In Which Months Go By

580 letters to voters.

I once flipped through a dictionary (Merriam-Webster Collegiate, I think) and found that in the back, they had a super-cool list of foreign words and phrases that are or were popular. You know, like the Latin “finis coronat opus,” which translates to “the end crowns the work.” If you ever want to whip out the snotty literary criticism, throw that baby in and sound like a scholar, when all you’re really saying is “a story needs to stick the landing, or it doesn’t add up to much.”

I think my favorite, though, is “Parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus,” which is “Mountains will go into labor, and a silly little mouse will be born.” That one’s about overpromising and underdelivering. You know, like the game that’s been delayed ten years that better be the Second Coming of Almighty Zeus when it comes out, or else all that expense and hard work will be met with a resounding “meh.” (It’s kind of telling that there’s a few games out there this could apply to.)

Me, I try not to overpromise. But it has been a long time since I posted, so I hope you weren’t betting on me giving birth to a mountain. There’s been good news and bad news in my life, my career, and my personal writing. So let’s take a tour.

I Got (More) Political This Year

As I posted in 2020’s “In Which I Give Worried Introverts Something to Do,” I decided to use a not-insignificant amount of my spare time to volunteer for a get-out-the-vote campaign. This year, I started earlier than I did in 2020 because historically Democrats don’t turn out in midterms, and if past was prologue, they were going to get pasted.

I wrote 20 letters a week to get voters to turn out in Texas, Georgia, Florida, Nevada and Pennsylvania. By the time of the big send-off in late October, I finished 580 letters, about 100 more than I managed in 2020 if you include the Georgia runoff. It would have been nice to do an even 600, but in that last week I was crunching at work and totally out of brain fuel. Then, the next week, when it became clear Georgia was going to another runoff for its Senate seat, I burned all my free time and got an additional 100 letters out.

I don’t regret the time spent — the Democrats snatched a stalemate from the jaws of defeat and broke a pattern 20+ years long of getting routed in midterm elections. However, I am quite happy campaign season is over for the moment. I have a little more time on the weekends, and the ability to find other topics to talk about on Twitter.

I Tried To Be an Involved Dad

Just a minor note here from a proud pops: I helped teach my daughter how to drive and I wrangled my son through a frustrating season of soccer. Both kids’ grades are pretty great, and they seem to be thriving. Couldn’t be happier with them.

Some other obstacles came our way: my daughter got COVID for about 10 days. She was vaxxed and wasn’t in much danger, but it hit her like a truck. The rest of the family masked up and sanitized religiously and all somehow avoided it, even including a 3-hour car trip (shout-out to my wife for doing the driving, windows down the whole way).

I Kept Submitting Stories

I wrote and rewrote a few more short stories, but they have yet to find a home anywhere. As with martial arts, where you are only as good as your next move, a writer can have great experience and skill and still, the story may not resonate with whoever’s at the editing desk. So that was disappointing and consumed a bit of time.

Then There’s Civil Blood‘s Sequel

When I last posted about the sequel, I was reviewing its outline, trying to turn it into the book I really wanted to read. Rather than write by the seat of my pants, I spent a month or so planning it out and adding notes for a direction in which to take a third book. This all took time, but I’ve managed to get started on the manuscript itself. As of this writing, I have one chapter down and a pretty good grip on the second, so I really want to make this happen sooner rather than later. It’s been “later” long enough.

I Crunched Like the Captain

This one is kind of bittersweet. After months of work that sucked up weekends and evenings, my job with Mattel163 came to a close. The project is in soft launch now (it’s not in the US or China yet) and the prognosis is good for it being able to ship. I’ll tell you all about it when it goes wide, but right now I need to set my sights elsewhere.

…and We Lost Some Good Ones

Lastly, some things happened on a vastly more serious note. Some of my life had to be put on hold to grieve.

Since I last posted, three people I knew died. The first, Jerome Joaquin Mabrey, was a gamer I met at San Diego Comic Con in 2012. He was on the first team to beat the Mass Effect multiplayer’s fancy new Platinum difficulty, he ran a great Facebook group called Nerd Alert, and had an encyclopedic knowledge of space opera. The second was Kevin Barrett, who was director of design at BioWare and was responsible for giving myself and my wife our most significant video game industry job. We used to love arguing with him in a BioWare dev book club. We disagreed all the freaking time, but we never had a negative experience with him. The third was Ferret Baudoin, who worked with my wife on Dragon Age, ran a killer Roman-themed D&D campaign for us, and after the BioWare diaspora, wound up at Bethesda. I had mad respect for all three of these men, and the world is smaller for not having them in it.

