Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Ruminations On Hurricane Sandy Coverage! Physics Incarnate Promotion! More!

Howdy, readers!

I haven't posted in Ramble about Writing for a while, mainly because I was covering Hurricane Sandy for The Weekly Freeporter.  So, first things first, I want to talk about what I did, there!

Hurricane Sandy

On the day after this disaster, I worked alongside my colleague Jason Bass.  We went through Freeport (our home-town) and Long Beach (another nearby hamlet), surveying the devastation.  We interviewed some residents.  You can see all of the coverage at The Weekly Freeporter's webpage.  But, probably, this is my favorite example of this work, though you'll have to forgive the wind...

Covering the hurricane was exhausting, but kind of rewarding in a very sad way.  We provided a service that wasn't provided by any other entity, public or private.  From the comments and feedback we received, we honestly were the best information source in our town - vastly superior to what has been criticized as an inept attempt by the Village government to get facts to its residents.  In fact, on this medium I am rather free to say that "inept" is a gentle way to put it; "fucking failure" is more accurate.

Actually visiting these devastated places really made the difference, for me, between a picture on Facebook and reality.  Seeing the damage done, like to the house in the above clip?  I mean, you can tell by my expression just how overwhelming it really was.  But to try to tell you what it was like?  Words really don't convey it.  The wind was still really strong; rain still fell; it was really cold; water was still in the road.  Oh, and probably most of all, there were burned and otherwise brutalized houses all around us.  There were people struggling to figure out where to begin to put their lives back together - or, at least, to figure out what to try to throw out, first.

Fortunately, I only lost my basement.  Sure, we're still without hot water.  We still have to rely on electric heating.  No washer/dryer, yet.  But our living quarters are unharmed, and our overall health hasn't suffered.  For many, they have no place left to go to.  The people in the above clip?  They have no home.  I have family members whose homes have been condemned; never mind my next-door neighbors and the folks across the street, or the childhood friend whose parents are "Red Tagged."

In a way I'm glad I got in to see the damage first-hand, right after the fact.  I know I said that, on the grand scale, this storm wasn't as bad as Hurricane Katrina.  It wasn't.  That storm inundated an entire region, some parts of it irreversibly.  The more I think about it, however, the more I realize that for so many of my friends and family, it might as well have been.  Look at this:

Long Beach, NY:  Jesse Pohlman/Jason Bass/The Weekly Freeporter

So, on the outside these buildings don't look that badly damaged.  That car just looks like it's stuck in a puddle.  But that puddle?  That used to be in the ocean.  It came in over waves that hit at least ten feet in height at times.  That car was submerged - or, perhaps, floating!  Speaking of floating, y'know those pipes that run underground and carry nasty stuff away from our homes?  Sewage was floating, too!  Even the sand was probably not the healthiest stuff to walk on.  Any damage to building foundations can cause gas leaks; I know of at least one explosion in Freeport, though surprisingly the home may be saved.

It's easy to say that burning to death is worse than being shot in the head, but the end result is the same:  You're dead.  For so many, it doesn't matter if the losses came at the hands of 15 foot waves or 30 foot waves.  They are losses all the same.

So let's move on to something a little less depressing:  Thanksgiving!

Physics Incarnate Promotion!

Thursday is Thanksgiving, Friday is "Black Friday," and Saturday is Small Business Day, right?  Well, I've decided to run a promotion for my latest novel, Physics Incarnate, under which it will be free on Amazon's Kindle!  There's an obvious self-serving motive, here, in that it'll boost my sales numbers and make it seem like I'm doing really great when in reality sales are merely good.

On the other hand, I have to admit that I'm doing this to give something, however small, to those families suffering from Sandy and other tragedies.  On Thanksgiving, it's a matter of being thankful.  On Black Friday, it's a matter of...Well, hell, I guess you could say it's supporting those who are striking against Walmart?  Or maybe it's just blatant consumerism on my behalf, trying to hock my wares on a day when so many people will be shopping the world over.  And how about Saturday?  Technically, my publishing efforts are a small and independent business.

So Physics Incarnate for all with a Kindle!

Future Projects For Jesse Pohlman


First of all, I have to eventually finish editing and post the last chapter of Protostar.  For those who don't remember (or just aren't aware!), Protostar is a novel I wrote for National Novel Writing Month last year, and I have serialized it for free on it's very own blog-spot!  However, due to a number of factors (Mostly that Blogger is kind of a buggy service), I have yet to actually finish serializing the book!  It's all finished, and while it needs a nice bit of editing I would like to get it posted.

Once it's been out for about a week, I will probably edit it once again and perhaps add a scene or two.  It's original design was to have very short clips posted, so I constantly re-used character names and descriptions when I could have introduced new ideas.  This helped me hit that 50,000 word NaNoWriMo goal, but I don't feel like it helped the work as a whole.  Once that edit is finished, I will probably release it as a Kindle exclusive.

Physics Incarnate Projects

So...A while ago I commissioned a couple test sketches for a Physics Incarnate comic book.  I don't have the art skill to draw it, and the person who I commissioned the work from actually lost his home in the storm, so it's unlikely that any comic project will be manifesting itself any time soon.

Perhaps with that in mind, I'd like to create a "book trailer."  I'm not sure if it's possible or not, but it would function like any trailer to a movie, video game, or - yes - novel.  It'd have actors, and I'd post it on youtube.  However, again, feasibility is a question.  Speaking of questions, here's one I get a lot...

"Will you write a sequel?"

I originally wrote Physics Incarnate as a single novel.  Straight to the end it was meant to leave the reader with an impression that there was a larger world out there, but that Emmett's story was complete.  Whatever specific events might happen in the future, his general path is clear.  However, I got to thinking about James Lowery, the Irishman who loves "his" ladies.  I realized that Jim has a really amusing way about himself, never mind the fact that he has a story to tell all his own.

It's a story that would have to include the way James and the others were swept into their conspiracy.  It'd have to involve Emmett heavily, since James' story would be far from a prequel.  Therefore, even if the focus isn't on Emmett and even if he has few surprises left to share, there are other folders in the maximum-security safe at Lowery Security Services which might or might not need to be addressed.  So, yes...

I am about halfway through with "Physics Reincarnate."  Spoilers:  James' accent is really hard to understand, sometimes.

Besides Physics and Protostar?

I'm honestly not sure.  I'm always coming up with new ideas.  Many of them fizzle out.  Some of them are great, but unfeasible or not my style.  I'd like to eventually finish the Pillars of the Kingdom trilogy, and I owe a little explanation about this one.  Put simply?

Volumes One and Two are published via Lulu, which is an inferior and less direct means of distribution than Amazon.  This leaves me at a crossroads as to how to progress with it as a feasible project.  Writing-wise, I already am about 80% done with the novel, with only 2-3 major scenes to go.  The problem there is that Pillars of the Kingdom is a completely different type of art than Physics Incarnate was.  PI includes conspiracies, mysteries, red herrings; it's about questioning the ethics of what the characters do.  At what point do Emmett and his colleagues become evil, and at what point are they good?

Pillars is really, quite simply about Jacin, Branden, Clarice, and the rest just punching the shit out of rather unambiguously evil demigods, and saving the Kingdom of Emor from monsters (and men who might as well be monsters).

Writing a story about fisticuffs is great, alright, but is it going to satisfy me?  I dunno.  I've also always wanted to go back and re-engineer Memoirs of a Miscreant, but I'd be starting from square one.  Then there's another project I came up with; then there's political writing; then, perhaps, there's the chance of me writing a novel based on the roleplaying community I've been affiliated with for years.

We shall see.  All I can promise is that I'll keep creating things!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

My Five Favorite Super-Villains

Super-Villains.  Some are iconic, others forgotten, and others never-known-of.  Yet one and all they are threats to the whole, wide world!  What makes a bad guy transcend the ordinary status of "bank robbing prick?"  What pushes them into the category of an arch-villain?  Is it their flair?  Their supernatural powers?  Their corresponding heroes who struggle to stop them?  It can be any of those things!  And there are literally thousands to choose from, so where do we begin?  What are the criteria I'm using?  Here's the bullet-point list!

 - Character depth and development.
 - Powers.
 - How well the character succeeds at his/her/its ambitions.
 - Notable pawns.
 - One character per franchise (this one hurts).
 - Oh, and no characters from any of my novels, especially Physics Incarnate, are allowed.

So here's my personal top-5; enjoy it with the reminder that, frankly, there will be spoilers.

#5:  Magneto (X-Men/Marvel Universe)

Powers:  Control over magnetism, obtained via mutation; Genius-level intellect; Strategic mastermind skills.

Who doesn't know this guy?

Magneto; image sourced from Marvel.com

Magneto is a mutant; and one of the most powerful of them all, at that!  As with all too many of the legendary comic book characters (see:  Superman), "power creep" has set in on old Magneto.  His ability to control magnetism, at least in the first comics he appeared in, extended largely to control over magnetic objects.  As physics evolved, well, so did his powers.  Flight?  Check, but understandable - magnetism and gravity have theoretical ties, at least!  Leadership skills?  Eh, he's a survivor, so check!  Genius-level intellect?  Pushing it, but check!

