Thursday, October 19, 2017

No Offence Intended

Trigger Warning: This blog includes words and language associated with hate and bigotry. These terms are used in an academic discussion of art and no hate is endorsed. If this language has a negative impact on your mental health, maybe skip this one.

Spoiler Warning: I'm going to spoil parts of Pilgrimage and Summer's End in this blog. If you haven't read them, go read them. You'll enjoy them. Keep reading at your own peril.

In the first chapter of Pilgrimage, Roland is people watching in a bar and he sees Lloyd enter and intimidate Griffith. Not knowing the context and being just a little drunk, Roland assumes Lloyd is hitting on Griffith and, in a moment of casual homophobia, describes Lloyd as a faggot.

Since the book's release, one person has told me they could not stand for the use of the word and did not read further. I get that.

But the word exists. People use it. The fact that a reader might be disgusted by Roland's usage is kind of the point. Roland is a terrible person. That's the beginning of the arc, and his use of the word helps show the reader how terrible he is. Roland is less obscenely homophobic later. It perhaps doesn't come through quite as well that homophobia is somewhat inherent in the culture that Roland exists in at the beginning of the story. These people are real, that culture is real, homophobia and the word faggot are real.

Is that justification, though? Haven't I gone on record saying realism is poor justification for the events of fiction?

Both film maker Mel Brooks and Mark Twain have famously used the word nigger in their works. Works of comedy. In the case of Mel Brooks, it is appropriate to the era of Blazing Saddles, but Blazing Saddles is so anachronistic and so unconcerned with realism that one can hardly say it uses the word as an acknowledgement of reality. Mark Twain was writing in a period where nigger was not only in open common usage, but was acceptable by the society around him. There are places in the English speaking world where it is still accepted by society.

But as I've said, realism is poor justification. I think this applies. Just because people say nigger and faggot does not give us licence to use those words as a reflection of that ugly reality. Hell, there are black Americans who choose to reclaim the word nigger and use it to described themselves and those around them. There are also black Americans who frown on its usage in that way. Even then, I'm not convinced that its use by some people as a positive or even neutral term is implicit permission to use the word.

It's generally accepted that Mark Twain and Mel Brooks have used nigger in a permissible way. The reason for this is the same for both of them. Social satire. They do not just use the word as set dressing, they acknowledge the history and weight of the term, and juxtapose its meanings against characters that defy the stereotype suggested by racism. Bart and Jim are not just main characters who happen to be black, they are black heroes that challenge a villainy that is accepted in society both in the plot and in the subtext. There is a thematic weight behind their usage that recognises that these words are tools of oppression and dehumanisation and that their acceptance by society is a crime.

Pilgrimage has thematic weight. My intention was always for the novel to be a complicated and mature story about redemption and friendship. Roland his a terrible person, his homophobia establishes that he is a terrible person and the novel does not endorse him as he is at the end of the book, but rather his redemption.

Summer's End also has thematic weight. The story acts as something of a metaphor for the expansion of cities at the expense of small rural communities, and it takes a heavily anti-city approach. It attributes corruption to cities as natural and youthful innocence to small towns. Summer's death and the cover-up are the city and the country at odds. But nary a usage of bigoted language in the whole novel. If Summer's End has something to say about humanity and society, would it have justified using a word like faggot?

No. It's not enough. Blazing Saddles and Huckleberry Finn aren't just about society, they are specifically about race within western society. I mean, that's probably obvious. The justification works not because they are intelligent works, but because the usage of nigger is part of that intelligence.

Does Pilgrimage meet that test? When I wrote it, I thought it did. I was pretty confident that it made it clear that I and the novel did not endorse hateful language or homophobia. I don't. I used the word to a specific and deliberate purpose that highlighted that Roland is bad and his views are bad.

Or so I thought.

It certainly does the job of establishing Roland is a bad person. But does it also establish that his language is bad? Not really. In fact, it relies on you acknowledging that the language is bad to understand Roland's views are harmful. That this language is wrong, as a specific subtextual point made by the narrative, is not really there.

But then, in a sense, Mel Brooks and Mark Twain also need you to understand that the language is wrong, but neither Lloyd of Griffith are homosexual and so it lacks that juxtaposition to of stereotype to hero. You the reader must acknowledge the language is hateful and that the hate is wrong. And basically everything Roland does in those early stages of the book is wrong. He's unkind, violent and unhelpful. Everything he does is wrong in some way, and a lot of it is hurtful to those around him. That is the point.

At this point we've done something of a circle around the subtext. It both relies on reader's assumptions and pushes an anti-hate agenda. In fact, the whole novel has a strong anti-hate agenda. As a result, I'm conflicted. Using the word faggot was meant to accomplish something and it accomplished it. It perhaps also accomplished more, but didn't accomplish as much as it should. Ultimately, what I am sure, is that it was clumsy.

And it's not up for me to decide whether I went too far. It's up to the reader. And if I did and you were offended, I am sorry. My use of the word was intended, but the offence was not.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Diary of No Fate (A Shadowrun Actual Play) pt4

One week later...

The smog was light, this morning, and the air conditioners were only drizzling by the time I put on my armoured running clothes, my respirator, and chucked a medkit, Fightgar and Firebert into my backpack. This junior Shadow Commando knows how to be prepared!

I saw all the usual suspects on my run: Lai Ying, the fish guy; Sau-ha, the junk guy; Tak-Wah, the cabbage guy; Mei-Yee, the reagent woman; Li, the rock guy; Li, the other fish guy; Li, the soy beef guy; and Steve. I'm not sure what steve does, but he was there, too, just like every morning. I said good-mornings to them all and a few even said good morning back, like, at least three. It's only been six months, but they're already warming to me. I thought it'd be hard to make friends with Ares assigning you relationships, but I guess I was wrong. 

