Sound the Trumpets!

Draft one of “God, Robot” has been finished!

I mean, it needs a lot of work. Namely, the prologue and epilogue don’t match up, and we’ll have to correct some minor timeline issues.

But, draft one is done!

Still no publication date, though. That I’ll keep posted.

Whoo hoo!

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Guest Post: Letter 49

This guest post is written by friend of the blog J.R.R. Tolkien. It is a general reaction to certain ideas bandied about concerning the nature of marriage. I think you guys will enjoy it – this Tolkien guy is an impressive writer. This was originally written to his friend C.S. Lewis:

[Y]ou observe that you are really committed (with the Christian Church as a whole) to the view that Christian marriage – monogamous, permanent, rigidly “faithful” – is in fact the truth about sexual behavior for all humanity: this is the only road of total health (including sex in its proper place) for all men and women. That it is dissonant with men’s present sex-psychology does not disprove this, as you see: “I think it is the instinct that has gone wrong,” you say. Indeed if this were not so, it would be an intolerable injustice to impose permanent monogamy even on Christians. If Christian marriage were in the last analysis “unnatural” (of the same type as say the prohibition of flesh-meat in certain monastic rules) it could only be imposed on a special “chastity-order” of the Church, not on the universal Church. No item of compulsory Christian morals is valid only for Christians…. I do not think you can possibly support your “policy,” by this argument, for by it you are giving away the very foundation of Christian marriage. The foundation is that this is the correct way of “running the human machine.” Your argument reduces it merely to a way of (perhaps?) getting an extra mileage out of a few selected machines.*

The horror of the Christians with whom you disagree (the great majority of all practicing Christians) at legal divorce is in the ultimate analysis precisely that: horror at seeing good machines ruined by misuse. I could that, if you ever get a chance of alterations, you would make the point clear. Toleration of divorce – if a Christian does tolerate it – is toleration of a human abuse, which it requires special local and temporary circumstances to justify (as does the toleration of usury) – if indeed either divorce or genuine usury should be tolerated at all, as a matter of expedient policy.

Under your limitations of space you have not, of course, had opportunity to elaborate your “policy” – toleration of abuse…. A Christian of your view is, as we have seen, committed to the belief that all people who practice “divorce” – certainly divorce as it is now legalized – are misusing the human machine (whatever philosophical defense they may put up), as certainly as men who get drunk (doubtless with a philosophic defense also). They are injuring themselves, other people, and society, by their behavior. And wrong behavior (if it is really wrong on universal principles) is progressive, always: it never stops at being “not very good,” “second best” – it either reforms, or goes on to third-rate, bad, abominable.

The last Christian marriage I attended was held under your system: the bridal pair were “married” twice. They married one another before the Church’s witness (a priest), using one set of formulas, and making a vow of lifelong fidelity (and the woman of obedience); they then married again before the State’s witness… using another set of formulas and making no vow of fidelity or obedience. I felt it was an abominable proceeding – and also ridiculous, since the first set of formulas and vows included the latter as the lesser. In fact it was only not ridiculous on the assumption that the State was in fact saying by implication: I do not recognize the existence of your church; you may have taken certain vows in your meeting place but they are just foolishness, private taboos, a burden you take on yourself: a limited and impermanent contract is all that is really necessary for citizens. In other words this “sharp division” is a piece of propaganda, a counter-homily delivered to young Christians fresh from the solemn words of the Christian minister.

…So what do you think? I’d tend to agree with Mr. Tolkien on this one – Mr. Lewis seems to me to have been far off the mark.

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Superversive SF: Yahtzee’s Almost Perfect Article

I have a new article up on Superversive SF – my first editorial – titled “Yahtzee’s Almost Perfect Article”. Check it out, and if you’re so inclined respond here, there, or both.

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Thoughts on the Court Decision

Far from pushing it into the background, this ruling is exactly why the battle going in in science fiction is so tremendously important.

(I note in passing that WordPress has put a little rainbow background on the top of their post creation page. Cute. I give it a year, maybe two, until we start talking about pre-Court decision America like pre-Civil Rights America.)

I wonder if Texas will really secede if push comes to shove.

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The Animation Ghetto is there for a reason

The common refrain from the conservative end of the spectrum, or at least what seems to be a general attitude from what I’ve seen in a couple of posts and their comments sections (mine included!), is that animation and children’s movies in general are not given the credit they are due by the Hollywood elite.

Here’s the thing though: Most of the time, they shouldn’t be.

I’ll go back to an old argument/debate, “Silence of the Lambs” vs. “Beauty and the Beast”. Let me start by saying that I love “Beauty and the Beast”. The music is spectacularly good, and the story is entertaining. But it is clearly not as good of a film as SotL.

The main reason Mr. Wright, at the time of the original argument, gave for favoring BatB over SotL (bear with me, this is going to be relevant to my main point) is that BatB was about a monster who is saved by the power of true love while SotL was about an utterly nihilistic, cannibalistic monster.

