Monday, November 2, 2015

New Star Trek! New Star Trek?

Yes, I am actually crawling out of my hole to post again.  Of course given today's news how could I not?

I case you've been living under a rock this morning the big news news in geekdom is the official announcement of a brand new Star Trek series premiering in January 2017.

On the surface I can certainly understand why folks are all aflutter.  But what do we know about it at this time?  Not a whole lot.

It's being produced by Alex Kurtzmann who co-wrote the J.J. Abrams' reboot films.  Unlike many people I rather liked Abrams' take on the Federation.  Yes it has issues but then so does the old Roddenberry / Paramount continuity.  The only thing press release tells about the series itself is:

The brand-new Star Trek will introduce new characters seeking imaginative new worlds and new civilizations, while exploring the dramatic contemporary themes that have been a signature of the franchise since its inception in 1966.

That's not a lot to go on.

Many people are working under the assumption that since Kurtzmann is the show runner it's going to be in the Abrams-verse.  But that's making a big leap on not a lot of information.  In fact because it is going to be a CBS series it more strongly points to being tied in to the old continuity since CBS owns those rights but not the new one's.

There has been some serious talk in the past year (including from Michael Dorn himself) of a Captain Worf series. I could certainly see that happening as it will allow for the introduction of a ship full of new characters led by an old and beloved one from two previous series.  If they go back to the classic TOS and Next Gen formula of a starship crew exploring the universe without any of the other hooks from the other series it could be a very good idea.

But now I am also speculating without data.  Or Data, for that matter.

The thing I find most disturbing about the whole project is the thing the press release discusses the most, namely that after the premier episode the program is going to be on CBS's pay streaming site.  Aside from the fact that I didn't know that CBS had a site I'm not sure how good of a strategy this is for them.  I can see their logic, create a new show with a built in fan-base, but it on-line and count the money as it rolls in.  That's good for them in theory but until I know and see more, I am going to be very leery about paying six dollars a month just to watch a new Trek series.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

A Quick Note On "The Force Awakens" Trailer

Yes, yes, I know I said I would be posting more and I haven't.  I'm sorry.  It's not been depression but rather just too much work to do at the office.  Plus when I get home the last thing I want to do is stare at a computer screen.

That said, having now watched the trailer for "The Force Awakens" for the fifth or sixth time and thinking back to the earlier ones, I've got to say that I am very pleased that none of them actually give away anything related to the plot. They manage to hit all the emotional high notes but we are still going to go in to the theatre and be surprised at what we see. Given how much is usually given away in movie trailers nowadays I really appreciate this.

The trailer itself is incredibly squee worthy.  The effects look great and are more practical than CGI. It's great to see Leia and Han together.  And we get to see a little more of this film's heavy Kylo Ren.  It's very interesting that they have essentially been holding Luke in reserve through all three trailers though.  As I said they are not giving away any plot points but it would be nice to see more of him than a mechanical hand.

Now all I have to do is get through the next two months with what's left of my sanity intact.

Friday, September 18, 2015

I aten't dead

(With apologies to Granny Weatherwax)

In case you haven't noticed I haven't posted much - okay, at all -  for a couple months.  I've been dealing with some personal issues including a minor outbreak of depression and I've just had a hard time motivating myself.  I even passed on commenting on the actual Hugo Awards this year.

Part of it has been being totally swamped at work, part has been family health issues and part has just been a general sense of malaise with the world.  There's a cartoon that periodically pops up on Facebook (and of course I now can't find a copy) where a woman is speaking to a man and says, "My desire to stay informed about the world is conflicting with my desire to stay sane."  That about sums up how I've been feeling about current events lately.

Fortunately I have lots of good friends who are willing to be there for me when I am down and I am finally working my way out of the black pit of despair.

I think I'm mostly over it now and will start posting more geeky goodness in the near future.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

On Supporting Chaosium

If you follow gaming industry news then you already know the big story of the past month was the recent shake up at Chaosium that resulted in the entire upper management being replaced by the old guard of Greg Stafford and Sandy Peterson.

It appears that the old management handled the Kickstarters for Horror on the Orient Express and Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition poorly and there are some serious cash flow problems.  Despite saying COC7 was at the printers it wasn't and there were also issues in getting HotOE to European backers.  In short it was a mess and being run into the ground and the Stafford being the founder and majority shareholder in the company stepped in and took over day-to-day management.

One of things Greg is doing is cleaning out the warehouse of their non-core products at clearance prices in order to raise cash and get back to what they do best, namely Cthulhu mythos related games and fiction.  One of the really good deals was a bundle of five books for the Elric of Melniboné role-playing game on sale for $25 instead of $100.  I had seriously thought about buying this when the sale was announced and even was most of the way placing an order online when I had an attack of conscience and decided I didn't really need five Elric RPG books, even at that price, and cancelled the order,  As I've mentioned before, when it comes to wasting money on things I don't need I run against the usual geek stereotype.

Then this morning I was listening to the latest Breakfast Club podcast and they were discussing what was going on at Chaosium and I came to the realization that in this case it wasn't wasting money on things I did not need but rather investing money in the continued operation of a gaming company I have known and loved since I first got into the hobby way back in 1977 with the original edition of Runequest.  I don't want to see Chaosium go out of business and I certainly don't want to see Call of Cthulhu disappear from gaming store shelves.  So buying their stuff right now is just doing my part to make sure they have the cash flow to keep operating and meet their Kickstarter commitments.

So I resolved to go back and buy the bundle.  Of course, the bundle itself is no longer for sale.  It looks like they ran out of one of the constituent books.  So I settled for getting just the core Dragon Lords of Melniboné book which was also on sale at a huge discount though the one book including shipping and handling now costs about half of what getting the whole bundle would have had I been on the ball.  A classic example of the early bird gets the worm.

So the upshot of all this is that if you like Chaosium and their products and want them to continue to succeed think about wandering over to their website and buying something that you may or may not actually need.  Every dollar you spend is an investment in helping Stafford and Peterson get the company back on its feet.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

On Wizard World Sacramento

Last weekend my friend Val and I drove down to Sacremento for the Wizard World Comic-Con there.  I wore my steampunk airship captain outfit while Val was dressed as a random space alien.

Myself and professional cosplayer Ivy Doomkitty

Val and the world's tallest Mr. Spock cosplayer

We had a good time and though the convention was obviously larger than the one Wizard World ran in Reno last November it didn't seem nearly as crowded.

Surprisingly neither Val nor I emptied our respective bank accounts there. I bought a book by M. Todd Gallowglass and the first volume of Lucifer graphic novel as well as some of Ivy Doomkitty's autographed prints.  My biggest and best purchase was a brown leather map-case/orders satchel to go with my steampunk costume.

The one thing that both us had a hard time coming to grips was that every other booth seemed to be selling Pop!Vinyl dolls. All with exactly the same large selections of the same characters.  How can the market bear that level of saturation?

I know several people don't like Wizard World's cons but I think they do a good job and it was certainly a nice way to spend the day and get my head back together after last week.

Lovecraft and Racism

Over on his blog for the Geekually Yoked podcast, Leeman Kessler wrestles with the issues of portraying H.P. Lovecraft online, especially in a humorous manner, considering the man's heinous racism and anti-Semitism.  He writes:

When I started to play Lovecraft, I made a few rules for myself. I never want to apologize or make excuses for his views. I don’t think it would be honest to say in character, “I’ve seen the light! Multiculturalism is the greatest! How foolish I was!” From time to time I’ve come close but I never fully go over the line. It’s part of why I enjoy having his Evil Twin PH to tackle some of these issues as I did here and here. It’s a cheat that lets me address these issues but not betray the character, such as it is.
The other saving grace is humour. My show is a comedy and as such, I’m able to poke fun both at Lovecraft’s views and also use him to poke modern sensibilities. As Rachel and I just talked about on our most recent podcast, comedy is not just a distraction from drama but can be used to highlight it and throw serious subjects into stark relief and I think some of what I do on Ask Lovecraft reflects it.
Like Leeman, I do not accept the "He was a man of his times" excuse.  Even a cursory reading of his letters shows that his views sometimes bordered on the genocidal.  He had a paranoid fear of miscegenation that would embarrass the average Klansman.  And his anti-Semitism would be looked on with approval with the Nazis.

