Tag Archives: Alasdair Stuart

Not The Fox News: Nostalgia, Escapism and The Overton Window

So I’ve been thinking a lot about nostalgia recently, and how it connects to both escapism and the Overton Window.

There are jokes this month I SWEAR.

First off, nostalgia! It’s what was for dinner when you were a kid! You seem to remember!

We always look at the past through rose tinted glasses, even the parts of it which were less the best days of our lives and more the days of our lives we just had to GET.THROUGH. Things were easier in the past. TV was better. Adulting is hard. We didn’t used to be tired all the time.

At least two of those things are true but those Rose-tinted glasses are not twenty-twenty. Yes, I had more free time when I was 16. I also had dial up internet access, VHS video tapes and there was a single pizza joint within 30 miles of my house. We focus on the stuff that’s easy and fun because it was easy and fun. We don’t think, a lot of the time, about the awful stuff. Just the day to day drudge, that sense we sometimes get of these just being the weeks we have to get through to reach the next bit that’s good. Kate Bush once sang ‘Just being alive, it can really hurt’. She was right. Also being alive can often be really REALLY irritating and while I choose to believe that was in early drafts of the song, I feel the version she went with scanned better.

So nostalgia is an understandable reaction, especially in 2017: Year of The White Hot Garbage Fires Running The Western World. And that’s what leads to escapism.

I am a huge fan of escapism. I am sane and healthy in no small part due to being able to escape into a movie for two hours at a time. If anyone ever tells you escapist fiction is inferior or unneeded yell at them to get off your fucking dragon and fly back to your ice cube castle because it’s a lifesaver and you need it. In fact, I’d say escapism is mandatory now more than ever. We are almost incapable of being free of extra signal and the temptation to always be connected is a very strong one. It’s also one that will first exhaust and then kill you. Don’t let it. Escape.

Where I have an issue is where the two combine. Nostalgia, especially in genre, is more endemic than grumpy chaps in hoods, short people on walking holidays to volcanoes and female and POC authors being erased from the collective narrative.

Actually not as much as that last one.

Seriously though, throw a rock and you’ll hit something bemoaning the lack of golden age rockets, or pulp storytelling or the sort of stories that were told when all this was nowt but fields. It’s perpetuated by the success of genre fiction’s biggest TV shows and movies too. Star Wars began in 1977. Doctor Who is over 50 years old. Star Trek was airing for the first time during the Vietnam War. The future really is yesterday or sometimes seems that way.

And that brings us to the Overton Window. Here’s how Wikipedia describe it:

The Overton window, also known as the window of discourse, is the range of ideas the public will accept. It is used by media pundits.[1][2] The term is derived from its originator, Joseph P. Overton (1960–2003),[3] a former vice president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy,[4] who in his description of his window claimed that an idea’s political viability depends mainly on whether it falls within the window, rather than on politicians’ individual preferences.[5] According to Overton’s description, his window includes a range of policies considered politically acceptable in the current climate of public opinion, which a politician can recommend without being considered too extreme to gain or keep public office.

 

And here’s a picture:

Basically the Overton Window is what society will accept at any given time. It’s moving right now and not in a good direction but for the purposes of this column let’s focus on the model and not the data. Because that idea can also be applied to genre fiction. Specifically genre TV for the purposes of this article.

Substitute the Overton scale for a timeframe. Park that time frame over the Victorian Era at one end and the 1970s at the other. That’s the period that influences a remarkable amount of genre fiction, even now. That’s in part because we live in a world where decades old cultural behemoths stride the zeitgeist plains like merchandise friendly lobstrocities from the end of The Mist. But it’s also partially because that time frame is what the culture we’ve grown up in draws from. It’s like the old marching song ‘we’re here because we’re here because…’. We’ve always lived in the Castle. We’ve always drawn inspiration from and escaped to these time periods.

 

Wouldn’t it be great if that changed?

 

Wouldn’t it be great if we could shift that window forward in time and, in doing so, provide a new cultural foundation for a whole range of stories?

 

I can even give you an example. Life on Mars was beloved, and deservedly so, in the UK. It wa as fiercely smart, metaphysical and metafictional take on the traditional cop show. Chock full of stereotypes that it also interrogated and satirized, it was deeply weird, profoundly odd TV.

It’s sequel, Ashes to Ashes, was better.

Not just because the addition of a female lead changed the show’s perspective immeasurably. Not just because it provided answers to every question Life on Mars left dangling. It was better because the cultural frame of reference was noticeably different. Instead of yet another British TV show trapped in the dour, blocky cars and terrifying facial hair of the 1970s, it was catapulted forward into the 1980s.

I was a kid in the ’80s in one of the most rural areas possible. Vibrant, and often awful, music and fashion aside it still frequently SUCKED. Seeing that acknowledged in Ashes to Ashes, as well as the amazing music and clothes, made the show feel completely unique even as it was woven from very familiar cloth. It felt, as the series both opened and closed, that we’d made some progress, that things had been, like the man once said, pushed forwards.

That doesn’t happen enough. But it does happen some and increasingly in a manner that’s less nostalgic and far more interesting. Firefly’s influence on The Expanse and Killjoys is obvious for example but neither show is beholden to their predecessor. Killjoys uses a multi-ethnic future to explore both the ethics of being a professional killer and the future of human society. The Expanse puts the diversity equations that Firefly toyed with front and Centre and resolves them into one of the most interesting, well rounded casts in recent history. And of course Stranger Things drags that window forward, dumps it over the 1980s and does truly extraordinary things with that time period.

None of these shows do anything particularly new. All of them do what they do extraordinarily well precisely because of what they use to build those familiar stories. They take time periods or influences that sit in living memory and use them as a foundation to do something new and vital in every sense of the word. And right now, that’s absolutely what we need. Something new. A better place to escape into. One where the new future will be built.

There’s a lot of talk about the Golden Age of TV and it always seems to have just finished. I’d argue that by moving that cultural window we have the potential to keep it rolling. Stranger Things was both a massive success and good. The Expanse has just been renewed, as has fellow drawn-from-the-90s show 12 Monkeys. Their success has raised the viability and visibility off the genre which has led to edgier projects such as Falling Water, 3%, The Leftovers and The OA being commissioned. Odds are you don’t like at least two of those shows. That’s the point. They are the antithesis of nostalgia. Something new built from something new and they only exist because of the environment created by the shows built on the nostalgia window.

