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We lost Terry Pratchett, too

Terry Pratchett passed away a couple days ago. (Almost exactly a year after we lost Aaron Allston, another of my favorite writers.) He'd had health problems for a while, but it still came as a surprise, at least for me. I thought he'd be with us for a few more years, manage to write a few more books.

Disworld, once it got past the awkward early entries and hit its stride, was fantastic. They were brilliant books, and I'm still looking forward to that TV series about the Watch that they've been saying was coming for years. Pratchett had a brilliant sense of humor and keen insight. Small Gods, Night Watch, Reaper Man... these books moved me emotionally. Night Watch remains my favorite.

It was painful to see how his writing suffering had suffered in the last few years, presumably because of his health problems. Raising Steam felt... off, and some parts of it contradicted established character traits. Of his non-Discworld works, I enjoyed Nation and Dodger, but The Long Earth bored me (and I had to hide a grimace when my well-meaning brother gave me a copy of The Long Mars for Christmas, a book that I'm still desperately putting off having to read). But despite that, I can't help but feel that he had many great stories left to tell.

If there's any justice, Terry Pratchett will be remembered for generations as one of the greats of English literature.


A few days ago, some friends finally got me to watch a Canadian scifi series called Orphan Black. I spent the following few days, when I wasn't working or asleep, watching ("marathoning" might be more accurate) the season and a half that is currently out.

I have not regretted it. This show is excellent.

The story begins when Sarah Manning--drifter, grifter, petty thief, orphan and often-absent single mother--encounters a woman who looks exactly like her. Soon she's discovered that there are many more identical women out there, all living different lives under different names, all unaware that they are clones. A few of them--a cop, a biologist and a soccer mom--have banded together to try and find out where they came from, but they've got a more pressing problem: someone is hunting down clones and killing them off.

This series is riveting. The twists are surprising, but make sense. The pace is relentless. After the first night of watching, I couldn't believe how much had happened in only three episodes. The Canadian format of ten-episode seasons serves them well here, eliminating the need for filler to stretch things out. And yet they make time for lots of great character scenes in addition to the plot-driving ones. There's some good bits of humor and some poignant moments.

Given the premise, lead actress Tatiana Maslany has to play about a half-dozen different roles at any given time, and she really pulls it off. Each of the clones is very distinct in terms of voice and mannerisms. This only goes double when she has to play one of the clones pretending to be another, and you can see a bit of one character showing through the façade of another. And they make good use of technology and camera tricks to have the various clones interacting with each other on-screen look completely convincing.

There are a few mistakes in here, however. Most teeth-grindingly, the writers don't seem to know that identical twins don't have the same fingerprints, and clones wouldn't either. (And if somehow they did, a criminal and a cop who had the same fingerprints would have been screwing up each other's lives constantly.) And our ostensible protagonist, Sarah, can sometimes be a pretty awful person, but she's trying to be better. (Most of the other clones are quite likeable, which helps.)

I had loads of fun watching this show, and now that I'm caught up I'm eager for more new episodes. It's definitely worth checking out.
Writer Aaron Allston passed away last week.

Allston wasn't just probably the best writer to ever work on the Star Wars franchise, but he might be one of my favorite writers ever. Certainly, there's no author whose works I've re-read as many times as I've read Wraith Squadron, Iron Fist, Solo Command and Starfighters of Adumar. I took them to college with me and have probably read each one at least once a year for every year of the last fifteen. They'll likely never be called great literature or be remembered by history... but then, I'm not likely to ever take six months to read Les Miserables again.

Allston was fantastic at writing an enjoyable story that keeps the reader engrossed throughout. Allston was a master of balancing humor, drama and action. He could balance an ensemble of a dozen characters, giving each of them personality and depth and witty lines and heroic moments and an arc and--if need be--a meaningful death. His books would often make me laugh, make me tear up, make my heart race and keep me riveted to the page. I've often found myself paraphrasing his dialogue in discussions of other fictional works. Even when he wrote for a series I hated, he could still turn out a good story. He could take awful, two-dimension characters that other writers had created and reinvent them as complex and interesting. When he had the freedom to write his own story with the characters he loved, he could produce something fantastic.

It's no surprise that Allston used to write for Dungeons & Dragons, because his Wraith Squadron stories often felt like the really fun RPG campaigns I'd played in: diverse groups of interesting characters with varied skillsets working together to pull off some sort of complicated, off-the-wall plan.

More than any other writer, Aaron Allston was the writer I want to be able to write like. I want to be able to write stories that people will enjoy the way I enjoyed his.

