Wake Up and Smell the New Millenium

Publishers, if your magazines, newspapers, and novels aren’t available in electronic versions, you’re behind the times and losing sales.

Publishers, if you’re not jazzing up your ebooks with cool features — embedded book trailers, 3d maps of your fantasy world, an interview or podcast with the author — you’re wasting the strengths of a new medium.

Publishers, if you’re pricing your ebooks to protect hardback sales, you’re fools. Price ebooks to move, and watch sales soar. Then, include free ebooks with every hardback and paperback, and watch those sales soar.

Wake up and smell the new millenium, publishers.

Profundity and Pretension

The Walking Dead is pretentious,” I declared. And so it is.

Or, at least, it was. Because Sunday night’s episode, “Clear”, is one of the least pretentious episodes of the series yet.

It has all the familiar aspects — a focus on emoting and characters talking and talking — but all were in service to a very simple and basic concept. Here is a man, the episode said, and here is the tragedy that befell him. Here is the result.

It was about two men, men whose journey was somewhat parallell, and how they took similar paths. And seeing what happened to the other, how one could bend his path away from that same grim destination.

That’s human, and actually, honestly, truly profound. By eschewing Big and Important and embracing small and honest, the series made the leap from pretentious to profound.

Snack Food Nirvana: Making the Perfect Nachos

Here is the immutable, eternal truth about nachos: they are a cheese delivery system. In an ideal world, each nacho chip would be bathed in cheese, all the better to enjoy nacho-y goodness.

With pre-melted, processed cheese, like Velveeta, it’s pretty easy. Melt the stuff, leave it sitting gooey in the bowl. But nacho purists like myself know that any block of cheese with no discernable curd is innately inferior, in taste and texture, to the real thing.

But nachos are served in a pile, on a plate, and covering each individual chip in that pile is very difficult.

The basic method: Grate the cheese and layer it on top. Microwave 30-45 seconds.

Problem: This makes some great nachos, but ensures that the bottom layers have no cheese.

The advanced method (e.g. layers): Lay down a base of nachos, sprinkle some grated cheese, lay down another nacho layer, spread some more cheese.

Problem: Layers melt at different rates. Microwave it long enough for the top layer to be melted, the inner layer is just chunks of cheese. Microwave it long enough for the inner layer of cheese to melt, and the outer layer bubbles and hardens into a tasteless crust.

(Baking can ameliorate this somewhat, but requires more time and more equipment than a simple plate and microwave. Not a preferable solution.)

The Solution: Get a grater with fine and coarse (small and large) holes. Grate a pile of finely grated cheese and coarsely grated cheese.

Lay down a bed of nacho chip. Sprinkle the finely grated cheese. Lay down another layer of chips. Sprinkle the coarsely grated cheese. Microwave 30-45 seconds.

Why This Works: Finely grated cheese is smaller than coarsely grated cheese, and microwaves faster. But buried underneath the layers of chips, it microwaves slower — roughly as long as coarsely grated cheese.

When layered, the two melt at about the same time, producing a pile of nachos with cheese throughout. Nearly every chip is covered in cheese, and you have achieved snack food nirvana.

Fatigue as Currency in Battle

So, we have established that Fatigue can be used to buy a Reactive Defense. At the suggestion of Winstoninabox, I’ve also (provisionally) decided that it can buy an extra Action.

There is one more thing that is apt: Fatigue as extra effort. For each point of Fatigue expended on a Hand-to-Hand attack, the attacker gains a +1 bonus to their Combat Challenge.

These options (and the associated cost) are summarized on this table:

Action Fatigue Cost
Reactive Defense 3
Extra Action 5
Extra Effort 1 per +1

These options add a layer of tactics to battle: you choose what to spend your Fatigue on, and doing so gains you an advantage (but moves you closer to defeat.)

Hand-to-Hand combat thus becomes a trial of endurance and skill, not just character skill but player skill. Knowing when to use what option is a critical ability.

(Though this suggests that, possibly, the Endurance Attribute should have a part to play in Fatigue. I’ll put that on the burner.)

Red Dawn, 90210

Red Dawn
Wolverines!

Let’s get this out of the way at the top: yes, the original Red Dawn could be interpreted as a “paranoid, right-wing power-fantasy”. Its lurid depiction of a Soviet invasion of America, circa 1984, is a cult classic that celebrates a bunch of teenagers fighting the Russian and Cuban occupation forces. (The Russins, in all, being brutal and faceless, the Cuban Colonel being humanized by his longing for a distant home and his beautiful wife.)

No, there was no chance the Russians would invade, in 1984 or any other time. That was, however, the premise of the movie. Not because that John Milius (the screenwriter and director) wanted to sound an alarm bell, but because he found the tales of Afghani youths fighting Soviet occupation to be fascinating, and wanted to tell that tale. Hollywood being what it is, he had to set it in America.

So, the premise is unrealistic, but that’s the Bullshit Tax for this movie. If you don’t buy it, don’t ride.

But no matter how unrealistic 1984’s Red Dawn was, 2012’s leaves it in the dust. In this movie, it isn’t the Russians who invade, it’s the North Koreans. And no, that makes no sense. Even with the most potent handwavium in the universe, there’s no way they could build an EMP device that could simply take out the entire US power grid, then invade and take the West Coast.

Makes. No. Sense. Makes the unbelievable 1984 edition look plausible in comparison.

Politics-adjacent ranting aside, this movie had several other major flaws. It’s just too goddamn pretty.

Maybe that’s the price of having a large budget: everything is smooth and professional, pretty but soulless. Even the dirt on the teen warriors’ faces looks like it was gently applied with unicorn kisses and kind words.

This is a war movie, it should feel dirty, and ugly, and gritty. Instead, it looks fake and feels fake, and as a result we just don’t connect with the material.

[Ob. gaming reference: Copies-of-a-copy rarely work. If you want a gritty, gripping martial arts setting, go to the source. Get into the muck of original documents, not other RPG manuals. This is one of the chief reasons that Fantasy Heartbreakers end up breaking your heart.]

If you set aside the silly premise, there are some real emotions that could be explored, even in a script as shallow as this. Loss, grief, defiance, hatred, revenge. These are touchstones of drama, going back to the Greeks. They can move the audience.

There’s a great moment in the original, where one of the two brothers is shot, and dying, and the other is carrying him out of the fight. The Cuban Colonel, who’s been their main antagonist throughout the movie, catches the pair and has the chance to kill them. He sees the grief and suffering on the faces of the surviving brother, and lets them go. He’s tired of the war, tired of fighting an endless guerrilla struggle in the mountains of Colorado. So he lets them go.

That one moment of humanity is more moving and insightful than the entirety of the 2012 remake. (Revamp, reboot, re-whatever.) This movie avoids even the barest hint of introspection — What would it be like to have your hometown invaded, overrun, and to see your father shot before you? — and focuses on ephemeral light-weight drama and romance. Instead of being about a brutal guerrilla war on our own soil, it’s about dating, girls, and high school.

It’s the kind of movie you’d get if the drama club of West Beverly High School adapted Red Dawn for their school play, and the resulting script landed on the desk of a not-particularly-intelligent Hollywood producer. It’s slick, shallow, and vapid. (Even the Australian version (Amazon link) is better.)

The original is far superior, silly premise and all.

Buy now at Amazon.
Intrigued? Buy the original Red Dawn now at Amazon.com.