Give everyone a role in the big end-of-adventure battle. Especially if they're not combat-oriented characters.
This goes in the other direction too. Give the combat monsters something to do in the kindergarten class supervision scenes.
And yes, Wedge is played by a different actor here (Denis Lawson) than in his earlier scene (Colin Higgins). The story is that Higgins didn't learn his lines and fumbled through the scene in the briefing room, resulting in him being fired and Lawson being given the part for the remainder of the film as well as the two sequels. And they simply didn't bother refilming the briefing scene with Lawson.
Hey, I recently got into Minimal and was wondering if you had any good suggestions. So far all I have to go off of is pandora and last fm, so anything would really be helpful. Thank you.
I don’t really know how much of the electronic music I listen to could be described as “minimal,” but my last.fm page (http://www.last.fm/user/jephjacques) has a list of what I’ve been listening to lately.
What is your preferred construction for guitars, set neck, bolt-on, or neck through? Why?
I like them all, to be honest. If a guitar is well built there isn’t one that’s objectively better than any of the others. Right now my main guitars are all either bolt-ons or neck-throughs, but that’s mainly because you don’t see very many set-neck extended range instruments these days and I hardly play regular 6-strings anymore.
Jeph, I just saw your tweet about having been sober for six months. Congrats! I’m interpreting that to mean no alcohol at all. If that is the case, I have a question for you. Due to med changes myself, I have not had alcohol (save a sip of hard cider when baking with it) for about 4.5 months. How do you handle socializing without drinking? Most of my friends enjoy good beers and we often meet for drinks. It feels awkward not joining in. Or, they have beer-tasting parties. Any advice?
It used to be a lot harder for me, but over time I’ve gotten used to it. I’ll either bring non-alcoholic drinks of my own to parties or ask if the host wouldn’t mind me making some coffee, and I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything. If we’re out at a restaurant, same thing applies.
Are most of your readers ladyfolk, or dudebros?
According to one of my analytics programs it’s slightly more dudebros than ladyfolk, but I have a hunch that in reality it’s the other way around.
How would you describe Hannelore’s voice?
Two questions! One! How do you feel about birds in general? Two! Parakeets?
2) sure, why not
I know this sounds weird, but I find myself missing your extended commentaries that used to appear at the bottom of the comics. It was simply interesting and nice to hear exactly what was going through the mind of the artist when drawing/posting. And now it’s like an old friend I haven’t gotten to talk to in a long time. I’m sure you’re very busy, but any chance you’ll be able or want to resume those small insights into your life again?
For whatever reason I have lost interest in “blogging” over the years. I’d rather just let the comics speak for themselves, most of the time. But just for you, here’s a blog about what I’m doing right this second:
I’m working on a mix of the next Deathmøle song, and drinking some coffee, and answering some Tumblr questions. The dogs are asleep in the house. My wife is out seeing some friends. Later I might make some food, and play some video games. I am currently wearing a hat.
Hey Jeph, in the “About” section of the QC site, you say that you have a Mac Pro with a “shit-ton” of RAM. I’m currently in the process of planning a PC build with gaming and art in mind, and I was wondering: just how much is a “shit-ton” in this case? Are we talking 16gb or 32gb (or maybe even 64gb)?
That bit was written literally years ago, I think I had a whopping 3gb of RAM back then. These days I’m rocking 10gb which is plenty for my needs.
Hey Jeph, my friends and I are just starting to stream on Twitch and I was wondering what, if any, video capture card you use for your streaming, since we’re trying to stream without one, resulting in mediocre quality. Also, love the comic!
I don’t use a capture card, actually I don’t even know what that is! My setup is just a combination of CamTwist, Flash Media Encoder, and Soundflower and ReWire for audio.
Does Marigold like Homestuck? She’s wearing Karkat’s symbol in comic #2275?
You may remember Kai, the oddball hitchhiker who became a hero of sorts after he saved a woman in California from an attacker by going after that guy with a hatchet he happened to be carrying. See "Axe-Wielding Hitchhiker Dude Saves Lady from Fake Jesus" (Feb. 4, 2013). At the time I thought, "wow, heroes can turn up in the unlikeliest places," and remarked, "For once the dude with the hatchet is the good guy" and also "I still would not recommend picking up a hitchhiker who is waving a hatchet, but if you must do so I hope it turns out to be Kai."
Yeah, so, he killed a guy.
