Saturday, December 13, 2014

Old is New Again

I kind of love it when I find something I wrote a while ago and like it. Started writing, I should say. I only wrote about 20 pages or so. But it's a very good, very entertaining (to me) twenty pages. A rather long time ago, I wrote a short story I really did like (that I never did anything with) and this is the novel length adaptation of that story. It's about a girl who wishes for nothing more than to be a soldier like her entire family, but ends up having talent as a magician, and needing to go with her rather doddering great uncle to the temple/school/monastery that he lives in, and train up in a completely alien tradition to all her hopes and dreams. I'm adding to it now, a few pages a day, and maybe I'll actually finish it this time? Well. Get more than another twenty pages, at least?

Friday, November 21, 2014

Reread: Another Fine Myth by Robert Asprin

When I was a youth, and part of the Science Fiction Book Club (Still a Thing! Impossibly Still a Thing!) I ended up with an omnibus edition of Robert Asprin's first few Myth books.

[Side note: I really do miss those omnibus editions. They still pop up in the SFBC (which I'm not part of any longer) and some older books get reissued in that format (as for instance Glen Cook's Garrett Chronicles) but mainly you're on single books now. Mostly, I think, because the era of skinny books easily compiled into an omnibus is mostly over? Anyway, I miss them.Now, back to the reread.]

I thought, as a 12 year old or whatever, that these books were the best. They were kind of silly, but kind of violent, too: like Xanth with a more adult sensibility, I guess? By more adult, I mean the sexiness was more literal than implied and slightly grotesque (Piers Anthony might have issues. He might not, but...there's a lot of smoke for there not to be any fire, you know?), the violence was brutal at times, the jokes were still mostly puns but they were more clever, more pop cultural. Which of course means they're terribly dated now, where Xanth's puns, while awful, still make perfect sense in the main.

The Myth books, to sum up, are about a human youth who is apprenticed to a wizard and not very good at being an apprentice, and then, through a series of mix ups and practical jokes, ends up apprenticed to another, different wizard from a different dimension, of which there are many. The books involved the characters trying to make a living (growing competency of the apprentice being a major plot point; his master has lost his powers but still has his knowledge and his reputation, and they have a cast of secondary characters of all sorts, cohorts and opposition and sometimes both.) As it went along it became burdened with too many odd bits and bobs, too many jokes that grow very tired. But the first book is kind of zippy, and if you ignore the real groaners of jokes, it works all right.

Fully adult me doesn't really like it that much, though. It's goofy, is the problem. Too goofy but not funny enough. It wants you to laugh, it really does, but it's like a bad kid's party clown: here's a joke, are you laughing? No? Well, here's another? Is that a grin I see, kind of? Well, all right, let me do that thing again. Why aren't you laughing?

The magic actually isn't bad, the main relationship (if I remember rightly) grows in depth, and the books become about growing up and making your way in the world, though that theme is explored very briefly in each book, so that only time allows it to become meaningful as you read six or eight books and get to actually dig into that.

I can't bring myself to read any more, though. Twelve year old me is saying I should, because I have good memories, and some problems like the ladies being mostly just arm candy get a little better as the series goes on.

If the internet can be trusted (it's can't, but I'll let it slide this time) the series never ended. Asprin kept writing more books until he died, and there were plans for more at that point, at least one of which was written by another author he worked with on the last couple books he wrote before death took him. I stopped reading some decades ago, which puts me rather out of the loop, though almost all the books written were written before I stopped reading; his output slowed greatly as he got older. I can't imagine the effort needed to dig through all that mass of books. Fortunately, I don't need to, either.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Great Pumpkin's War

Last night they showed It's The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown on tv. I've watched the special most years since I was a kid (sometimes I have no idea when it's on and I miss it.) There's a weird interlude in the middle where Snoopy, as a WWI flying ace, has a dogfight and goes down behind enemy lines. He creeps through ruined farmhouses and down the trenches, and it's a five minute tour of some very basic World War I imagery.

It's a strange historic artifact preserved in an evergreen children's cartoon special. Charles Schulz was born in 1922 and grew up in the shadow of the Great War; a goodly amount of the adult men he knew would have fought in the war, and everyone would have known all about it. Forty four years after Schulz was born, when the Great Pumpkin was being made, he put those memories and stories into the special, and now they're probably the only way most people ever interact with the War to End All Wars.

