Random Ramblings: The Cons of Self-Publishing & Self-Promotion

Self-Publishing is a great thing. You have limitless creative freedom, with no editor or marketing people telling you how long your stories have to be. I’ve been enjoying it immensely. Admittedly though, there is one major downside: self-promotion.

We’re taught early on that we shouldn’t really self-promote. That’s something show-offy, it’s not someone does that has confidence in their work, someone trying to hide the flaws in ads. I used to think along these lines. Once you start self-publishing though, you learn quickly that this is the exact wrong way to actually get anywhere. You are on your own, and that means you need to rely on social media and other websites to get the word out. Ask your friends, ask your family, post wherever, whenever.

Take for instance the sub-reddit “Wrote a Book”:

https://www.reddit.com/r/wroteabook/comments/77h4z8/novel_historians_crusade_science_fiction/

That one allows you to just post a link and promote your book. But if you scroll down the site, you are once again reminded why you might not want it. Do you want to be associated with the dozenth romance novel this week? If you want to exist outside traditional publishing I would say: yes. In an ideal world all self-publishing authors would work together, trying to get the word out over each other’s books, but the world isn’t really perfect. For one, people still scoff at ebooks priced higher than $0.99, as if a cup of lukewarm coffee for “Janothizanlafaeiohsf” from Starbucks is a better value proposition.

So by all means: promote your books, price them higher than $0.99. The pricing is an important part of self-publishing, I think. It gives a statement to the world: I am confident in this book. Also I paid an artist for the cover and need my expenses covered.

Seriously though: self-promotion is a hurdle we need to get over. I need to get over. Here goes…

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Star Trek Discovery: The Butcher’ Knife Cares Not For the Lamb’s Cry Review

The writer’s pen cares not for the lack of content in lieu of the sweet ad revenue.

Star Trek Discovery continues to excel at being all around good television.

Oh wait, you wanted more? Look, it’s just hard recapping a serialized show every single week. One-and-done episodes are easy. You have a problem that’s set up, explored, then resolved. Serialized storytelling is a different tool in the belt and has some great advantages. In the case of Discovery they are brilliant at building mystery and character. Not to mention the world building and details we receive. Many of the characters on Discovery already have more character traits revealed and explored than most characters on Enterprise, Voyager, and TNG combined. Though that’s not saying much… point is the main problem is that the big picture is only revealed over the course of the entire season. And they are subtle about this. This isn’t Captain Picard going “oh wait, it’s hard to watch and do nothing when you know the people dying” . Gee whiz, thanks, Captain Obvious! Discovery values its subtext over text as much shows do these days and as such might rub people the wrong way who are used to the classic Trek model of approaching the franchise from a theater and literature perspective of telling more than showing rather than filmic. Considering it’s a visual medium I actually prefer the latter. Big shock.

In many ways these weekly recaps are only good for two things: getting a chance to talk about the meta regarding the franchise and reception, and getting those sweet, sweet clicks. Guess why I’m gonna be back next week?!

 

In the meantime: Since she couldn’t join us in the previous recaps, here’s Jessica aka “The Angriest Fangirl” with her thoughts:    Continue reading “Star Trek Discovery: The Butcher’ Knife Cares Not For the Lamb’s Cry Review”

Star Trek Discovery: “Context is for Kings” Review – The Nicholas Meyer Effect

It’s easy being a Saint in paradise

There is something to say about a Starfleet captain who keeps a Gorn skeleton in a mad scientist lab and a sprayed and neutered Tribble on his standing desk. There is, I’ll just let it stand on its own.

It might be hyperbolic, but there is a certain delight to be found in the fact that I am finding myself watching a weekly Star Trek show again for the first time in a decade and a half since German TV aired Voyager and Enterprise. I have missed it in a nostalgic sense. There is something satisfying in watching a show unfold on a week to week basis that gets sadly lost in our modern binge watching culture. I’ve written about this before on this blog.

