Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Storytelling Engines Available for Preorder!

Hi all! I just wanted to mention that the Storytelling Engines book is available for pre-order here, and will be released on May 16th! The book has several entries that were never available in the initial blog, including discussions of Shadowhawk and Amethyst, follow-up entries on Batman and Green Lantern's O'Neill/Adams era runs, and a discussion of the reasons we didn't get a Marvel Cinematic Universe until 2008. It's got an afterward by Irene Vartanoff, who was working at Marvel during the era where a lot of these comics were created, and frankly it's got a really damn snazzy cover if you don't mind me gushing about it. I'm really excited about it!

Monday, February 05, 2018

Storytelling Engines Announcement Continued

A little good news and bad news for folks who still check this blog out--the bad news is, I was asked by my publisher to take down the Storytelling Engines posts that will be collected in book form this year, so those are no longer accessible through this site. (I've also sent a request to have them taken down from

The good news is, those Storytelling Engines posts will be collected in book form this year! They've been extensively revised and expanded, with my errors (hopefully) corrected and some additional analysis based on events that transpired in the last ten years since they were originally written. Plus there are some new, exclusive bonus pieces for the book that cover things like the O'Neil/Adams Green Arrow and Batman runs, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Rip Hunter of "Legends of Tomorrow" fame. (Although this talks more about his comic book incarnations.) It should hopefully be out within the next couple of months, touch wood, and I'm sure I'll have more information as we get closer to the publication date!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Review: The Hatching

I guess I know now what it takes to bring me back to blogging--scathing contempt for a book that I bought at half of half price and still feel like I overpaid for it. It's not exactly the most noble of sentiments, but I'll take it.

'The Hatching' is a book that brings to mind nothing so much as Sarah Hagi's quote, "Lord, give me the confidence of a mediocre white man." The author, 'Ezekiel Boone', is actually Proper Literary Writer Alexi Zentner slumming it in the horror genre under a pen name, and it's blatanly obvious to all concerned--not because this is a Proper Literary Work that just happens to be in the horror genre, but because this is really obviously not the work of a young hungry author who's swinging for the fences in his debut novel. It's a flabby, underplotted little potboiler that does nothing to earn the already-greenlit sequel, hardcover status, and promotional push that it was given because of his proven track record under another name in another genre, and it's no stretch to say that I really want to make him go back and do another couple of drafts to see if he couldn't try a little harder.

As the cover gives away, the book is about a global invasion by a giant colony of murderous spiders (as opposed to a murderous colony of giant spiders) and the book starts off with a little atmosphere as said spiders flood out of the jungles like army ants devouring everything in their path. But then the book jumps to China, and Minneapolis, and India, and Washington, and California, and a different part of California, and Scotland, each time introducing a new set of characters whose reactions to events will no doubt be highly important to the next book 'Skitter' (coming in May, as the ending helpfully reminds you) but many of whom have literally no connection at all to actual events in this book.

Except for the characters in China and India, whose role in the story is to die messily in ways that the American characters can find out about and realize that Something Terrible Is Coming. The more I think about the way that a story that makes a point of having a sprawling cast of characters from around the globe has absolutely no point-of-view characters from two of the countries where the majority of the plot actually happens, the more annoyed with it I get. It's lazy, it's othering, it treats the lives of foreigners as disposable and only of importance to Americans as canaries in the mine when a global crisis hits, and it's utterly inexcusable in a book where so damn little actually happens.

And let's not bury that lede any further--the book is about 300 pages, and the author only decides to stop generating atmosphere and introducing characters on about page 220. The vast majority of the book is "People get increasingly nervous about impending spiders," with the actual spider invasion never getting any further than LA before the author goes, "Ooops! Out of room! Come check out my sequel, 'Skitter' to find out what actually happens in this story!" It is indefensibly slack plotting. It is insulting to one's audience to write a book this lazy, this slapdash, this reliant on regurgitating tropes done better by other writers (I guarantee you that the pitch for this series said, "World War Z, but with spiders") and then not finish it and demand that people pay twenty bucks for a second hardcover to get the story you couldn't be bothered to fit in the first time around. This is the Peter Jackson's Hobbit of killer spider books, basically.

