The 2014 Hugo Awards Post

The 2014 Hugo Awards have been given out and the slate of winners is highly diverse and overall very good (detailed voting and nomination breakdown here), which is even more remarkable considering that the 2014 Hugo shortlist was probably the most controversial in ages. For some background, see my posts here, here and here.

My reaction, when I saw the list of winners this morning (I spent Sunday night writing and didn’t follow the announcements live, deciding I didn’t need the grief) very much matters that of Natalie Luhrs from The Radish: Faith in humanity (and fandom) restored. Continue reading

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier revisited or When is it appropriate to cry at movies?

Yesterday, I bought Captain America: The Winter Soldier on DVD – on release day actually, which was coincidence, because I happened to be out shopping anyway. And I didn’t even have to wait for it because of the current slapfight between Amazon and Disney, since I got it at Media Markt, a big brick and mortar electronics chain.

My Mom happened to be with me – she doesn’t drive anymore and so I have to take her grocery shopping, when my Dad isn’t home – so I said, “Hey, do you want to watch this tonight?” So we ended up watching Captain America: The Winter Soldier last night.

Now my Mom is a bit ambivalent about superhero movies (“You don’t want to watch that, do you?” she sometimes asks with reference to pretty dreadful fare like the Fantastic Four movies or Green Lantern), but she really enjoys the Marvel Avengerverse movies. So far she’s seen all three Iron Man movies (she’s a big fan of Robert Downey Jr.), the two Thor movies (took a bit of persuading, but she liked them) and The Avengers (Robert Downey Jr. and Thor and Loki and – oh, just watch it already, will you?). She hasn’t seen the first Captain America movie (I offered, but she didn’t want to watch it – WWII settings not being attractive for people who actually lived through it) nor The Incredible Hulk (because it’s not very good). Coincidentally, she has also expressed interest in watching Guardians of the Galaxy or “that movie with the raccoon and the tree”, as she calls it. Nonetheless, she mainly knows Captain America as “that superhero you don’t like” as well as from what she’s seen of him in The Avengers.

I gave her a bit of catch-up information regarding what had happened to Steve and who Bucky and Peggy were. I also had to explain easter eggs and throwaway references to her such as that Bruce Banner who was sometimes mentioned was Hulk, that Tony Stark was Iron Man and Howard Stark his Dad, who Stephen Strange was, who Baron von Strucker was and who the twins in the mid-credits sequence were. And of course, I had to point out the Stan Lee cameo, for while Mom knows who Stan Lee is, she isn’t primed to recognize him as soon as he shows up.

Nonetheless, the Avengersverse movies are really, really good at being comprehensible even to people who have never read the comics nor seen any of the previous movies. Of course, you get more out of them if you have seen previous movies or read the comics, but it’s not necessary to enjoy the films. In fact that very reason why these movies are so fantastically successful is that they appeal to the average viewer as much as to the hardcore fan.

Since she didn’t follow the comics and isn’t plugged into the geeksphere like I am, my Mom was also probably the only person in the known universe who didn’t know who the Winter Soldier was. In fact, whenever he was in screen, she said, “Why doesn’t he take the mask of? Why do they never show his face?”

“Because it’s meant to be a surprise”, I said, “And if you don’t know it, then I’m not going to spoil it for you.”

In fact – and I didn’t notice this myself until watching the movie with someone who had no idea about the true identity of the Winter Soldier – the movie does a very good job keeping his face either hidden behind his mask or – in the scene where he visits Alexander Pierce (Mom: “Oh my! That’s really Robert Redford.”) at home – keeping it in the shadow, so the audience never fully gets to see his face until Steve does. Besides, the Winter Soldier’s hairstyle is completely different from that of 1940s Bucky Barnes, so someone who went into the movie unspoiled had no chance of figuring out the true identity of the Winter Soldier before Steve.

And indeed once the mask came of, my Mom said, “Okay, so he’s really handsome. But who was he supposed to be again?”

Talking of handsome, one thing my Mom noticed was how very many handsome young men there were in the movie. She explicitly mentioned Steve, Bucky (though she claimed he had weird ears), Brock Rumlow, Jasper Sitwell, though her personal favourite was Sam Wilson a.k.a. Falcon.

In fact, one thing that’s notable about the Avengersverse movies is how much they cater to the female gaze. Not only are they chock full of handsome men (and handsome men of various races at that, though the leads are still overwhelmingly white), the camera also spends a lot of time lingering on their impressive muscles, while the plot finds reasons to have them take their shirts off. The Thor movies are the most blatant in this regard, since Thor pretty much blinds Jane and Darcy with his impressive physique (and in a total reversal of the usual gender roles of Golden Age SF, Jane is the brilliant astrophysic and Thor is her hot alien trophy boyfriend). But you get similar female gaze scenes in all the Avengersverse movies. Just note how we first see the newly muscular (and shirtless) Steve through Peggy Carter’s eyes. And even Tony Stark spends a surprising amount of time either completely shirtless or in sleeveless shirts to show off his rather impressive muscles (particularly considering Robert Downey Jr. is pushing fifty by now).

Meanwhile, Scarlett Johansson, Cobie Smulders, Emily VanCamp and Hayley Atwell are all very attractive women (ditto for Gwynneth Paltrow and Natalie Portman in the other movies), but the film does not sexualize them. We do see Black Widow in a plain black undershirt at one point and of course she wears her signature black leather catsuit, but the usual cleavage and butt shots are almost entirely absent (whereas we get butt shots of Steve, Bucky and Falcon) and Natasha spends most of the movie in a shapeless hoodie instead. And while my Mom commented on how handsome many of the men were, her remarks on the women mostly focussed on how much they kicked arse (though she did say that Cobie Smulders and Hayley Atwell were both very pretty).

So in case anybody is wondering why the audience of the Marvel movies is almost 50% female, the fact that they cater to the female gaze and do not unnecessarily sexualize the women and give us a lot of different and impressive women in general probably has a lot to do with it. And there are still enough fights and explosions and car chases to keep men of all ages and 12-year-olds of every gender happy.

Talking of car chases – and The Winter Soldier has quite a few of them – for a couple of years now, my personal gold standard for action scenes in general and car chases in particular has been the German cop show Alarm für Cobra 11 (Alarm for Cobra 11), which has the best car chases on TV (Don’t believe me? Watch it online here). My Mom and I both agreed that the various car chases and action scenes in The Winter Soldier could absolutely compare with those in Alarm für Cobra 11. However, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a Hollywood blockbuster with a budget of approximately 170 million US-dollar, whereas Alarm für Cobra 11 is a TV series with a budget of maybe one million Euro for the more elaborate episodes. Even more bizarre is that Alarm für Cobra 11 was originally intended as a homegrown replacement for car chase and explosion heavy US-shows like The A-Team and Knight Rider, on which the network RTL had built its success in the 1980s. And now some twenty years later, the German copy is the gold standard for action scenes, whereas the US no longer shoots such scenes at all (very few US TV shows have car chases these days, let alone on a regular basis) and needs a triple digit million budget to do it properly.

