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Alfred Shortstaff and the Cavern of Time Second Edition!

I got around to reading Alfred Shortstaff and the Cavern of Time from cover to cover in print, which is a good medium to, sadly, find err...

Monday, November 7, 2016

Snippet: "The Fireweaver"

Inspiration, especially in writing, is a really weird and often frustrating thing. I wrote this snippet of a novel I intended to write almost two years ago, in the world my cousing and I created, Shaarzahn. I stumbled upon it today and am amazed at how intriguing it is. It draws me in immediately to the story and I'm dying to read more. I don't remember writing a lot of it. I remember having an idea, but not enough of one to assemble into an entire novel. Why did I stop writing? What made me stop where I did? Why can't I ever finish what I start? It's frustrating for me to find such radiant and pure gems buried in the sand, but gems that I know will likely never be cut into the shape they need to be to live their potential as refined, sparkling cut jewels. Well, at least I have material here in case whatever muse first whispered this story's beginnings to me ever chances to return.

- - -

ali An-destan drew his camel-wool cloak closer and shivered. It didn’t seem right to be up this late. Whether or not Zalir was smiling on him at this time in his life, he still felt the lack of the sun-god’s unmistakably powerful rays of sunlight. And being forced to remain not only awake, but outside, during the dark, cold night of the Kharazim desert was… unsettling, to say the least. The moon was out, but its light was cold, foreboding… like the sun-god’s jealous brother who could only mimic the glory of true sunlight.
            “Here they come,” said Hizan. Rali looked to where his friend was pointing. Sure enough, in the distant cold moonlight was a cloud of dust being kicked up by the hooves of four or five horses. Their riders were dark—black shadows against the bluish night sand, almost like extensions of the black of night itself. Rali felt a pang of fear shudder through him, but he tried to cover it.
            He looked at Hizan, trying to lighten the darkness with a smile. “No turning back now, right?”
            Hizan smiled back, but Rali could see fear behind his eyes. Hizan was a couple of years older than Rali, and a couple of inches taller. His own cloak pressed tightly against his bald head as he looked back toward the riders. “I guess not. You scared?”
            “Yes,” said Rali.
            “Me too,” admitted Hizan. He looked back at the dust cloud. The riders were already slowing, even though they were still a hundred or so yards away. “Do you think they see us?”
            Rali pulled out his long knife and a lump of flint from his pouch. He struck the two together, making brief sparks illuminate the air. The riders paused for a moment, then sped up again toward the two men.
            Rali pocketed the knife and flint, then closed his eyes, trying to swallow his fear. Why was he so jumpy? He had been through much more terrifying ordeals than this. Some of them in the past few days. And he had handled them beautifully, like he always had. Perhaps this was more of a “dread” sort of ordeal, though. Acting on impulse was always second-nature to Rali, but this stewing in impatient dread of what could happen was much worse.
            The riders finally arrived, stopping in front of Rali and Hizan. Rali closed his golden eyes once more, imagining himself in an alley, facing another thief. Time for talk. No fighting even… at least, he hoped not… just talk. He could handle that. He opened his eyes.
