Monday, July 28, 2008

The Dark Naught

So I've finally seen the latest installment in the Christian Bale-Christopher Nolan Bat-Wayne franchise. I enjoyed BATMAN BEGINS quite a lot, and have heard nothing but praise for this newest ep, and like everyone, I was fully prepared to sit back in awestruck admiration of Heath Ledger's mortal genius, so I expected to enjoy it quite a lot.

And, as it unfolded on the screen... I kept waiting to.

And kept waiting to.

SPOILERS after the jump. Don't say I didn't warn you.

It... I... well... um... gee, that LOOKED pretty cool, right there, when he was punching that one guy...

Look, THE DARK KNIGHT just never came into any kind of focus for me. There was no there there. If pressed to say exactly what it was that failed the most for me, I guess I'd have to point to the gaping abyss that was the Joker. As in, who is this guy? Where did he come from? Why is he here? What is he trying to accomplish?

Or, to put it another way, WTF, dude?

Unlike the actual character from the actual comics, his skin isn't actually white and his lips aren't actually ruby red and for all I know his hair isn't actually bright toxic green, either. No, he's wearing hastily smeared on clown makeup, and his hair is a mess and he's got some nasty looking scars running up from either side of his mouth. He explains how he got these scars (and, presumably, what it was that turned his mind into a pretzel dog) over and over again throughout the course of the movie, and every explanation is different, and, usually, poorly worded and not particularly anything. His explanations don't move me in any way. Which is okay, I guess, as most likely none of them are true.

What he does kind of say, without actually coming out and saying it, is that he's a freak, just like Batman; if there had never been a Batman, there would never be a Joker. Which is all well and good, but, honestly, as an emotional subtext to hang an entire arch-adversarial relationship on, is kind of lame, all by itself. And that's all we ever get.

It troubles me greatly that the Joker is not, in fact, even the first colorful masked supervillain in this reimagined Batman franchise -- that honor goes to the Scarecrow, and in all honesty, the closest this movie ever came to working for me was in the opening ten minutes, when Scarecrow is the bad guy.

Now HERE's a guy who has an interesting and emotional background with Batman; HERE's a guy who has a palpable emotional connection to him. And it's one that was manufactured entirely out of Scarecrow's previous crimes and Batman's successful thwarting of his previous criminal goals, which pretty much proves that you really DON'T need to make every villain in a superhero franchise either (a) the long lost mentor of the hero, whom the hero deeply admires But Now He Must Battle Him To The Death Oh The Angst The Angst, or, (b) The Hated Man Who Killed The Hero's Parental Figure. I was happy to see some superhero movie somewhere demonstrate the truth of this proposition, and only wish they had then used the same technique to establish a deep mutual loathing between the Joker and the Batman.

And I'm sure they tried, but it just never worked for me, and the reason it never worked for me is that, well, there was nothing to the Joker. He's up, he's down, he's all around -- oooooooh, look at him, he's CRAAAAAAAAZY!!!! But that's all we got, and, at least for me, it wasn't enough.

As any fanboy would, I enjoyed the various different visual outtakes from Miller and Mazzuchelli's BATMAN: YEAR ONE -- although they made me mournful, too, as I continue to wonder what might have happened if some screenwriter somewhere had decided to actually make a movie out of that fabulous story, instead of making up something entirely different and occasionally throwing in visual references to that story as a sop to those of us who have actually read some of the main character's source material.

I also enjoyed the disparate references to other crucial comics storylines, like the copy-Bat vigilantes (from DARK KNIGHT RETURNS) and the massive sonar/cell phone surveillance machine (reminiscent of Batman's Brother Eye satellite from the build up to INFINITE CRISIS).

Aaron Eckhart as Dent/Two Face didn't do a thing for me as he never put anything real into either performance -- I had no credible feeling for his Dent, who always struck me as rather soulless and insincere, and without having any real sense of Dent's validity as a 'white knight', didn't really feel the impact of his transformation to hideously deformed and murderous psycho. Maggie Gyllenhaal emoted up a storm as Rachel Dawes but I didn't give a shit; it was vaguely sad when she croaked, but not as sad as when the original Lois Lane died in an issue of INFINITE CRISIS.