The first two episodes of Discovery were very much a pilot episode, yet also a prologue of sorts. This then is the first regular episode of the show and as such serves as the real signal to the viewers of what they can expect from the show. It feels fitting that Nicholas Meyer of all people is involved as a producer and writer on the show, even though he didn’t pen this episode in particular. Let me explain this through what I call the Nicholas Meyer Effect.

Meyer had saved Trek from itself back in the 80s and he continues to serve as a sign for either everything that is wrong with Trek, or everything that people love about it. Roddenberry had spent the 70s, when not coked up, touring campuses and conventions, being convinced by his growing fanbase that Star Trek was cerebral and esoteric. When the franchise returned with the Motion Picture, this is what we got: a silly, campy script recycled from the TV show (Nomad anyone?) blown up to compete with 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was slow, it was plotting, it buried its good ideas under its own unnecessary seriousness.

Enter Nicholas Meyer. Much like Discovery’s producers, the man had never partaken in the franchise before, but he had watched the episodes in preparation for working on the new movie. And much like Discovery’s producers he took what the fans saw as a disadvantage, not having preyed on the shrine of Roddenberry, as an advantage. There is a reason doctors, scientists, academics, creative people, ask for second opinions, an outsider’s perspective. It can be hard to see what you are really about. Having watched TOS, Meyer recognized the core of what Star Trek was about – and what Roddenberry had forgotten about.
Star Trek is a swashbuckling adventure show that told low brow and high brow stories. One week there would be an episode about Kirk hunting down the man who murdered his entire colony, in another Spock would get horny. Also salt vampires? Point is, there are many approaches to Trek, but the central one is that we are dealing with the descendant of pulp fiction. While his Trek plays up the naval characteristics of Starfleet, the Master and Commander / Horatio Hornblower vibe we get from that informed Trek from the beginning.

With Discovery we are at a point where the television landscape has changed to accept season long story arcs as the norm. DS9 was the first Trek show to have serialization, but even by that standard Discovery is very much going to be a season long story and the episode itself mirrors that, a building block in the series. This makes it hard to recap every single episode and it can be frustrating for the people who wished for Trek to return to its single episode format.

The thing is, the movies are much better equipped to deal with one-off adventures. TV should deal with longer, more complex stories. Remember, there are 700 episodes of Trek already and I can point to a good 100 of those who share the same base DNA and a good 20 that are carbon copies of each other, especially in the last couple of years. It is time for fresh stories and some deeper exploration of a universe that can be ankle-deep at most.

Discovery has the misfortune of being compared to Nicholas Meyer era Trek in that there is a section of the fandom that vehemently opposes what the show stands for. Much as with Meyer, they base this off of a surface-level reading: it is naval in character, there are conflicts, we see a darker side of the Federation. And yet because these Trek fans do exactly what Trek always preaches is the fatal flaw: judging by its appearance, they are missing out on already well set up moments.

Yes, Michael Burnham is a mutineer. The character isn’t perfect at all. And yet she is very much in the tradition of what a Star Trek character is supposed to aspire to be: be true to yourself, try to improve, better yourself. Every person who complains about the darkness the show preaches, please be reminded of this wonderful monologue by Burnham: “I was a Starfleet officer”. This is very much straight in the tradition of a Kirk, a Picard, a Sisko, even a Janeway or Archer: I make mistakes, I have to live with them. That doesn’t mean I will throw away my ideals because live is hard.

Considering that the original Star Trek show can be summed up by a little scene in “A Taste of Armageddon”, where Kirk admits that humanity is not perfect, but that all it means to make progress is to state “I will not kill today”, I see this show clearly in the footsteps of TOS and DS9. Where others see unnecessary darkness and a betrayal of Star Trek’s ideals, I see the very ideals of Star Trek, its central themes, on full display. “It’s easy to be a saint in paradise,” Sisko once said on DS9. It’s easy to be a pacifist in peace time, says Captain Lorca of the USS Discovery.

