Monday, December 30, 2013

Review: Earthbound, by Ken Baumann

Back in June, I backed a Kickstarter from Boss Fight Books to produce a series of longform essays slash retrospectives slash something something video game books about a few specific titles. I did this primarily because Anna Anthropy, one of my favorite game developers, was slated to write a book on ZZT, an ancient, strange little adventure/creation game I have fond but vague memories of.

BFB's first released title is Earthbound, based on one of my favorite games of all time. For those who haven't played it, Earthbound is a quirky RPG released on the SNES. You play as a quartet of children traveling through a fucked-up version of Everytown, USA to kill an evil alien invader ... or as some have interpreted it, travel back in time and abort the evil alien invader. Yeah. It's a weird game.

So I was excited and curious to sit down with Ken Baumann's take on the seminal title. Curious because I had no idea what to expect. Would the book be a simple, longform review? A deep exploration of the game's themes? A history of the game's development? A dissection of the game's mechanics?

Well, there's some of that. Mostly it's a personal essay connecting the author's life to the events and characters of the game. And that's cool -- we have a lot of writing on games themselves, but not a ton on what they mean to the people playing them.

The question, then, is does it work and is it worth buying? And the answers ... mostly, and yes. I say mostly because there are some life events that Baumann seems to try a little to hard to connect, and those sections end up feeling more like the author thought "Oh, I need a memory to fill in this section" rather than "oh, traveling through Threed really makes me remember x, y and z." The ending is legitimately poignant, however, when (without giving too much away) Baumann relates his own near-death experience to the climactic battle where the four youths must fall on their knees in prayer, placing their faith in the people they've met on their journey.

Earthbound is a great start for Boss Fight, and I'm looking forward to seeing what they produce next (lucky me, my backer status means I've already preordered them!). Next up in the series is Galaga, which produces a hilarious image in my mind of that books author Michael Kimball trying desperately to relate the mechanics of a top-down shoot-em-up to his life ("The clone ship that attaches itself to my wing reminds me of my twin brother...") I suspect Galaga's format will be somewhat different from Earthbound's, which is even cooler, as it means the series is unlikely to become formulaic.

I recommend Earthbound, and I highly recommend keeping an eye on Boss Fight Books. Complex, thought-provoking writing surrouding the world of video games is desperately needed, and I'm hoping BFB can be one of the fishes in that ever-expanding pond.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft Impressions


Like many others, I've recently been accepted into the beta for Blizzard's new game Hearthstone, a collectible card battling game based on their popular Warcraft series. For those not familiar, the game is similar (VERY similar) to Magic: The Gathering, with a few twists. While it can be played in single-player mode against a PC, there's no story progression or anything, and the online ranked play is the primary draw, along with an Arena mode where you're tasked with building a deck on the spot from random cards. It's a lot of fun. But it could be a lot more fun. Instead of giving a huge runthrough or even a stream (there are literally thousands of those online already, if you're interested), I thought I'd just give some quick impressions.

What I liked:


- The aesthetics. Hearthstone is a really pretty game. The art is great to look at, the music and voices are wonderful and the UI just works. I never found myself wondering how to play cards or check text. In fact, as a former Magic player, everything worked incredibly intuitively.

- It's easy on the Pay 2 Play stuff. Card packs and entry tickets to Arena mode are available for real money, but they can also be purchased with Gold that you earn in-game. You earn gold simply by completing daily quests, and I've found that I can buy a pack about every two days, or enter the arena (which guarantees a pack as a reward, or more if you do well) every three. That's not bad, as each quest can take anywhere from 3-6 battles to complete, and I don't play any more than that anyway. The bottom line is that casual players will find no need to invest chunks of money to Keep Up With the Joneses.

