TwitchPlaysPokemon Short Story

If you’ve been following it, there’s a pretty intriguing twitch channel which streams a game of Pokemon. The catch? Anything entered in the chat will control the character. This leads to tens of thousands of players of one game, all with their own idea of what to do, and all offering stacking and conflicting commands. I wrote a short story about this game from the perspective of how it would look to people in that world. It was more of a fun exercise than a serious story, but I hope you enjoy it (especially if you’ve had a chance to watch TwitchPlaysPokemon.

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A Little Bit of Flash-Fic, in My Life

Simon had spent months running, planning, fighting to be free. His people had been feared, hunted, and enslaved for centuries. The deaths of so many were branded into his mind, for without his success, history would repeat their punishment for eternity. It was better for them to all die fighting for this cause than to return to the indignity that they had suffered under.

He remembered the small boy, but a child, hunted down and murdered for stealing bread for his family. He remembered the old man, driven out of his ancestral home and chased to exhaustion before being brutally stabbed to death. He remembered his mother as he had found her, lying in the crimson-stained dirt with a dozen jagged rents in her skin, slaughtered in her home in the dead of night. And he remembered the infant — his baby brother — who had lain beside her, his head bashed in. He had put his hand on his brother, to lift his body and cradle it, and had felt a heartbeat beneath his hand. And yet when he had turned the body over, glazed eyes stared up at him from within a mangled and crushed skull.

And so, while his brothers slept around him, Simon remembered the dead who had led him to this point, the living he fought with, and the yet unborn he fought for.

He had finally found a way around the weakness of his people, a way to fight back without living in fear. A wizard had promised him protection on this day, that he might overrun his enemies where they stand. It would be a small victory, to be sure, but it would be a victory nonetheless. As a sole victory, it would be a great one, to be sure. A fort to defend. A land to call their own. He whispered these words to himself, dreams he could not even fully comprehend. But beyond that, there was more.

His men would be inspired to greater deeds of glory. Those in oppression would hear news of the day he had dared to fight back, and they too would rise up. His people might someday be free, to live their lives without fear.

The sky began to lighten as night faded. But he trusted the wizard. First, the stars began to fade away as the sky changed from black to charcoal to an ominous grey. But he trusted the wizard. The sky slowly became saturated with tinges of blue. But he trusted the wizard. The blue warmed to a grey-purple. But still he trusted the wizard.

When dawn broke, he knew it was all over. He was caught by surprise, briefly, as he saw the beginnings of light from below the horizon. He had trusted the wizard. He had been wrong. The children of the Erutar could never be trusted. He spread his arms and faced the skies, howling in rage to the heavens, as the edge of the sun crested over the horizon. His grey-purple skin faded to grey, crusting over with dirt and then hardening to stone, leaving behind only a statue, a mere image, a symbol of the rage of a dying people.

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Enthasar, the first wizard of the stars, the first of the Afterborn to aspire to be as the Ulmari and succeed, lay weakly on the ground, his back resting against the smooth, hewn rock of his greatest creation. Warmth seeped from his side, draining into the point of searing cold in his gut.

He closed his eyes slowly, then forced them open again. The shaft of the arrow still protruded from his gut, just below his ribs. He looked up weakly at the barely unfinished ritual and slowly lifted his hands, chanting in tongues long-since lost to the races of this world. And then the second arrow thudded into his chest, knocking the air from the lungs. He collapsed to the ground.

Rough hands grasped at his hair and jerked his head upwards. The shadow of pain lanced through his body, but his mind was too far away to notice. His head was pulled back and something dragged across his throat. He fell back and saw his blood spreading down his chest as his vision of this world faded away.

http://alisonjmckenzie.wordpress.com/2013/09/06/reminder-flash-fiction-contest/

The Disappointment of Smaug

I’m sorry, but this post will have spoilers. If you haven’t read Lord of the Rings by now, I can’t be held accountable. They are public domain now, metaphorically, and I will talk about them freely. We all know Darth Vader is Luke’s father, we all know King Kong dies at the end, and we all know Frodo takes the ring to Mordor.

