Monthly Archives: December 2017

Where Can Hollywood’s Reboot Obsession Go From Here?

28 December 2017

From The Literary Hub:

If 2017 is remembered for anything in entertainment, it might be the year everyone gave up on trying to stop reboots. Hollywood’s output this year included Kong: Skull IslandPower RangersThe Mummy (ostensibly kicking off Universal’s Dark Universe), Beauty and the BeastItSawGhost in the ShellJumanjiBaywatch, and even Murder on the Orient Express, which is somehow also getting a sequel. Several of these properties originally began life as books, while Power Rangers was a recut version of a Japanese TV show. This was also the year we got Spider-Man: Homecoming, the third attempt to start a filmed Spider-Man franchise in 15 years. Though some of these films have stumbled at the box office, there has been little to suggest an ebb in the commercial forces that squeeze them out like imitation diamonds.

At best, these entertainment products use an established brand as a sort of artistic Trojan horse to smuggle a new set of ideas and characters past the foreboding gates that prevent so much work from getting funded.

. . . .

For the most part, the rebooted films range from “excruciating” to “tolerable,” with even the better ones benefiting enormously from low expectations.

. . . .

Blazing Transfer Students is a Netflix-backed, live-action adaptation of Blazing Transfer Student, a cult classic manga and anime from the 1980s about Takizawa Noboru, a transfer student who discovers that students at his new high school resolve all conflicts through boxing matches. This new version stars the seven members of Japanese boy band Johnny’s West as transfer students, each named Kakeru, who are all pressed into service as Blazing Transfer Students—in this iteration of the series, “agents who infiltrate troubled schools and stamp out the evil that affects them.”

. . . .

Each frame of Blazing Transfer Students is carefully composed, contrasting the loud colors of a boy band and an anime and highlighting the exaggerated features of the Kakerus to create the moving equivalent of comic book panels. It helps that the series liberally applies action text—practically the first shot of the series captures one of the Kakerus skidding on the pavement toward his first day at the school, caption “SLIDING.” Other shots are punctuated with words like “SWOOSH,” “CRACKLE,” and “RHINO.”

. . . .

The show’s rubbery grip on reality—and its willingness to explicitly address its existence as a reboot—reaches its apex in the season’s penultimate episode, “Blazing Sports Festival!!” The Kakerus are confronted by Kazuhiko Shimamoto, the creator of the original Blazing Transfer Student manga, who has assembled his own group of older, frumpier, off-brand Blazing Transfer Students. They go only by their numbers and are intended to challenge the Kakerus’ appropriation of Shimamoto’s work. In their view, the Kakerus are “much too lukewarm,” and lack the passion to be true Blazing Transfer Students. During the scene, Shimamoto clutches his heart, threatening to tip over at any moment, and bemoans his presence: “So this is the fate of an artist who gave away his copyright.”

. . . .

This has to be a joke, right? It is, though not a very funny one to the scores of artists who have seen their work transformed again and again into someone else’s cash cow.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

The Year in Review (Overview)

28 December 2017

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I’ve been trying to get my arms around what’s going on with traditional publishing for about a week and a half. I have varied reports from other writers, still working traditionally. I have been perusing back issues of Publishers Weekly, looking at other news sources, and reading some of my list serves.

I’m beginning to think I can’t figure out what happened to traditional publishing in 2017 because traditional publishing doesn’t know what’s going on in its own industry.

I’m writing this blog on December 26, 2017, and I’ve just seen the data that Amazon released on its various lists. I haven’t had time to go over it in-depth, but I did notice all of the backlist titles with legs on the Amazon lists. I said to Dean, “It’s amazing that traditional publishing still exists as mismanaged as it has been.”

I think that story of mismanagement continues, which is why I haven’t been able to figure out exactly what’s going on. Publisher’s Weekly barely mentions Amazon and doesn’t use its numbers to report its bestseller list, preferring BookScan. For an ebook bestseller list, PW uses the iBooks and (occasionally) Smashwords, which is well and good, but only gets a small picture of what’s going on.

Then there are all the cutbacks in genre fiction from the Big Five. That, and the lack of effective publicity for books. I ordered too many books at the end of this year, because I was looking through PW and was startled that this favorite author of mine had published a book or that favorite author had published two books, and I hadn’t heard of those books.