Nostalgia is fine. Escapism is a basic human right. But like everything else, the tenets of escapist fiction cannot stand still or it will stop being somewhere we escape to and become something we are trapped in. That’s why it’s great that Buffy is 20 years old and still means so much. Because in a few more years, that will become the basis for something new, the window will shift again and we’ll grow, as a culture, again. It won’t be pretty. It won’t be fast. But it will happen. It will be great. And it’ll have a badass theme tune.

Not The Fox News: The February Rundown

Hi! Happy New Year! I hope your festive season of choice was fun and relaxing. I’ve had a surprisingly virulent cold for the last ten days or so and am just coming up to speed. So, in the spirit of being nice to my brain and trying something new here, let’s talk about a few things briefly.

Opening Number

That’s there for two reasons. Firstly because it’s one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite bands and secondly because it’s what we all need. We are, as I write this, roughly six weeks and change into the New Year. I’ve spent over half that time really surprisingly ill. On the one hand this was kind of great, thanks to the Complete Veronica Mars boxed set I got for my birthday. On the other, it means I’m ten days in the hole on every deadline I have.

Worse still, part of me didn’t want to go back to work.

I love my job, don’t get me wrong. 2016 may have been a dumpster set alight, filled with human sewage and rolled down hill into a Nuclear Waste Dump but I did some of my all-time favorite work in that year. It’s not that I didn’t want to go back to it, I did.

It’s just that, well, I’ll let Chuck explain.

Writing in this instance meaning work.

We all feel this way. We all look at our careers and our lives and wonder if we’ll ever get what we want. Odds are, we won’t get all of it. Odds are, we will get some of it. As long as one thing happens.

We persevere.

So, cut yourself a break. Don’t kick your ass for not doing enough and don’t push when you really feel like you can’t. But don’t stop either. Don’t ever stop. Like the man says, one step, one punch, one round at a time. You’ve got this. And we’re right there with you.

Sell Yourself, Not Your Digity. Or Anyone Else’s.

Earlier this year, an author successfully dominated a genre fiction news cycle by faking a Twitter beef with then not-quite new President of the United States.

Stop and drink that in:

An author. Who wanted to sell more books. Faked attack tweets. From the imminent President of the United States. A man who probably holds grudges against a sub-par breakfast.

It went viral too. 12,000 or so retweets, some celebrity endorsements and then ‘Lol, soz just satire.’

There are so many ways this is stupid, so many ways it’s the textbook definition of a DICK MOVE we don’t have the words for it. Want to know the best one?

I knew this had happened. But I still had to google the author’s name.

Here’s the thing about parody; it needs to be funny.

Here’s the other thing about parody; in the post-looking glass, Brexit-riddled, Trans-Atlantic dumpster fire we now live in parody, or its snarky oh so ironic sibling, satire need to be really REALLY careful about when they leave their rooms.

Doing this, rightly or wrongly, played on people’s fears to sell a book. The folks out there terrified they’re going to lose the health care they need to survive? Or their jobs? Or the laws that stop discrimination against them? They have very good reason to react without checking. When marketing games them like this it not only plays on their fears but only makes them angrier and more depressed.

To sell a book.

Plus this won’t be the last time. The campaign worked. Which means others are on the way. Which means that ‘Sad!’ and ‘Yuge’ will become default punctuation. Which means the way he speaks will be normalized. Which means everything else will be normalized.

To sell a book.

So what can we take away from this? Other than a headache and a gnawing sense that we should just put Johnny Cash albums on and drink until we pass out?

That’s easy. Don’t do it.

We talk a lot about how to promote yourself here because it’s one of those things authors never figure out all the way. It’s really easy to think there’s a magic bullet, and pop culture certainly looks like it. When all everyone is talking about is one person or thing, you want to get some of that action. That’s how impressionists happen. That’s why SNL is decades old. That’s why every English satirist is currently sitting in the same pub wondering if it’s too late to retrain.

But that’s not all there is.

There’s you as well.

Be you. Be honest. Be polite and be persistent. That means engaging. That means listening. That means changing your approach. And most of all it means, you guessed it, perseverance. One step, one punch, round at a time. You got this.

Unless you fake beef with POTUS. Then you don’t have a damn thing.

And Finally
Self Care! It’s what’s for dinner! In fact the very acceptance of dinner as a concept implies you’re taking care of yourself! And trust me you really need to. The news right now is, much like it was last year, a never ending hellstorm of awfulness. It’s very easy to get dragged in. Don’t do that. That’s bad. Instead, hydrate, eat protein when you can, take regular stretch breaks and be nice to yourself. This is a good place to start if you can:

Lion Spaceships, y’all. You know it makes sense. See you in March.

Not the Fox News: Closing the ‘Satan’s Pinterest’ Tab

Show of hands, who’s tired?

Not just tired, but bone weary, punched out, ready for this relentless dumpster fire shitshow fucktastrophe of a trip around the Sun to be over so we can burn its bones, salt the ground it’s buried in and scatter the ashes over that entrance to Hell looking crater in Russia?

Seriously, that’s a place.

I’m not going to tell you it’s going to be okay.

It’s not.

It isn’t.

On this side of the Atlantic a feud between sociopath public schoolboys has escalated into whatever the unholy union of a farce, a tragedy, a horror story and the opening montage of Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake is called. In the US, a reality TV show host has been elected to the highest office in the land and his chief advisers will be an actual honest-to-God white supremacist and a man who looks like darkest timeline Beeker.

And in the middle, drowning in a sea of thinkpieces, tweetstorms, accidental falsehoods and willful deceptions? Us.

What a fucking year.

I don’t have answers for you. Hell, I don’t have answers for me short of playing ‘Stuck in Lodi’ on loop for the next four years and trying to pretend the inevitable Yes, Minister remake will be funny and not a screaming existential plummet into the heart of shitty, if-wet-in-village-hall British horror. In the dictionary under the definition of ‘Shit is All Fucked Up’? There is a picture of all of us right now.

But I do have an idea.

And I hate it, because it’s a truism and I hate truisms because if we didn’t have them? Someone would have gone and rescued that kitten hanging off a tree instead of taking a photo of the poor little bastard and retiring off the takings from their HANG IN THERE! Posters.

But I have a story for you. And I promise you it’s true. And SUCKS. Here it is:

 

Keep going.

Try harder.

 

And you know the really awful thing? It actually is true.

 

toby

Mine too, Toby. Mine too.

Let’s go with that top one first because it’s going to be the hardest one to do in the short term. Right now, you’re glued to social media or the news trying to work just when it was you fell through that hole to the parallel dimension where people think a man whose failed to be elected seven times is a legitimate political force. You’ve got your guard up, your eyes wide, shoving as much info as possible into your brain.

