Daredevil – First Impressions

Daredevil-9If you’ve been listening to Those Aren’t Biscuits, you’ll have heard Jon and I talking about Netflix’s new Daredevil series on the last episode. I’ve finally got around to watching the show and it’s definitely a slick production. I’m only two episodes in, but I’m really impressed. Marvel’s first attempt at a series set in the MCU was, for me, a bit of a disaster. Agents of SHIELD lost me only a few episodes in, while Daredevil banked enough in the pilot alone that I know I’m sticking with it to the end of the season.

So what do I like? Well, firstly this is a tightly constructed bit of drama. It’s heavily character driven, and at least in the pilot, focuses as much on Murdock as a lawyer as it does on his role as Daredevil. It reminds me of my love for Season One of Lois and Clark in its commitment to procedural drama, throwing the more colourful elements in for added flavour and not relying on them. It also does a great job exploring Daredevil’s origins through flashbacks that fit well into the main show. The casting is strong. It might lack the star appeal of the movies, but nobody lets the side down.

It’s still early days, but so far this is a really strong series that is better than any adaptions for TV than I’ve seen in a really long time. The only down side, so to speak, is that this is definitely not a family show. That can be a strength as the show is really exploring some adult plots, and it can be hard to find good entertainment that is adult-centric these days, but it might leave behind any younger Avengers fans in your household. It’s currently exclusive to Netflix but you can view the entire first season right now if you just want to put down the cash for a month or take out a free trial. I really recommend it.

Quick Updates

Carrier PigeonHey guys, it has been a while since my last post so I’m just giving you a few updates. I’ve been scaling things back the last couple of weeks because after moving the blog to its new hosting and the work recording Those Aren’t Biscuits, I’ve just been so burned out. I just wanted to take some time, give my brain time to cool and re-focus things a little bit. I put a lot of my short fiction projects on the back burner for a while and started seriously working on a novel. Then I scrapped it and started a new one.

So, it has been slow work. I’ve been taking it steady, I’m working on an idea I had a long time ago and I’ve plotted it in a lot more detail than I’m used to. (To be honest, the plotting probably pushed me into full burnout mode. It’s more stressful than it looks.) But now I’m back to my usual schedule, I’m writing every day and I’m working through the story. A few details need rethinking, but for that most part it’s working out well.

I also have the pleasure of working in a genre that’s completely new to me. (Crime/Supernatural) So, all play and no work right now.

In other news, I’m reading a lot more lately. I’m pushed myself through the first Game of Thrones book and I’m making good progress on the second. I’m enjoying them, though not completely without criticism. I’m a sporadic reader, at times I can burn through books but often I need to force myself through. I’m trying to build good habits and keep my mind sharp. It has been a learning experience already, as I’ve found something I really admire in George R. R. Martin’s style. He presents a large amount of characters, each chapter follows a different character’s POV, and yet he always manages to advance the plot significantly without playing the omniscient narrator. Characters will often discuss events occurring simultaneously, but from their own unique perspective. It means the story is always moving forward, even when the players involved aren’t “on-screen.” It’s a skill I’d love to develop.

Lastly, I know I’ve posted Lego pics here before, but I’ll be reviving my old Lego blog at http://bricksfix.blogspot.com if you’re interested in following that kind of stuff.

Can you listen to music while you write?

TrumpetNot so long ago I was a major multi-tasker. When I was in school my PC was a treasure trove of a million MP3s and Heavy Metal was the soundtrack to my life. Everything I did, I did to music, but when I got to University I noticed I was finding it harder to write up a decent essay unless I made things a little quieter. Maybe I’d always been that way and I was under performing without noticing, I don’t know, but I did notice my productivity shot up when I shut off the tunes.

Nowadays I have the opposite problem, there’s not much I can do while I’m listening to something in the background. My writing environment needs to be a temple of the gods of silence, or I get all tetchy and I write in dribs and drabs. Maybe I’m just turning into an old fogey, but I’m noticing it creepy into the rest of my life too. I’ve become a person who needs his quiet places to get anything done. At times it can be a real hindrance, so I’ve actually started deliberately writing to music a little every day. I’m hoping I can stop my brain from being so picky and learn to process two things at once.

