New Cat

Meet our new kitten, who we received through the good graces of our neighbor, whose cat had yet another litter of kittens. We decided we’d take one on — there are always more field mice to deal with — and this is the one we got. We’re pretty sure that Lopsided Cat, one of our other cats, is his older brother. Despite his coloring, he is not either Siamese or Himalayan, he’s just cat. Or kitten, actually — this little ball of fluff is only slightly larger than my hand. Balled up like he is in this picture, I can sit him in my palm. I don’t exactly have Michael Jordan hands.

The new cat is not entirely pleased to be here — previous to this, he’d been running around our neighbor’s yard, and was successfully avoiding capture by the neighbor until our neighbor flung a fishing net on top of it. Those crafty humans with their nets! What are you going to do. Right now he’s sitting far back inside a cat carrier I’ve made his temporary home in my office. I honestly don’t expect him to come out anytime soon. This is just as well. We’ll be doing the slow introduction to the other animals, so that none of them get it into their fuzzy little heads to eat the new guy.

The animal I worry about the least in this regard, I should note, is Kodi — Kodi loves Lopsided Cat to death, and would love Rex too, were Rex not so studiously unlovable. Kodi will probably just be thrilled she has another new buddy to play with. The other cats will probably be more of an issue. A good friend of mine suggested that one way to make them all a big happy family would be to rub tuna juice around all three cats and put them into the bathroom; after a few minutes of required hissing and swatting, they’d engage in an orgy of mutual licking to extract as much of the tuna essence from each other as possible. It’s not a bad idea, I suppose, but I don’t much want to imagine how painful the initial “dousing the cats liberally in tuna juice” phase would be for me, so I’ll probably just let them get used to each other gradually.

The new cat hasn’t got a name yet. As with any family with small children, we’re likely to let Athena do the honors, but if any of you have any suggestions, I may slip them to our daughter as a viable alternative to “Fluffy,” “Fuzzy,” “Kitty” or “Nietzsche” — the last of these seems improbable, sure, but then again, yesterday, Athena chose to describe a tummyache with these exact words: “Every single thing in the entire universe makes my stomach hurt.” Which is a line ol’ dreary Fred certainly would have approved of. So you never know.

Anyway: Got cat names? We’re open.

Interesting Factoid

So, from early Friday morning, when I powered down my computer to head off to vacation, to 6am on Tuesday morning, when I am typing this, I have received just short of 1500 pieces of e-mail. Of which six were not spam. Incidentally, this latter number does not include the piece of mail I received from “”

If you don’t get as much spam as I do, well. Just you wait.

Another Note From Athena

Dear Whatever Readers:

Please excuse my dad from writing until next Tuesday. It is the Memorial Day Holiday and daddy has promised to spend it engaged in endearing family fun! Also, he’s been told that if he gets anywhere near the computer for the next four days, his phalanges will be shattered one by one with a ball peen hammer. Isn’t that funny?

See you later!



Café Press

My friend Charles Keagle, who is an artist and animator, dropped me a note today about his site,, devoted to the cute, cottony little creatures he’s been drawing since we were in high school. Charles, full of the gumption that Makes America Great, has started his own line of fluffball clothing, designed to swaddle you and/or a small child you know in fluffball softness, all the better to help him segue into a lucrative Nickelodeon series. Or something like that. To which one has to say: Go Charles! Ride those fluffballs to unfathomable riches. And remember I want a cut.

Charles is able to start his own line of clothing not because he’s filthy stinkin’ rich but because he’s got one of those Café Press shops; the idea here is that Café Press supplies the t-shirts (and fleece sweaters, and baby bibs, and coffee mugs, and so on), and all Charles or anyone has to do is supply some artwork. When someone orders a shirt, or whatever, they screen it on and ship it out, and Charles gets his cut. There’s little or no cost for Charles. And of course, no sooner than Charles mentions his shop, than I note other people I know with their own little Café Press shops: My pal Joe Rybicki is flogging hats and t-shirts with his band on them, for example. And it also occurs to me that the coffee mug I bought last week was also a Café Press product. These guys are everywhere.

I realize I’m coming late to the Café Press party, since every second blogger has his or her own Café Press shop, but now that I have, I’m thinking it’s not a bad idea at all — another example of someone actually using the Web to do something it would have been impractical to do before. Café Press items are a touch more expensive, but I guess popping out stuff in runs of one isn’t as cost-effective as it could be. But I now have a cool inflammatory mug I wouldn’t have had before, and Charles can sell his fluffballs. So there you have it.