In general, I have been very impressed with both Captain America movies and I’m saying this as someone who doesn’t even like the character and used to refer to him as “Captain Nationalism”. However, Marvel manages to incorporate the problematic ultra patriotism that has been a vital part of the character since the beginning and yet never turns Steve in “Captain Nationalism”. Instead, the movies show that while Captain America started out as a propaganda icon, this is a role that was thrust upon Steve, not one he chooses for himself. And indeed he casts it off at the first opportunity and instead focusses on what lies at the heart of all superhero movies, namely how to be a good person. Interestingly – and I’m not sure if the narrative is fully aware of this – the movies also show Steve and Bucky as victims of the very same propaganda for which they were both utilized (because the Winter Soldier is as much a propaganda figure as Captain America). Propaganda induces both Steve and Bucky to volunteer for WWII (even though Steve didn’t have to go and Bucky didn’t have to go so soon) and in the end it costs them both dearly, when they lose decades of their lives only to find themselves in a world neither of them recognizes. Steve at least gets to define his role for himself, Bucky doesn’t even get that. He does get his identity back in the post-credits scene at the Smithsonian, but the Bucky he reads about is Bucky the Howling Commando and propaganda figure, not the Bucky who was Steve’s best friend. We’ll have to wait until 2016 to get that Bucky back.

Now The Winter Soldier has something of a reputation as a tearjerker and indeed it is the most depressing of the Marvel movies (though The First Avengers is also pretty depressing, which makes for an interesting pattern). And my Mom is one of those people who unfailingly cries at movies, even if she has seen the film before, if it’s not very good and/or manipulative as hell and if she knows the outcome already. I vividly remember her crying her eyes out at the execution of Anne Boleyn in (I think) The Tudors. “Why the hell are you crying?”, I asked her at the time, “You knew from the beginning that this was going to happen.”

Since The Winter Soldier actually is a tearjerker – unlike Anne Boleyn getting beheaded on screen for the twentieth time – I expected my Mom to cry. However, to my infinite surprise she didn’t. I actually asked her about this the next day and she said, “Oh, but there was way too much action and excitement to cry.” A bit doubtfully she added, “That’s a notorious tearjerker? Really?”

“Probably the second biggest tearjerker of the year after The Fault in Our Stars“, I said, followed by an explanation of what The Fault in Our Stars was ["That sounds absolutely horrible", my Mom said].

“So what was I supposed to cry about? The death of Nick Fury?”

“Maybe that, too”, I said, “But mostly about Bucky and Steve and how absolutely horrible it is what was done to Bucky.”

Now I honestly wonder why my Mom, who cries at anything included the totally expected execution of Anne Boleyn in a bad historical drama, was not moved by the Bucky/Steve relationship which has drowned most of Tumblr in a sea of tears. I guess it’s partly a generational difference and partly that has a non-comic reader and someone who hasn’t seen The First Avenger, she doesn’t fully get how important Bucky was to Steve. But then, a lot of Tumblr fandom has never read the comics either.

Indeed, her remark that “there was too much action to cry” also made me reflect on when it is considered culturally appropriate to cry at movies in general. For starters, it’s not true that my Mom doesn’t cry at action films, because I have seen her cry at Alarm für Cobra 11 more than once. Of course, she probably was more invested in the characters of a long running TV series than in people she’s only seen in a handful of movies.

But in general, action films are not considered appropriate to cry. Unless they are disaster movies, then it suddenly is appropriate to cry at the noble sacrificial death du jour. Witness Titanic and all of the crappy tearjerky disaster flicks that followed like Armageddon or Pearl Harbour. Hell, you can even go back to the disaster movies of the 1970s, which usually have at least one Hollywood veteran (often a woman) nobly sacrificing her life.

Science fiction, fantasy and superhero movies are also not considered suitable for crying outside fandom, though inside fandom several SF, fantasy and superhero films are known for notorious tearjerker scenes. Unlike my Mom, I have never been one to cry at movies, but when I do, it’s mostly at SF and fantasy movies, whereas mainstream tearjerkers like Titanic or Love Story or Doctor Zhivago or Out of Africa or The Champ leave me totally cold, probably because they are either blatantly manipulative (Love Story, The Champ) or the characters and their personal dramas are so boring that I can’t bring myself to care what happens to them (all of the above, really). I’m also not entirely sure just why some films are considered tearjerkers by mainstream audiences. It can’t be the realism aspect, because The Champ and Love Story are not remotely realistic, even though they are theoretically set in the real world. It might be that the blatant emotional manipulation pays off with mainstream audiences, but then genre cinema can be just as manipulative as mainstream cinema (looking at you, Joss Whedon) and yet Titanic or Love Story or The Champ are considered tearjerkers, whereas Serenity is not. Or maybe it’s that genre audiences generally go into a movie already emotionally invested in the characters and their world and thus cry at Serenity or The Winter Soldier, whereas mainstream audiences first need to develop emotional investment, which often happens via blatant manipulation. Now a lot of the time this manipulation is simply too blatant to work for me (The Champ is particularly bad about this) or the characters are simply too dull, annoying or downright stupid for me to get invested in them (Titanic is a particularly bad offender, but also Love Story).

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Odds and Ends

This blog had been rather quiet these past few days, since I haven’t been feeling well. However, there are some news from elsewhere to report:

For starters, I am now a contributor to the Speculative Fiction Showcase where the “Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month” feature will be crossposted on the last day of every month.

What is more, Kobo’s own e-book discovery platform Kobo Next just launched in German, featuring my own Die Liebe in den Zeiten des Frischkornmüslis among others.

Finally, I have blogged over at Pegasus Pulp about the frankly bizarre e-mail Amazon sent to all KDP authors as well as about some Amazon bashing articles and videos from Germany.

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Plane Crash in Bremen

This has certainly been a summer of disasters in general and plane crashes in particular. First Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot down in Ukraine, which rattled me a lot, because my Dad has flown the very same route only a few weeks ago. Then a TransAsia flight crashed in Taiwan, an Air Algerie flight in Mali and a private plane crashed into a supermarket parking lot in San Diego, all within the span of less than a month.

Yesterday at noon, Bremen was hit by an airplane disaster when a small plane crashed into a warehouse shortly after taking off at Bremen Airport, killing both people on board. Luckily, no one was hurt on the ground, because the plane hit a tyre warehouse on the premises of a car dealership rather than the showroom or the workshop, both of which would have been full of people. The crash site burned for several hours though, some homes in the area were evacuated and there was a smoke plume over Bremen.

Radio Bremen and Weser Kurier have more (in German). Here is also a report from the local news program buten und binnen (Outside and inside in Low German) with lots of footage and interviews with spokespeople of the Bremen police and fire brigade as well as two apprentices at the car dealership. Here is another buten und binnen clip interviewing a spokesperson of the German flight safety agency. Finally, here is a follow-up report from today with footage of the burned out crashsite and an interview with the owner of the car dealership.

The cause of the crash is not yet known, though the pilot apparently reported problems directly after the start and witnesses report that the plane was burning before it crashed. It is suspected that he tried to turn the plane around and crashed before he could reach the airport. The crash site is only a few hundred meters behind the North-Eastern end of the runway.

