With the rise in the last several years of movies and books with dystopian or post-apocalyptic themes, the reporting media (as usual) does not take a careful look at the particular connotation behind these two terms.

Rule #1:  ‘Dystopia’ and ‘Post-apocalyptic’ are NOT synonymous.

‘Dystopia’ refers to the community or society.  ‘Post-Apocalypse’ refers to the milieu, setting, and is essentially a world-building term, of the locale after the Apocalypse.

The latest dystopian work to reach the masses, The Hunger Games, contains both dystopian elements and post-apocalyptic, but the latter only in a superficial and lazy way (never truly defined).  Mostly, it bases its storytelling on the interaction of the people within this society to ‘current’ events.

Rule #2:  Apocalyptic events often create Dystopias.

The society Panem from The Hunger Games could just as well have arisen from modern politics without the intervention of some apocalypse, in that the series of laws created eventually funneled the society into the state where it happens to be at the time of the novels, when the sheeple have given up their power to the government.  (Another aside: note that they tried once and failed, and gave up after that.  If they allow themselves to be so easily trod upon, then they deserve the government they got.)

Rule #3: Dystopias can beget a man-made Apocalypse

Nineteen Eighty-Four, by far the most famous, also has both elements to give it background, but by and large is dystopian.  It is about the people within the proscribed society.

For another example, I would personnally argue that Mad Max isn’t so much a dystopia as a film of anarchy slipping towards its apocalypse hinted at in the introductory montage in The Road Warrior.  Still, it shows that the societies that are created or born from the bad decisions of mad can eventually lean toward the type of mentality that would unleash its own post-apocalypse.

Rule #4:  Not all Apocalypses are created equal.

Zombie apocalypse abounds in our world.  In my youth, during the Cold War, the threat of a Nuclear Apocalypse reigned (and is still, ironically, my ‘favorite’ PA theme and may or may not be the ‘Visitation of the Fallen Suns’ alluded to in the first novel, Umbra: A Post-Apocalyptic Mystery).  The Road Warrior came from this era, as did one of my favorite games of all time, Wasteland (and its nearly 30 years in the making sequel, as well as the beloved ‘Fallout‘ series.)  The threat of pervasive, mutating radiation infecting everything for decades or hundreds of years, along with the (now-disproven) threat of a ‘nuclear winter‘ seemed just too juicy to not spawn some of the greatest PA works of all time.  (Now there’s also a discussion of a ‘nuclear summer’, for the global-warming hangers-on.)  Of course it had its stinkers too, like World Gone Wild, with Adam Ant and Steel Dawn, with Patrick Swayze, God rest his soul.

But what about all those other ones?  Day of the TriffidsWaterworld?  One of my favorite (and arguably one of the only ‘romance’ novels I will ever read, let alone love) – The Silver Metal Lover?  They introduce their own type of apocalypse (blindness/sentient and malevolent plants and melted polar ice caps for the global-warmers, and pollution/asteroid interference, respectively) and all of these are directly influential on the events that occur in the novel.

There are still plenty of differences, and I am sure to revisit this post as time permits to add a few more of my observations, and I invite you to research and suggest some of your own.

The end of the week, I mean, and the beginning of something altogether different. Kind of like the end of the world (as we know it) isn’t going to be the end of everything per se. To quote Aslan, it is only the beginning. But, as the typical workweek goes, the end is near (or nigh, if you prefer) and now it’s time for the fun to begin: the Weekend Media Review.

How could I possibly start this Weekend Media Review posting without mentioning my favorite movie of all time, The Road Warrior. Directed by George Miller (the same guy who brought us The Witches of Eastwick and Babe. Yes, that Babe.) this movie gave birth to the iconic look for the post-apocalypse (along with the punk movements, or is it the other way around?) for decades to come. The Road Warrior also raised the stakes in the car chase scenes, throwing bevies of cobbled road-rejects together -along with an innovative sky chase with the quirky Gyro Captain. Chase scenes in this movie weren’t just for the thrill of speed or just to get away from the bad guy, but they became central to the subplot of the survival of the people in the “village.” A need for speed that transcends – imagine that. This film, admittedly, could have been placed in a western setting*, with a town’s fight for survival because of the one commodity they owned, but we wouldn’t have had those fabulous punks and super-adrenaline chase scenes. Horses are beautiful creatures, and they’re not that expendable. So it’s excused. And George Miller needed a segue for Beyond the Thunderdome. And Fury Road, if it ever gets made as a real movie and not as anime.

