Showing posts with label I ♥ Japan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label I ♥ Japan. Show all posts

Robots in 1901 Japan?

Izanami's Choice comes out in three days. So for the next 72 hours or so, this is me:

Interviews and reviews are trickling in, with more due to appear around the release date. Seattle Weekly loved it, calling it "a ferocious little genre blender in book form: part Hammett novel, part Kurosawa Samurai epic, part Blade Runner, and entirely obsessed with keeping the reader’s eyes moving from one page to the next."

Nerds on Earth said, "Heine does a great job of building a world replete with rules and history and uses both to construct a mystery with an awful lot of intrigue and surprise."

I'm not even kidding! They actually said those things!

On release day, I'll be giving away two signed copies of the book. There may be other giveaways going on around that time too, so watch this space for more info. (Watching Twitter space or Facebook space will also get you what you want). UPDATE: Oh, look! Here's one of them now: a chance at a 30-page critique.

So in Izanami's Choice, Japan has functioning robots and machine intelligence as early as the 19th century. I was recently asked how the heck that's even possible. After all, in our 1901 computers didn't exist then, and things like simple radio technology were still very primitive.

First of all, it should be noted that Japan has had actual automata as early as the 17th century. Karakuri puppets are relatively simplistic  compared to the creations in Izanami's Choice, but it shows the idea of Japanese robots is very old -- much older than the timeline of my novella.

As for machine intelligence, well that's where science fiction comes in. It's primarily a combination of two what-ifs:
  1. What if Charles Babbage had successfully completed his difference engine and analytical engine designs? (This is essentially the same what-if behind The Difference Engine by Gibson and Sterling).
  2. What if evolutionary programming were discovered around the same time?
The latter would require a variety of factors, like Babbage chatting with Charles Darwin and coming away with programmatic ideas, and 19th-century logicians figuring out how to codify reasoning as mathematic deduction -- not probable, but plausible.

Evolutionary programming is the idea of pitting competing parameters or programs against each other to achieve a certain goal (like getting a computer to handle facial recognition). Those parameters that perform best are then modified further and tested against each other again. This process is repeated until you have a programmatic solution to otherwise difficult problems.

The key idea behind Izanami's Choice, then, is that this method was used with the analytical engines to rapidly improve the design of the engine's programs and even the engine itself. The engine was improved to the point where it could evaluate the results automatically, and then it was improved further to where it could revise the programs itself as well. When that loop was closed, the engine would become capable of revising and improving upon itself at a rapid rate -- a robotic singularity.

Of course the novella doesn't have a big old infodump like this in it, but I do love talking about world-building!

Izanami's Choice -- a story about samurai, robots, and AI singularities

I've been head down writing Torment conversations, but I have an important announcement to make: my new novella, Izanami's Choice, is coming soon from Broken Eye Books.

It's a book. That you can buy. About samurai and robots in a cybernetic Meiji-era Japan.

If any of that sounds remotely interesting to you, I recommend you sign up for my newsletter so you'll know when it comes out.

Not sure? Read on!

Tokyo, at the dawn of the 20th century. The Empire has gone through an industrial and political revolution. The samurai are a thing of the past, railroads connect every major city, and the artificial jinzou serve in every aspect of Japanese life, from servants to soldiers to assassins.

Shimada Itaru is an aging ronin, a survivor of samurai rebellions from the early days of the Meiji Restoration. He hates the jinzou, but he knows quite a lot about fighting them -- or he did, before the Emperor made it illegal for humans to carry weapons.

Gojusan is a jinzou framed for her master's assassination. Hunted by her own kind, and unable to turn to the police, she runs to Itaru for help. Before Itaru can throw the jinzou out, assassin droids storm his home, trying to kill them both. Now Itaru's on the run with the thing he hates most, and the only way he's going to get his life back (such as it was) is to figure out what really happened to Gojusan's master.

Of course, the truth is something neither of them suspect.

