Archive for June, 2014

How to build a real life superhero costume on the cheap

19/06

Writing superhero fiction is a tricky thing. The tech possessed by heroes tends to need to be more fantastic than what we have in real life, simply for convenience in storytelling. After all, why worry about realism in a world where people can fly and shoot laser beams out of their eyes?

But you also have to keep things somewhat grounded in reality. The suspension of disbelief only goes so far, and eventually you can reach a point where a reader’s mind calls bullshit on you. I push that limit a lot with Bobby’s gear in the Sidekick series and have been called on it. Readers will accept anti-grav boots, but bulletproof boxer shorts? Get real.

The idea of a costume to conceal a crime fighter’s identity dates back to 1936 when Lee Falk created the Phantom, arguably the first modern “masked man” vigilante. When Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster invented the modern superhero with Superman in the 1938, they dressed him in a sideshow strongman’s outfit to stress his strength and added a cape to allow fluidity of movement in their art. Then with Bill Finger’s designs for Batman in 1939, the idea of a functional themed costume became reality. These costumes served their purposes and set the standards for creators like me to this day.

So I was thinking recently, what if I wanted to create a superhero outfit today? Something that would make it easier for a person, should he or she be so inclined, to go out and fight crime in their spare time. Granted, intense training would be required and a budding superhero would be most effective in peak physical condition, but there would still be weaknesses that the costume would need to help.

DISCLAIMER. This post is for entertainment purposes only. I am not suggesting anyone out there actually try being a superhero. It’s dangerous. Do not sue me if you do something stupid.

The Head

Most superheroes wear masks, thanks to Lee Falk, but a mask alone is not sufficient protection today. We don’t have comic book tech to help us, so we need real life possibilities.

Let’s start with a helmet. The Premier Crown JCR100 Riot Duty Helmet offers a lot of neat features and will withstand some pretty nasty blows. It also offers enough room for some of the features we will be adding to it.

opplanet-armasight-dark-strider-night-vision-scope Instead of a mask, why not go with something functional as well as disguise worthy? I chose the ESS Profile NVG Military Goggles from Safety Glasses USA. Good eye protection, and the tinted lenses will also keep your eyes from being recognized. Eventually, however, you might want to replace these with the new Israeli Lightweight Night Vision Goggles when they become available. Until then, if you need night vision, try the Armasight Dark Strider Gen 1+ Night Vision Binocular (pictured), which seem to be the least bulky option.

north-7700mask You’ll also need something over your lower face. The North 7700 Half Mask will hide your nose and mouth, provide some protection against pepper spray and tear gas, and also help distort your voice if you need to speak. Remember, the bad guys you will be up against will not have any delusions of being honorable and obeying laws against certain anti-personnel weapons, so get the most protection you can.

Finally, there is room under the helmet for earphones, so try something like Kinivo BTH220 Bluetooth Stereo Headphones linked to a cellphone stashed safely away so you can stay in constant communication. And since you won’t want to call the cops with your real number, go with the Burner app!

The Body

Why does Batman have a big yellow target on his chest? Because that’s where he’s the most protected. Yeah, the super-cool lycra suits artists like to draw might look good, but unless you are nigh invulnerable, they’re worthless. Body armor is the way to go.

The best bet is to get everything you need in one handy kit: the M2100 Disturbance Control Kit. It provides you with a vest, shin pads, forearm guards, and groin protection with a nifty carrying bag. Its vest isn’t bulletproof, however, so you’ll want a ProMAX Concealable bulletproof vest to go underneath everything. And when it’s warm outside, you may want to add a personal cooling system to your gear.

The Feet

I’m going to assume speed is of the essence, instead of some specialized need like climbing, so I selected the Timberland PRO Mudsill Low Steel Toe from Zappos. Steel toed protection, lightweight, and traction. Good running shoes for when you’re chasing down the bad guy.

