selenite0: (tell me a story)
If you're looking for some old-fashioned pulp adventure stories, you should check out the Cirsova Kickstarter. I liked issue one, there were a bunch of good stories in it.

But Issue Two will be my favorite . . . because it has a story of mine in it. "Squire Errant" is my first semi-pro sale. "A young squire must step up to the challenge and teach a village to defend against and hunt down the monster that terrorizes the countryside and killed his master."
selenite0: (Been what I chose)
We watched Captain America: Civil War this weekend. Fun movie. The central argument is a good question, and I'm not going to spoiler cut it because they put it in the trailers.

Should the Avengers be totally unsupervised or obey a government agency?
(We'll assume here that the Marvel-UN is composed of democracies and enlightened monarchies such as Wakanda, not the tyrants and kleptocrats of ours)

Tony Stark/Ironman, reeling with PTSD and guilty over collateral casualties, decides to give up on privatizing world peace and sign up for adult supervision. Steve Rogers/Captain America isn't willing to subordinate his conscience to anyone else's. As superheroes do, they settle this by punching each other.

Tony's issues are clear (and were outlined very well in DrNerdlove's "Tony Stark Needs a Hug"). Captain America is the interesting one for me. The magic potion given to him in WWII boosted his attributes. In D&D terms he has maxed out Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution (for brawling) and Charisma (for leadership and selling war bonds). He didn't get max Intelligence--he doesn't challenge Stark and Banner on facts and he accepts Fury and Romanoff's plans, so he's fine with deferring to smarter people. So the question for this movie is: What did the potion do to his Wisdom score?

He's certainly acting like he has max Wisdom. He has no doubts, he's always making the right choice, he doesn't need to ask any advice about the goal should be. So Cap won't subordinate his conscience to any government, no matter how much popular support it has. If you're on the side of the Truth, you stand still and tell the whole world, "No, you move."

Inspiring. Of course, that depends on him actually being right, and his obsession with protecting a reprogrammable assassin makes me doubt what his actual Wisdom score is. But I won't get into the spoilers.

When it comes to choosing Team Cap vs. Team Ironman I don't have to put much thought into it. I wrestled with that decision some 26 years ago. The Air Force assigned me to my chosen career field and let me go play with satellites. But one of the other duties of that specialty was launching ICBMs. So I had to face the question: Would I launch a nuke if I was ordered to?

I decided yes, I would. And conversely I wouldn't launch a nuke without orders, regardless of how much I thought the target deserved it. Because my Wisdom score isn't maxed. I make mistakes. And history has plenty of examples of why letting armies pick their orders is a bad idea.


Dec. 15th, 2015 12:51 am
selenite0: (tell me a story)
My novel Torchship is now available on Amazon, both ebook and paper. The audiobook edition will be available in January.
A captain who’ll take any job if there’s enough money in it.

A pilot with an agenda of her own.

And a mechanic with an eye on the pilot.

The crew of the Fives Full are just trying to make enough money to keep themselves in the black while avoiding the attention of a government so paranoid it’s repealed Moore’s Law. They’re not looking for adventure in the stars . . . but they’re not going to back down just because something got in their way.

Cover of Torchship
selenite0: (Beware the Engineer)
The whole family went to see The Martian Thursday night. Great show. It got the heart of the story right. Alas, my favorite line didn't make the cut. People who pick up the book after seeing the movie still have many surprises awaiting them.

It could only have been better if we'd gotten to see trailers for upcoming SF movies instead of depressing award-bait.

Being me, I'm going to nit-pick some the tech and plot stuff. But since it's opening weekend, I'll hide the spoilers. Seriously, go see it, it's great. )
selenite0: (jacket)
This was the first time I'd been scheduled to be on a panel. I was drafted as a panelist at LosCon in 1998 or so. I was so brutal with questions to the guy giving a talk on Rockwell's X-33 proposal that when the reusable launch vehicle panel started next he dragged me out of the audience. In fairness I was working for a competitor in the RLV business.

Which is exactly the experience that made a few folks nominate me as Fencon panelist so I could bring that to the commercial space panel. Then the commercial space panel was cancelled. So I was assigned to an eclectic collection of sci/tech panels and had a great time.

The noon Friday panel looked interesting. But I've never made it to a con by noon Friday and this year was no different. Still arrived in plenty of time to sit on the manufacturing panel, which focused more on the impacts of displacing people with new tech than what we could make with it.

