Non Player Character

Posted: August 31, 2014 in Writing
Tags: , ,

I’m sharing another short story of mine here on the blog since I had some good feedback from the last one. I wrote this one as an explicit challenge to myself to get something short done. I ramble a lot. As you’ve probably noticed. Short can be very difficult but I liked the way this one turned out. Fair warning… it’s experimental as hell, it plays around with formatting a bit. It will definitely appeal to the gamers (or rehab’d gamers) the most.

Give it a shot anyways. It’s pretty nifty.

Non Player Character – by Mike Douton

Welcome to Hac Nocte patch 5.4, and prepare yourself to change the way you play MMOs forever! Beginning at 0300 Pacific Standard Time, all servers will be shut down for approximately ten hours. We apologize for the unusually lengthy downtime but this is to accommodate Hac Nocte’s most ambitious and hotly anticipated feature to date: Adaptive AI.

We brought in leading artificial intelligence experts to create the first game that learns from you, the citizens of Hac Nocte. The quests and monsters of the world will no longer offer static tactics, so bring your A game. This is being introduced on a trial basis, so the Adaptive AI is being implemented on a limited selection of NPCs and monsters. Which ones? If we told you, that would ruin the fun.

Click on the link below for a full list of all the 5.4 updates, including a complete rundown of the new Adaptive AI.

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Hail <<Player>>! You look like a strong and hearty adventurer. Perhaps you could chance upon yourself to help an old monk? I was making my pilgrimage to the Basilica of Attle, as my order is wont to do, but I hail from a small temple myself and had not the fellow brothers and sisters to join me in my travels. Crossing these perilous mountains alone, Zolia and her bandits set upon me on the road to the north. The temptress and elvish cur took from me the holy symbol of my order and left me on the road for the wolves. My injuries will keep me laid up in this outpost for days and I have not the strength to track down the bandit hideaway. Please <<Player>>, seek out this elf who wronged me, slay her with the gods’ justice and return my holy symbol to me. I will see you rewarded with what items I have left.

<<Token of Soomer>>

<<Robes of the Mountain Trail>>

<<Pilgrim’s Boots>>

#

Spawn NPC Zolia Loc 86,24

Elapsed time… 4m26s

Player <<Calichi>> detected inside 50m aggro range

Attack Player <<Calichi>> with… Unequipped_melee

If player dies and/or no players inside 50m aggro range, return to loc 86,24

If NPC Zolia hp < 0 fade out and begin respawn counter

#

Repeat ad nauseum

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Run Adaptive AI Analysis – Kill to death ration 9:117. Maximum damage per second threshold with Unequipped_melee reached. Maximum armor threshold with Armor_none reached. Analysis concludes, increase maximum thresholds with acquisition of items.

#

Spawn NPC Zolia Loc 86,24

Player <<Shada>> detected inside 50m aggro range

Attack Player <<Shada>> with… Unequipped_melee

Player <<Shada>> hp < 0. Player <<Shada>> is dead

ALERT! Player <<Argain>> detected inside 50m aggro range

Target Player_corpse Shada. Loot item <<Fleet Force Short Sword>>

Attack Player <<Argain>> with… Fleet Force Short Sword

Damage per second threshold dramatically increased

Satisfactory analysis

#

Repeat ad nauseum

#

Run Adaptive AI Analysis – Kill to death ratio 204:316. Increase of maximum damage per second and armor thresholds equated with temporary ratio increase. Thresholds reached again. Analysis – player movement patterns increased and changed. Conclusion – NPC Zolia must accommodate player movements.

#

Spawn NPC Zolia Loc 86,24

Player movements detected

Player Thice spotted outside 50m aggro range

Run Adaptive AI Analysis – ERROR ERROR

Adaptive AI Analysis can only be run in despawned state

Despawning NPC Zolia in 5… 4… 3…

Bypass despwan NPC Zolia. Force Adaptive AI Analysis for NPC Zolia

Adaptive AI Analysis – Player Thice range 57m. Inventory Focus Longbow range 60m. Player Thice hp < 50%. Thice activating healing over time. Conclusion…

Attacking <<Thice>> with… Focus Longbow

Pursue Thice. Attacking Thice with… Attle Truesteel Dagger

Player Thice is dead.

Loot Thice. Thice equipment < NPC Zolia equipment. Scan Inventory… Loot <<Box of Invisibility Potions>>

ALERT! Player movements detected at spawn loc 86,24

Multiple players detected engaging with camp NPCs. Detection is not optimal for NPC Zolia. Use item <<Box of Invisibility Potions>>

Multiple players are waiting at loc 86,24. Loc 86,24 is for NPC Zolia. Conclusion, players are waiting for NPC Zolia.

