Jeff James

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I'm continually fascinated by the process of book cover designs and redesigns. I actually follow several blogs that focus on nothing but the subject of new book cover designs, often comparing hardback to paperback and US to UK or international versions. It's really interesting how books are sold in completely different ways in different countries. Re-released versions are also alternately fascinating and disappointing, depending on the thinking behind the updated version. Here's a good example:

The Diamond Age, Old vs. New

On the left is an earlier cover for The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson. The cover on the right is for a version re-released this year to coincide with Stephenson's upcoming book, Anathem. For some reason all of Stephenson's books (except for the Baroque Cycle) are being re-released with covers that match the style of Anathem: a shadowy figure, lit from behind and walking or running through a doorway at the end of a long hall or large space.

It's kind of bizarre, especially since the new cover makes The Diamond Age look more like a Jason Bourne book than a post-cyberpunk / steampunk / fantasy novel about a girl and the virtual world that exists in her diary. The old cover may be a bit dated and "of its time", but I think it does a much better job of communicating what the book is actually about, with its juxtaposition of rusty gears and amorphous 3D imagery.

If you're interested in checking out a few good blogs focusing on book cover designs, here's my reading list:

  1. The Book Design Review
  2. …by Henry Sene Yee Design
  3. Book Covers Anonymous
  4. Caustic Cover Critic

Last night, as I lay in bed preparing for sleep, a bit of dialogue was running through my head, so I decided that I had better write it down to make sure it didn't go away.

30 minutes later, I had the scene below. Enjoy!

EXT. ROOF - DAY

Two men - MAN A and MAN B - stand at the edge of a roof and look off into the distance. They make no effort to conceal themselves.

MAN A

Yesterday some man on the street told me that I was "making a mockery" of what I "stand for". How can I make a mockery of it when I don't even know what I stand for?

MAN B

For that matter, how could he know what you stood for?

MAN A

Exactly! Besides, I was just standing there.

MAN B

Maybe you got him confused. Maybe he meant that you were making a mockery of what he stood for, id est, what he actually said was "You're making a mockery of what I stand for!"

MAN A

...No, no... that doesn't sound right. In any case, I wasn't mocking anything, I was just standing.

MAN B

What if the act of standing was mockery in and of itself? Was he in a wheelchair? I could see how someone in a wheelchair might get sensitive about those sort of things... standing and the like.

MAN A

No, no, he was standing perfectly well.... he was wearing pants, mind you, so he may have had a wooden leg under there, or prosthetics. It's amazing... the things they can do with prosthetics.

MAN B

Quite amazing. I saw a television special once...

MAN A

Wait! Shh....

MAN B

What?

MAN A

Is that him?

MAN B

Him... who?

MAN A

You know... Him.

MAN B

Is that... particular inflection and timbre of your voice meant to tell me something more than when you said it the first time?

MAN A

...HIM.

MAN B

Oh. You mean HIM. ...It's... hard to tell from here. Binoculars?

MAN A

Here.

MAN B

They're all smudged. What did you do, look with your fingers?

MAN A

Never mind that. Is it Him?

MAN B

Decidedly not. It is a woman with a cocker-spaniel.

MAN A

A cocker-spaniel?

MAN B

Decidedly.

MAN A

How could I confuse the two?

MAN B

It's quite a far distance.

MAN A

No, no, that is unacceptable.

MAN B

Also, it's foggy and... the fog is... omnipresent as well as being rather greenish. Decidedly sinister.

MAN A

Why do you keep saying "decidedly"?

MAN B

It's a good word. I'm trying to return it to popular use.

MAN A

Ah.

MAN B

Hmm?

MAN A

I said "Ah". I really have no other response than that. Simply "Ah".

MAN B

Ah.

MAN A

We were talking about something, weren't we?

MAN B

Him!

MAN A

What?

MAN B

Him! Over there! Here, take a look!

Hands him the binoculars.

MAN A

Yes! It's Him!

MAN B

Excellent! Hand me the gun.

MAN A

Gun. Check.

MAN B

Loaded?

MAN A

Just now.

MAN B

Keep an eye on him. Is anyone watching?

MAN A

The streets are clear. Completely.

MAN B

Alright. One. Two. Three, and....

A shot.

MAN A

...Nicely done.

MAN B

Thank you.

MAN A

Took the top of his head right off, I think.

MAN B

He was wearing a hat.

MAN A

Well, yes, but there was a lot of blood.

MAN B

Let me see.

MAN A

Here.

MAN B

Mmmm. Decidedly so.

MAN A

Has anyone seen?

MAN B

No. The streets are completely clear, just like you said.

