Friday, January 31, 2014

Battery Low

My new short story comes out tomorrow!

In an effort to flood the Internet with the exciting, new Timothy J. Meyer content that it's begging for, I've started writing a series of short stories, one a month, for the year 2014. Each month, I take the same handle and a new genre and attempt to spin as different a tale as I possibly can.

January's Genre:
The Handle:
"Water has absconded with Fire. At the behest of Earth, Wind must give chase."
January's Story
Battery Low, a post-apocalyptic tale about snow, solitude and an earth frozen over.

Available February 1st for download on Amazon and Smashwords!

Here's an excerpt, just for you, my loyal readers:

da da dum dum da 
The town named Orla, Texas elected to sleep in, snugly wrapped in its blanket of downy white. The man named Orla, Texas could afford no such luxury and was awake with the dawn. Plentiful chores this morning. Plentiful chores every morning. 
Sleep could consistently be counted as Orla the Man's enemy. An enemy he was obliged to invite into his home every evening, granted, but an murderous foe nonetheless. He'd first witnessed sleep's homicidal tendencies during his mother's reign. A little shut-eye had, come dawn's early light, cemented a vagabond's corpse to the spare mattress with morning's hoarfrost. His mother, if Orla could recall properly, was forced to burn both man and mattress together, they became so inseparable. 
What was his mother's name? She surely had one and it surely wasn't Orla. This many years distant, details became as fuzzy and indistinct as the horizon line. 
As with every other morning, shoveling announced itself as this particular morning's first and most frequent chore. The previous night's snowfall conspired to plug all of Orla the Town's passages and the task fell to Orla the Man to clear those passages, by hook or crook. The surest antidote against sleep's enervating drain was physical activity, was red blood pumping through busy veins, and he was glad of the exercise. 
dur da dee da dum 
Pecos. He remembered now; his mother's name was Pecos. Pecos, the mother and Orla, the son. The knowledge, the confirmation that his mother belonged to an earlier time, was lucky enough to retain her human name, warms Orla more than any physical exertion might. 
Venturing outside reunited Orla the Man with two more of his ancestral enemies. The sleep was a foe masquerading as a friend. The damp was a henchman of the true danger. It was the cold who was the wolf at the door, the monster whose fangs gnawed ceaselessly at the edges of Orla's the Town's fortifications and Orla the Man's toes and fingers. 
The cold clenched one's lungs. The cold coated one's teeth. The cold insinuated itself gratingly between the joints like shards of ground glass. Sleep was treacherous, damp was parasitic but the cold was thick with evil, with constrictive white hands and vile black thoughts. It was against the cold everything was buttressed and safeguarded, the reason for all the precautions and the vigilance, the capital e Enemy that killed half the world.

Download, read, rate, review, recommend?

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


The World So Far: An uncharted and largely oceanic world, dotted by islands and coastlines, full of strange wonder, abundant resources and tropical beauty. An incoming force of humans, from a number of distinctly 16th century-feeling cultures, have voyaged to this strange place to begin colonization and eventual exploitation of these resources. The local inhabitants, however, are powerful undersea kingdoms, full of dynastic struggle, ancient tradition and military might, and quite unsure how to react to the presence of these foreign colonists.

In my continued efforts to put the cart before the horse, it's time to talk about this world's technology!

One of my very favorite series, Scott Lynch's Gentlemen Bastard Sequence, utilizes fantasy fiction technology in an innovative way. While sorcery is both extant and reserved for use by a select few, the arts of alchemy and artifice fulfill the same purpose to the common, nonmagical people. In Locke's world, it's made readily apparent that a piece of clockwork engineering or an alchemical hybrid is no less fantastical than a spell or an enchantment. Indeed, because of the constraints of verisimilitude placed on a technological wonder, rather than a magical hand-wave, those pieces of flavor and worldbuilding always feel that much more concrete, that much more justified, than what little sorcery his stories do employ.

I think this conceit, that magic's an unnecessary part of fantasy fiction, will be core to my setting. The world's fantastical elements will arise from its impossible locations, its inhuman inhabitants, its unimagined technology. Were the missus reading this, this would be the moment she'd whip out the Arthur C. Clarke.

That said, the logical assumption from here would be there are two distinct threads of technology that, perhaps until now, have not merged. One strain of technology would belong to the Colonists, our 16th-century European interlopers and adventurers. Beyond basic assumptions of agriculture, infrastructure and craftsmanship, our aesthetic guidelines for the Colonists would include such advances as:
  • Tall Ships
  • Gunpowder
  • Steel Weapons and Armor
  • Advanced Nautical Navigation
  • Printing Press
  • Metallurgy
For the setting's needs, tall ships and advanced nautical navigation seem vital.  While earlier styles of ship, such as longships or triremes don't really appeal, somewhat more advanced ships (here's looking at you, ironclad) actually kinda do. A clunky, slow, thickly-armored warship feels like an acceptable and tonally accurate leap forward. Turns out, the Korean turtle ship arrived on the Yellow Sea in the early 15th century. While not an ironclad, per se, the notion exists around that time period and a mere continent away. Tall ships, I think, still form the vast majority of the world's traffic, but the occasional ponderous warship adds some variety and anachronistic flavor.

Presumably, a warship requires armor to deflect cannon fire, which brings us to gunpowder. This one gives me some pause. The arquebus is a major component of the conquistador's aesthetic appeal and I'd be loathe to lose it. Plus, sea battles are especially undramatic without the smoke and impact of thudding cannons. Add to that the justification of the ironclad and it seems a dead assumption. Something's sticking in my craw, however.

I think I'm hesitant to include real-world gunpowder sight unseen. I think it needs some fantastical sprucing.