I haven’t been able to put my finger on it for a long time, but there’s something that has disappointed me about The Hobbit’s movie interpretation, under Peter Jackson. This isn’t the “it’s not the book, so I don’t like it” mindset. I know what that’s like. Tolkien and his work were defining, both to the genre and to my young mind. When Lord of the Rings came out, everything about it disappointed me: the exception of Tom Bombadil and Saruman’s scenes in the Shire, the changes to the gates of Moria scene, and so on. Even when the  movie perfectly mirrored the book for the first 10 minutes, I held it up only as a sign that I was about to be disappointed.

But I enjoyed the movies. I never once was at any threat of falling asleep. When Legolas stabbed an orc with an arrow, sure, part of my brain said “you can’t stab an orc with an arrow”, but most of it said “DUDE, DID YOU SEE LEGOLAS STAB THAT ORC WITH AN ARROW?” When Gandalf stood up to confront the Balrog, my heart rose up into my throat with suspense: would he survive? When Frodo was seemingly killed by a troll, my pulse jumped, even though I knew the mithril reveal was coming. When Boromir was shot full of arrows, my internal monologue screamed: no Boromir! Get up! You can do it! I could literally do this all day, because Lord of the Rings was a well designed movie. It had drama, it had pacing, it had a tone, and it was real. Did I like everything about it? No. Was I disappointed with my vision of the book as a rubric? Yes. But it was good.

The Hobbit has none of these.  The Hobbit is a different book than Lord of the Rings. While The Lord of the Rings was inspired by Tolkien’s experience in World War I, and you can see it everywhere. Ultimately, Lord of the Rings is about the suffering that war brings on all people, but especially on those who are not the heroes. The commonfolk, the hobbits, have to simply soldier on in the face of insurmountable forces. It is epic and serious and grim. The Hobbit, on the other hand, is a children’s adventure book, with a lighter tone, more whimsical enemies, and a very fantastic, simplistic quest: find the dragon’s treasure. There are no earthshaking consequences, just an adventure.

In the very first chapter of The Hobbit, Bilbo begins worrying about the dwarves in his house: not why they are there, not about his potential adventure, not even about the dragon, but whether or not they will chip his plates. To one who is familiar with fantasy, this may seem a silly worry, but this is the tone of The Hobbit. Bilbo literally cannot comprehend the idea of his adventure, and so he focuses on what is real to him, the plates. Many viewers have fixed on this particular scene from The Hobbit as something they particularly hate:

But it is exactly this scene which sets the tone for his adventure. Bilbo is a reluctant adventurer, and what he brings to the adventure — the very reason why Gandalf wants him on the adventure — is his sense of quiet responsibility and attention to details and consequences. On the other hand, the dwarves are basically mocking him for focusing on something so unimportant given the context.

A scene later and we have the famous troll scene, with dwarves tied up and who has to save them? Why, who else could keep the trolls distracted until sunrise but Gand — Bilbo? It is here where we first see Peter Jackson’s inability to understand the themes of The Hobbit — although it’s not the first time he’s committed this crime of stealing Gandalf’s credit and giving it to a hobbit; he had Frodo solve the gate of Moria riddle as well — Bilbo at this point is not an agent in his own adventure, but rather an experiencer.

After their capture by and escape from the goblins, when Bilbo emerges from the Misty Mountains with the ring, the dwarves — in the book — are considering leaving him, whilst in the movie they are mourning him. Yet again, this sets the tone difference. Bilbo is not a protagonist, at least not yet. They continue running — as a group — from the goblins until the giant Eagles rescue them.

And there you have it: that’s the whole of movie #1 of The Hobbit. No need for Ratagast scenes to sec the background, no need to actually foreshadow Sauron, no need for any of the epic backdrop that Peter Jackson attempts to instill upon The Hobbit. This is precisely the cause of the 3-part nature of The Hobbit movies: the attempt to make something epic out of something that is simply put, just an adventure. The dwarves cannot simply float into Laketown, they must be brought in by the descendant of the archer who is destined to kill Smaug, while simultaneously being oppressed by an evil king. The Dwarves can’t be looking for gold, but instead, just the Arkenstone (although it should be noted in the book that Thorin is fixated on the Arkenstone in a way that the three Hobbits are fixated on The Ring, a clear sign for Tolkien’s belief that power corrupts).