I'd love to say more, but Torment! Conversations! (Seriously, I need to get back to work if I'm going to make my deadline). Sign up for the newsletter or subscribe to the blog for more information in the near future.

You can also ask me questions, if you like. I'll get to them when I can. (Yes, I'm busy, but sometimes answering questions serves as a nice break. So don't be shy.)

Three Kickstarters I Would Throw All My Money At

1. A successor to Crusader: No Remorse. This game destroyed an entire quarter of my second year in college. Oh, man, but it was a good quarter.

You play an elite super-soldier, trained by a dystopian government that you spend the entire game betraying and fighting against. Technically, it's an action game, but it's a smart action game. You have to decide which weapons you will bring with you on each mission (of those you can afford). You can either sneak through missions or blast your way through them. And because what you bring with you is limited, you have to figure out how to conserve your ammo or find some more during the mission.

And the story is just cool. The government you served betrayed you, but the resistance you join in the beginning doesn't like you much either. So you have to prove yourself to them by undertaking increasingly dangerous missions. And then, of course, there's secret dystopian weapons projects, double agents, betrayal, and even a full-on dark night of the soul before you have to decide to get off your butt and save the world.

2. A successor to Chrono Trigger. I'm not gonna lie, I'm a fan of JRPGs (technically, I'm a fan of all RPGs, but JRPGs comprised most of my childhood, so...). And Chrono Trigger was probably the best. It had everything I loved about Final Fantasy (I), Crystalis, and Secret of Mana plus: time travel.

And not just time travel -- where you go to different eras the same way you take your airship to different islands -- but time travel that mattered. Plant a seed in the past, collect magic fruit in the future. Tell your robot companion to spend the next four hundred years restoring a forest, then travel forward to see the results. All the while trying to stop a giant alien parasite that crashed to Earth millions of years ago, awoke in 1999, and created a post-apocalyptic world for the remainder of time.

Or not. Cuz, you know, you can change things.

3. The reanimation of Tony Jay. Or, you know, at least his voice.

Obviously I'm not thinking about this very hard, because this is all nostalgia, but what would you Kickstart?

Stormdancer Sketch

A scene from Jay Kristoff's STORMDANCER, based on the excerpt you can read at

This is one of my sell-out sketches, drawn trying to win an ARC of the book. I didn't get the ARC, but I did get a copy of THE LITTLE STORMDANCER, which is easily the next best thing. My kids love this little book.

If you haven't heard of STORMDANCER, here is everything you need to know about it: Japanese steampunk with griffins.

Yeah, that's how I felt about it too.

My Favorite Anime

I can't believe this blog has been going for nearly 4 years, and I have barely scratched the subject of anime. Well that ends now! Here are my top 5 anime series of all time.

(If you don't know what anime is, start here, though odds are you've already seen it. Apparently, I was watching it as a kid and didn't even realize it.)

(For my top anime movies, please see the entire collected works of Hayao Miyazaki.)

#5 Samurai Champloo
Genre: Hip-hop historical fiction, samurais
Premise: Two rival master swordsmen are rescued from execution by a teahouse waitress, who makes them vow to help her find "the samurai who smells of sunflowers."
Why I like it: Awesome fight scenes, unique liberties taken with the Edo period, and hilarious banter between the two swordsmen.

#4 The Vision of Escaflowne
Genre: Science fantasy, mechas, dragons, steampunk future-telling devices
Premise: A girl gets transported to the magical world of Gaea, where she must use her psychic gifts to help a dispossessed prince fight off an evil empire.
Why I like it: Mechas, dragons, and clever questions on what it means to know and change the future.

#3 Neon Genesis: Evangelion
Genre: Science fiction, mechas, metaphysics
Premise: A teenager is recruited as an elite mecha pilot by his estranged father, to protect the Earth from a series of increasingly-deadly "angels."
Why I like it: Mechas and clandestine gov't organizations
Why it's not #1: Cuz the ending is weird, man. Really weird.

