24 Hours

Tomorrow at 12 noon EST (10 AM where I am), the Trump presidency will be formally over. (Actually, I think you can argue pretty convincingly that it’s been over since election day; certainly, Trump hasn’t made any pretense of actual governance since then, preferring instead to sulk on the golf course, pursue quixotic lawsuits, and of course incite a failed coup attempt.)  The miserable trainwreck of the past four years, which have felt more like 400, will finally, at long last, be over. In my head, the countdown clock is now running.

However, given the ominous threat of more MAGA shenanigans, as well as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic necessitating a socially distanced inaugural ceremony unlike any in living memory, I find myself imagining a very specific countdown clock, with a very specific sound effect…

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Lileks on the Awesome ’80s

It’s been a long, long time since I checked in on James Lileks. Longtime Loyal Readers may remember that name. I used to refer to him quite a bit here on Simple Tricks, back in the days when blogging was a going concern and we were all linking to each other in a big happy ecosphere… before the dark times… before social media.

I read his Daily Bleat regularly in that halcyon age, and I even aspired to model my own blogging efforts on the sorts of things he was doing. Then came The Lileks Incident, when something I wrote about him here got back to him. He slagged me pretty thoroughly, made me mildly famous for a couple days, and I was startled when his not-inconsiderable fanbase was so… unforgiving. It was probably pretty mild compared to the corrosive shitstorm that’s commonplace nowadays on Twitter, among other places, but at the time, I found it pretty difficult to take, especially where I felt like I’d been misunderstood. I contacted him, explained my side of it, we exchanged apologies, and that was the end of it. Except… I’ll be honest, the whole thing left a sour taste in my mouth and shortly thereafter, I just… stopped going to his site. It was a big internet after all, and there was lots of other content to eat up my leisure time without any lingering embarrassment or resentment. C’est la vie.

It’s a shame, too, because in those early, heady days of the blogosphere, when people were homesteading themselves an online presence and declaring themselves and all their weird interests, it was easy to feel like you knew someone, like they were a friend, even if they had no idea you were even reading their stuff. Lileks had felt like a friend. I had emotional investment in him, in his interests and daily life, in stories of his daughter and his dog and his problematic backyard water feature. When he turned on me, even if he felt justified in doing so… it hurt. And for a long time after I stopped reading the Bleat, I felt like I’d lost a friend. Even though I knew he barely knew I existed. It was an important lesson in how this brave new world operated, and how harsh it could be.

Earlier today, I was going through a very old folder of bookmarks and came across the link to his site. My curiosity bloomed almost immediately. It’d been nearly a decade, I think, since I last read him. Was he even still out there anymore? Did I dare take a look? Although I’d always admired his writing ability, his turns of phrase and his sense of humor, his politics were not entirely compatible with my own and I frankly dreaded what the Bleat might have mutated into during the Trump years.

To my relief, it appears to be pretty much what I remember: close examination of architecture, pop culture, bits of ephemera, the details expounded upon for laughs and yet somehow he zeroes in on a kernel of truth about the way things were and how they are not that any longer, and what a shame that is. One new addition to the site soon caught my eye, something he’s calling “The 20th Century Project,” which consists of scans of old magazine ads, catalogs and other ephemera, organized by decade and described in his particular sensibility. Naturally, I turned to the subset of material from The ’80s first. Here’s his introduction to that decade that is so near and dear to my heart:

Yes, it was awesome.

Also, terrifying! Any minute now, nuclear war. Oh, and by the way, sex is fatal now. That said, it was everything you remember, or everything you heard, and so much less.

… think of it like a story told in a smoky bar with streetlights slanting through the venetian blinds. That sounds rather 40s, I know – but it was also very 80s, and we loved it, because it seemed as if we were back to one important basic lesson: the classics weren’t dead. We could bring them back to life at the same time we made up new ideas, and it all fit together. America was BACK! Also nuclear dread and deadly STDs, but you got your win and you got your wang.

I stand in awe of how he captures so much what made the ’80s “the ’80s” in so little verbiage, whereas I would probably carry on for another 2000 words without every managing to say anything. Nuclear dread, STDs, and bands of light through venetian blinds… that’s exactly how I remember it.

