Passing through

 Man, it's been a long time since I posted anything here.  This place is so secret that even I forget about it.

Actually, it's just one on-line place to many.  I'm no running or at least working on at least seven Blogger blogs, have a Facebook account and several Twitter accounts.  (My personal one is JStevenYork, if you want to follow.)  I have to leave some time in there to live a life and write some books.  So when you don't see me around here for a year or two at a time, it isn't that I'm dead (well, hopefully not).  It's just that I'm busy somewhere else.
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Nothing but music

Hey, I got nothin' today, but I NEVER seem to post when I'm playing music, and I'm playing music right now.  So strike while the iron is hot, right?  I mainly listen to movie soundtracks while I write, and tonight I'm playing one of my favorites: The Jungle Book (the later live-action version, not the animated one with all the songs), with music by the late, great, Basil Poledouris.

Among the other Poledouris soundtracks in my frequent rotation are the two Conan movies, and Starship Troopers.  Good stuff.
  • Current Music
    Jungle Book soundtrack, Basil Poledouris
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More writer stuff (and some Star Trek neep for good measure)

I've been posting a lot lately.  Just not here.

First of all, if you're interested in writing, here are some things you might be interested in.  I've just added an indexed (by subject) list of writing article links from our various blogs to the site.  Lots of good stuff there.  Look for the list in the sidebar on the left of the page.  Just scroll down a bit.

Also, there's a brand new article on my "Multiplex of the Mind" blog.  It's called "Frosting, Sprinkles, and a Twist: Taking Fictional Tropes Beyond the Next Level."  It's a pretty self-important title for something that came to us while watching a James Bond movie marathon, but I think it's a pretty good one, and less long-winded that a lot of stuff I've done.  Check it out here.

Finally, after watching the latest trailer for the upcoming Star Trek movie, I've posted my thoughts on the continuity and "canon" issues that have many hard-core fans foaming at the mouth.  It's bull, folks.  Let the movie succeed or fail on its own merits.  I make my case here.

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Updated stuff from around our little webverse

I don't post here that often, so I really should figure out how to feed some of the content from our other blogs to this page.  But until then, here are some random recent things we've posted that you may find interesting.

We've overhauled, ditching the old, always-outdated web page for a new blog format we can more easily keep current.  Check it out.  Speaking of:

How to Sketch a Novel in a Hour
Yes, it's the brainstorming craze that's sweeping the net.  Need to jump-start your latest novel or story project, or revive an old one?  This may help.  We've been teaching this useful little exercise for years at conventions and writer's conferences.  Come check out our latest and greatest text version.

Writer's Horoscope
If you're a writer, and you were born, you need this.  Come on.  It must be true.  IT'S ON THE INTERNET!

Hey, my wife, Chris York, has a new secret identity!  She has a new mystery novel series coming out soon from Berkley Prime Crime under the pen-name Christy Evans.  She writes about her new name and how she came to write mystery here.  Meanwhile, Christy Evans now has her own new blog here.

- Steve

Book returns and the health of the book industry

I've made a couple of recent posts over the my Blogger page, Multiplex of the Mind, concerning the long-time book industry practice of "stripping," or book-sellers pulling the covers off paperbacks and returning them to the publisher for credit.  It's a silly practice, but we aren't likely to get rid of it soon, and it may actually be a critical factor in the survival of those small, independent bookstores that we all at least pretend to value so highly.  Find the first one here, and a followup here.

A New Use for Crap Movies

(Yes, it's been a while since I posted here, and this post is why.  Huh?  Well, actually, I'd entered this entire thing when some kind of browser problem made it appear that I'd lost the thing.  Seemingly it was gone for good.  Very frustrating, and not exactly an incentive to post here.  Blogger, by comparison, seemed much more graceful in the way it auto-saved posts and recovered from almost any kind of crash or disconnect).  But lo, I finally came back today to post something else, and LiveJournal asks me if I wanted to recover the post.  So, I guess their software IS more forgiving of problems than I thought.  It's just hidden a little more.  So here's my old, unposted, post, and new stuff will follow.
- Steve)

Yes, there really is a function for crap-ass movies like Babylon A.D. (OK, I confess I haven't seen it, but there's a great probability that a zillion critics and viewer reviews might just be right). They help uncover a category of bottom feeder I call the "kiss-ass critic."

