Painful Lessons in Publishing

A more official word will be going out soon, but it looks like we’re cancelling the Outliers series for good.

The fact that it was ever made at all is something of a small miracle. Five authors putting together a world of stories and characters, each shared and culminating towards a greater epic? That’s no small feat. Yet even before founding Thunderbird Studios, we had a publisher who backed out. This was early 2016, and the small press market seemed to be in a real flux. So, I started an LLC, grabbed some ISBNs and got to work with Manuel.

To help promote it, we even put together a primer, Outliers: The Shape of Things to Come, that was regularly given away for free. What threw us for a loop was that the primer seemed to do pretty great. The shorter length plus the art helped us quickly reap ten very positive reviews on Amazon’s UK site.

It looked like a really promising start for us.

Then we published the first volume of five novellas.

And it did not sell.

That was a year ago. We blamed some of it on the election upset last year and kept trying to turn it around. Facebook advertising, reaching out to folks directly, trying to get reviews. We had almost 250 followers on Facebook and several groups we could tap for more, and a few more on Twitter. We had our own personal networks. And we even launched our own product site, backed with freebies. But none of this helped.

Ask me why and I can think of a dozen reasons. Maybe more.

We really fought against labeling it as “superheroes,” focusing more and more on the science fiction elements. We dived into more grounded concerns, a formula that involved adding incredible talented people to say… the nursing profession, government bureaucracy, crime and law enforcement, the plight of the poor, and market manipulation. There were even a few modern day political points, such as the Black Lives Matter movement and police being required to use cameras.

These weren’t superheroes. They were just ordinary folks who could do something unique, and the world itself was reacting instead of the other way around.

We had serious and lasting impacts from our antics. The final story of Outliers: 2016 involved a sizable chunk of New York burning down. In future volumes, that section of the city is still very gone. And the politics of that event were still being debated. Less laser beam eyes and more modern cloak and dagger.

But I guess people took one glance, saw superheroes and didn’t look again.

What’s wrong with superheroes? Nothing, unless you’re not Marvel or maybe DC. Jon called it when he pointed out that the glutted market (especially with three companies using Marvel’s properties) makes anything one does seem derivative. Particularly when Fox came out with The Gifted, one of several in-universe terms we used to describe our Outlier characters. He described it as “a kick in the teeth.”

And speaking of terminology, Outliers was not a great choice to call our series. Search for it and the first thing you’ll discover is the book by Malcolm Gladwell. Keep digging and you’ll find The Outliers, a novel by Kimberly McCreight that was released earlier in 2016. Our efforts were a painful third.

Another big sign, one I should have watched for, was that the only people who ever seemed excited for Outliers were other authors and writers. Conversations about it drifted towards, “Can I pitch something for that?”

Yet most of them backed away when they realized that Outliers called for no small amount of homework. We weren’t big on “limitless powers,” and frequently nerfed what our protagonists could do. There were factions to develop, and sharing characters meant learning about their backstories, abilities, relationships and philosophy. Basically, every contributor was an encyclopedia in a series. And the wiki we developed to hold all this information got pretty damn big.

Joining us was buying into a creative contract. And when they realized that meant limitations, they seemed to lose interest.

In the past, a few people who were cross with me called prior works failures. I always shrugged. Those efforts never bothered me because they were trial and error, and I was always upfront about that. They were projects of learning that actually did go on to make several dozen sales. In the case of Far Worldsa couple of hundred.

But Outliers was a true failure. It sucked because most people remained silent on the matter. Folks said that they would review it, then they flaked. Not only friends but family just couldn’t be bothered. No one wanted to be honest and say, “Yeah, cool. Listen, I’m not really interested in reading that. But good luck.”

Not loved, not hated. At best, unknown. At worst, no one cared. And we’re left humbled hard by that truth as we leave our work to be trampled into dust by time.

Sigh…

…Anyway. The Outliers site is shutting down in a few days. The primer is coming off market too, and we’ll probably be retiring our social media outlets as well.

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Random Thoughts

It’s Friday so I thought I would unwind with a few off-the-cuff thoughts on events as of late.

First, I’ve been getting started on the new novels I’ve always wanted to write. There is something new in the works for The Banner Saga. I can’t talk about it too much— the ink’s not dry and I’m leaving room for changes, but it is about 20% complete. This particular work isn’t a sequel to The Gift of Hadrborg, but that door isn’t close either.