            One of the riders dismounted. His head was wrapped in a black camel-wool scarf, and he had an equally thick and dark vest over a linen tunic. His arms, however, were bare, and golden bangles shone in the light of the desert moon. Two unsheathed swords also shone, one at each hip, as well as a single orange gem on a golden chain around his neck.
            “Shouldn’t you be leaving the night watch to the Tibaa?” the man asked in a high, raspy voice.
            “They cannot be trusted,” said Hizan carefully, “for they shun the light that must be embraced.”
            The rider nodded at Hizan, then extended a hand to clasp his wrist. He reached to Rali, who shook it, nodding. His hand felt rough, as if it had been grated on rocks. Or perhaps scarred by holding the wrong end of a sword many times.
            The other riders dismounted. It turned out there were five of them, and they formed a sort of half-circle around the two men. They were dressed in cloaks, more like Rali and Hizan, except for their choice of black attire. They each also had two swords at their waists.
            “Hizan An-Tosif?” asked the head rider. Hizan raised his hand and bowed respectfully. “And Rali An-destan?” Rali mimicked the gesture.
            “Who do we address?” asked Rali, hoping he was acting the way he should.
            “You address Sharoh, the first-chosen of Zalir, brother,” said the head rider. “You will learn the names of these your four other brothers in time. For now, we must talk business. But first, shall we sit?”
            Rali looked at Hizan, who seemed relaxed. He tried to relax as well as they all sat cross-legged on the sand. They each pulled their cloaks up beneath themselves as they sat.
            “Now,” said Sharoh, removing the scarf from his face. “You know why I am here. I am here to bring you into the horde of the sun-god.” Sharoh’s face looked as rough as his hands were. He had a black goatee, but some parts of his chin were scarred where no hair grew. “I have heard of your… inexperienced thefts in Ptaliram, which is why I sent Zalir’s second-chosen to reveal to you my intentions to recruit you. The question is, why are you here?”
The two men hesitated. Rali spoke first. “We wish to accept your recruitment, sir.”
Sharoh’s golden eyes flashed at Rali. “There is no sir,” he said as Rali’s spine turned to ice, “but Zalir.”
“Yes… brother,” said Rali.
Sharoh smiled, the fire in his eyes immediately gone. “You wish to accept? Fine enough, but why? Why leave the town of your birth, your houses you call home, your thieving routes, your reputations? Surely you’ve worked hard to become the clandestine thieves you are. You have avoided the capture of the amin, or else you would be dangling from the ropes on the Tree of Thieves right now. As far as my men have gathered, you aren’t even suspected or wanted men. For all the amin knows, you are upstanding citizens who do good for the community.”
Hizan spoke next, leaving Rali relieved. “You flatter us, brother, but we are not as silent as you say. The amin is indeed suspicious of us, and were it not for your timely arrival, we may have been making our last few robberies before being strung up.”
The head rider smiled. “Ah, so it is out of desperation that you accept my invitation?”
“N-no! That is…” Hizan fought for words.
“What he means is, Zalir be praised that you have come to take us to our next station in life,” said Rali. “It truly is by providence’s hand that this opportunity has presented itself.”
Sharoh nodded assent. “Perhaps. It is common for Zalir to shine upon those who hide in the shadows. Perhaps he has seen it fit to bring us together for mutual benefit.”
Hizan nodded, bowing his head again.
“What, brother, is this mutual benefit?” asked Rali.

