The Official Blog of Author Tristan Vick
The Chainmail Bikini Sword Women of Fantasy and Science Fiction -- The Birth of the Female Action Heroine
Do you know the fascinating history behind the chain mail sword-women sub-genre of sword and sorcery fantasy fiction?
It all began in a land, long long ago.
The character Red Sonja was one of the first heroines depicted in a chain mail bikini. Why a metal bikini? Because the artists of the 30s, 40s, and 50s--a time when cheesecake pinup girls and bombshell girls were dominating pop-art--depicted women as hypersexualized super-babes. The ideal male fantasy, so to speak.
This excerpt from Conan.com helps to clarify:
"The pneumatic Red Sonja, of chain mail bikini and Brigitte Nielsen fame, was created in 1973 by Roy Thomas and Barry Smith..." and that "Boris Vallejo’s artistic genius helped ensure that her outfit became a cheesecake fantasy cliché. Red Sonja is very much a creation of her time..."
The key phrase being a creation of her time.
She was a 30's supporting character brought into prominence as a comic book character, a visual medium which incorporated the cheesecake fantasy of hypersexualized, powerful women.
Indeed, there is a lingering hypersexualized and exploitative nature of the chain mail bikini outfit and its relationship to cheesecake pinup art. I've never denied this. But, when it comes to identifying your genre, this is one of the established genre tropes that won't likely change anytime soon.
Why won't it change? Because like ray guns or magic wizards, it was one of the very pillars the Sword and Sorcery and Space Fantasy genres were built upon. It is an aesthetic that has remained the same for 86 some odd years.
The trend of depicting powerful fantasy women as ideal women continued into the art of the book covers for Sword and Sorcery fantasy beginning with the work of Robert E. Howard.
Nearly 95% of the readership of the sorts of fantasy magazines Howard was published in was male, so many of the stories featured a naked woman swooning and falling into the arms of Conan. This wasn't Howard's choice but the publisher's who wanted to take advantage of advertising to their male demographic.
Some time later, heroines such as Jirel of Joiry and Dark Agnes would done the infamous metal bikinis as well. And, of course, my Jegra Alakandra character wears the same as an homage to chain mail bikini heroines of the sword and sorcery classics.
My Gladiatrix of the Galaxy series revolving around the exploits of my gladiatrix heroine, Jegra Alakandra, takes place on a desert world and in the sandy arena. She's, as I mentioned, a gladiatrix (e.g., female gladiator) and is made to wear provocative and revealing clothes.
A female reader once wrote me an angry letter demanding I explain why I made Jegra fight in a bikini. I tried to explain that historically speaking, female gladiators were forced to fight in the nude. So, actually Jegra is overdressed.
Even so, this didn't seem to matter to her, because in her mind I wasn't writing a historical fiction. I was writing sci-fi. But, that just goes to highlight the misunderstanding. I'm writing a gladiator story, and I did my research because you want to reflect what kind of genre you're writing in, the world building of your story, and in the types of clothes and look of your characters.
If, for example, you dressed them up in something else other than skimpy clothes and cool armor that doesn't serve any greater purpose than to look kickass, then it wouldn't be a gladiator story anymore. It would be, well, something else.
Another complaint I often get is that a metal bikini couldn't be comfortable because metal bras aren't comfortable. But that is just a criticism from people who haven't looked much into fashion design enough to know that cosplayers design breast-plates that are highly comfortable. Bras and bikinis aren't the same thing, and in the world of fashion everything has its own purpose, including whether it is about utility or merely style.
But the criticism that a bikini is too sexy or too revealing is just a strange thing for someone to say. Who appointed you arbiter of the scales of primate sexiness?
If you don't want to see a bikini on the beach, then don't go to the beach. Catsuits are revealing too, and if you don't want to see a woman's figure, don't go to conventions where there are lots of women cosplaying characters with catsuits.
Besides, if we fight for the right for women to wear what they want at the beach or at comic cons, then shouldn't we allow the same right for fictional women too? One might offer the rebuttal, but you're a man writing a woman, so it doesn't count. You've obviously dressed her up.
Yes, but within accordance to what the genre dictates. After all, that's the whole point of gladiatorial fights in the first place--the sheer spectacle. If I wasn't staying true to that, then you'd have a generic action story. But the trimmings matter.
Regardless of what I might think, however, there are those who will still disagree with me. That's fine. But their disagreement doesn't change my love of pulp-fiction, exploitation cinema, or the fact that I pay homage to these in my own storytelling and art which incorporates these elements. If you want to make women's equality matter, then stop dictating what they can and cannot wear.
A few months back I had one woman reader tell me she wouldn't read my book because the woman on the cover had a bikini on and so she knew a man obviously wrote it. That's actually a sexist attitude to have and it's one I strongly disagree with.
Just think of the contra-argument of saying you wouldn't read Harry Potter because a middle-aged woman had written about the life of a young boy which she couldn't possibly understand or comprehend--not being a boy and all.
Not only is such a position disrespectful to the author, it promotes a double standard of it being okay for women to criticize male writers but not okay for males to criticize women writers for the same reasons.
Imagine if droves of men started boycotting Romance books because the women authors only have half naked, bare-chested hunks on their covers that promote a false stereotype of masculinity and male beauty. If you can see the absurdity with that, then you can understand my point of view a little bit better.
And, I know it's not an apples to apples comparison. Women have historically been oppressed by the patriarchal norms of male-dominated society. I get it. And there are parts of culture and society where sexism is invasive and runs rampant. But, my point is, bikinis unto themselves aren't inherently sexist.
If I were a woman, I'd gladly wear a bikini to the beach on a blazing hot day without any shame. I'd wear what I want and what felt most comfortable given that climate and that environment. The sexist part doesn't even enter the equation.
But for Jegra, she doesn't have that level of freedom. She's a slave and a gladiator. She is told to wear that bikini, and to be provocative, and to go out and entertain. The very fact that she can't wear anything but that damn metal bikini is sort of the point. Because she then takes that persona of hers and turns it into a symbol of hope--just as Spartacus did in ancient Rome when he liberated the slaves and rebelled against the Roman Republic.
