Monday, March 2, 2015

Kenny Rogers School of Internet Argument

With apologies for the earworm. (Oh come on, you know you're at least humming it to yourself.)

I am proposing a set of guidelines for arguing on the internet. No, "don't read the comments" isn't one of them. For starters, that should be a law, not a guideline. An inviolable, nothing good comes of breaking it, law. Even though this started because I read some comments. This is more along the lines of, if you're going to argue, and we all know you are, then at least have the foresight to know when to quit. Knowing that this can be hard to do, I give the following examples, both of which occurred over the weekend.

Example 1: 
I started to watch a movie the other day, only to realize it looked vaguely familiar to me. I'm pretty sure I'd seen it when it was first on TV, and about half an hour in realized that, even if I hadn't, it was essentially a retread of the Bourne series. Now, while I will in no way argue that just because something has been done before doesn't mean it can't be done again, this didn't seem to be doing so in a way that added anything interesting. (And was, in fact, taking much of the interesting bits out of it.)

But to try and refresh my memory about whether I had seen it and was remembering the plot points correctly, I went to the IMDB page. Wherein, in the comments, I found the following argument:

Commenter #1: Everyone needs to stop saying movie X (the new one) is a retread of movie Y (Bourne). Movie X was based on comic book X that came out long before the movie.

Commenter #2: Movie Y is based on book Y that came out four years before comic book X.

Now, at this point, there's nothing new here. I remember the posting from the Twilight fan that made the rounds years ago about how The Wolfman was ripping off Twilight. People are idiots, and under-informed idiots at that, and I get this.

Only this wasn't where it ended.

Commenter #1: Well, comic book X was in development long before book Y was published.

[At this point I think you could hear the facepalming.]

Commenter #2: Comic books don't work that way, and, even assuming they did, author of comic book X has stated specifically that they were inspired by book Y.

And if you think that was the end of it, then let me be the first to welcome you to the internet.

Example 2:
This is not an exact representation of what went down, but a condensed version of something that happened on Twitter:

Commenter #1: Cruella DeVille is the best fairy tale villain.

Commenter #2: 101 Dalmations isn't a fairy tale. [Side note: this is what our culture has come to. All things Disney = fairy tale.]

Commenter #1: But it has talking animals.

Commenter #3: Talking animals = fairy tale. [Commenters 1 & 3 then nod their heads sagely. ... Okay, no idea if they did this or not, but it wouldn't have surprised me.]

Commenter #2: So... Watership Down is a fairy tale?

Now, in both cases, it should have been clear from the first counter-argument that the initial position was untenable. Talking animals are not the only criteria for a fairy tale, after all, and a simple correction saying that Cruella is the best Disney villain (which, by the way, she is most definitely not) would have put an end to it. Likewise, a simple chronology puts an end to the "which came first" argument of the over-zealous comic book fan.

Except they couldn't walk away. (This is where I come back to Kenny Rogers, in case you were wondering.) These two people were prepared and more than willing to defend their position no matter how ludicrous it became. They kept arguing, far past the point of logic and reason.

I know, I know, expecting logic and reason in an internet discussion is perhaps my first mistake. But, folks, you ought to have at least enough common sense to know when you're beaten. To know when the cards you've got in your hand don't do anything for you, and it's time to put them down and walk away. Sometimes you can bluff, and sometimes you're in the right and then, by all means, hold 'em.

When you can't? Fold 'em. It doesn't do you any good to keep arguing. You're going to lose. You've in fact already lost, and the only thing you do is make yourself look like more of an idiot than you're already doing.

We've all been there, remember. We've all argued something, been really, really wrong, and looked like idiots afterwards. It's not a big deal.

Just know when you're out of aces, and walk away.

And if you don't?

Well, that's when the rest of us are just going to run away, because you're nuts, and there's no reasoning with a whack job.