The bad news is this; you’re going to get tired, you’re going to get blindsided and you’re going to get there much faster by refusing to step away.

The good news, and I use good advisedly, is this; other people will cover you when you step off the attention line. Take the footage of that Venezuelan march that was passed around as an anti-Trump march in LA a few days ago. The bad news is it was mislabeled and went viral. The good news is that it was caught and that also went viral.

Your watch is not going to be 24 hours a day. Step away. Drink some water. Play a game. Eat some carbs. Or more carbs. Or protein. Or carbs. And water. Water’s important.

Once you’ve done that, back to work.

 

Got a short story? Finish it.

Got a novel? Finish it?

Article? Finish it

Podcast? Finish it

NaNoWriMo? FINISH IT

 

Persistence is the single most immutable force in human society. If you keep going, if you keep working regardless of what else is happening around you, regardless of what other people or you put in your way? YOU WILL WIN. You will look and feel like 8000 miles of bad road when you do sometimes but you won’t care. Because you’ll have got there when almost no one else has.

Keep going. Keep going to shut up the people who said you couldn’t. Keep going to get the words out of your head. Keep going so you learn you CAN keep going. Remember that lesson. Rest up. Start again.

And when you do, Try Harder.

Writers are magpies. We dive on what looks shiny and emulate it as best we can. In doing so we destroy it and remake it in our own image and that creates something new. That’s the process, it always has been. We learn, we imitate, we create.

But we can’t keep imitating the same things. The social media bubble universes that have wrought incalculable damage this year encourage us to talk and think to people who talk and think like us. It’s like an ideological proscenium, amplifying the right notes and leading everyone to sing along with the choir.

The choir, any choir, EVERY choir, drowns out other voices. And that’s what got us here.

Sing off key. Go off book. Try something new.

Try this: Get a whiteboard. List the characteristics of what you normally like. Let’s say:

Science fiction

Male authors

Published in last two decades

Spaceships

Explosions

Exploding spaceships

 

Now turn your back on that. Because you know that field and because, bluntly, the day science fiction novels featuring exploding spaceships and written by dudes aren’t turned out nineteen to a dozen? Is the day the world ends and you’ll have bigger concerns.

So, with that at your back, your list would look like:

Fantasy, Horror, Literature

Female authors

Published in the last 50 years

Ghosts

Family secrets

Family ghosts

I know, I know ‘But I like spaceships?’ right?

Me too bunky. But here’s the thing. If there is one concept I’m taking out of this year it’s that the Reader’s Burden is very definitely here and not enough people are shouldering it.

The Reader’s Burden is this; there is a colossal amount of brilliant work out there. You cannot hope to read it all. But if all you read is what you know you like, then you do yourself a disservice. Worse still you keep the conversation focused on that, ensuring that no new authors break through and the window of perspective doesn’t change.

Or to put it another way, read Heinlein. But read Kameron Hurley too.

The idea of different perspectives being valid is going to spend the next four years trapped in the corner eating punch after punch from an opponent who has no business being anywhere near civilized discourse.

Don’t let that happen.

Read, watch, play, listen, interact with culture outside your comfort zones because if you don’t then you’ll be half the writer you deserve to be and half the culture we deserve will be standing at the end of this. If we’re lucky.

Don’t be lucky.

 

Be scared. Be angry. Be demoralized. Then keep going and try harder. And when you need a hand? Ask for one. Because we’re all doing it too.

 

If you’re looking for stuff that will directly help in the US, try this or this.

Not The Fox News: Panel Beaten

Special thanks this month to Den Patrick and James Smythe, who helped shape the central idea in this column. Go buy their books, they’re ace.midamericon-2

Convention season is (mostly) over for me for the year. I’m incredibly lucky in that my job takes me to shows like WorldCon (Which was in Kansas City or, as I like to call it, the Beef Singularity), EdgeLit, Nine Worlds and FantasyCon. Being able to see how both sides of the Atlantic, and every scale of show, do things is a really interesting experience. Especially as there’s one thing none of those shows managed to do;

Got out of their panelist’s way.

I’m not slamming the organizers here. I’ve worked that side of the fence, I know how hard and how utterly thankless a task it is. What I am criticizing is the culture they’re having to work inside, one inherited from decades of calcifiied and at times no longer relevant experience. Experience that actively stops authors doing their jobs.

Here’s an example, which demonstrates both how conventions and authors need to change; Fantasycon 2009/10, I sat in the audience for that year’s ‘YA? To Be Viewed With Fear? Or Merely Suspicion?‘ Panel. One of the panelists was an American author whose debut novel had just come out. He had a copy with him and, inevitably, referenced it a lot during the panel. Not only is this fine, but he also managed to make a running gag out of it.

Given that other panel members were snarktweeting about him as the panel was happening, I’m guessing it didn’t go down as well with them as it did with me.

I’ve thought about that day a lot recently. It was a miserable convention as everything I attended from that particular era of the BFS was, but that’s not why it’s been playing on my mind. Rather, it’s been coming up a lot more because I’ve now seen four conventions in a row where authors haven’t just not promoted their work, they’ve blithely accepted that they shouldn’t really have to. There’s a feeling, and I’ve heard a real human say this, with words, in the 21st century, that it should be the publishers’ job.

In an ideal world, yeah it probably should.

Take a look outside.

There was a clown out there wearing a DRUMPF 2016 t-shirt and crying about Harambe wasn’t there?

Thought so.

edge-lit

Ugly Truth time. Authors have to promote their own work right now. You just do. You can complain about it all you want but every time you don’t bother promoting your work, fifteen other people are promoting their’s. You can turn in the best work you’ve ever done, you can actually write the Great American Novel or the next Girl With A Pearl Earring Tattoo On The Train and I PROMISE you absolutely no one will give shit one unless you tell people about it.

Feel awkward? Feel like it’s not good enough? Feel like you’re bothering people?

Good.

In order:

1) Suck it up, you’re a ghost buster.

2) Everyone feels that way about everything ever.

3) YOU ARE NOT BOTHERING PEOPLE.

Seriously the moment you hit that unease, stay there because you’re probably talking about your stuff just the right amount. Case in point; we interact with kickstarter campaigns three times before we decide whether or not to pledge. In order to do that we need to be reminded that the campaign exists twice. Same goes for every form of retail interaction ever. So, you need to be talking about your work at least three times during the lifetime of a project. And by ‘lifetime’ I mean three times a day until your next project comes out.