Then fascinating science presentations followed by the Soonercon party. I'd been thinking I was 80% likely to go to Soonercon again. Seeing that Toni Weisskopf is doing a writing workshop made that 100%. I chatted with another writer at the room party and we wound up talking each other into buying more writing advice books.

Saturday I was on the "Future of NASA" program. I managed to not massively offend anyone. Made the point that having two Commercial Crew suppliers meant that contractors could be judged on their results instead of their promises. Then more great science presentations. Also a panel on self-publishing which . . . well, when the panelists are trading "Openings I hate seeing in the slush pile" they've lost track of what self-publishing is. The "Technology: Boon or Bane?" panel was a free for all. The family came to see the show. They were entertained.

After more science panels I joined several new players in a Firefly game. My plan was to start slow to go easy on them then do a come-from-behind victory. Actuality: Alliance arrested Zoe, one of my crew was killed on a job, which also got me a Warrant, and when the Reavers came for me I couldn't do a Crazy Ivan because the guy killed was my pilot. But it's still a fun game even when I come in last. The NSS room party had entertaining videos, but the best part of the evening was chatting with friends in the hallway.

Sunday I started off with the "Secret Lair" panel. This drew a much younger crowd than my other panels. Supervillians are starting out early. We concluded hiding in plain sight was the best strategy, and you can get away with all sorts of stuff as an amusement park. My last panel was focused on helping writers get the science right in their stories. I praised Babylon 5 as a show that got a lot of science right, and talked about ESR's "Deep Norms" concept for why we need to get it right.

Other great things at the con: [ profile] telophase gave me a lovely print of the cover art she did for me. I gave away a few ARCs of my book. The kids had a good time. James camped out in the video room much of the con, and Maggie started volunteering. [ profile] celticdragonfly rode a scooter dressed as Princess Peach, and I'm an idiot who didn't get a picture of it. I didn't take any pictures at all this year. Too busy, I guess.
selenite0: (Bujold--book is an event)
ESR has written some fascinating essays on the definitions and meanings of science fiction. Last year's were good enough for me to put him as a Hugo nominee for best fan writer, but he was nominated for his fiction instead. For reference I want to share a few of his better essays (and the comment sections are often worth reading too).

A Political History of SF

How different waves of political enthusiasm passed through SF in the 20th century, and how they relate to the nature of the genre.

What I have learned from science fiction

ESR's list of ways of thinking he picked up from SF. This made me realized that I've been influenced in very similar ways.

Why the deep norms of the SF genre matter (and follow-up here)

SF has a mission. There’s a valuable cultural function that SF, alone of all our arts, is good for. SF writers (and readers) are our forward scouts, the imaginative preparation for what might come next, the way we limber up our minds to cope with the unexpected future. SF is not just the literature of ideas, it’s a literature of thinking outside the box you’re in, one that entwines escapism with extrapolation in ways that are productive for both ends. At SF’s best it provides myths and role models for people who want to make the world a better place in a way no other art form can really match.

Or as my muse puts it, "Science fiction needs to succeed in making the people that will be leading and causing change into "genre savvy" changers."
selenite0: (desire consequence)
(Bringing over a post from FB)

I just found someone who perfectly explicated the attitude that Sad Puppies is reacting to. This is a quote from Moshe Feder, an editor at Tor, on his Facebook page:

[Larry Correia] continues to be deeply confused, like many SF&F consumers of the post-ghetto era, about the definition of "fan" [admittedly, a confusingly generic word; we probably should have gone with STFnist] and "fandom."

Until he can understand that he wasn't lied to when he was told that the Hugos represent all fandom's imprimatur, because the worldcon community and historical fandom are synonymous, he's never going to get why he's wrong.

As long as he insists on acting like anyone who buys an SF book, or a comic, or who watches SF movies or TV, is a member of fandom, I'm never going to be able to take him seriously.

As I've said before, you can read all the native literature you want, but until you learn the language and come live on the reservation, you'll never be a member of the tribe, especially if you refuse to respect the fact that they were here first."
(Comment left about 7pm on 4/9 on his post made 4/8 at 6:27pm)

So here I am. I've been attending SF cons since 1985. That includes cons from New York to Los Angeles and Spokane to Atlanta. I've written stories, fanfic and original. I've cosplayed. I've gamed. I've even published some RPG articles. I've written book reviews. I've been a con panelist explaining how real world rockets work to the fans.

