Thursday, December 26, 2013

First Haul complete

I'm making too many mistakes. I don't think I can carry this to the end. I have written 270,000 words altogether and it's time to admit I am exhausted and I have shut down. Too much can change when I draft this project, so any ending I write may become obsolete. I think it's better to end this session now.

I cannot write the ending, which pisses me off because I want to FINISH! I want to reach the END! My oldest idea--my biggest idea!--I want to finish it and I can't. I am just plain worn out. As much as I want to push through to the end, I shouldn't. I pretty much know how the series will conclude, but first I need to make sure everything that came before it is solid.

So I have concluded this first push. Been writing since September 6. What a haul that was.

And what am I doing? I don't have a publisher, and I'm writing all this?? What the fuck am I doing?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

No cats here

Cats, cats, cats. Everyone shares pictures and videos of cats. Enough with the cats, internet! Let's do something different.

We've got…




--Cute foxes--




--Singing foxes--





--Screaming foxes--





--Sleeping foxes--




--Patient foxes--




--Happy foxes--





--Friendly foxes--





--and finally, damn foxes!--

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Cruentus Libri Press closing soon

Cruentus Libri Press is closing soon. Coming up soon these books will no longer be available, so pick 'em up while you can.


My story, "Sharp Rain," is in this collection.



"Pain is Revenge" is my story. Check 'em out while you still can!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Seek the Original (abbreviated): A Boy and His Dog

Sometimes there just isn't much to say about a book/movie comparison. So here's an abbreviated seek the original of:

A Boy and His Dog (story by Harlan Ellison / Movie: 1974 by L. Q. Jones)

When I was a kid, my parents and I often went to the video store to rent movies. VHS tapes. The good ol' days of be kind, please rewind and all that. I remember seeing a certain box on the shelf all the time. A certain box with a certain image that captivated me and stuck with me all these years.


That sight of the mushroom cloud with a smilie face on it. It fascinated me. I would see it in other video stores, other rental places, and I always wondered what it was.

Then I forgot about it until my roommate and I were poking around on Netflix and there it was again! First time I'd seen it in many years. Now was my chance to watch it, so I did, having no idea what it was about or what I was getting into.





A strange post-apocalyptic world where society is dead and people are wandering the wasteland that is planet Earth trying to survive. Some dogs were modified for wartime purposes to be telepathic, and now they can communicate with people. Vic is a loner in this wasteland, and Blood is his telepathic dog. He finds the dog food, and the dog sniffs out pussy for him.

Women are apparently very rare these days, and the only way for him to get laid is to rape whatever girl he finds before someone else rapes her.

The woman he and Blood are trailing lures Vic into an underground settlement where people have tried to revive society in their image. They need new genetic material, and sent one of their girls up to the surface to lure a man down to them so they can harvest his sperm and save their society.

But the girl, Quilla June, decides she actually loves Vic and is tired of living underground. So they fight their way back up to the surface. They find Blood, weak and starving. Vic has to choose: his dog, or the girl. He makes the obvious choice. He chooses the dog.

The dog eats the girl. It blew me away. It was so weird and I did not see it coming. Wow! That's dark! The movie is bizarre and I wouldn't watch it again, but it wasn't too bad either.

Then I read the story by Harlan Ellison, and to my surprise the movie follows the short story almost to the letter. The key differences have more to do with budget and what they could pull off for special effects.

The story takes place in the bombed-out ruins of a city. The movie takes place in a desert. The story works much better in a city because it comes across as a war-damaged reality. The desert implies the world has gone to waste, but without ruins, the effect isn't as good. Hard to imagine how these people live in the desert with no food or water. In a ruined city, there would at least be some source of water, canned goods, guns and ammo for the people. Plus, they'd have shelter. The desert doesn't make this look very post-apocalyptic. Just a desert.

In the movie, the people in the underground city wear face paint for some reason, and the marching band music is constant and annoying. The story doesn't mention any of this, but it does fill our heads with narrative details of perfect 1950's-TV-sitcom life. This is the ideal society these people sought to create in the wake of a war that destroyed it. It bores Vic out of his mind with how fake it is. The movie doesn't establish who these people are, why they're down here, or why they live this way. It still works, but it's also very strange letting the imagery stand on its own.

The movie simply has the townspeople harvesting Vic's sperm by force. In the story, he was brought down there to have sex with the women. I think the reason for the change is obvious: to move things along faster. The story has Vic staying with them for over a week, getting acquainted with the people and how they live before they let him into their wives' bedrooms. The movie wanted to keep the pace up.

I still don't understand why Quilla June would suddenly be on Vic's side. In both versions of the story, he rapes her. He hunts her, corners her and rapes her. He's filthy, hungry, vulgar... Why does she decide to go with him and live in the lawless world above where she can look forward to getting shot while starving in the searing heat of the desert? What does she have against her safe life underground? I don't get her. I really don't. I suppose you could write her off as young and attracted to danger, but still! Stupid girl!

And the ending. The story has a much quieter ending. Yes, the dog eats the girl, but the girl asks him if he knows what it feels like to be in love. If he knows what love is, out here in this loveless world. He figures out the answer. He does feel love. He loves his dog.

The movie ditches the subtle ending and makes it a punch line. It punched me in the gut, but it comes out of nowhere! They eat the girl! What?! Where did that come from?! The original story has the better ending because it does not come out of nowhere. It's a weird way to discover what love is, and it could have been done in the movie. Instead it just settles for a punch line.

Now I know what the smiling mushroom cloud means. Childhood mystery solved!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Haul

Having been through the novel-writing process five times in the last ten years, I'm not surprised I'm procrastinating. The novellas I wrote in that same time span were much less intimidating. A few months and BAM, finished! The full novels... they take SO LONG, and they are so INVOLVED. I'm scared to do it again, knowing what lies ahead.

I need to begin. I've been hesitating for too long. I'm not doing anything else, and I'm tired of talking about writing. Time to do it again. Time to make it real.

I have plenty of books to read between writing sessions. Short story collections, actually. No more games, but those are only a click away if need be. It's time to stop bouncing around aimlessly on the net for hours at a time listening to music. It's time to get to work again.

But I dread the life-sucking WORK that lies ahead. I dread the HAUL and the COMMITMENT and the EFFORT! Novellas are nice and quick, short stories are a breeze, but a big idea... Man, how did I start off writing novels and then progress to shorter works??

So, here I go again. No matter what happens, I'm about to put my oldest idea onto paper.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Zeno Clash 2




The first Zeno Clash was a quirky, surreal boss brawling game. Like Street Fighter 2 in 3D. It had just enough story to keep it interesting, the fighting was solid and satisfying, and the world it created was bizarre and quite cool in its own way.

My only complaints with the first game was how repetitive it got, and the difficulty of fighting multiple foes at once. Someone on the development team must have listened to feedback like that, because Zeno Clash 2 corrects those issues. Game 1 was boss fight after boss fight after boss fight and it was tiresome. Game two takes a more open-world approach. Instead of being on a path and fighting everyone on it, now you have a whole world in which to wander.

But I can't call it "open world" gameplay. An open world has other places to visit, other people to meet and talk to, other stories to find. Zeno Clash 2 has none of that. You have an entire world to explore, but pretty much the only thing to find is the next objective. That part is disappointing, but it is a much needed break from the constant boss fighting of the first game. Now those fights are spaced out with some exploration.

There are other things to find in the world, though. Once I figured out what the cubes were for, it gave me something else to accomplish, and I wasn't disappointed when I found out what happened when I had all eight cubes.





Zeno Clash 2 has something the first game only barely had: a story! The story is a little tricky to get into at first. Character motivation is a problem because it's not obvious why Ghat is breaking FatherMother out of jail. After all that fuss in the first game discovering what FatherMother really is, now they want him/her back?!

It does become clearer as the game progresses, and it all ties to who these people are, what Zenozoik is, and why everyone in it is fighting all the time. Yes, the game's core mechanic (brawling) is part of the story, and it's pretty clever.

A reviewer at PC Gamer apparently didn't catch it. The Golem is trying to bring law and order to the world, so yeah, why would the people be against it? Well, if you think about it from their point of view, law and order is stupid when you can just fight out your troubles yourself. These are primitive, uncivilized people. To them, law and fairness are the chaos they must resist.

I agree with the reviewer that the issue of fighting crowds of enemies isn't any better than the first game, except that now running away from the fight is easier. The fighting itself seems to be weak now, but this may be my fault.

