Weekly status update [0071/????]

Yeah, the calendar says Sunday, but I haven’t gone to bed yet. As far as I’m concerned, I’m just writing this very late on Saturday night. That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

  • I’m about a hundred pages from the end of the third book in Kate Elliott’s Crown of Stars series, a set of seven fantasy doorstops that were recommended in one of the many “ugh Game of Thrones” threads that inhabit the modern Internet. It’s fine. Nothing mind-blowing, but its take on a fantasy version of France in the Middle Ages is plenty enjoyable. Most importantly, the series is completely written and books four through seven sit right next to my chair, ready for me to pick them up.
  • I finished up Chernobyl, which was excellent. I can’t recommend the official podcast strongly enough; it’s kind of amazing to hear the writer/producer of the whole thing point out the (intentional) factual flaws that make the show a better watch, not as some kind of back-pedaling “well I had to” sort of thing but as a frank admission that the story is fundamentally too complex in some aspects to be filmed coherently.
  • A bit over halfway through the second season of Deadwood, I am constantly reminded of just how good a show it was, and how angry I’m going to be when I get to the end of the third season. I still think The Wire is better, but not by much, and together they’re the two best television shows that have ever been made. So, uh, modern HBO: what the hell happened?
  • As last week, what little time I’ve spent with videogames has almost exclusively been with Everett Kaser’s puzzle titles. I created sixty-four maps/designs for his upcoming final game, partly because I wanted to put a small stamp on his last title and partly because there was a decided lack of bite-sized puzzle designs from the other folks cranking them out. I stopped there because 64 is a nice, round number, and I don’t have it in me to do another 64 to get to the next one.
  • I did put about six hours into Dragon Quest IX for the DS today, though. It’s only because some intrepid Internet hacker set it up so that you can download all of the exclusive online-only quests again if you set your DS’ Wi-Fi up in a particular way, and I wanted to take advantage of that before it inevitably goes away. The game’s fine? It’s very much Dragon Quest, for good or ill.
  • Yesterday marked my nine hundredth logged game of Dominion. I plan on writing a long-form expansion-by-expansion review once I hit a thousand. I suppose I like it somewhat. I also participated in an impromptu game night at Fercott on Tuesday, which was nice. Roll to the Top has become my favorite roll-and-write game, and I wish it were more easily available. It seems like the sort of game that should be in every Target and Barnes & Noble in America.

Given that it’s almost 4am, I, uh, should probably get some sleep… if only to let it become Sunday for real.

Not just one of our many toys

I hope Google Stadia crashes and burns. Hard.

For those of you not in the know, Stadia is Google’s cloud-based gaming platform. The idea is that you can take advantage of their super-powerful computers sequestered in datacenters all over the globe to stream digital delights to your TV or computer. No need for a console or high end dedicated gaming PC; as long as it can run Chrome, or is a modern Chromecast, it’ll be able to run Stadia.

There are a lot of genuine technical problems with the model. I beta-tested Stadia, and even on my desktop PC I couldn’t get consistent frame rates in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Never mind that I live less than three miles from one of their datacenters; the game would regularly hang for seconds at a time, and even when it wasn’t acting super glitchy the control lag was enough to make it feel floaty and disconnected. A large portion of the US still doesn’t have usable high-bandwidth Internet connectivity, making this sort of thing a non-starter for most rural areas.

But, no, that’s not why I want it to fail. I want it to fail because Stadia is the culmination of the “you don’t actually own the content” trend that’s been getting stronger and stronger over the years. Not only do you not own the game, you don’t even have access to the hardware the game’s running on. Once Google inevitably shuts Stadia down–and for those of you who fervently believe that this time, this time, Google won’t turn down a service prematurely: have I got a bridge in New York to sell you!–every game you “purchased” for Stadia will evaporate, turned to digital dust, never to be experienced again.