But according to this guy I'm not a member of "the tribe." I'm not a Worldcon regular so my vote isn't welcome on the Hugos. Well, that's not how the Hugos were described to me when people were excited to have Larry Niven at my first con (Icon on Long Island). It's not how I've seen them discussed since. It's not how they were defended against Correia's complaints when Sad Puppies first appeared.

In previous years whenever anyone complained about the Hugos the response was "So get a membership and vote yourself." Well, I have. I'm a supporting member. I made nominations (a fifth of which made it onto the ballot). I'm going to read as many stories as I can. And then I'm going to vote.

Because I believe the Hugos are for all science fiction fans, not just the ones attending a single con.
selenite0: (Bujold--book is an event)
As a voter for last year's Hugos I may nominate for this year's. Here's my ballot so far. I may be adding some more as I find ones I like amid the discussions and flames. The Martian's eligibility is disputed, though there's precedent for it with Old Man's War.

Best Novel:

The Martian, Andy Weir, Random House
A Sword Into Darkness, Thomas A Mays, Stealth Books
Owner's Share, Nathan Lowell, Indie
Islands of Rage and Hope, John Ringo, Baen
Wood Sprites, Wen Spencer, Baen

Best Novella:

Bare Snow Falling on Fairywood, Wen Spencer, Baen

Best Novelette:

Whoever Fights Monsters, Wen Spencer, Baen
Tokyo Raider, Larry Correia, Baen

Best Short Story:

The Golden Knight, K.D. Julicher, Baen
Sucker Punch, Eric Raymond, Castalia House
Totaled, Kary English, Galaxy's Edge

Best Related Work:

Why Science Is Never Settled, Tedd Roberts, Baen
Robert A. Heinlein, Vol 2: In Dialogue with His Century Volume 2: The Man Who Learned Better, William H. Patterson Jr., Macmillan

Best Graphic Story:

Schlock Mercenary: Massively Parallel, Howard Tayler, Hypernode Press
Quantum Vibe Volume 2: Murphy, Scott Bieser, Big Head Press

Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form):

Guardians of the Galaxy, James Gunn, Marvel

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form):

Outlander, "Both Sides Now", Diana Gabaldon/Ronald D. Moore, Sony
The Verse, Julian Higgins, Loot Crate

Best Professional Editor (Long Form):

Toni Weisskopf

Best Fan Writer:

Eric Raymond
Jeffro Johnson

The John W. Campbell Award (not a Hugo):

Andy Weir, The Martian
Thomas A Mays, A Sword Into Darkness
selenite0: (mad science)
A story came out today about scientists finding a drug to make an adult brain more child-like. They're looking at applications in quicker learning and repairing brain damage.

I'm remembering a 1986 novelette by Roger MacBride Allen, "Young as You Feel", which had a bright young biochemist discovering a similar drug. Hilarity ensued when a corrupt lab assistant decided to start peddling it as a street drug. I'd love to give everyone a link to it but it was only printed in Far Frontiers 7, one of Jim Baen's magazine-in-paperback format experiments.

Well, if you're willing to go low-tech Amazon has links to used copies.

Hugo Votes

Jul. 31st, 2014 08:47 pm
selenite0: (tell me a story)
The categories I care about, in voting rank order. DNF = did not finish. NA = no award.

Best Novel

Warbound, Book III of the Grimnoir Chronicles, Larry Correia - Stirring adventure and confronting the tradeoffs between freedom and security.
Neptune's Brood, Charles Stross - Far-future financial skulduggery.
Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie - DNF. Loyal ronin on quest to avenge lord. Stupidly.
Parasite, Mira Grant - DNF. I like McGuire's Cryptid stories, but not the zombies.
The Wheel of Time, Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson - NA. Didn't like the first book. A series is not a novel.

Best Novella

"The Chaplain's Legacy", Brad Torgersen - Explaining religion to aliens.
The Butcher of Khardov, Dan Wells - Gamefic backstory for a berserker.
Six-Gun Snow White, Catherynne M. Valente - Fairy tale in the Old West. Worked, but felt forced.
"Equoid", Charles Stross - DNF. Imitating Lovecraft at his worst gets old fast.
"Wakulla Springs", Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages - NA. Beautiful, but not SF/F.

