Friday, January 25, 2013

Book Review: Sold Out by Stan R. Mitchell

For many authors, the axiom of "write what you know" is probably better expressed as "write what you love to read". I mean, I wrote Nanok and the Tower of Sorrows because I love to read schlocky Sword & Sorcery fiction, not because I'm a post-apocalyptic barbarian swordsman who's always fighting sorcerers, demons, and mutants. A lot of us read and enjoy stories about things for which we don't really have any real world experience, and when we decide to try our hand at writing our own stories, I think many of us attempt to create something that emulates that which we love.

For Stan R. Mitchell of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, this concept turned into his novel Sold Out. Not only is Stan a former Marine, he has a love of books like Stephen Hunter's Point of Impact and Pale Horse Coming, and Sold Out could easily have been another book in the Bob Lee Swagger series of Hunter's novels. The story follows Nick Woods, a former Marine Corps scout-sniper who has found himself a life away from violence and bloodshed, although he's still more than a little paranoid, and definitely damaged goods. But when a top-secret assignment from his USMC days bubbles to the surface, exposed to the world's media, the architects of that assignment - and the failed cover-up that resulted in the death of Nick's spotter - move to take Nick out of the picture.

I won't go into too many spoilers, but let's just say, they make Nick angry. Really angry. Like, nothing to lose, no reason to live, from Hell's heart I stab at thee angry. So Nick goes on a crusade of vengeance and retribution to put paid to those who've made his life a ruin.

And when Marine scout-snipers go on crusades of vengeance and retribution against're pretty much fucked.

Sold Out is a very fast, action-packed novel. There's a lot of chapter breaks as we shift perspective between Nick and his reluctant partner Allan, the disgraced reporter who inadvertently ruined Nick's life, as well as the bad guys trying to hunt Nick and Allen down. Some people dislike constant shifts of POV, but here I think it works very well - I consider it a more "cinematic" style of writing, where the camera and story line cuts back and forth between both sides of the conflict. It isn't the sort of technique that works great in a "thriller", where the motives and movements of the antagonist need to be shrouded in mystery, but in a more straight-up action piece, I think it's fine.

Speaking of action, Stan writes the fight sequences quite well. There aren't many big running gun battles, but as the story really focuses on one guy - a sniper no less - against a small army, a "running gun battle" would probably end in disaster for the protagonist. However, Stan deftly handles the tension and the pacing, making every battle a page-turner.

All in all, if you're a fan of Stephen Hunter's books, and "wronged man seeks bloody retribution against powerful asshats who deserve to die" stories in general, you're going to really enjoy Sold Out. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Book Review: The Librio Defection by James Hopwood

Jarvis Love is a newly minted field agent - young, bright-eyed, and eager to serve for King and Country. But when he's given his first assignment, it turns out to seemingly be a sideshow to the real operation - the defection of a world-renowned Russian violinist. Love travels to Milan, where he's to find Belladonna Librio, the violinist's mistress, who also happens to be - ahem - a "professional companion".

What starts off as a simple snatch-and-grab turns into a deadly battle of wits, fists, and gunplay against a Russian KGB major and his crew of muscle-bound thugs. Love discovers reserves of physicality and determination he never realized he had, and by the end of the operation, Love has gone from naive rookie to blooded veteran.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Librio Defection from start to finish. Hopwood writes clean, crisp prose that moves fast and fluidly from scene to scene. The descriptions of Italy are brief but vivid, especially during the car chases and other travel sequences, giving the book the needed realism without a burdensome level of detail.

As for our main character, I found myself cringing at Love's early bumbles, then later cheering him on as his confidence grows and Love steps up to the challenges of his mission. This is a perfect "origin story" for a Cold War British spy - a sideshow mission that balloons into something much more complicated and dangerous.

I'm definitely looking forward to more of these 60's-era spy stories, because it's a world so filled with adventure and ripe for endless storytelling.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Movie Review: Bloodrayne - The Third Reich (2010)

Uwe Boll is one of the most despised filmmakers in the business. People hate him for a variety of different reasons. Some hate him because he pretty much churns out nothing but garbage films. Others hate him because those garbage films are often media tie-ins on video games that could have had far better treatments. And then there are those, like myself, who hate him because, damn it, the guy is still making movies, and will probably continue to have a productive career for at least the next decade.

