Follow awfulagent on Twitter

About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The New 52 Weeks Later, Pt. 3

In part 2 of the New 52 Weeks Later posts there were a lot of 0 issues worth talking about at some length.  Not so much in the third batch...

Frankenstein: Agent of Shade started out scripted by Jeff Lemire as intriguingly weird thing, with some intriguingly weird art.  But it quickly got too weird and not near as intriguing, and soon had a new writer in Matt Kindt.  There's still some nice Alberto Ponticelli and Wayne Faucher art, and a script that's just a very prosaic origin that still leaves things weird.  I think I may bow out of this one, once and for all.

Green Lantern: New Guardians #0 by Tony Bedard, Aaron Kuder and Andrei Bressan doesn't drown in continuity, it's half of a good comic book.  But eventually it harkens back to this thing that previously happened and that thing that previously happened and isn't very interesting to me.  So the 0 issues got me to give it a second try, but haven't converted me.

Nor did Catwoman, which I skipped at the start of New 52, sampled a bit as the year progressed, and am sampling with the 0 issue.  But the story jumps around, it doesn't make me care all that much about Selina Kyle or Catwoman.  The art isn't bad, but the story is just too flat.

And Superboy has had its moments, but #0 doesn't have anything in it that's interesting, or at least which isn't (a) interesting and (b) not hinted at in the 12 issues that have come before.  I don't think this book has lived up to its potential over the last 12 months.

Team 7 is the first issue of a new team-up book by Justin Jordan and Jesus Merino.  Maybe...  I like that there are characters like Grifter whom I've been lukewarm to in their current adventures who may have more interesting stuff in the past that's represented by the Team 7 team-up book.  The origin covers a lot of ground pretty efficiently, in that regard Justin Jordan is off to a better start than Geoff Johns has been.  I'll keep with this and see where it goes.

Nightwing has had its ups and downs, but on balance has been a consistently solid part of the New 52, not as many wrong turns as some of the other series, but on the other hand I keep thinking there's some interesting stuff going on in the background that ought to be in the foreground, and which isn't as the book keeps drifting to be a superhero book instead of grappling with a potentially interesting character.  #0 is all of that in a nutshell.  It goes a little further back for its original than a lot of the other #0 issues, and it finds some real emotional heart in the Nightwing character and the Robin that he once was.  But toward the end, it drifts away from the good parts of the issue in order to drag in the necessary character background for a future story arc that seems skippable.  

The best of this batch is Sword and Sorcery #0 featuring Amethyst.  There are two "A" characters that DC introduced a while back, Arion and Amethyst, and I have fond memories of both, but especially of Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld.   I can still see bits and pieces of the Ernie Colon artwork that was fresh and distinct and creative, especially for its day, little gems speckled throughout.  So I was quite happy to hear that Amethyst would be returning in September as part of the "third wave" of New 52 titles.  And happier still to report that it's a successful return.  Christy Marx is the writer, Aaron Lopresti the art.  The story they've come up with isn't new.  Definitely not.  In fact, it's a distaff version of Rick Shelley's Varayan Memoir.  Girl's been promised on her 17th birthday that she's going to get to go home, find out where her father's buried.  Home is an alternate world.  Which is a fantasy trope that I've seen plenty of in my life.  But familiar doesn't mean bad.  Marx's script does a good job of establishing the character of Amy on Earth, a bit of a loner, strong mental compass, being trained without quite knowing it for a battle she doesn't know is hers to have to fight.  We get just enough on the gemworld to find out what the stakes are for Amy, but only that, so the story can focus on the development of our lead character.  Aaron Lopresti's art isn't always good technically, look as an example at the top panel of page 5, with its somewhat stilted poses.  However, if the characters aren't always well drawn technically, the storytelling and flow of the art from panel to panel and across the page doesn't falter.  The characters have facial expressions, ones that actually help tell the story and are worth looking at.  There's something going on in the background.  The most annoying thing about Sword and Sorcery is that it's rounded out with an entirely disposable back-up story, a retelling of Beowulf.  It doesn't add anything to my enjoyment of the book, it does add to the price tag.  It's an average of 7 or 8 minutes for me to read a comic book, paying $3.99 for that instead of $2.99 doesn't delight.

It's not a bad batch when there are two "first issues" for Amethyst and Team 7 that have me interested in seeing the next.  If I'm not otherwise going to add one of the established New 52 titles to my list based on the 0 issues, I'm game for the two, Superboy and Nightwing, that I've been reading.

Looper & Friends

So this Looper movie that opened on Friday, it is indeed pretty good, and I'd highly recommend the JABberwocky client list, many/most of whom have an inner sf geek, go and see it.

The barest bones of the concept:  we have time travel, since time travel is illegal only criminals travel in time, and criminals are sent back 30 years to be offed, in fact there are dedicated specialists who take care of that. Every once in a while, the specialist gets to "close the loop," kiling the 30-years-in-future version of himself that's just been sent 30 years into the future's past.  Yes, it's a time travel movie, so if this explanation is hard to follow don't blame me.  And specifically here, the future has a guy called "the rainmaker" who is taking over the mobs en masse, closing loops en masse, sending all his enemies back in time.  Joseph Gordon Levitt and Bruce Willis play the same dude, the +30 and the -30 versions.  Bruce Willis doesn't want his loop to be closed, he wants to find and kill the person who's going to become "the rainmaker," this will not endear either of them to the mob headed by Jeff Bridges that runs the whole looper thing in the -30.

Mostly, this is handled with lots of pluses.  Rian Johnson, who wrote and directed, has an ace cast and an ace tech team, and the movie is well made, suspenseful, not without its bits of humor.

The time travel?  Well, it makes sense.  Or it makes as much sense as it can.  Like any time travel movie, if you get to thinking too hard about the consequences of the things that happen, you realize it's all quite nonsensical.  But Goldilocks would approve of the way the script makes just enough effort to make all of this seem logical complete with just enough hand-waving to cover up the illogic that you're willing to cut it some slack.

It's a nice contrast to some of the other attempts Hollywood will take to deal with sf themes, like the laughable In Time from a year ago.

Though just to say, for anyone who's seen, as one good example, Brian de Palma's The Fury, there's a scene that should easily reveal the identity of The Rainmaker long before the characters in the film get around to figuring it out.

Also worth seeing:  Michael Pena and Jake Gyllenhal in End of Watch.

Another auteur genre piece, this one written and directed by David Ayer,whom the posters remind us wrote the script for Training Day.

More good casting.  Gyllenhal and Pena have amazing chemistry and rapport together, and the script requires them to say things that always seem right, even at their most cliche.

As with Looper, a bit of slack needs to be cut.  The good guys can spend the whole movie radioing for backup and have it come nicely and quickly, until the final act when the back-up is most desperately needed and all of a sudden it's like the additional units need to drive to South Central from Santa Barbara.

This isn't Training Day.  It's a movie, and shit happens, but it's the cop drama that really has only the nicest things to say about cops.

It's safe to say I made the right decision to head to the movies after the first act of Harper Reagan, a play from an up-and-coming British playwright that makes it to New York a few years after a London debut.  A series of two-character scenes about a women I don't care about with family trouble I don't care about meeting characters I don't care about.  I hate walking out of plays, but with all the movies on my list and this play doing nothing for me...

Of course, I'm sure the reviews will be extravagant in their praise.  As I'd suspected, they've been very good for the play Detroit that I saw last weekend.

