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The Watchtower of Destruction: The Ferrett's Journal Below are 10 entries, after skipping 10 most recent ones in the "The Ferrett" journal:

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July 7th, 2015
10:22 am


How The Witcher’s User Interface Hates Gamers

I spent my birthday weekend playing The Witcher extensively, and I’m pretty sure that 20 hours or so is more time than the developers spent playing the game.

It’s not that Witcher 3 is a bad game, mind you: it’s just that there’s a really great game in there, smothered underneath a bunch of horrible terrible UI choices, making it more mediocre with each playthrough.  And some of these UI sins are so easily fixable, you wonder whether they actually played the game at all.

Now, I’m not talking about the big problems that would be tricky to fix: sure, I’ve died thirty times because my all-powerful Witcher got caught on the edge of a fence in combat.  Sure, I can literally go get a soda, drink it, and still have another minute’s wait left before the “Loading game” screen finishes.  But those are technical problems: it’s a big game so I presume there’s tons of data to load, and reasonably recreating physics is a tough challenge (I’m looking at you, Skyrim and your randomly unclimbable slopes).

No, it’s dumb shit.  Things that sap the game’s fun, because you have to do this dumb-ass thing over and over again that gets in the way of the game.  Things like:

The way the huge-ass map doesn’t point the way to your next quest.  Seriously, this map is frickin’ massive, meaning your next quest could be on the other side of the world – and you’re often scrolling in every direction, trying to figure out where the contract is, playing a mind-numbingly boring game of “Find the yellow dot.”  Maddeningly, the mini-map does point you towards your quest, so eventually, you dope out the workaround of “Point your character’s face at the dot, then switch to the large map and follow a straight path in that direction until you find the dot.”  And hope you’re not angled slightly off, because being five degrees off-dot over large distances means you may not find it, ever.

Hi! You’ve just gotten a new quest! Do you want to start it? Well, you can’t, because you have to read the letter that the Earl of Whogivesafuck left behind! And to do that, you have to open up your inventory, scroll to the “Quests” tab, find the letter among the seven other letters there, and open it.

Why didn’t the game just display the letter when you found it? I mean, you picked it up. It’s reasonable you’d just read it by default instead of folding it up neatly to stow it the depths of your pack. But no, The Witcher involves a constant stream of “God, I’ve gotta open up the tasks screen, switch over to inventory, switch three tabs over to my quest items, then down, then press X.”  Over and over again.  Over and over again.  Over and over again.

Speaking of “Over and over again,” it sure would be nice if the crafts screen preserved your last choice when you switched tabs.  I generally dislike games with intensive crafting systems, but Witcher makes it maddening: Oh, hey, you can make this great set of armor if you could only buy two vials of hummingbird tears!  I’ll switch tabs to buy some hummingbird tears – and then have to scroll down literally through thirty choices when I switch back.

Oh, and did I mention that the merchants’ goods aren’t sorted by name at all, with no way to sort them?  So if you don’t know what a fucking vial of hummingbird’s tears look like, you have to flip through eighty tiny icons hunting for the ones that look like vials, until you narrow it down and finally purchase one. God help you if you need three purchases to finish crafting that armor – and keep in mind, crafting seems to be the only way to get good armor, as the drops from monsters usually just provide craft materials – because you’re in for a hunt-the-pixel-fest.

I get that you have to start a conversation with a merchant to shop.  That’s fine, because you might also want to play this more-boring-Magic variation with them, too.  But when I’m done shopping, I don’t want to talk to you any more – and yet still I have to navigate two selections down to select the “Done talking” option. Can you just assume that when I’m done shopping, I’m done talking, and save me literally a thousand pointless menu selections over the course of the game?

Likewise, I find the crossbow to be a useless goddamned weapon.  I know many love the stealth approach; I want to charge in swords-a-blazin’, which thankfully the Witcher allows me to do.  But the game keeps switching my default alt-attack to crossbow whenever I switch, instead of the grenade I selected, or the witch’s lamp I use to get better light in dark areas.  Which means I keep wasting precious crossbow bolts as I think I’m throwing a smoke bomb and oh, shit, we’re back to crossbows again.  WHY DO YOU LOVE CROSSBOWS, WITCHER.

Also, hey, a better auto-save system would be good, considering some quests you get involve you traveling to the other side of this goddamned unwieldy map.  What frequently happens is that you spend two minutes galloping across hills and valleys to get to that stupid yellow dot, get caught on a fence, and die – and then have to spend five minutes reloading the game, and then travel again.  Wouldn’t it make sense to have an auto-save whenever you transitioned between distant areas, so you wouldn’t have to backtrack over and over again on quests you made?

And lastly, you have horses. They are kind of neat horses – I appreciate that if you hold down X, the horses will follow the roads, allowing you a sort of quasi-fast-travel.  Yet frustratingly, you are smart enough to have a trail of white dots showing you which roads will lead you to your next quest – yet the horse does not know this trail, so you’re constantly horse-course-correcting when the horse jukes left and you can see the dots on the road leading right. How much effort could it be to have a logic in place that says, “If the horse is choosing between two paths automatically, choose the one with the white dots on it?”

