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Learn more about my first book, Six Pack: Emergence.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Guest Post: Kadee Carder

Kadee Carder is my guest blogger this week, so I am going to turn it over to her. Thank you, Kadee, for stopping by!

A man walking through a valley hears a thundering roar. He stops in his tracks. A giant boulder tumbles to the ground before him, blocking his path between the narrow mountain pass. He must get to the village beyond; it’s his destination. He cannot turn back; days of travel lay behind him and he has limited supplies.

Does the man yell? Shout? Roar in callous anger at the fallen rock? Would it do any good to yell at the rock? No. He must find a way over the boulder. He takes one step forward, and another, digging his fingers into the crusty earth, plotting footholds up, up, and over that wall. As he jumps down the final steps beyond the boulder, he looks back. His arms tremble with power, he slaps his gritty palms together vigorously. The wind coursing through his lungs inundates his hearty chest. He overcame the rock, and he continues on his way toward home.

Are you battling fallen rocks? Are you stuck? Are you struggling with hard things happening and you don’t know what to do about them? Ownership, owning your decisions and experiences in the light of adversity, offers the foothold over the boulder. You cannot control outcomes, others, or the falling rocks. You just have to deal with those falling rocks. Those monsters. Those dragons. Those feelings of inadequacy or unimportance. You can control your decisions and how you act. You can choose to search for footholds rather than yell at the rock. Instead of complaining about the rock, instead of shouting angry words at the shadows, you can instead move forward with gratitude, thankful for the rock and all it teaches you.

See, those monsters, those shadows, those obstacles, they teach you who your soul craves to be. They show you just where you need to go. Did the man need to get home? Yes. But did he need an opportunity to see how strong he could be? Yes, even more, in fact. More than the final destination is the journey along the way. This life you’ve got, it’s pretty brilliant. It’s filled with moments where you can choose to be the hero. When you embrace the challenge, when you act with purpose, when you stay the course, that’s when you fully realize life itself. “Everything you have ever wanted is sitting on the other side of fear” (George Addair).  In facing your fears, you shine the light on the shadows of what you truly need to do on this planet.

I found this myself after receiving a horrible review on one of my books. If you have ever made anything, you understand the risks involved of letting all your inside hopes and dreams be smashed to bits by an unhappy audience. Well. I’ve always been competitive and a high achiever. I go big. I do my best. It’s all on the line. Also, if you’ve ever created anything, you know that your first attempt at something isn’t what you will eventually be able to do. I wrote a trilogy of young adult novels and I love them with all I have. I did my best. Apparently, not everyone agrees. That’s okay. That’s life, folks. That’s art. Well. As I read this horrible review, and allthefeelings overcame me, my husband straight up said, “If you can’t take the bad reviews, then you might as well give up now.” I took a long walk that night under the starry sky. First of all, even though my heart sank, my feet didn’t. My heart didn’t stop beating. In fact, the next morning, waking up to the cleared out cobwebs of loss and horror, and realizing everything I believed about myself had changed….I found a blissful freedom. As if the shades had lifted. As if the sun shone, no matter what. See, the Son does shine no matter what. I’ve been put on this planet for a reason. I’m not always sure what it is, but he gave me these stories to share to encourage people. He gave me stories so I can learn to tell better stories. If that means taking some hard hits, then bring them on. I took an objective look at my writing, at my weaknesses where I could improve, at my strengths, and where I needed to dig in and sharpen the tools and my ability to use them. Meeting failure head-on made me reach higher. Every hero faces that in his plotline. Do you want to be the hero? Then get ready for some falling rocks. Brace for impact. And aren’t we excited for it?

The good news? You’re stronger than you know, and you discover it when the rocks fall before you. You’re braver than you know, and you unsheathe it when the dragons rear back their heads. You’re much more capable than you know, and you sharpen it when the hammer drops.

Every challenge, where you find yourself complaining or blaming, offers you the opportunity to become the best version of you. Greet those dragons with a brief nod, then rage onward—with kindness, courage, grit, and hope. Yes, you can.

The conqueror acts. He plans. He plans backup plans.
And he beats the war drums.
Just like those voices demanded, I dug into the sand and the mud,
and readied for battle.
My lead, my call, my terms. My war cadence. My dragons.
Alliance Military Guard sent the order. Sergeant Tucker Thompson acquiesced. Hopping a plane to his long-lost Australian birthplace, he's been charged with his toughest mission yet. Thompson must rally his company of soldiers to prevent a new generation of weaponry from breaching the world's borders.

Pound the war drums. Rattle the cages. Here be Dragons.

Fierce yet sparkly, I help seekers find brave new worlds. The goal is magic, the medium is ink, and the fuel is coffee. And sometimes pizza. I teach English on the university level when I'm not dancing around the living room with my family, lifting heavy at the gym, traveling the planet, or binging superhero shows.

The INSURRECTION trilogy, HERE BE DRAGONS, and non-fiction inspirational IGNITE roll out perilous motives, twisty plots, and daring protagonists. Grab some real estate and your copy of my latest adventure, and follow along at KadeeCarder.com.
Here Be Dragons is a standalone novel, but it does follow my Insurrection trilogy. We see a few characters we met on those luxurious Caribbean beaches. Tucker was the romantic interest from the trilogy. After writing the trilogy, I felt like readers needed to know Tucker more, and he had to complete this assignment. Might as well follow along! No need to have read the trilogy; this book records its own wild adventure!

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Submit your pre-order receipt to KadeeCarder.com/HereBeDragons and receive your own Alliance Military Guard Training Guide containing TWO WEEKS worth of exercises, guaranteed to get you in battle-ready shape to train as a Guardsman.
This gift with purchase will ONLY be available on pre-orders! Offer expires January 1st, 2018 at 11:59 PM Central time. Remember to submit your purchase receipt to the link above, otherwise I will not know you have purchased. And you NEED THIS GUIDE! Hoo-rah!

Purchase here be dragons on kindle unlimited for only $4.99:
(here be dragons releases January 2, 2018)

Visit http://www.kadeecarder.com for inspiration, radio interviews, gift certificates, freebie codes, and more!
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Website: kadeecarder.com
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And please feel free to subscribe for encouraging blogs! Kadeecarder.com
I’m giving away a free, empowering e-book to those who subscribe to my email list at kadeecarder.com. Titled IGNITE, the 60-page book offers a serving of inspiration, a dash of hope, and a cup of grace to help you get kickin’ on those challenging tasks you’ve got to do!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Book Review: Grimm Remains

Grimm Remains is the sequel to Eli Celata's debut novel High Summons, in which Jon continues his studies with Jordan about demon hunting, which takes a more challenging turn thanks to the arrival of havfine, or demonic mermaids that usually stay in ocean waters but have shown up in Lake Ontario.

I enjoyed following Jon's journey in learning more about demon hunting and the skills it requires, all while he's having to keep it a secret from his college friends, with whom he now shares an apartment. It gets challenging when Jon experiences encounters with demons and mystical forces at the apartment itself, certainly a situation that makes for awkward moments.

All the while, as Jon learns more about everyone in Rochester who is tasked with protecting the people from demons, he and Jordan are tasked with having to locate three missing orphans, during which Jon learns more not only about his father, but Jordan's as well.

What makes the book work is the main character and the struggles he goes through. He wants to learn more about demon hunting, only to find out how difficult certain skills can be to master, and how difficult it can be to keep demons away when he just wants to spend time with his friends. And then there's Jon's relationship with his mother -- he goes through a period in which he doesn't keep in touch with her and that leads to bigger problems for the relationship between Jon and Jordan.

I did find the pacing to be problematic -- certain chapters went too long when they might have benefitted from a break in the action, with a page turner that prompts the reader to keep going. Other chapters were too short for my liking.

But I liked the main character so much and had plenty of interest in learning how his relationship with Jordan further develops. Grimm Remains is a good follow-up to the first book and a recommended read. You may order it here.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Book Review: Incomplete

I previously reviewed Kadee Carder's debut novel Insurrection. I liked it so much, I decided to pick up the sequel, Incomplete.

The book continues to follow the journey of Saylor, who now must adjust to her new life as a soldier, all while knowing that her commanding officer is her father and that she is working side by side with her twin brother Logan. The familial ties add a new dimension to the conflict, in which Saylor sees things quite differently from her father and often disobeys orders, all while Logn tries to be the obedient soldier in the presence of their father, but remains sympathetic toward Saylor and sensing she may be right about a few things.

