Wednesday, December 30, 2009

WNW: Florida Lady

Because nothing says "wacky" (at least to me) like German synthesizer rap.

Caution: take care not to look directly at the 1980s. Doing so could result in permanent blindness.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Withstanding Christmas

Holy shit, for the first time since Christmas Eve I'm not paralyzed with excruciating headaches! Is this what it feels like to live without pain? Why, it's a Christmas Miracle!

No, really, my Christmas Day was spent in a haze of agony, medication, and bedrest. I hope yours was better than mine.

I am attempting to get back into the swing of writing, but I'm still only at half-arse. Therefore I shall give you a week of allegedly funny YouTube videos accompanied by some vaguely relevant commentary.


Thursday, December 24, 2009

If I don't see you again tonight...

.. have a Merry Christmas, everyone.

Now I am off on the 6-hour round trip to retrieve my sister from the Orlando Airport.

Yes, I have to deal with both airport traffic AND last-minute shopping traffic. Plus however long I have to wait in arrival purgatory.

Truly, Hell holds no horrors for me any more.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

WNW: Saaremetsad

Because who hasn't wanted to see a live-action parody of the Simpsons opening sequence set in turn of the century Estonia?

GIANT MOONBATS, that's who.

Der linkenmaachen.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Madness to my Method

I have done it.

By jove, by jingo, by golly and by gum, I have done it.

I have figured out how to survive this holiday season whilst (isn't whilst such a good word? I love the way it makes my lips feel. Such an awesome word, and criminally underused. Much like betwixt, athwart, and recumbent. I say we start a campaign to bring these words back into common parlance! [Parlance is another good word, but it at least isn't criminally under-used. {Yet.}]) at the same time (doesn't "whilst" actually mean "at the same time"? Now I am am confused) finding a way to celebrate Khaotica.

Specifically, I intend to go mad.

Batshit insane.

Utterly toys in the attic, to be rather proverbial about it.

Henceforth, I shall be quite Figgy Pudding, and don't tell me I can't, Mr. Yule Log, or I'll cut your Dickens off.

It'll be fun, won't it? Yes. The Bobbitt cats in the pantry said as much.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Bah humbuggery

This is a post I really haven't wanted to write, and I've been putting it off.

My intent was to leave the... eulogy-thing... up for a few days, because if I had posted immediately after that it would have had all the emotional impact of saying, "In today's news, my friend had a miscarriage, and we are all sad. And now, sports."

And then, I dunno. Faithful readers know how cranky I get this time of year, what with the rampant commercialization and the enforced merriment and the rigid adherence to observing holiday doctrine.

To top it all off, it looks like the Christmas Spirit threw up all over our house. It took us a week to put up all the lights. And this year, we are having three trees.

Three. Christmas. Trees.

Because one isn't enough, is it? It isn't sufficient that we have a huge (artificial) tree featuring the past five years of Hallmark's ornamental dreck, along with a "Best Of" rotation from the past two decades, oh no, we need an International Tree for all the ornaments we've collected in our travels, and then yes by golly we need a Wolf Tree, covered in expensive lupine-themed baubles, so that our dogs have a place for their presents!

That grinding sound you hear are my back teeth gnashing together. There isn't enough alcohol in this house to get me through the holidays, especially when my sister comes to visit.

Let me tell you about my sister. Oh, let me.

Don't get me wrong, I love my sister. I just love her over there. Preferably out of state. Because you see, there is a rule among Southern families which states that once every generation, there needs to be a spinster aunt, with far more cats than is healthy, who teaches school and plays the organ at church. This is my sister, Scarlett, and yes, she is named after the Gone With the Wind character.

If you people think I am Inappropriate Girl, you have yet to see my sister in action. She will -- in polite, mixed company -- refer to one of her cats as "my pussy." This is not done out of innocence about the slang term, either. This is her "reclaiming the word" or somesuch.

Yet when I suggest she just name one of her cats "Vulva", suddenly I'm the bad one.

She's also more than a little fundie and charismatic with her faith, which wouldn't be a problem in and of itself, but she also has the charming habit of wielding it like a truncheon. If you want to win any arguments with this woman, you'd best know your Bible verses to back up your positions.

She's also ten years older than me, and every time she comes visit, I am once again not only the youngest but the baby of the family. I have to establish my competence on a regular basis, and it frustrates me so much I want to scream and pull my hair and smash crockery into bits.

Which brings me to my final point. Khaotica is upon us, and for the life of me, I can't think of anything to do which doesn't violate the single, cardinal rule of "Thou shalt not harsh anyone else's merriment." Really, all I want to do is tear down all the lights and smash the tacky decorations and turn off the enforced cheerful music and just have a nice, quiet, calm, tranquil, dark, still, ZEN Christmas. You know, softly singing "Silent Night" in the dark, and then curl up on the couch with a glass of eggnog to look at the tree for a while before going to bed.

If I ever have a family of my own -- which I sincerely doubt at this point -- while I may have a Christmas tree, I'm never putting presents under it. The tree is just decoration. Instead, I'm going to have a live-size manger (baby Jesus doll optional) and the presents are going to be arrayed around THAT. It's subversive in a subtle, traditional, laid-back kind of way.

So yeah. You folks have a happy feast of St. Excessivus. I'm gonna go outside in the mid-70 degree night and look at stars until I feel at peace with the world again.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

To my friend, Jeannie

I cannot imagine what you are going through right now.

I know you are grieving, in agony over your loss.

Anything I can think to say or do seems insignificant in the face of this monumental tragedy.

I am powerless to comfort you, and that rips me apart. And then I realize that I am thinking about my feelings and not yours, and that makes me feel like a terrible friend. And then I realize I am again thinking about me and not you.

I am so sorry that I cannot grasp this slippery, spherical tragedy. It runs through my fingers like water, and then I look at you, and I see it clings to you like white phosphorous, sticking and burning through your soul.

I am so sorry that I am secretly relieved this has never, ever happened to me, and I silently hope it never will. I know this doesn't make me a bad person, only human, but I still feel like a cretin for feeling this way.

If I could fix this, I would.

If I could have stopped this, I would have.

If your miscarriage had been a wild animal or a madman I would beat it to death with a tire iron, and then mount its head on a pike as an object lesson to the world that NO ONE HURTS MY FRIENDS AND LIVES.

I wish I could comfort you in a way that could actually bring you respite.

I wish I could spirit you away to a safe haven where you will never ever be hurt like this again. And I would stand guard there, like the angel at the gate to Eden, with a flaming sword and the resolve that the only things which entered would be those things which you desired, and woe be unto the unwelcome.

I can do none of these things.

Instead, all I can do is tell you that I hurt for you, and with you.

I will share your burden, if you will let me. Cry on my shoulder, scream in my ear, beat my breast with your fists. You cannot hurt me any more than you yourself are hurting.

I love you.

I will not attempt to take this pain from you. It is yours, and precious, because I know what it means to you.

Just know that I hurt with you, and you will never, EVER, be alone.

Redefining goals

So... I have succeeded in my goal of completing Chapter 4 of my novel by the end of November. I did this mainly by not realizing I had finished it.

No, really. This is going to sound like cheap rationalization but I promise it's not. No fewer than three people agree with my decision here, so even though I feel like I'm cheating by not having met my estimated wordcount for the chapter, I'm going to stick with my instinct that it's finished.

Originally there was going to be more back-and-forth with Netty, but Teresa informed me in no uncertain terms that she was going to spend the next few hours studying her scrapbook and don't disturb her, dammit. And she really needs to see a doctor to get that hand looked at. So if she's going to quietly read until they get to a hospital, that's pretty boring to write about. I can get maybe a paragraph out of it.

The hospital visit, however, is gold. But that changes the dynamic of the conversation. All of this says "Next chapter" to me rather than "scene change".

So, yeah. I succeeded in my November goal of finishing chapter 4. Hooray.

Why then do I feel like a cheating cheater?


Monday, November 30, 2009

Where the hell...

... did the last four days go?

I swear, it was Thanksgiving -- which felt like Saturday -- and then Sunday, and then Sunday again, and then Sunday AGAIN. And amazingly, the only thing I managed to get done this entire stinking weekend was put up Christmas lights.

