Friday, January 30, 2015

Woven is a magical book from a magical publisher and I got the inside scoop from authors/part-time sorcerers Michael Jensen and David Powers King

Today is day four of the Woven blog tour! Huzzah! And I have an exclusive interview to share with you ("exclusive" meaning that in this case, these are all my questions and no one else's :) But first, here's all the relevant information regarding this GARGANTUAN release from publisher Scholastic

Here is the book description from Goodreads:

Two unlikely allies must journey across a kingdom in the hopes of thwarting death itself.

All his life, Nels has wanted to be a knight of the kingdom of Avërand. Tall and strong, and with a knack for helping those in need, the people of his sleepy little village have even taken to calling him the Knight of Cobblestown.

But that was before Nels died, murdered outside his home by a mysterious figure.

Now the young hero has awoken as a ghost, invisible to all around him save one person—his only hope for understanding what happened to him—the kingdom’s heir, Princess Tyra. At first the spoiled royal wants nothing to do with Nels, but as the mystery of his death unravels, the two find themselves linked by a secret, and an enemy who could be hiding behind any face.

Nels and Tyra have no choice but to abscond from the castle, charting a hidden world of tangled magic and forlorn phantoms. They must seek out an ancient needle with the power to mend what has been torn, and they have to move fast. Because soon Nels will disappear forever.

Available now wherever books are sold


About the Authors:

Michael Jensen is a graduate of Brigham Young University’s prestigious music, dance, and theater program. Michael taught voice at BYU before establishing his own vocal instruction studio. In addition to being an imaginative storyteller, Michael is an accomplished composer and vocalist. He lives in Salt Lake City with his husband and their four dogs.

Photo credit: Michael Schoenfeld
Links:
Facebook

Photo credit: Katie Pyne Rasmussen

David Powers King was born in beautiful downtown Burbank, California where his love for film inspired him to become a writer. An avid fan of science fiction and fantasy, David also has a soft spot for zombies and the paranormal. He now lives in the mountain West with his wife and three children.

Links:
Facebook
Blog


And now, the INTERVIEW

Please note that Mr. Jensen's responses are highlighted in blue and Mr. King's responses are highlighted in orange:

1) "Woven" is one of the most original fantasies I've read in years, and the "fabrication" magic works so well with its thimbles that protect you from harm, and the slip-stitches that allow fabricators to follow someone over great distances, and even the Needle of Gailner (which is an artifact of power equally impressive to "The One Ring") that I've got to ask: how did you come up with it? It's so awesome!

Michael: It started as a dream that I had years ago; I was crushed by a tree and became a ghost. I was so frustrated because no one could see or hear me. It was such an interesting perspective I wanted to share it in story form. I had the intention of making a musical out of it, but it ended up on the shelf until I met David. He caught my vision right away and we teamed up and started writing this book together.

2) Why did you go with leather armor for the knights of the kingdom? I thought that was an interesting choice instead of plate mail.

David: After some research we decided leather armor would be a nice change from how knights are usually portrayed. Leather armor is more casual for a festival setting and cooler, since the scene takes place in the summer. Plate armor is heavy and wasn’t easy to come by, but they do wear chainmail and armor as the plot thickens.

3) Did you have experience as a wrestler? I thought the scene where Nels wrestled the other knight was quite well written.

Michael: Neither of us have any wrestling experience (nothing professional anyway). It’s amazing what you can do with a little research and wrestling YouTube videos!

4) Names, names, names! Seriously, where did you get "Gailner", "Nels", "Ickabosh", "Fargut", and "Gleesel" (I love Gleesel!)? And by the way, I love how you broke stereotypes so well in this book! I expected Gleesel to be some monster, and she totally wasn't. Oh and do each of you have a favorite name?

David: Much of our inspiration came from medieval Scandinavia. We looked up old names that were popular in the era and area, like Tyra and Lars, and a few others we changed slightly. This helped us keep names similar and simple to read. One of the messages we hope to convey with Woven is that people aren't always what they seem on the surface. Even Rasmus is fighting for the greater good, though with reprehensible methods.

