Monthly Archive: December 2009

New Year’s Resolutions

Like everyone else, I greet every arbitrarily-chosen day that indicates a new calendar year with rage, skepticism, and vows to never ever drink something handed to me by a stranger on the street. I also vow to develop my own calendars and system of time, enabling me to claim August 5th as New Year’s Day and January 1st as New Year’s Day (observed).

But as usual: I digress.

Since the wizards and alien astronauts who invented the world decided more or less at random that January 1st is the New Year, it’s a natural time for folks to make resolutions, and I am no different from anyone else. Or, yes, I am extremely different from everyone else due to my flagrant lack of pants and my unusual, Dick-Van-Dyke-in-Mary-Poppins inspired system of hygiene, but in this respect I stand with my brothers and sisters and declare the following things will happen in 2010 (or, in my own personal calendar system, Fred):

1. Develop Super Powers: It’s about damn time. I’m tired of not being able to fly, or shoot bolts of energy from my hands.

failing that:

2. Develop Super Weapons: If I can’t fly or shoot energy bolts, I’ll at least create the world’s largest slingshot and hold cities hostage for trillions of dollars.

That’s it. I figure if I succeed in either one of these resolutions, all sorts of exciting things will be very easily achieved, so why put more effort into it than necessary?

The Entertainment. . .Will Wait

(Use of CAPS in this post courtesy of Dan Krokos).

Back home after some holiday family-visitin’. For some reason when I am travelling I don’t update my blog or twitter feed or anything very much. Part of this is sheer laziness. Part of it is the immense amount of whiskey my relatives pour into me. Part of it is the recovery time I require after flying everywhere and having TSA employees ask me, in perfect seriousness, if I have anything lodged within me that could explode under any conceivable circumstances. What, they don’t ask you those kinds of questions? Must be the protective body armor I wear whenever I fly. But I digress.

I’m an old cranky man (did I SAY I wanted my whiskey on the rocks?!?! I’LL KILL YOU!), so I accept that my childhood was vastly different from what kids today (or just in the “recent past”) experience. I remember when you had to rush out to see movies before they faded from the theaters, never to be seen again (unless you were lucky and they were run, edited and split by commercials, on TV) and had to make plans to be home at the right time in order to catch shows and specials on TV. That’s right: I remember life before VCRs, DVRs, Pay-Per-View, even the humble video rental. OH MY GOD I REMEMBER 1979. Hold me.

Anyway, I was thinking about this recently because someone asked me if I was going to see Avatar, and my answer was: Maybe, I have to think about it. And it struck me that there was a time when I wouldn’t have had the luxury. I can wait, now, and if I miss the movie in theaters I will have approximately one million more chances to watch it before I die. It’ll be on pay-per-view, or on HBO, to which I subscribe. It’ll show up on DVD. It’ll be shown on airplanes, eventually on network TV or basic cable, and I will likely shuffle from this mortal coil having seen the fucking thing 13 times whether I want to or not.

This revelation removes the sense of urgency. I can literally take all the time I want to decide if watching Avatar is something I want to do. For an old bastard like me who remembers the first time my father brought home a movie on VHS – well, it’s kind of cool. I can remember a sense of desperation when a movie was fading from the theaters and my chances of ever seeing it were slimming down towards none, and I had to make plans to hitch a ride across three states in order to attend the last showing. Nowadays I can just add it to my NetFlix queue, or buy it on 23rd street for $5. Actually, it was available on 23rd street back in November, somehow. HOT DAMN THEY HAVE INVENTED TIME TRAVEL! What a time to be alive, as Frostillicus would say.

The same is happening in slower motion with books, natch. Books have always had a greater sense of permanency than other media, seeing as they don’t require any special technology to view (or at least, they didn’t used to – DAMN YOU EBOOKS!) but they did in fact fade from the market after a while. Sure, some classics are always in the book stores, but the kind of books I read voluntarily as a kid, staying up until 4AM with a flashlight, were not always on the shelves – you had to pounce. There were libraries, of course, but libraries have budgets and have to make their best choices, and even if they do purchase a book they had to clear the shelves now and then for new stock (of course now they can has eBooks and keep every book they purchase forevers and evers – BLESS YOU EBOOKS!). So it was a similar process, just slower.

But now, even that limitation is lifting, because of the aforementioned eBooks and the fact that used books can now be tracked down on the Internet like fugitives and mailed to your house. So I don’t have to read books within the first year before they disappear – I can wait decades! This is good stuff.

Of course, life is transient and this new attitude might mean I’ll be lying in my death bed a hundred years from now (my robot body badly rusted from misuse) and I’ll suddenly realize there are 255 movies on my To-See list.  So maybe I should get up and see Avatar. Well, maybe after a sandwich.

WE’RE # 15! WE’RE # 15!

Ahem. . .Patrick, of Pat’s Fantasy Hot List fame, has released his 2009 “Hotties” awards, and I am named not once, but twice, because I am hot. Or, as I like to call it, hawt.

