Don't settle for Perpetual Disappointment

It's E3 time - an avalanche of trailers and teasers and a weird mix of forced and real excitement while tubers and commentators drum up their content.

If you've spared any moments to watch the livestreams or breakdowns, you've probably seen and felt the primary vibe - disappointment.

We've heard a lot about games no one asked for, remakes most people never craved (but will still probably buy) and various games we've known were coming, sometimes for years. See Starfield and Halo: Infinite. All in all, few surprises.

And as has been the case for the last couple of years with E3 especially, people are looking to Nintendo for redemption of the event (later today).

Now there are various reasons a slowdown in the release of AAA games could be expected in the last year, and I'm certain I don't need to expound upon these. But I think it's also obvious that the rollout of truly new and innovative games has long since slowed compared to, say, the 16-bit golden age. In fact we have an example from the current batch of announcements, in Starfield, which is being specifically marketed as 'the first new Bethesda IP in 25 years'. 

Catch that - the lack of new Bethesda IP isn't just a point of trivia, it's a selling point!

I'm not here today to analyze all this or harp on it and wallow in my own disappointments (if in fact that was how I felt). No, my little quest is to draw you away from investment in the notion of new, new, new from people who aren't terribly interested in providing it.

Don't settle for the perpetual disappointment.

How, you may ask.

Well there are a few ways, and most of them have to do with adjusting our own attitudes.

Do I really need hundreds or thousands of hours worth of new games in any given year? Or is that time better spent on my writing? [Insert your creative or other endeavors here] 

Do I really want partially finished games released just to satisfy my jonesing for newness? See Cyberpunk 2077 as an example of this. I loved the game and got my money's worth out of it. In fact I think it's the best city in any game I've ever played. But there's no denying the game didn't live up to its potential, and may very well have already missed its chance to make up for that.

Not only does that system of hard release dates set us up for disappointment and result in the abuse of workers, it also feeds into the bad capitalism of game devs intentionally holding back content to sell as DLC, resulting in incomplete games sold as complete. More disappointment.

Do I really need a new game from that particular IP? Halo, Star Wars, Elder Scrolls, whatever. Am I so attached to that IP that only a game in that world, with that set of gameplay mechanics can satisfy me? Of course not! But it's easy to get wrapped up in the brand we like best. There is a slew of indie games to dive into as well, many of them taking risks that AAAs never would.

Obviously my answer to the questions above has become, 'no'. What then? I have all this free time (not really hahahahahah... *laughter trails off...*) and it needs to be full of something.

Pardon me for a moment as I run the risk of sounding like a conservative scold. Don't think I only find value in 'real hobbies' or that I believe 'fun' is a waste of time or 'childish'. Do what you want and accept the consequences. Learn and repeat. It's a little different for each of us.

But games aren't all we have. Get outside. Exercise. Make something with your hands. Play with your kids. Take your wife out on more dates. All of these things, if habitual, will not only fill up your time but introduce variety that makes your game time all the more enjoyable.

I recently picked up Resident Evil 8 after not having played much since Cyberpunk in December. It felt great! I'd gotten a new GPU before Cyberpunk and was pleasantly surprised at the graphical difference between RE8 and the last AAA game I'd played before the upgrade. (Cyberpunk looks good but it's nowhere near RE8's level)

What did I do with free time in the interim? Reading, writing, a little bit of music. And connecting to my next point, some hobbyist game dev of my own.

And that's where I want to end today's message. Just like writing or music or art, if there's a game you want to play and it doesn't exist, make it! Now I realize that's a tall order if what you like is big budget AAA with photorealistic visuals and complicated scripted level events. But, all of the elements of those games are things you can learn to do in engines like Unity or (my personal favorite) Unreal. You could have a low-poly, personalized version of Halo prototyped in a hundred hours or so. For the amount of time you've probably spent on Skyrim, Oblivion, or Morrowind, you could have something much deeper and more complete.

Not to say that's the solution for everyone, just an example. If games have been disappointing you lately, walk away for a bit and spend your time on something else. They'll be there when you return, and you'll find, much like abstaining from soda or donuts for a time, they taste even better after a break and detox, or at least with some variety mixed in.

Take your experience into your own hands, don't let the big publishers dictate how you enjoy the hobby. Don't pay them for incomplete products, and don't think that you are only capable of consuming when God made us all to be creative in one way or another.


As a novelty for you on this fine day, here's a link to the last video in which I and my bros celebrated E3 by mixing the clips with original music (by me). Oddly enough many of the games I mentioned are involved, and there's a clear message in the proceedings that our remix (inadvertently?) pulled out. Enjoy!



And finally, have a good book!


Travel to another dimension and battle the minions of a mad posthuman!


Updates



The year continues the trend of not adhering to the plans I specifically set for it. How dare it do this to me!

But seriously, while most things are on track, they are running slower than I'd anticipated, mostly for personal reasons. So, for those interested, here is the state of things. 

Children of Asha is a sci-fi fantasy novel that starts in a military academy.

I wanted to have it out by this month, but in reviewing it myself when I sent it off to a beta reader, I discovered some broad changes I want to make, specifically concerning the characters. I'm waiting for a reader to be done so I can assess their critique too, and then will commence with the adjustments. The cover is ready, so as soon as the manuscript feels right to me, I'll get this one out!

I'd enjoyed rapid progress on the furry, punky, Christian novella Life City until my freelance queues got out of control. I've been on a slow down for a few weeks but I anticipate things speeding back up again soon. 

This little story has been really fun, and I was intrigued by the way it insinuated itself into my schedule and demanded attention. So much for plans! I recently got the art for the cover, betraying myself by buying original art rather than using stock stuff as I'd considered. The wallet hurts a little but it's pretty to look at. I'm excited to share the cover when I'm happy with the typography.

