The home page for author Eric J. Juneau

I Got Covid

Last week my wife substitute-teached, and got sick. This is not atypical–school starts and those places are bedlams for viruses. She was very ill, having to sleep downstairs sitting upright. But she has a piss-poor immune system so she’s sick a lot.

On Friday night, as I was exercising, I felt dry in the nose and a little shaky in the muscles. I thought, yeah, I think she gave me her disease. Saturday I woke up and my body was devoid of energy. Couldn’t do anything, had no motivation to do anything. Just wanted to lay down and do nothing. So I did.

Sunday I felt 50% better, but wasn’t running any marathons. That day, my wife told me her parents (who she had spent last Wednesday with) said they tested positive for covid. Meaning she had it. Meaning I had it. That’s what I was experiencing. I’d finally gotten the disease we had all been so careful to avoid for the past two years.

I had to overcome my sense of denial. It could have been just a bad head cold–that’s what it felt like. As I understood it, the big difference between covid and something else like flu or a cold was the sense of shortness of breath. Feeling like you’d run a mile, even though you’d just taken the stairs. I didn’t have that at all. What I did have was everything else–feeling feverish but being chilled, a hacky phlegmy cough, muscle aches (this house has too many stairs), headache due to sinus pressure, stuffy nose. Nothing to distinguish it from illnesses I’ve had before.

But I do not fuck around with global pandemics. My wife told me there was a medication (paxlovid) available for people who showed symptoms within a certain window that would help prevent long covid. So I went to the doctor Monday morning and got confirmed that I was covid positive. It’s now Tuesday and I’m feeling more normal, but still have a runny nose and am coughing. I’m supposed to quarantine for five days, so no Taco Bell runs for lunch this week. Doesn’t matter, I can’t taste anything anyway.

What I’m most worried about is losing any aspect of my sense of smell or taste. I have few things that satisfy my indulgence factor (I don’t smoke, do drugs, and I have to cut back on alcohol because of my weight). So one of the only good (selfish) things I’ve got in my life is eating. I’m always looking for good food. But if I lose my ability to taste anything, I think that might be it for me. I’m going on 24 hours now without a sense of taste, but I’ve had that before with head colds. But with covid, there’s a possibility it could be permanent or long-term. I just don’t think I could take that. There’s a certain sense of despair when you can’t use your “fun” sense.

In actuality, it was our kids that had covid and gave it to us (I still blame the school for being a hotbed of disease–this happens every September and no one seems to realize it). They just had colds that breezed through them in a week’s time and that was it. Meanwhile, this disease laid their parents flat. I think they resented us that we were so invalid we couldn’t do anything with them. They’re teenagers so we’re still in the process of teaching them empathy and that the world doesn’t revolve around them.

I can still write. I’m a little fuzzy-headed when it comes to some work things–mostly concentration on logic and problem-solving. But I’ve been writing, mostly because I’ve got deadlines to consider. And the words still come. So I don’t think I’m going to get that long covid brain fog that some people seem to get. Or at least it’ll clear up once my systems clear up. I don’t think any permanent damage has been done to my organs, thanks to the vaccine.

How’s Replaneted Doing in the Queries?

So this January, I signed up for QueryTracker Premium in the hopes that it would help me submit Replaneted (a.k.a. terraforming romance). I’ve probably doled out about $200-$250 on this book (query letter specifically) because I believed Replaneted was a good story. It was the best I had written so far and the most marketable. It had a strong voice, defined characters, an interesting setting, a plot full of heart and intrigue. So how did it go?

It sucked.

It sucked worse than any other submission blitz I’ve ever done. Not a single request for a complete manuscript or even a partial. Every rejection was a form letter. It was like I didn’t even exist. Like I was being blackballed. Did I do something to bring this on? Did I write a blog post that offended somebody and now my name is persona non grata to agents?

I understand this is a hard time for selling new novels. It used to be a 98% rejection rate on a good day, now it seems like 99.9%. With the pandemic, you had two big blows to the industry. One was the reduction of the workforce (publishers, agents, paper shortage, supply chain issues, etc.). The other was that, when everyone’s in lockdown, everyone writes a covid book. (I think that’s going to be a “thing”. Both John Scalzi and Stephen King have published theirs.) This one-two punch creates a backlog and agents are scrambling to get through it. So they’re being super picky about who they take on, if they’re even doing so. (source)

But I don’t see the effects of the backlog. I see rejections coming in at the same rate they always have. They’re just less invested. Meanwhile “Where the Crawdads Sing” has been on the bestseller list for four hundred years. And eighteen Colleen Hoover novels sit there, never giving anyone else a chance. Do you know how many books involve the protagonist returning to their hometown? It’s ridiculous how samey these all are. That’s all anyone wants. Just romance chick-lit and thrillers. Well, I wrote for the female audience. I wrote a story that has both romance and intrigue. It was a regency novel with a science fiction setting. If people like Bridgerton and Verity then why don’t I fit into that?

The Books I Read: July – August 2022

bookshelf books

Watership Down by Richard Adams
(unfinished)

The thing I like about this book is the world-building. It gives you a good picture of what it’s like to be a prey animal. Anyone writing a fantasy novel where there are “cannon fodder” beings like grunts, goblins, or kobolds should read at least part of this book to understand what their society is like. What is the pecking order when everyone and everything can kill you and the only thing you can have dominance over is yourselves.