Going to leave this here, because Muppets. And because you're already singing it anyway.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

National Adjunct Walkout Day

I am on the job today, because I want to keep my job, but unless you work in a university you might be unaware of what goes on, or even who's teaching your child (or perhaps even you).

I can only speak for my uni, but I know that in many unis the situation is more or less the same, as among local universities only one offers benefits to their adjuncts.

So, just some quick facts:

Janitors and groundskeepers (who do important work, don't think I'm saying otherwise) get paid more. They have benefits, can take classes for free, and have reduced tuition for their children.

As an adjunct, I don't.

At the end of every semester, the supprt staff and full time faculty know they pretty much have their job, barring cutbacks or other circumstances.

At the end of every semester, I'm left wondering if I'll have work.

Even if I do have a job, I get paid by the class, not semester (or hour - and in my department most of the adjunct staff put in longer hours than a lot of full time faculty) which means there's no guarantee how much money I will make in the coming months.

All the support staff and faculty have a voice in uni affairs. They are consulted on surveys, have representation in the faculty senate, and in general have a say in things.

As an adjunct, I don't.

All staff and full time faculty have access to support services like counseling, insurance counseling, etc.

As an adjunct, I don't.

All this and yet at an increasing number of universities around the US, including my own, adjuncts teach a preponderance of classes. We keep departments staffed, students educated, and the university functioning.

And we are the very last consideration of anything the university does. We were even told by an admin that we were "a dime a dozen" as he out-of-hand dismissed not only our concerns about the students, but our ideas, our contributions.

So I have not walked off today, because I would not have a job tomorrow if I did.

But that doesn't mean I don't think things need to change.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

In Defense of Something I Didn't Really Like

I'm just going to put this out there:

Picking on 50 Shades is starting to feel like teasing the developmentally disadvantaged kid on the playground.

Look, is it great literature? Oh hell no. Twilight may have actually been better written, and that's saying a lot. (Yes, I've read them. At least enough to get a feel for them, anyway. Didn't finish either, in total honesty.) Then again, considering that was the source for the fanfic that was 50 Shades origin story - like Peter Parker before he got bit - it's also somehow not all that surprising. The plot was problematic in its essential glorification of an emotionally abusive relationship (not that it was original in this *cough*), and there are issues with how it portrays certain aspects of sexuality and even the mechanics of safe sex.

So yeah, it's a bad book, and yeah, it making the splash it did was the equivalent of hitting the lottery in terms of luck and timing.

I'm not saying it didn't deserve a certain amount of sarcastic disassembling, because it did.

But I'm starting to feel that we - and here "we" includes a number of people in the writing community that I talk to - that we're all busy patting ourselves on the back for how much more clever we are for mocking it. We sit around and we point and laugh and congratulate ourselves on understanding just how bad a book it was, as if somehow seeing the fifty car pile-up on the freeway is the equivalent of being a great mechanic. Myself included at times. Worst of all, the discussion often just waits to turn that mockery from the book itself to the people who read it and unironically liked it.

All of which misses one of the most salient points of the whole thing:

No matter how bad a book it was - and, again, it was - people read it. It entered the zeitgeist, and put erotica into that same mainstream sphere. And before anyone gripes that there was erotica before, sure, there was. How much of it got read publicly? Acknowledged publicly? Turned into a freaking movie with a section in Target??

If for nothing else than educating that section of older women - like one of my coworkers - that hey, there is actually more to sex than missionary and hey, there's nothing wrong with that - I think the book can be cut some slack.

Yet it feels like there's a curb stomp waiting to happen for anyone who speaks up and says they enjoyed it.

But people did read it. Droves of people. A lot of them enjoyed it, and not just desperate middle-aged divorcees who had to look up the terms in the dictionary (that would be my coworker). And if it opened their eyes to an entirely new genre (for them), then more power to it.

Where is it written that just because something becomes popular, that opens it up to even more disdain? Which I think is part of that whole "we're so much more clever" motif is coming into it. You're not allowed to like the book in certain circles. There must be something wrong with your judgement. Don't you know there's so many other better books out there?

