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Midnight Rises, My Graphic Novel, Out NOW on iOS!

Today’s the day: Midnight Rises, my first ever graphic novel, is out today, for iOS devices, via a downloadable app. I wrote it, and Mike Choi illustrates it. It also includes music by Serj Tankian (System of a Down). The first chapter of the graphic novel is free, with the subsequent two chapters available in-app for just 99 cents (and for fans of Mike Choi’s fantastic artwork, alternate covers are available for $1.99). I’m super proud of it, and of the world it introduces, which will be further explored in the video game Midnight Star, which debuts very soon. But Midnight Rises doesn’t just introduce the characters and situations of Midnight Star — the choices you make as you read Rises influence what happens for you in the game.

You have questions. Let me answer them.

What’s going on in Midnight Rises?

It tells the story of Charlie Campbell, the character you will play as in Midnight Star, and the crew of the science vessel Joplin, who support Charlie and share their knowledge and skills with him. Before the events of the game, Charlie and the crew have another adventure — a race against time to solve a mystery involving the Joplin and a shadowy group that will stop at nothing to disrupt the ship’s mission… a mission that could change humanity’s understanding of its place in the universe.

Why is Midnight Rises its own app, and not in one of the online comics stores?

Because Midnight Rises was designed from the ground up to take advantage of the mobile computing interface and all the things it can do. We’re not just talking about “motion comics” — we looked at all the advantages the mobile platform could provide us for visual storytelling and baked that into how we designed the graphic novel. Which meant giving Midnight Rises its own app — its own environment to do everything it can do.

What do you mean that choices you make in the graphic novel influence the game?

This is one of those “capabilities of the mobile platform” things — In the story we’ve put places for you to explore and to make choices for Charlie Campbell. If you play Midnight Star, the game will talk to the graphic novel, see the choices and explorations you’ve made, and tweak things in the game to reflect those choices. There’s no downside to any exploration — you’re not penalized for one choice or another, including the choice to simply read through the story. It just means that when you play the game, it’s personalized for you. Which is kind of cool, and again, something that reflects that both the graphic novel and the game are built for the mobile experience, not just on phones and tablets.

Why make a graphic novel at all?

When we did the initial worldbuilding — me and Alex Seropian and Tim Harris and all the folks at Industrial Toys — we knew that we were creating more than we could put into the scope of a single mobile experience. The motto of Industrial Toys is “Mobile to the Core” — and we didn’t see why that motto had to be confined to video games. We wanted to give people more things to explore in this universe we created. So when we started developing the game, we also started developing the graphic novel. Which is to say one was not the offshoot of the other; they were developed concurrently, with each informing the development of the other.

Also, personally, I’d never done a graphic novel before, and so this was a chance to try something new, with folks who knew what they were doing. Mike Choi in particular has tons of experience in comics and graphic novels. There’s a special joy in working with people who are at the top of their games.

Do you have to read Midnight Rises to play Midnight Star?

Nope. We designed both Midnight Rises and Midnight Star to be unique standalone experiences. You don’t have to experience one to enjoy the other. That said, if you experience both, you know more about the universe we created, and the characters who live in it. Like I mentioned before, we did a lot of worldbuilding. I think you’ll have a blast exploring both the graphic novel and the game.

When will Midnight Star be available?

Soooooooooon. I’m waiting for clearance to tell you the exact date. But! Soon!

Any other thing you want to tell us about Midnight Rises?

Yes!

One, that as a project I rank this right up there with one of my novels, in terms of its importance to me — this is something I’ve been working on for a couple of years now, with Mike and with the whole Industrial Toys crew, so finally having it out in the world is something that makes me very happy.

Two, if you have an iOS device, please download it and check it out! As noted, the first chapter is entirely free (and the two subsequent chapters are pretty cheap!) and the more people who download and experience it, the happier I will be.

Three, please feel free to tell every single person you know about it. It’s fun and it’s cool and I think people are going to love this story. Let them know! And thank you.

Four, it’s been an honor and a privilege working with the Mike, Alex, Tim and all of the Industrial Toys crew on the graphic novel, and also on the game (which I did a lot of work on too, but more on that… later). Midnight Rises is Industrial Toys’ official first release, and I’m delighted that something I wrote gets to carry the flag for the company. They’re good people.

So: Midnight Rises! Out now! Check it! And thanks.

John Anderson, RIP

John and Amanda Anderson, and Bruce Springsteen.

I met John Anderson close to nineteen years ago, when I started working at America Online, back in the day when the company was the very cutting edge of social media. I had moved across the entire country for the job, my wife had to stay back in California for a couple of months to finish up a semester of school, and I was literally at loose ends, lost, with no friends and very little idea of what to do with myself. John Anderson was part of a close circle of friends who took me in for trips to the Vienna Pub, late night games of Marathon, arguments about science fiction books and films, and more house parties than I can sensibly remember. When Krissy joined me in Virginia, I think she was glad I had fallen in with this particular crowd. Years later I would dedicate a book to these friends, John among them, in commemoration of their drawing me in and and being friends to me.