Best Novelette (The fiction category where I didn't No Award anything)

"The Exchange Officers", Brad Torgersen - Heroes (virtually) in space.
"The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling", Ted Chiang - Facing the truth is painful.
"Opera Vita Aeterna", Vox Day - Explaining religion to elves.
"The Waiting Stars", Aliette de Bodard - Forced assimilation is bad
"The Lady Astronaut of Mars", Mary Robinette Kowal - "one last adventure" vs "until death do us part"

Best Short Story (worst category)

"Selkie Stories Are for Losers", Sofia Samatar - The selkie tale from the abandoned child's POV.
"The Ink Readers of Doi Saket", Thomas Olde Heuvelt - Granting wishes is hard.
"If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love", Rachel Swirsky - NA. Surreal daydream =/= story.
"The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere", John Chu - NA. This got its own rant.

Best Graphic Story

Saga, Volume 2 - Space fantasy I discovered through the Hugos. Beautiful with fascinating characters.
"Time" (XKCD) - Great webcomic, intriguing way to tell a story, but not an actually gripping story.
Girl Genius, Volume 13 - GG starts to pull out of the Mechanicsburg slump. Yay Zeetha/Higgs.
"The Girl Who Loved Doctor Who" - Cute fanservice.
The Meathouse Man - NA. Ugh. Horrid squick.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

Gravity - Despite some physics gaffes that annoyed the hell out of me, a great survival in space movie.
Frozen - The power of family and an argument against love at first sight.
Pacific Rim - The world would be so cool if it wasn't for the cube-square law
Iron Man 3 - Tony vs PTSD
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire - Reprise of first one.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

Game of Thrones: "The Rains of Castamere" - not actually enjoyable but very well done
Doctor Who: "The Day of the Doctor" - A dramatic war story with a crucial moral decision
Doctor Who: "The Name of the Doctor" - Exciting, but pales next to "Day".
Orphan Black: "Variations under Domestication" - Didn't get that far into the series. Fascinating concept but the plot holes bugged me too much to stick with it.
An Adventure in Space and Time - About the show not as interesting as the show.
The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot - I'm not enough of a fan for this fanservice to amuse me

The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (The category which made me glad I had the voter packet)

Ramez Naam - Nexus should have been up for Best Novel, and I hadn't heard of it. Fantastic take on the impact of possible near future technology.
Max Gladstone - Magicians and applied theology in a complex setting.
Wesley Chu - DNF "Lives." Cubicle nerd fanservice.
Sofia Samatar - DNF "Stranger", worldbuilding to plot ratio was too high for me.
Benjanun Sriduangkaew - Short stories mixing space opera with surrealism.
selenite0: (This is Terrible)
The Hugo voter packet is giving me some unusual variation in my reading. There's some great stuff in there. Some horrible squick. And there's also . . . well, this is a rant about one of the short story nominees. Tor has "The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere" up on its website, so if you want to avoid spoilers, go read it right now.

It's a slice-of-life story. Gay Chinese guy wants to come out over his traditional sister's objections. This becomes a running battle at the family Christmas dinner. The big reveal is that while brother and sister were fighting in the kitchen the guy's boyfriend had been told, "Oh, don't call us Mr. and Mrs. Ho, call us (the Chinese words for father-in-law and mother-in-law)." So it ends happily except for the sister.

A good, classic, well-done coming-out story, fit for any literary magazine. I wouldn't bat an eye at finding it in the New Yorker.

So what does the title mean, and why is this in the Hugo nominations? "The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere" is literal--the world has magically changed so that anyone telling a lie has water fall on them. Amount of water depends on the severity of the lie. Okay, that makes it a fantasy story, modern setting, one impossible thing. Good start for an SF/F story. This magical lie detection turns the story into . . . well, it doesn't affect the story at all. No lies are revealed that people wouldn't know from facial expressions, body language, and pre-existing knowledge. There's no surprises coming from it.

Which is boggling, when you think about it. Revealing all lies? That would shake every part of society. Politics and law enforcement are obvious. But it's going to affect everyone. High school girls turning down dates. Bosses asking for "voluntary" overtime. Marital disputes. This would be world-changing. But none of this shows up in the story.

