Tinker, by Wen Spencer

Wen Spencer surprised me.  I picked up Tinker through the Baen ebook store, expecting to find something that would keep me suitably amused while traveling.  The book did that, and then it grabbed me and pulled me in.  While I should have been working, I read.  While I should have been visiting with family, I read.  While I should have been sleeping… you get the idea.  It turns out that Spencer is very good at delivering on the promises of her pacing; she starts with a bang, and she quickly turns up the heat and adds increasing tension to the mix.  There are a few spots where you can sit down and take a breath, but you won’t want to.  Add some sections that make you wince and cringe and more sections that are laugh-out-loud funny, and you’ve got Tinker.  It’s a bit like a less pulpy version of Girl Genius.  Would you like to know more?

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Impossible vs Improbable vs Hard

I don’t like to call anything impossible. Why? Because I don’t think it’s a meaningful word. People set up limits as to what they can and can’t do all the time with this word: that’s impossible! But most things aren’t impossible. Sure, some things are just a priori unattainable (you can’t be in two distant places at once, you can’t violate fundamental laws of physics, etc.), but many achievements we’ve labeled ‘impossible’ have later been made into playthings by scientists and innovators. Every time I get on a plane, I have to marvel at the fact that the combined weight of this giant metal tube — its cargo, passengers, and fuel included — is not quite a MILLION pounds. And it flies. If you ask me, that sounds like a load of impossible. I’m not saying flight is magic, I understand the physics behind it. But if you’ve never seen an airplane or any of the technology that goes into it, and I say ‘I can make a MILLION pounds fly’? You can bet that claim is met with skepticism. And maybe rightfully so. If it isn’t a part of your daily society, that’s impossible.

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The Quiller Memorandum, by Adam Hall

Ah, pseudonyms.  Adam Hall was one of the pseudonyms used by the author Elleston Trevor (which was itself not the author’s original name).  It seems entirely appropriate to me that such an excellent spy novel should come from someone who felt so compelled to shroud and change their own identity.  If you like spy stories and intrigue, or would like to try dabbling in them for the very first time, look no further.  Quiller is a far better Cold War spy than the cinematic Mr. Bond ever was, more deeply focused on the details of spycraft, practicing intimate information war as a metaphoric knife fight where you’re never truly certain as to who holds the advantage.  Drawing blood is rarely the point of the duel, and secrets are more valuable than lives.  The Quiller Memorandum, as you might have guessed, is a very exciting book.

Does the title feel achingly familiar?  Just like something that you’ve read before?  Well…

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1636: The Devil’s Opera, by David Carrico and Eric Flint

Within several hours of writing my piece last week, I had already finished reading 1636: The Devil’s Opera, meaning that I went through it in slightly more than one day despite several interruptions.  It’s an addictive delight, just as I had anticipated it would be.  In that way, it is completely in keeping with what I’ve come to expect from Eric Flint, and from his 1632 series.  And now I want to go back to see what else David Carrico has on offer.  He seems promising, and if his other works are anywhere near as good as this one, I’ll be happy to read them.  Now then, about this book…

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RPG Character Progression


Reading the title you may be thinking that I am going to talk about how characters evolve in a narrative in roleplaying games, but if you remember last week’s article you may note the subtle queue in my use of RPG instead of “roleplaying game.”  That’s right; today I am going to talk about different styles of stat/ability progression in RPGs along with minor discussion on the role of progression in narrative.

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What You Want To Read

I have been moderately derelict in my duties: I’m in the throes of a book.  1636: The Devil’s Opera caught me late yesterday and hasn’t yet let go.  I am also partway through two others (Hide Me Among The Graves, The Quiller Memorandum), but I don’t have a review of any of them ready for you.

I’ve been making progress on the next Jerome short story, with several thousand words down already and a good number more to go.  I’ve been having some trouble with this one, but it’ll come around eventually.

