Catching up on New Worlds

Sep. 19th, 2017 03:37 pm
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[personal profile] swan_tower

My Patreon is trucking along, but I haven’t been good about linking to it here. So have a list of recent posts!

This week’s post (sneak preview!) will be on rites of passage, followed by a bonus post on the theory of worldbuilding, since that’s one of the funding goals we’ve reached. Remember, this is all funded by my lovely, lovely patrons — and if you join their ranks, you get weekly photos, plus (at higher levels) opportunities to request post topics or get feedback on your own worldbuilding!

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

Found in my Math 251a binder

Sep. 18th, 2017 04:17 pm
landofnowhere: (Default)
[personal profile] landofnowhere
This year I'm teaching graduate-level algebraic number theory, which has been great fun so far. (About 10 students, half undergrads.)

Fortunately for me, I still have the binder with my notes and handouts from when I took the equivalent class as a student. It also has various other stuff from that year of college, so I thought I'd inventory it here.

then as now, not very organized )

Trick or Treat Letter 2017

Sep. 13th, 2017 03:11 pm
zdenka: Yellow leaves. (all will yet be well)
[personal profile] zdenka
[This letter is still in progress and will be finished ASAP.]

Dear Artist or Author,

Thank you so much for making art or writing for me! I'm happy that we share a love for these fandoms and characters. I mean the prompts as suggestions only, in case it's helpful to have a starting point (and it’s fine to make art from my fic prompts or fic from my art prompts). If they don't work for you or if you have an idea you like better, then feel free to go with what inspires you. I don’t want this to be stressful, and I’m sure I will love what you make.

Read more... )

Arang and the Magistrate [art, fic; trick, treat]

Choi Juwal
Kim Eunoh

Read more... )

The Bureau d'Echange de Maux - Lord Dunsany [fic; trick]

Shop Owner (Bureau d'Echange de Maux)

Read more... )

The Goblin Emperor - Katherine Addison [art, fic; trick, treat]

Cstheio Caireizhasan


The Hobbit - J. R. R. Tolkien [fic; treat]


Read more... )

The Lord of the Rings - J. R. R. Tolkien [fic; trick, treat]

Army of the Dead
The Balrog of Moria
Finduilas of Dol Amroth
The Nameless Things in Moria
Shieldmaiden(s) of Rohan
Witch-king of Angmar

Read more... )

The Silmarillion and other histories of Middle-Earth - J. R. R. Tolkien [art, fic; trick, treat]

Durin the Deathless
Original Dwarf Character
Rían of the House of Bëor
Women of the Faithful
Yavanna Kementári


The Sword of Welleran - Lord Dunsany [art, fic; trick, treat]


Read more... )

Die Zauberflöte | The Magic Flute - Mozart/Schikaneder [art, fic; trick, treat]

Königin der Nacht | Queen of the Night
Three Ladies

Read more... )

So. much. TV.

Sep. 13th, 2017 12:12 pm
swan_tower: (*writing)
[personal profile] swan_tower

I watch a surprisingly large amount of TV these days, because there is so much out there, and so much of it good. But I wind up almost never posting about any of it, because I have all these thoughts and then I don’t get around to writing the big long in-depth post. In lieu of that, have scattershot thoughts about things I’ve watched in the last year.

* I didn’t like the second season of Supergirl quite as well, due in part to me having zero interest in Mon-El. But man, that show is not remotely shy about wearing its politics on its sleeve, with episode titles like “Resist” and “Nevertheless, She Persisted” and plots about protecting resident aliens from attempts to deport them. So even though they have the occasional episode where everybody is phenomenally stupid in order to give Mon-El a chance to look smart (seriously, that one was so bad), it is balm to my soul.

