Spoilers, a vignette

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Dec 242013

“How’d you do this year?” she asked.

He didn’t jump. Just like all the other times, he knew she was there just before she said anything. Her visits never scared him. Unsettled, but never frightened. She didn’t work that way.

“Okay,” he said, as if such a bland non-answer could hold any meaning. “Not as well as I wanted.”

She chuckled. It was a light sound, empty of derision. She had never laughed at him. Sometimes she just seemed to find him amusing. “How many times has it ever gone as well as you wanted?” she asked.

He stared down the length of his slouched, seated body and let his eyes focus on nothing somewhere near his knees. “Always.”

She leaned forward from her seat next to him on the park bench. Dark hair fell in wispy strands around her face as she did so, glowing like incandescent filaments when they caught the fading sunlight. Her eyebrows turned up in a look of sympathy and concern, the corners of her mouth quirked up in perpetual wry amusement at life itself. “You set awfully high standards for yourself.”

He shot her a sidelong look out of the corner of his eyes and shrugged deeper into his wholly inadequate jacket. Clear though the sky was, the sun had done nothing to dispel the winter chill from the air. “I have to.”

“I know.” She did. She studied him for several moments and he continued his oblique observation in return. Everything about her smacked of impossibility. Her features were severe and soft, her eyes huge and shrewd, her lips full and thin. As ever, she wore a light, breezy gown that would have been at home in the height of summer or climbing into bed at night, but she paid the frigid weather no mind. “What will you do next year?”

“The same,” he said, “only better.”

She turned to look out across the pond, staring into the waning sunlight. It should have hurt her eyes, but she didn’t work like that. “Nothing different?”

He shook his head. “Nothing different. If I keep piling on new things, I’ll never finish the old ones.”

She nodded, her head rising and falling in time with her deep, even breathing. “You’re learning.”

He chuckled. “I’m shocked myself.”

Her eyes came back to him and the smile she now wore was that same strange, distant but knowing smile he’d seen so many times before. “I’m not,” she said. “It was only ever a matter of time. You were always going to get here eventually.”

“At least one of us thought so,” he groused. He shook his head immediately after, dismissing the reaction. “No, I knew it too. You’re right.”

“I think you’ll make it this time,” she offered. “Maybe, just maybe you’ll even go farther than you think.”

He arched an eyebrow at that. “Is there something you want to tell me?”

Her smile changed again, becoming an impish grin. “Spoilers.”

The wind kicked up and she was gone.

“Spoilers,” he grunted.

Sep 202010

TIE Fighter case artIf that post title got you excited, I apologize.

For a while now, I’ve toyed with the idea of doing some kind of Star Wars fan film, being both a Star Wars nerd and an amateur filmmaker. One idea that popped into my head recently, while recollecting fond and cherished memories of playing the TIE Fighter computer game, was to adapt the game’s story into a TV (well, web) series. The game was story-driven enough that I think it could work, and had enough characters that it could be interesting. I’m not suggesting I’m going to do this. I barely have the time and energy to do all of the current projects I’ve saddled onto myself, let alone adding something as megalithic as this. But it’s still fun to think about.

According to lore, the TIE Fighter player assumes the mantle of Maarek Steele. Seems like a good choice for the series’ protagonist. As the game progresses, a number of major secondary characters and antagonists are introduced. Among them are then-Vice Admiral Thrawn, the rogue admirals Harkov and Zaarin, and Darth Vader puts in a cameo, too. Including the Imperial officer that briefs Steele before each mission, as well as the member of the Emperor’s Secret Order that provides secondary objectives, might work as well.

In terms of adapting the game, I think I’d first just go through the game mission-by-mission and isolate the major story components from each. These would get woven into the major arc of the series, which itself might even be split into seasons to mirror the distinct campaigns in the game. Once that had been done, the next step would be to pick out key bits of dialog from the game and weave those into the episode script. Nostalgia, man! It wouldn’t have to be line-for-line, but it’d be a fun callback to hit some of the key lines.

