The Hunger Games

I was looking for something to watch on Netflix today, and to my surprise The Hunger Games movie was listed as I was scrolling through all of the available movies, and I enjoyed the books quite a bit, so I figured I’d check out the movie.

Fair warning, I’m going to spoil parts of the movie and quite possibly the second and third books in the series.  But at this point the books have been out for years and the movie has been out long enough for it to be on Netflix, and there is a statute of limitations for spoiling things.  If you don’t want to know anything about the story, then stop here, go read the books, and then come back and read this.  Anyway, on we go.

My first thought as I watched the credits roll was how accurate the movie was to the book.  There were a couple of subtle differences, but overall I think it was quite good.  My second thought is that it was too long for my taste.  The books were incredibly quick reads, I think I finished each of the individual books within a day or so, but the movie just seemed a bit long for me.  As I say that, I don’t really know what you could cut from the movie.  There was a little bit of unnecessary exposition in the beginning, but what was there worked to set up the movie for people who aren’t familiar with the story.  There was also a fair bit of foreshadowing for the remainder of the series, and that’s always good to see.

The next thing to get to of course is the cast.  I thought all of the actors/actresses were quite good.  Jennifer Lawrence was solid as Katniss, and Josh Hutcherson was decent as Peeta.  But overall I think the best acting in the movie was done by the side characters.  Woody Harrelson and Lenny Kravitz were fantastic as Haymitch and Cinna respectively.  But overall I think the most effective of the side characters was President Snow, he had very little screen time, but was able to effectively show just how evil the people from the capital are described as.  I don’t really remember him at all from the first book (granted it’s been 3 years or so since I’ve read the books) but he made the movie for me.

Very quickly I have to talk about the soundtrack, it’s very subtle, but quite good.  One of the best things about the soundtrack is that it stays out of the way.  The entirety of the soundtrack was instrumental, the only time there were words being sung was when the characters within the movie were singing.  There were also some neat things done with the audio in the movie as well.  There is a short point where Katniss is hallucinating, and during this scene they do some fun things with the sound.  There is also a section in the book where Katniss’s hearing is damaged, and for a short time there’s almost no sound as her ears are still ringing.  I don’t know if they did this because I was watching it on my laptop, but it would have been interesting in the theaters if they lowered the volume from the left side speakers for the rest of the movie after that.  (Or whichever side was the ear she lost hearing in, I’m pretty sure it was the left, but again it’s been 3 years.)

So initial thoughts, cast, audio, time for visual.  There were a lot of interesting visual aspects to the movie, most notable was the contrast between District 12 and the Capital, especially with the ways the characters were dressed.  I know that the book described the people in the Capital as being very strangely dressed in all sorts of odd hues, and the movie exceeded my expectations in that sense.  All of the set designs were well done, and it worked out well.

And now for my one major complaint about the movie, the cinematography.  While I haven’t gone to see many movies in theaters in the past several years, I do read about movies fairly often, and one thing that I’ve heard is a trend in a lot of movies these days is the use of shaky cam, or the lack of using a tripod to steady the camera.  In the action scenes in the second half of the movie, it wasn’t too bad, but when they use it early on in the movie it does nothing but take away from the foundation of the movie.  Basically, when you notice the camera, it’s a bad thing, and the shaky cam during the first half of the movie was far too noticeable and annoying.

One part of the story that didn’t quite work for me was Katniss’s side of her relationship with Peeta.  Peeta does a good job of showing that he really cares for Katniss, but without hearing Katniss’s thoughts it was kind of hard to tell that she was playing the part instead of actually falling for Peeta.  It’s a minor quibble in what was overall a solid movie.

Overall Grade

Nothing that blew me away, and there were a few small things that annoyed me, but overall it’s a solid movie that was very faithful to the book.

8/10

Housekeeping

It’s past time to do a little bit of housekeeping for the blog, so hopefully I’ll get most of that settled with post.

So the first thing obviously has been my lack of an online presence.  I’ve said before that it’s for two reasons, the first is that I’m still reading The Wheel of Time (as of writing this I have about 100 pages left in book 13, I’ll probably start book 14 this weekend).  These are all huge books, and they’re taking me a while to get through.  The second is because I still haven’t made myself find some time to fit my blog into my now much busier schedule.  I’m almost done with The Wheel of Time, and I think I’m going to start reading some smaller books after reading the most massive book series I’ve ever seen.  And for the second, I’ll just have to make more time, maybe I’ll start setting up a schedule to blog on certain days every week.  I’ve enjoyed all of the conversations that have come from blogging, and I’m definitely going to continue it.

And now for the second item of housekeeping, today is the 2 year anniversary of my blog.  Yep, two years ago today I started my blog with a review of Peter V. Brett’s book The Warded Man.  From those humble beginnings of having one review up, my blog has gone on strong with reviews for somewhere around 180-190 books, along with another 150ish posts about whatever I felt like rambling on about on that given day.

liebster-award2So what am I going to do to celebrate my two year blogiversary?  (Is that even a word?  It should be.)  I’m going to answer a series of questions posed to me by Terri over at Starlight Book Reviews.  Why those questions specifically, because Terri gave me the Liebster Award.  So without any further ado, here we go with the questions.

(Also, I’m going against the rules of the Liebster award, mostly because at the moment I don’t have time to go through and search for 11 other blogs, if you’re looking for more blogs to read I highly suggest any of the blogs listed in my links on the left hand sidebar, as well as any of the fine commenters who have stopped by my blog in the past.)