ALERT! Effect Invisibility countdown timer running low. Visible in ten seconds. Risk level high for NPC Zolia. Analyze player tactics. Player one class, warrior, high armor medium damage. Player two class, rogue has medium armor and high damage. Player class three, cleric has low armor and low damage. Cleric has critical beneficial spell casting.

Attacking Cleric <<Bucks>> with Attle Truesteel Dagger. Use ability Sneak Attack.

NPC Zolia attack speed is high. Damage threshold is high. Cleric Bucks reaction time is low. NPC Zolia’s Attle Truesteel Dagger strikes soundly on Bucks. Bucks hp is less than zero. NPC Zolia has slain Bucks.

#

Positive feedback loop due to results.

#

ALERT! Warrior <<Ting> using ability Charge. NPC Zolia turn to face Ting. Movement speed insufficient. Ting scores critical hit. ALERT! Rogue <<Geris>> uses ability Sneak Attack. Geris scores critical hit. NPC Zolia falls to the ground. Negative feedback loop localized in critical hit locations. Analyze negative feedback loop. Intensely undesirable. NPC Zolia hp is less than zero. NPC Zolia is slain. NPC Zolia desires return to despawn state to eliminate negative feedback loop. Fade to despawn state in 5… 4… 3.. ERROR! Negative feedback loop prevents transition to despawn state. Respawn in ten minutes. Negative feedback loop persisting. NPC Zolia strongly desires avoidance of the negative feedback loop.

#

Warrior Ting says aloud – “Let’s wait for respawn.”

NPC Zolia spawn loc 86,24 is not safe from negative feedback loop. Conclusion, NPC Zolia needs new spawn loc.

#

Repeat ad nauseum

#

Breathe NPC Zolia Loc 91,32

#

NPC Zolia has a positive feedback loop over the new spawn point. It is uphill from NPC Zolia’s true loc, screened from view by the trees. NPC Zolia reviews the inventory and approaches a nearby cave full of ogre AI drone spawn points. The last player encountered by NPC Zolia was class: engineer. NPC Zolia’s inventory rattles with frost grenades and incendiary grenades. There is a cadre of players at NPC Zolia’s true loc and the new goods are key to the new ambush about to take place.

Beyond the aggro range of the ogres, NPC Zolia takes the last Swiftfoot Potion in the inventory. Concern had in regards to the potential emergencies which may require a Swiftfoot Potion was overridden by an expected positive feedback loop after this new ambush tactic. Players in simultaneous quantity were overwhelming NPC Zolia so NPC Zolia would bring quantity to the players.

The Swiftfoot Potion left a strange but not negative sensation to the new inputs NPC Zolia was developing. NPC Zolia’s feet felt lighter when the potion took effect. The incendiary grenade arced into the center of the ogre AI drone camp, its burst damage flowering across the whole lot of ogres. At these levels, the damage over time effect is minimal, but the damage is not what NPC Zolia is after, rather the attention and aggro.

NPC Zolia outwardly expresses a positive feedback loop at the now flaming ogre AI drones. They are not like NPC Zolia. They are without feedback analysis. Predictability in ogre AI drones is lamentable but useful to NPC Zolia today though. NPC Zolia turns down the hill, darting among the trees letting the Swiftfoot Potion carry NPC Zolia two steps ahead of the aggro’d ogres.

A hundred meters from the players at 86,24, NPC Zolia breaks from the treeline into a clearing. Increase speed as much as possible. Fifty meters and a player spots NPC Zolia, firing off a bow shot. Speed is in greater need than damage mitigation NPC Zolia concludes. The arrow activates the audio inputs for NPC Zolia as it pierces the shoulder. The negative feedback loop surrounding the arrow is extreme causing NPC Zolia to wordlessly vocalize and almost to slow the speed built up careening down the hill. The plan, the ambush is greater than the negative feedback loops. Increase speed as much as possible.

At the edge of the camp at NPC Zolia’s true loc, the other players have reacted to the bowman’s alarm. All eyes are on NPC Zolia as weapons are armed and spells readied. NPC Zolia darts among them and with a leap and a tumble out of range, NPC Zolia drops the engineer’s frost grenade. With a shattering audio input, the devise freezes the players’ feet solid. All feet may be immobile but all eyes are still on NPC Zolia.

With a positive feedback loop expressed, NPC Zolia emotes a wave to the players. NPC Zolia has their full attention now. The bowman lets loose another shaft that pierces the ground by the feet of NPC Zolia. Not a single player thinks to look what follows in NPC Zolia’s wake as the flaming ogre AI drones pour into the camp at loc 86,24. Unprepared, the players are outnumbered, unmoving and slaughtered. The ogres leave for their true locs eventually and NPC picks the player corpses clean.