Yeah… I still want to want to do what he does, even as I watch the digital tumbleweeds blow past the weatherbeaten porch of this old platform…

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Christmas Eve Music Video: “I Believe In Father Christmas”

I posted a version of this song — “I Believe in Father Christmas” by Greg Lake — four years ago to this day, but if anything I think it’s even more appropriate this year.

It’s a melancholy song about the loss of innocence. But while the second verse may seem somewhat bitter about that loss, I don’t read the song overall as bitter or depressing. Not even cynical, really. Just… clear-eyed. And I actually find the final verse, with its earnest lyrics and swelling instrumentation, quite uplifting:

“I wish you a hopeful Christmas,
I wish you a brave new year…
All anguish, pain, and sadness
Leave your heart and let your road be clear.”

There have been so many deaths in the past nine months, so many things lost that we took for granted… in many respects, our entire way of life was snatched away from us in literally moments with no guarantee that is ever coming back, and we’re all still grieving for it. And there’s been a lot of turmoil coming from other sources as well. Our country, our world is filled with sorrow and fear right now… and a tremendous amount of anger too. Once those negative energies are unleashed, they don’t dissipate quickly or easily. I’m not so naive as to think that the turn of a calendar page or the inauguration of a new president is going to instantly undo the Lost Year of 2020. But just as this song ends on a grain of optimism, I do see a glimmer of better days ahead. At least, I hope that’s what the glow on the far-off horizon turns out to be. I hope. How strange that I, of all people, would be saying that.

Merry Christmas to all those who observe it, and for anyone reading this who does not observe or who observes something else, I wish you peace. May we all find a brave new year and a road that is clear.

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Self-Replicating Organism

Something interesting I just ran across (Saltz is the senior art critic for New York Magazine):

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In Memoriam: Sean Connery

When I was 20 years old, a friend of mine told me he thought I looked like Sean Connery.

I was flattered, of course. Connery had just been named the “Sexiest Man Alive” by People magazine — at the age of 59, no less — and who wouldn’t want to be compared to that? Still, I didn’t really believe there was any resemblance, and I said as much. I mean… Connery was Connery, and I was just… well, me.

No, no, my friend insisted, he could definitely see it… something about my dark eyes, the arch of my brows, and the shape of my recently grown beard. Something about my attitude as well, he thought, my gruff intolerance for nonsense combined with a devil-may-care twinkle. I just chuckled at the absurdity of what he was saying. And the more talking points he came up with, the more embarrassed I felt, until I finally conceded his argument just so he would shut the hell up about it. I’ve never responded well to compliments, I’m afraid; I always have this nagging fear that the person giving them is somehow having a laugh at my gullibility.

That feeling is even more intense when the compliment is something I want to believe.

This was the spring of 1990, and Connery had recently become one of my cinematic heroes in almost perfect conjunction with him catching the second wind of his career. He’d won an Oscar three years earlier for The Untouchables, he’d been absolutely sublime as Indiana Jones’ dad the previous summer, and the day my friend made his comparison, The Hunt for Red October was playing to sell-out crowds in the biggest auditorium of the multiplex where I worked. (In fact, the Red October poster was hanging only a few feet from where my friend and I were standing that day, and I remember him nodding toward it as he made his case for the resemblance.)

The funny thing is, I wasn’t even very familiar with Connery’s work at that point. I knew who he was, of course. I’d seen a few of his films over the years besides the trio I just mentioned. But until that one-two-three punch — The Untouchables, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Red October — he hadn’t made a huge impression on me. Not even his James Bond films had struck a chord at that point in my life. I was as likely to think of him as the marshal from Peter Hyams’ High-Noon-in-space film Outland as anything. But starting in 1987, those three films caused something to click for me, and really, for everybody else who was going to movies around that time, making him one of the biggest stars of the moment. And I am not ashamed to admit I developed a bit of a crush on him. Strictly nonsexual, of course, much like George Costanza had for that rock-climber dude on Seinfeld. Like George’s rock-climber, Sean was an ideal I was fascinated by and aspired to. He was just… cool. And yes, having someone say that I reminded them of him, or vice versa, made me glow inside like a belt of  single malt.

You see, the spring of 1990 was a low point for me and my ego, something I’ve alluded to a few times recently on this blog. I wasn’t feeling especially cool or confident or sexy that day at the movie theater, or any other day of that difficult year. My friend had inadvertently told me exactly what I wanted — or perhaps needed — to hear. Which is probably why it embarrassed me so much, because I wanted to believe it was true. It wasn’t that I wanted to look like Connery so much as I wanted to be like him. To radiate masculinity and confidence as he did, to be absolutely, effortlessly comfortable in my own skin, as he always appeared to be.

That was the key of his appeal, I believe. Even now, after all these years of calling myself a fan and having seen many, many more of his movies than I had in 1990, I’m not certain if he was actually that fine of an actor, or if I just responded to… him. When you think about it, most of the great movie stars are essentially playing themselves, or at least some carefully curated version of themselves, and that was Connery’s true skill: being Sean Connery. When he turned up at the end of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, that ripple of excitement that zinged through the theater wasn’t because he so perfectly portrayed Richard the Lionhearted in only 30 seconds and a handful of lines; it was because people were excited to see the man himself. Who cared what the role was?

Of course, Connery’s hot streak of the late ’80s and early ’90s couldn’t last. Over the next decade or so, he made (in my opinion) only one really good film (The Russia House), a handful of mediocre ones (Medicine Man, Entrapment, The Rock, Finding Forrester) and two of the absolutely worst flicks I’ve ever seen: The Avengers (no relation to the Marvel film) and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The latter was such a trainwreck, both in front of and behind the camera, that it killed Connery’s career. After that, he decided he’d had quite enough of making movies and retired. I’ve long felt sorry that his filmography ends on such a smoldering turd instead of one final triumph. Even a cameo in the much-derided fourth Indiana Jones film, all other things being equal, would’ve been a better note to go out on.

It’s been nearly 20 years since League, and in that time, he’s mostly stayed out of the spotlight. There have been occasional rumors that he wasn’t well, that he was suffering from dementia, and I always cringed at the thought of a man whose entire image was built on vitality fading away like that. His reputation has diminished somewhat as well in the wake of the #metoo movement, thanks to a couple interviews he gave in his younger days that keep bobbing to the surface like rotten apples, and because of claims made by his first wife in her autobiography. I don’t have much to say on that subject; I have no idea if Connery was a raging misogynist in his private life or if his remarks were just badly phrased and taken out of context. And honestly, it doesn’t matter very much to me. Because what he represents to me was never strictly about him anyhow.

That Red October poster now hangs in my office at home, the very same poster from the lobby of the multiplex where I used to work. It’s watched over me for 30 years now, as hard as that is to believe. I look at it every morning when I walk into that room to prepare for my day. I looked at it for a long time on Halloween, just over a month ago, the day that Sean Connery died at the age of 90. And as I looked, I found myself thinking of the roles he played that have mattered to me for one reason or another. Captain Ramius, of course, and Henry Jones Sr., and Malone, the Irish cop who teaches Elliot Ness how to get Capone. Juan Sanchez Villalobos Ramirez from Highlander became hugely important to me just a couple years after 1990. There was Marshal O’Neill in Outland and Edward Pierce in The Great Train Robbery, as nifty a heist film as you’re ever going to find. Hell, I even thought of Zed, the barechested, ponytailed, red-diapered “Exterminator” in John Boorman’s insane 1974 sci-fi epic Zardoz; Connery’s costume in that is all the proof of his self-assuredness you’ll ever need. And of course, there’s Bond. The role that made him, the role he spent years trying to live down. As it happens, I’ve rewatched the entire series over the past year, including the “unofficial” Bond he made in the ’80s, Never Say Never Again, and I can say unequivocally that, in my opinion, Connery was the best of them. His individual films weren’t necessarily the best of the series, but none of the other actors who’ve played 007 ever had a moment like the scene where we first meet him in Doctor No. That will forever be James Bond to me.

Of course, the day that Connery died, I also thought about that spring day in 1990. About how I felt so wounded then, and how I preened at the words of a friend that I only half believed. I’m far more comfortable with myself now than I was then, and I still don’t see much of a resemblance between myself and Connery. But every once in a while when I look at that Red October poster, I find myself still wanting to imagine that maybe… just maybe.

Rest in peace, you Scottish peacock.

