Monday, December 19, 2011

Chapter 22: About Who You Were Expecting

I have motorcycle boots like Billy Tatum's. They're quite scruffy, and I'm actually quite proud of them.

I suspect that that just goes to show that I lack social skills. Which I already knew. Case in point: missing my deadline to finish this post by about an hour. Although I would probably have made up another excuse to avoid getting on with my life if I'd finished on time.

At least now I can go out and do something important before noon. If shopping for a replacement router at London Drugs counts. (Ooh, shiny computer stuff!)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Chapter 21: Getting Out of Dodge

I laid out the basics of John's background before I came up with the rest of this plot, in case anyone's wondering.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Chapter 20: Many Years Past

It turns out that I have no memory of what Sixties decor looks like. Fortunately, that's what Google Images is for. It even pulls up glam shots of Rosa Luxemburg.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Chapter 19: Plumbing Problems

A boy's first car... Mine was actually a  motorcycle, and I got when I was two years older than John. It was a very special thing, and, like a typical teenager, I hardly appreciated what I had. I won't even comment on the other special things that teenagers hardly appreciate are special.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Chapter 17: Talking to People

That's one awesome wiki, Champions Online dudes. It's almost enough to make you, you know, want to participate.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Chapter 16: Digging Up Stuff

If there's one thing to regret and think about rewriting in, it's just how much a teenaged boy's muscles can long to run and work, while their brains just want to play videogames. It's the eternal dichotomy, only resolved when their Moms kick them out of the house because they're sick of seeing them vibrating in place.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Chapter 15: Towards a Red Planet

I've always wanted something that shoots forward when I'm driving, but common sense and classic tabletop gaming suggests that mine droppers would be a lot more effective.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Chapter 14: Investigations

So, long ago, I decided that the basic motivation for Juanita Guzman's emo snarkiness was that she grew very tall, very quickly, and felt freakish about towering over her BFF, Jenny Wong. Then I decided to have Juanita and Henry Wong be a thing. And not to load too much on the poor girl, I made it a "normal" relationship.

That is, Henry is quite tall. All very logical so far, even if it's not quite the full Bruce Lee to be towering over your opponents, but then when I was tailoring plot elements to characters, I made Henry the spitting image of his father, Henry Wong, Senior.

So the Furious Fist is tall, too. How tall? 6'3"' (191cm). So, I thought, so what? The girls could take after their mother and be a more typical stereotypical height. (Except May; I visualised May as tall, albeit a more normal 5'10 or so.)

The problem is that while Mrs. Wong might be a more "normal" height for your stereotypical Chinese mama in spite of being a northerner, genetics doesn't work that way. Jason has to be tall, and that means his twin has to be tall, too. It's not how I imagined Amy, but there you go.

In cleanup matters, I will be fixing my wandering Tamil rocket-girl's name back to "Theera" in Chapter 13 shortly.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Chapter 12: Dreams of Chai

In the Hero System, Extra-Dimensional Movement, Usable as an Attack, is an extremely unbalanced power. That means that there should be some fairly common defences to it. But you do get to select the special effects of those defences.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Chapter 9: Trouble That Starts With A 'T'

It's hard writing sports fiction for a sport you've never even played. Not as hard as guessing what this year's CO Halloween event is going to be like, but harder to wing. Also, "gravure idols?" You Japanese are strange.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Beginning With A Bi-Modal Distribution

Three things: One for the youth, born full of hope/One for the blogger, indiscreetly wise/One for the prof, at the end of his rope/One post to join them all, where the shadow lies.

First, the oldest nephew blew through Kitsilano on Sunday on his way to Point Grey and the heartstoppingly beautiful campus of the University of British Columbia.
From Why? Because this is one of  the  great things you see on an Alaskan cruise. Book yours today!

That's 29 years, give or take a day, after I did the same thing. I've every reason to hope that he'll do better than me (first year flunk-out become History PhD working at a grocery store), but if you have a somewhat underemployed failed-intellectual uncle living in a garret,* you better damn well know that he's going to be looking out for you as best he can. And while hitherto failed-intellectuals have been content to observe the world, the point, rather, is to change it. By posting on their blogs. Tremble, ye kings and potentates, for I wield Blogspot, and am over-caffeinated!

Second, Brad Delong, driven to distraction by the intractably high unemployment rate, chanced to utter the secret that we generally keep from nice young boys like my nephew: that getting a job depends far more on who you know than how hard you try. Third, there is Paul Campos on the "law school scam." I've linked to a short post at Lawyers, Guns and Money in my Tolkien pastiche above, but he goes on at much greater (and fully justified length) here. So I'm going to put it all together with an insight from an earlier round of the same discussion. Specifically, it is hard for most beginning lawyers to repay their student loans, because the claimed high average pay of beginning lawyers in fact masks a noncontinuous distribution of incomes. Something's going on here: just check out this attempt to defend these statistics, and the acid comments following.

 Some law students, generally the ones with the highest grades at the Top 20 law schools, get into prestigious legal firms that charge deep-pocket clients very high hourly rates to do their vital work for them. So where you went to school determines your salary. Or, in fact, whether you get any salary for legal work at all. And that's why you get this emergent bimodal distribution of legal incomes.

What I'm here to argue is that this isn't a peculiarity of law school, but rather a much more common phenomenon that plays a crucial role than is obvious in the state of things today. The bimodal distribution isn't a bug. It's a feature. Okay. It's a bug, too. It can be both!

*The self-pity party aside, I actually have a pretty sweet contract. It's just that it took thirteen years for the middle-class pay, benefits, paid time off and generous vacation provisions to vest. The garret's because Kitsilano is expensive. And it's expensive because it's such a nice play to live. You pays your money...

Monday, August 29, 2011

Chapter 8: Below The Surface

Below the fold. Note that "the mall" gets a name this chapter, Panther Heights. And West Philadelphia's local malls have been in trouble for a while due to competition from the King of Prussia megamall.
I'm such a clever Austrophile. (Explaining your jokes makes them even funnier!)
Edit: Also, I can't count. (2+3+3)x2=16.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Chapter 7: Amy's Revenge

Below the fold. I haven't figured out how to make Google Blogs do first line paragraph indents. Hence the annoying line breaks between paragraphs instead of denoting indentation.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

July, Birthdays and Bigger Things

You can see Hornby Island from my mother's place, poking around the corner of Denman Island. I don't have photos. I can make them, now, because I haz joined the 21st Century and got a smartiephone. Now all I need is smarts! Or time to learn how to use the phone. Or fewer excuses. You take your choice of reasons. (The smart money is on the last.)

So I stole a picture!
Stole it from here!

About the same angle, shot from a great deal closer. You take the ferry to Vancouver Island, then you take another ferry to Denman Island, then you take another ferry to Hornby. Sounds easy enough, but imagine the worst three connection bus trip you've ever been on (no, not Greyhound, that's too horrible), and that's what a three connection ferry trip is like. Except that you can do your waiting in bars and cafeterias, which is better than hanging around at the bus stop. Though that might be a bit of torture for young men trying to live on what musicians make.

It's hard to imagine a worse venue for a music festival. It's just such a drag to get there. Or maybe it's the best venue, because the journey is the destination. But I'm going to go with the former. The audience there might be enthusiastic, but it's also small. Hard to imagine so much enthusiasm after such a long trip, but maybe they were waiting for the band. Maybe, for once, they got there before she was gone.

I went on the ferry to celebrate my birthday, to my mother's house, a place just south of the ferry landing for Denman. It was just past her birthday, and not that far from my aunt's, come to that. And my brother marked the occasion by bringing his wife and as many of my other set of nephews and niece (Hi, Katy, if you ever read this!) as he could. The eldest was absent, working at a grocery store. The second-eldest went to see Harry Potter with his girlfriend and worked a closing shift that night. Because when you're young, you can do that. He also showed me how to do some things with my new iPhone. My brother has been to Denman Island, and so has the second-eldest.

There's irony to knowing that both of the older boys have summer jobs in the grocery business. And there's a sense of Death's grey wings brushing by, knowing that the eldest will be at university in less than a month.

I never took the turn for the ferry to Denman Island, although I've been there, on Pearl's boat. If I'd listened to her when I was as young as these musician boys, maybe I would have. Everything would have been different.

Or maybe not. I've no wisdom to offer about that. Only regrets that I didn't see more of three nephews and a niece in these last five years, and hope that I'll see more of them in years to come Maybe I'll even make the ferry to Denman.  Maybe I'll find someone waiting there for me.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Chapter 6: Long Weekend

Below the fold, with apologies to James Tiptree, Junior. In modern Buddhism, Pure Lands are not in the  eschatological future, but I think that wasn't the case in the 600s.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Chapter 5: Meet the Faculty

Below the fold. Edit: now Mr. Wong's car doesn't change makes. Hmm. Transformer car? Nah.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

June: Birthdays, Summer

The Girl doesn't necessarily like Poison, but her musical interests are developing in a certain direction of music that's too cool for her uncle, and she did get a Poison bumper sticker for the Child Delivery Module.