* Frequency has hooked me surprisingly fast, with some good dialogue and a clever twist on what might otherwise be a bog-standard serial killer investigation plot: because the SFnal conceit is that the cop heroine is in communication with her cop father twenty years in the past, when she has him follow up on a lead, half the time she winds up changing the evidence out from under her own feet, e.g. going to a suspect’s house only to find out that in the new timeline he moved away nineteen years ago. Also, it turns out to be based on a film — but among other changes, they turned the father/son setup into father/daughter instead. Woot! Sadly, because everything I like gets canceled, there’s only thirteen episodes of it. (Currently we’re seven in.)

* The Defenders was decent, but distinctly uneven, in no small part because my god Danny Rand is just. not. interesting. (As I said on Twitter a while back, Iron Fist bored me so intensely that I didn’t even get far enough in to hit the unfortunate racism.) And unfortunately, he’s kind of at the center of the plot. On the other hand, watching the script take the piss out of him at absolutely every opportunity was kind of entertaining. And you could make a fabulous montage just of the reaction shots from Luke Cage and Jessica Jones.

* I have no idea what they’ll do with the second season of The Good Place, but dude, somebody made a comedy show ABOUT ETHICS. Like, actual philosophical discussions of what constitutes ethical behavior and how the various models of that differ. I am so there. Again. (I can’t believe it got a second season.)

* The Musketeers is far more entertaining than I expected it to be (though admittedly, my expectations went up when the opening credits told me it had Peter Capaldi). Of course it bears only a general relationship to the novel, being an episodic TV series, but it doesn’t have to warp the concept too far out of shape to work; the basic engine is the running political conflicts between the King’s Musketeers and the Cardinal’s Guards, with invented incidents to keep that rolling along. Capaldi is an excellent Richelieu, obviously scheming and ambitious without being a one-note villain (sometimes he and the Captain of the Musketeers work together). And the episodic format gives them some time to explore the individual characters. Much to my surprise, Porthos — usually my least favorite of the set — is really good here, in part because the actor is black and that is relevant to the character’s life story. A Porthos with depth, rather than just being the drunken comic relief? What is this madness??? Also, it’s doing reasonably well by its female characters, including making sure that the invented incidents have women in them, so you’re not limited to the recurring trio of Constance, Milady, and the queen. Yeah, okay, so I’m pretty sure Constance bears only the most passing resemblance to her novel incarnation — but since I like this version of her and have no particular attachment to the novel incarnation, I’m fine with that.

* Ascension was interesting, but flawed. Basic concept: A generation ship got sent out in the ’60s and is now halfway through its 100-year-journey, with tensions rising. The worldbuilding was intriguing, even as I wanted to beat characters about the head for some parts of it (seriously, who thought class stratification in a society that small and enclosed was a good idea?), but the end felt like it was a cliffhanger for a season 2 that, as near as I can tell, not only doesn’t exist but was never intended to.

* I feel like the seventh season of Game of Thrones was distinctly better than the sixth, transit time silliness notwithstanding. It registered on me as a better balance of major plot movement and the little dyadic interactions, which have always been one of the show’s strong points: the writers’ ability to put two characters together and have a fabulous scene happen, whether the flavor is hilarious banter or a flaming train wreck. Plus, Olenna Tyrell may have claimed the title of Most Badass Moment for the entire series. I mean, it was horrible. But it was also this phenomenally powerful, vicious interaction that played out as a quiet conversation between two people alone in a room, without any action spectacle whatsoever. Kudos.

* I enjoyed the first season of Lucifer, but the second took off like a rocket. Seriously, were the writers on a sugar high all season long? They just cranked everything up to eleven, and the result came to life for me in a way the earlier episodes hadn’t. I’m sad they lopped off the last couple of episodes to put them on the beginning of season three, because it meant I got less of what I was enjoying last spring, but from a narrative standpoint I can absolutely see why they did. That comes back in a few weeks and I’m looking forward to it.

* Also, more of The Librarians. One of the few things I fell in love with that hasn’t gotten canceled, even if I don’t think the third season was quite as good.