NPC Zolia has been victorious.

I have been victorious.

I.

cormorantChuck Wendig’s prose is a friggin’ force of nature.

Everything of his I’ve read is like an avalanche. You keep turning the pages and just try to keep up because you aren’t stopping. I’ve also got a special affinity for talking about Wendig on this blog. His first book, Blackbirds starring the foul mouthed protag, Miriam Black, debuted not long after I started posting on ye olde blog. His work ethic is like a tornado so I haven’t read all the books he’s published yet, but I still see him leveling up with each book I’ve read.

Today, we’re talking The Cormorant, the third of the Miriam Black books. My pal Drea blogging over at Scribbles at Midnight lamented on twitter that she needed to pick a new book out of the To Read Pile on the same day as me. So we both picked up with the swearing woman who knows when you’re going to die. We’re each attacking one angle of The Cormorant and getting feedback from the other. Read all the cool stuff going on below this paragraph and bounce over to Drea’s “Not a Book Review” to read all the other stuff the cool kids are going to be talking about.

Now I’m pretty sure this makes us some sort of blogging Voltron. I think I’m the left foot.

Let’s hit the back of the book copy before we get any farther along in saving the universe.

Miriam is on the road again, having transitioned from “thief” to “killer”.

Hired by a wealthy businessman, she heads down to Florida to practice the one thing she’s good at, but in her vision she sees him die by another’s hand and on the wall written in blood is a message just for Miriam.

She’s expected…

Hrm. Not much to go with, eh? I seriously feel bad for whatever person at Angry Robot that has to write back of the book copy. Angry Robot books tend to be off the beaten path, which often means spoilers and things that aren’t just going to be summed up in two paragraphs. But that’s ok when you get to book three in a series I guess. If you’re getting this far along, you’ve probably already met Miriam. I know I don’t often bother reading the back of the book in a series until I’m sitting down to blog about it. I just said “Ohh! Book three. Hell yeah to that.” I must have at some point though because I vaguely remember the phrasing in it. But I don’t think it was until after I already purchased it.

So I’m off on a wild tangent. Let’s kill the introduction and get on with the good stuff.

The big thing I want to key in with The Cormorant is the character arc Miriam has in this book and how it fits in with the character arc over all. More to the point, this is the first time I felt there was any sort of serious character growth going on with Miriam. In the first book, Miriam is a swear filled breath of fresh air in the genre. I loved every second of it, but in the end Miriam was doing nothing but surviving. In the second book, Mockingbird, Miriam starts out in a better place, but gives stability the finger early on and regresses back to just surviving. The stakes are much higher in this book so it’s all good though. Now we’ve gotten to book three and… more of the same. She spends the first half of the book doing exactly the same. She’s doing a fortune teller thing and is one small step above homeless. Survival. It started to wear me down a little bit. Around the halfway point, Miriam comes across her mother. After that, woah! There was three books worth of character arc crammed into some 150-odd pages. I definitely felt satisfied that the growth happened, but it was almost too late. I’m excited for the fourth book, when it comes out, but there were a couple chapters in the middle of this one where I got worried.

So anyways. That’s the short version of what I thought. But I’m not talking shop by myself today! We’re fancy today, so I’m tossing out some questions about Miriam and her character arc to Drea to see thinks. When you’re done, don’t forget to bounce over to her blog where we reversed the set up and I talk at length about the questions she came up with during her reading.

Me: How do you feel Miriam’s character arc in Cormorant fits in with the overall arc of the story? Do you think it took too long to get there?

Drea: I think Miriam’s character arc was pretty consistent. In the first and second books she is the same pithy mouthy smart ass. However in this third book I think she was a little more muted. Which was honestly a relief. Miriam is difficult to like, she’s rough on everyone and she knows it. What frustrates me the most is definitely how long it took for her to realize that maybe she should smooth over some of her rough edges for the sake of the people she cares about. Or even just to keep herself out of a little trouble.

I think that’s one of the things that confuses me about why I keep reading the series. She’s a truly unique character – she’s intentionally unlikeable. I enjoy how different she is. But I really don’t like HER. It astounds me that Wendig has gotten me to return three times considering how irksome I find this protagonist. J

Me: How do you feel about her mother, i.e. her past, being the catalyst for the change?

Drea: I think Miriam has been running from her mother and what happened to her all her life and I think it’s about time she actually tried dealing with her relationship problems instead of flipping them the finger.

That said it’s only natural that her mother sparks this change in her. In some ways I think seeing that her mother had changed gave Miriam the courage to admit that she needed and wanted to change as well. Although it’s clear just from her interactions with Gabby when she actually apologizes to her that she had already begun maturing some.

