Wednesday, June 14, 2017


So I've been watching Gotham for the past three years. It can be a fun show, a cross between a police procedural and a comic book show. Early seasons leaned more to police procedural, with the crimes being more gangster related, than the superscience and mystical villainy of the Batman comics. It slowly moved toward more aggressive comic book characters, and we've now seen such iconic characters as the Riddler, Mr. Freeze, Penguin, Firefly, and the Joker.

But there have been times when I think it's been too slow. Because let's be honest, the reason we watch Gotham is because we want to see Batman. Bruce Wayne has been in the show since the beginning--the series began with the murder of his parents. But since he was only eleven or twelve when it happened, he wasn't exactly going to be Batman right away.  In most portrayals, we start with Bruce's parents' murder, and then skip ahead a decade or so, to after Bruce has traveled the world, training with world-class experts to become the best at absolutely everything: martial arts, investigation, driving, inventing, even developing esoteric skills such as meditation.

But in Gotham, we watch him grow up. Rather than being trained by experts around the world, his principal teacher is Alfred--though admittedly, this version of Alfred is former SAS (British special forces), so he's taught Bruce how to fight. Bruce has also been hanging out with the young thief Selina Kyle, the future catwoman, and even stayed with her for a while so he could learn about thieving. Exactly how long is never stated--it was several episodes, which could have been anywhere from a few days to a few months. It was at least long enough to learn to pick locks, which he seems to be fairly proficient at these days. Finally, one of Ra's al Ghul's lieutenants, the Sensei (who's actually al Ghul's father in the comics, though that's never stated here) briefly kidnapped Bruce, primarily to brainwash him, though there was also some martial arts training involved.

Anyway, Gotham's always been interesting, but the end of Season 3 threw away the slow part. A lot happened, with Jim Gordon, Selina Kyle, Ra's al Ghul, but the most important development was with Bruce Wayne.

Bruce has finally decided to become Batman. Well, not Batman specifically, but a vigilante, fighting criminals. On the one hand, this seems like it's too soon for Bruce to become Batman. On the other hand, we've been waiting three years for this to happen, so lots of people (like, the whole Internet) is excited to see this.

The rumor is that the showrunners didn't think that Gotham would be renewed, and wanted to end the show with everyone moving in the right direction for their ultimate destinies. It looks like they did too good of a job, and everything's now moving way more quickly than before. It will be interesting to see if they can keep up the momentum.

That doesn't change the fact that Bruce is not ready yet. He knows how to fight, obviously, and he's learned some of the sneaking and thieving skills he needs, but he's clearly not the polymath that Batman is, so it'll be interesting to see how things develop.

To some degree, I expect the next season to have a Batman Begins or Batman Year One vibe, as he slowly develops the arsenal of gadgets and techniques that Batman uses. But in both those stories, Bruce Wayne already had the skills. He just needed to work out the method to use. Here, I think Bruce also needs to learn what he needs to learn. This will happen as he runs into challenges in his vigilantism he can't overcome with his current skillset. When he does run into those, he needs to figure out how to get the skills he needs.

There are several ways to go about this.

Obviously, Alfred will continue to teach him how to fight. He also may teach him more Batman skills, such as fancy driving, throwing weapons, rock/building climbing, etc.

There are also other experts in Gotham who could help train Bruce. The first time his vigilantism requires Bruce to solve a crime, not just interrupt one, he could turn to his friends in the GCPD, especially Lucius Fox, to help him not only solve the crime, but to learn how crimes are solved. In the movies, Lucius is also portrayed as the source of Batman's gadgets (more so in Batman Begins than the comics, where most of Batman's gadgets are invented by Bruce himself). Here I expect him to not only provide gadgets, but to teach Bruce about science and inventing. Jim Gordon may also help in developing some of the investigation skills, though unlike Lucius, in most continuities he doesn't know Batman's identity.

Selina Kyle is still around, though her current relationship with Bruce is frosty. Still, when it comes to sneaking and breaking into places, there may be more teaching that she can provide.

Then there's Ra's al Ghul, who showed up in the season finale as the true force behind the Court of Owls. Ra's wants to make Bruce Wayne into his heir to lead the League of Assassins, and the fact that Bruce was able to overcome the League's brainwashing just makes Ra's more intrigued. Bruce doesn't want to be al Ghul's heir, of course, but that doesn't change the fact that Ra's is willing and eager to teach Bruce all sorts of the ninja-like skills Batman needs--from sneaking around, to impossible feats of agility, to martial arts mastery, mystical mumbo-jumbo meditation, and throwing stars (aka proto-Batarangs). This was the path that Batman Begins took to show how Batman got his skills, so closely does al Ghul's teachings match what Batman needs to know. I fully expect Bruce to undergo some significant training at Ra's's hands, either willingly (perhaps in an attempt to infiltrate his organization, perhaps because he realizes he can't do this without it) or unwillingly.

Finally, it's not unusual for Bruce and Alfred to leave Gotham for months at a time for vacations. It wouldn't be out of line for such vacations to become cover for some intensive training of one type or another with an expert that Bruce learns about, or Alfred knows through his contacts. It's possible that some of those trips already involved more than visiting a ski lodge.

I'm not expecting a full-fledged Batman next season. Maybe if they think the show's going to be canceled again, they'll give it to us in the series/season finale. Otherwise, what I expect to see is Bruce slowly learning what he needs to know to be Batman, developing the tools and techniques and skills he needs, and possibly learning that he needs something more. Not just more training, but an identity, an icon, to make him something more than a viglante: a symbol.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Untranslatable Words

John Hawthorne had noticed this post of mine, where I link to an article on twenty untranslatable words in other languages.

