OP-ED: Why I Think Streaming Has Made a Mistake

Max here with an Op-Ed, people. Shouldn’t be a long one, but hey, it’ll give you some content while waiting for the cover reveal for Starforge! More on that later (it deserves its own post). For now, today’s Op-Ed.

So, if you haven’t heard, Disney has joined the ranks of streaming services announcing price hikes. In this case, it’s Disney+’s first while for others such as Hulu or ESPN it could just be written away as “yet another price hike.” In addition, Disney unveiled that Disney+ will now have advertising! Just like everyone wanted!

Of course, no one wanted this. But one thing has become clear over the last year or two of the so-called streaming wars: For many of the companies involved, the goal is merely to return to the most profitable section of entertainment they can think of, AKA cable.

Don’t believe it? Look at how they’re rolling out advertisements. Did you know that cable television was advertisement free originally? That’s right! Originally, you were paying to not have ads like broadcast television did. But once the audience was captured, the ads rolled in, until cable television became an advertising service more than an entertainment venue. After all, why collect money from one side of the equation when you can collect it from two sides of the equation? Double-dipping! American business ingenuity at its finest!

Disney very clearly has its sights set on the old ways, with how they excitedly push “bundling” Hulu, Disney+, and ESPN in one package for a “reduced” rate. Nevermind that there are advertisements now, look how good a deal you’re getting! Similar is happening with Netflix and other streaming services as CEOs seek to return to the golden age of captive television piggy banks.

The problem as I see it, however, is that it just won’t work. Because the market that let that golden piggy bank exist no longer does.

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An Illustrative Lesson on the Importance of Stories

I didn’t plan on making this post today, but then I saw the news and some social media from friends and family, hit a quick Google search because I was reminded of something … and well … Here we are. It’s definitely political in its own way, so far warning, but there’s a moral of its own by the end.

One of the Calvin and Hobbes story arcs that I remember very vividly from my youth is the story of Calvin and the Traffic Safety Slogan Contest (which starts at this link, and ran for several weeks in newspapers at the time). The story itself is amusing as any of Calvin’s adventures, the school opening up a contest with a $10 prize ($20 in today’s money) for coming up with the best traffic safety slogan on a poster, and Calvin sabotaging himself while being utterly convinced, as his six year-old mind often is, that everything about the contest is a forgone conclusion, especially his victory. The moral explored by the end—which utterly baffles and bounces off of Calvin, something Watterson himself noted in the anniversary collection—is that you may try your best, but victory is never assured, so gain confidence and satisfaction from having tried and put your best foot forward, not from winning and being declared better than everyone else.

Naturally, Calvin doesn’t win, his slogan of “Be Careful or Be Roadkill,” on a poster splattered with chunky spaghetti sauce for a “patent-pending 3D Gore-o-rama,” isn’t exactly a hit with classmates or the judges. However, when his poster doesn’t win, Calvin refuses to accept that he has lost, instead declaring the contest a “miscarriage of justice” and stating that the judges were “biased against us from the start.” He then goes to his father and tells him it was rigged and that “I want you to call the school board, have them declare fraud, and make them take the prize away from [the winner] and give it to me!”

Calvin, of course, refuses to accept or understand his father’s attempts to talk sense into him, mocking his father’s answer that winning and losing is part of life, to which his father dryly observes that Calvin’s been learning too many morals from ads for athletic shoes.

It’s a fun story, but it was also interesting to me decades later how absolutely directly—and here come the politics, which many of you probably already saw—it paralleled the 2020 election results, Calvin’s mocking words and dismissive attitude perfectly reflected by nearly an entire party who refused to believe that it was possible THEY could lose. Ever. “Take the prize away from the winner] and give it to me! indeed.

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Being a Better Writer: Crafting Good Goals For Protagonists and Antagonists Alike

Welcome readers, to another Monday installment of Being a Better Writer! I hope that you all had a pleasant weekend, and that today’s post kicks off a glorious start to an even better week than the last. Especially where your writing is concerned!

So today’s post should be a little shorter. News-wise there’s very little I didn’t cover in last Friday’s news post, so if you’ve read that you’re all caught up. We’re inching closer to an official cover reveal for Starforge, but I don’t have an actual date yet. One other bit of news that has come to my attention over the course of the weekend will come out a bit later, but I’ll hint now that it’s good news and involves book sales numbers, which I am nearing a serious milestone for.

