What “Pirates” needs if they’re reeeeeeeally determined to keep milking this cow.

After a trip to California this last weekend, I snuck out to see the latest Pirates flick, hoping it would be better than the last one (which was the worst of the franchise.)
It was okay as a flick, but I didn’t walk out loving it. I don’t know if it’s my age or frame of reference or whatever, but the movies that used to do it for me way back when are no longer working for me. (Though plenty of you liked it, and I’m glad)
The Curse of the Black Pearl came out in 2003. I didn’t see it opening day, but I planned to. I think it’s only real competition that year in terms of blockbusters was the bad Hulk film, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (which I still have a soft spot for). My little brother saw Pirates before I did, and the next day he couldn’t stop talking about it. Anyone who knows him knows that he’s not the guy to give you a blow-by-blow rundown of a movie. He never gets that excited about it. So I knew this was a big deal.
I loved it, like most people. Even took my grandma to see it. Then in 2006 Dead Man’s Chest hit theaters, and I liked, even if a lot of other people didn’t. Totally made my summer, especially with X-Men 3 and Superman Returns being mutual letdowns.
And I don’t care what anyone said, At Worlds End was great. The magic was there through all three movies.
The problem with the last two was that they were both color-by-numbers attempts to replicate a product without recapturing that magic. Yes, you have a cool intro for Jack, a whimpy tagalong, a feisty love interest, and a scary villain. There’s a MacGuffin. There are monsters and curses. There are quippy one liners…but it never came together. I was looking at pieces glued together like ransom-paste cut out of magazines: I would rather see a masterpiece.
Dead Men Tell No Tales was at least better than On Stranger Tides.
But I think the lesson we learned is that Jack is the main character, the anti-hero, but he can’t carry this franchise by himself. What’s worse, he can’t use a supporting cast of no-names playing bit parts. Penelope Cruz was really good in OST, and the Thwaite/Scodelario duo had chemistry (even if their roles and dialogue were…not great).
But if you’re going to make a Pirates film, you need Jack, and Will, and Elizabeth.
(And a great story and writing, but that should go without saying.)

Should-reads: The Accidental Highwayman, by Ben Tripp

Premise: Kit Bristol is a live-in assistant to a rich guy in the 19th Century. When circumstances force Kit to assume his dead master’s mask as costume, he finds himself chased by the King’s men, fairies, and a number of other questionable figures.
Setting: England, sometime in the 1800s.
Genre: Fantasy adventure
Lesson: Be fearless!
My favorite character: Kit Bristol does his job as a protagonist, but he doesn’t carry the show on his own–he’s got a great supporting cast along the way.
Of note: While it doesn’t end in a cliffhanger, it’s very open at the finish, as it was intended to be a trilogy, but the subsequent volumes have not since been released. I have not been able to learn why. 😦 Nevertheless, it’s a grand adventure worth the time.

Should-Reads: Bobiverse, by Dennis E. Taylor

Among the many virtues of Dennis E. Taylor’s sci-fi space opus is this: he masterfully toes the line between hard science and farcical preposterousness, showing you what’s possible in our universe, and then pushing you toward a vision of it that is straight out of a Hawking doomsday scenario.

Premise: In 2014, a twenty-something software guru named Bob sells his company for millions, signs up for a “revive my frozen brain in the future” life insurance policy, and then promptly gets hit by a car. When he’s woken up a century later, his brain is in a computer, inside a space probe, sent out to explore the galaxy…and beyond. Without having to worry about pesky things like eating, sleeping, or generally being mortal–and with the ability to make copies of himself as he goes–Bob lives out his childhood fantasy of being a space explorer.

From there, anything is possible, including space battles with his Brazilian space probe counterpart, terraforming new planets for the human race to expand to, and even discovering intelligent life in the cosmos…

Book 1   Book 2
Setting: In space most of the time, but also across several planets both real and fictional.
Genre: Science-fiction
Lesson: I don’t think it can be boiled down to one thing, but I will say this: Dennis E. Taylor has written a secular agnostic humanist as his protagonist, and a theocratic religious nutjob entity as his antagonist, and yet the story stays firmly rooted in three dimensions. Bob, who doesn’t believe in concepts like a soul or an afterlife, is forced to confront questions about the  meaning of life (and death) as time goes by, and as he finds himself in increasingly complex moral situations.

These books could have easily gone the route of certain other sci-fis [that I won’t name here], which never missed a chance to remind you that Secular Die-Hards are AWESOME and religious folks are worthless dumbsh*ts. As a reader I got the impression that the author falls into one camp, and has certain opinions about the other, but the books bravely avoid the route of “selfriture” and instead show the complexity of human existence.
My favorite character: Tricky thing, trying to nail one of these down…given that most of the characters are clones of Bob who have renamed themselves. If I were to pick just one of them, I’d say the clone named Milo. Read the books to see why.

Content warning: Bob (and his clones) are first-person narrators, and generally avoid foul language, though both books have featured at least one F-bomb. I will say this, that if the weight of profanity is lessened through excessive use, Dennis E. Taylor uses profanity rather economically, and only escalates to the upper echelons of the cursing scale when Bob is at peak agitation.

