Friday, June 28, 2013

I Must Be Getting Desperate For Topics

The real reason my posting schedule gets a little bit sparse at this time of year has nothing to do with lack of time and everything to do with lack of ideas. I get so consumed by work that I don't really pay attention to the world, which makes it hard to write about things that aren't the financial industry's decision to spend years and years depersonalizing the home mortgage process and getting personal influence out of the home valuation process by putting barriers between the loan officers and the appraisers so they can't communicate...then start requiring references from a financial institution for all new appraisers. (As you can imagine, this is something I can talk a lot about.)

So at this point, I'm just going to tell you about a dream I had the other day. In it, I was watching a "lost" Eccleston episode of 'Doctor Who', and marveling at the sheer audacity of Russell T. Davies. Because I knew that while the casual viewer wasn't going to notice it, Davies had gone and made the story into a mashup of "Vengeance on Varos" and "Timelash", and was demonstrating that there was really nothing wrong with the ideas, only the execution. In it, the Doctor and Rose and Jack landed on a degenerate former colony where the inhabitants had developed a Roman-esque Imperial Court, and the Doctor was framed by the Emperor as the ringleader of the rebels (who didn't really exist--they were just a convenient excuse to crack down on people) and sentenced to the Mindlash. (As a subplot, there was a faction who planned to use the Doctor to assassinate the Emperor and then execute him for that. Not many good guys in this one.)

The Doctor, in turn, found out that the Mindlash was actually a piece of broken technology from the original colony ship, an artificial intelligence that functioned as the ship's psychiatrist. Unfortunately, this one had become rather severely degraded, and was convinced that the default state for "sanity" was the 17th century explorer Vasco de Gama. The Doctor was deemed incurably insane for not believing himself to be a Spanish sailor from the Age of Exploration, and the machine decided that the best way to "cure" him was to erase his brain patterns entirely.

I woke up before the end, but I'd already guessed it--the Doctor had been talking to the Captain of the Imperial Guard, who was a good man who knew that the Court had become too decadent to survive, and I figured that in traditional Ninth Doctor fashion, he was going to win not through direct action but by inspiring someone else to do good. But it was an awesome episode, full of jokes and twists and courtly intrigue. I wish you could have seen it.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Self-Taught Superheroes, Part Twenty

If the room hadn't been the size of a couple of freaking football fields, I'd have been fast enough. As it was, I almost made it. But another thing I was learning about being a superhero, along with the crazy plans and the crazy supervillains and the general craziness, is that "almost" just doesn't cut it. "Almost" leaves you still twenty feet away when the bad guy opens the door and his minions flood into the room with their guns at the ready.

"I really have to thank you," Lord Raptor said as his men herded us back towards the portal. I really wanted to take them on, but the odds did not look good--especially not with Captain Light still hovering in the air, now looking increasingly strained as the energy cuffs drained away his power to keep the portal device open. I looked over at Kevin, then jerked my head towards the portal, but he managed to convey in some surprisingly economic gestures that he hadn't really equipped the jury-rigged device with a safety cut-out, and that it was drawing on Josh's ambient power to the point where he couldn't free himself from it. I responded with my own economic gesture that would probably be unprintable.

"Here I am, kidnapping and bombing and stealing and doing all this work to get my portal sustainable to the point where I can use it to enter other worlds...and all I really needed to do was to get a few inventive superheroes to do it for me! You've achieved all my goals, and I didn't even need to lift a finger. I'd let you share in my new Golden Age of Humanity, but I think we both all know that you're not the type to appreciate it." His men backed us up against the portal, and he sauntered arrogantly over to the computer bank.

"Instead, I think I will give you the mercy of exile. Our scans have uncovered a number of habitable worlds; we can find one for you that will keep you alive...if not necessarily comfortable...while I carry out my plans." He gestured to Captain Light. "Which isn't to say that you'll all be going on a one-way trip. This young man is proving to be quite invaluable."

He pressed a few buttons, and the swirl of the portal began to shift. "But the rest of you...entirely expendable, I'm afraid. I hope you understand that it's nothing personal. I'm sure we'd get along quite well socially. But you're in the way of a brand new destiny for the human race. A whole new frontier to conquer...and there's no room for sentimental fools like you that want to coddle the weak." The portal resolved onto a whole new world, one with lemon-yellow sky and trees with bright blue leaves. It was my first-ever glimpse of an alien planet. I'd have appreciated it a lot more if I hadn't been thinking at the time that I was going to spend the rest of my life there.

"Welcome to your new home, my dears. I hope you don't mind roughing it for a bit, but we really can't spare you the supplies. Not when we've got a beachhead to--what the HELL?" He broke off into a stunned silence just as his men started to fire.

As you can imagine, it took a lot for Lord Raptor to break off his love affair with the sound of his own voice. I'm not sure what it looked like to everyone else--probably just a blurred streak in the air, leaping and bouncing, stabbing and mutilating and eviscerating. But I've got my super-speed perceptions, so I saw it perfectly. And by 'it', I mean 'her'.

