Friday, March 23, 2018

The Good Old Days Require A Certain Point of View

In one of those funny coincidences, a couple of months ago Alex J Cavanaugh whined on Michael Offutt's blog that young people today don't really want to work hard; they just want to work hard enough not to get fired.

Pretty much the same night I was watching an old Mystery Science Theater 3000 on Pluto TV and they showed a 1940 short made by Chevy called "Hired!"  The plot of that is there's a new salesman who has trouble selling cars.  At the end of part 1 his boss is lamenting that young people today just don't work hard like back in his day.

The irony comes when you realize the boss is criticizing someone who would a year or more later probably be fighting in Europe or the Pacific in World War II.  Yes, according to this guy the generation that we came to call "the Greatest Generation" were a bunch of lazy slackers.

So yeah every generation thinks the one(s) after them are lazy and not as good and destroying the world.  Provided any of us are still around in 20 years, Millennials will be whining that the young people of that time just don't work hard like they did.

It's kind of like how your grandparents or parents would tell you they had to walk uphill ten miles through the snow to get to school--and from school to home too!  It's pure bullshit.  By the same token people whine that people had longer attention spans or were smarter or read more back in "the good old days."  It always strikes me as bullshit.  Like whether the younger generation is lazy, it's not something we can really verify scientifically since we don't have a time machine or anything.  It's just something old, bitter people believe so they can feel like they're the special ones, the chosen ones, and it gives them an excuse for things being fucked.

Mostly I think it's just our solipsistic view of the universe.  You ask a Baby Boomer when the "good old days" were and they might say the 50s or 60s.  You ask a Gen Xer like me and we'd say the 80s or 90s.  And even then it can vary depending on your age.  An older Gen Xer might associate the 80s more as the best while I'd lean towards the 90s.  Why?  Because they were MY good old days!  I'd wager if we could do this scientifically people's golden age would generally coincide to their teens and early 20s.  Because that's the period where you're breaking out on your own, maturing sexually, and making memories that largely aren't shared with parents and/or siblings.  Or I guess you could say it's really when you start to form your individual identity.  And yet it's before you hit your 30s and 40s when family life and obligations stifle your individual identity and/or your youthful dreams are slowly smothered and your body starts breaking down...where was I?

The point being that we look down on the younger generations because we aren't young anymore and we're bitter and resentful because they are.  Plus now that we are in our 30s, 40s, or older and hope is slowly being crushed in our lives, these days don't seem that great to us.  And naturally we tend to focus more on the good things of the past than the bad things.

Though I can make a case for the 90s in that you had no serious threat of nuclear war, no ongoing wars in general, terrorism was mostly crazy white guys or happened in other countries, no segregation, less overt racism/homophobia, an Internet that hadn't completely become a cesspool of trolls, scams, and porn (wait, probably not that), 3 Star Trek series (and movies), Beast Wars Transformers, X-Files, golden age Simpsons, no Star Wars prequels until the decade was nearly over, Han Solo and Luke Skywalker were still alive, and Donald Trump was just a bumbling businessman largely confined to New York and New Jersey.  But then you could make a case for any decade, though it probably wouldn't be so convincing.

The point being that the problem isn't with the young people; the problem is with YOU.  Not to say that some young people today aren't lazy.  Like the ones who live across the hall from me and can't be bothered to walk a hundred feet to the dumpster right away and probably by the time this is published still haven't taken down their Christmas tree.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Toys That Made Us Shows the Highs and Lows of Creative Collaboration

The Netflix documentary series "The Toys That Made Us" focuses on some of the popular toys of the 20th Century.  The first four episodes focus on Star Wars, Barbie, GI JOE, and He-Man.  What it shows us about creative collaboration is that great things can happen, but inevitably there will be a falling out.

The origin of the Barbie was kind of interesting.  The lady credited with Barbie's creation got the idea from a Swiss doll that starred in a pornographic comic strip.  The idea then was to tone it down and make it suitable for young girls like the lady's own daughter, Barbie.

But she didn't actually make the doll itself.  A guy actually did most of the work to create the dolls.  He even created the knee joints that click when you move them.

GI JOE has a similar story not long after Barbie's creation.  There was a guy who pitched the idea to Hasbro, but they weren't all that interested.  Another guy did the actual creation of the first "action figure."

The creation of He-Man can be attributed to a number of people at Mattel, but one guy in particular drew the first rendition of He-Man foe Skeletor and eventually He-Man himself.  Another guy created He-Man's green tiger Battle Cat by taking a tiger from the old "Big Jim" action figure line and painting it green.