Or at least that's what authorities in New Jersey believe. Kai (that's not his real name, but I will go ahead and keep using it) was arrested on Thursday and charged with killing a 73-year-old man he had apparently met in Times Square. The man was found at his home in New Jersey. Kai was linked to the man through text messages they had exchanged, and he was spotted in a Starbucks on Thursday, the same day police identified him as a suspect. Given his former celebrity, it didn't take too long to find him. "Being on YouTube too much," said the police commissioner in Philadelphia, where Kai was arrested, "is not necessarily a good thing."
Also not a good thing: picking up hitchhikers who are waving hatchets, or look like they might have a hatchet, or any hitchhikers, really. I did have the basic recommendation right, at least.
On April 29, Isabella, the Greensboro Science Center’s (GSC)
rare and endangered Javan Gibbon, gave birth to a baby boy. In both the wild and
in zoos, it’s not unusual for first-time mother Gibbons to abandon their first
child, and that’s exactly what happened to the fragile newborn, who was discovered
alone in the Gibbon habitat. Thanks to the expert care of zoo keepers,
veterinarians, and the staff of a local hospital, the baby, named Duke, was
revived and stabilized. To give Duke the
best chance of survival, zoo staffers decided to hand-rear the baby for the
next six months until he is self-sustaining, then try to reintroduce him to his
parents, Isabella and Leon, in the exhibit.
The compelling story of Duke’s first few hours of life and
the days immediately following his discovery are detailed below.
Photo Credit: Greensboro Science Center
In the early morning of April 29, a zoo keeper discovered a
tiny, full-term baby Javan Gibbon lying without its mother inside the Gibbons’
indoor habitat. She immediately wrapped the seemingly lifeless and cold infant
into her jacket and ran back to the animal hospital. Slowly, the baby started
to warm up and began moving and vocalizing. Keepers held the baby in their arms
and up against the body for contact and continuous warmth the first critical
hours. Room temperatures were increased to 85 degrees. Once warmed and clinging
firmly to a toy Gibbon, Duke was given tiny drops of fluid to rehydrate, then
he began taking diluted formula. Duke
gained strength and opened his eyes forcing a crucial decision: Should the
staff try to introduce him back to Isabella or not? Knowing that parent
rearing is always the best option (though filled with risk given the initial
abandonment), the decision was made to introduce Duke back to his parents
approximately 30 hours after being found. After some initial nervousness,
Isabella grabbed him up in her arms and mother and son were reunited.
Unfortunately, after just 24 hours, it was clear that Duke
was weakening and likely not nursing. After much discussion, the decision was
made to hand-rear Duke knowing that staff would now need to do everything
possible to keep him in visual, vocal and olfactory contact with his parents.
Duke’s condition is stable, and the GSC staff are committed
to providing care 24 hours a day for the next six months. “Nothing in nature is about fairness. It is
about survival,” said GSC director Glenn Dobrogosz. “Duke, and hopefully his
species, will have a fighting chance thanks to keepers, curators and wildlife
biologists who dedicate their lives to preserving and protecting our world’s
wild things and wild places.”
In 2012, GSC was selected by the Association of Zoos &
Aquariums to be the second accredited zoo in the U.S. to exhibit and breed
Javan Gibbons - one of the rarest Gibbon species on the planet found only on
the island of Java in Indonesia. Duke is one of only eight born in zoos across
the world and one of three born in North America in the past 12 months.
John got a real job, so he'll be dropping out of the Monday group (working nights). That'll mean changes for Promethean, but I've got a few weeks before it becomes relevant.
Today should be the exciting conclusion of Let It Ride, so that's really what I need to focus on. Let's do that!
So, last time, there was some vampire combat, the card got made, the track got sussed out, and we're ready to go. The race is today. So obviously we get to decide, today, how the characters are preparing. I'm gonna have everyone indicated who they think will win and who they hope will win, though I don't know that it'll have much effect.
OK, if this were a Dresden novel, one of three things would happen. Either Jeannine Kemper would win (meaning a vanilla mortal with some ties to the fae would gain control of Lexington's supernatural area); something weird would happen and no one would win, or someone would win and Harry would be in some way connected to them and get a new responsibility. I don't want that latter. So let's work this. Here's our contestants. I'll cross out the ones that I don't think it makes any narrative sense to consider as winners.
Waters of the River Styx (Winter Court): 2:1
Inferno from the Embers (Summer Court): 3:1
Fireball (Billy Ray): 4:1
Warden's Wings (White Council): 10:1
Veni Vidi Vici (White Court): 10:1
Bo (Leroy Francis): 12:1
Sleipnir (Albert Market): 25:1
April Showers (Arthur Bingham): 25:1
Derek's Fall (Jeannine Kemper): 100:1
Now, of the remainders, I think we can excuse Billy Ray and the Black Court. I think that they've made for good secondary antagonists, but they're not serious contenders. That leaves us four: Jeannine, the Fairy Courts, and Leroy.