John held a special place in the group — the pop culture guru, especially when it came to music. His love for the stuff was simply immense, particularly when it came to Americana, that strain of muscular rock of which Bruce Springsteen was the patron saint (and boy, did John ever love his Bruce). Through him I was introduced to dozens of musical acts, many of whom I still listen to today, and many of whom became friends with John after the fandom wore off (I’m thinking particularly of Matthew Ryan here, though there were others).

What was great about John was that he wasn’t a snob about music when he talked to you about it. He wanted to share the stuff, and he wanted to share it with you, and he was genuinely pleased when you liked what he liked. He was the sort of appreciative, loving and intelligent fan any musician wished they could have.

He was also the sort of friend anyone would wish they could have. He was kind and smart, could talk trash while playing foosball or have a long conversation until the sun came up. He excelled in joy — through music, through reading, through friends and through living, and most of all with through his marriage with Amanda, his wife of nearly a decade.

Some years ago John was diagnosed with ALS, and he shared that news with his friends. The ALS took a physical toll but as far as I can see John continued to excel in joy. He was reading, listening to music and enjoying the company of friends right until the end.

That end, which came yesterday, is not, I suggest, the end of that joy in which John excelled. Those of us who had the joy of knowing him, and of sharing in that joy, will feel it whenever we listen to the music he introduced us to, or the books we read with him, or remember the conversations we had or are in the presence of those who knew him and were known by him.

My heart breaks that John is gone, and for Amanda, and all our friends. But how happy I am we each got our time with him, and shared songs and words and days and nights. I will miss my friend, but I will not miss his friendship. That remains and will remain for as long as I do, or any one of us will.

Thanks, John, for the music, and the company, and for you. Peace be with you, and to everyone who loved you and called you their friend.

John & Amanda, watching Matthew Ryan perform at their home.

John was a guest blogger here a few years back. If you would like to read his post — which make clear his love of music and pop culture — here they are.

Sunset with Sundogs, 1/26/15

The sundogs being the rainbow spots on either side of the sun. I can often get one side but rarely get both. So this is an auspicious day. Also, I suggest looking at the larger version for more detail.

Lock In a Lariat Top 25 Book for 2014

Well, this is a nice thing to discover: The Texas Library Association has put Lock In on the TLA Lariat List for Recommended Adult Fiction, with 24 other eminently worthy entries across several fiction genres. Other science fiction-y entries on the list this year include The Martian from Andy Weir and Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel among others. Congratulations to everyone on the list, which I’ve included below from the TLA press release (arranged alphabetically by title):

  • After I’m Gone ~ Lippman, Laura; William Morrow/ HarperCollins Publishers.
  • All the Light We Cannot See ~ Doerr, Anthony; Scribner.
  • Archetype ~ Waters, M.D.; Dutton.
  • The Book of Unknown Americans ~ Henriquez, Cristina; Knopf.
  • The Enchanted ~ Denfeld, Rene; Harper/ HarperCollins Publishers.
  • Everything I Never Told You ~ Ng, Celeste; The Penguin Press/ Penguin.
  • The Girl with All the Gifts ~ Carey, M.R; Hachette Book Group/ Orbit.
  • A Guide for the Perplexed ~ Horn, Dara; W. W. Norton & Company.
  • The Husband’s Secret ~ Moriarty, Liane; Putnam/ Penguin.
  • I Am Pilgrim ~ Hayes, Terry; Atria/Emily Bestler Books.
  • The Invention of Wings ~ Kidd, Sue Monk; Viking Adult/ Penguin.
  • Life After Life ~ Atkinson, Kate, Reagan; Hachette Book Group/ Reagan Arthur Books.
  • Lock In ~ Scalzi, John; Tor Books/ Macmillan.
  • The Martian ~ Weir, Andy; Random House.
  • Neverhome ~ Hunt, Laird; Hachette Book Group/ Little, Brown & Company.
  • Night Film ~ Pessl, Marisha; Random House.
  • The Pearl that Broke Its Shell ~ Hashimi, Nadia; William Morrow/HarperCollins Publishers.
  • The Queen of the Tearling ~ Johansen, Erika; Harper/ HarperCollins Publishers.
  • The Sea of Tranquility ~ Millay, Katja; Simon and Schuster.
  • The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing ~ Jacob, Mira; Random House.
  • Stars Go Blue ~ Pritchett, Laura; Counterpoint/ Perseus.
  • Station Eleven ~ St. John Mandel, Emily; Knopf.
  • The Steady Running of the Hour ~ Go, Justin; Simon & Schuster.
  • Terms & Conditions ~ Glancy, Robert; Bloomsbury USA./ Macmillan.
  • To Rise Again at a Decent Hour ~ Ferris, Joshua; Hachette Book Group/ Little Brown & Company.

Many thanks to the TLA folks who sat on this year’s task force committee. You’ve put my book in some excellent company, and I am deeply appreciative.

 

The Next Couple of Weeks Around Whatever

Just as a heads up:

This week (defined as through Thursday) posting is likely to be light because I am trying to finish things before I head off on the JoCo Cruise. But! I’ll be blathering about Midnight Rises (and maybe other things, hint hint), and I’ll have a trio of Big Ideas for you to sink your brains into.

Next week (defined as Friday through February 8) posting is likely to be even lighter as I will be on a boat in the middle of the Caribbean, and honestly, I will have better things to do. No offense. That said, unlike previous JoCo Cruises, where I disconnected entirely, this year I will for business reasons be keeping an Internet connection. So I may — MAY — post some pictures to make you all jealous. Also, there will be one Big Idea piece during this time.

