Category Archives: Reviews

Felicia Day’s memoir should be required reading for everyone

We tell some funny stories in America about success. We talk about how Bill Gates dropped out of college and became a billionaire. We talk about how JK Rowling was a homeless single mom and became a billionaire. We love success stories. We love rags-to-riches stories.

And yet, we haven’t arranged our society to promote that at all, have we? We’re all about school and tests and traditional careers paths. But if that’s what we’re supposed to be, then why don’t we ever hear the inspiring anecdote of Gary Brown, the B-student who went to State and studied accounting because his dad thought it was a good idea, and then got a decent job at a local firm, paid his bills for 36 years while deferring his dreams and slowly gaining weight, developing Type II diabetes, and dying of a heart attack in his mid-50s?

Because that’s a really lousy story, and yet it’s the story that our society is designed to stamp into so many of our lives.

Here’s a better story.

“You’re Never Weird on the Internet (almost)” by Felicia Day

Actress, writer, and gamer Felicia Day is just 16 days younger than me, so since we grew up at the exact same time, she’s always been one of those people I squint at and think, “I wonder how different her life really was from mine?” Well, now I know.

Day was home-schooled, which should probably be in quotation marks because it sounds like most of her days didn’t include any actual schooling. She played violin and played video games, and then went to college without a GED, where she worked herself to death to get a 4.0 in math (and music). She was good at math and liked math, and soon forgot a lot of it because she never used it again.

Instead, she went to Hollywood to become an actress, only to find it was really hard to become an actress. But she worked very hard in acting classes and on auditions, and made some personal compromises (not like that!) and started get acting work. But the compromises (and the work) didn’t make her happy. It was repetitive and shallow and disappointing.

Then she got addicted to World of Warcraft, largely because the game world provided her with control and positive feedback. Her incredible work ethic was constantly rewarded with measurable success (leveling up, achievements, etc.). But the addiction consumed her life, cut out her friends, and undermined activities like “getting real work”.

Eventually she found a sort of support group and over the course of many months, she pushed herself to stop gaming and create something original, a script for a TV series. Unwilling to compromise her vision for the show, she decided to make it herself. Again, her herculean work ethic allowed her to build sets, get props, make costumes, hire staff and actors, do re-writes, direct, act, market and promote, hand-stamp DVDs, and do a million other tasks to bring her web series, The Guild, to life.

A bunch of other stuff happened too. Dr Horrible, conventions, Supernatural, personal attacks, Eureka, celebrity friendships, Geek and Sundry, and more. I’ll let you read it.

The Part Where I Rant About Modern Education

The point is, Day’s story is a complicated one. A messy one. One that would be as hard to replicate as Bill Gates’ story or JK Rowling’s story. But I think the most important thing about it is that no matter how strange or obscure your passions may be, you can do great things if you’re willing to do the work.

And yes, Day’s passions were obscure at the time. She was playing video games before they had graphics. She was on fan-forums when the Internet still charged by the hour for dial-up service (I remember that too!). She launched an online show when YouTube was brand new and “mainstream” people had never even heard of it. (Hipster, I know!)

I love these sorts of stories. (Although I certainly wish she hadn’t suffered such horrible low points with her anxiety and illness.) I love the stories about teenagers building fusion reactors in their garages and cures for cancer in their high school classes.  Sure, these kids are obviously very bright, but I think the more crucial bit is that they are so industrious and passionate.

So is everyone else just lazy? Of course not. But I think that many people with huge potential have their passions ground into dust by our education system and “traditional” career paths. Being forced to take boring required courses, spending countless hours on meaningless tests, and trying to fit into established job roles. It’s soul crushing.

Should we all be home-schooling? No. Should we get rid of schools altogether? Absolutely not! But we do need to radically rethink what school is for and how we run them. Like these. And this.

Is everyone a magic snowflake? No. Can everyone be a rock star or movie god? No. But I think we would benefit more from an education system that hurls everyone up at the stars in hope of success. If they fail, well heck, they’ll just end up in an office anyway. But we have to do better than an entire system designed to bore, annoy, and assimilate people away from their potential and into cubicles.

