More phone notes

November 10, 2020 5 comments

Still getting to know my new smartphone…

  • I’ve settled on using the vinyl bank book holder as a protective sleeve for my phone. It really works surprisingly well, though it would be perfect if it were about a centimeter shorter. Indeed, it’s easier to grip than the phone’s somewhat slippery case. I have my doubts about its durability, but I definitely prefer it. I did have to cut a hole in the clear plastic to accommodate headphone and power cords; the first time I did that, I subsequently found there were some numbers in ink on the inside of the clear layer, transferred from a bank book or something, and they wouldn’t come out. Luckily the thing’s symmetrical, so once I checked that the other side was clear, I had to cut a hole in that side and use it instead. And then I determined that it’s best not to charge the phone while it’s in the sleeve, since it gets kind of hot. Also I prefer to use the glasses case to hold it when I’m listening to an audiobook. So maybe I didn’t need to cut a hole at all.
  • I discovered that MS Office (Word included) is pre-installed on the phone, so theoretically I could save my prose files on the cloud and write or edit them on the phone. Although they open in read-only mode by default, and it took some research to figure out how to make them editable (you have to save a local copy on the phone). I’m undecided whether to try it. I’m not very practiced at typing on a phone screen — I’m not much of a texter — so it would probably be slow and not very comfortable. But making a change in where and how I write can help against writer’s block, so it might be worth a try. At the very least, it could work as an emergency backup if something happened to my laptop.
  • I found that the phone has a “side screen” that you can open that has various built-in tools like a compass, level, ruler, and flashlight control. Oddly, the directions the compass claims as due north and due south are only 143 degrees apart (I checked with a ruler and protractor). Several attempts with the “Calibrate” button failed to correct the problem. Either the app is inaccurate, or my apartment is a space warp.
  • Followup: I looked into it online, and apparently you’re supposed to calibrate the compass away from magnetic objects. It was a nice day, so I took a (masked) walk up to the local park to get as far out in the open as I could, and my recalibration attempt there was successful. I don’t know if I’ll ever actually need a compass — I never have before, and there was actually a time way back in the day when I did carry a small compass in my backpack just in case — but if I have one anyway, it might as well actually work.
  • I’ve discovered that a number of the New York Times puzzle games are easier to play on a smartphone than a computer screen. I’d wondered, in particular, why the Spelling Bee game was so unwieldy in that you had to click on the letters instead of being able to type out the words. It makes sense if it was designed for a touch screen.
  • This phone’s native weather app doesn’t auto-update when you unlock the phone like my old one did. You have to tap it, or set it to update on a schedule. The weather radar app I use has an alternate widget I could try, but I don’t like its design.
  • I also miss the light on my old phone that blinked to alert me to a new text message, e-mail, voicemail, or whatever. Now I don’t see any notification without turning on my phone. There’s a notification sound when a message arrives, at least if I have it turned on, but that doesn’t help me after the fact if I miss hearing it.
  • Plus it annoys me that the ringtones and notification sounds on modern phones don’t have any nice, simple rings and beeps, just these annoying musical phrases. I did find a ringtone that sounds like an ’80s telephone, which is tolerable. But when I tried using the timer, there were no nice, simple “ding” or “beep” options for the notification sound.
  • I have to retrain my muscle memory for turning the screen on. My old phone had a front button I tended to use for that, but this one only has a side button. It goes on if you tap the front a few times, or if you move it suddenly while touching the screen, but I’m still figuring out its triggers.
  • There’s also an “Always On Screen” that shows the time and charge level and such on the black screen when I tap it once, as well as the temperature from my weather radar app. I wish I could increase its font size, since I often don’t have my glasses on when I want to take a quick look at it. But I checked, and apparently there’s no way to do that. The font can be enlarged elsewhere, but not there.
  • I’m getting more spam calls and texts than before. I think it must be because I failed to back up my old phone’s data, which might have included my block lists.
  • Battery life seems comparable to my old phone. I’m generally charging once a day, and that’s to keep it in what I gather is the recommended charge range for modern phone batteries, between 50 and 80 percent. It charges pretty quickly, at least as fast as the old one did with the newer cord I bought last year.
  • Oh, I’m so glad that I’m now able to have a fully functional Firefox app on my phone with access to all my desktop (or rather laptop) bookmarks. Before, I could only get Chrome to sync bookmarks between devices, but it’s inconvenient to keep importing updated Firefox bookmark lists into a browser I rarely use, so I only occasionally got around to doing that. Now that’s no longer necessary. The Firefox app doesn’t let me access my bookmarks as easily as my laptop browser, but I’ve already found that the phone lets me view a couple of sites that my older, refurbished Windows 7 laptop has trouble with (including FiveThirtyEight’s election update liveblog, which sometimes fails to load on my laptop).
  • I discovered a surprising new quirk of the phone — its calendar widget not only popped up a notification of my upcoming deadline on the phone, but somehow transmitted one to my laptop as well. I didn’t know it could do that and didn’t ask it to. I’m not sure how it did. From the placement of the message’s tab on the bottom bar, it was associated with my e-mail client somehow, evidently through the Gmail account connected to my cell number, but I’ve never seen the client display that ability before. Anyway, I’ll have to try to remember to set it not to do that anymore.
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Hope lives again!

Four years ago, after the horror of seeing the results of the 2016 election come in, I made a post called “What do we do now?”, expressing my fears of what a Trump presidency would mean — all of which subsequently came true, and then some, because all this was incredibly predictable even then — but also trying to find rays of hope for the future. My hopes for the short term failed to materialize. The past four years have been an ongoing disaster, an unprecedented assault on American society and values. I always expected Trump to lead us into an unnecessary war that would cause enormous death and suffering. I never anticipated his war would be waged directly against Americans.

This year, the polls and forecasts gave me hope that we could end this hell. Joe Biden was not my first choice for the nomination (I liked Elizabeth Warren), but he was a good choice, a good and decent human being and a proven, competent statesman — and Kamala Harris struck me as a good choice for VP, and perhaps for the top of the ticket in time. But I was burned four years ago, so I couldn’t let myself grow complacent. I knew that if Trump won again, legitimately or through trickery and theft, it would probably mean the end of democracy, the solidification of fascism and kleptocracy. This might be our last chance.

For much of Wednesday, I feared the worst and despaired for the future. Then the tide started to turn as the absentee votes were slowly counted. By the end of the day, I felt cautiously optimistic. It was a thrill to wake up Thursday morning and see the news on my new phone that Biden had pulled into the lead. For the two days since, I’ve been waiting with everyone else for the expected outcome to be made official. I suspect any normal, rational incumbent who cared more about the stability of the nation than his own ego and power (and fear of prosecution and bankruptcy once he’s out of office) would have conceded by Thursday night.

But now we can say it — President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris. In any other year, the fact that we elected a woman to the executive branch for the first time, let alone a woman of color, would be the story. It’s amazing, and long overdue, though still only halfway there. But under the circumstances, it’s just one part of a bigger story — the story of bringing America back from the brink, of preventing the most corrupt, incompetent, and evil chief executive in generations (if not ever) from continuing to entrench fascist rule.

