My thoughts on Urban Fantasy / Paranormal Romance (Part 2)

Whew! Big weekend! I went to Osfest, sat on two panels, hosted another one and, oh yeah, Katie and I put a bid on a house that was accepted! **Continuously dances** No, I’m not telling you where, you creepy internet stalkers. I’m watching you. But not, y’know, in a creepy way. (I’m totally watching you in a creepy way.)

Annnnnywaaaay…awkward.  I’ve got more news coming about WordKeeperAlpha but things are probably going to slow down on it for the next couple months, since we’re going to be moving and I’ll have less time for development.  Trust me though, the next update is going to be HUGE and you’re going to love it.  Not only am I (again) revamping Goals, but Projects too, and a fair amount of the backend.  All that is going to lead directly into the social upgrades that I’ve been promising for so long, AND blog integration.  Also, faster performance.  It’s going to be super spiffy.

Completely ignoring the fact that I used the word “spiffy” in a blog post, lets get back to talking about Urban Fantasy vs. Paranormal romance.   Once again, full disclaimer, I personally don’t care much for paranormal romance.  My word on this is not law, I’m not calling you stupid for locing the crap out of it.  This is just my personal taste and things that I’ve noticed while sampling (often unwittingly) novels in the genre.

On the surface, paranormal romance and urban fantasy look exactly like the same genre.  Both usually feature bad ass (or potentially bad ass) main characters, magic, vampires and or werewolves set in a (mostly) modern setting.  I think the key difference (big surprise) is the focus on the romantic aspect.  I know, duh.  But really that’s all that separates them, or seems to be.  And that, is probably what I don’t like about paranormal romance.  The question of “Will they, won’t they” is given more precedence than “Dude, that evil wizard is just one sacrifice away from turning the world’s cows into insane werecow super-predators.”  Or, it will completely leave out the werecow plot (which is just wasting a terrific idea) and focus on the forbidden love between a completely normal woman and a super-hunky but dangerous angel-werewolf hybrid.  I’m sure that the latter story is fascinating to some people, but I really want to see what happens when the werecows start eating raw people burgers.

No, I’m not letting that drop and it will go into one of my books someday.  “Invasion of the Werecows,” New York times #1 best seller!

Another, in my mind, failing that crops up in paranormal romance is the thrice damned romantic triangle.  Seriously…how many times does the beautiful Mary Sue character really have to choose between the mysterious vampire hottie and the brooding werewolf hottie?  Vampire and werewolf are completely interchangeable as well.

Once again, its not that romance in the story is bad, or that I hate all romantic triangles.  I’ve read urban fantasies where both are handled expertly.  Take the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs, for instance.  The first few books deal quite a bit with the romantic traingle between Mercy and two different alpha werewolves, which, just typing it makes me a little queasy.  But none of the books focus on that.  Its always a side plot to the main conflict in the book, in some books bigger, in some smaller until eventually it becomes a non-issue.  Mercy’s main problem in those books is often keeping herself or those she cares about alive, something that she has serious problems with.  Mercy is a kick-ass heroine who has a well defined character, a standing in the supernatural that makes her believable and relatable and mundane problems to match her supernatural ones. I just wish she didn’t get the shit kicked out of her so often…but that’s kind of what defines her.  Mercy can take a hit just as well as any of her supernatural friends, sometimes far better.  Their respect is earned, not magically given because Mercy is just so naturally talented.  She’s a bad ass, because she can be half murdered, and think herself out of the situation leaving her friends to wonder just how she survived AGAIN.  Her enemies are fools to mess with her, not because of her power, but because of how many threats she’s not only survived, but dealt with decisively.

Maybe I’m just talking about good writing versus bad writing.  Once again, I’m not well read in the official paranormal romance genre, but I’ve come to associate PN with writing that glosses over important character building to focus on the romance aspect instead of the paranormal aspect.  Is it possible to make the romance the main thrust of the plot and still have it be interesting?  Yeah, probably so, but I think that would take a defter hand than mine.  Also, I’m sure that there’s plenty of people who don’t care and just want Bella and Edward to bone in their awkward, completely not messed up way.  And the people who like that are just fine.  They know what they like.  I know what I like.  Doesn’t mean I’m going to stop ragging on Twilight though.  You can only expect so much acceptance and tolerance from me.

 


I got a reply from Representative Brad Ashford

Recently, I poked all the state representatives and senators about upcoming Net Neutrality legistlation that the telecoms have snuck into next year’s, must pass, funding bill.  And Ashford send me a response.  I know, it’s a form letter, but the return address seemed legit.  He may never actually read my thoughts on his response, but that doesn’t mean you lovely people can’t!  Here’s his response:

Dear Seth,

Thank you for contacting my office regarding net neutrality. I appreciate your interest in issues affecting our country and state.

The internet was built to be an equal distribution system. Net neutrality is an effort to solidify the internet as a neutral vehicle for data transfer, as in sending and receiving emails, streaming video, conducting commerce, etc. Concerns have been raised about network providers placing restrictions or discriminatory practices on their networks for different content.

I support an open internet, and oppose blocking, throttling, or the creation of “fast lanes.” We need to foster an open and transparent broadband infrastructure for all Nebraskans, which can grow our economy, and enhance our lives. However, we must be careful not to burden businesses with excessive regulation as this may stunt their vital investment in telecommunication infrastructure.

Again, thank you for sharing your concerns with me. As always, I am open to learning more from you and I appreciate you taking the time to express your views. You may find more useful resources for keeping up with my work by visiting my website https://ashford.house.gov/. I am honored to represent you in Congress.

Sincerely,

Brad Ashford
Member of Congress

And here is what I have to say in response to the honorable Representative:

Representative Ashford,

The telecom industry seems to be remarkably unconcerned with “investing in telecommunication infrastructure” so I don’t really see how regulating them so they are less able to take advantage of their near monopoly will do any harm.  Where I live, right in the middle of downtown Omaha, I have exactly one choice if I want high speed internet, advertised to me with the term “up to 100mbps” and I am luck most days to receive 20 mbps.  In fact, I don’t think I have, even once in two years as their customer seen 100mbps, even when I was paying for 150.  That’s it. I choose Cox, or I don’t get high speed internet.

Combine that with Time Warner and Comcast bringing lawsuits against cities that wish to build their own fiber network that provide reliable gigabit speeds for the same price I’m paying for 20 mbps because its “anti-competitive” and I have remarkably little concern for how these multi-billion dollar industries are burdened by regulation.  I’m a web developer, so my livelihood is closely related to the well being of the internet.  Not only do I develop web sites for the University of Nebraska, but I also am trying to get a web page of my own off the ground.  Seeing the telecom industry actively avoiding investing in infrastructure, and then attempting to keep others from doing so all while saying they should be protected from regulation so they can invest in infrastructure is infuriating.

We know the amount of money that the telecoms spend in Washington every year, and we see bills like this one keep coming up, with protections and considerations for the telecoms, but not for anyone else.  It may not be you, Representative, but its the system and I’m tired of it.  The massive profits of corporations like Time Warner and Comcast do not need your protection, we your constituents do.  We don’t need to avoid regulating the telecoms, we need to place incentives to drive competition.  I need two more (minimum) options to get high-speed internet where I live.  That, and only that, will encourage Cox, Time Warner and the other service providers to bring new technology like fiber to Nebraska at an affordable price…or at least get them to stop lying to me about the service they provide for the ridiculous price they charge me for it.  Don’t keep the telecoms in mind when you’re voting, keep me in mind, because you’re representing me, not the telecoms.

-Seth Swanson

Like I said…he’ll probably never read a word of it.  But just maybe he will, and maybe … Nah.  It’ll be ignored because, really, do I have millions of dollars and thus any influence at all?  Nope.  Oh well, on with the day.

Net Neutrality: Still a battle.

It’s kind of telling that in every piece I read against Net Neutrality, that not a single one of those people actually understand it.  Which isn’t to say that all the people who support it understand what it really is.  That’s kinda the way of politics: people with something to gain convince other gullible people to go along with their stance.

So, lets clear up what Net Neutrality really is.  We can start by taking a look at who stands to gain if we keep Net Neutrality and also who stands to lose.  Consider the names behind Net Neutrality; companies like Google, Netflix, Firefox, Amazon, Microsoft and over a hundred others that have built the internet that you use every day.  What do they have to gain?  In the case of Google, they stand to gain easier access to resources that will help them spread Google Fiber; something I desperately wish would come to my area.

In most other cases, what the companies stand to gain is … nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  For them, things will stay just as they are right now.  This should be conservatives dream issue!  We’re conserving how the net works, as is, right now.  Currently, the internet is a pretty level playing field, speaking in relation to getting your business online.  There aren’t any hurdles to face other than making something and getting it to people.   Net Neutrality isn’t something new that we’re trying to put into place, its how the internet was made in the first place.  What the Title II reclassification that the FCC has approved basically puts protections in place to keep it the way its been.  We’re not fixing something that isn’t broke, we’re trying to keep people from breaking  it.

Now, who stands to lose if Net Neutrality goes through.  First, I suppose I should explain to you what reclassifying broadband under Title II actually means, and why you don’t have to be afraid of it.  Basically, what Title II means is that ISP’s have to treat all information equally.  Every bit that goes along their wires has to be treated the same as every other bit.  This means they can’t give priority to some while slowing others down.  The email you are sending your mom goes at the same speed as the email that the president of Comcast, or the President himself.  That’s it.  That’s Net Neutrality boiled down to its very simplest.  And its why the ISP’s don’t want it.  Comcast, Verizon, AT&T all stand to lose money by being prevented from prioritizing content.

Could reclassifying broadband under Title II come back to bite us?  Ehhhh… maybe, but I doubt it.  TItle II is also what covers telphony services (your phone service).  How many of you are locked into Verizon to make your phone calls?  Don’t like them, what are your other options?  Just about anywhere I can think of you have no less than 5 other options to get your phone service through.  That’s what proper competition looks like.  Now, I’m not calling out Verizon and AT&T as model companies here, but you’ve got other choices, and that’s the whole point.  If Verizon were the only option for phone service in my area, what in the world would keep them from gouging me for every last penny they could suck out of me for the bare minimum of service that they could provide?

Comcast, at the very least, would have you believe that this isn’t the case, and that they are completely dedicated to the principles of Net Neutrality.  They assure us on their own website that “Comcast won’t throttle back the speed at which content comes to you.”  That is a direct quote.  It is also a lie.  Last year, Comcast demanded millions of dollars more from Netflix to stream content to their customers.  During the negotiations, Comcast severely throttled Netflix’s speeds to their customers until they caved.  That’s what Net Neutrality seeks to stop.



Internet Service Providers have spent millions of dollars buying legislation to prevent broadband service from being classified under Title II.  You will hear them spout all sorts of rhetoric about “protecting innovation” and “service to the American people suffering”.  Thing is, they don’t give a good goddamn about the American people.  That is apparent based on the absolutely abysmal customer service ratings and satisfaction ratings that they have.  Most people despise their internet service provider and for good reason.  Prices are high, service and quality is low, and the ISPs really couldn’t care less. 

We do a lot of streaming in my house, and as such, we pay for a higher tier service package, which promises speeds of “up to 100 megabytes per second”.   What that actually translates into is speeds of around 22-30 megabytes per second.  I doubt that there’s ever been a time, even once, when I’ve gotten the speed that I actually paid for.  But I’m just one person.  Of course, I don’t know a single person who’s ever gotten what they paid for.  Actually, I’ve never heard of someone who got what they paid for from their ISP.  If I heard of an ISP that actually provided the service they advertised, I would jump ship so quickly Cox’s head would spin.  Oh wait… I can’t.

In a “free market” when I’m not satisfied by my service, I have the option to choose different service.  This ability gives the people the power to force large corporations like Comcast, Time Warner and Cox, to treat their customers better, and give us a “fair” price, or what the “market” will sustain.    But wait… I CAN’T choose another provider because the major service providers have divided up the country and agreed not to compete.  This gives them no incentive to provide me with a better product, better service, or lower prices.  If I want broadband service, Cox is my only choice and I have to live with what they provide at the price they provide it at.  Tell me, libertarians who don’t want more regulation: how is the free market going to help me?  