What I want to know, though, is what you next want to read from me.  Specifically, are any of you interested in seeing more material based on that flash fic piece which I wrote?  I’ll include it past the break so that you can refresh your memory, but here are a few questions to get things started:

  • Do you want to see more in this setting?
  • If yes, whom should I follow?  Who and what seem most interesting to you?  How long should I make it?
  • If no, what sort of thing would you like to see instead?  Do you have any ideas that you’d like to see explored?

Please put any responses in the comment section.  Once again, the flash fic piece in question follows the break…

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The Escapist Nature of Superhero Works

What do your favorite superheroes say about you? Superhero literature — and really the speculative fiction genre as a whole — are a genre rooted in escapism. Superheroes are a way of conceiving of the world as we’d wish it to be, but in a roundabout sense. While a utopian novel may define our perfect world, superhero works define the one-man struggle to make a perfect world. Have you ever heard somebody say ‘man, if I were in charge…’. That is the defining idea behind super hero works: one person trying to change the world dramatically by sculpting it to their personal ethos. It is my opinion that our favorite superhero works indicate (to some degree) how we see the world.

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Choose Your Own Adventure! Part 3 (or 2b?)

Quick news note: the flash fic that I wrote one week ago was chosen as the winning piece in the contest!

This is the third installation of my Choose Your Own Adventure series.  The previous two pieces can be found here: Part 1, Part 2.  You’ll benefit from having played them and being moderately familiar with their details, especially Part 2.  Note that this piece is divergent from Part 2, and actually follows on the events of Part 1.  You’ll see what I mean when you read the first briefing just below.

For the best experience, keep your eyes on the text nearest the top of the screen and be careful not to read ahead.

#Start here#

When we last left you, you had just outrun the knights and fled into the woods with the villagers.  You’re immensely popular, because you warned them of the approaching group of knights just in time for them to escape…

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“Roleplaying” Games and the Misused RPG Label


I have written a few reviews for digital roleplaying games (RPGs), but in many cases I find the label is completely inappropriate.  When I think of a “roleplaying” game, I think of a game in which I take control and can make important narrative choices.  But most digital RPGs don’t let you make narrative choices at all.  For that reason I would say that the label of RPG has come to be associated with a mechanic which is common to most RPGs, but isn’t the attribute that makes them RPGs.  The mechanic in question is that of leveling up, and I hate it*.

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Short Story: Jerome’s Tropical Vacation


Alternate title: Dude, Where’s My Boat?

Dear readers,

It’s taken a bit longer than I had expected, but I finally have another installment for you.  This goes along with two other pieces in the same setting.  I won’t claim that this is the final version of this story, but I do think it’s ready for your eyes.  It might even, according to some of my proofreaders, be fun.  Enjoy!


Jerome lay on the sandy hill, exhausted.  He had pulled himself up to the line of trees, above the high tide mark, and fallen to his knees before slumping over onto his back.  The sun was slowly lighting the sky from beyond the horizon, turning the east pinkish gray in anticipation.  Lifting his head, Jerome could see the ship breaking apart on the reef.  Much of it was still afloat, but it was all wrong.  The wood was holding together, but it had been so battered by the waves and rocks that the only piece he could recognize was the bowsprit.  That jutted into the sky, waving back and forth like a flagstaff whipped by wind as the swell dropped it time and again in the shallow water.  It had separated a while earlier, breaking off the forward hull with a sickening crack that he had heard across the water.  Soon enough there would be nothing but fragments and scattered driftwood, carried off by the rolling waves.  Jerome found the fate of the ship a fitting metaphor for all civilized accomplishments.  Who could claim that they had made something which would last more than a few heavy storms without being constantly repaired and rebuilt?  Everything slowly fell apart, even as people tried to hold it together.

His head dropped back onto the sand.  This was probably just his fatigue talking.  He knew that he wasn’t usually this unhappy.  He watched as the darkness of the night sky fled across the heavens towards the western horizon.  Then again, he reflected, he usually hadn’t just been shipwrecked and marooned, likely to die far from home on an island in the New Sea.  It was enough to make him want to cry, but he was just too tired.


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