The Post – Trailer Reaction

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This movie is going to check a lot of Oscar boxes. Best Director, Steven Spielberg – check. Best Actor, Tom Hanks – check. Best Actress, Meryl Streep – check. Best Score, John Williams – check. Just keep going down the list.

Spielberg fast tracked this one, and for good reason. It just feels like an important movie for this time in history. I love the beats in the trailer and will eagerly see this during the holiday season. Check it out:

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MARTHA (or the problem with making your universe smaller)

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I would tell you to stop reading if you haven’t seen Batman v Superman, but that would be pointless. If you haven’t seen it by now, the chances of you deciding to watch it are slim. So buckle up — I’m ‘about to spoil a key plot detail from perhaps the most disappointing superhero movie of the last two decades.

So in BvS, the audience is geared up for some superfight between the hero alter-egos of Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne. All through the TWO AND A HALF HOUR (THREEEEE!! if you watch the Ultimate Cut) of this dark and dreary movie we are told that this is the fight to end all fights. Somehow the audience was expected to buy into some punk Lex Luthor and how he manipulated two of the greatest superheroes on Earth to fight each other, specifically Superman.

But that isn’t the worst part.

Martha.

Now, I’m not opposed to the name Martha. In fact, I have a Martha in my life and my mother-in-law is a wonderful person (honest!). But when these two DC titans are engaging in some fisticuffs, Superman tells Batman not to let “Martha” die. Of course, Martha is Clark’s mother, but in a weird twist………Bruce Wayne’s mother was ALSO NAMED MARTHA. It makes him stop the fight and the entire movie hinges on the moment when Batman is shook by a name.

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Pretty much.

It’s lame, but ultimately what it does kinda makes it worse. Instead of giving the characters outside issues to affect their fight, it actually shrinks their universe and draws us back to their past. And when that happens, it hampers storytelling. It starts getting into an almost unspoken prequel territory (I’ll save my prequel talk for another day), and restricts the options for what the characters can do.

In a way, this is what fans want…up until the point it happens. For instance: Rey from the new Star Wars trilogy. Fans need to know: is she a Skywalker? Is she secretly Han and Leia’s daughter? Is she Emperor Palpatine’s long-lost daughter? Is she Lobot’s neice? Is she R2-D2’s mechanic’s dogwalker’s friend?

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She’s handing this to her father…or a complete stranger…

Or how about Finn? He’s black, so OF COURSE he has to be Lando’s long-lost son.

Why do we do this? Ultimately we like to have connections and meaning to something new. As a teacher, we get a new crop of 8th graders each year coming up as freshmen. Often we try to figure out who they are by older siblings, parents, what school did they come from — we try to peg these students as one thing before they’ve even had a chance to show us who they really are.

We like comfortable. Sure thing. But what challenges us and allows growth is fresh and foreign situations. What if Rey isn’t related to ANY character from the previous eight movies? Fine. We’ll get a lot more story and a widening of a vast universe that we already know and love. But perhaps the folks at Lucasfilm have added her to a family tree from a character we already know. That’s fine, too, but the problem will continue. If we really value fresh content and new stories from Hollywood, we need to push for that same freshness and creativity in our familiar franchises.

It’s the same reason that the Transformers are now embedded into the lore of Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable. It’s the same reason we’re making sequels of movies like Blade Runner and Alien. It’s the same reason that Disney is making “live-action” remakes of the films that were already near perfect in the first place (looking at you, Beauty and the Beast).

We need to demand originality, but not from the entire movie. We need to demand originality within the movie. The script, the characters, their mothers. With Justice League coming soon (a week and a half away), I’d like to see that DC has learned from their first few movies, but I’ll withhold judgment until I see it.

Until then…I’ll be looking forward to Thanksgiving at Martha’s house.

 

Marvel Cinematic Movies – Ranked

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thorimax3Can you believe we’ve had 17 (!) films since we were introduced to Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark in an Afghan cave? Marvel has truly shown the rest of the movie studios how to successfully do a movie universe, deftly weaving storylines from one character to another, teaming them up when possible and leaving them alone when necessary. As they got their foundation and feet under them, suddenly the head honchos over at Disney let the films start to be a little more unique with a little more flavor. If one film showed that, it was definitely Thor: Ragnarok.