I find that my faith in America’s institutions has been restored. Trump and the GOP did everything they could to sabotage democracy and subvert the will of the people. They stacked the courts with appointees they expected to hand the election to them no matter the outcome. They spent months creating doubt about the integrity of our elections. They sabotaged the post office to try to keep absentee ballots from getting through, restricted the number of drop boxes and polling places to make it harder for people to vote, and did everything they could to disenfranchise voters.

They did manage to come closer than they should have. They probably managed to hold the Senate, which is dangerous. But our laws and institutions withstood the assault better than I feared. The post-election attempts to subvert the count with bogus lawsuits went nowhere, thrown out by those judges who were expected to be rubber stamps. In that and other ways, the mechanisms in place to keep elections fair did their job. Moreover, I’ve heard that a number of attempts by right-wing extremists to commit terrorist acts against Democrats and the electoral process have been quietly thwarted by law enforcement, with multiple arrests happening before the parties in question could inflict any harm. It seems our country’s immune system isn’t as badly impaired as I’d feared.

It’s still going to be a long, hard struggle to rebuild, and there will still be fierce resistance from the faction that’s been radicalized by decades of right-wing media. But we’ve won the first battle now, and I have renewed hope for the future. As I said in my post four years ago, I believe we’re playing out a recurring historical cycle and that eventually the turmoil of the crisis era would be resolved by a new generation that would bring us to a new era of prosperity. But I feared how long it might be and how much more suffering and death we might have to go through before that point could be reached. A second civil war? A resistance movement against a dictatorship? Would a writer like me have to flee the country to escape the anti-intellectual purges? Instead, we’ve managed to avoid that. Hopefully these next couple of months before Inauguration Day will be the worst of it, and then we can begin the slow climb back upward.

I’d really gotten tired of seeing the bad guys win. It’s such a relief that we came through in the climax.

This meme has been going around all over, but I’m going to post it too, because it sums up this feeling so well:

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New phone notes

October 31, 2020 2 comments

This is a collection of discoveries and observations I’ve made about my new phone. I figured I’d let them build up over a few days before I posted them.

  • It turns out that the power cord uses a USB-C plug rather than MicroUSB. The battery pack gizmo I got earlier this year for jumpstarting my car uses the same connector, so I was able to use the phone cord to recharge the battery pack. It looks like you can get Micro/C adaptors online for only pennies more than the cost of shipping, but the cost of shipping is a bit high.
  • As I mentioned in reply to a comment on my previous post, I figured out how to get the music player to display the files in device memory. I had to look it up online. Why don’t electronics come with proper instruction manuals anymore? I guess because we can look it all up online.
  • Well, whaddaya know? The hands on the icon for the clock app actually tell the time! That’s clever, for the icon itself to be a functional source of information. I prefer using the digital clock widget, though. Some people are good at reading analog clock faces by the hand positions, but I prefer having numbers to look at.
  • The screen automatically brightens and dims with the light level. That’s very useful.
  • I got an email from Google Play offering me the chance to reinstall apps from my old phone — including some I’d uninstalled long ago. Anyway, I took the opportunity to do something I was planning to do eventually anyway, and install my bank’s mobile app which wouldn’t work on my old phone. It works on this phone, so now I have the ability to mobile-deposit checks. Of course, most of my publishers pay me by direct deposit now anyway, but it could be handy.
  • I noticed a free compass app on Google Play and tried it out. For some reason, it defined north as whatever direction the phone was pointing when I opened the app. That one got uninstalled quickly.
  • I’ve discovered that the phone fits almost perfectly into an old pouch-style glasses case I have, which would be good for carrying it around outside, except the pouch doesn’t close on top. I’m debating between that and the alternate option of a vinyl bank book holder. The phone is about the size and shape of a checkbook, so it fits perfectly inside the clear plastic sleeves, and I can even work the phone through the plastic cover. That could be very handy for outdoors use, but I’d have to take the phone out to use headphones, charge it, or take outward-facing photos/video.
  • Following up on that, I tried the glasses case when I went out for grocery pickup, and it was a bit awkward to pull the phone out of the case without pulling the case out of my pocket. That’s a point in favor of the bank book holder, although I’m thinking I may need to reinforce its spine with some tape so it holds up to frequent opening and closing. I realized I could also cut a hole in the plastic for the headphones and power cord.
  • I was also finally able to get the Kroger app to work and use it to notify them of my arrival. I had a bit of trouble hitting the buttons, though; I had to hold my finger on them rather than just tap. I wonder, was the app running slow, or was the screen having trouble reading my finger’s heat because it was warm from being in the pouch in my pocket?

Meanwhile, my shopping trip was a bit harrowing in another way. The main reason for my rush to get a new phone this week was because I was running out of my heartburn pills that I take daily, so I needed to get groceries before they ran out. But it turned out they were out of stock at Kroger and I wasn’t offered an alternate option. And I only had one pill left. So I decided to brave the Walgreens across the lot from the Kroger store, reminding myself that the risk is minimal if you’re only inside for a few minutes with proper safeguards. It’s only the second time during the pandemic that I’ve been inside a public building (the first being the post office), and though everyone was masked and distancing, I still wish there had been fewer people.

And yes, I did look into the possibility of curbside pickup at Walgreens, but it looks like they only offer it for certain items, which is weird.

Anyway, I got to use my new credit card’s “tap” payment function, where you just hold it against the scanner. I’d gotten the impression that you just waved the card over it briefly, but you have to hold it against it while it checks and approves the card. Took me a couple of tries to figure that out.

So weird to live in a world where we have such technological advancements and conveniences undreamt of by our forerunners, but have regressed a hundred years when it comes to public health and pandemic response.

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Phoning it in, Part 2

October 29, 2020 2 comments

Predictably, despite my hopes of getting back to work today, I’ve continued to try out my new phone and get to know its features. It’s good to be able to listen to audiobooks again, and a couple of apps that didn’t work well, or at all, on my old phone are now installed and working fine on the new one — including Firefox, which means I can finally consistently have the same bookmarks on both devices’ browsers. Also the Kroger app, which should make it easier to notify the store when I arrive for a pickup. (My impending need for groceries was the main reason I needed to get a new phone before much longer, since you kind of need one to let them know you’ve arrived, unless there already happens to be a clerk outside in the waiting area.)

So mostly this is an improvement so far, but there are some disappointments. I find the phone’s Gmail app more limited in functionality than the old Android mail app. It won’t let me default to showing all mail from both my addresses (my Gmail is secondary), so I have to remember to select that manually each time. And it won’t let me select a whole day’s worth of emails and mark them as read, as far as I can discover. Nor can I scroll from one open email to the next by swiping horizontally. I see there’s also an Outlook app pre-installed, which might be worth looking into as an alternative, but I don’t know if it’ll be any better.

