Star Wars Rebels: The Rant

I didn’t want to come here. You made me come here.

I speak of the YouTube comments that ruined my day, and have forced me to put all else aside.

Do you watch Star Wars Rebels? You know, that Disney project they probably churned out as an afterthought on coffee breaks during the editing of Inside Out. That show with the kind-of-weird animation, and too few flips during the lightsaber duels. The show that foolishly places storytelling and character development before fight scene choreography. How dare they anyway? How dare they spit on the memory of Clone Wars, or screw up dueling forms from 1 through 5, and how dare their lightsabers be so skinny?

Well, haters, we all can’t have a huge lightsaber.

I grant the following.

• The animation found in Star Wars Rebels would seem rougher than what Clone Wars had to offer.
• The fight scenes in the present cartoon are not mind-blowing in terms of their scale or fire power.
• I’m a Clone Wars fan. Although, I find myself watching it more now than I did when it was on the air. Mostly, I’ve done this because it has been held up as the example new Star Wars creators must live up to.

Yet, less is more.

Not everything we see can—or should—be epic. Not every battle must contain ten combatants wielding double-bladed lightsabers, performing the moves of a figure skater. Every episode need not be a Kung-Fu movie. Not every character you run across should be overpowered, or have an arsenal of force abilities, befitting only a boss from Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.

In fact, the very reason Kanan of the rebels is a good character is because he is an average Jedi, even below average. A person can relate to him, which is kind of important as far as telling a story goes.

There is a reason that, while Clone Wars has been called a very good cartoon, Rebels has been called the spiritual successor to the original Star Wars trilogy. It was The Force Awakens before The Force Awakens hit the box office, and it is a shame that it is not often recognized for this achievement. Does everything come down to action sequences, or visual perfection?

• To those who attack the use of Ahsoka, Anakin’s apprentice on Clone Wars, merely because she is not a Disney creation—would you rather Disney pretend she never existed?
• Ask yourself if Luke Skywalker really cared what form of lightsaber combat he was using as he dared to fight Vader for the first time. Do you think he paused on his way to Bespin to count his midi-chlorians first—you know, to make sure they were all there? Ask yourself if any of this was going through the heads of original fans.
• Have you ever felt the way you felt when Kanan first drew his lightsaber in the premier, though all Jedi were presumed dead? Do you ever recall a scene, even from Clone Wars, that was anything like it? Because these are the things that matter.

If you disparage Rebels because you dislike Disney, or feel gross because an ‘evil empire’ has taken control of your beloved saga, I hear you. What you feel toward Disney now is the way many other fans felt during the releases of episodes I-III, that something near and dear to you has been corrupted.

You may be proven right one day, and Star Wars may be stripped of its soul, downgraded to a cute theme park ride or something. But that day is not today. Hate to break it to anyone out there, but storytelling must be judged on its merits, not on what is attached to the project. And in case you’ve missed it, at this moment, Star Wars stories are thriving.


Book Review: Radical by Maajid Nawaz

I see you, London. Heathrow, immune from change during long spells of absence, oblivious to the distance of lovers, you seem to welcome me back with no less warmth than when I left. I see you, London.

The question one asks when reading autobiographical work is, I wonder if this guy’s really telling me the truth? I asked it when I began Radical by Maajid Nawaz.

But when you note how much of Nawaz’s life is documented, when you consider how often he has been ridiculed for talking about that life, indeed when you read in his own words that Radical is an act of diplomacy dressed in the disguise of storytelling, you can let that thought go, and enjoy when Hosni Mubarak and George W. Bush become the characters of a novel, his life’s journey becomes a plot, and his conclusions become literary.

“Literary” is the crux, isn’t it? If you’re aiming to learn more—or the very first thing—about political Islam, and how a person could go from a committed extremist (not to be confused with ‘terrorist’) to perhaps its most outspoken opponent, then read this book. Don’t wait. However, there is a lesser-discussed element to it. Not your typical educational value, and more than the aforementioned act of diplomacy.

One of the things I like about Maajid is that he helped to bring himself out of Islamist extremism by reading books. While held in Egypt’s brutal Mazrah Tora, he made the best use of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and all the horror and moral complexity we find in them. I like that Maajid has a fondness for Roald Dahl, and read C.S. Lewis as a boy.

You may consider his continuing references to Harry Potter (see “The Voldemort Effect” ). Maajid teaches us the power of “the narrative.”

The narrative of Radical takes us from racially-charged neighborhoods in the U.K., to London, Pakistan, Copenhagen, and Egypt—where, incidentally, they do as they please.