So, how about you guys? Do you like silence or do you need a good piece of music to set the rhythm?

Another year, another novel started.

writerIt has been a while since I’ve posted day to day writing updates, but I’m trying to get back in the habit. Progress is going well on my new project so I’m sharing a few details.

I don’t usually work on novels outside of November, but I really need more practice. I decided a few months ago that when I finished the last round of Flash Fiction stories, I’d work on something longer. The writing has been fast so far, I’ve been at it a week and I’ve already hit 10k, but I’m already seeing some of my old weaknesses peeking through. Characters are talking about events more than events are unfolding; there’s a lot of recapping and discussion. It makes me nervous even at this early stage because I don’t have much experience fixing these sort of problems.

One solution I had in mind was to rewrite one of my old NaNoWriMo drafts while I go. That way I can motivate myself by watching another rough draft improve. I started writing Flash Fiction because I felt like it took too long to get to the rewriting stage. The idea was to polish up these little gems and get a better idea of my abilities. In the long run, I think this has held me back as I’ve become more reluctant to tackle longer works. I’m hoping to break out of that bad habit this year. Hopefully, rewriting old rejected drafts will have the same benefits the short pieces did.

I like short fiction a lot, but I have always wanted to write good novels. Somewhere along the way I have stopped focusing on that, and it’s time to get back on track.

I’ll let you know how I get on.

Welcome to the New Blog!

Hello!

If you came here from my old WordPress.com page, you’ll know that I just migrated everything that was there, over to here and everything looks much the same. If you’re knew here, you won’t know any of that, but you’re welcome all the same.

I have moved my blog over to my own hosting and domain because it just makes sense for the future. WordPress.com is a really good service for free hosting and I recommend it to everyone as their first step in blogging, but I’d just grown past it. Sure, it was a lot more fiddly and time consuming just getting the blog to look the same as it did before, but I have a lot more options open to me now.

A big part of why I have this blog is to promote my writing. Part of that is posting stories, and reviewing other great books, films and games that have influenced me, and WordPress.com was great for that, but I also need to be able to incorporate other services I use into the blog more. That means plugins, my own hosting, flexibility. Anything that can streamline my workload makes the change a little more worthwhile.

More importantly, while WordPress.com doesn’t take any sort of ownership of your content, in a way they do control your site. You are at their whim. Paying for my own hosting and domain lets me take control of my work, and my platform in a way I couldn’t before.

So, I hope you’ll all forgive me for the inconvenience. Now let’s resume regular service.

Owen

10 Things I Learned as an Indie Author.

With Apologies to Buzzfeed:

1) Being listed on Amazon isn’t as glamorous as it looks.

SylvesterGif

Yes, there I am in the same category as Stephen King. How many have I sold? Well… *mumble mumble*

2) Reviews are like gold dust.

BugsBunny Dog

Opinions. Must. Have. Opinions.

3) Everything I have ever written is too short.

That'sAllFolks

Make my short story longer, you say?

4) Writing Erotica gets more and more tempting every year.

Bugs Bunny Dance

Bow-chicka-wow-wow = Ka-Ching!

5) No amount of sales is too small for a party.

Daffy Duck Dance

Cash in the royalty cheques, we’re going Super-Size at McDonalds!

6) Nobody you know reads…

Sylvester Coyote Reading

“Why don’t you get it made into a film?”

7) …Well, not what you’re writing anyway.

Wil E Coyote Psychology Book

“Is it like the DaVinci Code?”

8) Writing a blurb is one of mankind’s greatest challenges.

Sylvester Smoking Coffee

BUY MY BOOK BECAUSE I DON’T KNOW. THERE IS A GHOST IN IT.

9) It’s hard to explain what you do without giving people the wrong idea.

Boring Mechanism

No, I am not rich. No, I am not unemployed. Getting closer though.

