Novel Work

I just now (literally, a few moments ago), submitted my third novel to Haven Publishing to begin the editing process.  Said novel, tentatively called RocKaiju (though very likely to change titles), will most likely see publication this winter, maybe in time for Christmas.

“But wait a minute, Robert” I hear you saying because I have really good hearing “what happened to Rhest for the Wicked?”
Good question!

The answer, unfortunately, is complex, frustrating, and involves ogres.  Yes, the kind that live under bridges and eat billy goats.  Yes, I know the story says its a troll.  It wasn’t.  It was an ogre.  It was made into a troll thanks to Gnome racism.  But that’s neither here nor there.

Rhest for the Wicked is still coming.  It’s still on its way.  Haven is a new publishing house and I am (until Rhest), a mostly underground author.  Combine these two factors together and large companies are hesitant to dive right in.  The delays have been mostly at the corporate level, with company A double-checking everything company B did, prompting company B to return the favor.  Lots of little delays that have added up quickly.

But they’re finally smoothing themselves out.  Rhest for the Wicked will be on store shelves soon, potentially as early as this week.  Once I have links, I will go link-o-riffic, don’t worry.

So stay tuned.  🙂

Tools of the Imagination — Alec DeLeon

Exosquad Alec DeLeon
by Playmate Toys, released 1993

Exosquad: Mecha’s Unsung Hero

In a genre overrun with the newest Transformers, Robotech, and Gundam series, it’s easy to overlook some of the less-successful franchises that still managed to deliver beautiful work.  One such example is the Exosquad series which delivered some truly fantastic toys to go along with their excellent – though sadly oft-forgotten – animated series.
The Exosquad Franchise has generally been little more than a footnote in the annals of animation and mecha history.  The story is about a war between planets and between humans and their artificially-created offshoot, the Neosapiens.  The story is set in the future when Venus and Mars have been colonized with the help of powered suits called E-Frames.

The story of ExoSquad drew heavily from classic sci-fi, including the works Issac Asmov, Ray Bradbury, and Robert Heinlein.  While it certainly had its stylistic and near-superheroic qualities, this series was far more rooted in real and believable science than many of its sci-fi brethren on TV in the early to mid-1990s.  Sadly, Exosquad didn’t survive past one season and has more or less disappeared from the collective consciousness.  All that remains, aside from a few VHS tapes on eBay, are some very fine toys that managed to do a whole lot right.  For the purposes of our discussion, we’ll be talking about the series’ Alec DeLeon.
Appearance – 4 out of 5
The E-Frames and the figures they came packaged with were pretty standard fare for toys of the day, though the figures were slightly smaller.  The 3” figures were about as mobile as the ubiquitous 3.5” GI Joe figures they were clearly patterned after and equally detailed, though a bit on the stylized side (read: cartoony).  The E-Frames themselves were colorful and had some noteworthy detail.

Construction – 2 out of 5
Unlike their appearance, the E-Frames and their figures were just on this side of cheaply made.  The plastic looks sturdier than it turns out to be once you’ve got the packaging open and the figures’ paintjobs often left something to be desired (paint that should stop at the joint would continue across it; etc).  Bolts, screws, and seams were quite visible on most of the toys.
It’s worth noting that the E-Frames had handles that were absent from the show (as the vehicles were completely enclosed in the show).  Getting the character to hold these handles is quite a chore and is one of the major drawbacks of these toys.

Movement – 5 out of 5
While the human characters were fairly mobile and flexible, the E-Frames were a little on the stiff side.  This would be more of a problem except that the figures can easily fit into the E-Frames and its mobility is completely unaffected.  The E-Frames, rather than have strictly linear joints for the shoulders, actually have ball joints, allowing them a great amount of arm mobility.  The leg joints are limited but with hip, knee, and ankle joints to the legs, the limited range is hardly a big deal.  As such, it is this trait that makes this combination toy really stand out against many of its peers.

Extras – 5 out of 5
The Exosquad toys really are remarkable because of what they came with.  Rather than just a figure or a vehicle, you got both, as well as two weapons for the figure (a pistol-sized weapon and a rifle-sized weapon), along with the assorted missiles for the E-frame.  This really was a fantastic deal because you were for all intents and purposes getting an entire playset with each figure.  On top of that, most of the E-frames had one or more little features (the Alec DeLeon model had a rotating communication disc, a detachable data terminal, and ammo belt).  All these little extras added up quickly to make these some engaging toys.