Friday night I saw an old "new to me" Hitchcock movie, Marnie from 1964, playing at the Loews Jersey as the lead-in to a 50th anniversary Bond double feature on Saturday of Dr. No and Goldfinger.  I'd have seen Goldfinger if not for a party to go to Saturday night, but had to settle for Marnie.  Even though it has Sean Connery and Tippi Hedren, who was also in The Birds for Hitchcock, there are lots of good reasons why this is obscure Hitchcock.  Marnie, the character played by Tippi Hedren, is a bag of troubled woman cliches.  Sean Connery's reaction to her makes absolutely no sense at all.  The production values are kind of cheesy, scenes of people driving that look unconvincing by standards of a 1922 silent film, blatantly matte-painted backgrounds to the point that they distract from the actual important things happening in the frame.  (I'm looking at the Wikipedia entry after typing this last sentence and seeing that these were things that were picked on by critics at the time.)

However, if you've seen a lot of Hitchcock, there's so much of Hitchcock in this movie that it's fascinating to ponder on in the context of his career.  There are so many Hitchcock women like the ones here, the suave debonair matinee idol like Sean Connery is a fixture of Hitchcock's work from Farley Granger in Rope through all the Hitchcock with Cary Grant or James Stewart.  There's a very good score by Bernard Herrmann who started in film with Citizen Kane and did a number of Hitchcock films later on.

Based on a novel by Winston Graham, the screenplay is the first by Jay Presson Allen.  This gives the movie a little extra resonance for me, Jay Presson Allen wrote (with her daughter) a stage play based on The Big Love, a book by Tedd Thomey which was part of my portfolio at Scott Meredith, and it's the one time I've gotten to go to a Broadway premiere and after-party. And it turns out that Jay Presson Allen was hired to script after Evan Hunter, aka Ed McBain, and a one-time Scott Meredith employee himself, was fired.  Who knew!

The Loews Jersey has a 50'-wide screen.  There was music on the Wonder Organ before the performance.  It would be nice if they would get the balcony open, they've been talking about this for as long as I've taken in the occasional movie (they show one Fri/Sat per month from September to May).  I'm told the problem is less putting in the seats than being in a city-owned building with the city not rushing to repair the fire escapes and put in updated alarm systems.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Calling an Audible

Way back toward the dawn of Brillig, in fact it's hard for me to believe it's close to five years I've had the blog, I did a post called Audio Rules!, where I discussed how, in 2007, Audible essentially decreed that there should be science fiction and fantasy on audio, where previously there had been very little.  Looking back on it, this was just a few months before Amazon announced it was purchasing Audible, it's interesting to speculate on if the imminent purchase was a factor in that decision, or if it was an all-Audible thing.  Doesn't really matter, doesn't make the speculation less interesting.

Since then, we've sold a ton of audio rights, whatever it was we were selling when I did that blog post in 2008 was kind of the tip of the iceberg.  As with all things like this in the content business, it's been interesting to see it play out. As an example, the Lost Fleet books have performed on audio well beyond any reasonable expectation.  I spoke in that long ago post about the rule that an audio book would sell 10% of the hardcover, the Lost Fleet books by Jack Campbell are selling something like four times that.  The series also really outperforms on e-book, but even if we looked at audio as a percentage of combined e-book and print sales the percentage would be way higher than the rules would suggest.  Other clients of ours, their audience might be in print and might be in e-book, it just doesn't want to be in audio.

Now, and this is definitely an Amazon thing, the audio market is taking another great leap forward.

Publishers Weekly and other places reported in the spring on a major 200+ title deal between Audible and Richard Curtis Associates, another literary agency.  Not entirely a surprise.  This was a year or so after Audible introduced ACX, a service to match authors, publishers, and audio narrators to allow brokered self-publication of audio to help boost content availability, and a few weeks after we'd gotten word from Audible that their next step was going to be to buy up huge amounts of content.  The stated goal was to beef up overall sales by increasing the likelihood that readers would find things they wanted whenever they visited Audible.  Or, to put it another way, they might not make money on every new piece of content they obtained, but they would boost their sales and profits nonetheless because Audible would be to audio what Amazon was/is to pretty much everything, if you wanted to buy something it would be there for you to buy.  In that Amazon was, there was a hidden and unspoken subtext that was revealed simultaneous with the launch of the new generation of Kindles.  They'd mastered the code for enhancing their "whispersync" so that you could read six pages of a book on your Kindle while downing your breakfast, have the audio pick up right where you left off when you got into the car, have the Kindle take it from there during lunch hour, and then back to the audio again right where you left off on the ride home.  So the more audio on Audible with this feature enabled, the more books with matches for Kindle, the more likelihood that they might be able to get you to buy the book in both formats to have a seamless whenever/wherever reading/listening experience across devices, formats and media.

So suffice to say that there are a lot of those 200+ title audio deals going around, and we've been mailing off contracts to clients this week for a large helping of titles.

Some of these are recent backlist, some are books that haven't been in print for 20 years, all kinds of books in-between.  As above, another great leap forward, from not being able to sell anything just five years ago, to at least being able to sell everything with a reasonable argument.  To being able to sell the occasional surprising thing.  And now to being able to sell lots and lots and lots of things.

Some observations:

If you want to take a very negative approach, these deals are a bad thing for the authors involved.  Because of the volume of titles involved, I will admit the prospect that Audible has received a volume discount.  Perhaps some of the individual authors could have been more aggressive in seeking higher advances for their individual titles.  The counterargument is that the deals might not exist at all if the titles weren't being offered by agents or publishers that would allow Audible to buy a lot of content quickly.  Do you want to buy 200 books via Richard Curtis, 200 books from us, 500 books from some other agency, or do you want to have 62 separate negotiations with 62 authors to buy up those 900 titles?

Will we be able to retain audio rights as often in the future?  We've always tried to keep them, where we haven't been able to keep them we've tried to get provisions to recapture the rights if the publisher wasn't actually using them, now we come to a place when it's possible that there will be a market for audio rights to everything.  Once upon a time the publishers could say they weren't missing out on much if they let the rights stay with the authors, now maybe they are, maybe they insist, and even if we get "use of lose" provisions maybe not using is a thing of the past.  When you're in the publishing business, you can find the down side to anything.

This is the inverse to our own bottom line of a film option.  Most of those, you lose money doing the deal but hope you'll make it up down the line by having one of those options actually get purchased some day, thus making up for all the times you spent six months haggling with a Hollywood or studio attorney over a $2500 option.  Here, the immediate effect to our bottom line is nice because we've just sold rights to lots and lots of books.  However, over time, we're going to have a much bigger pile of royalty paperwork from Audible, some of the titles will sell in moderate quantity, and over time we may have a lot of processing costs that will weigh on our resources.

In spite of that fact, I decided to sell as broad a package of titles as we could muster within the JABberwocky family.  I suspect there will be days in the future when I'll look at a lot at large stacks of paper and large stacks of checks and wonder what I was thinking, but in my heart I think the decision was correct, and in general, when I've felt in my heart that something was right to do for the JABberwocky family it's been right to do.

And not only that, we're going to talk to some people about reinvesting the Audible proceeds to do e-book conversions for books that we might not rush to do otherwise for fear of a long payback period.  In many instances, this is doubling down on paperwork madness, to add potentially small bits of e-book royalties to potentially small bits of audio royalties.  But again, it seems right.  If the ability to drive accretive sales across formats is part of the goal Audible has with enhanced whispersync and enhanced availability on Audible, let's help drive that process along.