“Yes, I have been a bit vague about it, haven’t I?” said Sharoh. “I accept your reasons for joining, and will now explain. In the palace, in the Grand City, there is a man who Zalir sees fit to dispose of. He has grown fat on the money of those who serve him, but his real sin lies with the Tibaa.” 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Relic Story: Mr. Arrow

I stumbled upon this as I was looking through my old WordPerfect documents. It's not a bad story for a thirteen-year-old. The actual metaphor for the entire thing being a computer is a tad clumsy, but I like the pacing and flow of the plot. The inspiration from the story comes from my family's computer's tendency of basically never working. The CD Rom was always having issues, and at the time of this piece, we had a virus or Spyware on our computer. The ending is a reference to my brother Redge calling my uncle, a computer wizard, who walked him through the steps of eliminating the virus.

Mr. Arrow

Mr. Arrow walked up the stairs into the main desktop. Many doors lined the walls, and each had a label. He pulled a list of instructions out of his pocket and read his task again. He wiped the sweat from his brow and walked past several working processors. They greeted him, but he paid them no heed.
Finding a door that read “Port C,” he slowly made his way into and through its corridor. After reading his instructions a few more times and following the directions through the winding maze, he found himself in a room with no more hallways branching out from it. Nervously, he began to root through the crates surrounding the walls. He noticed one that was blotched and reddish, as if someone had spray painted red paint on it, and began to search it. Suddenly his heart skipped a beat. He had found it! A large black card that read Spy-Warehouse Inc. As he pulled the card out of the crate, a red sticky film peeled off that had been attached to the inside of the crate. Mr. Arrow wiped the card on his shirt and turned it over in his hand, reading the details of it. All of a sudden, as he walked slowly towards the door, absorbed in the details of the card, he bumped into a Motherboard executive.
“Just what do you think you’re doing?” the huge, red-faced executive boomed in his face.
“This card shouldn’t be here,” Mr. Arrow said, trying to cover his nervousness.
“Excuse me?”
“It was not imported here by normal means,” Mr. Arrow explained. “Mr. Norton thinks it may be corrupting the factory. In fact, it was spreading reddish film all over the stuff in—”
“It’s not your responsibility. If you think we have corruption in the factory, you should speak to an executive like myself,” the massive man growled. “You could be banished for coming in here without proper authority.”
“But sir, I had to act quickly. Why, if something like this went unfixed, the entire—”
“Let me see that card!” the executive’s muscular arm snatched the black card from Mr. Arrow’s hand. The executive read the details over a couple times, then he chuckled. “This is an important file. I wouldn’t dream of having this file gotten rid of. In fact, Mr. Arrow, while you’re here, make copies of this and have it distributed throughout the factory.”
He handed Mr. Arrow the card and walked away.
Mr. Arrow reluctantly went to the copier in the corner of the room and made two copies. He put one in a crate, and was surprised to find out that it began to excrete red liquid on the other files, crossing out certain words to change the instructions completely. He took the copies of the card and dashed out of the room.
As he began to find his way out of the complex, a voice crackled on the intercom, “Illegal access at Port C / Documents / MyFiles...” and began to list the path at which Mr. Arrow resided. He tried to open the door up a level, but the handle jammed. “Let me out! Let me out!” he cursed, jangling the handle. Executives began running out of rooms with pistols.
“Put down the card!” they yelled, but Mr. Arrow pulled out a portable cutting torch from his pocket and began to burn open the door. Screaming in anger, the executives began firing bullets in Mr. Arrow’s direction. Luckily, Mr. Arrow’s optic boots allowed him to zip around the room, dodging their shots. When they all stopped to reload their pistols, Mr. Arrow found enough time to break the door down. He dashed out into the main desktop, fleeing his pursuers.
“Get out of my way! Stop the executives!” he yelled to the processors, who obeyed him and began to fight the executives.

Mr. Arrow found the door that read “Recycle Bin” above it, and sprinted inside as fast as he could. He quickly dragged the cards into the bin amongst the other useless files inside and pushed the button that said Empty.
A robotic voice inquired, “Are you sure you want to delete these 62 items?”
He quickly punched yes and waited for it to empty.
To his dismay the voice said, “Cannot delete ‘SpyWare.exe’. Access is denied.”
He cried out and grabbed the cards. As quickly as possible, he ran into the main desktop and looked for the doorway that said “Add/Remove.” Finding it, and gratefully acknowledging the processors’ detaining the executives, he ran in.
He quickly accessed the inventory list of everything in the factory, and found “Spy-Warehouse Inc. files.” When he activated it, a large crane pulled all the cards from Spy-Warehouse Inc. into the large vat in front of the list. He typed in REMOVE, but the programs persisted. “Are you sure you want to delete the files from SpyWare?”
Are you sure? If you remove these files, you will not receive the benefits it gives.
Suddenly Mr. Arrow became aware of a beating on the door behind him.
Removing SpyWare will make it so you will not have the benefits such as
l free Internet access
l improved CPU usage
l etc.
Last chance to change your mind. Delete SpyWare?
Mr. Arrow’s heart began to pound as another reading came up and the door began to give way.
The benefits of free Internet access, improved CPU usage, and etc. will be deleted. Continue?
At last, the computer gave in.
The door’s hinges popped out, and angry voices began yelling through the hole between the frame and the bent door.
Mr. Arrow tried to prop things against the door, but he didn’t have much time.
“Give us the card!” murderous voices shrieked.
Mr. Arrow knew it wasn’t long now until the executives could get in. What was worse, they were beginning to shoot and cut at the door with their weapons.
All of a sudden, a deafening explosion rattled the entire factory. The vat that the files were in had combusted, and particles of the files were beginning to float upward into nothingness. The files were deleted. The viruses had not corrupted the computer.

The executives suddenly snapped into their wits as the door came crashing the ground. They all began to retch horribly, and the vomit on the ground was red. It dissolved into pixels, which the wounded processors began to automatically take into the Recycling Bin room.
Realizing what they had done, the executives apologized profusely. Obviously, the virus had corrupted them, as well as the files.
A hologram appeared in the room. It was Mr. Norton.
“Well done, Mr. Arrow,” he said warmly. “The viruses were deleted, and my team is now going to begin fixing up the infected files. Thank you for saving the computer.”

