Friday, November 20, 2009

Trifecta of Excellence: A Game, A TV Series, and A Book

Despite several near-disasters, it's been a good week. Wednesday could have been very bad, but it turns out I am competent enough to replace the motherboard of my own desktop.

This week has been very good to me is the excellent media I've been soaking in. It's difficult to get excited about new stuff these days, because so much stuff out there is crud. I'm pleased to mention three excellent examples of the media I spend a lot of time with: a books, a television series, and and a computer game.

The Fallout Game of the Year edition has been wonderful. I have already played through the main plot of Fallout, but I missed a large number of the side-quests, and the additional content offered by the downloadables has been amazingly fun. Killin' inbred hicks from Maryland? Yeah, I can get behind that. Murdering slavers in the industrial wasteland that was once Pittsburgh? Surprisingly fun. Me and my Power Armor getting abducted by a giant tin-toy alien mother ship? That was pretty cool. The game has a lot of interesting story and development. The plots and subplots are solid, and are sold to you in different ways. Not a lot of repetition in Fallout 3, although sometimes, the combat is a little overdone. Random encounters add length to the game, but not a lot of interest. Fortunately, it never becomes a Diablo grind of waves upon waves of monsters that exist solely to die, give you experience, and drop stuff for you to sell.

Rome is one of the best TV series I've ever watched. Although it's got some historical inaccuracy, mostly for the sake of drama and the convenience of keeping the same actors, it also is steeped in history. It's the little details that are so fascinating: watching the Town Crier read out the news and then pause to advertise a sponsor; seeing the swirl of ethnicities and peoples in the dirty streets of Rome; feeling the rise and fall of family prestige based on so many minor factors. It's delightfully complex and horrible and relentlessly human all at the same time. The sets are gorgeous, the acting top-notch. The plots got a little bit soapy toward the end of season two, but entirely enjoyable. This is excellent television.

When the Santa Fe Good Taste Factory recommends something, I listen. If he recommends something, it's usually quite good. Not that my other friends don't have good taste, but the Good Taste Factory suggests it, I'm guaranteed to like it. The Gone-Away World arrived in the mail during a period in which I was having trouble reading books, partially because I was reading some crap I felt obligated to read and report on. And I'm having trouble with my own writing, which always effects my reading. The Gone-Away World is not the sort of book I usually read. I like strong plots with muscular prose, something with a sense of where it's going. Gone-Away World is loaded with digressions, strange introspection, a semi-halpess protagonist who wanders through his own life. However, the prose is brilliant. A quote: "Garbage in, garbage out. Or rather more felicitously, the tree of nonsense if watered with error, and from its branches swing the pumpkins of disaster." I went on this ride with author Nick Harkaway because I was seduced by his prose, and the funny, strange, human way he has his protagonist think and put things together. An excellent book, probably the best one I have read this year.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Armistice Day

On 11/11/1918, the guns fell silent.

War is a quintessential human sport. It is such a tremendous undertaking, so inconvenient and difficult that if we did not love it so much, it would never happen. And when we wage, we want to keep the reality of it from the people in whose name we do so. Strange, isn't it?

The Secrecy News website found or assembled a PDF of this report on why certain photographs from the Great War were censored. It's quite an amazing read, loaded with pictures and explanations of why such pictures were not released. What great pains militaries take to make sure that those who are not involved in the fight do not see what soldiers do, see how soldiers die. Even as they act in the name of those who should not be exposed to these horrors.

Friday, November 6, 2009

How the Process has Changed

It's been a frustrating couple of weeks, partially because of the story I've been writing. This story required a lot of background: who the Caananites were, what they spoke, and differentiating between a qedeshem and a qedeshot (qedeshem is male). And while the research was fun, working with an only semni-familiar culture can be frustrating. How many goats was Pharaoh likely to bring with him on a campaign of conquest? I'm more interested in the logistics of how the force was concentrated than how the force fought, which is not so much what the average chronicler or diarist is going to talk about. They write about the glory of the campaign. I want the nasty, gritty details about how it happened. There's a scholarly book on Tuthmosis' campaigns which likely would clear up a few of my questions about the composition of Tuthmosis' force, but I'm up to my eyebrows in unread books, and $75 is a bit steep.