I’ve talked a bit about the Memory Hole here before. Sony and Microsoft and even Nintendo continue to move further and further away from physical media, from the ability to actually hold the thing you bought. One could make an argument that this console generation has never really had that ability, thanks to the ubiquitous nature of Day One patches; no one ever actually plays the game that’s on the disc any more, because the moment you pop it in your console downloads some 10 gigabyte patch to fix all the crap they didn’t have time to finish before the game got shipped off to mastering. I have extensive PS3 and PS4 digital libraries, and I know for a fact that some day, in the not too distant future, all of those games will simply no longer be available to me.

At least, some of them. Thanks to the hard work of emulator developers and pirates, some (but not all) of the digital storefronts have been cracked a bit, so that people can actually archive these games before they’re sacrificed to oblivion. The WiiWare store is done and dusted, which means that the excellent Rebirth series of Konami remake/reboots would be lost to the mists of time… except that pirates managed to crack it all and make them available for download. Yeah, you can tell me that we don’t have the right to those games after their market has been taken down… but I don’t care. I’m going to value preservation over corporate-mandated obsolescence every time.

It’s not just defunct systems that have this problem. Mojang, the Microsoft subsidiary that develops Minecraft, sent out a notice last week that their collaboration with Telltale Games, Minecraft: Story Mode, was going to start disappearing at the end of June. It’s not just going to become impossible to buy, which is one thing; it’s actually going to be removed from people’s libraries. The game will become an un-game, never to have existed.

That’s bullshit.

At least with my PS3 I can pull it off the network and play all of the games I’ve bought digitally, until the hardware finally fails. With Google Stadia, you can’t even do that. They control the horizontal and the vertical, the method of pay and the method of play. You are explicitly paying for ephemera when you buy a game on a cloud service, and I don’t like it one bit. One bit at all.

(Here’s where I politely remind you that GOG.com, which is unfortunately part of a company that makes some pretty terrible social and business decisions at times, at least has DRM-free direct downloads for any and all games you buy from them. As long as you have a backup scheme, you can actually keep these games. What a pleasant change.)

Unfortunately, there’s not much that can be done about this ephemeralization. Physical copies are, by and large, a mental sop more than an actual solution; most games “log in” to master servers nowadays even if they’re single-player only. And the trend only seems to be getting worse.

Time to break out the SNES, I guess?

Weekly status update [0070/????]

Readin’. Less so the writin’ and the ‘rithmatic.

  • Yeah, lots of reading. After tearing through the Eternal Sky series, I read The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. It was fantastic, one of the best books I’ve read in quite a while. It’s a… re-telling, I guess, although without the modernization that usually implies, of Achilles’ rise and eventual fall, told from Patroclus’ point of view. A quick read-through of Wikipedia’s synopsis on the Iliad is helpful but not required. The book’s a romance, a tragedy, occasionally even a bit of a farce, but most of all just a damn fine read. Strong recommendation.
  • I also read Light of Other Stars by Erika Swyler and String City by Graham Edwards. The former feels like a mashup of a modern literary novel and sf, not quite great as either, but I enjoyed it well enough. String City is one of those books that seems like I should have loved the heck out of it–multiple dimensions, weird sf/fantasy, noir mystery–but it felt like considerably less than the sum of its parts. I was thinking last night as to why it felt that way, and the answer I came up with is that the plot felt weightless; gods and major figures die in large numbers around the main characters, but no harm ever seems to really come their way, in manners which honestly beggar belief. That’s impressive for a book with a Greek Titan in a major supporting role.
  • I’m still watching Deadwood an episode at a time; season one is nearly done. I’ve also been watching Chernobyl and listening to the official HBO podcast after each episode, with just the least one remaining now. Both are excellent, and I fully expect Chernobyl to do well in awards season this year.
  • My videogaming has been very light over the past week, with the little time I’ve spent devoted to Everett Kaser’s puzzle games. After doing a stream a couple of weeks ago where I played a puzzle or two of each of his “Sherlock series” games, I decided to explore one of the two titles in that series I don’t particularly like, Baker Street. It’s still not my favorite, but I enjoy it quite a bit more than I did just a month ago. I’ve also been doing some beta-testing of the next game Mr. Kaser is working on, which also happens to be the last one, as he plans to retire after it’s released. I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s a solid culmination of his work, and while it’s not my favorite I look forward to giving him money one last time.
  • Quite a bit of dominion.games, along with some actual in-person boardgaming on Tuesday. We played Transatlantic, which I now feel I can comfortably place in the “very good but not great” bucket, worth playing at most once or twice a year. I like the aggressive economic system, and it feels very different from Concordia (which is my favorite Eurogame of all time) despite sharing a non-trivial amount of that game’s DNA, but it has some design and production issues that make it harder to teach and harder to enjoy than its ancient-Rome counterpart. Still, I’m glad I played it again.