- It's very casual friendly. Aside from Blizzard's classic ranking system that tries to ensure you win about half the games you play, the cards and decks are constructed in a way to make it very easy to construct a competitive deck even with basic cards. There are no monumentally unbeatable combinations, and while it is possible to make something that just doesn't work, even a modicum of thought will get you a deck you can win with. This, of course, leads to the conclusion that wins are due more to player skill and luck than deck construction, and in my experience, it's more of the latter. Depending on the type of person you are, that is a good thing or a bad thing.

- The computerized nature of the game takes a lot of headache out of playing. There's no "Okay ... does that affect apply before or after I take damage?" stuff. The game takes care of it.

I'm at the bottom, losing horribly.

What I Didn't Like:


- It's missing a lot of Magic -- pun intended. In their efforts to make the game casual-friendly (which I support!) Blizzard has also robbed from Hearthstone a lot of what made MtG great. The primary culprit is the lack of cards, meaning that everyone's deck is the same. Some people will point out that this is often true in competitive MtG as well, but that's not the point. The point is that in casual MtG, there are a WIDE variety of decks to make. Heal deck, burn deck, equipment deck, goblin deck, suicide black deck, etc. The list goes on and on.

In Hearthstone, there are 8 character classes, and each class gets a set of unique cards the others can't access. But that's as far as customization goes. Yes, priest will have some healing cards, warlock will have some demons. But we all have the same 1-mana creatures. At turn 7, we're all going to play the Stormwind Champion, a heavy-duty creature that increases the power and defense of all other creatures.

I have never once felt the feeling of "Oh! Wow!" when faced with a card I've never seen before. I've never been surprised by a combo or synergy or deck strategy I hadn't thought of, because there are very few deck strategies to play around with.

Now, maybe I'm being unfair comparing a brand new card game to one that's been around for 15 years, with all the card types that entails. And maybe a loss of diversity is worth being friendly to more casual players. But in Magic, I was constantly wanting to tinker my deck in response to things I saw played against me. I was constantly thinking up new strategies. In Hearthstone, the deck constructions for each class are pretty obvious, with only a few choices to be made. And even then, there's a lot of luck involved. Simply put, Hearthstone is not as enthralling as MtG.

- To give you a specific point, I feel like Hearthstone's lack of Instant cards takes a lot of strategy out of the game. In Magic, there were certain cards you could play during your opponents turn to mess with their strategy. It required complex thinking from both you ("Do I play a creature, or save my mana so I can use a counterspell?") and your opponent ("Did he just have extra mana, or does he have a card up his sleeve?") Hearthstone tries to compensate with Yugioh-esque trap cards, but there are so few, and they're almost all a version of "If a creature attacks you, it dies," they don't seriously affect the metagame in any way.

Conclusions


Is Hearthstone ready for primetime? Well ... yes, and no. As I said, it's amazingly polished for a game in beta, and I suspect they could release it today and make a ton of money. The gameplay, however, is not currently something that I'd sink any real time or money into. A game or two a day for a little while, probably, but not something I'd seriously engage with. I suspect that won't change. The sorts of gameplay improvements I outlined above are MAJOR changes. Even introducing Instant cards would require a complete rejiggering of deck balance, so what I'm seeing is probably what we'll get.

If it ends up being free to play, though, it's certainly worth trying out, especially for hardcore card game fans.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Wonder Woman demoted from superhero, now a sidekick

So there have been a couple of news stories in the past few days revolving DC's movie universe, and it looks like we're soon going to see Wonder Women herself on the big screen. Great news, right?

Nope.
Well, hold on a second. Turns out she's not getting her own movie. Nope! She's being thrown in as a cameo in the Superman vs. Batman film, leading to the inevitable Justice League movie. What do you think she is, the world's most famous superheroine and one of DC's iconic superhero trinity? Come on now!

I won't rehash all the tired excuses over why a Wonder Woman movie won't work. Okay, how about just one -- "Her villains aren't iconic!" Because moviegoers worldwide were OH SO FAMILIAR with Thor's triumph over the Ice Giants of Jotunheim. Okay, I'm done.