I foolishly didn't think to check the system requirements before buying the game. I figured the first game ran perfectly, so the sequel would also run! Wrong. New game engine, and my computer isn't strong enough to handle it. But like Skyrim, the game runs well enough on the lowest graphics setting.

The combat doesn't feel as solid as in the first game, and I don't know how much of that is my computer's fault and how much of it is the game itself. I found it almost impossible to string together any combos. I'd click the mouse and press buttons on the keyboard, but half the time Ghat wouldn't punch in quick succession. Maybe only one or two of those button-presses actually got through. This may not be the game's fault, and if I ever upgrade systems I'll find out then.

But Zeno Clash 2 doesn't rely so heavily on brawling! In the first game, it's all you did. This time the guns do more damage, you have secondary weapons, and now you can run and turn at the same time! Plus, it's open world, so you can run away from the fights to find health and weapons, and sometimes leave the area entirely. Finally, you can have up to two allies fighting with you! There are more options in how to play the game, which gives it more appeal than the first.

For me, the story is what saves this game. You get to know who the people of Zenozoik are, and why they're here. We finally learn who the Golem is, who those shadow things were, and what their purpose is. All the stuff missing from the first game is here.

(Side note: I noticed the resemblance to the Wizard of Oz in the mountains level, and just minutes later, the game makes a self-conscious joke about it. Perfect timing.)

I can understand people's issues with the story, since it does require a stretch to understand. The story could have been told in a much stronger way, but it's a game, so development is always geared more towards gameplay. I would have liked more places to visit besides the objectives, too. What we have here could have been better, but it's still good and fun, and it does make more sense this time 'round.

But unless you played the first Zeno Clash, you're probably not going to understand the second. It tries to bring new players up to speed in the tutorial, but it's not enough. You must play the first game to enjoy the second. I did enjoy it, and I look forward to Zeno Clash 3 revealing even more about the people of Zenozoik and what's beyond.


-official site-

Monday, September 2, 2013

Who glorifies "hard work?"

Roommate calculated he's pulling an average of 68 hours a week at work. It's physical labor. Very difficult work. It's taking a lot out of him. But it's good money.

I'm just now back up to earning a living wage, but my hours can be cut at any time. There's no security. No stability. 30+ job applications over the last six years. Three interviews. Still can't get out. I'm glad I have a job and I've held onto it, but man. The job market is tough. It's not as simple as "just get a better job," contrary to people thoughtlessly saying it is.

It used to be. Wake up to the new economy. Businesses are profitable again because they've cut back on their workforce enough to be so. Now they realize they can function just fine without those extra jobs, forcing their remaining employees to do more work for no extra pay. The economy will not return to the way it was before the crash of '08, unless something big changes.

Is this what it takes to be self-sufficient? You have to work so much you have no other life? Is this the glory of hard work? Just keep working! You'll prosper! You'll be rich! All you have to do is keep working! Only people who have never had to work hard would ever glorify it.

Fuck, we accept this as the way it's meant to be? Once upon a time, a person could support a family on just one income. These days it takes two and three incomes to just barely get by! With few exceptions, both parents have to work full-time to support themselves and one kid!

Why have we simply accepted this is normal? Employment is said to be a choice, and yet we are all required to earn a living. Is it really a choice? Are we really free?


Notice when Capitalism took off in America? After the civil war. Or, more accurately, after slavery was abolished. Once America no longer had its supply of cheap labor, slavery was expanded to encompass everyone.

Equality!

Ever wonder why Americans don't organize and protest very much?--why we seem so complacent? It's because we have to spend so much time working! We can't say or do anything that might take us away from our jobs because we're terrified of losing them. It's the ideal way to control a population so they'll never overthrow the current system: keep them so busy they won't have time to think, let alone act! I don't believe it was planned this way (no conspiracy theories here), but it seems to be what happened.

Hard work is not worth glorifying. It's just work.

Happy fucking labor day.




Sunday, September 1, 2013

I hate the word "entitled"

(Inspired, partially, by this blog)

I applied for a job a little while ago, and for the first time in 5+ years (and some 30 applications) I actually got an interview.

I was told the company has had trouble finding people who want to work. Considering the job is very blue-collar, and this person used the word "entitled," I think he figures kids these days just don't want to work, like Fox News and Rush Limbaugh keep telling people.

I think that's a narrow way of looking at the problem. A more complete picture would consider that kids these days are told they have to go to college or they will end up slaving away in a factory, or McDonalds or something. So they go to train for something better. They expect to land a white-collar job in the tech industry, or as a manager, then they're surprised when the only jobs out there actually require doing hard, dirty, physical, blue-collar work.

Friend of mine told me about a relative years and years ago who got into the railroad business as a caboose operator. Worked his way up to engineer over fifteen years. That's how things used to be done. You get into a company, and you work your way up. Not anymore. For the most part, the burden is now on the employee to pay for school and learn the job, and then he's hired. Kids expect to skip starting at the bottom. They're taught they'll start at the top if they go to school.

"Go to college and you'll land that dream job that will earn you lots of money doing something you love without having to get your hands dirty," they tell the kids. Then they blame the kids for not wanting to start at the bottom, doing those crappy jobs. Well duh. They went to school to be above that kind of work! If kids are entitled, it's because they've been taught to be by the previous generation.

Here we are in a depression. There aren't enough jobs to go around, and yet diehard conservatives call everyone lazy for not getting a job, as if overnight America has stopped wanting to work. It makes me so mad when people simplify the problem by just dismissing people as lazy freeloaders.

Stop using the word "entitled." It does not accurately describe the problem in America.

We tend to oversimplify problems like that.

"If the government would just get out of the way all problems would be fixed."

"Income inequality is not a problem. People who do more work should be rewarded for it."

"Unions are holding business back. Get rid of the unions, give more freedom to the businesses, and everything will fix itself."

"All the problems in the world are because we've turned away from God. If we went back to God, everything would fix itself."

"The government has no right to tell us what to do! The Constitution is under attack! Freedom is under attack!"

I've heard people say all of these things.

It doesn't look at the issues from multiple angles:

There were a lot more problems before the government stepped between people and business.

Income inequality is a symptom, not the problem. Some people seem to think the debate is people who do more work should not be rewarded for it. Nobody is claiming that a person who does better work than someone else doesn't deserve to succeed while the other person fails. To dismiss the debate as such is misdirection. Nobody is saying there shouldn't be greater reward for success. The problem is that people who are not doing hard work are being rewarded disproportionally more than people who are doing the work. That the playing field is not level.

Union demands are rarely unfair. Even with unions, corporations still manage to make billions of dollars in profit. Unions didn't kill Hostess, and even the so-called liberal media makes sure to place union demands and the fall of the company side by side, never actually stating the unions are to blame, but silently implying it. Without them, business would keep all that profit for the nameless shareholders and executives, and not give anything to the people actually doing the work. Sound familiar?

When was the ideal time period when America was close to God and there were no problems? Was it back when the country was founded, and blacks were slaves and native Americans slaughtered and forced off their land? Was it in the 1950's, when segregation was an accepted fact of life and women were only allowed to do "women's work?" Think, people!

Kinda like Waiting for Superman, that documentary on America's school system that seemed to imply the blame for bad schools was on the teacher's union. It ignored any and all other factors (like state and federal government cutting funding for schools and police departments while giving tax breaks to big business), which pissed me off.

It's what we do as human beings. We oversimplify problems because it's easier than trying to look at them from multiple angles, considering all factors. Most people don't think that deeply. It's easier to label and generalize than take in multiple points of view.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Seek the Original: Overdrawn at the Memory Bank

95.4% of everything Hollywood does is adapted from a book, or short story, or comic. Never settle for an adaptation. Seek the original!

Here's one for the Misties out there! Let's start with the movie.





Overdrawn at the Memory Bank (1983)
starring Raul Julia

I can't imagine trying to watch this film without Mike and the bots mocking it. What's left to say about it? The Brains said everything that needed to be said in the experiment itself, and if you want more details, Bill Corbett later wrote his thoughts on it.

Aram Fingal's job is to monitor data from a weather computer, but he's bored of it, so he hacks into the system and "scrolls up" movies. His favorite being Casablanca. He's caught, sent to a psychist and ordered to take a "dopple." Apparently in this future, rehabilitation means having your mind installed into an animal.

