Friday, September 4, 2015

The Fantasy, Dark Fantasy, and Grimdark: The Underbelly of Dreams, Part II

The second part of my essay discussing the difference between Fantasy, Dark Fantasy, and Grimdark.

The essay is a bit rough in places due to italicization issues but I think it's really-really fun and well-written. I mean, hey, I wrote it after all.


Check it out here.

Round Table Discussion on Grimdark with James R. Schmidt

I had a good discussion with James R. Schmidt on his blog about the subject of grimdark and its various manifestations. We jokingly called this our "Round Table" discussion of the a subject and got to tackle the idea of grimdark as a subject, what it means to the genre of fantasy, and whether it's here to stay or not.

Good stuff.

You can read the article here.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

C.T. Phipps' Writing Projects for 2015/2016

Hey guys,

    I thought I would give you an update upon what I've been working on, writing wise. It's been awhile since I've done one of these posts and I figure it'd be great to give people a sense of what my current projects are.

    Sales-wise, I'm very happy about what we've been doing for The Rules of Supervillainy and Esoterrorism. Esoterrorism's sales have been strong and are well on their way to reaching their year-end goal. No news yet on whether or not we're going to be doing an audio book version of Esoterrorism but I'll be sure to keep you guys posted on the subject. The Rules of Supervillainy, however, is a runaway success story and has not only reached its year-end-sales goal but has actually managed to quadruple it.

    Yes, quadruple.

    Amber Cove Publishing is very happy with its progress and we're already working on an audio book adaptation release for Sping of 2016.

    Better still, The Games of Supervillainy, sequel to Rules, is going to be released at the end of October 2015. This will continue the adventures of Gary Karkofsky as he attempts to find his missing wife Mandy in the now-zombie-ridden Falconcrest City. Move over, Ex-Heroes, there's a new undead-slaying super and his crew in in town!

     The Games of Supervillainy won't be the end of the Supervillainy Saga, however. Indeed, for 2016, we have books 3# and 4# prepped for the series: The Secrets of Supervillainy and The Science of Supervillainy. The plots of these are under wraps for the time being but will follow Gary on his strangest mission yet: helping the good guys! *shudder*

    Esoterroism is getting its sequel set for March of 2016 with Eldritch Ops. Eldritch Ops. picks up with Derek Hawthorne having been promoted to a member of the Committee and absolutely HATING it. Suited for field-work rather than membership in an international conspiracy's ruling council, he's put on point for preventing a war between the House and the Vampire Nation. This is complicated by the fact Derek's partner, Christopher Han, was murdered by vampires and turns out to be the monster Derek's been sent to negotiate with. Can Derek prevent a war with the undead? Will he want to? And what's this about a House within the House? Could it be our anti-hero has been working for BAD GUYS the entire time?

    Well, duh.

    Ragnarok Publications has more faith in me than just the Red Room series, which I think will close out with a trilogy, though. They've agreed to publish not only the first novel of my Wraith Knight series, appropriately titled Wraith Knight but its sequel, Wraith Lord, next year as well.

    Wraith Knight follows the adventures of Jacob Riverson, a once-great hero who finds himself awakening after two-hundred years of slavery as the undead spectral servant to the now-deceased King Below. Awakening to a new world where heroes and villains used to be clear-cut but are now  more ambiguous, he allies with an idealistic young warrior woman to achieve some form of redemption. But can a physical ghost find salvation? Does such a thing even exist?

    This isn't the end of my projects, though, as I've also got a sudden burst of inspiration to do my sci-fi spy series Agent G. Inspired by Total Recall and the Transporter movies, G is an agent for the mysterious Society. Having had his memories erased, he owes the organization ten years of faithful service as an assassin in order to get them back. Taking place in the modern day, it is a world which is infinitely stranger than we ever gave it credit for as dueling cabals wield unimaginable technology.

    In the first novel, Infiltrator, G not only has to deal with a collection of colorful killers armed with the same advanced technology as the Society but also rescue or terminate a man who might be his father.

    Just a normal day at the office.

     Short-stories wise, I'm going to continue to donate my efforts to the At Hell's Gates anthologies, which I heartily recommend to any and all horror fans. These books donate all their proceeds to the United Fallen Heroes fund and contain some of the best writing by independent horror novelists you'll find today. The books are filled with writing from such budding luminaries as Devan Sagliani, Shana Festa, Tim Marquitz, and others. You can read more about these wonderful books here.

