The Way of the Word

26. February 2011

Mutually Assured Entitlement

In his blog post of May 12, 2009, Neil Gaiman writes about entitlement issues. In case you’re wondering, I talk about this now because it has only now been brought to my attention. I don’t usually read Neil Gaiman’s blog.

In this one, he talks about how creators do what they want because the readers are not the creators’s employers and therefore have no right to expect anything but what the creators deign to give them. Which includes a completed story.

I’m sure that Neil is very happy with the Red Riding Hood movie novelization. You might have heard of it: the one that is published without an ending; the ending will be revealed online after the movie has been released. You still get to pay full price for the novelization, though.

I’m also not going to linger on the irony of that blog post: on the one hand, Neil condemns reader entitlement, while complaining about how American Airlines doesn’t provide the kind of power outlet to which he feels entitled.

Frankly, I can understand both sides in this ongoing debate. I can understand that for a creator, life sometimes gets in the way of doing your job: creating stories. It has happened to me too. Frak it, it’s happening to me right now. The only difference is that I’m not in the middle of a major saga of which half the books have already been published. You know, like A Song of Fire And Ice.  So yes, I can understand the side of the creators, who don’t want to feel bossed around by their readers.

The problem with that is that the creators fail to see what they do as work, as a job. They see themselves as artists. I mean, imagine if you, the regular joe, showed up at work with that attitude. How long would you keep your job?

On the other hand, the readers aren’t entitled to tell the creators what the creators should be doing. Yet I am a reader too, and as such I do believe that if I invest my time and money into a story, the creator of said story owes me an ending. If I as a creator don’t want to spend several years working of multi-volume sagas, then perhaps I shouldn’t launch multi-volume sagas.

In short, I think that while readers should exercise more patience while waiting for the next chapter of the multi-volume epic they invest themselves in, the creators should remember that it without those readers, they would have to go to a day job every morning, where the “I do what I want when I feel like it” attitude would only get them a pink slip.

Until then, I suggest that the readers apply the same solution to the problem that I do: if something is billed as “Book X of Y,” leave it on the shelf until the creator has actually finished the series. That way, the creators can indulge themselves and only work on their multi-volume epic when they feel like it, and the readers don’t need to worry that the multi-volume epic they enjoy will never be completed, because it’s already complete.


23. February 2011

RIP Dwayne McDuffie

Born February 20, 1962; died February 21, 2011, from complications after emergency surgery at the age of 49.

Sometimes, these things come as a surprise and a shock. As in the case of Dwayne McDuffie, a prolific and extremely gifted writer. According to all sources, he seemed to be in fine health when he attended the All-Star Superman DVD premiere a few days earlier. According to reports, he died from complications from a surgical procedure performed on Monday night. So far, details are not known.

After a stint at radio and copyediting for a financial magazine, Dwayne had joined Marvel Comics as an assistant editor, and started to write for them in 1988. He went freelance in 1990, and founded Milestone Media in 1992. Milestone Media was a coalition of African-American comics creators, in order to express a multi-cultural sensibility that he felt was missing in comics. Several Milestone series were eventually published by DC Comics.

In the course of his career, Dwayne worked on high-profile series and characters such as Fantastic Four, Justice League of America, Batman, Iron Man and Spider-Man, to name just a very few. However, other than the Milestone comics (of which some characters, such as Static, became iconic in their own right), he definitely made his mark in animation.

Dwayne’s version of the Justice League in the animated Justice League Unlimited is lauded as perhaps the best version of these characters and concepts ever produced. In 2008, he revamped the Ben10 franchise. His most recent releases were the Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths and All-Star Superman animated movies.

I didn’t know Dwayne in person, but we did interact online a couple of times. He was a smart, witty and very personable man; if you didn’t like Dwayne, there was something wrong with you.

He was a fantastic writer, a gifted writer, with a vision. He influenced a great many people in comics and animation not only by being there for them, but also by example. His passing is triply sad; not only did it seem that he was on the verge of receiving the recognition he deserved, not only was it too sudden and too soon, but it also robs the rest of us of those stories he hadn’t gotten around to telling yet.

10. February 2011

Review: John Jackson Miller: Star Wars – Knight Errant

Originally published in 2011.

Knight Errant is a tie-in novel to Dark Horse’s new Star Wars comic series of the same name. Comic and novel star Jedi Knight Kerra Holt, who is a lone Jedi fighting in Sith space. The novel is set after the events of the first story arc of the comic series, and stand-alone.

Kerra Holt is hiding out on Darkknell, the world of Sith Lord Daiman, who is at constant war with his brother Odion. During her stay, Kerra finds out that the Daiman has set a trap for his brother. Using an academy ship and over 1,000 younglings (that Star Wars speak for “children”) for bait, Daiman wants to provoke Odion into an ill-considered attack. Odion walks straight into that trap. Kerra was just along for the ride, hoping for a chance to assassinate Daiman, but now she needs to save those children.

Enter the mercenary Rusher, and his artillery crew. And especially his ship. Kerra loads the children on Rusher’s ship, and off they go, looking for a safe place to drop them off. As if there were such a thing in Sith space. Their first stop is the Dyarchy, a strange world where everyone is mind-controlled by the teenage Sith Lord twins Quillan and Dromika. Kerra manages to abduct Quillan and takes him to the next Sith world, this one ruled by Arkadia – who turns out Quillans sister. There, Kerra learns the deepest secret of Sith space.

