Greetings! Welcome to the Chateau!


Within its corridors you will find insight into the books I have written, the books I am writing and the books I am thinking about writing.

It is also a place where I can offer insights into my favorite authors and - in the case of my game Conqueror: Fields of Victory - I can explain my rules and offer new variants.

Scroll down or check the sidebar for my latest posts.

Standalone books:

Battle Officer Wolf

Scorpion's Pass

The Man of Destiny Series:

A Man of Destiny

Rise of the Alliance

Fall of the Commonwealth

The Imperial Rebellion

Wargaming:

Conqueror: Fields of Victory


Oldman Triumphant: A Darkest Hour movie review

In contrast with my anti-review of the new Star Wars movie, I was actually looking forward to see the new Churchill move, "Darkest Hour.

First, let's address the obvious:  Gary Oldman is magnificent.  He utterly inhabits the role of Winston Churchill, so much so that you have to keep reminding yourself that it isn't in fact Churchill on the screen.  The mannerisms, expressions, even the pitch of his voice is utterly convincing.  I think entertainment award shows are crap, but he clearly deserves to run the table for this performance.

Alas, the movie itself isn't as good as it could be.

I know I'm a hard sell for historical flicks - I'm too much of a stickler for facts.  To its credit, Darkest Hour does a good job bringing up tidbits of Churchill's life, reminding viewers that he was a deeply flawed politician, compromised by a lifetime of maneuvering and emotional outbursts.

Humans want to see their heroes as perfect role models, but often the great people of history are anything but.  Winston Churchill is a great example of this, from his heavy drinking to extravagant spending and of course his legendary skill as an insult artist he had a lot of vices. 

And then there was the fact that he switched parties twice, and was a bitter and vocal critic of his party leadership for a decade before coming to power.   I hate to bring contemporary politics into a movie review, but people who think Donald Trump is some sort of outrageous exception need to read a little history. 

Indeed, the film does a great job showing just how hated Churchill was by Britain's establishment and particularly his party leadership.  Again, this is not unusual.  Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were both cordially loathed by their party elites.   In Thatcher's case, she was driven from power by an internal coup. 

Without a parliamentary system, the GOP establishment waited until Reagan's second term was up to put the very conventional George H.W. Bush in charge and he also repudiated his predecessor's policies and was thumped by the voters as a result.

All of that duplicity is great and a welcome reminder that politics ain't beanbag and even noble acts can have sordid origins.

I have to problems with the film, one minor and one significant.

The minor problem is the bizarre overhead-view they use at times to capture events as they unfold.  It's odd and disruptive, as well as absurd.  I thought the depiction of a low-level bombing right at night over Calais was particularly daft.  Didn't happen, couldn't have happened - not with those aircraft, not at that stage of the war.  Later on, night tactical raids were possible with flare and pathfinders, but it's as out of place as jets whizzing over Buckingham Palace.

The bigger issue is with the decision to use the conventional Hollywood plot device of our hero speaking to the Common People to find his courage.  Put bluntly, it didn't happen.  I know this is supposed to make Churchill look vulnerable (and therefore complex) but it's garbage.  He had moments of weakness, but on the whole he was a born brawler and relished clashing with his foes.

Other than that, it was a very good movie and quite enjoyable.  Oldman's performance is first-rate and he's set a new standard for actors wanting to portray Churchill.


Movie Anti-Review: The Last Jedi

I've put up a few movie reviews here, but this is my first "anti-review."

I define an anti-review as an explanation for why I'm not going to bother seeing the movie at all.

I've expressed my misgivings about the series before, but up0n further reflection, the deciding reason I'm not going to see The Last Jedi is that I simply don't care about anyone in it.

These characters are utterly uninteresting.  They have no depth and no screen presence.  In fact, they are so bland, I can't even remember the names.  I think of them as Mary Sue, Failed Stormtrooper and Fighter Pilot.

If the "big reveal" was that one of them died, I'd be completely indifferent because there's no "there" there with any of them.