Weapon and Tools

You will need some kind of weapon when facing down a supervillain. The one I decided upon doesn’t come stock, and will need some gadgeteering on your part to work perfectly.

taser-c21 Start with a Taser. You’ll probably want two: one with cartridges that you can stash in your utility belt (see below) and one that you are going to jury-rig into your glove to deliver a trademark Knock-Out Punch!

Wire the leads into the glove that you will wear on your dominant (punching) hand. Wire one lead to a steel band lined with a ceramic center worn over your index finger like a ring, and the other to an identical band around your little finger. This way it’s unlikely the two electrodes will come into contact accidentally, and the ceramics will provide extra insulation to protect you.

Then wire the trigger into a button you can easily reach with your other hand. When you go to deliver your punch, squeeze the trigger with your other hand as you deliver the blow. Pow! Incapacitated villain for about 30 seconds; more than enough time to secure the evildoer.

Speaking of which, you’ll want some disposable zip-tie handcuffs to secure your villain while he waits for the police to arrive. Always keep a few on you.

Add in the usual necessaries like a flashlight, first aid kit, and an energy bar or two all held close to you by a freakin’ Ninja Utility Belt!

Finishing it off

Over top of all this, you’ll want the actual costume. Sure, you can be gaudy and decorative, but if you’re more into function than style, you can’t beat some flame-retardant coveralls. If you must, add on a cape, too

The Bottom Line

So how much will all this cost? Not as much as you might think! I’ve been keeping a running total, and everything in this entry can be purchased today for under $2,500.00. That’s allowing you $200.00 for the outer costume and cape. If you want to pick up a prepaid burner cell phone that you can swap SIMs in, add on an extra $30 to $700 depending on how nifty you want it to be. I suggest cheap because going into battle with the baddies will tend to take its toll on electronics.

Again, I don’t recommend going out and fighting crime on your own. But from a writer’s standpoint, it is nice to know it’s possible, and not just for a millionaire playboy!

What to Read to Prepare You for when Your Girlfriend Forces You to Read “The Fault in our Stars.”

08/06

The Fault in Our StarsAttention, teenage boys. If she hasn’t already discovered it, your girlfriend will shortly become entranced with John Green’s The Fault in our Stars. And you know what that means.

She will force you to read it.

Okay, maybe she’ll drag you to the movie that opened this weekend. But you probably aren’t going to get off that lightly. She will read the book. And she will fall in love with it. And she will give it to you saying that it will change your life.

Now, let me say up front that The Fault in our Stars is a great book. And it’s a book you should read. But let’s face it, it’s chick lit. It’s a book for teenage girls. It’s from a girl’s perspective, it’s got sappy romance in it, and its male hero is a guy who you will be compared to for your entire relationship and found wanting because he is too good to actually exist.

You will, however, be forced to read The Fault in our Stars. And you will be better off for reading it. In the end, you will probably enjoy it. But you should prepare yourself now for the experience, to make it easier and more enjoyable for you.

Book Swap

How do I know that you will be forced to read The Fault in our Stars? Because your girlfriend is going to get the idea from the book itself. Hazel, our plucky heroine, forces Augustus, her impossibly perfect boyfriend-to-be, to read her favorite book, An Imperial Affliction. He, in turn, forces her to read his favorite series of books based on a videogame that he loves. They both end up enjoying each other’s books.

This is what is going to inspire your girlfriend to make you read this book. And you should be prepared to give her a book in return. While I ought to put in a plug here for Sidekickit’s probably still too much a guy’s book. It won’t give you an insight on what your girlfriend sees in books, and it won’t be as easy for her to love as it was you (I hope). So I’m prepared to offer some suggestions for you. You should pick at least one of these books right now (as in as soon as you are done reading this article) and go read it. Then when your girlfriend comes rushing at you with the black-white-and-blue paperback you are going to get to know so well, you will have something to put in her hands in return.

Looking for Alaska

Probably the best way to prepare for a John Green novel is with another John Green novel. Believe it or not, John Green has not always written chick lit. TFioS (better get used to the acronym now; you will be using it in texts with your girlfriend soon) is his first book with a female narrator, written from her perspective. Up until now, his books have been pretty much firmly in the “guy” camp.

