For Your Consideration . . . .

Hello and welcome, science fiction award board members, voters, and fans!  Please enjoy the canapes and wine being passed around.  The envelopes with your individual bribes will be under your chair in the main dining room after the presentation.  AFTER the presentation, sir.  Please wait until the end.  Let’s try to maintain some decorum, shall we?

There are a HOST of science fiction awards.  There’s the ones most folks know about, like the Hugo,the Nebula, and the two different Campbell awards.  There are also about 76 other awards given out on an annual basis.  The problem is, as a newbie and an ostensibly indie one at that, I don’t know awards people or awards voters.  But I am quite proud of my success in 2014, and I’d like to think I might be able to play in the big leagues with those who know and participate in award circles like it’s second nature.  It may be childish, but unlike some who eschew awards or believe sales alone are the only reward one needs, I do want that validation from the community (and I believe that recognition can’t necessarily hurt sales either).  Is my stuff award worthy?  I dunno.  I’d like to think so.  They’ve garnered rankings, reviews, and comments equivalent to those received by nominees and winners in the past.  But my worry is that my pro-sale stories were never seen (there is a LOT of stuff published in magazines every year), and my indie stuff carries the stigma of being indie/self published crap (there’s even MORE indie stuff published every year, both masterful and . . . less so).  So, rather than campaigning, I just wanted to get a reminder out there that I do have eligible works for consideration.  And if YOU have eligible works you’d like to see get more recognition, by all means plug-away in the comments below!

Eligible Short Stories – Pro-Market Published:

1. “The Rememberists” – Daily Science Fiction, July 15, 2014 – What do you do if you cannot escape your past, if things did not go they way they should have?  Hire a rememberist!

2. “Bumped” – The Grantville Gazette Universe Annex, December 2014 – An in-love mad scientist and a tough dame share a first date, only to be interrupted by three noir-ish baddies on a heist.  Collisions ensue.

Eligible Short Stories – Semi-Pro, Small Press, and Amateur Published:

1. “Within This Horizon” – Riding the Red Horse anthology from Castalia House, December 2014 – A damaged space navy officer contends with becoming “orbital debris,” relegated to the backwards, useless, bluewater navy, and must deal with both his own dashed expectations and the bitterness of a CO in the same situation.  (for a free review copy of my story or the anthology, e-mail me, private message me, or comment below)

2. “The 1011000-100110110000011010011 Truce” – Liberty Island Magazine, Alternative Holiday Short Story Contest Grand Prize Winner, December 2014 – The shift to automated warfare may or may not save lives in the end, but you’d never see a situation like the 1914 Christmas Truce of WW-I again.  Or could you?

3. “The Gaslight Consultant” – The Writer’s Arena, Reality Bites competition, October 2014 – Who better to drive someone crazy, or make them believe they are seeing ghosts than a team that may actually be crazy (or who sees ghosts)?  NOTE:  This was not my best story of 2014, but there are absolutely some stories on The Writer’s Arena that should be considered, especially the best of the year I saw there: “Words on the Wind” by Lu Whitley, a great soft-fantasy/magic piece.

Eligible Short Stories – Independently Published:

1. “Dogcatcher Blues” – REMO collection by Thomas A. Mays, April 2014 – A disgraced soldier is ordered to carry out a terrible punishment duty, rounding up man’s worst friend on a pacified rebel planet.  But picking up this cybernetic Hellhound is more problematic than others.  Rather than fetch a simple unintelligent feral, this dog is a deserter who will do ANYTHING to avoid going back.  I could simply name any story in the REMO collection as eligible (other than the previously published “Strategic Deployment”, but this story is my favorite and I kick myself for not submitting it for pro-publication before putting it in my collection.  (for a free review copy of my story or the whole collection, e-mail me, private message me, or comment below)

Eligible Novel – Independently Published:

1. A Sword Into Darkness – Stealth Books, January 2014 – 30,000 copies sold in 2014, 349 reviews on Amazon with a 4.4 star average, 3.88 stars on Goodreads with 33 reviews and 531 ratings, and great independent reviews on a number of sites (check out the book link on the right or down below if you are on mobile).  This was my pride and joy and a financial boon in 2014.  Is it literary or award-worthy?  Like I said, I don’t know.  I do know that if you appreciate a classic style and theme, if you like smart military sci-fi space opera with respectable physics, if you love pull-em-up-by-your-bootstraps, libertarian-leaning tales of space navies or overcoming alien invasion, and if your favorites include Niven, Pournelle, Heinlein, Clancy, or Ringo, then this is a book for you to vote for.  (Again, for a free review copy, e-mail me, private message me, or leave a comment below.)