While I am on the boat, I will also be turning on my “I’m ignoring emails” autoresponder, and indeed most emails, excepting certain ones relating to business, will be gleefully not paid any attention to. So, yeah, if I were you I’d either send me a note before Friday, or after the 8th.

Quick Ghlaghghee Followup

First, thank you to everyone for their kind thoughts and notes yesterday, here, on Twitter, in email and in other places. I had a sad day yesterday, and you folks helped get me through it. And it was also nice to have a day where I didn’t do anything but process. I’m still sad today, but I also have things I need to do. So onward.

But I did want to show you where Ghlaghghee is and will be. That’s the backyard maple tree in the picture above; where the small pile of logs is a temporary wood cairn under which you’ll find her. The logs are there both to note the spot (we’ll probably put a small marker of some sort later) and also for the practical matter that there are coyotes and stray dogs in the area and we would like to thwart any of their possible ambitions. Life in the country.

Ghlaghghee unintentionally did us a small kindness by passing away when she did rather than any later, because yesterday morning the ground was clear and it was still warm enough that digging wasn’t a problem. It started snowing almost immediately after we finished burying her. This morning her resting spot is looking very pretty.

In any event, there she is and there she will remain and it’s nice to have her with us. I’m not generally a huge fan of burials — I doubt I will be buried myself — but as I noted yesterday it made sense for this little cat. To the extent that she would think about it at all, I suspect this is what she would prefer. Her whole life was what I can see out my windows. It’s a good thing to be able to look out the window and still see her.

Ghlaghghee, 2003 – 2015

Glaghghee came to us in May of 2003 when my then next-door neighbor Jerry knocked on my door, said, “here’s the kitten your wife said she wanted,” thrust a small, furry thing into my hands, and then walked off. I looked at the small puff of fur, literally no larger than my hand, said “okay” to myself and then took it upstairs with me.

Then I called my wife, who was at work, and the conversation went like this:

Me: You didn’t tell me you ordered a cat.

Krissy: I ordered a what?

Me: A cat.

Krissy: I didn’t order a cat.

Me: Jerry just came over with a kitten that he said you wanted. He mentioned you specifically.

Krissy: Oh, lord. I was talking to him the other day and he said that his cat had had kittens and that he thought that one of them was an albino. I said, “Oh, I’d like to see that.” I didn’t say I wanted it!

Me: In that case, surprise, we have a new kitten.

Also, as an albino cat Ghlaghghee was a bust, because she had markings that made her look like a Himalayan; for all of her life when people saw photos of her they complimented me on what a lovely example of the breed she was. She wasn’t. Her mother, who lived next door, was a mixed breed cat with tortoiseshell markings, and we strongly suspect her father was a Siamese mix feral cat who we would see wandering about the first couple of years we were here. Ghlaghghee, despite appearances, was a common moggie, genetically speaking.

But she was just about adorable, I like cats, and I sensed a real “no takebacks” vibe from Jerry. Deciding to keep her was not really a problem. We also decided that we would let Athena, age four, name the cat. More accurately, Krissy decided it, and I went along, with caveats. Specifically, that we would ask her to think of another name than something dreadfully boring, like “Fluffy,” because, honestly, we were a creative people, we Scalzis, and we could do better.

And this is how that went down:

Me: Athena, we have a new kitten and we’ve decided to let you name it —

(produces kitten)

— but before you do, I want you to try to think of a creative name, not something like —

Athena: I WANT TO NAME IT FLUFFY

Me:crap.

I was not really down with the name “Fluffy,” but you try getting a four-year-old child to change her mind about a new kitten name and see how far you get. In this moment of domestic crisis, I turned, as I so often did, to the wisdom of George Bernard Shaw, who once commented that the English language is so nonsensical in its rules regarding pronunciation that one could spell “fish” as “ghoti” and it could still sound the same.

Well, I could live with “Fluffy” if it was spelled “Ghlaghghee,” so that’s what I did. And thus our cat was named, and also twelve years of people asking how “Ghlaghghee” was pronounced and/or trying to pronounce the word as if their epiglottis was spasming. Which amused me, at least.

Ghlaghghee quickly decided that I was her human, which was fine with me because I like cats and she was both a pretty cat and an exceedingly well-tempered one. She was one of those rare cats who enjoyed being rubbed on her belly, and never complained when she was picked up. I would frequently cradle her like a baby, and she was fine with that; indeed, she often had an expression that I translated as “why yes, I should be carried around and spoiled. I am surprised this is even a question.”

That said, her cuddliness was highly contingent on who you were; she wasn’t much for strangers and even Athena she would sometimes treat as a person below her station. As for the other cats, well. She was the smallest of the three cats we currently have, but there was no doubt which cat ran the household. A prime example of this was the fact that Ghlaghghee had claimed my and Krissy’s bed as her space; if Zeus or Lopsided Cat tried who share it with her, she would make her displeasure with their presumptuousness clear almost instantly. For a decade, the bed was a no-go zone. She got along very well with the other cats, as long as they remembered who was boss.

