Randomness for 2/8

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1) A Choose-Your-Own adventure game based on Twitter accounts.

2) Photographs of an iceberg that had recently flipped over to reveal the gem-like underside.

3) A very long exposure photograph of a rock climber wearing glow sticks.

4) Seattle sidewalk art that is invisible until it gets wet, aka “rain art”.

5) Amazon readers post troll reviews of anti-vaxxer’s “pro-Measles” children’s book.

6) Eight tips for studying smarter.

7) Leave aside the association of “white” with good and “black” with bad, this is just terrible phrasing.

Randomness for 1/10

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1) A random comic generator. NSFW.

2) Things said by and to a two-year-old, as graphic design posters.

3) Was 2014 the Year of the Video Essay? Who knew? How to make a great video essay: Video (naturally)

4) A long run down a concrete luge in New Zealand. Video.

5) Artist adds cute illustrations to photos on Instagram. So cool.

6) Google maps for fantasy spaces. Cute.

7) Questions posed to librarians before the internet.

“Superheroes are not a genre.”

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Over at io9, Charlie Jane Anders has a post about lessons learned by the entertainment industry in 2014, and her number one lesson is that subject header above. And I think she’s wrong.

There are two ways to come at the question. First, do we pin the blame of a box office failure on a poorly-used plot structure? Well, you can try, but it’s not very convincing. Eventually, we’ll have something like Raimi’s version of Spider-man which, for all its flaws, made the structure of super-powered-nice-guy-vigilante-with-two-identities-trying-to-stop-crime-in-secret really come together. Audiences went nuts for the first one, and if they’re less enthusiastic now it’s because later iterations have been really, really flawed, and far too familiar.

But are superheroes a genre?

What unifies the books in the horror genre? The emotion they invoke.
What unifies the books in the mystery genre? The central plot question.
What unifies the books in the western genre? The setting.
What unifies the books in the fantasy genre? A plot element.

Some genres are easy to mix. You write a scary story set in the Wild West: Horror western. You write a romantic story with fantasy elements: Fantasy romance.

So the real question becomes: Are superheroes a “plot element” genre or are they a plot structure genre? While it’s true that there’s a standard plot formula that has become associated with superheroes (true with any genre, really), the remainder of the “superheroes are not a genre” argument Ms. Anders makes demonstrates how well they mingle with other genres.

Notice also that those other genres are mainly settings and plot structures: dystopian time-travel, space opera, etc. That’s because the superhero genre is a “plot element” style. You wouldn’t say that Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier isn’t a superhero movie because it has spy thriller plot. It’s both, in the same way that Romancing the Stone is a romance and an adventure.

BTW, did you know that I’ve been pitching my new trilogy as “Epic Fantasy that reads like a Thriller”? It’s epic fantasy because of the setting and the inclusion of magic, and it’s a thriller because of the pace and tone. Genres based on different things are easy to mix. Genres that are very similar can be really difficult.

Randomness for 12/21

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1) Get your rage on with this complete ranking over every Star Trek episode ever.

2) 22 pictures that prove we live in the future.

3) There’s an “atmospheric river” flooding California.

4) What colour is it? The time of day expressed as a hexidecimal color.

5) Pixel art illustrations that tell a personal story.

6) The relationship between coffee and mesmerism, and the importance of morning rituals. Video.

7) Unused audio commentary by Howard Zinn and Noam Chomnsky, recorded summer 2002, for the Fellowship of the Ring (extended edition) DVD.

Randomness for 12/10

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1) Man mounts paper coffee cup on his car, tweets people’s responses.

2) How does a 150 ft oil drilling rig disappear into a lake that’s only ten feet deep? h/t @CEMurphy

3) Is everything good about Minecraft gone? This piece echoes my earlier post about buying my son an Xbox, and I agree that Minecraft has changed as third parties set up their own servers. My son plays a game that’s a lot like The Hunger Games, and doesn’t build nearly as much as he used to. He still builds, but there’s a lot of PvP, too.

4) Typeset in the Future: ALIEN edition.

5) Dutch real estate broker installs mini-rollercoaster into home to give prospective buyers a tour. Video. As stunts go, this one is terrific.

6) Ugly Christmas sweaters are the new thing, so why not turn them into men’s suits? (That’s a rhetorical question.)