So, we’ll see.  Chances are I won’t be remembered around awards season.  There’s just too much good stuff out there, but if you haven’t checked out mine, I think you might like it.

Plus, friends and followers of The Improbable Author, if you would like to plug your own work for award consideration, by all means let us know about it in the comments below.  I know that indie/self published shorts and novels have gotten nominations before (if rarely), and I would love to see one win, and if not mine, then another worthy indie.

Thanks!

An Improbable Year

Grab your champagne flute and somebody to smooch, y’all, because the year is done and done well.  It’s time to reflect and celebrate!  Stick with me as we reminisce about 2014 and look forward to what next year holds:

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Instead of going chronologically, I’m going to start with the little things, especially those you might have missed, and move up to the biggest things that impacted my year.

First, that which had the least major impact was my on-going and new projects.  I’ve learned that it is a tough thing to balance being a professional officer, a husband/caregiver, a father, and an independent publisher, and the thing that got the least attention in that mix was ongoing long-form work.  Short stories I was able to knock out with relative ease, with four published this year alone and another on hold with Baen’s Grantville Gazette for a possible buy.  Long-form, novel-length works proved to be my Achilles heel.  I have three projects in the hopper:  first, the sequel to A Sword Into Darkness, titled Lancers into the light, because EVERYBODY has been asking about it and I’d be a fool not to do one.  That one is still in the outlining phase, primarily since I needed a break from ASID, and also because I have two other projects to finish.  One of those is my long-suffering urban fantasy Echomancer, which is about 1/3rd complete and suffers from a lot of time/will/desire based writer’s block.  Basically, I hit a snag and never went back to it once I moved to other projects.  One of those projects is my last long-form unfinished work, which is going between the titles of Demigod and Dattoo, a Christian near-future hard-science young-adult philosophical thriller.  Is it a total genre mash-up?  Yes.  Is it going slowly?  Yes.  Is it my most exciting project and my best second bid for traditional publication?  YES.  So, the short answer is that I am working on the next book(s), but the going was slow in 2014, and I hope for more positive news in this next year.

Next in the highlight hit-parade is TNT’s “The Last Ship,” a great little show that premiered this year.  If you haven’t had the chance to check it out, you absolutely should on Blu-ray, DVD, or your streaming service of choice.  Eric Dane, Rhona Mitra, and Adam Baldwin star in a loose adaptation of William Brinkley’s 1988 post-apocalyptic novel.  It’s all about the last US warship, the destroyer USS NATHAN JAMES, which has escaped infection from a worldwide lethal pandemic, and which has the bead on a cure.  It is cheesy, fun, well-acted, well-plotted, and surprisingly accurate and respectful of how the actual US surface Navy works.  As a lark, I blogged about it all from a USN officer perspective and it did wonders for me.  It consistently brought the most traffic to the blog, and brought me a number of new fans as well, who took a chance on my reviews and tried out my books as well.  So, overall, a great success.

This next is not such a success story, at least in the relative sense.  Following good advice from my friend and mentor Jeff Edwards of Stealth Books that I needed to have something else out on the market to serve the audience that ASID was growing, I published five of my military and artificial intelligence short stories as a collection on Amazon Kindle.  REMO has been well-reviewed (39 Amazon reviews with 4.2 stars) and has sold all right, but it never has done the numbers that ASID did.  I may have been spoiled by how my first foray into independent publishing did, and I realize that collections don’t tend to sell as well long-form works, but I would have liked for it to have done better, for more people to have tried it out.  As of this post, REMO has sold 1937 copies on Kindle, with an additional 362 provided through Kindle Unlimited and the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library (which I still get paid for).  That’s around 2300 more people that have enjoyed my stories than would have if they had stayed on my computer.  Good, but not as good as magazine circulation.  One story in particular, “Dogcatcher Blues,” is my favorite and — I think — is almost Hugo-worthy (though Baen did not originally buy it and I failed to shop it anywhere else), but I doubt any Hugo voters will ever see it.  I guess I have no room to complain, but relative to the rest of the year, REMO is my regrettable disappointment.