Ghlaghghee was always popular with Whatever readers, because she was a handsome cat who I would frequently photograph, but she became famous to the entire world in September of 2006, when I taped bacon to her, posted a picture of it here on the site, and for two days that post with a picture of bacon taped to a cat became the most popular thing on the English-language Internet.

Looking back now, it’s difficult to believe that in all the time prior to that moment, no one had thought to tape bacon to a cat, and then put that picture on the Internet, but apparently no one had. The Internet loves bacon; the Internet loves cats. Combining the two was perfect synergy.

For a brief period of time, Ghlaghghee, aka BaconCat, was one of the most famous cats on the Internet and substantially more famous than I was. I had more than one conversation that went like so:

Person I Don’t Know, Who I’ve Just Met: So, what do you do?

Me: Well, I write books. Science fiction books. My most famous one at the moment is called Old Man’s War.

Person: Sorry, I don’t know it.

Me: I also once taped bacon to my cat.

Person (visibly excited): Oh my God! That was you?!? I love that cat!

Ghlaghghee was written up in the New York Times and Wired and several other places; she was unimpressed with them all because she’s a cat and it’s not as if she actually cared about any of that stuff ever, and it never really occurred to me to try to keep my cat’s moment going. Ghlaghghee’s celebrity has long since been eclipsed by the Grumpy Cat and Lil’ Bub and other such creatures, which is fine. Ghlaghghee didn’t seem to mind. A quiet country life, with a few fan club members frequenting Whatever and a Twitter feed, seemed to suit her.

Ghlaghghee always slept with me and Krissy on our bed, and then one morning in December we both realized that she hadn’t come up to sleep with us at all. I went looking for her and she was lethargic and wheezy. I took her to the vet soon after and she told us that Ghlaghghee had suffered from congestive heart failure. Ghlaghghee was not, on balance, a particularly old cat, but congestive heart failure can happen in cats at any point, and more frequently after middle age. Our vet gave us some medicine to help her clear out her lungs, which had been experiencing fluid backup, and let us know that we should be preparing for what comes next.

Cats with congestive heart failure can sometimes live for a couple of years with the condition, but Ghlaghghee was not one of those cats. Literally overnight she went from active to feeble. It was hard to get her to eat or to do anything other than sleep. We did what we could to make her feel safe and loved.

Yesterday it was clear that prolonging her life at this point made no sense. We made an appointment with the vet for Monday. Last night I made her as comfortable as I could, wrapped a towel around her to keep her warm, kissed her on the head and told her good night. I went to sleep and in the night had a dream that she had come to bed with me and Krissy again, sleeping between us as she often did.

I woke up and she was gone.

We buried Ghlaghghee in the back yard, by our maple tree there. She had lived literally her entire life, from the moment of her birth to the moment of her death, within two hundred yards of our house. She belongs here in death, too, in the place she knew, to become part of the landscape and to still be with us.

I’m taking her death badly. I’ve had a month to prepare but as Krissy told me today, preparing isn’t the same thing as being in the moment. Pets are part of your family; you love them and in their way they love you back. Ghlaghghee was indisputably my cat, and I’ve spent a dozen years with her, every day, as part of my life. I knew this was coming and I thought I was ready to say goodbye.

I was, but I wasn’t ready for how much saying goodbye to this particular cat would hurt. I suppose it’s just that I loved her a lot. And it hurts when those you love go away.

Midnight Rises: Out January 29th!

Most of you know by now that for the last couple of years I’ve been working with game studio Industrial Toys to help create a mobile-based video game called Midnight Star, and an accompanying graphic novel (also for mobile devices) called Midnight Rises. During that time we created, and tweaked, and beta-tested and tweaked some more. And people asked: When? When will we see these for ourselves? And I always said: Soon, I hope!

Well, in the case of Midnight Rises, “soon” now has an actual date attached to it: I’m delighted to announced that Midnight Rises will be available for iOS devices on January 29th, i.e., less than a week from now. In less than a week you can meet Charlie Campbell and the crew of science vessel Joplin as they prepare for a secret mission! There will be spaceships! Fights in bars! Sarcasm! And also, technologically speaking, a very nifty way of making a graphic novel work with the mobile interface, not just in it. Midnight Rises was written by me and illustrated by Mike Choi, who did a fantastic job.

Midnight Rises will be available as its own app, and the first chapter of the story will be free for the reading. My understanding is it’ll be available worldwide, but I’ll need to double check with Industrial Toys on that (they will have their own post up about it soon (Update, 12:37pm: Here it is!)). We’re doing iOS first, but I believe other formats will follow.

I’m excited for you to see this graphic novel. It’s my first, and I had fun with it. I think you will too, when you see it next week.

And Midnight Star? When will it be out?

Soon. Really soon now.

Ghlaghghee Update, 1/23/15

Folks have been asking how Ghlaghghee is. In brief: Fading. She’s lost a lot of weight, is unsteady on her feet, and spends most of her time sleeping in this particular place (under an end table in the living room, next to the love seat). I’ve taken her to vet and the verdict is: Not getting better, and not likely to.

We’ve had the discussion about if and when to put her down, and our general thinking is that unless Ghlaghghee is showing obvious signs of pain (which she is not), our plan is to keep her warm, keep her loved, and let her end her days here at home if at all possible rather than at the vet’s. In the meantime, we go on.

