Wednesday, September 28, 2022

NonFiction Shows & The Value of a Hook

 A couple months ago the Movie House app added TV shows.  Like the movies, 99.9% of these you'd never have heard of.  Some I'm sure are from overseas and others just so small they're probably on local TV or YouTube or something.  But sometimes I like to put one on in the morning as I make breakfast and stuff.  I get 1-2% towards my total and some of the shows are kind of interesting.  The ones that are most interesting also have good hooks, which is something writers are always struggling with.

Painting the Town:  This is a pretty normal travel show where a dorky white guy goes to cities in the US and St. Thomas and talks to people, visits its main attractions, and eats at a restaurant or two.  The hook is the guy is an artist and as he goes to places he does sketches of the people and places to eventually make a painting.  The paintings are all kind of similar but it is a different spin on the travel show.  Amazon Prime Video listed three seasons from 2015-2018 but none are available there.  Here's the painting from the Baltimore episode.  I took it off a TV with my phone so it's not the best quality:

There's kind of an 8-bit original Nintendo feel about the painting.  They'd probably be good as jigsaw puzzles.  Anyway, it's still a neat way to do a travel show.

Evil Knows:  This is a show about science but it stars the bassist of the band the Bloodhound Gang.  He does a lot of Mythbusters-type stuff then to prove or disprove things.  There's stuff like getting punched by a boxer, pulling 7Gs in a Hawker Hunter aircraft, trying to elude a bloodhound, and going over 80 hours without sleep.  Interspersed there are segments on other "evil" things like the most dangerous city in the world (surprisingly not Detroit), the biggest fire truck, and an airport in Nepal (I think) where the runway is so short planes often crash.  Always one of the easiest and best hooks is involving a celebrity, even if it is a C-list celebrity.  And if that celebrity is getting punched or hunted by a dog it's even better!  If Keeping Up With the Kardashians had been Kim Kardashian being chased by a bloodhound, I'd have probably watched it.

Bad Jokes:  This features probably lesser celebrities in comedians, pro athletes, and YouTube "influencers."  It's a silly little show where a pair of comedians, athletes, or influencers try to make each other laugh by telling bad jokes taken off the Internet.  Like crappy "knock knock" jokes and so forth.  The influencers thing probably works better with younger generations than an old-timer like me.  The NFL episode featured future MVP Patrick Mahomes and a couple of now-former Detroit Lions.  They also had NBA players, NASCAR racers, and WWE wrestlers.  So that's a good way to get attention for your show.

Rock & Roll Road Trip:  Basically the concept of the show is rocker Sammy Hagar, known for hits like "I Can't Drive 55" and "Dreams," "When It's Love," Right Now," etc with Van Halen, travels to visit other 70s and 80s rockers like John Mellencamp and jam with them.  Hagar is not a great interviewer or anything, but if you like that classic 70s & 80s rock then it's cool to listen to him play with some other greats.  And as I said, having a celebrity is always a good hook.

Jam in the Van:  So some guys got an RV-type "van" that they converted into sort of a studio and invite bands to play in it.  Kind of neat idea.  The problem is they really need more of a framing device with the guys who started all of this and to get more views you'd need bands people might know.  It is cool to feature indie groups, but that's not going to make people tune in.  One episode did feature one of the guys interviewing the band, which really would have been good if they'd done that for every episode.  Another episode featured a band I'd actually listened to before:  Blues Traveler, who had a couple of hits in the mid-90s.  There were a couple of interview segments with lead singer John Popper and there was a duet with fellow 90s group The Spin Doctors on a reggae version of "Two Princes."  The music on the others was mostly Americana, reggae, and jazz, usually recorded at some kind of festival or event and usually there are a couple of different takes because you can see the performers wearing different clothes and stuff.  I did add a couple of the bands like Larkin Poe, Nickie Bluhm, Lukas Nelson, and the Wood Brothers to my Amazon wishlist to check out more of their stuff later.  So to some extent the show was successful for the people on it.

Mixtape:  I think this was a series by Spotify or something.  They talk to an artist and assemble a playlist of songs that inspired that artist, which also provides sort of a "Behind the Music" about that artist.  Most of the artists were older ones like Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees, Todd Rundgren, Don McLean, Rick Springfield, the guitarist of the Eagles, members of Foreigner, and lead singer of REO Speedwagon, but I suppose they still have fans, right?  I just wish they had interviewed some younger people or people in other genres because there's a lot of overlap in the "influences" part.  I mean when you pretty much only interview Boomers, of course they're going to mention Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Elvis, and the Beatles.  Everyone alive in the 50s and 60s was influenced by them!  So they really should have diversified a little.  I don't mean skin color as much as in age and genre.

Put Some Colour In Your Life:  This has a weaker hook but I suppose still somewhat of one.  It's about an Australian guy who rides around on a motorcycle and visits different artists in the country.  Then he talks to them about their art and inspirations.  Like I said, it's not as good but still somewhat of a hook to see some guy riding around on a motorcycle talking about art.

By contrast, here are a couple that don't have as much of a hook:

Beyond Your Backyard:  It's a pretty typical travel show where a schlubby white guy goes around to places in America (and Mexico and the Caribbean) to see the sights, talk to people, and eat the food.  There's not really much of a hook, but it is as interesting as most other travel shows.  Since I don't have money and now with Covid and all that can't really go places, I like travel shows to see what I'm missing.  Sometimes that's even places I've been like Chicago or the Mt. Rushmore area.

