Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Artist Shout out!

It's no secret that this are difficult times around the world. Even so there has been no limit to the skill and creativity some people develop and perform. I'm constantly amazed at some of the things that artists are able to create with little more than pencils and paper. With a chunk of pencil lead and some pulped wood they can recreate battle scenes, vivid facial expressions, landscapes, buildings, anything their imaginations can conjure! I've always been envious of these people, especially since I'm hard pressed to draw a stick figure.
I've been lucky enough to find and speak with some artists on the internet who are truly amazing. On their pages they have asked for help in becoming better known and I am more than happy to share knowledge of them in my little blog. Here are two guys who are excellent visual artists and more than worthy of your time to take a look at!

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Art-of-Rodrigo-Vega/543239465780025
http://rodrigo-vega.deviantart.com/

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Hellraptors-DinosaurArt/777049035671393
http://hellraptor.deviantart.com/

These two fellows are worth your time looking at. Give them a look see and be amazed!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A 460 S&W Levergun at long last!

Ever since Smith and Wesson introduced their infamous 500 Magnum and 460 Magnum in those gigantic revolvers almost everyone interested in them wanted to see the 460 chambered in a levergun. This is because the 460 is based off of the 454 Casull, which for a long time was one of the most powerful handgun chamberings, which was in turn based off of the legendary 45 Colt of western fame. Why? Because the case dimensions were almost identical save for length and wall thickness, allowing the shorter cartridges to fit into the new, larger actions.

This resulted in a rather interesting dilemma. This was a gun idea that everyone wanted. It was also a gun idea seemingly no company was interested in developing. While theoretically feasible it was something that proved very difficult to actually do. For one, there was no existing frame that was ideally suited for this sort of job. Everyone wanted to have it chambered in the 1894 Marlin, but it was deemed by many to be too fragile to handle the extreme pressures. It handled the 45 Colt and 44 Magnum fine, but for heavy hitters like the 454 Casull? Not so much. Also not helping was the fact that the 460 was much longer than either of its elders, something that did not help with the Marline design either.

In addition most lever action designs just weren't in the same league to deal with such high pressure cartridges. While there were a few such as the Browning BLR which is a lever action/bolt action hybrid or the Savage 99, they used internal box magazines instead of magazine tubes. This was not something that would allow an exchange of different cartridge lengths. Nobody wanted a carbine in just the 460 S&W either. After all, if you wanted a high powered 45 caliber rifle, why not just go with the 45-70 or 458 Winchester Magnum? Nope, the appeal lay in the ability to switch between the three cartridges which would make it wonderfully versatile.

The 45 Colt would be ideal for plinking, casual shooting, home defense and low budget practice. The 454 Casull would be superb for the majority of hunting purposes out to ranges almost certainly out to 200 yards with its higher velocity. But the 460 would be used for the serious hunting jobs requiring power and precision. With a muzzle velocity on revolvers of around 2,300 FPS, the 460 would command impressive ranges for a carbine. Or if loaded with fat 300 or 350 grain cast bullets it would be a monstrous penetrator capable of handling dangerous game. Six or seven rounds of medicine like that in a light rapid fire package would be lethal against dangerous game of all types.

Even with all these potential virtues, virtually no company around the world seemed to be interested in making such a package. Until now!
Almost a decade after the 460 S&W Magnum was created, a lever action rifle platform has been created to fit the bill!
Behold the Big Horn Armory Model 90!

Model 90 Carbine 460 S&W
Carbine Model 90
Model 90 Rifle 460 S&W
Rifle Model 90
Also responsible for creating a lever action accepting the 500 S&W Magnum, the Big Horn Armory company has certainly been keeping itself busy. Their Model 90 frame is a mix between two John Moses Browning classics: The venerable 1886 Winchester and 1892 Winchester. The '86, which was Browning's second rifle was in fact a game changer back in the day and did a lot to solidify Winchester as a premier rifle company as well as securing Browning a pretty solid relationship with the company. Even in the face of more advanced rifle designs such as the 98 Mauser the 86 held up surprisingly well, being fantastically strong and able to handle massive shells that most other lever actions wouldn't accept. Even today when facing Marlin's proud 336 and 1895 platforms with side ejection and ability to easily mount optics, the 86 is still holding its own.

