Dansky Macabre
Pro Con Goer

So I went to PAX.

Not because I wanted to GO TO PAX. I mean, I’ve seen show floors before. Lots of them, many of them more conducive to keeping my hearing intact that the Vegas-like carnival that flourishes inside the Washington State Convention Center.

And not because I wanted to “do business”, whatever that means, for someone in my position. (Seriously, I have no idea. Suggestions are welcome.) I did have one panel, moderated and organized by the estimable Chris Tihor, that I was a part of. But that was literally my only formal commitment while I was out there. I didn’t talk to any media or take any meetings. I did show off some of the cards for Squatches and Scotches, the card game I’ve been working on, but that was really more in the interest of getting ego gratification for the incredibly funny things I’ve written as card text, and less about actually flogging the game per se.

And I certainly didn’t go to PAX for the frequent flier miles. As a matter of fact, I kind of botched my travel roll - a first for me in ages - and booked myself into a hotel in Bellvue when I thought I was booking a place near SeaTac and light rail. On the bright side, this allowed me to make new friends out of numerous Lyft and cab drivers in the greater Seattle area, but Lordy, new friends get expensive if you have to keep on making them a half hour ride at a time.

No, I went to PAX - and really, this is why I go to most conferences, conventions, kaffeklatches, gatherings of the tribe and so forth - to see people. To talk to people. To immerse myself in a pool of very smart people whom I think very highly of, so we can talk of things various and sundry. About writing, about games, about scotch, about ACC football (if it comes to that, which it occasionally does), about what we’re working on and what we’re not working on and what we want to be working on. 

Why? Why fly cross-country and subject myself to an Au Bon Pain in DFW at 5 in the morning, just for the odd bits of conversation?

Because that stuff is what’s really important. It recharges my batteries. It stimulates new ideas. It gives me new ways to tackle existing problems. It feeds new data into the system, which is exactly what I need to be re-energized and get back into the word mines with a jaunty tilt to my cap.

And hopefully, talking to me helps do the same thing for the folks I talk with. Or at least provides them with a good laugh or two.

I joke, but I’m also quite serious. Getting out of headspace inhabited solely by me or the few people I interact with on a daily basis is a good thing. Filling that headspace, even if it’s just for a couple of days, with other folks is both a genuine pleasure and good for the Muse, who gets cranky if left to endlessly peruse the old magazines in the waiting room of my mind.

So young’uns, take heed - there’s much to be said for getting out there and talking with smart people to make you better at what you do. It’s a worthwhile investment of time, of money, and of energy, and it would be if all you got out of it was the chance to spend time with people whose company you genuinely enjoy. Throw in the added benefit that it makes you better at what you do, and, well, it looks more appealing all the time.

So, to all the smart and generous folks I had the good fortune to hang out with at PAX, I say “thank you”. Not just for the pleasure of your company, which is considerable, but for the energy and inspiration you provide. And to those of you who don’t think you need to mingle with your professional peers now and again, well, it might be worth reconsidering.

Booky Thingy

Oh look. Just got a new shipment of copies of my short story collection, Snowbird Gothic, in. Crowded office is now slightly more crowded.

Unless you’re going to swing by to help unclutter the office, you can get it here. Which you totally should. Because it’s awesome.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE INANIMATE OBJECT?

A full scotch bottle :-) 

perilunesky:

That this shit happens, specifically threats of all kinds and harassment of women in the game industry — that this happens and keeps happening over and over and over again, on every scale… this is why I speak out. It’s why I share links, it’s why I re-blog posts, it’s why I’m on social media.

On the Priority of Falling Rocks From Space

Got home the other night well after 11, after the local gamedev drink-up at an Irish-ish pub in downtown Raleigh. When I reached the front door, I remembered that this week was the Perseid meteor shower. Tuesday was supposed to be peak activity, which turned out to be not such a good thing, schedule-wise; Tuesday night here could best be described as “ark building weather”.  Thick cloud cover, torrential rain and the omnipresent chance of being flash-fried by a couple of zillion volts makes for a poor meteor shower viewing experience.

Tonight, though, was clear. And it was late and it was quiet and it was reasonably dark, except for the street corner light and the neighbors’ outdoor light and our porch light, which had been left on so I wouldn’t have to try to figure out in pitch blackness which of the 84 keys I carry was the the right one for the front door. 

