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June 28th, 2015

12:15 am - An epic journey for ice-cream
It's been way too hot for the last few days (first upper 80s and now low 90s, which is thankfully unusual for Portland even in the Summer). So, teaotter, amberite, and I decided to venture out at 9:30 for ice cream to a nearby ice cream shop that is open until 11:00 most nights. The shop is roughly 6 blocks away, and we were a bit surprised at the noise and lights we encountered when coming up to S.E. Division (the only large street between up and the ice cream shop) - then we saw that police directing traffic for the annual naked bike ride. We had no idea how long it had been going on, but there were easily 50-100+ people per minute, so we decided to wait, and wait some more. Eventually, after close to half an hour we darted across the street in a break between the bikes.

Then, we went and got ice cream, hung out for a while, and then we wished to go home, but the naked bike ride was still going on, almost an hour later. So, we prepared to dart back across the street and when another group of people did the same right before us, several people sitting at the outdoor tables at a small local bar on Division who said "It's like Frogger, you have to pick your spot and go for it!".

Using very rough estimates and the fact that we could still hear it going on as we neared home, I'm guessing there were more than 10,000 people there, meaning more than 1% of Portland's population was naked and riding bikes tonight. Admittedly, it's a far better night for it than other June nights (which I personally enjoy vastly more and are considerably more common) when it's in the 50s and might well be drizzling. The ice cream (or in my own dairy-free case, coconut-lemon-saffron ice cream and grapefruit-rose sorbet) was excellent, if unexpectedly difficult to access.

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June 24th, 2015

02:56 am - Musings on Nihilistic Atheism & on Reading More Terry Pratchett
I have an odd relation to atheism, as I discuss here, I'm very far from being a materialist , but I also have no interest in obeying any gods, except perhaps my own personal godhood. Also, I very much see each person's purpose in life as whatever they choose it to be and have no use for destiny, karma, or similar (usually seriously creepy when closely examined) ideas.

As a result, a number of atheist ideas appeal to me, but there is one particular subset of atheism that I've both encountered on-line and have seen repeatedly in mass media that both holds no interest for me and baffles the heck out of me – what I'm calling here nihilistic atheism. The best example I know of is Russel T. Davies' work on Dr. Who and (especially) Torchwood - in addition with RTD's clear fascination with The Doctor as time-traveling atheist Jesus, these shows are set in a world which is inherently bleak, victories are not merely temporary, but exceedingly so, and the world is inherently pretty darn crapsack.

However, what got me thinking about this was another atheist author of a very different sort, Terry Pratchett. I typically avoid humorous literature with the same dedication that I avoid comedy movies or TV series and so I've read very little Pratchett. However, I quite enjoy the Long Earth series that he co-wrote with Stephen Baxter, and am currently reading and liking the 4th book, The Long Utopia. Interestingly, I also avoid fiction by Baxter. He writes SF that is filled with fascinating ideas and with nifty premises, but which far is too brutally grim and relentlessly unpleasant for me to read. The only exception is his Long Earth collaboration with Terry Pratchett. Pratchett brings a level of humanity and compassion to the Long Earth series that is entirely absent from all of Baxter's solo work, but which I've also seen in the very little other work by Pratchett that I've read, and it tempts me to investigate more of Pratchett's work.

In any case, I simply don't understand Davies' brand of atheism. Sure, in a billion years the Earth will be uninhabitable and it's exceptionally likely that the human species will be extinct in 10 million years, but neither of these is a short time scale, and very little else is remotely certain. It feels to me liked Russell T. Davies' work focuses on the same bleak despair at the lack of a caring god that was a hallmark of early to mid 20th century Existentialism. Perhaps it’s the fact that I've never believed in a deity who controls my destiny or the destiny of the human species and is looking out for us, but I've never for an instant felt that lack, which is perhaps also why Existentialism is a philosophy that I find simultaneously baffling and uninteresting. In vivid contrast, Pratchett's compassionate humanism is definitely something I understand and quite like.

On a related note, I'd definitely appreciate it if someone who knows Pratchett's work could recommend books that are in no way works of humor but that they enjoyed (for reference, I bounced off of Good Omens and several of the early Discworld books because they were way to much humor for my taste).

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June 23rd, 2015

10:37 pm - Musings on A Symbol of Oppression
If you ever hear anyone defend the Confederate flag or claim that the 1861 Slavers' Rebellion (aka the "Civil War") was about "state's rights" or in fact about anything other than the bold-faced defense of slavery, tell them to read this excellent article by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

I remember growing up with the widely repeated statement that this war was only partly about slavery or in some cases denying it was about slavery altogether. Also, in the mid 1970s, I remember reading an article about how Virginia (the state I grew up in for all of my years in public school) had Elementary School textbooks in many schools in the late 60s (thankfully, not my moderately liberal Northern VA schools) which talked about how masters set out holiday feasts for their slaves and other bits of vileness.

The one bit of data I lack is how any of this was handled in college classes, since with my taste for far away places and long ago times, I found American history largely devoid of interest, so avoided all such classes.

In any case, in a very real since, while the US won that war, it largely failed at the peace that followed and the would-be slavers basically wrote the official narrative about that war. It's only been within the past 15 years or so that I've seen a majority of articles, books, and mentions of textbooks and history classes which unequivocally state that Southern Secession and the Slavers' Rebellion were entirely motivated by a desire to defend slavery.