“Darkness” is important in a story like the one Discovery tells, like DS9 told, like many episodes of Trek that dealt with serious issues. If there is nothing to overcome, no stakes, what is the point of heroes? Nicholas Meyer understood this best in The Undiscovered Country: Kirk overcomes his prejudice for a greater cause, peace is made, despite what the warmongers and xenophobes plotted, and it made the triumph of the original crew all the more great. There would be no light without darkness, and no darkness without light. It is almost as if Context is for Kings.

 

Star Trek: Discovery “The Vulcan Hello” & “Battle At The Binary Stars” Review

Star Trek’s ideals are alive and well

Sunday evening, or rather Monday morning for the part of world increasingly glad not to be American, saw the premier of the long awaited new Trek show: Star Trek Discovery. Opinions have been mixed so far, as in 95% percent of people were positive and 5% are Trekkies.

I was anxious going into Discovery, I had to admit. For months now we have heard rumors here and there about production troubles, people complaining about the time period it covers, a trailer that looked visually stunning yet felt somewhat off. As a lifelong Trek fan with long periods of switching between frustration and love for the franchise, my expectations were quite high going in, especially in light of an excellent movie in form of Beyond last year. Turns out Discovery met my expectations and went far above it. Simply put, I love the show and have now watched both episodes twice already with a third time skipping around the best scenes.

I won’t bother giving a summary as everyone who has wanted to watch the show will have at this point. What I will say is that not only is this the best pilot Trek has ever put out (not saying much, I know) but it is also one of the best two parters. I am glad both episodes were released at the same time as they form a complete whole, with The Vulcan Hello building the world, characters, and tension, and The Battle At the Binary Stars using that setup to reach for even greater heights.

Some ham fisted exposition aside, sadly unavoidable in a pilot, the dialogue was great, the characters immediately likable, the conflict with the Klingons easily established. This is why a modern Trek show will always have a leg up against any science fiction series trying to start out. The amount of legacy, lore, and pop cultural osmosis Discovery was able to build on, paying homage to many elements of previous shows in its debut alone, is simply only possible with such an old franchise. While the visuals have been polished up for a 2017 audience in a post-HBO, post-Netflix world. Finally what we see on screen can live up to the wonders of exploration Star Trek has always wished to live up to. The binary system in these two episodes is simply put the most stunning backdrop to any Star Trek story, including the big screen adventures of recent years.

Many Trekkies who dislike the show and reach beyond a break in visual design language with The Original Series for their criticism, bring up the fact that the show doesn’t feel like Star Trek. The characters are quippy and behave un-Starfleet-like, the show is focused on bombastic visuals and space battles. Without leaning too far out the window on this, these people are idiots. I am not ashamed to be snobby and cast judgement here, it has to be said.

Continue reading “Star Trek: Discovery “The Vulcan Hello” & “Battle At The Binary Stars” Review”

Online Novel: Historian’s Crusade – The One Year Anniversary (+Cover)

Historian’s Crusade is coming to Kindle

In the proper way of using the word, Historian’s Crusade will celebrate it’s one year anniversary this month. Last October I started up the online serialized novel simply to force myself to write and actually finish something. So far the feedback has been encouraging, with views of the different chapters still making up half my monthly hits on this website. But it was always my intent of publishing the final, reworked, version of Historian’s Crusade on Kindle. Yeah, that took a while…

Truth be told, the reason it took so long was because I started writing a sequel book of sorts starring the fictional writer of Historian’s Crusade, titled Historian’s Quest. So while that book is now also done as a second draft, it allowed me to go back and add some new paragraphs here and there in Historian’s Crusade. This not only allows for some nice foreshadowing to the upcoming book but also tightens the continuity between the two.

So the updated version will cost something, it will be on Amazon Kindle and available world-wide. The book will be the equivalent of $2.99 (I firmly believe a book shouldn’t be cheaper than a cup of Starbucks coffee) and include changes from the original version posted online, as well as about 130 footnotes and a full bibliography. And this is important: the first draft will remain online for free forever. If you don’t want to buy the book feel free to read it online, but you will miss out on half the fun in form of footnotes making it truly feel like the fictitious history book it was always meant to be.