#2 Naruto
Genre: Fantasy, ninjas
Premise: A ninja orphan, shunned because of the monster that was sealed inside him at birth, is determined to become the greatest ninja in his village.
Why I like it: Ninjas, clever tactics and strategies, ninjas, like a hundred characters with backgrounds and motivations that matter, ninjas, ninjas, ninjas
Why it's not #1: Because it's at 477 episodes (and counting). About a third of those are filler.

#1 Cowboy Bebop
Genre: Science fiction
Premise: Spike and Jet travel the solar system, scraping a living as bounty hunters.
Why I like it: Witty banter, smart characters, mysterious pasts, a tight storyline from beginning to end, and one really smart corgi.

Keep in mind there are lots of series I haven't seen (Fullmetal Alchemist, for example, would probably be on this list, but I've still got over 20 episodes to go!).

What's your favorite anime? And if you don't have one, why aren't you watching Cowboy Bebop right now?

Stubborn as a Ninja

So. Naruto.

For those of you unfamiliar with the show, Naruto is a ninja orphan, shunned since birth. He's determined to make the village to notice him, even proclaiming loudly that he will be the next Hokage -- the greatest ninja in the village.

Everyone laughs because it's ridiculous. Naruto is loud, foolish, and pays zero attention. He fails most tests, and when he does pass, it's by some fluke. How could he possibly be a ninja, let alone the Hokage?

But throughout the series, Naruto has one thing nobody else has: he never gives up.

He takes on the guys no one else will. He protects the people everyone else gives up on. When two ninjas knock each other out simultaneously, Naruto is always the guy who gets up first.

He fails a lot, but he succeeds at things others think are impossible. Because he is motivated more than almost anyone else, and because of all his failures, he grows faster than most. By the time he's succeeding more than failing, he's defeating opponents even his teachers couldn't beat.

And from the beginning, even when he fails, he inspires others. People better than him who quit sooner. People weaker than him, who find a strength they didn't know they had to get up one more time.

I know, I know. It's just a frigging cartoon, right? Naruto isn't even one of my favorite characters (though he's becoming so). But man, if I could do this every time I get a story rejected? Or every time I fail at ANYTHING?

Yeah. I want that.

So You Want to be a Geek

Fine, nobody wants to be a geek, except those of us who are already geeks and need a way to feel proud about that (God bless you, Internet, for giving us that way!). But maybe you want to hang out with geeks? Understand what's going on at Comic Con? Date a geek?

Stop laughing. It happens.

Consider this an unofficial, non-exhaustive primer on the things you should know to understand the geek world...or at least to be able to visit our world without falling asleep or cringing all the time.

Please understand that the term "geek" is very broad (and yet completely distinct from "nerd"--we'll have that conversation later). The following list will help you with the most common breed: the sci-fi/fantasy geek. Although geek types frequently overlap, this list will not be as helpful with computer geeks, techno-geeks, math geeks, physics-and-other-hard-science geeks, history geeks, or any other form of "useful" geekery.

1. Watch the original Star Wars trilogy. Original theater edition is preferable, if you can find it.
         a) Although you are not required to have an opinion on the matter, know what it means that Han shot first.

2. Familiarize yourself with some form of Star Trek. Preferably TOS (the Original Series) or TNG (the Next Generation).
         a) You are not required to watch more than one episode or movie, but you should be able to recognize (by name or face) at least 3 crew members.
         b) Watching the new Star Trek movie is acceptable (because it's awesome), but assume that conversations about Kirk, Spock, etc. are speaking of the original series, unless otherwise specified. If you, for example, say, "Spock and Uhura are so hot together" without specifying the context, you will be known for a fraud.
         c) Actually, just avoid stating opinions in general.