It's been almost fifty years now that the Great Pumpkin has been failing to appear for Linus, that Charlie Brown has been getting only rocks in his sack, that Violet has been throwing a Halloween party for all the kids. And still Snoopy is fighting that war that was over long before the Peanuts strip was created, and still kids see it and must wonder what exactly it's all about. I suppose they wondered the same thing even back in 1966, and maybe their grandparents would explain to them. Such a strange thing to be transmitted through history in such a strange venue.

By the by, it's my choice for favorite Peanuts special; although I like A Charlie Brown Christmas, it's not as good as the Great Pumpkin.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Games!

Since I'm not currently working on writing a novel or anything (boo!) because my agents are shopping around the new one starting this week (yay!) and I don't want to work on the sequel to a book that's going to mutated out of all proportion by edits (ugh!) I am instead devoting some time to one of the passions of my life.

I'm a gamer. Not a video gamer (I do not have good hand/eye coordination, and in the moment, I usually just forget what particular buttons do: very little muscle memory, I guess?). Instead, my preferred games usually occur around a table, with either a board and cards and figures of some sort, or with books and dice and pencils. I've been at it a while (since I was a wee sprog of about 7 or so, which was 5 dog years ago, and you can do your own math) and still love to play games of all sorts.

Now I'm actually starting to work on a game. Well, several, but mainly one: a tabletop roleplaying game I'm calling Bronze & Bone, a game of adventure in an Ancient Greece overrun by the dead. It's pretty fun, designing a game. I will admit I've tried before, several times, with no particular success: a thing called Rats Among The Gods about humans living in alien spaceships as vast as moons; a thing called Lif's Children about what happens after Ragnarok. I tried to play those a couple times, got frustrated, stopped. I may go back to them at some point, since I really like the concepts. But right now, it's all about mythical/pre-classical Greece (almost the same thing), and figuring out what works and doesn't. I'm getting a lot of help from various folks over at rpg.net, which is a cool place for gamers and has the bonus advantage of being firmly moderated so it doesn't turn into a cesspool. 

Currently I'm fussing over the systems for the game: how many dice to use at a given time, how easy it is to succeed, how combat works, stuff like that. The setting I feel pretty good about, and what I've done with it, but there's still a good bit of work to be done as far as those danged rules. It's a bit of a slog, but it's getting much, much better with every time I open the document.

It's a lot of fun. If I ever finish the thing, I'm going to just make it available for free (because it's even harder to make money as a tabletop game designer than it is as an author) and start on another. Third try, maybe I can actually put it up for sale, but that's not for a while. So now, back to it.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

I didn't really need it anyway...

I had my appendix out a few days ago. One of those things that happens quite suddenly. I woke up with stomach pains, discovered they were worse in the lower right quadrant (that's where your appendix lives, by the by) and twelve hours later was missing one completely non-vital organ. The surgery was quick and easy, the recovery is going by very fast (I had a work shift scheduled today but decided against it as I think I'm not quite up to snuff just yet, but I'm close) and there's not much in the way of pain or discomfort in the general run of the mill wandering about the house and such portions of life. I'm not really supposed to lift much (for a week or two, maybe? Or three days? Or I can lift whatever I want? Every health care person in the hospital told me something different) but otherwise, it's good.

So here's me, missing my first organ. Well, I can't really say I miss it. It was trying to kill me, after all.

Anyway, back to recovering (for which read: wandering the internet.)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Moving to the Country, Going to Eat a lot of Peaches

Well, I didn't actually move to the country, it just sort of feels like it.

Until two weeks ago, I had (for four years) lived in a neighborhood of Seattle called Capitol Hill. It got that name a century and change ago, when Washington Territory was changing into a state and they had to pick a a state capitol (as you do) and Seattle, being the biggest, bestest city in the Territory, thought it should get the nod. Seattle thought that so strongly that it picked a place for the government buildings, gave it a name, and then one day woke up to find out that the rest of the Territory kind of hated Seattle (and still kind of does) and had decided on a muddy little town called Olympia for the domes and legislatures and all that sort of thing. So there was just a hill, still mostly wooded, with a new name: Capitol Hill.

Anyway, flash forward about 125 years, and it's a trendy, urban destination, formerly beloved of car dealerships, then of gentrifying homosexuals, then of tattooed band sorts, nowadays of hipsters with kids. It's also very full of people, bars, limited parking, the homeless, junkies, construction sites, street festivals and all the fun that comes of being a popular place.

