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Author of queer, wry sci fi/fantasy books. On Amazon.
Editor of all fiction genres.

Monday 27 February 2012

That Feminist Post

Hi gang!

First, I want to send a shout out to my readers in Russia, Belgium, and Germany...thanks for visiting, guys! I'm happy to see that I can interest people outside my own continent.

All right. Well, I used to avoid the 'f' word--not 'fuck', it's a fun word to say--'Feminism'. However, a video series by feministfrequency (here is the first of one of her videos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqJUxqkcnKA&feature=relmfu) is making me seriously reconsider that. I see myself primarily as an egalitarian, in the sense that I defend men's rights as well as ensuring that women I describe are real people. However, I have to thank this most excellent vlogger for making me realize: I really am a feminist.

You're probably asking yourself, a) I knew that already, how dense is this girl, or b) why does it matter? The problem is, feminism and feminist writing and art have some really bad press. From the ludicrous and somewhat unsanitary genuine menstrual blood paintings (yes, this is a thing http://www.regretsy.com/2011/07/08/maxed-out-2/ ) to Margaret Atwood's dry, repetitive WORKS OF GREAT LITERATURE, 'feminism' generally gets mistaken for 'straw feminism' or 'shit I wouldn't read/watch if it was the only way to get a cheeseburger whilst I was starving to death on a deserted island'. Even the ladies who are much less annoying or ponderous still tend to go on, say, Disney-hating rampages, or get stuck on irrelevant points involving male vilification/adoration and other straw feminist ideas.
So, clearly I'm implying that I am better than these other ladies--though I want to hastily make it clear that I have been strongly inspired by excellent writers, both male and female, who have done a lot more with their female casts than, well, castrate them. But how can we tell that a film or novel is not merely entertaining, but also a solid representation of more than just male character development?
I could re-write her ideas, and a simplified list of them will probably be an unofficial part 1.5 of this entry. In the meantime, I just have to refer you to this gal's tidy checklists. These are some seriously entertaining and easy ways to see whether a story passes muster for representing human stories from more than the usual North American perspective (i.e. white dude in America). As well, you can adapt a lot of these to see how racist or unracist a story is. For instance, substitute the words 'Magic Negro/Wise Old Asian Dude/Quirky Indian Dude' Trope for 'manic pixie dream girl' to test your given film, and you will have some highly uncomfortable realizations about popular cinema.

I realize that there are probably some white dudes who are pretty unhappy right now. To them, I say--guys, I'm sorry to put you on the spot here, but we need your help to change some of this crap too. I bet you're kind of bored of all those sausage fests in action movies...and dramas...and comedies...in fact, I know you are. There are some hilarious people who don't get a chance to show off because it's a matter of habit to pass them over unless the script calls for 'an ethnic person' or a female. So, show it: Hollywood and a lot of us novelists forget that sexual gender and ethnicities other than 'white' and 'male' should be perfectly normal, rather than just part of a plot device. I've already punched some big holes in Bioware's beautiful and elegant Mass Effect series. Now, readers, I want you to do the same--to your heads.
Give some thought to stuff you read and run your books/films through the Beschdel test: must have two named women talk to each other (preferably for more than 60 seconds) about something other than a man. And then, when you realize how many fail, get your butts back here and let's get some comments going.

Catch you later!

Sunday 26 February 2012

Back in the Day...

Hi All!

Just a short post tonight...

...on the history of And the Stars Will Sing, as promised!

At the time when I started the story, in 10th grade*  I had just started to get into the swing of writing. I was working on a novel, sure, but all I had so far were a few short stories and some really atrocious poetry. Then, one day, I found myself browsing about in a copy of Astronomy Today. There was an article on some classic Hubble shots. The full-colour photos were, I learned later, based on painstaking analysis of the probable contents of the nebulae and stars. Hubble shots were always taken in black and white first. At the time, though, I didn't know that, and probably wouldn't have cared. Those photographs of eternity, of endlessness, touched something in my teenage heart, and I before I knew it, I was working on something longer than a short story and much shorter than the novel, a new form in a new genre.
The title popped into my head with the mental image of Crystal walking down the hall of Crossing Paths and humming it to herself. Crystal was a pretty clear character from the get-go, with a bright, perky personality and just enough mischief to keep life interesting for herself. Describing her maturation from a green university student to--as she sees herself at the end of the story--a much more worldly-wise and scarred person was interesting, because at the time I didn't have the life experience to figure out what those changes would be like. I preserved a lot of the naivety of my own voice as a writer in Crystal's tone as I edited it later. In retrospect, I think giving her that goofy, inexperienced vibe  had a  serendipitous accuracy if my real life experiences with people are anything to judge by.

*In other words, I was fifteen when I first got this baby underway. OH GOD I FEEL OLD. 

From there, I had no idea where the plot was going, but the next person to make an appearance was Jai. (Don't know who that is? buy the book and find out! http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0075G7GEA)
In comparison to my writing nowadays, his character seems a little quaint, but his pep, spark, and difficult personality made him fun to describe and interact with. From there on, I started to fill out the background cast. Kyall is probably my favorite of this bunch; one of these days, I might describe his back story, since it sounds interesting. I'm not sure if I can make it relevant, but since there will be at least two more short stories released that are set in this universe, he'll probably stroll onto the stage at some point. His character development is more of a tease in AtSWS, but I've been told that he has a very remarkable sense of presence, and I'd love to learn more about how he made the decisions he did earlier in life. (What? You think I know? This stuff writes itself, I'm just the pencil-pusher, half the time...)
The plot followed pretty easily from there; it's not terribly complex, but it was never intended to be. (I'm trying really hard not to spoil it for you so you new readers won't feel ripped off!) It was AtSWS that gave the me the practice in writing a fight scene and very basic social drama interactions that have become so invaluable now. I remember running home from class and gluing myself to the computer.
And later, when I crafted The Wordthieves, the next complete story in this series, everything I learned in those early days came very much in handy.

And that's all there is to the genesis of And the Stars Will Sing! As for its sister piece, Wordthieves, I'll be teasing you with details about this dark little work very soon.

So long for now!

Wednesday 22 February 2012

Luv in Space! Part 2: Mass Effect Romances

Welcome back! 

Well, it's been a couple of days since Part 1--non-blog writing distracted me from the internets, but I'm sure the prospect of more funny soon will allow you all to forgive me. 

So! Let's not waste any time with an intro--if you're confused, read Part 1--and get right down to talking about love. And sex. And censorship. I don't think I even need to say that this involves a lot of Mass Effect and a lot of spoilers. If you haven't played the games in a while, do so; meanwhile, the Mass Effect wiki, available here: http://masseffect.wikia.com/wiki/Mass_Effect_Wiki is a solid source and a handy way to figure out who and what the hell I'm talking about. 

I previously outlined a few basic 'pros' and 'cons' of the love interests by describing their personalities and a few strengths and weaknesses. Bioware needs some serious applause for its effort in developing rich, interesting people for us to both hang with and fall for (read: attempt to bone) in both of these games. When you romance someone in Mass Effect, you take them with all their flaws intact. That means Ashley will always be a xenophobe, Liara will be soft and unexpectedly wounded, Miranda will be uptight and snobbishly administrative, and Jack will be bugfuck crazy in every way possible. However, this does mean that the pre-scripted character conflicts you run into will be that much more difficult if you are fond of the characters. For example, Ashley trying to pop a cap into the loveable Wrex, Miranda and Jack bitchfighting, and Liara whingeing about being alone for two years and trying to break it off in a weak, 'give me love and attention' kind of way, or even the Miranda/Jacob sexual tension are all things you'll run into anyway, but they're more frustrating if you have to be involved directly. 
On one hand, this can be really annoying, because we want our videogame romances to do the right thing, or at least not be as annoying as real people. To be fair, some of these problems really reflect North American society and its common relationship problems, so you could argue that they're more realistic this way. However, given that Mass Effect is set in the and I'm going to break down the romance issues in list form, because, surprisingly, the problems in some individual romances are actually the same issues in others--just with different mustaches. 

Problem 1: Daddy Issues.
Hoo boy. For the record, if you count a grandparent and a 'female' male partner who acted as a father, then Ashley, Liara, Miranda, and Tali all fit the bill. Hell, if you count the 'Mom' issues between Morinth and Samara--which are essentially the same--all this makes for one messed-up cast of babes. The only characters who weren't a) abandoned, b) trying to live up to, or c) trying to get away from Big Bad Dad's history are Kelly Chambers, the most normal and well-adjusted human being EVER, and Jack, who was so badly abused by Cerberus that 'Daddy' might as well be the corporation. Having trouble with your father or father-figure is acceptable and common, but for every single female who wants a piece of MaleShep to showcase this behavior is a little much. 
The men are almost as bad. Jacob definitely has Daddy problems, Thane's are expressed through problems with his son, and Garrus has C-Sec to be a replacement for a Daddy. (Given that his failures at C-Sec are spoken of in the same kind of way as the other stuff, frankly, C-Sec can count as a Dad.) The only one issue-free is Kaidan, and given that he is basically a less-messed-up Jack, you can still sort of count Jump Zero as a father-figure to escape. 
Granted, in their plotlines they all get a chance to resolve this, which is more than I can say for real life. The stories are interesting and rich, but when Daddy issues (and a few Mommy issues) are in every single story line, you start to worry about the characters' mental health and ability to be in a grown up relationship just a little bit. Everyone has something they have to get over, and parents are part of it, but sheesh! 

Problem 2: Previous Relationship Drama. 
This one is a bit better in the sense that it's more representative, sorta. Miranda, Liara and Tali are virgins, Ashley is ambiguous but implies not having had any serious relationships, and Jack and Kelly are adventurous. Samara and Morinth don't count here, because one won't sleep with you and the other will eat your soul if you try to get your funky mind meld on with her. Kaidan and Garrus are not virgins, but are sort of inexperienced with serious relationships, and Thane has a dead wife that he never really gets over. Jacob, like Kelly, is a Normal Human Being, but won't talk about the fact that he and Miranda had a thaaaang a long time ago, or at least, won't talk about it much. I dislike the fact that some of the women are token pure virgins--though admittedly, they all have solid reasons for it--while the guys have a bit more variety than either 'slut' or 'virgin' in their background. And, as I'll get to in a minute, don't you dare fall for or date more than one of these people at a time. As with Problem 1, I blame our romance film culture, especially here in North America, for this particular paradigm and its pernicious proliferation. 

Problem 3: Commitment, Commitment, Commitment. 
Relationships are work. This is no surprise. I have an amazing one myself, but it got there through blood, sweat, and tears. You definitely get the blood, sweat, and tears handed to you in a game, which is fine, but the way that both male and female characters waffle on commitment (hi there, Liara, Jack, and Garrus...) is both compelling and annoying. Still, all of the characters--at a certain point in the romance--pretty much force you to be either VERY SERIOUS about the relationship, or give you the option to go to hell. There is no casual dating for the Shep, apparently. 

Problem 4: Character Inconsistencies with the Rest of Life. 
This one is a minor problem, really, but things like Ashley's horribly forced love of poetry, compared to Garrus' display of a sweet and vulnerable side show that some unexpected character developments work, and others make you stab your eardrums out with a fork. Still, the imperfections that all of us writers have are probably to blame, and if not that, well, you can bet it's probably the editors. Obviously, no game is perfect, and getting over the faults of your zeitgeist is one of the most difficult parts of good sci-fi. A few romantic inconsistencies, such as Jack's adventurous past and her status as a monogamous male-only option, really grate. However, a little sloppy writing or just a loose end can be overlooked, because with all the time and love lavished on characters and crewmates, really, I just can't tear down Bioware's writers for this too much. 

Problem 5: Somewhere, a Writer or Editor was Too Conservative. 
As both a member of the community (someday I will get used to saying that) and a strong supporter of LGBTQ rights, I have a duty to be sort of consistent in saying that suppressing romance options for both sexes is really not fair. As a writer, though, I am terribly disappointed by some of the cuts here because there were some incredibly interesting options that you just don't get. FemSheps get sexytime but only with Asari. Kaidan was supposed to be bi, which would have made him a lot more interesting, and the same thing goes for Miranda; Jack's lack of availability as a female romance option is just puzzling. All of the story richness, extra romance possibilities (both past and present), and little details that sexual diversity bring were also lost in these cuts.
However, Mass Effect 3 does promise to offer male-male romance options, so I, for one, feel a bit of hope. It would be nice if girls could get some non-alien action too--not that Liara isn't a cutie, but by making female options essentially 'alien only', well, there are some unpleasant subtle implications there. 
Also, I don't want to turn this into a feminist fist fight, so I'll just point at the stereotypical female archetypes above, and mention that apart from Kasumi and (in the first game) Tali, you can romance ALL THE THINGS with a vagina but not all the things with (some sort of?) penis. 

Problem 6: Sex Only Happens When We're About to Die. 
Jack offers you casual sex but if you take it, you're fucked for a real relationship with her; Kelly will dance for you and cuddle you, but sex is ambiguous there. You can get a little something blue and tasty from the Consort in the first game, if you act dense. Other than that, the Commander only gets a little dick/pussy when you're both on your way to the end of the world or something really life-threatening. That's a pretty sex-negative attitude, and considering the universe and the many sexual standards and morals that are set up elsewhere for the various cultures, it's downright unrealistic. I don't need to say that threesomes are out of the question, but I will cast a longing look at Dragon Age for its sheer gutsiness, excellent character development, and quiet embrace of far more sexual diversity. Come on, EA/Bioware, good people have sex too. 

Problem 7: If You Cheat/Break Up with Someone, YOU GO TO HELL AND YOU DIE. 
Now we get to the fun part: Drrrrrraaaaamaaaaaa! Drama drama drama jealousy jealousy drama. The designers have gleefully threatened us that if a romance in the first Mass Effect is, uh, interrupted by cheating in the second game, we will pay for it, and painfully. 'Negative consequences', from these people, means 'you are totally fucked'. In the first game, if you try to romance Liara and Ashley at the same time, Ashley throws an epic shit-fit and stomps off, although Liara is all 'I can share, I'm good', which would have been an interesting balance. In Mass Effect 2, oh god...you can date pretty much every girl there, and remember that Miranda romance I mentioned? And the Miranda/Jack catfight? Yeaaah, if you romance one or the other and choose the wrong side in the fight, one of the girls will dump your sorry ass. That's sort of fair, and one can't help but appreciate the way the game forces you to be either a saint or an asshole, because cowards never get the girl in real life, either. However, even though Liara says she is fine with any new romance options you pick after her--if you were romancing her before--and gives you her blessing, Mass Effect 3 may not reflect that same peaceful attitude. And even if she is nice about it...well, good luck getting the same response from Ashley. You're going to need Mordin's help sewing your bits back on, buddy. 

So, why is romance so hard to write well? We all love it in our stories, but sometimes it complicates them unnecessarily. Much as I have reamed out the stories' faults--and I have been preeeetty unrelenting--I have to say that the romances flow naturally and seem to fit the stories. If you don't romance the characters, you lose out on their unique personalities and insights, too. However, it's hard to stray from norms and expectations, pretty damn hard to write for those 'abnormal' (read: statistically less common) relationships, and even harder to make sure that character development is enhanced by the love, as opposed to harmed or stopped by it. A few more battle scars, more richly developed relationship histories, more alt-sex identities, and a bit less family trauma would be welcome changes to the scene.

So! Thanks for sticking with me through a very long two-parter. Remember, Mass Effect 3 comes out soon, and you can bet you'll be hearing about the love resolutions in that opus very soon!

Next time: more info about And the Stars Will Sing, including some very exclusive origin info. And, yes, as time goes on, you'll get to see some self-critiques of work too, including the dreaded romances. So long for now!

Thursday 16 February 2012

Happy Valentine's! Luv in Space, Part 1

Happy belated Valentine's!

Also, Happy Mass Effect 3 demo day! I was going to put this out on time, but I was distracted by dinner home-cooked by Andrey, the Dashing Boyfriend. So, in honour of the biggest breakup/engagement day of the year, I will meditate on romance in the Mass Effect universe: who you get to love, In part 2, we talk pros and cons, and where the game fails and succeeds, and why good romance is so damn hard to write. This might take a while, so don't touch that dial!

(If you don't know what Mass Effect is, do yourself a favour and get it for PC or console RIGHT NOW. I'll wait. Play both of the ones released so far and don't you dare show your face until you're done.)

Welcome back. So! Mass Effect currently has two installments; appropriately, they are entitled Mass Effect 1 and Mass Effect 2. I'm not going to include the extra stories and supplements in too much detail because the most important stuff happens in those two games. I will note that the one prejudice in this review, apart from the usual ones, will be a strong favoritism for Paragon Sheps, because neither I nor Andrey could handle the nastiness and stupidity that a proper Renegade playthrough sometimes requires.

As a reminder, and for those who were silly enough not to play the game, the plot involves the usual human-savior-of-the-galaxy-of-bullheaded-aliens device. However, a richly developed world and excellent design details keep it from feeling like so many retreads of the One Dude Against Everything stereotype. MaleShep's voiceacting and lines tend towards the cowboyish, at times, but even occasionally wobbly voiceacting on the masculine version of the character can't keep the interesting subplots, difficult ethical choices, and rich character development from shining through. That rich character development does fail sometimes, so without further ado, it's time to cut up some hearts and talk about love in the 22nd century AD. Cue the porn music.

Romances in the First Game:

Kaidan Alenko: When EB learned that a male romance option was in the works, they stripped it, fearing fan backlash from boi luv. However, everything but the sex scene is still there in the game code. And let me tell you, when they made this character UN-GAY, they stripped his personality. A dorky hick trying his hardest to be a manly man, even his attractive facial features can't make the hetero romance option for female Shepard (femShep from now on) an interesting person. A shame, really, because the bi orientation and some other cut dialogues would have given him at least a bit more personality than a cardboard promo cutout. They don't even reward players with better combat skills if you drag him out with you. I have yet to meet a single fan who actually liked this boring-ass sidekick.

Ashley Wilson: The human female romance option for MaleShep is really not much better. A tomboy with a prickly personality and a tendency towards bitchy girrrrrrl drama, Ashley's only redeeming features are a half-hearted attempt to develop her character with a love for poetry and her shapely ass. Since shapely asses in gaming are about as unique as 'B' for the Back button, the first is not much of a sale. Still, she sort of fits MaleShep's tendency to be an ignorant cowboy, and she is nothing if not gutsy--even if she has grandpa issues. At least she's less of a slack-jawed, 'hurr hurr, alien boobies' xenophone than Kaidan. She's okay in battle, but both the other romance option and other characters are much better.

Liara T'soni: This adorable blue alien chick has to be one of the cutest romance options in a recent game. As an Asari (not an Atari, though you can play with her console too, hurr hurr) she represents the 'other' box on the orientation check list. In fact, if you as MaleShep try to romance both girls, Liara will be fine with it--it's Ashley who will force you to choose and probably stomp off in a huff. Both MaleShep and FemShep can romance her, and it's a good thing. Shy, geeky, scholarly, but good with a Singularity, Liara is not only a fine lookin' gal with nicer booty than Ashley and a softer personality, she's an excellent combat choice. Her sex scene is also marginally better than Ashley's, though they're mostly identical.

The first game also forces you to sacrifice either Ashley or Kaidan and there's no way of getting out of it. Her bitchiness made Ashley the first to get it in the neck, but after one or two playthroughs more, it was boring, ignorant Kaidan that we voted off the island, every time.

The game ends with the usual promises of danger and suggestions of a happy ending, and at some point in there, Shep gets some tail. All seems well until...Mass Effect 2!

Mass Effect 2: The Search for More Luvz

Bioware, the company that developed Mass Effect, got a fair bit of flack for its lack of options in the first game. The second game sought to remedy that by letting you romance ALL THE THINGS, to alter a quote from the delightful Hyperbole and a Half. That said, with a better plot, more complex characters, and a large increase in the size and complexity of the universe, even the most annoying characters are rendered tolerable.
Romance options from the first game, surprisingly, didn't really carry over in plot, although even failing to sleep with your true love won't keep them from being counted as your one and only (assuming you imported a save game). If you see Ashley/Kaidan, whichever of them you were forced to let survive, they will be snotty because you're working for The Bad Guys. If you romanced one of them, they will still be snotty, but you'll get an apology note later. If you didn't sleep with them, well, no apology for you!
Liara's character will be talked about in some detail, because fans loved her so much that a major download providing both plot advancement and 'special time' with her was added to the otherwise lackluster short quest in-game.
As for the new faces in town, going in order of appearance is probably easiest. We'll talk about what happens if you try to have your cake and eat it too by cheating on your old significant other with the new peeps in a few minutes, but first, let's look at your new honeys.

Jacob Taylor: A big, attractive black man who's got the personality of a Labrador Retriever. He's about as smart, from outward appearances, but he's a Nobel Laureate compared to Kaidan. Still, he's sweet-natured, good in combat, and actually fun to talk to. If you want a quiet, pleasant male romance option, well, your FemShep is in luck. A lot of fans disliked or just didn't care about Jacob, but there's no getting around the fact that he's a pretty nice guy, and easy enough on the eyes. His personal story is pretty neat, too.

Miranda Lawson: This smokin' hot Aussie is the new Ashley, but Ashley 2.0 is a lot smarter and easier to put up with, even in spite of daddy issues (which, to be fair, is something even Liara suffers from, even though all Asari are female). Unfortunately, she is MaleShep only. Her faults do include a bitchy streak. She's somewhat witty, knows how to handle a gun, and has some talent with biotics, though she's no Asari...or Jack. We'll talk about Jack in a few minutes...

Garrus Vakarian: I would be lying if I said this wasn't one of my favorite characters and probably my romance choice. This fan favorite from the previous game is a tall, handsome (...you know, for a raptor) Turian who gets all scarred up about ten minutes after you meet him. He's got a few of Batman's traits without the psychological trauma, and the development from an earnest young officer to a vigilante in the slums of Omega is actually well-portrayed. The only disdvantage to romancing him is the difficulty in making Turian and human physiology, uh, compatible. The adorable and annoying Mordin, the hilarious scientist, warns FemShep that 'chafing' is a possible side effect and that she shouldn't consume any Turian fluids due to possible allergic reactions. Uhhh...yeah, that sort of takes the fun out of kissing, and god help you if you go bareback. At least he's a gentleman and witty, as well as an amazing shot. However, there are no bromance options for MaleShep, so the gents are once again left out.

Tali Zorah Vas Neema (later Vas Normandy): Everyone's favorite Unseen Babe from the first game shows up as a naive (but no longer jailbait) new crewmember and romance option. This was another fan request, and I have to admit, Tali is pretty darn cute. She's smart, an excellent shot and useful engineer, and she's brave: basically, a sexy Muslim alien Darth Vader. That works better than it sounds, I promise. You don't get to see her face, though, which had a lot of the same fans who wanted her in this one crying out with the rage of a thousand wilted boners. Still, she's cute and really sweet-natured, and MaleShep could do a lot worse...

Jack: ...Jack...is...Jack. A psychotic badgirrrrrrl with mad control of the Force--I mean, biotics, this tattoo-covered scantily-clad bald chick is everything your mother warned you about at the same time. That sounds kind of sexy until you add serious childhood trauma, a foul mouth, emotional issues, constant hostility, dozens of murders, and, oh yeah, the ability to kill you if you left up the toilet seat again. A lot of fans love her, but this (surprisingly) male-only romance option was just too psycho for both my tastes and Andrey's. Although her character is a reference to the main protagonist in Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, she is nothing like old Jean Valjean. Don't make eye-contact and don't try to be nice; letting her whine at you leads to romance or nothin'. This girl does not take to being friendzoned. Ever. Even after The Big Fight, you will be greeted with a big old 'FUCK OFF' if you end up in her area of the ship.

Thane Krios: This zen assassin with a fatal disease and a heart of gold is an interesting character, but a better buddy than a romance option. He's fascinating to talk to, though his character development is forced. He does give some neat information about other worlds in the Mass Effect universe, though. However, loving him--FemShep has this dubious privilege--involves a lot of talking about his dead wife, his disobedient son, and the fact that you can't replace her or live up to how lovely she was. I'll pass.

Liara T'soni: Liara is only really a romance option if you romanced her in the first game. In the second, she shows up as a more vicious, pale, anxious version of herself, trying to track down The Shadow Broker for revenge. She was disappointing at best on first appearance, and doesn't seem to want to deal with Shepherd when he/she comes to say hello, even if she loved the character before. She whines about how long ago it was and how hurt she was, and it's more annoying than you'd think. (You'd think she'd clue into your resurrection, even though she saved your sorry, dead, space-freezerburned ass from the old exploded Normandy, whether or not you were seeing each other.)
Either way, talk about a loyal friend. However, the download--which still allows you to hang out with her and take down a corrupt politico--shows her developing a case of badassery that seems forced and incongruous. Still, she gets her sense of humour back, and if you are smart enough to see through her whining and womanese, you can get her to chill out and take you back. Invite her back to the Normandy, and sexytimes will likely commence. Even if you actually ditched her, you can talk about your new romance and she will be universally very accepting of the new partner. However, Bioware warned players that they would, in effect, get their asses beat if they ditched a lover from ME1 for a new flame in ME2, so we'll see how sincere she is about no hard feelings in ME3.

There are also some bonus options who, since you can't actually have sex with them, don't count against your romance from the first game. If you want the fun without the sad shot of your ex's picture facedown on your desk (fixable, if you break up with your fling before going through the Omega 4 relay), you can try one of these ladies. As a bonus, they're romanceable by both MaleShep and FemShep.

Kelly Chambers: A cute, sweet, efficient secretary who likes to flirt, is warm and caring, and will do a sexy dance in an Asari stripper suit at the end of the game if you play your cards right. A cutie, and your best option.

Samara: This paladin has a heartbreaking backstory, and won't actually put out when you fall in love, because her code forbids a partner and commitment. Shame, really, because this cougar is an interesting lady to talk to and quite pretty. However, there are some issues there, partly related to her daughter, Morinth.

Morinth: A succubus from outer space with goth affectations, a taste for danger, and a need to kill and hurt that makes even Jack look borderline cuddly. Kind of. Well, not really, but Jack has a conscience somewhere. Morinth isn't actually very well-developed, considering all the hype about how badassed she is, and as a 'bonus', if your Renegade Shep romances her after killing her mother (this is what you have to do), she will suck your soul out and you die. Bummer.

Well, that's the cast...in Part 2, we'll talk about some obvious and less obvious problems, try to make a few guesses at what will blow up in Mass Effect 3, and explain why both dating and breaking up are really hard to do.

See you tomorrow!

Why SciFiMagpie?


I promised to explain this a while back, and since I'm in the middle of something--yes, it's new work related to And The Stars Will Sing, you lucky people--I'll keep this one short. Here's how I named my blog and myself.

The 'Sci Fi' part is pretty self-evident. I have already given you guys a taste of my love for science fiction, and the reasons for that love, with more to come. The magpie part, well--I've always associated with them, one of my horoscopes slots me into the corvid category, and my habits fit. I like to talk, I'm curious and inquisitive, and I go crazy for shiny things. (You should see my jewelry boxes...and I know how to make the stuff, too. It's terrible sometimes! No, that's cock-and-bull, I don't regret it for a minute.)
And, naturally, they're tied together by my love of piecing together inspirations. You will find familiar elements in my stories, and I won't make a secret of that; dystopian works and even some old-fashioned zip-gun shoot'em-ups inspire me, and I'll be paying homage when it's due. The ingredients in the recipe are a mix of my own home brew and large amounts of moondust and space debris.

In other news, did you know that moon rocks aren't actually radioactive or toxic? True story. Anyway, that's how the blog got its nick.

Next time: more about Mass Effect 3, bad romance, and my guesses on why really amazing love stories are both enjoyable and hard to write. And yes, info about the genesis of And The Stars Will Sing is coming. Don't touch that dial!

Friday 10 February 2012

Why I Love Sci Fi: Part 1

Mass Effect 3 is coming out soon! I was going to cover this in fangirl squeeing, but then my brain kicked in, and I started to think about why I like it so much. Given that train of thought, I'd really like to talk about what makes for an excellent and well-developed universe, because sci fi game series exemplify it really well--and better, I think, than fantasy universes can. I realise that's a thorny topic, that people will disagree, and etcetera, but let me share my perspective.

I've enjoyed science fiction since I was a kid, and the reason for that has a lot more complexity than just the appeal of a certain kind of badass character and his shiny ship. I like aliens as much as the next person, of course. The ability to mix science and magic--something that is less common in a lot of fantasy writing, though that's changed around the fringes of the genre--is closer to the heart of why I love sci fi. Above all else though, it's the human conflicts and personal issues that get a chance to be more richly developed in this genre than any other.
I would argue that unlike fantasy--again, this is a generalization, and not true of some especially excellent authors, such as Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman--sci fi is less bound by conventional moral rules and human historical trends. It's harder than I'd like to find mainstream fantasy that isn't either a flavour variation of traditional D&D sword and sorcery, or some sort of awkwardly construed urban fantasy oriented around creatures like vampires, werewolves, angels, and fae. Things in the cross-genre area tend to be different, so for the sake of comparison, we'll stick to the settings and story types that the vast majority of the section is constructed from. Sometimes this stuff can be great. Who doesn't love a well-done fairy tale? Holly Black comes to mind. An epic yarn about heroic tales and castles and dragons is always a pleasure, but generally, with fantasy, you're a bit more rooted in old human prejudices and perspectives. And, I hate to say it, but the quality of writing, from a literary perspective, tends to be higher in sci fi than in fantasy. (That's a debatable point, though, and I'll be saving my infamous literary style analyses for another post.) Still, I find that sci fi tends to be about challenging preconceived notions and ideas about humanity and 'where we're at' more often than fantasy. Fantasy often focuses on the human story--not necessarily offering new morals or insights, and more often confirming what we already know.

Now, I've made my argument for sci fi as having a more open mind about than fantasy. Alternate life forms, societal forms, robots and other synthetic or semisynthetic creatures are fair play in sci fi; sometimes, human beings aren't even included as a species. The organic-based life forms tend to be more varied in shape; insects, mammals, amphibians, plants, reptiles, and semi-humanoids are all fair game for starring roles, whereas fantasy tends to stick to dragons, humanoids, and the odd monster or shapeshifter. Although quite a few universes--Star Trek is infamous for this--often fall through on delivering a diversified culture or well-rounded villains for protagonists to explore, there are lots of exceptions to this. Even when there is only one race working against/with humanity, they often get a good exploration, complete with ethical dilemmas--Larry Niven's Kzin series is a fine example of this. Stranger in a Strange Land by Heinlein is also an excellent example, with its careful and rich exploration of Martian culture, physiology, and thoughts. However, even when sci fi is set on Earth, and confined there, instead of allowing for 'kicks on a space ship',  there is plenty of variation. Even within the dystopian subgenre, everything from the satirical world of the Fallout series to the bizarre techno-nightmares of Phillip Dick and William Gibson is fair play. Sometimes, as in short stories in Asimov magazine, the world settings are well-developed enough that dystopia/utopia/realism/post-modern societal construction patterns don't even apply. Oh, sure, there is a certain human perspective that is hard to escape, but the world is bigger, and there are things you can do with aliens--especially in terms of environmental and physiological differences--that make for more different mind states than an all-humanoid cast can develop. The single-culture and interspecies racism thing is an issue in both genres, and can sometimes crop up as poorly done or artificial in both; it's not a sin of fantasy alone. Still, again, sci fi tends to explore more than just ancestral grudges leading to present-day conflict, something that even the finest fantasy series often fall prey to.

Hopefully that will give some grounds for my argument that sci fi settings are just better than fantasy settings. More flexibility leads to more creative possibilities and fewer limits. Changing up moral standards and settings, and greater variety in the same general flavours (i.e., long journeys, hostile and friendly races with lots of quirks, challenges that involve a greater scope than the hero's usual world, etcetera) means that you can do more because there are fewer things you aren't allowed to do. And that allows writers to be more relevant and challenging. The best universes and stories leave you with questions about your own to take home with you once you shut off your TV or close your book.

The finest work, of course, involves both genres blending, but exploring the ways that can be implemented would need a blog of its own. (You can count on some posts on that soon, though!) However, because this posting could go on almost infintely, I'll leave you with a teaser about subjects to be explored in future.  Magic vs. science, what it takes to make a universe believable, and some unabashed fangirl squeeing as a do a post-release review of both ME 1 and ME 2 in anticipation of ME 3's release. Excited yet?

Reading List: Here is a handy summary of the authors and series referenced in this post. Most of these authors have multiple titles published, and the series have multiple installments and episodes.

Asimov (Magazine)
Holly Black: Tithe
Phillip Dick: Through a Scanner Darkly, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? 
Neil Gaiman: American Gods, Neverwhere 
William Gibson: Neuromancer
Robert Heinlein: Stranger in a Strange Land
Larry Niven: Kzin 
Terry Pratchett: Discworld

Star Trek: 'Voyager' (a personal favorite)
Star Wars: 4, 5, 6 and extended universe

Fallout: 1, 2, 3, Tactics, New Vegas
Mass Effect 1, 2, & 3

Wednesday 8 February 2012

Sample Time!

Sample time!

A snippet of 'And The Stars Will Sing'. It's something to whet your appetites, and I promise you won't find it in the Amazon preview of my book!

Crystal has been settling in, excitedly describing her coworkers, the ship, and the food. She has her suspicions about why Crossing Paths is really working on the wormhole, but so far, things have been quiet and stable enough. And then, one evening, it gets a little more interesting...

"It’s been a couple days since I’ve last written. There wasn’t really that much to talk about until today. Annamar had a nightmare last night. Her screams were enough to chill your bone marrow. Her quarters are right next to mine, so I heard her very clearly. So did Kelna. So did half the floor.
I'm sorry, that wasn’t a very nice thing to say, especially because she was just terrified. I guess I know who was screaming that one night.
            We found her sitting on her cabin floor, sobbing and shaking, and very, very white. Kelna came in right away, followed by Jaria and me. She is usually so composed, and to see this kind of raw emotion is very unsettling. She kept going on about rips and tears and the effects of their reckless actions on the galactic fabric. She never actually said who ‘they’ were, just kept crying. After a while, we helped her calm down enough to go to sleep.
            I was not so fortunate—I lay awake for a very long while, mindsearching to calm myself. I felt around blindly in that vast black universe, and it was like being wrapped in a warm blanket, the kind from when you were a little kid. You know exactly where all the burst seams and frazzled edges are, and it’s so calming. It makes my head spin softly, better than alcohol or hradìrga any day.  I’d never want to have to analyze the fabric; I’d rather dwell in it and savour those faults. However, knowing where they are does help in the mapping. But enough about me.
            This morning she had almost forgotten about it, but I shall watch her very closely for the next few days. It’s creepy, because she might be a PreCog. Lots of the lunar people are. I remember reading about that in the old colony archives from the early days of Terran history. She seems so fragile sometimes, brittle and resilient in the same instant. I sure hope she’s okay.
Crystal. "

Crystal doesn't know yet that much more frightening things than a screaming nightmare will be in store for them....

Monday 6 February 2012

Writing update


It occurs to me that I ought to mention that I have a book out: 'And The Stars Will Sing', available on Amazon's Kindle and Lulu, and soon, I hope, on Kobo.

Here it is on Amazon:

And here it is on Lulu, an independent ebook source: http://www.lulu.com/product/ebook/and-the-stars-will-sing/18868775?productTrackingContext=search_results/search_shelf/center/1

There's my requisite self-plug for the day. Back to the topic of publishing. I got a very friendly response today from Kobo, so I am optimistic about launching as a self-publisher there. I will probably do it under the name 'SciFiMagpie ePress'. I don't want to get ahead of myself with naming it before I am accepted, though; they want to know about my output per year. I hope to put out at least 2-4 pieces a year, including everything from longish short stories given indie release to novels to the occasional collection of shorties. I also have a stash of poetry that really deserves airtime, so realistically, I have the ability to do this.
Now, the self-discipline to write it all and finish the in-progress works, that's another matter. However, the fact that I have a bunch of things completed right now does help. In the meantime, wish me luck with Kobo!

Next time: more about the blog title, and, of course, more about 'And The Stars Will Sing'. (Teaser excerpts, history of its creation and development, and hints about the future...stay tuned!

Saturday 4 February 2012

Hello Internet!

Test 1, 2, 3...

(Anything but that...)

A warm hello, internet, from the only rat free* place in the world. My name is Michelle, sometimes Shelle, sometimes ColorBazaar. https://twitter.com/#!/ColorBazaar. That's my Etsy name/shop. And now, I'm also known as the SciFiMagpie.

I wasn't kidding about the wormhole to my brain thing. In the coming months and years, you'll find reviews, links, info about my books and writing process, and a bit more internet humour than is probably recommended for your daily intake. And a lot of salt. I like salt.

*some conditions may apply, such as all the rats in the neuroscience lab, which are cute, and the big hairy one I saw in a ditch once, which was not. However, if you kill one and bring it in to a municipal building, you get a shiny nickel for a bounty! Just don't kill the lab rats. The scientists are actually nice to them and need them for research and such. And they're black and white and cute. I like rats, but alive, not with salt.

Anyway. So, in the speed-dating process that is a first blog post, I'll get on that 'describing myself' thang. I've got a Love Interest and a cat and a number of geeky friends, and the requisite deep, dark secret. No, it's not the polyamory or my bisexuality, or the thing for salty food.
Ever since my teenage years, when sensible people were listening to rap and such, I've been a writer. It started, I think, when I reread a story that I created in 5th grade. Something hit me--it took a while. I penned a short story about mermaids--it was sort of good and sort of crap, but there was something there. I rewrote that story, and started on another. I had the mental image of a young woman looking out a Greyhound Bus window. And that was it. I had to write about it, and then I started working on it more often...and then....

Next time: more about moi, and probably something funny, also a cocktease about my current work.