5 Feb 2014, 11:57am
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Guest Post: Free Possessed Chickens

Today we have a guest post, courtesy of my son. I told him a story of seeing a tiny chicken coop set out between the curb and the sidewalk like a discarded couch (Seattle is full of residential chicken coops) and he wanted to write a post for my blog, which turned out to be a pastiche of his current favorite book: Hyperbole and a Half. Interestingly, he wrote it from “my” point of view. Here it is:

The Box

Yesterday, while walking to my local Starbucks, I passed a Large-ish (is that a word?) Box out on that grassy strip of space between the road and Sidewalk.

I stopped to take a closer look, as boxes sometimes have interesting contents. The Box was really a sort of Wooden frame, filled by chicken wire, and It contained chickens. One was kind of lying there, dragging itself across the cage back and forth, seemingly with no real goal. The other chicken, however, Looked like it was from a horror movie where aliens invade chicken’s brains before they realize chickens are kept in neat little cages.

Chickens

It repeatedly slammed itself at the walls of the cage.

The chicken didn’t seem to be attacking me in particular, but instead, the shape of the house. maybe this is why the chickens were abandoned out here in the savage sidewalk-roadlands.

I can almost imagine a sign that says “FREE POSSESSED CHICKENS!”

I may have to go back with some paper and a sharpie.

26 Dec 2013, 12:42pm
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OMG, you won’t believe what a bastard I am

Christmas was pretty great. Everyone was surprised and delighted by their presents to one degree or another, we got to spend a whole lot of time together, and the fact that we got new computers (and had terrible issues with Migration Assistant–come on, Apple, wtf) none of us had our noses pressed against glowing screens, which I guess goes back to spending time together. Nothing better than that.

However! The day after Christmas is my son’s birthday (the answer to the obvious question: 12). Since my wife has to work today, he blew out his candles and opened his presents first thing.

Boy was he disappointed. Here’s why:

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It’s been our family tradition that he gets toys on Christmas and books on his birthday; I always thought that was better than “half your gifts one day, other half the next” but let’s just say he feels differently.

Did I say he was “disappointed?” Because I meant that he asked us never to buy books for him again, and he told us books are only for when he’s bored, and he thinks I’m trying to force him to read books that he “ought” to read (the Myke Cole novel prompted that, because wut), that books are “okay, but…”, and why didn’t we get him something he would actually *like*, too. Of course most of those were chosen by me because I thought they’d suit his tastes so I’m the guy who ruined his birthday.

A couple nights sleeping in the yard should change his attitude, though.

For the record, the only books he was excited about were: The Minecraft history, The Oatmeal, Hyperbole and a Half, the Bacigalupi. The rest he views as work. I don’t even.

19 Dec 2013, 12:10pm
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Best Gingerbread Houses Ever, An Annual Post

Yesterday, I took my wife out for our Giftmas trip through downtown Seattle. Our son is almost 12 and old enough to stay home, so we did without him rather than drag him along while he complained. Sadly, without the kid our time turned more toward shopping for him than anything else.

We started with a really nice lunch at the Michou Deli in the Market, followed by a tiny egg nog cheescake on a stick from The Confectionary. We hit Kitchen Basics for stocking stuffers, the walked up to the Sheraton to see the Gingerbread houses.

Everything there is edible. And it rocked back and forth!

The cow jumped over the moon, via a motor.

You can see them all (including close-ups of some sections, video of the moving parts, and a candy version of our downtown library) at the set. A few are a bit blurry; my one-shot camera seems to be on its last legs viewfinder.

Then we dropped by Pacific Place to listen to a church group of male singers muddle through some Christmas songs and enjoy the indoor snowfall. There was much fun to be had, but my wife is still recovering from an injury so we cut things short.

It was a nice time, but I wish we could have brought the kid (and he would have been cool about it).

2 Dec 2013, 6:18am
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It’s a Cyber-Monday Non-surprise!

The day when everyone, supposedly, starts their holiday shopping online. Try not to be surprised by what I write next:

I have a new book out that you can order.

The short version is that it’s the pulp adventure game tie-in I wrote. If you’re reading this on my blog, the cover is just to your right at the top of the sidebar. If not, click through that link: it’s full of pulp adventure nonsense like shrinking beams, infra-purple light, Aztec mummies, and a certain giant ape movie from 1933. Fun!

If you already have that one, don’t forget that I have a page full of books for kids recommended by my own son. Nothing in that list is there because I thought it should go there; everyone got the thumbs up from the incredibly fussy kid who sleeps down the hall from me. As they used to say: Kid-tested, kid-approved.

What’s more, there are new entries on the list. Check it out.

Randomness for 10/10

1) Another drive-through prank, skeleton edition. Video. This one is funny and Halloween is coming up, so… (h/t Nick Kaufmann)

2) Banksy kicks off an art institute on the streets of New York.

3) What your style of beer says about you.

4) Hyperbole and a Half explains power, identity, and changing yourself with costumes.