  • 1. Describe a piece of art that moved you. – It depends largely upon what you specifically mean by a piece of art?  Are we talking about only visual art?  Or are we including all art forms?  I’m going to assume that we’re including all art forms.  So for my piece of art that moved me, I’m going to talk about the movie The Shawshank Redemption.  This is easily my favorite movie and I consider it to be the best movie ever made.  It’s moving in large part because it takes it’s time.  You feel like you really know the characters, and then when something happens to them it feels like it’s happening to a friend.  The first time I watched the movie I cried like a baby in the middle of the movie with Brooks (not spoiling what happened) and then again at the end of the movie.  In every way it’s a perfect movie, and I’ve watched it at least 10 times and it’s always perfect.
  • 2. What is your favorite book? – Favorite book is a hard question, for one because how do you measure it?  If you’re looking about just how good a book is, I’ve given a 10/10 to about 20 of the books that I’ve read while I’ve had my blog.  I’m going to slightly sidestep this question and simply say that my two favorite book series are the Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson, and The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan (and finished by Brandon Sanderson).  They’re both wonderful series that I’ve read multiple times and will read again in the future.
  • 3. Why do you blog? – I started to blog because I wanted to have a place to talk about the books that I read.  It’s kind of hard to find people who live around me who read a lot and who also like the same kinds of books that I like.  Starting this blog has given me an opportunity to find many of those people as well as meet a lot of other interesting people with different interests.
  • 4. Do you have one best friend or a “tier” of best friends?  How did you meet them? – I would say I have a group of best friends, and the way I met all of them is simple, I met them through bowling. Prior to bowling with them on leagues, I didn’t know any of my teammates from the 4 leagues that I bowl on, or the people that I’m traveling down to the USBC National tournament in Reno with.  Now I consider them all to be very good friends.
  • 5. Who is your favorite band or musical artist and why? – Probably Barenaked Ladies.  I like them for several reasons.  For one, they’re very skilled musicians.  I don’t care for bands who have to go through so much post-production to get them to sound good that when you hear a live performance of them it doesn’t even sound like the same song.  Secondly, they have a wide variety of music so it doesn’t sound like you’re listening to the same song every time you hear them.
  • 6. Where is “home” for you? – The obvious answer is where I live in Ohio.  But I’m going to come up with a different definition.  I’m going to define “home” as wherever you’re most comfortable.  And for me that’s anywhere that I can sit down with a good book and several hours to tear through a couple hundred pages.
  • 7. What’s your favorite movie? – Hmm, maybe I should have looked through the rest of the questions before I started writing out my answers.  Oh well, see question number 1 for the answer to this.  But since it’s a different question, I’ll just throw out a couple of my other favorite movies.  Pan’s Labyrinth is amazing, a wonderful story told in a unique way.  Mirrormask is a very original movie, well over 2/3 of the movie was made with a green screen and they had quite a few different people working on the different scenes, it’s a visual treat to watch.  I’m also going to throw out a few anime movies, Perfect Blue is a great psychological thriller, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is an amazing movie, Howl’s Moving Castle is another movie that I love as well.  So there you go, a few of the movies that I’ll watch any time I don’t have anything else to do.
  • 8. If you could go anywhere on vacation for a week, all expenses paid, where would you go and why? – Probably Rome, or just traveling across Europe in general.  I would love to see all of the ancient architecture, there’s just something special about many of the structures that the Greeks and Romans made and I’ve always been interested in ancient Greek and Roman culture.
  • 9. What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done? – This one I’m going to break into two parts, the first was when I stopped going to college after attending classes for 3 1/2 years.  My last semester before I stopped going I only took 2 classes which totaled 5 credit hours, I wasn’t even considered a part time student.  The only reason I took those two classes is because I was afraid that if I stopped completely I wouldn’t go back at all, but I had no idea what I wanted to study, so I was just wasting my time and money.  After that last semester I took a year and a half off from school, and here is the second part, going back to school.  It was very strange to go back back to school after taking that much time off.  Especially when I started back into freshman level courses.  Although she never directly mentioned it, I’m fairly certain that I was older than my Introduction to Psychology professor (she was a grad-student).  I’m not using my degree at the moment, but even without using it I’m glad that I took the time to go back and get it.
  • 10. Have you ever been in love? – Yes, I would say twice, unfortunately neither ended as well as I could have hoped for, some odd circumstances and many bad decisions by myself as well as my girlfriends.
  • 11.  How do you feel about “The Big Bang Theory”?  (The television show, not the origin theory of the universe) – I’m a nerd, but I’ve never watched the show.  I’ve heard a lot of people say that it’s a really funny show, but I’ve also heard several people say that the show is more laughing “at” the nerds as opposed to laughing “with” the nerds.  Parts of it sound interesting, but I’ve got too much other media that I have to go through before I could even start watching Big Bang Theory.

Serenity

After I finished watching Joss Whedon’s Firefly, there was one more thing to do, watch the movie with the same characters.  As such, here is my review of the movie.  All of my other posts talking about Firefly can be found here.

Serenity

After watching Firefly the next step was of course to watch the movie based upon the show.  I’m not directly spoiling anything in the movie, but I do talk about it in a manner that will be unclear if you aren’t familiar with both the show and the movie.  At this point Firefly is 10 years old and Serenity is 7 years old, and there is a statute of limitations on these things.  Also, they’re both very good, so why are you still reading this if you haven’t seen them before?  Go watch them.

