Archive for July 17, 2008

The End of the World Never Looked Better

I think about the end of the world as we know it quite a bit. 


Well, okay, usually I’m contemplating CAUSING the end of the world as we know it by conquering said world with my robot army, but when I’m not doing that, I’m thinking about something or someone other than me causing the end of the world as we know it. 


No, wait, actually, when I’m not contemplating conquering the world with my robot army, I’m more often dreaming of Salma Hayek and Deepika Padukone in a pillow fight (while in the background my robot army is conquering the world).  But when I’m not doing THAT, I’m thinking about some disaster causing the end of the world as we know it.


Actually, no, when — oh, never mind.  Suffice to say, I think about it from time to time.


So I was pretty psyched when I saw the just-released E3 trailer for Fallout 3, the new Xbox game from the creators of Oblivion that is due out this fall.  It looks frickin sweet.

fallout 3 player

Then, I see Clint Harris’ blog about what skills would be handy in the event of  the fall of civilization as we know it. 


His list does a nice job of covering the basics – producing food, shelter, water, etcetera.  I encourage you to print it off and start working on it.  But when making a list of necessary skills to have in a post-apocalyptic future, I think we mustn’t forget the following:


1. Keeping children alive.  And by that, I don’t mean protecting them from mutants, or starvation, or even disease, I mean protecting them from ourselves.  Imagine, suddenly there is no more television, no Xbox, no Nintendo DS, no internet.  The non-stop whining about being bored is likely to drive every adult mad.  Especially if those kids are used to playing hours of Fallout 3 (because that game looks frickin sweet).  And if you think the spoiled little munchkins will be happy with Legos and sports after playing a game like that, well, think again.  We’ll need to find something to keep the youngsters occupied before they get eaten by those whom they’ve driven insane with their incessant whining.  Manual labor is good, it should wear them out, but let’s face it, today’s kids have problems cleaning their rooms, let alone building a room, so they’ll probably whine so much about working that it will make their whining about being bored pale in comparison.  It takes a village to raise a child – and I think that village should be far, far away from most of the adults, perhaps run by a gaggle of tough old nannies.  And before you judge me too harshly, give it a few months without electricity, okay?

2. Keeping Fallout 3 alive.  I figure I can actually use solar or wind power to juice up my own widescreen tv and Xbox still.  Just don’t tell the children or they’ll constantly be begging to use it, and I won’t be able to enjoy it in peace.  Anyway, I think we should look at what it would take to keep Bethesda Software up and running, perhaps in a mutant-proof bunker.  Did I mention that Fallout 3 looks frickin’ sweet?!  But I would only keep the developers alive on the condition that they start making a co-op option for their damned games.  I mean, come on, who reading this wouldn’t pay double for Oblivion or Fallout 3 if they added co-op?  Are you kidding?  That would be frickin SUPER sweet!


3. Consolidation of all religions under me.  After all, religion started as a way to help control and hold together the early tribes of man, and then kind of got out of control.  For an idea of what would happen after the fall of civilization as we know it, look at what happened after the fall of civilization as Romans knew it.  The Holy Catholic Church controlled western knowledge, and thereby power.  Next thing you know, you had crusades, witch hunts, Inquisitions, and worst of all, televangelists.  And you know that a bunch of new religions and preachers will spring up out of the woodwork when the fit hits the shan again.  People will believe anything if they are afraid or confused, wanting answers or wanting to feel part of something bigger than themselves.  Heck, there are people who still believe Elvis is alive (when everyone in the know knows he was killed on the grassy knoll after shooting the communist alien who shot Kennedy).  We can’t have that kind of fracturing of my – er, I mean our control structure.  It creates chaos.  So the Church of Randy will reign supreme, and all other religions will be absorbed into it.  And I think an important method of tithing to the Church of Randy will be to create mods and expansion packs for Fallout 3.  Because, seriously folks, I think that game is going to be frickin sweet!


4.  Find worthy leaders.  In olden days, people turned to the elders.  But it’s going to be pretty hard to respect our elders.  Let’s face it, by the time the apocalypse occurs, our elders won’t be the men and women who helped settle this land.  They will not have lived through the great depression, or the hardships and sacrifice of a World War.  The elders won’t be those who remember where they were when Kennedy was shot, or who helped send men to the moon.  The elders will be rambling on about the days of hardship when they had to cut back to just 3 double-tall Starbucks macchiatos per day because of the rising cost of fueling their SUV (the one with the televisions inset into the passenger seats, and the GPS to help them find the nearest McDonalds to feed their overweight spawn (see item 1)).  Many of them will be the a-holes who brought about the end of the world as we know it in the first place.  And they’re going to tell me whether I can or cannot wage war on the mutants who control the fueling station?  I think not.  After all, I will be the one with the Mega-Mutant Mauler achievement on the game Fallout 3 (which, by the way, looks pretty frickin suh-weet!).  Yes, my vast experience at Fallout 3 will clearly make me a superior choice for the new world leader.  Well, experience, and my robot armies.


