When A Show Is Renewed But The Storyline You Care About Most is Cancelled

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Many—not all but many—movies have two genres. The first tells the story of the main plot line: the heist, the hunt for the spy, the fight to save the farm, the escape from the haunted house. Those are all the high-stress moments of the story, building tension to the finale. When the marketers cut a trailer, this is the genre they focus on.

The second genre tells a story in the down moments of the plot, when the tension of the main plot is allowed to ease and reset so it can be ramped up again. Traditionally, these would be romantic plots, but sometimes it’s a coming of age story.

TV does something similar. For example, Elementary was a mystery show that had, for its second, much smaller secondary plot, a little drama that played out within the main cast. Most focused on the growing friendship between Sherlock and Joan, but some were about Joan’s family, or Sherlock’s, or their circle of friends.

And since it’s an episodic show, the main-plot mysteries were one and done but the little dramas stacked one on top of the other, building over the long term to something wonderful.

Honestly, in TV it’s those tiny dramas, building one upon the other, that keep me coming back episode after episode. The Mystery of the Week keeps me entertained. The slowly changing relationships between the main characters makes me binge a whole season to Find Out What Happened.

Another example: for years, I was faithfully picking up Sue Grafton’s alphabet novels, one after another, because a) the private eye plots for each book were solid as hell, and b), the main character, Kinsey Milhone, discovered that she had a huge extended family that she knew nothing about, and the subplots of each book showed her inching closer to the family she never knew she had and wasn’t sure she wanted.

I really wanted to know what happened between Kinsey and her estranged family. I could find a solid mystery in any number of books, but the family drama is what kept me coming back.

Then the subplot suddenly shifted into a romantic plot featuring a good-looking homicide detective who used to be a hairdresser(!) which meant he could fix Kinsey’s famously terrible self-inflicted haircuts. I was so annoyed that I dropped the series immediately. I’d been coming back for the reconciliation with her family. The sexy hairdresser/homicide detective left me clammy.

One of the reasons I never watched House was that, while the main plots were interesting enough, I didn’t like watching the character dramas play out. It just felt so squicky. In fact, there are a lot of shows that I ditch after a few seasons because I feel absolutely done with the kind of subplot dramas the show puts its characters through.

Anyway, the reason all this has bubbled to the surface is the British show Miss Scarlet and the Duke. Brief description: Eliza Scarlet is a Victorian-era daughter of a police inspector and private investigator who is obsessed with being a private investigator herself, and of course she’s brilliant. “The Duke” is the nickname of a Chief Inspector of Scotland Yard, William Wellington. They’re childhood friends who love each other. The dynamic on the show is that he helps support her struggling business while she solves his most difficult cases.

Did I mention that they love each other? In season one they’re friends trying to accept their mutual attraction. Season two has them in a romantic relationship while Eliza’s dedication to her work keeps causing problems for William. Season three has them trying to be friends post-breakup, even though William begins dating Eliza’s childhood bully.

Then season four hit the library on disc and I was 100 percent ready for it. Three ended with the (now more adult and sensible bully) dumping William because he can’t admit that he’s still in love with Eliza. So four ought to be the season where they try again and actually make it work, right?

Well, no. Instead, William takes a posting in New York City. He tells Eliza that he loves her but that they need time apart.

And the next thing I discover is that season five will be called simply “Miss Scarlet” because Stuart Martin, the actor who played “the Duke”, is leaving the show.

Which I get. It can’t be fun to be the cop who scolds the main character for all the cool and fun ways they break the rules. Taraji P. Henson pulled the ripcord on Person of Interest because her role had changed and she’d become bored. I’m sure Martin believes there are better ways to spend the sexy leading man years of his life.

But I’m not sure I’m interested in a show without that subplot. The structure of each episode was such that each multi-season-long subplot was woven tightly into the execution of the mystery of the week. What, exactly, is supposed to fit into that space?

I have no idea, but it’s like imagining a Twenty Palace novel without Annalise. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

I mean, I’ll give season five a try, but I have to admit that I’m feeling a little cheated. If he’s leaving the show, I’m glad they didn’t kill off the character, because that would have sucked. I’m still disappointed in the unresolved ending of this four-year storyline, though.