The Star Wars toys were made by a bunch of different people at Kenner in Cincinnati when everyone else--including Hasbro and Mattel--passed in 1976.  It was actually the only one where it didn't really end with any animosity.

The other stories the collaboration all doesn't end all that happily.  The animosity over He-Man's creation is more of a friendly rivalry.  When they ask different guys, they all take credit for it and in a way they're all right!  There was no sole person responsible for the whole thing.

With Barbie the lady and guy who contributed the main parts of the doll's creation worked together into the 60s.  Then the guy started getting weird with drugs and wild parties and stuff.  So he got cut loose.  The lady ran Mattel for a while but then got caught cooking the books and was banished for a decade or so.

With GI JOE the guy who had the original idea did a Colonel Sanders and sold his rights for only $100,000.  He could have got $50,000 and a small royalty.  But that small royalty would have been worth millions!  I mean when you consider how much GI JOE made in the 60s-70s and 80s even 1% would have ended up with a lot.  But he was short-sighted and took that extra $50,000 as would many of us probably.

These stories are kind of like what happened with Batman.  For the better part of 75 years Bob Kane was given sole credit, despite that writer Bill Finger actually contributed a lot of ideas that made Batman the iconic hero we remember today.  Like being a bat.  And wearing black-and-gray.  Kane would have basically created a red Birdman.  Finally after years of petitions and lawsuits Finger was given credit, though they still kind of screw him by saying "With Bill Finger" like he's a secondary creator.

The point being that whether it's a toy or a comic book or a book people working together can create something great.  But people being people, there's usually going to be a falling out to embitter things, especially when large sums of money are involved.  Nothing severs a creative bond like monetary success!

It's probably better then that I don't work well with others.  I don't have to share the success (what little there is) with anyone that way.  Unfortunately I can't blame anyone else for my failure either.  Kind of a double-edged sword.

Monday, March 19, 2018

#AtoZChallenge Topic Revealed!

Actually I revealed the topic last year when I did an A to Z Challenge on Transformers figures.  In the reflections post I outlined doing a similar one for GI JOE figures.  And so next month it begins!

I'm doing it in the same format as the Transformers one with one GI JOE and one COBRA per day--when applicable.  Some letters there wasn't a COBRA and Y I had to get a little creative.

Since I doubt most people will care that much I didn't exactly kill myself on this.  I spent a couple of hours copying and pasting pictures and a couple more writing some brief notes.  Except for one case I focus on the Real American Hero line from 1982-1994, not the 60s version because that wouldn't have been too helpful; I think there was just one guy.

As an extension of that I talk about the cartoon series, of which in the 80s to early 90s you had two.  The first was made by Marvel/Sunbow from 1983-1986 with an animated movie afterwards.  Then there was a lower-rent one made by DIC from 88-91 or so.

And in a few cases I mention the live action movies from 2009 and 2013.  A lot of the information and pictures come from, a very helpful resource on this topic.

I haven't read the Marvel comics in many, many years so except for a couple of instances I don't talk about that a lot.  Or the later ones by IDW or other publishers, most of which I've never read.

Have I lowered already low expectations enough?  It starts on April 1st, which is a Sunday and then continues Monday-Saturday until April 30th.

Friday, March 16, 2018

How Many Chances Do You Give An Author?

A question similar to the old commercial:  how many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop?  So if you don't like an author's book, how many more chances will you give them?

On three different occasions I've had someone give an Eric Filler book a good review.  Then there's a bad review on a different book.  Then another bad review.  Then another.  And then I start wondering:  why the hell are you still reading these?

The first was a couple of years ago with this guy called "John Daniels."  He wrote a positive review of Transformed for Halloween but then wrote like three negative reviews before writing one that was 4-stars though mostly he was still just complaining.  After another negative review or two I'm like, "Dude, why do you keep reading these?  You obviously don't like them.  At this point you're just a troll."

He finally got the message...and immediately started to do the same on Ivana Johnson books.  Which ironically is still me!  It was the same shit where first there was a positive review and then a few negatives.  When he complained because an Ivana Johnson book accidentally still had Eric Filler's name on it and he complained "who's the real author?" I finally said, "Have you considered they're both me?"  And I haven't heard from him since.  I hope he found one of my rival authors to annoy and drag down their ratings.

What was especially annoying with that guy was he acted like he was some expert on the author.  Always saying stuff like, "Well this wasn't as good as other ones..."  You mean that one you gave a good review to?  It just go annoying after a while.  And again, after 3 or 4 books why don't you just stop reading and find someone else to bother?

It happened again months later with someone calling himself "Bear Hunter."  That douche never even gave much of a positive review.  After like the 4th negative review it's again, Why are you still reading these?  It's not like I want you to--just the opposite.