It's clear from this move that WB, and to some extent DC, has no faith in the Wonder Woman character. She'll show up at the end of Bats vs Supes, shake her inevitable star-spangled panties (because you know it would betray canon to change her costume, not like we've ever worried about that with male superheroes!) and expect us to cheer.

And that won't be the end. There will be no fucking Wonder Woman movie. There will be no Wonder Woman origin story. The followup to Supes vs. Bats is clearly Justice League, where Wonder Woman will be relegated to an also-ran along with Aquaman and Hawkman or who the fuck ever the put in to round out the cast, when Superman and Batman will be doing the brunt of the dramatic work.

Fuck everything about this. Fuck WB. Fuck DC. Fuck Zack Snyder. Fuck this shitty, cowardly move.

As if that wasn't enough, look at their other announcement this week: DC has already decided to dip into their second-tier heroes to try to expand their cinematic roster. That's right. Booster Gold and the Suicide Squad are getting movies before Wonder Woman.

Let me repeat that.

The Suicide Squad is getting a movie before Wonder Woman.

I'm probably being hyperbolic, but it's hard to come to any other conclusion than that DC simply has no respect for its female characters. It's shown this time and time again. It's sad, disappointing and infuriating that such a powerful feminist icon (really, one of the few powerful feminist icons that exists in pop culture) is held back by such myopic asshats.

As for the casting itself: I'm sure Gal Gadot will be fine. Whatever. I'm not familiar with her work, but she looks the part and by all accounts she's a pretty tough woman. But the fact that she's not a bankable star in the same way Christian Bale, Ben Affleck or even Henry Cavill (a main actor in a long-running, popular TV show) were makes me think it's fairly unlikely that the producers have pegged her to headline her own movie franchise.

Is it possible that I'm exaggerating this, that Wonder Woman's cameo will be tasteful and well-received and will lead the way for a superbly-written, power, feminist Wonder Woman solo film? Uh, sure. Is it less likely than a Texas snowstorm in July? Yeah, I think so. Especially, as Charlie Anders so deftly points out, with Zack Snyder at the helm (though I'll point out I disagree with her about Wonder Woman being substantially harder to adapt than any other hero).

All the more reason for me to finish editing that Wonder Woman script that's been lying here on my hard drive. Not to prove how awesome I am, but to prove how goddamn easy it is to make a compelling Wonder Woman film, if people would just pull their heads out of their asses.

Monday, October 14, 2013

FenCon X Recap - Part 2

You can find the first half of my FenCon X panel writeups here. Now, on with the rest!

Death as a Character

Michele Bardsley (@michelebardsley)
Rhonda Eudaly (@reudaly) 
Amber Benson (@amber_benson)

Hoo boy. I don't even know what to say about this panel, other than it was awesome. We spent about 5 minutes talking about personifying death as a character (or a corporation, in Amber Benson's case) and the rest of the panel talking about the Ball-Jointed Doll panel, which the death panel had replaced because of a scheduling snafu.


Now, I want to start out by saying that I don't want to denigrate anyone's hobby. I spend some of my days cooking fake food for fake adventurers, so there's nothing inherently wrong with collecting or making dolls. It's actually pretty cool on paper. But that doesn't make it any less disconcerting when you (or Erin to be specific) walk up to a woman to compliment the cute baby in her arms or stroller and OH GOD NOT A BABY


Before the panel started, we joked with Michele Bardsley that the doll makers were going to curse us, using either voodoo or some previously unknown form of fetich magicks. Only when Rhonda Eudaly entered did we find out the doll people were actually upset with the change. We teased Amber Benson about crossing the Ball-Jointed Doll picket line, but maybe it's not a joke. If you see a  news story about Ms. Benson being injured in a horrifying accident involving tiny plastic arms, let this writeup serve as evidence.

