Friday, August 22, 2014

Star Wars: The Old Republic: Imperial Agent Storyline review

   I short of fell off of these and I'm sorry for that since I intended to review all of the main character quests but ended up only doing the Sith Inquisitor and Sith Warrior. I actually finished the Imperial Agent awhile back but didn't find time to review it until now. I need to get around to playing the Republic side sometime but I'm troubled by the fact I seem to be definitely on the side of evil in this MMORPG.

    Which is weird because I play Light Side Sith.

    It's like I'm not satisfied being a rebel against tradition, I have to be a double-sized rebel  
    Anywho, is the Imperial Agent storyline worth completing?

    You bet. 

    The Imperial Agent storyline is a strong contrast to the Sith Warrior and Sith Inquisitor's because you're not one of the Sith's ruling class but one of the Empire's citizens. Unlike the Bounty Hunter plotline, where you're wholly out of the power structure, this means you often have to deal with arrogant Dark Side wizards. Thankfully, you're allowed to behave more like Grand Moff Tarkin than Admiral Motti.

For those of you reading this who are not Star Wars trivia nerds, Admiral Motti is the guy Vader force choked in the first movie for disrespecting the Force.
    The premise of the Imperial Agent is you're James Bond (or Jane Bond if you prefer). The smooth-talking, elegant, and hyper-dangerous Cipher Nine is in the employ of one of the few civilian-controlled branches of the Empire's military left. As expected of a group living in a police-state controlled by evil wizards, they're ridiculously paranoid and don't use their real names even when dealing with each other.

    Morale is low in Imperial Intelligence, as to be expected when you're under the command of people who can execute you at will. Despite this, the soldiers of Imperial Intelligence believe the Empire is worth defending and even if most of them don't like the Sith (not that they'd ever admit to it), they carry on in hopes of protecting the Empire's citizenry. I appreciated this viewpoint because it's entirely rationale and reflects a lot of RL dictatorships. The folk at Imperial Intelligence aren't even villains per say but determined to keep the casualties on their side at a minimum.

    Which is hard when so many Sith are so ****ing STUPID (a fact backed up by the Sith Warrior and Sith Inquisitor storylines--those two are, quite possibly, the only two capable Sith Lords in the entire Empire). The Imperial Inquisitor spends a great deal of time cleaning up after the Dark Lords, to the point it becomes an incredible relief when you're finally in a position to start showing the spoon-benders that Muggles can do it better.

The SNARK of the Imperial Inquisitor almost rivals the Sith Inquisitor.
    Interestingly, while the Imperial Agent is quite capable of killing lesser Sith and even Sith Masters, the game makes it clear this is a very rare skill. Likewise, the Sith Inquisitor is required to make use of puzzle elements in order to face against more powerful Dark Lords. I liked this as it helped demonstrate the most dangerous element of the Imperial Agent is their mind. By the end of the main quest, the Imperial Agent will have left a high enough body count that any Sith Lord who doesn't respect them as an equal is a fool

    The romance options for the Imperial Agent are some of the best in the entire game, at least the parts I've played, giving you numerous opportunities to seduce or befriend NPCs in the game. I actually liked my characters flirtatious romance with Watcher-2 (pretty Imperial professional) more than I did with my Companion romance options. Admittedly, one of them is a bit creepy as the "Voss" romance can end horrifically, but otherwise it's easy to say the Imperial Agent is the sexiest guy/girl in the galaxy.

I'm a sucker for a girl in uniform.
    In conclusion, I think the Imperial Agent is one of the more fun storylines I've played in Star Wars: The Old Republic. I think fans aching for something different will find there's a lot to enjoy about being the Sith Empire's clean-up crew. I didn't much care for a plotline involving brainwashing toward the middle but the ending more than makes up for it.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Only Lovers Left Alive review

    I can't believe this one slipped under my radar. Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton as vampires. With John Hurt and the girl who starred in Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland too! Really, I should have been all over this movie from the very beginning. Anyway, kudos to Mrs. Phipps because she's the person who recommended this movie to us.

    So what do I think?

    This is the best vampire movie I've ever seen, or at least one of the best. Which is surprising because this movie actually has no plot whatsoever. It reminds me of my old Vampire: The Masquerade games where the sessions would consist of the player characters sitting around talking for hours rather than doing anything of note. Despite that, this movie is really-really good. I'm not exaggerating.

The casting is perfect. I could buy them as vampires in real-life.
     The premise of the film are Adam and Eve (all-but-stated to not be their real names) are a pair of married vampires who live apart. Adam is a professional rocker who lives in Detroit and has seen said city go from being the music capital of the world to, well, Detroit.

     Eve is a much older vampire who has seen the rise of modern civilization as a blessing rather than a curse. Adam is suicidal, contemplating taking a wooden bullet to the heart, so Eve decides to do an emergency intervention and rush to his side.

