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I Am All the Bad Guys

venom bad guy

A week ago, I voluntarily went to a seminar/exercise about “workplace styles, motivators, and communicators”. I thought this would be good for me to learn ways to be a leader when you’re an introvert. (I’m supposed to be a tech lead in my new job, but so far I haven’t done anything leady yet. And I’m dreading it. None of my experiences with being a leader have been positive or yielded positive results. But you can’t advance in this line of work unless you take some kind of management role. )

Unfortunately, this seminar wasn’t what I thought it would be. I thought they’d bring in a speaker or professional expert on the subject. But it was just a guy who works here (at my new job). And I think most of the attendees were people on his team.

Not to say any of this is bad. The big disappointment was that the content wasn’t what I thought it would be.

I wanted it to be about how to make your personality work with other kinds. Like finding adapters and techniques to work with extroverts, charismatics, etc. It was more about knowing who you are. Well, I already know who I am. I’m ISTJ. Heavily introverted and judging, fair to middling on sensitivity/intuition and thinking/feeling. An analytical person.

personality test word cloud

A large chunk of this class was taking time to take a Meyers-Briggs test on 16 Personalities. I’d taken M-B’s before, but not on this site. It’s got a cute little interface. I found out that these days I’m an INTJ these days, which they label as “architect”. Doesn’t surprise me–the last time I took it, only one point sepearated my N from the S. They’ve also added a -A/T for “identity”, either Assertive or Turbulent (I’m turbulent, which means I like organization and plans). They even had a little list of TV and real-life people that match your personality.

The answers did not please me.

Let’s take a look at the list of so-called “Architects”:

  • Elon Musk (called a guy who rescued kids trapped in a cave a pedophile)
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger (steroid infused actor turned governor turned washout)
  • Vladimir Putin (current stand-in for Saddam Hussein as evil foreign leader)
  • Michelle Obama (former first lady – practically perfect in everyway)
  • Friedrich Nietzsche (asshole philosopher, claimed God was dead)
  • Christopher Nolan (makes films that seem artsy and depth but don’t make sense when you look past the surface)
  • Colin Powell (Republican politician – ’nuff said)
  • Samantha Power (UN ambassador — couldn’t find anything wrong with her, but I’m sure there’s something)
  • Walter White (Breaking Bad – made meth)
  • Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish (Game of Thrones – manipulated several people into his own machination, including one resulting in the death of Eddard Stark)
  • Tywin Lannister (Game of Thrones – stood as judge of his son’s kangaroo court, killed by a crossbow on the potty)
  • Gandalf the Grey (Lord of the Rings)
  • Yennefer of Vengerberg (The Witcher – I have no idea who she is)
  • Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games)
  • Seven of Nine (Star Trek: Voyager – former Borg)
  • Professor Moriarty (Sherlock Holmes’ arch-nemesis)
bad guys club

Yeah, they’re architects. Architects of destruction. Do you see how many bad guys are on this list? How many villains? Even middling good guys I can point out some grievous sins, like Schwarzenegger’s love child with his maid, Elon Musk’s smoking up with Joe Rogan and dating some punky brewster. Even Gandalf constantly abandons his troupe.

And if they’re not bad guys, they’re jerks. Katniss Everdeen was always a bit of a two-faced pill, I thought. The only non-fictional one I could say is all good is Michelle Obama. Did everyone else’s list have this many assholes on it?

anakin skywalker

Why does life seem to keep trying to tell me I’m the bad guy. First I’m in Slytherin and now this. You have no idea how hard it is not to give in to selfish urges, to bite the bullet and do the right thing. It’s always so easy just to fulfill your whims. To eat that entire box of Rice Krispie Treats. To sit on the couch and not help with dinner. To leave your car skewed in that parking space. To buy things you’d like to have just because you want them.

There’s no earthly reward for being good, just for following the rules. You have to be GREAT. You have to be EXCEPTIONAL. Otherwise you’re just one of the cattle, one you don’t need to pay attention to because it never gets out of line. The only reason it stays good is fear. Fear of punishment, fear of consequences. The knowledge that if you do something, someone else is going to suffer and that means you have to give up your desires. It’s a bum deal man.

Couldn’t I have been anyone else from Game of Thrones? Not even Hot Pie? Or Ed Sheeran?

