“these are the kinds of details that make or break a movie”

And now for something cheerfully entertaining. When I go to the movies, I freely admit to being obsessive about the biology, which is often completely ignored by most movies — although something like the X-Men movies really has me climbing the walls and moaning and gritting my teeth. But what happens when a typographer watches a movie? Every movie has letters and logos on the screen somewhere! So go read this obsessive, fanatically detailed analysis of Bladerunner. Everything he points out completely sailed by me when watching it.

You get to hear about every font choice on signs and labels, and somehow, it’s entertaining. There’s a bonus discussion of Letraset, which I remember well (every science lab I ever worked in was typographically consistent, at least: they all used Futura. Had to be Futura. None of those fiddly serifs, and besides…the name. Perfect. If only we’d known about Eurostile).

It’s interesting mainly because it’s mostly foreign to my perspective, but there’s another intersection, when he discusses image “enhancement”. I’m a video and image processing guy, so that scene in Bladerunner where he zooms in on one tiny reflection of a reflection in what looks like a holographic polaroid always bugged me. Here is that entire sequence with just the enhancements to show the magnitude of what the movie was doing.

Another bonus! A collection of “Enhance!” scenes from TV and movies.

I’d sit here all day reading Typeset in the Future articles, but now I have to go to work. And then I have to download the Eurostile Bold Extended font set for my laptop so I can make my work look futuristic.

Imagine a spherical apocalypse…

I’m connected on this lovely site called BookBub — they watch the booksellers and send email notifications of all the free/cheap e-books offered that day, so it’s a way to build up a fine collection of reading material at little cost, and also get introduced to new authors. Except for a few quirks…

I signed up to be notified of any science books that are bargains. There never are any.

I signed up for the science fiction category. There’s a regular flood of those — but I’ve noticed a familiar and tiring theme: so many books about the end of the world, zombies, plagues, etc., all about doughty heroes and heroines bravely surviving the aftermath and boldly going forth to battle the undead/bad humans who are now infesting the depauperate world. So not only is the story about 99% of the human population dying horribly, but then the story swirls around the protagonist marching about, fighting and killing other survivors (see also The Walking Dead). It makes no sense (ditto, The Walking Dead).

There is an apocalyptic novel I’ve enjoyed: Earth Abides, by George R. Stewart. But that one isn’t about a battlin’ hyper-competent survivalist type who defeats his enemies and rebuilds the world by conquest — it’s about a lost soul numbed by the deaths who builds a cooperative community to survive, and that community rarely acts as an arm of the hero’s will. That’s a lot harder to write about than slash, slash, slash, as David Brin discusses.

No, the plague of zombies and apocalypses and illogically red-eyed dystopias has one central cause — laziness. Plotting is vastly easier when there are no helpful institutions or professionals, when power is automatically and simplistically evil, when there’s no citizenship and the hero’s neighbors are all bleating sheep. Relax any of those clichés? Then suddenly an author or director has to put down the joint (s)he’s smoking and think. That is why “competence porn” – about folks taking on tomorrow’s problems with energy, focus and good will – is so rare. It is also why a cliche-fatigued public is starting to turn eyes, raising them from fields of undead, looking not toward demigods, but toward engineers. See this explicated in my article, The Idiot Plot.

The yearning for more engineers in stories is Brin’s, not mine — I’d like to see more human beings struggling with complexity using a diverse toolkit, rather than pulling a soldering iron, a 3-D printer, and a rifle out of their back pocket, and solving all human problems by reconnecting the hydroelectric dam. But the laziness and simplification idea is dead on, and probably explains why a cheap book service is telling me about works by novice authors trying to build an audience and a reputation. Not that there is anything wrong with that — it’s good for new writers to have an outlet. But it’s bad news when genre writing digs itself an even deeper subgenre rut.

I am also cliche-fatigued and turning my eyes to new fields. Not engineering, though. I just logged in to BookBub and closed my eyes and clicked randomly on the page of preferences. We’ll see what happens.

The backstory on Captain America, agent of Hydra

Hydra_logo

I don’t read comics much — I was a fan and collector in my teenage years, but every time I pick one up now, there’s so much prior knowledge needed to make sense of what’s going on, that I just put it back down and walk away. It’s like a lot of art, in that it is constructed in an environment of art, and comments on that environment, and if you don’t know the framework it’s embedded in, you grumble about how your kid could do better than that.

So all I knew about the recent controversial story line in Captain America that revealed he’s been a secret agent of the evil organization Hydra all along is that this was not the Captain America I enjoyed in the 1960s and early 70s. This was a betrayal! I hadn’t been reading the comic book anyway, but now for sure I wasn’t going to read it ever again.

I didn’t have the context.

Now an article fills me in on what I’d missed about Captain America’s trajectory, and it all makes sense. You see, Marvel had first tried to introduce a black successor to Steve Rogers, white hero, and the fan base erupted. So Marvel brought back Steve Rogers…with a message.

And just like that, White Captain America was back. And to make Steve Rogers a Nazi was an excellent commentary not only on the fandom, but on the country itself.

