Fallout Deconstructed - West Coast Super Mutants

When Fallout first arrived back in 1997, it was the Super Mutants that were the primary threat in the Wasteland. But the Super Mutants actually had an appropriately horrific and sordid history before the events of Fallout 1, and they would continue along this trend for over a century until Fallout: New Vegas. The Super Mutants, like the Brotherhood of Steel, have deep roots within the Fallout canon that stretch back to before the Great War. These roots were tapped into by the original creators, and largely ignored by the developers that followed. Because of this, there are primarily two distinct types of Super Mutants - West Coast and East coast. This post will focus on the original, and the best, West Coast Super Mutants.

 They’re big and they’re heavily armed.

They’re big and they’re heavily armed.

Standing on average at ten and a half feet tall, Super Mutants tend weigh in at around 800 pounds, or 363 kilograms, of pure muscle. Although typically greyish/green in color, there was an elite faction of West Coast Super Mutants, dubbed ‘Nightkin’, who have blue due to prolonged use of Stealth Boys. Super Mutant mutations have done away with recessive genes that generally cause genetic issues in humans, and their DNA has been modified to bring about the optimum combination of traits on a genetic level. They heal from wounds much faster than humans and are all but immune to radiation and death from old age. When they’re created perfectly, a Super Mutant maintains the intelligence they had in their former lives as a human and tends to begin life as an all round superior being.

 Lou - super intelligent, well spoken, and a leader of the Super Mutants.

Lou - super intelligent, well spoken, and a leader of the Super Mutants.

Things don’t always go perfectly, however, and when an inferior Super Mutant is created they still get all the physical traits but they lose most of their intelligence. A primary drawback of the mutation process is that the Super Mutants are made infertile, and despite not dying of old age they are prone to senility. Along with this, those elite Nightkin who turned blue due to prolonged use of Stealth Boys also developed some serious mental disorders as a result of being invisible for such long periods of time. Super Mutants may be strong and near unkillable, but they’re also deeply flawed and imperfect beings. They’re less a genetically viable race and more super solider mules that’re created specifically for war and not much else. They may be well suited to the harsh life of the wasteland but they don’t exactly have it easy. It’s not just their genetic drawbacks that make this the case either, because they’ve got quite the checkered history.

 The Nightkin… most of these guys were batshit insane.

The Nightkin… most of these guys were batshit insane.

Before the Great War, in 2073, there was a company called West-Tek that was researching a way to make the American population immune to any sort of biological attack that might be instigated by China. This was called the Pan-Immunity Virion Project, or PVP for short. It was an attempt to fill out an individuals DNA to make them immune to any sort of pathogens. While it did work, there were some noticeable side effects among the animal test subjects. Both the test subject’s size and intelligence dramatically increased, as well as their aggression levels. The virus was re-dubbed the Forced Evolutionary Virus, or FEV for short, and the scientists began delving into these side effects. It didn’t take long for the government to notice the possible military applications for this project and so they seized control of the project, to capitalize on these possible applications as well as from fear of potential espionage.

 All roads lead to Mariposa…

All roads lead to Mariposa…

Mariposa Military base was built specifically to house and work on the FEV Project. And nine months before the Great War, at the start of 2077, the military started doing human testing on military volunteers. The horrors that transpired within Mariposa were such that once the military personnel stationed there learnt of their extent, they executed all the scientists involved and went rogue. This is the beginning of the Brotherhood of Steel. The Great War kicked off a few days later.

Decades later, in 2102, a man by the name of Richard Grey breaks into Mariposa Military Base to try to discover the source of the brutal attacks on his caravans. While most of his group is killed, Richard is knocked into a vat of FEV and spends a good while submerged in the mutagenic goop. He may have fallen in a man of rather dubious character, but upon his eventual escape he became the unhinged mutant freak known as The Master. He started out absorbing the flesh and minds of anything that wandered into Mariposa while simultaneously merging with the base’s computer network via a neural up-link. Eventually he started experimenting with the FEV, “dipping” other humans into it and studying the results. This is the birth of the Super Mutants as we knew them in the first Fallout game.

 You can bring a plank of wood to a gun fight when you’re a genetically superior being…

You can bring a plank of wood to a gun fight when you’re a genetically superior being…

The Super Mutants were mostly dumb, brutish hulks that increased in size and strength but also lost most of their intelligence. A rare few, roughly one in six, were able to retain their intelligence though, and so The Master theorized that the deciding factor was the subjects radiation exposure. He himself was originally an exile from Vault 8, far to the north, and so his radiation levels were far lower than most wastelanders. Subjects with minimal exposure to radiation tended to yield far better results than those who had a lifetime of radiation stored in their flesh. For anyone who knows Fallout the meaning of this should be clear, those who lived in Vaults would make far better Super Mutants than those who grew up in the Wasteland.

In 2155, with the aid of a cult he’d aligned himself with, Richard Grey would eventually move south to the L.A. Boneyard where he would take up residence in a Vault of his own. Super Mutants are great and all but even the intelligent ones couldn’t do what a fanatical human cultist could; infiltrate wasteland settlements and bring them down from within. And what self-respecting villain would forego the chance at an underground lair? Eventually The Master would build a cathedral atop the Vault and forevermore the cult was presented as an honest religion dubbed “Children of the Cathedral.” Few knew of the Cathedral’s connection to The Master, his Super Mutant army or his grand designs of wasteland Unification.

 Would you want to be part of any Utopian plan that this thing cooked up?

Would you want to be part of any Utopian plan that this thing cooked up?