The final denouement, with Batman taking the rap for all of Two Face's murders so that Gotham could continue to believe in their fallen white knight, struck me as outrageous bullshit; it's not like you need to hang a few bodies on the Batman to make him a scary outsider. But then, I never believed the previous plot twist either, when Harvey Dent claimed to be the Batman in order to lure the Joker out of hiding; anyone who would really believe that Dent was the Batman had clearly never seen a photograph of either of them, since their jawlines are absolutely nothing alike.

Which is admittedly a quibble; had this movie any of the emotional validity of the first one, I wouldn't have been troubled by such trivia (maybe the Batman has never allowed anyone to take a photograph of him) any more than I was overmuch bothered by the tank-like Batmobile in the first film vaulting from one downtown Gotham City rooftop to another, when you had to assume that none of those roofs had ever been built to suddenly withstand the impact of a flying armored vehicle that had to weigh at least ten tons.

Throughout the film, I kept waiting for Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne/Batman to display any of the rich, warm human feelings he'd so clearly had, even in the depth of his obsessions, for Rachel, Alfred, Lucius Fox, Jim Gordon, and that movie's central villain, Ras al Ghul. I never felt any of it; the only time I got a shred of a sense of connection between Batman and anyone, it was when he was exhorting the Scarecrow towards the start of the film. The rest of the time both Bruce and Bats simply didn't seem to care about anyone around them; even when Bruce and Rachel had their obligatory clinch about halfway through this movie's seemingly interminable 150 minute run time, I didn't get the impression either of them really gave a shit. It was just something they had to do.

Overall, this film struck me as a long empty mess. Which makes me sad.

On the other hand, it's pretty clear to me that whoever edited together that WATCHMEN trailer new their target audience pretty well, as pretty much every image in it is derived entirely from the source material. I have little doubt that when I see the finished movie, I will discover that its central plot and story bears little to no resemblance to what Moore wrote in the original graphic novel, but the bits and pieces they've shown to us so far are finely calculated to provide an entirely different impression.

Saturday, July 19, 2008



Well, to me, anyway.

Yeah, their fourth issue is now available online, and, presumably, at Amazon, maybe, if the wind is setting in the right quarter, or something.

With issue 3, supposedly, ASTONISHING ADVENTURES became a commercial market, paying at 2 cents per word. I was delighted to hear it. I had a story in issue 3, my longest story to date. At 2 cents per word, that story should have netted me something like $130.

Issue 4 (I think) is still a 'pay' issue, although I missed the deadline for it and have nothing in it. It's just as well, as it's become clear to me that I'm never going to see any kind of payment for any of my many contributions to ASTONISHING ADVENTURES, which kind of made me simultaneously sad and angry. Still, it's not like I wasn't pretty sure this was what was going to happen (or not happen) from the beginning.

With issue 4, the publisher has admitted defeat and revised AA's submissions guidelines back to describing the magazine as a non-paying market.

In my opinion, ASTONISHING ADVENTURES has never been handled all that well. The people running the show there have never seemed to have much clue exactly how to make their property pay for itself. They seem to understand that nobody is going to subscribe to a pulp revival online, the way people do to adult websites. This leaves advertising revenue, and yet, despite the fact that I've been told issue 3, for example, has gotten something like 50,000 online views, the publisher of ASTONISHING ADVENTURES seems incapable of gaining the interest of any advertisers.

The problem, I have been told, is that the magazine has been unable to secure the services of a full time Sales Manager. Or something like that.

What would not be a solution (I have been told, over and over again) is to create a hard copy version of the magazine and try to somehow distribute it in actual venues in the real world. There would never be a hard copy version of the magazine, I was told when I first involved myself in ASTONISHING ADVENTURES magazine; it was strictly an electronic format and they were going to use an entirely new and innovative online marketing model to make it a commercial and professional success.