So that’s where we are with Ghlaghghee.

New Books/ARCs, 1/21/15

Continuing to catch up on all the new books and ARCs that have come to the Scalzi Compound since the turn of the year. Here’s today’s batch, and there are some excellent finds in here. What looks good to you? The comment thread hungers for your input.

Author Event This Friday at the Montage Cafe, Greenville, OH, 7pm

The headline says it: I’ll be doing my first stand-alone event of 2015 locally, at the Montage Cafe in Greenville, this Friday. The doors open for the event at 6pm, and I’ll start my part of the thing at 7.

What will I be doing? Well, I’ll be reading brand new stuff that I’ve never read before, and I’ll also be probably going through the archives a bit for funny stuff. I’ll also be answering questions and generally chatting. If people bring books, I’ll be signing them. And so on.

The event is open to the public, so if you live in or around Darke and Miami counties here in Ohio, come on by. At the moment, it’s my only scheduled public appearance in Ohio for 2015 (although that may change when we schedule the book tour later in the year). Come on around; I’ll be looking forward to seeing you.

New Books and ARCs, 1/19/15

And now I’m catching up to new books and ARCs that have arrived here at the Scalzi Compound since the turn of the year. Here’s the first batch! See something that catches your fancy? Tell me what it is in the comments.

Back from Confusion ’15

Krissy, trapped by the insidious Large Inflatable Football Helmet, at Confusion 2015

I attended the Confusion convention the first time in 2005; Old Man’s War had just come out and I wanted to see what a convention that was not a WorldCon was like. I picked Confusion because it was relatively nearby (3 hours driving, which is nothing to a native Californian) and because it looked interesting. I had a great time, and the people there were lovely to a newbie author such as myself, so I kept going. I haven’t missed one since, including the one that wrapped up today, with Karen Lord as the author guest of honor (she was fantastic).

I tend to think of Confusion as my “home” con (along with Penguicon, another Michigan convention; the two conventions share a lot of staff) which means I treat it differently than many other cons. For example, I will frequently show up to it and do no programming at all; I’ll just hang out in the bar and chat with friends. I did some programming this year, but not a lot. I don’t worry about promoting myself there; I’m just there to relax and be with people I like. In short, it’s the convention I experience as a “fan” just as much — if not more so — as I experience it as a pro.

I brought my Nikon with me this year to take some pictures of the convention and also of a fencing expedition I want on with a few other authors and friends courtesy of Subterranean Press; if you’re curious what this year’s edition of festivities looked like, here’s the photo set. Enjoy.

And yes, I’ll be back next year too — provided they don’t counter-schedule it with Arisia, at which I will be a guest of honor in 2016. Hopefully they won’t; I would hate to miss my home convention.

First-Pass Oscar Predictions, 2015

In a past life I was a full-time film critic and still keep up with the field. So every year when the Oscar nominations come out, I predict what will win in the six major categories, first fresh out of the gate, then again just before the ceremony, to factor in changing circumstances. The awards were just announced, so let’s dive in, shall we?

Best Picture

“American Sniper” Clint Eastwood, Robert Lorenz, Andrew Lazar, Bradley Cooper and Peter Morgan, Producers
“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Alejandro G. Iñárritu, John Lesher and James W. Skotchdopole, Producers
“Boyhood” Richard Linklater and Cathleen Sutherland, Producers
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Wes Anderson, Scott Rudin, Steven Rales and Jeremy Dawson, Producers
“The Imitation Game” Nora Grossman, Ido Ostrowsky and Teddy Schwarzman, Producers
“Selma” Christian Colson, Oprah Winfrey, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner, Producers
“The Theory of Everything” Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lisa Bruce and Anthony McCarten, Producers
“Whiplash” Jason Blum, Helen Estabrook and David Lancaster, Producers

The Academy can nominate up to ten films a year in this category; eight made the cut this year. At this point I usually throw out the films that don’t also have a director nominated as well, because it’s very rare for a film to win Best Picture when the director is not at least nominated. This year, that would leave out Whiplash, The Theory of Everything, Selma and American Sniper. I do think we can chuck out Whiplash and Theory, so out they go. However, I think it would be foolish to entirely discount Sniper this year; it has several other high-profile nominations, and I think people know who Clint Eastwood is as a director (he’s already got two director Oscars). Selma I would have ranked higher but a quick scan tells me it has two nominations total (the other being in Best Original Song), and I think that means it’s done.

I would toss out Budapest next, for the simple fact it’s a comedy and comedy statistically has a rough road to victory in the category. Birdman is also nominally a comedy, but I think its chances are better. For lack of a better way of putting it, it’s fresher than Budapest, which is, essentially, Wes Anderson doing what we all know Wes Anderson does (note: this is not a complaint. I loved Budapest).

At the moment I think four nominees have a decent chance at the Oscar: Sniper, Birdman, Boyhood and Imitation. If I had to rank their chances at the moment, I would do it thusly: 4. Birdman; 3. Boyhood; 2. Sniper; 1. Imitation. I rank Imitation highest not for any special fondness for the film, but because it’s a Weinstein Company film, and if the Weinsteins know anything, it’s Oscar campaign trench warfare. But I don’t think any of these films is out of the running.