Something goes wrong, his body is missing, so to preserve his mind he is transferred to the main computer, the HX368. Now Fingal is trapped in the computer system that controls the world. There is no real world to him anymore, so his brain creates reality around him. When he gets bored of it, he starts altering the world to match his favorite movie, so everything ends up looking like a really cheesy version of Morocco.

But all is not simple and easy. As Fingal learns how to influence his environment, he also figures out the computer is not a wonderful thing after all, and he embarks on a quest to hack the HX368 and liberate everyone from the computer's control... and from boring, monotonous data entry work or something, so they can enjoy all the information the emperor has access to... or something. Like Casablanca!

(Side note: we should petition Microsoft to change the name Xbox One to HX368. Much cooler name, and more descriptive of what the system will do!)

The movie is full of outdated computer-babble and special effects that were cheesy even back in the early 80's. It makes me think it was trying to ride on the recent release of Tron, with its pixilated special effects and computer-heavy storyline.

What little story the movie has is barely comprehensible, the forced romance is unconvincing, and any notion that the HX368 is an evil computer, run by an even eviler corporation, is not apparent. What's so evil about these guys? The special effects are a glory to behold because they are so cheap. The first time I saw the film I got a headache the cinematography is so bad.

I will add that Raul Julia's performance as Aram Fingal is forced and amateur. Hard to believe this is the same man who would find success in big Hollywood productions later on. Overshadowed by Fingal's character is Julia's subtle, dignified performance as Rick, from Casablanca. You almost don't notice it because it's surprisingly professional and good.

The movie must be seen to be believed. How does it compare with the original story?


Overdrawn at the Memory Bank
by John Varley

First published in 1976, the short story opens with Mr. Fingal (his first name is never revealed) lying helpless on a table, brain exposed. A class of bratty kids enters the room, and the teacher explains what this procedure is, how it works, and why it works.

Yes, it's still called a "dopple," no, it's not called an "identicube," and no, there is no Casablanca. Fingal is not in trouble for "scrolling up" movies from the mainframe, a forbidden crime in the dystopian future told-but-not-shown in the movie. Instead, Fingal's job is boring, and his error rate on data entry goes up, so he decides to take a dopple in Disneyland, Kenya.

Yup, Disneyland has become a world of doppleing! His memory and personality are copied into an identity cube and then plugged into the skull of an African lioness.

The movie doesn't show or explain what this procedure does for the person, so it comes across as what the hell? The short story makes a better case for it, showing how it affects Fingal and that it is a refreshing break from human society. No boring data entry, no relationships to keep straight, just hunt, kill, sleep. He shares a kill with her, enjoys the feeling of walking on all fours and obeying base instincts. A simple and elegant life. It's still a bit hokey (i.e. is this really what passes for recreation in the future?), but at least it makes sense and there is some method to the madness.

In the movie, Aram only has enough money to dopple into a baboon, probably because the filmmakers couldn't get any stock footage of lionesses. In the story, he can afford a lioness (but not a male lion; Disneyland charges a premium for those), and being in a lion's body, having partial control over her, does Fingal some good. In the movie, it comes across as a horribly contrived way to get him plugged into the mainframe.

Back to the story: Fingal awakens in his own room. A disembodied hand writes on the wall, informing him there's been an accident, his body has been misplaced, and he is inside the computer. An operator, Appollonia Joachim, maintains contact with him to keep him up to date on what's happening outside. His identity cube has been plugged into the main computer while his body is located. The cubes are only designed to last three hours maximum, and they had to transfer him to a more permanent system or he would die.

Longer-lasting memory storage does exist in this world, but it's much more expensive, so it's never used for doppleing. This is not established in the movie, so again, plugging him into the main computer that happens to control THE WHOLE WORLD is contrived.

His mind can't comprehend the world of the computer he inhabits, so it projects a familiar reality on top of it: the ordinary world he knows. So he goes about his routine for months, but various things around him are out of whack. People fade in and out of the background, he can pause reality and replay it. If he wills it, he can make money appear out of nowhere, force people to behave the way he wants, and many other things. Appollonia warns him against too much of this behavior, for he could lose touch with reality. He has to stick with his routine for now.

His job was boring enough, but now he's doing his job knowing it's completely pointless, and he gets even more bored. So he takes the opportunity to learn more about computer systems to hopefully get out of his boring job and do something else. He accesses real college-level education material and absorbs it.

As he learns how computers work, he starts to see the world for what it really is. He sees electrons whizzing by, circuits in the floor, wires under people's skin. Appollonia is there, communicating to him through notes and other paranormal signs to keep him grounded in reality, and feed him external stimuli so he doesn't go insane. (Also because any tinkering he does can affect mainframe operations.)

This is the reason the operator character has to maintain contact with Fingal at all times. It's not explained in the movie, but it makes sense here. With Fingal's perception of his world so fragile, he needs someone to remind him to ignore the stuff that could drive him insane.

It takes more than a year to find his body, and in that time Fingal uses his time in the computer wisely, to improve himself. Then on graduation day, Appollonia takes him back to reality, he's reunited with his physical body, and it turns out only six hours have passed in the real world.

That's it.

It's a quiet story. There's no Casablanca obsession (thank God!), no mission to overthrow the evil corporation running the world by hacking the main computer from inside it. It's a simple story of a man trapped in a computer, and how he bends reality just enough to change himself for the better, but not so much he loses touch.

There's no forced romance either. Appollonia doesn't love him, although Fingal has feelings for her because from his point of view, she has been his anchor for a solid year. The story hints that maybe a relationship can develop in the future, and it's much more tasteful than the forced, sudden and unfounded romance in the movie.

It's refreshingly absent of outdated and misused computerspeak. I was worried it would be full of it, just like the movie, but it doesn't touch on that at all (aside from the title). It has less to do with computers and more to do with perception of reality, free of the hollywood tropes of technology oppressing the human race. It's also the story of a man, bored of his job, using a rare opportunity to better himself and get out of that job. I can relate...

Varley's story is so quiet and unassuming it's almost a letdown, but it's not bad. I think it would have been filmable as a psychological thriller.

The movie based on it is spectacularly bad, mostly because a lot changed in the adaptation, but not everything, so the parts that were not changed refer to the original story and have no meaning anymore, such as Appollonia delivering the commandments.

In the movie, to drive home the point that Fingal should not try to change too much of the world around him, Appollonia delivers commandments on stone tablets in the form of a beautiful goddess. But it's to warn him to stop hacking the mainframe and trying to take over the HX368.

The story has nothing to do with that. The main computer is not evil. The company that runs it is not some evil entity controlling the world. In the short story, all of this is benign. It presents a world run by technology that is NOT oppressive.

The story explains the reason for this strange deliverance of commandments much better: Fingal himself perceives it that way, and Fingal needs to stay in the boundaries or he will go insane trying to comprehend an external world his mind can't handle. And also, when he tries to perceive the real computer world, he can affect the programs running, which could be dangerous for everyone.

It comes out of nowhere in the movie because Appollonia doesn't give him any boundaries prior, or explain why he needs such boundaries. The story makes this very clear, and the event makes more sense.

I wonder why this story was chosen to adapt for the screen as an "action" film. And why go for the whole Fingal changing the world to look like Casablanca thing? They could have shown Fingal distorting his own reality, people fading into and out of the background, risking insanity as he tries to perceive the computer world just behind the thin walls of his perception. That would've been cool to watch! Why complicate things by having him remake the world into his favorite movie?

The film is fun to watch, but for all the wrong reasons. I'll take the story over the movie any day for serious sci-fi, but for laughs, dopple me into Overdrawn at the Memory Bank with Mike and the bots!

(oh, and the story is also completely friendly to anteaters!)

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Fear and Wisdom

So much I do out of fear. I haven't quit my job because I fear not having a steady stream of income. I exercise because I'm afraid of ending up like my mother. I don't smoke or drink or do drugs because I didn't want to be like my father. I don't go to doctors (if at all possible) because I'm afraid of the expense. I write because I don't know what else to do, and I fear I'll become one of these factory drones who does little but go to work and watch TV every day if I stop. I haven't gone to college because I fear no return on investment and debt. I haven't bought a new computer to run the newest games because I'm afraid I'll need the money for something else someday.

Roommate put his hard cider up for anybody to drink because he didn't like it, and I had one. This stuff wasn't bad. Like beer diluted with apple juice. I finished half the bottle, then I dumped the rest out because I did not want to start liking alcohol. I was afraid I'd crave it later and it would start a bad habit. More inaction because of fear.