Confederate Flags are at long last headed for the closet of uncomfortable relics, I hope the the attitudes that were responsible for their popularity die out soon after. I would very much like to see the day when the Confederacy ceased to be a source of pride and where Southern pride or nostalgia means something other than white bigots wishing they owned a plantation worked by slaves.

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June 16th, 2015

05:27 pm - Awesome Book + A TV Series I Won't Be Watching Anymore
Last year, I read and wrote about Graydon Saunder's excellent novel The March North (which was also and also excellently reviewed by James Nicoll). A few days ago, I was very pleased to recently discover that Graydon Saunders had written a second novel in the same setting, A Succession of Bad Days (available DRM free from Google Play Books).

It's in the same setting, and features some of the same characters, but can definitely be read independently. Also, it's difficult for me to say, since I read The March North first, but A Succession of Bad Days might be a somewhat better introduction to the setting. I also think the writing was slightly more polished (although The March North was quite well written).

The biggest difference for me, and why I enjoyed it more was simply that The Marsh North was one of a very few fantasy novels that was primarily (although far from exclusively about a military campaign) that I've enjoyed, and A Succession of Bad Days was about a group of people training to become powerful magicians. I love such books when they are well done, and this one was exceedingly well done. It also included fascinating and well-considered details about how to handle powerful magic in a civilized setting that is specifically designed to prevent magicians from controlling ordinary people. I'm fairly certain I've never read a scene where magicians had to discuss their plans with an ethics committee until this novel. The characters were interesting, the setting was both fascinating and very well done and I highly recommend it, especially if you prefer fiction that isn't all about gloom and brutality.

Speaking of gloom and brutality, with great anticipation teaotter, amberite, and I started watching the 2 hour premier of the 3rd season of Defiance (on SyFy). Season 1 took a while to get good, but it did and Season 2 was excellent from beginning to end. Becca stopped watching after 10 minutes saying that it was a little too grim for her, Alice and I watched the entire first hour and then we stopped. By the end of the first hour, one of the best major characters from last season was off-screen and might well not return, two other major characters had been brutally killed, and the show had introduced three new major characters: a new villain for the season, who is a murderous psychopath that drives around in a car decorated with the severed heads of his enemies, and a pair of what can best be described as vampiric drow. Also, the show killed off the last remaining non-white human characters.

I get that a fair number of people really enjoy shows like Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones, but I very much do not, and I an exceedingly unpleased to see a who that was an excellent noir story become a cheezy mad-max rip off. Perhaps it will get better, but we've decided to read summaries of the episodes and if this tone doesn't drastically change, we're all done with the show. I'm really looking forward to when shows which are not all about grim brutality become more popular.

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June 14th, 2015

03:12 am - Musings on new TV series and a new variable for TV classification- Involvement
teaotter & I have been watching several new TV shows, and all three of us have been watching Sense8 (which is excellently done and made more wonderful by having such a diverse cast).

Becca talks about the premiers of Mr. Robot and Stitchers here. Mr. Robot can currently only be seen on the USA website ( go here to stream the entire first episode). Mr. Robot is excellent, and not at all what I was expecting. When I heard it was about a socially awkward young male hacker genius, what I expected was a deeply horrible show like the recent series Scorpion, where socially awkward = a smug and loathsomely self-aggrandizing jerk who enjoys talking down to people, and where the protagonist is always right.

Mr. Robot is entirely unlike that, in addition to using a level of close first-person perspective that I've never seen on TV, the protagonist is genuinely socially awkward in uncomfortably realistic ways, and at least in social interactions, he's sometimes shown to make serious mistakes, include one he is justifiably called on. Combine that with a plot about taking on to finance industry, and I'm loving it, but I fear that it will be too different for most views.

In vivid contrast, Stitchers is deeply terrible, there are flashes of good acting, but the plots have more holes that plot and it's dull, formulaic, and entirely not worth watching. It's also very clearly what I'm calling low-involvement TV – you can easily follow what's going on even if you are multitasking online or at home and only need to spend at most half you attention on the show to follow all of it. The second episode was so much so that when it was nearly over, Becca and I both felt like we'd watched maybe 15 minutes of TV.

One of hallmarks of low-involvement TV is a heavy reliance on beat storytelling, so that structure and expectation is used as a shortcut to get around plot holes, often to the extent that there's more hole than plot, but the show is exceedingly easy to follow because it fits expectations well.

What I'll call high involvement TV is very different indeed. In such shows, you need to pay close attention to detail, and these details build upon one another, both with an episode and between episodes. The plots might not be much better in high-involvement TV, but the depth of characterization definitely is and I find the experience to be much richer and more intense. A good judge of high involvement TV is when you've watched what felt like most of an episode of an hour TV show and look and see that you've actually only watched the first 20 minutes, because so much happened in that short time.

The most extreme example of high-involvement TV that I've ever seen in Sense8, in large part because viewers are juggling 8 different settings, if you stop paying attention for 10 seconds you've likely missed something important and perhaps several important things. We watch Sense8 with the captions on to further help us catch every detail. Of course, this show about as extreme as I think TV can possible get in that direction. Far more typical examples of a high-involvement show is Fringe (particularly Seasons 2-4), Mr. Robot or much of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

I find this variable useful, because I have absolutely no use for low-involvement shows – I almost use TV as background noise or something to watch when doing other things and vastly prefer show which reward close observation.

Today, we also watch the premier of Dark Matter on SyFy, it was somewhat promising, medium involvement, and may turn out to be worth watching, but also very possibly (especially since most new shows on SyFy are terrible) something we won't be watching in 3 episodes.