I just saw it yesterday and I’m still reliving parts of it over and over again in my head. I laughed more than I expected (and I expected to laugh A LOT), yet this movie had some of the most dire consequences of any of the MCU films to date. I think the latter is partly done on purpose: so that the events that happen in the next Avengers team-up, Infinity War, don’t come out of left field. I think there’s a good chance we see some serious characters go down in that movie.

ANYWAY…I saw some other people making their MCU ranking thus far, so I decided to do the same. Now of course, art and movies are subjective, so my list will be different than yours and that’s OK. I based my list on a couple of factors: 1. Would I rewatch it again in a heartbeat? 2. How good of a movie is it? and 3. How does it really fit in and impact the rest of the MCU films?

So without anymore yammering from me…

  1. Captain America: Civil War
  2. The Avengers
  3. Captain America: Winter Soldier
  4. Guardians of the Galaxy
  5. Thor: Ragnarok
  6. Captain America: The First Avenger
  7. Ant Man
  8. Spider-Man: Homecoming
  9. Iron Man
  10. Doctor Strange
  11. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
  12. Thor
  13. Avengers: Age of Ultron
  14. Iron Man 3
  15. The Incredible Hulk
  16. Thor: The Dark World
  17. Iron Man 2

Yep. I’m a big Captain America fan. I can hear people talking now, and that’s fine with me. Frankly, up until I actually typed it here, I had the first Cap movie at #5 instead of #6, but that’s really how much fun I had with the new Thor movie. If there is any kind of theme with the first group of movies (except for TFA), it is team-ups! Every single movie in the top five features heroes teaming up with one another, sometimes against other heroes, but oftentimes against one villain or another. Frankly when it comes to the Thor film, I’m still processing it, so come back in a week or so and I might have it a little higher or possibly a little lower. I tried to take the immediacy factor out of things, but I still love it to bits at the moment, so it makes my Top 5.

A few other notable bits:

  • I straight-up LOVE Ant Man. If there was more than just Falcon’s wonderful cameo in the movie, I might have even had it higher on my list. Paul Rudd is just hilarious and that Thomas the Train fight sequence at the end is better than most of the “fighting aliens or robots in the sky” parts that many of the films do.
  • Even if a movie is towards the bottom of the list doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it. In fact, I would re-watch any of these movies and really liked them when they first released in theaters. But Iron Man 2 has some huge flaws and frankly I don’t remember much of the second Thor movie. In fact, the way they were able to take Thor and make him one of the BEST Marvel heroes in Ragnarok speaks to Taika Watiti’s ability to work with characters.
  • Many said that Doctor Strange was a better origin movie than Iron Man, and in some ways I do agree, but Iron Man was the first. If we didn’t have that first movie and the impact it made, we might not have the rest of this list.

But, what do you think? Do you agree? Disagree? Should Guardians 2 be higher? Should Ultron be higher than the Bottom 5? Is Stan Lee the real First Avenger? Where will I put Black Panther on this list? Do I love Captain America too much? (quite possibly). Let me know!

Reviews for Blink Are In!

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Blink has been out in the real world for about a week and a half, and the sales have been good, but the reviews have been even better. I seriously could have pulled lines from each of the reviews up on Amazon and Goodreads — all of them are so good. Allow me a moment of pride; Paul and I worked really hard on Blink and are hard at work on figuring out how to get Agent Smith and the Utility Company back on your Kindles. Here are a few quotes from some of the reviews up now on Amazon…


 

unnamed“The Swardstrom Brothers hit all the right notes in this tight little Super Science / Alternate Universes roller coaster. If the X-Files made you want more of the strange and mysterious government organizations battling not just with guns and smarts, but the occasional wit in the face of certain doom, then look no further. This is a great Friday Night read. A fun, fast, adventure where all is not as it seems.”

Nick Cole, author of Ctrl-Alt-Revolt

“…a book that I didn’t want to put down, even when life got in the way.”

Shay VanZwoll

“The story unfolds at a solid pace that always maintained my interest and when it hit a boiling point about mid-way through the novel, the pace became relentless and was extremely hard to put down.”