The thing with the Super Mutants is that they’re a direct threat to your character, the Vault Dweller, and his whole community Vault 13. The Master and his Super Mutants are looking for pure humans with minimal radiation exposure, which means that the Vault Dweller’s Vault is a prime target. With this in mind, even if you complete your initial goal of repairing your Vault’s water purification chip, you’re sent back out to take care of the far more dangerous threat that The Master and his Super Mutants pose. To keep this from spiraling any further, in 2161 the Vault Dweller eventually destroys Mariposa as well as the Cathedral and The Master’s Vault beneath it. The source of the Super Mutant threat, as far as the wasteland is aware of, is taken care of.

After the events of Fallout 1, the Super Mutants are scattered. Many form roving war-bands or even armies of their own, going on to become a scourge on the wasteland. A massive force wanders across the mountains far to the east, which leads to the events of Fallout Tactics. For the most part though, with their creator dead and their sole method of their creation seemingly destroyed, the Super Mutants faded into the background of wasteland normalcy. Like humans, some were good, most were bad and they just started living life as best they could. A prime example of this was the town of Broken Hills, a mining town comprised of humans, Ghouls and Super Mutants. Broken Hills was founded by a Super Mutant and a Brotherhood of Steel Paladin, a sure enough narrative nod to the fact that the conflict between the two factions was a thing of the past by this point. Life was never easy in Broken Hills, and tensions always ran high, but the town could survive as long as level heads prevailed… and as long as there was still uranium to mine.

 Spoilers - the uranium eventually, inevitably, ran out.

Spoilers - the uranium eventually, inevitably, ran out.

Jump forward to 2236, five years before the events of Fallout 2. The ruins of Mariposa are discovered by the Enclave. They’re a faction that’s a continuation of the US government, so they’ve got access to some seriously high-tech weapons and armor, as well as all the old pre-war records. With the aid of human and Super Mutant slaves, they begin excavation of the ruins and eventually discover some of the still-potent FEV. Mutations begin to occur among the human slaves, as well as some of the Enclave personnel and eventually Mariposa is abandoned. After a slight altercation with a squad of Enclave soldiers left behind to kill everything within the base, the new Super Mutant community begins in earnest. Remnants of the first-generation Super Mutants, as well as the newly created second generation, just wanted to stay down in the ruins of Mariposa and live in peace… and they did… until the Chosen One, the protagonist of Fallout 2, showed up.

By the time of Fallout: New Vegas, in 2281, the Super Mutants have openly been a part of the wasteland for over a century. They’re not exactly accepted, often being treated worse than Ghouls, but they’re not instantly shot on sight either. Sometimes a Super Mutant might live peacefully with humans, or they might live together in their own Super Mutant communities and try their best to maintain peaceful relations with their human and Ghoul neighbors. They’re just trying to survive in the wasteland like everyone else, some may do so as peacefully as possible while others take a more violent and selfish path.

 Broken Hills may have died, but it’s Super Mutant founder, Marcus, moved to the Mojave Wasteland and started over.

Broken Hills may have died, but it’s Super Mutant founder, Marcus, moved to the Mojave Wasteland and started over.

This is the thing about Super Mutants, they’re not just mindless monsters for your characters to kill. They’re an imperfect species that’s going to die out unless they find a way to propagate, either through use of FEV or by solving their sterility issues. In Fallout 1, 2 and New Vegas (and Tactics, as well, if you accept it as canon) they’re a fully fleshed out and flawed people that have drives and a history of their own. They’ve got a sorry past, being created by The Master as tools to bring about his demented vision of a genetically unified wasteland… but they’ve moved beyond that. They’re not all good and they’re not all bad, neither are they haphazardly created idiotic brutes that eat humans... like Bethesda turned them into on the East Coast.

 Okay… technically, the split-personality Super Mutant Dog/God will eat corpses, but they’re just such well written characters!

Okay… technically, the split-personality Super Mutant Dog/God will eat corpses, but they’re just such well written characters!

Fucking Annoying Frequently Asked Questions

A while back I wrote a book, Days Too Dark, and while it’s been pretty well received there are a few questions about it that keep popping up. While I’m always down for some creative critique, answering the same questions over and over becomes a little tiresome.

So that’s why I’ve written this handy FAQ for people who’re reading Days Too Dark! If you’ve got any questions, then check this before you come and ask me…

Is Mars you?

Ugh… yes! How is that not clear at this point? There’s literally a photo of me in the damn book.

You just wish you were as badarse and cool as Mars is!

Did you even understand the point of the book? Does he seem like he’s happy, about anything?

A protagonist who’s a straight white male? That’s sooo original… you Alt-Right Nazi!

Well, it’d be weird if I wrote a story about myself… but then I wasn’t who I am in the real world.

Also, just FYI - there’re multiple fleshed out characters who aren’t straight, aren’t white and aren’t male. There’s also a heap of handicapped characters, too. They’re all in there, I just don’t make a big deal out of it.

So, basically… #FOAD

Did you really kill someone and take their lungs?

No, but then the whole world didn’t end in 2011 either… because that’s the point of divergence.

Why is this written so weirdly?

Have you ever heard Australians talk? We’ve got a pretty weird accent and most people have trouble understanding our lingo. I figured that after two decades of no outside influences (like American television) the dialect would only become more pronounced.

If you don’t like it, then ya shit outta luck ya bloody drongo!

Why did you call it “the Gloom”?

It’s a metaphor for depression!

Did you really get in a car crash?

Yes!

Did your mum really drive you through a bus fire?

Yes!!

Were you really in a cyclone?

YES!

Did you reeeeeeea-

YEEEEEESSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Why do mushrooms grow from corpses?