The plane was a Saab 91 Safir from 1954, which was owned and operated by the Lufthansa commercial flight school. The plane was about to go out of service and would have been transferred to the Lufthansa museum in Berlin later this month. There has been no official confirmation about the identity of the two people inside the plane, but the current word is that they were an experienced Lufthansa pilot and an Italian journalist.

This whole thing was something of a shock to me, because I know the neighbourhood where the plane crashed very well. The plane managed to crash right next to the intersection of two busy roads, which are main routes into the city centre and where I drive along all the time. My aunt and uncle live within walking distance of the crash site. A gentleman I know via my translation work lives literally next door. And just two days before the crash, I had lunch with my Mom at a café opposite the crash site. So it’s kind of obvious that I’m a bit rattled.

It didn’t help either that I heard the planes passing over my house all afternoon. I live under one of the flight paths from Bremen airport, though far enough out that the planes are audible, but not annoying. Apparently, yesterday they diverted all air traffic to the path that leads over my house to avoid the smoke plume. The airport was even closed for a while and a few flights had to be diverted to other airports. Mind you, all this happened on the busiest travel weekend of the year, because the summer holidays in Bremen and Lower Saxony started the day before.

The truth is that horrible as the deaths of the pilot and the passenger of the doomed plane are, it could have been much worse, is the plane had hit the showroom or the workshop of the car dealership or the ethnic supermarket behind the crash site or the houses nearby or the two busy roads intersecting next to the crash site or 24-hour gym and shoe shop on the other side of the road or the popular café opposite the crash site (the café is a wooden building, too) or the Airbus plant right next to the airport or the various office buildings that sprung up at the airport in the 1990s. Not to mention plenty of residential areas and several shopping malls and schools underneath the flight path. For example, my school was under the flight path as well and the planes were still so low and so loud that when the windows were open, we had to interrupt the lesson until the plane has passed. There was a particular Ryan Air flight which regularly interrupted my English class. In fact, it’s a stroke of luck in the middle of a bad case of misfortune that there weren’t more casualties yesterday.

As with all tragedies of this sort, you get the usual suspects airing their views. The delightfully named “Association for those damaged by air traffic”, actually just a bunch of people who bought cheap real estate near the airport and now wish that it would stop operating except for the two weeks they are on holiday, is already yelling and in the comments at a national news site, people were calling for banning all amateur pilots, totally disregarding the fact that the plane was not piloted by an amateur at all, but by an experienced Lufthansa pilot. As for the flight school connection, the Lufthansa flight school has been operating at Bremen Airport for more than fifty years without incident.

Here are a few facts: Bremen Airport opened for business in 1920, i.e. it is 94 years old. The first commercial connection was a flight to Amsterdam, operated by KLM. 94 years later, this same service still exists, though the planes are very different. Parts of the original 1920 Art Deco terminal building were still visible until a remodelling in the 1990s by the way. What is more, in those 94 years, the city grew and moved a lot closer to the airport. In fact, some of the residential buildings in the area were built in the 1920s and 1930s, i.e. not long after the airport. Would it have been more prudent to build the airport somewhere else? Probably. But the airport is where it is and relocating it elsewhere isn’t possible for a variety of administrative reasons too complicated to go into right now.

Besides, in its 94-year-history, Bremen Airport only experienced three crashes. The first was the Lufthansa flight 005 crash in 1966. The plane missed the runway, probably due to low visibility and heavy rain, and crashed into a field on the South-Western end of the runway, killing all 46 aboard, including actress Ada Tschechowa and several members of the Italian Olympic swimming team. I still remember that there was the burned out ruin of a barn at the site of the 1966 crash well into the early 1980s, until they extended the runway and relocated the road.

The second crash happened in 1972, when a prototype VFW-Fokker 614, which was being built in what is now an Airbus plant right next to the airport, crashed onto the airfield, killing the co-pilot. For some reason, this crash is almost completely forgotten, probably because it did not involve a plane in active passenger service.

The third crash, finally, happened yesterday, 42 years after the previous one. Not too bad considering that Bremen Airport is used by approx. 2.6 million passengers per year.

By the way, my Dad managed to drive past the sites of both the 1966 and 2014 crash just minutes after they happened. In both cases, he later said, “There was a fire. I had no idea what had happened.”

Finally, even living far from any airports is no guarantee that you won’t be affected by a planecrash. I bet the people of Eastern Ukraine (not the separatists, the ordinary farmers in the region) did not exact to find airplane parts and bodies raining onto their fields and villages. The people of the Scottish village of Lockerbie certainly did not expect to have an airplane dropped onto their heads (and the Pan-Am bombing also killed eleven people on the ground).

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Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month: July 2014

Indie Speculative Fiction of the MonthIt’s that time of the month again, time for “Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month”.

So what is “Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month”? It’s a round-up of speculative fiction by indie authors newly published this month, though some June books I missed the last time around snuck in as well. The books are arranged in alphabetical order by author. So far, most links only go to Amazon.com, though I may add other retailers for future editions.

Once again, we have a broad spectrum of titles, featuring science fiction, space opera, grimdark fantasy, Steampunk, dystopian fiction, post-apocalyptic fiction, urban fantasy, Asian based fantasy, fairytale retellings, the ever popular vampires, the ever popular zombies, the not quite so popular selkies, dinosaurs, gladiators, superpowers, soul thieves, funeral gatecrashers, the afterlife and much more. We even have a non-fiction essay collection

As always, I know the authors at least vaguely, but I haven’t read all of the books, so Caveat emptor.

And now on to the books without further ado:

The Heretic by Lucas BaleThe Heretic by Lucas Bale

Earth is gone.

Centuries have passed since the First Cataclysm ended life on the blue planet. Humanity’s survivors are now dispersed among distant colonies, thousands of light years from the barren, frozen rock that was once their home.

A new Republic has formed – one in which freedom no longer exists. In return for the protection of the Consulate Magistratus, citizens must concede their rights. The Magistratus controls interstellar travel, access to technology – even procreation. Organised religion is forbidden. All crime is punished by banishment or a lifetime of penal servitude on the Kolyma prison fleet.

And humanity’s true history survives only in whispers of a secret archive.

Yet there are those who preach a new religion and who want to be free.

A revolution is coming…

Wrathlight by Christopher BarrieuWrathlight by Christopher Barrieu

The Bathel: A race of psychopaths and murderers, consuming worlds and cultures with terrible sadistic joy. They have conquered every race they have found.

Now they have found mankind.

Scott Shaw, soldier, widower, and father, is the best warrior humanity has. He is trained in the alien combat of humanity’s new universe. But compared to the Bathel, he is a mere novice.

The Bathel demand a ritual combat: should Scott win, the Bathel will leave the small colony of mankind alone. Should he lose, everything and everyone he knows will suffer beyond the imaginations of humanity.

But no one has ever won, and Scott knows he heads to certain death on a foreign world.

Yet the natives speak of Wrathlight, the ultimate power, the power of judgement, wielded by powerful spirits with sky-blue eyes. An old myth, but can a mere man perhaps embody such a thing? Can he strike back for all the suffering races and save his own?

Scott is about to find out.