“Is that it?” Redge asked into the phone.
“That should do it,” Scott told him.
“Alright. Thanks again, Scott,” Redge said gratefully.
“No problem.”
 Redge moved the mouse, and Mr. Arrow clicked on ‘Restart Now.’ the computer would be all back to normal soon.


Monday, October 24, 2016

Short Story: Cold

Austin Ballard

It was a cloudless morning, for the first time this year. Like many of his cabin fever-ridden neighbors, Peter hoped the long winter was finally over—the longest and earliest winter in forty years, the news had said.
   Peter’s snow boots crunched on the frosty grass as he lugged his load to the edge of the pond. He dropped his lunchbox, ice saw, and lawn chair still in its bag onto the ground, then hefted his shovel. He walked up to the edge of the frozen pond, up to the familiar spot by the willow with its hanging tendrils frozen in the water.
   Peter didn’t bother being careful when stepping on the ice. He walked right onto the familiar sheet near the willow and stomped down hard. Nothing happened. He took the shovel and speared the ice with its spade. The ice didn’t so much as chip. It was just too hard.
   Peter let out a long, white breath that billowed into the wind. He pulled his scarf over his shoulder and peered out over the pond toward the pines on the other side. A couple of premature geese honked as they flew over the fog. Even animals seemed to have been caught off guard by the unnaturally cold winter.
   Peter looked down at the ice again. It had frozen so quickly that it had gotten an odd, milky quality to it, like mottled quartz or frosted glass. Still, Peter thought he could see a bubble in a darker part of the ice. Maybe today was the day after all.
Peter trudged off the shore to the grass and set up his lawn chair. He sat on the canvas seat and looked out over the pond. Another goose honk echoed through the air.

“It’s getting cold!”
“I’m coming!” Peter grumbled as he stepped down the stairs. He turned the corner down the hall and entered the kitchen. Hannah sat at the table with her arms folded, a stern expression on her face.
Peter sat down across from her and took a fork, and then sighed. “Egg whites? Really?”
“It’s healthier.”
“I don’t care. I need filling food. I should’ve just made breakfast myself. Now I’ll have to pick up something on the way just to stay full for work.”
“Oh, I wanted to tell you, don’t use the debit card for a while. I ordered the inventory for DressMiss.”
Peter dropped his fork onto his plate. “You what?”
“I know it’s a lot, but it’s an investment. You said it’d be a good supplement to our income.”
“Hannah, I said we needed to talk about it more before you dropped $5,000 on dresses!” Peter said loudly.
“It’s actually $5,600, and, and—” she said, holding up a finger as Peter opened his mouth, “I told you I’ll make it all back in four months! I’ve already got a sales party scheduled for next weekend. I’ve thought a long time about this, and it’ll be something good to keep me busy and make money for us.”
“Fifty-six hundred…” Peter scoffed, eating a bite of his omelet. “I work and save all summer and come back and you spend it all.”
“I’ll make it back,” said Hannah irritably. “Just support me in my desire to work and stop being a jerk about it.”
Peter glared at her. “I don’t see us ever buying a house together at this rate.”


Peter smiled as he swiped on his iPhone app. $230. Not a bad start to the day. Why hadn’t he been this good at gambling when he had tried it years ago? Perhaps he simply hadn’t been mature enough yet. He was so young back then, when he and Hannah had just gotten married.
Peter looked over the pond again. The sun was definitely warmer now—still not a cloud in sight—and the day was turning into the loveliest one he had seen all year. The morning frost had already faded from the grass, and Peter had taken off his scarf a half hour ago. If today’s sun didn’t thin the ice, Peter didn’t know what he’d do. Despite his remarkable earnings, he’d spent too many days out here by himself, it seemed.


Peter briskly opened the gas station door and walked toward the liquor section. He threw open the refrigerated door and started pulling random bottles into his arms. Foster’s, Heineken, lager… he didn’t know if they were brands or flavors or what. He didn’t care.
Peter brought the clinking bundle to the counter and pulled out his driver’s license and wallet.
“Debit or credit?” asked the clerk.
Peter brought the sack of alcohol to the car, pounded on the steering wheel with his fist, and screamed. Four months he had worked while Hannah was watching TV and eating home-cooked meals with her mom, just so they could save up for a new life somewhere else. And she was throwing away her $5,600 investment after one party? It was this type of shortsightedness that had started their marriage off so poorly in the first place, but twice was just too much.
Peter opened bottles and drank the bitter, burning liquor from them as he drove. He hoped a cop would arrest him so he could have somewhere else to sleep tonight. But no cars in the dark streets so much as slowed or blinked their headlights at him. He sped to his neighborhood and parked halfway onto the lawn. Hannah’s car wasn’t there yet.
Peter drank some more in the car, coughing and nearly gagging from the taste. He had never drunk before, and now he didn’t understand why anyone would. But he kept drinking anyway.
Eventually, Peter got out of the car and walked into the cold garage. Small snowflakes were beginning to fall. Peter vaguely thought that seemed odd for this time of year, but there was a fog behind his eyes that made it hard to think. He grabbed a shovel and took it inside the front door.
Peter waited.

