Artificial Fans?

On April 1st, 2014, one of that year’s most unexpected video game hits released: Goat Simulator. “What does this have to do with writing and reading?” Just trust me.

Goat Simulator was not what was described in the title. Yes, you were a goat, but “simulation” was more a play on the janky, not-simulation nature of so many other titles around that time claiming the term but being little more than soulless, broken cash-grabs. Goat Simulator played that for comedic effect, and ended up being a hit.

Later that year, it was a added upon with an expansion: Goat Simulator: MMO Simulator, which carried the joke even further by purporting to turn the game into an MMO, or massively multiplayer online game.

Which of course, it wasn’t. It simulated all the online aspects. But for a lot of players, that was enough to fool them into thinking it was, and shortly after the expansion’s release a lot of players who hadn’t read the farcicle fine print were shocked to discover that the “people” they’d been playing with were just AIs.

At the time this was a clever joke. Some chatbots filling a “global” chat, combined with some player-like behavior. People laughed, and the world moved on.

Just … not in the direction we thought. Because as people have discovered (here’s the comic they made about this, by the way) this idea that people could be fooled by nothing more than some lines of code pretending to be the “crowd” that the audience goes along with, well … it hasn’t left.

People are, by nature, social animals. For most, as long as they hear enough voices backing it up, they’ll go check it out. One person says “Hey, you’re good at this?” That’s nice. Ten? A hundred?

1000? Well, you’re probably pretty good at it, right?

Even if 979 of those 1000 are little more than bots?

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Being a Better Writer: Science-Fiction

Hello readers! Welcome back! I trust you had a good weekend?

I certainly did! Shadow of an Empire picked up another Five-Star review, which while not being a title that fits with the genre today’s post is about, is certainly something that I’m happy about regardless. The reviewer in question stated that they found Shadow of an Empire while looking for fantasy books that had deeply developed hard magic systems, and to that end they were incredibly impressed (and thoroughly enjoyed) just how deeply the magic was laced through the world, characters, society, and setting.

They also expressed sadness that there was only one title to date in the series (well, they probably don’t know about the short in Unusual Things, or weren’t counting it because it was, after all, a short). And to that I say “I have plans.” But I need to finish up Starforge and the UNSEC Space Saga first.

Okay, news done. Let’s get down to details with today’s (admittedly) broad topic of a post: Science-Fiction. First of all, what do I mean titling a post with such a broad, generic term?

Well, as long-time readers of the site may recall, I’ve done genre posts before. Such as the post on Westerns, or the one on Mysteries. And doing a genre post on Science-Fiction has been on my list for a while because, well … There’s a lot of disagreement out there about what Science-Fiction is.

Yeah. Again, what is the internet but a location for people to argue over whose lack of knowledge is greater? Even outside of the internet though, the subject of “What is Sci-Fi” in the last decade has become a topic of much debate. And I don’t mean “debate” in the terms of “Let’s sit down and have a calm discussion” either. More often than not the “debates” over what Science-Fiction “truly is” devolve into people speaking or shouting past one another … or threats and disparaging comments made about the parentage or life of anyone who disagrees.

In other words, if you’ve heard of how the internet, from Twitter to conventions, has become a “battleground for Science-Fiction and Fantasy” in the last decade, the argument over what Science-Fiction is most assuredly plays a part in that debate.

So why talk about it then? Well, because I happen to believe that one entire side of that argument is wrong. At which point I’ll forewarn that this means I’ve “entered the debate” and taken a side that could see all kinds of disparaging things thrown at me or said about me. But it’s not just that one side is wrong, but that the debate has become so fierce that there are a lot of people out there that legitimately don’t know what Science-Fiction is anymore. The term has become empty, or misused. The term has been diluted and at odds with itself through its various definitions.

Which in turn has led to no small amount of confusion among both readers and writers alike. It’s hard to go a few days anymore without seeing a discussion of Science-Fiction online where someone doesn’t bring up a book only to have someone else say “Well, that might be a nice book, but it’s not Science-Fiction and therefore not germane to this discussion.” Or bring up something that they’re working on writing, only to have someone post “I’m sorry, but that’s not Science-Fiction. If you want it to be Science-Fiction you’ll need to dump these elements and do this.

Of course, by hopping into this “debate” there is some risk, in a small way, that I’m simply contributing to what the webcomic XKCD as the “standards” problem. But I’ll try not to, as after all, Science-Fiction has been around for centuries, and a fixed definition for decades now (newcomers trying to change it notwithstanding). So with all this said, let’s dive in, starting with the answer to the following question: what is Science-Fiction?

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Fireteam Freelance – Zhang Li Interview

Welcome to an episode interlude for Fireteam Freelance readers! The interlude is beyond the jump to save anyone from spoilers, so hit it to get started! A list of all episodes can be found at the Fireteam Freelance page.

Interview Excerpt – Zhang Li

The following is a transcript of a vocal interview with the mercenary Zhang Li, or Li Zhang to those of western culture, currently in the employment of the Fireteam Freelance private military company. This interview was conducted by Samantha Stiles on behalf of Mercenary Monthly, and has been edited for clarity and security purposes.

