Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Book Review: Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig

The gorgeous cover you'd see if
paper books were still a thing.
Blackbirds is the story of Miriam Black, a boozy drifter with the annoying but useful ability to know when and how people will die just by touching them. She runs into someone whose death seems to involve her. Hilarity ensues.

Yeah. It's full of cliches. The been-done-to-death premise of Miriam's ability is driven to a few of its logical conclusions, and there's not really anything new along the way. Yet, Wendig takes this skeleton of cliches and gives it life with a splash of clever writing and some meaty giblets of characterization. Regardless of the predictable plot, jamming interesting characters in it and telling their story in an interesting way makes the book hard to put down.

And what an interesting way to tell the story. Fans of Wendig's blog are well acquainted with his love affair with profanity. He has fuckbuckets of fun with the filthier side of the English language. Luckily, he's created a main character as profane as him to pump the creating cussing out of.

E.g.: "He was as dumb as a bag full of retards."

E.g.: "She hates the sun. Hates the blue sky. The birds and the bees can go blow each other in a dirty bathroom."

The book could have been about the grooming and care of the common blackbird (turdus merula [lol, turd]) and it still would've been a hoot to read, with his way of working glorious indecency into every paragraph.

There is substance behind the style, though. Just enough substance that it left me wanting to know more: more about the world (Miriam's lack of uniqueness in the world is only hinted at), more about the plot (there are some deliciously dark consequences of the ending), and more about the characters. Even after they die. Because hey, if you didn't guess, a lot of people die in this story. I guess being left hanging, all limp and flaccid, is a fitting theme for a story about death. Isn't death the ultimate cockblock?

Good thing the ends of stories aren't like life's cruel ends though, because apparently a sequel is in the works. The highest praise I can give Blackbirds is that if the sequel was out, I'd be reading it right now instead of writing this review.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Story Time: "Where The Zooey Deschanel Blood Enters The Heart" by Kitty Glitter

Remember when I told you about my new favourite writer, Kitty Glitter? Well, s/he put up a Fiverr gig to write a story about Meow Solo and Zooey Deschanel (stars of Wil Wheaton: Teenage Hump Machine and its sequel, Ashton Kutcher's Space-Sex Rampage), featuring me, for five bucks. I know, bargain!

Here it is in its entirety. Also check out the illustrated version over on Ms. Glitter's blog.

"Where The Zooey Deschanel Blood Enters The Heart" by Kitty Glitter

Zooey Deschanel held up the giant strip of apricot fruit rollup and read aloud from the drippy words written on it in marshmallow foam.

"Uh like just poison...like everything uh but do not poison my pussy. Uh my pussy...the end."

Meow Solo raised his hand from the tiny schoolhouse deskchair he was sitting in.

"Dr. Phronk, excuse me, but how can this couple's therapy work if Zooey Deschanel's poems are so crappy?"

"Don't be totally mean," said Dr. Phronk in his erudite British voice.

The bald doctor resembled a young Captain Jean Luc Picard except for the proper pair of black rimmed spectacles perched atop his beak of a nose.

"This isn't a poetry workshop," said Dr. Phronk, "this is like to cure your sexual-bestiality relationship with Zooey Deschanel."

"Whatevs," hissed Meow Solo through his full pouty kitteh lips, "but she's the one who started it."

"Hmmph whatevs Mew Sulu!" laughed Zooey Deschanel, "you totally started it by putting my uh squirting on blast."

"Yeah cuz when I eat you out my eyes get splashed and your pussy is a grapefruit," said Meow Solo, "the scientists from the Puppeh kingdom said that my retina was burned from citric acid. They replaced them with cybercronic enhancements just so I could still pass the renewal test for my space cat's pilot's license."

"Whatevs," said Zooey Deschanel with a shrug of her shoulders, "it's like four hundred percent of your daily allowance of vitamin C."

"Allow me to interject here," said Dr. Phronk, "but cats don't need vitamin C."

"I don't care what Mew Sulu needs," said Zooey Deschanel, "can we fingerpaint now?"

"Whatevs," said Meow Solo, throwing his desk across the room, "this isn't fair I never got to read the poem I wrote!"

"I'm so sorry Commandant Solo," said Dr. Phronk, "by all means go forth. Go forth and astonish us with your totally awesome writing."

"Faster than light, Taurus SHO, Lesben in under 69 parclits, feline pilot extraterrestrial, supernatural Meow Solo terrestrial."

"OMG," said Zooey Deschanel, "Nobody cares about your stupid SHO Mew Sulu."

"Whatevs," said Meow Solo, "stop calling me Mew Sulu, Snowy Chedanel!"