Looking for Alaska follows Miles (also known ironically as “Pudge”) as he transfers to a boarding school and meets a group or somewhat insane friends. Chief among them are his roommate, “The Colonel,” and the girl across the hall, Alaska Young. Alaska is your typical John Green female character: perky, quirky, deep, and batshit insane. You will fall in love with her right away. And just as Augustus is the too-good-to-be-real boyfriend you will be compared to for your entire relationship, your girlfriend will think of Alaska as the too-perfect-to-be-real girlfriend you must be secretly comparing her to. Maybe that will lead her to go easy on your imperfections.

And if The Colonel, Miles, and Alaska aren’t enough crazy for you, wait until you meet Takumi. I can all but guarantee you will wear a fox headband the next time you go out to do something stupid.

Best of all, Looking for Alaska is not light reading. It’s fun, upbeat, quirky, then takes you right off an emotional cliff. It’s brilliant, and will prepare you for the rollercoaster that is TFioS.

King Dork

King DorkDid you have to read The Catcher in the Rye? Did you hate it as much as I do? You are in luck. Read this one.

Tom Henderson (known not so affectionately as “Moe,” as in “Chi-Mo,” as in “Child Molester,” you’ll find out why) is trying to survive high school with the help of his best friend Sam Hellerman (to whom he is permanently bound through the power of alphabetical order). They start a band. Okay, several bands. The names of which change every week or so whenever they get bored with the old name.

It’s a coming of age story in the modern world. It’s hilarious. It’s got some deep mysteries in it. But it’s not plodding, it’s not condescending, and none of the characters are anywhere as unreally perfect as the characters in TFioS. You will like them. Even the ones you’re supposed to hate.

This is one of my favorite books of the 21st Century so far. There’s a reason I put a dog-eared copy of it in Bobby’s backpack in Sidekick. And best of all, the sequel is finally coming out! Your girlfriend may not like it as much as she might some of the others on this list, but that will give you an excuse to not like everything she gives you.

The Maze Runner

The Maze Runner (Maze Runner Series #1) (MTI) (Exclusive Edition)The girls had The Hunger Games, Divergent, and Legend. Finally, here’s some dystiopYAn fiction for guys.

Thomas wakes up inside a maze with a bunch of other boys and no memory. They have a nice structured life in their clearing in the middle of the maze, but the corridors around them are patrolled by some really nasty creatures.

Then a girl shows up and announces that she is the last one who will be sent. Supplies stop coming. Other nasty crap happens. And it’s up to Thomas to lead the boys (and girl) toward their destiny.

This book really is a boys’ Divergent. It’s dystopian, action packed, with mysteries to solve, and two sequels that take the story in really unexpected directions. You will really get a kick out of this one. And your girlfriend might enjoy it, too, if she likes other dystopian stuff.

Oh, and please read the book instead of seeing the movie. Yeah, I know the movie has Stiles from Teen Wolf in it, but read the book. You will thank me later.

Beautiful Creatures

Beautiful Creatures (Beautiful Creatures Series #1)“Huh?” you’re saying. “Isn’t this just more chick-lit?”

True, it’s a paranormal romance, but unlike other series in this sub-genre, the Caster Chronicles (as this book and its sequels and spin-offs are known) are generally written from the point of view of the male protagonist, Ethan Waite. Ethan falls in love with Lena and finds out that (a) she’s magical and (b) she’s cursed. And all the fun spills out from there.

If you’re going to be forced to read romances by your girlfriend, this is a good chance to get used to some of the tropes of the genre while still having a protagonist who you can identify with.

Plus, the two comic relief characters of Ridley and Link proved so popular that they’ve been spun off into their own series. I’ll bet you fall for them harder than Ethan falls for Lena.

Again, please read the book and ignore the movie.

Conclusion

TFioS is, I must emphasize again, an amazing book. Well written, great storytelling, and worth reading. But if you’re reluctant to jump into it just because your girlfriend found it compelling, the books on this list will help you prepare your brain for the experience to come, and give you something to foist off on her in return. (And since Augustus and Hazel did that in TFioS she’ll probably find that fact romantic.) Pick one and go read it now. Then you’ll be ready.