Despised or not, Boll isn't stupid. By now he's got his film-making down to a science, and he appears, as best as I can tell, to have a process that works and will continue to work. Looking at his page, he's got plenty of movies coming out, and I doubt those will be the last any time soon. Not to mention that, when push comes to shove (literally), Boll can defend his films with his fists - he challenged any film critic who panned one of his movies to a boxing match, and he beat every one of them (and turned it into a movie, of course).

I haven't seen all, or even most, of Boll's films. I did see his shooting-spree film Rampage, which was, I have to say, actually pretty good. Maybe not a great film, but given his resources and compared to some of his other films, Boll did a solid job on this movie. It was grim, disturbing, and the ending was actually somewhat surprising - I had completely underestimated him for the first half of the movie.

So back to Bloodrayne. I haven't seen the first two films, but the original had a surprising cast turnout, with Ben Kingsley, Billy Zane, Kristanna Loken, Michelle Rodriguez, Michael's funny, but Boll has a way of drawing fairly decent talent into some of his films. No doubt it's because hey, actors gotta eat, right? But regardless, it shows schrewdness on Boll's part to be able to nab a Name when he can (Jason Statham was in his Dungeon Siege film, as well as Ray Liotta, John Rhys-Davies, Ron Pearlman...).

Unfortunately for Bloodrayne: The Third Reich, the closest thing Boll gets to a "Name" is Clint Howard, who's apparently friends with Boll and who appears in several of his films. This third installment of the media tie-in franchise pits the bisexual half-vampire Rayne against - duh, look at the title - Nazis. And not just Nazis, vampire Nazis.

Early on in the film, Rayne attacks a train carrying Jewish prisoners bound for a concentration camp, just as a band of partisans attacks the same train, thinking it is carrying weapons and munitions (they are actually pissed that it's only carrying suffering human beings...) During the battle, Rayne bites a Nazi officer and thinks she's killed him off, but instead he lives, and turns into a vampire.

Clint Howard's character, Doctor Mangler, is your stereotypical Nazi mad scientist, and he is fascinated by vampirism (we first meet him while he's vivisecting a captured vampire), and when Rayne is brought to his attention - a half-vampire who possesses all of the creature's strengths, but none of their weaknesses - Mangler believes that capturing Rayne and draining her of her blood, then giving that blood to Adolf Hitler, will transform him into an immortal and allow him to rule the world forever (bomm bomm BOMMMM). Maybe Dr. Mangler should look into a cure for wanting to fight a land war in Asia instead...

Meanwhile, Rayne decides what she really needs is a massage. No, seriously. She visits a bordello and gets massaged, then beats up some Nazi soldier who's mishandling one of the whores. Her reward? Full-on lesbian gratitude sex. Isn't being a Nazi-hunting half-vampire bisexual great?

I can't bear to follow the plot much longer. Suffice to say, Rayne continues to team up with the partisans (and has sex with their leader, just to reinforce, you know, the bisexuality thing). She runs around dodging gunfire and chops up a ton of Nazis with her swords while the partisans riddle Nazis with bullets. But a bunch of partisans get killed along the way cuz - hey, war is hell! In the end (SPOILER ALERT) the bad guys get their comeuppance, and Rayne continues to go on, wasting Nazis by the score.

This film ends with what is probably one of my favorite final lines of all time - well okay,of this movie: "Guten Tag, Motherfuckers!" Although since she says it at night, that should really be Guten Abend. Thanks, high school German!

Whatever. It's kinda awesome. Shut your mouth and just click play. Actually, have three shots of cheap whiskey first, then click play. And keep the bottle handy...

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Movie Review: The Last Stand (2013)

Wow, how I've missed "real" Arnold Schwarzenegger movies.

Yeah, we had his appearances in the Expendables movies, the second more than the first. But for almost 20 years, he didn't make anything to write home about. I give Junior a pass since it's so odd and I love his chemistry with Danny DeVito, and The 6th Day was serviceable if bland, but the rest? Pretty much a big stinking pile of crap.

