Wednesday, 19 October 2016

C.T. Phipps Guest Blog - To Kill your Darlings

This is a first for my blog. I have C.T. Phipps (author of Cthulhu Armageddon and a bunch of other novels) over to talk about murder.



To Kill your Darlings

By. C.T. Phipps

You need to kill your characters. This is something which I discovered while writing Cthulhu Armageddon and has come with me ever since. I've killed beloved characters, I've killed hated characters, and I've killed characters who might have been important later but got cut off in their prime. I am not George R.R. Martin and probably should have killed more characters but I'm very proud of the ones I have killed.

Why?

For me, I think it's because killing characters is important to avoid cheating. David Weber, author of the Honor Harrington series, said "If my stories didn't have the good guys suffer any losses, they wouldn't be military science fiction, they'd be military porn." If there's no risk to the heroes or their loved ones then there's no stakes. It becomes like Super Mario Brothers where our hero has the star and is just slamming through all of Bowser's minions like they're so much confetti he's running through.

Obviously, not every story needs violent death but many genres do. One of the iconic moments of Star Wars is when Obi-Wan Kenobi is cut down by Darth Vader. A Song of Ice and Fire became a series which distinguished itself from all the other fantasy novels out there when they *Spoiler Alert* chopped off the head of Ned Stark *Spoiler Alert*.

But when should you kill characters?

Which characters should you kill?

What should be the repercussions?

It's very easy to fall into a trap of killing characters only when it's heroic and meaningful. Obi-Wan Kenobi dies so Darth Vader can be distracted long enough for Luke and company to escape. Gandalf fights the Balrog for much the same reason. While death is sad, you can certainly say the characters did not give their lives wastefully. I'd argue that even as these moments can have power, it's often better to subvert this trope.

Death is often meaningless and can happen in the blink of an eye. Part of what makes The Walking Dead comic (and to a lesser extent the show) is characters routinely die due to the hazards of their surroundings. One minute a character is standing there, fine and dandy, the next they're zombie chow. The suddenness of the violence as well as its finality is something which is authentic to the real world. It can also leave a lasting impression every bit, if not more so, than someone giving their life to save the day.

Which characters to kill is another matter as every cast could use a little pruning but books tend to focus on certain types. The Old Mentor figure and the Love Interest tend to have a disproportionate number of fatalities among them. Indeed, people have come to expect these are the most likely to die in these kinds of stories. After all, the hero eventually outgrows the need for a mentor while love interests tend to be disposable since heroes can always find another. The latter isn't automatically a sexist attitude but tends to predominately favor women to the point it's become the personal bugbear of many readers.

On my end, I think a very good idea is to kill the Hero. It's not a trick which can work multiple times but it occurs to me how interesting of a story it would have been if Luke had died and it would have fallen to Leia to pick up the mantle.

That may be a bit too much for the kind of story Star Wars was telling but Harrison Ford, certainly, thought Han Solo dying would have made the story more powerful. Certainly, it's important that when a major character dies that you're going to feel the loss. Famously, Joan Rowling was annoyed when she killed Cedric Diggory and felt guilty only for her daughter to blow it off. Which may explain why she ended up killing half her supporting cast in a grand guginol of epic proportions.

Which was awesome, by the way.

Repercussions are the last thing I think you should keep in mind. The Fellowship didn't stop thinking about Boromir after he's gutted by arrows. His death cast a pall on Faramir and Denethor for the rest of the trilogy. Too often, writers put the casualties of their books out of their mind once they're written out when they should continue affecting surviving characters long after the events which resulted in their associates' loss.

When writing Cthulhu Armageddon, I had characters I really came to enjoy and cherish as part of the narrative. I ended up killing them, though, because the stakes of the setting demanded that I do so. I could have done a lot more with those characters and some even had stories which would never be told as a result, but it made the post-apocalypse world feel more authentic. This was a world I'd said life was cheap in and by killing the characters I did, I proved it.


I suggest authors of darker fantasy and science fiction keep this in mind.


C.T Phipps is a lifelong student of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. An avid tabletop gamer, he discovered this passion led him to write and turned him into a lifelong geek. He is a regular blogger on "The United Federation of Charles" (http://unitedfederationofcharles.blogspot.com/).

He's the author of The Supervillainy Saga, Cthulhu Armageddon, Straight Outta Fangton, and Esoterrorism.




