Friday, February 26, 2010

Friday Flash Fiction: "Ghost Patrol"

This week's short is an excerpt from a story I'm revising for my Clarion workshop application. (I need two stories to apply; the other one will be an expanded version of "Martian Standard Time.") And yes, I did steal the title from an unrelated 2008 puzzle hunt event. Wish me luck!

Read "Ghost Patrol" at 512 Words or Fewer


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

1,772 miles

Last week, D and I drove down to the San Francisco bay area for the Game Control Summit and to see friends. We saw quite a few people at the GC Summit, but also did our best to squeeze in other visits--which is how we ended up having breakfast, dessert, tea, and dinner, pretty much one right after the other, on Saturday.

We went to opening night of Foothill College's production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, which is a great show, and made even more hilarious by my fellow Richter Scale David Mister, who plays William Barfée; had lunch with Pauline and Brian, who just got engaged (she ran a birthday/proposal treasure hunt for him, natch); and I got in-person critiques from various "beta readers" on my novel manuscript.

Finally, on our way home, we stopped at Bubbling Well Pet Memorial Park in Napa to scatter Bayla's ashes. That was the reason we drove instead of flying. I'm glad we did it. Bubbling Well is the same place where Amber was laid to rest, and now our girls are together again.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Comic Book Report: Batman: False Faces

As comic book writers go, Brian K. Vaughan has a pretty solid batting average. He created the Eisner Award-winning Y: The Last Man, the singular Ex Machina, and Marvel's Runaways, all of which are great titles. (I have some quibbles with the current state of affairs on Runaways--and, to a lesser degree, Ex Machina--but I'll save that for another post.)

This book collects some of BKV's earlier work in the DC universe. As he says in the introduction, all these stories were designed to be "standalone," so they could be dropped into a monthly title without affecting continuity too much. That doesn't necessarily limit a storyteller's choices, and in some ways, it can help to sharpen the focus on the most fundamental, unchanging aspects of an established character.

All these stories deal with identity in some way. The opening tale, comprising three issues of Batman, is the strongest, telling how Bruce Wayne dons a disguise to infiltrate Gotham's criminal underground, and the consequences of doing that long-term. It treads some familiar superhero ground with the question of which identity is the "real" one--Batman, or Bruce?--but manages to spin it in an interesting way.

The closing tale is the weakest, despite having a killer premise: Clayface, a clay-based Batman villain, versus Wonder Woman, a heroine born from magical clay! But the payoff doesn't quite match the setup. To be fair, it's always been hard to write Wonder Woman; there's the costume, and the magic, and the entire Greek pantheon to deal with. Even Greg Rucka and Joss Whedon couldn't quite get it.

Overall, Batman: False Faces is worth a read, especially if you're a Batman fan or interested in seeing how Vaughan's writing has improved since he wrote these stories.

Buy this book: Powell's, Amazon


SnoutCast #7: Dungeons, Dragons, and Dealin' With It

Longest. Podcast. EVER So far.

[ Download mp3 - 59 MB ]

0:00:00 - Disclaimer, à la Better off Ted
0:02:14 - Belated trivia answer: Corby sculpted the final DRUID case design
0:02:59 - How is Dungeons & Dragons like The Game?
0:05:05 - Dragon Age: Origins (speaking of dragons...)
0:08:45 - Role-playing in different types of games (and Games)
0:11:00 - Debating stargate physics for no good reason
0:14:05 - Adjusting a game experience on the fly
0:17:46 - The meta-rule for D&D, when no rules are specified
0:18:32 - "Never have a door that's not actually a door"
0:20:48 - When is a clue not a clue?
0:25:15 - Curtis is an uncle!
0:26:03 - Why we always confirm our solutions
0:29:13 - One way to deliver semi-automated hints (Wonka, 1999)
0:30:45 - Why Team Snout prefers phone hints
0:32:19 - Just like clinical trials in the medical industry!
0:33:59 - Newspaper headlines lie!
0:36:57 - On not giving too much of a hint
0:40:09 - Funny stories about telephone problems
0:41:31 - Recording of the infamous "Tri-PEZ" call (Note: first dispatcher is Andrew, not Jeff)
0:45:09 - The Game is more than just puzzles; editorial considerations
0:48:33 - Plug: GC Summit 2010
0:49:20 - Info: Brooklynite seeks puzzle hunt interviewees
0:50:21 - Plug: DeeAnn at Ignite Portland 8 (March 3rd)
0:52:36 - Plug: Curtis published in 100 Stories for Haiti (March 4th)
0:54:23 - Plug: DASH 2 (April 24th)
0:54:53 - DeeAnn is quite contrary
0:56:13 - Steal this idea: The Accountant Game!
1:01:30 - Steal this idea: The Sports Draft Game!
1:03:32 - THE END