All that stuff gets in the way of what I want to do: talk with your fascinating characters, fight the bad monsters, do Fantasy CSI investigations.  Instead, I’m scrolling AGAIN through thirty craft entries to find the hummingbird-needing armor.

That’s not as fun as you think it is.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/491147.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

(2 shouts of denial | Tell me I'm full of it)

July 6th, 2015
10:19 am


Terminator: Genisys – A Fascinating Fan Fiction Error (Mild Spoilers)

Terminator: Genisys is, I think, the first fully-blown fan fiction effort to make it to the big screen.  It feels like some of those fanfic epics I’ve seen: taking unanswered questions from the backstory and going, “What would happen if the timelines we knew were all screwed up?”

The problem is, Genisys makes the same error as a lot of bad fanfic.  Which is to say there’s a very subtle – but very major – difference when someone’s watching because they want to see what what the author does next, and someone watching to see what the characters do next.

Hint: Watching to see what the author does next is inherently less interesting.

Terminator: Genisys is soaked in Terminator backstory – in fact, several of the “previous timeline” scenes are literal shot-for-shot remakes of the original film with new actors, at least until we encounter the point where Timelines Diverge.  And the way the timelines get bollixed is very clever, and if you’re hyper-familiar with the Terminator franchise as I am then you’ll be like “Wow, I didn’t see that coming.”

The problem is, there’s so much baggage associated with “Okay, if you’re not familiar with what happened, let’s tell you about how this all went down.”  So Genisys is bogged with a ton of exposition, with characters explaining stuff to each other instead of interacting with each other.  They have scenes that look, to an untrained eye, like two characters interacting, but in truth what Kyle Reese is doing is telling Sarah Connor a story about how awesome John Connor is. Or Sarah is telling Kyle about how the Terminator first visited her.

The reason it’s subtly wrong is because yes, in the first movie, Kyle tells Sarah about John Connor.  But in that case, it’s not because John Connor is important – it’s because Kyle is trying to share his motivations for being here, and in this sense the revelation is a form of intimacy they’re finally sharing with each other.  The backstory is merely a clever way of doing two things in one scene.  He’s concerned for Sarah Connor right now, because he loves her, and is terrified for her, and wants her to understand him so he’ll trust her.

Whereas in Genisys, the priorities are strictly reversed: Kyle is telling Sarah because we need to know how awesome John Connor is, and how awesome this future is, and here’s all the backstory we’ll lose if this timeline goes wrong.  Oh, yeah, and, uh, I guess we like each other too.  The priority’s not about forging an emotional connection with Sarah Connor, it’s about attempting to forge an emotional reaction with this amazing backstory we’re trying to preserve.

As such, Terminator Genisys blithely assumes we care about Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese before we’ve really gotten to know them – which is an error that fanfics often make.  (Which doesn’t make those bad fanfics, as the glory of fan fiction is that you can enjoy the fuck out of them when you know all about Harry and Hermione and just want to see what happens next – but it renders those fanfics far less emotionally compelling than the original fiction, because it uses the original work as a crutch instead of a platform.  Put another way, it doesn’t make them bad fanfics but it limits them to being fanfics, in much the same way that X-Men comic books are often restricted to being good X-Men stories, moving only to those thoroughly steeped in X-Men knowledge.)

So what you have in Genisys is a series of very interesting plotlines in search of a connection with character.  And this is where Genisys makes its second mistake:

The villain holds back. A lot.

In the first two Terminator films, the good ones, there was zero mercy. That’s what made them so compelling. If you were in the room with a Terminator, it would try to kill you, and would succeed if you didn’t get the fuck out quickly.  If it could kill you with a gunshot, it would take the shot.  If it could sneak up on you and stab you when you weren’t looking, it would destroy you.

The first Terminator we meet in the new timeline bobbles its shot by announcing its presence to Kyle Reese before killing him.  Of course Kyle Reese gets away instead of being silently knifed in an alley.

The big villain has the heroes alone in a room, with them completely at its mercy, and instead chats merrily with them.

The big villain knows the heroes are arriving to stop him, and instead of getting on the roof and sniping them he obligingly walks into his Big Villain Lair and prepares his monologue, which he will deliver before taking his first shot.

The reason the first two Terminator movies worked so well is because the Terminators did not give a fuck about the plotline.  They had one goal: to kill.  Whereas Genisys’s Terminators seem very invested in keeping the characters we love alive, attacking the least vulnerable ones first to give them a shot, and that “Let’s make this interesting” undercuts the whole film.  The seams are showing; you can almost watch the marionette strings yanking upwards, pulling the bad guys’ gun-hands up so they fire over the heads of these characters the plot so desperately needs preserving.

Which is not to say that Genisys is a bad film!  It is, as noted, fanfic.  I loved the twists it put on standard Terminator mythology. The action sequences are enthralling.  The SFX are a lot of fun, and the timeline hijinks are interesting.  It’s well worth a watch.