5) Was it a difficult choice for you to switch out of the narrative voice of Nels earlier in the book to being in Tyra's head after Nels was murdered? And why did you decide to step into Tyra's head and not just stay in Nels' head the entire time?

Michael: The point of view switch was natural. And refreshing! After Nels’s death, he could no longer be the main character of the story. Tyra is the one who interacts with the world of the living, so her POV is crucial to the story. Deciding whose perspective was most interesting in a given scene was the tricky part.

6) How do you get your tertiary characters like Gleesel and Fargut to resonate with such sparkle?

David: Every character in Woven has a history; and that history generates the motivation for their actions. We love the characters because they remind us of ourselves, even if they are sometimes a little eccentric.

7) As I read this, I kept thinking that it would make a perfect blockbuster movie by either DreamWorks or Disney, so let's just go ahead and go there since you have a HUGE publishing contract through Scholastic. In my mind, I pictured a full-blown computer-animated feature like How To Train Your Dragon or Frozen. You know...one of the $160 million dollar animated films that go on to gross a billion dollars. But I have to ask, if it were your choice, would you want "animated" or would you want "live action" ala real actors like in the Harry Potter franchise?

Michael: It’s too early to know, but it would thrill us to see Woven brought to life on the silver screen, animated or otherwise. We have a series planned, so live-action might accommodate this best. The good news is we have received inquiries from studios, which is very exciting for us.

8) Can you tell us about some scenes that you probably trimmed from the book? You know, ones that didn't work out and maybe why you decided to trim them in favor of others? A project like this one that takes ten years had to have a lot of winnowing and editing, and I'm interested in your process.

David: We trimmed quite a bit from our original 120,000 word manuscript: a haunted lake, a dream/vision sequence, and even the last chapter had to be rewritten. Emily Dickenson wrote, “I hesitate which word to take, as I take but few and each must be chiefest.” Every chapter, scene, paragraph and word needed to move the story along. Trimming the fat was a process, but we both knew everything in the story had to have a purpose. No wasted words.

9) So there were some dangling "threads" in this book. Is there a sequel planned? Does Tyra fulfill her promise to Threadbare and return the Needle of Gailner to the land beyond the magical gate? Are you allowed to share any details of the sequel with us eager readers, and if so, what can you share?

Michael: We wanted to make a great book that could stand on its own with potential for more. These dangling threads are no accident. These threads will tie together in the other novels we have planned for this series, which will be a series of companion novels (same world, different main characters). We hinted who one of these main character will be at the very end of Woven.

10) What advice do you two rising stars have for authors out there that want to get published with Scholastic (or a similar publisher)?

David: Our path to publication was an unusual one, but we can say that major publishers are on the lookout for high concept storytelling. Really immerse yourself in the genre you write, look at what is out there, what is popular, and then make something unique that we haven’t seen yet.

11) Who drew the map? It's absolutely wonderful. I tried to make out the name on the signature but was unsuccessful.

Michael: Isaac Stewart did a fantastic job with the map. He happens to be the cartographer and interior artist for Brandon Sanderson’s books, so we are extremely lucky to have commissioned him. Isaac is planning to expand our world as we continue to write more novels in this series.

And there you have it folks. If you have one question for me, it's probably "What did you think of Woven when you read it, Mike?" So click HERE to read my review.

Rafflecopper Giveaway Link (One of 5 copies of Woven – signed by both authors): a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

At least five of the Flash's most famous enemies have appeared on the CW in season one and that makes me think they're building up to something huge

