Saturday, December 25, 2010

Skip the movie. Read the book: 1984

Nineteen Eighty-Four
by George Orwell

Chilling. Terrifying. All too real and all too possible.

This is the book to read if you want to see masterful world-building in action. The entire first third of the story is world-building. There's almost no dialogue, no action, no plot. It takes Orwell one-third of the page count just to set up his vision.

It's a world where everyone is monitored day and night. Actions are not a crime in this society; *thoughts* are criminal.

Winston is a member of the Outer Party (the government), and he is one of the people responsible for altering the past. One of the first examples we receive is the chocolate ration. A news report states the ration for chocolate is reduced from 30 grams to 20. Winston's job is to go back over newspaper articles and newsreels that featured government promises of the chocolate ration not being reduced, and change them to warnings that a reduction may come. One day later, newsreels start reporting that the ration is being *increased* to 20 grams a week.

And everyone accepts it. People celebrate Big Brother, the symbolic head of the government, for his decision to bestow this generous gift on the people. Everyone simply forgets that there was a time when the ration was higher. They accept this alteration of the past, and the government's propaganda that times are good and always getting better, when in fact they are continually deteriorating.

This is just one example of the terrifying society Winston inhabits. Orwell never comes out and states what the government is doing. He instead presents all the different methods the Party uses: convincing the people that the orgasm is a crime, erasing people from the record, and Newspeak.

What hit me hardest is Winston's conversation with Syme, one of the developers of a new language called Newspeak. Syme's explanation that "shades of meaning" are being eliminated from English, and Shakespeare will have to be rewritten to reflect it, slapped me across the face. Not only is the government manipulating people's memories, but they're making it impossible for people to have rebellious thoughts.

If people can't remember happier times, but instead are convinced that they are living in perpetually good times (even as those conditions deteriorate), the people will always stay in their place. If they lose the ability to have thoughts, feelings and emotions in the first place, they will never want to overthrow the government.

The proles, the working people, are living in perpetual poverty, but are happy to live in it and never complain because as far as they remember, there have never been better times to live. Chocolate rations have always been high, standard of living has always been wonderful, and times are good. But they are uneducated animals scraping a pointless existence out of the refuse of an unending world war. They mindlessly accept what they're told, do not strive to achieve anything, and don't even know they're oppressed. The government has seen to that; everything they do is to keep the people docile and in their place so the ruling class (the Inner Party) can live in luxury. That is scary.

This is masterful world-building. The story is almost irrelevant. The real focus is the world Orwell creates. A truly terrifying and completely believable vision of a future that may have already happened, and we'd never know it. It had my head spinning for hours after I finished it. I strive to blow my readers’ minds away like this, too. It is the best novel I’ve ever read.

Compare that to...

NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR (1984)
starring John Hurt

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Machinarium


It's been a year since I played this game, and you know I'm still thinking about it.

Machinarium, a point-and-click, third-person adventure game made entirely in flash by a Czech game company.

It's a beautiful world full of robots and mechanical equipment. Even the decaying equipment is beautiful to look at. If you like Myst-style adventures, The Neverhood, or games to test your mind instead of your trigger finger, try this one!

The puzzles are the ideal balance between inventory, environment and logic. There is no pixel-hunting here--everything you need is out in the open, you just have to decide how to use it. As you progress, the story gradually becomes clear, and your actions have a purpose. The puzzles are fair and make perfect sense. They never feel like contrived devices to delay the player, but are part of the world. Sometimes they're even fun distractions.

As if that weren't enough, the soundtrack is kickass! It's done by a man named Tomas Dvorak, an upcoming musician in the Czech Republic. You get the soundtrack in mp3 format if you purchase the game directly from the developer, and the music alone is worth the price! It stands very well on its own. I listen to the thing in my car all the time.

The characters are memorable long after finishing the game. The simple story is fun to discover. The puzzles are challenging, but never unfair. It's the perfect balance of humor, challenge, puzzle and action. Check it out!

Quickie interview

Steve Lowe, author of Muscle Memory, interviewed me for his blog. Check 'em both out here.

It took longer than "2 minutes" to do this, and it will probably take longer than that to read it...but it's still quite revealing.

