We Interrupt This Tuesday To Bring You This Extremely Important Picture of a Dog Rolling About On the Grass

Really, it might be the most important photo you see today. Look at this happy dog. Just look at her.

Back to your regularly scheduled Tuesday. Thank you for your attention.

— JS

Big Idea

The Big Idea: Bishop O’Connell

From small beginnings, big things can arise — and when they do, suddenly you may find yourself doing a lot more worldbuilding than you originally planned. In this Big Idea, author Bishop O’Connell goes into detail about how the world of Two-Gun Witch became a more intensive project than its tuneful origin might have implies.


The original Big Idea for Two-Gun Witch came from a 70’s country song called “Big Iron.” Technically, it was the rockabilly cover of it, sung by Mike Ness (Social Distortion). The song is as western tropey as they come. A stranger rides into town with a big iron (gun) on his hip. Turns out he’s a lawman and looking for the outlaw, Texas Red. They face off, forty feet between them, but the lawman is faster and out draws Red.

*cracks bullwhip* RAW HIDE!

Sorry, wrong song. The more I listened to the song, the more my brain started asking questions.

What if a D&D fantasy world progressed into the old west?

What if, instead of gun slingers, they were spell slingers (wizards) facing off?

And what if, instead of regular wands, the wands looked like revolvers?

NO! What if they were revolvers? But instead of bullets, they held spell components, and when you pull the trigger, they shoot spells!

Thus was born the short story, “Big Iron.”

Fantasy flourishes were added. The lawman became an elf; the outlaw corrupted by dark magic; a dwarven bartender with mechanical prosthetics. The usual. Short fiction isn’t my forte, but this felt special, so I shared it with some friends. One said it wasn’t a short story, it was the first chapter of a novel.

*Narrator voice* And they were right.

The problem was that a duel doesn’t make a very interesting book. Even as the ending, it’d fall flat. I mean, I suppose it could work, but I didn’t want to read, much less write, that novel.

It was time to find a new Big Idea.

That’s when I thought of the show, Firefly. Specifically, I thought of how the creator set out to write a story about characters on the losing side of a war. I love the show and the movie that followed. However, I did not love how it’s ‘civil war in space—without slavery’ gave aid and comfort to the Lost Cause Myth.

It’s not subtle either. Mal is the noble, freedom-loving soldier of the confederacy (of planets and moons that formed the Independent Faction). He fought valiantly and honorably against the more powerful, oppressive Union (of Allied planets) but was forced to surrender. Hell, in episode 2, he literally says “I think we shall rise again.” Neither did I love how space cowboys and reavers (savages) was really just the old cowboys and Indians (savages) trope.

Cue Bender from Futurama. “Screw you! I’ll make my own Firefly! With blackjack! And hookers!” Err, I mean magic!

As a general rule, I try not to be the asshole. However, for the Lost Cause Myth, I’d make an exception. My story would be about people fighting and losing for an actual good cause. And wouldn’t you know it, that period of American history was flush with people fighting for their freedom and/or survival (not the freedom to enslave) and, sadly, losing.

This was when alarms went off. I’m a cis-het white dude, born with big ass boots of privilege. Thankfully, I’d managed to pry my head out of my own ass enough to recognize that stories about oppressed people should be told by those people themselves. But I didn’t want to write (yet another) story about a white dude saving the day, especially not in nineteenth century America.

Fantasy tropes to the rescue! The main character would be an elf, a fictional group. I also decided to make her a woman, because, why not? Bad ass women protagonists are, well, bad ass!

Clever as this solution might be, I recognized that didn’t mean I was in the clear. It’d be way too easy for Talen (protagonist) to become a stand-in for Native Americans, or any other real group of people. So, my elves needed to have their own distinct culture. I didn’t want the usual noble, wise, and beautiful Tolkien elves, but I did want them to feel familiar to readers of fantasy. They’d also have to be different in a way that those in power would feel justified in othering them.

Yeah, I know, Herculean task. Bigotry is so complex, right? Spoiler: no, it’s really not.

Well, elves literally aren’t human. Which would’ve been more than enough on its own, but I didn’t want anything that simple. I quickly arrived at “fuck it” and decided to go all-in.

What few gender roles these elves had, would be opposite of “traditional” human roles. They’d be matriarchal and revere mothers. Because of the system of magic I created, the warriors would mostly be women, while the men would tend toward care givers and crafters of magical wares. Also, they’d be dark-skinned with vitiligo-like patterns over their whole bodies. And just for funsies, mostly pansexual and physically stronger than humans.

The magical system I settled on provided yet another way to make Talen an outsider. In order to make magic revolvers (spell irons) worth inventing, magic couldn’t be cast. Rather, it would be an energy that had to be channeled through a device (amulet, charm, etc.). To give it a little more nuance, those who could craft magical items couldn’t use them, and vice versa. Add to that, only 10% of humans would be crafters (elves evenly split) thus making magic a limited commodity. Drawing on common folklore and legend, these charms could only be used/activated with the right hand (power is drawn in from the left side and projected from the right).

BUT—wait for it—some elven women (and only women) could use magical items with both hands. They’d call themselves dual casters, but since they’d carry two spell irons, humans would call them two-gun witches—

Holy shit, I just found the new title!

As an entirely unique concept with absolutely no basis in history (he said sarcastically), I decided to create a group of religious zealots who believed “right-hand magic” was the only proper magic. Use of the left hand would be a sign of evil.

I know, where do we writers come up with such strange ideas, right?

Now, I needed a war. I could’ve just made one up, but why? Actual history is filled with untold, righteous fights. After a lot of research, I had it figured. In this alternate America, the elves joined with the Seven Council Fires people (Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota) against westward expansion, and continued treaty violations. The alliance forced the US to fall back. In response, the government enlisted the help of the dwarves, and their iron leviathans (tanks).

As too often happened in real life, this routing of native peoples became a massacring of combatants and innocents alike. The elves, like many indigenous people, were almost wiped out; the survivors forced onto reservations in Northern California.

All this built, it occurred to me I had a great setting and interesting characters, but none of that gave me a new Big Idea. Or so I thought.

Talen is someone who lost, quite literally, everything. Her family, her people, her culture, her very sense of self. She’d done what she’d believed—what she’d known—was right and not only lost the fight, but everything else. In hopes of finding purpose, she ends up working for the very people who slaughtered hers. She hunts bounties on humans corrupted by dark magic. For money, but also because the bounties allow her to legally kill humans.

Enter the rest of the cast, all of whom, in their own ways, defy her (well-earned) beliefs about non-elves. Slowly, and reluctantly, she sees that she hasn’t lost everything, but she’d been on a path to surrender what hadn’t been taken. There’s no getting back what she lost, or replacing it, but maybe she can find a new place, a new purpose, and even a new kind of family.

