Monday, December 21, 2015

The White Rocket Podcast - Episodes List

UPDATED APRIL 29, 2016: Now it should include every episode.
A chronological list of some of the more popular topics we have covered on the White Rocket Podcast so far.
All are easily available at and and the most recent episodes are on iTunes.
My eternal thanks to all of my guests and co-hosts on these episodes.

001 Prometheus (movie review)
002 Stephen King's The Dark Tower
003 Bobby Politte on Superhero Novels
004 James Bond in all media
005 Jeff Deischer on Superhero Novels
006 & 007 Marvel Cinematic Universe
008 Richard Stark's Parker novels & films
009 & 010 Movies of 2012 review
011 A Song of Ice and Fire / Game of Thrones
012 Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander novels & film
013 10 Favorite Movies Countdown with John Ringer
014 James Clavell's Asian Saga (Shogun, etc) novels & films
015 Steig Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo novels & films
016 Legion I: Lords of Fire (audiobook sample)
017 Awards Season
018 Babylon 5 (20th Anniversary)
019 War/Action Films of Alistair MacLean (Navarone/Ice Station Zebra etc)
020 Ian Healy Interview on Superhero Novels
021 Justified (tv series)
022 The Book Cave team interviews Van
023 DragonCon Memories with Keith RA DeCandido
024 Lucian: Dark God's Homecoming (audiobook sample)
025 Alabama Phoenix Festival
026 Star Trek & Star Trek Into Darkness
027 & 028 Warhammer 40,000 & Horus Heresy (w/Josh Reynolds)
029 Creating Audiobooks (Chris Barnes)
030 Jack "King" Kirby
031 Jim Beard interview
032 Space: 1999
033 Barry Reese interview
034 Hawk: Hand of the Machine (audiobook sample)
035 Larry Niven interview
036 Movies of 2013 review
037 & 038 Star Trek original movies
039 Ready Player One
040 Downton Abbey
041 Windy City Pulp Con Interviews
042 & 043 Novel Writing
044 The Cosmic Marvel Universe
045 Animated Superhero Shows
046 Guardians of the Galaxy movie review
047 Battlestar Galactica (original series)
048 Andrew Gaska interview (Space: 1999 graphic novels)
049 The X-Men Movies
050 Anniversary Show
051 Marvel Cinematic Universe  - Phase 3
052 David Wright interview
053 Frank Herbert's Dune novels & films
054 Avengers Assemble!
055 & 056 Sean Connery & George Lazenby Bond Films
057 Legion II: Sons of Terra (audiobook sample)
058 & 059 Roger Moore & Timothy Dalton Bond Films
060 Graham McNeill interview
061 Conan the Barbarian films
062 Krull & The 13th Warrior
063 Pierce Brosnan Bond Films
064 Daniel Craig Bond Films
065 Hugo Awards Controversy
066 Bond Villains
067 Avengers: Age of Ultron (movie review)
068 Roger Zelazny's Amber Novels, pt 1
069 Bruce Boxleitner & Mira Furlan interview
070 Superhero Smackdown
071 Parsec Awards Submission Show
072 Sci Fi Literature Jeopardy
073 Game of Thrones Season 5 review
074 Legion III: Kings of Oblivion (audiobook sample)
075 DragonCon Classic SF Track (w Gary Mitchel)
076 & 077 Roger Zelazny's Amber Novels, pt 2 & 3
078 Peter F Hamilton interview
079 Conventions
080 Thundarr the Barbarian
081 Roger Zelazny Memorial Panel
082 Harlan Ellison at Archon 2015
083 SPECTRE (movie review)
084 The Star Wars Phenomenon
085 Star Wars: The Force Awakens (movie review)
086 Daredevil (DragonCon panel)
087 & 088 Questions for Van About Everything
089 What are we Reading (w/John Ringer)
090 & 091 James Bond Opening Action Sequences Ranked
092 Where Do We Get Our Inspirations and Ideas? (Windy City Con)

