Introducing Sad Puppies Four: The Bitches are Back

Mad Genius Club

(also the Embiggening, and the Embitchening, given that I, Kate the Impaler, am Queen Bitch and I am ably seconded by Sarah, the Beautiful But Evil Space Princess, and Amanda, the Redhead of Doom, and we are all more than capable of going Queen Bitch when we need to).

Sad Puppies 4 RoboButch final

And thank you to the wonderfully talented ArtRaccoon (Lee Madison) for his fantastic artwork. The new puppy’s name is Robert. His three creators are Isaac, Frank, and Ray. Yes, those names do mean what you think they do. You can find more of his artwork on Contact me, Sarah, or Amanda if you want to give him money and we’ll send you his PayPal.

The Hugo awards has entirely too small a voting and nominating pool. Five thousand votes is the largest number ever received? Two thousand nomination ballots? That’s piddly. For a field loved by millions, it’s nowhere near…

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Hugo Article & Catching Up

Sorry I haven’t posted in a while. Many things going on in my life outside of writing and sci-fi. Perhaps I’ll talk about them at some point, but not for the moment. I will note that I am writing, working on both a film script, about halfway done with Lancers Into The Light, and submitting a pair of short stories around.

Also, the Hugo Awards happened. I’m unsurprised but somewhat disappointed with the results, as well as some of the glee that the puppy-kicker side seems to be evincing. My take is that there was bad behavior on both sides, but it never should have gotten as nasty as it did, and that it was just as unfair to blindly vote No Award as it was to have overly concentrated a relatively small group’s nominations in the first place. Hopefully, the proposed voting rule changes will take out any future slate/bloc votes, will tamp down the rancor, and actually allow people to read, consider, and vote without all the vitriol, libel, and hardened stances of this year. I hope Sad Puppies 4 is a recommendation list with much more than 5 works in each category, so it can in no way be labeled a slate, because I really do LIKE the sad puppies style of works. It’s what I read, it’s what I write, and it’s what I’d like to see win (maybe even one of my own works, someday, if I ever have one good enough).

A very even-handed article that almost exactly mirrors my position is here at the blog Difficult Run: Lots of Hugo Losers.

I have spent an inordinate amount of time following the Hugos this year, including over a dozen interviews with writers and editors in the sci-fi community1, and so I was up until 3am on Sunday morning looking through the results. I’ve read a lot of reactions since then–from both pro-Puppy and anti-Puppy sources–and my main take away is that there are an awful lot of losers this year and very few winners.

More later. Hopefully I can feel like getting back on track today.

BLUF Review: The Last Ship, Season 2 Episode 5, “Achilles”

Bottom Line Up Front:  Hmmmm. If The Last Ship is naval porn, this one is the navy fiction equivalent of two over-excited, ignorant teens fumbling around in the back of somebody’s El Camino, trying something they saw online once.  An exciting and engaging ep for those NOT in the know, filled with tension and the “truthiness” of anti-submarine warfare (ASW). For those with experience . . . semi-painful, but not as bad as season 1’s Engineering-centric episode where they propel the ship with a parachute sail. Operators, those who have “seen the elephant” of actual close-quarters combat probably wince just as strongly during the eps with gunplay and boarding actions, but I’m just part of the ignorant hoi polloi then, so I enjoy them un-ironically.  This one?  I can mostly thumbs-up a failed attempt with good, engaging performances, sunk due to either ignorance, the desire to keep secrets, or to hew closely to established tropes, but it’s not one I’d go back to watch unless I’ve been drinking a lot.