Food Stories:  This is really weird as it's basically this foreign guy with a strange accent very hurriedly giving an abbreviated history of several food items and providing some recipes.  They do 3-4 foods per episode, which really seems a bit much.  It ought to slow down and get someone who speaks English better instead of saying things like "Oh-ven."  But maybe that in itself is sort of a hook.

Ancient Grains:  This is pretty similar to the Food Stories one only it focuses on one grain per episode.  And the weirdly-accented narrator is female.  At one point she said "flerr" instead of "flour" and now I want to say it like that.  Besides different pronunciations for words, you might also learn about grains like corn, wheat, barley, or quinoa.  

Vegan:  This seems to be just YouTube videos of "influencers" making vegan stuff.  The videos are only about 5 minutes long and basically the quality you'd expect of something from YouTube.

The point here is if you want to attract people, it helps to have some kind of hook.  There are a ton of travel shows, so if you can do something a little different like have the guy hosting the show gathering material for a painting, then it makes it more interesting.  Similarly with books, there are tons of books about vampires or dystopias, so you should try to find something just a little different to get the attention of an agent or editor's minion going through the slush.

Of course the most reliable hook is having a celebrity involved.  Again, even if it's not a huge name, anyone even remotely famous will get more attention than a bunch of ordinary people.  That might be Evil but it's true.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

The Expanse Short Stories Are More Hit Than Miss

Memory's Legion: The Complete Expanse Story CollectionMemory's Legion: The Complete Expanse Story Collection by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As with any short story collection, some are better than others.

  • Drive: It was OK but a little too short. 3/5
  • Butcher of Anderson Station: It was also OK but again maybe a little short. 3/5
  • The Churn: As someone who's read a lot of crime fiction in the last 11 years, it was neat to get a crime story set in The Expanse. And the secret origin of Amos! 5/5
  • Gods of Risk: Another sort of crime story that was good and it helps to fill in what Bobbie was doing during books 3-4. 4/5
  • The Vital Abyss: I thought this story would never end! It was so boring. I really did not care about the secret origin of the mad scientist guy. 1/5
  • Strange Dogs: It was pretty interesting and a lot of it was used in the last season of the TV series, though I'm not sure why if they aren't doing the Laconia books. 4/5
  • Auberon: Another crime story but I just didn't care as much. It would have helped if I'd realized who "the old man" is a little sooner. Spoiler: he's in The Churn. 3/5
  • The Sins of Our Fathers: As the final story (for now) I was hoping for more from this. It kind of does the job to tell us what Filip's up to but I was hoping to see a little more of how colonies like this are doing now that they're on their own. 3/5
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Monday, September 26, 2022

Page to Screen: Kick-Ass

Sometime near the beginning of the year, I got a bunch of Mark Millar comics from Humble Bundle.  But they were in PDF, which is kind of annoying to get onto a Kindle and annoying to read on a regular computer or phone.  But when I got an Android tablet I finally got around to reading the first two volumes from the original series.

I had watched the movie shortly after it came out.  For the first 2/3 or so they're largely the same.  There are some minor differences as Dave Lizewski decides for no real reason to buy a wetsuit and become a superhero.  What he should have realized is if you don't have powers from a spider or being alien or cosmic rays, you need some actual training.  He gets his ass kicked but doggedly keeps going and runs into actual superheroes in "Big Daddy" and his daughter Hit Girl who are actually trained and have real weapons and everything.  Meanwhile, a gangster's son takes on the identity of "Red Mist" to get close to the heroes.

Where the two properties diverge is after Red Mist exposes who he really is.  In the movie Big Daddy and Kick-Ass are captured and their execution put live on the Internet before Hit Girl saves Kick-Ass but her father is killed.  Then they gear up and take on the gangster and Red Mist, Kick-Ass literally blowing up the gangster with a rocket launcher.

In the book, everything happens a lot quicker with no execution on the Internet and no real gearing up.  Basically some bad guys come in, Hit Girl is shot and falls out a window, Big Daddy is killed, and then Hit Girl saves Kick-Ass and they storm the gangster's penthouse to kill him.

The biggest difference, though, is the secret origin of Big Daddy.  In the movie it is pretty much a comic book origin:  he was a good cop framed by the gangster, went to prison, his wife commits suicide, his daughter is born, and after he's let out of prison 5 years later, he takes her and starts training her to be a killer.  Eventually they start killing gangsters to take revenge.

In the comic book, Big Daddy confesses before his death that he was just an accountant who decided his daughter should have an exciting life and so abducted her and by selling old comics funded their training and weapons and so forth.  His wife is still alive and in the end, Hit Girl goes back to live with her.

So that really changes the whole complexion of things.  In the movie, Big Daddy's quest is righteous in that he's taking revenge for the gangster putting him in prison and indirectly killing his wife.  Even enlisting his daughter in his crusade doesn't quite seem as terrible and irresponsible because at least it's for a good cause.

In the book it's really horrible and irresponsible that he would take his daughter and force her into this life basically just for kicks.  Sure they're still doing the same thing of taking out criminals, but the motivation is a lot weaker.  If Bruce Wayne had decided to train and take down criminals not because his parents were killed but just for kicks, would we love the character as much?  Probably not.