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May 30th, 2015

03:07 am - Deep Space Nine becomes awesome + TV Hugo voting thoughts
Lacking other TV worth watching [[1]], we've been continuing to watch Deep Space Nine - while season 3 was better than seasons 1 or 2, the range of episodes merely went from bad (some unwatchably so, others not), to watchable but often not very good. So, we skipped ahead even more, and the season 3 finale was somewhat better. Then we started season 4, and wow did the show improve.

The first two episodes were when Michael Dorn joined the cast, and something between his presence and generally better writing and plotting made those two episodes considerably better than anything previous. Tonight we watched S04Ep03 The Visitor. I vaguely remember watching the first two episodes of season 4, but I didn't remember anything about them and could easily be remembering later DS:9 episodes with lots of Klingons. However, I'm certain I never saw The Visitor before, and teaotter and I were both deeply impressed (amberite is out of town for a few days).

Yes, the abundant clichés about writers were clichéd in a very Hollywood fashion, and the old age makeup wasn't very good, but the actor playing the older Jake Sisko was impressively good and the episode was exceptionally well done. This ranks up there with the TNG episode Darmok and a handful of other Star Trek episodes as ones that I will happily watch multiple times.

I remember the last 2 or 3 seasons of DS 9 being quite good, but I also remember most of the best episodes being stories about war, which was also true of the two-part season 4 premier, but this episode wasn't, and so I'm thinking that perhaps the later seasons of Deep Space Nine were mostly quite good regardless of their content.

Thinking about TV also reminded me of my thoughts on voting for the Hugos for TV episodes. I list my votes below the cut. I watch the nominated episode of Grimm, which I expected to dislike, because I tried the show when it first came out and gave up after 5 episodes, in large part because the werewolf was the only breath of life in an otherwise lifeless and dull show. Instead, I liked "Once We Were Gods" - the addition of more characters helped and I very much liked the Grimm "scooby gang". We currently have lots of TV ranging from fairly to very good to watch, so I'm not certain I need another series to watch, but if that changes, I'll likely start. It wasn't as good as the season 2 finale for Orphan Black, but it was definitely better than any of the other (I'm not counting Game of Thrones, because I find it unwatchably violent and unpleasant).

Also, I decided not to give any vote for the Doctor Who episode "Listen" because I really don't want it to win. I thought back about when I watched it and remembered that it was the first episode of that season where (to me at least) the Doctor's truly hideous level of misogyny towards Clara became simply too glaring to ignore or dismiss. I'm fine with The Doctor being a jerk, both in general and to his companions, but when he starts acting like a particularly nasty and misogynist ex towards his companion (including spouting an abundance of vile pick-up-artist-style negging), I want nothing further to do with the show My Hugo votesCollapse )

[[1]] Thankfully, Hannibal & Defiance return soon, with luck Sense8 will be good, and Dark Matter might even prove good, despite there already being one show worth watching on Syfy (Defiance)

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02:08 am - Judith Butler discusses trans issues
I've never read more than quotes and excerpts by feminist theorist Judith Butler, but I have long known that she's one of the more influential feminist authors, especially among second wave feminists.

Given the often quite serious limitations of second wave feminism when dealing with transsexuals and genderqueer people, I was exceedingly pleased to see this short interview with Judith Butler on the topic of transsexuality and anti-trans feminists Two quotes in particular deeply impressed me.

quotes belowCollapse )

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May 22nd, 2015

12:34 pm - Three-Body Problem Review + Musings On Hugo Award Novel Voting
Yesterday, I finished reading Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, a well done and interesting SF novel written by one of China's premier SF novelists and translated in the English. I've looked at the covers of recent Chinese SF magazine (but not knowing Chinese, have only been able to read a handful of stories which have been translated). The covers remind me of tech focused US SF magazines from the 50s & 60s, but none of the stories have, until I read this book. There are a lot of ways that it's entirely unlike US SF from that era, but there are also distinct similarities – some of which were clearly deliberate.

james_nicoll recently reviews the Isaac Asimov anthology Nightfall and Other Stories, and based on that review, I reread some of the stories in my copy, most of which I had forgotten, having last read any of them more than 30 years ago, and so I had recently reread Breeds There a Man... - it's pretty clear to me that Cixin Liu read this short story and it formed part of the inspiration for Three-Body Problem, which isn't a bad thing, and Three-Body Problem is definitely the better of the two.

In any case, I'm fairly sure the author read that story, because of an offhand mention in the novel of a scene from Isaac Asimov's short story The Billiard Ball, so it's clear that the author not only has read Asimov's short stories, but also thinks they are a reasonable reference to put into a novel – I guess Chinese SF fans read lots of Asimov, which rather makes sense. Of course, the novel is far more than an extension of that story – it's also about the Chinese Cultural Revolution and the perils of cultural contact.

The book starts out very impressively – the sections set during the Cultural Revolution were very powerful and the present day sections presented a mystery that felt like something written by Daryl Gregory (who does that sort of thing awesomely well). However, we're told very early on that if something looks too mysterious, someone is behind it, and once we learn what's going on that book remains good and worth reading, but ceases to be anything I'd call great or wonderful. Also, the characterization of the protaginist during the sections set during the Cultural Revolution is fairly good, but the primary protagonist largely serves as a useful PoV and suffers from the same sort of minimal characterization as characters in similar US novels from the 50s & 60s.

It remains from beginning to end the sort of engineering & applied physics and chemistry focused SF that many US SF authors like Asimov made a living writing, and it's definitely a well done example of that, while also clearly being written in the modern day, by an author from a different culture.

Now we head into mild spoilers territory More about Three-Body Problem HereCollapse )

I'm very glad I read this novel, but what prompted me to was voting for the Hugo Awards. I now have a ranking for best novel and after much thought a strategy for voting. The strategy is simple, I'm willing to consider and vote for anything on that ballot that is by someone who hasn't made any statements in support of either the Sad or Rabid Puppies or slate voting in general. This means that I'm considering all of the books now nominated for best novel, but I only have to read one story in any of the short fiction categories, since I've found posts and comments in support of the voting slates by everyone else.

My votes for Hugo Award for Best Novel are as follows
  1. Ancillary Sword Ann Leckie: In addition to vastly better characterization than Three Body Problem, it didn't fall down ½ to 2/3s of the way through and I enjoyed it more. I don't think it's as strong a novel as Ancillary Justice, but I also think it's the best novel nominated
  2. Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu: Definitely a good novel and one I'm very glad I read, but not good enough to win.
  3. No Award: I don't think any of the other three novels are all that good, and so No Award comes next.
  4. The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison: As I mentioned before, I gave up in utter boredom a bit less than halfway through. I'm not a fan of passive and incompetent protagonists who remain that way and while I wanted to like this novel, it was impressively dull.
  5. Skin Game by Jim Butcher: I didn't read the first couple of chapters – I'd previously read 2.5 of Butcher's Harry Dresden novels, and that's pretty much my lifetime limit. Butcher isn't a terrible writer, but this series isn't for me (and I'm someone who quite liked the first 8 of Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter (they weren't good, but I enjoyed them)).
  6. The Dark Between the Stars by Kevin J. Anderson: The previous two were novels I didn't like, but wouldn't go so far as to say were bad – this is a bad novel.

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May 21st, 2015

11:31 pm - The Most Impressive Dessert I've Ever Made
I recently made a truly awesome dessert, a a Chocolate-Espresso Dacquoise

Also, it's intrinsically gluten free. I also made it dairy free by replacing the milk with low fat coconut milk, the cream with normal coconut milk, and the butter with coconut oil (all of which were excellent substitutes). The one thing about this recipe is that it's moderately difficult and definitely time consuming. Given cooking and cooling time, and the time you need to spend once the whole thing has been assembled, so that moist buttercream and hard dry crunchy merengue can come to some sort of hydroscopic equilibrium and produce a tender cake-like merengue requires roughly 9 hours. However, this can easily become 6 hours and then let the cake rest in the fridge overnight.

It's also worth noting that what you get at the end can only vaguely be described as a cake. It's perhaps more accurate to say that you have made a truly gigantic and impressively awesome candy bar, if candy bars were made out of gourmet ingredients rather than junk. A typical slice that left anyone trying it very satisfied was roughly 3 inches on a side (the rough height and width of it, and less than half an inch thick. The next time I make this, I'll make half as much. Also, if you are looking for a low fat or low calorie dessert, look elsewhere. This is a delicious and amazing creation made out of a whole lot of fat, eggs, and sugar.

Here's a picture of mine:
Chocolate-Espresso Dacquoise

Not quite as attractive as this picture from America's Test Kitchens , but dear gods it was delicious.

I'm also going to experiment with using the merengue as the basis for a gluten free trifle – by using jam, berries, and vanilla custard instead of buttercream and chocolate, and expect the results to be equally good.

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May 14th, 2015

02:42 pm - Musings on The Supergirl Trailer, Misogyny, Joss Whedon and Smallville
six minute trailer for the upcoming Supergirl show. The comparison with the film The Devil Wears Prada are spot on, and the first half of the trailer has some good bits and some genuinely funny bits, but they are amidst a fairly large amount of trite nonsense. The article also links to this SNL parody of a Black Widow movie done as a romantic comedy - and as the article points out, the similarities are not small.

My first reaction is while Joss Whedon clearly has his problems, they look quite small in comparison to the ones visible here. Whedon can write female heroes, not humorously awkward female characters with superpowers, and while that doesn't seem like a miraculous ability to me, the ability to do this and then get it on TV or in a movie is clearly non-trivial. Also, Buffy premiered 18 years ago, and I would have hoped that female characters on TV would have improved far more since then. Of course, on the CW, it largely has, and even outside of the CW, Agents of SHIELD does an excellent job of treating female characters as people rather than female stereotypes, as do quite a number of other shows, from Defiance, to Orphan Black, as well as many other shows made in the last 15 years. Basically, this trailer looks like a throwback to TV made 20 years ago.

Then the trailer got me thinking about a somewhat similar TV show – Smallville. I don't remember the pre-release trailers, but I clearly remember the first episode. Using that first episode, you could have easily made a trailer that looked very similar (adjusted for the protagonist being a male high school student rather than a working woman in her early 20s). The trailer could feature the same allegedly humorous awkwardness and embarrassment at work or school, supportive friends, the attractive but unattainable object of desire, and the old friend who is clearly in love with the clueless protagonist. Of course, they'd never in a million years have made a trailer like that for Smallville or any other supers show with a male protagonist. Also, to make it, the show runners would have needed to entirely leave out anything about Lex Luthor from the trailer. The reasons for this difference is of course misogyny on the part of the marketing department. Misogyny being found in marketing is unfortunately about as common as strong gravity fields being found near black holes.