The Books I Read: March – April 2019

bookshelf books
scott lynch lies of locke lamora
The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

It took a little effort to get into it, but it’s worth it. The writing style is sharp, funny. The narrative jumps around a little–both in setting and time–making it difficult to latch on. Like trying to ride a wild fire hose. And there’s a lot of world-building that has to occur. But once you get past that, this book is on par with The Name of the Wind. And that’s a damn good book.

At first I was intimidated by its long length. But it’s worth it. You get really invested in the characters. (Minus points for having so few women). And it’s fun as hell to follow a main character who’s a cad and a thief, not a noble hero. But he’s still loyal to his friends and never acts unfairly. And unlike The Name of the Wind, it’s not so much a series of vignettes but a plot that tapers down then weaves up everything back together. So in some ways, it’s even better. It reminded me a lot of the world of Dishonored. But whereas the tie-in books for that are churned-out junk, this is the kind of world-building, atmosphere, and character development we’re all looking for. Don’t get me wrong, it’s less assassins and more Errol Flynn.

One of the few flaws is that it gets pretty complex. Everyone’s got two, maybe three identities going at one time. But it’s not much harder than following the MCU–who everyone is, what their roles are. Some people might think it takes a while to get to the good stuff. I say there’s good stuff up front, and better stuff as it goes along.

This is a slow burn novel. It takes its time with character development and puts plot-building in the background. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t tension and wanting to learn more. I personally like books that hinge on the relationship between characters and how those dynamics affect what happens next. In fact, I’m writing one right now (so maybe I’m biased).

dungeons and dragons player's handbook
Player’s Handbook by Wizards of the Coast

Well, it’s what you expect–a standard manual for playing Dungeons & Dragons. As I understand it, version 5.0 simplified many of the rules from previous editions. I don’t have any frame of reference, but I’ve played Pathfinder, which is based on D&D 3.5 and can vouch for that.

This is both good and bad. It allows the players more freedom, more imagination to do and go where they want. And obviously, this has its other side of the coin too, which you’d know if you subscribe to the RPGhorrorstories subreddit (quick clue: It’s not about RPGs like Vampire: The Masquerade or Call of Cthulu). So that means the game is easier to play without a bunch of implements, like minis and maps. You could play it around a campfire. There’s a bigger focus on storytelling than Pathfinder. But that means it’s missing the mechanics that make combat so fun, like flanking and combat manuveur damage.

As a book itself, it’s very beautiful. The art is spot on and the charts are easy to read. The text gets fairly dense, and it’s not as subdivided in the general categories as I would like (meaning, I would like things to be sectionalized more for easy lookup). And don’t forget to read the disclaimer in the front.

So if you thought previous D&Ds were too combat heavy, you might be into this. Otherwise, I suggest Pathfinder.

philip reeve no such thing as dragons
No Such Thing as Dragons by Philip Reeve

I got this recommended from a list of straight sword-and-sworcery fantasy novels.

There is too much of what I call “scenery porn”. That’s when the author spends a lot of describing the trees and the forests and the desolate wind and the chilly night air and the warm fireplace. They have long passages of what the character sees. It’s so obviously filler, meant to establish mood and atmosphere. But it stops the plot dead to rights. Especially in a rural setting like this. I know what a friggin’ forest looks like, ya see me?

It’s unfortunate because the plot is fairly interesting. The two are shysters who go into towns which think they have a dragon bringing bad luck. Then they go and “kill it” and collect the reward. Because everyone knows dragons don’t exist… OR DO THEY? And if you’re smart you’ve guessed the plot by now.

It’s somewhat satisfying to read, but it’s also a plot I’ve seen many times before, and ends in no special way. That plus the scenery porn means it’s entirely skippable.

ellie kemper my squirrel days
My Squirrel Days by Ellie Kemper

I had just finished The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, one of the funniest and more inspiring TV series that I’ve ever seen. I picked this up because of it, but this book has barely any content from that part of her life.

I imagine I would have hated Ellie Kemper in school. She seems to be the type of girl that always gets what she goes after with no meaningful obstacles or weaknesses. She wants to be a comedian, so she takes a few improv classes and bam, she’s in the top touring troupe, auditioning for Saturday Night Live. She wants to be an actress so bam, she’s on The Office (which I didn’t even know). She wants to see squirrels from her treehouse so she can pretend she’s a Disney Princess, she waits hours, motionless… and the squirrels come up to her.