So yeah, most of the news that’s directly relevant was talked about on Friday. If you saw that, you’re caught up. If not, go give it a look and then come back here for a discussion on crafting good goals for protagonists and antagonists alike.

I admit, this may seem like a bit of a strange topic for some of you. Why should we talk about protagonist or antagonist goals. Aren’t those pretty simple? After all, it’s just what your character wants, right? How hard can that be?

Well … you got me. You’re right. Most of the time, this is pretty simple and/or straightforward. But for one, we talk about simple and straightforward things all the time on here. Secondly, it isn’t always simple or straightforward, and sometimes thinking about our characters’ goals a little more deeply than “They are at Position A and want to be at Position B” can free up our story in surprising ways.

So, hit the jump, and let’s talk about looking at (and crafting) good character goals.

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Friday News Post!

Wow, it’s been silent this week, hasn’t it? There was Monday’s excellent—in my opinion, anyway—Being a Better Writer post and then just … silence. Nothing on Tuesday, which is normal. But then nothing on Wednesday or Thursday either.

Well, it’s not because I wasn’t busy. Alpha Readers from the Second Alpha for Starforge have continued onward, with I believe two in the final quarter of the book, the rest of the Alpha Readers coming up behind them. I’ve been getting steady, consistent feedback, but it has been largely positive thus far with only a few minor things rearing their head. A majority of which seemed centered around the chapter that saw the most rewrites, all concerning smoothing rather than major changes so … Yeah! Things are looking good! As the Alpha team gets further and further, my confidence grows that there will not be an Alpha 3, but a graduation into BETA!

Which does imply that those of you that have been Beta Readers in the past should feel the anticipation growing. Starforge is inching closer to being in your hands! The Beta Read’s time nears!

But there’s another meaning with that as well. Because usually in the industry, once a book is in Beta, that’s when preview copies start going out. And this time? I am looking at sending out digital copies once the Alpha is over and done with to interested reviewers who wouldn’t mind taking a look at the grand finale and seeing how everything shakes out … As well as, of course, maybe dropping some early reviews for the book before it hits.


All awesome, right? But that’s both what others have been doing and what’s coming. What have I been up to the last few days?

Well, I haven’t been writing, save Being a Better Writer and, well, now this post. Though I do have another short story for More Unusual Events bubbling in the back of my head involving a mermaid that’s found a new hobby in bird-watching … But that’s for tomorrow’s writing (the day, incidentally, that you’ll see this post). What have I spent my entire Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday on?

Something very Starforge related. See, with the Alpha 2 reading moving along at a good clip, before I started going over the chapters every Alpha Reader has made it through … I’ve been sitting at my desk with a copy of GIMP open, clicking away and balancing colors.

That’s right, people, the Starforge cover reveal is coming.

Not today. Not in this post. I want to let what I’ve got sit for a bit and see how I feel about it. Previously I’ve withheld from having cover quotes on the cover of my book (after all, I like the art to stand out), but I’m waffling a bit here with this cover.

But it looks good. Those of you who are in the Discord have seen some previews already. As have those of you who are Patreon Supporters. It took me a few days (because I’m not a graphic designer, though I’m certainly learning a lot of the same skills), but I’m pretty happy with what’s resulted right now.

Does it look cool? Yes it does. Very cool. Very striking. Very prime.

And this one? I think I will do a 4K background for it. You’ll see why when the image itself finally arrives.

More news on that next week.

With that, I’m out of news! Enjoy your weekend, people!

Starforge is coming.

Being a Better Writer: Worldbuilding – What To Share and What To Keep

Hello readers and writers! Welcome back after yet another weekend! Who’s geared up and ready to write! There’s a whole new week ahead of us, and who knows what stories might flow from our fingertips as we enter a new week and a new month!

I’m right there with you. Last Friday I wrapped up the last changes and edits to the Alpha 1 edition of Starforge, which means the Alpha 2 crew now has access to the entire length of the second Alpha. And they’re making good time too! At the current pace, I wouldn’t be surprised if a few of them finished it this weekend!

This has several meanings. For starters, it means that I’m currently bereft of editing for a brief moment, so I can work on other projects, such as the Starforge cover (ooooh yeah), short story writing, or getting more prep work done on the next Jacob Rocke book—perhaps even a few chapters written.