These are the folks, often working for second tier and smaller-city newspapers and TV stations, who provide many of the glowing pull-quotes that accompany ads for even the worst of movies, and in turn are rewarded with studio-paid gifts, press junkets, and other rewards.

Of course, not all good quotes for bad movies come from these guys (and gals).

First of all, there are some honest differences of opinion. I have to admit, there are some famously reviled movies that I've liked, or at least, liked at the time. I didn't, for instance, have a terrible time watching "Howard the Duck," because I saw it at a bargain show, in a good mood, and with low expectations. No, it hasn't held up well on repeat viewings (that animatronic duck suit looks worse every time), but Jeffrey Jones (best known as nemesis Ed Rooney from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off") is always fun to watch, and this was during Lea Thompson's full-on-babe period. And Tim Robbins is in there too, looking amazingly as though he'd been drawn by definitive"Howard" comic book artist Gene Colan. So no, I didn't find it to be a total loss.

That will happen with most any film that has any merits at all. It's going to push someone's personal buttons, or they'll detect some virtue in it that nobody else sees.

But from all reports, "Babylon A.D." isn't a film that should be used too close to the word "virtue." In fact, that last sentence is probably a violation of international law. Let's just look at some typical review headlines, culled at random from Google News:

Babylon as violent as it is stupid

'Babylon AD' is mindless violence, and that's about all

Future looks grim

"Babylon AD" a futuristic mess

Babylon AD: Yet Another Scifi Flick About the Virgin Mary

Movie review: Violence, chaos leave "Babylon" in ruins

Diesel gets lost in 'Babylon'

Diesel can’t pump life into grim ‘Babylon’

Even the film's director has disowned it. Yeah, it's apparently that bad.

But then we find this review from a newspaper in an unnamed-to-protect-the-guilty east-coast city newspaper.

'Babylon A.D.' looked like future schlock, but is quite fine

Oh, really? Well, most everyone agrees with the first part anyway.

Now, it's possible, vaguely possible anyway, that this is an honest case of "difference of opinion," which is part of why I'm not naming the critic or the newspaper. But reading the review, I've got to say it's highly suspicious. Let's pull a few more quotes, shall we?

"Talk about exceeding expectations. Babylon A.D., which had all the cauliflower earmarks of a trashy action throwaway, turns out instead to be a disturbing, wonderfully executed vision of the future, the equal of last year's well-received Children of Men."

Oh, really?

"Children of Men," which was nominated for three Oscars? Which according to IMDB won 17 other awards (including the Hugo Award for best motion picture, science-fiction's highest honor, the Saturn Award for best science fiction film, the Online Film Critic's Society award for best screenplay) and received 24 nominations? "Children of Men," which has a 92% rating on Rotten and 8.1 stars out of ten on IMDB? ("Babylon A.D." on the other hand, has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 4%.)

It's that good, huh?

I wonder...

Of course, it isn't fair to damn a critic on the basis of one possibly-botched review. Everybody has their off-days. Possibly something has burst in their brain, or their pain medication is having adverse side-effects today. But if it was my city and my newspaper, I'd have to wonder. I'd have to start looking closely at the reviews of other widely panned movies, looking for a pattern.

Years ago, when I lived in the Seattle area, there was a film critic on the staff of a third-string suburban newspaper that I often read, who was dependably wrong on just about everything, at least, based on my personal taste. I could pretty well depend on it. If he hated a film, my wife and I would love it. If he loved a film, it was to be avoided like the proverbial plague. This rule was accurate to the point that his reviews were actually useful, in their back-handed way.