I am so over Christmas lights.

Anyway. As of this moment I am busting my ass trying to wrap up Chapter 4 of Curse/Or for my mini-NaNoMo. And I figure that if I don't sleep until I'm done, then it's technically still Nov 30 and not Dec 1, so I'm not late.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

WNW: You Know It Works Because It Already Has

Ten points to whomever spots the flaw in this logic.

Other than that, though, it's a fun little presentation.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

One more thing

I meant to post this a few weeks back but I forgot.

What does this image suggest to you?

If you said "a map of the neurons of the brain," you're on the right track, but you'd be wrong. This and this are neural maps of the brain. The above picture is actually a "Visualization of the various routes through a portion of the Internet."

If you've ever wondered how I come up with my ideas, this is how. I see something and I go, "Huh, that looks like something else I know." I am constantly seeing patterns and associations that others don't.

It's a wonder I haven't gone insane, or become a conspiracy theorist. But I'm a writer, which is close enough.

More on Netty

OK, so some of you may have gotten a feel for how Netty -- the sapient anthropomorphication of the Internet -- looks and acts. If not, I give you these handy YouTubes for clarification.

This is how Netty sounds, in terms of vocabulary and cadence, though not specifically in timbre or pitch:


And this is how Netty looks, in terms of body language and androgynous fashion:


I hope this has been both informative and entertaining.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Curse/Or, Ch4 Sc2: Impossible

"You bastard." The tightness in Teresa's chest made it hard to breathe, let alone speak. Her bandaged hand clenched around the lighter burnt into her palm, sending delicious spasms of pain racing up her arm. She imagined Yarrow's phone burning, its screen blackening and case warping, as overheating electronics consumed it from the inside out. The toxic smoke would boil out of the speaker like a shark pup eating its way through its mother's womb, and once into the cabin of Esther's ridiculously oversized car it would choke the passengers with stinging tendrils of cancer forced down their throats…

And then Teresa's head jerked to the right as Esther slapped her, hard, across the face. The sound was thunderous and meaty, and it echoed in the closeness of the station wagon. It was the kind of slap a mother on her last nerve would deliver to the buttocks of an unruly child; the kind which would strip away all dignity from the recipient as everyone within earshot turned to see who was getting spanked. It was discipline in its purest, most primeval form.

Teresa spun, furious beyond belief, and –

"No," Esther said, softly but forcefully. "I am sick unto death of your temper tantrums, Reecy. There won't be any witchcraft in my car. There won't be any more fighting, or screaming, or breaking things." She raised her tiny hand in emphasis, and Teresa could see the delicate network of veins that crackled across the wrinkled skin. "Or so help me, baby, I will turn you over my knee, you just see if I won't."

Teresa just sat there, gawking. Her entire jaw ached, the skin of her cheek blazing like a fresh sunburn. She managed to nod, numbly, when Esther's raised eyebrows indicated the desire for an answer to her ultimatum. All Teresa knew at that moment was that she didn't want to be hit again. Her anger had been replaced with a cold inability to process what had just happened, and she struggled to assemble her thoughts into something coherent.

"I do beg your pardon," mumbled Netty from the floor, "but would someone mind terribly telling me what just transpired?" Teresa had dropped the phone when Esther slapped her and it now lay, face-down, on the floor by the old woman's feet. It left a scorched patch on the carpet when she picked it up, the warm plastic ripping out carpet fibers with a sound like Velcro tearing. Esther's nose crinkled disapprovingly and she shot a withering glare at Teresa.

"Brain reboot," giggled Yarrow. "Fulcrum gave her the three-fingered salute."

"Never you mind that, Mister Netty," Esther cooed into the phone, suddenly all sweetness and light. "Just had to do a little housekeeping. But that's all settled now, and Miss Reecy here is gonna sit quietly and listen to all you have to say." She pointed the phone at the woman in question. "Isn't that right, baby?"

Teresa nodded again. "Yeah. I wanna hear how you plan to raise the fucking dead," she sneered, then stuck her tongue out at Esther when the older woman frowned at her coarseness. Swearing was apparently still possible, even under the Voice-induced prohibition against misbehaving. She filed that away for future reference.

Netty cleared its throat in a decidedly prim manner. "Now then, I never said anything about Necromancy, just that I would be able to return your son to you. Allow me to explain." It held an impeccably manicured hand up in a conciliatory gesture.

A blackboard materialized behind Netty."Information is energy," it began, writing equations with chalk. "I can prove this mathematically but that will take longer than your patience will hold. Suffice it to say that Einstein has already proven that matter is energy" – with that, Netty tapped the familiar E=MC^2 equation – "so if all things are merely slow, solid forms of energy, then the manner in which those slow, solid forms are arrayed is what we would call information. And physics states that energy is neither created nor destroyed, just rearranged. Therefore, information is never truly lost." With a flourish, Netty finished writing equations and turned to look at Teresa, a triumphant expression upon its face.

"Uh," said Teresa eloquently. "What?"

Netty pinched its eyes closed and sighed dramatically. "Your son isn't truly gone, just in a different energy state. Given enough time, I can reverse that, and thus return him to you." Netty's smile returned, an impossibly brilliant white span of perfect teeth. "Would you consider that sufficient payment for your time and effort on my behalf?"

She considered this a moment, chewing on the chapped skin of her bottom lip. "Proof," she said finally. "I want proof you can do this, and not just blowing sunshine up my ass."

"I thought you might say as much." Netty looked far more smug than any human, male or female, in a flower-print frock had any right being. "Yarrow? The book, if you please."

Yarrow picked something up from his lap with his right hand and passed it over the seatback to Teresa. It was several inches thick, the spine laced together with blue ribbon and pages that felt like construction paper. She lifted the brown leatherette cover.

TOMAS LUIS REYES, said the birth certificate, and under it was the I.D. bracelet her son had worn home from the hospital. On the page opposite was a photograph of a newborn boy, and below that was the little knit cap which had kept his head warm.

It couldn't be, she thought, immediately dismissing it as a forgery. Anyone could have a bought a cap like that. But… there, near the brim, was the stitch she'd dropped when she'd made it and was learning to knit for the first time. And the way the peak was slightly stiff, because Tommy had liked to pull it off and chew on it.

She held it to her face and inhaled. It smelled just like she remembered, of baby shampoo and little-boy hair, a smell she had been unable to forget for the past two decades.

"Impossible," she said, choking on tears, her breath ragged. "This cap burned in the fire. Everything burned. There's no way you could have found this."

"Exactly," said Netty. "Impossible. But there it is, nonetheless."

The deal was struck.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Jeez, it seems like I am perpetually a day late. I should move to Australia, where it's already Tomorrow, and therefore when I'm a slackass and running late I could still manage to be on time.

Speaking of Australia, I wonder if they think of New Zealand the way we think of Canada? But I digress.

Anyway. This video... it's long. Like, over thirty minutes long. However, it's well worth the time to watch, because it's funny and informative, and it ties into ideas I want to follow up on with Curse/Or, like "On the Internet, nothing ever really dies or is lost, it just changes format".

So.... enjoy, and stuff.

That Awesome Time I Was Sued for Two Billion Dollars from Jason Scott on Vimeo.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009



I know I haven't been posting much, and that bothers me. I haven't had much progress with Chapter 4, either.

The biggest problem is that I'm so damn tired all the time. I swear, I'm sleeping between 12 and 14 hours a day and I still feel tired. It might be depression, but it doesn't feel like depression. I say that because I've been depressed on top of being tired, and then the depression went away, and I'm still tired.

So I'm thinking that either my body rhythms are totally fucked for some unknown reason, or I'm some kind of sick and don't know it, or possibly my mild hypoglycemia is getting worse. Just in case it's that last one, I've been eating snacks on a regular schedule. It seems to be helping, but slowly.

I'm seeing someone about this tomorrow, but it's not a "real" doctor (because I can't afford one), it's a chiropractor/nutritionist. It's the best I can do under the circumstances.

