Dear Stabby: Addicted To Good

Dear Stabby,

No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to get my patient to stop practicing virtue! She’s just obsessed with doing good! As a child, she was nauseatingly obedient to her parents.  After tireless work, in her teen years I got her to rebel against her parents and teachers, but then she began standing up for students who were bullied. I got her to stop THAT because I convinced her she was burnt-out, and NOW she’s telling people about the importance of self-care. Every time I squash a new virtue, another one springs up in its place. What do I do?

Tired in Tartarus

Dear Spent,

Although it goes against my principles to comfort such a whiner as you self-evidently are, I’m going to have to reassure you. By happy accident, this young lady seems to be merely a tiresome little social activist, and no true threat.

The truth is, that while it should always be our goal, it is VERY difficult to get any human to completely leave the path of virtue. They’re addicted to the disgusting stuff, and for the same reason they are addicted to such material goods as food and oxygen: it is how the Enemy designed them. Furthermore, even those who HAVE been adduced to throw virtue away entirely and come over to our side must almost always be made to believe that they have not done so. Oh they SAY they have rebelled against the Enemy and His bourgeois virtues, but the second you try to get them to overtly indulge and worship themselves, they start justifying their lust and will to power with talk of  “the greater good.”

We do not – and unfortunately cannot – force Humans away from doing good. And even if we could, it would likely turn out to be a bad idea. What do instead is to turn those virtues that they insist on practicing into sins, which then become weapons in our hands. In your patient you have already noticed these things, but you have been trying to counteract her virtues by attacking them. I can even tell you how you did it. You awoke rebellion by fostering her resentment at her parents’ demands (helped, no doubt, by the teenage hormones that were driving her in that direction anyway). After that, you awoke sloth by fostering her resentment at the ingratitude and cowardice of the spineless victims that needed her help to fight the battles that should have been their own.

Instead of all that work, it would have been much easier and more effective to foster the sins she already had, entrenching them in her character. If you look closely at the soul of any Human you will see that much of what they think of as “virtue” is merely their own fear of punishment. You say she was obedient as a child? Probably that was because she was afraid to rebel. You should have fed that fear until it dominated her and became despair. If in spite of that she rebelled? It was because of resentment at having been dominated for so long. You should have fed that wrath until it became indiscriminate anger at any who opposed her and turned to violence. But as things stand you have taught her the deadly lesson that she can change. You had better hope that this does not lead her to true repentance!

But there seems to be still time to correct your blunders. She is preaching self-care, now? It is still because of resentment at her own exhaustion. Let her apply her own “virtue” to herself until it is all she thinks of. If you do it properly, you will find that she can be induced to turn her proper regard for herself as a person (which the Enemy frankly encourages) into mere indulgence of her ego. All gluttony can be excused, all requests for help (however reasonable) can be denied in the name of “caring for the self.” Done properly, you will even be able to make her resent the normal obligation of every human and turn her into a self-centered parasite who — and this is the wonderful bit — actually believes she is still practicing virtue! This really is the end goal of the competent tempter: to raise up humans who will defend their own sins to the death in the belief that they are really virtues.

If you doubt this just look at their social media, the greatest garden for sins since Hollywood. There you will find the legions of the envious proclaiming their fight for justice, the wrathful trumpeting their compassion, and the nakedly lustful shouting of their love. And should any truly virtuous person dare to question their devotion, they are savaged with the cold fanaticism of the worst of the Crusaders. It is an easy enough state of affairs to bring about with any sin. Just look at the wonderful job we have done with the word empathy. This word, which is at the center of the Enemy’s injunction to the Humans about the danger of judging one another’s hearts and motivations, has been turned into one of the most useful weapons in our arsenal. It is now a shield against any form of criticism. In the name of empathy, the Humans are made to deny plain facts, the confrontation of which would make others feel bad. In the name of empathy self-destructive habits are defended and indulgence is excused.  Have you impressed upon your patient how wonderful she is simply for following her natural inclinations? Fasten her attention upon it, and let her regard any request for aid, and especially any criticism, as a personal attack upon her. Soon you will have a patient who imagines herself virtuous, and who fights for her own corruption with the ferocity of an animal. Which is, after all, fitting.