Serenity was shot a couple of years after Firefly was cancelled.  At first I thought that it was an attempt to bring closure to the series, but after watching it, it seems like another couple of episodes set in the Firefly universe.  I just watched the series for the first time, but for fans that watched it when it was originally run I’m sure the movie was a very welcome addition to the world.

Personally, I think the movie got off to a very rough start.  When I talked about the show, my first comment was that the actors needed no time to get into the characters, from the first episode they were immediately in character.  Especially early on in the movie, they just didn’t feel like the same characters.  As it went on, they got much better, but the differences seemed very big early on.

The biggest difference with any of the characters, and the biggest problem was Simon.  In the opening half hour of the movie, he’s a much stronger character than he ever was in the show, to the point where he is willing to call out Mal for the way he uses River.  Along with calling out Mal, he was also a very different character when he was helping River escape.  The confidence that he showed in that scene didn’t exist in the early episodes of the show.  I was also puzzled by the fact that he knew a ‘safe word’ to knock River out.  There were more than a couple of times in the series that he would have used it.

I was also troubled by the visual style of the movie.  It’s definitely darker in tone than many of the episodes, but the visual style was strangely different to me.  If it has been a while since you’d seen the show you probably wouldn’t notice, but if you’re watching the show in order and then immediately watching the movie like I did, it’s kind of clear to see.  Even the interior of the ship looked different to me.  As I got further into the movie, I got over it, but in the beginning it was troubling.

I’m also a little unsure of where this fits in relation to the series.  It’s obviously after the end run of the series, but I’m not terribly sure how far after it this story takes place.  The most noticeable part is that Shepherd Book is off the ship.  I was really upset with that.  I said repeatedly throughout my comments of each episode that Book was probably the deepest character, and they didn’t have time to explore him at all in the movie, so he was essentially cast aside.

Although River played a stronger part in the movie than she did in the show, I was a little upset that more of her story wasn’t covered.  I was hoping that the movie would explain everything about what happened to her and exactly what she was being created for, but instead it revolves around something that she gleaned from the mind of one of the higher members of the Alliance while they were observing her treatments.  It left the movie a little flat for me.

Along with going in a direction that wasn’t much explored in the show, there were also a couple of characters that weren’t in the show at all that played a big part.  I’m fine with the twins on whatever planet that Mal had a deal with, but Mr. Universe is someone who probably should have been a bigger part of the universe before the movie.

Part of the problem with the movie is that there are too many loose threads that I didn’t think were covered in the original run of the show.  I think that Joss had a bunch of ideas about where the show was going beyond the first 14 episodes, and when writing the script for the movie he put a lot of the ideas in.  Ultimately I think it was about 6 or 8 episodes of the show crammed into a two-hour movie.  I’m glad the movie got made because the characters were a lot of fun and it was a great chance to sort of ‘get the band back together.’  But ultimately I think it would have worked better stretched out over the course of a season, which I’m sure was the original intent.

(Note: I wrote this review immediately after watching the movie a couple of weeks ago.  Since then, I’ve found places online where they say the movie takes place about 6 months after the end of Episode 14.  Joss had originally intended the events of this movie to take place at the end of the second season of the show.)

Overall Grade

The movie was good, but the story would have worked better had Joss Whedon been given the chance to tell it over the course of several episodes rather than in a single movie.

7/10

So what’s next?

I’ve enjoyed taking the time to talk about something different, and there are a couple of other TV shows that I’d like to watch.  So I’ll continue to have my posts talking about TV shows.  I’m still going to plan having them posted on Mondays and Thursdays.  So then, here’s the question, what show is coming up next?  I’ve got three shows I’m considering now, A Game of Thrones, Dollhouse (another Joss Whedon show), and Breaking Bad.  I haven’t watched any episodes of any of the shows yet (although I have read A Game of Thrones) so for now I’ll just ask what you think I should watch first.

Some Changes and a Warning

When going through the list of blogs I follow, I came upon this post by Morgan over at The First Gates.  He relates the story of a blogger who was sued for use of an image on her blog.  This leads to a very big question and gets into some questionable copyright lingo.  The biggest question as it relates to this blog is what qualifies as fair use when posting an image to a blog?  The answer is tricky.

The basic ideas behind the fair use exemption to copyright law can be found here at Wikipedia.  The problem with this is that it’s very fuzzy as to what qualifies as fair use.  But the most troubling problem from what I’ve read is that there is no set standard for any particular type of media, each case can be looked at individually.

Here’s where that becomes a problem, and how it relates to this blog.  I post pictures of the covers for every book I review.  I’ve obtained all of these images by doing a simple Google search.  When I first started the blog, it was a fairly minor issue.  I only had a couple of reviews up, and very few images.  The problem now comes from the fact that I’ve got somewhere around 160 different book reviews up – all of them with images of the book attached to the post.

My very vague understanding of the copyright and fair use laws means that this could end up being a problem.  If you figure there are 160 book reviews, that amounts to quite a few different authors, artists, publishing companies, graphic designers, etc. who could possibly raise a fuss about the images being on my blog.  Now, my blog has a fairly small audience, and the thought of it getting notice from a major publisher and then being pursued by them beyond a simple DMCA notice and being asked to remove the image is admittedly quite small.  However, the odds of it occurring increase with each review that I post and each image that I attach to those reviews.

