I had taped the first episode of the new COSMOS with Neil deGrasse Tyson and I got around to watching it last night. I enjoyed it a great deal, and the production values are breathtaking. There were several interesting things that I noticed. One was the use of animation to tell certain historical stories. In particular the story of the Dominican monk Giordono Bruno. He wasn’t a scientist, and his rational for believing the universe was infinite was his belief that god was infinite so his creation must also be infinite. He also postulated that stars were other suns like ours and that there were worlds attached to those suns as well. It was, one could argue, a mad insight into the universe, but sometimes a productive line of inquiry opens up because of just such a mad insight. Of course technology in the form of the telescope vindicated and validated old Bruno’s insight. But not in time to save him from being burned alive by the Inquisition.
So why the animation? Partly because the producers of this show want children to watch and seeing a man die in hideous agony at the stake is not exactly PG. I also think they were trying to avoid arousing the ire of religious conservatives. If so they didn’t succeed. A number of right wing commentators have found even this softened approach to be offensive and an attack against the church and religion. That professional bloviator, Bill Donohue of the Catholic League was righteously upset and the article at the Catholic League‘s website even claimed that:
“One of the most enduring myths of the Inquisition,” he says, “is that it was a tool of oppression imposed on unwilling Europeans by a power-hungry Church. Nothing could be more wrong.” Because the Inquisition brought order and justice where there was none, it actually “saved uncounted thousands of innocent (and even not-so-innocent) people who would otherwise have been roasted by secular lords or mob rule.”
Yeah, I’m sure the Albigensians or the Spanish Jews would agree that they just flourished under the Inquisition’s imposition of order and justice. There are other apologists who have tried to claim that “Hey, he wasn’t burned because of his theories about the cosmos — he was burned because he was spouting heresy, and that’s totally okay, because it was 1600 and there were laws against that sort of thing.” Can we maybe just all agree that burning people alive is not okay? Just like stoning women to death because they got raped is not okay, and imprisoning gay people just because they are gay is not okay, or throwing acid or shooting a young girl for the sin of going to school is not okay, or condemning people to death because they decided to believe in a different version of god are also not okay.
The point Tyson was making was that when dogma trumps free thought and inquiry our species is in trouble. We are facing real problems and challenges — climate change, antibiotic resistant diseases, etc. Instead of raising up a generation of kids who fear and distrust the scientific method maybe we ought to be firing their imaginations and encouraging them to dream big and promulgate hypotheses, find solutions to vexing problems, and never stop questioning and pushing for a deeper understanding of our universe from the tiniest atomic particle or fragment of DNA to the largest galaxy.
Let me amend that to say I’m longing for a good game. Life right now is a bit stressful, and I’d like to have an escape. I think it’s time for a return to Ferelden and Dragon Age: Origins. I used to just load up one of the Mass Effect games and go play in that world and see old friends, but that ending of game 3 really has rather soured me on that franchise. I may play all three games again knowing I will stop before the end, but I could really use an immersive experience right now.
I put aside Skyrim because I was faced with another unpleasant fight at the end of another pointless dungeon crawl where I would once again kill the monster take the treasure. Gorgeous graphics only carry me so far. I’m very much afraid that RPG style games with companions have gone the way of the dinosaurs since they clearly take a lot more work. I guess I’ll still buy my back up XBox-360 so I can replay the old games I do love.
My last little plea late on a Wednesday night — please don’t let them mess up Dragon Age 3.
They have American Gods in it, and Coraline, but I'm plugging this as they have 36 books altogether, all for under $2.99 and most for $1.99, which are pretty much all books that you'd want on your virtual shelves. Click here to see the full list.
Right. Off to be interviewed.
While I'm gone, enjoy learning what the most popular book is in each of the 50 American States, and ponder what it tells us about the state in question...
I flew to Philadelphia and went to Rowan University in southern New Jersey, where I met photographer Kyle Cassidy (aka my friend Kyle Cassidy). We did a Master Class together, answering questions, talking about what we do and how we do it, and, at one point, reading stories and showing photographs from Who Killed Amanda Palmer. Then I gave a talk that was also a reading as part of the Rowan University Presidents' Lecture Series, that was as much fun as the talk/readings I did in Billings and Calgary, and the audience seemed to like it, and I loved how comfortable I'm starting to feel on stages in universities and such. I no longer feel, when I'm out on the stage, like I'm faking it, or that I'm there under false pretenses.
As Kyle and I were walking through the campus he pulled out a camera and took these photos...