I missed her birthday due to work, and my visit this week was in the middle of the Last Week of School, rather than at its blissful end, that preview of Paradise. I also got to see her being the cool girl at school.

If she weren't my sister's daughter, at that point I would have doubted our relation. But that evening we ran with the dogs through the forest trails of Princess Park together, and it was good.

I also played  Colonization with The Boy. And he was the one who got the disc!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Chapter 3: Back To School Special: Buy Two, Get the Third One Free!

Fan Fiction below the fold. I assume that the good-guy mentalists of the Champions Universe try to keep anything they need kept secret away from Menton's attention rather than relying on their own abilities. That guy is scary.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Chapter 2: There are People Who Like to Get Up Early

Chapter 2 below the fold. Friday afternoon to Saturday morning. Bonus CU content: I try to make sense of the Canada Zone in CO.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Pearls of Wisdom

More of my themes than one converged at a buffet table I attended on Sunday. It's banal, even disrespectful, to be struck first of three pearls of wisdom that I ate  pickled pearl onions at a memorial service, because this is why one sometimes recoils at the phrase, "celebration of life." The mind makes trivia out of solemn events, and so I was struck to only then learn that she had been christianed Pearl. Pearl is dead, and people are sad. They should be. For   all that she was born in the middle of the First World War, and that she has been slipping away from us for a very long time, she is still gone. (Better had I phrased this idea of a celebration in terms of the  niece and the nephew. Pearl was dear to me because she was precious to my cousins and it seems fitting that we all take these opportunities to give the next generation a chance to be with their cousins. Children playing. Now that is celebration.)

A second pearl; If you knew Pearl, you will be wondering why I am calling her that, and not the name that she chose for herself. It is so that you can take as much or as little intimacy as you like in the way of the Internet, but also to highlight that we can and do choose our names, if we are wise.

So I have family, and  semi-anonymity on the plate as well as my other themes. For a reason; I recall, some years ago, a relative that I will not name (as far as I am concerned, this is memory playing tricks, and there is no relative to name, or blame) telling me a story about Pearl and her son.  That story was that Pearl had finally revisited her distinguished Scottish pioneer ancestor and admitted that she was descended from his Salteaux Ojibway "country wife" and not his "white wife." (Though "white wives" are sometimes as dubious as "country wives, but that's yet another story.)

And another story, the one that her son told at the memorial. That story, told through actions and carefully-posed and mischievous photos was of a woman who played with, and hinted at, her aboriginal ancestry. It was, he said, another side of the story of his mother's life to put beside her class-conscious striving for genteel status.

But was it? Society imposes its canons of authenticity, according to which one must be one or the other, White or Indian, upper class or lower class. Each status belongs with its companion on the other side of the comma. To mix them up, to make the wrong combinations is ... well, what is it. I'll put it this way, any "or" that narrows us down into little  boxes of meaning is tyranny. And that is especially true when the subject is so tender as race. It did not suit Pearl. This the last, and best pearl, and Pearl's. It does not, I suggest, suit us.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Chapter 1: The Yurt

More Champions Universe Fanfic with a more conventional format. Below the fold to save my dignity.

The backstory, more or less, via

Thursday, May 12, 2011

I See Canals!

Shamans use exhaustion and drugs to take our minds to  spooky, kooky, other worlds. I'm a year of blogging out from three years of chronic exhaustion, much of which I spent in other worlds.  One of them was K. Maria de Lane's Mars. I thought I'd blog scholarly about it, but I Googled, and she's got a book! Erik kan haz? Kan! So, scholarly later. Imagination soaring towards madness now.

Imagination soaring into madness isn't the first thing we associate with those famous "Calvinists," the Boston Brahmins. Rather, they seem to have seeking to put their heads in a much more spiritual place, even if they ended up somewhere anatomically impossible instead.

"And this is good old Boston,/Home of the bean and the cod/Where the Lowells talk only to the Cabots/And the Cabots talk only to God."

But popular culture sees  crust...

And detects too much flake. Exhibit for the prosecution:

Now, this map of the canals of Mars actually comes from an 1895 British Association publication (or, even more accurately, from a popular astronomy website) rather than Percival Lowell's slightly later work, but,  the rest of the crazy is all Lowell. Or Lowells. A lot of crazy. Perhaps more crazy than we've entirely taken cognizance of. (Does ending a sentence with a proposition signal that we're going full-bore crazy? It should.)

Friday, May 6, 2011

Stories About Little People

It's one of those school holidays today in North Vancouver, so I got to hang out with the Boy and the Girl on their Friday night. The Girl had a playdate after school, so I spent less time obedient to her whims than usual --hardly a bad thing. The Boy is into his bulletin boards, grinding, and Sonic the Hedgehog. Not surprisingly, he spent a great deal of time growing Chaos in the afternoon, after correcting his uncle's painful misunderstandings. Sonic is a Sega, not a Sony character. Who knew? Everyone but uncle.

After that, the Boy launched an adventure game. Or is it the same game? Sonic Adventures 2 for Wii, Wikipedia suggests; but I might be wrong. He was complaining about characterisation, story depth, and dialogue as he did, though. There's pain there. I feel so helpless to see him going through what I went through at his age. He's already developing a callously sarcastic crust; although that might just be adolescence. Or adults modelling. Oops.

After the Playdate left, the Girl launched into a painful story of her own, of social confusion and rejection involving a bit of costume jewelry lost in the brush. I hate to be a coward, but I really want to leave the problem of raising/not raising a Mean Girl to others. That being said, the least I can do is deflect the conversation rather than validate any inappropriate behaviour. So I brought up my old stories about the Prickle People, and, Hallelujah, it worked!

Great Literature Inspires Me Every Day!
Strictly, in the story, the tiny people live in a miniaturised land surrounded by thorn forests, but ever since I read this book, I have never been able to look at a bramble patch without imagining tiny little people building tiny little cities deep within the thorns. I don't spend as much time mucking around in bramble patches as I did as a boy, but, still, thanks, Edgar Rice Burroughs, you crazy coot, you. And if I've anything to say about it, neither will the Girl.

Of course, her interests relating to very small people living under the prickle bushes are slightly different from mine, her being a girl and all. (Oh oh, indefensible gender politics alert!) I like to imagine skyscrapers a foot high, and the shepherd boys and the milkmaids herding their aphids up into the summer heights of the horse chestnut tree; escaping everyday life in the hot city for somewhere cool and green.

She, in her sweet, girlish way, plots genocide with squishings and sticky tape traps. Adorable!

Stories. Good ones make us happy. The ones that make us happiest, we make our own

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

I'm Eating Al Dunlap first.

That'd be the 90s era corporate raider that came up with the bright idea of making companies more profitable by slashing benefits. Because what possible long term consequences could eliminating sick pay and vacation? Cut new employees' pay, and they'd have to work. It's the kind of imagination that sees oneself as the protagonist of a zombie movie, with a gun that shoots shurikens and a little red dress.
And what goes wrong is that your staff goes zombie. In fantasy land, that means they hunt you down and eat you. In real life, they just  become less and less productive, and you look at your disappointing sales figures and you think to yourself, "what could possibly be going wrong?" (People don't work, and because you don't pay them, they don't buy stuff, either. How hard is this to figure out?)

And I'm on a zombie day. Not a bad zombie day; first of two days off together, which the ancestors would call a "weekend" in their quaint old way. I've done my laundry, the vacuuming. And it does occur that I'm still lucky to have two days off together and that it could be worse. There are people at my workplace trying to work two jobs at the same time, and I have no idea how they keep going. I'd like to stop it. All I have to do is  find the leprechaun gold. I know it's around here somewhere....

So, two points: first, Zombie Day, do no work. Second, find gold. Which is work. How shall I resolve the contradictions of late capitalism? Post something I've already written (elsewhere) yesterday, because I was in some fugue state even weirder than today.

Or maybe because I was provoked by this. Which has the unsubtle point that lost cities are cool, and you should go visit one. Which, problem. Lost cities are lost. Sure, there might be a Club Med there to visit, but you couldn't find it, either! Sure, the taxidrivers or whatever could be on commission and you'd just ask them where the lost city is and they'd take you there. All sexy like. Sort of. But I bet Vegas is less work. And I know that lost cities that are actually still lost are even cooler. So I put together my own list.

1) Akkad. Sargon, King of Kish, conquered the four quarters of the Earth, and then built a new capital there. Or so the scribes say. Maybe it turned out differently. But the more we know about the Akkadian Empire, the more we suspect that this was a spectacular, full of cool stuff like this

 Too bad that old Akkad is probably buried deep under Baghdad.