Steel and Song by Ani BoltonSteel and Song by Ani Bolton

Airwitch Tova Vanaskaya’s choices are few: use her magic to fly an elite aircraft in the Grand Duchy’s army or be shipped to the trenches. But invoking too much magic can kill the wielder, and her Cossack captain has a hell-bent-for-leather streak that pushes her to the brink. It’s a good thing she’s not afraid to push back.

Airship captain Piers Dashkov lost his friends, family ties and self-respect in a rash act years ago, so it’s fine by him if the odds of surviving a dogfight are slim to none. His goal is simple: find redemption through valor and regain his lost honor in death if not life. He needs the smart-mouthed airwitch to achieve that impossible goal, but he never thought she would prove to be his salvation.

While the enemy is on the move, and whispers of revolution echo from the salons of the noble Cossack Houses to the tenement slums of Muscovy, one reckless night of passion creates a connection that will reverberate fatally for nations as well as for Tova and Piers.

Degenerated by S. Elliot BrandisDegenerated by S. Elliot Brandis

Humanity is divided.

In the tunnels, beneath the city…

Flynn was imprisoned at birth, spurned by society because of his differences. By age thirteen he was ready to die. By all accounts he should have.

Now he lives amongst those who’d wish him dead, struggling to understand the affliction that saved his life. Life in the tunnels is dark and twisted. He must find a way to make things right.

On the surface, in a sun-scorched wasteland…

Pearl lives in a camp of survivors, learning to adapt to the hostile climate. The mood has begun to darken. Bad habits and dangerous ideas are infiltrating her people.

When the camp decides to attack the tunnels, she faces a choice: will she do as she’s told and stay safe, or risk her life to save a society of people she doesn’t understand.

DEGENERATED is the second novel in The Tunnel Trilogy, following Irradiated.

Zombie Town by Griffin CarmichaelZombie Town by Griffin Carmichael

From city to suburbia, zombies are all the rage as they rampage on their quest for sustenance, taking down strangers, friends and neighbors alike, without pity or remorse.

Here are nine short stories about the times when the dead walk and the living fear.

MY BIG FAT ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE: What better place to be when the dead rise than the local fitness center.

THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT CAROL: Suburban life can be deadly dull. Or maybe just deadly.

FIGGY PUDDING: Holidays are known for feasting and jubilation, but one restaurant manager comes to regret keeping the doors open one Christmas eve.

NEITHER RAIN NOR: Public servants are said to be a dedicated lot, but carrying on with business as usual after the zombie apocalypse is taking it a bit too far.

SILENT: Little children look forward to a visit from Santa with great anticipation, but there’s nothing good coming down the chimney this year.

DARKNESS FALLS: Even a sturdy fallout shelter isn’t any protection when the super flu everybody’s been predicting lays waste to the world.

FLASHLIGHT: All she wanted was a flashlight so she could see what all the ruckus outside was about. Sometimes it’s better to remain in the dark.

IN THE MEADOW: Winter has come to a small Nebraskan town, bringing huge snowfalls. But nobody is in the mood to build a snowman.

RITUALS FOR THE LIVING: Long after the dead have risen, the survivors learn to cope with new ways of living and dying.

Selkie by Claire ChiltonSelkie by Claire Chilton

She just lost her heart to the ocean…
Ex-hacker, Cassie Easton, has just made out with her boss—mistake #1. And he’s just told her he’s engaged—mistake #2. She thinks her heart might have just been shredded for good.

The idea of going back to work with him after that is humiliating enough, but things just keep getting worse. Sean’s not acting like the man she knows and loves. She barely recognizes him anymore. Something fishy is going on, and Cassie reverts to her criminal ways to find out why sexy Sean O’Callaghan is dating an old trout and running scared.

When it turns out to be the mystic forces of the ocean that’s screwing up her love life, she wonders if she’s finally lost her mind. If she can just survive a wasted wizard, a jealous sea witch and Selkie lore, maybe she’ll get to fall in love, assuming she doesn’t get arrested first.

Selkie is the first book in The Celtic Witches series.

Hidden Intentions by Stacy ClaflinHidden Intentions by Stacy Claflin

Fun-loving Clara is keeping a dark and deadly secret from William, the love of her life.

Not because she wants to hide things from him, but because her story is so unbelievable he will probably think she’s crazy.

If she tells him, she could lose him. If she doesn’t tell him, she will.

This is a standalone novel loosely connected to The Transformed series. And yes, it’s speculative fiction.

Hunted by A.J. ColbyHunted by A.J. Colby

Vampires, werewolves, and serial killers, OH MY!

Eight years after the attack that changed her life forever, Riley Cray is confronted with something she never thought she’d have to face again: Samson Reed, the werewolf who nearly killed her, has escaped from prison. With the help of Special Agent Darius Holbrook, Riley is racing against time to stay one step ahead of the crazed werewolf. But Reed isn’t the only monster with his eyes on Riley and as the bodies are piling up she’s beginning to wonder how long it will be before she’s one of them.

Fight or Flight by Chele CookeFight or Flight by Chele Cooke

A single secret might change a war, but a lie can destroy those fighting it.

Georgianna Lennox’s biggest fear has become reality: she has been sold as a slave. Caught in the middle of the brewing war between the Adveni oppressors and Belsa rebels, she is recruited to be the rebels’ eyes behind enemy lines.

As the Belsa make bolder attacks against the cruel Adveni, Georgianna finds that the lies she is tasked to tell her owner are nothing compared to the secrets she must keep from her friends – secrets that could change the war in their favour, and lies that might destroy them all.

Part 2 in the Out of Orbit series, following Dead and Buryd, which is free right now.

The Girl who believed in fairy tales by Heidi GarrettThe Girl Who Believed in Fairy Tales by Heidi Garrett

Heidi Garrett has written a lyrical collection of short stories woven with the threads of three very poignant fairy tales that pull this literary tapestry together to create a shimmering picture of love and acceptance.

THE GIRL WHO WATCHED FOR ELVES desperately needs to find her elf–it’s her only hope for happiness and, ultimately, survival.

THE GIRL WHO DREAMED OF RED SHOES is slowly dying inside until she learns that nothing is right until it’s the right fit–and in vivid, living color.

Lastly, THE GIRL WHO COULDN’T SING has to step out into her dream or she’s going to die with her song hidden inside her heart.

Anyone who misses these tales, will miss the experience–no, transformation of a lifetime. It’s time for everyone to get their real on!

The Wish by Judy GoodwinThe Wish by Judy Goodwin

Jodi is in love. The problem is that she’s in love with her best friend, Tanya. And her best friend is in love with Roger. Even worse, they’re getting married. As her friend prepares for a big wedding combining her Japanese and American traditions, Jodi finds herself praying to a long lost Japanese goddess for help.

When the goddess answers, Jodi is faced with a terrible choice. She can either have passion and heartache, or she can have friendship and loneliness.

Wishes always come with strings attached.

Bonus short story: Reflections of Chi

Geneva Lin runs a respectable interior decorating business. Her orderly world turns to chaos when a woman barges in, insisting that her house is rearranging itself. Geneva only hopes a little Feng Shui will solve the problem.

The question is, what do you do with a house that may want to kill you?