Packaging – 5 out of 5
The packaging for the ExoSquad toys were unique to each figure (making finding in the toy store which figures were available all the easier), with not only the individual’s face and E-Frame on the front, but also a character bio and mecha statistics on the back along with an overview of the story.  Inside, you had a bio card, stickers, and a guide to the toy.  The package itself was also a solid rectangle with a lifting flap that revealed the figure inside.  This really was some of the best toy packaging that’s been produced.

Overall – 5 out of 5
A superb toy that has sadly been somewhat forgotten by the industry, the Exosquad toys were really stellar and some of the best toys made in the 1990s.  These toys were really fantastic and they set a great bar for future toys to live up to (which few did).  So until the action-figure-packaged-with-a-mech industry picks up the clues, we’ll have to just remember fondly of the days when these toys graced the shelves.

Our Line of Work is Entertainment

Billionaire Ted Turner once told Vince McMahon that he was starting his own pro-wrestling circuit, World Championship Wrestling (or WCW).  Vince McMahon, president of the then-WWF, famously responded “Have fun with your wrasslin’ company, Ted; I’m in the entertainment business”.

I’ve taught a few writing classes and writing workshops, at conventions, libraries, and other places.  I’ve also consulted with writers off and on since I was first published in 2001.  A common trend I’ve noticed is a little bit of confusion as to what it takes to be a good writer.

Discussions of how you define being good at something aside, many people seem to think its originality.  Most writers – specifically aspiring writers – seem to think that they need to have some new concept, some new story, like something no one has ever seen.  And originality is great, don’t get me wrong.  If you’ve got originality, you’ve got a leg up on your competition.  But what defines a truly successful writer, what makes them good, is being entertaining.

Writing as a profession is being an entertainer.  We exist to engage, enthrall, and generally entertain our readers.  Originality is wonderful, a following is a plus, and skill at writing never hurt anybody.  But at the end of the day, what will determine whether or not you are any good is if you entertain your readers.

The old adage that ‘there’s nothing new under the sun’ may be accurate (I don’t believe so), but it doesn’t mean there aren’t new and engaging ways to tell the same stories.  ‘Boy meets girl’ is about as trite as it comes and yet everybody has their personal favorite versions of that story that came along long long LONG after that story had been worked to death.  Somewhere between the true essence of the story and the window-dressing, you find the writer’s skill at entertaining.  And that’s what matters.

Don’t neglect skill.  Don’t underestimate novelty and originality.  But at the end of the day, what you need to ask yourself is if the reader will be entertained.  Because if they will, then you’ve done your job as a good writer.

Tools of the Imagination — Robocop

Robocop
by Toy Island, released 1993

Cyberpunk’s Last Hurrah

Part man, part machine, and all cop, Robocop is an iconic figure in the cyberpunk genre.  Its story is one of the struggle for personal identity and integrity in the face of an increasingly impersonal and even disposable world.

The Robocop franchise has enjoyed sporadic success, but typically fell to the wayside about as quickly as it appeared.  This was certainly the case with this toy line which came out shortly after the release of the third movie.  There had been Robocop toys before, but they were more exaggerated as they were based off the cartoon series rather than the live-action movies (a second toyline based off the sadly short-lived live-action TV show likewise came and went without anyone noticing).  While Robocop 3 was the lightest fare of the three theatrical movies, the darker tone than most toyline fare was still represented in these action figures by means of their greater detail, greater realism, and higher quality materials.

The story of Robocop is that of Alex Murphy, an honest cop, who is killed in the line of duty.  He’s then turned into a cyborg police officer by an at-best-ambivalent corporation, but stripped of his identity and elements of his humanity.  Aside from the trilogy of movies, there have been several television series (including the aforementioned cartoon series) and a few straight-to-video films.  A reboot is rumored to be in the works, but where the franchise has really survived is in the realm of comic books where its popularity has waxed and waned but never really fallen away.  These toys are clearly meant to appeal to fans of the comics and the movies as much as the younger fans.