The music player is frustrating. My old one just played the music files I had on my SD card. The one here is YouTube-based and assumes I want to download music from online, which I don’t, at least not now. When I started it for the first time, I briefly saw some option listed for playing files on the device, but it went away before I could select it and I haven’t been able to find it again. I find that, outside of that app, I can just hit the “My Files” icon and navigate to the music folder to select tracks manually, but that only plays one track at a time. What am I missing?

So far, the battery life doesn’t seem any better than my old phone’s. But then, it’s been pretty active what with all the app installations and software updates and such, so maybe the battery won’t run down so fast on normal everyday use. Also, this phone has a dark mode, which could be easier on my eyes as well as on the battery.

And now I’ve lost the whole day on this, and lost track of how late it’s gotten. Hopefully I can refocus on work tomorrow.

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Phoning it in

Well, I decided this morning to go ahead and order a new smartphone. I’d just about settled on the model that charged the least monthly fee, and I called the store this morning to make sure I could keep my current number. So I went to my account page, hit the upgrade button, and picked out that cheap/discounted model.

However, to confirm the order, I had to enter a code that they texted to my old phone. Not a good idea when my old phone barely worked. I still had some charge left, though, so I turned the phone on and waited for the text — although the first two texts I got were spam. It took a long time before their code finally came through, which was a relief. Still, it’s annoying that they didn’t have the option to e-mail the code or something. How do people manage if their phones are broken even worse than mine?

Unfortunately, it turns out there are a couple of up-front fees I’ll need to pay after all. It comes out to roughly 80 extra dollars I’ll have to pay by the end of the year, and I just have to hope that fits within the very, very tight budget I’m operating under until late December at the earliest. (I still welcome Patreon subscriptions or PayPal donations.)

To my surprise, I was told the phone would be delivered to my door within a couple of hours. Again, they said they’d use my mobile phone as the contact number, and it was tricky to find a way to ask them to use my landline instead, but I finally achieved that through e-mailing their help address.

This was supposedly “contactless” delivery, but it took a fair amount of near-contact through my open front door, for they (the guy brought a trainee along) had to install my SIM card and transfer my MicroSD card and so forth to get it set up out in the hallway. Apparently it’s not as easy for the customer to do those things with this model. I don’t think it opens up at all; there’s actually a special pin included that you need to use to eject the SD card, and I didn’t even see how it was done. Anyway, we all had masks on and I had my windows open and the ventilation fans going, and I used hand sanitizer as appropriate.

Annoyingly, they’ve changed the design for the charger plug port. There was a charger included, but the new phone is not compatible with my existing charging cords, including the long one I need if I want to use the phone as GPS in my car, since the outlet is inconveniently placed. Well, it’s not like I was planning a trip anytime soon.

Another inconvenience is that it turns out my old data wasn’t backed up after all. Luckily that was mostly just my contacts list, and I don’t know that many people, so it’s a short list. I wasn’t sure the old phone retained enough charge to let me copy the list manually. But it turns out I still have an older, non-smart phone, and though its soft plastic shell has gotten decayed and sticky, it still functions, and once I charged it, I was able to access its contacts list and copy the numbers manually. I still needed to turn on my old smartphone long enough to add or update newer contact info and double-check the older info, but it reduced the amount of time I needed to have the phone turned on.

One odd loss of function: The new phone only lets me enter one contact number per person, as far as I can tell. Both my old ones let me enter more than one.

Luckily it’s proven easy to set up other things, since my e-mails, Kindle books, library rentals, etc. were stored in their respective clouds and I just needed to install and sign into the apps. So I’m mostly set up now, at least the essential stuff, though there are still some things I need to sort out. For instance, hopefully the new “Notes” widget is downward-compatible with the memos I backed up onto my desktop just in case I couldn’t transfer them directly from my old phone — which I can’t.

The phone is not much wider than my old one, but surprisingly a good deal taller. I was able to fit the old one entirely in my shirt pocket, but this one sticks out of it more and is more likely to fall out. It’s a weird aspect ratio, maybe designed with watching widescreen movies in mind, though I doubt I’ll be doing any of that on the phone. Still, it should be good for reading e-books or Facebook or the like.

The best news (aside from actually having a working phone again) is that I’m once again able to play audiobooks from the Hoopla library service on my phone. I’ve been going through their catalog of Doctor Who audio dramas for a few months now, and I’d come to enjoy listening to them on headphones while I did other stuff around the apartment or stood out on my balcony. But they suddenly stopped working on my phone a while back, and they didn’t always play on my desktop either (I found I had to shut down and restart Firefox to get them to play, and even that didn’t always work). It might’ve been a software compatibility issue, or maybe the first sign of my phone’s recent breakdown. When I contacted tech support, they could only tell me that they didn’t support my old phone anymore, but I wasn’t sure if that was the cause of the failure or just a statement that they couldn’t advise me on the cause. Anyway, it’s a moot point now. I can listen on my phone again! Although for some reason, the headphone jack is on the bottom edge now. I’ll have to keep it in my pocket upside-down.

Another apparent loss of function: My old phone let me scroll through the home screen pages in either direction; I could go forward from page 1 to 2 or backward from page 1 to 3, as needed. This one doesn’t have that “wraparound” capability. If I hit one end, I need to go back the other way. But since it’s a bigger screen, it looks like I’ll be able to fit all the stuff I need on just the first two pages.

So anyway, I’m mostly back in business now, much sooner than I expected. It’s my first real taste of how the retail industry has adapted to COVID — now they make house calls. I wonder if that might persist even once things go back to normal.

And while it’s good to have a new phone, I’ve now lost pretty much the whole day dealing with this instead of writing. At least I’ve sorted most of it out by now, so I can put this behind me and get back to work.

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Phone woes again: Now it’s the OTHER phone!

October 27, 2020 5 comments

This is getting ridiculous. Just weeks after my land phone line (and Internet line) finally got fixed, my mobile phone started acting up. Its apps started crashing randomly, giving me “Unfortunately, X has stopped.” messages whether I was using the apps in question or not. It also started rebooting itself at random, often freezing on the boot-up screen. This got rapidly worse until I could barely use the phone for more than a few moments.

Folks on Facebook suggested that I might have malware or a bad app, which could be purged with a factory reset and restoration from backup, or that I might have a loose connection I could fix by fiddling with the battery and SIM card. The latter didn’t work, and I didn’t feel ready to tackle the former. The timing is bad — I’m two weeks from deadline on a major project and really need to focus on that.

So I set it aside for a couple of days to concentrate on my writing, and it was interesting to realize how little I actually need my smartphone on a day-to-day basis, since I don’t go out often these days. Mainly I use it to play backgammon and other games, and as an e-book reader — and I was using it for audiobooks borrowed from the Hoopla online library, until they suddenly stopped working on my Hoopla app a while back. I couldn’t get any tech support because my phone is 6 1/2 years old and they no longer support its software.

