Acapulcolypse, and more in NIGHTFALLS: Notes from the End of the World

Katherine Tomlinson’s new anthology, NIGHTFALLS: Notes from the End of the World  is now available from Dark Valentine Press. It includes my story “ACAPULCOLYPSE,” about a nebbish mass murderer with biological weapons on a cruise ship set to view the world’s final solar eclipse. It’s a comedy.

plus stories of armageddon from Patti Nase Abbott, Nigel Bird, Col Bury, Chris Rhatigan, Matthew C Funk, Richard Godwin, Sandra Seamans, Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw, AJ Hayes, Allan Leverone, Jimmy Callaway and more.

If you read it before 12/21/12, you can say “I’ve got Mayan, where’s yours?” and be all smug before the sky bursts into flame.

nightfalls cover

Night falls out of the gutter…

First, Ryan Sayles interviewed me for Out of the Gutter. He has a column there called The Noir Affliction. Ryan is a very funny guy, though I had to throw him around a bit, and he took a few shots at me. Probably the most entertaining interview I’ve done in a while. He asks me to define noir, and I turn into the Hulk.

Read it at The Noir Affliction.

Secondly, I’m very proud to be in Katherine Tomlinson’s NIGHTFALLS anthology, out soon from Dark Valentine Press. The last day on Earth… how would you spend it? If you’re Terence Nightingale, star of my story “Acapulcolypse,” you want to take out as many human beings as possible on your own, which is a real bother when you faint at the sight of blood. The anthology benefits Para los Niños, an organization in Los Angeles that helps at-risk kids and their parents succeed in education and in life, and contains 28 more tales from the likes of Matthew Funk, Sandra Seamans, Allan Leverone, Nigel Bird, Chris Rhatigan, Col Bury, Christopher Grant, Patricia Abbott, Jimmy Callaway and Veronica Marie-Lewis Shaw.




Prepare to be Stupefied

I have a li’l shorty in the excellent new issue of Stupefying Stories, a speculative fiction magazine edited by Bruce Bethke. The best review I’ve read of it is by Wag the Fox: “You can no longer say they don’t write ’em like that anymore,” and I’m proud to be a part of it.

You can buy it for Kindle here:

Stupefying Stories: Mid-October 2012

I also have a poem in Gerald So’s anthology,  The 5-2: Crime Poetry Weekly, Vol. 1 which is now available on Kindle, collecting one year of crime and noir poems from The 5-2.


Review: The Beasts of Valhalla

An enjoyable novel that goes from murder mystery to James Bond film. The lead character is interesting, an ex-circus dwarf turned criminologist, karate expert, and private investigator. He has little trouble with anything a dwarf deals with on a daily basis. I can suspend my disbelief for mad scientist shenanigans, but can a dwarf drive an unmodified car? Petty, I know, but this is the main character we’re talking about. I forgot he was a dwarf, and it felt like the author did, too. It’s a good rollicking story, but left me feeling rushed and like much had been forgotten. The first act is excellent, but once the huge conspiracy unfolds, it becomes a very different story, more plot driven than character driven, and while we meet some very interesting characters, they are mere kindling for to keep the steam boiler running. One major helper simply disappears.

I’ll admit, I read this as I am tying my own novel together and digging out problems at the root, so I was quite critical with this one. For a quick fun read, it works. I was expecting a lot more, and left disappointed. I am told this book was a turning point for the series, and I will go back to see if it had a more emotional foundation in the earlier books.

© 2012 Thomas Pluck
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Cowboys & Aliens

Had a great time with this summer excitainment. Like Jon Favreau’s Iron Man movies, it’s light and enjoyable, just enough tongue in cheek. He makes a traditional western first, and a science fiction blockbuster second, and that is why it works.

He also gives us characters. Jake Lonergan and the Colonel aren’t always likable. Taking a hint from his pal Vince Vaughn in Swingers, he has always given us characters we’re not sure we like in the beginning. Now, they’re not on par with Downey’s over the top Stark, but they fit the Western archetypes and flesh them out. I’d watch this movie if no aliens were involved. He peoples his cast with colorful character actors, like Clancy Brown’s preacher and Sam Rockwell’s Doc. Who’s a bartender. The women get a little short shrift, except for Olivia Wilde’s character, and she’s too mysterious to have much substance. But it works, and once the aliens show up we care what happens to these people.