He pointed me to an article he worked with his colleague Adrian to write, with 35 other foreign words. As the article states:
Have you ever found yourself struggling to find the perfect word? You have an experience that feels so…so…but no words exist. You want to insult someone but can’t find a word vicious enough. You want to speak words of tender affection to your partner but no such words exist in the English language. 
Thankfully, there are other languages we can turn to in our time of need. Here are 25 [actually 35] amazing foreign words that don’t exist in English. Use these words when English fails you.
Thanks, John.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Iron Fist Business Class

I mentioned in my previous post that the biggest issue I had with Iron Fist wasn't the fight scenes or the slow pacing, but the business decisions. I think this showed ignorance more on the part of the writers than the characters, so I feel that these questionable decisions are worth discussing.

The first one is that Rand Corp has developed a drug that is a cure for a deadly disease. It works wonders, and due to manufacturing efficiencies, they can produce the drug at $5 a dose. Ward Meachum wants to charge $50 a dose. Danny protests that if this drug saves lives, they should sell it at cost. He doesn't seem to realize that doing so doesn't mean they'll break even. It means they'll lose hundreds of millions of dollars. The cost of drugs isn't in the manufacturing. It's in the years of research and development and FDA trials and failed drugs that never made it to market because they didn't make it all the way through the process. That's hundreds of millions of dollars that Rand Corp spent to develop this drug that they won't make back. Money that they won't have to spend on R&D, which the show specifically mentions is something they want to do with the profit, so there won't be any cure for the next epidemic. And yes, maybe at the margins there would have been people who couldn't afford the drug at $50 a dose, but the show even says that the World Health Organization would have subsidized purchase of the drug in poorer regions. And it's not unheard of for drug companies to sell drugs for lower prices in poorer regions in the world, while still making a higher profit in the rest of the world.

In another case, some cancer victims are suing Rand Corp because they believe that the company's chemical plant on Staten Island gave them cancer. The problem is they don't have any evidence. The plant's emissions are all within government limits, and the plant has passed every inspection. As far as anybody can tell, Rand Corp is doing everything it can to run a safe plant. The plaintiffs' only evidence is that 15 people living within a one mile radius of the plant have gotten cancer. Only, wait, how many people live within a mile of the plant? Is 15 cases of cancer a lot for that many? Well, we don't know exactly where on Staten Island the plant is, but according to Wikipedia, Staten Island has a population of 474,588, and a population density of 8,112 people per square mile. So within a one mile radius of the plant, there'd be about 25,000 people. According to this website on cancer statistics, over 450 out of every 100,000 people will be diagnosed with cancer each year. So out of any population of 25,000 people, you'd expect 115 cancer diagnoses. Unless all those people have a specific, rare type of cancer that can be traced to something the Rand plant produces--none of which is even suggested--then if those are the only people with cancer, something in that area has caused an 87% decrease in the rate of cancer. Rand Corp has cured cancer!

I don't blame Danny for not getting this. He spent the last fifteen years in a monastery, and that sort of communal lifestyle typically doesn't operate on capitalist principles or teach basic statistics. But what bugged me is that no one could explain to Danny the simple math of these situations, instead telling him that his ideas were bad business or that they weren't how business worked. Yes, this is true, but he needed to understand why they were bad business, and no one could be bothered to do that--or possibly, none of the writers of the show understood economics any better than Danny did.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Iron Fist Review

I just finished watching Iron Fist. Before its general release, there were rumors that it wasn't very good from some of those who saw the first six episodes. After watching it, I can't say I agree. It does have a somewhat slower pace than a lot of the other Netflix Marvel shows, but I didn't find it dull.

Iron Fist is the story of Danny Rand, the son of Wendell Rand, the founder of Rand Corp, and heir to his company. When he was ten, Danny's parents died in the Himalayas, and he was taken in by K'un-Lun, one of the Capital Cities of Heaven, which exists in another plane of existence and which is only reachable every fifteen years. There Danny trained in martial arts and became the guardian of K'un Lun, the Iron Fist, which is both his title and the name of his ability to focus his chi into his hand and strike with explosive force.

There are a few differences between the origin story in the comic books and the Netflix series. In the comic books, Danny's parents died while seeking the city of K'un-Lun, while in the television series they died in a plane crash without any knowledge of the city. I was somewhat expecting them to lose some of the more mystical bits, like the seven extradimensional cities, or the dragon Shou Lao the undying, through which Danny received his abilities, and instead focus on a more naturalistic explanation, such as having Danny train at a remote monastery to focus his chi, but I was pleased to see that they kept the more mystical aspects of Danny's origin story. Most of the changes they did make serve to make the story more interesting: in the comics, K'un-Lun allowed Danny to leave to seek revenge for his parents' deaths, who, unlike in the Netflix series, were clearly murdered, whereas in the Netflix series, Danny left without permission for reasons which are not explained until much later.

When Danny returns, no one believes that he is who he says he is. Ward and Joy Meachum, the children of his Dad's old business partner who now run Rand Corp, assume that he's either an impostor or a crazy hobo. He certainly looks the part of the latter. This I think is the part that a lot of people found too slow. Danny spends much of the first few episodes trying to prove his identity, and his sanity (hard to do when he says he spent the last fifteen years in an extradimensional city with a dragon in order to become a mystical warrior), while avoiding getting into fights--which, let's face it, is the main thing we want him to do.

Once he's able to prove his identity and return to his company, things begin to pick up, and Danny has to begin dealing with his real enemy. The Hand (who has played a large role in Daredevil) has infiltrated Rand Corp, and is using them to distribute heroin throughout the world. If this plot sounds familiar, it's not that different from what Wilson Fisk was doing in the first season of Daredevil. But it sounds like the Hand has had its hooks in Rand Corp for much longer than that. During the first half of the season, the primary villain is Madame Gao, the drug-dealing little old lady who beat Daredevil quite thoroughly every time they met. Here, though, she's part of something bigger, which ironically makes her less interesting. In Iron Fist, she's an important figure in the Hand, whereas I always assumed that while she worked with the Hand in Daredevil, she was running her own organization. It's actually somewhat disappointing to just make her a lieutenant in the existing Hand organization, whereas the Internet was speculating she might be Crane Mother, the leader of one of the Seven Capital Cities of Heaven who bore a particular grudge against the Iron Fist.