So you see, when I spend many hours playing Fallout 3, it will not be me shirking my responsibilities and neglecting my relationships – it will be me preparing for the inevitable end of civilization as we know it.


Because, let’s face it – that game looks frickin sweet, right? 

Fallout 3


The REAL Mistakes Novice Fiction Writers Should Avoid

From the Head of the Q.U. Creative Writing Department

You’ve no doubt seen plenty of blog posts, workshops, books, and hieroglyphs describing the mistakes newbie writers should avoid, and most of them say pretty much the same things.

Well, as I am now on the verge of the cusp of almost being a semi-published author myself, I thought I’d put something different out there for all you aspiring genre fiction writers who are where I was at oh-so-many days ago, so that you may benefit from my vast experience.  Many of these tips are about actually getting something written, which I’ve found tends to be one of the primary challenges aspiring writers face.  And while these tips apply to most fiction writing, my focus is on genre fiction writing, and more specifically spec fic genre writing.

And don’t worry, I’ve included a summary of the “standard” bits o advicery at the end as well, just so you have everything you need in one convenient location.


1. Research is not writing.  It can be helpful and even essential, depending on what you are writing, but it should be done in moderation — much like wine, jalapeno poppers, pets, and apparently phone calls to Salma Hayek (was the restraining order really necessary?).  And I’m talking real research here.  Don’t fool yourself into thinking that watching Kingdom of Heaven or playing Assassin’s Creed is actually you making progress on writing your story about Templar knights.  It ain’t.  Writing your story about Templar knights is you making progress on writing your story about Templar knights.  Period.

2. Fanfic is not writing.  Well, it is writing, but not writing that is going to get you anything except nods from people who are themselves just hoping you’ll read their fanfic piece – which they secretly think is SO much better than your fanfic piece, by the way.  Not to start rumors or furry-fights or anything, but I heard them say so in another fansite.  Well, okay, maybe I would like to see a furry-fight between a smokin hot cat girl furry fan and an even hotter raccoon girl furry fan.  But see, because I am a real writer, I will not now go write Battlestar Galactica (new series) slash fic about cat-Starbuck and raccoon-Boomer going at it.  I may think about it, but then I’ll get back to writing my completely original story about were-cat Starluck and were-raccoon Zoomer battling evil vampire androids — and wrestling each other.  And that’s the kind of discipline it takes to get real writing done, folks.

3. Writing blogs is not writing.  Nope, not even brilliant blog posts on the real mistakes amateur genre writers should avoid.  And that is why I wrote this only after writing 1,262 words of my inevitably famous epic fantasy novel today.  And my family couldn’t be more thrilled that I spent my entire day writing.  Really.  Well, okay, I guess I should mention:


4. Balance, Daniel-san.  Don’t forget to live life.  It has a funny way of providing inspiration, and recharging the ole noggin.  And also, a healthy body means a healthy brain, which means … oooo, a milkshake.  Wait, what was I saying?  Oh, yes.  That having a healthy body does good things for your writer’s muscle.  Just ask Alfred Hitchcock, or Hunter S. Thompson.  Well, all right, bad examples.  There has of course been plenty of great fiction created by anti-social crabby-pantses who were experimenting with various chemical substances.  So I guess I should clarify that if you want to be a happy and prolific writer who actually lives to enjoy (and remember) your own success, then it won’t hurt to be a little social and a lot sweaty from time to time (but preferably not at the same time.  Unless you’re at a gym.  Or a sweat lodge.  Or a sauna.  Or being questioned by the police for being overly social in the sauna). 


