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Posts Tagged ‘bookburners’

Halloween Stories and Games!

Happy Halloween, friends!  I have a number of spooky and excellent tales for you to enjoy—kicking off with my most recent release, Deathless: The City’s Thirst, a new interactive adventure set in the Craft Sequence world.

deathless_citys-thirst_color

 

You won the war against the gods; now you need to take their place. Build alliances with powerful necromancers. Fight—or make peace with—sentient scorpions. Stand up for the little guy—or stick it to him. Overcome the trauma you suffered in the God Wars. Solve murders, or commit them. Or both! Fight gods. Solve mysteries. Find love. Die. Come back.

The first game, Choice of the Deathless, operated on the edge of the Sequence; this game’s set in Dresediel Lex, features characters from the stories, and is a lot more scheme-y and skullduggery-focused.  If you’ve ever wanted to be in the world of the books, this is a good opportunity.  I’ve written about the design process on Tor.com, and on Chuck Wendig’s blog, so you know it must be awesome.  Get the game on iOS, Android, Kindle, and Steam, and if you like it, tell your friends.

If you’re looking for a more traditional Halloween-ish experience, though, may I suggest A Kiss With Teeth, my story about vampires, marriage, and parenthood?

Palumbo-KissWTeeth

 

Vlad no longer shows his wife his sharp teeth. He keeps them secret in his gums, waiting for the quickened skip of hunger, for the blood-rush he almost never feels these days.

The teeth he wears instead are blunt as shovels. He coffee-stains them carefully, soaks them every night in a mug with ‘World’s Best Dad’ written on the side. After eight years of staining, Vlad’s blunt teeth are the burnished yellow of the keys of an old unplayed piano. If not for the stain they would be whiter than porcelain. Much, much whiter than bone.

White, almost, as the sharp teeth he keeps concealed.

Also this week: a new episode of Bookburners!  Under My Skin, by Mur Lafferty, takes Team Three to Vegas, baby.  Vegas.  Horrible things happen.  Because, Vegas.  It’s great.

And, in other Serial Box news—the new serial Tremontaine, set in Ellen Kushner’s Riverside universe, debuts today!  I’m really excited for this one.  Kushner herself’s at the helm of an intrepid and awesome writer’s room including Alaya Dawn Johnson, Malinda Lo, Joel Derfner, Racheline Maltese, Patty Bryant, and Paul Witcover.  What.  How.  Flail.  Go ye and read.

That’s all for this week.

 

Galactic History, or Galactic Folk Tale?

TO: EDITORIAL BOARD OF TRADE ROUTES, THE JOURNAL OF GALACTIC AFFAIRS

N109xxq83992.33.1.apple / Corewards 993 / Coruscant

FROM: Doctor Flox Beelthrak, Education Department, Corellia University

Djane Lel, Secretary of Historiography, Coruscant Teacher’s College

 

DEAR SOPHONTS—

Your Harvest issue’s cover feature (“Heroes of the Galactic Revolution: A Twenty-Year Retrospective”), however well-intentioned in its commemoration of the anniversary of our galaxy’s liberation from the Palpatine Regime, indulged in and perpetuated many damaging and historically inaccurate popular fantasies.

However widespread the folk narrative of the Skywalker and Solo families has become in the decades since liberation, we expect more from a journal of your self-professed dedication to intellectual rigor.

The Great Sophont Theory of History has been deservedly discredited for decades; our galaxy’s very size—millions of sentient species spread across billions of worlds—should be enough to discredit any notion its history might be shaped by the decisions of a few individuals.  What steersman could seize the wheel of such a vessel?

The sad fact is, no matter how appealing tales of galactic heroism may be—and we’re fans ourselves!—history is made by movements and groups, not individuals.  To demonstrate this we need look no further than Palpatine himself.  The recent, brilliant, monograph IMPERIAL MINDS by Dr. Del Rivane of Dothek Polytechnique rather conclusively demonstrates that the Banking Clan and Corporate Sector’s drive for unified tax policy, new market access, and spacelane security, combined with the ambition of a rising human military officer class in the Late Republican period, were the main drivers of “Palpatine’s” coup and the subsequent (apparent) stability of the so-called “Imperial” government.

