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May. 24th, 2016 @ 05:49 pm Review, comic "The Boys" by Garth Enis and Darick Robertson
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I want to read Preacher one day, I got The Boys from a humble bundle comics bundle, and from what I hear it sounds similar.

It's set in a world with superheroes, where they are partly media celebrities, originally manufactured by Vought corporation and used to support a merchandising empire, and partly a controversial bid to replace conventional military forces. And are invariably, at least the well-known ones, horribly corrupted by power.

The Boys are a small mostly-independent CIA-funded with the remit of policing superhero activity, in theory policing actions when a superhero does something wrong, in aspiration more like the opening shots of a war against the highest-profile superhero group.

It's unsurprisingly really violent, and shocking in other ways. Like, it's unsurprising real-world superheros would be corrupted by power (although, I mean, they need servants and cleaners and construction firms and media relations and so on, if they were unpopular, one superman wouldn't get far unless he executed a coup directly). But they are overwhelmingly loaded down with gratuitous murder and unusual sexual fetishes they act out in unsavoury ways.

And I'm conflicted about that. It's partly parodying the notion of squeaky-clean superheroes. And I do *enjoy* the "artistic violence" motif. But it also feels gratuitously unpleasant even by that standard, like it just piles up a whole bunch of unpleasant stuff. And is mixed at distinguishing "unethical" from "socially disapproved", like there's a lot of transphobic language, and sometimes that's making a point about how societal acceptance can be mixed, and the contrast between Butcher, who offends people all the time, but is generally non-judgemental of anything not unethical, and Wee Hughie, who knows the language he thinks should be acceptable, but has led quite a non-cosmopolitan life. But often it's just... lots of offensive language for no particular reason. And the same for violence and sex etc.

But what I *liked*. I liked the worldbuilding, the different superhero teams and their relationships. I liked the relationships between the characters. Butcher, the hard man from East End London stepping into a leadership position. Wee Hughie, the civilian recruited into the middle of all this. Mother's Milk, the gruff but responsible second in command. The two most violent members of the team, but who gradually grow relationships to Hughie and the rest. The bantering one-upman-ship between the diverse team and the American institutions they're mostly involved with.

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May. 18th, 2016 @ 11:25 pm Worldbuilding: Secondary world three musketeers/wild west
I've always loved Three Musketeers. Yes, it's absolutely ridiculous, but it's so me. Oh, no, you can't say "he was ambushed". You have to say "he saw a musket barrel protruding from a hedge, and being a perspicacious young man, realised it was unlikely it had come there by itself; more likely it had been carried there as part of an ambuscade upon his person. On which realisation, he threw himself flat."

Latest writing idea

A hybrid three-musketeers/wild west. The idea is, to capture the *feel* of a setting where people take fatal risks. And also, have non-fatal duels because it establishes you as someone to take seriously (in terms of, not accosting, not in terms of, respecting your good sense).

So, secondary world discovered. Similar to this one, but unpopulated, with magic. At the right locations, with the right preparations, you can transport a human through, but not much else.

The magic works in a very ritualistic way: imagining repeating patterns, colours, concepts, in various combinations, triggers various powerful-but-simple effects, including plain force, emotional manipulation, and a few others. Anyone can do that in theory, but it takes a lot of preparation and dedication to learn the combinations that are actually most effective.

Magicians are in demand because they can hunt energy creatures which roam the world, which are useful for ££££. And because anyone with magic is like a musketeer or a quick-draw in the fictional west, people respect them because they have to, whether or not they like them.

Communities are a mess of whoever ended up there scrabbling to survive and bring a profit back to our world, people working for corporations on this side, arrestees serving a prison sentence in exile rather than in prison, etc, etc.

I think I can handle the magic duels and magician-magician interactions. But what are the communities clustered around the portal-areas like? How often can portals be used? Which of those political ideas make sense? What would the communities look like? I'm going for something like, a new mining town. What economic activities are going on here, what are the most plausible to ship back (given the constraints that you can't mass-ship goods)? Does temporary-transportation make sense? What other questions should I try to answer?


I was also thinking, there is almost no chance I will ever try and submit any of my (rough) old stories for publication, ever, so I should probably arrange for them to be online somewhere easy to read. Probably on AO3 linked from my LJ/DW, but would anything else be better?