…and that’s all, he wrote.

So, all told, this summer and fall were pretty busy. I don’t have a lot to show you just yet, but I hope you’ll understand that sometimes, life isn’t a performance, or all about your next gig. Quite often, it’s day-to-day progress, or even just holding the line when that progress tries to disappear.

Festina lente. (In English idiom, “More haste, less speed.”)

In Which I Share a Heartwarming Story About Torture

How things change in a year. The last time I got a short story accepted, it was a goofy tale of some poor sap in the superhero equivalent of the DMV, getting beaten up to test if he really had regeneration powers.

This time around, it’s a grimdark high fantasy story of Camelot after Arthur’s death, where all the good he did died with him. An unscrupulous king, Constantine, has sent a would-be knight to find Arthur’s legendary spear, the Rhongomyniad. It was last seen in the hands of Mordred’s court torturer, and no one should bat an eye about putting a torturer in pain to get what they want… right?

That’s the premise of “The Torturer of Camelot,” a story about disobeying orders, the limits of forgiveness, and if we are more than our worst deeds. I wrote it last year for the FantaSci writing contest. The theme was “magical relics,” so all the stories had to have items of legend, and the anthology was in the Books of Valor series, so they had to have some valorous deeds in them as well.

I burned some midnight oil in order to get it written, critiqued, revised, and submitted before the deadline… and it all paid off.

The anthology, Keen Edge of Valor, was released at the FantaSci 2022 convention in North Carolina this March. Four finalists from the contest were published in the 14 stories of the anthology, and first place went to…

…um…

…me.

I haven’t really been in this position before. I’ve entered a few writing contests, but the last one I placed in was more than two decades ago. I tried for an Isaac Asimov Award for undergraduates, and got an honorable mention for a cyberpunk story. So as you may surmise, I’m kind of pleased at this turn of events.

I also haven’t really mentally absorbed the whole situation yet. The week of its publication, I was in a frenzy trying to finish off some work at my day job so I could go on a vacation with a clean conscience. Then it was a week in Hawai’i, where my attention was taken up by all the lovely things there (volcanoes, dolphins, geckos, swimming, you name it) and when I found the urge to write, I made some progress on another humorous short story which may or may not ever see the light of day. Its deadline could be soon in the grand scheme of things, and I still need to find the funny, so that’s where my nighttime writing focus is.

Once that’s sorted out, I promise, it’s back to Civil Blood‘s sequel planning, which is what this whole short story detour was originally intended to bring about.

But here it is, short and sweet: If you want to check out the anthology, Keen Edge of Valor is here. It’s the third anthology put out by New Mythology Press/Chris Kennedy Publishing, so if you like it, don’t forget the other two might be up your alley, too.

Bring some steel arrowheads. I heard iron is proof against the fay. Even that one.

Goodnight.

In Which My Novel’s Sequel Starts Actually Happening

Longtime readers may remember my novel Civil Blood, and particularly attentive readers may remember the reasons I hadn’t started working on a sequel yet. Long story short, I promised my family I’d only begin work once I had accumulated a nest egg big enough to pay for a cover and editor(s), assuming costs in the same neighborhood as my previous self-publishing venture. The catch was, this nest egg would solely be financed by my other personal writing, and my path to that was A) novel sales, and B) short story sales. Since I have little in the way of advertising budget and thus a very meagre novel-based income, I ended up relying on “B.”