5) 44 of the Best Scared Bros at Haunted House (2013 pictures). I will confess to enjoying these pictures of absolute terror to an unhealthy degree. Oh, and the body language is instructive for any writer, I guess.

6) Test your color IQ with an online test. My wife, who took the analog version of this test in art school, scored a 26, which is pretty good. Then my son took it and scored a perfect zero. I haven’t tried it myself.

7) The internet is full of “life hacks” but how many of them actually work? 30 Common Life Hacks Debunked. Video.

10 Oct 2013, 6:52am
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Things my son said while we watched Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn

“Nice hair.”

“Oh hey! That’s Sam Axe!”

“wut.”

“Wow, this movie takes forever to get started!” <-- Sarcasm

"I have no idea what is happening right now."

"This is really cool! Who directed this?"

"I like how there's always five doors to kick down."

"This is a really great actor." <-- Said while Ash's evil hand dragged him unconscious across the floor

"Oooo I can't watch this!"

"Ha! A Farewell to Arms!”

“What?”

“Nope nope nope nope.”

“Ha ha! Oh my god! AAAAHH!” <-- eyeball bit

"Did he bring the axe? I can't tell. He'd better have brought the axe."

"Great. She's dead." <-- when character runs outside.

"Oh my god."

"What? What?”

“Is this really awesome makeup or cgi?”

“Aw, yeah! Chainsaw hand!”

“What. The. Heck. Whattheheck!”

“Chainsaw! Use the chainsaw!” (singing) “Chainsaw chainsaw to the neck! Chainsaw chainsaw to the neck!”

“AAAAH! Ha ha! Oh my god!”

and finally:

“Dad, did it every occur to you that maybe I don’t like horror movies?”

Hey, it’s on Netflix and it’s just as rough as I remember but even funnier.


10 Oct 2013, 6:17am
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Sunday Night Gaming has a family squabble

Last session knocked off with the rescue of Walt’s daughter Ever, a girl who had her life shortened via genetic engineering. This session opened with a cut scene, in which the players saw a group of Xenari soldiers (those are the aliens who tried to commit genocide against the human race) found the body of the Xenari scientist our team interrogated and then… ahem… executed in cold blood.

In our defense, he was a big jerk.

Sadly, the alien soldiers didn’t seem all that pleased to find his corpse and the scanning devices they used promised to be quite advanced.

Action came up for the PCs with the party split. Evan (our resident mad scientist/anti-alien war hero or terrorist depending on your POV/Xenari executioner) was out of the party due to player illness. Finlay had returned and was sorting through her newly-acquired alien tech, trying to figure out what she could get for them. Walt retired to his home (which, seriously? Rich guys take out a contract on your life and you take your kid to your house?) with his daughter. Travis, for his part, had requested a meeting with his industrialist father and now found himself on a shuttle heading for an orbiting space station.

Ever began to get sick, running a high fever and experiencing quite a lot of pain. Walt shortly began to show similar symptoms, but with added nosebleeds. He called Finlay and she rushed over to help. As the two of them began to show increasingly severe symptoms, an X-Agg hit squad showed up and began shooting at them through the walls. more »

So. Many. Things. To. Do.

Lots going on here. I’m going to do a brief recap to share news and try to catch up.

1) If you’ve been waiting for my rpg game tie-in novel to be released, the publisher is selling it on their website right now. KING KHAN. If you buy the paper version, you get the digital version gratis.

2) Not an hour ago I put my wife on a bus to the airport. She’s spending three weeks back east to attend a family wedding, make some tough decisions about her late father’s artwork, and generally get some time with her siblings. There was a lot to do to get her ready and out the door, but now I’m a single parent again, so things family/house obligations are not exactly going to shrink.

3) If you missed the announcement yesterday, my Kickstarter passed the $30,000/ 300% of goal. Which is a lot of whoa and thank you and I hardly know what to do with myself.

4) If you haven’t backed but are thinking about it, one of the stretch goals is based on new backers that show up starting this week. I’ve been talking about growing my audience for a long time, so new readers are welcome

5) As a followup to number 4, my son has made some pixel art to demonstrate the progress of the stretch goals, but I need to fix it up and post it before we actually reach the goals. Time is flying by

6) I owe a ton of responses to emails and things. I’m sorry. I’ll catch up as quickly as possible.

Now, back to working on my stuff.

The Great Way Book Trailer (such as it is)

Part of the homeschool project surrounding the writing of my epic fantasy trilogy was that my son would make (with a very little bit of help from me) a book trailer with his Legos and the music software on his computer.

He’s a clever kid. My only input was to explain what happened in the books that he should animate and to ask him to reshoot things that were out of focus.

I think the music is especially nice. Check it out.