The first season of the Flash is putting together the enemies of the fastest comic book superhero in the universe, and they're collectively known as the "Rogues." So far, this is what we've seen:
Captain Cold, a.k.a., Leonard Snart. Played by actor Wentworth Miller in the television show, Snart stole a weapon from S.T.A.R. Labs that fires out a beam of intense cold that Cisco Ramon created as a "solution" to "The Flash" should he prove to be evil. Basically, this gun has the ability to freeze anything to absolute zero. He's the leader of the "Rogues" since he is charismatic, and Snart has what I would call a "Jim Jones" kind of persona, able to make emotional appeals to naturally occurring megalomania (in his teammates) through grandiose promises of rulership. He first appears in the episode "Going Rogue," which is number four in season one.
The Pied Piper, a.k.a., Hartley Rathaway. Played by actor Andy Mientus, Hartley has created a pair of gloves that allow him to manipulate sound waves. He's a former protégée of Dr. Harrison Wells and is after vengeance because Wells fired him, threatened him, and ignored what he had to say about the dangerous particle accelerator. Hartley, much like Captain Cold, is not a meta-human. He's just really really smart, and he basically has gone evil because he's filled with so much hatred for Wells, Cisco, Snow, and Barry Allen. Hartley is introduced in the episode "The Sound and the Fury" which is number eleven in season one.
Weather Wizard, a.k.a., Clyde Mardon. Played by Chad Rook, Clyde robbed a bank with his brother Mark (who's the Weather Wizard in the comic books). Clyde is a meta-human, having derived his powers from being in a plane that exploded when the S.T.A.R. Labs particle accelerator went boom. As far as I know, this character died in the Pilot episode of season 1. It's still interesting they introduced him though. Maybe they have plans for a resurrection.
Heat Wave, a.k.a., Mick Rory. Played by actor Dominic Purcell, Heat Wave makes his appearance in the tenth episode entitled "Revenge of the Rogues." Heat Wave's character is a friend of Captain Cold's, and he has basically the opposite fetish of Cold in that he's a pyromaniac. Cold gives him a gun that's essentially a bottomless flame thrower so that they can put the squeeze on Barry by hitting him simultaneously with both fire and ice.
Captain Boomerang, a.k.a., Digger Harkness. Played by actor Nick Tarabay, Boomerang was in the crossover two-part episodes "Flash versus Arrow" and "The Brave and the Bold." In the episodes, Harkness is a guy that kills people with deadly metal boomerangs, and who has a connection with A.R.G.U.S., which may or may not have something to do with the Suicide Squad. I wish there was more information available to us fans.

That's five out of (I believe) what might be ten of the "Rogues." I think at this point I'm most interested in seeing them break out Gorilla Grodd (there's going to have to be some serious CGI for this one), and then more on Professor Zoom (which we now know for certainty is Dr. Wells AS I had predicted last year).

Please stop by Friday when I post my interview of Woven authors Michael Jensen and David Powers King. I'm going to their book signing here in Salt Lake City at The King's English. I shall take a few pics and post them for you :).

Monday, January 26, 2015

The International Space Station has an office window worthy of the throne for Emperor Palpatine

Sometimes, it pays to be a NASA troll.

The above image shows the interior view of the International Space Station's Cupula module, and it was taken on January 4th, 2015. As you can see, the large window has a spectacular view. There's a robotic work station too, and it's used by astronauts to manipulate the large robotic arm that was used throughout the construction of the station, and to grapple visiting cargo vehicles, and to assist astronauts during spacewalks. Below is a picture of the robotics work station.
Personally, I think this has got to be the coolest office space anywhere. I think you could safely say, "I've made it," if this ended up being your office. And because I'm a geek that loves Star Wars, I can't help but think of how the cupula window above looks a lot like the window in Emperor Palpatine's throne room on the Death Star.
Sigh. Now that it's Monday, I suppose I have to get ready to head into my much less stately office and get some work done. See you in the comments :)

Friday, January 23, 2015

Is the popularity of Body Worlds and the massive fandom of Attack on Titan growing from a grotesque fascination with death?

