Tuesday, April 29, 2008

First Light Chronicles: Starfree Port

The first draft is finished.

I'm starting on the second draft and as I do so it's pretty plain that this book has gone from novella to novel. The only other thing I can tell you about the story is that there's an ending.

Does that mean that it's the end of the First Light Chronicles? No.

From the beginning I wrote this series just like I would a television show. The first book, Freeground, was written like a television pilot. The second, Limbo, was written like a pair of episodes and if you read the book with that in mind you can even pick out where one episode ends and the second begins. The third book, Starfree Port, is written like three episodes. Put all three books together and you get a six part mini-series. Will I redraft all three into teleplays some day? Almost certainly, but only after I finish all the other books in the hopper (looks to the right of this post at the list of books to come...).

My point is that the third installment of the series; Starfree Port, certainly has an ending, an ending I love, an ending I wrote a dozen times in my head before I started typing the first book. This could have come at the end of this book, or it could have come at the end of the tenth book. As it turns out this ending fits right where it is, in the third book. I'm not going to tell you anything else about the plot, I just hope you all enjoy it as much as you have the first two.

Back to work I go!


Monday, April 28, 2008

World of Warcraft: Come for the Game, Stay For Your Gnomies

Or something like that.

Some time ago, I posted about leaving World of Warcraft for good. As it happens I just couldn't stay away.

I didn't return because of some terrible gaming addiction, or because subliminal messages built into the game and advertising media sucked me back in, or even because Gnome Females really know how to shake it. Though, the latter of the three factors rings true.

I returned for the same reason some people keep going back to the same cafe, why you play racketball every Saturday with the same partner even though he kicks your ass every time, for the same reason the mighty buffalo migrates north and south. Okay, not so much for the same reason as the last example, I'm not even certain Buffalo migrate. I returned because time and distance didn't diminish how much I missed a handful of people I had gotten to know over the last two or three years. I missed the voices on Ventrilo (a voice chat program), the long conversations that had nothing to do with the game, the clever word play and group activities.

So, back I went, and this time I find that there's more of a balance between 'The Three W's' as I've come to call them; Writing, Work and WoW. The friends I had once again neglected when I walked away were there with open arms to my utter amazement, and yup, they're just as enjoyable to talk with as I remember.

My tale is one that seems to be repeating. Guilds that stick together long enough are becoming a sort of secondary family unit, where we all get so used to hearing from everyone that when one goes missing for even a couple of days it gets noticed, a niche is empty, a chair around the virtual table is vacant. That can cause in game problems, but with tighter units (like the guild I've known for quite a while now), the absence is really felt. I know I miss at least one person who isn't signing on anymore, it's like losing touch with an old friend even though we never met in person.

With ten million subscribers (damn, that's a lot of people), WoW has given birth to thousands of virtual villages, some of which are marked with a guild name, others by server names and all tied together with bonds of friendship over virtual space. Does this kind of thing matter in the real world? Sure it does! I have friends locally, they're busy, intelligent people who I rarely get a chance to hang out with because I too am a busy fellow, especially these days. The friends I have online are intelligent and busy as well, but they can squeeze a little WoW time in here and there, and through that and a couple years we became friends. They know me almost as well as some of my local friends do, see me more often at times as well.

To make a long story short, it seems, at least by my experience, that online friends are just as valid to some people as local friends.

The world isn't shrinking, I don't believe it's a 'small world after all' (Disney just made five bucks, dammit). It still takes for bloody ever to get somewhere on the bus, a plane ticket is still expensive, and webcams, microphones or digital avatars still don't give you the feeling that you're right there. You could even argue that the world is expanding, with participants in digital environments like Second Life owning digital real estate and making a real living in virtual stores. The real long term human point here is that we're getting used to all these intellectual and emotional distance closers and that, I think, makes the entire personal computer revolution worth it.

See you in the lands of Azeroth.


[Edit]: Randolph plays Deih on the Feathermoon Server. The avatar is named after a character in his first self published novel; Fate Cycle: Sins of the Past.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Snow White and the Four Nerds.