It's all going to be very interesting.

And if you'd asked me about the likelihood of any of this five years ago... well, not very!  As I've said, the whole e-book revolution took longer than people expected to arrive, and once it arrived it's changing things way faster than I'd have thought.  The growth and development of the digital download market for audio is a part of that even without the ability to cross-sync with an e-book, and with that ability all the moreso.

Friday, September 28, 2012

The New 52 Weeks Later, Pt. 2

Continuing a series where we check in on DC's New 52 one year after its launch in the midst of their anniversary "0" issues.  The second batch I read gave lots to chew on and think about...

Batwing was a pleasant surprise in DC's New 52, fresh hero and fresh setting and freshly written from Judd Winick with some very nice, clean art by Marcus To.  I don't think the totality of the first year has been up to the promise of the first issue.  We got a very attenuated origin that was interesting but which went on too long, a lot of information withheld mostly because, why do in two parts what you can do in four.  A lot of effort given to getting Batman involved because its a bat book, to fitting the Batwing square into the circular Night of the Owls.  But for all my disappointment that the series isn't as good as it maybe could have been, it's been good enough for me to keep buying it every month.  The 0 issue takes us back to that period of time between the "Batwing as a child" part of the origin and the actual becoming Batwing and becoming part of the international network of Bat thingies.  No real surprises, there aren't many blanks in this issue that we couldn't have filled in ourselves.  But the writing is solid, the art is solid, I'll keep going but always with the deep down wish for it to achieve something more.

One of the frustrations with Geoff Johns is that he doesn't seem to understand in writing Aquaman that there's a minutes-per-dollar part of the value equation that we apply toward our leisure time.  Comics are, at best, mid-tier.  TV is cheap and plentiful, movies are surprisingly cheap, Broadway is expensive.  Regular books are great value.  Aquaman is shitty value.

Not Batgirl #0,  Gail Simone delivers a script that's sufficiently wordy to make me feel I'm getting my money's worth without being the overly prolix prose of bad Roy Thomas, or the early issues of the New 52 Superman.  There's enough room left on the page for me to really admire the artwork of Ed Benes, both pencils and inks.  It manages to feel clean and give a sense of charcoals or loosely finished pencils at the same time.  It made me want to longer, which hasn't happened too much since I stopped having a chance to admire Pier Gallo's art on the pre-52 Superboy written by Jeff Lemire.  Even though Batgirl is a familiar character, there's some fresh ground, fresh insight, into the character.  Of the 0 issues I've commented on so far, this might just be my favorite.

Writer Scott Snyder collaborates with penciller Greg Capullo and inker Jonathan Glapion on Batman 0.  This would be a good issue by the standards of almost every other book in the New 52.  But Scott Snyder's done such excellent work over the first year of his New 52 run on Batman, which might be the most consistently excellent of the books, that his 0 issue falls just a little bit short.  In part, I think it's a little too intent on introducing the Red Hoods as villains for a forthcoming arc in the series or event in the DC Universe that it can't quite be all it should be in this issue.  But still, good enough.  There's a backup story Tomorrow by James Tynion IV and Andy Clarke that does well enough in its purpose-driven life of touching on all the various Robins and other Batman sidekicks that need a shout-out in the 0 issues.  

Grifter is the entry point to a discussion of the Daemonite books in the New 52.  It, Voodoo and Resurrection Man all started out with first issues that were awfully good and had me looking forward to discovering some new and interesting heroes with new and interesting things going on.  But then all of them ended up being part of some mega-story about this group of aliens called the Daemonites that must be part of some pre-52 DCU something or other that I didn't even get the bare outlines of from some kind of osmosis process.  The contrast for this is Swamp Thing and Animal Man, which dealt with a lot of stuff about red, green and rot that I hadn't read much of during my many years completely away from comics and then ten years reading some but not too many of the standard Superhero books.  As the story lines in all three books converged on the whole Daemonite thing, they became progressively less interesting to me, and I'd look at each new book but became increasinly reluctant to by them.  It didn't help that the books were often not offering good value, more 4 or 5 minute reads than 7 or 8 minutes.  

Which is kind of the story of Grifter.  The creative team has changed, with Rob Liefeld as a new plotter as of the 8th or 9th issue with dialogue by Frank Tieri and art by Scott Clark and Dave Beaty.  And there are some interesting concepts in the script about Grifter's background.  But there are also those damned Daemonites that I just don't find to be very interesting.  And there are too many pages like the double-page spread on page 2+3 or pages 12 and 16 and 17 that don't have many words and don't have art that makes me want to stop and stare and linger, so I'm not feeling a lot of value for my $2.99.

Green Lantern #0 by Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke and a trio of inkers got a lot of press (Johns was doing an appearance in Dearborn MI while I was in Ann Arbor, so the local papers were all over this, but the national media was certainly on this) for introducing a new Arab-American Green Lantern.

Other than trying Green Lantern: New Guardians for a few issues before it too drowned in continuity, I skipped the Green Lanterns books because they were too reliant on prior continuity even after the New 52 reboot.  To give some credit where due, the attention to this issue, a fresh origin story that was continuity free, inspired me to give it a go.  If there are a few other people like me... there's some real thought and real smarts behind what DC's been up to the past year.

I'm not sure where I'll go from here.  I'd like to be reading a Green Lantern book.  This one isn't bad.  But is it good enough?  The script and art were unclear enough that I didn't realize until a few pages later on when everyone else was talking about it that the new Green Lantern had found a car bomb in the van he hijacked.  I don't instinctively find car thieves to be the kinds of identifiable lead characters that are going to get me super interested in what they are up to.  It's hard to sympathize with the guy when he's being interrogated because the bomb might not have been his, but he sure did steal the van that was holding the bomb.  There isn't enough in here to explain or justify how this guy is the "man without fear" type that I recall earned a Green Lantern ring, or is that one of the things that changed in the many years I wasn't reading Green Lantern books?  But is is new, it is different, there's some nice classic comic book art (the interrogation scenes, especially.  We'll see.  Not as good as it should be, not bad, the odds are I can give it a few issues, and then it will drown in some big GL title crossover saga that won't interest me, and I'll have a convenient excuse to repurpose that $2.99 in my budget.  But I've gotta say, I'd love to be pleasantly surprised, to see this series gain its sea-legs and for the GL titles to enter an extended period when they can be read without requiring a degree in GL history.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Literary Lunch at Citi Field Shake Shack

Once upon a time I was a very big Mets fan.  Over the years things have changed to where I am more a tennis fan than a baseball fan.  But I have enough residual Mets-loving in me that I was feeling the tug of Citi Field, where I'm not sure I've been since Opening Day.  The siren song got very loud indeed today.  A day game.  The last home game of the season.  Nice September weather, not as sunny as I'd have liked but sunny enough.  And R. A. Dickey going for his 20th win.  20 wins is a major milestone in baseball, enough of one for Dickey to have a chance at at being the first Met to reach it since 1990.  Enough of one that Dickey is a strong contender to win the NL Cy Young Award for the league's best pitcher.  In a Mets season that got off to an unexpectedly pleasant start which made the team's ultimate collapse that much more disappointing, Dickey's great season has been the one solace for a Met fan.

So I took a long lunch.  It was lunch.  Just about the only thing I really like about Citi Field is its Shake Shack.

And it was such a nice way to spend an afternoon.