She stood about eight feet tall, with lavender skin that was covered in some places with an outfit made of animal skins and and in others with war paint the color of dried blood. (At least, I hoped it was paint.) Her ears were pointy, her teeth were pointy, her tail was pointy, and her swords were pointy too. She was demonstrating it vividly and viciously to Lord Raptor's men; I could follow her movements, but they must have felt like food in a Cuisinart. She hacked her way through about a dozen or so, leaving them bleeding on the floor, before she stopped and bellowed a challenge to the rest.

"Ka kh'ra, spellack chirr, sha ka fra kee!" She gestured with her swords, wiggling the tip in a way that made it clear that 'Come and have a go if you think you're hard enough!' transcended human language. A few of Lord Raptor's troops shot at her, but she darted away from the bolts as if they were slow-pitch softballs. She hissed back at them like an angry cat, her teeth bared in a parody of a smile.

"Kill the savage!" Lord Raptor shouted from his strategic position on the other side of the computer banks. "A million dollars to the man who brings back her head!"

"Saa...vij..." The alien woman rolled the word around in her mouth as if she was tasting it. "Saavij!" She slapped her own chest with the hilt of her sword. "SAAVIJ!" She laughed harshly, and flung herself back into the crowd of soldiers. I felt guilty for not doing more, but, um...not so guilty that I did more, you know? I mean, Lord Raptor was planning to dump us on a whole planet of 'savages' and then go kill a whole other planet of 'savages', and I knew the meaning of 'irony' as well as the next person. When the troops broke and ran for it, leaving Lord Raptor all alone with us and the alien chick, well...justice was being pretty poetic.

Lord Raptor tried to make for the door too, but Saavij (we never did learn her name in her own language) kept darting in front of him, cutting off his every avenue of escape. He backed away from her, but she was playing with him like a cat played with a mouse. He had nowhere to go except backwards, to the portal. To her world. And from the look on her face, she couldn't wait to give him the guided tour. He stumbled backwards into the alien world with the yellow skies...

And before she could follow, the portal cut out. We all heard the thump of Captain Light hitting the floor knees-first, then falling forward onto his hands. "Oh," he said. "So that's what 'tired' feels like..." With that, he slumped forwards and passed out.

It took him a full three days to wake up. In that time, we'd placated Saavij with some raw meat, taught her the words for 'food', 'water' and 'friend' (although I'm still pretty sure she thinks it means 'person who brings you food and water') and turfed out the few soldiers who hadn't bugged out. That left us with about two dozen airships, twenty or so tanks, an interdimensional portal that we knew how to run in a pinch, and a secret base built into a mountain.

And it was Josh who came up what to do with it all.

"I know there are others like us," he said. "People who have amazing abilities, and who actually want to do the right thing with them. We can get them together here--we've got enough space to store an army, literally. And we can all teach one another everything we've already learned, and learn from them what they've taught themselves! It'll be like an academy for superheroes, except that nobody's in charge. And we can encourage new people with powers, when we find them, to do the right thing instead of turning out like Lord Raptor, just another bully with big ideas." He shrugged. "At least, that's the plan. What do you say?"

I think at this point, you can guess what we said.

But that wasn't what I dreamed about. I'd already gone off into Angry Telepathic Frog House, as previously noted. And I woke up, shouting "Don't crawl down my shirt!" As already indicated. And then I really woke up, and opened my the Best. Thing. Ever.


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Once Again, Summer = Vanishing Time

Apologies for the missing post on Saturday; I am once again in that part of the year where my day job starts begging for people to work all the hours God sent, and I can't even post on my lunch break this summer because I am doing Seekrit Writerly Things during that time. (If all goes well, I should be able to let you in on the secret come Octoberish. Maybe a little sooner.)

I can make it up to you in a tiny way by mentioning that I'll be attending CONvergence over the 4th of July weekend, here in the Twin Cities. I've never been approached by anyone who reads my blog, so you could be the first! I'll be doing six panels:

Thursday, 7:00 PM: The Whovian Conundrum. A discussion of the way that Who fans deal with the plot holes and contradictions that build up after fifty years of continuity.

Thursday, 10:00 PM: What Makes a Good Bad Movie? A discussion of what makes some movies so bad they're good, and others just bad.

Friday, 12:30 PM: Doctor Who, Season Seven Round-Up. A panel on the most recent season of Who.

Friday, 7:00 PM: Comic Book Villains--The Worst of the Worst. A panel on the classic lame villains of comics, from the Kangaroo to Stilt-Man to Doctor Demonicus.

Saturday, 10:00 PM: Guilty Pleasure Film. A panel on our favorite movies that we love even if we'd never admit it.

Sunday, 2:00 PM: Doctor Who--The Wilderness Years. A panel about the best era of Doctor Who EVAR.

So if you do want to see what I'm like in person, feel free to stop by and listen to me ramble!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

"Government Wiretaps Civilians" Is the New "Dog Bites Man"

There's another scandal about the federal government abusing its power to conduct covert surveillance on its own citizens, this time with under catchy and innocuous-sounding acronym of "PRISM". (Sometimes I get the feeling that deep down, every single one of our government intelligence analysts grew up watching 'The Man From UNCLE' one too many times. I'm not saying we should take away their TV sets, but maybe if they got a little therapy, they'd stop acting out their spy fantasies in the seats of government.)

