Kingdom Death

Legacy games are all the rage in the board game world at the moment. My Tuesday group has already completed Seafall and Gloomhave and are 7/12 through Charterstone. I even have my own that I worked on over Christmas that I hope to devote more time to if work wasn't trying to kill me (believe those articles about how the 40-hour week is dead). I've had the wonderful opportunity to sit in on a friend's campaign of Kingdom Death a couple times, and I have to say it surpasses all the other legacy games I've played in story and atmosphere. Seafall and Gloomhaven had their strong points, but both suffered from weak endings ("Wait, what?" and "That's it?" respectively). And granted, perhaps I will be disappointed by Kingdom Death's ending, if I should ever experience it, but for now, I'm reveling in the creative doors it's opened in my mind. So, despite being sick for the bajillionth time this year, I sat down for a quick wind sprint to excise the opening that has been playing in my head since Friday when my character was killed during the end-of-game reward phase. That's right, I was killed by post-game box text, and it was glorious.

So, with the self-conscious caveat that I've been writing academic papers for the past three years, here is a small wind sprint on Kingdom Death.

CHAPTER 1

The first thing you notice isn’t the light, the cold white glow in the distance that illuminates a black lamppost that would otherwise be lost in the absolute darkness that surrounds you. The first thing you notice is the quiet. There is no breeze, no air, no sound of birds or bugs; the world holds its breath endlessly. The silence lasts for so long that the world around you feels dead, and you wonder if you’re dead, too.

Turning about brings no comfort. Away from the lamppost stretches an endless night without stars to twinkle or moons to glow. In every direction there is absence, in every direction but one. You head to the lamppost, the single white beacon calling to you like a fishing lure. You take comfort in the crunch of your footsteps. Dry grass, brittle like hay, pokes your bare feet. You accelerate your step, relishing the painful stab of each sheath. It says you are alive, and you beat that message to the world around you for all to hear.

If you were not alone.

More Dream Chasing

Last night I had a Cloud Atlas-level of complexity to my dream. It was amazing! So much so that I did not make the effort to try and remember it while I was sleeping (I'm a lucid dreamer) because I didn't want to miss anything. Actors I recognized were Liam Neeson, Nathan Fillion, Paul Dano, Morena Baccarin, and I think Charlize Theron. That last one is fuzzy.

It's not post-apocalyptic but post-societal collapse. Technology still exists but people can't create more and can't maintain it in the way it previously had been. I don't know why, if there was a power grid collapse or something along those lines. There were definitely electric lights, but on a smaller scale, like they were powered by localized hydroelectric power. It's almost a pantomime of modernity. Think the social construct of the Firefly universe mixed with the aesthetic of Bioshock--a '50s like faux-utopia/surviving on the frontier blend.

God I wish I could remember more! The final bit is freshest in my head (though Paul Dano's scene at a rickety tavern atop a waterfall was intense and Morena Baccarin flashing her breasts smacked of unnecessary Hollywood sensationalism). Liam Neeson's character was presumed dead, but he was actually a wanted criminal simply called the Arms Dealer. He'd lost one hand (no pun intended) and had an Aquaman-like harpoon prosthetic. Charlize Theron was his wife, who knew he was still alive, and was taking care of their kids. They lived under a bridge and it was intensely important that the kids know how to get in because the path was secret. I don't know what the danger was. I think Neeson was the "bad good-guy" trope.

I think I've already lost the rest of it. Ugh. I hope I dream this one again. I think it'll make a pretty intense story.

The Bound God

My wife and I are big fans of the Starz original series, Black Sails. She's never read Treasure Island nor played Assassin's Creed: Black Flag (which we'll count as research for purposes of this show ;) ), so it's all new to her. But seeing Flint, Silver, and Billy Bones all together is wicked exciting. In addition to piratey goodness, the show has an amazing intro.

It's not just the music, even though the music is perfect. It's the iconography. I watch that and I see the story it's trying to tell, but in my mind, it's an entirely different story. It's my story. 

