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May 11th, 2009

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Drinky
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Clint Harris

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May 11th, 2009

Your buddy and mine, selfavowedgeek , sent me the link to this discussion on Scalzi's "whatevah" blog (cause that's how I hear him say it in my mind) about Gordon Van Gelder's thoughts on the Scalzian/esque marketing method for writers that use the internet for fun and profit, erstwhile leaving the poor, downtrodden dead-tree publishers to fight off immenent doom while folks like Scalzi, Charile Stross, and many others drink Cristal out of their krunk cups and laugh at the demise of SF while New York, NY burns. I loved how GVG tried to turn the argument onto the top three guys in SF right now (based on what quantifyer, I do not know, since nowhere is Neil Gaiman mentioned) as being the "Big Three", rather than the uber-descerning dead tree magazines, which every aspiring SF writer knows as the real Big Three already.  So basically, we were supposed to redirect our angst towards these three writers who are the actual Big Three and not the folks that send us rejection letters fortnightly.

Apart from Scalzi's argument on this issue, which I might get to eventually, I will first say that I have read, participated in, and beaten my head against the door of this subject--a couple times with GVG himself--over at my old stomping grounds, the Asimov's Forum, several times already.  I'm soooooo sick of it.  I've heard Gordon's argument, and Scalzi is right in his narrative at Whatever, Gordon knows many of the complexities that are beyond the superficial nature of his statements at Tor.com about internet publicity and such.  He's duked it out with many forumites over there, notorious trolls too, and I have always thought Gordon comes out victorious in all cases.  He presents his arguments, he delivers his evidence, he stands on the precipice of the hillside, brandishing his sword and the hordes blanch and pale and run.  This time, I think Scalzi brought up things that people don't usually discuss.  Things that make me think Gordon got flanked, and now, Scalzi has his ass.

Particularly the Nick Mamatas factor.  The Mamatas quote was excellent because he brings up something that evokes two things in my mind.  First, is Jimmy Buffet.  The other is a discussion I had about the true big 3 magazines: Asimov's, Analog, and SF&F a couple of years.  An argument over at the Asimov's forum, to which I had my ass handed to me by various supereditors and forumites alike.  My quote was something akin to "the content is great, but Asimov's really is an ugly little magazine."  Go ahead and reread that, if you must.  Please keep in mind that this statement was made at the Asimov's forum, where there are dozens of long-time subscribers to the magazine, who most vehemently disagree with such a statement.  Man, I hate digests.  Just hate 'em.  I hate the old TV Guide, I hate Reader's digest.  I hate Archie Digest.  I really hate the Archie Double Digest.  Like nearly twice as much as I hate the Archie's digest.  And I really, really hate SF magazine digests.  Mamatas was right about it being an unfriendly format for advertising.  Which means that yes, Viriginia, SF&F is nearly solely reliant on the charity of Subscribers.  What does that mean for me? (Hey, it's my damn blog, it can be about me, thank you very much).  It means that the magazine doesn't have to try very hard.  People are already suckered into a year at a time.  With selling on the racks, your next sale is only as good as your first.  With a subscription, there's some wiggle-room.  "Well, the last four issues sucked, but I was happy with two of the previous ones, sure, I'll re-up my subscription."  Unlike another magazine you might see (Remember OMNI, folks?) where the cover grabs you, the headliners hook you, the stories blow your frakkin' mind.

You don't get that with a sub-serving magazine.  You get safe stories that don't rock the boat so much.  "This stuff has gotten too weird!  I'm not signing up again."  Well, shit, there goes some more pay for the news authors.  That's okay, the big three have been using the same ten authors for as long as I can remember.  And yes, with digests, the exposure value of ads is truly awful.  So, sure, less ads, more content, but also less revenue, less tie-in material. Some people hate ads.  Not me.  Take comic books for example.  I have gone by ads to try new comic series, Johnson Smith's and Company (things you never knew existed...), and gained vital education on teenage hygene through numerous ads for OxyTEN, that could have proven useful to my pubescence.  That is if I wasn't blowing money on comics and video games I saw in the pages of Conan and Shadowhawk.  But, the PSA was there.  It wasn't awkward like buying condoms for the first time, nope, I had a peer base.  Other pimply-faced comic book afficianados who shared my pain, my dilemna of "if I didn't have jacked up skin, I might actually get to kiss a girl if I used this product.  Maybe if F&SF adopted such ads they could help out some fans.  Hell, maybe they could help out some writers.  Get some new blood into the veins of this gasping genre.  Old Men and Women with their old ideas, it truly is the Age of Dinosaurs, with many of these.  Short fiction, like being in a room full of fossils, makes my skin dry and itchy.  The best stuff I have read in recent years has been online.  So sure, Scalzi and Stross and others besieged in that interview are online, but maybe that's where they belong.  With everything else that is badass, like YouTube and porno, and Craigslist, and Hulu.  Not to mention LiveJournal!  Holla!