Peter had waited long enough. A sheen of melted water had covered the pond, making it blinding in the noonday, spring sunlight. He took his shovel and walked next to the willow again. This time he was careful as he walked out onto the ice. He stomped the wet ice with his foot, and heard a thick shifting sound as white cracks appeared over the surface of the pond. Peter smiled. He hit the ice with his shovel and was pleased to see that it cut a sizeable crack.
Peter peered into the ice below the willow. He had been stupid to throw Hannah’s body into the pond that night, no matter how drunk he’d been. But how could he have known the pond would freeze that very night? It had been the earliest winter in forty years. Snow had covered the pond for most of the winter, but still, the thought of her being here out in the open for anyone to stumble on had been terrifying.
Peter ran back to his chair to grab the ice saw, almost giddy with relief. Now that the long winter was over, he could finally rest.

(1200 words)

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Movie Review: The Jungle Book (2016)

For the most part, I've been pretty impressed with Disney's recent fever of putting a modern spin on their old classics and making them unique through exploring different characters' points of view. I enjoyed Maleficent, as it focused on the villain's point of view and explored an alternate storyline and a different meaning of the word "love" that goes beyond the cliché. And from what I hear (I haven't seen it quite yet), Cinderella does a great job of tying up some plot threads that the original cartoon left loose, adding valuable and meaningful character motivations along the way.

Unfortunately, the 2016 remake of The Jungle Book not only falls short on achieving any of these positive reasons to remake a movie—it fails to even provide a cohesive plot or character development, making for a confusing, clichéd, wholly unsatisfying film that, in my opinion, did not deserve the "widespread acclaim" it got from critics.

The movie starts by playing the same mysterious oboe tune the original intro starts with, which was my first surprise. Was this going to be an exact remake of the original, or a different take like the other films? Maleficent had a wholly unique soundtrack that I actually liked better than the movie itself, but already the movie seemed to be pandering to the audience's nostalgia, as if pleading for them to look past the plot the movie was going to present and just enjoy a walk down memory lane instead.

Honestly, I don't remember much of the beginning of the movie. It's extremely rushed and seems mainly designed to show the audience just how heavy the CGI in the film is. Though the CGI is technologically impressive and the animals' fur looks realistic, the animals lack both beastlike and humanlike looks, making them look unnatural and unemotional. It's disappointing to think that behind it all, Mowgli is the only real character, running and climbing around in a bluescreen studio. I recognize that many movies rely a lot on bluescreen technology nowadays, but this movie seemed to almost brag that Neel Sethi is the only human character in the entire movie as if it were some sort of revolutionary choice on Disney's part. In reality, it makes it very hard to connect with anyone in the film.

The villain, Shere Khan the tiger, is introduced to the film early on, and is quickly and forcefully presented in a dark light so as to engender the audience's hatred against him. It was honestly somewhat conflicting for me as the viewer to hear Shere Khan, who was actually bringing up a reasonable argument against keeping Mowgli around because of the danger of him growing up and burning down the jungle, be rebuked and cowered to by the other animals. The writers of the film seemed to undermine their own reasons for having a villain—they put a modern spin and motivation on Shere Khan's personality while also yielding to old-fashioned clichés of good vs. evil into his psyche for no reason. I was easily swayed to Shere Khan's side through his logic, and his evil appearance did nothing to bring me back. I would have been wholly satisfied if the man-cub had been brought to his man-village and been completely separated from the animal kingdom. Even if that argument had not been brought up, Shere Khan's motivation was based on the fact that his face had been burned by a man (who turns out to be, not surprisingly, Mowgli's father) years before—so of course he would be against the idea of man having a place in the jungle. I'm not saying the Shere Khan in the original Jungle Book cartoon is any more compelling as a villain, but it seems to me that the most important thing here would be consistency—they should have focused either on a believable villain character who was forgiven or redeemed at the end of the movie, or a cruel one that you felt good about seeing die in the end. Disney did neither, and Shere Khan, the driving conflict of the plot, fails as a worthy villain in the story.