Ever heard of “waiting until the sequel”?

A spear, a bayonet and a trench knife… pretty weird weapons for a post-apocalyptic story, don’t you think?

They’re symbolic. One was his fathers, the other his grandfathers and the final belonged to his great-grandfather. He’s inherited their weapons, as well as their demons, and he’s carrying on their fight.

But why a spear?

It’s the most widely used weapon in human history.

The spear looks totally different in different pictures, you fucked up!

I know it does. No, I didn’t.

Brisbane is on the east coast of Australia, not the south. Wtf is going on?!

Just read the bloody book.

Mars is such a Mary Sue, he even has different colored eyes!

1)      I don’t think you know what Mary Sue means…

2)      I have different colored eyes, hence Mars having different colored eyes.

Mars is sleeping with a woman who is fifteen years younger than him, that’s nothing more than disgusting wish-fulfillment!

There’s not a lot of options for either of them, and neither are mentally or emotionally healthy enough to be in a relationship. It’s not an ideal situation for either of them, which is kind of the point.

Why do all the characters have such weird names?

They’re not weird, they’re just not Western European. Russians have Russian names and Pacific Islanders have Islander names, etc. The only character who’s got a truly weird name is Maralinga, and even then it’s a name that’s found in the country of his birth and it has narrative significance. So basically, shut up.

The military being the bad guys is such a cliché, this story sucks!

I know it’s a cliché…

What’s with all the roses?

Inside joke. Count them and then google it.

There’s an awful lot of 9’s in this book.

There’s a good chance that there’s a lot more than you think there is…

What’s with the cover?

It’s one of the cards from the Rorschach test. Can you guess which one?

This is a blatant rip-off of The Last of Us!

Why? Because it’s got an arsehole protagonist and lots of mushrooms?

I started writing this before the Last of Us was even announced. I did a university speech on the Cordyceps Virus jumping to humans and creating fungi-zombies before The Last of Us was even announced. Trust me, I don’t need to steal anything from The Last of Us.

The Last of Us is one of those interesting titles that achieved such mainstream success, that people start to see shadows of it’s influence where ever they look… regardless of whether or not the connection is actually there. They’re both character driven, Post-Apocalyptic stories that focus on broken men and their relationships with those around them. It’s easy enough to see how people could think I was “inspired” by The Last of Us, but that simply isn’t the case.

That’s it, probably only for now though… I’m sure there will probably be more questions that get asked over and over and I’ll update this FAQ accordingly.

Twitter Poll Project

At the start of September I had this random idea that I didn’t really put much thought into and it sort of sprawled in such a fashion that it’s totally fucked up my schedule. I put out a poll on Twitter asking what sort of protagonist people would like to see in a new Post Apocalyptic story, and so people voted.

 Poll the 1st!

Poll the 1st!

I didn’t actually think anyone would vote, but it turns out a decent amount did. I chose a bunch of random character ideas, some would say they’re cliche but I’d just call them bare boned at this point, and threw them all together on a poll. We ended up with a Professional Criminal as a protagonist, which is certainly a character that allows for a lot of possibilities - especially in a Post Apocalyptic story.

But then I did a second poll…

 Poll the 2nd…

Poll the 2nd…

Instant. Fucking. Derailment.

While I was hoping for a single category of post apocalyptic scenarios to choose from, this poll ended up in a three way draw that meant I’d need another three polls just to get the basics of the plot down. While it’s true that an apocalypse is never simply a single event, you’re pretty much always going to get an Economic Collapse as well as whatever primary scenario you’re working with, this was far more than I was expecting. But then a multifaceted apocalypse is always going to be pretty damn interesting, and so I jumped into it.

 3rd poll

3rd poll

The first category I asked about was the Environmental category; ends of the world that tend to be about the physical world itself, while not being anything supernatural or overly strange. They’re you more down to earth, mundane apocalypses. In the end, the public wanted an Environmental Collapse. Crops fail, whole species go extinct and in general the natural world starts falling apart at the seams. That’s not a bad start, but let’s see what happened in the Social/Political scenario!

 4th poll

4th poll


Social Decay.

This is a difficult one to nail down, because typically in Post Apocalyptic stories the social bonds fall apart in response to the apocalypse. In this scenario, however, the actual apocalypse is the breaking of those very social bonds. Humanity loses any sense of cohesion for whatever reason and tears itself apart. Politics, religion, some new technology, whatever the reason is we just can’t go on together and so turn on one another.

So the natural world is collapsing and so is the human world… okay, interesting. Let’s see what the final poll comes up with from the Reality scenarios and maybe we can tie it all together?

 5th and final poll

5th and final poll

Shit…

Reality scenarios are the ends of the world that are just bat shit insane; gods giving up on us, reality breaking or time itself fracturing. With that in mind, somehow we managed to get two of them. So that’s totally not going to complicate things at all, is it? We ended up with Forces from Outer Reality and Paranormal apocalypses. So we’ve got Lovecraftian creatures from beyond time and space coming in to cause madness at every turn, as well as ghosts and the afterlife to deal with.

So, just to recap. We’ve got a Professional Criminal who survived a Environmental Collapse/Social Decay/Forces from Outer Reality/Paranormal Apocalypse… that it some complicated shit right there!

If you look back at the dates of the polls, they went from September 1st to September 6th. At the time of writing this it’s the 23rd of September, so clearly it’s been a few weeks since I did the polls and there’s still been nothing written. That’s because this is a seriously complicated set up that I wanted to properly tackle, so I took some time and thought about it. I caught up with some mates last night at a bar and a song came on that gave me the keystone I needed to lock all these disparate building blocks into place.