The tricky part for me was ensuring this didn’t become a happily-ever-after that washed away the genocide and brutality-induced trauma. You don’t just fix loss. You don’t even heal, not really. You figure out how to live with it. Luckily, I’ve always liked my endings on the bittersweet side. I think I pulled it off, but I’m admittedly biased.

One final note I think is worth mentioning: when I finished, I knew there was one more step to take. I’d tried my best not to make my elves cleverly disguised Native Americans (or other marginalized group) but I’m not the best person to judge how successful I was. As such, I enlisted the help of friends from different groups, and hired a Lakota sensitivity reader. I happily, and gratefully, accepted all their feedback without question or argument. It was, after all, why I’d paid them.

I’m not including this to pat myself on the back. Rather, it’s because it’d be both fair and reasonable to ask me (aforementioned cis-het white dude) “what makes you so sure you didn’t get something offensively wrong, even accidently?” The truth is, even after the steps I took, I still might have. I got input from Black and Indigenous People of Color, but no one person speaks for an entire people. If I did get something wrong, that’s on me. I’ll own it, apologize, and make sure I do better next time.

I set out to write a good story. One a lot of people could enjoy. And do it without being the asshole. Where Two-Gun Witch ended up was a million miles from where “Big Iron” started. It was a hell of a journey. At the end, I found myself changed too—for the better.

At the time, I thought I’d written a story about loss. I was wrong. It is, but not just that. It’s also about having the freedom and security to be your authentic self. As Talen says, “There’s something to be said for the simple joy of not having to hide who you are.”

Two-Gun Witch: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Google Books

Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter.

Athena Scalzi

Recipes That Actually Turned Out Well: Focaccia

Everyday, I get on Tik Tok, and everyday, I see someone make focaccia. And every time, I think, I would really like to try that. It took me a couple months, but I finally did it, and it turned out so amazing and was so easy that I knew I had to come bestow the recipe upon you.

I actually ended up getting the recipe from the user whose focaccia video I was watching when I finally decided that by god I was going to make this bread. This recipe comes from Jessica in the Kitchen, a vegan food blog, and here is the video that led me to her lovely site!


Garlic and Rosemary Focaccia is one of the easiest breads you’ll ever made, let me show you how to make it #focaccia #breadmaking #breadtok #bakingtok

♬ son original – Leny Alleaume

And here is a quick link specifically to the focaccia.

Okay, so now that you have the recipe and everything, let’s dive in to the actual making of the bread.

The recipe calls mostly for super normal bread ingredients, like flour, yeast, sugar, and salt. This version of focaccia is garlic rosemary, so I had to acquire the garlic and rosemary, but that was an easy task. I really appreciated how easy and basic this ingredient list was. This seems like one of those foods that’s super cheap to make, but looks fancy and expensive.

Once I mixed everything together, I was sure I did it wrong because of how wet the dough was. Surely I needed another cup of flour, right? Wrong! Focaccia is supposed to be like that! It’s a sticky dough. So sticky in fact, that when I moved it from the mixing bowl to the resting bowl, I picked up the entire thing with one hand straight out of the bowl. I was afraid it would tear apart and fall, but it held together.

The recipe says to let the dough rest for 6-8 hours on the counter, or 18-24 in the fridge. I started making this bread at 7pm, so I opted for the six hours. I checked on the dough a few times throughout the six hours to make sure it was rising okay, and I’m not sure if it’s because I disturbed it so much or what, but it deflated!

I was hoping I didn’t do something wrong, and that it would get bigger again during the second rise. I transferred it to the pan I was going to be baking it in and covered it again for the two hour second rise.

But then I got impatient because it was already 2am, so I didn’t wait the full two hours and threw it in the oven! But first I adorned it with sliced garlic, rosemary, Italian seasoning, more olive oil, and salt.

There is nothing I love more than a recipe that calls for a temperature of 350 and a bake time of 30 mins. It’s just a classic combination that’s so easy to remember. So, thirty minutes later, BAM!

Perfect focaccia!

I was so thrilled with how well this turned out! First I was worried the dough was too wet, then I was worried about it deflating, then I was worried because I was impatient during the second rise, yada yada yada. However, it is amazing, and I love it! Look at the inside!

Also don’t ask me why I’m holding it like that, because I’m really not sure. Regardless, GOOD FUCKIN’ BREAD.

I highly recommend trying this recipe out, especially if you’ve never made bread before, like me. It’s just so simple! And tasty! I plan to use this recipe to make tons of variations, though garlic and rosemary will always be a great combo.

If you’re gluten-free, be sure to check out the GF version she has, too!

Have you ever made focaccia before? If so, what did you put on it? Let me know in the comments, and have a great day!



A Twitter Thread: OMW and “Best Of”s

From earlier today. Posting here for archival and conversational purposes.

1. I saw someone posting the “Best of 21st Century” Locus Poll from more than a decade ago (on which Old Man’s War topped the SF list) and wondering how the top tier of the books on the list have held up in the time since. I won’t speak to the other books, but I’ll speak on mine.

2. To get it out of the way, Old Man’s War is not the best SF book of the 21st Century to date. To suggest it is so in a world where The Broken Earth trilogy exists is, uhhhh, inaccurate (that trilogy spans both SF/Fantasy and tops both categories). This is not arguable.

3. (Also, it was incorrect even in 2011, when the Locus poll in question was first released, for reasons I explained at the time with regard to OMW topping a different “best of” poll: )

4. To be clear: OMW is really good, he said with no bias whatsoever! And one of the best this century at being widely accessible, with a “classic” science fiction feel. It’s why the book has basically sold the same constant numbers, year in and year out, for a decade and a half.

5. When the definitive history of 21st Century SF is written (MUCH further in the future than now), I’m pretty sure OMW will be in there and noted. I and my work will be in the mix, and you know what, for my purposes, that’s going to be fine, to the extent I’ll care when dead.

6. With that said, in SF/F literature, the era we live in now is *vastly* different than the era in which OMW came out, 17 (yikes!) years ago. What’s being published has a wider authorship, a wider readership and a rather wider palette of stories, concerns and interests.

7. There’s not a sharp dividing line (all cultural eras in every creative medium are fuzzy at best) but certainly the *vibe* of SF/F lit, if you want to call it that, is in a far different place than it was even a decade ago. So a 10-year-old “best of” list will feel dated.

8. Which is how it should be! How utterly tragic for the genre if new authors and works weren’t taking it to places it hadn’t been before, recontextualizing the field and what work in it can be. SF/F isn’t meant to be static; it’s meant to change, and to be wild and unexpected.

9. OMW is really good. But other work makes a better claim at being the “best” science fiction novel of the 21st Century. One hopes in another decade, different work by different authors can put a stake in for that claim. And still others, in all the decades through to the year 2100.