The first confluence of gunpowder and fantasy I can recall is viewing Princess Mononoke for the first time at a 5th grade sleepover. Awestruck by its colorful bizarreness, my memories are surprisingly few; a samurai's arm nailed to a tree with an arrow, boars mud across their hides as warpaint and, inaccurately, brightly colored gunpowder shot. My doughy, ten-year-old mind somehow extrapolated blasts of bright purple, yellow and green from the strange, primordial firearms used in the film and that image's stuck around with me.

What if gunpowder was exceptionally general term? What if the science behind the creation of gunpowder allowed for a great number of variations? To use an extremely basic and elemental example, I could imagine blue powder freezing enemies and even seawater around an enemy's ship. Green powder might burn like acid, eating away wood and sailcloth. White powder could create a sudden starburst, more meant to disorient and confuse an enemy than actively harm them.

This seems to add a new and interesting variety, while maintaining the general aesthetic of warships studded with cannon snouts and conquistadors propping cumbersome rifles against their shoulders.

Lastly, we're brought to steel weapons and metallurgy. Another component of the classic conquistador is the breastplate and axeblade helmet and it seems a natural to assume they'd have advanced smithing techniques. The problem, of course, is considering how nautical the campaign is, armor would do nothing but ensure anyone overboard died a horrible, suffocating death. I'm tempted to apply the same logic I used on gunpowder to smithing.

Imagine new compounds, new alloys that advances in metallurgy and access to fictional ores and irons could grant. Hell, what about a buoyant allow? That would not only prevent soldiers wearing breastplates of the stuff from drowning, but it would actively serve as a life preserver, studding the water between battling ships with bobbing and rifle-wielding adversaries. A buoyant allow, in the continued theme, suddenly makes an ironclad warship make tons and tons of sense. That's just one example, too – there could be dozens of kinds of specialized metals and compounds.

I think, in general, that's the key to the Colonist's technology: superficially, it resembles something you recognize; tall ships, muskets and metal armor. Upon closer inspection, however, it's actually a good deal more fantastic.

The other strain of technology, obviously, would belong to the Kingdoms, the underwater empires a good deal more ancient and established than these seafaring upstarts. I think, in keeping with the world's overall conceit of strangeness, I want their technology to be completely inscrutable to the Colonists. Maybe, in their ages, it's magic, but, in true Arthur C. Clarke fashion, it's simply unknowably different. Which seems to make sense, however – none of the above three technologies (ships, gunpowder or floating armor) would be of any use to someone living on the bottom of the sea.

Considering this post's considerable length, I'm gonna cop out and conclude here, with the following pledge. I want the Kingdom's technology to be so strange and unknowable, that it may require some outside brainstorming. I reserve a future post to discuss this, once I've had some time to percolate privately.

I think we've been cerebral long enough, don't you? Next week, let's draw some maps!

Next Wednesday on Worldblogger: Geography!

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Monday, January 27, 2014

Play, Read, Watch

What I'm Playing: The Banner Saga: Factions by Stoic. Due to a lack of that one green currency (what's it call, mooney? Marney?), I'm unable to foot the steep $25 bill for the full game and thus therefore content myself with the free multiplayer version. I think it's become clear to me, over the past twelve hours of gameplay, that strategy games really aren't my thing. I think my brain keeps attempting to formulate some kinda narrative, where there maybe shouldn't be one. The Viking aesthetics and the hand-drawn artwork, though, are such that I'm constantly drawn back in. And then my ass is constantly whooped by far superior players. Never mind that, however – what they lack in valor and battlefield acumen, my Vikings more than compensate for with fulfilling character arcs, epithets and three-dimensional personalities.

What I'm Reading: The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel. A strange selection, coming from an avowed lover of genre fiction, but, thanks to my recent hiring at Inka Collective, it's become my task to read and review the book as well as view and review the upcoming film. This one's an especially dry one, though. I'm plugging through as best I can, but I cannot shake the feeling that perhaps the 17 pages on the history of the hometown one of the book's 19 protagonists came from is maybe, perhaps, a little overkill. I'll be glad to put this one behind me. (Relatedly, check out my review for August: Osage County!)

What I'm Watching: Luther by Neil Cross. You know, I think I may have a thing for gritty, scripted-based cop dramas. It's a thin line to foxtrot upon; doing a case of the week procedural without becoming CSI, but something about Luther works for me. Elba's performance is spot-on, of course, the writing comes and goes, but the general conceit of the beleaguered police detective drowning in casework that only continues to pile up, that weary, dogged determination to keep solving cases without becoming self-righteous, really appeals to me. The second series has started to go pear-shaped, as it's introduced the, I think, fourth serial killer? Third? And, beyond Alice Morgan, I really don't think the show needs another.

Tune in tomorrow for more Worldblogger!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Review: Space Dandy 1.3 – "Occasionally Even the Deceiver Is Deceived, Baby"

Space Dandy continues apace with the show's third episode (unfortunately kinda a stinker in this eyes of this reviewer...).

Episode 3: Occasionally Even the Deceiver Is Deceived, Baby

A few abortive attempts to hoodwink his employers into an early payday, an redeemable gift card to the unabashedly named Boobies and a warping accident plants the crew of the Aloha Oe on a deserted alien planet. The local wildlife consists of some well-meaning horrors and one deceptively monstrous beauty with designs to devour the entire crew. The show's rampant misogynism is reaching new and less satirical heights and Dandy's wackiness in the face of such one-sided sexuality is quickly waning. The twist ending presumably promises a resurrection for Meow, but considering the pilot's bizarre ending, who can really say?