It's the latter point where he becomes very complex.  He had many Jewish friends, especially in the period when he was living in New York.  And he married a Ukrainian Jewish immigrant, Sonia Green.  Despite that he would make casually anti-Semitic comments around her and when she would remind him he was married to a Jew he would get angry and say that marrying him made her a Lovecraft as if that somehow changed who she was.  That their marriage failed is not really any surprise, though how much can be blamed on his anti-Semitism and how much on the fact that they simply had incompatible personalities is open to discussion.

Despite all of this, I too am a huge Lovecraft fan. As I said, I don't accept the excuses about him.  Nor do I believe that you should separate the man from his work.  In HPL's case that is often impossible.  His racism clearly expresses itself in many of his stories, most famously in The Shadow Over Innsmouth which is clearly about his fears of mongrelization.  But it's a common thread in many other stories too.  In The Call of Cthulhu the worshipers of Cthulhu are either degenerate tribesman, backwoods Creoles (themselves a "mongrel race") or swarthy sailors from places like Greece and Portugal.

Whenever this issue comes up I invariably recommend the documentary Wagner & Me.  In it actor Stephen Fry tries to come to grip with being a fan of the operas of Hitler's favorite composer Richard Wagner despite himself being Jewish.  He asks the question can a Jew enjoy Wagner despite his virulent anti-Semitism?  Can anybody enjoy Wagner despite Hitler's imprimatur?

The key to reading Lovecraft is not to deny his racism but to accept it head on and see how it informs his work.  Intellectual honesty about him or Wagner or any other creative person with odious personal views is the key.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Quote of the Day

"A good speech should be like a woman's skirt; long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest." --Winston Churchill

Buy a Tor Book Day

We now return to our regularly scheduled geekiness.

I'm not going to dwell on the gory details but the loathsome Vox Day is trying to organize a boycott of Tor Books (one of the largest speculative fiction publishers out there and publisher of Vox's particular bete noire, John Scalzi) because Tor art director and associate editor Irene Gallo dared to write some unflattering things about him and the rest of the puppies on her personal Facebook page.  She was later forced to apologize and Tor owner Tom Doherty gave her, in my opinion, unjustified public dressing down.  Nevertheless Vox is still calling for a boycott of Tor.

So today please show your support of Tor and of Irene Gallo and her right to a personal opinion and buy a Tor book or three.  Then post a selfie of you and your book online somewhere with the hashtag #IStandByIrene.

Here I am with my e-book copy of Elizabeth Bear's Karen Memory.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

On Hate

I am back from my trip to San Diego and though I was having a hard time thinking about something to write I figured it would be about LEGO Land or the San Diego Zoo.  Today is also the bicentennial of the Battle of Waterloo, which for a Napoleonic history geek like me is very important and also a good subject for a blog post.

Instead I am sitting here practically vibrating with rage over last night's shootings at Charleston's Emmanuel A.M.E. Church.  The details are all over the television and the internet so I don't need to do more than summarize that last night a white man, identified as Dylann Roof, entered the church and sat in on a prayer meeting and bible study for about an hour before pulling out a pistol and opening fire, reloading five times in the process.  Nine people died including the church's pastor Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was also a South Carolina state senator.

The police and FBI have been very quick to call this, what it is, a hate crime.  It needs to be called what it also is, terrorism.  Ever since 2009 there has been a nationwide increase in the number and membership in right-wing hate groups.  We don't know if Roof is a member of any of these groups but I think we can safely say he shares their beliefs and politics.  If you look in the picture linked above he is wearing a jacked with the flags of apartheid era South Africa and the old Republic of Rhodesia, two of the worst examples of institutionalized white nationalist racism this side of Nazi Germany.  This shooting was done for no other reason than to create fear and hatred and terror and no doubt in the shooter's mind, spark a race war to purge the US of blacks and other undesirables.

The shooter is quoted as saying "You rape our women and you're taking over our country."  Our country?  I don't know about his country but my country is one that has included blacks since 1619, brought here as slaves.  America is just as much a black country as it is a white one.

I'm not black.  There were not many blacks in my suburb of Cleveland growing up.  Honestly, I must admit that I do not have many black friends.  I can't speak to the subject of the black experience in America except to acknowledge on a purely intellectual level that it is not easy. But I have enough humanity to feel sympathy of the victims and their families and African Americans as a whole for this monstrosity.

I don't know if they want my sympathy.  Am I just another middle class, white liberal who is all talk?  I know I want to do something.  Must do something!  This is the 21st century and this kind of crap must stop!  I'm not naive enough to believe that the election of Barack Obama means we have entered a post-racial America.  There's too much evidence to the contrary, including a lot of the recent examples of police brutality.  But I really thought this level of senseless, terroristic violence ended in the 1960s.

I am angry and I am hurt.  My country is better than this.  I want this to be a place where my son can grow up and not have to worry about some nut job with too many guns and too much rage hurting innocent people at prayer.

I could go on but I am having a hard time articulating my feelings.  I know others with a better perspective and better knowledge will write and say things in the next few days that will help me express myself.  But for now I needed to say something.

I'm not an overly religious person and even then it's an eclectic personal spirituality but I am praying for the victims.  I am praying for all African-Americans.  And I am praying for the United States.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Going on vacation

I will be leaving tomorrow for a week's vacation to San Diego with the family.  It is highly unlikely that I will be blogging during that time.  But on the plus side, I promise not to inflict vacation pics on you.  That's what Facebook is for.  :)

Friday, June 5, 2015

A Sense of Perspective

Yesterday posted a very interesting video that visualizes and puts into perspective all the of the people who died, both military and civilian, during World War Two.

The video is about eighteen minutes long, but please take the time to watch it.

Now that World War Two is 70 years in the past and most of the survivors are dead there is a tendency when talking about casualties to fall into the A Million Is A Statistic trope.  This video succeeds in shaking one out of that mindset by the simple visualizations of the of the graphics.

In particular I commend the creator for really giving the the time to Soviet casualties that they really deserved.  There is a tendency here in the West to ignore the apocalyptic scope of the war on the Eastern Front and the millions of Soviet citizens who died largely as the result of Stalin's use of human wave attacks on the offense and keeping civilians in the cities being fought over on the defense.  Because most of the casualty records have only become available since the end of the Cold War the sheer level of death and destruction has never really been given the play in the US and western Europe that is should.  And it also goes a long way to explain post-war Soviet paranoia.

The section on civilian casualties is particularly chilling.  Besides providing a good visualization of all the Nazi victims of the Holocaust including Roma, gays, other religious and political minorities they also pointed out that Poland suffered the highest percentage of deaths of any country because of the systemic Nazi abuse of the population.  Add in both German and Russian complete indifference to civilians on the Eastern Front as mentioned above.  And the Western Allies don't get a free pass on the civilian deaths front either with a very clear showing of the effect of targeting German and Japanese cities for aerial bombardment.

But in the midst of all these depressing numbers, at the end once actually gets a bit of a surprising sense of perspective of the world today.  Looking at the headlines one gets a feeling that that the world is going to hell in a handbasket with wars, death and destruction seemingly everywhere.  But when you visually compare the relatively low intensity fighting going on in the Middle East and elsewhere to the shear level of carnage of the six years of WW2 you can think "If my grandparents could live through that and stay sane, I can certainly not give in to the fearmongering created by the 24/7 news cycle of today."