But I stopped when I’d been reading for about three weeks and was still less than 50% finished. It’s just too long. It’s written in a 70s stuffy English style that probably worked back then. The prose is so dense that it takes way too long to get to any story event. I should be looking forward to reading each night, but it eventually became “Aw, man, I gotta keep reading Watership Down?” That’s a big red flag that you need to stop. It felt like the story would never end.

My favorite part was the interstitial fables but those weren’t the point of the story. Once they’d actually found Watership Down, the big conflict went away. Then the problems were trying to befriend the other little woodland creatures. Without the big tangible goal, I stopped caring about the characters anymore. Little defenseless Fiver faded away, big tough Bigwig wasn’t so tough. If I want to become an author, I need to focus my attention on best sellers — seeing what makes them tick, what gets them sold. Classics are the exception to the rule.

Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut

I’ve come to the conclusion that a Kurt Vonnegut novel is like a music album from an artist that never changes their formula e.g. AC/DC or Red Hot Chili Peppers. You know what an AC/DC album is going to sound like. You know what RHCP’s next single is going to sound like (and it’s probably going to involve California). That’s not a bad thing — if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Kurt Vonnegut is like that, like a music album more than a story. There are other authors like that too, but Vonnegut is so embossed that his style outshines any other part of the book. He’s not necessarily a storymaker, so much as a style. You’ve read one Kurt Vonnegut story, you know what the others are going to offer. There won’t necessarily be a linear plot or characters you like, but there will be a technique, a voice. Something that’s got a form that can’t really be described. And it’s popular because it’s something different. This is not a slight against Vonnegut, just a description.

It’s so stream-of-consciousness that I wasn’t sure where the story actually started. The plot meanders all over the place so that you’re not so much reading a story as you’re reading Kurt Vonnegut’s brain. Dwayne was a car dealer. Car dealers sell Corvettes. I once had a Corvette. I drove the Corvette up a mountain. The mountain did not like this. “Ouch,” said the mountain. It’s like a four-year-old telling you his dream, but amped up to the composure of an adult.

As far as I can tell, it’s a satirical indictment of capitalism. But with a non-linear story sustained long enough, it all becomes a mess, and I found myself getting distracted while reading because there was nothing to hang onto. It was like a painting that’s a swirl of colors that might seem pretty, but there’s nothing for my eye to rest on.

Putting the Fact in Fantasy: Expert Advice to Bring Authenticity to Your Fantasy Writing edited by Dan Kolboldt

It’s some pretty standard non-fiction. Each essay is only a few pages long, but none of them will really help you make that novel about your Dungeons and Dragons games more realistic. It’s more there to give you ideas on what to think about when writing certain aspects. Or to check yourself before you wreck yourself (i.e. bust some common myths). There are overviews on medieval life and things that people get wrong. And it gives you some suggestions for lesser-used options in fantasy, such as 900 A.D. Mesopotamia or Black Vikings. I guess I’m glad I read it, but don’t pick it up thinking “Oh, this is going to write my novel for me.”

Verity by Colleen Hoover

This novel is about how important communication is in a relationship.

So like I said, I need to focus on bestsellers. And there’s five Colleen Hoover novels in the NYT list right now. Actually, I took a look at this while searching for comps for Replaneted, came upon this, and thought it looked interesting. Apparently, this is darker fare than Hoover’s usual romcoms. Probably others will berate me for starting with this, but I liked it just fine.

It starts morbidly with some pretty graphic descriptions of a man’s head getting crushed in a traffic accident. I guess that’s the litmus test–if you can take that, you can take the rest of the novel. Not that the rest of the novel is about gross Troma-esque head explodies. But it digs into some pretty sick stuff.

It’s like an updated version of Bronte-esque novels with a wealthy man who has a big secret, living in an isolated mansion, giving gobs of money to some nobody for some reason. In addition to the Brontes, I got strong Gone Girl vibes as well. This is a sexually charged thriller, maybe more sexually charged than I like, but I guess that’s Colleen Hoover’s signature move. The story itself has nothing new–it feels like part of a Tales from the Crypt-like anthology, something episodic, especially when it gets to the end (in terms of absurd cliches). It’s full of intense emotions (as a thriller should), but also treads no new territory.

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

Apparently, this guy is a big deal in the book world. He wrote “A Man Called Ove”, which is supposed to be a fan favorite, but I’ve never read it.

The cover of this book says that it’s a comedy. But the problem is that, in a book, you lose the element of timing, which is CRUCIAL to telling a joke. A joke without timing is like a pasta salad without pasta. Also, I think some of these jokes might work better in Swedish (“How’s tricks?”) and I don’t envy the work the translator had to do. But nothing makes me laugh anyway, so don’t judge me on that.

But overall, it’s a good job all around. The style of storytelling is what’s crucial here. It reminds me of a Wes Anderson movie. It’s like the story is told “around the plot”, if that makes any sense. Imagine a guy at a shooting range who shoots an outline around the target. It’s an impressive feat, but you still haven’t hit the guy.

But I did get invested and that’s because the characters are very relatable. They each suffer from some form of anxiety so you get equal parts comedy and drama, which I think lots of writers miss. They write strictly one or the other. So in dramas, no one makes a joke, no one attempts to be funny. But in reality, people make jokes all the time, especially in serious situations. They’re always trying to be comedy relief because that’s the kind of person who’s likable. And that’s who all these characters are. This would make a good quirky play — there’s a strong set of characters and they all have good characterization scenes. Good for an ensemble cast.

The Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean Weir

Imagine just the reality show portion of The Hunger Games (the part with Cesar Flickerman and Katniss whining how she’s not pretty enough, then nailing it on camera). Expand that out and put it in today’s reality (in other words, something non-science fiction and non-post-apocalyptic). There’s a Peeta, there’s a Katniss, and there’s a Cesar who’s actually more like a Katniss who survived the games.

This is a grimdark look at families who exploit their kids for “reality TV” and evangelical religion. You are not going to feel happy while reading this, but you will be fascinated. Like when you see a car wreck or a fail video or… or, well, a reality show.

Essie belongs to a highly evangelical family that also produces a reality show. Imagine “19 Kids and Counting“, but it’s Joel Osteen. (I know *shudder*). If that wasn’t bad enough, Essie is now sixteen and pregnant (what, is she trying to audition for another reality show?) and it’s decided that she needs to have a quickie marriage so that A) the show can keep going and B) the family doesn’t lose its rep for wholesome Christian moral values.

The story rotates between three POVs. One is Essie’s, who has a plan to use this pregnancy to get out of the reality show game and bring her family down at the same time (but she won’t tell us how). Another is Roarke, the one picked to serve as her underage husband. The third is someone named Liberty Bell, the journalist Essie has chosen to give the exclusive story of her marriage to. Liberty Bell was once involved in a QAnon cult Bundy standoff-like situation that resulted in the death of her sister.

As you can tell, all these characters are built around an “issue”. But the story has trouble holding up the characters. You mostly read to find out information that the author is purposefully keeping from you to build tension (i.e. Essie knows who the father is obviously, but doesn’t tell us when it’s in her POV). Liberty’s story doesn’t have much to do with the main story–it’s more of a subplot that relates to the themes. It’s a C-story, and you know those only exist when the writers need to pad the running time. The themes therein are already stuff we know–about the hypocrisy of modern celebrity, the selfishness of fame. It’s basically about Karens, but at least they get theirs in the end.

Analyzing the Disney Villains: Yokai (Big Hero 6)

yokai big hero 6
YOKAI (a.k.a. Dr. Frank Callaghan)
Origin: Big Hero 6 (2014)

Motivation: Like Fred said: “This is a revenge story.” Callaghan lost his daughter who volunteered for a portal experiment. Said experiment was led by Alistair Krei, a devil-may-care tech billionaire. Krei noticed a discrepancy in the experiment but continued anyway. The portal blew up and his daughter was lost, presumed dead. Callaghan rebuilds the portal machine and, through the use of stolen microbots, intends to destroy Krei’s new fancy building and Krei himself in the same manner. It’s actually a pretty understandable motivation, one that any one of us might do in the same circumstance. IMO, those are the best kind of villains. That doesn’t make it right.

Character Strengths: Like a lot of villains, he keeps his cards close to his chest in terms of revealing his true power. He even makes our heroes think he’s someone totally different without trying. Given that robotics and mathematics/science are his top skills, the powers of perception are also up there. When he saw Hiro’s microbots, he thought “I can use that to kill Krei” and then set off a distracting explosion to make people think he had died so he could carry out his vengeance. Very crafty and self-righteous.

Evilness: Well, he stole a young boy’s invention. Set off a fire in an act of domestic terrorism. Said explosion killed one of his own young prodigies. Then used the stolen invention to destroy a city block and attempt to murder a prominent businessman. I’d say he’s going to jail for a long time.

Tools: This guy might win the award for best tools. Those microbots aren’t just useful, they’re cool and innovative. It’s not something we’ve ever seen before and it’s all based on real science people are working on right now. They can be used for transportation, construction, shielding, throwing punches and hammers at people, and anything else he can think of. Because he controls them with telepathy (which just by itself should be a revolutionary invention), it’s like having a T-1000 for a pet or magic Legos. You’re only limited by what you can pay attention to.

Complement to the Hero: As Callaghan, he’s warm and fatherly, something Hiro never had growing up. As Yokai, he’s grim, serious, and silent, something Hiro is totally not. It’s like Darth Vader to Luke Skywalker. And both have similar origin stories–Hiro lost his brother, Callaghan lost his daughter. But Big Hero 6 is not a story about the villain like 101 Dalmatians or Peter Pan. Callaghan is used as a foil to demonstrate what happens when you can’t let go of grief.

Fatal Flaw: If anything, Callaghan’s only weakness is that he’s so focused on his mission of vengeance (as revengers often do) that he fails to see alternative paths. Hiro knows his own invention and knows that the microbots are a finite resource (especially when they start getting sucked up into the portal). Callaghan becomes too dependent on them, which leads to the Big Hero 6’s victory. Plus the fact that they’ve come together as a team and learned to look at things from a different angle. Like Tadashi taught Hiro, Hiro teaches them. This shows us that no one is truly dead when their spirit lives on in us.

Method of Defeat/Death: When Callaghan uses up his microbots, he can’t do anything. Then Baymax crushes the mask and the portal crashes to the Earth. (Then there’s kind of a second part to the climax where Hiro must truly prove he is capable of saying goodbye to those he loves, but that’s not about the villain). The last we see of Callaghan is him getting arrested and put in a police car. But he sees that his daughter is safe, so that’s all right with him.