Speaking of friends, by the time I'd finished my run, Panda had sent me seven messages. Most of them emoticons. I'm not sure what they meant, but they seemed like friendly emojis. She's been doing that a lot this week. I appreciate it, although since I had to use the Metalink for Business and now Panda, Spook, and Sailor Van can contact me on it, I'm going to have to throw it into the harbour, as well. No offence, chummers, but the metalink is for Sapphire, not for No Fate.

I also saw a lot of triad teamsters out early. Much earlier than normal. All of them flying colours, but not the same colours. I made a note to look out for any important looking funeral processions. I saw Rok out on his balcony, when I got home, on his 'link, looking like a vatjob about to Overstress. I wanted to offer my sussing services, but you don't interrupt a man on his 'link. That's just rude. Anyway, I figure Rok for a mentat, and let's be honest, kludge is more my style.

It took me most of the last week, but I'd gotten the apartment cleaned, santized, and everything smelling like lemon again. I do love the smell of lemon. Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to smell fresher. I have enough lemon air fresheners for them all. But all that meant the Ramshankle and the warhawks were overdue for routine maintenance. Like Gunhaver says, it doesn't matter what skills you're bringing if the only gear you've packed is drek.

That took me through to lunch. I saw Rok pacing by his window, still on his 'link, still looking like somebody pissed in his Commandos-Os.

I headed over to the Poor Mystic's Market on foot. After a busy morning, I had a craving for something with more body than soymeat on a stick. This girl needed some carbs. I was also in the mood for a traditional Chinese dish. It must have been my lucky day, because Li was cooking up fresh steamed rice and Mongolian Soy Lamb. Omae, that ticked all the boxes. I ate by the stall and made small chat with Li. I mentioned the unusually high number of triad gangers on the street, even for Yau Tsim Mong. He said he had a bad feeling, like something big was about to go down. I remarked about funeral processions, mostly for my own amusement, but Li got it. He totally got it. Wiz. Another classic flatvid fan.

All out triad war hadn't broken out when I finished lunch, so I said goodbye to Li and headed home. No sign of Rok in his windows, so I knocked on his door. No answer. I gave him a call, left a message to contact me if he needed help with something. Us dwarves have to stick together, you know. Rok appreciates that kind of sentiment. I even knocked on Upstairs Li's door to ask if he'd seen Rok, but Upstairs Li just said he'd seen him leave around an hour ago and didn't know where.

Note to self: Next time you need a name for a fake SIN, go with Li. There's a million Li around here. Li? Lis? How do you pluralise Li?

With Rok nowhere to be found and no problems for me to solve, I decided to head back to Kowloon and continue exploring the abandoned amusement park. There's a couple of roller coasters I haven't run, yet. I'm starting to think maybe I should try and fix them up, see if I can't get them running. Maybe Sailor Van would like to help. I'm sure he knows how to fix stuff. Upstairs Li said there were supposed to be some monster birds out that way, which got me more excited, but I didn't see any. Disappointing, I know. I also received a lot more emojis from Panda. Lots of spam, stress faces and then drek. I told her that's what happens when you eat too much dairy, but that it would pass. Literally. And I guess it did.

I took a detour to Tsim Sha Tsui on the way home. I finally remembered where I put the stolen gear from the Happy Cow run, so I stopped in at Mr Choi's to fence that. I asked him if he'd seen Rok (he hadn't) or if he knew anything about the triad show of force around Yau Tsim Mong (he didn't.) He had noticed it, though, and word was something big was coming. He warned me not to go wandering around unarmed and unarmoured, and that maybe I should look at getting a better jacket. He also said that shorts and pink hair aside, I did have a habbit of dressing and carrying myself like an off-duty knight, and one day that's likely to get me shot by a ganger. He has a point, and I guess old habits die hard, but I that's a problem I have a solution for.

Say it with me now: No Fate shot first!

Just call me Greedo.

Mr Choi didn't have anything new besides sound advice in stock, so I headed into the markets. I was long overdue for a new 'link, two, in fact, and found a stall selling three for the price of two. Wiz. Past and future harbour tours aside, the Metalink is drek and I've been meaning to upgrade. Three new Sensei's in the bag, my work was done and I had an evening of market browsing to do. Or, so I thought.

Rok called, sounding like he'd found the guy who pissed in his Commandos-Os, and he was planning Garbage Detail for them. He told me that I liked hero work and I had friends, so he had a meeting for me, tomorrow at lunch with Ms Wu.

No markets for this girl. I buzzed. Junior Shadow Commandos know they need at least seven hours of sleep to be at their best, and Gunhaver accepts nothing but the best.

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Diary of No Fate (A Shadowrun Actual Play) pt3

Note to self: Buy new commlink. Don’t let Panda near it.

Did you know there's actually more smog in Hong Kong in the morning? It's true! I usually wait for the sun to be up before I go for a morning run, but since I had to meet Stardust and Mr Choi this morning, I went for a run just before dawn. Maybe it's the way the sun rises in the spaces between skyscrapers, peaking through the AC clouds dripping condensation onto Yau Ma Tei, but for whatever reason, when the sun first climbs over the horizon, scattering its brilliance across the skyline, you can really see the smog over Kowloon Bay in light and colours that you just can't any other time of day. What a world we live in. I was going to say this to Stardust when I pulled the Ramshankle up outside Mr Choi's store, but when I saw her, I was suddenly struck by how much her hair looks like a splendid soggy sunrise. It completely threw off my train of thought. Luckily, Stardust was quick to remind me that we were here for some reason and that it was, or should be, something important, and we should get going.