But during the whole movie, I didn’t think, “Oh, Kyle and Sarah are in trouble.” I thought “Oh, wow, that’s a neat twist, how will that be resolved?”  And as such, the portion of my brain that solved logic puzzles clicked on, instead of the tiny lizard-brain that goes, “I LOVE THESE PEOPLE AND SOMEONE IS GOING TO HURT THEM OH GOD PLEASE SOMEONE HELP THEM.”

Terminator Genisys is, as noted, pretty entertaining.  But I wish they’d been less respectful to the franchise’s history and more respectful of the franchise’s plot mechanisms.  Because what we have here is a very lovely world someone has created, one with characters they needed to tell A Sweeping Story Of The Multiverse, and instead this might have been an A-plus film if they’d forgotten about the damned multiverse and concentrated on the story of two people trying to survive.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/491004.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

(16 shouts of denial | Tell me I'm full of it)

July 2nd, 2015
10:26 am


On Caitlyn Jenner And Activist Work

When Caitlyn Jenner came out as trans, I heard some of my trans friends complaining: Why her?  Why did she get to be the face of trans women in America, when there were so many trans activists who’d devoted their life towards working for trans acceptance? Hell, Caitlyn hadn’t been notably political in any way before this, being a reality show TV star for one of the most fatuous and narcissistic celebrity families.  And even now, there’s no guarantee she’ll work to further trans issues beyond the simple fact of her being a trans person. (Though we can hope she does.)

Why was she the one who sparked conversation instead of the many activists who’d given their lives for the cause?

Yet if I had been asked to predict who would become the most famous trans person in the world – and to be honest, I wouldn’t have guessed that trans issues would have catapulted into the limelight in my lifetime – then my answer would have been, “Someone who got famous another way, then came out as trans.”

Because most humans need to know someone before they sympathize with their plight.

You see that all the time, that prioritizing personal experience over reading knowledge.  It’s a sad fact of black peoples’ lives that when they acquire a white friend, that white friend (if they’re inexperienced) will ask all the usual dumb questions about “Do you tan?” and “How does your hair work?” instead of looking it up from the thousands of freely-available sources.

For better or for worse, humans connect with other humans, not reference materials.  (Which is not necessarily a bad thing – folks are all like “I WISH THEY’D LOOK THIS SHIT UP,” but I think they’d change their tune if these people got their information on the black experience by reading Fox News. The fact is, reference materials can be riotously wrong or skewed, and most people learn where to read about things by asking their fellow humans where to start – and that allows you to point them in the right direction, as exhausting as that is.)

And you know what sucks further?  For a lot of people, knowing someone who identifies as trans when they first meet means that they can shunt them aside and go, “What a freak, wow, let’s keep this schmuck at arm’s length.”  And their shields go up, and they just go, “Well, that person’s trying to cause trouble.”

The reason Caitlyn Jenner is the connecting point for folks is because they’ve known Bruce for years on some level – either as a famous athlete or a reality show star – and have already sympathized with him for years.  And when she came out, they went, “Wow, someone I know is going through this, and I know they wouldn’t do this just to cause a fuss, so… why?  Why the hell are they doing this?”

And they start asking the right questions.  Enlightenment may arise.

You see that in the coming-out stories of gays – that’s why coming out is so powerful.  A lot of the uneducated gay opinion is “THESE FREAKS ARE JUST DOING IT TO CAUSE TROUBLE” – a cry you still hear from a lot of the anti-gay-marriage crowd.  But over the years, thanks to people literally risking their goddamned lives (and, in some cases, losing them) to come out to family and friends, straight people came to realize that these beloved, level-headed friends of theirs could be gay, and they weren’t just doing this for the fabulous social benefits of pissing off mom and dad.

(Which leads to the equally wrong-headed argument that “Being gay is not a choice!”, which I despise, because if someone wants to put a penis in their mouth, and the owner of the penis is both willing and able to consent, then it shouldn’t matter what their motivations are.  But that’s another rant I’ve made before.)

Anyway, the point is that you can have thousands of books written on “the trans experience” and “the gay experience” and none of those stacks of books will be as potent as one person sneaking under the radar to go, “Hey, you respected me before, and now I am also this.”

Caitlyn Jenner is the face of trans acceptance because she flew under people’s prejudices, and now that she’s wedged deep people have to reexamine their attitudes.  Sadly, someone who became famous as being trans could never do that.  Which sucks, but hey.

You know what sucks more?

Black people are never gonna do that.

My sneaking suspicion is that gay equality is gonna shoot right the fuck past black equality in a decade or two, because gay people come from all angles, and some gay-bashing idiot is always going to be dealing with a cousin or a best friend who comes out, and that attitude will soften.

But too many white people have this shield in place when they see black people protesting – the same shield they see when they see gays, and trans, and other minorities protesting – that goes, “Wow, these people are just looking to cause trouble, aren’t they?”  And unfortunately, there’s almost no way for black people to win here – with the exception of maybe very light-skinned black people, there’s no way of forcing folks to question their assumptions about how black people work.