After learning a strange unexplained subplot of the elephants of the jungle revered as gods, Mowgli soon encounters Kaa, who is female in this adaptation. Through means unknown, she knows all about Mowgli's story, and somehow gives him a vision of it while seducing him into a position where she can eat him. The scene exists purely for exposition and nothing more, and like every other episodic interaction in the movie, it is extremely rushed and feels unsatisfying when it's over. I think the original movie's position of making Mowgli's origins unknown was the wiser approach. Mowgli doesn't seem to care one way or another how he got abandoned, so we as the audience don't either. This makes the entire encounter with Kaa, like many elements in the movie, nothing more than a nod back to the original cartoon.

The next character Mowgli encounters is Baloo, voiced by Bill Murray. I didn't mind Baloo's character development at first, but his episode did end on a completely forced and unrealistic note: After Baloo and Mowgli spend a montage stealing lots of honey together using Mowgli's technological "tricks" (which is actually one twist on Mowgli's character I did enjoy), Bagheera informs Baloo that Shere Khan is hunting Mowgli down. Rather than simply telling Mowgli this, Baloo makes himself the martyr and needlessly destroys his friendship with Mowgli by saying "Do I have to spell it out for you? I don't want you around anymore." I could not believe that Disney would stoop to adding pointless drama to the story through this line. Of course Mowgli storms off thinking he has no friends to turn to, and Baloo saying to Bagheera "That was the hardest thing I've ever had to do" was utterly laughable when a clear, logical alternative to handling the situation was obvious. I love fantasy films and media, and I can easily get into stories where "unreal" things like talking animals are commonplace, but character interactions in my opinion are the trump card—a character doing something just for the sake of moving the plot along or blatantly creating fake emotional drama kills my suspension of disbelief faster than anything else.

And then comes the character that is most absurd of all, in my opinion: King Louie. Mowgli is brought to an ancient temple by the monkeys of the jungle, and in a completely overdone scene of mystery and a heavily clichéd reveal, Louie (voiced by Christopher Walken), makes odd, indirect small talk with Mowgli behind shadows, finally revealing himself to be not an adorable scatting orangutan, but a colossal gigantopithecus. Now, to be fair, King Louie was not a character found in Rudyard Kipling's original short stories, so Disney had every right to take liberties, but the fact that Louie is a twelve-foot-tall ape completely ruins his purpose in the original story and in this one. Everyone's heard the old joke "Where does a 500-pound gorilla sleep? Anywhere he wants." Being twelve feet tall, Louie likely weighs about 3,600 pounds, using the cubic scaling law. Why on earth would Louie a) "want to be like [Mowgli]," and b) need fire to rule the jungle? Baloo even marvels at his legendary size. It doesn't help my enjoyment of his character that he spontaneously bursts into song in front of Mowgli, even going so far as to (appropriately) rhyme "gigantopithecus" with "ridiculous." Is this a musical or isn't it? Baloo sang his obligatory "Bare Necessities" earlier in the film, but at least he gave an explanation (though lazily undeveloped) of his love of music to Mowgli. Louie's character is utterly pointless, and he was clearly used exclusively by Disney as nothing more than a source of shock value and a chance for another scary animal to chase and narrowly miss killing Mowgli and instead crush himself in his own temple's rubble (but don't worry, kids, the invincible "fire-needing" ape emerges unscathed in the end credits for an unfitting reprise of "Wanna Be Like You").

The rest of the movie is a blur of ridiculous resolution. Mowgli, finding out that his surrogate father Akela was killed, decides to confront Shere Khan by doing exactly as the tiger had predicted—stealing fire from the man-village and carelessly burning down half of the jungle on his way back (which appears to take about an hour, despite his original journey taking days). When Shere Khan points out that he was completely right all along, the jungle animals look forlornly at Mowgli, but do they logically accept that he is too dangerous to live with them? No! They instead inexplicably side with him against the tiger! Is Shere Khan a ruthless tyrant? Sort of. But killing one wolf alpha and slightly brainwashing his cubs pales in comparison to Mowgli utterly torching an entire section of the jungle and the beasts within it. Shere Khan's utter confusion at their stand against him mirrored my own as they charged at him, buying time for Mowgli to "fight him like a man."