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Ranking the Films of 2015

2015 movies I have seen, ranked in order of how much I enjoyed them:

1 Ant Man
2 Avengers: Age of Ultron *
3 Star Wars: The Force Awakens *
4 Spectre *
5 The Martian
6 Inside Out
7 Bridge of Spies
8 Minions
9 Hotel Transylvania 2
10 Mad Max: Fury Road
11 A Walk in the Woods
12 Woman in Gold
13 The Man from UNCLE
14 Monkey Kingdom
15 Spy

* All three of these had numerous issues that gave me problems, and could have been better, but what was there I still loved. They all represented properties I've loved most of my life, and all three attempted to bring something special in this particular film (Ultron; good old-fashioned Star Wars fun; Blofeld/Spectre organization). They only partially succeeded.

2015 Movies I haven’t seen yet but want to see, listed in the order they came out:

Ex Machina
Shaun the Sheep
Jupiter Ascending
Mr Holmes
Furious 7
Jurassic World
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
The Transporter Refueled
Steve Jobs
Where to Invade Next
The Hateful Eight

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Bernie Van Buren????

Here's a fun parallel that occurred to me as I was studying my ruler that has the presidents on it:
George Washington was a very popular 2-term president. When he left office, his vice-president, John Adams (whose son would also one day be president), was elected--but lost his bid for re-election to a Democrat and served only 1 term. He in turn was followed by a popular Democrat with "Jefferson" in his name (Thomas Jefferson) who served two full terms and remains popular, despite revelations about sexual improprieties. A bit later, the son of the earlier one-term president is elected (John Quincy Adams). He is followed by a controversial Democrat (Andrew Jackson).

When his second term ended, he was immediately followed by an intellectual older guy with unruly white hair (Martin Van Buren)...

Ronald Reagan was a very popular 2-term president. When he left office, his vice-president, George Bush (whose son would also one day be president), was elected--but lost his bid for re-election to a Democrat and served only 1 term. He in turn was followed by a popular Democrat with "Jefferson" in his name (William Jefferson Clinton) who served two full terms and remains popular, despite revelations about sexual improprieties. A bit later, the son of the earlier one-term president is elected (George W Bush). He is followed by a controversial Democrat (Barack Obama) whose second term is about to end.
...And Bernie Sanders is running now....!  Ha!


Friday, October 02, 2015

When was the Last Time Auburn & Alabama Both Went 3-2 to Start a Season?

If (big if) Alabama loses to Georgia on Saturday, and if (hopefully not big if) Auburn beats San Jose State, both programs will stand at 3 wins and 2 losses to start the season.

This is pretty amazing considering how both teams were expected in pre-season to be very highly ranked and to contend for conference and national titles.

So it got me to thinking: When was the last time both teams started out 3-2?

I've done the research. Here are the somewhat interesting results-- and it wasn't as long ago as you might have thought:

The last time both teams started 3-2 was actually 2007.
Alabama lost to Georgia and FSU, but beat WCU, Vandy and Arkansas.
Auburn lost to South Florida and Miss State, but beat Kansas St, New Mexico St and 4th-ranked Florida.

But here's where it gets really interesting: In all the years before that, going back to 1970, both teams had quite a few 3-2 starts... But... there were no other years where both teams had a 3-2 record after five games. 2007 is the only one since at least 1970.

Looking all the way back to 1970 (who has the time to dig further back than that?) we find that both programs have started with a 3-2 record about the same number of times:

Auburn started 3-2 after five games in:

Alabama started 3-2 after five games in:

There were a few other seasons since 1970 when it very nearly happened:

If Alabama could have pulled out a win over Vanderbilt in 1984, both teams would have started 3-2 that season. As it was, Alabama lost to the Commodores and began at only 1-4.

Similarly, Auburn's 1-point loss to Baylor in 1976  prevented both teams from beginning that season at 3-2.

A 1-point overtime win over Florida in 1999 was all that stood between both teams beginning 3-2 in 1999.