3. Know your comic book superheroes:
         a) The origin stories of Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man.
         b) The identifying powers/features of the aforementioned superheroes, as well as: Wolverine, Cyclops, the Incredible Hulk, Punisher, each of the Fantastic Four.
         c) Although you should see Nolan's new Batman movies (again: awesome), do not assume the original Batman ever trained as a ninja. Though he should have.

4. Watch or read the entirety of LORD OF THE RINGS. Reading is preferable but, dude, it's 1,000+ pages. We understand.

5. Watch every episode of Firefly. (NOTE: This may no longer be relevant in 5-10 years, but for today's geek it is a necessity).

6. Know what anime is.
         a) Know the difference between "anime" (Japanese animation, which includes many different styles) and "anime-style" (non-Japanese animation that looks like it).
         b) Know the difference between dubbed and subbed.
         c) Never, under any circumstances, assume or imply that because something is animated, it is for children.

7. Watch one or more of the following, preferably subbed:
         a) Neon Genesis: Evangelion
         b) Vision of Escaflowne
         c) Cowboy Bebop
         d) Naruto (one season is acceptable)
         e) Dragonball Z (the cartoon, not the live action movie; one season is acceptable)
         f) Any film by Hayao Miyazaki (e.g. Laputa, Nausicaa, Porco Rosso, My Neighbor Totoro, etc.)
         g) Avatar: the Last Airbender (this is not anime, but I think it counts)

8. Play one of the following RPGs for at least one hour:
         a) Dungeons & Dragons
         b) World of Warcraft
         c) Any Final Fantasy game

9. Know the following terms:
         a) Saving throw
         b) Red shirt (from Star Trek)
         c) Orc
         d) d20
         e) Klingon
         f) Mech or Mecha
         g) Skynet
         h) XP
         i) Grok
         j) Holodeck

10. Memorize some obscure piece of trivia related to any of previous items. Example: "Did you know Neil Gaiman wrote the English dialog for Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke?" (true story).

I know that seems like a lot of work, but nobody said being a geek (even an honorary one) was easy.

Also understand there are many, MANY things that could adequately replace items on this list. If my fellow geeks were to make similar lists, they would all be different and would include things even I'm not familiar with.

So to you: Do you know everything on this list? What would you add/replace for someone who wanted to understand the geek world?

Dear Hollywood: Asians are Cool

Dear Hollywood,

It has come to my attention that a live-action version of Akira is being made (YAY!) starring white actors (BOO!).

Look, I don't have anything against white actors. I love them. But if you're going to adapt one of the most well-known (in America) anime movies of the past 20 years, AND you're going to give the characters Japanese names, shouldn't they also LOOK Japanese?

Now, I didn't say anything when you made Dragonball, and I had different problems with The Last Airbender. But this is getting ridiculous. From 2000-09, you released like 1,000 movies. Of those, 13 had Asian leads. There are 13.8 million Asian Americans in the US, and over half of those live in your state. I know they're not all computer programmers. Surely some of them are actors?

My friend Emmet asked me, quite appropriately, "Aside from Jet Li and Rain (Ninja Assassin), who would you have cast in Akira?"

My first answer was I didn't know. And I didn't know because YOU NEVER CAST ANY, HOLLYWOOD. Google wasn't a lot of help either (fair or not, I blame you again for that), but I managed to find/remember a few.

So here are some Asian American actors for you to cast in lead roles. If not in Akira, how about Ghost in the Shell, Escaflowne, or Evangelion? You know you're going to remake those eventually!

John Cho, most recently appeared as Sulu in the new Star Trek.

Sung Kang, appeared in Fast & Furious and War.

Ken Leung, appeared in Lost and X-Men 3.

Dante Basco, best known as the voice of Zuko on the good version of the Last Airbender, but I saw Take the Lead. He can act too.

And even though he's not American, I'd like to suggest Ken Watanabe for all your older Asian role needs. Because basically, I can't get enough of this guy.

So come on, Hollywood. Asians are cool! Can you please stop pretending America doesn't have any?