4. Writing one story is not writing.  It looks like writing, but it isn’t.  It’s wroting.  As in, you already wrote it.  Don’t get me wrong – revising is good.  Revising is absolutely necessary.  Cut, rearrange, clean it up, replace “alright” with “all right,” and rethink your current ending where all the Spartans survive Thermopylae and are brought forward in time to totally kick Hitler’s ass.  Do all of that.  Take each rejection as an opportunity to read the story with fresh eyes and improve it before sending it back out.  But also be writing new stories, new books.  Have an “inventory” of finished and in-work works.  Because it may be that your first stories or books will never sell, but your tenth or twentieth might.  Because you will likely improve your writing with each new project.  Because it can take years to cycle a single story or book through all the potential publishers and collect that fine stack of rejection letters.  And because they say, “a writer writes,” not, “a writer wrotes.”  And “they” are never wrong.  Or at least, anyone who says they are wrong disappears in the night, so just go with me on this, okay?


5. Writing an Idea is not writing.  It happens – you have a brilliant and oh-so-original idea.  What if a guy travels back in time to prevent his loved one from being crippled, then returns to the future to find … he is ironically crippled himself!!  What if the devil promises to bring a woman’s husband back from the dead, and he comes back … as a zombie!!! … !  What if a half-elf (who is sadly rejected by both humans and elves), a snarky dwarf (who bonds with the half-elf despite their ancient racial enmity) and an angry knight (with a magical blade) battle a dragon?  What if a hip goth-pseudo-Wiccan girl goes to an all-night diner, and instead of eating she actually gets eaten because the staff are all … vampires!! 


Well, as … fine as those ideas are, be careful not to make the story about the idea.  Most importantly, give us some reason to care about the character who is traveling around time, or the universe, or the dark urban streets.  Make them live in our minds and hearts. Then we’ll actually want to find out what happens to them, and stick around long enough for you to share your idea.  Your idea may be integral to the story, and in science fiction, for example, the fictiony science should always be integral to the story.  But it is actually the story about the characters, with a good beginning, middle and end, that’s the ice cream.  Your basic idea is the hot fudge, the scifi tech or rules of magic are the nuts and bits o cookie dough, and your carefully created world is the giant waffle cone.  And now I’m hungry, so I’m going to go.



 But first, as I promised up front, here is:

Randy’s Summary of Standard Writing Advice


A: Show, don’t tell.  You hear this all the time.  And yet they rarely explain what it actually means, which drives me crazy.  So here’s what it means:  Instead of writing, “Joe was hungry,” (which tells us he’s hungry) write, “Joe’s stomach rumbled when he glanced at the banana cream pie, and he tore into it with his bare hands like a zombie at a brain eating contest” (which shows us he’s hungry).  As with any rule, there are of course exceptions to this.  Exposition, for example, or describing the scenery, tend to be more telly than showy.  Give us SOME idea where Joe is and what brought him to this sorry state, please.  Context is everything. 


B: Use: proper; manuscript formatting, punctuation!!!  and ain’t not forget to improperly grammarize. 


C: Boldly avoid smelly, hairy, juicy adjectivation and forcefully adverbining.  Don’t say ran quickly.  Say sprinted.


D: Be clear in his perspective (or rather my characters’ perspectives) is what she should do.  Don’t switch perspectives (point of view from one character to another) in the middle of a scene or paragraph – put a clear break between shifts in perspective.  And while you’re at it, watch the pronouns and naming.  So if you have a character Captain John Smith who is father to Ed, don’t call him Smith in one sentence, then John in the next, then the captain in the next, then Ed’s father.  Be consistent.  Except when you aren’t.  


E: Write what you know.  This is another one that is often thrown out there but not really explained.  So I shall explain.  This does not mean write fanfic (see item 2 above).  Nor does it mean set every story in a cubicle, a Starbucks, and your living room.  And especially nor does it mean limit yourself to what scraps of knowledge you retained from your schoolin or the memories of your childhood (which I regret to inform you are implanted and false and meant to hide your android nature.  But I digress).  It means write what interests you, even if it is something that you must do research on (see item 1 above).  If it isn’t interesting to you and not something you would want to know, then your writing will likely reflect this disinterest, and disinterestify your audience as well. 


F: Write a story, not a scene (which ties into number 5 above).  A character ruminates on the end of the world (and then is revealed to be … a cockroach!!!) – this is not a story.  A man walks into a bar and gets eaten by a zombie, a werewolf, and a stranded soccer player?  Not a story.  A studly mage uses a spell to make a woman have pages of hot, graphically described sex with him?  Not a story (except maybe in Penthouse magazine).  A mighty warrior woman assaults a pyramid, fighting her way up to kill the chauvinistic mage at the top who has been using spells to make women sleep with him (and who also never believed a mere woman could challenge him)?  Cathartic, perhaps, but nope, still not a story.  They are scenes.  You have to present us with a character and establish who they are, make us care about them.  Then have something upset that character’s world, place them in some kind of jeopardy (health, legal, monetary, emotional, etc.).  Next show us their struggle to overcome that danger.  And finally, show us the outcome and how it has changed the character (even if that change is death).  It sucks.  God knows it sucks.  I have a whole stack of great ideas.  But they’re not stories, not until I can figure out all the bothersome conflict, motivation, and resolution stuff.  It’s, like, work or something.  Sigh.