So what does that mean?  Well, for starters it means I’m going to go through and remove every image that I have attached to my blog at the moment.  I’ve received no warning about this, but the last thing I need is some new lawyer who just passed the Bar trying to win an easy case by going after my blog.  All of the content of my blog other than the pictures will remain unchanged as I spend the next several days going through my history and editing out the pictures.

One thing that I learned fairly early on in the creation of my blog is that posts look better with an image included.  It’s gives you something to look at as opposed to just staring at a wall of text, and displaces some of the monotony of constantly looking through a series of posts.  I’ll continue to try and include images, but in the future I’ll make sure that they’re all either in the public domain or they have a Creative Commons license that allows them to be shared.

I understand that the actions that I’m taking are a little extreme (just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not after you), and I’m not suggesting that everyone follow the same course of action.  I am however suggesting that you read Morgan’s post as well as those he links to and take what they say into consideration.  I know that personally I do this because I enjoy talking about the books that I read (or whatever else crosses my mind) and I like the interaction that I get with people through this blog.  However, the potential (however unlikely) legal and financial ramifications of this is something that I can’t overlook.  I’ll still be blogging, but as regards to using images in my posts I’ll be a lot more careful about what I use.

Sociopaths in our Culture – Part 3 – In Fiction

This post is the third in my series of posts about Sociopaths in our Culture.  The first post, concerning the definition and description of sociopathy, can be found here.  The second post, where I look at the cultural adaptation of sociopaths, can be found here.

There are a great number of characters in fiction (including movies, books, and TV) that could easily be classified as having Antisocial Personality Disorder.  By my own way of looking at it, I see three different ways in which characters with APD are used in fiction.

For reference, let’s put the definition and indicators up again: A pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others, beginning in childhood or adolescence and continuing into adulthood, and indicated by three (or more) of the following:

  1. Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest.
  2. Deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure.
  3. Impulsivity or failure to plan ahead.
  4. Irritability or aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults.
  5. Reckless disregard for safety of self or others.
  6. Consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavoior or to honor financial obligations.
  7. Lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another person.

The first is very obvious; a great number of the villains in books are obviously sociopaths, many of them wanting nothing more than to destroy all or part of the world.  One of the better examples is probably Raj Ahten who is the primary antagonist of the first four books in David Farland’s Runelords series.  Ultimately he has a noble goal – he is trying to unite the countries of the world in order to face a bigger threat – but the methods that he uses are brutal as he tries to subjugate society.  (Looking at the list, you could diagnose him with #’s 1, 2, 4, 5, 7.)

The second use of APD in fiction comes from a variety of book with a specific type of main character.  While not the most common, there is a history of books being written about antiheroes, characters that in most other stories would be the primary antagonist.  (For antiheroes I’m using the classical definition as described in the Writing Excuses podcast.)  Looking through my list of reviews, the only true antihero book that I have on there is Perfume by Patrick Suskind.  But I’m going to talk about a different book for this, Waiting Period by Hubert Selby Jr.

Selby is one of my favorite authors, and Waiting Period is one of my favorite books of his.  The basic premise of this book is simple; a man who is depressed decides to kill himself.  He decides that the best way to kill himself is to buy a gun and end it quickly.  Because of the laws he has to wait several days before he can get his gun.  During this time, he starts to think a little differently about his situation in life.  He starts to think that his life isn’t the problem; the problem comes from people in power keeping everyone else down.  This leads to him deciding that he needs to kill the people who have been causing the problems rather than himself.  He is in many ways the prototypical APD case, and is easily diagnosed with symptoms #1, 4, 5, & 7.

The third use of people with APD is not one that many people commonly think about.  In many cases, the primary protagonist in many novels could easily be diagnosed with having APD.  The main reason most people wouldn’t consider them to have this personality disorder is because they’re doing noble things.  But if you look at their patterns of behavior, several heroes of stories show consistent signs of APD behavior.  Two characters that easily fall into this category are Kelsier from Mistborn (#’s 1, 2, 4, 5, & 7) and Kvothe from The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear (#’s 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, & 7 – yes, he shows all of the common symptoms at times).

Not everyone with Antisocial Personality Disorder is a serial killer – in fact many people who could be diagnosed with APD are very successful people.  This series of posts started because of the ways that I saw H. H. Holmes being depicted in media.  I don’t think anyone can argue that what he did was horrible, but the worst thing you could do is simply dismiss someone because of his or her behavior.  Take the time to understand different personalities, and try and figure out why they exist.  Many times people with strange patterns of behavior are the most interesting to look at.  This is true in both fiction and real life.

Realize that any time you’re dealing with people with different personalities or conditions it’s never an issue of “us vs. them.”  We all have numerous aspects to personalities, and there are no clear dividing lines between groups of people, it really comes down to a matter of degree.  It’s also worth considering that there is no condition that is inherently good or bad.  We all have different tools for use, and from there it’s simply a matter of what we decide to do with them.

Hopefully you enjoyed this series of posts (and hopefully I didn’t ramble too much).

The definitions from this series of posts come from my psychology textbooks that I used in college.  My Abnormal Psychology textbook is the Hansell & Demour Abnormal Psychology (2nd edition).  Also of use was my textbook from my Personality class, which is the Larsen & Buss Personality Psychology (4th edition).  Obviously I also used my lecture notes from these classes, for which I thank my professors.  If you are interested in further reading into this topic I would highly suggest looking into both of those books.