Finally, I did like the bit where they scaled WW2 deaths and all other major conflicts in history to world population at the time and when it comes to causing death and destruction, Genghis Khan makes both Hitler and Stalin look like pikers.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

On Caitlyn Jenner

Unless you have been living under a rock, you know that one of the biggest popular culture stories of the past 24 hours has been the Caitlyn (née Bruce) Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine.  It has created, I believe, an even bigger discussion on the subject of gender identity and transgender people than her original announcement that she was a transwoman.

Photoshop courtesy of Matthew Wright

I am not trans but I have many friends who are, both male-to-female and female-to-male.  I also have several friends who don't fit well into gender binary categories at all.  So I have had a lot of time to see, think and talk to people to whom this is very important and in the process have developed my own opinions on the subject.  I hope this doesn't come across as cis-malesplaining.

I used the delightful Wheaties box photoshop above rather than the actual Vanity Fair cover to prove a point.  To people of my generation, Caitlyn Jenner is not a C-list celebrity on Keeping Up With The Kardashians (a program I am very proud to say I have never watched) but rather the person who won the decathlon at 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal.  I distinctly remember watching those games on TV and they were the first Olympics to really enter my memory and consciousness.

There is still a large perception in the general public that transwomen are usually very effeminate males before they transition, not macho athletes and national sports heroes like Caitlyn became at the time.  It was one thing for her to say publicly "I am trans" and quite another for her to appear in a dress and make-up on the cover of a fashion magazine.  It directly challenges the M-to-F stereotype. And to my mind, that challenge is a good thing.  Our culture needs to come to terms with the fact that anyone can be trans and more importantly the average person has no say in what gender any other person is.  To quote my friend Missy Ciavarelli:

News flash - you don't get to have an "opinion" on what someone else's gender is. Your "opinion" doesn't matter. You don't get to decide that for someone else.Whatever your "opinion" on gender, respect the other person and their identity and educate yourself, because sex and gender are not the same thing.

Also it is a matter of simple politeness.  What harm comes from referring to any person by the name and pronoun that they prefer?  Anything else is trying to assert your gender norms on another person.

Another issue that came up in several places yesterday was the idea that Caitlyn's transition is somehow less authentic than another transperson's because she is a celebrity and relatively wealthy compared to most other transfolk.  I know from my friends that being trans is very hard and the decision to come out and transition is even harder.  Being a celebrity has nothing to do with it.  And while Caitlyn's wealth means she will be able to afford the surgical and material needs of transitioning better than many (or even most) other transpeople it still does not make the process easy.  Quoting Missy again:

Every trans person's experience is going to be different. And it's going to be difficult to come to terms with the decision to transition *within themselves*. Never mind doing it front of other people. Caitlyn has done this in front of a public that has only ever thought of her as a macho athlete. She may have more money than most, but that's about it. The mean, ignorant replies on Twitter, and I'm sure other places as well, mean she doesn't have this easy by any means. I think it's taken a great deal of courage to come out the way she has, or even at all.

If Caitlyn's very public transition makes it easier for even one other transperson to come to grips with who they really are and make that choice to transition themselves then she is an even bigger hero than she was for winning a gold medal in 1976.

Which leads me to my final thought.  I am very curious to see how the International Olympic Committee is going to handle her transition in the record books.  Yesterday I looked on the official Olympics website and it still said the 1976 decathlon was won by Bruce Jenner, though considering it has been the day she announced her new name I really hadn't expected any change.  I suspect there are going to be some very high level discussions at the IOC about how this is going to be addressed.  My hope is that they will credit that gold medal as being won by Caitlyn rather than Bruce and if they have to stick an asterisk next to it to explain to future generations why a woman won an ostensibly male event, so be it.

Friday, May 29, 2015

In which I am made (in)famous

Leeman Kessler at Ask Lovecraft answers one of my questions.

And yes, we actually did that once.  Fail a SAN roll, remove an article of clothing.  :)

Monday, May 25, 2015

On writing

One of the reasons I started this blog was an attempt to get into the habit of writing something every days.  As you can tell, that's not happening.  Though I am pleased that I am posting more than once in a while.

What I really want to do is write science fiction and/or fantasy fiction.  My brain is full of ideas.  The problem has always been getting them out of my brain and down on paper.  Or electrons as the case may be.  So by getting into the habit of blogging I am hoping it will carry over into the habit of writing fiction.

My main problem with fiction writing is that while I am very good at characterization and world building I stink at coming up with an original plot.  My characters and backgrounds are lush and realistic and full of detail.  My plots, however come across as boring and derivative.  Sure I understand there are so many basic plot ideas out there but I can never seem to come up with that twist to make mine unique.

I am wondering if working with some sort of writing collaborator, ideally one good at plots but iffy on characters/backgrounds, may be a good solutions.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Gaming and PDFs (or what happened to my bank account?)

Last month there was a discussion on the Breakfast Club podcast about how PDF files are used in role-playing games.  The general opinion is that they are rapidly replacing dead tree versions of rulebooks and, especially, supplements as they are cheaper and take up less space.  It was also pointed out that a great many people nowadays buy gaming materials not necessarily to actually play the game but to read the books for entertainment purposes.

Yesterday, I purchased the Shadowrun 4e Bundle of Holding.  The month before I bought the Ars Magica 5e Bundle of Holding.  For those not familiar with the Bundle of Holding, it is a website that sells bundles of various role-playing gaming materials at very low prices and even then a portion of what you pay goes to support a charity chosen by the game designer/company.  For Shadowrun it was the Electronic Frontier Foundation and for Ars Magica it was, though the charities don't necessarily match so nicely to the games as they do in these cases.   You can pay more than the minimum if you like and the extra all goes to the charity.  It's a great deal, you get cheap gaming materials and support charity.

Now I haven't played Shadowrun since the FASA first edition came out back in the mists of time and I have no plans to in the immediate future.  I've never played Ars Magica though I have always thought it was a very well designed game.  And these are just a couple of the bundles I have bought in recent months.  Like the Yoggies posited above, I got them as reading/entertainment material and a large part of the reason I did so was that it was convenient to do so.  I have neither the space nor the money to get hard copies of all the gaming stuff I have bought this way.

It's not just through Bundle of Holding too.  I've got an account on DriveThruRPG and I am often on the site looking for deals.  I recently grabbed some 6mm Napoleonic miniatures* rules through their sister site Wargame Vault at half off the regular PDF price.

If it wasn't for the technology of the PDF format and the tablet e-reader I would not be able to enjoy these hobbies as fully.  And yes, just reading the rules for entertainment is part of enjoying the hobby.  I joked in the title about how this has hurt my bank account but in truth it barely makes a dent in it.  If I bought all of these rules the old way as dead tree books it truly would have caused financial distress.

Which raises the question on the flip-side, would I have bought them at all then?  To a certain extent many of these were impulse buys.  I get an email from one of the websites with their latest offerings and think to myself "What a deal!" and break out the credit card.  I doubt I would buy a whole bunch of Shadowrun or Ars Magica books if I was just browsing at the friend local gaming store.  For a gamer I can be depressingly financially responsible.

The more I think about it, the more it becomes a chicken and the egg problem.  So I've decided to stop worrying about it.  I am happy, the game companies and e-gaming websites are happy and where applicable the charities are happy.  Wins for everybody.

* Yes, 6mm.  I really like that scale for historical wargaming.  You can actually get the whole sweep of a large battle for a comparatively small sum of money.  Plus I enjoy the challenge of painting minis that small.  What can I say?  I'm weird.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Quote of the Day

"After all when you have to kill a man it costs nothing to be polite." --Winston Churchill

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Axioms of Administration

Power corrupts.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Petty power corrupts all out of proportion to actual power.

Eric Flint strikes again

I really don't have anything to add so I am just going to post a link to Eric Flint's exquisite rant about the alleged Social Justice Warrior control of science fiction & fantasy publishing and fandom.

I've been a fan of Flint's fiction for quite a while (Please write more Joe's World books, Eric!) and am rapidly becoming a huge fan of his blogging.  This post and his first one on the Hugos are enough that I plan on nominating for Best Fan Writer next year.