Both teams began 1998 poorly, but Auburn had it worse at 1-4.

But 2007 was the only time BOTH teams started at 3-2 since at least 1970.

--Van Allen Plexico is one-half of the AU Wishbone, along with co-writer/co-host John Ringer. Their AU Wishbone podcast program is available via iTunes and on the War Eagle Reader and via the War Eagle Sports Radio app. Their best-selling books on Auburn football can be found on Amazon:



Friday, September 25, 2015

Here is my schedule for ARCHON ST LOUIS, October 2-4.
I will also have a booth in the Dealers' Room this year.

Fri 4:00p Illini A Pulp Stories: Remo Williams, The Phantom and Beyond (M)
Fri 5:00p Illini A Game of Thrones: Does Cersei Deserve Our Hatred or Sympathy? (book and tv) (M)
Sat 11:00a Salon 4 What's the Future of Science Fiction?
Sat 2:00p Cahokian Roger Zelazny: A Retrospective and Memorial (M)
Sat 5:00p Cahokian The Future of Comic Book Movies (M)
Sun 12:00p Illini B What Was Your Favorite Childhood Sci Fi Toy? (30 min)

Friday, August 07, 2015

My DragonCon 2015 Schedule

(It's all "tentative" until it's actually happened.)

Van Allen Plexico - DragonCon 2015

Schwarza-Panel: The Sci-Fi Movies of Arnold Schwarzenegger
Description: Total Recall turns 25 and the Terminators are still terminating. Come to this panel if you want to live.
Time: Fri 11:30 am Location: M303-M304 - Marriott (Length: 1 Hour)
(Tentative Panelists: Debbie Viguié, Van Allen Plexico, Mike Faber, William Stout)

Pulp Fiction
Description: Pulp has enjoyed a renaissance in the last few years. Why? And why do authors choose to write in this genre?
Time: Fri 01:00 pm Location: Embassy A-B - Hyatt (Length: 1 Hour)
Moderator / MC for panel
(Tentative Panelists: Van Allen Plexico, Bobby Nash, James Palmer, John G. Hartness)

DC Marvel Trivia
Description: Contestants test their knowledge of Marvel and DC Comics.
Time: Fri 04:00 pm Location: International South - Hyatt (Length: 1 Hour)
(Tentative Panelists: Van Allen Plexico)

Thundarr the Barbarian and Friends: Saturday Morning Sci-Fi
Description: Lords of Light in a world of savagery, super-science, and sorcery—30 years of Thundarr!
Time: Sat 08:30 am Location: M303-M304 - Marriott (Length: 1 Hour)
(Tentative Panelists: Van Allen Plexico, James Palmer, Bobby Nash)

In Memoriam: Roger Zelazny
Description: 20 years after his passing, we discuss his work's impact on the field.
Time: Sat 01:00 pm Location: Embassy A-B - Hyatt (Length: 1 Hour)
Moderator / MC for panel
(Tentative Panelists: Van Allen Plexico, James Palmer, Atlanta Radio Theatre Company, S. M. Stirling)

Sci-Fi Jeopardy
Description: Host Van Allen Plexico tests your knowledge of the field. There will be prizes!
Time: Sat 08:30 pm Location: Embassy A-B - Hyatt (Length: 1 Hour)
Moderator / MC for panel
(Tentative Panelists: Van Allen Plexico)

Books to Film: Books that SHOULD Be Filmed
Description: But haven't. Our panelists suggest books that really ought to be filmed. Is your favorite among them?
Time: Sat 10:00 pm Location: Embassy A-B - Hyatt (Length: 1 Hour)
(Tentative Panelists: James Palmer, Van Allen Plexico)

The History of Pulp Fiction
Description: What is pulp? Where does it come from? Where is it going today?
Time: Sun 10:00 am Location: Augusta 3 - Westin (Length: 1 Hour)
(Tentative Panelists: James R. Tuck, Bobby Nash, Van Allen Plexico, John G. Hartness)

