Captain America: The Winter Soldier

I had a blast at Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Both times, even.

I saw it once in 3D, and once in 2D, and I think I preferred the 3D version for the depth it added to the aerial sequences. At any rate, it was super fun. The action was solid, the pacing was pretty close to perfect, and the dialog was tight without being predictable. 

The film was not without problems, however. There was some shaky-cam, for instance. Also the antagonist's plot used a conceit I'm not fond of, and had a hole in it. That hole could have been plugged pretty easily, but I'll hold off on posting spoilers (when I do post them they'll be in "Featured Comments" below.)

The soundtrack was also a bit of disappointment, at least for standalone listening. It supported the film well, but lacked the stirring themes we get from much of the rest of the Marvel franchise. YMMV, there, of course. There are samples you can listen to.

Still, none of this really detracted from my enjoyment of the film while I sat there in the theater. Cap 2 wasn't the perfect superhero movie that I felt The Avengers was, but that's a pretty high bar to clear. It didn't have the emotional power that Act I of Captain America: The First Avenger had, but that film was weighed down by its second and third acts, while this one shone all the way to the end. Captain America: The Winter Soldier clears my Threshold of Awesome and takes the #1 spot for the year

I hope it loses the spot, not because I want Cap to end up lower on the list, but because it's only April. I want to have at least this much fun at the movies several more times this year. We'll see if that's what happens.

May I Seat You at the Buffalito Buffet?

My friend Lawrence Schoen invited me to write an introduction for Buffalito Buffet, which is the definitive collection of his "Amazing Conroy" stories. Why? Because I love those stories.

They strike right to the heart of what I feel a good science fiction short story should be: an exploration of a new idea, the juxtaposition of some concepts that have gone previously unjuxtaposed, and last-but-not-least, a fun read. 

I wrote said introduction in early July of 2012, and in the whirlwind that has been the last twenty-one months, totally forgot I'd done it. Over the weekend I got an email from Lawrence announcing the launch of the ebook, and to my inestimable delight my name was on the cover.

Is it silly for me to be giddy about this? About my name on the cover of another author's book? It's almost as if somebody's plans for world domination are beginning to bear fruit, but only almost, because that's not something I'd plan, not when my current job is so much fun.

Anyway, I went back and read the intro, and I won't lie: Howard Tayler of 2012 managed to make Howard Tayler of 2014 excited about going back and re-reading these stories. 

Is that silly? I hope not. 

"An alien, a hypnotist, and an oxygen-excreting omnivore walk into a bar..." -- actual lead-in text from Howard Tayler's introduction to Buffalito Buffet, by Lawrence Schoen

Why Did None of You Tell Me I Could Be Raising Steam?

At some point last November the virtual system of tripwires, bells, and motion-detectors that I have tied to the Internet failed to ring, buzz, or tip over any buckets by way of alerting me to the release of a new Terry Pratchett novel. I had to discover it accidentally, five months after the fact, while shopping for something else. Come to think of it, I wasn't shopping. I was noodling around somewhere, and a banner ad -- an actual banner ad -- notified me that I really needed to be reading something right now.

I could continue to complain about the failure of progress to be progressive in ways that serve me, but that would stretch the joke a bit far, and that's not what I want to do unless I am hoping to devote a lot of time to an explanation of how much better than mine Terry Pratchett's satire is. Which is to say, "much."

So, Raising Steam: Someone on The Disc has invented steam power, and has gotten around to the finer points of not getting himself killed with it. True to his usual, brilliant form, Terry Pratchett takes a complex concept, in this case it's "innovative disruption," and reduced it to a deceptively simple-looking story. This particular story features some of my long-standing favorite characters, including Sam Vimes, Lord Vetinari, and Death, but focuses on the relatively new troublemaking innovator Moist von Lipwig, who finds himself at the pointy end of maintaining the State's interest in steam-powered locomotion.

I loved it. I laughed, I cried, I fretted a bit (but not too much), and I marveled at Pratchett's continued mastery over words. He makes them do all of the things. All! Of the things!

