Unusual Things’ Best of 2019

Hello readers, and welcome to 2020! Life here is getting into gear as the New Year (and decade; yes I’m one of those people) starts off, and there’s plenty to do, starting with the final chapter of Axtara – Banking and Finance, which should be done today. At which point work will begin in earnest on Fireteam Freelance. Another chapter of Stranded is almost complete as well, for those of you supporting on Patreon.

Speaking of which, I’ve decided to revamp the Patreon page with the new year, so look for that upcoming project in the next week or so. My goal here is to trim it down and make it a lot more straightforward and clear. As is the page intro is from several years ago and entirely behind the times.

Also, Being a Better Writer will resume this coming Monday, with a whole new slew of topics and writing concepts to discuss. The break is over, and BaBW is back! And some of these upcoming topics well … they’re interesting!

But as I prepare to move forward, I thought some of you may like a look back at 2019. Specifically, some of the biggest events of 2019, articles and otherwise, to have hit Unusual Things. Now with meta-commentary!


 

Jungle

Jungle Cover

Obviously, the elephant in the room, the single biggest, defining moment of 2019 was the release of Jungle. Yes, I’m sure some of you are tired of hearing about it by now because you come here for writing advice, not to hear about the writing from the guy who generates the advice, but tough nougats. My site, my rules, and one of the biggest impacts of 2019 was the release of Jungle.

Jungle was a titan of a project, involving thousands of hours worth of work over several thousand pages. A 457,000 word juggernaut of fiction, Jungle was the sequel to 2016’s smash-hit Colony, and hit with about the same amount of force.

Jungle hasn’t even been out two months yet, but the early response from fans and readers has been clear: This is a worthy successor to what Colony built, and they can’t wait for the next installment.

There was a lot else that happened in 2019, but the release of Jungle was the crowning peak. If you’re one of the few unfortunates that haven’t had a chance to see yet why this was such a big deal, well … You can grab a copy of Jungle here and be reading on your phone in seconds. Or if you’re really out on a limb and haven’t even read its predecessor, Colony, yet, then you can grab that here. Though at this point if you haven’t done either … I mean, really? It’s akin to hanging out at the movie theater but not ever watching anything.

Anyway, Jungle was the biggest event of 2019, but there were other moments that left their impact. Hit the jump and we’ll take a look at a few more.


Being a Better Writer: The Five-Man Band

Being a Better Writer, being a staple of the site (and still what many readers come for) is always interesting to watch the stats for because it’s interesting to see what draws in readers over a year. And in 2019, the biggest Being a Better Writer article for readers was, to my surprise, The Five-Man Band.

Personally, I would have picked the Summer of Cliche Writing Advice as my favorite BaBW moment of the year, a multi-part series over this last summer looking at cliche advice writers were often flooded with and whether or not it was any good. But the post that got the most readers and attracted the most eyes in 2019 was this early piece on the concept of the Five-Man Band in fiction. This post accounted for about four percent of the site’s total web-traffic in 2019.

Trust me, as much content as Unusual Things has, that’s a lot of traffic. It was easily one of the most popular posts of the year by a long shot. Far more than could be explained by simply being one of the first  BaBW posts of the year.

What was it that drew so many eyes? Well, the topic of the Five-Man Band remains a curiosity to a lot of new and experienced writers a lot, and in essence, this seems to have been reflected in a lot of search traffic on character writing catching this post.

Other than that, it’s a pretty regular Being a Better Writer post, talking a bit at the beginning about upcoming news (including, amusingly enough, a bit about Axtara being a future project). But then it jumps right into talking about the Five-Man Band and what it entails.

… the “Five-Man Band” is a trope name given to a collection of characters, each one fitting a role or mold that naturally compliments the other four. Sort of a “five parts become one whole” idea, but extended to a team of characters. Often seen any sort setting where you have a team that gathers together for one purpose or another, fictional or real, the Five-Man Band is basically an observation on types of team members and roles that work well together in a number of ways, both narratively (five characters is an easy number to follow) and in-universe.

Is it the best BaBW post of 2019? Well, I wouldn’t have chosen it. I’ll leave that up to you to decide. You can take a peek here if you’re curious or missed it the first time around.


Are Libraries Bad for Authors?

Another post that garnered a lot of attention in 2019 was this reactionary post to the opening salvos of a battle between publishers and libraries, one that’s still ongoing as we move into 2020. And … I’m not surprised. Not with a title like that. Nor with the fact that this debate is still raging on as publishers continue to try and crack down on libraries “stealing” books to loan out to people (books that yes, they pay for), which means that people are still searching on the topic, curious if libraries really are as bad as the big publishers (and maybe their news source) claim.

So yes, I’m not surprised at all that this article remains one of the top-read on the site for 2019. This battle isn’t over yet, not by a long shot, as publishers continue to take aim at libraries and the general public to try and counter their own internal, unsustainable practices. Sands, it wouldn’t at all be unexpected to get a few more entries on this topic on 2019 as these publishers double down in their battle against public libraries (and really, their readerbase at large).