For this next paragraph, I have absolutely no complaint.  Short stories have been my sort of thing for a while now.  I started writing them years ago, to hone my skills and get my foot in the door of the traditional publishing industry, but success had eluded me.  I had two stories bought in years past, both by Baen publications (my favorite publishing house), but nothing to anyone else.  This year, in large part due to synergy with ASID’s success, I have published four stories in pro and semi-pro/amateur markets, with a fifth on tap for the new year.  I kicked ass in 2014 when it comes to short stories.  First was my sale of “The Rememberists” to Daily Science Fiction.  That story was HUGE for me, though it was my first flash-length story and literally VERY short.  I’ve had tons of tweets, facebook posts and fan e-mails from that one, along with two short-film producer/directors who intend to turn it into a film project.  Next, I came into contact with the crew over at The Writer’s Arena, who allowed me to participate in one of their short story contests.  Basically, you and another writer get a general topic and you each have to complete a short story in a few days, which the audience and two judges then vote on.  And my story, “The Gaslight Consultant” won!  That led them to checking out ASID (as well as my old Masters thesis online) and mentioning me a couple of times on The Human Echoes Podcast.  The first mention was all zany fun, and the second mention garnered me a very good, well-balanced review for ASID.  My next pro sale was as part of the Riding The Red Horse anthology from Castalia House.  I got an invitation to participate in their inaugural volume, and after a prompt from the editor Vox Day that they were looking for a literal sea story, I turned in “Within This Horizon,” which is now featured alongside stories and essays from Dr. Jerry Pournelle, Tom Kratman, Ken Burnside, Steve Rzasa, Christopher Nuttall, Chris Kennedy, and many others.  The association with Castalia House and RTRH has been all positive, leading to potential new projects and hopefully a chance to participate again next year.  And lastly, a little bit of victory fun.  For the holiday season, I participated in Liberty Island Magazine’s Alternative Holiday Fiction Contest, looking for genre-alternative Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Festivus stories.  I turned in a cute little redux of the Christmas Truce of 1914, but this time between our AI robots and the combat drones of our bitter enemy Canada.  And it won the grand prize!

And the last bit of professional writing news had the second biggest impact on my life:  the independent publication of A Sword Into Darkness through Stealth Books.  I cannot thank enough my publishing partner Jeff Edwards and all the readers who gave me a shot.  You guys made my year.  As of this posting and not counting an unknown number of pirated copies (I’ve truly arrived . . . people are stealing my shit), I’ve sold just under 30,000 copies of my little military sci-fi / hard-science space opera.  Here’s how the percentages break out:

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As you can see, ASID is available in trade paperback, on Kindle, Nook, Smashwords, Kobo, iBooks, and as an audiobook read by Liam Owen from SciFi Publishing.  And it is a well-regarded debut novel, with 4.4 stars on Amazon out of 349 US reviews, 3.88 stars on the tougher crowd at Goodreads through 33 reviews and 525 ratings, plus reviews and accolades from Winchell Chung of Atomic Rockets, PT Hylton, Carol Kean at Perihelion SF, 20four12, PG’s Ramblings, Castalia House, Kaedrin Weblog, the Human Echoes Podcast, and others.  I even got the Christmas treat of making PT Hylton’s favorite 14 books of 2014 in song form:

I don’t know how others do on their debuts because I’m too new at this, but I’m very very very happy and blessed with how ASID has done.  And I’m very hopeful about the doors it may open up for me.  I got a whole lotta nothing from agents and publishers for the last three years, but over the last year I’ve proven that I can at least sell a well-regarded book as a solid mid-list author.  They say you should not use self-published titles on your query letters to publishers, but if I can tell them that on my own, with no resources other than help from friends and a few judicious ads and sales, I sold 30,000 copies of my debut. maybe then they’ll give me a closer look.  Oooor, I’ll just stick to the indie crowd and continue taking in 70% royalties instead of settling for 10-15%.

