A moofable feast.

Be brave enough to burn and you'll be brave enough to fly.

STATUS: Monday, July 27
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alexandraerin

The Daily Report

I mentioned last week that there’s an updated version of Word for the Android OS. I’ve been spending most of today getting acquainted with it. The new version is both more powerful than the previous iteration, and closer to the desktop.

I have to say that while Word remains better than Google Docs for tricky formatting and preparing things to ebook specifications and is loads better for dealing with big and complicated documents, GDocs remains the gold standard for fluid multi-device, cross-platform jumping. I’ve learned that OneDrive still doesn’t like it if I start something in one place and then open it in another without first closing it in the first place. It can cope. It’s just not happy.

So, I’m not going to be switching from Docs to Word for free-wheeling creative writing, but this is still good news for my projects that rely on elaborate formatting and precise presentation of information. It’s still not necessarily a place to do the heavy lifting on those projects, if only because the lack of a mouse and keyboard shortcuts makes formatting a lot less seamless, but perhaps I can do something with templates.

The State of the Me

Had a decent weekend, sleep-wise.

Plans For Today

The remaining couple of hours of the day are going to be spent creatively brainstorming for this week’s MU chapter, as I try to step back into a more formal writing process. Tomorrow I’m going to start writing the “seed” of the story, Wednesday I’m going to try to flesh it out, and Thursday I’m going to work on finishing it, giving me Friday to polish or add in any fresh insights.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write. Please leave any comments there.

This entry automatically cross-posted from http://alexandraerin.dreamwidth.org/671049.html. Comment hither or thither. Void where yon.

Always Watching: A Marble Hornets Story (Review)
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alexandraerin

Some background: Marble Hornets is a slow-burning found footage horror gem created and published on YouTube, heavily inspired by the mythos of “Slenderman”, a modern-day bogeyman created as a bit of internet creepypasta and who has become a sort of crowdlore. In the series, a faceless, reality-warping figure stalks a group of student filmmakers.

The nature of the entity, its origin, motivations, needs, wants, powers, and actual modus operandi are never explained. It just is. It simply and impossibly is, and this is part of the genius of the series. The characters we’re watching are struggling to come to terms with something that can warp their senses, cloud their thoughts, and affect their memories. It is a thing without explanation, a thing beyond explanations. Part of the conceit of the series is that those affected by the Operator (as it’s referred to officially, and even a few times obliquely within the context of the show) wind up filming themselves at all times in case of things like unexplained gaps in their memory.

The first “season” of the show was based on the idea that one character had found the tapes that another character had made, and was slowly piecing together what happened and uploaded it to YouTube. Doing so in some way seems to bring him to the attention of the Operator, and from there the subsequent seasons became much more involved.

That’s the series. It ended pretty much the only way it could end, and if we were left unsatisfied with the lack of answers, I personally feel any answer that was ventured would have been even more viscerally unsatisfying. The last thing we need is some wise bearded figure explaining to us that the Operator is the soul of an infamous serial killer who was killed by his last victim, or the vanguard of an alien invasion, or a mass hallucination brought on by an experimental drug that endows its user with psychic powers but at the cost of unleashing the horrors of the id… or whatever. Nothing would suffice to explain the slender one.

The series ended, as I said, but near the end of its life cycle, there was an exciting announcement: the creators had struck a deal for a movie. What a coup! Bigger coup: creature feature veteran and World’s Creepiest Skinny Mime Doug Jones had signed on to play the Operator. Granted, who you put in a faceless mask for a figure who never appears clearly on screen for more than a second at a time might not seem like a big deal, but Jones has a peculiar genius for portraying emotion and character even when nothing of his performance is there but his posture. Trying to make a Slenderman-inspired movie without Doug Jones would just seem like a shame.

The direct-to-video-on-demand movie Always Watching: A Marble Hornets Story (formerly Marble Hornets and Project Marble Hornets) is not a continuation of the series or a compressed remake but another story in the same universe. So far, so good. No sense treading over the same ground or trying to tie up the loose ends that made the story so interesting. That decision and the casting, though, are some of the few good points.

First, while no Marble Hornets story really needs a “hero” per se, our protagonist and main viewpoint character is utterly unlikable. Since the first act of the movie is squarely centered on him and we don’t really get much characterization out of the others, this is hugely off-putting. None of the characters are really very believable, either… despite the presence of what I’m sure must have been an actual budget, the writing and the acting are both somewhere between those in the Marble Hornets series and the deliberately awful student film-within-a-film that was at the center of it.

If you remember Ben Affleck’s “backseat of a Volkswagen” character in Mallrats, that’s what the male secondary character Charlie reminded of, both in how he was written and the kind of affected quality of the acting. I feel like we’re supposed to be rooting against him a little bit in the entirely by-the-books love triangle, but main character Milo is… well, it’s not just that he’s not a nice guy. He’s not even a Nice Guy™. You can’t root for him. And neither the female lead Sara nor the rival Charlie feel like real people, so you can’t root for anyone.

The Operator is done about right. The early glimpses really are blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, and even in the later scenes it’s possible to miss him. In fact, while I don’t want to watch the movie again, I kind of imagine even I didn’t catch him every time. I was worried that when developing the movie for a theoretically wider audience, they would have felt the need to do a lot more tight close-ups and really make sure that you see him, but they mostly avoided that.