25 Sep 2013, 7:05am
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Sunday Night Gaming Flees From The Police

As a followup to last session, Our Team was stuck in an underground bunker with a dead alien. One of the players couldn’t join the game this time, so her character took off (with the alien hard drive that had been our macguffin) and we agreed to meet up with her PC later. For this session, it was Evan the mad scientist/anti-alien revolutionary, Walt the Gen-En soldier with super-powers and a shortened lifespan, and Travis the disreputable party boy and habitual liar who is pretty sure he’s a good guy now since he’s doing all the good guy stuff he’s seen on TV.

But first! Travis Roman, (high concept: Corporate heir trying to do right) had to be rejiggered before the session started. When I created him, I thought we were going to be playing a game about anti-corporate pro-democratic revolutionaries, but we’re actually caught up in an alien conspiracy. As a result, he didn’t have a lot of aspects that couple be easily compelled. So I changed the aspect “I love my family but admire their enemies” to “Must protect family from itself” (since some of my siblings are obviously In On It). The aspect “Just when I thought I was out…” was changed to “The conspiracy is everywhere!”

First order of business was for Travis to note that the slow physical collapse of the Shai’lun, which was the reason they were becoming unsuitable hosts for their parasitic masters, was remarkably similar to the slow physical collapse that Walt was experiencing. The Gen-En process that gave him duplication powers was aging him very fast, and his adopted daughter, too.

Gosh, wasn’t it a coincidence that the Shai’lun were the ones who gave him his powers? You know, those aliens who saved the human race from interstellar genocide solely so we could be the new short-lived hosts for their Shinkara masters? Why, you don’t think… The Shinkara are parasites, aren’t they? And Ex-Agg messed with Walt’s body, didn’t they?

Gee, could Walt have a Shinkara parasite in him right now? Could the parasite be even now transmitting everything we say and do to our enemies? Walt might be an unwitting traitor!

Unwitting was said several times, but no mention was made of the way Walton disrupted Travis’s interrogation of the Xenari prisoner, yelling at him, hitting him with the butt of his rifle, engaging him in a stupid shouting match, and practically taunting Evan to shoot the unarmed prisoner. At no point did Walt feel he was being accused of being an deliberate traitor, but I was prepared with assurances that it wasn’t so, along with Travis’s +3 Deceive skill and the actual dice in my hand, just in case.

Returning to Evan’s home/lab, as opposed to the warehouse lab we’d visited before–I’m beginning to suspect that everything Evan owns is a blank/lab–he ran some tests on Walt and found that there was alien DNA mixed in with his human DNA. Science! Could these be traces of the Shinkara? He didn’t appear to be actually hosting an alien parasite, though, and of course we all trusted him when he assured us he was fine. Just fine.

Travis also wondered where the real Walt was, since it was completely possible that the Gen-En soldier was just a cloned and altered copy of the original man, who could even now be sleeping in one of those big glass tubes (or decomposing in a mass grave).

Walt was so pleased by all this speculation that he immediately walked out. He rushed across the city to bring his daughter to Evan’s place to have her tested, too. She doesn’t have super powers (at the moment! Dum dum DUMMMM!) but she received the Gen-En procedure and is aging quickly. Immediate decision: Split the party! Because that’s always a good idea.

Walt takes off to get his daughter from the neighbor who looks after her while he’s out shooting people, while Travis and Evan make plans for a new safe house that Walt won’t know about. Just in case.

After parking some blocks away from his babysitter’s place (in a terrible part of town–it’s nearly dawn and people are still out on the streets, scrounging and staying warm by trash can fires) Walt makes his way down the sidewalk.

Two doors of a parked car open. One of the guys who gets out is very small and the other is so freakishly large that he almost falls off the far end of the bell curve. For humans, anyway.

Walt has an investigation stunt that allows him to put an aspect on a scene, and he rolls well. The little guy is now Payton Farraday, the Ex-Agg fixer that turned Walt and his daughter into Gen-Ens.

And he’s come to bump Walt off.

Farraday fires his machine pistol at Walt. The big guy grows even bigger, his left arm swells and changes shape, and he begins to press bullets into his the skin of his forearm… where they are absorbed into his flesh. He begins shooting at Walt, Bushwacker-style.

The big guy turns out to be an Aberrant. When the Shai’lun were making Gen-En soldiers to fight off the Xenari’s genocidal attack on the Earth, the Xenari were making Aberrants to do the same thing for their side. But while Gen-Ens look human, Aberrants are monstrously deformed. One of Walt’s aspects reflects his belief that these two types of altered humans are actually one group, and the poor pitiable Aberrants should not be shunned and mistreated the way they are. However, this guy doesn’t look like he’s about to sit down with a cup of coffee and a McMuffin to discuss it.

Walt starts making duplicates of himself as he runs straight at Farraday. The GM offers a compel: For one fate point, Travis can be paranoid enough to follow Walt and join the fight next round. Travis accepts.

Gunfire continues, causing general panic on the street and even hitting some innocent bystanders. Evan and Travis jump from Evan’s car, and join the fight. The most useful attack Travis does is mental, and he throws a can at the car then yells “Incoming grenade!” in the most believable way you can imagine.

