“… to interfere for good.” Annual repost of my favorite version of A Christmas Carol

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Every year, I watch this version of A CHRISTMAS CAROL and post it:

If the embedding doesn’t work, here’s a link.

It’s under half an hour, and while it feels a little rushed, it’s also full of fantastic choices: dark colors, spooky ghosts, and both Ignorance and Want.

It’s fantastic. If you haven’t watched it before, check it out.

Noping Out on Ultra-Man’s Zipper: Forgiving the Entertainment You Love

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Some time ago, on Twitter, another author was asking for Netflix movie recommendations, and I suggested THE HOST, a South Korean monster movie/family drama. I said the movie “didn’t need to be forgiven.”

That phrase surprised me, even though it was the one who typed it out. It sounded right when I said it, but I wasn’t sure what it meant or where it came from. Then it reminded me of something that happened when I was a kid:

In grade school, my second-favorite afternoon show was the Wee Willie Webber Colorful Cartoon Club. Basically, Wee Willie Webber got up in front of a camera, did a dumb joke, and said: “An now… Marine Boy!” and then an episode of that show would play. Some of the shows were racist as hell (every kid in my class loved Chongo on Danger Island but yikes) but it was running and fighting and slapstick and magic spells or whatever, so I loved it.

In the second grade, Wee Willie planned to hold a live event where he would play an episode of Ultra-Man, and I talked my parents into taking me. I was seven, and I sat in a huge crowd of kids in a shopping mall somewhere (not a theater) while they projected an episode of the show onto a little screen.

Now, this was 1973, and there was no pause button. I had never stopped a show in the middle in my life. But Webber shouted for the projectionist to pause the episode right in the middle of the fight, when Ultra-Man had his back to the camera.

“There it is, kids. Can you see it? That’s the zipper on the Ultra-Man costume.”

Which was a dick move. The costume was designed to mostly hide the zipper, so I’d never noticed it before, but of course I already knew they were just dudes in suits. The four-legged monsters went around on their hands and knees! Of course they were guys in suits!

But I loved the show anyway, because if Wee Willie was my second-favorite, Ultra-Man was my first. I was nuts for giant monster movies of any kind, even shit like Johnny Sokko. And it was a dick move for Webber to give seven-year-old me yet another thing I would have to forgive.

So, forgiving movies and TV shows is about all the things that you have to let slide if you want to keep enjoying what you’re watching. Monsters who are really just guys in suits wrecking a model city? Let’s pretend not. Did Wesley really spend five years murdering innocent people as the Dread Pirate Roberts? La la not listening! Is Neo really going to gun down all those cops and security guards just because they work for the wrong people?

In fact, why are those people dead at all? The gunfight happened in a simulation; couldn’t the evil computers just blah blah blah.

Movies and TV shows are full of plot holes, unconvincing performances, boring sequences, cringe-worthy special effects, and other errors that have to be overlooked in order to enjoy them. We have a good time despite those problems because we choose to minimize them while we watch.

Some shows have to be forgiven for more serious issues. As much as I’ve enjoyed the recent run of Marvel movies, it’s ridiculous that they haven’t come out with one with a female superhero as the lead before now.

I’ve also been hoping we could get another Remo Williams movie, but that doesn’t mean I think it’s a good idea to cast Joel Gray in yellowface as the Korean teacher, Chun. That’s a terrible idea. An amazingly terrible idea. Having said that, I also recognize that it’s Gray’s performance that makes that movie so much fun. RW:tab was a bore until he was introduced. He shouldn’t have been there, but he’s the one who made that movie work.

Finally, I’ve been recommending that people should watch The Man From Nowhere on Netflix because it’s amazing. Unfortunately, it has only four parts for women, three of which are vanishingly small. The last is for the little girl who needs to be rescued.

Another problem with the film: Manpain.

Despite all that, I found the movie incredibly affecting, and I’m hoping to create a similar feeling in the book I just sent to my agent. I love that movie. That movie has problems.

Now, I am absolutely not saying that a plot hole about the Dread Pirate Roberts is equivalent to casting a white actor to play an Korean character. They aren’t equivalent at all.

