Off to the printer

Big Dumb Objects has been sent to the printer.

And it’s about time. Big Dumb time, even.

Cover image for BIG DUMB OBJECTS, Schlock Mercenary Book 16

The cover inset art was done a year ago, and the principal art and story was done five years ago. It was the bonus story which hung us up, and a lot of things went wrong during 2019 and 2020 (including the flooding of my office, and several productivity-impacting health problems), but we finally got that last piece finished a week and a half ago.

From there all I needed to do was assemble the cover, with all the circuits and stuff, write the back cover copy, and clean up some of the interior marginalia. I did all that last week, between December 28th and 30th, and then Sandra assembled the final files for the printer and sent it away.

It feels nice to be finished with that.

Sandra has promised me that on Monday she will unearth the sketches I’ve forgotten about drawing, the ones which outline the covers for books 17 through 20, and I guess it was nice having a two day vacation.

SOUL

Movie poster for SOUL, man and cat walking down a fanciful staircase made of piano keys.

I loved Soul.

LOVED. IT.

The mythos was fun, the music was amazing, and the story had more heart in it—more truth in it—than anything in recent memory.

As an added bonus, if you like jazz, this movie has some amazing things to offer.

It’s easily worth a Disney+ subscription. Easily.

Yes, it has death, and after-life, and lots of emotions in it. But one of those emotions is joy, and there’s a lot of it to be found, and if ever there was an on-point metaphor for the film, it’s that the joy is easily worth the price of subscribing to the less joyful emotions.

Wonder Woman 1984

The up-front summary: I enjoyed Wonder Woman 1984 but I was disappointed. I don’t regret signing up for HBOMax¹, because #WW84 was worth the $15 (cheaper and safer than going to the theater) but I really do wish the film had been… y’know… better.

WW84 movie poster featuring Gal Gadot in the golden helmet and armor.

The good: there were lots of fun moments in the film, and everyone turned in great performances. It was fun seeing Chris Pine again, and Pedro Pascal chewed scenery like a guy who spent his last big feature hidden behind a helmet.

The bad: the 1980’s-ish visuals (especially the titling and the credits) did not evoke nostalgia, and the metallic-neon-rainbow palette felt out of place. It felt to me like someone said “I want it to look like Thor: Ragnarok meets Stranger Things” without considering that the palette and the cultural touchstones were not actually what made those two things successful.

And that means that the central conceit of the film—it’s a prequel, set in a glitzy-because-we-don’t-know-it’s-trash-yet version of 1980’s USA—was baggage rather than a selling point. It was something the film needed to buy, rather than currency it could use to sell me other stuff.

I can’t talk more about the things I did or did not love without spoiling stuff, so I’ll leave it at this (which I first shared in a tweet.)

WW84 was a big can of trail mix, with some amazing bits, some ordinary bits, and some rancid nuts, and then you stand back and ask “why am I eating trail mix?”

¹ HBO Max, as a streaming service, has gotten some really scathing reviews. It worked fine for us, but we’re running gigabit Ethernet cable straight to our Roku box. The HBO Max app has crashed me out to the Roku home screen twice in as many days, but that hasn’t yet happened during a program.

TENET

TENET is one of those films like THE SIXTH SENSE in which any review of the film must dance around the fact that it’s very, very difficult to say much about it—especially in any sort of critical examination—without spoiling something.

So let me just say this before saying anything else: I enjoyed it.

I really liked the pacing. It seemed like they took a very fast-paced action thriller, then cut all the interstitial bits where things are explained and/or set up, expecting the audience to fill in the gaps. Everything on the screen was there for LOTS of reasons—no footage was wasted on stuff like “this is how we get from Kiev to Mumbai.” There were scenes which were confusing, and they worked (at least for me) because I could tell that I was supposed to be confused. My confusion was there to help me identify with the protagonist¹.

For that alone, I think the movie is an exemplary piece for people who want to work on the pacing in the stories they tell. If you’ve got a big chunk of worldbuilding to do, but don’t want to infodump, have a gander at what TENET does.

The rest of this review will be mildly spoilery.

Sandra and I sat down to watch it, and I asked if she’d seen trailers. She had not. So I told her that it was an action movie, and that the title was probably picked not for its meaning, but because it was a one-word palindrome.

About a third of the way in, Sandra predicted the entire last act, and she and I agreed that the central conceit of the film was “what if we take this thing we’ve learned to do with cameras and SFX, and write a whole story around it?”

By the final scenes, we were a bit disappointed, not because Sandra was right, but because there were opportunities for Nolan et. al. to surprise us despite Sandra having been right, and if they swung at any of those, they missed.²

At one point during a big battle, Sandra said “I am glad someone was tracking all of these moving parts with a spreadsheet, because that was probably fun for them, and it means at least one person got to enjoy knowing what’s going on here.”

(If you’re the lucky person who managed that spreadsheet, we’re actually a little jealous.)

TENET is something I’m glad we saw at home, not least because we could have actual food, and pauses for toilet breaks, but because we can watch it again and see if—err… hang on. Sandra has informed me that it will not be “we” watching it again.

TENET is something I’m glad I saw at home because I can watch it again and see if I can reverse engineer that spreadsheet. If you’re the sort of person who watched THE SIXTH SENSE a second time, just to see if you could find all the cues you missed on the first go-round, you might enjoy TENET in the same way.

¹ John David Washington did a brilliant job in the role of the protagonist, but as IMDB is my witness, he deserved to play a character with an actual name, rather than a chunk of meta.

² It can be kind of tedious to watch movies with me and Sandra when we’re at home. At one point late last year, our soon-to-be son-in-law Tyler turned to us and asked “HOW DO YOU DO THAT?” My explanation (“we’re storytellers who have been around for a while, and we’re not actually that good at these predictions”) did not enhance his enjoyment of whatever predictable thing we were watching.

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