One of the things with baseball more than just about any sport is the very real chance that you can see something in any given game that you truly haven't seen before.  There were examples of that today.  

I might have seen someone rob a home run before, but I don't know if I've ever seen it the way I saw today, Travis Snider of the Pirates gripping the top of the right field fence with one hand, stretching the other hand with his glove about as high over the head as you could possibly go and stretching it back a bit too, and somehow getting a ball that was over and past the fence into his glove for an out.  Mike Baxter seemed a little surprised to be ending his home run trot just past second base.

And then the play where the Pirates centerfielder dove for a ball, did a wonderful job of acting like he caught it, I thought he had.  But the umpire called it safe, that the ball had hit the ground or been trapped.  There was a runner at first base who had held up on going to second to see if the ball had been caught.  The centerfielder managed to throw the ball to second to get him for a force out -- maybe he should have just let the ball fall in front and thrown him out.  So I've seen players dive for the ball, I've seen acting jobs, I don't think I've ever seen that combine with a force out at second on a missed fly ball to center field.  And then to add a cherry to this unique baseball sundae, the center fielder was injured on the play and left the game.

R.A. Dickey is a rare baseball breed, the knuckle-baller, the successor to Tim Wakefield for the title of last knuckle-baller standing.  Alas, he didn't have his knuckle ball working in the early innings, and the Pirates took an early lead.  A liner to left that went over the head of the left fielder.  A fly ball to shallow center that was up in the air for an awfully long time but not quite enough time to be caught.   A slow roller to third where the Mets didn't get the out at first because the third baseman thought a little too long and hard about trying for a play at home.  It looked like that kind of Mets game, where the Mets weren't doing the job on defense, the Pirates were leaping the outfield fences to take away home runs, that Dickey might muddle through without his knuckler and still lose the game not so much because of his pitching as because he was playing for the Mets.

But it didn't play out that way.  Ike Davis hit a solo home run.  The Mets got another run here, another run there, and then David Wright hit a three run homer to give the Mets a 6-3 lead.  And R.A. Dickey found enough of his knuckler, mixed in enough change-ups to keep the Pirates off balance, that he managed when all was said and done to pitch 8 2/3 innings.  To get 13 strikeouts tying a career high, to get within a fraction of an inch of getting a 14th strikeout as the final batter he faced fouled off several pitches before earning a walk.

Jon Rauch comes in.  It's the Mets.  At the end of a miserable season that started off with such promise.  He comes in to relieve Dickey, the first batter he faces comes within a yard or two of hitting a 2-run homer.  In the 9th inning, he does give up a 2-run homer.  Close isn't good enough.  1 out, none on, Mets up by 1.  Bobby Parnell comes in and gets the final  outs to save R. A. Dickey's 20th win.

And then in another first, at least for a game I've attended, the Mets showed the postgame interview from the Mets TV channel on the scoreboard.

Some decades ago when the Mets were in another period of protracted badness, their ad slogan one season was, if memory serves, "At any moment, a great moment."  Which sums up today pretty nicely.  

And just to say:  when R.A. Dickey was warming up before the top of the first inning, his music was from Star Wars, a chunk of the finale from Episode 5 or 6 that started with the Imperial March theme, and then just a little bit of the next reprisal before the game began.  And when he came to bat, which pitchers get to do in the NL and which R. A. Dickey got to do three times today, his "walk to plate" music was the theme from Game of Thrones.

So that little spark of Mets fan in me got fanned a bit, and the sf nerd in me as well.  If there's going to be a first pitcher in 22 years to have 20 wins for the Mets -- well, it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.

I really would love for him to get the Cy Young Award.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The New 52 Weeks Later, Pt. 1

The first in a series of posts looking at the first year of the DC Comics New 52, which series have been making the grade, which of the September "0" issues I am liking, that sort of thing...

Aquaman:  This is supposed to be one of the big successes of the New 52.  Not for me.  I buy an issue or two, it's a fight scene I don't care about with little text to read and not enough texture to the art for me to spend more than five minutes reading.  So I stop, then decide flipping through to give it another go.  Issue 12 was a "give another go.". And just good enough I want to buy another, just bad enough to do it without much enthusiasm.  

Animal  Man:  I had been reading few DC superhero books before the New 52, the one I enjoyed most and which I was saddened to see disappear two summers ago was Jeff Lemire and Pier Gallo's Superboy.   Consolation, that Lemire's Animal Man has been one of my favorites in the New 52.  So far the New 52 has mostly done crossovers that are, if not good, at least logical and within a group of related titles.  This series is crossing over with Swamp Thing as the two are immersed in a battle between the green and the rot, part of a battle best given context if you have read Pre-52 Swamp Thing and related but given enough info within the current series at one can get by comfortably. And the crossover is what crossovers should be and in the past twenty years rarely have been, a good extended story somewhat bigger than either book might be on its own with an underlying story-driven reason to exist.  Yes, these crossovers are still driven by an underlying corporate dicta, but there is some sign of lessons learned comparing these or the Knight of the Owls in the Batman books to the Pre-52 crossovers.  

Swamp Thing, written by Scott Snyder, has been the equal of Animal Man.  As with some of the other New 52 titles, it's wandered a bit in the middle months of the first year, a little like Aquaman in having some issues that have been too much fighting too quickly read to give good value for money. The recent Animal Man crossover helped bring it back to less swampy crowd.  So not entirely as good as Animal Man, but good.  And its 0 issue this month has given some good background on the rot, red and green that may help moving forward as well.

Grant Morrison's Action Comics got a lot of attention, some negative, for it's first issue depiction of a young hot-headed and immature Superman/Clark Kent.  That bothered me less than when the series left that behind in order to do some very Grant Morrison alternate history with a black Superman that came out of nowhere and left just as quickly.  His 0 issue is a surprisingly tender not at all what I would expect of Grant Morrison story of a oing Superman and someone even younger trying to fill Superman's "shoes." Solid, not an "all it can be" series, but still one of the better.  The art has been enjoyable, and Ben Oliver's in issue 0 quite quite good.

There is some churn in the New 52.  Phantom Stranger 0 is the first and origin issue for a series starting in September to replace one of the dear departed.  The character has been around in he magical part of the DC Universe for a long time. Writer and DC exec Dan Didio joins with artists Brent Anderson and Scott Hanna to craft a fist issue that ets me interested to come back for more.  

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Master Rush

I seem to be treading water at work right now, I didn't feel like I was getting that badly backed up during the weeks I was away from the office but now that I'm back it's like the needle on the in-box doesn't want to move.

But at least I'm getting caught up on movies very efficiently.  There's nothing much better for that than having an 8:10 showing of one movie you want to see (Premium Rush) which runs for 1:31 with the same theatre providing a 9:45 of another move you want to see (Master) which meant there was around one coming attraction of down time between the two!