I might visit the idea some time in the distance future. TIE Fighter stands as my favorite game of all time (yes, even over WoW), and it nicely dovetails with the desire to do a Star Wars fanfilm. Of course, I’m not sure if I will ever be able to commit the amount of time doing an entire series would require. But hey, it’s fun to dream.

Constricted Posting

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Jun 242010

Hey, a new look for the blog! This change in decor precipitated by upgrading to the latest version of WordPress.

Our wedding invitation

Invitations have been cast to the four winds at this point. Cody and I plunked down and cooked up a design we were both happy with, had ’em printed, and mailed ’em off as we accrued the needed addresses over a period of a few days. We re-tooled the website slightly so that all of our invitees could RSVP online, via a fun little form that also invites them to supply song requests. Additionally, Cody and I can now see at-a-glance who has RSVP’ed in the affirmative, in the negative, and who hasn’t RSVP’ed, as well as our total guest count, and other fun data like that.

To  me, every one of these vests is the same.

You all are wearing the exact same thing, in different colors!

The new daunting task is finding something to wear. You’d think finding a slightly atypical waistcoat wouldn’t be that hard, but apparently everyone and their mother only makes the one sort of waistcoat. Yes, I realize that “buttons down the center” isn’t technically a single type of waistcoat, but it may as well be. I want something that doesn’t look like every other thing out there, which is much the same way I felt about finding a suit when I was still looking for one.

I recently bought a three-piece suit for a friend’s wedding. One piece among the triad is a waistcoat. It’s an interesting design — it buttons diagonally rather than straight down. I returned yesterday to the place from which I had purchased said waistcoat, only to have them show me three essentially identical waistcoats and then inform me that they couldn’t help me. Bull. At this point, I’m tempted to try and find something unique at a costume shop and then have it replicated by someone. Costumers, I suspect, will make more interesting clothing than tailors.

Blogging is a weird thing. I want to get to a point where I’m posting something of vague value every day. However, doing so is complicated by several unrelated factors. The bulk of my time is devoted to work, which I can’t talk about. I also spend a good chunk of time playing WoW. Self-indulgent flights of fancy aside, most people won’t care about my latest WoW exploits. I also want to talk about my story ideas and other things of that nature, but keeping those sort of under wraps is the prudent choice, so that nixes that subject. That leaves wedding stuff and other life events to talk about, which are more sporadic topics with bursts of information. I could wax poetic about mowing the lawn or taking out the garbage, but…do you really want to hear about that?

I didn’t think so.

Nov 302009

For the second year in a row, I have “won”1 NaNoWriMo. What’s more, I even have this last day of November to relax. Last year, I was frantically writing right up until just a few minutes before midnight. Though I did a fair amount of writing last night2, none of it was frantic. It all simply happened.

I walk away from this NaNo feeling proud of what I’ve written. It’s unpolished as hell, with several large inconsistencies that need to be massaged away, but that’s perfectly acceptable for a “zeroth” draft3. I’ve turned it over to Cody for her first review of it while I take the next week or so to decompress. Once she has a read through and tells me what she thinks, I’ll start working on the next draft. One of the first things I’ll do is draw myself a map of the area in which the story takes place. There’s a fair amount of traveling in this story and I want to make sure I have consistent timescales for that travel.

There are five central characters, drawn together through circumstance over the course of the story. Three of these characters make up the central triumvirate4, one of whom is the point-of-view character for the entire duration of the story. He also happens to be dead ((No, he’s not a vampire—sparkly or otherwise.). The real joy of these characters is that they’re all fun. The protagonist is a man discovering a world he never knew. His “id” counterpart dashes head-long into any situation and isn’t afraid to call a spade a spade. His “superego” counterpart engages him in philosophical discussion. There’s also a Crowning Moment of Awesome for one of the characters. I burst out laughing when I wrote it. A good sign.