10. If in 2100, OMW is still a “Top 100 SF Novel of the 21st Century,” I’m sure my great-grandkids and biographers will be happy about it. But I’m hoping most of what’s on that list will be work that’s still yet to come. And I hope I get to read a lot of it before I go.

11. Thank you for reading. And now, as always, we close this thread on a picture of a cat.


Originally tweeted by John Scalzi (@scalzi) on May 29, 2022.

— JS


Iris, 5/28/22

It’s been raining on a more or less constant basis for the last couple of days here, which is no fun for various reasons but at least allows me to get in a couple nice photos of droplets on the irises in the front of the house. The good news is the rain is meant to take a break over the weekend, if not the clouds. I’ll take that. In the meantime: Flowers.

— JS

Athena Scalzi

Universal Yums: May 2022 Review

When I mentioned that I was going to be doing snack box reviews again, someone commented that I should consider trying out one called Universal Yums. Little did they know that that was the brand I was planning to do all along! This is actually not my first time trying them, though, as I used to get them consistently a couple years ago. But I’m excited to revisit it and try even more snacks!

Universal Yums is a snack box company that changes the country their snacks come from every month, so you get to try a whole world of snacks rather than snacks solely from one specific place (unless you only try one box, then you only get that month’s country). When I tried Universal Yums in the past, a few of the boxes I got were Spain, France, Brazil, and Japan.

This month, I got the United Kingdom! The United Kingdom actually consists of four countries: England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales (which I learned by looking at the map that came in the box), so there’s more than just English snacks to be had. I got the “Yum Yum” box, which is one of the three sizes of boxes you can choose from when you sign up.

The smallest, the “Yum” box, contains 5-7 snacks, and is $17 a month. The medium size, the “Yum Yum” box, has 10-12 snacks, and is $29 a month. And the largest box, the “Super Yum” box, has a whopping 18-20 snacks in it, at $45 a month (these prices are cheaper if you choose an annual plan). I went with the medium sized one because I certainly wanted to have an array of things to try, but felt that 20 snacks might have been a bit much. One good thing is that no matter which size you choose, you get free shipping (in the US)!

So, let’s take a look at the 11 snacks I got in this United Kingdom box! My helper for this session of snacking was none other than my dad, so you’ll be hearing his opinions, as well.

First up, we tried Kent Crisps Lamb & Rosemary Crisps:

(Image from Kent Crisps)

After doing some looking on Kent Crisp’s website, I saw that this flavor was their newest addition. And I have to say it is a wonderful addition, because these “crisps” were super good! They definitely had a strong rosemary flavor, making them taste a lot like stuffing. These chips also possess a special kind of crunch, making them seem almost like kettle cooked chips rather than regular potato chips. My dad gave these crisps an 8/10, while I went for an 8.5/10.

For our second snack, I chose Grandma Wild’s Oaty Biscuits (the one on the right):

(Image from Out of Eden)

I’m not sure why, but the package of these that came in the box was identical to this one pictured, but said “oat cookies” instead of “oaty biscuits”. Either way, it’s the exact same snack. Anyways, this oat cookie was quite tasty. It was like a granola bar and shortbread cookie hybrid. It was simple, subtly sweet, and would surely make for a pleasant tea time snack. My father and I both gave it a 7/10.

Switching back to savory, we tried Golden Cross’s Prawn Cocktail Twirls:

(I actually don’t have a photo for this one, but it’s the pink package in the box photo at the top)

Upon opening the bag, we were immediately hit with a strong vinegar scent, and upon eating these twirly snacks we found that they had a prominent vinegar flavor, as well. I was saddened by the utter lack of shrimp flavor, as I expected a shrimp and cocktail sauce flavored snack, but was met with more of a unsatisfactory salt and vinegar type chip instead. If I hadn’t had my hopes high for a shrimp snack, these wouldn’t have been that bad, but it’s because I was expecting a shrimp flavor and was not met with such that causes my disappointment. As for the texture, my dad said they were like a spiral-y Pringle. These spirals earned a 6/10 from my dad, and a 4.5/10 from me.

Taking a break from crunchy things, we switched to these wine gummies:

(Photo is from ME because my dad reminded me to take a picture before consuming)

These non-alcoholic wine flavored soft candies had more of a chew than I was expecting. They were harder to get through than what I’m used to with things like peach rings and gummy bears. It wasn’t too much of a hassle, but they definitely get stuck in your teeth pretty hardcore. There were different types of wine on the front of each gummy, such as claret, port, and Chablis, but mainly they just tasted like a slightly worse version of fruit snacks. My dad and I settled on a 6/10 for these.

Our fifth snack was Pipers Cheddar & Onion Crisps:

These were some HONKIN’ chips, okay, these were big boys; bigger than any potato chip I’ve seen in the US. Aside from the size, these crisps were much like the Kent Crisps because of their kettle-chip-esque crunch and texture, so that is definitely a plus. The flavor was a bit odd though, not bad, just kind of odd. It didn’t taste quite like I expected it to, but maybe cheese flavored things there are just different than cheese flavored snacks here? Overall, these were perfectly fine but not stellar, so we rated them a 7/10.

Up next, another sweet snack! Here we have Bristows of Devon Rhubarb & Custard Flavored Bon Bons:

Okay, clearly there is a picture of what these candies look like right on the package, but I overlooked it entirely because I thought bon bons were chocolates. So when I opened this candy up and saw brightly colored fruit chews, I was surprised. Even more surprising was how tart they were! Having custard in the title, I thought they’d be more cream flavored, but the description says that rhubarb has a tangy flavor, and they are not joking. Aside from the tart flavor, these seemed to be covered in citric acid, so this candy was a one-and-done for me. A bit painful if you eat too many of those types of things. My dad gave it a 6/10, while I settled on a 5/10.

Onto the last savory snack of the box, we have Johnny’s Pickled Onion Rings:

Holy smackers, you are sure to make a face when you pop one of these bad boys into your mouth. These rings are certainly “crying out with flavor”, if that flavor is pure vinegar. According to my dad, the texture is like a Cheeto that gave up, and I fully agree. These little rings will have your tongue raw in four rings flat or your money back (seriously, eat with caution, these are painful to consume). Have one, be done, and never eat them again. A generous 6/10 from my dad, and a 4/10 from me.

Another treat from Grandma Wild’s, here we have a Chocolate Flapjack:

This ain’t your average stack of pancakes. Apparently flapjacks in the UK are oat bars made with brown sugar and syrup, and can either have toffee or chocolate on top. I should’ve gotten a picture that shows the oatcake as well and not just the chocolate on top, but I’m sure you can use your imagination. Anyways, this oat bar was rather dense, and my father compared it to a Clif bar. I said it was more like a bowl of Quaker oatmeal that had been sitting out a little too long. It seemed a little stale, though that could just be because it made a long journey to get here. I felt that you could definitely taste the brown sugar and syrup it boasted, so that was good, at least. Overall, it was a modest 5/10 from my dad, and a solid 6.5/10 from me.