Starship Smackdown!
Description: What's your favorite starship? How'd it fare against other ships? The merits of each done in a bracket system.
Time: Sun 11:30 am Location: Embassy A-B - Hyatt (Length: 1 Hour)
Moderator / MC for panel
(Tentative Panelists: Van Allen Plexico, James Palmer)

Autograph Session: Earth Station One
Time: Sun 02:30 pm Location: International Hall South - Marriott (Length: 1 Hour)
(Tentative Panelists: Mike Faber, Bobby Nash, Van Allen Plexico, Dr. Scott Viguié, Michael Gordon)

Peter F Hamilton Speaks
Description: Van Allen Plexico talks to our Guest of Honor, Peter F Hamilton about his work.
Time: Sun 04:00 pm Location: Regency VI - VII - Hyatt (Length: 1 Hour)
Moderator / MC for panel
(Tentative Panelists: Peter F Hamilton, Van Allen Plexico)

Sci Fi Literature Match Game
Description: A fannish version of the favorite game show.
Time: Sun 05:30 pm Location: Embassy A-B - Hyatt (Length: 1 Hour)
Moderator / MC for panel
(Tentative Panelists: Van Allen Plexico, Gray Rinehart, Melinda M. Snodgrass, Teresa Patterson)

James Bond: Thunderballs, Views and Kills
Description: Once more around the world to celebrate the anniversaries of Thunderball, A View to a Kill and Goldeneye.
Time: Mon 10:00 am Location: M303-M304 - Marriott (Length: 1 Hour)
(Tentative Panelists: Van Allen Plexico, Dr. Scott Viguié, Bobby Nash)

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Van's Con/Festival Appearances - Summer/Fall 2015

I've been slack on letting everyone who is interested know when and where I will be in the weeks and months ahead. So here are my upcoming appearances at conventions and literary festivals through the rest of 2015:

HOOVER, AL (metro B'ham) Hoover Library
Sci Fi and Fantasy Festival
Bobby Nash and I will be doing panel discussions and the Barnes & Noble will have some of my books (including several of my most popular SF books and an AU book) for sale and for me to sign. This is a big library and we expect a good crowd.
Link for more info:

The granddaddy of the Southeastern conventions. My 18th visit overall and 8th time as a guest. It looks to begin on Thursday night when I moderate the James Bond anniversary panel, and continue straight through till Monday afternoon.
Link for more info:

COLLINSVILLE, IL (metro St Louis) Gateway Convention Center
My tenth appearance as a guest of "the Midwest's premiere SF &
F event."
This year I'll have a booth in the Dealers' Hall and be selling lots of stuff besides my own books.
I also expect to be on a number of panels again with other great guests.
Link for more info:

HUNTSVILLE, AL (Civic Center)
Rocket City Lit Fest
I'm a "Special Guest" of this brand new literary festival and it looks to be awesome. I will have a booth in the vendor area with all my books available including hardcovers.
Link for more info:

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Civil War in the Executive Branch: A General Idea

Here's an interesting story idea that I will never write, but someone who does political thrillers might find worthwhile:

The President is given no power by the Constitution to remove a Vice-President from office. Unlike any other type of official appointed by the Prez, the V-P cannot be "fired." Only Congress can remove a V-P via impeachment process.

And Vice-Presidents have historically had their power limited in part by Congress (and other Cabinet heads) practically revolting when Presidents have even tried to delegate any real power or major projects to their V-P.

So-- what if you had a situation where the President and V-P had a political and/or personal falling-out, and the President became very controversial and unpopular with (maybe a newly elected) Congress (and maybe even with several of his/her own Cabinet officials)... and so the V-P, with the support of Congress and part of the Cabinet, started taking on more power and openly rebelling against the President?

The President would be stuck, at least until the end of the term (at which time he/she could simply not choose to have that person run with them again). Congress would refuse to impeach the V-P and the V-P could be up to all sorts of shenanigans.