There are great stories in that concept. My favorite is Spider Robinson's "Satan's Children" where the heroes use a new drug to force a few score people to be honest as a test before deciding whether to release the drug to the world. There's another on the subject in this year's nominations, “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling”, by Ted Chiang (my current favorite of the stories I hadn't read before getting the voter packet). It examines the impact of a new technology that confronts people with the lies they've told themselves, remembering old disputes with themselves in the right.

But there's none of that in "The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere" even though the writer displays enough skill to tackle the issue. Instead it's a mundane story with a bit of window-dressing to sell it as SF. That was enough for 45 or so people to nominate it, but I'm ranking it as No Award.
selenite0: (Kermit)
The prospect of getting a voter's packet has entranced me enough to get a Supporting Membership for Worldcon. This makes me eligible to nominate up to five items in each Hugo category:

Novel: Warbound by Larry Correia, Eight Million Gods by Wen Spencer, Under a Graveyard Sky by John Ringo.
Novella: Pittsburgh Backyard and Garden by Wen Spencer, Delirium by Susan Kaye Quinn
Novelette: Exchange Officers by Brad Torgerson
Short: Dog’s Body by Sarah A. Hoyt
Related Work: Indie Author Survival Guide by Susan Kaye Quinn
Graphic Story: Spacetrawler by Christopher Baldwin (webcomic, check it out)
Dramatic Long: Gravity, Frozen
Dramatic Short: Castle “Time Will Tell”, season 6 episode 5 (Yes, this is not normally SF, but that episode had time travel for real) (Sorry, totally spoiled the reveal)
Editor Long: Toni Weisskopf
Fancast: Stuff You Like by Sursum Ursa (mostly media, but covers Honor Harrington and other books)
Campbell Award: Hugh Howey, for the trad-pub head explosions

So, folks--what I have missed? Anything you'd want to put forward?
selenite0: (Bujold--book is an event)
Freighter Captain by Max Hardberger
When retired captains sat around drinking and swapping sea stories, Max noticed he always had the topper for Worst Ship, Worst Port, and Worst Owner. Then he noticed they were all about the same few cruises and decided to write it up. This is a view of the bottom end of the shipping industry, a senile tramp freighter hauling trash to Haiti. Max tells it well and made me enjoy the tales of fixing leaking hulls, fending off corrupt port officials, and talking unpaid crew into not jumping ship.

Ninety Percent of Everything: Inside Shipping, the Invisible Industry That Puts Clothes on Your Back, Gas in Your Car, and Food on Your Plate by Rose George
George took a tour on a container ship to see how this massive business works. The answer is "too smoothly to be dramatic," but she looks into the history of shipping to bring more exciting moments in. The travails of merchant seamen in WWII are well worth reading.

Lights in the Deep by Brad R. Torgersen
A collection of short stories from a new author. Some of them are solid hard science fiction (okay, I caught some errors, but I don't think anyone who didn't do astrodynamics for a living would) and the whole set are fun stories. Torgersen lets his characters have happy endings even when the disasters going on are severe enough that "happy" is a relative term. I prefer hope to despair and enjoyed these.

Captain's Share by Nathan Lowell
Latest (print) publication in the "Quarter Share" series. Fun slice-of-life space opera. The drama level is higher than in the earlier books, but not as nasty as in Double Share. Our hero turns a "leper colony" ship into a well-performing organization by applying common sense and discovering that his subordinates are actually just misunderstood.

America 3.0: Rebooting American Prosperity in the 21st Century-Why America's Greatest Days Are Yet to Come by James C. Bennett and Michael J. Lotus
An excellent take on the country's current troubles with a set of solid recommendations for how to fix it. I gave this a review when I first read it.

The End Is Near and It's Going to Be Awesome: How Going Broke Will Leave America Richer, Happier, and More Secure by Kevin D. Williamson
An entertaining write-up of the on-going collapse of centralized government and explanation of how decentralized systems can do a better job. My review focused on the lack of suggestions for how to get from A to B.

Hard Magic, Spellbound, Warbound (The Grimnoir Chronicles) by Larry Correia
A self-contained fantasy trilogy. That's an impressive rarity by itself these days. It's actually closer to alternate history. In this case the "divergence point" is the appearance of magical abilities among humans in the 19th century. This has had all sorts of effects, including boosting Japan to superpower status thanks to its brutally effective use of talents. The story is set in the 1930s and our heros are a quiet conspiracy opposing evil magic users. Over the course of the trilogy they find out where magic came from, why that's a problem, and . . . drama.