Well… with a final anthology sale coming out in 2022, approach “B” has finally put the numbers over the top. So now I have a little news: I’m finally working on a sequel to Civil Blood. Here’s what I can say:

  • I am currently in the outlining stage. It will take me a few months before I start the rough draft. I should warn the reader that it takes me years to write a novel.
  • I have tentatively titled it with another blood-related Shakespearian phrase (again, with echoes of the play, but the specific title may give away some of the parallelism in the plot, so I’ll be mum on that for now).
  • The story will deal with an American presidential election in the time of VIHPS. Though I hesitate to use the word “pandemic,” the vampire virus is the top issue on the minds of the electorate. It is not, however, the only issue, and part of the political dealings is that Infinity and Ranath will have to choose whom to support despite the candidates not matching up with their every ideal.
  • The main characters of Civil Blood will be the main characters in this story as well. There will be many familiar faces, and a few names only hinted at in Civil Blood will have some stage time in this one.
  • I might be able to make this story comprehensible if you haven’t read Civil Blood, but I’m not betting on it. As I work on the outline, I realize that trying to sum up why a character is not only a doctor but also a hitman and also has his hands on potentially world-changing research that he didn’t actually do just stretches credulity. I may have to highlight that it’s “The Skia Project, Book 2” and just roll with that.
  • Ideally it will not have a cliffhanger ending, because at this moment I don’t know the chances of making a third installment. Also, I like books to have enough of a satisfying thematic resolution that they can stand on their own. So, less The Empire Strikes Back and more Terminator 2.

To all the fans of CB that have stuck with me this far… thank you. I hope to make you happy once more.

In Which I Am Gainfully Employed

One of the “problems” with my writing career trajectory is that I’m not a specialist. If you really want to be a household name as a writer, you create a series and you get fans devoted to it. There are a lot of examples I could pick from, but let’s go with Agatha Christie.

“Why?” you ask? Because according to the Guinness Book of World Records, Agatha Christie is the best-selling fiction writer of all time. She’s sold more than two billion (with a “b”) books. Her name is synonymous with detective mysteries, having written 66 of the things. She wrote a few plays, some of them record-breakingly popular in their own right — they were mysteries, too. And her branding was helped by the fact that when she wrote a handful of non-detective novels, she did so under a pen name. She specialized, and it paid off.

Me? I’m the opposite. You never know what the hell I’m writing next, and sometimes neither do I. Since my last blog post about My Loft, I’ve been working on:

1) A visual novel (romance genre). It is now complete but not public yet.
2) Lore for a fantasy RPG video game. It’s in pre-production, totally not public.
3) A metric ton of writing tests for various companies.
4) Submitting short stories to various online magazines, some in the Civil Blood universe, some humorous superhero stories, and one cli-fi piece.

The first two are both gigs that ended recently, which meant I had to throw myself into #3 with a vengeance. #3 and #4 were the most discouraging, as my hit-to-miss ratio is typical of freelance writers — in other words, there was a lot of rejections. But, as of today, things are looking up.

I have been so fortunate as to accept a position with Mattel163, a mobile game developer and subsidiary of the famous toy company. I am working on an unannounced project as a full-time employee, and I want to make it sing.

What does that mean for you, the audience? I don’t know yet. All indications are that I will be up late at night on this job, since many of my co-workers are in Shanghai, 15 time zones away from me. On the other hand, a lot of my mental energy was taxed during my job hunt, so I may end up feeling happier and healthier, with a little security in my life once more.

That means I could end up able to do more personal writing, and submit more stories to more outlets.

One question that has come up regards Amazon’s Kindle Vella. In case you haven’t heard, Kindle Vella is essentially a platform for monetizing short stories and serial works on a Kindle, which naturally made my ears perk up. As always, a little more personal writing income means I can afford a second indie-publishing venture — a full-fledged sequel to Civil Blood. There’s two drawbacks to Kindle Vella: the first is that it’s got a limit of 6,000 words per installment, which is a little short for my taste. The more difficult hurdle for me to get over is that you have to build your brand — it takes a lot of 99-cent stories to add up to a single traditionally-published short story in a magazine, which could net $500 or so. That’s the reality. I’m working on building an e-mail list, an important step in the whole author ecosystem, but I don’t have any illusions about indie-pub sales.

So, will I die before my dream goal is achieved and leave you all in the lurch? Well, I’m happy to say I’m fully vaccinated as of today. It’s not proof against being hit by a bus, but as Bill Murray said, “I got that going for me, which is nice.”

Stay cool.

In Which Underdog Vampires Defeat the Amazon Overlord

Okay, okay, this post isn’t about a  battle between vampires and a mind-controlled Queen Wonder Woman. It’s just a colorful way to announce that my vampire rights novel Civil Blood is now available in non-Amazon stores.