Will I start making t-shirts and trinkets? You never know.

Vanity, Vanity

Teresa Nielsen Hayden and a couple of published writers are going to town on a PC Magazine article on print-on-demand vanity presses here; their basic point is that these things are mostly a pretty good way to separate money from a desperate wanna-be writer and that’s about it (Teresa also talks about it on her own site). They are assailed for their position by a number of people, including staff members from those self-same POD vanity presses and a bunch of would-be writers. I find it amusing that people who have never been published are somewhat snittily implying Teresa and the others, who have a number of decades publishing experience between them, have no idea what they’re talking about. This is one those “hope spring eternal” sort of situations on the part of the would-be writers.

I don’t personally have an issue with vanity publishing, online or otherwise — I mean, I do it — but I think the main point, and the point Teresa and the others are making, is that putting out your own book is not the same as having it professionally published. As I continually note, Agent has brought in a nice tidy sum for being published online (and for relying on people’s good will to pay), but it is a mere fraction of what I’ve made in advances for the books published by professional publishers. Agent pays for pizza now and then. My actual books contribute significantly to my mortgage.

The reasons for this are pretty simple; aside from issues and questions about stuff that is self-published being any good (which I’ve covered before), there’s the reason that Agent just sits on my Web site and waits for people to come by. I’ve only advertised it once, on Penny Arcade, and while that did pretty well for me (“pretty well” meaning I made more because I advertised than it cost to pay for the ad), I don’t have the time, inclination or cash to advertise it over and over. When my pro books come out, on the other hand, entire marketing departments are on hand to sell the things. That’s their job, and I’m glad it’s them and not me, because clearly I’d do a bad job of it. The reason I write is because I don’t like to work, you know.

Having said that, I do think there’s a place for vanity publishing, even for those of us fortunate enough to be published professionally. For example, I am giving considerable thought to putting together a collection of Whatever columns and some selected non-Whatever material as well. This collection would be, shall we say, of specialized interest and really unlikely to be of interest to anyone but myself, a few friends, and regular readers of this site. Therefore, it’s not at all a good candidate for professional publication. That being the case, no harm and no foul in having it whipped up as a POD vanity thing.

The difference here is that I have no illusions what I’ll be doing, or what vanity publication represents. That’s the point Teresa’s trying to make, I think, and what most vanity publishers would just as rather have would-be writers not notice.

Spooky Eye and Etc.

One of the things I learned about myself after moving here to Ohio is that if you put me on a lawn tractor for about an hour, and I am mowing the lawn all the while, for about 20 minutes afterwards I will do nothing but sneeze. Another thing I learned is that if you sneeze for about 20 minutes, the blood vessels in your eyes pop and you end up looking like Evander Holyfield has been using you as his punch monkey. Yet another thing I learned is that you can have fun with a bloodshot eye if you have a digital camera and the willingness to make yourself look like the proverbial Creepy Dude Down the Block Parents Tell Their Kids to Stay Away From. Thus the collage to the right. Note to parents: I’m not really this creepy. Of course, isn’t that just what a creepy guy would say.

I was particularly enamored of the picture that had me looking up at the camera, bloodshot eye glowering angrily — it’s like the perfect album cover pose for angry goth rocker, provided it is suitably artied up, as I have done here. Should I ever have my sense of personal equanimity surgically removed and replaced with a desire to write lyrics about writhing in glorious pain while demons feast on my roasting flesh, this is picture I’m going to use. It’s so Clockwork Orange-y! All the young droogs will be lining up for it, I’m sure.

Photoshop fun aside, the whole bloodshot eye incident was a great big bag of no fun, since 20 minutes of sneezing also gives you strained muscles, constant tearing and the general feeling that with the next violent spasm, your head will detach at the neck and fling itself violently into the wall. It also makes your kid come up, give you a hug and tell you she’s sorry you are dying. Well, I’m sorry, too.

Speaking of the kid, I mentioned the other day that she was learning her way around Photoshop; here’s the photodocumentation. I should note that at this point, her facility with Photoshop is largely constrained to coloring and a few simple editing tricks like fiddling with the brightness and contrast and changing hues and color balance. But on the other hand, when I was four, I was busy eating crayons, so I hope you don’t mind if I’m just a little impressed with the kid for getting this far.

