Should-Reads: CODE NAME VERITY, by Elizabeth Wein

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Amazon link here

Given that Elizabeth Wein just released the third novel in this series (a prequel to VERITY and ROSE UNDER FIRE) I thought I’d plug this book for y’all.

It’s written in a journal format, containing entries from two women at separate times, one of whom was a POW, and the other was a pilot. It’s a book that hinges on twists, reveals, and deception, so I don’t want to give away too much more than that.

What I loved about it was the richness of the two main characters, Verity and Maddie, who find a profound friendship as they serve behind the scenes in World War 2. I say “behind the scenes” because WW2 often conjures up images of island-hopping or D-Day, but even for the women in the war who were kept out of combat, peril abounded, and this book shows just how hard and fast it found these two.

It’s aided by Wein’s own chops as an airplane pilot, so those details give it weight without feeling forced. Ultimately it’s a tale of friendship and loyalty, and what shape those things take in wartime.

So far as I recall there was one F-bomb and a few sensual references, but nothing overt beyond that. Great book overall, and its sequel as well (though I confess I didn’t find as much optimism out of it as I did with the first one.)

 

Graham Re-Watches Pirates, part 2: Dead Man’s Chest

Image result for pirates dead man's chest

Part 1 here

In the time between the first and second films in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, I served a two-year church mission in Spain, came home, changed jobs a few times (in a period I like to call “career A.D.D.”), and crashed at least two different relationships, maybe three. I don’t remember all that well. 2006 wasn’t great for me, in general.

So I was more than a little excited for a trip back down to the Caribbean during the golden age of piracy, sailing the seas with old Captain Jack and his merry band of miscreants. Gibbs, Marty, Cotton, Pintel, and Raghetti were still out there having adventures. I’d be dipped if I wasn’t going to be part of it.

There’s a hazard with watching a movie under those circumstances: you tend to overlook the flaws. And while Dead Man’s Chest was still a really good movie, it shot itself in the foot by not figuring out just a few things. I didn’t realize it back then, but after rewatching DMC last week, I thought I’d weigh its strengths against the weaknesses:

  1. Gore Verbinski. I will stress this again in my review of At World’s End, I’m almost sure of it. Now that I’ve watched 1 & 2 back-to-back, I’m much more aware of the thematic continuity that made these earlier films better than the later ones. Verbinski is the right director for these characters and stories.
  2. Jack once again was not the main character, but he managed to derail their lives. Doubtless Disney didn’t want to foul up the formula that had made Black Pearl such a success, so once again they started out with Will & Elizabeth in love, only to be foiled by Jack and his antics…which center on him dealing with a curse from his past. This promptly results in Will leaving Port Royal to hunt down Jack, and Elizabeth escaping custody to hide amongst sailors and find Will.
  3. Davy Jones managed to be an even more formidable villain than Hector Barbossa. Jack finally had to go up against someone that he proved unable to outwit, out-charm, or outmaneuver. Granted the antics of Commodore Norrington resulted in Davy Jones losing control of his heart, but that wasn’t Jack’s doing.
  4. Commodore Norrington proved he was more than a knock-over villain. While Black Pearl could have ended on a lighthearted note, with Norrington giving the pirates a slight lead before going after them, Dead Man’s Chest shows the writers’ commitment to following through on the events of the previous movie. What better way to motivate Norrington than to strip him of what he needs in order to be great–his crew and support staff–and leave him wanting? Without him, Jack would have gotten what he wanted (Jones’ heart) and the story would have ended very differently, possibly with Jack being forced into the captaincy of the Flying Dutchman.
  5. They patched up a stealth plot hole from the first film. Anyone who thinks about Black Pearl after the fact could only come to one certain conclusion: if Bootstrap Bill was a victim of the Aztec curse, then he was strapped to a cannon somewhere at the bottom of the sea, unable to die. (Which was why the pirates needed his blood.) However, that meant that he was still alive somewhere at the bottom of the sea, so the pirates could have easily dropped down there beside him and walked around until they found him, cut him loose, and brought him back to the surface to end the curse. BUT. In the likely event that they wouldn’t find Bootstrap, then breaking the curse would instantly kill him via drowning, wherever he was. We see how they resolved this in the second film: Bootstrap was shanghaied into Jones’ crew.
  6. Once again, the supporting cast were not overly hokey or weird. Aside from the aforementioned pirates on the Black Pearl, we also got introduced to Tia Dalma and Davy Jones, who were superb in their roles. The directors of Dead Men Tell No Tales tried to recapture this magic and succeeded…but only halfway. More on that in part 5.

