New Books

Book Talk

I stopped in Portland yesterday during a rattling trip down I-5 to find the family, and “accidentally” wandered into Powell’s for a little while. I had been hoping to find a copy of Mary Lovell’s biography of Richard Burton, A Rage To Live (which I did), but I didn’t run for the exit quickly enough.

An hour later, my stack comprised of: the third volume of the Library of America collection of Philip K. Dick novels (because one can never not have enough copies of VALIS floating around); Dave McKean’s erotic art book, Celluloid; Michael Moorcocks’ The Chinese Agent and Modern Times 2.0; and Jean-Patrick Manchette’s Fatale. One of the recent short-term goals is to keep bookstore purchases to a stack that can be consumed within the week. It will still probably take me six months to get around to all of these; any longer and they suffer the distinct possibility of never being read.

The new McMenamins Crystal Hotel is now open, and I stayed overnight. Edgefield and the Kennedy School are still favorites, but you can’t beat the location for the Crystal Hotel. The place was filled with the typical McMenamins charm, and according to a review I noticed in the Portland Mercury, the Zeus Cafe is a step up from the typical McMenamins pub fare (having had breakfast there, I submit that the Mercury is pretty spot on).

And that’s probably the extent of my carefree vacation time this summer. Back to the word mines for me. Chapter 38 of The Mongoliad came out yesterday. After the action of the last few chapters, this one slows down a bit and dwells on characterization.

Thinking, Planning, Reading

Link-o-Rama

Link round-up today while I’m off banging out words in the catacombs.

Late last week, I dropped by the Clarion West house and entertained this year’s crop of students for a bit, doing the dog-and-pony about epublishing and urban fantasy. They were nicely attentive and didn’t roll their eyes too many times at my soap-boxing. So very kind of them. During the party, later in the evening, I learned that the fall workshop schedule had been posted. I’m doing the one in October.

Called “Jumpstart Your Novel,” it’s the six-hour version of the two-hour talk I did at Norwescon back in March. I packed the room during the con version, and we didn’t have enough time to cover all the material I had. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to do this again, both with more time and with a smaller class size. So, yes, registration is limited, and I believe it is filling up already.

Writer pal Jonathan Wood has a new book out called No Hero and it posits as its entertaining premise the question of “What would Kurt Russell do?” Plus it has all sorts of eldritch horrors. He’s serializing a story over at Geek Dad these next few weeks, and here’s a link to Case File #1 and Case File #2.

Annoyingly, there isn’t a way to get to Case File #2 from the first one. Hopefully, they’ll go back and update the first post with the subsequent links.

Speaking of posts and updating, I’ve gone and written something for DARKLINE, the other blog. A bit of ruminating on magickal systems. I have been remiss on keeping up with the esoteric studies. Many distractions offered by life, of course.

Including the fact that grass can’t be bothered to grow on its own. You have to manage it. Stupid grass. More annoyingly, the neighbor across the street who already has an immaculate lawn has decided to rip out the front edge and plant shrubbery. Most of which he accomplished in the course of a single day. Over-achiever.

Written and Read

Book Talk

I’m in that “having written” state again, lolling about and feeling like I have gotten something accomplished. Of course, it is a temporary respite as the weekly deadline continues for another thirteen weeks or so, but for a few moments, there is the lull.

The current light reading is Lars Kepler’s The Hypnotist, the latest Swedish import. Written by a pair of literary authors, I’m quite taken how much this isn’t a crime novel, while still adhering to most of the tropes. It’s not that they don’t know how to write a crime novel, the pair comes at it with such an intensity that makes everything vividly raw and fresh. In all the best crime fiction, the crime itself is somewhat beside the point and what keeps the readers entranced is the lives of those who are impacted by the crime, but these two have brought a great deal of emotional intensity to the proceedings. Everyone is falling apart, and it’s heartbreaking to watch how these little cracks in people’s relationships are ruptured into huge fissures.

I’ve also recently finished Will Thomas’ Some Danger Involved, the first of the Cyrus Barker and Thomas Llewelyn books. Victorian-era enquiry agent novels, with more than a dash of the sort of flair that a student of the Western Martial Arts will find enjoyable. Barker is enigmatic without being an ass about it; Llewelyn is a much more interesting straight man than Dr. Watson ever was; and Thomas’ love of the era is readily apparent. There’s a half-dozen more in the series on my shelf, and I’m looking forward to digging in to them.