Mmmm… crayons.

Smoke This

A Whatever reader has asked me to comment on this, in which a $145 billion judgment against several tobacco companies in a class action suit was reversed. The tone of the e-mail suggested my correspondent thinks that this overturning of the suit is a good thing; he suggested I entitle the entry: “Responsibility Upheld; Victimhood Suffers.”

I won’t be doing that. But I can’t say I can work up any sort of outrage against the decision being overturned. My general feeling about smokers has always been that everyone who started smoking after the inception of the Surgeon General’s warning on individual packs has really shaky ground to complain that they were mislead by the tobacco industry. When every pack sold in the US has a note on it that states explicitly that the product within is going to hurt you, the only people who have the legitimate claim that they didn’t know what they were getting into are the illiterate (and being nicotine addicts are the least of their problems).

More specifically, I’ve always thought anyone my age or younger should be totally banned from suggesting that they are anything less than entirely responsible for their own habit. I knew that cigarettes were bad for you almost before I knew what were cigarettes were; indeed, I can’t remember ever not knowing cigarettes were bad. People start smoking for lots of reasons, and they typically start before their brains are fully engaged on the repercussions of voluntarily starting an addictive habit. Be that as it may, let’s just say that anyone under the of age 40 in North America’s slate of excuses for starting smoking doesn’t include “I didn’t know it was bad.” I knew. They knew. We knew.

I am in fact fairly prejudicial about people who smoke, on a sliding scale. People who are over 40 who smoke, I pretty much give a pass. Everybody smoked before 1960. They gave cigarettes to pets. And so on. People between the age of 30 and 40 (i.e., “my age”) who smoke cause me to deduct between 10% to 30% off my initial impressions of their intelligence and common sense, depending. People between 20 and 30 who smoke I consider to be complete dumbasses until they prove themselves otherwise. Anyone who is under 20 and smoking should be thrown in a woodchipper, all the better to start again on the karmic wheel of rebirth, and hopefully this time they’ll be born with brain stems that connect.

Now, I would agree that the tobacco industry did a yeoman’s job of trying to convince young and all that smoking makes you alive with pleasure. But, you know, here’s the thing with that: Part of being a teenager, or at least part of being a teenager when I was growing up, was totally mistrusting everything an adult tried to sell you, ever, end of story. I always thought it was funny that cigarettes, of all products, managed to escape that particular injunction (bear in mind that I don’t think teenagers actually do mistrust everything adults try to sell them. Malls across the nation would collapse. But as a teen, you’re supposed to at least pretend). So, even while entirely agreeing that tobacco companies are evil and run by evil people who happily produce products that kill when used as directed, it still comes down to the person who lights up and sucks smoke into his or her lungs.

What I think we should do is what states and cities are doing, which is tax the Hell out of the vile little tubes, to pay for the uninsured joes who will inevitably stagger into the ERs with smoking-related heart attacks, strokes and whatnot. Insurance companies likewise should feel perfectly cool about jacking up the insurance rates of smokers so that when they do hack out their lungs at the end of a 30-year smoking career, they don’t overly burden the rest of us because of it. Social denigration? Groovy. Banning smoking everywhere but cold, windy sidewalks? Even better (I except bars. Because, honestly. You’re going to friggin’ drink. If you’re going to abuse your liver, you might as well abuse your lungs while you’re at it).

But as for suing the tobacco industry, well, I wouldn’t. Were I smoker and noticed one day that my lung capacity was clocking at about 30%, my first thought would not be How did this happen? And who can I sue? My first thought would be, Well, it’s here. I guess I should work on that will.


Because I don’t want you to think my life is entirely charmed, what with the fabulous wife and great kid and the job where I make stuff up from the comfort of my own home while the rest of you slave for the man in decapitation-height cubicles, here’s a recent disappointment: I’ve been turned down my (yet another) fiction agent.

No, no. I’m fine, really. To begin, it was a really nice rejection, so much so that I like to think that I’ve not so much lost agentorial representation as gained another random e-mail buddy. And you can never have too many of those. And there’s the fact that, since I actually have a two-novel deal, my absolute need for an agent at this moment is less than it might otherwise be. For all that, I do have foreign and film/tv rights to sell, and I know for sure that I don’t want to be the guy who has to slog through and do it. Not to mention selling the novels after these. Somebody save me from myself.