Stabby.

A Modest Proposal: The Bombadil Scale of Sidequests

A friend recently asked in a open forum what the proper size of a sidequest in a novel should be. We all know sidequests: those are the moments in which the characters pause in the middle of their Main Quest to do Something Else. What the Something Else may be has a huge (but not the only) effect on its proper size. This got me thinking, and I would like to propose the following system of measurement:

The SI unit of measure for a sidequest is the bombadil. One bombadil is the amount of gratuitous sidequest necessary to make 50% of readers give up on their first readthrough. No sidequest should ever measure more than 0.05 bombadils, though famous authors may push it to 0.1 bombadil.

The amount of prose necessary to comprise a bombadil is variable, and depends on the general tediousness of the sidequest, the characters involved in the sidequest, how much they grow in the sidequest, and how it affects the progress of the Main Quest. Of course, it also depends on the raw length of the sidequest, but that is not as important as you might think. A truly gifted writer can make the sidequest just as important as the Main Quest.

So let’s look at the archetypal case. In The Fellowship Of The Ring, our heroes, Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin, all get ensorcelled by an evil tree and freed by Tom Bombadil, a mysterious humanoid who takes them home to his just-as-strange wife for dinner. Bombadil later frees them from an evil barrow-wight and arms them with the treasure it was guarding. Breaking it down we have:

T = general Tediousness: Very High. The characters eat and sleep and listen to childish lyric poetry (10), slightly offset by them getting into two spots of serious and interesting trouble (-2): 8
S = characters exclusive to the Sidequest: 2 (lowest value for this variable is 1)
M = characters on the Main Quest: 4
g = growth of the characters because of the sidequest: Significant, but small. Frodo shows that he is capable of thinking, fighting and securing a temporary victory at need: 4
D = What it Diverts from: Walking to the nearest town. This is difficult, because on the one hand, diverting us from something that should be skipped right over adds tedium, but diverting us in the middle of something absolutely critical to the main plotline is worse, so this defies an easy, linear scale. Allow negative numbers on this one, with zero being the value at which the plot is progressing at a steady, unhurried, pace: Just walking along: -2
Finally, we introduce 4 as a constant, because all great equations have constants, and because a sidequest is only about a quarter as interesting as the main quest at best, a fact writers should ALWAYS remember, regardless of how clever they find themselves.

This gives us the following equation:

TSD²/4Mg = Qs (Sidequest value in bombadils)

And plugging in our values, we get:

8*2*2²/4*4*4 = 1 bombadil.

Initially, I had been going to factor in the sidequest’s ultimate importance to the story, whch would have made the score lower because one of the hobbit’s weapons, acquired on this sidequest, ultimately helps to destroy the Lord of the Nazgul. But the point is that we do not know that, and therefore it has no effect on whether or not the reader gets bored to death and puts the book down.

So, for some examples:

The Empire Strikes Back: Luke’s training sequence on Dagobah: Qs = 0.05 bombadil
T = 5 (cool Jedi powers and a fight with ghost-Vader, offset by boring platitudes on Planet Swamp).
S = 1
D = 0.5 (an increasingly-tense hunt for the Falcon, but Luke has to have a storyline of his own)
M = 1 (no, Artoo doesn’t count)
g = 6 (Luke becomes at least half a Jedi, but undisciplined.