I’ve also gotten started on the research for another, original title… it has no name, but it is a horror novel with a unique setting. It’s been years since I’ve written in the genre, and my approach pretty offbeat. Less gore, zombies, and bodily horror. More existentialism, psychology and ghosts.

Still, I must admit to being apprehensive: there’s a great section in Writer’s Digest that outlines dozens of potential literary agents. The problem is that the majority of them flat out say that they’re just not interested in horror.

Genre fiction is generally stiff-armed, but horror is singled out. I imagine it has the same problems other genres do: rehashing of old tropes, the same recycled ideas. Likewise, there’s also the risk that a submitted novel is just “murder porn” or a thinly veiled revenge piece (which can open the door to some real problems).

And then there’s misunderstanding about what attracts people to horror. The fans do tend to congregate around particular communities, and they have their own views about what’s good and not. The problem is it can be hard to tell what’s good-good and what’s so-bad-it’s-good. Is a line truly terrible or is it purple prose? Is it unreadable, or by some occult hand would it become celebrated and cherished? That’s a heavy question for an agent.

Agent hunting is a sign that I’m really starting to “get serious” about publishing. Sure, many small and medium sized publishers are happy to host the open door submissions policy. But lately there seems to be backtracking from the practice, likely as they discovered the deluge wasn’t worth it. Convincing one person your book can sell is often the right first step.

 

Post Mayan Apocalypse, Year 4

njord

Plotting a sequel, a worthy sequel, is far from an easy thing. In my case, very little of the first book is being kept. Sure, three of the protagonists make a return, as does a valuable plot device and a few villains.

But everything else is vastly different. The setting has drastically changed, there’s less fighting and more survival and travel. Fewer bits of history and a larger share of myth and lore. The desire for vengeance is now overshadowed by the need to protect loved ones: familial, platonic and romantic. There’s no law to uphold and crime to condemn anymore, just the realpolitik of might makes mine.

The world is no small stage.

When you factor in all these changes, is it really a sequel anymore? I don’t know. My tale is but a gaiden, a side story, that happens on a beach before the storm of a greater epic. My characters are children squabbling over seashells, too preoccupied to notice the tsunami’s crescendo behind them.

Let others write of the work of gods. I deal mostly in men.

And men make many, many small things. The grand, sweeping myths of gods and creation are often strangely simple. But men are more prone to thousands of tiny dots that can be traced together and recognized as some grander shape, a design caused by our very lives. Some interconnected magnum opus that we cannot see until we’re old and cold.

Our own saga.

If this is a sequel, it is the last one. Not because there won’t be more story to tell afterwards, but because that which connected it to previously is fading away. Such is wyrd.

Happy New Years folks.

La La Land and the Winter Blockbuster

la-la-landI decided to hold off on writing up the last of my New York trip to discuss the movies, especially after seeing La La Land last Sunday night.

December is usually a crowded month as many directors pursue an Academy Award. Most of these films aren’t even that memorable; often flawlessly acted but without compelling scripts or interesting cinematography. Anything between science fiction and fantasy, or based on comics or pulp, rarely escape the technical awards category.

The most common winners (or high-reaching nominees) tend to fall into two categories. The first are the period dramas or the “based on true events” winners such as The King’s Speech, SpotlightArgo and 12 Years a Slaveas though Hollywood were trying to do important work by recording their vision of history. 

The second type however, is anything involving the struggling artist. In the last six years: The ArtistHugoBirdmanBlack Swan, and arguably Damien Chazelle’s prior film Whiplash. You can guess under which category this film falls.

Hence there’s little question that La La Land is a contender. Probably even the winner unless Moonlight or Manchester by the Sea are better than we realize (admittedly I’ve yet to see them), or if the academy finally feels this is the year to break ranks and put sci-fi film Arrival forward (unlikely but one can dream).

Like the Now Kiss! meme, producers have seen fit to pair Emma Stone with Ryan Gosling again (prior pairings include Crazy, Stupid, Love and Gangster Squad) in a love letter to the whimsy of old movies, musicals and dance numbers. Gosling is Sebastian, a musician determined to reclaim his Jazz club after his last venture failed. Mia, portrayed by Stone, is a barista and aspiring actress who has yet to find her first big break.