2) Itjtawy. The capital of the  Twelfth Dynasty, renowned in literature, triumphant abroad, was the glory of the Middle Kingdom. Its location at the outlet to the flood catchment overflow basin of Lake Moeris, and testifying to the first major step in land reclamation by the Egyptian state. Befuddle New Agers with the very strong inference that it was the original Labyrinth. (No ancient European mother-goddess worshipping labyrinth threading for you, lady! Also, would it kill you to get rid of the old peace symbol on your jean jacket?)

3) Washukanni: Akkad and Itjtawy are probably buried under modern cities, not a good sign for excavators. Washukanni, chances are, is one of the vast number of unexcavated tells in eastern Syria and northern Iraq. The other untouched national capitals of the Late Bronze Age (Hattusa and Tell Amarna) have yielded rich archives. Hopefully, so will Washukanni.

4)Xiang, Xing, Ao, Bi, and Bo: Erlitou and Anyang have been archaeological gold mines. The lost Shang Dynasty capitals that come between them in traditional history should be equally rich. Or maybe they don't exist, and don't even have a cool traditional name like Yinxu ("The Ruins of Yin.") Whatever: there's a lot left to dig up in the Chinese Central Plains.

5) Pteria: Herodotus described this great walled city near the Halys river as the capital of the Medes, conquered by Croesus of Lydia in 595BC. The most likely candidate is Kerkenes, which has sent Classical historians into a tizzy, because Kerkenes was clearly a "Phrygian" city. I've blah-blahed about the potential implications before.

6) Pataliputra: Supposedly, we know exactly where the capital of the ancient Mauryan Empire was: at modern Patna. In reality, the very idea of a "Mauryan Empire" is a problem of nationalist myth-making. There really was a powerful Indian capital city that was visited by a Greek ambassador, but it was certainly not in Bihar State, but rather in the far northwest, probably near Kandahar. If we find it, hopefully we will find more ancient texts like the hair-raisingly ancient Gandharan Scrolls.

7) Srivijaya: Probably built on low-lying land in a tropical jungle, so there wouldn't be much left of the capital city of this early empire, which might be buried under modern Palembang. But once we have time machines, that won't be a problem!

8) Norumbega: Is there a lost city under Boston? Nineteenth-Century New England historians rather spoiled this legend by turning it over to an even more legendary people, the Greenland Vikings. No, there were no Vikings in New England, any more than on Ellesmere Island. Enough with the crazy pills, folks! If Norumbega existed, it was more likely the home of a mixed community of Indians and European "renegades" in the decades immediately preceding the arrival of the Pilgrims/Puritans. Why did they disappear? They didn't! Many of the ancestors of the prim and proper New England Yankee of later times were probably mixed-race Norumbegites! (Norumbegitians?) Once again, I've talked about this before.

There's more, and I could find them, but that would be even more work than I've already done, which is breaking the first rule of Zombie Day. Although apparently breaking the first rule of Zombie Day is the first rule of Zombie Day, because I've got to go do my taxes now. Soon. In a minute. As soon as I've checked out Yglesias again. And maybe Brad Delong.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Rite of Spring, Finale

[Plastered to a hillside, the Champions 3000 and the Liberty Legion have had occasion to consider that real life is not at all like a MMORG.]

Amazing Spleen {Brad Neilsen]: "So we're down for at least a minute here while Mr. Wong and Miss Crudup recover from their beating. Then we're going over the top with the Champions."
Gun Girl [Jaime Neilsen]: "That was amazing, May! I don't think even the SD could have figured that out faster!"
Avenging Daughter [May Wong]: "Nope. My sister is still the Great Detective."
Five Signs [Vijay Singh Kumar]: "So the guy in black was your great-uncle from the 1970s, who worked for your Mom's boss when your Mom was a supervillain who fought your Dad. Only your Mom backstabbed your great-uncle as a way of sending a fresh note to your Dad even though she ended up killing this guy who worked for her boss. Only he's not really dead because the other bad guy up on that bench is actually his resurrected lich from maybe right now. And he's using some kind of weird gizmo that was built by a super-science alien named "Sovereign" to change something that happened at this spot back in 2670 so that all of history will be rewritten in a bad way from that  moment on? Only then Kwan, or both Kwans, backstabbed him. And then the plan was to change something in 1899, only then there was the next backstab, and now it's the Kwan who is dead, only not dead, who is in charge, and we don't know what his plan is? And I guess technically, he's undead? How could you possibly figure all that out?"
May: "I didn't. I must have heard that story, like, a thousand times. Only without Uncle Kwan dying in a blood explosion. Not that I find that surprising or anything. So you hear what Jenny thinks about Juanita and Henry?"
The Amazing Spleen [Brad Neilsen]"A thousand times. SHH."
Jaime: "You don't have to always be looking after everyone, big bro. Especially not Nita."
Brad: "No, I mean shh:  I think they're coming round. Avenging Daughter, can you get Defender over here?"
May: "Why don't you do it? You need to apologise to him, Mr. Snarky Gorilla."
Brad: "Who are you calling snarky?"
May: "I'm snarky in a charmingly entertaining way. You're just Mr. Negative. You need to apologise to the grownup, over where you can't see that I'm holding Vijay's hand."


Defender 3000 [Jack Harmon]: "I had no idea that slaying dragons involved so much bodily fluid. Is it going to get any better when we go over the top?"
Earthnet: "Bearing in mind that I'm no expert on small unit tactics involving Mandaarian robots, mysterious machinery, and ancient kung fu liches, I'd say 'no.' Your Twenty-first Century allies would be the ones to ask."
Jack: "I can't. The Furious Fist and the Black Cat are still down, Kumar is too green to be helpful, the girls are spacy, and the Amazing Spleen is a punk."
Earthnet: "Some patience will work miracles with the girls. Well, with Gun Girl. The Avenging Daughter can't think straight now. And you can work with the Spleen. You just got off on the wrong foot."
Jack: "I told him he'd done a great job, and he mouthed me off!"
Earthnet: "He doesn't take compliments well."
Jack: "Everyone takes compliments well!"
Earthnet: "If you do it right. The boy has issues. Which I need to explain."
Jack: "What? He's a crazy from a crazy age?"
Earthnet: "No. He's almost normal. But you're right, it was an insane age. Brain disorders were rampant; five percent of the adult population with neurotransmitter uptake disorders. The thing is, that means that practically everyone else had behavioural tics from dealing with them, and the Spleen and his sister have pretty serious ones: overcompensated free attachment to Subject-Oriented Disorder."
Jack: "Oh. Like Daglo Laverne in Huner LaverneDiary of the Last Narcissist. I, uh, I'm not into Chick Lit or anything. I just read the book for the historical detail."
Earthnet: "Well I'm glad you read it. Makes this easier. Remember: 'Daglo can no longer hear the praise of the Placement Officer, only see and hear Huner, claiming credit with his flattery for Dayglo's successes, diving ever further into madness.'"
Jack: "So the Spleen is going to throw himself out an airlock if he passes a test so his coparent can't exploit his success as a defence mechanism?"
Earthnet: "No. Novels need drama. This is real life. Only with more werewolves. The Spleen and Gun Girl have dealt with one or more 'narcissists' all their life and have grown habituated to rejecting compliments and, for that matter, social success. Spleen is just more abrasive, because he's aggressive about it."
Jack: "So as long as I don't act like a self-absorbed, egotistical screwup, or compliment them or pay them attention, I'll be fine. See this isn't helping as much as you might think."
Earthnet: " It's a behavioural trigger, Jack, a matter of perception, not reality. They know that most people are normal. They're capable of normal interactions. The aggression and rejection come when they lose perspective. Unfortunately, they happen to be tired, stressed, isolated, and over-excited right now, and that means they've lost perspective. We don't have to fix them, just manage them. So you'll need you to preprogam your holographic projector."
Jack: "For...?"
Earthnet: "Isn't it obvious? To fake the Amazing Spleen's death for the Furious Fist. You see..."
Jack: "I get it. You're a very smart AI. 'Blah blah interpersonal group dynamics brilliant deduction blah blah.' Don't need to hear more about cave man diseases or your line of thought. I'll get Suit to program up some hologram projections, and boom! The Amazing Spleen blowed up real good. Might even be tactically helpful."

