Wednesday, October 25, 2017

New Fiction: Ms. Figgle-DeBitt's Home For Wayward A.I.'s

This amusing piece showed up a few weeks ago in Escape Pod. I'd recommend listening to it rather than reading it because the narrator is amazing. I'm very proud of how this story turned out, considering I started writing it with nothing but a zany idea for a title and a dumb joke about bananas. Bananas feature prominently in the story--rather, a recipe for a banana cake features prominently. Prominently enough that I baked one to celebrate.


The recipe for this beauty can be found at Averie Cooks. Anyway, I hope you enjoy. The story that is. Or the cake. Both really.

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Friday, October 6, 2017

Sale: Alienation

I'm pleased to announce that I will have a short story titled "Alienation" appearing in the December issue of NewMyths.com. Stay tuned here for more information. Or, you know, subscribe to them. You do you.

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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Petty Gremlins

Hey, y'all. I wrote a thing. It's rather silly. You can listen to it here:

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

New Stories Coming Out Soon!

So I wrote a couple of stories and they will soon be available for you to listen to with your own human ears!

On August 9th, I'll have a story on 600 Second Saga.

Late October, I'll have a story in Escape Pod.

I'll post specific links after they drop, or you could just subscribe to them in iTunes (or your podcatcher of choice).

Monday, October 31, 2016

Westworld and Meta-Narrative

I have a theory about Westworld. It's not about the world outside the park or whether or not Ed Harris is a cylon. My theory has to do with the show itself, which seems fixated on the concept of narrative. Westworld is already drawing comparisons to Lost and Battlestar Galactica, two shows that trafficked heavily in managing and playing with viewer expectations, but they were still narrative shows that took place in their own worlds. Westworld is a slightly different animal. Thematically, it's about entertainment that turns against its consumer. So while it has echoes of Lost and BG, and the obvious antecedents of the 1973 Westworld film and Jurassic Park, I think there's a strain of influences that are more akin to The Ring and Mulholland Drive, horror movies that invite the viewer to be just as much of a victim as the characters on screen. The former posits a world in which viewing a film is a death sentence. The latter creates a distorted and disorienting world that makes the viewer feel just as lost as the characters.

In short, here's my Westworld theory: Westworld is messing with us.

The world-within-a-world of Westworld presents itself almost like an MMORPG. There's a central hub where guests can play around, and there they will find a series of small repeating events that are inviting them on sidequests. Then there are the huge out-of-the-way quests for completionists (read as: Ed Harris, who may or may not be a cylon). Then there are big events, like Hector's shoot-out. Finally, there's whatever happens just because the guests were farting around and shooting people. That's four layers of story interacting just within the world-within-a-world. But the television show adds a few more: there's Arnold's long-con, there's Theresa's corporate politicking, there's Ford's rabid defense of his creation, and then whatever-the-hell Bernard's been doing. And oh yeah, there's Logan's company trying to buy out Delos, Westworld's parent company. Also apparently there's some corporate espionage going on.

I'm thinking this is all distraction. Ostensibly, if Westworld-the-world is an MMORPG, then Westworld-the-show is about what happens when the NPCs come to life. As such, all of this world-building is background to the Pinocchio narratives around Maeve and Dolores. Despite all the mystery and narrative, the show is about the robots, and the show has devoted a fair amount of time towards making the robots seem human and relatable while making the human characters flat and static--especially those who work behind-the-scenes. This is not a catastrophe narrative, as it was in the 1973 film. This is a revolution narrative, and in this narrative, the humans are the bad guys. So, add Ex Machina to the list of influences.

But what does that have to do with us, the viewers? Well, humans are the bad guys, and we're the humans. I think the show is priming us for some real-life scares. It's already been playing fast-and-loose with chronology and neglecting to establish some very important practical details--how, for example, does Dolores get from the middle of a parade to underground-and-naked to have a conversation with Ford and then back without anyone noticing her absence? Was it, in fact, a dream? What the hell happened to that guy who died in episode three? Then there's the ever-present player-piano, which sometimes plays recognizable songs to remind us that this is all fake, but then sometimes doesn't. Also, we know practically nothing of the outside world of the show. We've seen a few glimpses from Bernard and the photo that set off Dolores's dad, and nothing indicates that this show actually takes place in a far future. There've even been some film-technique shenanigans. In that same conversation between Ford and Dolores, Ford asks if she remembers "the man I used to be" while the camera pans behind her head. This is a classic technique for a visual reveal, but when the camera emerges on the other side, we still see Ford. Nothing has changed. Our gut-level intuitions about storytelling don't necessarily apply in this show.

Given the reported delays and reshoots, it's easy to dismiss some of this as sloppy storytelling and slap-dash editing. But it's important to keep in mind that this is the newest prestige drama from HBO, the same channel that assured us that [REDACTED] was really dead for good on Game Of Thrones. It would not surprise me at all if some of this was HBO managing the viewers, setting them up for whatever bombshell is going to drop in episode nine. And if you think about it, all of this is laid out in the opening credits--from the initial shot of moonrise over the desert (that's actually a work-light rising over a half-finished torso) to the skeleton hands playing the piano that then recede, because it's actually a player-piano (there's that damned player-piano again). The show starts at nothing-is-what-it-seems with viewers expecting to have the rug pulled out from underneath them. But I think the show has grander aspirations than just the rug--I think it wants to pull out the whole floor.