Spartacus never put on Roman armor. No. He maintained his gladiatorial persona the whole time. Why? Because the slaves saw a slave like them stand up to the man. In my series, Jegra does wear lots of different outfits, but when she goes into battle, she puts back on that metal bikini--for the same reasons Spartacus wore his gladiatorial armor when going into battle against Marcus Crassus. So that all would bare witness to a slave toppling kings.
I'm sorry if Jegra's bikini turns women readers away. Making women uncomfortable was never my intent. I try very hard to write real women who are portrayed realistically and with sincerity. I was raised by a single mother, am happily married to a woman who is a wonderful mother and wife, and have a daughter and two sons.
I was once asked why I write predominantly strong female characters in all of my stories and my answer has always been the same.
I write powerful women to honor them and inspire all the little girls to come. Also, I firmly believe that representation matters. For every ten male action heroes you can name, you will find yourself hard pressed to name even a handful of women heroines in the same genre.
Nowhere is this truer than in the Sword & Sorcery and pulp fantasy and science-fiction genres. Off the top of my head I can think of Conan, Thongor, Thundarr, He-Man, Tarzan, Kazar, John Carter, Flash Gordon, Thor, the Incredible Hulk and the list goes on.
How many women heroines can you think of in this genre? We know of Red Sonja, right?
If you're a huge fan of the genre you might think of a couple more. Jirel and Dejah Thoris, perhaps. But that's about the extent of it. Of the well known women heroines we know of by name, we can think of a total whopping sum of three.
Sure, there are probably more. But you have to delve deep into a genre dominated by masculine super-men to find the few women recognizable by name. So, I wrote a strong female heroine warrior goddess because, as I said, representation matters.
And its this representation of women heroines in chain mail bikinis like Dark Agnes, Red Sonja, Dejah Thoris and Jirel that helped bring an end to the misogyny in science-fiction and fantasy publishing.
These strong women heroines helped pry open the doors for women authors and female readership. Because, at the end of the day, the publishers and editors who were certain nobody would want to read stories about strong, capable heroines were simply wrong.
Women and men alike enjoyed the stories starring leading women and the demand only grew from there.
I've been criticized for depicting Jegra in a bikini on the covers of my books. But, this has more to do with writing to market and genre recognition.
A feminist wrote to me the other day suggesting I change all my covers and cover Jegra up with some actual clothes. But, as I said above, that would have only changed the appearance of the genre. It would have signaled a different set of tropes to readers who would have been disappointed to open the book and find a story about a gladiator instead of a armored up super-soldier, which speaks more to military sci-fi.
And gladiators wore, well, comparatively very little in the way of functional armor. Although they were skilled warriors, their armor was never meant for protection. It was, and always has been, a spectator sport. They were dressed for spectacle.
And that's the genre I'm telling my story in because I love pulpy sci-fi and space-fantasy.
I just so happened to want a strong female protagonist, a real heroine people could get behind because there weren't many warrior women like her. Xena, Wonder Woman, She Hulk and a handful of others.
As the only human in the story, I wanted Jegra to feel real. She burps, she farts, she has to take a piss at the most inopportune times--because in this world full of aliens, I wanted to have a running commentary on what it means to be an imperfect human being rising above one's imperfections and striving to become something better.
My point is, Jegra doesn't wear a bikini because I wanted a cheesecake pinup girl. No, she wears a bikini because that's what the genre and story dictate she wears.
And if you don't like that particular genre, fine. Nobody is forcing you to read it. And nobody is forcing you to provide inaccurate commentary that willfully ignores nearly 90 years worth of history regarding this kind of genres and its various tropes either.
If you want to criticize cheesecake pinups, for example, which so often depict a nubile young woman as little more than eye-candy to appease the male fantasy, then go right ahead.
But just realize, Jegra is not a cheesecake pinup girl and never has been. She's never put in such compromising positions as that. She wears a metal bikini, sure, but every cover depicts her in a strong action-oriented pose. She's always fighting an opponent and showing off her prowess as a warrior. It's a celebration of feminine power and beauty without being made into a mere object for men to fantasize about.
If you love powerful women, though, then there's plenty to fantasize about.
Because, even as she's no pinup girl, she most certainly is an idealized fantasy. But what hero or heroine isn't?
I'm lucky in that, these days, there is a general acceptance of strong, female heroes and heroines, because this hasn't always been the case.
In the 1930s, Robert E. Howard pitched his Dark Agnes stories to his editors. However, publishers of the day told him that men wouldn't read women heroines in science fiction and fantasy magazines. They frequently turned down his story ideas starring leading women because they just didn't think men would be interested in strong females that overshadowed the male leads (never mind about any of the women that might actually read fantasy and science-fiction -- they weren't even so much as an afterthought).
Even so, Howard persisted and created numerous female heroines and placed them as leads in his Conan stories. In fact, the womanizing Conan was submissive to a few of them, including the swordswoman Valeria and the queen Belit as well as Devi Yasmina.
Dark Agnes was probably Howard's most famous female heroine. She first appeared in the short story “The Sword Woman” which was published posthumously in 1975, four whole decades after the author's death, to great critical success.
Why the late publication of a story he finished 40 years prior? Because, as you probably have guessed, publishers were certain that a female heroine headlining her own story wouldn't sell. Readers didn't want women showing up the men. Nobody would read it.
They were wrong, of course.
The fantasy and science-fiction author C.L. Moore was so in awe of Dark Agnes that she felt inspired to create and write an entire female heroine sword and sorcery series herself. Enter Jirel of Joiry – the first fantasy sword woman written by a woman.
After reading an early draft of Howard's Dark Agnes story back in 1932, C.L. Moore was so enamored by Howard’s mighty heroine that she wrote to him saying:
"My blessings! I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed “Sword-Woman”. It seemed such a pity to leave her just at the threshold of higher adventures. Your favorite trick of slamming the door on a burst of bugles! And leaving one to wonder what happened next and wanting so badly to know. Aren’t there any more stories about Agnes?"