Unfortunately, they compensated for it by hanging a lampshade on everything else.

I know a lot of Marble Hornets fandom has tried to codify the rules that the Operator follows, but the thing is, there aren’t really any rules. I know I’ve seen people suggesting it’s canon that the Operator *only* appears on recordings and camera feeds but there are definitely moments when people see him and address him without any device. I mean, there are also times when he’s not visible to someone in the moment but he shows up on a recording… but there are also times when someone sees him and he’s not on the recording that we’re watching. This is not a roleplaying game monster with stats and nice, enumerated special abilities that have a predefined scope. That’s part of what’s so horrifying about it.

The movie does what every horror movie since Scream has done, though: it tells you the rules. It takes the fanon theories of how things work in their most vulgar, banal, *boring* fashion and lays them out for you in so many words. The Operator only shows up on video. He always shows up on video, if he’s there. He can’t do anything himself, but he possesses/mind controls people. He drives people to desperation and they kill each other or themselves. The end.

One of the elements of the series, a progressive respiratory ailment known as “slender sickness” that comes over people who spend too much time under the Operator’s influence. Like every dramatic element of Marble Hornets, it’s a thing that is more inferred over the course of several episodes than concretely explained, which may be why it was ditched in favor of actual, honest-to-goodness brands that appear on the skin of people the Operator takes an interest in.

That’s not the worst idea in the world? It’s just at odds with how things were in the series, which undermines the idea that this is the same universe.

I’d say this one is only for completists… but honestly, the people who should be the built-in audience for this film are probably the people most likely to be disappointed by it. Strip away the connection to the series and it’s basically a reasonably competent found footage/haunting horror movie, a forgettable entry in a crowded field.

I will say there are at least two really great Easter eggs for the diehard fan, the first of which grounds what we’re seeing in the world of the web series and the second of which illuminates the connection between the events we’re seeing and what we’ve seen before.

Which is why it’s really unfortunate that the movie doesn’t reconcile well with the series. I can’t accept it as canon. In my head, this movie exists in the Marble Hornets movie as a low-budget, direct-to-video movie inspired by someone who heard some rumors, or even someone who watched the YouTube series as it exists within the story.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write. Please leave any comments there.

This entry automatically cross-posted from http://alexandraerin.dreamwidth.org/670914.html. Comment hither or thither. Void where yon.

STATUS: Friday, July 24th
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alexandraerin

The Daily Report

Well, one unexpected piece of good news yesterday: I learned Microsoft recently came out with an actual Word app for Android devices. Their previous Office suite could open, view, edit, and create Word docs, but it was basically a glorified rich text editor. While I wouldn’t want to try to do heavy formatting on my phone to begin with, the fact that there was no access to Word’s styles system meant that any work done on the phone that went beyond simple text entry would have to be re-worked quite a bit to integrate it with anything done on a desktop. I haven’t tested it extensively, but it seems like for most purposes work done on an Android device is now exactly the same as work done in the actual Word program.

So, now I’m going to have to take a look at all the projects I started and then didn’t find the time and/or continued interest for because I couldn’t juggle them between devices, and figure out what to do with this new information.

The State of the Me

Was a bit wired last night, but did sleep well once I did get to sleep.

Plans For Today

Last Friday was my first new chapter after a long slump. Today’s just as important, in my mind, as one chapter doesn’t break a slump. I’ve been doing some pretty decent writing all week. Not all stuff that connects to anything, but writing nonetheless. I’m pretty confident that I can build on last week and keep going.

 

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write. Please leave any comments there.

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STATUS: Thursday, July 23rd
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alexandraerin

The Daily Report

Today started out with unexpected technical hurdles. I woke up to see that there was a vulnerability with a recent version of WordPress, and so I signed into my sites to make sure they had automatically upgraded. They had, but there’s a glitch that WordPress can get from an automatic update that turns the log-in into a redirect loop, and the Tales of MU site had it. I’ve seen this before on my main blog, but the solution I employed here (rolling it back to a previous version) wasn’t an option, and it took me a while to find another fix.

Not a disaster, but not a great start to the day. Any time I have to unravel a technical problem, it knocks me clean out of the creative head space, so I’m a bit behind where I wanted to be, quite apart from the time I spent.

The State of the Me

Slept pretty well last night.

Plans For Today

Probably going to be messing around with random writing for most of the afternoon, to get back in gear before working on this week’s MU chapter at the end of the day.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write. Please leave any comments there.

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The Freedom of Liberty: Prologue & Chapter 1
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The Freedom of Liberty (Liberty’s Freedom Cycle — Book 1)

By John Z. Upjohn, USMC (Aspired)

PROLOGUE

Jon Prescott Johnson shouldered his rifle as he stood up. Kneeling, he peered through the rifle’s scope and surveyed the land all around him, carefully scouting as he reconnoitered.

He had a pair of military grade polyspectrum binocs in on his belt, but he preferred the honesty of the rifle.