The thing that makes Magneto such an attractive character is his history and how it plays out.  Magneto experienced the Holocaust first-hand, suffering greatly under Hitler's genocidal, racist regime.  After the war, and after Mutant-kind began to experience the oppressive fear of Human-kind, he vowed (for lack of a better term) to never again be on the side of the oppressed.  Oh, and guess who just happens to be one of the mightiest mutants on the planet?  Right.  So it was a quick psychological step that if mankind wanted a war, he was going to end mankind.

Depending on the era or universe, Magneto is anything from an amnesiac X-Man (I'm lookin' at you, Onslaught storyline!) to a genocidal madman.  And that's what makes Magneto both amazing and not-so-amazing:  Those long-term comic cycles get confusing, and reboots/reimaginings become difficult to keep up with.

#4:  Deus (Xenogears)

Powers:  Access to Zohar Modifier; Nano-mechanical regeneration; Interaction with computer networks; Genesis.

I'm biased, because I loved Xenogears.  But wait!  This guy was the main villain?  Those are just words on a screen!

Deus?  Via Giantbomb.com

So what is that?  Well, that is a screen-shot of Deus half-taunting, half-welcoming the human crew of the Eldridge, a space vessel of dubious origin.  Deus is the name of a truly nightmarish weapon:  A part-machine, part-organic entity which feeds off of the Zohar Modifier.  Zohar is the de-facto name of the "wave existence," a fourth-dimensional entity of such monstrous power that it makes magic, powers most of the giant war-making robots, and has been in existence for over ten thousand years.

Deus itself is artificially intelligent and was apparently designed for making wars.  It did this a little bit too well, so it wound up dismantled and shoved on the Eldridge in the interest of, y'know, not going extinct.  Of course, nothing goes according to plan.  Deus "wakes up," to minimize spoilers, and takes over the ship.  The Captain blows it up, and the whole thing crash-lands on a nearby uninhabited planet.  Ten thousand years later, Krelian (a nano-technological genius) rebuilds it, merges his body with it, and basically annihilates a world.

Deus is generally passive.  Sure, he basically created all of humankind in this universe, intending to create biomass to replace its destroyed parts.  And, sure, without the intervention of other entities Deus might never have succeeded in its goals.  But it sure manipulated one character into manipulating another into...Yeah.  The entire plot is because Deus exists.  Go figure.

#3:  The Joker (The Dark Knight)

Powers:  Resistance to pain; Criminal mastermind; Really damn scary.

Wait.  No way is this guy only #3?!  Really?  Really?!

Heath Ledger as The Joker; image via IGN.com

I have to admit, this guy is one of the scariest bad guys you'll see.  Any Joker incarnation - even Cesar Romero's - is good.  Heath Ledgers' is...Scary.  I mean, when you get right down to it, his capacity for direct and brutal evil is only matched by his planning skills.  In retrospect, in my humble opinion he beats - hands-down - both his predecessors and successors sent by the League of Shadows to destroy Gotham.  In so many ways, he doesn't just do damage to his enemies - he beats them.  He chases them out of Gotham, he takes the most heroic people in the city and corrupts them, and he kills a whole bunch of people in the process.  How isn't he #1?  Or at least #2?

Besides the strength of the next two characters, part of it is this incarnation's length-of-service.  Yes, Heath Ledger's passing was horrific and a tragic loss.  And, yes, it could be strongly argued that replacing Ledger for The Dark Knight Rises would have been a slap in the face.  On the other hand, The Joker is hardly worth a mention in the sequel; not mentioned once, if I recall my viewing, while even The Scarecrow gets more recognition.

Additionally, while The Joker has no actual powers in this incarnation, and while there are many others just like him, his ultimate level of success depends on a lot on the suspension of disbelief.  We're meant to feel like he truly turned Two-Face evil, like it was part of some great plan to prove how easily the good in the world can fall.  Absolutely, positively not the case - if Dent had been uninjured or died, it wouldn't have mattered.  Oh, we know the story is going to take us there!  But we also can accept that, yes, the Joker got a lot of lucky breaks.

#2:  Doctor Girlfriend (The Venture Brothers)

Powers:  Doctorate in Evil, Martial Arts; Extraordinary Wealth, Deep Voice

That "One Character Per Franchise" limit really kills me, here.  I mean, really.  For starters, look at her...