So when I went into the theater today, I was rather hopeful, but also more than a little nervous. After so long, would the magic be missing on the big screen? Would the old Arnold personality be gone for good? Would this come off as just another Collateral Damage?

Well, I walked out of there relieved and pumped for what will hopefully be at least another decade of kick-ass Schwarzenegger cinema. The Last Stand is that classic blend of preposterous and awesome, the kind of action movie he made millions upon millions with during the 80's. In fact, this could very easily have been a script dusted off from some shelf where it'd been sitting for 25 years, touched up just enough to remain valid today. Arnold could have played this role just as well in his 40's as he is in his 60's, and there were just as many great character actors and scene-chewing villains back in the day for him to shoot up and beat down.

As much as The Expendables series is an homage to those classic 80's action movies, The Last Stand IS a classic 80's action movie. If someone was going to write a comeback vehicle for Schwarzenegger, they couldn't have done much better than this. Over-the-top violence, a small sprinkling of profanity but by no means an F-bomb festival, gratuitous gory violence but nothing too disgusting, some goofy sidekicks but none so obnoxious that you begin to hate them more than the bad guys.

Oh, and of course, Arnold winds up with an ENORMOUS handgun by the end of the movie (S&W M500 with what has to be at least an 8" barrel), and he uses it to good effect on a much-deserving bad guy. Jingle all the way, motherf#&%ers!

So if you're a fan of Classic Arnold Movies, those 80's to early 90's Arnold movies made before great action flicks seemed to go the way of the Dodo Bird, go see The Last Stand.

It's good for what ails ya.

TIER ZERO Hits the Action-Adventure Bullseye

Back about two and a half years ago, I was in the process of getting this blog back on its feet after laying fallow for a couple of years. I was writing book and movie reviews, talking about the "post modern pulp" of the 60's, 70's, and 80's, and enjoying the conversations I was having with readers.

I was also learning about the growing world of self-publishing, and beginning to form the idea that I might be able to focus myself and put 20 years of amateur writing to the test, in order to write my own book and put it out for the world to read. That's something I'd never done before, and the very thought of going it on my own, without an agent or a publishing house, was terrifying. I had a lot of people, book lovers like myself, warn me that if I went down the Dark Path of Self-Publishing, I'd become some kind of Pariah, an Untouchable if I ever wanted to enter the Real World of Traditional Publishing.

But then I started to learn that I wasn't alone - there were others out there like me who'd seen this new world and the possibilities it held, and were venturing out there come hell or high water. One of these folks was a guy named Henry Brown, another book and movie blogger with a penchant for the same sort of "post modern pulp" that I enjoyed. We commented on our respective blogs and emailed back and forth, and when I saw Henry's book available on Amazon, I picked up a copy of the ebook (the first ebook I'd ever bought, by the way) and gave it a whirl, curious to see how someone much like me, with my likes and interests, had tackled this "self-publishing" thing.

Well, to my pleasant surprise, and not inconsequential relief, Henry did real yeoman's work in writing Hell and Gone, his debut novel. The characters were fun, the action was fast and furious...well heck, I'll just link to the review I wrote back in the day. Authors like Henry and several others out there (Jack Murphy, I'm pointing at you...) gave me the confidence to believe that with some hard work and a little bit of luck, I could also pen and publish my own works.

Fast forward a couple of years. It's now 2013, Henry and I are still posting comments back and forth, trading emails, and soldiering on in the world of self-publishing. Now, however, things aren't so lonely. The world of self-pubbing is a lot different now, and people are making names for themselves, solid reputations as writers who don't need the ancient machinery of a traditional publishing house to get their works out to the general public. I've got two books out and a third on the way, and Henry's second novel, Tier Zero, has landed.

And by landed, I'm talking Normandy Invasion.

Here's the product description Henry provides on the Amazon website:
Tommy Scarred Wolf thought he had smelled the powder for the last time ten years ago. Then somebody messed with his family.