And I guarantee you will love it.

Lit Shaming

06/06

There’s an article on Slate.com today by Ruth Graham entitled “Against YA.” The subhead reads

Read whatever you want. But you should feel embarrassed when what you’re reading was written for children.

I had considered just posting a link to the article on my Facebook page with the comment “screw you,” but decided that a more thoughtful response was required. Especially since Ms. Graham didn’t put much critical thought into her article, which meant that I would have to pull double duty logic-wise.

What seems to have rubbed Ms. Graham the wrong way is the fact that The Fault in our Stars is an amazingly successful book about to become a movie that makes a lot of money for just about everybody except the author whose book it is based upon if Hollywood operates the way it usually does. Ms. Graham did not like The Fault in our Stars, so Young Adult books are bad.

You Mad Bro?

Usually when I come across a hatchet job like this one, I tend to suspect an ulterior motive. Especially when the biography at the end of the article informs us that “Ruth Graham is a writer in New Hampshire.”

This should set alarm bells ringing. After all, which writer out there doesn’t feel jealous of other successful writers? I’ve said before that John Green haunts my dreams because he’s so successful and I’m not. I don’t begrudge him his success, though, because he’s earned it, but a week doesn’t go by that I wouldn’t love to have his reviews, let alone his sales figures. So is this article just an example of sour grapes from someone who hates an author who’s better than her?

On Amazon, the only living author listed named Ruth Graham is the daughter of evangelist Billy Graham and sister of hate preacher Franklin Graham. Since her works don’t really seem to be in the same category (they aren’t fiction, for one thing) I think we can decide that either the Ruth Graham who wrote the article is not the famous Ruth Graham, or that it’s not jealousy that drives her opinions. So I will give her the benefit of the doubt and take the piece as seriously as it deserves, which honestly is still not much.

De Re YA

Let’s first deal with one misconception about young adult literature (a term I hate) that seems to permeate Ms. Graham’s thinking. She treats YA as a genre.

I will admit that I introduce myself at panels and speaking engagements by saying “I’m Pab Sungenis, and I write books for boys.” But that doesn’t tell you what genre I write in. I’ve written urban fantasy (including two novels in the superhero subcategory), thrillers, and am currently in the middle of what I call a “bromantic comedy.” I’ve also written “cozy horror” but haven’t yet found a publisher for that one.

You see, what Ms. Graham doesn’t understand (which is also the case with a disturbing number of agents, publishers, and writers) is that YA is not a genre. YA is an audience. It’s a marketing construct. It’s a demographic shortcut.

I don’t write “young adult” books. I write books where young adults are the protagonists and people (mainly boys) from 13-21 are a targeted demographic.

YA authors, or at least those who are worth their salt, don’t write books for teenagers. They write books. Hopefully books that teenagers will like. One of the reasons that John Green is so ridiculously successful is that he doesn’t talk down to his readers. He doesn’t treat them as stupid. He gives them complex characters with real dilemmas who drive powerful plots. And he doesn’t soften up their rough edges (consider Takumi’s battle cry in Looking for Alaska for an example). This is also why adults often find his works so compelling; his characters are fascinating.

One agent actually told me five years ago that “no adult will read a book about teenagers.” I nearly choked on my glass of Coke as I reached for my copy of King Dork after hanging up on her. Too many people don’t understand that YA simply refers to the target demographic of a book, not its content.

The Fault in our Logic

Let’s move on to another problem with Ms. Graham’s cri de coeur (or is it more of a cri de rate since it seems to come from her spleen and not her heart?) and take a look at one reason she claims to look down on YA books.

Most importantly, these books consistently indulge in the kind of endings that teenagers want to see, but which adult readers ought to reject as far too simple. YA endings are uniformly satisfying, whether that satisfaction comes through weeping or cheering. These endings are emblematic of the fact that the emotional and moral ambiguity of adult fiction—of the real world—is nowhere in evidence in YA fiction. These endings are for readers who prefer things to be wrapped up neatly, our heroes married or dead or happily grasping hands, looking to the future.