While he swept the countryside with body’s eyes, his mind’s eye reflected on how he looked. Tall, six foot four, and built. He was not a vain man, but simple biology dictated that all women liked their men to be built, so built he was. Looking at him, you knew that he lifted. His face was stubbled so you could tell he took care of himself but he wasn’t fussy about it.

He wouldn’t brag about it, but there was definitely something in his face that made ladies swoon. Was it confidence, or was it arrogance? Trick question. It was both. At the same time something in his eyes said, “Gay guys, back off.” just so there wasn’t any confusion.

It was a fair warning, and the only warning they would get.

Jon P. Johnson was not a hateful man. There was no room for hate in heart, not with all the love of freedom crammed in there. But he was a man, all man, and he had the same natural reaction to homosexuals as every other man.

The comforting weight of the rifle in his hands was comforting to his hands. It was a custom made version of the latest model the finest weaponsmiths on Ceanndana could turn out: the Garand Turismo Mark III with the double extended clip and a polycarbonite stock with a gunmetal gray finish expertly covered over in stained walnut.

Not satisfied with the machine results, he had insisted on rifling the barrel by hand himself. He’d been shooting since before he could walk. What machine knew more about rifles than he did? His bold and unconventional and boldly unconventional choice had resulted in a weapon that was accurate to a range of approximately seven meters, but he was quite sure that no other weapon was quite as accurate at that range.

He wasn’t so vainglorious as to feel the need to put that hypothesis to the test, though. He believed results should speak for themselves.

The hills of the Ceanndanan countryside rolled out all around him. It was a harsh landscape. Ceanndana was a harsh planet. Humanity’s sons had touched their feet down on its dirt at the tail end of a deceptively mild period in its natural climate variation: the temperatures had been pleasant, precipitation mild but dependably regular, and the hills and plains covered in vegetation that housed a wide variety of animal life.

It had seemed like a paradise, a new Eden filled with inexhaustible resources. So the first colonists had begin clear-cutting forests to build factories, burning out grasslands to most efficiently provide farmlands for the new world. Rivers were dammed for power. Animals were hunted for sport. This new Eden had been provided for their benefit and no tyrannical pencil-pushing bureaucrats were going to stop them from using its bounty to the fullest degree possible.

But it hadn’t lasted. The greatest climate explainers Ceanndana recognized had theorized that the planet had a complex, long-term global season system. The colonists had touched down at the end of global spring. Now the planet was entering had enter moved into global summer. The atmosphere had grown hot and dry and poisonous, the rain sporadic and acidic. The remaining wildlands had turned barren. Once-plentiful animal life was now in short supply. The polar ice was melting. The seas were turning toxic and barren of life.

Maybe the United Nations had known about the cycle and tried to stick the rebellious upstarts with what they believed would be a deathtrap. If so, they would be disappointed. The Ceanndanans persevered and even took pride in their increasingly inhospitable adopted home. Their planet was untamable, just like them. Just as no man could impede the progress of the seasons, so no government could affect the progress of true men, free men.

Ceanndana. Literally: the Boar’s Head. The last bastion of true freedom in the galaxy.

As Jon thought about this, Jon reflected on the motto he followed. Stand tall. Dream big. Know your 20.

Jon stood tall. Six foot four, broadly muscled with a chiseled jaw and a far-off look in his eyes because he dreamed big. He knew his 20. He knew where he stood. This was what it was to be a man. This was what it was to be a Ceanndanan.

The familiar harsh environment today was tinged with unfamliarity. On the horizon there was a tinge of smoke, tinging upwards with a smoky coil. There were no factories out in that direction yet, he knew, and nothing there to burn. It would be worth checking out.

With practiced, easy gait, Jon stalked across the barren wilderness towards the hill from behind which the smoke emanated. Cresting the hill—he always kept the high ground when approaching unknown situations—he saw the wreckage of a small shuttlecraft. It was definitely not local, but he recognized the design. He stood tall, shouldering his rifle.

The United Nations had come to Ceanndana.

 

CHAPTER 1: THE LIBERTY OF FREEDOM

Logistics Support Officer Wilhelmina “Hel” A. Mikkelsen stared up through the ragged hole in the fuselage of the light scout ship at the bright sky of Ceanndana and wondered where the hell she was.

The erratically orbiting satellite she had clipped while doing an orbital pass of Ceanndana had not appeared in the latest official registry she had for this system, nor had it been broadcasting any nav info that her ship’s computers could recognize.

As a veteran of the United Nations pilot rating program she of course could not fly a vessel with her own two hands and the eyes God gave her so she had ran right into it.

As she wondered where she was, she puzzled over the fact that the program, that she knew was the best in any world, had not prepared her for this simple situation.

Suddenly there was the figure of a man stood silhouetted by the bright sunlight in front of the hole in the fuselage, looking down at her. Stubbled, he stood tall, about six foot four. She was suddenly glad to be strapped down and lying on her back, because there was something about his face that made her swoon.

“Hello,” Jon introduced himself, reaching out a hand down to her. “My name is Jon P. Johnson, ma’am. Can I give you a hand out of her?”

This gave her pause. She hadn’t considered moving from the wreckage herself.

“I think I should better wait for an official search and rescue or medevac team,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to step on any toes.”

He laughed at this, shouldering his rifle.

