Friday, October 30, 2009

Friday Morning Music: Monsters and Beasts

For our last musical selection before Halloween, I offer you monsters and beasts:

Animal I Have Become - Three Days Grace
The Beast - Concrete Blonde
Beauty of the Beast - Nightwish
Monster - My Ruin
The Monster Is Loose - Meatloaf
Monster - 3
The Monster Mash - The Misfits
Monster - The Hangovers
My Beloved Monster - The Eels
Monster - One True Thing
Little Monsters - Charlotte Gainsbourg
My Spine (Is The Bass Line) - Shriekback
Monster - Fred Schneider

Bonus features might include "Closer" by Nine Inch Nails, if you happen to be throwing that sort of party...

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Magic Changes The World, Part II

So I'm back to thinking about the world of Gai, and in particular the economy. When I first put it together, I had in mind a more-or-less feudal system, in which the aristocracy were all wizards - 'wizards' being used here to define people who can do more or less anything with magic, as opposed to those who can only done one specific thing or group of things. Since wizards are about 2.6% of the population (a bit over one in fifty people), it's a fair bet that not all wizards are aristocrats; it's also safe to assume that the aristocrats are generally more powerful than other wizards (owing to both selection and training). Of the rest, most are either hedge wizards or non-practicing; there was also a knightly order composed of wizards.

Given that magic in this setting lends itself to creation and transformation, and given that a relatively large portion of the population is capable of this, what does that do to the economy? Start with a simple example: what do you use for money, if one out of every hundred people (or so) can duplicate {coins, bills, gems, and/or precious metals} more or less at will? Do you create something more difficult to duplicate (the Star Trek solution)? Or do you go with a barter economy? (That would make taxation more difficult, and banking nearly impossible, I think... but since the aristocracy are all wizards, it might work anyway.) Similarly, how does this affect trade? If a significant portion of any community can create (or duplicate) more or less anything they need, what would you trade for, and why?

I'm actually going to leave this here. For one thing, it's sometimes more fun to look at questions than answers. For another, it doesn't affect the current story (not directly, anyway). In the current, post-post-apocalyptic era, trade is going to be mostly barter, and it will be quite important, especially among the smaller communities. (Some things are going to be easier to make than others, and not everyone is going to have the same level of skill; if your community's wizard specializes in, say, healing rather than transforming objects, then you may have to import building materials, or arrange some sort of exchange program.) That said, I'd like to have some idea of how things used to work, because that will affect the expectations of the current generation, the ones who are rebuilding their world.

Obviously, I'm not an economist; but my understanding is that most of modern economics is built around the concept of scarcity - value is established by things that are hard to get. The concept of a "post-scarcity" economy, in which more or less anything can be easily obtained (thus making everything effectively free), causes current economic models to implode; it's a bit like trying to divide by zero. Some science fiction (Star Trek is a notable example) has played with the idea, but so far I haven't found much detail.

Fortunately (for the sake of my sanity), my world still has scarcity; it's just that magic changes what sorts of things are scarce, and who controls the means of production.

And that means it's time to do more research.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Friday Morning Music: Ghosts

Keeping with our "Halloween is almost here" theme... Songs about ghosts:

1. Boy and the Ghost - Tarja Turunen
2. Cold - Of Shadow People
3. Ghost - Indigo Girls
4. Ghost Love Score - Nightwish
5. Ghost of a Texas Ladies Man - Concrete Blonde
6. Ghostriders - Die Apokalyptischen Reiter (because Johnny Cash sounds better when performed by a German death-metal band)
7. Ghostwood - Lothlorien
8. Letting the Ghost Out - Soma
9. Ode - Hungry Lucy (actually, the whole album - "Apparitions" - would work)
10. The Ghost in You - Soiuxsie and the Banshees
11. The Ghost Song - The Doors
13. The Haunting - Clandestine
14. The Long Black Veil - (pick a version you like; I'm partial to the Mick Jagger/Chieftains rendition)

For bonus tracks, you might include "I Am Stretched On Your Grave" (traditional; I happen to like the Kate Rusby version) and, of course, "Ghostbusters" by Ray Parker Jr. Feel free to post your own suggestions in the comments.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Magic changes the world, part I

I've been thinking some more about the world of Gai, which is the setting for Warrior's Legacy. (Warrior's Legacy was the first full-length novel I actually finished in over a decade; unfortunately, I had a kid right after I wrote it, which has effectively prevented me from reworking Warrior's Legacy - or completing much of anything else, for that matter.) What the book needs is not so much a second draft as a complete rewrite*. In preparation for that, I put together a large file of world-building material, which you can look at here if you're interested.