The Aberrant dodges away from it, giving Walt only enemy to deal with. Evan takes out a weird metamorphic cube he invented–essentially a multi-tool made from semi-aware nanites–and he throws it at the Aberrant.

This turns out to be a pretty spiffy move, since the nanite tool wraps around the big guy’s forearm, digging into his flesh and jamming his creepy bone gun. Travis rushes forward, shotgun in hand, and the bodyguard gets down on the ground and surrenders.

Payton Farraday concedes the fight and gives Walt what he wants, which is information. He was hired to kill Walt by one of the Roman family, and the only cure for the Gen-En procedure is to go through the Genesis project. Or Genesis procedure. (I forgot to make a note of the name.)

Having given up the info Walt wanted, Farraday and his bodyguard vanish in a flash of light, which is a neat trick that our team should learn Real Soon Now. We hear sirens in the distance, and race to fetch Walt’s daughter since he won’t do the sensible thing and leave her safe with her babysitter and get out well ahead of the police.

FYI: cops in the post apocalyptic world are not the gentle, procedure-loving Officer Friendlies of the pre-invasion world. These guys are more likely to be yahoos with guns, and we do not want to say the words “Self-defense” to them.

After fetching Ever, Walt’s daughter, Mr. Bopples, her teddy, and Joey the babysitter who wanted to shoot us when we rushed into her place, we all piled into Evan’s car.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned it before, but the car Evan drives is one he built himself. It looks very much like the Homer-Simpson-designed vehicle that bankrupted Homer’s brother’s car company, if you added glowing neon racing stripes to the side. It also goes very very fast.

We take off with the cops in hot pursuit. It’s a contest! I’d thought it was strange that Evan, an alien-hating mad-scientist hunted by the law as a terrorist, used one of his +3 slots for the Drive skill, but it turns out to be surprisingly useful for a wanted criminal to be good at getting away.

With a sudden turn onto a vacant lot (and two very good rolls) we leave the cops behind and return to Evan’s house with a little girl who was not nearly as traumatized as you would expect from being waken in the wee hours by a gunfight on her street, crammed into a strange car with desperate, terrified people, pressed down on the floor of said car while her father leaned out the window and laid down suppressing fire at the pursuing vehicles while sirens where wailing everywhere, and finally dragged into Evan’s bachelor pad/terrorist cell/lab. Luckily, Travis knows how to sooth people, too, and he calms her down fairly quickly.

Walt nervously asks Evan to test her DNA, and what do you know? She’s got some alien stuff mixed in there, too. What’s more, unlike Walt, she has only two months to live. If he doesn’t find the cure for her by then, his little daughter dies.

Stakes! We got ‘em.

Travis receives a phone call from his sister. She’s concerned that one of his brothers (he has as many siblings as the plot requires) is really pissed at him, and wants him to be careful. Travis, at least, now has the name of the family member who tried to kill Walt. He asks his sister to set up a meeting with good old dad, since he’s not on speaking terms with the head of Roman Industries anymore.

Oh! And Evan finds a bit of the Aberrant’s blood on his cube, and he runs some tests on it. It turns out that, while the Gen-Ens have some alien DNA, the Aberrants are 100% terrestrial. Wildly distorted, yes, but they’re people.

Who do you pity now?

Next session we hope to have Finlay back. Travis needs to gather evidence to show his father about the Shinkara, not to mention the way Ex-Agg and some of his own family have sold out the human race to them. And we need to find a way to turn the human race from a suitable host species for these parasites into barren land where their seed can find no purchase.

Oh, and we still haven’t dropped a neutron bomb on the Ex-Agg dropship. Must get bomb.


Hey, if you’re a Fate player who’s new to my blog, you should know one of the rewards in the Kickstarter I’m running for my epic fantasy trilogy includes a Fate supplement: At the $30 level, you get all three books in multiple ebook formats (DRM-free, naturally) along with a little write up of the novel’s setting, an adventure or two, and whatever else seems pertinent to playing a Fate adventure in the setting of The Great Way. Check it out.


14 Aug 2013, 6:40am
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New page on my site: Kid Reads

You know how some parents are always talking about what prodigious readers their are? “My little eight year old just loved 100 Years Of Solitude! Now she’s moved on to Russian poetry, but that’s fine. She’s entitled to her beach reads.” What books their kids read and how many they consume are like ornaments for their parents.

My kid, he’s not like that.

He’s fussy, easily-bored, and emits a high, uncanny keening when forced to read something against his will. That noise isn’t a whine; it goes beyond whining into a kind of shared pain that only parents truly understand. He doesn’t impress people with his books. He just enjoys them.

So we often have people ask us what he reads. I’m guessing they think that, being the son of a writer, he will walk away from a Minecraft session of his own volition for his love of books.

Nope. He wants books that are fun, funny, and fast-paced. So when people ask what sorts of books we recommend for their own reluctant readers, those are the books we recommend.

