I Finally Finished Iron Blooded Orphans. Also, Some Gundam History.

So last night I ran across the news that Iron Blooded Orphans finally reached its finale sometime last month (#slowpoke). For me, that’s the cue to go find a stream and binge the bejeezus out of one of my favorite things in the entire world: gigantic animated robots beating the shit out of each other. It’s Anime Night, people. This is going to get a bit ranty. 

For those of you who don’t know, Iron Blooded Orphans is the latest in the Gundam series of animated shows that have been declared one of Japan’s cultural treasures. The staying power of Gundam is partially its ability to move a whole lot of plastic on modelling sprues, a hobby that seems to connect nerds of every generation and serves as a benchmark for whatever is in vogue for anime through the years. Gundam is also a series with some great traditions that may seem confusing or pointless to a casual anime fan, of which I’ve compiled a bit of a list:

  • Politics. A shitload of politics.
  • Belongs to the “real” school of robot anime as opposed to the “super” version. That means robots are subject to limitations like fuel, or the tendency to burn up in the atmosphere, or pilots being crushed to death instead of fading into a shower of fairy dust.
  • Bland, often repetitive visuals that more or less serve as backdrops to some amazing voice acting. This is almost always completely lost in a translation to English, even when you have spectacular actors. In latter series, this tendency is exacerbated by CG and the abuse of slightly modified stock footage.
  • Different parallel universes that each encompass several series of Gundam, often with no obvious way of telling them apart from each other.
  • most of all a tendency to jump from plot point to plot point with scene breaks that often ignore whole days between meaningful events. This is to speed things along and jump from the aforementioned political points to some mech on mech action. See: Reconguista in G, Z Gundam, and the original Mobile Suit Gundam, sometimes known as Gundam 0079.

Continue reading “I Finally Finished Iron Blooded Orphans. Also, Some Gundam History.”

Introspection and Role Play

So I’ve been thinking about D&D a lot. As I said, the wife and I are huge fans of Critical Role and today Matt Mercer just unloaded a bunch of therapy today. You’ll probably find it eventually on the Geek and Sundry Youtube Channel  or their twitch channel if you subscribe.

Some of what my wife and I talked about started to percolate, and one of those topics was having your real life experiences start to creep into your game. That’s normal and encouraged, every good story draws on experiences. But there’s drawing from what you know and there’s metagamining, which is using knowledge you have as a player to make decisions as a character. For example, if you as a player witnesses a private conversation, you can’t simply have yourself as a character do something convenient to take advantage of what you heard. In writing, this is known as a deus ex machina. Depending on how lenient your DM is, metagaming could be a big no-no.

OR IS IT?

I was thinking about how I make decisions from day to day, and sometimes stuff works out for me because of an instinctive or unexplained reason. People draw on intuition or a reason that cannot be articulated to make a decision. Makes you think. What if each of us is a player and there’s some dice-rolling douchebag controlling our every action? Or, what if there was a D&D mechanic that takes intuition into account?

Let’s say you were gaming and wanted to make a metagaming decision for you character. Instead of dropping a rock on you and killing you outright, the DM turns to you with a wry smile and asks,

“Make an introspection check.”

So you roll the dice, and add your introspection modifier to see if you can do it. But, oh shit, your character has been neglecting their meditation, or they haven’t read a book in a really long time. Or, they’ve been making shitty rolls and you’ve been getting really mad at them, and your modifier has taken a hit from lots of decisions like that. So your character has lost their intuitive or spiritual connection to you, the player, and doesn’t make the roll. Alternatively, the player has been whispering really well to the character, making lots of choices in line with their alignment, and guiding them towards contemplating the choices they’ve done, boosting their modifier, and you actually get to make that totally cheating move, saving your character from certain doom.

Basically, I’m treating the player as a guardian angel or a daemon in the service of the character. You can RECOMMEND a metagaming decision, but your character has some autonomy based on what you’ve done before. It’s an interesting dynamic, so comment below!