First, The Eternal Prison is named as #15 on Pat’s top spec fic titles of 2009! W0Ot! Then, I’m also tied for “MOST IMPROVED AUTHOR AWARD” with the formidable David J. Williams. W0Ot! again.

So, now that you have 16 Barnes & Noble gift cards from various Great Aunts around the world, go forth and purchase my books, because Pat assures you they are great. Thanks, Pat!

Eternal, Unchanging, and Dumb

I’m often reminded of a quote from Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers book that I will now mangle out of sheer laziness: The Universe is big. Really big. I’m reminded of this when I’m reading a particular type of mediocre SF/F fiction, not because of the size of the universe, but the size of time. Because there are a lot of books in the SF/F world that suffer from serious History Dilation in the pursuit of an “epic” feel.

Ah, epic. So many strive for epicness. For someone like me, for whom personal epicness comes so naturally, this is puzzling: Why not just go out and be epic, natch? Ah, but then I remember: Not everyone wakes up epic. Like me, would be my point. Epic is almost a requirement in Fantasy stories, and a lot of writers hit upon that overused shortcut for epicness: Time. As in, really huge loads of time. Is your magical kingdom feeling a bit flimsy? The traditions and faux culture you’ve sketched out not exactly compelling? Well, add several millenia and BAM! instant epicness.

Sigh. Sure, if you start going on and on about how a certain kingdom has existed for seven thousand years, if you spend 58 pages listing the unbroken line of kings from Day One, if you describe every building as “ancient”, then you do, in some way, achieve epicness. But this effect is then ruined when your reader scratches their head and wonders how in the world an entire world stays exactly the same for seven frickin’ thousand years. And don’t say magic, or I will burn your book on Youtube.

What’s even worse than a culture that is presented to you as static from the get go is when the universe stays static while you’re reading thousands of years of history in the damn story. You read book 1, and the universe is codified. You read book 2 and a thousand years have passed. . .but nothing’s changed. And then you read book 3, and five thousand years have gone by, and still nothing’s changed. Sure, things happen, the plot moves forward, but no matter how many wars, how many epic magical battles, no matter who dies, the universe stays the same.

That’s just lazy writing. The world doesn’t stay static for millenia, especially when the author is busily murdering characters, destroying cities, that sort of thing. This is just SitCom Normal, wherein everything about the premise must remain the same no matter what transpires, or else everything is ruined. Again, I’m not talking about thirty years, here. I’m talking about thousands of years. Thousands of years wherein nothing. Ever. Changes. Ever. It’s enough to make me hurl my copy of Fatal Revenant across the room at least once a day.

Solamente Jeff

Something Nick Mamatas says in a post at his journal about vanity publishing and the Harlequin debacle in general resonated with me:

“What is great about writing is that an ordinary working-class person can do it without substantial investment. Other art forms such as painting, photography, music, etc. require sometimes significant outlay and purchasing paintings and instruments and such also requires a pocketful of money. With writing, you can do it on the cheap.”

For me, this also means that it’s one of the few art forms where I don’t have to collaborate. I hate collaborating, and writing was instantly the way I could create something without having to deal with anyone else’s input. Writing is one of the few artistic venues where it’s just you. You don’t need any special training (really, you don’t), you don’t need any special tools (like an instrument), and you don’t need anyone’s help. I think most writers start out as kids, just sitting in their rooms or something and realizing they can tell an entire story, with special effects and trick shots, with just a stub of pencil and a piece of paper. That’s fucking amazing, if you think about it.

I’ve tried collaborating, and sometimes it even works. My friend Jeof Vita and I co-wrote a comic book and it went really well; we then co-wrote a TV script that didn’t sell, and started to co-write a movie treatment before we sort of drifted away from the project. Despite our success – and the fact that we had fun working together – I doubt I’d ever collaborate again. I just prefer to have complete control over the work, to be honest. I don’t like having to weigh other people’s opinions.

Of course, this may explain why I spend most of my waking moments with cats instead of people.

Haircuts and Me

And now, for no good reason at all, an article scheduled to appear in The Inner Swine Volume 15, Issue 3/4 (Winter 2009):



Haircuts and Me

Darlin’ don’t you go and cut your hair
Do you think it’s gonna make him change?
“I’m just a boy with a new haircut”
And that’s a pretty nice haircut
Charge in like a puzzle
Hitmen wearing muzzles
Hesitate you die
Look around, around
The second drummer drowned
His telephone is found[1]

–Possible lyrics, “Cut Your Hair”, Pavement

PIGS, let’s talk haircuts.

Why? Well, I could come up with some justification, I suppose. I could link haircuts with marriage, or I could come up with some theory about how haircuts reflect the world we live in. I could do that. Or I could say that I needed to fill a few pages in this zine and I just got a haircut and thought I could milk the subject for a while. Which are you more likely to believe? Don’t answer. I know what a bunch of bastards like you will say. You don’t deserve better. That’s why you get articles about my haircuts.