The bright spot, however, is that on Twitter, it’s easier than ever for people to have black friends.  I do – my social group is largely homogenously Caucasian in real life, but online it’s a lot more varied, which is part of the reason I care more about this stuff.  It affects people I love.  And right now, there’s a hot cluster of “Black Twitter” where black social media interacts and amplifies, catapulting ignored stories like Ferguson into the mainstream, which I think will help over time.

Still. I think it’s gonna be a lot slower.  And I think it sucks that there have been trans people working their asses off, some who died to further the cause, and a reality show TV star blossoms into the face of the trans lifestyle.

Yet this isn’t bashing Caitlyn Jenner: I’m glad she’s finally happy, and I’m glad she’s subverting paradigms and changing attitudes.  And I’m not bashing humanity, either: given how different this massive world we’ve created is from the small social environments we were evolved to live in, I’m shocked at how well we’re adapting.

But you gotta know how to hack the system.  And “the system” is, sadly, that the more you can leverage people’s personal vouchsafing for you to change their attitudes on the lifestyles you lead, the better it goes.  It’s why I came out as polyamorous, which I gotta tell you, is not at all always comfortable.

Yet “coming out” is one of the most effective ways to change people’s takes on things, and though you are not obligated to be anyone’s teachable moment in any way, we should never forget that yeah, the teachable moment is a frighteningly potent tool to circumvent the biases of evolved monkey brains.


Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/490636.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

(14 shouts of denial | Tell me I'm full of it)

July 1st, 2015
11:06 pm


Thanks For Helping! Now I’ll Destroy Your Home Town.

Thanks to everyone who volunteered various ways a young kid could get involved in sports. After a lot of thought, I’ve decided that a Youth Soccer League will be what this teenager-who-is-secretly-a-monster gets involved with, because that’s a casual sport that kids play together where the parents watch.

I talked to my good friend Raven, who lives in Kentucky, and she clued me into the Morehead Youth Soccer League, and how it operates – how they meet at the local Wendy’s, the paperwork involved, how the kids play together.

“Thanks!” I said.  “I’m sorry Morehead is gonna get wrecked.”

Because you know, if you give me all of this fine information on your town, I’m just gonna use it to have a hideous monster lose control and everyone in Morehead meeting awful demises. This is what it means to have a writer for a friend.

Fortunately, she’s kind of excited at the idea of her hometown getting annihilated.  Because that’s the kinds of friends a writer picks up.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/490303.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

(6 shouts of denial | Tell me I'm full of it)

09:33 am


How To Date Well When You’re Older, Or: Bad Habits You Young’uns Can Pick Up

“Of course you like getting older,” said the emails. “You’re a guy! When guys get older and fatter, they get more attractive. When women get older and fatter, they get ignored.”

That response came from writing a brief essay on Fet about how I felt stronger as I got older – more confident in my own skin, more capable, more responsible.  And a handful of women emailed me to tell me that the process is entirely different as you age if you’re not some skinny young thing, that loneliness is what happens to older women.

Yet I know several pudgy women in their late thirties who have to actively turn away new partners, because they are swamped with offers. I know several women in their late fifties who are still dating extensively, sometimes smooching it up with men decades younger.

There are lots of women who do get older, and quietly turn the color of woodwork, and fade from view like some wrinkled chameleon.

I think too many of ’em learned the wrong lesson.

Because what you often see with attractive people – men and women alike, though women are more often taught to rely on their looks – is that when they’re young and beautiful, they are beswarmed by suitors. They can’t order a goddamned drink without seventeen muscular young bohunks squirming in between them and the bar and offering vodka and oral sex.

So what gets taught to these attractive folks is passivity. People buy them tickets to concerts because folks like their arm candy skills. People text them, beg them, to come to the party. They email ’em on Fet: hey, you wanna get tied up? You wanna get candlewaxed? You wanna get photographed?

Some of them come to think that this is how you get a social life, not realizing all this special beauty comes with an expiration date.

And these people – who are not every attractive young person, mind you, but a subset thereof – don’t actually ever figure out what they want, because they’re continually being brought out to other people’s adventures. They’re getting offered so much that they don’t have to think about what satisfies ’em: it’s like forever eating at a huge buffet where you can have any kind of food, so you don’t pay attention to what those little pink things you love are called, they’re in there somewhere, you’re sure.

This is just eating. Eating comes with everything you like, always. Why bother investigating further?

Then those folks get a little older, and maybe a little saggier, and suddenly the options drop off. Part of that is because your social groups start to unwind when you hit your late twenties – things change when you’re not all going to the same college, and when some of your old friends are dropping out of your social circle as they have kids – but for these people, part of that is because they’re just not as physically luscious as they used to be. And after years of being offered things, going out and asking for things seems…

…well, pathetic.

So they sit, and feel ignored – because they are ignored. Maybe they go on some diets, get some plastic surgeries in an attempt to recoup some of that visual appeal.

Others, however, sit there and go, “Wait, I’m not getting the things I want? How the fuck do I get those?”

And they go off on bold adventures to a) figure out what they want, and b) go out and get that shit.

Here’s the thing about life: there’s all this talk about how “older men” are so attractive, but the truth is that most of those men aren’t. There are young women who are drawn to older guys, but they’re largely not drawn to stoop-shouldered accountants who stammer when placing an order at Burger King.