However, there are at least two elements of the world that I think I need to look at more. Both of them are directly related to the way magic works, so let's take a moment to recap the relevant bits:

1. Magic ("Gai-Cha") is a sort of tangible energy field that surrounds and permeates the world.
2. Essentially everyone can sense magic, and most people can do at least one or two little things with it; some can do a variety of related things; and a very few can do almost anything.
3. There are two (arguably three) major limitations on the use of magic in this setting:

  • You can't affect the flow of time; this is sacrosanct. (This includes any sort of long-term prophecies; those don't exist in this world.)
  • You can only directly affect things within about twenty feet of you. (A lot of the flavor in the setting comes from how you get around this.)
  • You can't raise the dead. (This is the arguable one; it's theoretically possible, but very difficult.)

4. Magic in this world lends itself especially well to shapechanging and other sorts of transformation. In addition, essentially any injury short of death can be healed: lost limbs can be regrown, nerve damage can be repaired, etc.

The other thing you need to know about this world is that it's post-post-apocalyptic; that is, a planet-wide civilization collapsed (almost completely) about sixty years ago; there are now two big nations, a handful of smaller nations, and scattered settlements in varying degrees of isolation. There are also a lot of ruins.

So, back the two bits that require extra work: these are medicine and the economy.

Medicine is probably the simpler of the two. For most of the world, all medicine is done with magic. (The exception is Loklaria, which has antibiotics, nanites, etc., mainly because they despise magic.) Magic is freely available - a little over 1 in 50 people have the potential for full-on wizardry, and healing (of some sort) is reasonably common among the 'small magical talents' that most people have. So, most injuries and diseases can probably be addressed, even in relatively small communities. As in the real world, major injuries and serious (or prolonged) diseases may require the services of a specialist. Unlike the real world, healing requires little equipment, so it's probably a lot more common to bring the healer to the patient than it is in our world. (There are likely to be situations where it makes sense to do it the other way around, too - some holy places are aspected towards healing magics.)

Isolation is still a problem, just as it is in the real world; if you can't heal yourself and you can't get help, you're in trouble. So, in this post-post-apocalyptic setting, there's probably a market for traveling healers, and local healers (even of minor or moderate skill) likely get a fair amount of respect for their work. There are also going to be some traveling scam artists, too; either outright frauds, or just not as skilled as they claim.

This is long enough already, so I'm going to cut it off here. I'll look at the economy - specifically, how you have a working economy when 2.6% of the population can theoretically create (or transform) more or less anything they need - in another post.

* In fairness, my brother and his wife - who were two of my three best proofreaders - think that the book in its current form is good enough for a first novel. I can't say (I don't trust my bias), but I think there are some fundamental problems with it, which could be corrected by a full rewrite if I can ever manage to do that. I've talked a little about that in my older blog entries.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Wednesday Morning Music: Blood and Vampires

Keeping with our Halloween theme...

1. Bad Blood - Siobhan Fahey
2. Black Poison Blood - Kill Hannah
3. Bleed - Tapping the Vein
4. Blood - Casey Stratton
5. Blood - Faster Pussycat
6. Blood, Brains, & Rock'n Roll - Zombie Girl
7. Blood Moves - Deadman
8. Bloodletting (The Vampire Song) - Concrete Blonde
9. Cloud Blood - Ani DiFranco
10. The Vampire Club - Voltaire

What am I missing? (I'm sure I ought to have more than this...)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

When Romantic Metaphors Turn Creepy, Part I

Just in time for halloween: what if those sweet, romantic sayings were just a bit more literal...?

Jason met Shannon in his Sophmore year of college; she was a Freshman. They met at a party in his fraternity house; most of her sorority was there. She was on the swim team, and planned to major in Nursing; he was working on his MBA, ran track and cross-country. They'd talked the night away, and he'd walked her back to her room.

Now Shannon was finishing her Junior year, and Jason was getting ready to graduate. The time had clearly come to make a decision. Jason knew what he wanted; now he could only hope that Shannon wanted the same thing. So he had gathered everything he needed, and then invited her over.

He met her at the front of the dorm and escorted her up to his room. His roommate was out, and wouldn't be back for hours; it was just the two of them.

Her eyes brightened when she saw the flowers, and she smiled at the box of chocolates. Dark chocolates, of course; that was what she liked. She turned to look at him, but he smiled and stepped around her. She took a step after him, and they stopped at the dresser where he had arranged his gifts.

The flowers were the most prominent, of course, but the chocolates were leaning against them so as to be more visible. Shannon picked up the box, looked it over, and set it aside. Jason watched with nervous pleasure as she picked up the roses. She sniffed at them, and started to turn towards him. Then she saw the small, velvet-covered box that had been hidden beneath them, and froze.

"Oh, Jason." Her voice was full of anxious wonder. "Did you really...?"