Mr Choi had my pants ready and a stockpile of heavy pistol gel "hats" to distribute to Panda and Spook. I introduced him to Stardust and they got to talking about clothes and fashion right away. Mostly about mine, now that I think about it. Neither of them get me. I have a style and my style is fine. It's, like, Knight Errant chic. Yeah, French. You know it's fancy. Anyway, while I tried on the pants, I mentioned that we had another request concerning the upcoming run and Stardust would fill him in. I'd already asked Mr Choi for one rush job and he'd thrown in some free pants, so I didn't want to press my luck. He's never been unfriendly to me and I'd like to keep it that way. The thing about dwarves is that everything’s arctic until it isn’t, then it really isn’t. So, while I slipped into something a little less comfortable (What? I like my shorts! They’re my thing!) Stardust discussed our need for disguises. She had seen the logo for a Mitsuhama owned security company (Overwatch) while floating over Happy Cow facility. We needed some fake Overwatch maintenance uniforms as a cover, and we needed them in less than 12 hours. Mr Choi could have them for us in eight, and he had samples of the Overwatch uniform patches (and a whole lot of other patches) already, but a rush job costs rush job money. Then, out of interest, Mr Choi asked about the run and when we explained, he agreed to lower the price if we brought him back a sample of Smoke Eel (or was it Smoked Eel? Eel Smoke? Smoking Eel? Drek, I don’t know. They all sound terrible.) A small task to save creds. Null sweat. This was, after all, why I brought Stardust. She has a certain mysterious charm about her, Avant Garde and tribal at the same time, with just a touch of the elven. It’s unique, and some dwarves have a natural appreciation for unique. Like Mr Choi. I’m talking about Mr Choi. He’s one of those dwarves. My mind is always on the job, and when it’s not on the job, it’s on finding the next job; just like Gunhaver.

Speaking of jobs, the hours before always have that calm before a storm quality. They click by slow, then, like the sunrise, suddenly it’s go time. Like a dwarf’s affection, it’s arctic until it’s hotter than a wizworm’s temper. Stardust and I parted ways for the rest of the day. Meanwhile, Spook and Sailor Van had fetched the corp profile and the boat. Panda no doubt preloaded on spam the way you preload on soy before a long run, the way you preload a heavy pistol with gel hats before a smash and grab. Make no mistakes, brawl fans, there’s never been a grab where something or somebody didn’t get smashed. Other than collecting the uniforms at four o’clock, I spent my day asking that eternal question that burns at the heart of all metahumanity.

How’s the serenity?

What? You didn’t think you’d get through the page without an obscure flatvid quote, did you? Omae, you know me better than that.

I threw Firebert, Reynolds, my Ganhaver Replica Armoured Duster, and a random selection of tools from the workshop into a duffel bag, loaded up the ramshankle and burnt rubber all the way to Sailor Van’s boat house (sure, you can’t burn much rubber in a ten-minute drive at 40k/h, but what rubber you can burn, I did.) We piled in the loaner boat, went over the plan again, geared up in faux Overwatch jumpsuits, and let Sailor Van (he boats and drives, I see where the name comes from) take us out to Happy Cow. We skirted the cliffs, waited for the water zonies to buzz, then moused into the nearest dock. So far, chummers, this is what we call wavy.

How long could it last?

We dropped ourselves at the far side of the island, with a couple K woodland between our dock and the Happy Cow facility. Sailor Van had the dog-brain move the boat around to the south dock, closer to Happy Cow, and we jammed over-land on foot. Apart from a stumble here and a minor navigational glitch, we made wiz time. We hopped a fence, using my Gunhaver coat to cross the barb wire (they say you’re not real, Gunhaver, but you’re out there with me on every run. If that’s not real, I don’t know what is) and headed for the barghest pens. The last thing any of us needed was a run in with a critter as angry as chromed up chiphead running bad sims. Good thing we’re professionals with a plan, because that plan got us to the pens the same time as the zonies, or in this case, just one zonie with his head too far up his drekhole to notice us. This is why you hire KE, chummers. Always get the best. We waited until the zonie got close, then Sailor Van took a swing at him. He might have weathered that and come through okay if Spook didn’t follow up with a burst from his Ingram. We bound him, left him in some bushes, relieved him of his professional tools (including his helmet, with integrated ‘link), and headed for the labs.

I can’t tell you what a relief it was to know we wouldn’t have critter problems. Panda, flash deck jockey that she is, even turned off the cage’s matrix connection so they couldn’t be let out once the drek hit the fan. I mean, so far the run was wavy, but how long could it last?

Using the zonie’s ‘link and key, we let ourselves into Happy Cow Ice Cream’s labs. We opened the door and stepped into a security check point. They looked at us. We looked at them. We looked at them. They looked at our stolen helmet and key. We looked at them reach for a PANICBUTTON.
They looked at me draw a taser. We looked at the taser glitch and the battery pop out as I pulled the trigger.

Turns out wavy lasts about that long.

The run went from arctic and wavy to wizworm hot and covered in drek in less time than it took me to scoop up the battery and try the trigger again, and if you haven’t noticed, omae, kamikaze junkie’s can’t match this girl for speed. Things went real bad real fast, is what I’m saying. We’re talking S03E24 season finale ‘Who Will Have Guns?’ bad. But we’re still professionals, and while Panda and Sailor Van focused on getting us through the remaining doors and into the security office, Stardust, Spook and yours truly put our focus on dusting zonies. Non-lethal dusting, of course. Stardust laid down some heavy mojo, Spook hit them with his gel loaded Ingram, and while I wanted nothing more than to bring out Reynolds and Firebert and let them have their say, it was faster and quieter for me to use the zonies’ own tasers on them. When I ran out of darts in one, I borrowed another one.

Even though we were out-numbered and couldn’t stop the zonies hitting their PANICBUTTON, it looked like we’d get the sitch under control. Then the drones rolled out. Two tiny tanks opened fire on us, bleeding Panda while she tried ducking for cover behind a security cyber terminal. Poor Spook panicked and shot one of the drones with his gel rounds, which splattered ineffective on its chassis. Poor guy. Running’s not for the faint of heart. Still, he’ll learn. We all start somewhere.  Panda wanted to try and disable and adopt one of the drones for Van to rig, but we’d hosed this job enough. I made sure both drones fried before they could frag us.

