Dramatic Convenience Vs Realism (The Idiot Ball Again)

orphan-blackJust finished watching Season 2 of Orphan Black. I like the show pretty well, but there are a couple things that frequently seem off. Specifically:

  • Everybody always seems to be an hour’s drive from everybody else. (no matter how far away they seem to want to flee)
  • All the bad guys know Felix’s address, yet everybody keeps treating Felix’s loft as safe.
  • For a kid that tends to do things like wander outside at night with random strangers, Kira is left unattended way, way too much.

There are other problems, too, but they’re a little more conceptual than this stuff, and I don’t think Orphan Black is unique in any way, here. Lots and lots of books, stories, shows, and movies do stuff like the above. They are choices made by the writers for narrative convenience, and they are necessary in many ways, but there is a point at which they become silly. Sussing out exactly where that line is strikes me as rather important, so let’s talk about it.

First off, there is a lot of boring things that happen in daily life. You take the train to work, you eat breakfast, you go to the bathroom, you wait for a

But it was lembas-poop, so it was actually quite pleasant.

But it was lembas-poop, so it was actually quite pleasant.

bus, you read through a bunch of random e-mails, etc., etc.. People sitting down to watch a thriller don’t want the pace to get bogged down by the details. So, when the DA slaps down a plea deal on the table in front of a suspect, we don’t sit there for half an hour while the suspect’s lawyer goes over it and then discusses it with her client – that’s dull. So, instead, we just sort of gloss over the fact that those things happened. Yeah, they read and discussed the deal at some point. James Bond has to eat occasionally. Yes, Frodo and Sam pooped in Mordor.

It is frustrating, for a writer’s perspective, to have people point out these little gaps. Stuff like “When does he change clothes?” or “Why didn’t she get change for her coffee?” or “I never see this guy ever cash any of his paychecks!” Had a friend of mine kindly agree to critique a story of mine once in which two survivors of an apocalypse were riding their bikes down an empty interstate highway and his question was “what happens if they get a flat tire?” So, okay, yeah – that could be explained (lot of abandoned bicycle shops out there!). All of this stuff could be explained and pretty easily. The question is, though, whether you want it explained and whether that would be a good use of limited space and time. Do we want to have a pee break on the way through Mirkwood? Do we have to watch Bruce Wayne spend his days popping in and out of charity fundraiser after charity fundraiser and shake hands and make nice and so on and so forth? Or, you know, would you rather we just skip past a lot of that and get to the Batman part? When faced with the choice, a lot of these so-called “important” questions suddenly look like the hair-splitting silliness they are.

He does it with style, too.

He does it with style, too.

There is a point, though, were streamlining can go too far. Getting back to Orphan Black for a second: Sarah knows Dyad is after her and her child, so she goes on the run. She hops in a car and drives…not very far, as it turns out, since when she decides to come back again she’s back in less than a few hours. Now, okay, okay – if Sarah drives clear to the other side of Canada, she’s basically left the sandbox of the world the writers have set up and she can’t be part of the story anymore unless she pulls a Varys and basically teleports across oceans and continents with ease. Viewers don’t really want a whole sideplot for half a season where Sarah tries to start a new life in a new place with new characters, etc, etc.. She needs to be close by so the plot can advance.

But, at the same time, having her stick around that close makes no actual sense. Nor does Felix spontaneously bursting into tears and going back to his deathtrap apartment (sweet a pad as it is). Sarah’s primary priority has always been her daughter above all else and Felix knows going back to his place endangers everybody (chiefly himself), otherwise he wouldn’t have gone with them in the first place, and yet they all do these silly things anyway because, if they didn’t, the plot wouldn’t work. This is sloppy, because it shows the authorial hand too nakedly in the unfolding of events. It’s pulling back the curtain on a magic trick. It’s the writing equivalent of a missed note in a recital. It maybe doesn’t crash the whole thing (as mentioned, I do like the show), but it knocks you out of the dream for a second.

Now, we can argue about how bad an offender this or that story is in this sense, but the fact is that stories often use the Idiot Ball to control action. They make characters stupider or less competent than they should actually be in order to force the plot to fit. This is a different problem than just cutting out the boring bits, but it comes from the same place: things need to be streamlined, to connect, or otherwise you wind up with a crazy unwieldy plot that you can’t handle anymore (hat tip to a lot of epic fantasy authors out there). Streamline the wrong parts, though, and you wind up with Orphan Black‘s tendency to have everyone they meet to be part of some conspiracy of some kind to track, capture, or destroy clones (which, while understandable from a structural point of view, starts to get a little silly after a while).