The interesting thing about this, is that the first episode of Smallville was quite good, as were the first few years of the show, and so there is perhaps hope for the Supergirl show, but only if the trailer is more about ill-conceived marketing or the first episode is far worse than later ones. Trailers that look very different from the actual show are not all that uncommon, and first episodes of new shows that are mediocre (like the Burn Notice premier) or even terrible (like the premier of Arrow or The Vampire Diaries) are exceedingly common. Of course, so are terrible premiers to terrible TV shows – only time will tell.

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May 13th, 2015

03:59 am - Write-Up of Becca's Time Travel Campaign
The latest RPG campaign I've been playing in ended recently, and it occurred to me that long campaigns mostly just peter out or stop rather than having an a well planned and executed ending. Also, games involving time travel where the goal is to change the past are far rarer, so I've decided to write up an overview of the campaign. The campaign, run by my awesome partner teaotter started in mid 2012, and so ran for nearly 3 years (of weekly gaming, with a few breaks – at least 44 games a year, and somewhere in the rough vicinity of 120 session), making it one of the shortest campaigns I've been in, but a very good and very unusual one.

Like many of our games, much less time passed in the game world. In the course of the 3 years campaign, the game-world went from June 1, 2011 to October 7, 2011 – 4 months and 1 week. In addition to all of the time travel and the fact that the PCs utterly transformed the world, another unusual aspect of the campaign was that there were a total of three (fairly brief) scenes which could be remotely considered combat in the entire campaign, which is a remarkably small amount even for our group. It was also a hell of a lot of fun.

Here's an post about the campaign I made almost 2 years ago and here is my 8,000 word campaign write-upCollapse )

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May 12th, 2015

10:35 pm - Pleasing Work Oddity
For quite a while, most of my work has come through a mixture of my writing to companies and developers and developers and companies who I know, have interacted with, or have worked with before writing to me. However, over the last decade I've had four developers write to me out of the blue to work on projects.

The first was a small American company, but the other three have all been British. Given that I do more than 80% of my writing for US RPG companies, I find this quite odd, but I also loved the two projects I was previously to do [[1]] and the second of these led to a continuing working relationship with Cubicle 7, and am enjoying the one I just started on, which I can't talk about yet, but is quite nifty.

In any case, I have no idea why UK publishers I have not worked with before are approaching me more than US ones, but given that I've never had payment problems with UK publishers, I'm quite happy about it. Also, being asked to write something solely due to my reputation as an RPG writer and designer is exceedingly flattering.

[[1]]: The first was the as yet unpublished Unhallowed Wizardry, a magic and psi sourcebook for Call of Cthulhu, by Sixtystone Press (which will hopefully be kickstarting later this year) & the magic rules for Cubicle 7's Laundry RPG - (I rather suspect I got the second because I wrote the first).
Current Music: Jordan Reyne - Green (Flying Over Ireland)

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May 5th, 2015

03:11 am - Musings On TV & Lone Individuals vs Complex Problems
amberite encountered this excellent article talking about problems with the TV show The Wire and looking at the recent troubles in Baltimore, and I highly recommend it.

I only watched half a season of The Wire before the violence and brutality were too much for me, but this article is worth reading even if you never saw the show. The part that struck me most though was this bit:
Everyone on The Wire seeks individual solutions for social problems: the lone cop, the lone criminal, the lone teacher, the lone newspaper reporter. Yes, it is certainly true that when entrenched bureaucracies battle individuals, individuals lose. But when bureaucracies battle social movements, the results can be quite different.
This is not a new or a unique viewpoint, but it is a terribly corrosive one, and one that I think has been deliberately foisted on the American public as the right-and-proper-truth-of-the-world ever since the mid 1970s, when people with money and political power saw what large organized groups could do about the Vietnam War, and segregation, and attempted to find a way to make certain that this never happened again.

I'm not saying that David Simon (who created The Wire) is one of these people or that he deliberately did this, he's clearly not and I doubt he did. Instead, US discourse was changed in the late 70s and throughout the 1980s, and I'm fairly certain it was changed on purpose. I talk about this issue more in this post about that particular topic.

amberite mentioned the article about The Wire after we watched the first part of the 2 part Deep Space Nine episode Past Tense, where Sisko, Dax, and Bashir travel back to 2024. None of us had ever seen this episode before, and I'd heard good things about it. I didn't mind the pontificating, but teaotter did, but she pointed out that what we saw was a complete lack of internal organizing in the Sanctuary Districts. People would be creating the various sorts of mutual aid groupings they always do, and the intake office we see Sisko & Bashir in would have polite protestors coming in to ask for medicines, schools, jobs and etc. Instead, this is a story about one lone courageous man (points to DS:9 making this man black) changing the nation for the better. It's not terrible, but it's also quite far from awesome.

In any case, once again we have lone individuals taking action against "the system", but in Star Trek (unlike The Wire) lone individuals can triumph, but once again collective action remains invisible. Dear gods we need more stories about collective action defeating entrenched corruption and greed.

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May 3rd, 2015

02:18 am - When Did Sexual Harassment Cease Being Used As Comedy? Further Musings on Deep Space Nine
We're continuing to watch Deep Space Nine, amidst also watching Arrow, Agents of SHIELD, Elementary, and Orphan Black.