I'm happy to be a published author, but damn it I chose a difficult book to be my first. If I keep getting interviews like this, pretty soon my name and Mister Hands are going to be associated in google searches. What a way to get started.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

We Wish You A Turtle Christmas / and / Now that gas prices are "down"

We Wish You A Turtle Christmas

How do things like this even get made?? Thank God I never saw it when it came out. I thought The Next Mutation was bad!

In other news, I came across this news story on yahoo: Worst-selling cars of the year

Small cars in general aren't selling as well now that gas prices have fallen and pickups and larger vehicles are making a comeback.


What a short memory we have, eh? When gas broke 4 bucks a gallon, everyone was scrambling for smaller cars this, fuel-efficient that, green this, alternative fuels that. But now gas prices are all the way down to $2.90 a gallon, suddenly no one seems to care about reducing our dependance on oil. Cars that need less gas are suddenly dropping off in sales. Well, don't forget: as soon as gas prices spike to 4, 5, or 10 bucks a gallon again, we'll all be wishing we'd kept up the efforts before it was a problem.

Don't stop! Things are not ok! Gas used to be a buck fifty a gallon before 2003! We got used to it, but things are not ok! They're only going to get worse! Keep up the effort! Buy those fuel efficient cars! Invest in alternative fuels! Don't stop now that there's no need to panic! There will be later on if stop now!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Felix and the Sacred Thor: sample chapter

“Felix and the Sacred Thor”
by James Steele
Copyright 2010

This is a sample chapter of a published novel. It may be distributed freely, as long as it remains unaltered. Full novel available on Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1936383233


* iTha *

Martha was once known as “Marth” for short, but this was far too last-decade of a nickname for a teenager to endure, so she insisted on being called “Tha” (pronounced thuhh).

Tha sat in the chair in the middle of her room. Her digital iwalls displayed targeted commercials 24/7. There were sixteen chat windows open on this wall overlapping the commercials. She mentally brought one chat conversation to the foreground. The iwall read her thoughts and typed an appropriate response into the window. Her mind pushed send, brought another chat window forward, thought a response into the text field, and sent it, too.

She answered all the chat entries in accordance with proper Internet etiquette: 1) try to delay responses by at least six hours so you don’t appear eager and needy. 2) finishing a conversation implies you never want to talk to that person again. 3) use emoticons every four words so your friends can understand you.

When she answered all the chat texts on this wall, Tha turned 45 degrees to the wall on her left. She brought a window forward, glanced at the text, mentally typed a single emoticon and brought up the next window. The iwalls tracked her chat text, searched for trends and changed commercial themes appropriately.

She looked at the walls, one after the other. Each had at least ten chat windows open, and each displayed sequences of commercials in the background, variations produced by different friends chatting about different topics. When all sixty chat windows had responses, she turned back to the front wall and began anew.

From the beginning, Tha’s parents knew that she was part of the Digital Generation. All the signs were there: she couldn’t interact with people in the flesh, she spoke in shorthand, and things she saw on a screen engaged her more than any real world stimuli.

Real world events were slow. They were mundane. By contrast, things that happened on a computer or TV screen happened fast. They were exciting, and people discussed far-reaching subjects without hindrance. Those things were more interesting; therefore they must be real. Her parents nurtured this by buying her an ibedroom.

She wanted music. The room responded by piping her favorite tunes through the ispeakers. The music was so compressed it sounded like Realplayer on 14.4, but it was the most real sound Tha had ever heard. Reality was disorganized, but digital sound was clean and orderly, therefore it must be real.

Keeping up with all her friends was hard, tiring work, and she expressed as much on her Internet journal every few days, but she was still grateful for their support. The more chat conversations she had going at once, the more she felt in touch with reality.

Tha thought she might be tired. She got off the chair, hopped in bed and closed her eyes. Old analog mattresses placed the responsibility of knowing when it was time to sleep or wake up solely on the body. But science had long ago proven that the body cannot know what is best for itself, and only a computer can make such determinations. The imattress analyzed her body chemistry. It told her she was not sleepy, and Tha got up and returned to chatting with her friends about the meaning of life and stuff.