“Ha ha,” he said. He stood tall. “Little lady, you must come from somewhere a lot more crowded than Ceanndana. Around these parts, you have to walk all day just to find any toes to step on.”

“I’m on Ceanndana?” she reeled. “That’s impossible.”

“Lots of things around here are impossible, according to your bosses at the United Nations,” he said. “Now, I don’t mean to be impolite, especially towards a lady, but I can’t stand around all day, and if you want to wait for search and rescue you’ll be waiting a long time. They don’t have coverage in this area.”

“Coverage? Oh, right,” she said. “Our intelligence agents have suggested that Ceanndana would be too backwards and regressive to maintain vital infrastructure for much of the planet.”

“And that’s another thing they’ve got wrong,” he said. “We have the best, most efficient infrastructure of any inhabited system. If you had just crashed in one of the busier areas of the major inhabited centers during normal business hours and your subscription was paid up, you probably would have been rescued by now, and at no cost to the public. If you spend enough time here, miss, you’ll learn that the free market provides better solutions than any government could hope to.”

“If they’re so great, why can’t they come out and help me here?”

“If there was enough need to justify service out here, the market would have provided it,” he said. “I guess I can’t blame you for not understanding how free markets work. Do you want help or not?”

“Sorry, I do,” she said. Taking his hand, she stood up, unbuckling herself from her seat as she did so. With such easy effortless ease that it was impressive even though she didn’t weigh much, he effortlessly lifted her petitely trim weight out of the ragged hole, and together they retreated from the shuttle just before the roaring inferno sparked by the crash consumed it in a fiery explosion of sparks.

“Yikes,” she said. “I guess I owe you my life! Can I buy you a drink?”

“Miss, this is Ceanndana,” he said, shouldering his rifle. “If you’ve got the money, you can buy anything.”

While they walked back towards town Jon filled the naive newcomer’s head in with the details about how things worked in a free society.

“See, our privatized search-and-rescue system gives us the best service for the least money because if one outfit skimps on their product or gouges its customers, we’re all free to take our money elsewhere. The competition keeps them honest.”

“That’s amazing! They never taught us that in the official UN economics classes!” she said. “But, can it possibly work?”

“Are you kidding? It works great!” he said. “I told you we have the best search-and-rescue facilities here on Ceanndana, didn’t I? Consolidated Recovery Services is so good at what they do they were able to buy out their competitors, and now they have the clout to stop anyone else from even stepping up to the plate. Why, just last fall some new outfit was starting up with the idea of servicing the areas that CRS doesn’t, but the board made them an offer and when they refused, CRS bought the only company that makes the ambulance ships instead.”

“But I don’t understand how that makes them the best at helping people in trouble!”

“Being good is what makes them the best. Being at the top of the market just proves they are so,” Jon said. “See, the free market isn’t a lily-livered government functionary or a committee of bloodless diplomats. It’s impartial, predictable, and guided by inexorable forces towards the kind of efficiency that benefits everyone. It doesn’t make mistakes!”

“Can you explain this efficiency thing to me? They don’t tell us much about efficiency in the public schools. It’s kind of, well—”

“A dirty word?”

“Yes.”

“Well, just think about it this way: what do you think uses up more resources, answering rescue calls in the city center, where the vehicles are based and the hospitals are close by, or answering them way out here, where everything is clicks away?”

“I was never taught how to think about this kind of thing, but I guess the second one uses more.”

“Right,” Jon said. “So, if you have an outfit that covers all areas equally, it’s going to use more resources per operation on average than one that only operates in the city. Right?”

She did the math, then slowly, nodded.

“Right,” she said. “My goodness, that’s right.”

“And so you can have two outfits that are doing the exact same job, but one is using far fewer resources. And doing it better! Would it surprise you if I told you that it also results in a much faster average response time, quicker arrival at the hospital, and fewer deaths occurring en route?”

“I would have to see the data before I believed you, but if it’s true, this knowledge could revolutionize, well, everything.”

“This is why the United Nations will never allow it to be heard,” he said. “And I’m very sorry, but now that you know it, they will never let you leave Ceanndana alive.”

“Is knowledge really so dangerous?”

“It is toxic to their agenda,” he said. “You serve a master of lies, who lives in a house made out of lies. The ‘environmentally-friendly’ hovercar he drives to work is powered by lies, and he drives it on hyperstreets paved with lies to an office in a building built not of brick and mortar but more lies. There he manufactures untruths and falsehoods for one reason and one purpose only.”

“What’s that?” she asked breathlessly.

“To keep you from realizing the truth,” he revealed.

She gasped with shock at the realization he made her have.

“Somehow I know this is the truth,” she said. “It is like eating a real strawberry after years of only having synthetic substitutes. I’ve never had a real strawberry but if I tasted it I would know it was different, and that it’s real. But if I can’t go home or anywhere else, what can I do?”

“You can stay here,” he said, standing tall. “Learn to live as we do, free and without restriction. Learn to fight as we do, and one day, liberate the rest of the galaxy as we will.”

“Live free?” she said. “That sounds scary. But thrilling, like a thrill ride that is also scary. But I want to ride it, Jon! I want to ride it more than I have wanted to ride anything else!”

