Saturday, 23 March 2013

Gorn (or the Etiquette of Blood and Gore)

Readers let it be known I am no stranger to the concept of blood and gore in stories, nor am I opposed to it. Sometimes though we just have to find a better way to use it. Today I talk about gorn (and boy is the page image for that accurate).

Now of course I'm not referring to the alien from Star Trek.

This alien for those of you who are wondering
No today I instead talk about (as quoted from TVtropes) the 'extreme and sadistic violence, to the point of prurience. A portmanteau of "gore" and "porn". The term can refer to just an extremely graphic scene of bloodshed, or the entire sub-genre of torture films in the spirit of Saw'. And of course if that's not explanitory enough for you, let's just say that it's blood and gore for blood and gores sake.

Now that's not to say that the application of gore is a bad thing, in fact some of the best video games and horror movies use bloody murder to captivate/horrify their audiences and wratchet up the action in the game/film. In fact in some cases it can be downright hilarious! That is, if it is used tastefully and applied well.

Some video games just tend to suffer from over the top gore with blood dripping from the screen, these aren't even necessarily horror games, but action games which have ridiculous ammounts of blood and guts just seemingly for the sake of it! It can be fun, but after a while it is just boring, and incredibly juvenile. You won't see much evolution in gameplay terms as long as developers concentrate on this!

I'm no stranger to liberal gore, some of my favorite video games include the Dead Space series, Gears of War, and Resident Evil. Now none of these games is exactly light on violence. In fact Gears of War is billed as being a violent action game with some of the over the top violence being the selling point. I mean when your using a chainsaw bayonet to saw through a Locust Drone while screaming 'yeeeeaaaaah!' along with the character on the screen you can't exactly claim you aren't enjoying it.

Case in Point, vis Destructoid
Now this is a game which is sold on over the top action along with a mediocre story. Here's the thing though, the weapons and violence sell it. They are larger than life and improbable, which combined with good gameplay mechanics and interesting hammy characters we have something that sells quite well.

Looking at Dead Space, you have something which is basically zombies in space. They have scything talons and go around infecting people by driving a proboscus into the player characters head or removing his limbs from his torso in various gory and creative ways. These are all items that are expected in a zombie style game, and as watchers/players of that particular genre we now expect that people will be messily devoured and zombie heads will explode through high velocity lead poisoning (or plasma cutter related work injuries) and that is pretty much what we watch the genre for. The Walking Dead would not be what it is without the proper application of zombies eating people and zombies being killed by people. Done in proper context and shown well it is what viewers enjoy.

However, few people want to see a show or game where the zombies win and eat everyone, or all the main characters are messily devoured in pointless ways. Admittedly some people were rooting for the zombies in Land of the Dead (I wasn't) but no one really wanted to see them win!! What they wanted to see was the plucky human characters defeat the evil villains and if the zombies helped do that, great! If not, well, putting a bullet in their brains isn't a terrible idea.

The reason you can't have a zombie as a sympathetic character (most of the time) is that they are human eating machines, and as such are beyond the sympathy of people. You don't want to see them messily devour someone who might be innocent, and you don't want them to win in the end. In fact I've only ever read one series which did this well, is The Rising by Brian Keene.

The thing is though, that mindless gore will be a given when a zombie is the main character, just like if the main character in a movie is a slasher. We will have to sit through ages of the villain/monster killing people, now this can be done well by being downplayed in favor of the horror of this person winning, or it can be done poorly by dragging out the horrible torture for ages.

A point in case of this being done well is actually the first Saw. I personally may not have liked it, but, I will concede that it was not especially gory and used the terror it created in a decent fashion for reeling the audience into the characters awful dilemma. The sequels however, instead turned up the gore and violence and had people dying for no other reason than for us to see them brutally murdered on screen. Another movie which invokes this trope, is Hostel which is literally a movie with no point other than seeing young tourists having sex, then being kidnapped to be tortured to death by foreign rich people. The ludicrous ammount of gore and its ridiculous use (I mean blow torch to the eye?) makes people want to vomit. Literally none of this adds to the movie, and its more disturbing than scary, and not in a good way. It doesn't leave you asking anything about the movie, instead merely wondering who the hell would come up with this plot?