What about Max? “Mad” Max Rockatansky already devolved into a heartless killing machine in Mad Max, but in this film, we see him follow the path of the Hero and rise above the self-centered anti-social ex-cop. Miller’s storyline fits the pattern unabashedly of the three-act character growth story.

Act I: Max runs around doing his own thing until the Gyro Captain challenges him to get what Max thinks he wants more than anything else: more fuel (literally, more fuel to keep him going in his old lifestyle, to run the wild roads by himself and stay away from the bad guys). Faced with the challenge, he also is forced to face something else – namely, his own self and his motivations. The people of the town ask him if that is what he really wants – to continue on his pointless crusade of “days go by” and he blows them off. While he experiences a little success in getting the tanker for the people of the town through the baddies’ blockade, all he manages to do is get himself back into trouble with enemies who have all the more reason to hold a grudge. Then when these people come to his aid, he finally realizes No Man is an Island and decides to help them. What does he get for it? The realization they used him as the proverbial red herring. The old Max, the Max of Mad Max, born of vengeance, disappears. Suddenly, he’s laughing at himself, and the pre-friends-and-family-brutalized-and-murdered Max is back.

The Road Warrior, while following the character growth structure so well, manages to create an interesting juxtaposition of the “world upside down” style. Most movies depict “life as usual” and drop an unwitting character into a situation where he/she rises above their everyday selves to become a hero when events turn a little crazy so they can return to their “normal” world. In Miller’s story, nuclear war distorted what is normal and made anarchy the reigning queen of the day. The “upside down” is where Max encounters a village still governed by order and civility, nothing like what he became used to in the outback.

Miller’s characters are over-the-top bizarre, including his good guys (note: Miller was a medical doctor before he became a director, and his movies tend to include at least one character with some type of medical issue, such as the man in the wheelchair in this one, or the cop in Mad Max forced to use the electrolarynx after the accident which slit his throat). As stated previously, the look of the film is groundbreaking and everyone that came after with something even slightly post-apoc lifted from The Road Warrior. Weird Science not only borrowed the gestalt of the character Wez, they even lifted the same actor to parody himself. Even Wells’ character in Commando draws from it.

Besides all of the above analysis, The Road Warrior is just a damn fine movie, a great flick to watch with your girlfriend on a Friday night. Well, maybe. That is, if your girlfriend is like me.

Meltdown Café: 10/10

IMDB: 7.6/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 100%

Flixster: 75%

*Note: Vernon Wells (Wez) sports a mullet mohawk, wears chaps and flaps with his arse free to the wind, shoots (cross)bow bolts and rides a motorcycle with his not-so-‘squaw’ behind him. Tell me that isn’t lifted and tweaked right from a Western. Go on, tell me.

(Originally published on The Meltdown Cafe 7 AUG 2009

Clones are People Two

The story of a story being born.

I’ve had a few fits and starts with this story, just like I had for Ennid the Havoc.  You can read about the case of the latter, if so inclined, here. But with the clones story…

I never intentionally got into the idea of clones.  Way back in college, during a biology lab, we took a different approach in that classroom and set up a debate for the ethics surrounding the hot biological topics of the day, including cloning.  I ended up assigned to the pro-cloning side (I didn’t have a choice) but I can’t recall what points I brought up at the time (give me a break, I’m an old woman!) Dolly was still a hot topic, and her birth and subsequent death made for rampant debate.  As for my thoughts on cloning, I’m going to take the road I always take on things like this: Cloning is a tool which can be used or abused, just like cars or firearms or donuts (you know, chocolate-covered ones with the jimmies). It has nothing to do with the item/process itself, and everything to do with the user.  Can cloning be abused? Absolutely. I address that in Clones Are People Two, as one of the underlying themes.  Should it be outlawed?  Not necessarily.  Feminazis would be ecstatic to support it, especially because it would mean that men could become redundant (personally, I REALLY love men, and wouldn’t want to see them phased out) as Dolly’s birth proved you didn’t need sperm to propagate.  It took three mothers, though, if that means anything, one for the nucleus, one for the cells (taken from mammary glands, and the reason Dolly is named Dolly. Read the wiki) and one to carry her and give birth. Should we be cloning left and right without further consideration?  Of course not.  No science should be employed irresponsibly.