 

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“I Understand”

I had thought to do a little compare-and-contrast between the Thanksgiving address delivered by President-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday and the comments made by the outgoing president yesterday, but I’ve reconsidered. Trump’s petulant outbursts already get more than their fair share of media attention, and I personally can’t wait to never have to hear from him again, so I’m going to focus on someone who knows how to be presidential.

As I’ve said before, Biden isn’t always the greatest of speakers. There were times in his Thanksgiving speech when it sounded like he needed a drink of water; his voice had a thick, dry-mouthed hesitation. And there were times when the words were even a bit slurred. (Before anyone starts, I do not believe this is a symptom of any mental impairment; I think he’s just an old man whose voice isn’t what it used to be, and who has to focus hard on suppressing his stutter. I see no sign that he’s any less competent than anyone else, certainly no less so than the current occupant of the White House and, in my opinion, a damn sight better.) But there were also moments when he seemed to catch fire and say exactly what needs to be said in exactly the way it needs to be said.

I know the Republican-held Senate is going to be a huge impediment for him, but I also believe he’s going to try his damnedest to make this country a better place for everyone. Even those who already despise him.

Here are what I consider to be the highlights:

Looking back over our history, you’ll see that it’s been in the most difficult of circumstances that the soul of our nation has been forged.

Now, we find ourselves again facing a long, hard winter. We have fought a nearly year-long battle with a virus in this nation. It’s brought us pain and loss and frustration, and it has cost so many lives. 260,000 Americans — and counting.

It has divided us. Angered us. And set us against one another. I know the country has grown weary of the fight. But we need to remember we’re at a war with a virus — not with each other.

This is the moment where we need to steel our spines, redouble our efforts, and recommit ourselves to the fight. Let’s remember — we are all in this together.

For so many of us, it’s hard to hear that this fight isn’t over, that we still have months of this battle ahead of us. And for those who have lost loved ones, I know this time of year is especially difficult. Believe me, I know. I remember that first Thanksgiving. The empty chair, the silence. It takes your breath away. It’s hard to care. It’s hard to give thanks. It’s hard to look forward. And it’s so hard to hope.

I understand.

Our country is in the middle of a dramatic spike in cases. We’re now averaging over 160,000 new cases a day. And no one will be surprised if we hit 200,000 cases in a single day. Many local health systems are at risk of being overwhelmed. That is the plain and simple truth, and I believe you deserve to always hear the truth from your president.

We have to try to slow the growth of the virus. We owe that to the doctors, the nurses, and the other front-line health care workers who have risked so much and heroically battled this virus for so long. We owe that to our fellow citizens who will need access to hospital beds and the care to fight this disease. And we owe it to one another — it’s our patriotic duty as Americans.

That means wearing masks, keeping social distancing, and limiting the size of any groups we’re in. Until we have a vaccine, these are our most effective tools to combat the virus. Starting on Day One of my presidency, we will take steps that will change the course of the disease.

The federal government has vast powers to combat this virus. And I commit to you I will use all those powers to lead a national coordinated response. But the federal government can’t do it alone. Each of us has a responsibility in our own lives to do what we can to slow the virus. Every decision we make matters. Every decision we make can save a life.

None of these steps we’re asking people to take are political statements. Every one of them is based in science.

The good news is that there has been significant, record-breaking progress made recently in developing a vaccine. Several of these vaccines look to be extraordinarily effective. And it appears that we are on track for the first immunizations to begin by late December or early January. Then, we will need to put in place a distribution plan to get the entire country immunized as soon as possible, which we will do.

But it’s going to take time.

I’m hoping the news of a vaccine will serve as an incentive to every American to take these simple steps to get control of this virus. There is real hope, tangible hope. So hang on. Don’t let yourself surrender to the fatigue. I know we can and we will beat this virus. America is not going to lose this war. You will get your lives back. Life is going to return to normal. That will happen.

This will not last forever.

I’ve said it many times: This is a great country and we are a good people. This is the United States of America. And there has never been anything we haven’t been able to do when we’ve done it together.

Think of what we’ve come through: centuries of human enslavement; a cataclysmic Civil War; the exclusion of women from the ballot box; World Wars; Jim Crow; a long twilight struggle against Soviet tyranny that could have ended not with the fall of the Berlin Wall, but in nuclear Armageddon.

