Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Star Fox 64: what is all the hype about??

I discovered computer games in the mid-1990's, so I switched from my Nintendo/Genesis systems to PC gaming and never looked back. As a result, I missed the PS1/Saturn/N64 generation and everything thereafter.

I had the chance to play some of the games on those systems I missed. One game in particular I wanted to play was

What the hell is all the hype about with Star Fox 64?? I keep hearing it's the best Star Fox game--the last one before the series lost its way with Star Fox Adventures/Dinosaur Planet, but it's terrible! It's a mere remake of the SNES game, but the textured graphics somehow make the game look more primitive! The original game looks clean and crisp, like a game from the future! The N64 game looks muddy and unfocused.

Enemies are so far away you can't hit them half the time, and the homing laser feels like it was added to compensate for this flaw instead of as a new feature. The joystick constantly re-centers your targeting box, making it impossible to hold a direction or fire at anything! I miss the SNES controls. You weren't fighting them throughout the whole game!

The explosions don't feel solid. The laser doesn't feel solid. Hitting things doesn't feel solid. Getting hit doesn't feel solid. The laser doesn't do much damage, and the nova bomb doesn't do jack shit anymore either. Nothing in the game feels or moves real. Barrel-rolls don't seem to work very often either.

And the voice acting. Awful, awful, AWFUL! Every line is delivered like it was lifted out of context from random conversations heard on the street. Half the lines sound like they were taken from dirty conversations. (Andross won't have his way with me! Here comes a big one!) The laughable lip-synch makes it even stupider.

Even the music is bad. No memorable tunes, no melody, just background noise to energize the levels, not unlike what you'd expect from an arcade game.

Why remake the original game? Why not make a sequel? Hell, I read Star Fox 2 was complete; why not release it since it was done?! We could've had an actual sequel that continued the story--hell, that told a story!--but instead we got this?? What bullshit.

I also played Turok. It's fucking impossible. The controls are awful and the graphics are shit, even by the standards of the time. The N64 was an awful system! The polygon count was so low any attempt at 3D graphics was just awkward! It wasn't until the PS2/Dreamcast/Gamecube generation that developers finally figured out how to handle the camera, and the 3D graphics smoothed out. Mostly.

After trying to play a few N64 games and thinking the same thing about both the graphics and the universally awful controls, this leads me to wonder: how many actual good games were there for these systems? The NES has about 700 games for it, but how many of them are actually any good? Ditto for the SNES, and let's not forget Gameboy and Genesis. (I'm excluding the Game Gear. There were no good games for that.) By and large, the huge libraries are full of crap with a few gems here and there. So it is with the N64, PS1 and Saturn (remember Sonic R?).

Remember the gems. Ignore the crap. That's how nostalgia works.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Planet of the Apes (series)

I was curious about the Planet of the Apes series. The originals, not the remakes. This is a supplement to my Seek the Original of the first movie.

Now for the sequels:


Beneath the Planet of the Apes is so weak. Another astronaut is sent on a rescue mission to find Taylor and his crew, but the ship also crashes in the distant future. How could Earth know Taylor was in trouble; his ship hadn't reached its destination for centuries!

In the process of finding Taylor, this other astronaut finds a race of humans living underground, presumably descendants of the survivors of the nuclear war that decimated the Earth centuries ago. It's not stated or implied anywhere in the movie who they are, or what they do, so who the hell were those humans and why do they have telekinetic powers?! They worship an atomic missile, and when threatened, instead of using their mind powers, they elect to launch the missile on the apes. But that fails, leaving Taylor himself to press the button that damns them all to hell.

You can tell someone wanted to make a cold war statement and didn't know how to say it, so they repeated what politicians of the time kept saying: "we are a peaceful people" and "it's a weapon of peace." Whatever it wanted to say, it failed to say or even show. The film ends with the implied destruction of Earth. Kinda pointless, but the sets are impressive.


Escape from the Planet of the Apes is so much better. Our two favorite apes from the last two movies, Cornelius and Zira, somehow got the crashed spaceship working again, despite their civilization being pre-industry and pre-electricity, and end up back in time to 1970's Earth.