. . . .

It looks, at a casual glance, like the Big Five (Four? Three? Who the hell knows) is cutting its way to quarterly profits, and doing so exceedingly stupidly. In 2017, for example, Randy Penguin dropped its cozy mystery line, which thrives in mass market. Writers whose series were growing or selling at excellent numbers (for this time period) were unceremoniously dropped.

But…smaller traditional publishers, long-established traditional publishers, like Baen and Kensington, publishers not beholden to some international corporate overlord, are scooping up as many of these dropped genre authors as they possibly can, knowing cash cows when they see them.

. . . .

I wrote a post earlier in the year about all the traditionally published authors flooding into indie publishing right now, and the lack of patience long-term indies are showing them. That flood was the direct result of the cutting that occurred in traditional publishing.

We’re going to see a lot more hybrid publishing from writers, particularly those who have huge traditional careers. One traditionally published #1 New York Times bestseller just told me that his “test” indie published novella out-earns every single one of his bestselling titles.

I would have expected that from the financial angle—making 65% to 70% of each sale is much better than 12-15% (minus agent fees)—and I said that to him. He corrected me. He said that the novella outsells his bestselling titles as well. And that surprised me.

But the earnings are speaking to him, and he’s not alone. I’ve heard rumors about other bestsellers who are frightened by their sales numbers through traditional, and watching their income decline precipitously. Some of those writers are going hybrid fast.

Others are moving full indie.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

As usual, PG thinks Kris is correct about many different things.

PG has used the “Not dead yet!” video from Monty Python to illustrate his view of traditional publishing on a few occasions.

Every month that goes by, PG has an image in his mind of groups of people in the publishing business holding secret celebratory Not Dead Yet dinners in dimly lit subterranean rooms. At the end of each dinner, the gathered publishers solemnly chant in unison, “Not dead yet, not dead yet, not dead yet” over and over before pulling their cowls over their heads, blowing out the candles and departing into the night.

Here are a few “But You’re Dying Fast” counterpoints that float to the top of PG’s consciousness:

  1. If traditional publishing were financially healthy, Barnes & Noble would not be circling the drain.
  2. If traditional publishing were healthy (mentally and otherwise), members of that establishment would not be trashing the world’s largest bookseller (and the publisher’s most profitable account), Amazon, on a continuing basis.
  3. If traditional publishing were healthy, it would regard ebooks as a wonderful and highly-profitable new market, the future of publishing.

PG suggests traditional publishing understands that James Patterson will die someday, their pipeline of star authors, the kind that will be good for 30 years worth of bestsellers in the future, is rapidly drying up and that physical bookstores won’t save them.

But they’re not doing anything about this reality. These publishers still require new authors to jump through a thousand hoops to be published. They still operate on an industrial-age production line that finally spits out a book a year after they receive a manuscript.

Publishers are still in a lockstep shared monopoly in which they offer identical royalty rates and require every author to pay 15% off the top to a third-party agent in order to be published traditionally whether the author needs an agent or not.

I don’t fear death so much as I fear its prologues: loneliness, decrepitude, pain, debilitation, depression, senility. After a few years of those, I imagine death presents like a holiday at the beach.

Mary Roach

If you want me

28 December 2017
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If you want me to treat your ideas with more respect, get some better ideas.

John Scalzi

LawDroid to Build First Voice-Activated US Legal Aid Bot

27 December 2017

Not exactly about authors and writing, but PG found this interesting.

From Artificial Lawyer:

Tom Martin, the founder of legal bot maker, LawDroid, has been awarded a contract to build a voice-activated legal aid bot in the US in a major ‘real world’ test of the technology and its access to justice (A2J) capabilities.

Martin told Artificial Lawyer that it will be the first chat bot/legal bot funded by the Legal Services Corporation’s Technology Initiative Grant Program.

. . . .

‘LawDroid will be making a hybrid voice and text-based chatbot that can engage users in guided interviews, provide vital legal information and generate custom legal documents,’ Martin explained.

. . . .

[T]he bot will need to handle a variety of legal queries coming to the HELP4TN site, which can range from wills to divorce and from financial planning to employment disputes. It will also need to function via voice and text. And, it will also need to be able to help users complete basic forms.

. . . .