 Summary:  (I’m mostly caught up to the broadcasts.  Episode 6 showed the night before I’m writing this, so I’m only about a day behind, but SPOILERS are contained within).  It opens with Typhoid Niels aboard the “acquired” UK nuclear ASURE/TRAFALGAR/214 class submarine (this is stupid) ACHILLES. ACHILLES is led by Sean Ramsey, former crewperson of ACHILLES and brother to Ned (Main Merc from last episode).  It seems that Bertrice’s natural immunity is more wide-spread than was believed, and all these naturally immune folks regard themselves as “chosen”, unaware that the cause of the disease is Niels’ fumbling lab-procedures and not the hand of God.  Ned doesn’t like or trust Niels, but Sean welcomes him, hoping he’s the key to eradicating the cure, since a cure allows the non-chosen to survive.  It seems that Sean, Ned, and their like-minded compatriots have pretty much taken over a plague-ridden Europe and now they want to do the same to the US — after they sink the NATHAN JAMES and recover their captured crewman and his critical info.

Cap’n Crunches CDR Tom Chandler and his CIC/SONAR ASW team are both hunting the sub and trying to stay clear of it.  Both ships spend the hour engaging in cat and mouse, high-tension maneuvering, both staying super silent while Chandler’s crew professionally hunts and Sean’s crew of mercs fights and bickers constantly.  There is a sub-plot with XO Slattery interrogating the captured merc from the SOLACE.  Juan Carlos insists he’s desperate to be free of the mad captain Sean and his even madder brother Ned.  In reality, he’s a total convert, trying to get in a position to jump overboard with a device he swallowed before being captured.  Slattery worries it’s a beacon, but it turns out to be a flash drive with the location of all anti-viral labs these immune bastards are trying to destroy.  Meanwhile, Sean and his crew tire of all the cat and mouse and fire a spread of torpedoes on the NATHAN JAMES.  Chandler counterfires and maneuvers and both attacks miss, but they lose track of the sub when it makes a daring dash through a narrow undersea canyon.

After the attack, Niels deciphers the paperwork Ned brought back from SOLACE and discovers the locales of all the secret labs.  Juan Carlos’s info is no longer necessary.  They come up to launch depth and fire all their missiles.  NATHAN JAMES, caught by surprise, is only able to shoot down 2 of the 26 missiles with their own SM-3s.  The rest get away and all the labs go off comms, their fates unknown.  Niels crows about the good fortune he’s brought to Sean, and they get away to commence their shenanigans against the US.  NATHAN JAMES ends this bout alive but beaten.

The Goods:  I really like Sean and his crew of ragtag mercenary submariners.  If you like this sort of thing, I HIGHLY recommend the ROGUE AVENGER series, written by my Stealth Books buddy John R. Monteith.  He does a much, much better series of stories about a rogue/mercenary attack sub crew carrying out missions for hire.  He’s 6 books in, with the seventh coming out in September, and no signs of stopping any time soon.  Each one is a treat, and the series in total should appeal to any true fan of The Last Ship, as would the series run by my mentor and friend Jeff Edwards.  I also love the cat and mouse game tension and finding out about the situation in the rest of the world.  The torpedo scene offers a lot of great navy action (even if its not really accurate at all).  I also appreciate the “truthiness” of this very earnest episode.  They threw in a lot of real ASW terminology, but its essentially just a word salad with no real substance.  They did have a “waterfall” display for hunting the sub, an improvement over the range-ring display they showed last week, but its basically a visual copy of something they saw on the Hunt for Red October, nothing like the actual display.