Warbound by C.P.D. HarrisWarbound: The Shield Maiden by C.P.D. Harris

A LOST CONTINENT. A LEGION IN PERIL. THE FATE OF TWO EMPIRES.

In the Domains of the Chosen magic is power.

The Grand Championships are over. Two Gladiators have joined the ranks of the immortal rulers of the Domains. As Gavin and Sadira learn their way as Chosen, their friend, Vintia sets sail with an expedition that will reshape the future of the empire. Chosen Brightloch has found the way to Ithal’duin, a continent lost since The Reckoning. New allies, and new dangers await. Fortunes will be made and the balance of power will shift. It is up to Vintia and the Ninth Legion to safeguard this expedition. Yet, while the Legions faces strange foes, the politics of the Chosen might present an even greater danger.

This is the third book in the Domains of the Chosen series, following Bloodlust: A Gladiator’s Tale and Bloodlust: Will to Power.

The abnorms by Gregory HoffmanThe Abnorms by Gregory Hoffman

The world thinks they are useless.

Society thinks they are freaks.

They are Abnorms.

People born with special powers that set them apart from normal humans. Abnorms with useful or dangerous powers are snatched up by the government and never seen again, those with powers deemed useless are set free, back into a population that hates and shuns them. This is a story about a group of so-called useless Abnorms but these teens must do their best to make their useless powers useful as they try to rescue one of their own from the clutches of the government, and maybe fall in love along the way.

Heir's Revenge by Patty JansenHeir’s Revenge by Patty Jansen

If Miran had princesses, Ellisandra Takumar would be one. Smart, pretty, engaged to a high-profile man, everything a high-class Mirani woman should be. But things are not well in Miran. Many years of boycotts have taken their toll on society, and the regime becomes more desperate to keep its citizens under control. Revolt is brewing. As director of the state theatre, Ellisandra has been asked to stage a violent traditional play which stands stiff with threatening political messages for the populace. She hates it, but speaking out would risk that she’d be cast out from the only world she’s ever known.

Next to her house is the burnt ruin of the house of another high-class family, the Andrahar family. They fled Miran for political reasons when Ellisandra was a little girl and the house has lain untouched ever since. One night, she spots a mysterious young man walking around the yard, putting out pegs and pieces of string. He’s re-building the house. That makes no sense, because the family is no longer welcome in Miran, and who is he anyway?

She is curious and investigates. He seems too good-natured and naïve for his own good, so rather than telling her brothers, she tries to shield him from her own society. And so starts the slide that leads to her being cast out from the only life she’s ever known.

This is the final book in the Return of the Aghyrians series, following Watcher’s Web, Trader’s Honour and Soldier’s Duty.

Mission: Flight to Mars by V.A. JeffreyMission: Flight to Mars by V.A. Jeffrey

Bob Astor is a Quality Assurance agent working at Vartan Inc. Lately his days have been stressful, to say the least. Butting heads with upper management has put his career on life support. A surprising change in circumstance has Bob going on a business mission to the moon city, Langrenus. On the way, he meets one of the delegates on board the Starbird, a desperate man with a dark past and a very dangerous secret. Through a mysterious series of events Bob finds himself in the middle of an interplanetary crises that no one knows about. These secrets could change – or destroy – all human life on Earth. The key to the answer of the crises is on the Red Planet, Mars. It’s up to Bob, the burnt-out Q. A. agent to rise to the occasion and stem the dangerous tide coming from beyond the solar system.

The Dinosaur Four by Geoff JonesThe Dinosaur Four by Geoff Jones

They came for the coffee and wound up in the Cretaceous.

A ticking sound fills the air as Tim MacGregor enters The Daily Edition Café, hoping to meet his new girlfriend for coffee. Moments later, the café is transported 67 million years back in time, along with everyone inside.

As Tim and the others try to find out what caused the disaster and how to get home, one survivor plots to keep the group trapped in the past, in a world filled with prehistoric monsters.

Dark Legion by Paul KleynhansDark Legion by Paul Kleynhans

Once a Prince, now a slave. Once a torturer, now a liberator. But still his transformation is nowhere near complete…

Saul Baz Sharmoun has been holding onto something lost to many of his fellow slaves: hope and a desire for justice. A fire was set ablaze within him, growing brighter with each of the twelve years since the Emperor slaughtered his family, and he knows the time to escape his shackles – and to free his people – is now. With his hunger for retribution fueling him, Saul begins an epic journey, searching for his brother and looking to rebuild a world that would allow the crown in his family’s name to rise from the ashes.

But the road to justice is never a straight one. Saul and the uncertain allies fighting alongside him find themselves up against a much greater enemy than they could have imagined. If he is to emerge victorious, he must fan the flames in his heart, and never allow himself to forget that he will stop at nothing to see this done…no matter how much blood must be spilled along the way.

She Who Fights Monsters by Kyoko M.She Who Fights Monsters by Kyoko M.

Jordan Amador. 23. New Yorker. Waitress. Investigator for souls with unfinished business, also known as a Seer. Michael O’Brien. 25. New Yorker. Lead guitarist. Commander of Heaven’s Army. The dynamic supernatural duo is in the middle of trying to solve a deadly case. Someone is methodically hunting down and murdering Seers one by one. After six months with no leads on the killer, Jordan and Michael are forced to work with their worst enemy—the archdemon Belial: a self-professed Prince of Hell who is dead set on stealing Jordan for himself. However, with the archdemon’s help, they pick up on the trail of the serial killer and plan to stop him no matter what the cost. When the shocking truth behind the murderer’s identity is revealed, Jordan begins asking herself if she is still fighting for the good guys or has she become one of the monsters she is desperately trying to stop?

This is the third part in a series, following The Black Parade and The Deadly Seven.

Masque of Shadow by T.A. MilesMasque of Shadow by T.A. Miles

Heartbroken over the premature death of her young sister, Estelle conceives a dark plan to recover Lunette’s innocent soul from the thief she witnessed taking it. The price is higher than she anticipated, reaching far beyond the loss of her own innocence when she enters voluntarily into the realm of the Lord of Shadows, into a theater of madness constructed by the souls of the dead.

This is a short story. Contains violence, mild gore, sexuality, and thematic elements

 

A Brief History of the Future by Sunny MoraineA Brief History of the Future – Collected Essays by Sunny Moraine

As an author, scholar, and essayist, Sunny Moraine has mused on a variety of things in a variety of ways. In this collection, spanning over two years of work, they make their way through thoughts on the form and business of writing, the nature and meaning of games, the interweaving of society and technology, and the anxieties, awkwardnesses, and hopes of the everyday.

Gently humorous, self-deprecating, and occasionally painfully honest, these essays offer a journey through a process of body, heart, and mind, and hints of what waits beyond.

The Commons by Michael Alan PeckThe Commons: Book 1: The Journeyman by Michael Alan Peck

“Paul Reid died in the snow at seventeen. The day of his death, he told a lie—and for the rest of his life, he wondered if that was what killed him.”

And so begins the battle for the afterlife, known as The Commons. It’s been taken over by a corporate raider who uses the energy of its souls to maintain his brutal control. The result is an imaginary landscape of a broken America—stuck in time and overrun by the heroes, monsters, dreams, and nightmares of the imprisoned dead.