I have a seven-volume door-stopper fantasy series to read now. Wish me luck!

Here’s a book thing: The Eternal Sky series by Elizabeth Bear

I find most fantasy novels tiresome. They rely on a well-worn set of tropes: the plucky village kid that’s secretly the savior of the world, the mysterious wizards making use of ill-explained magic to worm the author out of whatever poorly-written corner they get stuck in, the portents and prophecies and projections of way-too-stable fallen empires that somehow come perfectly true at just the right moment.

And yet.

I think a lot of that exhaustion comes from the repeated returns to an over-dipped well, that of traditional Western Europe. There’s only so many times that you can read about another not-quite-Arthur or almost-Jeanne d’Arc before it all becomes something of a blur. There’s quite literally a whole world of mythopoeia out there, and yet the vast majority of the stuff available in the English language leans on a tiny subset of story and culture.

In many ways, Elizabeth Bear’s Eternal Sky series is very traditional fantasy. The first book, Range of Ghosts, starts with a young man surviving a battle he should not have survived, and if you don’t think that he’s destined to become a key figure in the battles to come you definitely haven’t read (or watched) very many things. The villain of the work all but strokes his mustache in his very first scene. And there is magic galore, dragons and rings and ancient battlefields and dark portals to lands unknown.

And yet.

Part of the series’ appeal, at least to me, is its mining of a completely different vein of mythic substrate. Ra Temur comes from a culture based on the Mongols, not the English or the French, and his obsessions are those that make sense for a child of the steppe: horses, bows, travel, clans. Other characters hail from analogues of Tibet, China, and a fascinating alternate-universe Middle East that I wish had been afforded even more detail over the relatively slim1 trilogy.

The worldbuilding is strong, evocative, and detailed in the right ways; it leaves you wanting more but mostly satisfied with the glimpses you get of this other world 2. The metaphysics is quirky–there’s a thing going on with the skies of the various nations that, honestly, turned me away from the books the first time I tried to read them, several years ago–but impressively consistent, in a manner that makes one thing of science fiction or the more rigorous works of Sanderson than the traditional high fantasy “anything goes” style.

Also appealing is the fact that these books are decidedly modern, even if the characters within are often constrained by the cultures and customs in which they find themselves trapped. It has characters and tropes that almost certainly would bring accusations of “virtue signalling” and “social justice” out the mouths of a particular class of reader… if that class of reader’s worldview could handle well-conceived stories written by gasp a woman in the first place. It also manages to swerve aggressively around several weary genre standards, even as parts of it come off as nothing but traditional; I particularly like its treatment of a One Ring-like plot device, and appreciated the pointed jabs at just how convenient it is to talk shit about empires from the enlightened distance of our egalitarian, there-are-no-problems-with-modern-democracy future.

Plus, you know, they were just flat-out solid reads, with interesting characters, complex (but not too complex) politics, and a deep sense of the right amount of mystery to both reveal and conceal. Upon finishing the third book, I was both glad of the end and left wanting more. And in this world of crappy endings, what more can you ask for?

[If you’d like a peek into the world, Strange Horizons has a short story available, set (and written) slightly earlier than the novels themselves; you can read “Love among the Talus” here.]

Weekly status update [0069/????]

Insert metatextual reference about inserting a Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure reference here here.