Final Rating: Four stars

Previous Analyses
The Agent (Bolt)
The Spirits (Frozen II)
King Candy (Wreck-It Ralph)
Abuela (Encanto)
Prince Hans (Frozen)
Shere Khan (The Jungle Book)
Aunt Sarah (Lady and the Tramp)
Yzma (The Emperor’s New Groove)
Percival C. McLeach (The Rescuers Down Under)
Ichabod Crane (The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad)
Lady Tremaine (Cinderella)
Governor Ratcliffe (Pocahontas)
Pinocchio’s Villains (Pinocchio)
Sykes (Oliver and Company)
Alameda Slim (Home on the Range)
Rourke (Atlantis: The Lost Empire)
The Evil Queen (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs)
Ursula (The Little Mermaid)
Dr. Facilier (The Princess and the Frog)
Gaston (Beauty and the Beast)
Willie the Giant (Mickey and the Beanstalk)
Hades (Hercules)
The Queen of Hearts (Alice in Wonderland)
Jafar (Aladdin)
Shan Yu (Mulan)
Man (Bambi)
Clayton (Tarzan)
The Horned King (The Black Cauldron)
Mother Gothel (Tangled)
Cobra Bubbles (Lilo and Stitch)
Cruella De Vil (101 Dalmatians)
Madame Medusa (The Rescuers)
Captain Hook (Peter Pan)
Amos Slade (The Fox and the Hound)
Madam Mim (The Sword in the Stone)
Claude Frollo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame)
Scar (The Lion King)
Prince John (Robin Hood)
Edgar (The Aristocats)
Ratigan (The Great Mouse Detective)
Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty)

Predator: Earth is “Hunting for Dummies”

predator

I love Predator movies, but the more I see them, the more I become convinced of my fan theory that Earth is their planet for “remedial hunters”. It’s where they take the Predators that are “a little slow”. The ones who need more training. Of course, the stupidest Predator is still more than a match for any human, but that’s also why they keep getting killed by us. Sure, it makes for good cinema, but it doesn’t make sense in-universe.

1. Humans are easy to kill. We have no defensive mechanisms–no armor, no plates on our backs, no spiked tails, no blood shooting from our eyes, no acid blasting out of our ass. No offensive capabilities either–no claws, no muscular necks or strong jaws or spiked teeth. We’ve got nothing. We’re sacks of pudgy meat. Our bodies even have a higher fat-to-muscle ratio than most other mammals. The strength of our ape ancestors has atrophied, lost to time.

You know why humans became apex predators? We could outlast. That’s why jogging and triathlons and dance marathons continue to be popular. Animals like cheetahs and antelopes have incredible energy and speed, but only for short bursts. We don’t have that. What we do have is patience. Like the hare and the tortoise, slow and steady wins the race. They can run away, but we can track and pursue and wait until they can’t run anymore. Then we strike.

That doesn’t work against a Predator. For one thing, the Predator is hunting you–all you can do is react. Only two things humans can do play to our advantage–running away or running toward. Running away from the Predator doesn’t work, because it can run faster. And it can track and pursue you. It won’t get bored and give up. Running toward doesn’t work because we can’t take on a predator toe-to-toe. Or at least we shouldn’t be able to. Which brings me to my next point.

2. These Predators keep getting killed in stupid ways. They’re clever to us, but for Predators, this is the kind of stuff that shows up on their FailArmy. Two of them have chopped off their own arms trying to kill us. Two have died because of their own weapons. They keep falling into obvious traps. For all their advanced technology they do not seem to know what an explosive is. They keep relying on tech that only detects heat. We know from Predator 2 that they can see in more than just the infrared spectrum.

They’re built like humanoid gorillas and have technology vastly superior to ours. Huge bodies, huge muscles, able to take massive amounts of punishment and still walk around, carrying nuclear weapons on their wrists. Yet one was killed by grizzled cop Danny Glover and another was killed by Adrien Brody, the guy from The Piano. How do we keep killing them?

The only way I could believe this is if either A) they’re “capping” their advantage (but this seems unlikely, as they still use shoulder-mounted laser cannons, homing spears, and camouflage) or B) the ones being sent to kill humans are just dumb. They’re not “thinkers”, they go on primal instinct, letting anger control them instead of good hunting skills. We keep seeing Predators failing to strike the killing blow, as if they’re not sure what to do. Or they’re conceited and reveling in their victory like those smarmy kids at the back of the class. We’ve seen others of their race act rationally–they don’t pick a fight with Danny Glover at the end of Predator 2. They form alliances with humans in Aliens vs. Predator.

3. Isn’t there anything better to hunt out there? The Predators live in a world with xenomorphs and predator hounds and prometheuses and giant rancor mammoths. A human skull looks pitiful compared to them.

Why do people collect hunting trophies? For pride. And the bigger the better. The best ones are always a rearing polar bear with teeth gnashed and claws bared. Or a deer with gigantic pointy antlers. No one is collecting wolf skulls or snake spines, like the Predator in Prey does. In a world where hunting is no longer necessary to eat, people hunt because they want to prove they can beat nature. That they’re stronger and stealthier than anything nature can throw at them. What about elephants or sharks or lions? When will we see a Predator go to Australia?

Dinosaurs would make so much more awesome prey. I hope they kidnapped and bred a few before they went extinct. A Predator versus a T-Rex? Or a Stegosaurus? Yes, please. I’m here for that.

The only reason I can think that they’re being sent to Earth, where the top of the food chain is a gangly meat bag with no natural armor or weapons, is that we are “practice”. That we’re supposed to be the easy worksheets for the Predators having trouble graduating from Hunting School. We don’t have the technology they have. We don’t even know/believe there are other sentient lifeforms out there. The Predators that we do kill keep dying in ways that a five-year-old could avoid. The first one essentially got crushed by a piano.