This helped pave the way for women fantasy authors to be taken seriously and proved that there were women readers who frequently read this typically male-dominated fantasy genre.
The final Dark Agnes story only existed as an incomplete manuscript, however, but luckily Howard had written two incomplete drafts of "Mistress of Death" before his untimely passing. Along with is notes and the elements contained in both drafts, there was enough to complete the story. The second Dark Agnes story was completed by Gerald W. Page and it was this version that was first published in Witchcraft & Sorcery Volume 1 Number 5 (January–February 1971).
A few years later it was adapted into a Conan tale called "Curse of the Undead-Man" which appeared in The Savage Sword of Conan no. 1, 1974, where the Cimmerian encounters Red Sonja for the first time (in place of Dark Agnes).
Red Sonja, and her famous chain mail bikini, would later get the Hollywood treatment and become a major motion picture featuring Brigitte Nielsen and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
It's because of the enduring popularity of Howard's female heroines that we can enjoy stories about strong, powerful, and capable women today.
Maybe now, knowing some of the history behind the metal bikini and its pulp-fiction roots, you'll understand why it's an inviolable trope and have a little greater understanding and respect for what that metal bikini represents--the birth of the female action heroine.
It seems that 2020 is going to be the year of JEGRA! Not only will book 5 be releasing in February, but book 6 will be coming in May and the audiobook for books 2 and 3 will be released simultaneously at around the same time.
If that wasn't enough JEGRA goodness, I have written the first installment in a comic book series spinoff. I plan to run a Kickstarter in September of this year and if it does well I will publish a full 6 issue series.
The cover art for that is finished and it looks glorious.
If all that JEGRA goodness wasn't enough, the Amanda Archer relics hunter series is still on schedule for an October, November, December release. Keep your eyes out for that as well.
That's all for now! I've got to get back to editing Jegra book 5: Galaxy at War, so I can get it sent off to my editor ASAP.
My Amanda Archer Relics Hunter action-adventure series will be coming summer of 2020. Here's a sneak peek with covers and chapter 1 sample. Enjoy!
New York City
Amanda Archer’s pulse raced as she sprinted down the steps of the American Museum of Natural History. She bypassed the last three stairs in a single bound and slung the dark brown leather protective tube case she was carrying over her shoulder. Making a mad dash for the street, she slid across the hood of a yellow taxi that had inadvertently cut her off and then continued up the street as the cabbie shouted at her from behind.
Even as the cabbie’s obscenities trailed her, she didn’t have time to care about any of that. Not with the League of Collectors on her tail. She heard the glass doors of the museum explode from within, glass tinkling on the pavement as the noise of motorcycle engines revved.
She glanced back briefly to catch the two black, leather-clad riders wearing glossy black helmets with tinted visors racing down the museum steps on a couple of Honda XR650L off-road bikes in pursuit of her.
“Balls,” she cursed under her breath as she sprinted down West 77th street toward the park, bystanders looking at her with shocked expressions as she darted past them.
She knew by their dismayed looks that most of them assumed she’d stolen some priceless item of antiquity. But the truth was rather much more complex. The League of Collectors were the true thieves. And she just happened to get to the map moments before they did. Thank god.
It was a stroke of luck really. Amanda had intercepted the wire informing the League that the lost Key of Hades had been discovered. If the legends were true then the key opened a very important door. Not to Tartarus or Hades, but to the sealed vault of the Serapeum. The sister library to the Great Library of Alexandria, in Egypt.
After the sacking of Alexandria by the emperor Diocletian in 297 A.D., however, the Serapeum was rumored to have been ransacked and left completely empty. Other legends spoke to how the contents were miraculously saved by the curators and had been moved to a secret underground vault beneath the library. But, although archaeologists had searched for such a rumored vault, none had ever been unearthed.
If the lost Key of Hades was real, then such a secret library existed. Amanda could feel it in her bones. And it was only a matter of time before the corporate big-wigs and organizations like the League of Collectors swooped in and took the wealth of information for themselves. But Amanda wasn't about to let them rewrite history by hoarding all of that valuable information. This was the find of the century and the wealth of knowledge it contained belonged to everyone.
The whine of both motorbikes grew louder behind her and Amanda hooked a hard right and darted into Central Park hoping to lose them at the West 77th Street stone arch.
Before she could react, however, she felt a hand reach out and grab her jacket. She glanced to her right to see the gloved hand of a masked biker grasping onto her collar. Reacting, she dug her boots in and dipped down, slipping out of her jacket.
The biker, who'd jerked hard on the jacket, threw himself off balance and lost control of the bike. Wobbling, the biker crashed into a park bench and trash bin and went flying up over it. Both the biker and the bike crashed to the ground with a thud.
Amanda's charcoal gray tank top was dark with sweat stains when she rose back to her feet. It would be a while before the biker got up, but the revving of an engine reminded her of the second biker. She spun around and saw her jacket along with the carrying case lying on the ground an equal distance from her and the second biker.
Situated directly between them, Amanda's eyes darted to the case and then to the biker. He revved the engine again, daring her to make the first move, and without hesitating she started off.
As soon as she'd broken into a sprint, the bike's rear tire squealed before making purchase with the pavement. The motorcycle barreled toward her, engine growling like a wild beast as it drew close.
She knew that she couldn't out run the bike, but she didn't have to. The biker was focused on the map and if she was aiming for the map too she'd likely lose it. But like in the game of baseball, you don't swing at the ball where it's at. You predict where it will be and aim for it there.
Amanda watched as the biker leaned off the side and snatched up the leather carrying case. At the same time, she leaped into the air, bringing both knees out in front of her.
The biker, having secured the package, looked up just in time to see Amanda leap up with a vicious knee thrust. Both her knees hit the biker squarely in the chest. Hard. Biker, container, and Amanda all toppled the ground with equal force.
The wind knocked out of them both, she knew she needed to get to her feet before he did.