Because it’s determined to pay respects to many facets of these gone-but-not-forgotten era performance pieces, La La Land stays away from any mundane formulas. Sometimes you get a tap dance routine almost out of the blue, sometimes it’s more a solo that tells a/the story in real time, while duet numbers tend to be these flights of fantasy that stretch a few seconds into three minutes of daydreams. As you can imagine, the latter category lends itself to romantic scenes of Venetian waltzes across the stars or fast paced montages through Paris and what could be. Cinematic care was taken to ease the audience into these moments: too long and the film risked going well over its two-hour length, too fast and it risked being jarring or unintentionally hilarious.

The former point about its running time was probably a factor in its somewhat abrupt leap to the ending. The movie would have been ripe to have been split into two parts (not sequels), as I felt somewhat cheated in this investment in the characters as a pair. The storyteller in me wants the whole.

But there’s no denying that this is an exceptional piece of movie making that everyone should see, even if musicals aren’t their normal fare. Damien Chazelle put genuine, hard effort into La La Land where as most other directors feel like they’re just doing the rounds; creating what they think the academy wants, relying heavily on the skills of their actors while crossing their fingers and hoping that the rest of the competition isn’t trying.

But the funny thing is, I’m not certain as many directors and studios followed that formula this year at all, with a dearth of dramatic movies and more “Winter Blockbusters.”

Doctor Strangerogue-one, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Assassin’s Creed and of course Rogue One (no spoilers, I have yet to see it). The strange thing is there were signs that maybe audiences preferred more action and adventure films in the colder months as far back as Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I suspect Hollywood dismissed the sign because of the existing popularity of Tolkien’s magnum opus. At least until one Mr. Eastwood made a movie about one American Sniperand Hollywood took notice of both the critical respectability and financial success that was.

And indeed, while most of these movies are franchises, they were still considered moderate risks: no one was exactly clamoring Marvel for Doctor Strange before, but we quickly loved it afterwards. Fantastic Beasts finally escapes the conflict between Harry Potter and Voldemort to tell its own great story. Assassin’s Creed is based on a video game (and reviews suggest it will fare no better than usual) while Rogue One is the first Star Wars film independent of the regular episodes.

But the numbers certainly suggest we could use hot action in the colder months. Maybe January of 2018 will see more interesting films than the first month of the year often gets.

New York 2016 (Part 2)

old-brooklyn-bagel-shoppeSaturday brought with it colder temperatures. While such chill might have called for a warmer meal, we decided to begin our day with a traditional N.Y. bagel. Courtesy the recommendation of family friend Kathryn, we stopped at the Old Brooklyn Bagel Shoppe.

Suffice to say, I was not expecting to have the best bagel of my adult life.

It’s difficult to explain exactly why the bread was so good. It was soft, but it also had a kind of heartiness that is difficult to replicate even among master bakers. But when I inquired, I was told it was just a regular New York bagel.

“It’s something about the water,” Cassie said.

I got curious enough to take a quick look around about the secret. According to an article from NPR, the calcium and magnesium in the water is a factor, but the primary reason they’re so good is by boiling the bagel before baking it in the oven. I have doubts however. The quality of these bagels would decimate rival businesses in the south. And although I’ve witnessed the bakers at Einstein Brother’s in D.C. boiling their bagels in a large vat, they still weren’t nearly as good as this.

A change in manufacturing techniques is easy enough to apply. Shipping large quantities of hard water akin to that of New York? Not so much. Geography and economics, man. There’s a reason you don’t grow bananas in the north.

Another subway trip sent us over the East River and into Manhattan. My words, the ones I did not know at the time would initiate this trip, were how much I’ve always wanted to see the city during Christmas. And although I desire to tour more of Brooklyn and the Bronx someday, Manhattan was undoubtedly the place to be for the seasonal festivities.

The nearby department stores held arrays of knick knacks and household items that were oddly unique compared to the wares in Washington. We wandered not one but two separate market spaces, where holiday gifts were acquired and sights beheld. During a search for a restroom, I accidentally blundered into Eataly (pictured above on the right), a vast space of Italian restaurants and stores, where we procured specialty olive oils and salts as presents for the people in our life who usually have everything.

