“… 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.

Baby’s First Audio Book

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Today I finished listening to my first audio book.

It was the unabridged Fellowship of the Ring, read by Rob Inglis, and I enjoyed it. A lot.

I didn’t expect to. When the audio book for Child of Fire came out, I found it impossible to listen to it. The narrator’s voice was fine–excellent, even–but it was completely different from the voice I heard in my head when I was writing it, and the dissonance was unbearable.

And the format itself seemed utterly wrong for me. I love to drive but I don’t have a car so I never do. I don’t have a phone to carry with me when I walk. My apartment is tiny, so when would I be able to listen at home? Besides, no skimming? No reading quickly through the exciting stuff?

Hmf, I said.

Then I heard a piece on NPR where a woman said she listened to Rob Inglis’s reading of LOTR every year, and I found it at the library. The first book was 19.25 hours long on 16 CDs! [1] And I just happened to get my copy of Obduction from Kickstarter.

A quiet, Myst-style game and an audio book through the headphones seemed like a perfect combination.

And I loved it.

The game was done before the audio book and I’ve been having trouble squeezing time to listen, but all the things I thought would be bugs turned out to be features. As annoyed as I was when I read Tolkien’s description of hiking through rough terrain (was this really the sort of challenge you want to devote page space to?) being forced to listen to it had the opposite effect. I could visualize the scene. I didn’t feel impatient because I couldn’t skim ahead to the next plot point. Taking away that small measure of control was surprisingly relaxing.

Anyway, I have never enjoyed Fellowship of the Ring quite so much before (although I still say Fuck Tom Bombadil) and I’m wondering how I can find 17-odd hours for the next book. I can’t. It just won’t fit into my life, but I wish it did.

Until I get a car, maybe.

[Update] I forgot to mention that the third book in my Great Way series comes out today in audio book. If you subscribe to Audible, you can listen free. If you bought the Kindle version from Amazon, the audio version is startlingly affordable. The series begins here.

[1] Don’t laugh. I’ve just had to order a new CD player online, because our old one is going wonky and my wife doesn’t want to have to fuck with a computer to play her music while she paints.

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.

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.

Amazon is having a huge sale on tabletop games

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I don’t usually pay attention to the sales that Amazon puts on, but this one is interesting: a big sale on tabletop board and card games.

“Up to 50%”, they say. I always love that “up to”. Obviously, it’s better to buy them at a local gaming shop (assuming you have access to one) because most have a library of games and let you try them out in the store.

Still, Ticket to Ride and Labyrinth are fantastic games, and I’ve become kinda obsessed with the iPad version of Sentinels of the Multiverse, since the fam doesn’t really like superheroes and I prefer to let the software track everything (SotM can be complicated to track).

And if you like RPGs, Fate Core is on the second page. Have I mentioned that I’m working on a Fate Core rpg supplement for The Great Way and Key/Egg? They’re Kickstarter rewards, and I should be typing in those documents rather than this one.

In fact, I think I’ll go do that now. In the meantime, check out my books.

Randomness for 7/1

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1) Mars Rover takes a billion-pixel photo so you can click and zoom around in it to explore the red planet.

2) How To Use Math To Crush Your Friends At Monopoly Like You’ve Never Done Before.

3) A series of photographs showing various types of rounds cut in the cross-section. Way more interesting than it sounds.

4) Beautiful kinetic sculptures. Video.

5) An offer of free lodging always has some kind of catch to it, right? (People are weird)

6) The Ten Best Superhero RPGs ever. I’m not obsessed with them like the author of this article and I certainly haven’t played all the games on this list, but I agree with his top two.

7) If movies were reviewed like video games.

People say dumb things about Kickstarter

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So! As I mentioned earlier today, I backed the Kickstarter for the Veronica Mars movie, although I probably shouldn’t have. Not because I think there’s something wrong with a WB property being crowdfunded, but because money is tight and KS is a luxury item. I may cancel sometime in the next month.

Which should not be taken as condemnation of the project itself, of which there has been plenty.

This article by Richard Lawson in the Atlantic Wire seems like a good representative sample of the bullshit people are saying about who ought to crowdfund and when it should be seen as unseemly. Have a quote.