After four years, The Husband and I hated it there. You can only find a random, different-every-day dude camped out behind your building so many times in a week before you start to not want to be there. So we decided to move. But we don't have a ton of income, and so our choices were, we thought, kind of limited.

Seattle has a strange little appendage, kind of the Staten Island of the city: a leftover of older times, a portion of the metropolis that time has slightly forgotten, as if its name was on the tip of time's tongue but not quite there. That's West Seattle, which is across the river from the rest of the city. I actually grew up in West Seattle, and it was a strange experience, because it really is like a Hollywood small town that just happens to be within a big city's limits. It's changed some (there's construction here, too: Seattle is all about growth), but in essence, it remains small and quiet. Not all that small; there's about 60000 people in West Seattle, give or take a few. But it feels small, because all the major services are across the bridges, in the city proper. West Seattle has its little urban areas: the Alaska Junction is nice, for instance, four blocks or so of shops and restaurants, bars and services. But it's four dense blocks and then it's done. For the rest, it's a lot of single family homes on huge lots that, on Capitol Hill (where there are single family homes, if you're quite wealthy) would have held three or four houses. Apartment buildings dot the scenery, but they're mostly smaller, six or twelve or twenty units. People say "Hello" and ask how you're doing when you pass them in stores; the streets get very quiet at night.

I can't say yet what the total impact will be of moving to a quiet place like we have, but I can say this right away: I am vastly less stressed. My shoulders don't tense up automatically when I go outside. I'm less cranky and angry. It's amazing what a change of setting can do for you, and I wouldn't have believed it could be such a big deal if it hadn't just happened to me. I have to unlearn some things, probably: I'm too closed off because of being in a place of constant agitation; I don't smile or say hello to random passerby because they didn't do so to me, and often they were exceptionally sketchy creatures. And I don't yet trust that I can do what it's clear I can do, which is just assume that in general nothing bad will happen if I turn away from my satchel for three seconds; that no one will just steal anything I leave lying around unattended for so much as an eyeblink; that the guy at the bus stop at 11 pm is probably actually just waiting for a late bus, not hanging out there because he has no where to go/is trying to sell me drugs. I'm sure there's some of all that, of course; even Mayberry had cops, and for a reason. But it's so much calmer and quieter and more serene.

So we did move kind of to the country. And, as a clarification, I have in fact eaten a good number of peaches here.

Monday, June 23, 2014

How Fast Things Are Changing

Warning: Bullshit musing ahead.

25 years ago today, so the internet tells me, I was waiting in line outside a theater with my friends Ed and Mike for many, many hours in the hot sun. We were going to see Batman, the Tim Burton version, with Michael Keaton (who, as an aside, was the best Bruce Wayne ever, though his Bats wasn't the bestest). In reading up on this thing, the 25 year anniversary of one of the many rebirths of superhero movies, I just looked at an article in a long since vanished and even then rather obscure magazine called Slaughterhouse which featured this line:

"The babyboomer generation is the first one that is raising its kids on film, TV, games and things that the baby boomers themselves grew up with."

I read that, and I thought, that's not very true. My mother was a boomer (well, not really, she was about six months early for that, but close enough), and I was a Gen X child (reasonably soundly in the midst of that sliding classification), and she never had (nor did her peers) "games" in any sense. My brother and I did, though: we had an Atari 2600 very early in that cycle, and my brother was The Best at Missile Command. The thing of it is, we had an entire world that my mother never really entered, and that she wasn't culturally suited to enter (not that boomers never gamed; some did, I'm sure, but it wasn't their birthright.)

What I'm really thinking about is that quote just in relation to how the world is unfolding now. My brother (the same one who totally owned Missile Command) has a daughter now (who is adorable and four months old.) He was raised in a world of gaming, infused with it from a very young age, and it is familiar to him. The internet, well, he wasn't raised in it (it didn't exist when he was that young) but he's certainly lived in it for much of his life. But his daughter, my niece, will grow up in a world that barely resembles my brother's, while still being the exact same place. In ten years, when she's getting her first phone or phone-like-device, she'll already be so intimately entwined with whatever the web is by that distant year that she will be a native of it in a way that my brother, for all that much of his job life has involved computers and the like, never will be. And though there will be some similarity of experience, some analogies and metaphors that will convey meaning from him to her, the on the ground day to day living of it will be vastly removed, the one from the other.