It is all this that made The Hobbit so much more interesting than other fantasy novels: it was never about destiny, or only one person. It was about small, unimportant people making brave choices. Thorin is not the hero because he is the descendant of the king, but instead, Bilbo is the hero by his choices. Bard doesn’t need to be the descendant of a legendary archer, he is just simple captain of the guard, and so on. Peter Jackon’s rendition loses this low-born, everyman’s quality to The Hobbit, and replaces it with an overly epic interpretation.

But the overly epic also overcomes the very tone of the novel. The Hobbit is a children’s book, with bad jokes, silly villains, and is essentially a kid’s adventure. There are moments where this childlike comedy pops through, such as the video above, the barrel scene, the trolls and goblin’s nature, and so on, but then it is immediately replaced with an epic and serious scene that leaves you wondering which tone is out of place.

Overall, Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit fails to deliver a coherent movie in tone, and imposes themes onto the book that were never present, leaving an all-around awkward patchwork. This, combined with his penchant for drawing every scene out 30 minutes longer than it ever need to be, makes The Hobbit a movie to be slogged through, not enjoyed.

Felix

Hey!

I’ve fallen crazily behind on this whole writing thing while working on funding a new project of mine, and my computer is filled with nothing but drafts. I figured I’d put one of these drafts out into the open:

Felix absent-mindedly fingered the coin that hung from around his neck. He could feel the touch on the coin just as clearly as if he were rubbing his own skin. He pressed the coin between his thumb and forefinger, and for just a moment, imagined he could feel the coin squishing, giving way as though it were his own flesh. He drew his fingernail back and forth along the coin. It tingled. Once, the tingling had felt distant, like an itch between his shoulder blades that he couldn’t quite find. That thought had bothered him once, but now it comforted him. The tension in his shoulders lessened. He was safe. Protected.

A warm tingling spread across his skin. A warning. He looked up at the sky, questioningly. Dark clouds stretched to the horizon, with not even a hint of the sun. Felix shrugged. He had gotten this far trusting his instincts. He looked around for a moment, scanning the horizon, then turned and trudged off.

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The bar wasn’t impressive. That would have been a nice way of putting it. The door looked like it was rotting off of its hinges, although the smell would have given that away, and there was more peel than paint. But the walls were sturdy, and the windows fully boarded on the inside. At least they were prepared. Felix rested his hand on the door and paused for a moment. He pushed against the door, and it groaned, dragging along the ground as it opened. He stepped slowly inside, and the door swung shut behind him.

At first, he couldn’t see anything in the dark of the room. Unfortunately, his other senses worked just fine. The musk in the air was so thick he could taste it, all the blood and alcohol and sweat from drunken bar fights and sex. He heard a few grunts and wet smacks from somewhere to his right, and then a heavy thud. He guessed that meant a fight, but his guess was as good as any. He took another step forward, and heard his boots squelch. He couldn’t yet see what he was standing in. Perhaps that was for the best. He swallowed the growing lump in his throat and squeezed his eyes shut, trying to adapt to the dim room. A few embers lit the room.

In front of him was a game of cards, and judging from the scraps of paper on the table, it had just started. Not nearly enough possessions were up for grabs yet. In the corner, a woman had pinned somebody else against the wall — man or woman, Felix couldn’t tell — and was thrusting rhythmically into them. Felix couldn’t help but think the rhythmic bouncing of her breasts funny, if hypnotic in a way he didn’t quite understand. Against the wall, a man was blowing into a thin reed and dancing, although Felix could hardly hear the music in the room. Maybe he wasn’t playing anything at all.

He turned away from the spectacle and walked over to the bar. A young man stood on the other side. Too young for a bartender. Hardly old enough to shave, he guessed.

“I’d like to set up with a room for the night. No questions asked.”

The boy looked around uncertainly for a moment. “Pa’ll be back in a moment, but I think we’re all full up for the night.”

Felix grimaced at the young boy, then looked around him at the bar. When he turned back, an older man was standing behind the bar. “My son says you’re looking for a room. I hate t’disappoint such a fine sir as yourself, but we’re all booked up for the night, and the usual fare is already covered for the night,” he winked and grinned widely at Felix.