I think this was the point when I considered that Ms. Graham either didn’t read the book, or skimmed through it quickly. “Satisfying?” “Looking to the future?” What future? Excuse me, but

SPOILER ALERT

 

 

Augustus is dead. Isaac is blind. Hazel Grace is dying. The author she idolized and whose book she employed as an emotional crutch (a) is an asshole, (b) has disowned that book, (c) was a prick to her and Augustus, and (d) is having an emotional breakdown in front of her. That is not “satisfying” on any level. No character gets any kind of satisfaction or anything near what they want. There is no future to be looked to, and the only hand grasped is Isaac’s as he is haltingly led around.

 

END SPOILERS

 

But this kind of thing is part of what makes The Fault in our Stars so good. It doesn’t cop out. It doesn’t treat the reader as someone who needs a big fluffy pillow to land on when the story comes to a screeching halt. It is a gut punch right where readers need it the most. It’s a book targeting teenagers about death and dying that doesn’t sugar coat anything. If I knew any teenager who had a terminal illness I would immediately give them a copy of this book and Somebody Up There Hates You just because it will make them laugh where they need to without treating them like… well… children!

Yes, there is escapist YA (Graham cites Twilight and Divergent as examples) and there is a place for it. There’s escapist fare for adults, too. But there is so much more. I’ve seen The Hunger Games and Catching Fire compared to The Red Badge of Courage and All Quiet on the Western Front, both deservedly so. The Harry Potter series is designed to give children a love of reading and grow with them, and the last three books can especially be considered adult fare.

And I will admit that, at heart, Sidekick is probably best described as escapist, but in the two books I also touch on growing up, drifting apart from your friends, child abuse including sexual abuse, teenage fatherhood, homelessness, and other “heavy” stuff. And the 12 year olds I’ve talked to as I’ve moved along promoting the books seem to be able to grasp this “adult” material. And the 30 and 40 year olds I’ve talked to don’t feel ashamed that they’ve found characters that they’ve grown to love just because the characters are much younger than they are.

What the Dickens?

Another thing that really disturbs me is that Graham offers up Charles Dickens as an example of complex adult literature, compared to the “shameful” YA.

Has she ever read any Dickens?

Dickens is about as formulaic as the worst YA out there. You can tell who the bad guys are because they are all either ugly or have disgusting names like “Uriah Heep.” The Good Guys always win and the Bad Guys always lose (or are reformed in the case of Scrooge). Even Sydney Carton who….

…nah. It’s a Victorian novel. I’m not posting a spoiler warning. Sydney Carton who dies on the guillotine says in his final words “it is a far far better rest [he goes] to than [he] has ever known.” It’s a happy ending for him.

Dickens’ work is so formulaic that there is a 30 episode radio comedy just making fun of his tropes.

There is no thought required in a Dickens novel. There are few complexities. There are no deep motivations or convoluted schemes. It’s escapist fare cut and dried. Just like Shakespeare (who wrote for the groundlings more than he did the crowned heads) the only reason we tout Dickens as great is because the dirt of intervening centuries has covered over the flaws in his work like so much snow in a graveyard. Because it is old, we assume it’s art. Spoiler: it isn’t.

Conclusion

I can’t help but feel that perhaps I’m being a little defensive because I write YA, and that perhaps I’m taking her comments as insulting my work by association. But I really think it goes deeper than that.

The illiteracy rate in the county where I live is over 20%. One out of every five people around me cannot read. The rest of the country is not much better. I find it hard to criticize anyone who reads anything nowadays. And one should never be ashamed to read what they like.

There are different types of books for different people. There are tons of genres. And some of those books target teenagers. But I can honestly say that most of the YA books I’ve read in recent years have better and more complex characters than any of the “adult” fare I’ve read.

If Ms. Graham wants to see adults reading more books aimed at them… well… maybe she and the other “adult” authors ought to write better stuff for them to read.