Daily Archives: December 5, 2012

And To Close the Evening, This May Be My Favorite Redshirts Review Yet

It’s brief enough to quote in full. It’s from Nick Harkaway from this longer “a year in reading” column over at The Millions:

John Scalzi’s Redshirts is a little bit of genius. It starts out as a very funny Star Trek in-joke and then crosses the rubicon to become a somewhat disturbing examination of that joke before diving into the dark and delivering a strange, bittersweet literary ending which isn’t so much a punchline as it is the moment when you realize you’ve been paying for your drinks all night with $100 bills instead of $10s but that at the bottom of your plate of peanuts there’s a diamond.

In other news, “Peanut Diamonds” is the name of my next band.

Nick is just one of many notables putting in a “a year in reading” list over at The Millions. You can link through to see them all here.

Dear Whateverians: Choose My Pose!

Well, now it is on: Jim C. Hines has formally challenged me to a pose-off, and in doing so has offered me three choices of pose.

Here is the first choice:

Here is the second choice:

Here is the third choice:

Which to choose, which to choose? I can’t decide. So I’m going to let you decide for me.

T’were best done quickly, so I’m going to run this poll only until noon Eastern tomorrow, December 6. So vote this very second, and tell your friends as well.

And for those of you who haven’t contributed yet, Jim’s fundraiser for the Aicardi Syndrome Foundation is still going. And let me just say I’m pretty confident something frankly spectacular is being brewed up for the $5,000 milestone. More I cannot say at the moment. Except this: BWA HA HA HA HAH HA.

Update, 12:30pm 12/6: With more than two thirds of the vote, The Taste of Night by Vicki Pettersson is the winner. Pray for my hip.

Whatever Holiday Shopping Guide, Day Three: Arts, Crafts, Music and More

The Whatever Holiday Shopping Guide 2012 continues, and today we move away from books and focus on other gifts and crafts — which you can take to mean just about any other sort of thing a creative person might make: Music, art, knitting, jewelry, artisanal foodstuffs and so on. These can be great, unique gifts for special folks in your life, and things you can’t just get down at the mall. I hope you see some cool stuff here.

Please note that the comment thread today is only for creators to post about their gifts for sale; please do not leave other comments, as they will be snipped out to keep the thread from getting cluttered. Thanks!

Creators: Here’s how to post in this thread. Please follow these directions!

1. Creators (of things other than books) only. This is an intentionally expansive category, so if you’ve made something and have it available for the public to try or buy, you can probably post about in this thread. The exception to this is books (including comics and graphic novels), which have two previously existing threads, one for traditionally-published works and one for non-traditionally published works (Note: if you are an author and also create other stuff, you may promote that other stuff today). Don’t post if you are not the creator of the thing you want to promote, please.

2. Personally-created and completed works only. This thread is specifically for artists and creators who are making their own unique works. Mass-produceable things like CDs, buttons or T-shirts are acceptable if  you’ve personally created what’s on it. But please don’t use this thread for things that were created by others, which you happen to sell. Likewise, do not post about works in progress, even if you’re posting them publicly elsewhere. Remember that this is supposed to be a gift guide, and that these are things meant to be given to other people. Also, don’t just promote yourself unless you have something to sell or provide, that others may give as a gift.

3. One post per creator. In that post, you can list whatever creations of yours you like, but allow me to suggest you focus on your most recent creation. Note also that the majority of Whatever’s readership is in the US/Canada, so I suggest focusing on things available in North America.

4. Keep your description of your work brief (there will be a lot of posts, I’m guessing) and entertaining. Imagine the person is in front of you as you tell them about your work and is interested but easily distracted.

5. You may include a link to a sales site if you like by using standard HTML link scripting. Be warned that if you include too many links (typically three or more) your post may get sent to the moderating queue. If this happens, don’t panic: I’ll be going in through the day to release moderated posts. Note that posts will occasionally go into the moderation queue semi-randomly; Don’t panic about that either.

6. As noted above, comment posts that are not from creators promoting their work as specified above will be deleted, in order to keep the comment thread useful for people looking to find interesting work.

Now: Tell us about your stuff!

The Big Idea: Mark Yohalem

Today’s Big Idea is slightly different: It’s about a video game, not a book. Because (and not only because I am currently in the process of writing a video game myself), I figured, what the heck.

So, today writer Mark Yohalem tells you the idea behind Primordia, in which two of mankind’s heirs embark on a quest and learn more than they expected. The game takes place in the science fictional future, but Yohalem’s starting point for the game is rooted in the past, and in a genre not often associated with robots and video games at all.

MARK YOHALEM:

The story of Primordia is inspired by the opening stanza of “The Inheritors”; my own creative life owes as much to the poet as my game owes to the poem.

I’m pretty sure that when I was a kid, I cared more about made-up worlds than the real world. That’s probably true of everyone, but almost everyone ages out of it. As a result, part of childhood—one of the hardest parts of childhood, for me—was knowing that the people you admired and relied upon and loved were, at best, bemused and, at worst, embarrassed by things that mattered enormously to me.