The idea of righteous vengeance has existed since the Bible with its "eye for an eye" philosophy.  It's probably existed since the first caveman killed another caveman for stealing his fire.  Whereas killing a caveman for his fire is called murder.  But if that caveman stole his fire from someone else and another caveman kills him, does that make it better?  Slightly, I guess.

Anyway, this change does largely change the whole meaning of the story.  In the book, in one of those "Nixon goes to China" things, Millar seems to be taking crazy comic book fans to their logical extreme.  I mean if fans would dress as characters to go to conventions or movies or whatever, then the final evolution would be fans actually trying to become those characters.  Like I said, it's kind of ironic that Millar, who made his fortune writing some of the best comics of the last 25 years like Red Son, Civil War, and Old Man Logan for DC/Marvel and indie comics like Wanted, The Secret Service, and Jupiter Ascending, is writing a story that's basically saying comic book nerds are a bunch of crazy dorks.  That message is dulled in the movie by making Big Daddy someone who actually has both a reason and training for his quest.  He's not a crazy comic book fan but a real-life comic book vigilante hero.

But there are a lot of sequels and spinoffs of the books, so I guess fans didn't mind too much that Millar was essentially making fun of them.  Whereas there were only two movies that underperformed at the box office.  There are always rumors of sequels or maybe a streaming series, though I'm not sure which version they might use for a reboot series.  I like the movies but the books are decent too.  Though of course both feature coarse language, blood, and gore.

BTW, to get back to something I said in my mini-review, the art tends to make the young characters look like little kids or little people.  I mean look at the cover.  Do those look like teenagers to you?  To me they look more 8-10.  I'm just saying.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Tantrums Can Be Fun, But Also Counterproductive

 Last month I noticed this "review" of Presto Change-O by Eric Filler that was posted in May and really says nothing about the actual book.  Instead it's just a rant about "ads," which really is just one ad for my newsletter that literally takes one swipe or click to scroll past.  Below you can see the "review" and how the ad looks on a computer screen:

And here's what it looks like on my Kindle:

This is at least the third person to rant about this and it's always kind of funny that someone expends so much effort to complain about what is again one swipe or click.  This Karen kicks it up a notch by calling me stupid and threatening to give another book a lower rating.

Like others this also misstates the facts.  It's not "ads" plural; it is just one ad.  Comparing it to a comic book is pretty silly as again it's for a free book if you sign up for my newsletter; I'm not trying to sell you X-ray specs or sea monkeys.

I suppose if I could talk to this person, he'd say it's the principle of the thing.  You shouldn't advertise in books!  So where do I advertise then?  It's not like I can afford billboards, TV ads, and so on.  Like another rant this one says it should be in the back, ostensibly so Karen here doesn't have to see it.  Hence why it's not in the back anymore.  Duh.  The fact people rant about it means they're seeing it, which is the most important part of advertising.

The thing is, shit like this might make you feel better, but it's really ineffective.  Sometimes when I'm opening mail at work, I'll get someone's screed against our company.  (There are also a few posted on Google as "questions.")  Sometimes it gets personal like one that inexplicably called us "heathens" and "cavemen."  I don't really know what that's about, but unless you put a check with it, I just toss it out or pass it on to someone else who'll maybe put a note in the file.  No one really gives a shit.  (The same goes for more benign things like someone who writes Bible verses and shit all over her envelope and one who used to write these lengthy personal letters to the owner--who is semi-retired and barely ever in the office.)  It's a business; no amount of name-calling and tantrum-throwing is going to change things.  You think calling us names is going to make us say, "Oh gee, I guess we'll just close your account."  Or maybe we'll just close down because you think it's immoral.  (And maybe the Lions will win the Super Bowl this season.)

Besides making yourself feel better, sometimes I suppose it's about making you feel like you have power over the situation.  One time someone sent in a note saying for every day we didn't call him back, he was going to deduct $10 from his balance.  Ooh, scary.  It was a pretty comical threat because there was no way any judge would go along with something so arbitrary.

Recently, Kroger started to send checks into work with ads on the back on them.  Not even Kroger ads but ads for life insurance and junk like that.  Now that sounds worse than what I'm doing.  I mean I'm doing it to drum up business for my newsletter and books in general; Kroger is doing this for...what?  Do they get a kickback for putting ads on the back of vendor checks?  I guess that offsets the postage and paper cost?

A grumpy bulldog like me knows tantrums can make you feel better about stupid shit, but when viewed rationally from the outside, it's usually pretty lame.  Because it's not effective.  If anything it's counter-productive.  You call me stupid and make stupid threats, I'm far LESS likely to give you what you want vs if you ask nicely.  If you ask nicely and provide a good reason why scrolling past one screen is too much effort for you, maybe I'll concede the point and remove the ad.

Or you could, I don't know, grow the fuck up and realize what the Rolling Stones said a long time ago:

Suck it, haters.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Chances Are You Won't Enjoy Chances Are by Richard Russo

This review I wrote for Chances Are by Richard Russo has some wisdom for writers.  I have to say, my Chances Are series is much better. 

Chances Are . . .Chances Are . . . by Richard Russo
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book was pretty dull. The first third is mostly a big infodump focusing largely on two geriatric guys: Lincoln, an aged Yuppie and Teddy, an impotent academic. A third geriatric guy named Mickey is a low-level rocker who gets far less time. They all get together on Nantucket and then it turns into a really boring mystery about what happened to their friend Jacy, the stereotypical rebellious rich girl.

