Top of the World

by wjw on August 15, 2018

IMG_4979Now here’s an interesting phenomenon.  It’s raining on the left side of this photo.  On the right side, it’s clear.

This is Taos Ski Valley, which is quite narrow.  This allows you to observe weather as it creeps along between the walls of the canyon.  There was one memorable day when I was sitting on the balcony of the lodge and watched a snowstorm soar up the canyon.  Except I was above the weather, and so I saw sunny white clouds above, and a dark snowstorm below plastering everything with frozen water.

I am not at Worldcon this year, mainly because I’m in a race to finish Quillifer the Knight, and taking five or six days off seemed the wrong thing to do.  So instead I awarded myself a writer’s retreat up in the mountains, where I can type away without distractions (except for bears, coyotes, and marmots).

I’m at Snow Bear, where I used to run Rio Hondo and Taos Toolbox, but which ran into management problems about four years ago, which caused me to move workshop activity to Angel Fire, a couple mountain ranges away to the south.  Snow Bear now books its guests through airbnb, which makes sense.  I met manager Greg, who seems to have a clear view of the challenges facing him, and so I may be coming up here more often in the near future.

Weather permitting, of course.

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What’s Happening?

by wjw on August 14, 2018

My current reading is Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent, an amiable, eccentric pseudo-Victorian work.  Reading it is pleasurable, but I’m over 100 pages in and as yet have no idea what the novel is about, if anything.  Amiable eccentric Victorians amble through the work encountering one another, and there either is or isn’t a sea monster lurking off in the estuary (I rather think there isn’t), and people might or might not love one another, but everyone is reasonably reasonable and there doesn’t seem to be a lot at stake.  The work’s one nasty character dies in Chapter One.

It’s so well written that I’ve kept going, but now I’m wondering why I need to continue.  Maybe I’ve got the point already.  Is it possible to write a work where there’s no conflict and everyone is perfectly nice?

Well, yes.  That book would be The Great Passage, by Shion Miura, about some amiably eccentric Japanese lexicographers who set out to create a new dictionary of the Japanese language.  This seems to be a more difficult task than it might be in English, and it’s a project that takes more than one generation to complete.  There’s no real conflict and there’s not a lot at stake (except whether the dictionary gets finished in one or another decade), but it kept me reading straight through while experiencing nothing but delight.

If you want to experience a conflict-free book— in other words, a literary impossibility— I’d pick the Miura if I were you.

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Loin

by wjw on August 8, 2018

IMG_2899Here at the height of summer, fruits and veg are flying in from the farmers’ markets, as wonderful accompaniments to the vast hunk of protein I cooked tonight.  Here we see a pork loin, to which I added aromatic herbs from the garden (not ours), and which I then cooked sous vide to a nice juicy pinkish medium, after which I browned the exterior on the grill and sliced it up just as it was bathed in the rays of the setting sun.

Served with organic sweet corn and gazpacho made with heirloom tomatoes, it was truly a feast for a somewhat Italianate king.

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New Format Quillifer

by wjw on August 4, 2018

Q'fer.

What should arrive in the mail but a box of Quillifer!  These aren’t the hardbacks that have been out since October, but brand-new trade paperbacks!

For those of you who didn’t want to shell out for the hardback, and prefer fine crisp paper to ebooks, this is clearly for you!

Order Quillifer at your favorite bookstore, or find it hereabouts: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google, iBooks, and Kobo

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Aloy vs. the Apocalypse

by wjw on August 1, 2018

Horizon Zero Dawn 03 - Aloy

I just finished playing Horizon Zero Dawn after 150 hours of gameplay.  It’s not like I’ve been slacking off my other duties to play the game, because those 150 hours started back in January.  I had to slot in a few hours here, a few hours there, and sometimes a month or two would have to go by before I could get back to it.  My understanding of game continuity suffered.  I’d forget who those minor characters were.

The game has been widely praised and won a fistful of awards, including the “Ivor Novello Award for Best Original Video Game Score.”  (The score is in fact very good, and features improvised instruments, or conventional instruments played in unconventional ways, to compliment the story’s tribal setting.)

Zero Dawn is an action-heavy single-player roleplaying game with a science fictional premise.  We open centuries after the Robot Apocalypse, when self-sufficient warbots (with the capability to repair themselves and consume biomass) slipped their leash and began attacking their creators.  Humans are reduced to tribal groups living in perilous proximity to gangs of hostile robots, mostly modeled after natural creatures.  (Lots of bison and t. rex out there, not to mention gators the size of semi trucks.)