There was someone else recently too.  He/she first wrote a nice review of The Comeback and then the very next day writes a negative review of another book complaining because it was too mean.  And then there was another.  And as I mentioned, they were books that in no way gave the impression they were nice and cozy.  Ugh.

So really, how many chances would you give an author?  In part I think it depends if I liked the author's first book.  Like when I read all of John Irving's books I liked the first one I read, then a couple weren't as good, and then some were really good, and some really awful.  But if I'd liked the first one and the next three were terrible, I don't think I'd keep going.  Maybe not even if the next two were awful.

John Scalzi's Old Man's War series I really liked the first book, didn't like the second, liked the third and fourth, and didn't really like the fifth and sixth.  Mostly I read the whole series because I'd already bought them.

With Lawrence Block's books there have been a few duds but far more hits.  Still, it's not like I liked the first one and then hated all the rest.

But really where do you draw the line?  One book?  Two books?  Three books?  More?  Or will the world never know?

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Earth: Final Conflict Had Less Concern for its Main Characters Than Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead

Back in 2000 I moved into my first apartment.  I didn't have money for cable and there weren't all the apps and Rokus and stuff like there are nowadays for "cord cutters" so I pretty much had to rely on local TV for entertainment.  (Or the VCR or stereo, I guess.)

Saturday nights (or Sunday morning really) the local CBS affiliate would show Earth: Final Conflict and Sci-Fi Channel's The Invisible Man.  I actually liked the latter better so I would usually watch the former while waiting for it.  I guess I was watching the fourth season back then.  It was pretty good, but then it got to the fifth season and they did one of those annoying things where they completely changed the format and between that and moving to a place with cable I stopped watching it.

I had pretty much forgotten about that show until I saw it on the Roku Channel.  So I started watching it from the beginning.  I binged through it fairly quickly because while Netflix and Hulu usually keep things for a few months, you never know how long some of these lesser channels might keep something.  Anyway, I guess I could say it's an OK show but not as good as some of those from the same time like DS9, Voyager, Babylon 5, or X-Files.

But the show does have a modern touch.  We think of shows like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead for being so willing to kill off characters, but not even they've killed or written off such a great proportion of main characters as this series.  Let me walk you through it.

The first season focuses mostly on William Boone.  Three years ago an alien race called the Taelons came to Earth.  Like the 80s miniseries/series V, they seem to be good aliens who are giving us a helping hand in eliminating disease, hunger, and so forth, but of course they have their own agenda.  Boone prevents the assassination of the Taelon ambassador Da'an.  He's offered to become Da'an's "Protector" but refuses because he's got a wife.  So the Taelons do the only natural thing:  they kill Boone's wife.  Though he outwardly doesn't let on that he knows this, Boone secretly knows the Taelons were behind it, so he joins up with the "Liberation" (later called the Resistance) and works as a double agent.  Through the first season he uncovers many instances where the Taelons have a project that seems benevolent but is secretly doing harm.  Or in one instance the Taelons give a girl two new hands but when the transplant starts to be rejected, they try to cover it up.

The last episode of the season has an alien named H'Gel show up on Earth.  He and Boone get into a firefight and Boone kills H'Gel but is badly injured.  While he's in something like a bacta tank in The Empire Strikes Back, the Taelons vaporize him.  Which is the end of our hero...until the fifth season when the evil Atavus somehow bring him back to life to try to trap the good guys.  Boone's sister is killed but he survives and decides to wander off into the sunset...until he's killed off screen.  They just couldn't give him a good death, could they?

Boone's partner in season 1 was Captain Lili Marquette.  She was a Marine and became a pilot of Taelon shuttles.  She survives to the end of Season 2.  Then she's supposedly captured by the Taelons.  While the other prisoners with her are freed, she's sent on a one-way journey into space.  She returns in the third season when her ship is picked up by the enemy of the Taelons, the Jaridians.  In a Star Trek-type episode she's trapped in a holographic simulation of an Earth hospital, which the Jaridians use so she can help them repair their ship.  Then she shows up at the end of the season with a Jaridian "husband" and has a human/Jaridian baby.  Then her, husband, and child leave Earth at the start of the fourth season.

Speaking of hybrid children, at the start of the second season the show goes full V in that a woman gives birth to an alien-human hybrid.  The pregnancy lasts about 5 minutes and in another 5 minutes the baby grows into an adult.  He's given the identity of Major Liam Kincaid.  At first he has these glowing spots on his hands that have an alien name but I just called them stigmata.  These stigmata disappear about halfway through the second season and from then on he's mostly just a regular guy.  The problem was the writers didn't give him any other awesome alien abilities like telekinesis or super strength or anything and he couldn't use those glowing spots or else people would wonder what the hell he was.  So they just backed off it and said that the longer he's on Earth the more human he is.  At least until the end of the fourth season where all the sudden he's the Chosen One of his parent race, the Kimera.