So what to do? Well, that’s the trick – there’s no easy answer here. The fact is that you, the writer, need to come up with plausible and reasonable ways to make sure the story doesn’t spin off its axis or mutate into the wrong kind of story. I’m struggling with this myself in the next Saga of the Redeemed novel, and it is no cake walk. However, I recognize that I need to do it and do it well if I want my story to transport and be acceptable. I don’t want to knock people out of the dream, if you follow my meaning. I have to separate the important parts from the unimportant, the easily plausible from the implausible. And I don’t ever need to explain to you when and where and why my main character needs to take a leak.

5 Things Life Would Be Better Without

This is me today.

This is me today.

Feel like complaining, but not to the level where I need to awaken Vrokthar. I’m having one of those days that isn’t bad, exactly, but it is annoying. So, after I stepped in dog poop and tripped getting onto the train and had autocorrect try very hard to make me look like a fool and so on, I’m going to tell you about 5 things the world does not need and would be better without. You may or may not agree – I don’t really care that much.

Pictured: me failing to get my touchscreen to do things.

Pictured: me failing to get my touchscreen to do things.

#5: Touchscreens

Let me start with an unpopular choice. Was there something wrong with buttons I was unaware of? Because I felt like buttons worked just fine. They reacted to your touch, they always depressed when you hit them, and they were pretty functional. But no, some jackhole had to go invent the buttonless objects that now pervade my daily existence.

Perhaps I’m a vampire, but touchscreens refuse to consistently acknowledge my touch. I find myself jabbing at a flat sheet of graphene (or whatever they’re made out of) over and over and nothing happens. At least with buttons, I could isolate the root of the problem fairly quickly – if the button was going in, the problem wasn’t with the button – but with touchscreens, who knows? Also, who knows if you’re hitting the right one? They make the damned icons so small that my enormous fingers are constantly doing the wrong thing. I legitimately have to pivot my fingers sideways so I can swipe with the narrow band of flesh alongside my fingernails to get things to work. That is assuming it agrees to acknowledge my existence, which it does not.

Additionally, there is no reason buttons couldn’t work! Put a control cross and two buttons and a scroll wheel or such on the bottom edge of a phone and bam–it would work fine! Keyboards could fold off the back, just like they did in days of old.

Either that, or somebody invent a goddamned touchscreen that reacts to my touch. Unlike now, where they just react to my screams.

#4: DVD Menu Intro Sequences



I don’t know about you, but when I put a DVD into a DVD player, I want the movie to begin. Like, right away. Sure, sure – I’m willing to tolerate the existence of previews and such (movie studios have to make their money somehow), but why in hell’s name do I have to watch a five minute sequence of Zazu flying across the damned Pridelands just to start the stupid movie? Is anybody under the illusion that this crap is entertaining? Yeah, sure, a menu ought to exist, but we shouldn’t have to see it unless we want to (by pushing the menu *button*). The idea that somebody, somewhere, spent a boatload of money and wasted hours and hours and hours of labor to create a video animation sequence that NO ONE WANTS TO SEE AT ALL makes me wonder for the sanity of the human race.

Of course, maybe all you hip folks out there haven’t watched a DVD in some years and don’t even know what I’m talking about anymore. Me? I’ve got kids who like to watch DVDs, and Disney is one of the worst offenders for this nonsense.

#3: Autocorrect

This is an old one – been around since we were afflicted by smartphones – but just to reiterate: COMPUTERS SUCK AT GUESSING WHAT YOU WANT TO SAY!

Generally I disapprove of all minion-themed memes. This is an exception.

Generally I disapprove of all minion-themed memes. This is an exception.

Look, I know how to spell, dammit. And, even if I don’t, I’d rather be occasionally bad at spelling than constantly not making sense. My phone’s autocorrect feature is constantly changing the weirdest things – like, not even nouns, but adjectives and articles and stuff. And WHY? Seriously, why? What, people can’t learn to spell anymore? And even if they can’t, it isn’t like autocorrect actively improves anybody’s spelling. C’mon, we’ve all got that one relative in our social media feed who is a living reminder of how spellcheck and autocorrect do NOTHING to help you if your grasp of English is tenuous!

I’m a writer. It drives me bonkers when I make a grammatical or spelling error. The only thing, though, that drives me even more bonkers is when some stupid machine dips into my own writing and makes the mistakes on its own and then passes off such mistakes as mine! Arrrggghhh!