What if I'm tired of living within my own borders? When does wisdom cease to be a good idea, and instead becomes a prison? I live my life contained by fear. The bitch of it is: these fears have proven correct multiple times, like needing money elsewhere someday, and the doctor expense. The difficulty of finding a new job is also very real, but still. It's fear.

I worry about having regrets. So much I wish I had done. I'm aging so fast and I don't want to reach the end of my life and wish I had lived more. All that's stopping me is fear/wisdom.

Friday, July 26, 2013

New story published: The Patient Man

New story published on Solarcide. Check out The Patient Man.

I like the picture of the basement stairs they chose to go along with the story. Perfect image!

Enjoy my dark little slice of life and remember: patience is a liability.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

System Shock 2

How did I spend my birthday? Playing System Shock 2 for the first time!





I didn't hear about it when it first came out, but since Bioshock became popular I've heard a lot about how it's nothing more than a new version of System Shock 2. So I thought I'd try it. Now I see how it all began. I see the intent behind the design, and also the shortcomings of the execution.

It's a first person shooter, but with RPG elements. So you have stats, and you add experience points (cyber modules) to those stats to boost gun skill, hacking skill, strength, agility, psionic power, etc.

The game starts off giving you a choice of which career path you'll take: you can play as a gun-nut, a tech expert, or a psychic warrior using mind powers!

Yeah, they're called psionic abilities instead of plasmids. They're very lacking. I started off with the psionic career, but did little upgrading to my psionic stats over the 20 (freakin!) hours it took me to finish the game. There was no reason to. There are only two weapons on the psionic side. The rest are temporary effects like boost strength by two points for 2 minutes, or disable robots for 10 seconds and stuff. No real reason to spend points upgrading that, though the anti-atrophy psi is quite useful. Guns degrade and break after so many shots in this game, so it's nice to have a psi which halts that.

Instead I upgraded my weapons stats because that's how you kill things!

I think the developers were aiming for being able to play the game using either psionics, tech, or weaponry. Choosing a career at the beginning makes it feel like, ok, I chose the Marines, that means I'm going to be a gun-nut in this playthrough! Or, I chose a tech path, so that means I will get through the game hacking systems and I'll let the robots and security systems kill things for me. It doesn't work that way.

You don't have freedom to survive by either tech, weapons, or mind powers. There's really no other way to survive on this ship besides killing the enemies, which you can only do effectively with weapons, so you have no choice but to become a gun nut, with some hacking and mind-powering on the side.

The game wanted to have these different play styles, but it's still biased towards being a shooter. The other elements are merely useful, not paths by which to play the game.

The game never seems to end! It just keep going and going, and the starship Von Braun is a fucking maze! But I like how there are no levels, and you are free to go anywhere on the ship you like at any time.

The final boss is unfair, but I beat her! Most games have a recharge area before the final boss to prepare you for the fight, but not System Shock 2. It makes you go through a couple difficult levels and then rewards you by pushing you down a hole to the last battle! I was lucky I had any ammo or health packs left to survive it! I was probably lucky I upgraded all my stats high enough to beat the final boss, but I won! I ran through the maze that was the starship Von Braun and made it to the end of that game!

Actually it wasn't luck. I happened to manage and conserve the right resources, acquire and keep all the right weapons, and upgrade the appropriate stats to be able to win. I made right decisions, even if I didn't know they were right until the end. I can see how it would be possible to get stuck at the final boss for neglecting to upgrade certain traits, but I also think it's unlikely, as there's no shortage of cybernetic upgrades in the later levels, so no reason not to upgrade those stats.

What a game it was. Not perfect, but still quite good and very memorable. It makes you earn the privilege to use the weapons and equipment, and that changes everything. Never played a game where first you have to upgrade your weapon skills just to use the first gun!

In spite of the RPG system being biased and the story reminding me so much of Dead Space, the game is still pretty damn good. Well, ok, SS2 came before Dead Space, so Dead Space stole its entire plot from SS2! But I'm sure SS2 took its plot from some earlier game I don't know about.

Now I see how Bioshock evolved. It took everything that worked in System Shock 2 and left out the stuff that didn't. Including the story.

It's a bit too long, and I think it would've been cooler if you really could play the game three different ways, but in spite of those shortcomings, SS2 is challenging and engrossing. Beating it feels like a real accomplishment.



Monday, July 15, 2013

Search terms 3

This is a special message to everyone who found my blog via these search terms:


"jungle book steele"

"i am the game music"

"bagheera pull mowgli shorts"

"evil capitalist"

"amnesia dark descent star trek fanfic"

"kaa and mowgli fanfics"

"bagheera shere khan fanfiction"

"men who built america fanfiction"


Now that I know what's in demand, I'll get to writing it!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Seek the Original (abbreviated): Repo Men

Sometimes there just isn't much to say about a book/movie comparison. So here's an abbreviated seek the original of:


Repo Men
(book by Eric Garcia. Movie: 2010 by Miguel Sapochnik)


This was what inspired me to start doing Seek the Original, but my first stab at it was terrible. Try again.

The book is one hell of a trip. What if artificial organs could be repossessed after someone falls behind on their payments, leaving the people dead on the floor? This book is the stream of consciousness story of a bio-repo man who rose to the top of the bio-repossession business, only to fall victim to the same business.

It outlines his time in the military, his marriages, various repossession jobs, the works! The first half of the book is almost entirely back story, and it’s so random. One section our main character is talking about his second ex-wife; the next paragraph jumps back in time to his years in the military. The entire book reads this way; random jumps back and forth in time. Complete stream of consciousness. I’ll admit the first half of the book is a little hard to get through because the sheer amount of back story is overwhelming and I kinda wanted something to happen. It was easy to put down when the main character was just rambling on about his past, but soon enough, something did happen, and with a little front story to balance the back story, the book picked up the pace.

I love the nonchalant way he views cutting people up, taking their liver, spleen, lungs or heart and leaving them dead…with a yellow repossession receipt on the body. I especially like the passage when he describes a time when he repossessed an organ, only to find out that the guy actually did make the payment; a screwup with the paperwork resulted in a false repossession. It’s so ordinary to this guy that it’s funny. Eric Garcia has this sense of humor, and it’s so appropriate for a story like this.

The last half of the book kept me turning the pages; I had to know how the hell this situation could possibility wrap up. It’s a good ending, too. A much better ending than the movie adaptation delivered.


The movie pissed me off!

It ditches the back story, the main character's life, and trades it for gore. It turns the repossession of artificial organs from black comedy to slaughterhouse action. Instead of repo men, our main characters come across as hunters tracking down prey! There's a little of that in the book, but the movie takes it to the exclusion of everything else!

Our main character's love life is demoted from a series of exes to just one nagging bitch who whines about how she wishes her husband had a better job. Yeah, he's providing for her and the kid, and all she can do is bitch about it. Gruesome as his job is, she really has no reason to complain about it, but complain she does, and it doesn't make her into a sympathetic person. The wives in the book are much more interesting. They're real people. The movie turns her into "the nagging wife."

And then the ending. The book has a logical, meaningful conclusion that gives our unnamed protagonist a new beginning. The movie has a trick ending. The entire third act never happens. The protagonist is brain dead and doomed to live the rest of his life as a vegetable. It's like Dorothy waking up and it's all a dream. Instead of feeling like a shocking plot development, it just felt like the movie flipped me off right before the credits rolled.

The book is all about the main character's history. The idea is he thinks he could die at any moment, and he wants to leave something behind, so he writes his memoirs, reliving his past, putting his life in perspective trying to figure out how he got here. He has lived an interesting life. He's a fascinating person to get to know as he looks back on everything he's been through.

The movie turns this character study into a gory, shallow action flick. Hollywood has not been kind to Garcia's books. Not at all.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Seek the Original (abbreviated): Bambi

Sometimes there just isn't much to say about a book/movie comparison. So here's an abbreviated seek the original of:


Bambi
(book by Felix Salten / Movie: 1942 by Disney)


A deer is born into the world. He is happy and carefree, but quickly he is introduced to danger: Man hunts in these woods.

Over the course of the story, everyone Bambi knows and loves is touched by Man. Some are killed, some have their homes destroyed, others are trapped, snared, hunted and wounded. One of Bambi's childhood friends goes missing and comes back domesticated and naive. Even his own mother is taken away.