  • Having finished off all of the core content in Borderlands last week, I set about getting the Platinum trophy, because I hate myself. Of course it has That One Trophy; in this case it’s actually not a hard one to get–you simply have to reach level 50–so much as it a tedious one. I had to play through about two-thirds of the game all over again on the second, more-challenging playthrough to get up to that level. Ugh. I was honestly quite surprised, looking at trophy counts, that it was far from the most rare trophy; I guess people like grinding through the same game multiple times? Anyway: done and dusted and trophies are still the worst.
  • No more Borderlands most nights means my time has been spent elsewhere. I’ve been doing my best to transfer it to books, because I’m in danger of having another “bring a bunch of unread titles back to the library because I can’t catch up” moment, but the awful McDevitt books were slowing me down there for a while. Thankfully I powered through them and am now most of the way through Elizabeth Bear’s Range of Ghosts, a fantasy novel I bounced hard off once before but decided to give another shot. And I’m glad I did, because it’s actually quite excellent. I’ll be finishing that up today and moving on to the second and third books in the trilogy post-haste. The book I read in between, Infinite Detail by Tim Maughan, was also quite good.
  • The ugh-factor of Starhawk and The Last Sunset prompted me to write a piece about long-running series earlier this week, which in retrospect comes off mostly as an “old man yells at cloud” bit. Not that I disagree with anything I said there, but, y’know, still.
  • Quite a bit of dominion.games scattered throughout the week, along with Real Actual In-Person Gaming on Sunday night, thanks to Chris and Jenna inviting me over for dinner and tabletopping. (Shut up, Chrome spell-checker, that’s totally a word.) I’ve had BattleCON: War of Indines on my brain for weeks now; I honestly think it’s my favorite 2p game of all time, and wanted to show it off. Jenna seemed to enjoy it, even though it is quite overwhelming the first few times you play. We also really enjoyed a couple of games of Roll to the Top, a super-easy roll-and-write game with just enough strategic oomph to be worth playing. A game of Hanabi didn’t go great, Race for the Galaxy was interesting and challenging as always, and there was an absolutely bonkers game of Dominion where I almost cracked 100VP in a non-artificial setting and without Colonies and Platinum. Woof. Great game night all around: excellent food, company, and experiences.
  • I finished watching Origin on YouTube Premium, which was solid but not amazing, and started rewatching Deadwood in anticipation of the movie this evening. I’m nowhere near done with that rewatch, but I’m also not in the biggest hurry either. My original watch was very binge-y, and sipping at it slowly over the next couple of weeks will–I hope–make the movie that much sweeter to watch.
  • After being a GoodBoye on my diet for several weeks I fell off the wagon hard for a couple of days… but have managed to right myself and am back on track (and actually better off than before) already. I’m still not down to where I was immediately before those gall bladder attacks, but I should be getting there soonish. I hope.

It’s ugly wind and rain here today, which seems like a perfect excuse to curl back up with a book. And so I shall!

The decline and fall of a written empire

I finished reading The Long Sunset yesterday, the eighth and final (for the moment) book in the Academy series by Jack McDevitt.

It was dire. The prose felt like it was written by someone with only the most basic grasp of English, full of repetitive sentences and “of course”s that were anything but. I toughed it out, because I’ve read all of the previous books in the series. And because the book I read before it, Starhawk–book seven in the series–was actually worse.

This was all prompted by the fact that one of my old coworkers had finally gotten around to one of my recommendations: The Engines of God, the first book in the series. That spurred me into checking on if there were any new books in the series, and hence the two novels sitting on the Library Stack next to my oversized recliner.

My reading of Starhawk and The Long Sunset, along with a comment by that friend about the repetitive way McDevitt introduces characters, prompted something of a crisis of faith: were these books always bad? Did I just read the first few when I was less of a critical thinker, not as prone to actually judge the quality of the prose I consumed? Because if the most recent books were anything to go by, I never should have recommended McDevitt in the first place.

My copies of the early books are hiding in a box somewhere, but this morning I managed to find excerpts from the first few books in the series on HarperCollins’ website. My current conclusion: they may not be perfect, and still show some signs of that later decline into third-grade reading material, but there’s no question that Deepsix and Chindi are much better written than the more recent books.

So: what happened? Has McDevitt lost the command of the language he once had, or does he simply care less about carefully crafted sentences now that he’s published twenty-plus novels, or is it something else entirely? I don’t know, obviously. But it’s made me think about this sort of decline, and how it is very much not limited to this one author.