Unlike some other Netflix shows (Luke Cage, Daredevil Season 2), where the second half of the season is something of a letdown after the first half, in Iron Fist I found the second half of the season more interesting. There's a late season plot twist that challenges everything we thought we knew about the Hand and introduces a new, compelling villain. This is followed by yet another betrayal, though this one was more obvious to the viewer than to Danny Rand. The shifting alliances near the end keep things fresh and interesting, and the season cliffhanger left me wanting more.

Let me reflect on a few of the complaints I've heard about the series. The first one I've heard is that it's too slow, and that Danny Rand's dealings with Rand Corp and the Meachums take up too much time and are the least interesting part of the show. I disagree. I liked seeing the fish out-of-water aspect of Danny trying to run a multinational corporation (more on that later). I also think that the Meachums, and their interaction with Danny and the Hand, are an important driver for the show, and that the character dynamics among Ward, Joy, Harold, and Danny are fascinating, and the way the alliances shift over time help to keep the show interesting.

Another complaint I've heard is about the fight scenes, that they aren't as good as they should have been given Danny's supposed martial arts prowess. I will say that I didn't notice any problems while watching the show. The fight scenes seemed fine to me, and I wouldn't have any reason to think there were problems with them without reading about it on the Internet. On a technical level, I realize that the actor Finn Jones is not going to have the martial arts skills of Danny Rand, who is supposed to be one of the best martial artists in the Marvel Universe, so others with a more critical eye may have picked up on some problems I didn't notice. There's probably room to make the fight scenes more satisfying for those people, and I suspect that with more practice, Finn Jones will be better able to fake it--which is all an actor is supposed to do.

So if neither of those things bothered me, what did? In a word, math. Someone needs to enroll Danny in some basic business classes. A big deal is made of a number of "compassionate" decisions Danny makes, except those decisions only make sense to very liberal writers and directors who have no knowledge of either math or economics. To me, they looked less like decisions guided by compassion than decisions guided by ignorance, and were the sort of thing that would drive Rand Corp into bankruptcy within a year if left unchecked. I'll save the specifics for another post, though.

So, to sum up, I liked Iron Fist, and my biggest complaints are completely unrelated to what bothers the rest of the Internet.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Carol Ann Crankshaw (August 27, 1954 - January 30, 2017)

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My mother and father, November 2015.

My mother died today. It was not a surprise, but it was still all too soon.

She was diagnosed with cancer in the summer of last year, and within a month we knew it was terminal. With treatment, it was hoped she might live another 4-5 years, and she started a course of chemotherapy immediately. Unfortunately, she did not respond well to the chemo, constantly fighting low white blood cell counts, and earlier this month she discontinued chemo after the doctors decided it was doing more harm than good.

Everyone has their regrets when a relative passes. I was slower to visit than I should have been, waiting until Christmas because of a lack of vacation time or a sense of urgency, but I was glad I went then, and again a week ago. She was weak when I went in December, sleeping for much of the day, but still lucid, and weaker still when I went in January, rarely awake and more rarely coherent. I wasn't there at the very end, and I'm not sure if I'm relieved or regretful.

It is hard to watch a loved one die, whether they decline slowly or precipitously. I suspect it's no comfort when they die suddenly and without warning, though. Ultimately, death comes for us all. There are no easy answers, no good ways to die. But there is hope for us who believe that death is not the end.

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My mother and father, December 2016.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

I want one

It seems that all I talk about recently is Mysterion. Well, let's get back to the other thing this blog does these days: geeking out about tech.

I've been thinking recently about getting a new tablet. Currently, the only tablet I have is a 7" Amazon Fire. Which is great for consuming content, but I was thinking it was time for something with a little more meat. I don't intend for this to be a primary productivity device for me. I have a laptop for that, which I'm quite fond of. So the tablet would still be a media consumption device. But I would like it to be at least a little bit more capable of productivity. I now have an official work laptop (a Mac Powerbook that I'm not crazy about--but that's because I have a bias against Macs), and I don't feel like I can take two laptops to the office. But I often miss having my personal laptop when I have to stay late or I'm traveling and want to do personal stuff, such as writing. You can get keyboards with plenty of tablet devices, so that seems like it could be the way to go. I also would like something I could get LTE access with, so I'm not always tethered to WiFi.

I was thinking of getting the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2, but my cellular provider just stopped offering it, and I'm not sure I can get the cellular version anywhere else. And then I saw this:

That is the Lenovo Yoga Book. It's internals are nothing to write home about: Atom x5 processor, 4 GB RAM, 64 GB storage. The screen is 1920x1200 LCD (I really want an OLED screen, but that's not available). Fortunately, it does allow you to add microSD storage up to 128 GB, and it apparently does have  LTE. What's really interesting is that it has a keyboard--sort of. Its Halo keyboard is actually a touchpad with haptic feedback. I'm not sure how easy it would be for me to type on, so I wouldn't want to use this for my primary productivity device, but it could be good enough for those times when I want to spend a little time writing.

What's most interesting is that the touch keyboard transforms into a writing surface, like a Wacom tablet, that records what you write or draw. I'm not much of an artist myself, but I do like paper notes.

It also comes with the option of either Android or Windows 10. I like Windows 10, or at least prefer it over Windows 8, but Android is better for media consumption, in my opinion. At the very least, Amazon allows you to download videos onto Android, not Windows. For productivity, the one thing I'd really miss with Android is that Scrivener is not available for it--yet. Scrivener is my primary writing tool, and I'd really like to be able to use it when I'm on the go. But the iOS version of Scrivener just released, and I know they've been working on the Android version, so I'm hoping that the Android version will be available some time in the next year.

So I'm definitely considering this device. I'll probably wait for reviews before shelling out $499 for it, though.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Mysterion is here

Mysterion: Rediscovering the Mysteries of the Christian Faith was released yesterday, August 31st, and you can now buy the anthology as an ebook and paperback at Amazon, and as an ebook at iTunesBarnes & Noble, and Kobo. The paperback is $16.99, the ebook $9.99.