The Review Thus Far
Can a show jump the shark in its third episode? This is a decidedly weird one, folks, and a distinct low point for the infant series so far. What starts as a promisingly petty plot – racing across the galaxy to redeem a coupon for a free meal – quickly becomes typical male drooling and eventually facepalming inanity. Swear to God, readers, the alien's a literal boob monster, complete with fetishistic swelling scene. Add an inexplicable Voltron moment, when the ship's escape pod becomes a weird, pompadoured Megazord and one's left hoping this episode's merely a fluke or a hiccup.

More reviews to come!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Undersea Aesthetics

The World So Far: An uncharted and largely oceanic world, dotted by islands and coastlines, full of strange wonder, abundant resources and tropical beauty. An incoming force of humans, from a number of distinct 16th century-feeling cultures, have voyaged to this strange place to begin colonization and eventual exploitation of these resources. The local inhabitants, however, are all entirely aquatic, dwelling deep beneath the waves and quite unsure how to react to the presence of these foreign colonists.

Upon further reflection, I may be approaching the order-of-events here somewhat bassackwardsly.

Aesthetics are all well and dandy, in general, but I'm beginning to feel there are great number of decisions to be made before I can settle on something as trivial as clothing and costume. I think, today, I'm going to focus more keenly on the general conceit behind these undersea kingdoms and see whether or not that answers my questions, more or less.

To recap: Last week, I settled on the notion that the Colonists (let's institute that capital C early) were vaguely European feeling, corresponding approximately with the colonial adventurers of countries like Spain, France, Portugal and England as they put down stakes in the New World. The Spanish conquistador was held up as the ideal toward which to strive, the stipulation was made that the Colonists are a comparatively recent addition to this world and the possibility of an egalitarian society was discussed.

The obvious corollary, then, for these underwater civilizations seems to be the Mesoamerican cultures of Maya, Olmec, Aztec and Inca. Advanced, distinctly alien in the eyes of incoming European and possessed of a rich tapestry of culture and tradition, they would seem the likely candidate. As stated above, however, I'd rather delve a little deeper into their actual concept before stabling a real world parallel onto them.

For one thing, I'd rather not project the idea that these underwater civilizations are prone to immediate destruction at the hands of disease, superior technology and imperialism by the Colonists. In fact, I'm amused by the idea that the Kingdoms (see what I did there?) cannot quite decide whether the Colonists are a genuine threat, perhaps because the humans, for the most part, only interested in the land. As their realms exist exclusively under the ocean and, one imagines, a good depth beneath the waves, its conceivable the two societies could peacefully co-exist.

For contrast, imagine if an alien force arrived on earth and was exclusively interested in occupying the planet's freshwater lakes and rivers, with no interest in any of the terra firma all around them.

What kind of relationship would they develop, then, as opposed to a strictly adversarial one? Would feelings of xenophobia and hatred still arise between Colonist and Kingdom? Would they find some sticking point – fishing and pollution both occurred to me just now – that they'd manufacture this grievance upon? Or, more likely, would their reaction be mixed? Some Colonists wish to ingratiate themselves with some of the Kingdoms, some Kingdoms wish to exterminate or drive off other Colonists and so forth.

It seems an important distinction to make that, by and large, these aren't unified groups. I could see the various Kingdoms having some apparatus in place of international diplomacy, effectively, but I hardly think they're of one mind. No, I think, much like the Colonists, these need to be distinct cultures and kingdoms, divided by creed, philosophy and politics as much as simple geography.

The Mesoamerican model, in light of this, continues to sound vaguely appropriate, but there's another important distinction to make. I don't think I want a technology gap between the two cultures.

This is something I'm likely to discuss in more detail next week, but I think it's vastly more interesting if there's a disconnect in the types of technology the two cultures exhibit, but perhaps not a disparity in power levels. To continue the ongoing theme of the weirdness of this world and the Colonist's "fish-out-of-water" syndrome, I'd almost like the undersea kingdoms technology to appear practically as magic to these newcomers. Imagine – a civilization dwelling underwater would have zero use of gunpowder, steel and even fire. How would they go about defending themselves? Constructing their homes? Transportation, agriculture, innovation?

Additionally, I think the Kingdoms are anything but primitive. Not to suggest the Aztecs or Inca were in actuality, but they certainly were in the eyes of the Europeans. I'd rather the Colonists look upon these vast undersea kingdoms with awe and fear. I want the Colonists to feel they're trespassing on territory already occupied by a power much greater and much older than their own.

The more I describe them, the less these Kingdoms sound like Aztec or Incans. The vibe I'm getting is much more reminiscent of the Moorish empire in Spain or, better yet, Ancient China. This seemingly strange power, separated by a great distance (in this case vertical distance) with a technology as advanced, if not more advanced, than their own and with a culture distinctly alien to theirs.

I'm feeling stronger and stronger about this. Obviously, the point should be to keep the cultures as distinct as possible, but I think the benchmarks of Colonial Europe meets Ancient China provides an interesting contrast. I can run with this.

Next Wednesday on Worldblogger: Technology!

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Monday, January 20, 2014

Mooncrash Post-Game – Episode 51: An Urgent Summons

Disclaimer: As my weekly D&D resumed this Sunday, I thought I'd start chronicling my thoughts on each session here, as a means to examine my own DMing process. Mooncrash players? I ask you don't click the Jump Break below, for spoiler reasons.

Episode Title: An Urgent Summons
Episode Summary: After a half-year hiatus, The Nameless Company is summoned back together by Baron Zuss, their liege lord in Tojezen, who informs them their fortress, Bluffguard, has been covertly conquered by Prygor, the dreaded rival of the party's warlord. Hatching a plan to infiltrate the keep while the garrison is distracted by a local festival, the adventurers discovered a secret passage, containing the accursed tomb of Bluffguard's first Lord, and battle a cavern choker on the crude staircase.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Date Night 2000™

With the majority of the missus' free time swallowed up by work, sleep and enduring my worldbuilding rants, we've precious little time to engage in traditional "couple-esque" activities. In this spirit did we institute Date Night 2000™, a monthly initiative to start leaving the apartment, eating non-rice-associated foods and look at things besides our computer screens.