And last but certainly not least, the thing that had the biggest impact on my year.  It was not the job, though that did have biggish news and a may appear here next year.  It was not my kids, though I am very proud of them and the improvements in their grades and schooling.  It was not my personal health journey as that mostly involved me getting fatter and slower despite my half-hearted efforts.  No, the biggest thing for me this year was standing by my beautiful wife, Jen, as she kicked breast cancer’s ass.  She is an inspiration to me, and I don’t think she adequately realizes how proud I am of her, how humbled I am that she continues to put up with my crap and allows me to walk beside her in life.  This woman faced down a double mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, reconstruction, complications to her own gastric bypass from years ago, and all the ravages to the body, psyche, and soul that all of that can wreak upon someone, and she refused to let it break her.  In fact, she used it to inspire others to get tested and to persevere, no matter the diagnosis or prognosis.  She endured shaving her head (my son and I joined her in this), losing her hair, dealing with the pain of neuropathy, the fatigue, the burns, and the fear that it would all be for naught.  She had low days indeed.  Who wouldn’t?  But she always came out on top.  And now she is on the mend and headed to being certifiably cancer free.  Her mother and I served as her caregivers, but that never stopped Jen from providing care to her family and a wider circle of friends than I will ever know.  Jen Mays, I love you and my hopes and prayers are for a great 2015 for us both.  We deserve it, and especially you.

Have a great year, everybody.  Toodles.

 

Riding The Red Horse

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When He broke the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, “Come.” Then another horse went out, a fiery red one, and its horseman was empowered to take peace from the earth, so that people would slaughter one another. And a large sword was given to him.

Revelation 6:3-4 (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Oooooh, golly.  That’s a creepy way to begin a post.  Here, how about something a leetle bit mo’ fun and funky:

Oh, war, huh, good god, y’all
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, say it again!

“War”, 1970, by Edwin Starr

Okay, that’s a bit better, but I still think ol’ Edwin is missing out on the . . . ummm . . . positive aspects of war? Not that war is a really positive enterprise!  No, real war sucks big time.  Death of the innocents, crimes against humanity, the achievement of political goals through maximum destruction and the scarring of a nation’s collective psyche.  Yep, all bad things.

But, war stories?  Those can be one hell of a lotta fun!

War fiction, military fiction, and my favorite:  military science fiction scratches the itch with a lot of readers in a way nothing else can quite match.  We LOVE US some combat sci-fi, whether it be on the screen with Star Wars, Star Trek, Aliens, Edge of Tomorrow, Starship Troopers, Battlestar Galactica, or Space: Above and Beyond; or if it’s on the printed page with many of the franchises above as well as Battletech/Mechwarrior, Legacy of the Aldenata, the Lensman series, Honor Harrington, pretty much anything by David Drake, or my own A Sword Into Darkness and REMO.  We thrill to tales of soldiers, starship officers, and space marines battling the bad guys, whether they be bug-eyed monsters, the implacable other, or just the poor schmuck on the opposing front.  Give our boys (and ladies, ladies) some powered armor, a gravitic railgun, and their trusty laser pistol, slap ’em in an orbital drop-ship, and point ’em at the ravening hordes of robo-zombies and you’ve got yourself a story!

Yeah, yeah, you can indulge in a little philosophy, and I GUESS you can devote a line or two to show your characters are deep, tortured souls, but by-gum something better blow the fuck up in a satisfying manner or you might as well keep walkin’, mister.

Does that sound like your cup-o-tea?  Well, if so, hot DAMN do I have something for you.  Finnish sci-fi publisher Castalia House is dropping the Mother of All Bombs of military sci-fi on you this month.  And I’ve been invited to the party, so I’m inviting you along as well!  Riding the Red Horse, the new annual anthology of military science fiction and fact will be coming out with its inaugural volume on December 15th.  This kick-ass collection features my story “Within This Horizon” (which is worth the price of admission alone), but the rest?  WOW!

I’m just honored to be even considered on the same list as these authors, not that my stories are a patch on theirs.  You’ve got Tom Kratman and Brad Torgerson, Christopher Nuttall and Chris Kennedy, Ken Burnside and Eric S. Raymond, William S. Lind and Vox Day, James Dunnigan and Rolf Nelson, Steve Rzasa and Henry Kitchener, Giuseppe Filotto and Benjamin Cheah, and James Perry, John Carr, and Ted Roberts.  You’re going to find essays and fiction on the future of combat, on the land, at sea, and in space.  You’re going to be amazed, but BONUS, you’re also going to find a story/essay by one of the grand masters himself:  Dr. Jerry Pournelle.

Yep.  Jerry freakin’ Pournelle.

If you aren’t headed to Castalia House or over to Amazon (beginning December 15th) to pre-order or buy it direct, then I have no idea how your head works.  Go!  Go, buy, read, review, then drop me a line here to tell me what you thought of “Within This Horizon.”

