The Graveyard

The Lair Of Gary James

Posts Tagged ‘mission: impossible’

Is Self-Publishing Always Inferior?

Posted by BigWords on October 20, 2009

The argument that self-published books are always inferior has got me thinking about the ways in which common and widespread views are not always the correct views. This may have been brought up before enough times to make my take on the issue a tad too little, too late, but I want to address the main sticking point that has been chewed over time and time again. This will probably piss people off, but I got the notion that the playing field had been so completely dominated by the views of one camp that a balanced view was needed.

First off, I am gonna separate the fiction from non-fiction, because they are completely different beasts. I’ll ignore the fiction at the moment, because there are enough self-published fiction authors out there who will argue the quality issue endlessly. I’m not interested in that debate. The question of quality, in regards to works of fiction, is one which has many opposing viewpoints, and it would take a foolish man indeed to stake a claim that self-published novels were all as brilliant as the best novels from mainstream publishers. I’m no fool.

Non-fiction, on the other hand, is an area where many of the usual rules fall away. The standard viewpoints are irrelevant, and we have something tangible to base our opinions on. With non-fiction we are able check the veracity of any claims, analyze the words for their worth in relation to comparable texts, and see that there are many layers to the ‘self-published vs. large publisher’ argument. There should be checks and balances in this argument, yet simplistic views are thrown around with nary a thought for the details we should be considering.

Let’s get started.

Non-fic self-published books have been around a long time. A very long time. Before the advent of publishers, and before the notion of paperbacks as a commercial success, there were non-fiction books being published by ‘amateurs’ in their specialist fields. I’m going to be looking at specialist fields from the realm of pop culture when I make my defense of self-publishing in a moment, but this is as good a place as any to define ‘amateur’ for you, because the word is not a negative. Plenty of Victorian science texts were written by amateurs.

In the modern vernacular we look down on amateurs, because of misconceptions as to the nature of degrees and awards. Lemme tell you this – a degree means nothing. What does mean something, and always will, is research. Any moron can get a degree. That’s an argument for another time though… And I’m sure it will be a heated one. The matter at hand is self-publishing, and I’ll stick to one battle at a time.

Never ever divide your army into two and never fight on two fronts at the same time.

Sun Tzu’s work, of course, wasn’t published by a mainstream publishing house… Given that none existed at the time it’s not really surprising, but that isn’t the dumbest reason I’ve read in defense of self-publishing so I’m not retracting that little pearl of wisdom.

The Battlefield Of Self-Publishing- Official Vs. Unofficial Guides

The biggest salvos were fired during the mid-nineties at the height of The X-Files success. Some of the books which appeared as tie-ins were completely worthless fact-counting books which muddied the waters rather than clearing up any questions. There was serious money to be made as fandom feverishly bought up everything remotely related to the show. The big-hitter was the official series guide written by Brian Lowry, though it was less impressive than many of the unofficial (and some self-published) guides written at the same time.

Numerous errors, omissions and unclear statements made me think twice about trusting HarperCollins’ non-fiction works. It isn’t often that I am completely underwhelmed by the lack of research in a non-fiction book, but this stands as one of the definitive examples of a large publisher dropping the ball when it comes to a tie-in. The more recent Firefly tie-in, which has the self-destructive tendencies that would put Mission: Impossible documents to shame, is another. Is quality really so low on publishers priorities for tie-in books?

Fan publications, on the other hand, obsess over details. This is the main difference in terms of content. You would never find an unofficial book confusing character motivations or history, but I have seen some truly, outstandingly headdesk moments in sanctioned tie-in books. This is largely a matter which concerns shows and films which are still in production, though the holders of large franchises tend to protect their interests with bland and unappetizing books which tow the party line.

So that’s the tie-in area covered. We still have guides and reference books to look at.

A Minor War Of Words In Self-Published Reference Books

Looking through the specialist geek books of the past twenty-odd years throws up a handful of essential texts that no large publisher could have published with a straight face. The outstanding moments of genius which transcend self-publishing and slip into the category of standard texts.

Green’s Guide To Collecting TV, Music & Comic Book Annuals by Paul Green & Laura Taylor, which is indeed self-published, stands as the finest publication to ever list British annuals. I’ll say it again if you are having a hard time accepting that a self-published book can be essential – it is the best book on the subject available. Feel free to try and find a comparable book by a large publishing house, but I’m sure you will find that I am correct. If self-publishing was an automatic admission that a book isn’t worth reading, then this is the book that breaks the rule.