Forgetting, I think, that a lot of what's popular is, in fact, not particularly sophisticated entertainment in the first place. Big Bang Theory, what few episodes I've managed to watch, seems about as accurate to geek culture as 50 Shades was to the BDSM community. Yet those same people who rail against the latter don't seem to have as much problem with the former. Moreover, popularity for a less well done thing can lead to increased exposure for things in that same vein that are better done.

"You liked that? Well, here, you should like this, and you might get a little more out of it."

Or even, "You liked that? Well, here, this is like a new and improved version of that. You should like it, too."

So I hope the movie does well.

I hope it gets mocked mercilessly, too. I still think the movie is begging for the MST3K treatment, though that speaks more to Hollywood than anything else. (Yes, I'm perfectly capable of holding two contrasting ideas about something.)

Yet I also hope that somewhere between there a conversation gets had about abusive relationships and why they get glorified so long as the guy is broody and "dark" and handsome and a conversation about all the better erotica out there. Because this is one of the things you can do with that piece of "bad" media. You can use it as a bridge to other things. You can talk about issues that sometimes get lost when something isn't labeled as "bad." Gone Girl is in many respects extremely problematic in terms of its own portrayal of abuse in relationships, yet no one really talked about that because everyone was busy oohing and ahhing over the artistic merits of first the book and then the film. Admittedly, 50 Shades doesn't have a whole lot of artistic merit, and maybe that can be a good thing.

Then when all of this is done, when it all blows over and we're on to the the next thing, good or bad, we can actually talk about whatever new issues that thing raises.

Once we're done with the sarcasm, of course.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Have We Learned Nothing From Indiana Jones?

I saw the Jack Reacher movie the other day. Now, before anyone harps all over the diminutive casting choice, I have not read the books. After the movie initially came out, and seeing the furor and the obvious popularity, I did pull one off the library shelf. After reading the dust jacket, I promptly put it back. All of the blurbs read like too much Marty Stu guy fantasy fulfillment, and the movie, while for the most part entertaining, did nothing to disabuse that notion. While I will spend two hours on a movie that does that, the time invested in a book is another matter.

(I used to read things like that back when I was younger; I just grew out of them after a while. Which is not to imply I "grew up" or anything else, just that tastes change as we get older. A trip through the cd's that have been sitting in a box in my closet for years will demonstrate that.)

But I did have one major problem with the film, and something I hope was Hollywood insertion. At the climax of the film, in the midst of the big action scene, Reacher has just gone several rounds of both gunplay and hand to hand with the big bad's burly henchman, and has finally managed to mostly overcome him. A henchman who has spent a good deal of the film attempting to kill - often successfully - numerous people, including the hero and the leading lady. A henchman whom, there is no doubt, our hero will have to shoot.

Now, just to further the Raiders of the Lost Ark comparison here, the leading lady is, at that very moment, in danger. It would behoove our hero to be done with the henchman as absolutely quickly as possible, as decisively as possible, before the bad guy kills the leading lady.

Fortunately, in the ensuing struggle, Reacher has wound up with the gun, whereas the henchman has not. Reacher has him point blank, and all he has to do is shoot.

Which is when he throws the gun away in order to go mano a mano in fisticuffs with the guy.

I'm pretty sure that's the moment I yelled at my tv.

Now, I know there are certain conventions in the movies. Cars blow up, even when someone just bumps the fender. Heroes shake off concussions like they've been okayed to play by the team doctor. Every explosion is a gas explosion with a giant fireball (see the aforementioned car). I accept this, even though I know it's wrong, and it's okay. It's called suspension of disbelief. (Also a Michael Bay film.) Even so, I would think we had put to rest this dumb as a post macho need to go fist to fist with the bad guy when we can just *shoot* the guy and it's expedient to do so.