Being rejected is also an object lesson in a fact that when it comes to creative output it is exactly as screenwriter William Goldman famously said of Hollywood: Nobody Knows Anything. Ultimately, nearly all of it comes down to hunches and personal tastes. In this particular case, some of the reason for my rejection by the agent is rooted in the idiosyncrasies of my writing style, which is focused on dialogue and action, and not so much on introspection and internal conflict.

This is of course, a perfectly valid criticism, and one which I get a lot. Go back to my first year in college, when I rather presumptuously shouldered my way into an upper-level fiction writing course, and you’ll find my writing being taken apart by my classmates for being glib and unconvincing. And why not: They were nearly all writing heady stories about drugs and bisexual experiences in the dorms, while I wrote a story about a boy accidentally trapped by the garage door when his dad’s repair job of the garage door opener went awry. Everyone else was writing from what they knew (or, probably more accurately, what they wished they knew), while I was writing from what I thought was amusing. Kid trapped by the garage door? That’s comedy gold! The only thing my writing teacher liked of mine is a one-page vignette I wrote about a college-age kid trying to convince his grandfather that’s he’s not a disappointment, and the grandfather trying to communicate the idea (falsely) that he wasn’t disappointed in the kid. I didn’t like it much personally, but I figured my instructor would.

So, it’s true: I’m glib. But on the other hand, it’s this same style that actually helped sell Old Man’s War, and is implicitly the style the book I’m writing now is supposed to be in. I sold the book on the promise that there would be action and dialogue, and by God, action and dialogue it shall have. There might indeed be some personal introspection and even a couple of larger themes in there, too. So long as they don’t get in the way of action and the dialogue. Anyway, I can’t imagine the story getting too heavy, since as I’ve mentioned before, one of the major plot points involves sheep. Sheep! They’re comedy gold! Scribble, scribble.

So who’s right? The agent who rejected me? The editor who bought my book? Me, glibly writing about sheep? Well, this my point. We’re all right. The agent is perfectly right to reject the work of mine she’s seen — it doesn’t work for her, and that would make it harder for her to sell it. The editor was right to buy the book he bought, because it worked for him and he thinks it’ll work for his audience. I’m right to write what I do because I like what I write, and that fact has its effect on the quality of the writing. And we could also all be wrong, too: The agent might kick herself for letting me get away, the editor could seriously misjudge the market for the novels, and I may be seriously overestimating people’s tolerance for sheep in their science fiction. Nobody knows. We have to wait and see.

In the meantime, I’ve already sent a query off to another agent. You can’t sit around moping after a rejection, you have to rush into the arms of the next rejection. Because who knows? It might not be a rejection at all.

Happy Family

Why are these people smiling? For the little girl in the center, who is named Andrea, it’s because her adoption papers finally arrived yesterday, which means she has documented proof that she is, you know, in my family. For the woman on the left, whose name is My Mom (and who is holding the aforementioned documents), it’s because she gets the benefit of having a new daughter without the inconvenience of passing said daughter through her body first (and good thing: Look at the size of that kid). For the guy on the right, who is named Robert My Stepdad, it’s because he can’t wait to pay to send Andrea to college! Look at that grin! Ah ha ha ha… heh. And all of them are happy because I took out the boring white wall they had been sitting in front of and replaced it with a groovy Photoshop sky. I’m just giving that way.

Spam Names

I get upwards of 250 pieces of spam mail a day, which is enough of a representative sample that I notice certain trends: Which misspellings of Viagra are popular today, the rise of the “Deck of Weasels” playing cards coinciding with the fall of the “Iraqi’s Most Wanted” deck, and of course, whether this week it’s the wild Russian teenagers or the bored suburban housewives who crave my, um, presence more (this week: bored suburban housewives! Good for me. They’re already in the country).

However, the trend I’m noticing today involves the names the spam headers carry. As most of you know, spam often comes with someone’s name attached, to give the impression that it’s a real live person, and not a soulless spambot, who is flooding your e-mail box with offers for porn and miniature digital cameras. It used to be that the spammers would at least attempt to make the name sound reasonable, but at this late point, they’ve abandoned all pretense and are just going with crazy stuff. So now I’m treated with spam from the likes of Conley Haupert, Ignacio Cummings, Santiago Whitaker and (my favorite of the moment) Kermit Bolton. Oh, the terrifying mental images that name conjures up.