Reminds me of Student Council students in high school. The ones who complain how tired they are… when they’re the ones who signed up for a hundred activities in the first place.

So we come to the problem of a biography/memoir that stars a person with no conflict in their life. Whatever Ellie Kemper wanted to be, she became. Wife, actress, goofball, friend. Fortunately, when you read the auto-bio of a comedian, at least it’s funny even if the material is boring. And this one is. I’m surprised how much of Kimmy Schmidt is in Ellie Kemper, if what she puts on paper is who she is in life. Even if there’s not much about The Incredible Kimmy Schmidt, it feels like the book was written by her.

It’s cute, maybe overly so, but the stories are good. It’s better than Anna Kendrick‘s, but worse than Lindsey Stirling‘s.

You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld
(unfinished)

I’ve never read a short story collection from anyone other than Stephen King. And I still haven’t.

I read the first two stories, including the titular one. Then I decided that, if this is what the rest of the content is like, no thank you. I don’t need to read about asshole people doing asshole things. Got enough of that in my life.

Moreover it’s about asshole women doing asshole things, in ways which are misogynistic and “yeah, but women too…” The first story is about a gender studies professor sleeping with a one night stand. She’s a proper woman, all third wave and professional. And she gets drunk and almost sleeps with her uber driver… who lied to her to get into her pants. What is it trying to say? I don’t know, but I sure didn’t feel good about the representation of women after reading it.

The second is about a married woman who falls in love with a married man because they bond over her bitchiness. She wants to sleep with him, she obssesses over him, ready to break her family apart over it. He rejects her, and then he turns out to be an asshole anyway. And it makes the woman look like the bad guy–victim to desires, making bad decisions.

I thought one story like that might be an outlier. But two in a row like that? No thanks.

eric idle always look on the bright side of life
Always Look on the Bright Side of Life: A Sortabiography by Eric Idle

I’m of two minds about this book. On one side, it’s a dull narrative of celebrity encounters. He tries to be humble about hanging out with rock stars like the Rolling Stones, the Star Wars cast, various Beatles, and all the various women and drugs he did and slept with.

On the other, it’s Eric Idle, one of the leading Monty Pythons. A progenitor of modern humor. Is it witty? Intelligent? British? Charmingly droll? Most definitely.

I figure, unless you’re a Monty Python fan, there isn’t a lot you’ll get out of this book. But you won’t know who Eric Idle is unless you’re a Monty Python fan anyway. So the question becomes, will you enjoy it if you are?

And the answer’s yes. It’s not a quick book, and there isn’t much about Monty Python therein. It includes the origins and the aftermath though. And really, you’ve probably already seen all that Behind the Scenes already, so there’s no need to repeat it. There sure is a lot about his relationship with the book’s title. One could say it’s partly about that famous song as much as its author. Ellie Kemper’s biography was a little punchier, but not as much stuff in it.

Heavy Work for a Little Improvement?

female dwarf warrior

So I’ve got an age-old dilemma on my hands.

I’ve finished going through feedback on my 2nd draft of Dwarves of Katie Elder. It was depressing. Although, it’s not like I shouldn’t have expected it. The crux is the plot starts too late. Way too late. 28K words in.

But I knew that. I always knew that. I knew that when I made the outline, when I wrote the text. It’s kind of how “The Sons of Katie Elder” goes. I guess Westerns took their time in starting up plot. But the magic is in the dynamics between the sisters, not so much the plot. You don’t need plot for that. There are lots of things I could take out but the novel’s short enough as it is. Draft 3 is starting at under 80,000 words. A good novel should be 90,000.

So here’s the problem: do I spend a lot of time rearranging scenes, trying to push the plot up, and adding 10,000 words of scenes that are not the story. I feel like there’s enough filler as it is. There are lots of scenes that drag. Do I tear my hair out trying to make those scenes work? It’s a frustrating thankless job with no guarantee of getting published.

I started attempts at reconstructing the timeline today and it just made me angry. Not at anyone, but just the process–it’s going to take a long time to “fix” these things for some light at the end of the tunnel. TBH, I never started this novel thinking seriously about sending it to agents. I think it was just something to get out of my head. So the idea of putting all this time on it sickens me.

I guess I’ve figured out the answer to my own question. I’ll still do some things like moving the plot initiator up, removing the pointless parts of the first scene, but I’m going to do it so it’s minimally invasive.