It was windy. My hair does not normally try to escape.
I look like I was living out in the frozen wilderness, where I was panning for adjectives or something else that wild writers do.
If you go to http://thedeanblog.com/kyle-cassidy-and-n
(The first question to be asked at the talk was "What's up with the beard?" and I expained it was my hiding out and being anonymous beard, but has survived because Amanda wanted to see it when she returns from Australia.)
Then I flew to San Francisco (I finished Monica Byrne's lovely THE GIRL IN THE ROAD on the plane and also proofread the second GRAVEYARD BOOK graphic novel, and went over J. H. Williams' breakdowns for the third part of SANDMAN: OVERTURE.) It was a mostly quiet flight, although it was also the first time I've ever seen the pilot of a plane come out and explain to drunk and unpleasant passengers that if they didn't stop being unpleasant he would have them arrested.
Let's see. Important things... apologies to Detcon 1, I'd wanted to post about their nomination process for their YA and Middle Grade Fiction Award, but I missed the deadline.
I very nearly missed the deadline to tell you that the Coraline ebook is an Amazon US GoldBox special tomorrow (Sunday), and it will be Very Cheap Indeed.
The folk making the Wayward Manor video game have let me know that the pre-order site, http://whohauntsneil.com, is coming down in a week. So if you want to pre-order the game, the t-shirt, or even attend the pricy and exclusive but incredibly cool haunted Magic Castle dinner with me, you should click over to http://whohauntsneil.com/welcome/#shop and buy all the things with alacrity.
Wayward Manor has just gone up on the Humble Store, where you can also preorder it, and it will remain there for the couple of months until its actual release.
The Guardian has a photoset of the 26 Characters for the Story Museum. You've already seen me as Badger here on the blog, but this is your chance to see Hanuman and Till Eulenspiegel and the Wicked Witch of the West...
On April 4th, cartoonist, designer, artist, writer and teacher Art Spiegelman and I will be in conversation at Bard College, NY state. We will talk about comics and MAUS and music and art and being Jewish and life and everything I have ever wanted to ask Art. (Or he will ask anything he's ever wanted to ask me.) Tickets are available now. Please come: It's a big hall and we will be lonely if it echoes.
The new house is something that's been in the works for a few months now: I saw somewhere in the Autumn, fell in love with it, convinced Amanda that I was in love, and we finally closed on it yesterday afternoon.
It's a lot like my old Addams Family house in the woods, only it's not an Addams Family house, more of little cluster of stone cottages in the woods. (The woman I bought it from had lived here fifty years exactly; the man whose family she and her husband had bought it from in January 1964 drew newspaper comics back in the Golden Age.)
The new house is a couple of hours from New York, and in order to close on it and take possession I unexpectedly (don't ask) found myself driving from Florida to New York State this weekend, via North Carolina (to see Maddy at college), vaguely worried that the snowstorms that have been circumscribing my movements for the last 2 months would have one final go at mucking up my travel plans. A storm was forecast, but it never happened.
I listened to the Best of Nick Lowe, David Bowie's The Next Day, and Simon Vance's Audiobook of Mervyn Peake's Titus Groan as I drove.
Driving meant that I missed a small storm which started on Twitter.
Back in January I got a request from the co-chair of the upcoming Worldcon in London (I don't know him, but he'd been given my email by a friend) asking me to forward an invitation to Jonathan Ross to host the Hugo Awards.
Jonathan is a UK TV and radio presenter, and, these days, a writer of comics. He's also one of the most highly regarded UK awards hosts. He's also become a friend of mine, has been for over 25 years. You can see us here together in the Search for Steve Ditko documentary. (Here's the last few minutes of the documentary. Keep watching, and you'll see me with a smile big enough to break my face.) He was also the person who talked me onto Twitter in the first place.
I forwarded the invitation, along with a note telling him that hosting the Hugo awards is a really enjoyable thing to do, and got a note back from the chair saying that Jonathan had said yes, and could I put something up welcoming him when they announced it.
Jonathan said yes because he's a huge SF and Comics fan -- in many ways, one of the most fannish people I know: he also writes SF comics. There's also a family connection: his wife, Jane Goldman, won a Hugo award (for best Screenplay).
It was announced that he would be hosting the Hugos. There was a storm on Twitter. I missed it, but people sent me the link, and it's summarised here: http://www.bleedingcool.com/2014/03/01/w
I was really glad I was a) on a Twitter sabbatical and b) driving while all this was going on.