Finally we find out what happened to the human race, and how the apes rose above them. Cats and dogs all over the world will die of a plague, and apes will replace them as pets. They will be trained to do various tasks, but will eventually be enslaved, and then they will rebel against their masters. It's very close to what the original book implied--it took us 3 whole movies to reveal this critical detail!

The movie is interesting, the humor is actually funny, and I really felt for Cornelius and Zira. Especially Zira. She's outspoken and feisty, while her husband is quiet and reserved. They're perfect for each other. And Ricardo Montalbán can make any movie awesome.


Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is almost as good. The story has taken the next logical direction: in the 1980's, all the cats and dogs died of disease brought here by Cornelius and Zira, setting in motion the events that will lead up to the first film. Apes are the new pets, and crossbreeding has yielded bigger, more humanlike apes, chimpanzees and orangutans. It's actually a brilliant way to tie everything together. Caesar, Zira's and Cornelius' son, leads the revolt against their human masters.

I watched this with my roommate, and we both noticed the ending was altered. The audio quality on Caesar's second speech is different, there is no lip synch, shots are reused. His decision to show mercy on the human captors is obviously not how the movie was supposed to end. A quick glance on the internet confirmed the movie was supposed to be the last in the series, bringing the story full circle, ending with kill all humans and setting itself up to be the beginning of the first movie. Audiences weren't ready for that, so it was changed to Caesar showing mercy on the humans who oppressed them, and now the bleak future can be altered. Cowardly, but audiences were tired of race riots and assassinations and nuclear threats. They wanted to believe the future destruction of the human race was not inevitable. Be that as it may, the original ending is so much better, nullifying the need for the final movie.


Battle for the Planet of the Apes is a confused mess. It's supposed to be about peace, but it's all about a battle. Between movies 4 and 5, humans used the Bomb to try to quell the ape rebellion, destroying much of Earth. The human survivors living in the ruins are starving, angry, and heavily irradiated. The apes live on the surface, away from these forbidden zones.

Caesar and his closest aids venture into the nearby ruins of the human city to find the tapes the government made of his parents talking about the future. The humans there follow Caesar back to his settlement. A battle ensues, the humans are exterminated, a rebellious ape is killed, but somehow humans and apes live in harmony hundreds of years in the future.

It's supposed to be another "if you choose peace, you can change the future" message, but the writers didn't know how to show it. Characters keep saying it, but that's not what happens on screen. Caesar learns about the future he should avoid, but he never negotiates with the humans. He doesn't even hint of a coming dialogue with them, which is important to ending the hatred and changing the future.

It implies where the humans in the second film came from, but the fourth film was supposed to conclude the series. Audiences didn't want such a bleak ending. They wanted to believe the future can be changed, and thus we have a forced happy ending. This film was unnecessary.


I'm glad I watched the whole thing. The movies are not masterpieces, even the first one, but they are memorable. The ape makeup is still convincing today. Much like the Wizard of Oz, it's a cultural experience.

As far as I'm concerned, the series concluded with the alt ending of the fourth movie. That would have been a more powerful way to get the message across, by showing the results of making the wrong decision. Forcing Caesar to change his mind at the last second, for no apparent reason, isn't nearly as impactful.

None of the satire was in the first movie, and it was just barely hinted at in the book, but the sequels did address how man fell and why the apes rose. That's what the book should have been about, and I'm glad the movies finally did something with the idea. They actually did more with it than the book. Disjointed as it is, this makes the series as a whole better than the book in almost every way.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Seek the Original: Planet of the Apes

Planet of the Apes
by Pierre Boulle

A few scientists and a journalist (Ulysse Mérou) embark to the star Betelgeuse, traveling on a craft to just under the speed of light. They make the trip in only two years, though hundreds of years pass on the Earth they leave behind.

On Soros, the habitable planet they find, they discover it is inhabited by humans. And simians. The humans live like animals, while the apes have an advanced human civilization. Ulysse is captured and subjected to behavioral tests. Two of the others are killed, and the last loses his mind.