To Stride With Death

My wife and I love Geek and Sundry, in particular the Dungeons and Dragons show Critical Role. We were watching it last night and @matthewmercer made an off-hand comment that he doesn’t allow @Marisha_Ray  to ride a motorcycle. I have to assume this was a mutual agreement, considering who they are. More importantly, as a two-wheeled aficionado who is still alive after ten years, I have to politely protest that point. D&D is a form of therapy for a lot of people, and lovers of D&D should understand what it is to stride with death for a moment and better know her. Ironically, @VoiceOfOBrien created a gorgeous blightscape of a campaign last night, complete with gruesome mortification that drives home the point I’m trying to make here. 

While statistically you are more likely than not to kill yourself in a motorcycle accident, this is a case where the numbers lie their ass off. First of all, the incidence of unlicensed riders getting into accidents are much higher for bikes. Second of all, the actual number of motorcycle deaths accounted only for 13 percent of all motor vehicle deaths in 2015. So where are all the other deaths coming from? It’s not like you’re going to kill three other passengers along with yourself if you ride drunkenly into a tree. If you try to ride drunk you’ll likely highside at low speeds into a curb, or grab so much throttle you wheelie out.

Continue reading “To Stride With Death”

On Atheism and Responsibility

A long time ago I decided to stop practicing my father’s religion, Buddhism, and declare myself an atheist. That’s very different from not believing in its ideas, which are very good: pacifism, for instance. And it has been hard to practice pacifism in a world where almost everyone subscribes to one religion or another, and assumes I do too. This post is about how I come to peace with the religious, day after day. Continue reading “On Atheism and Responsibility”

What the Hell Am I Writing? And More March 2017

So this month a lot has been happening, but unlike other bouts of what Hemmingway calls the “death loneliness that comes at the end of every wasted day of your life,” my inspiration has only been growing and fueling my writing, not sapping it. What’s that? You’ve seen bugger-all that’s new? Sorry. I swear its coming.

The happiest thing that happened and the first priority in my life is that my wife is feeling better than she has for a long time. We hit on a good vitamin and electrolyte regimen, and her nerves seem to be healing well. I am pretty sure it is not wishful thinking, since she is slowly picking up remote work and recovering a lot of stamina. There are still bad days. There are days I burn completely being on call, and worrying about my wife’s spasms when I should be writing. But more often than not she’s feeling strong enough to argue with me, which is a dubious pleasure but one that fills me with a deep gladness that I think only truly happily married men experience. Despite everything, she’s still the best thing that’s ever happened to me.

An update on motorcycle maintenance. Because of the very cold weather, I haven’t gotten the gumption to work on my Ducati Monster. My fingers freeze in my drafty rented garage, but i managed to prop her up, clean her chain, and prepare other things for the big strip-down. Legitimately, with work and domestics and writing and caregiving, I can’t give the bike the attention it needs. But I think mostly it’s that I’m procrastinating.

I think that’s because the Monster is something where success is completely dependent on me actually doing it, and not like all the other things that involve other people. So long as I don’t buckle down and fix the Monster, its still completely mine. But the instant she hits the asphalt roaring, that opens the door to people judging her. What I settled on because of budget, the quality of the rebuild, her relative age, everything that I felt was me suddenly being out there for people to tear apart. Maybe literally, if they don’t check their blind spot.

And I’m deeply afraid of that right now. There’s just so much judgment in my life. My family judging my marriage, my work judging my writing when I’m judging myself for prostituting it to make a living. So much isn’t mine to control that half the time I want to burn it all down. The other half wants to cower in a blanket fort. For an introvert to constantly feel this way is kind of a Jungian hell: the featureless room is just always with me. A constant social pressure that I always have to go back to, because if I don’t I won’t be able to preserve the things I care about, like my wife.

Which brings me to my writing, a source of great therapy and great disappointment both. My wife says my output is slightly behind Stephen King’s, even though the published portion is small, and that at my age he was in the same place. My editor humored my sudden burst of insecurity with some incredibly kind words. But at the end of the day my writing doesn’t put food on the table, and barring an incredible stroke of luck, won’t do so for a long time. Authors take a huge plunge when they choose to support their craft full-time. But it’s not just my life I’m gambling, so I can’t do that.

So every weekend I open my garage door. I find some small thing to do to the Monster. Then I go back inside and I work on my own writing as much as I can. Inevitably I’ll have to return to my other duties, but for a couple hours I can feel like my life is my own again, even if it doesn’t have any physical return. It’s got meaning, which is as sustaining as food. I sit at my laptop (new chromebook now, so I can do more on the train) and I crank out new stuff. Short stories, new novels. Ideas that may never see the light of day, but its material I feel compelled to make. And who knows? Maybe you’ll find meaning in it too.

 

Universal Healthcare as Self-Preservation

You are walking down the street and have a sudden asthma attack. You’d never had one before, but the strain to catch every breath is like the icy grip of death. You know this can kill people if untreated, so you walk into a nearby pharmacy. Every step to reach the counter is torture, and every gasp feels like your last. It is difficult, even, to tell the clerk what you need.

“Sir,” you manage as best as you are able, “I appear to be suffering from acute asthmatic symptoms stemming, I believe, from the fracking operation and copious coal mining just outside this fine establishment. I require an emergency albuterol inhaler or some other type of bronchodilator, stat. Also I am a doctor of pulmonology and this is all rather ironic, don’t you think?”
This is all you manage to get out before your breath escapes you.

“All right. I just have to call a doctor to diagnose your symptoms.”
“Sir, I am myself a pulmonologist. There is also a pulmonology colleague I see at the next counter–”
“My doctor recommends you get a second opinion from a specialist,” the clerk cuts you off.

“All right,” you say with increasing difficulty. You turn to your colleague, who is already writing you a prescription for the medication. You respectfully hand it to the clerk, who pushes it back at you. Your colleague, realizing her error, takes out her smartphone and calls in the script digitally. The clerk looks at the two of you blankly until his monitor beeps. Several people are lining up behind you.

“That appears to be in order,” says the clerk. “I just have to see your insurance.”
“Here it is,” you say. You wait an agonizing twenty minutes while the clerk runs the documentation. The line accrues like the inevitable crud that builds up on the insides of toilets.

“Ah,” says the clerk finally. “There is a problem. The medication is not covered by your insurance.”
“What? Why?” asks your colleague, flummoxed. Meanwhile, you are doing your best impression of a fish out of water.
“The insurance’s specialists have decided you do not need this medication. Instead, they have prescribed you an alternative,” says the clerk. He places a folded paper bag on the counter and waits expectantly.

“That is not an acceptable form of treatment,” says your colleague, livid.
“The insurance company says it is,” says the clerk blankly. He does not comprehend why a common vessel made of flattened dead tress  is not equivalent to life-saving medication in a quick-delivery aerosol.
“Who at the insurance company?” your colleague demands.
“Um,” the clerk hems and haws. “The… ahh… accountant. Apparently they are not covering pre-existing conditions.”

“I literally just got this outside.”

You seize the paper bag anyway, and desperately breathe into it. Or, you try, but the bag is shoddily made and doesn’t hold air. With your dying breath, you say:
“I am very angry with you, but as you are a gormless minimum wage worker who nevertheless cannot contradict company line for fear of economic reprisal, yet are empowered to arbitrate for a faceless soulless profit machine, I can do nothing.” You die.

Later, your colleague also dies, but from an antibiotic resistant strain of zombie virus. She contracted it from a brunch shrimp sammie that was made by a low-wage worker who could not afford to see a doctor. Zombies slowly take over the world, starting with everybody on the pharmacy line. Also, the clerk dies trying to drive on a road built by a libertarian. It’s paved with uninformed claims written on cheap paper stolen from Ayn Rand’s desk.

The End.