You'd have a civil war inside the Executive Branch, with the V-P supported by the majority of the Legislative Branch.

Imagine, for example, a fictional version of Barack Obama as the President.... and imagine that Joe Biden turned out to be a sort of Ted Cruz in disguise. And that fact doesn't get revealed until a few months into the term, at the earliest. Oh the fun that could be had, story-wise...!

That's just sort of a jumping-off point. Do with that what you will.  But hurry up-- I want to read it!

Van Allen Plexico is an award-winning SF/adventure novelist and non-fiction writer and podcaster, as well as an associate professor of Political Science and History.

You can read Van's own interstellar saga of politics, religion and cosmic warfare in "The Shattering" from White Rocket Books, available here. The third volume of the Legion trilogy recently won Novel of the Year in the 2015 Pulp Factory Awards.

He's on Facebook as Van Allen Plexico
Follow him on Twitter:  @vanallenplexico

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The "Missing Insurgency" of Babylon 5's Final Seasons

The "Missing Insurgency" of Babylon 5's Final Seasons
by Van Allen Plexico

One thing I think J Michael Straczynski got wrong--or at least didn't explore nearly enough--in the "President Clark/Earthwar" segment of the Babylon 5 storyline was the way that Earth basically welcomed Sheridan and his alien allies after they defeated Clark's military forces defending Earth and overthrew his regime at the end of the fourth season of the show (which aired 1993-1998). 

Considering at least two major factors, I think many (if not most) people living on Earth at the time would've been at least very skeptical if not downright hostile to Sheridan and company. Possibly skeptical enough to create an "insurgency" against Sheridan and his Earth allies that could've lingered for many years. 

Those factors are:

Factor 1) Earth had only recently suffered another attack from space by hostile forces in the form of the Minbari invasion, culminating at the Battle of the Line. That traumatic event occurred in 2248. Sheridan's campaign of "liberation" from Clark happened late in 2261, only thirteen years later. No matter who the attackers/liberators were, it's hard to imagine everyone or even a majority of the people on Earth switching over to their side against the Earth defense forces. 

It's not like Clark was making life hard for most people on Earth. Sure, he was giving aliens (and people who disagreed with him) a hard time, but it's not like he wrecked the economy (as far as we know) or instituted some deeply unpopular legislation or took the planet into a pointless war. As far as could be told, being a run-of-the-mill human living under Clark was not all that horrible in one's daily life--assuming one toed the Clark/Nightwatch line. (Of course, if you were an alien, or someone branded a "sympathizer"/"enemy of the state" or a political dissident, things were infinitely worse for you.)

So it's difficult to imagine a huge number of people rallying to the Sheridan banner under those circumstances--especially when Sheridan's invasion must have actually appeared to many people on Earth to be proving Clark correct in his prophesies about the aliens "coming to get us!" And speaking of the perceptions of the people of Earth with regard to Sheridan v. Clark, that takes us to:

Factor 2) President Clark had his very own "FOX News" at his disposal, beaming out pro-Clark, anti-Sheridan propaganda 24/7. Or at least he did after his jackbooted security forces stormed the ISN building and arrested all the honest and neutral (read: anti-Clark) journalists who worked there. 

Surely some portion of the Earth's population--and likely a very substantial portion--would've been all too willing and eager to buy into the Big Lie and the Easy Answer (Sheridan is evil; aliens cause all our problems), especially with (what was apparently) the only major news outlet on the planet (ISN) beaming out that message round-the-clock. Even after Sheridan's victory over Clark, there still should've been a vast number of humans who were utterly convinced that John Sheridan and his army represented an evil, conquering force that should be resisted unto death.

Instead, as we saw, Sheridan's forces were actually "greeted as liberators" (to borrow the words of a guy who, like Clark, was at one point an ambitious Earth vice-president, and who also helped lead an invasion under the stated banner of liberation-- Dick Cheney). It was as if the entire populace of the planet cast aside everything they'd been told about Sheridan and his compatriots in an instant, once Clark was dead and his forces were defeated. Cheney could only wish things had gone so smoothly in Iraq.