Felix reached into his shirt, to his chest, and pulled the Coin out. In response, the embers in the room flared, the bright light casting shadows across the room. He rested the Coin on the bar, his finger pressed atop it. A thin layer of frost spread slowly out from the Coin. The bartender’s eyes widened, and a look of fear spread across his face. Beads of sweat broke out on his brow. “I’m s-sorry, sir. I didn’t recognize you. I’m sure I can make a room available. Give me a moment.” He backed slowly away, his eyes fixed on the Coin.

The young boy stared at the Coin, transfixed. Eventually, he tore his eyes away, up to Felix’s face. Timidly, he raised his hand.

“Yes, boy?” The gruffness in his voice would have bothered Felix once, but there was no room for that.

“C-can I…” The boy looked down at his feet for a moment, then looked back up at Felix. “Can I see your Tribute?”

Felix frowned, his brow furrowing into a mass of wrinkles. They hadn’t taken anything. They normally did. Being a Coinbearer came with a cost. A Tribute. But he was whole. Physically, at least. The Coins had driven him apart from the one thing he’d had in the world, his friends. They’d underestimated how dangerous a man with nothing to lose could be. And he was coming for them.

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 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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Battlestar Galactica

When we talk about science-fiction, we hold two different ideas in our heads. First, we think of lasers and space ships and so on. As I discussed previously, I don’t particularly see this to be science-fiction, but rather the clothing that science-fiction wears. Science-fiction should be about how new technology shapes the way we have to live our lives, not just wearing a sciencey setting. Here’s a quick litmus test for that. If the science suddenly became real, would we make such a movie in that era? That is, cars must have been science-fiction at some point. But would 2 Fast 2 Furious ever have been a sci-fi movie? Probably not. What is the distinction? 2 Fast 2 Furious doesn’t think about how the existence of cars changes human nature and society, it simply tells a story that uses cars. You could imagine the same movie with space ships, or horses, or any other speedy mode of travel. On the other hand, Minority Report is clearly science-fiction, being about the way we would react to some technology. Would we accept it? Would we fear it? Would we fight against it?

Bearing this in mind, Battlestar Galactica is one of the best science-fiction TV shows I’ve ever seen. Warning: there will be minor spoilers after the jump.

JUMP

Getting Motivated to Write

I live in Portland, and as such, everybody I know is a ‘writer’. I imagine it’s like being an ‘actor’ in Los Angeles; people use the word as a catch-all for their hopes and dreams. But wanting to write and doing it occasionally doesn’t make you a writer any more than playing pick-up basketball every once in awhile makes you a basketball player, or playing with Legos makes you an engineer. And so most ‘writers’ I know are actually baristas, with most ‘actors’ being waiters/waitresses.

As with most things, success is hard, and most success will be measured in degrees. So what is a writer? Well, I’d struggle to define ‘writer’. My first attempt would be:

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Experiment

When it comes to my writing, I’m not so good at putting things out there. Why? Because I want it to be perfect. I’ll edit things forever and still not be satisfied, so when I do release something, it’s still in ‘rough draft’ phase because everything I’ve changed now needs editing. So I thought I’d try an experiment, and start releasing scenes without editing. This is the start of a short story series I’m writing in a steampunk/noir setting. It got written in about an hour, and basically wasn’t edited, so it’s rough around the edges, but I like the tone of it, I think. I hope you enjoy it! Also, enjoy a cameo character!

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Creative Content Schedule Update

A second chapter will be going up this Sunday; I need a little bit more time for edits. If the chapter is not done to a degree I consider satisfactory, I will just post those scenes ready for public consumption. In the future, my schedule will be as follows: an analytic/theoretical post on Tuesdays and a creative content post between Thursday and Sunday. This will either be a short story or as much of a chapter as I can muster. Given that I write 6+ articles for varying websites every week, I don’t know how long I can churn out creative content, so wish me luck!

In the meantime, here is the first scene from Chapter 2 of book 1 of The Steam Wars; view the updated Prologue and Chapter 1 on The Steam Wars page.

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