“Then it ride it you must.” He shouldered his rifle. “That’s, you see, the liberty of freedom. It is the thing you must ride because you can ride nothing else.”

Something about the way he said it made her feel things that she was not sure she would have been authorized to feel. Relationships between males and females in United Nations space were tightly controlled, with the males in particular watched to be sure they were not overstepping their bounds and the females in particular watched to be sure they were not promoting internalized misogyny.

But she had never met any man like Jon Prescott Johnson. In fact, she realized, before him, she had never met a real man. It was like she had never tasted a real strawberry before, the effete state-approved gamma males she had been allowed to interact with being like the synthetic strawberry substitutes in her analogy, and Jon being like a real strawberry, only there was nothing fruity about him so the comparison was bad.

She would have compared him to a rare steak, bloody and raw, if she knew about steak. But she would learn. She would learn about steak, she knew, and so many other things she couldn’t have even ever imagined.


 

If you would like to see more from John Z. Upjohn, please support me on Patreon, with a tip on PayPal, or by buying my collection of short stories


 

 

 

 

 

 

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write. Please leave any comments there.

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STATUS: Wednesday, July 22nd
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The Daily Report

Blue Author needs a larger, more reliable revenue stream badly.

So, later today, I’m going to be posting more of John Z. Upjohn’s book, The Freedom of Liberty, ending with prominent links to my Patreon account and a PayPal tip jar. Further installments of this rollicking, good ol’-fashioned military-tinged space opera adventure story will follow on most subsequent Wednesdays, as long as it’s worth my time to keep doing so. If I can find a suitably appreciative audience here, I’ll keep posting them here. If not, I’ll post them as locked entries on my Patreon account.

What’s the benchmark? Well, I don’t have a specific one in mind for free-floating tips, but if my Patreon funding hits $500 a month (it’s at $418 and change right now) then I’ll keep posting them where the public can read them.

Basically, I’m at a point right now where my satirical writing has attracted a lot of positive notice, but not much of anything in the way of money. I’d like to develop the Upjohn idea into a book or books, but I can’t justify spending the time pursuing it at a time when I’m scraping by.

The State of the Me

As we go into the tail-end of July, I’ve had some temperature-related difficulties. Monday afternoon it actually got too hot to work inside my office, and the past couple nights have been awkward for sleeping. Well, I have a quality laptop. It’s not good for the publishing/editing/formatting stuff, but I can write and post from it.

Plans For Today

I’m planning on getting out of the office to do some random writing in a different location in the early afternoon, and then come back and post the next bit of The Freedom of Liberty, as mentioned previously. I’m going to close out the day by doing some preliminary writing on this week’s MU chapter.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write. Please leave any comments there.

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STATUS: Monday, July 20th
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The Daily Report

Pretty sure I mentioned this last week, but I just raised the prices on a bunch of my ebooks across the board. I want to go into my motives here. I look on everything I do as an experiment… even the parts of my schtick that work, could work better.

I tend to be a little squeamish and second-guessy when it comes to valuing my own work, but the way I see it, the prices on the e-books aren’t about what I think my work is worth or even what my readers think my work is worth, but about what’s going to catch The Crowd’s attention and convince them that it’s worth buying, which can come down to some counter-intuitive psychology. Basically, I’m looking for the exact intersection at which the most people are giving me the most money.

Anyway, I closed last week pretty well… had a real “back on the horse” moment where I went from struggling to get back into the swing of things to just swinging as effortlessly as ever. I know I confused at least one person by saying that I wasn’t at a very “dynamite” place in the story and then turning in the chapter I did. Well, that’s because after spending most of the day despairing over what I had to work with, I threw out what I was working on, came up with an entirely new and snappier direction, and wrote a brand new chapter in two hours.

That’s how it is sometimes. I spent two months trying and failing to do one thing while falling farther and farther behind, then decided to do something else and did it in two hours. Chalk up another mark in the “don’t keep trying to work with things that aren’t working” column.

Now I just have to keep it going. At the same time I posted on Friday, I changed the schedule tagline on the MU site to “Updates Fridays”. I’m planning on taking on a variation of my old four day writing cycle, but pegged to a weekly update schedule and with a day of slack built in. I’ll be talking more about this and the future of Tales of MU in later posts, probably this week. The short version is that I’m in the awkward position where Tales of MU brings in most of my money but doesn’t really “pay the bills” any more, and this state of affairs has been exacerbated by indecision about what to do about it… I have a hard time handling things in moderation, so trying to strike a balance where I’m giving MU *sufficient* energy without giving it all of my energy is tricky. But like I said, I’ll be working through that in more posts later on.

The State of the Me

I came into the weekend with a sleep deficit, and it was a busy weekend, and it was also as hot as a very hot weekend, so I’m feeling kind of beat today, hence starting this status post at 11 and posting it sometime after 12.

Plans For Today

Given my physical state, I’m dedicating today to brainstorming/creativity.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write. Please leave any comments there.