10) It is the greatest feeling in the world.

Pepe Le Pew SPinning

“And more, much more than this, I did it my waaaaaaay.”

How Adblock Got Me Blocked

I don’t know what I’d do without twitter. Maybe that’s a silly thing to say, I don’t know, but I’m sure it’s true. The power of twitter is its sense of an ongoing conversation, it’s immediacy and its intimacy. I think it’s probably the best medium for casual written interaction there is. Of course, it has it’s trolls and they’re often very destructive. People can be guarded, and every so often you can get yourself in to trouble, start hanging around in all the wrong places. And before you know it, you’ve hit rock bottom. Blocked by someone you like, for something you didn’t even know was a crime.

My name is Owen Adams, aka @illogicology, and this is my tale of despair, adblock, and being blocked by a mild-mannered video game reporter on twitter,

Access Denied

If you don’t know what adblock is, the internet is probably a scary and confusing place for you, but the answer is very simple. Adblock is a simple browser plugin in that does its best to recognise adverts and surgically remove them from the web before you see them. It was created in 2009, it is free, it is easy to use and for many people it is invaluable.

I don’t blame them.

Y’see, I don’t like advertising. I don’t like it on almost any level, but I can tolerate it in certain designated advertising spaces. Places where as a society we come together and say “Yes, you can advertise here.” I have a real low tolerance for advertising that is shoved anywhere and everywhere, advertising that is of dubious legality, and worst of all, advertising that pretends not to be advertising.

The web is infested with all these things because monetisation of the internet is a tricky thing, and large companies have exploited this by creating responsibility-free advertising services where sites hand over a space for ads and abdicate all oversight in favour of some algorithm driven marketing bot. The internet, for advertisers, is the ultimate free market, where only the largest companies are subject to any kind of regulation, and only then because their ads end up being the most visible. There are only two kinds of restrictions placed on advertising across most of the web. Self imposed restrictions by the host sites, and AdBlock.

This is the climate in which a tiny plugin like Adblock becomes huge, and it is the climate the site owners have created for themselves through lack of restraint. And unfortunately they’re suffering for it, because they’ve rested their entire business model on a method of monetisation that can be destroyed with a single browser extension.

Uh-oh.

And so, periodically, AdBlock critics come out and make their case. This too, is understandable, if a little self involved. The line goes like this: Sites generate their revenue from ads, people using AdBlock cuts into that revenue, if you continue using AdBlock your favourite sites will go out of business.

And it’s true. It conveniently ignores that sites would do better to diversify their income, that widespread abuse of advertising across the web means most people refuse to browse without adblock and that it isn’t the responsibility of the reader to keep your site in business. But it’s still true. Sort of.

The argument also has en ethical dimension. Hey guys, you’re reading our content, don’t you have an ethical responsibility to disable AdBlock and let us get some cash to feed the kids. The problem is, if we’re going to talk about ethics, we also need to discuss the ethics of the ads themselves. Why should we be compelled by an appeal to morality, when this is currently the preferred type of ad on the web right now:

BadAds

For those who usually surf with AdBlock enabled, what you’re looking at is a large, ugly adbar from a prominent gaming site. It appears to feature cultivated articles, but leads to a selection of sites trying to sell you something. Sites are encouraged to place these boxes alongside their own “Articles you might also like” spaces, to deliberately muddy the waters for the potential clicker. The text marking it as advertising is the smallest font in the box, of course. These ads are intrusive and hideous, sure, but the sites they lead to are almost always incredibly dodgy too. Reports of scam pages, phishing sites, malware abound. And this is one of the nicer ones.

AdBlock critics want you to believe you have a responsibility to view these ads, but I doubt they want to take responsibility for what happens if you actually click on one of them. Responsibility is a two way street, but so often today the consumer is expected to ignore this. Businesses want to push, and push, and push, but when the customer pushes back the conversation suddenly becomes about ethical behaviour.

So why did Stanton block me? Well, it’s sort of my fault.