Appearance – 3 out of 5
The appearances of these toys are unremarkably good.  They have a nice texture and definitely look the part of the character, but there is nothing outstanding about any of them.  The color schemes are good and simple, the accessories look the part, and the figure itself is a good representation of the character from the movies.  Unfortunately, their appearance is a bit generic, which makes telling the different figures apart a little difficult.

Construction – 4 out of 5
While the toys aren’t anything to write home about appearance-wise, they are solidly made.  Action figures typically aren’t the sturdiest of toys, but these prove to be the exception.  A very high quality plastic was used and it gives the figures some heft, making them feel very solid.  These toys are noticeably heavier than many of their peers, allowing the to stand up to the proverbial – and sometimes literal – beating that comes from frequent play.
One distinct characteristic of note is that the toys, having sound effects, come with batteries.  The batteries are generic watch batteries and the slot for them is closed with a screw.  This is a godsend.  You don’t have to worry about the port coming open during play and the batteries are easily replaced.  This kind of forethought makes for a good toy.

Movement – 2 out of 5
If there’s anywhere that these toys fail, it’s in movement.  The toys have four joints total – shoulders and hips.  There are no elbow or knee joints.  The shoulders and hip joints move along a single axis, making the figure incapable of taking most dramatic poses.  Replicating movements or postures from the movies or the cartoons are pretty much out of the question.
It’s worth nothing that each figure can remove both forearms to allow the equipping of a gunpod accessory that comes with one of the figures.  Unfortunately, there’s an obvious lack of versatility to this as there’s only one weapon that can be changed out and it’s only available with one figure.  This makes this hand-removing feature more of an oddity than anything else.

Extras – 3 out of 5
Each action figure comes with Robocop’s signature gun (a modified Beretta) and a different set of accessories: a jet back and stabilizing arm guards, a recharging station, or a collection of several additional guns.  Not only that, but each figure has a button on the central chest that activates a sound effect corresponding to the accessories (gunfire for the guns, a computer processing sound for the recharging station, and a take-off sound effect for the jetpack).  The accessories are all completely interchangeable and it’s possible (read: extremely likely) that you would use all the accessories on just one Robocop action figure.
Since its pretty clear that the action figures are meant to be interchangeable in using the accessories, it’s a bit disappointing that the accessories weren’t better designed with each other in mind.  For example, Robocop can’t stand in the recharging station while wearing the jetpack.  That’s not a big deal and makes sense, but it would have been nice for the recharging station to have some kind of harness to hold the jetpack while Robocop’s recharging.  Likewise, one of the action figures comes with four guns and it’d be nice if the recharging station had a place to hang those guns.  This lack of compatibility is all that keeps this rating from bumping up to 4 out of 5.

Packaging – 2 out of 5
There was nothing special about the packaging for these toys.  The back information was pretty much identical and the front cover was just about the same: a hand-drawn image of Robocop using whatever accessories came with the particular action figure pretty much made up the front.  There wasn’t even a particularly good explanation of the character, the world, or the story.

Overall – 3 out of 5
These action figures are beautiful illustrations of getting some things very right and some things quite wrong.  The construction value of this toy is clearly very high and the accessories are all quite nice.  Unfortunately, since the accessories don’t work together and the toy is almost immobile it’s so stiff, there’s really only so much you can do with these.

Stop it with Evangelion

You know what happens Friday?  Pacific Rim happens Friday.  For those of you who don’t know what Pacific Rim is…you need to get right with the Lord or something, because seriously?  Check this s#!t out:

And everybody’s talking about, because why wouldn’t they be!  It looks awesome.  But the one complaint I have is that everybody – and I mean EVERYBODY – seems to be comparing to Neon Genesis Evangelion.  And if you don’t know what Evangelion is…then you need to stop playing games because you don’t need be telling them lies that you don’t know what Eva is.  Google it and buy some DVDs.  That’s like not knowing the plot of Star Wars; it’s 2013.  Get your act together.

If Pacific Rim is derivative of any classic mecha series, it’s not Evangelion; it’s the Power Rangers.  It’s a big-budget, ‘grown-up’ version of Powers Rangers.  I don’t understand why Evangelion’s even beginning to come into the discussion.  So quit it!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to count the seconds until the midnight showing Thursday.