Red Riding Hood

So a little over a year ago there was a movie version of Red Riding Hood released in theaters.  I remember seeing some of the ads for the movie and thinking that it sounded pretty interesting.  Cut forward to a couple of weeks ago before I went down to Baton Rouge for the USBC Open.  I wanted to bring my iPod, but didn’t have a charger for it other than my laptop.  What I did have was a gift card to Best Buy that my younger brother had gotten me for Christmas.  So I went up there to purchase a wall charger, which cost about $20, my gift card was for $30, so I decided to go through the movie section, found Red Riding Hood, remembered thinking it looked pretty cool, so I bought it.

In hindsight that was probably a poor decision.

I don’t talk about movies often on my blog, mostly because I haven’t been watching any new movies recently.  But since I watched this one, I figured I’d talk about it.

To begin with, I absolutely loved the premise of this movie.  Most of us know some version of this story, whether it’s the Grimm’s Fairy Tale version, the Bugs Bunny version(s), or whatever, we’ve all heard the story.  What a lot of people don’t know is that original Grimm’s Fairy Tales were often very dark stories, and I was intrigued by the idea of a darker remake.  (That said, I recently purchased a copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales from Barnes & Noble, and read the story of Red Riding Hood before I started this post, and it wasn’t a terribly dark story.)

Unfortunately, the premise of the story was about as interesting as the movie got for me.  There were far too many things about the movie that really annoyed me.  The first thing that set me off was the camerawork, which actually annoyed me before we even saw any of the characters.  The opening shot is an interesting aerial shot of the forest around the town where the story takes place.  Unfortunately the camera starts to twist and bend in ways that actually cause the shot to be a little nauseating.  And it just gets worse from there.  One thing that this movie does constantly is make use of a handheld camera.  I can’t think of a single movie where that works out well, it’s a gimmicky shot that just doesn’t work.  Use a tripod or a steady-cam people, they’re there for a reason.

Another thing that annoyed me was that they forced a love triangle into the plot.  Love triangles can work, it can cause a great amount of tension in the story, and it can create fanatical fanbases, unfortunately, it’s also really easy to screw up.  If it’s going to work, it really needs to come across as though both sides of the triangle are viable options.  In the movie, the person Valerie loves is presented as being mysterious, brave, and capable, but also very poor, so of course her parents refuse to let her marry him.  Of course the person she is engaged to is more well off in the world, but isn’t shown to have too many likable qualities early on.  It just didn’t seem – authentic at all.

There were too many times when the movie felt like it was trying to be in two different time periods at once.  The movie is set in a pseudo-medieval European village.  There were quite a few times when the dialogue came across as sounding far too much like 21st century English slang rather than medieval English.  I would have preferred had it been that way constantly, as opposed to showing up just often enough to irritate me.

There were also too many moments where aspects of the characters or the world came across as not fitting in with the overall setting.  Once again, pseudo-medieval Europe, roughly 1600’s.  There were too many times when the women in the movie accept being objectified in one scene, only to spend the next scene discussing 20th century women’s liberation issues.  I’m really not trying to sound like a jerk when I say this, but I don’t care either way how you want the characters to act, but PICK ONE.  There was another huge anachronism in this movie that annoyed me to no end.  We’re setting the movie in a fictional world based around a folktale, check.  Would the villagers in the movie really act out a scene from another folktale within our world.  Probably not.  But wait, it gets better.  What other folktale do they use – the Three Little Pigs.  That’s right, in a world where werewolves actually exist, they tell stories in which wolves are laughably incompetent, complete with the “I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down!”  Pick ANY other story, just not one that has a wolf!  Any story told in this village about wolves would be cautionary tales about how wolves are deadly monsters, not that they can’t break down houses!  And my last rant about that part, if you’re going to talk about how the house made of bricks is the safest, have the houses of the villagers in the movie be MADE OUT OF BRICKS!  Ok, moving on to another topic.

The werewolf in the movie, when you finally see it, is big, standing on all fours, it’s looking people in the eye.  Throughout the course of the movie you’re shown several people who have been killed by the werewolf, and their corpses look relatively untouched.  If a werewolf is big enough to look people in the eyes while standing on all fours, when it takes a swipe at you, it’s taking your head off.  If you wanted to shy away from the gore to avoid getting an R rating, don’t show the corpses, because it’s yet another thing that knocked me out of the story.

Throughout the entire movie, I was in turn annoyed, frustrated, angry at the characters, confused by the camerawork, and questioning the dialogue.  That said, there is one saving grace for this movie.  The ending was far superior to the rest of the movie, even if I thought it was very poorly foreshadowed.  You’re constantly pointed away from the actual villain, which makes it seem like a big twist, but it’s almost completely impossible to see the foreshadowing for the twist without already knowing it.  You don’t walk away saying “I should have seen that coming” like you do for a well foreshadowed twist, it’s more of an “Ok, I guess that works.”

Overall Grade

It’s a very interesting premise, and the last 5-10 minutes were quite good.  Unfortunately, it’s a train wreck getting there.

3/10

The Future of Publishing?

I’m readily admit to being a nerd, and over the weekend while checking out Dan Wells’s website I came across a post originally written by David Farland talking about the future of publishing with his idea for enhanced books.  I’m going to copy the post here and then give my thoughts about it as well because I thought it was a really interesting topic.

David Farland, bestselling author of the Runelords series and others, is a good friend and a brilliant business-minded writer. He has a new book coming soon called Nightingale,and I’m happy to help promote it with a guest post today. Take it away, Dave! (This section was written by Dan Wells on his blog, the following part of the post in italics is Dave Farland’s original post.)