Monster Hunter International / Vendetta / Alpha by Larry Correia
I'd originally bounced off MHI as "Buffy with guns." I liked the Grimnoir books enough to go back and give it another try. I also wanted to find out what was behind some of the in-jokes on the MHI challenge coin kickstarter. Not as deep as Grimnoir, but a very fun romp. I'll be picking up book four soon, and Correia's working on book five.

A Few Good Men by Sarah Hoyt
Hoyt's Darkship Thieves' series is a fun ride in a future history that has had feudal overlords take over the Earth in the wake of a nasty war, with a single free community hiding out on an asteroid. Now they've recontacted each other which is shaking things up on both sides. This book focuses on Earth, where a visit from some spacers kicked loose some stones that are becoming an avalanche. A bloody revolution is beginning against the overlords. Hoyt doesn't shy away from some of the nasty problems. How a new world is going to be built on the ruins is still an open question.

The Virginia Edition: A Sample of the Series by Robert Heinlein
I love Heinlein's work, but even if I had $2000 to spare I'm not sure where I'd put a leatherbound copy of his complete works. What I do want to have is e-versions of the previously unpublished material in the collection: letters, screenplays, and more. Hopefully they'll share that when the hardcopies are all sold.

Singularity Rising: Surviving and Thriving in a Smarter, Richer, and More Dangerous World by James D. Miller
I've been leaving out books that I didn't finish, but this one is an exception. Miller has a bunch of interesting ideas but he's too prone to "divide by zero" errors. Sure, if developing a self-replicating nanotech assembler or a smarter-than-human artificial intelligence is instant and free there'll be all sorts of bizzare consequences. But the Singularity isn'g going to repeal the laws of thermodynamics, and businessmen won't risk blowing up the world to avoid a utopia that will profit their competitors as much as their investors. I've been tempted to write a lengthy rebuttal but instead I'm focusing on finishing my novel-in-progress.

Salamander by David D. Friedman
A short fantasy novel. I enjoyed the heck out of the heros wrestling with the laws of their magic system to discover how to create great effects. Non-engineers might not be as big fans.

Under a Graveyard Sky by John Ringo
Apocalypse as a rebuttal. Ringo hates zombie stories for their violations of thermodynamics and biology. So, of course, he had to explain how it should be done right. Add in his worries about Moore's Law of Mad Scientists leading to bioengineered plagues and we get the Muse seizing his brain and forcing him to crank out a trilogy in less time than it takes to read three of GRRM's books. The first book has our heros fleeing the spreading disaster to hide out on a boat at sea. Once the danger fades civilization has to be rebuilt, and they'll have to step up and lead the effort. Step one: getting rid of those lingering mobs of zombies. Step two: keeping emaciated survivors alive. Step three: some organization . . . I'm looking forward to books two and three, which Baen is bringing out in rapid succession, undoubtedly to the dismay of other authors who were originally scheduled for those slots.

I've been reading various writing-advice books as I work on my novel. I've actually found some useful:

Million Dollar Outlines by David Farland
Focuses on making your story powerful rather than merely competent. I'm not worried about getting Hollywood's attention, but I do want to make my readers happy. Farland provoked me to scrap my opening scene and replace it with something completely different.

May You Write Interesting Books by Sarah A. Hoyt
How to keep your readers from getting bored. I think I'm doing pretty well on this front in my writing--and this one was much less boring than most of the advice books I've tried out--but I suspect I'll be taking another pass through this one after I've finished my zero draft.

Writing Excuses Podcast by Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler
Not a book, but I picked up the seasons 1-5 disk at Worldcon after they won the Hugo. It turns out the car leg of my commute is just long enough to fit an episode in. I've also been marathoning episodes when driving to Austin, College Station, or Guard training. So I'm close to the end of Season Five already. Lots of good stuff in here. The biggest help is probably that it keeps me in a writing headspace so much of the time.

Not mentioned: lots of re-reads, various books I didn't finish or found unhelpful, and a whole lot of Kindle sample chapters.
selenite0: (Battlesuit Karl)
HeatDeath posted this on the SJG boards:
Ad Astra Games' "Attack Vector Tactical", an extremely detailed 3d spaceship combat board game (Picture Car Wars in 3 dimensions, only more complex) has an awesome ramming rule that totally solves these problems.

