Thursday, July 5, 2018

Digital and Minimal

Summertime cleaning is underway.

Recently I've gotten back to putting several products worth (some) value on eBay. This is in an effort to declutter my life, and earn a little extra scratch on top of that. Not everything I own is valuable. So many things picked up are disposable. They lose any sort of value right away, which makes selling them online not worth collecting the pennies and dollars over them.

It's times like these where I appreciate turning digital a few years ago. A Bookbub enters my email. I read through it, see a book that looked promising, and then buy it on my Nook. My Nook collection is over 180 titles. Combine that with over 100 on my Kindle, the dozen or so books on my Kobo account, and the collection I have on Smashwords, and you have more books than you know what to do with. And that says nothing about the physical books stacked on top of one another in the house.

But my Nook never gets heavier. A few years ago I had to reorganize my books. It was on that day I vowed never to do it again.

Going digital wasn't that hard. I mean, I've already done it in several areas of my life already. Netflix and Hulu make sure I'm not storing a stack of Blu-Rays for films I never truly cared for. There are 197 titles on my Steam account, and 147 on my GOG account (Huzzah for no DRM!). I listen to music through my phone.

That isn't to say I no longer buy physical things. There's a nice copy of Blade Runner 2049 sitting on a stand. I collect all things Lupin the 3rd when Discotek releases a new DVD. Some comics never made the Comixology jump. So yeah, I still collect 'stuff', but these are objects with more sentimental value.

This still-sealed limited edition of Stranger of Sword City gives me no sentimentality whatsoever. Also you can buy it on Steam for $10 when it's on sale.

Digital has given me more freedom, space, and saved me quite a bit of money too. It also helped me see what is valuable. Truly valuable. Books is one of those things I consider always a worthy investment. It's difficult to say that with games, movies, or even music. The minimal startup costs associated with a book (time and a computer) make it far more accessible to experience a more diverse and interesting spectrum than other mediums.

Which is a reason I carry my Nook everywhere with me. It's the reason I read comics on a tablet now. If Marvel didn't loss lead with Gwenpool Vol 1, I may not have ever read it. And what I would have missed out on!

Just my thoughts on the matter. The past week or so I wake up a few hours earlier due to my body learning a new sleep schedule (???). This has allowed me to catch up on some much needed reading due to the Nook Glowlight 3's night mode when it's pitch black outside. Easy on the eyes and easing up on the backlog.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

RIP Harlan Ellison

A world without Harlan Ellison is not a world worth living in. Thankfully in our timeline we do have Harlan Ellison.

Harlan Ellison was a lot of things. You can absolutely scour Twitter and all kinds of interviews that fill out what you think is important. Lots of good stories about the man Harlan Ellison was. But if I can have a moment, one second of time to tell you an important part, maybe the most important, is that Harlan Ellison was honest with himself.

As an aspiration for fellow writers, Ellison is the gold standard. Not because of his prose (although it's quite good). Not because of his attitude (although it was quite loud). But because of his honesty. He was able to delve right into his soul that made him tick. Some people lose their imagination or creativity as they grow up. Not Harlan. All of those things were on tap. It seemed at the press of a button, he could create a story out of thin air. And not just any old story, but a damn good one!

I recommend those videos, interviews, and his own writing because they get to the biggest part of his personality. Himself.

Harlan had big opinions on video games, on collectible card games, on fiction. On life, really when you think about it. He filled himself all the movies, and music, and art, and whatever else you can imagine that made Harlan feel the way he felt.

Here is an excerpt from one of my favorite parts in Harlan Ellison's Watching, where he discusses the animated film Mr. Bug Goes to Town. You can find it in the introduction.

[I never did get to see the complete Mr. Bug Goes to Town until something like the mid-Sixties when it became available on videocassette. Today I have it in my private collection, and every once in a while, far more often than the quality of the film commends, I take it down and watch it. My wife has emerged from sleep in the wee hours to find me sitting cross-legged on the living room floor, watching insects.]

He was an example of being true to yourself. We are all better from his presence, because his presence meant that we could do better. We can be better. Harlan Ellison's passing leaves a hole, not because of what we lost, but because of what we had.

If there is one lesson to be taken from his life and body of work, is that to let your loves flow through you, and don't compromise on who you are, because there is only one of you.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Fragile Nights in SPFBO4

Fragile Nights is in to the fourth annual Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off!

This is an event that has no real "big money" prize. Instead, it's about illuminating great self-published works.

I read when SPFBO first took place. So this year, with Fragile Nights completed, I decided to submit. If it wins, that's great. If not, then I can be proud knowing I gave it a shot. There are some really great books in this pool of 300, so I'm looking to see who will continue on as a finalist. 

Currently I'm an entry, which means there is a 1 in 30 chance of Fragile Nights being selected to move on as a finalist. Decent odds all things considered. When will that choice be made? Sometime in the second half of the year. And to me, that sounds like a great idea to not think about it until something happens.

In other book news, Wildstar: Forever Wanderers will be completed soon.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

No Man's Sky: A Review in 2018

"Where is all the water?"