For months Ulysse is locked in a cage, suffering embarrassingly easy tests he's seen primates endure back on Earth. Eventually he is able to tell his warden, a chimpanzee named Zira, that he is intelligent. After learning her language and gaining both her and her fiancé's trust, he makes a speech to the high counsel, and is released from captivity. He is now free to pursue scientific research as their equal, despite him being a journalist by trade.

I guess there's nothing wrong with this story, and perhaps it was innovative for its time, but I can't help thinking Jonathan Swift did it better in Gulliver's Travels. The country of the Houyhnhnms and Yahoos was essentially the same thing: switch the human and animal, and try to expose human civilization for what it is.

Planet of the Apes is hardly original in this respect, and the first 2/3 of the book is all about Ulysse trying to convince the apes that he is intelligent as they are, and it's a drag. How does he earn his freedom? He makes a long speech to the leaders of government, and the people in attendance. Just like that, they release him from captivity and now he's a full member of ape society. No, that's way too easy. If, on Earth, a captive elephant suddenly started speaking and pleading to be accepted as one of us, there would be no way a simple speech to congress would convince everyone to let him walk among us as an equal.

The book only becomes interesting for the 20 pages we examine the origin of the ape civilization, and the fall of man's on this world. The way they learn about it is ridiculous: stimulating the brains of a pair of man-animals (sorry, I had to), the apes are able to get them to speak "species memories." Somehow memories of what happened to their civilization ten-thousand years ago are contained in these humans' minds? That's not how memory works. It's ridiculous--easily solved by finding old recordings, or movies, or diaries from the ruined city--but the information is interesting. Apparently, the apes are not intelligent at all, but simply imitating the human civilization that came before it. It left me wanting to know more about that, not Ulysse's long journey out of captivity.

It doesn't last long enough for me to call the book a good read. For as short as it is, it's hard to get through because so much of it is dull. I wanted to know more about the rise of the apes and the fall of man, how humans and apes got to the planet Soros in the first place, and it bugs me these subjects are pretty much footnotes. That's where the real satire of human society was, and it was the point where the story broke away from Swift's work and stepped out on its own. Like a toddler, it only took five steps, teetered over and fell on its diapered bottom, cried for a while and then curled up and called it a day.

It's pulpy, barely any science, and has all the tropes you'd expect of a pulp sci-fi adventure. For example, all the women are beautiful, and walk around naked. It also has a twist ending I saw coming from before the halfway mark. How did apes get to Earth? How can we ponder that when we don't even know how they got to Soros in the first place!? I didn't hate the book, but the interesting parts did not last long enough to make me like it either.

Now compare that to...

Planet of the Apes (1968)
starring Charlton Heston

This was my first time seeing this movie that I can remember. It's a classic and was quite a blockbuster for its time, but I didn't care too much for the movie either.

For starters, what's up with the music?! For the first 20 minutes, the music draws so much attention to itself. The orchestra panics several times, but nothing is happening on screen. It's as if the music is trying to compensate for what's not happening. Calm down, soundtrack, they're just climbing the rocks. (Uh oh...) Once action actually does start happening, the music finally matches the movie, and by the end it adds to the scenes instead of jumping off the screen and assaulting the audience.

Second, our main character (named Taylor in the movie. Because this is an American movie, so no Frenchmen are allowed to be important) is an asshole. He doesn't come across as a leader, but a jerk. What kind of performance were they going for here? When one of the crew makes a little memorial for Stewart, their crewmate who died in the crash that stranded them on this planet, Taylor laughs at him. His laugh doesn't sound light-hearted, but like a man who is going insane! He insults his crew every step of the way, he talks down to them--why is this guy the main character!? At least Ulysse in the book is a vulnerable everyman and you can kinda feel his pain. (Though he is overly-eloquent. The dialogue in the book sounds leftover from the Victorian era, but that may be the result of the translation from the original French.) Taylor is just a self-righteous dick.