Amanda groaned and rolled onto her side. Looking up, she saw the biker lying a short distance away, still stunned. The leather tube carrying case sat just a few meters beyond the toppled bike.
Move it or lose it, she thought to herself. With a grunt, she pushed herself up and staggered over to the carrying case. As she went, she got her breath back and began to amble faster. The biker's head turned as she breezed past him. Determined not to let her get the jump on him, he slowly, agonizingly pushed himself up.
Amanda quickly picked up the leather carrying case along with her jacket and slung the tube back over her shoulder, the strap settling between her breasts. When she turned back around, she found that the biker was nearly upon her and her mind raced through all her options.
Jacket, she thought. Then, she tossed her jacket over his head, tied off the sleeves around his neck, and then need him right in the family jewels.
Oomph! he gasped as he crumpled to the ground, clutching his groin.
Amanda hurried over to the bike, picked it up and hopped on. She revved the still idling engine twice and then tore off into the park. The second biker, who was already on his feet, raced to his bike, set it right, and jumped on. In no time, Amanda found herself tearing through Central Park with a masked marauder chasing her.
Leafy branches whipped by her face as she took a shortcut across the enclosed greens. She took a quick glance behind her to see that the other rider had followed her onto the protected area. But with no people Amanda twisted the handle hard and opened up the throttle.
The bike’s engine moaned as if in protest to the unfamiliar terrain, but she couldn’t pull back now. Not with so much at stake.
Coming to the other end of the park Amanda slowed before she hit the street. Idling at the top of the hill, she knew that if took the race into city traffic, she might be able to loose him.
She gunned the throttle and the bike’s rear wheel kicked up a spray of dirt and grass. Almost loosing control, the back kicked out and Amanda, holding the front brake, skidded all the way around before getting it back under control. Launching off the hill, the bike caught some air and she leaned forward, watching intently as she judged the speed of the traffic ahead of her. Here goes nothing, she thought, and then gunned it, shooting into traffic liking a bat out of hell.
The masked biker had nearly caught up to her after her delay, but her reckless driving gained her a few seconds head start when he pulled back and waited for a safe moment to merge with the lanes of rush hour traffic.
By the time the biker gotten back onto the road, she already was a block ahead of him and turning up 79th street along the Upper East Side.
Amanda weaved in and out of traffic as she raced straight up 79th street until she came to 2nd Ave. Kicking the bike into a turning slide, she skidded around the street corner, narrowly avoiding some pedestrians who were making their way into the crosswalk. She nearly clipped a tall black man with dreadlocks, forcing him to stop somewhat abruptly. He dropped his blunt he was smoking as she whisked past him and mumbled something under his breath.
“Sorry!” she called out as she pulled away. She glanced back in time to see him start to bend down to pick it up when the second biker drove over it, sending up an eddy of sparks as it snuffed out the blunt.
Amanda red-lined the dirt bike, pushing the Honda to its top speed of 98 miles per hour. Traffic whipped by at a breakneck pace and at these dangerous speeds she knew that even the smallest miscalculation would end her life. Or, at the very least, leave her in a full body cast.
At the 72nd street junction, she clamped down on the brakes and screeched to a halt. She hopped off the bike, discarding it in the middle of the street, and jogged down the steps of the 72nd street subway station.
She patted her pants pockets as she scrambled down the stairs, searching for her wallet. Her MetroCard was in her wallet. That’s when she realized she’d left her wallet back in her jackets. Balls.
Suddenly, her fingertips brushed against something flat and hard. Something plastic. She reached in her back pocket and drew out the MetroCard. That’s right, she remembered, now. Being in a hurry on her way to the museum this morning, she’d slipped the pass back into her back pocket instead of fiddling with her wallet which she’d already placed back inside her jacket pocket.
She waved the pass in front of the turnstile censor and the light flashed blue. She pushed through the turnstile with no problem and then glanced back one more time. She heard the second bike revving its engine at the top of the stairwell and she quickly turned and ducked into a crowd of people.
Amanda casually wove through the crowd, making sure to keep her eyes down and her hand on the important carrying case at all times. The train was just arriving at the subway platform when she stepped out and the subway doors slid open with a squeaky, almost defiant metallic screech.
Casually, she stepped onto the train and move over to let several other passengers pass. Once the doors had shut, she looked up to see the black helmet and visor of the biker starring across the platform at her. She smiled and waved goodbye just as the train lurched and began to pull away.
The biker ran up to the train, jogging along side it. He slammed a palm against the window which made Amanda flinch but the train was already picking up speed and, soon enough, it pulled away from the biker who’d lost his steam. She peered out the windows, seeing the biker take off her helmet, allowing for her long golden locks to unfurl, and then throw her helmet at the ground out of frustration.
Amanda was surprised that it was a woman. A beautiful woman at that. But almost as soon as their eyes locked onto one another, the train entered the tunnel and blacked everything out.
Exhausted from her morning jaunt, Amanda found a nearby available seat and plopped down in it. She tilted her head back, resting it on the cool glass window of the train, and took in a deep breath. It smelled like musk, sweat, and excess deodorizers doing their best to mask awful B.O. The smell of cigarette smoke of a nearby vaper helped cut down on the linger stench of urine. But, all in all, it smelled like the metro train always smelled. Pretty damn bad.
She took the leather tube in her hands and, holding it tight, whispered, “Now, let’s get you to someplace safe.”
She couldn’t go home though. Not now, since she was fairly certain they had her wallet, I.D., and her home address. No. She needed to go someplace so far off the grid they’d never find her. And she knew just the place.
***End of Sneak Peek***
Amanda Archer series coming 2020
LISTEN UP PEOPLE! Jegra book 4 is available for digital download now!
October 31st, Halloween...was the date I initially set for the release of Jegra: Galaxy Under Siege, book 4 in the Chronicles of Jegra.
But I had 2 additional editors working on the 165,000 word, 730 page manuscript. And we got her finished ahead of schedule!
Ultimately, I move 40K words into book 5, trimming book 4 down to a manageable 126K words, putting it in the same ballpark as book 3. Still well over 500 pages, but much easier to handle. Both books even came out to have the same number of chapters! Crazy, right?
