Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Meet the Character - Blog Tour

My friend M. Todd Gallowglas called on me to participate in this blog tour thingy, so here goes!

1.What is the name of your character?

Nigel Proctor

2. Is he/she fictional or a historic person?


3. When and where is the story set?

It's set in Sydney and Darwin, Australia, circa 2278.

4. What should we know about him/her?

Nigel is a high-end locksmith, sent to open a hotel safe in Sydney in order to prove to the hotel that it should install a better model. However he's hired away at the last minute by some unsavory characters, while outside the world seems to be dipping into some sort of calamity.

5. What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?

Well, there's this whole apocalypse thing...

6. What is the personal goal of the character?

He gets involved with some less-than-reputable people, and realizes his career is over for doing so. But then the world ends, and he seizes the chance to reinvent himself. My fans will know him as Prumble.

7. Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?

It's called THE DIRE EARTH, a novella that serves as a prelude to my novel THE DARWIN ELEVATOR.

8. When can we expect the book to be published or when was it published?

November 18th!

To continue this blog tour thing, I call out Michael J. Martinez, Teresa Frohock, and Karina Cooper!

Announcing THE DIRE EARTH, a novella

Hey all!

My new novella, THE DIRE EARTH, will be released on November 18th (North America).

Here's the cover:

Set in 2278 against the backdrop of the SUBS outbreak, this tells the stories of how most of the main characters from the DIRE EARTH trilogy found their way to Darwin as the world fell apart.

It's about 125 pages long, and for the time being is an ebook-only release. I'm hoping to hear confirmation of an audio version any day now.

Links to preorder at most major ebook sellers can be found on this Random House page.  Happy reading!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Book vs. Film: "Octopussy and The Living Daylights"

--Part 14 of my James Bond re-read / re-watch--

This short story collection is the final entry in Ian Fleming's James Bond series, comprising four tales: Octopussy, The Living Daylights, The Property of a Lady, and 007 in New York.  It's also the only Bond material of Fleming's to be published posthumously.

I'll cover each in turn:

Tale of a retired British soldier who, at the end of WWII, stole some Nazi gold, murdering a Austrian mountaineer in the process. Bond has come to Jamaica many years later to arrest him for that crime. The man now works for a lab in Jamaica, studying fish along a particular reef. There's one octopus there, whom he's named Pussy, hence the title.
The man is basically waiting to die, his life having lost all meaning for him except these sea creatures whom he's come to know as friends over the last two years.
It's rather poetic, and actually one of my favorite Bond stories despite it mostly being about Major Smith.  I love the backstory of how Smith came to be in the situation he's in, and why Bond is the one who finally tracks him down.
This story was, it turns out, not adopted for film.  That's right, Octopussy the movie is not based on this.  Instead it's based on...

A very short and anti-climactic story, involving a Faberge egg being sold at auction as a way for the KGB to pay one of their moles inside the British Secret Service. Bond points out to M that the mole's handler might be present at the auction trying to force the bidding up, and it's a good chance to spot the elusive man. M agrees, and so Bond goes to the auction... and spots the man. The end. It's a decent story that seems more of an excuse to delve into the shady side of affluent auctions than anything else.
The movie Octopussy is odd as an adaptation.  A large portion of the plot comes, more or less, from the short story The Property of  Lady. Yet it gets its title from the story Octopussy.  The actual details of that story are reduced to background for Bond's love interest of the same name. Background, mind you, delivered via a thirty second long, unnecessary and overly complicated bit of dialog.
Confused? Don't worry, this is one of the least confusing things that happened in the course of adapting these works to the screen.
Octopussy holds a crown of nostalgia for me. It's the first Bond film I ever saw in the theater, at the impressionable age of twelve. I'm trying not to let that cloud my judgement, but I do think that it's Roger Moore's best Bond film. In fact overall it's one of the better Bond films, which is a surprise considering how much it strays from the source material (admittedly there wasn't much to go on).  Still it's not without its laugh-aloud moments, and not in a good way. For example when a Jeep full of bad guys appears literally out of nowhere to give Bond someone to fight during a chase. The worst of the lot is the Tarzan bit, though. I found myself hoping someone lost their job for that.
On the plus side, the plot is pretty good and doesn't feel like a bunch of "wouldn't it be cool if?" scenes strung together by Bond following the first clue he comes across (ahem, Moonraker). Somehow they managed to avoid that here, and Bond even does some real spycraft in the process. When the finale comes, and Bond must defuse a nuclear bomb while being chased by a few hundred police officers, the tension is actually palpable. You know he's going to win even if you haven't seen it before, and yet I still found myself completely caught up in the action.
In other words, Octopussy enjoys some excellent direction. The cinematography is also quite good. A few examples:
A rare thing in the movies - Bond actually spying.