Once I finish the next draft and Cody gives it the nod of approval, I’ll distribute it to some friends for a wider review. The draft resulting from this collective critique will find its way to agents. With a little luck, it will then find its way onto bookstore shelves and into your hands. A guy can hope, anyway.

NaNo, to me, is about pushing yourself to see what you’re capable of. Last year, I learned that I was capable of writing a novel. This year, I learned that I was capable of writing a novel that entertained me. I think this is important: you should write to entertain yourself. If you like it, odds are someone else out there will too. Trust to that, rather than trying to fill some artificial quota.

  1. Yes, it is called “winning”. []
  2. Over 6,000 words in one sitting. []
  3. This is a term Justine Larbalestier uses to describe the absolutely raw first output of a story. I’ve also stolen her idea to use superscript footnotes in blog posts. []
  4. I realized last night that this triumvirate mimicked the ego-superego-id triumvirate of Kirk-Spock-McCoy, or Harry-Hermione-Ron, or any number of other famous fictional triumvirates. I didn’t intend to set it up that way, but it sort of fell into place all the same. []
Nov 022009

The full Avatar trailer popped up recently. I’ve been wary of this movie since hearing about it for a number of reasons, not the least of which seemed to be its status as yet another big-budget movie with amazing visuals, but a dubious story. It seems to me that movies that are visually impressive, with a vaguely pseudo-naturist/spiritualist bent to them, tend to be lavished with undeserved accolades. I don’t care how much money you dumped into it; if you’ve got a crappy story, you’ve got a crappy movie.

That aside, what worries me more about Avatar is the plot element that seems to suggest a technologically primitive group poses a credible threat to a technologically sophisticated group. Throughout history, major technological disparity has meant absolute defeat for the more primitive group. I’m not talking about a scenario like Vietname or Afghanistan, which involved guerilla fighters. They were still using modern weapons. I’m talking about something more like the Battle of Rorke’s Drift, in which less than two hundred British soldiers fended off several thousand Zulu warriors.

That’s more or less what the situation in Avatar seems to be, but from the trailer it seems as though the Na’vi actually pose a credible threat to the humans. There was, of course, another movie that tried to pull this stunt, and has been universally mocked for it to this day: Return of the Jedi.

Jedi, though, can kinda-sorta get away with this in ways that Avatar’s own trailer prevents it from using. In Jedi, the Imperials had no inkling that the apparently-harmless natives would rise up against them. They had very little heavy firepower on hand (a handful of light armor units, a single heavy armor unit, and infantry), and the heavy firepower they did have was not well-suited to the terrain. It was a simple security detachment, whose sole purpose was to oversee an ostensibly secret installation (the Emperor’s claim that it was “an entire legion of [his] best troops” not withstanding; sorry, Palps, on screen evidence does not jive with your pomp).

From the Avatar trailer, though, we already know that the humans consider the Na’vi a threat (strike one), acknowledge that they are hard to kill (strike two), and are mobilizing their forces specifically to deal with them (strike three). The Ewoks’ cuddliness aside, if the Empire went into the situation with these three points established, those shield bunker personnel would have been dining on Ewok stew.

So, yeah, I’m going to reserve judgment until I see what the film actually does, but if this really does turn out to be a premise of the film, color me disappointed.

The Edge of Space

 Posted by at 16:31  2 Responses »
Sep 292009

A story has been going around about a group of students that managed to send a balloon “to the edge of space” on a shoestring budget. While there, it snapped pictures of the Earth, the atmosphere, and space.

This story is factually incorrect and misleading. This balloon did not make it to the edge of space.

First, balloons rely on buoyancy. You can’t be buoyant if there’s no atmosphere in which to be buoyant.

Second, as the atmosphere gets thinner, so too does the pressure exerted on objects grow lighter. This is why, for example, boiling water requires different temperatures at varying altitudes. A balloon is inherently reliant on the gas pressure contained within its membrane. If the pressure inside is too great in comparison to the equilibrating pressure outside, such as one finds when one gets very high in the atmosphere, the membrane will break. In layman’s terms, the balloon pops.