I’m not naïve. I know that history is just that: history. But to know what’s come before can help arm us against despair. Knowing the previous generations got through the same universal human challenges that we face: the tension between selfishness and generosity, between fear and hope, between division and unity.

Americans dream big.

And, as hard as it may seem this Thanksgiving, we are going to dream big again. Our future is bright. In fact, I have never been more optimistic about the future of America than I am right now. I believe the 21st Century is going to be an American Century.

We are going to build an economy that leads the world. We are going to lead the world by the power of our example — not the example of our power. We are going to lead the world on climate and save the planet. We are going to find cures for cancer and Alzheimer’s and diabetes. And we are going to finally root out systemic racism in our country.

On this Thanksgiving, and in anticipation of all the Thanksgivings to come, let us dream again. Let us commit ourselves to thinking not only of ourselves but of others. For if we care for one another — if we open our arms rather than brandish our fists — we can, with God’s help, heal.

[Bolded emphasis mine.]

That’s how a president should speak. Not spitting out nuggets of sarcasm that drip with contempt for one’s political opponents. And definitely not displaying tone-deaf indifference for the suffering of American citizens. “I understand” are the two most powerful words in this seven-minute speech. And I believe that he does understand, I believe his empathy for ordinary people is real. And I believe that that matters, and that it’s what we need right now. Not only because of the virus, but because of the corrosive partisanship that has been consuming our society for decades.

I’ll confess that I’m dubious about Biden’s ability to do much about that. I know the Republicans aren’t interested in playing nice, and I think one of Obama’s biggest failings was continuing to believe that they would someday come around and be willing to work with him. And I’ll further confess that I am angry right now, every damn day, and that I want to see some real consequences for the havoc and chaos of the last four years. I want the Trump administration, the Trump organization, the Trump family, and every single Republican congressperson and bureaucrat who enabled them investigated to within an inch of their lives, and then I want them indicted and punished for any and every transgression that can be made to stick. I want the Republicans punished. I want payback for how they treated Obama and Merrick Garland, and for all their gloating and smug triumphalism and the constant mewling that they’re somehow being persecuted when they’ve effectively held the reins of power for years, regardless of who was sitting in the Oval Office. I know that what I’m saying here isn’t very high-minded or intellectual, and I know it’s not conducive to healing anything. But I’m not the president-elect, now, am I? We’ll see what actually happens once his administration gets going; I have a hunch that Biden is smart enough to be the diplomat while letting others be the bulldogs.

Of course, I’m always a sucker for the stuff about how people are essentially good and all the problems we’re going to fix, even though it’s pretty hard to still believe in my Star Trek-ian ideals after the last 12 years of tribal rancor. But I still like to hear it, even if it’s just a nice fantasy.

The moment in this speech that really grabbed me, though, was his exhortation to not lose hope about the damn virus. To hang on just a little longer, because we will win the war against the coronavirus. That his administration will win the battle. This struck me as very good politics, selling his goals and reminding people that the current guy has utterly failed, while also doing what the best presidents, from Obama to JFK to FDR to Abraham Lincoln, have always done in times of turmoil and fear: to give the tired and anxious people of the nation a life raft to cling to. His words made me feel better. They provided me at least with badly needed comfort.

He’s already a better leader than the thin-skinned, belligerent fool he’s replacing.

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In Foster’s Own Words…

As promised last night, I am continuing to follow that story about Disney refusing to pay Alan Dean Foster the royalties he is contractually owed for several novelizations of popular films, including Star Wars. Here is the text of the letter that Foster wrote to the corporate overlords (addressed with tongue in cheek to “Mickey” — as in Mickey Mouse — because he’s been unable to even learn the name of someone he could speak with):

Dear Mickey,

We have a lot in common, you and I. We share a birthday: November 18. My dad’s nickname was Mickey. There’s more.

When you purchased Lucasfilm, you acquired the rights to some books I wrote. STAR WARS, the novelization of the very first film. SPLINTER OF THE MIND’S EYE, the first sequel novel. You owe me royalties on these books. You stopped paying them.

When you purchased 20th Century Fox, you eventually acquired the rights to other books I had written. The novelizations of ALIEN, ALIENS, and ALIEN 3. You’ve never paid royalties on any of these, or even issued royalty statements for them.