I don’t want to go into too much detail, but it’s still going to be a short story though I don’t know the exact length. It’s going to be a mindfuck, I know that much. Any story with elder gods and ghosts is sure to be a little weird in parts, so we’re going to have something of a less than conventional Post Apocalyptic story. I’m okay with that.

I don’t know how long it’s going to take me to complete, but this is going to be something that I’m publishing so it’s going to need a cover and everything so despite it’s low word count it’s not going to be a quick release. On the same page it’s not going to be a Days Too Dark-esque 7-years-in-the-making situation either. So this whole post is basically just a status update. I am actually working on the project and I have made significant progress.

Fret not, those irritating polls weren’t for naught!




The True Horror of Vault 11

Anyone who has played a Fallout game knows of the dickish douchebaggery of Vault-Tec - the pre-Great War American company that was meant to protect people but ended up experimenting on them. Long time fans will also be aware of Vault 11, of Fallout New Vegas, which has arguably the most fucked up vault experiment ever conceived.

In Vault 11, the residents are told that they need to sacrifice one of their members each year in order to survive. When the first Overseer comes down at tells the first batch of people, who had just escaped a nuclear apocalypse, this, they get pissed and force him down into the sacrificial tunnel. From that point forward, whoever was elected Overseer was effectively being elected to make the sacrifice. So unlike in every other vault, and unlike in every other democratic society, you really did *not* want to get elected leader of the vault. 

 That’s… odd.

That’s… odd.

By the time your character gets down there, the vault is, as usual, in ruins and you see rotting election banners all over the place. Except, instead of people trying to get themselves elected they're trying to get the other guy elected. You make your way through the vault and see all the nasty tricks that people pulled to try and avoid being elected Overseer. Eventually, after going through the sacrificial chamber yourself and coming out alive, you find out that all the residents had to do to escape was to *not* sacrifice someone.

 They figured it out eventually, but arguably it was too little and far too late.

They figured it out eventually, but arguably it was too little and far too late.

By the time they'd figured this out though, there were only five residents left, and four couldn't live with the guilt so they killed themselves. It's peak Vault-Tec maliciousness and makes you wonder if the CEO of Vault-Tec was that proverbial kid that your parents stopped you playing with after all those pets on your street started showing up dead. It's horrific, and you can understand why four of the five that got out alive couldn't go on living with what they'd done.

But the thing that gets me, that sent literal shivers down my spine - is a coffee mug.

When you're walking down into the sacrificial tunnel, where countless people have gone to their deaths, you walk down some stairs and there's this door. There's a blood stain on the floor, which speaks to the less than voluntary nature of the sacrifice, but there's also a coffee mug.

 Rusty and forgotten, this tunnel hasn’t been opened in years… but what’s that?

Rusty and forgotten, this tunnel hasn’t been opened in years… but what’s that?

Now, to me, there's a whole story right there. While many of the Overseers were forced down there, one of them went down there on their own. Maybe they'd just finished their breakfast and then they set out to commit suicide so that all the people who’d elected them could live. However it happened, the person was still drinking their cup of coffee when they went down to die.... they got to the door and realized they wouldn't need the mug anymore, so they tossed it on the ground and went on to their face their end.

 But… why?!

But… why?!

Who the hell brings a coffee mug to their execution?! It reminds me of that story from the French Revolution, about that dude that was reading a book while he was being put into the guillotine. He's in the line waiting to have his head chopped off, but he's just reading a book, and when it's his turn he just calmly puts the book down and goes to get executed. 

This whole line of thinking was sparked from a single coffee mug that was laying in a place that by all rights it shouldn't be. It was just a coffee mug but it had me turning into Lady MacBeth screaming "Out, dammed spot! Out, I say!" for a long time after I left Vault 11. The journal entries and posters flat out tell the story, but the coffee mug makes you pause and wonder… and that’s the haunting horror of Vault 11.

It can't have been unintentional that the coffee mug was left there by the games developers, it had to have been left there on purpose. It's great storytelling like that which has people making the claim that Fallout New Vegas is still a better game than Fallout 4. Although I prefer the setting of 4 (I never really liked the Cowboy ascetic in New Vegas) I have to say that I definitely preferred the story of New Vegas over 4. 

One item can spark a whole story in the reader/viewer/gamer who is taking in your story, you don't even have to explain it. If you put some thought into what conclusion you want them to arrive at, you can work it so that they end up there without you explicitly directing them. It's a fantastic bit of storytelling and world-building, and for something so small it's amazing how long it's stayed with me.  

As the world ended outside Vault 11, countless people would’ve killed to get in. At the same time, everyone inside the vault would’ve killed to get out.

 Thank you, for your sacrifice…

Thank you, for your sacrifice…

Zombie Apocalypse

I've watched a few Zombie Apocalypse movies recently, which is something I wouldn't have done a few years back. Typically, historically, zombie films have been the same - a shambling homogeneous horde of unoriginality. But recently, there have been a few stand outs that have... sorry for this, breathed life into the genre. 

  The Girl with all the Gifts  - an original take on the zombie apocalypse, with only one real bit of narrative silliness.

The Girl with all the Gifts - an original take on the zombie apocalypse, with only one real bit of narrative silliness.

The Girl with all the Gifts, The Cured, Cargo, & Maggie are all fresh takes on a tired genre. Although there are often action scenes in them, they are zombie movies after all, they're far more thoughtful and character driven narratives. While in older zombie films the story has often revolved around fighting against the undead hordes, in these latest films they're more rightly relegated to the background. 