Civilization and its discontents

(With apologies to Sigmund Freud.)

I've been a big fan of the PC computer game Civilization ever since the original version way back in 1991.  I think I've played just about every version that has come out since and while there have obviously been improvements over the intervening 24 years some editions were better than others, and to my mind Civ5 was the pinnacle of the series.

So when the science fiction version Civilization: Beyond Earth came out and it was based on the Civ5 engine I was originally very pumped.  Then I got a copy.

There are some definite improvements there.  I like the tech web rather the old tech tree which helps make every game different.  And I like the idea of affinities where by the decisions you make in game and technologies you learn have an effect on your units and what you can and cannot build.  And I liked that you had control of how your colony starts out by being able to decide on the load out of your space ship.  Various types of satellites as units is also a good addition for a science fiction game.

But in many ways I felt it was something of a step back.  The fact that there are only eight playable factions compared to the 30 or so of Civ5 limits game play choices at the start.  Not to mention it gets redundant seeing the same faces over and over again among the computer opponents.

The stations of C:BE are supposed to be the equivalent of Civ5's city-states but they are much less interesting.  Unlike the city-states which have territory and units and do things the stations just sort of sit there and wait for you to either trade with them or attack them.

And while I like the tech tree and affinities as I said earlier, it also became fairly easy to exploit the system to get the biggest advantages towards winning by ignoring techs that favor affinities you aren't interested in in favor of those that you are.

Plus while the diplomacy AI in C:BE is definitely improved over Civ5 it's still a bit...quirky.  In my most recent game I was twice condemned by Polystrilia even though they had a friendly attitude towards me.  Cynics could say something about realpolitik at this point but it just struck me as odd.

And the less said about the dark grey on black mini-map the better.

In short, I've been getting bored with the game.

Then yesterday 2K and Firaxis announced the first expansion called Rising Tides and I perked up.  Don't get me wrong.  I doubt this is a panacea.  But it sounds like a good first step.  They are adding more factions (though only four?) and added new units and rules for the oceans and new terrain types, all of which can only add to the game's enjoyment.  Rules to make gathering alien artifacts more important seem to me a great way to exploit one of the uniquely SFnal aspects of the game.  And I very much like the idea of new units that exploit having a wider base of affinities rather than homing in on one as is the tendency now.

True, there is nothing in the press release addressing my complaints about the stations but I can hope and that complaint is really rather minor I must admit.  But overall this expansion looks like a big step in the right direction and when it comes out in the fall I hope it will re-ignite my enjoyment of the game.


One final note about the game play of C:BE that I find a bit irritating, namely that unless you choose a satellite in your initial load out you have to completely explore every aspect of the physical geography of the new world.  In the earlier science fiction attempt at Civ, Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri this made sense in the games back story as everyone had to make an emergency landing on the planet to a shipboard disaster before they could scan the world. But in a controlled colonization situation it seems to me that the various colonists would take the time to orbit and scan the world before landing, if for no other reason than to help pick a site.  I get that discovering the geography of the world is part of the fun of the game but realistically any future space colonists would at least know where the shorelines and major mountains of a new world is.

Yes, I know I'm over-thinking it.

Monday, May 18, 2015

You have not been forgotten.

I'm still here.  I'm still keeping a blog.  I'm just having a hard time writing lately.  I have a bunch of half formed posts in my head, including ones related to:

  • Snow Crash
  • GalaxyQuest
  • Call of Cthulhu role-playing game
  • The crappy weather we're having in Reno
  • Complaints about the Nook App for Android
  • Civilization: Beyond Earth and it's announced expansion
  • and many, many more.

Consider yourselves lucky I decided I was not going to blog about the disaster area that is my love life.

So once I get out of my funk there will be more blogly goodness here.  Hopefully soon.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Tim's Vermeer

Last night I watched the film Tim's Vermeer, a documentary produced and narrated by Penn Jillette (and, incidentally, directed by Teller) about his friend Tim Jenison and his fascination with Johannes Vermeer's ability to make very photo-realistic paintings.

Jenison is an inventor and designer of television equipment and he became fascinated with Vermeer after reading British artist David Hockney's book Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the lost techniques of the Old Masters in which Hockney posits the idea that Vermeer may have used optics, that is lenses and mirrors, to make his paintings.  Jenison, coming from a background of video technology became obsessed with Hockney's thesis and set about to prove it correct.

The film records the five year process by which Jenison sought to replicate Vermeer's Music Lesson using 17th century optics.

Along the way Jenison taught himself how to grind lenses, make his own pigments, wood-working, even how to paint to a certain degree.  He replicated the room that Vermeer used as his primary studio.  Jenison is a man obsessed and the viewer follows along with his obsession.  However, unlike many obsessive types, Jenison remains a very personable and likable guy throughout the process.

There are several points in the film that discuss the physics of optics and how they would have been used and the neuroscience of light and vision and they provide excellent background context as do interviews with David Hockney.  One of the key points the film makes is that the idea that art and science are forever and always separate is very much a modern idea and did not exist in the 17th century.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Of elvish discrimination and contrarian role-players

A few years back I ran a Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 campaign for friends.  My main motivation in dungeonmastering was it was a chance to indulge in my passion for world building.  In this particular case I decided to turn some well worn tropes on their head.

For example, one realm was ruled by a red dragon but rather than being the typical Smaug-like, ravening monster this particular dragon realized that his life span would be greatly extended by not despoiling the countryside and eating virgins.  Instead he put a human council in charge of day-to-day affairs of the country and only asked for a reasonable monthly tribute of gold pieces for the hoard and cattle for his meals and in return he actually protected the peasants from outside depredations.  In return said peasants tended to take a rather dim view of wandering bands of adventurers coming to "save them from the tyranny of the monster".

There are other examples but the most important trope subversion was I decided to make elves a hated and feared minority.  A millennium before the major elvish kingdom was responsible for a magical disaster that almost destroyed the world.  Even then there was still massive, destruction and famine in its wake and those elves that survived the initial disaster soon became the victims of a widespread pogrom.  Flash forward a thousand years and while there are still small enclaves of Elves about whenever an elf leaves one they are shunned, feared and generally abused.  The only thing worse than being an elf in this world is being a half-elf, who are treated as despised half-castes by both elven and human communities.

All of this was written up in the world description I gave to the players and was emphasized by me during character generation.  I actively wanted to discourage the players from playing elves as I tend to think they are overused.  So of course, out of the nine players in my game two made elves and a third made a half-elf.  After much eye-rolling and asking if they were sure they wanted to do this I allowed the characters.  I don't really believe in needlessly restricting character design choices unless there is a good reason, like if I had said there were no elves in this world rather than a few hated ones.

On one level having some players play elves could have been really cool if there was desire to actually role-play the experience of being loathed minority.  Instead most of the players, not just the elves, were more interested in typical D&D hack and slash, kill the monsters and take their things.

As a digression, this is why I tend to find D&D and similar fantasy games to be rather tedious nowadays.  I find the actual character interaction with each other and the world far more interesting than the party just being a bunch of murder hobos wandering the countryside looking for monsters to kill and loot.

This of course led to a lot of tension whenever the party left the dungeon for civilization.  Those three characters could rarely get service at an inn or tavern and when they could they were charged totally unreasonable prices.  The players started to complain I was picking on them.  My response was usually along the lines of "Yes, I am.  You chose to play a hated and despised minority.  I told you ahead of time that elves were that minority and I gave you the chance to change you mind in character generation.  My NPCs are acting in a manner wholly normal and consistent for the world I created and that you knew the details of."  Not surprisingly the game eventually died in favor of something else.

On one hand I recognize that I bear a certain amount of responsibility here.  Clearly I misread what the players wanted in a D&D campaign in the first place and the things I liked did not mesh really well with the things they liked.  But on the other hand I still have a hard time understanding how anyone (and bear in mind I'm playing with experienced gamers in their 30s and 40s, not a bunch of teenagers) can whine about a characters treatment when they choose to play something that has a lot of negative strings attached.  This was probably three years ago but it still mystifies me.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Random miscellanea

I'm sorry there haven't been any posts recently.  Life has been busy and then I was out of town for a bit.  So below are some random thoughts and events from the past few days.