Monday, 10 October 2016

Review Blog - Luke Cage Season 1

Review Blog – Luke Cage


I finished watching series 1 of Luke Cage at the weekend. And... overall I really enjoyed it. But it had some issues. Massive issues that had me trying to explain the insanity to my girlfriend who I think was maybe more content to gloss over them and watch the damned show.

First of all LC was a slow starter in much the same way as Jessica Jones. The first episode was very much a scene setter, showing us the Harlem the characters lived in and introducing us to the initial cast of major players. Not a lot really happened but that was kind of okay. This isn't why it was a slow starter. For the first 6 or 7 episodes there is literally nothing that can harm Luke. He wanders through his story trashing the villains because what the hell can they do. He was so invincible that I found myself more interested in the villain, invested in his struggle to take down the hero rather than the other way around.

When there finally is something that can harm Luke, it's a magical McGuffin. It's Kryptonite. It's dull and lacks imagination. I honestly believe it would have been far more interesting if they'd looked for other ways to hurt look. As Mariah said “Does he have gills?”.

For the most part I found the characters to be interesting and engaging. Luke himself was a bit dry near the beginning, acting very preachy and without any humour, but towards the end he lightened up a bit even as the plot was getting darker. Some of the best moments were him spouting “Sweet Christmas.” or Luke and Claire's corny flirting. It made the characters feel more real and brought a few much needed smiles.

Mike Colter played the part of Luke Cage excellently. I'm not a comic book fan, but he looks the part as far as I can tell, and he certainly felt like an unstoppable man mountain. He really shined during the more intense moments and the the moments of levity as a lot of the action was him walking forwards, squinting while people shot at him.

I really enjoyed Mahershala Ali's performance as Cornell 'Cottonmouth' Stokes. I thought he portrayed a deeply nuanced man trying to play gangsta very well and especially so when he was up against a hero he couldn't even touch. I was honestly far more invested in his struggle than I ever was in Luke's because it felt more real. Cornell was out of his depth and a man who never really wanted to be what he was anyway. I would have much preferred him to be kept as the villain for the entire series.

Alfre Woodard's Mariah Dillard was... off. Something about the performance never gelled for me and I found her completely unbelievable the entire way through. There were points where I wondered if they'd just replaced her with a cardboard cutout.

I could go on about each character in detail but I won't. I will say that I really enjoyed Misty Knight, Shades, and the evolution of Claire Temple from bit parter on DD and JJ to major player.

I had a major issue with the big bad, Diamondback. I don't think it was anything to do with the portrayal, but more to do with the character himself. Nutbar, pseudo-evangelical, murderous psychopath. Honestly he was a dull-as-shit cliché and his... evolution actually hurt the finale as it just turned into a boring slug fest with no actual stakes. I understand that it was a metaphorical battle for the soul of Harlem... but it felt like a pointless punching match to me with no real tension.

The soundtrack was awesome. I loved it from the dramatic percussion work when Luke starts getting all unstoppable, to the musical interludes at the club. There's is nothing else I can really say but I loved it.

There's going to be a few SPOILERS up ahead so you have been warned.

SPOILERS!!!

Some of the dialogue was just cringe-worthy and it seemed to change from episode to episode almost as though each one was written by someone else. One episode had Luke talking about the idea of a person about 3 different times and 3 different people. The first time was fine but the other two felt forced and had me rolling my eyes. There was also far too many “Are you ready? I was born ready.” moments.

Some points in the story just made no sense. None. I'm used to handling science with a bit of blind acceptance when it comes to superhero stories... BUT! In order to surgically remove the bullet fragments from Luke, they put him through the same procedure that made him bulletproof to temporarily unmake him bulletproof. WHAT?!?!? Willing suspension of disbelief only goes so far and this is right up there with freezing laser beams (sorry Flash, had to be said). Just No! It was a thinly veiled attempt to get the scientist doctor guy to rediscover the process so he can make more of Luke for a sequel.

The magical bullet McGuffin's themselves are never actually explained. Luke is bulletproof. The bullets are made from some alien alloy... so what? Why would that matter? They're still metal and fired via conventional methods. Why can these suddenly penetrate his skin? Sorry, I'm not the type of person who just accepts things and moves on, I'd at least have liked them to try to explain it more than just “Alien metal... deal with it.”


At the end of the day, despite some major issues, I really enjoyed Luke Cage and it's another excellent show to add to the Marvel-Netflix roster. I'm looking forward to a second series and I'm looking forward to seeing more of Luke in the Defenders.


Rob J. Hayes is the author of the acclaimed The Ties that Bind trilogy and the upcoming Best Laid Plans duology. You can find out more on his website here.