Meanwhile, Saylor finds her relationship with fellow soldier Tucker to grow into something more than just being good friends. She also finds ways to keep her bond with her best friends, now holding other positions on the military base on this Carribbean island. Saylor must ask the question about what it is that she's destined to be -- the type of girl her father wants her to be or the type of person she thinks she's meant to be.

Kadee continues to do a good job making Saylor a complex yet sympathetic character who maintains a sassy attitude, never swaying from what she believes is the right course. Saylor must also learn how to experience a life she was never used to before -- how she once grew up in a boarding school but now experiences more luxuries once she learns more about her family. It ties into her father wanting her to take her birth name, Laurel, and be something other than a soldier, while Saylor feels a stronger tie to the life she's always known and that being a solider is her calling.

As with the first book, I found the pacing to be good and Kadee does a good job building tension when the situation calls for it, then giving readers a breather as she transitions to the next scene.

Incomplete is a recommended read and you may order it here.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Max Headroom Episode 14: Baby Gro Bags

Episode Name: Baby Gro Bags

Premise: Theora's friend Helen arranges to have her baby through OvuVat, a company that creates in vitro babies, but the baby goes missing. Meanwhile, Network 66 tries to lure Bryce away to head up a team of intelligent infants on their show Prodigies.

Themes explored: There is a sense of exploitation of children, even though Network 66's approach is to get permission from parents before featuring their infants on its show -- only it's revealed that OvuVat was taking the sperms and eggs of intelligent parents without their knowledge to clone babies, who are then featured on the show. But even though Network 66 is unaware of OvuVat's practice, there's still a question raised about whether or not a TV show should be focusing on infants in this manner, when these infants are unaware of what is happening.

But a bigger theme gets touched upon regardng OvuVat's process in the first place. Not only does in vitro fertilization being the process of developing the baby, but the entire process is handled from start to finish without the need to put a fertilized egg in a woman's womb. On top of that, parents can choose the sex of the baby and it's free of any defects, diseases or any other complications that could arise during a pregnancy.

For those who have issues with in vitro fertilization as a means of having a baby, imagine what issues you would have if the baby can be developed from start to finish outside a womb. And imagine the ethical issues that might be raised from determing a baby's sex upon conception and a process that ensures no defects. How far do we want to go when it comes to science and genetics, even if it means assuring people who want to have a baby that the baby will be perfect after nine months and the mother won't have to worry about carrying that fetus to term?

And the idea of developing the perfect child from start to finish becomes the opportunity for OvuVat to exploit those parents who wish to use this process, to develop babies who are used for another purpose. It's enough to make you wonder how good of an idea it is to explore childbirth methods other than the way they developed through nature.

Max Headroom quotes:
"I have a mission, too! My mission is to sink the Prodigies show!"
"You can't push your children too hard. It isn't exploitation to breed a champion."
"Here I am on Network 23 to give you my own show. Nothing big, nothing special. Just a humble little thing modestly entitled: Me, Max Headroom, the original prodigy."
"Here we come back for just one more meaningless scene to keep you watching through the commercials." (Here we have Max Headroom breaking the fourth wall.)

Personal observations: This episode never aired in its original run on ABC back in the 1980s, but did make its way into the rotation when it aired on cable television. It's worth tracking down, though, because it does raise ethical issues involved with how far we should go with science when it comes to the process of childbirth.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Arrowverse Succeeds Where The DC Cinematic Universe Fails

Many superheroes and comic book characters have made their way into films and TV shows and the DC Universe is no exception.

DC, though, has had its difficulties capturing enough interest in its Cinematic Universe, as evidenced by the recent Justice League film failing to draw at least $100 million for its opening weekend. The disappointing numbers comes after three more recent films pulled in at least $100M and one film, Wonder Woman, did such a good job retaining its audience that it finished past $400M domestic and won the summer box office crown.

But while the Cinematic Universe hasn't lived up to expectations, DC characters are doing a better job of that with the TV shows that aired on CW, a universe that has been dubbed the Arrowverse. Most recently, the Arrowverse paid off on its continued world building and character development with its most ambitious project to date, this year's crossover, Crisis On Earth-X.

What's remarkable about the four shows that make up the Arrowverse -- Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow -- is that they focus on characters who may not be familiar to those who don't closely follow comic books. Ask a person who doesn't know much about comic books about Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman and they'll know exactly who you are talking about. But how many of those people would know anything about characters such as White Canary, Vibe, Killer Frost, Mr. Terrific and Vixen?

There are many reasons why DC has had more success with its TV shows' shared universe than it has had with most installments of the movies' shared universe. But one of the biggest reasons may be how the Arrowverse has been built, compared to how the DC Cinematic Universe has been built.

The movie universe started with the decision to relaunch Superman with the film Man of Steel -- a film that received mixed reviews and generates plenty of debate among comic book fans regarding the portrayal of its leader character. But rather than focusing on films for other individual characters -- Wonder Woman, the one iconic DC character who hadn't been featured on the big screen, was right there -- the decision was made to focus on Superman and Batman in the same film, with Wonder Woman taking a minor role.

Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice drew a huge opening weekend but its box office declined rapidly. While a few people liked what the film delivered, many others found the film underwhelming at best or downright terrible at worst. But regardless of one's opinion about the film, it was clear that the intent with the Cinematic Universe was to jump right into the idea of Batman and Superman squaring off, leading up to the two of them uniting alongside Wonder Woman. There seemed to be no interest in rolling out individual films for other characters to get the ball rolling.

And the next film to roll out was Suicide Squad, in which a number of one-time villains are teamed up to work for the government. Thus the next installment was yet another case of characters teaming up for a common cause, rather than building up characters individually and leading to something bigger. Suicide Squad, like BvS, drew a large opening weekend but couldn't retain its audience.

The Wonder Woman film was well received overall, but now DC was already set down its path to build toward Justice League. They gave brief cameos to Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg in BvS, then decided to introduce them all in the Justice League film. Once again, there seemed to be no interest in giving any of the new characters their own film to allow people to get to know who they were and what made them tick. The end result is cramming in small bits of backstory into scenes, all while trying to find a reason for them to team up, and everything else gets the short stick.

Going right for the big payoff of teaming superheroes up, thus, has proven to be one of several major flaws in the direction of the DC Cinematic Universe. Movie goers are given little reason to empathize with some of the characters and little attention is paid to world building. Additionally, the villains come off as one-dimensional -- Steppenwolf is the perfect example, as he comes off as just another evil guy that only major comic book fans will understand, while general audiences are left wondering why they should care.

Compare that to the Arrowverse, in which it started small and built its world. Certainly one may argue that the creative team had to do that, given that most of the characters they wanted to roll out weren't well known to people who weren't major comic book fans. But the creative team still remained patient in how it build the universe, bringing elements in gradually and allowing audiences to get to know the characters who would be the focus, rather than heading right to the big teamups.

It started with Arrow, in which audiences got to know not only about Oliver Queen, but became familiar with other characters that were either created specifically for the show or were minor characters from the DC universe, who gained notoriety thanks to the patience shown by the creative team. John Diggle (created for the series) and Felicity Smoak (a minor DC character) both became prominent members of Arrow's world and audiences got to learn about characters ranging from Malcolm Merlyn to Slade Wilson in the first season.

By the time the second season rolled out, the creative team was able to build upon what had been established and introduce another character, Barry Allen. He would go on to become The Flash and that allowed for the Arrowverse team to launch a new series. Once again, the creative time took time to build its world there, getting audiences familiar with unique creations such as Harrison Wells and Joe West, while giving prominent roles to minor DC characters such as Caitlin Snow and Cisco Ramon. Flash may have done the best job so far of building its world and, in particular, getting people to become invested in the relationship between Barry Allen and Iris West.

Along the way, we saw a number of other DC characters get dropped into the two shows, with Ray Palmer appearing in Arrow and Martin Stein showing up in The Flash. Each show also introduced its own creations, Sara Lance and Jefferson Jackson, in recurring roles. The four, along with other characters, became integral parts of the next Arrowverse show, Legends of Tomorrow. That show allowed the creative team to build these once-minor characters in the other two shows and allow them to shine more. All the while, it got across the idea of having characters team up for a common goal.