Man is always there. Always stalking them. As Bambi grows up, he learns how to survive the dangers that Man brings upon them, and just who Man is.

Very difficult to read. Something about the way it's written... It was originally written in German. This is a translated story, which could have something to do with it.

Though it was first published in 1923 in Austria (1928 in America), it's very much a Victorian story. The animals have been humanized into a Victorian society of sorts, with everyone being hyper-polite, judging based on appearances and first impressions, and everyone taking great care not to offend with so much as an ill-timed gesture of the hoof.

It imbues Victorian sensibilities onto animals to make them more human, but today those Victorian sensibilities make them seem even less human--less identifiable! Their way of life is even harder to understand because of this, and it makes the entire book very, very difficult to read. Little is described, the text is dodgy, the dialogue is so formal and indirect... I couldn't get into it at all.

It ends on a poignant note that is quite touching. In spite of everything Man puts Bambi through, he comes out wiser and stronger than anyone else. He doesn't just grow up. He learns the truth of who Man is, and he matures. I like that.

The rest of the book is very hard to get into. It is of course considered a children's story today (thanks to Disney), but it was meant for adults. The last few chapters are graphic and violent, and that's when the story began to grab me, when it dropped its Victorian pretense.

There's nothing wrong with the story, but I had a difficult time with it.



The movie? Half an hour of cute animals being cute, then POW! Bambi's mother is killed off-screen, then suddenly Bambi is grown up and finds true love. That's it.

His mother's death has no impact on him as an adult. In the book, however, it's just one of the horrors he witnesses as he grows up with Man stalking him and his friends day after day.

The book is about how Bambi grows up, drawing upon his years of watching Man murder, trap and take his friends away all his life to learn just who Man is, and how to survive when He is around.

It's only in the film's last ten minutes that Man is dealt with, but Bambi doesn't learn anything about Him. In the movie, being Prince of the Forest has no definition. The book, however, makes it very clear who the Prince of the Forest is: the solitary buck who knows all of Man's tricks, and his true identity.

Weird that the original trailer for the film calls it the world's greatest love story. No, there is no love in the book. Bambi seeks the solitary life to better understand He who hunts them.

It's landmark animation of course. No faulting that. It's beautiful and outstanding, but the story is insulting compared to the book. I didn't even like the book, but I still respect it for telling the story it did! The Disney movie is just cutsie critters hopping around on screen.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Story Time: Prophetess

It seems Fiction and Verse is now defunct, so I will post this here now. Enjoy!


Prophetess
A Thursday prompt by James Steele
Originally published on "Fiction and Verse" (now defunct)

Her mother and father were standing at her bedroom door, watching their only daughter sitting on the bed, back to the wall. Most teenage girls were into boys by now, they silently reflected. Most watched TV or ran up huge bills texting their friends. The TV was on, but it was muted and Melinda wasn't watching it.

The snake was wrapped around her neck once, and one of her arms several times. The front half of the animal dangled from her raised hands before her eyes. She stared through it. Felt its body brush across her skin. The sensation made her drift. It took her away. She always knew it happened because she began to see expression on the reptile's face. Entire worlds in its eyes.

The snake crawled. She turned it arm over arm, always keeping the head at her eye level. Her lips moved as though she were giving a riotous speech, but no sound ever came out. Sometimes she visited the past, witnessed the rise and fall of Rome, the Olmec, the Ottomans and many others. She witnessed the Plague, the Russian Revolution, the industrial revolution. Other times she visited the future, saw the ebb and flow of technology. Empires that hadn't been born yet died in front of her, swallowed up by other nations who also built up and then faded away. Today she was in the present, catching visions of more down to earth matters.

It was an exercise. Melinda knew her companion was pushing her limits. Many could bear witness to the forest of history, but very few could see the trees. She had seen civilizations rise and fall, but never the reason. She had seen the effects of men's actions, but never the motivation. Until now.

Such is the gift of prophesy, the serpent had once told her. It hadn't actually said it, but Melinda had a feeling one day that the snake was leading her as it had led many others. It saw and knew everything, all the time, and it was able to share this ability with certain people who were able to receive this sight. Melinda thought they were myth, or something that existed only in the distant past. She was proof they were still around, but now there was an even greater price to pay for exercising this extra sense. Melinda already knew what the price was. The snake made it very clear, in this current vision. It was a taste of what she would become in the eyes of many.

She wasn't looking at them, but she felt her parents in the hallway. Her father was holding a phone to his ear right now. She sensed their pastor was on the other end. She didn't hear him talk into the mouthpiece, but she felt both of them thinking about witchcraft.

Her mother watched Melinda, using her own phone to record what their daughter had been doing in her bedroom alone for the last few months. Melinda saw herself as her mother did. A monster.

Melinda saw her own future. Disowned, impoverished, outcast from society--a good little girl lost to Satan. Melinda was ready for the persecution. She was on her way to knowing where mankind had been and why, where he was going and how to avoid a tragic end. In time, the right people would know. They would listen.

The serpent was not so optimistic.

 2013 James Steele. Do not reprint or alter.

Seek the Original (abbreviated): Timeline

Sometimes there just isn't much to say about a book/movie comparison. So here's an abbreviated seek the original of:


Timeline
(book by Michael Crichton. Movie: 2003 by Richard Donner)


Time travel is possible, and while excavating a medieval castle, a professor goes missing in the past. His students take a trip back to when the castle was new and in use and try to find him.

The narration describes NOTHING, leaving me blind the whole story, which is stupid characters making stupid mistakes. Example: Chris, a student along for the ride, is studying medieval technology and yet knows nothing about the customs of the time. I know the education system is over-specialized, but come on! And they just so happen to have a guy who speaks the Middle English of the time period fluently? Adding to the unbelievably, they go through with the joust instead of hiding and looking for the professor.

They were sent back there so they could blend in with the people and fetch the professor without incident. They sure do a good job of that, seeing as though they can’t breathe without getting into some kind of trouble that would be quite easy to avoid if they’d just stop drawing attention to themselves. I put the book down halfway through. Since I could not see or believe anything that was happening I had no reason to finish.



And the movie? All the same problems, but with no science to justify it! Stupid characters making stupid mistakes, and every problem they have would be solved if they would just stop drawing attention to themselves.

For example, why did they take the French guy with them? These people are supposed to be experts in the Medieval time period, and yet they don't know that the English HATE the French? Never crossed their minds his life would be in danger? Never? It's just one example of how stupid these people are, and it just keeps happening.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Seek the Original (abbreviated): Gulliver's Travels

Sometimes there just isn't much to say about a book/movie comparison. So here's an abbreviated seek the original of:


Gulliver's Travels
(book by Jonathan Swift. Movie: 1996 by The Jim Henson Co.)


What book dares to criticize the government, law, the concept of a nobility and why they’re running things, intellectuals, and human nature itself? Gulliver’s Travels, the most scathing satire ever written.

Gulliver sails to four different lands. The first land is Lilliput, where the people are only six inches tall, a parody of the English monarchy, petty war and the completely illogical way members of government are chosen. The second voyage is to Brobdingnag, a land of giants, is also a parody of England, but now the natives are the nearly perfect society and Gulliver instead represents everything that’s wrong with England. The third land takes a strange detour to the floating island of Laputa and criticizes the academics and intellectuals of the time. The fourth land is the land of the Houyhnhnms, a people of intelligent horses. This is my favorite because its criticism doesn’t focus on the timely subjects of England in the 1700’s so much as human nature itself and how the human social structure is organized.

Essentially in each land Gulliver tries to understand the natives and they try to understand him and his country. In two of the lands he explains his culture and country, only to be met with ridicule. In the other two, he never passes direct judgment, but he comes out looking like the more civilized human being.

We pride ourselves on things that are detestable to other people, such as war, government, wealth, etc. We’re proud of our society, but when you think about it, society makes no sense. Why does society organize itself so massive amounts of people end up earning their living by maintaining a select few noblemen’s extravagant way of life? We’re proud of our weapons and our wars and conquests, but doesn’t the fact that we need weapons and make war and are good at both betray our savage nature? Why do people write volumes of books on government, when government should be led by reason and virtue? Just the fact that books need to be written about it at all implies something is wrong with it. Why do all the achievements of mankind seem aimed at increasing our own natural wickedness? War and conquest to increase greed and envy. The pursuit of wealth and intelligence to increase sloth and gluttony.

