Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Dear Americans

Dear Americans,

in 1949 you brought Germany the first real democracy in our country. After the failed attempt during the Weimar Republic, which led to the election of Adolf Hitler and through him to the Third Reich and World War II, you brought us one of the most stable and efficient democracies in the world. We are very grateful for that (apart from a few right-wingers and a few hopeless people who live in the past).

With your 2016 election, you have, however proven that you are in dire need of a true democracy yourself.
You have been holding on to an old institution called the ‘Electoral College’ for too long, for one thing. An American friend I spoke to recently thinks it serves to make sure stupid people (or uninformed people, as it is put officially) don’t take too much influence on the election of your president. Well, that either means you’re wrong or it means even intelligent people voted for Donald Trump. I choose to believe the first one, because I can’t imagine any person who is intelligent would vote for a con-man who has no plans and will destroy everything his predecessor, one of the best presidents you’ve had, has built up in eight years in office. The bottleneck of the Electoral College means that a lot of votes go unnoticed every time. It doesn’t matter whether a party wins a voting district by a few votes or by several hundreds. If it wins, the other votes cast don’t matter for the rest of the electoral process. It also validates the technique known as Gerrymandering - a way to make sure as many voting districts as possible will go to the party the person doing the Gerrymandering favours. Get rid of the Electoral College and just count out all the votes. Overall, you might get different results.
You make the electoral process look like a huge party. You make it extremely focused on entertainment. And you make it extremely important that the candidates (and their parties) raise a lot of money. It’s no wonder the candidates in the end were both extremely wealthy. But how much do people with millions in the bank know about the struggle of the common citizen? Not much, usually. Yes, candidates should speak about their plans for the presidency. They should take a stand on political and social topics so the voters know where they stand and what to expect from them. They should not make a show out of it. The showman is close to the con-man (not all showmen are con-men, but all con-men are showmen) and will rarely keep his promises after the votes have been cast. Cap the amount of money candidates can invest. Like this, money isn’t that important for becoming a candidate.
Make sure the polling places are controlled. Not to avoid voter fraud as a such, but to make sure people are not bullied (for example by armed people standing outside and threatening those they think will vote for the other candidate) or are turned away, even though they have the right to vote. Having a system which gives every citizen the automatic right to vote might help. Make sure everyone has the chance to get a photo ID (meaning making sure everyone can afford one) and make the photo ID mandatory for voting. To get a photo ID, you need to be a citizen - which means a person with a photo ID is eligible to vote.

Many years ago, you brought a country you had just defeated in war the wonderful gift of democracy. Please do not allow things to go badly enough this country needs to be part of a UN mandate during the next elections to make sure America stays a democracy.

Monday, October 17, 2016

A New Clue

So there might be a remake of the “Clue” movie. I’m not really sure what to feel about that. I mean, on one hand, remakes can be good (even though quite some aren’t). On the other hand, “Clue” was mostly as good as it was because of the cast, most of which, for one reason or other, won’t be available for a remake. I’m not sure someone can successfully replace Madeline Khan as Mrs. White or Tim Curry as butler Wadsworth. That doesn’t mean, though, I can’t be wrong.

The original “Clue” movie, thirty years old by now, is one of those secret gems which you either love or hate. There’s really no in-between. Either you enjoy the take on the classic Manor-Murder-Mystery genre as written by the likes of Agatha Christie or you simply find the jokes off-base and the whole story convoluted. I learned about it by accident, when a TV station showed it and I zapped in and stayed. Afterwards, I went on a hunt for the DVD and found it. Since then, it has been in my DVD player oodles of times. I just love the movie.
“Clue” is a comedic take on the classic mysteries which bring together a group of people at a place, show you there’s nobody else coming or going, and then have a murder happen. Who did it? In addition, the movie is loosely - very, very loosely - based on the board game by the same name. The six suspects take their names from the six suspects of the board game (Colonel Mustard, Miss Scarlet, Mr. Green, Mrs. Peacock, Professor Plum, and Mrs. White) and the ground floor of the mansion is cut like the board itself (including the secret passages between the corner rooms). Mr. Body, the victim (first victim in the movie), is also from the board game, but has a different background. By the end of the movie, six people have been killed (none of them one of the suspects, of course) and the question of who the murderer is looms in the main hall. It’s then when Wadsworth, the butler, will clear up the case, one way or other.
Originally, “Clue” had a little gimmick, like many movies over time. It came with three different endings, each of them putting the blame of a different person or different persons. In the DVD version, you can either have a randomly chosen ending or you can watch all three endings one after the other (with the classic ‘the butler did it’ ending as the ‘real’ one).
But it wasn’t the gimmick which made “Clue” a classic over time. Like some other classic movies, it was a sleeper - a movie which didn’t do too well at the movie theatres, but had a long and strong life afterwards in rentals and on TV. People enjoyed the movie, even those who were far too young to watch it when it was released. The movie has a lot of great lines which can be quoted in a variety of different situations. It had a great cast, too. And it managed to keep the comedic tone despite the six murders, which isn’t easy, either. It’s also one of the few movies in which I can endure Angela Lansbury for one and a half hours. (Two others being “Death on the Nile” and “Evil under the Sun.”) She pales a little against actors like Tim Curry, Christopher Lloyd, and, above all, Madeline Khan.