    Tim Marquitz and Joe Martin, as if they weren't awesome enough, have also been kind enough to invite me to join their Humanity 2.0 project. This is a shared superhero universe in the style of Marvel and DC comics which will publish a series of anthologies where humanity has been empowered by alien tampering. I'll be posting a novella called Freelancer in Emergence. I can't tell you much more than that but I'm really excited about working on this. You can read more about this particular project here.

     In addition to all of these projects, I'll also be continue to post here at the United Federation of Charles and do my best to review the best (and worst) in video games as well as independent fiction.

    I hope you'll check out my stuff!

The Bookie Monster Spotlights Rules of Supervillainy

The Bookie Monster, one of my favorite review sites on the internet, has done me a delightful favor of spotlighting The Rules of Supervillainy. It has an excerpt from the first chapter which, hopefully, will give some undecided readers an idea of what they'll find within the work.

Gary Karkofsky is an ordinary guy with an ordinary life living in an extraordinary world. Supervillains, heroes, and monsters are a common part of the world he inhabits. Yet, after the death of his hometown's resident superhero, he gains the amazing gift of the late champion's magical cloak. Deciding he prefers to be rich rather than good, Gary embarks on a career as Merciless: The Supervillain Without MercyTM.

But is he evil enough to be a villain in America's most crime-ridden city?

Gary soon finds himself surrounded by a host of the worst of Falconcrest City's toughest criminals. Supported by his long-suffering wife, his ex-girlfriend turned professional henchwoman, and a has-been evil mastermind, Gary may end up being not the hero they want but the villain they need.

This is one of my favorite works and one which has proven very popular with fans. If you love superheroes, give it a try.

Purchase a copy today

Friday, August 28, 2015

Demon Squad: Aftermath review

    The ninth of Tim Marquitz's Demon Squad novels, Aftermath has a hefty task ahead of itself as it not only has to re-establish its lead character after the traumatic events of the last three books but rock the foundations of the setting by moving from a Judaeo-Christian worldview to a more all-encompassing mythology involving the deities of multiple pantheons.

    For those who don't know anything about the series, Demon Squad follows the adventures of Frank Trigg, the Devil's Nephew (later revealed to be his son) as he works with an organization called DRAC to fight the supernatural after God and the Devil leave the world. The series straddle the line between urban fantasy and epic fantasy given one day Frank might be fighting demons in his hometown in one book only to be trapped in an Edgar Rice Burroughs Barsoom-inspired dimension another.

    The book opens with Frank on a three-month-long bender of alcohol and hard drugs designed to numb himself silly after the murder of his love interest. Frank has descended into a self-hating funk not only because he can't resurrect Karra from the dead but because he wrecked a horrifying vengeance on her killers which would make Saw's Jigsaw proud.

    Abandoning his daughter with his angelic cousin Scarlett, Frank knows he's being both a horrible father as well as person in general but can't help himself. Tim Marquitz captures Frank's emotions extremely well while maintaining the character's trademark wit. I really think it's some of Tim's best writing and I think he's outdone himself writing it.

    Then someone nukes the hick town Frank's staying in.

    Aftermath seems to be a novel designed as a "jumping on" point for new readers in much the same way comic books frequently make it possible for new readers to catch up despite ages of continuity porn. This is an odd choice for a novel but one I don't think is a bad idea in today's digitized world. Aftermath re-introduces the cast to Tim Marquitz's world, re-establishes their relationships, and gives a self-contained plot which broadens the scope of the world significantly.

    The biggest change Aftermath produces, with no spoilers as this is revealed in the opening chapters, is the introduction of other cosmologies than the Judaeo-Christian one. God, it turns out, is just one of many gods which have been there all along. The Demon Squad Yahweh has always been morally ambiguous in the series but shifts over to outright villainous when we find out he's stolen the world from the other pantheons.
    Speaking as a religious person, I don't mind this as I'm able to separate my real-world beliefs from my fiction. Other individuals may prove to be bothered by this change but since Demon Squad was always a series drawing heavy inspiration from the Hellblazer comic, this doesn't come as a huge surprise to me. It also provides Frank with potentially hundreds of opponents ranging from Surtur to the Aztec pantheon.

    I also liked the depiction of what the mortals have been up to in the past situation. With the many cosmological fights against gods and demigods, they've been often left behind. Discovering what the government, DRAC, and other groups have been doing to fight the many supernatural threats unleashed in the wake of Frank's actions. While I will always hate the character of Shaw, she's one of the few characters who can stand up to Frank as an antagonist while remaining alive. She's deliciously hateable.

    In conclusion, Aftermath is an awesome book. If you want to see the series at its best, you should pick this book up. Its got snark, humor, drama, anger, angst, despair, and world-building all combined together.