Palpatine was a consummate politician, this no one denies, but his political savvy can be most clearly seen in the deftness with which he walked the slack line of Late Republican politics.  The “Evil Emperor” truly has no clothes: documentary evidence reveals a brilliant and cynical man, yes, but a man nonetheless, whose high office emerged naturally from conflicts between the increasingly powerful and inherently ademocratic Republican bureaucracy on the one hand, and an overwhelmingly human military on the other.

But far more dangerous than the Palpatine-as-Evil-Genius vision, to our minds, is the popular tendency to attribute the Rebellion’s success to the, for the most part undocumented, personal heroism of a small elite group.  The Rebellion was an interstellar effort of millions.  No one doubts the importance of the Organa family’s leadership in the early Rebellion, or of Leia Organa’s personal role as an organizer of the Alderaanian diaspora after the Tarkin Incident.  But legends—folk tales, really, with no textual attribution—about Leia Organa’s personal achievements during the Rebellion at best distract from, and at worse erase, the contributions of the Alderaanian diaspora community to the war effort post-Tarkin.

And Organa is the most clearly documented of the folk heroes your Harvest issue seeks to lionize!  General Skywalker’s contributions as a pilot are legendary, of course—the Skywalker Doctrine of Snub Combat remains required reading in the Academy—but Skywalker’s military career was cut short by his increasing religious fanaticism and withdrawal from public life.  The man, a moisture farmer turned hero, is fantastic enough from a historian’s perspective; while folk tales of his association with “lost masters” of the Jedi Order, and of his personal miracles, make for pleasant campfire evenings, they drip with mythic patterning—and his purported genetic link with the Organa dynasty borders on the propagandist.  And the less said about parentage assertions with genocidal maniacs, the better.

Generals Solo and Calrissian were valuable bridge-builders between the nascent Rebellion and a community of small business owners chafing under the Planetary Governor regime, but many oral histories of the Rebellion ignore this role entirely, preferring to focus on poorly documented or entirely mythical personal achievements.  Tales of the Huttese Palace Incursion, which you, shockingly, included in your profile, are standout examples of the form.  Such an adventure would have been strategically incoherent—sending Organa in disguise to rescue Solo, Skywalker allowing himself to be captured–and the prurient asides focusing on Senator Organa’s captivity by “Jabba the Hutt,” the broadest and most speciesist caricature of a Huttese shaa%kzeh of which we are aware, are obviously intended to discredit and shame Organa.  Much of the male human galaxy, alas, remains uncomfortable with the fact that human political leadership of the Rebellion was predominantly female.  (As of course it would have been—human male elites did quite well under the Empire.)  Palace Incursion folk tales privilege the people the story isn’t actually about.

Folk tale and myth are, of course, valid and vital components of sophont cognition.  As the galaxy grows increasingly galactic, myths help limited sophonts perform practical ‘fast clumping and processing’ (Kaaffa the Hutt, Rational Typing in Mythic Decision Making, Nar Shaddaa Press, 1129aad.88q.pear).  But the proper study of history unpacks myths.  In Calrissian and Solo, we see a disenfranchised entrepreneurial element rising to resist a bureaucratic regime.  In Organa, we see survivors of genocide fighting back.  In Skywalker, galactic cultural institutions, the “old country religion” as it were, stands against a secularist order.  In Ackbar, we read the Mon Calamari decision to break with Late Republican / Imperial rule and become, in Ackbar’s noted phrase, “the arsenal of freedom.”  Myths help us act; history helps us understand.

In our roles as educators, we’ve come to expect that provincially educated frosh will arrive steeped in folk narrative.  It’s our job to teach them better.  They learn slowly, but they do learn.

 

We did not expect to have to undergo the same process with your newspaper.

Best,

Dr. F. Beelthrak

Dr. Djane Lel

——

Yes, I did write a fixfic based on the “Wait—all the stories are true?” line from the new Star Wars trailer.

I’m not sorry.

ALSO.  I have a new Bookburners episode out today!  “Now and Then” is about Grace, Shanghai, and layers of historical monstrosity.  I think it’s really good.  Enjoy!

Games People (Mostly My Friends and I) Play

Today I’m running around preparing for the Bookburners launch—the series run starts next Wednesday, so get ready to see me running around with my underwear on my head talking about how cool this thing we’ve all put together is!  Basically with Margaret, Mur, and Brian I feel like I’m on some kind of Magnificent Seven style team designed to inject Good Stuff into your readin’ nerves.  The pilot‘s just the beginning.