The system must also be able to cope with verbal and written input errors, again no small challenge as anyone who has used a chat bot will know. Getting a bot to deal with responses from the user that make no sense yet without running into a dead end, or a logic loop, is not easy. But, such challenges have to be overcome to make the bot function in the real world, where people will introduce typos, misspellings, or use the wrong terms and other errors.

The system must also allow users to have ‘a conversational interview’ with the bot to automatically complete forms. Again, while this may sound relatively straight forward, ensuring that the right information is gathered and inputted in the right places, in the right way, is also not a simple task, especially if operating primarily via voice and with a member of the public who may not be familiar with legal terms or the legal process they are in need of help with.

In short, this will be a very important test that will provide a great proof of concept that legal bots can be used by the Legal Services Corporation and the many entities it supports.

Link to the rest at Artificial Lawyer

In the US, the Legal Services Corporation is an independent nonprofit established by Congress in 1974 to provide financial support for civil legal aid to low-income Americans. It provides most of its services through independent Legal Aid organizations in all 50 states.

In a former life, PG did a lot of litigation for his local Legal Aid. Some of his favorites were big company vs. little gal/guy lawsuits. He’ll resist the urge to share war stories.

PG has always been intrigued with legal automation and has done some work in that area over the years. Any legal process that employs commonly-used document structures or standard forms is an excellent candidate for computerized document creation.

Chapter 7 automated bankruptcy forms for individuals were an early example of complex forms that followed generally well-defined structures and processes. One very nice advantage of even relatively crude bankruptcy automation was that all the numbers added up which was not always the case with forms created manually.

As far as lawyers being replaced by computers, PG’s demurely humble opinion is that if a lawyer can be replaced by a computer program, that lawyer needs to move up to more complex legal tasks.

Another interesting use of AI in writing is the potential creation of formulaic potboiler stories.

Here’s an article about NaNoGenMo – National Novel Generation Month – for computer-generated novels on the Verge:

Nick Montfort’s World Clock was the breakout hit of last year (2013). A poet and professor of digital media at MIT, Montfort used 165 lines of Python code to arrange a new sequence of characters, locations, and actions for each minute in a day. He gave readings, and the book was later printed by the Harvard Book Store’s press. Still, Kazemi says reading an entire generated novel is more a feat of endurance than a testament to the quality of the story, which tends to be choppy, flat, or incoherent by the standards of human writing.

. . . .

Narrative is one of the great challenges of artificial intelligence. Companies and researchers are working to create programs that can generate intelligible narratives, but most of them are restricted to short snippets of text. The company Narrative Science, for example, makes programs that take data from sporting events or financial reports, highlight the most significant information, and arrange it using templates pre-written by humans. It’s not the loveliest prose, but it’s fairly accurate and very fast.

NanNoGenMo, Kazemi says, “is more about doing something that is entertaining to yourself and possibly to other people.”

For last year’s NaNoGenMo Kazemi generated “Teens Wander Around a House.” He made a bunch of artificial intelligence agents and had them meander through a house at random, his program narrating their actions. When two characters ended up in a room together, he pulled dialogue from Twitter. One tweet could be a question — “What’s for dinner tomorrow?” — and the next, a statement that also contained the word “dinner” — “Dinner is my favorite meal of the day,” for example. “The result was a conversation that sort of stayed on topic but didn’t make much sense,” he says.

Link to the rest at  the Verge.

Here’s more on the same topic at Sabotage Reviews:

NaNoGenMo happens where tech and literature overlap: the strange venn intersection that houses computer poetry, electronic literature, and twitterbots. Novel generation draws from artificial intelligence and the quest to create computers that talk or write like people, but it’s also part of the Oulipian tradition of writing from constraint: if you make such-and-such a ruleset, what kind of writing might happen? Computer generation renders Raymond Queneau’s Cent mille milliards de poèmes beautiful but obsolete, and to my mind poem.exe can hold a 1000 Watt LED candle to Bashō.

NaNoGenMo is not, however, truly about trying to replace the human author. Rather, its entries draw their strange beauty and humour from their failure to be human, from their almost-but-not-quite humanity and their utter inhumanity: most of them are transparently machine-made, but this lends their glitches, coincidences and almost-epiphanies even more fascinating. The writing they produce is closest to is the flattened affect and repetitions of alt-lit, with dashes of uncreative writing, flarf and other post-internet poetics. In other words: as humans increasingly write in dialogue with the internet and machine automations, machines are increasingly being written in dialogue with human literature.