Hitman (2007) review

    Having reviewed Hitman: Agent 47 very positively here, I decided to check out the original movie starring Timothy Olyphant. I was a big fan of Justified and while I think he's a peculiar choice for the role of 47, I knew he had the acting chops to pull off a complicated role. On the other hand, Hollywood has a very mixed record with video game movies due to their inability to capture the sense of over-the-top silliness with epic drama that most popular franchises run on.

    So, what is Hitman like? Eh, it's a decent movie but it feels less like a Hitman movie and more like a movie about a hitman. This is a film which feels strongly like it was the script for another movie which was re-tooled and 47 added to replace the lead. This isn't a deal-breaker as the Hitman franchise is grounded enough that this isn't as noticeable as it might be in, say, Super Mario Brothers.

The troops from Jin-Roh shows up at one point. I kid you not.
    The story begins with 47 (Timothy Olyphant) being hired to kill the President of Russia. After successfully completing his mission, he discovers that his target has seemingly returned from the dead. Worse, the Agency (called "The Organization" here) has taken a contract on their best agent's life.

    Running from the FSB (formerly known as the KGB), Interpol, and the Organization, 47 seeks out the other target of the manhunt in a young woman named Nika (Olga Kurylenko). Nika is the mistress and sex slave of the late President who is one of the few people who would know the secret of the seemingly-resurrected President. Bonding with her almost against his will, 47 decides the only way to deal with his situation is to take the fight to his hunters.

    Plot-wise, there's precious little to complain about as everything more or less makes sense. The movie's biggest flaw is it only takes a little thinking to realize, while it all hangs together, it's also thoroughly unnecessary. 47 is being targeted by the villains because he "knows too much" and might reveal the truth to the public. Yet, 47 has killed over a hundred people for various governments and the Agency has a reputation for thorough discretion. There's no reason to kill 47 to cover up loose ends, which, of course, unravels their complicated plot. The same can be said of Nika as there's no way a the late Russian President's abused prisoner is going to be a reliable source of information.

He has two guns, his enemies have eight. They don't shoot.
    Olyphant's 47 is very close to the character in the games with his asexuality, professionalism, and deadly efficiency. The 47 in this movie is highly intelligent and defeats the majority of his opponents not by being more badass, though he is, but because he's smarter than them.

    Unfortunately, Olyphant's 47 is a little too brutal. It's not that he's not a professional killer and utterly ruthless but the bullying, threats to families, and overt cruelty seems unlike the character from the games. 47 is a murderer-for-hire but not someone I consider to be a sadistic in his actions. Rather, he's more like a living machine.

    Olga Kurylenko's Nika is a tragic character and one I would have bought 47 bonding with if he'd been a little softer. I did, however, buy the character bonding with him. Having been tortured and abused for years, she's psychologically dependent on people. 47 being the first person not to sexually abuse or torture her, despite how close he comes, is enough for her to swiftly fall in love with him despite 47 having no interest in such things. I like the fact 47 is confused why he doesn't kill her as he doesn't have enough experience with emotions to understand he's feeling sympathy for her plight.

Olga Kurylenko is gorgeous in the movie. No surprise there.
    This is one of the rare occasions when nudity is actually important to the story and, for this reason, I recommend viewers pick up the Unrated version of the film versus the theatrical cut. Olga's nude scenes as Nika help establish her vulnerability under the dead President's power as well as her returning sexual desire as she starts to fall for 47. The fact some still-human part of 47 desires Nika even as it's been brutally suppressed is handled well in this film and isn't as strong without the parts where she's undressed. Surprising but true.

    The action in the movie is pretty good but nothing exceptional. The best parts aren't when 47 is shooting things but when we get to see his Jason Bourne-like ability to think his way out of situations. 47 hides guns in an ice machine, for example, so he has access to them if he's forced out of his room. Likewise, he comes up with a number of complicated plans to force his enemies out of hiding like delivering their brother to them for a bounty or killing a (criminal) family member so they're forced to attend the funeral. These are very true to the games and some of the best parts of the movie.

There's a sword-fight for no reason at one point.
    The supporting cast is nothing exceptional but I think Olyphant and Kurylenko are capable of handling the movie on their own. Really, I would have eliminated the Interpol agent from the story as he contributes very little despite his large role and given more room for Kurylenko's character to shine. While 47 and Nika's relationship isn't sexual, despite how much she wants it to be, it's an interesting relationship and I would have liked to have seen more of it.