Hell, maybe I won’t even do that. I’m not even sure I trust the person who gave me feedback–it’s not like that person’s story was an award winner. And there were quite a few critiques that related to personal taste.

I mean, I can see some readers being frustrated with the lack of kicker for a while. But also, I’m wondering what my audience expects out of a book about four female dwarves. It’s going to be a lot of world-building. Should I even bother ripping up that much of the floor when I’m putting down the same carpet.

And really, I want to get it done. I’ve even debated about just leaving the thing and starting something else, but Neil Gaiman’s in the back of my head saying “good artists finish things”.

I guess I could try to sell this novel, but who the hell knows who’d take it. Maybe it can become YA. It’s an interesting subject matter, but I guess I adhered too close to the source material.

If the Military Wants to Use Marvel Movies for Recruitment, They’re Not Doing a Great Job

captain america comic book army military

So I saw this video recently that talked about how the government helps fund Marvel movies like Iron Man, Captain America, and Captain Marvel to make the military look cool.

Now for my part, I don’t care that the American military is doing this. For one thing, it’s nothing new, so I can see right through it. In the eighties we had masculinity-fests like Top Gun, Aliens, Predator, Rambo. The pro-army motifs in any Michael Bay film is so obvious it’s laughable. Movies you wouldn’t expect to get funded have influence, like Batman & Robin, and… Mac and Me?, and… Bye Bye Birdie? What the hell?

Anyway, grab a handful of movies and one or two have some U.S. military interference. But the video says that, like all propaganda, these representations are all cool and no fool. Iron Man starts out with cool army Jeeps, Captain Marvel is about a cool fighter pilot and her fighter pilot friends (her cat is named Goose, even). The guy with “America” in his name is the leader of them all.

They don’t show the periods of boredom, the sexual harassment, the compromising moral decisions. And like he says, I’m not expecting “The Hurt Locker” but bias is bias. Twenty MCU films and no counterpoint.

Military Sexual Assault cartoon

But here’s the thing, while Marvel movies might glorify the military, it does a terrible job at glorifying the military’s boss–the government. And who would want to join the military when the people who run it are either incompetent, evil, or conspirators?

Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) Photo Credit: Film Frame © Marvel 2016

The video talks about Everett K. Ross (the Martin Freeman character who was in Civil War and Black Panther) being a heroic CIA guy. I think he’s a puss. Maybe he’s a good guy, but he’s incomparable to the real characters. He can’t handle Bucky Barnes when he’s in the chair. Everyone in Wakanda outclasses him. He’s way out of his league. He can’t even control a video game.

In Iron Man 2, Tony Stark is forced before a senatorial hearing to explain why he shouldn’t have to give up his suit. He runs circles around them as if they’d said the Iron Man was full of tubes. (And this is before Garry Shandling is revealed as a HYDRA boi so he’s repping the U.S. in totality). Here’s a choice quote:

Senator Stern: My priority is to get the Iron Man weapon turned over to the people of the United States of America.

Tony Stark: Well, you can forget it. I am Iron Man. The suit and I are one. To turn over the Iron Man suit would be to turn over myself, which is tantamount to indentured servitude or prostitution, depending on what state you’re in. You can’t have it.

Senator Stern: Look, I’m no expert…

Tony Stark: In prostitution? Of course not, you’re a senator. Come on!

And this:

Senator Stern: I think we’re done with the point that he’s making. I don’t think there’s any reason…

Tony Stark: The point is you’re welcome, I guess.

Senator Stern: For what?

Tony Stark: Because I’m your nuclear deterrent. It’s working. We’re safe. America is secure. You want my property? You can’t have it. But I did you a big favor. (stands and turns to face the Senate) I’ve successfully privatized world peace. What more do you want? For now! I tried to play ball with these ass-clowns.

And I couldn’t give this one up.

Tony Stark: I’m not saying I’m responsible for this country’s longest run of uninterrupted peace in thirty-five years! I’m not saying that from the ashes of captivity, never has a Phoenix metaphor been more personified! I’m not saying Uncle Sam can kick back on a lawn chair, sipping on an iced tea, because I haven’t come across anyone man enough to go toe to toe with me on my best day! It’s not about me. It’s not about you, either. It’s about legacy, the legacy left behind for future generations. It’s not about us!