Chris Fried

“The Swardstrom brothers have co-crafted a sci-fi work of art. Together, they have written a novel that seamlessly transitions between protagonists (and worlds), never losing its brilliant voice, its sense of humor, its sense of the supernatural, its sense of adventure. This is an action packed tour de force that introduces a great cast of characters that I hope return again soon for a new adventure.”

Jonathan Ballagh, author of Stone & Iris

“This is a great book you won’t want to miss, it is like when you know you should go to bed but you just want to read one more chapter than just one more, than another and another, than the book is done and it is way past your bedtime…”

Trisha “Mindjacked” Perry

“The Swardstrom Brothers’ supernatural sci-fi world of Blink is a phenomenal meshing of classic pulp and contemporary Fringe. This is the beginning of something grand.”

Daniel Arthur Smith, author of Hugh Howey Lives

There is still time to get Blink for less than a buck — click on the link above to see what the reviewers are talking about!

The Best Things I Laid Eyes on in 2015

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So a few weeks before Christmas, I put out my “Best of” list for short stories, fully intending to do the same for books and movies and who knows what. Then…I didn’t. But, I don’t want to leave it all hanging out there, so I’m combining lists and putting out a “Best Things I Laid Eyes on in 2015” list. You’ll find movies, books, places, people and more. I tried to think of the entire past calendar year, but I know I missed a thing or two I loved. Forgive me. So…here’s my list:

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

bb-8_14e2ad77I’ve seen the newest Star Wars film twice now and yet it seems like we’ve just shaken hands. I can’t even tell you how many times I saw IV, V, and VI as a kid. We had the movies on VHS and I watched them over and over and over. I loved them all and when Lucas re-released them in theatres with the latest effects, my dad made sure all of us kids were sitting in the seats.

Then the Prequels. Ugh. Like so many others I wanted to like them. Like so many others I was disappointed. I barely remember watching them and I know I’ve only seen Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith once each. And I know with the final movie I only saw it so I could say I did. There was no hype. No anticipation. No excitement.

Not so here. There are haters, but they can forget about trying to get me to hate it. It checked all the boxes for me and established new characters I care about. A re-tread? Hardly. Similar storybeats, but so was Harry Potter. So have been stories throughout the ages. I am an unabashed fan and I don’t care who knows.

Weapons of Mass Deception by David Bruns and J.R. Olson

weaponsmass_cvr_lrgBruns and Olson have a great book on their hands, I think. Reading this book brought be right back to the hours and hours I spent reading Tom Clancy’s books when I was in high school and college. Clancy had a knack for telling a complicated story with complex international political ramifications and making me care about it. With Weapons of Mass Deception, Bruns and Olson have done the same. The book is a tremendous achievement and I can only hope that the two coordinate their efforts again to give us more books like this down the road.

Jessica Jones / Daredevil

David-Tennant-Jessica-Jones-Poster-Doctor-Who-BrasilI’m lumping these two together. The first two Marvel properties developed for Netflix and both were daring (pun intended) and showed us a side of Marvel we didn’t know we would ever get on the screen. In Daredevil we got a great introduction to the dirty underbelly of New York and were made aware early on that anything goes. Daredevil showed us that in violence, but keeping with the theme of Murdock’s blindness, a lot was kept in the dark and at night. That violence was brought to light big time in Jessica Jones. I loved Jessica Jones. I think I liked it better than Daredevil and that is saying a lot. As a father of a pre-teen girl, I am worried about the world she’ll grow up in and the boys she may date. As a high school teacher, I see a lot of borderline abusive relationships as well. In Jessica Jones, we see those relationships personified in the villain Kilgrave. What a performance and in a way it’s a shame what the end result was for his character. I’m looking forward to what Marvel and Netflix will be cooking up for us in 2016.

Chicago Architectural Tour

BoatTour2_NatalieTaylorI went on a school trip to Chicago early in the summer and one of the things we did was this. If you ever get the chance, it is a great trip up and down the Chicago River with historical context for nearly every one of the buildings along the shore. There is a lot of new building going on and the new Trump Tower gets its fair share of criticism, but I daresay that is part of what has spurred the new developments along the route. The day we went ended up being a lot colder than we anticipated, but I still wound up fascinated by what I saw and heard along the tour.