It’s in our responses where the similarities lie. You’re watching something on screen, and then [thing] is there. Suddenly, you have to choose whether you want to Nope all the way out of the show or shrug it off and continue watching. Maybe the flaw is something incredibly minor, like costuming choices, but you nope out because the show has literally nothing enjoyable in it. Maybe the flaw is a massive dose of racism or sexism, but you keep watching because other aspects are so good, or because the show is old enough that you were expecting it, or because noping out of a show for this sort of flaw means you’d never get to enjoy anything in the genre.

Of course we can’t expect everyone to have the same tolerance for a particular flaw. Lots of folks reading this, after what I’ve said about The Man From Nowhere, will think ‘Meh. Not for me.’ And that’s cool.

That goes for Remo Williams, too, or for any film. It’s easy for me, a middle-aged Irish-American, to say I “forgave” the shitty choice of casting Joel Gray as a Korean. I grew up with that stuff. Tony Danza playing a Japanese guy on Love Boat? I watched that as a kid without understanding why it was a bad idea. It doesn’t have the same meaning for me that it would have for others.

And forgiving a show for its flaws is something that happens in the moment, while the show is still playing. It doesn’t require the audience to defend those choices later, or be silent about them. If we want to change the world for the better, we must speak out. The fact that I didn’t turn off The Man From Nowhere when I realized how few female roles it had doesn’t disqualify me from saying “Women deserve fair representation.”

Speak out. Be heard. How to be a fan of problematic things is recommended reading on the subject.

So then: Forgiving our entertainments so we can enjoy something. We’ve all done it. It’s a rare treat when we don’t have to.

And, obviously, my goal is to write books that never need to be forgiven, even though I’m sure I fall short.

On a personal note: on Sunday I finished revisions on One Man, and spent the rest of the day watching crime thrillers and drinking fancy beer. Monday, was the first day for work on The Twisted Path. (That’s the new Twenty Palaces novella I promised to work on.)

To start things off, I cracked open Circle of Enemies again. I haven’t looked at it since 2010, and I wanted to reacquaint myself with Ray Lilly’s voice. What I really did was remind myself of how many little details I’ve forgotten over the past 5+ years. I’ll keep at it, while continuing to take copious notes.

Randomness for 6/21

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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 3/28

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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.

Spoiler-Free Review of Daredevil, Season 2.

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I was sort of excited to stay up all night and binge-watch season two of DAREDEVIL, even though I expected it to be a disappointment. What can I say? I like staying up.

First thing: the show is really good.

Second thing: except for the parts that aren’t.

Third thing: the good parts outweigh the bad by a lot. A whole lot.

The first episode of the season was by far the worst. It wasn’t just that it was unimaginative; it looked weird, too, like cheap video. Were some scenes shot on someone’s phone? I couldn’t tell.

The first, second, and most of the third episodes were also full of bullshit about What It Means To Be A Hero. You know what? At the start of the season, I don’t want to hear two vigilantes have a philosophical discussion. I just don’t.

Then, near the end of the third episode, the show gives us another of its excellent fight scenes, and it seemed to find its groove again.

Part of the problem is the costume. When it showed up at the end of season one, I was upfront about how much I disliked it. The full red suit from the comics would look ridiculous, and while the devil suit at the end of S1 is an improvement, it still doesn’t work. I suspect the showrunners realized this, because they contrived to change it slightly. That’s another improvement, but it still doesn’t quite work.

What’s more, I don’t think they quite understood how to make a live-action masked superhero story really work. Basically: use the mask as little as possible.

The best and cheapest special effect a show can have is an actor’s face, and most masks that are reasonably faithful to their comic book versions look flat and silly on screen even after you’ve been awake for 27 hours and have been watching a show for ten. So I’m not really a fan of actors wearing their supers costumes when they’re not a) hurrying to the rescue, b) scaring the hell out of a bad guy or c) beating the hell out of a bad guy. Action scenes. That’s what masks are for. Otherwise, give us human expressions.

Because a dude in a superhero costume just standing around having a conversation looks like a grade A fool. For example, if a costumed vigilante is going to have a conversation with someone, it should not look like this:

Costume No

Yeah, that’s a bit dark, but you can see Daredevil on the right standing face-to-face with Turk on the left. Just two dudes standing around chatting, except one is wearing a horned helmet.