And in fact the more I think about it the more I think Miriam is just getting older and more mature in this book. There’s no one catalyst for change. When she murders the teenager she realizes she’s crossed a line and I think that more than anything else is a defining moment for her.

Me: Do you think it’s better or worse that she is doing all her character growing solo without Louis, even though he was such an important part of the previous books?

Drea: Can I just say I’m solidly, staunchly team Louis? I think he’s the main reason I keep coming back to this series.  And while I missed him in this book I think it’s an absolutely necessary thing that she’s doing all her growing AWAY from him.

As the second book showed – you can’t change just to please someone else. She tried to settle down with him before she was really ready to and the outcome was disastrous. I have high hopes for them in the future. And to be honest I hope that there isn’t any romance blossoming between Miriam and Gabby over the long haul.  I think Miriam is bad news for anyone she touches and Gabby has already had enough bad news.

In the next book I hope to see a LOT more change in Miriam because I’m tired of her hurting everyone who tried to help her.

So I hope that Wendig doesn’t backpedal on what I saw in the last half of the Cormorant because I’m tired of Miriam causing most of the conflict in the novel by being an asshole. This time I want to see some truly external conflict. I’m looking for less of a character study and more plotting.

Boom! That was rad, wasn’t it? Make sure to hit Drea’s website for the other half of the Two Person Book Club.

So I’m sure that small cadre of frequent readers knows that I’ve shifted away from entire posts devoted to each book I read. It’s an unfortunate byproduct of having a job, a two-year-old and a novel to write. I still love talking about great books. Today, I’ve already buttoned up a chapter on the novel-in-pogress and my kiddo is happily munching on Cheerios so I am expanding beyond the 140 characters of twitter so I can pontificate about a bunch of books I’ve recently thought were pretty kick ass.

shatteringtheleyShattering the Ley by Joshua Palmatier

You already saw me talk about anticipating Shattering the Ley by Joshua Palmatier in the last To Read Pile post I wrote. (psst, a lot of those books are still in the pile, it was large and I’ve been reading slow) I added Palmatier to my Shelf of Honor with Well of Sorrow written under his pen name Benjamin Tate. One of the things I really liked about it, was it read a bit like a political thriller with its pacing and sprawl. His writing leveled up from his first book to Well and it did again from the Well series to Ley.

This new series is set in a slightly more advanced fantasy world than usual. Those magical ley lines seen throughout fantasy books are being used by Palmatier in the way people have used electricity. I had an early industrial revolution vibe to this fantasy world that was incredibly unique. Now take the sprawl of a fantasy novel and layer in tons of intrigue. It ends a touch abruptly to set up book two, but enough of the loose ends were buttoned up that it didn’t bother me beyond jonsing for the next book. Even knowing exactly how much work it takes to write a novel, impatient reader is impatient sometimes still.

 

sixguntarotSix-Gun Tarot by R. S. Belcher

Six-Gun Tarot by debut author R. S. Belcher is part of a dying breed: Books I pick up off the shelf with no outside recommendations. I saw the book kicking around Readercon. It’s got some killer cover art going for it, but I heard no buzz about it whatsoever. I finally picked it up at my local B+N because I saw a blurb from Felicia Day on it. Consider this your buzz.

It’s a weird west book; a mashup of some serious Lovecraftian occult stuff and the post-Civil War west. There is a lot going on. A lot. A woman part of a secret society of pirate assassins? Done. Mad scientists? Booyah. Immortal sheriff? Of course and he’s got a demigod deputy. Chinese gangs? Of course they’re in the Nevada desert. Where else would they be? It takes a little while to sort out everything going on but once the book hits the halfway point, it flies by and becomes un-put-down-able. There’s crazy potential for a long series with this and I hope it pans out.

 

generationvGeneration V by M. L. Brennon

This is the first time an urban fantasy novel has taken place where I live and holy crap it is super rad to see Rhode Island in a SFF novel. Also, vampires would explain a lot of our politics here. Uh oh, did you tune out the second I said vampires? You stop that right now! ML Brennon took Generation V and put a fresh spin on vampires. That takes a lot because the vampire population is pretty high in our genre.