The problem isn't whether ramming is possible: nav computers make it trivial for anything to ram anything. And the problem isn't how much damage a ram does: ramming should usually destroy both units. But if you give the player unlimited power to order rams, it breaks most games.

AVT's [frankly brilliant] solution is to require the player ordering a ram to stand up at the table and make the actual speech the ship captain would make, convincing his bridge crew that the situation is indeed suicidally desperate, and that ramming is the only honorable and feasible course of action. Everyone around the table votes, and the ram succeeds on a majority vote. Bonus points if someone actually tears up.

If the vote fails, the bridge crew throw the captain in the brig and the unit is removed from play.
I've been tempted by AVT just as an orbital mechanics professional to look at how they model the physicals. Now I'm tempted to buy it just to honor this rule. Still wouldn't have anyone to play it with though.
selenite0: (can't take2)
When I saw the announcement of "Firefly: The Musical" I immediately wanted to go see it. Once I got there I had qualms--was this going to be good entertainment or just an attempt to take advantage of Browncoats' willingness to throw money at anything with the word Firefly on it? When the cast finished singing the theme song those qualms were gone.

The Highball is more bar than theater, but a corner of it was curtained off for the show. The audience all had a good view of the stage. I didn't notice any problems with the acoustics but can't speak for the back corners. There was minimal scenery--the actors were as likely to use mime as to pull out a table for a scene.

The pre-show was a series of videos including songs from other Whedon works (Dr Horrible and "Once More With Feeling") and fan vids. The projector also had some use during the play. A starfield was projected for all the bridge scenes and a clip of the river ambush opened the show.

The Firefly actors are a tough example to live up to but our local heroes did well. Stephen Robinson (Wash) and Jason Vines (Jayne) stole most of their scenes. Robinson's comic timing gave us a classic showstopper--the audience was laughing so hard at an offhand wink that another actor was frozen, waiting for us to quiet down so she could say her line. Michael Thomas (Mal) had the toughest role--stepping into the shoes of an actor talented enough to anchor a multi-year prime time series isn't easy--but he held the stage and kept us engaged with the story. Linsey Reeves (Inara) did a nice job of showing a professional liar telling clumsy lies. Adam Mengesha (Book) solidly lays down the law for our captain. Sabrina Jones (Saffron) got to display her range from naive country girl to seductress to cold professional.

The crew introduced themselves singing the theme song together. The settlers' celebration was the setting for Mal and Inara's "I Won't Let You In" duet (a lovely song reprised at the end). That was the saddest of the songs as the couple explained their reasons for rejecting love. Jayne's "Guns and Women" was hilarious as our favorite thug dithered over which he was more attracted to. Saffron steamed up the stage with “Let Me Have My Wedding Night”. Then we switched to vaudville as Wash sang "When Did This Stop Being Funny" and got great laughs with some really bad jokes. Inara had another duet with Saffron, flirting in the ways "Only a Woman Can See". The action climax was Jayne saving the day with "One Shot"--a duet with Kaylee who felt she only had one shot with Simon. The soundtrack will be coming out on CD, including an additional song: "Special Hell".

On top of the songs the script added some grace notes to the original, usually going for laughs. Kaylee vamped on Simon in the background when the script allowed (and then in the foreground during the climactic "One Shot" song). The deleted scene from the original was included, giving Simon and River their best moments in the show.

This is not a good way to introduce your musical-loving friend to Firefly. The play assumes you've seen the episode. This let them save time and effort by not explaining setting changes or having scenery to show which room they're in. As much as I'd like better visuals this is a small scale production. A $5 ticket doesn't get me a Serenity marionette sailing across the stage. For someone who hasn't seen the show they're going to be very confused when the carrion house crew walks onto the stage and makes some cryptic remarks. Rewriting the scenes to provide the necessary context to that and other bits wouldn't be that hard--but there's probably not enough newbies in the audience to justify spending the time.

"Firefly: The Musical" was a wonderful show, well worth driving for hours. We were apparently the fans who'd come the farthest to see it so far (Fort Worth to Austin). Given that they've had to double the run of the show to deal with demand someone will probably beat that. With luck the Institution Theater will be inspired to tackle another episode--"The Message" and "Objects In Space" would work well in their format ("Out of Gas" would be great but harder to translate).