There's a peculiar dichotomy going on right now. On the one hand, the same exact people who insisted Bush was our Glorious Leader and that we needed to be able to spy on innocent civilians to catch the terrorists in our midst that Jack Bauer had missed are now freaking out, because Obama's use of the exact same domestic surveillance in the exact same manner is the first step in the Coming of the Black Helicopters. On the other hand, you have a bunch of left-wing apologists saying that this abuse isn't nearly as bad as Bush's abuse, because it's being carried out by someone competent and intelligent so there's probably a good reason for it this time that we just don't know about. In addition, you also have some left-wingers who are SHOCKED! that Obama, the Second Coming of FDR, turns out to be perfectly willing to abuse government power when it's handed to him. I'd say there are also some right-wingers out there who are glad Obama is finally getting tough with terrorists, but let's just admit it, the neocons are so far gone these days they can't even admit that he got bin Laden and Khadaffi.

Whereas the actual fact is, the abuse is at this point institutional, just like pretty much everyone who was paying attention said it would be back when these things were being hashed out the first time, well over a decade ago at this point. Obama is neither a demonic monster nor a wise and benevolent patriarch; he's just a guy with access to power that really shouldn't be handed out. (And let's face it, probably most of the really bad abuse is done down at the grunt end anyway. People think in terms of power-mad dictators, but there's nothing quite so bad for invasion of privacy as a bored techie who can look at your Facebook account.)

(, yeah, it's probably worth mentioning at this point that there are already plenty of bored techies who can look at your Facebook account without the government getting involved. Privacy online really is just an illusion we sell ourselves so that we don't get skeeved out while looking at porn.)

The point is, getting shocked and outraged at Obama, like some people are, or defending him like other people are, isn't worth doing. It doesn't matter who you put in the Oval Office. These powers will be abused because they are broken, not because the people who are abusing them are bad. The remedy is to limit the power, not to find better people. Because I do still believe that Obama is a good man and a good President. Heck, I believe I'm a good man and I like to think I'd make a good President, but give me unlimited surveillance capability over the entire United States and I'd probably come up with some pretty good rationalizations for why I should use it, too. It's just not a tool we should allow people to have, that's all.

Or, alternatively, we should allow them to have it. So long as we can see everything they do on the Internet too. After all, fair's fair.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Phonemes Are Important

I've been thinking lately that I should get into advertising. I think I'd be good at it--I'm clever, I have a gift for a turn of phrase, and I know how to make something sound exciting and interesting. I'm pitching some sample slogans for McDonald's McWrap--just say these out loud, and let me know how they sound to you.

The McWrap--it's McWrap-tacular!

Go ahead, take a McWrap!

Hungry for hot, fresh food? Try our steaming McWrap!

McDonald's--we put our McWrap in your mouth!

Got a big party? We've got a big pile of McWrap for you!

McWrap--you know you're full of it.

You'll never forget the taste of McWrap!

We've got McWrap in our kitchen!

Let us leave a McWrap on your table.

The new premium McWrap--the McWrappiest McWrap we ever McWrapped!


...what do you think? Am I in?

Monday, June 03, 2013

Can I Remake 'Resident Evil' Again?

I really would like to put out a brand new version of 'Resident Evil' for a next-gen console (much like Nintendo did when they re-released it for the Game Cube.) Because I've always had one really good idea for a survival horror game, but it's not about the plot or characters or setting. And I think those kind of need to be good.

But my idea is for the difficulty level. Most games, 'Resident Evil' included, don't go much beyond "Easy", "Normal", and "Hard". (Yes, some of them go on to "Very Hard". Not my point here.) But my idea is to make the difficulty levels customizable in a number of different ways, each one operating independently of each other. So you would have a "Number of Zombies" slider, allowing you to have anything from one zombie in the whole game all the way up to a horde in every room. You'd have a slider for "Amount of Weapons/Ammo", a slider for "Amount of Healing Supplies", a slider for "Zombie Durability", a slider for "Zombie AI" (smarter zombies can open doors and climb stairs, following you from room to room), a slider for "Zombie Speed", a slider for "Zombie Damage" (at the top end, every bite is a kill) each game would be its own custom experience tailored to your preferences. You could make a version of RE that's a blood-soaked shoot 'em up, with metric tons of zombies in each room and a shotgun round for every one of them, or you could make it a terror-filled game of relentless pursuit with only one zombie...that never died, that followed you everywhere, and that was only slightly slower than you were. (There'd be a representational slider at the top that rated your overall level of difficulty based on the different selections on the bottom. Not every version would be beatable.)

And there would be one extra-special slider, which would be what would make my version of 'Resident Evil' a truly horrific horror survival game. This slider would set the number of save points, from easy (one every few rooms) to OMG there are no save points. Anywhere. You die, the game ends and all your progress is lost. Trust me, when you are six hours into a ten hour game, and you know that all that goes poof if you run into a zombie at the wrong are going to be a bag of nerves.

Horror video games. I can't write them, design them, program them or even really play them all that well. But by god, I can come up with good ideas for making them hard.