Best viewing conditions would be, of course, out in the country. Up by Falls Lake, maybe. Away from the city. Not on my front lawn, with porch light and neighbor light and street light.

I went to go inside, thinking “there’s going to be another one.” Or maybe I was thinking “I’ll catch them next year.” 

And without realizing it, I said to myself, “How many more of these things are you going to get a chance to see?” Not because there’s anything wrong, or I’m in imminent danger, or I’m feeling the weight of my creeping middle age particularly heavily tonight. It was just a thought about how taking that sort of thing for granted - assuming that the thing you skipped out on today will always be waiting when you want it tomorrow - doesn’t always pay off. 

I tried taking my nephew and his friend out watching for meteors earlier in the summer. We set up too early and saw bupkis. Opportunity, gone.

But it was late, and I was tired, and tomorrow’s a school day, metaphorically speaking. I went up onto the front porch, Opened the door.

Thought about it for a second, then reached in and turned off the porch light. Turned around, marched myself back onto the lawn, and held up a hand and an iPad respectively, to block out the neighbor’s light and the streetlight. 

So.

Easy enough to just dust that off with a “Cool story, bro” or whatever, and move on. It’s another “stop and smell the roses” thing, right? Of course it is.

I looked up. I waited. And a minute later, I saw a meteor.

Just one. This wasn’t a precursor to Day of the Triffids, after all, with the sky on fire with a million bits of cosmic leftover raining down in fire and light. It was the waning evening of a trip through old cometary incontinence, left behind for us to swing through and ooh and ah about. One bit of dust that hit the atmosphere and took a short trip and flamed out.

I looked around. Nobody else was out there. On my block, at least, that moment and that vision were all mine.

Which was enough. I waited another minute, then inside and shut the door. 

Except it isn’t.

Because, aging nerd that I am, I’ve always wanted to see meteor showers. They are, in a sense, important. they have a priority.

The problem being, that priority was always lower than the priority of something else I was doing at the time. It’s always a different something else, but each instance is higher priority at that given moment.

Which is how, if you look at it in the long view, “lower priority” becomes “no priority”. And “no priority” means “it never gets done, ever.”

I have a comic book spec script I’m working on now. It’s a project I’m excited about. But because it’s a spec project, it slots in behind Story X for Anthology Y or Game Project Z or Book Review Omicron, any of which may have a greater urgency at a given moment, but none of which are such high priority that they’ve got the heft to consign another project to the dustbin permanently. 

But that’s the practical effect. (Note: this sort of thing applies at work, too. Check your task lists for the stuff that’s been lurking at the bottom for weeks or months or years. It’s never the most important thing, which is why it never gets done - until suddenly it’s the thing that needed to be done ages ago and ohcrap) And the end result of that practical effect is things left undone and regretted because of the always-excusable strict hierarchy of priorities. There’s no individual element of that decision-making that can be critiqued, because any given item, when weighed against the spec project, carries more heft. It’s only when things are seen in toto that the cost becomes apparent.

Which is why it is occasionally worth it to reprioritize based on on the long view, and not the short. To temporarily assign artificially high value to a particular project to keep it from forever defaulting to no value. And to, just maybe, trade a minute at the keyboard for a minute looking at shooting stars. 

A Small Note On Depression

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There are many better voices than mine to discuss what depression really is, how being rich or famous or good-looking is not an automatic counter to its ravages, and how it is a disease and not something that can be easily overcome simply through “sucking it up” (whatever that means).

That being said, I’d like to politely suggest that everyone who does think that wealth or fame counters depression, or that it is something that can be easily overcome with enough Arizona Diamondbacks-style grittiness check out some of these resources, leave their preconceptions at the door, and maybe put themselves in a better position to help the people in their own lives who are suffering from depression.

Because if your attitude is that those suffering from depression are weak, or have no willpower, or are lazy, then you are just making it that much harder for the ones you care about who are dealing with this to come forward, to get help, and to try to find a way to get better. You are, in other words, making things worse for people you know and love.

Don’t be part of the problem. Because there are people in your life wrestling with this, even if you don’t know it. And being stubborn or uninformed or disdainful towards the problem makes pushes in exactly the wrong direction.

