Randomness for 12/23


1) Fear of a Feminist Future. Includes He-Man dystopia/post-apocalyptic mockery.

2) How the Web Became Unreadable.

3) A data-driven paper using corpus analysis on page layouts in comics over the decades.

4) A hostage negotiator’s tips to be more persuasive.

5) From the same site: How to make people like you, from an FBI behavioral analyst. I’m going to keep this on hand for that mystery novel I’ve been meaning to write.

6) The Complex Psychology of Why People Like Things. An excellent discussion of all sorts of topics, covering genre, originality, hate-watching, and more.

7) How “Bad Biology” is Killing Economics.

A Spoiler-Filled Post about Doctor Strange (The Movie)


I saw DOCTOR STRANGE this weekend, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. The character combines two things I like–superheroes and modern-day wizards–but I’ve never really felt he was well served in the comics. Great name. Bad look. Unsatisfying stories. Part of that comes from his most popular villains: Baron Mordo and Dormammu, neither of which thrills me. I’d much rather read MGK’s imagined run of the comicsthan any of the actual comics I’ve seen so far.

So my expectation was that this would be a disappointment, and those expectations were reinforced by early reviews that went “Meh.” Or even worse “Competent Marvel Content of the Type We Have Come to Expect.”

Frankly, the film is much better than that. Not perfect, but I’d rank it in my top 5 MCU pictures, maybe top 3.

Yeah, it’s a problem that they whitewashed The Ancient One to make sure they could rake in all that sweet Chinese box office. It looks like they ran as far as they could from the possibility that some bureaucrat would decide the character was coded as Tibetan. But that casting decision is separate from Swinton’s performance, which perfect. She elevates every scene she’s in, effortlessly.

Likewise, the idea that the movie is not “about” anything or that Strange himself doesn’t change (“who shows minimal emotional growth even as he wins, convincingly, for two straight hours”) is silly on its face.

Yeah, it’s another origin story. People say they’re sick of those, but that’s not showing in the box office. It’s also a problematic origin, since it’s of the “Visiting White Guy Does Non-White Culture Best Of All” genre. The movie takes some of the sting out of that by making the wizards as diverse as possible, but it’s still in the mix.

Besides, this is an origin story that actually matters. It’s not “I grew up and took revenge” or “I am a good guy who got the power to be even better.” It’s the story of a terrible person who becomes a good one, and it’s also the story of coming to terms with a disability. Strange spends most of the movie trying to get back to where he was before the accident so he can return to (what he thinks is) his best self, but his best self was a massive shit head. He’s a doctor who won’t see patients who are very old or very sick, because he’s protecting his reputation.

The Ancient One tries to get him to understand he must surrender sometimes. He has to accept failure. He has to stop applying his brilliant mind to his own rep and start helping other people.

Strange just wants to be a fancy neurosurgeon again.

But then he needs his ex to save his life, and by that point he’s gotten kicked around enough to realize what a shit he’s been. He needs Mordo’s help. He needs Dr. West’s help. And to win the final battle he puts himself in a situation where he will lose over and over.

And the last shot, where he’s looking down at his trembling hands and straps on that broken watch, shows that he’s accepting that he has changed, and that he must now contribute to the world in a different way.

Yes, there are problems with the movie. Rachel McAdams’s role was thankless. The gorgeous visuals at the end of the movie weren’t as delightful as Strange’s first wild ride through the multiverse: cgi spectacle peaked early. The humor was welcome but sometimes fell flat. I’m not so enraptured that I thing it’s perfect. Far from it.

But that didn’t really matter, because I loved the character, loved the ending, loved the scars, loved the milieu, loved the performances, and loved the movie. After the stress of this election season and the revisions on my huge, unwieldy book, this movie made me joyful.

Strolling a Familiar Garden Path: Kubo, King Doug, and the Power of Predictable Plotting


A few years ago, I picked up a copy of The Return of King Doug from my library, read it, loved it, returned it, and promptly forgot the title. No amount of Googling could call up the book again. “Satirical portal fantasy child…”

Here’s the basic plot: the centaurs, sentient trees and elfin creatures of pseudo-Narnia are gathered for the final battle against the Dark Queen. And they have a hero with them, one the prophecy says will lead them to victory! It’s a human person, named Doug. They put a crown on him, hang their most potent magical bauble around his neck, and declare him king.

Doug is eight years old. He’s happy to be made king, but once talk turns to the bloody battle at 100-to-1 odds to take place in the morning, Doug does what any sensible kid does. He runs all the way away, returning through his magical well to his grandmother’s place in the Poconos. And he brought the bauble with him.

Cut to mumble-mumble years later, Doug is all grown up, divorced with a kid. Years of therapy have convinced him that his adventure was fantasy, but he can’t get his own life together. Then his parents talk him into returning to the old cabin, and his son finds the bauble and falls back into pseudo-Narnia, and…

And you know what will happen. The prophecy he was unable to fulfill as a child will be fulfilled now that he’s an adult, and we’re going to get a satirical tour of fantasy land while we’re at it.

It’s a fun book, and I enjoyed it, but not because the plot was unpredictable. The basic outline of the story was right there, and the only surprises came from the details.