Right now, the publishing world is in turmoil. People are buying electronic books in huge numbers. In fact, it appears that as of today, more than fifty percent of all sales are electronic. This puts traditional paper book publishers in a bind. You see, most books earn only a modest profit. But if paper books are shipped to bookstores and then returned, they get destroyed, and thus don’t make any money at all. In fact, the publisher then goes into the hole on every book he publishes.

The losses right now are so large in the industry, that as one agent put it, “Nobody in New York wants to be in this business right now.” That’s why bookstore chains like Borders and major distributors like Anderson News have gone bankrupt.

So where do the publishers make up for those losses? By selling electronic books for the Kindle, Nook, iPad and similar devices. The problem is, so many electronic books will come out in the next year, according to Bowker’s Identifier Services (the guys who make the ISBNs that you see on the back of a book), that the market will be flooded with over three million new books.

Why? Because authors who couldn’t find agents or publishers last year are self-publishing their novels this year. I was talking to a bestseller last night who groused that in the past week, he’d run into three different “authors,” none of whom had sold more than fifty books, all of whom were self-published.

That creates a problem for readers. It means that we now have to try to figure out which of those novels are worth buying and reading and which should never have been published in the first place.

Some of those novels may look good on the outside. They might have cover quotes from the author’s friends. They might have gorgeous illustrations. But inside, maybe halfway through a book, you might find that the story falls apart.

In fact, a lot of criminals are out there right now trying to sell e-books which Tracy Hickman has labeled “Frankensteins.” These are novels stolen from bits of other novels and cobbled together in a way to look like a legitimate book. The “author” hopes to steal a couple of dollars from unwary readers. Sure, it’s not a lot of money, but in some countries, like Nigeria, a few dollars goes a long way. If there are no laws against it (and in some countries there aren’t), the thief doesn’t even have to worry about getting punished.

How are we going to combat crummy novels? How are we going to get past the Frankensteins? Ten years ago we had gatekeepers in the industry—literary agents and editors—who made sure that only the best novels got published. It’s true that the system was flawed, but at least there was a system.

So who are our new gatekeepers going to be?

The truth is that there will be new kinds of publishers. Right now, I’m starting a company with my partner Mile Romney, called East India Press. We’re going to published “enhanced novels.”

Enhanced books are text files, like regular books, but they also combine elements like film clips, music, video games, author interviews, audio files, illustrations, and animations. They’re part book, part movie, part game, perhaps. These books are then then sold electronically to be read on your iPad, phone, computer, and so on.

Are enhanced books the real future of publishing? There is good reason to think so. You see, making a beautiful book in this market will cost tens of thousands of dollars. That’s a bar to most wannabe authors. So money alone will limit the competition.

These new publishers will still have to establish their own credibility. They’ll have to select great books, create superior products, and develop a “brand” presence. In other words, you’ll want to read the books because of who the publisher is and what they represent.

A hundred years ago, that’s the way that books were bought in the first place. If you went to the bookstore, the books were ordered by publisher. You might pick through the piles and find that a certain editor liked the same kind of “science fictional stories” that you did, and that became the place that you visited over and over again.

There will be other ways to judge a book. It might come from an author with a long list of awards, or great cover quotes from independent review agencies, or maybe the fact that the book is a bestseller will give it a lot of credibility.

So I expect enhanced books to become the dominant art form for novels in the next two years, replacing and outselling simple e-books on the bestseller lists, and even outselling hardbacks and paperbacks within a couple of years. As my agent, Russell Galen put it, “Enhanced books are the entire future of publishing.”

Now, I’ve published some fifty books in science fiction and fantasy. I’ve won a number of awards and my books have been translated into thirty languages. I worked for years as the lead judge for one of the largest writing contest in the world. I’ve trained authors like Brandon Mull, Brandon Sanderson, and Stephenie Meyer who have gone on to become #1 international bestsellers.

So I know books. I know a good story when I see one, and I know how to fix a story when it needs fixing. Given this, and my own background as a novelist, videogame designer, and movie producer, it seemed like starting a new type of publishing company was a must.

In fact, I believe in this new medium so much, I’m even putting out my next novel through this publishing company. It’s called Nightingale, and tells the story of Bron Jones, a young man abandoned at birth and raised in foster care. He discovers that he’s not quite human, and suddenly finds himself at the center of international intrigue.

This is a model for the new publishing industry. I think it’s a great book, and I could have sold it through normal channels. But this is the best way to go. So we’re offering the book on our site at www.nightingalenovel.com. You can buy it on November 4 in hard cover, for your e-reader, or in enhanced mode for the more advanced e-readers, or we even have an emulator so that you can run it in enhanced mode on any computer. It also has a forty-five minute soundtrack, lots of art, optional notes from the author and other features. In the future we may add a game or trailers. I believe this is the way books–good books–will be done in the future. I invite you to check it out, and check out our new company, East India Press.

If you’re a writer, look into our short story writing contest while you’re there. You could win $1000. You can find out about more about the East India Press or the writing contest at www.EastIndiaPress.com.

Ok, still with me?  Good, here are my thoughts on the idea of the enhanced book as a response to me finding this post.

The enhanced novels are an interesting idea, but I don’t think that they will take over the majority of the marketplace within two years as Dave expects.  The problem right now is that we’re at a crossroad in terms of publishing.  I read a lot, and I still purchase and read exclusively paper books, I have an e-reader that my brother bought for me last Christmas and it’s currently collecting dust.  I don’t like the idea of trying to read a novel on a screen of any kind, I like having my books.