With no government willing or able to help out, it's up to Tommy and his detective brother, Vince, to find Vince's kidnapped daughter halfway around the world. But rescuing her is going to take funding, firepower, and friends. Fortunately, Tommy knows some shooters just crazy enough to tag along--including some survivors from his last suicide mission: retired SEAL team commander Rocco Cavarra; former Delta Force operator Jake McCallum; and the unflappable sniper Leon Campbell.

On the ocean, in the jungle, and an urban purgatory, Tommy Scarred Wolf and his warrior brothers will face human traffickers, modern-day pirates, a typhoon, and an ultra-secret black ops team so dangerous even the CIA can’t touch them. There's something far more sinister than just "white slavery" going on here, and it's about to ram these men through a crucible which may never end...except in death.
Henry definitely delivers the goods with Tier Zero, and shows that he's developed and matured as an author. Hell and Gone and Henry's other short works are solid, entertaining, highly readable stories, but Tier Zero is a clear step above his earlier writing and exhibits a level of craftsmanship easily comparable to, if not quite a bit better than, any of the classic 80's-era fare he and I both love. Although I have no doubt legions of Men's Adventure fans have tried to imitate the writings of their favorite authors over the years, in Henry's case, the student has definitely become the master. To the jerkwads out there who complain that all self-published materials are little better than napkin scribblings peddled by illiterates looking to milk a fast buck out of a new fad, I say that books like Tier Zero prove in my mind that such beliefs are without merit. Is there junk out there? Absolutely. But believe me, Henry's published works are well-written, professional, and worth every penny paid for their entertainment value.

If you're a fan of the Men's Adventure fiction genre, if you like big guns, hot girls, pirates getting their butts kicked, brutal gunfights and tales of cunning tradecraft and high adventure in exotic locales, Tier Zero  needs to be in your hands as soon as possible.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Movie Review: Zero Dark Thirty (2013)

They say if you want to keep a happy workplace, never discuss politics or religion. This is something that I completely agree with, and since I consider this blog my "workplace" as a writer, I avoid political debates and other real-world issues because I don't want to see it turn into yet another place for folks to get lathered up over gun control or the war on terror etc..

So I'm going to try and review this film purely as a film, and not as the political fire magnet it has become. Some people might think that's me wimping out, but it's really just me not wanting to get into one of "those" arguments. For better or for worse, here we go...

I saw the movie at a Friday afternoon matinee. I have always been an advocate for the "theater experience" and with this movie I think that holds extremely true. There is something about the way a good theater experience immerses you in the film that watching at home simply lacks. There are too many distractions, and you lose focus too easily. A good theater experience is like a sensory deprivation chamber, taking away everything but the sounds and images of the film. For Zero Dark Thirty, I think that experience is vital. If you have any interest in seeing this film, do so in the theater.

The movie starts off with a blank screen and the sounds of a bunch of 9/11 phone calls, and more than any moment in the "torture" segments of the film, this was hard to sit through. Over eleven years have passed, but hearing some young woman ask a 911 operator "I'm going to die, aren't I?" and then have the phone go dead a few seconds later is incredibly rough. I think this was a very sneaky but clever decision on the part of the film makers, to remind everyone what was going through the heads of the CIA agents and operators during the events of the film. Make no mistake, this is a revenge thriller, at its heart little different than Death Wish, and should be viewed through a similar lens despite its historical context.

Next comes the infamous torture sequences. Are they graphic? I suppose, but although this might classify me as a Grade-A Bastard, I was expecting something a lot more brutal. I find it interesting that we as a culture can crank out an endless series of slasher movies and SAW films, movies that essentially use the torture and death of innocents as 90-minute long adrenaline pumps for the audiences, but that a 30-second waterboarding, a bunch of verbal abuse, and sticking some guy in a little wooden box is the filmmaking equivalent of dropping an atomic bomb on a puppy farm. 24 seemed to have more torture in it during any given episode than this whole movie, And while 24 aired everyone said they found it horrible and isn't it complex to play on our emotions that way, we're still to this day fist-pumping at the thought of Jack Bauer popping some Tangos in the brainpan with his H&K USP Compact, calling him the ultimate anti-terror badass, and so forth. And if your response is "Well, 24  was an awful show that glorified torture and I hated it", bully for you, but it went on for eight seasons. Clearly, this is a staggeringly complex issue, and there is no right answer. All I will say is that the torture scenes in Zero Dark Thirty could have been much more brutal and intense, and I think they were handled to my satisfaction, whatever their ultimate message might have been.