Sooooooooo cool!

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Author-itative

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Oh, you poor, poor fools that have the misfortune of living outside driving range of the Hampton Roads area of Virginia and North Carolina. Why do I pity you? Well, for so many reasons, honestly, but mostly because you will be missing out on a GREAT event this Saturday.

Pshaw, you say! I have a lot of things going for me outside the Norfolk / Chesapeake / Virginia Beach area. Why, I have the life of the European bon vivant, you say. I’ve got the excitement of the Big Apple — I’ve got the coolness of the West Coast — I’ve got the great vistas of the Rocky Mountains!

Pitiful, pitiful, pitiful, pitiful. Your protestations are but the last desperate gasp of the uninformed. You cry foul, but I know better, because I know about Authorfest.

Hampton Roads Authorfest, a kick-ass collection of 25 local-area authors with well over 100 books between them, books that excite, books that inform, books that stir the soul and the imagination. Books by authors who have both succeeded in the traditional publishing industry, and books by those who have struck out on their own and gone indie. Books of every genre from my own favorite (SCIENCE FICTION and all its varied sub-genres), to horror, thrillers, romance, mysteries, fantasy, young adult, crime, true crime, memoirs, humor, children’s books, travel books, and philosophy, etc. Books by such local luminaries as Chris Kennedy, Vanessa Barger, Lara Nance, Nancy Naigle, Tracy March, Malcom Massey, Dave Poyer, and Lynn Yvonne Moon. Books by authors you’ve loved for years, and books by authors you have yet to discover.

And what an event it’ll be! There’s the authors, of course, whom you’ll be able to stroll around, talk to, and connect with from 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM. And there will be books to browse, books to buy (for yourself or as a gift for the holidays), and prizes to win. And there will be seminars throughout the day, full of priceless guidance if you’d like to one day be a selling author yourself. They’ll cover the Children’s Book biz, Small Press Publishing, Indie Publishing, Book Trailers and Advertising, Writing for Young Adults, Steampunk Basics, and The Game of Love in Romance Writing. I myself don’t know if I’ll be able to resist the seminars, even though I’ll be sitting a table and trying to sell my own humble pair of books.

Should you happen to have the fortune of residing within the greater Hampton Roads area (and by this I mean if you left RIGHT NOW, you could legally and safely hit the Authorfest from a range of 4000 miles), you can totally attend the event — AND YOU ABSOLUTELY SHOULD. We’ll be kicking things off at the Meyera E. Oberndorf Central Library in Virginia Beach, at the 4100 block of Virginia Beach Boulevard, from 10 in the morning to 4 in the afternoon. It’ll be a blast and you owe yourself the opportunity to meet these authors and try out their wares.

Plus, BONUS!!!, I will be there in all my humble glory.

Honestly, how could you NOT show up now?

Ten Minutes of Truly Terrific Tangents

Or an hour and a half (provided you have sufficient stamina, time, and joy in your heart).

As last post indicated, I got to participate in The Writer’s Arena a few weeks ago, dropping the ghostly insanity of “The Gaslight Consultant” on them against the Arena’s own Albert Berg.  Al delivered a terrific epistolary/excerpt-style tale in “Excerpt of Classified Data Recovered in the Aftermath of Project Lethe” and I really recommend you give both tales a read, a little mid-work-week present to yourself.  In the end, the judges gave us a split decision, but the readers awarded me the win.  Yeah, ME! 

But it was an absolute pleasure to compete, I can’t wait to do it again, and had I lost to Al, it would have been a well-deserved loss, as the Project Lethe team is second to no one (with the possible exception of Smythe and Shade).  And, that — I thought — is that.  Done deal.  I won’t be hearing from those guys ever again.  Eh, not so hasty there, Tom.

First, there was Doc Occupant, a devoté of the Arena and an all-around fine fellow who decided to give A Sword Into Darkness a try since he enjoyed my short story.  And, it turns out, he enjoyed ASID enough to give me a very good write-up on his blog.  Which then earned a hearty thank you from me on Twitter.  Which then alerted Tony Southcotte of Writer’s Arena to check it out and quip a bit on the blog comments, which had me quipping as well.