It’s funny how Westerns come and go. We haven’t had a real resurgence, just a few here and there. I’d like to see more. Japan still mines their samurai era past, but we’ve left ours behind our myths. We are uncomfortable destroying them.

3/4 – Worthy

© 2011 Thomas Pluck

Avatar: Nature Trail to Hell… in 3-D

I’ve always liked James Cameron’s films. Even Titanic. But the commercials for his newest epic, Avatar, did not grab me. The aliens had a hint of the uncanny valley effect, due to their wide leonine noses, and the theme seemed indistinct. But after Roger Ebert- that 3-D and CG hater, gave it four stars, I decided to trust that James didn’t get nitrogen narcosis from those underwater movies he’s been making, and got tickets to a 3-D show at a real IMAX theater- not one of the many “a li’l bit bigger” IMAX screens in regular theaters that seem to be diluting the brand. I got ripped off at the AMC 25 Empire in NYC seeing The Dark Knight on a screen that didn’t wow me, and I didn’t want to get a bad impression with this film, that is supposedly set to change how we think about 3-D.
The movie starts with no credits and you’re immediately thrust into the 3-D jungle planet of Pandora, as Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) gives us a little history about the planet, who he is, and why he’s there. He’s a Marine who lost the use of his legs, but is being shipped out to replace his identical twin brother. The planet is so hostile that we explore it by mental link to genetically grown avatars of the local Na’vi people, 12 foot tall azure warriors who resemble Comanche meet the Maasai, and who don’t trust us, because we only want their planet for the resources. They have good instincts. Cameron gives us a bleak corporate future we’ll remember from Aliens; it’s 2134 and Jake is a paraplegic? Sure there’s a cure, he just can’t afford it on Veteran’s benefits. Sound familiar?
Earth’s presence on Pandora is corporate; led by Parker (Giovanni Ribisi), they seek an antigravity mineral called unobtainium, a reference to an old Duck Dodgers cartoon that tells us it’s a MacGuffin, it doesn’t matter; they just have something we want. Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver, looking as good as ever) is the science contingent, studying the Na’vi people and the planet’s complex ecology. And Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang, the bad-ass sheriff from Public Enemies) is the military arm, “defending” the construction workers as they drive huge earth movers through the Na’vi homeland. When Jake shows up, he’s meant to help repair the relationship with the Na’vi. But of course, Parker and Quaritch have deadlines to meet.
The story isn’t that complex and if you know Cameron and Screenwriting 101, it is a little bit predictable; but the richness of the world and the director’s experience in endearing characters to us through simply observing them make it remain an exciting adventure. The world of Pandora is dangerous and bizarre, and the Na’vi aren’t just “close to nature,” they’re still a part of it. They aren’t a simple allegory for American Indians, they are their own indigenous people. Their biology lets them bond with their horse-like mounts and flying dragon-like beasts without relying on hackneyed telepathy. It’s clever and thrilling, something we haven’t seen before.
Jake meets a Na’vi woman named Neytiri (Zoe Saldana, Star Trek) on a mission and after proving himself against Pandora’s host of hostile wildlife, he is introduced to the tribal elders- played by Wes Studi and CCH Pounder without stereotype. He gets an exclusive access to their culture and trains to be one of them, or at least his Na’vi avatar does. And he begins to see as they do. Through purely human means. It’s been a science fiction convention that “mind melds” and what not are what changes us, but the morality is so black and white that Jake sees it on his own. I liked that.
Of course, there will be a final battle between the people of the jungle and the military, with their mecha power-suits and twin-rotor gunships. We expect nothing less. And we do not get a silly battle as in The Phantom Menace; it is brutal, and no brilliant guerrilla tactics are going to give the Na’vi a sort of Ewok invulnerability. But seeing the blue warriors ride their bat-winged saurian mounts against gunships, and fire arrows the size of spears was exhilarating. Soldiers in powersuits with bayonets the size of chainsaws in melee with huge, agile aliens had a grin plastered on my face. And since it’s Cameron, you always know what is going on in the battle and aren’t given shaky-cam headaches.
But there is more to this than an action film. I loved the richness of Pandora, the bizarre ecology down to the phosphorescent fungi and tiny floating jellyfish. It’s well planned and not a mish-mash of cool creatures. Some seem reptilian, others mammalian, and they have gills of a sort to filter the atmosphere that kills humans in minutes. There’s so much to see that Cameron had to use depth of field and objective focus to show us what to look at; apparently some are getting headaches from tryig to focus on what’s not in the field. Since he’s not throwing rocks and spears at us non-stop to show off the 3-D, try to relax and focus on what’s obvious. Then everything settles and you see the depth in the screen. One excellent example comes early, when Jake awakes from cryo-sleep in the zero gravity of a spaceship. We’ve seen zero gravity before, but it looks so real in 3-D. The detail of the CG is so crisp that not once did I balk. Beowulf it ain’t. The textures are amazing. This one lives up to the hype.