Furthermore, in the episode "The Deconstruction of Falling Stars," we see a later era in which Sheridan is debated by a roundtable of several supposedly influential members of the media--and debated not in terms of whether Sheridan and his actions were "good or bad," but whether he deserved all the credit history had given him. In other words, "Just how great of a hero was he really?" and not "Was he a hero at all, or a villain?" 

Surely ISN could've found at least one unreconstructed Clarkist (Clarkite? Clarkian?) who would've been thrilled to argue that, to borrow the phrasing of Delenn on that episode, "Morgan Clark was a good man" and then added, "that alien sympathizer Sheridan with his extra-constitutional invasion caused all these problems we face today." Not only would that have been fun and interesting to see-- it would've been very likely for some if not many to hold that belief. (Even in a society with apparently only one news media outlet! Yes, we are looking at you, ISN. Of course we are. You're the only channel on our future-TV, apparently. Thank goodness you're "Fair and Balanced!")

It may have been that JMS simply didn't have room or time to explore this aspect of the story. Still, one feels he might have dropped at least one or two references to it into the series or the spinoffs or at least into the tie-in novels that came afterward--particularly the Psi Corps or Centauri novels by Greg Keyes and Peter David.

Perhaps one day someone will novelize the entire Babylon 5 saga from start to finish, in a Game of Thrones-sized series of books, and the situation on the home front can finally be given the attention it deserves. And perhaps our own experiences in the years since Babylon 5 was produced can inform that story and make it even more true-to-life than it already was.
Van Allen Plexico is an award-winning SF/adventure novelist and non-fiction writer and podcaster, as well as an associate professor of Political Science and History.

You can read Van's own interstellar saga of politics, religion and cosmic warfare in "The Shattering" from White Rocket Books, available here. The third volume of the Legion trilogy recently won Novel of the Year in the 2015 Pulp Factory Awards.

He's on Facebook as Van Allen Plexico
Follow him on Twitter:  @vanallenplexico

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Shattering: Chronology Chart

The "Shattering" saga represents everything from science fiction that I have always loved, combined in one massive web of interconnected series. These books and stories include everything from Kirby-esque cosmic space-gods to Warhammer 40K-esque massive colossus walkers and Baen-style futuristic military combat to Dune-style far-future universe-building with political and religious systems and hierarchies.

All of that, of course, is the tapestry against which our very (mostly) human heroes and their (human and alien and godlike) villains engage with one another, while the galaxy burns all around them.

The series stands at five novels and one novella thus far, as of summer 2015. Those works are included in the chart below.

Here's a quick and handy annotated overview of the "eras" of the Shattering saga's universe, along with where each of the existing (or soon to exist) books and stories fit into it.

This is therefore a chronological listing according to the internal timeline of the story.

(No real spoilers here. Spoiler details for the various books and stories have been omitted. This is intended as a general reference chart when attempting to place the various works in the proper order.)


(The age before Mankind goes into space)


(Unexplained collapse of Pax Machina)

(Mankind gains limited interstellar space travel)


(Mankind colonizes and establishes the Seven Worlds)

(Mankind loses interstellar space travel)


(Mankind regains interstellar travel)

(War among the Seven Worlds)

* Baranak: Storming the Gates (forthcoming)


(Demon invasions)

(Collapse of Second Terran Empire)

(Rise of the Terran Alliance and the Outer Worlds)


* Lucian: Dark God's Homecoming

(Collapse of galactic civilization)


(Rise of the Young Empires)


* Legion I: Lords of Fire

* The Legion Chronicles 1: Cold Lightning

* The Legion Chronicles 2: Red Colossus (forthcoming)

* Legion II: Sons of Terra

* Legion III: Kings of Oblivion

(The Twilight War)


* Falcon: Revolt Against the Machine (forthcoming)

(The Great Revolt)

* Legion IV -- ? (forthcoming)

(The Shattering event)


* Hawk: Hand of the Machine

* Hawk 2 -- ? (forthcoming)


Next time I'll present a list based more on "order the stories were written/suggested reading order(s)."