Even Andrew Dice Clay knew better than this in The Adventures of Ford Fairlane. Yes, I am citing the Dice Man as a supporting reference here. That's how put to bed this trope should be. It does not prove the hero is a manly man. It does not demonstrate a sense of honor (which, it should be said, Indy has, to a certain extent, as did film Reacher, but they both demonstrated a great deal of flexibility with that, too). All it demonstrates is that they put testosterone (because this is by and large a failing of male heroes. Female heroes seem much more willing to just shoot the bastards, and rightly so) over the need to do what they should be doing in the first place.

Which, I will remind you, was saving the person Reacher had deliberately gone there to rescue in the first place.

So please, Hollywood and writers everywhere, learn from Indiana Jones: just shoot them.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Major Problems with the new Ghost in the Shell

As a quick preamble, I became aware of the new Ghost in the Shell series via Women Write About Comics, where they are doing a great multi-part series on The Major, Motoko Kusanagi, the female lead of all the GITS incarnations. You should go check it out.

And in a likely vain and futile attempt to fend off whatever comments might come about not appreciating the origins of the characters, I am well aware of Shirow's original GITS work, and many of his other works, in which there is ample display of, to put it mildly, sex. That, however, is a whole other set of issues, and I'm not up for tackling tentacles and the issue of consent in anime/manga today.

Now, on with the main post...

Normally I'd save this kind of post for a Saturday, as it is partially a review. But there were so, so many issues with what I saw in the first episode of Ghost in the Shell: Arise, that it really warranted it's own discussion. Heck, it warrants a lot more than I can discuss in a single post, which is why I intend to also live tweet my rewatch of it. Which would be a terrible sacrifice of my time and sanity, were it not also a tremendous opportunity for snark.

I have to believe Arise was meant to be snarked at. The only other explanation is that the animators were all a bunch of teenage fanboys who can't get dates of their own and wouldn't know a real interaction with a woman if she came and yanked them out of their dark, underground cubicles. Lest you think I'm exaggerating or being cynical, I could have titled this post "The Major's Boobs" and it would have conveyed one of the primary motifs of the first episode. ... And calling it a motif is being generous. 

There are good points to Arise, which is clearly meant as a prequel to any of the original GITS material and, more specifically, to the last GITS on television (as far as I know), GITS: Stand Alone Complex. It's even being produced by the same studio, though I can only surmise there have been some changes in executive decision making in the intervening years.

There are callbacks to GITS: SAC right from the opening credits, and it's a promising sign that they even go so far as to replicate the skyline. As in a standard prequel, there's the introduction of characters, the bringing together of the team, and there are hints of some of the complex plots that made SAC such an enjoyable series to watch.

Even the clear decision to represent the Major in a younger body is in keeping with her backstory from both the original manga and SAC, and present opportunities for some interesting character development and psychological discussions. After all, in a truly cybernetic body, what governs the decision to "age?" What are the decisions the Major makes to upgrade from where we see her here to where we know she's going.

Only I get the distinct impression that with Arise, it will mostly be the opportunity for TNA. In fact, there was so much gratuitous nudity, partially nudity, and blouse-popping cleavage, I feel the acronym for Arise ought to be GITS: TNA.

Maybe the whole point of the title is meant to be innuendo?  Though that would imply a certain meta-level of cleverness that I don't think we're going to see from the rest of the series.

Which is a shame, because there are moments of some smart storytelling, and some glimpses of what could be some great explorations of the issues raised by the very premise of the show. There's a potential here for some real imagination in the storytelling.

But I think mostly what, or rather who, we're going to get glimpses of are the women, in outfits - or the lack thereof - that will leave little to the imagination.

Some exhibits for the prosecution:

The shower scene. Ignoring the thinly-veiled attempt to portray this new Major as vulnerable by resorting to the cliche tactic of having her naked, there is absolutely no reason for the behind-the-frosted-glass-door strip that occurs before it.