Because of that, and because the case is kind of worn out, I was considering getting a new phone anyway. If this had happened early next year, when my money situation is better, I would’ve just gone ahead and upgraded. Right now, though, money is extremely tight. So I gave some thought to just riding it out for the next couple of months, not using my phone except when I go out to get groceries, and hoping it would at least keep working enough to let me call the store to notify them I’ve arrived.

This afternoon, though, I figured I should turn the phone on just to make sure I hadn’t gotten any voicemails (which are almost always spam anyway). I saw the battery was low, so I decided to plug it in to recharge.

And the plug wouldn’t go in.

I realized I was very stupid the other day. Remember how I fiddled with the battery and SIM card? Well, it’s been so long since I opened the back of my phone that I confused the charging port for the bit where you stick in a screwdriver to pop the back open. When it wouldn’t open, I got kind of aggressive with the screwdriver. And apparently I bent the pins inside the charging port, and now I can’t recharge the phone anymore. Aggghhh!

So me am dumb, and now I have no choice but to replace the phone. Fortunately, it looks like there are a couple of decent upgrade models I can get for only an extra $5-$10 per month on my current bill. I could cope with that for the (probably) 2-3 months remaining before my income begins to improve. However, looking over the terms, it looks like there might be an up-front lump-sum charge as well, and that would be more of a problem. I’ll just have to hope I can weather it somehow.

Ugh, this would also be easier to sort out if I felt free to just drop into the phone dealership a couple of blocks away. They could answer my questions about an upgrade, smooth the process, or maybe even help me fix my existing phone (although I doubt that — my past experience is that the people at those stores are only salespeople rather than repair people). I suppose I could at least call them and ask some questions.

This is rotten timing on a couple of levels. But I guess it could’ve been worse. If I had to have both my phones fail within a month, it’s a good thing they at least took turns.

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Quick movie review: Netflix’s ANON (spoilers)

I recently re-upped my Netflix account, and I watched a movie last night that was interesting but frustrating. Anon (2018) is written and directed by Andrew Niccol, the writer/director of the classic Gattaca and the writer of The Truman Show. It’s a sci-fi noir detective movie set in a future with a ubiquitous information/surveillance environment, where everyone in linked into an augmented reality network with constant heads-up data about the people and things around them projected into their eyes, and where their own first-person visual records can be shared with others or accessed by law enforcement.

The early part of the movie is the most interesting, as the worldbuilding is deftly established through the work of Detective Sal Freiland (Clive Owen), who easily “solves” crime after crime just by watching the eyewitness records of their perpetrators and victims, until he comes upon the rarity of a murder whose perpetrator went unseen. In a brilliant twist, the killer hacked the victim’s eyes so he saw himself through his killer’s POV, and thus recorded no image of the killer’s face, as well as being too disoriented to defend himself.

Sal’s investigation connects to a mysterious woman (Amanda Seyfried) with no accessible ID, a ghost in the system who turns out to be a hacker called “Anon” who helps people erase their subjective records of their misdeeds, and whose clients are getting murdered one by one. Sal and the other cops think she’s the killer, but naturally not all is as it seems. There’s some cool Ghost in the Shell-style stuff as the hacker-killer stymies Sal’s pursuit, at one point trying to kill him by making him hallucinate a stationary subway car so that he almost steps into the path of an oncoming train.

Unfortunately, once my intrigue in the technological futurism wore off, I began to realize the film was a gross failure of futurism in other ways. The cast is overwhelmingly white, with people of color relegated exclusively to minor supporting roles or bit parts. It’s also overwhelmingly male, with Seyfried as the only major female character (literally credited as “The Girl”), aside from Sonya Walger in a small, incidental role as Sal’s ex-wife. Other female characters, and Seyfried to a large extent, are only there to be sex objects. Anon sleeps with Sal midway through the film for no evident reason other than that it’s expected that the grizzled male lead will get to sleep with the hot female lead young enough to be his daughter. Indeed, the plot establishes that she slept with all her murdered clients, though why she does so is unclear; it’s just an excuse to give the real killer a jealousy motive. (I was actually hoping Anon would turn out to be the killer, just to give her more agency in the story.) The film fails the Bechdel Test; the only interaction between two women is a lesbian sex scene where they’re both killed.

Anon‘s futurism is lacking in other ways too. This is a world where people take ubiquitous augmented reality and the ability to see through others’ eyes for granted, so it must be a generation or more in the future, yet the New York City skyline is no different than it is today (except for the parts filmed in Toronto), the cars are intelligent but not self-driving, and attitudes toward same-sex relationships are no different from today. The cars and fashions are vintage, and Sal chain-smokes like a ’40s noir lead. Now, blending retro style with a futuristic setting isn’t intrinsically objectionable; it worked for Max Headroom and Batman: The Animated Series. But embracing a noir style is one thing; perpetuating the gender and racial norms of an earlier era is another. The social regressiveness cancelled out the imaginative futurism and dragged me out of the story.

It’s also very easy to guess who the real killer is, due to there being only one credible suspect. Anon’s introduction is too coincidental, with Sal passing by her in the street in the first scene and noting her lack of ID; he never would’ve caught onto her otherwise, so that’s contrived. And there’s a part that seems to break the logic of the world in order to get Sal away from the cops after he’s been framed for a murder, with little explanation of how he avoided being tracked for so long.

The film tries to say something about the right to privacy in a world of universal information, and about the dangers of a world where people’s very senses can be hacked, but it’s ultimately too superficial. These ideas have been explored better in prose fiction by the likes of David Brin and Alastair Reynolds, and in works like Ghost in the Shell. And I’m sick of seeing science fiction premises damaged by the American feature film industry’s backwardness about gender and racial inclusion — this being one of the most extreme examples I’ve seen in a long time. There’s half of a good worldbuilding exercise in Anon, but this movie about a world where everything and everyone is seen is ultimately dragged down by its lack of vision and perspective about whose viewpoints are worth showing.

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“Comfort Zones” now on Patreon!

This month’s Fiction post on my Patreon page is now up. With the release of Arachne’s Crime and Arachne’s Exile coming up quite soon, I’ve decided to release the prequel short story “Comfort Zones,” originally an exclusive for the duology’s Kickstarter backers, on the $10 Fiction tier. The backers got the story months ago, and there are only a couple of overlaps between them and my Patreon donors, so I figured it was okay to go ahead and do that. As usual, annotations for the story will go up tomorrow on the $12 Behind the Scenes tier.

I hope the release of this story will encourage more people to sign up for my Patreon, at least for a month or two. Though the new writing gig I’ve been hinting at should substantially improve my financial situation in 2021, my ability to bridge the gap until then is iffier than I’d expected. I should have enough to scrape by barring emergencies or delays, but the margin is narrow. I’m tired of asking for handouts, but by this point my Patreon features seven original or reprinted short stories, an Arachne’s Crime novel excerpt, dozens of vintage SFTV reviews, a couple of book reviews, exclusive annotations and behind-the-scenes writing notes, some original artwork, and even some cat pictures from my younger days. So there’s plenty you can get in return. Even if you just sign up for one month, you can read everything currently on the site at whatever tier you sign up for. And these next 2-3 months are when I’m going to need Patreon income the most.