Who do they like? Men who have a good, solid handle on what they want, and aren’t afraid to ask for it.

Strip the genders off that concept. Then try this on for size: People like folks who have a good, solid handle on what they want, and aren’t afraid to ask for it.

“But Ferrett!” you cry. “Men don’t like pushy women the same way women like pushy men!”

For romantic purposes (not, say, career advice), I’d argue that approach is coming from that same logic of evolved scarcity: I used to have partners swarming me, now I have less of them, I don’t want to scare the remaining ones away by acting weird.

And you will scare people away by being forthright about your desires. It happens. I assure you, as someone who’s routinely shouting his opinions into a public space, I have tons of people who want nothing to do with me. Tons of people think I’m an asshole, they think I’m too melodramatic, they think I’m insensitive.

Hint: Though I find many of these people attractive, I am not dating them.

I both contract and expand my dating pool by being explicit about what I need.

Part of a good evolution into older age comes in understanding that you’re not going to be able to appeal to all the people you wanted. Maybe when you were young, you could wrap anyone you wanted around your little finger, so you had like an 80% hit rate between “attempted seduction” and “closing the deal.” That’s rare – but hey, if it happens, recognize that this hit rate is highly unlikely to continue into your sixties.

You need to understand that the best you can do is to find people who fucking love what you have to offer.

Like, for example, all these younger women who supposedly want older men. Does that list compromise all younger women? Hell no; not a day goes by I don’t stumble across some profile that says, “I won’t play with anyone over 30, it skeezes me out to play with someone who could be my Dad, don’t ask.” There’s plenty of women out there who will not date someone older, and God bless them. In fact, based on my OKCupid trawls, the number of young women who really need a 46-year-old balding dude in their life are in the minority.

Yet the reason those older men have done so well is that they speak confidently enough that the folks who do find That Kind Of Guy attractive can find them.

(And many – not all, but many – of them date at all ages. I do.)

Likewise, the older and beautifully bolder women I know don’t give a fuck when all those shallow idiots who only want some 22-year-old cutie ignore them: they’re too busy finding dudes who dig what they have to offer! They’re finding folks who are also into their fascination with theater, folks who are also into their love of costumery, folks who are also into their love of bicycle riding.

They’re not interested in dating, they’re interested in doing. And oh, how the dates follow when you start doing.

Yeah, there’s a hundred folks out there who don’t want you any more, just because you’re old. That’s sad. But the women I know, God bless them, have said, “Fuck it, I don’t care if they don’t like me, I’m gonna do the things I like and the partners will follow.”

And they date happily, thrillfully, zestfully. They lead a quirky life. Their boudoirs are stuffed full of whatever genitals they prefer to partake of.

And I’m not saying everyone can do this. Some folks don’t have the kind of personality to pull it off, and some people just aren’t that into things to make this happen, and other people are too shy. All of that happens. This isn’t a guarantee.

Yet I can say if you’re getting older, and you’re starting to feel yourself fading into the wallpaper – what do you have to lose? Give it a try. Be that old person who doesn’t give a fuck. Look at the older women who are still out there dating – they exist, go find ’em – and note what they’re doing.

Because man, there’s still a lot of fun to be had.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/489994.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

(12 shouts of denial | Tell me I'm full of it)

June 30th, 2015
11:30 am


A Brief Thought On This Whole EL James Matter

So EL James held an Ask Me Anything on Twitter the other day.  It went about as predictably as Bill Cosby’s “Ask Me Anything” session went, which is to say full of angry accusations, snarkiness, and hostility.  Really, celebrities, you shoulda seen this coming.

Still, I view EL James in the same sense that I do Margaret Mitchell and”Gone With The Wind” in the sense that I’ve never read anything by either of them – I’ve just seen the immense cultural footprint that both of them have left behind.  And I’m not particularly thrilled by either: James’ modelling of abusive relationships as admirable (with the extra bonus of BDSM being framed as this thing that healthy people ultimately walk away from), Mitchell’s idolization of the Deep South and slave culture.

That said, I’m always shocked when people target the author as if they created this ugliness out of whole cloth.

Now, this isn’t to say that EL James and Margaret Mitchell aren’t responsible for glorifying bad things.  But plenty of people write novels that glorify bad things.  Hell, JG Ballard wrote a novel glorifying the sexiness of near-fatal car crashes and the people who get off on that. There’ve been a thousand bad fanfics dealing with abusive BDSM fantasies in one method or another. Most of these stories languish in obscurity, like most tales.

So when I see a big ugly phenomenon like this, I don’t see the author as being some all-powerful Evil, dictating cultural paradigms from on high:

I see them as accidentally tapping into a deep well of ugliness that people want to believe in.

And yeah, the author is culpable for polishing these turdy ideals to a glossy consumable shine, but ultimately this shit wouldn’t sell if people didn’t want it.

Talking about EL James like she single-handedly created bad BDSM, baffles me.  No.  She’s one of a hundred thousand fanfic writers who peddled fantasies – and something about this fantasy connected with millions of people who wanted this so badly that when they got it, they couldn’t stop thinking about it.

