Holy Fuck Marvel Aquires Marvelman!

I think I've been waiting for this day for at least 15 years: Marvelman has been acquired by Marvel Comics.

A little background: Marvelman was a superhero created in England in the 1950's. In the 1980's Alan Moore revamped the character in one of his most beloved stints in comics. He later passed the book off to Neil Gaiman. Marvel Comics (who'd fought for the name Captain Marvel and won years ago, making the 1940's hero have his comics sold under the name "Shazam") sued and forbid the name "Marvelman" from being used in America, so in America the character was known as "Miracleman". But that's just the beginning of the trouble. After moving to several different publishing companies, and following the dissolution of Eclipse Comics in 1994, the ownership of the character came under dispute between Todd McFarlane, who had bought out Eclipse Comics, Neil Gaiman, who Alan Moore had given his share of the character to, and Mick Anglo, who created the character. The bottom line being that for 15 years all of Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman's Miracleman comics were out of print, and only available in rare, expensive copies sold in places like eBay. These stories had disappeared.

So, if this announcement means what it seems to mean, not only can the character go back to being Marvelman, but these books by Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman that no one's been able to read can be brought back into print.

Of course, it's possible that they just acquired the original characters and not the stories from the 80's and 90's. Also in question is whether they'll try to shoehorn the character into the Marvel Universe. Time will tell.

The State of Ebook Readers July 24th, 2009

You may recall that back in May at BEA I was told by the makers of BeBook that their $200 BeBook Mini eBook reader would be available at the "end of June". It's now almost the end of July with no BeBook Mini to be found. Word has just come out that the device would roll out "within the next 2 to 3 weeks in Europe for 200 Euros, which is currently $284 USD, quite a bit more than promised. I, for one, feel lied to.

In other news items of interest:

  • Amazon recently dropped the price of the Kindle to $300
  • Rumors are flying about an Apple tablet device early next year. (This has been a rumor for so long though that I'll believe it when I see it.
  • Also, Barnes and Noble recently launched its own ebook store and iPod Touch/iPhone app, with an associated Plastic Logic ebook reader device promised soon. I can't, however, seem to find a straight answer about what format these books are in, and what kind of DRM they have (they pretty clearly have it, since the books can only be read using the various BN applications and can't be printed).
  • The Sony Reader 700, which, unlike the 505 model, had a touch screen but was criticized for being too expensive and having too much glare, seems to have been discontinued.
  • And finally, much bruhaha about Amazon deleting books from people's Kindles and refunding their money without telling them, which folks are comparing to Barnes and Nobles sneaking into your house at night, taking your books and leaving some bills on the table. Bezos recently apologized for this, but I think it's pretty clear why we, the book buying public, need to stand up against DRM. If you buy something it should be your property, not loaned to you by some corporation who reserves the right to tell you what you can do with it or take it back from you.

So here's what the playing field looks like right now in the US. Note that in addition to companies' own ebook stores, there are many (non-Kindle) device-agnostic ebook stores like FictionWise.

The Kindle: $300 (or $490 for the DX which is bigger and supports PDF) always on 3G Internet, large ebook store, but no support for open formats like ePub or, on the regular Kindle, PDF.

The Sony Reader 505: $279, though less, ironically, on Amazon where it's $268. Reads PDF and ePub as well as Sony's proprietary format. Large ebookstore for the proprietary format books, but it only works with Windows (though a Mac version has been promised soon). See my review.

The Cool-Er Reader: $250. The cheapest ebook reader. Reads PDF and ePub. Has a decent sized bookstore, though without the loss-leader pricing of Amazon or Sony.

The BeBook: The regular BeBook reader is still on sale for $279 and supports ePub and PDF without any company-specific bookstore. Besides the fact that the BeBook people are liars, there's no reason to ever by this device since it's the same price as the brand-name Sony Reader.

iPod Touch. $230 - Cheaper than all of the above, it doesn't have the eInk screen of the other ebook readers, so it's not as easy on the eyes. It does, however, have lots of features that the eInk devices can only dream about: WiFi Internet browsing, games and the whole panoply of the App Store, not to mention the fact that with Stanza, the eReader App, the Kindle App, and the BN eBook App, the iPod Touch has easily the largest selection of books available of any ebook reading device, including your home computer (which can't read Kindle books). Or, I should say it has the largest selection of ebooks available on any device save for its brother, the iPhone, which has everything it has plus 3G, a camera and the ability to make phone calls. The iPod Touch and iPhone have much smaller screens than the other devices, but fit in your pocket, and have touch screens.

Keep in mind that it's obvious that a lot is happening in this market and things could change any minute.

Very Short Reviews of Recent Speculative Fiction Television Shows

In no particular order...

The Middle Man: The best sf show in recent memory. Canceled, of course. However, show creator Javier Grillo-Marxuach appears to be working on a new show, so I look forward to seeing that.