Phone/Internet repairs again

Over the weekend, my phone line remained dead and my Internet connection was uneven. On Saturday, it was dropping in and out for much of the day, then stabilized for a few hours, then went spotty again. On Sunday, I had a consistent but very slow connection; in the past, I would’ve tried rebooting my modem in hopes of a faster connection, but this time I didn’t want to risk losing the stability I had, so I lived with the slowness (it was a bit nostalgic, actually). Late in the day, it suddenly got faster again, and worked fine through this morning.

The phone guy came a bit after 9, and as the equipment room downstairs was locked this time, and as the previous maintenance people hadn’t found the solution, I had to let him into my apartment at last. I made sure to wear a mask, to open the balcony doors, and to have the bathroom ventilation fan blowing, and I kept my distance and stayed out on the balcony as much as possible. He was masked too, of course. He fiddled around with my phone jack for 15-20 minutes before determining he needed to be let into the equipment room, so I called the building manager on my cell. Fortunately, she was in, and she came around to unlock the equipment room (though she was not masked, grr).

Before he went downstairs, I asked him if he knew what the problem was that the others couldn’t diagnose. He said there was a short between my phone and DSL lines somewhere, and the others couldn’t find it because I didn’t want them to come in. I would have if they’d told me it was necessary. Anyway, he said it wasn’t my modem’s age at fault, just the short causing the interference between the two lines. Which makes sense.

I hung out on my balcony for a while waiting — not only did I not want to be inside the apartment for long until it had aired out for at least an hour, but the Internet was down so there wasn’t much else I could do. He called on my cell and said he had a problem and had to go out for a while, so I didn’t know how long I’d have to wait. But then, about an hour after he left, I stepped inside for a moment and saw that the modem lights were on again, and the “Check TEL Line” notice was gone from my desk phone. A moment later, he called on my landline and said he’d fixed the short. Hopefully that’s for real this time. The Internet connection is stable and fast for now.

I’m still wearing my mask inside my apartment, and I have the balcony door open and both the bathroom and kitchen vent fans blowing. I even took the spray bottle of diluted detergent that I use to spray gnats (it coats their wings so they can’t flit away from a swat) and squirted it around the room a couple of times, on the theory that the soap might help negate any aerosolized viruses in the air. (I don’t have any disinfectant spray, alas.) I’m sure it’s an excess of caution, and it’s getting kind of chilly in here, but better too much caution than too little, as recent news events have driven home.

Anyway, the disposable surgical masks I bought are too small for my face. I have a long chin, and opening my mouth tends to pull the mask down from my nose. Also, I find that I’m psychosomatically imagining my vision fogging when I exhale in my mask even when I don’t have my glasses on!

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Minor website update

I’ve been getting acquainted with WordPress’s new editing software, which is frustratingly more limited than the old software in its ability to edit image size and placement, but which has a few useful features I’ve been discovering. One of those is the ability to insert hashtag anchors inside a page, so that I can create page jump links within a single page, or link to a specific part of a different page. For instance, here’s a link to the discussion for “The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of” on my Troubleshooter fiction page:

https://christopherlbennett.wordpress.com/only-superhuman/#StuffDreams

So despite my ongoing Internet connection problems, I’ve managed to update my pages covering multiple works (such as my pages for Star Trek: Enterprise — Rise of the Federation or Among the Wild Cybers) with page jump links for easier navigation to the individual entries, usually in the form of tables of contents at the top.

Speaking of the Internet problem, it stabilized yesterday afternoon and evening, but went out again this morning. (Phone line is still dead.) As I mentioned in a comment to my last post, I noticed that the dropouts seemed to fit the pattern of my modem overheating, though that couldn’t be the only reason, since they didn’t start until after the technician did his failed repairs to the phone line on Monday. Still, I tried blowing a fan into the modem vents to dislodge dust buildup, and it was stable all day after that. However, I can now rule out the overheating idea, since I tried the fan again after the first dropouts this morning, and had another dropout just moments afterward. Nothing I can do seems to fix it; I’m just trying to work around it as best I can, to take advantage of the moments of connection I get and hope it eventually settles down again.

I have to say, I really am much calmer about this today than yesterday. I realized yesterday how agitated and frustrated I was getting about what’s really a relatively minor inconvenience, albeit an annoyingly persistent one. I mean, things are improving in my life lately. The new project that I hoped to announce this week (well, maybe next week) should finally get me out of the financial mess I’ve been in for the past few years, though I still have to scrape through the rest of this year first (and more Patreon subscriptions would help me with that, even if you just try it for a month or two). And while I’m well behind schedule on my current novel assignment, I’ve finally been catching up and getting back on track. So I have good reason to feel better about my life situation now, and you’d think it would be easier to put more minor crises into perspective.

But I guess I’ve just been in panic mode for so long that it’s my default reaction. The little frustrations feel the same as the huge setbacks. I hope in time, as things continue to improve for me, I’ll be able to settle back into a more stable state of mind. (Well, as close to stable as a neurotic sort like me can get.)

And now I really should get back to work on that book…

Phone woes again, this time with Internet

Back in August, I posted about how my phone line went dead, and how worried I was about letting a repair person into my apartment, until it turned out he could fix the problem in the downstairs equipment room instead. Problem solved! Or so I thought.

I woke up Saturday morning to find the phone line dead again. Once again I e-mailed the phone company, and they sent a guy out on Monday. This guy wanted to come into my apartment until I told him the last guy had done his repairs downstairs. It seemed to work — except then my Internet connection started to get unstable, periodically dropping out, with the DSL and Internet lights on the modem going out.

Six hours later, the phone line went dead again — after which the Internet stabilized. The next day (Tuesday), they went back and forth — the phone line came back and the net became unstable again (and there was a crackling noise on the phone line on top of the dial tone), then later in the day the phone went out again and the net was fine. It was like they were interfering with each other somehow. But by that evening and into the next morning, the phone line was intermittently working and the net was fine.

So the third repair guy came on Wednesday and did his repairs downstairs — in fact, though he called in advance to ask about the problem, I didn’t even know he’d arrived until I got an automated call that afternoon asking what I thought of my service. He didn’t bother to check in or confirm the repair or anything, but both phone and Internet seemed to work just fine after that. In fact, the Internet connection was faster than it’s been in a while.

This morning, the Internet started dropping out again. Ugh. And after the third or fourth time I unplugged the modem and plugged it back in to reboot it… the phone line went dead again! Huh????

So I called them again, and they tell me they can’t get a tech out here until Monday. I called Friday morning, before 10 AM, and they still couldn’t get anyone out here today, even though this is an ongoing problem that they’ve repeatedly failed to fix.