Your friend (for now),
Adam Heine

PS: These are just a few examples. I'm sure my friends will have more suggestions for you in the comments.

PPS: It's not directly related, but Keanu Reeves as Spike? Seriously?

Demotivational Winners

You guys are hilarious. The number one reason I wish I had more readers is so I could have more hilarity to enjoy and share with you guys. Maybe when I hit 200 followers or something we can do this again (even though followers aren't readers).

Enough talk. To the posters!

First, the honorable mentions. Most Likely to be Put Up in My Office goes to "Monday" by the recently wed L.T. Host, and Late But I Still Like You goes to "Courage" by K. Marie Criddle (who has her own contest going on, by the way). Click these entries to enlarge.

The winners were chosen entirely based on how hard they made me laugh. Third Place goes to J.J. Debenedictis, who provides the best reason for exercise EVER.

Second Place is Susan Quinn, who made excellent use of the ubiquitous internet cat images (not an easy task!).

And First Place with both barrels is Emmet Blue. Both his posters made me laugh so hard they both win. What can I say? The man knows his judge.

I'll contact the winners to figure out your prizes. Congratulations, and thank you everybody who played!

The Women of Naruto

I really, really like Naruto. The story arcs (when they're not filler, of course) are clever and powerful. Almost every character has a unique personality, backstory, powers, and secrets.

But I've been watching the show for over 300 episodes now, and I'm starting to get tired of swooning, ineffective female ninjas. I didn't really notice until someone pointed it out to me, which is sad (I'm such a white, privileged, heterosexual male that way; sorry).

A quick briefing for those who haven't seen the show. It centers around the ninjas-in-training of the Hidden Village Konoha, most especially Naruto (the Goofy Boy Trying to Prove Himself™) and Sasuke (the Awesome Hawt Boy™). There are dozens of other characters, though only a few major women.

Sakura is part of Naruto's original team along with Sasuke and their sensei. She's super strong, but usually we only see her strength when she's hitting Naruto for being rude. She's also a medical ninja who is in love with Sasuke.

Ino is Sakura's childhood friend and rival. She can take over someone's mind, but it's rarely effective (her most awesome moment was in a fight with Sakura, of course). She's also a medical ninja who is in love with Sasuke.

Hinata is part of a very powerful ninja clan, but she is its weakest member. She suffers from a lack of confidence, being overshadowed by her older brother. Also she's in love with Naruto.

It seems like the only cool, kick-butt women in the series are villains, and even then... I just finished an episode where Sasuke teamed up with what looked like an awesome villain ninja. Two episodes later, she still hasn't fought anyone (though Sasuke and others have), and what do you know she's in love with Sasuke.


The only major female character who isn't in love with someone is Tsunade, who becomes the leader of Konoha Village. Unfortunately, since she became the leader, she hasn't fought anyone and has only used her super-strength to...hit Naruto for being rude.

For a show with such awesome characterization, this is really disappointing. In your writing (especially if you're a guy), this is something to watch out for. It's not like every woman has to be kick-butt and super awesome, but if none of them are -- if all the interesting stuff is being done by men -- it's a red flag that something is wrong.

Not that Naruto doesn't have it's moments. There was one episode where an enemy ninja was mocking Sakura for being a weak girl. The enemy had Sakura by her ponytail, gloating over how wussy she was. Sakura snapped. She grabbed her knife, cut off her hair (a big deal for her), and kicked the enemy's butt. It was awesome. I wonder what happened to that Sakura.

Japanese Game Shows

This post is entirely the fault of Natalie Whipple, who with a single YouTube link, got my family to spend all Saturday morning watching Japanese game show videos.