Ms. Marvel Has Stretchy Powers

ms. marvel show to comic book comparison

Ms. Marvel is the first MCU product where I really knew the comic character before the cinematic character. I liked her in the comics. I liked her in the The Avengers video game. Personally, I think she’s the new Spider-Man. She’s quippy, she’s a teenager, she has a family that loves her though it’s a little broken, she’s science-minded, she has a big case of hero worship, a secret identity, her powers aren’t naturally occurring, and she has a public that’s split on whether she’s a hero or a menace.

Her power does not come from an ancient bangle and it’s not because she’s a mutant. And most importantly, she does not have hard light powers. She does not go boingy-boingy like Mario.

That’s what bothered me the most–the powers. They got her character right and her relationships right (and I suppose I should be thankful for that). She’s got a supportive dad but a traditionalist Mom. She’s torn between being Pakistani and American. She loves superheroes and she knows that WGPCGR (With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility). They got the art/directorial style of a modern teenager right. And I like how she got her name better than in the comics.

But when you change her powers, you change the character. Ms. Marvel has stretchy powers. It’s goofy-looking. It’s supposed to be. Because Ms. Marvel is a bit goofy. But she doesn’t let that stop her. She’s got an ability and she’s going to use it for good. When you give her something different it makes her different.

She’s not a shield person. She’s not defensive-minded. She’s a brawler. That’s what makes her neat. She can make her fist huge and punch someone. She can wrap her arm around a kitty and get it down from the tree. Most important, she can embiggen herself and cross city blocks in a few steps.

I wonder if they didn’t have the budget for that. Did they think it would look too silly on screen? Maybe they could have spent the money on that instead of the location shooting. Ms. Marvel is a Muslim-American teenager living in the now. They don’t make a big deal of her heritage in the comics. I remember the comics being more about balancing her hero identity and normal identity. More about living her best teenage life as a cross-cultural teenager while punching bad guys with a gigantic fist.

BTW ever notice that in every Marvel show, the second-to-last episode is always the flashback episode that explains everything?

For some reason, the big change to her powers was the thing that I couldn’t get over. Both in origin and type. It changes her character too much. I mean, it’s fine if you don’t want to bring in the Inhumans and terrigen mist into the mix. But it seems cheesy that her powers come from her ancestry, making a very strong message that it’s our generational past that gives us strength.

And the fact that she’s basically a shieldmaiden translates to her serving others. Which is fine, but makes her less cool than she is in the comics. Women are always supporters (like Okoye or Gamora or Wasp) or subverters (like Black Widow or Mantis or Nebula), not attackers. That’s what makes Captain Marvel and Scarlet Witch cool.

It seems deviant for no reason other than being PC and inclusive. And sending a message which we’ve seen a hundred times before.

Analyzing the Disney Villains: The Agent (Bolt)

bolt agent
THE AGENT
Origin: Bolt (2008)

Motivation: Penny is a cash cow. An asset to be exploited. I don’t know anything about Hollywood agents–they tend to get portrayed as scummy despots, like dentists or salespeople or gym teachers. We get a glimpse of his true motivation at the end when he says he’s thinking of “executive producer” credit for Penny’s story.

Character Strengths: The Agent is pretty charismatic, but he’s terrible at lying. He never really convinces Penny to stop waiting for Bolt and to go on with the show. But he does succeed in getting her to the press junkets and photoshoots. And he never stops working, even when Penny’s in the ambulance he’s thinking of how to make money off this deal. Because that’s his sole job–he doesn’t get paid unless Penny gets paid.

Evilness: He seems pretty unpleasant to me. Not much sympathy or empathy for either Penny or her situation. Although I’m thinking how degenerate that studio has to be with no fire safety standards. When you’re dealing with live fire–even a single candle–you’ve got to have a fireman on set.

Tools: Well, he doesn’t have underlings or magic powers. All he’s got is a clipboard and a snappy suit. But he does have that “let’s put a pin in that” cliche that seems to be the key to sweeping Penny’s negative thoughts under the rug. His duty is to keep Penny working and happy (or at least not sad).

Complement to the Hero: Penny is sweet and innocent. The Agent is grimy and slimy. They’re pretty much opposite, but they don’t have very much screen time together, so their characteristics boil down to stereotypes.

My bigger beef is that this movie is based around a silly premise–that the dog is such a great actor that the studio has to keep it convinced the peril is real. My dog only knows the difference between the outside and the inside. Bolt is like a doggy version of The Truman Show. Wouldn’t it be more expensive to execute a one-take stunt spectacular like in the beginning than to just use CGI and editing. Who cares about the nuances of the dog’s performance? They don’t even have the facial muscles to express emotions like we do.

Fatal Flaw: Either he misunderstands that Penny and her mom are greedy like him, or he overestimates how much bullshit people will take. I don’t think they liked him or the Hollywood life much in the first place. But if that’s the case, I just want to say it’s ironic that Penny is voiced by Miley Cyrus.

Method of Defeat/Death: After Penny is rescued from the studio fire, The Agent slides into the ambulance with them and starts talking about how good this will be for them and their image, predicting tabloid appeal and selling story rights (of which he’ll get a percentage, of course). He is promptly punched out the back door (presumably by Penny’s mom) and never seen again.