The original cast was lightly sketched, but they had personality and drew upon fun archetypes.  These guys, not so much. 

Ironically, Rogue One has much more interesting characters, but being Hollywood they killed them all off because That's Dramatic and also Tragic. 

It was also - given the plot as presented - stupid.  In heroic space fantasy there are myriad ways to kill people off (don't I know it!) - the trick is to make it meaningful.  The deaths in Rogue One felt contrived, not dramatic or heroic.  Maybe if their tactics hadn't been so stupid...but I digress.

The funny thing about this latest installment is that even Mark Hamill can't stomach it.  There are lots of youtubes showing him damning the thing with faint praise.

Now actors don't always know much about film-making, but I've noticed a recurring theme of his is that big duel between Darth Emo and Super Jedi Girl was totally botched.  He notes that when he read the script and he got to the part where the old lightsaber starts twitching in the snow he assumed this was where Luke entered and saved the day.

He's absolutely correct.  That would have been the perfect parallel to the scene in Empire where Luke first learns to use the force to retrieve his lightsaber.  Luke would then have used his superior skill to defeat (for the moment) Darth Emo and this would also parallel (in an inverse way) the master/apprentice situation in the first trilogy.

Instead, Jedi Super Girl completely implausibly saved the day by herself and Luke was reduced to a cameo that took less actual screen time than the journey montage that preceded it.

That's the kind of poor plot choices that I can't handle at this point in my life.  If I went to the theater, I'd either walk out, want to walk out, or curse constantly under my breath.

I'll probably watch it eventually when it's free on dish or something, and I'll make it into a drinking game or something fun.

But actually seeing the film in a theater would be a chore, so I'm going to skip it.

 


A new year brings new writing projects

Happy New Year! 

Looking back on 2017, I'm profoundly grateful to all of you who not only bought my books but enjoyed them (and particularly grateful to those who left positive comments/reviews).

After I finished the Man of Destiny series, I wasn't sure which direction to go.  I have a few projects waiting on the back burner but none of them really appealed to me at this point.

So I've decided to look a little further back in the timeline of the Man of Destiny setting and write about the oft-referenced Deimos War.

It's not a prequel so much as a prelude as the characters will be different.  At most a few of the principles in the later book will be seen in their youth, but it will mostly involve their parents and grandparents - assuming these were even involved.

To put it another way, I don't intend this to be a back story on the later characters but instead a different tale in the same setting, though it will of course reflect on later events, just as the US Civil War foreshadowed World War I (and the two events are roughly as distant as the ones described in the Deimos War).

I'm also working on a revision for Conqueror, but given that the first edition took 10 years to complete, who knows when I will finish that.

Anyhow, Happy New Year and keep reading!


This new Star Wars movie does not interest me at all

The reviews for the new Star Wars movie are starting to come in and they're overwhelmingly positive.

And yet, I find myself feeling that I'm going to see "The Last Jedi" because I ought to, not because I want to.

Such is the burden of the Twenty-First Century Star Wars Fan.

Yes, I'm a big Star Wars fan.  Or at least I was.  I still own a movie-grade set of stormtrooper armor.  It sits in a storage bin in the basement.  I last put it on for Halloween when my youngest was in 5th Grade.  The class seemed to appreciate it.

I think about selling it, but I put a lot of effort into the thing, so I take the easy path and do nothing.

Which is exactly how I feel about the new movies.  I want to take the easy path and do nothing.

I must be honest.  I hated "The Force Awakens."  I really did.  It took me a while to put aside sentimentality and the fun of seeing Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher again, but I really really didn't like that movie.

It wasn't because I was a Star Wars fan, either.  It was because I am an author.

Once you've started writing or creating a story, you become more attuned to elements of plot, character and the importance of keeping things consistent.  There is no longer any consistency in Star Wars.  It's basically a cross between Star Trek and the Avengers.

I freely admit I was annoyed that the heroine - Super Jedi Girl - could do everything better than any other character.  She was a better pilot than Han, a better mechanic than Chewbacca and - upon picking up a lightsaber for the first time ever - dusted the villain.