G: Know your audience (in an intellectual sense, not necessarily in the biblical sense, although what aspiring writer isn’t in it for all the hot writer groupies that come to readings?).  Do your research.  Be familiar with what readers of your chosen genre seem to enjoy, don’t enjoy, and have seen a billion times before.  Make your material and language age-appropriate, and if necessary at the proper movie rating level (PG, PG-13, R).  This goes hand in hand with:


H: Stick to the publisher’s guidelines.  Yes, even you.  Yes, even though your story about the talking cat with the soul sucking sword is really, really original and cool, and only 450 words over the magazine’s word limit.  And even though it’s not really the kind of thing that Ladies’ Home Journal usually publishes.  But if in doubt and you still want to try, query first.


I: Use outlines for longer fiction, to make sure you have a strong beginning, middle and end, and to help fight writers block as you get into the actual writing of it.  This is especially important for new writers who have not had the experience of writing a longer work all the way through.  It will also save you investing many hours into something, only to realize halfway through that you don’t really have anywhere to go with the storyline or characters you’ve written.


J: Don’t use outlines for longer fiction.  Let your characters tell the story, so your creative flow is not stifled or cut off by an arbitrary outline, resulting in writers block or a predictable story, or so that you don’t get bogged down in the outline stage when you are raring to do some real writing. 


K:  Wait, didn’t I and J contradict each other?  Yep.  That’s why you should do whatever works best for you, and anyone who tells you only one way is right is feeling a little too self-important.  Outline a little, or a lot, or not at all.  Create detailed backgrounds for your characters, or a simple paragraph describing them.  Draw maps of your world, or use real world maps, or just do it all in your head.  Let the characters tell the story, or if they tend to take you off too many side-paths and you’ve lost sight of what you’re even writing about, spank them gently with your outline when necessary.  They’ll thank you when they grow up.  Or maybe not.  Basically, the goal is to get from A to Z.  To paraphrase John Lennon, whatever gets you through the write is all right.


And that’s all folks.  As I said, I’m sure you’ve heard it all before, and probably heard it all before – that is, if you haven’t already heard it, you know, before.  I know I missed some stuff, some on purpose, some because my family is waiting patiently to play Rock Band, so don’t be surprised if I update this in the future.  Especially once I’m famous, at which point I will stretch this out to 200 pages with a bunch of anecdotes and exercises and sell it as the definitive book on writing fiction.

Now stop doing “research” on the internet and go do some actual writing!

Your Assignment:
Respond with any important advice you feel I’ve missed, misled on, or that you disagree with.  Or your thoughts on the challenges of writing genre fiction in general.  Also, with your stories about wrestling furry fans. 



Del Toro’s “The Hobbit”

From the Q.U. Visual Media Department Head:
I love the work of
Guillermo del Toro (director of Pan’s Labyrinth, and the upcoming Hellboy 2).  I was very pleased to hear he would be directing “The Hobbit.”

In fact, I have drafted what I suspect del Toro’s “Smaug the Dragon” will look like:

Your Assignment:
Share your thoughts on del Toro and Peter Jackson teaming up for “The Hobbit”  — your hopes, your fears, (personally, I’m torn on whether including the Jules Bass music from the 1977 animated version is a hope or a fear). 


Presidential Opinion on Superhero Property Damage

(I originally posted a version of this on Fantasy Magazine’s “Fantasy Friday: Blog for a Beer.”  The topic was the seeming lack of public outrage over property damage resulting from superhero battles, and was inspired by the release of the movie Hancock).

From the Q.U. Political Science Department Head:

As the (unofficial) self-appointed Spec-Fic Community Outreach Representatives for both U.S. Presidential cadidates, Obama and McCain, I would like to release the following (completely unauthorized) statements:


I believe it is up to the individual states to determine how best to handle the issue of superhero destruction.

However, I would make a few suggestions to guide these states in their decisions.

First, and most importantly, accelerate the rebuilding of any Old Country Buffet restaurants destroyed in the fighting. I love buffets.