At this point, we're still watching Season 3, and it's both highly variable in quality and also at an oddly transitional point in TV. The events like the first contact with the Dominion or Keiko O'Brien working on Bajor are a permanent changes, but the showrunners clearly either aren't interested in having a continuous rather than an episodic show or they aren't all that clear how to manage this. This is most obvious in terms of character arcs – Dax falls madly in love in Meridian (an astonishingly terrible episode, the A plot was a bad and utterly lifeless Brigadoon rip off, and the B plot was filled with humorous sexual harassment with a side-order of transmisogyny). Then, in the next episode, Dax is entirely mourning her lost in time love, and all of the characters are like this.

I never noticed this sort of thing at the time, because all TV was like that, but after close to 20 years of long-form storytelling TV, seeing this is jarring and feels cheap and ill done especially since there's some level of continuity going on. In any case, there are episodes like Defiant that are quite good, but as a whole it feels unconnected compared to modern TV (or at least modern TV that I'm willing to watch) largely because it is, and I find modern TV overall more interesting, complex, and worth watching.

Also, as with the title of the post – this season is doing better than Season 1 so far, but sexual harassment was clearly something regarded as considerably less serious and at least potentially funny in mass media back then, the lack of this sort of thing today is definitely a noticeable step forward.

On Sunday afternoon I'm going to see Age of Ultron, which I've heard is fun, but also considerably less good than Captain America 2, I guess I'll see.

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April 15th, 2015

01:31 am - Deep Space Nine - It got better
We kep with watching DS9, but jumping episodes when we found bad ones. The beginning of Season 2 was merely dull, so we skipped to the end of Season 2, to the first episode with the Jem'hadr, and it was much better. Quark quite justifiably called Sisko on how he was treating Quark. Also, that and the first two episodes of Season 3 were all closely connected, and the next one House of Quark was also clear part of the same story arc, so it looks like we've moved from old-style (and to me vastly inferior) episodic tv, so modern long-form storytelling tv. House of Quark was also a whole lot of fun in the sections with Quark, because he was a far more real and less buffonish/butt of joke character, while still definitely being the same character. Also, the plotline with Miles and Keiko was very well done, especially since the resolution was all about how Keiko's career was important and giving her a hobby was obvious insufficient.

No, it's clearly not as good as Leverage, seasons 2 or 3 of Fringe or various other examples of the best of modern geeky tv, but it's up there with current Agents of SHIELD - fun, moderately good, but also definitely not awesome, which is vastly better than I expected it to be after watching the first 8 episodes.

Also, I've been meaning to write about Jupiter Ascending, which I saw a couple of weeks ago. It was far more fun than good, but it was definitely fun. The protagonist ending with with a spoiler - highlight to read:
winged werewolf boyfriend, was both funny and fun, and I liked how she was flying on her own at the end. Having the villains be baroque space uber-capitalists was also quite enjoyable, I'm surprised that the far right hasn't objected.

However, I did see one somewhat interesting, if also unfortunate, problem. Both of the actual villains were white men, which given the overall small cast meant that there weren't all that many female character with significant roles, and there were almost no people of color. Among other things, it left Kalique as a bit of a non-entity in a film that otherwise did quite well with female characters, except for Jupiter being a bit too passive for my tastes.

I completely understand the use of rich white men and villains, and it's definitely a vast improvement over the wealth of ludicrously decadent and often twistedly villainous black and mixed race villains found in so many mid 90s action-y films, but it also leaves fewer spots for actors of color.

In any case, I quite enjoyed it.

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April 12th, 2015

03:05 am - America: Yet More Horrors
I read today that Walter Scott, the black man who was shot to death in South Carolina while running away from a white cop was buried today. Today I also learned that someone in a US city far away from me and who I have never met, but who is very close to friend of mine, was raped by a cop. Both abuses of power are horrific and both cops should be in prison, but beyond my anger at the two individual police officers, my feelings extends far beyond the police.

Instead, I thought of the fact that such events (perpetrated by both the police and ordinary citizens) have been occurring for much longer than there has been a US. We live in a society with deep seated racism and misogyny, and while both are slowly getting better in many ways, there remain far too many men and especially white men who are firmly convinced that they have the right to treat people of color and women however they wish &/or view them as objects or inhuman creatures rather than fellow people.

All of us have far more ability to learn about and react to such events than we had before, and that's clearly making a difference. I didn't see widespread national outrage and mass media articles about unarmed black men being shot by white police officers or about the vile way most women are treated in the US 20 years ago and there was much less widespread public and mass media discussion of racism and misogyny a decade ago, but we now also have louder and more organized backlash.

There's so very little I am able to about any of this – voting against stories written and selected by similarly vile people (and of course, voting for fictions I loved) seems a very small thing to do in the face of all this, but it's what I can do. So it goes…
Current Mood: sadsad

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April 11th, 2015

02:06 am - Musings On The Hugo Awards and Voting For the Hugos
The 2015 nominees for the Hugo Awards have been announced. If you are unaware of the controversy regarding them, or if at first glance many of the nominees seem unusual, here’s an explanation, and here's a bit more about the issue. See the cut tag at the end of this post if you are interested in seeing some of the more recent and lengthy discussions of these issues.

In any case, I'm now going to discuss the Hugo nominees and my thoughts on who to vote for. I can definitely understand other people making other choices. I've never nominated or voted for Hugo awards before, and while my finances aren't quite as good as they were before the economy crash, they are getting there and I can definitely afford the $40 associate membership, which allows voting (and nomination, if that wasn't already done), and will also allow me to nominate next year (more info here).