You can find all these books (for the Kindle and in paperback and hardcover) at the White Rocket Books site:  and on, or through your local bookstore.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Van's Thirty Favorite Films of All Time list, updated May 2015

My completely revised and updated Top Thirty Favorite Movies list,
as of May 2015:

1. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
2. Star Wars
3. Avengers: Age of Ultron
4. Avengers
5. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
6. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
7. The 13th Warrior
8. Casablanca
9. Last of the Mohicans
10. Ice Station Zebra

11. Gandhi
12. Babe
13. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (US)
12. Serenity
13. Star Trek: The Motion Picture
14. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
15. Lawrence of Arabia
16. Dead Again
17. Ocean's 11 (2001)
18. Payback
19. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
20. Henry V (1989)

21. The Crow
22. North by Northwest
23. Die Hard
24. V for Vendetta
25. Captain America: Winter Soldier
26. Thor: The Dark World
27. Cloud Atlas
28. Iron Man
29. Thor
30. John Carter

Just missed the cut:
LA Confidential


Friday, May 08, 2015

A quick, early scene from BARANAK: STORMING THE GATES

[Here is a brief, first-draft scene from my upcoming novel in the Shattering series and the Above series, BARANAK: STORMING THE GATES. I'll leave it at that and let it speak for itself. Hope you enjoy.  --Van]

Scarcely had I passed through the opening of the cave before complete darkness surrounded me and swallowed me up. The entrance itself didn't entirely vanish, but it seemed to recede to the point that it was now far away in the distance, as though it would take quite a bit of a walk to reach it and leave the cave. This made me feel extremely uncomfortable and I turned, facing back in that direction. I contemplated leaving immediately.

Then a warm breeze blew past me, gravel crunched, and voice echoed out of the void at my back: "Greetings."

"Who's there?" I called, turning. My pistol was out and in my hand.

Only darkness, all about me.

"Who are you?" I demanded. "What do you want?"

"You have a strange manner," the voice said after a few seconds. It was smooth and low, deep and rich, and it held an unmistakable edge of menace. "You come uninvited into my home and seek to interrogate me. Is this what passes for civilized behavior among your kind?"

The warm air wafted by again, as from the bellows of some mighty forge. It smelled sour. I began to suspect that it might be breath.

"You are quite right," I said, still searching the darkness, hoping my eyes would adjust faster and give me any indication of who--or what--I was dealing with. "My apologies. I did not intend to intrude or trespass."

"Then why came you here, if not intentionally?"

"I was directed here by a--by an acquaintance," I said. "I was told I might find answers."

"Ah," the voice said. "Yes. That is entirely possible. Or," it added after a brief pause, "you might find something else. Other things entirely."

"Perhaps I am supposed to ask you my questions?" I said after a brief silence.

The warm air again, pungent and moist. My nose wrinkled involuntarily and I turned my head slightly to one side, seeking to avoid breathing it in.

"You could," the voice said. "I would not object in principle." A pause, and then, "Of course, understand that if I do not like your questions, you will not be leaving my domain, my world. You will be consumed."

This took me aback. Not the threat--that seemed almost de rigeur. But--"Your world? This world I've come to--it belongs to you?"

"This world. Here. This pocket universe, I believe the Dyonari call it. It is my world."

I had no idea what any of that meant. I looked around and could see nothing but darkness. Even the cave mouth had now vanished. "Ah, yes." I nodded, and I'm afraid the sarcasm was clear in my voice as I added, "And a lovely world it is."

"Talk like that will lead to the consumption I referenced in my previous utterance."


"Yes, yes. Now--the questions, eh? I will allow... two, to start. More if I feel so inclined after those. And if you have not yet been consumed."