And when Flash had been launched, immediate plans were made to have Flash and Arrow cross over into each other's show to allow Oliver Queen and Barry Allen to team up. Combine the heightened interest in those episodes with the launch of Legends of Tomorrow, and it was only fitting that you'd want to see these characters all come together to tackle a major task.

But there was one more player added to the table when the Arrowverse creators reached a deal with CBS to launch Supergirl. Though CBS didn't show enough interest to pick it up for a second season, the creative team teased the idea that Supergirl could show up elsewhere when The Flash crossed over for an episode. And after CW agreed to take Supergirl into its lineup, the stage was set for the first major crossover.

Things weren't exactly smooth sailing with that crossover, as Supergirl being switched to CW late in the game meant the creative team wasn't able to seamlessly pull the show into the crossover (even as CW advertised it as being part of it). And when it did jump into the alien invasion, Supergirl tended to be awkwardly wedged into the shows, which each acted as a self-contained episode -- a big issue was Arrow commemorating its 100th episode at the time of the crossover.

Still, building up to the epic showdown between the superheroes and the alien invasion gave fans enough satisfaction and, more importantly, built interest in what could be done to have a true crossover that incorporated as many characters as possible and allowed them to go against a common enemy.

It was earlier this week that the Arrowverse creative team rolled out Crisis on Earth-X, in which those involved not only did well in tackling the major plot but did a good job incorporating the subplots and allow so many characters their moment to shine.

This crossover was filmed as a four-hour miniseries rather than four separate episodes, allowing them to seemlessly flow together rather than resemble exactly what each show was all about. And the moment that brought everyone together wasn't the crisis at first, but the wedding between Barry Allen and Iris West. What brought everyone together allowed the creative team to explore a bigger theme of relationships and love, both in the romantic sense and the family sense.

Of course, once the heroes are confronted with the chief antagonist -- individuals from Earth-X, on which the Nazis won World War II -- there's plenty of reason for fans to root for the heroes to save the day. And while exploring the subject of Nazis might be sensitive to some people, the creative team allowed those who have been the target of Nazi repression to step forward and be among the primary heroes. Along the way, certain actors got the chance to explore an alternate version of their characters and what things might look like if their characters had chosen the wrong path.

It made for the most satisfying teamup of DC superheroes in filmed form. And it all started with one series that was built up over time, with additional characters introduced along the way, new series launched and the world being built piece by piece, rather than a quick charge to the finish line for that first big team-up.

Not every season of every Arrowverse show has excelled, nor is everybody a fan of every character. This shared universe is far from being perfect in every way. But the creative team was patient in building things up, making the payoff of that huge teaming up of everyone something that generates more excitement from fans.

Now the creative team plans to roll out Black Lightning, but will give him his own series to start and keep it independent of the other shows. That's a wise move, because it allows viewers to get to know another minor DC character well, before he makes his eventual appearances in other shows and gets incorporated into a crossover, too. And, once again, the fans will have many reasons to be excited for it.

It goes to show that it's not always a good idea to make a mad dash for the finish line and roll out the big payoff right away. Taking your time to get to those big payoffs is what makes for a more satisfying experience. And the way they've done things so far with the Arrowverse, it's safe to say that future crossovers will do more to satisfy than to disappoint.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Max Headroom Episode 13: Lessons

Episode Name: Lessons

Premise: The Blanks are targeted for pirating educational programming that viewers must pay for and Edison Carter is censored for any attempt to uncover what's taking place.

Themes explored: The first is censorship. A computer program is designed for Network 23 to censor any material deemed sensitive. The program's intent is to settle any debates network executives have about appropriate content for viewers. But the program does more harm than good as Carter seeks to reunite a girl with her mother and every attempt of his to report on a raid by the Metro cops is censored by the computer.

Censorship is still a subject of debate to this day, but it's interesting that the idea of a computer deciding what will be censored is becoming reality these days. Think about the algorithms designed for social media platforms and search engines that are supposedly created in the interest of protecting viewers from malicious material, but have the effect of censoring legitimate discussion.

The second theme explored is education. Network 23 offers PETV, or Pay Education Television, which is educational television only available to those who can afford to pay for it. That means the people who live on the fringes (who happen to be poor) are unable to access it. The Blanks pirate a signal to help educate children, but program executives are backed by Metro cops to ensure that pirated signals are cut off.

But it raises the biggest question about how access to education and knowledge can impact children -- those who learn to read and write gain a greater understanding of the world around them, while those who don't may never do so. And what happens when children from lower income families aren't able to access education and knowledge? It's not difficult to figure out that those children will find it harder to understand the world.

The issue is further raised when it's revealed that the Blanks are in possession of a printing press and are creating books. In this dystopian world, printing presses are forbidden for most people to possess. Losing access to the press means the Blanks lose a greater means of ensuring the children in the fringes learn to read and write, and thus gain more access to knowledge.

The education theme is a reminder about why public education, though it may have its own faults, is nevertheless important to a free society.

Max Headroom quotes:
"Have you any idea how successful censorship is on TV? Don't know the answer? Hmmm... successful, isn't it?"
“As a famous person once said, you can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. And as I, another more famous person, once said, if you don’t teach them to read, you can fool them whenever you like.”
“You know, writers have no freedom on TV. One rude suggestion and the censors are straight on their back... not on their back in a rude way.”

Personal observations: Another episode of the series that was timely in some ways and ahead of its time in others. Computer algorithms designed to determine what is and isn’t appropriate can do more harm than good if we aren’t careful how they are implemented. And to this day, it’s still important to ensure everyone learns to read, because it’s the most important step in acquiring knowledge and learning more about the world.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Max Headroom Episode 12: Neurostim

Episode Name: Neurostim

Premise: The Zik Zak Corporation is selling Neurostim bracelets, which are designed to stimulate the brain to experience a fantasy, but at the same time, stimulate people into buying Zik Zak products.

Themes explored: Consumption behaviors are what's mainly the focus of the episode. The Neurostim bracelet prompts people to keep buying products, with some people doing it to the point that they go into debt. It raises the issue about advertising tactics that prompt people to buy things that they might not necessarily need.

But a larger purpose of the Neurostim bracelet is to allow Zik Zak Corporation to advertise its products without the need to broadcast advertising or sponsor shows on Network 23 or other television outlets. And after Zik Zak pulls its advertising from Network 23, causing the network's stock to drop, Zik Zak is able to buy cheap shares and put a member of its company onto the Network 23 board.

That raises the question about what happens when a corporation acquires a media outlet and how can the media outlet be expected to stay impartial when what it intends to cover may conflict with other business interests the corporation has. Today's media environment is like that, with corporations or individuals who acquire media outlets and then attempt to control the message. How can a media outlet operate independently if a corporation acquires it and forces the outlet to bend to its will?

One might also see a parallel between how Neurostim allows a company to advertise its products in a new manner, as opposed to traditional methods of advertising. (Did someone mention how newspaper advertising declined with the rise of the Internet?) It illustrates how much of our media is dependent on advertising to stay in business, so what happens when that revenue stream dries up?

There is a subplot regarding how Edison Carter and Max Headroom clash over who should be dominating the airwaves -- Carter's investigative reporting is popular, but Max Headroom is just as popular and the two are put into conflict. It's only after they each learn to accept one another in terms of how they bring in an audience that they learn to co-exist again.

Max Headroom quotes:
"A quick thank you goes out to the real sponsors: you. Yes, you. You buy the products, you give them their profits, so you're sponsoring the game."
"You buy the burgers, you finance the game, and you have to go buy a ticket to watch it. It's that funny old world."
"As long as it's the truth, does it matter which of us tells it?"
"That makes a lot of sense. He yells, I apologize."

Personal observations: The episode primarily focuses on Zik Zak providing Carter with a bracelet that's designed to excessively stimulate his impulses to buy things and keep his investigative reporting from interfering with its business strategy. That means that plot's resolution tends to dominate, while the subplot of Zik Zak taking over Network 23 tends to be resolved too quickly -- Zik Zak gaining, then losing, a spot on the corporate board gets wrapped up in the final acts. So it's not as good of an episode as previous installments of the show were, but the themes touched upon are worth consideration.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Max Headroom Episode 11: Whackets

Episode Name: Whackets

Premise: Big Time Television has the most popular TV show on air, the game show Whackets, which is actually broadcasting a video signal that addicts people to their TV sets.

