Sex, Violence & Half A Million Dollars By Michael Bracken

This was an impulse buy, and not a hard one to make. One of the earliest reviews I’d written was of Bracken’s All White Girls, a ragged tale set in the underside of a city that was either Chicago or New Orleans, never figured out which. Plus, I’d written for an anthology Bracken was commissioned to edit (which, in the grand tradition of small press in the mid-2000’s, never got out of the gate.) So a collection of erotic tales he’s written for men’s magazines over the years was not too much of a stretch to buy.

Sex, Violence, & Half a Million Dollars starts off with sex and extreme violence. A couple whose marriage is on the rocks finds themselves snowed in with nothing to do but eat canned goods and have sex. Between that time, they argue constantly. The ending, however, comes straight out of a Stephen King short story when the husband finds a lurid solution to his situation. Talk about starting with a bang.

In “The Naked City,” a homicide cop gets himself into trouble questioning a stripper and thinking in his pants instead of above his shoulders. Never mind that his new “friend” practically hands him the evidence. He’s having too good a time. After all, who gets to nail a stripper outside of The Jerry Springer Show?

Of all the stories in this collection, though, I liked “How to Pick Up Beautiful Women,” wherein a man in the bar hustles fellow bar rats by bragging about how he can pick up a woman on any given night with his “system.” His partner in crime will either leave you laughing or thinking, “Ew!”

All of these stories originally appeared in men’s magazines. Not Maxim or FHM. The best known is Hustler Fantasies. As such, the women are uniformly large-breasted with an affinity for performing oral feats of pleasure. Admittedly, it gets a little old reading essentially the same description of women over and over again. But consider the market Bracken originally wrote these for. Now consider how much plastic and Photoshop go into the photos they publish now.

The stories work, however, when they go beyond a Penthouse Forum letter with a semblance of a plot slapped on it. The first story sounds very much like a Stephen King story along the lines of “The Ledge” or Gerald’s Game.  A few of these stories might have made it into Plots With Guns with few changes, if any. Bracken is a good storyteller who knows his market. Which is good. I’m generally not a fan of erotic literature, so a good story will grab my attention.

Bond Flicks

I’ve finally seen all the Bond flicks again this year. On the old blog, I ranked the Bonds in anticipation of Casino Royale‘s reboot of the franchise. Seeing them all again this year made me rethink that old list. So here now is another obnoxious list that makes great Internet filler: Ranking the Bonds from worst to first. Excluded will be 1967’s Casino Royale, a parody, and 1979’s Never Say Never Again, an unofficial Bond film.

22. – A View to a Kill – A Bond too far. Roger Moore is too old in this movie, and after making noise a few years earlier that he wanted to leave the franchise. But A View to a Kill‘s biggest weakness should have been its greatest strength: Christopher Walken. Or rather his character. Walken himself does a good job with what little he has to work with, but his Zorin is the single most pointless Bond villain ever. Badly written and executed, this one probably could have used Timothy Dalton nagging producers to make it a grittier Bond. I also can’t stand Robert Brown as M. He’s not M. He’s a dull British civil servant, the kind the Dursleys in Harry Potter might look up to.

21. – You Only Live Twice – Yes, Sean Connery managed to make a stinker of a Bond flick. Producers somehow managed to parody Austin Powers 30 years before Mike Meyers thought it up. I used to rank this one higher, but most of the premise just reeks. Thunderball had a similarly over-the-top premise, only using Ian Fleming’s plot and having collaborator Kevin McClory on board (He co-wrote the abandoned screenplay upon which the novel was based in 1958) sold us on the supervillain holding the world hostage. So instead of Thunderball, Part 2, we get Get Smart, and not the Steve Carrell version, either.

20. – Moonraker – You could really switch this one and YOLT without too much trouble. Substitute Hugo Drax for Blofeld, and you have a rehash of the standard Bond fare. Actually, Moonraker is better executed than YOLT until they go into space. Then it really gets stupid, and not even the presence of Jaws, probably the best Bond henchman ever, can save the movie at that point.

19. – Octopussy – Probably could have been an excellent farewell for Roger Moore or even a terrific debut for Timothy Dalton or Pierce Brosnan, but the movie is just lame. Bond and another 00 are both seen in clown gear running from killers in East Berlin. Bond is even in clown makeup when he stops an atomic bomb from exploding, setting off World War III if he fails. But what really sucks all the life out of this film is Louis Jourdan’s Kamal Khan. Instead of being gleefully menacing like Blofeld, Goldfinger, or Karl Stromberg, in every sitting, Khan leaves me wondering why Bond didn’t just put a bullet through the sonofabitch’s forehead. What should have been a serviceable Cold War thriller along the lines of The Fourth Protocol (starring future Bond Pierce Brosnan) is instead of a shadow of For Your Eyes Only.