Anyway, what's book 4 about? Well, if you're familiar with the grand scale of this space opera, you'll know I jam a lot of story and a lot of characters into each book. This time, things level up as Hastur's avatars wreak havoc on the galaxy. It's up to Jegra and friends to create opposition and kickstart the rebellion.
Read the blurb for book 4 down below or go get your copy now!
Amazon.com (Amazon link)
Kobo, Nook, Indigo, etc. (D2D landing page link)
It seems to have become such a big point of contention I now have to include it as a warning on my book blurbs.
What is it you might wonder?
A metal bikini.
Allow me to explain. The biggest complaint regarding my Jegra books that I seem to get is that she wears a scantily clad metal bikini.
Usually, the complaint is by people who haven't read the book. Because, hey, I'm not a sexist objectifying women. There's a valid reason she wears that thing.
When people read the story they go...oh...I get it now.
Which brings me to my next point.
Occasionally I come across someone who refuses to read my book because they think that a book with scantily clad women is a form of objectification.
It may be in a way the objectification of the human form, sure. But I only have one human in my story. All the rest are aliens. Some anthropomorphic, others not.
I mean, I have sentient algae and talking crystals for crying out loud.
My main character is bi-sexual and pan-sexual. That means she sleeps with men and women and aliens.
Her girlfriend is a trans space elf.
I'm not objectifying her so much as giving her real relationships and personality traits that I'd imagine an intergalactic, multi-species, multi-racially aware person might have in the near future.
So, she's not simply a "sex object." That would be real objectification.
No. She's a realistic depiction of a woman, at least as close as I can get being a man who writes women. But women are human beings last I checked, and we're really not that different. Our struggles may differ to a degree, but if one has ample empathy then we can sympathize and understand one another on a deeper level.
That's the type of people I like writing about, regardless of whether they're male or female.
But I think people get caught up on the body image thing.
Yes, Jegra also has a body with the inherent strength of the She-Hulk. Her skin is nigh impervious, like Supergirl's. And she fights giant monsters in hand-to-hand combat.
So, bulky armor would shear off more quickly and readily than scantily clad bikini armor. It all has to do with physics, friends.
Heat, friction, torque, and the durability of materials all play a factor in my choice to dress Jegra in a metal bikini.
It wasn't because I wanted more boobs--although that's a marketable asset for many demographics.
It just wasn't in the calculation of why she'd wear what she wears. My stories are about character and world-building. Not gimmicks.
If something happens, then there's likely a good reason for it. And if it's not going toward progressing the story then it's going toward fleshing out the world building.
So the people claiming male objectification need to read the story and give it a chance. She wears a metal bikini because, with her strength and abilities, it's simply the easiest thing to fight in.
Heck, if C.L. Moore was writing Northwest Smith today, would these same people be complaining that she was writing a suave, womanizing, space scoundrel (the very same figure that Han Solo of Star Wars fame was roughly based off of)? Probably not.
They singled Jegra out because she's a woman--and whether male or female--so many people tend only to see women as sexual objects. But I wouldn't dare presume to tell a woman how she ought to dress, regardless of whether she's real or fictional because that would be sexist. And wrong.
I guess that's why they say don't judge a book by its cover.
So, if C.L. Moore gets to write her debonair space scoundrel, I get to write my gladiatrix.
Get your copy of Jegra now!
"The perfect blend between Ray Bradbury and H.P. Lovecraft." --Sheila Shedd (Author of Heart of Jet)
Dark Forces are Everywhere.
Critics are saying Dark Forces of Nature has all the excitement and imagination of the best works of classic science fiction. This collection of twelve original tales of cosmic terror and mad science by best-selling author Tristan Vick are sure to thrill and entertain you. In this collection of short stores you will find the following tales:
1. Solar Winds; 2. Professor A.I.; 3. The Helix Foundation; 4. Antarctic Chill; 5. Space Dragons; 6. Martian Flu; 7. Ark to Alpha Centauri; 8. Biohackers; 9. Europa Outpost 6; 10. Dark Matter; 11. Gladiatrix; 12. Shutting Down Now
Get your copy today...!
Bumblebee Film Review (B-)
Bumblebee film review (Some Spoilers)
"Are you telling me you could've been a Camaro this whole time?!"
Bumblebee is definitely a kids movie. I'll say that.
My kids enjoyed the heck out of it. I found it entertaining and it held my attention but I don't think it will fair well on repeated viewings. At least, not for adults.
I still think I prefer the first Transformers film, even with all its tweensy angst, as it had Spielberg's fingerprints all over it (he visited the set regularly and oversaw a lot of it) and was genuinely fun and entertaining.
Michael Bay was definitely being cautious with the first film, making a solid studio movie with mass appeal and heeding all of Spielberg's advice before the franchise blew up and he was given carte blanch to ruin my childhood dreams.
I suppose Bumblebee could be interpreted as a soft reboot or a continuity ignoring reboot if they wish.
IMO, it would be nice to get a "live-action" remake of the original 80's animated Transformers feature in the vein of the Lion King's "live-action" remake. I'd watch the heck out of that.
That said, I think Bumblebee suffers from what all the rest of the Transformers films suffer from, they can't quite pin down who the main character is supposed to be (robot or person?) or what the focus of the plot should be (robot's story or person's?). Is the story supposed to be about Bumblebee or Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld)? In the end, it's sort of about both, but at the same time, nobody's story ever seems to take focus.
A lot of movies have been this way recently. The Predator being another example of a writer not having a character in mind so the film is just sort of about everybody.
Hint: It should have been about the Predator.
The same could be said of the previous Transformers movie, The Last Knight, with Mark Wahlberg and a ton of other characters.
Hint: that particular film should have been about the little orphan girl, Izabella, and Cade's relationship. And the villain should have been Anthony Hopkins working against Cade with the help of the Decepticons. But, it doesn't even seem that the film had a single competent writer, so, I digress.