AdblockTwitter

If you’re wondering what the specific trigger was:

Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 23.58.59

I can’t take blame for the “idiot” remark, but whining. I’ll cop to that, though, I think he took it a little more personally than I intended. I probably could have phrased it with a little more restraint, but I think my point was fair. Too much focus is placed on trying to get the audience to change their habits, change their opinions. The focus is never on working with the conclusion the audience has already reached. I suspect Rich knows this, because it’s quite a defensive response to what is really not that controversial a point. He just doesn’t like the way I said it. I don’t either, but the fact remains, complaining about AdBlock really is stamping your feet, trying to change the minds of people who have nothing to gain from it.

See, I like Richard. I’ve interacted with him on Twitter a few times. I only found out I was blocked because I read an amazing article he wrote on Peter Molyneux and rushed to twitter to praise him on it. He recognises people use AdBlock because some types of advertising are excessive, though I’m sure he and I would differ on what constitutes a “normal” ad. It’s Snape that riles me up. See, Snape is quite a bit more forthright than Stanton. His view is, “don’t like the ads, don’t view the site” which is a silly sort of argument to make when your goal is to stop sites from going out of business. This kind of thinking is destructive, and I told him. Of course it doesn’t surprise me, because Snape also thinks using AdBlock is comparable to piracy…

Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 10.20.38

…and what can you do with that kind of mindset.

I don’t really mind that Richard blocked me. I’m sad, sure. I like his work, and I like him. He’s free to block whoever he wants, and I know that when you work in journalism, particularly games journalism, you’re used to a certain amount of hostility from a fairly rabid fanbase. It’s symptomatic of the barriers people have to build online, in a world of trolls and sealions, there’s only so much “legitimate criticism” one can take. It probably gets easier to click that block button after a while.

But I do find it interesting in the way it sums up how conservative businesses on the web have become. It used to be a place for breaking new ground, now any criticism of advertising as the primary financial model is taken so harshly. “Adapt or Quit Whining” used to be the internet’s call to arms, now it’s a blocking offence.

It’s an interesting example of how conversations become only for certain people. Card carrying journalists get to call the public selfish and entitled, they get to use their platform to amplify the voices of those who would compare finding ads annoying to copyright theft. But it’s a one way street, broadcast only unless the replies are on message. If you think they’re whining, well, you’re selfish and entitled and you don’t get to be part of the audience anymore.

In the end, I’m a small fish. I’m not a journalist, I’ve never met Richard and I never will. I don’t run a site that uses ads. I’m not even a businessman really, I’m just a guy who writes books and blogs about what I see. But I know better than to tell people I’m going out of business because they won’t let me hock them someone else’s dodgy diet pills.

So I can’t be all bad.

Woo! the 2014 WordPress Vanity Report is here!

I don’t usually post my Vanity Report, but I get a kick out of it every year. I’m sharing it this time because it has been a hell of a year for the blog, and I think it’s hilarious that my Man of Steel post just keeps rolling on, crushing fans of boring Superman movies as it goes. Check it out. 

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 6,100 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Christmas Ego Booster – 2014

Lego minifig series 8 father christmas santa claus saint nicholas costume present - doubleHello!

It’s Christmas Time again, and aren’t you all excited? Not too excited, I’m sure, because it does happen every year. But moderately excited, the sort of excitement you reserve for mundane, annual events in which we are all encourage to be excited about it by watching films of other people having a better time with it than we are.

Sorry. Where was I?

Life is busy at the moment, I won’t have time to update the blog until we’re into 2015, so I’m signing off this year by letting you know what I have going on and what’s coming up in the new year.

New Projects

Probably the biggest new development is Those Aren’t Biscuits, a weekly podcast hosted with my buddy Jonathan Cadotte. The show is only four weeks in, but has been a lot of fun so far. Give it a listen here.

I also put a new book out this year, a successor to the short story collection I released last year. Octopus Returns is on the kindle store right now.

Old Habits

The blog has been busy this year with a lot more updates than in years gone by. This includes more regular flash fiction stories, which you can read right here.