This is a much better choice:

Costume Yes

In case it isn’t clear from this single shot, the man foregrounded on the left is on his back, slightly raised off the floor. The background is the roof.

It’s an unusual framing. It’s interesting. It’s dynamic. It’s not two dudes chatting.

Oh, one last thing: Hey Karen Page, is season two filled with bloody violence and hair-raising sound effects just like season one?

Sound effects

Gotcha. Thanks.

Again we get great performances and fast-moving plots with lots of twists. Also, instead of a mini-boss structure like season one, there are two separate ongoing plots for each of the featured guest stars that compete for Matt’s attention.

Like other Netflix shows about superheroes, this is more like a miniseries than a weekly program, so get ready to binge or follow a complicated plot over an extended period of time.

So, despite a shaky start and a costume that doesn’t quite work, season two of Daredevil is fantastic. Check it out.

A spoiler post will be forthcoming, I expect.

“Rude Girl is Lonely Girl” My post about Jessica Jones, finally.

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With the second season of everyone’s favorite blind masochist about to air, it’s time I finished this post:

I’ve watched Marvel’s Netflix series JESSICA JONES all the way through three times. Twice on my own and once with my wife. I’ll say this: It’s very good. Flawed, but very very good.

For kindness sake, I’ll do a brief recap on the assumption that there’s one or two people reading this who haven’t heard of the show: it’s a 13 episode Netflix Original series that’s loosely adapted from the comic book ALIAS, which launched in 2001 as part of Marvel’s MAX line. Basically, it’s an R-rated comic, where characters can say Fuck and occasionally do fuck. Nothing ground breaking about that, except that this comic also featured Captain America and a bunch of other characters from the main branch of Marvel publishing, where the Comics Code mentality still had a lingering influence.

The lead character was created at the last minute for the comic; originally, it was supposed to be Jessica Drew, aka Spiderwoman, but Marvel’s editors decided to use her for something else, so Brian Michael Bendis created Jessica Jones to replace her. Jones’s story in the comics: After a traffic accident with a truck full of chemicals (like Daredevil) she gained superstrength, limited invulnerability, and the ability to fly (awkwardly), so she did what she thought she was supposed to do. She put on a costume and fought crime, taking the name “Jewel”.

Then it went all wrong. She fell under the sway of mind-controlling villain The Purple Man for months. When she finally broke free, her life was ruined. What’s more, she realized that she had vanished for months but no one had noticed. She threw away the costume and, with her anger and pain and PTSD, became a hard-drinking private investigator.

It’s a great idea: a super-powered private eye in the Marvel comics, which is a world where superpowers have been around for generations and there are a whole lot of people with dearly held secrets.

For the TV show, Jessica is pretty much the same but the setting is not. Jessica still has powers (superstrength and superjumping, with a smidge of toughness thrown in) and she’s still self-medicating for her PTSD from her clash with a mind-controlling villain, but she inhabits a world where superpowers are a rare thing, largely hidden and mysterious to the public at large.

So the show has some superhuman abilities, but there are no costumes, no masks, no secret identities, and no thwarted bank robberies. Instead, it has great characters. Yeah, the pacing falters late in the season, but those characters carry it through.

Spoilers after the cut

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State of the Self, 2016 (aka, the “We’ll see” post)

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On Tuesday, I hit 100K words on the work in progress, currently titled ONE MAN, so I thought I’d take a few minutes to assess where things stand in a general way. No encouragement or advice, please, especially about the medical stuff.

Me, personally

I turned 50 last year, which I guess is supposed to be a big thing but it didn’t feel like it. Mostly, it felt (and continues to feel) like a timer ticking down. As more and more of “my” pop culture figures pass away (and more and more of them are closer to my own age) I’ve become increasingly aware that my own time is growing short. Right now, somewhere inside me, I probably have a cancerous tumor that’s lying quiet, small for the moment, but ready to expand aggressively under the right circumstances. If I’m very very lucky, I’ll live long enough to see my son married and living a stable life, to have earned a sense of accomplishment with my work, and to feel as though I’ve lived enough.

I can’t really imagine that, but that’s my hope.

The petty medical issues that have plagued me since 2012 haven’t gone away, but I’ve decided to work through them to focus on my weight. I’m down 10lbs in the last two weeks and plan to continue. The first few are always the easiest, of course. We’ll see.