My first thought is that I definitely should be nominating work. I'm surprised that not enough people nominated William Gibson's The Peripheral for best novel – I don't think it's as good as Ancillary Sword, but it was quite good (Here are some of my brief thoughts on The Peripheral), also, in addition to the inherent nastiness of the shorter fiction nominees, I'd have loved to see Ruthanna Emrys "The Litany of Earth" up for best novelette and her just as amazing story "Seven Commentaries on an Imperfect Land" for best short story (Here are my thoughts about and links to both of these stories (as well as comments about the film Interstellar).

From my PoV, 2014 lacked any novels that filled me with the same joy and wonder as either 2010's The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi (which wasn't nominated for a Hugo, despite IMHO being better than almost all of the nominees) or 2013's Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (which of course won last year).

Of the novels that have been nominated, I'm ignoring John C. Wright's work, both because he's part of the cabal of vileness and also because well before I knew he was a hate-filled reactionary, I tried reading one of his books, because it was transhumanist SF (The Golden Age), a sub-genre I typically very much love. I have no idea if it contained any vileness, because a combination of bad writing, impressively unimaginative ideas, and really boring characters meant I never made it past page 10 or 12. Also, I've read 2.5 Harry Dresden novels, and reviews of later novels don't indicate that I need to feel compelled to read more. Finally, Lines of Departure sounds terrible in addition to being written by a reactionary.

So, that leaves two novels, and an easy choice – Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie, which for me was not quite as wonderful as Ancillary Justice, but was nevertheless a very fine novel, and The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (aka Sarah Monette). Many people whose opinions I respect reviewed The Goblin Emperor very highly and clearly loved it, but I found it rather dull and quit around 1/3 of the way through. So, definitely Ancillary Sword

Then, I'm voting a big swath of No Award for Best Novella, Novelette, Short Story, & Related Work, because all nominees were put forth by vile people gaming the system, and I won't vote for anything in such categories or by anyone who was actively involved in either "puppies" group. I respect other choices for voting or not, but this is mine.

Best Graphic Story is quite easy for me. In addition to thinking that the new Ms Marvel is an excellent comic, I'm also an utter philistine wrt comics, meaning that I'm really only really interested in supers comics. I read the first volume of Brian K. Vaughan's Saga while visiting a friend, and while I definitely enjoyed it, I was also never inclined to go out of my way to read more, and that's largely true for me for all non-supers comics.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form actually gives me a less than easy choice. I read a fair amount about Edge of Tomorrow before I decided not to see it (including extensive spoilers), and in addition to the obvious Tom Cruise problem (ie, his being the star), it also has (from my PoV) the dumb as a bag of hair problem, so no. My interest in seeing The Lego Movie is below negative, so that's also out. I very much enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy, but it was not much more than silly fun, and there were films that managed more than this nominated, so that's also out.

This leaves, Interstellar & Captain America: The Winter Soldier - Interstellar wins points because it's the only film on the list that can actually be described as SF, however, Captain America: The Winter Soldier was from my PoV, quite good. So, what it comes down to for me is the fact that the couple of minutes of Interstellar simply didn't make much sense and the ending and other parts could have been done better (see link above). In contrast, I enjoyed Captain America: The Winter Soldier from beginning to end, and its plot actually made sense, so Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Then there's Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form - I watched the first few episodes of the first season of Grimm and was really bored, I've caught glimpses of it since and nothing has changed my mind. Also, while I continue to love Arrow, at this point, The Flash is something I read episode descriptions of on Wikipedia and watch crossover episodes with Arrow - it's simply not very good, it started out mediocre and stayed that way.

If The Flash had actually learned the lessons of good modern TV (the biggest being keep the season arc moving) and revealed (but not necessarily caught) Dr. Wells by or soon after the mid-season break, it might have become a good show – instead, it's plodding and dull, as well as deeply problematic in a variety of ways. I actively avoid everything to do with Game of Thrones after being repelled by the first 30 (moderately well written but far too grim and nasty) pages of the first book – not something I'd ever vote for.

I'm also honestly surprised that anything from the most recent season of Doctor Who made the list (especially since the right-wing trolls didn't nominate it). What I remember most about the half season I watched before I gave up in disgust, was the rather impressive number of times the Doctor insulted Clara for being fat and used negging on her. The first episode (where the Doctor didn't speak much) and Time Heist were both almost good, Listen was not, so definitely no, I've vote for both Grimm or The Flash over Doctor Who.

In vivid contrast, I love Orphan Black, and while I don't think season 2 was quite as tight and well done as season 1, the last episode was very good, and I'd vote for it solely for the dance scene with all of the clones, which was both great fun and a very impressive technical & acting achievement – Tatiana Maslany is an amazing actor.

I don't feel remotely competent to judge visual art, so I'll ignore all those categories, and I actively avoid podcasts (the only exception being Welcome To Night Vale, and I wouldn't still be listening to it w/o transcripts), so no vote there from me. Finally, I need to actually look at more than Lightspeed Magazine (which I quite like) to decide on Best Semiprozine, and will need to consider my thoughts on Best Fanzine.