Third, the main story is our protagonist trying to convince his ape captors that he is intelligent, just like the book.

On Rotten Tomatoes, the consensus is that this movie "raises thought-provoking questions about our culture without letting social commentary get in the way of the drama and action." What questions? What social commentary? The book had more of those than the movie, most of it narration that wouldn't be easy to show. The book doesn't do too much with it, but it's still there. I don't find any of that in the film.

It gives a lot of hints as to the origin of apekind, and the third act shows some evidence of it, but this isn't the focus of the movie. Instead, the movie puts Taylor on trial, and it wastes so much time debating the obvious instead of exploring the more interesting idea.

We all know the ending. It's the most parodied scene in cinema history. Taylor rides up the beach and finds the ruins of the Statue of Liberty, so he was on Earth the whole time. Ape civilization rose out of the ruins of his own.

But wait... The astronauts left Earth. They were traveling at the speed of light--they were already hundreds of light years away from Earth at the start of the film, and over 2,000 years had passed by the end of their journey. How did they get back to Earth?! The book's ending makes more sense, even with the unanswered questions. The movie's ending is a twist for the sake of a twist.

There's all this talk about how the apes must protect the faith, how Taylor is a threat to their civilization, despite his assertions that he is from another planet and thus not related to events on their world at all. What faith? How is he a threat to them? Taylor himself asks this, and no answer is given.

In the book, Ulysse and his ape colleagues uncover an ancient city of humans who were even more advanced than the apes, and Ulysse puts the pieces together: the present ape society is merely imitating the ancient human society, and each generation has taught the next for thousands of years. It explains why nobody innovates, why nothing has changed in centuries, why things work the way they do. It is all they have been doing, and it implies they are not intelligent at all. This knowledge is what must be covered up, and why Ulysse is such a threat to their social order.

The movie doesn't explain this at all. In fact, the apes in the movie believe they were divinely created. Not so in the book; they know they evolved from something, but they don't see their civilization for what it is. It's interesting stuff, and it's what both the movie and the book should have focused on. This is the satire--this is the social commentary!--but instead they both waste so much time being about Ulysse's and Taylor's escape from bondage.

Had the movie drawn more attention to the nature of ape civilization, perhaps the twist ending would have had more weight, but it still doesn't make sense. How did man's civilization end? How did apes survive, and nothing else? There's no attention to these questions. Perhaps the reason was more obvious in the 60's. During the height of the Cold War, the very idea that we could destroy ourselves, and someone else would rise up to take our place, was an idea that stood on its own. Nobody needed to know how mankind destroyed itself; it was obvious somebody used the Bomb.

That's fine, but the movie isn't about that. It's about our main character trying to persuade his ape captors that he is a thinking person just like they are, and he's such an arrogant jerk before his captivity I didn't want him to be free. I wanted the movie to be about the rise of ape civilization and the fall of whatever came before. It isn't, and for this reason I prefer the book over the film, because the book answered some of these questions directly, which was interesting, even if it wasn't enough.


From a filmmaking perspective, the ape makeup is amazing. It's pretty convincing, even today, and must have cost a fortune. The sets are large and do a great job standing in for an entire civilization. The music is terrible, and is a huge distraction from most of the movie.

It's a classic of filmmaking. I respect that. I recall the subsequent sequels (remember those? This was a freakin' franchise in the 70's!) delved deeper into the ape civilization, and also into what happened to man's. People in the 60's wanted to know more, too.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Space Jam 2: Friendship is Magic

The rumors are flying that Space Jam 2 is happening. Since there is no reason why not, and Hollywood continues to milk the nostalgia cow, I'd say it's inevitable.

How can Space Jam 2 best capture the spirit of the original? The first Space Jam was a time capsule of everything that was popular in the 90's, so the new one should be a time capsule of everything that's popular in 2015. To wit, here is my speculative script treatment for how the new movie should go down.

"Space Jam 2: Friendship is Magic"
By James L. Steele

The Loony Tunes are not cool anymore. Instead, I recommend replacing all Loony Tunes with MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC characters.