Ninthly, we tried Millions, specifically the Blackcurrant flavor:

As the name suggests, there are so many of these tiny candies in a package! These little candies are just like Nerds, but chewy! They’re sweet, tangy, get stuck in your teeth easily, everything you could want in a candy. I found this candy to be interesting because I’ve never actually had anything black currant flavored before, since it was outlawed in the US for almost a hundred years. I liked the black currant taste, and thought that the candy wasn’t too strong in terms of flavor. A solid 7/10 from both.

Nearing the end, we have Vanilla Clotted Cream Fudge:

(Image from Universal Yums)

I’ve never had clotted cream, but if it tastes anything like these super sweet candies, I would gladly try it. These little things are packed full of vanilla flavor, and to me seemed a lot like a caramel more than a fudge, both taste and texture-wise. I would definitely eat these all the time if I could. However, my dad thought they were just okay, but I think he’s wild for that, since I thought they were the bee’s knees. My dad gave them a 6/10, while I thought they were deserving of a 9/10.

The last snack of the box was supposed to be a toffee candy, but apparently something happened to it, and Universal Yums sent an apology note and a replacement candy, which ended up being a sour plum hard candy:

Honestly, it didn’t taste much like plum at all. I was surprised it was a green candy, since I figured most plums are more purple than green. This is a great time to mention that my dad is a monster and immediately chewed his hard candy into a million little pieces, meanwhile mine lasted me like fifteen minutes. So props to it for longevity, but less props to it for taste, as my father and I agreed that it was very “meh”. It earned a 6/10 from him and a 5/10 from me.

Out of all these snacks, my dad’s favorite was the lamb and rosemary chips, and his least favorite was the chocolate flapjack. As for me, my favorite was the vanilla clotted cream fudge candy, and my least favorite was the pickled onion chips (mostly because of how oddly painful they were to consume). All in all, I thought this box had a large variety of flavors and textures, which is always a plus. I thoroughly enjoyed snacking my way through the United Kingdom.

I also enjoyed looking through the booklet that comes with the box! It has trivia about the featured country, descriptions and pictures of each snack, games, and even has a recipe (though you only get a recipe in the booklet if you get the medium or large box)! This one featured the national dish of Wales.

Overall, I’m satisfied with my purchase, and am excited to see what box will come next month!

Have you tried Universal Yums before? Which of these snacks sounds the best to you? Let me know in the comments, and have a great day!



New Books and ARCs, 5/27/22

As we amble into the Memorial Day weekend here in the US, here is a nicely eclectic stack of new books and ARCs for you to consider. What here do you want to take into summer with you? Share in the comments!

— JS


RIP, Andy Fletcher

Andy Fletcher of Depeche Mode has died, and it’s a sad day for everyone who went to high school when I did (and at my high school in particular, where Depeche Mode was worshiped as unto gods). Andy Fletcher would not have been my bet to be the first DM member to leave us, and his early departure is existentially disconcerting. As I understand it, he would joke that Martin Gore wrote the songs, Dave Gahan sung them, Alan Wilder was the good musician, and he was along for the ride. But you’re not along for the whole ride if you don’t bring something essential to the journey. He will be missed.

— JS


Housekeeping Note Re: Search

Several of you have noted that the search widget in the sidebar appears to have gotten bunged up and was offering up 404s when you tried to search something. Indeed it was, so I uninstalled the search widget and then reinstalled it. Now it seems to work fine. Whether it will continue to do so is a mystery best left to WordPress.

In the future, should the search function over on the sidebar go wonky again, here’s a tip: Go to Google’s search page, type “” into the search area (minus the quotation marks), a space, and then the word or phrase that you are looking for. Google will likely not fail you.

— JS

Athena Scalzi

Understanding the Magic System of Jujutsu Kaisen, or, But Wait! There’s More!

I watched Jujutsu Kaisen last month (on Crunchyroll, but you can also find it on HBO Max), and while I really enjoyed it and thought it was good overall, I had a hard time following the magic system the world is based around, and thought I’d share my complaints with y’all and see if any of you have similar problems understanding exactly how things work in the world of Jujutsu Kaisen. So, this is not a review, but a piece over something I have a problem with within a show I like and would recommend.

Jujutsu Kaisen, released in the fall of 2020, is an anime about a high school boy, Yuji Itadori, who suddenly gets introduced into the world of cursed spirits and jujutsu sorcery because he swallows the finger of an ancient (and evil) sorcerer named Sukuna, and now they share Itadori’s body. Itadori starts attending Jujutsu High and training to become a jujutsu sorcerer, making friends and gaining powers along the way.

Okay, so, jujutsu sorcerers use cursed energy to power their cursed techniques, which are used to exorcise cursed spirits. Cursed energy comes from negative emotions, like anger. Every sorcerer has cursed energy within their body that they harness to use their special powers. These individualized powers are called innate techniques, and are instilled into a sorcerer when they are born. Besides innate techniques (which are unique to each sorcerer), there are also inherited techniques, which are innate techniques passed through the bloodline of sorcerer families. This means that every sorcerer within that sorcerer family/bloodline will have that power. On top of this, there are non-unique techniques that any sorcerer can use, called barrier techniques.

But it doesn’t end there! Aside from the techniques, there are also cursed objects, cursed tools, cursed corpses, and cursed restrictions. Cursed objects are curses that aren’t fully formed so they exist as objects, rather than being objects that are imbued with cursed energy. Cursed tools, however, are weapons that are infused with cursed energy. These weapons can be wielded by someone that is not a sorcerer. Cursed corpses are inanimate objects that have been possessed by curses and become sentient creatures (I feel like these should be called cursed objects instead since they’re taking control of objects and becoming basically alive through them).

We’re not done yet! You can’t forget the most intense technique of all, domain expansion. It’s a type of barrier technique and is the most supreme power a sorcerer can use. It takes practically all of a sorcerer’s cursed energy to create one, and usually only top tier sorcerers are able to conjure a domain. Just like innate techniques, each sorcerer’s domain expansion is unique to them.

Now that we’ve got the basics down, it’s time to remember every character’s special power. You have to remember the name of the technique, what it does, as well as the limitations on the power (such as needing to be able to see to use it, or the power harming the user). Oh, and every sorcerer’s domain has a special name, too. So once you’ve got that down for every single character, you would think you’re good to go.

But wait, there’s more! You thought you knew which powers a character had, but watch as they suddenly gain a new one they didn’t have before! Or are suddenly able to create a domain even though they’re nowhere near top tier level! You thought this character could do this one thing, but now they can do this other thing! How exciting.