"Take my hands," said Dr. Phronk, "and I shall escort you to the fingerpainting room in the basement. Crazy painting will help break all this tension."

"Uh...yay!" said Zooey Deschanel.

Twenty minutes later...

In Dr. Phronk's paint splattered basement...

"Uh uh uh uh uh uh," sang Zooey Deschanel, "doin the pussy slide!"

Zooey Deschanel sang and danced naked around Dr. Phronk, her wet vagina spraying a mist of pussydew into the air.

A thick splash of the pussy juice splattered across the canvas that Meow Solo happened to be working on with his paws, the juice ran together with the black ink that outlined the face of Benedict Cumberbatch's arch-enemy Jim Moriarty.

The ink ran until the Moriarty face became a smear of dog's droppings.

"Whatevs," cried Meow Solo, "your p-dew totally smeared my awesome portrait of Jim Moriarty, our relationship is ruined."

Dr. Phronk sat quietly in his La-Z-Boy brand armchair chewing on a Milky Way chocolate bar and sniffing at the droplets of Deschanalia in the air holding his breathe for twenty seconds in order to absorb the full Deschanel into his blood.

If not for his PHD in psychology Dr. Phronk would not have even known about the proper breathing intervals for Deschanalian vaginal extract.

"I must confess," said Dr. Phronk, "this whole therapy session has been a totally awesome trap. For seven years now I have wanted only one thing...the touch, the scent, the feel, and the look of Zooey Deschanel. Her sexy boobs her Katy Perry legs and her hot voice that is like 'uh i'm alone on a bicycle built for two'."

Dr. Phronk pulled an electrochronic star map from his pocket and unfolded it to reveal Zooey Deschanel's va jay-jay but all blue and glittery like a Lite Brite.

"I have mapped out the quadrants of her pussy," said Dr. Phronk, "in order to produce the proper o-gasm. An o-gasm which a kitteh tongue, running off of simple space pilot's training, could never achieve!"

"Uh by my pussy!" said Zooey Deschanel, "is all this you speak the uh truth?"

Then all of sudden the glass cellar door that led into Dr. Phronk's basement shattered and a glider carrying a tall
dark haired man wearing tinted glassed landed in the basement.

Dr. Ian Malcolm crashes the scene with a desperate message from Planet 69!

"Listen you three it's ah ah me Dr. Ian Malcolm, chaos theory person and also Jeff Goldblum's character in ah Jurassic Park."

"Why have you interjected yourself into this therapy session Dr. Malcolm? As your colleague I demand answers on the double!" said Dr. Phronk.

"The dinosaurs ah," said Dr. Ian Malcolm, "are back on planet 69. I need your help!"

Zooey Deschanel pulled her blue panties back on and said, " C'mon Mew Sulu, we have to help Dr. Ian Malcolm, it's our duty as space heroes."

So Dr. Phronk, Zooey Deschanel, and Meow Solo jumped onto Dr. Ian Malcolm's glider and the four heroes flew off into space.

To be continued in JOURNEY TO PLANET 69...

I genuinely laughed my ass off at this. And it was nice to spend some quality time with Zooey Deschanel, if only in fiction ( :( ). Thanks Kitty!

Oh and hey, look, I found this slot machine when I was in Vegas a few weeks ago:

There was also this one, which is ... just ... why? WHY?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Nostalgia as the Downfall of Mankind

A while ago, Peter Jackson showed a small audience some scenes from his upcoming adaptation of The Hobbit. With The Hobbit, Jackson is pulling a Cameron and trying to advance the very nature of filmmaking. It was filmed at 48 frames per second (fps), which is double the usual 24 fps of movies today. That means it looks about twice as smooth; the midgets you see on-screen move almost as fluidly as the midgets you see in real life.

I recently went shopping for a new TV, and started paying attention to all the little quirks and imperfections that can possibly afflict an imagine on a screen. This ruined watching movies for a while, because I started noticing every flaw. My plasma TV leaves blotchy yellow phosphor trails behind fast-moving objects. The LCD screen of an iPhone blurs moving text. And giant IMAX screens highlight the flaws of shooting at 24 fps; if you pay attention, you can see the frames, and any movement causes a split-second double-image.

Shooting in 48 fps eliminates a lot of these problems that sharp eyes pick out. It's better in every objective way. More life-life, fewer quirks, and just prettier.

So of course, people lost their shit when they saw The Hobbit's new and improved technology. Except in the wrong way. They hated it. They said it looked like backstage footage, or even worse, like an old soap opera.