Commander Busty, or alternatively, the Breasts With No Name. The Major's commanding officer is not, so near as I can tell, even given a name. Instead, she's given cleavage, and a shirt that apparently cannot be buttoned above her navel. Or maybe the army just doesn't have shirts that fit her.  Granted, my own experiences with the military are limited to four years of JROTC and a year on scholarship, but I seem to recall more staid uniforms being regulation. Again, she is not named. She is just the BWNN who commands the Major's unit.

Motoko's bra. This should almost be it's own character, it's on screen so often. When she's not naked in cyberspace - which she is in every single such scene, knees clasped to chest, probably again meant to invoke "vulnerability" - she apparently has no clothes to wear aside from her uniform. (Wait, maybe this also explains the BWNN's own outfit issues. Future Japan's military doesn't know how to provide clothes to it's female soldiers.) So when she's not in uniform, she's in her underwear. This leads to a number of fan-service scenes. 

I might object less if it was at least a sport bra, but it's clearly some strappy black thing. Okay, again, the animators are teenage boys who know nothing about breasts or bras, but still, a quick Google search... actually, come to think of it, that's probably what caused this problem in the first place.

Also, and it may just be me, but I swear the Major's breasts are bigger when she's just in a bra. Maybe her uniform is really binding? Hard to say.

The Lolita landmines, or rather the mobile, robotic landmines, that from a military purpose seem absolutely useless for the battlefield unless you're fighting a war at a lollicon convention.

And those are just the things that stand out on the first viewing...

Admittedly, Stand Alone Complex had it's own issues with the Major and sexuality, to say nothing of the original manga, and in the first season of GITS: SAC she was dressed in that same ludicrous outfit you'll see if you bother to Google-search her. And there were the highly sexual overtones of that episode with the nurse, just to name a particular incident. But by the second season, they'd dressed her in a more practical outfit, and by and large it did not seem a series devoted to fanwank.

Arise, on the other hand...

It's sloppy storytelling, needless hyper-sexualizing, and unfortunately symptomatic of larger cultural problems within a number of communities, from comics to games to movies and television. (Star Trek: Into Darkness, I'm looking at you.) Maybe I'm just more aware of the gratuitous placement of women in skimpy outfits now that my daughter is nearly at her teen years, or maybe it's just that it's become such an overwhelming tide that it's impossible not to notice it anymore.

Anime and manga are probably the wrong places to look to start stemming that tide, but as this version came out of the same studio that, in the last incarnation, had the audacity to (in the second season, anyway) clothe the Major in not the thigh-high boots and garters but an actual functional outfit and an overcoat, of all things, there was at least a precedent to hope for here.

While it may not be fair to hold Arise to higher expectations than the culture, as a whole, and anime in particular seems incapable of lately, it has to start somewhere. And maybe starting in an arena that has a bad reputation for how it handles (or more accurately manhandles) women, might send the message that this is something that has to change.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Kat & Mouse: The Interview

Time for something a little different. I generally don't do guests - because, let's face it, this is basically the local cable channel equivalent of the internet - but this one made an exception for me. I'm not sure why, though I'm guessing his stylish fedora was on a bit too tight. 

Anyway... Abner Senires is the author of the Kat & Mouse books, which aside from satisfying this writer's own personal sci-fi craving, also reinvents/pays homage to some "classic" ideas, some more classic than others.

S: Welcome, Abner.

A: Thank you, Sean, for having me on the show today.

I see you have questions for me. Have at them, sir.

S: Indeed I do. So, first of all, where did the name come from? And if you say Tom & Jerry, know I'm going to be torn between disappointment and geekish applause.

A: It came from, you guessed it, Tom and Jerry.

(waits for disappointed applause)

S: I think we all knew that was coming. But, seriously...

A: Real answer: I had other names I was playing with. In one version of my notes, Kat was originally called Blackwolfe and she went solo. In another version, they were a duo, Kat was still called Blackwolfe and Mouse went by the name Boomer. All handles, of course, just as they are now.