Samantha’s portions of the conversation will be in bold.

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News Time: Upcoming Fireteam Freelance Episodes!

Hey readers! I’ve got some news for you!

For starters, I just finished up Episode 5 of Fireteam FreelanceCatch Your Breath. Which means tomorrow I’ll start work on Episode 6, and we’ll be halfway through the season!

Or I will, anyway. And while you all might be expecting a new episode this Saturday, I’m actually going to drop another interview, this time with the team’s sniper: Zhang “Owl” Li.

Why? For one, I think her interview coming before this episode will give her scenes in it some added context. And secondly, because I’m all right with having a little bit of a buffer as I race to get episode six written.

So this Saturday, the interview with Owl will go live! But that’s not all that will go live. Those of you who have been keeping up will recall the second part of Adah’s interview went up a few weeks ago. Well, this Saturday the uncensored raw of that interview will go up on Patreon for Patreon Supporters. As with Part #1, supporters might find some interesting differences between the two!

So to summarize, new Fireteam Freelance interview this Saturday, new episode next Saturday.

So, with that said, how are you all finding the episodes so far? I can track the stats on my side, and they seem to be drawing in readers. I know they’re a bit different from my usual fare, but have they continued to be enjoyable and entertaining now that we’re four episodes in? Have any of you figured out the timeline of events and started to draw connections between FreelanceColony, and Jungle yet?

After all, this may be episodic, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been weaving this all together carefully with little hints and whatnot!

Anyway, tune in Saturday for the Owl interview (or the uncut Adah interview if you’re a supporter). That’s all for now!

Being a Better Writer: Tools VS Actions

Welcome back readers? I trust you all had a pretty enjoyable weekend? Especially with the newest episode of Fireteam Freelance having released on Saturday?

No official word from me at this time whether or not we’ll see episode five this Saturday, but there will be something (either another interview or an interlude). But until then we’ve got a whole week of content to to think about, of which the most important is today’s Being a Better Writer post.

After all, it is on of the site’s primary features. So without further ado, let’s dive into today’s topic. Which is a bit of an interesting one.

See, today’s topic was inspired by someone in a writing chat room asking for thoughts and opinions on a character sheet they’d assembled for their story, and a trend I noticed with it. A trend that then combined with a more common complaint I’d seen online in the last few weeks and discussed on book sites.

We’ll start with the trend. There were several discussions I’d seen in the last few weeks across writing sites and discussions about so-called “gamification” of characters. Or, to put it another way, writing characters whose abilities felt like they were out of a video game.

I realize this is a bit vague and that’s because there’s not an official term for what these people were discussing (and ultimately complaining about). But what it boiled down to over paragraphs of discussion was … Well, I personally wouldn’t call it gamification, though I see why those complaining about it would. And it does fit. Me, I’d call it “animefication.”

If you’re familiar with anime at all, you’ll know why here in a moment. What readers were complaining of was written work where characters had “attacks” or “skills” that were both names and deployed often in solution of the protagonists/antagonists pursuits.

In other words, they’d be reading a story, and the protagonist would helpfully inform readers that he had a “magical ability named ‘Light Whip’ that would do X” and then any time X came up, they would proclaim “Light Whip!” and use it.

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Fireteam Freelance – Episode 4: Repeat Performance

This is Episode 4 of Fireteam Freelance! The episode is beyond the jump to save anyone from spoilers, so hit it to get started! A list of all episodes can be found at the Fireteam Freelance page.

A reminder that all episodes of Fireteam Freelance are posted in pre-Alpha, pure draft state. As such there may be minor errors, typos, etc as a result of being pre-edit. But you’re getting it for free, so that’s the trade-off.

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Op-Ed: How Covid-19’s Impact Might Be Good for the United States

Hello readers! I’m going to start this post with a bit of a disclaimer. Two, actually.

First, I know Covid-19 has been bad for a lot of people. It’s caused a lot of deaths, and a lot of disruption. There are people who have lost family members and friends because of this, or jobs and livelihoods. At the time of this writing, the global death toll was about 140,000. The goal of this post isn’t to say that Covid-19 (AKA Coronavirus) is good, it’s unmistakably a situation which we should take very seriously. But the impact it’s left on the other claw, could be good. Much in the way an early architectural disaster arising due to unknown elements can lead to a greater understanding of building stresses and safer buildings overall (this has indeed happened).

Second, this post is really only concerned with the United States of America. Because it’s where I happen to live, and where therefore I’m both most familiar with the structure of things as well as the effects Covid-19 has had on that structure. If you’re one of my many readers from outside the US (shoutout to Europe, including Sweden, Norway, Spain, and Finland, New Zealand, Brazil, and even Africa!) then this post may not be quite as relevant except maybe as a curious thought exercise or puzzlement or another opinion piece on how the US functions (or in this case, doesn’t function, as we’re about to discuss).

So, with both those things said, then, let’s move on to today’s post, and how Covid-19’s impact could be good for the US … if we’re aware enough to make it happen.

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