 Ellen Page lives with a reformed Zombie... before life turn to shit, as life is want to do.

Ellen Page lives with a reformed Zombie... before life turn to shit, as life is want to do.

As much as I hate to admit it, I think The Walking Dead is to thank for this. Not the comic either, the TV show. While TWD isn't that great itself, at the very least it's kept zombies squarely in the public's gaze for coming up on eight years now. That is no small feat, especially considering that zombies were once considered a cult niche-interest at best. But with their increased popularity there are now creators, for film as well as for novels and games, who are able to use zombies for more in-dept narratives.

 I don't know why they couldn't have gotten an Australian lead, but the cast, setting and story were fantastic.

I don't know why they couldn't have gotten an Australian lead, but the cast, setting and story were fantastic.

Look at The Last of Us and the upcoming Days Gone, both a high budge story-driven games with zombies at their cores. That never would have happened over a decade ago. Before this, the best we got were action games like Dead Island or Dead Rising - asinine zombie slaughter simulators with bare bone stories... man, the zombie puns are running thick here. We're still getting sequels to those games, because they make money, but amid the turds we're finally getting some gold.

 It was good to see Arnold in a less macho, less hamfisted role. 

It was good to see Arnold in a less macho, less hamfisted role. 

My point is, as much as I loved TWD comics, I have to give credit to where credit is due and compliment the TV series on what it's done for the genre. Zombies are one of those creatures that are a fantastic at delivering subtle messages, and unlike Vampires or Werewolves they age really well. With each passing decade humanity faces new threats and develops new fears, and zombies are right there to help us explore those threats and fears.

 

Just one of many - A look at 'It Comes at Night' & 'Bushwick'

I've been watching a few films recently. I've finally got a decent streaming service (lol...) and so now it finally makes sense to catch up on all the films I've been missing out on. As the title of the post suggests, I'm going to be talking about two films in particular and why I believe they're more similar than one would initially think. Beyond the breakdown of society, both It Comes at Night and Bushwick forgo the greater events to focus on close personal stories.

 Humanity has only gotten this far through teamwork... but that doesn't mean that it always works out.

Humanity has only gotten this far through teamwork... but that doesn't mean that it always works out.

It Comes at Night deals with some sort of virus that kills people pretty quickly, and the story focuses on a family that invites another family to live with them. Share the work load, safety in numbers, all that good teamwork stuff. Isolation and preparation are keys to survival here, and there's a focus on trust and what happens when it breaks. People don't believe the backstories that others are telling them, they don't believe others when say they're not sick, and eventually it all falls apart in one of the most horrific endings you could possibly imagine. There're hints of some sort of monster out in the surrounding woodlands, but we never get to see it. Along with this, one of the characters is having some seriously trippy dreams about his dead grandfather throughout the film, so you're never quite sure what is real and what isn't. 

 They're actually a pretty good pair...

They're actually a pretty good pair...

Bushwick, on the other hand, is set in New York and deals with American separatists who do what separatists always do - try and separate themselves from the nation. The main story focuses on an ex-soldier/medic and a college student trying to make their way out of the city while the greater conflict rages on around them. It's actually one of those 'one continuous shot' films that, thanks to some nifty editing, follows the characters without ever cutting away. It's brutal, it's action packed and like It Comes at Night is has a downer ending.

Spoilers for both It Comes at Night and Bushwick.

Everyone dies in both of these films, every single main character. In It Comes at Night there's an eventual schism between the families and Joel Edgerton's character stabs the other father, accidentally shots the little boy and then kills the mother when she's hysterically screaming at him to do it. By this point though it's all useless, both families were already infected and the original family loses their son first and then the parents are left sitting at the dinner table just waiting to die. 

 Tensions were high to begin with, they didn't exactly get off to a great start. 

Tensions were high to begin with, they didn't exactly get off to a great start. 

Bushwick pulls something similar, where Dave Bautista's character finally opens up and gives this heart breaking speech about his troubled past... only to be shot in the face by some scared woman five seconds later. Just when you think Brittany Snow's character is going to push on alone... she gets hit in the leg and similarly capped in the head by one of the separatists.

 It was interesting to see the Alpha Male have a role as a care-giver, and it was great to see the female lead become more than a damsel in distress. 

It was interesting to see the Alpha Male have a role as a care-giver, and it was great to see the female lead become more than a damsel in distress. 

Both It Comes at Night and Bushwick give us these close and intimate stories set amid grand sweeping events. Society is breaking down all around these characters, people are dying left and right... but the story we're getting is about them in particular. The world may be falling apart but that's too big to deal with, so we're seeing how that happens on a much smaller scale. A few people is enough, we can get to know them and get attached to them and then when they finally die they're not just a number. The point behind this post, is that I think that Bushwick did this better than It Comes at Night.

 Yes, we followed their stories to their end... but all of NYC is under attack and that attack is still going.

Yes, we followed their stories to their end... but all of NYC is under attack and that attack is still going.

It Comes at Night gives us hints about the greater world but we never really see past the character's small section of it, so we're never really certain. We hear about cities falling and people fleeing, but that's about it. It never really goes past hearsay. After that, when everyone dies at the end, that's the end of the story. We're not given any context for it within the greater story as a whole. We don't know if similar stories are happening all over, we don't know if there's talk of a cure on the horizon. The view of the world is so focused, and isolated, that when it ends our investment in the world ends. Why did we see this story? What was the point of it all?