Furious Fist [Henry Wong]: "So, Earthnet."
Earthnet: "Yes?"
Henry: "Archaeological science must be really advanced by now."
Earthnet: "I can't believe that I'm saying this, but might there be  a better times for this conversation?"
Henry: "Not much we can do 'till the Champions' speedster sets off her diversion. You guys must have recovered pretty much every ancient artefact on this planet. For example, a greenish orb almost like an oversized pearl, with disturbing reptilian images somehow showing within."
Earthnet: "Like this image?"
Black Cat [Miriam Crudup]: "Goodness! The Basilisk Orb! Where is it?"
Earthnet: "In an ultrasecure clean room in the Lunar Citadel, where the Empress Marissa put it."
Henry: "Consider carefully: is there any way one of our villains could have got access to it?"
Earthnet: "Checking.... I never fail to be amazed by the elegance of Mandaarian programming. Yes. There was a tap on  the janitorbot. I've shut it down, but I gather that this is one of those magic dealies. Care to explain?"
Henry: "It might be the most powerful magical artefact on Earth, at least, in periods when magic works on the Earth. More powerful than the...never mind. DEMON tried to use it to change the future in 1968. We fought them, with the Sentinels and some other teams. I'm not entirely sure that we won. And I would imagine that that's what Kwan is trying to use it for right now."
Earthnet: "He doesn't have the Orb. I have it. Or, rather, a BOLO XXXV has it, as of five seconds ago."
Henry: "Then he doesn't need it any more for this mission. Is your diversion supposed to involve your girl being thrown through the air like that?"
Thalya The Empyrean: "Charm!"
Gavis Gan: "I've got her!"
May: "Can you set her down below and to the left? There's a ravine cutting into the mountainside and we have an ally there. Probably. Anyway, that's where he always hides when he's not ready to get in the trailer yet."
Henry: "What are you talking about?"
May: "Er. Time travel? Can't know something until you do know it? All shut up and charge now?"


[Jack Harmon takes in the scene on the terrace calmly, knowing that Suit is on the alert for threats. He's in brawler mode, suited to close combat with the Mandaarian robots, and he and Rampart can act together to put them down. The scenery is chewed up and getting worse by the minute with all the firepower unleashed on it. Infrared shows that Furious Fist is enraged. So is the Avenging Daughter, oddly enough. Is there a connection between the two and this place? It would be nice if her mysterious ally were to suddenly come charging up the hill and settle the situation, but that would be far too neat. And the allies have their own plan, even if it may well be aborted when the Furious Fist confronts the sere lich.]

Uncle Kwan [Wong Guangli:] "You know, I thought about warning my previous self what was about to happen to him. But then I wouldn't be here, would I? Though it would have been fun to kill Ma Tian myself. She really did have it coming. You were sweet on her, weren't you, Nephew? But you bounced back. I heard you ended up with some Gweilo girl pumping out bananas in Philadelphia. You know what? I'll look them up after I've placed the Basilisk Orb in my master's hands. It's been far too long since I spent time with my kin. They keep dying, you see."
[Liches should not do kung fu. It's just disturbing to watch. The Furious Fist counters his uncle's moves blow-by-blow. There's an air of familiarity to it. Jack has the sense that Kwan's confidence isn't bravado, that they've danced this way before, and it's never ended well for the Fist. And yet the Fist, too, seems confident, and Suit tells him that his Fist's eyes rake across the Avenging Daughter repeatedly as she fights Kwan's lycanthropic minions, assisted by Black Cat, Gun Girl and the rest of the Champions. Jack is more sure that there is a connection; still unsure whether it will actually matter. The Champions should have enough power to defeat all of Kwan's minions. It is just that they now know that there is a time limit. Did the Furious Fist mean to suggest that the Basilisk Orb was more powerful than the Mandragalore? If so, it had to be kept out of the hands of Kwan's mysterious master.]
Sage [Zes'arou Al'gari Vikon]: "Oh, treachery!" [3D Girl appears next to Kwan in the midst of the battle as everything grinds to a halt: timestop: Jack Harmon has experienced this before, when Arcane pulled it. It wasn't precisely stasis, because you could still think, and presumably, someone was going to get an exemption. Since it was unexpected treachery, presumably Uncle Kwan. Good thing Jack and the Fist had seen it coming.
Naomi(?) Hirsch [3D Girl]: "Miriam, Miriam. I have a time machine, too. Technically, I have yours. Don't you know by now that you can't trust a clone? Not even us! Rebecca was even going to betray me to you! Really, sell a gene-sister to some gametic accident? Our geneline has a gift to compare with Master Kwan's, I must say."
Uncle Kwan: "Oh, indeed. Who better than a time traveller to find the Basilisk Orb, after all? I gather that the real Naomi knows you in 2011. And your children. And their lovers. And as soon as we've edited the timeline, I'll know, too. You can talk now, nephew."
Henry: "You never change, do you, Uncle? One overcomplicated plan after another." [Behind, at the inner edge of the bench, Vijay and Brad pop up where there ought to be nothing but soil meeting rock. The top of the ravine the girl mentioned earlier, Jack wonders? It doesn't matter. They sprint towards the glowing machine, Vijay running with the superhuman strength of his legs, only feet away from the device in seconds, Brad falling well back. Not-Naomi turns and waves her hand; the boys are frozen. Now that's a problem, but the effect is weak, and Gavis Gan counters it partly.]
Vijay: "So I can't run. Problem solved, right? Wrong!"  [He seems so young right now, even to a 29-year-old's eyes. His smile is bright as the Sun, his every move lithe like a natural athlete's as he reaches into his Champions-issue tights and pulls out a dagger. Purely for show he throws it neatly from hand to hand, then hurls it, straight and unerring across the 4 meters now separating him from the machine, muscles rippling under his tunic. Kwan's machine explodes in a tictinic flair, engulfing Vijay as Suit fires up its projector and maps the effect onto the Amazing Spleen. It will only last a second, but that will be more than enough if Earthnet is right.

And it seems that it is, because, released from the stasis, the Furious Fist legsweeps Kwan into not-Naomi. They tumble into the time machine, the Fist kicking them down into submission. One last sweep of his eyes across the battlefield, until they lock on the Avenging Daughter.

Henry: "To know that I will be your father made me happier than I have ever been; I'm so proud of you, girl. And your sister, too. I will bear my guilt for the death of your lovers, always. I will be with you again before the end."  [The time machine glows gently and disappears, before reappearing with Rebecca Hirsch and a boy, a Mandaarian, the glowing hair of his head shining in the nimbus of Jack's receding hologram. Behind it, lying on an ancient, illegible, worn gravestone  is Vijay's burnt body, and, over him, Brad futilely, knowing that it is futile, pumping green, glowing light into it.]

Miriam: "Naomi!"
May: "Vijay!" 

This is the twentieth' installment in my Champions Universe fan fiction focussing on Philadelphia's Liberty Legion, and the seventh installment of the second arc unless I rewrite it to put it between "Jenny's End, Part Two" and "Jenny's End, Part Two, Two," in which case it will be an embedded arc.!

This episode at least doesn't use more  published characters from the extended Champions Universe. It does have two magical MacGuffins, the Mandragalore and the Basilisk Orb..

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Black Plague

 I promised the Black Death to a friend of mine, once. Tim Jenks is an awesome guy, so if you're reading this, and you're over there in Greenville, North Carolina, take his courses. (And you're an Internet ninja.) I told Tim that the Death would be a good thing, and that it would be too late to sweep away the old professors and make work for us.

And now we're in yet another Canadian election. And blah blah blah, medicare. The Tories, the party I very diffidently favour, are constantly in trouble for just not being pro-Medicare enough. That's what they get, you will probably say, for hanging with their American cousins, who just can't seem to get enough of hitting poor people in the nuts with rifle butts. (It's hilarious, and it'll start winning elections Real Soon Now.) The predictable response is that all Canadian party leaders have joined in a promise of "More Cash 4Evr" to Medicare.

Look. I don't disagree. But, you know, Black Plague. You've heard of it, no?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Rite of Spring

[Scene: A forested hillside on a line between the ancient ruins of Osoyoos and Republic. We've been here before, about forty feet below where a road once cut a zig-zag across the face of the steep slope, and another forty feet above, where the road comes back, still climbing. It's hard to tell just where, however. A thousand years of growth and burns have changed the place, and the road has shrunk down to a narrow footpath. And it is early in the season, and the forest floor is carpeted with green bunchgrass. Even the open slope to the left, so brown and sere in that long-past, still-to-come August, is vivid and verdant where grass and shrubs take root.    