If you gave me a time machine and told me I had to go back in time and kill one person, the person who invented spellcheck would be it.

#2: Movies on TV with “Hosts”

Again, showing my age here a bit, but I still watch things on actual television. Sometimes I’ll catch a movie I haven’t seen yet. And sometimes, for reasons that baffle the sane mind, those movies are “hosted” by people. People who waste time before and after commercials talking to me about nonsense.




Like, this never made sense. Not ever. Not even in the 1970s. The idea that TV networks are still doing this today, 40 years later, is absolutely mind-blowing. Who the hell tunes into Thor: The Dark World on FX and wants to see two smiling, vacuous twits banter artificially on a set somewhere? I just don’t get it. I don’t understand where they find these people. I don’t understand what these people think their job entails. I don’t understand how anybody justifies paying these people money to do this. IT’S A MOVIE! IT DOES NOT NEED A HOST!

You don’t need a concierge to make you appreciate the Godfather movies. You don’t need a spirit guide to take you through the complexities of Kung Fu Panda.

Or, what, maybe people do? Maybe there’s some old lady out there who would be completely lost in the twists and turns of Roadhouse were it not for that smiling couple trying to cook “Roadhouse Hash” while the movie is on? I mean, assuming this is true, here’s my first thought: maybe this person shouldn’t be allowed to watch television unsupervised. Maybe this is the kind of person who turns on Fox News, thinks it’s all true, and votes for Trump. Maybe – just maybe – the tiny demographic who craves or needs or enjoys hosted movies on television are the reason why life is awful and everything is terrible and we’re all going to die of global climate change.

You know, maybe.

It's probably bulletproof. You know, just because.

It’s probably bulletproof. You know, just because.

#1: Hard Plastic Packaging Material

So, Vrokthar has complained about this before, and he says it much more eloquently than I. That said, who the hell thought we wanted to purchase objects so irrevocably sealed into their little plastic containers that neither man nor beast could liberate them? Why do I need to break out a knife to open these things? Seriously – not even scissors is enough. I need a sharp knife, a vice, and time to get my flash drive free. Hell, just yesterday my wife got a package of birthday invitations that were sealed in two separate layers of thick plastic so durable, it would not tear. I needed to cut them out.

I can see the rationale to prevent theft here, I guess – expensive, small objects that can be easily ripped from packaging can get stolen. But is somebody willing to tear open a cardboard box in public like some kind of rabid racoon really going to have a hard time stuffing a slightly larger plastic package into their underwear?

And then how do you explain the packages inside other packages. Like, seriously, the flavoring packages in discount Macaroni and Cheese are build to withstand the strength of five men. Ever try to gracefully open the plastic bag inside a box of Cheerios? What the fuck, Corporate America? Is this some kind of elaborate prank? Is it just funny to you?

One of the most amusing things in movies is the speed with which somebody can purchase an item at an electronics store and then open it to use it. You see this especially often with pay-as-you-go cell phones. They buy one and bam – it’s in their hand. Meanwhile, actual people are asking their friends if they have a hacksaw in their garage because they’ve got to call their mom.

Anyway, I’ve complained enough. If you’d like to add to the list, feel free to comment. Enjoy your Monday.

How Weird is Too Weird?

Something about this book is just a little...off. Can't put my finger on it...

Something about this book is just a little…off. Can’t put my finger on it…

I just re-read Dune over the past few weeks, prepping to teach it in my scifi elective class come spring semester. This is probably my fourth time reading the book and, at this point, it all seems very clear and straightforward. Herbert’s world-building is marvelous as ever and I’m excited to teach it. However, as with any time I read a book with a mind to teach classes on it, I tried to keep in mind just how accessible the work is to a casual reader. If you’ve ever read Herbert’s work, “accessible” is perhaps not the first word that comes to mind. The world of Arrakis is densely layered and context clues to how everything works are relatively rare; there is a glossary and appendices included at the back of the novel for a reason.

So, okay, my students are going to struggle with it a bit. The question becomes “is that a bad thing?”

Part of the purpose of scifi and fantasy is to challenge the reader’s preconceived notions. The author seeks to create a new and alien place for you to inhabit for a while to get you thinking about the real, actual world (even if only subconsciously). Some do this with worlds that are just a touch off of our own (much of the cyberpunk sub-genre, for instance, or near-future hard scifi like The Martian). Some do it with wildly different worlds so far removed from our own, the comparison is more abstract and less direct – works like Herbert’s Dune series or even Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun.