Worldbuilding

Barbara Ann Wright (@zendragandt)
T.S. Rider
Rob Rogers (@robcrogers3)
Lee Killough
Skyler White (@WordworkWitch) [No relation to Breaking Bad AFAIK, but I bet she LOVES hearing that constantly!]

I loooved this panel! So much useful information and interesting discussion. The audience was engaged and asking questions, which is always preferable over the panels with 5 bored people staring at the clock.

The nice thing about this panel is the mix of approaches from the authors, proving that the only real rule of worldbuilding (or more broadly, crafting a story in general) is that there aren't really any rules. For instance, we discussed how to start a story, and the panel was pretty well divided between "Start with the world, put your characters into it" and "Start with your characters, build the world around them as you need it." I generally fall into the latter camp, but there are benefits and downfalls to each method (mine being that my settings sometimes feel too perfunctory and empty).

The panel also stressed the importance of pruning out your worldbuilding details. It's easy to get carried away with fantastic details about your setting, but in general, that's not why people are picking up your book. Story is still king (which, in my opinion, is defined primarily by character development, but you may quibble with that). If, while writing, you lose your character in favor of history or setting or whatever, you've gone too far.

Reading Suggestions: Dune, Dark Tower, Hal Clemens, China Mieville, John Meaney, Lee Kilough (Her chapbook "Checking on Culture" is a great quickstart guide to crafting a believable world).

Politics in Genre Fiction

Cory Doctorow (@doctorow)
Teresa Nielsen Hayden (@tnielsenhayden)
Steven Brust (@StevenBrust)

A topic that might bore some people to tears, but had me on the edge of my seat. The conversation flew quick and the wit was sharp, so I'm just going to paraphrase some key lines instead of putting together a summary. Let me stress that this is a paraphrasal. For the most part, there are no direct verbatim quotes here.

--

CD: The main nod toward politics for a lot of science fiction is the "war room scene," a la Dr. Strangelove, Mars Attacks, etc. The Bin Laden assassination picture is a good example. But by the time we get to that point, all the interesting politics are already over.

SB: Politics is like stage magic. Both are finished much earlier than the audience is meant to believe. The rest is just misdirection.

--

CD: The Great Man theory of history is the science fiction theory of politics.

PNH: Politics are complex. Most fiction portrays huge political achievements as the work of a few singular individuals, when then reality is not as simply.

--

CD: Commodification of ideology is a problem. We're now selling counterculture.

SB: Building off of CD's comment, the problem with the New Left was that it wasn't an ideology, it was a mood.

CD: "...astroturf..."

SB: Astroturf? That's not a thing.

Audience: Yes it is!

[Note: Astroturfing refers to someone pretending to be an independent supporter of a cause while actually being bankrolled by a corporation or government. 'Shill' is a similar term. CD points out that 'astroturfing' is so named as it is 'fake grassroots.']

CD: Astroturfing is a serious threat to any ideology. Similar to agent provocateur. Some groups are somewhat immune to this. It's hard, for example, to believably emulate the nihilistic lunacy of 4chan as an outsider.

[Note: There's a term for this: shibboleth.]

CD: "Great Man Theory" + "On the Internet, no one knows you're a dog" = Locke and Demosthenes from Ender's Game. Ender's siblings are a prime example of astroturfing.

--

SB: The interesting part of politics is in how a need transforms into an action. Who calls whom? Who gets the ball rolling?

PNH: That's a hard question to answer, and one that's susceptible to conspiracy theories.

--

CD: Automation can disrupt the status quo in an industry, but it can also be used to defend it. Anonymouth is a tool that can be used to anonymize your text, remove your voice from it. But it could also be used to emulate another author. Make pitch-perfect Harry Potter fanfiction? Start a war by pretending to be a jihadist? It's possible.

SB: I think you've just started the conspiracy theory that J.K. Rowling is a terrorist.

PNH: Lots of nutty people in the world come up with conspiracy theories, but it's also true that humans conspire quite often.