 

Now that I’ve mentioned the strengths, I do want to address a few weaknesses:

  1. The practical effects for Jones’ crew were great. The CGI was not. And this became very apparent during my re-watch these 11 years later. While the pirate CGI from Black Pearl is still as good as ever, the sea monsters in Dead Man’s Chest were a touch too ambitious, to the point of being almost comical once the Kraken shows up to eat Jack.
  2. Some gags and sideplots took a little too long to play out. This was pretty clear with the Pelegostos natives. I feel like that segment of the story slowed the pace a touch too much, even if it was enjoyable on its own. It was, though, delivering on a side-joke from Black Pearl, when Jack told the British sailors that an unnamed band of natives “made me their chief.” We got to see this mystical legendary side of Jack, but at a cost to the pacing.
  3. The biggest complaint I have for this movie, and any of the Verbinski trilogy: they completely screwed up Elizabeth’s character in the second half. She starts out great–a scorned woman whose wedding was derailed by an ambitious and blackmailing sea lord!–only to be demoted from “character” to “mechanism” in the name of adding forced controversy. There was no prior indication that she should ever have fallen for Jack. That whole sidestory was bunk and it made her character obnoxious for this stretch of the plot.
  4. In their efforts to recapture the magic for the first film, they kept forcing too many things for the second film. This was never clearer than it was on Isla Cruces, when everyone showed up to grab Davy Jones’ chest. The three-way fight between Jack, Will, and Norrington–while certainly a great visual spectacle–was a major tonal shift from everything else leading up to it. In trying to showcase Jack’s agility and acrobatics, they shoved him into a water wheel and put a completely impractical–and highly distracting–fight on screen, hoping to remind audiences of the great fight between Jack and Barbossa in Black Pearl without outright copying it.
  5. There’s no way Gibbs would have left Jack like that. Yes, I understand they have to “stick to the code.” But when they asked where Jack was, and Elizabeth said he’d opted to stay behind and give them a chance, everyone had to know that that was bunk, and all anyone had to do–especially first mate Joshamee Gibbs–was look up over the side of the boat, or even call out to Jack (who would have called foul play or shouted for someone to let him loose). So on a second watch-through, that didn’t pass the smell test.

All that said, I still liked it overall. Those things weren’t major surgical problems (except for the misuse of Elizabeth’s affections at the end) they were just bits that stood out here and there and took me out of the story. If you’re asking me to sit through two and a half hours, they’d better all be worth it.

Still, it was better than Tides or Tales. 

Next up, part 3.

Graham Re-Watches Pirates, part 1: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (Two-Disc Collector's Edition)

There’s always a best-movie-of-the-summer, and whatever it was supposed to be in 2003, Jack Sparrow (sorry, Captain) came along and sank it.

Naturally, with studios and shareholders being what they are, this created a demand for sequels on all sides, and I for one was thrilled at the prospect. I loved Jack’s antics, Will & Elizabeth’s chemistry, Barbossa’s craftiness, and the dogged determination of Commodore Norrington.

I’m trying to examine what went right in the first three, and contrast it with what went wrong in the last two, because…well, when something you enjoy becomes unenjoyable, you (I) want to figure out why. As a content creator I need to know things like this, so that I avoid the same pitfalls.

(I am, after all, going to write sequels to the Engines novels…but that’s another post.)

So in no particular order, here’s what worked for The Curse of the Black Pearl.