About the nicest thing I can say about it is that the main characters are all written so shallowly that I genuinely couldn't tell for much of the novel who was written in just to be killed by spiders in the next scene.

(Okay, no. I can also say that he has a gay couple in there, at least one half of whom is not written as flaming and stereotypical, and he has a black female character in there who is a Marine from a wealthy family, and the President in the book is a woman as well. So we've got some nods to representation, which is nice. But none of them are given particular depth and the book would be better off narrowing its focus to one of them or expanding its focus out to show what the heck is actually happening in China and India while all the Americans dither and worry.)

I have no doubt that this author can do better. He's going to get the chance to show someone that he can do better in the sequel. But oddly, that's what frustrates me the most. Because a first effort like this should not be automatically rewarded with a second chance.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

My Subconscious Has a Weird Sense of Humor

I dreamed last night that I was watching a revival of Cyrano, and they'd decided to go a completely different direction by making it a musical. It was a terrible mistake, though, because the director chose "Roxanne" as one of the songs, and it really made Cyrano's reputation as a great poet and lover misfire when he wrote an anonymous love note calling the woman of his dreams a prostitute.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

I'm Suddenly Tempted to Make a Short Film

I saw the trailer for 'Spider-Man: Homecoming' recently, and while there was a lot of cool stuff to unpack, I find myself utterly fascinated by the four burglars at the beginning wearing the cheap Avengers Halloween masks. I mean, setting aside the head-twisting weirdness of kids dressing up like superheroes in a world where superheroes are real, I really want to know what made the bank robbers decide to pick these particular masks. I can actually see myself making a short film on the subject, a sort of Reservoir Dogs pastiche where these four hardened criminals, having obtained the advanced tech they need to carry out their crime, now argue over which Avenger they're going to dress up as.

I figure you'd have the one guy who really thinks it's a bad idea. He says that the one thing that will make the Avengers get up off their butts to chase down a bunch of bank robbers is finding out that those bank robbers all wore Avengers masks to commit their crimes. He finally, reluctantly agrees, but demands to be Captain America because that's the only one of the four who probably won't accidentally kill him just by punching him.

There's a huge argument over who gets to be the Hulk, with one of the guys insisting that he totally, like, gets the Hulk in a way that none of the others possibly can. But one of the other guys wants to be the Hulk, because it's either that or Thor (because the guy who organized the gang is like, "No, letting me be Tony Stark is one of the conditions of the job" and his mask is suspiciously better than everyone else's and it's kind of obvious to everyone that he came up with the whole 'Avengers masks' idea pretty much as an excuse to wear his Iron Man mask without looking weird for being the only one wearing a superhero disguise, but they don't say anything because it's a really good plan and they don't want to lose out on the loot)...

And the Hulk guy is like, "Why don't you want to be Thor? You're totally a Thor dude!" and the other guy explains that he saw all these creepy skinheads in prison with Norse tattoos and he doesn't want anyone to think he's, y'know, racist or anything, his girlfriend is black and his kid is biracial and he wants them to be proud of him. And the Hulk guy is like, "Naw, no way, man! The real Thor, he'd be totally cool with your kid! You know if he saw those skinhead dudes, he'd be smacking 'em with the hammer like he was playin' Whack a Mole!" and really selling Thor to this other criminal, until the guy finally relents and picks up the Thor mask and says, "Let's do this!"

And then the post-credits scene is just a reprise of the scene from the trailer.

I can see it working, I really can. I suppose it'll become a sickness if I ever write out an actual script.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

A Seat at the Table, a Voice in the Corner

(Crossposted to Daily Kos.)

I’ve seen a lot of angry progressives over the last few days. While it is definitely time to look at why we lost, it is not and never will be a time to cast blame. Finding a problem and fixing it is important and necessary; finding a reason why it’s not your fault is just an exercise in ego-preservation and will only lead to a whole bunch of new mistakes next time as we fix every problem but the ones we’re responsible for making.

So, let’s talk...calmly and without rancor...about Hillary as a candidate, and the other choices we had...and the other choices we didn’t have.