SB: Calling something a conspiracy theory in order to dismiss it is too simple and problematic. The key question is: how many people would have to keep this secret in order for it to succeed? If it's more than ten or so, it's not a very realistic conspiracy.

--

TNH: Speaking of science fiction politics, I have to bring up Stick Figure Libertarianism, a desire to boil down complex problems into simple overly-utopian solutions. "If we just do X, everyone will be Free and Equal!" It occurs in all ideologies, but seems to occur more often to Libertarians.

CD: But sometimes science fiction can function as a thought experiment (what would happen if x was true) rather than a realistic prediction of what will happen. This is often used with respect to technology, and can also be used with politics. Or sometimes politics can simply be window dressing.

PNH: Used to make readers believe in the world just long enough.

SB: One of the keys to good political fiction is to give the "opposition" good, logical lines along with your heroes.

[Note: I think The West Wing often did this well. The creators didn't shy away from their message and what they thought proper solutions were, but the conservative characters often got good zingers. Also worth noting The West Wing as Steven Brust talked about Qumar for a while before correcting it to Kuwait. It was early, and he was not yet fully caffeinated :-)]

--

CD: Using politics in fiction is sort of like a computer simulation of a rock. Simulate with not enough detail, and it's a pointless exercise -- you can't draw any conclusions from it. Simulate with too much detail, and it's not very efficient. The conclusions you draw are way too specific and narrow.

SB: Some things take less computation to simulate than others, though.

CD: I am willing to accept that it takes less processing power to simulate you than me, Steven.

--

CD: Boredom with politics is a defense mechanism of the status quo. A common strategy is to wrap political activism / change with so much bureaucracy that no one but those will a lot of time or patience can participate. An interesting side effect of this is that Google Translate is drawn from EU documents, thus, most English translations end up being written in Eurocratic speak.

Reading Suggestions: Alan Clark Diaries; Neal Stephenson & Stephen Bury, Interface; Mack Reynolds; Ken MacLeod; Times of India

--

To end, I'll leave you with a song from the fabulous Jonathan Coulton. Have a great week!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

FenCon X Recap - Part 1

Here it is! For any of you that had to miss FenCon this year, I've got links to authors and writeups of the panels I attended. Enjoy!

Modern Good vs. Ancient Evil

* Barbara Ann Wright (@zendragandt)
* Vivian Caethe (@VivianCaethe)
* Julia S. Mandala 

First panel of the con! And of course, HUGE expectations. Well, not really. More like tired audience and tired panelists, especially on a Friday afternoon after driving 3 hours. But thankfully, these three women overcame that and facilitated a pretty interesting discussion.

- The panelists noted that a lot of the obsession with modern good vs. ancient evil comes from modern society being impressed with itself. In my own experience as a liberal bordering on communist ... yeah. This is sometimes true.

- It's fun to have a simple, easy-to-understand evil force to defeat, compared to a modern threat like terrorism whose root causes are difficult to understand and even more difficult to remove.

- However, there have been portrayals of ancient evil against which modern forces stood no chance. Lovecraft comes to mind. Also an interesting parallel in that Lovecraft's views on race and sex are pretty abhorrent by modern standards.

- Cabin in the Woods is a fantastic representation of modern good vs. ancient evil. Without spoiling too much, it definitely tends toward the Lovecraftian side of things.

- A great idea developed by the panelists: crowdfunded evil. A Kickstarter for a Dark Empire? I would read that story.

- Heroes used to be protective of the status quo. Think Lord of the Rings. Sauron disrupts the normal flow of life, and Frodo and friends struggle to protect it. Many modern good vs. evil stories are the opposite, featuring rebels or usurpers overthrowing evil. What does this change represent in societal views?

- One of the women in the audience made a fantastic observation that the modern good vs. ancient evil trope is mirrored in industrial vs. nature stories. Nature in these stories (think The Andromeda Strain or Alien) is often set up as an ancient force getting revenge. This is a little complicated by the fact that it's sometimes science that provokes nature's revenge, but this is also sometimes present in good vs. evil stories (Wheel of Time comes to mind).

