Random Reactions To Last Night’s Oscars

So there’s only one thing you need to see from last night’s Oscars, and it is this musical number that blew the goddamned roof off:

(EDIT: Fuck. LJ doesn’t appear to want to embed the video – why am I on LiveJournal again? – so you have to be annoyed and go look at it here.  It’s worth it, though.)

(I correctly picked, and enjoyed, the “Selma” track as the Oscar winner, but some things don’t win Oscars and are still fucking timeless. This would be one of them.)

For the first time in eight years, I did not win my Oscar betting pool. Jim Nauer now has the championship. I am shamed, but I accept my loss with dignity; I should have trusted that Birdman was a better movie than the awful, awful Boyhood instead of hedging my bets.

Neil Patrick-Harris was a good host – he kept things moving, and I loved when he took shots at the things we all knew should have been nominated. (Saying “Oh, now you like him” when David Oyelowo got a round of applause made me cheer.)  And he got the greatest one-liner of the night when he said Edward Snowden couldn’t be here “for some treason.”  The Birdman riff was classic.

Yet still, NPH was good but not great. A lot of his jokes fell flat, and NPH isn’t particularly good at letting a joke fail gracefully. You need that Carsonesque charm of being able to shrug it off and look gratifyingly embarrassed, and NPH just looked embarrassed.  The “locked suitcase” was too much buildup for too little payoff.  And the opening number – despite Jack Black’s awesome unforeseen interruption – was pretty tuneless.  So a solid B, but hey, what do I know? I thought Chris Rock was the best host in years.

Seriously, what kind of douche is Sean Penn?  Hey, let’s remind America the dude’s a fuckin’ Mexican just as he’s winning! I mean, Iñárritu took it in stride and may have even been amused (seriously, what’s he going to say if he doesn’t feel like trashing Sean in the press?), but I’m a little tired of presenters deciding to go “Oh, yes, and remember – this winner is a minority!” as opposed to, you know, “This person is a winner.”  Let the labels fall, you dumb motherfuckers.

My second-favorite Oscar moment was when the Polish director totally FOUGHT THE POWER by giving a lengthy acceptance speech through the sendoff music, and beyond.  Thus breaking their power. Note how the rest of the small-fry Oscar winners exhibited no fear of the music for the rest of that evening, now having proven that the Oscars had no control over them.

Jim Nauer – the man who finally bested me in the Oscars – says that the Ig Nobel awards handle overlong speeches by having a nine-year-old girl walk out on stage and yell, loudly, “I’M BORED.  IS THIS OVER YET? I AM SO, SO BORED.”  I would like to see this feature at all future Oscars, thanks.

Please. Please, let John Travolta’s mushy face and creepy wax-person demeanor fade from the Oscars stage.  I loved him as a movie star, but now his face-touching mauling is a liability.

Lady Gaga doing serious musical numbers strikes me as a way for Lady Gaga transitioning from “celebrity freak-pop-star” to “actual singer.”  And God. She can sing.  She sung so well that Julie must have been as proud as she looked.

In conclusion, Whiplash is the best movie of 2014 and you should all see it.  It was a tiny box office thing, so it had no real chance, but it’s coming out on DVD tomorrow and you should all own it.

Can It Be Okay To Be Irritated By Something Neil Gaiman Did?

Yesterday, author Kameron Hurley wrote about why she thought Neil Gaiman was unwise to name his short story collection “Trigger Warning.” Predictably, commentstorms ensued.

Now, before we proceed any further, let me be honest: I am largely agnostic on the “trigger warning” debate. I consider a trigger warning to be in the same class as spoiler warnings: nothing I would compel a stranger to do, but “not having them” is a perfectly valid reason to unfriend someone.  If there’s a low-cost way to avoid fucking up someone’s day by accident, then I think it’s nice for you to do so – even if there’s some legitimate debate in psychological circles over whether trigger warnings are actually conducive to long-term healing.

As such, I don’t have a strong opinion on whether Neil was right or wrong to name his book “Trigger Warning.”

Yet the point I’m making here is not whether “trigger warnings” are good or bad: as stated, I don’t have strong opinions on the topic, and I will remind you that it’s a perfectly legitimate choice to not have a strong stance on something you feel you don’t have enough personal experience to say.