The Less Goods:  There’s just so, so much.  I re-iterate my former offer:  The Last Ship, if you need a consultant who’s a USN officer, a writer, and who LOVES THE SHOW, I work for cheap!  Let’s get to it.  If you find yourself in hostile waters against a rogue British sub during a viral apocalypse, DO NOT USE “ACHILLES” AS YOUR SURVIVAL GUIDE.  The NATHAN JAMES should have been very easy pickings here.  I get that Sean’s crew is largely inexperienced, but the physics of the situation HEAVILY favors the sub.  Submariners say there are two kinds of ships in the world:  submarines and targets, and they aren’t just talking out their butts.  First, what kind of sub is ACHILLES?  Chandler, Slattery, and Sexy LT 2 have a whole conversation where they say its a new Trafalgar or follow-on hull, type 214 or something, and they all nod sagely.  British subs are nuclear, where Types 209, 212, 214, and 216 are German diesel and air-independent propulsion hydrogen fuel cell boats.  The TRAFALGAR class is on the way out, but they do have the ASTUTE class, which would make ACHILLES fit with their naming conventions.  So let’s just say I misheard, and it’s an ASTUTE boat.  However, they then double down with talk about AIP plants, which don’t fit.  Then there’s the egregious use of “quieting” the ship, where everyone removes their shoes and sits still.  They even invoke the cliché of a crewmember catching a falling knife, as if that is what’s going to give them away.  NO.  Surface ships do have quiet configurations used during ASW, but that has to do with what systems you use to minimize transmitted noise.  We also use our Prairie and Masker air systems, which put up an impedance and anti-cavitation layer around our noisiest spaces, and makes it more difficult for subs to detect our exact bearing or range during target motion analysis (TMA), and not even that totally hides us.  TMA is how you develop a firing solution on a sub, and how they develop a firing solution on a ship.  Noise has no quality of range within the water, only a bearing.  The range is determined by watching how that bearing changes over time through the process of TMA.  You also look at how sound moves through the water.  It’s never a straight line.  Sound’s path is bent by pressure, temperature, salinity, etc, leading to convergence zones, bounce paths, direct paths, etc, all of which must be analyzed and determined with temperature profiles.  They use some of this terminology, but without any real sense of what it meant.  Now, most of the details are classified, but even a good knowledge of Wikipedia could have made it more accurate.  As far as removing your shoes to avoid discovery, the sound of water slapping your hull is much more important than boots clomping along a deck.  Now, subs do have to maintain such a level of quiet – which is why they wear sneakers.

We see how The Last Ship does ASW, and that most of the details are wrong, but how does the Navy do it?  How should it have been done (in an unclassified sense)?  Destroyers prevail against subs by not being in the same water as a sub.  They hunt them through a process using off-board sensors, ASW planes, ASW helicopters, sonobuoys, dipper SONARs, helo-launched torpedoes, vertically launched anti-submarine rockets (VLA), multi-unit screens employing active SONAR to discover or drive away stealthy subs, towed torpedo countermeasures, and — as a very last resort — over-the-side torpedo shots.  If a destroyer ever finds itself alone, within a sub’s torpedo range, and not using active SONAR, or Prairie or Masker air, without an airborne dipper helo, and not streaming countermeasures, that destroyer has already failed the ASW problem, even if you have a Tom Chandler as your skipper.  A sub is nearly invisible acoustically and wickedly hard to target.  Its torpedoes have many times the range of our over-the-side torps.  It is not a balanced, one-on-one engagement.  If this was the real world, this would have been The Last Ship’s last episode.

Aside from ASW, what didn’t work?  Well, there’s the ragtag merc crew of immune survivors.  Yeah, I’m sure the Venn diagrams of “Immune” “Mercenary” and “Trained To Run A Nuclear Sub” have a lot of overlap.  Then there’s the trope-ish run through the underwater canyon.  Yeah, not advised, especially when you need your sub to function later, and you’re trying to stay stealthy.  The whole thing with the flash drive made no sense.  How did him swallowing it make him bleed explosively?  Then there’s the missile attack at the end.  Oh boy.  An ASTUTE class carries a total of 38 weapons to fire out of six tubes.  It’s gonna take a looooooooong time to fire 26 cruise missiles, especially in an environment where a destroyer is actively hunting you and you have to stay at periscope or launch depth.  And if these were ballistic missiles, the Brits only carry 16 Trident SLBMs each.  And if NATHAN JAMES is gonna shoot down SLBMs, they can use SM-3s, but I’m not sure if they’ve ever been tested against missiles in the boost phase.  And if ACHILLES is firing cruise missiles, you wouldn’t use an SM-3.  You’d use an SM-2 and your hit ratio would be a damn sight better than 1 in 13.