This book asks those questions, points these things out, and gives the criticism from the point of view of other nations who do things the right way. They are appalled by our system of government and society because they don’t make sense at all. In two cases, when we see other people doing things just as illogical as we are, it looks ridiculous. The directness of the criticism is appealing.

The language takes some getting used to, and it’s not a very visual book, but oh man the text is dripping in sarcasm and asks the obvious questions: why is the nobility in charge when they know nothing about how to run things? Why are government offices filled by people with the most money and not by people who actually make good decisions that benefit everyone? Why isn’t the world a better place? We know what it should be, so why are things so different? Swift wanted everyone to ask these questions, too. We’re still asking them today.

As for the miniseries adaptation... The differences are nearly infinite! Instead of four separate voyages away from England, it's now essentially one, long voyage. It preserves much of the satire, but mostly it is an action adventure told as a frame story of Gulliver returning home and struggling to cope with everything he's witnessed over the last nine years. It's a very dynamic way of telling the whole story of Gulliver. Most film adaptations just do the Lilliput section and then fade to credits, but there is so much more to the story and it's wonderful to see all of it acted out.



The floating island of Laputa is an improvement over the book, showing more pointless academic endeavors. Gulliver wandering the halls of the college is surreal and hilarious, unlike the book, which is quite boring. Lilliput and Brobdingnag are well-done--the size difference effects are superbly pulled off. The land of the Houyhnhnms, however, is minimal. The book describes a society very similar to England's, but with horses as the gentlemen and Yahoos doing all the tasks horses perform in England. The movie doesn't do much of anything with this, but then again how could they? It would have cost a fortune! I would have liked to see more of their society, but the satire was kept in tact and it still works.

It's a great adaptation of Swift's story. It's not worth pointing out every little difference between the book and the movie because the changes were appropriate to make it exciting, fascinating, and funny! Still the only film adaption of the entire book, and the most definitive.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Seek the Original (abbreviated): 2001: A Space Odyssey

Sometimes there just isn't much to say about a book/movie comparison. So here's an abbreviated seek the original of:


2001: A Space Odyssey
(book by Arthur C. Clarke. Movie: 1968 by Stanley Kubrick)


After a great section about the ape-men, the rest of the first half is boring. HAL’s condition is introduced and then resolved so fast I barely understood that Bowman was in danger at all. HAL’s role begs to be longer and more exciting, and having it glazed over so quickly was a great injustice to the dynamic it could’ve been (at least the movie makes up for that). However, the last half of the book contains a breathtaking description of Bowman’s trip through the monolith. This makes the book worth reading, as breathtaking descriptions of space are what Clarke does best. The ending leaves a nice resonance in the brain, and that’s why I read books. I like that buzz.



The movie fits into the book like a puzzle piece. Everything that is strong in the book is weak in the movie, and everything that is weak in the book is strong as hell in the film. The movie does a much better job giving weight to HAL's attempt to murder Bowman, and boy is it suspenseful. However, the trip through the monolith is underexplained and cannot hope to equal the depth and grace Clarke pulled off in the book. The movie doesn't explain what happens to Bowman at all, so the end of the film is confusing, but it still leaves you with this vague feeling you've just witnessed something amazing. You haven't, but if you read Clarke's novel you'll understand what you missed.

I also greatly respect this movie for doing something very few sci-fi productions do: portray the silence of space! Yeah, there will be no lasers going pew-pew-pew, no rockets blasting, no ships groaning and blowing up in glorious dolby surround sound. Space has no air, thus there is no sound! Kubrick's movie is one of the few to put this fact front and center, and it makes for a very suspenseful experience because you feel like you're in deep space right along with Bowman. Thank you so much, Stanley, for being as accurate as possible.

The book and the movie complement each other perfectly. Read the book first and then watch the movie!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Seek the Original (abbreviated): Aladdin

Sometimes there just isn't much to say about a book/movie comparison. So here's an abbreviated seek the original of:


Aladdin
(story traditional / Most famous film version: 1992 by Disney)


In China, Aladdin is a teenager who shuns work and wanders the streets. Then a man claiming to be his lost uncle makes friends with his family and offers to raise Aladdin to be a merchant. But he takes him out of town, performs a magic spell and opens a strange cave. He gives Aladdin a ring to protect him from evil and sends him down to retrieve a lamp.

Aladdin does so, but after refusing to give the man the lamp first before being pulled out of the cave, the magician seals him in the cave, intending to let him die so he can take the lamp for himself at his leisure. But Aladdin rubs the ring the magician gave him and a genie appears. Aladdin orders the genie to take him home, which it does.

At home, Aladdin's mother cleans the lamp and a genie appears. Aladdin asks for food, and it provides them with food in abundance. They make a comfortable living selling the silver dishes and platters that came with it.

Aladdin falls in love with the princess and uses the lamp's magic to win the Sultan's permission to marry her. He then uses the lamp to have a magnificent palace built next to the Sultan's.

After a couple years of living in happiness, the evil magician tricks the princess into giving up the magic lamp for a new one. The magician wishes the palace away to Africa. The Sultan, fearing for his daughter's safety, is about to have Aladdin killed, but the people love him so much the Sultan fears a rebellion if he does. He gives Aladdin 40 days to restore the palace.

Aladdin searches for days, until one day he accidentally rubs the ring again. The genie of the ring takes Aladdin to where the palace is now. He and the princess poison the magician and order the lamp genie to return the palace to China.

But this didn't go unnoticed. The evil magician's brother seeks to avenge his brother's death. He disguises himself as a holy woman and tricks the princess into letting him into the palace (what is it with women in old stories always letting evil into men's lives??).

He tricks the princess into asking Aladdin to make an impossible command, but instead of ruining Aladdin for it, the genie spares Aladdin and informs him of the assassin in his palace. Aladdin kills the second evil magician, the Sultan dies of natural causes, the princess takes his place on the throne and everyone lives happily ever after.

There is a lot to say about how we know the story of Aladdin today verses how it was originally told, but a quick glance at wikipedia says it all.



My thoughts on it are quite few. The story takes place in China, but it's impossible to imagine it set there because nothing resembles China. People go to mosques, there is a Sultan, khans, people can approach the sultan to make direct requests. None of this is Chinese. Refreshing to know that even people in the middle east had no idea what China was like either. China was far-far-away land to them.

And... Aladdin has two genies. One in the lamp, one in the ring. Why does he need the lamp? Can't the genie of the ring build him a new palace? Why did the first evil magician want the lamp when he had the magic ring? Surely he knew about the ring--he must have rubbed it at some point! The genie of the ring serves no purpose and makes things too complicated. Why introduce a second genie when one is enough? Aladdin had the lamp in the cave; why not just rub that? Then when his palace goes missing, tales of a beautiful palace appearing out of nowhere reach him from Africa and he knows where to travel?

I enjoyed the classic story as a classic story. It is quite shocking to read the original, and how wildly different it is from the various modern adaptations. We tend to skip the China location and set the story were it was meant to be anyway. We also leave out the multitudes of black slaves and the cheating Jew. Getting rid of the ring genie improves the story greatly, keeping things focused and simple. The modern adaptations use everything that works and leave out the things that don't, making the story of Aladdin much better.

Oh, and there's no three-wish limit. There is no mention of "wishes" at all. The genie is a servant.

The story is very simplistic. Commoner finds genie, lifts himself out of poverty, is accepted into the nobility and lives happily ever after. No twist, no lesson, no moral. In a society with little social mobility, I can see how this would have been every common man's dream. Look at the story as an expression of this and it makes sense. It is, after all, why we tell stories.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Seek the Original (abbreviated): Psycho

Sometimes there just isn't much to say about a book/movie comparison. So here's an abbreviated seek the original of:

Psycho
(Book by Robert Bloch. Movie: 1960 by Alfred Hitchcock)


I enjoyed the book and the movie, but still have very little to say about them. It's impossible to discuss this in any detail without spoilers.

Bloch's book is written in a loose, informal, internal monologue style. It's a tale of the ultimate mamma's boy. A man named Norman Bates living alone in a house running a small hotel is actually more a boy than a man. He's still living with the scars of his overbearing mother. He still protects her, cares for her, loves and fears her. So when a beautiful young woman comes to the hotel, and Norman has a slight inclination of being an adult man, mother steps in to protect him from temptation by killing the woman while she showers. It of course doesn't end there. People come looking for her, and now Norman has to cover it up. He has to protect his mother.