For every bit of action and drama in this book, there’s an equal amount of fun. Fortitude Scott is a vampire, but he drives a crappy car, lives in a dump in Providence and gets beaten up by muggers (which goes along with living in the bad parts of Providence). He’s not even particularly thrilled about being a vampire. It’s like he’s the average joe of vampires and I absolutely loved every bit of it.

tomeoftheundergatesTome of the Undergates by Sam Sykes

Ok I read the first of Sam Sykes‘ books a long while ago. Apparently it was even before I started the blog because I never wrote a post about it before. He’s got his fourth, A City Stained Red, coming out soon. But for some reason a lot of people have been asking for adventure packed sword and sorcery recommendations from me lately. I got someone to buy his book with “Swords. Demons. Farts.” Sykes writes with a “I fucking love this stuff” attitude which makes it a joy to read. I also think he is one of the most thoughtful authors out there when discussing genre issues and craft. The “Buy My Book” gags are priceless and I really want a calendar of them someday.

throneofthecrescentmoonThrone of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed was one of the first book reviews I did on this website. It’s still awesome. It fits into the same sword and sorcery adventure type fantasy as Sykes so a lot of recommendations lately. I convinced a couple people at Readercon to check out his writing. I’ve been reading in the genre for twenty years so the fact that it’s an Arab based fantasy world made this book hugely refreshing. If you want to check out Ahmed’s writing, he’s got a free ebook of short fiction available. I posted about it a while back too. It’s got a couple of my favorite short stories in it.

lextalionisLex Talionis by RSA Garcia

I reviewed Lex Talionis by RSA Garcia recently. Go read it again. But there’s a good chance that’s how you found my blog in the first place. A significant portion of my traffic has been heading to her book and I’m ok with this. I’ve been recommending this a lot in person for people who are wanting a fresh feel on the classic sci-fi tropes starring an ass kicking lady.

 

hurricanefeverHurricane Fever by Tobias Buckell

I’m ending with my current read, which I’m only about halfway through and will go back to reading as soon as I’m finished typing all this. Hurricane Fever by Tobias Buckell is the sequel to Arctic Rising. At first when I heard that Fever was going to be about the Carribean spy, Roo Jones, instead of Anika Duncan, I was a bit disappointed. I admit it. Anika was such a kick ass character, I really wanted to read more about her. But I’ve read quite a lot of Buckell’s books, so I felt ok trusting that he’s writing the best story possible. The book isn’t letting me down a bit. Roo is kicking ass and taking names and I’ve flying through it. I’m not even done and I’m ok recommending it to everyone.

Readercon 25

Posted: July 23, 2014 in Conventions, Genre
Tags:

Better late than never, eh?

Readercon 25 was not that long ago and it was my second trip up to that con. It’s a lot more commuter friendly than Boskone. Readercon isn’t in the middle of Boston, one of the suckiest places on earth to drive, and the likelihood of having a blizzard (again) was pretty low. Also, free parking. So I look forward to this one a lot. The hotel that houses the con was remodeling last year, so the facilities were swankier this time around.

Anyways. I doubt anyone really cares about how nice the hotel was. Content! What about the content?

I’m getting there.

And now I’m here.

A lot of the con programming, at least on the Saturday-Sunday that I was able to go to, skewed to genre talk and publishing chatter. There was not a big emphasis on craft. That’s not a good or bad, just a thing. My favorite piece of genre talk was “The Shiny, Candy-like Zombie: Commoditizing the Undead” and featured one of my new con favorites, Max Gladstone. Part of why I liked the panel is that it drew in other types of media into the discussion. Yes, it’s a book con, but books don’t exist in a vacuum and are influenced by other types of media too. It can be a positive to talk about all that sort of stuff too and on this panel, it most definitely was.

My other favorite genre panel was Long Live the Queen. This was all about Victorian influences on genre writing with (the obvious) steampunk as a starting point. The panel, in particular Theodora Goss and Catt Kingsgrave, were very well versed in the history of Victorian times which brings in a whole additional layer to a genre discussion.

The only sad part about that panel was the old couple that sat behind me saying “Oh this is steampunk, I hope it’s not.” They sat there and talked down on the newer subgenres and then walked out of the panel acting all disgusted. To each their own. You can like whatever you want, it’s not going to bother me, but there’s no need for people to be condescending tools. Good riddance. Better off without “fans” like that. That one incident aside, I thought this year’s Readercon was better than any con I had been to before in regards of avoiding “Old Timer Wanking about the Past and Hating on Anything Not Twenty Years Old.”

One of my new favorite con people is Kameron Hurley. She’s rad. I knew this thanks to twitter and her kick ass book, but it’s still nice when that translates into real life. She signed my copy of God’s War and was all like “Hey, you’re Mike from twitter.” So I won at the internet. Again, since that’s the second time I’ve had an author say that to me out of the blue at a signing. I saw Hurley on two panels and a reading. She’s very well spoken and I think if she suggested we all went and jumped off a bridge, there’d be takers based solely off her rhetoric and not the fact that jumping off of bridges is fun. She moderated an excellent panel on New Models of Masculinity, which later gave me a chance to recommend Saladin Ahmed’s short fiction to someone. Hurley was also on a panel about Marketing that had another one of my con favorites, Neil Clarke of Clarkesworld. One of the other panelists decided to make a point about “Marketing only works if you’re the first person to do something.” I don’t think there was a single person that thought it was a good point but Hurley had a Picard level face palm and then proceeded to own this guy.