The ability of people to self-publish their own novels because of the abundance of e-readers in the market does create the problem of finding the few books worth reading through all the dross.  Because of this, the main publishing companies are still probably going to be viable methods of publishing because they have the reputation amongst reading as serving as the gatekeepers.  The idea of a ‘brand presence’ is really the basis for how we purchase nearly everything, especially if you don’t have any preference between different options, the brand is often what will sway your decision.

Many of the things that Dave mentions as being part of his Enhanced books are interesting, but not necessarily going to sway me to buy a book.  Is a film clip going to make me buy a book?  No, that is the reason that I don’t think book trailers are effective advertising methods, you’re mixing different mediums and trying to use a visual medium (film) to sell a non-visual method of storytelling (books).  The idea of illustrations and animations fall into the same area for me.  Mixing media doesn’t work for me.

Would a videogame based upon the game make me want to buy the game more?  If it was a good game it might be interesting to look at, but again you’re mixing mediums there.  Another part of the problem with a videogame for a book is that you’re crossing mediums.  While the number of people who both read books and play videogames may be increasing, I don’t know if it is all that high.  Personally I play mostly role-playing games that generally take anywhere from 30-80 hours to play.  Do I want to play a game that long for each book that I read?  No, I might as well just play games and not read the books at all.

Author interviews are interesting, but they’re not really a selling point to me.  There are a few authors that I will look up interviews for, but it’s because I really enjoy quite a few books that they’ve written, not just one book.

For music or other audio files, I don’t know.  I used to read while listening to music, but anymore I tend to find it distracting.  Other audio files that people might use for books would include what?  Pronunciation guides?  Samples of what the author hears as the character voices?  Again, neat ideas, but it’s not going to sell me a book.

With Enhanced Books there is also going to be a question of balance.  Is the book going to be the main focus?  Or is the videogame?  How much music is there going to be?  Is the music an original piece commissioned for the book or is it a previously existing work?  What happens when an author writes the book to be read in a certain time to the music (i.e. a performance by a character in the story) and I read faster or slower than the author intended?  Now I have to change my reading habits to fully experience the book the way the author intended because of how the music plays into the story.  What happens when a company decides that they want to put a lot of effort into every aspect of the enhanced book?  When will we see the monstrosity that is a fully developed video game for computer/PS3/Xbox along with a feature length movie (complete with a full score) and the book?  When this happens (and it will if these succeed) when is the hugely expensive enhanced book going to come out?  You’re not going to get a person who wants to read to spend $100 for the full package, and if they allow people to purchase the individual parts, people are only going to purchase the parts they want (the book people will buy the book, the moviegoers will buy the movie, and the gamers will buy the game).

So are enhanced books the future as Dave thinks?  I don’t know.  I think they will be a measurable portion of the market if not a very sizeable portion.  I don’t think traditional books will ever stop, what will probably happen with traditional books is that bookstores will continue to disappear.  I love Barnes & Noble and I purchase most of my books from them.  However, selling almost exclusively through Amazon eliminates one of the biggest expenses of a publisher for traditional books because the customer pays for the shipping expense.

I’m an avid reader and I will continue to watch all of my options for how to read.  As new options such as e-readers or enhanced books continue to become more popular the proportion of people reading hard copies of books will obviously decrease.  However, I don’t see physical books being completely phased out anytime soon.

Congratulations if you made it through all of that, I’d love to hear what you have to say on the issues of traditional publishing vs self-publishing electronic novels, enhanced books, or anything else this post made you think of.

Uniqueness and Originality

So at the moment I’m reading The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood, which is a novel that does some interesting things that aren’t done terribly often in novels.  I also just watched the movie Mirrormask (written by Neil Gaiman and directed by Dave McKean) which is a visual tour-de-force with all of the CG imaging done throughout the movie and is brilliant to watch.  I recently finished reading the Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld which does some interesting things with having illustrations for every chapter.  The Deepgate Codex by Alan Campbell has one of the most unique and interesting settings for any fantasy novel that I’ve ever seen.  During my Fiction Appreciation class my last semester at college, one of the books we read was Tough Guys Don’t Dance by Norman Mailer, which turns your basic mystery story upside down by having the main character blackout and not remember anything from the time of the crime, thereby including himself in the list of possible suspects.

So there is a really long paragraph where I do all sorts of name or title dropping of books I’ve read and a movie that I really enjoyed.  So what’s the point to all of this?  It’s a question that I thought about while I was out jogging for a while (short jog tonight, too cold outside).  How much does the originality or uniqueness of a piece of fiction affect our overall opinion of it?

Trippy movie that is absolutely brilliant.

When I was watching Mirrormask tonight, I was watching it with the audio commentary on rather than just the film audio and it was interesting listening to McKean talk about how many parts of the movie he thought could have been done better.  Personally, I think this movie is absolutely transfixing, especially the first time you watch it.  (The first time I watched the movie my friend Stephanie called me and got a little irritated with me because I kept zoning out and getting lost in the movie.)  As much as I love this movie, really it’s nothing that we haven’t seen before in movies, struggles between parents and children where the child learns a lot about themselves and how much they really love their parents in the process.

The Blind Assassin I’m not going to talk too much about because I’m not done reading it yet, but I will quickly mention that the book is essentially telling 4 different stories at once, which is very difficult to pull off in any kind of fiction (once again, check back for the full review of the book which will probably be posted on Thursday, Friday at the latest).

Alan Campbell’s trilogy had one of the most unique settings I’ve ever seen in a fantasy novel, and I read quite a few of those.  The differences between his novels and a more standard fantasy story were for the most part very subtle.  Instead of having just the god of storms, he had the god of Brine and Fog, the god of the underworld was the god of Chains in this series.  Very subtle differences made a huge difference in the overall feel of these books.  Ultimately I didn’t care for the series (I gave the first two books a 5/10, the third book a 2/10, and the series as a whole a 4/10) but without the uniqueness of the setting I think it would have received a much lower overall rating than it did.

Who doesn't love a living hot air balloon?

When I first heard about the Leviathan series, It was because of the illustrations used in it.  In one of the Writing Excuses podcasts they talked about visual components of storytelling.  Ultimately it was a very nice addition to the books, but I really liked the characters and the overall story and probably would have enjoyed the books just as much without the illustrations (but again, they’re really cool and it’s fun to see pictures of all the strange machines and animals throughout the series).

Lastly, Tough Guys Don’t Dance.  During my class, most of the students didn’t really like the book and I personally hated it (I gave it a 3/10, to date it is still one of my lowest rated books out of the 60+ I’ve reviewed for my blog).  However, the one really interesting part of the book was the idea of having a mystery where the person investigating the mystery was also one of the prime suspects in the crime.  I’d never seen that done before and I still haven’t seen it done in any other book, but it’s still a really neat idea that I would love to see pulled off in a better piece of fiction.

So, now that I’m almost 800 words into the post, I’m going to get to the question that made me think about this in the first place.  When you’re reading, how much of an impact does the originality of a piece have on your overall opinion of the piece?

Now that I’ve asked the question, I suppose I should answer it as well.  I think that having a very unique or original aspect to your fiction can be a big selling point, but it can’t be the only thing that the piece has going for it.  In Tough Guys Don’t Dance the mystery was poorly done, and the book had quite a few scenes that as far as I’m concerned Mailer wrote only to see how profane he could be in a novel.  Additionally, with Campbell’s books, the setting was absolutely brilliant, but the characters were pretty much cardboard cutouts who were doing exactly what the plot needed them to do, and not for any other decent reason.  In Mirrormask I think that the effects were a big selling point, they are easily the single biggest selling point of the movie, but there is still a solid movie with good acting beyond the CG, which makes it stand up beyond just the CG.  The same thing is true of the Leviathan series, the illustrations are a wonderful addition to the series, but the story is very good on it’s own and would easily hold up without having the illustrations there.

For my last example I’m going to mention a book that is easily older than every other piece of fiction I’ve mentioned combined.  During my Literature of Ancient Greece class last semester we read the novel Daphnis and Chloe by the author Longus.  While it may have been a revolutionary story when it was first written, 2,000 years later it is every cliched love story that we’ve ever seen.  Despite all of this, it still works and I enjoyed reading it.  There was not a single line of dialogue or a single line of action in that novel that comes across as original or surprising to someone from a present day audience who has experienced any amount of fiction in the present day.  For one of my papers about this book (it may have been a test, I don’t remember) I wrote that this novel showed me that you don’t have to be original for a piece of fiction to be effective, it just has to be well written.

A unique or flashy gimmick may get a piece of fiction some attention, but it won’t have any staying power if that’s all that it has going for it.  This is why so many action movies are made and then quickly forgotten, newer technology means a bigger explosion, so why should I watch the older movie when the new one has the same story?  This is why Avatar will be forgotten in 10 years when every animated movie made looks better than it does.

What are you going to tell your children when they ask why everyone was so obsessed with the blue monkeys?

Something unique may be needed to get a piece of fiction noticed, but the quality of said piece will be what determines how long it stays in the public eye.  There is a reason that The Shawshank Redemption is still the #1 rated movie on IMDB nearly 20 years after it was released while Avatar is currently #194 (when it first came out, Avatar cracked the top 5 on the list).  There is a reason that I can read the Wheel of Time books multiple times and appreciate them more every time I turn a page.

So there’s my answer to the question.  What do you think about it?  How important is originality or uniqueness to a piece of fiction?

Sucker Punch

A little bit of a different post this time.  Today I watched the movie Sucker Punch.  I had wanted to see this movie when it was out in theaters, but I didn’t go (as much as I like movies, I absolutely hate going to theaters, they just irritate me).  After watching the movie, I’m glad I never paid for it (I watched my brother’s DVD of the movie today).

The plot for this movie is irritating, essentially a girl’s parents die and when her father’s will leaves everything to her and her sister their guardian gets pissed, kills her sister and sends her to an insane asylum.  While there she meets some other girls and discovers what kind of place it really is.  Unfortunately, the plot was pretty much non-existant from that point on.  The plot gets lost because you’re never really sure whether she is just fantasizing about what is going on and you never have any idea what is really happening.

Overall the movie was little more than an excuse to have some pretty girls in skimpy outfits fighting weird monsters and whatnot.  It’s little more than a movie designed to appeal to a bunch of teenage boys (which is why they worked hard to make it a PG-13 movie rather than an R rated movie).  Part of what I use as a rating for a movie is how intently I’m watching it.  I started looking at the clock for this movie 30 minutes in and about an hour in I was surfing online and playing a game on my iPod.

Overall Grade

I really wanted to like this movie, but after watching it, I think the director owes me 2 hours of my life back.  The only way I could be more pissed off with this movie is if I had actually paid for it.

2/10