And why is that the Internet at this Starbucks is flakey ONLY in this chair by the window? I will never understand this. Nor will I learn, apparently.

Design Death via The Monster Truck Minigame

Video Games

One of the aspects of my job is to think about video game design, which has made playing game work instead of play. Not entirely a bad thing, really, as there was a period of my life where getting Achievement Hunter carved into my tombstone was a life goal. However, when you start paying attention to design, bad design can really sour your experience. Case in point: Duke Nukem Forever.

Somewhere in the first half hour, you have to pick up a little remote control device and pilot a tiny monster truck around a room, knock over some obstacles, and drive it along a series of shelves until you can push a energy core off a shelf and out the slot at the bottom of wall panel. Your basic time-suck of a puzzle. The problem was that you were navigating this truck around the edges of a square room on a narrow track from a fixed point, the truck’s navigation was somewhat squishy, and if you fell off, you’d have to start all over.

You could not move forward in the game until you solved this puzzle.

To this point, also, all I’ve done is wander around the kitchen–emptying out the dishwasher–while laborious cutscenes have been playing, practicing pushing the ‘X’ button to interact with objects and incrementally–very incrementally–increase my EGO level. I had, in the previous room, finally be allowed to pick up a weapon.

A half hour. And I’ve barely been able to shoot any aliens. And now I’m stuck driving this damn truck with shitty steering around a room that I can’t rotate a view on to ensure that I’ve the wheels pointed in the right direction.

After the truck fell off the shelves about the 8th time, I quit the game, popped out the disc, and put it back in the sleeve to go back to the rental company. Thanks, Gearbox. FAIL.

Which is too bad. Gearbox did Borderlands a few years ago, and I enjoyed that immensely. Bought it on a couple of platforms actually. Still pull it out once in a while. Because the design is invisible. You get into the thick of things immediately, and it is fun. It revels in how much fun it offers you.

Duke is DOA, in my opinion.

Coffee Talk, Sorkin-style

Making Things Up

Some days, you simply need to take a break and do something lighter. As I’ve been trawling through the old Sports Night scripts recently, blowing up something to Aaron Sorkin levels of inanity seemed light enough.

SCENE: Starbucks. Emmett and Griff are seated in the comfy chairs at the back. A single beverage sits on the end table between them.

Emmett: When your barista asks for your name for the cup and then puts an exclamation point after it, it’s not because the next person in line is supposed to make it extra hot. Right?

Griff: An exclamation point?

Emmett: [shows him the cup, which has “Emmett!” written on it]

Griff: I’ve never seen that. I’ve seen actual degrees listed before but never a bang.

Emmett: She put an exclamation point after my name.

Griff: A bang.

Emmett: Right. A bang!

Griff: After your name.

Emmett: That’s what it says.

Griff: Why would she do that?

Emmett: That’s what I’m asking.

Griff: An exclamation point is a bang. So I wouldn’t say ‘bang’ twice.

Griff: Both “!” and “bang.”

Emmett: Why wouldn’t you say bang twice? Is that “!!” then?

Griff: No

Emmett: It’s right there. After my name!

Griff: I see it. But I wouldn’t say it twice.

Emmett: Of course, you wouldn’t. You’d say it once.

Griff: Maybe it’s a factorial . . .

Emmett: But why would you say it all when you’re writing someone’s name on a cup?

Griff: . . . and not a bang.

Emmett: It’s not a factorial.

Geoff: It could be a factorial.

Emmett: She’s not inviting me to do math with her.

Griff: She could be. If it is a factorial, then you wouldn’t have to say it twice.

Emmett: I wouldn’t have to say it twice anyway. Besides, I used my Gold Card, because I don’t want to do math.

Griff: “Bang!” There. I said it twice.

Emmett: And I didn’t ask for a receipt either.  Because I’m the type of guy who says, “Not only do I not want you to to do math; I’m not bothered by the math either.” And then she put an exclamation point after my name. Bang! (beat) Shit. Bang. No “!”

Griff: Because you don’t like math, or because it was a factorial?

Emmett: There’s no math involved

Griff: If you say so. There could be.

Emmett: There wasn’t.

Griff: So . . . how was it?

Emmett: What?

Griff: The coffee? Was it hot?

Emmett: Too hot. It needs to cool.

Griff: You shouldn’t have asked for it extra hot.

Emmett: I didn’t.

Griff: Why else would she put the bang on it then?

[Hat tip to old pal G. for playing the comic foil in the genesis of this.]