Then this changed, and the editors and publisher spent months beating their brains out learning how to format ASTONISHING ADVENTURES for various Publish On Demand operations, the latest of which is The problem with this is two fold. First, POD publications are, individually, horrifically expensive (issue 3, through Amazon, was priced at $9 per copy, the latest issue is pegged at $12 each). People are unwilling to pay this kind of price for a hard copy of a magazine that doesn't show pictures of good looking women in little or no clothing.

Second, people are especially unwilling to pay this price for a hard copy of a magazine that they can view online, and even download an electronic version of, for free.

I most recently suggested to ASTONISHING ADVENTURES' publisher that, if he wants to put this project on a paying basis, what he may want to consider is converting the electronic copy of the magazine into more of a teaser for a hard copy version of same -- publish, say, the first third of each story online, and if a reader wants to get the rest, they have to order a hard copy. This would be a 21st Century version of pulp fiction's hoary old 'continued next issue' circulation stunt, and while I'm not sure it would actually work, it would have to work better than what he's doing now, because what he's doing now isn't working at all.

Combine this with some 'hard copy only' features, like, you know, a section of pulpesque 'good girl' art that, while it wouldn't be pornographic, would certainly be provocative, and would, again, only appear in the hard copy, and you might actually have something.

Maybe not. Maybe people just won't surf to a website, punch in their credit card number, and then wait four or five days for a hard copy to reach them in the mail. Maybe you simply cannot write pulp fiction and publish it online for a modern audience in such a way that you entice them into actually paying for it. And maybe 50,000 views of a particular electronic publication isn't all that exciting to any online advertiser, where as a general rule, you want at least a million fresh hits a day to really generate anything remotely like appreciable revenue.

The publisher of ASTONISHING ADVENTURES keeps talking about a 'new, innovative model' for selling an appealing product such as pulp fiction online. Apparently, this is a model that people like John Rogers and Warren Ellis have been pushing for years now. But what he does not seem to realize is that John Rogers wants to sell video and animation projects this way... fictional artifacts that have movement and sound and that look like actual reality. People will pay a good price for these things in a movie theater, or on pay cable TV, or on DVD at Wal-mart, so why not online, where it's easier for them to get access? (Maybe because most people are already paying a subscription fee to get internet service, and nearly subconsciously expect/require that all Internet content they access after paying that fee be 'free', and will balk at paying anything further for such content, no matter how cool it may be.)

And Warren Ellis is trying to sell comic books online, and I'm not sure how well that's been working for him, either, for maybe the same reason, or, maybe not.

Whatever the case may be, neither of them is trying to sell what ASTONISHING ADVENTURES is pushing... stories presented in a textual format, sometimes with a couple of not particularly well executed graphics, most of the time not.

An entirely Internet powered audience isn't going to pay for that; to them, text is simply too boring to be worth spending any money on in that kind of context. You want people to buy text (and only a very small percentage of contemporary folks will even consider it under any circumstances) you have to present them with your text in the kind of format where it does not make them yawn, i.e., in a bookstore or on a magazine rack. Presenting them with an electronic simulacrum of a textual magazine on the Internet... well, there's some novelty there, but honestly, unless you've got a story in the current issue or know someone who does, you are most likely going to say 'oh, screw that' and move on to some other Internet site where things either move and make noises, or where, at least, the text is presented with more pictures and in shorter, more easily read chunks.

If people are going to shell out good money to be entertained, they don't want to use their imaginations. For most modern types, using the imagination is way too much like work. They want moving pictures that closely resemble reality as they have experienced it, they want sounds, they want cool special effects and hot chicks in skimpy clothing... and if all of this is presented to them on the Internet, well, they are already paying for Internet access, and they do not want to pay for Internet content all over again, no matter how cool it looks and sounds to them.