Themes explored: Addiction. The video signal broadcast during the show is the equivalent of a narcotic, which stimulates the brain to either feel pleasure or counter pain. It's so strong that victims of an apartment building that collapsed are so focused on recovering their TV sets from the wreckage (despite free TVs being made available to those who can't afford them) and that the injured no longer feel pain or discomfort while watching the show.

Of course, addiction doesn't have to be limited to a video signal -- we know all about the various forms of addiction in today's society, all because of the pleasure we feel in our brains or how it allows us to ignore pain. Opioids. Social media. Alcohol. Junk food. Shopping. These and many others can become highly addictive if we aren't careful about moderating their usage. And, yes, leaving a TV set to drone on, featuring one network or program can be just as bad for our brains.

That's particularly true with the underlying point of Whackets -- take away the addictive video signal and people realize Whackets is a bad show. It's worth thinking about regarding anything we watch, use or consume for pleasure. Is it really that good of a product to begin with? Or would our lives be better off if we didn't spend all our time with it?

Max Headroom quotes:

"I was dumped for some ninny trying to win a trash compactor?"
"Caught you watching the competition!"
"I want my Whack TV!" (An obvious reference to MTV's catch phrase back in the 1980s.)
"It's just TV with a twist."

Personal observations: The show was timely back in the 1980s when the anti-drug movement was at its height. It remains timely today, though, because all throughout society, we can find things that people become addicted to, when we should remind ourselves to moderate our usage and, in some cases, not use it at all.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Max Headroom Episode 10: Dream Thieves

Episode Name: Dream Thieves

Premise: Edison Carter meets a former colleague, Paddy Ashton, who introduces him to a business in which people are paid for their dreams. The next day, Carter learns that Ashton has died and pursues an investigation.

Themes explored: The episode centers around Dream Vu, a subscriber-based channel in which people pay to watch the recordings of other people's dreams. The business is run out of an old movie theater (in this world, movies are a thing of the past, replaced by other forms of visual entertainment) and people are paid to have their dreams recorded while they sleep. But the process can be lethal when someone has a nightmare and suffer from brain trauma when those nightmares are pulled from the subconscious.

It begs the question about what price are people willing to pay for entertainment -- especially in an environment in which traditional forms of entertainment that involve originality and creativity (movies, books, episodic TV) and are replaced with another form. Though in today's society, we aren't taking other people's dreams and passing them off as entertainment, there are other variants of entertainment that replace original ideas and sell them to the public as a replacement. We just call them by different names. On this episode, games shows and chat shows are mentioned -- we'd refer to the latter as debate shows. And then there's the obvious example: reality TV. How far are we willing to go to seek out entertainment, especially if we are replacing people's original ideas (which may cost more) with cheaper programming?

There's also the previous friendship between Carter and Ashton -- the two both worked at Network 23 together, but each had different principles when it came to pursuing a story, with said principles influencing Murray's decisions. Carter's aggressive drive to get the story got him a promotion -- with Murray choosing to promote him -- while Ashton was passed over. Carter's aggressiveness to get the story comes to a head here, when he gets too personally involved in his investigation because he's upset about Ashton's death, while Murray realizes that his choice to promote Carter because of Carter's drive had its downside and that he perhaps shouldn't have pushed Ashton to the side because he thought Ashton was willing to meet his full potential.

Max Headroom quotes:
"But if dreaming is all your subconscious desires coming out, why do people wait until they're asleep to do it?"
"I don't mind being the projectionist, but don't forget that no one's paying me to be the censor."
"Looking at other people's dreams is as bad as reading their diaries."

Personal observations: Though the technology to record people's dreams hasn't been developed, it would raise ethical questions if it were to become reality. But it's worth raising those same ethical questions regarding entertainment that isn't based on an original concept, but merely following the trials and tribulations of everyday people as they happen. It may seem trivial on the surface, but if everything that's produced is merely based on real-life developments, we can lose something when it comes to the original ideas we imagine.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Max Headroom Episode Nine: Grossberg's Return

Episode Name: Grossberg's Return

Premise: Ned Grossberg, former Network 23 chairman, resurfaces at rival Network 66 and rolls out a plan to take the ratings lead away from Network 23.

Theme explored: This is the first episode that focused less on a specific theme and more on setting up the overarching storyline for the season -- that Grossberg, ousted from Network 23 after the revelation that his Blipverts had lethal side effects, was now with Network 66 and plotting to become its chairman and launch a rivalry with Network 23.

But the themes remain evident, surrounding how the media can be utilized to play political games. It starts with Grossberg using a device called View Doze, which counters viewership of people who leave the TV one while sleeping, in an attempt to win an election for Harriet Garth (in this world, elections for leadership positions are won based on the ratings garnered by the network, which backs a chose candidate). This prompts Network 23 to launch an investigation into the practice.

It takes a different turn, though, when a freelancer working for Network 23 -- who is really working covertly for Grossberg -- reveals footage of Garth apparently having an intimate affair with a Network 66 reporter. Cheviette, the chairman of Network 23, pushes Edison Carter to pursue the story, mostly because of Cheviette's desire to win the election. All the while, Grossberg is manipulating both Network 23 and Network 66 in a move to claim the chairmanship of Network 66 for himself.

The media's effect on elections is discussed a lot in light of the 2016 Presidential election, but this Max Headroom episode takes it a step further, in which networks themselves are backing political candidates. Nonetheless, the debate over how the media should cover elections and political candidates is relevant to our society today.

Max Headroom quotes:
"Ratings! Audiences! You're playing my tune!"
"I'll never understand why people always use so much energy over the idea of getting excited about the very thing they'll need energy for once the excitement is over."
"You should leave it to me next time -- leave it to someone who understands show business."

Personal thoughts: This was the first episode in which the writers focused on continuity from previous episodes and set the stage for what was intended to be the overarching conflict of the season. Though the series was cancelled a few episodes later, you could tell that the writers knew that the table had been set and now was the time to move forward with episodic storytelling. Even so, this episode stands well on its own for its underlying theme.

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Principle's Not The Problem, The Method Is

As I sat down to review Max Headroom episodes, one line from Edison Carter keeps popping into my mind: "I agree with the principle, but the method stinks."

Carter's line is directed at Blank Reg, one of a number of people who, in the futuristic world of Max Headroom, disagree with the decision to have everyone's personal information kept in computer databases and have all such information erased. Reg is working on behalf of fellow Blanks who seek to sabotage the networks because other Blanks are being detained by police without charge, at the behest of a government leader who doesn't like that Blanks had their personal info erased.

Certainly the idea of detaining a person without charge simply because the person disagrees with a government's directive is problematic, but the decision to sabotage something in response brings problems of its own. And though Carter is symapehtic toward Reg and his fellow Blanks, he believes there has to be a better way to get the point across.

Which brings me to the latest in debates surrounding young adult novels, this one concerning American Heart, a novel written by Laura Moriarty and set to be released in January. The novel's premise is that Muslim Americans are forced into concentration camps and the protagonist, a white teenage girl, encounters a Muslim professor and, while originally not concerned about the plight of Muslims, decides to help this professor escape to Canada.

Kirkus Reviews published a starred review by a reviewer who, while not identified by name, was identified as Muslim. That was followed by a number of individuals who wrote scathing remarks about the book and Kirkus, in a rare move, changed the review and took away the star.

There are two reviewers who aren't connected with Kirkus who both note the attempt by Moriarty to write a homage to Huckleberry Finn. Cathy Day believes people should read the book because she thinks the portrayal of American Heart's main character should get people to reconsider their own casual prejudices. Justina Ireland, though, is more critical of the book -- her praise for Huckleberry Finn is similar to Day's (and both note important flaws in Huckleberry Finn), but Ireland finds the portrayal of American Heart's main character problematic, along with the portrayal of the Muslim characters and others along the way, plus the way the story unfolds.

Though Ireland makes her dislike for the book known, she does it in a thought-provoking manner, detailing why she doesn't care for the characters and why she finds the storyline flawed.

But reviews such as Ireland's are not what appear to have prompted Kirkus to change its own review. Instead, Kirkus is reacting to online backlash by people who haven't read the book, but either read the blurb or read reviews by others who wrote the book and leave scathing remarks on Goodreads, as if they are solely interested in sabotaging the book, the author and the publisher rather than engaging in an open, honest discussion such as about points Ireland raised and what could have been done to make the book better.