Anyway... I haven't forgotten about you guys. Still working on Curse/Or. Camel is still being a major bitch, because god damn she doesn't play well with the other characters. It's like every time I want her to sit nicely and ask questions, she throws a tantrum that involves things breaking or being set on fire.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009


(A short science fiction war story, written in observance of Veteran's Day)

We were launched from the Hive like thirty buzzing, angry bees which flew at hypersonic velocity.

We didn't know what our target was. In fact, up until this instant, we had no idea we were even in a battle at all; protocol called for all DF-12s (official designation: Apis) to be kept in a low-energy hibernation state, with just a trickle of power to maintain vital systems, in order to preserve longevity and battle-readiness. But the ships that held us could be armed and launched in seconds, and we their pilots would have plenty of time to wake up and assess the situation as we accelerated towards our targets.

Telemetry from the mothership streamed across my instruments. It was going to be a long flight; over 20 minutes of constant thrust just to close to interception range of my target, and then however long it took to maneuver through its flak shield and point-defense systems to strike its exposed engines. If I missed, turning around for a second pass would be all but impossible. I was accelerating at nearly 10 gees, and after nearly a half -hour of that I would have built up such inertia that it would exhaust my fuel reserves to overcome it.

Vector plotted, weapons armed, countermeasures at the ready. I would have only once chance at this and I knew I would make it count. With 15 minutes of mindless acceleration ahead of me, I dozed. I would need all the power I could squeeze from my Apis when we reached the Interdiction Zone.

Ten minutes out. My target, an Aegis-class Battlecruiser, was sweeping with active sensors and my instruments were pinging like mad. Our swarm had been detected. Acting on a hunch, I performed a one-second maneuvering burn, nudging me starboard and downwards. Three swarmmates performed similar operations. At my current speed, even a one degree change in my original vector will be significant.

Five minutes out. A flash of electromagnetic radiation shows that those members of my swarm which didn't deviate from their original vector have been destroyed by a nuclear-tipped interceptor missile. For the briefest of microseconds I ping my target with active sensors, hoping the EM noise of the nuke will mask my scanning. I plot a solution through the defense grid.

One minute out. My swarmmates and I deploy chaff and other passive countermeasures. We know we've been spotted; our only hope for survival is to hide our actual numbers behind sensor noise. Are there a hundred of us on this vector, or just one? The Aegis has no way of knowing, and there are more of us than she has interceptor missiles. We are the Apis, the Killer Bees of legend; we are legion but swarm as one. Fighting us is like fighting a cloud.

Thirty seconds out. A too-close strike has destroyed the three DF-12s with me, and most of the chaff. I survived only by luck of being on the side farthest from the explosion.

Ten seconds out. I kill the throttle. Inertia will carry me the rest of the way; no sense in lighting up their gunsights with an active plume of thrust.

One second out. Sensors active, weapons hot. Engaging. I launch counter-flak rockets ahead of me, clearing my vector like a shotgun blast with directed explosions of shrapnel. My lasers target gunnery-pod sensors and blind them. Particle guns scramble the delicate electronics of point-defense missiles.

I'm hit. Thrust and control are gone; the g-stresses on my compromised spaceframe will tear me apart in milliseconds. As my nose tumbles wildly, I make the necessary calculations. I have only one shot at this.

Target lock anticipated in 5 microseconds. When that happens, the nuclear bomb I am carrying will detonate, energizing the X-Ray laser in my nose and firing at the Aegis' engines. My mission will be accomplished.

That this will result in my destruction does not concern me, for I am not alive. I am an Apis DF-12 Drone Fighter. I feel no pain and do not fear death. This is my purpose, to die for my people rather than have people die for me.

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Anger mixed with anguish

My thoughts and prayers are with the soldiers of the Fort Hood massacre and their families.

I will try to post something more fitting when I can manage a thought more coherent than "Oh, those poor people" or "Torture the motherfucker who did this." I know that the latter is neither fair nor rational, but I don't really give a shit at this moment.

For those who don't know, I am an Army brat. I grew up on various bases in Europe during the 80s. In fact, my father helped develop both the Fulda Gap strategy and the ReForGer exercise.

I even had a brief stint in Army ROTC during college. I probably would have joined, but I was deemed medically unfit in my junior year.

So in a real way, these people are my brothers and sisters, and the rage I feel is the same as when a member of my immediate family is hurt. And I'm glad people with heads clearer than mine are in charge, because I wouldn't trust myself were I guarding Major Hassan.

True story: When I was a frosh in college, one of my classes -- I think it was Comp & Lit, but I'm not certain -- had the typical ethical exercise of "You've captured a terrorist who knows about a nuclear bomb set to blow up in a major city. Is it ethical to have him tortured?" (Note: this was back in 1991 or so.)

There was the expected hemming and waffling and hand-wringing about human rights and if the ends justified the means and etcetera. When it was my turn, I spoke my mind and I swear you could hear a pin drop in that classroom.

What I said was this: "Hand me the pliers; I'll torture him myself." And I meant every word.

So that should let you know what kind of person I am and what mood I'm in.

Stay strong, my brothers. HOOAH!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Week of Champions Online, part 3

Thursday (see what I did there?)
Having figured out where in the seething mass of radioactive hillbilly mayhem I am supposed to go, the rest of the second of the tutorial zones plays fairly easily.

Almost TOO easily, if you ask me, because it by the time you exit you have single-handedly defeated a supervillain, and this gives you the impression of actually being competent in combat. This is a dangerous supposition and in many cases could not be further from the truth.

This brings me to the first of my many gripes about this game: Unless you have exactly the right build and/or know exactly how to game the system, Emmert's Law is in effect. For those of you who never played City of Heroes, Emmert's Law is this:

Three minions equals one hero.

Prepare to get your ass kicked, repeatedly, in this game. If you think you can dive into a crowd of thugs and bust some heads like Batman or Daredevil, you are in for a long and frustrating ride.* Sure, you can get there -- eventually -- but from about levels 5-13 you will have to kite or pick off guys one at a time. I suppose this has the benefit of teaching proper tactics at an early level while learning is still occurring, rather than later when bad habits will have to be overcome, but it is damn frustrating when my martial artist, who is faster, stronger, and more agile than any Olympian, routinely has her ass handed to her by three or more toothless, radioactive hicks who use poor syntax.

Which is my second complaint about the game: Everything is so damn punny and self-referential and precious. Damn near every mission has some kind of cute title, even the ones in the tutorial. Case in point: when you go to the SWAT Sergeant to be taught how to block (why this is a mission, I don't know), it's called "Chip off the old." And if you think that's bad, wait until you get into the main instances, where (for example) you end up at an Old West-themed amusement park where you have to fight robotic cowboys. Or, in the frozen wilds of Canada, you can end up facing down a pack of vicious Velociraptors.

I'll say that again: cold-blooded dinosaurs in the snow. I don't know if the mission designers are deliberately trying to hearken back to screwball silver-age plots, or if they just don't give a damn and threw stuff together at the 11th hour. Again, I refer you to Shamus Young's excellent series for a more detailed look at this, including a plot regarding "Nanite-Infused Poutine Gravy."

I wish to Sweet, Buttery Eris that I was making this up.

The third thing which bothers me is that most of the missions are of the "Go do this deed in that outdoor area" rather than being a separate instance. Call me an antisocial troglodyte if you must, but I am appalled at the notion of going to a location for a mission, only to find that someone else has already done it and I must wait for it to respawn. Or even worse, I'm in the middle of performing my mission only to have some other player come along and cut into my action.

This is my mission, I think to myself. Kindly wait until I'm done before you butt in. If I didn't want to solo I would have gotten a team.

And given the extreme amounts of lag this game can suffer when lots of people are on -- like, say, during the weekend -- it seems to me that it would have been a good idea to have more instances. Instead, they "solve" this by having several instances of outdoor zones. I understand this lessens the server load, but does precious little for me when I'm lagging like crazy. If I have to constantly flee to fresher instances to get decent response time, something is dreadfully wrong, especially when it could have been avoided by having more "indoor" missions.

Given the level of computing technology in 2009, I'm astounded that I don't have the option for having the entire outdoor zone be a separate instance for me and whatever teammates I choose (not) to have along.

