Archive for August, 2011

Why "The Mercury Men" Is The Best Damn Retro Noir Sci-Fi Web Serial Around Right Now

If you haven’t heard of The Mercury Men, you’re probably not alone. The 10 episode series (7 minutes each) filmed for less than $10,000 was recently picked up by SyFy for distribution online, where all 10 episodes are now available. Written and directed by Chris Preksta and filmed as an independent production (yay indies!), it’s really something special.

Let me lay the story on you. It’s 1975, and apparently color hasn’t been invented yet. Edward Borman, a nobody stuck in a dead-end job, is about to leave the office after a hard day avoiding work. Only, before he can leave, his office building is seized by glowing aliens. Aliens that shoot lightning from their goddamn fingers.

Enter Jack Yaegar, gunslinging engineer who works for the mysterious “League”. It seems the aliens are hatching a doomsday plot, and they’re using Edward’s office building to stage it. If Edward and Jack don’t stop the invaders, Edward’s not going to have to worry about his job anymore.

So why is this web series so ridiculously awesome? Well, for starters, the series drips with retro coolness. Everything, from the concept to the script to the format is clearly inspired by the likes of the old Flash Gordon shows. There’s a bunch of nods to these old serials, and a few to more modern works that were also inspired by them, like Indiana Jones and Star Wars. Each episode ends on a cliffhanger, and it’s always one that leaves you frustrated (but in that good kind of way). Cliffhangers are a tricky art to master, but Preksta and the gang have pulled it off expertly.

But it’s not just the retro style that makes The Mercury Men cool. No, it’s the fact that they do it with a straight face. It’s got just enough cheese to make you smile, but not enough to make you cringe. Sure, they don’t take themselves too seriously, but it’s not a parody either. They’ve taken those stylistic trappings and made something new and beautiful out of it.

But it’s the main characters, Edward and Jack, that make the series into more than just another web serial. From Edward’s attempts to weasel his way out of every task that’s thrust upon him, to Jack’s cool-headed gunplay (the dude fires glowing bullets from a revolver, and he does it with class), that are the real draw. From the minute you first meet them, you already have a clear idea of who these people are. Not an easy thing to do in 7 minute episodes. Sure, the characters are archetypes, but that’s in no way a bad thing. Hell, it just adds to the old-timey feel of the show. But more importantly, it’s the fate of these characters that makes you watch “one more episode, for real this time” when the To Be Continued title pops up on screen.

And it’s these characters that make you want to want to scream when the series ends on (you guessed it) another cliffhanger. (If you’re reading this, Chris Preksta and crew, you best be making Season 2. Especially if you don’t want your brain to end up in a jar.)

So follow the crew on Twitter and check out the trailer below, then watch the first episode. If you’re outside the US, like me, you may have trouble getting access to the show on Hulu. Try iTunes, or you can be a bit naughty and use a proxy server to get around the regional restrictions. Or else you may just have to wait until it comes to your country.

But to hell with that. That’s one cliffhanger I don’t need.

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Awesome Fan-Made "Portal" Short Film

Everyone loves the game “Portal”. Even people who don’t play games. Hell, I bet there are undiscovered tribes in South America who hum “Still Alive” while they’re out hunting.

So it doesn’t really come as a surprise that fan films are appearing. And I have to say, this one is goddamn brilliant. Portal: No Escape is directed by Dan Trachtenberg, and it transfers the aesthetic of the Portal universe to a dark, live-action movie.

Do yourself a favor and watch it. Do it now. Now, I said!

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Cover Art for "The Man Who Crossed Worlds"

It’s a hell of a feeling, seeing your characters for the first time. Of course, you see them in your head all the time, and you do your best to get those images onto the page, but it’s never quite the same as actually seeing the character with your own eyes.

As the sort of guy whose stick figures send small children running in terror, it amazes me how visual artists can convey so much information instantly. So when the cover art for my upcoming urban fantasy novel popped into my inbox, I was practically doing a jig (you don’t want to see me dancing; trust me, it’s not a pretty thing).

The cover is both fun and dark, full of motion and action, and unashamedly pulpy. Most importantly, it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

In short, it IS my novel.

I offer my sincerest thanks to my artist, Hiep Ha Dzung, for creating such awesome artwork. I’m incredibly grateful to have had the chance to work with him.

Perhaps if people are interested I’ll do a blog post in the future about how I went about commisioning an artist. But for now, without further ado, I’ll show you the artwork. I hope you like it as much as I do.

All Miles Franco wants is a cold beer and a bit of peace and quiet. What he’s got is an empty wallet, a shoebox apartment in a city run by gangsters, and a job that looks set to put him in an early grave. Miles is a freelance Tunneler, a man who can open portals to transport people from Earth to an alternate dimension known as Heaven.  Not the real Heaven, you understand, the one with angels and harps and lists of who’s been naughty and who’s been nice. This Heaven is a hell of a lot stranger.

When the cops haul Miles downtown for smuggling the natives of Heaven to Earth illegally, they offer him a choice: help them bring down a mysterious drug lord and his interdimensional drug-smuggling operation, or face a long stretch in the pen. Which, of course, is no choice at all.

But when Miles starts playing police lapdog, he soon figures out this ain’t no ordinary drug he’s dealing with.  Some nasty people are willing to spill a lot of blood to protect their interests, and Miles is about to learn that nosing around in gang business is a dangerous job in a city where everyone’s on the take and the gangsters play for keeps.

So much for that peace and quiet.


Coming Fall 2011

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