Now, for the rest of the film. Overall, I thought this was a very well-crafted movie. Kathryn Bigelow is an excellent director, pretty much unique in her status as a female film-maker who operates almost exclusively in the "men's genres". I've admired her work since back in the 80's with the gritty vampire thriller Near Dark, and I think she's only gotten better with each succeeding film. ZDT uses a very "documentarian" shooting style, with minmal camera movement and a very voyeuristic feel to the cinematography that makes it easy to fall into the emotional belief that you're actually watching the reality of the events unfolding, rather than a dramatization. There's very little music in the film, and what little there is comes up only in moments of transition or unspoken tension. Coupled with a very powerful sound design, I think this only serves to draw you even further into the film, and again, it's one of the reasons this film should be seen in the theater. There are a couple of moments where things blow up, and the physical vibrations of the sound hitting me were shocking enough for me to jump in my seat. The gunfire, especially in one early sequence, was extremely well-done, relying on the blast and overpressure of the gun's report rather than the "bang", something hard to explain unless you compare, say, gunfire sounds from the 70's or 80's to the gunfire in this film. Again, it works towards making the viewing experience feel less like a movie and more like a documentary. You're not going to get that at home, but I think the intent was to drive home that intensity to the viewer in a very visceral way, and I think it succeeded.

Another area where I think the film-makers were very smart was in casting. There are no major stars in this film, and the two actors I immediately recognized - James Gandolfini from The Sopranos and John Barrowman from Doctor Who  and Torchwood - have very small parts. This film is not a personality vehicle for some A-list celeb to grab an Oscar for Best Actor/Actress, but I still felt all the parts were handled very well, even when we don't really like the characters. For me, I found Maya, the film's main character, to be overly abrasive and kind of irritating (although not as annoying as Claire Danes' character on Homeland, since that'd be virtually impossible), but I think her off-putting demeanor was intentional. As it is mentioned near the end of the film, Maya has spent her entire CIA career doing nothing but hunting down Bin Laden, so it is natural that she's got a fanatic's aggressiveness, while everyone else is warning her about burnout and irreparable damage to her career.

Finally, the raid itself was very intense. I can only imagine the trainwreck it would have been if this film was handled by a bozo such as Michael Bay, with slo-mo scream moments filled with autofire and 'splosions everywhere, I can picture Osama being killed at the climax of the film only after the SEALs took on and defeated several "mini-bosses", the terrorist leader dying as his body is riddled with bullets while silhouetted by flames, as one of the operators sneers "You lose, Osama...". There is none of that, and yet I found it a very tense, disturbing sequence, almost too real to be comfortable, but I think the discomfort I felt was a good thing. Reading accounts of the raid, it surely had some violent moments, but it wasn't some Chuck Norris-esque bullet-fest, and I'm infinitely relieved the film-makers didn't treat it as such.

To conclude, I think Zero Dark Thirty is well worth a look, but I think, sadly, this movie's merits as a spy/military thriller will be completely overshadowed by the controversy surrounding one small part of the film, no matter how important that part might be. It will be interesting to look back on this film in ten years' time and see if the film can escape from this controversy, or be buried by it.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Teaser Poster for Operation Bedlam

Henry Brown over at Two-Fisted Blogger was kind enough to offer me space for advertising my next Commando novel, Operation Bedlam. Since I'd already received the book cover from my artist, I decided to do a little Photoshop work today, and this is the result.

I'm hoping to get the draft done by the end of January, with editing and revisions by the end of February, meaning a publishing date some time in March. That'd mean six months between novels, which is a pretty solid turnaround time.

Given that I'm done with graduate school now (whew), I hope to begin work on Commando #3 in March, and get it published sometime this summer.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

NANOK Gets a New Cover!

Ander Plana, the artist responsible for the excellent new cover gracing Operation Arrowhead has now provided me with a cover for my pastiche Swords & Sorcery short story, NANOK and the Tower of Sorrows.