In that sense, I see the audience for this sort of thing like a vast field of dry grass – if EL James didn’t write a bad BDSM book to spark these shady desires, eventually some other schmuck would have done it.  If Margaret Mitchell didn’t write a paean to the Old South, well, there were enough other people writing potboilers that someone else would have stumbled across it eventually.

I look at these authors like I view Mike Huckabee – reprehensible, to be sure, but if dude had a heart attack then some other schmuck would hit the limelight, because some portions of America deeply want dippy fundie conservatism, and they’ll keep looking until they find someone who fulfills that need.

Which doesn’t make Mike Huckabee a great person, for fine-tuning his gay-bashing skills to such an extreme – but someone only becomes popular by people agreeing with them.

Mind you, not all people talk about EL James like she’s responsible – many correctly chastise her for indulging a harmful need.  But a lot of people attack her like somehow she made relationship abuse so compelling that she lured people, Pied Piper-style, into believing this is the way romance would be.  And admittedly, I haven’t read it – but judging from the ham-handed quality of the prose and characterization I’ve seen thus far, I think it’s highly unlikely that she converted people to this viewpoint via the quality of her words.

Truth is, some folks want to hear this shit.  And with millions of writers trying billions of stories, eventually one of them is going to catch that spark.

I guess you can only yell at one of them directly, but still.  They didn’t do this to anyone.

People chose to love it.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/489867.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

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09:25 am


A Question On Teenaged Sports Habits

So I’m writing a story where a monster who secretly wants to be a teenaged girl is trying to fit in.  The reasons are… complicated.

But because of other story reasons, she needs to travel to a strange town and play a pickup game of sports with other teens.  And… I don’t know how sports works when you’re a young teenager.

So. What I need is a place where a kid from out of town can go and play a game with other kids, with parents watching.  (So even though there are pickup games of basketball, that wouldn’t be suitable, as it needs to be the sort of place where a lot of parents would be hanging out.)

If she has to try out for a league or something, that’s fine, but the end result has to be that she’s actually having a good time with other teens playing this whatever-it-is, so she can let her guard down and things can go terribly terribly wrong in front of a crowd of watchers.

But I don’t think most sports have a “show up and play” attitude for new kids, and I have no idea if tryouts usually culminate in some sort of game, or if that only happens with certain sports when you’re a kid.

So. Can someone who knows how these things work clue me in?  Thanks in advance, folks.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/489609.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

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June 29th, 2015
09:56 am


My 2015 Annual Birthday Greed List!

The time has come for my Annual Greed List – the large (and, yes, uncut) list of things I desire for my birthday, on July 3rd, which is the most important day of the year. Why do I do this? If you’re really interested, here’s a brief history of the Greed List.

The briefer version, however, is that I think “What you want” is a reflection of “Who you are” at this moment – your music, your hobbies, your fandoms, who you are as a person.  I find it fascinating as a history, watching how what I’ve desired has mutated (the shifts away from physical objects are so bizarre, as I used to want tons of CDs and DVDs and now that’s mostly a computer file somewhere), and remembering what I thought I wanted so badly but turned out to be too much effort to turn into a hobby (fire poi), and the things I did want that became habit (the straight razor).

And while I guess I could just toss all this on an Amazon Wishlist and send you over, why bother?  I want you to know who I am in this moment, and so I not only list what I want, but explain why I want it.

So here it is.  Here’s who I am this year, expressed in what I want, in descending order of most-lust to least-lust.

You To Purchase Either Flex or its sequel The Flux ($7.99 or less).  
So hey! I’m a professional author now! So if you wanna make me happy, do the BUY MY BOK dance and either a) purchase Flex, if you haven’t already, which features videogamemancers and brainwashed government abduction squads and an amputee divorcee who makes magic with paperwork –

– or b) advance-purchase its the sequel, The Flux, which features the World’s Most Dangerous Eight-Year-Old Girl, an in-depth look at the business structure of Samaritan Mutual, and two very unlikely romances.

Either way, you’ll have a new book and I’ll be happy. And people seem to be digging Flex, so I think most of you will be content with your purchase.

A 70″ Television in Ultra 4K HD ($lots).  
“But wait, Ferrett!” you cry.  “Didn’t you purchase that television last week?”  Indeed we did.  That’s why this year’s Greed List is sparse; we spent all our dang money.  This is not only my birthday present, but also my Christmas present.

It is, in fact, a completely awesome television, though, and it finally lets me play games like Wolfenstein: New Order in a format large enough I can read the instructions.


Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt, on PS4 ($59.99)
Here’s an interesting fact about me:

Videogames are my meditation.

I am too high-strung to stare at a wall and inhale incense: no, I have to be accomplishing something.  And Gini has noted that if I am accomplishing real-world stuff all the time, I get bitchy and short with her.  She has actually requested that I go buy a damn videogame, because then I’ll spend an entire weekend doing nothing but Beating The Game, and when I emerge I’ll have spent many long hours focused on one thing, all my neuroses falling away because I know I can beat this game.

