A Haiku

Hammock days of fall

Perfect weather for a nap

Slept the day away

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Hard Magic, Easy Read

Recently, I flew through the novel Hard Magic by Larry Correia. The book is firmly in the fantasy genre, which I like, but also firmly in the alternate history sub-genre of which I’ve never been a fan. I think it’s partially because these alternate histories always forget the indigenous people’s and have a severely Eurocentric world view. This novel surely felt that folly, going so far as to willfully ignore the pop culture fascination with Native American’s of the period. That wasn’t the point of this novel, and it is just a fact of life that you can’t satisfy everyone’s desires in 600 pages, so focus on your own, other people will either find the satisfaction they seek elsewhere or make it themselves. Larry Correia practiced this well, and while I don’t think I’d agree with a lot of his politics, I can say that he’s a phenomenal writer.

The thing that was best about his world was something that bad fantasy writers do all to often, and sometimes even great fantasy writers fall back on due to laziness. Correia developed a complete system of magic and defined limitations of the magic the characters could use, even when that limit seemed to be limitless. Magic was never, out of the blue, a cure all for the conflicts that ailed the plot. Rather, it was well established what was possible well ahead of schedule, sometimes so much so that you forgot it was there until the moment it became relevant. This was good world building, and it seemed to help with good character building.

Though, one character in particular was built in a rather terrifying sociopathic way that I fear the author intended to be cute. The naive farm girl character of Faye gives little pause or thought to ending hundreds of lives over the course of the book. It, like all the killings the heroes do, is justified by pumping fists into the air and shouting ‘Murica! at the top of their lungs. The book then turns around and has an in depth discussion of the morality of war, which it somehow takes a stance on war being bad because of how it ruins lives, then they go back to killing the bad guys without even thinking to look up the word hypocrisy. It has the unfortunate and unintended consequences of being rather racist as the big bad guy is Imperial Japan. It becomes even more so about half way through when it is revealed that the Imperial Japanese forces best officers are white people, one of who adopted a Japanese name.

If you can overlook the slight, and fully unintended racism, the glaring disregard for human life while trying to make a statement about the sanctity of that life, then I recommend this book to you. It’s a lot of good solid writing in a well crafted world with some unintended racism. Also, some mild sexism that I think I mostly attributed to it being 1930, so true to the period.

Hardcore Puppy Love

Do you ever think that dogs look at us in awe, and remark how incredibly capable of love we are? They sit there and think how they wish their own species was more capable of that sort of unconditional love that people express for dogs. Sure, there are a few humans that seem tainted, but that’s probably from bad experiences with dogs, and not the human’s fault. They might note how puppies seem capable of loving any human, but as they grow into dogs, the prejudices of the dogs around them begin to set in. They begin to fear types of humans they don’t interact with often, like the bearded human. They get a bad rep just because they seem scary, but most dogs just aren’t educated about beards. It’s not true, for instance, that bearded humans can steal your soul and store it in their beard forever and always. At the same time, as they get older, and they have less time left for pets and walkies and fetch and cuddles and that inexhaustible fountain of love from us humans they begin to get jealous of other dogs coming around, intolerant of those younger dogs, naive to the hurts of the world, not sharing in their jaded view. Do you think that those dogs wish they could be more like us?

Love is hard. It’s easy to forget that with all the crap that we pummel down each others throats through pop music and rom-coms, but love is difficult. We like to think it’s easy to love and take care of a dog, and wish that all love was that simple, and it is. We just have to learn to do what we do with dogs with people we can easily communicate with: forgive them when they don’t understand. It’s so frustrating when people you trust to understand don’t. Especially when those people have known you for most of your life. Or, when those people have only a passing relationship with your life and life experiences. This is part of what makes Thanksgiving such a treacherous holiday. Forgive and offer a better solution, and don’t let it become a screaming match.

On the flipside, I’m pretty sure that cats just think we’re a bunch of assholes.

Sleeping with Disappointment

Disappointment looked up at me last night, over my comforter, and said, “No sleep for you tonight.”

“Why not?” I asked, groggily.