Now there’s talk of a remake and I’m not sure if I want that. There are movies which have the perfect formula, but a formula which only works with all the ingredients the way they are. I have the feeling “Clue” might be one of those. The fact alone that it was a sleeper and not an instant hit points to it for me.
What I’m most worried about, is the off-chance of a gritty remake. Admittedly, a movie with six murders might qualify as gritty, but the fact that “Clue” managed to keep the comedic tone even with all those murders was one of its strong points. It wasn’t as if the characters made jokes about the dead, but the way the movie handled the murders and, in some cases, the hiding of the corpses (the party scenes to hoodwink the police officer especially), was fun and classy at the same time. The way the reactions dampened from the first murder to the last (when the Singing Telegram girl hardly got a reaction out of the group) was both amusing and fitting, since there is a moment when the mind will just shut down.
A new movie might not be up to par with that. On the other hand, there is also a (slight) chance the remake might be better. Perhaps there will be an even better chemistry between the new actors. Perhaps the jokes and puns will be even more on point.

Fact is, whether or not the fans want it, if the owner of the rights wants to remake something, they will do so.

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Adventures of Sherlock Hound

This week, I had the chance to grab a DVD of the first season of “The Adventures of Sherlock Hound” (as is the English reference), an animated series made by Mr. Hayao ‘Spirited Away and other great Animes’ Miyazaki in the 1980s. The title Sherlock Hound is fitting, because all sentient beings in this series are dogs (well, Moriarty looks more like a wolf to me, but still…).

The series takes its freedom with the stories written by Doyle (like “The Blue Carbuncle” or “The Speckled Band”) and almost overuses Moriarty and his two henchmen (they’re essentially guilty of every crime in the series), but apart from that, it’s a highly enjoyable series which has aged well - something which can’t be said for all animated series made in the 1980s. It also has the most badass Mrs. Hudson I’ve ever seen in a Sherlock Holmes series. Honestly, the episode “The White Cliffs of Dover” has her spring across a garden wall with an axe to save a crashed aerialist and later on chase a plane in two cars (jumping from one into the other at full speed when the first car runs out of gas) with Watson holding on for his dear life. Before she lost her husband and became a landlady, she was piloting herself, too. She is a good deal younger than you usually see her portrayed, too, and capable of actually charming Moriarty when he has her kidnapped.

Even though the series was produced for children, it also doesn’t omit the dangerous parts. There are several episodes where bullets start to fly and usually the main characters survive through a mixture of agility and luck. Yet, the series also keeps a light tone and is enjoyable even if you watch it from episode 1 to episode 13 in one day as I did. The cases are logical and can be solved with the information you are given, so there’s never a feeling of being kept in the dark, either.
I’m also still amazed at how well the feelings of the characters are shown, since putting human emotions on dog faces isn’t all that easy. Yet there’s never a doubt as to what the characters feel.

From today’s point of view, the series also has a great Steampunk style to it, from Sherlock’s car over the regular use of steamboats and trains to Moriarty’s flying contraption and his steam tank (there is no better way to describe this monster of a ride). There are zeppelins, balloons, and dirigibles, interesting machinery, and a lot of fun situations that arise because of them. It also has a great intro music and a nice casting.

All in all, it’s a great series to watch, no matter whether you’re a kid with interest in Sherlock Holmes or an adult looking for something to fill a relaxing half an hour (or day).

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Please don't tell my parents ... again

A while ago - okay, a long while ago - I wrote post about the first two novels about Penelope Akk, “Please don’t tell my parents I’m a supervillain” and “Please don’t tell my parents I blew up the moon.”  Yesterday, I bought and read the third one, “Please don’t tell my parents I’ve got henchmen.”