Well, I don't think Bo's going to win. I think he's going to be a secondary crisis during the race - he'll change back in the middle of the race, and Alice (and the others) need to decide whether to change him back so he can ride on (sans jockey; the rules of the race state that the winner is who's-ever horse crosses the finish line). But the real question should be between the Fairy Courts and Derek's Fall.
The Fairy Courts need to fight each other, somehow, although they can't interfere with the race directly. Obviously Shuck should be involved - since he's worked for both Courts, his allegiance is to neither, and it'd be fun to see a fight between Rusty and Shuck. But Shuck (and Rusty, during the fight) might be able to take out one or more of those Fairy horses, giving Derek's Fall a chance to slip through.
Yeah, actually, now that I think about it, I'm taking it back. Let's do it this way:
Warden's Wings (White Council): 10:1
Veni Vidi Vici (White Court): 10:1
Sleipnir (Albert Market): 25:1
April Showers (Arthur Bingham): 25:1
They lose because it wouldn't be interesting for them to win.
Waters of the River Styx (Winter Court): 2:1
Inferno from the Embers (Summer Court): 3:1
They lose because Shuck gets in the way, and because they fight against each other.
Bo (Leroy Francis): 12:1
He loses because it would be more interesting to resolve his story using the horse transformation (horse-formation?) as a complication.
Fireball (Billy Ray): 4:1
Derek's Fall (Jeannine Kemper): 100:1
These are the potential winners, because they're the most tied in to the drama of the race story.
So, Complications. I want five, one per character.
1) Bo turns back into a human (Alice).
2) Shuck attacks the front-runners (Rusty).
3) Valentines ask Lou for early access to the stables (to dope some horses). Social combat.
4) Phobos tries to push Clive into letting Fireball win, tries to take him over if he refuses.
5) Keeping the race running fairly without being biased (Opal). Mental combat.
OK, so just need to stat Shuck real quick and we're golden.
I had (still have), an old blender. I also have a stick blender and a weird one-cup smoothie blender I got as a gift. but I wanted a proper blender.
The old blender had some things I liked. A square carafe. A glass carafe. OK, two things I liked. Three if you count "it worked". But it never felt secure. It was tough to tell whether the blender part was securely on the motor part. And the blades were old, and it did an OK but not great job. So I'd been lusting after the Ninjas for a while, and finally got the Costco set with the large and the small containers in March.
Why Ninja? Because I can't fucking afford a Vitamix and all the other blenders out there pissed me off in one way or another, usually by having round carafes, seeming cheap, or usually both. The Ninja is square. It has lots of power. It's called NINJA. And it is in many ways ridiculously excessive.
The Ninja thing is to put multiple blades at various heights on a central spindle, instead of the more traditional bottom blade. It's more like having 2-3 tiny food processor blades in there instead of a blender blade. It looks ridiculous. It looks like the blender Rex "Power" Colt would have used if Far Cry: Blood Dragon had blenders in it.
This complexity extends to the lids, which is where we run into a bit of trouble. THe lids include a hole to hold the top of the spindle, a folding, latching, spring-loaded handle, and a pour/strain spout that in a pinch can be used for drizzling in.
This is good when you put the lid on the carafe and the carafe on the base, because everything clicks together like Lego and feels rock-solid. Once you've blended some stuff, though, and take the lid off, you realize the underside of the lid is a vast array of complex topography that grabs bits of food and holds it tight. And is largely impervious to the ministrations of a rubber spatula.
The lids clean up nice in the dishwasher, it's just more of a hassle when you pop it off a couple of times to check on taste and consistency of, say, a blender salsa, and a quarter cup of salsa is stuck in the lid, only to drip everywhere no matter how carefully you try to take it off or shake it back into the carafe.
Otherwise, I couldn't be happier. Plenty of power, plenty of solidity, and the plastic carafes, while not my preferred glass, seem up to the task of a shitload of use. It's serious plastic. Plus, there are lots of safety features, including a temperature sensor to keep the motor from overheating. So no accidental plastic burning smell, which is always a plus when cooking.
From fake Japanese to real Japanese, motorized cutting to manual cutting, I also finally got a Benriner mandoline in March. I've been wanting one for years and for some reason never buying one, so when my dad wanted to get my mom one for Christmas, I told him to get the one I would have gotten had I ever gotten around to buying one.
I had a Good Grips mandoline for a couple of years, but it was a piece of shit and broke without ever working right in the first place. The Benriner was pimped heavily by Ruhlman on his site back in the day, so that was my eventual choice.
Anyway, my mom went three months without ever using it for anything, so I inherited it when my birthday rolled around. It has the single most astonishing feature I've ever seen in a mandoline. A plastic food holder/hand guard that ACTUALLY WORKS.
If you've ever used another cheap (or even expensive like the Oxo) slicer you know what I'm talking about. The hand guard is some bullshit. It doesn't hold the food, it doesn't let you quickly move the food up and down over the blade, and you end up ditching it and risking injury just so you can cut the damn food at a pace faster than a knife. But the Benriner one works, and works well, and the blade is sharp and cuts things, and it has a couple of fancy-cut inserts that sort of kind of work if the food is hard enough.
What matters is it cuts thin even slices of stuff when I need lots of thin even slices of stuff, so I'm happy.
Dictator James would like to inform you of an awesome kickstarter:
MY ARMY. The claxons of war fill the air until the very skies tremble in anticipation of bloodshed. The enemy gnashes their teeth at the thought of tearing us from our purpose. BUT THEY SHALL FAIL.
For today is the DAWN. Today is the day we step out of the comforting bounds of our soft encampment and turn our eyes to the fertile valley of Kickstarter. Independent artists toil, unrecognized and unseen. They cry out for but crumbs of bread. Mere drops of water to slake their thirst. We shall be the rain my army. We shall be the dove that carries the olive branch for the worthy, and the eagle that brings the talons to the unclean.
Cry out our name! Cry for King James as we flow across the lands, bringing fertility and joy to those who need but one piece of good luck. One honest chance.
We shall be their Gandalf. Their Han Solo.
Their Falcore in our neverending story of GLORY.
TO ARMS! I have selected our first worthy soldier. She is weird and funny and honest. Go to her Kickstarter. If you like the project, donate a bit and cry out our name. For if we are to make history, history must know us! Click my words, and JOIN MY QUEST!
It wasn’t like he’d imagined. The heat baked him from every direction. Burning embers and sparks occasionally spun through the room. But the smoke wasn’t that bad. There must have been a draft coming up from the lower dungeon levels. For now, he could breathe.
Parson knew about as much about fire as he remembered from fire safety month in elementary school, and the occasional Weather Channel show about firefighters. He knew that fire burned upwards, and you should stay low. It needed oxygen and could, like, flashover or something. Whatever that was, it was bad. That was about it.
And who knew if any of that was even true in Erfworld, which had its own fire physics? Units caught in an inferno took damage randomly and could take a few specific actions like fleeing, fighting, and casting. There were damage penalties when moving, fighting was done at a penalty, etc. Some of it didn’t make a lot of sense with the actual physics of combustion.
So he sat on the floor, planting his ass in the empty portal, and touched his bracer. The Warlord Antium and the last four Decrypted troops were beating the flames with cloaks and rugs at the other end of the room. That had seemed pointless at first, but then he remembered something about how units taking action to fight the fire could effectively transfer their actions to a unit they were protecting.
So...he’d better do something.
For the last few minutes, he’d kinda been raging out and panicking, he realized. But Charlie’s request for a calculation had the weird effect of numbing him up and focusing his mind on this one trivial thing. It wasn’t quite the same as getting an order, but he was contractually obligated to carry out Charlie’s calculation unless it would hurt his side, and he couldn’t make a good enough case to refuse it.
Plus, whatever Charlie’s game was—trying to railroad him into using this spell—Parson needed to know this, too. Could he cast this spell? (Or any spell?) A way out was a way out, and going home beat dying. Maybe there was even a way back to Erfworld if he did...
The bracer hummed, and inside the little glass window he saw his own name in blue light:
[Parson Gotti, Warlord (Chief) (Level 3)]
Huh. Really? Three? He hadn’t felt anything at all. For a moment, he felt weirdly proud of himself for leveling. Then he blinked at the thing and subvocalized, “Hypothetical: me as a caster.”
There was a shout and a rumble from the other side of the room. A significant section of wall and floor began sliding down and away, churning up a shower of sparks. Parson gripped the edge of the portal until the collapse settled. He squinted. Antium had two soldiers over there now, not four.
Numbly, he looked back down and subvocalized, “Odds of: successfully casting the Carnymancy spell I’m touching.” He reached over and held Jojo’s scroll, which he had set upon the floor next to him after pulling it out of his belt.
The window showed a long decimal number, then blinked and showed a short one instead. Then it ran through a series of digits that changed every split second. Then it went blank. Then it read:
“What? Here and now,” said Parson.
Another number flashed by, too quickly to read. Then the display read 0.0
Parson looked into the display. “Izzat my odds, or are you just surprised at the question?” he said out loud.
But he knew that the bracer had just given zero probability of successfully casting the spell. Either Charlie was wrong, or he’d been toying with his prey. Although...neither thing seemed very Charlie-ish. He looked down at the lonely zero-point-zero.
Okay what now? Maybe he had phrased it wrong.
“Odds of: me as a warlord, as I am, casting this Carnymancy spell, right here and now.”
Again, a number flashed quickly, but changed to: 0.0
“Odds of: me casting any spell at all.”
multiple parameters unspecified
Parson breathed heavily through his nose, and could feel the burn of smoke in it. The partial collapse had changed the air currents. It was now getting worse by the second in here.
“True/false: a non-zero chance of me successfully casting any spell exists.”
“So I am a caster of some kind. Or something,” he muttered. He had explored the possibility of casting spells before, and always failed. But he’d never thought to put the question to the bracer this way. “True/false: conditions exist that would give me a non-zero chance of successfully casting the Carnymancy spell.”
Way out restored, then. But no clue how. “True/false: I could create conditions here and now that would give me non-zero odds of casting the Carnymancy spell.”
T, read the display.
Then, suddenly: F
“What the hell?” Parson shouted to the air. “Charlie, are you screwing with this thing, too?”
When he looked up, he saw that Antium was walking up to him. The man’s face was sooty, and both his hands looked burned. Behind him, one of the last two soldiers was on the floor with his hair on fire, yelling. The other was beating him with a cloak.
“Chief, I think we have done all that we can,” said Antium.
Parson looked up at him. There were flames right there in the ceiling now, in bits where the plaster had fallen. The crackling sound was surreal, all around his head, like the sound you hear when you roll in a pile of dead leaves. That ceiling was going to come down on them any second. God, if Sizemore could just get here somehow, he could shore that up. And fix everything else.
“I don’t think I have, yet,” he said.
With a grunt, he rose to his feet. He spoke aloud to the bracer now. “Odds of: me successfully casting a Dirtamancy spell to put out the fire.”
The window showed a number. It had a decimal and six or seven zeroes after it, but it was a number.
Parson clapped his hands and made a hocus-pocus gesture. How the hell would you cast a spell, anyway? He had certainly tried before, but never with any indication of success.
“Put out the fire!” he shouted. He stomped his foot for emphasis. Nothing.
Nah, he needed some word or phrase from his world that was associated with putting out fires. That seemed to be how it worked.
“Alka-Seltzer! Pepto-Bismol! Gaviscon!” He felt nothing. “We Didn’t Start The Fire!”
He looked around, starting to realize he was a little dizzy from smoke and whatever else he was breathing. Somewhere on another floor high above, there was a rumbling crash.
“No, I guess we did,” he said.
“It’s been an honor to fight beside you, Chief Parson,” said Antium.
“Don’t start that shit,” said Parson. “I’m not done here. I’m not.” He looked around, spotting the scroll on the floor. He bent over and snatched it up.
“Odds of me casting this spell!” he shouted at the bracer.
The same number as before flashed, then changed to: 0.0 He almost saw what it was this time.
Number, then 0.0. It was a long one. Hard to see the first digits. He looked at Antium, who was standing close. The other two soldiers were a few feet behind him, stepping on embers as they fell to the floor. The one whose hair had caught fire was black and burnt from the shoulders up, but he kept stomping.
“I think this thing is lying to me,” said Parson to the perplexed-looking warlord.
“Again,” he commanded the bracer. And again, a long number showed, then 0.0. There was another collapsing sound, very close this time, maybe from the next room over. That first number after the decimal was not a 0. It might have been an 8...
“Run this same calculation ten times in a row. Go.”
The blue numbers in the bracer began blinking. The 0.0 was a dimmer blue as it blinked on and off, but the other number was superimposed over it: .980104773
A 98% chance of casting success.
He looked up at Antium. There was a lot more smoke in the room now, and Parson’s eyes were stinging. The bracer was lying. It was telling him he didn’t have a chance. Why? So he wouldn’t try to cast Charlie’s spell...
“Jojo said it’s free will versus Fate,” he said. “But I’m really just getting railroaded by two different GMs here. I dunno wha— Huhg!” He broke into a coughing fit that left him bent over. Tears from his watering eyes ran down both cheeks. God damn, it was hot in here. Felt like the smoke was literally burning his lungs.
“Ah...fuggit!” he gasped, barely regaining control of his breathing.
He unbound and unrolled the scroll, holding it up in front of him. It shimmered brightly. His fingertips tingled. There were words on the parchment, a poetic stanza. But he couldn’t read them at first. He was seeing something else.
No, not seeing. More like...detecting, or knowing. There wasn’t a word for this sense, but some little compartment in his mind opened up, and what was in there was as rich in information as vision or hearing. He understood some of the things behind the things he could see.
Of course this was a spell. Of course it was. And it was built like...a key that would unlock the spell that had brought him here. He could see what it was. It was a spell to break a spell and snap it back. It would...fling him home. And he knew how to cast it.
The floor creaked, and listed slightly. He could read the poem on it now. Funny...
Yeah, it was time now. Time to go home.
He spoke, with a new understanding of how to intone the words of a spell. It was as different from plain speech as singing, but in a magical way.
The burning plaster hit his arms, just soon enough to warn him, just the barest moment before the flaming wooden beam came down on his helmet and flattened him to the floor. The magic sense—and every other sense—left Parson Gotti’s mind.
(This is going to be a slightly abbreviated discussion, because I discussed the book's ideas at length in the supplementary essay bundled with it, and answered a number of questions about it in the blog entry immediately preceding this one.)
So what's left to say ...?
Rewind the clock to 1993. I was living in Watford, part of the suburban sprawl that surrounds London proper, working for a Californian software multinational and not writing enough fiction. One of my problems was starting stories and not finishing them. One of the starts I made, was this rather weird, chillingly distanced third-person-omniscient vision of a CIA photographic analyst in a world where the cold war produced even more baroque technologies than in our own: his memories of a childhood visit to an air show where nuclear-powered NB-36s were on display (in our universe, the NB-36 program was cancelled before anything flew under actual nuclear power, as with the Soviet Tu-95LAL (the follow-on Tu-119 never flew either)). His memories merge with his angst as he pores over recon imagery of .... what?
Forward to 1997. I'd read a short story by Bruce Sterling, The Unthinkable. It's a short throw-away in which a pair of arms negotiators are reminiscing about how they agreed to back away from the precipice and cut the Cold War horror arsenals by ditching the ICBMs and Hydrogen bombschained Lovecraftian horrors ... and I suddenly realised what my analyst was looking at. I'd also been re-reading "At The Mountains of Madness" and decided, in classic naive non-metaphorical science fictional mode (where a rocket ship is just a rocket ship every time) to tackle the alienation and ennui engendered by constant exposure to the threat of annihilation, and also to make the Mythos frightening again by linking Lovecraft's horrors (by then reduced to the stuff of silly jokes and plush bedroom slippers) to a terrifying reality that had only receded into the background in the past few years.
The result was a story titled "A Colder War". I sold it, and it garnered quite a bit of attention—I get a reprint request pretty much every year.
Fast-forward to 1999. I'd finished working on "Festival of Fools" (aka "Singularity Sky") and it was on its way to an editor's in-tray. I'd written "Lobsters" and it was doing the rounds ("meritless, vapid, style-obsessed trash" said the rejection letter from the first editor I sent it to, he who had just bought "A Colder War": there's no accounting for taste). I needed a novel-length project and I had bits of the wreckage of "The Harmony Burn" to cannibalize (this was the unpublishable novel from 1994-96—unpublishable for structural/characterisation reasons, not because publishers are stupid). Secret government agencies dealing with the suppression of hard take-off singularities seemed a bit dubious to me by then, but I'd just sold "A Colder War" and, while that particular story was far too bleak to work with, the idea of rebooting the Lovecraftian/spy nexus appealed. So I began writing. And the first thing I came up with was Bob, mentally swearing at his boss as the rain trickles down the back of his neck and he tries to break into an office I used to work at in Watford to steal a deadly thesis.
At which point everything was hopelessly cross-infected by my memories of the Kafkaesque bureaucracy inside that particular company's technical publications department. And then I had Bob go back to work the next day in a grim little civil service office maze not unlike to one I'd spent three months working in as a contractor in 1996. Both jobs were so soul-destroying that you had to view them as black farce in order to work there: the software company, for example, was the one where whenever senior executives came to visit our managers would trawl the cubicle farm first thing in the morning to take down all the Dilbert cartoons pinned to the walls.
I was working in a dotcom startup at the time, and spending too much time reading Slashdot. And it occurred to me that the staid British civil service would have serious indigestion if it tried to swallow a Slashdot-era dotcom geek. But what if the bureaucracy in question wasn't allowed to fire him? There's scope for comedy there, the comedy of dissonance: round peg in a square hole, and so on.
So there you've got the ingredients. Lovecraftian horror; the secret agency dedicated to protecting us from the scum of the multiverse: the protagonist (Bob, a put-upon hacker who is an utterly inappropriate hire but who can't be gotten rid of): the cold war ambiance: the dark humour. I probably ought to mention the novels of Len Deighton, which I was re-reading at the time—one of the most significant of the British cold war thriller writers.
The whole thing snowballed into a short novel. In early 2001 I sold first serial rights to the same small Scottish magazine who'd published "A Colder War" and "Antibodies"; it ran in Spectrum SF issues 7-10 after John Christopher's last novel and was read by maybe a thousand people. (Thereafter, Spectrum SF ceased publication. I like to think I didn't kill it.) This was my first published novel, and I sold it myself; my agent's first reaction when I sent it to her was, "this is great fun but it'll be impossible to sell: it's far too cross-genre". She was, in fact, quite correct ... for a non-name author in 2001.
The rest is history, although it's a rather weird history: at some point I'm going to have to write down the tortured publication track of the first four Laundry novels just to provide some context, just to show that rules are for breaking. This series broke all the rules of publishing and somehow prospered, never mind merely surviving—even though the dice were stacked against it from the beginning.
But that's enough for now. (I've just finished the first draft of a new Laundry novella, set between "The Jennifer Morgue" and "The Fuller Memorandum", and my hands are too sore to continue typing!)
A while back, Josh Marshall posted a nasty little piece of hate mail he received … that illustrated this point.
It’s the typical supercilious undergrad tone — the kind of thing written by people who want to be Ben Shapiro when they grow small. But one sentence in particular (and yes, this is all one sentence, if not quite one thought) stood out:
This may be the most critical time in the history of the modern world much less of our country; and it is my fervent hope that the American People will remember and appropriately reward those, like you, who have chosen to use this opportunity to forward a political cause, and not incidentally their own careers, by attempting to sabotage an honorable effort to make the world a safer, better place.
You have to love the uppercase “American People” — and I’m guessing this guy never expresses a hope without it being “fervent.” But the important part here is the section in bold — that ours is “the most critical time in … history.”
Like many people who blindly support[ed] this war — including perhaps many in the White House and the Pentagon — the writer is desperate for his life to have some greater meaning or purpose than it apparently does. He hasn’t quite managed to stare into the abyss, but he’s taken a quick glance in its direction and seen something deep and dark and frightening that he doesn’t quite know how to deal with.
“All flesh is grass,” the prophet Isaiah said, and “the grass withereth.” This guy, understandably, doth not want to wither. He wants his life to matter, to mean something. He wants to be remembered after he is gone.
He has given this war a metaphysical, religious significance. For him, the war isn’t about oil, or “liberating” Iraq, or overthrowing an evil dictator. It’s grander than that — grander even than the dreams of empire that seem to be motivating Cheney, Perle and Wolfowitz. This war is an attempt to give his life meaning by turning our times into “the most critical time in the history of the modern world.” If our times are meaningful, he hopes (fervently), then our lives must also be meaningful.
The writer gives his life meaning by taking a part in this great, epochal, transcendent struggle.
And note how easy, how undemanding of sacrifice, it is for him to play a role in this epochal, historic event. All he has to do is watch Fox News and fire-off the occasional sophomoric e-mail — maybe even wave a flag, attend a corporate-radio rally, or rename some snack food.
This letter-bomber is not the only one narcotizing his existential crisis with an enthusiasm for “shock and awe.” This is widespread — it’s one of the reasons it is nearly impossible to have a civil conversation with our fellow Americans who believe — or want to believe, or need to believe — Bush’s baseless arguments for capricious war.
Switzerland’s Zoo Basel welcomed a male porcupette
(baby Porcupine) on April 6. Porcupettes
are born with soft, flexible spines, which harden after a few days. The new baby lives with seven other
Porcupines in the zoo’s exhibit.
Photo Credit: Zoo Basel
Zoo Basel’s Porcupines are clicker-trained,
which allows zoo keepers to better monitor the health and well-being of these
nocturnal animals, who would rather hide than interact with keepers. The Porcupines have learned that a click
means they’ll receive a tasty bite of food, so they eagerly emerge from their
Porcupines are forest-dwelling rodents that
feed on tubers, bark, roots and vegetables.