Finally, for a long time I’ve pretty much avoided social situations. I talk to my wife. I talk to my son. I order coffee at the cafe. Beyond that, it’s extremely rare for me to speak to anyone aloud; all my interactions have been online. I guess the only exceptions have been the two-hour SF2W meetups that Django Wexler arranges, and I’ve been to, I think, two in the past year. Once in a rare while a reader drops me a note and we’ll meet face to face. Very rare.

Aside from that, I’ve been actively avoiding social events. I don’t go to conventions. I haven’t contacted the roommates I had 20 years ago to suggest we grab lunch. It’s been a very quiet life, and I like it.

But a week ago I cashed in the Christmas gift that my niece gave me: a tour of some of her favorite brewpubs in Ballard. It was extremely mellow, and we got the chance to just hang out and talk, which I don’t do much.

The following Friday, I had the event at the UW Bookstore, where a number of authors in the anthology Unbound signed books for readers. I suspect most of them were there to see Terry Brooks, but people were nice and it was good to talk to them. It had no noticeable effect on my book sales, but I enjoyed myself, and I enjoyed hanging out with the other authors afterwards. (What I could hear of it, anyway. People in bars are noisy.)

So I’m thinking I should put more energy into that sort of thing. Talking to people. I dunno. Maybe.

Family

My wife is doing pretty well, especially now that she has an APAP machine to help her sleep through the night, which she can do now, sometimes. She’s also spending more of her time painting. Making art was hard for her after her father died. She and her siblings inherited his canvases, which no one outside the family wanted and no one inside could bear to dispose of.

She began to feel the same way about her own work. Our apartment is already crowded, and she didn’t see a point to creating more stuff that her kid will have to deal with when we die. Slowly, she’s moved past that and is doing the work for its own sake, which is fantastic and makes me very happy. She’s also gotten into a couple of shows. Did I say it makes me happy? It really really does. Now I just need to write a hit book so we can afford a place with a studio. North-facing, naturally.

My son turned 14 a few months ago and starts high school in the fall. Homeschool is coming to an end, and I’m hoping that a) he’ll make more real life friends and b) I’ll have more writing time. It’s going to be a rough transition, but he’s ready for it. His sleep schedule might not be, but he is.

Games

I’m still playing Sentinels of the Multiverse on Steam. In fact, I’m playing it too much. I should probably download a program that will block Steam for most of the day. I’d get more done, and do less obsessive clicking.

BUT! I should say that, when I’m playing SotM, I don’t feel hungry, or itchy, or sad. I’m almost completely absorbed, even moreso than when I’m writing. It’s worth keeping around just for that. I just wish it was less irresistible.

Reading

After several years of feeling burned out on reading inside the fantasy genre, I’m finally feeling burned out on crime and mystery. It doesn’t help that I tried to shift from old classics to books that are popular and current, and really really did not enjoy them.

Django Wexler’s The Thousand Names, which I picked up solely out of a sense of gratitude for the social events mentioned above, is a flintlock fantasy that I enjoyed way more than expected. Recommended. At the moment, I’m reading Steven Erikson’s Gardens of the Moon because everyone on reddit loves those books passionately. I’m 80 pages in and mostly enjoying it, despite the fact that I’m not usually fond of high magic settings.

Watching

I took the family to DEADPOOL, which is an objectively bad movie, but hugely enjoyable anyway. It’s been a while since I saw a modern Hollywood film (that wasn’t SPY) that made me laugh really hard. Now I hear that the people behind Batman v Superman are planning an R-rated version, because… I don’t know, they think it was the rating that made DEADPOOL a hit and not the humor? Don’t know. Don’t care all that much.

I’ve also dropped a number of TV shows that I was watching through sheer momentum, not because I enjoyed them. Most of what I found compelling in season one of ARROW is long gone, and I just don’t have space for it anymore. After trying both LUCIFER and LEGENDS OF TOMORROW, I’ve decided that they aren’t going to do that Star Trek thing where it takes them a little while to find their rhythm and they become awesome. Both are dropped. At this point, I’m only watching ELEMENTARY, FLASH (which has been way less fun this season) and AGENTS OF SHIELD (which has been improbably improving).
I’m looking forward to season 2 of DAREDEVIL, even though it will probably be a disappointment. We’ll see.