The 92 was basically the 86 made to handle the smaller pistol cartridges and became one of the go-to carbines, competing heavily with the likes of the Marlin 94 and effectively making the legendary 1873 Winchester obsolete. Big Horn has mixed the two platforms to create the Model 90 which from all accounts has done a sterling job of handling the tooth-rattling pressures of the 500 Magnum.

Sadly I won't be giving a whole lot of in depth critique of this rifle as the designers apparently forgot to send me a model to test out, and its price range is a wee bit beyond what I have on hand at the moment. I don't begrudge them this though! From what I gather so far their Model 90 is a rock solid design which they poured plenty of blood, sweat and tears into. At first glance I see nothing except fantastic quality with a great deal of attention given to making it reliable and functional. Not to mention a gorgeous weapon to boot! There is little I can see to improve on in terms of basic construction or the bells and whistles. They have aperture sights, sling studs, and a good black matte finish, although case hardened is also an option. By all accounts these are top notch weapons capable of handling a wide variety of jobs and would be a grace to any wall or gun safe.

To be honest folks, I've been hankering for a weapon like this for a very long time. This concept has appealed to me from the start but I didn't think I'd actually see one produced! I figured I would have to make my own model or cobble together some Frankenstein chimera to make my dream of having a 460 Magnum levergun come true. But now they are being made by a professional company for all to own! There are no words in the human language that can express the child-like delight I feel towards this little setup. And considering that I have a penchant for hyperbolic over-the-top description, that's saying something!

If any of you who happen to be reading this are burdened with an over-abundance of cash and would like to make a complete stranger happy, please let me know! Heaven forbid I invest cash in mutual funds or CDs in the bank. Nope! I've got to get myself a dream rifle! Well, I'd better start saving. Time to celebrate the new birth of one of the coolest long guns I've ever seen. I hope ya'll found this to be of interest!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

My first con: The Weird West Fest!

At last, months of planning and scheming are about to come to fruition! Having successfully shanghaied a friend and ransomed enough money I have mustered sufficient resources to go to the Weird West Fest in Giddings Texas. This is only the second one they've had, but I'm hoping it will be a fun time! http://www.weirdwestfest.com/festival-info/

Pray for me though folks, as I must take one of the most terrifying modes of transportation known to man: Plane. I know, I know, statistically it is the safest way to travel. The thing is I can walk away from a bus if it suddenly runs out of gas. I've kind of got a thing regarding heights. Or to put it more bluntly, being more than my own height off the ground instills gut-wrenching terror into my very soul. So I've requested a seat away from the windows because I'm not overly keen on seeing The World beneath me. Hopefully I will not pass out or chew through my tongue in fright. No pressure!

Once on the ground though things should be way more fun. Can't wait to meet all sorts of fun gents at Giddings and perhaps spend a penny or two on loot!

Well, take care folks! I've got some packing to do! I leave tomorrow morning!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Writing update for Primal Frontier

I thought it'd be fair to give a brief update on how my work is coming along seeing as how it's been a good bit of time since the last one.
I'd actually hoped to have my first novella out by now, but after sifting through my rough draft with the input of others I started the entire thing over from scratch. Not terribly fun, but I'm not about to screw up my first story out of the gate. I'm more than half way through already and with luck I'll have it finished by the end of the month. But I'll still have to edit it, get beta readers, correct spelling and grammar, etc, so it will be out in November at the soonest.
I am happy however in that this second version is far superior to its predecessor. It's got all the classic pulpy goodies, wheeee!


On the other hand, I have gotten some other novellas in Primal Frontier started up, so I'm getting some other fun stuff whipped up.

I must mention though that writing stuff involving prehistoric life is pretty darned challenging from many angles.
The most obvious is scientific accuracy. If you look at older depictions of dinosaurs compared to modern depictions then you've probably noticed a thing or two has changed. The science is frequently being updated as new discoveries are made and thus the animals are shifting yearly. Paleo-nerds will pounce on this stuff in a heartbeat. Have you seen forums when you get paleo guys and average joes talking about feathers? That stuff gets intense!
You can get virtually everything nailed in your story, but within a decade most of your stuff will become outdated. A friend of mine flat out stopped researching the entire animal group because she got fed up with the constantly changing facts.

Writers doing time travel plots get flayed over mixing species of different eras and continents together. Those guys have it rough! Hopefully my alternate history setting with convergent evolution and different continental drift with a curious lack of extinction in some species will be enough to keep the hard-core paleo gents from crucifying me. Heaven knows I've tried doing my research!