Overall:  Eh.  It’ll excite the hell out of the uninitiated.  It’ll just make old salts shake their heads, but we’re not a big enough part of their viewership to warrant amending their ways.  I just wish I could love this ep as wholeheartedly as the rest of the series, especially when some active consulting could have made everything right.  Just like the painful engineering episode, this was all avoidable.  Ah well.  I still love you, The Last Ship, even when you do me wrong.

BLUF Review: The Last Ship, Season 2 Episode 4, “Solace”

Bottom Line Up Front:  KICKASS!  Miffed about the lack of action and new plot development last week?  Well, this one has it all, and all of it is done well.  We’re back to action-packed naval porn, and in a much more satisfying manner than in the season premiere two-parter.  This one stays on the re-watch list and would be a great entry point for new watchers this season.

 Summary:  Again, I’m playing catch-up like in the last BLUF Review, so SPOILERS ABOUND.

Ahoy! USS NATHAN JAMES is underway and en route antivirus labs in the southeastern US when intel informs them the Norfolk lab may not have just vanished. They may have gotten underway with their full lab setup and 15 docs aboard USNS SOLACE, one of the Navy hospital ships — which would be perfect for getting the cure all over the world. Cap’n Crunches, CDR Tom Chandler has the ship search for SOLACE, and they eventually find her.  Meanwhile, we get to know some new faces.  The ship’s SEALs and VBSS boarding teams / security force get augmented by some badass do-gooders: “Wolf” a Wolverine stand-in from the Australian Special Forces and Ravit, a tough but attractive butt-kicking lady from the Israeli defense force, both of which had been in Norfolk for an exchange course when the virus hit.  GUNNO is in love, but is instantly shut down, to Tex’s delightful amusement, and Sexy LT 2 notes to Sexy LT 1 that all the females are keenly aware of Wolf’s manly attributes.

They find SOLACE adrift with a pre-recorded message looping out on bridge-to-bridge and they worry they were too late.  The XO takes over and Cap’n Tom goes over with the boarding teams, including Wolf, Freckles, GUNNO, Sexy LT 1, Tex, and Ravit.  No signs of any life, they split into multiple teams, with Tex, GUNNO, and Ravit going one way, and the Skipper and the rest going the other. They find the virus labs good to go, but recently unmanned, and signs of a struggle.  Tex’s team finds bodies, plural, not dead of the virus, but all executed with shots to the head.  They are not alone.

The Skipper finds a bunch of docs and crew holed up in an operating suite, trying to save a wounded crewmember. They tell them they’ve been boarded by mercs looking for the cure, and they are killing everyone.  Both teams coordinate with NATHAN JAMES, who goes to GQ and brings guns to bear.  The mercs then make themselves known and firefights ensue. Freckles and Wolf/Wolf-man have some mutual badassery, while Ravit amply shows GUNNO and Tex how much of a take-no-prisoners-I-don’t-need-no-man kind of gal she is.  Great action here.  The lead merc, who had been in an intro scene earlier with his brother aboard an infected British submarine, challenges Chandler on who’s team is more lethal.  He is determined to kill everyone and get the cure.  Firefights and battles continue, with NATHAN JAMES’ snipers and Sexy LT 2 getting some kills in with the remotely operated 30 mm cannon.

Main Merc realizes he’s lost, and he skedaddles.  At the same time, Ravit, GUNNO, and Tex come on a tank room rigged to blow the ship, and Main Merc has the detonator!  Chandler chases the Brit merc, GUNNO takes a bullet for Ravit, and Tex + Ravit disarm all the bombs, the last of which Tex throws off the ship right as the merc triggers it.  SOLACE is saved, some bad guys and redshirts die, and Main Merc jumps into the sea . . . and never comes up.  NATHAN JAMES realizes the mercs had to come from somewhere, so they freak out and start searching for a sub. They get one SONAR hit, but then its gone and lost.

Later, Typhoid Niels is revealed to still be with the immune survivalists who hate the cure, and they are revealed to be working with the Brit sub merc force, including Main Merc and his brother.