(You're humming the theme song right now. Just admit it.)


We open on the same ALIEN PLANET featured in the original film. Reality TV is all the rage. (Show WALL OF MONITORS broadcasting every reality TV series ever made to all corners of the galaxy.) These aliens created the genre to conquer the galaxy, and they have succeeded.

Ratings are good, profits are through the roof, but it's not enough for the executives and investors. To get even more viewers, MR. SWACKHAMMER (the boss alien from the first film) decides to capture this generation's most popular cartoon characters and force them to star in a reality TV series.

Cut to EQUESTRIA, daytime.

TWILIGHT SPARKLE, RARITY, APPLEJACK, PINKIE PIE, RAINBOW DASH, and FLUTTERSHY are doing their usual pony activities. Alien HENCHMEN secretly land, observe, and then capture our main characters. (SPIKE is optional.)

The ponies are transported back to the alien planet and dumped into the office, where Swackhammer pitches the new reality TV series to them, for which they have been cast: a camera crew is to follow them around as they try to win places on other reality TV shows.

Having no choice, the ponies go along with it, trying out for several shows in multiple animated worlds, frequently doing interview cutaways. They are forced to bicker and backstab each other for the hungry TV audience (show the HUNGRY TV AUDIENCE craving DRAMA and CONFLICT).

They are also told to be as bad as possible. Any attempts at being good at any of the shows they try out for are met with outrage from their aliens captors, saying it looks better for the cameras if they suck at everything they try. The girls have to oblige.

Meanwhile, in the real world, LEBRON JAMES has just begun a reality series of his own. (Possible titles include: NBA SHOWDOWN; THE RECRUITS; NBA ULTIMATE DREAM CHALLENGE.) The NBA recruits new players through a reality TV series now. Every season, they hold open tryouts, and then the contestants have to achieve ordinary basketball-related challenges in ridiculously small time limits with outrageously bizarre restrictions on equipment and location; and must please judges and survive vote-offs and sabotages on top of all that. All the while, the prospective pro-basketball players are compelled to backstab and bicker with one another during the contests as well as between. (Show the HUNGRY TV AUDIENCE craving DRAMA and CONFLICT again.)


Twilight Sparkle hears one of the alien producers talking with his superior about their plan to keep the series going for 10 years: they want the ponies to perpetually try out for reality TV shows, but never actually earn a place on one. Twilight sees a way to use this to escape. She tells the girls they must actually win a place on a show. She persuades the camera crew into letting the ponies try out for Lebron's reality TV series in the real world, figuring basketball should be easy for them.

They actually secure a place on the show. The aliens did not expect this--the contract they made the ponies sign does not have any provisions for what happens in this case, so the aliens scramble to come up with a solution. The ponies use the opportunity. Hearing of their plight, Lebron convinces his lawyer (can we get WAYNE KNIGHT again?) to write it in their contract that if the ponies win, they sign an NBA player's contract and are released from the alien's contract at the same time.


It is up to Lebron to coach them through the difficult challenges and win a place in the NBA. However, now there are two different TV series producers trying to turn the ponies against one another, and disharmony threatens to tear their friendship apart. (Show the various INTERVIEWS and dramatic BEHIND THE SCENES BICKERING. Also show the HUNGRY TV AUDIENCE feeding off it.)

Meanwhile, the aliens send the henchmen down to possess some of the other contestants, boosting their basketball skills to make it harder for the ponies to win. By the time the trick is revealed, it's too late. The girls will need all the help they can get if they hope to compete with these new, supertalented players and go home again. Lebron James is just the person.

Along the way, they learn the true meaning of friendship (show the MAGIC of FRIENDSHIP) and teamwork. Together, they overcome the obstacles, win the contest, survive the sabotages, please the judges, survive the FINAL BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT (with Lebron himself playing on their side), make it through the DRAMATIC VOTING ROUND, and are released from their alien contract. The ponies return home, friends once again.

