iTunes Radio Still Gets One Station Right

Couldn’t ever hope to tell you why, but when iTunes updated to its present incarnation, it really screwed up its radio apparatus. I liked the old format, where you could search for a topic, then key into radio stations all over the world and listen to all kinds of cool stuff (including local sports games.)

Nowadays when I even try to listen to something as innocuous as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, I get eight renditions–in a row–of the same Christmas song, in July.

It’s not like MoTab doesn’t have a broad corpus of ouevre from which to draw.

Nevertheless, I’m glad that their soundtrack stations like Two Steps From Hell and Epic Score still get it right. This gem was first on the playlist a few days ago and I thought it was worth sharing.

Writing Corner: September 20th, 2014

Hey gang. If you’re following along on Facebook, I’ve been illustrating SUICIDE RUN. What I learned from REBEL HEART is that it’s better to start with the small pieces, move to the character-one shots, and then do the sweeping sketches that will fill entire pages. At present I have 38 drawings left to do–10 character one-shots, 8 illos without background, and 20 full-scale drawings.

Of course I’m still writing. I’ve hammered out the rough edges of an outline for a new sooper sekrit project, with a working title of RIDE THE NIGHTMARE. And of course, no sooner do I accomplish this, then does another book idea hit me, and I decide to run with it…one day I’ll learn self-control. At least NaNo is right around the corner and I can use it as an excuse to drive myself insane and blow a fuse in the production department. If my brains start leaking out of my nose, just plug them back in and set me at the desk. I’ll figure it out.

Allergic to Studying

A Cautionary Tale…

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This is the second of Trent Reedy’s novels that I’ve read, after STEALING AIR–a middle-grade story about three young boys that build a highly experimental aircraft out of stolen materials, sort of like the Red Bull Flugtag event.

DIVIDED WE FALL is a very different kind of book.

I’ll save you the detailed rundown, because you can get a sense of what it’s about via Amazon or Goodreads or wherever. The basic premise is that a 17 year-old member of the Idaho National Guard accidentally fires a shot during a riot, and the ensuing conflict sparks the next American Civil War.

Obviously there’s more to it than that. Read the book.

It has its pros and cons, and its sense of realism is very much in the former camp. Among its strengths are its timeliness, and how the characters (especially the media pundits and the partisan politicians) will go nuclear on their opposition at the drop of a hat. At the core of the problem is ideological contention, and Reedy does an excellent job of painting a picture where the only possible outcome is an armed conflict.

Watching the news and seeing how events are unfolding on the world stage, as well as here at home, it was hard not to read this book and think that things could definitely go down this way in my lifetime–one governor of one state decides to nullify a federal law, and the next thing you know, it’s 1 versus 49, with more fractures to come.

I really can’t say more than that without repeating many of the subtle arguments that Reedy presents within the pages of his own book, and for that reason it’s worth the read.

The only real problems that I had came in the form of dialogue; there was a “realistic” level of teen profanity (I generally read YA to avoid coarse language), and a lot of times the speech between characters felt…off. Unrealistic. Could just be me. The drama was very real, though, especially as it pertained to the military and political aspect of the conflict.

(Oh, and screw the media. Reedy nailed that portrayal.)

Trent has a Tumblr that you could follow if you were so inclined.

Michael Bay has made his final dollar off of me.

I posted this to Facebook a while back, and I’m posting it here so that the rest of the world knows.

I recently realized something about Transformers 4, a movie that sucked horribly bad. This is a long post, but it’s worth the read.

Transformers 1 had plot holes and annoying characters with first-grade potty humor and awesome action scenes. I was willing to overlook all of the former because the latter was the main attraction. I saw it four times in the theater, plus a fifth in IMAX.

Transformers 2 had even more awful plot holes, riddling inconsistencies, terrible acting from terrible characters, and reams of high-octane action that dwarfed the first film. Saw it three times, plus IMAX.

Transformers 3 had fewer plot holes, a head-scratcher on the moon, a cameo by Buzz Aldrin, plenty of bad acting, and action scenes that put the previous two films to shame. Saw it twice in 3D, including IMAX.

What did Transformers 4 have? Plot canyons. Bad acting. Bad premise. Overlapping stories that tugged it all apart. Confusing motives. Confusing characters. Confusing backstory. Zero payoff to any of it’s actual good ideas. Some decent action, most of which was wasted on an effort to make the audience wonder what they’d just done with ten dollars.

But none of that was the worst part: the worst part was that Transformers 4 was BORING. You heard that right. Halfway through the film, I was BORED. And that had never happened to me with Optimus Prime on a gigantic cinema screen. Nay, it should never happen to me while I’m waiting for Optimus Prime to come riding into battle cavalry-style upon the back of a robot dinosaur.

Yet that is what Michael Bay delivered to me, for $11.50 on a Friday night. I’ll give him this much: it was the most artistic way that any human being has ever flipped me off with both hands and a smile.

The most unsettling thing about all of this is that I will tolerate Michael Bay annoying me; I will put up with him mistreating my intelligence, offending my sensibilities, wasting the potential of a childhood favorite, and laughing at me all the way to the bank…yes, all of these things, I will gladly endure…

…but I won’t put up with him boring me. Somehow, after all that, I waited for boredom to be the final straw.

So why did I hate Transformers 4 so much?

On top of everything else, it made me realize that *I* was the problem.

And that’s why I won’t be watching a 5th.

If this story were to happen in real life, we’d probably ruin the moment out of sheer stupidity.

A few months ago, Howard Tayler (creator of Schlock Mercenary) recommended a book on the “Writing Excuses” podcast. The book was THE MARTIAN, by Andy Weir. He sang its praises and described the basic premise–I was instantly intrigued, so I downloaded a copy of the audio and listened to it over the course of a week.