Third, the “edge of space” has a (somewhat arbitrary) definition in the form of the Kármán Line. This line is 100 kilometers (about 62 miles) above sea level, and was the threshold for the Ansari X prize. The student balloon made it to an altitude of 17 miles, 45 miles short of the Kármán Line.

As a corollary to the above, though, the “edge of space” is a somewhat arbitrary notion. The atmosphere does not simply “end” at any point. It grows thinner and thinner until it is infinitesimal and indistinguishable from the general particulate density of “empty” space. There’s no true number for this. This misconception is similar to the idea that astronauts are in “zero G.” In fact, the gravitational pull from Earth on orbiting astronauts is not greatly reduced from that pulling on you right now. The difference is that they are in a continuous state of free fall (the accurate and preferred term) due to their orbital pattern and a handful of other factors. Earth’s gravity doesn’t attenuate to near-0 (for an average human of 70 kg / 150 lbs.) until you get three million kilometers away (0.05% normal gravity). By comparison, the moon is a scant 380 thousand kilometers away.

I don’t in any way want to belittle the accomplishment of the students in question. They did a great and admirable thing. My issue is with how it’s being reported. Scientific achievements are almost universally treated incorrectly and inaccurately by media outlets and it sucks.

For love of the craft

 Posted by at 10:25  No Responses »
Sep 092009

Stayed up until around 3am this morning, attempting to tear brilliance from my fingertips and stuff it into Word. Net wordcount was very small, and also disconnected from the place where I last left off, but at least the story’s moving again. I also tried doing some mind-mapping for the story, on the hypothesis that perhaps I’m the sort of writer that does better from an outline or reference body. That particular approach didn’t work, though I’m not totally convinced that some kind of codified brainstorming isn’t the right way to go.

Though I’ve spent a long time writing (pretty sure my parents still have stories I wrote when my age was single-digit), I still have yet to find my process, where I can say, “I’m going to sit down and write now,” and not feel a little jolt of “But I don’t know what to write!” surge through me. That will come with time and experimentation, no doubt.

Sep 042009

The problem with my writing the previous night had nothing to do with the material. Though the setting has been percolating for a long time, the story itself has never been there. Like Tolkien’s Middle Earth, if I may be so bold as to draw that comparison, I’ve got a world and some events rather than a story. A few events do not a story make. This has ever been a problem for me, as those familiar with my vast graveyard of stillborn RPG concepts can affirm.

Fortunately, I did have a character. Continue reading »

Sep 032009

I managed to punch out 1,700 words last night. At the end of it, I was not terribly happy nor inspired by what I had written. None of it mattered. The premise informing this particular story had a very loose foundation. The more I chipped away at it, the more unfulfilled it left me feeling. Prior to writing, I did some free association brainstorming, writing down thoughts as they occurred to me with respect to the baseline premise. Alien aggressors turned into rebellious colonies, which turned into heroic revolutionaries and thereby became the protagonists.

After writing with that as a baseline, feeling comfortable with my parallels to the Revolutionary War, I began mulling over why, exactly, the same generic paradigm would make any sense. Continue reading »

Tonight, He Writes

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Sep 022009

I’ve been trying to write a short story every other night or so for the past few weeks, with moderate success. However, the urge to build something more concrete has crescendoed. Thus, tonight, I’m going to start writing my second novel.

The first novel, written last year for NaNoWriMo, is not something that I would ever dream of publishing in its current form. The story is far too linear, the protagonist too inconsistent, and the ultimate theme not something I’m happy with. I might revisit the premise at some point in the future. The objective of that novel was not getting published, anyway, but rather to prove to myself that I had it in me to write a novel. I did, so it achieved its purpose.

The novel I start tonight is the result of a story that has been percolating in my head for about 13 years, in various forms. It’s a sci-fi epic in the best tradition of sci-fi epics.

We’ll see where it takes me.