But it also means that Starforge is edging closer to the Beta reading, as based on the feedback from this Alpha, we’re close if not there. Maybe I’m wrong—I’ll wait until the second Alpha Reader crew has passed final judgement before making that call, but right now it does look positive. If things maintain their current course, though, the first Beta read could arrive this month!

Which would have other implications as well. See, once Starforge is officially out of Alpha, and there aren’t any additional structural changes in the pipeline, I can start dropping some real preview chapters on everyone. Previews, sneak peaks of characters and new tools at the trio’s fingertips. Sands, I could even start sending out early previews of the novel to select readers to start building hype.

Get ready folks, because Starforge is coming! The grand finale of the UNSEC Space trilogy is almost here!

All right, with that said, let’s step away from the news and over to the subject of today’s post, which is once again worldbuilding!

Not without reason. If I recall correctly from our last topic call, today’s subject is indeed one of the reader requested topics we were asked to cover. Which … I get it. Worldbuilding remains a tough sea to navigate for many writers young and even experienced. We’ve spoken before of the challenges and even pitfalls of worldbuilding on the site, from starting guides to more involved deep dives.

And yet, there’s still more to cover. Worldbuilding, it would seem, is a topic almost as deep and varied as the resultant subject can be.

Which brings us, more directly, to today’s specific request. Which asked us to discuss how to know what should be shared and what should be held while writing a novel. Because not everything that a writer comes up with during worldbuilding has a place showing up in the narrative. In fact, for many worldbuilders, a majority of what you write out for worldbuilding won’t show up directly in the novel proper—though note that I use the term “directly” there, as figuring out the backstory of how the Magistrate of Evans in your story committed grand fraud, which is why everyone in your story now is suspicious of public officers is going to cast a shadow of influence over the whole work. We just likely won’t get the history-style writeup on it that you set aside in your worldbuilding.

Okay, enough preamble. Hit the jump, and let’s talk about what to hold back and what to show.

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The Lessons Hollywood Won’t Learn From the Halo TV Show

Well, we’ve reached that point, now. The Halo TV show has run its course of a full season, the last episodes being in May, the public has had time to digest and deliberate, and now we see the trickle-down effect of how people refer to it in casual conversation.

Oh, my mistake. Did I say “refer to it?” I meant shred it without an ounce of remorse.

Yes, the consensus of the real world is in, and it is cruel. Past the paid critics, past the hopefuls who insisted that the absolutely awful first two episodes were just the show finding its feet, we now have the reaction of ordinary people online, gamers and non-gamers both, who have sort of settled into a common pattern for how the show is remembered.

To give another example of what I’m talking about, let’s look at another show with real cultural zeitgeist: Community. Community is very well-favored, as people will often quote the show, talk about it fondly, share jokes from the show, and harp on Netflix’s idiotic decision to censor the DnD episodes.

Zeitgeist reactions to things when they come up in casual conversation can be a pretty solid indicator of a bit of entertainment’s real value, impact, or staying power. Especially in a situation like the one around the Halo TV show, where the production clearly spent a vast amount of its budget on “selecting” reviewers for maximum praise as well as a solid amount on a legal department that would go after anyone saying anything negative (one reviewer repeatedly found their reviews taken down and hit with copyright strikes for using promotional footage Paramount had sent out, all because they rightfully criticized a frankly awful show).

So, in a situation where the creator has abused legal powers to make it as difficult as possible to determine if something is actually good or not, what’s been the public impact of the long-awaited Halo TV show?

Well, from those who’ve watched it … it’s another steaming pile of junk television that once again serves to checkbox Hollywood’s biggest flaws.

That may seem harsh, but have you seen this show? Even those with no familiarity with the source material online have constantly noted that it did nothing to feel exemplary, the story, characters, and plot were trite and inconsistent, even the most positive defenders giving it responses of ‘At best, it’s poor Sci-Fi television’ or ‘It’s a decent time-waster, but lacks any redeeming qualities.’