Liam takes Boone's place as a Protector and becomes the leader of the Resistance, though he's only a couple of months old.  He does basically the same stuff as Boone for the most part, only in a younger, sexier package that is kind of like a poor man's Val Kilmer.  But at the end of the fourth season he attempts to merge the Jaridians and Taelons and disappears until the last episode, when he gets to ride off into space.

First Boone and then Liam relied on an eccentric computer hacker called Augur.  He helped the Resistance but usually demanded payment in the form of valuable artwork.  He was a regular for the first three seasons but then at the fourth season he suddenly had to go on the run from the law and asked his friend Street to take over as the eccentric hacker for the Resistance.  He reappeared a few times in the fourth season, so at least he didn't die unceremoniously.

The founder of the Resistance was billionaire industrialist Jonathan Doors.  He fakes his own death in the first episode, but in the second season he comes out of hiding to run for president with his son managing the campaign.  But just before the election the Taelons arrange for the president to be shot non-fatally so he can win reelection.  Doors goes back to his company until he's killed in an accident at a lab owned by his son.  But he comes back in a later episode as an AI creation who tries to destroy the Taelons before being shut down.  Another one bites the dust.

At the start of the series Gene Roddenberry's wife Majel Barrett (also an Executive Producer of the show) appeared as a doctor who worked with Resistance.  She helped Boone with getting a Taelon implant but rigging it so it wouldn't make him a slave to the aliens.  Then she kind of just disappears during the first season.  When the Resistance needed a doctor they started seeing other people.  She appears briefly in the second season before disappearing for good.

If you're keeping score then by the start of the fourth season the entire first season roster of good guys have been killed or otherwise written off.  Even GOT and Walking Dead haven't gotten rid of everyone from the first season yet.

And you can add to that the two main Taelons.  The first Taelon they show is Da'an (pronounced Don) who is the ambassador to North America and largely benign.  He wants to try to elevate humanity to the level of Taelons to help both races, but that doesn't mean he's not above some underhanded deeds to this aim.  The other alien is Zo'or who is at first the Taelon envoy to the UN but at the start of the second season takes over as leader of the Taelons.  He's more overtly evil and cunning.  And it turns out later that he's Da'an's son.  Both aliens are killed in the final episode of the fourth season.  Zo'or goes out like a bad guy in an Indiana Jones movie by mishandling a relic only for it to melt him.  Da'an attempts merging with a Jaridian and so disappears.  In the fifth season the evil Atavus scrape Zo'or off the floor or something and bring him back to merge him into a female Atavus body, which is ironic because while the Taelons are referred to with male pronouns they were supposed to be asexual and were actually played by female actors.  Anyway, the new Zo'or is wounded in one episode, put into stasis, revived in another episode, and then blown up in an alien shuttle dogfight.

So not only did we eliminate all the good guys from the first season, we got rid of the bad guys too!  All except one.

The only one to last the whole series is the evil Ronald Sandoval.  He was an FBI agent who became a Protector.  Unlike Boone, his neural implant made him a slave to the Taelons.  He had such blind faith in them that when his wife complained, he had her committed and drugged into a stupor before Boone freed her.  While Sandoval first serves Da'an, he later becomes Zo'or's hatchetman.  While he's doing the bidding of the Taelons, he also has his own agendas.  He sent Lili Marquette to the Jaridians hoping to play both alien sides and thus come out ahead no matter who won.  When the Taelons and Jaridians join into the vampiric Atavus, Sandoval transfers his loyalty to them.  So he manages to live into the fifth season.  Hooray!  But then he dies in the final episode, because you can't talk your way out of three metal bars through the chest.

At the start of season 3, Lili Marquette is replaced by Renee Palmer, who's the CEO of Jonathan Doors's company and also a Resistance agent.  She and Liam Kincaid pretty much do what Boone and Marquette did as kind of a Mulder and Scully thing.  And like Mulder and Scully in the original run of that show they never hook up romantically, though they had ample opportunity to do so.  I mean at one point they escape the Taelon mothership in an escape pod that was pretty much designed for one.  So they're in really tight quarters and still not even a kiss?  I suppose that drove the "shippers" nuts.  There was probably plenty of fan fiction hooking them up.  But I think they did have decent chemistry even if they didn't hook up.