My process has changed in the last year. I used to write the story, then immediately run over it for a revision. Right now, I'm letting the story sit, generally for as long as it takes to revise a previous story and then write another one, before I get to the serious revising.

Bradbury was right. Write a lot and your work will improve. I used to have the problem of going back to a story after a couple of months and remembering exactly what all the words were, and being unable to rewrite effectively because of that. Now, because there's a fair amount of verbiage pouring out of me, I've forgotten a lot about stories I've written, so revising them is a lot easier. In what I would have said was an impossibility two years ago, I sometimes forget the names of my protagonists.

But there's one way to tell if the process has improved my work. Will it sell?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Brian Keen Must Die!

"By Way of Thank You"
by John Goodrich

What really killed Brian Keene wasn’t his writing, but taking a break from it.

He had been spending a lot of time in the nearly-inaccessible concrete bunker in the bowels of the defense installation he called The Compound. His home, his safe haven from the hordes of ravening FUKU, as well as semi-human zombie fanciers. Here he wrote his books and stories, and, on occasion, posted to the Internet.

He’d just finished a particularly difficult scene, and figured he deserved a bit of down time. Maybe he would go look at That Message board.

“FINALLY PUBLISHED!” was the thread’s title. With more trepidation than hope, Brian clicked.

“YeAZ BiTcHeZ!” gushed the post. “The Crapola anthology series took my story. Cost me $200 for the processing, but they really liked “Zombie Slumber Party Slaughter.” They said I could be the next Stefanie Myer with my talent. All I need is to get sdome notice, which I’ll get once Crapola hits the stands! Who’s a thought it, published on my first story!”

Brian ground his teeth. He’s typed this response so often his fingers already knew where to go as he thought about what to have for lunch.

“No. Look, kid, money flows to the author.” The words ripped across the screen like a jackrabbit with an M-80 up its tailpipe. “These assholes at Crapola are ripping you off. They aren’t distributing your story. Nobody worth anything reads Crapola. You’ve just flushed your money down a dirty but well-worn toilet.”

He clicked the “send” button, and wandered around the site to see if there was any worthwhile conversation to be had.

A few minutes later, the thread had been lengthened by a single response. He took a deep breath, readied himself for the usual ignorant rebuttal, and viewed the thread.

“Don’t be h8tr, dudzor” the message ran. “I’ve been working on this writing thing for six weeks, and you old guyz don’t like to see the new guyz coming up to kick ur assez. Yeah, I didn’t make any momney off the sale, but people can and do read the Crapola anthologies. That’s why they charge so much—they get great distribuition. In a couple of months, someone else will pick up my storey, and I’ll get a contract for a couple of books. They said I will be the horror’s next Sephanie Meyer.”

“You fucking idiot!” He didn’t type it, he screamed it at the screen. Not for the first time, he wished for a device that would let him slap sense into someone through the Internet. Since he didn’t have one, he was just going to have to school this numbskull with words that would probably bounce of his thick skull. But he had to try.

The light in the bunker flashed. That was the doorbell. He only switched it on when the wife was out… dammit. She was out shopping. Food or clothes or something. He wished he’d paid more attention to where she was going.

Nothing to do but go see who it was. He considered dropping the intruders sight unseen into the pit trap that he reserved for Jehova’s Witnesses. But it might be someone he wasn’t expecting. Someone he liked.

He looked through the peeohole. They were lawyers. They didn’t even have to open their mouths and he knew they were lawyers. They wore stereotypical pinstriped suits, with the red power ties that should have died in the ninties. Their hair was immobile, even in the November breeze.

What the did lawyers want with him? Not pushing the button to dump them into the oubliette took more willpower than had gone into his first book. Lawyers. He took a deep breath, calmed himself, and checked the loads of the weapons cache. When he was ready, he opened the door.

“Mr. Keene?” The lefthand lawyer was wearing sunglasses on an overcast November day. He clearly thought he was Mr. Smith from the Matrix. “Mr. Brian Keene?”