Thanks to the lovely people and hard-working computer code at Draft2Digital, Civil Blood is now available on Barnes & Noble’s Nook, Kobo, and Apple’s iTunes. It will also be purchaseable through Bibliotheca if you want to include it in a library collection.

It’s $2.99 on these e-reader platforms, and I’m lowering the Kindle price down permanently to match it.

The books are available to be delivered September 21st, 2018. They also feature a few typo corrections and formatting changes that I did while reviewing the manuscript. Anyway, on to the links!

Nook Link

Kobo Link

iTunes/Apple iBooks Link

And don’t forget the Kindle Link for those still reading at the behest of the behemoth. (It’s okay, I own one, too.)

Happy reading!

In Which “Salem’s Lot” Meets “Law and Order”

[Want the “too long, didn’t read” version? My novel’s now available here.]

Once upon a time at a university, I took a class called “Making Monsters.” It was about teratology, the study of monsters and the history of medical aberrations. We read about hoaxes where women supposedly gave birth to rabbits, documents about feral children like the Wild Boy of Aveyron, and read the diary of Hercule Barbin, a French hermaphrodite.

The class’s focus was on medical cases, but I managed to persuade my professor that I could do a term paper on the myth of the vampire. After all, I nerdily pointed out, the word “monster” is from the same Latin root as “demonstrate,” monstrare or “to show.” And in my paper, I was going to show off the societal uses of whipping up fear and exorcising it to reassure the citizens that monsters will be slain.

Fun fact, vampires as a myth evolve with what the audience has historically feared. Originally, they were ruddy-faced, bloated corpses like a peasant might find in a coffin that was being exhumed. Along the way, they gained powers and limitations here and there until we ended up with the pale, misunderstood superheroes we have today. In the 1990s, vampirism was being written about like it was a disease, and the AIDS crisis was never far from any reader’s mind when reading about a sexy lover who you want so badly, but oh, they might just kill you.

That’s when I got the idea for a novel. Because my experience was just slightly different than the fiction I was reading and the games I was playing.

This is because while I was taking that course, my wife was in another one on constitutional law. And it detailed a case of a woman who was clinically diagnosed with sex addiction. She had been involuntarily confined in a mental ward for treatment. The doctors wanted to hold her there indefinitely. She was suing for her release.

Why hold her over that? Well, she was HIV-positive. There was no doubt in the doctors’ minds that if they let her out, she’d infect people, probably without telling them of her condition. That qualified as a “danger to herself and others,” enabling them to keep her imprisoned as long as they wanted.

So my wife and I debated this scenario. Was it violating this woman’s civil rights to keep her locked up? Or should she be, for public safety? Is her addiction voluntary enough that she can be trusted to manage it?

Naturally, in the United States, we have a presumption of innocence until a person is proven guilty, but once they’ve infected once, and *are* guilty, where do you draw the line when trying to reform them? Do we make laws and policies expecting the worst of people, or the best?

I think you’re guessing where I’m going with this. Because those questions never really left my mind. Whenever I was frustrated at my day job, I went home and scratched away at the keyboard, working on a novel. It’s a story about vampires and what we fear in the modern day, and the dominant fear I see is of becoming a permanent political underclass.

And now, after many years, that novel, Civil Blood, is finished and available for you to read.

It’s a cross between a legal thriller and an urban fantasy, a little bit Salem’s Lot, a little bit Law and Order and a little Shadowrun. It’s set in Washington, D.C., where you can’t do anything without a doctor or a lawyer present, vampire hunting included.

The back cover copy and first two chapters are on the Civil Blood page here.  You can pre-order the Kindle version now — it will be delivered on the official book birthday of June 21. I intend to hype the book regularly until then and have a little launch event on Twitter the day it arrives. However, due to a quirk of Amazon’s Createspace publishing, you can order the print version right now (no pre-order, just plain order) and get it as soon as it can be shipped.

I’ve been fleshing out the book’s universe on this site, visible on the “propaganda” page. Reading the page isn’t necessary to read the book, but if you’re going to make a world, you should really show it off a little bit.

It’s what the word “monster” is all about.

Showtime.

Blame the Pirates

When someone busts out an article on “Pirates in Popular Culture,” there’s usually some mention of Peter Pan, and Treasure Island, and Talk Like a Pirate Day. Now of course, Jack Sparrow and Black Sails will probably make an appearance.