I'd be fucking ecstatic to see a successful commercial revival of pulp fiction. I love pulp fiction; I love reading it and I especially love writing it and I would love to get paid for writing it. Writing pulp fiction is comparatively easy and more fun than kittens; pulp fiction doesn't have to make any sense and doesn't require any real literary talent to produce. Pulp fiction is visceral, it is porn without sex or explicit violence, it is about using your medium to evoke a strongly visceral emotional and, to the extent you can, sensual feelings and responses in your audience. This is why pulp fiction is always about trying to excite your audience (without using sexually explicit descriptions) and often about trying to terrify, horrify, or, at least, gross out your audience -- because your audience wants to be emotionally, viscerally, thalmically stimulated on a level below and beside the purely intellectual.

The easy way to do this is with porn, of course, but here in the civilized Western world, we are all ashamed of porn and its consumption and circulation is very strictly regulated. Pulp is one step down (or, looked at from another direction, up) from porn, and like porn, it doesn't have to make any sense or be at all well written -- it simply has to be exciting and provocative. And if you can't excite or provoke people with sex, well, the next best thing has always been people shouting at each other and waving weapons in the air while shit blows up real good all around them.

But you can't sell textual pulp on the Internet. You can present it for free, and you'll find some kind of audience for it... but they won't pay for it, and there will most likely not be enough of them to interest an Internet based advertiser.

Which basically makes ASTONISHING ADVENTURES an amateur operation, something done by fans for fans, that is never going to make any money for anyone. I have nothing against projects like that, but there are millions of them out there, on the Internet and off. If I want to write for a fanzine and never get paid, I have plenty of options.

What I want to do, though, is make a living off my writing, and that, clearly, will never happen at ASTONISHING ADVENTURES.

Stupid of me, really, to ever try to let myself be convinced otherwise... but like Fox Mulder, I really wanted to believe.

* * *

A few more thoughts on this general subject, since, what the fuck, nobody is going to read this thing anyway:

Various blogs I read have been pointing me towards something called Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog for quite a while now. I'd been pretty much ignoring them (which will be pretty much part of the point I'm getting to, when I get there) mostly because until Mike Norton noted it on his own blog, I hadn't been informed by anyone that Dr. Horrible is a Joss Whedon production. Whedon has produced a great deal of wretched shit over the course of his career, but on balance he's produced a lot more really brilliant nifty-stuff that I love a lot, so, you know, when Mike Norton advises me that it's the last night I can see JOSS WHEDON'S "Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog" before it gets locked away in a 'pay for download' vault over at I-tunes, well, I respond.

And having responded, I can now say that "Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog" is excellent stuff, very much in the BUFFY vein, a sort of light-hearted high camp with a dark, bitter heart that, in the end, suddenly comes out of nowhere with a left field shot straight to your emotional solar plexus. It's exactly the kind of thing Whedon specializes in, a story so soaked in pop culture superheroic mythology that only an ubergeek like Whedon could even conceive it, much less pull it off.

Is it worth watching for free? Emphatically, sir. Is it worth paying a few bucks for? Yeah, undoubtedly... and I may well pick it up, for a few bucks, should it come out on DVD.

Would I pay a few bucks to download it onto my computer's hard drive?

I... doubt it.

Of course, I'm extremely weird, and my feelings in this regard may not be typical; I really have no way of knowing. If "Dr. Horrible" racks up a few million paying downloads, then more power to it and Whedon and this whole "the Internet can indeed delivery original content that will actually make money in today's marketplace" concept/model.

Yet from where I'm sitting, all I can say is, it seems doubtful.

See, my training is, if I own something, some media artifact like a piece of music, or a movie, or a TV show, or a short story or a novel, I want to have that artifact... somewhere. On a shelf, over there. I want to know where it is and I want to be able to pick it up and hold it in my hands. I find this... reassuring. I know it's there; I can see it, I can go over and touch it. I have two different playlists at, and I listen to one or the other of them near constantly while I'm working on the computer, but I have no feeling that I own any of that music... except the stuff like the tracks from SAM'S TOWN by the Killers (just for one random example) because if those playlists stop working two seconds from now, I still own a copy of that CD, and I can pop the CD in a player somewhere and still hear the music.