But there’s a problem. That’s not actually any sort of point, except to say that you prefer particular themes in your movies. Perhaps we should prefer that sort of theme, but it doesn’t in itself make the movie good. And BatB is marred by plot holes, big ones no less, and the plot centers around, let’s face it, a classic case of pure Stockholm Syndrome. I mean, really textbook. I don’t think you need to stretch for that one.

To those who are compelled to jump in and say that I’m missing the point of the story by focusing on that – you’re right! Because it’s a children’s movie, and in a children’s movie you can gloss over sloppy plotting as long as your animation is good, your music is beautiful (which it really, really is, to be fair), and your story progresses in a logical way and comes to a satisfying conclusion. BatB does this, and with a lot of heart and lovable characters to boot. But the plot holes remain.

It’s like the cartoon “Gravity Falls” – the last episode was fantastic, and it all revolved some absolutely massive plot holes. But who cares? It was really entertaining, and when a show is designed for children that’s more important than smart plotting.

BatB is a fairy tale. In a fairy tale it’s important that you stick to your general theme, tell your story in an entertaining way, and end it with some moral. And BatB is an EXCELLENT fairy tale, full of wit, heart, and beauty, but an excellent fairy tale is never going to be on the level of, say, “The Lord of the Rings”. Or “SotL”, which is tightly plotted and brilliantly acted.

And this is why Pixar deserves the credit they get. They are the only studio out there – the only one – that manages to consistently, repeatedly, break out of the animation ghetto. In “The Incredibles” they go a step further, and make a movie that transcends not only the animation ghetto but also the superhero genre. “The Incredibles” is an  incredible (heh) film, because it creates a human story with brilliant characters and clever themes, AND it does it in a traditional superhero movie with fight scenes and villains and superpowers, AND it does all of this in a cartoon! It was a children’s movie about marriage. If that’s not adult, what is?

“Dreamworks”, in my opinion, has never broken out of the animation ghetto. “How to Train Your Dragon”, widely considered Dreamworks’ best movie (along with the first two “Shrek”‘s, which are funny but not much else), is a decent film, but it is clearly a kids’ movie; what I mean is, it’s a movie designed basically to appeal to kids, which it succeeds at, but the writing is not strong enough, the story, dialogue, and characterization simply not good enough, for to be judged on par with Pixar’s best.

Compare it to “Toy Story”. The original was about accepting your place in the grand scale of creation. The sequel was about what sacrifices you’d be willing to make in exchange for immortality. The third was about accepting the inevitability of death!

And then we have “How to Train Your Dragon”, a nice but not overly special bildungsroman, or “Beauty and the Beast”, a good romance if you can look past the plot holes.

So it’s only natural that animation has always been looked down upon: It’s always been worse. Pixar’s been changing that, though, for twenty years now, and it’s time Hollywood finally got with the program.

(By the way, Disney’s actual best movie is “The Lion King”. Why? Well, not only did it have great music, but it took its plot from “Hamlet”. Anything that copies the Bard and doesn’t mess it up entirely is always going to be smarter than the average bear.)

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Retro Review: Pokemon Yellow

I bought Pokemon Yellow off Ebay recently! It’s been an interesting experience replaying it. Here are my thoughts:

  • My original memory of the game, which I believe I got around when gen 2 came out (widely regarded as the finest pokemon generation) was that it was rudimentary with little replay value but had an excellent “gang fight” with team rocket and some tough gym leaders.
  • My estimation of team rocket’s difficulty was a bit off – I forgot about the Rocket base in Celadon City, which was pretty difficult. Fighting the Rockets in Saffron was a blast, though, just as I remembered it. So that’s not pure nostalgia.
  • I got the gym leaders about right. Sabrina, Koga, Blaine, and Misty (even with a pikachu!) in particular were actually hard, and took several tries.
  • You  can exploit a glitch to get a Mew! I’m just saying. That was cool. I consider that fair play since it’s otherwise impossible.
  • I was amazed at how weak my team was by the time I made it through victory road. I had strong pokemon TYPES (though I refuse to catch any legendaries besides Mew until after I beat the Elite Four), but the only one that actually squeaked into the 40’s by the time I reached the Elite Four was Pikachu.
  • Gen 1’s Elite Four is harder than I remembered. I’ve been squeaking by Lorelei and Bruno with, like, one pokemon left. By this point, they’ve all been trained up into the 40’s. In some of the later generations that might be enough to at least give it a good shot but in gen 1 you’re just going to get crushed. Agatha rips me to shreds every time.
  • You know, each pokemon game gives you both a PC to store your pokemon and a PC to store your items. I always wondered what the item PC is for. Your bag is generally pretty large.

    Well, now I know. The gen 1 bag is TINY. You can hold, like, 20-something items. That’s nothing! The item PC has finally come in handy.