We hope you enjoy it as much as we did. And once you read it, consider writing a review.

Here's how we describe our anthology:

The Christian faith is filled with mystery, from the Trinity and the Incarnation to the smaller mysteries found in some of the strange and unexplained passages of the Bible: Behemoth and Leviathan, nephilim and seraphim, heroes and giants and more. There is no reason for fiction engaging with Christianity to be more tidy and theologically precise than the faith itself.

Here you will find challenging fantasy, science fiction, and horror stories that wrestle with tough questions and refuse to provide easy answers or censored depictions of a broken world, characters whose deeds are as obscene as their words and people who meet bad ends—sometimes deserved and sometimes not. But there are also hope, grace, and redemption, though even they can burn like fire.

Join us as we rediscover the mysteries of the Christian faith.

"A fascinating look at Christianity through the prism of speculative fiction."

—Nebula Award-winning author Eric James Stone

"The stories in Mysterion ranged from the dusty preachings of a devout Roomba to a meditation on empty houses in heaven. I thoroughly enjoyed them all. General readers will appreciate the anthology for its diverse, entertaining tales, while those who enjoy provocative questions of faith and morality will find the collection especially rewarding."

—Livia Blackburne, New York Times Bestselling Author of Midnight Thief

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Mysterion's coming soon

Mysterion is coming out on August 31st!

That's the day that it will be available for purchase in both paperback and ebook from Amazon amd other retailers.

Meanwhile, if you'd like to get it early, you can support us on Patreon. A $5 pledge will get you the ebook on July 29th, while $25 will get you both the ebook and the paperback, with free shipping, sent in early August. But you have to pledge by July 28th. After that, we'll be shutting down the Patreon campaign.

Mysterion's full cover flat, for the paperback.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Mysterion Table of Contents

Kristin and I are pleased to announce the table of contents for Mysterion. You can find it on the Mysterion website here.

We're currently working on putting together all the pieces of the anthology, after which we'll send it to the copyeditor and then the layout artist.  We hope to have the anthology available for purchase by July. In the meantime, you can preorder a copy at our Patreon site.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

(Another) new story out: Marked Man

I've been busy on the anthology recently (we're in the process of editing the stories now, and it's taking a while), so I haven't had much to post here lately.

But in the meanwhile, I have a story out in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #62. "Marked Man" is a weird western about what happens when the past catches up with you. The story comes with a cool piece of art in the magazine.

A quick taste:
Heath knew the look of a man who meant to shoot another. There was no mistaking it in Eustace’s eye, so he drew his own weapon. No man could draw a gun faster than another could pull a trigger, though, even with the sort of help Heath had. The loud report of gunfire echoed off the buildings lining the street.
Another followed a second later, and Eustace went down. Itching burned across Heath’s chest, but he ignored both it and the wave of exhaustion that washed through him. He holstered his gun as he patted Murdoch. It was a good horse who didn’t shy during gunplay—or a deaf one. He hadn’t owned Murdoch long enough to be certain which he was. 
As Heath dismounted, a flat disc of lead tumbled out of the folds of his shirt. He stooped to retrieve it from the dirt and deposited it in his pocket, forcing himself upright despite his trembling legs. It wouldn’t do for someone to find the disc and figure out what had happened. He checked again that his sleeves were all the way down and his shirt buttoned all the way up, just to be sure. He thought the Mark of Warding could take another shot or two, but it was best not to give anyone else a reason to shoot him.
You'll have to buy the magazine to read the rest (no free version this time around).

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

New story out: Dynasty of the Elect

I have a new story out at Liberty Island Magazine. The name of the story is Dynasty of the Elect, and it's about strange aliens being strange and alien. Plus there's a conspiracy and such. A taste:
Tchel didn't turn around, his fore eyes remaining focused on the computer screen. His rear eyes could see his counterpart's bulk filling the office door just fine. Heldiss was large even for a 17th leveler, his arms as big as Tchel's forelegs, his forelegs thicker than Tchel's hind legs. Unlike Tchel, he wore the 17th level body with a heavy grace, maneuvering the low slung form easily. Even after a full term in this form, Tchel found it too big and ungainly, a throwback to early industrialization when the chief engineer needed a strong body to handle the massive machines more than he needed a strong mind. Heldiss would have fit in better then.

Sunday, October 25, 2015


Kristin has a brilliant post on stew, especially as it would have been eaten in a pre-industrial fantasy world.  A taste:
Obviously, no one’s going to be cooking up a pot of stew over their campfire after marching 20 miles.  But in an inn or tavern, where the proprietor and staff have been there all day?  Perfectly reasonable.  Far more reasonable than steak, in fact.  For one thing, most of the meat on a cow (or any other quadruped) isn’t tender enough to be turned into steak.  It requires long, slow cooking in some kind of liquid (also known as “stewing”).  Even more so before the advent of modern factory farming and feedlot practices.  And, before the invention of refrigeration, most of the meat people ate would have been salted, dried, and/or smoked.  Salted meat especially needs to be soaked and boiled before it’s palatable again–an excellent candidate for stew.  It doesn’t make sense to kill a large animal for fresh meat unless there are enough people around to eat it before it spoils.  So you might do this for a wedding or other special occasion, but the suggestion that a typical inn serving ordinary travelers should specialize in steak instead of stew is a bit ridiculous.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Mysterion is now open for submissions.

The title gets at the most important point: Mysterion is open for submissions, from now until December 25th.

There's more, though. Mysterion also has cover art (shown above), and will be fundraising via Patreon.  Have a look at the website for more.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Enigmatic Mirror Press

This post is a slightly-modified version of a post originally appearing on the Mysterion website.

The small independent press producing the Mysterion anthology--basically Kristin and Donald and whomever they can subcontract work to--now has a name. We're calling ourselves Enigmatic Mirror Press.