The traditional Date Night ritual includes rolling a d10 and multiplying the result by 5 to determine the budget.

In October, we attended a staged reading of War of the Worlds. In November, we attended a roller derby bout. In December, we splurged on an afternoon of expensive zoo food.

In January, the missus outdid herself with her measely $25 budget, saved a small fortune in secret and took me out to the most magical of evenings.

We started off at Le Petit Chateau, a tiny French restaurant on Lankershim. In a charmingly European fashion, we were thrilled to learn there was no goddamn place to park. Once we got inside, however, the missus set the budget for meals absurdly high, allowing us to indulge in appetizers (escargot), main courses (frog legs and coquilles st. jacques, whatever the fuck that means) and even desert (profiteroles). The restaurant's interior was at once very French and very grandmotherly, the perfect nexus for the missus but, for myself, I couldn't help shaking the notion that the last time someone this Scandinavian was in a place that French, a lotta people got hanged.

Overstaying our welcome at the Chateau somewhat necessitated our scrambling halfway across town, via cars and subways and missed connections, to reach the second half of Date Night 2000™ – a concert here, featuring this guy and, most importantly, headlining this other guy. The previous year, he'd been fortunate enough catch a performance of Anaïs Mitchell, my second favorite musician, at McCabe's Guitar Shop in Santa Monica. Colin Meloy, however, lead singer of The Decemberists, is decidedly my favorite musician and particularly the most talented lyricist known to mankind.

The concert, despite a few weird song choices, was one of those experiences I had to keep reminding myself was actually happening. Decemberist music coats so much of my day-to-day life, his voice so perfectly matched the recordings in my head, it was nearly a disconnect, to realize the person who wrote those songs and who sings those songs was actually standing there, a few hundred feet away.

The "Hank, Eat Your Oatmeal" moment was a particular highlight. The moment a much more recognizable song began – Calamity Song, in this case – I practically had a heart palpitation.

All of this, thanks to the missus and her sneaky ways.

Next month, for posterity, I rolled a budget of $5. Not quite sure how to top this.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Aesthetics and Technology (Part 1)

I may have lied. I may have done some Worldblogger brainstorming away from the computer.

Well, brainstorming is a generous term. I'm gonna call it some research into the Age of Sail.

Armed with this research, I'm here to make some crucial decisions about both Aesthetics and Technology. Put simpler; what'll they wear and what'll they wield.

Aesthetics: In my youth, when designing cultures for D&D worlds, I would gleefully file the serial numbers off a historical culture, such as 18th Century England, Ancient China or colonial Spain, and insert them, with barely a revision, into my fantasy world. I've grown somewhat softer on this technique as of late, preferring to draw my own cultures as whole-cloth as I possibly can, but, obviously, some borrowing from history is inevitable.

Today, however, I'm going to attempt and refrain from out-and-out culture building and force myself, for now, to speak rather generally.

The conceit of the world, then, seems to be that one group of people (more likely several groups of people) have encroached into and attempted to colonize a territory already inhabited by another group of people (more likely several groups of people). One group, the colonizing force, would presumably be a terrestrial, seafaring people, the second group of people, the native population, would presumably be the aquatic, kingdom-building people and the territory being encroached into is a series of islands and possibly (small) continents, with plenty of ocean in between.

The most obvious historical parallel, then, would be the meeting of New World and Old World – European explorers in Central America – in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. On one hand, you have a small force of foreigners with better arms, armaments and the backing of both powerful lords and even more powerful diseases and, on the other hand, you have the mighty, pre-established empires of the region, with their own and utterly distinct culture, society and governments.

In terms of setting, my mind immediately conjures images of jungled islands, crystal blue waters, an equatorial climate. It's possible to deviate from this imagery – I can imagine an arctic or desert climate applied liberally across this premise, but I think I'm more drawn to the Caribbean vibe, despite its historical precedent. I think I'd rather make political or thematic deviations than aesthetic ones. I want readers/players to look at this world and immediately comprehend the Age of Exploration vibe.

Therefore, I think styling my incomers as Europeans and my natives as Mesoamericans is perhaps the right call. I want a sharp, cultural divide between the two cultures – beyond one being terrestrial and the other aquatic – and I think playing into a visual similarity will allow me to invert some new, surprising cultural clashes.

For my incomers, then, I'm envisioning tall ships, elaborate costumes, steel weapons. Here are a few mock-ups I pulled from Google Search about costumes from the 16th and 17th century.

These ones I like, particularly the three men's costumes. For women here, I prefer the mid-to-late century dress.

Once again, all three of the men's costumes feel appropriate. Big hats, silly shoes. I like the early and late women's costumes, but not the mid-century one as much.

I think this is where I'd start to draw the line. Spanish adventurers? Yes. Powdered wigs? No.

In looking at these costumes, I think I've made a few decisions.
  • I think the incomers are relatively recent to this part of the world. No more than a century, at the absolute most. I don't quite think they've had much time to become entrenched on this wild frontier. I don't think they're quite to levels of excess found the 1700 and 1800s in the Caribbean. They're still mapping islands, erecting forts and discovering resources.
  • Aesthetically, I think that means they're somewhat less concerned with fashion than they might be in a few hundred years. I think the Spanish Conquistador is one of my hallmarks here; the pantaloons, the armored breastplate, those axeblade helmets. Colonization of the region has only recently begun – coming to these islands is still considered a wild adventure rather than a comfortable holiday.
  • I'm also debating an egalitarian society; those massive dresses don't feel appropriate to drag along on an adventure. A female conquistador is a striking image and would add a necessary spice of variety. Will maybe reserve this judgment until I've developed the undersea kingdoms some; would want to contrast as much as possible between them.
In short, I think the incomers approximate Europeans from the 16th century; Cortez meets Shakespeare. Doublets and hose under breastplate and helmet.