Personally, while I don’t dislike the more realistic tales, I really dig a good wild ride in a totally alien universe. The price for entry into these wild settings is high, though. It takes a while to get settled in Iain M. Banks’ Culture setting, for instance, though the pay off when you do is proportionally greater (for me). Novelty, of course, is a special thing in literature of any stripe, and any world as wild and strange (and yet fully realized) as Leckie’s Imperial Radch or anything in a China Mieville novel is something to be treasured and a challenge to be met.



In rattling off these names of books and authors, though, you might have noticed that some of them are easier reads than others. This leads me to my last rumination for the day: where, exactly, should the line be drawn between the alien and the familiar? Let’s be honest: there is a real, actual limit to how strange your world can be before it becomes essentially unreadable. A book no one reads is not the goal of any author, no matter how avant-garde they want to be, so where do you hold back? How weird is too weird?

I haven’t much of an answer to give you, I’m afraid. I don’t know that this is something easily solved by a set of hard and fast rules. I can say, however, that you need something at the heart of your tale to ground the audience in the familiar, otherwise you’ll lose their interest. Paul’s relationship with his parents in Dune is sufficiently understandable to carry you through all the bizarre chat about the Kwisatz Haderach and folding space/time with psychedelic spice. Likewise, no matter how strange the Culture seems, Banks (usually) populates it with main characters who are, in broad strokes, not too different from us in attitude and behavior, even if their cultural background is very strange and their appearance off-kilter. Both of these authors, though, cross the lines in some places. Herbert’s later Dune books are very, very weird to the point where they’re hard to connect to. Banks, likewise, has certain seventh dimensional plotlines circling around the doings of super-intelligent AIs that keeps the reader at a distance. As interesting as those books are, readers tend to love with their hearts, not their minds.

Though my current series of novels isn’t that off the beaten path, I grow restless anyway. One of my earlier novels was a multiple-reality/quantum causality thriller which was, frankly, too weird to work so I toned it down into a stock adventure novel and then it also didn’t work. If I go back to it (and other) ideas I have kicking around that are not the standard fare, I’m going to have to think long and hard about how to balance the strange with the familiar, the bracing with the comfortable, if I plan on selling the idea to anyone. Maybe then I’ll have better luck.

Wherein I Plot My Hostile Takeover of On the Dot Books

No seriously - this is what I look like.

No seriously – this is what I look like.

This Friday (10/7/16) from 12pm-2pm EST, I will be taking over the Twitter feed of local bookstore, On the Dot Books. Thus will my dominance of all local bookchains be assured, as they will quake in terror of my wrath ever after.


By which I mean I hope to have a lovely conversation with all of you wonderful people out there on Twitter regarding my books (read The Saga of the Redeemed!), writing, scifi/fantasy, and whatever you like. Ask questions, trade pithy jabs, and even be exposed to my vast store of stock photography and memes. It should hopefully be a lot of fun and serve to promote not only myself but also a great independent bookstore here in Boston.

So, this Friday, stop by during your lunch-break to pick my brain on Twitter at @onthedotbooks – great fun will be had!

Important Notification Re: Your Hero Insurance

Dear Doctor Monstrosity,

This is an important notice regarding your Hero liability coverage in your FOUL Insurance Policy. You must read this document immediately and in its entirety, or our coven of witches currently on retainer will place a hex upon you that will result in you no longer being able to absorb fluid without vomiting, which means a painful and grotesque death by dehydration will await you. Feel free to take notes. Please eat the message when you are done, as that will guard against the curse. As usual, please understand this is meant as a safety measure to ensure your privacy, our privacy, and the privacy of our other customers.

Notification of Policy Change

As of this writing, FOUL will no longer cover the costs of heroic interventions against your operation that are perpetrated by orphans of your former enemies.

Furthermore, any pre-existing coverage offered for orphans created by accident or negligence are likewise null and void.

FOUL will also be increasing premiums by 50% on any liability coverage for heroic acts of revenge stemming from the loss of even ONE parent to your actions.

Finally, FOUL will disallow any further coverage against liability as a result of actions by those persons who believed they were orphans until they discovered you were, in fact, their only surviving parent.

Statistics have shown that those who have left the progeny of their foes to live have a 65% greater chance of being undone by those self-same offspring, even after an intervening period of apparent calm for decades. It seems apparent that the loss of parents is in some way traumatic (we are as surprised as you) and stands to create a kind of manic obsession with revenge which has proven costly. The claims FOUL has been forced to bear as a result of our clients’ own sloppiness has seriously tested our financial security as an organization.