Meanwhile in reality, he would be so in jail. You can’t make rockets and bombs in your basement. You can’t tease jet fighters. And you certainly can’t fly to the middle east and take justice into his own hands. If the Air Force would fire on a little girl flying her pet geese on a migration (seeFly Away Home) so why wouldn’t they leap on Stark? America does not subscribe to that Ayn Rand objectivism.

In Captain America, we see a lot of rah-rah with Steve Rogers who can’t wait to join up, no matter what his body says. But then, after they “make a man out of him” what does he get to do? Touring the country with a cheesy USO show. KP duty would be better. At least he could use his super-soldier strength to peel those potatoes.

captain america uso

In the first Avengers movie, there’s some kind of shadow government that orders Nick Fury around (minus cool points for him) and they want to blow up Manhattan. There’s a cool fighter jet here too, even if it’s carrying a nuke to our deaths.

Here’s a big one: In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, it turns out that HYDRA’s been running the government all along. I guess the Pentagon thought this was okay, since this means it wasn’t really America doing the bad stuff. But I say, how was the government so stupid in the first place to allow that to happen? Aren’t there supposed to be checks and balances for this sort of thing? And how many people were compromised? It’s impossible for the gov’t to keep secrets, so it must have been very few.

arnim zola
Also, Arnim Zola should have been the guy on the right.

And finally, Captain America: Civil War… well, it’s in the freaking title. The Civil War was one of the most devastating obstacles to American development. Country literally tore itself apart. The whole crux of the movie is about the government handing down regulations and the heroes defying them in the name of morality.

Captain America’s always been based in ethics. It’s not about America the country, it’s America the principle. And who’s the biggest antagonist (aside from Helmut Rando Zemo)? It’s Secretary of State and miltary man (40 years, he says) Thaddeus Ross. A top brass military commander. The guy trying to enforce these laws. The guy who imprisons our heroes. The guy Rhodey hangs up on and lies to (in Infinity War). A huge jerkass. And no one likes him. Do you like him? Didn’t think so.

A lot of the MCU is about rebelling against authority. The military’s all about bowing to authority, being broken by it. Captain America would rather become a criminal and fugitive from the country he loves than follow one of its unjust laws. Captain Marvel takes out her entire (former) squadron. That makes it pro-military but anti-military-principles.

Chitauri Avengers
This is what your army really is, buddy.

The Books I Read: January – February 2019

bookshelf books
The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
(unfinished)

Too cutesy, too moralistic, and it kept running on. I felt like nothing important happened. It’s all stuff I’ve seen before in “little animal befriends a human” stories, like The Littles or The Secret World of Arietty or Stuart Little or any other of the various children’s books I’ve read to my offspring.

It’s slow. I was constantly yelling at the book to get on with it. Especially cause the formula was so predictable. I could see it checking off boxes as the narrative went on. Too much set-up, not enough plot.

I couldn’t figure out why the book was so popular. It seems to rival The Mouse and the Motorcycle. But it felt like any other middle-of-the-road book. Maybe it had good marketing. But I got enough Ned Flanders-style writing in Because of Winn-Dixie.

Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi
(unfinished)

I stopped 50% – 60% of the way through. Just didn’t want to finish it. Someone told me if you’re not wholly in love with the book you’re reading, you should stop. There are plenty of other books out there. And this one didn’t spark joy.

Disclosure: I’ve never seen Marie Kondo

I try my best to get through these award winners and classics, but they’re always drab and dry. The POV is a peasant boy, so he has no great vocabulary. The narrative stark and emotionless (maybe it’s supposed to be because he’s little better than a slave). And everything is historically accurate so the prose gets dry and boring.

But the key was that I couldn’t care about anyone. It took forever for supporting characters to enter the story. And they kept me going for a little, but I didn’t care if the kid lived or died. I read the Wikipedia entry to find out the ending, and I missed nothing.

The big revelation, you can see from a mile away (think Jon Snow). But then he doesn’t even use it! After all those pages about being dirt poor and not being able to eat meat, and he’d rather be a traveling peasant when he could be a baron or lord. I thought the ending would result in his taking the power on to change the ways things were. But nope, he pusses out. Not my kind of hero.

Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

Eh, I guess it’s fine. It’s short anyway.