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May. 18th, 2016 @ 01:37 pm Funny things
It seems like I find things really funny much less often than I used to. Does everyone get that? I remember when I first read Three Men in a Boat, or Witches Abroad, I'd laugh so hard I could barely breathe. But almost nothing has that effect on me now.

Do other people get that? Is that because I'm familiar with more stuff so less things really surprise me? Or because I'm more controlled? Or a natural result of being older?

Or because there's just not that many things which are so funny, and I'm still finding them about once a decade?

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May. 14th, 2016 @ 05:12 pm Phases of procrastination
I only broke it down like this in retrospect, but I noticed that I always, always had difficulty getting on with things and getting anything done, but there were several different ways.

1. When I had an urgent deadline, I would freeze up, until it got so close it was clear I wouldn't be able to do it well and would have to give it a half-arsed job, and then I'd hurry it through at the last minute. The same applied even to fairly small things like packing: even if I just needed to throw some clothes into a suitcase, if I had a deadline, I'd not do it.
2. When I had something I wasn't sure how to do. That's fairly self-explanatory.
3. When I had a promising project and clear time to work on it, I'd be paralysed by choice.
4. When something was fairly easy and all I needed to do was do it.

It seemed silly I procrastinated in basically *all* situations. But I realised, that's why there was a problem. If there was one situation I was really good at, I could maybe arrange to work there as much of the time as possible. I only noticed, because the problem was hard to fix :(

And it turned out, "just don't do that, get on with it", SHOULD have helped, but DIDN'T. But over time, I got better at each of the different aspects. And as I did, I got projects completed quicker, and was able to see an overview of the project, rather than a cloudy bit in the middle with "here be dragons" I didn't want to think about, and then, by the power of iteration, I could practice until I got better, not only strive to fix six different fatal flaws at once.

And I slowly learned what worked for what problem. If I had a deadline, accepting what would happen if I missed it, reduced my stress. And layout out what I intended to do before then, hour-by-hour, and what was essential and I'd do first, and what I could drop, let me get *something* done.

And training myself that if I didn't know what to do, I could *usually* figure it out, and even if I set aside a day for "just think about this, it's ok if I don't solve it completely", gave me the freedom so fix that in a day, rather than weeks.

And when I had an opportunity to power through some stuff I was in a fairly good position for, setting intermediate aggressive but flexible goals helped a lot in actually getting it done at a reasonable pace, and not saying "work flat out", but "if I'm ahead of this, I have some flexibility" helped a lot.

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May. 12th, 2016 @ 04:23 pm Captain America; Civil War
That was pretty good. None of the MCU were perfect for me, but this one did a lot of good stuff. (And some awful stuff as usual :( )

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May. 11th, 2016 @ 02:28 pm Film: Fight Club
Another film I think I watched once, but then absorbed a lot more of from popular culture. I think it held up pretty well.

As with many films *about* violence, it walks an uneasy line between talking about it and exploring why some people are drawn to it, and exploring why it's bad.


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May. 10th, 2016 @ 05:11 pm More train board games


I played this at games evening, it worked really well, it was interesting and fairly fast even up to 6 players.

The board of North America is covered with a triangle grid, with major cities marked at some intersections. Each player is dealt a goal hand of 5 city cards, one from each region (E, W, N, S and central ish). On your turn, you place two pieces of track (which is the same for all players) on unused edges connected to your chosen starting spot. The first player to connect all their cities wins. Everyone else scores negative points for the number of edges they are short (generally 0-6 pts)

Edges crossing rivers and mountains are shown with a double line, instead of playing two pieces, you can play one piece on one of those edges.

It was interesting because it was easy to *understand*, and each turn could be over in seconds if you thought while other people were playing, and yet, it was really hard to know what was *best*.

Colt Express


Played with ghoti et al.

You have a little cardboard train made out of an engine and four carriages, I was really impressed how solid and 3d it seemed. Scattered on the floor of the carriages is various loot. Each player has a little bandit who can move sideways between carriages, or up onto the roof, or down from the roof. Or pick up loot, or shoot people (which may get points and clutter up other players' decks with non-functional bullet cards), or punch people (which knocks them out of a carriage and makes them drop loot).