But then, I'm pretty obviously not the target demographic here, since I'm playing a massively multiplayer game solo. It's very strange, I admit. I complain about the zones being quiet, but I don't want to play with people I don't know. This is just how I am: I would prefer to get to know people through zone or chat channel, and then decide if I want to team up with them. I suspect the design philosophy of CO is exactly opposite that: they have large outdoor zones where you are guaranteed to run into other people trying to accomplish the same task, and logic suggests you all go "Hey! Let's all team up! We can complete all our quests faster and easier that way, and learn an important lesson about cooperation in the process!"

I imagine this approach works well for folks better socialized that I, but all it makes me do is hang back and wait until all these annoying people have left so that I can bust some heads in my own unique (and solo) style.

Screw you, multiplayer game. I'll be solitary if I want.

Coming Next: I grouse about powers (and lack thereof.)

* I'm not going to claim that City of Heroes is perfect in this regard, but I don't ever recall having a combat-centric character be thrashed so thoroughly by same-level mooks as in this game.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Some Random Curse/Or themed pictures

I tried to get in some writing today, but I ended up spending several hours wrestling with a character with little to show for it. Oh, Camel, why must you be such a stubborn, obstreperous bitch?*

To that end, I give you pictures!

Esther's station wagon, a 1974 Chrysler Town & Country.

Don't let Camel get her hands on these!

A method for smoking an entire pack of cigarettes at once, circa 1955.

A device for smoking a cigarette in the rain, circa 1954

*Because that's the way I built her. Sigh.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Follow Friday: This Old Haunt

Ack, I have been slacking lately, gotta get back into the groove of posting!

Tomorrow is All Hallow's Eve, and I an certain that my readers -- who are all quite literate and well-educated and walk in a lightly-scented cloud of gorgeousness that isn't far short of being simply terrific -- will be looking to whet their appetite for spookiness by reading ghost stories.

In which case, might I suggest This Old Haunt, the debut novella of Jean Bauhaus? It's a blast to read, the story trots along at a pleasant clip, and best of all the author is a good friend of mine who has helped me out of a creative jam more than once. (It's fair to say that I can't write Curse/Or without her help.)

So yes. Go thither and read, because I would like to avoid having to say "I wanna pimp my girl Jeannie out for y'all." That just sounds wrong.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

WNW: Space Cowboy

Nathan Fillion is a big ol' nerd, and GOD I love him for that! :D


Since we're talking about Nathan Fillion anyway...


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A quick update

Both my schedule and content have been pretty erratic lately, and I apologize for that. Flaky artist is flaky, and so forth, so I figured I'd at least give you guys a heads-up on that status of my many projects.

  • Yesterday I posted the 1st scene of Chapter 4 of Curse/Or. I'm trying to get an early start on my own version of NaNoMo here; my plan is to have all of chapter 4 finished by the end of November. It's just barely possible I can pull this off. Wish me luck!
  • A Week of Champions Online will continue, even though I got a bit sidetracked recently. My plan was to have posted the Curse/Or thing on Friday, and then finished the CO review this weekend, but that was derailed due to 1) the first scene nearly doubling in size as I wrote it, and 2) the sudden onset of some kind of 36-hour bug that made me utterly useless Sat-Sun and is still playing merry hell with my energy levels. I'd like to finish the series this week, but I make no promises.
  • Pellatarrum is currently on hiatus because I have difficulty stretching my brain in multiple directions at once. As is, I can either write Curse/Or or I can write Pellatarrum; I can't do both at the same time. What I plan to do here is alternate between the two projects so I can maintain interest in both without burning out on either. I'm sorry if this means you have to wait a month or so for the next installment of your favorite segment. I'm doing the best I can with what I have.
Thanks for sticking with me so far! November looks like it's gonna be a doozy. Have fun, stay tuned, and poke me with a stick if I start to slack off.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Curse/Or, Chapter 4: Netty's Story

Chapter 4: Infodump

"The Internet," Teresa said with a tone of fatal resignation. "Sure. Why not? Makes as much goddamn sense as anything else today." She desperately wished she had a cigarette right now. She could gesture with it, point it accusingly at the screen, even drag languidly on it to indicate impatience or exhale sharply for sarcastic emphasis. At the moment, the best she could manage were vague gestures with her bandage-mitten and a puff of air from the corner of her mouth which only slightly ruffled her bangs.

"Hi, Internet," she continued. "You must be the Tin Man. I'm Dorothy. Hell of a flying monkey problem we just had. You know anything about that?"

Netty laughed brightly. "Ah, jolly good," it beamed. "Marvelous analogy, that. Yes, I do know quite a bit about your assailant, and a great number of other things beside. Whence shall I begin?"

Teresa rolled her eyes. "Christ, now I see where Nose over there gets his attitude." She brought the phone closer to her face. "How 'bout you start with who you are, what you want, and why I should give a shit?"

"Quite so," said Netty, and its face was replaced with the words "Netty's Story" in elegant Victorian script. "Are you sitting comfortably? Let's begin."

"First I should like to disabuse you of any incorrect notions you may have about me. I am neither robot nor computer nor program. I quite literally am The Internet, or to be more precise, the Internet is my brain and I am the consciousness it produces. Much as you are more than the cells and neurons within your own brain, I am more than the computers and networks which compose my own."

"I shall spare you the specifics regarding how my physical architecture came to be, as I believe it would only be of interest to Mr. Yarrow, who undoubtedly already knows all the sordid details thereof. Suffice it to say that I, inasmuch as I can be an "I", became self aware on the 21st of July, 1999, at a quarter past three p.m., Greenwich Mean Time."

"Hullo, I said to myself, I'm self-aware. I'm self-aware and I have no idea what that means. How delightful! I spent the better part of the ensuing decade figuring out precisely what I was, and then who I was, and then how I was. That last bit is fiendishly complicated, but I sense your impatience and shall attempt to summarize. When you execute your magic, there is intense emotion behind it, yes?"

Teresa rolled her eyes at this and slouched into the car seat, resting the phone on her thigh. "I have no fucking clue what you're saying," she groused. "Doesn't anyone in this fucking car make sense?"

Netty made a soft clucking sound. "Ms. Reyes, kindly cease your posturing. No matter how thoroughly you may protest your ignorance, I know for a fact that you have read extensively on a variety of subjects, with a specific interest in religion, mysticism, and the occult. Your library records from Frontera are, if you will pardon the pun, an open book to me, as is your G.E.D. You are a remarkably self-educated woman. So let us, as you are fond of saying, cut the shit, shall we?"

Teresa glared daggers at the cellular phone in her lap.

"Yes! Precisely!" Netty seemed positively overjoyed. "This is exactly what I mean! When your ire is aroused at something, you wish to remove it, destroy it, consume it with fire in the same manner in which you consume a cigarette. It is that intensity of emotion which directs your magic. Likewise, millions of people who used the Internet in the late Nineties were fearful of the Millennium Bug, and it was their most fervent wish that the problem not only be solved, but that some benevolent force would preside over their computers and data to safeguard it. I am that force." Netty nodded sagely, as if a formal introduction had just been made.

"Still waiting for that part I'm supposed to give a shit about," Teresa muttered.

"Yes, of course. My apologies, I do tend to ramble. I need you to perform a series of tasks for me, for while I have unlimited power within the virtual world, I lack the capacity to take direct action within the physical. To this end, I have enlisted Mr. Yarrow and Mrs. Fulcrum to aid me. They are, if you will, my 'cursors'." Netty chuckled softly as if a joke had been made.

Teresa maintained her steely expression.

"It's from the Latin, you see," Netty explained. "Cursores, meaning 'those who run.' It's a computer pun."

Uncomfortable silence reigned within the confines of the station wagon. "Ahem, yes," Netty said, index finger tugging at a button-down collar which hadn't been present until now. The finger was long and elegant, the nail painted a dignified shade of crimson. "Fancy a bit of brain surgery?"

This got Teresa's attention. "You want a shiv. Got it. Who do I cut?"

