Batfleck delivered in Batman vs. Superman

I just saw Batman vs. Superman and since I have opined about this movie before it came out, it seems like I should report back. Here are my quick impressions:

Ben Affleck was very good as Batman, pretty good as Bruce Wayne. I had heavily doubted he could do it, but oh boy, was he Batman. How does he compare to Bale, Keaton, and Kilmer? He is all of them and then some. There were moments I couldn’t tell which Batman I was seeing, which is a good thing. In sum, I was wrong, wrong, wrong about this casting choice. However, some of the story beats he was given were not well thought out, but that’s not Ben Affleck’s fault.

Gal Gadot did great as Wonder Woman and didn’t have enough screen time. She towered over the other two men in both of her identities. She should have had a much bigger role in this film.

Henry Cavill (Supes) and Jesse Eisenberg (Luther) both did a good job, but in each case the job each one was given was junk. Eisenberg’s Luther is just poorly conceived: like the Joker and Tony Stark had a love child. I think Wonder Woman had more dialog than Superman did. She emoted a lot more, despite the emotional center of the movie being Superman and Wonder Woman having maybe ten minutes of screen time. Who’s to blame for this? Not Cavill, but this next guy…

Zack Snyder is both a genius and a disaster director. He is weak on story, character narrative and emotional depth, but great on visuals, Wagnerian opera, and fight scenes. This movie could have been so much better with better story development and smarter editing. He should have not dipped so far into the freakish Frank Miller source material and done more original story telling. The performances were there, the conflicts were there, but between plot holes, shallow character development, and useless dream sequences, he’s to blame for the film’s shortcomings.

Critics vs. fans: Rotten Tomatoes shows a widely split decision between these two groups. Critics hated it, fans liked it. Critics hated it because Snyder skirted with James Cameron/Michael Bay-esque mediocrity in the movie/story department, and the DC Comics stuff was lost on them. When a movie has story and editing problems, the special effects and action sequences stick out like sore thumbs. Fans liked it because Michael Bay films are entertaining and because it is definitely a DC Comics movie.

Marvel vs. DC: This was such a DC Comics movie that it’s hard to compare to a Marvel film. DC Comics are dark and operatic, more of a less nuanced-superhero storytelling world. This is superhero wish-fulfillment that is not tongue-in-cheek. Props to DC for not trying to mimic Marvel.

At the end, I was excited to see the next movie, Suicide Squad, and Wonder Woman.

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10 Signs You’re Just Getting By at Work

Writer Kristine Kathryn Rusch recently blogged about an epiphany she had about people who get by at work and those who do so much more. Her epiphany resulted from realizing that a lesson she learned at day jobs (waitress, editing, publishing, etc.) over the years applies to writing. Specifically, she has found that writing is just as filled with get-by workers as any other field.

Based on her observations and my own, I present the 10 signs you may be a ‘get by’ worker:

  1. Expect recognition for effort or time investment
  2. Talk a good game but have a poor track record
  3. Miss deadlines or other expectations regularly, but always for a good reason
  4. Wait for the boss to assign work/stretch work to fill up the day
  5. Dodge sticks and carrots to improve your performance
  6. Do the minimum necessary to avoid being fired
  7. Do the maximum necessary to avoid more responsibility
  8. Expend a lot of energy acting busy
  9. Convince others to do your work for you
  10. Feel threatened by automation, efficiency, or a perceptive boss

There are get-by workers in every organization, from construction sites to management teams to writers. I’m not completely sold on the idea that they are all bad and that society needs drive them from the work force. I’m fairly sold on the idea that many of them have given up on the job, themselves, or life in general and may be one inspiration away from passing by rather than getting by. Oh, and without them, hard workers wouldn’t look nearly as great by comparison.

10 things I learned from Steve Jobs’ life

In my recent pillaging of the public library, I couldn’t turn down the chance to read Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. I had read many accounts of Steve Job’s life and work, at least up to about the time of the iMac. This biography went much further and much later in his life (it was published shortly after his death in 2011). It was an excellent book and Isaacson is an expert biographer. I couldn’t stop reading it and highly recommend it.

Here are the things that I learned:

  1. Jobs’ superpower was pushing for the best in design, simplicity, and beauty, by marrying technology to art. He knew this one thing, and developed that skill into a form of magic.
  2. His attention to detail, as evidenced by his super-polished presentations, was his second superpower. The return on investment seems limitless. Watch his 2005 Stanford commencement speech which may be one of the best ever.
  3. He was horrible to other people. He parked in handicapped spaces. He screwed over early Apple employees’ stock options. He drove without license plates. He was cruel and demeaning. He thought rules were for other people. He sounds like the guy Dennis Leary described in his hit song “Asshole.”
  4. He seemed to have little use for women. He surrounded himself with men at Apple and seemed to avoid all women but his wife, including brushing off his three daughters. Strange and probably misogynist.
  5. He lied his ass off. Asserting facts that weren’t true. Claiming ideas that weren’t his. Charming people he hated. Committing to things he had no intention of doing. That level of dishonesty is just disgusting to me.
  6. Rich folks, movers and shakers, are so few in number that they inevitably end up knowing each other. Steve Jobs ran with the who’s who of famous people: Bono, Bill Clinton, George Lucas, Joan Baez, Al Gore, Larry Ellison, Bill Gates, Bob Dylan, just to name a few.
  7. If Jobs just had some of the gentleness and humility of Steve Wozniak or Neil Gaiman, he could have been so much more successful. (Neil Gaiman also gave an amazing commencement speech which has been turned into its own illustrated book.)
  8. Why is Jony Ive not running Apple? He seems to be the spiritual son of Jobs’ melding of technology, design, art, and ease of use.
  9. Deep down, control freaks dislike and distrust others. Steve Jobs categorized people into A and B players, geniuses or idiots. It’s clear to me that, reading between Isaacson’s lines, Jobs had a low opinion of people, even the A players he regularly belittled. He was hardcore about the integration of hardware and software, but it was an excuse to impose his artistic sense on others. I don’t mind the beauty, the design, and the simplicity, Steve, but let me do what I want with my computing device, okay?
  10. I wouldn’t have worked for him and would probably have detested him if I knew him personally. I think Steve Jobs would argue that life is too short to put up with a boss like Steve Jobs. But, damn, the world is worse off without him.

Accomplishments, 2014 edition

Writing:

  1. I published two novels: Crashpoint and Twistpoint. I was trying to publish 3 books in one year, but Chokepoint didn’t make it. It will be out early this year, I hope.
  2. I learned a lot about working with freelance editors, book publishers, scheduling and timelines. If I can only publish 2 novels instead of 3 per year, that drastically extends my schedule of book publishing until I’m about 60.
  3. I achieved my goal of writing over 300,000 words. About 192,000 were original fiction, the rest were editing/rewriting of books in the editing stages. That includes 3 novels and a handful of short stories.
  4. Craft-wise, there are a number of things I learned about myself that I’m either trying to capitalize on or correct. Excessive use of pronouns, proofreading, flat characters, and shrugging are things to correct. Dialogue, how I build a story layer by layer, and work ethic are things I feel pretty good about.
  5. Business-wise, this year was a learning year. I’ve never published a book before or handled the business aspects of doing so. I learned things like you need to send 2 copies of your print book for copyright, the e-book is not sufficient.
  6. Marketing-wise, I did almost none. I’m not paying attention to number of copies sold, or pushing the book. They are not bestsellers and I haven’t made more than the weakest of attempts to market them. There are a number of reasons for this that are intentional. Marketing will come later, when at least Chokepoint is published. So far I haven’t found much in the way of marketing that works better than writing the next book.

Reading:

I read a lot of books (I didn’t track how many), a mix of fiction and non-fiction, not just sci-fi. I have tried to read more efficiently, and faster, especially when it comes to non-fiction. You could say that I am practicing badly at speed-reading. Also, I toss away all reading plans, and the TBR list when I enter a public library. I can’t help myself, it’s however many I can carry out of the damn building. And I finally read To Kill A Mockingbird, at my daughter’s insistence. Surprisingly, it’s not a how-to guide, and has nothing to do with Hunger Games.

Day job and family:

Not going to talk about them. This isn’t that kind of blog, and there are plenty of parties in both of those realms that don’t want me to say anything, good or bad, about them. Suffice it to say that both realms are just fine and there’s much I am thankful for and happy about.

Other stuff about me that you may want to know. In 2014, I:

  1. Visited Spain, France, and Italy.
  2. Upgraded the Lair a little (mostly lighting, also added another toy Enterprise).
  3. Developed a fierce green tea habit (3-5 cups a day, usually sencha green tea).
  4. Built a ton of Star Wars and superhero Lego sets.
  5. Finished a few video games (but not Total War: Napoleon).
  6. Saw a bunch of movies, Guardians of the Galaxy being the best.
  7. Ran in the cold (<55 degrees) and my lungs didn’t become frozen sponges.
  8. Didn’t get to some blog posts about wonky stuff that I planned.
  9. Eased past the first half of my expected life span of 82 years.

What about 2015?

I’ll outline my New Year’s Adjustments in a future post.

The poetry of Piano Man

Piano man is a classic song. It works on a lot of levels, with the right hooks, it’s not over-produced, and the first time you hear it you could swear it sounds familiar. As a piece of writing, it creates an entire world, layers it with ambiance, and creates something much greater than the sum of its parts. Now, if you’re scoffing at the bourgeois sensibilities of suburban, early-70s pop music, get off my lawn. That song has been charming people for over 40 years, hipster.

One of the underrated parts of the song (even by Joel himself) is the poetry of the lyrics. Yes, he wrote it based on his real life experience as a piano man in an LA bar. But that’s the source material. That he turned that material into the song’s lyrics, how perfectly honed they are to communicate volumes in an efficient, poetical manner, is pretty amazing for a twenty-something guy who got into music to get girls. It’s pretty genius for anyone. It gets the words just right to a staggering degree.