Maybe this is a completely idiosyncratic feeling, but I don't think so. It doesn't feel that way. I think I'd be happy to buy a copy of "Dr. Horrible" on DVD, because then I'd feel like I owned it. Whereas, even if I downloaded it somehow onto my computer's hard drive and could watch it again any time I wanted, it wouldn't feel 'real'. I wouldn't feel like I actually 'owned' it. It's somewhere on my hard drive, and hard drives crash, and they get viruses, and stuff gets erased. And probably there are many things that could damage or destroy a DVD, a videotape, a CD, a magazine, or a book... but, still, when I own one of those things, I feel like I really, truly, actually, honest to frag OWN the fucker.

I don't know what it is. I want the physical artifact, and I want it to have some kind of cool case with a nice logo and some dramatic still photos and some ad copy on the back and maybe an extra SPECIAL FEATURES section.

So I'll be extremely curious to see whether DR. HORRIBLE makes any money for Mutant Enemy, because I presume Mutant Enemy has sunk at least a few hundred thousand dollars into making this thing, and if nobody pays to download it, that's a few hundred thousand dollars they won't see again. And that may not entirely discourage everybody else out there who is trying to make money creating original content specifically for distribution on and through the Internet... but it's going to hit a lot of people pretty hard, and when the next DR. HORRIBLE comes along, and maybe it doesn't make any money either, then, people are going to stop trying this.

Which... I don't know. I don't know how I feel about that. I don't know how I feel about this idea of turning the Internet into a new pay cable station. Maybe it's just my natural resistance to change, but I think I prefer to get my video-like entertainment on a DVD. Because, honestly, if TV/movies on the Internet starts to become a real moneymaker for someone, then corporations are going to take over the Internet, and access rates are going to go up, and every website that has anything cool on it at all will be for subscribers only, and the horrible plague of pop up ads and spam is going to become absolutely intolerable.

It's bad enough that nowadays, I put in a DVD and have to wade through ten minutes of ads that the DVD makers have embedded on disc in such a way that I can't skip over them or fast forward through them. I hate this crap; I bought the goddam DVD and the goddam DVD player and they are MINE and I should be able to watch or skip any portion of anything I put into it at any time and all the buttons on my remote control should ALWAYS work, and it aggravates me when this is taken away from me by smarmy fucks who are going to make a little bit more ad revenue on this particular product by making sure I have to actually watch some idiot talking to me about some other DVD I probably have no interest in, goddam them.

And why won't any political candidates ever run for office on a promise that they'll do something about THAT annoying crap, anyway?

But I digress. Back to my point -- I'm not sure one can successfully sell media product on the Internet, unless it's porn. And I'm VERY sure one cannot successfully sell textual media product on the Internet, which is, unfortunately, the only kind of media product I have any skill at all in creating.

So I'll be very interested to see what happens with DR. HORRIBLE... and if it turns out (as I expect) that even Joss Whedon can't get people to pay for web-only product, well, most likely, nobody else can, either.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Trailing clouds of glory she rides

Nearly a week ago... last Thursday, to be specific... SuperWife suggested to me, upon her way out the door that fine day, that I might take Super Adorable Kid and Super Dependable Teen out in the back parking lot and attempt to instruct the younger of the pair in the mastery of her new two wheeler (the acquisition of which, and mutually agreed upon regulations surrounding its intermittent occupancy in our front hall, are all surrounded by histories of horrifying darkness and horrific despair, but in the end, we emerged triumphant over the Evil Bike Troll, and no more need be said).