Anyway, to make things easier on us, I’ve put together a page called “Kid Reads” which contains lists of books he really enjoyed.

Check it out.

19 Jul 2013, 11:26am
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Movies that work without making any damn sense

PACIFIC RIM: the story of a talented but troubled pianist searching for love.

At least, that’s what I told my son it was about when I told him we were all going to see it. He’s old enough to to tell when I’m joking most of the time, but I kept telling him it was part of music appreciation and homeschooling, so he eventually just flat out admitted “I can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic or serious.”

Note to self: teach son meaning of “sarcastic.”

Anyway, once he saw the poster outside the theater, he knew there would be zero piano players. He bought his usual treat of a small popcorn with extra butter, but when the movie ended it was completely untouched. He’d been so engrossed in the film that he’d forgotten all about it.

A big question for me is: WHY? He wasn’t half a block away before he started picking nits. Why did the pilots have to be inside the robots? being the big one. My wife and are were also laughing about how ludicrous the whole thing was: Our Hero has a jaeger that is analog, not digital, because it’s nuclear powered? I guess that mind-meld technology runs on diskettes.

Anyway, the whole thing is deliberately absurd, but also powerfully affecting. When we got home, there was a Netflix disc in the mailbox. It was THE MATRIX, another movie that worked like gangbusters despite the fact that it made no damn sense at all.

So why do they work? It’s not the spectacle. There are plenty of dull movies full of spectacle. (We just watched 2012, so that’s fresh in my mind.)

The real secret is that the relationships between the characters, and the way the characters change, is what draws us in. Yeah, there’s a visceral thrill from the sight of claws, teeth, and roaring. Yeah, the music gooses your emotions.

But all of it falls flat if the emotions don’t work.

The funny thing is that I spent years trying to understand narrative structure, and so much of that time was spent on plot mechanics and exposition. It wasn’t until I began using the structure to focus the characters’ emotions and relationships that I began to have any success at all.

Stories are better if the plot makes sense, but if the characters don’t appeal no clockwork plot in the world will make it worth the audience’s time.

24 Jun 2013, 7:37am
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Playing Your Assigned Familial Role

The thing about being in a family is, you get assigned a role within the family. They decide you’re a certain kind of person and, for the most part, treat you that way for most of your life. Growing up, I was the lazy kid who always made as little effort as possible just to get by. Even when I was a grown man, getting up at 2 am to write before I went to a 5 am dayjob shift, I still believed that’s who I was.

Anyway, we have family roles in our home, too. For instance, my wife is the one who Won’t Throw Anything Away. We live with a lot of clutter. I’ve always told myself that, if it were up to me, I would pitch out a great dumpster full of stuff so we would have more room. Can’t do that, though, because my wife collects blue glass bottles that she will Do Something With Someday, and jars of stones that she collected on a trip somewhere, which reminds her of the people and that time.

And it’s a touchy subject. From her perspective, we have a lot of useful things that could be kept neatly if we could just put them away. From mine, there’s no way I could know where everything goes and it would be like a wizard’s medicinal shop around here, with a thousand little drawers and shelves and boxes and cabinets. My failing is that I’m good at cleaning but terrible at creating order out of chaos. If it’s not simple, I can’t deal.

So imagine my surprise last Friday when my wife just went nuts on the kitchen, digging out all the old equipment that we never use and will never use, so she can donate it.

The result: our kitchen is much nicer than it was. Other result, I had a mild hoarder’s reaction to seeing all my old cooking stuff in plastic bags marked “BLIND”. The insulated cookie sheets that are genuinely awesome (but we don’t bake anymore). The potato cutter that never really worked. The plastic mandolin that’s just too fragile. That old pan! I used to cook with that pan all the time! And… this thing? What is it? It might be useful if I figured out what it’s for.

Essentially, the family role that I’d imagined for myself was taken by my wife, and I found myself fighting the same urge to hold on to possessions that I’d always attributed to her.

Ugh.

If she’s ready to let go of things, I think it’s great and I support her. I certainly don’t want to undermine the work she’s doing. I just have to guard against playing her “role” now that she’s letting go of it.

16 Apr 2013, 6:32am
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Finally got to play Race to Adventure last night

Now that season one of Veronica Mars is over, the family finally had a chance to play RACE TO ADVENTURE, which I backed as a Kickstarter.

Here’s the layout near the start of the game. Of course I played Prof. Khan.

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You can see I’ve collected the passports for the USA and Switzerland, while to the right my son has collected USA and GB. However! I am about to collect Nepal in that very turn, while my son was hoarding clues at the Library of Congress.

Yeah, that’s my kid giving the thumbs up.

My wife… I’m not sure what she was doing. Let’s just say she had a busy day and wasn’t concentrating too well.

Here we are at the end of the game, when I had returned to the Century Club, said (house rule: no shouting) “I have returned!” and won the game.

IMG_1882

The others also collected all of their passports (and rescued the prisoner from Atlantis) but, having saved Egypt for last, they were still cursed. They were also way behind. Mwah-ah-ah-ah!