But what does this have to do with story?

Well, for one, the topic is OLD (imagine me stating that with my most obnoxious teenage voice talking about someone who is in their early twenties). Possibly everything to do with cloning and the debates about cloning has been done, right?

Not necessarily.

A few years ago I sat in a house empty of almost everything except a wondrous silence, a notebook and a pen.  I don’t know why I began to write about the man who would be Aaron Maxwell Seven-Miller, but I knocked out the entire outline and fleshed out some of the points I wanted to make.  Then, I set it aside.  Would this be interesting enough to anyone?  Probably not, I thought.

Then, one evening, I saw this amazing movie* that just ripped my heart out of my chest and stomped on it and tried to glue it back together and sew my chest shut in several glorious hours.  And one theme was one of identity, who we are, products of fate, of circumstance, of genetics?  The “successful” characters are not simply tied to their destinies, to the “flow” but they are active participants in their own change as human beings.  It answered the nagging question I had of whether or not my own ideas possessed any relevance. Best of all, this story had CLONES undergoing some of the same treatment (except for the last big thing, which I won’t mention here and spoil the movie/novel for you).  My story takes a look at the interrelationship between the clones themselves, as well as the clones with humans.  There will be a few of you who pick up on the discrimination themes as well.

We are always struggling with identity, building character.  We are always given the choice in life to embrace the circumstances and use it as an excuse to stagnate and be victimized, or to crawl out of the hole and become more than the sum of the parts we are handed.  Nor should we immediately judge someone on such a simple basis as their genetics.  Take time to explore their character before you dismiss them on appearances (and just remember, assholes come in all shapes, colors and sizes, too).

And so, Clones Are People Two will be available on Smashwords and Amazon on Halloween (that’s 31 OCT 2014), and most other venues shortly after.

* based on the novel Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

I’m still here and working on my novel. Lot of major life changes – got married (my now-husband [Editor's Note: ex-husband as of this reposting] bought me a Benelli M4 as an engagement present. How awesome was that!?!), settled down in NoVa and am once again on the long trek of the job-seeker (life was so much easier in the wastelands, when you could plug a couple of raiders waiting to jump a merchant caravan and loot their stuff, but I digress…).

Since that time, a ton of new games, movies and books on the apocalypse have flooded the market. I got to see The Book of Eli (yes, I said that as if it is a new movie but it has been that long since my last blog). Can’t say I was thoroughly impressed, but it was an interesting premise nonetheless, and I enjoyed it. Not every movie reaches the ranks of sheer brilliance like The Road Warrior, but it entertained, so it is forgiven. The Road, however, I just couldn’t swallow. They twisted the novel’s story around just so they could squeeze more of Charlize Theron in there. Silly Hollywood. (Also saw No Country for Old Men and I was wowed by it, but that’s a subject for another blog. Cormac McCarthy’s stories can hold their own with the right cast and script-writers. Charlize is beautiful, sure, but a beautiful face does not a good movie make).

I’d been indoctrinated into shows like The Walking Dead, which I enjoyed for the first season but I felt got rather hokey for the second. That could be because they fired everyone and started fresh, and now it seems to be morphing into a “who gets kidnapped this time?” series. And the woman who got a Glock from her daddy but tries to fit the magazine into the slide when the weapon is disassembled and she’s trying to put it back together? Seriously? (For those of you who may not know, there are only essentially four moving parts. Easiest thing to disassemble. Daddy probably gave her lessons when he gave it to her… Where are the technical advisers?) My advice to the others in the group: she’s a liability.