Kids are magic. Heck, adults are magic too. Left to their own devices, an awful lot of people will find things they really love and go nuts with them. Building, writing, music, sports, science, medicine, exploration! There are passionate, hard-working nerds in every nook and cranny of human endeavor, all with the potential to create or discover new things, to dramatically change our world in fantastic ways.

We need to be helping them do that. We need to be giving them the tools to learn on their own, find their passions, and pursue those passions with wild abandon. And then we need to get out of their way.

Where would Felicia Day be now if she had gone to a normal school and gotten a normal job? Probably in an office somewhere, shuffling papers and PowerPoints, and quietly wishing she had more time for her hobbies and passions. Like so many of us.

I’m glad we have her story instead. And her. And her stuff, which is pretty cool.

20 Awesome Webcomics You Should Be Reading

For no particular reason, I’d like to post about some (only some!) of the amazing webcomics that I’m currently reading and you should check out. I think webcomics are brilliant both at telling stories and showcasing artists, while some may have better writing than art, or better art than writing, some have both, and all of them have something fantastic to offer.

So I hope you’ll read at least ten pages of each one before deciding whether or not you like it’s style, message, or theme:

Clever and Thoughtful

Abstruse Goose – http://abstrusegoose.com/
Beatrice the Biologist – http://www.beatricebiologist.com/
For Lack of a Better Comic – http://forlackofabettercomic.com/
Incidental Comics – http://www.incidentalcomics.com/
Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal – http://www.smbc-comics.com/
Scenes from a Multiverse – http://amultiverse.com/

Science Fiction and Fantasy

Bird Boy – http://bird-boy.com/
Blindsprings – http://blindsprings.com/
Dresden Codak – http://dresdencodak.com/
Gunnerkrigg Court – http://www.gunnerkrigg.com/
Strong Female Protagonist – http://strongfemaleprotagonist.com/
Stand Still, Stay Silent – http://www.sssscomic.com/

Spider-man versus Green Lantern!

This past weekend I saw The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in the theater, and I also caught Ryan Reynolds in Green Lantern at home. And I had some thoughts about both.

First, TASM2 was a lot of fun. Garfield is a great leading man and he had great chemistry with his fellow actors, especially Emma Stone. The best parts of the movie were easily when Garfield was on screen, either as a conflicted boyfriend and son or as a wise-cracking yet sensitive superhero.

The worst parts of the movie were the villains. I like Jamie Foxx, but the Electro story was a complete snore for me, and the Harry Osborn story was only slightly better. Frankly, I felt like the big action scenes slowed everything down with how repetitive and predictable they were (for me), while the personal drama and comedy and romance and mystery were really engaging.

Clearly, I am getting older.

Second, as fans of superhero films have been saying for years, Green Lantern was pretty bad. Almost nothing positive about it. There were about two minutes of cumulative running time when Ryan Reynolds got to be his charming, funny self and the hero Hal Jordan became briefly tolerable and fun. But mostly it was boring villain stuff and plot stuff, and it was dark, like, hard-to-see dark.

The first 15 minutes were completely unnecessary flashback and exposition. The space and alien scenes were way too short, and at the same time, entirely underwhelming. I wanted fun and color and imagination, and instead I got shadows and glowers and angst. Oh well.

Which just goes to reinforce the notion that all I want from any movie is Fun. And yet this simple concept continues to elude most movie makers. Can we get the team from The Lego Movie to make the next DC superhero flick?

Welcome back, Veronica Mars

I could write about a lot of things this week. Russia is annexing Crimea. Scientists have detected gravitational waves from the Big Bang. But I want to talk about Veronica Mars.

Veronica Mars was a cool little show that was clever and funny, while also being extremely gritty and serious. It’s roughly what you would expect from a snarky teen detective series that’s more about murder, rape, racism, and drugs than… well, anything lighter.

So when I heard about the Kickstarter campaign last year to resurrect Veronica as a movie, I jumped at the chance. And I’m proud to say I was one of the backers on Day 1 that helped meet the initial goal to make the movie possible.