  1. Gore Verbinski. As I researched the background of these films, I noticed that Verbinski directed the first three, while others have handled the last two. This is not a coincidence. Verbinski’s vision is not only delightful on its own, but the fact that it’s the consistent form across the trilogy is a boon. That helps bind them tonally and thematically.
  2. Jack was not the main character. You could be forgiven for thinking otherwise (I certainly did) because of the marketing, and the fact that he was everyone’s favorite character. But make no mistake, this is a story about Will and Elizabeth, through and through. Jack is just the wild card, the anti-hero, and he has the effect of revealing aspects of the main characters based on his interactions with them.
  3. The main characters had an intriguing entanglement. There’s a reason this film starts with Will and Elizabeth meeting as children, then finally having some mouth-whoopie at the end. She finds him as a shipwrecked survivor and steals treasure from him to protect him from being thought a pirate. He needs that treasure because it connects him to his father, without whom he is now an orphan. These facets bind them together and keep them coming together as the story unfolds. (And it’s noteworthy that the writers of Dead Men Tell No Tales tried to remake this connection with Henry and Carina…and it could have worked, if the delivery hadn’t fallen flat.)
  4. The villain was formidable and respectable. Captain Barbossa was AMAZING in this film, as well as subsequent installments. He was frightening, serious, and capable. A worthy foe for Will, Elizabeth, and Jack, against all of whom he squares off at different times and in different ways. Ultimately it takes all three of them to bring him down. He earns it.
  5. The naval foil character also had depth and resonance on an emotional level. Commodore Norrington fills this role primarily in the first film, while Lord Beckett takes over for 2 and 3. “The Spaniard” is this guy in 4, and “Leftenant Faramir” (I swear they never say the character’s actual name, but it’s David Fenham) is the guy in 5, but they’re both so forgettable and one-dimensional as to make them pointless additions to the story. Norrington, though, is romantically linked to Elizabeth, and this fuels his motivation in the story, while simultaneously complicating Elizabeth’s decision process.
  6. The cinematography was not rushed, and had great focus. Again this goes back to Verbinski, but I noticed a stark difference in the first film and the fifth one. Sweeping camera angles, wide shots, big rotations, whatever the terms are, Verbinski steps far enough back for you to really get the big picture, and he doesn’t rush you through the scene with hard, choppy edits. (This happened so many times in 5 that it hurts.)
  7. The dialogue was crisp, sharp, and said so much with so little. Anyone who has seen Black Pearl can quote no less than 10 lines from it, from any of the characters. Dialogue is hard, and the writers put serious effort into it. This may have dwindled in the sequels, but it dropped straight off in the last two.
  8. The pirate cast was not hokey or B-movie reel. While we get to enjoy Gibbs across all five films, and Little Marty comes back for Dead Men, I really missed Pintel and Raghetti after World’s End. I felt like the good, rough pirate extras were replaced by pointless clowns. Even after rewatching Black Pearl last night I didn’t get that impression.
  9. The nods to the ride at Disneyland were great Easter eggs. I rode the ride in spring of 2003 and saw the movie a few months later, so the little bits taken from the ride were fresh in my mind. Gibbs sleeping with the pigs, the pirates chasing silhouetted damsels in backlit windows, prisoners trying to lure the dog with the keys, and many more. This movie was, after all, a big gamble after being based on a ride (which hadn’t been done before and has not been successfully done since) and those cues helped the audience feel like they were riding through Port Royal and Tortuga just like they rode through the ride.
  10. The moonlight fights! HOLY CRAP everyone was talking about the fight in the cave at the end, between Barbossa and Jack, not only because of the fancy fencing, but because of the effects that challenged the eye and tickled the mind with the moonlight tricks. It must have been hell for the SFX folks to nail that, but they did, and it’s held up.
  11. The choice of pirate lore/fantasy monster was excellently done. There are a lot of things to draw on from pirate lore, like sea monsters and buried treasure. I think not only the visual aspect of skeletal pirates, but also the way they were used, was ace work. This was a move that others would try to replicate down the line, with mixed success.

That’s my take right now, off the top of my head. Next up I shall re-watch Dead Man’s Chest and break it down in similar fashion. Sound off if I missed anything here.