I think the first time I saw a skinless representation of a human being, I was watching the film adaptation of Clive Barker's "The Hellbound Heart." The title of the movie was Hellraiser, and the guy that was skinless happened to be a demented rapist by the name of Frank, who in the pursuit of ever more adventurous sex, managed to breach a gulf between worlds using a magical puzzle box and summon terrible demons who then proceeded to rip and cut him to pieces. But a piece of Frank survived and basically "grew" in the attic with the assistance of a former lover named Julia, who lured men to their doom so that Frank could drink their blood and gestate a new "skinless" body. I remember being horrified by Frank's appearance because he was so visceral, raw, and red.
If you had told me that this kind of thing, seeing a skinless human being, would grow popular I would have said "no way." But in today's world, I guess the skinless anorexic human is the new grotesque. How would I define "grotesque?" Well, that's kind of hard. Maybe it's a state of being where I'm left with the conclusion that something is both beautiful and hideous simultaneously. Does that sound crazy? How can something be so hideous that it's beautiful? I fail to find the words to answer that question.

Clive Barker's popularity has waned over time, but I think he is still popular among those who love horror. And without having even met the man, I would bet that Clive Barker loves Body Worlds. If you haven't been to a Body Worlds exhibit (or its competitor Bodies...the Exhibition) in a museum in your area don't worry. I'll tell you all about it. Body Worlds is a gallery of real human beings who have undergone plastination, oftentimes skin removed. And everywhere this show goes, it sells out.

The official disclaimer for one exhibit is that all of the bodies were "donated" to science upon their deaths. But there's been questions regarding the dubious origins of some, perhaps adding to the horror and thereby the experience? I'll let you decide. Some cadavers were traced to a Russian medical examiner convicted of illegally selling the bodies of homeless people, prisoners, and indigent hospital patients. Some simply are "unclaimed" bodies from Chinese medical schools, meaning that they weren't donated willingly. Either way, my feelings toward the exhibits billed for their "scientific contribution" wasn't really so much that I learned anything spectacular (although anatomy is certainly on display). Rather, it's that I felt like a participant in a certain kind of capitalist excess. I mean...what kind of society plasticizes dubiously attained cadavers and then sells tickets hand over fist to gawking crowds? And why are there gawking crowds to begin with? Is it because we all desire to be horrified? Maybe it's that our society is so clean that seeing a dead body is a rarity. In a way, we've kind of sterilized the process of dying so that it takes place behind closed doors, sparing all of us the horrors of dealing with a corpse.

The writer in me can't help but create a scary fiction around these exhibits. A man who has grown rich and successful from his art gallery of plasticized cadavers is a serial killer by night. He stalks those that attract his attention while visiting his gallery. Later, he makes an excuse to meet them, slips them a drug in a drink, and they wake up just as he starts the process to turn them into one of his masterpieces. He does his work in a soundproof room somewhere under his gallery where he can take his time with his victims...it gives me the shivers just thinking about it.
These are a pair of huge statues that offer many photo ops for tourists visiting
Universal Studios Japan's new Attack on Titan theme park.
In some ways, Attack on Titan and specifically the titans themselves are the latest expression of the skinless human as spectacle. It's MASSIVE popularity both here and abroad is frightening. If you haven't heard about Attack on Titan, it's an anime series set in a world where gigantic humanoid monsters (some skinless) roam around eating humans. To survive, humans live in a walled city under constant fear that the Titans will smash their homes and eat their families. The monsters are terrifying and the action is intense.
This Attack on Titan Ride at Universal Studios Japan
But as far as monsters go, is there a psychology at play? Are skinless human beings the new "grotesque?" If so, why? Is it the viscera? Is it the appearance of all those raw tendons and muscles? There is a strange connection between the popularity of Body Worlds and the massive fandom of Attack on Titan that I think, grows from a grotesque fascination with death. What's your opinion?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

When crafting a post apocalyptic story be sure to incorporate the crazy

What makes a post apocalyptic story work? We all have various answers to this question, but I think the most important thing is to include what I call "the crazies." Stories that fail to incorporate "the crazies" tend to be the ones that fail or just fall apart. In other words, I'm saying that "crazy" is the glue in which post-apocalyptic works best grab their audience. It's like tree sap for insects. Don't believe me? I submit the following examples for your discussion (and give you the second season trailer for "The Strain" to boot):