In the meantime, here are some games I’ve been playing on heavy rotation recently!

Codenames

Vlaada Chvatil’s CODENAMES is the party game you should own.

The concept’s simple: there are two teams of spies, red and blue, and two spymasters, also red and blue.  All players see a grid of words on the table—the codenames of secret agents in the wild.  The spymasters know which codenames are red agents and which are blue, thanks to a handy key.  They have to communicate this information to their team, using only a clue, and the number of codenames that correspond to the clue.  First team to contact all its agents, wins!

The red spymaster looks at the table and sees that “STAR” and “MOONLIGHT” are both red codenames; the red spymaster says, “Space: Two,” indicating that two clues on the board correspond to the clue “Space.”  The red team looks at the board, hems and haws, and chooses the correct codenames.  This is how it is supposed to work!

How it often works instead: the red team looks at the board, hems and haws, decides “STAR” is certainly one of the clues in question, almost goes for moonlight, but then one of the team sees “STATION” over in the corner.  It has to be STATION, he says.  “Space station, right?  I mean, it’s so obvious.”

Meanwhile, red team spymaster is sitting there, doing her best to keep a poker face, thinking, goddammit, how did I not see Station?

So, the red team chooses STATION.  Maybe Codename STATION actually attaches to an innocent bystander, or an irrelevant asset!  Maybe Codename STATION is one of the opposing team‘s agents—by identifying them, you’ve just handed your opponents an advantage.  Or, just maybe, Codename STATION belongs to the dreaded Assassin—and you’ve just lost the game.

CODENAMES is great fun, takes fifteen minutes to play, explains in thirty seconds, and works for groups between two and $max_capacity_of_room.  I’ve seen it take parties from dissolute to total good-natured competitive focus in a single exchange of play.  It’s the kind of game that will make friends invite you over so you can bring it and play with them.

Give it a shot, is what I’m saying.

Also, it has my favorite mechanic ever: the jerk timer!  If anyone’s taking too long to move, just upend this little sand timer, and they have to move by the time it runs out.  I wish every game had one of these.

Forbidden Stars

If Codenames is minimalist competitive party fun, Forbidden Stars is the opposite: maximalist hyperaggro spacewar simulator!  Set in the Grim Darkness of the Warhammer 40,000 Future Where There is Only War etc, Forbidden Stars is a surprisingly elegant platform for you and up to three of your friends to spend a large number of hours bashing each others’ faces in with spaceships and giant robots.

Forbidden Stars pits Vicious Space Orcs (WAAAUGH!), Chaos Space Marines (BLOOD FOR THE BLOOD GOD!), Space Elves (*creepy silence*), and Myke Cole I mean the glorious upstanding and noble Space Ultramarines in a struggle for control of the galaxy.  So far, so 4x.  But!  There are some neat differences.

Most 4xen (that being a genre of game that relies on the four x’s of conquest: exploration, expansion, exploitation, and extermination) end up being about territorial control.  All your space people want to become the largest space empire.  Games divide neatly into an early expansionist stage, a later defensive stage in which you ponder your and your enemies’ fortifications in prep for the final assault, and then a final SUPERNOVA DOOM EXPLOSION.

In Forbidden Stars, you win not by holding territory, or building the strongest economy, but by acquiring all your faction’s objective tokens (which your opponents have seeded around the galaxy in hard-to-reach-for-you places) first.  Strategic strikes are the name of the game: figure out how to bash in, seize your objective, and leave.  It’s an enormous game of capture the flag, only with spaceships and killer robots, which obviates what I’ve heard Django Wexler, who’s better at this stuff than I am, call the SHOGUN problem: in 4x games, often the player with the strongest military loses, because people gang up on her.

Forbidden Stars also offers the most elegant order-issuing system I’ve ever seen: players take turns placing order tokens facedown to various star systems.  You’ve issued an order to the Golbez Expanse, or whatever—is that an order to invade?  Do you plan to build a factory there?  Are you just engaged in some sort of internal reorganization?  Your opponents don’t know—all they see is, you’re preparing to do something.  But that information might be intended to bait them into a trap: they think you’re trying to occupy a system, so they try to occupy it first by placing an “advance” order on top of what they think is your “advance” order.  Only for you to place an actual “advance” order on top of that.  Since orders are resolved Last-in-first-out, you’ve just pre-empted their invasion with your own.  SCHEMING!