First on the British election, boy howdy did everyone screw that up!  Talk about your Shy Tory effect in the polling.  When the BBC exit poll came out showing the Conservatives gaining seats, I like everyone else was convinced it was completely wrong since it flew in the face of all of the final polling.  But as I sat there watching the results coming in and it looked like they were right I just couldn't believe it.  And even the Beeb's prediction that there was still going to be a hung parliament turned out to be wrong.

There are a lot of pollsters in the UK with egg on their faces still.  It will be interesting to read the most mortems on that subject over the next few weeks.  Polling is not an exact science but for so many operations to miss by that much is stunning.

At any rate I would like to offer my condolences on the next five years to my friends in the UK.  Chins up, guys.  It will get better eventually.


One of the reasons I hadn't posted is that I took a long weekend and went to visit friends in the Bay Area.  I needed a change of scene and I needed to be in a real city.  So I went and hung out with my friend Elaine in Oakland and we had a chill weekend playing games.  We went into San Francisco do some shopping.  She wanted some new lingerie for a trip this week and I was there to offer my advice.  I know, it's a dirty job but someone has to do it.

We stopped in at an independent bookstore (yes, there are still a few left) and I bought myself a copy of The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft.  On the long drive back into Oakland (traffic was worse than usual for SF) Elaine asked me to explain who HPL was and after explaining that he was the father of modern horror I came to the realization that it is really hard to explain the attraction of his work to the non-fan.  Between his hyper-materialist worldview, his racism and anti-semitism and his incredibly verbose style of writing he doesn't sound all that appealing to the non-fan.  I need to work on a better explanation.


On Sunday, after leaving Oakland I stopped in Sacramento to have lunch with my friend Jen and her fiance, Matt.  This was something like the first time in 20 years I had seen her and it was so nice to catch up with her.  It was even more nice to see that not only had we both grown up over the past two decades but also that we were both still the very same twisted people underneath.


Lastly I'm going to sign off with a few Hugo related links.  Consider yourself duly warned.

The first is a post from John Scalzi on just why the Hugos are not actually being destroyed.  Basically Scalzi echos my argument that they found a flaw and exploited it but now that it's been exposed it can be fixed.  There may be a couple years of pain in the mean time but in the end the Hugos will come out stronger.  Of course since Scalzi is an excellent writer he says it better and with more wit than I could ever muster.

The second is a post from Jim C. Hines about how the Sad Puppy campaigns have broken a recent trend towards gender balance in Hugo nominations and that calls into question the whole puppy premise of promoting "good stories" rather than defending a white, male preserve.  As someone who is a statistician I think the Ns are too small to draw a really effective conclusion but he makes a good argument on the face of it.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

On the British general election

Tomorrow there is going to be a general election in the United Kingdom.  I am almost as big of a British politics junky as I am an American politics one.

This year the outcome is going to be very interesting.  There has been some very good analysis on regarding it from a couple of British political scientists.  It looks like the Conservative party is going to get the most seats with around 280 or so, and Labour will get about 265-270.  British parliamentary elections are generally harder to predict than an American presidential election.  Instead of figuring out which way 50 states are going to vote, you've got to predict 650 individual constituencies and there is usually a dearth constituency level polling data to work with.  History is often a good guide but not always.

Also in Britain third parties have far more influence than in the US.  Though again it often shakes itself out at the constituency level.  So while national polling in the UK may show that the truly loathsome right-wing UK Independence Party may be in third place nationally, the bigots who support them are spread fairly evenly across the country so it looks they will only get one or two seats in the next Parliament.  On the other hand the Liberal Democrats who in the old Parliament had 52 seats and were coalition partners with the Conservatives are now polling in fourth place they are still going to come out of tomorrow's voting with around 25 seats because there are parts of the country (the largely rural constituencies along the edges of the country) where they have always had strong support.

All of this brings us around to the Scottish National Party.  You need 326 seats to form a majority government in the British Parliament and if the predicted numbers I cite above hold out that means neither the Tories or Labour will have that majority and they will need a coalition partner.  The LibDems are a spent force for the near future since they basically went back on everything they promised when they became the Conservatives' junior partner last time out.  But everyone agrees that the SNP is going to pretty much sweep Scotland (all but four or five seats) this time out and have about 50 seats thus putting themselves in the position of kingmaker in deciding which party will be running the UK for the next five years.

This surprising jump for the SNP, who presently have six seats, has less to do with Scottish separatism than straight right versus left politics.  Last year's defeat of the Scottish independence referendum shows that many Scots aren't that keen independence that is still the heart of the SNP platform but they are very much in favor economic equality and fairness.  Ever since Tony Blair and New Labour took control of the Labour party they are no longer the socialists or even social democrats of old.  Their policies are really only slightly to the left of the Conservatives.  But the Scottish Nationalist Party's policies are old school European left and with the state of the British economy up north ever since the Great Recession that has a lot of appeal.  In fact if the SNP had run candidates in northern England I would be surprised if they picked up seats there as well.

All of this mean's that the outcome of the election is going to be riding on who is willing to do a deal with the SNP and for how much.  If the Tories come out with the most seats, as seems likely, they get first crack at forming a government. And while I can see a certain advantage in the SNP joining up with the Conservatives, mainly to make them hold to David Cameron's promises after the independence referendum, in the end I think this unlikely.  The SNP doesn't want to be put in the position the LibDems are in now as essentially a fig leaf to cover the worst of Conservative policies with left wing respectability.  So it all comes down to doing a deal with Labour, especially as there are still plenty of old Labour types that would like their help pulling the party back left.  Where I am having a hard time deciding is if they will formally enter the government as coalition partner with seats in the Cabinet or if they will unofficially support a minority Labour government.  I am tending towards the latter because that gives them more power to withhold votes on key pieces of legislation if they don't like the way things are going and thus create a no confidence vote to force an early election.

Voting No Award

One of the big things being talked about to respond to Puppygate is an effort to vote No Award in those categories where the Sad/Rabid slates control most or all of the nominations.

Last month Kevin Standlee wrote an excellent blog post on what how that it done and what it means.  Rather than trying to distill his expertise I'm just going to link directly to the post.

If you are thinking of voting No Award (and I'm one of them) I urge you to read and think on what Kevin has to say.  He explains both the process and the effect without engaging in politics.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Cinco de Mayo

Today is Cinco de Mayo, which while an important holiday in Mexico is not nearly as big a deal as it is here north of the border where it's a good excuse to get drunk on tequila.

Most of the folks getting drunk think they are celebrating Mexican independence day but that was actually September 16, 1810.  What Cinco de Mayo actually celebrates is the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.

Without getting bogged down in the details, while the United States was busy with its Civil War, Napoleon III of France thought it would be a good idea to turn Mexico into a French client state and so invaded it.  The Battle of Puebla was the first victory of the Mexicans over the French.

So really you have to ask yourself, what's the big deal.  The Mexicans beat the French.  Everyone beats the French.  If we had a party at every French defeat we'd all be perpetually either drunk or hungover.

Snark aside, the Puebla is in fact something for Mexicans to be proud of.  It's not every day that 4,500 militia men can defeat a larger (6,500 man) army of crack regulars.  My point is though, if you are going to use a foreign holiday as an excuse to party at least know why you are partying.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Age of Ultron (Now With Extra Added Spoilers)

This is my second post on The Avengers: Age of Ultron and it's going to be chock full of spoilers.  If you want spoiler-free first thoughts on the film, read my earlier post.