Ten centuries ago, had we lived then and not died of the plague or famine or endemic warfare or whatnot, her life would have been almost the same as his. Perhaps the chunk of territory we lived in might have gone from being French to German, or something, but that wouldn't have actually changed much. Possibly a new sort of pike would have been introduced, and folks would say it was too long and no one could use it, but the formation of pikemen would still work just the same. Maybe the little coastal town we could imaginably all live in would get some sort of charter from the monarch, and get a few rights, and wouldn't that be grand, but it wouldn't actually change much. Our grandparents and our grandchildren would most likely recognize our way of life without any real difficulty, possibly out to three or four or even five generations (though certainly not further than that for most situations. Even the Middle Ages saw change.)

But in twenty years, my grandmother, if she were to magically become a contemporary of my by then college aged niece, would have no idea what was happening. Grandma Jean would have been that age in 1944, a time when there weren't regular intercontinental flights, when the first atomic bomb hadn't been set off, when massive wars were still happening (literally, of course, but also when it was possible to think that would always be the case, once a generation, much like clockwork.) The first computers were just being thought about, worked on, worked up, and they were huge monsters. There was plenitude in the world, and all was growth and expansion and possibility. In twenty years (2034, if you're fumbling with the timelines like this was the Back to the Future trilogy explained in six paragraphs), I can't even conceive of what the world will be like. Broken, maybe: less abundance, possibly in a fatal sort of way. But the technologies, that's what I can't grasp. Twenty years ago there was only a primitive internet (forgive me, early adapters, I know you'll say it was amazing, but it wasn't. It was shite.) Gaming was a savage thing with far too many pixels. We were still using VCRs because there weren't DVDs, and we were still all making mixtapes. Cell phones? Well, they were a thing, sort of; Mulder and Scully carried them around in the X-Files, and they were biggish, clunky and ugly. They were also just phones, a thing they barely are at all now. So what will come in twenty years? I cannot begin to guess (which is why I generally don't write science fiction: I'm very bad at imagining how the trends will go.) But it will be so groundbreakingly different that, while my brother (and me, et al), will struggle to comprehend it, and will in some measure keep up a little bit (I mean, my mom is on Facebook, right?), we'll just be skimming the very surface of a very deep world.

Jean would be completely lost. Maybe, as a magically time warped twenty year old with a bouncy brain still fully adaptable in nature, she'd make great strides. But entire fields of innovation would have to be revealed to her, and then explained. There are great huge industries, powerhouses in the world economic engines, that didn't even have analogs in 1944.

So I think back 25 years, to being a teenager standing in line outside a theater that doesn't exist anymore, in the brilliant sun, just after finishing up my senior year of high school. How there were hundreds of us on those sidewalks, in the ticket holders line; we'd all shown up early to buy our tickets in person, because you couldn't get them any other way. And we knew almost nothing about the movie, because there weren't really spoilery pre-screenings, just the trailers we'd seen before other movies, just the couple reviews from the local paper and maybe a magazine we'd read. I remember one guy had to check in with his parents while we waited, because we were out there a very long time; he had to go to a payphone to do that, and put in a dime, and dial them up (probably on a push button display, but I can't say exactly). And although lining up hours early was a relatively new phenomenon, one that came with summer blockbusters in the mid-seventies, our parents and grandparents and so on had all lined up for things they wanted, and there wasn't a thing inherently strange about us doing it.

In seventeen years, right after she's out of high school, maybe my niece will do the same thing; maybe movies will still be made and released essentially like they are now, at least some of them. Maybe she'll be there, with her friends, sending off something the rough equivalent to a text to her parents, my brother and sister-in-law, just to tell them where she is, how it's going in the line. Probably some sort of video chat, quick and instant? Or will that be in just a few years that we make that standard? Oh, fuck, I don't know, and I can't know, and the thing is, it's not just the not knowing, it's the fact you can't even guess. The future has always been mysterious, but it used to be like a shape seen through the fog; you'd at least have some idea what was coming, even if you couldn't tell the exact details. Now there's not just that fog: the sun has set, and we're all stumbling forward in darkness, groping for the next thing, hoping against hope that it will be something wonderful. But even once we have it in our hands, will we recognize the shape of it?