Sharing: June 15, 2018

More items of interest:

Book: All Systems Red by Martha Wells
The first novella in the “Murderbot” series. Murderbot is a part-mechanical part-organic security unit who has managed to disable its control module. Surprisingly, this doesn’t lead to a killing spree—Murderbot just wants to watch soap operas while doing the minimum amount of work required to keep up the pretense that it’s still under human control. Murderbot is utterly charming, so I’m glad there are several more books to come in the series.
Web site: Quartz (qz.com)
One of my favorite sites for news. Quartz covers the same sort of topics you see on many news sites, but from an international perspective. I believe it’s based out of India, although it hires writers from around the world. It also deals with items of interest from places other than North America and Europe—always with good explanations and first-rate graphics.
Web comic: Questionable Content
I feel embarrassed mentioning this, since anyone reading this blog probably reads Questionable Content already. But if you don’t, you should. I might note that the series has been running since 2003, so there’s a lot of backlog available to read. It’s evolved quite a bit since the early days, but I still think the comic is worth reading from the very first strip. (You won’t know how truly lovable Bubbles and Hannelore are unless you have years worth of context.)

Sharing: June 11, 2018

Cool things for the day:

Book Bundle: British Mysteries Ultimate Collection
I picked up this bundle over the weekend, and I’m thrilled. On Amazon Canada (see the link above), it was only 73 cents. For that tiny price, you get a huge number of Kindle books, including all the Sherlock Holmes books plus more from Conan Doyle, all the Wilkie Collins books, all the A.J. Raffles books, all the Dr. Thorndyke mysteries, a ton from Edgar Wallace, and much more. I’m sure all the books are just taken from Project Gutenberg, but the convenience of downloading them with a single click is well worth 73 cents.
Comic Book Series: Lumberjanes
Lumberjanes is a lovely comic series for kids and those who’ve never grown up. Let’s say the series is for people age 7 to infinity. It’s about a diverse group of hardcore lady-types (i.e. girls, not all straight, not all cis) at a wilderness camp that’s enjoying an endless summer full of weirdness. I faithfully buy and read the collections when they come out, then pass them on to the daughters of some friends.
Role-Playing System: Mage the Awakening, Second Edition
I’m a big fan of games from The Onyx Path, who hold a license to create games that follow on from the old White Wolf games. I’d recommend pretty much any of their games, and will probably do so in the months to come. However, I’ve played Mage most recently, so I’ll lead with that. By default, the game is set in today’s world where you play (duh) a mage…which can mean any type of magic-using character you can imagine. The game system is very flexible; while it has long lists of predefined spells, you aren’t restricted to them. Since one of the groups I play with has several players who aren’t into reading rule books, I said, “Just tell me what you want to do. We’ll see if you’re powerful enough to do it.” For those who’ve only played games like Dungeons & Dragons, Mage can be an eye-opener.

 

Sharing: June 6, 2018

Things I’ve enjoyed recently.

Article: There Are No Laws of Physics. There’s Only the Landscape
A good introduction to the concept of “the landscape” in modern physics, and why it has physicists both excited and disappointed.
Book: Gothicka by Victoria Nelson
A survey of recent developments in Gothic fiction. To a first approximation, Gothic fiction used to be synonymous with supernatural horror, but in recent years, not so much. Classic monsters like vampires and werewolves are more likely to be heroes than villains these days, as in the entire genre of urban fantasy. Why did this happen and what does it mean? I don’t agree with Nelson on numerous points, and she gets a few specifics wrong (especially when it comes to comic books), but there’s lots of food for thought.
Computer Game: The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt (I recommend the Game of the Year edition containing all the DLC)
It took me a while to get around to The Witcher 3, partly because I got super-annoyed with technical glitches in The Witcher 1 and partly because the creators said ill-informed things when taken to task for the game’s lack of diversity. But as Anita Sarkeesian often says in Feminist Frequency videos, it’s possible to both enjoy a game and be aware of its problematic aspects.
The Witcher 3 is too male-gaze-y and lacks people of color, yet it’s the most inventive computer role-playing game I’ve ever played. It has many great story arcs, long and short, great game-play, and plenty of surprises. Over and over, I found myself encountering things I’d never seen in any other game…and even though it’s now several years old, nothing since has ever come close to its level of variety and story-telling. After more than 200 hours of play, I’ve started it again from the beginning and am still enjoying it a lot.

ALL THOSE EXPLOSIONS: Characters

Continuing on from my last post, let’s look at the characters of All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault (to be published by Tor Books on November 7).

The four main characters are all roommates, and are third-year students at the University of Waterloo (my old alma mater). Just for fun, I decided that they’d each be from one of the major departments in the Faculty of Science: Biology, Chemistry, Earth & Environmental Sciences (i.e. Geology and other resources), and Physics & Astronomy. I should note that I’m roughly halfway through a B.Sc. in Geology, although it remains to be seen if I’ll have the time to keep going.

The story is told from the viewpoint of the Geology student, Kim Lam. Kim is very smart and very non-binary, but still working through the fallout of a failed relationship with someone who wanted to be a Darkling more than he wanted to be with Kim. Kim is stuck in emotional quicksand. That slowly begins to change when a lab accident gives Kim and Kim’s roommates superpowers.

One of those roommates is Miranda Neufeld: physicist and amateur opera singer. Another is Shar Chandra, a wizard when it comes to chemistry, cookies, and getting under Kim’s skin. Lastly is Jools Walsh, nominally in biology, but actually majoring in bad decisions.

Why these characters? Well first, I wanted a team of superheroes, and four seemed like a good number. Four people provide lots of scope and combinations, without the group becoming too big to handle. Four people also matched nicely with the science departments…and that’s important because in this setting, superheroes are strongly linked to science (just as Darklings are strongly linked to magic).

Secondly, I wanted characters who were interesting and sympathetic, but very different from each other. Kim is a walled-off introvert; Miranda is high-maintenance and strident; Shar is completely imperturbable; Jools is wild and moderately self-destructive.

Each character has something unique to contribute to the action and ambiance. For example, since this is a superhero book, fighting is inevitable…so someone on the team really ought to know how to kick butt. Making someone a martial arts student was too easy; instead, Jools is a fanatic hockey player (one of the reasons she’s doing so badly in school). The other roommates bring their own strengths to the table, in unexpected but believable ways.

From Day One, I’ve envisioned ALL THOSE EXPLOSIONS as the first book of a series, with each book told from the viewpoint of a different roommate. ALL THOSE EXPLOSIONS is the book where Kim confronts the ghosts of the past. The next book (THEY PROMISED THE GUN WASN’T LOADED) will be from Jools’s point of view. After that comes Miranda, then Shar.

Each book will show the central character dealing with personal issues—win, lose, or draw. Each book will also be written in a different tone of voice, appropriate to the character involved…which is a lot of fun for me, and I hope for readers too.

ALL THOSE EXPLOSIONS: What It’s About

My next book ALL THOSE EXPLOSIONS WERE SOMEONE ELSE’S FAULT comes out from Tor Books on November 7, so it’s high time I talked about it. I’ll be doing a number of blog posts over the next few weeks; feel free to ask questions as we go along.

But first things first: what is the book about?

Superheroes. And vampires/werewolves/demons.

Here’s the set-up. In 1982, monsters all over the world realize they’ve been doing it wrong. Why hide in the shadows when you’ve got a supremely marketable asset? So they announce that for ten million dollars, they’ll convert you into the monster of your choice. You’ll get magical powers, immunity to disease and aging, plus a bunch of other benefits.

By the dawn of the 21st century, almost all the rich and powerful people in the world have paid to become Darklings. They’re careful not to behave too outrageously—they don’t want to provoke a serious uprising—but they run every government and major corporation, without anyone powerful enough to stop them.

Then superheroes show up: everyday joes who just happen to get bitten by a radioactive spider, fall in a vat of weird chemicals, or touch a strangely glowing meteor. Suddenly, randos off the street have just as much superhuman power as wealthy Darklings do. Super “commoners” quickly become a counterbalance to Dark overreach.

So that’s the set-up: the rich 1% are Darklings, the 99% are superheroes (universally called Sparks). As you can imagine, fisticuffs and a lot of explosions ensue.

Next time, I’ll talk about the book’s protagonists and maybe a bit about the plot.