This is one area in which I find spam somewhat useful. As you may know, I’m writing a novel at the moment (just finished another chapter less than five minutes ago, actually — many high-powered politicians leveling accusations at each other. Also, sheep). One of my writing secrets is that I’m flat-out awful with giving characters names; usually I just take names of people I know and mix and match first names with last names. Which is why Agent to the Stars features partial names of people I went to sixth grade with, and Old Man’s War features the mixed names of members of the rock band Journey (the main character: John Perry). With spam, I don’t even bother mixing and matching the first and last names. I just cut and paste.

This doesn’t mean I want more spam — really, I’d rather have no spam and go back to using the names of programmers I find in the credits of the video games I play. But as long as I get spam, it’s nice to have some benefit from it. And when my next novel features the hero Ignacio Cummings battling the evil villain Kermit Bolton, you’ll know why.

Rain, Etc

Heavy rains are cutting into my ability to stay connected to the Internet through my satellite modem. Apparently it must be raining in space as well. Thereby, updates today may be sporadic if at all. Don’t blame me, blame the position of this planet in an orbit that allows for liquid water.

Enter The Matrix Kinda Blows

I bought the Enter the Matrix video game, and I have to say that aside from whatever other qualities the game might have, it combines two of my least favorite things: a third-person perspective with a really clunky camera system, and the inability to save any where, any time.

The first of these is aggravating — you start fighting in the game and all of a sudden the camera swings around by some weird dictate of the code, and you have no clue where you are or what you’re doing. Hint to game developers, since I know there’s at least one of you who reads this: Nail the friggin’ camera down during fighting. A wildly swinging camera does not help me kick my opponent’s ass, and when I die because my camera suddenly wants to give me a viewing perspective from behind a box, what that makes me want to do is hop on a plane to where your studios are and unload a couple of clips into your workstations.

Enter the Matrix does have a first-person setting, but it’s unbelievably bad — for one thing, when you’re in the first-person mode, you can move from side to side but you can’t move forward or backwards. Who is the idiot that thought this would be a good idea? Another note to game developers: Look, if you’re going to give me a first person mode, make it useful to me. Providing me with a lame-ass first-person mode just makes me think you’re a lame programmer who can’t even figure out how to move forward.

Second thing: I should be able to save my anywhere, anytime, whenever I want. Why? Because I paid 50 bucks for this argin’-fargin’ game to be entertained. And I will tell you what is not entertaining: Having to slog through a significant portion of a level over and over and over again just to get to the point in the level that is so poorly scripted that it does not allow me to complete my objective in a reasonable manner, thus causing the game to stop and me to begin at the beginning of the level again. I can accept that I am part of the problem here; perhaps at age 34, my mad sniping skillz are not what they used to be. However, bad game design is also part of the problem. If I could save at the moment just before I am required to do a very difficult task, I could probably live with it. But instead I have to start at the beginning, several minutes earlier.

Never tell me I shouldn’t be able to save when I want. It really is the simplest way to get me not to buy your game. I’m serious about this, incidentally — There have been games I have been slavering over that I’ve not bought because I’ve read a review that mentioned that the “save” function was not under the player’s control. It’s a deal breaker for me. I’m buying the game so I can play it, not so it can play me.

Aside from these two major issues, I have to say so far I’m really not impressed with Enter the Matrix all around. The other character controls are very clunky, the graphics on the PC are twitchy (I have a high-end processor and video card, so this shouldn’t be the case), the level design is bland and the textures are uninspiring. From a the PC gamer point of view, you can tell this game was initially design with the console player in mind, which is not always a blessing from the PC gamer point of view. All in all, mostly a disappointment so far.

The game does provide us with more scenes of the very tasty Jada Pinkett Smith as a reward for slogging through the levels, but at this point I’m tempted to use the “hack” tool that comes with the game just to watch those cinematic scenes and skip the rest of the game altogether. That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of the game.

Stubborn Kid

The picture at right serves two functions. First, for all the people who noted that I looked fairly scowly since I got the new haircut, it is proof that I am still capable of smiling, and not appearing as if I’m 12 hours in to a weekend prison furlough. Second, the picture captures a certain fundamental orneriness inherent in Athena. Also her desire to ham it up for the cameras. But mostly orneriness.