Three people board a bus to nowhere: a New York street kid, an Iraq War veteran, and her five-year-old special-needs son. After a horrific accident, they are the last, best hope for The Commons to free itself. Along for the ride are a shotgun-toting goth girl, a six-foot-six mummy, a mute Shaolin monk with anger-management issues, and the only guide left to lead them.

Three Journeys: separate but joined. One mission: to save forever.

But first they have to save themselves.

Strangers at a Funeral by PhronkStrangers at a Funeral by Phronk

Brandon notices them at his grandpa’s funeral first: a pair of men in sunglasses who nobody seems to know. They’re not family, they’re not friends, they’re just … there. No big deal, until they show up again at the next funeral. Drawn into a world of funeral selfies and burial crashers, Brandon needs to know what these strangers want from the dead.

Only problem is, nobody gives a crap except him, and his school frowns upon skipping classes to watch people get buried. His sanity can’t take many more funerals, and those bulges under the strangers’ coats probably aren’t concealing anything pleasant.

Strangers at a Funeral is a 5500 word (22 page) short story.

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New Crime Short Two-pack available: Seeing Red

I did another eight-hour e-book challenge and here is the result, a crime short two-pack about bad relationships leading to murder called Seeing Red.

There is some more information about the process of writing Seeing Red over at the Pegasus Pulp blog. And in case you’re wondering why I waited until now to announce a story that went live more than a week ago, I wanted to wait until the story was available at all major stores and particularly Apple tends to be slow. What is more, I’m trying to space out the promotional posts and there have been a few of late.

So here it is: Seeing Red

Seeing Red by Cora Buhlert

Two tales of bad relationships, angry women and murder

Seeing Red

It was supposed to be just sex. But then Dan gradually wormed his way into Maggie’s life and into her apartment. And though Dan insists that he loves her, Maggie suspects he is far more interested in her sixty inch plasma screen.
Living together brings out the vast differences between Maggie and Dan. And so Maggie’s patience is stretched to a breaking point to a breaking point, until an argument about pasta sauce and Dan’s addiction to ketchup lead to murder…

Third Time Lucky

Hilda’s abusive husband Walter has already survived two massive heart attacks. But the third time’s a charm… or is it?

For more information, visit the Seeing Red page.
Buy it for the low price of 0.99 USD, EUR or GBP at Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Germany, Amazon France, Amazon Spain, Amazon Italy, Amazon Canada, Amazon Australia, Amazon Brazil, Amazon Japan, Amazon India, Amazon Mexico, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Apple iTunes, Casa del Libro, Scribd, Inktera, txtr, Thalia, Weltbild, Hugendubel, Der Club, Libiro, Nook UK, DriveThruFiction, OmniLit/AllRomance e-books, Flipkart, e-Sentral, You Heart Books and XinXii.

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The Speculative Fiction Blog Hop

Over at KBoards, a couple of indie spec fic writers got together and organised the Speculative Fiction Blog Hop, a variation of the popular Writing Process Blog Tour. Every participant answers four questions about our process and then hands on the baton to the next writer.

I’m up today, taking over from Jessica Rydill, author of Malarat and Children of the Shaman. Here is her bio:

Jessica Rydill writes fantasy and collects Asian ball-jointed dolls. This makes her living room an unnerving place to visit.
Many of the dolls are based on characters from her books. The bad guys stay locked in the cabinet.
Jessica wishes she could write like Russell Hoban. In the mean time, she has got a crossover going on between mediaeval fantasy with warlords, and steampunk adventure with lightning-wielding shamans. Plus Golems, Dybbuks, Kabbalistic demons and other nasties from Jewish folklore.

ETA: Jessica has also been kind enough to assemble the whole Speculative Fiction Blog Hop list, including both past and future posts.

And now it’s time for the questions:

What are you working on?

On the speculative fiction front, I finally finished Debts to Pay, a new Shattered Empire novella focussing on the character of Carlotta Valdez, which is currently going through editing. I even found the perfect cover image, which looks just like I imagine Carlotta. I’m also working on another Shattered Empire novella, Shot at Dawn, which should come out later this year and puts Holly and Ethan into deep trouble.

On the non-speculative front (yes, I work on multiple projects simultaneously), I’m working on Little Girl Lost, part two of my romantic suspense series New York City’s Finest, as well as on a short holiday romance called Lonely this Christmas. Now writing a Christmas story in July is somewhat weird, but you have to start early in order to have it published in time for the holidays.

How does your work differ from others in its genre?

I believe that our writing is the sum of our influences. Now authors are different people from different backgrounds, with different experiences and preferences. And since those backgrounds, experiences and preferences influence our writing, it naturally follows that our work is different from the work of all those other authors.

According to Amazon’s author rank, there are approx. 22000 speculative fiction authors out there. However, none of those other 22000 speculative fiction authors has had exactly the same experiences growing up, worked the same jobs, read the same books, watched the same movies and TV shows. In fact, approx. 21950 of them don’t even live in the same country as me.

Why do you write what you do?

I read in multiple genres. And since I write what I like to read, I consequently also write in multiple genres.

However, speculative fiction has always been my first literary love, since it was the genre I latched on to, when I grew out of children’s books and made the switch to adult books (there was very little YA in those days and ever less worth reading). In particular, I fell in love with science fiction, mostly Golden Age classics as well as some 1980s works. So it made sense that I would write in the genre as well. Indeed, my first attempts at writing a novel was science fiction.

I like all subgenres of science fiction and have tried my hand at writing many of them, though space opera was always my first love. What is more, there is one crucial ingredient that can be found in all the science fiction I’ve loved in my life and that is rebellion, to the point that “rebellion against an unjust system” was part of my personal definition of science fiction for years. If a book managed to combine space opera, a sprawling galactic setting, lots of female character who kicked butt and rebellion against an unjust system, it was pretty much catnip to me.

Since I really loved space operas about plucky rebels fighting against an unjust system, it was only natural that I would try to write one of my own. And I did, as a teenager making my first attempts at writing. Alas, the result – a massive sprawling mess called the Femla series – was illogical, chaotic and frankly unpublishable and borrowed quite liberally from Star Wars as well as anything else that caught my fancy.

Eventually I grew up and recognized the Femla stories for what they were, namely an unholy mess. I also got on the Internet and found other science fiction fans, for the first time in my life. Alas, I also learned that the kind of science fiction I liked was considered hopelessly old-fashioned and found that I didn’t much care for the sort of science fiction that was considered hip. All this led to a massive creative paralysis, which caused me to abandon the genre I loved most in favour of other genres I also liked. At around the same time, I started selling short fiction in genres other than SF and decided I simply wasn’t fated to be an SF author.

Indie publishing changed everything, because it meant that suddenly I had the freedom to write what I wanted and publish it. And so, after dipping my toes into the indie pool with some backlist stories, I decided to try my hand at space opera again with all the elements I liked so much. Hence, Shattered Empire was born, the story of the Great Galactic Rebellion, told through the eyes of the people who fought it.