    And that's the movie, actually.

    There's a subplot about Eve's sister Ava coming to visit but it's really about the development of these two characters and how they deal with the ennui of immortality. It's a character piece whose subjects just happen to be vampires and I'm impressed with that. Not since Interview with a Vampire have I seen a vampire movie so interested in the concept of what it is to be undead.
    What I really liked was the social commentary of the movie. While I use the term Gothic Punk liberally, this movie does a nice subdued version. Adam is disgusted with the human race's lack of progress, their general stupidity, and their unwillingness to fight for anything beyond their own egos. He's known some of the greatest artists in history and is irritated when they're forgotten or misrepresented (Christopher Marlowe, hilariously played by John Hurt, is representative of this).

Tom Hiddleston oozes charm every moment he's on screen.
    The use of Detroit is perfect for a vampire's home city as it's a city with some of the greatest music history in America but to say it's hit hard times would be an understatement. You can feel Adam's pain as he looks to see the poverty, suffering, and hopelessness of a city he has come to have great sentimental attachment to.

    There's even a minor environmental message as many vampires have died of blood poisoning due to the amount of pollution and other toxins humans have put in their veins. Drinking "straight" from the vein is hazardous to your health now.

    Tilda Swinton's Eve is a great character as she has managed to keep an optimistic view of the world despite living through the Black Death, Crusades, and much-much worse. I liked the film's viewpoint on why she's more successful at immortality than Adam. Adam gets attached to things and can't move on while Eve is always moving around, absorbing new things, and learning. Charles Darwin gets called out during one of their conversations and it's true, evolution is about adaptability.

    The supporting cast for this movie is great with the aforementioned John Hurt and Mia Wasikowska being vampires who add quite a bit to the storyline. There's not that many characters in the movie, five or six total, but they each lend a different perspective on immortality.

Fangs for the memories!
    Ava is a perpetual child, refusing to grow up and yet probably being better adapted to the modern world than Adam. John Hurt's Christopher Marlowe attempts to nurture new genius in the next generation, showing a concern for the world which may one day leave him behind.

    Even the movies props and costuming department tell a story. The vampires lives are reflected in their possessions or lack or possessions. Rather than simply making them obnoxiously rich, though they are, they tend to accumulate things which are emotionally precious to them. Their clothes also reflect where they last stopped caring about their styles with Ava, for instance, being slightly out of date while Adam still dresses like it's the Seventies.

    Hell, I haven't even gotten into how funny the movie is despite its weight subject matter. I laughed aloud at least a dozen times. I won't spoil any jokes but everything from "Soul Dracula" to Ava's bratty teenage-daughterness makes this movie awesome.

    Only Lovers Left Alive is a great-great film. Every vampire fan should see it.


Sunday, August 17, 2014

Interview with C.T. Phipps (Me) on Illustrious Peeps

Fellow author and blogger James Crawford was nice enough to interview me for his website Bloodsoaked and Writing.

He asked me about what it felt like to have six or seven other Charles Phipps in my genre (and why I had to be known as C.T. Phipps instead) and plenty of questions which allowed me to talk about all sorts of nonsense.

Please check it out!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Underworld (2003) review

    Well, this review, like Interview with a Vampire is really-really out of date. However, it's my blog and I'll review what I want to. I may do a review of The Hunger soon and that is a movie every vampire fan should familiarize themselves with. Underworld is not in the same league as either of these two films but it has a lot going for it. There's Kate Beckinsale playing the vampire Black Widow and, um, uh, yeah. Oh, right, Bill Nighy and Michael Sheen are great in these films! The way they chew the scenery has to be seen to be believed.

    Anything else?

    Mmmmm, lemme think.

    Vampires! Werewolves! Fighting each other! There's that too!

    Yeah, the Underworld films are as substantial as a vanilla wafer. I'm going to get around to reviewing them all, probably, but it takes only a single movie to understand them all. Much like their counterparts in the Resident Evil films, they exist for the sole purposes of showing their attractive female lead kicking ass in an outrageous series of situations.

      And you know what? I'm cool with that.

There's a lot of scenes of Selene shooting in this movie.
    The premise of Underworld is there's been a multi-century war ongoing between the vampires and the Lycans (werewolves). Selene (Kate Beckinsale) is a "Death Dealer" and professional hunter of the fuzzy who has, in the pursuit of vengeance for her family, almost exterminated the Lycan race.

    Or so it appears.

    I won't spoil the rest of the movie for you because it's a surprisingly coherent, albeit comic book-y, plot. I don't think anyone really expected anything from this movie other than vampires shooting at werewolves while werewolves try to eat vampires. Keep in mind there's a lot of that but there's also lies, betrayal, mythology, and world-building which go well beyond that. Someone cared about this world enough to create a backstory for it and that's something you don't see too often in vampire movies.