A quick aside; it is absolutely possible to over promote. Automated DMs on twitter and using 3-35 hashtags in a tweet are really good ways to over promote and annoy people. Don’t do those.  Instead do what works for you and what makes you feel just a little frightened. That fear is your friend. Shows you’re pushing yourself.

fantasycon-by-the-seaSo that’s ‘Should authors self-promote?’ Answered. And oddly without using the word YES in 72 point block capitals. This time.

Now, conventions!

For some reason, the panel format has become both the default and a blanket to smother authors’ own priorities beneath. It’s not intentional and is clearly one of those dusty pieces of ancestral wisdom that’s been around so long none of us can tell whether or not it’s bad because it’s what we’ve always done.

Here’s the thing; it’s really bad and, crucially, unfair.

We need to stop doing it. Here’s how.

Encourage authors to talk about their books on the panel. If they want copies up there, so much the better! These are people who, odds are, have paid hundreds of pounds to attend the event and who are so conditioned by the industry wide inferiority complex we labor under that they’re not going to promote their work without being told they’re allowed.

TELL THEM THEY’RE ALLOWED.

Be prepared for some of them to hug you when you do.

Mix the format up a little bit. Here are a few ideas:

 

Podcast Everything

A few years ago, our esteemed leader at Fox Spirit very successfully ran a podcast track of every single panel at Fantasycon and Alt Fiction. The fact this has never been followed up on mystifies me. Yes you need to get releases from people but that’s the sort of legal boilerplate that takes very little research. From a technical point of view you can go old school and just record panels with a voice memo app and a smartphone from the desk the panelists are sitting behind. Feeling fancy? Talk to the hotel about using the built in audio system, get a mixer, and you’re away. None of this stuff is hard, it’s just new. And if you do decide to do this? Please get in touch. If we can’t help, then we know podcasters who can.

 

Magazine Showcases

Panels are fine but there are lots of other ways you can present guests. MidAmericon II did really interesting work with Magazine Showcases this year. They had each publication attending (Or publisher in my company, Escape Artists’,  case) present a panel featuring some of their authors and staff. I attended all these panels and it was a brilliant way to cover a lot of ground, and a lot of authors, in a small space of time.

 

TED Talks!

Or perhaps TOD talks just in case their lawyers are present! I tried this on the Comics track at Nine Worlds this year and it worked really well. Extended, 10-15 minute presentations by individual authors on something close to their heart and related to their work. We were able to get Paul Cornell and Laurie Penny in to talk about the history and symbology of UFO incidents and John Constantine respectively and it was great. Both subjects were tied back to their own work, both went far more in depth normal and the twin needs of self-promotion and added information value for the convention were met brilliantly.

 

Kill The Trade Hall, Save The Trade Hall

Nine Worlds’ Expo and MidAmericon II’s shopping section were the only two conventions this year I’ve seen do retail close to right. Far too often, publishers’ and booksellers’ tables are crammed away in a corner or, worse still, split across multiple locations. Don’t do that. Instead, do this:

 

-Put a book table in every room you have book events. Make sure they have a cash float or if you’re feeling fancy, electronic sales facilities. If you aren’t feeling fancy? A cash float of 50 to 70 pounds and a hand written receipt ledger will sort you out. You have a volunteer in there anyway so give them something to do other than hold up a 5 MINUTES LEFT sign.

-Pre load the table, that morning, with stock written by every author who will be in the room that day.

-As each new panel begins, load the table with books by the new set of panelists.

-At the end of the panel, use the 15 minute inter-room shuffle to give people a chance to buy books by the folks they’ve just spent an hour listening to.

Every single author in that room over the course of your show will sell books. Every single trader will thank you for putting their work directly in front of interested authors. You will be lauded as brilliant, maverick innovators in a field that still sometimes sighs nostalgically about the terrible hotels it decided it deserved in the early ’00s. This is a universally good thing, a moment of Ecclestonian joy

Everyone Lives

Look at him! Look at his little pointy face! You could elicit that joy in authors, publishers and convention goers! All you have to do is try something new and when it works, which it will, other people will follow your example. Then? We can finally start making panels a way of building the future instead of endless cover versions of the past.

Not the Fox News: The Reader’s Duty

Hi! How’ve you been?

Since last we spoke I’ve:

-Attended Nine Worlds 2016 and run their comics programming.

-Attended MidAmericon II where I ran two panels, was on several more and attended a whole bunch.

-Eaten a lot of barbecue.

-Spent four days in Atlanta talking to the various Escape Artists staff we have out there.

-Seriously, it was a LOT of barbecue.

-Come back to the UK where we moved house and town and met the movers at the new place about four hours after getting off the plane.

-Done two podcast interviews.

It’s been a bit intense.

Also great.

Also it was a LOT of barbecue.

 

The upshot of this is I’m just about back into the groove and, in returning to said groove, I’ve been thinking about what the next NTFN should be. It was nearly a piece on panel etiquette for audience, panellists and moderators alike and that one may still be coming. At present it’s a page of notes orbiting the phrase ‘DON’T BE AN ASSHOLE’ so I’m guessing there’s some work still to do there.

Instead I find myself thinking more and more about one of the conclusions every panel I saw seemed to either articulate or come close to articulating;

This is the age of the Reader. More specifically, The age of the reader’s duty.

Here’s the thing. Whether talking about tabletop RPGs, computer games, board games, novels, comics or any one of a dozen other art forms there are three truths that keep coming up; there’s more signal than noise, it’s hard to find an audience and that places a very different, very positive obligation on readers.

It’s traditional to think of the cultural atmosphere we move through as being predominantly noise. In a lot of cases it still is; go take a look at Twitter moments or what the trending topics are. Better still, click on any trending hashtag and see how quickly it’s infested with people desperate to get eyes on what they want to talk about, regardless of whether or not it’s relevant. That, right there? Noise.

But it’s noise that we need. Or at least we can work through. Life, as the great philosopher Bueller once put it, moves pretty fast. However he didn’t have a smartphone and the ability to see just how fast life is moving or to understand where it’s going. We do. We’re assailed by so much signal it becomes noise and while that’s a definite improvement it’s also an immense challenge for creators. It’s no longer enough to be better than most people around you or to stick around long enough. Now you have to be unique enough to stand out from a field that’s, by default, orders of magnitude bigger and better than it’s ever been before.

the-end-is-here

Want proof? Awesome, here you go. The Omega Men is a short lived comic series written by Tom King with art by Barnaby Bagenda, Toby Cypress, ig Guara and Jose Marzan Jr. It was inked by Romulo Fajardo Jr, Tomeu Morey and Hi-Fi and was lettered by Pat Brosseau with covers by Trevor Hutchison. It’s a great series, a Guardians of the Galaxy with blood on its knuckles that explores what happens when the high-handed, naïve optimism of the Lantern Corps is dragged down to ground level. Smart, nasty, complicated fun.