As for the game, it was terrific. I think I’d like to play it once or twice more on the tan side of the tiles before flipping them to the more advanced “shadow” game. We stumbled a little bit with the rules at first, like we do with every game, but by the end the turns were flying by. This might be the first game ever that says it takes 30 minutes to play and really means it.

The nice thing is that there’s no luck involved (no blowing your plans because of a lousy roll of the die) and the strategy elements were light but still effective. It’ll be a good fast game when we just want to play something fun without a ton of calculation.

On a day when the news was filled with blood, horror, and people coming together to help each other in dire need, it was good to sit with my family and play a game.

The Night Shade mess, and other things worth blogging about

1) I am not and have never been a Night Shade author, but it’s been widely known for quite a while that the publisher has been in trouble and has been working with SFWA to do right by their authors. Word about the new deal they’re offering authors has finally gone public in a public post (now deleted) on Jeff VanderMeer’s Facebook. For the click-phobic, NS intends to sell their contracts to another, more stable publisher, and not all of the contract terms are 100% wonderful.

What little I know about it is all second-hand, but a number of authors, VanderMeer included, want NS to revert the rights to their books before declaring bankruptcy. Unfortunately, that won’t work. The right to publish books is the only asset a publisher has and bankruptcy courts don’t play along when an entity sheds its assets right before telling their creditors they’re going belly up. In fact, it’s fairly common for publishing contracts to have a clause in them that would revert all rights to the author in the event of a publisher bankruptcy, but those clauses are typically overruled in bankruptcy court.

As far as getting rights back from a publisher swirling the drain, that last link is worth reading through to the end. I am not a lawyer, but it seems like a good place to start before getting actual legal counsel.

If there’s one thing I know about a terrible, messy situation like this, it’s that the proposed deal will be a benefit for some and a misery for others, depending on whether books have been turned in, how much money is owed, etc. Night Shade authors are getting together in a closed forum to discuss the issues and I wish them all the luck in the world. None of this is easy.

2) Writing has been at a near standstill while my kid is sick. He had two straight days of vomiting and was finally able to keep down a fair quantity of fluid last night. Today he’s still sketchy but basically okay. I’m glad the Cartoon Network has added so many of their shows to Netflix. We’ve also been watching the Naked Gun movies and, when his belly hurts too much to laugh, the most recent NIKITA tv series.

Of course, the real crime here is that he has no interest in superhero shows, so I still don’t get to watch Justice League, Batman Beyond, or Brave and the Bold. Man, the sacrifices we make for our kids.

3) Speaking of a sick kid, I spent an hour this morning at the grocery store hunting up bad tummy foods like oyster crackers and ginger ale, but one thing I couldn’t find was syrup of coke. All the stupid crap my grocery carries, but I can’t find the one thing that really settles an upset stomach? I left the supermarket confident that I could find a recipe online, and I did. Too bad I don’t keep lavender, star anise, citric acid, etc, etc around the place.

4) This post about humanities PhDs taking a third grade reading comprehension test is right on. When my kid was in kindergarten, they had those silly letter ratings on books. Most of the kids were reading books from A – D mine was reading books rated S. Sounds pretty advanced, huh? Except not, because he was only five and his reading comprehension wasn’t strong enough. Yes to the words. No to the sentences and paragraphs.

The worst thing was reading the teacher who thought kids ought to stay within the stupid letter rating, never going forward or going back. My own kid loves both Ready Player One and Ursula Vernon’s Dragonbreath books. He reaches for more adult fare when he wants to stretch himself (he just bounced off The Road which I knew would be tough sledding). And the idea that kids shouldn’t reread a book they love is poison.

27 Mar 2013, 6:14am
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Information extinction at the speed of internet (rantish)

Over the weekend I had a bit of a nasty surprise: I couldn’t download the most recent version of Turbo Tax because it requires OS X 10.6 or later. I still run 10.5.

If you’ll forgive me for saying so, this is bullshit. My computer is only five years old. There’s no reason for it to be considered obsolete and I shouldn’t have to order and install a new operating system just to do my taxes. (Note: please don’t suggest alternate programs I could use.) And yet, that’s exactly what’s happening.

Some time ago, my wife told me that she was incredibly proud that my books were going to be in the Library of Congress, because that meant they would last a long long time. In response, I said something to the effect of they’re on the internet, too, I think, and that should last even longer. Unfortunately, I no longer believe that to be true.

How many old filetypes are impossible to read now? How many types of physical media are worthless because no one has the disk drives to read them? Much of my early writing was done on a Brother WP75 and saved on 3.5 inch diskettes. Here’s a pic:

IMG_1601

I dug it out because I came this close to donating it to charity. That machine was the bridge between a typewriter and an actual computer (my first real computer came from Gateway in 1994 and I had it so long that there was literally duck tape over parts of the case).

