News From The Darkness: A Personal Update As I Clamber Toward Daylight

Musing

Where have I been?

How am I doing?

What’s happening with the Doc Wilde books? Or any other writing I might be doing?

It’s time for a general update, and probably past time for a Doc Wilde update since Kickstarter supporters and other fans are patiently waiting for me to get the next book out.

First, if you would, read my post from back in February, “I’m Back. Ish.” It covers some important ground and remains pertinent, especially regarding the state of Doc Wilde, and whether the coming books will be illustrated or not. (And there will be coming books, it’s just going to take a bit longer.)

Now, since that post, which itself was part of an effort to drag myself back into the world and into health and productivity, things have improved somewhat, but I’ve also had a realization: I’m in convalescence. I’m making progress, but I’m doing so far more gradually than I’d like, and far more gradually than I tend to allow for. I’m fighting a depression monster that has had me pinned beneath its claws for many years, a monster which has beaten me and ruined my plans over and over and over again, a monster that has laughed at everything the psychiatric community has thrown at it from therapy to all sorts of drugs to electroshock therapy.

I have had to accept something about myself that batters what pride I still have: I have a disability. I look in the mirror and I don’t see someone who’s disabled, but I look at my life and I certainly do. And I fucking hate it, and I hate that I have to struggle, and I hate that it’s so goddamned hard, and I hate knowing how much I could accomplish if it weren’t a factor, but none of that actually makes any difference because it it what it is and I have to deal with it.

If I don’t, it will kill me. Continue reading

THE PEBBLE: Worst Piece of Crap Watch I’ve Ever Had (Review)

pebble watch malfunction

My Pebble is dying.

As it dies, after less than three years of extremely limited use, I keep getting emails from Pebble excitedly offering me the chance to buy the new Pebble Time, their latest chronographic wonder.

Uh, no.

Back in early 2012, I was happy to support Pebble on Kickstarter. They seemed like cool folks with a cool product, and I got caught up in the excitement of their historically successful fundraising endeavor. It’s been years since I actually wore a watch, but thought that maybe the functionality of having a watch that smoothly interacts with the phone in my pocket would make doing so worthwhile. And I felt good supporting some dashing entrepreneurs trying to do something great.

It took nearly a year before the watch arrived, but that was fine. Delays happen, plans go awry. But finally it arrived, and it was pretty shiny in its package…

pebble

…but I was hit immediately with buyer’s remorse. It seemed like a decent enough device, if a bit 8-bit in its aesthetic, but I realized that I simply had little use for it. So I tried a few times to sell it to my friends on Facebook, without luck.

I resigned myself to having unwisely purchased the thing and being out the $115 it cost (Kickstarter price; the retail price on this blighted thing is $150), and hoped to find uses for it as time passed. Eventually I started wearing it to the pool so I’d know when it was time to get my pale-skinned self back into the shadows before broiling began. This was all I was doing with this watch, swimming with it in my apartment pool three or four times a week for twenty-to-thirty minutes each time. As the watch is allegedly waterproof down to 50 meters, this should have been fine.

But, very quickly, it started malfunctioning. Since I was in the water when I noticed this, I assumed it was because of the water. I emailed their support:

Hi,

I was one of your Kickstarter supporters and my watch is starting to act up. I very rarely wear it, but one of the times I do wear it is when I’m in the pool, to keep track of my time in the sun (I’m cursed with very fair skin). I’ve used it this way maybe fifteen times since I got it.

Today in the pool, I glanced at the screen and saw that it was going haywire. The screen would white out, and it would draw random lines and patchily return to its display. It’s still doing so, though I suspect as it dries out the problem will go away…but if the waterproofing has slipped I’m stuck with a watch that has lost core functionality.

Can you help?

Thank you,

To Pebble’s credit, I received a reply that same day: “Sorry to hear about your screen issues! Could you please attach a picture of the error happening on the main menu? We’ll process your warranty replacement after receiving this photo. Thanks for your help!” (Promptness of service isn’t always the case with Pebble according to my research online; here’s one counter-example.)

So I set out to catch the watch in the act and get a pic. In a textbook case of Murphy’s Law, the problem immediately stopped. It was fine for a few swims. Then, it happened again, but cleared up before I could get to my camera. Then summer ended, the pool closed, and I set the watch aside. That was last year.