Snow White and the Four Nerds is what I've started calling it, but it's more commonly known as The Big Bang Theory, a television show that is made to appeal to nerds and the people who love them. It's important to note that it's also meant for everyone else under 45.

The show is here on my blog because it's my favorite situation comedy. I've waited at least 13 episodes to write reviews on any television show, or at least tried to restrain myself until then, and for this show the time has come. Let's dive in.

The way the show is written more addresses pop culture tech and leisure than four guys who are wrapped up in science. They have Halo Nights, collect nerdy memorabelia, have highly skilled technical jobs, and are all jacked in to the latest nerd news. If those geeky qualifiers were all there was to this show then I wouldn't have to tune in, I'd just go call a friend or two for half an hour, since they're pretty much into all the same stuff. Thankfully there's a lot more to it.

The writers have managed to build basic backstories about at least two of the main characters being tenured geniuses in College and more detailed character histories that have a very long trail of social awkwarness. Most true nerds can relate to this, while the non-nerds who were more well adjusted during High School can have a harmless laugh.

The most important thing about the writing is the dialogue, and no situation comedy can survive without wit, unique characterization and charm. The actors on the show have great timing, and we already know a few of them from other successful situation comedies (Rosanne, 8 Simple Rules For Dating My Teenage Daughter). The characters speak pretty much like any other educated person in North America with a smattering of techno babble and science fiction/fantasy analogies artfully thrown in, but there's not so much that it clogs our ears or to sends us to wikipedia to look up obscure events in science fiction entertainment. It's a difficult line to walk, how do you make this foursome sound like the geek genius who lives down the street without alienating your non-nerd audience? It's an art, and they pull it off very well. Maybe it's just me, but I have at least one laugh out loud moment per show. (Or LOL, even a ROFLMAO for those of you who are more accustomed to interweb sp33k).

Last but not least; we have Penny. She's the lovely non-nerd neighbor who lives just down the hall from our two main characters and through some writing magic she's become friends with the four nerds, even the one who can't speak to women unless he's been drinking likes her. With her in the mix we start seeing some delightful sit-com cliche's, and it's a lot of fun. One of the Nerds has a High Schoolish crush on her and isn't willing to tell her, she often exposes the four nerds to 'what the hip kids are doing these days' and joins in on the nerdy exploits in her own way unless she's the target of their attentions. How our four nerds react to her and her strange habits/fascinations/friends/ (which are actually things that 'normal' folks are into), is a key point of the show, it forces the characters to deal with someone who has a completely different perspective and is still willing to make an effort to just hang out with them because at the heart of it, these four nerds are just nice guys (except for Sheldon, the least well adjusted of the foursome).

This is a great formula for a situation comedy, one that could keep us laughing for several years. Sadly, I predict type casting and cast issues if it becomes too popular, which is a shame because everyone working on this show is fantastic. I hope they remain a happy television circle of friends and the cast remains just as pleased with what they're doing, because I might just start a letter campaign if they ever decided to cancel this half hour of nerdy laugh along bliss. Maybe I'll send dismembered action figures as a protest item...


Sadly there are some people who watch this show and ask themselves; "why is this funny?" For these people I respond; "Sorry, I got nothin' for ya, head on back to camp." [Translation: Go watch another episode of Survivor N00b! LOL!]

Monday, April 14, 2008

RIP Carpoolers 2007-2008, and Other Shows That Didn't Make It.

I haven't spoken of this concept before, it was just too early. You had to get to know me a little, realize that I'm generally a nice, sane person who has some long sighted dreams and short sighted notions.

Now that you've gotten to know me a bit, it's time to reveal a shocking idea I firmly believe in. I believe that television shows should get at least half a season, more if at all possible, to find an audience and become a staple in a network's lineup. It doesn't count if the network changes the time slot every couple episiodes. I know, it's shocking, we can get through it.

On to what I'm really here to write about. Carpoolers. Not the energy savvy, vehicle sharing commuters, but the television show. The series is about four professionals who carpool, each show begins with them, yes; carpooling. They sing along with a random song on the radio, their air guitar and percussion skills barely contained by their sensible cars.