A woman who doesn’t want to be a proper princess leaves the castle. She wants to learn fencing and performing, but they won’t let her. So she finds some dragons to capture her as a fair maiden. The kind you rescue if any male in this story was capable. What this really means is she becomes a maid, doing dragon stuff like polishing the gold hoard, making breakfast, and handling appointments. So much for feminism.

To be honest, I didn’t think there was much there. Not enough to recommend it. It’s got a few funny moments, but I find comedy in books comes greatly from the absurd. And this isn’t it.

I think this might even be more of a prequel or setup to some other book. I like my stories with a little more substance than twee charm. Like Diana Wynne Jones lite. Nothing seemed to matter to anyone. It was just a few trite “stronger princess than prince” jokes. As if fairy tale maidens have never broken the mold before.

Blood, Sweat, and Pixels: The Triumphant, Turbulent Stories Behind How Video Games Are Made by Jason Schreier

A collection of stories about video games and how they got made. It doesn’t take for them to get samey. Company wants to make a game. It takes longer than they think. It costs more than they think. They work ninety hour weeks, beg for deadline extensions, and then release it. Game is a hit. Then they all go and do it again. I’m reminded of a George Carlin bit my dad liked:

“You know when you’ve been eating ice cream too fast and you get that frozen spot in the back of your throat but you can’t do anything about it because you can’t reach it to rub it? You just have to kinda wait for it to go away? And it does… then what do you do? EAT MORE ICE CREAM!”

At times it almost sounds like propaganda for the video game industry. There are no tales of when it all fell apart or everything was cancelled and dreams were destroyed (except one). He glosses over the lay-offs and misses those times when they just lock the doors and fire everyone. I bet he lifted from stories he’s written on Kotaku, so he didn’t have much work after that.

I don’t think it’s a well-balanced look at the crunch video games are famous for. And really, I don’t think it’s telling us anything we don’t already know–that working conditions for video game makers are horrible. I think you’re better off subscribing to a video game news feed.

The Company of Death by Elisa Hansen
(unfinished)

I wanted to read this book because Elisa Hansen is the Maven of the Eventide–a youtuber specializing in vampire media. And friend to Lindsay Ellis, who I’ve talked about before.

But the book has a fatal flaw–amateur writing. There are adverbs everywhere. There are long sentences. There are pacing problems. So much telling. Bad dialogue to narrative ratio. It’s like the stuff I read from people putting their novels up for critique.

This is a flaw that can be fixed over time, but it won’t be fixed in this text, so I decided to stop (see previous comment on joy sparking). There is charm there, and the content sounds plenty promising (there’s a zombie apocalypse at the same time as a vampire horde takeover). And if you can get past the writing style, maybe this is the book for you. Maybe I’m not the right audience for it.

But right away, I could tell this is an issue book (fair disclosure, I’m probably biased because I knew as much going in–I follow her on Twitter and saw how this book came about). And that issue is asexuality.

It’s a topic I don’t know much about it but was hoping to learn. Hansen herself identifies as asexual. I don’t understand it, but I was looking forward to learning about it in this book. But I couldn’t get past the beginning. Sorry Elisa.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

I was going on vacation for a week (a Disney cruise). I did not bring my Kindle, because I thought it would be too sunny to read or I wouldn’t have time. I didn’t bring anything to read on the plane. And they don’t make SkyMall anymore.

So I had to quickly peruse the selection in one of those airport kiosks. Lots of spy/CIA/political thrillers, romances, and “going home” books. No science-fiction or fantasy. The reason I picked this is because A) it advertised humor and satire (specifically using the term “beach read”) B) I remembered seeing the trailer for this. If someone turned it into a movie, it must have at least a moving plot, right?

I was most afraid of it being quirky chick-lit. You know the kind, where the main character is always an attractive professional woman who just can’t land a man. Her friend is a sassy bartender or gay guy. And it’s all about careers, shopping, and other stuff Sex & the City already covered. But it’s not. It’s more of a family-style novel, like an ABC dramedy.

The plot is hard to describe. Its mood is ambivalent even, but the humor makes up for it. The key plot point forms the third act. Before that, all of the first two acts are epistolary. I kind of frown on epistolary because it’s an easy way to get world-building, and plot out there without narration. It’s a novel of all dialogue. The best part is the main antagonist–a nosy oblivious suburban mom who puts that one busybody in Donnie Darko to shame.