Having commanded the young gallant garb herself in sweat pants and a sturdy shirt, against imminent accidental abrasions, and having armored her up fully in a complete set of Batman skateboard pads -- elbow, knee, and wrist-palm -- we three strode forth into the day!... I, myself, at least, quaking in my loafers as vivid visions of crashes and catastrophes danced like Doukhabours behind my addled pate... an imaginary collage of full sensory disaster comprised of equal parts wails of childish terror, the scraping of knees and the denting of chromium fenders, a long flaming skid of apocalyptic destruction with the theme song of THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN trundling along sturdily, like the Little Engine That Could, in the background - doot doot doot doot doot doot doot doot -- "We can rebuild her. We have the technology."

My trepidations proved groundless, although not at once, no, not immediately -- the back parking lot was near instantly weighed and found wanting due to there being far, far too many cars strewn about it (cars parked in a parking lot! When small children require bike riding lessons! It is as if the Pharaohs have returned!), so we repaired to a nearby park, which was as perfectly suited for our topic activity as the back parking lot had been iniquitous and treacherous to consummation of same.

So, in the fashion imparted me by my own dear mum lo these many decades agone as she l'arned me to ride a two wheeler with her own two hands, I loaded my little blonde youngster up, grasped the back of her bike seat, and began trundling her merrily across the grass as she pedaled for her very life. Sneakily, as me mater had done before me, I let go of the back of the bike after a few steps and merely ran along; after about fifteen feet of The Baby self piloting staunchly all unbeknownst of her independence, I announced from her side "You've been on your own for the last five yards".

Of course, she instantly swooned to the side, as I myself had forty years ago in response to my own parent's identical duplicity (my child suffered far less for this particular deceit, as she was riding on grass, where I had been being tutored in this arcane art on a sidewalk in Montour Falls, and fell full on across a gravel driveway, collecting an assortment of bike related war wounds, some of whose marks still show on my hide to this very day, to say nothing of the deep fissures of distrust for all authority marring my psyche which shall never heal).

However, just as I had before her, realizing she could do it and in fact had done it once already, The Baby leapt to her feet, snatched up the bike again, and needing only a steadying boost from me, rode off once more, this time to circle the grassy area for a full twenty seconds or so before careening to the ground again.

Her elusive yet vital balance finally attained, the remainder of the session saw great leaps in confidence and control. The next night we returned to the park with SuperWife in tow, and she witnessed her youngest child's first full circuit of the round driveway surrounding the previously described grassy field. There remained after that only one more hurdle to be conquered -- The Dreaded Self Start. As a wee bairn I myself could not learn to start off on a bike without someone else steadying it for what seems, in retrospect, to be epochs, although it was probably only a few days. I do recall, though, that for some time I relied on kickstands and front stoop stairs to steady my wheeled mount for me while I climbed aboard and secured the pedals with my feet.

Such laggardly tardiness was not to be for SuperAdorable Kid, who, only two days after she had begun, diligently following the masterful advice of her wise Uncle Nate, managed to self start herself no less than three times successfully at the very same park.

There are moments in our days on this earth when we see and can even briefly touch the shimmering joy that dwells at the very center of life, and while I cannot adequately describe the feeling that took wing and flew within my body as I saw my youngest riding her two wheeler for the first time, and knew that her growing expertise was the result of the work of my hands and my heart... there are not words, and there are not words, and there are not words, but the words that there are that come closest are rapture, and bliss, and exultation, and exuberance, and jubilation.

And happiness. Complete, and perfect, and without limit or flaw.

It's one of those things I thought I'd never have. If you knew me when, you
understand why as misanthropic a reprobate as I most surely am long ago gave up any hope of ever experiencing these kind of moments in my own life.

But now, thanks to the infinitely generous nature of SuperWife, I have had the pleasure of teaching my child to ride her bike.

Look at her go.

Monday, July 14, 2008

::sensors probing::

Nearly a month since I last got a comment, so I guess I should ask the question:

Is anyone out there reading this thing?

Also, ASTONISHING ADVENTURES has advised me that they will be returning to a non-payment business model with their next issue. They haven't said that this means nobody who was supposed to get paid ever will, but it seems a safe presumption.