Disappointment gestured to Baxter, a one-year-old standard white poodle, snuggled up to my girlfriends feet.

“Really?” I asked. Disappointment nodded sagely. “But we’re all so cuddled up.”

“Yup, and you’ll be cuddling so hard all night you won’t get any decent shut eye,” Disappointment said, one long gnarled finger shoved up one distended nostril. Finding nothing, disappointment sighed and rubbed its stomach.

“But surely I’ll just make the dog move,” I looked down at Baxter, already fast asleep.

“That cutie?” Disappointment gestured as Baxter kicked in his sleep, “When that cutie comes up to you and snuggles right up into your side? You’ll kick him out of bed?”

“Yes,” I said, but I lacked conviction and disappointment raised its ill plucked unibrow at me.

“And I’m the toothfairy,” Disappointment raised its arms covered in a splotchy spray tan and took a spin that was meant to be graceful but fell short of the mark.

“I’ll show you,” I said, shaking a finger at disappointment, “I’m going to have a great nights sleep.

Disappointment shrugged and gestured that it didn’t really care and pushed its body that is just a tad bit shorter than its fathers into the chair and spun around in circles until I fell asleep.

Over the course of the night, I woke up intermittently when either I or my girlfriend were made uncomfortable because of the dog. Each time, Disappointment would be there staring into my face, as if to say, well? And each time, I clenched my eyes closed defiantly. Baxter once got up and began looking around for a place to plant himself and I pulled him into me, and that was the end of a good night’s sleep. Every few minutes, he would shift and adjust, push against me or my girlfriend, try and worm his way deeper into the bed. Finally, I had enough and I got up and went to the bathroom. Disappointment stood outside the door dancing and asking me to hurry. I sat there for a good ten minutes just to spite him, then got up and went back into the bedroom. Disappointment followed, the need to use the bathroom disappearing as soon as it was vacant.

“Hon, I’m going to go sleep in the other room,” I said to my girlfriend.

“Huh? What time is it?” She asked.

“About five,” I said.

“Okay,” she lay back and went to sleep. I turned and Disappointment was gone. I lay down in the other room and fell to sleep for a few hours, enjoying the space and luxury of not sharing my sleep area. It wasn’t a great night’s sleep, but it will do.

Biblioglow

I’ve just finished reading Hard Magic by Larry Correia, and it is a book I would recommend to anyone who’s a fan of well developed worlds. It’s a rather long book, the paperback that I read ending at about 600 pages. I’ve got friends who can tear through that length of a book, and for my credit it took me infinitely less time to read that than most books. I was hooked from the get go. I read with great purpose and the intent to know everything a book has to offer. I also read rather slowly, because I unconsciously pause on each word of a sentence. My friends who read much faster are often frustrated by this. Unlike them I get a bit of an afterglow once I finish a book.

I pass the book a cigarette, and light my own, then lay there panting beside it. I pull up onto one arm and look deep into the books cover. “Damn,” is all I can think to say.

The book giggles and looks up at me expectantly.

“I mean, I saw that twist coming, but the pay off,” I pause to take a drag off of my cigarette, “Damn.”

“You know,” the book says swirling the covers, “I’ve got a sequel.” A second book peeks around the doorway wearing an enticing little cover, with a blurb on the front from a favorite author. The art on this cover looks like someone put some actual effort into it, all guns and dames action rolling through.

The first book looks back at me, I’m fast asleep. Maybe I’ll look up the sequel in a few days. For now I’m basking in the afterglow of a good book. It’s a great feeling.

Go spend a few hours with whatever book you’ve been reading, and see where it goes. If you don’t have a book then check out Hard Magic by Larry Correia, or Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Sir Terry Pratchett, or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, or Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie, or It by Stephen King. I can go on, but let’s be honest, there’s never a shortage of books to read.

Perfect Practice

It’s strange to me how the words that, at the start of this blog, came so slowly now flow so freely. What once took me an hour to write out now takes me half that time. Were it not for the excitement of the days events after the blog I should surely spend that time improving my blog. When I settle in to my current work, I’ll surely be able to work on those improvements. I do hope that improvements have been made without my conscious effort being pushed into their creation. Certainly my speed has improved, but I hope also my language and content. After all, I’ve been practicing.