 

It’s probably the best book I’ll read in 2014.

The setup? In the near future, a NASA mission on the surface of Mars is hit by a violent storm. The crew have to evacuate right away. As they run to their escape module, one of them gets hit by debris and is assumed dead. The others have to leave. The castaway, Mark Watney, survives his injuries and the storm.

Now, he has to survive Mars.

The best part about it? It’s a hard sci-fi. Weir did his homework, and it shows. Even the parts that come off as science lectures in the narrative are intriguing. The main character, Watneym, has an analytical mind and a sense of humor that are both vital to his continued existence, especially if he plans to A) communicate with Earth and B) live long enough for them to figure out how to save him. (And believe me, he really sells the “will they, won’t they?” aspect all throughout the book. It doesn’t end the way you think it does.)

I’ll say nothing else, because the book is worth the read, and the discovery aspect of it is highly rewarding. (Although be warned, there’s a “realistic” amount of Adult Language in it, if that bothers you.) My main point in discussing this book is based on something that kept occurring to me as I read it:

Imagine something like this happening today, in our world–a world full of conspiracy theorists, false-flag fearmongers and tinfoil hat-wearing know-it-alls with multiple Twitter accounts and too much time on their hands.

Imagine something like this happening in a world where the government cuts funding to space exploration and grounds the shuttle program so that they can spend more money on [pick anything, really–the TSA, the IRS, the NSA, whatever].

Imagine something like this happening in a world where the warring parties in our government absolutely refuse to work together to accomplish something that might help the other–and many of them do so at the behest of their rabid voter base.

Now imagine you turn on the news one evening and hear these words: “The Ares 3 mission control has just received confirmation that Mark Watney is alive on the surface of Mars. NASA and the White House have pledged all available resources to his safe return, no matter how long it takes, and no matter the cost.”

In the fictitious world of THE MARTIAN, this pulls everyone together. At the risk of avoiding specifics and spoilers, I’ll just have to prod you to use your imagination. The effort to save one man on a planet 140 million miles away will cost billions of dollars in emergency legislation. There would be news coverage of it ’round the clock for over a year. Nobody would rest easy until they knew there was a way to get their boy back.

Maybe back in the 1960s, in the early days of the space race and the prospect of putting a man on the moon, this would have ignited a scientific renaissance among the youth of America. I fear that in our day, it would just unleash a hellish typhoon of snark on Reddit–a “Snarknado”, if you will–with everyone shouting solutions instead of asking questions about the problem. Nobody would seek to understand; they would demand to be understood, at any cost.

The conspiracy theorists would have their day as well; they’d claim that this was the plan all along, to force Congress’ hand to give more money to NASA, which in turn would give it to private corporations. The stranded astronaut would just become a straw man for a bunch of bull crap arguments on the Internet.

I fear that a plurality of our society would be more focused on having their say–and having it be “right”–than they would be focused on Watney’s actual plight, how he was surviving, what he was learning, and what were his chances of rescue.

In the 1960s, Neil Armstrong’s Moonwalk made a million American youths want to study math and science.

Today, Mark Watney’s Martian Marooning would likely start a flamewar on the Internet, get sliced-and-diced by politicians during an election year, and the actual scientific results of his sojourn would go largely unread by the masses.

Don’t get me wrong–the book isn’t like that. Weir doesn’t waste your precious time and attention with garbage. This is a can-do extravaganza of awesome on all fronts. I just lamented knowing that present-day America has, at large, abandoned the values that would have turned a moment like this into a saga of heroism and national pride.

Perhaps I’m being overly cynical. I hope so, I really do.

But whether I am or not, you owe it to yourself to read this book. It’s funny, it’s scary, it’s tense, it’s educational and informative, and it’s too real to ignore. Weir deserves all of the praise and success he’s garnered for it since it came out a few years ago (AND HE SELF-PUBLISHED THE ORIGINAL VERSION! AYFKM?!)

Okay, rant over. Go read THE MARTIAN. You’re welcome.

Need a Title? Just Run it Out.

One of the things that has helped/hindered the success of my book, REBEL HEART, is that there are a lot of other books out right now with that title. (I actually pilfered it from an instrumental by The Corrs, and it still screwed me.) I mean it helps because people who are searching for the other, more well-known versions might discover mine, but what if it hinders me  because they’re ticked that my book isn’t the one they thought it was?

This vexes me. I am terribly vexed. Maybe I should only use one popular word in a title and make the rest unique. Yeah! That’s it. Okay, let’s see…”Runner” sounds cool. Plenty of action in that word. All right, we’re on track. Just gotta make sure it’s not taken.

The Runner

Crap. Okay. I’ll just check the rest.

Blade Runner

That looks weird. Where’s Han Solo?

The Kite Runner

Stupid–kites don’t run.

The Maze Runner (Maze Runner, #1)

Okay, sure. Cool. I’ll keep looking.

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Grrr, that would have been a great title! Maybe I’ll riff it. Switch the words or something.

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Seriously?

Night Runner (Night Runner, #1)

Well…I can tweak that a little bit…

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OH, REAL MATURE.

Runner Runner (2013) Poster

Runner Runner

Runner. RUNNER.

I officially give up.

Maybe there are some, like, vampire ideas that haven’t been taken yet.

ITY2K! “Great Expectations” Edition

Doubtless in school you were told that certain books were “classics” because, well, they just were. If your teacher felt especially generous, they might go on to say that great works of classic literature captured the spirit of their time so that we could better understand the era whence they sprang.

Problem is, most of those stories are boring, or the concept lacks relevance today, or I just thought it would be funny to riff on it…and thus this stream of comics was born.

Ergo, I present to you, ITY2K! Today’s victim? GREAT EXPECTATIONS,  by Charles Dickens.

 

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