(I should write shorter posts)

The new book, health, and a few other updates

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It’s past time that I wrote an update about… Well, about everything. I’ve really only been waiting for my situation to be somewhat changed. It’s hard to motivate myself to pop up online and say Everything is good and bad in the same way as it has been for months. Here are some fun TV shows I watched recently. I hate to be dull.

First things first: Every spring, a number of SPFBO winners and finalists go on sale at 99 cents. This year, from April 13-16, there will be more than a hundred books—all having received positive reviews from the reviewers picking the contest winners—available at fire sale prices on Amazon. 

I’m posting this a day early, but most of these books should probably already be on sale right now. 

SPFBO Finalist Sale 2024

If you’re a fantasy reader, check it out. There are a lot of treats to be had (and a few of them are mine).

Progress on my new horror novel is ongoing. In fact, things have picked up a bit and I’m making better progress. In part that’s because some (but not all by any means) of the stressors in my life are letting up (more on that later) and some because I stopped throwing out the beginnings of the book and are just letting the story happen. 

I mean, I’m still going to have to throw out the beginning of this book and redo it, hopefully with ten thousand fewer words, but it’s nice to keep on keeping on. 

Recently, I read Catriona Ward’s Little Eve and reread Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot. Both are amazing in very different ways. King’s novel feels like it’s all right there on the page. Everything is laid out for you and the story grabs hold of you and never stops pulling. I’ve said this before, but it reads like a thriller, which sounds like it should be a natural match for the horror genre, but my long history of discarded mass market paperbacks suggests that it’s a trick that’s actually hard to pull off. 

Ward’s novel is wonderful in a different way. It feels deeper and more upsetting, and also that more is being implied than I’m seeing. I may need to read it again to pick up all the clues to the mysteries at the center of it. Recommended if you like psychological gothic historical horror.

And I realize that I mentioned that I was in the middle of ‘Salem’s Lot two months ago when I posted my last update, so I’m publicly confessing to my ongoing reading slump. It started during the pandemic, and I’m feeling like the Ward novel is helping me break it. 

Then again, my son asked me to let him know when I finished my latest book because he wants me to try out a video game he likes. I can’t remember the name of it except that it has “Disco” in the title. Personally, my preference for video games leans toward monkeys throwing darts at balloons (in easy mode) but we’ll see. I do have Sundial and the most recent Robert Crais thriller on the shelf behind me, along with a few other options, just in case. 

A few weeks back, a number of people were pushing Netflix’s Blue Eye Samurai, and I bounced off it in my first attempt. It starts in the most boring way possible, with Our Mysterious Badass showing up in a restaurant and is then forced to deal with a violent narcissist and blah blah blah. It’s supposed to make us like the main character, but it feels like the usual bullshit. 

Still, the praise was steep enough that I sat down to try again with my wife. She loved the animation. I’ve said before that she really wants to see beautiful imagery in the shows she watches, and BES is honestly a step above. The story is goes to interesting places, too. Also recommended. (Trailer)

Finally, in a personal note, twelve years ago I started getting full body hives every time I did anything that raised my body temp. Cooking a meal, a hot shower, a tense conversation with my wife. Anything could trigger it. Over the counter allergy meds helped but not all the way. It became impossible to exercise or to even consider a job that was physical in any way. I went online to look into it and saw that there was no cure. The only relief I could hope for was that it might go away on its own, which could happen in 3-30 years(!)

As a result, I became more sedentary and more unhealthy over that time. 

Last fall, my new doctor arranged for me to see a specialist. At that visit, the specialist told me that there was an effective new treatment. His wife had the same issue that I do, and since starting this medication, her quality of life has completely turned around. 

He also told me that these reactions are an immune system problem and were not caused by environmental exposure like I’d thought. It feels weird that I find relief in that, but I do. 

Anyway, I need to get the first few doses of this injectable medication at the doctor’s office and, with luck, I will soon be active again. It’s been a lot of years of wearing long sleeves to hide the awful red blotches, or to sit in a cafe with my eyes closed waiting for the itches to subside. Things really could be looking up. 

It’s hard to express how excited I am about it. 

That’s all. I’ll try not to take so long for my next update. Thanks for reading. 

Writing Update, Personal Update, Pop Culture Update

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It’s been too long since I dropped an update and talked about some random news, so let’s see if I can squeeze some time in for that right now.

Progress on the new novel has been glacial. I know that’s not what you wanted to hear, but I’m tackling a big story with a lot of POV characters, so I’m doing a lot of research and rewriting.