One of the first things Tha recognized as a little girl was that people became less real when you spoke to them in person. The things they typed in chat were far deeper, more meaningful and insightful than any conversation they carried with voice and eye contact. She preferred never to see or meet her friends. Their Internet personalities were engaging and exciting. In-person meetings would only ruin her opinion of them.

Tha heard a noise that did not come from the speakers. It was a loud thud, and it sounded uncompressed. She mentally wrote an emo online journal entry about the disturbing sound. Instantly, she received 267 responses expressing sympathy and wishing her good luck making it through this troubling time. She needed the constant support to survive from minute to minute.

The noises continued. They became more violent, and now it sounded like glass was shattering; drywall being torn. Tha kept her friends updated. She was in the middle of responding to the 149th sympathetic reply when the iwall flickered. A huge hole appeared in its center, and something red tumbled out of it into her iroom.

More sounds of struggle and fighting. Tha turned 45 degrees to the left, toward another iwall, and asked it to show her what was happening. The iwall accessed the cameras installed in the corners of her bedroom and displayed a security-camera-quality image of what was right beside her.

A man wearing nothing but red clothing wrestled with something. She didn’t know what it was, but the remaining three iwalls detected her confusion and preformed an Internet search.

While the iwall searched, Tha wrote a quick journal update, and received 971 responses wishing her luck in handling the crisis and saying how completely unfair it was that this was happening to her. Tha was glad everyone agreed her life was hard, and that it wasn’t fair how she was being treated.

The results came back while she was reading the replies: it was a toaster. Specifically, an analog toaster made of aluminum. Very inefficient piece of technology; it ran on springs and levers and had no connection to the Internet. Tha didn’t understand how the device could work at all. If it had no net connection, how did it download updates?

Tha noticed the man was swinging something at the toaster. The toaster dodged and flew around the room while the red man chased it, swinging the thing he held again and again. She didn’t recognize it either, but the iwall had anticipated this and preformed a search. The results came back just seconds later: horse penis. Immediately, targeted ads for horse sex videos began playing behind the chat windows.

The man thrust the dildo, but the toaster spread its wings and flapped up and out of the way. The man swung backhanded at the toaster. It connected with a solid, metallic clank, and the analog, outdated kitchen appliance flew across the room and through the iwall Tha was watching. It left a gaping, toaster-shaped hole where the iwall had been showing a busty woman rubbing a horse’s rear end. The iwall displayed 404, then flickered out. Tha turned to the rear wall, the one her ibed was against.

The toaster dove back through the hole in the dead iwall and charged the man. He grabbed the preputial ring on the horse penis, twisted it, and a blaze of ice shards flew from the tip. It punctured the toaster and sent it reeling backwards. The toaster landed on Tha’s bed, beeping in panic.

The man jumped up on the bed. He was blocking Tha’s view of the iwall, so she turned to the last iwall to get a better one. The man held the dildo like a sword and thrust the enormous flare directly into one of the toaster’s slots.

The toaster beeped upon penetration. The man picked it up and swung it through the corner joining the two remaining iwalls. Both displayed 404s before they collapsed. The man ducked as the shockwave from a small explosion reverberated through the room. The wind blew the rear wall atop Tha’s bed. Her other ibedroom iwall fell into her parent’s old-fashioned analog bedroom.

The man pushed the iwall off of him and stepped down from the nonfunctioning ibed. He looked at Tha.

“Sorry about that. I’m savin’ the world.” He held the horse penis up to his forehead in a salute. “One toaster at a time.”

Tha didn’t see him. She didn’t hear him. She existed in total darkness.

The man ran out of the apartment, holding the dildo high in front of him, as though it were leading the way.

Tha had the urge to write another emo journal entry, but nothing was happening. There was no music. No color. The world was gone. Should she sleep? Did she have to go to the bathroom? There was no way of knowing.

She hoped reality would return soon. She missed her friends. She needed their support now more than ever. Life was so hard.



If you are wondering what may have come before, and what could possibly come after, consider reading the full novel, available here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1936383233

Spread the word!

Thanks!

Friday, November 26, 2010

New story in print!