If the Oscar were mine to give, I’d probably go with Boyhood, because it’s a marvelous stunt of a film (it was filmed over a dozen years with the same cast) that will likely never be done again, and it was also better than its stunt. That’s worth an Oscar to me.

But yeah, this category I’ll definitely be revisiting later.

Will win: The Imitation Game

Should win: Boyhood

 

Best Director

Alejandro G. Iñárritu, “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”
Bennett Miller, “Foxcatcher”
Wes Anderson, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Morten Tyldum, “The Imitation Game”

Miller out first, on account that Foxcatcher isn’t nominated for Best Picture, and a director’s odds are not good at all when that happens (in fact I can’t recall off the top of my head a director winning when their film was not nominated for Best Picture; if it happened it was long long ago).

After that it gets tricky. Tyldum has a chance, and historically the Academy likes to tie in the director and picture awards, and I am nominally giving Imitation the lead in that race at the moment. However, particularly in the last several years the Academy hasn’t been shy in splitting director and picture, and the rest of Tyldum’s resume consists of little-seen (in Hollywood) films in other languages, and there are other people in the category I suspect the Academy might want to award. So I’m hedging my bets on Tyldum.

I think Anderson’s out next, although I suspect there’s a very good chance he’ll be walking away with a different Oscar, which I will detail in a bit. I think, then, it’s going to come down to Iñárritu and Linklater, and of the two, I would put my money on Linklater. As noted before, he’s done something as a director no one else has done; also he’s been nominated for Oscars previously, and it might just be his time. I think he’s got it this year.

Will win: Linklater

Should win: Linklater

 

Best Actress

Marion Cotillard in “Two Days, One Night”
Felicity Jones in “The Theory of Everything”
Julianne Moore in “Still Alice”
Rosamund Pike in “Gone Girl”
Reese Witherspoon in “Wild”

Let me just make this one short and say I will be very surprised if Moore doesn’t take it. She’s been nominated for Oscars four times before (twice in both acting categories), she’s great, it’s her time, and the competition is between two women who have won Oscars already (Cotillard and Witherspoon) and two first-timers (Jones and Pike). This, to me, is an easy call. If Moore doesn’t get it, I’d put money on Jones, followed by, in order, Witherspoon, Cotillard and Pike.

Will win: Moore

Should win: Moore

 

Best Actor

Steve Carell in “Foxcatcher”
Bradley Cooper in “American Sniper”
Benedict Cumberbatch in “The Imitation Game”
Michael Keaton in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
Eddie Redmayne in “The Theory of Everything”

With the exception of Redmayne, who I think should probably be happy just to be here, I have no idea how this category will go. Carell has a very good chance by playing against type in a dramatic (and creepy) role and doing a universally acclaimed job of it; Cooper has been previously nominated and this could be Sniper’s big Oscar pickup; Keaton is giving the performance of his career and is the legitimate comeback kid of this crowd; Cumberbatch is as hot as an actor can be at the moment and may benefit from an Imitation Oscar snowball effect. It could go any of these ways. I just don’t know. Someone who tells you they know, or that there’s an easy choice here, is lying.

For the moment, I’m gonna give the edge to Cooper, for no other reason that of this whole crowd, he’s the one closest to the standard idea of a leading man, and yes, that’s an utterly shitty reason, but look, I told you this is a tough category. If the award was mine to give, I’d give it to Keaton, who takes a role that could have been mere parody — Keaton playing an actor who played a superhero, trying to escape that legacy! It’s so meta! — and made something better out of it.

Will win: Cooper

Should win: Keaton

 

Best Supporting Actress

Patricia Arquette in “Boyhood”
Laura Dern in “Wild”
Keira Knightley in “The Imitation Game”
Emma Stone in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
Meryl Streep in “Into the Woods”

Oh, look, here’s Streep’s annual nomination. They just gave her an Oscar in the lead category; she’s not gonna get this one. I’m not quite feeling it for Stone or Dern, either, although I approve of the nominations in both cases, and if either wins, I think it will say positive things about their filmmate’s chances in the lead categories. I think this will come down to Arquette and Knightley, and of the two I would give edge to Knightley, because of her previous nominations and because of the Weinstein ability to craft Oscar juggernauts. But if Arquette takes it, it could be an early signal of good things for Boyhood generally.

Will win: Knightley

Should win: Arquette

 

Best Supporting Actor

Robert Duvall in “The Judge”
Ethan Hawke in “Boyhood”
Edward Norton in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
Mark Ruffalo in “Foxcatcher”
J.K. Simmons in “Whiplash”

Oh, I don’t know. I’m historically bad at guessing this category and this year is no different. My gut tells me that Duvall’s on the slate because Robert Downey Jr., did some campaigning for him, Simmons is in the Richard Jenkins “Guy you know from TV gets a shot” slot, Hawke’s gonna get slighted again, and then Ruffalo and Norton are gonna basically slap fight for it from there, and Norton taking it because it’ll be Birdman’s nod for the year. But I have to tell you, my gut could be really high.

I want them to give it to Hawke, I know that much; for a dude who currently makes most of his income from Screen Gems horror/sci-fi films that show up in the off-brand months of the cinematic year, he sure shows up at the Oscars at lot (two screenwriting nominations and now two supporting nods), and if anyone deserves it this year, it’s him, unless you think doing the same role for a dozen years and making it work is easy.