Constitution/Warrior by Nick Webb

warriorThese books were great. So great that when I was buying Christmas gifts, I bought them in paperback for my dad. He’s hard to shop for, but he’s a military space sci-fi nut, so I knew I was safe with these books. I enjoyed Constitution, but I wasn’t sure what Webb would give us in the follow up. Wow. He really set up a complex and interesting backstory for each side in the conflict (and there are many more than two) and set up a potentially explosive third book in this series. If you like action and intrigue in your science fiction, check out Nick Webb’s books.

Ant Man

The last movie I remember smiling about so much in the theatre before Star Wars was Ant Man. Such a great movie. Really impressed me with its humor and vibe. Just as Daredevil and Jessica Jones redefined Marvel for the TV audience, so did Ant Man for films after the success of Guardians of the Galaxy. I love the nods to Avengers and how it all fits in with the larger universe without feeling too small.

My Newest Book Cover

Coming Soon…. Check this out:

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The Martian, directed by Ridley Scott

I’d read the book by Andy Weir last year so I can’t credit that here, but the movie exceeded all my expectations. I have been burned too many times by books turned into terrible movies, and so when Scott managed to turn The Martian into not only a decent movie, but a GREAT movie, I was thrilled. Matt Damon did a fantastic job and I thought the changes made from book to film were slight and appropriate for the conversion to the movie theatre.

ALL the short stories

11160045_10207031928225789_1011873126454258904_oI read a lot of short stories in 2015. A LOT. I already did my Best of list for just short stories, so I’m not going to rehash them here, but if you like short fiction, you need to check out the Future Chronicles curated by Samuel Peralta. Some great works by a lot of amazing authors. (Myself included, Full Disclosure.)

My Family

Over the summer I had the opportunity to see a lot of family. My wife and I went on a joint vacation to Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge with her parents. Unlike some, I do like my in-laws and we had a great kick-off to the summer and good stories for years to come.

We also had a family reunion for my family. My sister lives a couple states away and my older brother is over 2,000 miles away, so getting us all together is easier said than done. Fortunately it worked out and we all met at my parents’ home for a few days. Unfortunately, my 99-year-old grandmother passed away in North Dakota the same week, sending my parents off to handle that business. All of my siblings were able to make it for the funeral, but it did put a bit of a damper on the overall summer get-together. Regardless, it was a great time to see people I don’t typically get to see.

The Dark Man/The White Night by Desmond Doane

26105206A different kind of books than Webb’s offerings, but still just as compelling. If I was going to put out a Best Books of 2016 list, I really think The White Night would have held the top spot. Who is Desmond Doane? That’s the penname for Ernie Lindsey, an accomplished author on his own, but for these horror/supernatural books, he wanted a little edge he couldn’t provide as himself, so Desmond Doane was born. The first book is good, but the second…man, I couldn’t put it down. There was a moment – and you’ll get there too – when I read it and I had to send a message to Ernie cursing him out for what he did to me. I couldn’t wait to write up my review for it and I am strongly anticipating the third book in his Graveyard: Classified series in 2016.

Humbird Cheese, Toma, Wisconsin

humbird-cheese-mart-910750A must stop on our family trips to North Dakota. On our way up for the funeral, we had to stop here. If you love cheese, this is a great place with free samples of nearly all the varieties of cheese. Me? I love a good smoked cheddar and buffalo wing-flavored cheese curds.

Collider Movie Talk on YouTube

We ditched the Dish this year. After over 10 years with either Dish Network or DirecTV, we finally cut the cord so to speak. We rely on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu for most of our traditional TV viewing. However, I’ve come to expect one show each day – Collider Movie Talk on YouTube. Each day, John Campea leads a panel discussion show to discuss movie reviews, box office returns and general movie news. It isn’t dry – each of the hosts have their own unique brand of humor and their passion of movies and genre movies in particular is infectious. In addition to Movie Talk, they also produce weekly shows for comics (Heroes) and Star Wars (Jedi Council) as well as a plethora of TV show recap episodes. If you like entertainment news that isn’t just Kardashian this and Kanye that, check this out.