Thus, my work was on Tony’s mind when he produced last week’s outstanding episode of The Human Echoes podcast, where he riffs on pop culture with my former nemesis, Albert Berg.  Was I a planned topic of their podcast?  Nope, but you never know where the rabbit hole will lead once you start meandering down that path.  As such, last week’s edition:  Candy Corn and Railguns (awesome title by the way) contains a very interesting section of tangents which somehow tie Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece INTERSTELLAR with Billy Bob Thornton’s The Astronaut Farmer, and Tony Todd from Candyman with my own research into railguns at the Naval Postgraduate School.  It’s like that old show “Connections” on PBS.  It’s odd and wonderful and zany, and I can’t wait to do an interview or just to chat with them.

The “me” part of the show is from about 28:30 to 39:00, but you really should check out the whole podcast.  I know I’m hooked and have been binge-listening to their archives.  Thank you Tony and Al!

Now, back to my dismal participation in NANOWRIMO.

 

ASID & REMO: Kindle Countdown Deal, 8-13 September!

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You want some AMAYSING AMAZING science fiction for cheap?  You like operating under pressure of a deadline, right up against the wire?  How about both?

Monday morning, both A Sword Into Darkness (316 reviews and 4.4 stars) and REMO (33 reviews and 4.3 stars) go on sale for the low, low price of 99 cents at Amazon.com.  That’s both e-books for your Kindle device or app for less than two bucks!  But maybe you’re not sure, so you decide to think it over for a day or two.  TOO LATE, SHIPMATE!!  On Wednesday, the price jumps to a still low, but not as insanely low $1.99.  That’s okay, you think.  It’s still in cheeseburger territory.  I can wait.  WRONG MOVE, MISSY!!  It’s a countdown deal!  The time is counting down and the price is counting up!  Now, Friday, REMO’s back to $2.99 and ASID joined it, still a dollar off the usual price but the sale is almost through.  Will you allow yourself to miss it?  Will you allow your fun and sci-fi loving friends and family to miss it?! 

I think not!

And if that wasn’t enough, I’m offering a discount code for trade paperback version of A Sword Into Darkness during that same period.  Use Discount Code 5TF4MWZN at Createspace this week, and you’ll get $4.00 off the regular list price of $15.99.  That’s just $11.99 for physical ASID you can hold in your hot little hands, this week ONLY.

Plus (I CANNOT BELIEVE THERE IS A PLUS) you can still get the ASID audiobook for FREE at Audible.com with your free 30-day trial membership.

Honestly, it’s like Chistmas in September.  I am far too good to you people, but that’s me.  Selfless.  In love with the world and always trying to give back.  If I wasn’t just the humblest person on the planet, I might put myself in for saint-hood.

😉

The Last Ship, Season One – Review and Contest

So, have you felt it yet?  Do you feel it right now?  The sense that something is missing from your weekly routine, a little bit of awesome, apocalyptic, well-acted, largely accurate and respectful naval porn?

Well, I’ve been feeling it.  After a season that was either exactly as long as it needed to be (without all the fluff or pointless episodes that British series avoid with their shorter seasons, but which are endemic to American 22-24 episode seasons) or way, way too short (c’mon, you know you wanted more, as long as its the right kind of more), The Last Ship has left us.  How was the inaugural season?  Where did it soar and where did it fail?  And what’s in it for you if you care either way?

Read on!

Characters:  The Goods:  I gotta hand it to the two primary stars, Eric Dane and Rhona Mitra.  Cap’n Crunches and our Doctor Va-va-va-voom-virology were very well played, carrying considerable gravitas as well as being very easy on the eyes.  I was totally unfamiliar with Eric Dane prior to this (not a big Gray’s Anatomy watcher), but I had seen Ms. Mitra in a number of films prior to this, and was already a fan.  I think she rather classed up the whole affair.  Eric Dane played Captain Chandler as a man I’d want to follow, making him decisive, strong, and still caring for his crew.  Between the writers and his performance, we got ourselves a high quality CO.  And he did righteous anger very well. That being said, the Tom Chandler role could have been slightly more nuanced.  We did have scenes of vulnerability and doubt, but he seemed a little too good to be true sometimes, all lantern-jawed hero and never the bereft father and husband, or the CO far out of his depth having a moment of frustrated weakness where he explodes on a subordinate that simply didn’t deserve it.  But that’s a minor point.  As for Rhona, she played Dr. Rachel Scott as strong, fierce, intelligent, (a little haughty perhaps), and with both a sense of pride warring with frustration at having been doubted by her community.  I really, really appreciated that she never struck me as Denise Richards playing Dr. Christmas Jones in that excreble James Bond flick.  I believed and appreciated Rhona Mitra in her role (and she can still be my Doc anytime).