Jujutsu Kaisen just has too much going on. They cram all this magic in and don’t fully explain anything. Sure, they tell what something is, but what does that mean? I just have a hard time understanding the true structure of this power system, and don’t really grasp the limitations the magic has. If the magic system wasn’t so prominent in the show, it wouldn’t be as much of a problem, but since the show is all about the magic and all about using these techniques and powers, it’s important to understand how it works. And I just don’t.

Is that a classic anime problem? Sure. But in a world where the power system is so structured and everything is based around their hard magic system, I would think there’d be less of these instances.

And I’m not the only one that feels this way! I have seen many a TikTok expressing the exact same problem as me, one of my favorites being this one from a user named “crustypeaches“:


what is a gojo #jujutsukaisen #jjk #gojo #itadoriyuuji #anime #manga #weeb #otaku

♬ you guys should play final fantasy xiv – walnutware

So, all in all, I love Jujutsu Kaisen, but it is not without its flaws. Have you seen it? What did you think? Do you understand everything perfectly, or are you a little on the lost side as well? Let me know in the comments, and have a great day!


Big Idea

The Big Idea: Kate Heartfield

They say behind every great man is a great woman, but what happens when that woman has a magic book and has decided she’s had enough of the patriarchy? Author Kate Heartfield takes us back through history, with a brand new perspective. Follow along in her Big Idea for The Embroidered Book to hear a new take on stories you thought you knew.


The idea for The Embroidered Book came to me in late 2015, when Hillary Rodham Clinton was on track to become the first female president of the United States. (And then, of course, that happened. Phew, good thing we’re in this timeline, am I right?)

I was thinking about powerful women: the personal sacrifices they make, the uses they make of wealth and privilege, the bargains they sometimes make with patriarchy and white supremacy. Sacrifices, bargains … it seemed only natural to use magic as a metaphor. And I happened to be reading about women of the 18th century.

I didn’t learn much in school about the women who dominated politics in 18th century Europe. Two that probably come to mind are the empresses Maria Theresa of the Holy Roman Empire and Catherine the Great of Russia, but there was also the Empress Elizabeth before Catherine. And then there were Maria Theresa’s many daughters. The Habsburg girls dutifully married their way into the various ruling families of Europe, wielding their influence through their husbands, or despite them.

Two of Maria Theresa’s daughters took very different paths to power. Marie Antoinette, queen of France, tried to win her people’s love; popular history remembers her now as a hairstyle and an invented catchphrase. Her sister Charlotte, the queen of Naples, was the de facto ruler of a great kingdom that stood up to Napoleon; popular history barely remembers her at all. To be mocked or to be forgotten: are those the fates of powerful women?

Charlotte and Antoinette are the protagonists of The Embroidered Book: two sisters sent to marry men they’ve never met, in kingdoms they’ve never seen. But in my version of history, they have a source of power: a secret book of magic. The sacrifices required change them and their world.

In some ways, the novel is highly accurate: I take research seriously, and I tried to thread my story through known history. In other ways, of course, it’s entirely invented: the magic system, and the secret society that controls it. Looking at history through a fantastical lens is one way to see it as if for the first time, without the other lenses we’ve acquired over the years. 

I should be clear about one thing: Antoinette and Charlotte are (were) extremely flawed people who made a lot of bad choices. But they’re not caricatures. It struck me that these two real, complex women have been erased by history in different ways – or at least, shall we say, embroidered over. The imperialist, patriarchal structures that made their power possible also dictated what forms that power could take, and how history would interpret their choices later. They were simultaneously powerful and oppressed: a dynamic that still shapes the lives and choices of white women like me today.

The 18th century was a time of great promise. But the seeds of the Enlightenment were rotten. The same century that witnessed incredible advances in art, science and philosophy also bequeathed us a legacy of racism, colonialism and white supremacy that survives to this day. And the women who fought at the barricades would remain second-class citizens.

At the end of The Embroidered Book, one of the sisters rails against “this dying century that broke all its promises.” That line came to me very late in the revision process, but it rang like a bell in my head when I wrote it. I feel the same way, about the 20th century rather than the 18th.

I’m a Canadian. When I was 16 years old, Canada got its first female prime minister. She lasted a few months. As it turned out, she was an anomaly. We’ve never had another. Sixteen-year-old me would have been saddened to learn than in 2022, the 45th year of my life, only two of Canada’s 13 premiers would be women. To learn that in last year’s federal election, all four of our major political parties were led by men. It’s far beyond coincidence, and it isn’t changing quickly enough. Whatever forces have long worked against women gaining power, they seem to be working still.

The Embroidered Book: Amazon|Barnes and Noble|Indiebound|Powells

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s website. Follow Kate on Twitter and Instagram.


Post-Creative Lassitude

The writing on the new novel is coming along; it needs to be soon(ish) and now that I’m actually home from promoting The Kaiju Preservation Society, making progress on it is moving along more efficiently, which is nice. I’m in the zone where I will write a chapter (more or less) and then, when I’m done, enter a state of pleasant mental lassitude, in which my brain tells me I’m done seriously thinking for the day, but also looks forward to what I’ll be writing the next day and fiddles a little bit, in a very casual way with the detail. What that means is that when I start writing tomorrow, a lot of what I’ll write has been pre-gamed, as it were. It makes the process of writing more congenial than it might be otherwise.

The flip side is that I don’t have much brain to expend on other matters at the moment, like, you know (gestures at the world). I do have enough creative energy to manipulate flowers in Photoshop (see picture above), but kind of just barely.

This is not a bad thing! I’m prioritizing where I’m putting my energy, and it’s on the stuff that I enjoy, and that pays my bills. It would be nice to have a little more energy, and I’m going to work on that (exercising more will help), but in the meantime, I’m doing all right with where things are right now.

How are you today?

— JS

Athena Scalzi

Spoiler-Free Thoughts On “Uncharted”

Mark Wahlberg and Tom Holland look at something intently in “Uncharted.”

Hello, everyone! Now that we’ve gotten the long, emotional post that always comes with returning to the site out of the way, I can start doing my reviews and recommendations and whatnot! For the summer’s first review, I’ve decided to go into uncharted waters and review a video-game movie.

Before I begin this review, I think it’s important to mention that I have never actually played, or even knew anything about, the Uncharted video game series. I tend to avoid trailers as much as possible because I feel that trailers nowadays give absolutely everything away and leave nothing for the film. From what little I had heard and seen before going to see it, I figured Uncharted would be a lot like a Tomb Raider movie: lost treasures, perilous situations caused by trying to retrieve said treasure, and lots of fighting and guns.