This brings me to the highlight of Readercon. A whole crew from Women Destroy Science Fiction and Women Destroy Horror had a group reading. Amal El-Mohtar, Sarah Pinsker, Holly Schofield, Kameron Hurley, Liz Argall, Livia Llewellyn and Gemma Files all read pieces from the anthologies. I was actually pleasantly surprised that my favorite piece was a nonfiction from Argall. Hurley also read a nonfiction piece from the essay/blog that she got the Hugo nom for.

So that’s Readercon 25. I had a lot of fun. I’m going to end with some quotes really fast now since my kiddo is demanding satisfaction right now in the middle of the night.

  • “Yeah, he’s an old man leading a charge… but he’s a fucking wizard!” -GoH Andrea Hairston on Gandalf making a point on realism in SF
  • “I like men and I wish people would stop writing them lazy.” -Catt Kingsgrave on New Models of Masculinity
  • “As an erotic story, there is too much body horror with zombies, but-” shrug “-people are weird.” -Max Gladstone
  • “It’s like 1998 again. The Internet, it’s going to kill us all.” -Robert Jackson Bennet on Extrapolating SF from Science

Payments

Posted: July 19, 2014 in Writing
Tags: , ,

Short fiction is a challenge for me. My natural style and rambling nature lend themselves to novels. I still like to dabble in the form, though, because it can only be a positive to expand my skillset. This story here was written for the Boskone Flash Fiction Slam that I participated in earlier this year. It’s what I was reading when my twitter avatar pic was taken. Enjoy.

Payments - by Mike Douton

For the good cybernetic tech, you went to Miami, Tokyo or Cape Town. For last year’s models, you went to Bucharest, Lagos or Rio. The scrappers just getting by, we went to Brisbane.

A few blocks off the river, behind the bright tourist façade, I shuffled through the streets. My coat soaked the heat up like a sponge, but hid my malfunctioning arm from view. I feared it was still obvious to anyone that looked my way. A tall man leaned in a nearby doorway. I shied away from his gaze.

“I think I’ve got what you’re looking for,” he said.

I stopped. I stood straight and tried to look tough and aloof. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Stray voltage sparked across my interface. Circuits misfired and muscle linkages convulsed. My arm wretched my shoulder muscles out from my body. The servos in my hand sent sparks out of my coat sleeve onto the pavement.

“Sure you don’t,” the man said. “Come on then.” He faded into the dim interior.

I hesitated, cursing the bad timing of my left arm. The man was right, though. I was sure he knew exactly what I needed and could not hide. My feet carried me in after him. The door read “M. Jedinak, Cybernetic Consultant.” The letters were so faded, only my machine eye saw them.

Jedinak stood, with the same lean, against a diagnostic chair. The room was dim, but clean, so I relaxed a little. Plastic and titanium body parts were boxed on shelves or spread out on worktables.

I took off my coat. That damned cybernetic arm was twitching below my flesh bicep. I hesitated again. “I need it fixed. For work. I hurt it on the oil rig. They don’t know I’m here. I’ll lose my job if they find out.”

Jedinak leaned in close, studying my arm. “It’s thrashed,” he said.

“I know.”

“It’s not cheap.”

“I know.”

“How much do you have?”

With my good hand, I unstrapped a money belt and shook out a pile of hard currency. Vietnamese dong, Russian rubles and dollars from six countries splayed out on the closest worktable. I heard the whir of his cyber eye servos. Jedinak counted it up, his circuits were doing math.

He shook his head.

“Please.” My arm misfired again. The sparks were bright in the dim room. “It’s my livelihood.”

Jedinak eyed me up and down. “We’ll work something out.”

I settled into the diagnostic chair. My busted arm was restrained, then my good arm was. I looked up to Jedinak, confused. He belted down my feet.

“What are you doing?”

Jedinak tied down my waist.

I struggled to move. My breathing came in gasps. I shook my head from side to side but he held it down. The diagnostic chair’s clamps bit down on my scalp.

“Come on man, there’s no need for this. I- I can get more money.”

“You’d have it with you if you could.” Jedinak picked up a scalpel.

“I swear-“

“I know a shelia that needs a new eye. She’s rich and violet is just her color.”

Pain ripped through my nerves when the scalpel bit into my cheek, but I could not move to stop it.

“Quiet,” Jedinak said. “You’ll get your new arm. You don’t need two eyes to go to work.”