When we returned to the streets, a thought crossed my mind. I couldn’t help but ponder what condition the soil and earth was like, far below the many layers of of cement and asphalt. I don’t know why I considered this. Perhaps it was simply from looking at Manhattan both on a map and the street. While the district is technically an island, the city has developed over the northern bodies of water that make it so. Thus the metropolis itself could be considered a peninsula, while the topographic location is not.

I pondered the economic realities of this. The cost of living here, the price paid for every truck delivering food, medical supplies, clothing. The infrastructure for providing potable water, fuel, electricity and high-speed cable. The every day needs of approximately 1,626,000 people. People divorced from the simple mundanities of grass, hills and fields. Far from forests and greenery, mountains and deserts. And employment. How could they all possibly find jobs here? Could there truly be that many opportunities in this jungle of concrete and steel? With so many occupations being automated more and more often, it seemed… unfathomable.

This line of thought was lost over a later lunch at 5 Napkin Burger on 9th. Cassie had dined at the restaurant some years ago, and since then it has expanded to the cusp of becoming a full chain, with four locations across New York and a fifth in Boston. Sitting down I could see why. The burgers were thick and the ingredients (gruyere and french onions) savory and memorable, satisfying in the way only a fine hamburger can. The service was lightning fast too, a relief for Cassie who was eager to secure our seats at the Westside Theatre.

Seats to see Othello: The Remix, the highlight of the day. If not the entire trip.

Now I freely admit that I’ve never read the tale of Othello, though I did have a basic understanding of its premise. That and the fact it had long given us the phrase, “the beast with two backs.” But the performance dazzled and entertained. The eponymous role was handled by Postell Pringle while Jackson Doran flipped between Cassio and Emilia, all to beats provided by DJ Supernova. And the Q Brothers, who wore many hats as directors, writers and performers; GQ juggling between Rodrigo, Loco Vito and Bianca, while JQ brilliantly portrayed main antagonist Iago.

othello-remixThe timelessness of Shakespeare’s work stems from utterly human themes. You could dial the setting to any time and place and still find the story as meaningful as the day it was written. In this case, Othello is the star of his day: a DJ who rose in the music scene to become the golden man of his record label. But the recruitment of his new best man Cassio enrages front man Iago. And when Othello meets, falls in love and marries off-stage Desdemona, Iago turns his jealousy into an arsenal of lies to undo all Othello has made.

Although the tale is a tragedy, we found ourselves laughing hard and often at the gentle and natural humor. Each performer handled some pinnacle virtue on the stage: if Pringle was the soul and JQ the brains, then Doran and GQ were the humorous heart and swift hands that held the performance high. I could see Disney someday trying to poach this, especially Iago’s villainous musical number which, just like the greatest Disney films, was the best of the performance.

Now when life hits, it hits hardest following triumphs, when we’re on a pillar to knock down. Following the play we ventured to Starbucks for some coffee. And soon after, I realized my wallet was gone.

In all my years, I have been very careful not to lose something so important. And the optimistic half of me, the part that still has faith in humanity, refuses to say it was stolen. Regardless, I took the most prudent measures. After backtracking and confirming we couldn’t find it, I cancelled the credit cards, ordered new ones and had a warning put out. I tried to file a police report on the phone about my license but it proved to be a real pain: you have to go into the precinct station of which the property was lost to fill out a report.

A little research revealed that a lost driver’s license can cause interesting problems. While my credit was fairly secured, the real problem happens if someone presents my driver’s license in case of a ticket or accident. The damages go to my name and the problems compound if ignored. Other than that, the more likely possibility is that some 16 year old is probably making bank buying and reselling liquor to his friends with my ID. If so then kudos to you, you little bastard/entrepreneur.

Anyway, I had done all I could at the time. Back to our travels.

It was getting dark, and was the prime time to go tour the Christmas decorations. Macy’s and other such department stores create wonderful displays in their windows and showcases each year. Although my mood was soured by my misfortune, it was hard not to be moved by the sights. The picture of the mannequin above drew my eye because of its whimsical and creative nature, some mix of innovative madness that I’d expect from Stanley Kubrick in his prime.