Final Rating: One star

Previous Analyses
The Spirits (Frozen II)
King Candy (Wreck-It Ralph)
Abuela (Encanto)
Prince Hans (Frozen)
Shere Khan (The Jungle Book)
Aunt Sarah (Lady and the Tramp)
Yzma (The Emperor’s New Groove)
Percival C. McLeach (The Rescuers Down Under)
Ichabod Crane (The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad)
Lady Tremaine (Cinderella)
Governor Ratcliffe (Pocahontas)
Pinocchio’s Villains (Pinocchio)
Sykes (Oliver and Company)
Alameda Slim (Home on the Range)
Rourke (Atlantis: The Lost Empire)
The Evil Queen (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs)
Ursula (The Little Mermaid)
Dr. Facilier (The Princess and the Frog)
Gaston (Beauty and the Beast)
Willie the Giant (Mickey and the Beanstalk)
Hades (Hercules)
The Queen of Hearts (Alice in Wonderland)
Jafar (Aladdin)
Shan Yu (Mulan)
Man (Bambi)
Clayton (Tarzan)
The Horned King (The Black Cauldron)
Mother Gothel (Tangled)
Cobra Bubbles (Lilo and Stitch)
Cruella De Vil (101 Dalmatians)
Madame Medusa (The Rescuers)
Captain Hook (Peter Pan)
Amos Slade (The Fox and the Hound)
Madam Mim (The Sword in the Stone)
Claude Frollo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame)
Scar (The Lion King)
Prince John (Robin Hood)
Edgar (The Aristocats)
Ratigan (The Great Mouse Detective)
Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty)

Slave to the Meds

pills raining pile

My worst fear isn’t the apocalypse. It’s that the apocalypse will occur and I won’t have access to my meds.

I have a feeling I’m not the only one with this fear. So many of us are dependent on pharmacies right now. Not just old people with high blood pressure regulated or arthritis. There are people with life-threatening diseases like diabetes and asthma and cancer and liver disease. And not just life-threatening physical diseases, but mental as well. People with depression and anxiety and bipolar and borderline. They don’t need these to survive but they need them to function in society. To feel well. To feel normal.

Now imagine that all goes away.

Wouldn’t even take a nuclear war. What if suddenly all the pharmacies decide “whoop, we’re gonna add some zeroes onto the price of everything.” What could any of us do about it? The rich’ll be able to afford it but the middle-lower to lower class would tear themselves apart in the chaos of being off their meds. Not just the people who die, but the people who live crippled lives. The people are no longer able to serve their families or society because their bodies are no longer under control.

Before I was on my mental health medication, I could function. At least, I could remember functioning. I remember having more feelings, but most of the time those feelings were negative. I was angry and lonely all the time. Now I don’t feel so depressed or anxious, but I also don’t feel much happiness. Tis the cost. It’s been 15 years.

I tried going off my Rexulti a few weeks ago. It’s a new drug so it’s very expensive, but CVS applies a coupon, turning $500 into $15. Other pharmacies do not do this. But the attempt to return to medicationlessness did not work. When I was off Rexulti, I couldn’t sleep, I had racing thoughts, my anxiety increased tenfold.

I don’t know if it was just the sharp return to my “normal” or the effect of withdrawal. But it was clear that I could not function without these meds. Not anymore. I always entertained some dream that someday, I could go back to the way things were. I think that dream has sailed. I think I will be juggling pills for the rest of my life. When I’m sixty. When I’m ninety.

I hate being so dependent on something out of control. Not just the disease, but the cure. Because of my mental illness, I am a liability to my family. And I hate that.

The Books I Read: May – June 2022

bookshelf books

Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree

Well, it delivers what it promises–it’s a cozy story with little danger or tension. It’s just about a female orc who builds a coffee shop from scratch. People are skeptical at first, as anyone would be when a giantess wants to start a small business instead of eat babies. But everyone loves it. She encounters troubles but they’re all minor–a complaining customer here, a gang boss who wants a cut there. But everyone falls in love with her and wins them over. Like a DCOM but without attempts at funny.

It doesn’t go into much detail around the world-building–it seems very based on World of Warcraft or Dungeons and Dragons. All the material is G-rated (no disembowelments). But it’s kinda neat how the author integrates fantasy elements into Starbucks (e.g. the cappucino machine is a steam-powered gnome invention) and I personally like reading fantasy that’s not a doorstop epic. I hate how the publishing industry thinks they all have to be world-building bricks like Mistborn or Song of Ice and Fire. It taught me an important lesson on how important stakes are in a story.

Do I recommend it? I’m not sure. I’d say to try an excerpt–that’s what I did. I didn’t exactly fall in love, but I was intrigued, especially as someone who likes to write this kind of material.

Under the Dragon’s Tail (Murdoch Mysteries #2) by Maureen Jennings

My wife got into a show called Murdoch Mysteries, a cozy Canadian mystery show that takes place in 1900. Then she got our kids into it (we have strange kids). So I often have to hear the dinner talk with the detective and coroner’s relationship, the lieutenant’s quest for a promotion, the gruff police chief’s drinking habits, etc. It’s a pretty good show if you like Castle or Monk or The Mentalist and so on. But it started as a book series, so I thought I’d check that out.

The book is quite different. Like you’ve probably gathered from other reviews, it’s grim and gritty, not shirking from the terrible dirty parts of living at the turn of the century–disease, child abuse, orphans, classism, lack of women’s rights, etc. Themes circle issues you can’t deal with on nice Canadian TV. For example, in the TV series, they’ve, through necessity of the cases (and the necessity of the writers probably) accidentally created things like the polygraph and night vision goggles and luminol. In the book, he’s struggling to stop from masturbating he’s an adult male Catholic.