This is basically the movie's atmosphere in a nutshell. Dark and darker.
     Really, the entire thing feels very strongly reminiscent of the Vampire: The Masquerade games I used to run. This isn't surprising given the movie creators were sued by White Wolf due to the similarity of their concepts. They're different enough that I don't think this was plagiarism but I can certainly tell the movie was influenced by the whole "Gothic Punk" mentality which Vampire: The Masquerade codified.

     As mentioned, credit also goes to Bill Nighy's Victor and Michael Sheen's Lucien as the two of them create nuanced multifaceted characters with the ability to ham it up with the best of them. In a very real way, Selene is an intruder on their centuries-long grudge and watching her be forced to deal with it is almost disappointing. Shane Brolly's Kraven is delightfully detestable and I even liked the bit-character of Erika (as played by Moonlight's Sophia Myles).

     The use of Hungary for the movie is an excellent and you get the real sense of the occult living just underneath the Modern World. Well, just underneath and, "everyone ignores the hundreds of gunfights going on around them." It's dark, moody, and brutish with the kind of lighting which reminds me strongly of a Frank Miller comic book (but with female characters who aren't strippers or prostitutes).

     The action is good in Underworld, so is the music, and the atmosphere is delightful. Everyone has the time of their lives in this movie and I think people will enjoy it if they go into it expecting a fun action flick. They will be pleasantly surprised by the slightly-more-in-depth plot than was absolutely necessary.

    Enjoy it for what it is.


Interview with me on Permuted Press' website

Permuted Press was very kind enough to interview me for my upcoming books regarding them. There's not much information here about everything but is more a general "get to know me" regarding my writing.


Thanks to Gabrielle Faust for interviewing me!

What is Cyberpunk?

    When deciding what sort of genre you want to write in, it's important to familiarize yourself with the kind of tropes and expectations of them. One of my favorite subgenres is also one of the most influential and, sadly, one of the ones whose roots have strayed furthest from its original source.

    I, of course, speak of the titular cyberpunk genre. Cyberpunk influences all walks of fiction and even modern-day life but few people identify these elements as specifically from the genre anymore. In a very real way, we are living in a cyberpunk world.

    Science-fiction author Bruce Bethke coined the term cyberpunk for his 1983 short-story,
appropriately titled Cyberpunk. The etymology of the word also indicates just what it is about. Between the late 16th and the 18th centuries, punk was a common, coarse synonym for prostitute. Shakespeare, himself, used it several times and its vulgarity was part of its appeal.

    Punk music, started in the 1970s, was coined as a term for the garage bands of the day that would take on a defiant anti-establishment tone. Cyber is from the word cybernetic, which comes from the Greek adjective κυβερνητικός meaning skilled in steering or governing. Cybernetics is about technology and tools which interface with us humans.

    What does Cyberpunk mean? Bluntly, it means getting ****ed by technology. In its raw essence, cyberpunk is a view of the world which means that technology will not make life better for humanity but only give the oppressor a different means of brutalizing the underclasses. It's not necessarily a technophobic genre, far from it, but it is an unromantic view of technology's power.

    If I may be so bold, the first cyberpunk novel may be R.U.R or Rossam's Universal Robots, a 1920 science fiction play by Karl Cabek depicting the oppression of living machines. The roots of technology not being a beneficent force but an oppressive one also shows up in Metropolis and the writings of Ardus Huxley. Huxley, in particular, gave a stunning view of a predominately clone-society ruled by worship of Henry Ford values of greed and industralization in 1931's Brave New World.

    The modern conception of cyberpunk is something entirely different, however, and owes its popularity to two primary sources: the works of William Gibson and the movie version of Bladerunner. Bladerunner provided the public with the view of a used-up science-fiction future where the majority of work was performed by enslaved Replicants (androids so real they bleed, feel, and age). The majority of people were impoverished, sick, and living in the shadow of corporate ziggarauts which were deliberately modeled after those of ancient Babylon.

    William Gibson's works, particularly Neuromancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive created the idea of a massive sprawling civilization which had exaggerated almost cartoonish values of materialism and addiction to technology. Despite not knowing a thing about computers, William Gibson created the hacker-hero archetype with Chase and predicted the importance of safe data transfer with the protagonist of Johnny Mnemonic.

    Cyberpunk would proceed to become an influence on animation, roleplaying games, fashion, movies, and video games. Amongst my favorite of cyberpunk works include the original Bubblegum Crisis, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Hackers, the Deus Ex games, and The Matrix. While the last straddles the line of cyberpunk and post-cyberpunk, being about a prophesied messianic figure, it still falls in the line of what the genre is all about.