In regards to highpoints among our supporting cast, both in terms of writing and performance, my favorite was Tex (John Pyper-Ferguson), followed closely by everyone’s favorite XO, CDR Mike Slattery (Adam Baldwin).  Tex was just a joy to watch, providing some much needed comic relief while also being a badass.  Plus he had some moments of depth, vulnerability, and sorrow, especially as he began to realize his love would remain unrequited.  As for Jayne/Casey/XO Slattery, the great Adam Baldwin, I love that dude.  He played this role with much less humor and a great deal more doubt and uncertainty than I’m used to seeing from him in roles, but that was definitely the right tone to take here.  In fact, I could have done well with a lot more conflict and friction between him and Chandler.  There were moments, but they were always fleeting.  I also wish, like with Chandler, that they would have seemed more affected by the apocalypse going on around them.  Still, whether he was shooting terrorists with a 5 inch gun, or overriding his CO and continuing to look for him against orders, you knew that Slattery (the ex Chicago detective????) was the guy you wanted in your corner.

Lastly, I have to give props to our villains, Alfre Woodard, Ravil Isyanov, and Jose Zuniga.  They were all played well, with the only unfortunate point being that there was no over-arching villain as a Big Bad for the season, and they never had enough screen time.

The Less Goods:  First of all, there were no bad performances here.  That’s why this is “Less Good” than “Bad”.  But there were some roles that — whether due to their writing or the way they were played — they just bugged me and did not contribute as much as I might hope in a perfect show.  First of these is the CMC, Master Chief Jeter, played by the very good Charles Parnell.  The CMC just seemed to be too much of a saint, but instead of Jesus, he put his faith in Tom Chandler.  That’s just a bit over the top, and unlike any CMC I’ve ever met.  It got a little old, and frankly I thought it was building to a good death for him during the episode where he volunteered to have the vaccine tested upon him.  Then there is Quincy (Sam Spruell), who was just a whiney, badly manipulative, weak weasel.  As a villain he was lame.  As a protagonist, he was creepy.  Maybe that’s exactly what they wanted from him, but I just didn’t see Rachel Scott putting her faith in him.  And then we have our main points of ire:  our Two Sexy Lieutenants Being All Sexy Together.  Danny Green (Travis Van Winkle) and Kara Foster (Marissa Neitling) got better as the series went on, mostly because they were separated from one another, but every “relationship” moment was like nails on a chalkboard.  Were these characters designed to mark off some screenwriting checklist block requiring a romance?  When they were doing their jobs, they were perfectly acceptable.  When they interacted or fought or made-up, though, it was full of suck.  Sorry, guys.

Lastly, I’ll repeat a plea I made several times before:  Where are all the goddamn enlisted roles.  The USS NATHAN JAMES is an officer-fest, and that’s not good.  They make up only about 10% of the crew, but they make up 99% of your speaking roles.  There are stories to be told there, stories that will echo with your audience, and not just the one or two shoehorned in weak roles you did have for them.  I fully expected to have a strong antagonist among the crew for Captain Chandler, someone who realizes with the demise of the US and the Navy, they didn’t have to follow Chandler’s orders any more.  Is a mutiny story aboard a ship a trite cliche?  It can be, but it was still a chance to bring conflict and realism and more enlisted participation into the story.  We had weak officer counseling!  So where were the 10% of the crew that end up taking up 90% of your time?  Where were the fistfights and/or suicides among a crew under the stress of the end of the world?  Why was there never a fragging incident or a CO’s Mast that busted down an undisciplined crewman?  And not to be negative entirely, where were the scenes of a crewman showing up an officer, of an enlisted person being selfless, or inventive, amazing Chandler and earning his respect and gratitude?  Because that stuff, good and bad, is what happens aboard ship every single day.  But all we got was a chess-playing cook and a gunner’s mate that wanted to time out of service during an emergency.  Kinda weak sauce, writers. 

Wow, looking back at a lot of that last paragraph, there’s also a lot of points which apply equally to plot so . . . .