After successfully - if not willingly - establishing herself as a villain and blowing up a Jupiter moon to save mankind (without mankind actually knowing), Penny Akk could take it more slowly, but she still wants to be a hero. Her first try at that, however, ends in a very strict sentence from her parents: she is not allowed to fight anyone who might challenge her, unless she wants her allowance to be withheld for a week and no computer or phone access for the rest of the day. Little do Barbara and Brian Akk know, of course, that her daughter has thousands of dollars in a secret bank account (villainy does pay, it seems) - which she can’t spend in her civilian life.
Around Penny, a lot of other children of heroes and villains are fed up with pretending to be normal. And the club Penny originally only founded so she and her friends could use the old lab beneath their school as their lair is a way out. Suddenly, it grows and Penny becomes the reluctant club leader. While Penny Akk can’t take part in fights now, Bad Penny and her team have to find a new lair - which happens to be across the street. Things get difficult around Penny, as puberty doesn’t only set in for her, but also for a lot of the other children. But Penny also proves herself a very good leader of the club in times of crisis, may it be to save a few of the group from Mourning Dove or provide guidance during a sudden rise of zombie robots. And all without fighting as Penny Akk, even though Bad Penny has to do some of that.

The third instalment of the series has made me curious again. I didn’t like the second one as much as the first and thought the series might run itself dry, but “Please don’t tell my parents I’ve got henchmen” is a nice sequel to the first two books. Things change, that is a major plot point in the book.
Ray, who started the team on the villainous path when he tried to trash the science fair and who always liked the crimes most, is weaning off them.
Marcia, who always set herself up as the righteous hero, is going for villainy all in a sudden. Or rather, she’s going for fights, testing her new ability to heal from everything to the limits.
Claire wants to turn into a cat-burglar, which would afford her a single career.
Claudia, whose strength and near indestructibility made her a dangerous adversary for the Inscrutable Machine, gets closer to her father again and starts to realize she doesn’t have to save everyone, if she doesn’t want to.
Penny has to deal with a lot of changes throughout the school year, starting the moment she decides to show off her powers when a football player decides to show off his at a game.
The school itself changes as well, when the children with superpowers stop hiding them. Because of the early intervention of Barbara Akk and some colleagues from the hero side, though, the worst excesses get curbed even before they could become a problem.
With Bull, just retired supervillain, overlooking the club meetings and sparring matches, nothing too serious happens. It also affords him time to spend with his daughter Claudia. Yet the students can hone their powers, even those who don’t want to fight (but, in the cases of Jacky and Barbara [not Mrs. Akk], make excellent healers).
The balance in school changes dramatically with Marcia no longer being the popular cheerleader, changing her style completely to fit with her new outlook on life. After all, she puts her own father into hospital during her first rebellious act.
By the end of the year, Penny has changed as much as everyone else, to a certain degree merging the confidence of Bad Penny with the uncertainty of Penny Akk. And she finds a strange offer thrust at her - to become Spider’s apprentice once she turns eighteen.

Again, the book is meant for teenagers and young adults, but it’s a very entertaining read for other people as well … if you love superheroes and supervillains.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

This should be paid advertising...

…and it would be, if it didn’t mean paying myself for writing these words. Two days ago, I published my first novel for real. On Amazon. Where it can be bought. I’m still not completely over it. Anyhow, I already posted the details on my Writer’s Blog, but I guess some more advertising can’t hurt.

“We are the thin red line which separates order from chaos.”
For a thousand years, the Knight Agency has secretly kept watch, protecting mankind and society from innumerable threats. For five of those, Agent Jane Browne has already played her part in this game as well. But now, a threat is aimed at herself and the few she cares about. The mysterious ‘M’ might find out it’s not a good idea to tease a Knight Agent in general - and much less of a good idea to tease Agent Browne in person.

The book is available as e-book from Amazon (worldwide), nook (Barnes & Noble), kobo, Inktera, and Scribd. In addition, it’s also available on iBooks and Tolino, but I can’t link to their stores from here.

The Knight Agency series is developed quite a bit further than that, between late September 2015 and February 2016, I wrote a total of four novels (the first novels I’ve ever written, I never made it past 35,000 words for a story before). All deal with Jane Browne (who was Jane Bond for thirty minutes of her existence) and her ever-growing cast of acquaintances, friends, and foes. My idea of writing a parody of James Bond turned into a series of adventure stories centring around a badass female agent and her adventures in the modern world. Honestly, Jane’s best weapon is her phone (and her gun, but that’s to be expected).
I’ve grown fond of them, too. They have developed into personalities, not just Jane, but also Steven, Brock, Grand, Frank, Liam, Cynthia, Myra, Stacy, and all the others. The stories have surprised even me while I wrote them. Sometimes, they took a turn even I couldn’t foresee. And while I write these lines, I’m working on a fifth novel, which is set in an alternate universe in which Jane is a criminal, not an agent, and I have the first few ideas for another novel set in the regular universe. I will edit and publish the other novels (the ones written already as well as those I will still write). I hope I will find some readers who enjoy Jane’s adventures as much as I do. Yes, I had a lot of fun writing the stories. I hope, that means readers will also have fun while reading them.

Jane is out in the world now and I hope she’ll make her way. As long as she has Steven by her side, though, I’m not too worried about her.