So, some quick do’s and don’ts:

-DO NOT abandon your enemies’ offspring in a wasteland or in the midst of a storm and expect them to perish.

This ends poorly.

This ends poorly.

-DO NOT expect the power of love to crumble before your overwhelming might and grandeur.

Statistics prove that Love Conquers All, and we don't cover it.

Statistics prove that Love Conquers All, and we don’t cover it.

-DO NOT, under any circumstances, sell your victims’ progeny into slavery of any kind.

We know this is an excellent financial opportunity for you, but trust us that it never works out.

We know this is an excellent financial opportunity for you, but trust us that it never works out.

-DO NOT gloat over the child of an enemy or underling or endeavor to teach them any kind of lesson whatsoever.

They have a tendency to remember your face.

They have a tendency to remember your face.

-DO encourage your underlings to bring any and all errant children to you for re-education.

Though try not to electrocute them in front of their parents.

Though try not to electrocute them in front of their parents.

We at FOUL are happy to serve you for any of your evil financial needs and hope to do business with you in the future. Just try not to create orphans anymore.

One-on-One: The Dramatic Importance of the Duel

yevgeny_onegin_by_repinThis is something of a gaming post, but also a writing post, and also something about politics. Been thinking about that debate coming up tonight (and who hasn’t been?) and whether I want to watch or not and why. To a large extent, I feel like most people have already made up their minds about Trump and Clinton. I mean, how could they not? What on earth could either of them say to change anybody’s mind at this point? Now, I don’t actually know how many people are undecided – maybe it’s a lot – but even in that case, I have a hard time imagining that this debate is going to sway them. One wonders why we have the debate at all, if everything is all pretty well set in the public imagination.

I think a lot of it is because there’s gonna be a fight, and we’re invited to watch.

The duel – facing your foe mano a mano – is an ancient and hallowed tradition not only in history, but in mythology and story as well. Beowulf against Grendel, David against Goliath, Gandalf against the Balrog, Miyamoto Musashi against Sasaki Kojiro – two opponents doing battle for honor, glory, revenge, or even simply survival is old as the hills and universal as song. It is an inherently dramatic scene; it stirs the imagination effortlessly. Each combatant, representing their ideals and their supporters, facing one another in a defining conflict that can only end in a new understanding, either of the world, themselves, or each other. The duel is the symbolic manifestation of change itself.

And yet role-playing games are so often diametrically opposed to them. One of my biggest complaints about D&D (and about the systems derived from its lineage) is that there is seldom any good way to have a one-on-one battle that is interesting. It takes a lot of gymnastics to get those things to work, since D&D is inherently an ensemble game and no fool would go into battle alone when they could have a cleric there to boost them back up to normal. Thing is, though, without duels, beating the villain just becomes a kind of curb-stomping mob scene. Six mighty “heroes” surround the giant, pull it to the ground, and stab it until its dead and there isn’t a damned thing the giant can do. Kinda underwhelming, guys.

Vader could have saved himself a lot of effort if he just brought twenty stormtroopers, right?

Vader could have saved himself a lot of effort if he just brought twenty stormtroopers, right?

In this sense, though, there’s a fair amount of reality in RPGs: in real life, why the hell would you fight somebody one-on-one outside of foolish notions of manhood and honor? Bring five of your friends to the hill at dawn and beat the crap out of that jerk who challenged you and go home alive, right? Historically speaking, this is one of the things the Romans figured out (borrowed from Alexander) that screwed over the Celts and other “barbaric” tribes in their way: the Roman legions operated as one cohesive fighting group, whereas many of these tribes were just groups of warriors out for individual glory. The legions just ground them down and marched over them – not perhaps personally glorious, but victory itself was glory enough for Rome.

In fiction, the author has to jump through hoops to set up their one-on-one battles. They just don’t happen by themselves, you know? No cop in real life says to his unit “leave Mendoza for me!” No soldier on the front is going to stand back while his sergeant engages in a knife fight with an enemy combatant. Notions of “honor” and “good form” are fun and all, but in the broad history of the world, they aren’t precisely “real.” And, in particular, the person who is willing to bring a gun to that knife-fight, the person who sees nothing wrong in ganging up on the lone warrior to destroy him, well, they’re the ones who usually win. Because duels are pretty foolish.