Should-Reads: WOVEN, by David Powers King and Michael Jensen

I had never read a too-detailed summary of this book before I jumped into it, and I’m beyond glad that I experienced it that way. Back in 2005, I sat down to watch Batman Begins without ever seeing a trailer, so when the Tumbler came out and started jumping rooftops, my head exploded. WOVEN can have the same effect, if you let it, and you should.
What makes it unique, aside from the left-field plot twist on page 57, is the magic system: it’s based on sewing. Threads, stitches, dyes, textiles…you could tell these two authors knew their way around a seam ripper. The magic is used to delightful effect.
Premise: A standard issue fantasy adventure where a dude has to rescue a princess to win her love…yeeeeeah that’s totally not all that happens 🙂
Setting: A fantasy kingdom with an Earth-analog technology set, and a nobility/peasantry class dynamic.
Genre: YA Fantasy!
Lesson: Don’t be a jerk. (Which is a pretty meta lesson with this particular book.)
My favorite character: Nels, the MC. He might have been your common fare Peasant Hero, but the dude knew how to step on the princess’ nerves.
Give it a shot.

6 Things Writers Get Wrong About Trucks (and you won’t believe #6!) 

They say “write what you know.” I know a couple of things about truck driving, so if you decide to write about it in one of your books, maybe these details will help.
1- Blowouts don’t automatically make you crash. Your average tractor trailer has 18 wheels (10 on the truck, 8 on the trailer.) the five axles are called the steer, the drives, and the tandems. The steer axle is the only one with just two tires on it.

If you lose a drive or a tandem tire, you will most likely hear it, but it won’t destabilize the truck because you have three more tires across the same axle, plus more tires in front or behind. However if you blow a steer tire, that can cause you to lose control and steer abruptly to one side. Hold the steering wheel steady and don’t hit the brakes if this happens–come to a controlled and gradual stop if you can.
2- You can’t drop a trailer while driving. The trailer has a metal pin on it called the kingpin. It locks into the 5th wheel plate on the truck and is held there by super strong locking jaws. Even when you’re parked, you can’t pull the handle to release the jaws of their is any pressure on them, which there definitely is when the truck is in motion. Even trucks with buttons in the cab that release the locking jaws will not do so if the truck is driving. And even if you somehow bypassed that control, you still couldn’t do it while the truck is no if and the kingpin is jammed against the locking jaws.
3- There are two ways you can jacknife a truck. Both ways involve locking up the brakes. If the brakes on the tractor lock up, the trailer will keep pushing it, causing the tractor to turn left or right. If the brakes on the trailer lock up, the tail end of the trailer will swing out to the left or right. It depends on where the brakes lock up.
4- Trucks are more worried about stopping than going. You have three ways to brake in a tractor-trailer: the pedal, the knobs, and the trolley handle. The brake pedal engages whenever it’s pushed. Pulling the knobs (yellow for truck, red for trailer) is like hitting the e-brake in your car, it will lock them up (so this is for dire emergencies only.) The trolley handle (a.k.a. the Johnson bar or trailer brake) only engages the brakes on the trailer. Use this if the tractor brakes get too hot (from overuse, which is a form of bad driving…). But be careful because too much pressure on trailer brakes can cause a jacknife.
5- “Waaaah! Two trucks are going uphill and one is barely fast enough to pass the other one! Waaaah! Truckers are jerks!” Surprise: YOU’RE the jerk. Long distance truckers are paid by the mile, not the hour, and their daily driving hours are limited. If they have a long way to go, and mountains to climb in the process, they are worried about keeping their average speed high. This means momentum. If a truck slows down while climbing, he is never getting that momentum back. So if a heavy guy can go 50 and a heavier guy can only go 45, it doesn’t matter if you want to go 75. Mister 50 is going to get around Mister 45 to maintain his 50, or else he will cost himself money. It’s either 5 minutes of inconveniencing a motorist who can go faster and drive longer, or 1/2 hour of lost drive time because he touched the brakes–and lost money for it. Granted, there are guys who are irresponsible with this, but they are the exception.
6- AIR LINES! CUT THEM, AND YOUR BRAKES LOCK UP. This is the biggest mistake in Hollywood!!! License to Kill, Terminator Genisys, The Flash, and Pete’s Dragon are just a few off the top of my head that get this wrong.

With cars, yes, you lose brake pressure if you cut the brake line. That’s because car brakes use liquid pressure to close the brake pads on a disc, or open them against a drum. Without that liquid pressure, the pads won’t press.

But air brakes are the exact opposite. The default position for air brakes is the locked position, where brake pads are pressed against brake drums and will not let the wheels turn. Once you start the truck and let the air compressor fill up, it pushes those brake pads off of the drum so that the wheels can move. If you cut the air line, all the air bleeds out and the brakes engage within seconds, and there is NOTHING you can do about it while in motion.

Trucks are built this way for a reason: if the air system fails (how or why are irrelevant), it’s better for the truck to stop than to be a runaway. A 40-ton missile does more damage than a 40-ton roadblock around which you can drive.
This is my biggest pet peeve about trucks on tv and in movies, because it is so basic to truck engineering. Trucks are not cars. Don’t ever write it this way or I will find you and bludgeon you with my textbook from trucking school.
That’s all, folks. Happy writing!