This is quickly becoming a chuckier post that I wanted. I may need to break this into multiple weeks.

Next Wednesday on Worldblogger: Undersea Aesthetics!

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Monday, January 13, 2014

Review: Space Dandy 1.1 – "Live With The Flow, Baby!"

In my ongoing attempt to imitate a functional and popular blog, I'm going to review a television show!

I never had the good fortune to watch either one of Shinichrio Watanabe's two trademark series (Cowboy Bebop & Samurai Champloo) on their Toonami and Adult Swim broadcasts, respectively. As an avid fan of both series, I was understandably pretty pumped to hear he was producing another series, another science-fiction series, in fact, and even more surprised to discover it premiered at the top of the year.

I've consistently found, across the various shows that serially entertain and frustrate me, that a single episode can often make or break my entire opinion of a show. The format, therefore, that I'm gonna initiative here is a brief, 100 word review of each episode, followed by another brief, 100 word review of the series in general, in light of both episodes. This will hopefully put the overall review somewhat into perspective, in the context of the larger shower.

First – a synopsis: The show follows the eponymous Space Dandy, a funky, interstellar pervert, as he floats around the galaxy, ostensibly to chronicle unknown alien species, but quite demonstrably to ogle boobies on a galactic scale. Joined by his long-suffering robotic companion QT and a feline freeloader (imaginatively named Meow), the crew of the Aloha Oe are destined to embroil themselves in wacky, episodic adventures until the space cows come home.

Episode 1: Live With The Flow, Baby
In which the principal cast is introduced, the scene is set and the tone is very, very firmly established. I appreciate that, when contrasted against Spike or Mujen, Dandy has zero redeeming qualities and is just an unqualified buffoon. With only one episode to judge, their ludicrously sexualized portrayal of women is so laughable and cringe-worthy, it feels like satire, but won't quite commit to condemning Dandy as a lecherous hump rather than a playful scamp. The episode's ending was a fun twist, demonstrating just how unapologetically weird the show's willing to become for the sake of a quick laugh.

Episode 2: The Search for the Phantom Space Ramen, Baby
The crew's set on the trail of a mysterious noodle vendor, whose broth is so bizarre and unfathomable, they must belong to a previously unknown alien race. The petty plot remains enjoyably absurd and I was cackling with delight at the progression of goofy noodle shop names. Still no clue what the looming Bad Bad fleet has to do with anything, but we were introduced to Scarlet, the least sexualized, most capable woman in the show thus far. The script's more modern flourishes (Meow tweeting, the references to Gogol Street View) are also a refreshing discovery each time they appear.

The Review Thus Far
The show's tone – wacky, sex-fueled slapstick – quite surprised me. From this director, I, of course, expected something highly stylized, but never this bawdy of an out-and-out comedy. Surprisingly enough, the show's genuinely entertaining, laugh out loud funny and its design, as ever, is endlessly imaginative. Highlights include the various alien designs, the action sequences and the Big Bad's personal flagship – the Statue of Liberty's severed head, strapped to a rocket thruster. The show's more problematic elements, namely their depiction of women, continues apace, but maybe the introduction of Scarlet will rescue us from that somewhat, however unlikely.

More reviews to come!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Top 3 of 2013

Owing mainly to my relative poverty, I've elected to, in lieu of screenplays, chronicle my favorite three books I've read this year. Only one of this year's list was actually released this year, but it turns out I've as little money for new books I do for movie tickets.

(Mild spoilers for the books mentioned, two of which are several years old.)

3. The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch
Announced in 2007 and released in 2013, I was fortunately ignorant of Mr. Lynch's work until a friend (surprisingly cognizant of my tastes, as the same friend also recommended me Transmetropolitan) pointed me in his direction in 2010. As a result, I was only subject to half the anticipation as his original fans and, I will say, the book fulfilled about 90% of that hype.

A much more introspective, much less swashbuckling adventure, the novel covers a substantial swath of the Gentleman Bastards unseen origins and, subsequently, relegates what would otherwise by the "A plot" – rigging an election on behalf of their hated enemies, the Bondsmagi – to the "B" plot. An interesting structure, but not, I'm forced to admit, a wholly satisfactory one. The book, at parts, feels a tad uneven – an imbalance aided by the need to tie up a few loose ends from Red Seas Under Red Skies that clutter the opening somewhat.

All that said, the book's overall a blast; another fantastic tale of adventure, trickery and wit, with some of his freshest, most enjoyable dialogue yet. By and by, Sabetha doesn't disappoint, though she may carry some August Fenwick Syndrome – that concealing her this long serves no practical purpose – and I've very anxious to see where Lynch takes her in the future.

2. Perdido Street Station by China Miéville
What will probably make 2013 memorable for me in future years of reading is the advent of this author into my awareness. I'd heard the name China Miéville and specifically Perdido Street Station previously and been intrigued and I couldn't possibly be more glad that I finally followed that hunch up and snagged a copy.

In addition to being the purest example I've yet read of Miéville's madcap, insensate worldbuilding, his trademark addiction to vocabulary is thickest here as well, the combination of which satisfied a long-ignored hunger in my brain-stomach. It's not, of course, without fault – some of the characterization's pretty bland, a reoccurring problem of his, but the final reveal was so masterful, that the missus and I continue to debate its merits, one of the few times we've disagreed respectfully about literature without dissolving into impassioned argument.

The Miéville I've read since then (Embassytown, Railsea and The Scar) have consistently been rewarding, but none as much as Perdido. My life now needs this poster.