As for books… Since I moved to NoVa and joined the library, I sat down at the computer and scanned the catalog for post-apoc books. Imagine my excitement when I came across a novel with the line “A Mystery of Post-Apocalyptic America.” My two favorite genres – together! With much anticipation, I read Ashes of the Earth by Eliot Pattison.

At least I read the first chapter, then took it back to the library.

The author’s sentences run on and meander all over the place like a drunken marathoner, from the very first. He failed to follow the rule that he must hook me from with something meaningful and punchy. That story decayed as rapidly as a newly sprung Egyptian mummy and I couldn’t return it fast enough. The only mystery I found with the book is why I initially felt the excitement to read such drivel. I am glad some people liked it, because that can only mean they might pick up mine in a brick-and-mortar (if they still exist by the time I complete it and get it published. Everyone knows about the demise of Borders by now).

I’ll go into more detail in the coming days, now that I am back.

And being back feels good.

Oh yeah, and Fallout: New Vegas. That’s definitely another hit, and another blog for another day.

(Originally published on The Meltdown Cafe, 28 OCT 2011)

Since the dawn of my cognizance, I’ve heard the phrase uttered over and over “write what you know”. (To be fair, I’ve read it often enough too.) I’m here to tell you today that if you write, don’t just write what you know. I doubt many people would want to read an chapter-long exposition on how to repair the air-conditioning and pressurization systems of Naval aircraft, with all the nuts and bolts (literally). Instead, I implore you to write what you love. That passion will sneak its way into your work, and the words on the page (electrons on the screen, if you’ve gone digital) exude it in visceral ways the reader unconsciously picks up on. Insert your own fears into your work, and the reader can’t help but feel that anxiety.

Anyone who has read my anthologies and my longer works may be able to pick up on things I’ve inserted because I love them, or am fascinated by them. Animals are a near constant, either as main characters, sidekicks, pets or just there as local flavor. Casey, K’zirra, the wolf, Sharza* and a few others. I am also intensely interested in classical Roman History, the ethics of cloning, eschatology, mixed martial arts and, of course, nearly anything post-apocalyptic. People who love these things may be attracted to my work, if not for the storyline (initially) then for the inclusion of those elements in fiction they love to see and read about. In that same vein, writing my own fears into my work us in some ways very cathartic, as I can help myself by using the process of figuring how the character is going to cope or overcome. (Dear Lord , are they ever so much more courageous than I am! But I’m glad I don’t have half the problems I throw at my poor characters.)

So, don’t worry about being a hack, don’t try to copy someone else’s style, don’t just write “what you know” or you’ll come out as a dreaded expositor. Write what you love and the passion will flow.

* Who is Sharza, you wonder? She’s in The Opal Necklace, a novel which should be complete and released sometime early next year. What is she? Well, you’ll have to wait and read.

Really. There are songs about the end of the world. I’ll tell you about a couple.

Most folks are going to think of hardcore, death metal, or otherwise barely coherent lyrics that may or may not be about apocalyptic forebodings, and the bands themselves acquired the look from The Road Warrior. Or there are always bands like Nuclear Assault, whose name says it all. Not all of the great tunes about the end of the world as we know it (not R.E.M.’s end of the world, thanks) come from that corner of the thunderdome.

When I served in the Navy years ago, I had the privilege of meeting all kinds of people from across the entire country I otherwise might not have met. Before the internet and all the social media, when we can connect with people across the country at any given moment, this was a huge deal, as they brought with them a lot of influences I might have otherwise missed.

One of these gents introduced me to Kate Bush, and I’ve been grateful ever since. Only recently did I find out how her early career intertwined with Pink Floyd, and the album The Wall served as a soundtrack staple for games that didn’t have one, like Wasteland. While I loved her music, I hadn’t really discovered the depth of her subject matter until I found her album, The Whole Story, a collection of songs from previous albums. “Breathing” is the single that addresses the effects of fallout after the bomb.

We’ve lost our chance

We’re the first and last

after the blast.

Chips of plutonium

are twinkling in every lung.

