Saturday, March 31, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: John’s Mass Effect 3 Ending *SPOILERS*

JACK in control of a biotic high school was hilarious, so why stop there? After not dying in the final battle because they played no visible part in it, Jack has to expand her school. She buys what used to be Manhattan for some shiny beads, since its previous owners are dead and can’t really prove who owned what anymore. She hires GRUNT as her new Gym teacher, TALI for Computer Education, and GARRUS of the grand calibrations for Mathematics. So subsidize their education system the kids manufacture the caustic Turian and Krogan food since, you’ll recall, those races are now stuck here and can’t eat anything we do. Menu options are divided into healthy “Paragon” and more expensive but more entertaining “Renegade” sections. McMordin’s soon spreads into the first post-apocalypse fast food chain, with trillions of enthusiastic customers, though the sign outside “ONE MILLION REAPERS GOT SERVED” never changes.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: Almost Clever

Abner shouldered into the door and turned the heavy key in the knob’s lock. Then he threw the deadbolt above, and latched the sliding bolt above it. He kicked the doorstop down for additional resistance, wondering if he had time to install a bar like those old French castles used to have.

When he decided he didn’t have the time, he trudged into the living room and dragged out the heaviest chair he owned, wedging it under the doorknob. Abner surveyed the mess with approval for a few seconds before thinking better, and ran back into the living room and dragged out the chest of drawers, heaving the oak monstrosity up behind the chair just in case.

He leaned against the wall, panting and perspiring into the floral wallpaper. He rested his head against the security panel, fingers hitting the code to turn it on. Even with the syndicate after him, he’d never felt so safe as just then.

That’s when the bomb went off and took down his entire apartment complex. Mercifully, the explosion was so needlessly huge that Abner never had the moment to register that he was unsafe. He died feeling almost clever.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Mass Effect 3 Podcast

The new episode of Consumed is online, featuring myself, Nat Sylva and Max Cantor. This week's episode is explicitly and entirely devoted to discussing Mass Effect 3. There's a controversy around the ending, but we approach the game holistically, discussing:

-Squad choices and New Vs. Old characters
-Writing, and the game's problem with urgency in a crisis-plot
-Rushed development cycle and DLC
-The altered conversation system
-Multiplayer, and getting eaten alive in it
-The incredible ambition of the series overall
-And hey, that game has a beginning too.

Other topics beg not to be spoiled here. It's about as detailed a discussion of ME3 as you'll find on the internet. I don't think there was anything we all agreed upon.

You can download Spoiled: Mass Effect 3 here.

As a bonus, we included three editions of the podcast with three different endings. How different are they? That depends how different you thought Mass Effect's endings were.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: LOBBYGAGGING (Proposed Neologism)

Many match-making programs feature a lobby system that puts partially-completed groups of users into a chat room while they wait for enough members to join. Most of my exposure to electronic lobbies are in videogames, waiting to fill up a team so we can go lose at Left 4 Dead. Yet in every game or other program in which I’ve ever been shunted into a lobby, there’s come at least one time when no one else joins no matter how long I wait or what settings I tweak. This has happened on game consoles, PCs and Macs, on indy games and blockbuster titles. You wait around until it’s obvious nothing will change, then start up a new lobby, which fills up shortly, and it becomes evident the previous lobby somehow fell out of priority in the system.

I feel like anyone who messes around on the internet has been stuck in such a spot. It’s destiny; no multi-user code is perfect. But a persistent problem that causes users to be stranded in a lobby, itself lagging while they are forced to lollygag, deserves a name. In fact, I think it deserves exactly one name.

Ladies and gentlemen, from henceforth please call this event “LOBBYGAGGING.”

We all win if this works out.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: Gaia Man

The sun nudges his hips. Tides lap at his face and hips, tugging at him, sedimenting his hide, begging him to play. In youth, he liked nothing more than the waltz with the heavens across that spray. Now, he doesn’t have the will to get up.

He’s so tired. Just one hand feels like it weighs a billion tons, and his joints are locked in fossils and granite. When he tries to stir and put on a show for the elements, he finds his fissures are deeper than ever, shooting pains down the tectonic plates of his spine.

He collapses into the geography, simply unable to rise with this day, this year, this age. He’s been so tired for so long that he can’t remember the last time he really did something in the world, yet before he grew old, didn’t he do enough? Can’t those civilizations living on his hide figure it all out without him?

His legs are too vast to move, and it’s so warm beneath the grass and shores. It’ll be cold if he gets up. He’s earned the right to warmth. Even his eyelids, hanging sheets of shale, are so wizened he can’t tell if he’s opened them. He doesn’t ask to dream. He just wants to lie down and let the stupid humans do it for themselves for once.