Has anybody else been watching these? Any recs for shows you’ve been enjoying? I’m primarily interested in stuff that is either SF/F or historical, and skewed more toward the “fun” end of the spectrum than gritty greasy grimdark. I am almost completely burned out on police procedurals, unless they’ve got a strong metaplot or a substantial twist from the usual model.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

GenEx works revealed

Sep. 10th, 2017 04:18 pm
zdenka: Knife with text "We've all got knives. It's the Time of Isolation and we're BARRAYARANS" (barrayarans)
[personal profile] zdenka
GenEx is an exchange for fic and art about gen relationships. Works are here:

I enjoyed my gift! It's about the complicated Vorkosigan family dynamics.

Fathers and Sons (1193 words) by Anonymous
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Vorkosigan Saga - Lois McMaster Bujold
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Aral Vorkosigan & Piotr Vorkosigan, Miles Vorkosigan & Piotr Vorkosigan, Aral Vorkosigan & Miles Vorkosigan
Characters: Aral Vorkosigan, Miles Vorkosigan, Piotr Pierre Vorkosigan, Konstantin Bothari
Additional Tags: Parenthood, Grandparents & Grandchildren, non-graphic reference to attempt to harm a minor, way less intense than the actual series though

Two men, a boy, and a pony. Aral Vorkosigan watches and muses.

I haven't had time to browse the rest of the collection yet, but I'm looking forward to it.
zdenka: A woman touching open books, with loose pages blowing around her (book guardian)
[personal profile] zdenka
[I'm posting this so I can link to it in my letter for the 2017 Trick or Treat Exchange. This is the 1920 edition of a short story that was first published in 1916, and it is therefore in the public domain.]

Read more... )

Today’s random gaming thought

Sep. 8th, 2017 12:12 pm
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[personal profile] swan_tower

You can tell how much an RPG system cares about a thing by how granular the rules for it are.

I’ve known this for a while, of course. RPGs evolved out of historical war-gaming, so many of them have incredibly detailed rules for combat, and much less detailed frameworks for other activities. But there’s another angle on this that I don’t think about as often, which is: when you get a bonus, how restrictive vs. broad is the application of that bonus?

In L5R, there’s a spell that gives you a boost to Perception-based rolls. All Perception-based rolls. Vision? Hearing? Scent? Reading people’s behavior? Commanding an army in battle? (For reasons of setting philosophy, that’s based on Perception.) This spell boosts all of them. Because although L5R is better at caring about non-combat stuff than some game systems, it’s really not all that interested in the finer-grained applications of Perception. Instead of having many spells that give you bonuses to different kinds of Perception, there’s one that hits them all.

Or Pathfinder. My PC has a magic item that gives a +3 to all Charisma-based skill checks, because Pathfinder, like most D&D, fundamentally doesn’t give a damn about social interaction. There is not, to my knowledge, a magic item that gives a +3 (or a +anything) to all Dexterity-based skill checks, because that would include Stealth (good for avoiding combat or taking the enemy by surprise), Acrobatics (good for avoiding attacks of opportunity in combat), Ride (good for anybody engaging in mounted combat), Disable Device (good for picking locks and disarming traps), and Escape Artist (good for escaping entangle and grapples in combat), among others. But handing out a cheap blanket bonus to Bluff, Diplomacy, Disguise, Handle Animal, Intimidate, Perform, and Use Magic Device? Eh, why not. That last is pretty much the only one that will often matter in combat, unless you’ve taken all the feats necessary to make feinting via Bluff a useful thing to do. And the game is relatively uninterested in what happens outside of combat.

And then you get players arguing that doing X isn’t very interesting. They’re right, in a way, because the rules have made it uninteresting. All you need is this single effect and you’re great at the whole shebang. But if the rules started from the assumption that X is interesting, and treated it with the same care and complexity of flavor they use for other aspects of play, it might be a different story.