Premium Rush was a lot of fun.  It opened quietly in August and hasn't done much box office, but it won't surprise me if it has a good moment on video.  It deserves to.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a bike messenger delivering an envelope that a lot of people want, so his life is going to get complicated.  Ours gets put on hold for 90 minutes, half of which is probably spent riding along with with the bikes on the streets of  New York, weaving in and out of traffic.  There are little scenes like in Sherlock Holmes where the messenger maps out his routes, seeing which path through an intersection has him thrown thru a taxi cab window and which he can skate by an opening door unscathed.  I was surprised at how many fx and visual effects credits there were at the end of the movie, because it's so smoothly done you'd think it was all filmed right there on Broadway.  The movie is utterly preposterous, but because it doesn't take itself seriously it didn't bother me so much.  So you pick up a package on 116th St. and take it downtown by first going up to 130th St.  So there's supposed to be suspense in whether you can get a package downtown in 90 minutes that shouldn't require anything close to that on a bike.  So even though your bike can probably go through traffic, a guy in a car will catch up to you.  Tony Scott's remake of Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 a few years ago, all the implausibility and the remaking of the NY map to fit the movie's convenience drove me crazy in part because the movie depends on the hijacking situation seeming real, here none of it was supposed to be real so I gave lots of license to it.  It was an enjoyable 90 minutes.

The Master?  Oh my.  Paul Thomas Anderson has directed some classic movies, I'd see Magnolia again in the blink of an eye and thought There Will Be Blood was a masterpiece, which I happily enjoyed seeing twice.  This latest film is a dull dreary bore, ignore all the highfalutin praise you'll be hearing about it because the fact is, let me repeat, that it's a dull dreary bore. The alleged topic of the movie could/should be interesting, supposedly the lead is a surrogate for L. Ron Hubbard and the movie a gloss on the introduction of Scientology to the world.  But you know, I'd think L. Ron Hubbard would be an interesting person to make a movie about, and there's nothing interesting about Philip Seymour Hoffman's stand-in.  He seems to lead the most boring existence spending his time giving classes to stuck up rich people, and if he steals some of their money in the process we don't find out much about that.  Joaquin Phoenix's character isn't any better.  I recently saw a play in New York where one of the characters had to act with one side of his face not quite working, and it was distracting but ultimately you learned to live with it and take the character for what he was instead of for the tic, but Joaquin Phoenix is nothing other than his occasional ability to really scrunch his face in the strangest way.  It's a 2:16 minute movie that not only does little to develop its lead characters but leaves all the side characters behind as well.  I have no idea what purpose was served by the character played by Jessie Plemons, or who the Amy Adams character is, or...  I mean, pick a character in the movie, I don't think you'd know what they're about if you didn't have the press kit in hand to explain.  Maybe that's why so many critics like it, because they had the press kit.  I toyed with walking out, I decided Paul Thomas Anderson had given enough great film to my life that he surely deserved another hour of my time to finish telling his story, and in retrospect I wish I'd followed my instincts and bailed on this.  The score is interesting.  There's the occasional nice composition, I didn't see a 70mm print and one or two of the shots I thought "gee that might be nice to see on a 70mm print," then I'd ask why you shoot in 70mm but don't actually shoot in wide screen to take fullest advantage of the wider film format.  The two lead actors are so different in their approach that there's the occasional brief scene which uses that contrast to good effect, a jail sequence when Philip Seymour Hoffman watches quietly while Joaquin Phoenix rages in the next cell breaking his toilet with sheer force of will.  I'll be awfully curious to see if the box office holds up as actual viewers are exposed to the film, instead of the cineastes at Telluride or in the buzz factory of the Toronto Film Festival.  I was a bit surprised to see how well Tree of Life did a year ago, but that had more star power in Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, and if you read the reviews you at least saw a movie that was kind of like what the reviews told you it would be.  This, it's oh so highly praised, and there's nothing there.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Justin Long and the Two Jay(mie)s

Talk about weird, two movies today that both have Justin Long in them, and both directed by a Jamie. Not the same Jamie, but still, it's weird. Jamie Travis was the director of For a Good Time, Call... which opened quietly on a national but limited basis before Labor Day, and 10 Years, which opened on Friday, and is written directed by Jamie Linden.

Of the two, 10 Years is clearly the better. It's an ensemble movie with a lot of talent playing nice together in small roles, along with Justin Long you've got Channing Tatum and Max Minghella and Rosario Dawson and Anthony Mackie and Scott Porter and Nia Vardalos and Mimi Rogers and Ari Gaynor (more coincidence, also in For a Good Time, Call..., ) more. It's about a high school's 10th reunion, picking up as the characters start to fly and drive their ways in that morning and then have the wee hours breakfast after.

You can fill in a lot of the characters from that basic description. There's the drunk guy with a supportive wife, the successful guy, the successful guy who isn't so much, the old flame now married, the guy with a secret. And oftentimes, movies like this where you think you can write the script yourself when you know the premise tend not to be very good ones for that exact reason.

Not that way here. Linden's script (Linden also wrote the script for Dear John, a very good Channing Tatum vehicle, and We Are Marshall which is one of those movies I didn't get to and in retrospect wish I had) is very well-observed and very sharply written, it's the first script since Woody Allen's for Vicki Christina Barcelona where I felt so strongly that things were so sharp on a line-by-line basis. It's not a perfect script. The guys are more memorable characters than the gals, at least I thought so, in fact I spent most of the movie wondering why the guys seemed very white and so many of the girls a little more exotic in appearance, like they hadn't all gone to the same school. But it's a good one. The lines and gestures seemed right, the way people greeted one another at the reunion, the wee hours apology for doing something you realize in retrospect you really shouldn't have. Even the characters types that I don't like seemed reasonable enough, in particular the drunk guy. Though getting back to the guy v gal thing, I understood the drunk guy a lot more than I did his loyal and unshakeable wife. I couldn't get, and the movie really needed, a line or a scene to explain better what she was getting out of the bargain. I wasn't 100% absorbed in the move all the way long, my mind wandered a bit, but the cumulative effect of it was quite strong, and I was getting a little teary-eyed at the end.

For a Good Time, Call..., here Justin Long is the gay guy between two girls with bad bodily fluid between them dating back to college. They need to room together, soon they have a phone sex line they're running together. But the movie has no place to go. It's not a romantic comedy. It's not Boogie Nights. As we got to the final reel of the film, I decided to rest my eyes for a bit.

I haven't said much about Justin Long. You know, what is there to say? He's a really pleasant and likable actor in pretty much everything, he fit in perfectly with the strong ensemble work and strong cast of 10 Years, and if there were problems with For a Good Time, Call..., he isn't one of them.

After a lazy Saturday where I was very happy not do do anything after a few very busy weeks of tennis and WorldCon and Ann Arbor (see previous posts) and some family business in between, Sunday was a much more productive day, for I saw not only these two movies but another movie and play besides.

The third movie was Arbitrage, which is nifty. This really is the kind of perfect role for today's Richard Gere, as a rich businessman with some Chappaquiddick stuff going on in his life just as he's trying to close a business deal that will give him the cash to fill in a big hole in his books that could bankrupt a lot of people. Gere is nicely supported by Susan Sarandon as his wife, Brit Marling as his daughter, Tim Roth as a cop, Stuart Margolin (Angel in the Rockford Files) as a trusted attorney/consiglieri to Gere. Written and directed by Nicholas Jarecki, the script doesn't go entirely as you might predict, it goes very very smoothly. It and 10 Years, I'd recommend both.