18. – The Man With the Golden Gun – I used to think this was the worst of the Bonds, but age and a few more viewings have mellowed my attitude. The scenes with M are wooden at best, and Mary Goodnight is probably the most boring Bond girl ever. What saves this movie from the bottom of the heap is Scaramanga. Christopher Lee, in what has to be a joke based on his Dracula fame, spends a considerable amount of time in the sun in this one. Lee happily chews scenery, and his interplay with Roger Moore’s Bond is some of the best in the series. So it has its moments. It also has Herve Villechaiz as Nick Nack, the most murderous midget in film since The Wild Wild West‘s Dr. Loveless.

17. – Die Another Day – Really the mutant offspring of the novels Moonraker and Kingsley Amis’s only Bond novel, Colonel Sun, Die Another Day is alternately brilliant and stupid. Bond is captured and tortured by the North Koreans, then abandoned by MI6. He then goes it alone to take on Richard Branson clone Gustav Graves to find out what’s really going on in North Korea with the help of Halle Berry. That all works nicely. What screws up this movie? The invisible car. I was buying the film until John Cleese’s Q demonstrates an invisible car. That and another damned satellite of doom. That only worked in Goldeneye.

16. – Diamonds Are Forever – It has a strong beginning, with Connery as Bond bullying his way across the globe demanding to know “Where’s Blofeld?” I would have liked to see what an angry (and hopefully newly more experienced) George Lazenby would have done with this one. It also has my favorite Blofeld, Charles Gray. But this movie is little more than a parody of the series. While it’s great to see Connery back, it’s clear the producers have no idea how to keep their franchise going. And they introduce my least favorite Bond cliche: The satellite of doom, which will only work once during Pierce Brosnan’s time as Bond.

15. – Tomorrow Never Dies – This film should have been one of the best of the Bonds. It had the most believable supervillain, media mogul Elliot Carver, and a premise that actually wears better today than it did in the 1990’s: Spark World War III to boost ratings. It happened once before. The Spanish-American War was a purely media-driven war that made celebrities of Teddy Roosevelt and his rival, William Jennings Bryan. Bond girl Michelle Yeoh is definitely one of the better Bond girls, smart, tough, and Bond’s equal. But like Die Another Day, it rides roughshod over its own plot. Unlike Die Another Day, it doesn’t have an invisible car.

14. – Live and Let Die– I used to rank this in my top five, but the blaxploitation angle sort of makes me cringe these days. Too bad, because it was time for Bond to take on a real-world villain, and Yaphet Kotto’s Mr. Big fits the bill. I also find Sheriff JW Pepper extremely annoying. Still, it’s a strong start for Roger Moore, playing a mellower, more unflappable Bond. David Hedison is great as Bond’s American cohort, Felix Leiter. But the ending always bothered me, with Yaphet Kotto exploding after Bond shoves a compressed air cartridge into his mouth.

13. – The World Is Not Enough  – I like this one more than most people. I think it was an excellent story with a terrific performance by Robbie Coltrane (aka Hagrid of Harry Potter fame). But never, to this date, have I ever been able to buy Denise Richards as a nuclear weapons expert when she clearly was hired to be seen slowly stripping out of that radiation suit. I often said this one would be better as a novel than as a movie, though I’ve yet to read the Raymond Benson adaptation.

12. –The Living Daylights – Dalton’s debut as Bond is good, though I thought Maryam D’Abo was kind of flat as a Bond girl. TLD does something that hasn’t been done since For Your Eyes Only, which is to take its source material, the short story of the same title, and expand it into a solid thriller.  And Dalton marks a return to playing Bond as Fleming imagined him. This would have been the perfect film to reboot the franchise, but as it stands, Dalton was an excellent choice to show James Bond starting to wear out from all the years of killing and risking his neck for king and country.  And the eggs laid in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service start to hatch. Bond is asked about his marriage. Bond doesn’t want to talk about it.

11. – Doctor No – The first. Not the best. The best was waiting in the wings. But the first. And a fantastic debut. Connery invents Bond for the big screen. Joseph Wiseman establishes the pattern for the unctuous antagonist. And how can you not love Ursula Andress emerging from the sea like a bikini-clad Aphrodite? As a capper, Jack Lord is super cool as the first ever Felix Leiter.

10. The Spy Who Loved Me – The supervillain done right for once. Karl Stromberg was supposed to be the return of Blofeld, which would have been fun to see Roger Moore’s Bond battle, especially if Charles Gray or Donald Pleasance returned. But it’s a Cold War fantasy thriller that still somehow manages to keep its feet in the real world. So different from the source novel, only the title and Jaws survive from Fleming’s work.