Our heroine is Aloy, who has a plausible character arc beginning as a child curious about ancient technology and ending as a teenager (I guess) who gets to save the world from Robot Apocalypse 2.0.  Aloy is able to access 21st Century technology because her genetics turn out to be identical to those of Dr Elisabet Sobeck, who headed a vast, complex project called Zero Dawn intended to save humanity from Bad Robots.  A large chunk of Aloy’s quest is to discover her relationship to Dr. Sobeck, who presumably died centuries before.

Actress/podcaster/writer Ashly Burch voices Aloy and makes her journey credible and sympathetic.  Since much of her journey consists of trying to convince tribal peoples to jettison their traditional ways, ally with strangers, and get on with the program of saving the world, Aloy’s dialogue toward the end begins to seem a little meta.  (“The Elders won’t approve?  Why am I not surprised?”)

Along the way Aloy gets to fight a lot of robots, along with bandits, renegades, and cultists who support the extermination of the human race.  (‘Cuz that’s what cultists do.)  To break up the action, there’s parkour up cliffsides, a lot of MacGyver-ing improvised weapons, and the occasional puzzle.

The game system is open, meaning that you can follow Aloy’s quest, go off on side quests, do errands for NPCs, collect bits of ancient tech, recruit allies, or just wander around on your own.  Wherever you go, you’re in a beautifully-rendered Southwestern U.S., filled with the ruins of an ancient civilization that built the Air Force Academy Chapel, Lake Powell, Red Rocks Amphitheater, Denver Stadium, Provo Utah Temple, Bridal Veil Falls Powerplant, and other recognizable (albeit ruined) locations.

Wherever you go, there is a cycle of day and night— I watched dawn breaking over the Rockies numerous times, and it was never less than gorgeous.  (Despite there being day and night in the game, like most video characters Aloy never needs to sleep.)  There are also weather patterns that will produce rain, dust storms, and snow, depending where on the map you are.

But I didn’t actually intend to talk about all that, what I wanted was to talk about the story.  Because it turns out that the story of this world isn’t at all what we’re led to believe.

We’re led to assume that the humans in the story are descendants of the survivors of Apocalypse 1.0, that the various machines stalking around are the robots that failed to completely exterminate them, and that Project Zero Dawn, headed by Elisabet Sobeck, was the agency that somehow preserved the human race.

None of that is true.

Aloy can piece together the true story by reading documents, listening or viewing old recordings, and interrogating various NPCs.  Along the way she finds her true relationship with Dr. Sobeck, and finds the artifacts necessary to halt Apocalypse 2.0.

These reveals are built into the game story, and were there all along.  Their discovery is organic and doesn’t contradict anything that we already know.  Yet they manage to be surprising, and they don’t feel like a cheat.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is one hell of a great job of plotting.  To be able to say to the players, “Everything you learned in the last 140 hours of gameplay isn’t true, and here’s the real story,” and have it not piss everyone off, is a real achievement.

My only real complaint with the story is that there weren’t any surprises saved for the end.  The climactic scene is a bossfight against some nasty robots, and that’s all it is.  Aloy’s fought robots before, and she fights these in more or less the same way, and it’s just another big scene.  I kinda wanted something a little more, umm, special.

But still.  If you’ve got 150 hours to spare, and you like the sort of thing that Zero Dawn is, then you won’t in any way be disappointed.

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Clouds of the Valkyries

July 31, 2018

Tonight an enormous striated cloud formation, at least 40-50 miles wide, poured over the mountains and drifted in our direction.  I’ve never seen anything like it. The supercloud looked all pretty and pink in the sunset, but I felt uneasy.  We’ve turned into Extreme Weather Planet in the last couple weeks, with summer heat alternating […]

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Can We Have the Enterprise Now?

July 25, 2018

So researchers at CERN have broken the speed of light, but only with neutrinos. If confirmed, the discovery would undermine Albert Einstein’s 1905 theory of special relativity, which says that the speed of light is a “cosmic constant” and that nothing in the universe can travel faster. That assertion, which has withstood over a century […]

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Babington

July 24, 2018

Who was it who, on this blog, recommended to me the works of Thomas Babington Macaulay?  I’ve searched but have been unable to find the comment. Be that as it may, Macaulay has become my reading for much of the summer. When I’m teaching at Taos Toolbox, there’s always the question of what to read […]

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Back at the Zoo

July 21, 2018

Went back to the zoo tonight, for a high-energy session by saxophonist/vocalist Grace Kelly.  Here’s a sample of the sort of thing we saw. And here’s Kelly at a previous concert at the Albuquerque zoo.  The video probably isn’t the best showcase of her talents, but it shows you what the venue looks like, the […]

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Chairman of the Board

July 16, 2018

A gorilla looking very much the elder statesman, though in fact he’s young.  Viewed at the Twilight ramble, last week.

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