After that I've planned a deep dive into Out of the Deep, sequel to How Black the Sky. It's long since drafted but needs a good hard look so I can make sure it's doing everything it needed to. I'm still surprised by how much different it was to write something unrestrained and sometimes gonzo on command, rather than just letting it flow like the first book. It's got a lot of fun to live up to!

Beyond that, one installment of my planned space fantasy trilogy is written and waits on editing. I had planned to finish that tril during the summer, but the advent of Kindle Vella has me revisiting my schedule. I've got some ideas for that I'll cover below.

Besides my cyberpunk, archaeological adventure, and a few other stories begging to be written/finished, I want desperately to dig into Arc Legacy 2, currently titled Song of the City, so that I and those interested can find out what happens next with Jon, Bahabe and Dahm. 

On Kindle Vella:

I'm actually thinking of releasing Children of Asha in this format. I'll leave it up long enough to gauge interest, and when it seems to have run its course I'll take it off Vella and publish to Kindle.

I would also like to prepare one of two litRPG concepts I have in mind to release to Vella, but I very much want them to be complete so I don't have to worry about weekly deadlines.

What do you, dear reader, want to see from me on Vella? I'd love some comments!

All in all it's a lot to be working on, enough to be full time were I able to do so. If anyone out there is waiting on something in particular, I thank you and I pray patience! It will all manifest in due time, hopefully sooner than later.

Book Review: Somewhither by John. C. Wright




From the description on silverempire.com:

All Ilya Muromets wanted to do was save the girl. Maybe Penny would get his name right as he swooped in to rescue her from her mad scientist father’s machine. And then they’d get married and live happily ever after.

Armed with only a squirrel gun and a samurai sword, he manages to fall into another world entirely. Alone.

Without saving Penny.

Ilya is captured and brought to the Dark Tower. A place where every man knows all the failures and successes of his life. A place where every man knows the day he will die. Everything the Stars have written will happen the way they proclaim.

Ilya’s only way out is to swear fealty to the dark lord. An action the Stars claim he cannot avoid. They want his recently discovered power for their own, and they’re willing to torture Penny to make him submit.

But Ilya doesn’t believe in the destiny the Stars give him. He’ll make his own, even if he dies doing it.

And in the highest heights and deepest depths of the dark tower, Ilya must discover who he really is.

Science Fiction Grandmaster John C. Wright leads readers through a break-neck coming of age story as Ilya rushes to rescue the girl and save the world. His trademark imaginative world and over-the-top action will delight fans of his work.

Will Ilya find Penny in time to rescue her?

And can they escape the Dark Tower when the Stars know their every move?

Godzilla v. Kong - Flash Review


Really it's more just some quick thoughts about it, for various reasons, one of which is that it's hard to say anything new about the cheeseburger everyone else has already chimed in on.

And that's really what the movie is. It's a popcorn kaiju flick that really belongs in the summer months.

A very small percentage of films like this (not just kaiju, but other potentially 'brainless' genres) will hit the scene with unexpected depth or artistry, such as the original Gojira, Shin Gojira, and perhaps a few others. Most exist to give monster-lovers what they want - big monsters fighting and destroying things.

This movie does that, and does it reasonably well.

The human plot is predictably (and understandably?) simple, using them primarily as an excuse for us to have POVs in the story's various locations, and secondarily as a source of humor.

That bit is one of my biggest complaints about the script. The humor is terrible. I'd prefer the cheese of goofy Japanese side characters to this style of humor any day. Despite being set up as hyper-competent in their fields, the two male leads are framed as clueless goofballs, a quality which emasculates the African American Brian Tyree Henry somewhat more than his counterpart, to the movie's detriment. The main issues there are that 1. I would have liked a strong male lead and 2. while scientific and engineering geniuses might be awkward, this is not the type of humor you'd expect from them.

The adult female lead, Ilene, doesn't fare much better in the character department. She escorts the only character that matters, Jia, and doesn't do much else.

It's easy to have empathy for Jia of course, especially as a parent. Small, deaf, child, big eyes. That's really all it takes. But she plays her part well enough. If anything should have been expanded in the human department, it should have been her relationship with Kong. There is a solid tradition of children connecting with the monsters of kaiju films, and it might have been interesting to see a deeper dive with good writing.

The teens are forgettable and pointless. Millie was wasted and given an unlikeable character.

The villains are villainous, and that's just fine. It was a little bothersome to me that Maya, the villain's daughter, and most attractive character, existed only to reveal the predictable twist and then die. Not that eye candy is much of a thing in most kaiju films, but it never hurts.  I'm not a sensitive viewer but I did note that she was also shoehorned into the 'evil Asian girl' trope. Whoops.

The hollow earth and conspiracy angles fit nicely in this Monsterverse setup, and I enjoy that kind of stuff anyway, so it gets an A in the writing department.

One last bit concerning the script I'm tempted to critique is the amount of Godzilla in this Godzilla movie. Kong is really the protagonist, with Godzilla framed as the villain. It works, but I'm a G man and would rather an excuse for them to have equal time, even to the detriment of the plot (which I wouldn't consider a given).

On to what matters - the kaiju themselves.

Visually it looks good enough, probably better in a theater. While the CGI is decent, there's something about suits and models that computers can never touch. Overall, Shin Gojira was more visually believable, and if I'm not mistaken that movie leveraged both types of visual effects.

If anything bothered me visually, it was that Godzilla seemed to have been scaled down to Kong's size rather than the other way around. I understand various reasons for that, such as wanting Kong to be able to hold onto a skyscraper or two, but it nagged at me seeing Godzilla as being small. Especially after the apparent scale of the kaiju in King of the Monsters, this was sometimes jarring.

Minor spoilers in the next section. Skip if you don't want to hear fight details.

The fights are good too, with some real tension over Kong's submersion in the ocean, where Godzilla is right at home.

It bothered me that depth charges would not be enough to wrench Kong from Godzilla's grip in the ocean, and if they were, they'd have injured the monke too.