All these books are all still very much in print. They still earn money. For you. When one company buys another, they acquire its liabilities as well as its assets. You’re certainly reaping the benefits of the assets. I’d very much like my minuscule (though it’s not small to me) share.

You want me to sign an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) before even talking. I’ve signed a lot of NDAs in my 50-year career. Never once did anyone ever ask me to sign one prior to negotiations. For the obvious reason that once you sign, you can no longer talk about the matter at hand. Every one of my representatives in this matter, with many, many decades of experience in such business, echo my bewilderment.

You continue to ignore requests from my agents. You continue to ignore queries from SFWA, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. You continue to ignore my legal representatives. I know this is what gargantuan corporations often do. Ignore requests and inquiries hoping the petitioner will simply go away. Or possibly die. But I’m still here, and I am still entitled to what you owe me. Including not to be ignored, just because I’m only one lone writer. How many other writers and artists out there are you similarly ignoring?

My wife has serious medical issues and, in 2016, I was diagnosed with an advanced form of cancer. We could use the money. Not charity: just what I’m owed. I’ve always loved Disney. The films, the parks, growing up with the Disneyland TV show. I don’t think Unca Walt would approve of how you are currently treating me. Maybe someone in the right position just hasn’t received the word, though after all these months of ignored requests and queries, that’s hard to countenance. Or as a guy named Bob Iger said….

“The way you do anything is the way you do everything.”

I’m not feeling it.

Alan Dean Foster

Prescott, AZ

Disney is evidently hoping to outlast him and anyone else who has a complaint. They have nearly infinite resources to pay for lawyers, whereas a working writer or artist… does not. So they figure they can just stonewall until the plaintiff runs out of cash, loses interest… or in Foster’s case, quite possibly, dies. It’s the same tactic Donald Trump has historically employed to screw over honest contractors who were dumb enough to take jobs for him. It’s appalling, it’s immoral, it’s sleazy… let’s be frank, it’s evil.

And Mary Robinette Kowal, the president of SFWA, has pointed out that there’s a much larger concern here beyond one artist getting screwed:

If we let this stand, it could set precedent to fundamentally alter the way copyright and contracts operate in the United States. All a publisher would have to do to break a contract would be to sell it to a sibling company.

There does seem to be a growing outcry over this, from Star Wars fans and other authors alike, including heavyweights like Neil Gaiman, Cory Doctorow and John Scalzi. Will it be enough to sway the evil Mouse empire? Who knows… but this is not a good look for them.

You know, I’ve had a lot of long dark nights of the soul over how my life turned out… my failure to make my dream of becoming a novelist come true. There are a lot of reasons why it didn’t happen, some within my control, some without. The biggest one is that I just… got busy. As lame and unsatisfying as that sounds, it’s true. Life happened. And I have flagellated myself endlessly over it, just certain that my failure was the result of a character flaw… that I was too lazy, too easily distracted, too… I don’t know… too weak to put my nose to the grindstone. I have imagined that there’s an alternate-universe me who somehow got it right and lives that fabulous life I’ve always dreamed of, who writes and does book tours for six or eight months of the year and then travels the rest of the time. (Something like I’ve always imagined Alan Dean Foster, a well-known world traveler, does.) I still long to live that life, or at least to write a single book, just to say I did it.

Except… in recent years, as the relentless march of digital technology has gutted traditional publishing and I’ve gotten to know some real writers and seen just how damn hard it really is… I don’t know anymore that I want to write as a career. The writing part, the actual work of putting words to paper, is the easy bit. The rest is marketing, and the industry around that is cutthroat and only getting worse, and the odds of any actually making a living as a writer are getting smaller all the time. Maybe I’m only telling myself that to console myself; maybe it’s a classic case of sour grapes. But I don’t think so. I do still hope to write that novel, at least one novel, some day. But an industry that functions like publishing apparently does today, where a massive conglomerate like Disney that has more money than god can nevertheless contrive to pinch pennies owed to a man with 50 years of success under his belt, pennies that they wouldn’t even freaking miss… do I really want to be part of that? Why would anybody want to be part of that?

Source for the quotations above.