    A lot of fans of the genre love the tropes without actually caring about the meaning. Cyberpunk is one of the first genres to forward style over substance. Fans of the genre often think of mirrorshades, trenchcoats, cybernetics, hacker heroes, ruthless megacorporations, epic poverty, and a general sense of doom brought about by societal collapse. This is all dross, however, for the real heart of the story. Which is man versus machine and society.

    Cyberpunk is unique in that it is very pro-technology but also extremely wary of it. Science and technology abound in cyberpunk fiction, to an almost-fetishsized level, but the number of misuses from it are astounding. On a basic level, cyberpunk fiction must believe that technology will not make the world a better place. The flaw is in the human, rather than the machine, though. If technology solves humanity's problems or makes the world better then it is probably Post-Cyberpunk or simply science-fiction.

    I've mentioned in previous articles the similarity of cyberpunk to Noir fiction. In both settings, the corruption is endemic and irreversible. You may strike against the System, even score a few moral victories, but how much you may actually achieve is questionable. Any salvation the world may achieve is often through the destruction of the old without explaining what will come thereafter.

    Some cyberpunk works actually allow the machine to collapse thanks to the efforts of the protagonist, even if this usually comes with some form of cost. There is a strong anarchist sentiment to cyberpunk and it's not so much the protagonists have a better idea for how to run the world than anything would be better than the status quo. Even so, the protagonists may or may not believe in the positive ends they work toward.

    The movie version of Johnny Mnemonic has Johnny struggle against his own extreme selfishness versus a larger social good. Despite the near-apocalyptic nature of the threat, Johnny has to be dragged kicking and screaming toward any positive end.

    Because of the Noir sensibility, cyberpunk heroes tend to be loners and rebels. The flaws of these individuals are as intricate to realizing the setting as their merits. Decker, the protagonist of Bladerunner, is an individual who hunts Replicants for a living despite their apparent humanity. Case in Neuromancer is addicted, physically, to the internet.

    To live in the general dystopian worlds of cyberpunk and come away unphased will feel inauthentic to all but the most deft of writing. Genuinely noble souls, like Robocop's Alex Murphy, are often chewed up and spit out by the world--forcing them to rebel because society won't allow them to be good.

    The villains of cyberpunk are typically part of the establishment. They need not be actively malevolent but enforce a status quo which oppresses and dehumanizes. Corporations are a favorite villain in the medium, representing the unchecked growth of greed and profit better than almost any other group. They are not the only sort of villains which can serve as cyberpunk foes, however. Corrupt governments, organized crime, and even mad scientists are all viable enemies for cyberpunk stories.

    Paul Verhoven's Robocop created one of the most perfect cyberpunk villains in the despicable megacorporation Omni Consumer Products (OCP). Omni Consumer Products destroys the life of noble police officer Alex Murphy, feeds off the misery of Detroit's population like a parasite, and ruins more lives via its business policies than "normal" criminals could ever hope to match.

    OCP's not an uber-efficient evil empire, though, but a bloated fat dragon whose members are so obsessed with their bottom line they're actually incompetent. OCP does as much damage through cost-cutting as they do through any plans which work. This is embodied by the robot ED-209, which is at once highly dangerous and pathetic. The cool efficiency of many science-fiction villains is absent from cyberpunk as not even the cause of evil is immune to the slow decay of the world.

    So what is the appeal of cyberpunk? In a very real way, it is the allure of raging against the machine. An individual may not be able to make the world a better place but he might be able to strike against the oppressor. Everyone loves a rebel and cyberpunk is an excellent way to exaggerate existing trends before sending your protagonists against them.

    As long as there is something wrong with society and technology hasn't fixed all of our problems, there will always be room for cyberpunk.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

A short story of mine has been released

I thought I'd give people a head's up that one of my short-stories is now available for purchase as part of an anthology. Available in ebook and POD format is Monster Hunter: Blood Trails, a short-story collection of humans hunting the creepie and crawlie.

Available for Order Here

The hunter spreads a hind inside the beast's track, shocked by the sheer enormity of the thing. Dusk settles through the forest but there is just enough light to make out the tiny red droplets along the edge of the print. An hour ago it had been a steady flow. The trail leads down into a valley the sun has already given up to shadow, and the moon won't be up for hours. Under any other circumstances it would be wise to wait for the moonlight, but the warm trickle of the hunter's own blood has not stopped and there is no time to wait. 

The hunt is on. BLOOD TRAILS marks the 4th volume in the Legends of the Monster Hunter series and welcomes 24 brand new stories to the family. Fans of LEATHER, DENIM & SILVER, THE TRIGGER REFLEX and USE ENOUGH GUN will be well pleased with these tales and newcomers to the series will be very glad to discover it.

 My story, Crusade of Blood is about a group of Hashishin (Assassins) in Acre during the reign of Saladin investigating a series of vampiric murders amongst the city's Jewish population. I hope you enjoy it if you check it out.