Here beginneth the (somewhat random) spoilers:

The minute we were introduced to Hawkeye's wife and kids, I pretty much wrote him off as a dead man by the end of the film.  After all it's a Joss Whedon film, someone has to die.  Giving a character who in both the film and comic canon doesn't really have that much of a backstory a very loving family life is basically the equivalent of putting a great big target on his chest.  So when he ran to save the trapped boy my first thought was "Yep, Clint's dead."  I was very surprised that he didn't die and I have to give Whedon a lot of credit for not falling for the obvious trope.

Conversely I am surprised he killed off Quicksilver.  It lacked the emotional oomph of the character deaths in his other work.  We feel pain for Scarlet Witch over her brother's death but at least in my case it lacked a direct emotional contact for me.  Maybe it's because I tended to view him as probably the most two-dimensional character in the film, just a smart-ass punk who wants revenge on Tony Stark that he just didn't click.

In my first post I complained that there were bits that seemed missing.  One of the more important ones was when Thor went into the Pool of Light to get a better understanding of his dream.  It felt like there was something missing in his conversation with Heimdall and how he realized the importance of the Infinity Stone was cut out.  Yes, we get exposition when he helps bring the Vision to life but the first rule of good film making is show rather than tell.

I really liked Ultron as a villain and James Spader was spot on to play him.  He's so good at evil and banal at the same time.  And I very much like the fact that Ultron took control of Jarvis fairly early on in the film.  Iron Man's reliance on Jarvis in combat had a tendency to make him rather omniscient and removing that crutch forced Stark to think for himself.

Another thing that I find confusing and I suspect is on the cutting room floor is just how does Nick Fury fit into this.  He appears in the middle of the film, out-of-nowhere to give a pep talk then disappears to reappear as a deus ex machina in the final fight.  Then in the denoument he's talking about the Avenger's as "my team".  What does that mean?  Has he rebuilt a new, proper SHIELD?  Is he actively running the Avengers now?

I'm not sure how I feel about the romance between the Hulk and Black Widow.  Granted Bruce Banner and Natasha Romanov are two of the more broken characters in the Avengers but being emotional cripples is not the basis of a relationship.  And are we really supposed to believe that Nick Fury sending Black Widow to recruit the Hulk in the first film was him playing matchmaker?  Ack!

Finally I am curious about how the Avengers are going to be going forward.  The final scenes showing both Thor and Tony Stark leaving make a certain amount of sense as Chris Hemsworth has already stated he's getting tired of the part and I suspect the studio wanted to position themselves to write out Iron Man if Robert Downey becomes too expensive, so I'm good with that.  Replacing Iron Man with War Machine also makes sense as Rhody took part in the final battle as well.  But adding the Falcon, more or less out of nowhere strikes me as odd.  At any rate, I look forward with where they plan to take this in the two part Infinity War film.

Age of Ultron (Spoiler-Free)

Due to family commitments I wasn't able to see The Avengers: Age of Ultron until Sunday night.  These are my initial impressions and they may change over time, especially after multiple viewings.  I am going to keep this post as spoiler-free as I can but I do have some plot point specific thoughts that I am going to put in another post.

Overall I give it a B+.  The script was chock full of the witty banter that we have come to expect from the word processor of Joss Whedon and the general plot was well thought out.  That said I can't shake the feeling that bits were missing.  We know that there was a scene with Loki that hit the cutting room floor [1] and it seems there were several other small bits of dialogue that would have made various plot points clearer and they were excised in favor of action sequences.  AoU clocks in at two hours, twenty minutes long so I'm not surprised things had to go.  However if I may indulge in what I call the "Peter Jackson/Hobbit Rule of Action Films" if a film director needs to make a cut and it's a choice between 30 seconds of dialogue to advance the plot or 30 seconds of the good guys fighting be bad guys, cut the latter.  It's an action film, we know and expect lots of fights and explosions but I'm willing to sacrifice an explosion for a bit of plot to help tie the whole thing together.

That said when it comes to those action sequences I do think Whedon is the present master of action choreography.  Last week I noticed it again while watching the DVD of the first Avengers film and I saw it again last night watching AoU.  Whedon gives a great deal of thought to what everybody and everything on the screen is doing.  Not only are the moves of the characters well thought out if it's a one-on-one fight but also what everyone is doing in larger scale shots.  Plus he things about the what happens to the various bits of collateral damage as cars and buildings go flying around.  A superhero slugfest is essentially the same thing as a war with very similar effects on the bystanders and their surroundings and Joss takes this into account.

Getting back to the script, despite its occasional defects it still does a great deal towards getting into the heads and motivations of all the characters, making them more three dimensional people rather than the cardboard cut-outs that superheros tend to become on film.  Especially noteworthy were the attempts by various Avengers to come to grips with Scarlet Witch screwing with their heads.  Plus the conflicts between various characters seemed much more realistic in terms of each one's past and motivations rather than the rather simple optimistic, team-player Captain America versus cynical, loner Iron Man of the first film.

In conclusion, still a very good film.  It could stand some improvements but I very much enjoyed it, plan on seeing it again and will own it when it's released on DVD.

[1] And this scene had better make its way into the DVD release, Mr. Whedon, or else we shall be having words.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Three geeks walk into a con...

First allow me to show you the re-animated corpse of H.P. Lovecraft interviewing a couple of game designers at Cthulhucon in Portland, OR:

This video is a wonderful nexus of three strings of on-line geekery that I regularly follow.

First is the Ask Lovecraft series of videos, in which my friend Canadian actor and all around hoopy frood, Leeman Kessler plays a reanimated H.P. Lovecraft and in the normal course of things answers the questions from his viewers whether it be on his writing, his thoughts on 21st century life and culture, or advice for the lovelorn.  His answers are often filled with wit and occasionally a surprising bit of wisdom and is not to be missed.  Ask Lovecraft posts three times a week on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Leeman is also one half, along with his wife Rev. Rachel Kessler, of the podcast Geekually Yoked, which they describe as "the world's best married, Christian, geek podcast."  Leeman is the child of missionaries and was born and raised in Nigeria.  Rachel is an Anglican priest in the Diocese of Toronto.  They look at the intersection of faith and fandom, and while they and the podcast are explicitly Christian it is not the militant, in your face sort of Christianity some find off-putting.  I'm a Jewish American Pagan and I listen to them regularly for their insightful look at the deeper meaning of the geek culture we all participate in.  Geekually Yoked drops every other week on Saturday.  Or when Leeman gets around to is.

Lastly are the two victims of Leeman's HPL persona, Ken Hite and Robin D. Laws of the podcast Ken And Robin Talk About Stuff.  Ken's and Robin's gaming and writing CV's are far too long and varied to list here but suffice it to say when it comes to geek culture both know what they are talking about.  Their weekly podcast (dropping on Fridays) covers everything from games and gaming, writing, food, cinema, time travel, and conspiracies, to name just a few things they cover.  Ken and Robin are both incredibly knowledgeable and witty and the podcast is great fun to listen to.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Gaming for Nepal

Drive Thru RPG is running two sales on PDF bundles of gaming supplements with all sales going to support charities doing emergency relief in earthquake stricken Nepal.

So go buy some gaming stuff and help the people of Nepal.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Bernie for president?

The political commentariat is all a-twitter (even those not on Twitter) with the news that Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is going to announce his candidacy as a Democrat for president tomorrow.  Now, I do not think for a moment think that Bernie has a snowball's chance in hell of securing the Democratic candidacy, let alone winning the presidency.  And I also think he is more useful in the long run where he is in the Senate as one of the few genuinely progressive voices (along with Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) in the upper house, but I am still all in favor of him running.

The biggest reason to support his candidacy is that it will force Hillary Clinton to tack left now and stay more on the left side of the spectrum until well into 2016.  I am not exactly a Hillary fan.  Don't get me wrong, I think she is vastly superior than any of the members of the present Republican clown car who have either declared or are about to.  But I find her untrustworthy, a little too close to Wall Street, and like her husband a little too keen on triangulating her positions to what sounds best to get elected.