It's hard for people (most people) to sit through a film where teenagers are being slaughtered left and right with no reason. Some movies today will spend mindless ammounts on gore budgets just to get realistic looking slit jugulars or ripped out rib cages. In fact some movies have decided to just ditch the concept of plot or characterization altogether in order to show scantily clad co-eds being ripped apart or hacked up in order to appeal to the lowest denominator in advertising.

This film being a recent offender
You see gore isn't what people expect from a horror movie. What they expect is to be scared or terrified, and in truly well done cases ask fundamental questions about their own humanity and what constitutes a monster. Yes they expect blood, yes they expect murder, but what they don't expect is for the set to be drenched in so much blood you could fill a swimming pool. Sometimes just finding a dead and mutilated body is much better than having to watch that character be mutilated and then have their friends stumble upon the scene moments later. It just saves time and can increase terror.

The fact of the matter is that lots of horror today suffers from a lack of substance and a ridiculous infusion of severed heads and spurts of blood flying around for no reason I could point out. Even in video games (like Left 4 Dead) the gore begins to become an impediment when you can't even see the screen properly through the layers of blood. In fact one of the reasons the Resident Evil series has suffered recently is the fact that it has become self aware of the gory nature of the transformations and monsters and is just playing them up for kicks! This is in no way interesting, and really doesn't appeal to most players who are looking for an exciting horror survival (or maybe in the far future an actualy horror!) game with puzzles.

Crime dramas today are also becoming dependent on gory murder rather than the idea of solving crime. Thankfully however, some shows are coming out which deal less with us following demented serial killers as they butcher people in 'creative' ways (such as in the ever sinking Criminal Minds series) or the psuedo-science and ripped open bodies as seen on CSI, and instead lead us to the enjoyable 'murder as a framing device' plots of great crime dramas and character driven stories such as Castle (which in my opinion is probably the best crime drama on TV right now).

Literature isn't immune from this either. Some series take the gory horror to a ridiculous level. Many modern Lovecraft books begin having freakish monsters messily and slowly disembowling their victims for no real reason. Some novels (like some particular moments in the Sword of Truth series) just have long torture sequences (committed by the heroes no less) and use them for what might have been a metaphor about war, but it is lost in the ensuing random 'heroic' violence that follows.

In fact much of the literary genre of horror has also come to try and depend on gory monster attacks rather than the physical horror of such monsters, or being alone, isolated and under attack by otherworldly creatures! The Slenderman mythos is so scary not because of any gore which might be in it (and there rarely is any) but because of the sense this tall suited blank faced creature can chase you down anywhere and then...well what exactly he does do when he catches you is left to the reader, and that makes it all the more scary!! No gore necessary but maximum scare fest!

It's the unknown or monstrous that usually scares people, not the sight of someone being dismembered or a college co-ed having her still beating heart ripped out and force fed to her. While those images are disturbing I wouldn't call them terrifying in and of themselves. I mean I've seen uncensored battlefield casualty photos which are gorier than these films and while it makes me feel sick it doesn't make me particularly scared.

What writers (and more importantly, executives) need to learn is that you can't just appeal to the common denominator base that looks for bloody gore and sex while expecting to win out in the box office. People tend to quickly tire of that kind of thing, and it ends up with the same repetetive, boring, predictable, and idiotic, plots that people really only go to see from boredom. Just putting bloody murder onto a screen and expecting it to sell is not an incredibly successfull business plan (hell even the classic 'sex sells' mantra fails if you underestimate your audiences intelligence).