The Hong Kong fight is the best one, both during the main fight and after the final 'twist' which was actually spoiled in a trailer. I was surprised when some of the action in the main G v K fight pulled me in as well as it did. The monster posturing, roaring, and really hammering their strength home was all very enjoyable. Naturally it did my atomic reptile heart good when Godzilla broke some dumb monke ribs, but I was truly impressed at the fight choreographer/animator's use of Kong's flexibility and speed to disrupt, dodge, and stunlock Godzilla's fire breath. Even as a G fan I had to smile at Kong's moves.

Now, should something that big be able to move like that? No, but we don't mind. This is not a place for realism.

The 'twist' fight was also great, if a bit short. Kaiju teamups are always welcome. The 'twist' looked nice as well, though I would have preferred a more traditional rendition - more Megazord style and less Transformers. Still, his special moves and laser breath looked awesome. I'd love to see him come back.

Really, that's it. It's an above-average kaiju film (if that makes sense with the number of them that we actually get in a year) and a solid installment in the Monsterverse. If you like kaiju movies, give it a shot.

You know what else has a hollow earth and kaiju?

How Black the Sky is a fast-paced tale of heroes coming together to face a threat from deeper in the earth that they don't understand. Magic, fighting, monsters, violence, betrayal, and transcendence. 

Buy your copy today!

Hero’s Metal Book 1: How Black the Sky 






Justice League - Snyder Cut Flash Review



I was walking past the TV store window and the Snyder Cut just happened to be playing, so I dutifully stood there for four hours and watched it in its entirety.

Here are my thoughts in brief.

First off, I think the film is notable for its unusual nature - that of a cut not simply released due to demand, but finished and probably iterated on in response to that demand. If this has happened before with a film, I am not aware of it. Viewing the product was at the least a curiosity.

My experience with AAA games brings to mind some issues that could arise from this practice, but that’s something we might tackle later on. 

If you find yourself asking whether the effort put into this rerelease was worth it, I would have to say yes, with a qualifier.

The qualifier is that the millions spent on this massive correction to the record could have been spent on something new and shiny rather than a recut. Alas, I am not the producer, so this notion shall die here.

For what the movie was, it worked.

It made vast improvements on the Whedon cut by setting up each character’s motivations, including - or perhaps especially - our villain’s. While none of these were particularly special or new (Cyborg’s was the best), they provide a flow to the narrative that was previously missing.

Naturally this accounts for a large portion of the increased runtime, which begs the question of whether the thing feels too long.

I am one to enjoy extended cuts. In fact I rather love it when I can find a free day to watch LOTR extended editions all in a row. Thus going in knowing that the movie was going to be mostly crescendo with occasional peaks, my expectations were reasonably set. Really it has a good pace and gains enough momentum so that it doesn’t feel like a slog.

I felt none of the type of mental exhaustion that I might watching something like a Transformers movie, nor was I bored.

So let’s do some quick hits on the high points.

The expansion of Cyborg’s role and story felt the most like new material to me, though to be fair I don’t have a clear recollection of the original cut. I felt for the character and would happily follow him into another adventure.

If I’m not mistaken, Batman’s role in the finale was expanded, and it was great fun to watch. Batfleck looks so solid and burly, it’s just satisfying to watch him (or his CGI double) commit bone-crunching violence against the baddies.

The movie really loves Wonder Woman, almost to the point of cheese, but it treats her respectfully enough and shows her strength with fun visuals.

Steppenwolf was a huge improvement, even shining through my blurry memory of the original. His design is better if not perfect and his action is enjoyably brutal. Again, though his motivations are simple - pleasing his master to regain favor - they help in providing a reason for him to do what he’s doing beyond mere destruction.

The teaser of Darkseid is cool. I appreciated his aura of menace and the depiction of his Omega Beam. But this brings me around to our low points.

At four hours, and with no plans that I’m aware of for a direct sequel to this iteration of the JL, Darkseid should have been brought into full play. We could have edited some of the setup and various other scenes, ditched some of the copious slo-mo, cut the epilogue that felt like a vestigial appendage, and gained enough time to include Darkseid in at most another plot thread (perhaps he’s working at odds with Steppenwolf or about some other villainous business) and at least a second boss fight. He wouldn’t even have to die.

I don’t get the sense that the teaser will actually bear out into a real sequel, so I fear that DC fans will miss out on the resolution of this Darkseid’s plot.

Other cons.

The casting of Flash is not my favorite. I know these movies have a hard time crossing line between TV and Film, but Grant Gustin’s Flash is a great fit (or was last time I watched a few seasons back) and he should have been pulled in for this. He knows the character, people love him. It just makes sense.

Aquaman is still underdeveloped. There is no other solution to this than to have released his movie first.

And of course, Superman is underutilized. Characters like this are very difficult to write into team situations. Captain Marvel suffers the same issue in Avengers Endgame. I have a few characters of my own who need careful management in order to keep from making everyone else on the team irrelevant. 

In fact this is a theme in the Arc Legacy.

But needing to perform a macguffin ritual to resurrect him is one of this story’s greatest flaws. 

I would have much preferred if his return was more similar to the comics run after his death in the 90s, where he himself takes action and eventually returns. This way we get to see him doing things and still get him coming in as the cavalry charge.

Instead we get a contrived and confusing process involving the motherbox. While this does provide action for Flash and Cyborg, and allows for the ‘Superman is crazy’ fight, I still just don’t think it was worth it.

Finally, despite my overall enjoyment of the viewing experience and the pleasure of seeing a work improved, the film isn’t more than a one-watch movie. The story is too simple to require repeat viewings from someone who remembers plots - if not all the small details - very well. So rent it or buy in the bargain bin, if you buy it at all.

So is it worth your time?

If you feel like sitting down to watch a high-budget superhero epic with the director’s passion for the project on full display, then yes.

If you’re already weary of superheroes or accustomed to the tight writing of MCU films, probably not.