I thought at the point Lincoln talks to a former cop that this would really make a good Matthew Scudder book by Lawrence Block. It's just the kind of case a former cop-turned-not-quite-PI would take on. Lincoln could have gone to Scudder, who would have started asking around. Maybe there could have been a couple of close calls and twists before ultimately coming to the same Lifetime movie/Nicholas Sparks-like conclusion.

That would have had the benefit of having a master of mysteries/thrillers at the helm. With a literary writer whose best works 25-30 years ago focused on small town life, this doesn't work. The bland characters aren't interesting and there's too much time given to Lincoln and Teddy, who are just dull. I suppose those were the characters Russo related to the most and when you've won a Pulitzer you have carte blanche to basically do what you want. While neither guy is as dull and annoying as "Lucy" in Bridge of Sighs, neither is one you want to read a book about.

Also I wish the author had used a thesaurus to find some synonyms for "genuflect." It's really not a common enough word to use so often. There was another section using "repudiate" several times in a short span. It's something with a less experienced author that an editor might jump on, but again when you've won a Pulitzer, you can pretty much do what you want and the publisher will just print it.

Anyway, since winning that prestigious prize, Russo hasn't really done much that's been great. It's a shame.

That is all.

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(Fun Fact:  I was dismayed when Teddy lists some of his favorite bands and they're all ones I have albums of like The Decemberists, Belle & Sebastian, and Mumford & Sons.  So apparently I have the same musical taste as a 65-year-old impotent academic.  D'OH!)

Monday, September 19, 2022

AI Art Doesn't Replace Real Artists...Yet

Last week, Michael Offutt posted a link to this site called "Stable Diffusion" that lets you put in keywords and an AI program generates 2-4 pictures based on what you write.  I decided to try it to look for some things I was looking for on stock photo sites and then just some other random stuff.

The results were mixed.  Sometimes it comes up with something pretty brilliant and other times it comes up with something pretty horrible.  And sometimes it doesn't even show anything because it gets censored for being pornographic or racist or something.  Like one time I copied a description from a stock site like "woman in Santa hat with Maine Coon cat" and it got censored.  I think the "coon" part was prompting it to do something racist.  Weird.  Here's an early sampler of three searches:

And when I asked it to draw a warthog, it came up with nightmare beasts instead.  That seems pretty weird that it doesn't know what animals look like.  When I just put in "Pumbaa" it came out with weird creatures that were more cartoony but still creepy.

I did another little test, trying to describe the cover for A Hero's Journey to see what it would draw.  The four results and the original picture are here:

A couple aren't terrible, especially the first one, though they aren't really what I asked for.  So Rusty Webb 1, AI 0.

I think the best results come if you're not asking it to do people or animals.  It can do almost photo-quality landscapes:

For people I think it did better telling it to do a close-up:

Telling it to do a portrait would sometimes generate something like a painting, but it also came up with some decent results:

Sometimes it would do a mostly-good image, but it would do something weird with the mouth or especially with the eyes.  It's not always just "Uncanny Valley" so much as it gets kind of lazy and just doesn't do both of them consistently.

The larger one on the right looks like an android.  Of the other four a couple are pretty good and a couple, not so much.

No idea why it did the first one in mostly sepia but it's neat.  The second was good except for the "freckles" that are like a rash on one cheek.

I like the first one except for the purple and blue "freckles."  The second the eyes are a little weird.

The interesting thing to me is that it was kind of like searching stock photo sites.  So many times to try to find what I want, I have to plug in keyword after keyword to find something I want.  In the same way you might have to keep changing your keywords to get it to generate something that's usable.  Like with stock photo sites, it can be really hard for it to get what it is I'm looking for.  So I often have to keep trying different phrases, hoping that one of them will unlock a decent result.

Like I started looking for an "African American female superhero" and it gave me weird cartoony drawings--a couple maybe a little racist.  Then I asked for something like "Black woman in mask" and it drew black women in Covid masks.  Then I changed it to "Black woman in superhero mask" and it came up with a couple of decent ones.  So like with stock photo sites, you have to refine your search terms until you maybe hit paydirt.

Obviously it's not going to replace artists right away, but it's probably a start.  Before it can really replace humans it needs to get a little smarter.  And if you wanted it to do comics or anything like that it'd have to be able to make things consistently; you couldn't have the thing spitting out completely different looks of the main character for every frame.

Anyway, since this is free to use for right now it does add another possibility for when I'm looking for something to use on covers and such.  

Friday, September 16, 2022

Sometimes First Person Is the Worst Person to Narrate

 Back in July I read this book called Diving Into the Wreck that I got for free so I wasn't expecting a whole lot.  While it was OK, I think what really held it up was that it was written in first person.  I'm not a John Oberon type who thinks you should ONLY write in third-person omniscient past tense; I write in first-person all the time.  The problem is that in some cases first-person just does not work.

In this case a lot of the problem is our character doesn't have a name.  She's referred to as "Boss."  Which, OK, that can work in movies like Layer Cake or The Ghost Writer where the main character is never named, but we can see Daniel Craig and Ewan McGregor so we know what they look like and all that.  Maybe it works in the books those are based on. 