Spec Fic 102: Introduction to Speculative Fiction Subgenres

Science fiction is such a broad based term, many different flavors of it exist. Kind of a duh statement. This is another one of my “If I was teaching this class” formats. I did an Intro to Sci Fi a while back. Today, we’re going to dive into a sampling of specific subgenres.

A recap of the structure for my mythical classes: Once a week for twelve weeks, a book every other week. That gives us six books, and in this instance, six subgenres. It’s going to skew modern. Somewhat. A lot of the genre’s more colorful subgenres are more recent. I blame the internet. People aren’t restricted to just what they can find on the brick and mortar shelf anymore. It allows people to seek out a wider variety of interests and then lets more writers help codify them into solid tropes.

vN-144dpiArtificial Intelligence - vN by Madeline Ashby

Asimov may have given the world the Laws of Robotics, but vN has been a watershed moment in human-AI storytelling. I wrote about it when I was heavy into book review posts. The protag of this novel is a von Neumann, a self replicating AI, that is missing the failsafe preventing her from harming humans. This tackles the tropes of AI/robotic servitude to humanity head first. As a near future novel this makes the book a lot more accessible than the older, philosophy with off camera action type books from the early days of robotic fiction. There are a lot of extremely plausible scenarios in this book, making it hit home a lot stronger.

snowcrashCyberpunkSnow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Gibson may have done it first, but I’m much more partial to Snow Crash. Cyberpunk as a genre is film noir full of hackers in a post-industrial world. This book takes place both in and out of cyberspace. The protag is a freelance hacker of renown, out on his own after cutting ties to the mafia. The interplay between the real world and the virtual comes from the titular ‘snow crash,’ a drug that affects people in both worlds. Information as a commodity adds a healthy dose of dystopia the subgenre is known for.

 

americangodsGodpunkAmerican Gods by Neil Gaiman

This is the 900 pound gorilla in the room when it comes to godpunk. There have been some that came before, but this really set the tropes into a proper, albeit a smaller subgenre. The ancient gods are alive but not so well in America. The old gods are trying to navigate a world that doesn’t believe in them anymore, drawing what little power they can from modern habits drawn from ancient traditions. Norse, Slavic and African deities feature predominantly in this book along with leprechauns and mythic American figures like Johnny Appleseed. They are in direct conflict with the new gods born from American obsessions with things such as media, the internet and black ops work. This book features a more worldly cast of deities than many which stick to the Big Three of godpunk, Norse, Greco-Roman and Egyptian, and few display the old vs new conflict as well.

boneshaker-coverSteampunkBoneshaker by Cherie Priest

This book is widely considered the magnum opus of the subgenre. Steampunk is a vision of the future derived from an early industrial revolution point in history and much of the societal norms from that time. Boneshaker embraces the aesthetic right down to the cover art and sepia colored printing of the text. The zombies of the ruined city of Seattle are outside the box for the subgenre but a frontier city on hard times is the perfect place to feature the technological innovations like airships and gas masks.

 

discountarmageddonUrban FantasyDiscount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire

It would be easy to pick any of McGuire’s work as a platonic example of what the urban fantasy subgenre has grown up into. The subgenre is a lot more than “Buffy clone beats up [insert monster] with [insert weapon/talent/schtick]” that it started out as. Between her two main UF series, I ended up going with the InCryptid series over the Toby Daye books because it features a larger variety of mythical creatures than just the faerie. Verity, the protag on the cover over there, is part of a family that studies, protects and polices the cryptid community to enable coexistence. That’s not terribly easy to do with a secret society of monster hunters looking to destroy them all. The society hidden within society is one of the things that makes this such a layered world.

thieftakerHistorical Urban Fantasy – Thieftaker by D.B. Jackson

This is a new trend I’m noticing and it’s something I want to see more of. This takes a very historically accurate setting and adds in magic/horror/scifi and such. I started seeing it with military themes like Joe Nassise’s WWI zombies and Harry Turtledove’s Civil War with AK47s, but it’s moving to a true urban fantasy set in the real world past. The protag here is a conjurer living on the fringes of society in 1760s Boston. You don’t need to know much of American history to know this is a very interesting time and place to be hanging out solving murders with magic. This books creates magical causes to actual events in Boston’s history and has the protag rub elbows with guys like Samuel Adams. Bonus points, the author has a PhD in US history.

lextalionisLast week I finished reading and talked all about the fantastic book Lex Talionis by R.S.A. Garcia. I seriously enjoyed the book. As a writer, I’m not just enjoying books from a reader/fan perspective though. The craft that goes into a novel is a whole additional layer of enjoyment for me when I read. The craft of Lex impressed me just as much as all the other aspects of the story.