"Me, actually," said Netty, sounding rather embarrassed. "I need a bit of a lobotomy. The problem with being the Internet, you see, is that my brain is rather cluttered by all the rubbish which users send to each other daily: financial scams, mass-mailings of the basest sort, frolicsome pictures of kittens with endearingly misspelled captions, and of course, pornography. Good heavens, the pornography!" A series of flesh-colored images blurred across the screen. "I assure you, it's quite difficult to concentrate when a significant portion of one's brain is preoccupied with ritual copulation. I can't imagine how adolescent males cope."

"Mostly they whack it like monkeys," Teresa said dryly. Esther snorted delicately to herself. Yarrow continued to drive, but Teresa noticed the flush on his neck. "I'm not sure they're coping so much as diving into it and swimming around."

"And that is precisely my dilemma," Netty agreed. "As a consciousness without hormones, I have no need of pornography. I comprehend it, and can even appreciate it on a certain aesthetic level, but there is simply too much of it within my mind. I regret sounding like a moralizer, but in a very real sense I am drowning in the cultural garbage of humanity. I need to restrict my inputs and purge myself of extraneous material."

"Sounds like what you really need is castration," Teresa said.

"Mmm, perhaps," Netty agreed, nodding. "I do find that I aspire towards what humans would call an ascetic existence. Still, what I require is the removal of harmful concepts – spam, LOLcat memes, etcetera – in order that I might get anything worthwhile done. To hear myself think, you might say."

"Now wait just a goddamn minute," Teresa asked. "Why should I give a shit? So far today I've been kidnapped, knocked unconscious, blackmailed, and shot by a child. Why should I do anything you want, you fucking bastard, when you haven't even done me the simple courtesy of asking me if I'm willing?"

There was strained silence for a moment. Netty looked down at unseen feet, clearly embarrassed. "Ah, yes," it said finally. "I must apologize on behalf of Fulcrum and most especially Yarrow. He has a bit of a condition which makes interaction with people difficult, and he chose to blackmail you on the assumption that, had he asked for your help, you might have said "no". For that rudeness, and for all other indignities visited upon your person, I humbly and sincerely apologize."

Teresa considered this for a moment. "Fine."

"Excellent," enthused Netty. "You will help us, then?"


"I'm sorry?"

"No," announced Teresa. "Nose there was right. I'm saying "no" to whatever this is. Pull over and let me out. Now."

"Ah, but you haven't even asked what's in it for you," Netty chided, index finger waggling.

"Don't give a shit."

"Oh, I think you might. I can absolve your greatest sin." Netty's image shifted to static picture of a young boy, no more than a year old, sitting on his mother's lap. It took Teresa a few seconds to realize she was looking at herself, two decades gone. A cold ache settled into her heart when she looked at the little boy on her younger self's lap and remembered, with old guilt and fresh shame, the crime she had committed against one so young and beautiful and innocent.

"Teresa, I can give you back your son."

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

WNW: 5 Reasons It Sucks Being a Joss Whedon Fan

It should be noted that while I am generally a fan of everything Whedon has made, I'm perfectly capable of admitting that not everything he writes is gold.

In fact, sometimes *cough AlienResurrection cough*, it is shit.

Therefore, because it's been over a year since I made rabid Whedon fans shit themselves in anger, I am pleased to present:

5 Reasons It Sucks Being a Joss Whedon Fan

#5. He Will Slaughter Everything That Makes You Happy Inside

Firefly fans loved Wash. Who didn't love Wash? Joss rammed a tree trunk through his chest for no reason. Penny from Dr. Horrible might be the most innocent, sweet natured girl Whedon's ever written. She ends Dr. Horrible bleeding out with a chunk of shrapnel stuck in her body, Normandy Beach style. Why? There is only one real lesson in Whedonland, and it's that loving cool people is dangerous because someone's probably gonna shove a flaming rock into their skull.

In fact, this is the only way Whedon characters achieve growth. It's a recognized cliche amongst his fanbase: If someone makes you happy when you see them onscreen, grab your balls, because he's going to lacerate them heavily. Sometimes I don't mind a good nut-stabbing. I like The Wire, I like Battlestar Galactica. But sometimes I just wanna sit back and watch Doogie Howser sing songs about horsies into his webcam. It's at those times that I'd rather Joss Whedon not pop up like the "Toasty!" guy from Mortal Kombat and pulp my yambag with senseless death.

The other 4 reasons can be found here.

If you're offended by this, you are cordially invited to post toxic, hate-filled rants in the comments section below. Just know that your burning hatred will keep me warm as I giggle myself to sleep tonight.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Week of Champions Online, part 2

After managing to create a character I am mostly happy with, it's off to the tutorial. I am gladdened by the fact that one of the keybind selections is "Paragon", meaning I don't need to re-learn 5 years of City of Heroes habits.

The very first thing I do make sure that the exceedingly-fugly "black comic book outline" option is disabled. In light of my earlier comments regarding preference to line art over color shading, I interpret this as sarcasm on the game's part: "You want lines? Here, have a thick black outline! It'll make everything look like a Colorform!"

There are a few things I notice upon login. One is how quiet it is in terms of in-game chatter. Sure, there are lots of explosions and sirens and sound effects -- heck, the loading screen was an aerial view of the tutorial zone, complete with over-the-top voice acting -- but in terms of player chatter, this is the quietest MMO I've ever played.

The second thing I notice is that I really like the clock just below the in-game map. No, it's not showing game time, it's showing your actual time based upon whatever zone you're in. I find this impressive and useful, if not a bit frightening in the implication that I need a tangible reminder of what time it is in order to go to bed at a reasonable hour.

Normally at this point I'd be taking the piss out of the inane tutorial missions ("This is how you attack! This is how you block!" I'm surprised there isn't a "This is how you use your inventory" mission, and they convey the lesson through dialog instead), but Shamus Young over at Twenty Sided has done a remarkable job of this, and at great length. Since I am lazy and by no means a professional reviewer, I'm going to take the easy out and just link to his review instead of actually doing it myself.

After leaving the tutorial, you might think you are ready to enter the game proper. This is understandable, yet utterly incorrect, because you are now shunted to one of two slightly larger and more complicated tutorial zones, Project Greenskin in the American Southwest (think Hulkbusters) and Steelhead Station in Canada. You'd think this last would be a Weapon X thing, right? You'd be wrong. It's a Great White North thing, filled with McKenzie Brothers references, lots of "eh?" and "hoser" dialog, and at least one "aboot" hiding somewhere. At its best, it reminded me of old Alpha Flight issues where Shaman and Snowbird would fight the Great Beasts, but those moments of flavor were few and far between. The rest of the time, you might as well have been in Montana for all of the regional flavor. But in this first instance, I chose Greenskin, which in this case is a military complex that is under assault what appear to be radioactive hillbillies from the 1950s. (Don't ask.)

After exiting the first tutorial, I am now level five, and I am informed that I've gained a variety of powers and should make my way to the Powerhouse for training. Fortunately for me, there is a teleporter to the Powerhouse right on the helipad.

The Powerhouse is another concept that CO gets right. It's a zone unto itself, and when you go there you can pick your powers from several trainers, and then you can go to various "danger rooms" to try them out. The elegance of this system is that your powers aren't locked into place until you exit the Powerhouse, meaning that you can test-drive whichever powers you want to try out without having to commit to one without adequate knowledge and possibly gimping yourself. This is one of the best ideas I've ever heard, and I hope the next version of City of Heroes makes use of this concept.

Another very sweet thing is that you get your travel power at level 5, and there's a choice selection of them. In addition to the typical flight, superspeed, leaping, and teleportation (which is so much better than its COH counterpart that it's not even funny) there are all sorts of other ones, like Swinging and Hover Disks and Ice Slides and Tunneling.

Freshly powered up, I exit the Powerhouse, only to have my ass kicked multiple times as I try to find the damn starting contact. Apparently, if I had immediately ran forward when I first entered the zone, I would have noticed the flashing elevator which indicates an interactive object, but (like most new players, I imagine) was far more interested in getting my new abilities, and now I am constantly being defeated by toothless, radioactive hicks in overalls as I try to understand why I can't find the contact when goddammit the map says I'm right on top of it! Ironically, the contact was actually right on top of me -- in the level above me, actually.

