Sunday, August 31, 2008

My 2008 Blog Day Recommendations

It's Blog Day 2008, and here are my five recommendations for blogs this year. I'm trying to keep the spirit of the exercise alive and well while focusing on this part of the mission statement:

    BlogDay was created with the belief that bloggers should have one day dedicated to getting to know other bloggers from other countries and areas of interest... bloggers from all over the world will post recommendations of 5 new Blogs, preferably Blogs that are different from their own culture, point of view and attitude.
Emphasis mine. So here are my five recommendations to Puppeteers. All are from different cultures, areas of interest or points of view:
  • Ace of Spades HQ - Is it a surprise that my first recommendation is a conservative American political blog? It shouldn't be. I'm not a regular reader but I've seen stories from here pop up in my RSS feeds from time to time, and it won an award last year as Best Conservative Blog, beating out Michelle Malkin. The writing still falls into some of the same political pundit pitfalls that many political blogs do, but hey, I challenge any conservatives to recommend Daily Kos.
  • Knit Jenious - I admit that I've been reading my friend Jen's blog for a while (since I've known about it, anyway) but knitting and I don't exactly go together - so I recommend you take a look if you're into it.
  • King Cricket - I'm trying like hell to learn about the ins and outs of Cricket, my current home's baseball-like sport. This blog was recommended to me by a cricket coach (!) on Twitter, and is rapidly becoming a great daily read as I try to expand my understanding of the cricket world.
  • Persian Paradox - An English-language blog written by a female Muslim from Iran. But not just any female Muslim - Masoumeh Ebtekar, the "first female Vice President of Iran" and "the spokeswoman of the students who had occupied the US Embassy during the Iran hostage crisis and ... a critic of the Taliban's oppression of women." (Source: Wikipedia). Why don't you give it a read and see if you can tear down one of your own mental stereotypes.
  • Mr. and Mrs. Smith Boutique Hotels - And to end on a lighter note, a blog devoted to boutique hotels for couples. If my subscription to this doesn't reflect my changing values as I age, nothing does.
That's it for Blog Day '08. See you next year!

Gustav Rising

Meghan, Karissa: if you're still in the area, please stay safe. Positive thoughts heading your way from London.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

John McCain Scores a Critical Hit

How could I not blog about this?

Late Monday, John McCain aide Michael Goldfarb blogs negatively about Obama supporters, saying "[i]t may be typical of the pro-Obama Dungeons & Dragons crowd to disparage a fellow countryman's memory of war from the comfort of mom's basement." Cue nerd rage as the (fairly liberal) D&D community screams 'no we're not! This is the same bullshit we've dealt with since high school when the Young Republicans made fun of us there!' (Full disclosure: many of my D&D playing friends in high school were, in fact, Republicans.) Much moaning, wailing and gnashing of teeth as real issues were ignored and one aide's flippant and Rove-esque logical fallacy takes center stage in the blogosphere.

Goldfarb later apologies (albeit on a third-party site.) He says:

    If my comments caused any harm or hurt to the hard working Americans who play Dungeons & Dragons, I apologize. This campaign is committed to increasing the strength, constitution, dexterity, intelligence, wisdom, and charisma scores of every American.
And in so doing, rolled a natural 20 for John McCain among the D&D crowd.

My mind was made up long ago, and nothing sort of Obama crawling out of his skin and claiming to be the Prince of Darkness himself would make me consider voting for a Republican. And as Seth slyly pointed out in his Google Reader notes: this is so irrelevant to actual issues facing Americans that it's almost a joke that it became a concern in the first place.

That being said, it's a hell of a case of knowing your audience and apologizing to them in their own language, and putting a human face on something that people tend to dehumanize. So credit where credit is due.

Note: never thought I'd use the 'Dungeons and Dragons' and '2008 Election' tags for the same post...

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Quote of the Day

"That's libertarians for you - anarchists who want police protection from their slaves."

- From Green Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Existentialism and Poetry

The older I get, the more French Existentialism makes sense. And inspires me. Take the following from Camus' The Myth of Sisyphus:

    Likewise and during every day of an unillustrious life, time carries us. But a moment always comes when we have to carry it. We live on the future: 'tomorrow', 'later on', 'when you have made your way', 'you will understand when you are old enough.' Such irrelevancies are wonderful, for, after all, it's a matter of dying. Yet a time comes when a man notices that he is thirty. Thus he asserts his youth. But simultaneously he situates himself in relation to time. He takes his place in it. He admits that he stands at a certain point on a curve that he acknowledges having to travel to its end. He belongs to time and, by the horror that seizes him, he recognizes his worst enemy. Tomorrow, he was longing for tomorrow, whereas everything in him ought to reject it. The revolt of the flesh is the absurd.
Emphasis mine. So I have this:

Building by Jason Mical

Stone and brick make this place
My fort.
My tree house.
This thing I cleared with a stick
and summertime persistence.