Which generally speaking (and you must never tell her this) I approve of highly. Stubbornness can be overdone, but at the same time I like the idea that my kid, even at a very early age, is confident enough of her own opinions that she’s willing to get stompy about it. I don’t like it so much when it’s bedtime and I have to keep myself from smothering the dear sweet child with a pillow because she won’t settle down. But most of the rest of the time it’s not so bad.

There’s very little doubt that Athena gets a substantial amount of her stubbornness from me, since while my level-headedness and general apathy combine for a mostly-agreeable “whatever” attitude from me on many things, I am rather notoriously stubborn about the things I decide to be stubborn about (I pick my fights carefully these days). But I’m not the only stubborn adult in the family. Krissy’s stubborn dynamic is different than mine, a righteous steamroller to my passive-aggressive stalled truck, but it’s there.

Be that as it may, last night while watching Athena stubbornly do something (or more to the point, not do something), Krissy commented that she wasn’t actually stubborn as a child — that her stubbornness only really manifested itself as an adult. Well, you know, I found that hard to believe, so I got on the phone with my mother-in-law, who laughed uproariously at the idea of Krissy not being a stubborn kid. She related a story in which the young Krissy, when told to pick up something, would drop her hand until it was about a millimeter away from the surface of the thing she was supposed to pick up, and let it hang there, as if to say, see how close I am to doing what you want? And yet, I’m NOT doing it. Nyah nyah nyah.

Which made me laugh, because that’s one of Athena’s signature moves, that and its flip-side variation of hovering her hand over something she’s been told not to touch, on the reasoning that if she’s not touching it, she can’t be punished, but she can annoy you by almost-but-not-really touching it. This typically ends badly for her, by the way, since as a four-year old her motor control is not it all it can be, and she inevitably ends up touching the thing by accident. But she keeps at it. Hope spring eternal.

This news from Krissy’s childhood made me feel more affection for both my child and my wife, if that’s possible. In many respects, physically and mentally, it’s pretty obvious that Athena is my kid. She resembles Krissy no less than she resembles me, but those resemblances tend to be more subtle; this is an example of that. But I love finding things about both of them in each other, and I love seeing how what was part of Krissy and what was part of me come together to become wholly and originally something of our daughter’s. Stubborn is a family trait, but Athena’s variation is a delight to behold.

Except when it’s not. But for those times, there’s always the pillow. And the smothering.

Contest Winner!

Thanks everyone for the many interesting entries in the contest to win The Rough Guide to the Universe. Here’s how it went:

Third Place: “The Universe is a very short poem.” Very clever. And linguistically not incorrect.

Second Place: “The Universe is ribbed for your pleasure.” This one cracks me up because, aside from comparing the universe to a condom, it’s also not entirely far from the truth: Thanks to quantum irregularities during early expansion of the universe, the universe’s matter distribution is, if not actually ribbed, certainly a little lumpy. However, it’s not likely that was done for our pleasure. Even so.

First Place: “The Universe is… the beta-test version of the biverse.” This would explain all too much about the way things are.

So, Sharon, e-mail me your address and I’ll send out a copy.

For everyone else, remember that I have at two more books coming out this year. We’ll be playing again.

The Moon and The Matrix

I come out of Matrix Reloaded last night and head home, and as I’m driving home, I look up at the half moon that’s shining up there, and then I keep driving. Then some part of my brain says: That moon was full when you left home. For about a second I was seriously weirded out; Reloaded is a little long, but not, you know, seven days long. Then I remembered about the lunar eclipse last night, and felt two things: First, a rather embarrassed wave of relief, and second, a very small inkling of the holy terror lunar eclipses must have provided my pre-scientific ancestors, who didn’t know much but knew that the moon going through all of its phases in one night just wasn’t right.

Enough about that stupid moon, I hear you say. I can see that anytime. Tell me about Reloaded. Well, I enjoyed the hell out of it, while simultaneously agreeing with the snipes of the critics: It’s too long. Parts are w-a-a-a-y too talky. The scenes in Zion are kind of dopey. It doesn’t have the same shocking freshness of the original. However, absolutely none of that bothered me in the slightest. First, as I explained the other day, my baseline entertainment expectations are fairly manageable: I wanted Reloaded to amuse me, not tell me how to live my life. It lived up to the amusement level I require and then some.

Also, here’s the thing: Most of the (professional) critics who are slamming the film simply haven’t taken the red pill. Which is to say they’re experiencing Matrix Reloaded as just another flick rather than what it (also) is: A tour inside the Wachowski brothers’ fevered little heads. Experiencing the latter is most of the fun here — the idea that these two guys have built up a world that’s so complete that you could theoretically follow any part of it outside the context of the movie and have it keep on going.