“But Seth! Government regulation is BAD! It restricts growth and prevents innovation!”  

Bullshit. Sure, certain regulation can be abused and used against people, but regulation also protects people, the customers, from corporations who couldn’t give two rats asses about them.   Look around yourselves and pay attention.   When I read libertarian stances its almost like they’re talking about the “free market” as if it were some sort of benevolent god, or God himself, making his will for equality in all things known.  Sorry princess, doesn’t work like that.

Cities like Chatanooga, TN are putting in their own municiple, city run fiber networks that provide speeds of up to 1000 megabytes per second.   They provide residents with a couple tiers of packages, at prices that beat the stockings off of what local ISP’s are offering.  Instead of responding by lowering the prices of their own service in the area, ISPs are moving to block more cities from installing their own municiple networks at the local and state levels.  They coerce cities into legally binding contracts that prevent them from providing competition to their services, or they simply pay state legistlatures to pass laws that serve the same purpose.  This, is your precious “free market”.  A market where those with the most money are free to do as they wish.

I urge you.  Actually research Net Neutrality and don’t just listen to Ted Cruz, or any other mouthpiece of the Tea Party, because they either don’t know what they are talking about, or have been out and out bought by the cable industry. I know … “No, Seth! They’re patriots who want to protect our rights from the evil of Government!”  I’m going to call bullshit again.  

  1. The government isn’t going to be running the internet.  The NSA is already spying on every goddamn person in the US…so worrying that they’re going to do it MORE is a little dumb. (This is an issue for a whole other post.)
  2. You can’t have things both ways.  Either the government is an incompetant bungler that can’t do anything right, or its an Orwellian monstrosity that is reaching into every part of our lives to control us through internet and water flouridation.
  3. Take a look at your mighty heroes.  Then take a look at where their campaign finances come from.  Ted Cruz accepted what any sane person would consider a ludicrous amount of money from the ISP’s and now he’s against the issue that they are against?  Granted, he can still be straight up dumb… I’ll leave that up to you to decide.
  4. Your rights need just as much protection from large corporations as they do against the government. 

Well, the good news is that the FCC has reclassified broadband under Title II, and they have some other things in mind that would help increase competition, and encourage more cities like Chatanooga to install their own municiple broadband.  The bad news is that the ISP’s are buckling down and attempting to get legislation through Congress that would make the ruling of the FCC moot.  We’ve still got a fight ahead of us, but I think its worth fighting.  The internet might be stuffed to the gills with porn and various unsavory memes and morons, but its also a driving force of freedom, the economy, and information for the entire world.  It deserves to be protected, not monetized in any way possible.


The Dragon That Can’t be Fought

With the demise of Borders, the battle of eBooks is one that is primarily fought between Barnes and Nobles and Amazon. I won't discount Kobo, Sony or Apple, but in my mind they are three minor players in this particular battle. For my own part, I have a Kindle. I've had one for roughly three years now and I love it. If I were stranded on a desert island with only one piece of tech (and a solar charger) I would choose my Kindle without a seconds hesitation. Out of all the little gizmo's I have, it is without a doubt my favorite one. It even beats out the iPad, upon which I am writing this right now.

Chances are though, that if I had a Nook, it would be my favorite device. Really, the eReader itself is just the platform that allows me to enjoy well over 300 books on a device that weighs less than a paperback. I know, I know. Some people will go on and on and on about how you just can't read without the feel of the paper turning or blah blah blah. Sure, your physical book doesn't need to be recharged either…but that's not really much of a concern anymore. I plug the sucker in once a month and I'm good to go, despite how bloody much I can read when I really get into something.