While not technically correct, the song is brilliant and so radical from the rest of the “he loves me, he loves me not” pop crap everyone else out there sang at the time. Her song “Experiment IV” is also worth a note too, not as post-nuclear but as a song about a weapon of mass destruction. A very young Hugh Laurie happens to be in the video as well.

Several years ago, a co-worker got me interested in Steve Wilson and his band, Porcupine Tree. The first album he allowed me to borrow, Stupid Dream, featured a song called “A Smart Kid.”

Winter lasted five long years

No sun will come again I fear

Chemical harvest was sown

The reference is to the purported nuclear winter* which would happen in the even of such a conflict, but there is also the reference of chemical warfare. The “kid” later tells aliens who came to visit that he doesn’t know what happened to the people but that there was a war and he “must have won.”

*This was researched in depth by the TTAPS team, including Carl Sagan, but criticized and refuted by later studies post the conflicts in Kuwait.

 

(Originally published on The Meltdown Cafe 5 AUG 2009)

There are other movies out there revolving around post-apocalypse beyond Mad Max and the Road Warrior. Not all of them are good, however.

Alright, maybe it isn’t fair to use The Road Warrior as a Litmus test for these kinds of movies. After all, it is extremely difficult to maintain that kind of brilliance. And George Miller may have set the bar far too high for everyone else, but let’s overlook that, for the moment, and focus on the basic story. If anyone else has looked into the background of George Miller’s film, they will know that he, like a lot of other directors/writers found their influence in Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces (not to be confused with the James Cagney film Man of a Thousand Faces) which speaks of the internal journey of the main hero, what he must go through mentally as he goes through the motions physically. Sure, who doesn’t like a good smash ‘em up, shoot ‘em up film? However, in order for there to be a great story the audience needs to connect and (gasp!) maybe actually learn something about the hero and about themselves in the process. Great writers do this to our subconscious, planting a seed in our brain early on in the story that allows us to connect with the protoganist and carry us on the same journey. At its very basic level, “Mad” Max Rockatansky follows the formula point-for-point.* Miller succeeds in bringing us the real change this guy goes through because he slathers decadent layers of chase scenes and punches-up and all the gooey goodness of action flicks over the character change instead of force-feeding us what the writer wants us to believe through clunky exposition (anyone who’s ever taken a writing class would recall, “show, don’t tell”).

With that groundwork, let’s look at some other movies in the genre. World Gone Wild is a movie I am ashamed to say that I owned from back in the VHS days. I recall being at the mall and I came across this movie about a post-nuclear wasteland featuring Adam Ant. Young girl that I was, smitten by the british pop star at the time and having my pockets full of paper-route money, I found the tape in the bargain bin a little difficult to pass up.

In retrospect, I wish that I’d have walked away. Just walked away.

WGW seems to want to be The Road Warrior meets Star Wars with a septagenarian Harry Potter-esque ridiculous character thrown in for bad measure. The dialogue and situations induce riotous laughter (surely what the movie-makers intended, right?) and remove you as far from the desperate situation most of us would find us in after a nuclear conflict. Good for a laugh, not so good for a story.

At any rate, you’d have to see for yourself how laughable it is. Don’t forget to watch out for lethal hubcaps.

More movie reviews to come…

*outlined in Victoria Lynn Schmidt’s great book on the subject, 45 Master Characters. The book is must-have for anyone wanting to be a writer and to understand what character personality and motives are. Also, for anyone interested, I did a “schedule” style breakdown of the movie when I sat an analyzed it for my own amusement. Sometimes I like to subscribe to the “analyze-it-and-the-magic-disappears” school of thought, but in the case of The Road Warrior, it only enhanced it.

LATE COMMENT:  There’s a character named “Max Rockatansky” in House of God, which is a novel regarding the life of an intern during his residency at the eponymously named hospital.  George Miller went to medical school.  Although Wiki cites a reference to the last name of a procedural pioneer, I believe he read the book and unconsciously (or consciously) filed the name away.  I report, you decide for yourself.

(Originally Published 5 AUG 2009)