Maajid’s life as a rising member of Hizb al-Tahrir, one of the world’s most effective Islamist groups, is both frightening and human. His fall even more so, and I found this best captured in The Polemic, which is an unstoppable read of a chapter, and takes place soon after 9/11. The narrator is at the height of his belief in HT, if not the people who run it, and a heartbeat away (in storytelling terms) from his capture by Egyptian secret police. It is a favorite just from a standpoint of “the narrative.”

In an effort to further educate myself, I must have watched dozens of Maajid’s interviews and debates online, and a lot of unsavory related material. One of the most insidious narratives against the author is that, “He has always had an extreme personality. Why should you trust him now?”

The answer is that you don’t have to. Yet, if you got to know him first, maybe you’d see why many, many people do. The answer is a quote from George Eliot:

“The important work of moving the world forward does not wait to be done by perfect [people].”

Forgive me for once I went to weaken you even more, but through all your resilience I can now help with the cure. And so I went. I went to do what I could; fighting the very virus I had helped to sow deep within your veins.

The Rest of My Blogging Life

I’ve gone from active reader and passive-aggressive essayist to news addict currently wearing away the skin of his thumbs on the pages of Writer’s Market. The constant is genre fiction. But it isn’t right to come in and blow the dust off this thing every couple of months.

When you self-identify as ‘your own’ writer, when you belong to a group that has ‘always made up its own rules’ you don’t always know what the Hell’s going on in the rest of the world. When I wrote for independent comic people, and a not-so-independent newspaper blog, I felt more up to speed. To boot, I had so much fun getting into petty squabbles about local library funding, or the shenanigans of the Obama V McCain election.

The members of my writing group, ‘WYRMs,’ that is, are all wiser than I. They know how to focus, or retreat into the places that make them creatively great. I see them go on unimpressed or unassailed by the world outside. I’m the dim one. I’m the one fidgeting, interested in the rest of it, scratching at whatever’s beyond the glass.

When Gauntleteers come through your doors and remark, “Oh hey, that Quantum Physics Story Contest, Yo’ (direct quote) it makes you think. Actually, it makes you peer out the window again, and think, What else?

I know I hated being told I had to read a book. Now, I tell myself I have to write in this form or I may forget how. One thing to note of course is that I now love to read, and I’ve been absolutely consumed by the question of Commercial versus Talent. More recently, I’ve watched and admired those who advocate for free speech, and who write when it is flat-out dangerous to do so. See Raif Badawi.

This blog began as the obligatory ‘website presence’ every author is meant to have. But I don’t think I can stand that for much longer. I’m actually going to do what a writer is meant to, and put forth interesting content.

Or die trying, as the saying goes.

Or I could just rock a Live Journal like George R.R. Martin. You think?

#LJ Respect.

Mood: Sore
Current Music: “At the Bottom of Everything” by Bright Eyes
Currently Reading: Radical by Maajid Nawaz

Praise for Hyperion Cantos

It took me a while to find that one series every fan has, the one we all point to as our series. For a lot of people, it’s Harry Potter, or it’s Hunger Games. Some people have more than one series. I never had one until now. Now, I’m just like you.

Short stuff and standalones have always come easier to me, so enjoying a series seemed like kind of an aberration. I like a sense of oneness, and read for that well-crafted ending that comes after just the right amount of anticipation.

Then the Hyperion Cantos by Dan Simmons came into my life. (Those books that have been around for twenty some years, but only took me twenty some to find). I think it was the frame format that got me hooked on book one, initially, the homage it paid to The Canterbury Tales. Each chapter was a story belonging to a traveler. And the travelers? All connected to the planet Hyperion. They’re on their own pilgrimage, confronting the Shrike. It’s hard to say whether the Shrike is a character, an idea, a force of nature, or something else. That’s what makes meeting the ‘angel of final retribution’ so attractive. Some say the monster and religious icon isn’t real at all. It is simply unquantifiable.

The first book ends this way, just as the pilgrims get behind the curtain of time which hides the Shrike. “We’re off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz…”

It turns out that I didn’t mind at all that neither events, nor the futures of characters, were concluded in the first installment. The sequel took the shreds of cyberpunk and politics offered in the first book, and wove the tapestry. Then came characters like Ummon. Oh, Ummon, how could I ever hope to explain you? Although the second book does not have quite the craft, is not nearly as tight, it treats us to a payoff so satisfying that it conjured Childhood’s End. Brawne Lamia, John Keats, Sol, the Consul—I feel like I know them. So, I guess what I’m really trying to say is that the Cantos did what any good story was meant to. I have never read so fast in my life.