In the fifth season they change the whole premise of the show.  As I mentioned, the Taelons and Jaridians have turned into the Atavus, who use these Wolverine-type claws to suck energy from people.  And all the sudden Renee turns into this badass Ellen Ripley/Sarah Connor type bent on wiping out the Atavus.  It was maybe not a 180, but at least a 90 degree turn for the character.  The whole thing put me off the show.  Watching it now, I don't think I missed a lot.  In the end she and Liam go riding off into space together.  So I guess she at least got to survive her entire run on the show.  Hooray?

Since it was filmed in Canada, it's not surprising that a few of the actors from 90s Canadian-made show Due South guest star, including Tori Spelling's husband as one of Renee Palmer's boyfriends.  In the fifth season a young Rachel McAdams guest stars as a girl whose boyfriend starts a fan site for the evil Atavus.  That was pretty much it for recognizable guest stars.

Since the series began in 1997 the effects in many cases are kind of lame.  It's kind of funny that it's supposed to take place probably around 2010 or so and yet at the start they're still using those big, bulky monitors.  Their communicators are sponsored by MCI, which went under in the 2000s.  So if you watch it now a lot of stuff looks pretty unimpressive, but you have to remember this was the late 90s and it didn't have the biggest budget.

But some of the tech they use is kind of neat.  Augur has video display glasses that are almost like the Google Glass.  The humans use these communications devices called "Globals" that look more like a handheld video game system than a phone.  The neat thing though is the sides of the Global compress together so it can be easily dropped into a pocket or purse.  There has been some experimenting with flexible screens for phones, so maybe that will happen eventually.  It would save money on phone cases and screen protectors.

Something they could have controlled was continuity.  Like at the end of season 2 Liam's hair is brown but at the start of season 3 (which is only like minutes later) it's blond.  And then it's brown again in the last episode.  The same thing happens with Lili from season 1 to season 2.  I know they take a few months off from shooting but the differences really become apparent when you binge it.

As you'd expect not every episode is all that good.  The worst though are one episode in the second season, one in the third season, and two in the fifth season that are largely clip shows.  In the first one Liam's mother is dying in a cave and for some reason flashes back to things she couldn't even have seen.  It was pretty lame.  The other one features a TV network interviewing Zo'or and so they show a lot of footage from previous episodes.  In the fifth season Sandoval undergoes a mind probe where his memories look surprisingly like footage from old episodes!  In the penultimate episode a Taelon spirit visits Renee to basically review the whole series.  I know clip shows are cheaper to produce, but who actually likes them?

Like I said, it's not a terrible show, but it's not all that great either.  I'd say 2.5/5

Monday, March 12, 2018

What Movie Moments Freak You Out?

A couple of months ago The Geek Twins wrote an article on a scene in Superman III that scarred them for life.  Which of course got me thinking of which movie moments freaked me the hell out.  So here they are, scenes that for the most part I still can't bear to watch.

First, since The Geek Twins mentioned it, that weird scene in Superman III where a woman is transformed into a robot for...reasons.  It was creepy as hell and completely against the tone of the rest of the movie.

Next up, the scene in Willow where the evil witch turns the entire good guy army led by Val Kilmer into pigs.  It's not like a puff of smoke and POOF they're pigs; it's a long, slow transformation process that was pretty nasty.  At least that's how it felt to me.  The good thing for me is no one shows Willow anymore so I'm never faced with having to watch it again.  And I'm not watching that YouTube clip either!  Nooooope.

The scene in the original Robocop where the evil henchman runs into a bunch of toxic waste and morphs into some grotesque Toxic Avenger.  I mean, not even the Toxic Avenger was as gross with the toxic waste as this!

[Scene Missing]
The scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where Indy and the Nazi girl go into some Venice catacombs and are accosted by thousands and thousands of rats as the place floods.  Rats in general are nasty but in this scene they're everywhere:  the ground, the water, in the sarcophagus, in the lady's hair...eeek!  (28 Days Later largely recreated this about 15 years later.)

Speaking of Indy, remember the face melting at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark?  Ick.  Come on Spielberg and Lucas!

Speaking of Lucas, the Star Wars parody Spaceballs featured a villain called Pizza the Hut.  Who was a monster just oozing with pizza cheese and sauce.  Yuck.  That's almost enough to make me not want to eat pizza...almost.

Speaking of icky-looking characters, the original Freddy Krueger!  Even now it takes a lot of willpower to watch one of those movies.  That burnt-up face is just so nasty.  Though the reboot was pretty fucking lame.

Not quite as gross, but that scene in Star Trek II where they Khan puts those worm things in Chekov and the captain guy's ears was so nasty.  And when the worm crawls out of Chekov's ear it was almost as gross.