But it isn’t alone. I’ve already said how good The Complete Directory To Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Television Series is, and it is no surprise that such a comprehensive and well-researched book is self-published. The book could have emerged from a big name publisher, but it didn’t. Is that any reason to dismiss it? The lesser book
The Sci-Fi Channel Encyclopedia of TV Science Fiction not only has the blessing of The Sci-Fi Channel, but is published by Warner Books. It is much sparser in content, and feels rushed in places.

While I’m busy showing my geek roots, as if that’s a bad thing, I might as well bring up The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide. You can’t go into a comic-book shop without seeing a copy of Overstreet, and rightly so. It has grown into the most widely consulted reference book for American comics, and stands as an illustration of the heights that a small, and rather ugly, self-published book can turn into once enough attention is paid to its’ merits. It may be currently published annually by Gemstone, but it has its roots in self-publishing.

If anyone wants to disagree, add other definitive self-published non-fiction books, or just flame my opinions, then feel free.


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Why Do Remakes Have To Kill Franchises?

Posted by BigWords on September 16, 2009

Having just sat through Death Race I have to ask this question. It should have ended with the chick standing on the roof of the car in the Frankenstein mask, the cutaway signifying the possible escape of the drivers. It ran on a few minutes longer, with an ending which was completely unnecessary and destroyed my interest in seeing a sequel. I have to make it clear, straight off the bat, that I’m a big fan of the original, and the thought that this would be similarly laced with barbed commentary appealed to me.

Wow, was I wrong about that or what?

It could have set up a great B-Movie franchise of explosions, gratuitous violence and general mayhem, but after the add-on scenes set in Mexico I’m not sure a sequel would even be possible. It isn’t as if creating a kick-ass franchise is difficult, as even the abysmal Butterfly Effect has managed to drag on to three equally yawn-inducing installments. As for the craptastic remake of The Omen, the least said the better…

Why are remakes so hard to get right? I’m not going to include the constantly revised stuff here, because anything with Sherlock Holmes or Batman is going to be revamped in a few years anyway (and Batman currently has a few versions available), so this is centered solely on fresh remakes on dead properties. Such as Planet Of The Apes.

Rule One (which must be obeyed at all costs) is that a remake must engage the fans of the original. Halloween (which was too slow and too retro) missed a few vital pointers from the original and demystified Michael Myers to a degree that it wasn’t really a horror film. It wanted to be taken seriously, but when there is an audience waiting on a certain type of film, they’re going to react badly when they see something that doesn’t push their buttons.

Rule Two is don’t fuck up the ending. This is where I ought to launch into a “What the Hell is the point of Tim Burton?” rant, but I really don’t care to expend energy attacking someone who doesn’t even have the courtesy to learn about the subject of his films before he starts directing.

Anyone who makes a comic-book movie having never looked at the comics is a fucking hack.

And a pretty useless one at that. There are at least a dozen major problems with the first Batman film, and even an awesome Batmobile can’t save the film from the dumbest ending ever. Who in their right mind kills off the Joker? Then he compounds his errors with the Planet Of The Apes, where he kills the potential series with a completely uncalled for coda in which… Sorry, I can’t even bring myself to relay the end of the story.


Rule Three. Don’t betray the fans of the original. As if having to watch Tom (not gay) Cruise running around in Mission: Impossible, we find out that the heroic Jim Phelps betrayed the IMF. Really? The same Jim Phelps who put his ass on the line every week to save the world? The man who put more villainous dictators in their place than Dubya could ever wet dream of? It was a slap in the face to the fans of the original series, and an insult to intelligent viewers.

Rule Four. Don’t remake Casablanca.

Rule Five. Big robots fighting each other over a Rubix cube isn’t big and isn’t clever.

Rule Six. Never let Pitof direct.

Addendum to rule six: Never let Uwe Boll direct. Anything.

Rule Seven. Just because everyone else is doing a _____ film, doesn’t mean you have to resurrect a crap franchise to cash in. I’m half dreading the announcement that some half-assed reimagining of an old cartoon will be appearing in cinemas soon, because it nearly always turns out to be a bad idea. If you need proof that it’s not a way to appease fans, then just look at the mess which Transformers made of its source material.

Rule Eight. Always keep the villain alive for the sequel.

I’ll add to this when I pluck up enough courage to watch what Uwe Boll did to Far Cry, and I suppose that I’ll have rules for making films based on computer games as well. I may even have to watch Super Mario Bros for that, so I might have to sober up before posting my thoughts. If I watch Tomb Raider I’ll need to be really drunk…

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Got It… Got It… Got It… Need It.