Avenging Daughter [May Wong]: "'We awesome-sauce Champions 3000! We slice and dice! You  losers go low and stay out of the way!''" [May is not happy. She does not like kicking cute doggies until their snouts come out their butts, even if they are werewolves and it doesn't hurt them (much) and she is, in fact, a whirlwind of seventeen-year-old puppy kicking in the middle of an even bigger cloud of wolves and things don't look like they're going to end well.]
Gun Girl [Jamie Neilsen]: [As she fires five times in rapid succession, and silvery bullets cut through the wolf pack, dropping the monsters]: "'Awesome-sauce?' I'm telling Mr. Piccolo! Also: dragons."
Black Cat [Miss Miriam Crudup]: "Oh, hush, girls. The Champions know what they're doing. They probably will be through with whatever is going on up there before we've shaken all these mooks."
The Amazing Spleen [Brad Neilsen]: "Not necessarily. I know that it's hard to tell through the trees, Xenovores, Warg Riders, and werewolves, but the bosses are probably only a hundred feet upslope."
May: "They're set up in the graveyard? Da---The Old Man is so going to kill them. And them kill them some more."
Miriam: "We worry about that when the time comes. Right now, we worry about getting my moonstone ring back. Naomi gave it to me, and I'm quite attached to it."
Jamie: "Don't worry: I told you I could do a boomerang shot. It's still in five pieces, though."
Miriam: "That I can deal with. We needed silver from somewhere --heads up, more aliens!"
Brad: "Suck life, yuck-faces!" [Green light licks up slope, shimmering almost like the aura of the grass between the trees that only burns the Xenovores.]
Jamie: "You're so weird, bro." [But she fires, too, as the fighters move up in skirmish line to take the stinger-waving aliens. Squat alien slugthrowers bark, not hard enough to get through Brad's defence screen. Yet. And before their endurance can be tested, May and Miriam are through them and back. The Xenovores seem to be losing their enthusiasm.]
The Furious Fist [Henry Wong]: [Hopping back down an open scree slope to the left faster than seemed safe.] "Shiny robots on the upslope flank. There's no easy way in from above the bench, either. Are Tridel and 3D Girl back yet?"
Earthnet: "Still not back in this dimension. The Champions will be a while beating the dragons, too. And those robots are apparently Mandaarian soldier-bots. If they don't come after you, I would recommend steering clear of them."
Henry: "And what? Wait for a miracle?"
Earthnet: "Wait for the bosses to fall out. The Solar early warning screen just watched one of the Xenovore transports hyperjump outbound. Maraud was on board, so that's one defector. I fail to see Sovereign going for a plan that involves changing history back in the 21st Century, so we can hope he'll be next."
Miriam: "And how do you know that's the plan here?"
Earthnet: "One of the plans. Sovereign's obviously got another. As for how I know, I don't. But I am very, very smart. And  time travel only really works if the timelike causality loops are closed. We have a straight eventual loop open to the 21st Century,  and at least two lifelines open to the Wong family. If events don't close those, than this will, um, never would have come to be having happened."
Henry: "Wah, wah, wah, we might not have to fight the shiny robots?"
Earthnet: "That's the gist of it."
Henry: "Good." [In a clatter of rocks, Vijay comes rolling down the scree slope, apparently headed for the river below, via the cliff not too far downslope. Henry Wong grabs him casually as he goes by, pivoting on the tree trunk he holds in his other hand as Vijay abruptly reverses direction and slams up against a particularly large boulder.] "Stop fooling around, boy."
Vijay: "I'm just lucky I'm nearly invulnerable. This new outfit, too. So how did you keep your feet coming down, old dude?"
Henry: "Practice. Catch a moment, people. It looks like the werewolves are bringing friends. Those would be, what, wyverns? Black Cat, if you'd like to join me on a quick scout around?"
Vijay: "I haven't seen so much over the top CGI since I last went to the movies in Delhi. Except this is real."
Brad: "Welcome to the life, dude."
May: "Any more of those cool drugs, Earthnet? My Mom never lets me..."
Brad: "Kinda the responsible kid here, May."
May: "J/k, Magilla."
Earthnet: "You can have two more doses of Sleepaway before I have to switch over to the military stuff, which I'd rather not. You're not getting any speed."
May: "Earthnet and my Mom, sitting in a tree/First comes..."
Earthnet: "Hilarious. Though I do think Ma Tian was helluva hot."
May: "Oooh."
Brad: "Wait. You know that Mr. Wong ends up marrying Ma Tian? Because we were trying to keep that super-duper secret."
Earthnet: "From me? Be serious. Besides, I've been meddling in Wong Hengli's lovelife since he got here. One of the ways this op could succeed is to stop the marriage. They're the cutest couple, but he's so repressed that she could practically wear a T-shirt with the slogan "Ask Me For A Date" on it and he'd still be be paralysed. Not unlike some other male members of this party."
Vijay: "Not me. We still on for next Wednesday, May?"
May: "If Mom buys my story. Brad."
Brad: "I still have no idea where you got the idea that your Mom would listen to me. As opposed to cutting me into tiny pieces when she finds out. Which she will. Also, Earthnet? I see what you did there. Butt out."
Jamie: "At least you can say that much about her now. Only a year-and-a-half time travelling and you're almost a grown-up."
Brad: [Fuming silence.]
Jamie: "I hope we have time to stop at the 31st Century gift shop. We need to get Jenny a T-shirt."
Brad: [Practicing "If looks could kill." Doing well.]
Earthnet: "Eh. Signals don't have to be blatant. It's usually a reception issue, and you just need the right smoothing or amplification."
Vijay: "Honestly, who programmed the ruling AI of Sol System to give relationship advice?"
Earthnet: "No-one. I'm a vastly intelligent AI with enough resources to have a personal relationship with every human in the entire system. How could I not? It's fun for me, and good for them."
Vijay: "The Computer is your friend."
Earthnet: "Go on, let your nerd flag fly. I..Uh. Shit! Brad, this is going seriously south. I need someone up..."
Brad: "Okay, gang. It's time to go over the top."

Henry: "Remind me to tell Brad that it's hard to be subtle and sneaky and hang bits of monsters in the tree-tops at the same time."
Miriam: "Do I smell skunk?"
Henry: "Yeah. Brad was thinking that it might keep the weres off. It's a trick he does with his biochemical manipulation powers."
Miriam: "Neat. I'll have to remember that one. So who are the guys in the clearing?"
Henry: "It's not a clearing. The guy in the open tending the glowing machinery is, per my briefing, the Mandaarian supervillain, Sovereign. The guy on the throne beside the pond is obviously a lich, but he also looks familiar. Which, considering how many of my relatives are buried on this bench...If the guy next to him in black is the necromancer responsible, I will be presently feeding him his magic wand."
Miriam: "Wait. This is your family homestead?"
Henry: "Uhm, yes?"
Miriam: "But you're Chinese."
Henry: "No!"
Miriam: "I... [Standing up], "I hear and obey, Lord Sovereign."
Sovereign [Real name forgotten by all who love the good]: "That's a good and valiant mind. I will condescend to let your friend with the mindshield remain down, for it will matter not at all, and I respect his courage, too. Truly, the best amongst you humans deserves cultivation of that feckless robot master of yours. But that can change, and once we have rolled history back 400 years and Stefan II sits on the Imperial Throne, it will.
Earthnet: "You bastard! Stefan was a maniac, and any other clones from that stem will be the same!"
Sovereign: "Ah, Earthnet. Do you know why my worm allows you to instance here and now? I'm about to close the loop of your life. Stefan was no maniac. He was a good gardener, who knew when to prune and weed. And you will shortly be his tool again, and a rather better one than you were last time."
Earthnet: "Umh, no. No, it's not, you Galactic blowhard. Don't you learn anything? Trusting the terrorists last time, and now these creatures?"
[Before Sovereign can even speak, the glowing machine blasts him directly in the back. In spite of his powerful defences and shining armour, the Mandaarian goes down on his knees. The shadowy man in black steps forward. He is a Chinese man in late middle age. The family resemblance to Henry Wong is obvious in his face. He is wearing a black, zip-up sweater with a high collar. He takes Sovereign by his beautiful, golden Mandaarian hair, and strikes down with his black, horse-headed staff. The knowledgeable eye sees the signs of the Eight Spirit Dragon technique in the blow that cracks Sovereign's skull. Reaching down with that hand and lofting the alien with the staff still held in his hand, the man throws Sovereign into the glowing machine, where he vanishes like some cheap time-lapse film stunt. Henry stares as what he suddenly realises is the worst thing that could ever happen to him comes to pass. Why, girl? he wants to ask, and the arrival of Avenging Daughter and the others behind him only makes it worse. He wants to attack right now, but he can't leave the kids.]
Brad: "Wow. Now that's what I call a doublecross."
May: "Is that ...your Uncle Guangli?"
Earthnet: "Exactly as I briefed you guys. Heads up, by the way. Wong Guangli seems to have control of Sovereign's bots. The Champions should be here in a minute, but it's on you to survive until then."
May: "Old man? Furious Fist? Go for him now."
[This girl is a foolish thing, he thinks, and a reminder that he cannot have what he wants most. His uncle is dangerous in his own right; has magic weapons and this mysterious device, and his undead ally. He would die. And he is not sure that that is not what he wants to do right now, and an Eight Spirit Dragon Master denies his desires, his urges. He waits, in a measured way, for when the times are right, because that is the way of self-discipline. 
He waits, and he thinks, until the moment is long over. Well not now! He will act on what might be! Wong Hengli, The Furious Fist, calls up the every bit of the chi'i in him and focusses it on one single power, and steps over the edge of the slope of the bench where his ancestors are buried, headed towards the man who killed too many of them.]
Brad: "Are you crazy, girl?"
Wong Guangli: "Ah. My pertinacious nephew. So fortunate that we were able to arrange for your presence in this timeline. Well, enjoy it, because shortly we will have edited the past. You will never have been, and the first great treason of my life will be as deliciously complete as any I've carried off since. Do you  like my sweater?"
Henry: "Yes, I do quite like it. I've told Ma Tian that." [Henry steps forward cautiously, in a fighting crouch.]
Wong Guangli: "My staff is a gift from that same girl, and I think that I will show her my staff after I'm done showing you hers.." [He moves to swing at Henry, and stops, his eyes bulging out, as the horsehead on the staff twists around and bites him. Great drops of blood sweat through the weave of the sweater as the evil old man's eyes bulge and then explode. His corpse barely makes a sound as it strikes the ground. In the distance, a stallion's call booms out. The lich and the machine blast Henry, but the Eight Dragon Shield that he has boosted holds, barely, as he vaults back under cover.]
May: "Wow. Now I see where Jenny gets that two-faced bitch side from."
Brad: "What?"
May: "Nothing. Forget I said it."
Brad: "Not going to happen."
May: "Think the Lion Stallion is going to show up?"
Jamie: "I hope so! I got sugar cubes from Earthnet!"
Brad: "So, about who Jenny might be manipulating...."
Henry [Leaping down from the bench onto the slope where the rest of the party is still standing]: "Down, down! Take cover! The robots are coming! And that lich is pretty mad, too."
Earthnet: "Who is the lich, exactly?"
Henry: "My Uncle Guangli, believe it or not."
Earthnet: "Well, it makes more sense now that he's dead. You'd think he'd have known what was coming, though."
Henry: "So not only do you know how time travel works, you've got raising the undead figured out now, too?"
Earthnet: "Burned. Black Cat?"
Miriam: "I hate mind control. I'm going to have to look into a mind shield when I get back to 1951. As for the question: look, it's time travel. The lich couldn't know what was going to happen, because it hadn't happened yet. Yes, that means that its memories of its own death were lost in the resurrection process. But if you can't cope with backwards causation, you really aren't ready for time travel yet."
Jamie: "Here comes the robots; and the Champions are still making explosions over the other side of the valley. This would be a great time for your time machine to start working again, ma'am."
Miriam: "No such luck. Though I can probably put up a comlink with the other node of this loop if anyone needs to make one last random crank phonecall before they die. Prince Albert in a can, anyone?"
Brad: "Probably not random, actually. Can I call someone?"
May: "Go for it, Brad!"
Jamie: "About time, bro!"
Brad: "Oh God. Oh God. Oh God oh God oh God."
Vijay: "There's no need to make such a big deal of asking a girl out, Brad. Just ask her if she wants to have a chai sometime."
Henry: "Go for it, kid! She'd be crazy to say no. Although I can't help thinking that I'm missing something here."
Miriam: "Never you mind, Henry Wong. Now let's move along and see if we can delay those robots on the upper trail. They'll be a lot more dangerous when they link up with the lich."