Wednesdays and the Work-in-Progress: 7 June 2017

kickstart cover

Hey gang.

I notified the KS backers last week that the manuscript went to my editor, who will be tinkering with it for the next month. In that time I have two big responsibilities to juggle:

  1. Getting the artwork done for those who paid for it
  2. Moving my family 400 miles away to start a new job and buy a house

“But Graham! But Graham! Why would you do this all at the same time?!”

Because I make poor life decisions many times a year, and this time I made two of them at once. (Or rather they are both great life decisions, and doing them at once was the poor decision, and I just cut my poor decision rate by 50%. Woo-hoo, #adulting.)

Anyway, that’s where I’m at. Waiting on edits, working on art. I did a drawing of The Spartan for the bookmarks, and didn’t like how it came out. I will re-do it so that it does not suck.

I anticipate that by this time next week, I will have some more art to show you. Just know that all of the personalized stuff for the Kickstarter will have to be seen by each individual backer, first.

Should-Reads: DRAGON TEETH by Michael Crichton

Amazon link here.

When Michael Crichton passed in 2008, I was devastated. He was a pillar of my childhood, and the reason I loved reading science fiction. I understand that the old die-hards all grew up on Asimov, Bradbury, and Burroughs, but that wasn’t my era. For me it was the guy who wrote JURASSIC PARK and CONGO. I couldn’t get enough of his work.

Two posthumous novels were announced shortly after his death, those being PIRATE LATITUDES and MICRO. I really liked the former and didn’t finish the latter, which was finished by a second author. I couldn’t really tell which parts were Crichton and which were the other, but it didn’t fire for me the way that the others had.

What’s important to note though is that I read a lot of Crichton’s stuff when I was younger and far less picky about books. There are things I envy about my younger self and that is one of them. Nowadays if I get bored with a book I can’t force myself to finish it. Back then, I rarely got bored.

So I don’t know now if such books as CONGO or SPHERE would hold my attention the way they did then. JURASSIC PARK and THE LOST WORLD certainly did, for their novelty, and despite not being connected to the franchise, DRAGON TEETH taps into that same vein of scientific adventurism.

An afterword reveals that this book was found by Crichton’s late wife, Sherri, who prepared it for publication over the course of many years with the help of workers at Michael Crichton’s archives. So it is a posthumous publication, but the exciting bit of it is that it was one of his earlier novels, written in the 1970s, maybe a hundred years after the events of the book itself.

Taking place in 1876, it follows the exploits of a young  Yale student who, on a dare and a bet, goes west for the summer to dig up fossils with a crazy professor. The student, William Johnson (a fictional character) ends up caught between two warring paleontologists, Profs. Cope and Marsh, who were actual historical figures that battled each other over the course of a decade.

That’s all I’ll say about the story, because the book itself is not that long. (The audio is under 8 hours. The print copy is 300 pages.) Frankly I think that is a strength of the story, that it flows and moves quickly and keeps up one’s interest. There’s no getting ahead of yourself, seeing what’s going to happen next but having to dig through fifty pages to get there.

Content-wise it’s also pretty clean. I think I remember three curse words in the whole thing, and vague references to prostitution (there is an explicit reference when Calamity Jane is mentioned) that just portray accurately the state of the West at that time. If you hadn’t told me the author of this book as I read it, I might almost have believed it was a Louis L’Amour or an Elmore Leonard.

If I have any gripes about the book, they are personal, namely that there are two instances where Mormons are mentioned, and in a rather unfavorable light. Then again, Crichton was writing those scenes from the perspective of an actual figure (Prof. Cope) and may have implemented Cope’s opinions from his personal writings. Popular opinion of Mormonism was not amicable in those days (less so than it is now.)

So all in all, I recommend it heartily. It’s among Crichton’s better works, certainly better than NEXT (which was full of scientific info on genetics, and also full of insanely explicit sex and language), more enjoyable than SPHERE (which I found equally intriguing and depressing), and ultimately made more sense than CONGO (but in middle school I thought gorillas were AWESOME so I loved that book.)

Check it out for a great summer read.

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!