9. Thunderball – SPECTRE emerges as the primary villain in this Cold War thriller involving stolen nuclear weapons. The prize? $100 million in diamonds demanded by the still-unseen Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Bond bounces around the Caribbean taking on Emilio Largo, the millionaire behind the plot to hold the world hostage with two nuclear bombs.

8. Goldeneye – Brosnan’s debut as James Bond, almost a reboot of the series with Judi Dench as an M for the 1990’s (and definitely not the same M she plays in the new continuity.) Bond chases down a more believable satellite of doom in two orbiting units capable of frying every electronic device they target. Bond has to find his way in a post-Cold War world while tangling with a crazed Russian hacker, allying with a beautiful satellite technician, and hunting his former best friend, the former 006.

7. License to Kill – Dalton’s best and a good candidate for a remake with Daniel Craig. Felix Leiter’s fate in the novel Live and Let Die comes to the big screen here. And Bond is out for revenge. Robert Davi is just pure evil as the Latin American drug lord Sanchez. Until the Daniel Craig era, this is the most real-world Bond of the series, and the darkest. The only sour notes are Carolyn Bliss’s wooden Moneypenny and Robert Brown, who was a horrible choice to replace the late Bernard Lee as M. (I’d have preferred Charles Gray or John Cleese or even an early debut for Judi Dench.) David Hedison returns as the doomed Felix Leiter for the character’s final bow in the original continuity. Carrie Lowell is tough and intense as Bond’s foil and love interest. And the movie gets extra points for digging all the way back to OHMSS for giving Bond depth.

6. Quantum of Solace – Craig does it again, picking up moments after the end of Casino Royale with a car chase. Craig’s Bond is seething with anger. He makes Dalton’s Bond look slightly annoyed. The plot of this one gets murky, but that’s because it’s incredibly complex for a Bond movie. Quantum, which replaces SPECTRE as the criminal organization menacing the world, is revealed to be even more insidious and evil than expected. Judi Dench is terrific as a frustrated M trying to walk a tightrope between trusting Bond and keeping him reined in. Dominic Greene is the sleaziest Bond villain ever, with the creepy Elvis as his henchman. And while Olga Kuylenko plays a tough Bond girl equal to Bond in skill and blood lust, it’s Gemma Atherton as “just Fields” who steals the movie. Note to the Broccoli family: Seriously consider Atherton for Moneypenny. She has the right mix of flirtation and sassiness to be an office foil to James Bond.

5. For Your Eyes Only – A pure Cold War thriller cobbled together from the short story collection it draws its name from.  This is the best of the Moore Bonds and one of the best of the series. Topol stops fiddling on the roof long enough to lead Bond to a fellow smuggler who’s selling out the British to the Soviets. The ending is terrific with Bond destroying the MacGuffin, a device that controls British submarine-based nuclear missiles. Cornered by General Gogol (the latest in Walter Gotell’s wonderful appearances as M’s counterpart), Bond simply tosses it over a cliff and says, “Detente, General. I don’t have it. You don’t have it.” Gogol loves Bond’s solution, laughs, and leaves, summing up the feelings of the pawns in the Cold War.

4. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – Bond actually looks like Bond in this one. And the movie very nearly parallels the novel scene for scene. George Lazenby really should have fired his agent for telling him to walk away from the series. This story foreshadows the Dalton and Craig movies in its character development and its nuance. The good guys are gangsters. The bad guys are holed up in a remote lodge in the Swiss Alps. And for the first time, Bond gets frustrated with MI6 and tells them to go to Hell.  Twice.  Lazenby is impressive for having never acted before. Lacking Connery’s swagger and confidence, he still holds his own as James Bond and probably would have done well in the more comedic movies that followed.

3. Goldfinger – The dawn of the true supervillain. Goldfinger is a terrifically demented millionaire obsessed with gold. Connery is hitting his groove, and those famous Bond gadgets appear. You can’t miss with a Bond girl named Pussy Galore (or with Connery purring “Pussy” every time she walks onto screen.) Odd Job is a terrific henchman, and the Kentucky setting is a welcome change from the Balkans and the Caribbean.

2. Casino Royale – Dark! Dark! Dark! Fleming’s Bond was a cold, efficient killer, and Daniel Craig’s reboot of the character shows that. But it also hearkens back to OHMSS with Bond letting his guard down only to have his heart shattered by tragedy. Craig plays a modern Bond, a blunt instrument to be wielded against terrorists.  Plus, this is Bond at the beginning. He’s never killed, but he’s a bit too good at it for his own good or M’s liking. He’s more cocky than confident and often too stubborn for his own good. He tastes blood for the first time in this movie, and time, wounds, and experience have yet to check his growing arrogance. Jeffrey Wright is excellent as Felix Leiter, who is now a cynical soldier in America’s War on Terror.