I’ve also been wasting my time reviewing very goofy PC games and letting you know why Daniel Craig has no shame.

Looking Forward

I want to make 2015 this year in which I finally quit my crummy weekend job, and make a living doing what I love. To that end, I already have two books in the works for early that year. More info coming on that soon. Those Aren’t Biscuits will be continuing on its regular schedule in the New Year, and Jon and I are hoping to get it into more people’s hands. I’m also going to start submitting my writing to sites and magazines that might be interested in my stuff, I’ve been too cautious about submitting in the past and it’s something I’ve never really tried.

Lastly, I usually have some sort of book sale on at Christmas. I’ve nothing planned just yet, but I’m hoping to organise something before the year is out. It will probably be New Year now before that happens, but keep watching this space.

Thanks!

Right, that’s all for now. I’ve talked about myself for long enough, I’d just like to end 2014 by thanking you guys for reading. You’re the best.

Man of Steel Still Sucks: Why DC’s Cinematic Universe Can’t Fly

Superman
On my planet, it means hope, because I’m going to need all I can get.

I don’t like Man of Steel. I may have mentioned this before. This wouldn’t matter too much, except a lot of other people don’t like Man of Steel either. A lot of people still paid to see it, that has been enough to get a sequel off the ground, but the vultures are circling DC’s hopeful new universe already. DC have canned sequels before, of course. Superman Returns did well with critics, and did enough at the box office to justify a follow up, but by the time it came to greenlight it public opinion had turned on the Richard Donner nostalgia piece. Man of Steel arrived in a different climate. The attitude of studios these days is to take a lesson from Disney, sell your movie like it’s Citizen Kane, even when everybody hates it.

Of course, Warner Bros. faces a bigger problem these days. The Avengers franchise has been a winner since Iron Man hit in 2008. Between then and 2012, Marvel delivered six high profile films based on their properties, culminating in one of the best (and most successful) superhero pictures ever released. DC was slow to respond, because they had another hit on their hands.

Bane in Darkness
Remember when I played a clone of Captain Picard?

Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy looked set to define the comic book movie in 2009. Batman Begins was a reasonable success, and a hit with critics. The Dark Knight, landing at the same time as Iron Man, was an enormous success. Fuelled in part by Heath Ledger’s tragic death, it was a dark and brooding picture that propelled Batman to a level success he hadn’t enjoyed since Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989.  In 2012, both publishers saw massive successes for their properties when The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers arrived. However while Marvel’s future looked brighter than ever, DC was left on shaky ground. While Marvel borrowed heavily from television writing to weave a continuing, collaborative story arc, Warner’s approach was a self contained, director driven franchise. When Nolan brought his trilogy to an end, he sent DC movie adaptations back to square one. This left Warner without a competitor to The Avengers until 2013, by which point Marvel had already released Iron Man 3. Now we come to Man of Steel.

I’m not going to talk a lot about why I don’t like Man of Steel. I’ve done that already. I’ve done that a lot. I know it’s divisive and that a lot of people out there do like it. If that’s the case, great. I’m genuinely happy for you. What I am going to talk about is the future, how Man of Steel fits into a shared universe, and why I don’t think Batman vs. Superman will be the start of something great for DC and Warner Bros.

Man of Steel sounds like a great idea. After the success of The Dark Knight, adapting a big budget Superman origin with Nolan’s input seems like a great idea. In execution, I think it turned out to be a big mistake. The problem was Warner’s inability to commit. They know that they need a property out there, Batman is the hot thing but they’ve just finished with an incarnation of Batman. Superman is well rested after his last disappointment and so he’s brought out of retirement. But something’s new this time, Marvel has this shared universe building and Warner would be crazy not to want in. What is needed is a clean cut, heartfelt Superman adaptation. A Superman: The Movie for the new millennium, that builds a foundation for DC’s own shared universe while establishing the tone. DC’s Iron Man.

Batman Superman VHS
I will wager real money that this turns out to be the better film.