I’m still nervous about the idea of letting someone into my apartment what with COVID risks, but at this point I’ll accept it if it actually gets the problem diagnosed. I should be reasonably okay as long as I wear a mask and ventilate the apartment effectively. Really, it shouldn’t take that long to completely exchange the air in my 480 square foot apartment, right?

So anyway, I tried looking up things that could cause an Internet connection to drop out. Most of them don’t seem applicable, because the connection was mostly fine until last Saturday. There had been a time a few months back when the connection became unstable for an hour or so in the mornings but was back to normal by 11 or 12. I figured maybe it was some outside interference, like that recent story about the guy whose old TV was shutting down a whole town’s Internet. But that hasn’t been happening for a while.

Still, there was one thing I couldn’t entirely dismiss as a possibility. Apparently a modem can lose its connection if it overheats. Now, I think my modem is pretty well-ventilated. Due to the distance between my computer desk and my phone jack, I need to have the modem on the floor by my bookcases, and I keep it upright on its side, with both its broadest faces exposed to the air. And it’s right underneath my ceiling fan, which I keep going pretty much constantly when I’m awake and at home. Still, the way it drops out seems like it could be consistent with overheating — namely, it tends to drop out when I’m trying to access a page that’s slow to load, as if it’s processing a lot of data and overheats from doing so. And sometimes, it seems more likely to stabilize if I walk away from the computer for a while, which could be giving it time to cool down. I haven’t had the opportunity to test whether it feels warmer when it drops out, though, because I only just read about this as a possibility.

Still, it doesn’t add up. Why would it be a modem heating problem if my modem was working just fine (usually) until the first failed phone repair attempt on Monday? Could it be that some interference or slowdown elsewhere in the phone/DSL wiring is somehow forcing my modem to work harder and heat up more? And what could be causing the phone and DSL lines to interfere with each other? And why can’t they fix it?

These are not rhetorical questions. I’m open to any informed replies on the subject.

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Cover for the SPIDER-MAN omnibus!

September 29, 2020 3 comments

Last month, I reported that Titan Books would be publishing a reprint omnibus of my 2008 novel Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder along with Jim Butcher’s The Darkest Hours and Keith R.A. DeCandido’s Down These Mean Streets. The cover art for Marvel Classic Novels – Spider-Man: The Darkest Hours Omnibus has now been released:

The cover art was originally a variant cover to Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 3 issue 19.1 (whatever that means) by the late Justin Ponsor (you can see his signature “J-Po” under Spidey’s left foot), though the background hues are different in the original. It’s a nice dynamic shot of Spidey, and the nighttime setting is a good fit for the “dark” theme of the titles (not that our books were any darker than the comics themselves at the period in which our stories took place).

Once again, here’s the official description and ordering links:

Collecting three classic fan-favorite Spider-Man novels together for the first time in a brand-new omnibus edition.

THE DARKEST HOURS by Jim Butcher

When Black Cat foils Spider-Man’s attempts to stop the Rhino rampaging through Times Square, she informs him the Rhino is just a distraction. The real threat comes from a group of Ancients, members of the same race as the being called Morlun, seeking revenge for Spider-Man defeating them years before. Spidey must rely on Black Cat if there’s any hope of stopping them again, before they can steal his life force.

DOWN THESE MEAN STREETS by Keith R.A. DeCandido

A mysterious drug known as Triple X has been giving users super-powers as well as rendering them mentally and physically unstable. Only by teaming up with a police force that hates him can Spider-Man find the source behind this lethal drug and protect people from those using it. But one of Spider-Man’s most fearsome enemies may be behind it all as part of a greater scheme to bring down the city.

DROWNED IN THUNDER by Christopher L. Bennett

The ongoing conflict between Spider-Man and his longtime outspoken nemesis, crusading newspaper publisher J. Jonah Jameson, reaches a whole new level when JJJ exploits several mysterious attacks on Manhattan island in his propaganda war against the web-slinger.

 

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Indiebound

Penguin Random House

 

It’ll be out May 11, 2021. I can’t wait!

eSPEC BOOKS AUTHOR READING SERIES – 9/25/20

The newest entry in the eSpec Books Author Reading Series includes me reading an excerpt from the prologue to ARACHNE’S EXILE (beware spoilers for ARACHNE’S CRIME).

eSpec Books

Do we have a treat for you this week! Two of our readings are sneak peeks at upcoming books! The third is about biker faeries! How could you go wrong? We hope you’ll enjoy them all. If you are interested in the books, they can be purchased via the links provided.

If you are an author and would like to participate in one of these series, please visit the eSpec Books Author Reading Series Facebook page for details.


The eSpec Books Author Reading Series

Christopher L. Bennett reading an excerpt of his upcoming novel, Arachne’s Exile.

What a Tangled Web…

When the colony starship Arachne unwittingly destroyed a deep-space habitat of the Chirrn, her crew committed themselves to a lifetime of penance to repay their debt. But a brutal act of vengeance has now forced them into exile in a distant part of the galaxy.

Drawn into a cosmic…

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ARACHNE’S CRIME/EXILE update (and more art!)

Okay, folks… You may have noticed that I now have preorder links for both Arachne’s Crime and Arachne’s Exile up on my homepage. Both books have now been edited and typeset, and all that’s left is the cover art, which eSpec Books’ Mike McPhail is about to take up. Oh, and hopefully collecting a few promotional blurbs.

So I talked it over with my editor, and we decided that, instead of releasing the two books separately as originally anticipated, we’re going to release the whole duology at once! I figure, hey, we’ve all been waiting long enough, so why create an artificial wait for the second book if there’s no need to?

There’s a definite irony here, though, since I originally wrote this story as a single really long novel. It was when I decided to shop it to small publishers that I decided to split it in two to fit their word count limits, and I realized it worked better that way, as two distinct, more focused stories connecting into a larger sequence. So I rewrote with that in mind, making sure AC had a reasonable degree of closure and completeness while AE opened with sufficient recapping and reintroduction to refresh readers’ memories after a gap of, I presumed, several months. Now it turns out the whole story is coming out all at once after all.

Still, it’s good that it has that flexibility. Readers can buy both books at once if they like (and I hope they do), or they can start with AC and then get around to AE later if they prefer. It really does have a better structure as two consecutive installments, but I guess that’s true regardless of how much or little time separates them in the reader’s experience.

As for when they come out, that depends on how long the covers take. But it should hopefully be fairly soon. Of course, you can preorder right now with the above links.

Meanwhile, given all this, I’ve gone ahead and posted an advance look at four Arachne’s Exile alien designs on my Patreon site, following up the sketches I posted of Arachne’s Crime aliens back in June (when I thought the book might be out in July or so). Both sets of sketches are available to anyone at the $1 subscription level, though they’ll all be included with my novel annotations here on Written Worlds when the time comes. For now, though, they’ll hopefully tide us over until the covers come out.

Oh, and I should have another big announcement about a different project very soon.