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STATUS: Friday, July 17th
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The Daily Report

A while ago, I lowered the cost of the MU Omnibus e-books to a flat 4.99 each, instead of prices that roughly correlated to their lengths. This was to test the theory that this would produce a jolt in their sales. Well, the sales not only didn’t increase, but they decreased, even though this experiment encompassed periods when my profile was higher than normal. I suppose this supports the “price equals perceived value” theory… they looked like a better product when they were a worse buy.

For the next phase of the experiment, I’m going to be putting them at a higher flat price: 9.99. People have told me for years I don’t value my own work highly enough, and while I’m not sure that “price” and “value” are the same thing, my whole thing has been that whatever price point generates the most revenue for the artist is the best valuation. (In cases where revenue remains constant as price decreases, I’d say go with the lower price because that’s more readers, and readers == future revenue for other streams.)

Today is the day I intend to renew posting Tales of MU chapters. I can’t say I’m 100% happy with where the next chapter is, but I also can’t say that’s 100% not jitters. There’s a kind of stage fright that comes over me sometimes when it comes to sharing my work, and the longer I go without really doing it, the worse it gets. I think I have this feeling like the next chapter has to be absolutely dynamite in order to “justify” the delay, but the facts are that we’re just not at a dynamite place in the story, and the delay isn’t something that’s justified or not, it’s something that’s happened.

The State of the Me

My sleep schedule’s really been messed up lately, mostly by personal stuff. I think I got it back on track today by going to bed early last night. The trick is going to be maintaining some discipline over it over the weekend.

Plans For Today

Getting a late start today, but this afternoon I’m going to dig in and focus on Tales of MU like nothing else.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write. Please leave any comments there.

This entry automatically cross-posted from http://alexandraerin.dreamwidth.org/669309.html. Comment hither or thither. Void where yon.

I Can Fix The Crimson
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alexandraerin

So, the retro-wonderland video game Terraria received a massive content update at the end of June. I didn’t get around to checking it out until like last week, but I spent enough time playing it over the weekend to get full-blown Tetris Syndrome over it, with neat rows of terrain blocks artfully arranging themselves behind my eyes.

Sometimes described as being a side-scrolling Minecraft clone, Terraria sometimes feels like a video game designed with someone exactly like me in mind. Dynamic lighting and particle effects aside, it looks a lot like the video games I grew up with. It’s what I consider to be a true sandbox game, which means it’s not just an open world for exploration with limited sign posting and required goals, but it’s meant to be reshaped and built in.

In fact, it’s darn near what I imagined the future of video games would look like, back in the early 90s: looking about the same but shinier and you would be able to do so much more stuff.

A little background: Terraria starts by dropping you into an idyllic pseudo-16 bit paradise, where a cartoony Final Fantasy-ish looking character stands in a forest meadow surrounded by trees and bunnies. It’s less muddy (and far prettier) than the more famous Minecraft, but the basic idea is the same: day is relatively safe, the night is dark and full of terrors. You spend the daylight hours gathering materials and exploring, then dig in for the night with a simple shelter. As you gain more materials and gameplay familiarity (there’s no in-game experience or skill system), your simple shelter might become an elaborate castle, secret underground base, mansion, or town, and your tools for dealing with the horrors of night or the monsters lurking underground become more powerful and sophisticated.

The game does not have a linear progression, but nevertheless, it does progress. The quest for more and better stuff takes you into more dangerous environments with new threats. Random events can make the monsters more numerous and/or more monstrous. Horrible-looking screen-hogging bosses lurk in the background, appearing when the player accidentally disturbs them, deliberately summons them, or in some cases just grows too powerful. Defeating these leviathans results in fundamental shifts in gameplay, by giving you access to new materials and in some cases new areas to explore, but also unleashing more horrors and wonders into the world.

The most recent content updates to Terraria are much less geared towards me in particular as a consumer, as they are largely concerned with extending out the “end game” with more challenging content.

See, the game is “over” in the sense of there being nothing new under the sun when you had beaten the last boss, achieved the best armor, and built a town or mansion big enough to house all the friendly Non-Player Characters. That’s the point where people who play a game to completion tend to feel like there’s nothing more to do, whereas it’s the point where I feel like I’ve collected all the toys and it’s time to start playing for real. The new updates do add more toys, but they’re mostly focused on creating the equivalent of new challenge stages for people who have beaten everything else: new events to live through, new invasions to fight off, new bosses to summon and beat.

I’m not saying that’s not fun, but it’s not what I’m there for.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the times in my life I’ve been most into Terraria have been the times that I have felt the most powerless, the times that I have had the most emotional turmoil. Real life is complicated and messy. Terraria is neat and orderly. While people in real life cling to aphorisms about how the creator of the universe never gives you a challenge that you can’t stand up to, this is literally true about Terraria‘s dynamically generated world: it is a world full of problems, yes, but they’re all problems that are not only ultimately solvable, they are engineered to have solutions that are within your grasp.

Sometimes I see the meme circulating within Gamergate that anybody who takes on “gamers” is a fool because gamers are winners, because they have more experience with persevering over defeat and fighting losing battles than anyone else. There are many things wrong with this mindset, not the least of which is the idea that Gamergate represents the whole set of “gamers” and people who disagree with them (or haven’t heard of them, or don’t care) haven’t shared in those same experiences.