I must admit that I lacked foresight regarding one tiny detail of our trip. Perhaps it was all the holiday movies over the years, confusing my sense of how the world really works, but Manhattan’s sidewalks and streets are never so barren and without people. Least of all during what maybe the pinnacle tourist season, and we found ourselves struggling through hundreds of warm bodies just to get a meaningful glimpse of the Rockefeller Center.

treeBut… we succeeded.

We carefully passed the masses, surprised by the number of parents who bothered to bring babies in strollers. But the people there were good-natured and patient, taking moments to gather photos of themselves and loved ones, and then politely moving to allow others to do the same. Or even taking the pictures for them. Below us, crowds whisked across the ice, and we knew better than to entertain the three hour wait to go skating ourselves.

Some clever use of the tunnels allowed us to bypass bustling crosswalks. As we briefly went underground, I quietly wondered just how vertical New York would become in the coming decades. If entire underground plazas would someday be constructed under the surface, making way for more and more people at the cost of sunlight.

I suspect concerns for security would stop such a possibility. If architecture is an enduring physical manifestation of culture, there are those who would turn it against us.

Our final meal for the night was at Oiji in East Village. We managed to sit down earlier than our reservation and pondered the menu for a while. Most of my prior experiences with Korean dishes tended towards the easier lunch affair, especially my favorite: daeji bulgogi, a spicy pulled pork. I would describe Korean food as something between Chinese and Japanese in its main ingredients, but with spice combinations that tend to appeal more to the typical American palette. It can be hot, and many have underestimated the flare of kimchi.

But there’s a lot of familiar flavors under the surface of their dishes.

We began with smoked mackerel and a plate of their signature honey butter chips. The fish was good if a little strong on the nose with the flavors of the sea. I do not normally eat white fish, and dining upon it made me hunger from something tropical and red, such mahi-mahi or ahi tuna. The chips (yes, potato chips) were sweet and I found myself wishing we heeded our waiter and eaten it as a dessert.

We ordered the friend chicken with spicy soy vinaigrette, the jang-jo-rim with buttered rice and a soft boiled egg, and handmade dumplings in white beef broth. With each dish, we found a strange tendency to prefer not the main ingredient, such as the portions of meat, but rather the secondary components. The vinaigrette was more the highlight than the chicken. The buttered rice surpassed the jang-jo-rim’s beef. And while the large dumplings were good it was the broth itself that was great, whose secret ingredient was actually a hint of mussels. I pondered what the chef could do with a vegetarian or pescetarian menu.

As we had one more day ahead of us with a good friend of mine, we decided to call it a night and rest our exhausted feet. Tune in on Monday for the last part.

New York 2016 (Part 1)

Disclaimer: The cityscape pictures are primarily of Manhattan, but are cataloged here as the primary focus is on New York as a whole.  

Until today, I’ve never really talked about my travels. A few drafts were scratched together over the years but stopped each time, due to some notion of it being too much about me. My blogging ethos has tended towards impartiality or “my professional writing life.” But there was an author, whom I will not name, that once said that confessing to being a professional writer scarcely impresses people.

And he was, and is, right. So today, I digress.

new-york

Last Friday we took the train to New York. In terms of raw value, it’s hard to beat a plane because the price is similar and it’s often a couple of hours faster. Still whatever time saved flying is lost going through security, baggage claims and then traveling to the city itself (airports tend to be arm’s distance from any metropolis), while the train deposits you near where you need to be. If the difference is an hour in comfort, then so be it.

The essence of luxury is waste.

Not to mention a plane’s turbulence can be quite jarring; my trip to Miami last year left me one shaken martini. But we smoothly glided into Penn Station shortly after I finished my book (Steel Victory by J.L. Gribble). From there we took the subway heading east, to Franklin Avenue.

One should never judge a city’s public transit, good or ill, based on a weekend experience with its subway. But the service then was good, especially compared to the faded glory of Washington D.C.’s metro system. Tickets were a flat fee of either $2.75 if you purchased a reusable one, or $3 for a single use. The trains’ range was expansive, a web connecting Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx with Manhattan as the primary center point. Despite what Google Maps suggests, it is quite possible to change trains while remaining inside the system (saving you the cost of another ticket).

Fulton Street, the strip nearest our Airbnb, was an eclectic mix of fast food joints, stores and pharmacy chains mingled with local businesses who satisfied any other needs corporations generally do not. We passed street-side vendors trying to sell scarves and pass out literature regarding Islamic faith.