Now I'm off to read Starfighters of Adumar again....


When I was your age...

...I walked four and a half miles through the snow to work a fourteen hour shift with only four hours of sleep!

Oh, wait. That's not a joke about how old I've become. That's what I actually did Saturday night.

Seattle apparently still cannot get a few inches of snow without suffering a complete implosion. After an hour, it became obvious that no buses would be coming, no matter what the tracking software claimed, so I started walking. 4.5 miles, over a river and along the edge of a lake. Took about an hour and a half. Apparently I walk as fast in the snow as normal people do in perfect weather. Figures. A bus didn't finally pass by me until I was almost there. Typical.

Wouldn't have been so bad if the guy who was supposed to relieve me hadn't decided that he lacked that sort of commitment and blown off his shift, leaving me stuck there for most of his shift, too, for a total of 14 hours. And if I hadn't had a union meeting the previous morning that kept me up late, so I'd only had four hours of sleep. And if I hadn't had to come back in again that night, with only about five hours of sleep....

(When I was relieved after the 14 hours, I was so tired that my speech started skipping like a broken record as I'd lose coherence a few syllables in. I responded to a discussion about scheduling by saying, "Whatever. I don't- I don't- I don't- I don't care anymore. I'm going- I'm going- I'm going- I've gone home.")

(This still probably doesn't even make my top five worst nights at work.)

Anyway, the only nice thing about overtime is that I usually spend most of it at the desk, which means I can get some writing done. The outline for the novel I want to write is nearly done. (Well, I call it an outline, but as I go along I toss in any bits of description or dialogue that come to mind so I won't forget, so it starts to look more like a TWOP recap, before eventually degenerating into being basically prose with no paragraph breaks. Currently 47 pages, with three big scenes left only loosely sketched.)

...Averaging two typos a sentence. Time to go to sleep.

Raising Steam...

...the latest Discworld book by Terry Pratchett, isn't available in the US until March for some inexplicable reason. But a friend of mine who's in Norway right now hooked me up. (Yes, you can buy it in Norway before you can buy it in a country that speaks the same language. I swear, the Brits are trolling us.)

Looking forward to reading it tonight on my way to work.

(Happy New Year, everyone!)

Been gone a while....

...once you get busy and fall behind, it's hard to get caught up. Not that there seems to be many people left here.

Since I last posted in this thing, I've joined the executive board of my union, sat at the bargaining table, gamemastered two Pathfinder campaigns at once, and started plotting a scifi novel.

(Hey, I need something to do with myself during the graveyard shift. We don't get internet at work.)

I might wind up using this space to bounce story ideas around. I've never been comfortable talking about my writing with my meatspace friends, but obsessively fiction-analyzing nerds on the internet are another matter. :-)

(I really missed talking to you all and reading the insights you had.)

I've also got a few old fanfics that were essentially finished laying around that I really should finally post, if only for the sake of closure now that I'm moving on to original ideas.

And I'll probably randomly wise-ass because... well, that's what I do.

...assuming I don't get busy and forget.


She's coming....

Looking forward to 2012.


...is moments like this one from a game we played this Sunday evening.

(Names have been changed to protect the guilty.)

Me: "So guns don't work here, and I'm not close enough to punch it. Is there anything around here I can throw? Fire extinguisher? Potted plant?"
The GM: "No, it's just kind of a big, empty space. You're here, [the Hacker] and [the Big Guy] are here-"
Me: "Well, I guess I could throw [the Big Guy] at it."
All: *laugh*
Me: "...actually, yeah. I'm gonna throw [the Big Guy] at it."
Big Guy's Player: "Wait, what?"
Me: "I figure he has it coming after that last stunt."
Big Guy's Player: "Hey!"
Me: "Bah, you'll be fine. You're wearing a helmet."
The GM: *laughs* "It's like an inverse Fastball Special: the smallest member of the team scoops up the biggest member and throws him at the enemy."
Me: "What can I say? He's the heaviest thing within reach."
The GM: "Roll it. Plus three dice for making everyone laugh."



Aww, I wanted to make that remake! Sam Raimi beat me to the punch!

(How did I not hear about this sooner?)

Hope it's well-done and attracts some new viewers to the original.

(Huh... first La Femme Nikita and now this? Suddenly there's an interest in remaking shows with French titles from ten years ago about female assassins. Coincidence?)


Happy New Year!

Hope everyone enjoys 2011.

(I'd rehash my running gag from last year, except it seems that nobody ever sets stories in 2011.)

(...well, almost nobody.)