Apparently, fighting someone like a man in the movie meant running away to a burning tree, luring Shere Khan onto a conveniently broken branch, and swinging to safety on a hastily-made rope swing. I was disappointed that this scene even included monologuing by Shere Khan, on top of everything else. And the CGI almost makes you forget that fire is not the only danger in those situations—fleeing into a burning thicket would have caused Mowgli to succumb to smoke inhalation very quickly.

In the end, the animals somehow find it in their overly lenient hearts to forgive Mowgli, and rather than accepting his place as a true man for what he has done, Mowgli instead decides that his true place is with the animals, tricks and all. This, along with the female wolf Raksha ridiculously becoming the new alpha to shoehorn in some feminist propaganda made the ending of the movie entirely unsatisfying to me. What is the theme here? That you can be whatever you want? That you shouldn't listen to others? That you should? Just the fact that Disney made this movie was probably enough to make it a success. If any other studio made a film this rushed and CGI-laden, acclaim would have been replaced by harsh criticism.* Even existing critics' reviews of the film seem to be based on such empty praise as "it handsomely revives the spirit of Disney's original film," so it's anyone's guess how this muddled film would have done on its own as a lone release by a different studio, or if it didn't have an all-star cast. Even with the older Disney film in mind, any theme in the 1967 cartoon is lost in this adaptation, leaving this version unconvincing, uninspiring, and ultimately, unnecessary.

*See Warcraft (2016 film)

Monday, September 19, 2016

WarCraft Easter Eggs: All the Rest

Well, my journey through the Warcraft 3 Easter eggs has come to an unofficial end. I've found pretty much every secret there is to find, I hope. Below are the two "addendum" videos that showcase all the ones I missed during my first pass through all the campaigns. After this, I have ideas for two more videos, one about the models in the game and the other about the interface icons, so I'll get to work on those at some point in the future. But as far as the campaigns go, these secrets were all really awesome to find.

>> goo.gl/rKN0aA <<


Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Alfred Shortstaff and the Cavern of Time Second Edition!

I got around to reading Alfred Shortstaff and the Cavern of Time from cover to cover in print, which is a good medium to, sadly, find errors! Gah! There were at least 40 changes I had to make to the text itself, and then I ended up re-typesetting the entire book because I realized that the spacing on the chapters bothered me. How embarrassing. Well, if you've bought the book already, you now own a rare first-edition copy!

The book is now updated on Amazon if you'd like to own a cleaner version (I know I do). No plot changes were implemented (except a few very minor changes to dialog), however, so if the book you own doesn't bother you, I see no reason to spend more money on a new one. Now that the initial launch of Alfred is over, I've lowered the price to its bare minimum, $6.60. That's right—I will no longer receive any royalties whatsoever from the book. I just want people to read it now (I was only making like $0.50 per purchase anyway).

But wait, there's more! Now I'm offering Alfred and the Cavern of Time as an exclusive, free PDF for all Pretzel Lectern readers! Simply click here to get to my official Alfred page and download it. If you'd like more updates about Alfred Shortstaff, consider liking its Facebook page here.

I hope you enjoy the book, and please consider writing a review on Amazon for it when you've read it. Please don't give it 5 stars! It's not a 5-star book. It has several flaws. I myself am the author and I would only give it 4 stars, so please be as honest as possible as you review the book. With so many other self-published nobodies putting their weird fantasy books online, I want people to know the good and the bad of it so they can know whether it's worth their time.

Thanks! This has been an awesome and fun experience for both my cousin and me.

Friday, July 29, 2016

The Lord's Prayer in Anglo-Saxon

I've been fascinated with Old English/Anglo-Saxon since I took a course in college (I wish I could've taken the second course and read Beowulf all the way through, but in retrospect it probably would've been extremely stressful and difficult). I decided on a whim to use my memorization skills to memorize the Lord's Prayer. I think it could be a fun thing to brag that I can do. It was fun, and it helped me understand the grammar of Anglo-Saxon quite a bit.