This post isn’t about any of the above. It’s about the weird factoids that I’ve come across when writing Pirates of the Caribbean that have struck me as cocktail party fodder. As it turns out, the Age of Sail and the Golden Age of Pirates are a trove of trivia.

Examples:

The expression “Above Board”

We want people to deal “above board” with us, meaning honestly and fairly. But where’s the expression from? Pirates.

Turns out, the boards in question are the deck of a ship. Pirates would stash their armed troops below the deck when nearing a target so that they could look legitimate long enough to get into attack range. Someone who has all their men “above board” is not a scalawag bent on robbing you.

The epithet “Limey”

Scurvy was a serious problem if you were planning an ocean voyage. I should draw the distinction between a full-on trans-Atlantic voyage and just cruising up and down the coasts as pirates frequently did. Sailors had to pack a lot more carefully for one than the other.  Fresh fruit is easy to come by in the tropics, but it doesn’t store so great for long trips across the Pond. One of the key exceptions to this was a fruit that packed vitamin C, preserved well, and grew in Caribbean soil: the lime.

Part of the British Royal Navy’s daily rations to keep the sailors’ teeth in their heads was a shot of grog — rum with lime juice. And so, the slang for a Royal Navy sailor became “limey,” and the phrase eventually evolved to mean a Brit of any stripe.

What the snot “Avast!” means

I always chalked this one up as some kind of pirate battle cry. People repeat the word saying “Avast, me hearties” or some variant thereof when they dress up as a pirate for Halloween. For years, that was about as far as my Talk Like a Pirate education went.

“Avast!” means, “stop whatever you’re doing.” So if a pirate jumps onto your deck and yells it while pointing a pistol at you, in context it would probably mean “stop trying to escape,” or “stop fighting back or I’ll gut you like a tuna.” The phrase “belay that” is similar, but is more of a general order and doesn’t sound nearly as violent.

The best wood for ship parts

To no one’s surprise, English oak was the go-to standard for masts and planks. It’s durable. To a lesser extent, ash wood made an appearance, too. Oak forests were a strategic resource in the Age of Sail, and capturing or destroying a warship was a serious financial blow. All that said, there’s a lesser-known wood that is kind of interesting.

The tree it comes from is called lignum vitae, or guayacan. It’s a Caribbean wood that is much denser than oak — it doesn’t even float in water. You wouldn’t want to make a ship out of it, but it is very strong, and oozes a little sap so it’s self-lubricating. That made it ideal for an axle for the ship’s wheel or the apparatus leading down to the rudder. For its strength and resilience, lignum vitae is classified as one of several trees called “ironwood.”

The metric system

Why do we citizens of the U.S. still measure our impulses in foot-pounds rather than joules? Why do we put up with inches and miles instead of centimeters and kilometers? Because of pirates.

Okay, slight exaggeration. The U.S. has had several good chances to convert, and it’s always refused. But there’s an amusing story about Thomas Jefferson, noted Francophile and Secretary of State in 1793. He wanted the U.S. to adopt a standard of weights and measures since some states still used Dutch systems, others English, and so forth.

So the French government sent a nerd (um… gentleman scientist) named Joseph Dombey with a few carefully constructed official weights to the U.S. He was going to do some lobbying and persuading, and the U.S. might have gone metric.

Except it didn’t. A storm came up. Dombey’s ship got blown into the Caribbean. And they got robbed by pirates. The weights and measures were auctioned off with the rest of the booty.

So the next time you eat a Quarter Pounder instead of a Royale with Cheese, blame a pirate.

The Last Fish of Its Kind

Warning: long post.

My company is owned by a big Chinese conglomerate, so I was in Beijing recently on business. Seasun Games personnel are wonderful hosts, and they took us out to dinner each night. As you might expect, the food was spectacular and a fair bit of it was unusual to Westerners. At the risk of sounding like an Instagram post, the things I ate included:

* Lotus root
* Black carp
* Preserved plum
* Sweet corn soup served in a drink glass
* Borscht
* Stewed Milk
* Raspberry juice with chunks of dragonfruit
* Jellyfish

The jellyfish was my least favorite. I was basically dared to eat it, and besides having a mediocre taste, the cooking process dehydrated it so it was like rubbery jerky. But that wasn’t the real culture shock.