(No game can do that for every single aspect, of course. If you tried, you’d wind up with something of unplayable complexity. But it would be nice to see that care and attention given to things other than combat more often.)

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

On cover art and Maps to Nowhere

Sep. 6th, 2017 09:00 am
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[personal profile] swan_tower

I’ve gotten several compliments on the cover art for Maps to Nowhere, and wanted to take a moment to talk about it.

cover art for MAPS TO NOWHERE by Marie Brennan

For me, the cover is the hardest and most expensive part of doing an ebook. Because I’m a member of Book View Cafe, I work with a bunch of people who know how to do things like format them (Chris Dolley regularly does mine). And we have cover designers, of course; my own covers have been the product of efforts by Leah Cutter, Pati Nagle, and Amy Sterling Casil.

But that’s cover design. That’s figuring out how to stick the title and my byline on an image in a way that will be readable and attractive — and I’m very grateful for their help, because my image editing skills are all oriented toward photo processing, not drop shadows and embossing and knowing my way around eight million fonts. Before we get to that point, though, I have to answer another question: what do I want the cover to look like?

BVC can help with that, too, suggesting ideas based on the subject matter of the book or hunting through stock photo signs and DeviantArt to find possibilities. In the end, though, I’m the only one who can really say “yeah, that’s what I want” — which in practice means that I wind up doing most of the brainstorming and hunting myself, because I don’t feel like it’s fair to make someone else suffer through my “ehhh, uhhhh, maybe, I dunno” indecision. And depending on where you get the image from, licensing it will cost a sum of money ranging from a pittance to quite a bit; commissioning art is definitely on the “quite a bit” end. So: hardest and most expensive part of the ebook.

Which is why I’ve started casting a speculative eye toward my own photos. God knows I take enough of them; and while many aren’t suitable for covers (wrong orientation, too much noise, taken somewhere that doesn’t permit commercial use, etc) or the book itself is something that doesn’t lend itself to photographic representation (the Wilders books, frex), I’ve managed a few. In London’s Shadow uses a detail I shot of the clock on the Rathaus in Basel, Switzerland; the upcoming Ars Historica collection will use another image from that trip, a closeup of an inscription in a church. Dice Tales is built from a die photo I took specifically for the book, which Leah Cutter then photoshopped to change the top four faces, and a block of text I put together for the background, because it was that or staging the equivalent of the Writing Fight Scenes cover with some dice in place of the sword.

But for Maps to Nowhere?

I had nothing.

I didn’t have any particularly good map photos, because those are almost always taken for reference purposes, not aesthetic ones. I knew I wanted something that would suggest another world, and you’d think I would have that . . . but most of my travel, especially since I got any good at photography, has been to cities. Gardens I can do, but actual natural landscapes? Not so much. I assembled a handful of possibilities — three of which are are variants on the mossy slope that forms the backdrop of my website — but none of them clicked.

So I called up my parents.

They’re the ones who got me into photography, because they got into it before I did, and are better than I am on many fronts. And they travel a lot, including to lots of spectacular natural places. I explained what I wanted and why; they gave me a pile of photos; and that easily, I had my cover. One of my father’s favorite shots from their trip to South America a few years ago is of a place called Torres del Paine in Patagonia, where he had caught the warm light of sunrise on the Paine Massif, with mist blurring the mountains and the sky and water bracketing it all in cool blue. It’s striking, it’s otherworldly, and it’s exactly what I wanted.

I owe Pati Nagle thanks for turning the photograph into a cover, Chris Dolley for the formatting, and Phyllis Irene Radford for proofreading the collection. Vonda McIntyre and others checked the formatting, and the entire BVC co-op stays vertical and functioning because its members put in quite a bit of hard work to make that happen. But this time I have to add my father to the list, because if that cover makes you feel like you’re about to go somewhere magical, it’s because he caught that moment with his camera, and let me share it with you.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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