales of horror and fantasy.