Five 3-D blue boobies out of 5
(and yes, it was really funny seeing Michelle Rodriguez run in a t-shirt in 3-D. Thanks, Mr. Cameron!)

80’s Trash of the Week: The Hidden

The Hidden had to have influenced Rockstar Games to create Grand Theft Auto. The movie opens with a model citizen shooting up a bank, hopping into a Ferrari and leading the cops on a destructive chase across Los Angeles that ends with him smashing through a roadblock only to be gunned down and set on fire by his own exploding car. Then in the hospital, he gets a new life and wakes up with no guns, and sets out to wreak more havoc. In another body of course…
Grizzled L.A. cop Tom Beck (soap opera vet Michael Nouri) pumps the final bullets into the maniac, and follows to the hospital later. But the Feds- represented by a Porsche-driving Kyle MacLachlan as the oddly quiet Agent Lloyd Gallagher- step in, and while Beck at first bristles at this intrusion, he learns to like his partner’s unorthodox style, and habit of driving a Porsche at high speeds through L.A. We find out what “the hidden” is almost immediately, as our mortally wounded bad guy grabs the patient in the bed next to him and pukes up a squealing black space slug into his mouth. Ew.
I came upon this lost gem through Dreamin Demon and while I may snicker at the comparisons to The Terminator (full review), this is one surprisingly good B movie that outshines many of the bigger flicks of its era. You’ve got to hand it to William Boyett- veteran of trash such as Space Raiders– for equaling Vincent D’Onofrio’s turn in Men in Black at portraying an alien using a human body like a cheap Halloween costume. He really looks like he’s controlled by a space slug in his abdomen. And the best part about this slug is that it loves Ferraris, guns, strippers and booze.
Like a long episode of Outer Limits, they have to keep chasing down the host creature but can’t manage to kill the Hidden creature within before it can find another body. The most memorable scene is probably after it invades one of the strippers from a nightclub, and she whips out a streetsweeper shotgun to pepper the cop cars with buckshot. I remember seeing that in the trailer, and several times on HBO before I got to see this movie. And while the acting is relatively hilarious, and the direction by Jack “Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Homoerotic College Years” Sholder is uninspired, The Hidden has many charms that make it fun to watch. Kyle MacLachlan brings a bemused aloofness to his role as alien hunter, and even movies like Crank don’t rise to the level of a good run of mayhem in Vice City that this managed 22 years ago. Written by Jim Kouf- who’d pen The Boogens, Stakeout, and Rush Hour– it clunks along but has an interesting premise of alien possession and never takes itself too seriously.
Claudia Christian was a real hottie in this one, and got to have some fun as well. The alien is amused by her body and before Kristiana Loken’s Terminator-X inflated its chest, it realized the power of the human boobies.
“When a flamethrower appears in the first act, it must go off by the second act.” -Anton Chekhov.

All 68 entries in our ongoing series of 80’s Trash of the Week are here.

Beers Required to Enjoy: 1
Could it be remade today? It needs to be.
Quotability Rating: Low
Cheese Factor: High. Arcturian goat cheese
High Points: MacLachlan, shootouts and chases, FIRE!
Low Point: Slow
Gratuitous Boobies: Claudia Christian in hot clothes.