1. From Russia With Love – Fleming’s favorite novel. Connery’s favorite Bond film. In fact, all the Bond actors have praised this one, particularly Craig and Dalton, who seem to have taken their cues from this one. EON swaps SPECTRE for Russia’s Smersh, though Smersh is still the nominal bad guy in this one. Connery falls into a groove here, but the cliches are still new and untried – Flirting with Moneypenny, Q’s briefing, Bernard Lee’s curmudgeonly M. Before the Bond formula was cemented by Goldfinger, this movie just told a slightly altered version of Fleming’s cloak-and-dagger Cold War tale. And the Orient Express gives the movie an almost Hitchcockian flavor. Rumor has it the Master himself was invited to direct. Now how about that for what’s already the greatest Bond flick ever?

And what of the two non-EON Bond films, Casino Royale (1967) and Never Say Never Again? The former was an extremely disjointed parody done purely for gags, though David Niven as a chaste, almost priestly James Bond saddened by the sex fiends running around doing his old job is pretty funny. As for Connery’s brief return in Never Say Never Again, they already made Thunderball once with Connery. With Klaus Maria Brandaur’s rather sympathetic Largo, Connery chaffing at being put out to pasture, and Edward Fox’s foppish imbecile M succeeding (but somehow not quite replacing) Bernard Lee’s character, this movie could have topped most of the official Bonds, including most of the Connery movies. Instead, we get Sean Connery in a vehicle better suited for Roger Moore and a pre-Blackadder Rowan Atkinson as Nigel Small-Fawcett, a joke that Monty Python probably discarded and producer Kevin McClory must have found in the dumpster. Like the 1967 parody, doesn’t really count and merely a curiosity.

Also, has anyone noticed that only two Englishmen have played Bond – Moore and Craig? Connery is Scottish, Lazenby Australian, Dalton Welsh, and Brosnan Irish. And for Diamonds Are Forever and A View to a Kill, Americans Adam West and James Brolin were considered. West didn’t think an American could pull it off, and really, you would need someone who is good at accents and can play James Bond to do it. I can think of quite a few American actors who can playing convincing Englishmen. I can name quite a few who would make a great James Bond. (Not Tom Cruise. I would have to stalk the Broccoli family for that.) I can’t name a single one who can do an English accent and play James Bond.

So, assuming Craig does four or five, should Danial Radcliffe start warming up in the bullpen? Put the boy wizard behind him as he closes in on 30 and keep Britain safe for democracy in whatever brave new world we’re heading into? Take your time and stick around a while, Mr. Craig. You’re doing just fine.

Slimming Down

Every year, I swear I’m going to lose weight. And every year, I lose about what I gain over the course of the year. After peaking at 310 pounds a few years back, I’ve spent the past half decade between 275 and 290 pounds.  Maintaining, but not really gaining anything. At the same time, I still sleep with a hose pointed up my nose so I don’t choke to death on my own throat. I still have four brown bottles in my medicine cabinet that I want gone. And let’s be honest, anything north of 285 pounds makes my knees hurt.

So when I topped out at 294 this year, I needed to make a change.

First, let me tell you what 310 pounds does for me – knee pain, foot pain, constant drowsiness, trouble breathing, headaches, and ringing in the ears. So 294 was bad.

Then Nita spotted something called “The 6-Week Body Makeover” on an infomercial. Normally, I am skeptical about anything on an infomercial, but Nita did it just before AJ was born. She lost a good 40 pounds before getting pregnant. So it worked. She ordered.

Rather than pitch the program to you – It’s definitely not for everyone – I’ll tell you the changes I made that are working. I eat 5-6 smaller meals a day, each with a complex carb and a protein. Snacks usually use fruit for the carb. Breakfast is oatmeal and egg whites. Lunch and dinner includes either chicken or turkey with veggies and usually a baked potato. For the duration of the six weeks, I’m having little to no dairy, no bread (except a turkey sandwich at Subway once a week), and no alcohol.

Well, I’m writing this on Sunday morning, at which point I’ve shed 19 pounds. Cause to celebrate (and a day when AJ is off to his final band camp for a week. Regularly scheduled meals are out.) Nita and I are going off the wagon for the day and having Mexican for dinner. And I am having a long overdue margarita. I go back on the wagon tomorrow morning.

The other component is exercise. There’s one or two days a week I do yard work, which is exercise enough. The other days, I take out the battered Huffy for a spin or do an arm and ab workout. When I finish this program, I plan to switch to running.