And so now she's going to get trained.  But why?  She's already the Bestest, Most Awesome Hero Ever.  She's a 50th level fighter/magic-user/thief/cleric in a 3rd level dungeon.  Who can possibly stand against her?

Well, I guess that's what we're going to find out.  This is the Second Movie in the trilogy, so the Good Guys get screwed. 

I suppose I should be more optimistic, but the last five movies were a disappointment, so I don't think it's unreasonable to suspect the sixth will be as well.

And in case anyone wonders - no, I'm not expecting lighting to strike again, I'd just like a movie that is good on its own merits.  I find the fact that we have to add the qualifier "Star Wars movie" a true indictment on the finished product.  We're clearly grading on a (very forgiving) curve because when you get down to it, these are actually pretty awful films that would have gone nowhere without having "Star Wars" in the title.


Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope everyone is looking forward to a fun day spend with friends and family.

I'm thankful for a great many things, but this year I'm particularly humbled by the positive response my books have gotten.  I'm not exactly a best-selling author, but it's still nice to get positive feedback from a project that took years to come to fruition. 

Somebody liked my books and that's all the validation one could ask for.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Veterans Day 99 years on

"The title of my post is a little inaccurate.  Today used to be Armistice Day to commemorate the end of the Great War, but after the sequel made its debut in 1937, 1939 or 1941 (depending on which side you were on), the day was renamed and given a different flavor.

Still, my plan is to out and honor the old tradition of playing "Taps" at 11 a.m. today.  I hurt my foot the other night, so I'm not looking forward to putting my uniform and boots on.

The other day at my Guard unit I was looking at some captains talking together and they noticed my gaze.  One of them asked what I was thinking.

I gestured to them.  "I was thinking about how you are the future leaders of our unit."  They smiled and nodded.

And then I continued:  "And I was wondering how long until I can retire."

It was funny, but it had the additional virtue of being true.  Our unit is evolving over time.  We stood up in 2009 - a mismatched assortment of individuals from all over the place trying to figure out our job while working in a condemned building.

Now we are about to undergo our second change of command in our purpose-built facility.  I personally have gone from a junior NCO to a senior one.  With the latest round of retirements, I'm officially part of the Old Guard.

The United States was involved in World War I for less than two years.  My great-grandfather was one of those shipped overseas and he arrived in time to take part in the last Allied push.  He then got to stay as part of the Army of Occupation for almost a year.  His letters tell of the low morale of those troops and how desperately they wanted to go home and get on with their lives.

The present war has lasted 16 years and there's no end in sight.  It may well come to pass that I will reach retirement age before it's over.  I'd like to stay with it until it's over, but who knows?

In a sense, the war that started in 1914 is still raging.  The war we have today has its origins in the decisions made in 1919.  Maybe my generation will finally sort them out.


The series is now complete!

Today The Imperial Rebellion went up on Amazon.  The series is done and available for purchase.

The complete "Man of Destiny" series runs 250,000 words and more than 1,000 printed pages.  I often wondered if I could write a trilogy.

Well, I guess I can't, because I had to add an extra book.

Still, it's pretty cool having it done.  I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.


The end is near: just got the proofs for Book 4

I'm now reviewing the proofs for Man of Destiny's fourth book, "The Imperial Rebellion."

It will take a me a few days to go over them but it looks like things are right on schedule.

The title is a last-minute change.  I had been using "Destinies Fulfilled" as a working title, but I never really liked it.  This was because Man of Destiny was supposed to be a trilogy.  When I decided to press ahead with a fourth book, I had no idea what to call it.

I think "The Imperial Rebellion" is consistent with the other titles.  The cover is pretty cool, too.

I'm told that the ending is particularly good, but of course I would say that, wouldn't I?


Dunkirk Movie Review: Good storytelling, lame stories

When I saw that there was going to be a movie about the British evacuation of Dunkirk, I knew I wouldn’t like it.  Everyone who knew me also knew I wouldn’t like it.