And this week I went over to the local AMC and I got to see Veronica Mars. As it was promised, so was it delivered, full of fan service and style and fun. It was great. So thank you, Rob Thomas, Kristen Bell, and everyone else who made it possible (especially Dax Shepard’s sexy dance moves!).

And this all makes me very excited about the future of media, because here we literally have 91,585 fans becoming movie producers. The mob itself voted with their wallets to make something that they wanted, and they got exactly what they wanted, in less than a year!

Now, some misguided children (we’ll call them “critics”) have complained that the movie didn’t make sense to them, or that it’s unlikely to turn a profit at the theater. They are misguided because (1) the movie did make sense if you were paying attention, (2) it wasn’t created for the general population of random non-fans, and (3) it doesn’t have to turn a profit because the producers are the audience.

I think it galls some people (we’ll continue to generously call them “critics”) to think that a movie isn’t for everyone, or isn’t for them. But no movie, or book, or game is for everyone. They’re each for a specific audience. I personally don’t like horror movies, but that doesn’t make horror movies bad, it just means that they’re not for me. And that’s okay!

The Veronica Mars movie is for a very small, specific audience; namely, fans of Veronica Mars. If you’re in that lovely demographic, great! Go see the movie. If not, great! Don’t see the movie. It’s delightfully simple.

I have high hopes that this will open the doors to similar projects in the future, projects that remain true to their original vision instead of being watered down by mass-marketing morons who want to sell the movie or the book to the general public instead of keeping it intense and complicated and unique for its intended, niche audience. Because I like things that are a little different and weird.

Don’t you?

Man of Steel features men and steel going boom

So I saw the movie and I think I mostly enjoyed it, as a “staring at a screen for entertainment” sort of experience.

Stuff I liked

I definitely like the music and the cast and the art. The visual design and style was great. I liked the heavy science fiction approach of looking at Superman as an alien and the all of the ramifications of that. I liked the flashbacks that showed how frightening and confusing Clark’s childhood was. And I liked that Lois Lane was presented as a highly competent individual and professional.

Basically, I liked the first half.

And Faora. I liked Faora.

Stuff I didn’t like

I got bored with the 40+ minutes of hyper-violence at the end. Seriously, there were just too many people and machines to punch and explode. And the shaky-cam made the action hard to follow at times. Frankly, I think it would have been much improved if they removed Faora’s giant sidekick and removed the World Engine machine.

Editing. It’s a good thing.

Stuff I wanted

There’s a scene in the middle of the movie where Lois meets Clark for the first time. Clark says, “My dad was afraid people would reject me.” And the violence begins. This would have been a great spot for 3-5 minutes of romantic dialog in which Lois says, “I know you’re an alien who loves to save people and I accept you” and Clark could turn a corner, come out of the alien closet, smile, and say, “I’m going to embrace who I am and enjoy being awesome in public” and the movie could be brighter and more fun from that point, and then the romance between Lois and Clark would be believable.

I also wanted a line or two from Faora to give her character just a hint more depth. Just a hint.

The verdict is in: New steampunk thriller is even better than the first!

A few days ago, a reader posted a frank and fair review of The Burning Sky, my first steampunk thriller published several years ago. She found the world imaginative and the action exciting, but the characters were dull and forgettable. So I asked her (and the world) to take up the challenge to see whether my newest steampunk thriller, The Kaiser Affair, was any better.

And today I was pleasantly surprised to see that the same reviewer has already finished The Kaiser Affair and found it a delightful improvement, saying it’s “terrific – four stars“. So now that the matter is settled for all time, you need to get The Kaiser Affair and read it right now!

Are my steampunk thrillers getting better?

Hello, book readers. After reading a recent review of The Burning Sky that said the book was exciting and imaginative, yet lacking in deep or interesting characters, I have made each Halcyon novel available on Amazon for only $0.99 so you can go get all three books on the cheap, and then report back to me on whether this review is accurate. And then I want you to go read my latest steampunk thriller, The Kaiser Affair, and let me know if I have improved my characters in the time between the two publications.

And…. go!