The Witcher is getting good reviews, and it sounds like a Fallout-inspired hoot where I walk around in third-person killing things, and I love killing things in third person. I haven’t done that since Dragon Age.

Corner Gas: The Movie Blu-Ray ($16.99) 
If you’ve never seen Corner Gas, you’re missing out on one of the most sarcastic sitcoms ever created.  It’s a nothing sitcom, where people in the small town of Dog River perpetrate increasingly looney schemes upon one another until they approach a sort of peevish magnificence.

They Kickstarted the movie, which I missed out on, which allowed them to – well, the sitcom didn’t really need a finish, being rather episodic, but it apparently got a quite nice ending here, so I’d like to see it.

Harold and Maude: The Criterion Collection ($22.99) 
Rewatching Harold and Maude the other day made me realize just how much one movie can influence your ideals of romance.  Harold and Maude are an unlikely couple – Harold is a suicidal teenager, savagely oppressed by his parents, whereas Maude is a seventy-nine-year-old criminal – but what makes them become romantically entangled is, well, they’re good for each other.  They both have bizarre hobbies.  They both share enthusiasm for things nobody else does.  And you don’t really recognize it as a romance until about two-thirds of the way through, because this romance is rooted so thoroughly in shared camaraderie that the sexual connection is nearly incidental.

I have to thank Harold and Maude for my relationship with Gini. I really do.

And so this Criterion Edition – the Criterion Editions are always the best editions – has all behind-the-scenes extras I crave, and I must have it. I must.

An Aside: Why No Books, Ferrett? 
Normally, I have at least three or four books on the greed list, but I just got off a monstrous book tour to support Flex, and at every indie bookstore I went to I bought at least two books.  I am swamped with books, drowned in books, heaped high with so many books I cannot function.

It is wonderful.

Bosch RA 1181 Router Table ($125)
One of the joys of this year is flexing my woodworking muscles – as we speak, my friend Eric and I are refitting my garage to be a complete woodshop, complete with pull-down workbenches and better lights and customized shelves for all the equipment.  The goal is to be able to work year-round with a space heater or two.

Woodworking involves a lot of trips to Lowes to pick up just one more thing – some screws, a pocket jig, some more wood – and I keep returning to tell Gini, “Boy, you would not believe how much money we saved today!”  Theoretically, at some point I’ll make enough furniture that we’ll actually start turning a profit on the new equipment in our house, but right now we’re at least $1500 in the hole and I’m just fine with that.

(The end goal, which I anticipate I’ll get to in about two years, is to make a hidden passage bookshelf for our basement.  That’s going to be super-tricksy, though, involving a steel frame and very closely-fit shelves interlocking, so I’m going to get very good at other things first.)

In any case, the router I have right now sucks – and I would have a new router on my list, except hey, my friend Heather’s boyfriend is getting rid of his very nice router for half the price, so I’m trading up.  What we need is a table to put the router in that isn’t the sucktacular table we have now (which literally requires two people and about a half an hour to swap a router in or out), so this would be good for our woodworking needs.

(Eventually, I’ll get that dovetail jig I’ve had my eye on, but for right now it’s very nice to get handy.  I wouldn’t say I’m good with wood yet, but I can certainly put together stuff from plans, and it’s very much flexing my radically poor visualization skills.)

Crazy Hawaiian Shirts (priceless)
Hey, if you see something really ugly that’s about in my size (usually XL, but Hawaiian shirts vary radically), get it.  I need something to add to my army of loud shirts.  I enjoy this silliness.


Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/489253.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

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June 26th, 2015
10:09 am


Why I Don’t Leave Comments That Often: I Don’t Wanna Be That Guy.

Back when LiveJournal was the social network to hang out at, I was the shadow.  People left scads of comments on my journal – but I was the ghost, consuming their words silently and then moving on. Friends thought I didn’t read their stuff, and were quite surprised when we met up in person and I was conversant with all of their blog entries.

I read. I didn’t comment.

At the time, I considered that a weakness.

But as time has passed, I’ve come to see my lack of commenting as a strength.  Because I don’t comment unless I have something particularly salient to say.  And a lot of comments, well, are kinda obvious, and I figure people would know them, and so I don’t bother.

ENTRY: I don’t like $THING.
COMMENT: Ah ha, I am doing $THING as a humorous response!

ENTRY: Here is a metaphor for politics or relationships.
COMMENT: This metaphor is imperfect! It does not account for this corner case.

ENTRY:  Here is a musing on relationships of a certain type.
COMMENT: You forgot to mention the other kinds of relationships!

ENTRY: I really love $THING.
COMMENT: I hate $THING. Here, let me shit on your enthusiasm.

ENTRY: Here is a musing on what it’s like to be a member of race/color/creed.
COMMENT: You forgot to mention what it’s like to be a member of other race/color/creed!

ENTRY: Here is an entry with an obvious joke to be made.
COMMENT: *makes obvious joke*

ENTRY: Here is an extremely specific request to ask you all for information, with specific rules, because otherwise this information will prove useless to me.
COMMENT: *ignores rules, gives five billion unrelated suggestions*

ENTRY: Here is a technique that $PEOPLE_WITH_CERTAIN_PROBLEMS can use to improve their lives.