This is a reference to 1 Corinthians 13:12, which says, "For now we see through a mirror in darkness, but then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known." In Greek, the part that says "through a mirror in darkness" reads:
δι’ ἐσόπτρου ἐν αἰνίγματι
ἐσόπτρου transliterates to esoptrou, and means mirror, while αἰνίγματι transliterates to ainigmati, which means obscurity or darkness; ainigmati is the origin for the English word enigmatic. The verse itself is about the difference between our limited, mortal understanding here in this life, and the truer, fuller understanding that we will have later. In the ancient world, all mirrors obscured, since they relied on polished metal rather than the metal-backed glass of modern mirrors. The difference between the distorted reflection in one of those mirrors and seeing someone face-to-face would have been obvious to the ancient reader. And the imagery reminds us that the understanding we lack is not only of concepts, but also of God, and that we do not yet know him as he fully knows us.

Our anthology's name speaks to the mysterious in the Christian faith; our press's name reminds us of the limits of our understanding--at least for now.

Saturday, August 15, 2015


So I promised an announcement in my last post.  Here it is.  My wife and I have decided that we have too much free time, so we're starting a speculative fiction anthology.  We're calling it Mysterion: Rediscovering the Mysteries of the Christian Faith.  We are paying professional rates (6 cents a word) for stories that meaningfully engage with Christianity, meaning that they contain Christian characters, themes, or cosmology.

We’re not necessarily looking for unambiguously pro-Christian stories: we want to be challenged as much as encouraged. Thematically, we're looking more for Flannery O'Connor than C.S. Lewis. You can read more about it at, especially in our Submission Guidelines and Theme Guidelines.

We open for submissions on October 15th.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Realm Makers

This weekend, Kristin and I went to Realm Makers, a convention for Christian speculative fiction writers. It was a lot different from the conventions we normally attend.

Some of those ways were disappointing--there were a lot fewer parties, and those parties were much more structured, with a lot of announcements and prizes, but less time for socializing that I'd expect at a party. Also, pretty much every event, from the awards, lunch and dinner (which were mostly provided), and the parties, were sponsored by one publisher or editor or another, which meant that each event would contain a lengthy spot for that sponsor to advertise themselves, usually by talking about what they do. Now, some of this should be expected, but I would have preferred if the promotional spots were more in line with two minutes rather than ten.

But on the other hand, its classes were much more focused, led by a single expert rather than a panel, and generally more instructive. I mostly attended a continuing session led by David Farland, a famous writer who has mentored a lot of other even more famous writers, such as Brandon Sanderson and Stephenie Meyer.

This was probably the most productive conference I've ever been to. Now, I've been to large conferences like World Fantasy and Worldcon, as well as local ones like Boskone and Readercon. And I've met a lot of great people at them. But perhaps because this was a small conference, 150 as opposed to thousands, I've never had a chance to meet so many successful authors and publishers, or to pitch to two agents, or attend a masterclass on writing run by David Farland. I think I learned more, made more connections, and made more progress in my own writing than any other con I've attended. So it was definitely a worthwhile experience.

Of course, the main reason Kristin and I went to this conference was so we could recruit people for a project we're working on. I'll be announcing that on this blog in the next few days.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

New computer

So my old laptop died.  That wasn't so strange--it was just a cheap laptop to tide me over, and the WiFi had been iffy for a year now, but now I couldn't get it to work at all. For the new computer  I wanted something better. Something small, light, but powerful, with plenty of RAM, a fast processor, an SSD drive, and long battery life.  Plus, I wanted Windows. I was going to wait for Windows 10, but I needed a computer now, and Windows 10 was a free upgrade anyway. I figured I could live with Windows 8.1 for three weeks if I had to. Finally, I wanted it to be 2-in-1, both laptop and tablet.

There are a number of options, but I wanted the best for my purposes. And for my purposes, what I needed was primarily a laptop, and only secondly a tablet. I would mainly use it for writing and web surfing, but it would also need to be able to handle work tasks, which could occasionally be more complex. So I looked at the usual review sites, such as CNET and TechRadar. There were three that stood out: the Surface Pro 3, the HP Spectre x360, and the Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 12. (I wanted to like the Lenovo LaVie 360, which was very light, but it didn't get very good reviews, which generally said that it felt too flimsy and had an awkward keyboard layout.) The Surface Pro 3 was more tablet than laptop, and I wanted something that didn't need a separate kickstand.  That left the HP Spectre x360 and the Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 12, and it was a close call.  The lift-and-lock keyboard of the Yoga 12 appealed to me, but it didn't seem to me to be worth the premium, and any comparable loadout of the Yoga 12, in terms of processor, memory, resolution, and SSD seemed to be several hundred dollars more expensive than the HP Spectre.  Still, it was close.  If the Signature Edition of the Yoga available from the Microsoft Store for $1299 had been in stock, I might have gone with that, even if it was lower resolution and a smaller SSD and had an older, but comparable, processor, but the version that was readily available would cost $1800 with the loadout I wanted.  So instead I got the $1400 loadout of the HP Spectre x360 (available only at Best Buy right now, but it should appear at the Microsoft Store soon).

It's slightly lighter (3.2 lbs vs 3.5 lbs) and has a slightly longer battery life. The processor of the Spectre x360 and the newer Yoga 12 are roughly the same, though the Yoga 12 had a slightly better i7-5600U available vs. the Spectre's i7-5500U. But the Spectre came with a 512 GB SSD (an option which would cost an extra $300 on the Yoga), and a 2560x1440 resolution (not available for any price on the Yoga 12).  I would sort of like a digitizer pen, which the Yoga comes with (for a price), but you can buy one for $60, and I figure I should at least try a cheaper stylus before I upgrade to that.

