OP-ED: Opinion and Reality

Fair warning from the start: This post is going to address that beast, politics, and talk about it a little. Probably not in the way most of you expect, but it is going to address it. So fair warning, this might be messy. But I’m pulling no punches and diving right in.

The last few months have reminded me of an experience I once had a little over a decade ago. I collect cool background images for my PC, and from a variety of sources. Photographs of national parks, neat images from video-games I’ve played, whatever. That mix and combination, however, lead to a very interesting exchange.

I had a visitor over who, through one means or another had noticed my rotating backgrounds, and commented on them and how nice they looked. At the moment, the background in question had been showing a very artistic photograph of Hamburg, Germany. I nodded, agreeing, and then noted that it almost made me want to visit and see the city someday.

At which point, this individual did something very unexpected and unusual. They shook their head sadly and said “Oh sure, that’d be nice, but it’s not a real place.”

Stunned and slightly perplexed, I replied that it was indeed very real. Hamburg, Germany was a city on a map.

At this point things took a swift turn sideways. This individual, who up until this point I had assumed was a rational, thinking human being, shook their head and with a sad, patronizing tone said ‘Oh no, it’s not hun. You just think it is because of all those video games you play. You’ve lost touch with reality. You think these imaginary places are real.’

After a moment’s pure shocked disbelief, I replied that I knew very well the difference between fantasy and reality, and replied that Hamburg, Germany was a very real place.

Their response? They shook their head, told me how sad it was that playing video games had messed with my head so much, and hoped that one day I would realize the difference between fantasy and reality.

To this day I wonder if that individual ever realized exactly how crazy they sounded.

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The Publishing Treetops Shake

So the last few weeks have been full of interesting news for the book industry. In fact, I was planning on posting on this last week, since it was more topical then (and I would have found easy access to the relevant links, now I’m just going to talk about it) but had that run-in with a falling teen from the sky and ended up a little out of it.

So we’ll discuss it right now instead, between bits of pre-work on Starforge. So then, what’s to talk about?

Well, when I say “book industry” I really mean one area: Traditional publishing. To be more specific, the big five. The last few weeks have seen a number of shakeups across the big five, from Simon & Schuster switching CEOs (even as they’re up for sale) to other publishers replacing high-up corporate positions, funneling their long-held higher officials out and bringing in new ones with the hope that they’ll bring change.

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Want Diversity? Start Supporting Indie

Hey readers, got a short post for you here today. It may not have escaped your notice in recent weeks (or maybe it did, and you’ve spent your time better than I) that the book industry, specifically traditional publishing, has been under fire.

Okay, in fairness, that’s nothing new. The traditional publishing industry has been suffering for years. That’s why Simon & Schuster is up for sale. But right now it’s under fire from readers for a reason that, given the current political climate in the United States, you can probably guess at.

Yup, the publishers are under fire for diversity. Or rather, for a lack of it.

Before I go further with this post, I want to make one thing clear: I actually agree with this concept, but for entirely different reasons than most locked in this battle would probably agree with. Most of them are painting, as they put it, a lack of books from certain ethnic groups or a lack of good royalty for those books as a deliberately targeted act of racism.

I’m not so sure. At least, not in the way most of the accusers seem to think. Personally? I think it’s far more likely that it’s the same story repeated a thousand times with the traditional publishers: They’re out of touch, behind the times, and refusing to adapt to the modern era. They’re “risk averse” to anything they don’t understand, and buddy, there’s a lot they don’t understand.

So basically, while many are accusing book publishers of being deliberately racist, I think that’s giving the publishers too much credit. It’s an “achievement” of ignorance as much as anything else. Ignorance and willful refusal to adapt. Not at all helped by many publishers trying to kill as many birds with one stone as possible and push out books that “hit” every margin the publisher hasn’t at once.

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A Brief Post Concerning the State of Things in the US

Those of you who are in the US most likely know what I’m talking about today. Those of you outside the US have most likely picked up tidbits, given the amount of non-US news crews covering everything (and finding themselves assaulted for it), so I don’t need to rehash the events surrounding the death of George Floyd or the subsequent protests and then riots sweeping across the US here. If you somehow haven’t gathered much on what happened (another cop killing someone on camera in cold blood with no repercussions) … well that parenthetical is likely all you need to decipher, along with a decent imagination of “Well, how would people react to that?”

Now, I’m not going to go into a lot of depth on this today. Be aware that that depth does exist. If you wish to find records of police brutality, videos of Australian news crews being clubbed with batons, or old men beat up by police until they’re lying bleeding on the pavement for the “crime” of trying to get to their home or waiting for a bus.

So what am I going to say on this? A few things.

First, the murder of George Floyd was wrong. As is any of the racial profiling that still sticks with a lot of people in the US. I think I’ve made it pretty clear over the course of seven books that I think judging someone based on the color of their skin is an utterly asinine practice that no one should engage in. Positive or negative (yes, it’s just as bad to assume someone is “good” because of a skin color as it is to assume something bad about them).

People. Are. People. We’re all human beings on this little rock we call Earth. Blue, green, purple, whatever. Judging someone based on the color of their skin is wrong.

You want to make a judgement on someone, do it by something that matters, like the content of their character.

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The Stable Instability

Hello readers! Never fear, I’m still alive. Just hard at work on episode #10 of Fireteam Freelance.

Episode ten? Why yes, I am getting that far ahead. Which is good, because these last episodes are probably going to be pretty titanic. “Season finale” and all that.

Of course, having a pretty good buffer does mean that this Friday will see the release of the next big episode: Missing Persons. I’m pretty pleased with how this episode turned out. Not only did we get a neat view of a future cityscape, but we also got to see a seriously cool action sequence. And some more puzzle pieces clicking together …

Anyway, that will be up this Saturday, so be sure to keep an eye open. We’ve passed the halfway point with Mandatory Takeout, so things are coming together and moving with a swifter and swifter pace, and again, I’m pretty pleased with some of the action sequences from this Saturday’s episode. They’re pretty crazy.

So, moving on to further news: Facebook advertising is now rolling forward. It’s still somewhat experimental, and I’ll admit I don’t have the strongest grasp on it yet (a lot of this is very much learn as you go), but I desperately needed something to combat the abject slump that came about with the reopening of the economy. Sorry, partial reopening. A topic which I won’t get into outside of saying “It’s divisive.”

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Artificial Fans?

On April 1st, 2014, one of that year’s most unexpected video game hits released: Goat Simulator. “What does this have to do with writing and reading?” Just trust me.

Goat Simulator was not what was described in the title. Yes, you were a goat, but “simulation” was more a play on the janky, not-simulation nature of so many other titles around that time claiming the term but being little more than soulless, broken cash-grabs. Goat Simulator played that for comedic effect, and ended up being a hit.

Later that year, it was a added upon with an expansion: Goat Simulator: MMO Simulator, which carried the joke even further by purporting to turn the game into an MMO, or massively multiplayer online game.

Which of course, it wasn’t. It simulated all the online aspects. But for a lot of players, that was enough to fool them into thinking it was, and shortly after the expansion’s release a lot of players who hadn’t read the farcicle fine print were shocked to discover that the “people” they’d been playing with were just AIs.

At the time this was a clever joke. Some chatbots filling a “global” chat, combined with some player-like behavior. People laughed, and the world moved on.

Just … not in the direction we thought. Because as people have discovered (here’s the comic they made about this, by the way) this idea that people could be fooled by nothing more than some lines of code pretending to be the “crowd” that the audience goes along with, well … it hasn’t left.

People are, by nature, social animals. For most, as long as they hear enough voices backing it up, they’ll go check it out. One person says “Hey, you’re good at this?” That’s nice. Ten? A hundred?

1000? Well, you’re probably pretty good at it, right?

Even if 979 of those 1000 are little more than bots?

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What’s the Next Big Shift in Publishing, and When Will it Hit?

Hey folks! Post-LTUE post here, based off of a couple of conversations I had at LTUE with other authors (be they at the green room, signings, panels, etc). It’s straightforward enough to jump right to the point, so I’ll ask it:

When will the next big shift in publishing hit?

Over the course of LTUE I ended up talking with several different authors on topics that all orbited around (or outright addressed) this idea: That publishing is seeing shifts. Ebooks and indie pubs, for example. And right now, tension is (according to a few authors) building for another. When it hits, what will it be?

This isn’t just from a publishing perspective, but also from an audience perspective. One author I spoke with pointed out that right now the real money for them was in selling short serials on Amazon, but admitted that they didn’t know if that would change soon or not. Would Kindle Unlimited suddenly be their big bank, or would it dry up entirely? There were a little hyperbole-ish about it, but at the same time I could see their point. Publishing right now is more tumultuous than it has ever been thanks to the rise of ebooks and indies, and no one really knows what’s going to happen next. Big publishers are fighting against the change, while authors are scrambling to embrace it, but ultimately where that will put things … well, no one knows, but there’s a lot of theory flying around.

For example, one conversation I was involved in basically boiled down to “Which of the big five trad pubs is going to fall first?” The question among the authors present wasn’t “Will one fall” but which one and when?

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The Uncertain Future of Amazon (and Indie) Advertising

So this one’s been on my list to write about ever since Jungle launched. Things have been … pretty busy, which is why it’s taken this long to get to it. But no matter where I’ve been, or what I’ve been doing, this topic has weighed on the back of my mind (even when sick, lol).

Why? Well, because I think it may have a lot of impact on the publishing future going ahead.

Look, let’s all be on the same page here: Indie publishing is the juggernaut change that the book industry is dealing with right now. Traditional publishers are fast falling out of favor, doubling down on archaic models and methods that haven’t made financial sense in two decades, while authors jump ship to newer, smaller indie pubs or just go completely independent on their own. And right at the middle of this swirling maelstrom is … Amazon. The world’s largest bookstore. Who basically looked at publishing and said “Oh, how cute and quaint. Well, you keep doing that, but we’re offering the future.”

Okay, what they really did was throw their doors wide open, say “Hey, anyone can sell a book here, and here’s your 70% royalty,” and let logic do the rest. Because few authors were going to stick with a traditional publisher model where they owned nothing and worked for a royalty so small they’d need to sell a hundred books just to make $10 when they could instead keep all the rights and sell two books to make $10.

Anyway, that’s ancient history by now, and the market is well on its way through the reactionary shift to this change, with traditional publishers struggling to stay relevant through all sorts of questionable actions like cutting author royalties even further or attacking libraries.

But this isn’t about that. Well, sort of. That’s all background to bring us up to speed so I can get to the real meat of today’s topic: Amazon’s Advertising system.

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My Thoughts on Terminator: Dark Fate

I was five when I saw Terminator 2: Judgement Day for the first time. Maybe six. Somewhere around there. My dad rented it on a VHS tape and watched it and let me sit there and watch it too.

My mother was horrified, which is a whole ‘nother story that from my perspective is pretty funny.

Anyway, my point is I saw T2 at a very young age and loved it. I mean, why wouldn’t I have loved it? Robots from a future where machines have risen up against man? And one’s a good robot while the other is a more advanced shapeshifting robot made of liquid metal?

Okay, I don’t need to explain to most of you why T2 is both so iconic and so good. Most of you know. And if you don’t, well, it’s really hard to go in blind, but the less you know past “An AI losing a war against mankind in the future sends back a machine to change the past by killing the kid responsible for the victory of the resistance” the better.

So why tell you this? Because I’m always interested in a new Terminator film when it comes out. I like the premise. I like the action. Drop a trailer for a new Terminator film and I’ll likely go see it. Save 3. 3 was … well, there’s a reason I’m not even bothering to italicize the title.

Actually, in fairness the other Terminator sequels haven’t been that great either. Salvation was at least somewhat novel but ultimately didn’t click for me, despite at least being memorable. Genisys was … How to explain this? Oh, I know. I literally forgot that the movie existed after I saw it. It wasn’t until a youtube algorithm spat me a link to a fight from it that I remembered “Oh yeah, this was a thing!”

Amusingly enough, a friend of mine said almost the exact same thing about it last night, noting that he too completely forgot the film existed after seeing it. Compared to T2, well … ouch.

Note: It does have some cool moments that are worth hitting on Youtube. So there is that.

But with all that, I was still excited for Terminator: Dark Fate. And at long last, I finally got to see it. So now, I’m going to tell you what I think about it.

I liked it. A lot.

No, really. I enjoyed the action. I loved Gabriel Luna’s fantastic portrayal of the REV-9, with plenty of very clear callbacks to the iconic Robert Patrick’s role as the T-1000 (if memory serves, Luna even stated in an interview that he underwent some of the same training to achieve the same effect). I enjoyed seeing Linda Hamilton again, and even if some of her lines were a little over the top I felt it worked as she’s clearly someone who’s still not over the … well, that’s a massive spoiler alert, so heads up, we’re going deep into spoiler territory here. If you want to avoid spoilers, well … stop reading here. And know that I enjoyed it quite a bit. It’s not T2, but it at least deserves a place on my shelf alongside it.

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OP-ED: The Foolish Hypocrisy of “What We Had is Good Enough”

Hey readers! Taking a moment from Fireteam Freelance to make a quick post. One that, well … Let’s just see how this goes. But first, a heads up that Colony and Jungle have picked up something like six new Five-Star reviews/ratings in the last week! Welcome new readers, and thank you for leaving your thoughts! I’m glad you’re loving Colony and Jungle!

Okay, news over! This post, like some here on Unusual Things, is one of those posts inspired by an actual conversation. In this case said conversation was between myself and an individual who shall remain nameless, but who is an outspoken critic of the “younger generations.”

Note: If you thought “Oh, a boomer!” or “OK boomer” then you’re on the right track here. Anyway, this individual holds that the social difficulties of today aren’t difficulties at all, that they’re simply a byproduct of the younger generations being lazy and incompetent, and that no one has had it harder than their generation (red flag much?).

But … that’s not where I’m going with this. No, I want to use this interaction to show the hypocrisy of a mindset that is, unfortunately, bought into by many. The idea that “Well, we had it good enough, so anything past that we perceive means you’re coddled/weak/less than us.”

Let me give you an example. The individual I was in the conversation with gave their “example” of “you have it so much better than the generation before you who had it so bad, how dare you complain about anything” by bringing up cell phones. Cell phones and smart phones, they argued, were just a sign of a coddled, weakened generation. ‘The younger generation doesn’t have money,’ they argued, ‘because they spend it on cell phones, which they don’t need. If they were really poor, they’d get rid of their cell phones.’

Okay, now despite the holes of logic that one could pilot a star cruiser through (such as even basic, minimum-wage jobs—so you know, banks, retail, medical, etc—requiring their employees have cell phones for scheduling, 24-7 access, etc), this person didn’t stop there. They just had to “drive the point home.”

‘When I was the age of the younger generation, the apartment block I lived in had one phone, at the end of the hall. Most used it only once a week to call someone important like their family.’ And here’s the moment where they messed up. They then finished if ‘If it was good enough for me and my generation, then it’s good enough for you.’

I responded in a way that caught them off-guard. I asked why they felt they needed to use the phone, if a letter worked just as well. They replied that why shouldn’t they use the phone? After all, it was there to be used.

‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘But did your parents have access to a phone like that when they were your age?’

‘Of course not,’ they quickly retorted. ‘They sent letters. There was no phone.’

‘Then why didn’t you send letters?’ I asked. ‘After all, if it was good enough for them, shouldn’t it have been good enough for you? You didn’t need to use a phone.’

Instant. Anger. And cue the rant.

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