And while I agree with the principle that writers shouldn't fall into lazy tropes and stereotypes regarding people of different races, ethnicities or religions, the method of bashing and insulting the author stinks.

Such bashing and insulting doesn't serve any means to advance discussion and get writers to learn about what to do better next time. It only serves to convince writers they shouldn't bother trying to explore certain themes, ideas or characters -- or even to write future novels at all. More importantly, the bashing and insulting diminishes what Ireland set out to do -- get writers to do a better job with such character portrayals. Because when bashing and insulting takes place, that gets all the attention, when attention may be better focused on reviews such as Ireland's.

And when the attention only focuses on the bashing and insulting, people who might be open to reconsidering their views are more likely to be convinced there is no reason to do so. Nobody, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or other factors likes to be bashed and insulted, so how can anyone think such bashing and insulting is going to cause people to change their minds?

While I understand the need to get writers of all types represented, I have previously written that it's difficult for new writers to break in with publishers for several reasons -- one of them being that major publishers tend to fall back on writers who have had successful works rather than giving new writers a chance. Increasing representation for all types of authors is good, but when major publishers would rather rely on established authors before new authors, groups that are underrepresented remain that way. And I agree that it's a good idea to get characters of all types represented in novels, and that such portrayals shouldn't just fall into stereotypes. But that means that writers of all backgrounds are going to have write about characters of all backgrounds, whether the character's background matches the writer's background or not.

And considering that it's white Americans who may need the most educating about what casual prejudice is all about, I believe it's important to have novels in which a white protagonist is forced to confront casual prejudice. One is free to argue with how such a concept is executed and one is right to point out that the writer must do plenty of work to ensure an accurate portrayal of non-white characters. But arguing the attempt shouldn't be explored is problematic. Yet that's the message sent by those who bash and insult, and is hammered home by Kirkus changing its review.

It's easy for writers to fall into the trap of keeping their protagonists as ones who fit the writer's beliefs and experiences. That's not to say the writer should never create protagonists who share the writer's beliefs -- such exercises can be useful. But the real challenge for a writer is to write a protagonist that the writer doesn't agree with and, in some cases, may not be likable. And when such attempts are made, those who review the books should focus on whether or not the execution worked, even if the reviewer may not be a fan of the premise. That's how writers learn to get better at their craft.

But if certain individuals spend more of their time bashing and insulting than offering critical analysis, it's only going to cause writers to stay in their comfort zones rather than explore new territory. And it defeats the purpose of what those offering critical analysis are trying to explain to writers who venture into new territory.

To paraphrase Edison Carter: It's not the principle that is the problem, but the method is certainly a problem.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Max Headroom Episode Eight: Deities

Episode Name: Deities

Premise: Edison Carter is tasked to investigate the View Age Church, which promises technology to resurrect loved ones, that happens to be overseen by Carter's old flame.

Theme explored: On the surface, it's televangelism -- the View Age Church is like many televangelists when considering the promise of salvation if you'll just give money. A deeper theme explored, though, is the question "what is truth?" That's the challenge that Vanna Smith, the head of the View Age Church and a former love interest of Carter's, poses to Carter itself when she points out that she promises her church members something and they have found peace, while what Carter seeks out doesn't always bring peace, even if the evidence shows he's right.

There's also the question about how relationships can present conflict of interest when it comes to our jobs. Carter had a past relationship with Smith -- at first, he's reluctant to pursue the story, but once he learns more details, he becomes almost vindicative in his pursuit of the story. Carter tries to make peace with Smith, but in doing so, violates one of his rules that he will not allow a source to see his story before it airs. And then comes a confrontation with Ashwell, a member of Network 23's board of directors, who happens to be a member of the View Age Church and points out that Carter's past stories have often cost Network 23 sponsors and shows, thus hurting the network's bottom line.

Though the themes don't necessarily tie into what one would find in a dystopian environment, they are themes that hold relevance in society, especially when it comes to the question of what seeking the truth is all about.

Max Headroom quotes:
"God may have taken only seven days to create the universe, but the running repairs go on forever."
"One of my commandments is thou shalt not squeal."
"And God created the fish that swims in the sea, the birds of the air and the creatures that walk among the earth and then... he created Vanna Smith."
"What do I need a new body for? I never had an old one."

Personal observations: Again, this episode focused less on the consequences of a dystopian environment and more on asking the question about what truth really is. It does a good job building to the moment in which Max Headroom himself proves to be the mediator in the conflict between Carter and Smith, all while staying true to his personality.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Max Headroom Episode Seven: The Academy

Episode Name: The Academy

Premise: Blank Reg is accused of zipping (hacking) Network 23's transmissions, but the real culprits are students at the network's Academy of Computer Sciences, for whom Bryce is covering up.

Theme explored: Logic versus emotion. Bryce, in his attempts to cover up for the academy students, uses logic to determine that there is no harm in diverting attention to an innocent person because the evidence will show the person is innocent. However, Blank Reg is different because, given that he chose to wipe out his entire record, the networks use a "criminal profile" to determine the likelihood that he may have committed the crime -- a profile also based in logic. Or in other terms, a computer algorithm determines the likelihood of guilt.

It raises the question about the usage of computer alogrithms to come to conclusions. We have seen this become an issue in how posts are removed from social media accounts, or said accounts are suspended, based on what an algorithm determines, rather than an actual person examining the post or account to determine what is really being posted. And given the nature in which the academy teaches its students, in which they are taught to think in terms of logic rather than emotion, how that may not be a good thing when some situations may require a determination of "right or wrong" that is based more on emotion than logic.

Also critiqued was the trend at the time of broadcasting court cases for entertainment purposes (The People's Court was in syndication at the time this episode was taped). The critique comes in Blank Reg's trial, which is broadcast on the Network 23 show "You The Jury," in which the prosecutor and judge behave more like game show personalities and everything is treated as an event. It begs the question about how far you go in taking legal cases and broadcasting them for entertainment purposes rather than informational.

Max Headroom quotes:
"I happen to be living above the mainframe and just watched the show."
"As they said to King Charles I on the scaffold, are you going to go quietly or do you need a push?"
"Me smirk? It's not in my program."

Personal observations: This was one of the better episodes of the series. The writers were hitting their stride by this point, exploring a main theme that wasn't solely about critiquing television but finding a way to fit a critique of the media into the show. And in our debates today, there's always the struggle between using logic (data, algorithms, etc.) versus emotion (feelings, conscience, etc.) to determine what is the best solution to a problem.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Max Headroom Episode Six: The Blanks

Episode name: The Blanks

Premise: A group of Blanks (individuals who have wiped out their personal information from all databases) threatens to take down all computer systems unless Blanks who have been detained without cause be released by the government.

Theme explored: The episode focuses on Simon Pellar, an elected official who doesn't agree with those who choose to remove all identifying information from technological systems and seeks to have them arrested simply for choosing to be a Blank. Meanwhile, Blank Reg -- who runs his own Big Time Television network -- wants to reach a wider audience and agrees to work with Blank Bruno to sabotage all other network systems. But Reg has second thoughts when Edison Carter confronts him about it, but promises that he will talk to Bruno and find a way to get Pellar to release the Blanks who have been detained.

The theme is summed up by Edison's remark to Reg: "I believe in the principle but the method stinks." In other words, it's questioning what methods are appropriate to further principles that people hold. Pellar represents the government's side of things (wiping out your personal info from databases should be a criminal act) while the Blanks represent an example of what may be an individual or group's perspective (we don't want that personal info kept and want to live as we choose because we aren't hurting anyone). But in the end, each side uses a questionable method.

And those questionable methods certainly hold relevance in today's society. Pellar has Blanks arrested and detained after a tainted judicial procedure, which is easily comparable to the idea of holding a person accused of a crime without a speedy trial. Meanwhile, the method employed by the Blanks to achieve their ends would be described in today's world as "cyberterrorism." And the question to ask when these viewpoints come into conflict is this: Who should really prevail?

Max Headroom quotes:
"You want me to pretend to be a horse? I saddle up for no man!"
"I'll let you know if there's life after the off switch."
"What are you laughing about? Brice just tried to kiss me!"

Personal observations: I didn't find this to be as good of an episode as the others so far in the series, but the theme remains relevant today. The question we should always ask is the same thing Edison asks of Reg: While we may have certain principles we believe in, we should think carefully about the methods we utilize to advance them.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Max Headroom Episode Five: War

Episode Name: War

Premise: Network 23 investigates how a lesser rival network seems to always be on the scene of terrorist attacks during a global ratings sweep.