Virtuality: A very well written and well acted pilot. Not picked up as a series, of course. Always remember, in television mediocrity is the bar to be aspired to. (Though I have to say I am getting a little tired of EVERYONE on television having to look like a supermodel.)

Fringe: And what a God-awful crapfest this is.

Eureka: I saw one episode of this show, where they had someone gain magical powers by using "100% of their brain", thereby perpetuating a grimace-worthy line of bullshit that has been widely known to be false for... ever. It would really take me a lot to watch this show again.

Heroes: Stopped watching at the beginning of season 3 when it was clear it was gonna be no better than season 2.

Warehouse 13: Taking the premises of two shows (The Librarian and The X-Files) and putting them together does not make you original. Promises Smallville-level mediocrity of character, plot and storyline. Still, at least it's better than Fringe. Also, see point about Virtuality and looks. (Though at least some of the minor characters are normal-looking. Also, note they go out of the way to make some supporting characters token ethnics, but the leads are all white.)

Stargate Whatever: Are these shows still around? Are they still the same sort of story mill for plots we've seen before and two dimensional characters?

Doctor Who: Still the standard-barer of what sf TV can be, at worst stupid and at best insanely brilliant and fun. Very much looking forward to the new season, with new head-writer Moffat.

Torchwood: A show that could have been great but was actually crap. Haven't watched the new mini-series yet, but after watching what's come before I don't have high hopes.

Dollhouse: Ambivalent about this show. On one hand, I think it's the ballsiest thing on television, and loads more interesting than, well, most of the shows above (and other, non-sf shows). On the other hand, everything everyone has said about the show having problems w/r/t its treatment of women is well justified, and I have trouble sympathizing with any of the characters who either have literally no personality at all, or are horrible, awful people who exploit those with no personality at all. Even the detective, who's supposed to be the good guy, is not really that nice a fellow. Still this is the most audacious, most complex thing going right now and I look forward to season two.

Terminator Chronicles: Never cared about the Terminator franchise, never was interested. Haven't seen a single episode of this show, and don't really want to.

Lost: Interesting enough that I'll still watch it, even though it's become painfully clear that they're making everything up as they go along and lots and lots of things just don't really make sense.

Still haven't watched Sanctuary. Don't know what that'll be like.

The Geek Mindset

This is a response to yesterday's geek article from JF Quackenbush, because there are some things I want to clarify on this subject, but this article can also be read on its own.

A couple days ago, I was in a comic book store, talking to the owner. It came out that he was too embarrassed the read comics on the subway. He didn't want to be seen in public with them. Keep in mind, this is a man who has spent decades of his life, most of his professional career, selling comic books. And he was still on some level ashamed of his association with them.

The truth is, I sympathize with the people who want to reclaim the word "geek". What these people are really saying is that they shouldn't feel ashamed for reading comic books, or science fiction, or playing role playing games, or video games, or programming computers, or the other myriad markers of so-called "geek culture". As Quackenbush said, they were probably made fun of as kids for these things, and so their insecurities about them are deeply buried in their psychological development. They are trying to overcome these insecurities, and so say "No, it's okay to like these things." And, of course it's okay to like these things. You should not be ashamed for being who you are.

Problems arise when insecurity causes a kind of overreaction, and "geeks" start thinking they're actually better than other people because they like these things. This is why Comic Book Guy on The Simpsons looks down his nose on other people and makes fun of them. Because he feels so deeply insecure about himself that condescension becomes self-deluding overcompensation. I think that J's real point (or at least mine) is that people like CBG aren't losers because they like comic books or whatever, they're losers because they're socially maladjusted wrecks, and escaping into comics is a way that they deal with that.

Not that there's anything wrong with escapism per se. It is not the affection for escapism that makes a loser a loser, it's simply another symptom of a larger problem.

My original problem with the geek label was that using it is just another form of separating one group of people from other people and saying that this group is weird and different and must hang together because of that. Fuck that whole mindset. I like comic books, and science fiction and fantasy, and cartoons and computer programming. I don't feel that this makes me weird or different and there's absolutely no reason I should, anymore than someone who like mystery novels or knitting or, I don't know, butterfly collecting, should feel that they are weird or different because of their hobbies and interests. The whole concept that people who like these things are different and weird is a very recent phenomenon, dating back maybe 60 years or so tops. In many other cultures you still have to explain what a geek is, because it's such an odd concept.

So perhaps having the definition of the word "geek" expand to include people who like Twitter or Facebook is actually a good thing if only because it dilutes the term and moves towards its eventual abolition. After all, if everyone is a geek then no one is a geek.

You Are Not an Oppressed Minority

So there's a rain a comin'. Like many things on the internet, it is fucking stupid.

So first of all, there's this group the societyforgeekadvancement.com who have apparently decided to coopt the word "geek" to mean something like "user of social media technology."

The people involved apparently weren't aware that the whole "take back the night" campaign about the words "geek" and "geekdom" had been ongoing since the late nineties.