I've been waiting for this story to see light of day for years: Don't Feed the Animals from Anthropomorphic Dreams Publishing.

Animals make an evolutionary leap and catch up to mankind. So why is nothing different?

Thanks, Will, for running my story!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Bizarrocon 2010

Got back from Bizarrocon 2010. I've been to a couple cons before, but Bizarrocon was different.

For one thing, it was a convention full of other writers. Writers are great to talk to. Most people talk like, "Well, it's just...you know..." "I was, like, *ten second pause* you know what I'm sayin'."

Writers don't do that. Writers know the words to use, and damn it they USE THEM! I liked that.

Also what I liked was how little internet shorthand there was in conversation. Nobody said, "Dude, el-oh-ELLL!" Followed by, "Oh-em-eff-geeeeeee!" Followed by lolling. Bugs me when people talk like that. I didn't hear any of that at Bizarrocon, and I was so relieved.

Was a great convention. Good to meet different people. People who share my goals. I've never been around other writers before and it was refreshing.

Bought a lot of books. Laughed a lot. Glad I was part of it.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

What Hollywood apparently thinks of us

Remember the days of MASH? Bunch of Army doctors working together to save lives? Sure, they had their disagreements, and Hawkeye was a wiseass, but in the end they knew why they were there, and they cooperated for the good of the patients.

Well forget them! That’s old school! “House M.D.” is how things are done in the 21st century! Audiences don’t want a team of doctors cooperating! They want a group of self-righteous, arrogant jerks pretending to be doctors while behind the scenes they stab one another in the back, finger-point, undermine each other and look for conspiracy in every little action and word!

Remember Gilligan’s Island?

Well forget them! That’s as old school as you can get! “Lost” is how things are done now! Audiences don’t want friendly cooperation. They want CONFLICT! That’s what sells! Petty conflict! Backstabbing! Struggles for power! Conspiracy in everyday life! That’s what drives drama!

Linear stories? So 1900’s. The new way to tell a story is the same as video games have been doing it for years: take any story, chop it into pieces, present the pieces out of sequence and let the audience figure it out what the hell is going on. Audiences don’t want coherence! They want to be CONFUSED!

Remember when the Steadicam was invented in the 70’s? Finally, movies and TV got rid of that nauseating shaky camera whenever the action moved around. It was about time!

Well, forget that ancient 20th century innovation! We’ve moved forward!

Audiences want to FEEL like they’re in the middle of the action, so we must SHAKESHAKESHAKE the camera as much as possible to create the illusion that the audience is actually there, watching these events unfold! We’ve done the research on real people, and we know for a fact that people bob around like they’re charming a cobra, zooming in and out, losing and regaining focus at random when they’re standing perfectly still listening to two people talk.

Hey, let’s take this to the next step! When there’s nothing going on in a scene, let’s shake the camera around to recreate the illusion that there’s lots of action happening! We can make any scene exciting this way! Audiences love it, and we get to hide how bad our computer-generated special effects look as a bonus!

Attention Hollywood: please stop. We're begging you. Please.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Introducing the seven new authors of the apocalypse

Bucket of Face by Eric Hendrixson



and me, James Steele, with Felix and the Sacred Thor.  Saving the world with a horse dildo.


I encourage you to buy two copies of each book.  One for you, and one for your dog.


What's that you say?  Not enough money?  You'd rather buy a movie instead?  Well, my friend, each book's price is less than that of the following movies:


Movie one.


Movie two.


Movie three.


As you can see, any one of the aforementioned New Bizarro Author Series books would be a more sensible way to spend your paycheck!


What's that?  You don't have time to read?  Fear no more!  Each book can be read in about the time it takes to watch any of these movies, and you're guaranteed not to be left feeling hollow, disgusted, or radioactive.  You may even gain deeper insight into the nature of reality because you read a BOOK!  You bought and read a book instead of pirating a movie, which will make you feel one with the human race and potentially leave you feeling warm and fuzzy on both the inside and the outside!  How's that for making the best use of your time!