My Top 10 (Actually 12) Favorite Short Stories of 2015

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2015 is almost up, and you know what that means…

That’s right — excessive weight gain around the holidays!

Also Top 10 Lists!!

Last year I loved making my Top 10 books of the year (which ended up being around 17 or something), but this year I’m going to break down my lists into smaller categories. One of those will be the Top 10 (Actually 12) Short Stories I read in 2015.

Obviously not comprehensive, and not all were written in the past year, but all made a big impression on me. I’m terrible at telling you exactly which was THE BEST, so I’m just going to give them to you in alphabetical order by the author’s last name. Fair warning — many of them are in the Future Chronicles anthologies since I’ve read each of them this year making them a significant reading source for me each time one was released.

A few caveats: A few stories may not have made the cut because I only took one per anthology, and I definitely left all of the parts of Hugh Howey’s Beacon 23 series off since they’ll make an appearance as a full novel on my best books of the year list.


Zero Hour by Eamon Ambrose

zeroRight off the bat, we get a revelation. Eamon has been well-known in the indie community for a few years as being a top reviewer and a big supporter of indie writers. That much talent wasn’t going to stay hidden behind his blog, though, and we were treated to the first of three (so far!), short stories by Eamon in August. The story could be written off, except that Eamon penned the story in the dreaded second-person perspective. You know — the same POV that you read all those Choose Your Own Adventure books in back in middle school. Eamon pulls it off with a flourish and is a fantastic new voice.

The Traveler by Stefan Bolz

tt chronI love how Stefan Bolz writes. Always interesting. Always compelling. Always positive. Even in The Traveler, which originally appeared in The Time Travel Chronicles, where bad things happen, there is an overall optimistic outlook. Bolz has the unique ability to take a dystopia and make it a place you want to be. In The Traveler, Bolz gives us a nuts and bolts (pun definitely intended) look at time travel as our protagonist builds a machine from scratch. The story is poignant and touching, and is one of a handful of phenomenal stories from that anthology.

Free Fall by Peter Cawdron

freefallPeter Cawdron is perhaps the best writer who you should be reading if you aren’t. He’s written stories about aliens, genetic engineering, time travel, and has most recently been focusing his time and talents on zombies and the monsters humanity creates. Free Fall is set in Cawdron’s zombie universe and is a fascinating take on the genre, putting an astronaut in space at the time of the z-pocalypse. What does he do? How does he react when a distress call comes to him from a little girl on earth? The tale is thrilling and captivating.

Tasty Dragon Meat by KJ Colt

dragonIn The Dragon Chronicles, one title took the title of the “Most Talked About,” and that was Tasty Dragon Meat. KJ Colt managed to tell a story that was funny, scary, and thrilling all at the same time. Who would imagine that ingesting dragon meat would do anything besides fill a starving man’s stomach? The idea that the addictive flesh of the dragon had hidden qualities was fun and inventive and earned Colt a spot on this list.

A Long Horizon by Harlow Fallon

11796327_10153423837640170_1900403244562143189_nThe Immortality Chronicles was the first Future Chronicles title to send proceeds to charity. One might think the stories would be subpar, but throughout it, the authors strove for excellence. Harlow Fallon’s A Long Horizon capped the collection with a bang. The story spans hundreds of years from a ship bound for the New World from Europe to a ship in deep space bound for unknown destinations. One thing is consistent – an alien who has formed a symbiotic (even parasitic) relationship with its host, a woman who was just on the cusp of adulthood on her voyage to America. It is touching, interesting, and visceral.

Piece of Cake by Patrice Fitzgerald

aiPatrice Fitzgerald takes artificial intelligence and adds something we all can relate to – cake. Originally published in The A.I. Chronicles, Fitzgerald’s story takes the cake (sorry!) as the story of A.I. run amok with political correctness. There are certainly shades and hints that allude to our society today and the steps we take to making everyone the “same” and ignoring unique body shapes. I applaud Patrice’s work on the story and how it rings true, but also how it hits the funny bone as well.