Also, I haven’t been 100% well. I don’t want to get into details here, but my daily wordcount goals are somewhat reduced. I’m still writing, but it’s a struggle and I’m getting pretty frustrated with myself. Not only does it suck for you, the reader, that it’s taking too long to get this next book solved and finished, it sucks for me. In a huge way.

It’s hard to overstate how unhappy I am about this, actually.

But this is the state of things at the moment and there’s no choice but to persevere. On the plus side, I have a new doctor who recognizes that I am more than just my BMI, so there’s hope in that.

To be clear, I’m not talking about Twenty One Palaces. This is the book I’m writing before that book which doesn’t have a title yet.

What else?

I’m pretty much walked away from social media. I unfriended everyone on Facebook and stopped looking at it years ago, although I still post whenever I have a new blog post to announce. I check notifications there every two or three months, so please don’t try to contact me there. I probably won’t see messages or comments for weeks, at minimum.

Also, they’ve changed the format so much that I’m not sure how to navigate it anymore. Also, there doesn’t seem to be any reason for me to learn.

I left Twitter, too, although I still occasionally check the Stranger Things account for news about the show. But now that the final season is in production, I’ve pretty much stopped that, too.

BlueSky is the only space where I hang out online nowadays. I’m byharryconnolly over there, if you’re curious. My follows over there make the site pretty political, which is fine and all but before Twitter became a collapsed outhouse, it was a great place to talk about pop culture and pop culture art. That’s harder to find on BlueSky. Not that it matters much, since I’m not there very much.

Speaking of pop culture art, here’s a quick rundown of random stuff:

I’m rereading Salem’s Lot. It’s just as fun as I remember and has the pacing of an avalanche. There are just a few snowballs at the start but the end is overwhelming.

Next up for me are a pair of novels by Catriona Ward. I heard good things and I’m hoping she can help me overcome my ongoing reading slump.

Musically, I’ve been listening to a bunch of The Breeders and Belly. Yeah, it’s old music. See Salem’s Lot reference above. I’ve always been like this. I could never take part in Hugo voting or whatever because I never read books as they’re released. The songs are still great, though, esp the most recent Breeders album.

In movies/tv, The Holdovers was moving but not lovely, which is a solid recommendation from me. However my wife likes a little eye candy in her films. Landscapes. Architectures. Gardens. That sort of thing. She she admired it but wished for more.

We definitely got our fair share of lovely images in the fifth season of Fargo, and the story was fantastic. I love it when stories that don’t seem much like SF/F throw a few sfnal tropes in there.

I enjoyed Echo quite a bit, in large part because I like street-level heroes. I’m not sure how I felt about the ending, though.

Yes, this is a story about a woman who’s disconnected from her community and her culture, so the way she levels up at the end made thematic sense. Also, Maya’s relationship with Wilson Fisk was complex, ominous and poignant, too. Still, it’s a show about a hero that kicks ass but the final confrontation had more than a bit of woowoo. It felt weak. Intellectually, I appreciated it. Viscerally, I felt vaguely disappointed.

And The Marvels just landed on Disney+. I’d seen it in the theaters and watched it with my wife Wednesday night. Honestly, I have no idea what people were complaining about. It was breezy fun with lots of color and light-hearted humor.

Also, while it’s a sequel to the movie Captain Marvel (and it helps to have seen that film) having seen the other parts of the MCU that it pulled story elements from seemed entirely optional to me. Everything that needed explaining was explained in The Marvels itself.

That’s all. I’ll try not to be absent for so long in the future, and when I come back, I hope to have better news.

Annual Repost: Beautiful and Terrifying. Thanks Richard Williams et al

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Here’s the best ever adaptation of A Christmas Carol. Delightfully short, too.

If you can’t see the embed, here’s the link.

There’s a version of this on Tubi now, which is free with commercials. Unfortunately, I’m not going to link to it because it’s a really terrible print. Like, really terrible. But if you don’t want to see this on YouTube, you have another option.

Happy Holidays.

A Child of Many Mothers: Sequels, Asterisks, and the Expanding MCU

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So, I went to see The Marvels when it premiered. Takeaway: I enjoyed it despite its flaws. It was funny. It was goofy. It had big, complex battle scenes. It established that flerkins have Hammer Space inside them. 

More importantly, the characters were engaging and the storyline was genuinely fun. It’s not the greatest of all MCU films, but it’s not terrible. 