(drum roll)

1. Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon
Is it the greatest book ever written? Certainly not. Is it the greatest book I read this year? In the company of the above two selections and other such luminaries as Fight Club, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and even Where The Wild Things Are, definitely not? Is it my favorite book ever? Maybe.

The confluence of setting (Dark Ages Eurasia), characters (a superstitious, implicitly immortal Abyssinian with a Viking axe and a Frankish surgeon-turned-cutthroat smitten with a hat and a horse) and language (a baroque, put-upon grandiloquence that keeps me grinning the entire read) have conspired against me. The tale of a pair of luckless highwayman tangling themselves in the politics of kingdoms, armies and empires, the story's just fun, an endless series of captures-and-escapes, populated liberally by elephants, horse thieves and Vikings. Due to a brace of very generous Christmas gifts, I now own the paperback, the audiobook, the ebook and still I lust after the hardcover. I think, in the short year, I've read the book (mostly listened, to be frank) a total of seven times?

The only real criticism I can level is that Chabon didn't indulge in the original title; Jews With Swords.

As for 2014, I'm halfway through Fly By Night by Frances Hardinge and there's a substantial chance already it'll make next year's list, is how much I love it. For those of you in the know, Saracen. Saracen forever and always.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

General Conceits

As I stipulated last week, the last thing I wanted to do with this project was concept everything away from the blog and simply explain to you all the "brilliant" ideas I had somewhere else. The intention is to perform an autopsy on my creative progress, to poke about its innards while you watch and you can maybe glean something worthwhile from the exercise? Maybe that's presuming.

The difficulty's been, however, in keeping my mind from turning to the project. Already, quite without my consent, I've been brainstorming a smattering of different world concepts in the course of several minutes, while washing the dishes, jogging or playing video games. I've been forced to dial those impulses in, shelve the ideas and save the magic for this venue and this venue alone.

Easier said than done, of course, but enough of my griping. Let's tuck in.

Part 1: General Conceits
I feel, in starting, I need an elevator pitch: a nice, neat, concise mission statement about the world I can tack up over my proverbial working desk, to consistently remind myself the style and the tone of the world we're working in. For those unfamiliar with the term, an "elevator pitch" is a screenwriting phrase that refers to the one sentence (usually one sentence fragment) summarization of your script, that you can sling at passing executives and producers while riding in an elevator. A common theme with an elevator pitch is the combination of two well-known movies; (Pitch Black meets Are We There Yet?, etc.)

By elevator pitch logic, Barsoom's elevator pitch would be "Spartacus in space." Eberron's, conversely, might be "Steampunk via magical means" (In fact, I think Rich Baker's actual pitch was The Lord of the Rings meets The Maltese Falcon meets Raiders of the Lost Ark, which, I don't know, seems like the most meaningless elevator pitch I've ever heard). For my purposes, I may do away with the standardized format in favor of something a little more nuanced. I won't, for example, be pitching this world to any executives in any elevators, so perhaps we can afford a little more granularity.

In devising the core concept, however, it's good to start with these base primal elements. As a starting exercise, I'm gonna make a master list of the fleeting ideas that I've tried to shelve, little seeds of concepts that I could maybe incorporate into my new world. Maybe via combining them or even simply laying them all out, I'll find some synergies or commonalities across:
  • Desert Climates
  • Arctic Climates
  • Nautical Themes
  • Underwater Kingdoms
  • Nonstandard or Monstrous Races
  • Sword-and-Planet
  • Cities
  • Unusual or Unique Maps / Geography
  • Norse Mythology
  • Industrial Revolutions
  • Frontiers / Colonization
  • Limited Resources / Nonstandard Economies
At first brush, many of the ideas are immediately contradictory; Desert Climate and Arctic Climate, for example. There're several equally obvious synergies, however – Nautical Themes and Underwater Kingdoms co-mingle pretty seamlessly.

Speaking from experience, I happen to know I'm a fan of extremes. It pleases some artistic node in my brain to strip something fundamental away from a setting, to challenge its expectations by making some drastic, almost absurd stipulation, and watching what bizarre society collects in the cracks. This is the primary reason I'm in love with Athas; no water, no deities, no steel, no magic. By removing practically everything one expects in a fantasy setting, the world left in that wake was all the more bizarre and fascinating as a result.

The more I ruminate on this Nautical Themes / Underwater Kingdoms connection, the more I'm intrigued. Perhaps inspired by a growing anticipation for Failbetter Games' Sunless Sea, but I'm almost weary of a world where every conceivable corner's been developed to death. One of my favorite aspects of Qairn, my current D&D campaign world, is the far flung continent of Dread Salarza, which, Age of Exploration-style, is only partially and imperfectly charted.

Even typing the words "Age of Exploration" felt right.

Examining the list a second time, I can easily see how to incorporate two, even three more themes – Frontiers / Colonization is a given and Unusual or Unique Maps / Geography is definitely conceivable, considering the active exploration game, but I can even see Limited Resources / Nonstandard Economies playing a major factor, in the way spices and goods motivated much of the Age of Discovery and Colonization.

This is starting to feel coherent; a nautical world, maybe even a simple section of a world, rife with exploration, adventure, foreign goods and enterprising nations, hoping to colonize as many islands as possible. Maybe the Underwater Kingdoms are the established political entities of the region, inhabited by Nonstandard or Monstrous Races, who resent this sudden influx of invaders on their queer wooden vessels.

Plus, I mean, pirates, now.

It isn't quite an elevator pitch in the traditional sense, and there remains much more to developed (technology levels, aesthetics, all that) but how's something like this?
"A world of uncharted islands, populated by ambitious colonial powers and sprawling underwater empires, where exploration, trade and discovery are the currency of the realm."
This feels tenable. This definitely feels expandable, but, maybe I should save something for the 52 more posts this year.