Either one of you will enjoy my novel RawJack of course, in which plucky superheroes take on the elite blood magic practitioners of a society dominated by sorcery. 

Heroes, magic, a futuristic city, call it superhero magipunk!








Review - Teen Heroes Unleashed, Book One, from Silver Empire Press

Blurb from the author's website:

Penance – by Paula Richey and “Thomas Plutarch”



Penance Copper is tired of being a tool for evil.

She’s been working for Acid ever since she was small. She had no other choice, he owned her. Even with her superpowers, she’s never been able to escape. But at least he only has her steal. Never anything worse than that.

Until he orders her to use her powers to kill the superhero Justice for investigating trafficked girls.

Penance doesn’t want to be a murderer. She uses the opportunity to run away from Acid and make a new life. One where she can make up for everything she did on Acid’s orders.

But events larger than Penance are spinning into action, and soon she is embroiled in an intergalactic encounter with an alien boy named Kail, who is perhaps as lonely and broken as she is. Even if he is infuriatingly arrogant.

The first young adult series in the shared Heroes Unleashed universe launches with the Teen Heroes Unleashed series. Readers will love hardworking, sassy Penance as she tries to learn to use her superpowers to save the world instead of to steal.

Can Penance and Kail find the missing girls and save the Earth from an alien invasion? Or will Acid find her again and punish her for running away?

Read Penance today to find out!

---

This novel from Silver Empire's Heroes Unleashed series is a strong debut from author Paulie Richey. Kinetic and touching, it fits right in with the rest of the brand. Despite its YA branding, I have to say I think superhero fans of any age will enjoy it.

Plot

It's tight and moves smoothly from one event to the next. The characters have agency and this drives things forward almost the entire time. There is a bit of a slowdown for our main characters going into the third act, where I itched for them to be back in the action, but this slow spell serves the characters and their budding relationship well. It also provides time for exploring some of the tropes necessary to the YA angle. Ie: the mains getting to know each other.

Really that's something we come across in all action fiction with romantic subplots, and I think Paula handled it well. The finale was appropriately painful and exciting, setting us up for the next installment.

Character 

Characters are distinct and well drawn. Penance is both likeable and pitiable, a girl locked in a hard place but with the inner conviction to find her way out. It was a bold decision to run her discovery of faith in parallel to her ascent into heroism, and I think it worked. As with most unmasked depictions of the Gospel in fiction, the faith elements feel 3 dimensional in a way no fiction can. While this may be a bump in the road for non-Christian readers, I assure you that the author's treatment is sincere here, not at all ham-fisted. Understand that Penance's faith is linked to her heroism and enjoy.

Kail makes a great counterpart and foil to Penance, the straight man to her comedienne. It will be interesting to see what he does with the life he gains over the course of this story.

The supporting characters are varied and memorable, some with powers and others mundane. Readers with a penchant for many POVs will enjoy the scenes focusing on these people swept up in Penance's storm.

Craft

My first impression of Paula Richey's prose was smooth. The novel is well-written and lean. I never had the urge to skip or skim, quickly finding myself able to trust the author with where things were going. Scens flow sensibly and the whole structure is snappy enough that we get to see several locations without feeling confused or lost.

This is an excellent debut and I am eager to see how Paula's writing grows and continues to improve.

Critique - no spoilers, but may affect your perception on first read.

It's always hard for me to do this part. I'm a positively oriented person and tend to give the benefit of the doubt when I disagree with a decision.  With that in mind, and considering how good this book was overall, I can only note where I might have done things differently. I may or may not be correct 'objectively'.

The main thing is the section where things slow down for our mains so they can have time to romance a little. Again I argue (against myself?) that this is necessary for the novel, but I might have (being male) kept the two on the run rather than allowing them respite. If there were to be tender moments between them, they would happen in an even more fleeting place of hiding, and quickly. 

Paula handles the potential loss of momentum by switching POV to characters who are still in danger, which works. Had the supporting characters been less interesting people, this could have backfired, but Paula pulls it off nicely.

There is a good twist in the finale that I wouldn't change, but it does have the effect of dimming the sense of victory ever so slightly. I won't say more specifically, just that I wanted the trouble to ramp up a little higher and the win to feel bigger.

---

All in all, this is a very good novel regardless of genre, and though I am not technically the intended market, I daresay a homerun for that market.

Well done, Paula!

Christ is my Redoubt

The recent scrambling  in conservative circles to take positions online that will be protected from, or at least resistant to, censorship has had me thinking.

Everyone knows in their hearts that people shouldn’t be punished for their thoughts, even if these thoughts are 'wrong'. The question of when to take action against a perceived opponent is where our issue comes in.

The bulk of people who would typically be labeled ‘conservative’ have been tending to wait until the negative effects of an idea begin to surface, then utter warnings and pleas for moderation long before any action is taken to quash the idea, if any action is taken at all.

Lately, those who we label ‘liberals’ have been calling for preemptive action against not just the effects of conservative ideals, but to put a lid on the ideas themselves - disallowing their dissemination at all. This is where we have a problem.

Now there is a world of information and thought that surrounds the statements above. From a religious standpoint, one wonders if ‘liberals’ might have a good thing going here, just from the wrong side of the spectrum. What is freedom? Who deserves it? Is my freedom more important than yours? Can they even coexist when we fundamentally disagree on almost everything under the sun?

These are all things to be tackled, but if I don’t boil thoughts down for the purposes of today, we won’t get anywhere.

So for the sake of brevity let’s say that all ideas shall be allowed to be expressed verbally and shared with people of like mind without being censored, regardless of their perception as evil by any faction.

This of course doesn’t bear out in practice, but we need a rule to continue.

If we could leave it at that, the only question left is that of dominance - whose ideologies win out when presented in the marketplace on equal ground? Ideologies clash in the ring, and theoretically the audience goes home accepting that the winner is the one who they saw win.