So we don't have a name for the character and being first-person it's hard to describe her unless you use some really clumsy narration like having her say, "I put my blonde hair back into a ponytail and applied makeup around my blue eyes."  That sounds really forced and fortunately the author doesn't do that.  But the problem is by not doing that and using first-person, I really have no idea who this person is or what she looks like or more than the vaguest idea of how old she is.  She left home in her teens and she's been "diving" for at least 20 years so she's probably 35-45...I think.  Like I say in my review, all I can picture is kind of a fuzzy image like when a news show is hiding someone's identity.  It's funny looking at the different editions on Goodreads that not even the cover artists can seem to decide what she looks like as there are 3 different versions:

The other problem in a sci-fi book like this with first-person is there's so much about this universe that doesn't really make sense.  Boss is a "diver" who explores old spaceships and stations.  And apparently this is at least 5000 years in the future.  Yet a lot of the tech is worse than what our astronauts in 2022 have.  Why are they wearing flimsy suits that can kill them if they get cut and only have an hour or two of air?   A drone you can get for $40 on Amazon could probably do more and much safer.  Then there's this "stealth tech" that no one knows how it works even though it was invented by humans.  So there must have been some kind of big disaster or war?  Um...maybe.

See the problem with first-person is it's not natural for the character to give readers the details they really need.  Like what she looks like or how old she is or in the case of a sci-fi universe, why things are the way they are.  It would sound really weird and fake if she did tell you all that stuff.  At the same time, by leaving it all out, I'm just confused and unable to really connect with the character and the universe.

A lot of it might have been forgiven if there were some humor or romance or...much of anything.  There's a little intrigue concerning her father and "stealth tech" but not enough to really sustain it.  Part of the problem might have been this "novel" was actually three novellas then put together into one book.  It would have been hard to have much of a romantic plot with three separate stories later jammed into one book.  But there could still have been some more humor and fun.  I really wanted more Indiana Jones in Space and less poor man's 2001.  That's not entirely the author's fault; I mean I've talked about reader expectations before.  It's just if you're not going to give me what I want, at least give me something else that is interesting.

Anyway, especially if you're writing sci-fi or fantasy, first-person might not be the best way to go about it, because it limits your options.  Choose wisely.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

How To Save A (Fictional) Life

Today is the release day for the third and (probably) final book in the Gender Swap Warriors series, Legacy.  It's also been about 2 years since the series started.  The first book was just kind of a goofy idea to create a gender swap story using Voltron/Power Rangers.  The setup is sort of based on the 2017 Power Rangers movie where a group of teenagers find the power rings or whatever.  Only in this case four college students are out in the woods when an alien ship lands.  To escape the nasty alien, they go into a cave and find a crashed ship.  The ship's crew is dead but their spirits are preserved and when implanted into the college students it turns them into women for...reasons.  And from there they have to adjust to new bodies and also find themselves at the forefront of a war against the evil Starburst Order.

To do that they have four powerful starfighters from the "Victord Project."  Three of them can merge into a MegaJet that has extra power and shields.  But when all four merge into a giant robot, they are almost unstoppable!

I started the first book in September 2020 but didn't finish it until December because I was kind of dogging it for a while and then I took a month or so to write a couple of other stories.  Given the tepid response to my Transformers-themed story Only Human I didn't really think I'd end up doing more, but people actually liked this story.  And I used Chase, one of the main characters, in my Kindle Vella project Guardians of the Swapverse, which helped to reignite my interest in that story universe.

The problem as usual was coming up with a continuation of the series.  People always say to "continue the story" but for something like this if you don't have a fresh gender swap then what's the point?  I mean that is the hook.  And since the original characters were already swapped, you can't really do a lot with that.

Then I got thinking that there were two Voltrons in the 80s so why couldn't there be two of my "Victords?"  So then I got thinking that the good guys want to make a second group because really one Voltron thing can only cover so much space.  The bad guys get wind of it and so recruit a pilot to infiltrate the project to steal its secrets.  The pilot is a male lizard-like alien but the evil witch Harat turns him into a human female to be more appealing to our heroes from the first book.

It took a little while to actually get around to writing the story because I figured it'd take a few weeks and I don't like dead air if I can help it.  So after I built up a bit of a lead in the summer I wrote the second book Turncoat where the Starburst Order pilot S'Olny (named for a character in my First Contact story) becomes Sally and falls in love with an elf-looking alien named Kila (named for a character in the third Girl Power story League of Evil) and ultimately joins the good guys.  I ended that with a little cliffhanger that the Order was launching an attack on Earth.

Now we actually get to the point of all the rambling.  The original idea for the third story was that one of the original pilots was going to die and her spirit would go into some other male human and turn him into a woman and there would be some complications because the  original four pilots had paired off as couples.  The idea actually came from some lame late 90s Power Rangers movie where a kid finds one of the Zords and becomes the new whatever color Ranger.

At first I thought I'd kill off Taylor, who was sort of the leader of the original group.  She used to be a jock who was probably going to the NFL until he became a she and started fighting against the Order.  I thought maybe Taylor would have a brother and was trying to save him but then she dies and her spirit enters the brother.  Which maybe would have been kind of creepy.

Then I thought maybe I should kill off Chase, who was the strategic planner of the group.  She fell in love with Rand, who has the soul of a literal princess in her.  I thought that way I could really focus on the love story angle.

But as sometimes happens, I just didn't really want to kill anyone.  I liked the characters and the world is depressing enough right now that I didn't feel like killing any of the good guys off.  But that would mean finding another way.

One day I thought, "What if there were some kind of prototype for the Victord fighters that went missing?"  Eventually then I refined that to a weapon that existed before those and when that went missing it helped to drive the creation of the Victord fighters.  

Further thinking and refining I finally came up with there was a young woman who had powerful magic abilities she could use to fight evil.  But then she went missing on Earth and so that led to the creation of the Victord fighters.  Someone bitched about the first one there wasn't enough magic, so here you go, magic!

Fast forward a thousand years and one night a hunter in British Columbia sees the ghost of this alien woman.  She leads him to her ship that's been at the bottom of a deep lake for all that time, which is maybe implausible but whatever.  She merges with him and he changes into a woman.  And from there we're off as she meets an electronics store owner named Freddie (who's a girl) who helps her fix her ship but in the process the Order comes looking for them.  They get away and meet our heroes from the first two books and then shit starts hitting the fan.

So there you have it.  I could have killed off a character like I originally intended, but with some extra thought, I found a way to save that fictional life.  If only saving real lives were that easy. 

(Fun Fact:  Since so few people read my Guardians of the Swapverse on Kindle Vella or regular Kindle I decided to incorporate some of the material from that into this story.  I don't mean I copied and pasted scenes but I reference stuff that happened in that and resolve some plot threads from that.  So it's kind of the unofficial sequel.)

Monday, September 12, 2022

PSA: Carvana's Bureaucracy Does Not Make Me Happy

RIP #Five
 If you follow my Facebook, you'd know on June 10th I was in a fairly bad car accident.  I mean, bad for me.  My car was totaled and while nothing was broken or anything, I had a lot of bruises and cuts and soreness that lasted for weeks.  The other guy and his golf clubs were fine and I'm sure his Lexus crossover only had to spend a week or so in the body shop.  (At least he got the ticket so maybe his insurance will go up slightly.  Take that!)

I had seen the big Carvana vending machine in Novi and seen the ads promising that they would make me happy.  But really I went looking for a car there because I was all busted up and thus between that and Covid and everything I really didn't want to go around to dealers looking for a car and then go to a bank to get a loan and all that bullshit.  And I didn't really have the money to rent a car for weeks while I shopped around.  If I could get it all done online from my apartment in a day or two that would be easier.

The process to actually find a car isn't that bad.  You can kind of look at the vehicle with your mouse and see the Carfax report and stuff like that so it's not exactly buying it blind.  The first one I looked at was a Chrysler 200 that was only like $10,000 with not a lot of miles, but by the time I went to put it in my cart or whatever it had disappeared.  After looking around at various vehicles I got a dark red 2014 Focus that didn't have a lot of miles and only one owner who seemed to take it for regular maintenance, so even without a test drive, I figured it would probably be better than a newer car that's been used a lot more.  Maybe I'll turn out to be wrong about that.  Probably.

It's the bureaucracy after you decide to buy that really sucks.  The first thing is you have to load a copy of your driver's license and proof of insurance.  The website says they prefer a PDF of your license so I scan my license and load it as a PDF.  The next day I get an urgent call saying I have to take a picture of the license with my phone and load it to the site.  And basically if I don't do it in the next 2-3 hours the delivery of the vehicle will be delayed.

In the commercials there's a lady who keeps going on about how "Susan from Carvana" kept checking in with her to make sure she was happy.  Guess what?  There was no "Susan from Carvana" for me, just that one phone call about "fixing" something I did the way their site says to.

On top of that they kept nagging me about loading the proof of insurance despite that I loaded it a couple of times already.  I even pushed the button on their site to have Progressive (their "preferred" agency) notify them.  Still I kept getting these emails about making sure I loaded the proof of insurance.

The car did come on the right date--though it was a half-hour late.  I suppose I can forgive that because with all the construction and shit, traffic probably wasn't great.

There was no license plate because their "third party vendor" was working on that.  It should be there within 3 months.  Maybe.

A few weeks later I still couldn't make a payment for the car through their app.  And then they send me an email saying there was a "slight discrepancy" with the price and so I had to sign all of the contracts online a second time.  And then another email about loading the proof of insurance. [eye roll]

A couple weeks later I realized I could finally make a payment for the car.  They never actually told me so the payment might have been late.  You'd think they might actually email you about paying for the vehicle, right?  Maybe they don't like money?  I guess I'm lucky they didn't send someone to repo it right away when really I was just waiting for their stupid app to let me make a payment.

Then a week or so later the license plate comes from the Secretary of State so I put that on and take the temp sticker out of the window.  So now I've paid for the car, signed the contracts (twice), and got the plate.  We're all done, right?

Nope.  A few days later, on a Sunday, a second license plate and registration come via FedEx.  It's a different plate number too. WTF?  I do an online chat with a "real life human" who didn't give a real name.  I tell it my problem and it says to call my DMV because their system doesn't show anything.  And it probably figured that was it.  But I'm like, WTF?  You guys make this mess of things and tell me to clean it up for you?  I'm supposed to call the Secretary of State (what we actually call it here, not the DMV) and wait on hold forever to figure out the problem you idiots created?  I said that was unacceptable and they lied and said their "registration team" wasn't there.

So I call and I think the guy on the phone realized that I was really agitated because he didn't try to fuck around and pass the buck.  Instead he contacted the "registration team" or at least said he did and told me that the second one was the one I should put on.  Which made sense because looking at the registration it said it was replacing the other one.

The car itself to this point has been fine.  And like I said, actually picking out a vehicle was fine.  It's just their shitty bureaucracy.  I mean I had a much easier time with actual car dealers every time I bought a used car--and the one time I bought a new one.  I never had to sign the contracts a second time or got a second registration and plate.

Car dealers are worse at the actual finding the vehicle.  I mean if you just go to the lot they'll try to press you into buying something you don't really want.  So Carvana and similar sites are nice that you can look at different vehicles without some jerk working for commission standing too close and trying to fast talk you into something.

But once you decide on the vehicle, the rest, in my experience, isn't that hard.  You just tell them you don't want any extras like extended warranties or rustproofing or whatever other crap they might want to throw in.  Then you just sign everything and get the keys.  Woo hoo.  It's a lot less hassle than Carvana was for that part of the transaction.

So, no, from my experience they do not make me happy.  Be wary.

Friday, September 9, 2022

TV Shows I Watched and Maybe You Should Too, Or Maybe You Already Did...

Last Friday I talked about movies I watched since the last time I did an entry on movies I watched.  And I also watched some TV shows and decided to spin them into their own entry because the movie one was getting a bit long.  So here we go:

Strange New Worlds:  It was entertaining, but doesn't really live up to the title.  Other than one episode where an old flame of Pike's takes him to a planet where they sacrifice a child to keep their planet running, they didn't really go to any strange new worlds.  In fact about half the series they don't go to any "worlds" at all!  The one where the doctor's kid puts everyone into a story was cute and so was the one where they're on shore leave and Spock swaps bodies with T'Pring--even though Vulcans gender swapping is kind of pointless.  Una and La'an playing "Enterprise Bingo" seemed like a bit from Lower Decks but it was pretty funny.  The one where they go to rescue a crashed Starfleet ship felt like a ripoff of the Alien/Predator franchises only with Gorn as the xenomorphs.  I was disappointed they killed off Hemmer the engineer after only 9 episodes, probably so they can bring in Scotty next season.  Predictably with a prequel series, my bone to pick is using so many of the Original Series Enterprise crew in this.  Spock was in the original pilot so that's OK, but then you have Chapel and Uhura and probably Scotty now and they've already cast someone as James T Kirk so we'll probably see him again; you start to wonder why they don't just go ahead and do a rebooted Original Series.  The "cliffhanger" about Una seems like what they did with Bashir on DS9 over 20 years ago. (3/5)

The Boys, Season 3:  I liked that they finally got this more to where the comics started, where the Boys would take "Compound V" to get superpowers for a short time to fight bad supes.  The first two seasons they made the V like a steroid for supes so it was really hard for the Boys to fight the Supes.  But with the "temporary V," we can finally get some cool fights.  This season introduces "Soldier Boy," who's basically a combination of Captain America and Bucky--if they were dicks.  Soldier Boy is strong and has a shield, but then he's captured by the Soviets in 1984 and experimented on.  After the Boys rescue him, they join forces to try to take down Homelander, the psychotic Superman-type guy who's taking control of the Vought company that runs the supes.  I liked a lot of this better than the previous seasons, but it's marred by some immaturity that I suppose is going to happen when you have Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg as your executive producers.  Remember when all those people were talking about Ant-Man crawling up Thanos's ass to kill him?  The writers of this series seemed to take that as a challenge and said "hold my beer" as they have a shrinking supe crawl into some guy's dick to get him off--and then he accidentally goes back to normal size, killing the guy.  In my entry on the docuseries Slugfest I mentioned a costume party in Vermont that inspired the first unofficial Marvel/DC crossover.  The Boys has something similar, only the costume party is of course an orgy of supes.  If they toned down some of that immature, needless gross stuff, it'd be a better series. (2.5/5)

Only Murders in the Building (Season 1):  I probably should have watched the first season earlier because I've always liked Steve Martin.  He's pretty much a Renaissance Man as he's an actor, comedian, writer, director, and musician.  In this series he teams up with his Three Amigos co-star Martin Short and they team up with Selena Gomez as bumbling amateur detectives who make their own true crime podcast after there's a murder in their apartment building in New York.  There are twists and turns and red herrings and it's mostly pretty fun.  What's odd is the first scene of season 1 is actually the setup for season 2, not part of the crime they investigate in season 1. (3/5) (Fun Fact:  Ordinarily I wouldn't knock a character having an English bulldog, but Martin Short's character doesn't seem like the English bulldog type.  French bulldog would be more appropriate.  Or a poodle or something snooty like that.) 