From there we walked west, and I tried to make rhyme or reason of the various city blocks. While the streets took advantage of the grid system, there was little obvious central planning when it came to the various restaurants and businesses. Sometimes we’d pass roads packed with townhouses, sometimes we’d come across a few restaurants and bars at the foot of apartment buildings. As I grew hungrier, it became difficult to try and decide on a place with some meaningful New York appeal.

img_7805It was then we came across Ogliastro Pizza Bar on Washington Avenue. The insides were ritzy and attractive. The Brussels sprout salad was flavorful although I would have appreciated the sprouts slightly charred to impart some bitterness. But we were quite impressed with Coppa pizza: tomato sauce with fior di latte (a type of mozzarella), artichokes that were more mild, red onion slices that were lightly cooked to maintain their pungent aroma. The crowning discovery of capocollo, an improved twist on prosciutto that did not dry out in the oven.

From there, we briefly toured the northern part of Prospect Park before venturing north to handle a little shopping. We toured various shops where I found myself amused by the displays of Hannukah cards, an uncommon novelty in D.C. We sought gifts for a newborn niece in Australia. We sampled delectable chocolates at Cocoa Bar before heading in the direction of our dinner reservation.

With an hour to kill, we stopped by Soda Bar in Brooklyn, and I felt more of the spirit of D.C.’s night life there. There was a whiff of claustrophobia, chalk board signs, holiday decorations… the familiarity was palpable. If I ever found myself a resident of Brooklyn, it would be my watering hole.

As we walked to dinner, I found myself appreciating some Neoyorquinos’ philosophies on life, starting with their preparations for the winter. Being seated near the door was seldom an inconvenience thanks to glass patios installed before most entrances, thus sheltering those by the exit from windows and chill. And, aside from Soda Bar, the city’s peculiar spaciousness, certainly wider than D.C. at times. It was as though the city had tried living in a sardine can decades ago and finally had enough to do something about it.

park-horizontal

Dinner was at Olmsted, a few doors down from the bar. The inside was elegant and we found ourselves seated at the bar. ordered the lamb porchetta and scallops. From our dishes, I gathered that the restaurant’s culinary philosophy revolved around trying to bring out the flavors of individual ingredients to concoct a fulfilling meal. There are those who would love it; the lamb was certainly fresh and the scallops flavorful with umami. I have personally always preferred a more heterogeneous approach to foods, a desire for ingredient combinations to provide a balance.

But that is a topic of conversation to for the second part, during our time in Manhattan on Saturday… when we toured the city’s Christmas decorations.

C’est la Divertissement Vie. (That’s the Entertainment Life.)

Games:

I may seriously never purchase another game from Konami again.

mgsvYes, I’m late to the party. But their last great game, Metal Gear Solid V, was never given the chance to be completed. The game was delivered in an episodic fashion that spanned 50 missions. 51 was supposed to effectively be the game’s final boss battle. Cut material from the collector’s edition showed a half complete last episode, which would have been an excellent note to satisfy one last dangling plot thread and go out with a bang.

It was never released. And according to Konami’s spokesmen, never will be.

This information was never quite clear to me given the layouts of story-focused wikis, or the strategy guides and commentary boards that avoided discussing the plot for fear of spoilers: I only just learned of the mission conclusion after completing 89% of the game. But imagine, if you will, the Harry Potter series sans the final battle with Voldemort and the epilogue. Or Star Wars: Return of the Jedi without the Battle of Endor.

Others have covered the likely cause of this sad state of affairs better than I have, but the likely culprit was the Konami/Kojima split. I’ve played several Kojima games in my life and I know that he would never willingly leave a story incomplete. Of those titles were Zone of the Enders and its sequel, as well as Metal Gear Solid, Sons of Liberty and Snake Eater. While he always had more stories to tell, leaving the current arc incomplete was simply never his style.

Of the game itself, I could see how it was almost a masterpiece. Almost. The game play constantly brings me back again and again for its completeness, it’s total immersive elements. The depth of strategies is profound in and of itself, where no item or weapon ever seems to have just one purpose. Every game play session, I learn something new about how to combat my foes; some trick, a tactic or vantage point I never considered before. Even without the cut ending the story was somewhat weak, but this was countered with dozens of great moments that constantly made me forget vulnerabilities in the overall tale. Mission 51 would probably make me condone this, but I will never know for certain.