He nodded and reached for the box. He pulled the top back - it opened easily on its hinges - to show her what was inside. It sparkled in the light from the window.

"Yes." His voice was choked; he swallowed and tried again. "I want to give you my heart, Shannon. And I can only hope..."

"Oh, my love," she answered. "Of course I'll give you mine in return."

She reached into the box, her eyes fixed on the shining object within. "It really is lovely," she said...

...and pulled out the scalpel.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Sign of the Times

A while back, the City was doing some roadwork in our neighborhood. They dutifully marked off the important areas with cones (effectively blocking one side of the street), and put up signs to explain that this was now a construction area. So, when you entered that area, you saw UNDER CONSTRUCTION, and as you left you saw END CONSTRUCTION.

What you didn't see, for months on end, was any actual work going on. As far as I can tell, the entirity of the project involved setting up signs and cones, and then leaving them in place for a very, very long time.

Thus it was with considerable amusement (and just a hint of satisfaction) that my wife and I noted that someone had modified one the signs (with spray paint). (Well, spray paint and snark.)

The sign now read:


...Which was pretty hard to argue, under the circumstances.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Thursday Morning Music: Zombie Songs

Right, so we're coming up on Halloween. (Surprisingly quickly, too - time flies when you're on the run.) So, to help you prepare, here's a list of zombie songs. (Please note, these may not be the most child-friendly songs on the planet...)

1. All You Zombies - The Hooters
2. I Could Always Eat Your Brain - Harley Poe and the Dead Vampires
3. Nobody Likes You (When You're Dead) - Zombina & The Skeletones
4. Re: Your Brains - Jonathan Coulton
5. The Zombie Dance - Haloween Kickerz
6. Zombie - Nellie McKay
7. Zombie Blood - Adam Paranoia
8. Zombie Dance - Alice Cooper
9. Zombie Jamboree (Back To Back) - Harry Belafonte
10. Zombie Killer - Leslie Hall
11. Zombie Me - No More Kings
12. Zombie Zoo - Tom Petty
13. Zombies Ate My Brain - Tartouf

And, for my own personal amusement, please add:
14. Strangers In The Night - Cake (off the Stubbs the Zombie soundtrack)
15. If I Only Had A Brain - use any version you like; I actually prefer the Mirror Ball Associates for this one, but The Flaming Lips also have cover of this...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Bechdel Test

I was recently reminded of the Bechdel Test. For those unfamiliar with it, it's a very simple test. In order to pass, the book/movie/episode/whatever must have: 1) Two female characters 2) who talk to each other, 3) about something besides a man. It's worth noting that this has no connection whatsoever with whether or not a story is any good; the latest remake of Journey To The Center Of The Earth (the one with Brendan Frasier) is quite an enjoyable film, and utterly fails this test - on requirement 2 - but that's because the whole setup involves isolating the three main characters, of whom two are male.

I like to think that the stuff I write generally passes this test. That's not because I actually try, it's just that my characters tend to have bigger problems on their plates. And a bit of re-reading with this in mind might actually surprise me - I may not do this as well as I like to think. Genre makes a big difference, too - in a romance novel, for example, you'd pretty much expect to see the characters discussing relationships most of the time.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Pekiti Tirsia Kali

Tonight I visited another martial art. I won't call it a school, precisely, because it's basically a guy teaching out of his house. I've looked at this art before, but it was several years ago. Tonight was a strong reminder of why I liked it. This particular style is called Pekiti Tirsia Kali.

The first thing to realize it that was meant to make people ready to fight as quickly as possible. So it starts from weapons, and works back to unarmed from there. The main weapons it uses are machete and knife; it also has some gun-oriented components. This has a certain bloody-minded appeal for me.

Secondarily, it's surprisingly compatible with things that I've already done. It recognizes and trains the Six Harmonies, though it doesn't refer to the concept that way. (The Six Harmonies are hips-and-shoulders, elbows-and-knees, and hands-and-feet. To produce power, they are coordinated in any larger movement - hence, in harmony.) The stepping and stances are compatible, too: angular steps, very mobile, with attention to both closing and exiting. A lot of their attacks are built along diagonal lines, making them very similar to some of the Long Fist movements used in Mantis.

I have a few minor issues - the main one being that their idea of a "long" weapon is a machete. My idea of a long weapon is a staff or spear. I am not entirely sure that those weapons don't exist in this style, but they're certainly not part of the introductory curriculum. I'm also not sure whether this style works mostly with single weapon, or whether they ever use paired weapons.

But it's interesting, it's close, and it's no more expensive than anything else I've looked at. It's firmly focused on weapons, and I could probably get quite a bit out of it in the six months or so that I have available. I could do a whole lot worse than study this.