The Eye Of The World: Perrin and Egwene’s sojourn with Elyas: Qs = 0.25 bombadils
T = 4 (It’s Jordan’s incredibly-detailed prose, but the whole thing with the wolves is awesome)
S = 1 (Elyas)
D = 1 (It’s about on pace with everything else)
M = 2 (Perrin and Egwene)
g = 8 (This sidequest basically starts Perrin’s character arc as a badass)

Moby Dick: The chapter on whales: Qs = 36 bombadils 
T = 9. A lecture on whales. In the middle of a novel. Only not a 10 because whales are inherently cool.
S = 1
D = -2 (for being Moby Dick. They’re sailing.)
M = 1 (Ishmael)
g = 1 (he learns about whales)

It: That one scene near the end as the kids escape the recently-defeated It. Yeah. THAT one: Qs = 96 bombadils
T = (the exact number defies description, but the Ick factor makes me conservatively estimate it, on a scale of 1 to 10 at) 27.
S = 1
D = 5 (seriously, the book was OVER).
M = 7
g = 1 (in a really disgusting way)

Note that when main characters are uninvolved in the sidequest, you are approaching infinite bombadils, and should just stop.

So, there you have it, a completely objective and indisputable method for solving the worth of various sidequests. You’re welcome.

 

NOT QUITE FREE FANTASY STORY!

So, I’m excited to report that with the contract novel delivered to Digital Fiction Publishing League, I’m back on track working on the continuing adventures of James and Harriet, the daring veterinarian (and his lovely assistant witch) of the Evil Dark Lord who rules the world.

Superversive Press, my publisher for this series, has agreed to allow me to post chapters as they are completed, and this will continue until the work is done. And as an incentive to back me on Patreon, I am offering to my patrons the next chapter in James and Harriet’s saga: “The Exanimation Room.”

Now, go patronize me!

The Adopt A Bottle Of Scotch Charity Birthday Drive.

Dear friends. I am writing to inform you that thousands of bottles of scotch languish daily on liquor store shelves waiting to be adopted. To address this issue, I am selflessly dedicating my birthday to their cause. Won’t you please follow the link and donate to this noble goal? Should I gather sufficient funds, a picture and review will be posted of the “rescued” bottle.

Perhaps you feel that buying writers scotch is not really “supporting” them, because they might end up “drunk.” Well, you are right! In that case, you could buy one of my fine books on my Amazon Page.

Or, perhaps you do not feel like contributing money. Excellent! You could spare a moment to write a quick review of one of the fine books on my Amazon Page!

We’re just grateful for whatever you can do.

The Post-Apocalyptic To Do List For Non-Preppers

What I have learned from a study of post-apocalyptic literature and film.

  1. First and most obviously, you really need lots of guns. LOTS of fucking guns. Get those as quick as possible. If you already have them, you’re ahead of the game, but if you have time we recommend duct-taping a bunch of jaggedy things on them, in case that makes them look more intimidating than, I don’t know, having a GUN! Remember, ammo will be scarce, so ideally you want a gun that makes those motherfuckers wet themselves and faint just by displaying them in a holster. Try one of those chainsaw bayonets the media warned us about last year. There have to be some around.
  2. Keep lots of alcohol on hand. You should be able to do this now: you have guns. Alcohol keeps practically forever, is good for trade and purifying water, and when bottled or pressurized can make a dandy flamethrower or bomb. And, given the shit that’s coming down, you might just want to stay drunk. Except when you’re familiarizing yourself with how the guns work, of course.
  3. Next, acquire a silver nose, eyepatch, or gauntlet that looks like you’ve replaced your hand. That scares the fuck out of people.
  4. Of course, if you’re REALLY feeling hardcore, or are among those of us who are unmuscularly slender or grossly overweight, and who look about as intimidating scantily clad (and you will be scantily clad. Clothes are at a premium, and NICE clothes are now a sign saying “Kill Me For Food”*) as an eight year-old boy flexing in Underoos, go ahead and amputate a limb and replace it with car parts. That scares the ever-living fuck out of people. This is painful, but quick and easy, especially if you aren’t very familiar with your new guns.
  5. Q.E.D. Swear a fuckload more than you do in real life. Otherwise, you’re pretty much volunteering for fucking slavery by virtue of not being intimidating enough.
  6. Really I can’t emphasize this point enough: kill and subjugate those Society For Creative Anachronism motherfuckers as fast as you can with those bullets before you run out. Partly because with their preindustrial knowledge, they’re going  to be your greatest long-term threat, but ALSO because it’s going to be funnier than shit to watch “Duke” Edward, “King” Jason and “Queen” Alicia realize that their twenty years of learning blacksmithing and weaving has uniquely fitted them to be the most valuable and closely-watched slaves in your new Empire Of Terror. And it’s the apocalypse, so you need the laughs.
  7. Don’t worry too much about medicine except for disinfectants (which you’re set for, because you have all that alcohol) and of course, The Plague that is creeping over the countryside, and doesn’t have a cure anyway. No one ever seems to get ordinarily sick after the apocalypse.
  8. Finally, make sure to take the mufflers off your car and install afterburners and as many jagged rusty metal bits as you can. This pretty much guarantees you’ll always find a supply of gas.
  9. Oh, yes, and the films especially suggest that you probably don’t want to make the mistake of being female unless you own Thunderdome.

