Learning to Write the Other

And to become what the other look on . .It’s been a while since I wrote about a class I’m taking. I just started a six-week-long online class, “Writing the Other,” led by writers Nisi Shawl and K. Tempest Bradford. It’s tough for me to fit a class with my work schedule, my interminable commute, my writing, daily life, and just plain recovering from all this. But six weeks doesn’t seem too long, I think I can do this.

The class text is Writing the Other by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward, an inexpensive purchase as an ebook and one that can also be used for self-directed learning. We also use the essay collections curated by Jim C. Hines, Invisible and Invisible 2.

The instructors have gathered a collection of interesting links, but I’ll leave it to them to share their class material as they see fit. However, I had done my own gathering ahead of the class (including articles by the instructors), so I’d like to share those articles with anyone interested.

In addition, I would like to share a few tools I find useful in completing the assignments, for the benefit of classmates and others:


Image Credits: “And to become what the other look on . .” by Jef Safi, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

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First Impressions: Mindjammer

Mindjammer RPG coverI’d been eyeing Sarah Newton‘s Mindjammer Roleplaying Game (Mindjammer Press/Modiphius Entertainment) since it came out, but to be honest, the price was a little steep for me — it seemed completely reasonable for such a book, but I still have to think about the amounts I spend on games, versus how likely it is that I will get to play or run the game. I kept waiting to find a used copy at my FLGS, but it’s Annah Madriñan’s moving sale last week that gave me the chance I was looking for. I bought Annah’s second copy and it promptly arrived, in near-mint condition.

I read through a chunk of the game this weekend and it’s so good! I just had to go buy the novel by the same title which Sarah wrote for the setting.  If you like science fiction writ large and can afford it, this book is completely worth the price tag. I think I will run this at Big Bad Con this year. The new Hearts & Minds adventure and any upcoming supplements are now moving up my to-buy list.

The game offers a splendid amount of choice in terms of scope, style, and stories of transhuman science fiction, while offering a rich setting to tie into if you want. It also occurred to me that if you love the ideas in a story game like Joshua A.C. Newman’s Shock: Social Science Fiction (Glyph Press) or its follow-up Shock: Human Contact but are more comfortable with classic RPGs where everyone plays a character, the match could be great. You’d play an episode of Shock to create the broad strokes of your setting, then use Mindjammer to flesh it out and create a campaign.

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Mini-Review: Jurassic World

Jurassic World logoOK, this is definitely spoiler-free if you have seen any of the movies in the franchise before. The only spoiler here is that there is no spoiler. Jurassic World is exactly what you think it will be: visually stunning, and apparently written in cooperation between a pre-teen fan fiction beginner and an Internet bot.

Yes, that’s what I expected. No, I had not intended on paying money to see it in theatre, but after a shitty week I felt like seeing dinosaurs smashing stuff, so I changed my mind and woke my poor husband early-ish on a Saturday to catch the matinee. I had fun, but in exactly the way I was expecting. Here is my quick-score overview, all rated from 0 to 5 for worst to best:

  • Visuals and special effects: 5. It looks really sharp throughout.
  • Musical score: 2. John Williams on his slowest day, cloying Disney theme-park soundtrack.
  • Writing: 0. It’s profoundly derivative, inconsistent, and the dialogue makes George Lucas at his worst sound like Joss Whedon on a good day.
  • Casting: 3. Eh, it’s OK.
  • Direction: 0. The characters are weather vanes and it’s damned windy. “What’s my motivation?”
  • Editing: 3.5. Not bad, but could have been greatly improved by cutting out all the spoken lines.
  • Property Destruction: 4. Not a Pacific Rim or a Mars Attacks!, but respectable. However, I would have liked more buildings smashed and fewer extras chomped.
  • Diversity: 2. It has some intriguing non-white characters but only in support roles and without much agency.
  • Feminism: 0. It has no redeeming feature in this regard.
  • Carrie Fisher Award for salvaging dignity (a mere shred) despite awful lines goes to Chris Pratt.
  • Steven Seagal Award for inexplicably exiting the movie early goes to Irrfan Khan, who probably decided partway through that he had to save his career from this movie.

In short, you should only see this movie if, like me, you are really in the mood for this:

fthis

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Blast from the Past: SkyRealms of Jorune

Skyrealms of Jorune 2nd edition - coverFor a retro-themed role-playing game day at Endgame, Edmund chose to run SkyRealms of Jorune; specifically, he used the third edition published by Chessex under license in 1992 as well as some older sourcebooks from previous editions. I had played in a short campaign Edmund ran for me eight or ten years ago, and read a lot of the setting material on and off over the years before and since, but it sure had been a while.

If you don’t know the game, it drew a cult following back in the late 1980s-early 1990s because of its rich and original background, its effort to support fantasy conceits with plausible in-world explanations, and its atmospheric art by Miles Teves as well as Janet Aulisio, George Barr, and others.

But the system, in all its incarnations, was at best clunky and sometimes opaque. There is a lot of jargon, a lot of character sheet scouring in order to locate appropriate skills, a lot of rule mechanics that pull in different directions, and a lot of whiffing.

Despite the system obstacles, thanks to a game-master and two players anchored in modern role-playing aesthetics, we had a blast. Sean Nittner (of Big Bad Con game convention, Evil Hat Productions, and Narrative Control podcast fame) and I picked among the six pre-generated characters; Sean picked Persiphon, a human durlig farmer (the durlig is a labour-intensive crop), and I played “Dark” Mood, a Bronth private eye (a genetically engineered were-bear.)