  • It’s amazing the sort of things the series basically takes for granted that gen 1 doesn’t have. No abilities for pokemon, pokemon can’t hold items, special was not divided into special attack and special defense, and you can’t actually see your experience bar, making it impossible to know how long until a pokemon levels up unless you’ve been counting in your head. And no Move Deleter, which makes HM moves much more final (and thus a much harder decision to make). This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it adds an element of strategy, however small.
  • One aspect I do like that I wish they never changed is that TM’s disappear after you use them. This means that teaching a pokemon a TM move is a big decision, and making TM’s reusable gets rid of that aspect of strategy. Sometimes easier isn’t better.
  • The worst part of gen 1 is how little gameplay there is once the Elite Four is beaten. You do get the ability to enter Unknown Dungeon and catch Mewtwo, but otherwise there’s basically nothing left to do but catch pokemon. There’s a certain satisfying magpie-like fun to this, but unless you want to keep battling the Elite Four (which is admittedly fun to a point) or fight wild pokemon, you’re done battling. No other trainers are open to you.

    This is unfortunate in a pokemon game, because it feels really disappointing to restart now that you’ve spent so much time training your pokemon. So it leaves you stuck in a sort of limbo, not willing to restart but also not sure what else you can do. The best option is probably to trade the pokemon you want to keep to another game then start over with a different team and trade them back when you get strong enough. While this works it’s cumbersome and assumes you have the ability to trade.

    This, by the way, is why Emerald is the best of the Game Boy/Game Boy advanced pokemon games. The Battle Frontier is a fantastic and underrated addition to the game world, and makes the game almost endlessly replayable.

So, with nostalgia glasses removed (nostalgia glasses make it very fun indeed), what do I think of generation 1?

It’s an impressively deep game looked at on its own, with a lot of freedom regarding what you can do and many meaningful choices you can make that will affect how you play the game; for a small example, I get to pick only one of two fossils at one point in the game. The fossil I pick eventually turns into a pokemon, but it is impossible for me to get the other fossil. So the choice here has an impact. For a larger example, I’ve made the decision to catch none of the three legendary birds before I beat the Elite Four. This makes my game considerably harder.

Of course, in a field-wide perspective it was revolutionary, propelling handhelds to the map and proving that they had the market to rival regular consoles and PC’s. Gen 1 set the template that’s been followed by every single game since. While the other games have improved on it, they are all improving on IT. Gen 1 is still the standard by which main series pokemon is set.

Looked at on its own merits, while it was flawed (notably through lack of really good replay value and some unbalanced battling limitations – psychic was insanely overpowered, and Special really should have been, and was eventually, divided into special attack and special defense), it definitely did do some things, in my opinion, better than other generations. The difficulty curve is good. I was able to beat the gym leaders but with proper difficulty, and the fact that I’m having so much trouble with the Elite Four seems just and proper. Gen 1 Team Rocket is easily the best gang fight in the series. The Silph Co maze ranks as the best gang section of all the games.

I actually prefer the limitations on TM’s and HM’s. Giving them real penalties adds strategy.

Gen 1 has excellent legendaries. Gen 2 and 3’s were strong pokemon but not nearly as cool. Just look at Zapdos! How cool is that?

Gen 2 is generally, and rightly, considered by fans to be the best in the series. It improved upon its predecessor in virtually every aspect. While one could quibble about things like the gang fights and the Elite Four difficulty, nearly every flaw in gen 1 was corrected. Crystal in particular even added a more complex storyline, and gave the player the option of fighting in a battle tower once the Elite Four was beaten. Gym leaders occasionally opened themselves up to battles again as well, pokemon stats were balanced, Psychic types became much less overpowered, the bag improved, and, coolest of all, gen 2 is, to date, the only generation (besides its DS remakes) to allow you to go into another region and win more battles!

I still have no idea why no other generations haven’t tried this, because it was brilliant.

The only downside to the gen 2 games is that, because they had so much going on and were still normal gameboy games (as in, not gameboy advanced), the battery ran out relatively quickly, making them impossible to save after a certain point. Still, you had a good amount of time until that happened.

TL;DR: Pokemon Yellow really is a legitimately good game. While later generations improved upon it the original formula remains brilliant and it contains some of the best gang fights and gym/elite four battles in the entire series. All in all it’s definitely worth the replay, if not only for the nostalgia value then at least for the killer Silph Co section of the team rocket battle.

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The Final Story

I am extremely pleased to announce that the final story in my upcoming book has been submitted! Final as of now, anyway. I have no plans to add another author but if somebody drops on my doorstep of course I’ll be happy about it.

Note that I’m no longer calling it anthology. I don’t think that’s quite right. It’s not an anthology, it’s a collaborative novel. How well it works together depends on how well constructed our frame story is going to be. I can promise you that I will work extremely hard on it.

I’m really, really happy with the lineup of stories I have. I still don’t want to list the authors officially until I at least have an idea of when it will be published, but I think you’re all going to like it a lot. There are eight authors total (including me) and ten stories total (two each by myself and my coeditor and one each for the rest of the lineup). All stories are original to the book but one, which was published several years ago in a small, little read anthology. It is appearing in a slightly altered form as well in order to better fit it into the timeline.

And a final teaser (for now): The title of the book is “God, Robot”.

When the frame story is finished and my handle on how things are going to progress is a little more complete, I’ll give you the list of authors and a plot synopsis.

Get excited, though! This has the potential to be something really special, in my not at all biased opinion.

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