Writer’s Block by Hank Garner

writers blockEarlier when I mentioned Eamon Ambrose, I talked about how much of a boon to indie publishing he’d been. Hank Garner is quickly becoming a major voice for publishing with his Author Stories Podcast. Recording one a week, Hank is giving a voice (literally) to dozens of writers who deserve to be heard. Garner is a heck of a writer as well, publishing a number of works this year, including Writer’s Block, a story that most any writer can relate to. Of course, it isn’t as simple as just a case of writer’s block, as our protagonist Stu finds out and we get a magical story out of it.

Under the Grassy Knoll by Richard Gleaves

tinfoilDavid Gatewood is one of the best editors out there, and he took a chance this year by publishing Tales of Tinfoil, a short story anthology centered on conspiracy theories. The anthology is a bold choice and I think it pays off. Gleaves’ story leads the collection with a JFK rabbit-hole tale. Where Gleaves shines is the attention to detail and the plausibility. By the end, I was almost convinced that was the actual circumstances of the president’s assassination. Gleaves’ main work on his Sleepy Hollow series is lengthy (the three books total over a half-million words), but the short story here is a fine work, indeed.

Unconditional by Chris Pourteau

Unconditional_sml2Apparently this year Chris Pourteau just wanted to rip people’s hearts out. He originally published Unconditional on its own at the beginning of the year, and then folded it into an anthology entitled Tails of the Apocalypse featuring stories of animals in the end times. I’m sure with both appearances, readers left the story a few tears fewer. Basic premise: What about the family dog during a zombie apocalypse? Here’s the twist — the story is told from the POV of the dog who is loyal to the last. Well done, Mr. Pourteau, thanks for making me think of it all over again. I hate you.

Where Dragons Lie by Thomas Robins

41MGayjgjJLThis may be more of a novella, but I’m putting it here anyway. Right about the time The Dragon Chronicles was out and garnering five-star reviews, Thomas Robins released the first of two stories in a fantasy world inhabited by dragons and those afraid of them. The title dragon isn’t all he seems to be, however, and you’ll find yourself questioning a lot as you read through the story. Robins has since followed it up with a quasi-sequel and I hope he continues the story in 2016.

Concerns of the Second Sex by Pavarti Tyler

althistoryI don’t know if I can say it much better than what I said about this story when it was first released with the alt.history 101 title in July. So here we go: “Important? Yes. Important. Take Pavarti Tyler’s story for example. Entitled Concerns of the Second Sex, her tale looks at a world where the 19th Amendment never came to be. In fact, with the absence of the women’s vote, the world has reverted to a place barely recognizable. Well, recognizable if you’ve read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, but that’s about it. Tyler pays homage to Atwood with this story and takes it a step further with the treatment of other races, including race mixing. If we never respected the rights of half of the species, why would the race movement of the 50’s and 60’s be successful, either? The story is tragic, yet Tyler does give it a hopeful note. I found it poignant and an important story to read and understand where we’ve come from and where we are going.”

Carindi by Jennifer Foehner Wells

darkAn emotional gut punch rounds out this list as Jennifer Wells gets all the feels as the heart of the Dark Beyond The Stars collection. The authors and curator didn’t try to focus on it, but each of the authors for the anthology is a woman, showing that science fiction isn’t just for men. One of my favorites was Carindi, set in the universe of Wells’ debut novel, Fluency. The story focuses on dependency, love, and sacrifice. When everything you have is in the hands of someone else, what is does love mean? In the end, our actions are the loudest words of all, as we find in this moving short story.


…and there we go. What a great list. By no means is this comprehensive. I read a lot this year, but my my own admission, my reading list was mostly limited to independent publishing, namely The Future Chronicles anthologies. I rated A LOT of stories as five stars this year, so this list could change a lot depending on my mood. There were certainly stories that were great, but I had to set the line somewhere. Don’t worry — still going to have a Best Books of the Year list coming up in the next couple weeks. Stay tuned for that.

But what do you think? Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments.

 

Talking About Z Ball

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Last week my story Z Ball was nominated to be the Leighgendarium Short Story of the week and in spite of the other amazing authors I was up against, I managed to win the popular vote. Today is the day Preston Leigh (owner and operator of The Leighgendarium blog) takes a look at it. So, head on over and chime in on the discussion –> LONG LIVE Z BALL!


Z Ball