Security down and bound, drones turned to slag, and an empty research facility before us, we set to work on the grab part of this smash and grab. Panda gave us security clearance, and watched over the security systems with Van. Spook, Stardust and yours truly found some coolers and searched the labs until we’d found Mr Wu’s experimental flavour, plus a few extras, including Mr Choi’s Smoke Eel (smokey eel?) and the formulae for both. Job officially done, we bugged out before any we could get in deeper drek.

We made the rendezvous with time to spare, handed off the samples and the formula, then headed back to my place. I had the closest freezers and we needed to store Mr Choi’s ice cream until morning. And as for that other ice cream…

As for that other ice cream.

That damned ice cream.

Five flavours, mostly marine flavoured. Cute names like Oystravaganza and Caramel Krill Swirl. It all seemed so innocent.

Then came the vomiting, and the orgasms, and the wiglies, the brain bending, mind numbing, eye opening, jaw dropping, cliché listing experiences that sprayed across my living room floor, clogged my sink and overflowed from my toilet. None of the flavours sounded apetising, so I passed. Never have I been so thankful for my delicate and risk-averse gwailo tastes.

I like to think I’m a welcoming host, but even yours truly has limits and even this girl needs sleep eventually. I let them all take their experimental awakened ice creams to do with as they pleased, cleaned up, and went to bed. By morning, the escrow had our money, bonus and all. That’s good because I’m going to need to replace my rug.

It really tied the room together.


Carl's player note: Skimmed over in this entry is our embarassing lack of preparation in regards to the formulae we found. We needed to hand it off in a matrix dead zone but had no datachips. Fortunately, every device has plenty of storage, electronic eskis included, so Panda plugged her deck into one of them and transferred the file with the physical sample. This, unfortunately, came with a malware attack, which then spread to No Fate's commlink with the smoke eel formula. Rather than bother trying to fix it or risk further damage, No Fate chucked her 'link in the harbour, popped over to a Snack Shack for a data chip, and had the formula transferred to that once Panda finished cleaning the malware from her deck. Salvaged the formula, but couldn't salvage her collection of spam pictures. Hence, No Fate's reminder to herself at the beginning. Her diary is really all about her wins and her love of Gunhaver trids and classic flatvids, so such a mistake has no place in her personal notes.

I also failed to mention, in the last entry, that Stardust, in her astral projection, had seen the critters being used to patrol the grounds and the Overwatch logo on security uniforms/equipment. No Fate didn't see it, but she was filled in, and its omission was an oversight on my part. Important information that No Fate should have mentioned but I, in my worry that the entry was dragging, forgot. Thus the sudden mention of them in this one.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Diary of No Fate (A Shadowrun Actual Play) pt2

I'm never eating ice cream again.

That's how this run began. With ice cream. Panda's fixer had set up a meet with Mr Wu at Emac & Bolios, a Central ice cream parlour, and to bring some help. Stardust, Spook, Sailor Van and yours truly were the last people she ran with, and I guess that put us at the top of her list.

Gunhaver says you never walk into a meet blind, so I like to get to any meeting place early and scope it out. You've got to be some kind of burnt out chip-head to try anything Downtown; you'd have knights on you like a Ghede Fly on drek in seconds, but it never hurts to be cautious.

By the time everyone else showed, I’d satisfied myself the meet wasn’t a set up. The others arrived on time, punctual and dressed for Business. At least, I think Stardust was dressed for Business. I'm actually not sure. She did look nice, though. I mean, you know, if you took the time to notice. I only did because I know the importance of being alert. Personally, I like to take utility over style. Not to say I don't have style, and not to say Stardust doesn't make style work for her.

Anyway, it's not important. I don't even know why I mentioned it. Whatever. Back to the run.

Panda's contact had given her a code phrase to signal we were there for the meet. She was to go in, order a particular sundae, and then she'd be shown to Mr Wu, apparently we also ordered a real sundae, because we soon had ourselves a seat at a booth with one Mr Wu and the biggest sundae I've ever seen. We're talking the Aztech Northwest of sundaes. I had a little. It was good. It's also the last ice cream I plan on ever eating. But as far as last ice creams go, it was wiz.

But just because I wasn't going to eat any more ice cream doesn't mean I wasn't going to see a lot more ice cream in my future. Mr Wu wanted a snatch and grab of a new super-secret ice cream flavour developed by Happy Cow. After we retrieved the formula, deleted all records, (and a sample for a bonus,) we’d make a hand-off to another team by dawn on Friday morning. One more rule: no fragging the labs and no scientist splat-jobs.

Happy Cow does their research on an island between Hong Kong and Macau, making access (and escape) one more challenge on our long list of complications. Still, nothing a handful of professionals can't handle and I am nothing if not professional. It's true. I make my money this way, so by definition, I am a professional. Take that, JackPoint. Who's the fun runner now? Not me, that's for sure.

Having given us a target, a location and a timeframe (two days), Mr Wu excused himself and left us to plan. A wise Cracoktage once said, "Runners who don't do legwork, are runners who end up in the dirt (Wuhuhahe.”) The plan we came up with was safe in its simplicity. We get some intel, we get some disguises, we get some non-lethal ammunition, we get a boat, we steal some ice cream. Sounds like a milkrun to me, omae. Well, the ice cream we were stealing was dairy free, but aint no rules saying you can't do a dairy free milkrun!

Oh man, that joke never gets old.

We split off at that point. Spook and Panda went to go chat with their contacts, and I went to talk to Mr Choi. I needed some gel rounds and I needed them in a hurry, but when I walked into the shop, he had far more pressing concerns. Namely, my pants, or what he considered an insufficient amount of pants. You know, a girl just doesn't get any appreciation for the effort she goes to in order to A) Find denim shorts with this kind of stretch and flexibility, B) Squeeze her fashion unfriendly dwarven thighs into said stretch denim, C) brave motorcycle travel and urban exploration without the slightest regard for the personal safety of her knees. Still, if Mr Choi wants to stitch me up some pity‑pants, I don't mind. While he took measurements and examined fabrics, I explained my rapid need for gel rounds in a variety of forms, enough for me, Panda and Spook. Sailor Van prefers to punch things and Stardust has her own impressive way of dealing with problems. Mr Choi could do it, of course, but he needed a little extra to grease the wheels. I try not to argue with Mr Choi, and paid him the grease he needed.

We also used hats as a euphemism for bullets. I don't think it worked. We'll try something else, next time. Nobody needs 40 heavy pistol gel hats. Maybe socks? Socks might work. Nice thinking, omae.

I let the others know I'd succeeded, and Spook and Panda announced a similar success with their contacts. Stardust mentioned she was heading down to the magic market to speak to a talismongre she knew. I've been wanting an in with a talismongre for some time, now, so I decided to tag along.

The fetishwoman had a nice little shop, and she was as chummy as they come. Stardust only bought some reagents and I asked about the possibility of qi foci once I'm a little more cashed up. She said she could oblige when the time came. We made some small talk until it was time to regroup.

Panda had and moused around the Matrix and dug some general information about Happy Cow. Spook had his contact putting together a corporate profile. Sailor Van had booked us a boat large enough to take us all out to the Happy Cow facility. All that remained was to do some scouting. Sailor Van drove the boat and knew the waters, so she went to scout, Stardust is our astral perceiver and projector in residence, so she went, and Panda, believe it or not, is wiz with a deck, so she went to check the digital opposition.

That left Spook and I waiting by Sailor Van's boat house. We had plenty of time to kill, so I gave him a quick recap of all 9 past seasons of Gunhaver and The Shadow Commandos. He kept telling me that the show is inaccurate, but Gunhaver has been a shadowrunner for decades and I think Spook is still kind of new. It's okay. He's not the only one. We've all got to start somewhere.


I don't know what happened out on the boat, but Stardust, Panda and Sailor Van all came back with few new problems to suss. Happy Cow's facility only took up part of the island and the rest was used by other corporations, and outside the built docks, the island was edged by cliffs, meaning no quiet access short of climbing. Security was tight: zonies inside, bargheist outside, and air drones on standby. We really were breaking into a tiny ice cream fortress. All non-security staff left the island by company ferry just before sunset. Astral wards kept magic spies out, and the island was covered by a local grid only, making connecting from anywhere but the island itself impossible.

But we're professionals, after all, and there's no challenge too big for five professional runners. Well, okay, those cliffs were a problem, but other than a sheer cliff face or two, null sweat. Best of all, I had a cunning plan (aw yeah, classic flatvid quote dropped at the last minute. If you don't get it, try visiting a library once in a while, bakebrain.)

Nothing more we could do tonight, but I told Stardust to meet me bright and early at Mr Choi's store.

Friday, August 25, 2017

The Diary Of No Fate (A Shadowrun Actual Play)

Today I'm doing something a little different. You probably know, by now, that I'm a fan and regular player of Tabletop RPGs. Well, I'm also a fan of RPG Actual Plays. If you know what video game Let's Plays are, it's a similar concept. I play in an RPG, I then write up events of that game, and you (if you so choose) read those chronicles, and I probably bookend it with come commentary, like this. I've actually been doing this for a while, just never shared them.

I have a pretty long backlog of write ups for a Deadlands campaign I've been running for nearly two years. Back in 2012, I was running a superhero game and the write ups for that are still floating around. Anyway, rather than keep them a secret, I've decided to share the love.

Also, this Actual Play is a little different. Standard for an RPG Actual Play is the GM writes up the events of the game as an objective play-by-play and gives some behind the scenes perspective. I'm not running this game, I'm playing in it, and so I'm trying to come at the Actual Play a little differently by writing it up in character.

No Fate is a dwarven physical adept (magically enhanced, rather than spell casting magic) in the year 2075, living in Hong Kong as a shadow runner. She's only been a criminal for about six months, after quitting her Knight Errant job because an eagle spirit told her to. Actually, Eagle just said she is destined to do greater things than work for Knight Errant, and she took that to mean being a shadowrunner because her favourite thing in the world is a TV series called 'Gunhaver and the Shadow Commandos.' But enough set up.

I give you, The Diary of No Fate, Episode 1: Better To Give


All I wanted was to catch a glimpse of Crack Stuntman as he came through Hong Kong International airport. Maybe get him to sign my replica Gunhaver armoured duster. I’d been loitering in arrivals about an hour when the Aleph icon flashed in my AR. My first thought was that it must be some kind of spam in the Ares Trode-band firmware. My second thought was that while this icon, whatever it was, obscured my view, I’d never see the well-polished combat boots of Crack Stuntman and his entourage (does he still have the sponsorship deal with Aztech’s synth-leather line?) go by amongst the see of legs in front of me. It wasn’t until my third thought that I decided to see what Aleph was and why it had decided now was a good time to get all up in my augmented field of view. Tap tap, digital tap.

A job offer. Go to the business class lounge to meet a contact. It wasn’t why I’d come star gazing at the airport, but I had a hunch the Crack Stuntman rumour wasn’t going to pan out and if I turned down work, I’d face not just the chance of coming up short for this month’s rent, but I’d fail Gunhaver. After all, when Gunhaver takes the job, Gunhaver gets the job done. And Gunhaver always takes the job. So, slot the rumours, it’s business time.