And I was correct! Uncharted is an action-packed, celebrity-studded, predictable, and somewhat goofy movie. I actually quite enjoyed it! I’m sure it helped that I went in with low expectations; not everything has to be a hard-hitting, emotional, super deep story that wins Oscars. It’s okay to just put a movie on, eat popcorn, and watch people punch each other.

The characters were fun to watch interact with each other, in a two-dimensional, you’re-here-for-explosions-and-fighting way. I liked Tom Holland’s performance as the lead character, Nathan Drake, and I especially enjoyed the dynamic between his and Mark Wahlberg’s character, Sully. They had an entertaining back and forth, with constant witty jabs at each other. Their characters aren’t the only ones that deserve a mention, though, for there are some killer femme fatale characters (played by Sophia Taylor Ali and Tati Gabrielle) that will immediately make you want to start keeping a dagger strapped to your thigh at all times.

As mentioned before, this movie was highly predictable, and that’s coming from someone who is usually super oblivious to plot twists. People often say, “I saw it coming from a mile away,” and I finally got a chance to feel that way with Uncharted. Not just once, but three times!

The special effects were impressive. Everything looked quite realistic, and as I mentioned before, the main thing I hoped to see in this movie was good special effect explosions and the like, so I really enjoyed this aspect of the film. There were a couple shots that were clearly made for the 3D version of the film, which looked a bit awkward in regular 2D. That took away from the sense of immersion.

Uncharted was a helicopter-heisting, stolen-ship-sailing, treasure-trove-tracking movie, and I was totally here for it. If you can keep your expectations in check, I recommend this movie.

If you’ve played the game and seen the movie, how did it stack up? If you only saw the movie, what did you think? Let me know in the comments and have a great day!



View From a Hotel Window 5/20/22: Gaithersburg, MD

No parking lot, but there is an auto dealership across the street, which makes up for it, I think.

I’m in Gaithersburg for the city’s book festival, and tomorrow I am being interviewed at 3:15 at the Dashiell Hammett Pavilion. I’ll be talking about The Kaiju Preservation Society and anything else I’m asked about, I suppose. This is the final event of my Kaiju tour; after this I have no book-related travel for months, which is good because, uhhhh, I’m supposed to be writing the next novel, and no going anywhere will help. If you’re in or around Gaithersburg, come on by to see me, I’ll be happy to see you.

— JS


When Everything Goes Right

By the time you read this, Love Death + Robots Vol. 3 will be live on Netflix, and those of you who subscribe to the streamer will be able to dig into its nine episodes and enjoy the varied and wildly contrasting stories, styles and aesthetics of each segment. One of those episodes is one I wrote, “Three Robots: Exit Strategies.” It’s a sequel to the “Three Robots” episode in the first season, which was written by Philip Gelatt from my original story. Philip wrote an excellent adaptation and set a high bar for me to meet with my own original script for the sequel. I hope I met it.

I don’t want to go too far into the weeds about the process of making this particular episode of LD+R, but there is one thing about it that I would like to have out there in the world. Which is: You know the writer horror stories that come out of Hollywood? Working on this episode with the teams at Blur Studios (which was the overall producer of the series) and Blow Studio (which handled the animation for the episode) and with Patrick Osborne (who directed it) was the opposite of that. From the moment we decided to do a sequel to the moment it was out in the world, the process of making it — my part of the process, at least — was pretty much a joy.

Mind you, “a joy” does not mean “a totally easy process where no one disagreed with my choices ever,” because, well, that’s not how it works, folks. My script was tweaked and worked on, and bits were added and taken out as we went along. “A joy” in this case means, “kept in the loop, always listened to, never disrespected, and always part of making the episode as excellent as possible.” For a writer, this is the way it should be.

As a result of the process being this way, I can unreservedly say that “Three Robots: Exit Strategies” is, from my point of view, an example of everything going right. When it’s on, there’s no point when I look at the screen that I have a less than happy thought about it. Is it perfect? Probably not, but if it’s not perfect, then that’s probably because of one of my choices. As far as I’m concerned everyone else involved did their job superbly.

This is a pretty great space to be in, with regard to something that’s going to be seen by millions of people around the world. Maybe it could have been made better but I don’t see how. I am as happy with this episode as I am with any creative work I’ve ever had a part in making. I love it. I hope you’ll like it, too.

— JS

Athena Scalzi

Academic Purgatory

Back in January, I briefly returned to the site to post a piece on how I did at community college during my semester away from the blog (not well, in case you missed it). And since I am once again returning to the blog after yet another semester, I thought I’d update y’all on how spring semester went in comparison to fall semester.

Honestly, not much better.

I was taking Intro to Anthropology, as well as Physical Geology, with anthropology being online and geology being in person on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It seemed so manageable, so much easier than every previous semester I had ever been through, and yet I only passed one out of the two. Much to my surprise, the one I ended up passing was geology, which was honestly a lot harder than anthropology (in my opinion).

The semester started out the same as any other; with me in sixth gear, showing up to every class, completing every assignment to the absolute best of my ability, and I even made flashcards! I was managing to do everything I was supposed to be doing, and on time no less, even though I hated doing it.

I had an A in both classes until the middle of March, the halfway point of the semester. And then they both started slipping, as they always do. As per usual, I just got so tired of doing weekly assignments, watching video after video, completing lab after lab. I was just fed up with the never-ending onslaught of shit I didn’t care about.

And it’s not that I don’t find anthropology or geology interesting, or that I don’t like learning about some of the content, I just don’t want to write papers or be tested over it. It seems so meaningless to be tested on whether or not I can identify diorite or muscovite. Are they cool rocks? Sure. Do I think it’s essential to learn their chemical composition and then be graded over it? Not really.

I eventually stopped logging onto my anthropology class entirely, and watched from afar as my grade plummeted from an A to an F, simply because I didn’t do any of the assignments. I didn’t even bother to look at what the assignments were! I just knew I didn’t want to do them, so I didn’t.

As for geology, I only slid to a C before I realized I should maybe try to pass at least one class out of the entire year of failure, so I have something, anything, to show for the past year.

So how did I manage to pass geology? Well, every test was open book, and every lab was group work. I never really learned anything. I just scraped by on what info I could find in the book and the hard work of my fellow classmates. If it hadn’t been for the girl sitting next to me, and the entire textbook at my fingertips, I genuinely don’t think I would’ve come even remotely close to passing.

I have nothing to show for my semester of geology, other than knowing that olivine crystallizes at 1200 degrees, whilst quartz crystallizes at 600 degrees. Truly remarkable.

On the bright side, I wasn’t the only one that had no idea what the hell was going on in class. In fact, before every class, all ten of my classmates and I would talk about how we didn’t understand a single thing, how we just bullshitted every question, squeaked by on answers we found online, none of it truly made any sense to us. We just needed to pass, that doesn’t mean we actually had to learn anything.