Though still I think the most emotionally scarring cinematic moment was the death of Optimus Prime in Transformers: The Movie.  Most of those moments above were gross but this was just a punch to my 8-year-old gut.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Getting Out of Quicksand By Starting a Timer

A frequent problem with Eric Filler books is sometimes the stories can end up a lot longer than I intend.  I might think a story is going to last just 30 pages or so and then after a couple of weeks I realize that I'm probably not even halfway through the story yet!

This often happens because there's a certain timeline to a gender swap story.
  1. The Setup:  introducing the character and means of the gender swap
  2. The Swap:  The actual transformation
  3. The Adjustment:  The character's transition into a woman
  4. The End:  How does it end?  Do they remain a woman? (Usually.)  Do they find true love?  Are they going to be tormented forever?  (More often than some people would like.)

The thing about that is it can stretch for pretty much however long you want it to.  Each part can be stretched out or compacted.  I mean you can have pages of setup introducing the character or you can have virtually none at all.  For instance a longer story like The Comeback had a few scenes before the transformations.  A lot of people do it pretty much right away.  Just like some people can stretch the actual transformation out for pages or others do it in just a paragraph or two.

The longest bit though tends to be the adjustment part.  Because if your character is a guy and he turns into a woman there's a lot of stuff that he'll have to learn differently from the way he walks to how he uses the toilet to how he dresses and of course things like makeup and periods.  So you can go on and on if you want.

Sometimes, though, if I really want to keep a story under control and not go over my time budget (say more than a week or possibly two) then what I have to do is set a ticking clock.  For One Day as a Bimbo the clock was obviously one day.  Then One Week as a Whore was longer at a week.  The final One Year as a Virgin was the longest yet because it had to last a whole year.

The Gender Swapped for Her Pleasure Trilogy I set the timer for just one night.  The nasty witch would trap someone in her secluded mansion and turn him into a girl to play with for one night and the next morning send him home.  Except in the third one where the guy in question helped her to change her ways.  Who says I don't have happy endings?

A couple of months ago I was getting bogged down in a few longer ones that had kind of spun out of control and run way overbudget in terms of time.  After I finished those I decided I needed to do a few where I set the timer. I whipped up One Night in Bangkok that is, gee who'd think it?, about a guy's one night in Bangkok as a "ladyboy" whore.  And then I wrote 24 Hour Woman, which again is pretty obviously about a guy who becomes a woman for 24 hours.  And just for fun I wrote 5 sequels that each only took a few days to write.

The idea is that the shorter your timeframe, the less chance you have to go off track.  This really helps with short stories.  The biggest problem some people have with short stories is trying to cover too much ground.  Where You Belong covered about 35 years; I couldn't have made that into a short story, though God knows some people have tried.  Conversely, unless you're James Joyce it can be really difficult to stretch one day into a novel.  The point being sometimes you want to be careful not to bite off more than you can chew.  When you find yourself getting mired in a story that seems to go on and on, maybe you just need to set a timer.  The ticking clock helps you probably more than your characters.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Internet is the Land of First & Last Impressions

Maybe I'm the last person who should be talking about incivility on the Internet or maybe I'm the best person.  Like Nixon going to China.  Anyway, when I go on Facebook and such a lot of times I leave comments on articles and very often there will be annoying comments back and sometimes we can exchange comments back-and-forth for hours.  This Onion article sums up Internet people pretty well.

It occurred to me that the whole problem is the Internet is a land of first impressions.  Since there are so many random users on at any given time, few people know each other unless you're in a smaller group or on a relative's page or something.  But if you comment on a news article or something like Comic Book Resources then you're likely to run into a lot of people who've never met you and you've never met them.  And the fact that you can't see them and they may exist thousands of miles away and you're not likely to see them again means that people (especially those like me) feel more uninhibited.

So the end result is we tend to make these snap judgments about people.  And after a while it becomes pretty comical.  I've been called a libtard, Trump supporter, Bernie Bro, snowflake, and bully all in the same day.  Because everyone just goes by snap judgments.  So if I say something negative about Trump (not hard) then I'm a "libtard."  If I (rarely) say something not negative about Trump then I'm an idiot redneck Trump supporter.  If I don't agree with something Hillary says then I must be a Bernie Bro and it's all my fault she didn't win!  If I say something in support of immigrants, transgender, gay, lesbian, Muslim, etc people then I'm a "snowflake."  But if I say I don't want to see videos of fat girls in skimpy bikinis supporting "body positivity" then I'm a body shaming bully!

And of course if you make one little typo then you're an idiot.  Because no one else ever makes typos, right?  Or if you don't know everything about every subject, then you must be an idiot!  How stupid you are to not know everything about everything!