I wish I could say the same for the play, Detroit, which has David Schwimmer from Friends and is in previews at the Playwrights Horizon. It's quite clear that there are going to be some good reviews for the play, there were laughs to be had. But what you noticed was that the "comedy" didn't have any laughs where everyone was laughing, there were people who were laughing and people who were not. I didn't find the characters to be very likable, it's possible they're believable white trash but certainly not likable white trash. Since I didn't like them, I couldn't laugh with them. It's very contrived. Contrivance is fine when the author can set up an initial contrivance then let the characters roam free within it. But this is a play where a character gets injured from a table umbrella, then another character reveals she has a planter's wart, then a third character gets injured falling through a porch. Doesn't this seem a bit much? David Schwimmer doesn't seem to have a handle on his role until halfway or two thirds thru the play, he seemed downright awkward to me in the opening scenes. Just about everyone seemed awkward in the opening scenes. Are they rehearsing from the end back, and they haven't fully integrated the notes from the director on the opening scene yet? Sometimes you can get a play where a character comes on at the end of an act or play to fill in some gaps and it seems right and proper, a coup de theatre, but here there's a final scene that casts a new light on everything that's come before, but not in that good "Sixth Sense" kind of way. This fills in all kinds of gaps that aren't hinted at enough along the way. And then it still doesn't make much sense of the ending.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

(Ann) Arbor Day

I went to school at the University of Michigan, and I enjoyed six of my seven semesters plus one summer in Ann Arbor. Since there's decent train service from Chicago to Ann Arbor, I decided I'd add some vacation after WorldCon. And when I noticed there was a home football game the Saturday after WorldCon, I decided to make the stay in Ann Arbor even a day or two longer than maybe otherwise so I could go to my first Michigan home game since I graduated 27 years ago.

So first, the train ride. The actual boarding areas in Chicago are even less pleasant than in New York's Penn Station, but with one difference that you can still sit in the grand hall waiting room. I purposely headed to Chicago's Union Station a few minutes early just so I would have time to sit there for a bit. And while the train won't win awards for one of America's most scenic train rides, they've done some improvements to the route and there are occasional places where the train may actually go faster than 60 mph, which is still rare-ish outside of the NE Corridor. There were 8 or 10 other people returning from WorldCon surrounding me in my train car, talking about the good and bad points of the Orlando bid as I took my seat.

I don't want to think about the cab ride from the train station to the hotel.

After I settled in at the hotel, which was in the hotel village on the south side of town, across from Briarwood mall, it was a little late to head the 3 miles into downtown and campus. Instead, I made tracks for a new Costco just over a mile from the hotel. It had opened in June, just a couple of weeks after one of the Costcos I visited in Chicago. It was a Costco! But there is some variation from warehouse to warehouse, in this instance there was a book called "Three and Out," about Rich Rodriguez's disastrous 3 years at the helm of the Michigan football program, which oddly enough you won't find at a Costco in NYC or Chicago. So I got it, it's pretty short, I should be able to make a few hours to knock it off even though I shouldn't, and then I can share it with the other Michigan alums in my family. After that, I window shopped in Briarwood mall. During the earliest family visits before I was actually a student we stayed at the Briarwood Hilton, now the Kensington Court hotel, I have fond memories of walking to the mall one night to see Animal House, and of having pizza delivered to the hotel's pool area. The Briarwood theatre was a crappy '70s/'80s sloped floor multiplex but I saw lots of movies there while I was in college and shopped lots at the mall. Probably not many stores that are still there from back then, but there is a Mrs. Field's successor to the Original Cookie Company where I used to occasionally treat myself, so I got a 12-pack of the little nibblers which may be the same as the Original Cookie Company's, and felt it was just like old times. Kind of out in suburbia, I chose Olive Garden as the chain restaurant of choice for dinner. I was a little annoyed that my beverage was mostly ice with no free refills.

The next morning, I headed off to Whole Foods #1, a mile from my hotel, then I hopped the Whole Foods Shuttle, aka the #7 AATA "The Ride" bus, which stops at one edge of the shopping plaza with Whole Foods #1, then whisks you catercorner to Whole Foods #2 on the other side of town. Walked a few miles in from the Whole Foods to the edge of the campus area, then walked down thru the Nichols Arboretum to the banks of the Huron River. While the forecast called for a chance of rain almost every day of my stay, the first of two instances of actual rain I encountered came during this walk, perfect as I traipsed through the Arboretum to get the bottoms of my pants legs a little dirty.

Which wasn't great timing, as I was meeting with a "development" person for the UM college of Lit, Sci & Arts and some History Department people for a couple hours that afternoon. Since the UM History Department educated me and the University Library gave me a part time job that paid for my Unos pizzas and movies and Doritos and soda pop during my college days, I've always given a little money to them, and in recent years as JABberwocky has done well, more than a little to where the development (i.e., fund-raising) people are nice to me. So we all had a nice chat about the history department and this and that, there were homemade cookies to enjoy, in November the History Department has invited me back to Ann Arbor to participate in a program on what sorts of things one does with a degree in history.

In the evening I went to see Searching for Sugar Man at the Michigan Theatre. This is an old movie palace in the heart of downtown that was rescued and showing movies during my college days, then subsequently actually refurbished so it looks beautiful instead of like a historical relic. I had no interest in seeing this movie. I saw it solely because I wanted to sit in the balcony of the theatre. The movie did nothing to change my opinion of it, so it was as much napping as sitting. But I can report that the Michigan's digital projection is quite nice, and the digital sound with the digital projection quite wonderful indeed.

And then I went to Zingermans for dinner. This deli had just opened during my college days and has subsequently gone on to become this foodie mecca empire of cheeses and baked goods and this and that and the other thing, but at 9:00 on a weekday evening there wasn't a line. The menu is too big to be creative, so since they still have the Bill's Two Over Prime sandwich that I remembered getting in days of yore I got one, it was OK. I get the matzoh ball soup out of habit, I need to stop, it isn't such good matzoh ball soup.

Super Breakout is still Super!
Especially when played the way
it's meant to be on the Atari 2600
Thursday The Agent Was Cultivated. This time by the University Library. This was a very interesting day. We started off on that distant and far away land known as "North Campus," where the Library has a video game archive. I played Centipede on an "Atari Legends" arcade game that somehow manages to be zillions of arcade games all in one. Then, just like I was 16 again, I played genuine Atari Super Breakout on a genuine Atari 2600 using a genuine paddle controller, with a little Yar's Revenge and Circus Atari for old time's sake. I'm not so bad at Centipede for someone who's never been good at sports, and I was kind of playing Super Breakout like I'd never stopped. Then we toured some of the very fancy new-fangled library things in the distant and far away land known as "North Campus." I got to see a 3D printer, which was a nifty new experience, it takes spools of plastic and melts them and builds things with them, and all for much less than an Espresso Book Machine because it's mostly just a single head moving around in two dimensions that is nowhere near as fancy as what you need to do to get a photocopier to bind a book for you. I saw other fancy 3D thingies. I was quite impressed. And most of this stuff is available for students to use, though it requires they go to that distant and far away land known as "North Campus."

Playing around in a fancy 3-D
black box on North Campus
Back in the real world of central campus, we had lunch with Jim Ottaviani, a writer of graphic novels who in his secret identity heads up the "Deep Blue" online resource for the University Library, and after lunch we discussed Deep Blue and other things. One of my supervisors from my college job still works at the library and we chatted for a bit. While some things have changed (no more card catalog) old-fashioned books are still being circulated, they still need to have tattle tape put in when new, which still needs to be sensitized when the books return, and the books still put back on the shelf, and people still need to "shelf read," checking the shelves to be sure the books are in their proper order so they can actually be found. All the same fun things. While that is the same, the 2nd floor area that used to have periodicals where I'd go to read Variety and Publishers Weekly during my college days is now a fancy map collection area, the periodicals have been put elsewhere. And it was hard to walk about central campus, since this was the day when all the student groups had tables set up to solicit new members.