What was this creature? How could it possibly answer the questions that plagued me? It all seemed ludicrous. And yet, so did everything else that had occurred in the time since I'd taken Comet and ridden into the night. Again--what had I to lose?

I nodded in the darkness. "Very well." I kept the blast pistol ready as I searched my mind for the most efficient single question I could ask. For a moment my thoughts were a jumble, and I could hear impatient-sounding gravel-crunching from a short distance away. Then my thoughts snapped almost miraculously into clear focus. I said, "Why was my father killed?"

I anticipated counter-questions such as, "Who exactly was your father?" or "How the hell should I know? I'm just a creature living in a cave slash pocket universe." But the voice uttered neither of those things. Instead it issued no sounds whatsoever, for a time long enough that I began to suspect it had slinked back into the depths of its cave--its mini-universe, if it was to be believed. I was just about to give up and begin walking in the direction I hoped led back to the entrance, when: "I cannot say with absolute certainty, but in all likelihood it was because he might have actually succeeded."

I might have taken an involuntary step backwards; certainly my jaw dropped open. Blinking rapidly, I closed my mouth and sought words. At last I found a few.

"Succeeded in what?"

The creature--if creature it was--issued a sort of groan. "Are you sure you want that to be your second question? Because I find it boring, and it will probably be your last."

"No--no, not at all," I said quickly. "I was simply musing out loud. I have a better second question, of course."

"Ah. Excellent."

And then I faltered and mentally cast about--for of course at that moment my mind became a blank canvas and I an artist bereft of all paints and brushes.


That was a brief scene from the upcoming BARANAK: STORMING THE GATES.
If you enjoyed it, you will probably very much like the novel to which it is a sort of prequel: LUCIAN: DARK GOD'S HOMECOMING. Many, many readers have enjoyed it.
You can find it here, in paperback and on Kindle:

Thanks for reading. (BARANAK should be along later this year.)

Monday, May 04, 2015

Re-Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe Movies After Avengers: Age of Ultron

Here is my current personal ranking of the Top Ten Marvel Cinematic Universe films, post-Avengers: Age of Ultron:

1. Avengers: Age of Ultron
Several issues of an epic run of my old-time favorite comic book come to full life on the screen. Astonishing how high Marvel has raised the bar on what we expect from their movies in a decade or so.

2. Avengers
Better than any of the others, but "less" than A:AOU in nearly every measurable way (other than number of Loki jokes, obviously).

3. Guardians of the Galaxy
I love everything about this movie except the way the Nova Corps is portrayed and handled, and the way the Collector was used. The Xandar stuff sort of disappointed me. But the Celestials stuff and the Infinity Gems stuff make up for it. And Groot and Rocket are priceless.

4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
A mini-Avengers movie. It says a lot about how great the top three are, that this movie is only at number 4. Because it is excellent.

5. Thor: The Dark World
Better than the first Thor in most ways. Bigger, bolder, more fun. My main disappointment was that the fantastic Christopher Eccleston didn't get to do more, or be more expressive.

6. Thor
My favorite of the first run of solo origin movies. So very Kirby/Simonson!

7. Iron Man
Seems so "small" now, after everything that has come since. But it is so much fun. And after waiting a lifetime, I finally got to see my favorite character come to life. And instantly go from "third tier" to the biggest Marvel hero of all. I still can't fathom that. (You couldn't FIND an Iron Man toy when I was a kid and wanted them!!)

8. Iron Man 2
Lots of plot problems (and villain problems) but the fun that Downey and Sam Rockwell have in it makes up for quite a bit.

9. Captain America: The First Avenger
Chris Evans hadn't sold me on his portrayal of Cap yet. (Does he ever do so later!) And the Red Skull is criminally (no pun intended) underused here.

10. The Incredible Hulk
No, the prison video from the Thor 2 Blu Ray notwithstanding, I still haven't forgiven Iron Man 3.