Reading suggestions: Larry Correia, H.P. Lovecraft

Beastly Fans

* Barbara Ann Wright (noticing a pattern?)
* Kathryn Sullivan
* Mary Turzillo
* Rosemary Clement-Moore (@rclementmoore)

This panel was nominally about the lasting power of certain common fantasy creatures. Dragons, griffins, that sort of thing. What it really was about was dinosaur porn. Yep. Beasts led to Beauty and the Beast, which led to bestiality which led to the phenomenon of dinosaur porn. Blame Rosemary for leading us down that particular road.

Regardless of everyone's ability to stray offtopic, it was awfully enjoyable. Sort of a "had to be there" thing. Panelists were hilarious, and I especially enjoyed hearing about Mary Turzillo's risque escapades.

When Action Gets in the Way of Story

* Barbara Ann Wright
* Kevin Hosey
* Rob Rogers (@robcrogers3)
* Steven Brust (@StevenBrust)
* J. Kathleen Cheney

This panel was pretty much as described. When is action too much? How do you balance an awesome chase scene with, you know, actual plot and character development? As the discussion progressed, the panel lumped sex in along with action, which make complete sense as they serve pretty similar functions in most stories.

- Every scene should be worthy. This sounds obvious, but it's so important that it's worth stating. Steven Brust had a fantastic line here that he applied to both action scenes and sex scenes (though it works for any scene, really): Action scenes should be transformative, meaning something changes about the character. To that, I add 'revelatory.' That is, the character doesn't necessarily have to change if the purpose of the scene is to teach the audience something about a character we didn't know before. Brust's example was the 'fight' scene in Temple of Doom where Indiana Jones is confronted with a giant sword wielder and ends the battle with a single bullet. That's not particularly transformative, but it is exceedingly revelatory.

- A good trick to making action/sex scene meaningful is to focus on the dialogue. Dialogue is where character is revealed -- as long as you stay away from cheesy action one-liners.

- Another Brustism: "When a fish tells me about water, I'm bored." Avoid overexplaining, especially in things that the character would already be familiar with. It doesn't make sense for a character to stop and think about the mechanics of a hovercar or laser gun if they use one every day.

Copyright 101

* Patrick Nielsen Hayden (@pnh)
* Cory Doctorow (@doctorow)
* Paul Herman

FenCon is attended by a lot of writers, and as such, there's a lot of shop talk about the actual craft of writing. The copyright panel took a slightly different path. It wasn't related to writing specifically (though writing certainly overlaps here), but with the utterly broken copyright system in the US.

- The United States Patent and Trademark Office is funded directly by patent applications. This gives the USPTO a huge incentive to affirm patents.

- Non Producing Entities (a fancy word for patent trolls) don't produce any products, and as such, they can't be countersued. That makes them much harder to defend against than big companies, who pretty much know they're all infringing on each other in some way.

- What's the metric for judging the success of an intellectual protection system? We never got a good answer to this, which is unfortunate, but it's clear that "number of patents" makes absolutely no sense as a measurement.

- Once established, it's very hard to take away property rights. The interests involved are too powerful. Thus, gradual reforms are far more likely than a broad revamp of copyright.

- Copyright trolling falls under the corruption problem. Stated simply, it's hard to punish someone who benefits by hurting society, since their benefit (and thus power) is concentrated, and the harm is diffuse. Requires all the people harmed to band together, which can be difficult to manage.

- The Magnificent 7 Solution: Every year we can pay the bandits, or we can get together and hire the mercenaries. Crowdfund patent troll defense. Now, this was just a brief discussion, and my notes are sparse, so *please* don't nitpick Doctorow's solution on the basis of my writeup. But the gist is that people in risk of being sued (or who have been sued before) would dedicate money to a Kickstarter-like fund. Then, whenever one of the participants is sued, that money would go to legal defense to beat back the troll, which any legal fees won going back into the system. According to Doctorow, it would be self-sustaining; the more lawsuits patent trolls opened (which they'd have to ramp up, since they'd be losing money), the more money the fund would gain.