Are libraries bad for authors though? No. The accusation is laughable. Something I pointed out when I took the publishers to task with some quick math of my own:

Libraries of the world! MacMillan charges $60 for a single ebook. I will give you a license that’s good for the same amount of time, with no limit on readers … for $10.

Why? Because I can do math. There are 116, 867 public libraries in the United States alone. If just 30,000 of them decided to add Colony to their ebook rotation at $10, that’s still a cool $300,000 for me. I could live off that for years. And all that while new fans would be discovering Colony and checking out my other books. I call that win.

Seriously, libraries, talk to me. I’ll give you the great deal MacMillan never will. And I’ll happily thank you for it, while MacMillan seems inclined to give you the finger even as you give them money.

Is the topic over and done with? No, not by a long shot. Publishers are doubling down on their new “enemy” as we move into 2020, so expect more on this topic soon. But in the meantime, this post (and it’s later follow-up) remain two of the most-read articles on the site in 2019.

They also prompted what I consider the most important article of the site in 2019. But more on that in a bit.


Disney’s Star Wars Doesn’t Understand Strong Female Characters

Oh man, I shouldn’t be surprised that this post was the second-biggest one of the year. Star Wars has been a massively hot topic among pop-culture media since Disney started releasing their new sequel trilogy, and talking about it at all is bound to draw in a lot of attention (much of which will simply arrive to attack/defend based on an interpretation of the title, based on what I’ve seen). So writing a Star Wars article was bound to get a lot of eyes.

That said, I still back this piece one-hundred percent. In case you missed it at the time, this article was written in reaction to a bit of advertising that came across my feed, one aimed at children that was marketing the character of Princess Leia as a “strong female character role model.” Again, for children.

Except what they modeled wasn’t in any way a strong female character that kids could look up to. In sharp contrast, what they showed off was an alarmingly angry and unrepentant bully, rolling over and bullying everyone around them. Traits which, as the article pointed out, were actually addressed and considered negative traits in the first of original Star Wars films (where Han Solo demonstrated them as character flaws he needed to overcome).

I’m all for strong female characters (and have written quite a few). But this article took Disney to task (specifically their Star Wars department) for not providing that. Something Disney, of all companies, you’d think would be able to find enough talent to do. Instead … well … we got this:

But as bad as this portrayal is, I worry more for the kids that this is advertised as, showing this idea of “strength” as one for them to absorb. Because it’s toxic. A kid who sees this short and decides to “be like Leia” by grabbing things from other people and shoving them around? That’s absolutely not the kind of message I would get behind.

Again, I’m not surprised this was one of the biggest articles of the year. Star Wars has been an important part of pop culture for decades, and Disney’s acquisition of the franchise has been, especially in the last few years, a hotly debated topic to the degree that I’ve met some who straight-up consider it a topic better left avoided these days, like politics or religion.

Will Disney get their act together? I don’t know. I still haven’t seen the newest Star Wars film either, so I can’t really say if they did or didn’t (and I’ll leave a lot of other people’s opinions for them to say), but at the end of the day, this article hammered Disney for some pretty well-deserved reasons, and I can see why it was one of the most popular ones from the year.


Invisible Censorship and Books

I was pleasantly surprised to see that this article got a lot of attention in 2019 because, well, I think it’s a topic more people who read books need to know about. Which is why I wrote it in the first place. So … mission accomplished!

If you missed it at the time, here’s the basic gist of it: The technological world we live in is an amazing one, yes, but it’s also one that’s given a lot of control over that we often don’t recognize or even know exists. And this control? It’s used in some surprising ways. Such as, this article pointed out, keeping people from discussing books that weren’t from “the right people.” Shadowy, invisible censorship that can be used to manipulate people who aren’t even aware it’s happening.

This wasn’t theory, either. The reason I wrote the post was because I experienced it firsthand in a book forum that simply hid anyone’s post discussing books that the moderators didn’t feel people should talk about, which by default included indie books.

Nope! No talking about those! Just big books from these allowed publishers!

What makes this so insidious is that it’s not acknowledged by the very people doing it. Nor is the censorship shown to the very people who want to talk about the things being censored. They aren’t aware the censorship exists. All they see is that they’ve made their post on a new book … but no one else is talking with them about it. No one else ever sees that the post exists (because it doesn’t). But when the same person talks about a big, popular book from a publisher, everyone else gets to see it and talk about it. Subtlety reinforcing the idea that no one cares about this new book someone found. Just the big ones. Those are all anyone talks about.

This is, well … I think I summed it up pretty well in the actual post:

The implications here are frankly terrifying. Worse, technology has made it incredibly easy. It’s simple, as that book forum did, to set up an automatic, computer-driven filter that culls all mentions of an author or books from their threads while still telling the person talking about them that they’re being posted (and insinuating along the way by making sure there are no responses that ‘no one cares about this’).