The interesting thing is that each of those actions is a card, and like RoboRalley, each player draws from their deck a hand containing some but not all of their possible actions, and each player takes it in turn to choose an action to play, but some actions are hidden, and only after each player has played four times, do you then go through the played actions and actually enact them. The card controls the type of action (move, shoot, pick up, etc), but when it takes effect you choose which way to move, or who to shoot, etc so there's a little flexibility.

I loved the wild west flavour and the RoboRalley-esque mechanic. A few of the mechanics seemed a bit fiddly, but that may just be because it was my first game.

I was disappointed the female character and native american character fell into unfortunate stereotypes. Yes, the whole game is about classic western tropes, but you can find some more varied ones, I hope. But I don't think it's worse than lots of other games and media.

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May. 9th, 2016 @ 03:36 pm Arthurian Legends
I often like Arthurian legends, although often more towards the fantasy end than the more historical versions.

(If you like Arthurian urban fantasy, you should consider looking up The Knights of Breton Court, which I found really hard to get into, but moves the Arthurian legends, partly reincarnated-ly, partly thematically, to a deprived estate full of gang violence. And The Pendragon Protocol about an elite British secret organisation/force based on reincarnations of Arthurian knights.)

At some point it occurred to me, that many of the most prominent features of the legend come from (a) being SET in the 5th/6th centuries AD, a king who united many parts of Britain and repelled Saxon invaders and (b) being first widespread-ly recorded in the 12th century onwards.

And you can certainly reconcile this, several authors have written great books on the idea that there were original historical happenings the later legends were based on. But when I think of the legends, I think of that mish-mash, of a Britain with a political situation in the 5th century, but some of the technology from and an idealised form of the chivalry from the 12th century. Which can't actually be set in any non-alternate historical period, but naturally belongs in legends and feature films where the spectacle and aspirations are more important than the accuracy :)

But I'm not sure if that's a fair summary -- anyone able to be more accurate?

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May. 4th, 2016 @ 01:18 pm Film: Usual Suspects
One of the classic films I saw at some point on TV, but wasn't paying enough attention to really follow at the time.

Mostly recounted by Verbal Kint, a small-time confidence trickster in an interview with the police after a bloodbath at a freighter ship, recounting how he and four other guys met at a police line-up, did a robbery, fell into a job set up by legendary illusive crime-lord Keyser Soze, and how he ended up involved in the massacre.

And questioning, what else is going on that makes these events only make sense in retrospect.

It's not exactly a heist movie, but it has some of the same feel, it's a classic if you don't object to fairly violent crime movies, and enjoy an air of intellectual questioning.

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May. 3rd, 2016 @ 01:45 pm Books and TV
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A Dangerous Energy, by John Whitbourne

Recommended via cjwatson iirc. An alternate history where magic exists, but is subsumed into a practical/academic discipline by the catholic church, from which England never successfully split. I think it's set now, but the politics and technology feel a way before that?

I love stories about the study of thaumaturgy. The main character grows up into quite a sociopathic man, but the journey of his researches, his friends, his sins is very interesting.

Lamentably, stories about the nature of the soul/magic/afterlife are doomed to be disappointing in the end when it is not ultimately revealed; this does better than most.

We are all completely beside ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler

See woodpijn's brief review here: http://woodpijn.livejournal.com/104297.html

The protagonist is now at university, but lost touch with her sister and her brother when she was about five, and isn't sure which of her memories of what happened are accurate. But it's not deliberate abuse, nor deliberately false memories, it all arose quite naturally out of what actually happened.

And it doesn't dwell only on the negative, she fills in her life experiences at various points, and it's really interesting to hear how she grew up.

I don't have a lot to add, there's an important twist a quarter of the way through, which didn't feel contrived, but I don't want to talk about in case people want to read it.

Justice League Unlimited

This animated series is a pretty good introduction to many of the DC heroes. Especially the 3rd episode where Superman, Batman, Wonderwoman and Green Lantern are turned into younger versions of themselves.

It kind of annoyed me by being 80% really good messages, but kind of annoying in the remainder. Message of "give peace a chance, don't fight for no reason" is good. Portraying anonymous eastern-european countries as prone to fighting for no reason until american heros help them, maybe problematic. Having multiple prominent female characters treated as equal, good. Having them all have lots of cleavage, maybe problematic. etc.

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