The result is a much more timid venture. A movie that feels like it belongs to The Dark Knight universe without any connections established, another auteur driven piece that clings to strong themes and psychoanalytical interpretations of its characters. A film about destiny and drive and alienation. In much the same way that The Dark Knight was a Batman movie and a gritty movie about corruption and organise crime, Man of Steel is a Superman movie and a story of isolation and immortality. Like a boring version of Highlander. The Marvel Cinematic Universe works because each film explores the strengths of its characters, while keeping a consistent underlying tone the audience accepts as, for lack of a better word, “reality.” Man of Steel, as the bedrock for a new franchise, is too idiosyncratic in tone and in look to serve. It would be as inappropriate as building a shared universe on Batman Returns.

The cause of this is, as far as I can see, quite obvious. Man of Steel was not intended as the first step towards a shared universe, but a Batman Begins. It fails, of course, because it attempts to be both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight at the same time. An origin story that reintroduces a beloved character and a heavily thematic mood piece that brings out the deepest in the audience. There are no hints to the wider world in Man of Steel, it is entirely self contained and explores a world without superheroes. And a lot of people hated it. When Warner chooses to follow this with Batman vs. Superman, they know something is wrong with their latest attempt.

Movie studios aren’t stupid. I know it seems like they are. They don’t commission films that sound great, they commission films that sound terrible and they make some very odd choices when it comes to adaptations. But they do make a lot of money. A hell of a lot of money. More than they would ever really admit. And one of the things they know is that reboots sell really well. I have always maintained that this is because origin stories bring in the widest audience. You don’t need any prior knowledge, you’re usually dealing with a story people are familiar with and new actors, new visual styles, new takes capture people’s interest. The problem is that this spike comes with a drop off in both audience and critical reception. (See The Amazing Spider-Man, Casino Royale, Iron Man, The Fantastic Four etc. etc. etc.) Often, looking back, the rebooted film isn’t even as good as the franchise it replace. (God I hate you, Amazing Spider-Man.) People just like the fresh perspective.

Dean Cain Superman
Reference: The colour Superman’s costume should actually be.

So, what do you do when that formula stops working? Man of Steel sold a lot of tickets, but the critical reception that comes with a franchise reboot just wasn’t there this time. The audience seemed divided and even though it had its defenders, it stood to reason that the drop off for the sequel was going to be enormous. They doubled down. Well, actually the double-doubled down. Their strategy had been two-fold. Reboot Superman and get some of that awesome Reboot money; Replicate The Dark Knight trilogy and get some of that awesome Batman money. Batman vs. Superman is basically: Reboot Batman; Bring Back Batman. People like Batman. Of course, they can’t bring back the Batman everyone loves. Nolan’s done, Bale’s done (Adam West is too old) so rather than suggesting Man of Steel exists in Nolan’s Batman universe, we’re getting a new Batman, created in Man of Steel’s world. This leaves Batman vs. Superman with an awkward choice; forge its own style and sit awkwardly next to its predecessor, or try to be a true sequel to Man of Steel, and undoubtably suffer the same lousy critical reception. (Ticket sales aren’t an issue this time. C’mon, it’s Batman vs. Superman! I’m 99% certain it will be shit, and I’m still going to see it.)

This is a problem that will only multiply as this franchise continues. Where Marvel worked to establish a consistent tone, a blank canvas universe in which all our heroes exist and compete on their merits, DC is hoping to build form what it has already. This can not work. As we go forward, Man of Steel isn’t just going to be a crummy superhero movie, but an anchor weighing the hole franchise down. Already we are going to see Batman in Man of Steel’s grey, lifeless, walk into a hurricane to save a dog world. He might just work, but Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash, Green Lantern? Or will they all be relegated to second players in Superman’s dull destiny?

The way I see it, (and I know I’m biased) is to minimise Man of Steel’s contribution to this universe with each release. Tone it down, soften its edges until it feels a like a world in which DC’s other, more lively characters can inhabit. But if their only strategy is to double down, more Batman, More Destiny, More Grey, this franchise not only can’t fly. It doesn’t even have legs.