Time flows oddly here
Days in seconds
or seconds in days.
I'm eighty, wrinkled and out of breath,
I'm ten and can't sit still.

Entropy House I call it,
my carved-rock place,
where I rule as King and cannot be touched.

Speaking of entropy,
I return here more and more
The older/younger I get/feel
I don't want to waste my key after all.

A tower, a cave, an elevator to space.
A roller-coaster.
Magic it is and was, something ineffable,
Least of all by me and I'll be damned if I'm telling you.

I've never left this room,
doorless, windowless,
The way blocked by a triangle
of insecurity, fear and ennui.

Some days I am Spider-Man, climbing walls with my hands.
Some days I just am and call it good.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Live, Crowdsourced Content Creation

Stephen Sullivan, author of dozens of novels and the Origins Award-winning Podo and the Magic Shield, is hard at work on a project called Tournament of Death, a 'live-novel' written entirely during the Olympics. He's also relying heavily on user input and feedback to develop the story. For example, there's a poll on the Tournament of Death blog asking 'Things [you] want to see killed in the Tournament of Death are:' Of course I voted 'everybody' because it's a tournament of death!

Stephen's project combines two really interesting things in a way I'm not exactly sure has been done before: crowdsourcing plot points by asking community members and readers what they want to see happen and allowing them to have a real effect on the events in the novel; and a restrictive writing environment. In this case, writing only during the 2008 Olympics. It's a fabulous little experiment and the first post is pretty awesome.

Also, Stephen wrote a hell of a press release for this, which I'm going to simply copy and paste here because it's so great. I wish my clients would let me write press releases like this for them. It's a short story in and of itself.

    Tournament of Death is a special writing challenge conceived and executed by award-winning fantasy author Stephen D. Sullivan.

    The writing of the story will take place over the 16 days of the 2008 Summer Olympics.

    "I was looking at my schedule and wondering what kind of work I'd get done during those two weeks," Sullivan said. "The Olympics is kind of a holiday in our house. We love it, and we try to watch as much coverage as we can. Then it hit me: what if my work for those two weeks became connected to the games?"

    Sullivan came up with the idea of writing as he watched the Olympics and letting his work be inspired by both the games and by interaction with fans during that two-week period.

    "I haven't done any actual writing yet," Sullivan said, "though I may work on the prologue before the games begin. After that, I'll be doing one chapter of the story each day. Each chapter will be at least 1000 words long, so, at the end of the Olympiad, I'll have — at minimum — a decent-sized novella."

    The episodes will be published on Sullivan's site,, and on his blog —, and on his author page at

    "I have an idea of where I'm going with the story," he said, "and I have a few characters in mind, but there's nothing set in stone. Inspiration for writing can come from a lot of places. I know watching the Olympics will really get the creative juices flowing. I'm also interested in feedback on the concept from my readers. They'll be able to comment on my blog and send messages through my email. Once the story gets running, I'll have some lists of characters for people to vote on, too."

    Because the project will be the majority of Sullivan's work for those two weeks, he will also have a donation form set up on PayPal.

    "I'm a professional freelance writer," he said. "If I don't work, I don't get paid. So it's risky for me to devote a couple of weeks to something like this. I'm hoping the readers will support me in this experiment. And if they do, I'll write them into the story."

    Sullivan plans to have a list — a "banzuke," he called it — of people supporting the project. "There will be Bronze, Silver, and Gold levels of participation. There will be a spectator level, too, for small donations, with participants listed on the web site. Finally, there will be a Champion level, where the donor will actually be written into the story as a contestant — though I won't promise that anyone written into the story will survive."

    However, "dead" contributors will live on, when the online project becomes a printed book.

    "Though I have a small publishing house of my own, Walkabout Publishing, I will be pursuing all printing options," Sullivan said. "One way or another, Tournament of Death will be available in print and at Amazon after it's done. It'd be nice if a big publisher picks it up. We'll just have to see what the reaction is."

    Either way, Sullivan hopes to have the book out by the end of 2008.

    "Assuming I don't crash and burn," he said wryly. "There's always that possibility. Since this is a live event, it's going to be like walking a tightrope — not a lot of room for error. I hope people will tune in and see how I do."