Also combat is a joy, but this post is already too long for me to explain why.

That said and speaking of length—OH MY GOD THIS IS A LONG GAME.  Especially—especially—if your friends are the sort of people who spend a lot of time thinking through their moves.  There are lots of micro-choices, which means a lot of time waiting for a, shall we say, contemplative player to drop their order.  If everyone knows what they’re doing, I can see it moving at a clip—there are fewer fiddly bits than in most 4x games.  But my last game was a four-player run with two first-timers, and we called it after eight hours, with a turn left on the turn counter.  I was hoping this would be more lightweight than Eclipse, which tends to run about an hour per player for our group, counting rules explanation; no such luck.

That said—while we were all guttering by the end of that run, we had fun the whole time, moving our space armies around the map and cackling about Blood for the Blood God, so and were able to call it with good feelings and laughter all around.  This one’s been good for three or four days of fun space warfare so far, which more than justifies its expense in my opinion.

Introducing Bookburners & Serial Box!

Hi, friends! Let me share something cool with you.  Come into my secret lair.

Yep. A little further back. Around the iron maiden.  Just be careful about the—

… trap door.  Sorry, I really should get better lighting in here, hold on, let me lower you a rope.  Just chill for a second.  The gators are drawn to movement.

Towel?

While you glare at me in silent rage, let me tell you about this Cool New Thing!

People-are-awesome pitch: Bookburners is Margaret Dunlap (The Middleman, Lizzie Bennet Diaries), Mur Lafferty (Shambling Guide to New York, Ghost Train to New Orleans), Brian Francis Slatterly (The Family Hightower, Lost Everything, The Slick Six), and yours truly writing an episodic supernatural procedural series for your reading pleasure.

Worlds-are-awesome pitch: Bookburners is about cop working with a team of Vatican secret agents who hunt down magic and demons and stuff from around the world, stick them in a box, and then never open the box, because that always works so very very well.  (This is the bit where I nod my head and mouth “no” in an exaggerated fashion.)  Miss The X-Files or Warehouse 13?  Like The Librarians?  This is a bit like that, only with significantly more Cronenberg.  (If you read Shadow Unit, odds are you’ll also like this!)

Formal-innovation-is-awesome pitch: Bookburners is a series of sixteen episodes of monster hunting, magic, intrigue, and team shenanigans, each of which takes about fifty minutes to read.  Each episode’s a complete story from start to finish, but they tie together in sequence.  I wrote the pilot!  And you can read it for free here, right now.  The rest of the series will be available episode by episode, or as a subscription, in ebook and audio and on the Serial Box website, once a week, starting with the series’ formal launch in September.  Here’s a page with all those details.

Formal-innovation-is-awesome corollary because this is the internet and internetters gonna net-pick: Yes, serial fiction has been around for a long time—but our main historical comps aren’t actually Dickens or Tolstoy, who published successive chapters of larger works rarely designed to stand alone.  Dickens et. al. wrote serialized novels.  IANA literary historian but I doubt one would think of what we’re doing as a novel; it’s much closer to older serial works like The Tale of Genji or Journey to the West, which are… tricky to claim as novels.  (Not impossible!  But that’s another dissertation.)  In the modern era, author-publishers have been building serialized stories for a while, but the writer’s room model gives us more flexibility—Bookburners draws off every writer’s strengths, and lets us challenge one another.  Shadow Unit is the closest thing out there to what we’re doing, as far as I can tell.  

Don’t-believe-me-trust-the-internet pitch: Here’s io9 on Serial Box!  And here’s SF Signal!  And also, it brings my fannish heart glee to report that some really cool people like the series.

Assuaging-your-fears pitch: If you’re worried about my writing schedule, you’re too kind, but don’t sweat it.  Really.  I turned in next year’s Craft Sequence book back in December, and in the next couple months I’ll turn in *another* novel, then focus on my planned Craft book for 2017.  And The City’s Thirst, another Choice of Game in the Craft Universe, will launch this fall.  I’ve been writing like a crazy person, yes, and I probably will scale back my project pace next year, but fingers crossed, knock on wood, I’ll be fine.

Now: go forth! Read!

And sorry about the gators.