My point is that a lot of the comments boiled down to “How dare a nobody like Kameron Hurley challenge the great Neil Gaiman?  She’s clearly out for the publicity.  She wants to ride Neil Gaiman’s name to stardom!  What an attention whore!”

And I thought, why is it so damned hard to believe that someone might be honestly offended by what Neil Gaiman did?

This construct of “You must be seeking out offense!” is one that I find baffling. I’ve written hundreds of essays, and not once have I ever sat down and said, “Hrm, what titan of the industry can I topple today?  Let me go scrutinize Neil Gaiman’s decisions to find something to generate mock-outrage about.  No, that’s too nice; nobody will care about that; that bad decision doesn’t have enough market share – ah ha!  The name of his book!  I’ll challenge that!”

No.  You know what happens?  A big author does something we hear about, and our first reaction is a flinch.  That squirmy moment of Oh, I don’t know about that.  And then, if this splinter sticks in our eye for long enough, we write about why it bothers us.

There’s no quest for fame: we are simply trying to explain why having this splinter in our goddamned eye hurts.

Mind you, I feel bad for Neil, because he is a titan, and every decision he makes influences millions of people, so he’s far more likely to accidentally jab a splinter into some schmuck’s eye without even meaning to.  His every off-hand comment gets broadcast far and wide, and that has to be a constant pressure upon Neil – who is a legitimately nice man.  If Jill Nobody had decided to call her short story collection “Trigger Warning,” then Kameron wouldn’t have written about it – because she wouldn’t have heard about it, and even if it did come to her attention, then it would be by someone whose unwise decisions didn’t make much of an impact.  So Neil winds up having some ridiculously tiny decisions dissected in the public eye – in some cases for not saying anything when people think he should have.

But it’s possible to legitimately disagree with Neil.  It’s even possible to disagree with Neil politely, as Kameron herself notes.  Neil does not have to be a demon for us to say, quietly, “Er, I don’t think that was your best decision.”

Yet I’ve gotten some flashes of that ugly behavior in other comments.  I write about polyamory a lot, and my writings are very popular with some subsets of the alt-sex crowds.  And some people have read an essay of mine and went, “Here’s why what Ferrett said will hurt your loved ones and destroy your relationship!”

I’ve caught some so-called “fans” of mine interrogating these dissenter’s rationale: Hey, why are you trying to tear down Ferrett, huh?  Aren’t you just trying to stir up trouble?  Ferrett’s such a good man, why are you trying to do to him?

And the proper answer is, This isn’t about me.  It’s about what I said, and whether what I said was justified.  My detractors aren’t not trying to vilify me, they’re not trying to crawl on my shoulders to try to capture this sad quasi-fame I possess – they are questioning a decision I made, and that questioning is entirely legitimate.

As noted, I don’t have a strong take on whether Neil Gaiman should have named his book “Trigger Warning.” Should the comments here degenerate into a civil war on The Legitimacy Of Trigger Warnings and Whether Neil Has Hurt Rape Victims, then I will start pulling the ban-trigger.  You can have that discussion over at Kameron’s column. Or go write your own rebuttal-rebuttal essay.

But what I am saying is that Kameron can write about something unwise she feels that Neil did, and do it without an underlying urge to raise her own visibility.

She’s writing about Neil Gaiman because she thinks that Neil made a poor choice.  That doesn’t make her right; it doesn’t make her wrong.  It makes her one more person with a strong opinion, and she has every right to express that opinion, just as Neil has every right to name his damn book what he wants.

He just has to live with someone disagreeing with him, is all.  Same as Kameron Hurley.

The Thrill Of Alternative Mythologies

My wife didn’t know a thing about the DC Universe beyond the obligatory pop-culture references.  She knew the Flash existed, but didn’t really have any knowledge about him beyond “he moves fast.”  She knew Green Lantern had a ring, but had zero idea that there were multiple ring-bearers, like James Bond, each with their own fan base.

Zatanna or Gorilla Grodd?  Clueless.