That same weekend, my wife said she wanted to see KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS, largely based on the beautiful animation in the commercials. My wife has no interest in fantasy (the only fantasy novels she reads are mine, and the only fantasy movies she sees are the big popular ones or the artsy ones) but she has a long history with animation so, of course, we went.

You should go, too. See it in the theater, and stay for the mid-credits stop-motion clips. It’s gorgeous and affecting, and while Laika’s previous films have been interesting but significantly flawed, this one is a real achievement.

It’s also utterly predictable. Once the first act ends (and this is a spoiler that isn’t really a spoiler) the plot turns into a Quest for the Plot Coupons, with the caveat that the Plot Coupons can’t solve the Plot, only the protagonist’s pre-existing self can do that.

And telling you that doesn’t spoil a thing, because the real joy comes from the details. It’s in the way the characters are portrayed, and in the specifics of the tasks they take on. Finally, when the expected ending arrives, all those little details have fleshed out the story so completely that the denouement carries weight. It satisfies.

This is a lesson that I just can’t seem to learn. No matter how many detective novels I read or action films I watch, I’m constantly trying to reinvent the wheel. I keep making things from scratch.

There’s joy in making stories from scratch, but so many missteps, too. Sometimes I think that what I really need to do is start with a Farmboy of Uncertain Parentage and spiff it up.

Not that I really will. It’s just interesting to think about.

Randomness for 6/21


1) An end to showering Apparently, the problem with smelly guys at cons is not that they don’t shower enough. It’s that they shower at all.

2) Drug or Tolkien elf? A quiz. I scored 23 out of 30, which is better than I expected.

3) 17 completed webcomics you can read from beginning to end.

4) AMC threatens to sue fansite over posted spoilers.

5) The defeat of the Confederacy should be a national holiday.

6) Funeral business dissolves the dead, pours them into town sewers.

7) The second-most-useful site on the internet.

Randomness for 6/14


1) This is strangely affecting.

2) Should you fuck this rock? Science says no.

3) Cinema audiences reproducibly vary the chemical composition of air during films, by broadcasting scene specific emissions on breath. Another reason for social animals to see movies in a crowded theater.

4) The Trailers for Ghostbusters (2016) and the Art of Editing Comedy by the creator of Every Frame a Painting.

5) The 35-Year-Long Hunt to Find a Fantasy Author’s Hidden Treasure.

6) Traffic-weary homeowners and Waze are at war, again. Guess who’s winning? Filed under: The Future Is Stranger Than We Expected

7) An amazing infographic.

Randomness for 3/28


1) The weird physiological trait that suggests a young person is prone to violence.

2) The influential and well-established psychological theory of Ego Depletion may be bunk, and scientists should be worried.

3) Volleyball or fire extinguisher?

4) An oral history of the Justice League.

5) Classical art, now available gluten-free.

6) How Alfred Hitchcock blocks a scene. Video. I’m really loving this genre of short documentaries about filmmaking techniques.

7) “The Worst Game I’ve Every Played.” Video. Bought off of Steam, this game is amazingly shoddy work.

Randomness for 8/26


1) Wheel of Misfortune. Love this comic. Love. It.

2) Every JRPG ever: Video. Reader, I laughed at them.

3) Exotic polyhedra dice, made of marble, gator jawbones, carbon fiber, and more.

4) Hole Quest: Ryan North live-tweeted the thrilling 40 minutes he was stuck in an empty pool with his dog.

5) 15 Delicious Regional Sandwiches. A chow mein sandwich? I don’t think so.

6) Texts from HP Lovecraft. This made me laugh.

7) Ten tabletop games that you can play as couples. Video.

Randomness for 6/23


1) Peanuts comics with Game of Thrones quotes.

2) The Tumblr I Work At A Public Library.

3) One of GRRM’s fans made a (spoiler-free) series of maps showing the history of Westeros before the events of the books.

4) Energy harnessed from humidity can power small devices. Cool.

5) If JK Rowling had written the Harry Potter books from Voldemort’s point of view.

6) Remove cat before takeoff. Video.

7) Six SF/F authors who hated their legacy. Quick note to the universe: I don’t know if I would grow to hate a book of mine that became wildly successful, but I’m willing to risk it.

Randomness for 6/5


1) Grippy not Sticky: Stanford engineers develop a material that sticks without getting stuck.

2) Modern superhero comics done in a Golden Age style.

3) KITE FIGHT, a five minute documentary about the sport of soltar pipas, popular in the favelas in Rio. Video.

4) Segmented Glass Sculptures, via Marc Laidlaw

5) Boy Wonders. ::sniffle::

6) A plea for culinary modernism. Being honest about the way people *used* to eat.

7) Taylor Swifties.

Randomness for 5/17


1) 16-Year-Old Invents $5 Cell Phone Bike Charger And Shares The Instructions For Free.

2) Seven legendary artists drawing The Hobbit, imagined.

3) Sweden employs the “gay sailor” defense against Russian subs that encroach on their waters.

4) Chinese audiences stymied by Age of Ultron translated subtitles.

5) Animators use Grand Theft Auto: V animations to create a tribute to BREAKING BAD. Video. Pretty amazing.

6) Special gloves that you can’t take off… because the inside is covered with thorns.

7) What would a four-year-old girl like to see Wonder Woman do? This made me laugh with delight.