See the diskettes on there? Once the Brother stops working or I give it away, they become unreadable to me. Maybe I could find someone to take the files off and convert them, but that would be an iffy thing, and probably not cheap. (Luckily, it’s just early work and not important.) In all seriousness, the best kind of archive I could have of these would be in paper.

Note also John Scalzi’s recent post about his newest computer acquisition: no DVD drive. He doesn’t miss it because he doesn’t use DVDs, but I still do. I use them all the time, to watch movies, to play games, and to share large files

Speaking of large files, I copied hours and hours of home movies from a box full of mini-DV tapes onto a hard drive, and now that hard drive is being backed up to an online service. There’s so much data to save that I started the backup on January 3rd and, as of today, it’s only about 55% done. This shit is going to be going on until summer time, I kid you not.

And yet, when I’m an old man, will I be able to watch these videos? Will I be able to find a program that recognizes and mp4 or .dv? Worse, will I be able to buy a special adapter that will allow the external hard drive (with its ancient USB connector) to connect to whatever system is in vogue at the moment?

Will my son? I don’t doubt that he’ll have the storage space to keep them–in all likelihood, he’ll have a ring on his finger that he can download all 600+GB of data with room to spare. But will he be able to actually look at them, or show them to his own kids so they can see what we were like? Will he be able to read my old manuscripts?

It pisses me off. There’s such a rush to always have the New! and the Shiny! that things become obsolete even while they continue to function. Yes, I know it’s a way to sell things. Yes, I know companies are hunting for every bit of loose change rattling around in tech-happy early adopters’ back account. But they aren’t the only customers out there.

I’m a customer, too. I don’t want new and shiny. I want practical and long-lasting. I want this shit to make sense. Don’t phase out old media just because there’s a new supposedly-but-maybe-not-better way to do it (don’t even talk to me about “the cloud”). Don’t change operating systems so often that perfectly good computers can’t even run basic software (or watch embedded YouTube videos, or play silly games, or whatever).

Backwards compatibility, people. I want it, and I’m not the only one.

After a rough weekend, a new book is released

This past weekend was pretty rough. The one bright spot was lunch on Saturday to catch up with an old friend, but the rest was a litany of minor difficulties: tiny black ants came through the wall that divides my bathroom from a neighboring unit, the section of book I’m writing “feels” wrong while I push through anyway, I’m getting phantom food reactions, and my son had one of his irregular bouts of insomnia which meant he was up in the ass-hours of the morning and punchy through most of the day.

It gets to the point where a guy can’t even steal time to post on his blog.

I have a post brewing about peoples’ tendency to see fantasy as a conservative genre and another about the interesting Amanda Palmer TEDTalk that’s been going around, but both have fallen victim to the demands of making wordcount for THE WAY INTO MAGIC.

But I do want to announce the release of this:

KingKhanCover.jpg-large

Yes, the Spirit of the Century tie-in novel I wrote for Evil Hat has been released as an ebook, but only to the people who backed the Kickstarter. If you’re one of those people, you can download the book from here. If you didn’t back the project when it first went live, you’ll have to wait a bit for it to hit the stores.

Now, I know there are lots of folks out there who could find a way to torrent a copy or whatever so they have a chance to read it right away. If you do, please consider buying it anyway when it hits the stores, maybe as a gift or something.

Thanks!

23 Feb 2013, 6:10pm
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EMP followup

Remember last week when I mentioned that I had taken my family to an EMP event to see a specific panel and the room was so packed we missed it? No? Well, you better click on that link then.

I never did get an email back, but I did get a phone call. The dude was quite apologetic and very nice. Unfortunately, there was no recording of the event; apparently the companies many of the presenters work for had a bug up their butt about what could be recorded and what art they were going to show. Understandable, really, except that the panel we wanted was two local educators, so I suspect they would have been cool with a camcorder or two, but never mind. It’s done.

On the plus side, EMP intends to refund the cost of the tickets.

That’s very nice of them. While they might have made an error in planning their event, their customer service was pretty great.

22 Feb 2013, 11:08am
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In which I deny my son an Xbox

On Twitter, @JoshDaws asked me to explain my reasons for not buying my son an Xbox and I figured it was too involved to do it in a few 140-character messages, so I’m putting it here.

Everyone is a consumer. Everyone consumes culture of some kind, whether it’s radio, TV, games, books, movies, theater, whatever. For some people, it’s Honey Boo Boo. For others, it’s sitting on an overturned bucket in a warehouse while they watch a play about women in Afghanistan. For others, it’s that one Merle Haggard album they just can’t get enough of. And for still others, it’s a whole weekend shooting zombies on the Xbox.

Now, I don’t have a problem with any of this, right? God forbid, considering some of the movies I’ve wasted portions of my life on. Consume what you want. Enjoy it. With my son, he’s latched onto things that I thought were dumb enough to kill brain cells (like Garfield books) and other things that were mostly a waste of time. But he enjoys them and I don’t want to make a big deal out of it.