See more photos of Zoo Basel's porcupette below the fold.
First: Look! A video interview with me from RT Book Reviews, taken during the Booklover’s Convention a couple of weeks ago in Kansas City. I talk about The Human Division, the RT convention and some SFWA matters:
It's been over a month since we lost Simon. I think about him every day, and I miss him every moment. There isn't a single thing I own that I wouldn't give up to have him back. It gets easier, as time goes on, to focus on all the good memories he left us with, and smile. Somedays it still hits me harder than others, though.
We've mourned in a variety of ways... we framed some of our favorite pictures and hung them. His picture is the wallpaper for both my computer and my phone, so that I can still see him every day. Next week I'll finally be getting a tattoo that I've been procrastinating on for years, part of which includes two little paw prints, one for Simon and one for Kaylee. Still though, I found myself looking for something more pro-active and constructive to do in his memory. With all of his health problems, we spent so much time and energy helping him. And now he's gone and we can't help him anymore.
But there are other dogs that need help. So in Simon's honor, Britanny and I have connected with our local no-kill shelter, and volunteered as a foster home for animals in need. Not all animals that come through shelters are immediately ready for adoption, and the shelters don't have the space to house them all. Some are too young, some are recovering from injuries, and some have been neglected and need a chance to socialize before they're ready to be adopted. This is where foster homes come in.
The permanant spot in our home and our lives still very much belongs to Simon, and it's going to be a long time before we're ready to adopt a new dog. However we love animals, and we feel that with as much love as Simon gave us, this is the best way we can honor that gift. We can be there to help these animals during a crucial transition period, and help get them ready to find a loving forever home.
Yesterday we were called in for our first assignment. This is Khloe, and her two-week-old puppy Korra.
Khloe is a maltese whose former owners were hobby or "backyard" breeders. She was surrendered to the shelter along with some other dogs after they had to vacate their home.
Korra is far too young to be put up for adoption, and still needs her mom. So they will be staying with us in our spare bedroom for the next six weeks while Korra grows up. Then both mom and pup will go back to the shelter to get ready for adoption. They're both incredibly sweet dogs, and I'm certain they'll find loving homes quickly.
Fostering can be a fairly big commitment of both time and energy, and is not for everyone (though if the idea interests you, I strongly urge you to look into programs in your area). However most of these shelters rely heavily on volunteers and donations for their daily operations, and the care of these animals. Everything helps, from volunteering to walk the dogs, or just buying an extra bag of dog/cat food to donate. Do a search for local animal shelters in your town to find out what ways you can make a difference in the lives of these animals.
A great bowl of pho is one of the most magical foods on the planet. I don't know where it gets its restorative powers from, but if you're feeling physically out of whack, even a pretty good bowl of pho will work wonders. Something about the combination of aromatic spices, heat, herbs, and rice noodles cures what ails you, as long as what ails you isn't particularly serious.
Given that, it's in my best interests to learn to make at least a pretty good bowl of pho at home, and I've settled on vegetarian pho as my go-to pho of choice. Why? Well, first, it's a solid, tasty vegetarian option, and second, and most importantly, a really good beef pho broth requires really good beef broth. Really good beef broth is largely fucking impossible to come by unless you make it yourself, and the effort involved in making it myself is a bit farther than I'm prepared to go, especially in the quantities I'd use it in.
To go from broth to soup, I like to add two things for the pure vegetarian version - mushrooms and tofu. For the mushrooms, I either use dried shitakes that I reconstitute in the broth itself, thinly sliced crimini or king oyster mushrooms sautéed until golden brown in a separate pan, or both.
For the tofu, I like to press firm or extra firm tofu, cut it into small cubes, marinate it for a little while in plain soy sauce, and then, like the mushrooms, sauté it in a separate pan until it gets a little color on it. Thele can be added sparingly to the broth before the soup is poured over cooked rice noodles.
When it comes to toppings, I'm mostly a traditionalist. Basil, cilantro, jalapeños, lime, bean sprouts. Sometimes diced red bell pepper, because that never hurts. The result is Perfectly Acceptable Home Pho, which is not as good as any pho I've had in a restaurant but is still recognizable as pho.
I did have to buy new bowls, though. I didn't have anything proerly deep to serve as a functional pho bowl. Luckily, Cost Plus has returned to the Twin Cities, because they had some ideal large, deep bowls that work just fine.