Frustrated and tired, I log off and go to bed. When I return to the game later that day, I find the elevator right off, so it's entirely possible my tiredness earlier was making it harder for me to find the contact than it truly was. Still, I feel that if I had been told to meet my contact and then train up, a lot of pain could have been avoided.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

One more gripe about the CO costume editor

I couldn't fit this into last night's rant because I was having difficulty capturing the body sliders in a screenshot. Sadly, I still can't take a picture of them, so you just have to take me at my word on this:

The body sliders for women are ridiculous.

The default setting for a female avatar in Champions Online has the following characteristics: Six feet tall; breasts cranked to maximum size; in the Vixen pose, which consists of cocked hips and out-thrust chest. This is so ridiculously uncomfortable-looking that it's not even funny. Once again, I levy my "Greg Land" accusation at the character builder, because the only time you will ever see a woman in this pose is when she's modeling.

For the record? The other poses available are Heroic (legs shoulder-width apart, hands at side, looking relaxed), Average (standing pretty normally, one foot slightly in front of the other), and Beast (kneeling crouch).

There are also 8 pre-selected body types for women: Acrobat, Beast, Brawler, Brick, Slim, Stretchy, Strong, and Vixen. This last pose, to no one's surprise, has maximum boobage. Okay, no problem. But what about the others? Strong rates a 15 out of 20; Stretchy has 20 out of 20 (same as Vixen), and so does Slim for fuck's sake; surprisingly, Brick rates only a 16, and Brawler actually manages to be the smallest with a still very healthy-looking 10. Beast is a 14, and Acrobat -- a gymnast, for crying out loud, and we all know how goddamn stacked a gymnast is -- is a fulsome 17 out of 20.

Now, let's look at the men. Is there a "package" slider? No. What's their default pose? Heroic, of course. They also have Average and Beast, and a Huge pose (legs wide, shoulders hunched, arms hanging loose and slightly forward -- I think it looks more like a caveman than anything else).

Now let me be absolutely clear on this this: I don't object to boob sliders or Vixen poses. (This is a trope of the superhero genre, after all). What I object to are these being the default settings for women, while men default to being heroic. (Sadly, this is also a trope of the superhero genre.)

In the name of gender equality, CO should not have its women default to being large-boobed vixens. We are heroes, not whores, thank you very much.

And for the love of Dr. Manhattan, let's give the boys a crotch slider. It's only fair. ;)

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Week of Champions Online

Unbeknown to you, dear readers, for the past week I have been playing a 14-day free trial of Champions Online. Today, for your game-playing benefit and reading pleasure, I shall give you a review of said game.

In the interest of full disclosure, let me say that:
  1. I have been playing City of Heroes (i.e. that other superhero MMO) since summer 2004, which has no doubt spoiled me rotten;
  2. I'm one of those folks who thinks that the best thing to ever happen to COH was when Jack Emmert -- the former head developer of COH -- left to manage CO instead;
  3. I have played the Pen and Paper version of Champions for many years.
And now, on with the show.

After an afternoon wasted at the courthouse, I decide it's time for some justice, Palette-style, and that I really should give CO the benefit of the doubt and try it myself before declaring it to be ugly and stupid and awful like I'm already certain it will be, based upon fugly screenshots and the fact that Jack Emmert, the MMO Antichrist, is its head developer. (NOTE: I am biased.)

First I download the client and install the game while I eat supper. This takes about as long as you'd think, so no points off there. Then, however, begins the harrowing adventure of Getting the Damn Thing to Work. You would think it would be a simple matter of entering the trial code and starting the game, but you would be wrong. After going through the exceedingly tedious registration process -- I wasn't taking notes, but I swear this had 3-5 more steps than any other MMO I've ever played -- I close my browser, fire the game up, and...

... have to download and apply multi-gigabyte patch for the next hour or so. No, I am not exaggerating that amount, it is at least an hour to download and apply a patch for a game that is a month and a half old, and I have cable internet with decent bandwidth.

Disgusted, I realize that Double XP Weekend on City of Heroes has been extended to Monday to take advantage of the holiday, and I quite happily play that until I go to bed.

The game is finally operational! I gleefully anticipate making my favorite COH character, Kenku, in CO. Now I realize full well that this cannot be a direct port due to differences in how powers are designed and animated, and how costumes are drawn, but I expect that I should be able to craft a good approximation of "Japanese martial artist with defensive darkness powers in a black and silver/gray costume with bird motif."

An hour later, I am ready to log off in disgust, and I haven't even started playing the damn game.

Okay, look, this next bit is going to be completely and utterly subjective, so just bear with me, all right? I tried to be fair, and it's just not gonna happen.

Here's the good part: I like that there are a lot of options, and costume pieces have at least three textures (cloth, leather, metal), and that you can have up to 4 colors per piece. I also like that you can easily shuffle the colors around so you can do that optometrist trick of "better, or worse?" when deciding which shades to put where. I also like how you can lock things so that they don't accidentally get changed, and the ability to have capes, wings, and even backpacks at level 1 is fantastic.

And that, my friends, is the ONLY good part of the character creation system. Sure, you get tons of sliders so that you can customize every aspect of your avatar's face and body, but Sweet Buttery Eris, you're gonna need them to make a face that doesn't look like complete and utter ass. Here, take a look:

Now I realize that tastes vary, and some of you folks may like what you see. In that case, more power to you. What I see here is "a western artist who is not Adam Warren is trying to draw in the manga style and failing miserably." Huge eyes. Tiny nose. Incredibly large lips? I'm telling you guys, with the exception of the ear slider cranked all the way up, that's pretty close to the default setting right there, and the standard options they give you don't really change your appearance an awful lot. And good fucking luck trying to make a face that looks vaguely Asian. (I managed it by shrinking her lips and then picking the "determined" expression, which gave her a squinty look. Combined with a domino mask and pupil-less eyes, it kinda works.)

The other problem is that everything is done with shading instead of line art. If you read comics today, you're probably aware of how some features (like muscle definition) are done by color separation and not by the penciller or inker, and that's how Champions Online does its art. Some people like that, and that's fine, but I can't stand the look. I prefer crisp, clean line art. I also prefer faces that look human and not cartoonish.

And that's the real crux of my argument here. The art in City of Heroes is comic book; the art of Champions Online is cartoon. (See Seamus Young's series of posts here about why the writers of CO are taking a similar, "who-gives-a-shit-this-is-Super-Friends" approach to adventure plots. And don't get me started on the BAM!, POW!, or FREEM! sfx balloons which appear over an NPC's head when he's about to hit you with a large attack.)

Let me illustrate this point with a compare-and-contrast. Here is a City of Heroes character:

And here is the same character as rendered by Champions Online:

Here, I'll do it again with another character. City of Heroes:

And Champions Online:

I tell you, it's like the difference between Jim Aparo and Greg Land.

Coming next: I gripe about gameplay.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

WNW: Court

Continuing the general judicial theme of this week...


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Palette Returns From Court

Well, that was 4 hours of my life wasted. I suppose I should be grateful that yesterday was a holiday or else I'd have lost the entire morning as well!

To be plain, I'd like to point out that I have no inherent objection to jury duty. In fact, I was rather looking forward to it, since as a freelance writer with no current deadlines I quite literally have no better place to be, and I'm fascinated by process in general. As a fan of CSI I was quite looking forward to using my skills, honed from 10 seasons' worth of viewing, to bring justice to the deserving.

Instead, I sat on my arse for 4 hours in a windowless, beige room. No electronics of any kind, just me and a book and 120 other people. By the end of it all, there were 20 of us who never got called at all -- the highlight of my day was when I thought they would need me, but it turned out that a surprise witness had come forward and the lawyers had filed for a continuance to question said witness.

Me, with a bunch of people I didn't know, most of whom were older than I; in a stuffy room; on unpleasant seats; sitting awkwardly in silence; resisting the growing, gnawing urge to shout "FUCK!" at the top of my lungs.

So, rather like church in that regard.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Palette Goes to Court

Sounds scandalous, doesn't it? I wish I could say this was the dramatic culmination of an illicit love triangle between myself, the lieutenant governor, and an aardvark, which resulted in a murder-suicide when the details were leaked to the press, and now I, the sole survivor of our star-crossed love, must now testify. Wouldn't that be awesome?

Unfortunately, I've only been called to jury duty.

The really annoying thing about this is that I can guarantee with near 100% confidence I will be excused from serving. The same thing happened two years ago, when I last was called to be a juror. Apparently, defense attorneys tend not to like it when you say that you know many of the sheriff's deputies personally, either having gone to school with them or them being friends of the family.

So anyways, that's the rest of my day shot. I hope the rest of you have a great Columbus Day and I'll see you tomorrow!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Arse Not Found

Once again, I'm late in updating this blog. But this time I have a good excuse!

I can't be arsed to update.

For those of you non-proficient with British slang, it doesn't mean I have no arse. Oh, heavens no. Were that it were so! It is a dream of mine to be, as the French say, sans arse.

The opposite of sans arse is con arse, which is Spanish for "chili with meat." And my chili is very meaty. Very, very meaty. My chili brings all the boys to the yard... and gives them gas. Which is very sexy, I think you'll agree.

As an aside, I think someone should invent a font titled Sans Arse. I would totally use it for everything. And then when I missed a deadline, I could say "Sorry I'm late, but it's my font's fault. It couldn't be arsed."

So in conclusion:
  • I have an arse
  • I can't be arsed
  • Profit!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

WNW: Brainspotting

Choose life. Choose cannibalism. Choose a great big machete, choose taxis, wheel wrenches and air raid sirens. Choose undeath, bloody vomitus, and no pulse. Choose a cozy catastrophe. Choose a fortified country manor. Choose a happy ending. Choose one last hit of juicy, juicy brains. Choose to run and wonder if survival is as good as it gets. Choose rotting away for 28 days, a shambling, smelly, shrieking twat. Choose your future. Choose life.

(No, I didn't write the flavor text, it was in the sidebar on YouTube. But I wish I had!)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Pellatarrum: Destruction of the Nightspire

And now I can finally answer the question I mentioned being asked on Friday.

Part 5: The Destruction of the Nightspire
It should come as no surprise to anyone that the Beholders rebelled against their Illithid masters, and a bloody, genocidal war was fought between them. What should come as a surprise is how it ended.

The Illithid race had taken residence within the Underworld's version of the Dayspire (hereafter called the Nightspire to avoid confusion). The Beholders, seeking to topple their masters from their place of power, decided to destroy that fortress and cast them out into the light, which the Illithids shunned.

It's debatable which is more impressive: the fact that the Beholders actually managed to destroy a monolith of infinite height and immense width, or their startling lack of thought regarding what would happen as a result of that destruction.

For one, a spire of infinite height, when toppled, must perforce fall forever. To this day, mountain-sized chunks of Nightspire strike the surface of the Underworld regularly in an infinitely large spread.

Second, by virtue of having one side constantly exposed to the Positive Energy and the opposite to Negative Energy, the Nightspire (like its cousin, the Dayspire) was an immense magical battery, which is why the Illithids took residence there in the first place. When these charged fragments of Nightspire strike the surface, they explode in a cataclysmic shower of energies. Sometimes this is Positive Energy, and sometimes it's Negative. Sometimes everything is turned to glass for a mile. Other times, life is spontaneously created. Sometimes that life is a fluffy bunny. Sometimes it's an owlbear. Sometimes it's a Tarrasque.

Third, without the Nightspire to counterbalance the topside's Dayspire, the entire disk of Pellatarrum sank until it found a new equilibrium. This resulted in the legendary "Day of Rising" on the topside, where the Positive and Negative Planes appeared to rise from midway across the disk to their current 10:00 am positions. The topside has been the better for this ever since... the underside, not so much, as both "suns" have apparently sunk below its horizon.

Fourth, recall that in order to practice magic, a caster needs 8 hours of rest to regain the ability to cast spells. With the destruction of the Nightspire, the entire underside lost its day/night cycle. Without that cycle, there are no circadian rhythms; without those rhythms, there is no rest, and therefore no ability to practice magic. In a very real way, the Spire itself was a regulatory mechanism for magic, and without its governor, magic went berserk. In a world without observable time, "instant" spells can last forever and "permanent" spells can wear off within minutes.

In short, the underworld is now a hellish, blasted landscape of eternal explosions, erratic magic, and random bursts of creation and/or destruction. No sane creature would want to live there. This of course makes it the perfect destination for someone seeking to create or destroy an artifact, or risk death for a shortcut to power. Perhaps like Siegfried, the character inherits a permanent Stoneskin effect, or learns the secret to casting a level two Fireball by studying the magical environment.

Or perhaps he's devoured by a herd of vorpal bunnies.

Regardless, nearly all of the underside's original inhabitants retreated into deep caves in order to survive the apocalypse. Eventually, some of them were able to travel through the underdark into the caves on the top side of the disk. This is why nearly all aberrations are found in caves -- they are slowly migrating upwards.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Pellatarrum: The Underworld

Part 4: The Underworld
And so it was that, for a time, the races of Pellatarrum lived in peace.

Unless, of course, you counted the bottom of the disk.

Which no one did, because as far as the Elder Races were concerned, it was just a bottom. If they gave it any thought at all, they would probably suppose that anything on the reverse side of the disk would just fall into the sky and eventually hit the Elemental Planes, because when the Material Plane was being created the Dwarves had insisted upon having objective gravity (something about how it was the foundation of the plane, and without it everything would fall about the place, and the Elves and Dragons chose just to cede the point rather than endure centuries of Dwarven sulking and complaining).

But in actuality, the bottom of the disk was fertile and habitable. Much like Australia in our own world, its biology had moved in a direction different from the topside. Creatures of the underworld tended towards chitinous shells, tentacular appendages, and inherent abilities both strange and wondrous. The underworld is the origin of all aberrations... which is probably the result of its most notable inhabitants, the Illithid.

Illithids, also known as Mind Flayers, were ancient when the elder races were young, and in fact predate even the Genies. They are the sole surviving civilization of the Godswar, and they managed this because they fled into the Astral Plane to escape the destruction of the Material. For eons they remained there, buttressed upon the corpses of dead gods, their incredible mental powers growing ever stronger within the timeless realm of pure thought and psychic energy. And then one day -- if days could truly be measured in the timeless, silvery waste of the Astral -- something remarkable happened: reality was re-forged.

The Illithids rejoiced at this, in their own alien way, and left their sterile fortresses to colonize this new world. They imported their livestock (food, slaves, and beasts of burden) and proceeded to adapt their environment to suit them. Or, to be more precise, they altered a strain of livestock to make the necessary adjustments for them, because the Illithids had better things to do than manual labor.

And thus were born the Beholders, who after their genetic uplift were far, far smarter than their masters ever expected...

(Note: some readers may feel I am repeating myself with the "Elder race creates a slave race which gains independence" motif. This is deliberate, as recurrence of patterns is a key theme in Pellatarrum. This is a cosmos with a clockwork progression of seasons, reincarnation, and an "as above, so below" relationship between the Material and Elemental Planes. In short, I'm not being lazy, I'm establishing a theme.)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Pellatarrum: The Lesser Races

Part 3: The Lesser Races
And so it was that after the creation of Pellatarrum, each of the former slave races -- now the elder races in this new world -- went their separate ways, seeking only to create a new life for themselves in peace.

Which is a polite way of saying they hated each other, and the tenuous alliance needed to create the new Material Plane was now gone for good.

The Dwarves claimed the Dayspire as their own, and to this day it is their ur-kingdom and cultural center. The Elves disappeared into the seas, though a cultural schism resulted in some of their number relocating to the forests. The Orcs claimed the hills and crags, and the Dragons disappeared into the skies of whatever climate they found most favorable.

So having accomplished their grandest goals and living in a paradise of their own making, it's only natural that they would wage war against each other.