A chilling statement by itself. This is what I repeated constantly as I traveled a lush, desolate planet.

But let's start at the beginning. I heard about No Man's Sky, the controversy, and the fact that Hello Games has supported the game with free post-launch updates. By the sounds of it, the updates were pretty good. The Humble Bundle store had the game on sale. So nearly two years after launch, I bought the game.

I like to play games. All kinds of games. Artsy-fartsy kinds that are more "experiences" then pure gameplay. With all that you know, you should think I'm the perfect candidate for No Man's Sky.

And you might be right.

The difficulty "mode" I chose was Survival. Sure, I tried Normal, but that was too easy. I was practically put to sleep after fifteen minutes. Survival had less resources, more aggressive enemies, and let's be honest, it's more fun to struggle for survival than have everything presented on a platter.

I started my life on an Ice planet. Twice. The first time I constantly died, because the cold was slowly killing me, and my life support was slowly killing me. I didn't know moving reduced my life support. I didn't know that I needed a supply of carbon for my multi-tool, or carbon for repairs, or iron for repairs, or carbon to resupply my multi-tool after mining for iron, or more carbon.

In Survival, your spaceship is about ten minutes away. In an environment that constantly drains you, and moving drains you, and running drains you faster. And hopefully the planet put the supplies you need to do the intro "missions" within a reasonable distance. I constantly ran from cave to cave to wait until I was warm enough to go outside and gather more resources. And then gather resources to replenish my recent gathering. Exciting.

Do you know what happens when you restart a new game? That entire intro "cinematic" is completely unskippable. You have to wait for the slow pan down from the sky, to the slow pan across the ground, for the slow widescreen bars to consume your POV, to the slow text that tells you that, yes, you are on a planet and probably fucked.

So I restarted a new file, and thankfully, was put near better resources. Everything you just read I did again. A grueling two hours later, I had a base and spaceship. Not bad. Mastery over the game mechanics was leading to a better life.

Do you know what a better life feels like? Warmer. So I set out on my space ship for a planet that most closely resembled the Bahamas.

I was just in luck. I scanned around and found a planet labeled "tropical". Yes, please! Beach planet, here I come! With all my might and fury, I held down the B button and went straight there. After eighteen minutes, I arrived on my new home planet.

The window of my ship burned red with entry. My ship searched around for a clear landing zone to get a lay of the land. Touch down. I thought, this is it! Finally, I only have to worry about my life support. This is easy street where I can build the base I want, and explore an entire planet to my liking.

And then I got a migraine.

After some rest, I returned to my search of the planet, where I made a startling discovery. No plutonium.

See, here is what I heard and came to understand about No Man's Sky. The player has access to all these planets and all these opportunities, but there is a base "idea" for the game. Planets must have resources for the player to play. Carbon, iron, zinc, and most certainly, plutonium. Plutonium is used to power your ship. If the ship wants to get off the ground, it uses plutonium to do it. If you call your ship, it uses plutonium. And a lot of it.

Yes, my Planet Bahama had plutonium, but trace, and I do mean, trace amounts. I had plenty of Thamium, which meant my life support continues indefinitely. Also plenty of carbon, and iron, and zinc. But no plutonium.

I was left stranded on a planet. "But No Man's Sky is an experience..."

I traveled for literal hours. On the surface, no plutonium. Then I thought, "Maybe the plutonium is below ground!" Eureka! That makes perfect sense for a procedurally generated game. After thirty minutes of crawling in the darkness, I find some plutonium crystals. I quickly hit them with my multi-tool, and was told I had no space in my inventory. That meant the plutonium simply vanished into the ether.

I also died in those tunnels because I couldn't find a way above ground.

A swift return to a previous save state, and I begin traveling again.

You know what, this planet is meant to be tropical, but I haven't seen water anywhere. Listen, I'm from south Florida. I love the weather. Ice planets, lava planets, you can keep them. Let's get some mojitos out here and we can explore to our heart's desire.

All this green, but no water. How in the world can there be no water sources at all? What are all these animals surviving off of? How are these plants growing? I've been traveling for several in-game days, but no rain.

These were the thoughts I was left with. In early reviews I read, No Man's Sky was said to be a game that, "You can be alone with your thoughts in." Truth be told, the only thoughts you'll be left with are boredom. It's about as fun as sitting in your dentist's waiting room.

If you want to know what Hell looks like, imagine an existence where you can never die due to exertion, but the thing you need to live, to really live, is never around. And when you do find it, it slips between your fingers. That sums up No Man's Sky pretty well.

The ultimate lesson No Man's Sky taught me, after hours fruitlessly traveling across the surface of two planets, is that I should turn off my video games and go outside. Throwing a Frisbee by myself is a more engaging way to spend a few hours. At least I'll get a tan and some exercise.

"But what about the experience?" No Man's Sky is about as mentally nourishing as a kick to the nuts.

If you buy No Man's Sky, in the Year of our Lord 2018, I have no sympathy for you. There is no price that is fair for this product. Not even free. Your time and your talents are simply too valuable to be spent on this game.