Monday, March 26, 2012

True Stories of John 20: Naked and Bleeding in a Hotel

In September 2011 I shared a writing prompt based on real life. It was a sentence I spoke out loud in a hotel in Maryland:

"I've only been in this perfectly nice hotel for ten minutes and I'm already naked with blood on the floor."

I promised to tell the truth behind it if enough people wrote stories inspired by the line, or if everyone nailed Danielle La Paglia's birthday challenge. Well, last week you all nailed the latter. Now it's time for me to fess up.

It was the first day I realized just how old I am. I passed through a grand lobby with a complimentary piano, took the wide elevator by myself, and slid into an air-conditioned hotel room replete with HD television and a view of a busy metropolis - and my first thought was, "Joy, they've got an ironing board!"

There's no good way to confess that I ironed the sweat out of my clothing. It was a toiling sojourn in 100-degree weather and I only brought so many shirts. When I realized how easy it was to freshen up my button-down, my t-shirt followed, and then my underwear. Don't you judge me. We all do stupid things when we're alone, I just confess them, though I may also take them further than others.

If I loitered any longer my body would register that the travel was over and collapse, so I waddled into the bathroom to get shaving out of the way. I've got an Irish potato face, the pores begging to betray me on any stroke of a razor. This time my skin held up until the last swipe, at which point my chin opened up with what I still feel was unnecessary vigor.

I spun around and bent to get toilet paper to stop the bleeding, but the sudden motion just made it worse. My blood spattered onto this otherwise pristine beige floor. One drop hit my bare knee and gave me unwanted perspective about a naked fat man bleeding in his hotel. It got funnier when I smelled the iron burning my used underwear. It kept getting funnier all night, even after I got clothes on again.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Quality: Self-Pub Vs. Traditional-Pub

So, Kristine Kathryn Rusch wrote a really long and strangely strawman-heavy argument that traditional publishing doesn’t guarantee quality. I like Rusch’s blog, and this was just one of many pieces defending the self-publishing market’s reputation at the expense of traditional publishing.

Honestly, I wanted to be on board with her. I know that there is quality work in the self-published market, and that there are some incredibly talented and hard-working freelance editors, and that many of the traditionally-published writers will be better off moving to self-publication, and most certainly there are publishing house editors that slack off.

But so much of Rusch’s diatribe (like many similar diatribes) was oversimplified or felt like deliberate untruth. She claimed to receive e-mails from traditional-publishing writers and editors who, “believe that only traditional publishing can guarantee that the reader will get a quality product.” How many of those e-mails actually espoused belief in that guarantee? I'm willing to bet very few, though I don't have the evidence since it's her inbox, not mine. No one in my inbox, and no one I can remember talking to, espoused this belief. I damned sure don’t believe traditional publishing guarantees quality work, and haven’t believed that since I was eleven and bought a bad traditionally published book at a school fair.

Now, I have run into many people who presumed it more likely that a traditionally-published book would be worthwhile than a self-published one. It seems like most of those people believed this based on experience with vanity publishing and the stuff that mucks the 99-cent zone on Amazon, though I didn’t keep a tally. There is definitely the cultural impression that your odds are better with a mainstream publisher’s book than with self-published book. That's a serious (and in several ways flawed) concern authors must deal with, but rarely gets a fair hearing.

Not everyone who works in traditional publishing thinks all their products are better than all the products in the self-publishing market, nor do all writers view it that way, nor have I ever heard anyone ever voice the opinion that, in Rusch’s words, "Amanda Hocking’s books [are] better because St. Martins Press published them." For such a long article, she created many unfortunate strawmen that only undermined the credibility of her argument, especially when what she was arguing towards could easily be oversimplified to "Any self-published books are just as good as any traditionally published books." Whether or not she believes this, it is something these arguments reduce to too often, and it is only invited by pre-emptively engaging in this sort of oversimplification.

I'm reading Tom Perrotta's The Leftovers right now. No self-published book I've read in the last fifteen months can touch it. In fact, most of those self-published books weren't worth finishing.

Does that mean all self-published books are crap? No.

Does it mean self-published books can't meet the high quality of the best traditionally-published books? No, and I'd sure hope not, as it's the avenue I'm considering.

But does it indicate that most self-published books don't meet the level of quality of high-end traditionally-published books? That's the sticking point Rusch failed to address rigorously, and in my experience, that ardent self-pubbers circle around in over-defense of their distribution model. This is the sticking point that, more than anything and despite the talent of many writers in the e-pub world, sustains the current stigma.

Have I read crappy traditionally-published books? Yes, too many. Too many not to laugh when traditionally published authors leave the big New York houses to self-publish. It’s a funny world.

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