When the episodes for Lebron's show air, the ratings shatter records, and the producers want the ponies back. In Equestria, the ponies realize they are now contracted NBA players, and must report for season games soon. They are eager to start. It sounds like fun! (Sequel cliffhanger!)

CREDITS MUSIC: a rap/dubstep/boyband version of the MLP:FiM theme that will never be dated.

Creative notes:

All characters should say "literally" at least once per three lines. "Seriously" should be used at least once per five lines.

Starbucks should sponsor the whole film. Nothing but Starbucks ads all over the place.

John de Lancie should have a cameo in this film, either as Discord, or as a human character.

The entire voice cast from MLP:FiM should also have cameos as humans to give the film rewatch value.

For the stadium scenes where an audience is present, all spectators should be playing on their phones.

When the contestants are talking to each other, they should be texting on their phones while bickering and arguing and backstabbing one another. Likewise for the interview sections.

Keep Michael Jordan as far away from this movie as possible. Only CURRENTLY popular icons of awesomeness are allowed here.

Consider using the real-life Lebron James to play himself. Using a computer animated double might look more realistic, and the performance might be better, but we must strive for authenticity. That's why the first movie did not animate Jordan, so we should not animate Lebron.


I would love to write this story, but due to the subject matter being so current, it will be outdated before I can finish it. Unless I write it in less than a week, which is presumably about as long as it took the screenwriters to complete the first movie.

ATTENTION HOLLYWOOD: if you like this idea, feel free to use it, but remember this spec is © 2015 James L. Steele. All rights are reserved. If you want to use this treatment, I only ask for a small fortune in return.


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Begging for a Job: the New American Way

Recently I was at the service desk and someone just happened to come up to the desk and ask to speak to the hiring manager. Our Human Resources person just happened to be standing right there, and she talked to him.

The guy (young adult; I don't want to call him a kid yet!) wanted to talk to the hiring manager directly to tell her just how much he wanted to work at Starbucks and that he thought he would be great for the opening.

I've seen this kind of thing happen over and over for years. It hasn't stopped. Is that what we've come to in America? Outright begging for employment? The only advice we can give our kids these days is to make personal appeals everywhere we apply? Only problem is that everyone else has given their kids the same advice, so it is pointless.

The hiring manager still has a dozen or so applications to choose from, and the only thing you have that sets you apart from everyone else is how much you really want to work, and how much you feel you would be good for the job?

Employment advice articles outright admit the best way to get a job to "network," which is code for "know people and get them to do you favors." Your skills don't matter--lots of people went to college to get the same skills you have. Employment history doesn't matter--people with that are shunned because experience means they'll want more money. The problem is so basic we don't want to admit it: too many people, not enough jobs for them.

Begging is part of the job-hunting process now. What an abysmal state we've fallen into.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Definition of "Literary Fiction"

So far, I've discovered 3 topics that can turn most writers and editors from logical, reasonable human beings into the most vindictive, pretentious people on the planet. People who seem above arguing on the internet will defend their opinion on these topics with more passion than they will defend the books they have written. These topics are:

1) to self-publish or remain traditional.

2) Number of spaces after a period.

3) The definition of "literary fiction."

I have yet to address this last point, so let's dive into it!


Since I began seeking places to publish my work, I have struggled to define exactly what "literary fiction" is. It is not "literature"--those great works of the past that have stood the test of time. Literary fiction is not even trying to be like literature, as some people claim.

Every time I read it, I get the feeling the author is imitating the feeling you get when you're trying to remember a dream. It is fiction that uses as many words as possible to say as little as possible. It is fiction that is intentionally written to derail coherence.

I find the wandering, meandering style annoying and unprofessional, the eloquent vagueness pretentious and unreadable, the unnatural dialogue awful and unbelievable. Everything I read that calls itself "literary" has this feel to it. It does not read like it is "about something," or striving to be timeless or rise above the confines of popular, genre writing. It reads like it is being deliberately unclear.