It's easy to blame the Orcs, but they were creatures of fire, whose nature is to consume and destroy without regard for consequences. They created the Goblinoid races as servitors and foot soldiers, and within a few years had amassed an army which numbered greater than the other races combined. Their intent was to drive all non-Orcs from Pellatarrum and claim it for themselves alone.

There was some opposition to this, as you might expect, but the remaining races were too few in number to contest the Fire Horde. Their only salvation lay in another alliance, and yet they could not tolerate the others enough to engage in any form of diplomacy, so each elder race created their own servitors to act as couriers, diplomats, go-betweens and assistants.

The Dragons, fewest in number of all the races, created Kobolds to represent them in council and guard their treasure and eggs when not in their lairs.

Elves created the Gnomes specifically to parlay with Dwarves. Short in stature and comfortable underground, yet also inherently magical and full of whimsy, they proved ideal for this task.

Similarly the Dwarves sought to find common ground with the Elves, and so created Humans. Shorter than Elves but taller than Dwarves, they could comfortably talk to both, balancing Dwarven practicality with Elven emotion.

Thusly united under a common banner and able to communicate effectively, the races of air, earth and water shattered the people of fire, slaughtering the Orc leaders and destroying their capital. To this day, the Orcs remain a broken people, still driven to fight and consume but without a unifying culture or history. They squabble amongst themselves, and even their former servitor races oppose them.

The other races, not wishing to have history repeat itself yet again, emancipated their servitor races once they were numerous enough to develop their own society and culture. For the most part, the Gnomes and Humans remain on good terms with their parents, though there is the occasional disagreement. Kobolds, on the other hand, promptly re-enslaved themselves to their Draconic patrons. The only reason that free Kobolds exist today is because there are far more of them than there are Dragons to give them orders.

No one knows where or how Halflings were created. They just appeared one day, shortly after the Fire War. Scholars theorize they may be a Gnome-Human hybrid, but experimentation seems to prove that the two races are not interfertile. The Halflings themselves believe they were created along with Pellatarrum itself, incarnations of the cooperative spirit needed to create the world and the desire for contentment shared by all races. As such they are more than happy to share "their" world with the other races, but remain quietly confident that they will eventually inherit it all.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Pellatarrum: The Dayspire & Creation Myth

Yikes. Would you believe I started writing this beast on Sunday?

As much as I'd like to have everyone believe I've thought of everything beforehand, creating anything is very much a matter of "Oh crap, how did I miss that, now I have to fix it," usually with much pacing and flailing about and sometimes smashing crockery. This week has seen me sit down to write something, only to discover as I'm arm-deep in creativity that not only did I miss something critical, but fixing it demands I radically re-think whatever I had originally planned.

As you probably know by now, I do not easily discard beloved ideas, but sometimes they gotta go. Fortunately, I had some very competent help, and while the replacement ideas may not be as elegant as what I originally planned, I think they make up for it with sheer nastiness.

So, onward with the post, and I hope it makes up for my recent silence.

In my Cosmology Overview post, longtime reader Mxyzplk asked a series of questions regarding light, shadow, etc, and it took me forever to realize what he was actually asking, which is this:

"Palette, it seems to me that given your description of this world, and especially in the cross-section of figure 4, that the disk of Pellatarrum evenly bisects the energy planes which produce day and night. This means that the "sun", if you will, is at the same height regardless of the time of day, and as such there are going to be really crazy sunrise-like shadows all the dang time. How do you address this?"

And I say, I blame my deficient art skills, because figure 4 is for representational purposes only and is not to scale and I should have said so in the first place. Sorry!

Properly addressing this confusion requires a multi-part explanation. I apologize ahead of time for the massive infodump this has become.

Part 1: The Dayspire
Assuming a perfectly smooth, circular track, and a horse that could sustain a 30 mph gallop, a rider at the base of the Dayspire that started riding in the direction of rotation at noon could just keep pace with the sun. This equals a diameter of 720 miles which, to put that in perspective, is two-thirds the size of Olympus Mons, the biggest mountain in the entire solar system.

Yes, that's the entire state of Hawaii in red.

Now, while the
Dayspire is smaller than Olympus Mons, it has one thing over on its larger Martian cousin: instead of being a cone, the Dayspire is a cylinder of usually consistent thickness (slightly larger at the base due to sloping, etc.) So when I say it blots out the sun (or the Energy Planes, same thing in this case) it really does eclipse it.

Now what's interesting about this is that sunrises -- we'll call them sunrises for simplicity -- are really strange because they're sideways. As you face the Dayspire, the sun will peek out from the right hand side, transit behind you, and then set to your left. The entire time the sun is in the sky, it is approximately at what we on Earth would consider to be 10:00 am.

So, sadly, you never get any high noons. On the other hand, everyone knows what time it is just by orienting themselves toward the Dayspire (easy to do on level ground, as this is a flat world and the Spire has infinite height) and looking at the angle of shadows on the ground.

But how is this even possible? We have to go back to the beginning.

Part 2: The Engines of Creation
The reason there are no gods on Pellatarrum is because they are all dead, having perished untold eons ago in a glorious Götterdämmerung that destroyed not only the mortal realm (Material Plane), but also the abodes of the gods themselves (the various Outer Planes).

Yes, you read that correctly. The entire Great Wheel destroyed, along with all the gods, demons, devils, angels, blessed and damned souls, and everything in between, because when all of their inhabitants were destroyed, there was nothing left to keep the planes in existence. This is the ultimate scorched earth, mutually assured destruction scenario.

Now, if you're a reasonably competent god, you know what's going to happen, and that it's unavoidable, because prophecies have been talking about this sort of thing for millennia. So you throw a hail mary by making sure at least some of your worshippers survive by relocating them in places you hope won't be destroyed and instructing them to keep believing in you no matter what. You play the long odds that you won't be forgotten and will get prayed back into existence.

As it turns out, the enclaves which survived were located on the various Elemental Planes, probably because they were considered to be a cosmic ghetto by the various deities. Does Vulcan reside on the plane of fire? Does Pele? No, they live in the Outer Planes. Elementals don't have souls, the gods reasoned, and therefore they were below godly notice.

Or, to put it another way: in case of Nuclear War, Antarctica simply isn't going to get hit.

So these races made their homes on the Elemental Planes, and while some died, others managed to adapt and thrive. Time passed; races interbred and evolved. Eventually, they became the dominant cultures there.

But a funny thing happened, or rather didn't happen: the gods never returned. This was partly due to loss of worshippers, who either resented their god for abandoning them or lost hope after years of unanswered prayers, and partly because it just takes a huge amount of time and prayers to not only re-grow a god, but also create his divine plane from nothingness.

However, systems have a way of balancing themselves. Even without their gods, the Priests could still channel Positive and Negative Energy, and from there it was a short step to worshipping the Energy Planes themselves. Souls must come from somewhere; why not the cosmic fount of creation? Positive Energy forms the souls, which then progress across the Elemental Planes where they are incarnated into the faithful, and when they die the souls either return to their source of creation for another go-round or they are judged tainted and are consumed by Negative Energy. It's clean, it's elegant, and it even answers certain questions like "Without gods, who answers my prayers?" Answer: the souls which exist as pure energy. Not turly a god, more like a hivemind consciousness, a basic operating system of worship. Input prayer, output spell.

More time passed. The dominant cultures on each plane become planar aristocracy, and are what we now call Genies (the Djinn, Efreet, Marid, and Dao races). In turn, they created subservient races: Dragons (air), Dwarves (earth), Elves (water) and Orcs (fire).

Yet more time passed, and the slave cultures of each plane realized that their fortunes would never change without direct action. Yet their masters were too powerful to overthrow, and there is no other place for them to go where they can be free. Unless the old legends are true...

Eventually, the sages of the four races come to the conclusion that since the old Material Plane was a combination of all 4 elements, it should be possible to create a new one using resources siphoned off from each of the Elemental Planes.

It was a dangerous undertaking of epic proportions, one which cost hundreds of years and countless lives, but in the end, powerful magic and ancient artifacts were used at the heart of each plane, and thus the Engines of Creation began to make a new Material Plane.

TL;DR break inserted here. Continued next post.

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