Hillary, in retrospect, was everything we tried to convince ourselves she wasn’t. She was a wonderful woman, a great civil servant, a hero that the American people frankly don’t deserve...but she was also a polarizing figure that the vast majority of Americans had already made their mind up about, who was too reserved and guarded to be an effective campaigner. She did her best, but she was always going to be better as a Secretary of State where she could play to her strengths than as a speaker out on the stump. We told ourselves that we could overcome that and we almost did, but the flaws were what we thought they were.

Bernie Sanders...was pretty much the same. Not that he didn’t differ with Hillary, but his differences were not the kind of differences that would have swung the election. He would have come out with a more fiery, more progressive message...but his message would not have swayed the voters that came out for Obama and stayed home for Hillary. Because his message to minorities, and her message to minorities, was the same. “Trust me to represent you and I’ll be a voice in your corner.” And I think that from now on, the Democratic Party is going to accept that this simply isn’t good enough anymore.

Because we’ve had Barack Obama. I’m 41, and he is the best President we’ve had in my lifetime. I think I’d say the same thing if I was 51 or 61 or even possibly 71. He performed magnificently under conditions that were almost impossible. He was an inspiring leader and a forceful voice in polarized circumstances. And his coalition, the coalition that got him elected and re-elected despite the best efforts of obstructionists and racists, is a diverse coalition of minorities. They have seen that a black man can be President and can do a damn fine job. A promise is not good enough for them anymore. Nor should it be.

If the Democratic Party and the progressive movement is going to be a coalition of minority voters, the candidates we put forward should reflect that. If minority support is the difference between a D and an R in the White House, then they deserve a seat at the table, not just a voice in their corner. They deserve to look at a candidate that reflects them, not just another member of the white establishment making promises. Anyone can make promises. Trump made promises. Actions speak louder than words here, and the actions of the Democratic Party were to follow up the historic election of America’s first African-American President with Lincoln Chafee, Jim Webb, Martin O’Malley, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, and tell minorities, “It’s cool, they’re all woke!”

(And in hindsight, Tim Kaine was the most adorably terrible choice for VP Hillary could possibly have made, for those same reasons.)

In 2020, we have to do better. We have to show that the Democratic Party does not just pay lip service to our core constituencies, we respect their ability and their perspective and their patriotism. It is time for people like Hillary, Bernie...and yes, me too, white guy sit down and let someone like Ilhan Omar be a voice in my corner for a change.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Saying Farewell to A Pastime

For those of you who haven't heard, tomorrow marks the last day of the Facebook game "Marvel: Avengers Alliance", which started out as a turn-based tie-in to the 2012 'Avengers' film and just sort of kept going for four years and 166 playable characters. It wasn't a perfect game--it was a Flash game and prone to bugs and balance issues just like many others, and it had its grindy elements just like pretty much any game that tries to get you to log in every day and play it as much as possible does.

But it had some amazing virtues. It had a character roster that hit just just the classic Marvel characters like Spider-Man and Thor and the Hulk, but quirky and offbeat cult favorites like Howard the Duck and Daimon Hellstrom. It introduced players to new heroes like the Blue Marvel and Faiza Hussain, spotlighted obscure heroes like Phyla-Vell and Cloak and Dagger, and even allowed you to redeem a variety of villains from Magneto to Ronan the Accuser and put them to work in the service of humanity. It allowed for a dizzying array of team-ups and crossovers, and was every Marvel fan's dream in a lot of ways.

And the gameplay, while simple, was not without its depths. The different characters each had their own mechanics and special abilities, and figuring out how to combine them could produce synergistic effects that made them amazingly powerful. (Drax, for example, was lethal but withered quickly under direct assault, while Groot was a walking shield wall that took the hits for his team mates. The two made a devastating pair.) Combine that with a variety of different game situations that mandated or prohibited specific characters and you had a recipe for constant reinvention and adaptation to the different enemies the game threw at you.

I've been playing the game in one form or another for about three years now, pretty much ever since 'City of Heroes' went the way of all things. It got me through my grieving period for that game, in a lot of ways. Now I have to grieve this one. I guess that's the problem with games that offer you an infinite number of possibilities and a sweeping array of things to do. In the end, it just means that your interest in the game outlives it instead of the other way around.