Image via http://drgirlfriendcostumesandcouture.blogspot.com/

So what's her deal?  Doctor Girlfriend (Now, Dr.  Mrs.  The Monarch) is married (AKA within a Duoship) with The Monarch.  Her skills are simple - she is a genius with a doctorate in evil.  Let's count her accomplishments...

 - Designing the functioning wings on The Monarch's armor.
 - She analyzes the dead skin cells from The Monarch's sunburns to trace the superhero Captain Sunshine's lair.
 - Her manipulative abilities are so precise that she convinces #21 (a top-ranking henchman) to "go on strike" in order to break The Monarch out of one of his many loony escapades.
 - She kills about five Blackguards in hand-to-hand combat.  With ease.
 - Finally, she seduces and poisons Doctor Venture, only sparing him out of mercy.

Now, The Monarch is the "main" bad guy in his organization, at least until the official Duoship between the two begins in Season Three.  There's also Phantom Limb, who is seriously worthy of mention.  Then there's Dragoon/Red Mantle, who deserve some attention.  But Dr.  Girlfriend wins out - she has to, because unlike all of those others she has a certain level of composure and confidence that the others don't.

#1:  Crake (Oryx and Crake/Maddaddam Trilogy)

Powers:  Genius intellect in the fields of genetic splicing, computer hacking, philosophy.

"Who the hell is Crake?" you ask.
I answer, "The most awesome villain ever."

Oryx and Crake is a novel by Margaret Atwood.  It was originally written as a stand-alone novel, but is now part of the Maddaddam Trilogy (the final novel, Maddaddam, is due out in 2013), with The Year Of The Flood serving as the middle book.  Crake is a real beast for one simple reason:

He extinguishes 99% of the human population, and only extraordinary circumstances thwart him.

Crake isn't perfect.  By the end of the first novel, we learn that Snowman is not the only one left alive. I feel okay spoiling that because Oryx and Crake is nearly ten years old, now, and because The Year Of The Flood adds so much more to Crake's backstory than the first novel provides.  Nevertheless, allow me to play at exposition:

Crake began life as Glenn, whose parents worked for a major corporation called HelthWyzer.  His father "commits suicide" when, as we later learn, he discovers HelthWyzer and other companies like it have been curing diseases...Only to create new ones to cure.  As Glenn is capable of hacking his dad's e-mails, he loses faith in the corporate system.  Even though he embraces a true friendship with the novel's protagonist, their unusual pursuits (watching live executions, among others) in a rather nightmarish near-future world leaves Glenn without much hope for humanity.

The two visit the website "Extinctathon," where each player takes the name of a now-extinct animal.  Glenn chooses the Rednecked Crake, and begins to worm his way in with "Maddaddam."  Very early on in the novel, we learn Crake is responsible for an apocalypse.  He applies his genius at genetic rearrangement to create the BlyssPlus pill.  It cures all STDs, it enhances sexual performance, and more!  Like, say, spreading a super-infectious disease which annihilates the bulk of the population!  That qualifies him for a spot on this post, but what makes him #1?

That'd be the second phase of his plan, the Children of Crake - or the Crakers.  Genetically re-built humans, almost a species unto themselves, threaten to be all that remains of mankind. Oh, the protagonist is there, too - Crake intentionally spares his old friend, for reasons which are left unclear.  Was he just sentimental to his dear friend?  Did he view him as the only human worth allowing to live?  Did he just want our hero to take care of his creation after he died?  Or - being a genius - did he anticipate that others would probably find some way to survive, and his friend (being a wise man) would possibly serve to help govern the rebuilding of mankind?

Crake ain't alive to tell us, but his message is simple:  He's a good guy, like so many others on this list believe they are, who tries to make the world a better place through ways that are, of course, completely insane.

Seriously, go buy this book.

 - If I went based on the original trilogy, Vader might squeak into #5.  He's iconic, he's got goals.  Since I've seen the prequels, I just can't do it.  Also, even in the original trilogy, he really is just a lackey for the Emperor; everyone on this list is either #1 in their organization, a pseudo-deity manipulating others in extraordinarily subtle ways, or at the very least an equal partner in their organization's leadership.  Vader isn't equal, he's not even close.

Final note:  This list could always change.  If Maddaddam comes out and makes Crake a pussy (I realllllly don't think that'll happen, I'm aching for that book), or if a new character emerges to take control of this list by force, then it is what it is.  Hell, in five years I might have a completely different top five!  But for now, for where I sit, this is it.

I hope you've enjoyed!