I can see the logic of this advertisement-disguised-as-humor has changed your entire worldview, so you are now ready to go and read something unique and wholesome!
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or you will be sodomized until you are

(some links copied and pasted from http://pterodactylsamurai.wordpress.com/.  Thanks.)
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Feed her!  feeeeeeeeed herrrrrrr!  Must.......forget......!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Something is wrong with these pictures

How does this happen??


How is this a substitute??

The world is mad!  Mad, I tell you, MAD!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mary Poppins

Yesterday I watched Mary Poppins for the first time in some twenty years.  Mom told me it was my babysitting movie.  Whenever mom needed to do something and didn’t want to watch me, she’d put that movie on and I wouldn’t move from the TV.  Musta watched it a thousand times as a kid.

So how is it now that I’m an adult?

Surprisingly, I enjoyed it.  I was smiling the whole time, and damn what a long movie.  It’s over two hours long!  I don’t remember it being that long when I was a kid, though I think this was the extended version of the film; I don’t remember that scene between Burt and Banks in front of the fireplace.

There’s almost no story to the movie, but who cares!  It’s just plain fun.  Nothing sinister about it, nothing offensive.  It’s just fun, and now that I’m an adult I caught some of the jokes that flew over my head as a kid.  (“Made the tea undrinkable.  Even for Americans.”)

I didn’t know what Mrs. Banks was doing until now either.  Votes for Women, of course!

Boy, Banks is extremely British.  He is the stereotypical British person from the American perspective!  He simply will not tolerate such whimsy in his house!  The real world is orderly and productive, and this, dear me, how do you say, this whimsy must stop!

Why aren’t they raising their own children?  Is that a perk of being a British gentleman?  You get to hire out your childraising duties?  I laughed so hard at the scene where Mrs. Banks is faced with the horrible reality that there’s no one to watch the children except a filthy chimney sweeper whose name she doesn’t even know.  What’s she do?  She goes to her meeting and leaves this sooty stranger alone with her children!  Helllllo, lady!  These are your kids!  Votes for Women can wait, can’t it?

Didn’t remember the fox hunt, and the Irish fox.  That made me laugh.

Amazing how even though the song-and-dance musical was just going out in the 60’s, it’s still enjoyable to watch today.  My favorite number is the chimney sweep sequence.  Somehow, Mary Poppins made soot-stained rooftops and the smoke-filled cityscape beautiful.  Didn’t think it was possible to romanticize coal pollution, but this movie sure did!

It’s a good movie.  Full of whimsy, with a loose story, fun visuals, great dance numbers, and Dick van Dyke doing a lousy job faking a blue-collar British accent.  Somehow it just makes his character more charming.

Now that I’m an adult, I can appreciate how weird a character Mary Poppins actually is.  Who the hell is she, the wife of Doctor Who?  It never explains who or what she is, and we like it that way.  She doesn’t need a reason to be the way she is.  It’s just plain fun.

I haven’t watched or read anything that was just fun in a very long time.  It was refreshing.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Great (Rec/Depr)ession


The Great Depression.  What brought us out of it?  World War II.  How?  Because we had a manufacturing infrastructure lying dormant for a decade, and when we joined the war, we opened our factories again and made everything.  Guns, ammunition, tanks, medicine.  You name it, America made it.

Now we’re in a Great Recession.  The only reason it’s not called a depression is because the bailouts propped the evil banks up this time, so it’s not a total collapse.  The businesses are still more or less in tact, even if the unemployment is just as high.

But something is different this time.  We’re in a war.  Two wars, if you will.  It’s plunging us deeper into debt, and America’s economic machine is not pulling us into more prosperous times.  Why?

Because the bulk of our manufacturing is outsourced overseas to keep prices low.  We use more fuel than we can produce.  Instead of pulling us out of a depression, the Bush war is keeping us in it.

I'm sure there are other factors I’m not considering, but the connection strikes me hard.

(This subject seems to be on my mind a lot lately.  I wonder why.)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Open note to writers

To all writers and wannabe writers out there:

Just because something is awkward doesn't mean it's funny.

This especially applies to screenwriters (of, for example, The Office and Cop Out).

A conversation that is awkward is uncomfortable, which makes the audience wish it would end.  Drawing this conversation out for a loooooong time is not funny, and it's not entertaining; it just tortures the audience.  For example, every scene involving the dimwitted parents in the Transformers movies.