The old adage of “practice makes perfect,” has a lot of truth to it for being a bold-faced lie. Perfection can never be reached, only surpassed. Practice makes better, but only perfect practice can make perfect. That’s what my old Taekwondo instructor would tell us. You can practice a kick a thousand times, but if you practice the kick wrong then all you’ll ever get good at is kicking in the wrong way. I hope I’ve been kicking in the correct way on this blog.

It’s gotten some response. People have liked and followed. No comments. It’s a wonderful exercise, writing every day. It’s not something I would give up, and frankly, it was only ever meant to be an exercise. It’s for myself and anyone who finds value in what little I have to say. I enjoy the exploration of ideas with myself, and quietly wonder what I’m missing. I love being able to explore my own opinions in a vacuum, with no other dissenting opinions until I’ve made the effort to look through it myself. Criticism is something we should all explore on our own. We should never content ourselves with simply not liking a thing. We should ask why, so that we can better explain our tastes to each other. We should never content ourselves with simply liking a thing either. Why we like a thing has such a greater importance in our lives. We should practice living, each and every day, so that we get better at it, and criticize what we don’t like about our ways of living. Through that, I think we can all be better.

Longing for the End

Today is a day that tests my strength of will. More than any other sort of day, this day is a day that holds me to a schedule that I must fulfill. A schedule that normally I would be more than happy to be a part of, even excited to complete. On a day like today, that all fades to the detestable, firm hand of obligation. Today is game day, but last night, I read past the point of no return in the book Hard Magic by Larry Correia and I can’t stop daydreaming about getting back into the book and finishing it.

For me, the point of no return in a book is the place where all the forces have come together and formed into a tidal wave of a story that can’t be stopped. I can clearly see the coming confrontation and the words sweep me along towards it like a lazy river being churned along at 100 miles per hour. I wouldn’t be able to fight the surge if I wanted to, and I can assure you that I rarely ever want to fight back. Usually, I flip off my responsibilities and dive head long into the book until the water calms and the last page is read.

Today is different. I still have some final touches to put on to the game that will be played this evening. I still have to figure out what I’ll be making for dinner for everyone to eat that is also at least bordering on healthy, but meets the dietary restrictions of all the players involved. My girlfriend is also sick, and needs intermittent care, yet still I think back to the book. I think back to the characters and the setting and the rich tapestry of a world created by Larry Correia. I think back to a couple of characters I’ve created and match them up to the very clear rules of his universe. I think through the information that I have been given in his alternate timeline and wonder about what else may have happened in this world, or what has not. Then I remember I still need a shower, and where are my map drawing tools?

The Plot Simmers

I’m working on the plot points for tomorrow’s game night in the new campaign. I’m rather excited because it’s a rather different game from what I’ve been playing recently. I’m specifically excited to see where they can take it, and where my players decisions will take me. Because of that, I began to wonder where I should begin? Should I go with an overarching quest line? Start with NPC’s to inhabit the world? No, I think I should go with creating the world first.

If I build a world and give them the freedom to roam around in it, then I can give them quests to go through without making it feel like I’ve shoehorned anyone into anything. That said, I’ve had players in the past who think of themselves as Rick Sanchez and want to disrupt any plans I have just for the hell of it. These characters will be summarily smote and the player only allowed to come back when they apologize and recognize that the game is for the fun of the group. This ain’t Skyrim. Once I decide on a few quest lines they could embark on, or some options to fulfill an overarching or reoccurring quest, then I can decide on characters.

What kind of characters are they likely to meet along the way? Where would these characters be located? What would their voices be? How would they speak? What are their motivations and limitations? What do they look like? What do they fear most in the world? What is their greatest love? I’ll ask a good dozen questions of each character, make up a small personalized character note card for speaking NPC’s and a general NPC shell card for background NPC’s.