MAN A

Well, I mean... someone will notice soon enough, won't they?

MAN B

I suppose so.

A pause.

MAN A

How long should we give it?

MAN B

Give what?

MAN A

Well, I mean... how long should we wait?

MAN B

Wait until what? You're being much too vague!

MAN A

...I'll vague you!

MAN B

...You're being entirely senseless.

MAN A

It was a threat nonetheless. Think about it further and you'll find the threat.

MAN B

Find the threat! Hah!

A pause.

MAN A

I think it would be terrible.

MAN B

What, dying? Most likely.

MAN A

Well, yes and no. Dying would be bad, but dying alone with no-one to notice would be worse.

A pause.

MAN B

We noticed.

MAN A

Take us out of the equation.

MAN B

Well, yes, that sum comes out to zero.

MAN A

Zero. Exactly.

A pause.

MAN A

Perhaps we should tell someone.

MAN B

Tell someone?

MAN A

Well, we could make a discreet call...

MAN B

If we give it enough time, someone will come along and notice. These are busy streets.

MAN A

Really? Busy streets?

MAN B

Well...

MAN A

If these are busy streets, why is he the second person we've seen in three hours?

MAN B

It must be an off day. Is it a holiday, perhaps?

MAN A

If it was a holiday, I think we'd know.

MAN B

We never get holidays.

MAN A

Well, yes... that's why we'd know. We'd be keenly aware of the fact that we were not, as it were, on holiday, when, well... you know... everyone else in the bleeding universe was.

MAN B

Universe?

MAN A

Maybe not. How about "principality"?

MAN B

That word has an antiquated sound to it.

A pause.

MAN B

In any case, he is dead, and we are not, and I am ready for my sandwich.

MAN A

Oh.

MAN B

Oh?

MAN A

The sandwiches. I...

MAN B

Come on, out with it!

MAN A

I seem to have left them in the car. I'm terribly sorry.

MAN B

(Sighing.)

Well, we'll just have to go and get them, I suppose.

He begins to get up.

MAN A

Look!

MAN B

What?

MAN A

That woman with the cocker-spaniel! She's discovered the body!

MAN B

(Looking through binoculars.)

Half-right. Someone has discovered the body, but it's a man in a priest uniform.

MAN A

A priest?

MAN B

It's too early for Halloween, so... signs point to maybe.

MAN A

A priest! Fancy that!

MAN B

Ahem. Sandwiches...

MAN A

Fine. Hand me the gun, will you?

They start collecting their things and begin heading towards the exit.

MAN B

We'll just have to climb right back up here, you know.

MAN A

You don't have to remind me. My knee is already acting up from this morning!

MAN B

I thought that meant rain?

MAN A

It has many meanings. None of them clear.

MAN B

Inscrutable.

MAN A

Quite.

They exit.

THE END

I remember watching the first Ghost in the Shell movie and being confused and mildly disappointed. up until that point, my only exposure to anime was Akira, which – although it was confusing as well – seemed far more epic in scope. I remember wondering if there were that many full-length anime features that were as good as I thought Akira was, and for a few years, I didn't think so.

I was, of course, wrong. there were a hell of a lot of really excellent full-length anime features out there, I just hadn't found them yet.

Now, in my personal continuum of anime features, nothing will probably ever top Spirited Away. That would just be heresy; I'd say that and Akira are on equal footing in my realm.

Ghost in the Shell 2 was quite a lot different from the first movie. The difference was all the more striking because I watched the trailers included on the disc, and saw a clip of the first movie – which now looks primitive and cartoony – and a bit of Stand Alone Complex, the TV series – cartoony still, but much more modern.

This one was pretty goddamn confusing as well, but there was something about it that clicked a whole lot better for me. Innocence is not only far more epic than the first film, it is far more philosophical in scope, and the surrealistic quality that I love so much in a good anime has been ramped up much higher. There were parts of this movie that kind of gave me the heebie-jeebies, and I now consider it a sign of quality when something I watch can scare me a little bit in the right way (Firefly being another example – the third episode made my skin crawl a little bit).

The only thing that wasn't cool about the movie – and this is quite the internet scandal – was that instead of including regular subtitles, a closed captioned track was the only English option offered. You'd get things like [singing in japanese] or [dog whimpers], all of which were plastered right up front in huge white letters.

I decided a few years ago that kung fu flicks and anime were the only sorts of foreign films where I didn't mind English dubbing. In both cases, it's so you can pay as much attention to the visuals as possible. I'd actually prefer it if Ghost in the Shell had an English dub, cause I know there was a good amount of stuff that I missed just because I was trying to frantically read the subtitles and watch all of the crazy shit going on at the same time.