However! When he came to me to say he wanted to buy an Xbox–with his own money–I told him he couldn’t. (FYI: he’s 11.) He was pretty upset (and is still trying to wear us down) but I was adamant. It’s not that I dislike video games. He has some right now and has played them ever since he was small; Minecraft is his current obsession. Yes, it can be difficult for him to stop when we ask him to, but that’s true of any kid doing any activity that they love. We also have a Wii (which was supposed to be used for the Wii Fit, but nevermind) although he doesn’t much like the games we have.

It’s not that the games are violent. There are plenty of sweet, non-violent puzzle/platform/whatever games. Besides, we’ve watched every episode of Burn Notice and he’s played Call of Duty (and #2) on the iMac.

The question is: how much of his life is spent consuming, and how much is spent creating?

See, when he was small, he would spend hours making things. As a toddler he would make endless lines of tiny blocks all through the apartment. As he got older, he made comic books, then baked goods, then finally short animated Lego movies.

And they were all terrible. The comics, actually, had some effective layout and design, but the food he made was a random mix of whatever he could grab and it tasted like poison. “For you, Mom!” (and she would always taste it.)

The Lego shorts were always busy but there was never a plot that made sense, half the snaps would be out of focus.

They were good for his age–actually, they were excellent for his age. Look at the “novel” of his I published last year on the blog; I couldn’t write with that much verve at his age.

But he lost all that when he went to school. The biggest lesson he took from public school is that “fun”, “projects”, and “learning” are all separate categories. He still likes to make things, but only in Minecraft and it’s been a long time since he set aside several hours to create something. At best, he’s been putting in an hour or two a couple times a week with Garageband to make electronic music.

I don’t much care what he wants to do with his time, as long as he spends a good portion of it making things. Any asshole can spend every weekend of his life shooting baddies in a video game (and I’ve been that asshole, sometimes). I want him to have more than that. It’s not enough just to consume products made by some corporation, even if they’re cool products. He has to turn that around, too.

To that end, we’ve suspended regular homeschooling so he can work with me on a “book trailer” for THE WAY INTO CHAOS. We’re shooting it in our living room with Lego figures. It’s completely inappropriate for the tone of the novel, if you know what I mean, and would be terrible marketing if I were remotely impressed by the marketability of trailers anyway.

Still, it’s a project. He’s throwing himself into it with his old enthusiasm, and I love him for it. I just wish we could return to the days when this was a habit.

Anyway, that’s why I won’t let him buy an Xbox. He has games already, and Netflix, and DVDs from the library, and books, too. That’s a lot of opportunities to consume. I don’t think he needs enough to fill his whole life.

16 Feb 2013, 5:20pm
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Experience Music Project Fail (or Let me share my pain with you)

Last night I took my wife and son to the Experience Music Project for the opening night of their “Game Nite” exhibit, which is their new video game project, I guess. Let’s start by saying it didn’t go well.

My wife has zero interest in video games at all, and I really enjoy them but try to keep my distance. I can be a little obsessive about things, and video games sometimes take over my whole life. However, my son loves them and has been making noises about creating some. Unsurprisingly, we want to support that.

The main feature of opening night was a series of talks given by game professionals and educators who teach game-making. That page is gone from EMP’s website but you can see the Google cache while it lasts. We were especially interested in this one:

So You Want to Make a Video Game?
Raymond Yan, Senior Executive at DigiPen Institute of Technology
Jason Pace, Executive Director at University of Washington Center for Serious Play

Now, I know there are resources online for creating games. I’ve looked. We were especially interested here because it was two guys who were local to us and because they would have a chance to bounce ideas off each other. I wanted to see a contrast between them. I also wanted to ask questions.

To that end, we skipped the tour of the actual games and got in line early for the keynote speech. We even got ourselves some good seats. The keynote was fine if not life-changing.

Unfortunately, because there was a line of people waiting to get in to the theater, they make the audience exit the room and get back at the end of the line. Because we had good seats we were one of the last out. The line went around two corners and up a flight of stairs.

We did not get into the one panel we most wanted to see.

Much of our time was spent standing beside game stations waiting to play one of the DigiPen games on offer. All the games were made as student projects and they are all hand-coded–no engines at all. You can play any of the games in their gallery for free. Most of the kids were playing a driving game I didn’t learn the name of, but “Solace” and “Nous” were other good ones.

My son did get to play some and so did I. My wife was interested in eavesdropping on some of the sound designs but nothing more beyond that. However, the largest portion of our time was spent playing a board game in the lounge. Pandemic. Damn, that’s a great game.

Anyway, I sent an email to EMP pointing out how frustrating it is to drop $35 on an event and then be barred from the think you most wanted to do. With luck they’ll post video of the event and someone will have asked the questions I wanted to ask.

  • The prequel to Child of Fire: see here for more details

  • Starred review from Publishers Weekly

  • Starred review from Publishers Weekly

  • Named to Publishers Weekly's "Best 100 Books of 2009" list. Get the audiobook here.

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