Dinner was with writers Merrie Haskell and Catherine Shaffer, who live in the area and whom I'd chatted with some at Chicon. Merrie works at the Library as well, along with Jim Ottaviani she forms a cabal of Evil Librarians -- I mean, librarian writers -- at the UM Library. They went off after dinner to a coffee shop in Saline to do that writing thing in coffee shops that writers like to do. Since Ann Arbor is on the western end of the eastern time zone, it is a very civilized place where the sun rises at a nice late hour and then gives daylight in the evening when people need it (yes, you are correct, I am not a morning person) so I found a place nicely on line with the setting sun to enjoy the last hour of daylight, reading and people watching, then headed back to my hotel.

I can't even remember which day it was that I visited Vault of Midnight, the impressive comic book and gaming store in the Main St. shopping area. I have fond nostalgic memories of the Eye of Agamotto, the comic book store during my college days, but honestly this is bigger and nicer and better and full of many more wonderful things to buy.

Friday I didn't have anything planned. So I walked in to downtown. Then I walked out to the west end of town to where the Fox Village theatre had once been. I felt very old that the cashier at the Plum Market that occupies the exact space (gutted and remodeled and all, but in the same exterior walls) as the theatre had once been, had no idea that she was working on the site of an Ancient Cinematic Burial Ground where I had seen Wargames and Octopussy and other early '80s movies. That mall used to have a Little Professor bookstore, now you have to go to the shopping mall on the other corner where you will find Nicolas Books, a very pleasant indie which is unlike most indies in having a large well-curated sf/f section that had about the same number of JABberwocky titles as even many B&N stores will have. Jim C. Hines was just there to sign Libriomancer, so they had a very nice selection of his books. I rewarded them for their excellence by buying too many little bags of chocolate to share with the office, and a Harpers magazine with a new Stephen King story.

Then I walked back to the Arboretum, to do one of my favorite things. I sat on a bench at the base of the Arboretum, and after dealing with some office stuff I curled up with a good book, in this case Seawitch by Kat Richardson. I read around 100 pages in the Arb, and couldn't have been happier. The world seems so far away when you're sitting in the Arb with a good book !!

The movies had changed, so I went back to the Michigan to see Robot and Frank. This was projected using their actual film projectors with actual film instead of the new digital projector. This movie had gotten some decent reviews, I went in thinking I would like it and especially so seeing in such nice surroundings, but no such luck. The script didn't interest me, I didn't think this was one of the better performances from either Frank Langella or Susan Sarandon, and the rest of the cast I found even less interesting. Kind of disappointing. I had a late dinner at the Redhawk, and since it was raining I took a cab instead of walking back to the hotel.

Saturday I met up with an old college friend whom I don't see really at all but who's always been on my Christmas gift list as a way of keeping in touch. He picked me up early at the hotel so we could park downtown before the lots filled for the football game. We walked around campus, had a nice lunch at the Redhawk, walked up to the "Big House" as Michigan Stadium is known. We were heading up two hours before game time so it didn't have quite the feel of when you're walking up with throngs of people a half hour before the game, but the frat houses had already started their pre-game revelries along the way. We had really nice seats on the 35-yd line.

In Michigan Stadium after
the big game at the Big House
And what can I say, I loved the experience. In my freshman year I sold some of my football tickets, the few dollars I got could pay for the bus out the Briarwood and movie with money to spare. By my senior year, I couldn't understand why I'd ever done such a thing. So many of the rituals are still intact, the band taking the field just like it always has and playing many of the same songs. It was Michigan/Air Force, so we got a flyover from a B2 stealth bomber after the national anthem (it doesn't look very stealthy when it is flying directly over you) and a halftime show of Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy and Sousa's Stars and Stripes. The game was closer than anyone would say it should have been, but Michigan did win. We stayed for the post-game band show.

Lots of things reassuringly haven't changed, some have. You now buy a t-shirt with your student football tickets, and they are rigorous about checking student IDs to sit in student sections, so that's why a fifth of the bowl at the Big House has people wearing matching maize shirts. The stadium is somewhat bigger with luxury boxes. I just thrived on all the ritual that is the same now as 27 years ago, and much of that the same as 27 years before that.

One unchanged ritual: traffic on Ann Arbor Saline Rd. is one-way to I-94 for an hour after the game.

But this was the first time, since I was heading back to my hotel, that I actually headed off in that direction instead of downtown. I actually got to see all the cars heading down Ann Arbor Saline Rd!

The parents of one of my freshman year roommates drove out from Southfield to have dinner with me that night, the only bad thing was that traffic after the game was really bad, so we all agreed we had to stay on the mall side of Eisenhower Road, which meant a chain restaurant at the mall. But I think we all enjoyed our California Pizza Kitchen dinner, and the conversation was nice.

And then Sunday, I had to head home.

General impressions of Ann Arbor.

There are lots of changes, yet the overall feel of Ann Arbor is still very much the same, I enjoyed the trip immensely, it would be nice to be back somewhat more frequently. It was 11 years since my last visit.

There's one new building in the central campus area which I think intrudes a little too much on the "diag" area, but otherwise I'm impressed at the quality of a lot of the architecture. The business school has a snazzy new building with a gorgeous atrium to hang out in with a little cafe and seats and light and just buzzing with excitement. The new North Quad (which isn't on North Campus, but the north side of central campus) looks wonderful on the outside. You can cut through for good pedestrian circulation, and the interior space is beautiful with deep landscaped courtyard recesses that allow light to reach basement levels, and it's nine stories tall without looking like it. Money is being spent on the old dorms. The hill dorms have a great two-level dining atrium addition. My old dorm is being gut renovated to improve the dining areas and add AC and better IT and other such things. A new buidling was being dedicated for the law school that looked like a beautiful companion to the old law quadrangle. Some of the science buildings added in one corner of the campus aren't as attractive but even there have a nice elevated walkway area with a cafe in one of the buildings that provides good access from the main campus to the hill dorms and medical campus. They pen in the power plant, I guess if you're going to have bad architecture having it surrounding the most utilitarian functional ugly building on campus isn't a bad place to do it.

Three large new private luxury student housing "highrises" were opening for the school year. When I was in school, private student housing and luxury did not go together.

The South U shopping district has become very monoculture in having mostly Asian restaurants to eat at. The State St. shopping district is full of chains like Chipotle, CVS, 7-11, Panera, Starbucks, much more so than once upon a time. The Main St. shopping district is even more full of trendy restaurants than what I remembered.

Most of the old original Borders location on State St. is now occupied by an M Den emporium of Michigan stuff. Around a fifth of the space, the ground floor of the adjoining building, is given over to another store. The successor Borders store downtown is still empty, Borders signage still up on the building, the windows mostly papered over, but where I could peek in this store may have more shelving and other fixtures still intact than a lot of the other vacant old Borders locations.