Yeah, if you haven’t figured it out by now, I think Boyhood should pretty much win all the Oscars this year. Anyway.

Will win: Norton

Should win: Hawke

 

Other notes:

Screenwriting Oscars are the unofficial “compensatory Oscars” for directors — just ask Orson Welles or Quentin Tarantino — so I think there’s an excellent chance this year that Original Screenplay will go to Wes Anderson, for Budapest (and also as a bit of a career award). If it doesn’t go to Anderson, I expect it to go to Linklater, also nominated in the category. Adapted Screenplay? Maybe the other director named Anderson (Paul Thomas, for Inherent Vice), and it wouldn’t be a bad pick, although Inherent only has one other Oscar nod this year (Costume Design). I suspect Imitation will vacuum up Adapted, via its juggernaut powers. In Animated Feature I expect How to Train Your Dragon 2 will prevail, although Big Hero Six might correct me on my math.

On the science fiction front, Interstellar was nominated in no major categories (unless you count Original Score as a major category), but still racked up five nominations; I would be surprised if it doesn’t at least win Sound Design.

And finally, as a dark horse in the Original Song category, I’m gonna push my chips onto Glen Campbell’s “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” because if you think a musician’s final song, about how Alzheimer’s is slowly robbing him of the memories of the woman he loves, isn’t going to push every single button the Academy has, well, you think differently about the Academy than I do.

Your thoughts on the Oscar nominees this year? Share them in the comments.

A Cat and His Box

Zeus the cat, shown here being fooled into attacking the underside of a box by the scratching sounds my wife is making, has become quite attached to the self-same box. The box is the one my most recent desktop computer came in; I pulled the computer out of it and the kept the box for a bit just in case something went horribly wrong and I needed to ship the thing back.

As it turns out the computer runs perfectly well, but in the interim Zeus has decided that the box is his spot, i.e., the one place that for him and him alone. If Lopsided Cat dares to sit on it Zeus will thump on him until he moves, and then lie down on it himself as if to reclaim it. It’s kind of adorable, in a cat way.

So although the box now serves no real purpose any more and is in fact a little bit in the way, I think I’ll keep for at least a while longer. It makes Zeus happy and doesn’t hugely inconvenience me, and it’s certainly a cheaper cat seat than many others I might buy (and have). So, enjoy yourself, Zeus. I wouldn’t keep a big pointless box in my office for just anyone, you know.

Disorganized Thoughts on Free Speech, Charlie Hebdo, Religion and Death

Disorganized because every time I try to organize my thoughts on these topics recently they kind of squirm away. So, fine, disorganized it is, then.

1. As noted in one of the tweets shown above, as a newspaper journalist, as well as, you know, writing here, I’ve done my share of enraging people with words, by mocking ideas that they hold dear, because I thought they deserved mocking. I have had my share of angry responses and even the occasional threat, and my response to those typically has been to poke harder. When I took up the #JeSuisCharlie hashtag, that’s what it meant to me. I’ve been that guy.

2. I also recognize that I know almost nothing about Charlie Hebdo, the newspaper, or the tradition of satire and comment that it exemplifies in French culture. From where I sit, a lot of what I’ve seen of it looks kind of racist and terrible. And I understand that Charlie Hebdo didn’t just go after Islamic extremists, and that it went after other groups and people just as hard (and just as obnoxiously). But it reminds me that “we go after everyone equally” doesn’t mean that I feel equally comfortable with all of it, or that it has equal effect. When I say #JeSuisCharlie, it doesn’t mean I want to create or post what I think are racist caricatures and justify them as satire, applied on a presumed equal opportunity basis.

3. But then again my comfort level is about me, not about Charlie Hebdo or anyone else. Free speech, taken as a principle rather than a specific constitutional pratice, means everyone has a right to share their ideas, in their own space, no matter how terrible or obnoxious or racist or stupid or inconsequential I or anyone else think they and their ideas are. I also recognize that satire in particular isn’t about being nice, or kind, or fair. Satire is inherently exaggerated, offensive and unfair, in order to bring the underlying injustice it’s calling attention to into sharper relief. Trust me, I know this. (Satire also has a high failure rate, and the failure mode of satire, like the failure mode of clever, is “asshole.”) A lot of what I’ve seen from Charlie Hebdo isn’t for me and seems questionable, and that’s neither here nor there in terms of whether it should have a right to be published.

4. At the moment there’s an argument about whether news organizations are being cowardly about showing the Charlie Hebdo covers that allegedly were part of the reason it was attacked — the ones with visual depictions of the prophet Muhammad, who many Muslims feel is not supposed to be depicted visually (let us leave aside for the moment the discussion of whether all Muslims feel this way (they don’t) or whether Muhammad has been visually represented in the past even in Muslim art (he has, here and there) and focus on the here and now, in which many Muslims believe he should not be represented visually). The argument seems to be that by not showing the covers (or Muhammad generally), newspapers and other media are giving in to the extremists.