Ever since the 2012 election it has been obvious that she is going to run and there has been an aura of inevitability surrounding her march to the Democratic candidacy.  Having at least one serious challenger is good for her campaign in that it will actually make her organization have to work in the spring of next year and therefore find out earlier if there are any problems that need fixing before general.

The other thing is that while she is truly center-left in her politics I think she's too center and not much left and having to respond to an avowed socialist like Sanders will require her to start articulating more progressive positions especially in spheres of taxation, income inequality and entitlement programs.  To quote President Harry Truman:

I've seen it happen time after time. When the Democratic candidate allows himself to be put on the defensive and starts apologizing for the New Deal and the fair Deal, and says he really doesn't believe in them, he is sure to lose. The people don't want a phony Democrat. If it's a choice between a genuine Republican, and a Republican in Democratic clothing, the people will choose the genuine article, every time; that is, they will take a Republican before they will a phony Democrat, and I don't want any phony Democratic candidates in this campaign.

After eight years of a Democratic president, if Clinton goes out and campaigns too far to the center that she sounds like a fake Republican the electorate will decide they may as well have a real Republican in that case.  Then gods help us all.

That's why I like the idea of Bernie Sanders running for president.  He will make sure we have a truly Democratic candidate on the ballot in November next year.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Words of Wisdom

After spending this morning dealing with my insurance company and the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles I am reminded of something one of my college history professors said after a test on the Roman Empire: "No matter how much they act like asses, it's not a burrocracy,"

Monday, April 27, 2015

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

The first preview video of the BBC's seven part adaptation of Susanna Clark's novel Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell has been released.

It looks visually beautiful and I am looking forward to it being broadcast on this side of the pond.

Which is rather odd because I really detested the book.  When I first heard about it my thought was "Magic in Regency England during the Napoleonic Wars?  Where do I sign up?"  But I have tried on three occasions to read the novel and don't think I've ever gotten farther than a hundred pages.  The problem, as far as I'm concerned is Ms. Clark wrote Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell as a pastiche of the novels of Jane Austen.  And I detest Jane Austen!

I couldn't get past the mimicked writing style.  There was a good story there, I could tell.  I just could not enjoy it.

That is why I'm looking forward to this adaptation.  While the dialogue appears to ape Jane Austen's (and hence Regency) style because it is a visual medium I won't get bogged down in various descriptions of people, places and things in Austenesque novels that I find so tedious and can sit back, watch what was previously, tediously described in words and enjoy the story.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Heinlein and me

One of the common complaints from the Sad Puppies is that nowadays Robert Heinlein could not get published.  I think this is nonsense, at his best he was technically an excellent author and a great storyteller.  But this isn't about Puppygate but rather how Heinlein got me into science fiction.

My dad was always a big science fiction fan and when I was growing up there were always books by Heinlein and Isaac Asimov (his favorites) lying around the house.  When I was nine years old I picked up his copy of Starship Troopers and devoured it.  At ten I swiped his copy of  The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress and fell in love with it.  At this age I was too young to really pick up on the problematic parts of both books and just considered them good space stories.  That these were my first two SF novels probably explains a great deal about me.

Nevertheless I think dad was slightly appalled at my choices and pushed me towards Heinlein's juveniles.  I know I read most if not all of the juveniles at this time but most don't seem to have stuck with me.  I remember enjoying Space Cadet but was not overly impressed with The Rolling Stones.  Eventually I moved on to SF by other authors but whenever I was bored I kept coming back to my first two books.  When I was in eighth grade we had an assignment to do a book report and create diorama based on the book.  Mine was the battle with the Skinnies in the first chapter of Starship Troopers.  This probably explains a lot about why my teachers thought about me the way that they did,

About this time I got interested in board wargaming and again RAH via my dad is to blame.  Dad had a copy of the old Avalon Hill Starship Troopers wargame.  He never really got into it but I thought it was really cool and basically appropriated it for myself.  In fact I still have it stored away someplace.  It hooked me on the hobby and I was soon saving my money to buy my own hex map and cardboard chits wargames.  First on SF&F themes but later historical ones too and I still enjoy the hobby.

I didn't get back to reading more Heinlein until I went to college.  I read the Future History short stories. I loved Time Enough For Love, especially the Notebooks of Lazarus Long sections.  I was disgusted with the sexism of Glory Road.  And I tried several times, then and since, to read A Stranger In A Strange Land but I could never get into it despite everyone saying it was his master work.  Apparently RAH thought it wasn't his best work either, so I guess I'm in good company.

I was in college in the mid-Eighties and this was when his later, weirder works were coming out.  I liked the setting of Friday if not the actual story.  While he had always had a tendency towards author tracts in his books it became more obvious near the end as the story gave way to the characters philosophizing.  In short, I got bored.

And it was in college that I finally became aware of the really problematic, if totally polar opposite, politics of Starship Troopers and The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress and they became less and less of my go to reads when bored.  Basically I finally grew up and grew past Heinlein.  I haven't really read any thing by him in about fifteen years when I re-read Number Of The Beast shortly after moving to Nevada and was mildly amused by the fact that the major characters get married in Elko.

So while I owe Robert Heinlein and my dad a great deal for getting me into both science fiction and wargaming, I find that I cannot really be one of his defenders.  As I said the man could write a good story in his prime but he just became too weird and too controversial for my tastes.

Two final notes.  First, I have never seen Paul Verhoeven's film adaptation of Starship Troopers nor do I ever intend to.  Aside from pumping up the already fascist elements of the novel up to eleven, when I found out the Mobile Infantry wasn't going to have power armor my immediate and continuing reaction was "What's the point?"  After all it was the only real cool thing in the book,

The second is the only RAH novel I still own a copy of continues to be The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress.  I still have something of a week spot for it.  Yes, I recognize it as a completely unrealistic libertarian fantasy but Manny and Mike the Computer are still two of my favorite characters in all of science fiction.

My brother also blogs

Apparently me starting this blog has encouraged my brother Dan to revive his blog, Spice Up Your Dice.  Dan is a professional chef and his blog is primarily about cooking and board gaming, his job and his hobby.  It's good.  You should read it.

Friday, April 24, 2015

That explains it

Now I know why the Puppygate post got so many posts.  File 770 picked it up and linked to it. I'm honored that they thought I was worth linking to.  Thanks guys.

A bit of family history

As I mentioned in my introductory post, I'm originally from Cleveland, Ohio which I consider to be the cultural center of the universe.  On of the more important bits of culture from the geek perspective is Cleveland is the birthplace of Superman.

Joe Shuster and Jerry Seigel, Superman's creators, both went to Glenville High School on the city's east side.  My grandfather, Milton Chenchinsky, also went to Glenville with them and was fairly good friends with both.  In fact after after Jerry Seigel's father died his family was so poor that my great-grandfather who was a baker would send my grandfather around to the Seigel household every Friday with a free challah so they would have one for their Shabbat dinner.  According to family history my great-grandfather was not particularly religious man so one gets the idea that the Seigels must have been really hard up during the Depression.

Anyway I wish I could say that Grandpa Milton stayed close to Joe and Jerry but after they sold Superman to DC comics and moved to New York they grew apart.  Nevertheless I take a certain amount of personal pride in my family's connection with a great American icon.


When I started this blog two days ago I figured it would take a while to take off and that in the beginning only my friends would bother reading it and it would get only a couple dozen hits at most.

But yesterday's post on Puppygate has had 583 views so far!  I'm kind of flabbergasted considering it was only the third post on a two day old blog.  Is this normal?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Don't be a sad puppy about the Sad Puppies

[Note: I am assuming that if you are reading this very new blog you are already familiar with the Puppygate brouhaha surrounding the Hugo Awards.  If not, allow me to recommend George R.R. Martin's very good analysis here and here and Eric Flint's excellent post here.]