This isn’t my normal faire, so it’s hard to judge it using my perspective. I know I enjoyed it. I’m a little miffed at some of the shots it takes at Microsoft (and that’s saying a lot, because I’m a software engineer) and there are some things that don’t make sense. Like one of the things is Samantha 2, which is an incredible invention that [SPOILER REDACTED] and Microsoft cancels it. Not even they could fail to see the money-making opportunities, especially when the CEO invented poo water.

I think the theming was more about a woman’s need to be unexpectable vs. the expectations placed on her being a “normal” mother. It’s not going to be taught in any future curriculum, but hey, sometimes you need a beach read.

Dungeon Master Guide by Mike Mearls

Well, there’s really no sense to review this one. It is what it says on the tin. What surprises me is how much information in the DMG is already covered in the Player’s Handbook (which I’m in the middle of now).

But as for whether you’re going to read it? Well, it is a pretty book. Lots of cool pictures. Nice tables. After five revisions, I imagine they’ve got the technical documents down to a science. I just wish it wasn’t so expensive.

What I Hate

hatred

I hate the president. What kind of president makes children cry? He makes no progress. Everything is a step backwards or festers in stagnant water. Drain the swamp? You’re standing in it. Clean coal? What does that even mean? By definition, coal isn’t clean. It’s a rock covered with dirt. Not to mention how does that prepare us for the future? Using the same old waning fuel sources, dangerous fuel sources, faulty and feeble sources.

I hate every supporter he has. I hate every mealy-mouthed coward conservative who voted for him for whatever reason, whether they’re “scared” of immigrants, they only like the fact that he’s not Hillary, or they were sucked in by his charisma and fancy promises, like a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman.

pee wee herman playhouse salesman
This was also a source of my kindertrauma

Do you know why Michael Jackson stayed controversial? Why he died of sleeping drug overdose? Because he fired everyone who protested his bad ideas. He got so powerful he fired everyone who would say “no”. So he got nothing but yes-men. You need someone to show you where the cracks are. To tell him that maybe it’s not a good idea to have sleepovers with nine-year-olds and give them wine.

I hate the Republican party. They’re doing everything they can for their king because that’s the bottom line–keep the absolute ruler happy. They don’t want to appear like they made a mistake, like W. Bush and Dan Quayle. Even when he stands by child molesters and woman abusers and neo-nazis. Both sides, my ass. Meanwhile let’s vote no on every bill that might do humanity some good. Let’s line our pockets with money, but God forbid we should have to actually spend anything. They’re being bullies just because they can.

I hate the democrats. They’re a bunch of leaderless cowards. Let’s elect the meekest yutzes as our leaders and make the most asinine mealy-mouthed directives and mission statements. Focus on jobs and the economy? Way to shoot for the stars there. Jobs aren’t a national problem. And saying you want to help the economy is like saying you wante to eat right and exercise. Why don’t you swing for the fences and take a stand. Meanwhile you exclude actually charismatic leaders like the guy from DFL MN. People who can actually rally people to their side. Who sound like they mean something. Are you even trying?

Both parties are the same though, right?

I hate guns. I hate that this little thing has such control over our country. I hate that we can’t have an objective discussion about them without someone flying off the handle thinking “they gonna take our guns!” (Like you could take on the government with your shotgun vs. its drones, missiles, stealth fighters, highly-trained national guard, and riot gear.

It’s like racism or abortion–too many rooted emotions make debate impossible. Except guns should have no rooted emotions, they’re just killing implements. That’s their only purpose. If magic wands were real, you can bet they’d be heavily regulated.

I hate corporations because they don’t care about workers. Corporate America is what’s killing people. To be a leader you have to be a sociopath. Or at least work with sociopaths. Those smiling, lying assholes. Go worship your cult of personality. Have no sincerity, no integrity.

I hate Twitter and Facebook. They have no accountability. No realization that they are big-ass gorillas and they sit everywhere they want. No one moves without their moving first. But the thing about big-ass gorillas is that they need to step up and lead the pack

When you’re the biggest, you have a responsibility to the smaller ones under you. You have a duty to do right by them.

I hate anyone older than me. They’re as self-entitled as the millennials they hate. They’re self-righteous and have no problem shifting responsibilities anywhere but themselves.

I hate anyone younger than me. They’re not doing much to disprove the hype. Though I guess all youth is like that. They don’t understand the sacred, don’t understand what money means. Everything is a big joke to them. It’s all memes and Fortnite. They like the stupidest stuff. They listen to horrible music.