And finally... when I went to UM, the video player had just arrived and not yet had a real impact. Cinema Guild, Cinema 2, the Ann Arbor Film Coop and more all had films, sometimes double-features, all weekend, and on many weekdays. You were never lacking for movies to see of all different types at very reasonable prices. You had the huge single screen Campus showing new movies, the Michigan showing films, the State Quad and the Ann Arbor Twin. Not the world's best theatres, but they were there. Briarwood was a few miles and a quick bus ride away and expanded from 4 to 7 screens. The Fox Village was a couple miles away and a quick if not as frequent bus ride. Today, you have four first-run screens instead of seven in downtown Ann Arbor, all of which show primarily art or indie films. The multiplexes for new Hollywood releases are now a mile beyond where the Fox Village was, twice as far as Briarwood, and both less convenient to get to than their '80s predecessors. The campus film scene, which had already started to diminish by the mid-1980s, hasn't just diminished further but is pretty much gone. All of this is discussed in a 2010 Michigan Daily article. I'd be a very different person if I was formed by going to UM now as opposed to then, and the me that was formed by going then definitely doesn't like the movie experience you'd get now.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Chiconic Fatigue Syndrome

I've had supporting memberships for World SF Conventions, WorldCons as they are known, dating back over 30 years. When I was just becoming an sf fan and devouring a goodly chunk of sf/f (Analog, Omni, Asimov's, the occasional F&SF, novel after novel) voting in the Hugos was a major temptation. Reading the progress reports and looking over the program books instilled a certain sense of community, of belonging to a larger community even though I was just a high school kid in a small town in New York City. Imagine how nice it is to have a job where I now get to attend WorldCon as part of it! And ChiCon, the 70th WorldCon, is the 18th I've actually attended.

The experience of attending WorldCon as a pro is very different than the WorldCon I dreamed of 30 years ago, however.

I get to be on panels, I don't so much get to attend them.

This year, I thought all my panels were reasonably successful. The one on business advice for writers at 3pm on the first day of the con when everyone was settling in had the kind of crowd you might expect when half the convention hasn't even picked up its membership badges yet. Having the "getting an agent" panel at 9am the next morning wasn't ideal either, it's WorldCon and people go to parties and who wants to have to wake up for a 9am panel? I was also on a panel on e-books.

I grew up wanting to vote on the Hugos and waiting around ten years to finally attend an actual Hugo ceremony.

Alas, I have learned over 26 years in the business that I am rife with internal conflict about awards. I love for my clients to be nominated for awards, I love for my clients to win awards, I just wish that this could all happen without my ever having to attend an award ceremony or banquet or dinner ever ever again. So much bad food, so many bad speeches, the occasional bad table full of bad conversation partners. And more often than not, the person you want to win -- doesn't !!

This year's Hugo Awards were not bad as such things go. Connie Willis can be a great toast"master" but sometimes there can be too much Connie, because when you have someone as good as Connie you want to take advantage. John isn't Connie, he wasn't uproarious, but there also wasn't too much of him. They made an interesting decision to have John do most of the presenting which may have saved a good 15 or 20 minutes of time introducing presenters for 12 more awards.

Alas, they did not take the equally radical decision of doing away with the clips for the long-form and short-form dramatic presentation awards. Each took ten minutes to present, all told, which is an eternity. Around 16 awards all told, if every one of those takes ten minutes and you add in the other stuff you're looking at a three hour ceremony. If you don't think the Hugo Awards should go on for three hours, and they most certainly should not, you have to do away with the damned clips for the dramatic presentation. If you're going to leave in the ciips, then I want people to read one-minute excerpts from the nominated pieces of fiction. Believe it or not, the Hugos are supposed to be a literary award, so none of these damned clips for the dramatic presentations.

My guy won! Well, one of my guys. Though the glory is in both instances reflected since the nominations were not for literary work represented by the agency, we had our client Jim C. Hines nominated for Best Fan Writer, and our client Brandon Sanderson is one of the masterminds of the Writing Excuses podcast that was up for Best Related Work. And Jim Hines not only won, but in the voting breakdowns we see he won quite quite handily. And then he did something very well, and said he would recuse himself from this category in future years, so he won't become like Locus and take home a statue every year for twenty or thirty years.

There wasn't any of that music playing at the 30-second mark, so the winners could give thank you speeches that went on pretty much just as long as they pleased. This can be unfortunate. But... I'll take this approach over the Oscars and their 30 second limits. Yeah, there were some over-long thank yous at the Hugos this year, there were also some really touching and moving speeches like Jo Walton's accepting for Best Novel, and John Picacio for Best Professional Artist, that were only possible because people had the time to speak passionately and from the heart.

I am a bad person. During an award banquet, usually held in a brightly lit hotel ballroom, I will quietly read a text-rich magazine (fewer page turns) during the speechifying. In the darkened ballroom for the Hugos, the iPad was quite delightful, and I think I read 15,000 words of a submission. Lest you think I wasn't paying attention -- I assure you I can read a good 40-50,000 words in the time the ceremony occupied, so that's 25K of paying attention to the ceremony. I had the brightness all the way down, and had the cover held tight over the screen. With all the people that have their phones out to tweet and text and whatever, as we are wont to do in the modern age, I hope I wasn't upsetting the atmosphere of the room.

Just to say, was it just me, or was the dealer's room a little quiet and mono-cultured this year? Something seemed to be missing.

The parallel con that I attend now vs. the con I dreamt of attending as a wee lad consists of a lot of time spent in meals and meetings with clients and editors. Since my business has grown, some of those meals have to breakfasts, which are always way too early for my tastes. I hate paying for overpriced booze at hotel bars. On days when I have a breakfast, a lunch and a dinner on my schedule, and then visits to the party suites filled with M&Ms and Doritos (this year, prawn-flavored Walker Crisps on account of the 2014 London bid) I am certainly eating too much, especially since there isn't a lot of time for exercise during a WorldCon. Oh well! I did find an Argo Tea cafe a few blocks from the hotel and did a couple meetings there, I don't actually like tea or coffee and Argo is really really big on the tea, but it's nice to get out of the convention hotel. There was also this little sunken park on an ancient golfing burial ground a couple blocks from the hotel, and we did a couple meetings there on a nice bench under a nice shade-giving tree with a wonderfully designed fountain providing that nice relaxing burbling sound of water.

I don't understand people who travel to these conventions and decide they can't leave the hotel or convention center. Yeah, you want to do your business, but you're in Chicago, a world capital, one of the major cities of the US, get out and see the world! In my early days of attending WorldCon with way fewer clients I could do some of this during the days of the convention and not feel too guilty, now I have to add on a day or two but I did get around. Especially the Wednesday before, 15+ miles of walking around Chicago to take in 3 Whole Foods, 2 Costcos, and a Cubs game. Not the usual tourist stuff, but it was 15+ miles of walking around and seeing the city and the weather was gorgeous.

It was my first time at Wrigley. I enjoyed it a lot. The park is full of atmosphere and history. Strange in some ways, they have an organ but all of the music seemed to be a little bit of organ music grafted on the same rhythm track for every song that sounded like some special kind of Christmas music. Definitely strange. The stadium got really really loud, I could hardly hear the person next to me. The game to most people was an afterthought, so many people going to see Wrigley and not that many who cared whether or not the Cubs won. The concourse had the feel of a carnival midway, which is definitely not the feel you get from most of the modern stadiums.

Thursday night Adam-Troy Castro had a launch event for his new book at the Magic Tree children's bookstore in Oak Park. Previously I had gone to Oak Park to add the Borders there to my list of conquests, a Borders conveniently near to the River Forest Whole Foods. I did visit the Whole Foods, but I also walked around and saw other parts of the neighborhood. I need to make an Oak Park day the next time I'm in Chicago to admire more of the Frank Lloyd Wright houses, maybe even visit the Hemingway birthplace and museum.

I'm going to stop here, there's more I could say but maybe I'll do another WorldCon post later, or maybe not.