Things I Think About The Guardians Of The Galaxy (largely spoiler-free)
  1. It was a wonderfully enjoyable movie. I laughed in all the right places, I sniffled in all the right places, and generally had a great time. No complaints.
  2. For something that is explicitly sold as a wacky good time in space, the film sure is violent and, on occasion, foul-mouthed. The commercials - and the 17 minutes of preview footage screened for fans a month ago - really de-emphasized how brutal many of the fight scenes are. There are stabbings. There is attempted murder. There are impalings. There are stabbings and explosions and various other unpleasant ways to go out inflicted on various characters, some of whom even have speaking parts. Not that I’m going all Hayes Code or anything here, but if you’re bringing your kids expecting nothing but cute talking trees and raccoons, you might want to adjust those expectations.
  3. Spiritually, this splits the difference between the ongoing Marvel films, which do an excellent job of mainstreaming obscure nerd properties with machinelike efficiency, and the mid-80s action comedies like Big Trouble in Little China or Buckaroo Banzai. It’s winkingly self-aware of the genre conventions it’s sending up, recognizing that they’re shared vocabulary that lets the film do something different. At the same time, the film is composed with mechanical, relentless precision. Every character gets their one moment of pathos, the climactic showdown plays out beat-for-beat like innumerable other action films, and there’s plenty of sly toy commercials built into the film. But that’s OK, because the craftsmanship of the film is so damn good.
  4. Vin Diesel really is Groot. This may be the defining performance of his career.
  5. I want some of the space technology that preserves audiocassettes, AA batteries, and earphone foam for multiple decades. Seriously. I’m not nitpicking. I’ve got a couple of aging cassettes that are shedding iron oxide faster than Donald Trump ditches creditors and if space technology is what it takes to save those suckers, I want it now.
  6. Director/cowriter James Gunn does an impressive job of shoehorning a ridiculous amount of exposition about the Marvel Universe into the movie without turning it into Adam Warlock Studies 101. Those who are paying attention can squee to themselves over the nice little detail touches that get worked in; those who don’t care or who don’t realize that all this infodump is the setup for about six other movies can simply relax because the only bit’s that actually pertinent is “blue guy in a hoodie wants to blow up the planet.” Everything else? Details.
  7. Complaining about the post-credits scene is self-entitled nonsense. What we get is perfectly in keeping with the spirit of the film and a nice nod to a bit of Marvel’s history. No, it’s not splodey or ominous or plot-relevant; it’s fun. Talking yourself into thinking that it was going to be Ultron jello-wrestling Thanos while Nathan Fillion and the cast of Firefly cheer them on might have been fun forum fodder, but Marvel and James Gunn are under no obligation to match the fantasies you spun out of whole cloth. And besides, complaining about how the free stuff you just got is the wrong free stuff always kind of makes you look like a jerkface.
  8. Whoever decided that Benicio Del Toro’s version of The Collector would look like someone trying to cosplay the abominable snowman from the old Rankin Bass Christmas specials may want to have others check their work on future character redesigns.
  9. Part of me will always wonder how different a movie this would have been in StarLord’s mom had liked Yes, Pink Floyd and Jethro Tull instead of early 70s cheese rock. 
  10. Did I mention I really enjoyed the movie? ‘Cause I did.
I Don’t Like The New Suicide Squad, And That’s OK

I read the first collection of the New 52’s version of Suicide Squad today. to be honest, I didn’t like it. It seemed needlessly brutal, wallowing in unnecessary character death and having the members of the Squad kill relentlessly in such quantity that after a few pages, the deaths stopped registering. Adding a hard edge to the notion of super villains working off their sentences on top-secret missions makes sense; the endless scenes of cannibal Hulk-wannabe King Shark chowing down on whoever’s in reach is cartoonish. 

I confess, I was a big fan of John Ostrander’s run on the series. It tackled some of the same moral dilemmas the new series seems to want to take on, and it blew away the occasional team member as needed to make an impact, but it was never less than aware of the level of its violence. The new series, on the other hand, goes for a wannabe cool nihilism, camouflaging the ever-increasing body count Deadshot’s racking up under the blanket of “badass efficiency”. These are supposed to be character moments for Deadshot, you see, not just kills.