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The Mouse Is Evil

I doubt my Loyal Readers will be surprised to learn that the first “grown-up” book I ever read was Star Wars, the novelization of the movie that was ostensibly written by George Lucas, but actually was ghost written by a dude named Alan Dean Foster.

The second grown-up book I ever read was Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, a sequel to Star Wars written by that same Alan Dean Foster, and the first of what has now become known as the “Star Wars Expanded Universe” of tie-in novels, comics and games… an empire that rivals Palpatine’s in its reach and wealth.

I think it’s fair to say that Foster was my favorite author when I was a kid, both for his original works and for his novelizations of popular films. He was the king of them during the ’70s and ’80s, adapting everything from the aforementioned Star Wars to  Clash of the Titans. I read all of them over and over again because for me, especially in the pre-home-video era, they were the best way to recapture the experience of those beloved movies. In fact, at one point, I probably read more novelizations — and in particular the novelizations of Alan Dean Foster, because he was the best in this category — than anything else.

So when I heard earlier today that Foster would be delivering a virtual press conference along with the president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America about something important, my antenna went up. The virtual conference was livestreamed on Facebook and is still there on SFWA’s page, if you want watch it, but the short version is this: When Disney acquired Lucasfilm, it also acquired Foster’s Star Wars books. And when Disney acquired Fox, it acquired his novelizations of Alien, Aliens and Alien 3. All of these books are still in print and still making money for their owner, which is now, of course, Disney.

And Disney has stopped paying Foster the royalties he’s owed.

Moreover, they refuse to even speak with Foster, his agents, or SFWA about the matter, apparently believing that they acquired the rights to those contracts but not the obligations thereof.

As a fan of Foster, a fan of Star Wars and Alien, as a would-be novelist myself who once thought the coolest thing in the world would be to have Foster’s job, I am infuriated. This is absolute bullshit, the apotheosis of corporate evil and of unfair, 800-pound-gorilla behavior. And here’s the thing: If the Mouse is screwing over Alan Dean Freaking Foster, a hugely successful novelist with a 50-year track record, what are they doing to other writers who don’t have his name or professional savvy?

I’ll be following this story…

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“It’s Easier to Be a Parent This Morning”

It’s done. Thanks to the Great State of Pennsylvania, Joseph R Biden is the president-elect of the United States of America, and Kamala Harris will be the first woman and the first person of color to become vice president. (And, I predict, the 47th president after Biden! That’s right, folks, you read it here first, right here on Simple Tricks and Nonsense!)

Donald J Trump is finished. He hasn’t accepted it, of course. He’s raging petulantly on Twitter that no, in fact, he won. He did, he did, he did! He won! Bad things happened… illegal votes (whatever the hell those are!), stolen election! He WON! Classy to the end, Don. But it doesn’t matter. Whether he can pull it together enough to walk out of the White House on January 20 with a modicum of dignity or will need to be carried out by men with butterfly nets, his time is done. I’m seeing videos of cheering throngs in New York and San Francisco. The mayor of Paris has tweeted “Welcome back, America,” and I’ve seen reports that church bells are ringing in Munich. I remember a lot of jubilation when Obama won, and Bill Clinton before him, but this… this feels different, doesn’t it? It feels something like I imagine V-E day must have. Maybe because we know, on some level, that we dodged the same authoritarian horror that was put to rest that day.

I’m not going to gloat, though, or let the celebrating get too far out of hand. For one thing, like I wrote the other day, I know that the next few years are going to be an uphill battle for President Biden to get anything of substance done. And Trump is still going to be around for two more months and who knows what kind of rat-fuckery he might get up to in that time? He will, without a doubt, call for recounts or attempt some kind of lawsuit. I don’t believe either of those efforts will change anything… but at the very least, the rhetoric is going to be brutal for the next couple months. I hope he doesn’t try anything crazier than those last-ditch gambits. Maybe someone should consider taking the Nuclear Football away from him?

But that’s something to think about later, perhaps. For now, I’m going to leave with this clip of CNN correspondent Van Jones. I think he says everything that needs to be said on this historic morning. This morning isn’t a victory so much as a relief for a hell of a lot of people. As bad as the last four years have been for me, they’ve been a genuine nightmare for people of color, immigrants, homosexuals… basically anyone not-white and male. I raise my glass to you people. You’re still here. You made it. We all made it.

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