Only Murders in the Building (Season 2):   The second season, like a lot of sequels, doesn't really live up to the original.  Selena Gomez is framed for the murder of Bunny, the former head of the co-op in the building.  But she doesn't go to jail so she's still free to try to find the real killer with Steve Martin and Martin Short.  There are other subplots like a lesbian artist who wants to glom onto Selena Gomez for attention and the secret origin of Martin Short's son--as if anyone cares.  And the secret origin of Steve Martin's dad and Steve Martin's daughter.  The killer from last season, the deaf son of Nathan Lane, and Amy Schumer all show up (the latter playing herself) for an episode or two without actually contributing much to the plot.  One episode there's a blackout and this whole B or C-plot about two gay guys hooking up and all that comes from it is one guy bumps the killer's shoulder so Selena Gomez can identify him; did we need this whole romantic subplot just for that?  Like a lot of sequels it throws more stuff at you but can't really replicate the magic of the first season.  I can see why Steve Martin said he was going to retire after this series because it does seem like Selena Gomez carries most of the load, but I suppose at 77 and with almost 60 years in the biz, Steve Martin deserves to be able to retire if he wants. Going back through it, it seemed like Selena Gomez could have solved all this on her own without the two old guys.  As for the ultimate solution, I'm not sure it really holds water if you work through it backwards.  Anyway, though it's not as good as the first season, it's still pretty watchable if you want a cozier-type mystery. (2.5/5) (Fun Fact:  The setup for Season 3 has Paul Rudd playing a famous actor who dies on stage in a play produced by Martin Short and co-starring Steve Marin.  So maybe they should change it to Only Murders Near the Building?  Or Only Murders Involving People Who Live In the Building?  Fun Speculation:  Was Selena Gomez pregnant when they filmed the first couple of episodes?  It looked like she was kind of fat and they were trying to cover it Voyager-style by having her wear jackets and sweaters and bulky stuff like that.)

The Orville: New Horizons:  Like how Strange New Worlds doesn't really go to strange new worlds, The Orville: New Horizons doesn't really have much new to it.  Instead it mostly references previous episodes.  The first episode was really confusing because it seems to take place after the battle with the Kaylon that was about halfway through the second season.  So did the rest of that season not happen then?  Because the battle at the end of season 2 was an alternate timeline so the ship shouldn't have been damaged, right?  It didn't make sense to me.  Mostly it seems like a mulligan after apparently they realized something I said in my review of the second season, which was they didn't really do anything with Isaac after he betrayed the crew.  I've talked about a couple of other episodes I didn't really care for in other entries.  There are two episodes that follow up on the first season(?) episode where Bortus's child is forced to become male; the second episode features a cameo by Dolly Parton with really weird fake eyebrows.  Another episode follows up on a Krill spy who becomes a Trump-like president--and mother of a child made with the captain.  The final episode brings back a character from an episode that ripped off Black Mirror where everyone is rated by other people constantly and your rating determines your place in society.  That episode was probably the best of the season as it features Isaac and the doctor getting married, something that could provide fodder in a fourth season.  

While there are fewer episodes obviously ripped off from Star Trek, there are still a couple, like one where they find a good Kaylon who was in a wrecked ship--just like Hugh the Borg in ST: TNG.  The emotion chip thing was more like Data/Lore though.  The episode where the dumbass pilot is thrown back in time to 2015 was largely like Star Trek IV.  Maybe it's me, but it seemed Seth MacFarlane largely sidelined himself and other characters like the engineer and security officer don't really get much opportunity to take center stage--the closest for the latter two is an episode where they're fucking each other and the engineer is repeatedly injured but that's just a comic B or C plot.  Overall most of my previous complaints are still applicable and for those who claim it's more "fun" than Trek should actually watch this and Strange New Worlds, Seasons 2-4 of DiscoveryLower Decks, and Prodigy.  There is room for more than one space opera franchise on streaming, but that doesn't mean this has to be one of them. (2.5/5)

Lego Star Wars Summer Vacation Special:  Again the producers of the Lego Star Wars universe upstage JJ Abrams/Rian Johnson when dealing with the sequel universe.  Why?  Because they actually give a shit about the characters, in this case mostly Finn, making him the focal point.  He, Poe, Rey, Rose, Chewie, and the droids board a luxury liner with holographic Lando as host.  Finn wants everyone to spend time together because they're about to go their separate ways, but as often happens on vacations, people wind up doing different things.  There are three stories then from Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, and Leia Organa.  The Vader story is pretty silly but features a cameo by "Weird Al" Yankovic.  While I liked the live action series of Obi-Wan Kenobi, if that series had featured him singing and dancing at Jabba's palace to help a Rebel agent, I wouldn't have been mad.  And the Leia story again helps add depth to Ben Solo, aka Kylo Ren, that the sequel trilogy never bothered with.  Even if you hated the sequel movies--or maybe especially if you did--this is fun watching to show what might have been if they hadn't rushed things and actually had a decent plan and developed characters.  It is sad when your multi-billion dollar movies are being shown up by what's supposed to be a kid's show. (4/5)

Timon & Pumbaa:  I watched a few episodes of this 1995 series on Disney+ with my stuffed Pumbaas and they want to disavow its existence.  The very first episode comes up with a content warning about cultural insensitivity.  And then it's just really loud, dumb, and bad.  One episode segment was almost like Misery with Timon as Kathy Bates and Pumbaa as James Caan.  When Pumbaa gets a tummy ache, Timon vows to cure him at any cost!  Even when Pumbaa is feeling better on his own, Timon guilts him into taking more "cures" that do more harm than good so Timon can feel like the hero.  So basically Timon is abusive both physically and emotionally to Pumbaa.  The only decent part of an episode was a music video to "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" where Pumbaa keeps seeing scary lions that turn out to be nothing--and then Simba.  They probably should have stuck more with that and less awful shtick.  I think maybe they wanted more of a Ren & Stimpy vibe, but it doesn't really work.  (1/5) (Fun Fact:  My Pumbaa says he did this series strictly for the paycheck.)


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