That’s at best. Many reactions seem fit to compare it to the utterly iconic 1993 “so bad it’s kind of good” adaptation Super Mario Brothers: The Movie. With some of those comparisons arguing which movie was more accurate or had the better similarity to the original product (which, if you know anything about that 1993 blunder, is not an act of praise). A lot of comparisons are also touted that at least Super Mario Bros: The Movie can be watched in a fun capacity, what with the actors being infamously drunk during shooting and the movie being worthy of a watch if you’re looking to laugh at how bad it is, while most seem to agree that the Halo show does not earn this distinction. There’s no “It’s so bad it’s good” moment for the Halo show, according to the internet. It’s just … bad. Even if the viewers happen to be drunk.

Sands, the watch group I initially saw the first two episodes with even fell apart for this reason. The majority of them were not players of the Halo games and knew little about the series, but when confronted with the TV show, none of them felt that watching something so poor even for the “fun” of mocking it was worth the time.

Okay, you get it. Halo, the TV show, is a pile of steaming streaming garbage. The consuming public has spoken, and reacted with a nigh-universal retching.

How? How did one of the most successful video-game properties of the last twenty years, one that has grown into successful books, comics, and other forms of entertainment, covering a sprawling universe that sees constant audience engagement, something that should have been a cinch to create a well-regarded TV show for … create this steaming pile of drek that’s now so thorough lambasted that users on social media feel the need to note that the regular Halo universe and story is fine, just the show is a pile of poo?

Well, that’s what we’re going to talk about today. But in a slightly different manner. We’re going to look at this from a learning perspective. What are all the common mistakes that the Halo TV show made that the show’s creators will refuse to learn from?

See, there’s the catch. Halo’s mistakes aren’t new in the slightest. In fact, they’re the same mistakes that plagued Super Mario Brothers: The Movie, almost thirty years ago. Once again, this is a case of Hollywood refusing to grow up, of making the same mistakes over and over again, which sure as the sun will rise once again on another day, they’ll make again because they refuse to believe they’re wrong.

So, let’s talk about some of the lessons we should learn—but won’t—from the utterly awful Halo TV show. Hit the jump.

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Being a Better Writer: How Do We Get Our Readers to Care?

Hello and welcome back readers! I hope you all had a wonderful weekend! Mine was jam-packed with events, but pretty solid as a result (though packed). And there were some real booms on the Starforge Alpha 2 as well, with one reader clearing nearly a quarter of the book in a single sitting! Related to that, it’s a good thing I’m almost done with the final chapters for this Alpha, or I’d have people catching up to me!

Ultimately what this means for most of you is that Starforge continues to inch closer with each mighty step of its heavy tread. And yes, it’s still pretty heavy despite the trimming and the cuts. This will definitely be the biggest book I’ve released once it’s published. And it’ll probably stay the biggest for a long time. I don’t see myself outdoing this one anytime soon.

But enough about Starforge, let’s talk about today’s writing topic. This is going to be a familiar one to some, as it is a bit of a recurring theme across writing. In fact, I’m pretty sure (but not going to do a search for it) that we’ve devoted a post to this very topic at least once or twice, and definitely spoken about it dozens of times in other topics.

But it still remains a hot topic among authors and writers of all ages. And with good reason, as getting readers and audiences to care about characters can be quite difficult. Empathy is an acquired skill, and asking a reader to exercise that empathy with a character bound between a few pages? Well, that’s an art. A carefully developed, practiced art, and one that many would-be writers dive headfirst into without any understanding of perspective, leading to a creation that doesn’t hit the way they’d hoped it would.

So, let’s spend today talking about getting our readers to care when we present our characters, their setting, and the events that they will go through. Let’s talk about how we can avoid melodrama (and maybe what that is) and instead give our readers real, actual empathy for the characters we’ve built.

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OP-ED: In Defense of the “Fiction” in “Science-Fiction”

“I can state flatly that heavier than air flying machines are impossible.”

—Lord Kelvin, not long before the flight at Kitty Hawk.

So for starters, I’m not sure how long this post is going to be. Additionally, it was sort of unplanned and very spontaneous (definitely a clear target for the “Disorganized Thoughts” tag).

But … I wanted to say it anyway. Some of you might be curious as to where this post is coming from, and so I’ll start there. In what I’m sure is a surprise to almost no one, I do tend to frequent or at least dwell occasionally in online Sci-Fi hangouts. I’ve talked about r/PrintSF before here on the site (at least, I’m fairly certain I’ve mentioned it at least once, but I know it’s been brought up in the Discord), and it’s not the only location I’ve spent time on online that discusses Sci-Fi in all its various forms.