With all that in mind, here are ten of my favourite results from NaNoGenMo. Each is gorgeous and weird in a different way, from extended jokes to eerie half-humanness.

Link to the rest at Sabotage Reviews

Here’s a link to the 2017 NaNoGenMo site on Github

If you are still interested in computer-generated literature, here’s a recent talk:
.

 

Never

27 December 2017

Never fire a laser at a mirror.

Larry Niven

Security Options

27 December 2017

xkcd strikes again.
.

Link to xkcd

 

Forget Me Not

27 December 2017
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From Medium:

Tokyo is a hive of networking events. Every week is a flood of art exhibitions, start-up conferences, developer meetings, product launches, and career meet-ups. Recently, I’ve attended quite a few.

Sometimes, if I’m lucky, a person will recognize me and say hello. Little interactions like this make me feel warm inside. I feel like I’m making my way in the world.

“Oh, you’re that writer Trent told me about,” people say. “I love that story you wrote about escalators.”

“Trains?”

“Yes, yes. Quite wonderful. Very thoughtful. And you also write about tea, is that right?”

“Coffee?”

“Of course, yes. Amazing places, tea houses. Such culture in this city. I love your work.”

But as much as I enjoy occasional recognition, more often than not I simply watch people and try not to look awkward. Sometimes people introduce me to their friends like a novelty pet — ‘he wrote a story about cats!’ — and we have short, forgettable conversations.

Coming to these events has made me realize that something about me is, ultimately, forgettable. People sometimes remember my work, but they very rarely remember who wrote it.

. . . .

The people who have forgotten you tend to feel terrible, but your very reminder reinforces the fact you’re a nobody.

After all, if you weren’t, they would have remembered you.

I struggled with this for a time. I enjoyed being awkward at networking parties, but I didn’t like having to reintroduce myself multiple times.

So, I began introducing myself as a new person each time somebody forgot me.

In this way, I became Casey Brewster, freelance photographer and part-time cellist, and Bradley Ternminster, soundscape artist and web-designer. I was a film director and a surfing aficionado, and a DJ on a tourist visa espousing monk-like austerity. Occasionally, I also brewed craft beer and translated Japanese into Latin for the wealthy.

Link to the rest at Medium

Amazon Celebrates Biggest Holiday

26 December 2017

From the Amazon Press Room:

 Amazon celebrated its biggest holiday season with customers all around the world shopping at record levels. Prime membership continued to grow this holiday – in fact, in one week alone, more than four million people started Prime free trials or began paid memberships, to benefit from free two-day, one-day or same-day shipping, in addition to ultra-fast one and two hour delivery with Prime Now.

. . . .

More than one billion items were ordered from small businesses and entrepreneurs worldwide this season – and over just five days, from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday, nearly 140 million items were ordered from small businesses and entrepreneurs.

. . . .

Echo Dot and Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote were not only the top-selling Amazon devices this holiday season, but they were also the best-selling products from any manufacturer in any category across all of Amazon.

. . . .

  • It was a record holiday shopping season for Amazon Devices, with millions more devices purchased worldwide this year than last year’s holiday season.
  • This holiday season was better than ever for the family of Echo products. The Echo Dot was the #1 selling Amazon Device this holiday season, and the best-selling product from any manufacturer in any category across all of Amazon, with millions sold.
  • Customers purchased more than twice as many Amazon Fire TV Sticks compared to last year’s holiday season. Fire TV continues to be the #1 streaming media player family in the U.S., U.K., Germany, and Japan, across all retailers.
  • It was the best holiday season ever for Fire Kids Edition Tablets with 2.4x as many devices purchased from Amazon.com compared to the same time period last year.
  • Echo devices have been an extremely popular gift this year, with Echo Spot, Echo Dot and Echo Buttons selling out this holiday season; customers can still pre-order to reserve their place in line and orders will be filled on a first come, first served basis.
  • This year, Kindle celebrated its 10th holiday season.
  • This holiday, millions of Prime members voice shopped with Alexa for gifts, Amazon devices and everyday household essentials. The most popular items purchased by voice were the Echo Dot, Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote and TP-Link Smart Plug Mini.
  • Alexa helped mix tens of thousands of cocktails this holiday season with Martini and Manhattan being the most requested drinks.
  • The recipe for chocolate chip cookies was the most requested recipe this holiday season.
  • The most requested song from Alexa customers this holiday season was “Jingle Bells.”
  • Customers asked Alexa for cooking related advice more than 9x as much this year compared to last holiday season.