The show also features members of their family, including puritain and real estate agent wives, and most notably a deeply neurotic son named Marmeduke. He's my favorite character. Every episode features a bit with him and at least another family member. This is a formula show and it's a good one. Ahh, formula shows, when they're bad they're terrible. When they're good (like this one), they tend to be hilarious, improving after a season or two. Friends, Gilligan's Island, and Cheers were formula shows and they kept us entertained for decades.

Much like those other shows, Carpoolers is getting funnier as time goes on. The best episode so far was the 10th which focused on handicapped parking and karma. Sadly, ABC doesn't seem very interested in renewing Carpoolers. Like everything else, they're blaming it on the writer's strike. Frankly, that's cheap.

What it really comes down to is a network seeing a chance to cut and run from a series that they never really dedicated themselves to. The advertising was sparse, a lot of people never even heard of it, and frankly they only ever ordered half a season. I wish I could tell you that there was a way to effectively campaign for the return of the show but with the Networks playing the 'The writer's strike did it!' card, they don't feel accountable. The best way to support the show is to watch a rerun if you see one on television, then talk about it online in a visible forum (such as on ABC.com). It might not change anything, but it's a fair effort.

As of this posting here is a list of confirmed cancellations: Cavemen, Eli Stone, Big Shots, The 4400, Anchorwoman, The Dead Zone, Journeyman, On The Lot, The Showbiz Show with David Spade, Traveler, Bionic Woman, Extras, Girlfriends, Jericho, K-Ville, Las Vegas, Life Is Wild, Nashville, Online Nation, Quarterlife, Welcome To The Captain, The Wire.

Keep in mind, this list does not include television shows that were not renewed, or ended as part of a creative decision. Examples of these shows include Life on Mars and Battlestar Galactica that are both going straight to DVD after their last episodes air. In the case of both of these series the show runners wanted to end things strong so the fans would have a solid set of episodes and a good story line to enjoy.

I'm sure that the networks aren't finished shielding themselves behind the writer's strike excuse, just as I'm sure that some of these shows were cancelled because they actually were terrible. Regardless, I'd love to see the networks put some faith behind a few series and actually run them for a whole season, let's face it, not every show finds it's audience right away.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Project Moo Revealed

There's this short non fiction book that I wrote between First Light Chronicles: Freeground and Limbo, called The Call Center Survival Guide.

It was code named Project Moo as a gag between the editor and myself, partially because I had no idea if it was any good, and partially for other inside joke reasons.

Now, it took a while, because very intelligent people are generally very busy people, thus my editor is a very busy person, but she managed to take a look at it and the verdict is in.

It's a go, I'll be giving it some more attention after I've finished the third installment of the First Light Chronicles and writing the last two chapters. After that it'll be edited and put into print. It's already been picked through legally, so there is no risk of me being fired for writing or publishing it, and frankly there are actually a number of helpful points and suggestions between the covers.

I'm glad that there's something new on the way to the shelves, but more importantly I'm glad it's a useful piece of nonfiction. If this helps anyone who is looking to work in, or is working in a call center then it was worth writing. There will be more on this as we move through the slow steps of final writing, editing then printing.


Wednesday, April 9, 2008

A Glance Into The Mist

Recently I've been taking time to watch a few movies after work, just to wind down from all the voices. By voices I mean the calls that come in where I work, Teletech, a customer care center.

Anyway, movies are a great way for me to unwind, escape and let it all go. The next morning I wake up and I'm ready to write. Putting my cleansing ritual aside, the most notable movie I've seen in a little while was The Mist.

Originally a short story in a collection of short stories by Stephen King called Skeleton Crew, which I remember reading as a teenager back when I was writing and reading more horror than most people would consider healthy. If you can find a copy of that collection, and you like horror, I highly recommend it.

The movie was a good adaptation, with enough suspense, tension and just a few characters that you love to hate. There's a key point in the story where I nearly stood and cheered during a character interaction.

There are some damn good bits in this film. If you enjoy a simple horror movie that moves very smoothly from point A to point B with a few sharp surprises and great moments, go find a copy of this film and watch it with someone who won't talk all the way through it.