Unfortunately, the box office was surprisingly soft and the second week drop was huge at nearly eighty percent. I’ve been looking at various reviews and online commentary to figure out why so few people bought a ticket for this one. 

There are a lot of hot takes out there, some sensible and some risible, but I want to focus on one in particular:

Some folks have been complaining that the MCU has gotten so big that casual viewers can’t keep up with it all. They call it “homework.”

This is the one that interests me most, because the people saying this are complaining about the way comic books have been telling stories since I first started reading them back in the 1970s.

Okay. Here’s what I mean: You’d be reading a Captain Hero Guy comic, and see a thought bubble above Our Hero’s head that read something like:

Every since I resigned from Fighting Hero Team*, Dad has refused to return my calls.

And at the bottom of the panel would be a little box with the caption:

* As seen in Fighting Hero Team #86!

Although sometimes it might say something as simple as

* see last issue

Now, obviously, comic book publishers hoped that that little caption would prompt Captain Hero Guy’s fans to buy FHT 86. They’re a company. This is a capitalist country. They wanted to boost sales. We live in a society.

But boosting sales wasn’t the only effect. This asterisks also gave the reader the feeling that they were entering a big, interconnected network of stories. Captain Hero Guy existed in a wider world than could be contained in a single floppy, and new comics readers had to decide if they were willing and able to accept that they did not know every detail of every aspect of the story. Because if they hated that, they weren’t going to keep reading. 

And the MCU has gotten big enough that it’s becoming more like the comics. The setting is full of characters. It sprawls. Maybe you, the generic viewer, won’t know every detail fo an established character’s back story, and maybe all you’ll get in the movie you’re watching is “I got my powers by pushing through the boundary of a witch hex” (or whatever it is Monica says). 

It’s ambiguity. It’s the deliberate denial of casual expertise. It’s the feeling that comes from knowing the whole party is bigger than party going on right here in the theater.

Can you, the critic or the generic viewer, handle that? Can you invest in these characters when you don’t know absolutely every bit of lore? Because if you can’t, they’re freely available behind the Disney+ subscription fee, assuming you have the time and interest to spend on them. Many don’t. 

Obviously, it was much easier for those poor, long-suffering critics to keep up when Marvel was only releasing a few movies a year. All they had to do was pop in to a theater every few months and, as long as they could stay off their phones during the movie’s runtime, they knew everything they needed to know. 

Now they’re expected to play an active role in understanding a movie that supposed to be (and is) pleasant-distraction-grade corporate entertainment, and they either don’t have the tools for for the job or they can’t be bothered. 

Here’s a simple fact: You can’t argue with other peoples’ boredom. We’ve had a lot of superhero entertainment over the last 20+ years, and while it’s an incredibly adaptable genre (you can combine it freely with so many other things, like heist movies, space opera, horror, raunchy comedy, conspiracy thriller, rom com, noir, coming of age stories… at some point, someone is going to make a mid-budget “Romancing the Stone” -style romance with superpowers and they’ll clean up) we’re not really getting the diversity. 

Instead, we get a lot of sci-fi action stuff. For example, Blue Beetle (the movie, not the character) was fun, but a lot of it felt like it had been made from pieces of other movies from the last fifteen years. Sidenote: I declare a moratorium on protagonists who blast through the roof of their homes because they don’t know how their flight works. 

I guess there was some wisdom in the early Marvel plan of making the TV shows follow the movies, but not expecting the movies to reciprocate.

Sometimes a movie is a sequel. The Marvels was a sequel to Captain Marvel, in that you couldn’t really get it without seeing that first film, but all sorts of people seemed to think it was a sequel to a laundry list of other stuff: Ms. Marvel, Wandavision, Secret Invasion, and who knows what else. I disagree. The important parts of Monica Rambeau’s backstory (her relationship with Carol) all took place in the Captain Marvel film. The parts that can be easily glossed over (where she got her powers) were easily glossed over. 

And there was nothing confusing about it to viewers who stayed off their phones.

Personally, I thought The Marvels handled its exposition perfectly, but many viewers seemed spooked by it. As the MCU continues to sprawl across characters and storylines, we’ll see if they can get comfortable with those asterisks. 

Followup to the end of Netflix DVDs

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Friday was the last day Netflix was sending out discs, and that morning I found an email in my inbox saying thanks and goodbye and use this link if you want to download your queue, history, ratings, reviews, etc.