    The live, online version of Tournament of Death will run from August 8th to 17th, 2008.
Full Disclosure: Stephen is a member of my writing group, the Alliterates, and is the editor of the Blue Kingdoms anthologies in which some of my fiction has appeared.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

959-Word Movie Review: The Dark Knight

I realize I’m doing one of the single-most boring things a person can do with a personal blog: review a film. But I just got back from The Dark Knight and I wanted to share my impressions, because films often change in my mind and I want to record exactly what I’m thinking now.

I loved it. Absolutely fucking loved it. It’s been a long, long time since I sat in a movie theater and thought, yes, I’m glad I’m seeing this in a theater because I’m having a great time. And it’s been a long, long time since I walked out of a movie theater and though that was an incredible experience.

The Beautiful Competition and I were discussing the film afterwards and I said that I liked it better than Batman Begins and probably better than any superhero movie before. True (at least, as of right now, give me a while and I’ll probably get lost in the film’s flaws.) It wasn’t a perfect movie, but is there such a thing? It was a fantastic Batman movie. I had to check to see if Jeph Loeb had anything to do with it (he didn’t.) It was a great superhero movie, and it was a fantastic film.

One of the things I like to explore both as a reader and as a writer is the way moral codes and philosophies survive at extreme conditions. Oddly enough, the best to cite about this is Elie Wiesel’s Night, a book I did not particularly enjoy but the crux of which was the very absolutist view that no morality can survive in the most extreme of conditions – in that case, the Holocaust. I’ve never thought that thesis was particularly true, except perhaps on a meta level, but lives are not lived and decisions are never made on the meta level. They are individual things. And that is exactly what The Dark Knight addresses, head on.

Spoiler Alert

Heath’s Joker is probably my favorite villain in a comic book movie, because his crusade forces Batman’s hand. At first, it seems he’s playing the same game as the rest of the mobsters that Batman’s been fighting: why else would he want to work with them, to ask for their money? But it eventually becomes clear his motivation really is, well, utterly unmotivated by anything except a desire for absolute anarchy. There’s a brilliant scene where Bruce Wayne and Alfred discuss The Joker’s motivations and how to get in his head and stop him. Bruce says that it’s easy for Batman to stop the other villains because in the end, they are motivated by money and fear. Even dyed-in-the-wool psychopaths like the Scarecrow (who makes an awesome cameo, by the way) are motivated on some level by these same sorts of things. But how does Batman deal with a criminal who is only interested in causing chaos and destruction? Something that’s more of a force of nature than a motivated human being? And is it possible to deal with someone like that in a way that allows you not to compromise your moral principles?

There’s a brilliant bit of foreshadowing, where the characters discuss the Romans and their practice of handing over power to a dictator in times of crisis. In all instances but one, the dictator (eventually, the historian in me says!) resigned his position and returned power to the Senate and People. But it only took one - Caesar – to annihilate the Republic and create the Empire. Batman cannot win his battle without a compromise, and the one he decides to make is just as interesting as the other moral situations in the film. Even better is the Prisoner’s Dilemma, which is ripped straight from Game Theory (and, I should note, Matt Mason at The Pirate’s Dilemma covered quite eloquently.) As Mason notes, that scene is where The Joker slips and where The Dark Knight truly shines as an exploration of morality in extreme conditions. The outcome of the situation (I won’t spoil the particulars) actually left me quite stunned, but in a pleasant way. And it did give Batman the chance to beat The Joker, after all!

But this complexity is the greatest pleasure I can take from a film or a book. It’s simply an abstract form of what I like so much about horror movies, specifically zombie films – which are in and of themselves just the next iteration of post-apocalypse films. It is being forced to make decisions when confronted with the absurd. The day-to-day decisions aren’t so important: decisions made when faced with the most absurd and extreme of conditions – a ferry full of prisoners and a ferry full of normal people, with each holding the other detonator; a motivationless psychopath who won’t stop killing; the dead returning to life to feast on the living – these are all things that remove a person from the norm and force them to look at things in a new way. I use the word ‘absurd’ in a loaded fashion, because it’s exactly how Neitzsche, Heidegger and specifically Camus refer to what life and meaning are in the first place: ways to deal with these extreme conditions that, in the end, are something we must make and be responsible for on our own.

[Note: I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that Harvey Dent / Two-Face actually progresses from being responsible for his decisions to his infamous coin-flipping, leaving choice and more importantly responsibility up to fate as the movie progresses. Which is really an entirely different essay, but adds a good deal of flavor and another layer of depth to the film.]

So there I am: The Dark Knight impressions. Holy freaking crap it was a good movie.

Three Word Movie Review: The Dark Knight

Holy freakin' crap!