It can really make your head spin after a while.  And just really tire a body out.  I mean I dish as much (or more) than I take but sometimes even I think, "Geez, can't we just give the hostility a rest?"  Or as Rodney King famously said, "Can't we all just get along?"

After the Parkland shooting was especially disgusting to see all these trolls telling the "spoiled kids" or "brats" to shut up.  Spoiled?  17 of their classmates were murdered!  I mean this wasn't like a bunch of hipsters trying to make the lunch menu vegan or something; they're trying to use this tragedy to make a difference so other kids like them won't go through the same.  It just sickens me when people are that cruel for no good reason.

I guess the solution is pretty simple:  just don't comment on stuff!  Don't post on Facebook pages!  Don't Tweet!  Don't comment on blogs like this!  (Well, most people don't comment on this blog anyway.  Zing!)  Or I guess if you do you can just post boring stuff like "Thanks for sharing."

Sometimes though I'm just bored and/or tired and a little rough housing helps to pick things up.  But then sometimes it can go on too long and just become tedious.  Like when the sixth person calls you an idiot because you said babies aren't born with teeth.  (Yes they are!  Yes they are!  They're under the gums!  Why didn't you know that you stupid idiot!)  Christ, sorry I don't know everything about fucking juvenile dentistry.  My bad.

The worst though are the "Well actually..." crowd.  All those people need rounded up and set adrift to a very dark place without electricity.  Forget about Russian trolls swinging elections, those are the real Internet villains.

And the next most annoying are people if you say, "Who cares?" will say, "Well you must have because you commented."  Like that's so fucking clever.  No, idiot, there's a difference between actual caring and just saying "Who cares?" because I'm bored and/or just want to register my irritation.  One time I was at a Biggby Coffee in Fenton and every two minutes I kept getting a Facebook ping from this asshole trying to make me admit I cared about...some damned thing.  I cared so much I don't even remember!  Something about one of the crappy DC TV shows or something.  And I kept trying to explain that I'm answering you because you're replying to my comment thread and every time you do Facebook pings my phone.  Oh well you must be obsessed about this because why else would you be replying?  Because I'm supposed to be writing but it's like 10:30am and I don't really feel like writing because my frappe hasn't kicked in yet?  That.

But that's the thing, first impressions are so often wrong, making it easy to jump to the wrong conclusion.  You think I'm obsessed with you when really I'm just trying to avoid work.  You think I'm dumb when I'm, like, really smart.  You think I'm a liberal or conservative or whatever.  The Breakfast Club had this right 33 years ago:  we try to pigeon hole everyone into a neat little box when really we're all a combination of those things.  Sometimes I'm a "libtard" and sometimes I'm a Trumptard.  Sometimes I'm a snowflake and sometimes I'm a bully.  Hey, wouldn't that be great for a Breakfast Club reboot?  Quick, someone find the overpasses Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estavez, Anthony Michael Hall, and Ally Sheedy are living under!  (Now someone on Facebook would say that I'm such a bully for that.)

I guess we should try to remember that just because someone says something we don't agree with doesn't mean they're our mortal enemy.  Hell, they might not even really exist.  I might not exist.  This might all be the Matrix.  AAAAAAAAAAAAGH!!!!

I haven't officially made a resolution to stop commenting or anything, but I've been trying to get sucked into arguments less.  I mean nowadays you're probably just arguing with some fucking Russian assholes paid by Putin's goons so there's no real point to it.  Not that there ever was a point, but it takes most of the fun out of it.  A lot of the time now on Facebook I'll just hide the comment and move on.  Sometimes I'll block a person.  In the long run it's better than getting worked up about the stupidity of other people.

Ironically Facebook suspended my account for 24 hours on Monday because of some violation of "community standards."  I think it was on Yahoo News weeks ago where someone was lamenting the "good old days" and I said, "oh yeah back in the 'good old days' when you could call gay people fags and black people niggers."  Which wasn't calling anyone in particular those slurs; it was stating a historical fact.  Anyway, I decided I should just unfollow Yahoo News, Comic Book Resources, and Mashable since those are usually the ones where my keyboard gets me in trouble.  Leave violating the community for the Russians.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Bad Scriptwriting Advice From Rian Johnson

Thanks to this post on The Geek Twins, here's some bad scriptwriting advice from The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson about not giving Snoke any background during the throne room scenes with Rey:
At a Q&A for the BAFTA awards, writer/director Rian Johnson explained why he didn't explore the character's backstory.
"In this particular story, it’s much more like the original trilogy, where with Snoke if you think about the actual scenes, if suddenly I had paused one of the scenes to give a 30-second monologue about who he was, it would have kind of stopped the scene in its tracks, I realized," Johnson told the crowd.
This was pretty disingenuous.  No one was asking him to pause the scene to give a 30-second monologue.  If Johnson really thinks that then he definitely shouldn't have been allowed anywhere near a Star Wars script.  Or any script for that matter.