I'll admit the title of the post has to do with more with me being clever than just the Sad Puppies.  The primary villain in this whole fiasco is, as far as I'm concerned, Vox Day (aka Theodore Beale) and the Rabid Puppies.  Like John Scalzi and many others, I am fairly convinced that Larry Correia and Brad Torgerson allowed themselves to get played big time by Vox Day and now they don't know how to put the monster back in the box.

But this is less about the various breeds of Puppy but rather the effect Vox Day and his slate and his tactics have had on various people in the community of fandom.  I've just finished listening to the Nerdvana Podcast's latest two part episode on Hugogate with Kevin Standlee as a special guest to explain what happened, what can be done now and what can be done in the future to fix things.  If you haven't listened to it, you can find it here and here.  Take a couple hours and listen to what everyone has to say.

Back now?

One of the things you will notice throughout the podcast is that at several points through out it that Christopher J. Garcia seems to be on the verge of tears and he is convinced that the Hugos have been irreparably tarnished and essentially destroyed.  Chris Garcia is someone in fandom I greatly admire and respect.  He's personally a great guy with a wonderful sense of humor and his knowledge of science fiction and fandom is second to none.  He won a Hugo in 2011 here in Reno for co-editing the fanzine Drink Tank after being nominated six previous times.  Anyone who was at the 2011 Hugo ceremonies and saw his acceptance speech knows just how important the Hugos are to him.

Now while I have been a fan of science fiction since I was a kid, I've only been involved in organized fandom for the last few years.  Chris, on the other hand, practically grew up in fandom.  To a large extent it's not just friends to him, it's family.  The Hugo is not just an award but the highest accolade he can receive from that family.  Therefore by Vox Day's slate and tactics he is pissing on Chris' family.  I can truly understand why Chris is so upset about this.  And I know there are a lot of other people out there in fandom who feel the same as he does.

Where Chris and I disagree is in how much damage has been done.  He thinks the Hugos are irreparably damaged whereas I think they just got an embarrassing black eye.  He thinks that the Hugo administrators failed in not disallowing the Sad/Rabid Puppy slate nomination ballots.  I agree with Kevin that the Hugos have rules for a reason and that we need to work within those rules or else we truly are the controlling clique the Puppies claim we are.

So how do I see things playing out?

Two things are going to happen this year at Sasquan.  First, there is going to be the World Science Fiction Society business meeting chaired by Kevin Standlee that will address the issue of changing the rules to prevent slating from occurring.  I don't know what those exact changes are going to be but like Kevin I hope they go for something simple like instituting a 3/6 or 4/8 rule [1].  The other is that we will know who, if anybody, won any awards.  Vox Day actually did something miraculous by inflicting his slate on the short list, he managed to unite fandom a task akin to herding cats.  I fully expect No Award to win most, if not all, the slated categories.

"But wait," I hear you cry, "Didn't Vox Day threaten to burn down the Hugos if No Award wins any of the writing or editing categories?"  Yes, he did and I fully expect him to try.  But whatever the outcome I expect that in the immediate aftermath of the results the Sad Puppies are going not so quietly get out of the business of pushing a slate.  I fully expect various blog posts from Correia or Torgerson -who have to be aware that they've been played - stating they either proved their point about a clique (if No Award wins) or crowing about their victory (if something they supported wins) and that they don't need put forward slates any more.  This will leave Vox Day floating out there without the fig leaf of respectability the Sad Puppies gave him.  Also we will have the voting and nominating numbers after the awards ceremony so there will be a better idea of just how many people are actually supporting the puppies.  We know you don't need that many people with at least supporting Worldcon memberships to get a particular work/author on the ballot because only a fraction of the supporting membership sends in nominations.

Along comes 2016 and while Vox puts forward his slate of nominees there are going to be a lot of mad fans out there who may not have nominated before who are going to next year.  I didn't nominate this year but I won't make that mistake next.  Many of my friends have said the same thing.  I don't think it will keep VD's nominees completely off the short list but there should be enough whole punched in it that there will be worthy works for the membership to vote for instead of No Award, and No Award winning again still exists as a worst case possibility, which admittedly is a second black eye.  Also in Kansas City, whatever rules changes get decided on at Spokane will be confirmed by that year's WSFS meeting.

Therefore by 2017 it becomes a battle of attrition between Hugo supporters (whether "social justice warriors" or just people who enjoy a good story) and Vox Day and his horde of Visigoths (with apologies to the actual Visigoths) on a playing field where the rules no longer favor his gaming the system.  At this point Kevin believes, and I agree with him, that we can eventually wait out Vox until he gets bored and decides to find something else inside or outside of fandom to destroy.  Chris seems to be of the opinion that Vox can just keep buying supporting memberships for his friends in an attempt to swamp serious voters.  Perhaps he's right but the more Vox tries, the greater the chance is that we can actually nail him him for explicit vote buying and then ban him and his supporters within the WSFS rules.

Like I said earlier, I don't have Chris' history with fandom and I am looking at this very dispassionately from my view as a politics junky who does statistics for a living.  We are looking at a couple painful years but I don't think the Hugos are a lost cause.

Finally, I would like to say that I hope I am interpreting Chris Garcia's feelings and opinions on this correctly.  I am basing it largely on what he said on the Nerdvana Podcast and what he has publicly written.  If I'm wrong, I hope he will set me straight.  And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what separates a mature adult from the various puppies.  They can have strong opposing opinions and discuss them rationally and if one person or another is in the wrong they should be willing to admit so.

[1] If you haven't listened to the entire podcast, there are several proposals that would change the number of finalists slots and the number of works/people you can nominate in those slots.  So rather than the present five nominees for five slots there would be six slots and you can make three nominations in each category or eight and four if that's the way things go.  That way it makes it, if not impossible, at least very hard for a group of people to completely control who gets all the nominations in any given category.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Play nice

So far no one has noticed the blog, which makes sense since it just went live about 10 minutes ago  But one thing I should have added in my first post is that if anybody actually reads this and comments I expect everyone to act like mature adults.

Feel free to disagree with me.  Feel free to disagree with other commenters.  But be polite.  No name calling.  No ad hominem attacks.

I reserve the right to delete comments I interpret as inappropriate and to ban multiple offenders,  In the end, this is my blog and I have the final say about what goes on here.

In Which I Blog

The recent much ado in science fiction fandom known variously as Puppygate and/or Hugogate has inspired me to start blogging.  I'm on Facebook but it's not very good when it comes to long form writing.  So here I am trying my hand at writing my thoughts on a semi-regular basis.

First of all, if you don't know who I am, my name is Arthur Chenin,  I'm a 40-something divorced father of a 10 year old boy.  I work as an institutional research analyst in the planning & budget office of a major land grant, research university.  In short I do statistics for a living.

I was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio and although I now live in the wilds of northern Nevada I still consider Cleveland to be the cultural center of the universe.  I attended Miami University (the one in Ohio) where I studied political science and history.

I am a life-long geek with the standard interests in science fiction and fantasy as well history.  Which raises the question, just what is this blog about?

  • Science fiction & fantasy in all its forms: books, film, television, et cetera.  My tastes are kind of all over the place.  I like a good space opera and epic fantasy as much as a serious exploration of the effects of technology on humanity.
  • SF&F fandom as a subculture including conventions, people and events involving it.
  • Gaming, primarily role-playing and board gaming.  Also I like doing historical miniatures gaming.  However don't expect much about video games, I don't own any consoles and they rarely capture my attention.
  • History, especially the Napoleonic Wars and the Austro-Hungarian Empire but pretty much anything that catches my fancy.
  • Also some alternate history both serious academic questions of  "What if" as well as my present obsession with steampunk.
  • Occasionally I will indulge in political rants.  I am a registered Democrat though my actual beliefs are probably closer to a European-style social Democrat.  Politics will undoubtedly become the subject of more posts as we get closer to an election.

Like I said, I want to post semi-regularly.  Ideally that would be daily but I suspect knowing myself that many days can go between posts.

So that's it for now.  Thanks for reading.

PS And thanks to my dear friend Smooches for help with the name for the blog,