I think this is the way most people assume the world works. Unfortunately, it’s not.

Outcomes are disputed, goalposts are moved, and rules of engagement and play are redefined to cast winners and losers in new lights. The resulting chaos is what our western, and perhaps global, society is now dealing with.

It looks like a red dawn for conservatives, and especially conservative religious people, as we are currently in a place where their ideals are being labeled as violent and dangerous in themselves, with calls for vectors of dissemination to be restricted ‘for the good of all’.

I fully recognize that ‘conservatives’ have in the past pushed similar authoritarian measures, resulting in physical violence and other negative effects. Let’s acknowledge that such response violates the rules of engagement I mention above, then get back to today’s message.

If you are not conservative, or not Christian, and reading this, feel free to flip the positions in your mind so that you are not cast as the invader but as the defender. While I don’t believe this stance ultimately works out with what I’m outlining today, it’s certainly a way for you to ensure you understand my perspective.

As a religious person, a Christian, I perceive that the outer walls have been breached. ‘My’ media no longer portrays heroes (generally). ‘My’ books include everyone and everything except religious notions of purity. ‘My’ education is in the process of reframing the past to generate new ideological victors in the present. If my voice grows loud enough, and I say something that disagrees with the zeitgeist (or at least the very vocal and empowered portion of it), I will be harassed and potentially shut down. If the angry spirit of censorship continues to gain momentum, I might even be physically harmed.

I’m left with few options. 

I can try to hold the line before a breached wall, as compatriots to the right and left are incapacitated, captured or killed. Some will desert, others defect. With only one man’s firepower, it’s an untenable position.

Defection and deference are right out. Bowing to the opposing faction means relinquishing my deeply held beliefs, abandoning my identity, and more importantly, the Truth.

Retreat gets a bad rap, but a mode of retreat is exactly what’s called for.

A redoubt, if you aren't familiar, is a temporary or backup fortification, one of the uses of which would be to fall back to should the outer wall fail. Note that there may also be a Keep to flee to, as well as the Catacombs. I don’t think we’re there yet, but of course things move quickly sometimes…

In any case, you are starting to see my premise.

If I am a conservative without Christ, then my redoubt is made of the same material and design as my outer wall, but more hastily and less sturdy.

With Him, my redoubt offers real hope.

As I fall back from the breached outer wall, I see the debris of what’s fallen - pseudo Christianity, warm fuzzies without the acknowledgement of sin. Messages of Love and Hope and Goodwill, without mention of Who bleeds love, promises hope, or offers goodwill. Media that proclaims heroism and virtue, but portrays nationalism and patriotism as their ultimate forms rather than holiness and dedication to the Gospel.

The examples are too countless to name, but you get the idea.

At the Redoubt, a structure not made by human hands, each beam and stone has been placed with care and precision. It’s actually stronger than the ancient outer wall. Sin cannot rot the wood, and weeping can’t erode the stone. The warriors stationed there are mightier than those from the parapet. Paladins who refused to take their stand on a battlement they knew was weakened from the start. 

All the strength and security of the fallback structure come from the presence of the Messiah. Picture fleeing from demons into the mane of Aslan. Relief, safety, and renewed vigor wash over you.

The only way the Redoubt will not stand is if He Himself calls for further retreat, or if His Spirit is made unwelcome by defections and compromise.

Then there is the Keep.

Then the Catacombs.

And only once all who are destined for it have been reduced to dry bones will the fortress be taken. Even then, it’s only for a little while.

Make no mistake, this will happen. 


Revelation 13:7 speaks of the beast: “He  was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them. And he was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation.”


But it won’t be the end, for “This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints.”

We’ll stand for as long as we can, sharing the Gospel and calling out sin, trying desperately to save as many souls as can be saved, but we won’t end the war.

Only the Sword from His Mouth can do that, and it will.

So the Redoubt is established as a viable, and perhaps paradoxically superior, position.

What does it mean to make a stand there?

For me it means that I am not just an author. I am a Christian Author. If I say or write something that is taken as violent wrongthink, the target of ire becomes the identity I proclaim. I am armored in Christ.

When I make a moral judgement as to how to manage my family, it’s not because of my ‘conservative ideals’, but because of my religious, specifically Christian, beliefs.

If someone demands that I dedicate my craft, mind, or body to things that are socially acceptable but evil to me, my refusal stems from these parts of me being dedicated to Him, unable to be released from Holy Servitude. I cannot bow to the golden statue because it would betray my God.

Stand taken, an opponent’s only recourse is to attack the Redoubt itself, which cannot fall until Christ allows it to. This is a bold, loud act that requires unmasking at least and violence at most.

He who assaults the structure of the Redoubt attacks Christ Himself and cannot succeed until the retreat is called.

My hope comes down to one simple thing that envelopes all my efforts: confess the Messiah.

Now, Christ as General may order me to step out of safety to save the injured or lost, or even to get behind enemy lines and collect defectors. While in the line of danger, I may be harmed. The armor of God will do its work too, but I won’t shirk the duty before me in fear of an arrow to the eye.

Further, we may yet retake the outer wall, repair the breach, and even expand the fortress grounds.

It’s possible that a Christ-oriented society will persist in some form for two thousand more years. Who are we to guess?

In the meantime, as demons wail against holiness and call evil things good, I believe we should regroup at the Redoubt and keep doing the work we’ve been called to do. Abandon the compromised outer wall, but watch for the opportunity to restore and improve it. And as you regroup with your compatriots, be certain that the redoubt you adopt is built on rock and not sand.

Do your work well, refine it and purify it for Him, and don’t let fear of attack or defeat paralyze you in your mission.


Revelation 19:11

11And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. 

12His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. 

13And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. 14And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. 

15And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.

16And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.

 

'21 - The Way Forward

In the spirit of New Year's author's posts I thought I'd share my plans for the year.