Theme explored: Media access is the issue at hand here. Breakthru TV, a less influential network, obtains exclusive rights to story packages involving the White Brigade, a terrorist organization railing against the heavy influence of television networks. But it's revealed that White Brigade and Breakthru TV are actually working together, with Breakthru TV's CEO hoping to get Network 23 to purchase the rights to the story packages. It escalates to the point that the Brigade unleashes an attack on the "ad market," this world's version of the stock market, in an attempt to discredit Edison Carter revealing the White Brigade's intentions in staging its attacks.

Though the theme of media access is taken to an extreme in this episode, there are questions that must be asked about how important access is. Is it worth it to give favorable coverage of a government agency in order to maintain access to it? Or the same involving a corporation? Or a non profit agency? Or a political organization? At what price does the quest for ratings (or whatever factor is used to measure audiences) must be questioned when those the media has access to engage in questionable behavior?

Max Headroom quotes:
"If I could get a hold of Breakthru TV, I wouldn't touch them with a bent TV antenna."
"The rigors of investigating, so tiring."
"For those cold mornings, why not try Chrenobyl Pops? They'll give you that warm glow all over."
"If they think I am endorsing car accessories, they've got another dipstick coming!"

Personal observations: Media today would be well advised to ponder the question about the importance of an audience above all else, especially if it means only favorable coverage may be given of any entity in exchange for access to those with the entity.

There's also an interesting exchange in which Edison Carter asks, "Since when did news become entertainment?" and Murray replies "since it was invented." Today's media environment arguably is the perfect example of "news equals entertainment" and it's something everyone should think about when it comes to the news they consume. And when it comes to media access, it often means the media further perpetuates the idea that news should be entertainment, lest its access be lost.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A Reminder Why Kaepernick Took A Knee

Whether you follow the NFL or not, you no doubt know about the remarks Donald Trump made about NFL players who kneel during the national anthem as a form of protest and the responses ranging from NFL owners with carefully worded statements critical of Trump's remarks to players criticizing Trump in various forms to the gestures ranging from kneeling to linking arms to raised fists.

All the while, people are up in arms about disrespect to the flag, disrespect to the military, disrespect to the country and how football games are not the time or place to do such a thing. And then other people use it as their chance to bash Trump and blame everybody who voted for him for everything that's happened, while others still talk about how unified the NFL was and how great it was to see everyone standing together.

Meanwhile, what got lost in the shuffle is the man who started it all more than a year ago and what he was really wanting to draw attention to. The man is Colin Kaepernick and the issues he wanted attention drawn to were police brutality and racial inequality.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Max Headroom Episode Four: Security Systems

Episode Name: Security Systems

Premise: When Edison Carter sets out to investigate who is the mystery bidder for Security Systems Inc., he learns that the company's AI has him listed as committing the most serious crime of all: credit fraud.

Theme explored: The question raised is what happens when one entity is given control over personal information and security and the dangers that come with it. Security Systems Inc. touts that "your inalienable rights are consumer credit, unlimited TV and personal security" and that only the company can ensure them all.

But as we learn from the episode, when somebody seeks a monopoly over such information, there's no telling what that person might use it for and how that person might use it. Edison Carter learns that quickly after the AI falsely designates him as wanted for credit fraud (a crime described as "worse than murder" in this dystopian environment) and he must now go underground to uncover the truth behind Security Systems Inc.

Another issue touched upon is the risks involved with artificial intelligence and how it can do the unexpected -- but while many stories tend to explore the idea of the AI turning against its users and causing harm, in this case, the AI serves a purpose in helping Edison Carter, thanks to the convincing of Max Headroom. Though an unusual twist, one can still ask whether it's wise to let a computer algorithm decide everything.

Max Headroom quotes:
"I'm glad that's over. Some of us can't cover our eyes, you know."
"You call this space? And I though the Network was cramped."
"I wonder if security guards ever hold a party and, if they do, do they let each other in?"
"As they say, when you're buying suppositries, with friends like that, who needs enemas?"
"You know what security guards are like -- shoot first and still argue about whether you can come in."

Personal observations: This is a good example of why Max Headroom was ahead of its time in many ways. Personal information, who is entrusted with it and who is able to access it is a major concern, but tends to get overlooked in our quest for security. Whether it's the government or a private company being entrusted with that information, there are plenty who worry about who controls it, what gets shared and whether it's really being protected by those people. And it's a reminder that we shouldn't just use "security" as a reason to believe that certain individuals or entities must be trusted at all times with such information.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Max Headroom Episode Three: Body Banks

Episode Name: Body Banks

Premise: Edison Carter investigates the disappearance of a young woman, which leads to the discovery of a body bank involved in organ theft.

Theme explored: The episode focuses on medical technology and questions how far one should go with it. In this case, a wealthy individual pays a large sum to a body bank for a pituitary gland to save his mother's life and insists it be found at any cost. It leads to the body bank declaring that if it cannot find a matching organ from a dead person, it will extract one from a living person -- in this case, a person in the lower class. The question that is asked: If saving one person's life must mean taking another's life, is it worth it?

Along with the plot involving the young woman's disappearance -- a kidnapping in which her organs are sought to save a wealthier person's life -- a member of Network 23's corporate board is blackmailed to acquire the technology that made Max Headroom possible to save the mind of the wealthier person. This not only furthers the theme about how far one should go with medical technology and who benefits from it, but touches upon bribery and corruption among the wealthy. This is further explored, to an extent, in a subplot in which Network 23's executive board attempts to get Max Headroom to become a spokesperson for the Zik Zak Corporation when Max has his own ideas about being a spokesperson.

Class warfare is also touched upon -- those who benefit are the elite and well connected while those who are exploited are described as the "fringes" of the city, which is another way of describing those in the lower classes who don't have the connections or resources those in higher classes do.

Max Headroom quotes:
"They're interested in me? They want an audience -- I'm like an audience."
"Zik Zak, the corporation that makes you give your money away the nicer way."
"Forget what I said about those Zik Zak burger packs. Don't go for your wallet -- that's just what they taste like!"
"Asking is just polite demanding."

Personal observations: Debates regarding medical care, ranging from who really gets access to life-saving treatment to how far we should go in exploring new medical achievements (stem cell research is a good example), haven't gone away in today's society. The question posed about "whose life matters more?" is one we must keep asking ourselves as well, especially when the question comes down who happens to have better access to medical care.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Max Headroom Episode Two: Raking

Episode name: Raking

Premise: Theora Jones' younger brother Sean is caught up in raking, a youth sport with a violent twist.

Theme explored: The main focus of the episode is how violence is used to exploit youth. The episode revolves around raking, a sport in which youth use motorized skateboards and attempt to knock each other down, but is exploited by adults and turned into a spectacle in which youth are encouraged to injure each other and bets are placed as to who will survive.

But the critique doesn't stop with a sport that's turned violent -- throughout the episode, Max Headroom is asking questions about a show called Missile Mike (a clear reference to Rambo) that is considered "children's programming" on Network 23, which happens to be negotiating for the rights to broadcast raking events (along with its primary sponsor, Zik Zak, agreeing to sponsor events). It raises the issue about how media companies seek programming to draw viewers without always considering whether it's appropriate for a particular audience or something that should even be aired to begin with.

Max Headroom quotes:
"Is fond the same as fondle?"
"The kids like killing? Who told them about it?"
"I'm looking for something with action, excitement and taste -- a taste of blood."
"Do you know that in Chinese, there are 30 different ways of saying one word? Is that why their population is so big? Chinese men just don't know when to take no for an answer."

Personal observations: Another episode with a theme that is still relevant today -- violence and its impact on not just youth, but all people, is something we still struggle with today. That many of the most popular movies, shows and video games today are violent in nature begs the question about how far media should go in using violence to appeal to audiences.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Max Headroom Episode One: Blipverts

Episode name: Blipverts

Premise: Edison Carter, star reporter for Network 23, discovers a recent death is linked to Blipverts, the new advertising technique his own network is utilizing.

Theme explored: The episode revolves around advertising and its influence on decisions made by media conglomerates, along with asking the question about what happens when a journalist's pursuit of a story comes into conflict with the very corporation the journalist works for.