This year, with the watch well out of warranty, I’ve tried to continue using it at the pool and the problems have become nearly constant. Some days, it works the whole swim, but more often it works intermittently, and more and more it simply goes blank and works not at all. I’d say it actually works properly about a tenth of the time, based not just on my pool experiences but on observation throughout the day.

As I said, I’d assumed initially that the issue was water-based, but further testing shows it’s not. The Pebble malfunctions just as often when it’s completely dry. It malfunctions if I wear it for a short walk to get the mail. It malfunctions sitting on my desk, charging. Malfunctioning is apparently its favoritest thing.

I’ve looked up their troubleshooting suggestions and done them all, including a complete factory reset, and the problem persists. Now, even when it’s working (which never lasts more than a few minutes), the image is corrupted and missing pixels.

And searching online, I found quite a few others with similar issues. Just read the 1 and 2 star reviews on Amazon.

Additionally, when the Pebble was offered on Kickstarter, the manufacturers bragged that it would have a great e-paper screen, using the technology seen on Amazon’s Kindle and other e-readers. When it actually arrived, that great e-paper screen was nowhere to be seen; the malfunctioning, low-quality display is actually a very primitive-looking LCD screen.

So, no, I don’t think I’ll be buying that new Pebble watch, thank you. I’d be better off with a sundial.

GREED: The Fine Art of Sticking It To Your Readers

As a writer, there is nothing more sacred to me than the connection between the teller of tales and those he tells them to. I write because I want to be read, and read by as many people as possible. There is, of course, a practical aspect to all of this, because to make a living at this craft requires a lot of readers. But there are far easier jobs to do which are generally a lot more lucrative, and the sharing of stories and ideas is the primary currency I crave.

Not everyone shares this philosophy. Samuel Johnson said “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money,” and to a degree that’s solid advice, especially in a time when so many folks try to wrangle writers into writing for free in order to get “exposure.” But if cash itself is a writer’s raison d’être, their muse is a whore and there’s a good chance they’re a hack.

As a reader, I’ve always despised publishing tricks that create scarcity in order to squeeze more money out of some readers while keeping material out of most readers’ hands. For example, an expensive “exclusive limited edition” of an author’s book which includes a story that’s not in the generally available edition and won’t be available anywhere else. It’s true that this rewards devoted fans willing to spring for something special, but it also punishes devoted fans who may not be able to afford the book. “If you love me and want to read everything I write, o wonderful reader, you will buy this exclusive collectible. Otherwise, screw you.”

To be clear, I have no problem with cool collectibles. I love beautiful limited editions, all autographed and bound-in-cloth (like a real goddamned hardback) and illustrated and such. It’s the exclusivity of content that I take issue with. That’s disrespectful to your fans, the most important people in the world to a writer, the people who most want to read your work. Why cheat them of the chance?

This applies to pricing, too. While “what the market will bear” is a fine principle for corporate mercenaries, it can be a harsh metric when applied to the dynamic between writer and reader. A writer I know is writing a series of adventure novels about a popular character that I would love to have on my shelf, and support this author’s work, but the publisher prices the paperbacks at $25 and the hardbacks at $40 and I just can’t afford them. Such pricing is unnecessary; Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom is fully illustrated and I published it at $12. Even allowing for licensing costs, the prices for my friend’s books err dramatically toward favoring the publisher over the reader.

The worst case of this sort of thing I have ever seen is a new book featuring a crowd of classic pulp heroes in a shared adventure, a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen kind of thing. As you all know, I love pulp and I’m innately interested in this sort of thing. The book looks to be huge and extravagant and loaded with illustrations, a gorgeous artifact for any library. But the lowest price for one of these volumes is $200. And the highest price?

$15,000.

How fucking ludicrous can you get?

I don’t begrudge the writer or publishers the extravagance of their book. If they want to sell an elite edition of it for fifteen grand, and someone wants to buy it, that’s awesome. And even the version at $200 may be worth the price for collectors if the book is beautifully (and expensively) made. But publishing it without a less expensive point of entry for the vast majority of possible readers, especially the very pulp fans this was presumably written for, is unfortunate. It also limits the potential size of the author’s fanbase to a small pool of folks willing and able to fork over a lot of cash.

When he wrote this book, did the writer do it because he loved the art of telling stories, and wanted to reach readers? Or did he just see an opportunity to squeeze money from the collectibles market? Because it really looks like the latter.