The auction, well staged and filmed. Reminds me a bit of Hitchcock

Excellent lighting here... lots of great shots like this throughout

However, this film would have been even better if the climax had been the moment of the bomb diffusion.  Instead, we go back to India for one last battle, and it's so hokey I found myself cringing with embarrassment for all involved, especially when Bond and Q come floating in via an air balloon designed after the British flag.  No need for subtlety when you're a secret agent, I guess.

Berlin.  A British agent is going to be crossing from East to West, and he's unaware that the KGB has discovered the plan. All the KGB knows is roughly when and where the crossing will occur, so they've posted a sniper team to assassinate the agent as he crosses.  Bond is sent in to snipe the sniper.  He's not really happy at the prospect of a mission that is purely murder, but he's a good solider and takes his orders in stride.
As Bond tales go it's perhaps the one that best captures Cold War espionage in Europe.
The story also encapsulates a trait of Bond that is present throughout the books. Bond, despite his playboy lifestyle and tough talk, is a hopeless romantic. While watching the crossing spot for 3 nights in a row, he's taken by the beauty of a cellist whom he sees walking into a concert hall each night. When she eventually turns out to be the enemy sniper, Bond (who is working as part of a team and thus is under scrutiny) deliberately shoots the girl's hand rather than killing her.
"That girl won’t do any more sniping. Probably lost her left hand. Certainly broke her nerve for that kind of work. Scared the living daylights out of her. In my book, that was enough."
He does this mainly because he's invented sort of a fantasy version of what her life must be like, and fallen for this invented version of her.
Another element of Bond's character is revealed here, and it's one that surfaces in the last 4 books or so of the series. Bond seems to be deliberately seeking a way out of his 00 status, and he states it very clearly here when his partner says the act of mercy will go in the official report. In literary circles, Bond is well known as being an exception to the rule that the main character of a story must have an "arc", a change they go through over the course of the story.  Bond is often cited as an exception to this.  He never changes, they say.  Well, I'm not so sure about that anymore. The change is subtle, but I now feel that, at least in literary form, it's there.
This story is adapted fairly well into an early scene of the movie that bears the same name. The rest of the movie is purely the invention of the filmmakers. It's also Timothy Dalton's first outing as Bond. I actually liked Dalton in the role, compared to Moore at least.  And though his portrayal of Bond doesn't really fit with the one his predecessors built up in moviegoers minds, it is fairly close to the Bond that Fleming writes about. Dalton's romance with the cellist is intimate and often quite sweet, more so than any other Bond.  Perhaps too much so, and I think this has a lot to do with why audiences rejected him.  He may have nailed the sweet side, but he never seems tough enough.

Dalton's Bond is the most romantic

This is a bit anti-climactic, as the last story in the last book of Fleming's work, and that's because I didn't read it.  For some reason it's not included in the audiobook I purchased. "No matter," I thought.  The story also appears in the non-fiction book Thrilling Cities Fleming wrote... but only in the US version. I happen to own the UK version.  So, nothing much to say here other than, from what I can gather, it was never adapted into any of the films and is only remarkable because he's one of the few Bond stories featuring a fair amount of humor.  I'll track it down at some point and update this.

Thus concludes my James Bond re-read and re-watch.  I'll post a conclusion and some final thoughts in a separate article.

To sum up this book and the two films made from the material:

OCTOPUSSY - Contains a reasonably faithful adaptation... of a different story.
THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS - Contains a somewhat faithful adaptation of the story, and also captures some of Bond's romantic side.

Up next: Some final thoughts on this whole endeavor...


Have a look at the Czech cover for Darwinský výtah!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Book vs. Film: "The Man with the Golden Gun"

Or, The Man with the Phallic Phallus.