Music: instrumentals from "Code Monkey," "Chiron Beta Prime," "You Ruined Everything," and "The Future Soon" by Jonathan Coulton

[ Subscribe to SnoutCast / iTunes link ]

CKL DeeAnn

Monday, February 15, 2010

Nigh of the Tiger

So... I'm an uncle. Well, technically, I was an uncle before--by marriage--but this is the first of the next generation with any of my family's DNA:

That's baby Kara, born last night to my sister Joy and her husband Jon. Congratulations to them both! And best wishes to little Kara, who is a Valentine's Day baby and a Lunar New Year baby. (Figuring out which of her birthdays will be triple celebrations, as opposed to merely double, is left as an exercise for the reader.)


Friday, February 12, 2010

Comic Book Report: Planet Hulk

I'll be honest: I was never really into Marvel comics. I don't have anything against them; they just never spoke to me in the same way the mythic characters of the DC universe did. So it doesn't bother me as much when, for example, new writers reboot or retcon characters to explore new storytelling avenues.

In the "Planet Hulk" storyline, writer Greg Pak (auteur of the impressive-if-uneven 2003 anthology film Robot Stories) drops the Hulk--quite literally--into an epic fantasy/space opera. This isn't the monosyllabic "Hulk smash" monster I remember from my childhood; this Hulk speaks in complete sentences, even formulates strategy, and more than anything reminds me of Wolverine.

Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. As mentioned above, I have nothing invested in these characters, so I was able to go along with the story--which shamelessly recycles a tonne of archetypes, tropes, and clichés in service of a tall tale that gets progressively more ridiculous and unexpectedly touching. Pak doesn't manage to totally pull off the third act, but to be fair, it would probably have required a multi-bookstop novel series to do the concept justice.

There's a lot to like here, and I'm curious to see what happens next in "World War Hulk," and how the movie adaptation plays.

Recommended. Buy this book from Powell's or Amazon.


Friday Flash Fiction: "Technobabble"

I was having a hell of a time writing this week's story. I'd started at least three different pieces since last week, but couldn't get traction on any of them.

Then it was after ten o'clock Thursday night, and I had to get something done. So I did.

Deadlines: 1, creativity: 0.

Read "Technobabble" at 512 Words or Fewer


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Comic Book Report: Scalped Vol. 4

Kurt Busiek himself recommended Scalped to me last year, and he was not wrong. (That in itself is a bit of a story--he was signing at Excalibur Comics on Free Comic Book Day, and when I stopped by during a lunch break from BarCampPortland 3, I was the only customer in the store and thus able to actually have a substantial chat with him and some of the very friendly staffers. I also picked up a copy of Arrowsmith.)

Every trade paperback collection of a monthly comic needs a title--usually taken from the main storyline therein. "The Gravel in Your Guts" arc comprises the last four issues in this collection, which focus on the "big bad" of the story, Chief Lincoln Red Crow. Previous issues have referenced his backstory, especially his connection to the protagonist, Dashiell Bad Horse, but here we see things from Red Crow's perspective in the present day.

I don't read a lot of crime fiction or watch much film noir, so maybe a lot of the stuff here is playing off standard genre tropes. It still works. I suspect this story would work just as well if it were set in an urban ghetto instead of a South Dakota Indian reservation, but there are certain things you could only do with these particular characters and this particular history.