I've scheduled a minimum of 9 novels to write, aiming for shorter lengths of 50k - 75k on average. This means I must maintain over 1600 words per day to hit the goal.

While this is very ambitious and I fully expect life will slow me down here and there, I know that if I don't aim high, I will end up hitting low. Setting high expectations helps me to leverage what I call 'Writer's Guilt' against myself to make sure I don't do silly things like: 

Twitter instead of writing

Game instead of writing

Extra nap instead of writing

Etc.

My main priority is to get the sequel to Coming to Power out, especially since this series seems to have gained the most traction so far. Tentatively titled Song of the City, this story will follow Jon and friends as they enter an era of rebuilding. I want to say more but I fear spoilers.

Mockup

Second comes my Christian space opera tetralogy. The sequence is titled Revelation Galaxy and will consist of (obviously) four tomes. It's the first project I've decided to write and release rapid fire, complete. Here are the episodes with working titles:

Ep. 1: Deathknight

    A black ops specialist must escape from behind enemy lines with a revered Prophet and a holy artifact, the Inevitable Revelation!

Ep. 2: Commoner's Vision

    Chaos erupts on the Mother Planet when all portal gates mysteriously cease to function. Father and daughter must make a pilgrimage into hostile territory to investigate a future the daughter has painted.

Ep. 3: Golden Goddess

    A prophetess immortalized against her will returns to civilization after a long sleep, only to find that the flock has lost its way. She must put things back in order so that the Inevitable Revelation can find its home.

Ep. 4: Finale

    Our surviving heroes must come together and dispel all threats to the Inevitable Author's followers so they can live in peace.

I've been really excited about this sequence. The story includes tech, magic, magitech, false gods, faith, prophecy, spaceships, cool weapons, and good people!

I plan to release all four in quick succession, followed by an omnibus edition. If all goes well I will also run a crowdfund to support it and upgrade assets like art.

Next comes the sequel to How Black the Sky, Out of the Deep, in which we learn of the threat from below and follow the many exploits of our plucky Pierce and his new comrades. Are the stakes raised? Oh yeah. Let's just say I have big things in store.

Entering the home stretch we have two standalones and a sequel.

Urban Archaeology (working title) has really intrigued me and I can't wait to get to it. Urban fantasy! A young man is rejected from his dream college and sets out to find a mysterious archaeological site in the hopes of proving his mettle in the field. He's pursued by a three-letter agent who is also a werewolf. The question is, why?

Mockup

Next up is Driver Chronicles, which takes place in a cyberpunk future that looks utopian... on the surface. This one's fun too, with an engaging romance and some gamelit elements!

And finally, the third in the Hero's Metal series, Atop the Four Towers. If I blurb it I'll give things away so... yeah.

That's a lot to write, and I still have to read and work and, you know, sleep, but we have to shoot for the moon!

Meanwhile, my work with secret game scripts continues, as does my ghost plotting service which to date I've mostly managed via Fiverr. Contact me here, or through other means, if you need some creative consultation and stories generated for any purpose!

Along with all this comes attention to the social media world, which as you know is in quite a tizzy, and in general just trying to get more exposure.

I wish all readers the best in every endeavor. Godspeed!

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For an imaginative, character-driven start to an epic science fantasy series, check out Coming to Power today!






The Mythos Project, or Conservative Retellings

 With the rise of big tech censorship and open calls to silence voices that do not agree with the zeitgeist, I’ve been slowly coming to a premise that you may be able to guess from this post’s title. The coronachan stimulus bill’s insane inclusion of language concerning ‘illegal’ streaming sites pushed my thoughts over the edge.

I’ve been thinking to myself, what will we do when we can’t watch or read or play the stories that entertain us and spice our lives?

What will I watch at Christmas when Die Hard - which already must be rented or bought - is banned because ‘the terrorists didn’t deserve to be killed. John should have sent a social worker,’ or ‘John is too macho’? What’s left when something newer like Cobra Kai - which I find fairly moderate politically - is either morphed out of shape and bent to political purpose, or simply removed entirely?

I could list many IPs and go into detail concerning the things that might cause such canceling, but I don’t think I need to. Some will dig into my specific examples anyway and miss the point. Through either age, neglect, or censorship, old stories will begin to disappear.

It’s the worst for movies because the physical market has shrunk considerably. There are some things that likely never made it off VHS, and piracy controls have always been strongest for TV and film.

Practically every game ever can be run in emulation, so legality aside there are options, and I would guess that passionate gamers care for their collections fairly well. Still, it’s troubling that fresh, reliable copies and equipment can be hard to come by. Preserving the gameplay itself is one matter, but some games from all decades sported amazing stories, and that’s what matters here. 

Fiction in print seems to be somewhere in between these two. You can find copies of most things you’d want - at least I can - but at some point the used prices will rise too far due to rarity, or else the tomes will waste away from neglect or damage. If there were stories in your past that you’d like to share with your children, what will you do when you can no longer access them?

My current practice is to code the things that are important to me into my new stories, but I think we can be even more intentional than that. We can take the ‘conservative’ mythos that we so value and retell our most precious stories the way that subversives love to retell fairy tales. The difference being that we would keep the morals of a story intact, and in some cases even sanitize or further solidify them.

Let’s chat about encoding the old stories first. People do this anyway - it’s impossible to escape - but putting intentionality into the mix is always more effective when seeking a specific product.

Here’s my example: 

Coming to Power is a sci-fantasy epic that grew out of essentially everything I ever consumed. It gestated for many years and was complete within the last few years. So what of our mythos is encoded in it? Those who have read the book may be amused.

Jon could reasonably be called a composite of Mario, Link, Simon Belmont, Goku, Aragorn, and Bastian (Neverending Story). His eagerness to participate in the heroic quest was an echo of Bastian’s passion, and a reaction to the reluctant heroes I often encountered since I read a lot of fantasy from the 70s/80s. See Thomas Covenant and others.