7) Ben Edelman, Harvard Business School Professor, Goes to War Over $4 Worth of Chinese Food. You can be very very wrong while being right.

Randomness for 11/11

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1) An entire Tumblr dedicated to the question of whether MilSF author Myke Cole lays eggs.

2) Stan Lee responds to people who ask him when he’s going to retire. Video.

3) Dewitos: Doritos-flavored Mountain Dew.

4) Seventeen-year-old wins science competition by building an efficient algae biofuel lab in her bedroom. I hope this kid becomes a billionaire.

5) Do you get your hair cut at a barber? How to talk your barber about the haircut you want. Includes a helpful video.

6) Museum of selfies.

7) The novel then steps back in time to explain how Rico went from being just another one of Heinlein’s incurious teenaged dullards to an enthusiastic war criminal. In the process, it paints an interesting picture of the world Rico lives in, as well as of the contents of Heinlein’s id. James Nicoll reviews Starship Troopers.

Bad idea number 3,229: comparing authors’ book sales

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Mary Robinette Kowal (who seems like a nice person but I know so little about her that she could be a Nazi eugenics researcher and I’d have no idea) posted a Debut Author Lesson that includes this:

I just got an email from my editor that Shades of Milk and Honey is going into its 7th printing.

Seventh.

Between all the US editions so far, we’ve netted 23,793 copies. That’s not counting the UK or foreign language editions.

Seven printings, but under 24K copies. For comparison, Child of Fire sold over 29k copies over the same length of time plus six months. Again, that would be lower than Pat “Maybe I’ll help Nathan Fillion buy the rights to FIREFLY” Rothfuss’s new book sells in a week, but more than many other authors might sell.

Also, we’re not talking identical formats. Ms. Kowal’s novel came out in hardback first, and those editions are more lucrative than mass market paperback. And maybe her sales numbers don’t include ebooks (my paper ed. sales numbers are ~17K). She doesn’t say and I’m not going to ask.

Why?

Because as she says, it doesn’t matter. You can’t really compare the sales figures, because they’re in different genres, different formats, with different expectations. There are probably a lot of UF books that would be considered a success at 29K ebook & mmpb sales, but Del Rey really invested in the CoF, the sequels sold significantly worse than the first, and Del Rey had high expectations.

So congratulations to all writers who are succeeding by their own standards, and supportive fistbumps to all those writers who haven’t succeeded but keep trying.

Randomness for 10/21

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1) World’s Worst Playgrounds h/t @cstross

2) Maps of modern cities drawn in JRR Tolkien’s style.

3) How to “gird your loins,” in illustrated form..

4) Norman Rockwell’s Saturday Evening Post cover art with DC Comics characters.

5) Drunk J Crew, a Tumblr.

6) An internet glossary, from The Toast.

7) The Zero Stooges (aka The Three Stooges Minus Stooges). Video.

New creepiness for the Halloween season

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Maybe you guys have heard about The Dionaea House? It’s a story (or is it real?) told through emails, texts and blog posts, a modern epistolary novel.

And it’s spooky as hell.

Not gross, not horrible, or filled with monsters tearing people apart, or demon children, or whatever bullshit modern horror is about. It’s a smart, subtle (except where it shouldn’t be) scary story, and I highly recommend it.

It’s by Eric Heisserer, and it was popular enough that it launched his screenwriting career. The film that was supposed to be made from it hasn’t happened, for the usual reasons, but it’s supposedly going to be name-checked (or featured, not sure) in the upcoming series The Librarians. Anyway, you should read it.

The reason I mention it? Heisserer is back at it: “Information I’m Dumping Here for Safekeeping”

Read through. Open the images. Follow the updates. It’s fun.

h/t to John Rogers (@jonrog1) for the link.

Randomness for 9/26

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1) The 50 Dorkiest Songs You Love. NB: you don’t have to tell me you personally don’t love some or all of them. I know.

2) Edgar Wright – How to do visual comedy. Video. This is excellent and shows why I find modern comedy so incredibly boring.

3) Joaquin Phoenix’s Forehead (Rotated). Video. So weird and funny.

4) Anonymous Gods. The computers at Google automatically blur the faces of famous religious statuary.

5) Netflix’s new spoiler website. #spoilers

6) Malkovitch Malkovitch Malkovitch Malkovitch.

7) Robert Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, Charles Manson & the Birth of Cults