But the idea is also foolish because the challenges that Gamergate is used to overcoming are overwhelmingly stacked in their favor. Even the games that are designed to be devilishly difficult, to appeal to people who want a challenge, are generally designed to be just challenging enough to sink emotional hooks in the player and compel them to keep trying. When a game’s story tells you that you are struggling against impossible odds, that’s the story. The game is there for you to beat it. The obstacles within it are there for you to overcome.

And with very few exceptions in the modern era, death and failure are a temporary state that are effectively retconned away as soon as they happen. Even in games with no finite lives/continues or “permadeath”… you the player can still start your game again, even if your actions resulted in the death of the character you were controlling.

That’s not how it works in real life. Even if Gamergate is not exactly a life-and-death struggle, it is still possible to fail so badly at a thing that it impacts your chance of future success. The saying “You only have one chance to make a first impression” applies here. The gator-based assumption that everything they do—every attempt at something like re-branding themselves—should be and must be judged in a vacuum, it reflects this disconnect.

The faith they have that their time spent gaming will translate to real life has given them the expectation that trying again means their previous failures need not be addressed. It’s a fresh try.

I think older gamers, those of us who played games during the awkward transition between the quarter-eating devil machines of the arcade era and the development of the home market, might have a more realistic perspective. Certainly those of us who played adventure games that could be rendered unpredictably unwinnable by a single wrong move in the opening scenes have a pretty solid understanding that a thing can be so small and so random and yet still screw something big and important up so badly that it can’t be fixed again.

My older brother had a boxed set of The Ultima Trilogy, the original Ultima and its first two sequels. The second game was the one most interesting to us, as we’d already played the NES port of Ultima III and Ultima II, with its greater focus on time-and-interplanetary travel and conceit of exploring the real world was just… well. It was amazing. Or it looked amazing.

But the second game, unlike the other two, would only save one character per disk. And it included no mechanic for deleting your character and starting over. I mean, nowadays I know that anyone with a sufficient knowledge of DOS could delete the save file and/or copy the disk used for saving, but these things were not intuitive to us at the age of ~8.

So what happened was my brother started playing a game, and he saved it at a point where he was low on food (running out being a loss condition) and in no position to get any more. And that was it. We could run Ultima II. We could walk around a little bit before starving to death. That was the whole game as we experienced it.

Playing Ultima II in DOS taught me that you can screw a thing up so badly it can’t be fixed and all you can do is wander around watching the inevitable slowly fail, a lesson that Gamergate doesn’t seem to have ever learned.

But Terraria.

Terraria is not a coin-op game ported directly to consoles. It’s not a text adventure. It’s not a game designed for a narrow niche of expert hobbyists who can be expected to do their own file management. It’s a modern game, designed for modern sensibilities, and all the problems it gives you are ultimately solvable. When the orderly world it presents is infected with chaos, you are given the tools to beat back the rising tide. You can fight off the monster hordes. You can purge the world of the eldritch infection that threatens to swallow it whole. You can put the sealed evil back in the can. And while you’re doing this, you can re-arrange the world to your liking.

My current self-directed goal in the game is to rid my generated world of crimson, a body horror-esque element represented by a biome made of bloody tumors. It has a chance of being present in your world at generation, and it spreads… slowly at first, then at the main turning point in the game’s progression, it makes a huge leap across a large swath of the map and then spreads much faster. The spread of the crimson (or the corruption, the cosmic horror equivalent that will be present instead if the crimson isn’t) makes the game much harder, and its progress seems inexorable, especially when you realize that not only can it spread directly but it will pop up in random, out-of-the-way places in response to certain actions.

But the thing is, the world of Terraria is finite, contained within boundaries that a human mind can easily conceive of and explore. Anywhere the crimson can pop up, you can get to. And you have tools to fight it. You can root it out. You can purify it. You can blow it up. You can blast a trench to hell in order to cut off its spread. You can spray a cleansing solution in a circle around you and clear whole screens at a time. You can watch the map of the world as you’ve explored it for places turning red that were previously green or gray. You can hunt it down.

You can fix it.

It’s not easy in the sense of being something you can push a button and fix it. The quickest, surest solutions are probably also the most tedious in practical terms. The in-game reward? Doesn’t actually exist. But it’s a goal, and it can be reached. It’s a problem, and it has a solution.

Last night, in the midst of an emotional conversation with my boyfriend Jack, I explained my current mania for Terraria with five words: “I can fix the crimson.”

Ultimately, of course, success in a video game means as little as failure does. I can wipe the crimson off the face of *this* map, but not only are no lives actually saved or changed or touched in any way by this feat, but it still exists in thousands and thousands of other Terraria maps extant in the world. And as soon as I start another game or take my character to another map, it’ll start up again. I know this.

But while video game problems and their solutions are completely immaterial in the strictest sense of the world, there’s still something compelling about them. In real life, the world around us is unfathomably vast, unknowably opaque, and unspeakably complex. You cannot solve the world. You cannot beat the world.

But just load up a copy of an old Mario game and you can beat eight worlds in a leisurely afternoon.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write. Please leave any comments there.

This entry automatically cross-posted from http://alexandraerin.dreamwidth.org/668975.html. Comment hither or thither. Void where yon.