. . . .

  • Across North America and the Europe, associates at 10 fulfillment centers picked, packed, and shipped more than one million customer packages in a single day.
  • Amazon’s peak day of customer fulfillment in 2017 was December 19, 2017.
  • In 2017, we increased the size of our fulfillment and shipping network by more than 30% in square footage worldwide.
  • In the U.S., more than 6,000 trailers and 32 Amazon Air planes helped get holiday orders to customers this season.
  • Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Amazon Air carried enough packages to equal over a billion Echo Dots.

. . . .

  • Amazon’s Treasure Truck fleet and festively wrapped Amazon semi-trucks made special deliveries as part of Amazon’s “Delivering Smiles” holiday tour. Together, the trucks stopped in over 30 communities where Amazon employees live and work, donating thousands of items including STEM toys, books, devices, and household essentials to women, children, and families in immediate need. At the end of the tour, Amazon donated $1 for every mile the trucks traveled to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

. . . .

  •  Listeners wanted to slow down and unwind this season, asking Alexa to play “relaxing” music more than any other mood through Amazon Music.
  • Listeners in New York, Seattle, Chicago, Houston and San Diego streamed more holiday songs on Amazon Music via Alexa, than any other cities in the U.S.
  • Christmas by Michael Bublé was once again the most played album on Amazon Music during the holiday season.
  • “All I want for Christmas is You” by Mariah Carey held the top spot for the most streamed holiday song on Amazon Music for the second year in a row.

. . . .

  • The most-read Kindle book in Amazon First Reads in 2017 was, Beneath A Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan.
  • The best-selling and most-listened-to audiobook of 2017 was The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson, narrated by Roger Wayne.
  • The most-listened-to fiction audiobook of 2017 was Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale.
  • The most-commented-on audiobook of 2017 was Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, narrated by the author.
  • According to Amazon Charts, the most read and most gifted Kindle book in the U.S. this holiday season was OriginA Novel by Dan Brown.
  • According to Amazon Charts, the top book Kindle readers in the U.S. found ‘Unputdownable’ this holiday season was Year One: Chronicles of the One, Book 1 by Nora Roberts, reading it cover-to-cover faster than other books.
  • According to Amazon Charts, the Most Wished For books of 2017 in the U.S. were: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson, Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil Degrasse Tyson, and Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari.
  • Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale was the most borrowed book from Prime Reading, worldwide, in 2017.
  • Instant Pot Electric Pressure Cooker Cookbook by Laurel Randolph, independently published through Kindle Direct Publishing, has been topping Amazon Charts throughout the holiday season – reaching #1 on the most sold non-fiction list the week of Cyber Monday.

. . . .

  • Across Amazon Books’ 13 bookstores, the top selling nonfiction book was Obama: An Intimate Portrait by Pete Souza; the top selling fiction book was Origin by Dan Brown; the top selling kids book was Diary of a Wimpy Kid #12, The Getaway by Jeff Kinney; and, the top selling poetry book was the sun and her flowers by Rumi Kaur.
  • Across Amazon Books’ 13 bookstores, one out of seven customers who purchased a book also donated a children’s book to local charities supporting children in need. The top selling book given to local charities was the classic, Are You My Mother by P.D. Eastman; it was also the top selling book across all 13 stores.
  • The Echo Dot was the top-selling device across Amazon Books’ 13 stores; the Kindle Paperwhite was the best-selling Kindle; the TP-Link Smart Plug was the best-selling accessory; and WowWee Fingerlings were the top selling toy.
  • The best-selling kitchen item in the U.S. and worldwide was the Instant Pot DUO80.
  • The best-selling toy and game item in the U.S. was the Nerf N-Strike Elite Strongarm Blaster, while the best-selling toy and game item worldwide was What Do You Meme? Adult Party Game.
  • The best-selling smart home product in the U.S. and worldwide was the TP-Link Smart Plug.

Link to the rest at Amazon Press Room

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