I am Not a Luddite

I’m not a Luddite – really – despite the fact that I continue to resist the lure of eBooks in general and Kindles and Nooks in specific. I started thinking about this again today because Fimoculous brought these “choose your own adventure” eBooks to my attention. That’s probably loads of fun, as I recall loving those kinds of books as a kid. Of course, computer games have really taken over that niche of infinite possibilities, but I think pick-a-path books are probably still  loads of fun, especially on an e-reader.

I’m not a Luddite – I’ve embraced plenty of digital formats. My entire music collection is a mass of throbbing MP3 files, backed up to infinity. I don’t even play CDs any more, except in the car where I don’t have any MP3 player hooked up, and I haven’t bought a physical CD in years. When DVDs replaced VHS tapes I never looked back. Yet eBooks still don’t pull me in, despite the fact that the physical space my books take up in the house is a huge pain in the ass. Putting aside the fact that I’m a book fetishest who simply likes the form factor of books, there are 2 basic reasons why I’ve embraced other digital formats but refuse the eBook:

1. Rights. Right now, eBooks take rights away from me. When I buy a physical book, it is mine forever unless I choose to sell it or give it away. I can do what I like with it. eBooks come with all sorts of restrictions – yes, you can “loan” a Nook book for 2 weeks to a friend. You can do this exactly once. This is, to use a scientific term, bullshit. The other formats I’ve embraced have either preserved existing rights or expanded them; I can loan, give away, or otherwise mess with an MP3 file or DVD once purchased. The legalities of giving away MP3 files are suspect, of course; I am not supposed to be giving away thousands of copies, but in practical terms that file is mine to do with as I please. I don’t object to having some legal restrictions on things – I can get behind the concept that you can’t mass produce copies of your songs or movies or books and sell them or even give them away en masse. That’s okay; those are reasonable restrictions that existed prior to the advent of easily copyable digital formats. But eBooks take away some of these basics, like loaning a book indefinitely or reselling the single copy you own. Until that gets cleared up, why in the world would I pay for something I won’t really own? Something that can be taken away from me at a corporation’s whim if we have a disagreement?

2. Technology. The other problem with eBooks is the fact that there’s no standard. MP3 files may not be the best format in the world for music, but it’s ubiquitous and supported in just about every device on the market. My MP3 files will play in anything. If I upgrade my computer, my stereo, whatever – the files will play. This means when I buy an album from Amazon, I know it will play years from now, decades from now, even after a superior format takes precedence, in the same way LPs and cassettes played even after the CD came out. In fact, it’s better, because it only requires software. I won’t have to hunt around for a dwindling supply of MP3-capable players like my Dad did when his 8-Track tapes went the way of the DoDo – someone is going to create an MP3 player for every future computer platform the same way someone created a web browser for the Commodore 64.

Right now, Kindle books don’t work on a Nook and vice versa. And who knows if Kindle 2.0 books will work with Kindle 3.0 or 4.0 or 5.0. If I buy a Kindle today and then decide the Nook is better in 2011, my Kindle books cannot travel with me (I know there are “ways” to crack DRM and make this happen, but I shouldn’t have to troll warez sites just to keep books I’ve paid for readable). This sucks. This is, frankly, an unacceptable situation. I know that for many people books are transient pleasures – you buy them, read them, and pass them on or discard them. But for me, I keep my books. Forever. The idea that the books I read in 2010 will not be readable in 2015 unless I rebuy them is fucking ridiculous, and I’ll have none of it.

Sure, you can argue that music and movie formats have gone through the same thing, because my old cassette player couldn’t play CDs and I had to rebuy a lot of music. That’s true, but the formats themselves were widely supported and open technology. You can still buy a cassette player. Two years ago I bought a cassette player for my computer and ripped my cassettes to MP3, for god’s sake – if there was a way to easily, legally, and routinely convert your eBooks from one device to another, that would alleviate the concern.

See, I think eBooks are a great idea. They bring a lot of added value to the table. I would probably use one for certain things (I still love my physical books, so I’d probably still buy printed books no matter what) like travel reading and periodicals and such; in fact, if companies started offering package deals where you could buy the digital copy and the physical copy automatically together, I’d probably start doing that regularly. But until an eBook offers me the same ownership rights (perpetual ownership of my copy, perpetual access to it no matter the device used, right of first ownership) as a physical book I won’t be buying them. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

Curses! Reading Again!

When I appeared on that panel last week as a last-minute replacement, I had occasion to contemplate the fact that my prose is littered with foul language. Once again I shared a stage with folks whose writing was glaring in its lack of expletives, making me feel like a dirty boy when I read. As often happens when I am shamed publicly, I decided to make a video about it, so I give you CURSING WHILST READING: