The Edinburgh Dead: A Review

Okay, I’ll be honest, I picked up this book and thought, SCOTTISH FECKIN ZOMBIES.

good strong jaw on that one

It’s not, okay? All right, all right, get your kilts proper straight now. Brian Ruckley’s The Edinburgh Dead is too well structured and artistically crafted for that sort of fun. Just look at that cover.

What Brian Ruckley has done is give me a great crib sheet for my raygun gothic novel. The gothic bit, anyway.  I’ve been wanting my book to sound like Joy Division meets early Daft Punk, but the daft part has just been wallowing in a bit of leftover Raymond Chandler. There was a darkness that was missing from my work, that same spirit that animated Shelley, Wilde, and Stevenson. Brian Ruckley has this in spades, and the book is properly period, with none of the modern allowances you expect from a book this recent. So thank you, Mr. Ruckley, for producing this wonderful onyx gem. Just look at the one-liners:

“The regret in [spoiler]’s voice was all but palpable, and Quire could hear in it a vast acreage of mourning. Mourning, perhaps, for a life gone wrong.”

OOooooo, sweet, sweet candy. Continue reading “The Edinburgh Dead: A Review”

Just Give Me This One

Trigger warning. This post is about the new healthcare bill that just passed the house. Frankly I don’t believe you should have the option to block information you don’t like to see just because you don’t like to see it. That’s the mark of profound stupidity. But I live up to my own standards, which include giving you a choice to move on and wait for the next blog, which I think will be about puppies or something. So you get the lazy man’s spoiler censor. Just highlight if you want to keep reading.

Continue reading “Just Give Me This One”

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.


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!

The Aeronaut’s Windlass: A Review

My To Be Read list is enormous, not helped by commuting four hours a day to a job that, in the words of my old superior there, “demanded loyalty from its employees but gave none in return.” No love lost there when I left a couple weeks ago. The last time I went looking for work (years ago) I had a lot of difficulty finding something where my skills were of use. Apparently I’m worth a lot more than I thought, because it took exactly one week of applying before I got an official offer of employment. My commute is reduced to 20 minutes, HR has a comprehensive on-boarding despite it being the director’s first week, and I have clear goals and job descriptions. I actually expect a useful answer when I ask a question! Anyway, I digress.

The upshot of which is I have a lot more time to be getting back to the aforementioned TBR list, coinciding with a useful trip to the library. It also means I no longer have an excuse not to be reading Jim Butcher’s The Aeronaut’s Windlass.” This is a book that ignited the unknown writer’s fury in me in 2015, because it occupied the top slot of the bestseller’s list on Amazon’s #steampunk category…

…two months before it was out.

Look at that handsome mother

Butcher is an established author with plenty of sales numbers to back up that sort of marketing investment. But the fact that it had a gorgeous cover and immediate genre domination despite this being Butcher’s first foray into steampunk was galling. Steampunk is heavily reliant on aesthetic. If you try to read The Difference Engine on a first pass it sounds more like Blade Runner than Boneshaker. If you see a beautiful cover it usually means the lack of the sorts of historical references that Cherie Priest does so well; generally, authors fill in that knowledge gap with the kind of anachronisms usually more common to fantasy world-building. “It’s a different universe, none of the races are 100% human, it’s thousands of years in the future.” I know. I’ve used them before.

Continue reading “The Aeronaut’s Windlass: A Review”

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”