I love these things. You just don't get game shows like this in the States (even when they're taken directly from Japan). I think it's a combination of wacky challenges, insane costumes, and contestants who aren't afraid to ham it up, even if it means losing. Watch and enjoy.
  1. In which contestants wearing bug costumes must navigate a scooter through a narrow passage. Try and figure out what their punishment is.
  2. In which men in suits must charge up a treadmill, eat four cookies, and get to the end before time runs out.
  3. My personal favorite, in which contestants must position themselves to squeeze through oddly-shaped holes in a moving wall.
  4. In which players must successfully swing over a rolling log and onto a floating platform, while wearing the worst costumes imaginable.
  5. A combination of 2 and 4, in which contestants must swing onto a moving treadmill, grab a platform, jump OFF said platform to grab another rope so they can land on the floating goal. (I'm not sure, but I think they put something in the water on these last two. Some of those contestants seem to be reacting to more than just cold.)

Positive Waves Week

A number of things happened last week, both online and off, such that I felt totally assaulted by negative waves. Therefore, I hereby declare this week Positive Waves Week at Author's Echo. There will be no rants this week, no posts bemoaning any aspect of writing or the publishing industry, no insanity -- temporary or otherwise. There will only be posts to make you happy (or, because I cannot actually control or otherwise guarantee your happiness, to make me happy).

You know what makes me happy?
  • Movies -- Star Wars IV-VI, The Matrix, Serenity, The Incredibles, Pirates of the Caribbean... Give me action, fantasy, sci-fi. Give me a Chosen One, someone coming into his own, someone with special powers. Love interest? If you must. But don't overshadow the rebellion/rescue/vengeance with unnecessary kissing.
  • Anime -- Cowboy Bebop, Evangelion, Escaflowne, Steamboy, Naruto, and of course Miyazaki (Laputa, Nausicaa, Mononoke)... It's not the animation style I love, it's the culture behind it. It's the worlds that are so different from the fantasy worlds the West is used to. The airships, giant fighting robots, and ninjas certainly don't hurt.
  • Board Games -- I'm talking about real strategy games. Settlers, Ticket to Ride, Puerto Rico, Alhambra, Carcassonne... I think it's my German blood.
  • Food -- I'm blessed to be in a foreign city that has so many Westerners in it. Though it costs 5-10 times more than Thai food, I have access to pizza, pasta, hamburgers, KFC, and (praise the Lord!) Mexican food when I'm feeling down. I love Chiang Mai.
  • You! -- Every time one of you leaves a comment or sends me a note, I smile. Especially when you make jokes, laugh at mine, or tell me you enjoyed a post. You guys are awesome.
  • My Kids -- I have awesome kids, guys. Right now we've got 4. There's the boys, Isaac and Nathan, both 2, who make me laugh everyday; if you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you probably know that. There's Lutiya (10), willing to learn any game I'll teach her, even though she's just learning English. And Pan (17), who is the most respectful, helpful teenager I've ever met; I just wish I could take credit for it.
  • My Wife -- Cindy is the pinnacle of what makes me happy. She quotes Star Wars to me, asks me why Shikamaru is my favorite Naruto character, tries out 2-player variants for Settlers, brings me pizza, and laughs at my jokes (usually). She's the mother of my kids and my favorite alpha reader. She's just the most awesomest thing that's ever happened to me.
Now listen. Positive Waves Week isn't just about me, nor does it need to be confined to a single blog. Are you feeling me? Talk about what makes you happy. Write a post to make you or others smile, and drop the link here. I'll follow every one, all week.

Phew. I feel better already.

Steampunk, What is It?

They say steampunk's the next big thing. People are talking about it. Some folks are writing it. But what the heck is it? Honestly, steampunk is a lot of things, so as a certified expert on the subject* I'm going to give you an overview.

* Note: I'm not actually an expert, just a fan of steampunk... and of Wikipedia.

Steampunk as Historical/Science Fiction
At it's heart, steampunk applies the old sci-fi question -- what if? -- to the Industrial Revolution. The Industrial Revolution changed the world in a lot of ways, but what if those changes took a different path? What if steam power turned out to be more practical than electricity? What if airships became the most common mode of transportation and warfare? What if France went to war with Britain -- while ruled by Luddites? How might the 19th century have changed?