So yeah, I'm pretty sure Westworld is messing with us. If the player-piano starts playing Rains of Castamere, get ready.

PS: did you know that Westworld has an companion ARG-style website? Of course you do, we all signed up for HBO Now and got the link. Anyway, this show that's going to try to scare us in real life has all of our email addresses now, that's what I'm getting at.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Her Story

Since I'm not working on a novel right now, I took the opportunity to play through a few PC games that had been on my radar, one of which is Sam Barlow's Her Story. I have some quibbles with it, but on the whole I found it very engaging as a piece of experimental storytelling.

The premise is that you have been given access to a series of police interviews from the 90s, which feature a young British woman. You type in a search term and the database returns up to five videos with that search in it. You are prompted with the first search term: MURDER. Who died and why you are investigating a decades-old murder (a clock in the game establishes that it takes place in the present) are mysteries to be unraveled.

The fact that this is more-or-less a game-ified version of Alta Vista is interesting in itself, but the deftness of the game is in the way it guides the player towards certain revelations. The first videos that come up give you a number of details that send you chasing down details. Because the results are always chronological, and the juicier details about the story will obviously come out in later interviews, the challenge becomes finding ways to narrow your search. The character has strikingly different outfits in every interview, which helps gives the player a timeline. Since you don't get the interviewer's questions, only detached answers, everything feels a little disjointed and context-less, which adds to the puzzle element. And, of course, there are many juicy details to be revealed.

It was interesting. Not great as far as game-play is concerned, but it was a very different way to experience a story, and I enjoyed it quite a lot. But I also found it frustrating. After about two hours I had uncovered all of the relevant plot points but only about three-quarters of the videos. But the game doesn't end until you tell it you're done--at which point it will roll credits (and then give you some cheats to reveal anything you've missed). What this means is that you essentially keep playing until you are so frustrated that you have to stop. And there's a sequence of videos in the middle that seems designed to troll completionists, so a game/story that I enjoyed quite a lot left me with a bit of a sour taste in my mouth.

I must also quibble about uneven production values. There are a bruise and a tattoo that feature, and neither of them look good. The bruise is barely noticeable, and the tattoo looks fake. Considering the effort that went into recreating 90s-era video artifacts, I had to assume that the fake tattoo was supposed to look fake, and that had some story implications. It ended up being a distraction, when it was supposed to be a supporting plot element.

But I still overall liked this game, and considering the price point ($6 on Steam, but frequently discounted--in fact, it's on sale for $3 right now), I definitely recommend it.

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Below are my spoilery quibbles. Don't read them if you want to play the game and be surprised:

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS Highlight to read.

  • The fake tattoo supports the fan theory that Hannah and Eve are the same person. But nothing else does. I don't buy that theory, but it took up a lot of brain space while I looked for clues around it.
  • I've had Eve's traditional folk ballad stuck in my head for days.
  • Seriously, what the hell was up with that polygraph sequence!?
  • I got seriously confused keeping track of all the pregnancies. So when I exited and it's revealed that you're playing as Sarah, my reaction was "Wait, is she even alive?"

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Château Soleil: Final Update

Word count: 173,227

Well, it's done. For now. This phase, anyway. Still, this feels like a major accomplishment. It is the largest project I've ever completed, and I'm very happy with the result.

Next steps:

First, I'm going to put it in a drawer and forget about it for at least a week. I'm going to spend my writing time catching up on other obligations that I've let slide. Cleaning the basement. Doing alpha reading for other writers that I've gotten behind on (sorry, Steve, David). Catching up on The Daily Show. And so forth.

When I've got a comfortable distance, I'll start incorporating feedback from my own alpha readers. I've only put up eleven chapters for them so far--due mainly to crippling insecurity. But I'll go over those chapters with an eye towards fixing continuity, setting up plot elements that I haven't adequately foreshadowed, and getting the character voices to better match what they are at the end.

Then I'll compile the whole thing into a mobi file so I can read through it and take notes on my Kindle. I expect it to grow by another 10,000 to 20,000 words over the next few drafts. Just knowing the way I write and edit. I tend to skip over a lot of details in the first draft, so edits are about making the story breathe better and putting in those missing elements. For instance, I don't think I've described a single article of clothing. So that sort of thing will need to be backfilled. This will mean a final draft length of around 185,000 to 195,000 words, or between 600 and 700 pages in mass-market paperback.

I expect the title to change. Château Soleil has been a useful working title, but it doesn't really say "Sci-fi prison-break novel," does it? It'll probably end up being called something like Escape from the Sun. Less glamorous, but far more functional. Who knows? I'll workshop that.

And then I'll start submitting it. Hopefully before the end of the year. But we'll see.

So yeah, I've still got lots to do, but the first and arguably hardest part--writing the damned thing--is done.

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