I feel the same about this story. It should have been about Bumblebee learning about humans from humans. A lot of hilarious scenes could have been made ala Johnny 5 in Short Circuit.
Instead, our hero hides in a girl's garage for half the film and doesn't seem to learn anything because she off working the corndog stand all day. He sure makes a mess of the house though in the most painfully unfunny slapstick wreck-it-up scene I've ever watched.
Then, if this wasn't bad enough, they throw in a love interest for Charlie too. But the script doesn't know whether to treat him as one or keep him in the friend's zone the whole time.
With that in mind, the film Bumblebee does something I haven't seen in a while and ruins a potentially interesting character relationship (or growth) by demoting the love interest to the friend's zone the entire film and making Charlie seem rather daft about boys even though the kid is smoking hot.
Hey, don't get me wrong. I'm all for strong independent women, but the lack of any real development of their relationship seems to moot the whole point of them hanging out in the first place.
If the boy was never there--absolutely NOTHING about the main plot would have changed (Charlie wouldn't have come home early from school to find the house wrecked and that's the total sum of it).
And that's the thing...Charlie could have been an interesting character. She had a real trauma--was mourning the loss of her father--which forced her to retreat into the garage and work on cars all day while letting her childhood pass her by. She gave up swimming, something she was good at and didn't have any interest in going back. And they resolve all this in the stupidest way possible. She has to jump off a radio tower into the water to save Bee from drowning, thereby forcing her to grapple with her father's loss and her swearing off swimming.
Newsflash: He's a robot that can withstand the vacuum of space! He's not gonna drown anytime soon. *Sigh*
Hint: Instead of an off-screen generic heart attack, the dad should have died in the initial fallout of Bee's battle with the Decepticons. That way he'd be hiding a secret from Charlie and at the same time he'd feel obligated to protect her because he feels guilty about inadvertently getting her father killed.
This gives Bumblebee motivation to protect Charlie and her family. At the same time, the revelation can come toward the end that puts a rift between Charlie and Bee, because the truth could be revealed in such a way that she blames Bee for her father's death. She'd leave, the Decepticons would attack Bee, and the love interest kid could convince Charlie to go back and help Bee given the fact that Bee had always helped her. She could realize in that instant that Bee wasn't to blame and she was just projecting her rage over her father's loss unfairly onto him and then go back in time to help save him from the Decepticon's.
Did they do that though? No.
And I really wish Hollywood would start hiring script supervisors and script doctors who know about storytelling and not just formatting screenplays. There's a lot of wasted story potential in modern cinema and it's a constant headache, but I digress yet again.
And that's the rub. It begins as a Bumblebee story, then turns into a girl and her car story but mainly focussing on the girl, then turns back into a Bumblebee story and sort of forgets Charlie's story. But, the ending flashes back to Charlie chatting with the boy. Why? I don't know. Their story is already over, so it's not important.
Still lovestruck, he tries to hold her hand but she pulls it away and says it's too soon for that. But, I mean, come on!
Either you like him or you don't. But after a week of running around with a boy in an alien car/robot, she should have an inkling of whether she likes this boy or not. But she's still undecided. Really?
Young love is often merely about the crush of the week, and they could have represented this in a fun way while still pandering to their young audience. So why come back to a non-starter only to make the point that it's not going to go anywhere?
That's just a terrible way to end a character's story let alone a movie. Luckily, there's an ending to the ending. We cut back to Bee who's walking in the woods at night for some reason and then the camera pans across some trees and we find him talking with Optimus who congratulates him on saving the world.
What now? He was hiding in a girl's garage for the whole week until the Decepticons forced him out of hiding with the help of the U.S. military. And only with Charlie's help did they stop the Decepticons broadcast from calling down more Decepticons. So, I guess technically he did save the world, with Charlie's help, but here we are again, jumping between stories for no discernible reason.
They jump-cut between both stories four times as if neither character had anything to do with the other. It leaves the movie feeling anti-climactic. Each character gets a resolution, but each resolution is apart from the others. Why? This only adds to the confusion regarding the question of whose story this is.
I feel it would have been a heck of a lot nicer to see them come together, grow together, and find meaning in what they accomplished together. How would I have changed it? First of all, none of this cutting between separate stories. Make it all one cohesive narrative.
Hint: the ending should have been about Charlie and Bee saying goodbye to one another. The Camaro joke is nice, so keep it. But have her take a spin in the new Bee-Camaro and return to the park only to pull up next to a big red truck and, surprise, Optimus Prime transforms and thanks to her and Bee (both) for saving the world.
Recognize the heroine as the heroine, for Pete's sake! Then have Prime inform them that he must return to Cybertron to carry on the rebellion but, before he goes, he puts Bee in charge of being Earth's sentinel and defender against the Decepticon threat (this sets up a possible sequel set in the Charlie/Hailee timeline).
Did they do that, though? Nope.
I would have liked to have seen a robot and girl friendship blossom. Instead, it's all over the map and then just ends with...well...a third non-related ending. Charlie's voiceover literally says, "I almost forgot..." then she fixes her dad's classic Corvette and takes it for a joyride.
Fixing the corvette is fine, but once again we're cutting away from a shared story unnecessarily making any cohesive narrative hard to pin down.
Hint: Wouldn't it have been better if that joyride could have been joined by Bee -- the Camaro version -- on the open road? Both muscle cars racing along the winding country backroads together where, finally, they could have raced off into the sunset--the music swelling as Charlie laughed aloud, wind in her hair, and Bee blasting the soft rock above the rumble of their engines. Cue the end credits!
Did they do that, though? No. Again, more missed opportunities.
Overall, the action was decent, but the jokes could have been much funnier. Only a couple land and the others all fall flat or are painfully dull.
Is this a series that should be placed back on the shelf to age a bit or be completely revamped?
Well, we all know for a fact it will be revamped. It's Paramount's major cash cow and has pulled in over five billion dollars in box office receipts worldwide. That's no small chunk of change and one Paramount, which has been struggling to find a marketable IP other than Transformers and Mission Impossible (Hint: Paramount has Star Trek but doesn't know what to do with it as the last two films have underperformed -- maybe if Quentin Tarantino gets his way and makes his Trek film the franchise will get some much needed new blood).