Which I did, obviously.

Some of the discs I’d planned to get from Netflix would be available at my local library, so I could keep up my plan to make Film Friday a thing. (Confession: the day before yesterday was Friday and I forgot to postpone our shows to watch one. Derp.)

Also, looking through my history shows a weird randomness that sort of baffles me now. At the beginning of 2022:

  • Morning Glory
  • Spider-Man: No Way Home
  • Alice in Wonderland (2010)
  • Flee (2021)
  • Venom: Let There Be Carnage
  • The Lure
  • All About Eve
  • The Illusionist
  • Last Night in Soho
  • Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn
  • Beauty and the Beast (1946)
  • Ghostbusters: Afterlife
  • Stillwater
  • No Time to Die
  • Munich

That is a genuine mix of shit and shine, plus a few interesting failures and reasonably enjoyable entertainments. I mean, I used to curate (fingerquotes: “curate”) this list via online recommendation and vague ideas about stuff my wife would enjoy, and while I’ve hit more than I missed, I have definitely missed now and again.

The Venom sequel is there because she liked the first one (I didn’t). The Ghostbusters movie annoyed my son so much that he walked out of the room and refused to watch anything with us for more than a year. I got angry with my wife because she chuckled at Beauty and the Beast, as though the 1940s-era special effects made it a kind of an adorable school play. And Bad Luck Banging… was highly recommended but we just couldn’t stand to watch so much footage of a woman walking down a crowded, ugly street.

But that’s me focusing on the bad experiences, as I so often do.

According to my account summary, I rated 890 movies and shows, which put me in the top 10% of subscribers. I also wrote out eight actual reviews, which put me in the top 30%. Only eight reviews! Maybe if I’d written three more I’d be in the top five percent.

And while I’ve rated more discs than I borrowed, there’s some stuff in there that I do not remember at all. For instance, I gave one star to Karate-Robo Zaborgar, a movie that I’m absolutely certain I’ve never even heard of before today. 

But in the process of Googling about it, I’ve found a bunch of other movies by the same director that might be fun to look up. Gothic Lolita Battle Bear might cause actual brain damage, but it sounds like a laugh.

The section I keep returning to is the history, though. I stumbled onto the long section where we borrowed a couple seasons of Veronica Mars, which my son liked very much. It was the first time he ever scolded me for liking the one season more than another.

Also, there was his enthusiasm for The Middleman, and his dismay when he realized it hadn’t been renewed.

And I can still remember the sound of his laugh when The Dude said, “Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.”

And my wife, who always put a high premium on watching movies that were full of beauty, absolutely fell in love with Tarsem Singh’s The Fall the very next week, which was followed by Tampopo.

It’s not necessarily about Netflix’s dvd service itself, but glancing back through the history reminded me of our family history. At least, the part we spent in the living room, watching old movies and TV shows.

If you have an account, I recommend downloading your file.

The End of Netflix Mail-Order Discs

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Friday the 29th is the last day Netflix will be mailing out discs for their mail order movie rental company and even though I live in a city, have reasonably good internet and access to a bunch of streaming channels, I’m still going to miss those red envelopes.

Here’s the thing: When Netflix dvd service started out, it was a great resource for people who couldn’t get access to high speed internet. If you’re living out in the boonies, you might have dialup, but stream a whole and entire movie? No way. didn’t have a Blockbuster down the road.

Mail-order dvds were also a reasonable alternative to driving two hours to the nearest theater, or to see a movie that hadn’t even come to a theater in driving range.

Also, in the early days, they offered access to tons of obscure films. Before Netflix, you might be able to read about the Czech New Wave in a magazine, but you could only watch something like Valerie and Her Week of Wonders if you had an art house cinema in your city, were diligent about checking the schedule, and could get away from work or the kids to catch a showing.

Then: dvd.com came online. I could drop Valerie… into my queue and watch it at home. No worries.

Or, people might rave about Jodorowsky all over social media, prompting me to throw a disc into the queue, then turn it off and mail it back when we saw a man take a shit into a glass box.

Not for me, right? No big deal. Just mail it back.

But as broadband has spread around the country and new players have jumped into the streaming service, you can watch Valerie… any time you want from any number of services. It’s three bucks on Amazon right now, no art house calendar or disc-a-week mailer required. The Holy Mountain is four bucks (just in case you want to see that glass box).