See, the only reason there is a Captain America: Steve Rogers series is that the fandom wanted Steve Rogers back. And the reasons they wanted him back were the same kind of motivations and ideologies that are currently wreaking havoc with our election season. The fandom wanted to Make Captain America White (Great) Again. They were full of racist indignation at seeing a Black person take on the mantle of Captain America, one of the most venerated comic-book heroes. They wanted a return to the status quo. And when they got their wish, they’re dismayed that he’s kind of a fascist. Sound familiar?

Wait, wait, wait…a comic book is making a sly commentary on modern American politics and society, is holding up a mirror to its readers? Unthinkable. Only art can do that.

Gods and Calvinball are really boring

I saw X-Men: Apocalypse tonight. It sank in about 20 minutes into the movie that this wasn’t a story about people, but about gods fighting incomprehensible battles with each other. So we had one set of gods exerting their will and destroying human civilization all around the world (one lesson from all of these X-Movies: Magneto really hates bridges), and then some other gods opposing them with the force of their will, and then someone yells “UNLEASH YOUR POWER!” at one of the other gods, and a bad god gets magically zapped. That’s really it. There’s no interesting personalities interacting, and each escalation in the conflict is resolved by another mutant grunting really loudly and waving their hands.

Oh, and along the way, Cairo and all of its inhabitants are casually annihilated. No one seems to care.

That’s the other thing about gods. In addition to being mind-numbing and unimaginative, even the good ones aren’t very nice.

Stop me before I #ChristianMingle

I’ve been very naughty, and I must be punished. So I’m actually considering torturing myself by watching Christian Mingle: The Extended Commercial on NetFlix tonight, even though I think the trailer gives away the entire plot already.

You know, I actually feel a tiny sense of obligation. Christian Mingle has been pushing their ads on this site for so long, that I suspect a goodly portion of my blogging revenue has come out of their pockets. I’m also hoping that if I mention their site here their ads will pop up more frequently, so I can take even more of their money.

I think it’s a safe time, too, because we have no alcohol at all in the house. Any other time this movie would drive me to acute alcohol poisoning, no problem. I may start screaming and have to duck out for whisky in the middle, though. I may also collapse gibbering before it ends, and not make it all the way through. No guarantees.

Anyway, my plan is to fire it up at 8pm Central time, and I’ll be spewing commentary on Twitter at that time. Feel free to join in; watch along with me, chip in on Twitter or in the comments here. Or stage an intervention and stop me from blowing my brains out my ears watching this treacle.

Writing erotica is a hard way to make a living

If you ever wanted to know how to make money writing erotica, it turns out to be moderately lucrative, but the market is weirdly distorted by Amazon.

The things I learned:

  • It’s really hard work for a meager living.

    Johnson himself has been writing erotica for four years, publishing over a thousand stories under more than 50 pen names. He puts in ten-hour days; if he really pushes himself, he can write two 4,000-word short stories or a 10,000-word novella in a day.

  • Amazon has arbitrary rules for what they’ll publish. Incest isn’t allowed, for instance, so there are stories about step-siblings fooling around. And why all the dinosaur stories?

    Despite what you may have read about dinosaur erotica, Johnson says there’s not actually much of a market out there for authors like Chuck Tingle (moderately famous for absurdist classics like “My Ass is Haunted by the Gay Unicorn Colonel,” “Slammed in the Butthole by My Concept of Linear Time,” and the newly Hugo-nominated “Space Raptor Butt Invasion.”) Johnson says there is indeed such a thing as dinosaur porn—apparently a genre created to evade Amazon’s ban on bestiality, which only applies to living species—but it doesn’t have a lot of readers.

    So fictional extinct animals are fair game, but fictional living species are off-limits?

  • Amazon has a near-monopoly.

    Apple and Barnes & Noble do sell some independently published e-books, but the AuthorEarnings site owner estimates that 85 percent of e-book sales—in all genres, not just erotica—come from Amazon. The company has cornered the market partly by requiring authors to sell exclusively through it if they want to be included in Kindle Unlimited, Amazon’s Netflix-style subscription service.

  • Authors are at the mercy of Amazon’s arbitrary decisions. They can change the rules for payments, as well as limiting what content can be sold.

    Skyes said it seems like online sellers are willing to profit from erotica but not to stand behind authors when they get complaints about stories they find unsavory. “Retailers are happy to throw erotica writers under the bus by claiming to have not known what content was being uploaded to their storefronts,” Skyes said. “I never know if the next insane email I wake up to is going to be the one that means yesterday was my last day of writing for a living.”

  • I guess unsurprisingly, there is quite a bit of gender discrimination if you’re writing books about sex.

    Incidentally, Cooper is a guy writing under a female pen name, something that’s extremely common since female readers seem mostly disinclined to buy writing published under a male name.

  • Explicit erotica is for a narrow niche market — the real money is in less-explicit romance novels.

    Romance has a much larger readership than erotica, and with Amazon’s new pay structure, Enne said, it’s far easier to make good money in the genre, particularly if you’ve already built up an audience. “Erotica is now the baby step to romance,” she said.

At least I have the satisfaction of knowing that becoming a biologist through years of training, negotiating a dicey job market, and putting in 10 hour days 6-7 days a week wasn’t actually as stupid a decision as I thought. Especially since Amazon wouldn’t have let me publish my freaky stories of Architeuthis clutch mates getting wild with each other.