Yeah. Running. I haven’t run since I was 17, and I have the gut to prove it.  But diet is the critical component. Since getting married, Nita and I have fed each other well.  And we’ve eaten out more than is really healthy for us. AJ thinks we’re insane, but from age 17 to about 23, Nita and I both could consume raw lard if we so chose and not gain a pound. That starts to disappear when you reach your mid-20’s, but you don’t really notice the effects until you’re about 30.

So I need to keep the exercise up. I’m taking up running because it’s easier to do in the winter than bike riding. And I need to keep the eating pattern up after the diet – which is when most diets seems to fail. I need that protein-carb boost first thing in the morning, to snack on fruit with a protein (hopefully I can switch to nuts as I’m getting tired of tuna). And like our mothers used to scold us, eat my veggies.

Plus, there’s one thing everyone should do when they set an eating plan in place. There needs to be a crazy day. Just because I feel better eating saltless food with less dairy, sugar, or oils doesn’t mean I don’t crave bacon. It doesn’t mean I still don’t love an ice cold beer sliding down my throat. It doesn’t mean I don’t want to go pig out on a steak or scarf a deep dish pizza once in a while. There are also the holidays. Thanksgiving will be surprisingly easy to game. Turkey and potatoes or yams. Veggies and fruit abound. The one day you could be forgiven for, or even expected to, go off the wagon is probably the easiest day to stay on it.

Until it’s time for pie.

But a reward keeps you from getting so sick of what you normally eat that you suddenly binge. The binge will kill you. You’ll plump up past your original weight, then take months, even years, to find the strength to start over again, by which time, it will be harder.

And frankly, I’m sick of starting over again. I want to be healthier at 50 than I was at 40.

Ebookery: Anthony Neil Smith

Anthony Neil Smith has a long history in crime fiction. He cooked up the ezine Plots With Guns back in 2000, which he’s been running either as publisher or editor since that time, with a brief hiatus mid-decade. He’s also behind some of the raunchiest noir of the last ten years: The Drummer, Yellow Medicine, Choke on Your Lies, and the finest noir novel to feature an armless, legless woman as the primary villain, Psychosomatic. Neil Smith has been anything but conventional. And now he’s into ebooks in a big way. I interrogated him recently about his efforts.

You made your rep first with Plots With Guns, then in independent press – Point Blank, Two Dollar Radio, Bleak House. Was diving into ebooks a natural for you?
Nope. I had to be dragged in kicking and screaming. Or, I was the one who covered his ears and sang “La la la” until a fellow writer told me how many of the damn things he was selling. I mean, I just wanted to be read! So once I got into ebooks, I began to love it. It’s a lot of fun.
You dipped your two in the water some years back with To the Devil, My Regards, which you wrote with Victor Gischler. Did you think ebooks would become as viable as they are now when you published it?
I thought, actually, that the damn things were a failure. No one wanted either version we published (one with Blue Murder as a subscription model, and the other as a download for Palm Pilots and other handheld things from Coffee Cup press), so we laughed it off, thought it was a fun experience, then put it away. No one said word one about ebooks after than for a while, at least not that I saw. Then suddenly there are Kindles and Nooks and shit, and people were buying books. I was surprised. Guess I always saw it coming, though, if I think about it for ten seconds.

Your first original ebook (after To the Devil…) was Choke on Your Lies, which has a rather eye-catching cover. What was behind your decision to self-publish it?

My agent sent it out to some publishers, but we got no love for it. It was a bit “risky”, not a mainstream book, so I thought about my options: send it out to small publishers and wait a year for an answer (then another year if someone actually took it), or sell it in the e-reader market on my own. Since my agent, Allan Guthrie, was selling a ton of his novellas on Kindle, I asked if he thought I should give it a whirl. He liked the idea, so I got it up there. And even though that means zero mainstream print reviews (they’re instead all on the Amazon site and some blogs) and grassroots promotion, I’m still happy with its progress.
By the way: the model on the Choke cover is Erin Zerbe, who has wonderful pics all over the internet. I’m hoping to have her return for the next book’s cover, too.

Tell us your ebook strategy.

Right now, it’s still “build your audience”. At all costs, I want more readers. I’m a story teller, and I like people to read the things I write. So I’m willing to let my backlist sit at 99 cents each as a way to interest readers who haven’t heard of me yet. They can buy everything I’ve written for six bucks.  There’s no use making a little extra money per ebook if it means hardly anyone is reading. So I’m letting it ride. Eventually, I’ll have to charge more, but the market is still searching for the sweet spot–the amount we’re willing to pay so that the writers and publishers actually can afford to keep doing it.

Do you see a future doing print at this point?

I hope so. I don’t know how, but I see paperbacks as still *the* best way to publish a book, and I hope I am somehow able to find a larger publisher willing to take me on and support my career that way. We’ll see.
What do you have in the pipeline?