What horror and action writers should learn is that you can't abandon plot for silly gimmicks and expect to be wildly successfull in your careers. Hopefully this can end with a thrilling psychological horror movie coming out that serves to scare me because it's actually scary, and not because the script says its scary by decapitating some teenagers.

Now here's a picture of a zombie getting it's head blown off.

Until next time readers!

Monday, 18 March 2013

Yet Another Writing Update

Greetings readers. For any of you who follow me on Facebook you will no doubt know I refer to Matthew Stienberg: Writer. Now some of you may say 'Well for a writer you sure don't write anything' to which I would first retort 'Well you're reading some of it right now!' but ah you say 'certainly a writer is someone who has published work to his name' and I suppose I ought to retort by adding 'Well I am working on some items at the moment'.

Though I suppose I ought to prove it at least.

Well readers for anyone whose looking forward to what I'm writing I can tell you my current projects are running along smoothly.

Service to the State has currently passed the half-way mark to completion and is progressing nicely (albeit more slowly than I would like) but so far in little spurts and bounds it is growing, though I must say that space assassins can be pretty fun characters to write about.

The few issues that have stalled me currently were some basic world building issues (such as how to handle interplanetary crime) and of course how best to continue on with characterization for both Laurent and Jessica. For Jessica it is essential I not screw up even one motivating factor, it is going to be my first major work afterall, and I really can't afford to mess that up!

Meanwhile the world around it grows and I'm hoping to be putting some OC that I've got planned up on the site as it goes. In the works are a flag for the two main star nations in the story, the Socialist Commonwealth of Tau, and the Republic of Grant.

These two nations are the crux of the universe (not the only ones mind, but certainly the most powerful in their respective sectors) and the struggles they engage in will be defining aspects of how the universe is shaped. It's a war of national pride and competing national ideologies, and sadly ideological wars can be some of the most brutal.

So far I've been dithering about the obligatory bootcamp sequence and how to include it without stumbling into cliche territory, while at the same time working up the aspects of space combat in this universe. So far I've mapped out two space battles and I'm hoping to pen them out in rough soon enough.

On a more random note I've also penned out some ideas in rough for a stand-alone science fiction story. Having been learning about the Russian Revolution lately and being nostalgic for the Moon is a Harsh Mistress, I've put a few random thoughts down on paper and I've been mapping out the basic sketch for the story of a colony of Earth being basically strip mined for its resources and the cruel managers don't give a damn. I also had a few ideas while reading some of the back blurb on the most recent Honor Harrington novel recently, so it got me to thinking about these things.

The general idea revolves around a group of young and old revolutionaries of differing backgrounds, socialists, libertarians, and technocrats, all struggling together to try and overthrow the planetary government and gain political and economic independence. It's only a rough concept and will have to wait until I can devote more time to it before being really fleshed out.

As I also said on my page I have an alternate history scenario that I've written out which is fairly rudimentary and covers some major historical points, and I may put it up on my alternate history board just for kicks. It would be cool to write some stories set in that world, so I wouldn't completely mind keeping such ideas on the shelf for a later date.

So far 2013 has been a slow writing period, but then we still have a year to go!

Friday, 8 March 2013

Guest Post: The Strange Death of Sokullu Mehmed Pasha

As a history enthusiast myself this information and the very odd, yet fascinating, version of history it presents is to much to pass up!

Guest blog post from Matthew Quinn of the wonderful blog The World According to Quinn, who is also the writer of many fine stories which may be found on Amazon, and should really be added to your Kindle!


From A New Look at Sokullu Mehmed Pasha, published at Miskatonic University.

The consensus of historians on the assassination of Grand Vizier Sokullu Mehmed Pasha on October 11, 1579 AD (or 20 Sha'ban 987 AH in the Islamic reckoning) is fairly well-known in our field. The Ottoman Sultan Murad III, alienated from the vizier who had served his father and grandfather so long and ably by his mother Narbanu Sultan and Venetian-born wife Safiye Sultan, took steps to reduce the vizier's influence on government. The vizier's allies were sent to faraway positions or assassinated. Ultimately, a mentally-unstable dervish talked his way into the vizier's office and stabbed him. This kind of intrigue was fairly common in the Ottoman Empire, especially during the period known as the Sultanate of Women.