The Goods:  THIS EPISODE KICKS ASS!  Everyone gets to play, new villains are revealed, we remain at sea and aboard ship like I like it, and somebody’s torso gets esssssploded with a 30 mm round.  The bridge chatter as they approach SOLACE is also very good.  Like I’ve always said, this show listens to its Navy tech advisors (except for whoever teaches them Engineering or tactics, because that shit is just painful).  The real hospital ships are MERCY and COMFORT, but it looks like the Navy let them film on a real one nonetheless.  Thumbs up!

The Less Goods:  I’m not sure you can use a 30 mm cannon as a sniper rifle, cathartic though it may be.  The Skipper pulls a Captain Kirk and goes with the boarding teams.  Ummmmm, no.  Also, SONAR doesn’t work or look like that.  The show also returns to its default position that positions of responsibility and importance MUST be manned by OFFICERS ONLY.  In a pinch, they draft a clueless ENS as the anti-submarine officer.  What happened to the SONAR chief or any of the petty officers?  ASWO?  Ah well, the complaints are minor, but they may be more next episode, as it looks to be an “The Enemy Below” ripoff.  I hope I don’t have to hate on their ASW as badly as I hate on their engineering understanding.

Verdict:  One of my favorites.  Great job, crew!


Good wisdom from Sarah Hoyt Amanda Green (CORRECTED – I originally misattributed this to Sarah since I found it on her Facebook) about the new Amazon / Kindle Unlimited royalty set-up. The old system over-rewarded short and episodic works.  The new set-up awards pay-outs based on page views, so short works and novels each receive a fair pay-out based upon their length.  Novels don’t get screwed over any more.

But some people see Amazon as evil and unfair, no matter what.  I see a well run business whose business model currently aligns with my publishing goals, therefore they are my friend.  Once that no longer applies, I’ll move on to something else.  Until then, I take the word of anyone who says Amazon is screwing me over with a hefty grain of salt.  Who should I believe?  Random internet author paid by a third-party publisher whose profits are affected by Amazon’s model?  Or the people that gave me tens of thousands of dollars for my pulpy fiction?


You Can Book A Flight To Paris Right Now For 99 Dollars

I gotta start using this. Time to finally get that passport!



A few weeks ago we published The Definitive Guide To Finding Cheap Flights On The Web and already the Uproxx staff and a number of readers have shared stories of the money they saved (shared stories, it would be better if they shared some of the cash).

The guide makes a point of shouting out “error fare” sites like Secret Flying and The Flight Deal. We love those sites because not only do they save you a ton of money, but they also create the sort of urgency and spontaneity that travel is all about. Oftentimes deals expire within hours.

This afternoon, both Secret Flying and The Flight Deal published a fare on WOW Air flights for $99.00 to Paris, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, or Dublin from Baltimore or Boston. Assuming you don’t live in one of those departure hubs, with this sort of lead time you should be able to get there pretty cheaply.

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The prevailing thought on…

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BLUF Review: The Last Ship, Season 2 Episode 3, “It’s Not A Rumor”

Bottom Line Up Front: Oh, wait, there’s been an apocalypse? The Last Ship finally deals with the human toll on its characters from all the massive death that took place off-screen last season. Not much action, but the pathos was welcome and a long time coming. Good close-out for season 1, allowing us to move on to new plots.

Summary:  Depending on when you read this, there may or may not be spoilers.  I’m getting to it LATE, due to other distractions (did you know that your job and your family expect you to occasionally do other things besides review posts?  I know!  Totally unreasonable).  NATHAN JAMES makes the trek from a newly freed Baltimore to Naval Station Norfolk, whereupon they are greeted by uninfected military folk in control of the base.  As no new potentates have set themselves up as tinpot dictators, they inoculate the military personnel and establish what happened to the viral lab there (it ain’t good).  The lab is no more, but they do gain contact with the other viral labs sequestered about the country and the world.  With antivirals in hand, they utilize the sudden glut of pilots and operational aircraft to fly the cure all over, satisfying their primary mission at last.