Me, I want to reach all the people I can. I want to treat my readers, and potential readers, with the sort of respect I hope to receive as a reader myself. I’d rather sell two thousand books at $12 each than a thousand at $25. I’d rather be read by a thousand people than a hundred. And I’d never participate in a stunt that kept my work from being accessible to most of the folks who might want to read it.

If your favorite book is a checkbook you may disagree.

Mad Max vs. Mad Max

Okay, we revisited The Road Warrior last night, and I need to update my statement in which I said it was better than Fury Road. Story-wise and character-wise, they’re both (to put it charitably) streamlined for speed. But there’s a lot more action in Fury Road, and its action is far more creative. Fury Road is visually gorgeous in a way Road Warrior never approaches. And the world building in Fury Road is astonishing, just the intricate texture of the world and its cultures, all depicted without laborious exposition. Even the political/feminist themes work, as bald and obvious as they are, but then even clumsy progress is progress (a lesson I wish a lot of fanatical progressives would learn).

As for Max himself, both Mel Gibson and Tom Hardy are fine in a role that gives them little to chew on. Gibson’s best character beat is his “You want to get out of here? You talk to me.” Hardy’s is a grudging thumbs-up he gives in an action sequence. Gibson does get to be the actual star of his own movie, though, which Hardy does not (Charlize Theron’s Furiosa isn’t much better as a character, but she does get to carry the plot).

Still ahead, we’ll rewatch Beyond Thunderdome to see how that compares. And they’ve already announced another flick with Hardy. But really, I’m looking forward to the Mad Max game for PS4 a lot more.

Say, Mad Max, What About Your Promise To The He-Man-Woman-Haters-Club?

MADMAX

Depending on who you talk to, Mad Max: Fury Road is a revelatory feminist extravaganza, an insidious distaff assault on the stalwart ramparts of all real manliness, or not actually a feminist film at all because all violence is masculine.

I saw it, and if memory is accurate, The Road Warrior remains the best Max film (and Mel Gibson the best Max), but Fury Road is getting people thinking and that’s a good thing. [UPDATE: I changed my mind after rewatching The Road Warrior.]  Of course, the “Men’s Rights Activists” are pathetic creatures whose rants have worth only for those looking for a good laugh (and, perhaps in some cases, to establish a case for domestic abuse), like the quoted comment in the image above. There are similar fuckwits on the feminist extremist side of things, like the idiots who attacked Joss Whedon recently. And I respect Anita Sarkesian, and don’t think of her as a militant/unreasonable feminist, but she can be pretty reductively doctrinaire at times. This seems to be one of those times.

To me, yeah, sure it’s a feminist film. But neither it nor its characters are all that deep, and it seems that it had to hit a pretty low bar (promotion tied to Eve Ensler’s involvement, some really basic symbols and themes, passing the Bechdel test) to excite a lot of folks into raving that it’s some sort of revelation. In truth, it’s still just a beautifully crafted cartoon with the barest of ciphers for characters including Max and Furiosa.

Here’s Tina Turner (who could remind you that strong women in a Mad Max flick aren’t anything new) with a song of the week for everybody who can keep their heads out of their asses on the subject…

Tina Turner — “One Of The Living”

Captain America And The Real Myths Told By Superheroes (A Discussion)

A few years ago, when the first Captain America film came out, I was visiting my friend Phil Rockstroh. Phil is “a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City,” so leftist he makes me look like Ronald Reagan, and he watched the film with me. To him, of course, Steve Rogers was the very major model of a modern jingoistic character designed to arouse fascistic and nationalistic feelings in the weak-minded.

I tried pointing out that Cap had been created by a couple of Jewish kids trying to encourage Americans to stand against the Nazi threat in Europe before America was even in the war. I tried to delineate the progressive values Captain America has shown over the decades, and how at every point in the film, the creators subverted the potential jingoism that can, indeed, be a part of such a character. I predicted that in future films we would see a very strong anti-authoritarian theme at work in not just the Captain America films but in Marvel films in general. And I’m happy to say I was right.

Recently, while discussing the Joss Whedon/Black Widow foofaraw, we revisited the topic and the discussion got interesting, so I’m sharing it here. Making an occasional contribution is my friend Ed Hall,  a writer and the co-editor of Mothership: Tales From Afrofuturism and Beyond. Continue reading