This, the last of the Bond novels, continues Bond's story from You Only Live Twice. Such continuity is rare in the series, but the last three take this approach.

(spoilers ahead...)

Bond has returned home from Japan via Russia, his amnesia gone only to be replaced by Soviet brainwashing. Bond actually tries to assassinate M, but M outwits him and, still holding out hope for the broken man, sends Bond off for shock treatment.

After successful treatment, M gives Bond a mission of little national security importance to try and see if he's still "got it". So he's sent out to kill an infamous assassin named Paco "Pistols" Scaramanga.  In the book, Scaramanga uses a gold-plated Colt 45, firing bullets with a gold core because they cause more internal damage. He grew up as a trick shot in the circus, then fled after killing a policeman. On the run, he winds up spending most of his time as a killer for the Spang Brothers of Diamonds are Forever fame - basically the Vegas mob. He's a caricature American gangster, and not especially deep as Fleming villains go.  But he does have great sexual prowess.  This point gets made frequently.

After a week of travel without success, Bond winds up finding Scaramanga in Jamaica.  The Caribbean is comfortable ground for Fleming, who lived there. As such it's easy to see why he chose the location.  The movie trades this locale for Southeast Asia -- Thiland and Macau, perhaps to avoid the repetition of returning to Jamaica once again, perhaps because the Cuban situation had changed significantly by the time the film came out (the politics of the region, in the Cold War sense, were very much centered around Cuba at the time the novel was written).

On the topic of Scaramanga: This is one of those occasions where the film improved on the books. Scaramanga is a more interesting character by far in the movie, and comes across as much more of a challenge for Bond to defeat. Unfortunately everything else in the movie is so bad it doesn't really matter.

The plot in the book is rather simple, and relies perhaps more than any other Fleming novel on coincidence. Bond just happens to spot a letter posted for Scaramanga in the airport, detailing where and when the man will have a meeting. Then Bond just happens to bump into Scaramanga at a brothel (Bond is there because he's nostalgic for "old Jamaica" and thinking about buying the place, not realizing what goes on there but not really shocked either). Scaramanga hires bond to be his assistant for this big meeting he's about to have, a trope Fleming also used in Goldfinger (interesting, both "Gold" named books). Felix Leiter just happens to be undercover at the same hotel where the meeting is taking place. And, one of the people coming to the meeting just happens to be a top KGB agent who is out to kill Bond.  They say that readers will forgive an author one coincidence, and Fleming is definitely pushing things well past the limit here.

It's a short, mediocre Bond novel adapted into an awful movie.

Film Scaramanga, purported to be this insanely good assassin, lives on an island China has given him, where he's constructed (in addition to an awesome house) a circus-inspired maze.  With the help of his sadistic personal assistant, Scaramanga lures other famous assassins to this maze and then "hunts them". The quotes there are important because there's nothing sporting about it. I think the point of this was supposed to be that Scaramanga is pitting his skill against potential rivals, purely to see who is better, but this is rendered completely moot by the fact that the opponent has to go through this crazy, over-the-top circus maze.  Scaramanga hides inside, knowing all the secrets, blindspots, and cover points. Then he shoots his opponent when they're at their most confused.  How the hell is that a battle of assassin skills? And really, why bother with all that nonsense?  None of this was in the book, at all. There's a passing mention of Scaramanga learning to shoot as a trick-shot in the circus, but that's it. As it stands, although everything else that happens points to this man being a top, if not thee top, assassin, the maze bit implies he cannot hope to beat his competition without massive external assistance. For me this killed all the other character building going on.

We see this maze in the opening scene and, inside, at the end of the contraption, is a wax model of James Bond -- telling us in bludgeoning-hammer-fashion that Scaramanga's ultimate rival is 007. I suspect at least 90% of viewers figure out in this opening minute that the movie will end with the real James Bond pretending to be the wax model in order to get the upper hand on Scaramanga.  And that is, of course, exactly what happens.
Psychedelic! The kids are into that, right? Right?

The film is one of the weakest in the franchise. A string of concocted situations, loosely connected to one another. Two absolute groaners stand out to me.