Hitchcock's movie follows the book's story fairly close, which surprised me. The book puts us in very intimate touch with Norman's thoughts, and because much of the book takes place from his point of view, his thoughts on mother make her real. The mother presence in the movie isn't nearly as real as it should be.

Much of the internal monologue is replaced by dialogue, but Norman doesn't sound or act like a man suffering from the scars of an abusive mother and decades of isolation. He's not that creepy at all in the film. There was plenty of dialogue in the book that established what he is, but none of it was used. The book of course allows us to get to know him a lot better, and it makes all the difference because we see a lot more of the disturbed mamma's boy. The film barely shows it.

The movie tells the story well enough, but the book is still much better.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Seek the Original (abbreviated): The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Sometimes there just isn't much to say about a book/movie comparison. So here's an abbreviated seek the original of:

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
(book by Douglas Adams. Series: 1981. Movie: 2005)


There should be so much to say about this book (series). But... as much as I love it, I have little to say. It's great! The universe is the rabbit hole filled with ridiculous and thus plausible ideas and observations about life, the universe, and everything. It’s a series following characters trying to find the meaning of life... well, okay, they don’t try, they just stumble into the journey. The kicker is that as improbable as the ideas are, they’re strangely believable. Kinda like a yeah, that would be just our luck sort of believability. Dramatic alien invasions go unnoticed, Earth has a purpose after all and then it’s destroyed for a completely bureaucratic reason, and the answers to the mysteries of the universe are common knowledge to everyone but us.

The 2005 film version, however, does very little with that. Instead of being about the meaning of life, it focuses mostly on the romance between Arthur and Trillian. This is barely touched on in the book, and it was all right as is because the book was never meant to be a romance. The movie is about the wrong thing! It should've been about the meaning of life, bureaucracy and what a dumb place the universe is, not Arthur hooking up with Trillian!



But everything else about the movie is perfect! Mos Def nailed the role of Ford, Zooey Deschanel is perfect as Trillian, Sam Rockwell is ideal as Zaphod, and Martin Freeman is absolutely PERFECT as Arthur Dent. Stephen Fry is SO GOOD as the voice of the Guide I can't imagine anyone else performing it now. And the Vogons! I never had a clear picture of the Vogons when reading the book, but when I saw the movie I thought yup, those are Vogons. I have never pictured them any other way since.

Really, the humor is spot on, the action is funny, the guide is funny, the story is good enough for what it is. I wish it had done more with the meaning of life motif, but even so it's still faithful to the spirit of the humor in Adams's book.

What about the '81 TV series? It's... cult. Made on a budget of nothing, it takes a lot of getting used to. But they tried, and it is much more faithful to the book, following it almost step by step, even covering the events in the second book as well, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. I wish this series had been remade with the casting and production values of the 2005 film. It's a decent viewing if you wanna have some laughs at the cheesy special effects.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Be scared

Advice for writers: every new project should scare you.

If you're not intimidated by the sight of that big idea you have, and the arduous task of translating it into something tangible, you're probably too confident.

Right now I'm scared. I have an idea. One I've been thinking about in one form or another since the seventh grade. One that has been begging to be solidified. Could turn into a series, could not. I'm not sure yet.

I have hesitated to write it before because I wanted to do some standalone projects first. I've written several of those books and have spent several years trying to find a publisher for them. I don't see a reason to wait; no matter what I write it's all equally difficult to publish. Now seems like a good time to clear my head of what is probably my oldest idea.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Barry Palmer, Night Thoughts

Barry Palmer has a new album out.

Night Thoughts

Having heard almost nothing of him since he worked with Mike Oldfield in the 80's, I'm happy he released a solo album. He had a one-of-a-kind voice and I was sad he seemed to fall off the radar. But now he has a new album and I wanted to talk about it.



It's a smooth, easygoing album. The songs are well-written and they have much to say. It's not just two short verses then repeat the chorus five times. No, they tell stories, they last a long, comfortable while, and they're the kind you wish you could sing yourself if you had the voice.

Go to the album's page for sound samples.

My favorite tracks include


Innocent: A great introduction to what the entire album is. (See video above.) If you like this song, you're probably going to like the rest, too.

Dear John: nothing much to say about this one. It was a single in 2001, and it's nice to see it released properly now. It's a catchy song with great lyrics.

Here to Stay: very happy, positive.

Maybe It's You: easily my favorite song on the album. Barry proves he can hit those high notes like he used to. It's a smooth, steady melody with catchy lyrics. This is the song I hum idly at work.

Miracle Tonight: another memorable melody. This is the other song I tend to hum idly.

A Better Man: this is such a sad song, one which Palmer's voice is suitable for.

Check it out!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Seek the Original: Jaws

72.9% of everything Hollywood does is adapted from a book, or short story, or comic. Never settle for an adaptation. Seek the original!




Jaws
by Peter Benchley


You'd think a book rumored to be about a giant shark killing people would be bloody and violent, right?

I didn't expect it to be mostly about local town politics. You see, in this small town of Amity, Long Island, tourism is the lifeblood of the economy. For just one season a year, the beaches attract vacationers who pump a lot of money into the small town with only 1,000 permanent residents. Their survival depends on tourism.

So when a shark kills three people, nobody is all that horrified at their deaths. They're much more concerned about the cost of closing the beaches, and what the reputation of a killer shark in the water will do to the town's image, and if tourists will cease to come there ever again.

This is mostly what the book is about. Local politicians and businessmen struggling to keep the killings secret so as not to scare away the tourists. Then they go against caution to reopen the beaches as soon as possible so they can catch the start of vacation season and try to make enough money to survive the rest of the year.

There's also a subplot involving Ellen (the police chief's wife) and Hooper (the marine biologist). Ellen is a depressed housewife who wants to break out of her dull, unhappy life and go back to the days gone by when she was free and happy. So she gets in bed with Hooper.

This should be interesting, but the way she goes about it is rather stupid. She invites him to lunch one rainy day, and out of the blue they start talking about their sexual fantasies. Just like that, only the second conversation they have in private, Ellen tells him she has a rape fantasy...

Rape. Fantasy. Ok, ok, I get that people can be into some weird stuff, but this is... I didn't find it endearing or erotic. Just creepy. Almost offensive.

Then he walks her through one of his fantasies! If they were old friends I could see this happening, but they literally just met! This is the second conversation they've had! What the hell opened the gates?? It's so matter-of-fact and uncalled for, and it goes on for pages and pages!

This is the majority of the book! Bickering among the townspeople to keep the beaches open for the tourists, and Ellen's affair. The book is supposed to be about a shark eating people, isn't it? Far be it from me to dis a book for NOT being a typical monster story, but come on. When the book is all about politics and rape fantasy, it's hard to be scared.

Finally in part three we get Brody (the police chief), Hooper (the shark expert) and some shady fisherman to whom we are only introduced at the 2/3 mark (Quint), on a boat hunting the shark.

They spend a few days on the water, the shark teases them, then finally Hooper gets a shark cage and dives in to get a better look at the shark... and maybe to draw him close for a kill. The shark breaks through the bars and kills Hooper.

I didn't see that coming. I assumed Brody and Hooper would bicker about Ellen, egos would clash, metaphorical cocks would be compared, and then finally the shark would attack the boat and Brody and Hooper must cooperate to kill the shark and make it home alive.

But to my surprise Hooper is killed. Now Quint and Brody take on the shark alone. The monster fish must have read Moby Dick, for it starts attacking the boat.

It's what the entire book should have been, but instead it wastes two-thirds of the pagecount on local politics, squabbling about money, and a desperate housewife. The whole shark thing is underplayed while the petty drama is overplayed. It's only in part 3 that things actually get good, and even then the book ends with no real resolution to the housewife plot, or Amity's politics. For all that buildup, we're not told how Amity itself fares after the shark incident.

I was disappointed. Then again, I'm reading this some 40 years after it was published. It's likely every story since has followed Jaws' example. I expected it to be a pulpy monster story. I was actually hoping for that. At least it would be exciting. Local politics is not. Practical and realistic as it would be to a town such as Amity, it's not interesting. The book isn't terrible, but I didn't enjoy it.


Compare that to...