Now, the main problem I had with this problem is that it seems to assume that most (or all!) of the cases would be won by the defendants. This is a problematic assumption in a couple of ways. First, not all of the defendants are actually going to be innocent of infringement. And second, even when they are, there's no guarantee a court will actually see it that way. Courts are notoriously overprotective of IP.

When I raised this concern, Doctorow admitted that if it went wrong, it could create some very bad precedents, and you'd have to be careful. But he didn't really have a solution for the problem of losing cases. To be fair, his discussion was more general, rather than a fully fleshed out plan ready for production.

- "...gaping buttsex..." -Cory Doctorow. He was talking about porn and copyright, but that doesn't matter. What matters is I want to see that quote on next year's FenCon program.

- The panelists cited a study which said that most artistic work has a 14-year life span. That is, after 14 years, it's not really generating money for the IP holders any longer. Now, I haven't seen that study. I'm curious if it's still true in the age of digital publishing, where long tails can be loooooooong indeed.

- Doctorow floated the idea of a compulsory license for fiction. In the same way that you can cover a song on a CD or a bar for a flat fee without the permission of the artist, you'd be able to write fanfiction (for profit, even? maybe) for a flat fee. You'd probably have to make sure this only applied to individuals, and not, like, WB adapting your novel into a movie without paying. This probably isn't a workable solution, though, since authors are notoriously hardheaded about "owning" their work.

- Cory Doctorow's Utopian Copyright Solution: separate individual users from participants in the copyright industry. Adding on to the previous point, it is absurd to treat fanfiction and a movie adaptation with the same copyright rules. Absurd to treat someone downloading a copy of Harry Potter and someone opening a multimillion dollar Harry Potter theme park based on the same per-use measurement.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Back from FenCon!

Hey all!

Just got back from FenCon X, the world's foremost furry convention. Depressingly, most of the yiffing seems to have been replaced by the equally ghastly-named filking, as well as science fiction and fantasy discussion. Sad, but I managed to have fun anyway.

Quick shout-out to some of the people who made the weekend great:

- Barbara Wright (), author of the fantastic Pyramid Waltz series, my chauffeur and traveling companion. Her worldbuilding tips captivated the Red Oak Room while her constant references to stabbing frightened a significant portion of it. Go forth and check out her work!

- Erin Kennemeyer (), my second caravan comrade and obsessive-to-the-point-of-annoyance filk fanatic. She also served as Barbara's unofficial publicist, and managed to get a request for one of her own unpublished stories apropos nothing other than being her normal awesome self.

- Jim Reader, hometown friend and longtime convention attendee who threw a bangin' room party Friday night and brought all the boys (and girls) to the bar on Saturday. Had us cracking up as usual, and surprisingly, I didn't find his caramel-tasting Jack Daniels Honey to be too unappealing, which is high praise for a teetotaler like me.

- Rosemary Clement-Moore (), an unbelievably charming author and apparent purveyor of dinosaur porn who hit it out of the park in her panels with her wit and improv skills. You better believe I grabbed a book from her, straight out of the trunk all classy-like. You can buy her stuff from Amazon, which is possibly more convenient but not near as awesome.

Michele Bardsley (), hilarious and prolific author of the Broken Heart and Nevermore series...es (serii? Aggregate nouns are awful). Barbara, Erin and I showed up a half-hour early for a panel about death to find Michele preparing, and far from being dour, we proceeded to laugh ourselves to death talking about ball-jointed dolls and convention grudges. And that was before Amber Benson and Rhonda Eudaly joined the conversation ... you know, actual panelists, instead of we three comedy saboteurs. It was both the least educational and most enjoyable panel of the entire weekend.