Bushwick, on the other hand, solves all this with its final scene. As soon as Brittany Snow's character drops dead the camera pans upward and we see that all of New York city is ablaze and there's conflict all over. The story we've seen is no less important after the character's deaths but we're also shown that the film has been just one of many such stories. People are fighting and dying all over. That final shot puts it all into context. Simply because we've been following these characters in particular, that doesn't make their story any more important than any other.

In a round about way the final shot of Bushwick made the character's deaths more palatable. We got to know these characters but many such people are going through similar events across the city. In It Comes at Night, however, everyone we know has died and we're still given no clue about the outside world. Is there even an outside world? It's sometimes hard to tell with the surreal dream sequences, and the whole thing could just be a dream. By the end of It Comes at Night, you're left asking yourself if the story even matters.   

Bushwick and It Comes at Night are both solid films and I'd recommend watching both if you've got a spare evening. What I've taken from viewing both films in quick succession, however, is that if you're going to tell a personal story where everyone dies then be sure to give us some context of the greater world. It doesn't have to be a lot, just let us know what's out there. The characters we follow might not make it but humanity as a whole still can. Wondering if the characters were the last humans alive or if they were just one group of many scattered about the globe, trying to survive whatever apocalypse you cooked up, can leave people a little unsatisfied. Small isolated stories about failure to survive are great, they just need to be put into some context. 

 Movie Logic 101 - Never break down and reveal your demons... because the second you do, you're going to die. 

Movie Logic 101 - Never break down and reveal your demons... because the second you do, you're going to die. 

The Post Apocalyptic Writing Guide

This is the secret project that I've been working on since the end of last year - The Post Apocalyptic Writing Guide. I sent out a few Advanced Reader Copies last week via Twitter, and so far I'm really happy with how the book has been received. I plan to release on 09/09/18.

 The hallowed cover reveal!

The hallowed cover reveal!

There are obviously going to be some who question the legitimacy of me putting out this book when I've only got a single published post apocalyptic work under my belt. Which is, I must admit, a fair claim. To anyone who has any concerns though, I would offer that you should go read Days Too Dark and then decide if this whole venture is appropriate. 

I haven't just written one book and used that as validation for writing a guide on how to create post apocalyptic stories however. I have studied the post apocalyptic genre for years. Decades, even. You know those nerds who abandon society to go down some obscure rabbit hole and become experts on some arcane subject? Yeah - that's me. Before you freak the fuck out and shriek "he think's he's an expert!" just read the following sentence. I don't know everything there is to know about the post apocalyptic genre. I would hate it if I knew everything, because that'd mean that there's nothing new to learn.

I've read a lot, but there are a lot of people who've read far more than I have. I've played and watched a lot too, but just as before - there are those who have consumed way more post apocalyptic content than I have. This guide isn't me trying to lord it over anyone else, especially other authors. The thing is that I'm not interested in being better than anyone else, I'm only interested in being better than who I was yesterday. One of the best ways for me to do that is to be surrounded by, and learn from, people who are better than me. 

 I feel old...

I feel old...

This guide is the culmination of everything that I have learned across the years about the post apocalyptic genre, from *many* disparate sources, condensed into a single volume. Whoever comes next, and there will always be someone next because humanity is always freaking out about its demise, won't have to do the leg work that I've done because I've done it for them. The Post Apocalyptic Writing Guide is an effort to bring as many people up to speed as quickly possible. If a newbie Indie Author reads the guide they will know everything I knew about the post apocalyptic genre at the time of writing it. They're still going to have to go read the original texts, obviously, but they're going to be able to find, deconstruct and use them much more efficiently.

I want better post apocalyptic content, that's what this is all about. The genre is having its day at the moment and while that means we're getting a lot of fantastic stories we're also getting a lot of formulaic and mundane shit that's muddying the genre as a whole. I can't learn anything from a cookie-cutter story and I sure as hell can't enjoy it. By putting this guide out, I'm letting everyone know what I know, and that will increase the likelihood that others can/will surpass me. I'll get more to learn from and I'll have more to enjoy. I'm not just a creator of post apocalyptic fiction, I'm also a massive fan. I want to have access to more stories that are of a better quality. So I made the Post Apocalyptic Writing Guide, and I hope that it helps people make better stories.

 It's all about passing the reins... and making sure they know everything you do.

It's all about passing the reins... and making sure they know everything you do.

If I've gotten anything wrong in the guide, or if you disagree with anything I've written, then feel free to hit me up. Let's hash it out and make the guide better, because I honestly don't want it out there if it's going to make things harder for people by leading them in the wrong direction. Not everyone is going to agree with everything I've written, I get that, but hopefully something good can come out of the discussion. 

I didn't create the guide on my own, either. If you look in the front you'll see a list of names of people who helped me put the content together, hash out concepts and ideas and just generally told me when I got something stupidly wrong. So, just like in the book, I'd like to thank those who helped me put the guide together.

 You may stand alone at the end, but you never got there on your own.

You may stand alone at the end, but you never got there on your own.

If you're wondering about the cover of the book - they're a group of models called the Demolition Dolls who dress up in post apocalyptic attire and attend events. There's this whole other side of the post apocalyptic community that focuses on clothing and props and generally LARP'ing (sort of like cosplay, but with some role playing involved) the post apocalyptic life. There's this weird divide in the community, with some people focusing on the books/movies/games while others do the festivals. Getting the Demolition Dolls on the cover was sort of an olive branch between the two halves of the community. Also, they're all pretty hot and tempting, so there's that aspect to. 

So that's that, there's still a week or two until the planned launch but everything looks to be progressing according to plan. Currently it's going to be an eBook only, but print may become available down the line. It will be available on Amazon, here, and I'm looking at a $2.99 price tag.