And it got cancelled.

Now it’s a New York Times bestseller.

What does this teach us? A bunch of stuff. That comics are a team sport, that single issues are a brutally unforgiving format for mainstream experimentation and that the audience that waits for collections is in some cases much bigger than the people who buy individual issues.

Most importantly, it shows us that great projects can get read as noise when they’re really signal and that, in order to save them, sometimes creators have to shift format to get noticed. The Omega Men is a perfect example of this, a complex, novelistic story better suited to being read in one chunk. Likewise Matt Wallace’s excellent Rencor: Life in Grudge City which started life as a TV show pitch and has ended up as a novella. In each case the story was a near miss in its original format. In each case the story shines in its new format.

And that brings us to the reader. Which in this context could also mean ‘viewer’, ‘player’ and any other name for ‘person interacting with culture’.

There’s more noise than signal. There are countless projects that deserve audiences and never quite get them. That’s partially on the creators or distributors. The rest?

That’s on us.

We have never lived in more signal than we do now. We have never been surrounded by more inspiring, brilliant art in every single form than we are now. If you are at least a little invested in modern culture than its almost impossible not to run around like a caffeine-addled child in the biggest candy store in human history trying to get as much awesome into your brain as possible.

The thing is, faced with a choice that huge, human nature says we default to what we know. We don’t take risks, we don’t take chances. We just watch the same things and read the same things and play the same things because they’re known quantities.

That’s fine. In a lot of cases, that’s great. I’m playing Uncharted 4 right now because the first 3 were so great. There’s nothing wrong with returning to wells you’ve drunk from before. There’s everything wrong with only going to those wells. You may not risk as much but after a while that’s all you do, the only places you go. Your world shrinks to nothing but routine when that routine should instead be the foundation of something new. And that something doesn’t have to cost money either. Try a podcast. They’re free, there are countless thousands of them and oddly, I know a thing or two about what’s good there.

It doesn’t have to cost anything but time, but the Reader’s Duty is one we all have. It’s a duty to find new things, to talk about them and…actually you know what? I know someone who can articulate this way better.

 

Thanks Captain. Couldn’t have said it better myself. See you next month, folks.

Not the Fox News: The Eugie Award

sister's face

Who wants some good news?

 

Yeah me too.

 

Let’s talk about the single solitary thing that the horrific dumpster fire the Hugo’s now are has given us; motivation. In the space of the last year in particular we’ve seen several examples of fan projects motivated not by the Hugos as they now are but what they should be. David Steffen’s brilliant anthology The Long List is a bridge from actual history to best case scenario and one of the best anthologies of the last decade. Dragon Con’s announcement of their own awards builds on that, choosing to honor a remarkably specific set of categories but doing so for the right reasons. Namely that there is brilliant work out there that’s being ignored, whether by accident or through the sociopathic predilections of an irrelevancy who continues to try and talk themselves into mattering.  And I’m saying that in the UK. The last month has taught everyone in the country a lot about sociopathic irrelevancies.

Both David’s project and the Dragon Con award give me hope. Not only because they are new ways for great work to be recognized but because they’re NEW. Genre fandom’s ongoing, toxic love affair with its own past is as tedious as it is damaging and I welcome anything that doesn’t have five decades of history to obsess over with open arms.

And that brings us to the Eugie Awards.

Eugie Foster was a writer and editor. She gave me one of my first jobs in genre, reviewing for Tangent Online back in the early ’00s. She was, and remains, one of the best editors I’ve ever worked for. I found that out when a bizarre set of stupid circumstances led to me losing the book I’d been sent to review. I bought a new copy, filed the review and apologized for it being late, explaining why. She thanked me for showing initiative but said next time to just tell her and they’d send a new copy out.

She told me she wouldn’t see any of us out of pocket for doing work we weren’t paid for. I’ve never forgotten that.

Eugie was an amazing writer too and she was frequent flyer on the then three Escape Artists podcasts. Her work has this incredible ability to be entirely grounded and human but deal with elegant, gossamer concepts of faith and magic. It’s never twee, often horrifying and often screamingly funny. Not many authors manage the trifecta but Eugie did it all. Science fiction, horror, fantasy and, not long ago, her work arrived at our YA show Cast of Wonders too. I choose to believe she’d have really liked that.

Eugie died, far too soon and far too young two years ago. Her last shot at a Hugo, or even a Hugo placement, was destroyed by the crushing, bloviated idiocy of the Sad Puppy campaign that year.  I don’t hold grudges. That’s an exception to the rule.

But that’s the past, and Matthew, Eugie’s husband, is more concerned with the future. He’s built an award, in Eugie’s name, intended to do the following:

The Eugie Award honors stories that are irreplaceable, that inspire, enlighten, and entertain. We will be looking for stories that are beautiful, thoughtful, and passionate, and change us and the field. The recipient is a story that is unique and will become essential to speculative fiction readers.

Stories that change us. There isn’t a better mission statement for good fiction than that and, recently, the short list for the first award was released:

 

The Deepwater Bride” by Tamsyn Muir (F&SF, July/Aug 2015)

Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” by Alyssa Wong (Nightmare, Oct 2015)

“The Long Goodnight of Violet Wild” by Catherynne M. Valente (Clarkesworld, Jan & Mar 2015)

“Pocosin” by Ursula Vernon (Apex Magazine, Jan 2015)

“Three Cups of Grief, by Starlight” by Aliette De Bodard (Clarkesworld, Jan 2015)

 

If you wanted a cross section of the best in modern short fiction, that list is it. The Muir piece is a wonderfully scruffy modern take on a classic myth. The Valente is a colossal linguistic western that dances with rhythm and meter in a way that’s almost musical at times and the De Bodard is an extraordinarily subtle, kind story about what AI love means in the far future,

But, for me, if I’m honest, it’s down to the Vernon and the Wong. “Hungry Daughters’ is one of those stories that’s in your head and talking before you realize. It’s informal and smart and horrific and very, very funny in spots. It’s not just a story it’s a calling card and by the time I’d finished it, Wong had made the ‘Read Everything They Write’ list for me.

‘Pocosin’ is both a brilliant story and one of the best introductions there is to a brilliant author. Ursula’s work has this incredible strength and pragmatism to it that’s balanced with a Bone dry sense of humor and compassion a mile deep. In this case, that’s all expressed through a witch nursing a probably dying possum God and the various people who visit here to try and take the god off her hands. It’s a surprising, gently story with teeth just under the surface and a couple of the best jokes I’ve read this year.