And then one day the phrase "playing a game a cat and mouse" popped into my head. I think I might've been watching something or maybe read it somewhere. And it stuck. I thought, "Why not call them 'Kat' and 'Mouse,' to play off that phrase?"

Hence the name.

S: And has to be easier to type than Blackwolfe & Boomer, I imagine. Kat & Mouse are serialized fiction, a form that hasn't been done much since the days of Dickens, at least for literature. What led you to write Kat & Mouse in that manner?

A: When I decided to write Kat & Mouse, I had the notion the stories would be told in a specific sequence. I could have just written the stories, submitted them for publication, and had them appear that way. But the possibility arose that I would, say, write and submit stories 1, 2, 3, and 4 but have them end up being released as 4, 1, 3, and 2.

Which would defeat the purpose of the sequence, especially if I had a connecting storyline running through and connecting one story to the next.

So I decided I'd do it as a serialized story. This way, I could control the sequence of the stories and, in terms of the overarching storyline of each season, control when and where I'd drop clues and hints and foreshadowing.

S: Speaking of old-fashioned forms, Kat & Mouse seem very much a throwback to the cyberpunk days of the late 80's and early 90's. Which, as much as I adore it, is a sub-genre that seems to have already had its heyday. So why resurrect it? What about that setting appealed to you and made you say, "Hey, I want to set stories here?"

A: The appeal for me was the intersection of the modern and the near-future. The fact that cyberpunk was rooted in a very recognizable world – today's world – but had bits of slightly advanced tech that wasn't too far removed from the now. It wasn't Star Trek or Star Wars tech. No transporters or warp engines. But people had robotic prostheses and self-driving cars and the ability to insert a program chip into a slot in your head and instantly know, say, Conversational Italian or Japanese or the equivalent knowledge of a graduate in Corporate Law.

And since I wanted to feature modern weapons in my stories, writing cyberpunk was the best way to do that. I already had experience in weapon use and I'm familiar with some of the typical techniques of our military special warfare operators. And these were the types of skills that Kat and Mouse use in their adventures.

Another thing about weapon use--at one point I wanted write sword and sorcery. But I'm not well-versed on fighting with swords, particularly techniques of that era. I didn't want to portray a swordfight between my mightily-thewed hero and the evil sorcerer's henchman and have those in the know say "Bullsh*t! You're doing it wrong." There's a part of me that wants to depict those kinds of things realistically. Or at least as realistically as you can get in a dramatic portrayal. Yes, there are creative licenses a writer could take but I really wanted to keep things firmly rooted in some kind of verisimilitude. I'm kind of a stickler for that sort of thing. Writing cyberpunk made more sense in that department. I could use modern weapons and not worry that my descriptions of their use would offend those in the know.

I suppose you could say "Why not write a techno-thriller instead?" But much of techno-thriller writing is rooted in today's world and dealing with the geopolitics of the day. I wasn't interested in that sort of thing. What I was interested in was the stuff I saw from Robocop and Terminator and Terminator 2 and Demolition Man.

Cyberpunk. That was the field I wanted to play in.

S: I can't believe you just cited Demolition Man as an influence. Though, admittedly, it was a fun film.

Again, I've not quite worked my way through the first volume, but there were to my mind definite echoes in this of not only William Gibson, but also various Japanese anime, and maybe even a little – minus the fantasy elements – Shadowrun RPG. Any of those influence you, and if so, how much? Or were there other influences elsewhere?

A: All of it. Gibson. Anime, specifically Gunsmith Cats, Dirty Pair, Bubblegum Crisis, Appleseed, and Ghost in the Shell. And, yes, Shadowrun minus the fantasy elements, as well as another RPG from the early 90's called, appropriately enough, Cyberpunk 2020.

And the influence was huge.

