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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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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Op-Ed: How Covid-19’s Impact Might Be Good for the United States

Hello readers! I’m going to start this post with a bit of a disclaimer. Two, actually.

First, I know Covid-19 has been bad for a lot of people. It’s caused a lot of deaths, and a lot of disruption. There are people who have lost family members and friends because of this, or jobs and livelihoods. At the time of this writing, the global death toll was about 140,000. The goal of this post isn’t to say that Covid-19 (AKA Coronavirus) is good, it’s unmistakably a situation which we should take very seriously. But the impact it’s left on the other claw, could be good. Much in the way an early architectural disaster arising due to unknown elements can lead to a greater understanding of building stresses and safer buildings overall (this has indeed happened).

Second, this post is really only concerned with the United States of America. Because it’s where I happen to live, and where therefore I’m both most familiar with the structure of things as well as the effects Covid-19 has had on that structure. If you’re one of my many readers from outside the US (shoutout to Europe, including Sweden, Norway, Spain, and Finland, New Zealand, Brazil, and even Africa!) then this post may not be quite as relevant except maybe as a curious thought exercise or puzzlement or another opinion piece on how the US functions (or in this case, doesn’t function, as we’re about to discuss).

So, with both those things said, then, let’s move on to today’s post, and how Covid-19’s impact could be good for the US … if we’re aware enough to make it happen.

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OP-ED: Hollywood Clearly Doesn’t Want Video Game Films to Succeed

Okay, remember how I said I’d post tomorrow? Well, I’m posting today. You’ll get a post tomorrow. This news I just received … Well, it set me off, and a post had to be made.

I saw Sonic the Hedgehog over the weekend. And you know what? It was actually pretty dang good! But you know why? Only because Paramount reacted to the massive and rightly earned horror the public recoiled with upon seeing their “improved” version of the iconic character.

Sonic Redesign

Seriously. Remember this abomination of terror? The redesign of a classic character that Paramount did only because they apparently wanted to “prove” they could do it better?

Here’s what Sonic actually looks like in the games, by the way, so you can see how badly they screwed it up:

tsr_sonic

Only after being absolutely flattened by angry and horrified responses from the general public did Paramount push the film back and decide to change the final film into something actually resembling the the character whose name they were using, giving us this:

Sonic Redesign 2

Which, you’ll agree is a lot closer to the actual design of the character whose film again, they claimed they were making. You know, they just wanted to improve it.

So why am I talking about this (and exposing you to the horrors of Paramount’s “improvement”)? I mean, I didn’t even get into the absolutely awful choice of music for the first trailer, but I digress.

So why talk about this? Because I firmly believe at this point that Hollywood is doing its best to damage every video game property they can get their hands on. Why?

To damage the competition.

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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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OP-ED: The Gears of War “Movie”: Games and Hollywood

Hollywood has … problems.

Okay, that’s kind of a lame lead. We all know that. Everywhere has problems. Is Hollywood unique?

Well … yes. Most of their problems are pretty specific. And a lot of them are of their own, self-inflicted making. If you want a fascinating hour, go look up a podcast on how things like Academy Awards are determined and you’ll be exposed to an almost insane feedback loop wherein people make movies to please the academy so that they can win awards to make movies to please the academy.

Yeah, Hollywood is weird. But one of their more puzzling “problems,” the one that I want to talk about today, is their obsession with “fixing what isn’t broke.”

That’s right. I want to talk about video game movies.

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How Marvel’s Movies (and Others’ Products) Have Changed Storytelling

Pop quiz for you. Don’t worry, it’ll be easy to answer. Have you ever read any licensed literature? Like Star Wars books, or Star Trek, or Warhammer, or … Sands, really any licensed property? Or maybe seen a tie-in TV show to a movie? Played a game of a movie or a book?

Basically, anything that could be considered “secondary canon?”

Right. I can already tell I’ve lost some of you. So let’s back up. Let’s say you are a movie producer. Better yet, you’re one of those producers like James Cameron who often writes, produces, and directs your own movies. And you’ve just made a hit.

Now, with this hit on your hands, someone has come to you and asked for a chance to expand on the universe! They want to write a trilogy of books that tie into the movie and extrapolate a bit after it! Awesome!

But … you don’t want to write a trilogy of books. You want to keep making movies.

“No problem!” says the publisher with the contract. “We’ve got an author lined up! They’ll write all three. We just need some notes on the movie, for you to answer some questions, and that’ll be all we need!”

So you sign the paper, and the trilogy comes out. You collect a small licensing fee, and a bunch of fans of your movie go on to read the book and form excited theories and ideas.

Except … a year or two later, when you sit down to write the sequel, you’ve got a bunch of ideas that don’t quite mesh with the world and liberties the author of the book trilogy took to flesh out their story. Not that you know this: You probably haven’t read them. Or, if you did read them, you’d know the score as being thus—

The movie came first, therefore the movie is the final word.

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OP-ED: Can I Be Blunt? I Can’t Stand Modern Cover Design

There, I’ve said it. This post has been a long-time coming (it was actually planned for the week after LTUE, but then that big bit of metal fell …) but today we’re finally getting to it. And the title pretty much sums it up.

I don’t like modern cover design for books. At all. And the more books move toward this modern design, the less I enjoy it.

What’s not to like? First and foremost, the size of everything. There was a time when a book had three primary things on the cover, in addition to some smaller things that could sometimes appear. You had the name of the book. You had the name of the author. And you had the cover image itself. And these were displayed with a decent hierarchy in mind. The cover image was usually foremost, followed by or sharing equal billing with the title.

Now, however … that’s not the case. One of the trends right now is that the author’s name has to be AS BIG AS PHYSICALLY POSSIBLE, dominating as much of the cover as it can. At first it was just under the size of the name of the book. Then it became the same size. Now? On a lot of books, it’s even bigger. You can find book covers with the author’s name taking up over a third of the cover. Or more.

Personally? I can’t stand it. I get that there are “reasons” behind it (I heard about them at LTUE, and you’ll definitely hear them from the Indie crowd), but even with those “reasons” I still can’t stand it. Especially as the driving force behind it is … well, it’s kind of childish personally. It’s the old “Bigger is better” idea.

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OP-ED: Disney’s Star Wars Doesn’t Understand Strong Female Characters

Hoo boy. I know this topic is getting tagged with “Controversial” without even having finished it. Crud, it’s controversial just from the title. Discuss anything to do with female characters, strong or otherwise, and you’re painting a gigantic target on yourself.

Which is why I’d like to point out, for those sharpening their pitchforks before they were even finished reading the title, that I’ve had some experience with strong female characters of a wide variety. Yeah, it sucks that I have to lead with a disclaimer, but people are just that trigger happy these days. But I’ve written some very well-received female protagonists who are strong and capable, whether they be Meelo Karn, the Imperial Inquisitor of Shadow of an Empire, with her quick, deductive mind and talent for investigation, or Samantha, a young journalist determined to be the first to interview her city’s elusive superhero.

Crud, I’ve written Being a Better Writer articles on here before about gender in stories, and in those admitted that I have a fun habit of flipping a coin for secondary characters just to keep things fresh and fun. I don’t have a problem with strong female characters. The world needs strong women and strong men. Neither should be excluded.

Which, in a way, is where Disney is getting things wrong. And with that, we get to the point.

Disney’s Star Wars, as well as the company itself, has come under fire as of late. Once maligned for being a house proposing (generally) only a singular type of female character, Disney has in recent years worked to round themselves out, giving us characters like Moana or Rapunzel that are more varied than their female protagonists of the past.

Unfortunately, some aspects of Disney have shown they don’t quite understand what this approach entails, and have simply flipped everything as far the other direction as they can manage. The result is, well … bad. And I don’t just mean cringeworthy, but flat-out showing that the folks making the decisions don’t understand A) What a strong female character is and B) How to make one.

Still puzzled as to what could have made me write this post? No, it wasn’t The Last Jedi, though that movie falls into many pitfalls that are only expanded on what you’re about to see. And yes, I do understand that this now means there needs to be a BaBW post on strong female characters. It’s now on the list.

But that’s for a Monday in the future. For the here and now, I want to talk about Disney’s new Star Wars Galaxy of Adventures.

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Op-Ed: Keep Calm, Be Patient, and Think!

Good news! I am 99.5% better. Just some residual tiredness and stuffiness, but fading fairly well. Huzzah! Today I can work on A Game of Stakes!

But first I wanted to get this out there: Keep calm, be patient, and think.

All three of these things seem to be a lost cause for many these days. Patience is for those who “don’t care about the issues.” Keeping calm is “for the uncaring.” And thinking is something done by those who “just don’t want to face the ‘facts.” Instead, the social sphere would have us leap forward as quickly as possible, acting on immediate emotional reactions and snap judgements.

Why am I talking about this? Well, because of the last month. In my country, there was a massive mediastorm revolving around a man named Kavanaugh. For those who luckily missed all the controversy, Kavanaugh was nominated to a position on the Supreme Court (one of the three branches of the US government). And, almost immediately, had sexual assault allegations issued against him. A number of women came forward claiming that he had visited all sorts of horrific sexual acts against them, which clearly made him unfit for the position. The media (and one prominent political party) latched onto these allegations with a deathgrip. They were everywhere. A senate hearing was called, in which several of these women testified under oath. The FBI and Department of Justice got involved.

And the public? Sands and Storms, they lost their minds. As far as many of them seemed concerned, Kavanaugh was guilty until proven innocent. My Facebook wall became such a tirade of people calling for his imprisonment and even execution, without any sort of trial, that I flat out made use of the temp-block feature to silence some of these folks for 30 days because they were acting insane. Any calls for them to calm down from their baying for blood? To wait for an actual investigation into things? You were trying to cover up Kavanaugh’s crimes because you were sexist. The biggest concession any of these raging, emotional individuals could make was that Kavanaugh should be investigated … wait for it … but not any of his accusers, as they’d already had enough stress put on them by coming forward.

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