And so on.

Now, this makes it sound like I mind comments, which I don’t.  Most comments are enthusiastic affirmations of whatever’s being written about, and that’s awesome.  (Even if the affirmation bias can lead writers to believe that they are correct when in actuality, people are simply unwilling to confront someone in their own turf, where they’re all but guaranteed to lose.)  I don’t mind it when people go, “Hey, yeah!”

But whenever I write an essay, I’m now experienced enough to know what kinds of dissenting comments will be made.  They’re obvious, because the flaws in the essay are equally obvious, to my view.  I’ve often thought about writing an essay that I know will get hits, and then secretly writing – in advance – a summary of the kinds of negative comments I’ll receive on said essay, just to see how accurate I am.  I suspect I’d be pretty much on target.

And to a certain extent, I cringe, because obvious fart joke is obvious.  Obvious criticism of a narrowly-scoped essay for not addressing global issues is obvious.  Obvious discussion that metaphors are imperfect because they are metaphors is obvious.

And I’ve seen some writers slow their roll on writing because, well, people mean well, but they know if they mention “runs like the wind” somebody’s going to make a fart joke, AH HA HA, and okay, there it is.  Right now, somebody’s going, “I’m going to make a mega-comment that combines all the categories of bad comments Ferrett listed!” and lemme tell you, I know that’s coming.

When someone makes a new criticism or joke, I am all over that like I am all over a cupcake. It’s great! It’s fresh! It’s awesome!  Even if it’s sometimes a very painful cupcake, where I’m being called on the carpet for new reasons!  It’s a reason to write an essay, to have someone come along and say something that’s not obvious, and expand your damn mind!  It’s why I interact with humanity, that great hope of seeing the mind-blowing comment!

And I do.  Several times a week.  That’s the awesome.

(And that behavior differs somewhat on FetLife, where the central stream of pictures and posts also notes the comments you made on other entries, so often making a comment leads people to read the original entry.  Most comments are dead-ends, but given the right social engineering they can be a gateway for other people to see what you’re doing, and in that, I support commenting as a method of advocacy.)

Yet for years, I felt bad because I didn’t comment unless I had something really interesting to say. Yet having interacted with authors who have much larger blogs than I, I have come to believe that for me, this is a better path.  When I say something, I try to go beyond the obvious gag and find something deeper, and if I can’t, I remain silent.  If I read an entry and go, “Huh, that seems a pretty narrowly-defined blog post,” I can wait an hour and someone else will make that exact same comment for me, and then I’ll feel like, “Okay, point is made.”

And I wonder if those authors were expecting the comment, same as I expected to see it.

Now, I treat my comments like blog posts.  I have a hundred thoughts a day I could share with you.  I only share the most interesting.  And there’s nothing wrong with commenting wildly, or widely, or even obviously, but I’m the sort of person who is utterly uninterested in the predictable.

So I comment very rarely.

I tend to think of that as a positive strength these days, even if it does mean that a lot of people never know I was there.  And maybe, for some people, that “I was here!” is the whole point in the absence of a Facebook-style “Like” system where they can’t just give a virtual thumbs-up and keep on truckin’.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/488987.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

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June 25th, 2015
10:08 am


Finalized Flex Fan Art, AND Me Yammering On New Podcasts!

So if you’ll recall, my friend Bill has been perfecting some really awesome fan art based on my book Flex – well, specifically the character Valentine, everyone’s favorite kinky videogamemancer.  And he applied the colors, and I could not be happier.

Flex Fan Art: Final, Colored Edition!

He says he’s going to write up a post on the process of making this art, and I surely hope he does. (Or maybe he has; I find Tumblr maddeningly impossible to navigate, proving how wretchedly old I am.)

The only thing that threw me about this piece was the stray bits of garbage on the floor, until I realized this was supposed to reflect Valentine’s messiness. Oh, man, Valentine levels of messiness would make it so you couldn’t see the floor. But I love Valentine’s look so much.  (Go check out his other art.)

Also, the podcast New Books in Science Fiction and Fantasy interviewed me, and it was awesome.  Rob went above and beyond the usual podcasting by actually transcribing excerpts from the talk, like so:

On why why a world with Flex also needs flux:

“Flux evens out the odds of magic…. I really hate novels where magic is this thing  you can do … without any kind of cost…. Frequently what I see is, ‘Oh, I’m a magician. I’ll raise an army of the dead and make my castle out of magic,’ and where is any challenge in that for your characters? Where do they have any stopping points to what they can do?… A big tension in the book as to whether the mancers should even use their magic.”

On his approach to writing:

“I’m what’s called a gardener writer, in the business. There are plotters who basically sit down and plot out all their books beat by beat and know their ending the minute they start their first sentence. And Flex, like every story I’ve ever written– basically I wrote an interesting first paragraph and followed it randomly until the end of the book.”

Anyway, I neep away about my process, and how I came up with some of the central themes of Flex (which is still available in bookstores, and the sequel is still coming out in October), so if you feel like listening to me talk for about half an hour, well, here I am.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/488880.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

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