1) Revolution. This canceled show on NBC did incorporate the crazy, but decided to go "crazy-lite". When you've got ratings at stake, you can't hold back the crazy. You've got to unleash the fury of full-on insanity that defies all explanation and scares the bejeebus out of the common viewer. By the time Revolution did this, it was too late. The show got grounded in basically functional human societies that (while dystopian) weren't crazy enough until we started going with the nano tech and the strange cults that were rising around the world because the nano decided it was a god. Had they stuck with the nano from the very beginning instead of going with the war with Texas (no one really cares about watching Texans and their militia), I think it might have gotten renewed for a season three, because it was just nutty enough to keep luring us along.

2) The Strain. The first season of this gory FX vampire drama had a lot of really slow parts in it that might have killed the series were it not for the fact that vampires are popular and people will sit through hours of nothing in order to be scared by blood-sucking freaks. Plus, it kind of worked against the whole "vampires are beautiful" trope, which in today's society is "cray cray." In the second season, it appears that the war between humans and vampires has escalated from covert to being overrun and on fire, and I'm going to say that from the looks of it that THIS is totally the right level of crazy. If they keep that up all season, you know there's going to be a season 3.

3) The Walking Dead. This show is a masterpiece on balancing the perfect amount of crazy. There are some slow episodes that get you to a point where you're almost willing to give up on it when all hell breaks loose, main characters die, and you're left sitting on the edge of your seat wondering if there will ever be any happiness on this show. In a way, The Walking Dead seems bent on slashing through every taboo that there is. The crazier the taboo, the more it shocks me into a drooling couch potato unable to tear my eyes away.

4) Falling Skies. If ever there was a television show that rode the tails of crazy, it's this. Not one but two alien species invade Earth, and they are both bad. The show's main character is a charismatic man who gets leid easily, knocks a woman up after having alien DNA inserted into him, and it results in a girl-child hybrid that grows up super fast, has incredible superpowers, and likes to put herself and family members in a cocoon all the while maintaining a Manson-esque cult vibe that has nothing to do with alien invasion. No wonder it gets renewed season after season.

5) The 100. This show decided to repopulate an Earth destroyed in a nuclear holocaust with teenagers that make kids in Lord of the Flies look good. There's lots of death, dismemberment, brutality, mutilation, strange clouds of acid that boil your skin off, mutated animals, and humans who are so cruel to each other that the craziness never stops. The only thing you really needed to add to this formula were six pack abs and the CW does that in spades.

6) Defiance. This storyline is the ultimate in crazy. It has bio-engineered creatures, death and subsequent resurrection, multiple personality syndrome brought upon by possession by powerful gods, crazy sex, crazy drugs, and an all out crazy political system. Nearly every ten minutes of Defiance is something so crazy, you shake your head wondering why any of it works. Maybe it's because when everything is so crazy, you've got something in common.

Friday, January 16, 2015

In defense of Dr. Paul Krugman and how I think he's right about everything

Paul Krugman is a Nobel-prize winning economist and writes for The New York Times. I also agree with just about everything he has to say. Is politics to play? Am I so abashedly liberal that I cannot embrace other points of view? When I read his opinions I most unabashedly find myself nodding yes, because (to my brain) what he's writing sounds so logical. I suppose by stating this, I should be thankful that I'm indeed not famous. My obscurity shields me from public attack by the ilk who frequent such capitalist pig publications like Forbes (who basically hate him). After all, defending one's opinions online against a horde of people who hate Obama and by extension everything that's been done under his watch (and have discovered their web browser allows them to comment thereby giving them a voice) is mentally exhausting. Trust me; I speak from experience.