I've been using it for two days now, and so far I'm pretty impressed.  The battery life seems to be as expected, though I haven't done any tests on it myself.  The keyboard is nice, and works well for my typing style.  The clickpad also works well, despite some complaints in the reviews.  Right now my biggest complaint is that the rim around the keyboard has a sharp right angle corner, especially noticeable where my wrist rests when the laptop's lying in my lap at certain angles.  I'm tempted to take a dremel to it, but maybe there's a less severe solution--some sort of tape or rubber where my wrist rests?  Other than that admittedly annoying flaw, I think it works very well.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Bard's Tale IV

One of my clearest memories of PC gaming comes from when I was in middle school. I was in the basement playing a PC game called The Bard's Tale. It was one of those games that really made you work. I had a ton of graph paper beside me, with each level of the dungeons carefully mapped out in pencil, with notes for everything I found. The Bard's Tale dungeons were especially devious, with teleporters and spinning squares that left you disoriented and uncertain where you were and what direction you were facing, and many of the pencil lines on the graph paper were erased and redrawn more than once as I struggled to reorient myself. But I did, and I was nearing the end of one of the final dungeons (I think it was Kylearan's Tower, so not the quite the last dungeon).  My mother had already called me up to dinner more than once, and I knew that she was getting impatient with my innaminutes.  Just a little farther, though.  And then, just as I was nearing the end of the dungeon, I ran right into a group of wandering monsters. Only these were new, not anything I'd ever faced before--I looked at the picture, which resembled nothing so much as slimy lizardmen on four legs in the CGA graphics (4 colors! 320x200 pixels!) of my 286 computer. Then I read the name.  Balrogs.  Balrogs?! I had read Tolkien, I knew what balrogs were--they're the things that dragged off your epic-level wizard and sent the rest of your party scrambling for the exit.  And that was just one of them--there were three here. This was going to be a deadly battle.  And then my mother called again, with the dreaded "If you don't get up here right this minute, young man, . . ." attached. There was no way I could finish such a tough fight and be at the dinner table soon enough to satisfy my mom.

So I left the game running--thank goodness for turn-based combat--and hurried up to dinner. I spent the entire dinner bouncing in my seat with delicious anticipation, eagerly telling my family all about the dread creatures I faced, and the very real danger that the party I'd raised from level 1--the dwarf paladin Astar, the half-elven bard Dinorin, the elven wizard Nilotin (nearly 30 years later and I still remember most of their names)--were about to face their doom.  That night, that anticipation, are among my greatest memories of PC gaming.  Of course, the fact that the balrogs happened to be real pushovers unworthy of the name was a bit of a letdown, but I was so close to defeating the evil wizard Mangar that I barely even cared.

I bring this up because The Bard's Tale is back.  Their Kickstarter campaign is already successful, and now they're aiming for the stretch goals. This is a true sequel, picking up 150 years have the last game, The Thief of Fate, and giving it all the beauty that modern gaming is capable of, as seen in this gorgeous video created using the game engine:

I'm hoping they meet some of their stretch goals--I'd especially like a 3rd person perspective on the party during combat, but the fundraising has slowed sufficiently that I doubt I'll see that.

Right now, the one thing I'm disappointed in is the backstory:
Ever since the Church of the Sword Father civilized the land of Caith and chased out the heathen a hundred years ago, the new Skara Brae, built on top of its ruined predecessor, has become a god-fearing town, where it is dangerous to admit to harboring such superstitious notions or knowing anything of the old ways. 
Which is unfortunate, because it's starting to look like the trolls and bloodfiends and hobgoblins from all those fairy stories have returned. Terrible things have been happening in Skara Brae - people slaughtered in their beds by unseen beasts, holy sites desecrated, folk disappearing between field and home, statues of the Mad God found in bloodstained back alleys, and the Song of the Maiden heard again for the first time in a generation. And worse, the people most equipped to deal with these old threats have been made outlaws.
Since the advent of the Fatherites, the practice of magic has been made a sin, and the old races of elf, dwarf, and trow have been banished, with all known ways to their realms smashed and sealed. And now, unable to stop the horrors that have been preying upon Skara Brae, the church has decided to put the blame for them on the Adventurer's Guild, shutting it down and calling its members cultists, witches, and pagans who must be burned at the stake for their unholy crimes.
This sounds like the standard fantasy trope of the evil monotheistic religion oppressing the good, more enlightened polytheists. It's a tired trope, particularly annoying to those of us belonging to one of those monotheistic religions. Aside from being based on more myth than history, the trope gives short shrift to both religions, mythologizing one while vilifying the other. Consider, for example, that witch-hunts predate Christianity. Persecutions of that sort seem to be a constant--if you believe in magic, then reacting violently against those whom you believe are practicing it against you is only natural. I'm hoping that the actual game will handle the religious conflict with a bit more nuance than this backstory implies.

To be honest, this is a small thing. It's one of those things you learn to expect if you play fantasy games or read fantasy books. Christians who want to enjoy fantasy just become inured to it. It was edgy in the seventies or eighties, but now it's so common that hardly anyone notices (though God help the developers if someone decides this is Islamophobic--which, given that I doubt they'll actually describe the Church of the Sword Father in terms of the Trinity or the Incarnation or any doctrine that is recognizably Christian, it may more closely resemble).

I'm still eager for the game and definitely want to play it, and I don't regret giving significantly more than the minimum for their Kickstarter. But I am just a little less eager now.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Review of Marvel's Daredevil

Mavel's Daredevil is the first of the Netflix Marvel superhero television series. In a way it's similar to Agents of Shield--it's set in the same universe as that television show, as well as the Avengers movies. But it's a very different type of show, less about exploring larger-than-life superheroes or the government agency responsible for dealing with them, than with the reasons a man with certain gifts becomes a vigilante. In that sense, it resembles Batman Begins or Arrow.

In some ways, Daredevil is a C-lister of the Marvel universe. Marvel's A-level superheroes are Spiderman, the Fantastic Four, and the X-Men. Even the Avengers are more B-listers, which explains why, when Marvel decided to take a more direct hand in the development of the superhero movies, they still had the rights to those heroes. The fact that they did such a phenomenal job with them did a lot to move the Avengers up in the superhero world, and now they've turned those same skills to the C-list heroes such as Daredevil.