My template for the visual aesthetic of the serial was Blade Runner. Of course. Classic film cyberpunk. Hopefully I've captured some of that in what descriptions I've written in the stories.

S: I think you have, yes.

A: From Shadowrun and Cyberpunk 2020 I essentially borrowed world-building details, particularly when I wrote out the timeline of the world of Kat and Mouse.

From Gibson, specifically the short story "Johnny Mnemonic", I borrowed the voice. That minimalistic style. I also cribbed a little of that from Raymond Chandler and Robert B. Parker and from James Cameron's screenplays.

The influence from anime resulted more in the desire to write about kick-ass female leads. And you get a lot of that in anime, especially in the titles I mentioned.

S: Would you rather see a live action movie, a television series, or a Japanese anime (or even comic book/manga) adaptation?

A: Yes. To all.

While I did write a Kat and Mouse screenplay (which I then adapted as the Season 1 episode "Easy Money") I would love to see a television series.

S: If I had the money to be a producer, I would see this happen. ... Dream cast for the above?

A: I don't watch too much current TV (I'm a few seasons behind and only get my fix via Netflix and Hulu), but from actors I've seen so far I would realistically cast the TV series as follows:

  • KAT: Meghan Ory (Ruby/Little Red Riding Hood from Once Upon A Time)
  • MOUSE: Allison Scagliotti (from Warehouse 13)
  • REVELL: Anthony Stewart Head (Giles from Buffy)
  • FAST EDDIE: Dominic Monaghan (from Lost and Merry from Lord of the Rings)
  • SPECS: Lee Arenberg (Leroy/Grumpy from Once Upon A Time)
  • JAKE STEELE: Sam Witwer (Aidan from Being Human)
  • CONNOR MURPHY: Josh Holloway (Sawyer from Lost)
  • JADE: Emily VanCamp (from Revenge)
  • SAKURA: Kelly Hu (from Warehouse 13 and Lady Deathstrike from X2)
  • ABSINTHE: Amy Acker (Fred from Angel)
  • VALKYRIE: Felicia Day (from The Guild)

S: I'm sad to say I only recognized about half those names. Clearly, I too, am behind in my TV watching. Because I read a lot, he says. Moving on...

Last but not least, aside from serialized fiction, you also do your bit for radio drama, another arguably archaic art form (say that 10 times fast) that has made something of a comeback in podcasts and the like. What got you into that?

A: Several years ago I had it in mind to get into voice-acting. You know, for video games, cartoons, animated films, that sort of thing. I took classes for about a year or so and started looking into possible work. Somewhere in my Internet searches I ran across an open audition call for voice actors. Someone was producing an audio drama as a podcast, it happened to be unpaid, totally volunteer, and they were looking for people. I decided "Why not? It might be unpaid but I'd get some experience performing on the mic. And the credit wouldn't hurt." So I auditioned and got the part. Small supporting one but a part nonetheless.

And it was a fun experience.

So I went looking for other opportunities and found this niche of folks writing, directing, producing, and acting in audio drama podcasts. Tons of people. So for about two or three years, I was auditioning and getting cast in a whole bunch of audio dramas. At last count, I think it was about forty-something appearances. Some were one-time roles. The majority were as a recurring character over several episodes.

It's been a while since I last did audio drama, though. Other things cropped up. Plus, I wanted to put focus back into writing in general and Kat and Mouse in particular.

S: Any projects we can look forward to, either of your own or someone else you want to give a shout out to?

A: There are more Kat and Mouse stories on the way. I've sketched out the overall arc for Season 3, sketched out the episodes, am revising the first 2 episodes and have outlined and started episode 3. I'm hoping to start "airing" them at the serial site by mid- to late-November, depending on how things work out over the next several weeks.

S: Excellent. I won't hold you to that calendar, though. And other things?

A: There are a couple of other writing projects in the hopper. One is a space opera piece. The other is a story that actually takes place in the world of Kat and Mouse, about the members of a cyborg SWAT team. Both of them are still in the pre-writing phase. No idea yet when they'll get to being written. Right now the focus is on the Ladies.