Ooo. What if the world's flat?

Next Wednesday on Worldblogger: Aesthetics and Technology!

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Monday, January 6, 2014

Kick the Hobbit

Disclaimer the First: The following post contains expansive spoilers for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and, quite frankly, The Hobbit in general. To be read at one's own peril.

Disclaimer the Second: As it happens, I actually have really enjoyed both Hobbit films thus released; the performances are top notch, the attention to detail, in many cases, is extremely admirable and I'd pay any amount of money to return to Jackson's Middle Earth for any length of time.

All of that said; they ain't great adaptations and I intend to illustrate why.



0:00 – 1:30: In Bag End, Bilbo withdraws the Red Book from his trunk, inner monologuing about Frodo very much in the way he does in the finished film, before seating himself at his writing table and scratching out the words "In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit."

1:30 – 3:30: As Bilbo writes, Frodo emerges from a side passage and their scene plays out precisely as it does the movie, ending with Frodo hanging "No admittance except on party business" on the front gate, before departing off for East Farthing Woods to meet Gandalf.

3:30 – 4:00: Bilbo returns to his book and writes the phrase "An Unexpected Journey" across the top, serving as the film's title drop. We flash back to A3 2941 and start the adventure proper; (within four minutes, I might add).

4:00 – 17:00: The next dozen minutes or so play out precisely as they do in the original film; Gandalf and Bilbo banter on the doorstep, dwarves begin arriving at Bilbo's house, they make a mess of his larder, Thorin arrives, the quest for Erebor is revealed, Bilbo faints and everything seems quite ridiculous and untenable for the poor hobbit.

17:00 – 20:00: The Dwarven Song of Old Wealth is sung and, as is describe in the book, the prologue normally viewed at the movie's opening (Erebor, Thror, the arrival of Smaug, the dwarven disaspora) is shown in flashes, revealing this isn't some stupid get-rich-quick scheme for the dwarves, but the reclaiming of their heritage. (Note: With the loss of extraneous material the Arkenstone, the town of Dale and Bilbo's narration, the amount of material shown is effectively halved).

20:00 – 25:00: The next five minutes play out precisely as they do in the film; Bilbo awakens, discovers the dwarves gone, ruminates over the contract and runs out the door. You can even keep the dwarves betting on whether Bilbo would arrive or not, and the scene with the gross dwarven hanky.

25:00 – 42:00: The company arrives at the ruined farmhouse, Gandalf advises moving on, we learn of Thorin's distrust of the elves (possibly a flash or two here to Thranduil, if deemed necessary) and Gandalf disappears. The dwarves contend with the trolls, only to be rescued by Gandalf's sudden arrival. Gandalf can appear bemused at the appearance of trolls this far south, the troll-hoard is discovered, Bilbo receives Sting.

42:00 – 43:00: At the howling of wargs in the hills, Gandalf leads the dwarves down a rocky culvert, into a secret passage. Thorin expresses distrust of this path, fearing where it might lead, and eventually, his fears are proven accurate when the dwarves arrive at Rivendell.

43:00 – 50:00: The dwarves' stay in Rivendell. Almost nothing is changed from this seven minute block; Elrond arrives, claiming to have been hunting wargs that seemingly don't below in this part of the world, the dwarves balk at leafy foods, Elrond appraises both Thorin's sword, Thorin's map and ultimately, Thorin's quest.

50:00 – 53:00: No longer trusting Gandalf, since he's lead the group astray into Rivendell, Thorin and company sneak out of Imladris at dawn, leaving the wizard behind. In Rivendell, Gandalf and Elrond discuss the quest; Gandalf's famous line "Because he gives me courage" is uttered in this scene.

53:00 – 1:33:00: The next forty minutes of the film play out precisely as it does in the theatrical version; the dwarves cross the mountains, things go bad with the Thunder Battle, things go bad with the goblins, Bilbo becomes lost, plays riddles with Gollum, finds the ring, escapes; Gandalf arrives to save the dwarves' bacon, big action sequence on the catwalks and walkways of Goblintown. They flee onto the hillside, where they reunite with Bilbo and Martin Freeman DESTROYS his "you don't have a home" monologue.

1:33:00 – 1:38:00: The sudden appearance of vengeful Misty Mountain goblins, riding the aforementioned wargs, drives Thorin & Company into a nearby pine tree, where they lob flaming pinecones at the goblins. Things look bad, Gandalf dispatches his faithful moth and Bilbo, for all his speech earlier, is terrified and quailing; possibly faints as a recall joke to earlier.

1:38:00 – 1:43:00: A stirring moment comes when the eagles suddenly arrive, decimating the wargs and goblins, snatching up the dwarves and carrying them away to safety. Gandalf HAS A GODDAMN SCENE THANKING THE EAGLES I DON'T CARE HOW DIFFICULT THEIR BEAKS ARE TO ANIMATE and the company looks out over Mirkwood and Erebor's, for plot and logical reasons, not visible.

At this point, we deviate somewhat more strenuously from the theatrical cut of Unexpected Journey, since the Carrock was where the first film ends. Stay with me here.

1:43:00 – 1:48:00: Scrambling down the Carrock, the dwarves arrive at Beorn's home where, informing him they were chased out of the mountains by wargs, the skinchanger subsequently informs Gandalf of trouble brewing to the south, trouble he must attend to. Gandalf departs, with earnest assurances he will return shortly, leaving the dwarves to tackle Mirkwood alone.

1:48:00 – 1:54:00: For the next twelve minutes, the dwarves make their way through the darkened eaves of Mirkwood. Thorin chastises Bilbo for his cowardice in the warg encounter, claiming he talks a big game, but hasn't the bravery of dwarves. They eventually become lost, losing their way on the path and fall prey to...