Continue reading “Online Novel: Historian’s Crusade – The One Year Anniversary (+Cover)”

Quick Thoughts on Sympathetic Villains in Call of Duty

CoD sucks at writing terrorists. Duh.

I’ve actually been playing some Call of Duty recently, specifically Advanced Warfare and Infinite Warfare since they were on sale. I gotta say, Advanced Warfare actually had some subtle themes in there about PMCs vs national armies and causes to rally behind, as well as the idea of the world being run as a business. And Advanced Warfare is seriously engaging as a piece of pop scifi. Both are still simplistic in the way that the villains are constructed, but there seems to be more of an effort in Advanced Warfare. Compare the two: Kevin Spacey’s Jonathan Irons tries to take over the world in order to stop all wars in a sort of Big Boss by way of Doctor Evil sort of way. He’s at least got sympathetic motifs, wanting to end war because war killed his son. Meanwhile Jon Snow’s… hmm Admiral Jon Snow (stupid in-game name) is a mustache twirler leading a bunch of amoral psychos to kill as many Earthers as possible because… freedom?

So the corporate executive was better written than the freedom fighter extremist. What a shock for a CoD game.

At first I thought this goes to show how palatable fictional politics become once removed from present values/conflicts, but it’s really because it really goes back to the idea of nations fighting nations, rather than freedom fighters/terrorists as in recent games like Black Ops and Ghosts. In those games complex morality is not only of paramount importance in terms of writing, but from a real world perspective it still seems impossible to actually write freedom fighters/terrorists as anyway sympathetic. Compare that to the 80s and 90s. James Bond and Rambo were teaming up with the Mudschaheddin. Star Trek had a former terrorist with Kira as their leading lady.

We can certainly argue over the timing of returning to a place in which terrorists, freedom fighters, and other assorted groups can be considered in any sympathetic light again. No one will likely see a Rambo 3-esque film starring the Kurdish militias circa 2017 anytime soon in Hollywood. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t at least portray your antagonists with some sort of depth past the usual American hypocrisy.

Frankly, in regards to what we consider to be our enemies, I think our media needs empathy more than anything these days. I specifically say empathy instead of sympathy. You can still identify with the concerns and reasons of grievance of a group without accepting them. With the War on Terror slowly but surely becoming a generational conflict, and racism and xenophobia on the rise partly because of that, we need empathy now more than ever. We need to understand the people we fight, both in reality as well as in fiction, if we ever want to move forward and end these conflicts.

Or CoD just sucks at writing non-corporate evil bad guys that are an obvious stand-in for their Activision overlords, I dunno.

 

 

The Orville: Star Trek Democratized

Introducing: The Star Trek Procedural

The Orville is a new show that has started this season on FOX. A science fiction show by Seth McFarlane, it is bascially a Star Trek show with the number plates filed off, originally advertised as a Galaxy Quest-esque homage. Turns out it’s actually the real deal.

I’m not really interested in the quality of the show. Some people have loved it, while most seem to not care. Being on FOX, it has already been moved to a different time slot and it’s likely we won’t be seeing the show return for a second season. But while we have the show here, at the same time as a new Star Trek show no less, gives us an odd situation.

While there have been science fiction shows running parallel to Star Trek in the past, the golden age of the late 90s and early 00s comes to mind, The Orville marks the occasion of the first show that takes Star Trek’s “space exploration vanilla” experience and doesn’t do much with it. While the likes of Babylon 5, Farscape, Battlestar Galactica, and so forth, have all always been inspired by Trek, The Orville is simply another space exploration show with an exploration ship, a captain, and a crew all organized by some sort of vague UN-esque organization. And they got away with it. In this age of trigger-happy copyright lawyers they got away with it. And why wouldn’t they? After all, Star Trek doesn’t own the basic concept.  Continue reading “The Orville: Star Trek Democratized”