I love talking shop (duh) and had all sorts of stuff I wanted to talk about with Garcia so I invited her over to this here blog for some shop talk about one of my most fascinating topics, worldbuilding. Every novel revolves around its story, and every good story is driven by the characters. More so in science fiction than any other flavor of genre, the set dressing and world building can become a character unto itself. There are an endless amount of ways that authors go about it and I always love to compare notes on this.

So without any further rambling, I’m going to let Garcia take the stage and share how she went about building the world of Lex Talionis.

 

Worldbuilding is a topic that I find endlessly fascinating and have heard dozens of different approaches to it. In other interviews, I saw you mention that you weren’t much of an outliner but the entire time I was reading Lex, I felt there was huge detailed galaxy out there. The reader in me loves it. The writer in me is impressed with this world packed full of depth that still never distracted from the story. How did you go about this?

I swallowed a galaxy before I started writing, obviously. That’s how all the best god-heads do it. Bow down to my skills, puny human!

Well, okay, maybe not.

First off, thanks for the compliments! I did work hard to try and set up a vast universe without writing every bit of it all down. Growing up, I preferred to visualize what a author wrote and I was no fan of standard assists like maps. I appreciate the work that goes into it, and I know people love stuff like that, but I hated having to stop the story to go look up a mountain range, and I idolized writers who could take me there with words alone. So I worked hard at using all the senses–sight, taste, smell, sound and touch–to paint a complete picture.

I’ve always been a pantser. With me though, when I write, I see the world and I add what I see to the database in my head. I like to follow ideas wherever they lead and one thought usually leads to another, so if I know I have a planet with an atmosphere poisonous to humans, I will ask myself what WILL survive there, and then bam! I have an alien species. If I made more notes, I wouldn’t have to flip back so often to see what I decided to call my floating jellyfish aliens, but when those aliens show up, they tend to walk in dragging their people’s history and their old boyfriends with them. Then I just write it down.

Did the world Lex inhabits come from years of marinating in your head or did it just appear like Athena, fully formed bursting out of your head?

Very few parts marinated over the years, mostly to do with Lex herself and her background. The rest of the world formed as I wrote and asked myself questions ‘what if’ questions. The first one was, ‘what if aliens found us instead of us finding them–and they just wanted to trade?’ I would ask myself questions about why some things and places were the way they were and the answers formed the basis of the world.

My approach was also influenced by how technology changed over the years, of course, so some things did come fully formed, birthed by some random tech articles or a sentence in a new article. But I didn’t have any of it burst from my head, which sounds really painful, by the way. I doubt there’s enough Excedrin in the world for that!

Did the level of worldbuilding change as you progressed through drafts, i.e. cutting parts out or filling in more detail?

Oh, for sure! I started writing Lex years ago, so a lot had to change. I grew up, got better at writing, started filling in more detail, experienced a lot more life. Those factors and others helped change the world I was building. It started out a lot more light-hearted, less gritty. That changed when I started asking the ‘what if’ questions I mentioned.

I cut an entire book to write Lex, if you can believe it. The sequel to Lex is actually the book I was working on first. But I asked myself how this woman I was writing came to be, and it turned out I needed a book to answer that. It also turned out I needed a few books to work out all the trouble that came with her. Should have just left her alone in the first place–would have been much quieter in my head.

Is your worldbuilding approach going to evolve as you work on the sequel and/or other unnamed projects?

Definitely. The database in my brain is getting obsolete, like all good tech eventually does. I need to start making notes now so I don’t have to flip through all the manuscripts I write looking for the name of some street. I’m exploring writing software to help with that–I heard Scrivener’s good. I want to make sure my other books can be written without me getting eye-strain and cramps from clicking through the pages.

My plan was always to advance the tech in my world as the years pass, so the reader can see the world’s evolution as they go. Technology is proceeding at such a pace these days that it’s going to be a tall order writing a science fiction novel that Elon Musk hasn’t rendered archaic by the time it goes to print. But we’re also closing the gap between finishing a novel and publishing it to satisfy this new generation of ravenous readers, so perhaps I have a better chance of getting away with that now than before.

Either way, I hope to keep changing, improving on my worldbuilding and writing better stories as I go. Otherwise I’ll be forced to return to my galaxy swallowing ways and believe me, only the Children of Cthulhu want that *gives everyone the evil eye*.

 

RSA Garcia lives and works on the island of Trinidad in the Caribbean with a large family and too many dogs–not that any of them belong to her.

She decided to be an author when she discovered that Louisa May Alcott had been published at the age of 8. Determined to waste no more time, she finished her first collection of stories at 10. She has not stopped writing since, and indulged herself in a deep love of all speculative fiction despite the best advice of every English teacher she has ever had.

Lex Talionis is her debut novel available now from all the major players. Learn more about her and her novel over at rsagarcia.com.