However, we hang such importance on them in our popular imagination. We crave that moment when Vader challenges Skywalker, when Inigo finally catches up with Count Rugen. We love it because we want to know that our heroes are real – that these champions of ours can walk out there and smite evil all by themselves, without us backing them up. It makes us feel good, to know our heroes are the genuine article. Never mind that such knowledge is an illusion, an orchestrated sham – our heroes in real life don’t stand by themselves, but exist as a representative of a network of people devoted to our welfare. The firefighter who carries you out of the burning building gets the glory, but the 911 dispatcher and his fellow firefighters and the engineers who designed his gear got him there. We see the individual, but we forget the legion that made victory possible.

Nowhere is this irony more pronounced than in a “debate” between two people who, while potent individuals in their own right, are standing on a stage doing battle in the most coached, stilted, and artificial of circumstances. When Clinton or Trump speak, they are not speaking as one person – they are speaking as the heads of a movement, of a political party, of an electorate whose support they seek. They have very little power of their own to shape events – not without the millions of people who they hope will vote them into office, where they will again serve as the capstone of an administrative structure that is as collective and collaborative as their campaign is now. But does any of that really matter to us on an emotional level? Not at all.

We want our duel. We want to see our champion victorious. We want to believe in heroes, no matter how we manipulate the world to make them seem real.

It’s Not a Joke If No One Gets It

Hi, everyone – sorry I’ve been away for so long. I’ve been a mixture of sick and busy and just haven’t been able to get back. Hopefully you’ve all had time now to read my story in Perihelion. Right?



For those of you taking notes, this is neither satire nor parody. This is farce.

Anyway, for today’s topic, I’d like to discuss satire a bit. It’s on my mind lately largely because it is becoming more and more prevalent in my social media feeds of late and, like most things, I have definite opinions about it I want to voice, and as this is my blog, well, you know the rest.

Satire, technically speaking, is a style of art that exaggerates something in society (usually people or customs) to the point of absurdity for the purpose of critique. While it is often humorous, it doesn’t need to be. Ostensibly, its purpose is to effect social change or draw attention to social problems, which is broadly what distinguishes it from parody, which is primarily intended to entertain and, indeed, satire can use parody, but in the end it often isn’t very funny.

The thing about satire is that it can be done very well (e.g. The Onion or The Borowitz Report) or it can be done very poorly (The Daily Currant comes to mind, though it has gotten a lot better in recent years). The difference, to me, is this: if you, a reasonably intelligent person, read a satirical article and cannot actually tell whether or not it is satirical or not, this is bad satire. If you find yourself googling whether or not the thing described actually happened, it has failed as a piece of satirical writing.

Let me explain: Satire is the art of exaggeration for the purpose of creating an effect. It is a kind of reductio ad absurdum: “If political figure A is like this, it basically means they could also be like this absurd thing, which is stupid.” However, if your satirical piece comes across as merely “extreme but plausible,” then the “satire” part hasn’t hit home. People who already agree with the critique the satire was intending are merely outraged and the people who disagree with the critique don’t notice that a critique has been made. You haven’t actually satirized, you’ve just made something up.

Granted, lots of people get confused by good satire, too. The Onion frequently gets angry e-mails from people who thought their articles were factual. Some folks out there thought the “Stephen Colbert” of The Colbert Report was actually a conservative. Obviously, satire is not for the dull-witted. However, satire needs to wink at the audience at some point. They need to realize that this isn’t real, but is making a point through absurdity. Any reasonably well-informed person should be able to tell the difference, even if at first they are confounded.

I’ve been seeing lots of bad satire lately. Saw a piece the other day claiming Mike Pence didn’t want to use the word “vice” in Vice President because of religious grounds. The article barely had any indication that this was false, and even though it seemed extreme, it wasn’t so extreme that it was impossible. The article included links to actual events, which merely obfuscated things further. It was by a Journalism professor. The winks to the audience, such as they were, were so subtle as to fail to qualify. It was only after looking at the author’s other publications on the Huffington Post that you could see the pattern – this guy is a satirist. Just a bad one.

Part of the trouble, I fear, is because our current political climate is pretty absurd to begin with. It’s hard to get crazier than Trump, and satire is a challenging business in any event. Nevertheless, now is the time for satirists to shine, and shine they must. If they don’t, nobody will know they were there until Snopes posts a declaration, and by then their message will have been lost in the scramble. As E.B White once said:

Explaining a joke is like dissecting a frog. You understand it better, but the frog dies in the process.

Read “When It Comes Around” on Perihelion SF!

Hi, folks!