  • Bond is captured by his enemy and specifically ordered killed.  They've got him right there, and they have weapons.  How do they go about this execution? A bullet in the back of the head? Strangle him? No, no... what they do is put him up for the night in a sumptuous karate dojo, surrounded by beautiful women who cater to his every whim.  As morning arrives, Bond is treated to watching some of the warriors spar with each other, and then.. of course, Bond is invited to come out and fight their best man.  So that that man can kill Bond.  Because that's a slam dunk.  No possibility Bond will win!  No chance of escape! WAIT, BOND IS A KARATE EXPERT? SHIT! HUH?! HE DOVE THROUGH A PAPER WINDOW AND FLED?! AFTER HIM! WHAT? THE GOOD GUYS WERE WAITING RIGHT OUTSIDE TO PICK HIM UP? THAT LIMEY GENIUS!
  • And then there's the dreaded Sheriff. Perhaps the worst character in all the movies, Sheriff Redneck (I can't be bothered to look up the actual character name, but this tells you all you need to know) from Live and Let Die makes his triumphant return to the silver screen here.  I had forgotten about this fact until he appears--erased it from my mind you might say, and I found myself groaning that he was on screen for 10 seconds to deliver a dumb line. A cameo? Well, okay. I guess I can stomach it.  But then he comes back.  And doesn't leave.  Now he and Bond are in a car together, chasing the enemy.  Working together like some buddy cop duo.  For endless minutes of sheer cringe-inducing antics.  It boggles my mind that someone out there in movieland thought "We need to bring that Sheriff back. And... AND!!!... get him and Bond working together!" Hey guys, for this character, how about less "Live" and more "Let Die"?
Tonight on ABC, another hilarious episode of Bond and the Redneck!

There are plenty of other problems, but they're more forgivable.

One highlight is the gigantic MI6 field office hidden inside the half-sunken wreck of the Queen Elizabeth.  Despite being completely ridiculous as a secret base (I'm well past the point of expecting any actual spycraft to occur in these movies), it's a very cool set.

An entire secret base inside a ship listing at 45 degrees
Also, what is it with the filmmakers and their obsession with having M, Q, and Moneypenny showing up in the field where Bond is working?  It's like the entire secret service support staff travels with him, and yet Bond always seems surprised to stumble upon them.

In summation, what we have this time 'round is a mediocre book adapted (and I use the term loosely) into a forgettable movie.  You can safely put both of these near the bottom of you reading and viewing list.

Book: C-
Film: F+
Faithfulness to the source material: Well he has a gun, and it is gold...

Next up, and the last entry in the series, a short story collection:  Octopussy and The Living Daylights

Friday, September 5, 2014

Blurb Policy

You can safely skip this post unless you're a writer.

I feel bad having to do this, but I've had something of a flood of requests recently and so I think stating an official policy will be useful. I'm shamelessly stealing the basics for this from John Scalzi.

So, my blurb policy is as such:

  • I'm very happy to read stuff with an eye toward blurbing it, especially for debut authors...
  • ...but those requests must come from your editor/publisher or agent, ideally sent to my agent, Sara Megibow. She knows how busy I am, she knows what my deadlines are, and she can also weed out things that might be... inappropriate.

No matter how well you know me, please don't ask me directly. Don't email me your manuscript or send me a printed book in the mail unsolicited.  Send it through your publisher, or your agent, and don't tell me it's coming. If I have time, I'll read. If you don't get a blurb back, don't take it personally. The most likely reason, by far, is simply that I don't have time. That's the honest truth.

This is basically standard etiquette for authors. Read Scalzi's post on the topic if you want more insight from someone who gets truly inundated with this sort of thing daily.

If you're a soon-to-be-published author, your editor will likely ask you at some point for a list of authors you think might be willing to blurb. That's the best time and place to drop my name. My advice? Drop a ton of names. One thing you'll learn very quickly is that you need to use a shotgun approach when it comes to this sort of thing. I sought blurbs from all my favorite authors for DARWIN (asking none directly), and you know what? Not a single one of them came through. I'll admit I took this kind of personally at the time, but now that I'm on the other side of things I can see why that's the wrong reaction. And anyway I still wound up with a slew of great blurbs from amazing authors. You will, too.  So don't fret, don't take it personally, and please don't put me (or any of the authors you love) in the position where we have to tell you that we're not going to blurb, or even that we couldn't clear our schedule to read your book. It's no fun for anyone.

Right then! Back to fun stuff...