It's dark and raw and sometimes tough to read, but always compelling. Check it out: Scalped web site, Vol.4 Amazon link


Monday, February 08, 2010

Comic Book Report: Star Trek New Frontier

I cannot recommend this book.

It collects "Turnaround," a five-issue miniseries published by IDW in 2008. And while I realize it's part of an ongoing storyline, there's just too much "continuity bingo"--which is a phrase I just made up to describe the apparent need of many tie-in writers to include every single character from an existing series, even if there's no good story reason for those people to show up in a particular work. This often results in convoluted, nonsensical, and/or irrelevant plot twists.

All that aside, this book features not one, but two dei ex machina. Two. That's about two more than any reasonable story needs.

Oh yeah, and also? The Vulcan mind-meld does not work through walls. I don't care if the character happens to be half-Romulan. Both of those races are touch-telepaths. I don't mind it when writers make shit up, but you can't make up shit which contradicts existing shit.

More generally, I have issues with Peter David's writing. I know a lot of people love him, and I'll grant that he's good with plot and dialogue, but too many of his scenes play as overly colloquial or--in the worst case--juvenile. Sometimes I just couldn't believe these people were professional, career military officers and not teenagers.

And some scenes seem to have been written just because the writer thought they were funny, not because they fit into the narrative. There's a good scene in which viewing someone's vacation photos is compared to literal torture, but it's totally anachronistic here.

Finally: One layout idiosyncrasy that bugged me throughout the book was the lack of any thought bubbles or narration captions. Absolutely every piece of information was delivered through dialogue, even if it was a character talking to herself in a situation where that would make no sense. Which is weird, because Peter David has made quite a name for himself in comics.

That is all.


I am a LOLcat!

Think you can come up with a better caption for this photograph? I dare you!


Friday, February 05, 2010

Friday Flash Fiction: "Practice"

I don't remember why, but while driving around earlier this week I wondered aloud to D what the world might be like if people were fans of things besides TV shows and movies--if, for example, there was a fandom for medical doctors. And that's where this little vignette came from.

Read "Practice" at 512 Words or Fewer


Thursday, February 04, 2010

Book Report: Tales of the Dominion War

If you're not a Star Trek fan, you can stop reading right now.

Tales of the Dominion War is, as you might imagine, an anthology of short stories set in the Deep Space Nine universe. Or, more accurately, in various parts of the Star Trek universe during the last two seasons of DSN. By that time, crossover between Trek series had become pretty common, and as a viewer, it was pretty exciting to see more of the fictional universe being fleshed out.

Media tie-ins are always tricky to do well. On the one hand, you want to include enough "real" or "canon" elements to show fans that you understand the setting; on the other hand, you don't want to just name-drop a bunch of characters without saying anything new or interesting about them.

That, in a nutshell, is why many of these stories didn't work for me. Writing aside, a lot of them seemed to aspire to be nothing more than the caulk of continuity--i.e., filling in storytelling gaps left by the TV series. If you think of the Dominion War like an actual, real-world conflict--say, Vietnam or WWII--there should be plenty of stories to tell about all sorts of different people who were involved. And since this is all fictional, it should be easy to make up some really compelling stories, right?

Maybe so, but this anthology didn't quite hit the mark for me. It's generally a bad sign when the introduction to a story has to explain that the pivotal character you're going to read about was featured in a different tie-in novel, and describe that character's connection to Trek canon--as if the editor knew that otherwise, the story itself wouldn't carry much weight. I skimmed through two or three of these stories because I knew I wasn't going to care much about their contents.

I do have to give props to my favorite piece, "Mirror Eyes," which manages to balance the elements I mentioned above. It's written in first person, as a series of journal entries, and brings the protagonist to life without veering into Mary Sue territory. It's also set between two seasons of DSN, so it doesn't suffer from episode-adjacent syndrome (in which a short story set immediately before, after, or during an existing TV episode inevitably begs comparison with same--and usually comes in second).

Finally, I have to mention that three of the featured authors--Heather Jarman, Michael A. Martin, and Andy Mangels--live in Portland, Oregon. 'oS! (That's Klingon for "represent.")