1:54:00 – 2:04:00: Spiders! Here, Bilbo, separated from the remainder of the company, proves his mettle and names his sword, defeating the spiders who, if you want, take a great interest in the Ring and whisper about how their dark master to the south wishes for such a treasure, la, la, la. Bilbo's heroism is cool and all, everyone's real impressed, until...

2:04:00 – 2:20:00: Wood elves! A party of wood elves led by Tauriel and Legolas arrive suddenly and captures the dwarves for trespassing on their sovereign territory. They somehow miss Bilbo among the company, however, and the dwarves are taken before Thranduil, Bilbo sneaking along with. Thranduil blames them for awakening the forest spiders, until they're thrown in jail. It falls to Bilbo to spring them, which he does via use of the ring.

2:20:00 – 2:30:00: Barrels out of Bond. The dwarves ride the barrels down the river, have the massve exciting action sequence – with giant spiders taking the place of orcs, Legolas and Tauriel being badasses, Bombur's Barrel-Spinning Variety Hour, which ends with them bobbing down the river while the Wood Elves finish tangling with the spiders. As they bob down the river, the dwarves catch first sight of Erebor looming ahead, we pan across the smote desolation of Smaug and, once again, end on the dragon's eye opening amid the hoard of gold. Fin. Credits.


At two hours and thirty minutes, it's still a massive epic, ten minutes shorter than the original cut, twenty minutes shorter than Fellowship and ends at the goddamn barrels out of bond. I understand this is where Jackson originally intended to end the film, when it was simply two movies, but this is still the most logical cutting point between the three films. The first film, An Unexpected Journey, chronicles the entire journey. The second film, The Desolation of Smaug, is pretty much entirely about the history of Erebor, Dale and Lake-Town and doesn't feel the need to hotfoot through Mirkwood to get to the interesting part the film should really be about. With this model, you're free to overdevelop Lake-Town and all its sundry characters, talk about Bard and Alfird and everyone else you'd like. Hell, Thror is a much better candidate for introduction here, rather than sloppily in the prologue of Unexpected Journey.

Did anybody miss Radagast? What about Galadriel? Don't worry – they're both coming yet.

Did anybody miss Azog? Go fuck yourself.


Addendum: Rather than this Phil Collins horseshit, get these motherfuckers back and sing all 27 verses of the Dwarven Song of Old Wealth.

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street

Caught the Scorcese/Winter pairing last night. Lemme tell you, not the greatest film in the universe to see with your parents. My brain comes to associate childish things like Thor and Pacific Rim as being inappropriate for viewing with parents and tends to run roughshod over things like "adult", "drug" and "sexual content." Yikes. Gotta keep a better leash on that in future.

That said, I really did enjoy the film. I think, for the most part, it's carried by its script. The direction is competent, masterful in a few places, but its the unflinching nature of the script, able to show imagery at once horrific and hilarious, that really makes this grade A satire. Once of my favorite pieces of writing in the whole script is the reoccurring (but frankly too infrequent) motif of Belfort's exposition assuming the audience is too stupid to comprehend the complex inner finances of his schemes. While both totally true of its audience and a cutting way to save screen time, it really expertly highlights the actual tactics employed by these white collar criminals to get away with their crimes. They rely on the general public being too moronic, too confused about how the stock market works to follow exactly how they're being cheated.

That said, I do think the film suffers from the "big name blockbuster" length issue. I understand the tactics involved there too; at this point, Scorcese and Leo feel no need to censor themselves, but at exactly three hours, it's no longer a matter of censorship and suddenly becomes a matter of structure. The movie feels ponderous, despite all its energy and momentum. There are several sections that, while humorous pay-off, feel out of place and unnecessary (ex. hitting on Aunt Emma, the yacht crash). There are ways to convey these ideas without spending precious minutes on them during the film. I don't understand what happened to concise filmmaking anymore; it doesn't seem to be a factor. Am I crazy here? Does no one else care about length?

Also also, I really can't understand people who criticize the script for allowing its protagonist to escape unscathed. That's the point – our society doesn't condemn white collar crime, it worships it. In a culture built upon the accumulation of obscene wealth for obscene reasons, why, on earth, would anyone view him as a hero? The fault doesn't lie with the film; the fault lies with the eye-goggled audience members on Belfort's lecture circuit, eager to learn precisely how they can become as depraved and amoral as he did.

Excellent script, excellent performances, excellent movie. 8/10.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


People play D&D for dozens of reasons. People write stories for dozens of reasons. I do both because I love worldbuilding.

Despite running a weekly D&D game, despite churning out approximately one novel a year, I've frequently found myself jotting down random snatches of geography, history, concepts for peoples, cultures, languages I couldn't possibly muscle into my current homebrew world and don't feel deserve an entire novel or short story's worth of attention. What I need is an outlet for pure worldbuidling.

Starting next week, every Wednesday in 2014, I'm going to painstakingly craft a new world on this blog, which's long sat derelict. I've very little idea what shape this world will take over the course of the year (okay, I confess, I've some idea) and I'm going to intentionally keep as much of the brainstorming here, to make the process as transparent as possible. For context, Rich Burlew wrote something similar a few years ago, as I recall.

This all may be exceedingly boring to read and I suppose we'll have to see. All I know is, I've been devoting a decent portion of my free time to fiddly worldbuilding at the edges of my current campaign world, depths the players are highly unlikely to plumb. Might as well put the content somewhere it can be viewed, at least.

For posterity's sake, I'm gonna declare anything I devise here on this blog usable under a Creative Commons license (the specifics here, for the curious). In short, feel free to steal, modify or adapt the content I produce here for your own non-commerical purposes, but please attribute where necessary.

Happy New Year and see you next Wednesday!

Next Wednesday on Worldblogger: General Conceits!

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