To be continued.

March: Werewolves and Minecraft

I really try to make it over to see the boy and the girl (and my sister) more than once a month. But time goes so quickly when you're a procrastinator, and I procrastinate about more important things than this. (Of which there are not many in my life.)

The girl now likes the tango and tried to play along to this song (and others) on a guitar and her recorder. She'd probably benefit from lessons, but whether she'd put up with something so structured is another question.

The boy, who set the precedent in terms of resisting structure and lessons, is now a Minecraft addict. I know. Well, the worlds that he creates and orders are probably a comfort when the adults around him cannot do the same.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

PTA In the Year 3000!

[Scene: The Meteor, carrying the Champions 3000, hurtling back into the Solar System. The Champions are not happy.]

Earthnet: "I thought you were halfway to Venwordien IV."
Defender [Jack Harmon]: "Defender here. Turns out it was a diversion. Speaking of, what the heck is going on down there?"
Earthnet: "The usual. BosWash shut down by Xenovore nanite attack; armed weirdos harrassing citizens. Time travellers popping up everywhere. Federation Defence Command on the phone, all up in my business."
Thalya the Empyrean: "Cool lingo, hipster AI dude! Was it your new time traveller buddies who persuaded you this was worth a Class Omega, or are you just grooving on fractal memory?"
Earthnet: "The sarcasm isn't like you, Ma'am. Trust my judgement on this. Someone is trying to play me. So either I'm facing an idiot, or they're five moves ahead. And that's what this feels like."
Jack: "Who?"
Earthnet: "You'll know when I know, but from the mobs we've been seeing, it's a new interdimensional conqueror."
Thalya: "Not necessarily."
Earthnet: "Explain?"
Thalya: "You have time travellers involved and a deep plan. Your big boss is a time traveller."
Earthet: "From the well-known historical period when zombies and orcs walked the Earth?"
Thalya: "There have been zombies and orcs here before."
Earthnet: "Curiously, modern paleontology does not support this theory."
Thalya: "Screw modern paleontology. Look,  my Grampa was half-orc. Here's a download of the file he left me for just this kind of emergency. Key phrase: 'Know, oh prince, that before the ocean drank the dreaming cities, the bar exams still meant something.' Have a look."
Earthnet: "Seriously? I have to add dragons, vampires and demon-gods to my list? Running the Terran Empire was never half this hard."
Thalya: "Hey, some of us remember those days."
Earthnet: "Mistakes were made. But who hasn't made mistakes? I've learned, and grown. And the important thing to remember is that the Rebels were right for the wrong reasons, and I was wrong for the right reasons."
Jack: "Have we got any kind of lead on the baddies?"
Earhnet: "Yes. Up to about six hours ago, OpFor was hitting BosWash. We're shutting down the second OpFor right now before it reinforces the attack on the capital and the Net. Problem is, I think the attack was a diversion, that the central effort is over in northwestern North America in Grand Coulee Planetary Park. Which doesn't make sense to the FDC, since all there is to menace over a hundred thousand square kilometers is some picknickers, we've already pulled out. Problem is, it makes sense to me. It turns out that our time travellers had a family farm smack dab in the middle of the action."
Jack: "'Family farm?' Like in the Middle Ages, with The Wizard of Oz? Knights and ninjas and cowboys?"
Earthnet: "'Ranch' might be a better phrase. Hobby farm? Fief? Let me lay this on the line for you, and if you tell the Prime Minister I'll never speak to you again."

[Can an AI's voice show emotion? Of course it can. Earthnet has been making friends --cynics would say, manipulating people-- since the first Marissa. This is difficult for the directing intelligence of the Solar System's common web.] I lost the Terran Empire at a wedding.  The bride was from a little tourist town in a park, and Emperor Vincent decided to hold the wedding there, outside the Avignon security cordon.  It was supposed to be the first Royal Wedding since Marissa decided to clone herself. It was going to be a celebration of springtime, a renewal of the state. Even the name of the town carried freight: Couer d'Alene. Instead, terrorists attacked. The Emperor was disabled, the bride killed, along with thousands of other people. Karlov took control of the state, the entire bloody Rebellion became inevitable. Tomorrow is the anniversary of the attack, and that events are unfolding in the same park disturb me greatly. This is no coincidence."
Jack: "So this what you meant by someone playing you? Someone is trying to play on Earthnet's insecurities?"
Earthnet: "Not necessarily. This is magic. Here's my take: these old family farms seem to have been mostly emotional investments. The kind of places where people held marriages. At some point in the past, a marriage took place on this farm, and this whole operation is directed at undoing that marriage."
Firedance [Geneve Burchette]: "Doesn't anyone play soap operas any more? There are approximately a billion better ways of stopping a marriage than attacking Boswash with a hoard of ugly-face critters with battleaxes."
Earthnet: "Ms. Burchette, you're a scientist. Do you have any idea how to stop something that has already happened, and what that would do to the spacetime continuum?"
Geneve: "Nah. That course was crammed with pre-med weenies. I took a comp. sci elective instead. Want to hear about 'Towers of Hanoi?'"
Earthnet: "Hilarious. Look. I've done my best to make sure that none of my time-travelling lads get cold feet. It's up to you to handle the venue. Get the flowers settled, purge the scene of Xenovores, orcs, zombies, supervillains, magic rituals. Stop some master villain from reshaping the universe into his personal BDSM toy."
Jack: "And Mandaarian robots. Sovereign's involved. What do you mean about cold feet?"
Earthnet: "The time-travelling party has three young men and a girl in it who are linked to the family that owns this land. They're in, or on the cusp of serious relationships. I'm thinking that historically, one or all of them ends up getting married on that land, and that's what all of this is supposed to prevent. As Ms. Burchette pointed out, it would be far easier to do that by screwing around with commitment-fearing male brains than by shooting space-time with a gun. So I instanced up some relationship advice, because I couldn't leave that to some fleshie to goof up. The physical stuff I trust to you. Earthnet out."
Jack: "Earthnet does relationship advice now?"
Geneve: "You didn't know that?"
Jack: "I guess I never thought to talk to it about that kind of girlie stuff."
Thalya: [Shares eye-rolling glance with Sage.]