His power over coherent light began as an analog to Mario’s fireball combined with Link’s full health energy sword projectile, the aesthetic solidified once I discovered the searing beams of devastation in Dragonball. That’s the superficial stuff, but the themes are there too: Saving the girl, defeating the darkness inside and out, and finding honor and glory after doing the right thing.

Masters of the Universe comes into play with my Hero’s Metal setting, where the characters are extremely powerful and have specific talents and roles. The world itself is alien and old, with mysterious ruins and possibly even magitech. Pierce does the right thing because it’s right, just like He-Man, and as a bonus, we’ve got elements of Conan in there for flavor and depth.

Some of this was intentional, some of it was not. All of it adds color, spice, and strong bones to the world-building and narrative.

You can check other examples of this type of encoding with Alexander Hellene’s Swordbringer series and Brian Niemeir’s Combat Frame: X-Seed. Please leave comments as to other examples you might have in mind!

So being aware of our influences and sometimes highlighting them is all well and good, but what if I want to experience Die Hard with my son and it is no longer available?

Come ‘round the fire, young ones, and let me tell you the tale of John McClane and the Fall of Gruber.

I don’t know about you, but my memory isn’t too great, especially in the moment when I need it, so why not write it down?

Now I’ve got more than one reason not to simply transcribe Die Hard beat for beat, as great as it is. But even were I to try, the conversion to prose is going to change some things. Between my own bents, the conversion process, and possible lack of diligence in the transcription (ie: paraphrasing), the story will be altered somewhat. This is how myths are grown.

Somewhere in the distant past, a blacksmith forged a really nice sword and a brave knight performed many great feats with it. As the tales of this knight passed from mind to mind the blacksmith was forgotten but the sword still needed an origin. So then, the knight found it. But no, he didn’t just find it, a fairy gave it to him. No, not a fairy but a lady. Oh, and she lives in a lake. Etcetera. 

Forgive me for a terrible glossing over of the Arthurian mythos, but you get my point.

This brings me around to the main point. It’s time for conservative retellings. 

Now I don’t really like the word ‘conservative’ but I’m using it because it’s widely understood. Maybe we can chat about the term another time.

The point is that we are on the verge of losing some important culture, from Ghostbusters to Daredevil to even Tolkien himself. In some cases, the original versions of things may be banned, as outlandish as that may seem. In most, I would guess they’ll just be allowed to fade away and become unavailable. In many situations, the new versions of things will continue to alter the underlying morals and themes and become the new definitive version. It’s that latter scenario that has Tolkien fans concerned about the upcoming Amazon series. We’ll see how it goes.

In any case, I think the idea of retelling is something for conservative creators to consider. Now we wouldn’t have as much leeway in adapting something like Die Hard as leftists do with fairy tales - I use it as an example because we are currently in the Christmas season. But I think the restriction of copyright in this instance could prove to be a strength. It forces the reteller to apply the age-old methods of myth creation and alter the story fairly significantly while keeping the original spirit intact. Iron out flaws, accentuate the goodness.

I’ll leave you with a quick example using my favorite of Christmas movies. Don’t take it too seriously because I’m not either. It’s just an example.

In my Die Hard retelling, Joe MacMahon travels to Supra City to attend his scientist wife’s unveiling of Time Window technology. The Christmas connection is that they are going to peep on the birth of Christ as a proof of concept demo. No sooner has Joe arrived at the Very Tall Science Building than terrorists seize the building and commandeer the time equipment.  Their demands are simple: be allowed safe passage from Supra City, time equipment in their possession. When and if demands are not met, they will start casting hostages through Time Windows to be lost forever. (Dangerously overloading the equipment’s power levels allows for actual travel!)

When Brahms Stoober, the big bad, begins to play with the tech, it creates a stack of Time Zones that Joe must ‘climb’ in order to save his wife and stop the baddies. The air ducts become unstable wormhole connections between Zones. The machine gun becomes a plasma rifle. Sergeant Al would be largely the same, but perhaps the men are both veterans instead of police, or there might be some other force that they fight for. Keep the foot injury and the general sense of John - I mean Joe’s - toughness.

When Joe finally defeats Brahms they fall through the cascade of Time Zones and while Joe ‘lands on his feet’, Brahms does not and is plummeted into the depths of time.

That was a quick brainstorm but I think you can see how the spirit of the tale is retained while the superficial things are altered 1:1 or sometimes 1:10. Magnified or diminished.

It doesn’t have to be all this on the nose, either. We could do a Gremlins story in any setting, even with different rules for the monsters. We could do Ghostbusters in space, the focus being on good vs. evil, order vs. chaos, individualism vs. the bureaucracy, etc.  

Of course all of this pertains to writing the stories and does us no good producing video or games - we will have to learn to collaborate with our fellow artisans to recreate the full cycle of the culture - but all of these mediums start with story first anyway.

So that’s my call to action. It doesn’t mean we all switch gears and retell these stories exclusively, but that we keep these ideas in mind and remember that our tales can be preserved through the means man’s myths always have - retelling.

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Read Coming to Power and see how far someone’s ‘high school novel’ can grow if you get diligent and let it. Then check out my other books and the books of all the #pulprev and #superversive indie authors!

Thank you for reading.



Cyberpunk 2077 Review

Cyberpunk 2077 - synthesis of a grand tradition



I hope this will turn out to be a fairly non-conventional review, but that it is also useful for those who enjoy the analysis and perhaps for some who are considering the game.

I’ve reached a point where I’m not easily taken in by hype, and my expectations toward anything, especially entertainment, are tempered. That’s not to say that I’m pessimistic that a game or movie could blow my socks off - in fact I’m ready for that moment whenever it comes - but that I go into anything expecting an on-par performance and nothing more.

This typically means that some aspect of a game or show or film will surprise me and make my time/money investment feel worthwhile, and occasionally the piece as a whole will floor me.