I’ve got a thriller coming out as an e-book this Fall. I can’t say more than that right now except to say it’s *not* self-published. Looking forward to sharing more when I can. And I’m working on a couple of projects that I hope to show the world next year.

My Town Monday Cincinnati – Old Coney Island

Lots of cities have a Coney Island, New York’s, of course, the most famous. And a lot of cities boast chili-covered hot dogs named for the local park so named. In Cincinnati, the Coney is naturally covered with Cincinnati-style chili. And the park?

Coney Island

Coney Island

Old Coney was once one of the grand dames of American amusement parks. It began in 1867 when the owner of an apple orchard noticed he was making more money renting out parts of his land to tourists than he was off of apples. He built a dance hall, dining hall, and bowling alley. Thus began “Ohio Grove.” In the 1880’s, a pair of steamship operators purchased the site and renamed it “Ohio Grove, the Coney Island of the West.” Never mind that Ohio had not been anything resembling the West since about the end of the Civil War.

Eventually, they began building coasters and other rides on the site. For a time, Coney Island (“Ohio Grove” was eventually dropped from the name) became a go-to park for coaster freaks. Over time, it became as big as its northern Lake Erie rival Cedar Point and had, as it does today, the added attraction of nearby River Downs for horse racing.

Coney, however, was doomed in the era of the Interstate. Though the park sits directly next to the I-275 interchange with US-52, it also sits on the Ohio River. Flooding is a frequent problem for the park. Because of this, park ownership pulled up stakes in the late 1960’s and opened a new, bigger amusement park north of the city, the more famous Kings Island. Coney closed in 1970, and it looked like it would close for good. Ownership even donated the site of its largest coaster for construction of Riverbend Music Center. But…

Redeveloping the site became a low priority, and new ownership reopened the park in 1973. Though a shadow of its former self, Coney remains a popular summer destination for the local population. Not nearly as crowded as King’s Island, the park has kept up much better than most other parks of its size and age. While Cedar Point and Kings Island have become behemoth magnets for national tourists, smaller parks such as LeSourdsville Lake (Americana, in its waning days), Geauga Lake, and Chippewa Lake, the latter two near Cleveland, have disappeared or sit idle.

Coney remains popular partly because of Sunlite Pool, the world’s largest recirculating pool, and attracting traveling shows such as a shark exhibit back in 2000 and Cirque du Soleil in 2011. Flooding remains a problem, but to build flood walls would take away from Coney’s biggest attraction – the muddy Ohio River that forms the park’s border.

More at the My Town Monday blog.

The Forever War By Joe Haldeman

I posted a while back about how a lot of classic SF novels from the last 40 years – Ender’s Game, Old Man’s War, even the most recent Star Trek movie – use Heinlein’s Starship Troopers as a template. If only Paul Verhoven had done that when he made a Starship Troopers movie.

Joe Haldeman is no exception. But where as Orson Scott Card saw video games as a rising influence, Scalzi wrote an homage, and JJ Abrams needed to reboot James T. Kirk, Haldeman had something else on his mind. Heinlein was a World War II vet, which makes Haldeman the perfect successor. Haldeman served in Vietnam, and Vietnam is very much a part of his classic The Forever War.

Joe Mandella is an elite, a student of physics drafted by the United Nations in the 1990’s to help fight the Taurons, a race that began attacking humans almost from their first encounter. So Earth goes to war. Unfortunately, war means expected fatalities in training. Interstellar war means a three week mission leaves in 2001 and comes back 20 years later. Each time, Earth changes.

When we meet Mandella, it’s the late 90’s. Mind you, this was originally written in the 1970’s, so it looks nothing like the .com boom, pre-9/11 decade we all miss. Still, it’s close enough to recognize as what we would consider “normal”. Mandella first goes to a remote outpost in the solar system to train for combat on planets that orbit collapsars, the main means of traveling faster than light. Several of Mandella’s fellow trainees die in the process.  During this time, he bonds with frequent bunkmate Marygay Potter. Together, they take part in a mission that exposes the mysterious Taurons and reveals their true nature, or what seems to be their true nature.  All this takes place over a period of months, but they return to Earth twenty years later, thanks to relativity and the time dilation effect.

Upon their return, they find Earth changed. Homosexuality is encouraged by the government after overpopulation caused food riots and several wars. The economy is almost completely based on the war with the Taurons. Mandella and Marygay cannot cope with the changes and re-up.

Their combat takes them forward a few hundred years and nearly kills both of them. Because of relativity, they find their fellow soldiers are changing. At the end of their next mission, they get a break on a planet called “Heaven,” where Earth’s seriously wounded go to recuperate. Marygay is discharged, and Mandella is promoted. By the time he becomes a base commander, Earth’s culture has become unrecognizable. Heterosexuality is considered deviant and the soldiers call him “The Old Queer” behind his back. By the time he comes home for the last time, over a thousand years and an epoch in human evolution have passed.