- MaryJanice Davidson, who prevented me from getting a book deal by throwing Patrick Nielsen Hayden over a balcony just as he was about to make an offer.

Of course, I had many fleeting interactions with other authors and fans, including the little brother himself, Mr. Cory Doctorow. I'll have a more in-depth writeup coming soon (likely in two parts), but I wanted to throw out a quick mini-recap before I crash and wake up tomorrow confused why I'm surrounded by my own things (video game hardware from the 1990s and collectible porcelain otters, natch) instead of by a half-eaten midnight poboy and a room service menu.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Review: Forest Mage, by Robin Hobb



I
read Shaman's Crossing, the first book in Robin Hobb's Soldier Son trilogy, with great anticipation. A fantasy series? With only three reasonably-sized books? That isn't Wheel of Time or Sword of Truth? And written by a woman? SOLD!

Which is why I was disappointed when I didn't love it as much as I'd hoped. I actually had to put it down for a few months and come back to it to make it all the way through. And while it did recover -- substantially -- in the second half, it wasn't enough for me to put it on any top-ten lists.

Imagine my surprise, then, when the sequel, Forest Mage (dat title! ;-) hit all of my buttons. Powerful, emotional, affecting, and most of all, personal.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Penny-Arcade's boneheaded response to the Dragon's Crown controversy

A few days ago, Kotaku's Jason Schreier posted an excellent takedown of the absurd, ridiculous, embarrassing art from Vanillaware's newest title, Dragon's Crown. In case you're not familiar, here's some of the artwork:



In response to the criticism, Vanillaware's lead artist called him a homosexual. So, yeah. That happened.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Author's Guild Facepalm of the Day

I can't even deal with this shit this morning, so I'll make it brief. Go take a look at latest screed from Scott Turow, the head of the Author's Guild. I'll wait.

Assuming you can remove your palms from your forehead long enough to continue reading this, I'll note that Turow's Guild was the one who fought against the text-to-speech function on the Kindle because he didn't think blind people should be able to read books (all right, not his real reasoning, but it doesn't make him any less of an ass). He also fought Google's book scanning project, because I guess he doesn't like people to be able to find books.

Now he's fighting against ... libraries, I guess? But the whole essay is less about authors and more about politics, as is evident when he starts to rant about our "socialistic" public library system and "Soviet-style repression."

I have no idea why any author in their right mind would be a member of this organization.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Best Films of 2012, Part II

Here we are again! Oscar 2013 is right around the corner, which means it's time for me to release my predictions. I generally do a fairly good job (but of course, the award shows are generally fairly easy to predict), but this year, there are some categories that are definitely up in the air. If you missed my first post, detailing what I consider to be the best films of the year, check it out here. As always, any film marked in red is one I did not see, so take that into consideration. Away we go!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Best Films of 2012, Part I

Yay! It's Oscar season again! AREN'T YOU EXCITED? Well, probably not -- most people enjoy lambasting our OBSESSION WITH CELEBRITIES, so honest interest in the Academy Awards is often seen as antediluvian these days. That's all right. There are certainly more important things, but then, I enjoy celebrating art, and the awards are an opportunity for me (and many others) to see films that we otherwise might not check out ... films not about robots or superhumans punching each other.

With that out of the way, let's start with the rundown of my favorite movies of the year. In no particular order!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A Quick Interlude

Hey y'all! Sorry for the lack of updates -- I'm head-down focused on finishing up Chanter and whipping it into a presentable form right now, so I haven't been blogging all the much. I'll make it up in a few weeks, I promise! My Oscar writeups are coming, and I've still got to finish my Feast for Crows character sketches. It will happen.

For now, though, I'm over at Sirens Call's blog talking about my Internet inspiration for The Bridesmaid, my story included in the "Legends of Urban Horror" anthology. Check it out, then stick around and check out the other posts for more author inspiration!