Still, I didn’t want to ditch the discs.

I think everyone has heard stories of dvd subscribers who would receive a disc in the mail, think Eh, I’m not feeling it, then drop it on a shelf where it would sit for weeks.

Like people who paid for a gym membership but never actually worked out there, these were the most desirable customers. Me, I always wanted to be Netflix’s least profitable customer. When the disc arrived, we watched it that night. It didn’t matter if we were in the middle of a great series or whatever. The disc came in and went back out the next morning.

Because even though so many of these movies are streaming now, they still don’t get watched. We’re not going to take a break from Only Murders in the Building or Ted Lasso mid-season to stream Army of Shadows. That’s the kind of film you scroll past, with the Augustinian idea that yeah, you (I) really should watch a piece of landmark cinema, but not yet.

But my self-imposed rule on the discs didn’t allow for procrastination, not if we were going to get our money’s worth. Now that’s gone. “Film Friday” is the replacement idea, but we’ll see if we can stick to that.

Anyway, for weeks now Netflix has been saying that subscribers can keep the last disc they receive, and since there isn’t time to mail this one back and have it turned around, the one that arrived yesterday will be the one I’m keeping. Shin Godzilla, if you’re curious. I was a huge fan of Godzilla when I was tiny, but this was the first Godzilla film that I have genuinely enjoyed in decades. I plan to check out the special features and will add it to my rotation of Halloween discs.

Netflix has also said they’re planning to mail extra discs to subscribers, just to give them away. Maybe  they’ll send ten. Maybe one. Maybe none. We’ll see if we get any. We’ve been subscribers for a long time, but only at the lowest one-disc-at-a-time level. I’ve dropped a few discs into our queue that I’d like to own, like the original Oldboy and the Criterion edition of the first Godzilla film, with that great commentary track. Also, my wife asked me to add Tarsem Singh’s The Fall and my son would like Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner movie.

We’ll see.

I’m surprised they’re giving those discs away to subscribers. Are they hoping to keep people signed up until the very end? Or maybe they don’t have a viable buyer for all that physical media and are just planning to write it off.

It’s just too bad, because this was something I valued, and it’s being dumped as though all that value is gone. Those discs were just about the last thing that came in the mail that I was happy to receive.

NEW TTRPG STUFF FROM ME (ALL FOR A GOOD CAUSE)

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Quick one this time:

To support charity, I wrote a little something for a role playing game, which is going to be being printed in a zine (called “Killing for a Cause”) currently seeking pledges on Indiegogo. 

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/killing-for-a-cause-issue-1-bloodsuckers

The charity in question is the Against Malaria Foundation, which has been getting a big thumbs up from GiveWell for more than a decade. Check out the Indiegogo FAQ. If the goal seems a little high, that’s the cost for AMF to save a single life. 

And all the payments received—after Indiegogo and payment processors take their cuts—goes to the charity. 

Okay. That’s the charity part clarified. What about the zine itself?

The first issue of “Killing for a Cause” is called Bloodsuckers. Guess what it’s about.

The zine comes from Thomas Eliot, a guy I heard about because I backed his Fear of the Unknown Kickstarter some time back. FotU is a zero-prep horror game where you grab (or create) a themebook to play the subgenre you want to run. Apocalypse Mall? Crazed Killer Crashes A Party? Well-Meaning Scientist Creates Something Terrible? Pick a one and start your session by fleshing out the setting as a group. 

There are even rules for running noir. 

Anyway, when the game arrived in my inbox, it came with an invitation to contribute to the zine. I decided to try creating a themebook about ordinary people stuck inside the home of Extremely Terrible People, a plot that covers both Jonathan Harker (to squeak in under the theme), the fun kids from the film Villains, and of course the stranded motorists of The Old Dark House (1930’s version).

It’s not long, literally just a few pages, but themebooks are supposed to be short. They’re only a foundation. Start with a few questions re: the setting, a move to use when violating the dubious hospitality of the people you’re staying with, and a little more. It’s also easily adaptable for use in other games. 

Lots of other contributions, too. Micro-rpgs, art, content for D&D5e, and more. I haven’t seen the finished zine myself, but I’m betting it’s cool stuff.

If you’re a tabletop gamer, a lover of vampires, a hater of potentially fatal illnesses, or some mix of the three, please consider dropping a pledge. 