One advantage I have over most of you is that I’ve seen the whole Animatrix DVD — the collection of animated shorts based on and in the Matrix universe — and a couple of elements in the movie are rather more deeply explored in those animated shorts. So when they pop up in the film, I knew that the rabbit hole on that particular thing went down even further. The video game Enter the Matrix likewise integrates with the current film (it features an hour of movie-quality cut scenes and effects) and fills out the character of Niobe, who is something of a side presence in the film. You won’t miss the context if you don’t have it; the film doesn’t force you to buy the Animatrix or Enter the Matrix to understand what’s going on. It’s just most film universes are as shallow as what’s on the screen; backstory is an acting trick, not a film production virtue. But it is a virtue here. Even if you’re not expecting the movie to change your life, it helps to make the experience more interesting.

I think a fair number of the professional critics who are banging on the film aren’t necessarily interested in the idea of the Matrix backstory the way someone who has watched The Matrix a number of times might be. Nothing wrong with that, of course — part of a working critic’s job is not to be a fan boy. But if you are a fan-boy, or just enjoyed the first film quite a bit, your tolerance for the film’s quirks and saggy spots, and your satisfaction level in a general sense, will both probably be higher.

I’ll be interested to see how it wears in the re-watching, since I’ll almost certainly be taking it in again (geek to the core, I went without Krissy last night, but that’s okay because she’s out with friends tonight while I’m at home. One secret to happy couples: They’re the ones who occasionally do stuff by themselves as well as the ones who do lots of stuff together). I expect I’ll continued to be amused.

One final comment: The one criticism complains that a couple of the fight scenes (particularly the “Burly Brawl” setpiece) look too computer animated. Given that these fight scenes take place inside the Matrix, I find this complaint interesting on several different levels.

Managing Expectations

Chances are fairly good that tomorrow I’ll take a geek day to go see The Matrix: Reloaded, because I’m a geek, and because I dig the first film pretty much, and because I don’t work for anyone but me, and I allow myself a rather substantial number of holidays during the year. And I never fire myself for spending too much time writing pointless crap on my Web site! Yes, I’m a fine employer. Everyone should work for me.

The reviews are starting to come in and unsurprisingly, they’re mixed. I say unsurprisingly because the first Matrix film also had mixed reviews (a most memorable line from the San Francisco Chronicle review: “It’s astonishing that so much money, talent, technical expertise and visual imagination can be put in the service of something so stupid”), and because this particular film does not have the benefit of being a relatively fresh idea. Being a film critic myself, I know about the trap of heightened expectations, and I’m working fairly assiduously to avoid them, since going in expecting a godhead experience is always going to be a let down. No matter how good a movie is, it’s still just a movie.

And it does help to keep a non-romanticized view of the previous material. I remember when The Phantom Menace came out, and people were coming out of that film slightly puzzled. “That film was, like, bad,” they said to each other, and that didn’t jibe with their memories of the first crop of Star Wars films. Well, fact is that outside of ginchy special effects, the first Star Wars film is downright awful: Bad acting, bad dialogue, fairly stupid story. It just happened to be utterly unlike anything anyone had ever seen before, and that counted for a lot (Empire was pretty good. Jedi stank). Keeping the essential not-goodness in mind as I went in to Phantom, I managed to have a pretty good time. It’s a bad film, and keeps getting worse as time goes on (as does Clones, sadly), but since I kept my expectations low, I still managed to have fun with them.

I do expect more from Reloaded than I did from Phantom or Clones, but managed expectations are still in order. I do have one fortunate advantage over many people, which is that I actually possess a philosophy degree, so the freelance existential utterings of The Matrix have never struck me as particularly deep, although I appreciate the attempt. Instead, I’m pretty much focused on the action and the look, neither of which I expect to have devolved from the previous outing (I certainly hope not, given how much money they’ve spent on Reloaded and Revolutions).

I don’t expect Reloaded to provide me with a philosophical underpinning for my perception of the world, I just want cool-looking people in cool-looking clothes to spin around and fight energetically and blow stuff up real good, with state-of-the-art effects, and maybe a plot that doesn’t completely suck. Give me that, and it’s time well-spent for me.

%d bloggers like this: