Sunday, July 31, 2011

Monster Hunter Vendetta

If you have not read Monster Hunter International. Stop. Go read it. You can buy it here. MHI is an origins story and a lot of characters get introduced with a lot of mystery about their backstory. This is good.

One of the characters in that story is Agent Franks. One thing Larry Correia does well is maintain tension between different characters on the same side. And Agent Franks is someone everyone on the side of goodness loves to hate. It is easy because he represents the soulless, amoral US Federal Government agency the Monster Control Bureau. The avatar of this agency is Agent Franks.

Monster Hunter Vendetta is set up at the end of MHI when the Feds nuke one of the elder gods (you know those unpleasant beasties from H. P. Lovecraft). And that makes him mad. And he blames the protagonist of MHI, Owen Pitt, and he puts out a contract on him.

In the course of MHV we learn a lot of back story. Why Agent Myers hates the hero's boss. Why the hero's father-in-law unleashed hell. All this courtesy of "the shadow man," a necromancer who is the elder god's hitman. There's a lot of betrayal in MHV and manipulation.

But the thing I found most entertaining was learning about Agent Franks and HOW we learn about Agent Franks. Imagine an atom smasher. What's its purpose? To disclose the essential nature of atoms. How does it achieve this purpose? By throwing things at atoms with more and more energy. Then study what flies off the high-energy impacts. Such it is with Agent Franks.

After the Feds realize they've got a problem with a necromancer who's taken the contract on our hero, they assign the job of bodyguard to Agent Franks. Every time something really bad goes after the hero, Agent Franks steps up and gets trashed by it. Since we don't like Agent Franks, we don't mind much. Though, as we grow to understand him better and after he saves the hero's life a few times, we're willing to cut him some slack.

Betrayal is a big theme in this novel. Who's spying on whom? Some guys we hate come off more sympathetically. And some guys we sympathized with turn out to be less honorable than we'd wish. Sort of like life.

Larry Correia puts a lot of humor into his stories. I loved his one-liner about the Stig. If you liked the trailer-park trash in MHI, you'll love the ghetto bangers in MHV.

All in all I recommend this novel to everyone who loved MHI.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Why Mycroft?

When I sat down to write a Sherlock Holmes story, I wanted to do something counter-intuitive. So, I wrote The Aristotelian with a mind to stick to the canon, but upend everything I could. For instance, we admire Sherlock's detective prowess. Let's start with someone deprecating it! Thus, Sherlock's father introduces the notion that policemen are undesirable characters--necessary--but undesirable nonetheless. Everyone gets upset with Sherlock's cocaine use, but perhaps his habit is not out of control, and other things bother his family more. We know from the canon that Sherlock thinks his brother Mycroft is smarter than he is. We know Sherlock is disappointed by Mycroft's disinterest in detection. Perhaps his family could be disappointed by his interest therein.

Then there's Watson, faithful Watson. I figure he's a 100-watt mind who only seems dim in juxtapose with Sherlock's brilliance. Let's show Sherlock before he's reached the peak of his powers, but just as arrogant. Like any teenager.

But we read Sherlock Holmes stories to be dazzled by brilliant characters who solve puzzles that perplex us. Thus, I decided to include a locked-room murder in The Aristotelian.

I love smart characters and nominally write about folks smarter than myself. Thus I decided to not only put Mycroft in this story, but to write it from his point of view. Smart guys can be insufferable, so I decided to keep Mycroft uncomfortable and insecure in his detective role. He knows detection is Sherlock's turf, but he doesn't want the kid to show him up.

Probably the biggest reason for centering the story on Mycroft is his vocation as a mathematician and cryptanalyst. Since I studied both subjects I figured that I could write from that perspective with a geekish flair.

Mycroft presented some problems. In The Adventure of The Greek Interpreter, Sherlock claimed his brother was a competent detective, but he never says what gave him that impression. I wrote The Aristotelian story to show how Sherlock came to think so.

Sherlock also maintained that his brother has no ambition and no energy. I wondered how Mycroft might have created this impression. The easy explanation is that Mycroft is lazy.

In the spirit of turning everything upside down, I started work on a second Mycroft story to explain how Sherlock might come to think this. After writing several hundred words, I realized this story would not fit into a short story. Thus I decided to write Steamship To Kashmir.

You'll find the opening scene of Steamship To Kashmir at the end of The Aristotelian if you can't wait until this fall.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Monster Hunters International

I'm not particularly interested in some literary genres except to mock them. After reading one such example I was tempted to write a story wherein a bunch of good ole boys from the Nazarene Church link up with a gang that cooks Meth and a Vietnam vet with a metal plate in his head to light into cthulhu with guns, lots of guns. I planned to end the story with someone asking if cthulhu tastes like chicken. (No, more like lobster.)

Trouble is that Larry Correia beat me to it. He didn't write this story, he wrote a much better one.

This weekend I picked up Monster Hunters International (MHI) and I had a ball. The author, Larry Correia, is a certified gun nut. He knows his AK-47 from his M1911 (wish I did). The premise of MHI is that werewolves and vampires and all the rest are kept secret by the government and various companies like MHI go fight evil on commission.

I never got into the creepy H.P. Lovecraft thing, either. Particularly, where the protagonists of these tales are powerless in the face of Ancient Evil. The pattern of such supernatural stories was boringly similar: bad guy is unfazed anything else except some gimmick--a silver cross or a wolfsbane garland or something. Most traditional stories have the protagonist wasting a lot of time figuring out what that gimmick is--then using it in the last reel of the movie.

Mr. Correia breaks this pattern. His evil monsters can be hurt by the gimmicky things, but they are also susceptible to high powered weaponry, explosives, and the physics of a desk pushed out a 15-story window.

Did you notice that I said evil. It's rare these days to read something where the antagonist is actually characterized as evil. (C. S. Lewis wrote about this in The Abolition of Man.) And it's rare nowadays to read where a religious character isn't canon fodder (if he's a fool) or the antagonist (if he's not). Mr. Correia violates both contemporary shibboleths. (Two of the protagonist's friends are a Las Vegas stripper turned hunter named Holly and a Baptist named Trip who's still a virgin. I just know those two will be hooking up.)

MHI is delightfully un-PC. At one point the hero channels Reagan cabinet member James Watt's most infamous line. But in a good way. The Government in this novel never shows up until it's too late, never acts sympathetically, and never intentionally does the right thing. In this novel, the Gipper's words ring loud "Government isn't the solution. It's the problem." That said, this is a ripping good yarn, not a political tract.

This book reads like military SF. I was often reminded of Into the Looking Glass and the rest of the Looking Glass series by John Ringo, and Travis S. Taylor. In fact, all you'd have to do is switch around the details a bit, and the Looking Glass enemy is a lot like the Elder Gods evil here. And I think that's on purpose.

Is MHI an awesome novel? Yes.

Could it be more awesome? It would take a nuclear zeppelin bristling with Gatling guns.

But that's another story.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Some geekish diversions

It occurred to me that you all might like to see the improved preview of's record for The Aristotelian.

Here's a bit of geekish fun. Point your smartphone at this picture and ask Google Goggles or your favorite QR/barcode program to decode it then follow the link.

Those more worthy than I: