Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Book of Destiny Preview: Worlds of the Multiverse

Disclaimer: The following information will be established within the story of the Book of Destiny. It won't be established right away, but it's not a secret either. This preview post (and several to follow) is (are) for people who want to know more and have more context before the story begins.

There is not one world. There are many. Countless. Some think maybe even infinite.
It wasn't always this way before. The worlds were once unified together as a single dimension. Current civilizations have differing philosophies about what happened to cause the change, but all are in agreement that a horrible calamity struck the world, shattering it apart into an uncountable number of pieces.

The Space Between
Today, there is void space between worlds--traversable only by void ships, miniature worlds unto themselves. The void is uncomfortable, lonely, and devoid of all life. There is no way to exist in it.

At the center of charted void space is the remnant of the Calamity. It is a swirling mass of bright colored chaos energy that rips apart any world, void ship, or other object that drifts too close to it.

The Inner Circle
Worlds closest to the Calamity are small and fragile. They have small populations, ranging from three to fifty people. There are often visible signs of disorder or calamity across their skies and landscapes. The slightest increase in chaos within these worlds can cause them to shatter apart, bringing them into the void and eliminating all of their inhabitants.

The further away from the Calamity that one gets within the Inner Circle, the larger and more stable the worlds become (in general.) The more stable a world is, the more chaos it can take before being torn apart.

People from the Inner Circle worlds, especially those nearer to the Calamity, are marked with colored lines across their skin. These skinlines can grow darker or lighter, and can sometimes even glow faintly, depending on world, person, and circumstances. The designs and amount of skinlines varies from person to person.

Most inner circle worlds are unaware that there are multiple worlds. Most believe that their small existences are all that there are to the universe.

The Sparkling Band
A collection of twelve worlds, a certain distance away from the Calamity, make up the border of the Inner Circle. These worlds are known as the Sparkling Band worlds, and are now all aware of their places within the multiverse.

Sparkling Band worlds are the largest and most stable worlds within the multiverse. They range in size up to the size of the world you, my audience member, know as Earth. These worlds usually have many cities and several nations, but that is not always the case. Some are more unified. Some have become more unified in light of their place in the multiverse.

An agency based out of the Sparkling Band world of Innleet, called the Unification Authority, works to ensure interdimensional peace and safety between worlds and acts as something of a multidimensional police force.

The Outer Circle
Moving further out from the Sparkling Band would bring you to the worlds of the Outer Circle. Like the Inner Circle worlds, these worlds become smaller and more fragile the further one gets from the Calamity and the Sparkling Band. Interdimsnional Explorers of the Outer Circle have found worlds as far out as anyone has traveled into it. Some theorize that there may be an infinite number stretching outwards forever. Others claim that unless the initial world was infinite, this cannot be the case.

The Book of Destiny will be posted in weekly increments starting January 4th. It is my objective to post both text and audio, but we will see how well I can work out the latter. I hope that you will join me in our adventures through the multiverse.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Book of Destiny Preview: Teaser

“Your world is so much more fragile than humanity knows.”

The worlds of the multiverse are in chaos.

A group known as 'wolves' has made a mission of destroying smaller worlds.

The void pours through rips in the Essence of varying worlds, and it tears apart the order that it finds so offensive.

Rumors circle about the return of mankind's greatest threat: dragons.

This January...

It's time to fight back. Hunt down the wolves. Patch up the rips. Stop the return of the dragons. Bring order to the world.

But can it all be done?

Find out in:

The Book of Destiny

Friday, June 22, 2018

Value of Fiction: Hope



Artist Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal

An important role that fiction sometimes plays is to give people hope. I know many people who have particular books that they turn to when things feel down or overwhelming in their own lives. In many cases, it's the Harry Potter series.

Everyone has moments that seem dark to them individually-the death of a loved one, financial ruin, the loss of a friendship, medical depression, etc. For all these things, there are stories, fictional or not, that have people overcoming the same challenges-or symbolically similar ones. When executed well and with consideration paid to those suffering, this can be reassuring to an individual that is going through suffering, even if the story is wholly fictional.

Beyond individual suffering, there are times when the world seems dark. There are times when whole regions fall under a certain darkness and despondency. This could be a geographical area, a nation, or even a global issue. It could be a plague, a war, political turmoil, or an assortment of other things. It is in these times that the value of hope cannot be underestimated.

It's in these times that stories providing hope can be a blazing torch in the darkness. Just telling people that things will turn out alright can help to get them through the worst of times. This is revolutionary. This is incredibly important and valuable.

Risk: False Hope

If the hope provided isn't genuine, is it still worth something? 

In general, my thought is no. For instance, something that always frustrates me is when there is someone who is lonely and their friends try to reassure them by saying "you'll meet the right person," or "I'm sure there is someone out there for you," or any variation of the idea that this state won't be forever. Sure, it might not be forever, but the people providing the reassurance have no genuine reason to believe that. No religion that I'm aware of actually promises people romance. Christianity actually claims that being single is better. So, a single person, hearing that their plight will end, might place hope in this assurance, possibly to their own downfall. To begin with, it is encouraging. Over time, it becomes a voice in the back of their head reminding them of their own failure to live up to their friends expectations. It becomes a feeling that they are doing something wrong to still be in the position of being single. So, the false hope given by the friends actually can lead to some pretty dark places.

So, this is something to keep in mind when trying to give hope to people in a dark time through fiction. The hope needs to be reassuring, but it also needs to be true.

Or does it?

Is there value in telling people things will get better if there is no assurance that they will? I feel like giving people light in the dark may have some value. But if the creator of the light knows that it isn't genuine, they have to be careful about how its handled so that it doesn't become a greater source of darkness when extinguished. 

I am, admittedly, not sure how to manage this balance.

We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope. - Martin Luther King, Jr.Side-Solution: Give a Way of Making Things Better

A lot of times, when the darkness closes in, people want to be able to do something. For some people, they want to get themselves out of the unfortunate circumstances. For others, they want to help others to be saved from the experience. But most people want to do something, whatever the motivation.

Fiction can provide a way of giving examples for people to follow. By setting people up in similar circumstances and showing how they get out of it, how they help others, or how they help to eliminate the circumstance altogether, we can provide not just hope, but a way forward as well.

The problem with this is that too often the examples provided by fiction are unattainable figures. We are unlikely to be an individual symbol of revolution like Katness Everdeen. We are unlikely to have the powers to singlehandedly fight evil like Superman. We are unlikely to have the resources to build a better future on our own. This was a part of the struggle that was encapsulated within Heroism and Other Lies. The fact that the hero myth set a terrible example for other people because it provided a solution to a problem, but that the solution was unattainable.

Of course, if we look at realistic way of fixing systemic problems, we see that if we can even find these methods, they generally are not cinematic in the way that good-selling fiction is. People would, instead of finding hope in these stories, find boredom in them.

Again, I don't know how to manage this balance.

Dystopia: A Balance?

Dystopia fiction is pretty big right now, by my understanding. At least it was a few years ago. I have some speculation as to why that is, but let's not get into that right now.

Dystopia fiction has a good way of playing into peoples fears and the darknesses that they face. Most of the societies presented in these works are ones that believably could come out of the circumstances in which they were written. So, in many cases, this might even increase ones feeling of hopelessness.

Image result for frank herbert quote science fictionIn some cases, the purpose of these books is to serve as a warning. A "don't go this way" to people to avert the darkness before it gets here.

Many of these stories end badly.

Some dystopia stories, however, end not with tragedy, but with the heroes (either as individuals or with the help of additional rebel force) overthrowing the evil that kept the world in a dystopic state. 

And these are the stories for the people who are the most hopeless. For the people who see no way out, it is incredibly important to have these stories that show other people overcoming such an overwhelmingly broken world.

(As a side note, I feel like what these stories often lack is talking about how to rebuild the world and stop it from becoming as bad or worse once you have defeated the dystopia, but that is neither here nor there, and it doesn't diminish the significance of these stories for those who can find hope within them.)

Ruins & Robots

Ruins & Robots is certainly not supposed to be a story of despair, but I'm not really sure that it's one of hope either. In truth, I'm hoping to avoid the despair element.

The story takes place in a world where humanity has met its end, which I could see being discouraging to some people. However, the story doesn't linger on that. It isn't about that. And, on the whole, the "death of humanity" proposed in Ruins and Robots isn't one that we'd realistically face in the future. It's one of the parts of the premise that is intentionally unrealistic in order to set up the premise of the story so that I can focus on the themes and elements that I actually want to focus on.

Image result for frank turner i still believe that everyone can find a songBut, as I've been thinking about hope and hopelessness in the world lately, it has made me consider trying to switch to a more hopeful project. I just don't really know what that is right now. I think that Ruins and Robots has some pretty significant value to it that readers could find and take and apply, but I'm not sure that hope, in a realistic and helpful way, is among that value.

Conclusion

In the end, I think that hope is incredibly important. Especially now (and, historically, points like now.) But I don't know how to express it in a way that is genuine or gives people guidance on what to do.

I, myself, don't really know what to do. How do you tell people to hope that evil can be defeated when you can see that things are already in place for new evils to take its place once it is knocked down? When all the power to make change lies in competing conspiracies, how do you express hope for honest people? 

Perhaps I, myself, need to find some more hopeful things to read.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Descent into Laughter

I have very clear goals for what I need to focus on completing this month...

So, of course, I've gotten distracted by a smaller more personal project.

I recently tried to run a Numenera game for new players, mostly unfamiliar with tabletop RPGs or the setting of the Ninth World. I was using one of the adventures from Weird Discoveries. These adventures are designed to be run with little to no prep and sort of be the sort of thing one could recommend in the place of a board game. My experience running some of these with my regular players is that they have taken roughly 1.5-2 hours. We spent 3+ hours playing and didn't finish the adventure.

Which is fine. And I think that the players mostly had a good time, which is good. That's the objective.

But I was a bit surprised by how...slowly things seemed to go. Which isn't my normal experience with Numenera/Cypher System. Especially since I had chosen something I thought would be fast/exciting for my new players. I don't think either my players or I did anything wrong, and, as I said, it wasn't a bad experience. It just wasn't the experience I'd expected to have.

I spent a lot of time questioning if there was something that I could have run which would have been more in line with my objectives.

My objective was this: to find something that could introduce new players to roleplaying games with a simple system and fast-paced/exciting adventure.

Thus began my Descent.

Cypher System Rulebook (Monte Cook Games) Other Cypher Solutions

The adventure that I had chosen started with discovery/exploration/exposition. I think that this gained the players attention, but also brought the focus more on details and investigation, rather than action and excitement.

Therefore, choosing an adventure that starts with action/adventure/excitement would better engage players from the start.

The players spent a lot of time questioning things and looking deep into he details of the world. For a campaign, this can be great. For a one-shot adventure, this can slow things down. I partially wonder if some of the level of questioning is because of the odd-ness Numenera's setting, the Ninth World.

Therefore, I determined that choosing a setting similar to those that the players are more familiar with would require less questioning and side knowledge.

But, I also wasn't terribly convinced that Cypher System would have been my best bet. So, I moved on to looking at the other system I had with me...

The Puddle

The puddle is a fun little system, and I happened to have one-page rules supplement handouts with me.

The puddle is a highly narrative game where characters start with six defining characteristics each determined by the individual players.

With good enough successful roles, the Puddle actually puts narrative control in the player's hands temporarily.

In my experience, it tends to move very fast, and I imagine it would be actually pretty difficult to get caught up in the weeds with it.

That said, it requires a lot of creative thought on the part of the players. From coming up with aspects to taking narrative control, it requires an element of storytelling on the part of those playing it. For people who aren't familiar with roleplaying games, this can be somewhat intimidating.

Additionally, because the mechanics are so highly narrative and so different from standard RPGs, I think it can be a poor introduction to the general world of RPGs.

Having looked at the Puddle, my brain moved on to another system which I wouldn't have been prepared to run at the time, but that I at least had experience with and owned the book for.

Savage Worlds Deluxe: Explorer's Edition Savage Worlds

Savage Worlds boasts being "Fast, Furious, and Fun." And, from my limited experience with it, it does that pretty well.

If I'm looking for a "realistic" or "high quality" game that I'd run for a long time, I probably wouldn't choose Savage Worlds. The dice probabilities are a bit wacky, which can be fast, furious, and fun, but doesn't contribute the reliability/predictability that I'd like from a more solid game.

But it is fun. It does tend to run at a fast pace. It's not as easy as Cypher System is on the GM, but it's still far easier on them than traditional D&D or Pathfinder would be. The rules are pretty straightforward and easy to understand.

For a while, my mind was like "okay, yeah, this is a good system for my objective." And it's true, Savage Worlds would have perfectly met the original objective.

But...one of the things that I like about Cypher, and possibly one of the things that has kept it as my primary system for all this time, is that I like being able to sell my materials. If I put a lot of work into making up a One Shot Adventure, I like that I can be rewarded for that work. Savage Worlds lets fans put out whatever they want for free, but is a bit more restrictive when it comes to licensing. Now, they're more open than some RPGs to letting people use their system, but I think that obtaining licensing permission from them is still a bit beyond my reach.

So, this led me to considering beyond that...

Fate Core FATE Accelerated

Once upon a time, I ran a Dresden Files game using FATE that didn't turn out quite how I had planned. I think that to legitimately run FATE well requires a partial shift in how I GM games. And it requires me figuring out a better way to track all the Aspects in play.
That said, FATE is a game that falls somewhere between Narrative games and mechanical games. Every character (and many elements of the world itself) have qualitative Aspects that can be invoked in order to have a narrative and/or mechanical effect on the story. Every character also has skills which are rolled against difficulty ratings.

FATE Accelerated is a simplified version of the system with less skills to keep track of where how one does something is more important than what one is actually doing. This seemed like it could make it better for one-shot games with new players. Additionally, FATE has an open license, so I could publish anything I put together for it.

But, in truth, if I were to run FATE again, I think that I'd prefer it to be with more experienced players and/or when my goal isn't necessarily having a fast-paced/exciting game.

That said, somewhat more as a side note, I have a Shakespeare One Shot idea for FATE Accelerated that I would love to try out sometime with a particular group of Shakespeare fans that I know. If I can ever put the adventure together.

Image result for dungeon worldDungeon World

I have never played Dungeon World before. I've never seen it played. What I knew about it before looking into it was that it was fairly simplified generic fantasy, class-based, and that it had an Open Game License.
What I found was somewhat interesting to me. The game tries to turn plot twists and storytelling devices into "moves" for the GM, mechanically called upon at points in the game. This keeps the game moving as well as entrenched in narrative while still keeping a fairly mechanical system for the players.

Adventures, rather than being planned through events or locations, are planned through setting up fronts-usually threats to the world that the players will need to overcome-and the risks they pose.

I feel like a lot of what Dungeon World tries to set up for Game Masters in how it suggests they plan adventures as well as how they evolve the game over time is pretty good advice for Game Masters generally when it comes to running games. But, the thing is, it actually can be applied to any game. And apart from that, there's not much that makes Dungeon World stand out to me. It seems like a fine system, just not one that really grabs my interest in any way.

Further Descent

I spent a lot of time looking up different systems that had open game licenses, to varying degrees of obscurity. None of these were remarkable enough to be worth mentioning or even, apparently, remembering.

I also spent some time thinking of making my own system. I have lots of system-related thoughts that I'd like to explore in at least two different directions (one for a system of great depth and "quality" and another for a simple system that could be more legitimately run as a board game.) I also spend some time thinking of picking up programming again to try to put together something more like the later. (This may or may not be something I set to work on when I have more time.)

Around this time, in a Facebook group I'm a part of, someone was asking for suggestions for something that they could learn quickly and use for a one-shot that evening. It was here a suggestion was made that reminded me of a game I hadn't thought of in a long time...

Risus

Like the Puddle, Risus is a nice, simple system for which the rules fit on a few pages. Like the Puddle, Risus has the players define their character's stats with quantitative descriptors. However, unlike the Puddle, Risus doesn't expect players to take narrative control of the story (removing that barrier for players who would be intimidated by it as well as making the game more traditional/mechanically based after characters are created.)

I happily think that Risus is the solution to the problem that I started out on. It's a silly game that's fast paced and decently good at what it does. The rules are simple and easy to understand. It's incredibly easy to make up and run stuff on the fly.

Like Savage Worlds, I would need to get permission if I wanted to sell any materials I created for Risus. However, unlike Savage Worlds, I can't imagine actually putting forth the level of detail and development for an adventure that I'd feel inclined to need/want to sell it. In the odd case that something like that were to happen, from what I can tell, it'd be easier to get permission to do so from the creator of Risus than it would be from the company that produces Savage Worlds.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Ruins & Robots Announcement

Humanity is gone. In their absence, robot-kind has grown and raised up its own civilization. 

I recently posted on my Facebook page about some of my upcoming projects, including (but not limited to Ruins & Robots. So, for those of you wondering, here's a little more about what that's all about.

Ruins and Robots is an upcoming series of books that I am working on. Like Heroism and Other Lies, these will be shorter books (between 15,000 and 30,000 words).

The series focuses on MAI, a humanizer robot assigned to an excavation team. Set in a post-human world, excavation teams are groups of robots that go into the ruins of humanity looking for any useful information or technology that may have been lost to robot-kind during the dark age. As a humanizer robot, it is MAI's job to find digital copies of human personalities and memories and then activate them. These copies become projections of their human-selves within MAI's processor. MAI then can interact with the persona to try to get them to tell her where the team might find something of use.

Despite taking place post-humanity, the story isn't meant to be an inherently pessimistic one. This isn't a future that I think would actually come to pass. There are a lot of things that make the premise inconstant with reality. But it's more about the way we (as humans) project ourselves on our creations and the world around us as well as about the things we leave as our legacy.

The robots in the story, despite being robots, mostly feel fairly human. Perhaps, as the stories go on, this will be ever more the case.

I have rough drafts written of an introductory short story and the first book. I've got a very detailed outline for the second book. I have a much rougher outline for several books beyond that. It's my hope to release the short story and books 1 and 2 in October. We'll see what actually happens.

I look forward to sharing more about Robots & Ruins with you as we draw closer to then.

Friday, December 22, 2017

The Last Jedi: Lies and Heroism


Image result for the last jedi

Perhaps you've heard, a new Star Wars movie was released last week. I had a lot of different thoughts on it, so I figured I would share them with you, whoever you are.

I liked the movie overall. I accept that it had some flaws, but most/many of them I can justify and understand. The only thing that I can't really justify is the amount of attempted humor throughout the movie. I didn't think it was anywhere near as excessive as Thor: Ragnarok, but I also think it feels a bit more out of place when it does show up. I didn't really have a problem with it, since I felt like they placed it in okay places, but I know people who really did.

It's impossible to share the rest of my thoughts without spoilers, so consider this your SPOILER WARNING

If you do not want to see spoilers for The Last Jedi (and potentially other Star Wars movies), read no further. Bookmark or save this page, and come back when you have seen the movie. Seriously. I am going to spoil almost every major point or twist.

So, there's a lot going on in this movie. Truthfully, I'm going to need to see it at least one more time before I feel like I really have a handle on all of it. But, there is a central theme running through both/all three sides of the story that I couldn't help but notice. It's a theme that's near and dear to my own heart, since it's the focus of my book series as well.


Central Theme: Heroism and Other Lies

Image result for star warsThe original Star Wars movies (IV-VI) followed a traditional hero arch. Luke went from simple farm boy to hero, taking up (Episode IV), learning (Episode V), and mastering (Episode VI) the powers of the force and everything that came with the mantel of being a hero.

The prequels followed a traditional tragedy arch where Anakin rises to power, becoming a hero; is corrupted by that power, turning away from heroism; and falls victim to it, becoming a villain and losing everything they care about.

Throughout these movies, the idea of heroism is ever-present. There are good guys and there are bad guys. The good guys make bold and heroic moves, battling evil in the name of good. It's easy to root for them.

In the current trilogy, good and evil may still be apparent, but, especially in the Last Jedi, what counts as heroism may not be.

In the opening events, we see Poe direct an extremely heroic assault on an enemy ship. We see a bomber pilot heroically sacrifice herself to have victory. But then, the value of this action is called into question later on. Throughout the movie, Luke talks about how the Jedi had vainly set themselves up as heroes. He spoke of how their claim, that the force was their own power, was selfish and misunderstands the truth. He spoke of how people looking to Jedi and others as legends can prove problematic, especially since at the height of their power the Jedi still failed.

These are fascinating and engaging ideas in a series that's always been about how one person with a laser sword can be super powerful. Especially looking at how Rogue One looked at the value of people working together with a unified effort.

Sure, the Rebellion has always been there in the other Star Wars movies, but it's always felt insignificant in comparison to the big figures, and especially in the original Star Wars movies, it was always more about defeating evil than building up good.

I feel like The Last Jedi and Rogue One have inverted that. There are still big heroic figures, but their actions are in support of something larger than themselves-something that isn't just "let's destroy the bad guys"

This is also somewhat spelled out in Finn's plot arc with Rose. He was excited about wrecking the fancy city with the bad people, she was excited about setting the creatures free. He was going to sacrifice himself to destroy the enemy, she wanted him to live to keep hope alive.

I'm very interested in things that can look at heroism through varying lenses, even if moving away from the less traditional ones can be less cinematic at times.

Subtheme: Heroic Death



Image result for star wars ghosts
Heroically dying for something used to be a theme that was super interesting and significant to me. It became much less so as I grew older and realized that living for something is a lot harder and more significant (although less cinematic) than dying for that thing.

A lot of people die in The Last Jedi. A lot of it happens through self-sacrifice. Some of these sacrifices are painted as acceptable/okay/good, while others are looked at more critically. The sacrifice of the bombers destroying the dreadnaught is frowned upon. Finn isn't allowed to sacrifice himself to stop the cannon (even though, based on what they knew at the time, if he didn't do that, not only would he still die, but everyone would die.) However, Holdo is allowed to go down with the ship. Luke is allowed to expend all of his life force facing down Kylo Ren. This seemed contradictory to me to begin with. I couldn't understand why sacrifice was praised in some situations and looked down on in others. It seemed thematically inconsistent.

And then I realized what it was. Poe and Finn were both trying to destroy weapons of the enemy-trying to fight evil. Luke and Holdo were both sacrificing themselves so that the rebels could survive/get away. Of course, it could be argued that Poe/Finn were also trying to destroy the enemy weapons so that the rebels could survive/get away. However, there is an internal consistency with the sacrifices based on the pro-good not anti-evil message the movie seems to be trying to make.

Predictions: Episode IX and Beyond

Image result for first orderNeither the First Order nor the Rebellion are in a very good state at the end of Episode VIII.

The primary leadership of the First Order is gone. Neither Kylo Ren nor Hux would make a great leader on their own, and I'm pretty sure that their continued working against each other won't help. Possibly we'll see Phasma again. She'd probably make a better leader overall, but I am not sure if she could jump rank enough to be in charge, especially with Kylo and Hux already fighting each other for control.

The rebellion is what now...20 people? Something fairly small.

This does not set up the third movie of the trilogy to follow traditional paths. Normally, when I think of a trilogy, I think that two forces are both growing across the series so that when the third movie hits, two massive forces are colliding. Rather than two injured and broken forces, like what The Last Jedi has left us with. Which isn't to say that the next movie can't be interesting.

I could see the Rebellion trying to rebuild. How you start a rebellion from a small number of people is an interesting question/theme to me, but generally not one to start exploring in the last movie of a trilogy.

With all this in mind, I am predicting that in the end of the trilogy, both the First Order and the Rebellion will be no more. The cycle of war between two forces that were really opposite sides of the same coin will be at an end. I think that it will end without a sure path as to what the galactic government will look like beyond that point. I think that it would be cool if Rey and Kylo join together and turn towards facing the task of creating a better galaxy together. But I don't know how likely that last bit is to happen.

If/when Disney moves on to X-XII, I'd like a trilogy focused on trying to establish order/rebuild a better future in the aftermath of a galaxy that's spent the better part of three generations at war. But I don't know if that will happen either.

In light of Carrie Fisher's death, I think that Leia won't be alive in the next movie. I think they'll have killed her off in between The Last Jedi and Episode IX. I expect that characters will have some nice words to say about her passing. I wouldn't even be surprised if there's a funeral near the beginning of the movie.

I'm not sure if it will happen in the next movie or later on, but I think that the clip with the boy at the end is meant to indicate that there are others out there who can use the force. This probably means a new Jedi (or otherwise probably light-side-oriented force user) academy may be comin in the future.

Other Thoughts

Origins

Image result for star wars rey last jediRey

Rey's origin was...a little disappointing. But I think that was supposed to be the point. And it plays in with the "anyone can be important" type heroism subversion that I like from the movie. Going in, I just really thought she would turn out to be a Kenobi.

Snoke (and the Theme of balance)

At this point, I assume we'll never know Snoke's origins. But they seem, to me, to be either really important or really plot-hole like. Snoke is an amazingly powerful force user-maybe the most powerful we've ever seen in the movies. Presumably, someone had to teach him that. Who? The easiest answer would be the Emperor, but I don't know if that is the truest answer. If it's someone who is still out there, then there still could be a powerful evil force user out there (since Kylo is strong with the force, but not very smart and somewhat "conflicted".

Of course, there is another way of looking at it. Snoke did mention that Rey's light arose to balance out Kylo's darkness. If we are to believe this is true, then it is possible that Snoke's darkness arose to balance out Luke's light. We also see this on Luke's island with the tree of light and the pit of darkness, further emphasizing the balance theme. That would be interesting thematically, even if it doesn't make a lot of sense plot-wise.

More about Balance

Image result for star wars rey last jediIn the prequels, they talk about the prophecy about the one who will bring balance to the force-especially in relationship to Anakin. It gets mentioned before the Council is even aware of Darth Maul or other evil force users. It has always seemed to me that they are utilizing a different definition of balance than the one I'm familiar with when they're asking for balance. In the prequels, the Jedi are definitely the most prominent force users in the galaxy. The light side is present, overwhelmingly. When Anakin kills off most of the Jedi (except for Yoda and Obi Wan), he leaves two force users on the light and two on the dark. Equal. Balance. The prophecy fulfilled. The force in balance once again (instead of having one side overwhelming which presumably keeps it from becoming balanced). Cause yeah, balance isn't peace. Balance isn't order. Balance is equal parts on each side.

If that's the case, then perhaps after Endor, the force raised up Snoke to balance out Luke. Luke started his school. Kylo became a force of darkness. The force raised up Rey to balance out Kylo.

This also means that if Kylo or Rey converts, either the other one will convert and they'll both switch sides, or else the force will try to raise up two force users on their opposing side to balance them out. It also means that if a new Jedi academy is built up, either a new wave of sith/dark force users will rise up to balance, or that the force will go once again out of balance (which might be better off).

Slicers/Code-Breakers

Image result for snoke last jediI really like hackers in things. I like heist-like things. From my understanding from my limited interactions with the now-non-cannon Star Wars Expanded Universe, Slicers play a pretty significant role in the setting.

I was really excited that this movie included a Slicer. I was really disappointed when he turned out to have the personality flaws that he had.

I realize that's not big and important, but it was meaningful to me, so I wanted to say it.


Star Wars is the official property of the Walt Disney Corporation. All images from the movies are copyright Disney.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Wrong Wolf

Image Copyright Disney 2015
I recently re-watched the movie Tomorrowland. Released in 2015, Disney's Tomorrowland is a very thematic movie that has a good message and, like most science fiction movies that aren't already a part of a major franchise, it was not a financial success.


I don't blame this entirely on the movie being science fiction. I liked it a lot, but I also accept that it's not a great movie. And while I like the theme and the message it's trying to send, I think it raises a very valid problem while its solution is somewhere in between too general and too implausible to be useful.


But that's only sort of tangential to the point. In the movie, the characters reference a "story" about two wolves. In real life, it's actually an old Cherokee Legend.


The Two Wolves

The story/legend goes that there are two wolves that are constantly fighting. One is darkness. It's doubt, fear, hate, and everything that comes about through negative thinking and focusing on negative things. The other is light. It's hope and ingenuity and creativity and everything that comes from focusing on the good. The story asks the question: which wolf wins the fight? It also provides the answer: Whichever one you feed.


This is an interesting philosophy for me, but it's also a difficult one in practice. It's interesting to me as a writer, and it's interesting to me as someone living in the current political climate.


To Acknowledge the Wrong Wolf is the Feed the Wrong Wolf; To Fail to Acknowledge the Wrong Wolf is to Feed the Wrong Wolf.

To focus on the darkness is, to a degree, to feed it. It's to make that wolf stronger and more able to fight. However, to ignore the darkness is to allow it to exist. By not being aware of the evils of the world, one can fall victim to them. In being aware, by not making others aware is to allow them to fall into them while you remain safe. But, at the same time, I know that when I look too hard at the dark things in the world, when I think about them too much, it causes me to collapse. It feeds the wrong wolf.