Back when I was a Boy Scout, I had the obligatory Boy's Life magazine subscription.  Even that magazine was geared to folks other than kids in Scouting in some regard.  It allowed casual readers to pick it up and read it.  Digests say "you aren't in this club.  Piss off."  That's why I liked Realms of Fantasy.  The openess, the cool ads for other stuff I might want.  The magazine format that didn't remind me of creepy, dank  outhouses where the digest magazines mingled with the weathered stacks of Playboy and Penthouse, sun-faded nipples and grinning bobble-headed blonde bimbos, illuminated by the light coming through that quartermoon cutout in the door.  The haphazard architecture when folks tried to stack old copies of TV Guide on top of backissues of Hustler to appear intellectual as they hovered their ass over a hole in a plank above a cesspit and wiped with poison ivy.

Seriously, grow up in the mountains and you will know exactly what I'm talking about.

Which brings me to that other thing I thought about.  Jimmy Buffet.  It's the dead tree magazines "own damn fault."  Publishers of dead-tree magazines are hoping the world grows around them, instead of growing with the world of publishing.  As much as POD sucks ass right now, it actually has publishers terrified of what will happen to them.  Presses will become smaller and smaller, requiring less of what the big printers need.  People will one day be able to drop twenty bucks into a vending machine and get a hard-cover copy of Eye of the World, complete with Darrell K. Sweet dust jacket at their local mall, printed as they suck down their Orange Julius.  Or better yet, download the whole thing onto a thumbdrive, complete with audio version.  Factories that once printed books will sit vacant, now home to intrepid groups of paranormal investigators, searching out the urban legends surrounding these empty husks of industry.

It's the future!  And it's FAN-Tastic.

But here will sit the "Big Three" magazines, still farming out their digests, paying out as much postage as their subscription rates are, printing the same stories from the 1970's that were irrelevant in 2009, and just as irrelevent in 2019.  The subscribers will be the folks who have always subscribed.  It won't appear on shelves at all, because for whatever reason, people aren't buying ugly little newsprint digests when there are full glossy magazines with ads on the shelves next to them.  With frakkin' holographic covers and ads in Smell-o-RAMA!

Maybe I missed the point of this argument.  Essentially Scalzi says that he isn't wholly self-serving, but a lot of the onus is on the Big Three Magazines, who have been whining about decline in subscriptions and revenue for decades now.  Shit, I'll just bet that was right around the time the magazines stopped running stories that were interesting.  Huh.  Weird.  I agree with him and I think that the publishers are so enamored with the way they have done business for the last 80 years, that they are going to miss the boat on this whole thing we call Now, instead, dwelling in their Morlockian basement bunkers, waiting for this whole online thing to blow over.  And criticising folks for making it work for them.  Hell, they are still criticising magazines for having that "infernal color" in their pages.  And shiny glossy covers to boot.  Jeez, if I didn't know better, I'd think Montgomery Burns was running the magazines.

Anyway, my rant aside, please check out the Scalzi article.  Formulate your own opinions.  Don't let my skewed view of the world influence you any more than you deem necessary, and feel free to call me out on it.  I am open to debate on the issue.

Last night, I watched Battlefield Earth on AMC.

And you know what, it wasn't so bad.

Sure, the writing was terrible, the acting was awful, the costumes were totally hilarious, but you know what, I've seen much, much worse.

Take for example, Wanted, starring James McAvoy and Angelina "Virgin Mother of All 3rd World Babies, lest we remember the weird shit she did ten years ago" Jolie.  I think the title is apro pos, since everyone Wanted to like it. *rimshot*  This movie sucked balls.  First of all, it butchered the source material and turned it into an interesting counterfactual of superhero stories we all know and love and turned it into "What if there was like this pissed off nerd who could make bullets curve around hot chicks?"  Not only does it ignore Newtonian physics with the bullet curving, but also it ignored Gallileo, and adopts Warner Bros. physics with the whole fight on the train falling down the bottomless chasm fight.  And then ends with the hot chick shooting everyone in the head in a perfect circle.  Stupid movie.

Also, there's "The Transporter". And I won't even go into "Crank" or "Crank 2" which are so completely idiotic that it would do idiots an injustice to make the comparison.  Idiots, I'm sorry.  You are way better than just about any movie Jason Statham has appeared in.