Although it was a ton of fun to write, and I think it's a great read for fans of Sword & Sorcery-style fantasy fiction, NANOK hasn't been selling very well, so I decided to make the investment and get a new cover. I think Ander's creation is pretty damn awesome - true to the classic pulp fantasy cover feel, but with a more modern styling. I think he also does a good job of making the cover unique while tying it in to the general layout seen in my Commando covers.

If you have a chance, head over to and check out Ander's work - some great stuff (and I'm not just saying that because my commissioned works are there.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

In 2013, Always Be Closing

2012 was a pretty good year here at Post Modern Pulp. I closed out 2011 with four ebook sales in December - two copies of the Hatchet Force Journal, and two copies of my short ghost story, Rivalry. This December, I ended the month with 160 ebook sales, my best month of the year. In 2012 I published two novels, two short stories, and released the paperback version of Hatchet Force Journal, which made a number of readers very happy. In 2011 I made just over sixty bucks in ebook sales, but by the end of 2012, I'm selling enough ebooks and paperbacks that I'm making that sixty bucks every week.

Now granted, that's hardly enough to survive on, much less enough to quit my job and write full-time. I doubt that will ever happen, as much as I'd like it to become a reality. But on the other hand, it's giving me a belief in my writing, a feeling that, with enough hard work and dedication, this can be more than just a hobby for me.

The problem is, I'm too damn lazy.

If I wrote 1,000 words a day, that's 365,000 words. That's four novels around the size of Killer Instincts, or eight books the size of Operation Arrowhead. And I'm a fairly fast writer - I can type out a thousand words in an hour if I really push myself. That means with an hour a day's effort, I could write enough content to fill multiple books a year. Of course there's the editing process, and all the time taken to plan and plot and ponder about what's going to happen, but let's face it - I do that all day, every day. I think about writing on my way in to work, during my lunch break, while I'm doing my day job, as I'm eating dinner, even while I'm falling asleep. The act of creating is going on every waking moment in my brain, in some form or another.

But I'm not closing.

Allow me to post the seminal scene from David Mamet's masterpiece, Glengarry Glen Ross. It makes my point far better than I ever could...


Now, that video clip might be Grade A masturbatory material for every low-level businessman who's got delusions of sitting in The Big Corner Office some day, but I think it holds especially true for those who've decided to write and publish their own material. You need to work, and work hard, every day in order to make it happen, and sitting around saying "Yeah,'s a tough racket..." not only gets you nowhere, it just encourages the stereotype of the shitty self-published fool who thinks they can be lazy and put garbage up for sale on Amazon and expect it to sell like mad and flood their coffers with cash every month.

I'm never the sort of person who makes New Year's resolutions. I find there's no faster method for disappointing yourself than setting some arbitrary goal that you're only setting because it's the start of a new year. On the other hand, I need to work harder and faster on my writing. I need to always be closing.

For me, this means I need to be writing at least 500 words a day, preferably 1,000. That's 30-60 minutes of effort out of the whole day. I also need to work harder at blogging regularly. I average maybe a post and a half a week on here, but I need to really be writing about a thousand words a week in posts, perhaps 2-3 posts a week. I need to be reading other people's blogs, and commenting more, and continue to build strong relationships with other bloggers and writers.

My goals for 2013 are:
  1. To finish writing and publish Operation Bedlam. I've got the new cover for the book and once the manuscript is finished, I'm looking for Beta readers. If you're interested, please contact me.
  2. To re-write and publish an old Sword & Sorcery novella I wrote and shelved a decade ago.
  3. To write and publish Operation Cannibal, the third Commando novel.
  4. To write and publish the sequel to Rivalry.
That might seem like a lot, but it really isn't. Bedlam is half finished, and the fantasy novella is already written - it just needs a rewrite and an edit. Cannibal could be written in a month, maybe two, and the sequel to Rivalry could be typed over a long weekend. I'd love to write another French Resistance short story, and maybe even another Nanok story if time permits. All in all, I think I'd like to see two Commando novels and 2-4 short works in 2013.

In other words, I need to Always Be Closing.