Whether you like it or not, whether you have a Nook, or a Kindle or a Kobo or just use your cheap Android tablet or even your phone, eBooks are here to stay. Here me now, believe me later if you must, but eBooks are to Books, as mp3s were to CD's (as CD's were to tapes). And this is the point: There will always be a place for physical books, but the eBook will be the future, and just like with the music industry dragging its feet when digital music came about, the established publishing industry is having to be dragged into the future kicking and screaming.

Right now, Amazon is using some pretty shadey tactics to dictate its own terms to the publishing industry. Take the recent frakas between Amazon and Hatchet. Its really hard to brand Amazon as anything but the heavy of the piece. Yeah, they might be trying to get a better deal for authors, but they're also trying to get a better deal for themselves, and that's probably the most important thing for them. With every move it makes, Amazon is trying to corner more and more of the eBook market, and largely, its kicking ass.

The major publishers, the Big 6, (or is it 5 now?) don't like this. And I can understand why they wouldn't. Amazon is doing all sorts of crazy shit, like making an all you can read eBook service that tastes a lot like Netflix for books. Lets all remember what exactly Netflix did to Blockbusters for a minute. Anyone been to a Blockbuster lately, except for the going out of business sales? They're offering royalties that make a LOT of authors (myself included) wonder why they'd want to go with a traditional publisher. Not only that, but they're doing their level best to make sure that those same authors keep their books with Amazon as exclusively as possible. They've offered eBooks for a nominal price if you've bought the physical book with them any time in the past. You can RENT school books from them. They just introduced a book crowdsourcing service for indie authors that give some pretty good incentives for non-established authors.

You see that big list of stuff Amazon is doing up above? Every one of those things is something that the Big 6 should have doing. The problems they are having with Amazon being too big and powerful now? Its entirely their fault. Is Amazon right in throwing its weight around? Eh… I don't know. Will we regret it if they get an effective monopoly over the new publishing world. Most likely. Still, if the Big 6 don't like how Amazon is using its power now, they have only themselves to blame.

Seriously guys. This was your game to lose and, lets face it, you're losing. You even had a ready made ally in your corner in Barnes and Nobles. Their entire business was built on selling books… and now its half selling books, half selling other stuff and coffee. Not only that but there's TONS of indie bookstores you could have worked with. A year after Amazon started doing its “buy a physical book and get the eBook for a little more” thing, I still can't go to a Barnes and Nobles, buy the book and also get an eBook sent to me, even if I owned a Nook. That's just plain stupid.

I'll admit, several publishers are coming around, getting wise about how winds in publishing are going to blow. Tor and Baen are getting pretty good in the new digital world, as I would expect from people who publish genre fiction. It used to be you couldn't even buy Baen eBooks on the Kindle, BUT you could buy them from their own site, and all their books were priced damn good, were free of DRM and came in multiple formats. They didn't NEED to work through Amazon because they went and made their own system. If a publisher their size did it, there is absolutely no reason why the Big 6 couldn't have. If readers knew where to get their authors for cheaper, Amazon would lose a lot of its gas. Or at least, it would have.

Instead, the big publishing houses got scared of piracy. They slapped DRM on their books and raised prices because…reasons. I would love a reason from Penguine why the Dresden Files eBooks actually used to cost MORE than the paperbacks. No no… I'll wait. I am a Dresden Files FANATIC and I would have snapped them up without hesitation, even though I already own most of the paperbacks, and some hardcovers. But when you tell me that I have to pay $2 MORE for the eBook than I paid getting the paperback, there's something wrong with your brain. Its mistakes like that and many others that put you in your current position, and Amazon in their's.

I had brief hopes that the book publishing industry wouldn't have to learn the same lessons that the music publishing industry had to learn. Unfortunately, it seems that change is scary no matter what your business in. But hey, maybe its not too late. Like I said, its still your game to lose Big 6. If you want to beat Amazon at its own game you're going to have to start changing your mindset. If you embrace the digital change, start treating your authors better, and start courting the indie, there's no reason you can't take some of your own back. Not that you will… but I live in eternal hope that someone will listen to my advice. Now, if anyone of you is interested in an increasingly epic fantasy about an evil empire cast in the role of the good guys, I will instantly rewrite this to cast you as the hero of the piece. Let me know. I will completely be your bitch for a good publishing deal. Just sayin'. Think about it. Call me. Please?