If you have any questions or concerns, hit me up or Twitter. 

Cheers

 

Music Inspiration - Part 5

This is the fifth and final collection of Trailer Music songs that I use for inspiration while writing. Take a listen and see if anything strikes you. If you like what you hear, delve into Trailer Music and see if it helps with your own creative efforts. 

And that's my list of Top 25 Trailer Music songs!

Like I said way back at the start, I've got a list that's a lot longer than this and I just let it play as I write. Hopefully you've heard a tune here that's made you feel something, or sparked an idea for a scene that's been bugging you.

Just chuck on auto-play and see where the music takes you, there's something out there for everyone and every story they're working on. It may not be right for your current story, but it could be right for the next. 

Gears of War - Lancer Continuity

One of the key aspects of Gears of War is how horrific the Locust Horde is. The Locust are monstrous, in every sense of the word. They're bigger and stronger than the average human, and can take as much punishment as a human in full body armor. They've got claws and scales and two hearts and they live underground, it's all deliciously horrific.

 There's a reason they're referred to as a "horde" of "Locusts" - they're numerous and horrificly monsterous. 

There's a reason they're referred to as a "horde" of "Locusts" - they're numerous and horrificly monsterous. 

Humanity's fight against the Locust is one of desperation, where humanity is constantly selling parts of its soul just to survive. The enemy is that tough, and brutal, that humanity has to match them just to make it through the day. And that's one of the darkest aspects of the Locust - it's not what they do to humanity, it's what they make humanity do to themselves. 

The humans in Gears of War have breeding camps, just so they can have enough soldiers to continue to fight the war. If a woman can have healthy children, she's lured into the breeding camps with the promise of extra rations. If it turns out she can't have kids, she's booted out and made to join the military. This process, while arguably necessary for survival, left a mark on humanity to the point where they had to generate a lie about the Locust reproducing via rape. Never mind that no human had ever seen where the Locust lived by this point, oh no, we may have breeding farms but the Locust rape so at least we're not *that* bad.  

 There's also the fact that the Locust are clearly genetically linked to humans... but that's a story for another day. 

There's also the fact that the Locust are clearly genetically linked to humans... but that's a story for another day. 

Humanity sold a part of it's soul to survive, and generated a lie about the enemy to live with the guilt. It changed who they were as well, because even in Gears of War 4, 25 years after the Locust War has ended, they're still at it. They telling women to have babies and using gene therapy to help design those babies to better aid in repopulating the planet. Humanity sold its soul in a time of desperation and they've been paying the price ever since. 

Along with this, the planet of Gears of War, Sera, was actually destroyed by humans themselves. Just like in the Matrix, humanity was faced with an enemy so powerful that they destroyed their own world in an attempt to halt their advance. It failed, obviously, but the planet was still ruined. This time, it was done with orbital lasers. To deprive the Locust of any motivation for coming to the surface, humanity used orbital lasers to destroy their own land and resources. To ensure the plan went off without a hitch, the humans only announced the attack three days before it was launched. 

 The Locust didn't do this... humans did.

The Locust didn't do this... humans did.

All of humanity had just three days to reach the safety of the one city that would be spared, obviously in a time of war it's hard to get anywhere in three days so billions of humans were killed in this attack that didn't even stop the Locust. Humanity literally killed billions of their own species, and destroyed their planet, in a failed attempt to stop the Locust from invading. There's selling your soul in a Faustian bargain and then there's tossing your soul at the shop clerk like it's little more than loose change. But this is all to show just how desperate humans were, the lengths that they were willing to go to in order to survive.

 hahahaha I can't believe someone had already made this meme... 

hahahaha I can't believe someone had already made this meme... 

This brings me to the Lancer, the iconic "chainsaw gun" of the Gears of War Franchise. Before the Locust showed up, the Mark 1 Lancer was a beefy weapon that had a simple, but large, bayonet at it's end. It was used to fight other humans and it did it's job with stabby abandon.  

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But when the Locust showed up, their thick hides often caused the bayonets to either be deflected or snap on contact. This was a problem for the soldiers trying to fight the Locust, on account of them not wanting to die. In one such Locust attack, Tai Kaliso managed to kill one of the Locust Drones with a circular saw. He commented on the fact that it would make for a reliable method of killing the Locust... and the higher ups actually listened to him!

 This is the Mk-1 "Retro" Lancer...

This is the Mk-1 "Retro" Lancer...

That's how desperate things were. Not only did the high-ups listen to someone down on the ground, which is absurd enough already, they also thought it was a good idea to attach a chainsaw to a gun. They got their scientists to work on the idea and they actually made it happen - thus was born the Mark 2 Lancer. 

 ...and this is the MK-2 Lancer!

...and this is the MK-2 Lancer!

It's an absurd idea, a chainsaw on a gun is just ridiculous. But when taken with all the other elements of the Gears of War story, it speaks to just how dire the situation is and how desperate those who remain are. "Desperate times call for desperate measures," and all that. It was a great addition to the series because it actually helped build it up instead of feeling as though it was simply tacked on to look cool.

But then we come to Gears of War Judgment, and the actual reason behind this whole post. Judgment was a prequel game, made between Gears 3 and 4, and it was set before the canon invention of the Mark 2 Lancer. But for some reason, all the characters in Judgment have the Mark 2 Lancer... despite it not being invented yet!

 Why?!

Why?!

The writers said that it was present because Judgment focused on Special Forces and they access to better tech than the other soldiers. But this totally undercuts the importance of the weapon's point of inception, an act of savage desperation. I get the real reason why it's there though, the writers figured that they couldn't have a Gears of War game without the damn chainsaw gun... 