When I reached the business lounge, a queue had started to form and it was four chummers long (an eccentric crew of outcasts if ever I’d seen them. Runners all, for sure) before security let us in to meet Mr Wu. Or rather, to meet Eric, since he preferred to keep it casual. I can respect that.
Eric had a problem. He was a gwailo and he’d made a rookie gwailo move. Here in the FEZ, there’s no distinctions between gifts and bribes, and no business (business or “business” if you believe there’s a difference) gets done without appropriate gift exchanges. He had that right, but he’d made the mistake of giving four gifts to one Mr Xiao. If there’s one thing I remember from the Cultural Awareness Seminars Knight Errant ran for us back in Canton, it’s that four is bad juju in Chinese. Now, Eric had a flight to catch, but needed to top up his gifts, too. He’d put a call out to couriers and Aleph had tapped the five of us. Apparently. I still didn’t know where Aleph had come from or who my new associates were, but I knew we had a job to do and that’s good enough for this girl.

Of course, getting five runners and an important package around in a hurry presents an immediate logistical issue. Right here is where I should mention the troll in the room: Sailor Van. He’s a rigger. He’d come to the airport by van (not just a clever name) and could fit us all in together for a drive out to Kowloon. That’s right. Eric’s gift needed delivery to the Shichuan building in Kowloon; branch office of Eastern Tiger Corp. Null sweat. Why should I be worried about a visit to Eastern Tiger? Surely if they were coming gunning for me, they’d have done it in the last month. Yeah. Definitely that.

Gunhaver give me strength.

So, we had a job, and we had transport. What we didn’t have was a price and enough intel. Like Gunhaver says, running with only half the info is running blind, and the shadows are deep enough. I asked Eric what was in the box (What’s in the box!? No heads, far as I can tell. Wow, I haven’t watched that in an elf’s age. Due for another flatvid night) and he qualified it was a gift. Sounds simple enough. I could have pressed for more, but it’d have been poor form and the pretty breeder girl was giving me scowling side-eyes. Scowling side-eyes here being a clever euphemism for straight telling me not to ask what’s in the box. Sensing my cred was on the line with the woman and her exceptionally well contoured cheek bones, I let it go. The silence I made, she filled with a request for half the job’s pay up front. She called it standard. I like those standards. Eric didn’t know enough to argue (still not sure he knew we were runners) and authorised a transfer. A transfer to what? Did this cunning graduate of the Shadow Commando Cadettes (still got the badge around somewhere, and the trophy. Those kids had no hope of beating me on the obstacle course) with the pinkest hair in town just hand over her legit numbers to a Mr Johnson without a second thought? Omae of little faith, of course I didn’t.

I didn’t have to. Aleph had us covered with a shared escrow all set up and ready for the transfer. Sailor Van handed over those details and Eric made the down payment.

With our services paid for, we left Eric and hit the streets. Streets here being an unnecessary euphemism for the car park. I made a stop by the bike to grab my kit, then we loaded in and hit the road. Road here meaning the thing you drive on. No euphemisms this time.

While Sailor Van navigated (old school, no rigging, no pilot programs, just his hands on the wheel. Guess that officially makes him the… Wheelman) I suggested we introduce ourselves formal like. I’d barely said the words before Aleph dropped four names and comm IDs in my AR and filed them away into my contact list. Now, I didn’t spend much time around the Ares software development department, but I was pretty sure, at this point, that Aleph wasn’t standard issue for the Trode-band and it definitely wasn’t installed on my commlink when I woke up this morning. We’ve all heard stories about Technomancers, and it has long been my professional opinion that most of the stories are drek. Still, it’s enough to make a girl nervous.

But I couldn’t sweat that when I had a job to do. Mind on the run, commandos. Distractions are a Predator V to the head.

I’ve already mentioned Sailor Van and the impeccably dressed human woman, whose name is Stardust, as it happens. Don’t know why that sounds familiar. Also along for the ride was a vatjob in a suit going by Spook, and a decker named Panda. She’s an oni and I know as much about oni as I do about spam, which is to say a lot less than Panda. But her skin’s as pink as the hair on my head, and that’s got to count for something.

Just five runners running milk from one side of the FEZ to the other. Would have been null sweat had the traffic not stopped. Would have been very little sweat had the drivers not ditched their cars to bug out. Would have been manageable amounts of sweat had the reason for all this static not been a pack of peaceful protestors (peaceful protestors here being a cunning euphemism for anti-corp drekheads tearing up a noodle house and the local node with it.) While we could all agree that this wasn’t strictly our business, we could also agree that: A) if we didn’t get traffic moving, we’d have to cross Kowloon on foot and nobody wants that; B) Getting traffic moving meant moving along the protestors; C) Screwing with the node was a good way to ruin everybody’s day. You don’t need to be an eight-year veteran of urban tactical security to know that our best bet was hitting the protestors hard, fast and then corralling the locals back into their vehicles with a promise of situation normal. But since I am an eight-year veteran of urban tactical security… I forgot where I was going with that. Guess I just wanted to brag.

Anyway. We hit them hard, we hit them fast. Firebert and Reynald sung with such eloquence that before the protestors could figure out how hosed they were, three of them decided to lay down, share a cup of blood with the road, and rethink their rapidly ending lives. After Sailor Van caved in a skull with his fist, and the rest rushed back to the noodle bar to bunker down, calmly moved along with some arcane whispers courtesy of Stardust. We closed in, using the abandoned cars for cover, and lit them up. Firebert and Reynald kept singing their sweet song, but if anybody gets kudos for literally lighting the place up, it was Stardust and her balled lightning. Turns out she’s not so wiz with first impressions, but chummer knows how to make an impact.

All said and done, we’d fragged a gaggle of gangers and any we hadn’t fragged, bugged out, decker included. Old habits die hard, and I had my KE voice on and dished out orders without thinking. I sent Spook and Sailor Van back to grab our wheels, had Stardust do the sitch-norm announcement, and Panda and I checked out the node. We didn’t find a node, but we found a pile of drek resembling bricked node pieces. Nothing we could do, so we regrouped in the van just as a KE T-Bird came in to clean up. Sailor Van kept us under the radar and we moved on.