After all that is done and over with, I’ll gather my notes and wait for game night. Then, I’ll use half of what I set out for a single quest line and improvise the other half, because I’m not able to predict every single thing people are going to try to do in the rich environment that I’ve cultivated. I wouldn’t want the headache of trying to predict all of that, and being able to think on my feet is something that gets me through most of the games. Afterwards, I figure out what can be recycled or reused and what has to be scrapped for my hall of shame. And the process begins anew.

The Smiley Man

A good while back, I created a one off for a game night where only a handful of people could make it out of the gigantic amorphous blob of RPG players that had accumulated whenever I said I would run a campaign. Since we didn’t have the full amorphous blob at a very important point of the story, I took the four little droplets that fell off and made a fun little game with them, kind of in the Saw franchise sense of the word fun, but with actual fun thrown in to mix things up and make it different. I’m a huge fan of horror, especially slasher flicks, so I created a slasher for the game. His name was Mr. Happy.

Mr. Happy towered at about eight feet with unsettling long limbs, greasy long black hair, a thin frame, a bright multicolored clown costume, and an elongated plastic smiling emoji mask. He wanted people to be happy. He wanted to put a smile on all the players faces with a knife. He put on a puppet show with the corpses of the players that died, mostly the ones that couldn’t keep quiet.

The players, on the other hand, played a ragtag group of teen paranormal investigators that were basically the Scooby-Doo gang if Scooby had been a racist prick to Shaggy, Shaggy was constantly creeping on Daphne, Daphne lead Shaggy on because of his van, and Fred was… no I think Fred was still just Fred. Oh, and there was no Velma, because Mr. Happy got her a long time before the game started.

The game took place exclusively in an old mansion that seems to be falling apart. It began in the basement, because the front door was locked and they found taxidermy experiments rotting down there. Then the kitchen where they found heads in the cupboards, roaches in the fridge, and destroyed a table. They were chased out of their into the grand entry way, where Daphne nearly died from electrocution when she tried to open the front door from the other side. They retreated upstairs into a library where they knocked each other unconscious and then slowly regained consciousness and the dog almost ate a poisoned cake in an adjoining bedroom. Here Fred died, laying down his life for Shaggy, who also died. Scooby and Daphne retreated into a creepy mannequin room where Scooby swore audibly and was swept down upon. Daphne made it into an attic where she discovered some secrets about Mr. Happy and his one weakness, a pickled human heart. He banged and banged against the door to the attic until she had the heart. She waited a long time before opening the door and finding an invitation to a puppet show. She made her way down and was greeted, back in the basement by a puppet show with puppets made from her friends. Covered in their blood, hugging the heart, she made her way out from the hell and was promptly arrested.

It was a rather fun game.

Other People’s Dreams

This morning was the last of my intensive short story class. We capped things off with a fantastic workshop. I got a lot of praise for my piece, which isn’t a piece of which I’m not particularly proud, and not enough criticism, but I have enough to move forward on a third draft. Maybe even enough to push for a fourth. While getting all this praise and mild criticism, I sat like a good boy and took it all. Largely while trying to wipe a stupid grin off of my face. Most importantly, I did this silently.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had to worry about anyone being rude or disrespectful. After all, there are some very clear rules to workshopping, the first of which is that you shut your mouth while everyone talks about your work. The truth of being an author is that your opinion on your work doesn’t matter. It has left your head and it is now on the page. You have given what semblance of knowledge you can muster to the story and now you have to deal with how we read the texts. I don’t get to tell people who the killer is in my short piece featuring a serial killer prominently, nor is that something I want to do. I also don’t get to tell people that my transitions are stylistic and that they shouldn’t dislike them. They are stylistic, but if people dislike them then they dislike them. It’s not a matter of not understanding but one of personal taste.

During the other nine stories, I talked at great lengths about the discussed work and never my own work. When I discussed it I started off saying what I liked and thought was well done in the piece and then what I thought could be made better. I discussed language, plot, what elements are clear or unclear, and I never once told someone I hated their work. I was kind, respectful of my peers decisions and recognized that these stories are someone’s dreams. These are people who put pen to paper and tried to create something and that’s admirable, no matter the criticisms that may come from what they created. It’s something that deserves respect.

Fortunately, no one had any problem with these concepts in my class. Everything was great.