 

0:20 Aditi, mother of the gods
0:22 Lakshmi, Aditi's 1st granddaughter, plays the song of fate for prophets to decipher
0:24 Govinda, Aditi's 1st grandson, shepherd of the demi-gods and anointer of champions
0:38 Sumati, Aditi's 2nd granddaughter, patron of scientists and intellectuals
0:42 Mani, Aditi's 2nd grandson, patron of artists and lovers
0:46 Durga, Aditi's daughter, ruler of the Overworld
0:51 Dipaka, Bhima's son with a mortal, a warlord
0:52 Jaya, Aditi's son with a mortal, an adventure
0:55 Savitr, Sumati's son with a mortal, a politician
0:59 Bhima, Aditi's son, ruler of the Underworld
1:06 Mehesha, Devaraja's son with a mortal, a general
1:12 Lakshmana, Mani's son with a mortal, a prince

 

Here's the breakdown as it came to me after watching that intro a few times. Bhima falls in love with his sister, Durga. When she refuses to reciprocate, he kidnaps her and submerges her to the Underworld. Devaraja (not featured in the Black Sails intro) forbids the match. Enraged, Bhima kills his father. Mahesha rallies the forces of the world and captures Bhima, binding him so he can never escape.

 

Years later, without the Father or her children, Aditi falls into an endless slumber and the world begins to fall to ruin. Savitr, thinking Aditi will wake if the world is again threatened by her children, reveals to Dipaka the location of his father's prison. Dipaka attempts to free Bhima, and in so doing the dead begin to walk the earth. It falls to Jaya to stop him before the Overworld is dragged under and Bhima rules over a new land of the dead.
 

MY Battlestar Galactica

Like most geeks, I hopped on board the 2004 Battlestar Galactica sensation. Like fewer, I was still a stalwart fan of the original series. And perhaps on my own, I still prefer the original to the reboot. The original series was what it was and it did what it was very well. The reboot showed a whole bunch of promise early on and then puttered out before limping to a conclusion. I only made it a few episodes into season three and while I've tried repeatedly to finish the series--starting at the beginning, starting at season three, choosing those episodes people tell me are the best--it never holds my interest. It had great potential but that isn't enough, in my opinion.

Today I was rewatching some episodes of the original series while I worked and a thought popped into my head. In the original series, the cylons were not the folly of man but of a reptilian race that had died out and the cylons were now their own expansionistic empire, a more classic invading "other" like the Mongols. In the new series, the whole "sins of the father" premise features  heavily in the seasons I watched. I really liked that notion. It was one of the things that really drew me in early on. But at the same time, the longer the series went, the more the cylons came across as whiny (until the story diverged with the skinjobs and things go weird.)

A trip to Wikipedia to see the rest of the series that I never watched reveals that Earth was populated by a different cylon race thousands of years before that had created their own cylon servant class and the resulting war wiped out the planet. WTF? Man is destined to create cylons? Is that the theme we're going for here? Because how do planets separated by so much distance suffer the same fate?

This kind of bums me out because the purpose of this post began as my own notion of how I would do BSG, which now is too similar to the reboot to be worthwhile to pursue as fan fiction. In my version, the cylons are still the invading other, but they weren't created by a reptilian species, they were created by humans on Earth. Rather than Earth being the 13th colony, it is the origin of the human species and the 12 colonies are just that, 12 colonies. Through the confusion of time, Earth has become a lost colony rather than a homeworld and when the cylons discover and attack the humans, the refugees flee to the lost colony. But when they get there, they discover that it is the origin of not only their species, but of the cylons as well.

Because the reboot did something similar, I don't know if I'd have Earth be wiped out in the resultant war or maybe it would be the cylon homeworld. I won't develop it any further than this post, I think. I love BSG, and I love the potential of the world (fiction-wise) that it's created. I'd love to tell stories there, in my own way. Neither series fully realizes the setting as I'd like to see it. But as soon as you start talking about the final five, I will stop listening because I really don't care. Even so, how earth plays into the setting could be interesting. (Certainly better than a cast off of cylon vs cylon apocalypse or arriving at a planet in the early '80s and knowing all the customs and how to ride a motorcycle.)