With a clean 15 minutes to spare (we got a bonus if we delivered by close of business), we arrived at the Shichuan building. I’d hoped the noodle incident would be enough trouble for one milk run, but a triad scuffle threatening to boil over into major static right by the Shichuan doors had the building in lockdown. Some kind of argument over which triad had rights on a young ork girl. We had no choice but to park and intervene.

So, we parked, and we intervened. Stardust began by enquiring as to the origin of the heated discourse the gangers were having. The gangers posited that she, “Fuck off, bitch.” Sailor Van suggested that they temporarily adjourn all squabbles and resume them some distance from the present location. The gangers countered with the notion, “Fuck off, trog.” Spook pulled his Roomsweeper (wonder if it has a name) and told them to make like a tree (wait for it…) and get out of there (definitely due for a flatvid night). The gangers seemed to like this idea most of all, and split. A quick call to the secretary later, and Stardust had the doors open. A quick chat with the secretary later, and a donation to the Secretaries Retirement Foundation, and we had our weapons checked, our package scanned and the elevator open. Mr Xiao welcomed us into his office with no shortage of confusion, but happily accepted the gift, and we were on our way.

Downstairs, back in the van, Stardust shot a message to Eric to tell him the job was done, and Eric shot the remaining creds to our escrow. It would have all been arctic had it not been for the gangers down the road pointing fingers and making general unhappy motions in our direction. None of us wanted to get caught in more triad biz, though, so we buckled in, Sailor Van jumped in, and we fed them heaping helpings of our dust. I wouldn’t have guessed it, but it turns out Sailor Van is also a Gunhaver and the Shadow Commandos fan. The stunt he pulled with the van, the alley wall and that broom handle under his seat, all while jumped in, is straight out of S08E11 (Drive Hangry, the one with Foxface’s funeral after she fakes her death because she thinks Admiral Flashfight might be a double agent working for Blue Laser Inc.) Uncanny.

It was exactly what we needed by way of an exit plan and the gangers never even made it within shooting range.

Sailor Van dropped us off back at the airport and we made our way home. I had my bike to grab, obviously, and Panda had left some cargo in a locker (I heard spam. I think the cargo was spam.) Back home, I stopped to see Rok and ask if he’d given my name to any other fixers, just in case Aleph was a friend of his. Nothing had come up, so I guess that’s a dead end. Still, a job’s a job and as long as the pay is good and there’s still honour among runners, Aleph can stay.

Oh, and I picked up some dodgy browning knock-offs and a faux HK 277 from the protestors. Mr Choi was only too happy to take them off my hands. Gentleman and a scholar, as always.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

We are one, but we are many

We live in an interesting time, don't we? The 21st Century is a time of rapid unending change. Most of this we can call progress and then shake hands and say "Aren't we doing well? Aren't we so much more enlightened than those who came before us?" Isn't that nice?

But a lot of it is just change. Is the wide availability of a smart phone progress? Sure, you can make that argument. Is the wide availability of the 8th generation of Samsung Smart Phones, now slightly larger, slightly more waterproof and slightly faster, progress? I guess by the strict definition it is, or is it just fashion? And does fashion progress or does it just change?

Regardless, I'm not interested in talking about smart phones. My point is that not all change is necessarily progress. Sometimes change is just change, not good, not bad, just different.

Media, publishing and distribution is changing. Everywhere around us, the main stream is embracing genre fiction and, in particular, sci-fi and fantasy are big money and broadly accepted by our culture. Comics aren't just for children, any more. And how about TV? There's a booming industry. For over a decade, seeminly trapped in a stasis of reality TV and talent shows, suddenly TV is high quality entertainment, telling stories that the big screen never could.

Is any of this progress? Does this better humanity? Probably not in any big way. Mostly it's just change, I think. But not the kind of change I want to talk about.

You know what I love? Robin Hoob: Men In Tights, the Mel Brooks Robin Hood parody film. Actually, I'm a big fan of parody, in general. Flying High? (Airplane, for you yanks) An amazing film. Weird Al? Can't get enough.

There was a glut of parody films for a while, movies like Meet The Spartans and the Scary Movie franchise. It seemed like we had a new one every six months. Alas, they all kind of sucked... A lot. Since then, it's been quiet on the parody front, hasn't it?

Or has it?

You know what else I love? YouTube. If you think the world of parody is quiet or dying, take a look at YouTube and rest assured parody is thriving. Parody music and parody films are in no short supply and they are as varied as the stars. Even Weird Al has lamented that, through the studio system, he cannot keep pace with parody artists on YouTube.

Change. That's what it is. That's what we're seeing in media.

I'm not a film maker or a musician, but I am a writer and the world of publishing is changing. The Internet has given new vigor to the community of independent publishers. More authors than ever are becoming their own publishers as well as writers, using the internet the distribute digital and print books in every genre and in every style. It's a change happening now and happening fast.

But that's still not what I want to talk about. We know the change is happening. Pointing at it like it's a new thing, now, is redundant. "Keep up, Carl. This is old news!"

No, I don't want to talk about writers and publishers and change and the internet and indies and traditional publishing houses and literary agents. At least, I don't want to talk about it on this basic level of mere acknowledgement.

I want to talk about people. Mostly I want to talk about writers, writers who often believe, rightly or wrongly, that they have the biggest stake in the game and that all this change has the biggest impact on them. If you're in the know, as it were, if you're part of the industry and community of writing and publishing, you may have noticed something odd, something a little weird, something that's actually kind of concerning.

I have.

I've noticed that some people, especially authors on either side of the taditional/indie line talk about all this change like it's a war or a bloody revolt, upheaving society at its foundations. Really? Is that how we want to view this change? Is that what this is? Are indies freedom fighters struggling to liberate books from oppressive gate keepers? Are the traditional publishers maintaining order and ensuring quality for the betterment of society, keeping back the wave of poor writing even in the face of a smear campaign by bitter rejected authors? Is this the change we're seeing?