If the issues involving the Hugo Awards nominees are new to you or if you want to find out more, here"s a bunch of recent info and even more links, which I think provide excellent insight into this messCollapse )

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April 6th, 2015

12:22 am - Deep Space Nine: Old TV, Hideous Immigrant Tropes and Other Problems
teaotter, amberite, and I started rewatching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine recently, and while there have been a few interesting points, I also remember it as definitely being much better that what I'm watching now. I'm expecting it to get better once it ceases being old-style episodic TV and becomes (from my PoV, generally vastly superior) modern long-form storytelling TV, but it's really not very good.

teaotter noted that Jadzia Dax's character actually makes sense if you understand that the actor is playing a dirty old man (Curzon Dax) in a woman's body. Her character made far less sense until Becca mentioned that. Also, amberite mentioned that they found it interesting that Sisko is (at least in the first season) far stricter than Kirk or Picard, and that part of this is that in US media, black men in position of authority need to be far more authoritarian than white men in the same position, but that this seems a bit less true now than when DS: 9 was shown.

The bad is far too obvious. Sexual harassment was clearly considered far less serious and more comedic and there were several episodes that were extremely weak and dull. We decided to skip ahead, since I remember even back in the 90s thinking that some of the mid-season episodes like Move Along Home were simply terrible. So, tonight we tried The Nagus - the first big Quark episode, and it was hideously bad. Thankfully, by this point the Ferengi have moved away from being walking anti-semitic stereotypes, but instead they had become a grab-bag of offensive negative stereotypes about immigrants (lazy, greedy, thieving, dishonest, nasty, ignorant…) that was simply too unpleasant and bad to watch. Next we're skipping ahead to the end of this season, since that's where we first get Vedek Winn. If that still sucks, we'll keep jumping ahead.

I think there's a non-zero chance that we'll simply keep skipping ahead, simply because since Buffy, and especially post-Buffy, TV (or at least geeky TV) simply became better and (if one is fairly selective) has continued to improve, so that the better geeky TV of the last 7 years (which from my own vastly biased PoV includes Arrow, Leverage, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Orphan Black, The Vampire Diaries (Seasons 1.5-4), & Fringe (Seasons 2-4) is all vastly better than any pre-Buffy TV series. Heck, even 2nd season Agents of SHIELD is considerably better than anything we've yet seen on DS: 9.

I'm once again struck by the fact that I used to love going to really good movies because they were visual storytelling that was far superior to anything I could find on TV. Now, TV has improved sufficiently that most movies are considerably worse than TV I'm interested in watching, and even the best movies aren't better, especially since I typically prefer less, because I generally prefer long-form visual storytelling.

That said, there was definitely some good older TV – I rewatched the ST:TNG episode Darmok a few years ago, just to see if the suck fairy had visited it in the many years since I last saw it, and it remained very good. Also, watching and listening to Patrick Stewart recite a (far too short) portion of the Epic of Gilgamesh was still impressively awesome. However, from my PoV, the overall quality of TV has improved immensely.

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March 31st, 2015

02:29 am - Musings on RPG Writing
One of the reasons I prefer moderately long rpg projects is that it always takes me a couple of days of poking at a project before I can actually sit down and start writing. Before that, I stare at the screen before me and rarely manage more than 100 words, then after a couple of days, I hit a point where it's much easier to just keep writing. I just hit that point with the project I just started and it's definitely a good feeling.

Also, this project involves writing about a setting where a recent and in many places ongoing change in local stories is changing magic. I was considering how people in positions of magical power would respond this change and immediately thought that at least a few of the least flexible ones would forbid anyone around them from talking about the new stories. Then, I realized this was an obvious climate change metaphor, but it is also still a likely response from certain sorts of leaders, so I'm keeping it.
Current Mood: amusedamused

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March 28th, 2015

02:19 am - Musings on Peace, Ireland & Lessons From Burning Man
Here's an excellent NYT article about the city of Londonderry in Northern Ireland commissioning as huge Burning Man-esque temple to be built and burned as part of a ceremony to help bring the city together.

The city hired sculptor David Best, who has been constructing vast temples designed to burn down at Burning Man since 2000, to build the temple.

It's an excellent article and if you don't feel like clicking through, while important local Catholics and Protestants thought it was at best a very dubious idea, it brought the city together and was impressively popular. I've put an excerpt at the end.

Reading this article almost reminded about my own thoughts on Ireland. My mom's family is mostly of Irish Protestant descent, and while I've never been to any part of Ireland, I remember reading about it during "The Troubles". Of course, I didn't think about the time from the late 60s to the late 90s as "The Troubles", I simply thought if it as status quo for Northern Ireland, because it started before I became aware of politics and the killings and the bombs seemed unending, and not just in Ireland.

I visited England several times as a teen and young adult and starting in the mid-80s my parents visited London several times a year buying antiques, and I remember warnings when I went over there and reports from my parents of people they knew in London suggesting they avoid various locations.

I even saw the problems when I lived in LA in the early 90s. At the time, I knew several people in a local Celtic reenactment group, and once went out to a local LA event (Irish Fair) with them. I'd planned to attend both Saturday and Sunday, but the booth openly selling t-shirts of Margaret Thatcher and British soldiers getting executed and that the money would go to promote Irish freedom (with hints that the money would go to the IRA) utterly sickened me, and I did not return. Through all this, I assumed that as long as both Protestants and Catholics lived in Northern Ireland, the fighting would continue and nothing would stop it.

Then, in part because people on both sides got terribly tired of the violence and in part because Bill Clinton appointed George Mitchell to help negotiate a cease fire, all that ended almost 20 years ago, and now Northern Ireland is learning to live in peace, and now we have most of the populace of Londonderry, one of the hardest hit locations during "The Troubles", tentatively coming together at a Burning Man-like event. This is a human miracle worth celebrating and, most especially worth remembering.

Here"s an excerpt from the articleCollapse )

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