Blipverts are advertisements designed to compress multiple three-second advertisements into a 30-second span each time, resulting in viewers finding it harder to change the channel. The technology is favored by Network 23's top advertising client, the Zig Zag Corporation, who is unwilling to drop Blipverts even after the revelation that a TV viewer died after watching them.

Max Headroom quotes:
"Network 23: The network where two's company and three's an audience."
"The executive board? You mean, you're the people who execute audiences?"
"Tune into Network 23, the network that's a real mind blower -- love those Blipverts!"
"I know you're looking at me and thinking to yourself, 'Why, he could be a star.' Well, let me just suggest humbly that -- you're right, I could!"
"How can you tell when our network president is lying? His lips move."

Personal observations: The first episode of Max Headroom explores themes that are still relevant in today's world, particularly with the huge influence that mass media has over today's society. Corporations want to get the word out about their products and are willing to explore any means to advertise and some will raise questions about ethics. Blipverts takes that issue to its ultimate extreme, in which a method of advertising proves lethal.

The episode does a good job establishing Edison Carter as a person who deeply believes in journalism as getting to the truth and keeping viewers informed, but he seeks to maintain a level of professionalism at all times, even when he engages in covert methods to get to the truth. His computerized alter ego, Max Headroom, takes a different approach -- he is more interested in getting himself over with audiences, but there is a lot of truth to what he has to say. Both generate material that keeps audiences interested, even as the executive board struggles with the idea that they are risking the bottom line by letting both personalities reveal the truth in their own ways.

The episode establishes the relationship between Theora, the camera controller who works alongside Carter, in getting through Carter's rough exterior and showing that he can trust her. It also sets the table for future storylines, such as Ben -- the one member of the executive board who sets limits as to how far he'll go to ensure the bottom line -- and Grossberg -- the Network 23 chairman who is more concerned with the bottom line than anything else -- and how they will each impact future decisins, and how Bryce, the technical genius who creates Blipverts, Max Headroom and other technological advances, becomes something of a wild card.

This was a good episode that can stand on its own (as was the case with most TV pilots back in the 1980s, in case the network didn't pick up the show) while allowing for future storylines to unfold.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

A Look Back At Max Headroom

After I finished up edits and rewrites on the second draft of my third novel and reviewed edits on my second novel, my thoughts turned to ideas for future books.

See, folks, this is what happens when you become a novel writer -- you keep getting all these ideas in your head for new stories!

But I'm not here to talk to you about such ideas, because my thoughts also turned to my collection of DVDs that I've accumulated through the years, how I started to think more critically about the movies and TV shows and what they were all about, and that's when I pulled out my DVDs of the Max Headroom TV series.

For those who remember Max Headroom, you probably remember him from MTV and his ad spots plugging New Coke, but what caught my interest when I was younger was the short-lived TV series based on the character. It lasted 13 episodes on ABC (a 14th episode was produced but didn't air until it went into reruns on cable networks) and was released on DVD by Shout Factory seven years ago.

What sparked my interest in revisiting the TV series was its commentary on television and its impact on society. Set in a dystopian future (the tag line was "twenty minutes into the future"), it focused on a society in which multiple TV networks dominate and everything revolves around their programming. Edison Carter is a reporter for Network 23 who always want to seek out the truth, even if it means clashing with his network's agenda.

In his pursuit of a story regarding something amiss at his own network, he is injured and his memories are download into a computerized conscious dubbed Max Headroom (so named because the last thing Carter saw before his injury was a sign that read "Max Headroom"). Unlike Carter, his computerized alter ego is brash and outspoken, but like Carter, has plenty of reasons to be critical of the TV-dominated society he's part of.

The show creators and writers admitted that Max Headroom was a series ahead of its time, given the relevancy that its criticisms of television and media hold today. The series predicted the rise of TV networks dominating the landscape, but while it didn't predict the rise of Internet-based media, Max Headroom would certainly have fit in well with today's society in which just about any form of media can make somebody an instant celebrity.

What I am going to do for the next few weeks is critique each of the 14 episodes and discuss some of the themes explored in each episode. The format I'm going with will look like this:

* Episode Name
* Premise
* Theme explored
* Max Headroom quotes
* Personal observations

I thought it would be fun to go back and review a series that, while it didn't last long, it had a big impact on a number of writers today and would probably be a relevant series to bring back to the airwaves today.

And who knows -- maybe it'll inspire some of you science fiction, fantasy and dystopian writers to come up with some of your own ideas about what might happen "twenty minutes into the future."

Links to episode reviews:
Episode 1 - Blipverts
Episode 2 - Raking
Episode 3 - Body Banks
Episode 4 - Security Systems
Episode 5 - War
Episode 6 - The Blanks
Episode 7 - The Academy
Episode 8 - Deities
Episode 9 - Grossberg's Return
Episode 10 - Dream Thieves
Episode 11 - Whackets
Episode 12 - Neurostim
Episode 13 - Lessons
Episode 14 - Baby Gro Bags

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Book Review: Stealing Liberty

I've always been a fan of books with themes that make you think. One of those books I ran across which does that is Jennifer Froelich's recent release, Stealing Liberty.

Taking place in a dystopian future, the book follows a group of students sent to a detention facility, who discover old books found in a hidden tunnel and learn more about the United States and its final days. When they learn about a planned sale of the Liberty Bell to Japan, the students plot to steal it.

Froelich does a good job creating strong characters and building tension and suspense. The book blurb suggests an alternating viewpoint between Reed and Riley, but two other characters, Xoey and Adam, have their viewpoints. It does add to the story, though I could make a minor quibble about how Adam's view tends to be limited.

Froelich also creates a good supporting cast -- I particularly enjoyed Sam and wouldn't have minded getting more of his perspective. The antagonists aren't what you what call evil -- they truly believe they are doing the right thing and it's their actions that make them characters who you can't sympathize with.

Most of all, the concept is what makes the book a great read. Though there are views shared that not everyone will agree with, they force the reader to question what price one is willing to pay to cater to a single mindset or viewpoint, as opposed to exploring individually and let one draw his or her own conclusions. This becomes particularly important in this world, in which popular books and songs are forbidden, alongside items associated with America's history. People may have differing opinions about The Bible and the Harry Potter series, but a society in which those and other books are all banned is a society I think few would want to live in.

That Froelich wrote a novel that makes you think as much as it makes you empathize with the protagonists and keep turning pages because of the tension built, makes Stealing Liberty an easy recommendation to read. You may purchase the book at Amazon.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Twenty Questions With Jo Ann Schneider

My guest for Twenty Questions is Jo Ann Schneider, the author of the Jagged Scar series. She has released four books in the series so far, of which the most recent title is Crippled Hope. Previous installments are Fractured Memories, Severed Ties and Shattered Dreams, with the fifth book, Broken World, underway.

You may learn more about the Jagged Scares series here or visit Jo Ann's website to learn more about her books.

For those who want to know more about Twenty Questions, you may learn more here about how you may participate.

I appreciate Jo Ann stopping by to visit -- let's hear from her about her writing.

1. How did you get interested in writing?
I won’t lie, I started writing stories as a tweenager. They all featured me, tossed into my favorite universes (ie Transformers, Jem and the Holograms, The A-Team, Aliens, Star Wars...) romping about kicking bad guy’s butts with the heroes.
None of it was good, but that’s how it all started.

2. What inspired you to come up with the Jagged Scars series?
A dream I had in college. A young girl who wakes up among strangers and has no idea where she is or what’s going on. I usually have fun dreams, but this was different. It felt real, and I still remember it to this day. The dream itself never made it into the novels, but the young girl, Wendy, and the leader of Shelter, Mike, did.

Ever since seeing the original Planet of the Apes—late at night, huddled in front of my 12” black and white TV that I had in my room when I was about twelve—and having my mind blown by the Statue of Liberty at the end, I’ve been fascinated with the fall of the world and what might happen afterwards. Jagged Scars is my first romp into that world.

3. Tell me about the main character, Wendy, and what inspired you to create her.
Wendy has problems. She’s the lone survivor of a Skinny (a mix between zombies and reavers) attack on the Den. She struggles with PTSD through the first three books, and it never totally goes away. It takes her a while to trust and/or bond with anyone. In book one, Wendy feels a little distant, and that’s on purpose.

Despite her problems, she’s a warrior who has spent more of her life training than anything else. She would give her life it if meant saving a kid, and she’ll go out of her way to kill Skinnies. Her father described her as the hammer of the Den, while her sister was the heart.