Mandella is a man placed in the midst of an alien landscape having to listen to bureaucratic doublespeak and accept the irrational commands of his superiors as he and his comrades put their lives on the line.  They are drafted, taken away from home for extended periods of time, and thrown back into a culture that sees them as oddities or worse. Mandella experiences less than a decade in subjective time, but actually lives over a thousand years as the war forces them to move at speeds where the normal rules of time make no sense. It’s this time dilation principle that allows Haldeman to exaggerate the isolating effects of combat. You may go to Saigon or Kuwait or Afghanistan for a year, but the world moves on without you while you’re gone.

Haldeman’s novel was born partly out of his frustration during his time in Vietnam. Still, it should probably resonate more clearly in today’s world, where the military uses stop loss (a questionable practice Haldeman foreshadows) to keep its volunteer soldiers from leaving when recruiting numbers are down. More importantly, the human race’s next iteration shows a higher level of thinking that the present one is capable of.  It shows Mandella just how futile the whole war was.

And if anything, The Forever War destroys any romanticized notions about war with just a touch of absurdity.

A Good Night’s Sleep. Not.

I’m one of the millions of sleep apnea sufferers. I have to sleep with what I call “the Darth Vader mask” over my nose at night to let my family get some sleep, keep the plaster in the house from cracking, and prevent angry phone calls from outraged seismologists who mistakenly believed a new volcano was forming in Cincinnati’s northern suburbs. And frankly, I can’t sleep without the CPAP, the machine the mask is hooked up to.

Periodically, I need to go in for a sleep study, which I did this past weekend. Actually, I haven’t had one in ten years. So this follow up was a bit of culture shock. What happens?

You show up around 8 or 8:30 in the evening. The place looks like a cross between a clinic and a Holiday Inn Express. They show you to your room, and then you hang out in the lounge watching TV with the others there to spend the night snoring. And I discovered something interesting about old people. They will apologize profusely for watching Flashpoint and CSI:New York. Why? I don’t know. The guy in the other room wasn’t apologizing for watching the Reds. (Dusty Baker, on the other hand, should for this season.)

Around 10 PM, it’s time to hit the sack, but one just doesn’t crawl into bed and turn the lights out.  Oh, no. This is a sleep study, and they need to wire you up to scan your brain, your respiration, your heart, your breathing, every leg twitch, every eye twitch, even your morning breath. And boy, do they wire you up.

You’re plugged into a box where almost two dozen electrodes, which must be hooked up in sequence, are connected between you and that box. The box comes with a shoulder strap because you have to take all these wires, the straps around your chest and waist, and the two sensors shoved up your nose with you when you go to the bathroom.

Then it’s time to go to bed. I had what’s called a split night, which means the first couple of hours are spent without a machine to keep my throat open.  They want to see what happens when I don’t use it. I, of course, know what happens. I wake up a lot. I wake up with dry mouth, a sore throat, and a pounding headache. And all these things did indeed come to pass before 3 AM, when the tech came in to pull the two nose sensors and pull on my mask for me.  Then I slept like a baby.

Until they turned the pressure all the way down on the mask. I woke up twice when I did this. Let’s just say I didn’t appreciate it.

The worst part of this torture was the end of the study. Not that the staff wasn’t courteous or efficient. They were, very much so. Most hotels need to take notes. But I left a 6:30 wake up call when I scheduled my study, and 6:30 on a Saturday morning is a horrible time to wake up. Most times, I’d better be working or going somewhere to give up that much sleep time.

The result of all this? The sleep specialist, who positively freaked when he saw I hadn’t been back in 11 years, told me they would definitely have to turn my pressure up, that he didn’t understand how my blood oxygen could be so high since I hadn’t been examined in over a decade.

They turned my pressure down after I had my study.

Go figure.

One Small Step

Forty-two years ago today, I sat in front of a small black and white Crosley television while my parents and two uncles watched the grainy images beamed over NBC from the Sea of Tranquility. I was only three, but it’s my earliest clear memory. (Which means I was at Woodstock, which was three weeks later, since I don’t remember it.) So my recollection begins the moment man set foot on another world for the first time. I don’t remember Buzz Aldrin coming out of the lunar module later. I only remember that fuzzy image of Armstrong coming down the ladder, talking with Houston about the surface outside, then uttering those famous words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Though I was a toddler too young to quite understand how two guys got all the way up on the moon, why I couldn’t see them when I looked outside, or why the lunar module didn’t look like the rocket we watched blast off a few days earlier, the first ever moon landing still made an impression.

Armstrong steps on the moon.