I’m not sure people who like the series will like this, especially if they have delicate sensibilities (for example, this one has a lot of abortion and “promiscuous women” and child death). They are two different things–much like Song of Ice and Fire vs. Game of Thrones. Or Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories vs. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock. I liked it, but that’s because I can separate Book Murdoch from Television Murdoch.

However, I don’t think I’d read any other books in the series. It lacks what makes the TV show charming (Murdoch’s boyish curiosity, the strong female presence, the anachronistic plots like the “Wrestlemania” one). If I need grim and gritty detective novels, there are plenty of others I can go to. Frankly, I’m surprised whoever created this show found a kernel of what it became. But shrug.

Demon Kissed (The Summoner’s Mark Book 1) by J.D. Blackrose
(unfinished)

To start, this is very oriented toward the female audience. It reminded me of Legends and Lattes in that A) the stakes are too low and B) it’s a slice-of-life kind of book. But unlike Legends and Lattes, it never promised low stakes from the get-go.

The story has trouble getting started. I don’t care if the characters aren’t really creative or lifted straight from other urban fantasies, but that means the plot has to be original. And here–there’s nothing new under the sun.

It’s another story where a typical woman is the chosen one but she doesn’t want her power but gets dragged into using it. She likes a guy but can’t get her life together because she keeps making bad decisions.

It’s those bad decisions that will turn me off from a book faster than anything. Your characters don’t have to be good, they don’t have to be smart, but they do have to be competent. And not just do things because the story demands it.

Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions by Daniel Wallace

When I rewatched this film recently I noticed it was based on a book, which piqued my delight. It’s all about storytellers and storytelling, about the urbane fantastic and tall tales, so it’s one of my favorite movies. It turns out the adaption is nearly “in name only”, but that doesn’t mean the book is bad.

The bare bones are there but 1) There are many many elements that don’t show up in the movie but do in the book and vice versa and 2) the mediums translate to two totally different executions. In the movie, there’s a framing device where the son is attending to his dying father who he’s resented all his life for telling these stories and being an attention-hog/liar. The book is pretty much just these stories–no framing device. It’s like a collection or anthology of tall tales about his dad’s life.

They are somewhat less colorful but there are more of them. For example, there is no wolfman-ringmaster in the book. Not even a circus. The old woman’s eye is there, but the circumstances are much less scary than presented in the movie. Tim Burton peeled away the book to its core, then added his own style to it.

But both are chock full of content from the anecdotes and tall tales and stories, like in the movie. The only difference is the movie remixes them. It’s like adapting a video game to a movie–you can make all the changes you want as long as it stays true to the spirit of what made the original great (e.g. Silent Hill, Mortal Kombat, Sonic the Hedgehog). And that’s the case here.

Still Just A Geek: An Annotated Memoir by Wil Wheaton

The concept behind it alone is intriguing–not writing a second memoir, but going back to something written eighteen years ago–after three different presidents, upheavals in the cultural zeitgeist, advancements in LGBTQ rights, regressions in women’s rights, Twitter. After nearly two decades, going back to the first thing you published (autobiographical no less) and giving notes is unique.

Just the fact that it’s an examination of old words gives a chance to see how one’s mentality changes with a little maturity and shift in perspective. What I’m saying is don’t just dismiss this as a capitalistic opportunity to re-release an already written work without much overhead. In the introduction, Wheaton says that he wrote this to demo how he’s grown and changed as a person and a writer.

The problem is that he makes all new flubs.

The footnotes come in three categories: “My parents were assholes”, “I’m sorry for making a sexist/ableist/racist joke here”, and riffs on the material. They tend to go on too long, making a six-hour book into a ten-hour book. He has no compunction about pointing out the mistakes he’s made in the past. But at a certain point, it starts to get grating, uber-liberalistic, apologistic, and so “woke culture” that it makes even a progressive like me wince. Another thing, he keeps saying his parents were abusive and gaslighted him in his youth, but never gives evidence as to what they did. It’s like an essay with no evidence in the middle. I’m sure he’s telling the truth, but he just tells us, doesn’t show us.

Like I said, it’s not like “Oh, this book was the greatest, I’m just going to re-release it with extra material”. It’s more like “look what I’ve learned about writing now”. But I’d rather see that in a new book, not a revised and expanded memoir. Nonetheless, it’s no small task revisiting old work and seeing how cringe it is.

Abomination by Gary Whitta

Who’s Gary Whitta? Why, he’s a screenwriter (The Book of Eli, After Earth, Star Wars: Rogue One), video game writer, and comic book writer turned novelist, which is my favorite kind of author (see Peter David and Neil Gaiman). What does this mean? It means don’t expect a boring book.

And this isn’t one. Right from the start, we are summoning demons in medieval times, hooking you right away like any decent book ought to do. We’ve got good noble warrior characters, bad evil zealots and sorcerers, and a clear objective. It’s basically the story of the Punisher if the mafia were demons and if King Arthur was Captain America (if that makes any sense).

It’s a simple story, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good story. The biggest problem, like most novels, is that there’s a sludgy middle where there’s lots of thinking and description. Then it speeds up at the end. This is the first time I’ve noticed the pacing of a novel and it’s upsetting. But it’s still a good book. I recommend giving it a try.

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

I got this because I really loved The Final Girl Support Group and wanted to read more from the same author. This might be better than TFGSG, but be warned it’s a different style. TFGSG was a thriller. This is more modern chicklit/true crime.

The story is that a vampire moves into a house in a nice suburban neighborhood in South Carolina where everyone’s safe. This is not a spoiler, it’s pretty obvious the guy’s a vampire when the first meeting is him laying in bed in the middle of the day, emaciated.