If you’ve been to Chinese restaurants in North America, you’ll be familiar with the displayed fish tanks full of live animals destined for the dinner table. It’s like a “Guaranteed Fresh” sticker, but it can’t be faked. In China, it’s even more blunt. One memorable restaurant had a steamer bowl built into the table. The waiter proceeded to dump live, squirming, gray shrimp into the bowl, legs wriggling and all. He turned on the heat, and we watched our dinner die.

The shrimp convulsed, trying to escape. They leapt a few inches inside the glass, but they had no chance, and soon they stopped moving entirely. After a few minutes, their gray carapaces turned the familiar pink of shrimp you see in the grocery store. And the Beijing team proceeded to eat them. I refrained, as did my co-writer Phil, who’s vegetarian.

I’m not vegetarian. And I don’t particularly like people who act superior because they are. This post is for people who eat meat, but wonder, “hey, what’s that all about?” Because it matters in ways you might not be aware of. And if you’re going to do it, you might as well do it with your eyes open.

As people go, I’m fairly used to the idea of watching animals die. I eat chicken, fish, and less frequently, pork and beef. I’ve got no illusions about where the food comes from. I’ve also owned pet snakes, which means I’ve bought live animals to be killed and consumed whole because that’s how carnivores roll. I don’t subscribe to the view that all life is sacred no matter the circumstances. While an admirable stance, it fails to take into account the killing of microscopic life our bodies do every day, and our cleaning products kill similar organisms in abundance, so we can live healthily.

Denis Leary had a comedy routine mocking the people who want to save cute animals, or at least the people who don’t think about it too hard. In the interest of keeping this page fun, I’ll post it here:

Jokes aside, I sympathized a bit with the trapped shrimp. Were my co-workers actually going to eat them all? Or would a portion of the shrimp have literally died for nothing? If you’re going to take something’s life, you might as well not waste it, right?

In the book “Plundering Paradise: The Struggle for the Environment in the Philippines,” the author chats with a rural Filipino fisherman and tells him the fish he’s catching are endangered. “Do you feel any guilt about killing them when they could be the last of their kind?” the author asked.

The fisherman’s response was, “If it’s a choice between saving a fish and feeding my kids for a day, I’m going to feed my kids.”

I tell people about that exchange at parties and such because it sums up a lot about the resistance to environmental initiatives the world over. It’s not greed or ignorance or “them” having the misfortune to be born somewhere that isn’t as perfect as where “we” live. It’s people being forced to decide between two outcomes that both suck.

If you’re shocked by the fisherman’s statement, I’d like to remind you that humans can shrug off an amazing amount of terrible outcomes. For thousands of years, humans tolerated the slave trade. We tolerate crime and homelessness today, turn a blind eye to wars that were largely held to be mistakes, and so on. As I see it, this breaks down into about five levels of probable reactions.

  • If they don’t have to see it or think about it, they’ll tolerate an almost unlimited amount.
  • If it’s not one of their own mental “group” suffering, but they’ll profit from it, they look to others for social cues and often do some mental gymnastics to justify it.
  • If it’s not one of their own, and they have no stake in it, but it’s right in front of them, we’ll say it’s a 50-50 chance.
  • If it’s one of their own, but they’ll profit from it, they may have an actual dilemma.
  • If it’s one of their own mental “group”: they often speak up, if not act.

Heroic people, who are actively trying to make the world a better place, and amoral people, who deliberately don’t give a crap, are on the far ends of the spectrum in this generalization.

So how do I reconcile environmentalist views with the fact that meat tastes good and it’s one of the few ways I can get my kids to eat protein?

I shoot for not being as bad as many. As some religion said, “You aren’t required to save the world, but neither are you allowed to abandon the effort.”

So if I can decrease my impact, and use my 5 seconds of Internet fame to reach some people, and encourage them to decrease their impact, maybe I’ll leave the world in a better place than I found it.  So I’m going to do that encouraging now.

I’m not encouraging you to go full-on vegetarian. It’s much better for the environment, but I’m aiming at easily achievable steps here. Easily Achievable Step 1  is to eat less beef and pork and substitute chicken instead. Why?

First reason: because it tastes just as good. You’re the opposite of that fisherman who was catching endangered fish. You have two options, and they both taste great.

Second reason: it’s convenient. Anywhere that serves beef will probably serve chicken breast, so you don’t have to change your choice of venue.