What’s Up With John Z. Upjohn
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alexandraerin

So, today and most of late yesterday have been pretty hellacious on a personal level, but one slightly bright spot today: I got a message through to John Z. Upjohn, who may or may not have lost a book deal due to my interview with his publisher yesterday.

Mr. Upjohn was in better spirits than I would have expected, and seemed particularly reluctant to say a bad word about his boss/mentor, despite what some might see as an extreme setback. He seemed particularly flattered that I was interested in his book, and he sent along to me the first few pages for my perusal.

I prefer to leave the reviews to the professionals, so I won’t say much about it. Since it seems unlikely that The Freedom of Liberty will see the light of day anytime soon, he asked me if I would share it, so at least part of it might find an audience.


The Freedom of Liberty (Prologue)

 

Jon Prescott Johnson shouldered his rifle as he stood up. Kneeling, he peered through the rifle’s scope and surveyed the land all around him, carefully scouting as he reconnoitered.

He had a pair of military grade polyspectrum binocs in on his belt, but he preferred the honesty of the rifle.

While he swept the countryside with body’s eyes, his mind’s eye reflected on how he looked. Tall, six foot four, and built. He was not a vain man, but simple biology dictated that all women liked their men to be built, so built he was. Looking at him, you knew that he lifted. His face was stubbled so you could tell he took care of himself but he wasn’t fussy about it.

He wouldn’t brag about it, but there was definitely something in his face that made ladies swoon. Was it confidence, or was it arrogance? Trick question. It was both. At the same time something in his eyes said, “Gay guys, back off.” just so there wasn’t any confusion.

It was a fair warning, and the only warning they would get.

Jon P. Johnson was not a hateful man. There was no room for hate in heart, not with all the love of freedom crammed in there. But he was a man, all man, and he had the same natural reaction to homosexuals as every other man.

The comforting weight of the rifle in his hands was comforting to his hands. It was a custom made version of the latest model the finest weaponsmiths on Ceanndana could turn out: the Garand Turismo Mark III with the double extended clip and a polycarbonite stock with a gunmetal gray finish expertly covered over in stained walnut.

Not satisfied with the machine results, he had insisted on rifling the barrel by hand himself. He’d been shooting since before he could walk. What machine knew more about rifles than he did? His bold and unconventional and boldly unconventional choice had resulted in a weapon that was accurate to a range of approximately seven meters, but he was quite sure that no other weapon was quite as accurate at that range.

He wasn’t so vainglorious as to feel the need to put that hypothesis to the test, though. He believed results should speak for themselves.

The hills of the Ceanndanan countryside rolled out all around him. It was a harsh landscape. Ceanndana was a harsh planet. Humanity’s sons had touched their feet down on its dirt at the tail end of a deceptively mild period in its natural climate variation: the temperatures had been pleasant, precipitation mild but dependably regular, and the hills and plains covered in vegetation that housed a wide variety of animal life.

It had seemed like a paradise, a new Eden filled with inexhaustible resources. So the first colonists had begin clear-cutting forests to build factories, burning out grasslands to most efficiently provide farmlands for the new world. Rivers were dammed for power. Animals were hunted for sport. This new Eden had been provided for their benefit and no tyrannical pencil-pushing bureaucrats were going to stop them from using its bounty to the fullest degree possible.

But it hadn’t lasted. The greatest climate explainers Ceanndana recognized had theorized that the planet had a complex, long-term global season system. The colonists had touched down at the end of global spring. Now the planet was entering had enter moved into global summer. The atmosphere had grown hot and dry and poisonous, the rain sporadic and acidic. The remaining wildlands had turned barren. Once-plentiful animal life was now in short supply. The polar ice was melting. The seas were turning toxic and barren of life.

Maybe the United Nations had known about the cycle and tried to stick the rebellious upstarts with what they believed would be a deathtrap. If so, they would be disappointed. The Ceanndanans persevered and even took pride in their increasingly inhospitable adopted home. Their planet was untamable, just like them. Just as no man could impede the progress of the seasons, so no government could affect the progress of true men, free men.

Ceanndana. Literally: the Boar’s Head. The last bastion of true freedom in the galaxy.

As Jon thought about this, Jon reflected on the motto he followed. Stand tall. Dream big. Know your 20.

Jon stood tall. Six foot four, broadly muscled with a chiseled jaw and a far-off look in his eyes because he dreamed big. He knew his 20. He knew where he stood. This was what it was to be a man. This was what it was to be a Ceanndanan.

The familiar harsh environment today was tinged with unfamliarity. On the horizon there was a tinge of smoke, tinging upwards with a smoky coil. There were no factories out in that direction yet, he knew, and nothing there to burn. It would be worth checking out.

With practiced, easy gait, Jon stalked across the barren wilderness towards the hill from behind which the smoke emanated. Cresting the hill—he always kept the high ground when approaching unknown situations—he saw the wreckage of a small shuttlecraft. It was definitely not local, but he recognized the design. He stood tall, shouldering his rifle.

The United Nations had come to Ceanndana.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write. Please leave any comments there.

This entry automatically cross-posted from http://alexandraerin.dreamwidth.org/668816.html. Comment hither or thither. Void where yon.

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