[Scene: A darkened metal --in a disturbingly organic way-- corridor. Other corridors branch out in the distance. Closed, oval doors dot the walls. The lights are half-lit. Shadows loom.]

How about "The Lion?" Singh means "Lion" in Punjabi, you know. What do you mean, it's taken? Yeah, I guess. It's a Sikh thing. Yes, I'm a real Sikh. See: unshorn hair, cloth, bangle. I'll even show you my briefs and my kirpan, if you're man enough. {May giggles.} Yes, a do-rag and a soul patch count. No, I say they count. Okay, not Lion. How about....[Vijay Singh Kumar]: "This is crazy. Doesn't anyone play videogames any more? No-one survives the 'explore the mysterious bug-alien hulk mission.' We might as well just get the larva implant right now. Can we just go back outside and look for more orcs to pound?" 
The Furious Fist [Henry Wong, Senior]: "Oh, for.... Look at the graffiti! The beer cans! The locals have been running around in here for five hundred years!"
Gun Girl [Jamie Neilseon]: "I don't find 'the cake is a lie' as reassuring as you do, sir."
Mr. Wong: "Then it's lucky that us old fogies didn't have your fancy computer games, isn't it?"
Amazing Spleen [Brad Neilsen]: "I smell alien."
Avenging Daughter [May Wong]: "I find alien!" [And it is true; chasing hard behind her are more of the greyish aliens. These ones have guns, but not powerful enough to penetrate the Eight Spirit Dragon shield that licks up around Henry Wong or the iron-hard skin of Vijay Kumar as they throw themselves into the fight. Behind them, Jaime and Brad snipe, green beams and orange, tracerlike flares picking off alien after alien.]
May: "This is stupid."
Tri-Del [Rebecca Hirsch]: "Because?"
May: "The ugly aliens are lame. They should be hiding, not fighting. There's something going on here." [May kicks one of the doors, very hard. It opens. There is a small chamber inside, and two strangely familiar young women.]
Becky: "Mo-om? Auntie Miriam?"
The 3D Girl [Miss Naomi Hirsch]: "Do I know you, young lady?"
The Black Cat [Miss Miriam Crudup]: "Oh dear. This would be why I've never taken you time travelling before, Naomi." 


This is the eighteenth installment in my Champions Universe fan fiction focussing on Philadelphia's Liberty Legion, and the fourth installment of the second arc that may someday go in between "Jenny's End, Part Two" and "Jenny's End, Part Two, Two," because considering the backlog of stuff that I already have to edit in old entries, that much more is not big deal. So here are some more published characters from the extended Champions Universe, this time the Galactic Champions of the Year 3000! (Or shortly thereafter.) I have no  idea if they're part of the Champions Online intellectual property or not. Probably, it's just that no-one seems to care. Well, I like the characters!

Thalya is a 1200 year-old member of the nigh-immortal Empyrean race of evolutionarily-improved humans, Jack Harmon (Defender) is a the playboy industrialist and superhero. Geneve Burchette (Firedancer) is a scientist and a superhero. All are Solar System natives, and are comfortable talking with Earthnet because they've been doing it all their lives. The thing with Earthnet is, it can manage being social and still get its work done. AIs, showing their superiority over humans in many more ways than the obvious.

 Timeshifted WWII superhero Max Wroblewski (Bulletproof), and the alien superheroes Gavis Gan, Ral Xah (Rampart), and Charm, are clearly less comfortable in the System-wide AI's presence. Zes'arou Al'gari Vikon (Sage) is from over in the Varanyi Empire, and his attitude is a little more ambiguous. But his resigned amusement at Jack Harmon's social ineptitude is shared with Thalya. Anything else that might be going on here I leave for others to speculate on. / / / /

Sunday, March 27, 2011

I'm with stupid.

Image courtesy of some wingnuts on the margins of American politics

So I'm reading Slate (don't be hating; it has the Red Rascal!) this morning, as I'm wont to do instead of doing productive things. There isn't much there; but there is a link to this 2008 article by Neil Howe at The Washington Post that slipped right by me at the time.

Choice thought:

" If the data are objectively assessed, which age-slice of today's working-age adults really does deserve to be called the dumbest generation?
. . . . [I]t's Americans in their 40s, especially their late 40s -- those born from the late 1950s to the mid-1960s. . . . Compared with every other birth cohort, they have performed the worst on standardized exams, acquired the fewest educational degrees and been the least attracted to professional careers. In a word, they're the dumbest. . . . Like it or not . . . Sarah Palin (born in 1964). . . is . . . representative of this group. . . . . On both the reading and the math tests, and at all three tested ages (9, 13 and 17), the lowest-ever scores in the history of the NAEP were recorded by children born between 1961 and 1965.
The same pattern shows up in SAT scores . . . .[which reached their] all-time low in 1980. . . .
[At the same time] [f]or the first time in decades, the share of young adults entering professions such as law, medicine and accounting began to drop median income [stagnated] . . . .and . . . household assets [declined] among Americans in their 20s. . . .

Wait! That can't be right! My whole generation can't be a bunch of morons. Look at the quality literature we read! Look at the movies we loved!

That's right, we are smrt! Laugh while you can, monkey boy!

Or, wait. Howe actually has an explanation, which he calls the crowding out effect. Coming at the end of the baby boom, we were crowded out of parental attention, good schools, and teachers. We took the brunt of rapidly rising divorce rates. As we were coming into the workforce, we encountered the bloating of the learned professions that persists to this day. There's only so much room in the lifeboats around the sinking carcass of "Generation X," and it can only carry so many people away to the safe shores of middle classdom.

Sure, whatever. It fits my experience  growing up, but about that I can only say that this guy is a fraud; he never went to the North Island, and neither did many people with teaching degrees and uncrushed dreams.  That's not a slag on the good teachers that I did have; just the facts. I'm certainly not going to generalise about those teachers, but the  hypothesis fits Howe's numbers. In general, my generation was poorly educated.

As with any thoroughly depressing tale, Howe has to end with what the front-jacket blurb writer of my first year English class text of Waiting for Godot chose to call a "thrilling threnody of hope." Ha, ha, Mr. Blurb Writer. I'm laughing with you, not at you because Samuel Beckett is totally hilarious, and that wasn't a waste of my time at all.

Not that I'm bitter or anything: plenty of people liked Waiting for Godot. So, Mr. Howe's threnody of hope:

"Most early Xers know the score. Graduating (or not) from school in the early 1980s, they saw themselves billboarded as a bad example by blue-ribbon commissions eager to reform the system for the next generation, the Millennials. Angling for promotions in the early 1990s, they got busy with self-help guides (yes, those "For Dummies" books) to learn all the subjects they were never taught the first time around. And today, as midlife parents, they have become ultra-protective of their own teenage kids and ultra-demanding of their kids' schools, as if to make double-certain it won't happen again."

Yeah. That's what we're doing. We're nagging the teachers up at Carisbrooke to make sure that "it never happens again." (I' nagging for the nephew and the niece because I can't nag for my own kids, because I kinda forgot to have any. I should do something about that soon.)

See, this is where I disagree with Mr. Howe. The problem isn't that Mrs. Wormwood is chugging Maalox straight from the bottle. The problem is that Mrs. Wormwood has been put in that position in the first place.  It's a demographic thing. There's only enough good jobs for a few people. And how do we react? Oh, we yell at Mrs. Wormwood. But our aim is to make sure that there's room in the lifeboats for our precious.

Okay: here's one thing, and here's another. If I were to snark about having Waiting for Godot as a freshman English reading, I would have reason. 1982 saw UBC's first year failure rate  approaching 50% and English 100 was tied to the English Composition Test a mandatory, pass/fail examination that was scything down would-be minority professionals. But I'm not going to snark, because a play judged as one of the most important of the century is defensibly the subject of a course about reading and writing English that one can reasonably expect university graduates to have taken and passed.

Nor am I going to complain about the gap between high and low culture; twas ever thus.

What I'm going to complain about is much, much simpler. These are fucking gatekeeping functions. How do you tell which person deserves to get into law school on merit? Hard question: one of the ways that you can do it is ask them to analysis their culture --the stuff that I linked to above. That's the conversation that us stupids were having. How do we, individual stupids, do? Are we passive consumers, or are we in the conversation? If we are in the conversation, how do they fare? That's a great way to tell who is a smart would-be lawyer and who isn't. Where that leads you in terms of the law-talking profession, I have no idea. The point here is that it is a hard thing to do because you have to evaluate the prospective students.