So naturally, the real geeks got annoyed at these johnny come lately's popping up out of nowhere trying to co-opt their identity. Such as it is.

Which prompted a response on twitter and, naturally, tor.com defending "real" geeks who play D&D and watch Star Trek from "fake" geeks who just spend a lot of time Twittering from their iPhones.

The whole thing is a tempest in a teapot, and frankly everyone involved is an asshole.

First off, the attempt to reclaim the word geek is moronic and insensitive. It puts this kind of social pressure to be cool on the same level as campaigns by gays, blacks, and other groups to "take back" the slurs against them and remove their power to do harm.' This is ridiculous in that it places a word like "geek" on the same platform with a word like "nigger" or "faggot" or "dyke" when it belongs nowhere near them.

Let's take a brief history at what the word ACTUALLY means, and then we'll come back to the issue of why everyone involved in this controversy is a fucking asshole.

Round Up of Current Right Wing Bugaboos

Here are some things I've learned about how crazy conservatives are simply by reading the #tcot (top conservatives on twitter) hashtag on twitter:

1.) Barack Obama is not really the president of the United States because, although he is the son of an American citizen born on US soil, his birth certificate has the title "Certificate of Live Birth" rather than "Birth Certificate."

2.) Barack Obama is the first American President (if he is President, see above) to use a teleprompter. They find the use of a teleprompter so remarkable that they have given it a name: "TOTUS"

3.) All democrats are communists who should be "gillotined" [sic]

4.) Cap and Trade is actually a fifth column designed to tax the poor 1800 dollars a year on their electricity bills

5.) Sarah Palin was forced out of office due to harassment by marxist journalists.

6.) The Army Reserve Major who is refusing to go to Afghanistan because Obama isn't really president is not really an insubordinate criminal in violation of the UCMJ, but is in fact a sort of hero for refusing to follow illegal orders and commit warcrimes by joining his brothers in arms going into harms way.

Y'know, as disappointed as I am that the Democrats are not seizing the day and taking every opportunity they can to run roughshod over the extremely weak republican party who are so far out of power at this point that it's fucking comical, at the same time I'm glad the Republicans are getting as crazy as they are in order to sabotage their chances of reclaiming any power.

Epub vs. Print

Scott Edelman's post about twittering at ReaderCon reminded me of something I wanted to make clear. At the panel on online vs print, people were talking about the "things you can do online that you can't do in print", bringing up hypertext links and hovering over a word to make something pop up, and thus missing th point completely.

The reason online publishing is better than print publishing is that I can fit millions of pages of online content in my pocket. It's the instant availability and portability of e-content that is e-publishing's "killer app". Everything else is dressing.

ReaderCon: Afterward

It wasn't what I expected.

As I've said before, I've been to a lot of comic book conventions. I have little patience for most of the superhero fare that's considered "mainstream" in the comics world, but I am a great fan of the more "literary" work (Clowes, Ware, Hernandez Bros, et al) as well as better SF stuff that crops up there (Morrison, Ellis, Gaiman, et al). I had no reservations about going to comic book conventions because comics are a medium, not a genre, and while at the larger cons there are people dressed up as Batman, there are also quiet corners where the folks in plastic framed glasses get together and talk theory. And best of all are the small press cons like Mocca and SPX where the indies come together free from the rank and file "underwear perverts" (as Warren Ellis likes to call superheroes).

I honestly didn't think there was anything like that in the SF world, because SF is a genre. For a long time, I thought any SF con would be like a comic book convention where they only let the superhero fans in.

I was very wrong.

ReaderCon: In Praise of Fandom?

Saturday, I had lunch with Matt Cheney, Tor editor Liz Gorinsky and a guy named Michael who described himself as "just a fan". One thing that became clear to me as we talked is that there's nothing approaching the nature of fandom in the world of literary (or "mainstream" as the SF folks would have it) fiction. Dave Eggars likes to make reference to a literary community or family, but in Eggars' world there isn't close too the active, ongoing conversation between him and the readers in the way there is for almost any writer in the SF scene.

ReaderCon: Initial Reactions

ReaderCon: Initial Reactions

After a Feng Wah bus, a subway trip on the "T", and a long ride on a municipal bus, I came to the hotel where they are holding this year's ReaderCon, the Science Fiction (or Speculative Fiction, if you prefer) convention dedicated specifically to books, and thus the only SF convention not overrun with "B" list TV and movie celebrities. One thing was immediately apparent as I stepped through the door of the hotel: everyone at this thing seems to know each other.

At the first panel, on writers who are also reviewers, this became abundantly clear not only by the panelists and moderator Paul Di Fillippo specifically referring to the community as "small", "insular" and a "family", but by the fact that when Fillippo took questions he could call on each person with a raised hand by name. Though this is my first SF convention, I have been to a lot of other convention-type events in my time, mostly comic book ones, but also simply book related events like the Small Press Expo or the BEA. I have never before seen a moderator who knew so much of the audience by name.