But while I lived there, it never occurred to me to wonder why his taste was skewed the way it was. Only after I moved to Oregon, and began to notice his quotes turning up in national ads for schlock-film after schlock-film did I start to reexamine his work for the paper. In retrospect, I realized that he was frequently doing on-set interviews with stars or directors, jetting off to film-festivals, attending premiers, all stuff that his small-city newspaper should never have been able to afford.

I mentioned this in front of an industry insider one day, and they just laughed and told me how the world really works in some circles. Of course his paper couldn't afford to pay for any of those things. And they didn't.

And the negative reviews for popular films? Well, in reality, his press-agent friends didn't actually care what he wrote about those films. Good quotes from major media outlets were there for the taking, and no-way his small-circulation paper was going to hurt their box-office. He had to write bad reviews about something, or he'd look like the fraud he was, so popular and/or critically acclaimed films were safe targets.

Several decades later, I don't see many signs that things have changed.

"Seamless in its execution, the movie plays out like a grittier version of The Fifth Element. Babylon A.D. is a savage fairy tale, a tad overburdened with symbolism, but gripping nonetheless."

I rest my case.

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Buzz Off

Don't you hate it when one of your childhood heroes says something so profoundly wrong and stupid that you just have to call them on it? Unfortunately, it just happened to me.

The hero in question is Apollo 11 moon-walker Buzz Aldrin.

This is the beginning of a post over on my "serious" blog concerning Aldrin's recent statement that Star Trek killed the space program. Or something like that. Read what he said, and my reply to it, here.

On a happier, and yet surprisingly related note, the first real CGI image of the new USS Enterprise from the upcoming film has hit the net. Find it here.
  • Current Music
    The blessed sound of silence
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Secret Brief of the Day

Okay, I don't like to make fun, because some of my very good friends have tattoos, but in the words of Nelson from "The Simpsons," "HA-ha!"

Listen to me, young-people (and by "young-people," I mean those of you who are young enough to have a grandparent without the last name "Saurus"), and listen well.  You will live to regret your tattoos.  And no, I don't necessarily mean for any of the reasons your parents have been throwing at you (though you shouldn't dismiss the possibility that having Spongebob tattooed on your pubic area may not always be as cool an idea as it seems today).

What I'm talking about is the ridicule you may someday receive from your children.  Not because your children will be tattoo free, mind you, but because you'll be stuck with your idiot 2000s tattoo, while they have the new full-rewritable model that lets them download new content minute-by-minute from iTats, via the iPhone v39 embedded in their forehead..  (By this time, of course, Apple will rule the world, and the severed head of Steve Jobs in a jar will be our cruel Master and Overlord.)

And you, with your crappy fixed tattoos.  On the cool-meter, it would be as though I had an 8-track Tape Player and a Betamax grafted onto my ass back in the 70s.

Of course, I'd still hold off, because even your kids will be left out when the full-motion tattoos hit the market.

So, keep skin pristine, young-people.  You'll thank me. 

What's that?  You ask if piercings are okay?  Well, in general, you take out a piercing, it heals up.  No loss.  No technological backlash.  I say, go for it!  (But don't tell your parents I said so.)
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Two more anthology sales

Two more recent short-story sales, both to Denise Little at Tekno books.  One called "Jason and the Stargonauts" to an anthology called "The Trouble with Heroes."  It's actually, despite the title, a Hollywood writer's room story with no fantasy or sf elements except in the meta sense.  I like it a lot, especially in that the "Jason and the Stargonauts" concept is recycled from a parody film script I wrote a zillion years ago (not talking specifics!) in college.  But while my film was a parody, in the story the tone is a lot more like the "reimagined" Battlestar Galactica.

The second story is another oddball.  It's for an anthology about legendary magic swords.  Not wanting to be the sixth person submitting an "Excalibur" story, I wrote about...a plastic cocktail sword.  Yes, this story has evil cocktail monkeys in it.  No, it's not humor.  In fact, it's a dead-on-serious fantasy about real-world issues.