Mind you though, I'm not complaining. If I get something wrong about behavior or physiology I appreciate being corrected. Improvement never comes without mistakes being pointed out!
(Wait, what do you mean I can't have a dimetrodon battling a megalania? Why not!?)
I'd say the most vexing problem with the setting I've got is that it's difficult to get lesser known creatures worked into the story. I don't want to give the usual parade of standard dinos like T-Rex, trikes, raptors, stegos, etc. After all, there were hundreds of other beasties cruising around back then and I want to create environments that feel real with realistic animals, not Syfi monsters that become obsessed with crushing every human they lay eyes on.

From a world building and realistic standpoint throwing in animals and environmental info is great, but from a storytelling standpoint it isn't. Everything has to have a purpose, otherwise the reader gets bored. The only writer I've seen get away with what is basically an exhibition tour of a carefully crafted world is Dinotopia. You can see all the amazing effort and detail put into every single page and it sucks you right in. It has virtually no story though. It's much more like you're riding a tour bus and seeing all of the cool stuff. If that's the entire point then you might be able to get away with it. But when you're writing a story with action and you need to keep the pace moving you have little room for stopping to check out every little critter and their lifestyle.

It's hard to make tiny animals seem interesting and relevant when you're writing a story about epic exploration and hunting. It's an interesting dilemma, but one I hope to overcome. Readers these days deserve good stories dangit!

Thankfully my obsessive research into firearms will satisfy 95% of all firearm nuts like myself. Historian firearm buffs see lots of unfamiliar weapons as this is alternate history, but they'll have a hard time finding the kinds of flaws that you get in the bulk of Hollywood action movies. Not to mention I can make up all kinds of fun stuff since this is my universe and I'm limited only by physics, so hah! I hope you enjoy Matthew Quigely-esque firearm descriptions, because you'll get plenty of those.

Well, wish me luck lads!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Cowboys of Cthulhu

I'm honestly really divided on this particular book. Even after having had well over a month to ruminate on it I'm still not sure how I feel about it. I think I was initially thrown after having seen all the high ratings it got on Amazon. It had a good number of 5 star ratings and raised my expectations a bit too high I suppose.

Now, I wouldn't say Cowboys of Cthulhu is a bad book, but I wouldn't put it up as high as it has been raised. On one hand the plot is very simple: A cowboy and a handful of people in a traveling oddities circus type thing are sent to settle some very strange goings on in the wild west, which has Lovecraftian elements. The whole thing is done in a rather simple manner, but for this sort of story I think that's for the better. I'd rather have something simple and decent than something convoluted and overly complex for the sheer sake of it. So yeah, simple premise and it's not screwed up.

Character identities are actually done pretty well, each of them very distinct and easy to identify. I wouldn't say they have lots of personality per se, as most of them don't interact much, but you are never confused about who is who and who does what. I don't recall all of their names, because I'm just plain bad at remembering those I'm afraid, but I can tell you a distinguishing feature of each person, so I'd say the author does alright on that count.

Dialogue is... I'm not sure. I don't feel qualified to analyze dialogue, because it is something that I usually don't notice, so I wouldn't put a whole lot of faith in my opinions in regards to that. Feel free to ignore me on this one. That said, it didn't feel natural and was kind of odd to me. Even so, I wouldn't say it was bad either. Just sort of middle of the road. Although one thing that honestly did bother me was how the harsh language was handled. One character in particular peppered every sentence with profanity, which was replaced by stars just like ***** this. Now, I am not a fan of profanity myself and often mark out nasty stuff in books I purchase, but this execution was just plain distracting and left me instead trying to translate what the heck was being said.

The real slippery slope that is tread here is the fact that Lovecraftian stories are really hard to do, even if you happen to be HP Lovecraft. Most people miss the concepts of his work entirely, instead boiling it down to "Tentacles!" I read some comics from Dark Horse supposedly inspired by his work, and most often were just stupid. Sure, one or two were good, but it's really tricky when anyone from the modern era tries to do anything in that mythos.
So does the author fail or succeed in capturing any of the features or themes that made Lovecraft stand out? Yes and no.