Happy Hunting!

 

How To Tell If You’re In A Dystopian YA Novel.

“So,” said President Maximum Leaderking. “You come highly…” he paused to look at the notes in front of him. “Recommended.”

You’ve been on your own for seven years now. Seven years since the Derpvirus swept the globe and turned all the adults stupid. Well, stupider. Now, you’re more intelligent than any adult human simply by virtue of being sixteen. President Leaderking used to be a Nobel Laureate. Now, he might be qualified to manage a McDonalds. Only problem is, all the adults remember how to use guns, and President Leaderking’s goontroopers each carry an AH&SKS-757 Magnum Assault Rifle.

Seeing as there are six of them behind you, you say, “Yes, sir.”

“But you were not unaffected by the virus, were you?” President Leaderking continued.

How had he found out? You’d been so careful! But he knew. He obviously knew.

“No.”

“Smile for me, please?”

Alone in the room with him, you withdraw your luscious, full lips, revealing your vampire fangs.

“Well,” said President Leaderking. “That, combined with your top scores in archery and unarmed combat make you especially useful for our Outcast Squadron. It’s a group of ultracompetent freaks like you that we train to be terrors in combat and then unleash on the unsuspecting Borderlands totally unsupervised so that you can clear any survivors from our territory.”

Curse them for sending you out with nothing but natural talent and military training into a whole populace of poor people that the Government ruthlessly oppresses. What hope have you?

“It’s time for you to meet your new comrades.” And Leaderking mashes a button that activates the trapdoor you’ve been standing on, sending you down a ten-story chute.

A rough hand helps you up. It’s bigger than any hand you’ve ever encountered. “Hi,” said the boy. He must have been at least nineteen, and built like a really sexy tree, with dark brown hair and a beard that was at once full enough to make him look manly, and scraggly enough not to be gross. “I’m Logan Darkblade. You must be our vampire. Sorry about the ride.”

“What are you?” you stammer.

“He’s our shifter,” says another voice behind you. You turn and see a slender, olive-skinned boy with long, blond hair coiffed in a neat ponytail.

“What’s a shifter?”

“It’s like a werewolf. Except for not being gross or a curse. I can turn into a wolf that looks like an enormous, well-groomed dog at will.”

“Wow. And what do you do?”

“I’m Gareth Longthorne. I’m the Hunter.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means I’m very good at every martial art and form of weapon known to man. I’m just good enough that you almost can’t show me up because you’re a girl. You’ll find that makes me devastatingly attractive. Now I should introduce you to our siren.”

“Why do we need a..?”

“No, her name’s Lydia Gravesend. She’s almost as beautiful as you, and you can tell by her red hair and snotty manner that she’s so freakishly outcast that she would never betray us to President Leaderking if we should give our allegiance to the oppressed of the Borderlands and lead an insurrection.”

“How do you know?” you ask.

“She’s wearing a T-shirt that says ‘Not A Spy For The Office Of The President.”

“Oh, good.”