Another series that I loved to pieces at first, then got deeply saddened as it went on, is Stephen King’s Dark Tower sequence. The first three books are some of the best horror/sf I’ve ever read. The long-delayed fourth novel barely fits in the sequence at all–it’s mostly an extended flashback–and the fifth through seventh novels rush through a bunch of important plot points and resolve the story in what may be the most unsatisfying ending I’ve ever experienced1. It’s so bad that I strongly recommend people simply stop reading after the third book, because everything after it is fundamentally not worth the time.

Now, I think that some of Stephen King’s best works are his earliest; The Stand is one of my favorite novels of all time. But he’s managed to write interesting, vital stuff much later in his career too. I actually reviewed the Mr. Mercedes books last year on this blog, and while they were hardly his best, they were perfectly enjoyable tales. The same for The Outsider. So: is it something about long series, specifically, that causes this problem?

I could give many more genre examples. Dune. Harry Potter. The Wheel of Time, although most of my knowledge of that series’ decline is second-hand. As much as I love the Culture series, there’s no question in my mind that its best books were early in its run, although the dip in quality across the series as a whole is much more shallow than the list above.

Counter-examples are hard to come by, even with series that were written in rapid succession, rather than dragged out over decades. I’ve heard very good things about N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth series, and all three of the books won the Hugo Award (with the last also snagging the Nebula), so I should probably add those to my reading queue tout suite. And I wouldn’t say that Charles Stross’ Laundry series has gotten better as it’s gone, but I would say that it hasn’t gotten worse either; they’ve been impressively consistent throughout. I’d be curious if any readers can suggest other series that actually get better all the way to the end, because I’m mostly coming up blank.

This ties into the theme I wrote about last week: endings are indeed hard. But it’s not just that. Maybe it’s simply authorial fatigue of writing in the same setting, over and over again? Maybe it’s the writing equivalent of the sophomore slump, where most of the great ideas get shoved into the early books, leaving only dregs for the later stuff? I’m not sure, and the fact that we read series because we want more, more, more makes that decline only that much more bitter.

Anyway, this kinda-sorta review mostly-really rant is already way too long, so I guess I’ll finish it with this: stop reading The Dark Tower after The Waste Land. Stop reading Dune after, well, Dune, although you can read Dune Messiah if you absolutely must. And if you read McDevitt’s Academy novels at all, you should probably stop after Chindi. Don’t let the long fall of the series bring you down.

Weekly status update [0068/????]

Even quieter than last week. Maybe next week I’ll just sleep for seven days.

  • I’m most of the way through Origin, which continues to be a perfectly fine version of The Thing in space, but not a lot more. The only other television-y thing I’ve watched since last time was the series finale of Game of Thrones, which, uh, yeah. It prompted me to write a thing, at least?
  • I finished Starhawk, which was dire, and made the mistake of continuing to another McDevitt novel, The Long Sunset. It’s not as bad but it’s still not great, and having it as my on-the-queue book has sapped my reading speed pretty dramatically. Ugh. On the plus side, a random suggestion in an AVClub thread about GoT led me to a (completed, thank goodness!) seven-book fantasy series. I put all of ’em on hold at the library–thanks, Cardinal system!–and they’re winging their way to the local branch as I type.
  • Borderlands at night, Portal Knights on Thursday evenings. I also put a lot of time into Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA Future Tone, which is both the best rhythm game I’ve played in many years and one of the most uncomfortably Japanese games I’ve ever played in my life. What a combo. I’ve beaten every song on Easy and Normal and am alternating between songs on Hard and boosting my completion percentages and perfects on the lower difficulties. One thing you can’t criticize the game for is lack of content; it has well over 200 tracks, which I’m pretty sure is the most I’ve ever seen in any single rhythm game ever.
  • I’ve played quite a bit of Dominion on dominion.games this week after a bit of a hiatus. The person I play the most with is starting to get pretty good; it’s a hard row to hoe against me, with my nearly 900 plays, but they’ve gone from usually losing big to usually just losing, or even winning. In fact, they had their first “big win” night Wednesday, beating me in three of the four games we played.
  • I did a bit of streaming this week. My biggest stream was playing through one or two puzzles each of Everett Kaser’s “Sherlock” series of logic puzzle games. It forced me to revisit some titles I hadn’t touched in a while, and two of them I’m not very fond of, Baker Street and Mrs. Hudson. I still don’t like the latter very much at all, but I’ve found myself doing quite a few Baker Street puzzles after grousing about them on stream. I still don’t love them, but I do like them quite a bit more than I did. See, people can change. (Also, Mycroft’s Map is still ridiculously overwhelming. I don’t see how people play that game.)