And that’s how all of college is, actually. You just need an A. You don’t need to know what the fuck is going on, as long as you pass, and then you get your little paper. That’s all that matters in the end. That damn piece of fucking paper. The bane of my existence and the object of all my desires (anyone watching Bridgerton?).

I’m so sick of striving for something that says “I’m worthy”. Because without that thing, I feel worthless. And the longer it takes me to get it, the more semesters I waste, the more F’s I get along the way, the worse I feel.

Who am I without that paper? A failure? A waste of space? It feels that way.

If it hurts so bad, why don’t I just pass? Why can’t I just do what needs to be done? Why can’t I do the one thing that would make this feeling go away forever? I just want it to be over, and it feels like it never will be. There’s always more. After my associates, I’ll need a bachelors, because lord knows there’s nothing you can do with just an associates nowadays. And honestly, is a bachelors even worth anything anymore? You practically need a masters to make a decent salary at this point.

In my farewell post back in August, I said all I had to do was pass eight classes. Four in the fall, four in the spring, and I would finally have my associates. But I only passed one. One fucking class out of what was supposed to be eight. I was supposed to be done right now. But there’s still seven classes to go. And five of those classes are ones I already took that I failed that I now have to retake! So that feels very not good.

So, I passed one class, making it the first I’ve passed since Fall Semester 2019 at Miami. So at least that’s something.

Currently, I’m debating whether or not to go back in the fall. Originally, I was supposed to do classes over the summer, but I think I might go insane if I do, so instead I am going to do lots of fun things this summer and try to enjoy life a little!

But, yeah, that’s where I’m at right now, in degree-less limbo. A purgatory of the same courses over and over again. A vast expanse of transcripts filled with F’s and W’s.

We’ll see how long I remain there.


Big Idea

The Big Idea: Oliver K. Langmead

Punching billionaires: Can it be done? Should it be done? In this Big Idea for Glitterati, author Oliver K. Langmead offers a mechanism for it that is (probably) unlikely to get one landed in jail for it.


Capitalism isn’t working too well right now, and one of the most grotesque symptoms of the failing system is the rise of the billionaire class. We are, in many ways, subject to their whims – helplessly watching as they launch themselves into space and get themselves elected into offices they are in no way suited for. I, for one, am weary of them.

Drag culture has an absolutely gorgeous way of satirising wealth. It glorifies the opulence and glamour, while punching up at the power structures that make for gross inequality. When I sat down to write Glitterati, I wanted to use that same kind of satire to express my weariness with billionaires. So, I wrote a book about stupid, weird rich people and why they shouldn’t exist.

There is a prevailing myth that rich people are somehow smarter than everyone else, but the truth is that the vast majority have just been born into wealth; very few of them have ever known poverty, leaving them so divorced from the everyday reality of human life that they become weird and eccentric. Worse, some of them absolutely believe the myth that they are wealthy because they are better than everyone else, making for a class of people who possess such breathtaking narcissism that it makes them difficult to satirise.

Difficult, but not impossible.

I took all the traits we see in billionaires – the smugness, the narcissism, the eccentricity, the opulence – and turned them up, to create a dystopia where everyone believes they are living in a utopia. The lower classes are looked down upon as horrible, seething masses, classified as “uglies” and “unfashionables”, while the billionaire class – the Glitterati – spend their days living in absolute luxury, their every whim catered for. They are avatars of entitlement, and they are buffoons.

At the heart of the story – the heart of Glitterati – is Simone; himself a buffoon, navigating a world he barely understands. Only… something happens to Simone that leads him to question his reality; an event so bizarre that it sets in motion a chain of events that threatens the very foundations of his opulent utopia. And maybe, just maybe, he will realise that there is more to life than being really really really ridiculously good looking.

We can’t seem to get rid of billionaires, so we might as well laugh at them.

Glitterati: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter.


Here, Have a Full-Episode Sneak Preview of the New Season of Love Death and Robots

How long will this be up? Who knows! Enjoy it while you can. Also, I wrote this.

Update: No longer available, sorry. But now it’s up on Netflix, if you are a subscriber (or know someone who is).

— JS


“Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting,” Ten Years On

Ten years ago this week I thought I would write a piece to offer a useful metaphor for straight white male privilege without using the word “privilege,” because when you use the word “privilege,” straight white men freak out, like, I said then, “vampires being fed a garlic tart.” Since I play video games, I wrote the piece using them as a metaphor. And thus “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is” was born and posted.

And blew up: First here on Whatever, where it became the most-visited single post in the history of the site (more than 1.2 million visits to date), and then when it was posted on video gaming site Kotaku, where I suspect it was visited a multiple number of times more than it was visited here, because Kotaku has more visitors generally, and because the piece was heavily promoted and linked there. 

The piece received both praise and condemnation, in what felt like almost equal amounts (it wasn’t; it’s just the complainers were very loud, as they often are). To this day the piece is still referred and linked to, taught in schools and universities, and “living on the lowest difficulty setting” is used as a shorthand for the straight white male experience, including by people who don’t know where the phrase had come from.

(I will note here, as I often do when discussing this piece, that my own use of the metaphor was an expansion on a similar metaphor that writer Luke McKinney used in a piece on, when he noted that “straight male” was the lowest difficulty setting in sexuality. Always credit sources and inspirations, folks!)

In the ten years since I’ve written the piece, I’ve had a lot of time to think about it, the response to it, and whether the metaphor still applies. And so for this anniversary, here are some further thoughts on the matter.

1. First off: Was the piece successful? In retrospect, I think it largely was. One measure of its success, as noted above, is its persistence; it’s still read and talked about and taught and used. Anecdotally, I have hundreds of emails from people who used it to explain privilege to others and/or had it used to explain privilege to them, and who say that it did what it was meant to do: Get through the already-erected defenses against the word “privilege” and convey the concept in an interesting and novel manner. So: Hooray for that. It is always good to be useful.

2. That said, Upton Sinclair once wrote that “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” In almost exactly the same manner, it is difficult to get a straight white man to acknowledge his privileges when his self-image depends on him not doing so. Which is to say there is a very large number of straight white men who absolutely do not wish to acknowledge just how thoroughly and deeply their privileges are systemically embedded into day-to-day life. A fair number of this sort of dude read the piece (or more perhaps more accurately, read the headline, since a lot of their specific complaints about the piece were in fact addressed in the piece itself) and refused to entertain the notion there might be something to it. Which is their privilege (heh), but doesn’t make them right.

But, I mean, as a straight white dude, I totally get it! I also work hard and make an effort to get by, and in my life not all the breaks have gone my way. I too have suffered disappointment and failure and exclusion and difficulty. In the context of a life where people who are not straight white men are perhaps not in your day-to-day world view, except as abstractions mediated by television or radio or web sites, one’s own struggles loom large. It’s harder to conceive of, or sympathize with, the idea that one’s own struggles and disappointments are resting atop of a pile of systemic privilege — not in the least because that implicitly seems to suggest that if you can still have troubles even with those many systemic advantages, you might be bad at this game called life.