The Darwin Elevator is Nigh!

A year ago I bid in the Brenda Novak charity auction on what I thought was a really interesting prize to raise money for Diabetes research. Jason Hough (pronounced Huff not Hugh) made available the opportunity to name a character or company/vehicle/whatnot. Fending off a last-minute challenger, I made sure the Selby Systems LTD (previously appearing in the figure game Iron Tyrants) continued it existence. I struck up an association with Mr. Hough and had the grand fortune to read his first novel, THE DARWIN ELEVATOR, before its release1. As it comes out tomorrow, I wanted to share with you why you should read this book.

Concept: An alien craft deployed a space elevator in Darwin, Australia. A plague wiped out most of the population of the planet, a radius around the elevator the only safe spot to live. A have/have not dichotomy has formed with the oligarchy living in space and the chaff living in Earth-bound slums. Your main character and his crew of scavengers are all immunes, people unaffected by the plague, who gather resources outside the radius of the elevator. Politics, power grabs, gun fights, and the next alien spacecraft fuel this march to the second of a trilogy that will publish over the next three months.

What's great about this book: While one dystopian future is looking much the same as the other, Hough does a great job exploring the world outside of Darwin and up in space at the top of the Elevator. I wanted to continue reading immediately because the setting felt like a fresh take on old tropes. I like the post-catastrophic Earth he's built and I want to explore more.

What's good about this book: Hough handles aliens like Spielberg handled Jaws2. They're coming, but they're not running around Mel Gibson's backyard.

What's refreshing about this book: You'll hear a lot about the pacing. Everyone's all, fast-paced blah blah blah. The second half picks up the clip, so it's definitely a march from beginning to end, but the first half is paced exactly as it should be (and thus the second half is paced exactly as it should be). I kept thinking about how people kept commenting on the pacing, but really what they mean is "There's isn't any extraneous crap in this book". We don't get the history of everything. We don't get a description of every button on a character's jacket. Here's what you see. Here's what you hear. Here's what happens. Bam, let's move on. This is the opposite of a George Martin book, and that's not a bad thing3.

What's familiar about this book: The first chapter has a strong correlation to Firefly. Hough is aware of it and is pleased with the comparison. There is a strong "Why do my plans never work" vibe, but the Firefly comparisons chill as the book progresses and it does NOT read like fan fiction.

What's unfortunately familiar about this book: It had what I thought was a simple but awesome villain. He thinks he should do more, but he isn't as talented as he thinks he is. But he has the power to force himself on other political entities to increase his role. Anyone that's worked in an office has met (and suffered) under such a person. It was pinpoint accurate and I loved seeing him as the villain. Eventually he becomes the more traditional sexual sadist that we see so often, and that actually lessens the character in my eyes. He want from being selfish to being "Evil!" Thankfully, he's not the focus of the story, so there are long gaps between his Evilness.

What's unnecessary about this book: The primary female character suffers sexual violence. As it relates to the villain I mention above, I am of the opinion this was unnecessary for her personal arc or the establishment of the villain as villainous. I've wrestled with this kind of thing in my own writing, and you can here it discussed ad nauseum on the interwebs, but in this case, I take the position that this did not further the character or the story in a meaningful way4

What's really cool about this franchise: Book 1: July '13; Book 2: August '13; Book 3: September '13. If you like one, you only have to wait a month for the next one. That may limit the growth of the author or it may not, but as a consumer, it's cool not to have to wait six years between installments.

Something nitpicky that I liked: I read an ARC, which means it's not the final final version that you'll see printed. It's the mostly final printed version. Even so, the number of errors that slipped through copyediting was lower than what has been happening in years. It's a sorry state of publishing how lazy editing has gotten (either through less talented copyeditors, tighter deadlines, cheaper publishers, or all of the above) so it was nice to see a book that didn't have typos on every page.

All in all, if you're in the mood for some science fiction, pick this one up. When you get to the third book, you'll even get to see Selby Systems make its appearance! If you think to yourself, "Hey, I know a guy named Selby," BAM! That was no accident, fella.



1: Don't worry, I had already pre-ordered it, so the man'll still get his royalties.