As I said, I’m sure none of you are surprised by this. But in my spending time in these locations, discussing books, films, games, and other Sci-Fi, I have run across a number of opinions. Most of these are the fairly classic fare, such as “Kirk VS Picard” and “Peaceful aliens VS hostile aliens VS unknowable aliens.”

But there’s one particular crowd, a very vocal and outspoken crowd, that always irks me a little. In fairness, I think some of you will agree. But this group is … Well, they remind me of flat-earthers or climate-change deniers. Not, I stress, because they believe in a flat-earth, but because they display a parallel sort of thought process.

Maybe the best name for this group would be the “anti-fiction crowd.” Anti-science works too, as could anti-progression. The mindset behind it probably fits “anti-science” a bit better, but since we’re talking about Science-Fiction, we’ll stick with “anti-fiction.”

This crowd operates under two principles:

  1. No Science-Fiction book should writen about anything that is not 100% provable or capable by today.
  2. Science is absolute, and cannot be considered incomplete.

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Being a Better Writer: Ancient Jobs and Ancient Life

Welcome back readers.

Things feel a little subdued this morning. That’s because the writing world lost a legend this weekend. Eric Flint passed away on Sunday.

If you aren’t familiar with Eric Flint, he’s been around since … Well, from my perspective, forever. I was seeing books with his name on them when I was a child at the grocery story paperback section. He wrote a phenomenal amount of alternative history, to the point that at least in the circles I’ve hung out in, he was one of the two names that came up whenever anyone spoke about alternate history.

The writing community has grown a little smaller with this news. There is a GoFundMe raising funds for a memorial service.

What scattered new I have is practically unremarkable by comparison, so that’s all I think needs to be said for today’s news segment.

However, today’s topic? It was chosen as a sort of tribute to Eric Flint and his contributions to the literary world. A deviation from what was planned, but I think there’d be no better topic for today than to look at the genre that Flint loved to write and talk about it for a bit.

Well, one aspect of it, at least. We won’t be talking alternative history specifically, but we will be talking about a narrow slice of it. A slice that’s been sitting on Topic List #20 for some time now, waiting for its moment.

Today, we’re going to talk about ancient jobs and ancient life. Stick around, because it’s not what you think.

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News, Updates, and Musings

I really need to make a new list of “assorting things to talk about” for these off days, but right now I spend so much writing time thinking about Starforge that doesn’t seem to be happening!

But hey, at least that means there are updates there to speak of. So, how is work coming along on Starforge?

Excellently. Yesterday I finished off revisions to Part Two of the book, with those revisions passed on to the Alpha 2 crew. Today work begins (for me) on Part Three, which is good because at least one of the Alpha 2 readers have already gotten through Part One.

Part Two took some work as well, particularly in one specific chapter which was not preferred by the Alpha 1 crew (those of you in that crew know which one I’m talking about). In the end, over half of it was completely rewritten, with the latter half being tweaked and edited along the way to bring it up to speed. Hopefully the Alpha 2 crew finds it much more digestible now.

That’s not the only change made across the second Alpha, but it’s so far been the largest and most sweeping one. Though there is one other change that’s been suggested by the Alpha 1 crew that the Alpha 2 crew now gets to deliberate, regarding where Part One ends. Basically, shuffling of chapters. I won’t say which direction I’m leaning with it, but there is a comment left by me serving as a signpost for the Alpha 2 readers asking their opinion.

Those Alpha 2 readers that haven’t reached that yet, what are you waiting for?


Anyway, work continues with that, but I’ve got some other news as well. See, once I finish this pass, I’ll still have to wait a bit for all the Alpha 2 readers to get some distance in the story before sweeping along behind them. Basically editing at the speed of the slowest Alpha Reader. Now, I’d like to get started on this by the end of the month, but if I finish getting all the Alpha 2 chapters up next week, what will I be doing then?

Why, starting on the cover for Starforge, of course! Yes, I’m going to be starting this one a little early, since I’ll need to learn a little more about my graphical editing (I think) in order to pull off what I have in mind, so it might take longer. Regardless, as most of you will probably guess, it is going to be in line with the other covers in the UNSEC Space trilogy. But … this one’s gonna be a little different. You’ll see … eventually. I’m not sure how long it’ll take, but if I can figure out the tools for what I’m going to try to do, the cover might be previewed as early as August!

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