Still working on THE FEAR MASTERS.

Perhaps it's time to abandon ship here.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

From beyond the grave

...RAH still teaches!

Me, anyway.

A couple of years ago, my buddy Nate started writing a zombie novel. I read the first couple of chapters. They were pretty cool, but, then, Nate's a decent writer and let's face it, zombie stories practically write themselves. They seem to combine two very seductive archetypes -- The End Of The World As We Know It, and monsters which look vaguely human, that can turn you (or people you know) into monsters, too.

So you got your apocalypse and you got your walking dead and it's like, whoa, dude, you got your peanut butter on my chocolate! And it tastes GREAT!!!

So, anyway, last week there was no one else in the house so I sat down and started idly typing on a zombie story of my own. Unlike most zombie stories, though, mine was not set in the present day, but in a hopefully reasonably plausible near future, and it did not concern normal everyday people, but, rather, a couple of deadly as hell secret agent types who were accompanying some supergenius government scientist to a covert symposium when, literally, all hell broke loose.

Not your typical zombie apocalypse tale, certainly. But I've been having fun spewing it onto my screen.

Then, a few days ago, I started rereading Robert A. Heinlein's THE PUPPET MASTERS... not the 'new', uncut edition that was put out a few years after RAH's death, but the original Signet paperback version that is (in my opinion) vastly superior to it, due to the original publisher insisting that Heinlein cut 25,000 words from his sprawling 100,000 word long original. (I've read some stuff that indicates that Heinlein resented the necessity of doing this -- something about him grousing that "they want the Heinlein name but don't want to bother with a Heinlein story"... but in GRUMBLES FROM THE GRAVE, Heinlein himself seems to make clear that whenever he finished a first draft, he always went in and cut it back down to a more manageable size as part of his creative process. But maybe it pissed him off to do it, I don't know. All I do know is, the 75,000 word version of PUPPET MASTERS is a leaner, meaner version that moves at hyperspeed and never wastes a word, while the longer version wanders at times, greatly diluting the emotional impact of the book.)

And I realized that, without even meaning to, I had essentially set up my zombie story to closely parallel THE PUPPET MASTERS.

So, what the hell. I've decided to roll with it. I'm going to call the damn thing THE FEAR MASTERS. I got about 4,000 words into it, and while I was enjoying the typing immensely, it occurred to me around that point that it seemed much shallower of affect than PUPPET MASTERS is.

Now that could be because, obviously, I ain't no Heinlein, but when I started rereading PUPPET MASTERS closely, trying to figure out what was up, I realized that Heinlein is at pains to actually set his narrative in a complex world populated with dozens, if not hundreds, of minor bit parts doing credible, mundane bits of business. I'm not talking about Sam, Mary, and the Old Man, now, or even bit parts that get actual dialogue like Sam's nurse and occasional supporting secret agents like Davidson and Jarvis.

No, I mean people like the guy in the fruit-and-bookstand that Sam tips his hat to as he's going to work, or a random cabbie, or an old maid secretary. Somehow, with a few colorful, evocative phrases, Heinlein makes these characters vivid and three dimensional, instead of just bits of background scenery, and by populating his backdrop with these very quick but vividly evoked character sketches, he injects an enormous amount of plausibility into his fictional worlds.

Having realized that, I also realized that maybe one reason my own narrative seemed so flat was that it concerned itself with only three characters, who started out in one isolated setting and who were, over the course of the plot, pretty much going to move from one exotic 'set' to another, without ever demonstrating any kind of interaction with any sort of complex, mundane society around them.

So I went back and added a few hundred more words of this and that, and I think the thing is working much better now.

Although maybe I've just added fluff that a good editor would cut, I don't know.

I'm at around 12,000 words now, and have a good if still unfocused idea where the book is going... but I always do at this point in any story, and they rarely end up where I think they're going to.

Still, I generally enjoy getting there.

If I ever finish this thing, I'll post it somewhere and let people know.