Mike Zeck was in town last week, so we went to the Consumer Electronics Show AKA C.E.S., which ran at the Las Vegas Convention Center Jan. 8-11. CES is the biggest show to hit Las Vegas in memory, at least in terms of floor space, and, unlike the computer expo Comdex, caters to all areas of consumer electronics, from Mercedes-Benzes with built-in video stations to dustbusters. The show isn't officially open to the public, but with a little advance planning and the merest claim to being an industry professional, it's pretty easy to get in, without cost.
Now I know why the economy's in a slump. This stuff falls into two camps: what you couldn't care less about and what you can't afford. There was virtually a whole room dedicated to home audio, for instance, with no one daring to mention the dirty little secret of home audio: these days, unless you're anal retentive about such things, most brand name speaker systems (if you're an audio enthusiast, get ready to scream) sound pretty much the same. There were tons of PDAs (what does that stand for, anyway? Personal Data Assistant?) on display in one room, but, techno-fever aside, there isn't much most people use PDAs for that they couldn't accomplish with a pocket calendar and a pocket phone book. I checked out some "virtual reality" glasses which were supposed to be cutting edge state of the art but looked like tiny TV screens jammed half an inch in front of your eyes, with open sides to let plenty of peripheral vision through. Seems to me someone didn't quite think that one out. The list goes on and on.
In the range of what you can't afford, two items stood out. Mike and I investigated a number of wide screen high definition TVs. The show's standout item was the Pioneer Purevision Pro-1000HD plasma screen 50" TV. Four inches thick, relatively lightweight, you can hang it on your wall like a painting. Really gorgeous picture quality, utterly absent of scan lines; like looking at a moving photograph. Price: $17,500, more than a lot of new cars cost. Much less costly but still not quite cheap enough to justify itself is SonicBlue's Rio Riot pocketsized MP3 player, sporting a 20 gig hard drive that allows the user to always carry with them the equivalent of 400 albums. Still, at $400, it's hard to justify the expense. Satellite TV providers Dish Network are introducing the DishPVR721 receiver with a two-tuner Personal Video Recorder (meaning you record your shows on a hard drive) with 90 hours capacity, Internet Access, USB ports and other features, price to be specified later but you can bet it won't be cheap.
I'd love to have this stuff, but it's hard to call it exciting. A lot of the new products seem not-quite-ready-for-prime-time, like they need to go through a couple more generations before they're really ready to unveil. Even the plasma TVs have the flaw of a much shorter screen life than standard TVs, and who wants to spend $17,000 on a new TV every six or eight years? It seems to me many electronics (and computer) manufacturers have built their businesses around a must have cool factor, much as comics tried to do several years back (and many still try to do, with considerably less success) and they're running into the same problems. People can only be beaten over the head with cool for so long before they figure out – as most do eventually – that the "cool" stuff hasn't changed their lives one iota, and probably never will, and there's always something else your money could easily be spent on. Not one thing that I saw at CES qualified as so cool or so functional it demanded to be bought. Banking on the gullibility of your consumers may work in some PT Barnum dream world, it may even work in this world for awhile, but ultimately it's digging yourself a grave, and that's where a lot of companies seem to be headed.
Of course, they can always blame it on the economy.
If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times: if you enjoy PERMANENT DAMAGE, check out our brother column, Larry Young's LOOSE CANNON. The difference here is: this is the last time. The final LOOSE CANNON goes up this coming Friday. So be there or be square, 'cause he's going out in style. Who will replace Larry in the CBR rotation? I haven't a clue.
Well, maybe a fraction of a clue...