But here’s the rub. I can’t go on. I feel like I have to take some advice from another Goodreads reviewer. They warned not to read beyond The Fall of Hyperion, and I’ll be dammed if I’m going to. Just like I’ll be damned if I get too excited for the would-be television series about said books. If what follows is just not the same, or too many special things have changed, I don’t think I could take it. And if that doesn’t speak to how highly I think of the first two books of the series, maybe this will.

Reading the Cantos got me so excited about storytelling that it made me want to sit down and work. And I did. And I think it was Hyperion’s love for literary allusions that helped me write what I ended up with. Perhaps later, when I’m ready, I will finish the series. But for now, I can say my own story is finished. Ironic that two novels wanted me to put aside my novel-writing, and hammer out a short story. Whatever the case, I’m looking to shop that story soon, so look for Lugo while you can in a slushpile near you!

This is the Gauntlet

It’s time to forget all you thought you knew about writing contests. Why? Because WYRM’s Gauntlet, Literature’s challenge of legend, is back. We don’t ask for entry fees, and don’t even ask that you be particularly patient. We just ask for your best, and your commitment to take on our crazy rounds. It could be your year to survive. Learn more from our home away from home: WYRM’s Gauntlet.

Set your goals.

I’m doing the CW write-a-thon again! Here’s my writer profile, and a quick sample. This year, I’ll be sporting the WYRM serpent. With this symbol on my side, how can I fail? Steven Lugo


Interview with Planet Fulcrum’s Paul Dellow

Welcome to the human race.

This is a journey into the world of a unique online game, whose creator is gearing up for launch. As you’ll soon learn, Planet Fulcrum goes beyond turn-based combat and stats, and into the realm of pop culture and personality. Read on, and if you like what Paul Dellow has to say about his project, then donate to the Kickstarter campaign, up and running right now: Back Planet Fulcrum.

I’d love to learn a little about the developers, and your dream to create Planet Fulcrum. How many of you dreamers are there? When would you say this all started?

My role in Planet Fulcrum is founder, game designer, graphic designer and illustrator, and I have the support of two others when they can. Martin Carroll is the copywriter, and responsible for fleshing out the comic book storyline and prequel comic. Chris Pengelly is another designer who helped me produce the 2000 + items for the character creator system.

My background is in graphic design, and around 2008, after spending many a year advising others on how to go about building a brand, I wanted something for myself, but more of a pet project than a stake in the world. By chance I met an old friend who had told me he was selling comics on eBay but had to give up, as it was taking too much time with not much return. I said I’d be interested in taking on his stock and building my own online comic shop. Just to a. brush up on my coding, and b. reignite my childhood love for science fiction, comics, and cartoons. He gladly offered me over 1000 comic books to do with as I pleased. Awesome!

So in my spare time I built a shop, catalogued the comics, and uploaded all the information into the database. Ready to rock.

I called the store Planet Fulcrum – Center of the Comic Book Universe – and that got me thinking. Looking at my hoard of comics, and the varied genres from superheroes to zombies, G.I. Joes to Wizards and Warriors, I thought, what if Planet Fulcrum was more? A place where all these genres could meet and do battle, kind of a pop culture mashup in one game?

So I decided to sketch, draw, and write all my thoughts into an a5 note pad, positioning everything from gameplay to in-game eco-system and story outline.

Continue reading…

WYRM’s Gauntlet, the History Lesson

 WYRM’s Gauntlet

[looks over at his 2 subscribers] (Let’s see if we can’t get that number up by the end of this thing…)
[clears throat] In the beginning, there were writing contests. Yes. Some asked for entry fees, either turning the challenge into a business, or doing so to collect funds in a pot to be given to the winners later on. Others did not, but like their peers, asked hopeful writers to throw up a Hail Mary—one story—and the only thing that could determine their chance of victory, or their summary dismissal.

The contests offered publication in a market that perhaps you had heard of, or perhaps you had not, but which they encouraged you to purchase either way. Some did not offer this, but offered prize money instead. Some did not offer either, though the best of these ancient ‘writing contests’ offered both. Unfortunately, in all cases, hopeful writers endured a cold, distant relationship with their judges, who themselves worked for cold, distant publishing houses, or whose lack of interest betrayed their own goals of celebrity, and nothing more. Some rebelled, but it was safe to say that in these times, if you were a hopeful writer, it was better to be lucky than good.

There were writing workshops, bless them, institutions that were designed to grow writers, and hone their skills. However, in these dark ages of literature, vast sums of money were required to operate and visit these workshops, and new, idealistic writers were required to travel great distances to learn. Some received scholarships to attend. These individuals were both lucky and good.

The rest of them—the rest of us—were the damned.