A long time ago, the Mark 2 Lancer was compared to the Lightsaber - it's an iconic weapon now. But the Lightsaber obviously had a point of creation within the Star Wars canon, a point where it was initially thought of and the first one was created as a prototype. Can you imagine the outrage that would ensue if someone wrote an official Star Wars novel, movie or game that was set before this point but it still somehow had Lightsabers in it? The nerdrage would destroy our planet!

 Is it really a Gears of War game if it doesn't have the chainsaw gun? Yes... yes it is. 

Is it really a Gears of War game if it doesn't have the chainsaw gun? Yes... yes it is. 

I love Gears of War, and even Judgment was more good than bad, but this was just one decision that I cannot get behind. Having to fight the Locust in the early days of the war with inferior technology would have ramped up the intensity to an insane degree. That was the point of the game, having it set in a period where the Locust were a new and unknown entity made them all the more terrifying.

The Locust were the reason for the Mark 2 Lancers invention, and the writers fucked it all up by having the effect appear before the cause had a chance to instigate it in the first place! First and foremost, a story has to be true to the world it's set in. Forget what might or might not appeal to the audience; if you absolutely have to include an element then set the story at a point in time where the element exists. The suspension of disbelief required for us to enjoy stories demands that worlds be consistent, and that means doing your homework and not taking shortcuts simply to appeal to the lowest common denominator. 

Van Helsing - Not That Bad

Back in January I made a post that was pretty much just me ripping into Van Helsing. Looking back now, after having watched the first two seasons, I think I may have been just a little too harsh. Just a bit. So this is my recant, the show's not perfect but neither is it as bad as I initially speculated. 

Spoilers. Obviously.

It's actually not that bad, it's certainly not groundbreaking but it's good enough to watch if you've got nothing else. They did away with a lot of the issues I'd raised in my initial post, and it actually got me interested in seeing where things were going. I had an issue with an everyday chick being more of a badass than a trained solider... but eventually we got to see what that trained soldier can do and it was an absolute bloodbath. By season 2 the actress who plays Vanessa Van Helsing had become pregnant and while they didn't incorporate it into the story they managed to hide it well enough and she continued to do actions scenes.

 Mohamad is just a normal kid for most of the series, but he's holding his own just as well as the rest.

Mohamad is just a normal kid for most of the series, but he's holding his own just as well as the rest.

I was watching the final season of Zoo at the same time as watching Van Helsing. It had this stupid twist where it was revealed (in goddamn season 3) that the protagonist had had a wife and son who were killed when he was 19. But then the son is randomly revealed to be a character he's been interacting with all season. Dumbest, most ham-fisted, story move I've ever seen. But then it's a show about animals attacking humans, so I don't know why I expected anything else.

Anyway, back to Van Helsing. When Vanessa's long lost sister, as well as her long lost mother, popped up in the show I sort of just groaned and my eyes rolled out of my head. Dead family members should stay dead. Ask anyone who has lost a loved one before, any time this happens in a show you instantly get a bad taste in your mouth. It happened in Gears of War as well, and I love that series, so you know I'm not just picking on Van Helsing and Zoo here. We'd all love for a dead loved ones to just randomly walk through the door with a slight case of amnesia but life just doesn't work that way. 

 They came up with some vague magical reason why the sister who lived a normal life before the world ended is still stronger than the sister who was raised as a survivalist ninja.

They came up with some vague magical reason why the sister who lived a normal life before the world ended is still stronger than the sister who was raised as a survivalist ninja.

My only real gripe with the show, beyond all that, is what they ended up using Christopher Heyerdahl for. That guy is a fantastic actor and he has taken on some amazing roles in his career, but here it was nothing new. He started out as Sam the deaf guy, and that was a cool character, not only for Heyerdahl but for a post-apocalyptic story. Having a handicapped character always makes things interesting, and this guy was kicking arse despite his handicap. 

 He went from this...

He went from this...

But then it turns out he's a serial killer and he turns into a crazy vampire, which was basically just the same character he played in Hell on Wheels - the Swede. We had a great character that was an original role for the actor but then they pulled the rug out from under us and turned him into something cliche. It was a shame, because I really like Heyerdahl and I really liked Sam. 

 ...to this.

...to this.

Besides that, the world of Van Helsing is consistent and we've got characters who are all various shades of grey. Vanessa and her sister are basically "Daywalkers" like Marvel's own half-vampire character, Blade, so there's all the usual superhuman fight scenes and moral struggles that go along with that. They killed off Vanessa's daughter pretty quickly after they saved her, which was a good call. It's never nice to see a child killed (unless it's Zach Goodweather from The Strain) but the story would have stalled if the protagonist suddenly had to look after a kid. A side character finds out he's going to be a dad mere moments before his newly pregnant partner is forced to frag herself alongside some vampires. The main group find another group of survivors who are surviving by eating the vampires, which was actually a pretty fun episode. And there's the typical "Elder Vampire" character who appears at the end of season 2, but they manage to spin it around and do something original with it.

 This all-female clan of vampires is pretty damn awesome too!

This all-female clan of vampires is pretty damn awesome too!

It's a dumb, fun show that's probably written for high school girls. It's Buffy 2.0., and that's fine. It's not groundbreaking, it's not going to revolutionize the post apocalyptic genre, but it is good enough to keep me entertained between the occasional eye roll. I'll happily watch the recently announced season 3, but I'm not exactly waiting with baited breath for it to arrive.

Wynonna Earp is still a fucking travesty though...