The classic example is The Difference Engine by Gibson & Sterling. It takes place in a 19th-century Britain where Charles Babbage has not only conceived of the computer, but has actually built one out of gears and cranks, where race cars and tanks run on steam, and where the Japanese build clockwork robot servants.

Another example is Katsuhiro Otomo's Steamboy, in which a boy inventor gets caught in a struggle between his father and grandfather, as their ideals about science collide. And when I say "collide," I'm talking steam-powered super-soldiers, jetpacks, and a flying fortress. (Seriously, if you're not sure about steampunk, watch this movie, and if you are, why haven't you seen this movie yet?).

Steampunk as Speculative Fiction
In the 19th century, science was changing dramatically. Evolution challenged centuries of creationist thinking. Subatomic structures were being discovered within the irreducible atom. In steampunk fiction, science may progress at any rate or discover things even we in the 21st century aren't aware of.

It may take the form of science fiction: a 19th-century scientist reanimates an army of the dead, or fashions a destructive laser using giant lenses and a ruby found in the Mayan ruins. Or it may be pure fantasy: magicians in the London underworld or an occultist's attempt to bring Genghis Khan back to life.

Often, it's a mix of the two. Like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, in which steampunk scientists like Captain Nemo and Henry Jekyll might team up with lady-turned-vampire Mina Harker or the immortal Dorian Gray.

Steampunk as Alternate-Earth Fantasy
Not all steampunk takes place in our history. Video games like Arcanum (gears, factories, and elves) and Skies of Arcadia (airships and pirates on a world of floating continents) take place in fantasy worlds -- even World of Warcraft has a little steampunk in it. Treasure Planet is steampunk in space. Avatar: the Last Airbender pushed the punk edge with the Mechanist and his bender-powered airships, submarines, and tanks.

What these alternate-Earths have in common is a 19th-century feel, regardless of the actual technology (or magic) level.

Steampunk as Fashion
Though steampunk is rooted in fiction, there is a massive offshoot in aesthetics. Steampunk clothing, for example, borrows styles from Victorian England or steampunk fiction: boots, top hats, coat and tails, goggles, tool belts, frills, trenchcoats, you name it. (Also guns, apparently).

There's also steampunk design. This might be anything from gluing gears onto a pair of headphones to a full-on computer/work desk modification. A lot of it is taking modern technology and making it look like it was built in the 19th-century (in the process, making it look super-cool).

So there you go. Are there any questions? Did I miss anything?

(Steampunk not mentioned in this post, that perhaps should have been, includes: Wild, Wild West, The Adventures of Brisco County Jr, Laputa, Howl's Moving Castle, Disney's Atlantis, and Air Pirates. Also, I'm not familiar with every expression of the subgenre, so others will, no doubt, be mentioned in the comments.)


You guys asked some really good and difficult questions. Hopefully this is as much fun for you as it is for me. If not, well, that's too bad, because I'll probably do it again.

Ben asked: What is your least favorite book?

Of books I've read to the end, my least favorite is probably Tribulation Force from my least favorite series, Left Behind. It wasn't the theology that bothered me (I was actually interested in a 'what-if' of rapture theology). What bothered me was the dozens of major characters all alike, the paper cut-out villains, the huge apocalyptic moments handled in a single paragraph.

So why this book rather than one of the other 16? The title edged it out. Tribulation Force is just... not a cool name.

Ben: What is the worst thing you would do to get published with your favorite editor?

I would crush my enemies, see them driven before me, and hear the lamentations of their women.

Was that your question?

Ben: What is your favorite quality of your writing or yourself as a writer?

When I'm outlining and drafting, I love everything. When I'm getting critiques and rejections, I hate it all. I will say this: whatever anyone else thinks, I love writing air pirate dialog. It's just fun, aye?