Five stories from five authors, all of which are great and all of which will make your day better when you read them. No agendas, no slates. Just great stories told well and honored in the name of one of the finest authors of her age.  If that’s not good news I don’t know what is.

Not the Fox News: The Other F Word

I had a whole draft of this column which was basically the opening monologue from the grumpiest episode of Last Week Tonight. I talked about just how fucking unbearable of a horror show the last couple of weeks have been for, well, pretty much everybody. I had stuff in there about how US politics is so morally bankrupt they can unperson a hate crime against the LGBT community because selling more guns is more important than saving more lives. I had a whole bit about the collection of feral and rabid children’s TV mascots who are dominating UK politics right now. I described one particularly odious one as ‘Darkest timeline Mr Toad.’ If you know which one I mean, that’s pretty funny. If you don’t, please, seriously, keep it that way. He doesn’t deserve to live in any more people’s heads and you can use the space for something better.

ANYTHING better.

I touched on just how horrific it is to have a British politician murdered for the first time in almost three decades. I talked about just how great an actor Anton Yelchin was and how inconceivably, brutally unfair it is for anyone to die as young as Jo Cox, Yelchin or any of this year’s stream of victims to date.  I talked about how the referendum I’m voting in on Thursday is something no one wants but, because UK politics really is The Thick of It with horror instead of jokes, we have to do it anyway. I talked about how tired, and angry and, at times, how frightened I am of this stuff.

 

You won’t be reading that column.

 

It’s taken three days for me to get the distance I needed to realize something. I wasn’t witing it for publication, I was writing it to get it out of my head. To exert a little control in a year which, at the halfway point, feels like that bit in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory where shit starts to get very, very real indeed. It helped me. Reading it back, the only thing it would do for you is add to the foothills of Mount WhiteDude Thinkpiece.

So, instead, let’s talk about joy.

Things are rough right now and things are so generically rough, everywhere that people across the planet will probably read that sentence and go ‘Damn right.’ When things are this bad there are two ways to deal with it, I’ve found, that work.

First off, manage your strength. This week in particular, social media is going to be a dumpster fire. A lot of people are going to want to engage with issues a lot of the time. Sometimes you’ll be one of them. Have at. But, when you can, step away. Time and again, over the catastrophe parade of the last few years, I’ve seen people obsessively parked on social media watching stories develop.

Sometimes that holds you up.

Sometimes it puts you down.

Learn to step away, learn to choose when to engage. Be prepared for that answer to be ‘never’ if you need it to be. But please, at the very least stretch and hydrate once an hour.

Secondly, find some fun. One of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century once said we want fun. And Doctor WK was right, we do. In fact we don’t just want it we need and deserve it. So, please, if you can, enjoy yourself. Want to know the best way I found to do that this week?

Lion Spaceships.

 

Voltron: Legendary Defender on Netflix is SO much fun. Classic Voltron premise; alien battleships shaped like lions that turn into a colossal robot, tetchy crew, space princess, comedy space mice, guy with a big mustache. The whole thing is designed to be accessible for people who’ve never seen any form of the show before and boy does it pay off. The animation, from the Legend of Korra team, is amazing. The voice work, especially Bex Taylor-Klaus as Pidge, is great and the show has a wonderful energy and spark to it. It’s smart and kind and goofy and fun and THERE IS A COLOSSAL ROBOT MADE OUT OF LION SPACESHIPS. Seriously, if you’ve got Netflix, go watch it, it’s great.

Amazon Prime more your speed? Watch The Duff. Mae Whitman is going to win Oscars later in her career. She’s an endlessly gifted and completely open comedic actress with dramatic chops to back it up. Whitman is the lynch pin of a smart, witty comedy that takes the usual teen drama tropes and turns them on their heads. Massively funny, emotionally nuanced and Robbie Ammell takes his shirt off. What more could you want? Aside from Lion Spaceships?

Neither of the above? Go pick up Speed. The greatest action movie of the 1990s. Actually two of the greatest action movies of the 1990s and the third act which is a bit bobbins. Regardless, Keanu Reeves’ hyper intense, and not super bright, SWAT officer remains one of his greatest roles, Sandra Bullock is fantastic and there’s an uncredited Joss Whedon script polish. Which, trust me, you’ll notice. Also, play spot the Richard Schifff cameo! It’s not where you think!

atomic

Not a movie person? Phonogram by Gillen, McKelvie and others is one of the definitive comics of the last three decades. Music as magic and magic as music in the post Britpop years. And if you’ve read the series then you know three things:

1.I’m right.

2.It has taken Herculean levels of self control to not write an entire thing about the issue that panel is from and how much fizzing effervescent joy it brings me.

3.Simply putting that here made me smile

and…

D.Yes, you’re right. You DO need to read it again.

the omnivore's dilemma

Not a comic person? The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. One of the greatest food writers of our time talks about the surreal, Orwellian lunacy of the US food system. And also how to make really good chicken. Also there are jokes.

 

Music rather than books?

Beethoven. All of it.

 

Not a classical fan? The Stones.

Not into classic rock? Try Marian Hill.

Geek: Remixed.

Halsey.

Weird Al.

Johnny Cash. And friends.

 

Watch something. Read something. Listen to something. Play something. COOK something. This year has been full of horrors, it is only halfway done and it’s all too easy to put your back to the fire and watch the tree line for whatever’s next. I know, I’ve lived in that state of mind. I won’t say you shouldn’t do the same.  I will say you don’t have to do it all the time.

It’s okay to be frightened. It’s okay to be angry. It’s pretty mandatory to be exhausted. But it’s absolutely vital you are not just those things. We all deserve to be more than okay and right now, it seems like very few of us are even that. So please, this month, if you can? Stand down. Recharge. Have some fun. And remember; Lion spaceships

Not The Fox News: Hugo and JOSHUA

hugologo

This is not the column I sat down to write last Wednesday. That one was full of the sort of ‘make do and mend’ pragmatic Brit pseudo-optimism that I spend a lot of time pushing back against. The crux was that, yes, the Hugos are broken again but that perhaps this fracturing will lead to an eventual and long overdue change. Not just to the voting system either but to the culture that has led to a nomination pool of 4000 or so being an all-time record and awards one author the same award 21 times. There was some good stuff in there. It was overlong and it was pretty much what a forced, polite smile would look like if it was words but still, it worked.