But here’s the thing about that. One, just because you can’t or won’t see the systemic advantages you have, it doesn’t mean you don’t still have them, relative to others. Two, it’s a reflection of how immensely fucked up the system is that even with all those systemic advantages, lots of straight white men feel like they’re just treading water. Yes! It’s not just you! This game of life is difficult! Like Elden Ring with a laggy wireless mouse and a five-year-old graphics card! And yet, you are indeed still playing life on the lowest difficulty setting! 

Maybe rather than refusing to accept that other people are playing on higher difficulty settings, one should ask who the hell decided to make the game so difficult for everyone right out of the box (hint: they’re largely in the same demographic as straight white men), and how that might be changed. But of course it’s simply just easy to deny that anyone else might have a more challenging life experience than you have, systemically speaking. 

3. Speaking of “easy,” one of the problems that the piece had is that when I wrote the phrase “lowest difficulty,” lots of people translated that to “easy.” The two concepts are not the same, and the difference between the two is real and significant. Which is, mind you, why I used the phrase “lowest difficulty” and not “easy.” But if you intentionally or unintentionally equate the two, then clearly there’s an issue to be had with the piece. I do suspect a number of dudes intentionally equated the two, even when it was made clear (by me, and others) they were not the same. I can’t do much for those dudes, then or now.

4. When I wrote the piece, some folks chimed in to say that other factors deserved to be part of a “lowest difficulty setting,” with “wealth” being primary among them. At the time I said I didn’t think wealth should have been; it’s a stat in my formulation — hugely influential, but not an inherent feature of identity like being white, or straight, or male. This got a lot of pushback, in no small part because (and relating to point two above) I think a lot of straight white dudes believed that if wealth was in there, it would somehow swamp the privileges that being white and straight and male provide, and that would mean that everyone else’s difficulty setting was no more difficult than their own.

It’s ten years on now, and I continue to call bullshit on this. I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor and I’ve been in the middle, and in all of those economic states I still had and have systemic advantages that came with being white and straight and male. Yes, being wealthy does make life less difficult! But on the other hand being wealthy (and an Oscar winner) didn’t keep Forest Whitaker from being frisked in a bodega for alleged shoplifting, whereas I have never once been asked to empty my pockets at a store, even when (as a kid, and poor as hell) I was actually shoplifting. This is an anecdotal observation! Also, systemically, wealth insulates people who are not straight and white and male less than it does those who are. Which means, to me, I put it in the right place in my formulation.

5. What would I add into the inherent formulation ten years on? I would add “cis” to “straight” and “white” and “male.” One, because I understand the concept better than than I did in 2012 and how it works within the matrix of privilege, and two, in the last decade, more of the people I know and like and love have come out as being outside of standard-issue cis-ness (or were already outside of it when I met them during this period), and I’ve seen directly how the world works on and with them. 

So, yes: Were I writing that piece for the first time in 2022, I would have written “Cis Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is.” 

6. Ten years of time has not mitigated the observation about who is on the Lowest Difficulty Setting, especially here in the United States. Indeed, if anything, 2022 in the US has been about (mostly) straight white men nerfing the fuck out of everyone else in the land in order to maintain their own systemic advantages. Oh, you’re not white? Let’s pass laws to make sure an accurate picture of your historical treatment is punted out of schools and libraries, and the excuse we’ll give is that learning these things would be mean to white kids. You’re LGBTQ+? Let’s pass laws so that a teacher even mentioning you exist could get them fired. Trans? Let’s take away your rights for gender-affirming medical treatment. Have functional ovaries? We’re planning to let your rapist have more say in what happens to your body than you! Have a blessed day!

And of course hashtag not all straight white men, but on the other hand let’s not pretend we don’t know who is largely responsible for this bullshit. The Republican party of the United States is overwhelmingly straight, overwhelmingly white, and substantially male, and here in 2022 it is also an unabashedly white supremacist political party, an authoritarian party and a patriarchal party: mainstream GOP politicians talk openly about the unspeakably racist and anti-Semitic “Great Replacement Theory,” and about sending people who have abortions to prison, and are actively making it more difficult for minorities to vote. It’s largely assumed that once the conservative supermajority of the Supreme Court (very likely as of this writing) throws out Roe v. Wade, it’ll go after Obergefell (same-sex marriage) as soon as a challenge gets to them, and then possibly Griswold (contraception) and Loving (mixed-race marriage) after that. Because, after all, why stop at Roe when you can roll civil rights back to the 1950s at least?

What makes this especially and terribly ironic is that when game designers nerf characters, they’re usually doing it to bring balance to the game — to put all the characters on something closer to an even playing field. What’s happening here in 2022 isn’t about evening up the playing field. It’s to keep the playing field as uneven as possible, for as long as possible, for the benefit of a particular group of people who already has most of the advantages. 2022 is straight white men employing code injection to change the rules of the game, while it’s in process, to make it more difficult for everyone else. 

So yes, ten years on, the Lowest Difficulty Setting still applies. It’s as relevant as ever. And I’m sure, even now, a bunch of straight white men will still maintain it’s still not accurate. As they would have been in 2012, they’re entirely wrong about that. 

And what a privilege that is: To be completely wrong, and yet suffer no consequences for it. 

— JS

Athena Scalzi

And We’re Back

Hello, everyone! Thank you all so much for the warm welcome back to the site! I am thrilled to be back (even if I don’t act that way at the staff meetings). I was excited to begin with, but all your kind comments have really made me look forward to being on the blog this summer! I truly appreciate each and every one of you.

In fact, I’d like to address a few comments in particular, starting with everyone that asked about my snack box reviews. As much as I loved Sakuraco and thoroughly enjoyed each box over the past year, I decided that one year was long enough and unsubscribed from them back in March. I found that there are only so many different types of authentic Japanese tea time snacks to be had, and I feel that I have certainly had plenty for the time being.

However, because so many people seem to like the snack boxes post (and because I myself love snacks), I have decided to try a new snack box for the summer! Which one will it be? Stay tuned and find out!

Aside from snack box reviews, I will also be doing my usual variety of entertainment and product reviews, as well as personal essays, and basically whatever else I feel like talking about. I will say I do have a few special ideas up my sleeve for this summer, but I shan’t reveal too much just yet.

I also wanted to take this time to mention that I was so excited to meet so many of y’all on the JoCo cruise back in March. Meeting you fine folks in person was really awesome, and as always I am genuinely grateful for your readership and overall kindness.

So, thanks for being here with me as I get back into the swing of things. I hope you enjoy all that is to come. I know I will!


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