If you're not subscribing to David Langford's ANSIBLE newsletter, get on the stick. Langford published ANSIBLE as a British science fiction journal long ago, but such things have a way of becoming difficult. In its new incarnation it's a free e-mail monthly, and worth every penny. Irreverent and iconoclastic without being snotty, ANSIBLE covers the science fiction scene with wit and precision, seems to be a favorite soapbox for professional sf writers, and is just a great read, usually when I really need one. Among the highlights of the current issue is notorious science-fantasist Michael Moorcock's review of THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING. To receive ANSIBLE monthly via e-mail, send a message to: Majordomo@imi.gla.ac.uk containing the sole text: "subscribe ansible." Without quotation marks or period. The subject line is irrelevant. (You can, of course, just go to the site to read it, but e-mail's so much easier.)
Speaking of free stuff, if you're a die-hard Spider-Man fan, you have Windows and you want a free Ultimate Spider-Man Deskplayer, click here.
Of course, if you're the type who'd rather do it yourself and you think your future lies with online animation (or, as some wrongfully call them, "webcomics") Macromedia is now offering a free starter kit for their industry standard Flash animation software that comes with an instructional tutorial and a fully-functional 30 day version of Flash that will allegedly take you step by step through the process of creating web cartoons. Go forth and find that hidden writer-artist inside.
And speaking of web cartoons (I'm in full scream-of-consciousness mode here), the formerly defunct major domo of that genre, Icebox, is back – except now they're a pay site selling the same cartoons. Meanwhile, Wowcomics, mentioned here a month or so back, is now operational online. Unlike Icebox, Wowcomics is going for internation web distribution of the more traditional comics form. The future of the industry? You tell me, at the Permanent Damage Message Board.
Finally, got a nice message yesterday from Jennifer Bruce, congratulating me on placing MORTAL SOULS with Avatar Press and offering the services of her company, Dreamer Designs, for lettering. The publishers usually make those decisions on the books I work on, but if you're looking for a letterer for your book, the rates quoted are pretty competitive and the company offers various extra services, so check out their website for samples and more information.
Warren Ellis is threatening to make a major project announcement later this week on his Warren Ellis Forum. Your guess is as good as mine but it sounds big. Check the forum on Friday or so to find out more.
From Eight Ball Graphics (174 Madison St, Cortland NY 13045) comes the mini-comic DEAD END #13 (75¢), featuring "The Long Cold Winter, Pt. 1: The Alley." The writing is lively and entertaining, the cartooning passable (both by Jim Coon), and though the story (so far) about a blue-skinned man trying to find his place in the world ultimately descends into pseudo-Kirby (or pseudo-Image, take your pick) nonsense, it's ultimately tongue-in-cheek enough (and nasty enough, in parts) that such things are fairly easy to overlook. The first section of a serial, it holds out the promise such things can be bypassed in future episodes. This is different enough from the last issue of DEAD END that I saw that it indicates Coon is still developing, and while he doesn't show a ton of promise as an artist I'd like to see how his writing reads in a year or so.
I'm sick with a cold this week and buried in work (not to mention the government now wants to dump the nation's nuclear waste in my backyard, the bastards) so I'm cutting out early. See you next week, when maybe I can tell you about some of the things I'm working on.
Those wishing to comment should leave messages on the Permanent Damage Message Board. You can also e-mail but the chances of a reply are next to nil these days, given my workload, though I do read all my e-mail as long as it's not trying to sell me something. You can also leave messages for me and have discussions on other topics at my Delphi forum, GRAPHIC VIOLENCE. Please don't ask me how to break into the business, or who to submit work to. The answers to those questions are too mercurial for even me to keep up with.
Those wanting to subscribe to the WHISPER e-mail newsletter should click here.
I'm reviewing comics sent to me – I may not like them but certainly I'll mention them – at Steven Grant c/o Permanent Damage, 2657 Windmill Pkwy #194, Henderson NV 89074, so send 'em if you want 'em mentioned, since I can't review them unless I see them. Some people have been sending press releases and cover proofs and things like that, which I enjoy getting, but I really can't do anything with them, sorry. Full comics only, though they can be photocopies rather than the published version. Make sure you include contact information for readers who want to order your book.
If you want to know something about me, you can probably find the answer at Steven Grant's Alleged Fictions.