…zzz…

On endings

The last thing the Internet needs is another think-piece on the last season of Game of Thrones… but that’s not to say that I’m past using said event as a jumping-off point1.

Endings are hard.

One of my favorite authors is Neal Stephenson. Cryptonomicon is an amazing book, packed full of details and fascinating characters and interesting twists. And then, about thirty pages from the end, it just sort of… becomes something else? And ends, kinda sorta? Given that it’s a 700+ page novel of itty bitty print, the ending doesn’t feel so much abrupt as it does not an ending. Similar problems plague several of his other otherwise-excellent novels, like Snow Crash and Anathem. Amazing writer, Stephenson, but he has more than a little trouble sticking the landing.

And, hoo boy, so do I. Most of my novels aren’t even complete, really; I just write until I hit 50K, because I’m doing it during November, and then finish the sentence or paragraph and leave it there. I recently went through all of my own novels to see what my “actually wrote an ending” ratio was: it’s either seven or eight out of fifteen, depending on how you want to count a book that was intentionally written as the first of a trilogy (and, no, I never wrote the other two). And several of those endings are, to put it mildly, utter trash. In one case it was a rushed summary of what should have been more of the book, and in another it wasn’t the ending that’s the problem so much as the missing third of the book right before the end.

So, yeah, endings are hard. They’re particularly hard when the ending is of something that has a deep cultural resonance, or heavy buy-in, or however you want to describe the couple-of-times-a-decade phenomenon that has people tuning in like Game of Thrones or reading like the Harry Potter series2. We as consumers of media hate to see a thing we love end, so we are already predisposed to dislking however it is the author or writers’ room or whoever actually goes about wrapping things up. We all have a mental map of questions we want resolved, characters we want to see succeed–or get their comeuppance–and when the ending inevitably doesn’t address All The Things we feel disappointed. It’s only natural.

I’m not justifying the (myriad) issues with the ending of Game of Thrones, mind you, although I think a lot of the problems with the show are covered by this excellent thread on Twitter that explains the difference between pantsers and plotters and what that meant for the last couple of seasons3. I think that, with more breathing room and some showrunners that were more interested in the show they were making rather than the shows they’d rather be making, we could have gotten a better ending. But it was never going to be a great ending, the sort of thing we’d smile and feel smug about and go “yes, that was exactly what we wanted.” There was too much investiture into the show to be happy about its end, no matter how well done it was.

So, yeah, endings are hard. Look, I’m even struggling to come up with one for this ramble. I think I’ll just let it trail off… like… yeaaaaaah…

Weekly status update [0067/????]

This was an impressively uneventful week, even for me.