I’m glad to see this post got some eyes on it, because this practice, as it points out, is both troubling and already out there, and with many cases no disclosure at all to those using the platforms doing it. There are numerous places on the internet, some of them quite large, where this sort of censorship is already practiced, be it on discussion of books or some other topic, and the people there aren’t even aware because the location in question? It doesn’t talk about it. Not to them, at least.

And frankly, that’s alarming. If you missed this one last year, I’d still say of all the posts last year, this is one of the most important ones you should read and be aware of. You can, and should, check it out.


The Price We Pay – Are Book Prices too Much?

Okay, so full disclosure: This post was not that popular. In fact, it was strictly average insofar as views went.

Why talk about it then? Because of all the posts made on Unusual Things in 2019, this was one that I felt was really important that didn’t grab the attention it should have. It sat strictly in the middle on views, and didn’t catch eyes like some of the other, more topical topics of the year.

But dang it, I feel it’s one of the more important posts to come across the site in 2019, especially if you’re someone who likes buying books, but really wonders about the prices.

So then, what is this post? Well, in a very straightforward manner, it’s an examination of a commonly-held view that books should cost around certain amounts because “That’s what they’ve always been.” With charts and an inflation calculator, this post takes on the “what they’ve always been” prices of the early 90s, adjusts them, and compares them to the costs of today asking if books really are more expensive, or if everyone’s just kind of letting nostalgia tint everything to the detriment of everyone.

The result? Well, you might be surprised to hear it, but books today are, on the most part, cheaper than they were twenty-five years ago! A point the article drives home by taking some modern book prices and working them backwards through the same calculator to see what their prices would have been in 1994.

Again, of all the posts written last year, I consider this one of the more important ones due to how often I hear people lamenting how much “more expensive” books are these days than when they were younger. Because really, the majority of times they aren’t … we just think they are.

All in all, this was a post I was fairly proud of, and if you’ve ever wondered about modern book prices, you should give it a look. It’s worth your time.


Human Resource – A Free Short Story

This is another less-popular element of 2019 to talk about, and in all honesty I myself almost forgot about it. But it was something published on the site in 2019, so … yeah.

There’s not much to say about this one save that it’s a dark, dystopian story that I wrote after my wrist injury in the early months of the year, concerning a quite possible future of the American job market. A lot of people I talk with outside the US already consider US-based jobs pretty dystopian, demeaning, and draconic, and well … right now it’s only getting worse. So naturally, in light of my own injury, I ran with that and imagined what things could be like in just another decade. So as we leave 2019 behind and move into 2020, the next decade before us, well … it’s a reminder of where we might be headed.

Again, a lot of what’s on display in this story is already starting to come true, even in the months since it was written. So, you know, it’s worth keeping in mind where we might be going. If you passed this one by, here’s another chance to give it a look.


The Shifting Tide of Employment – Part 1 and 2

These two posts led some interesting discussion, so it’s only fitting that they’re on the list. Back when I first sat down to write the first of what became two articles on the topic (and later a third talking about a related book), I had no idea exactly how massive and real it really was, but …

Well,, for those of you who read the article, let me put it this way. Just this week I saw a news story in my feed that Land O’Lakes had announced that in response to testing, all their shipments were going to continue being done by automated, self-driving shipping trucks.

Buried in the comments to the article were angry outcries from some of the 4000 truckers they laid off at the end of 2019 as part of this, protesting the loss of their job and livelihood to a robot. Just one more case in the growing wave of AIs replacing people in every sphere of employment.

Ironic, then, that these articles were inspired by a fellow Sci-Fi author writing against the topic of automation and including as part of the argument that it was a fantasy that people like truckers could ever be replaced by a machine.

Boy, does that look out of touch right now.

So, why were these two articles an important part of 2019? Honestly, if not because of the articles themselves (though they are well worth reading) because they’re an acknowledgement of the tip of the iceberg right as the faint rumbles of automation in the US job market started really turning into a full-time avalanche. Some of the predictions in these two pieces are already happening only a few months later, and some of them, as the follow-up piece pointed out, already had happened.

Are they alarming? Well, yes. But as most readers noted, it’s with good reason. And it’s not alarmist, just alarming. But if you’ve not heard of automation, or dismissed it as “fanciful” or “unrealistic” well … you should give both of these articles a quick read. You’ll probably walk away a little disturbed, but as they articles point out, the goal is to get one thinking on the topic and how we’ll deal with it moving ahead. It’s not writing related, not entirely, but it is an important topic many more need to be aware of.


All right, that’s it! Some of 2019’s biggest or most-important articles here on Unusual Things! I’ll see you all on Monday as I come back to kick of 2020 with the first Being a Better Writer post of the year. And, of course, some news. 2020 is going to be a good year, folks. There’s a lot coming and a lot going on, starting with a certain writing convention in February …

But that’s news to come (and a lot of it)! For now, I’ve got a story with a dragoness banker to finish, and a fireteam to start outfitting.

So until next Monday, have a great weekend, thank you for supporting, and welcome to 2020! Oh, and if you know of any post in 2019 that you felt should have been on this list but wasn’t, post about it in the comments below! What was your favorite post from Unusual Things in 2019?

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