Daredevil is an interesting hero, as his superpower is his blindness. The same accident that blinded him also heightened his other senses, giving him the ability to "see" much better than most people. He's also a highly trained martial artist, and very skilled at fighting. But he's not the powerhouse of a Thor or an Iron Man, or even a Captain America, and that makes him a much more down-to-earth hero. He's not out saving the world, he's taking on more localized villains--gangsters and killers, not aliens and gods. So his story is a lot more grounded.

Daredevil takes place entirely within New York's Hell's Kitchen shortly after the events of the first Avengers. New York is a mess, and Hell's Kitchen is worse than most of it. There's a great deal of crime in the streets and corruption in the police department. Matt Murdoch has just started a law firm with his old college roommate, Foggy Nelson, trying to do good work, but that isn't enough for him. Thus he begins his own private battle against the corruption around him, using his superior senses and his martial arts ability. But it's not easy. The fight scenes of Daredevil are very good, and very bloody. Matt can take on multiple enemies, but not with ease, and he often takes a beating while dishing one, and is staggering around, barely standing by the end.

Matt struggles to maintain a balance between practicing the law and working around it, but his greater struggle is with his faith. His Catholic beliefs both convict and inspire him, and he often seeks counsel from his priest. I'll point you to this article for more on this, but it struck me as more realistic than most Hollywood portrayals of people wrestling with their faith.

Matt's law partner, Foggy Nelson, is one of my favorite characters in this series. His main role is as the plucky comic relief, but he's also a genuinely decent person and a capable lawyer. He keeps the show from becoming too dark, and when Foggy's and Matt's friendship is at risk of breaking, there's as much a sense of danger as when any of the characters' lives are at risk.

Karen Page and Ben Urich round out the cast of good guys. Karen is Foggy's and Matt's first client, and she quickly joins their tiny law partnership. Ben Urich is an over-the-hill investigative reporter who's finding it hard to get by in the world of blogs and Facebook, but still has one good story left in him. They are up against a citywide conspiracy headed by Wilson Fisk, aka Kingpin. Wilson Fisk is presented as a complex character, who really wants what he thinks is best for the city, but whose goals require breaking a few eggs. And when those eggs are friends of the good guys, they fight back.

One disappointment I had with the show is that there wasn't that much lawyering going on. There's only one instance of courtroom drama, and I could only count four clients over the course of the show. I'm not entirely certain how they're staying in business, but I can definitely believe that they're struggling to do so. I did like that old-fashioned, generally dull legal research helped to bring the show to its climax and expose the bad guys, but that seemed to be entirely pro bono.

Overall, I really enjoyed Daredevil. It's dark and gritty, but not so dark that it lacks hope and a moral center. The characters feel real and their struggles were meaningful, both the external fight against Wilson Fisk and his allies and their internal struggles with their own consciences and pasts. If it's a sign of things to come, I'm definitely looking forward to the later series, especially Luke Cage and Iron Fist, two characters whom I already like. Heck, I've never even heard of Jessica Jones, and I'm still looking forward to her show.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Universal Health Care Insurance

Conservative policy wonk Avik Roy has made the argument that universal healthcare is a desirable good. Conservatives tend to be skeptical of this argument, since it has a whiff of the concept of positive rights. Conservatives are big believers in negative rights, the idea that certain personal freedoms are protected from infringement by others, especially the government. Freedom of the press, and of speech, of religion, from unreasonable search and seizure, these are all negative rights--freedoms that are protected from interference. Positive rights, such as freedom from hunger, disease, poverty, or homelessness, work differently. They require that the government act in order to provide them.

Conservatives are skeptical of positive rights for several reasons. One is purely philosophical: anything that must be given to you is not a right. Rights do not come from the government--they're natural, God-given. Any right which comes from the government is one which can be taken away by the government. Government cannot provide everything. No government has been successful in eliminating poverty, or disease, or hunger. Government is not actually capable of providing these rights. Sure, they can sometimes do so, for some people, but not for everyone, everywhere. So to pretend that it's a right, and not to be able to provide it, inevitably leads to more and more coercive means being used in the attempt to provide it. Coercion is the tool the government uses to achieve its goals. The government can't provide anything without taking from someone else. Thus taxation. Most people agree that some level of taxation is reasonable, but how high are we willing for it to go, how complex and overbearing and intrusive of a tax code will we put up with? A lot of the complexity of the tax code is due to the government using the coercive power of taxation to try to change people's behavior.

All that said, conservatives can come around to the idea of health care as a public good, like highways and utilities. The problem is that health care is also expensive, and providing health care to everyone only exacerbates the main thing that makes it so expensive: the third-party payer problem. In general, people don't pay for their own health care, someone else does, either their insurance provider or the government. Thus they have no motivation to keep their health care costs low by shopping around and looking for better deals, and hospitals and doctors have no motivation to provide better deals. Providing free health care to everyone removes what little motivation there is to spend wisely, and so people will ask for more medical care than they need, while government, now on the hook to pay for it, looks for ways to reduce costs, which leads to shortages and rationing. The great thing about pricing is that, at its most basic, it balances supply and demand. The more people who demand something, the more expensive it is, which both encourages more people to provide it and more consumers to consume less, which drives the price down. This balance is why the free market system is so good at distributing goods at reasonable prices. The freedom of prices to adapt to the circumstances influences both supply and demand to a reasonable balance. Ideally, this could be applied to medicine as well.

The problem is that applying it to medicine is hard. Too many people see medical care as a right, not something you can put a price on. Most companies supply health insurance to their employees, partially subsidized by government tax incentives, and since people are terrified of going without health insurance, that leads to them feeling reluctant to leave their jobs. And when people are without insurance, medical problems can go untreated, and trying to get treatment can bankrupt them. What I'd like to see is a way to cushion the problem of going without insurance, while addressing the third-party payer problem. My proposed solution would provide single-payer, government run health insurance, not health care.