Meanwhile, the Silencer series was born out of my interest in the pulp magazines of the 1930s and my admiration for the authors who wrote for them. Because the old pulp authors had a work ethic like nobody’s business. For example, Walter Gibson, the man who created The Shadow, would write a short novel of approximately 40000 words every two weeks. And the results are still entertaining today, almost eighty years after they were written. In pre-indie publishing days, prolificness on the scale of Walter Gibson was pretty much unheard of, though now there are indie writers who come close to matching the work ethic of the old pulp scribes.

When I created the Silencer, I initially wanted to try my hand at writing like the old pulp authors did, loosely connected series adventures with a single heroic protagonist written at a fast pace. So I created a character patterned after the pulp heroes of the 1930s like the Shadow, the Spider, Doc Savage, Operator 5, etc…, only with a twist cause in his civilian identity the Silencer actually is a pulp writer. Of course, I didn’t manage to write as quickly as Walter Gibson, though I consider myself reasonably prolific. But I still enjoyed creating the Silencer and his supporting cast.

There are similar stories behind all of my works. For example, my crime shorts were inspired by the short crime stories that could be found in the backpages of many German magazines when I grew up. My historical romances were inspired by reading Anne Golon’s Angelique saga in my teens and watching a whole lot of French and Italian made historical movies on TV. New York City’s Finest was inspired by the sexual tension laced crime dramas that were so popular in the 1980s. Rites of Passage and Cartoony Justice feature characters I invented back in my early teens.

How does your writing process work?

I am what is commonly called a pantser. I usually have at least a vague idea of where a certain story is going, but I don’t use outlines. Most of the time, I have a flash of inspiration – a scene, an image, an idea – and simply start writing and see where it takes me.

For more complex stories, i.e. novella and novel length, I sometimes create a rough outline, when the story is approx. three quarters finished, by scribbling brief scene descriptions on notecards and shuffling them around to determine which order they go in.

In case of a continuing series like Shattered Empire or New York City’s Finest, I also have a rough series outline as well as a sort of series bible listing characters, settings, plot highlights, etc… The Silencer is a bit different, because the individual adventures are self-contained without an overarching plot. But I still have a series bible to collect information on characters, setting, equipment, etc… as well as notes for future adventures.

I write every day, including weekends and holidays. The absolute minimum wordcount goal I’ve set myself is at least 100 words of new fiction per day. Since I started tracking my wordcount back in 2005, I’ve missed my 100 word goal only once, when I was sick with the flu. However, these days I aim for writing at least thousand words every day, divided between several projects. I frequently exceed that wordcount goal, though sometimes I fall short as well.

I used to think that I needed a solid block of at least half an hour free time in order to write. Eventually, inspired at least partly by Dean Wesley Smith, I started writing in shorter bursts. Whenever I have a few minutes of free time, I write, even if it’s only a sentence or two. Cause even these few sentences do add up over time. I also carry a pen and a notebook wherever I go and use dead bits of time – waiting at the tram station or the doctor’s office or some downtime at school – to jot down a few sentences. Using every bit of free time to write has boosted my productivity enormously.

As I said above, I usually work on several projects simultaneously and cycle through them, so that if I get bored or stuck on one project, I can jump to the next one. This approach usually works quite well for me, though it can take longer for an individual project to get finished. However, earlier this month I found myself finishing several stories in quick succession and thus ran out of projects to work on. The solution was going through my folder of unfinished stories and picking one or two to continue.

 ***

Okay, that’s it from me. Next up is Kevin Hardman who writes some kick-arse superhero fiction. Here is his bio:

Kevin Hardman is an avid reader who made the mind-boggling decision to cross trade lines and become an author about a year ago.  He is the author of the Kid Sensation series and the Warden series.

Make sure to check out his blog on August 4 for the next stop on the tour.

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Dog Days Linkdump

It’s the Dog Days of summer, the hottest and sultriest time of the year, and also the time when supposedly there are more serious disasters and tragedies than usual. Thankfully, the dog days don’t always live up to this particular aspect of their reputation, but sadly this year they do.

And now for some links:

First of all, I’ve been interviewed by fantasy writer K.J. Bryen at Take the Plunge. We talk about writing, UFOs and pirates – the seafaring kind, not the kind that illegally shares digital media.

I also made a trio of posts over at the Pegasus Pulp blog, explaining why my e-books won’t be available via Amazon’s new Kindle Unlimited program, collecting other reactions to Kindle Unlimited from around the web and finally linking to some prime Amazon bashing from Germany.

In the speculative fiction community, the big topic is the decision of the WisCon committee to only provisionally ban former editor Jim Frenkel for four years after several incidents of sexual harrassment. Natalie at The Radish has the full scoop.

The Guardian has an interesting article about how the comment sections of articles about the conflict in Ukraine and recently the flight MH17 tragedy are flooded by pro-Russian comments and wonders whether this is an orchestrated social media campaign. I’ve been noticing a similar phenomenon in the comment sections of the German media. Lots of pro-Russian and anti-Ukrainian comments, accusations of bias, similar wording (“murderous militias of Maidan” is a popular one) and often a liberal dose of anti-Americanism, too. There has been surprisingly little reaction to this in the German media, which is odd, considering it’s happening right in their comment sections and on their own Facebook pages. Here is a rare German language report on the phenomenon from kulturzeit. Comments are screened BTW.

John C. Wright claims to have found the secret to mindblowing perfect sex. The rest of the world begs to disagree.

German radio and TV personality Manfred Sexauer died Sunday aged 83. From the mid 1960s on, Manfred Sexauer introduced international pop music on the very conservative German public radio, which was something of a scandal at the time. Later, in the 1970s and 1980s, he hosted the popular music program Musikladen on TV, where pretty much all of the big names of the era performed live.

I’ve seen a lot of Musikladen episodes over the years, both live and later as repeats. As music programs go, it was unique with its mix of comedy, political cartoons, international top acts, GoGo dancers (often topless in the early years) and early electronic effects. Here is the opening of the first Musikladen episode ever featuring Manfred Sexauer and co-host Uschi Nerke and here is a typical episode from the disco era (1980 in this case). Musikladen eventually became a casualty of MTV like most of programs of its type, though it survived in some form well into the 1990s on TV and to this day on the radio.

Finally, here is Manfred Sexauer in 1980 together with a very young Thomas Gottschalk and Frank Laufenberg rapping to the beats of the Sugar Hill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight (which had been performed live on Musikladen sometime before, though I couldn’t find the video). This piece was actually the first German language rap song ever.

Last but not least, here is a signal boost: Speculative fiction small press Hadley Rille Books is running an Indiegogo campaign to allow them to expand their operations.

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Prometheus and the problem with prequels

Ridley Scott’s Prometheus (2012) was on TV yesterday. Now after seeing the bad reviews this film got at the time, I bumped it down from “Head for the cinema now” right past “Get it on DVD” to “Watch when it’s on TV”. And now Prometheus came to TV, I finally did watch it.

Now given that a whole lot of smart people really really hated Prometheus, sometimes so much they posted several times how much they hated it, I expected a feat of truly epic badness.

However, Prometheus is not a feat of truly epic badness. Instead, it’s just a rather meh movie with some pretty bad science. So “meh” in fact that more than twice as many German viewers preferred to watch a rerun of the German crime drama Tatort (Crime Scene) instead.