Jaws (1975)
starring Roy Schneider, Robert Shaw, and Richard Dreyfuss


It's unfair to judge this movie as compared to the book because it's a creative work all to itself, as Peter Benchley helped write the screenplay. Really, I'd call the movie all the good parts of the book with none of the fluff to slow it down. The city politics are pushed to the background, the plot of the Mayor's ties to the mob buying up real estate while prices are cheap and then reselling it for profit later is gone, and the desperate housewife subplot is omitted as well.



The first hour of the film follows the original story somewhat closely. Shark attacks, Chief Brody wants to close the beaches, but the political and business powers want to keep them open for the sake of the tourism. When a kid is eaten by the shark in full view of the entire town, all the fishermen go on a mass shark hunt. They bring back a shark all right, but it's not the one that killed the woman and the kid.

Brody wants to close the beach, but of course the local powers that be disagree. They want to keep the tourists coming. It's not until there's another death in front of the whole town that the mayor realizes there's a serious problem. He hires Quint to kill the shark, and this comprises the final hour of the film. Hunting the shark.

It's actually an improvement. Without a real estate subplot and an affair clogging the plot, the shark attacks happen in quick succession, which keeps things moving. In the book they do nothing but slow things down and spread out the attacks way too far apart. It makes more sense for the town to react by going on a mass shark hunt. It's not done in the book, but it should have been.

In the movie, we get to know Quint a little better. His story implies why he's so obsessed with hunting sharks. He served in the Navy, his ship was torpedoed, and while lost at sea he watched hundreds of his crewmen eaten by sharks. It's pretty vivid, and it's not done in the book. Quint has no history in the original story. He's just a fisherman.

The only real flaw in the movie is... the shark itself. Even in the 70's everyone thought the shark looked fake, but nonetheless they were still scared of it. It's only noticeable during the film's last five minutes, when the shark is out of the water. It's jarring and laughable, but in spite of that, the final confrontation is greatly improved compared to how the book ends. In the book, Brody is more or less just along for the ride. He doesn't kill the shark. It simply dies from the wounds Quint inflicted on it previously. He doesn't really do much in the book, surviving by mere luck instead of deserving to. In the movie, he's an active character, and he does kill the shark. It's contrived, but it's spectacular!

I think the movie is a huge improvement over the story. It cuts the fluff and keeps the focus on the shark, where it belongs.

Of course we know now that sharks don't behave this way. They don't ram their way through steel cages just to eat divers, they don't go around sinking boats, and they don't eat everything in sight. Both the book and the movie portray sharks as mindless eating machines, which definitely did their image no favors. Thankfully we have a little more information regarding just what sharks are and how they behave these days.

For example, we know sharks are selective about what they eat. They've been observed to take a bite of something, hang back, decide if they like it, then either go in for the kill or swim away. I think most of the damage this movie did is now undone and we're free to enjoy a monster movie for what it is, not to assume this represents typical shark behavior. It's a monster movie. Nothing more.

This was the first time I'd seen it, and I watched it after I read the book. I didn't like the book too much, but the movie was pretty good.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

OMG the govt it SPYING ON US!!111

I think it's curious that when we learn the government is collecting phone records and tracking who we send emails to, everybody panics and cries out Big Brother is real!

But when certain companies like Facebook and Google and Amazon track our web browsing, scan our email content for keywords, track our search history and even use our cell phone locations to monitor our movements through their stores; feed that information into giant computers and target us with advertising, nobody cares.

I don't approve of it, but it started under Bush and I am disappointed the Obama administration didn't stop. I'm also not surprised. It's been this way for a long time, people. We've been tracked and monitored for a very long time. Doesn't matter if the government stops. They're just taking advantage of the information that already exists, which companies already keep and use against us.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Internet Speaks for Me 3

Allowing the internet to say things which would be unwise to use my own words to express.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Seek the Original: Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

78.9% of everything Hollywood does is adapted from a book, or short story, or comic. Never settle for an adaptation. Seek the original!

Here's a tough one, but too good not to attempt. I didn't know the 1988 film "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" was based on a book until very recently, when I watched it again as an adult. I had to wonder how it was possible to write this story as a book. It's such a visual thing, cartoon characters in the real world, that it didn't seem possible to make it interesting as a book.

I should have known it wouldn't even be the same story.



Who Censored Roger Rabbit?
by Gary K. Wolf


In this world, cartoon characters are a race of people, and they get jobs performing for comic strips and comic books. The "artists" responsible for such strips are actually photographers who frame their actors, complete with the word balloons.

Roger Rabbit plays second fiddle to Baby Herman. When he was hired by his syndicate boss, Rocco DeGreasy, Roger was promised a starring role in his own comic strip. But he's still playing the fall guy to Baby Herman's antics. He hires private eye, Eddie Valiant, to find out why.

Things go awry when Roger is shot dead, and so is Rocco on the same night. Acquiring an unexpected partner, Eddie continues investigating the case.

He interviews the various players, Roger's wife, Jessica, a voluptuous toon resembling a human, Rocco's brother, and a multitude of others caught up in overlapping scams and subplots, all intersecting Roger.

It's a detective story. A genuine, hardboiled mystery. Eddie Valiant is the stereotypical (read: archetypical) private eye. He drinks too much, is short on cash, isn't on good terms with the real men of the law, etc. Although to his credit at least he doesn't have a gambling problem.

The mystery is absurd, but the world it creates is fun. Humans and cartoon characters living side by side. They're not animated cartoon characters though. It's all about comic books and the syndicated comic strip industry. Toons speak with word balloons appearing over their heads. Some learn to speak with voices, and still others learn how to speak in voice only and suppress their word balloons. Dealing with these balloons provides great narrative gags.

Eddie does little but travel around town talking to people. That's the majority of the book. Interviews. Talking. But it's not boring. The mystery he tries to piece together is complicated, and he comes up with multiple scenarios for whodunit, and all make perfect sense, which keeps the reader guessing right up to the end. The book is a very easy read, and it succeeded in making me forget I was reading a book. I haven't felt that in a very long time.

It's both a spoof of the detective story and a serious installment thereof. The world it creates is ridiculous, but it somehow manages to pull you in with the complicated and well-constructed mystery. To say anything more about the story would give away too much.


Compare that to...




Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988)
starring Bob Hoskins and Christopher Lloyd


Here's another movie that's so far from its source material it shouldn't even be called an adaptation. The book is all about syndicated comic strip characters. Blondie and Dagwood, Hagar the Horrible, Dick Tracy, etc., etc. They are all mentioned in the book.

The movie takes the idea a step further and makes the whole thing about animated cartoon characters. Not Hagar, but Bugs Bunny; not Dick Tracy, but Donald Duck. These are the actors who live as real people among us. It's such a good idea it makes me wonder why Wolf himself didn't write it that way. Maybe he figured comic strips were more fitting to the atmosphere of a detective story? Cartoons bring to mind happy, bouncy, musical, colorful characters. Comic strips conjure up gritty, sketchy, monochrome imagery... Maybe I'm reaching.

Anyway, while the book is a bona fide detective story, the movie is an action/comedy. Someone must have read the book, and it inspired them to take the basic idea of cartoon characters living among us as actors and run with the idea. They ran in a totally different direction, but a good one! Really the story isn't that important, or complicated. It's just the excuse to put all these cartoon characters in the same place at the same time.

The story is nothing like the book. The book is entirely made up of interviews. Eddie talking to the many players, trying to figure out who's lying and who's telling the truth; who has something to hide and who doesn't. All about Eddie trying to unravel the mystery of who shot Roger Rabbit and Rocco DeGreasy. Although it is little more than interview after interview, the book's mystery is so complicated I had to know who did it!

The movie is an action/comedy about an evil madman who wants to destroy Toontown (the part of LA where most of the Toons live) as part of a business venture, framing Roger for the murder of the man who owns the property. The movie's mystery is very thin. More like a few bullet points inserted between all the action sequences in the screenplay after the fact, but it's just enough to hold the movie together. And it's interesting to boot. Still absurd, still funny, and still a surprise all the way up to the end. You can safely watch the movie first and then read the book later with no spoilers, because the two stories have absolutely nothing to do with one another.

Even though the mystery isn't nearly as complicated, just seeing all these cartoon characters from competing studios interacting is enough to carry the film. It creates its own logic, and it works very well. In many ways I wish the book had been more like the movie.

I like each for what it is. The absurd mystery of the book, and the visual spectacle of the film. Reading what inspired Hollywood to create such a movie in the first place was an eye-opening experience. Check it out!