Then there is Babylon A.D., a movie that proves that Vin Diesel is still not enough to carry a truly sucky movie.  And when you throw in EuroWeird, it just makes it pretentious and sucky.  And with the jailbait that European directors love to throw into a story, a little creepy too.

So, back to Battlefield Earth.  Certainly not Spartacus.  It played like they mixed Ringo Starr's Caveman together with Planet of the Apes and Predator.  The worst part was the writing.  Especially the dialog.  John Travolta's weird sing-song sychophantic silly talk was distracting.  I don't know if it was supposed to be a juxtoposition of the perceived (and reciprocated) grunts and squawks the humans heard out of their beastly conquerors (humans grunted and squawked like monkeys to the refined ears of the Pschlo's too), plus the ripped off from Star Trek Ferrengi monatary-based oligarchy was silly too. A couple of reasons.  First, the Psychlo gotta have dat gold.  They have conquered "galaxies" to find gold.  They come to Earth, conquer our nations in under 9 minutes, and enslave the "man-animals" to keep around to smack when they are bored.  Seriously, that's the only reason they have them around, deeming man-animals unable to train for things like mining and it being against the law to do so.  Whatever dude.  I've seen Star Trek the Next Generation episodes worse than this.  I'm still not impressed at how bad this is supposed to be.

The costumes, the swimming lessons clip on noseplugs-to-breathe, the giant ass moonboots, the silly natty-dreads, Forrest Whittaker's google-eye.  Still not doing it.  Not even the passibly-cute chick love interest, who was more like the girl you might meet at an Earth Day rally who wants to help the earth but still likes to shave her legs, so she's still dateable, even though she's not as hot as any girl you know outside of this event but she likes listening to Joy Division so she's kind of interesting.  In other words, she's okay, but not really Helen of Troy if you get my meaning.  I have a feeling that when Johnny saves the world, he's going to keep his options open for other earth chicks.

Even the cavemen teaching themselves how to fly Harrier jumpjets was farfetched, but compared to Independence Day when Jeff Goldblum's PowerBook 1400 transmits the virus to destroy alien starcraft at a whopping 56k, then this still isn't nearly that stupid.  Is it one of those deals where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts?  I thought the movie was stupid, don't get me wrong, but not nearly as bad as the movies I've listed above.  What is more farfetched though?  Cavemen learning to fly jets?  Or jets working after hundreds of years of sitting around in hangars without any maintenence?  That was my problem.  But there are SF stories that get published all the time like this, such as the one where an SR-71 Blackbird pilot winds up in World War One with his jet.  Stupid. Why?  Because they practically have to rebuild those planes every time they take off and land.  The stresses from the type of flying they do rip these planes to shreds.  Plus, big deal.  You can fly realllly fast and reallllly high.    It uses a special type of fuel, which would run out and not be found in 1917 Europe. Even if you could fuel it up, a blackbird has no weaponry.  So, really, if a guy knew his world history pretty well, he would see and know more about WWI than he could even know from surveilance; which is the blackbird's primary function.  Why didn't that story win the Razzie?

Probably because of  the Scientology Factor.  When Battlefield Earth came out, people thought it was John Travolta's version of Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" since it was based on a book by L. Ron Hubbard, who started the religion Travolta (and most of Hollywood) subscribe to.  Other than the movie being terrible, I think the backlash of the movie's huge flop was due mostly to people being creeped out by Scientology at the time.  Big deal.  The movie sucked, but not that bad.  It wasn't Southland Tales by any means.  It wasn't Jackie Brown.  Or Kill Bill 2 for that matter.  It was better than Omega Doom.  It was better than Wanted (except for the scene where James McAvoy hits that dude in the face with the keyboard.  That was badass.)  It wasn't Doomsday.  

So, yes, the movie was pretty bad, but you know what, I survived it without wanting to join the Scientology movement.  I'm pretty sure people were quaking in their shoes in fear that one day they might be quaking in their moonboots in fear if this whole thing caused scientology to explode into a religion.

Huh, sorta like this movie did?  Yep.  I went there.  The same movie that beat out this woman for the Nobel Prize in 2007.

So, posit this.  Was the systematic ruin of a bad summer movie really worth it?  I mean, do people have such lack of consternation in their own beliefs that a movie like Battlefield Earth is a threat to their belief system?  Seriously?  'Cause I didn't think it was all that threatening, or unwatchable.  I mean, hey, it was actually better than Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes film.  But all the same, it didn't make me want to have my theta waves charted either.  Just sayin'.

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