We were harvesting durlig when a fearful Thriddle went running past us at high speed, before hitting a wall and knocking itself out. We discovered that it was suffering from hypothermia despite the hot Sobayid sun! After giving it care and reuniting the Thriddle with others of its species for medical care, we went investigating what it had been running away from. We found a hole that led to a crevasse that led to a room filled with crystals and a mysterious portal… We stepped through and found ourselves on a Sky Realm in the middle of a blizzard. We fought Cleash, we rescued Persiphon’s five-year old cousin Jessa from being eaten by the Cleash, we found a Shanta preserved inside a large crystal… We had adventures!

Edmund made it easier  to play by giving a large penumbra for skills we did have rather than demanding we use the skills we didn’t have. He also reduced the number of steps needed when we got into combat. The system requires: (1) an Advantage roll to determine who has the upper hand; an attack roll; if you hit, a hit location roll (which Edmund dropped), then a roll to penetrate armour if the opponent is wearing any, and finally a damage roll if you make it that far. Oh, and the defender may have a defense roll to avoid being hurt. You generally want to roll low… except when it’s time to roll for Advantage and for damage.

Because Edmund limited the rolls to where they made sense, and because Sean and I were completely into the modern mind set of “look at the die and narrate what happens,” rather than the old “Must Not Fail Roll!!” we had a great time. We also played our backwater hick-but-gung-ho characters to the hilt. In truth, I would love to play the further adventures of Persiphon and Moody!

For more on SkyRealms of Jorune, read Grognardia’s overview, Grymbok’s “Let’s Read” feature on RPG.net, or The Lonely DM’s review.

Bronth

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Shadow of the Kickstarted Action Movie!

Blowing Up the Movies plus  backstory-boxmockup   plusShadow-of-the-Century-Playtest-Draft-256x300

Earlier this week I received the ebook for Robin D. Laws’ Blowing Up the Movies, a backer reward for the recent Feng Shui 2 Kickstarter campaign. This morning I received the alpha playtest version of Evil Hat Productions’ role-playing game Shadow of the Century, which when released will be a backer reward for the Fate Core Kickstarter campaign. And when I got home tonight, Brooklyn Indie Games’ Backstory Cards, which I had purchased through Kickstarter, were waiting for me.

Tomorrow night, I’m having four players over for dinner and playtesting. We will use all three together and build us a giant badass of an 80s action movie!

explosion

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Post-Apocalypse Gaming

As a follow-up to my review of Mad Max: Fury Road, let me point to previous posts about a few role-playing games that are excellent matches for the genre, Apocalypse World (Lumpley Games), octaNe (Memento Mori Theatricks), Motobushido (Alliterated Games), and my hack of Fate Accelerated (Evil Hat Productions):

Apocalyse World (Lumpley Games) octaNe (Memento Mori Theatricks) Motobushido (Alliterated  Games) Fate Accelerated (Evil Hat Productions)

As a bonus, check out the various games based on Car Wars (Steve Jackson Games), and Dream Pod 9’s Tribe 8.
Car Wars (Steve Jackson Games) Tribe 8 (Dream Pod 9)

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Mad Max: Fury Road—Spoiler-Free Mini-Review

Mad Max and Furiosa at the Salt DesertFirst, I would like to thank the self-described “men’s rights activists” (MRAs) who alerted me to the fact that I needed to see this movie with their claim that it is feminist propaganda. I was lukewarm about seeing it in theatre, but they convinced me and I’m glad they did—so here is my spoiler-free review.

First, the style.

Mad Max: Fury Road is full of nearly non-stop action, pausing just long enough between plot segments to let you get your bearings. It has enough explosions to keep Michael Bay happy, and beautifully choreographed fight scenes.The stunts are so over-the-top, you’ll think it’s all computer graphics but in fact the CG enhances bad-ass old-school pyrotechnics and stunts.

The cinematography is gorgeous, with the post-production perfectly highlighting the drama through visual details. The use of different colour palettes and monochrome scenes in different hues serves as a language of its own to convey themes. The aesthetics are straight from the 1980s—the good part of the 80s, that is—but backed by today’s movie-making technology and lots of money. The soundtrack by Junkie XL is excellent and crazily topical.

The visual elements show not only mastery of a subgenre which director/producer/screen co-writer George Miller practically created, or at least greatly shaped (the post-apocalypse road movie), but also of other contributions and inspirations, including other movies, comic books, and games. George Miller is not stuck thirty years in his own past like some movie-makers, but has moved with the times. The casting is quite good and in some instances delightful. It’s also a who’s who of people with extensive family connections in the world of stardom.

The editing is tight, and used to support a “show, don’t tell” approach that I wish was more frequently used. Explanations and implications are there, but no narrative time is wasted in belabouring the obvious. If you’re the kind of people who likes for things to make sense, it’s there but you have to pay attention, there will be no lengthy exposition. If you don’t care, you can just follow the action uninterrupted.

And now for the substance.

The fearful MRAs are right: this movie is everything they hate. The fact that it’s also everything they usually love is just hilarious bonus. The movie’s bad guys so well represent the MRA platform!

Mad Max: Fury Road is chock-full of very clear messages about institutions, social mores, attitudes, and current issues that are squarely driving on the left side of the road. Interesting points are made about environmental degradation, aggression, territoriality, concentration of wealth, resource waste, religion, authority, education, and more. And the status of women is only one of these topics, but it’s beautifully handled.

For a spoiler-heavy review of the subversion of sexist tropes, go see Donna Dickens’ overview on HitFix—but only after you’ve seen the movie if, like me, you enjoy discovering a work of fiction with fresh eyes.

And I so greatly appreciated that the narrative was there, that it was not just gratuitous special effects, and that it was handled deftly. Miller does not talk down to his audience.

In short, it’s great fun and I want to see it again on the big screen.

Mad Max: Fury Road - Oncoming vehicles

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