I don't think so, and it concerns me that some people do. Don't get me wrong, there is change in the air. There's change in all facets of life here in the 21st century... But it's not a huge change. As it happens, there have always been authors who publish independently. Before there was Kindle, indie authors used personal websites, before the internet, authors sold their books by hand, paying for printing then carrying them about in boxes to local markets. The size of the pie for indie publishers has perhaps gotten bigger, but it's not like they had no pie before.

And what does this mean for the traditional houses? Well maybe it'll hit them in their back pocket, maybe it'll shrink their bottom line. Maybe it won't. Maybe the book market will struggle against the same external rivals it always has: Radio, cinema, television, sport. I don't have the data, I'm not an economist, and I'm not psychic.

But I'll still make a prediction.

I predict the big publishers and the small press are not going anywhere. I predict the ones that are big enough to weather the storm will survive and the ones who are flexible enough to bend with the wind will survive and the others? Well, they were probably always living on borrowed time. Sorry. Capitalism is a Darwinist bitch.

Things are changing, but probably not as much as you think. There also isn't a war over the soul of publishing and literature going on. Traditional and indie publishers have co-existed since the birth of the industry. As it happens, there is room for both, and both can even thrive.

Indie authors aren't the worst writers, rejected by every publishing house and literary agent on the planet, bringing about the death of literature as we know it with their storm of unedited, thinly veiled fan fiction. I should know, I'm a reasonably well reviewed indie author.

Publishing houses aren't run by fu manchu with the sole purpose of exploiting the struggling sensitive artists, squeezing every cent out of them that they can before tossing the scraps to wolves to make space for the next generation of suckers begging for validation. I should know, I've been traditionally published and I'll gladly go back for more.

The world just isn't that simple.

But one thing is for sure: Everybody, be they agent, editor, author, cover artist, marketer, or what-have-you, we're just trying to get books (in whatever shape they take) into the hands of readers. We'd really like to make some money from it, too. You know, so we can keep eating and being alive long enough to make another book.

And as soon as we smash capitalism, I'll be glad to give up the money part.

Until then, there's no war. We're all in this together and that means the very best road forward for us all is the one paved by cooperation and respect.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Why I Don't Write pt 1

I've said it before and I will continue to say it into the future.

Writer's block doesn't exist.

Writer's block is a myth, a lie, a comforting fabrication. We writers like to discuss writer's block as though it's a disease - it strikes anybody, amateur and professional alike, at any time, in any place and we seek cures for it. How can we overcome writer's block and start writing? Or perhaps we just have to wait it out, like the common cold, until we can start work again. Just hope we don't end up like those poor souls who suffer writer's block for months, even years, on end.

Except none of it's true. There is no writer's block. It is, at best, a shared delusion and, at worst, an excuse to be lazy.

But I've said all this before. So let's say something different.

I don't get writer's block but sometimes I stop writing for long periods of time. There's plenty of reasons and I'm going to talk about a few of them, starting with the least worthy of reasons.


Fun fact: I stopped watching TV for a long time. Around the time Nickelodeon stopped making surreal, creative and interesting cartoons like Invader Zim, The Angry Beavers, and Kablam (except for Spongebob. Spongebob is still going and is the bomb) and began making sit-coms about pre-teens, TV lost its appeal to me. The nice thing about watching movies is that they can be consumed in 3 hours, tops, and then you're free to do other things. Movies are enjoyable bite sized entertainment for a relaxing afternoon.

But then something unusual happened. DC Comics decided to change its business model. It launched the New 52 line of crap comics, began planning a whole shared cinematic universe of awful movies and focused all its effort and quality on TV shows. They began by taking my favourite super hero, The Green Arrow, and giving him a hot new TV series that is in every way amazeballs (amazeballs is the industry term.)

I suddenly had a very good reason to watch TV again and while one TV show might be only 40 minutes, unlike movies, they just keep making more and soon you're watching 14 hours just to get to the end of the story.

I don't think anyone is upset that TV suddenly became good again, this decade, and there's now dozens of high quality serial dramas around and whether you like fantasy, sci-fi, politics, history, there's something for everyone on the idiot box.

And services like Netflix make it easier than ever to watch it all at once. It's easy as pie to lose a whole day binging on your favourite TV show about really sad cute guys with daddy issues trying to save the world.

Writing is work. It's fun work and I enjoy it, but it's also work and it can be hard and you can spend all day writing something, look over and say "Well that was crap" and feel defeated and then you find out The Flash is almost as great as Arrow and now you need to catch up on that.

So sometimes I don't feel like writing, I don't even want to write, I just want to watch more Arrow. Then I might run out of Arrow, sit down to write and I can't focus on writing because at the back of my mind I'm still thrilling over the season finale and I know that Legends of Tomorrow is probably just as great and I should give that a chance, too.

And that can sure feel like writer's block. That can feel like I can't write when, really, I don't want to write, I want to watch move TV and, folks, there's a lot of TV to watch.

Kevin Smith called this Writer's Laze and his poison of choice was Dora The Explorer.

Fortunately, TV is a pretty easy addiction to break. Even if you're not interested in breaking it, even if you still want to watch every new season of Supernatural (and why wouldn't you?) it's generally pretty easy to get away from a TV.

Want to write without the temptation of great serial drama to pull you away? Take your writing tools of choice - laptop, pen and paper, stone and chisel - and go to a park, a library, a cafe and get to work. I've done a lot of writing, some of my best writing, at my local library where the wifi is so slow even checking is a pain and I'd rather write now and look up words later. It's not just an environment lacking easy distracting, it's an environment made for quiet work. It's also cheaper than a library.

I said that a crippling addiction to superhero TV shows is a poor reason not to write, but it's an honest reason. I have no doubt that many cases of Writer's Block are similarly a simple case of "I'd rather do this other fun thing today."

Not all of them, of course. There are far more sympathetic reasons writing might be difficult for you. They're still not this mystical unstoppable writer's block, but they are what we'll talk about next time...