Troubleshooter art: Koyama Hikari/Tenshi

(Reposted from my Patreon site, originally posted August 7, 2020)

Koyama Hikari

Click to enlarge

One of my favorite supporting characters in Only Superhuman was Emerald Blair’s best friend “Kari” Koyama Hikari, aka Troubleshooter Tenshi, a young woman who was “deceptively cute, girlish, and innocent” in appearance but was engineered by her yakuza-boss father to be the ultimate martial-artist assassin, and had rebelled against that fate to become a superhero instead. I’ve always wanted to do a sketch of her to accompany my previous sketches of Emerald Blair and Psyche Thorne. Unfortunately, if my mental image of Kari was based on a specific person, I’ve long since forgotten who it was, and I’m not a good enough artist to work without a photo reference.

Since I watch a lot of Japanese TV and movies, I’ve kept an eye out for actresses I could use as models for Kari. But every time I thought a given actress was a good fit for Kari, I changed my mind when I revisited the candidate later on. It took years to find someone I didn’t change my mind about — someones, rather, since I wanted at least two models so I could blend features and create a distinct face.

I finally settled on two tokusatsu actresses who played characters with coincidentally similar names. My primary model was Yuumi Shida, who played the female lead Mai Takatsukasa in Kamen Rider Gaim. I based the nose and mouth more on Mariya Yamada, who played Mai Midorikawa in Ultraman Dyna. I think the final result comes pretty close to what I pictured in my mind. I don’t think my drawing is nearly as gorgeous as either actress, but that’s probably for the best, since Kari is supposed to have a more understated beauty than Emerald’s.

Koyama Hikari (pencil art)

Click to enlarge

I’ve included my original pencil sketch because I like how it turned out, possibly even better than the color version. I didn’t want to risk ruining the original if I goofed with the coloring, so I retraced the whole thing, resulting in some subtle differences. It was a challenge to get her hair dark enough with colored pencils; I lowered the brightness on the scan considerably to get it to look right, as you can tell from the gray background. Still, I think it turned out pretty well, considering that I haven’t done one of these in eight years.

Troubleshooter Tenshi

Click to enlarge

The third image shows Kari in costume as Troubleshooter Tenshi. It’s basically as described in the novel, a stylized judo gi in red with saffron trim over a silver light-armor leotard, but I’ve added a couple of new details. The jacket trim has a traditional Japanese yagasuri (arrow fletching) pattern, suggesting a hagoromo, the feathered kimono of a tenshi/angel from Japanese mythology; the pattern also symbolizes the fight against evil in Buddhism, Kari’s faith. (I considered a more elaborate hagoromo pattern for the jacket, but I couldn’t find anything within my ability to draw. I happened upon the yagasuri pattern and decided it would be appropriate.) The end of the belt has what’s supposed to be a stylized lotus blossom as the Tenshi logo, since I’ve decided that Troubleshooters should have individual logos.

I had wanted to draw Kari holding one or both of her tessen (war fans), but in looking for reference art, I realized the only way to do them justice would be to redraw her from scratch in a tessenjutsu stance, and I didn’t want to throw out the work I’d already done. I thought of drawing them folded on her belt or something, but I decided she’d probably stow them up her sleeves.

The costume sketch is colored with a blend of pencils and computer coloring, not unlike my Psyche portrait from 2012. After creating the pencil art (retracing the body from an old sketch attempt that didn’t get her face right, and tracing the new face on top), I scanned it and color-filled it digitally as a “color study” to guide my colored-pencil version. But I wasn’t satisfied with the pencil version (partly because I seem to have used up my pure red pencil and had to make do with orange-red), so I just translucently superimposed the color study on top of the pencil art. It worked surprisingly well, considering that I again retraced it to preserve the original. Despite that, they line up pretty perfectly except a little around the hands and feet.

More free Patreon samples!

I now have free samples up on Patreon for all three of my main membership tiers. I hope they entice at least a few more people to subscribe to my Patreon page.

At the $5 Reviews tier, up since last Tuesday, is the first of my weekly reviews of the 1988 syndicated Superboy TV series:

https://www.patreon.com/posts/40266250

At the $10 Fiction tier is a reprint of my 2017 Analog short story “Abductive Reasoning”:

https://www.patreon.com/posts/free-fiction-41459524

And at the $12 Behind the Scenes tier, I’m offering a glimpse of my worldbuilding notes for the Arachne-Troubleshooter Universe, an overview of the distribution of life in different parts of the galaxy:

https://www.patreon.com/posts/worldbuilding-in-41460817

These are pretty representative of the kind of content I offer regularly. I post a new review every Tuesday (I’ve got enough written in advance to last about a year at this point), and new (or sometimes reprint) fiction and Behind the Scenes content roughly once a month. Also, at the $1 Tip Jar level, I have a couple of posts’ worth of old cat photos you can check out (no new ones likely to follow, alas) and occasional advance glimpses at character and alien design sketches I’ve done for my fiction (which will eventually be reprinted here on Written Worlds).

Feel free to check it out!

eSPEC EXCERPTS – ARACHNE’S CRIME

From the eSpec Books blog, an excerpt from Chapter 1 of ARACHNE’S CRIME.

eSpec Books

We have a lot of exciting new titles coming out over the next six months. Here is a sneak peek of Christopher L. Bennett’s Arachne’s Crime. The first volume in his hardcore science fiction duology.


Arachne’s Crime – Chapter One

Stephen kept his eyes on the lights in the sky, even as he lay in the mud. The more they tried to beat him down, the more he took comfort in the heights humanity could reach.

“Look up there,” he told them once he’d grown strong enough to defend himself and win the chance to be heard. “Look at what we have the potential to achieve if we use our energies together instead of wasting them against each other.”

At first, Benjamin was his only audience, gazing up with him at the points of light that swept across the heavens. Stephen spoke to inspire the boy, to give his…

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Free Patreon review this week!

Today I’m starting a new TV review series on Patreon, of the 1988-92 syndicated Superboy (renamed The Adventures of Superboy for seasons 3-4), which was produced by Alexander and Ilya Salkind of the Christopher Reeve Superman movies and starred John Haymes Newton (season 1) and Gerard Christopher (seasons 2-4) as Superboy and Stacy Haiduk as Lana Lang. It’s a little-remembered series today, as it hasn’t been widely available, but the entire series is on DC Universe. While the first two seasons are inconsistent and often terrible, they do have some noteworthy moments, and are notable for having veteran Superman comics writer-editors such as Cary Bates, Mike Carlin, and Andy Helfer on the writing staff. The retooled seasons 3-4, though are a vast improvement, probably the best live-action DC television prior to Smallville (and I say that as a longtime fan of the 1990 The Flash). Seasons 2-4 also feature Sherman Howard as one of the finest screen versions of Lex Luthor ever.

This will be a long series of reviews, so in hopes of attracting some new subscribers, I’m making this first review available for free to the public. Just click here:

https://www.patreon.com/posts/40266250

Subsequent installments will appear weekly for Patreon subscribers at the $5 level and above. I hope this review will entice at least a few of you to join up — I’d like my reviews to be read by more than 20-ish people.