2: Interesting tidbit, Spielberg had actually planned on showing Jaws much earlier in the film, but it was his editor who cut the shark until the end. For all those people who think they don't need an editor, even Steven Spielberg needs an editor.

3: I love Game of Thrones, so don't get your undies in a twist. It's book five. I don't give a shit what five courses they had for dinner each day of the week. Chop chop, motherfuckers.

4: There's also a shower scene that some reviewers5 have called male fantasy fulfillment. I don't think that's the case, but it did pull me out of the story as I rolled my eyes.

5: And for those of you that read Pat's Fantasy Hotlist, what was up with that review? "Read this book. Here's everything that's bad with it." Not the ringingest of endorsements. It's Hough's first book, and if this is the point at which he starts his career and grows, we will see some quality science fiction from him in the future. As for me, I'll be reading the second installment come August.

Wind Sprint: Serenity

I tell Liz Poole all the time that I'm never going to write Urban Fantasy. But an opening line while I was driving from physical therapy gave me an idea for a character that turned an espionage thriller plot I had been ruminating on into a genuine urban fantasy.

The original espionage was inspired by a crazy lady I passed in the subway one day. She stood near a street musician, one whose music I really enjoy. He's a junky that plays a mean harmonica with a bean can shaker. He makes some great blues music. She was screaming, "SHUT UP! SHUT THE FUCK UP!" Except she wasn't screaming at the musician. She had her back to him and was shouting at the escalator. I wanted to know what she was seeing. And wouldn't it be interesting if something was actually there?

Combine with that a separate experience where a less talented musician was there not actually playing at the time I passed. Someone threw money in her hat and she handed the person a folded piece of paper. Now, most likely, the paper was folded around drugs. But what if it wasn't? What if the musician was a CIA operative passing information to another operative? How cool would that be?

Mix those two together. What if the CIA isn't just your normal espionage spooks? What if it's a supernatural agency? Who can infiltrate better than a changling that can change his/her features? (Reminds me a little of Gail Carriger's work and some other urban fantasy I've touched on but can't remember at the moment. Lurker, ring a bell with you?) A small government program attempting to track the tidal wave of immigrants moving to America at the end of the 19th century (tracking Irish and similar "blights" on the country), discover supernatural beings living among us. The Cenosapian Identification Agency is formed to identify how pervasive the infestation is and to determine whether they're a biproduct of the Irish or something else entirely.

Fast forward a few decades when the government begins to fight the red menace and all of a sudden supernaturals are necessary to fight back communism. Stalin and Hitler both had their own cenosapian programs and if we give the reds the advantage, it'll spell the end of democracy for the world! Fast forward a few decades more and now the wall has fallen and post-War colonialism is winding to a close. Espionage isn't that useful with only one remaining super power. [Avoid all your overdone plots and think of something cool to go here.]

Now all you need is a main character. And that's today's idea, Serenity.

"My parents didn't name me Serenity because they were Buddhists or existentialists or anything like that. They were nerds. Big, cosplaying nerds, and they named me after a spaceship. Thanks mom. Thanks dad. Why couldn't you be hippies? Make love not war. Smoke weed. Wear hemp. If we had spent my childhood getting high and eating brownies rather than rolling for initiative, maybe I wouldn't be in this mess.

I rolled a three, by the way. Maybe that's the problem too."


(That last part might riff too close to GEEKOMANCY, but the point of a wind sprint isn't to show off a new idea, but to fastball pitch an idea against the wall and see what kind of Rorschach shapes come out of it.)

I'll puzzle around with this more after I'm done with my next draft of FAMILY JEWELS.

Making Your Candle

I was reading the sample of Melinda Lo's ASH and she wrote something that struck me as odd. The main character's mom is dead and her father lights a candle that burns for three days. Now candles aren't made to last that long, and that got me thinking. What if creating one's own funeral candle was a culture's death ritual.

What you use for wax and wick have meaning. What you include to melt in (or out of) the wax has symbolism, etc. Each life millstone and personal accomplishment add to the candle, thus a person's life can be measured by their candle.