 

As You Know, Bob, You’re In A Hard Science-Fiction Novel.

“I am? I’m in a hard science-fiction novel? How do you know that?”

“Well, Bob, look at it this way. What do you do?”

“I’m a scientist.”

“And what sort of scientist are you?”

“Well, I’m a nuclear physicist.”

“Right. And do you have any mad and overly-complicated schemes to take over the world?”

“Um. No?”

“How about make tons of money by dumping nuclear waste illegally all over women and children in some underdeveloped nation?”

“What? NO! Why would anyone DO that? Thorium reactors don’t even…”

“Please, Bob. We’ll let you have your exposition later. That’s how you know you’re in a Hard SF novel. In any other setting, a nuclear physicist would by definition be the villain. And who are all your co-workers here on this ship?”

“Well, there’s Dave the astronomer, and Karen the biogeneticist, and Shu-Ling the botanist, and Raymundo the geologist.”

“Okay, so two things to notice. First of all, everyone on this ship is a scientist, right?”

“Well… yeah.”

“So, no one is here just to pilot the ship?”

“Dave does that.”

“Or fix the ship?”

“Raymundo in an expert mech…”

“Or cook meals?”

“Karen is a professional chef at…”

“Okay, now you’re just embarrassing us all. Not only are the women all in the life sciences, one of them is actually your cook?”

“She’s a professional chef. That makes it not sexist.”

“Of course it does. And she, not to mention all of you, can have completely different full-time careers as well as being world-class, practically-Nobel laureates because scientists are just that smart, right?”

“Well… yeah? But I don’t do any of that stuff!”

“And what do you do for fun?”

“I play the violin.”

“And you did what with that back on Earth?”

“I was the concertmaster for the Boston Orchestra.”

“Of course you were. Why scientists should probably be running the planet Earth rather than running around in spaceships.”

“Well, we’re saving the planet from climate change and overpopulation and corporate greed actually, but I think your suggestion has merit…”

“I am just shocked to hear that. Bob, Karen had a question about nuclear physics she asked me to pass along: How much radiation should we expect to take traveling near the corona of that M-class star we’re approaching?”

“Well, that depends very much whether we’re talking about alpha, beta, or gamma radiation. As you know, alpha radiation consists of the nuclei of helium atoms, about which the electrons orbit…”

“Why are you answering the question of a double Ph.D as if she’s a high-school student? And using the Bohr model, which hasn’t been current for like fifty years?”

“Um, because… well, um…”

“Is it because your readers’ last contact with nuclear physics was in their junior year of high school? In Mr. Kramer’s class? That he went over once? For thirty minutes? While they were asleep?”

“Dammit.”

I Cast Missile Magicis

It occurred to me today that so much  would be explained if Dungeons and Dragons was actually supplying the Potterverse with its stuff. I just picture some Harry Potter wizards accidentally Apparating into a D&D plane and turning it into a gold mine. For example, this is a gelatinous cube:

Image result for gelatinous cube

As you can deduce, it’s a big monster that dissolves things. Swords aren’t much help, but maybe a couple of wizards stumble on it:

“What the hell is that, Nigel?”

“Our meal ticket this month, Rupert. Wands out. And Freezing Charm on three: One… two…”

And a few heavy blows with a hammer later, you’ve got the Acid Pops that they kept selling to the students in Hogsmeade.

Image result for Acid Pops

 

 

Video Games Inspired By My Daughter: Our Town, The Reckoning

This post began when I informed my children that we would be leaving them with the grandparental units while we went out to see “Our Town.” My daughter, Wednesday* asked what it was. So I told her it was a famous play. And in great excitement she asked, “Is there a movie? If it’s famous, there should be a movie! And a video game!”

These are the kinds of things that get me thinking. Probably a bad thing.

I hadn’t ever seen “Our Town.” But when I watched it, I just couldn’t stop watching it with an eye to making it into a video game.