The exception to the aging-out rule was my great-aunt Virginia. No matter how young I was, it was obvious that she was unusual, more of a character than a real person. Later I understood how hard her life had been: growing up with a severely bipolar sister; married (the first time) to a psychiatrist who threatened to have her diagnosed as crazy and committed; bent by arthritis; stabbed by gout. But she was a magical creature. She had been a dancer, a reporter, a world traveler; she was a socialist; she lived in New York, in the “the Ant Hill,” where she said chocolate flowed from her faucets. It seemed possible. Old friends from China doted on her; with ludicrous, offensive, endearing exaggeration, she insisted that she was the “Empress,” revered for her age. She seemed to speak a great number of languages—Spanish, Yiddish, Hebrew, Russian, at least—but did she really? I don’t know.

She was a poet. But above all else, almost certainly because she had survived by believing in things other than her own world, she accepted with open arms the invented universes that were so important to me. Even when I was in my twenties, writing fantasy novels, and she was in her 90s, slowly dying, she read them, annotated them, reworked sentences, always for the better. To her—a serious writer whose poetry about the horror of Buchenwald was read aloud in Israel, whose works were published in the Nation and the New Republic—there was nothing wrong with stories about wizards and knights and orphans coming of age. She accepted them, and me, and believed in them, and me.

“The Inheritors” is my favorite of her poems.  It begins:

I sing of the race that came to be
After man’s brief tyranny
Over all beasts ceased,
And we became a theory
In another species’ pre-history;
Endowed, as theories often are,
With false glories and iniquities.
The truth is, we lost our vision.
In the man-pit of night
We fought for light;
And with faith in fission
Lit one blaze too bright.
The world will never see such flames again,
Nor know the dream and worth that was in men.

When I was a kid, and couldn’t memorize anything to save myself from an exam, I memorized that stanza. And when the amazing artist behind Primordia invited me to craft a story to fit his paintings, “The Inheritors” was at my shoulder.

Primordia is a game about the robots who inherit the world after humanity has become extinct. The game’s Big Idea is that these robots must struggle to make sense of that inheritance, one they were never built to receive. They are purpose-built for purposes that scarcely make sense anymore; endowed with knowledge completely impractical for a post-organic environment; and they cling to a memory of creators they cannot begin to understand.

The game’s protagonist, Horatio, is a Humanist, which is to say, a robot who worships humanity. His Gospel describes Man as the perfect image from which robots were made: “a machine of unbreakable form, endless memory, and absolute logic.”  The dramatic irony, of course, is that humans are none of those things: not perfect machines, but fragile, forgetful, fallible animals. Horatio, in his worship, both over- and undervalues humanity. By erasing our flaws, he transforms the wonder of human achievement into something trivial. For a perfect machine to build the things we have built—or that the humans in Primordia’s world have built—is nothing remarkable. For women and men to have done so is extraordinary. Humanism grants Man “false glories” without understanding his “dream and worth.”

What I wanted to do with Primordia, aside from capturing the melancholy and hope of “The Inheritors”—melancholy for humanity; an immigrant’s hope that our inheritors can surpass us—was to tell a story about the relationship between robots and humans that wasn’t about some titanic struggle (Terminator, Matrix, Battlestar Galactica, etc.) or about the “robots among us” (I, Robot; AI, Bicentennial Man, etc.). I wanted to tell a story about the relationship between creators and created, about the departed and the inheritors. I wanted to use robots to tell a story about humans, but I didn’t want the humans around because I didn’t want us to tribally root for humans or self-loathingly root for robots. Instead, trusting the maxim that one creates in his own image, I wanted the robots’ own qualities to tell about humanity.

So, on one level, Primordia is the story of two robots, Horatio and Crispin, who—having been robbed of the power source they rely upon—begin a desperate journey to recover it or find a replacement. On that level, it’s a story about obstacles overcome, about friendship and sacrifice, and so on. It’s a mystery story and a thriller with maybe a dash of horror.  On another level, though, Primordia is a story about various robots who—faced with a world not quite fitted to their existence—create their own, fantastical visions of that world. Some believe in the divine; some believe in justice; some believe in progress; some believe in the past; some simply go mad.  It is a story that holds up a mirror, or tries to hold up a mirror, to the way we reconcile ourselves to the imperfection of our world.

The way I reconcile myself to it—the way Aunt Virginia gave me—is by telling stories, and I think that Primordia is the best I’ve told. I’m sorry I can’t share it with her, but I’m glad I can share it with you.

—-

Primordia at Wadjeteye Games. Link includes a trailer, a demo and purchase options (including a code for Steam).

 

Hey Look! The Chicon 7 Opening Ceremonies!

In which I played talk show host! I had my own house band and everything! If you’re interested in just my opening monologue, it starts at about 2:50. But honestly, if you have the time and you’re a science fiction fan, it’s worth it to watch the whole thing, because the interviews with Mike Resnick, Peggy Rae Sapienza, Dave McCarty and more! Seriously, it was a lot of fun, and looking at it now I am immensely relieved I didn’t make an ass of myself.

Thanks to Kevin Standlee for posting this and keeping the camera steady for 78 minutes.