But here in the bourgie, comfy confines of wealthy Western society, we’re talking about people like the indie musician Amanda Palmer, who raised $1.2 million on Kickstarter to make and distribute a folk album. That’s all. Amanda Palmer, who is married to successful author Neil Gaiman and has been a prominent musician for a decade or so. Handed $1.2 million because she asked for it. People are free to spend their money however they want, but there’s something so unseemly about the asking, isn’t there? Maybe that reaction is owed to some overly reserved New England quality in me that I should fight against, but I can’t help but feel that Kickstarter campaigns for stuff like this, that is stuff people are having no trouble selling elsewhere, are a bit gauche. Plus it’s too easy.

Of course he has to take a nasty sexist dig at Amanda Palmer. Of course he has to mention that she has married comfortably (The article is obstensively about Rob Thomas’s project, so where’s a mention of his wife? The article fails to mention if he even has one.) Supposedly, Palmer is so successful that she has 100K laying around to fund her studio time and if she doesn’t, well, isn’t she a big enough name to get that money from record companies?

That money comes with strings attached, you say? Awful, debilitating strings? Apparently, that’s a bonus; we wouldn’t want things to be “too easy.”

Let’s consider the Veronica Mars movie: Maybe it will suck or be vaguely disappointing. That first season was so great while the second and third were a bit of a let down.

But the article writer above barely touches on that. His point is that this movie is a Warner property. They own the rights and will distribute the movie once it’s made. Since that’s the case, isn’t it kinda gross to be asking fans to front the money?

I’m going to step up here and say “Not at all.” Here’s why:

Warner does have control of the Veronica Mars IP, and they have no plans to a) do anything with it or b) surrender it to the original creator, Rob Thomas. It’s just gathering dust. After there was no interest in the season four promo video, the show was dead.

That’s why this Kickstarter makes sense: Fan support can make this happen. What’s more, fans want to be a part of it.

Would I be happy to see gross points in the reward levels? Shit yeah. Is having Rob Thomas and Kristin Bell follow me on Twitter for a year for $400 kinda tacky. Sure, I guess. Do I think they’re doing something really cool with this project? Absolutely.

Lawson doesn’t like the idea of seeing money talked about publicly. He wants artists to raise their money from “proper backers and investors” behind the scenes so he doesn’t have to see art mixed with commerce in such a public way. There’s a laundry list of why this is stupid, beginning with the fact that “proper” investors have already shown their disinterest, continuing through the idea that fans are “improper” backers, and finally ending with art and commerce have always been mixed who the fuck are you kidding?

It won’t come as a surprise to anyone that making things is difficult, especially when they require a large capital outlay. I’m pleased to see a movie like this crowdfunded successfully (or it will be at this pace) and I hope to see more.

Brickcon was last weekend and here are the pics

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Brickcon, for those who don’t know, is a “con” that allows adult Lego enthusiasts to show off their ultra cool builds. This year I dragged my son, his buddy, and my camera off to the show.

Unfortunately, this year’s pictures aren’t what you call fabulous. For one thing, the camera wasn’t the best. Depth of field was needed for quite a few of these dioramas, but you don’t get depth of field from a point-n-click.

For another, I had a terrible time checking the screen to see if they were really in focus. My vision is getting pretty bad in these old, old prescriptions, and it was only that night that I could see just how off some of them were. So, quite a few didn’t come out at all, and several are not as crisp as I would like.

Before I go on: Here are the posts for Brickcon 2010 and 2009 (we skipped last year).

Now the pictures: As in previous years, the fantasy builds were arranged in massive contiguous dioramas, while the science fiction was mostly isolated ships and gadgets… except for this: Continue reading

People love when I review stuff.

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Except when they don’t.

Yesterday I posted about my disappointment with the Pathfinder Beginner Box and it prompted quite a bit of conversation online.

First was over on my LiveJournal account. (Because of their spam filters, I’m happy to leave comments open there.)

Second was on Twitter. Game designer Rob Donoghue kicked off a discussion about bringing new people into gaming. I tried to use Storify (for the first time) to preserve that conversation here, but that looked like a pain in the ass so here’s a couple of screen caps. Of course they’re behind the cut. Continue reading