Spoilers behind the cut, provided you need a warning for a two year old movie. Continue reading

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Austrian SF legend Dietmar Schönherr dies

Austrian actor and television personality Dietmar Schönherr died yesterday aged 88. Here are two obituaries from Die Welt und Der Tagespiegel as well as a video obituary courtesy of kulturzeit.

In spite of the surfeit of world news on this day, all news and cultural programs made room for tributes to Dietmar Schönherr. However, most of them focussed mainly on his time as a host of game and talkshows in the 1970s as well as on his humanitarian work (more on that later). And indeed Dietmar Schönherr introduced the talkshow to German television in 1973 (we shall forgive him for that, for he knew not what he wrought). And Wünsch Dir Was (Make a wish), a gameshow Schönherr hosted together with his wife Vivi Bach in the early 1970s caused not one but two TV scandals, when a game got out of hand and nearly drowned a family who had been lowered with their car into a swimming pool and when a when a 17-year-old contestant paraded across a catwalk in a transparent blouse (mild nudity alert). Particularly the transparent blouse is something of a giggler today, since only a few years later, such blouses were normal everyday wear. My Mom had a very similar blouse in the mid to late 1970s.

Beyond half-drowned families and transparent blouses, Wünsch Dir Was was one of the first interactive gameshows on German language TV. However, in those days before televoting participants in selected towns voted for the winner via switching on the lights in their homes or flushing their toilets! Which is a lot more bizarre than transparent blouses could ever be.

But German SF fans (and even many non-fans) will forever associate Dietmar Schönherr with the role of Major Cliff Allister McLane, commander of the space cruiser Orion 7 in the TV series Raumpatrouille – Die phantastischen Abenteuer des Raumschiffs Orion (Space Patrol – The fantastic adventures of the spaceship Orion).

Raumpatrouille Orion is often called Germany’s answer to Star Trek. But this is wrong, because Star Trek and Orion both debuted within two weeks of each other in September 1966 and thus had to be developed independently of each other. I guess it was a case of an idea that was simply floating around in the Zeitgeist at the time. And there certainly are superficial similarities between Raumpatrouille Orion and Star Trek, since both shows star a spaceship with a multi-national crew and a dashing gung-ho commander. What is more, both shows tackled the social issues of the era, disguised as SF.

IMO Raumpatrouille Orion wasn’t quite as successful as SF as the best of Star Trek, since the SF components were mostly rehashes of well-worn golden age tropes (one episode plays very much like an Asimov robot story). On the other hand, Orion was generally better acted. It also had better and more regular female characters. The regular Orion crew consisted of four men and two women, including the wonderful security officer Lieutenant Tamara Jagellowsk, who is still one of my favourite female SF characters of all time. Female space fleet general (and apparently a former lover of McLane’s) Lydia van Dyke (played by Friedrich von Dürrenmatt’s wife Charlotte Kerr) appeared in several episodes and Margot Trooger guest-starred as the queen of the space amazons (like I said, the series had a thing for hoary tropes). The crew was diverse with regard to nationality and consisted of a Scotsman, a Russian (in the middle of the Cold War!), an Italian, a Swede, a Japanese and a Swiss woman. Alas, Raumpatrouille Orion was a 100% white show due to being made in what was still a very white country. One crewmember, astrogator Atan Shubashi is supposedly Japanese, but played by white actor Friedrich Georg Beckhaus.

Though Raumpatrouille Orion‘s special effects get some flak today, since many of the futuristic machines were assembled from common household devices (the navigation clothes iron is particularly notable), they were outstanding for their time and are lightyears ahead of mid 1960s Doctor Who and even edge ahead of Star Trek at times (though unlike Orion, Star Trek was shot in colour, which is less forgiving of ropey effects).

But what made Raumpatrouille Orion so special were the characters, particularly the Schönherr’s Commander McLane and his security officer Tamara Jagellowsk (played by Eva Pflug), whose sparring and chemistry created enough sparks to power not just the Orion but the underwater base where she was docked when not in service as well. They finally got together in the final episode.

Cliff Allister McLane is basically your typical gung-ho space hero, a guy who goes into danger guns blazing, for whom order are just optional suggestions and who regularly wrecks his spaceship (twice on screen and five times before the start of the series), which gets him demoted to patrol duties in the pilot episode and regularly brings him into conflict with the straight-laced Tamara Jagellowsk. McLane is something of a womanizer, extremely loyal towards his friends and a “rather average kisser” according to Tamara Jagellowsk. In the hands of a lesser actor, McLane would have been a sterotype. Dietmar Schönherr turned him into an icon.

As a product of the 1960s, Raumpatrouille Orion reflects West German anxieties about rearmament following WWII and a deep scepticism not so much towards the military itself (unlike the Enterprise, the Orion is a military vessel), but towards generals with little concern for human lives (McLane repeatedly acts against orders to save lives). Characters like the shouty General Wamsler and the icy intelligence officer Colonel Villa show how the average West German viewed the military, particularly its higher ranks.

Though part of the military himself, our hero McLane is closer to the counterculture of the 1960s. McLane isn’t a pacifist and indeed is perfectly willing to fight the shadowy aliens known only as “the Frogs”. However, McLane is a rebel. Orders are totally optional for him and definitely not to be followed blindly. Indeed, in one episode he berates two of his crewmembers for blindly following one of his order and thus putting themselves into danger. And – sorry Horst Schimanski – but Cliff Allister McLane was the first person to utter the word “shit” on German TV, albeit in adjective form.

Indeed, I can trace many of my problems with the “Rah, rah, space marines” strain of military SF right back to Raumpatrouille Orion. Because after seeing Cliff Allister McLane yelling at two of his crewmen and friends for following his own orders and thus risking their own lives in the process, the blind obedience and “Yes, sir, no sir” attitude of much military SF was difficult to accept.

Ironically, Raumpatrouille Orion caught some flak in the late 1960s from the usual suspects for its military content and was even called “fascistoid” at one point, which was the favourite accusation of certain leftwing pop culture scholars of the time to hurl at any kind of popular entertainment at all. It makes you wonder whether those people ever actually watched the show. But then those are the same people who called Captain America “a fascist idol” (Steve Rogers weeps and Hulk smashes) and who also accused Perry Rhodan, another German space hero, of “fascistoid tendencies”, even though Perry Rhodan allies himself with peaceful aliens against a militaristic Earth in his very first adventure and proceeds to destroy all nuclear weapons on Earth, instantly ending the Cold War by pissing off East and West enough that they unite against him. Fascistoid indeed. To quote Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Dietmar Schönherr was as much of a rebel in real life as on the the screen. Though he came from an aristocratic military family and made his screen debut in a Nazi propaganda film, he was active in the peace movement, was arrested while protesting the deployment of nuclear missiles and once called Ronald Reagan an “arsehole” live on TV. He also did a lot of humanitarian work, particularly in civil war-stricken Nicaragua.

As for Raumpatrouille Orion, you do not have to take my word for how good it was, but you can see for yourself, for all seven episodes are available on YouTube. So let’s rewatch a few episodes in memory of Dietmar Schönherr.

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