Repeat!

Awkward != Funny
Awkward <> Funny
Awkward ≠ Funny

Friday, July 9, 2010

fiction v/s reality


In fiction, every question must have an answer, every detail must be relevant, guns are loaded in act one and always go off in act three, and by act five everything ties together and makes sense.

Unlike fiction, life offers no answers.  In the real world, all we find are questions.  Eventually we find so many questions that we start to see answers in the questions themselves.

Monday, June 21, 2010

cars and computers

Last Wednesday was the date of the move.  Still hard to believe we moved all the couches, TVs, washer and dryer, refrigerator, dishwasher, store, microwave, a couple entertainment centers and so much more in just one day.  All the major stuff in only twelve hours.

It took us half an hour to get that fridge in here.  I had Taco Bell with real, sugary Dr. Pepper for lunch.  I needed the sugar to get me through that move, and I’m sure I worked off all that sugar and fat in no time.  You know you’re desperate for food when Taco Bell tastes like a gourmet meal.  For water, we didn’t bring any, so we just munched on the ice from the freezer tray.  Working out helped a lot with my recovery.  I remember when we moved like that in Tennessee I could barely stand up.  This time I was sore, but still fully functional.  I feel no guilt skipping my workout this week.

I moved furniture around my room today.  Got some things in their place at last, got all my crap out of the suitcases.  I think I have it set up the way I want it.  Or at least in a way I can live with for the near future.

It’s raining again.  Might be why I’m so tired.  Internet won’t be hooked up until Saturday I’m told.  I the meantime I’m still hijacking the neighbor’s internet for basic email, but only in a couple spots of the house.  Yeah, I have to look for internet hotspots in my own house.  That’ll change once we get our own internet working again.

You never realize how boring computers are until you have to go without always-on internet for a while.  Yes, there was a time when computers were standalone.  To do anything on them, we used to have to go to a store and BUY software!  Signing onto the net used to be something we had to consciously do.  Yes, we used to have to decide when we were going to sign on to the net.  Without the net, computers don’t seem to do very much anymore.

Sometimes I miss those days of computers, when everything was new and unexplored and our lives didn’t depend on them.  Kinda like with cars.  The automobile was once a luxury, and when it was, it was a fascinating new device that made transportation easier.  But now our whole nation is built around the automobile, so it’s become a requirement.  Instead of a luxury to make our lives easier, computers and cars have become overhead.  No pleasure in them anymore.  Now it’s all necessity, something that makes our lives more complicated.  I miss the days when computers were a novelty—something that gave you an edge over your classmates, made assignments easier, made research a little easier.  Now, who cares; everyone has them and they’re required.

The floors in this house are not completely level.  I feel like I’m sitting uphill as I type.  Ah, old houses.  It doesn’t feel like it right now, but this will be worth it.  A house that WE own.  Bank doesn’t own it.  We own it!  Soon it will only cost utilities and taxes to live here, and won’t that be paradise?  

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Fine print


I received an offer for an American Express Blue Sky card.  It boasts travel free with any airline, hotel, cruise, car rental and travel package, no annual fee, no expiration date on points, no limit on the points you can earn and no restrictions.  Its only reward program is sky miles, there is no monthly maintenance fee or annual fee.  But look at the fine print:

“You will accrue one point for each US dollar of net purchases charged on your Blue Sky Card account.  Points can only be redeemed in the form of a statement credit on eligible travel purchases (airlines, hotels, car rental, cruise lines, travel agencies, tour operators, and online travel sites billed to your account and submitted by the merchant using the proper industry merchant or product/service code). … Points may only be redeemed in increments of 7,500.  Each 7,500 point increment is equal to a statement credit of up to $100, up to the amount of the eligible travel purchase.”

Now isn’t that blatant robbery?  You earn one point for every dollar you spend, but 7,500 points are only worth $100 when redeeming them.  Rule of thumb: no company is going to give you a deal that benefits you.  A company will only do whatever benefits itself.  But they sure are good at making it seem like they’re out for your benefit, don’t they?