1. Health insurance, not health care

The idea of insurance is not that it covers all the costs of routine maintenance, but that it provides help in case of catastrophes. If the costs become more than you could handle on your own, your insurance steps in. Modern health insurance isn't like that--it covers a lot of routine medical treatment long before deductibles become an issue. That's less like insurance and more like a health care plan. What I'd propose that the government provide is something very different. It's similar to what Megan McArdle proposed in this article, but I had already been thinking about it before reading her idea, and have a slightly different spin.

The principle idea is that the government doesn't pay anything, not one dime, to your health care unless you exceed a certain percentage of your income. As long as your costs are less than that, you pay for it yourself. If you exceed that percentage, then the government would cover the entire costs beyond that percentage.

What that percentage should be is something I'm not sure about--my initial idea is 25%, McArdle proposed 15-20%. I think that the actual amount is open to debate, as long as it is a relatively large proportion of your income. The idea is to make sure that you have an incentive to manage the costs of your own health care, and for that you need to feel that if you hit the limit, then it's costing you too much. Thus you're motivated to seek competitive pricing and moderate your level of consumption. If it were small enough that you'd always hit the limit, then you no longer have the motivation to manage your cost, and it doesn't work.

Most people would not hit the limit most years, but in the case of a catastrophe, they're protected from ruinous losses. Illnesses that prevent you from working would also lower your income, and thus also lower your limit.

You may think that this may work for the middle class, who can absorb a large expense for a year or two, but what about the poor, who have difficulty giving up even 1% of their income, much less 25%? I think it's reasonable that the percentage for poorer people can be significantly lower, possibly gradated to be 20%, 15%, 10%, even as low as 5%, depending on their income in comparison to the poverty level. I wouldn't favor bringing it all the way down to 0%--I think everyone should have some motivation to manage prices. Ultimately, it would be up to Congress to decide on the exact percentages, and I expect there to be negotiations and debate as to what exact percentages work best.

2. Transparent cost

So how do you pay for this? Simple, with a tax, but more importantly, with a simple tax. A straight percentage, that everyone pays, similar to Social Security or Medicare, that is by law required to be sufficient to pay for the program. Everyone pays in, everyone benefits. And since the cost is transparent and obvious, any proposals to change the program to be more or less generous have immediate effects that everyone feels. I suspect that the actual tax would be pretty small, as the program is not very generous--most people, most years, will not hit the limit that they have to hit for the government to pay anything.

3. Insurance companies

Wouldn't insurance companies oppose this? That's what killed Hillarycare, and Obamacare only won them over by bribing them with the individual mandate and subsidies.

This plan doesn't make health insurance obsolete, however. Most people don't want to risk paying up to 25% of their income for health care. They want a health care plan, not just insurance. Insurance companies can market to them, businesses can still use health care plans to entice workers.

In addition, the percentage limit would apply to insurance companies as well. When someone with insurance ended up with health care costs exceeding a set percentage of their income, the insurance company would also be reimbursed by the government. Now, it may be helpful if the costs are tweaked, perhaps so insurance companies are on the hook for 35% instead of 25%, or don't see their limits gradated for lower incomes, but overall the idea is that there's a significant gap between fully covered and not covered at all that insurance companies can fill. And since their risks are lower, their premiums can be commensurately lower. And since their risk is even lower for lower income people, it's certainly fair and expected for them to base their premium on people's income.

I still think there would be some opposition from insurance companies. With this sort of safety net, more people would feel free to go without insurance, which is not a bug but a feature of the plan--people without insurance have even greater motivation to manage their own health care costs. And I doubt insurance companies would like that.

4. Transparent payments

Encouraging people to shop around for their own health care is one part of the equation for reducing the third-party payer problem. But another part of the problem is the lack of transparency of health care costs. Hospital and doctor billing, tied up as it is with health insurance and government-provided health spending such as Medicare and Medicaid, is unconscionably opaque--no two people pay the same, and it's those who pay for their medical care themselves tend to pay the most, since insurance companies can use their clout to negotiate lower prices. How do we overcome that problem?

I propose that any hospital or doctor that takes any federal money, including money from any insurance company that accepts reimbursement from the government, be required to publish a schedule of prices, clearly stating how much they charge for treatment, whether that's counted in the treatment itself or at an hourly rate for the doctor's or nurse's time. And if they charge different amounts for different insurance companies, then they should publish that as well. Now this billing will probably be fairly complex for most people to figure out, but any publishing beforehand gives people an opportunity to measure the cost before going to the hospital, to look for cheaper alternatives, and to dispute the bill. And if trial lawyers want to sue hospitals for deceptive billing practices, I'm open to allowing that. I believe in tort reform for medical malpractice, but I also think that hospital billing can be one of the most deceptive practices in modern medicine, so a little bit of legal correction might be very helpful. I also think that doctors and hospitals will quickly find that giving clear pricing, where individuals pay nearly the same as insurance companies, will be a draw for customers, and that eventually most places will respond to that incentive

Would it work? 

So will all this work? I think that's it's a reasonable approach, but nothing is guaranteed to work. I am fond of it because it is insurance, rather than a health care plan, costs are fairly low--most people, most years won't take advantage of it--while it prevents catastrophic health care costs from leading to bankruptcies. If it does work, it could very well replace Medicaid and Medicare (which may require scaling for the elderly in the same way it scales for the poor to ease people into it). There would also be less call for the market distorting tax advantages for employer provided health care.  These things would tend to balance out the costs. Most importantly, it tries to address the third-party payer problem, which would hopefully lower costs. There's the difficulty in actually passing something like this, and whether people invested in the current system would agree to it. As far as I know, no one's seriously considering a plan like this aside from me and Megan McArdle, so that's probably the biggest issue right there. And while I think it would work, my background's not in economics, and definitely not in health care economics. I'd be interested to hear what a real expert thinks of something like this.