Brian let out a small, dejected sigh. He was about to be served.

“Yeah that’s me.”

“We are the representatives of PublishNorthAmerica, the publishers of Crapola. We understand you’ve been advising one of our authors not to pay for publication. Not to mention the slanderous ways in which you attack out client, PublishNorthAmerica, whenever they come up.”

“Wait a second. Didn’t your little trip out here cost a little bit more than you made from any of those little guys? You guys charge more by the hour than that guy paid you.”

“You have been a thorn in our side for some time, Mr. Keene. Now it is time to rectify that.”

Keene’s easy smile was confident, and the smirk on the lawyer’s face faded.

“What’s black and brown and looks good on a lawyer?” the author asked.

The lawyers exchanged glances, wasting valuable time as the Rotties charged them. A gruesome gurgling was followed by the wet crunch of bone, and then a sloppy licking sound.

As the dogs were about their work, Brian noticed the black van that was parked on the street. Even as he was wondering how much more cliché his visitors could be, the van’s side door opened, and two more men in black suits stepped out. The left one even had sunglasses.

“Fuck this.” Brian pulled a pistol off the wall and unloaded. The two went down in crumpled heaps. This was going to be a big mess.

The black van’s door opened again, and a squad of black-suited figured leaped out, this time carrying an array of assault rifles and pistols. He could almost hear the Propellerheads music as they charged, firing with all the accuracy of Hollywood Nazis.

Bullets smacked against walls, and the concrete of the Compound echoed with thunder as Brian returned fire. They were all on the ground in a few seconds, and Brian was reloading.

The van vomited more black-suited bodies, as if they’d stowed some sort of clown car in it. But their tactics were movie simple: run forward, guns blazing. Running and gunning, they were as accurate as a Dan Brown novel, cliché as an exploding car.

Wait a minute.

Brian pumped four shots into the van’s engine block.

True to form, it exploded in a fireball that would have made ten kilos of plastic explosive proud. The van vaulted backwards, nose over end, before coming to rest in a smoking, burning heap.

The quiet was sudden end eerie, the only sound the panting of the Rotties and the greasy crackle of flames devouring burning van.

Not much later, The Wife drove up. He watched her cascade of red hair as she slung the kid, then threaded her way across the corpse-strewn yard.

“Half the county heard that explosion,” she said. “And there was only one place it could come from. You’ve got quite the mess to clean up.“

Brian rolled his eyes. “Me? But this isn’t my fau—“

Her glance was so sharp he never felt the cut. Just fell to the ground, the world turning black.

“I warned you before,” she said, somewhere beyond the black cotton that smothered the world. “Never mess with the redhead.”

Today is Brian Keene Must Die day. Brian will be killed in dozens of horrifying ways in blogs across the blogosphere for a very good cause. Please consider making a donation to the Shirley Jackson Awards.

Someday I’ll be one of the cool kids and hear about these before they happen. I owe Brian for a very good headbanging that I desperately needed a few years ago. Thanks, Brian.

What a Halloween weekend should be

The Queen of Science and I traveled to Connecticut for a good friend's party, and it was most excellent. The costumes were great. We had a magnificent Genghis Khan, a delightful Snow Queen, a touch of steampunk, more birds than anyone anticipated, several devils, and a really awesome pair of French Maids. Even better, the conversations were quite interesting: the Snow Queen knows a very diverse group of friends, and at any point, there were at least two interesting conversations going within earshot. She is also a divine cook, and a hostess of the diligent, attentive old school.

Side note to college-aged trick-or-treaters: wearing a T-shirt that tells us which college you are going to actually reduces the likelihood of receiving candy.

Sunday morning, I staggered on sleepy legs to be script doctor and director of photography for Iren Bear's "Thanks Wargamers" video. I'm amazed at how little time it takes for Iren Bear to put together something solid and well-edited on Youtube. In it, he thanks the voters for his win (see previous post). This video also is the first to feature him, and features a hilarious cameo from Mrs. Iren Bear. Give it a watch if you're at all geeky: Iren Bear writes a concise, funny video.