Alright. Yeah. I'm coming on a little too strong. How about we give it a couple days and see how we're both feeling then?


Tropes Vs. Women in Video games deserves your respect

Every time Anita Sarkeesian, creator of Feminist Frequency and Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games, comes out with a new video in her series, I feel like I need to write a post because the same thing happens every time. Before we get going into this I’m going to set the tone. Do I agree with absolutely everything Anita says in her videos? No. I think that some things she points out are reaching a little too far, and that storytelling should excuse some of the faults she points out. We’re not going into those because they don’t matter.

Why don’t they matter? Because they’re her opinion and she has every right to express herself online and the sad fact is, that while I may not agree with her on some points, she raises a great many concerns that I agree with whole-heartedly. Even if I didn’t agree with her, she has every right in the world to express her opinions and concerns with the gaming industry freely and without fear of being singled out.

Is that what happens? No. With every new video she is met with an ever increasing amount of bile and misdirected rage. Bile? No, that’s not quite the right word. Let me try again. For the simple crime of speaking her mind and standing up for what she believes in she is met with behavior so foul and putrid, so revoltingly infantile and rank, that bile would be a considerable step up. There are times it makes me ashamed to call myself a gamer, to associate with the group of moronic ass-hats that claim they are defending my hobby.

What sort of behavior am I talking about? Well, it ranges from standard troll activity, loathsome on the best of days, to threats of death and rape, threats so specific and threatening that Anita actually had to leave her home for fear of her own safety last month. Why? Because she says that video games have a problem with sexism. That female characters in games are often treated little better as props or eye candy for male gamers to fantasize about. What is she asking for? Not for the industry to change overnight, but for people to start thinking about it and to start pushing for a broader range of characters in video games. She’s not invading your home and taking away your Grand Theft Auto disc, but she is pointing out how differently the game treats its male and female characters.

For this heinous crime, she is reviled by an extremely vocal and disturbing minority of gamers. There is a level of contempt and anger directed at Anita Sarkeesian, and other women in the industry, that you’d expect to be directed at an ACTUAL murderer, instead of someone who’s saying “There’s too much violence against women in video games.”. From the hate directed her way you’d think that she was some sort of baby eating monster… but no. She’s articulate, well spoken, says things that people don’t agree with and has the audacity to be a woman while doing it. The nerve.

And Anita isn’t alone. Her treatment is more par for the course for women in gaming than it is the exception and this saddens me so much.  Zoe Quin, creator of Depression Quest and other games I haven’t played because I have no damn time, has recently been at the center of what can only be described as a “shit storm”.  Don’t believe me?  Read her own account of it.  Am I just taking her word for it?  YES!  Part of the problem is that some people (men) don’t believe women when they talk about the kind of shit they have to deal with online.  Me?  I tend to refer to John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Dickwad Theory: Normal Person + Anonymity + Audience = Total Dickwad.  See the scientific research here.  Basically, we need to teach people that online is not different from real life.  What you do and say online doesn’t “not count”.  If you threaten to rape or kill someone online just because they have the audacity to have opinions or lifestyles different then YOU are the bad guy.  You’re the stain on society’s underpants.

The thing is, Anita is absolutely right. We need change in the gaming world. We need more inclusive games, we need more women protagonists who are more than just male characters with a different skin to give them boobs. We could really benefit from the stories that would result from games told from perspectives that aren’t aimed at “Male: age 15-35.” How many times do we have to tread over the World War II, first person shooter ground? There are different stories to tell, and different audiences who might love them.

I know.  I’m not saying anything that hasn’t been said before, better and by smarter more eloquent people.  Just take a look, you’ll find it.  All I really want to do is take a stand and say that, whether I agree with her completely or not, Anita should be listened to, considered, and treated with respect. Everyone deserves that right; to be able to say what they believe and not have to fear that doing so will get their personal information leaked, and their very well being put at risk. I’m not saying you’ve got to agree with her, or with me, just don’t be a horrible, disease of a person about it.