The only question was whether I would actively despise the film (which is how I feel about “Saving Private Ryan”) or merely hold it in casual contempt.

I suppose it is a tribute to filmmaker Christopher Nolan that I am in the latter camp.

Probably the most unexpected development was that I saw the thing in the theater at all.  I don’t normally do that these days.  I didn’t want to, but my eldest begged me to go with her.  She’s a fan of Harry Styles from when he was in a boy band.  I still don’t know who he is, but I went with her because that’s what dads do.

I get that Dunkirk is a work of fiction and an impressionistic take on an epic event.  I’m actually fine with that approach to showing historical events.  I beats the often-ponderous top-down perspective that usually makes massive factual blunders.

My criticism falls into two categories:  the stories and the soundtrack.

Let’s tackle the soundtrack first.  It’s annoying and distracting.  I heard people talking about taking ear protection with them and I wished I had.  Music should support and enhance the mood, not constantly grate on your nerves. 

Hans Zimmer reminds me a lot of Danny Elfman – they both have a handful of melodies that they endlessly recycle.  If you listen to Zimmer’s music, he used essentially the same theme from “Gladiator” in “Pirates of the Caribbean.”  Having exhausted that well, he turned to LOUD AND BOOMING CHORDS missed with tck-tck-tch effects to ensure the maximum discomfort of the viewer.

As to the stories, I didn’t like them.  The best of the three – the one relating to the pilot – was great until he learned to levitate his aircraft.

Nolan must hate the British Army because he almost uniformly portrays them as selfish, rude and cowardly.  I see there’s some nonsense about how the four companies of Indian mule drivers got left out of the film (that would be roughly 600 out of 338,000 troops, just so you have the proportions right), but why not at least show the rear guard?

Those were the guys who really pulled things together.  Contra Nolan, the French didn’t take over the lines until the very end.  For most of the evacuation British forces held the majority of the perimeter.  When the Belgians surrendered without warning on May 28, the British performed an amazing feat of arms in shifting forces over to fill the gap.

The fact is that the evacuation couldn’t have happened if the bulk of the British Expeditionary Force just milled aimlessly around the beaches waiting to be saved.  Even in defeat they remained disciplined and worked together for the common good.  One of the odd aspects of the battle was that stragglers would fall in with other troops in the middle of a firefight and say things like “Hello, chaps!  Mind if we play through?” 

That would have something to see, much more interesting than a bunch of Highlanders cowering in a beached steamer waving guns at each other.  The only person who was remotely interesting in that respect was the small boat captain.

It found it odd that Nolan left the competent army guys in the background (like the engineer who built the jetty out of trucks) and instead focused on the screw-ups.  Who wants to watch that?

Well, I guess some people do, but I’m not one of them.


Fall of the Commonwealth is now available

“Fall of the Commonwealth” is now available for the Kindle and in paperback

This is the longest book in the series because so much is going on.  It was the most fun of all the books to write because after three years of working on the series, I really felt close to the characters. 

Justin Tolliver really comes into his own in this book.  The romance between Adam Flyte and Cristen Morra also develops more fully, but my proof readers tell me that the real love story is between Phae and Arrin Morra as they fight to preserve their marriage amidst war and political upheaval.

“Fall of the Commonwealth” also explores how conflict can drive people to extreme measures.  There’s a widespread belief that once one side senses defeat, the heart goes out of it and the war comes to an end.  That’s actually the opposite of what usually happens.

The Alliance knows it is losing, and Richard Martel and Oliver Praeto have to decide how far they are willing to go to turn the tide. 

Meanwhile, there’s a lot of dissention in the Commonwealth ranks, particularly between the Ordo Militaris and the Ministry of Defense.   Maxim Darius knows that nobody wanted him to become Premier and he also knows that plans are already in motion to kick him out.  He’s got a lot of enemies and only one of them needs to get lucky to bring him down.

If all goes according to plan, the final book in the series will be released in a few weeks.