Third, chickens are not going extinct any time soon. Humans turn about 50 billion (with a B) chickens into food products every year. I don’t freak out about this because we’ve got industries that depend on a steady supply of chickens for their survival and are great at breeding new ones.

Fourth, chicken meat is much less ecologically damaging than beef. Here’s why:

  • Chickens don’t need as much space as cows (i.e. less clear-cutting of forests to make farmland).
  • They don’t need as much fresh water throughout their life cycle. Fresh water is not the most renewable resource in the world.
  • Chickens don’t produce as much methane (see here but note the caveat about grass-fed beef not being as great as advertised here).
  • This video, “Beans, Not Beef,” covers why beef production in Brazil and the U.S., its biggest market, is a major producer of climate-wrecking stuff.
  • Switching from beef to chicken gets you most of the way without having to give up meat entirely.
  • If you’re still a beef-lover, vat-grown meat is on its way in a few years. (You can invest in such companies now, but that’s a topic for another day.)

“Okay, wait,” you say. “You’re okay with the deaths of fifty billion chickens a year, but you’re up in arms about other species?”

Well, yeah. I don’t like other people closing off options for me.

Growing up, I was kind of annoyed reading textbooks and seeing dodos and passenger pigeons and the long list of other creatures that died due to human influence. (Did you know North America was full of megafauna before humans arrived? Lions? 4-ton sloths?)

Barring wonderful advances in cloning technology, those critters are gone for good. Not only will I never be able to see them, my kids won’t, and their kids won’t, and on and on forever, because some dumbass humans didn’t pay attention to how few were left. When someone says, “Hey, the Great Barrier Reef is dying off because the oceans are a giant carbon sink and the coral’s bleaching,” my response is, “I never planned on going there, but I’d still like the option!” And there’s no shortage of species that are endangered now.

I’m sure the more anti-environmentalist among you have seen Penn and Teller’s “Bullshit!” segment on environmentalism (around the 24 minute mark here). The “too long, didn’t read” version is that Penn and Teller asked NGO spokespeople how many species there are in the world, how many are going extinct and how fast. The spokespeople weren’t able to give good answers.

To which I say, “you know you can Google it, right?

There’s somewhere between 1-2 million species that have been named, and about 16,000 that are declared endangered right now. A small fraction, you say? Sure, but only about 80,000 of them are vertebrates, the rest are bugs, bacteria, and things you’d never notice are a species anyway. 16,000 species is a lot of species. If you wanted to mount an annoying, week-long campaign at your office to save X species, you could find one to do for the rest of your natural life and still not save them all. Worse, some endangered ones are keystones.

What’s a keystone species? They’re the ones that take the rest of the ecosystem down with them if they go. Elephants are one. I don’t really like being near elephants at the zoo: I never found them all that neat, and they often smell like elephant poop. But elephants eat young trees and prevent certain bushes from encroaching on the savanna. That means the whole freaking savanna loses habitat when you start losing elephants, and they don’t reproduce very fast. In North America, the gray wolf is a big deal, because it keeps down the elk population, which otherwise eat way too many plants. Off the California coast, the local environmentalists want to (all together now) save the whales, another keystone. Note to Denis Leary: otters are a keystone too.

So if you’re an affluent American, you probably won’t have to watch your dinner die, like I did. But it did die. And if we all keep going the way we’re going, there are going to be a lot more extinctions. So have some chicken instead of a burger for a change. Try a veggie patty and see if you can stand it. I don’t want a world where “survival of the fittest” means we have nothing but rats and roaches and jellyfish.

Trust me, you don’t want to eat jellyfish more than once.

Sunken Treasure and Related Conversation

I had dinner this week with Dr. Sam Willis, who’s our historical expert on Seasun’s Pirates of the Caribbean project. If you haven’t followed him on Twitter (@DrSamWillis), you might want to give it a try — he lives a much more interesting life than homebody writers such as myself. Exhibit A in this regard is his recent dive for a shipwreck off the coast of where Kenya meets Somalia.