Both Dark of the Moon and Age of Extinction grossed over a billion and the first and second films nearly did so as well grossing in the high 800 million dollar range.
The rest of the Transformers movies have all grossed over 600/700 million except for Bumblebee which only managed to pull in a meager 467 million worldwide.
But even as the lowest-grossing film in the series, it performed well enough to be considered a commercial success having a production budget of only 120 million, meaning it had a 340 million gain as compared to The Last Knight's estimated 220 million dollar production budget on 600 million giving it only a 380 gain. This means that Bumblebee was the stronger performer, pulling in approximately the same gross for half the production cost.
More Transformers may be a near-certain thing, but I really hope they find a top tier storyteller for the next film. Because, they need something that will awe movie audiences in a good way, and flashy effects and nostalgia alone won't be enough to salvage a broken-down franchise.
All in all, as hard as I'm being on it, I'd give it a solid B. It's watchable and has a simple story that is kid-friendly (The first live-action Transformers movie gets an A- from me just to put things into perspective, and the sequels all get Ds except for the third film, Dark of the Moon, which is surprisingly decent on repeat viewings and gets a B-) B-.) So, if your a fan of sci-fi, Transformers, or just robot battles, this offers that. But will it blow your socks off? Probably not.
I was just checking out the Audible page for Jegra: Gladiatrix of the Galaxy and found, to my pleasant surprise, that the also-boughts on Audible are spot on!
It brought me some small joy knowing that Audible is working like Amazon used to by targeting similar books in your series with pin-point accuracy. This only helps sales in the long run.
Good form, Audible! Good form.
The Chronicles of Jegra: Gladiatrix of the Galaxy is now available in audiobook from iTunes, Audible, and Amazon.com. Be sure to check it out! Veronica James did an amazing job with the narration! Full on characterizations, accents, and everything!
The Beginning of My Writing Journey
Summer. 2002. New York City.
I sat in a studio apartment overlooking Washington Square Park. My father had rented the apartment at a $1K per week for the full month of June. We were visiting my brother who was going to the famed New York Film Academy as an up and coming film student.
The days were hot. I'd stay in mostly sketching in my art book. In the afternoons I'd visit the local comic book shops -- total Nerdvana for a country boy like me. In the evenings my father and I'd meet up with our brother outside of his school and hit the town.
It was a great vacation.
I'll never forget that month. Because two things happened. I saw my brother grow into a man and I decided that I wanted to be a writer.
I was already and English lit major, but I was undecided about what I wanted to do after graduation. But one afternoon in Washington Square Park across from the NYU library, I glanced up from the fountain bench, admired my surroundings, and then went back to drawing a scarecrow wearing a fedora and raincoat.
This would be the inspiration that got me to brainstorm the supernatural noir The Scarecrow & Lady Kingston. A detective story and my first ever novel.
It would be a full decade before I penned the story I'd been thinking of for so long.
I polished and honed it. Sent it to editors. And then snagged the attention of an editor over at Permuted Press. They liked the book. But it was too avant-garde. Perhaps too abstract to be a hit. It was an art piece. So, the publisher asked me if I had anything else -- something post apocalyptic. I did. I had just written a zombie story. They loved it. They asked me to write three more. I wrote two more before the series got the axe.
But I regret nothing. In 2016 the rights to my series came back to me. I republished it under my own imprint Regolith Publications.
That's the short version of how I came to be a traditionally published author, a self-published author, and what is commonly referred to as a hybrid author.
But it wasn't easy.
Hell. It took me a full decade to get a concept down onto paper.
It took me two years to write my first novel.
I plotted the hell out of my first two books. Both The Scarecrow & Lady Kingston and my first Bitten zompoc novel were meticulously plotted.
I think that's the only reason they read so well now. Because my skills starting out weren't great, but they weren't total crap either. But I was obsessed with making the best story I could--and that obsession drove me to be somewhat of a perfectionist.
Then, when Permuted picked up my Bitten series I was able to work with industry professionals. I had three editors working on Bitten: Resurrection. It went through several rounds of professional edits and that's how I met my current editor, Sheila Shedd.
Having not one, not two, but three editors going over my stuff only made my stories better. Stronger.
When I go back and read those two books now, I feel they read well. That is, unlike many who look back at their first works and cringe, I don't feel there's anything I'd necessarily change.
I had enough time to get them right the first time. And the right people came on board when I was starting out that I was able to publish something of professional quality.
But I was still very much a rookie and didn't know what I was doing. Burnt out on top of losing my series (it got canceled) and I was stuck in a quagmire for a full year without having written anything.
Part of the problem was that I had this idea for a sci-fi series in mind, but I knew my skills and my craft simply weren't at the level I needed to tell the grand operatic story I wanted to tell.
I needed practice.
I needed to master my craft so that I could wield the tools more flawlessly than a professional pianist playing Chopin's Étude Op. 10 No. 4.
I simply wasn't there.
So I wrote a fantasy series. It's still my top seller and I don't even know why considering its low review status. But I flexed my writing muscle by stretching my skills and attempted a new genre which involved many characters and a lot of world building.
I also wrote it ridiculously fast -- pumping out an 80K novel per month for 4 consecutive months, including a novella on top of it all.
Because of that pace, I couldn't plot like I did with my previous series. So I wrote a general outline, making sure I had the main story arc of the heroine down and then basically wrote A to B to C and filled in the blanks in-between each plot point.
I broke the beats into 4 instead of 3 to mimic television pacing, and I also had my ending in mind before starting so that I could write toward and end goal without getting lost.
Always having a point to move toward is key -- especially in terms of setting deadlines.
After that, I went and spent a couple of months writing a ton of short stories in the vein of Black Mirror or Love Death and Robots. This became my Dark Forces of Nature anthology.
All of the shorts are sci-fi horror. They're all connected by the subtleness of cosmic horror. But I had to focus on structure a lot to make each short work.