This is not the column I sat down to write last Thursday. That column was angry and pointed and full of that weird combination of Bartletian optimistic rhetoric and ‘THIS IS IT! ARMAGEDDON! NO FUTURE!’ Rage that sometimes bubbles up when something pisses me off. That one argued, passionately, that the Hugos as they currently exist are dead but they’ll take five years to notice. It advocated for the core awards to remain, the Campbell to be moved to any other awards ceremony and the Fan awards to be closed down. Again, the crux was the same; the Hugos are built on a Gormenghastian labyrinth of fan wisdom and accumulated rules. That’s killing them slowly, the slate voting is killing them fast and they are categorically dying. Let them and then build something better in the same place. This line was the best bit:

Clean the slate, build the administrative procedures from the ground up not from the fossilised bones of the first WorldCon and the tattered silver foil of a thousand long dead, never arrived utopian futures

Yeah! THAT.

Neither of those columns were invalid responses. Neither of those columns were under 1500 words. Neither of those columns worked.

The simple truth is there is no simple truth. The Hugos are a situation complicated not just by the actions of a man who is the dictionary definition of more money than sense but decades of assumption, perception and history. They are the most important awards in genre. They are the most irrelevant. They are a people’s vote. They are open only to people able to pay for a voting membership. They honour the very best in genre fiction. They honour only what most of those fee paying voters have read or seen. All of these statements are true. All of these statements are contradictory. Welcome to Hugoland.

So what the Hell do you do in a situation like this?

If you’re a nominee, do you decline the slot knowing full well that a slate put together for the worst possible reasons helped get you where you are? Do you grab with both hands at what may be the only time you register on this vanishingly small group of people’s radar? Do you turn the Internet off for three months and go on holiday? All three are valid responses but whether they’re good ones or not will depend on who you are or where you’re standing.

What about if you’re a voter? Do you vote for material you read or watched and liked despite it being on a slate? Say you loved Sandman: Overture. You vote for it because it was an amazing piece of comics and you wanted to give it the honour it richly deserved. That’s okay, right?

But what if you read it, and loved it but didn’t want to give the slate the satisfaction of an easy win. And besides it’s not like Sandman as a book or the team behind it are hungry up and comers desperate for recognition. So you loved the book but you don’t vote for it. That’s okay right?

Yes.

To both of them.

Every response to this situation is valid to a point. Every response is wrong. For ever nominee proudly standing by their spot there are others, word is, who quietly declined. The roiling storm of perception and complex emotional response is already forming and based on last year it won’t ever full die down. Every season is Hugo season now. It’s like catastrophic climate change with relentless think pieces and added math.

So, like I said, what the Hell do you do?

Over to JOSHUA.

Don’t buy in, to anything. If you’re a voter, then your first instinct is almost certainly the right one. Vote the nominees you read and loved. Vote No Award for the numerous categories overrun by the slate. Vote a mixture of both. Do what works for you. Focus not on what other people are telling you to do but what your instinct is. Democracy is personal and in the end the only person you have to make peace with is yourself.

If you’re a nominee, especially a slate one, then I’m really sorry, this has got to be the definition of a poisoned chalice. Again, don’t focus on anything other than what’s going to help you get through this. The next three months or so are, chances are, going to suck. Listen to what you want to do, be honest with yourself and engage with people when you need to and on your terms. Whatever you do, a lot of people aren’t going to like. Make sure you’re not one of them.

If you’re a casual observer, stay that way. Please. I joke, through gritted teeth, about how Hugo season shaves 75 points off the collective IQ of the genre Internet and it does. The place is already drowning in horrifyingly wargame-y mathematical analysis, rhetoric, think pieces and the same information being rehashed a dozen different ways. It’s going to try and suck you in. It’s also going to bore you stupid and piss you off. Resist all of those things if you can and if you can’t, well, make sure you get up and stretch every 45 minutes.

 

And then there’s me. My relationship with the Hugos is defined by endless optimism and frequent crushing personal and cultural disappointment, it’s very hard watching people do brilliant, important work that goes completely unrewarded. It’s harder still to accept that the pinnacle of the genre has a pay gate and a vanishingly small central audience that, especially in the fields that I care about, is very nearly impossible to get in front of.

But not accepting that means playing the game, and, as we saw, JOSHUA has some strong feelings on that score.

So, this is me exorcising the Hugo demon for another year and getting back to work. I’ll read, I’ll vote but I don’t feel the need to write anything else on it. And that, more than anything else, is why the other two columns were worth writing.

Not The Fox News: Dying of Exposure

Earlier this week I was contacted by the new editor of a magazine I’ve done a lot of work for. It was one of those emails freelancers enjoy getting because the site had been on hiatus for a while and is getting ready to relaunch. I love writing for these folks so seeing that come up in my inbox was a nice surprise. Especially as, it turns out, I have some pieces in the hopper with them and the new editor was reaching out to check that I was still happy for them to be published.

That’s a level of care and professionalism that’s so rare you sort of want to hang a neon arrow pointing to its left with HEY! EVERYONE! DO THIS! written on it. I’m not saying other people get in your way on purpose, most of the time they don’t. But there’s always a variable degree of professionalism in this industry that you have to work around. Plus this is a tough game, magazines and sites die all the time.

So I was really pleased to get that email and I wrote back. The reply was three lines long. It took three drafts. Because the last line was me asking if their pay rates had changed.

It took two drafts to work up the courage to put that down in writing.

Then, yesterday, Stephen Hull, the editor-in-chief of Buzzfeed’s better dressed older brother, The Huffington Post UK, said this on Radio 4’s media show:

“If I was paying someone to write something because I want it to get advertising, that’s not a real authentic way of presenting copy. When somebody writes something for us, we know it’s real, we know they want to write it. It’s not been forced or paid for. I think that’s something to be proud of.”

A few hours later, presumably when he regained consciousness and realized what he’d said, he tried rowing back from this on Twitter. Apparently they do employ a core team of paid journalists. They only don’t pay for voluntary blog contributions. In fact, hilariously the organization doubled down later in the day;

“Our bloggers are happy with this arrangement, and happy to access the platform and the huge audience it brings, without having to build, pay for, edit, moderate or maintain that platform,” the statement read. “Indeed, we are inundated with requests from people who want to blog. The proof is in the pudding: People are looking to join the party, not go home early.”

Or to put it another way, writers are underpaid and undervalued. Publications like the HuffPo know that. It’s emboldened them. And hurt all of us.