That being said, I refuse to give up after coming this far. I’ll see this through to the end but that is all, despite my disappointments and reservations.

Movies:

The Professional: Golgo 13golgo13 feels like something that could and should have been better.

Golgo 13, sometimes known as Duke Togo, is Japan’s answer to James Bond: an ageless, ongoing assassin whose stories often have to entertain without ever developing the man himself. Instead, the creators rely heavily on crafting sensational plot twists, over-the-top sex scenes, backstories for his victims, visually insane villains or researching mind-boggling but physically possible acts of sniping such as ricocheting a bullet off an ocean wave. Anything to avoid piercing the titular character’s stoic demeanor and mysterious allure.

In this film, Mr. Togo is contracted to end the life of Robert Dawson. However, it happens at a sensitive time during a company coronation, when Robert is dubbed the new CEO of a massive, massive enterprise. Although Togo succeeds, the contract’s legacy turns sour as the would-be CEO’s father (the current CEO Dawson) seeks revenge for the death of his son.

The beginning feels almost distracted by another contract that Golgo accepts, which concludes with him being chased by the FBI, CIA and Pentagon. All these agencies under the employ of Dawson himself, who wields his company’s power in a way that the Sherman Antitrust Act was exactly designed to prevent. Despite the threat, Togo seems oblivious to the danger and completes another contract. Only then does he realize how unrelenting the government’s hitmen are, as Golgo’s informants are either killed or turn on him.

The visual style of The Professional was somewhat distracting. While the action scenes were straight forward, coherent and well handled, Director Osamu Dezaki seemed determined to punch up even basic dialogue with flair unnecessarily. The movie also used some CGI animations to handle some helicopter assault scenes, but the technology was simply too immature at the time to effectively tell a story. Likewise, the story concocted several Bond-level villains for Golgo to fight as well, the story actually suffers from the introduction of too many antagonists to effectively develop in its 90 minute running time. However, the final plot twist at the end was somewhat satisfying (highlight to see spoiler): It turns out that Robert Dawson ordered the hit on himself, an act of suicide because of his fear of being unable to live up to his father’s expectations.

Television:

I gave up on Orphan BlackAmazon’s sci-fi series about clones.

“Where’s this madness going?” I asked myself after the ninth episode of season two. The plot consisted of most of the characters milling about in circles. Once again, the protagonist’s daughter had been kidnapped, after a long season of hiding about the countryside to no real effect. Meanwhile, antagonist Helena was stolen by some strange religion-meets-genetics commune who took her eggs. After she escaped and then willfully came back, she threatened a harsh nanny for mistreating the children under her care, not long before Helena sets the compound on flame regardless of the lives of the kids inside.

Characters portrayed by anyone besides Tatiana Maslany became less interesting, and except for concerns regarding a genetic disease amongst the show’s many clones, the entire season felt like little more than “filler.” ggrThe show felt like it willfully resisted growth despite a strong first season. Only Maslany’s skillful acting kept me going this far, as she slips in and out of versions of herself in a believable manner.

On the plus side however was Good Girls Revolt, an amusing and unexpected show actually made me realize how bloody boring Mad Men sometimes was.

I can see how Good Girls Revolt was probably stiff-armed by Amazon for years until the latter show came to an end. Mad Men was/is the Oscar of television, but sometimes didn’t feel like it wore enough of the sixties (at least the pieces we wanted to remember) on its sleeve. GGR certainly does, but the other huge difference is that the series focuses around one major climax that the main characters built towards through behind-the-scenes politicking and subterfuge.

The girls seemed to truly wrestle with their guilt; a sharp contrast to the occasional acts of Mad Men’s cruel, tragic and unapologetic attitude.

The bad news however is that the show isn’t going to get a second season, at least not on Amazon. One aspect downplayed is that GGR is built on real events, namely Newsweek’s EEOC lawsuit in 1969. Although the name was changed to the fictional “News of the Week,” the historic aspects are still very highlighted. It’s safe to doubt that Newsweek enjoyed someone dredging up a nearly 50 year-old legal filing that put them in a bad light. And I could see why Amazon might not want to start a mudslinging contest with the news outlet in all in the name of entertainment.