I hate myself. What am I doing to solve any of this? I promised myself I’d be writing letters to senators and reps from day one of this trauma-fest. No, I’m sitting here ranting and watching reruns of American Dad. I’m as lazy and slothful as I’ve ever been. I’m as self-entitled and acerbic as the people I complain about. And if I got a sliver of power, I’d end up just like those fat cats too. Humanity fucking sucks.

Why is it so difficult just to get a cubicle?

cubicle

So in trying to find a new job that I like, has good benefits, and where I fit in, I keep seeing that so many of these work environments just look like crap for personal work habits. How hard is it to make a cubicle?

I’ve seen so many computers lined up like they were on sale. I’ve seen offices that have so little space, employees need to use a meeting room for lunch. So many places I’ve interviewed at are just tables or pods or some kind of communal space. Which I hate–they make everything look like a sweatshop. How special do you make your employees feel when you treat them little better than people at FoxConn?

And pods. So many pods. Yeah, I get it, you like people being co-located so they can work together. But could we just call a spade a spade here? You want to save money, so you squish everyone as close as you can before they complain. Oh, yeah, taking after Google’s open floor plan? What a revolution. If I don’t have personal space, where can I put my coffee mug? Or pictures my children make?

I love cubicles. They make me feel important, like a little office. When I was little I played “office” all the time. I had a walk-in closet and put up signs on the door like it was a business (the signs were like “Ghostbusters” and “Rescue Rangers”, but y’know…). I had a plastic Little Tykes table and put up a nameplate, a pencil cup, papers. You know, desk stuff.

little tykes table

So yeah, it sucks that the office is trending back to that 50s design for steno pool secretaries.

Late to the Game: Baldur’s Gate

baldur's gate dungeons and dragons computer game

So after my disappointment in The Witcher, I decided to try another old RPG — Baldur’s Gate (the enhanced edition).

When I was younger I played a co-op game with my friend on the PS2 called Baldur’s Gate. This must have been something different than what I got now, because I remember blasting rats in the basement with magic missiles and getting excited at finding a +2 Sword of Frost that actually froze enemies. This is more like an RTS, like Command & Conquer or Starcraft, except without resource gathering. And you only get six guys.

baldur's gate dungeons and dragons computer game

I did actually try this out when I got it, but the tutorial made me too anxious. That’s a lot of individual characters you gotta work with. How does Find Traps work? Combat got over so quickly I didn’t know how to do it. There’s lesson after lesson about moving, clicking, casting, etc. What happens if you die? What are all these commands? Is my mage going to waste all his magic missiles shooting at a jar? I didn’t really understand how to play.

So I put it aside and played some other (simpler) games for a while. I didn’t know if I’d ever pick it up again. It looks like an old game, like DOS era, so it’s not like something I need to put into my “classics I’ve played” bag.

But I came back to it and now I love it. Pretty much spent my entire December vacation playing it. It’s like a solo Dungeons and Dragons campaign, but with none of that disgusting “being around other people” crap.

I’ve gotten pretty attached to these characters. When it comes time for inventory management I say things like “OK, you need this and you should have this, and can you have this?” or “Dynaheir, where are you? Get over here” and “Xan, will you shut up.” I’d love to trade Xan out, but I haven’t found another sorcerer/magician person. It’s all fighters and thieves, which I started with.

The character movement is a little slow, but it’s nowhere near Witcher speeds [Editor’s Note: I found a way to instantly bring characters to your cursor using some minor console cheats. Now to avoid the temptation of using others.] My favorite part is the exploration. It’s kind of Starcraft where you’ve got a “fog of war” that’s all black until a character moves into it. Then it clears up, but if you go away, it fades. And now you know the terrain, but you don’t know if some gang of hobgoblins or a basilisk is going to be there when you get back.

Character management is still a problem. Sometimes my 7 HP mage keeps trying to go toe-to-toe with a pack of wild dogs.

Next time I’m going to play as an evil party. The dialogue choices aren’t varied, but that’s been a pattern for a long time (I’m looking at you Bioshock). So while it was fun to “play the character”, they really only give you choices between “be a noble hero” and “be a jerk.” I had people leave my party because I had too much reputation–I thought it was a glitch. Next time–let’s see what happens if I’m a bad boy.

baldur's gate dungeons and dragons computer game