Writers, artists, inkers, letterers, colourists, you name a creative profession and odds are they’re not only horrifically underpaid but are so used to it that they just bull through. That persistence is both a vital survival tool and the yoke we all tie ourselves to because it’s the only thing we know. We take work for minimal or no pay, we take work for exposure and we bite and scrabble and kick our way to those slots because we know there are thousands of other people trying for the same place.

We don’t value ourselves. Because so many of our employers don’t value us. And because we don’t value ourselves, they have no reason to change.

The belief that blogging is somehow a lesser form of  writing is like saying journalism died the moment we moved away from smoke-filled bullpens and typewriters. The idea that a billion dollar enterprise can even accept voluntary contributors without soiling themselves in shame should be offensive to the point of blasphemy. Instead, it’s standard operating procedure.

They don’t even have to hurt us anymore. We do it to ourselves. And it has to stop. Here’s how:

Work with people who appreciate you and pay you what you are worth. That’s difficult. Refuse to work with people who don’t pay you, or string you along with vague promises. That’s almost impossible. This is an industry built on panic and it’s desperately easy to grab what’s right now, not what’s right.

But there is one thing you can do: stop feeling guilty about asking for money. If you do work, you should be paid for that work. Anyone who says different is either poorer than you (Possible, this is publishing) or someone who thinks paying a professional makes their work less ‘real’.

Ask for what you’re worth.

Stop apologizing for wanting to be fairly compensated for your skill, your training, your time and your effort.

Send the damn email.

I did.

Not the Fox News: The Five Rules


As 2015 comes to a close I’ve been thinking a lot about clarity. Ricky Jay, one of the greatest magicians of his age, talks about clarity as a vital concept in performance and it applies to writing just as much. Bloggers and magicians have a lot in common. We both have to communicate exactly what we want to our audiences. If we do that then they will be pleasantly surprised when we pull the metaphorical coin out from behind their ear.

I worry I’m really bad at it.

I run long, I know that and I also know that I have a very different approach to the vast majority of critics. I am painfully optimistic. I assume best practice where others are already writing their hate pieces and sometimes it’s difficult to figure out why. Worse, I worry that it makes me come across as naïve or worse still, wilfully ignorant.

And then Ricky Jay enters, stage left and says one word; ‘Clarity’.

So here are the five rules I approach every piece of culture with. This is how I think and why I think it.

 

  1. You Are Allowed To Like Things

You are positively and absolutely encouraged to like things. Liking things is at the heart of geek culture. Those things do not have to be the same things others like. Some of them may be – it’s called popular culture for a reason. Some of them won’t be.

That’s great. That’s the point.

For example: I’m genuinely and non-ironically fond of Armageddon. Yes it’s a ludicrous movie with entirely too much Aerosmith but it also hits me right in my Astronaut Feels. For other people that movie is nails on a chalkboard. There’s a non-zero percentage chance one of the comments I’ll get on this piece will be a variation of ‘Yeah but Armageddon’s crap’. That’s okay because we love what we love. That honest engagement is what matters.

  1. You Are Allowed To Not Like Things

You are positively and absolutely encouraged to not like things. Some of the things you don’t like will be things everyone else doesn’t like. Some of the things you don’t like will be things everyone else loves.

That’s great. That’s the point.

Another example: I have a ton of friends who adore 1960s and 1970s era Doctor Who. From Patrick Troughton up to Tom Baker, The Doctor strides across their lives like a grinning Titan made of scarves, ruffles and reversed polarity.

For me, that era is difficult if not impossible, to sit through. Does that make them inherently bad? No. Which leads us to…

  1. Share Your Joy, Not Your Rage

There is no force more inclusive and welcoming than enthusiasm.

When we connect with a piece of art, whatever that may be, it’s like setting off a rocket. We sparkle with joy, delight in the intricacies of what we’ve seen or read or played and how it makes us feel. That intense joy naturally fades over time, simply because so much of it is wrapped up in the shock and surprise of the new.

But it never dies.

And we can maintain it by telling others about what we enjoyed and sharing why.

It leads to a virtuous circle of enthusiasm. You get to squee about something you love. Your friends get introduced to new culture. Sometimes the creators get to see their work publically shared and appreciated. You expand the horizons of others, knowing they will return the favour.

The shared joy of a piece of culture loved by many cannot be overstated. Look at the new born and amazing Force Awakens fandom to see just how welcoming and fun this can be.

  1. You Are Not Allowed To Murder Other People’s Joy

There is no force more divisive and poisonous then derision.

When you share your joy, you may also be on the receiving end of its flip side. Agendas, festering political sores, discrimination, social cliques, and the scars of long past but cherished disappointments.

It’s easy to respond to joy with negativity. It’s easier still to assume that someone that hurt you before will do so again, and even more so to lash out pre-emptively. Look at the small faction of Star Wars fans merrily spoiling The Force Awakens. Or the racist, sexist discriminatory apologia groups that have tried to ‘fix’ the Hugo Awards the last several years.

I’m not saying we can’t dislike stuff. I’m not even saying we can’t talk about why people like stuff we don’t. That discussion is brilliant and vital. What I’m against is criticising other people for liking something we don’t.

Let’s re-frame it. Say you’re sitting in a favourite restaurant. You’re chatting to your friends about how great your meal is. Someone someone at a nearby table turns round and says ‘Why are you eating that? It’s garbage.’

Rude. Upsetting. Unnecessary. At best its poor communication skills. At worst it’s cruel for cruelty’s sake.

Don’t do it. Especially don’t do it to enhance your personal brand as we’ve already, hilariously, seen with The Force Awakens. Crapping on someone’s joy is different from critique or commentary. Learn and PRACTICE that difference. Everyone will be happier. Including you.

  1. Culture Changes and Grows. So Must You.

You could read a book, see a movie, or watch an episode of a show every day for your entire life and there would still be incredible work you’d miss. But you can still have fun trying.

A couple of years ago a friend of mine chided me for my limited cinema habits. At that time I was on an ‘orange explosions and superheroes’ kick. While it was fun, it was also limiting. Since then, I’ve made a point of expanding my horizons and it’s paid off again and again especially this year. The Lady in the Van, Deceptive Practices, Burnt and Steve Jobs are some of the best movies I’ve seen this year. They all fall outside my usual inclinations. But because I saw them and liked them I’ll now go and seek out other movies in similar fields. Some will be awful, others won’t. But my tastes will expand, or at least my exposure to different things. I’ll learn more. I’ll have new things to talk to people about. I’ll enjoy more, even if it’s a single thing more.

And that’s great.

And that’s the point

 

Thanks as ever to Adele and the Fox Spirit team. Thanks to you all for reading. Have an excellent festive season and I’ll see you in 2016.