  • I wrote a short short story (what I tend to call a “vignette”) over the weekend; you can read it here and the story of writing it here.
  • I did some more Twitch streaming a couple of times across the week. I wasn’t in the mood to continue playing Live-a-Live, so I broke out an updated fan translation of Final Fantasy IV–the game we got here in the US as Final Fantasy II back in the early ’90s–and put in quite a few hours. It was quite fun; the game’s a sentimental favorite of mine, and the translation’s surprisingly high quality. I don’t know if I’m going to continue streaming it or not, but it felt good.
  • My car’s Check Engine light came on a couple of weeks ago, and replacing the gas cap didn’t fix it. I finally met up with one of my old coworkers to try resetting the lamp, but it turned back on the next day. My particular county in North Carolina doesn’t require emissions testing, so we’ll see come next year whether or not I pass the inspection despite the lamp…
  • I finished up watching the second season of Westworld, which was actually considerably better than the first, with a more coherent plotline that seemed to be saying more than just “look at these pretty visuals and ignore the mess this mystery box has made.” My follow-up show is Origin, a YouTube original that is solid (if derivative) so far.
  • Evening gaming sessions are still mostly Borderlands with the Thursday game slot taken by Portal Knights. We actually beat the main game of Borderlands this week and are working our way through the DLC. Whoever thought that making one of them effectively require making use of the awful driving engine needs to be firmly re-educated.
  • State Tectonics was fine, if not as interesting as the previous two books in the series. I’m now reading Jack McDevitt’s Starhawk, part of a series of SF novels I remember enjoying a bunch (and recommending on occasion). It’s… not good. Not good at all. I’m wondering if the book itself is a major dip in quality, or if I’ve become a more critical reader, or… ugh. I dunno. I’m going to finish it, because despite the not-greatness it’s a quick read, but it’s definitely a disappointment.

And just because it’s been a while: nope, still not bored.

Eat Your Peas: Notes

(If you missed it somehow, the story is here.)

A thought started nagging at me on Friday evening. What if I wrote a short story, or at least a vignette… live on Twitch? I tried to ignore it, particularly given my current sentiments when it comes to actively streaming, but the idea just wouldn’t. go. away. So I figuratively threw up my hands and succumbed to the concept on Sunday evening.

It turns out, surprising no one, that the theory of doing it was considerably better than the practice, but isn’t that life?

Back in 2010, I tried to write a million words. I didn’t come close, but I did manage to crank out over three hundred thousand words over the course of that year. One of the ways I came up with ideas for stories, or at least short little blips, was to hit the Random article button on Wikipedia’s sidebar and hope for the best. One of the rules was that I wasn’t allowed to just keep hitting it until something interesting popped up; I had to write about whatever dumb thing the database threw up at me.

I actually got some relatively nice short stories out of the process. One, “The Calendars of 2008,” was from just that: a page with nothing more than a big list of the days in 20081. The story was about a mall kiosk–you know the ones–that sell calendars, and time travel, and love and loss. It was short and bittersweet.

“Eat Your Peas” followed the same process. I ended up here, and while I had no interest in writing a story about a comedy duo, the title of the article sent me down some interesting paths. I should note that the story that resulted is workmanlike at best; I probably wouldn’t have bothered posting it if it weren’t for the experiment at all. But the experience of writing it was rather different than I expected (not that I was really expecting anything too specific), hence me writing this too-long-for-a-footnote side article.

When I’m working on longer-form stuff, like NaNovels, I keep a “notes” file open with ideas that I want to incorporate. I don’t usually bother with shorter stuff, but in this case I figured it’d be helpful as a way to expose my inner thought processes to anyone viewing the stream. And then I thought, well, shouldn’t those notes be available the entire time I’m writing? So, in classic yak-shaving form, this led me to learning at least the rudiments of tmux, live on stream, since I couldn’t find my old writing-specific screen configuration. Conclusion: I could probably switch to tmux pretty painlessly, and probably will the next time I reboot my computer2.

That’s well and good, but what about the actual act of writing? Turns out that it involves a whole lot of staring silently at the screen while you’re thinking about what happens next. Ceci n’est pas compelling viewing. I wrote quite a bit slower than I do during NaNo, partly because I kept checking chat (and finding it a useful-slash-shameful distraction) and partly because I did way more “in the act” editing than I usually do when I write. I’m very much a “blast out a zeroth draft” sort of guy, but I knew that I was going to be posting the story immediately after finishing it, so I took a little more care than usual with wording, flow, and the like.

The story’s still a first draft, and I don’t think it’s good enough to warrant another pass, so it’ll be a first draft forever. And I doubt I’ll write on-stream again. But it was an interesting experiment, and it shut that little voice in my head up for the time being, so I’m going to call it a qualified victory. Plus, hey, an extra non-blip blog entry for the week! It’s been a while since I’ve done that.

Of course, that little voice is already piping up again for a different story idea… -sigh-