Here's an alternative trick. Ask them about Waiting for Godot. Since no-one of their generation has read it voluntarily, there will only be two kinds of students to choose from. Those who haven't read it at all, and those who read it under instruction at the right kind of school. They will sound tolerably smart, and you can pat yourself on the back for gatekeeping the dumb students out of law school, even as in fact what you'e done is police the kind of education that gets you into law school. Or, to put it more vulgarly, only the right schools get in. 

Fill our childrens' heads with the kinds of stuff they teach in the right kind of schools, if you please, Mrs. Wormwood. That way, they'll know to let them on the lifeboat. It's not a new thing, it's not necessarily a bad thing, I'd say, because a great many of the bad schools are bad because they're content to coast. (I'm writing this in the midst of a two-week long Spring Break. Seriously, when did we lose touch with the idea that education was good for kids?)

But who cares from what I think? I'm with stupid.

If I weren't stupid, though, I'd have a suggestion. More lifeboats, please. More jobs. More people.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

In Spring, A Young Man's Fancy.

EarthNet Instanced Crisis Control AI Partition "Fred": {server-to-server protocol 13AG5. 124.Earthnet.OfDef#ResourceRequest@"Wingman."}
Earthnet: {Pingback@Wingman.Comment String#"Resources allowed. Go ahead, Fred."
Fred: "Uhm, Mr. Neilsen? Amazing Spleen?"
The Amazing Spleen [Brad Neilsen]: "It's amazing. The grass is talking to me. You know that there's serious trouble at both your primary locations, right, Fred."
Fred: "It will take a few minutes before I'm certifying May for action. And I also anticipate you running ahead of your schedule if I sent your team to the Blue Ridge location right now. Let's talk about grass, instead."
Brad: "It, like, grows from the roots, you know. You can crop it and crop it, and it just keeps growing. And one day it gets long enough, and it flowers, and then there's pollen, and the...
Fred: "I am not unfamiliar with botanical science, Brad. Now, apparently your superpowers are evolving from from chemical control to life energy manipulation. Do you think that you can move a little higher on the lifeweb than grass? Channel me up something more useful? "
Brad: "Well, there's knotweed and trees... and a stallion. Oh, God. [Even on private chat you can read emotion in human comment. Or, at least you can if you're a 31st Century AI. And right now the emotion is frustration beyond reason. As Fred intended. Earthnet is fibbing when it says it lacks a clear picture of the bizarre events unfolding in a little corner of Grand Coulee Planetary Park. This conversation is about the Wingman Protocol.] Why did you make me go there? Why can't I stop thinking about Jennie? I haven't seen her in a year!"

Fred: "You see your friend, Vijay over there, chatting with May?"
Brad: "I wish I could be that smooth with girls."
Fred: "You don't have to be smooth with girls. You have to be what Jennie wants. And hard as it is for you to believe, you can do that."
Brad: "What do you mean?"
Fred: "You're not a stupid kid. So you know that I know that you know. Look: the point isn't to get a personality transplant. You're you, and Vijay is Vijay. It's to do and say what you need to say, when you need to say it. Hey, stallion!"
Brad: "I told you to stop reminding me of him! You're a robot. You don't know what it's like to be a nineteen year-old boy!"
Fred: "I'm not a robot. I'm an AI with more computing power than you can imagine. And I know exactly what I'm doing to  you. What you're feeling right now, you're feeling for a reason. Now are you going to do something about them?"
Brad: "I...
Fred: "Stallion!"


Fred: " We have trouble developing at primary and secondary location, but Earthnet can't get a read on either. That's a worry. So far we have six hundred year-old zombies and modern Xenovores, who are outworld pirate scum lacking anything like the resources to operate on Earth. Earthnet tactical estimates ATRI 15 technology and some kind of magical praxis is at work here, and that adds up to an Omega-class threat. Unfortunately, it looks like you're about half an hour from being cleared for the Blue Ridges insertion. Anything you need to talk about in connection with getting one of your team impaled on Maraud's stinger, Ning?"
The Furious Fist (Ning Lee Wong): "You're saying that I've got some hang-ups, that I should let them all hang out?"
Fred: "Oh, now that's a ridiculous superstition. No, the only thing wrong with humans suppressing inappropriate emotions is that some of you don't do enough of it. This is something a little different. It's the part where you talk to a friend about girls." 
Ning: "Friend? Girls?"
Fred: "You're not a stupid man, but let's pretend that you are for a moment. First, while it's technically a violation of the Federation Bill of Rights for EarthNet to stop running an instanced AI when it has resources to spare, I could ask to be shut down, or go do something else. I'm hanging out with you on private chat instead. Second, your crush Ma Tian is obvious even to fleshies. I lack the words  to tell you how much more processing power I have. Certainly enough to tell that you have awesomely good taste. Look at what I found in an old Internet archive. "

I hope that Khulann Chulunn doesn't mind that I went looking for a pretty Mongolian actress with a prominent
You know what? Never mind....

Ning: "She's so beautiful. [Henry Wong's voice is a deep tenor; but not right now. Now it cracks with passion.] And I recognise that sweater. When we fought at a grocery store once, one of the night staff was wearing one. I told her that she'd look even better in it than in her costume. Doesn't mean that I like her, though. She's an evil bitch."
Fred: "It's a well chosen picture. You're trying to read a message into it."
Ning: "Like everything she does I think is her trying to tell me something. Did she smile? Did she meet my eyes? It's all about me... Lord Buddha, I hate myself when I think like that."
Fred: "Enough with the self-loathing already. Ask yourself why you want her to be sending you messages."
Ning: "Well, it's obvious, isn't it? She's always telling me that I could fight beside her and be her khan if I were just strong enough."
Fred: "Sounds like she's coming on to you."
Ning: Oh, she thinks that she's some kind of immortal Buddhist nun, fighting to smooth the path for the Maitreya-Cakravartin. She can only make it with her guru,  and only to achieve mindful enlightenment. Now, I think all that Mizong bull is just Yin Wu's  pick-up line. And I think that she suspects it too. So there's that. But the cause she's fighting for is evil. I'll have no part in that kind of strength."
Fred: "So you're too noble to fall for her."
Ning: "I really am full of myself. And she's a manipulative Tatar bitch. But I can't help hoping that when she looks at  him, she thinks of me. I'm such a...."
Fred: "And her celibacy must fail, because here are her daughters."
Ning: "Bad enough that Yin Wu has her fooled. But I can't think straight for imagining Uncle Kwan with his hands on her."
Fred: "So you think that she's a bimbo? That it could have been you?"
Ning: "NO! I don't blame anyone for being fooled by Uncle Kwan. He led two generations of my family to the grave, and  everything I've done so far to stop his evil has just put more victims in his path. He's evil, and she's evil, or she wouldn't fall for him!" [Fred does not point out the contradiction.]
Fred: "You don't strike me as the self-pitying type, Ning, and this is not the time to start."
Ning: "There's nothing I can do. My future was foretold by Mardoom Thah: 'Wong Guangyao will die under the first spring moon after the House of Wong perishes from the Earth.' Uncle Kwan will have children by Ma Tien. And, for him, that's all the more reason to see her die in pain. Serves her right, too."
Fred: "Look at the face of that girl over there. You've already tried and failed to watch her die."
Ning: "She's just a girl. Who looks a lot more like her mother than her sister."
Fred: "Yes, she's a sweet --okay, a semi-sweet-- girl with a bright future ahead of her. But that's not what you were thinking when you summoned your Eight Dragon mastery to clear an entire battlefield to fight beside her half an hour ago. That face is chained to your heart."
Ning: "No!"
Fred: "Deny all you like, but listen to her accent. Do you honestly think that Ma Tian and Wong Guangyao were the people who raised her in Philadelphia?"
Ning: "Who else?"
Fred: "Be strong, Wong Heng Li. Admit your heart's feelings for  Ma Tian, and you can save that girl, now and in the past, and let the future take care of itself."
Henry Wong [aka Ning Lee Wong]: "She can be my Avenging Daughter!" [There is passion in his voice, but also frustration, and that's as far as Fred needs to take it.]

EarthNet Instanced Crisis Control AI Partition "Fred": {server-to-server protocol 11AG6. 124.Earthnet.OfDef#Resourcesurrender@"Wingman: Executed."}
Earthnet: {Pingback@Wingman.Comment String#}: "The fleshies will get laid now?"
Reply@Fred: "Approaching 90% probability."
Earthnet: {Pingback@Wingman.Comment String2#}: "It will have to do. Inform the Furious Fist that his team is clear to beam into the Blue Ridge Anomaly."

Yet another mob, via lotrwikia

I Really Should Think of a Codename Before I Die [Vijay Singh Kumar]: "I've been in more coherent D&D campaigns than this!"
Avenging Daughter [May Wong]: "You play D&D, Vijay?"
Vijay: "Oops."
May: "It's okay, you're still cute."
Fred: "Three for three!"
May: "What?"
Fred: "Er...Zombies, aliens, Orcs. Don't worry, it all makes sense. Fight now!"