In personal news, I’m at work on a new novel that’s unlike anything I’ve done before. It’s going a bit slowly, though, as I’m also looking for a new day job. Wish me luck. 

A few years ago I wrote a bank robbery scene in passive voice

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A few years ago I wrote a bank robbery scene in passive voice and the result was pretty funny. The robbers themselves completely vanished from the story–only the effects of their actions remained and honestly, I was laughing by the time I got to the end of the first and only paragraph.

I posted it online because I had gotten caught up in a (deeply stupid) argument about the subject. What exactly is passive voice, and is it always terrible?

To answer the second question first, no, of course it’s not always terrible. There are times when passive voice is exactly what a sentence needs. The whole point of studying writing as an art form is to recognize that words and sentence structures are tools that we can put to use. So, there’s nothing inherently bad about passive voice. It just has to be used correctly.

As for what passive voice is, the question gives me flashbacks to the person who argued “Blood pooled on the floor” was in passive voice because blood is an inanimate object and how could it therefore be doing the action? The active force was gravity, which might have been absent from the sentence but was the active force causing the blood to pool. Therefore: passive.

Which… sure. But we’re talking about literary structures here, and that argument misses the point.

Another sentence that’s not passive? “He was tall.”

Which brings me to Prosecraft, (link deliberately excluded) a service offered by a company using an AI called Shaxpir (a joke name that I didn’t get until I said it aloud.) Supposedly, you submit your work of fiction to them and they use Shaxpir to run a linguistic sentiment analysis to compare it with other previously published works in their database.

There’s one work by me in there. The Twisted Path.

Some authors are contacting the guy behind it all with angry demands to pull their works from his site as though this was another free pirate library. I’m not sure it is, though. If he’s bought these works legally, then run them through his dumb (more on that later) algorithm to analyze and compare them, I’m not sure that’s a copyright violation. If he’d been doing the same analysis and comparison with a notebook and sharp pencil, I doubt anyone would complain.

Others are unhappy by the idea that he’s using their works to “train” his AI, Shaxpir. But when I look at the site, Shaxpir seems to be another a word processor with some publishing and analytical bullshit thrown in. It doesn’t appear to be one of those enter a prompt and the AI will vomit a novel manuscript for you places. It looks a bit like Scrivener.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m not going to look any deeper into it, considering the quality of the analysis it does.

Judging by the Prosecraft page about my own work, I see problems with the service. First, listing adverbs–broken out into adverbs with an -ly at the end and those without–as a percentage of the total word count, then ranking the book in a “percentile” with other books in the database tells you nothing about the quality of the book. Adverbs are not a metric for quality. They’re a tool, and the only measure that really matters is whether the tool is used correctly.

Second, the service breaks down the text into “vivid” and “passive” words, then using the aforementioned sentiment analysis determines where your book is more of one of those things than the other. There’s even a little color coding for the text: the words the system codes as vivid are red, and the deeper the color the more vivid they’re supposed to be. Passive is the same but blue.

And state of being verbs are all rendered in the most intense blue.

Maybe the creator of prosecraft was a little careless with the way he labeled things. Maybe he liked the word vivid because he thought Vivid books are good books, and so he wanted to put something with a negative connotation at the other end of that scale. Therefore: passive. Passive is bad, right?

Except, in his blog post on the software, he posts an analysis of some text from one of his favorite authors, says it rates in the 99th percentile for Passive, then talks about how much he likes the guy’s writing, esp his use of “passive-voice constructions.”

No surprise then that, out of all that blue text indicating passive voice, only one of those sentences is actually in passive voice. The rest just use state-of-being verbs, which are not themselves passive voice, although there’s an argument to be made that they are not particularly vivid.

But you know what state of being verbs are? They’re really easy to identify.

So it’s a mess, really. The Passive label is being stuck on words/sequences that are not in the passive voice, and passive is used as a binary opposite to the Vivid label, which it absolutely is not.

If the books are being shared like a library, that’s bad and it shouldn’t happen. If they’re being entered into an AI so the algorithm can pull them apart and regurgitate them as works of fiction, that’s also bad and shouldn’t happen.

But as I see it, the main problem is that the service Prosecraft offers is a mess and is basically useless.

Edit: He took the website down. I knew I should have just been lazy and ignored all this. Now I’ve blogged about nothing.