Strongly recommended to all Browncoats.

Upcoming shows

Photos from the show
selenite0: (Beware the Engineer)
Being the sort of nerd I am, my reaction to this was to wonder how bad any spills/meltdowns/whatever would be.

Failure modes and effects analysis is important!
selenite0: (Advanced Weapons Testing)
I took [ profile] celticdragonfly out to the movies to celebrate Mother's Day. We saw Iron Man 2 and loved it. You do need to see the first one to appreciate it, it's a continuation, not a stand-alone story. We really want Natasha to have her own movie. Whee.

There's various stupid stuff in the movie, most of which I just ignored as comic-bookisms. A few forced me to throw brown penalty flags. The pretended impotence of the US government relative to Tony Stark was annoying enough to get a post of its own. Linear accelerators do not get adjusted with monkey wrenches. There are undiscovered elements out there. They're undiscovered because they break down faster than anyone can find them. This keeps them from being an OSHA-friendly replacement for whatever you'd been using.

A more subtle technical complaint: if you're making armored drones there's no point in making them bipedal. Tanks are shaped the way they are for a reason. You want to take advantage of the cube-square law--the less surface area you have the thicker the armor can be.

Tony and Pepper really aren't going to have a decent relationship until they're in the habit of being honest with each other. So, never.

Of all the high tech wonders shown in the movie the one I want the most is the augmented reality social display. Arrive somewhere and it automatically highlights the most important people and displays their identity and key data about them. Oh, yes, please. Heck, I'd settle for one with a "What's your name again?" button that'll pull it up on request.

All the fussing over whether Tony should have a monopoly of the Iron Man suits does involve a real issue: who can be trusted with that kind of power? The movie is a good argument against entrusting it to mentally unbalanced alcoholics. I know a fair number of people who wouldn't be happy with the US government having it. But once the genie is out of the bottle, what do you do with it?

This debate happened before with nuclear weapons. Heinlein tackled it with the stories "Solution Unsatisfactory," "The Long Watch," and Space Cadet. His method relied on recruiting people with the moral fiber to choose suicide over wealth and power to stick with their principles. I think the first title holds true. [ profile] celticdragonfly came up with some ways to make that system more reliable. I pointed out she'd recreated the Guardians from Plato's Republic. She pointed out we were probably the only people who watched a superhero movie and wound up referencing Plato. Best practical possibility we came up with was a carefully recruited order of Catholic monks. Which would, of course, be the Brothers of St. Michael.

I completely agree with Howard Taylor about what Tony should be doing with his reactor.
selenite0: (mad science)
There's a hypothesis floating around that we may not be living in the "real world" but are part of a simulation. Setting aside the massive assumptions in that argument, how would we go about checking to see if we are in a sim instead of reality?

For a Warcraft character there's a lot of clues that they're in an arbitrary rule set. Horses vanishing when they go through a door . . . being able to hand someone an object but not set it on a table . . . not being able to drink milk without some lessons in the school of hard knocks . . . they're all clues. Then there's the random problems that come from errors in the code. Sometimes you can move across a flat surface . . . sometimes there's a little wrinkle and you're stuck. People or animals you've dealt with before act in bizarre ways or freeze. You can be moving down a ramp and suddenly fall through the solid ground. The bugs are a bigger giveaway than the deliberate design omissions.

So what bugs make it look like we're in a simulation? Well, there's light. Sometimes it's a particle. Sometimes it's a wave. Nobel prize winners wave their hands and gibber trying to resolve this. But that's exactly the kind of glitch you get when developers steal legacy code from two different applications. Verse A had light-waves, Verse B had photons, and our world behaves according to which one a particular piece of code came from.

Then there's the speed-of-light limit. Integral to physics? Or just a simple barrier the devs threw in to keep us from peeking at under construction areas? ("Nerf light!" [ profile] celticdragonfly says to this.)

Biology is full of bugs, no pun intended for once. The boot process for life is hard to explain. Evolution keeps producing errors despite millions of iterations. And human psychology . . . well, is that a bug or a deliberate design feature?

I mean, if you have two possible explanations for how the human mind works:
1. A product of evolution intended to maximize healthy offspring
2. A scenario generator optimized to produce entertaining conflicts for spectators and role-players

. . . which one fits the observed data better?
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