For those of  you unfamiliar with Dr. Krugman, he is a Keynesian. In other words, he thinks that activist government spending helps the economy in times of recession. His opponents (who are very vocal on Facebook and are always posting articles to the contrary from websites like "big government overreach" and "the conservative voice") reject the notion that government intervention to aid the poor or to regulate the economy could be beneficial. In fact, they believe that any type of government involvement, including slashing of taxes to "boost economic activity" is absolutely useless and detrimental to the economy. They claim that stimulus spending leads to hyperinflation and economic disaster, and they believe that all economic exchange regardless of its nature, is highly beneficial to society. Yeah I saw Breaking Bad and not all economic exchange is beneficial.
Ben Bernanke, former head of the Federal Reserve, nominated by President
George W. Bush to succeed Alan Greenspan. He has since been succeeded
by Janet Yellen.
I don't understand Libertarian points of view. Not any of it. Reading their rants over government spending is like trying to find the logic in a David Lynch movie. Even a stooge like me can see that if you want to stimulate the economy, there has got to be money being spent. This is not rocket science. If no one is buying anything, then the economy goes to pieces. I get this. So at a time when America was hit with a recession as big as the Great Depression of 1929, why did so many people have a hard time seeing that government spending needed to step up to the plate while Americans lost jobs, hoarded money, and banks tightened up lending? We couldn't depend on our neighbors to continue spending, not when they were either losing a job or not getting a raise for years to come, and when the place they were working at was going through a hiring freeze or reorganizing under Chapter 11.
Nothing that any "Ayn Randian" voice has said about how to get out of a recession makes sense to me. In a way, it's like they're all writing fiction and spouting off specious arguments with the conviction of a Baptist preacher. Conservatives and Libertarians called the Federal Reserve bond buying program ($80 billion a month for a year) a ticking time bomb. "Inflation will sky rocket," they screamed. "This will create (or did create) an asset bubble that's gonna pop and destroy the economy!" Well guess what? That program ended successfully and there's been no asset inflation. How do I know this? I've been paying ATTENTION.

The fact is that the consumer price index which measures inflation is dangerously low at 1.5 percent. Healthy inflation according to those (like Krugman) who have the educational chops to tackle such economic science agree that inflation in the United States needs to be at 2-3% The fact that we are far below that number is why your savings account is worth nothing. Most places (if you carry a balance less than $10,000) just give you an interest rate of .01 percent per year (that's 1/100th of a percent). This means that if you keep your money in your savings account, you might as well be stuffing it in your mattress. Inflation is eating it away every day at the rate of 1.5% per year making it worth less and less over time. Why would the Federal Reserve do such a horrible thing to the saver? Because they want you to do other things with it rather than just sit on it because that's how economies prosper.

Yesterday, in an article in The New York Times entitled Francs, Fear, and Folly, Paul Krugman again said something that makes sense to me. And again, I don't think it's politics at play. What sent a shiver of fear through the stock market yesterday was that the Swiss National Bank (their equivalent to the Federal Reserve) shocked the world by abandoning its policy of pegging the franc to the euro. It also cut the interest rate it pays on bank reserves to -.75%. What? Why would they do this?
The world outside of the United States is fighting deflation (the opposite of inflation). Deflation causes economies to stagnate. People hoarding money in bank accounts can act like dominoes toppling one after another until you have this out of control spiral which is essentially what's happening in Europe and in Japan. The United States thus far appears to be the only relative safe spot in the world to put your money, but it's been fascinating to see how the rhetoric of those who hate Krugman keep saying that our central bank needs to hike interest rates soon. But if this happens before the economy is ready, my understanding (thanks to Dr. Krugman) is that this would be disastrous. Of course the anti-Krugman crusaders disagree in droves probably because saving money seems like a logical thing to do.

Hiking interest rates is a saver's boon because suddenly your CD's and your bonds and your saving's accounts are all worth something again. But here's the rub: hiking interest rates puts the brakes on a roaring economy, and our economy isn't roaring. Trust me when I say, I want higher interest rates too. I don't want to have to chuck all of my money into risky assets just to stay ahead of inflation and make a nest egg suitable for my retirement. However, Krugman thinks the time isn't right, and I believe him especially after the spooky event that just happened in Switzerland yesterday.