I’m lucky to even have a copy of Cyberpunk as this one was gifted to me by my Mom. I laugh because even near mid-life sometimes our Moms treat the boy in us. If it weren’t for that I wouldn’t have been able to justify the cost since I can be ascetic like that. 

All that out of the way, I think my overall impression of Cyberpunk 2077 can be boiled down to this: 

I am duly impressed.

This is not ‘the game I’ve been waiting for all my life’, or ‘the greatest game I’ve ever played’. But it’s far far far from a disappointment, or even a ‘buggy mess’ as some have termed it. Most of your feed is going to be littered with quick takes, interesting or silly screenshots, and polarized commercial-level opinions calling it ‘disappointing’ ‘mediocre’ or conversely ‘solid’ ‘enaging’ or whatever.

The truth of what you’re getting in this game is this:

It’s a massively ambitious art project with the goal of synthesizing the Cyberpunk TTRPG ethos into an accessible yet wide and sometimes deep package for the masses to enjoy. 

On the art:

I appreciate this greatly as a fan of sci-fi and cyber aesthetics. More, I’ve spent hundreds of hours pursuing game development as a hobby (mostly in Unreal Engine) and I deeply appreciate the craftsmanship that’s gone into this game world.

One can tell, I think, that the goal of the art direction wasn’t to push forward the cyber aesthetic but to sum up what’s come to this point. We’ve got neon, corporations, invasive advertising, and mixed cultures. There are grunge, punk, rave, high fashion, military, police, and business peeps all moving through the city at their various paces.

If you pick it up, or if you’ve got it already, then next time you play take a slow stroll through Night City and look around. You’re seeing millions of 3D models and thousands of textures coming together to immerse you in a cyberpunk world, and the fact that such a program can work, especially with all the animated crowds and vehicles, and the rpg system underlying the player character running too, is astounding. Think back to your youth in gaming and see it through those eyes. 

Will you find the rough edges of the theme park if you look? Yeah, but that’s because the only thing as well made as real life is real life.

On the story:

I’m just inside act 2, and I think the story is very good. There have been some moments of truly excellent writing (which I won’t spoil) and much that does its job at an above-average level, with a small helping of average and very little of low quality. That last is only to the point that I remember it’s there but couldn’t give you a concrete example even if I was doing spoilers.

The story tackles some ideas that I’ve been playing with myself, such as (and I don’t think this is a spoiler given the promos and hype) having another person in your head.

As far as the stuff that impressed me, I’ve been pleased with the themes of family, found family, loyalty, honor, and legacy. I expected none of that in what is normally considered a nihilistic genre. I certainly didn’t expect the main story to have this much heart. The fact that the player can lean into it just adds an extra dimension you can’t get in other media.

Is it perfect? No. Again, nothing is. Some story beats take way too long when what the gamer in me really wants is to roam the town on my bike and slice and dice criminals with my katana like the love child of Hiro Protagonist and the Punisher. 

The first interlude for example had me interested in the story but still drumming my fingers for what I think was forty minutes. I think we could have streamlined that a bit, though I enjoyed it for what it was.

On the technical side:

I touched on this in art, but once again I was impressed that though some people are reporting issues, I’ve had surprisingly few despite running the game with only a 2Gb graphics card. I’m sure my 32Gb of RAM figures into that, not to mention my decent CPU and SSD, but it’s still impressive to me that they’ve optimized the game that well.

On the gameplay:

You probably won’t hear many diverging opinions here. It’s hard to make a AAA game that misses the mark with its RPG mechanics, skill trees, loot variety, etc. So all that is good.

The brain dance ‘minigame’ is pretty impressive but I’ve only done one sequence.

What impressed me the most was the melee. It feels visceral and hectic in a way most games don’t. I want to get deeper into the boxing situations because it just seemed to flow so well. Melee is so enjoyable that I think I would be a katana vigilante even if I wasn’t trying to channel my love for Snow Crash.

Which brings me to my last point.

Going forward:

What can CDPR do to cement this as the definitive cyberpunk game, a classic of ye olde 2020s? I’ll give my thoughts as if they could ever see them here.

Modules

This DLC needs to be either free or low cost. It needs to add the rest of Cyberpunk’s life paths, and ideally would have new stories (maybe shorter?) with more personal stakes rather than taking us through the main story again. They can do that too, but I’d put that as a secondary objective.

Vertical space.

We need control over it. I should be able to fall from a balcony and catch a ledge rather than die. We should be able to pilot the AVs and own one. The higher reaches of the city need to be in play. This is a lot of technical level design work, but it will bring the city to its true potential.

Crossovers.

If they really want this game to be legendary, this dreamy and ambitious leap should be on the table. We need Snow Crash DLC. We need elements of Cash Crash Jubilee brought in, if not a whole quest line. Let other cyberpunk IPs make their cameos and even take over the stage for a little bit. Adapt them into Night City for a fresh experience for everyone. It sounds crazy and it’ll never happen, but if it was done it is something that would not be surpassed in gaming for decades if ever. Maybe the modders can make it happen...

Those are the main things I think of, and I’d hope to see some of that come to pass.

Final thoughts:

So, generous as usual with my thus nearly worthless numerical score, I’d easily put Cyberpunk at a 10/10. That probably means it’s really a 9 for me, once I’ve played enough to shed any dopamine blinders, which probably means for the average person it’s an 8. Do with that what you will.

What it all comes down to is that if you want to videa game a Cyberpunk experience with modern tech and mechanics, this game is it. Not that there are really any other options… So thankfully I think 2077 has succeeded in its mission.

If you’d like to take some magipunk superheroes out for a spin, give RawJack a try.


If you want to see my idea of a high-powered heroic protagonist, go pick up
Coming to Power.

If you’re interested in my idea of fun world-building check out How Black the Sky.


The Mythos Project, or Conservative Retellings

  With the rise of big tech censorship and open calls to silence voices that do not agree with the zeitgeist, I’ve been slowly coming to a p...