It sparked a long obsession with science fiction. It sparked a lifetime interest in all things space. It pretty much defined my childhood.

It’s always bothered me that we didn’t press on. Then again, the 1970’s were a decade of cynicism that exceeded even this decade. A nation beleaguered by Watergate, a failed war in Asia, gas shortages, inflation, and a Cold War dragging on too long had no appetite to boldly go. Perhaps if the Cold War had thawed much sooner, we might have returned in the eighties. Instead, we got the space station, a magnificent engineering feat in its own right, but hardly inspiring to the general public.

It’s hard to get excited about the space program these days. The last space shuttle mission is history. Hubble is in its waning days. Astronauts now have to hitch rides with the Russians to get into orbit. The government wants to go to Mars and has made that a priority. And President Obama has thrown the mandate for manned space flight to private industry. Both are exciting in and of themselves, but the public is not going to forget the deficit and two wars until someone shows them something.

So until something appears that shows us how to look forward, we can still look back to that night 42 years ago and know what’s possible.

Ebookery: Snub Nose Press

A few years back, Sandra Ruttan launched Spinetingler, a crime ezine that aspired to do better than ezines of the past. It paid it’s writers enough for Edgar consideration. It went out of its way to behave the way many print mags were expected to print. And I’ll be honest, there are quite a few print mags that have fallen far short of that mark.

Recently, Sandra and her husband, Brian Lindenmuth, launched Snub Nose Press, diving into the e-publishing waters by doing, as I’ve often said needs done, all that stuff print publishers do well and writers generally suck at: Editing, covers, marketing.  The result?

Well, I’ll let Sandra tell you about it.  Sandra?

A few years ago, when I was starting to write fiction and trying to get it published, I got an honorable mention in an ezine’s contest, and my short story was published by the ezine.

For me, it was success.  I’d written a story that had enough merit for an editorial board to pick for publication.  It boosted my confidence in my writing.

What undermined that confidence was the commentary I heard at the mystery writer’s group I attended back then.  I wasn’t “really” published, because I hadn’t been published in print.

It was around the same time that Spinetingler was born. I’ve always been a natural champion of things I love, and it seemed logical.  I could share my enthusiasm about books that knocked my socks off, polish my rusty interviewing skills from my journalism days, and have the privilege of publishing promising writers – regardless of whether it was their first piece of fiction or they were a multi-published author.

We’ve survived some rough patches along the way – divorce, changes in ownership and changes in contributors.

We’ve also seen a lot of other ezines, and a lot of other publishing ventures come and go over the last 6.5 years.

That’s what’s made me cautious.  Just this past week, I heard about a new site that was going to publish crime fiction by female authors.  A few days after I heard they were open for submissions, the site had been pulled and no longer existed.

That’s why ezines and epublishers have to fight hard to earn the respect of the industry and to establish themselves as credible.  It’s too easy to throw up a site and never do anything with it.

So, call us cautious, call us careful.  But when we make a move, it’s because we genuinely believe we can sustain it.  The decrease in start-up costs for publishing e-books has made it possible to expand, and while the traditional publishing market seems to be shrinking and publishing more and more commercial product and less experimental fiction, we can find the material that should be published, present it professionally to readers and help writers establish themselves in the e-book market.

Here’s a bit of general information about Snubnose Press.

1.  We did not want to use the Spinetingler name because some time after I started Spinetingler, a publishing outfit in the UK with a similar name was started and we wanted to avoid any possible confusion.

2.  We spent several months debating name and agenda before we agreed to a plan, and even then it took several weeks before we registered the site and started the online work.  This was a plan that started with words and paper, built from a lot of discussion.

3.  We had professional agents screen our contract before we made any contract offers to authors.

4.  We work with professional artists who create original material for the site and do the cover art.

5.  We publish short story collections, novellas, original novels and reprints.

I share the concerns that people have, about unedited works flooding the e-book market, and that’s where Snubnose Press comes in.  We intend to brand Snubnose Press as a leading publisher of exceptional e-books.  We launched with Speedloader, which has received rave reviews in the US and UK.  We followed Speedloader with my novel, Harvest of Ruins – primarily because the novel had been edited already, and we have several short story collections contracted for the coming months and didn’t want to be branded as solely an anthology publisher.

Upcoming publications include short story collections by Patti Abbott, Keith Rawson, Sandra Seamans, and Les Edgerton, and a revenge novella by Eric Beetner, with three other original projects in negotiations.

Some writers don’t want to learn how to format their works, or spend time handling the business end of the equation.  For them, self-publishing isn’t ideal, but if their work meets our standards of quality storytelling, lean prose and compelling characters, they might find a home with Snubnose Press.

Sandra Ruttan is the author of three novels, including her latest, Harvest of Ruins.