Second, I understand that corporations like Lexcorp have been accused of profiteering on the destruction, by building cheap substandard housing and offices and then taking out ridiculous insurance policies on them. More, it has been suggested that many super-villains take bribes to direct the superheroes’ destruction in the most profitable urban areas.

I have been assured by Lex Luthor himself that this is not true. In fact, I propose … er… what was I talking about? Oh, yes, I propose reducing the taxes on any profits made from such speculation, as well as the corporate tax rate in general, as that will inject additional capital back into the system that will trickle down into jobs for the common people, and ensure faster rebuilding times.

Third and finally, I support tax breaks on all purchases of Viagra. I know that may seem a bit off-topic, but seeing Superman in his blue outfit going strong at, what, 90-something (?), reminded me.

Fourth, and finally, do not rebuild urban public schools. Instead use that money to provide vouchers to the parents of the displaced students. This will allow them to send their child to a safe private school in the suburbs – well, assuming they can get in, and afford the remaining tuition. However, I feel we should be careful what schools we fund. Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, for example, apparently has an unusually strong focus on teaching and researching evolution.

Finally, on the topic of immigration, many of the most powerful (and therefore destructive) superheroes entered our great nation from other countries, dimensions, planets and galaxies illegally. I propose erecting a transdimensional wall around our entire nation. And we can offer those who are already here a path to citizenship, if they are willing to use their abilities to help us defeat evil in Iraq. Not that we need help there. As General Thaddeus Ross clearly stated, everything is going really, really great there. Really.

Finally, let me just say that if you vote for me, I will send everyone a birthday card with five dollars in it.

And finally, pull my finger. Go on. It’s funny. Okay, fine, but … look who’s got your nose!

What? Oh, yes, thank you, and God bless America. And by God, I mean the real God, not the mighty Thor, or any of those other fake gods you see in eastern Indian comics, of course. But Buddha is okay. And no, I’m not just saying that to make people forget how I said I hated “gooks” in my 2000 presidential bid. Really.

Oh, and Reagan. And terrorists. Don’t really have a point, but I forgot to fit those words in earlier.

Is it nap time now? What? Oh, how do you turn this microphone off? I usually have my grandkids help me with my electronics. You should see me try to set the time on my DVD player. I — ssskkkk

Can we rebuild a brighter, better city after a superhero battle? Yes we can. Each superhero battle is not just an event of massive destruction, but one of opportunity, and hope.

I am reminded of little Billy Bradley, who asked me, “why didn’t my mother have health insurance when Superman caused a wall to collapse on her leg?” We must do more to ensure every citizen has the ability to seek medical aid after a superhero battle without fear of massive debt. That’s why I propose a voluntary universal health care system, as well as a superhero national volunteer program. For example, if Superman broke the woman’s leg, there is no reason he can’t use his x-ray vision to determine the damage, and save her the cost of hospital x-rays.

That’s point one.

Point two, we must address the rampant profiteering that drives this destruction. I support the efforts by Senate Democrats to levy a windfall tax on the insurance and construction companies, like Lexcorp, that have grossly profited from, and arguably increased, the destruction of people’s homes and offices. I also support increased accountability from building inspectors who sign off on these sub-standard and oddly explosive buildings.

Point three, we must ensure that the constant destruction of property does not destroy the lives of the middle-class men and women who work and live in these buildings. That’s why I propose rolling back the tax cuts on the corporations and the wealthiest 1 percent, like Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne, in order to provide additional tax relief and to extend unemployment benefits to the people who really deserve and need it, the hard working lower and middle class Americans, like my local press contact here, Peter Parker.

Point four, I intend to bring our troops home from Iraq as quickly as possible, so that our national guard can be available to help safeguard and rebuild our own cities during and after these superhero battles.

Point five, let’s take these opportunities to build more energy efficient buildings that utilize solar power, water and waste recycling technologies, and more. And for every gas-guzzling car tossed or blasted or ripped apart, let us replace it with a hybrid or electric car. In this way, we can take the jobs lost due to exporting labor to cheap countries like Dr. Doom’s Latveria, and to the destruction of workplaces and factories by superbattles, and replace them with “green” jobs that will put Americans back to work.

And finally, I just want to say that my favorite superhero of all time is Wonder Woman, who reminds me of my strong and beautiful wife. And no, I’m not just saying that to win over the Clinton women’s vote. Really.

Thank you, and God bless.

Your Assignment:
Respond with how you feel the presidential candidates would respond to the issue of superhero battles destroying U.S. cities, or a response to the speeches above, or how you feel the candidates would respond to other unusual topics.  

Or give us some handy home repair and construction tips.