Plot:  The Goods and Less Goods:  The Last Ship deviates significantly from the novel of the same name, and that is to its benefit, as that source novel is quite dated and involved the hopeless situation of a nuclear war vice the threat of a viral apocalypse which allows for the crew to positively affect things.  We have all the big stakes here:  global apocalypse, a small crew on one ship against the world, pandemic, lost loved ones, a last desperate chance at a hopeful conclusion, external attacks, action, explosions, and conflict, conflict, conflict!  If the story had ever paused, or had an episode to spare, I’d suggest they could have added a decompression episode, a Sunday at sea or a Crossing the Line ceremony to show the crew letting loose a little and having some nice character moments, but maybe next season.  Like I said before, the episodes and the season were very tightly written with no extraneous eps (except for one . . . ).  The setup in the pilot was PERFECT, the conclusion was DAMN GOOD, and they kept the tension well-ratcheted for the most part, resulting in some middle-of-the-season eps that were equally amazing.  I had my favorites, as I’m sure you do, which is the gist of the contest I mentioned earlier, and more on that later. 

Were there things I would have changed?  Of course!  Continuing with what I mentioned in Character above, the show could have benefitted from a Big Bad to carry through the season instead of episodes where sometimes the only antagonist was bad fortune and there situation.  Now, many of these episodes were necessary, but if we could have had a hint of an overarching Antagonist as well, I’d have done it.  Maybe introduce Alfre Woodard earlier, make her their cheerleader at home, so when she turns out to be L’il Miss Hitler, it’s even more jarring.  Maybe give Roskov a scene or two in more episodes, even if the Russians were nowhere near the main action.  I’d also have had more incidents of desperation or interactions with other vessels, where the crew as a whole was forced to confront the deadly realities of the disease, though the episodes where that did occur were much appreciated.

Only one episode actively pissed me off, and I think you’ll know it if you’ve been reading these.  That one ep exemplified all my fears of a Navy TV show, mostly because that was the one time the writers and consultants truly failed in terms of Naval Realism.

Naval Realism:  The Goods:  They actually filmed about 85% of the series on actual US Navy destroyers, and that setting shined through.  The tech jargon was spot on for the most part.  All the pieces and parts were there and they were properly used, properly manned, and properly referred to.  This was a very respectfully crafted show, and almost reaches the high point of Naval Porn (which I consider a term of endearment).  This show (I hope) will be a good recruiting tool for the Surface Navy (which is my Navy).  I usually had a happy smile on my face while watching this show. so Thank You for almost getting everything right.

The Less Goods:  A lot of the plot tropes they used had Captain Chandler (and the XO and CMC) in the center of the action, which is ludicrous.  The Skipper doesn’t get to go on many, if any tactical away missions.  They also gave the NATHAN JAMES superpowers, allowing her to shrug off missiles, rockets, and bullets without damage, to operate over the span of entire oceans without fueling or provisioning, to hack into satellites and facilities with impunity, and to stash her helicopter in a third hangar that simply doesn’t exist.  But all of that is allowable when compared to the season’s only true stinker episode, Episode 4:  “We’ll Get There” (But you’ll probably give yourself a lobotomy before you do, so you can stand all the STUPID).  I won’t rehash it here, but I AM TOTALLY FINE IF THEY COMPLETELY RETCON HOW THE SHIP WORKS during the next engineering-centric episode, or, alternatively, if THEY NEVER AGAIN HAVE AN ENGINEERING-CENTRIC EPISODE.

A reminder, cast, crew, producers, and writers:  I’m available as a consultant, and I work CHEAP.

Contest:  So, that’s it.  I LOVED the first season of The Last Ship and can’t wait to see how the plot develops and the characters grow next season.  I can only hope they keep with the show’s central conceipt and STAY ON THE DAMN SHIP, instead of becoming a knock-off of Jericho or The Walking Dead, fighting the apocalypse upon land, with only passing references to the NATHAN JAMES.  And I want to thank you all for sticking it out and reading my reviews.  I’ve never enjoyed such high traffic on my blog before.

As a way of thanking you, since I don’t have any Last Ship  swag, I do have some sci-fi navy fun to offer.  Here’s how it goes:  Out of the season’s ten episodes, which were the best?  Give me your top 5, in order, on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, in the comments below, or via e-mail.  The first person(s) to match my list (or get closest) will win a free copy of my military sci-fi novel A Sword Into Darkness, in either e-book, trade paperbook, or audiobook (your choice)!

So, what are your top 5 episodes and why!?  Enter early and play often!  And THANK YOU ALL AGAIN.