Posted by BigWords on September 9, 2009

It’s probably to be expected from a book-addict, but this admission is really beyond anything I ever expected to write here. It’s fairly well known that I have a compulsive personality, so the concept of me being near shops which might – on the off chance – have books for sale is a bad one. It isn’t my fault that I have to scour the paperbacks, because it’s something I have no control over. There’s always something I don’t own, and I really ought to be looking at the important works every so often.

Only… It isn’t the classics which catch my eye. They usually have dull covers, so I’m naturally drawn to the gaudy, gauche OTT stuff which most people instinctively pass over. The latest purchases, in no particular order, are:

Batman & Robin novelization by Michael Jan Friedman
In Search Of The End Of Time by John Gribbin
Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany
Star Wars: Hard Merchandise by K.W. Jeter
Star Wars: Vision Of The Future by Timothy Zahn

And that is one day’s purchases. Not to mention DVDs and games, though those are just as addictive:

Saints & Soldiers (Ryan Little, 2004)
The Game (David Fincher, 2001)
The Punisher (Xbox)
Project Zero II: Director’s Cut (Xbox)

Does it need to be said?

“My name is Gary, and I am an addict…”


The thought that my library will one day grow too large to safely remain contained in a building originally designed merely for domestic purposes is worrying. There are a few tonnes of books, DVDs, CDs, games, comics and toys. There’s also a very real worry that one day the floorboards will give out under the pressure of holding all that stuff in place, and I’m gonna wake up under rubble, roof-slates and all manner of construction material.

Yet I can’t bring myself to sell anything. Not even the crap which I’ll never look at again. Even if I did start selling bits of my collection, I would only end up buying back the same things.

I’m still looking for a couple of Spider-Man paperbacks, the novelization of Mission: Impossible and a few of the earlier books by Harlan Ellison, so the mad collecting isn’t going to be curtailed at any point in the near future.

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Platform X

Posted by BigWords on June 25, 2009

When the concept of a single console to replace the multitude of competing platforms was first brought up, many years ago, I mocked. The idea was so utterly ludicrous that it could never work in practice. Now… Maybe now I’m ready to give it a bit of serious thought. The reason for my turnabout in thinking is due to a Mission: Impossible prop thinking it is a console – the old X-Box made a soft pop, fizzed for a moment, then released a single wisp of white smoke into the air.

Which means I really should get a new one. It isn’t like I don’t have enough consoles, but I have a soft spot for the black brick – it doesn’t sound like a Chinook taking off, it doesn’t scratch discs and it is relatively ergonomic. Do I really need another console? I can play most of the original games on the 360, and the space could be better used. I’m coming around to the idea of a ‘master’ console, but I would have to set some ground rules for anyone thinking of creating one-

  1. Make it future-proof for at least three years. I’m not going to buy a “slightly different but essentially the same” console in twelve months time. I don’t care if the new one has a few gigabytes more memory, plays Chopin on start-up and can recite the Iliad; the minor alterations which come along can be ignored.
  2. No larger than an average console. I’ve seen the home-made attempts at integrating 3 or 4 consoles into a single case, and they always end up being massive, ugly and totally impractical. If anyone can come up with a play-all system that isn’t the size of a small car I would buy it immediately.
  3. I’m not spending more than £450 on it. I’ve already spent more money than I care to think about on games (and this is not counting the PC software I buy / upgrade in an endless attempt to stay ahead of the game), so a reasonable budget is to be expected.
  4. As few essential add-on’s as possible. I bought the HD player for the 360 and used it twice, which makes it one of the most expensive items I have in relation to the enjoyment I have taken from a purchase. The Guitar Hero pack was used non-stop for nearly two months. Value for money means making add-on’s that I’ll actually use.
  5. No easily-breakable components. The PS2 controllers have very short lives in my house, so I’m not going to settle for second best from a next-next-gen console.

Sure, I’d splash out on one if the ability to play Wii, PS3 and 360 releases was incorporated. There was a plan in motion a couple of years ago to utilize a Linux-based OS for a multi-format games console, and I’ve never heard anything more about it. One of these days it’ll pop up again as The Saviour Of Gaming, I’m sure, but until then I’m stuck with the collection of boxes under my television. And on the floor. And in their boxes, piled atop one another…

Life was easier when the choice was Amstrad or Commodore.

Sure, I’d splash out on one if the ability to play Wii, PS3 and 360 releases was incorporated. Now, who wants to get to work on the software?

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