The weirdest bit was, I understood some of the worry; I'd had it myself, 25 years ago, when Jonathan and I had first met, and he asked me and Dave McKean to be on his chat show to talk about VIOLENT CASES. I said "No, you make fun of people. This is comics. It matters to me. I don't want you making fun of it."
To convince me that he a) didn't make fun of people on his show and b) that he would never ever under any circumstances mock the comics and comics creators he loved, Jonathan asked Dave McKean and me to come to the recording of the show: he was interviewing writer/artist Charles Burns that night. The interview was respectful and incredibly nice.
We never did that interview, although he's interviewed me a few times since over the years, in various different contexts. (When The Wolves in the Walls came out, Jonathan interviewed me and Dave McKean in front of a crowd of adults and kids. His interview was perfectly appropriate for the audience...) He's embarrassed me gloriously presenting the Eisner Awards.
I wasn't surprised that some people were upset by the choice of Jonathan as a host: as the convention says in their apology for their handling of this, and their apology to Jonathan and his family, at https://www.facebook.com/londonin2014/po
If they'd known ahead of time that some people were going to have a problem with him as a choice of presenter (and I strongly suspect they did, given that one of their number had apparently resigned), they should have warned him and given him the option to withdraw, and at least prepared him. As it was, he and his family didn't know what hit them.
Twitterstorms are no fun when people are making up things about you or insulting you for things you didn't do or think or say. When scores of people from a group that you consider yourself a part of are shouting at you, it's incredibly upsetting, no matter who you are. And these things spill over and get bigger -- I was saddened to learn that Jane Goldman, Jonathan's wife, one of the gentlest, kindest people I know (and the person who, with Jonathan, got me onto Twitter, back in December 2009) had deleted her Twitter account because of all this.
I was seriously disappointed in the people, some of whom I know and respect, who stirred other people up to send invective, obscenities and hatred Jonathan's way over Twitter (and the moment you put someone's @name into a tweet, you are sending it directly to that person), much of it the kind of stuff that they seemed to be worried that he might possibly say at the Hugos, unaware of the ironies involved.
I sympathise with anyone who felt that Jonathan wasn't going to make an appropriate Hugos host, and with anyone who spoke about it to the convention committee, but do not believe a campaign aimed at vilifying Jonathan personally was wise or kind. And for those who thought that making this happen was a way to avoid SF and the Hugos appearing in the tabloids, I'd point to the Streisand effect, with a shake of the head.
I have won Hugo Awards, and I am incredibly proud of all of them; I've hosted the Hugo Awards ceremony, and I was honoured to have been permitted to be part of that tradition; I know that SF is a family, and like all families, has disagreements, fallings out. I've been going to Worldcons since 1987. And I know that these things heal in time.
But I've taken off the Hugo nominee pin that I've worn proudly on my lapel since my Doctor Who episode, The Doctor's Wife, won the Hugo in September 2012, and, for now, I've put it away.
I found myself pondering the art of selling. How people craft a commercial that will hopefully encourage a viewer to buy a particular product. My reaction to two very different television commercials made me realize how very fraught this effort must be. There is a Gevalia commercial that actively makes my teeth hurt, and I swear if Gevalia was the last coffee on Earth I would never buy this product because I find the commercial to be so very, very sexist. You’ve got a book club that is just finishing reading a loud some novel. Naturally the group consists of nothing but women. Suddenly this blond man who looks like Fabio in an expensive suit is sitting on the arm of a sofa reading aloud from the Gevalia package and the women are all gazing at him like love-struck bovines, gasping, sighing and clapping. Yes, the guy is really pretty and I have this weakness for blonds, but dear heavens the women are presented as brainless twits. But somebody at an ad agency clearly thought this was a good idea, and one presumes it tested well. Well, it failed on me.
Next up this amazing commercial touting GE. It’s a little girl in this mystical magical world where she’s exploring the depths of the ocean where fans are powered by moonlight, where planes seemed crossed with birds, and where trees wave and bow and run next to a train. At the end the child concludes that her mother works for GE. Now of course I can’t run out and buy a jet engine or a train, but this commercial is beautiful and empowering. I find myself wondering about this woman — is she an engineer? A scientist? Does she work on the assembly line? How will her mother’s career affect this little girl? What choices will she make? This commercial has done it’s job. It has me thinking favorably about GE despite it being a large, faceless corporation.
As I watched these two it had me wondering about micro-targeting. Our interconnected world gives us the tools to pick shows that will target a particular demographic and push the product to that particular market.