I don't get litfic. I don't get its appeal. I don't get why it is considered more "professional" than anything else. I have talked to other, more established "genre" writers about this. They joke that there really are two major camps in the writing world: the literary one, and the genre one. Those in the genre camp often joke about literary writers. One story I heard was how one literary writer said the story she was writing was about space travel, but oh, it's not genre! As if writing science fiction is an admission of harboring unclean thoughts.

They said it's the fiction the "elites" have declared is "good" writing. It's what colleges teach their students is good writing. It is writing that stresses craft over story. Writing that has been workshopped to death. It's supposed to be the kind of writing that is about something--or strives to be on the same level as fine literature, but it does not do either of those things. Most of it reads like a badly remembered dream, and the stories that don't instead go out of their way to be unclear!

I'm convinced literary fiction exists to ensure college professors have a job. Students reading these books will have no idea what to make of them, which means professors can step in to interpret the story for them. The professors can feed the students whatever interpretation they want, and they feel good about themselves for having reached a conclusion.

This also leaves room open for professors and even students to have differing opinions on the story, to read as many meanings into it as possible, allowing them to divide up into camps and schools of thought regarding what the author meant. Then they can feel superior to others who don't get it. Books like these keep the academics busy. Stories like these make them feel relevant.

But guess what the author meant? He created confusion on purpose in order to invite people to read meaning into it because he knows all he has to do is make academia feel important to achieve immortality.

Since many--if not all of these authors went to esteemed colleges and attended writing workshops themselves, I presume they write their stories specifically for those people to have something to interpret, in the hopes that they will ponder and dissect the story endlessly, because that's what academics like to do. So give them something to interpret. Give them a challenge! Don't be bold and make a point; be vague, so the professors and their students can read whatever meaning into it they please. That's how you achieve immortality. That's how you gain respect in the literary world.

I don't get it. Much of real literature exists to make a point. Most of it wouldn't exist if the author didn't have something to say. Even genre stories can be packed with themes and have important points to make, so the idea of eloquent vagueness calling itself "literary" is completely deceptive, and the argument that this kind of writing strives to be on the same shelf as classic literature is nonsense.

I am of the opinion that prose (if not language itself!) exists to convey clear meaning, and taking this craft of refined thinking and twisting it into deliberate meaninglessness should be considered a crime! I'm not saying writers shouldn't leave anything open to interpretation, or that every story has to make a point, but I dislike vagueness for its own sake. I spent many years in isolation, practicing the craft, trying to get better at expressing myself clearly in words. Why would anyone take that same devotion to do just the opposite?

Nope, literary fiction is not for me, both as a reader and a writer. I'll stick to my genre stuff.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Amazon's Latest Move Against Authors

I read an article that states Amazon wants to pay its Kindle Direct Publishing authors based on the number of pages Kindle readers read, not per download. As if isn't difficult enough to make money off writing, now Amazon is only going to pay authors based on how much of the book people read. One critic pointed out it's like going to a restaurant and only paying for eating half a hamburger.

This is in addition to KDP letting people borrow and return digital books! On top of this, Amazon is watching what we read, targeting us with suggested purchases. We already know they can recall books automatically and alter the text at will!

Publishing through Amazon directly is the same as signing a contract with any other giant, corporate entity: the publisher owns your work, can do whatever it wants with it, and the terms will never benefit the author.

The good news is that this is voluntary. Only Kindle titles enrolled in the program face these kinds of restrictions, but Amazon kind of has writers by the shorthairs. If we want the non-sucky royalty rates, we have no choice but to let Amazon give our work away for free, essentially. If we want to retain control of our work, we have to accept the sucky royalty rates. We may yet see a day when agreeing to these distribution terms is mandatory to publish anything through Amazon.

These systems are set up to favor the business. If you take Amazon's wonderful royalty system, they expect a lot in return. While these things are legal, they demonstrate what's possible, and that it does not benefit authors in any way. Our system of economics is set up to favor the business, not the person who actually does the work. Always remember that.

Authors beware: direct publishing through Amazon is portrayed as freeing writers from one-sided publishing deals, but it is anything but. There may not be a big contract to sign, but it's still in the terms and conditions. Don't get screwed.