Florida Man

To make it very clear, I am talking about the Audiobook in this review, and not the Graphic Novel project with the same name.

Given that they use the same cover art, I am guessing that they are the same story, but I haven’t read the comic book, so I don’t know for sure.

This novel is written by Mike Baron, who has written and drawn comics for quite some time now, including being the creator of The Badger, one of my favorite comic books ever.

The audio version is narrator by R C Bray, who I associated with his work on several Military SF and High Tech Thrillers, but whose serious, “Joe Friday”-style delivery works very well for this book. Plus, he can do a Southern accent without sounding like he is mocking the characters, a rare skill.

This novel fits my “Joe’s Sandwich” model of storytelling. The main character, Gary Duba, is a simple man who wants a reasonable, quiet life but is repeatedly thwarted by the perversity of the universe around him. He is, at heart, a decent man–and that’s what makes this book work so well.

That’s an important point, because in other hands the trope of “Florida Man” could have turned into cruelty humor of the “look at this pathetic loser!” variety, and I wouldn’t have finished the book.

Baron, however, meets Gary on Gary’s own terms, and shows us his virtues.

Gary is intensely loyal, and very willing to work hard when the occasion demands it. If you hire Gary and he takes your money, the job will get done, and it will get done right–you can take that to the bank. But don’t ever make the mistake of thinking that buying his work is the same as buying the man. Once you understand that ethos, it’s clear that on his own terms Gary is a very honorable man.

The novel is structured as a series of events, like an comic or television series. Several plotlines run concurrently, showcasing Gary’s relationships with the other characters, the most important of whom is Gary’s fiance and later wife, Krystal.

There is a certain sameness to many of the episodes–Gary tries to accomplish something that seems simple on the face of it and runs into an escalating series of obstacles–but the writing and pacing keep the book consistently interesting.

Gary is not perfect, and many of his problems are of his own making–generally through an unwillingness or inability to think past the immediate moment. And while I occasionally wanted to slap the character and demand, “What did you think was going to happen?” in general he takes responsibility for his failings and does what he can to atone for them.

All in all, very enjoyable. The humor is more subtle and low key than the cover might suggest, but it is a very funny book. Highly recommended.

 

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You Can Do Anything In A Game (But You Can’t Do That)

Last night, on Roll20, I was part of another one-shot playtest of Venger SatanisCrimson Dragon Slayer system.

This one got… weird.

Now that, in itself, was not unexpected, but the way in which it got weird was interesting.

There was me, with a new character (Tak Laufer*, human mage, who collects keys as a hobby/obsession) Kaerdin a half-elf rogue who took knowledge of medicine as a special ability, and Luie Martell, a human fighter. Martell was new to gaming, but willing to learn and seemed to enjoy himself.

Then there was a halfling sorceress named Insigna Sparks, played by someone who wanted to import his character from another game and had to be told–repeatedly– that while the other character might be 5th level and have 9 hit points and so on, this character was first level and limited to the spells in the game.

And then there was Bob.

“he is actually bunch of spiders dressed as a man but nobody knows that”

That was one of the more rational things to come out of that player.

Sadly for me, that was our cleric. You see, in the CDS system magic spells cost hit points to cast, but clerics have multiple heals per day. My plan was to cast spells and have the cleric heal me back up to full. In theory, that would have let me be a formidable spellslinger. Once it became clear that the party’s healer was here on an expired visa from Planet Freakazoid, I had to cut down on the pyrotechnics.

I have to give Venger major props for working with a trouble player (two trouble players, actually, but one was far more of a problem than the other). He let Bob rant and kept things moving by ignoring anything that wasn’t a clear game action, while asking us what the sane members of the party were doing.

We didn’t get all that much accomplished under those circumstances, but we did get through one combat against a trio of cyborgs, and I was relatively effective with the Missile Command spell (which is basically Magic Missile with a random number of missiles instead of being dependent on the caster’s level.)

Bob did get himself killed eventually, after Venger gave him every possible chance to act rational. Then he wanted to haunt the party, which game rise to evocative phrase “ghost spider poetry”. I’m going to use that–I don’t know what for, yet, but it’s a great phrase.

I’m looking forward to the next game, which will be held at a random day and time to be announced later, in order to confuse the Illuminati.

*Extra special bonus geek points to anyone who can identify the source of that name.

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Strange Days Waiting: The stories of Endless Summer

The Kickstarter for my latest short fiction collection,  Endless Summer is now live.

Now, I’ve gone on record in this blog as saying that I am not a Science Fiction writer. So what does it mean that this collection is described as “Twelve Strange Tales Of Mankind’s Future”?

It means that I don’t feel any obligation to be consistent and that I will write Science Fiction stories if I darned well feel like it.

So there.

But what do I mean by “Science Fiction”? Am I sneaking in some kind of William Burroughs style stream of semi-consciousness rant and gluing some rocket ships on it?

No, actually, these are real SF stories. They are stories in which speculative technology plays a pivotal role in the story.

I have a time travel story about a man sent back to try to stop a nuclear war, and one about alien visitors. I explore the possible uses of surveillance systems for entertainment, look at a potential downside of self-piloting motor vehicles, set a police thriller inside a geothermal power plant the size of a city, nearly end all life on Earth with three separate bio-engineered plagues, and then repopulate the devastated human race twice, using two approaches. And I wrap it all up with a tale of human migration to another star system.

I would call these “Hard SF” stories. I can’t support every single speculative element with documentation, but in general the science is plausible.

More plausible than, say, Ringworld, anyway.

I like to think, though, that they are stories about people. Human beings who live in a different time, in different worlds, but still have the basic desires that we have carried with us through all of human history.

Love. Hope. Fear. Rage. Curiosity. What makes us who we are doesn’t change, no matter what else does.

The fundamental things apply…

…as time goes by. 

 

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This is how you run an RPG, people.

Last night, on Roll20, I was part of a one-shot playtest of Venger SatanisCrimson Dragon Slayer system.

CDS is a “rules light OSR game ruleset”–but that description doesn’t do it justice.

Think back to playing with toys as a kid, and you and a bunch of friends all have action figures and are telling a story with them. But then Mark says that G I Joe shot Mr. Spok, and Leo says, “Nu-huh, Spok shot Joe first!” and then everybody starts fighting and goes home mad and Ted took your army man tank and now he won’t give it back ’cause he says it’s his.

Imagine if there had been some way that everyone agreed on to settle those kinds of fights before they started. That’s what Crimson Dragon Slayer is.

Allow me to reproduce my character sheet below:

Niblog the Terrible. 1/2 Orc Fighter. Duel wields swords. Has a Fearsome Reputation. Chaotic. 10 hit points.

That’s it. That is literally all I needed to keep track of to run a character.

In addition to Niblog, we had a Demon Thief called Gabstill, a Human Wizard named Irvine Of Arcadia, a Halfling Fighter named Barc, Antiochus Bulgar, a Human Cleric of The Meatlord, and ST-K1, a Stealth Droid.

Dump out any kid’s Lego box and pick a handful of minifigs at random, and you get the basic idea. Elapsed time for the entirety of character creation for all players was maybe seven minutes.

“Ok, briefly… Cha’alt is a desert world, a mix of old tech and sorcery, hostile but full of opportunity. All of you are currently residing in the prison cells beneath the palace. You’re in the city of A’agrybah. You have all your armor and weapons. Awaiting judgement for your various crimes. Roll a d8 if you want to know what you did to end up here.”

That was Venger’s introduction to the adventure. And then we were off and running.

First the droid tried picking the lock, but that didn’t work. While we were discussing what to do next we hear a female voice calling through the door and promising to let us out of the cell in exchange for our help in reaching another part of Cha’alt.

Given that the guard had just informed us that we were scheduled for execution in the morning, we decided to go with the mysterious femme fatale on her enigmatic mission. Sure, we’d probably all die, but we would certainly be killed if we stuck around. So we followed her (she introduced herself as “Raca’ana. I’m a palace concubine.”)  Raca’ana led us down a hallway to a room with two guards and we killed the guards.

Roll to hit. Roll damage. You’re done.

In the palace dungeon there was a mysterious room filled with arcane carvings that functioned as a magic portal to take us where we wanted to go.

Naturally.

The Wizard manages to activate the portal and we pass through and there, gleaming in the light of multiple odd-colored moons, if the fabled Black Pyramid Of Cha’alt.

Raca’ana then says, “There’s a magical necklace I need… it’s somewhere inside. Let’s find a way in before we’re spotted.”

Niblog grumbles a bit at this, since the original deal was to get her to the Black Pyramid, not explore the darned thing looking for jewelry, but she says that all she wants is the necklace and we can keep any other loot we find. The party agrees to delve.

The first room we enter has a ball pit in the center and some weird glowing crystals on the walls. Exhibiting the same level of prudence and good judgement that toddlers use when sticking forks in electrical outlets, the party starts messing with the glowing crystals.

Niblog advises against that and goes so far as to open one of the exit doors, but waits for the rest of the party. In hindsight, I should have just left them behind.

Because once the Wizard and the two Thieves manage to get all the crystals to light up in the same color, bad things happen. Unearthly voices begin speaking, talking about desire and tasting sweet flesh and then these hooked chains fly out of the walls.

We all get to roll saving throws and everybody makes it–except for Niblog. In a moment of  Direct To Video Horror Movie Irony, the one character who tried to warn the party against messing with Things Man Was Meant To Know is the guy who gets ripped to pieces by flying hooks just like Frank Cotton in the opening scene in Hellraiser.

The surviving members of the party decide to leave the room through the door that Niblog opened, and at that point we were out of time. All things considered, it was a great way to spend an evening. And I don’t even feel bad about losing a character, because I can just make another one for the next game.

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Reminder: Misha Burnett’s Endless Summer — Coming Soon!

This is going to be a good one, folks.

Cirsova

With Mongoose and Meerkat Vol 1. and the Cirsova Summer Issue Out, we’re gearing up for our next big project, Misha Burnett’s Endless Summer!

Sign up for notification for when the Kickstarter will go live.

This fantastic anthology of weird science fiction showcases 12 stories from one of Cirsova’s top authors.

The Bullet From Tomorrow – In an all-or-nothing bid to change the future, what would your savior look like?

Milk, Bread, & Eggs – What if Earth was just one pit-stop on an interstellar journey?

These Were the Things That Bounded Me –What lengths will people go to survive when disasters strike?

The Isle of Forbidden Dances – What if you thought you found love on a party resort where you were under constant surveillance?

In the Driving Lane – Where do you go when your self-driving car won’t drive you home?

Heartbeat City Homicide…

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Science Fiction Double Feature

At last it can be told..!

Cirsova made the official announcement today, so I can finally talk freely about my latest project.

This is a collection of my Science Fiction short stories. It includes work I’ve published over the last few years in a variety of markets, and several stories that have never been published anywhere before.

It’s been interesting working on both Endless Summer and  Dark Fantasies this year. I still believe that the difference between Fantasy and Science Fiction is mostly stylistic, but…

Style counts. This collection has a very different feel than Dark Fantasies, and it’s goes deeper than the difference between rayguns and magic swords.

I have the standard SF tropes in the collection–Time Travel, Aliens, Androids, Biological Engineering, Interstellar Colonization. I have a couple of straight-line extrapolation stories showing the possible future use (and misuse) of existing emergent technologies. I expect that fans of Hard SF will accept most of these stories as being plausible.

There’s a certain… hardness to these stories that isn’t just the constraints of the genre, though. This isn’t a trip a Utopian future. I tried to imagine worlds that are consistent with what I see out my office window and read in the news. Frankly, neither of those vistas are consistently pretty pictures.

I don’t think it’s hopeless, and I avoid nihilism on deep philosophical grounds. Nonetheless, the future I see involves a lot of struggling to overcome problems that have been building for a long time.

Can we overcome them? I think so. I wouldn’t bother to get out of bed in the morning if I didn’t.

Will we? That remains to be seen. I hope so. I have faith in the human race in the abstract, even though I tend to be a grumpy old curmudgeon in the specific.

In any event, the very near future includes a project that I am very happy with.

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Womanface. The new blackface?

A good point.

butimbeautiful

You’ve signed on to #MeToo. You’ve canceled JK Rowling. You’ve expunged Little Britain from your video collection. Think you can call yourself woke? Think again.

Picture this. You’re at a bus stop. As you’re standing there in your mid-heeled pumps and pencil skirt, minding your own business, up swishes a Vision in stilettos, hair so bouffant it has its own postcode, cleavage deep enough to park a Porsche, nails like talons and perfume that comes perilously close to chemical warfare. “Darling,” he says, in a breathy voice, “has the Number 22 been yet?”

Well, you’re no bigot, so you just say, “No, it’s just running a little late,” and go back to perusing New Idea.

But should you? After all, this guy is pretending to be you. Somewhere along the line, he’s thought to himself, wouldn’t it be great to be a girl….now let’s see, what is it about…

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New Mailing List Service + 2020/2021 News!

A lot going on with Cirsova

Cirsova

We finally got around to setting up a new mailing list service!

Everyone who was on the old mailing list has been moved to the new mailing list.

Until things are worked out with the domain registrars, emails will be coming from my Retrovirusrecords.com email account [which those of you who’ve backed our kickstarters should be vaguely familiar with].

The link has been updated on our mailing list page, but if you want to subscribe from this post, you can do so via this link: https://landing.mailerlite.com/webforms/landing/w4u8q5

More News (2020)

The end is finally in sight for 2020. Contributors are looking at the Fall special and Anton is working on the cover. Mark and Xavier have both given me corrections on the Winter issue, so all I need to do is get Xavier’s edits in, run them by the contributors, and get Anton to do a cover for that.

The retail…

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A Few Words With Venger Satanis

Venger Satanis is a Tabletop Role Playing Game Designer and a prolific blogger on the subject of RPGs. He publishes his work through on the DriveThruRPG platform as Kort’thalis Publishing.

His work falls under the general descriptor of OSR or Old School Renaissance–the RPG equivalent of PulpRev. He has an irreverent, often scandalous style and his game materials are full of sleazy sex, graphic violence, weird linkages, and blatant pop culture references. There is the same kind of satiric (and satyric) energy in his work as in Harry Harrison’s Star Smashers Of The Galaxy Rangers  or Norman Spinrad’s Iron Dream.  I don’t think he’d object to me calling him New Wave.

I consider myself a fan of his work, although I’ve never actually read any of his adventures. (I have read Old School Renaissance Like A F#cking Boss, and I recommend it not just for gamers but also for short fiction authors.) My experience with his work is all as a player in games run by The Mixed GM.

I first played in a module called The Liberation Of The Demon Slayer. You can read the GM’s description of that game session here. (Spoiler: We all died. But then we made up new characters and tried again.)

After we eventually liberated the eponymous Demon Slayer (it’s a magic sword and we “liberated” it in the sense of “found it and kept it”) we went on the explore the extraordinary world of Cha’alt, a kind of post-apocalyptic savage wasteland setting. Since Venger Satanis is about to release a new book in the Cha’alt setting, I thought it would be a good time to do an interview with him.


Misha Burnett: Role playing game modules are designed to be run by a GM. How does that effect your awareness of your audience when you write? Are you writing for the GM, or writing for the players? Who do you consider your audience to be?

Venger Satanis: I write specifically for the GM and how he will engage the players. So, all at once, I’m writing for multiple readers – and think of all the different kinds of GMs there are! Even if the GM alone reads the adventure, that GM will have to deal with player actions and questions. I have to put myself in the mental space of everyone at the table. Ultimately, though, the adventure needs to be good, fun, scary, entertaining, or whatever you’re going for. That’s my job as the adventure writer – I’m providing as many tools and as much guidance as I can to help everyone at the table have an amazing session.

MB: Recently you posted on your blog a brief series describing your process in RPG adventure design. I found it interesting that when you laid out the rooms you included one that was just atmosphere, with no encounters either good or bad. Do you think that pacing an adventure by including such spaces is important?

VS: Yes, I do. Early on, there should be space (both physical and temporal) for the players and their characters to adjust to their present circumstances. It’s the idea of starting an adventure with entering the mythic underworld or it could be a dank dungeon or wizard’s tower. Once you’ve crossed this line, all bets are off. We’re not in Kansas, anymore. Empty rooms containing stuff to look at, lore to discover, things to pick up and fiddle about with, those are great additions to any adventure. It also gives the PCs an area where they can think and talk, not be forced into an immediate interaction from one room to another and another.

MB: Your work has a real Drive-In Movie/Direct To Cable aesthetic. Some people say that Fantasy as a genre is about recapturing the magic of childhood, but I’ve always been drawn more to the magic of adolescence and young adulthood. Would you say the same is true of yourself?

VS: I’d say there a gray area between childhood and adolescence. That time period between 1981 and 1987 was the most influential to me, and I consider to be the best regarding fantasy and sci-fi. Those years put me between 7 and 13. Since a lot of my work is also infused with a certain amount of exploitation, grindhouse, sleaze, and the drive-in / direct to cable aesthetic you mentioned, there’s definitely a return-to-adolescence kind of escapism that I go for.

MB: Your Crimson Dragon Slayer system has the simplest set of rules I have ever seen, in direct contrast to the massive rules cyclopedias of the big name games. Do you think that fewer and simpler rules makes for a better gaming experience?

VS: I do. “Less is more” has never been truer than when it comes to RPG manuals. Roleplaying, at its best, is cooperative imagination using rules as guidelines, interpreting worlds as the adventure unfolds I like to include just enough to cover the basics, leaving the rest up to the GM and, to a lesser degree, the players. Too many rules, too much system gets in the way. Pretty soon, it becomes less a roleplaying game and more like stereo instructions to codify and confuse those who just want to pretend to be elves and sorcerers and barbarians in a fairy-tale world!

MB: Your world of Cha’alt mixes Science Fiction and Fantasy elements. Have you gotten any negative feedback on that from genre purists who think that they should be kept separate?

VS: I’ve heard a few gamers say that’s a reason for them not to pick up Cha’alt, but so many D&D type worlds do mix fantasy and sci-fi, that most gamers expect it, nowadays. But the real caveat is the super-gonzo aspect of Cha’alt. About half the gamers I’ve talked to either like zero or low-gonzo campaign settings / adventures. Full-tilt gonzo is more of a niche area. There’s less audience, but of course that particular audience is under-served because of its niche appeal. So, Cha’alt’s triple helping of bat-shit crazy funhouse weirdness is complete fan-service for gonzo lovers.

MB: In most “grimdark” settings the world is described as being very bleak—everything is black, except for a few things that are dark gray or occasionally a sickly green. In contrast, Cha’alt is full of vivid, brilliant color—chartreuse and fuchsia and vermilion. Is this just as a reaction to the stereotypical “black tower of black stones with black mortar and little black windows with black curtains” or do the colors you use have some deeper symbolic meaning?

VS: My color choices are both a reaction to established norms and Venger living his best life via eccentric hues. I’ve always loved deep, rich, vibrant, and unorthodox colors! It’s been a not so subtle theme running through my RPG writing. Some colors have symbolic meaning, I do try picking colors with care… just like I would with paint on a canvas.

MB: I have not actually read Cha’alt—I have simply experienced the environment as a player. Tell me why I should buy my GM a copy of Cha’alt: Fuchsia Malaise. What sort of material do you include in it—new places to go, new things to kill, new stuff to acquire? Do you have any material for new player characters classes or races or abilities? What’s in the thing that you can tell me without spoilers?

VS: Cha’alt: Fuchsia Malaise adds to the eldritch, gonzo, science-fantasy, post-apocalyptic campaign world of Cha’alt. It’s more of the same, but there are twists. Some time has passed. There aren’t lengthy chapters with meta-plot, but here and there in descriptions and bits of background information you can see the world is changing, evolving. There are, indeed, new PC races. I’ve also included GM material, several “dungeon” areas to explore, creatures, magic items, NPCs, random tables, the works! Additionally, the latest version of Crimson Dragon Slayer, Cha’alt Ascended, and Old School Renaissance Like A Fucking Boss will be included in the appendix.

Together, Cha’alt and Cha’alt: Fuchsia Malaise will provide you with more world building and ways to build that particular kind of world than you could ever use in a lifetime… until I release the third book in the trilogy, of course. Haha!

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SFWA is a Terrorist Organization

I stand with Cirsova.

Cirsova

SFWA is a terrorist organization.

For several years, we have remained agnostic on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

While we have had a few friends who have had “beef” with SFWA, we have also had a number of authors and friends who have been members of the SFWA.

When authors asked us about SFWA, we tried our best to point them towards helpful resources and current members, and authors who we have worked with who have considered joining, we have done what we could to support their applications when asked.

While SFWA’s decision to discriminate based on race in a desperate attempt to become “diverse” is a gross and shallow attempt to remain relevant and deflect criticism of their organization and their members’ behavior and survive the contemporary ideological purges going on in the left side of the political spectrum, their pledge of support for terrorist organizations…

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