    In conclusion, there's nothing wrong with Hitman but I can't help but think it's above-average rather than great. The film would have been far stronger if there had been more focus on Nika and 47 rather than the politics involving Russia's president. I also think killing the "real" President who kept Nika as a slave was a mistake since it would have made the confrontation between him and 47 all the more interesting. Here, fundamentally, is the same sort of man who enslaved 47 and treats people as objects. Instead, he's just the guy who sent some assassins after 47 and Nika, which is a far less interesting motivation. While this is a more technically proficient film with a stronger story, I tend to think Hitman: Agent 47 is the more enjoyable of the two films.


Thursday, August 27, 2015

Hitman: Absolution review

    I don't have much experience with the Hitman series. I knew the iconic character from cultural osmosis but never played any of his games. I decided to give them a try after the enjoyable Hitman: Agent 47, though. I was so enthusiastic, I actually moved my Xbox 360 back into the bedroom to play Hitman: Absolution and the remastered versions of the three games preceding it.

    So what did I think of Absolution (which I played first)?

    It's a really-really fun game.

    Great even.
The gritty noir feel of the game is one of its best qualities.

    The premise of the game is Agent 47, the bald-headed, barcode-sporting protagonist of the games has been assigned to kill his former handler Diana. Diana is as close to a human connection as 47 possesses left in this world, especially after the events of Silent Assassin, and his arguable only friend.

    Despite this, he still chooses to carry out the mission and terminate her life. It's only as she lays dying that 47 discovers why she betrayed their agency (called "The Agency") and brought about her death: a young girl named Victoria has been created via genetic engineering and is destined to become a super-assassin like 47.

    Hating what he's become and unwilling to see an innocent condemned the same fate, 47 kidnaps the girl and takes up the newly-deceased Diana's role in protecting her. Unfortunately, a corrupt redneck arms dealer and the Agency aren't about to let something so valuable as Victoria slip through their fingers.

    So 47 has to kill everyone after her.

The game is Mature rated and earned its rating.

    As plots go, it's not exactly The Last of Us but it works well given the character's history and established personality. 47 is never warm and cuddly but you believe it when he goes Papa Wolf on the various bad guys who want to control Victoria. His subdued emotions are contrasted strongly with his absolute fury expressed in several scenes. This is, after all, one of the few times he's killing for himself rather than as part of a contract. I am very-very pleased, with the storytelling.

    The characters in the game and storytelling are set up in a gritty, Tarantino-esque, exploitation film sort of way. Agent 47 is the ultimate badass protecting the pure and virginal Victoria as well as nuns from the deviant villains. There's a lot of interesting sexual imagery spread throughout the game which is interesting given Agent 47's asexuality.

    The owner of a local strip club is a serial killer, a psycho henchman makes constant sexual jokes, the misguided mentally stunted Lenny is bullied constantly for his lack of manliness, the Saints are assassin stripper-nuns (seriously), and villain Blake Dexter is a greasy Southerner embodying every toxic trope of masculinity which exists. Hell, Blake's bodyguard is obviously a steroid-ed up Danny Trejo.

    The game takes you from the grimy streets of Chicago with its poverty, ruined buildings, and sleazy strip clubs to the deserts of the West. From there, you'll deal with hick gunshop owners, greasers who are much more dangerous than they seem, and bars where fighting is a national pastime. There's Chinatown during New Years, creepy motels, factories, and other wonderful settings for killing people.

Every level is beautiful and full of character.
    One flaw of the game is there's two very different kinds of levels. The first kind of level is the sandbox level where there's a target or a few targets which 47 has to kill. You can kill these any way you want and there's usually several methods to do so. You can garrote them, shoot them, arrange suspicious accidents, or kill them with sniper rifles.

    You can also lay traps for them like where I arranged for the car alarm on an expensive vehicle to go off in order to lure its owner to it, then shot him in the face. These levels are, by and large, a lot of fun. They have a high level of replayability and are never so large you don't want to devote extra time to doing so.

    The second kind of level is a more traditional linear pathway where there's guards looking for 47 and you have a straight line to get past them. These kind of levels are more akin to Max Payne than Deux Ex and aren't as much fun: even if they're still fun. I just wish I'd been given more options for dealing with the situations I faced.

Admittedly, some elements of the game are ridiculous.

    One thing I'm rather leery of the fact is disguises are rather worthless. There's almost no point to disguising yourself as a police officer since they can see through police officer disguises. On the other hand, there's nothing more awesome than finding a disguise which fools police and then just walking around them to do whatever skullduggery you want.

    But yeah, still very-very fun.

    In conclusion, Hitman: Absolution is a great game. It's a hard R-rated game which has some problematic sexual elements but given this is about a amoral hitman with severe issues, it's not one I'm going to criticize heavily. I really hoping they make this game backwards compatible with the Xbox One.