Finally home, and with no hostile forces or plots to fight, the crew is allowed to leave the ship and search out for signs of their families, armed with the cure.  Cap’n Crunches / CDR Tom Chandler already has his surviving family with him, so he heads to the ol’ homestead to do some basic maintenance and contemplate life out of the Navy, taking care of his kids and re-establishing order at home.  He makes the decision to quit as CO.  XO of Awesomeness CDR Mike Slattery follows a trail of bread crumbs and Easter eggs from camp to camp, but the unknown status of his family persists in remaining unknown.  He eventually leaves some of the cure and a note for them (I really really hope that cure stays potent without refrigeration).  Sexy LT Number 2 LT Kara Foster along with Sexy LT Number 1 LT Danny Green search for Kara’s mom, finding only a bunch of bottles where her maternal drunk had been staying.  Figuring her for dead, either due to the bottle or the virus, she heads to the bowling alley her neighborhood used as a last redoubt to find her mom alive, sober, re-married, and with a new found purpose in life.  It seems the apocalypse can be uplifting for some!  Back home, Chandler’s daughter and pop convince him to stay Navy and continue saving the world.  Slattery, Foster, and Green also return, but the Captain allows some crew to stay behind if they wish (or their characters weren’t renewed for the second season), filling their roles with new castmembers . . . umm, I mean crewmembers.  NATHAN JAMES returns to sea, headed south to a viral lab where Hot Virologist Dr. Rachel Scott’s mentor had gone.  And we see immune plague carrier Niels hook up with a band of immune survivalists with an agenda, telling them the rumors of the Navy ship with a cure are not rumors.  They take this seemingly good news badly.

The Goods:  This episode addresses all the emotional impact the series missed out on during the first season.  I get that we are portraying dedicated military members, but damn, man, your families and friends are in all likelihood DEAD.  Where are the breakdowns and tears?  Well, we get them here, along with some uplifting survivals and reassessments of purpose.  We finally see the great Eric Dane shed some manly tears for his character’s dead but not-much-lamented wife.  We get to see Adam Baldwin go angry and stoic on us as his search turns fruitless.  And we get another chance to change our opinion on Sexy LTs 1 & 2.  I hate them less this season, maybe because there is less overall focus on them and they are less required trope stereotypes.  I also like that this episode switches tracks for the ship’s mission in the new season, and allows for some swap-out of crew.

The Less-Goods:  Not much action.  Not enough Tex.  Not enough lingering shots of Rhona Mitra working out.  Ummmmm, moving on!  A lot gets left unsaid and un-examined, with the fates of many crewmembers and their families left unmentioned.  We spend too much time on mopey LT Granderson – “Oh, my mom tried to kill you all and take over the world as a megalomaniacal dictator eugenicist and now she’s dead – waaaaaaaa . . . .”.  I honestly couldn’t care less.  Stop worrying if the crew is hating on you and get back to being . . . whatever it is you are.  Wikipedia says your job is Conn, and later OOD, but those are watch positions, not jobs.  I thought she was COMMO or the Navigator, but that apparently belongs to someone else.  Maybe she’s the CICWO?  Either way, her useless ass is allowed to malinger in Sickbay the whole episode until the CMC and the Cap’n kick her in the ass (with all due civility and sensitivity, of course).  As far as Navy gripes, about all I have is that WOW, those highly technical, maintenance-hogging aircraft they use to fly the cure out sure do work well after not being babied or put in lay-up during the apocalypse.  And you’re using an F-18 to fly the cure out across the country or across the Atlantic?  I really, really hope your end-of-the-world has extensive tanker support or some very friendly airfields available.  Other than that, not much.

Good ep, a necessary ep, but not the one I’d recommend to folks wanting to see what all the buzz is about.  I probably won’t re-watch it, but its existence is a good thing, not a bad one.  Give it a B, let’s say.