After writing Dark Forces of Nature, I felt that my skill level finally had gotten to the point where I could write what I wanted with confidence. And so I began thinking about another series that I had, once again, conceptualized a decade earlier.
But first, an interlude.
In the background of writing my special brand of grind-house style fiction, I published a peer reviewed religious philosophy book (non-fiction) and also published an anthology of deconversion stories that I edited with British philosopher Jonathan M.S. Pearce.
As it turned out Pearce and I were working independently on telling other people's deconversion stories from various religions, cults, religious cults, etc. and found each other online and decided to pool our resources. This ended up being the collection of personal essays we co-edited and published as Beyond an Absence of Faith.
Getting into serious academic territory with non-fiction taught me a whole different style and discipline to writing.
I bounced back and forth between trying to be a philosopher while trying to tell stories. I love both. But, as it would become abundantly clear to me, both are time consuming.
At about the time I was beginning my fantasy series Valandra, I realized I had to shift my focus to either writing fiction full time or doing philosophy full time.
I looked at numerous grad schools. I even applied to a couple. I applied to begin a Neuroscience doctorate at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, and or Kumamoto University, Japan. The University of Auckland required me to do some undergrad courses first to get into the program and Kumamoto University put me on a waiting list.
A month later I decided I didn't actually want to do five more years of school.
I wanted to tell stories.
So, in 2016, after a year of not writing -- a dark period of depression after Permuted Press cancelled my series and I all but had given up thinking I could be a professional writer -- I kicked it into high gear.
Then I bounced back and began a cyberpunk story entitled Robotica. It was 40% finished when something happened that interrupted my completion of that book.
My artist friend in Germany got an offer to do Heavy Metal magazine. And he asked me to write it!
I have been a fan of Heavy Metal since forever. I love the original animated film (not so much the second one) and had a subscription to the magazine during my teen years.
The sex. Violence. The comedic absurdity of it all. I loved it. It wasn't like anything I'd ever seen before.
And being asked to write a piece for Heavy Metal was my dream come true.
I wrote the script about a buxom gladiatrix fighting aliens in the arena in some backwater galactic empire. There was a running joke in the short 12 page treatment where she starts fully armored and her armor and clothing get so tattered that it all falls off in the end. But she comes out triumphant!
If this treatment sounds familiar, it's because it's the basis for my JEGRA series.
You see, my artist friend got hired to do the covers to Judge Dread -- his dream gig -- so he put the Heavy Metal project on hold.
At the same time, however, I realized that the sci-fi world I've been daydreaming about, filling endless notebooks with alien worlds, names, characters, cultures, and science concepts could blend perfectly with this galactic empire concept I'd created but never sent to Heavy Metal.
I emailed my artist friend and double confirmed that he was too busy to submit to Heavy Metal because I took the script and adapted it into what ultimately became Jegra: Gladiatrix of the Galaxy.
It combines everything I had worked toward -- space opera, high action, fantasy mixed with science, sex, violence, comedy and all woven together with a bit of cosmic horror.
I used the Lovecraftian pantheon of Old Ones as the overarching religion of the books. Because I wanted something familiar -- something anthropologically similar to real-world religion without having to stretch too far or simply copy Christianity / Islam / Judaism.
I wanted something familiar, but frightening. Something that acted as the backdrop to the world my characters was in. And the whole Cthulhu mythos blended perfectly in with my sci-fi fantasy.
It's why the King in Yellow, Hastur, is the main villain in the initial series.
So, I plotted out a much longer story.
What happens, I asked myself, to this gladiatrix once she wins all of her bouts? What is beyond that Heavy Metal story concept?
A whole grand universe of ideas, that's what. But I wanted very specific things. So I plotted the first book almost as much as I did my Bitten series. Then I loosely jotted down the general outlines for 9 more books in the series.
Using the looser writing style of having my key points, A, B, C and then writing to connect the narrative dots, so to speak, I have been able to publish a 120K book every 3 months in addition to the two novellas I've written that tie into the series.
I have found that for me personally, writing with a loose structure but with the main points in mind -- including the ending -- I can write quite quickly toward each plot point.
And the years of writing and 16 novels later, I finally feel that I have a firm grasp of the skillset required to write at a professional level consistently.
I can now write what I see in my head and when I hear it read back to me by my audiobook narrator I know that I'm writing at a level that I can be proud of.
I've been writing professionally since 2012, but 2018 was the first year I actually felt like a real writer. I'd finally come into my own.
2019 is the year I ramp up my output and burn rubber, so to speak. I'm going strong with my series, which I'll power all the way to the eight books planned.
I have other projects that got put on the back-burner that I want to finish this year too. Bitten 4, Robotica, and Valandra book 5 are all waiting in the wings. The spinoff series Skywend: The Last Peacekeeper will begin immediately after my Jegra series finishes. I have a vampire series starring Dracula that I've plotted tentatively titled Blood Alchemy. I have an action series sitting on deck. And I have a retelling of Romeo and Juliet where Romeo is human and Juliet is a zombie princess and that's why the two families are rivals. It's tentatively titled Romeo and Zombie Juliet.
“For never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”
That brings us fully up to the present. I'm determined to publish 50 books before I turn fifty. That gives me a decade to write roughly 30 books. Simply put, that's 3 books a year. That's more than doable, in my estimation.
I hope you've enjoyed reading about my journey as a writer. Everyone's path up the mountain is different. But the destination is always the same. The key is to remember, the only way to become a writer is to write. The only way to become a good writer is to practice and to read -- study your craft. And the only way to be a great writer is to persist against the odds.
I intend to be a great writer one day. Heck, I'd be slightly embarrassed to have written for more than two decades only to have gotten less good at my craft. No, the adage is true -- practice makes perfect. So, I'll keeping pushing onward and upward. Eventually, I'll get there. And hopefully I'll see you up there on the peak of Mt. Ambition.
By day I am an educator and a cultural ambassador. By night I entertain notions of being a literary master. In reality I am just a family man and ordinary guy who works hard and loves writing just about as much as I love my family. Just about.