All you have to do is leave a clue as to where Snoke came from.  Though my comment didn't post on that site (probably my phone being shite) in about two minutes I came up with two easy ways to insert something in the dialog.

  1. Have Snoke say to Rey:  You think you can resist me?  My power came from...wherever
  2. Have Snoke say to Rey:  You thought Skywalker could teach you to beat me?  I learned from...whoever

See, it's that fucking easy.  Maybe you want to be a little more subtle, not that Star Wars movies really need to be.  But neither is stopping the scene for a 30-second monologue.  Any scriptwriter worth a damn should know how to do that.

Some people say, Why do we even need to know where Snoke came from?  No one said where the Emperor came from until the prequels.  (Or the Expanded Universe novels/comics really.)  But it doesn't make sense that someone who looks as old as Snoke does could exist with the power he has.  Palpatine was no fool; anyone with dark side power like his would either have to serve him (Darths Maul, Tyrannus, Vader) or they'd be dead.  Yoda and Obi-Wan managed to hide for a while, though it was speculated in one of the earlier Expanded Universe novels that Yoda could hide because he was so close to the dark side cave on Dagobah.  I'm not sure what Obi-Wan's excuse was.

Maybe for Rey at that moment it wasn't a big deal but for the Star Wars universe in general it's kind of an important question.  And not one you should just hope someone else will answer in the next movie or in a novel or comic later.  If you don't know where Snoke came from, I guess it explains why you thought he was expendable enough to be killed so easily.

For writers then I guess the moral is to know your characters and their motivations, even if it's a character someone else created.  And you can subtly insert bits of background here and there.  You don't need to stop everything to dump it on people all at once.

You'll be relieved to know that this is the last post in my one-sided war against Rian Johnson for The Last Jedi.  For now...

Friday, March 2, 2018

What Makes for Good Elseworld Tales?

File this under "Posts No One But Me Cares About."  (Which is a pretty long list.)

Anyway, two things really bring this question to mind.  First, there was recently the release of Gotham By Gaslight, which was one of the first DC Elseworld graphic novels.  That features kind of a steampunk Batman in London during the 1890s as he tries to track down Jack the Ripper.

And though you probably didn't read Monday's post, I recently read a couple of volumes of DC Elseworld tales, one focusing on the Justice League and one just on Batman.  I didn't like a whole lot of those stories and so I got thinking about why.

It occurred to me that the ones I've liked best so far are the Superman: Red Son and Batman: Vampire stories.  (Neither featured in those collections above.)  And then I got thinking the reason for that is because they actually do something interesting with the character.  And that to me is what makes some Elseworld tales better than others.

If you're still wondering, an Elseworld tale is when the writer takes a familiar hero and puts him/her into a different situation or era, like those mentioned above.  A lot of them is just taking the character and putting him/her in another time period.  Which isn't really all that interesting.  I mean it's a gimmick that wears out pretty quick.  Ooh, Batman in the Old West, Batman in Victorian London, Batman in the 1910s, Batman in the 30s, Robin in the gets to be kind of monotonous after a while.  Because for the most part the differences are just in the clothes and gadgets.  It's pretty superficial.

There are some others though that just go too far out, to the point there's really no similarity to the character at all.  Like one in the Justice League volume that was some kind of weird fantasy story with kids brought there like Narnia or whatever.  It didn't really make a lot of sense.  Another was again more of a fantasy one with a literal Bat-Man and evil wizard Joker.  It was just kinda weird.

By contrast what I like about Superman: Red Son and Batman: Vampire (which is actually 3 books) is that they put a different twist on the character.  What if Superman had landed in the Soviet Union in 1938 instead of America?  It presents a whole different take on the character and the world.  By the same token, the Batman: Vampire series imagines what if Dracula comes to Gotham and Batman turns into a vampire?  The first book is just him defeating Dracula, but then in the second part he has to deal with the thirst for blood while trying not to kill innocent people.  The third part has a completely ghoulish vampire Batman slaughtering his enemies while his former friends have to decide what to do about him.

The difference with those versus other ones is the change isn't just superficial.  That makes it more meaningful.  I guess overall that's really what I want from one of these stories.  I mean it can be fun to see Batman in a Victorian getup or Green Lantern costume, but it's not something I really want for more than a single issue.  I guess that's why most Marvel "What If" comics are just a single issue and not a graphic novel.

There you go, food for thought.  Or probably not.


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