But then we watched the animated Justice League show together, which she loved.  And why not?  It’s one of the best animated kids’ shows ever, with some surprisingly deft plotting.  And slowly she warmed to the Flash’s naive charm, fell in love with the Martian Manhunter, discovered that Jon Stewart was her huckleberry and my God why aren’t he and Hawkgirl together 4eva.

Then we watched Young Justice, which isn’t quite the animated DCU – it’s clearly a different timeline from Justice League, but it’s kind of like Justice League.  Enough to crib off of.

And we were watching, and Amazo the Adaptive Robot showed up, and she clenched my arm and whispered, “Oh, shit.”

Now: Amazo had yet to do anything.  But Gini had watched all of the Justice League, and she had learned: whenever Amazo showed up, shit got serious.  Curb-stompings happened.  Amazo is perhaps the most terrifying opponent in all the animated JLA…

…and she now knew enough of the mythology to tremble at the mere appearance of Amazo.

And that’s a secret joy we comics fans don’t talk about a lot.  As I’m watching The Flash with my daughter and my wife, someone pops on-screen and I lose my fucking mind.  “That guy!” I yell, arms waving.  “It’s… that guy!”  And I don’t want to give spoilers, but That Guy is a very significant name in the DCU and I know some of where this is going, and I can’t wait to find out how they do it.  Likewise, there’s a Very Significant flirtation going on in this show between Barry and one other character, and on one level I’m totally BARRY AND HER FOREVER, but on another level I know that her name is the secret identity of another superperson, and as such this cannot work out.

That’s a secret joy of watching adaptations.  Yeah, the endless retreats get tiring sometimes.  But when a show gets it right, and fires on all gears like The Flash does, then I have that anticipation of going, “Professor Ronnie Raymond?” and having a brief window into knowing what sorts of stories are going to be told about this guy.

It’s not spoiler territory.  Not quite.  I don’t know if this universe will go that route, or if in fact Barry’s sorta-smoochy friend is going to become who she is in the comics.  They’re not obligated to.  Sometimes they don’t.

But that single name-drop generates excitement.  It’s a mythology.  And it’s so exciting to watch how this show unfolds around that legacy.

Better Call Saul: Such Perfect, Perfect Fan Service

Gini and I emerge from every movie theater with the opinion that this movie could have profitably edited fifteen minutes out.  We get easily bored with the long tracking shots which mean to establish mood but actually just make it boring.  We’re not a fan of just sticking a camera on a character just to watch his expressions.

Except we love Better Call Saul, and Better Call Saul is practically nothing but watching the endless repetitions of Jimmy McGill.

Why do we love such sweet tedium when it’s Saul and hate it in other movies?

The answer is simple: Better Call Saul is a show about anguish. Reluctance.  Lament.  The truth is that Jimmy McGill would be much better off if he chucked his morality into the dumpster and embraced his role as Saul Goodman, but… Jimmy has a conscience.  A nagging, tickle-in-the-throat conscience.  One that, if he could only leave behind, would make him the man he really needs to be.

Watching him squirm on the hook is the show.

You didn’t get a lot of that in Breaking Bad, because Walter wanted to be the bad guy.  He had flecks of conscience, but the truth was, he’d decided to make meth by the end of the second act of the debut episode.  Whereas Jimmy doesn’t want trouble, but he’s in a world where trouble presents him with such opportunities, and such quandaries.

There is a bravado scene where Jimmy is negotiating a drug-crazed lunatic down from murdering a victim to simply beating him into unconsciousness.  It is an excruciating scene.  It takes forever.  But watching Jimmy ratchet down the impending bloodshed, a man who’ll say anything to keep the peace yet still makes a crazy kind of sense, is watching a man cobble together the best morality he can out of an ugly situation.  It’d be a lot easier for him, fewer witnesses, if he could just walk away and let the kid get stabbed to death.  But he’s not.  That twinge.  And so he puts his own life on the line to negotiate, even though he hates these fucking kids, because dammit he can’t do this.

And so in a sense, I’m finding it better than Breaking Bad.  We knew Walter was going to go bad.  He had that in his eyes. But while we know that Jimmy will become Saul Goodman, we also know that on some level he deeply regrets that choice.  And we never really got a chance to see who he has when Walter wasn’t dropping massive upheaval on his doorstep.