With no other recourse, most turned to each other, and the 21st Century-style writing group was forged. One of these was WYRM, whose acronym ‘Where You Really Matter’ described both its frustration and its promise to writers like themselves, who did not come from privilege, and did not give up despite the times in which they were thrust.

Their focus, unlike their predecessors or even their peers, was to be on improving critique skills. For, while They can get away with saying beginners are not very good writers (at least not yet), They will never be able to claim that beginners are not capable of critical thinking.

One day, WYRM announced that a Gauntlet was coming, which presented the new contest format of critique and fiction-writing, and things were never the same.

Yes, there are still writing contests. There are still writing workshops. But none of them get down quite like this. Instead of the distant judges of yesteryear, you will be dealing with people who, like you, are not too far removed to relate to the struggle. (The struggle is real.)


Some key things:

WYRM’s Gauntlet is not a market for fiction, but a tournament for readers, writers, and critics of all skill levels.
• There is no entry fee.
• Not only do we offer cash prizes for three winners, we also offer an in-depth critique on a piece (short story or chapter) of the winners’ choice.
• You’ll have lots of fun.


I am now prepared to take your questions.

Non-Genre Review: Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown, 1970


This is the historical account that demanded the word ‘unflinching’ be invented.
Dee Brown’s Indian History of the American West was never a part of a curriculum for me, at any grade level. But when I became a high school grad who had set out to read things They would not have us read, this somewhat intimidating book came to my attention.
But it was only Michael Blake’s less-intimidating, if more involving, Dances With Wolves, that got me thinking of Bury My Heart… as the book I needed to read as soon as humanly possible. In the afterword of the novel, Blake references Brown’s book as the first of its kind, the one that dismissed the notion of savages so utterly, and educated us about the real hardships of the Lakota, Apache, Cheyenne, and all tribes. Blake also suggested that Crazy Horse, of the Lakota, might have been the greatest American to ever live. Does that do something to your American identity? It did something to mine.
The period of history covered is 1860-1890, is bloody, and is told in so honest a manner that one doesn’t think to do anything but take it as fact. Here’s how I know it’s fact: the Indians aren’t angels. The Indians make mistakes. There were traitors in nearly every tribe. And, despite all of their flaws, the reader can only root for them, and fear the whites, less for their invasion, and more for the atrocities they commit.
Among the chiefs we are introduced to: Sitting Bull, Cochise, Geronimo, Red Cloud, and Crazy Horse. Through their eyes, and oftentimes through their own words, we observe as their world gets smaller and smaller, and promise after promise is made, then broken.
Missing the Peltier incident by a scant five years, one cannot help to think of Bury My Heart… as at the very least a significant book, and Wounded Knee Creek a bitter symbol.
It will be difficult for you, prospective reader, to ever visit a national park, go hunting, or even admire nature, without first thinking of those who made it a way of life. You have their permission to think twice the next time someone would have you believe that all native people care about is your use of the word ‘Indian’ or renaming a football team. Maybe there is more to the story. Perhaps, a poverty-stricken reservation, or that Peltier sits in a federal prison today, means more to them. So any time you go fishing, see an endangered species list, catch a news story about the invasion of a faraway place, or hear “Crazy Life” play on the radio, maybe it will mean a little more to you.

Harly’s YouTube Channel, Inaugural Entry

I found this a little while ago, and it’s not some game; it really exists. So, I present this in the hope that we can live together on the internet in peace: Harly’s YouTube Channel.

I don’t share this just because it’s the channel of an author who influenced me, but because Harlan Ellison has had such a glorious love/hate relationship with the web for some time. I love the intent behind the channel, that the videos serve literary history, and are there for any curious person to pursue. I think that’s what is best about the web in the first place, it’s repository of knowledge.

For anyone who might be wondering, Harlan Ellison (author of “’Repent Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman”, writer for the original Star Trek, and the guy who inspired the Terminator franchise) has long made his opinions of the internet clear: that it gives a voice to lousy publishers and writers who would not otherwise have one, that it promotes piracy of his work and the work of other artists, and that it’s just something he has little time for. On the other hand, he has gone so far as to praise the wit of some goons who thought it would be funny to write him into fake chat rooms, and other internet situations, thanking them for all the laughs.

Bear all of that in mind as you soak up his wise commentaries, updates, and biting interviews from the 90s. I’d like to especially point you in the direction of his rant about the Disney movie Saving Mr. Banks, which may warrant a closer look as a piece of revisionist history. Whether you share in Ellison’s cynicism, or if you are discouraged from clicking because of just the opposite, I’d say this corner of the web definitely has value.

You don’t have to be a science fiction fan to enjoy some hilarious vids, or to learn new things, and I’m happy to make my first blog entry as a real live author about this unlikely channel. Good luck on your journey: Harly.