Tuesday, February 02, 2010

SnoutCast #6: Poor Time Management

We apologize for sucking even more than usual this week. Please send us your ideas for future show topics. We're dying here.

[ Download mp3 - 39 MB ]

00:00 - Disclaimer
01:25 - let's talk about timing!
03:30 - DeeAnn hates maps so much
07:00 - anyway, yeah, timing
09:05 - Clue design: how long should it take to solve a puzzle?
12:34 - don't call it skipping: bonus and emergency clues
13:10 - a must-see clue: the Bat-Blinker (device, action shot)
17:06 - how players experience The Game
20:58 - FoBiK follies
28:42 - event planning: not starting with puzzles
30:52 - how other GCs do it
34:49 - setting expectations through GC identity
36:44 - neither of us only DeeAnn has actually seen Field of Dreams
37:31 - plug for GC Summit 2010 (February 18th)
39:27 - plug for DASH 2 (April 24th)
41:40 - The End

Music: instrumentals from "Code Monkey," "Skullcrusher Mountain," "The Future Soon," "First of May," "Tom Cruise Crazy," "Re: Your Brains," and "My Monkey" by Jonathan Coulton

[ Subscribe to SnoutCast / iTunes link ]

CKL DeeAnn

Monday, February 01, 2010

Small, Medium, and Large

My three mobile computers, left to right: a smartphone (overpriced Apple iPhone 3G), a netbook (refurbished Acer Aspire One), and a laptop (piece-of-crap Lenovo Thinkpad T61p).

Lest you think I'm one of those ultra-early adopters who just has to have the latest shiny new gadget, let me point out that I acquired each of these machines for very specific reasons.

The iPhone (left) I got last May, right before our trip to Europe for Jeff and Marina's wedding. My old phone wasn't quad-band or GSM-capable, so I couldn't use it internationally; but that was also a convenient excuse to upgrade. My former employer had issued me a Blackberry for a couple of years, and I'd enjoyed having a "smartphone" to check my e-mail and calendar. For the record, the apps I use most these days are any of three Twitter clients (to access different accounts) and Google Maps--the latter especially for traffic updates, which our Prius' 2005 navigation system doesn't have. It's helped us on more than one Friday afternoon, when deciding whether to drive back from Portland during rush hour or wait it out somewhere.

The laptop (right) I got in early 2008, right after leaving my aforementioned former employer. I'd been using my work laptop, a very reliable IBM Thinkpad T43, for over four years, and I decided to stick with the same make. Or so I thought. Turns out that after Lenovo bought the Thinkpad brand from IBM, their products pretty much went to crap. I've griped and ranted about this before--the motherboard's already died once, as has the battery, and Lenovo's problems with wireless networking are well documented. But it did cost me a pretty penny, so I plan to run this clunker until it literally starts falling apart, and then I'll replace it with something better.

The netbook (center) is a recent acquisition from Woot. It's refurbished, but hasn't given me any problems yet (knock on wood). I got it for two main reasons: 1) to have a separate, dedicated webcam server; and 2) to have a backup portable unit when I need to take the laptop in for repairs again. (I fully expect that to happen at least once more before I retire it. I ponied up for the two-year extended warranty, and I'm going to get my money's worth, dammit.) Actually, there's also a third reason: to see if netbooks are actually usable in the long term. I played with an XO laptop a couple of years ago, and was not impressed with the interface, but the idea of a small portable that's actually useful continued to be compelling.

The funny thing is, the netbook has at least as much memory and processing power as both of my desktop machines (not pictured): a 2003 Dell PC and a 2005 Mac Mini (PowerPC, not Intel). They're both still creaking along, but playing full-screen video or running more than three applications at a time will bring them to their knees. I'm not looking forward to upgrading either of them, because it'll mean transferring a lot of data, reinstalling a whole mess of software, and probably a lot of cursing when things go wrong.

I like using technology. I'm not so excited about having to maintain it.

Finally, to answer the inevitable question: What do I think of the iPad? Meh. (Though it's been great for inspiring sarcastic hipster commentary.) As shown above, I don't really need yet another mobile computer right now. And especially not one that costs twice as much as my netbook did, but is only marginally more useful than my phone.