If you've enjoyed Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels in the past, this one is quite good. It's not as dark as Night Watch, and not quite as touching as Snuff, but it's stronger than Unseen Academicals, and right in line with Going Postal and Making Money

Am I a Terry Pratchett fan? Well, yes. As a fan, I extend this author a line of credit in the shape of "I will buy whatever he writes," and so far nothing he has written has hurt that credit rating. I'll keep reading as long as he keeps writing.

Stripped

Full disclosure: I am in this movie. 

Stripped, which US viewers can get right now on iTunes*, is a documentary about newspaper comics, and was spearheaded by a man who loves and studies comics in a way that I never have. Oh, and he creates comics, too.

(*For Non-US viewers, and folks who'd rather not use iTunes: You can get the movie on April 2nd via VHX.tv (DRM-free), via DVDs at Topatoco (DRM-free), and via Google Play (U.S. only, not DRM-free.) I'll post direct links once links actually exist.)

It is also a bit of a choose-your-own-ending piece. The decline in newspaper circulation, the closure of papers, and a contraction in the reach of the syndicates is juxtaposed with the advent of the direct-to-the-consumer model employed by folks like me. The filmmakers did a great job of exploring and explaining both business models, and they interviewed syndicate editors, syndicated cartoonists, webcartoonists, webcomic business experts, and more.  

They also interviewed Bill Watterson. It is the only recorded interview he's ever done.

Stripped is far more than just exclusive interviews, though. There are some embedded shorts, including a pixel-pop, 8-bit explanation of the webcomic business model and a delightful music video. The segue animations are absolutely delicious, and not just because I can see Dave Kellet's inimitable hand in them. 

As with any review you read here, your mileage is going to vary a bit from mine. In this case I expect it to vary a lot. I'm far closer to the subject matter than 99.9% of my readers are, after all. Even so, I learned things. David Malki's analysis of the disruptive innovation wrought by photography at the turn of the 20th century was indisputably brilliant. And maybe that means you'll learn even more things than I did, and can enjoy the film even more. I don't know, but I think that would be pretty cool.

Regardless, I believe this film is going to stand for decades as the definitive documentary on this art form.

I love comics, and I loved this movie. And yes, I'd love for you to support it (I don't get a dime, mind you.) It's may not be my very-most-favorite, very-most-fun film of the year, but it did clear my Threshold of Awesome. And while it's not in wide release in theaters, it is available now on iTunes

Words and Works

At some point this summer my grand total of published words of fiction will crack 100,000. That's not including the words you find here in the pages of Schlock Mercenary, which I'm guesstimating number around 300,000. And of course I'm not playing the "a picture paints a thousand words" card because, in point of fact, I'm not painting. But hey, 100,000 is a cool number! Six figures! 

One of my goals for this year is to write 150,000 words. With the year 25% gone, I'd like to be able to announce that 37,500 of those words have been written, but I'm afraid I've only taken care of about 15,000 of them. I've done plenty of other things, though, and as I review my 2014 Project Management Spreadsheet I can see that I'm almost 1% ahead on the budgeted time, as balanced against the remaining projects.

This year's projects include, of course, 52 weeks of Schlock Mercenary. In that realm I also need to write the Bonus Story for Book 11, and create the 2015 calendar images. Oh, and we'll be putting the tenth book, Longshoreman of the Apocalypse, up for pre-order sometime in the next month or two. It's already off to the printer. There's also the Schlock Mercenary Role-Playing Game, which will require a bunch of encyclopedic writing on my part so that the source-book has some fresh source. And then there's merchandise to design, conventions to attend, and countless, tiny, Schlock-related tasks to be forbidden from falling through any of the cracks.

Most of the other projects are writing-related. I have about 100,000 words of fiction under contract (read: someone has already agreed to buy these words) and I'd love to wring another 40,000 words out of my schedule "on spec." And if that sounds a little vague, it's because I'm under one NDA and at least two commitments not to over-promise anything. My readers have become so accustomed to the clockwork perfection by which illustrated entertainments appear on this site it simply would not do to let them see me not delivering something. 

So... enough blogging. Time for delivering. I have stories to tell, and simply having a story is an entire world's worth of labor short of telling it.

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