No one in my family is remotely interested in the upcoming DC adaptations. We’ll see, redux.

Writing

As I mentioned above, last week I crossed the 100,000 word mark of ONE MAN. What I didn’t mention is that last August 26th, I was at 31,000 words.

I know this because of this horrible new record-keeping that other authors suggested I do. All it does is tell me things that make me unhappy.
For example, last fall I took a month-long trip to Portugal, and my plan to squeeze out a few pages during quiet moments never worked. I got zero new words done that month.

After Thanksgiving, I stopped writing the first draft and went back to revise what I had. Revise it extensively, which took a month and a half.

When that was finished, I realized the game supplement I promised my Kickstarter backers was way overdue, and I spent three weeks revising that.
When I returned to ONE MAN, I re-outlined the rest of the book (using the virtual whiteboard app Scapple, which I like) and now things are tearing right along.

It’ll take another long revision process, and it’s going to be a long-ass book: at 100K words, I’m still looking ahead to the beginning of the climax. Still, I feel like this is good work. I just hope the market agrees.

I haven’t decided what I’m going to work on after that. The next book in the series is TWO DRAGONS, but I have a short story due for an anthology (soon) and I might want to write something else in between. Plus there’s that game supplement.

I wish I could be more prolific.

And that’s where things stand.

Mysteries with Honest Detectives and Sad Endings: Netflix Codifies Art

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This article pushes all my buttons.

The more I learn about the way Netflix determines their categories, but more convinced I am that they’re doing something really useful that will soon apply to all entertainment media. To summarize the article briefly: not only have they created over 75,000 separate “genres” (called “altgenres” at the company) but they rate and categorize films according to a very complex system of metrics. How gory are they? How romantic? Where are they set? What job does the protagonist hold? How happy is the ending?

Hiding behind those 75+K genres are all sorts of ratings that Netflix pays careful attention to. If you watch a lot of movies in the Action categories but consistently turn off the gory ones before the end, Netflix will stop suggesting action movies with a high gore rating to you. Other kinds, sure, but not that one.

I’d hoped books could get a system like this with Game of Books, but they didn’t deliver. The project was sold or abandoned, and backers’ pledges were returned.

I still interested in a system that could do something similar with books. Bleak mysteries with an honest detective and a sad/tragic ending ought to be easier to find than they are, but the personal recommendations I get through social media haven’t scratched that itch. Those books were one disappointment after another. Would the Game of Books have managed it? Would “Netpages”?

Obviously, a system like this would never be perfect; Netflix’s certainly isn’t. That’s why I miss Netflix’s “Random” category, since my recommendations are now swamped with kung fu movies and British crime shows. (And why not? Love ’em!) Random allowed me to see recs beyond what the algorithm thought I wanted.

For Netflix to survive, it has to connect subscribers with shows they love over the long term, but sometimes its recs are so narrow that we only get to see a thin slice of what they offer. Basically, they hide most of their library. Before she moved in with us, my niece thought she’d seen everything of interest the streaming service offered. Now she’s binging on all sorts of shows. That suggests that Netflix’s algorithms are too restrictive right now. More variety is needed.

As for books, well, variety is not the problem. Covering them all would be the problem. Still, I think it’s inevitable.

I know there are people who will recoil instinctively from the idea of breaking down books into component parts in order to categorize them, but I can’t help but think that, if readers were able to look for “Contemporary Fantasy Crime Fiction with a Sad Ending”, I might still be writing Ray Lilly novels.

Genres are just descriptions for the marketing department, after all. I suspect we’re coming to a time when book classification is going to have to get much more granular.

“Business! Mankind was my business” Annual repost.

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This is my annual repost of my favorite version of A Christmas Carol, animated for TV.

If the embedding doesn’t work, the link is here.

It’s only 25 minutes long, but it’s full of amazing creative choices: Scrooge’s candle on the dark stair, Ignorance and Want, the transitions that Scrooge takes with the Ghost of Christmas Past, the hands, the waves and clouds, and so many other things.

Really beautiful. If you haven’t seen it before, treat yourself.