As for shout-outs, there's some great comics I recently ran across that I think everybody should be reading. RACHEL RISING by Terry Moore, RAT QUEENS by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch, and LAZARUS by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark. Excellent stuff. I believe RAT QUEENS and LAZARUS have two trade collections out at this time and RACHEL RISING is on trade collection number four. So go and get them. Now.

S: You heard the man, folks. And if you haven't read Kat & Mouse yet, you need to do that, too.

Abner Senires writes sci-fi pulp adventure and probably drinks far too much coffee. He lives just outside Seattle, WA with his wife and a pair of rambunctious cats. WEBSITE:
BLOG: TWITTER: @abnersenires KAT AND MOUSE, GUNS FOR HIRE: PAYBACK Things are heating up for near-future female mercenaries Kat and Mouse as they tackle even more hair-raising jobs for shadowy clients and run afoul of terrorists, freedom fighters, hired assassins, a Japanese crime syndicate, and warring punkergangs. And smack in the middle of this, an enemy from the past is back and wants revenge on the duo. Now these two sassy sisters-in-arms must fight back and survive...and still get their jobs done. Available from:

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Saturday Review: Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone

You know which Mission Impossible movie is my favorite? (Trust me, this is relevant.) The first one. Before they got too action-oriented and just plain ridiculous (though the 4th one was enjoyable), there was the first one, that, if you were paying attention, dropped little bread crumbs along the way. Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone is like that, only without the part where Tom Cruise rips off his face.

(This book has zero face-ripping, in case you were looking for that sort of thing.)

This is the first book in what is now part of a trilogy, and as the third one is out - or due soon - it seemed like a good time to write the first one up. Gladstone's created a brand new world here, with it's own mythology and blend of fantasy and science fiction and even a little steampunk, and though there isn't a lot of the usual world-building that would go into a more traditional sci-fi treatment of the piece, there's enough there so the reader doesn't get lost wandering in and out of both the alleyways and the politics of this new world. Part of me wishes there had been a little more, as there's clearly a class divide at work in this world, and an even greater divide between the cities that run on magic and the outer areas that don't, and that's mostly left unexplored other than the bits the reader is introduced to as character development. Perhaps that's what the sequels will help do.

As for this one, there's a murder mystery of sorts at the heart of this story. Civilization is built around various gods, each one providing the life-force - or just the utilities - that keep their individual cities going. One of those gods has been killed, and it's up to a young lawyer/witch to help her boss figure out who and why. The novel does a great job of blending the legal aspects of having a city and a world that runs a lot on magic with the more down to earth practicalities off it. A great deal of thought went into how it all works, and though a legal drama might not sound like the best thing to blend magic and science with, it works very well. Even when the scene shifts into a courtroom, in a scenario that, minus the trappings, would be at home in a John Grisham novel, it never loses it's sense of action.

There's also some philosophical/theological explorations here, which is fitting when the other main character is a priest whose job it was to watch over the god, and who therefore has a vested interest in solving the mystery. Again, like the courtroom material, what could have been a heavy-handed or even boring exploration of these weightier issues is deftly woven within the action of the main story, and never feels out of place or makes the story slow down.

The characters were well-thought out, the machinations of all involved sufficiently complex without being overwhelming, and the world just gritty enough to feel lived-in yet still retaining its sense of being something new. A blend of Grisham and perhaps Mieville, with just a dash of Gaiman around the edges, this is a world well worth taking the time to explore.

As for that Mission Impossible thing? If you're paying attention, Gladstone drops clues as to the ultimate reveal, like any good mystery writer does. Some of them you may not catch until the end, but they are they throughout and they make for a satisfying puzzle. While you can't solve everything from the clues, there's a big part of the mystery that's waiting for you to figure it out.

Only without the face-ripping.