But the subtext of the story is that a serial killer has moved in next door, and this comes from all the true stories of people like Charles Manson and Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy who acted like nice guys but were really monsters underneath. It preys on that fear that not everyone is who they appear to be, that you never truly know a person. The fear that might be a psychopath playing with your kids at the neighborhood barbecue. You know, basically everything you see on the Lifetime channel.

But it’s fascinating to see a writer as versatile as this. I think I’m going to check out even more of his stuff because he has a knack for story-telling I haven’t seen in a long time. Not to mention his genre-blending skills are right in my wheelhouse.

Late to the Game: Overwatch & Horizon: Zero Dawn & Monster Hunter: World

t-shirt so many games so little time

So I want to talk about three games I’ve played recently. First, Overwatch.

Ever since I got my new computer, I wanted to play this game. I frickin’ love the lore and stories and comics and videos around it, I thought “this must be an awesome game”. And though I expected that what’s actually in the game might be subdued compared to what’s in Blizzard’s videos, it was still worth playing. Not like Five Nights at Freddy’s or World of Warcraft.

The story’s not just subdued, it’s completely absent. There’s a complete novel’s worth from these dynamic characters, but it’s nowhere in the game. There’s not even a campaign mode. And the lore doesn’t make sense in the context of the game since you can play on either side. Bad guys and good guys are on the same team and no one seems to care.

So what’s the big deal about this game? If it wasn’t for the extra videos, it’s no different than an evolved version of CounterStrike. The levels don’t seem to advance anything. They’re either King of the Hill or “moving” King of the Hill. And there’s too many characters. Each is just slightly different from the other but none of them fit together. You’ve got a cowboy with a four-legged robot with a cyber-angel with a Max Max warboy.

And the gameplay is all the same anyway (“point away from face and fire”). Plus, I’m kinda terrible at it. The only way I can get a point is to killsteal. As soon as I get into the fray I get pulled in by Roadhog’s grappling hook and shot. The characters are so tiny I can’t hit them, and everyone’s so good at this point I can’t hope to match their skill. Same thing happened to me in CounterStrike. I get killed right away, then wait ten minutes while the rest of the game plays out. It’s frustrating. I feel like I’d be having more fun playing Halo than this.

I’m getting way more fun out of playing Hearthstone, which is a free game I discovered in the Battle.net menu. I love card strategy games, even if I’m terrible at them. I think I make my moves too fast. But I love the aesthetic. I love the little cards and art and gameplay and collectability. And it’s completely free.

Now let’s talk about Horizon: Zero Dawn. This game is apparently trying to be Breath of the Wild with robot dinosaurs and advanced mechanics, like crafting and discoverable story. It might be a decent game, but the problem is A) I already played Breath of the Wild and that was pretty much a perfect game so I have no desire to play it again B) I don’t have time or inclination to memorize another huge world’s worth of stuff.

It’s just so bland. None of the characters have any life to them. It’s one of those “Press A to talk to everyone” games where characters have boring conversations to expand story. Aloy looks like she’d be interesting, but she doesn’t DO anything. Every cutscene she just stands there with her bland voice acting and bland uncanny face staring lifelessly. I played about 3-4 hours worth and still wasn’t out of the tutorial/preface. I just never cared about the main character or the game. Not even robot dinosaurs could save this for me.

monster hunter world logo

And then there’s Monster Hunter: World. This game is similar to Horizon: Zero Dawn in being “Breath of the Wild-y”, but it’s Japanified. It’s from Capcom, so you can bet there’s a gruff Lone Wolf warrior, a chirpy waifu assistant, and cutesy mascot pets.

Again, there’s a huge world to explore, but it gives you a little more guidance first. This one also has you hunting dinosaurs, but not robotic ones. I still don’t get the online group aspect of it yet, but maybe that’ll come. I think it’s a little more “Dark Souls”-ish in that the monsters take a ton of hits to kill but needs little strategy and timing to kill them. But they don’t kill you in one hit, so it’s more forgiving. However, the monsters take so many hits to kill, it’s tedious. Now that I think about it, I wonder if this game is meant for a younger audience than Horizon: Zero Dawn. Like, under 13. It’s a little simpler, and there are kitty mascots who follow you around and you can dress up. It’s part of the “junk overhead” that all these games have in common–herbs and crafting and cooking meat and online sessions and costumes. It’s like feature bloat.

You play a customized character, so that takes away much motivation to see that character succeed. Because that character is you. Since you’re customized, you have no backstory, no motivation, no needs or wants, and thus no personality. You are your avatar, but you don’t know why you’re hunting these monsters. You don’t have anything to drive you. It’s why I couldn’t get into Choose Your Own Adventure books. I don’t want to read or watch movies or play video games to be ME. I want to escape into someone else.

So I don’t know how long I’m going to stick with Monster Hunter: World. It depends on if the gameplay can improve and if it overcomes the blandness of the main character.

What these games all have in common is that they don’t have any personality behind them. In Overwatch, the personality is external to the game, which is bad. It’d be like putting all the Star Wars story in books, and then the movies are just the space battles and lightsaber duels.

Game developers, learn some tips from past games. Final Fantasy 7 has personality to it. Inscryption has personality to it. Deep Rock Galactic has personality to it. Complex gameplay does not equivocate to fun gameplay. Start with the simple, then build on the fundamentals. Don’t start with the complexity. I’m an old man, I can’t take that much information thrown at me. Fun first. Bells and whistles later.