This novel was supposed to come out after #5 of the comic series. As it happened, it came out after #4, with one issue of the first story arc left to go. I’m therefore not sure just how stand-alone it really is. Miller references the comics quite a bit. Fortunately, I’ve read them. But I think I would understand the novel even if I hadn’t.

Miller has a very entertaining writing style, but sadly it doesn’t really cover up the novel’s problems. Daiman and Odion are too much comic book villains — they are crazy and over the top, something that can work in a comic (with the help of the art), but is less interesting in prose. The two are too much what they are. However, this novel introduces a host of new characters, most of whom are far better suited to prose storytelling. Quilland and Dromica (along with their regent) are nicely creepy, and Arkadia turns out to be quite the scheming supervillain. The mercenary Rusher has a considerable (early) Han Solo vibe and borders on homage, and the Bothan agent Narsk is complex and interesting enough to deserve a novel of his own. Comedy sidekick Beadle, however, is prone to a type of physical comedy that requires visuals to work.

All in all, the story itself is rather disjointed. Instead of a coherent narrative, it’s episodic, as if it had initially been plotted as a comic book storyarc. And that’s how it reads: like a comic without pictures. Most of the plot twists are telegraphed, the astute reader can predict them easily. All in all, however, Jackson hits all the points that are required of a Star Wars tale. It’s competently written and entertaining enough, but five minutes after you’ve put it down, you’ll have forgotten almost everything in it.

Verdict: mildly recommended, unless you’re a Star Wars fan, then recommended.

9. February 2011

Novel in Progress: Die Young

A little appetizer.




„The Sex Kitty’s dead.“

„The what?“

„Not what. Who.“

I laid the iPad on the counter and turned it around for Lucio to have a look. He looked at it without touching it.

„Porn actress Diana Young, 23, died yesterday during a breast enlargement procedure,“ he muttered. „Her fans knew her as Teh SexKitteh, which is the name of the website through which she sold her movies.“

Lucio looked up and shrugged.

„I knew her, Horatio,“ I said, turning the iPad back towards myself.

„I didn’t figure you for the type,“ he replied. I glared at him, but not much.

„It’s her online handle,“ I told him. „Teh SexKitteh. She lived two or three doors away from me.“ I looked at the picture that accompanied the article. „I think I might have seen her at the supermarket once or twice.“

4. February 2011

Review: The Adjustment Bureau

USA 2011. Written & directed by George Nolfi. Starring Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Anthony Mackie, Terence Stamp. Runtime: ca. 90 minutes. Loosely based on the short story The Adjustment Team by Philip K. Dick.

Just as David Norris (Matt Damon) has lost his run for the US Senate, he meets the mysterious Elise (Emily Blunt). It’s love at first sight, but she has to run and he has no idea who she is. But her inspiration keeps David in politics. A few months later, he meets her again, randomly, on the bus, and this time he gets her phone number. The problem is that David was supposed to miss that bus, he had only caught it because Harry (Anthony Mackie), the Adjustment Agent assigned to his case, made a mistake. Because of that, David arrives sooner at his office than expected, and catches the Adjustment Bureau in the act of, well, making adjustments. They snatch him and take him to a secret, undisclosed location where they tell him everything: they are agents of Fate, they are supposed to make sure that everything goes according to the Chairman’s plan, if he ever tells anyone about this he will be lobotomized, oh, and by the way, he is not supposed to see Elise again, ever. Three years later, he does. And despite everything the Adjustment Bureau does, David manages to stay close to the woman he loves. But it violates The Plan, so the Adjustment Bureau sends Agent Thompson (Terence Stamp), who always gets results. Thompson reveals to David that both he and Elise have wonderful futures ahead of them. But only if they stay apart. David would be willing to sacrifice his own future for love — but can he sacrifice Elise’s? Or can the Plan be changed?

Every now and then, there comes a movie that is difficult to define. The Adjustment Bureau is such a movie. At the heart of it, it’s a romance. With fanastical/fantasy elements. And thrilling. Plus, it offers food for thought. The central questions at the heart of The Adjustment Bureau are the eternal problems of free will vs. fate (Terence Stamp’s character has an almost chilling speech about that), and how far can you/should you go for love.

The movie examines these questions in a dramatic and exciting way, of course; it is a movie after all.

The Adjustment Bureau is perfectly cast. As the movie progresses, Matt Damon seems to grow into his character, just as David Norris’s character grows during the four years the movie spans. And since a romance stands and falls with the chemistry between the male and female lead, let it be said that the chemistry between Damon and Emily Blunt is incredible. You do not doubt for a single moment that these two people really do fall head over heels for one another the moment they meet, or that David would really obsess over Elise for years.

The story’s real hero, however, would be Anthony Mackie’s Harry: the angel (“We’ve been called that.”) who goes against procedure and risks everything because his conscience tells him that what’s happening is wrong. Harry is the one who has the most to lose by doing what he thinks is right, and he does it anyway.

And regarding Harry’s supervisor, Richardson (John Slattery), if you don’t think, halfway through the movie, that it would be fun to see this story from Richardson’s point of view (someone who just wants to do his job, but there’s this guy who keeps throwing wrenches in the system), then you need to have your sense of humor adjusted.

The Adjustment Movie is the perfect date movie: it has romance for the ladies, enough action for the gents, and since it actually leaves you thinking, you have something to talk about after the movie. In the press materials, Damon calls it a popcorn movie. Considering what the term has come to mean in the last decade or so, I think that it does The Adjustment Bureau an injustice to all it that. The Adjustment Bureau is intelligent entertainment.

Verdict: very recommended

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