Just silly, random thoughts at nearly ten at night when I’m too tired to focus on real work.
A few weeks ago I found my mind wandering as I ran on the elliptical machine at my gym, and my mind went wandering back to Mass Effect. In particular I found myself pondering the fate of the clone from the DLC CITADEL. The writers gave us a pretty ambivalent ending for that particular adventure. Yes, the clone fell from the cargo bay of the Normandy either by his/her own choice or because of an action by Shepard prime, but this is Shepard so is he/she really dead? My assumption was no he didn’t die, so what did he do after surviving that fall? Did he end up fighting the Reaper takeover of the Citadel? Stow away or highjack another ship and head out? And if he survived the end of the Reaper war what did he choose to do with his life? (I”m going to use the male pronoun since I played a male Shepard and that’s how I think of him.)
I did a pretty exhaustive analysis of the Mass Effect DLC CITADEL, and you can find those posts here - Citadel and A Failure in Tone, but there is something about Mass Effect that keeps pulling me back. An inability to let it go and stop fulminating over the missed opportunity with that game. Since I am currently slogging along in SKYRIM, the contrast with Mass Effect and Dragon Age: Origins is profound, and I once again found myself ruminating about Shepard and his Scooby gang.
Once again I felt that Citadel was another missed opportunity. I didn’t mind the whole “evil clone” plot. God knows it’s a classic science fiction trope, but what struck me as I thought about Citadel was how the issue of clones has been explored in far more interesting and thoughtful ways in science fiction literature. Lois McMasters Bujould does a particularly fine job in her Miles Vorkosigan series.
It seemed like the entire clone plot was written purely as a lark and that the writers seemed to have lost all memory or knowledge of their universe, and the motivations of the various characters. Shepard’s in particular. Which ever origin you picked they were exemplified by loss, abandonment, catastrophe and struggle. His character was forged in adversity.
But let’s start with The Illusive Man. Cerberus had the technology to literally bring someone back from the dead, and keep an exact replica in case something happened to the new improved Shepard. Now I understand that TIM was indoctrinated by the Reaper tech he had been putting in his body to extend his life, but TIM was no fool. It struck me that TIM would have used this technology to create a clone of himself, and let that version become indoctrinated. TIM knew the power of the Reapers, and the dangers of indoctrination. He had Miranda’s daddy researching the phenomenon. It strains credulity to believe he would have taken this risk if he had an alternative, and clearly he did. How much better to let the clone take all the risk and TIM observe the outcome.
The greater violation was the pre-ordained outcome between Shepard and his clone. Having a renegade option makes sense — kill the bastard, but the paragon choice should not have had the exact same end — the Clone taking a swan dive off the Normandy. It would have been more interesting to offer an alternative where the clone remains and isn’t just shuffled off stage for the convenience of the writers. In every Shepard origin you have a character who has suffered loss and loneliness. Colonist — your colony gets wiped out, Earther — you’re an orphan who grew up in the streets and found a “family” in the Alliance. Even the spacer origin (the one I selected) you have a child raised by a single mother, constantly moving, often in the care of others as Captain Hannah built her career. And in every origin there is no mention of siblings.
Now you are faced with virtually a twin brother or sister. I have to think that a possible outcome is a desperate desire to have that relationship with this twin. One of the underlying themes of the game is forging family as exemplified by the crew of the Normandy. Shouldn’t there have been an option to bring this genetic copy into the embrace of that family? There should have been an option to have had the clone taken into custody. To later learn that this second Shepard helped coordinate the defense and battle for the Citadel. I mean, this is Shepard.
It would also offer BioWare and EA a way around the intractable problem that most fans when polled want a sequel to the three games, and that many players want to play their Shepard. I know I feel that way. We put in a lot of hours of thought and care into the games, and I’m betting most players did more than a bit of headcanon. I know I did. Granted I’m a crazy writer, but judging from the amount of fan fiction that has been generated so did a lot of other people.
The writers and producers wanted Citadel to be fun which as I’ve detailed in other posts utterly undercut the tension and what was at stake in the main game. Which is why it probably should have been a concluding adventure to the game rather than being shoehorned into the main narrative. Unfortunately the bad endings made that rather impossible.
In terms of story telling and thinking through the ramification I think the writers were too quick to dismiss a plot that they considered silly. Evil clones how silly is that? But most of Mass Effect is a rehash of hoary old science fiction tropes that we all love and enjoy even if they are cliched. For the most part these tropes were handled very well. I just wish they had done as well by this story.