Got another story published and released for public consumption. It’s free, too! Shuffle your internet consciousness over to this month’s Perihelion SF and read “When It Comes Around” – my dark and gritty tale of the hard life of a space pirate. Let me tease you with the first line, if I may:

You ain’t been there ’til you’ve clocked a knife-fight in zero-g.

This voice partially owes this old Battletech: Mercenaries image for inspiration.

This voice partially owes this old Battletech: Mercenaries image for inspiration.

Eh? Ehhhh? Pretty cool, yes?

I’m pretty proud of this one. It *just* missed some of the bigger markets (the narrator’s patois just didn’t do it for some editors), so I’m very glad it found a home. I have been in love with this voice I came up with for some years now (my first publication, “The Spacer and the Cabbages,” used it, as well, and that was about seven years ago now). With any luck, I’ll be able to do more with it in the future. Anyway, I hope you like it.

Go! Read! If nothing else, it ought to discourage you from a life of space piracy.

My Blog: Dramatis Personae

What's that? Sorry you missed that? Well, get your ass to the next one, then!

What’s that? Sorry you missed that? Well, get your ass to the next one, then!

Had a book signing last night at Pandemonium Books in Cambridge. It was a ton of fun. Turnout wasn’t exceptional, but I certainly wasn’t there by myself and I probably sold between a dozen and fifteen books, which ain’t too bad for an author nobody knows about. I totally forgot to take pictures, so you’re just going to have to take my word for it. A big thanks to the folks over at Pandemonium, especially Sarah, for giving me the time and space to sit there and talk about writing and D&D and fantasy and even sing a few bars from Disney’s Tangled.

Anywho, in conversation with my friend Kevin Harrington (who is a masterful networker), I started thinking about this blog and the purpose it serves and what kinds of stuff I do here. I’m not going anywhere, don’t worry (to the extent that anybody would ever worry about the disappearance of another author blog), but I guess I kind of just want to codify and explain this weird little thing I’ve got going on.

Note: I am ever-so-slightly fatter than this now.

Note: I am ever-so-slightly fatter than this now.

Blog Voice #1: Me

Most of the time, the voice you hear on this blog is that of myself. I talk incessantly anyway, so talking here is just an extension of my chatty nature. I tend to write about fantasy and science fiction properties, kid’s shows, Disney, my own work, the art and craft of writing, and whatever happens to cross my path. As a literature professor, I analyze pop culture stuff a bit more deeply than I probably ought to, and I don’t regret it one bit. I also stray off into talking about Role Playing Games (the pen-and-paper kind) and all kinds of other gaming, too. Basically, if you’re a writer, a geek, or some combination, you and I should get along just fine. Either that or become mortal enemies. Time will tell.

These guys gotta get insured *somewhere*, right?

These guys gotta get insured *somewhere*, right?

Blog Voice #2: FOUL (Financial Operations and Underwriting Limited)

I stray into parody a fair amount here, and one of the chief avenues of this is my FOUL posts. These are essentially me imagining the kind of financial and administrative and legal apparatus that would have to exist if there really were supervillains and evil masterminds in the world. They are pretty silly – very much along the lines of the Bank of Evil in the Despicable Me movies.

If I want pictures of Vrokthar, I just google "Barbarian" and there he is.

If I want pictures of Vrokthar, I just google “Barbarian” and there he is.

Blog Voice #3: Vrokthar the Skull-Feaster

Vrokthar is a dour, bloodthirsty barbarian of the Conan type, dwelling in some fictional wasteland just north of wherever you are. He is constantly angry, and bellows his threats from his throne of skulls. I use Vrokthar sometimes to vent about things that piss me off, since him venting is ridiculous and comical, and me venting is petty and mean. As Vrokthar is an absurdist caricature of a person, he says and believes things I do not, so there is a fair amount of distance between the things he might threaten to do or the things he finds insulting and the things that *I* do, but the stuff he’s complaining about is somehow related to what’s bothering me (even if I’m using Vrokthar to be sarcastic). Anyway, it’s just nice to have an angry barbarian come in sometimes and threaten to disembowel those who defy him.

Blog Voice #4: World-building Stuff

I also use this blog to flesh out settings for my novels. There’s a pile of old documents on Tvyian’s world under the Saga of the Redeemed tab, some stuff on the Union of Stars, some stuff on Nyxos, and more, besides. I mean, assuming you’re into that kind of thing. I have no blessed idea if anybody actually enjoys reading that stuff (it tends to get the fewest hits), so I try not to do it very often.

Blog Voice #5: Guest Posts!