It’s hard to say after three episodes whether Better Call Saul will be a successful spinoff.  It all depends on where it’s going.  But as fan service, it’s perfect: as Breaking Bad fans, we know who that guy who just dragged Jimmy into the house is, we know who that guy at the ticket booth is, we know where some of these plotlines are headed.

And yet there are so many slow sequences where Jimmy paces and drinks, not wanting to put skin in the game.  Not yet.  He’s a lawyer, not a criminal.

But oh.  He could be such a good criminal.

Read A Chapter From My Upcoming Novel FLEX!

My upcoming urban fantasy novel Flex contains one of the wildest magic systems ever put to paper.  And so when SFSignal kindly asked for a sample chapter from the book, I thought giving something that would highlight just how odd the magic could get would be a good thing.

So here. Read Chapter 5: “Sexing Chickens.” 

Also, if you’d like some to read reviews that highlighted stuff about the book I was trying to shoot for:

I, Fat Robot: “I loved Flex.  All the thumbs up and all the stars checked.  It was really an easy book to love, for many reasons, one of which I tweeted somewhat incredulously: “This book has a female character who gets to be described as pudgy AND pretty with no BUT in between the two?!”

Michael Patrick Hicks: “It helps, too, that Steinmetz casts his characters are real people, first and foremost. These aren’t part-time models who strut around on the catwalk and then fight crime at night. Paul’s a paper-pusher for an insurance company. An ex-cop, he lost a foot in the line of duty and has a robotic prosthetic that can be a bit ungainly. Valentine is a wonderfully natural heroine, a bit chubby, a bit geeky, a bit sarcastic, and she adopts Paul’s mission as her own out of sincere compassion. They make for a dynamic team, and their relationship shows wonderful growth.”

The Cost Of Social Anxiety

So my car’s battery had died two-tenths of a mile away from my house. Why had I stopped to get that sandwich before heading out on my date?

The car was the concern.  Me, I could walk home.  But leaving an unattended vehicle in the mall parking lot overnight meant that it would be towed.

I turned the key again: rrr rrr rrr.  Dead battery.  Chilled to submission from the subarctic temperatures, no doubt.  A jump would get me on my way.

I called American Express, thinking I was still on their automated car-service plan; I was not. It would cost me $100 to have a car come out and jump-start my battery.

Or I could do it for free by asking people in the parking lot.

No I couldn’t.  The idea of asking a random stranger for assistance chilled me more than any battery.  I watched the people going by for a good fifteen minutes, mouthed conversations silently to myself, trying to figure out what to say to them.  Sometimes I even put my hand on the car door handle, ready to fling open the door and just talk to them…

But that hand sat on the door, paralyzed.  Like me.  My words died in my throat.

I called Gini, seeing if she might call a friend to come help me.  Gini gave me the numbers of three people on this side of town I could call.  These were long friends of mine; we’d chatted at parties, gone to movies, attended weddings together.

But calling them up?  Solo?  To ask for a favor?

Another twenty minutes passed as I tried to dial up.  I thought about calling American Express again.  $100 isn’t so much.  Even if it was a three-hour wait.  And the shops would be closed by then.  And I was already starting to shiver as the car lost heat.

That $100 seemed so easy.  It was so worth a hundred bucks and three hours not to have to call someone and feel that terror of fumbling my way through a phone call.

And I thought: This is just because you’re middle class now, right?  You have a decent job as a programmer.  You can afford $100.

But no; I remembered back when I’d just moved to Detroit for a new job. I was living in an apartment that cost way too much because I didn’t understand money, and my credit card debts were sky-high because I couldn’t afford groceries consistently, and the only people I knew were a handful of work acquaintances.

My car battery died in the parking lot where literally everyone at work parked, I could have walked in and asked any number of people in the cubicles next to me, asked my trainer at the job.

I put it on my credit card.

And I would have paid that $100 again, too, except for the pressure of my wife.  She knew she’d given me the numbers.  She’d think I was incredibly stupid for wasting $100 when I had friends to call.

I contemplated lying, saying I’d called and no one was home.