And there is so much wrong with the world that it's overwhelming. I don't think anyone disagrees with the idea that there is a depressing amount of things wrong with the world today. So, if everyone already knows that things are wrong, is there any point in talking about it at all? Is there any point in acknowledging that wolf as it eats the elephant in the room?


Well, yes, at least, I think so. Because not everyone agrees on which things make up the darkness and how it manifests. Not to mention that there are many new manifestations all the time. So, the only way to reach the truth and to spread the truth is to acknowledge it and talk about it, even/especially with people of different opinions. To what end? To do something about it.


Of course, when speaking to those who have differing opinions on specific manifestations of that wolf, it's important to do this in a civil, informative, and open-minded manner, being willing to adjust ones views in the way of superior evidence, and being willing to walk away when it becomes clear that a) the other side isn't providing arguments based on reason and fact and b) that the other side isn't willing to listen to fact. Continuing in an anger-based discussion is nonproductive, and it feeds the wrong wolf.


To Be an Author is to Direct the Wolves' Food Supply

When people read, when people engage in fiction, it touches them. A lot of people don't acknowledge this, but there is something inherent in the way that our brains interact with fiction that makes it affect us.


We might disagree with the premises and ideas proposed in a fictional source. We might understand the examples and ideas being presented to us, recognize the author's point, and not take it. But, even if the author's goal isn't accomplished, the reading still affects us. It might even affect us by causing us to dig our heels in more against whatever ideas the author is proposing.


So, while they can't always control what their effect will be, authors have an effect on how people deal with the wolves (on a personal level as well as a societal one). Authors can end up making people feel hopeful towards the future, or making people feel doomed. They can make people aware of evils in the world, or they can make/keep people ignorant. And they can do so much more.


Heroism and Other Lies: A Dreadful Balancing Act

I've mentioned before that I'm very pro progress. I think that our development of robotics and artificial intelligence is really cool. I think that we're on the verge of all sorts of advances in medicine, technology, and numerous other fields. I think that's good. I want humanity to embrace that. I want us to work on building a shining shimmering future (like the ones that we used to imagine; like the place depicted in Tomorrowland). These things are exciting, good, and hopeful. These things feed the right wolf.


But technology development isn't without risk. Especially when the people who control it are motivated more by profit than by progress. There's a lot of darkness that can be brought about by technology. The same inventions can be used to feed either wolf, and a lot of times they are held by or bought out by those who primarily feed the wrong one. (See the entire Cyberpunk genre)


I didn't set out to write cyberpunk when I was starting Heroism and Other Lies, but I more or less ended up there regardless. One of the major themes of Heroism is technology and the future and hopefulness vs. consequences. I really wanted to be able to paint the future with a hopeful brush while acknowledging and demonstrating the risks of our current paths. I don't know how well I did or didn't accomplish that in season 1. I have a pretty good idea of how to better balance the two in season 2, if that were ever to become a thing.


Dragons, Wolves, and Shadows

The working title of the novel I'm currently working on is Dragons, Wolves, and Shadows. It isn't the name that I want to go with, but even the fact that it's a working title is somewhat telling. All three of those elements are elements of the wrong wolf. Does my project contribute to the wrong wolf, or does it provide hope that we can beat it? I don't know.


I do know that partway through what I have already, I became aware of a rather dark and hopeless tone in the story-because the start has to work to set up a lot of the things that will be worked against the rest of the book. I went back and altogether created another character, just to add some light early on.


I end a lot of these posts this way:

I have no idea what I'm doing. I want to feed the right wolf, but the truth is that most of the time I don't know how. When I am hopeful, it is hopeful about being able to overcome the darkness. Without the dark, I don't know how I'd be able to be hopeful or feel or think positive things.


I feel, with my writing, that especially if I expect to have an audience, it's important that I feed the right wolf, and that I help other people to do so as well.


But I think a large part of the problem is that I don't have the solutions. Hope alone isn't enough to solve the problems of the world. Ignoring them doesn't work either. But I also don't really know how to fix or face them. I don't know how to stop the wrong wolf. I guess maybe I hope that if I shine a spotlight on it, someone who does know how or who can do something will be more likely to notice and do something. But in doing so, I'm afraid that I just make the shadow bigger.