4. What characters, other than Wendy, did you find enjoyable to write as you progressed with the books?
Well, the others have their work cut out for them. Wendy is a hard nut to crack, but between Kev, Cal and Arie—with the occasional assist from Jeff—they break through her shell of protection and begin drawing the real Wendy out into the story.

The relationship between Kev and Cal has been fun to write. At first they’re like brothers, but Kev gets hurt and Cal gets warped by one of the bad guys, and they struggle for a few books. Being able to drive a wedge between them and then have the characters rip it apart was strangely satisfying. Their relationship is different now, and that’s okay.

5. What are some of the themes you explored in writing the series?
The first is mental illness. Not that I delve into the topic, but the first two books in the series are riddled with Wendy’s struggle with PTSD. She doesn’t really know what the problem is, and for a while she thinks she’s becoming a monster. Her friends rally around her, and never give up on her. Kev even knocks her out to keep her from killing a guy who did some nasty things to her.

That would be the second theme. Friendship. It can go through hell and still survive. I think people today need to know that. With the flurry of social media and the ease with which you get into a fight over nothing these days, I think it’s important to remember to ask yourself, “What is important? That we disagree over this topic, or that we’re friends and can stay that way despite our differences?”

6. What were some of the things you have learned along the way as you have written and edited each book in the series?
I’ve learned a few things. One being that I’m a crazy person until my plot is gelled. Which, sadly, may take two or three drafts of the book.

I’ve learned how valuable mean beta readers are. Seriously, worth their weight in gold. And chocolate.

I’ve learned that knowing the end will help me get there.

Right now I’m learning that wrapping everything up in book five is by far the most difficult part of this series.

7. Tell me more about the book, Babes in Spyland.
Babes in Spyland is a satirical James Bond in heels story. And it’s just as cheesy as it sounds. Four Super Secret Agents go up against bad guys that really shouldn’t exist. Like Lady Cluck. And the Swiss Misters. There are zombie flash mobs, a golf cart chase, theme parks, and a reality TV show gone awry.

The whole thing started out as a joke in college between some friends. It escalated and I decided I loved the characters so much that I asked the other girls if they were okay if I wrote an actual story. They said yes.

Babes was originally a serial story—one episode a week for twelve weeks to make a season. The publisher has gone out of business, so you can’t read it that way anymore, but I plan to break the original five seasons apart and then add on to it.

8. How did the process for writing Babes in Spyland differ from what you have done with the Jagged Scars series?
Each season of Babes is about 25k words. That was what the publisher requested. Fractured Memories, the shortest of my Jagged Scars books, is over 60k. On one hand, only having to worry about 25k words is easier than over 60k words. However, cramming an entire mystery—along with enough jokes to keep me laughing—into only 25k was challenging.

I didn’t have a solid ending in mind for Babes when I started, and life got crazy when I met my husband to be, so the last two seasons were a bit messy to write.

9. You have also written a couple of books in the New Sight series – what inspired those books?
I had recently been to a writing conference, and I had vowed that I would have a novel to pitch to an agent the next year. I’d been messing around with ideas for a few weeks, when one day, as I was driving home from work, the idea hit me.

Kids addicted to magic.


10. And what can you tell me about that series’ main character, Lysandra Blake, and how you created her?
I obviously gravitate toward female protagonists. Lys sort of grew out of the world building I was doing for the series. Once I figured out the magic system I started to think about what sense would be the most interesting to explore. Sight ended up at the top of the list, and things snowballed from there. I needed a main character who had issues—in this case addiction instead of PTSD—but was a good kid. Lys is smart and kind. She’s way out of her comfort zone at the beginning of the book when she’s on the psych ward after trying to take her mother’s eyes out with a spoon. We’ve all felt out of place before. Lys got that times about ten. I’ve loved her journey of self-discoverey so far. She isn’t a warrior, like Wendy, but she’s tough in other areas.

11. What do you find is the right environment for you to write?
I can write almost anywhere. One of the best short stories I’ve ever written came to me while I was in the train station in Moscow, Russia. Also, doctor’s offices. No idea why.

If I need to push out words, I go to Barnes and Noble. No distractions. No laundry. No dusting. No pull to go to the fridge and see if something chocolate or caffeinated has miraculously appeared in the last fifteen minutes.

If I’m not in a huge rush, I have an office in my house. All I need is a computer and a comfie chair. Music helps, but Pandora can stop for a good hour before I notice sometimes.

12. Are there specific programs or tools you find useful to help you with the writing process?
I type in Word. Although I have Scrivener. I’m just too afraid of opening it and losing a month of my life.

For plotting I am a huge fan of Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet. I know there is a lot of controversy around having a ‘formula’ to write to, but it really helps the pacing of my stories. If I didn’t use it, the fun part of the story would be 2/3 of the novel, and the endings would all be rushed. Not to mention weak. Torturing characters is sometimes hard, and the Beat Sheet forces me not shy away from it.

Also, I often write plot points on index cards and spread them around my desk/table/house. I’m a visual girl. It really helps.

13. What have you found to be useful methods for promoting your writing?
I’m in the midst of trying out:
Amazon Ads
Facebook Ads
Newsletter swaps
Free books
Diversifying my platforms (not just Amazon)
Social media

I’m still looking for what really works for me. But the best thing I’ve done is find a few people who are ahead of me in the marketing game and ask them what’s working for them.
Putting Fractured Memories up for free on Amazon was a big move for me earlier this year. So far so good.

14. What are some of the famous books or authors you have enjoyed or inspired you?
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, and anything by David Eddings or R.A. Salvatore. I know, old school.

15. Any aspiring or independent authors whose books you’ve read that you liked and want to mention to others to check out?
I’m really liking Angel Lawson’s The Death Fields series.

16. What advice would you give to those who want to write a novel before they actually get started?
Just do it! First drafts are supposed to be horrible. There will be parts that make you cringe and want to delete the file, then there will be parts that will amaze you. Embrace them both, then be ready to build on them.

17. I see you have a black belt in Kempo – tell me more about Kempo and what you enjoy about that martial arts discipline.
Well, I’ve always wanted to be a Jedi Knight, but since that particular path isn’t available, I decided on the next best thing. A ninja! I’m not great at the actual fighting part of it, but I love the physical confidence it gives me. I’m a chubby girl—always have been and always will be—so it’s nice to know that if something happens, I have a few things up my sleeves. And a killer kick to the groin. (Sorry guys)

I’ve had great instructors, and honestly, nothing prepared me more for receiving critiques in writing than having my instructors correct me and show me a better way to do even a simple kick. It sounds cliche, but I learned how to keep my cup empty, instead of full all of the time.

Plus, you get to kick things as hard as you can. It’s extremely satisfying.

18. I can tell you’re a Star Wars fan – is there a particular character(s) in the series you particularly love, and if so, who?
What gave it away?

Yes, I love Star Wars. As a kid I was all over wanting to be like Luke. Like I said before, Jedi would totally have been a career path for me. However, as I’ve gotten older, Han has become my favorite. His approach to things is practical and sometimes brutal, but things get done. He’s been down a lot of different paths, and in the end he decides to stick with the rebellion. He does what’s right even though it might hurt him in the long run. I like that.

19. In your travels to other continents, what were some locations you visited you particularly found enjoyable or interesting?
I went to China with my dojo and we did some training at the Shaolin Temple. Like Kung Fu the Legend Shaolin Temple. There is a room in which there are two divots in the floor, about a foot and a half across and four or five inches deep. They are just over shoulder width apart. This is where the monks stomp the floor.

Seriously. Stomp the floor. The stone floor, made out of super thick slabs of rock. That was pretty cool.

I took a Lord of the Rings tour in New Zealand. We went everywhere, but one of my favorites was the outing we took to where they had Edoras in the movies. The whole set is gone, but it was a beautiful wilderness with this amazing hill in the middle. We forded streams and everything to get there.

On my first cruise to Alaska my mom, dad, sister and I took a helicopter ride up to the top of a glacier. We got out and walked around. It was amazingly beautiful, and peaceful, but also full of power. Like nothing I’ve ever felt before. We all still talk about it, twenty years later.

20. Who would win a battle of superhero skills: Superman, Batman or Wonder Woman?
I have to stick with what I heard Stan Lee say when he was asked about characters in the Marvel Universe fighting.
“It depends on who’s writing the story.”

I still agree with him.