Apparently there’s been a wreck there that the locals have known about forever, but only recently did anyone scrape together the funding and the interest to find out what it was. Because it’s on an ancient (okay, 14th century or so) trade route from Singapore past India and up into the Persian Gulf, the place is lousy with shipwrecks. The Chinese government got interested, thinking the wreck might be Chinese. There were some fragments of Chinese pottery washing up on the beach, so it was worth a dive. Turns out the wreck was Portuguese, so the Chinese funding dried up, but there might still be other Chinese wrecks out there. Not to mention the historical value of the Portuguese wreck to Portugal or historians who specialize in the time period.

Having recently written up a page on this blog about Shadowrun’s Cyberpirates, this immediately brought up some questions and scenarios that could make good RPG fodder. In that supplement, the authorial team didn’t deal with sunken treasure too much. Speaking just for myself, I figured that treasure-hunting for Spanish gold from the Age of Sail was going to be a lot less likely than treasure-hunting for Yakuza bullion on the yacht you sank last game session.

But the way Sam described it made me want to revisit the subject. For starters, the rule in the modern world is no longer “finders, keepers.” Ever since some guy in Florida found a Spanish treasure galleon with emeralds the size of golf balls back in the early 20th century, governments and museums got pretty active with the court decisions. If you don’t find it in international waters (a few miles off the coasts, where the water is usually so deep you’re not going to casually find stuff anyway), your claim on the treasure is pretty tenuous. Museums will argue in court that you don’t have the resources to research or curate the artifacts, and they do, so it’s in the public and societal interest that they get the goods you found. Sam told us the story of a Templar treasure stolen out of Jerusalem by the Knights of Malta that was sunk by the British off the coast of Egypt. Who gets the rights to a treasure like that? If you answered “Malta,” “Britain,” “Egypt” or “Israel,” you get half credit. If you answered “the guy who found it,” you get none. The governments involved will bring out the lawyers and the experts you probably can’t afford. A brief article on the subject is here and legal links are here if you’re so inclined.

All of this could make for an interesting RPG adventure or two, because while the average PC violates ten laws before breakfast, his employers’ motivations are usually rooted in some kind of legal situation they need to get around. Let’s see what we can come up with to start you off:

  • A historical team with no government funding hires the player characters as muscle because they’ve figured out there’s a valuable wreck near an obscure coast. They intend to pay the PCs with either grant money or loot from the wreck. Why do they need muscle? Because there are pirates up and down the coast who will pick on any unarmed research vessel. (Researchers make good hostages.) This scenario is a little more immediately cinematic than the others, because it gives the PCs the thrill of actually going under water and grabbing the sunken treasure themselves, which of course can lead to the inevitable underwater combat scene.
  • A historical team with government or corporate funding shot off their mouths and while they were in port arranging their expedition, an unscrupulous treasure-hunter figured out their dive location and scooped them. Faced with complete failure, the historians want the PCs to steal back the treasure. The claim-jumpers are going to sell it at a black market auction full of tough pirate customers, or else have a deal with a highly lethal corporate acquisitions team. Said team is packing a magical expert, which the treasure-hunter is not. Bonus points if you can punch someone on the deck of a ship and yell “that belongs in a museum!”
  • A treasure-hunter hires the player characters, insisting he has a claim to a treasure pulled out of an old wreck. The treasure is currently in the hands of an unscrupulous corporation that hired a smarmy lawyer. With a judge’s blessing, they acquired “his” treasure and are now turning the magically interesting parts (there’s always a magical widget, isn’t there?) over to their magical research division. The PC’s job is to break into the highly secure magical research division headquarters, and if they succeed, they get to keep some of the good stuff.
  • The unscrupulous corporation has heard about the historical team, knows they’re on to something good, and hires the PCs. The PCs are told to get close to the team, observe them, and strike at the best possible moment to abscond with the goods with no witnesses. The corp probably lies to the PCs and says the historians are grave robbers who deserve what’s coming to them. Maybe the PCs have fake identities ready to go to pose as security for the historians, or maybe they pose as buyers. Either way, the PCs have to make the moral decision to follow through or side with the historical team against their sociopath employer.

That’s what I’ve got off the top of my head. Game on.

Let’s Get You Started

I’ve been building the Writing Tour section of the site with links to Mass Effect, Shadowrun, Pirates of the Caribbean, Star Wars, and the rest. However, due to a quirk of WordPress, it’s easier to put tags on posts than it is on pages. So this post is a sort of welcome mat with long data-driven tentacles, trailing the Internet like a jellyfish.

If you’re looking for the content, start here.