The climactic fight scene and their entrance into the canyon are actually interesting. From a distance the geometry of the entire thing keeps shifting and changing, baffling the protagonist. Even when they get inside and the fight starts bullets don't go where they are supposed to. Because of the strange dimensional plane they have unintentionally entered things don't go the way you think they would, resulting in a very strange but interesting gunfight, where the normal laws of physics are in gear only for a short period of time. From a gunfight standpoint it was weird, but from a Lovecraftian angle it was actually rather interesting. And it did end in a way that made it clear that the author understood the fatalist and depressing truth that the Old Ones can be resisted but never stopped, although I don't feel that he succeeded completely. Just partway for me.

But what honestly left me kind of grimacing was the enemy they directly faced. Major world ending spoiler here, so ye be warned.
The enemies are three little Cthuloids wearing Western attire and firing revolvers from their face tentacles. I'm sure other people thought that idea was awesome, but it just plain sat wrong with me. It feels fundamentally wrong for such strange interdimensional beings that have been around for time unknown to be wasting their time with single action revolvers in a pitched gunfight.
In traditional Lovecraft there was very little action or fighting, although it did happen. I fondly remember the atmosphere describing the raiding of the ancient cult in the bayous in Call of Cthulhu. Being a Western, it would have been an absolute crime to not have a gunfight, so I'm not upset on that point, but rather that the enemy fighters were Chthonians.

I think it would've worked better if they had been tracking down a cult that was related to the one in the bayou, running amok and spreading terror in the trackless wastes of the Wild West, having a pitched gunfight in the hills and eventually beating them back into their underground lair before witnessing some strange thing that should not be next to a Cthulhu idol, bending their sanity before sealing it off with a keg of dynamite. It could have ended with victory, but with the crushing knowledge that they've only forestalled the inevitable. This would have easily given us an excellent fight and fit very neatly within the mythos.

There are a few other minor things that bother me, but overall I consider just an okay book. The author does have a distinct voice with some level of flair that gives it energy. Just needs some polishing up is all. I wouldn't have given it a 5 star rating on Amazon, but I certainly wouldn't have given it a 1 star either, as it does do some things right. If you have lower standards for modern Lovecraft than myself and just want a mindless action romp, then this will work just dandy. If you want something that echoes the terror that the original stories did so long ago, you will be disappointed.

I wish the author good luck in improving and making future publications!
You can purchase here: http://www.amazon.com/Cowboys-Cthulhu-Riders-Weird-West-ebook/dp/B005VRWR9Y

Badlands: Wanted Dead or Alive, The Hunter: Book review

I hate being the bad guy on this one. As someone trying to publish independently myself I don't like chopping down others trying to do the same. After all, they're only trying to entertain people and make a living. I want to pick out good authors and tout them for all to see, both to help them be more successful and to give viewers something worth their time and money. But I can't do that here, because simply put, Badlands: The Hunter is bad. In this book's defense, it isn't a complete train wreck. It's just that the major flaw it has sucks out all enjoyment I would otherwise get from it. In terms of plot this is actually darned good.

But I must elaborate here, as there are many levels of bad, and this can serve as an excellent example of this particular case. There are badly plotted stories, badly written characters, bad ideas, stories loaded with plot holes, or poor execution.
The basic premise is a specialist paranormal investigator has been called out in a Wild West setting to deal with some ghostly happenings. From that angle it is in fact good, and the writer did well on that note.

So where does it get bad? Simply put, the writing style is too dry and flat to evoke any emotion from the characters or the reader. It's almost shocking how devoid of flare it is. It almost feels like the characters are all robots giving their interpretation of a Western or mimicking one.

"I am Protagonist. Beep boop beep. Initiate Gritty Hero program 327. Activating interaction module. Scene commence."

I'm really not trying to be mean, but the character interactions were so stock. I got half way through the book before I had to stop, because I felt like I was eating a piece of stale bread. Sure, the bread has its structure and vitamins, but it is so stale that I can't enjoy it.

When characters act outraged it comes as a mild surprise, because it doesn't feel like they were showing any signs of aggression before. Sure, there are some indicators, but there just isn't any real feeling of emotion, and it's an anchor around the ankles of what would otherwise be a story I'd love. I don't hate this book at all, and I honestly hope the author improves if he continues, but this one certainly isn't a good example of the genre. I'd almost recommend looking this book over just to analyze the mistakes as well as the things done correctly, as it is sort of fascinating from an academic standpoint.

I really do hate to actually respond negatively like this, but honesty takes precedence. I really do hope that the author of this learns and improves, because in terms of plotting he actually does have potential.
Next I think I'll do Cowboys of Cthulhu! Stay tuned!