Many songs these days have non-intelligible lyrics, in-jokes, lyrics that tell no story, don’t describe a world, have no grace, and manage to communicate less than they should. (Lourde may be an exception.) Maybe it’s my age, or the relative crap of today’s lyric-writers, or the more writing experience I get, but I appreciate the quality of Piano Man’s lyrics more and more.

Tired of me blathering on like a Joel fan boy (which I’m not)? Allow me to demonstrate, by subtraction, how genius the lyrics are by stripping them of any poetry other than rhyming.

Here is what I imagine are the lyrics for Piano Man if written by a talentless hack:

 

It’s around nine pm on a Saturday

The regulars are all coming in

An old man sits down next to me

Telling me his life story again

 

He says, “Kid can you play me a melody

Something from a vaudeville show

It’s funny and endearing

And it helps me remembering

This girl that I used to know”

 

Play us a song on the piano, man

Play us a song somewhat right

We’re all erasing our memories

And the drinks have us feeling tight

 

Now John tending bar is a buddy

Who does crosswords to pass the time

He’s gentle with drunks but will toss out punks

But he can’t pretend that he’s fine

 

He says, “Bill, I don’t think this job is ideal

As he stared at movie stars on the walls

“I’m sure I could be an actor

If an agent would return my calls”

 

Now Paul is a real estate agent

Who’s trying to write a novel

And he’s talking to Davy, who’s a sailor in the Navy

But doesn’t have a story to tell

 

And the waitress is flirting for bigger tips

As the businessmen hope to get boned

They’re buying drinks for some hookers

But they know they’re going home alone

 

Play us a song on the piano, man

Play us a song somewhat right

We’re all erasing our memories

And the drinks have us feeling tight

 

It’s a rowdy crowd after a payday

And the manager gives me a smile

‘Cause it’s my songs that bring them all along

To maybe get a little wild

 

And the piano sounds like a symphonic orchestra

And I sing every damn song that I know

They cuddle their beers and blink back tears

And say “I think that’s how it goes”

 

Play us a song on the piano, man

Play us a song somewhat right

We’re all erasing our memories

And the drinks have us feeling tight

Help choose the cover of the next book!

3options

The next book,Twistpoint (Kagent Series: #2) currently is surrounded by AI-operated robots who are hammering it together right at this moment.

I want you to help pick the cover. Thanks to the good folks at Streetlight Graphics for creating these book covers.

Now, it’s the second book in a trilogy, so the cover follows the same kind of themes and elements of the first. And yes, the cover’s image has something to do with a pivotal moment in the book.

Which do you like the best? Vote here:

Amazon leads at halftime, 42-35

Yes, John Scalzi, the Amazon vs. Hachette dispute is a football game. A teeth-gnashing, fight for every inch, go for it on 4th down, football title game. We all know that the lawyers and executives working on this negotiation on both sides are tossing around football analogies.

But I agree with John (who I admire greatly) that this is a dispute without sides for any of us. The only two teams are Amazon and Hachette. Everyone else is a spectator, or, in some cases, a contracted player for one team or another. So publishing sports fans, you must want to know what the score is at what I’m estimating is halftime.

When we last left our clashing corporate titans, the score was Amazon: 4, Hachette: 1. That’s not a football score, though, so I’ll put it in touchdown terms: Amazon 28, Hachette 7. But a lot has happened since then.

Amazon drove down the field with a series of offers to pay Hachette authors to hold them harmless from the negotiations, and then went with a deep pass to pay the authors more from each e-book sale. Amazon scores 2 touchdowns for making Hachette looking like it couldn’t give a crap about its authors at least twice.

Hachette came back with a concerted effort by its authors to vilify Amazon. Author Douglas Preston circulated a letter for big-name authors to sign on to decrying Amazon’s treatment of Hachette authors. The New York Times ran a series of articles making Amazon out to be a mafia-like criminal organization. Then Stephen Colbert soapboxed on his show against Amazon because he’s also a Hachette author. Hachette scores 3 touchdowns for making Amazon look like a bully.

Amazon ran a trick play where it unleashed Kindle Unlimited, a subscription service for books. So far, it’s not clear if this has anything to do with the negotiation, or if it’s just a noisy concession vendor in the stands. Amazon scores no touchdowns for that.

Amazon also issued a statement saying that lower e-book prices are a “key objective.” Not only does this violate the NDA it signed with Hachette about negotiating in public, but it fumbled on the e-book pricing argument. It played into the accusation that Amazon treats books as another commodity it wants to price as low as possible. A number of Hachette authors and publishing experts made the case that just because one product is a certain price doesn’t mean a substitute product need be the same price. Personally, I think Amazon will win the fight against artificially inflated e-book prices, but they didn’t do it here. Hachette scores an easy touchdown on the fumble.

Halftime score: Amazon 42, Hachette: 35