However, some recent discoveries by Miskatonic University researchers of documents thought lost forever during the civil unrest that wracked Constantinople when the Janissaries were suppressed has shed new light on the circumstances of the vizier's assassination and an incident that took place in 1571.

These documents paint a far more sinister picture of the vizier. They include accusations of dealings with agents of Safavid Persia, with whom the vizier had counseled peace as opposed to the usual border wars, and even black magic. The documents accuse the vizier of, under the influence of an agent of Persian Shah Tahmasp I, acquiring a book of black magic from an Armenian merchant who had visited the long-vacant shrine of a corrupted Sufi order that had been destroyed by Turkish nomads not long before. The use of this book resulted in an incident in Constantinople that killed dozens of Ottoman soldiers, destroyed one war galley and forced the scuttling of a second, and caused significant damage to the Bayezit II mosque.

These accusations against Sokullu are not new, but have been long dismissed as the slanders from his political enemies. However, the mosque was damaged somehow, necessitating repairs by the famed Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan in 1573 and 1574. Furthermore, it is often said that converts make the best zealots. Safiye Sultan was a Catholic before she became a Muslim, while the most recent evidence suggests Narbanu was an Orthodox Greek from Corfu before her conversion. If Sokullu was involved in the dark arts, or was widely believed so, this could have provoked the ire of the Imperial women. They would not wish one so tainted to continue virtually ruling the Ottoman Empire in place of their son and husband. And the dervish orders might be willing to provide an assassin to dispose of the vizier, especially given his (tangential) connection to a Sufi order that had become warped by dark forces.

Of course, this is all just speculation. The documents describe how the soldiers killed in the incident were buried in a mass grave outside Constantinople that was given special attention by Muslim imams, Orthodox Christian priests, and even a Jewish rabbi, while the materials used by Sokullu in the incident were confiscated, burned, and abandoned in Persia. Should this mass grave or the dumping site be found, it would lend credence to the incident described in the documents.

So just why was the Grand Vizier assassinated, and is the author's theory about dark powers manifesting in Constantinople actually true? Read "The Beast of the Bosporus" on or on Smashwords to find out!

Sunday, 3 March 2013

The Wealth Gap and redefining Monopoly

The Video Shown Here which I reccomend people who read this short blurb watch, really illustrates the staggering wealth gap in American society, and I shudder to think how this would be applied in my own country on the same graph. Though for anyone interested a page here shows the distribution in Canada and a direct comparison to the US. Now for someone like me who has researched this issue it is not what I would call a huge surprise. However, what shocks me is the difference between how people seem to percieve the weatlh gap (which is still pretty unequal by our own collective admission apparently) to how different it actually is!

For those of you having seen the video it truly is staggering just how wrong the common perception seems to be.

Though what shocked me though is something that I suppose in hindsight ought not to have shocked me was this little nugget.

Yes according to this chart the top 1% of the nation owns fifty percent of stocks, bonds and mutual funds.

The idea of them owning more of the nations wealth than the other 80% is not surprising, even the idea of the top 1% owning 40% of the nations wealth didn't really shock me to learn. However, the knowledge that they own 50% (I'll say roughly for fairness sake) of the stock, bonds, and mutual funds is simply a staggering thing to learn. Think about that for a second, that means that only 1% of the country has a virtual monopoly on the stock market and control over its resources.

How that speaks to the way the market works, its faults, and where investment goes and how this invisible wealth is generated and spent I'll leave the reader to speculate on.

The fact remains however, that this gap in wealth, control of the market and industry, and depressingly, who gets their voice known in government (money speaks) shows just how much power, real tangible power, one group in society controls.

It is worth noting this and I would urge readers to really think about what this means for our economic and political system across the world.