I contemplated how foolish that thought was: lying about talking to three friends of mine so I could pay $100 and freeze in my car in isolation.

I still wanted to pay $100.

And I’m lying to you, actually.  Gini gave me four numbers.  But one of the friends was notably grouchy, hated being pulled out of bed specifically because she had a hard time turning down requests for help, and she’d bitched to me any number of times of how damned needy all her friends were, and even though I knew she was home I could not call her because I trembled at the idea of her secretly loathing me for it.

I wanted to pay $100.

I thought about asking Gini to call for me, but that would be even worse – I imagined conversations where Gini would be saying, “Why am I calling you and not Ferrett?  I don’t know.  He’s… timid, or something.  Anyway, can you go rescue my rabbit of a husband?  Yeah, I know he’s weird.  He’s always weird.”  And that was even worse, knowing she might actually do that for me.

Eventually – too long – I did call around. Mostly because I was pretty sure that I couldn’t get away with lying to Gini.  And the irony was that I did get some good friends to come out (thanks, Karla and Anil!) and it turns out the battery was so dead that no friend could save it, and in the end we just phoned the mall and told them we’d get our mechanic on it in the morning.

Now, all that is pitable, and pathetic, and this is me having improved at this after twenty-five years of practice and therapy.  Ten years ago I probably couldn’t even have called my friends.  I’m getting better, even if I know the problem will never go away.

But when I think of the cost of social anxiety, I think of $100.  I would be willing to pay $100 not to talk to people, when I feel scared.  I probably could be negotiated up to $150, under the right circumstances.

Money is so much easier to deal with than people, sometimes, and I wish it was otherwise.  But there you have it.

So The World Is Gonna Be FLEX-y For A Bit….

“So, uh,” Angry Robot’s PR department said to me.  “What sort of push are you willing to give this book?”

“The full Kameron Hurley,” said I.  “I’ll go all-out. Throw it all at me, I’ll do it.  I’m ready, coach, put me in.”


“You do realize,” they said, “That Kameron wrote over forty blog posts to support her book.  Did like seven podcasts.  By the time she was done, she could literally put together a book of her essays touting The Mirror Empire.”

“…have you seen my blog?”

“Point.  Okay, fine.  You get the Full Hurley.”

And immediately after hanging up on that phone call, I thought: Am I in over my head?

And then I thought: That’s Future-Ferrett’s problem.

But as my paper-baby impends, I’m finding that indeed, this promotion stuff is a lot of work.  Just this weekend, I wrote five essays for other sites on  various aspects of Flex, and I had to write the new book I’m first-drafting now, and change my website around to reflect the book tour, and by the time I sat down on Sunday night to write my usual Monday-morning-perk-me-up, I was out of juice.

So I apologize, dear readers: y’all knew this blog would become a first-novel repository at some point, just as I went bee-crazy at one point and straight-razor-shaving-crazy and webcomic-crazy.  I’ve always been a man who blogs about his passions.  (Don’t ask about the bees. I’ll tell you if they survive this bitter winter, alas.)

But what I did not anticipate is that doing all this work for other sites would leave me dry on the main blog, thus robbing you of non-book-related entries and making this even more of a promo shill than I intended it to be.   And I’m not quite apologetic, because hey, my first book is coming out and y’all knew that was The Dream, but I do feel bad because were things not so flummoxy I’d probably be poking affectionate fun at Jupiter Rising or raving about The Flash or how Better Call Saul is awesome fan-service, but…

Instead, I’m just gonna refresh my GoodReads rating numbly and say that I won’t go totally dim, but it’ll be less than I’d like.  Which is a mild sadness for me; I enjoy the blog, I enjoy the feedback, and it’s sad when I don’t have time to nourish this lovely connection that you and I share.

So I’ll be a little marketroidy for a while. I promise that when I visit Seattle and Portland and (hopefully!) San Francisco and LA on my book tour, I will talk about my impressions of those cities.

In the meantime, here!  If you feel like going over to FetLife, I’m discussing how a Men’s Rights Advocate is harming male culture, but that’s not an essay I feel I could port over here without significant rewriting to give it out-of-Fet context.