I know a bunch of authors, and so many of them I invite to come on the blog and share excerpts from their new works or guest posts about whatever they feel like sharing. I should note that I don’t want to deal with unsolicited offers of guest posts just yet (I’m not so huge a platform I’d be doing you many favors, anyway, and I’m about as busy as I want to be here), but perhaps one day, if I’m able to quit my day job and write full time.

(Pause here for laughter)

Anyway, that’s basically what’s going on here. Oh, and there’s a few other things, too. Like that time I wrote about One Eyed Willie from Goonies, which has been very popular, or that time I channeled HG Wells for a silly joke, which is one of my favorites.

Well, long story short (too late), I’m curious as to what you folks like to read here and what, if anything, gets you coming back. I’m not saying I’ll change my behavior, mind you, but I’m curious. How is all of this going? Let me know!

Vrokthar Crushes Your Online Learning Tools!

Behold, wretched wetlanders, it is I, Vrokthar the Skull-feaster, Scourge of the Northern Wastes, once more compelled to visit my mighty displeasure upon thee and thy incontinent civilization. Oft in the past have I commanded this ensorcelled word-slate to convey my curses to your soft pink ears, but this time is different. Indeed, your fetid customs, while usually merely despicable and foolish in equal measure, have this time done Vrokthar true injury. Such injuries will be answered by your howls of pain. So have I decreed, and so shall it be. But before Vrokthar visits his meteoric wrath upon your flat, sweaty lands, let him first regale you with the story of the fatal errors that hath led thee to this bloody destiny.

As chieftain of a mighty tribe of marauders, it falls to Vrokthar to educate the youth in the art of violence and rapacity. These young ones flock to Vrokthar’s longhouse and squat by the side of his throne of skulls. By the firelight, I speak to them of mighty deeds and teach them the best way to flay a man whilst he lives. Woe betide the foolish boy who does not heed Vrokthar’s weighty musings, for it his he that we practice upon. The screams echo into the night, and we feast and sleep well.

Or so it once was. No more.



In our raids, very many of my tribe have wrested magical treasures from the twisted hands of thy wetlander countrymen. These “computors” and “celled phones” have proven their worth to my people many times. No more shall we be forced to wander endlessly the vast tundras of my land in search of prey. No, the oracle GOOGLE now betrays thy settlements to us, and we pillage at will. The many sacrifices we have burned in for the honor of the GOOGLE are great. Their clever logos also bring much amusement to my warriors.

But these gifts have cost my people more dearly than you know. Now my young charges wish to use the spirit world of the INTORNOT to aid in their learning. Indeed, there are surprisingly many learning packages for the young barbarian, purchasable for reasonable fees. We, of course, do not buy – we take – and many educational software companies have perished beneath Vrokthar’s heavy boots. I now command a flexible and versatile platform of interactive lessons meant to occupy my students, meant to free Vrokthar’s precious time for more butchery and razing of wetlander settlements.

But it is not so. Vrokthar is BETRAYED!

The learning software has failed to function. My foolish students cannot manage to log on. The structure of the program is as dense and mysterious as the Labyrinth of Gloom. Vrokthar has not saved himself time at all! Indeed, I am now forced to poke and prod at mine own word-slate to goad the sluggard programs to load. I am forced to prostrate myself before mine sworn enemies, Tech Support, and grovel for aid. Hours have become days, days have become weeks, and my students are as stupid now as when they began. Worst of all is this: the screams that echo into the night are my own, as I curse and flail impotently at the educational software’s inferior User Interface.

I now ask myself: what was ever amiss with my mighty axe and my booming voice? Where did I go wrong? I answer the question thusly: You fools have done this to me. This is thy vengeance – this is how you seek to destroy the mighty Vrokthar, by denying his heirs his weighty wisdom.

It shall not stand.

Beware, mewling wetlander scum! Vrokthar the Skull-feaster hath ferreted out thy cowardly plot, and now he shall unroot thee. He shall strike from the frigid north like a thunderbolt, dashing down your mirrored castles in thy sedate office parks. Then, when you have been dragged a hundred miles on your knees, eating nothing but the flesh of your fallen compatriots, THEN shall you grovel at the foot of Vrokthar for your very lives. And THEN Vrokthar will show mercy to any who can manage to log in to their wretched INTORNOT portal on the first try. Those who succeed shall become my slaves. Those who fail shall learn new ways to scream as they become an educational message for all their ilk, their entrails shipped to their competitors in small FedEx envelopes for months to come.

So sayeth Vrokthar. So it shall be.