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Updates on various things

While I wait for the cover art to Arachne’s Crime to be finished so the book can be released, I’ve been working on some Arachne art of my own. Back in June, I posted sketches of the three alien species from Arachne’s Crime on Patreon, an advance look for patrons at the $1 subscription level before I eventually post them here on Written Worlds where everyone can see them. Well, I’ve been working on drawings of the four new alien species that debut in Arachne’s Exile, which I’ll do the same with at some point, once I have a better idea of the release schedule.

I’ve done some doodles and design sketches for these four species in the past to get enough of a sense of their anatomy to describe them in the novel, but some were more developed than others. There was one I already had lightly drawn that I just needed to refine and go over with darker pencil lines, which was pretty straightforward. Another was a rethinking of a species I designed and drew decades ago, with the same head and upper body but a redesigned lower body, so that went quite quickly. For the other two, I had thumbnail sketches of the body shapes (and I scanned them so I could enlarge them and trace them straight from the screen to make it easier), but I still had to figure out a lot of the details, like the shape of the limbs and extremities and in one case the entire head design, since I was unhappy with the rough head shape I’d sketched in. The first one of those took a few days, since it had an unusual surface texture that I had to figure out how to draw. The other went pretty quickly once I settled on a head design, though. I guess I’m going faster as I get back into practice at this.

Today I even did some copying and pasting in a drawing program to put together a comparative height chart for all seven species plus a human, using a blank height-chart template I found free online. So now those are all ready to go on Patreon at some point, and eventually on this blog as well.

Progress on other projects is slower going, though. I’m still awaiting the contract for that big new project I mentioned getting a “yes” on two weeks ago, and now that I’ve gotten all the side projects out of the way, there’s another work in progress I really need to rededicate myself to. So there’s nothing else professionally I can say much about yet.

Last week I reported my success in doing my own repair to the fill valve in my toilet tank. But it turned out not to be complete success. I woke up a day or two later to find the tank continuously trying and failing to refill, apparently because the stopper — or the flapper, as I now know it’s called — wasn’t properly closed, so whatever came into the tank was promptly drained into the bowl through the flush valve (as I now know it’s called). Fortunately, fiddling with the flapper a bit seemed to fix it. I figured some gunk got dislodged in my repairs and got stuck under the stopper the night before so it wouldn’t reseal. I hoped that was all it was.

However, over the next few days, I heard the refilling sound briefly every few hours, suggesting that water was still slowly leaking out through the flush valve, triggering a refill when the float sank low enough. (Apparently these are called “ghost flushes.”) I remembered how, when I’d kept the water mostly turned off while waiting for the replacement part to be shipped, the water in the tank drained after a few hours. I realized that the slow leak in the fill valve may have been compensating for a slow leak in the flush valve the whole time! Would I have to buy a replacement flapper too? I once again went to YouTube in search of repair videos (which is how I suddenly know so much terminology) and started looking into replacement options.

When I investigated, though, I found I’d been pretty much right the first time: some flecks of stuff on the flapper were preventing a perfect seal. Maybe some kind of mineral encrustation inside the tank because of the hard water in my area — perhaps I was right about stuff getting dislodged during repairs. I wiped off the flapper and the valve edges, and it seemed to solve the problem for a day or so, but since then I’ve had another instance where the flapper didn’t close, and the ghost flushes have returned, and there still seems to be some loose debris in the tank despite my efforts to wipe it up.

I should probably replace the flapper at some point (the info I found online says you should if it’s more than 5 years old), but it’s not urgent. At least it’s an intermittent, manageable issue rather than the constant leak I had before. So I can live with it as it is.

Especially since I have work I need to stop distracting myself from…

SPIDER-MAN: DROWNED IN THUNDER is being reprinted at last!

Great news! Titan Books has been doing a series called Marvel Classic Novels, comprising themed omnibus reprints of various past prose novels based on Marvel Comics superheroes. I just learned from Keith R.A. DeCandido that they’re doing one called Marvel Classic Novels – Spider-Man: The Darkest Hours Omnibus, which includes my 2008 novel Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder along with Jim Butcher’s The Darkest Hours and Keith’s Down These Mean Streets.

No cover yet for the omnibus, but here’s the official description:

Collecting three classic fan-favorite Spider-Man novels together for the first time in a brand-new omnibus edition.

THE DARKEST HOURS by Jim Butcher

When Black Cat foils Spider-Man’s attempts to stop the Rhino rampaging through Times Square, she informs him the Rhino is just a distraction. The real threat comes from a group of Ancients, members of the same race as the being called Morlun, seeking revenge for Spider-Man defeating them years before. Spidey must rely on Black Cat if there’s any hope of stopping them again, before they can steal his life force.

DOWN THESE MEAN STREETS by Keith R.A. DeCandido

A mysterious drug known as Triple X has been giving users super-powers as well as rendering them mentally and physically unstable. Only by teaming up with a police force that hates him can Spider-Man find the source behind this lethal drug and protect people from those using it. But one of Spider-Man’s most fearsome enemies may be behind it all as part of a greater scheme to bring down the city.

DROWNED IN THUNDER by Christopher L. Bennett

The ongoing conflict between Spider-Man and his longtime outspoken nemesis, crusading newspaper publisher J. Jonah Jameson, reaches a whole new level when JJJ exploits several mysterious attacks on Manhattan island in his propaganda war against the web-slinger.

 

Drowned in Thunder was my second Marvel novel after the previous year’s X-Men: Watchers on the Walls, and my last one to date. It’s a book I’m very proud of, so I was disappointed when it turned out to be perhaps my weakest-selling novel, due to lack of promotion. I was pleased when it was re-released in audiobook form in 2013, in a full-cast audio drama adaptation by GraphicAudio, which was declared one of the Best Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Audio Theater Audiobooks of 2013 by AudioFile Magazine. But I always hoped the print edition would be republished someday, and now that’s finally happening.

These three novels are a natural fit for an omnibus, too. Not only are they all from Pocket Star’s mid-2000s Marvel line, but by chance, Keith, Jim, and I all chose to set our books at almost the exact same point in the timeline, between Mary Jane Watson starting a stage career and Spidey joining the Avengers — a period in which Peter and MJ were still married, Peter was teaching science at Midtown High, and Aunt May was aware that Peter was Spider-Man and had become his most ardent supporter. Indeed, I referenced both Keith’s and Jim’s novels in my own, explicitly tying them all together. If they appear in the order listed in the blurb, then they’re in the right chronological sequence too; Down These Mean Streets was actually published first, but The Darkest Hours apparently takes place a bit earlier, judging by the state of MJ’s theatrical career, at least. All in all, it’s looking pretty great.

Unfortunately, it won’t be out until May 2021, but you can preorder it starting now. Here are the ordering links:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Indiebound

Penguin Random House

 

With the audiobook also back in print from Dreamscape Media, I’m really glad that Drowned in Thunder is getting a new life. Face front, True Believers!