I’m not going to argue that very large media companies don’t have multiple reasons for what they do, including making the realpolitik assessment that displaying a Charlie Hebdo cover puts their employees (and their real estate, and their profits) at risk for an attack. But a relevant point to make here is that aside from the asshole terrorists who murdered a dozen people at Charlie Hebdo, there really are millions of Muslims who are just trying to get through their day like anyone else, who also strongly prefer that Muhammad is not visually represented. It’s not a defeat for either the concept or right of free speech for people or organizations to say they’re factoring these millions or people who neither did nor would do anything wrong into their consideration of the issue.

5. Which is a point that I think tends to get elided at moments like this — free speech, and the robust defense of it — does not oblige everyone to offend, just to show that one can. I can simultaneously say that I absolutely and without reservation have the right to visually depict Muhammad any way I choose (including in some ways devout Muslims, not to mention others, would consider horribly blasphemous), and also that, with regard to depicting Muhammad, as a default I’m going to try to respect the desire of millions of perfectly decent Muslims, and not do it. Because it’s polite, and while I’m perfectly happy not to be polite when it suits me, I usually like to have a reason for it.

6. But isn’t Muslim extremists shooting up a newspaper a perfect reason? For some it may be, and that’s fine for them. But I tend to agree with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar here: shit like this isn’t about religion, it’s about money and recruiting for terrorist groups who use religion, at best, as a very thin binding material for their more prosaic concerns. I’m also persuaded by Malek Merabet, brother of Ahmed Merabet, the policeman and Muslim who was killed by the terrorists. He said: “My brother was Muslim and he was killed by two terrorists, by two false Muslims.” In which case, why offend the good and decent Muslims to get back at two very bad and false Muslims. I’m a reasonably clever writer; I have the capability to make my point regarding these asshole terrorists without a gratuitous display of Muhammad.

7. Hey, did you know that according to the UN, Christian militia in Central African Republic have carried out ethnic cleansing of the Muslim population during the country’s ongoing civil war? And yet I hear nothing from the so-called “good” and “moderate” Christians around me on the matter! Why have the “moderate” Christians not denounced these horrible people and rooted them out from their religion? Is it because maybe the so-called “moderate” Christians are actually all for the brutal slaughter? Christians say their religion is one of peace! And yet! Jesus himself says (Matthew 10:36) that he does not come to bring peace, but the sword! Clearly Christianity is a horrible, brutal murdering religion. And unless every single Christian in the United States denounces these murders in the Central African Republic and apologizes for them, not just to me but to every single Muslim they might ever meet, I see no reason to believe that every Christian I meet isn’t in fact secretly planning to cut the throat of every single non-Christian out there. That’s what goes on in those “churches” of theirs, you know. Secret murder planning sessions, every Sunday! Where they “symbolically” eat human flesh! 

Please feel free to cut and paste the above paragraph the next time someone goes on about how all Muslims must do something about their co-religionists (of which there are more than a billion, all of whom apparently they are supposed to have on speed dial), and how Islam is in fact a warrior religion, and look, here are context-free snippets from the Koran, and so on and so forth until you just want to vomit from the stupidity of it all. And don’t worry, there are similar cut-and-pastes for any major religion you might want to name, as well for those who have no religion at all, although I’m not going to bore you with those at the moment.

The point is that, no, in fact, I don’t see why I or anyone else should demand that every Muslim is obliged to denounce and apologize for any bad thing that happens in the world done by someone who claims to be doing it in the name of Allah. As it happens, many prominent Muslims and Muslim organizations did condemn the Charlie Hebdo attacks, just like pretty much everyone else. But silence isn’t complicity or endorsement, and if you demand that it is, you may be an asshole.

8. If there is one silver lining to the horribleness of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, it is that people have been confronted with the fact of something they take for granted — the right to say what they want to say, how they want to say it — is something that others will literally kill to punish. That Charlie Hebdo is a problematic example — that is offensive, and intentionally so, and it does make people uncomfortable and angry — is, well, good isn’t the right word. Instructive. Sometimes we have to be reminded that free speech isn’t just for the speech we like, or the speech that’s easy to be reasonable about.

At the same time it’s okay to ask if this welcome outpouring of solidarity is because free speech was attacked, and it was decided that it was worth fighting for, or because a newspaper that mocked Islam was attacked by gunmen purporting to be Muslims, and that this may be less about free speech than another front in a religious/ethnic clash of culture.

My thoughts are that it’s probably some amount of both, and that neither is cleanly delineated. The two men who shot up Charlie Hebdo say they were Muslim; so were some of the people they shot. Those people — the Muslims who died — have been mourned, at least it seems from here, equally with all the other dead. They haven’t been pushed out of frame for a convenient narrative.

And maybe that’s part of the silver lining to this very dark cloud, too — that this isn’t just “us vs. them,” or at least that “us” now contain people in it who might have previously been considered “them.” And that all the people who are saying #JeSuisCharlie, and #JeSuisAhmed, or who are standing for free speech, or any combination of the three, are standing in memory of them as well.

The “Duh” Factor

Another possible measure of advancing age: I wrote 15,000 words this week, which was good, but at the end of each day my brain felt a bit wrung out, and today, when I’m not writing on the book but did want to write about politics a bit, my brain was still a bit mush. Whoa there, deep thoughts, it’s saying. Yeah, no, not gonna happen today.

So, sorry. I was going to be all insightful and smart, but then my brain went on strike. Maybe tomorrow.