As further evidence that all is not right with our economy yet (it's come a great distance with low gas prices, falling unemployment, a healthy stock market, etc.), just last week we saw an unemployment report that indicated that wages were FALLING across America even as job hiring was robust. There are several theories to how this is happening because when the labor pool dries up, wages are supposed to rise. Some voices say that it's because all the jobs that are being created are crap jobs, ones that are part-time with no benefits and with low pay. All the good ones have people squatting in them because they know better than to leave. And without that sense of value, well there's just no arguing with an employer about a raise. Add to that good-paying jobs being lost in droves from the oil industry as the falling price of oil strangles huge employers like Schlumberger, and we've got problems, folks.

Overall, defending Dr. Krugman in pitched Facebook battles against people who don't read his articles has been like banging my head against a wall. I finally just decided to stop, because it isn't worth my time to do so with people who just post clips that they find from around the internet to "counter" the points that I make. I've basically either blocked those people or made their posts invisible. Isn't Facebook supposed to bring us closer together? I think I fail at social networking. But here I am, yet again, posting my final thoughts regarding Dr. Krugman, because I feel like I need to defend the man whose ideas I agree with, and it's not just politics.

Why can't everyone see that there's a reason Dr. Krugman has a Nobel Prize in economics?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Agent Carter is good but can it be great?

Last week I watched the premiere of the mini series/TV show Agent Carter, and from what I've seen it's way better than Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. It could be that I make such statements because Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. more or less just seems like a trampoline for the Marvel movies, and that has left me a little irked. But in either case, I'm saying that Agent Carter is good while wondering if it has the chops to be great. In unconventional review style, I'm going to break down last week's episode in pro/con tvland-fu and see what I come up with, and I hope that you'll chime in with some comments :).

Con: No Chris Evans cameo. I realize that it probably takes buckets of cash to even move Chris Evans from the lap of "anything he wants" these days, but it would have been awesome if there was something outside of movie clips to feast my eyes upon.
Pro: We got a radio program that not only made me laugh to see the special effects of hands slapping an uncooked pot roast (not to mention a guy cracking a lobster in half over the microphone), but it made me nostalgic that I can't just listen to radio programs like that anymore. On the plus side, my friend who watched Agent Carter with me said that England still has radio dramas, and I was instantly intrigued.
Pro: The setting. I used to play this roleplaying game called "Top Secret," and one of my favorite settings for it was the Agent 13 Sourcebook. Basically, you played a spy in the same era that Cthulhu stories are written in (and which made Dick Tracy), and there's nifty gadgets and awesome villains and some very colorful characters. I loved seeing the gadget that Agent Carter used to crack open the safe in the night club. And on the interesting character bus rode Leet Brannis, a man with no larynx, trying to sell a weapon of mass destruction to the highest bidder.

Con: Leviathan. Other than instantly knowing this is obviously a Biblical reference, I hate mysteries that get dragged out for the sake of intrigue. We better get some explanations soon, or I may pitch a fit.
Pro: Peggy Carter. She puts on a blond wig and can seduce anyone. She wears one of Howard Stark's sex costumes (the doctor) and transforms into a milk inspector that is so convincing I wouldn't have recognized her in real life. She diffuses a powerful bomb using only nail polish remover and some baking soda, and she does kung fu to the Captain America radio broadcast so well, it looks choreographed.
Pro: Jarvis. Yes, I would have loved for them to actually get Paul Bettany (who voices Jarvis in the Iron Man films) but James D'Arcy really goes far into being the "Yin" to Peggy's "Yang." There's also some chemistry there; it's pretty difficult to catch as he's a prim married man that goes to bed by 9 p.m.
Con: Everyone that Peggy knows ends up dead. I know this is how superheroes need to feel. But she hasn't gotten over losing Steve Rogers and now her roommate Colleen ends up dead from Leviathan assassins. Ah well. I may not like it but it makes for intriguing storytelling, right? Is the number one rule of writing to "never let your characters be happy?"

Someday, someone who's a better writer than me needs to redo that rule.