After a while, the camo starts looking mighty thin.

That being said, the last thing DC should do is listen to my grumping and backpedal to the way things were. Why? Because the last time I bought a Suicide Squad issue, it was two decades ago, give or take. I’m not the target audience anymore, and I’m not the guy the new book is intended to appeal to. I may not like the new direction, but it’s not like they’re going to lose a customer by pissing me off. And at five bucks a new issue, odds were pretty good that even if I liked the new stuff, I wasn’t going to be setting up a pull list at my Friendly Local Comic Shop

Besides, the Ostrander issues aren’t going anywhere. I can still read them if I want and I feel like digging through my long boxes (now repurposed as a cat perch). The sort of Suicide Squad story I want is still available to me, even if it isn’t a new Suicide Squad.

But to expect a comics company to be governed by the nostalgia of those of us who haven’t actually been their customers in a very long time is to sit in a metaphorical rocking chair on the porch, shaking a metaphorical cane at those darn kids and their rock-and-roll musics.  This goes whether we’re talking about Suicide Squad (did I mention that I hate that they’ve reimagined Amanda Waller to be skinny and young. Come on, can’t we have one character in comics who looks like they’ve eaten a slice of pie in their life?) or Thor fans who haven’t picked up an issue since the Walt Simonson days yelling on Twitter about the character’s gender swapping, or really anyone who doesn’t  understand why comics can’t be exactly the way they were in the halcyon days of their youth. 

To which all I can say is “Let it go”. The Ostrander Suicide Squad isn’t comic back, and even if he were put back on the book it wouldn’t be the same one I’d fallen in love with two decades ago. Those comics are our high school crushes; in memory they stay the same forever, but in real life they’re live in Des Moines, have two kids, and may have recently learned what words like “diverticulitis” and “heart palpitations” mean. To expect them to stay as perpetually dewy-eyed and young as our mental image of them is cruel and unrealistic, and leads to awkward conversations at high school reunions. 

So shut up and let the new creators do new things. If you like those new things, hop on board. If you don’t, try to sound less like Abe Simpson when you criticize. But always remember, nobody’s writing for twenty-years-ago-you any more, nor should they have to. To think otherwise is to be as cranky and entitled as, well, as the guys who were clogging up USENet back in 1989 kvetching about how they should put Captain Marvel back in his old Kree uniform and what Batman really needed to be good was more of the good old BIFF-POW-BOOM.

I don’t want to be that guy. At least, not the noisy version of that guy. And neither should you.

General Update

I swear, I’m writing serious stuff that will show up here eventually. If nothing else, there’s thing thing on Fargo, and there’s something else on…you know what? Never mind. In the meantime…

Saturday, ConGregate in Winston-Salem will host the initial Manly Wade Wellman Award ceremony. My novel VAPORWARE had the honor of being nominated, along with 5 other sincerely kickass books, and it’s an honor to be in their company. So if you’re going to be at the con Saturday, look for me there - I’ll have my dad with me as my date for the festivities.

Next week, NECON. Staggering Squirrels for everyone! I’m also moderating the 9 AM panel on Saturday. These two things may not mix.

Just got my e-copy of the astounding War Stories anthology, which contains my story “NonStandard Deviation”. Working my way through the book now, and it is, no pun intended, a killer lineup. 

I’ve started blogging on game writery topics over at Gamasutra. Expect more content there soon, too.

Lots of book reviews have gone live in the last week. Here’s where to go if you’re curious about new stuff from James P. Blaylock or Richard Chizmar’s Turn Down The Lights anthology or the new Nancy Kress

Things are rolling on Wraith: The Oblivion 20th Anniversary edition. I have been putting together the team of writers, and it’s a walloping good ones. The task is daunting, but the folks I’m working with - I couldn’t ask for better. And if you want updates on the project or just want to pester me about it, I drop in regularly over at the Onyx Path forums

 Had some good conversations with the mighty Hal Mangold, who will be doing layout on Squatches and Scotches. So that will be a thing sooner rather than later. A squatchy, scotchy thing.

And speaking of which, if you want to read an interview with me conducted by the marvelous Minerva Zimmerman wherein we discuss sasquatches, among other things.

That’s all for now, I suppose. Funny how it looks like a lot when you put it all together like that…