This is nostalgia getting in the way of enjoying something that is, by every objective measure, better. Kids saw their moms watching bad soap operas in high fps, and that smoothness was forevermore associated with dull plots, bad acting, and having to watch All My Children instead of something awesome like maybe Thundercats.

It's one sign of a broader phenomenon. People get attached to the familiar, hanging on for dear life even as the familiar becomes a choppily-rendered sinking ship. That is on fire. And full of zombies. With AIDS.

It's trivial when it comes to movies, but really can be deadly in other areas. One obstacle to hospitals advancing past recording information with pens and paper is that crusty old doctors and nurses would find it hard to use these "computer" things to reliably record information. Pens are just so gosh darn comfortable to use and learning is haaard, so all those people who die because of sloppy writing, what heroes they are, sacrificing themselves for shitty selfish nostalgia.

Conclusion: everyone should shut the F up about The Hobbit looking too good, because their complaining is probably killing children and kittens.


Saturday, May 05, 2012

Why Horror Movies Are Scary, and Why People Like Them Anyway

Hollywood Horror by Tedakin

A while ago, I was contacted by a PR agency who had seen one of my talks about the psychology of horror. A British media company was putting together a Halloween marketing campaign, and wanted some advice on how to use some scariness to make it more effective. I wrote them the below summary of why people regularly expose themselves to horror. I have no idea if the campaign ever went anywhere, but I figure it makes for an interesting read, so here it is.

Why are horror movies scary?

The answer to this is less obvious than it first appears. It might seem self-evident that scary movies are scary because they have scary things in them. But that just shifts the question to “what makes things scary?” Plus, fear is, by definition, an emotional response to danger. People sitting in a comfortable chair with their friends, munching on popcorn, are in no danger. They know they are in no danger.

So why are they scared anyway?

1) Because horror movies show us things that we were born scared of. Millions of years of evolution have programmed us to be frightened by things like spiders, growling monsters, and darkness. Early people who weren’t scared of these things tended to die, so they never got a chance to be our ancestors. With the survivors’ genes in us, we can’t help but feel the fear that kept them alive.

2) Because horror movies show us things that we’ve learned to be scared of. We may not be born scared of knives, needles, or clowns, but a few bad real-life encounters with them and we learn to fear them pretty quick. Movies can take advantage of the lessons we’ve learned from being scared for real.

3) Because we get scared when people we like are scared. Horror movies show us shots of people being scared just as much as they show us what is scaring them. When we’ve grown to like a character, we can’t help but feel some empathy for them when they appear to be frightened.

4) Because filmmakers exaggerate. No matter how realistic, a scary image on a screen pales in comparison to the real thing. That is why filmmakers need to exaggerate to make up for our safety from real danger. Extra dark settings, disorienting camera angles, anticipatory music, and discordant sounds (think the violins in Psycho) all make a scary image even scarier.

5) Because our bodies tell us we’re scared. For all the reasons above, our brains and our bodies are tricked into thinking we’re really scared. Our heart rates go up, we sweat more, and we breathe faster. These bodily reactions feed back into our conscious experience of fear. Furthermore, horror movies are one of the most visceral types of film. In one study, horror was one of only two genres that had a significant and identifiable physiological response. (The other was comedy).

So why would people watch something that scares them?

Again, fear is an emotional response to danger. Usually one that makes us want to run away, or at least turn off the TV. Why would we not only keep watching a scary movie, but pay money to do it?

6) Because some people like the rush of being scared for its own sake. Studies have found that the more scared people report being during a movie, the more they enjoy it. For some fans of horror movies (but not everyone), excitement is fun, whether it’s from joy or fear. My research shows that people high in sensation seeking—who say they frequently seek out intense thrills—said they like the horror genre more than people low in sensation seeking.

7) Because some people like the relief when it’s all over. The happy moments of a horror movie can be just as important as the horrifying parts. A moment of relief after escaping the bad guy can seem even more positive than it would normally, because our hearts are still beating with excitement. The leftover emotion from being scared can translate into happiness when the source of fear is gone.

8) Because you can control your image by controlling your reactions to a horror film. In my study, even though everyone had about the same “gut reaction” to horror imagery (a negative one), what they said they liked varied a lot. People with rebellious sorts of personalities were proud to say they liked horror movies.

9) Because it helps us hook up. Although they have the same negative “gut reaction” to horror, men say they like the genre more than women. Research has supported the fact that men and women who act “appropriately” to frightening films—men being fearless and women being fearful—tend to be liked by the opposite sex more. Horror films are perfect for dates.

There you go. Just a few of the many reasons that we're happy to be horrified.