Of course even my most critical betas said they enjoyed the way air pirates talk, so I might have just decided, after the fact, that I like it too.

Anne L. B. asked: Why do you write (other than you can't not)?

I've always loved to create stories - kindergarten make-believe, Star Wars action figures with my brothers, writing Choose-Your-Own Adventures, designing video games, GMing D&D sessions...

About 6 years ago I decided my time was too limited to do everything I wanted. I chose to focus on writing because - between making novels, board games, computer games, or movies - I thought a novel was something I could most likely complete with the skills/resources I had.

Of corollary interest, around the same time I wrote a prototype game based on the Air Pirates world. It just shows how long I've been thinking about it, I guess:

Natalie said: I've always admired what you do in Thailand. What made you want to go there and work with kids?

The short answer: God called us.

A longer answer: Cindy (who is Thai-American) wanted to run an orphanage since highschool. When I first told her I liked her, the third thing she said to me was, "If God calls me to be a missionary overseas, what will you do?" (Yeah, we were thinking long term from the start). That got missions in my head.

Years later we finally decided to "become missionaries." My original thought was to plant a church or something, but one thing after another kept putting Fatherhood on my heart. When we moved here, and started volunteering at a children's home while we learned the language, I realized being a father was all I wanted to do. It's what I was made for.

Natalie: What's your favorite Final Fantasy? Least favorite?

I've only played the big ones a little bit (meaning VII thru XI). Of the ones I have played, Crystal Chronicles is my favorite. You can't beat multiplayer RPGs, I think. Four guys on a couch in a boss fight, yelling at each other so we can get the combos timed just right... Yeah. Good times.

My least favorite was probably Final Fantasy I, not because it wasn't good, but because I recall many hours of fighting Frost Gators just to level up. On the other hand, FFI introduced me to airships.

Hilary asked: After reading the first page of my manuscript, would you want to keep reading?

Yes, largely due to the stranger (yay, tension!) and because I want an explanation for the last paragraph. I left more comments in your comments.

Hilary: When/where are you most inspired to write?

For some reason, the ocean tugs something inside me; when I see it I want to write, to create worlds. Mountains and other landscapes do it too, but nothing quite as strong as the ocean. I don't know why. It sucks that I live like 20x farther from the ocean than I've ever lived in my life.

Excellent stories also make me want to write excellent stories. Miyazaki, Cowboy Bebop, Firefly, and Naruto inspire pretty consistently (yes, most of that is anime). Though occasionally something really excellent, like say Dark Knight, just makes me think, "Man, I'll never be able to write like that."

What's Cliche?

Everything creative is plagued by cliche. Writers are told over and over again not to use cliched phrases, cliched plots, cliched characters... But what's cliche? Sometimes people talk about cliches like they're definable and objective, but I think it's slightly more complicated than that.

At its heart, a cliche is something you have seen before and are tired of seeing. You're bored of it, maybe even annoyed or angry, BUT it's your opinion. People like to say things like, "The washed-up superhero has been done. It's so cliche." And maybe it has been done, but whether it's old and boring to you is another matter.

Take ninjas. Ninjas have been done, a lot. But you know what? I'm not sick of them. Give me Japanese guys in black pajamas - give them swords, shuriken, and smoke bombs - and I'm sold.*

My point is we should be aware of cliches, but not afraid of them. If it's something that you still enjoy, there may be others like you. If someone says they don't like your work because it's "been done," don't set your hard drive on fire. Write well, be as original as you can, but write what you love, even if everyone else is tired of it.**

But most of all, don't be afraid to write.

* It's worse than that. I know nothing about motorcycles, but I want a Kawasaki Ninja. There's a bottled tea here made of red beans and poppyseed (blech!), but because it's called Ninja flavor, I want it. I'm so sad.

** Now, it's different if an agent or editor says something is too cliche. They know what will sell, presumably. At the very least, they know what won't sell if you don't listen: you.