The opening screen: OUR TOWN: The Reckoning scrawled across the screen over the typical shapes of a small American town: two-story sided houses with a small factory in the background. The smiling face of the Stage Manager rises over Our Town. Something about his smile is just a little bit… wrong.

Your character materializes on the siding, just outside the Town Square. Walking into Grover’s Corners, pop. 2,493, you notice that the numbers are faded, and you think the 2 might once have been a 3.

As you walk into town you see a number of buildings you can venture into. The General Store, the Newspaper, and the Hospital. There are also a number of houses that you can get into that are locked, and a few more that are abandoned.

If you stay out in the Town Square long enough, you’ll see an energetic figure talking to and about people going about the more or less cheery routines of their daily lives. As he touches them, their shadows grow a bit darker, but you might not notice that.

Stay in the Town Square too long, and he’ll come over to you. He’ll be very friendly. Maybe too friendly. He’ll ask your name, and you’ll tell him. He’ll be very excited to learn that you might be thinking of settling into Grover’s Corners. He’ll start telling you about the prominent citizens: the milkman, the newspaper editor, Mr. Webb who lives alone with his wife now that their children are dead, and Old Doc Gibbs whose wife died and left him living with his son. They raise his grandchildren together since his daughter-in-law also died. You notice that that this Stage Manager seems to know a lot about the folks who have died, and you think he actually told you when one of them will die, but you take his directions to the Hotel.

As you pass the Methodist Church basement, you hear someone call out to you. That’s creepy, but the young lady who has called your name tells you that you’re in terrible danger if you don’t come with her.

She introduces you to a few people hiding in the Church basement. It’s the only place that the “Stage Manager” won’t come. The only safe place. The young woman won’t tell you her name, just that it’s changed since she got out, and she’s trying to rescue her brother, but he won’t come with her. No one but him must know that she is here. She asks for your help.

As you go through the game, you are at first confused and later horrified as your choices take you into contact with the relentlessly cheerful people of Grover’s Corners, living on as they always have, with their town dying around them, their children dying young but staying here nevertheless. You avoid the increasingly ubiquitous Stage Manager, and you realize that this is not his name, that his name is something far older.

In desperation you ascend to the Graveyard atop the hill, but only in the day, and encounter the unquiet dead resting there, concentrating desperately on the weather and the stars lest they think too much on their stolen lives: lives stolen by Satanas Mephistopheles, who remains, ever the same, nondescript middle-aged… man? Woman? You can’t recall. And it doesn’t matter. Whatever it is, it waits and is watching for you to return and challenge it for the lives and souls of every human left alive in Grover’s Corners.

Will you withstand its power? Will you free Our Town..?

*Not her real name. But it SHOULD have been.

Midday In The Garden Of Evil and More Evil

I consider it my duty as a husband to warn all my fellow married men that you should never under any circumstances go shopping for plants with your wife. It is a far better idea to huddle at home, or failing that, in the car, or ideally, Inner Mongolia (unless you and your wife LIVE in Inner Mongolia),

Okay, maybe under two circumstances it is a good idea to go shopping for plants with your wife:

1) When you are something like the chief arborist of a moderately-sized city and you know so much more about plants than she does because it is your job that she cannot possibly confuse you, or

b) She informs you that if you do not come plant shopping with you, you will devastate her soul because plant-shopping is a wonderful thing that Husbands and Wives can Do Together to Enrich Their Marriage.

Okay, that last one isn’t so much a “good idea” as it is the absence of a “much worse idea.”

My theory is that plant shopping is how wives get revenge on their husbands for having hobbies or interests outside of marriage. And it is the ultimate revenge. Because no matter what your hobby, whether it be beer-making, or professional hockey, or role-playing games, or professional cryptography, I guarantee you that it does not have a tenth of the jargon and arcane knowledge as the simple act of shopping for houseplants. I’m a semi-professional fantasy writer who has read all of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth books including The Silmarillion, which reads like a history professor decided to make up a fantasy World History textbook because he knew all of the real world’s history and had found it needlessly simple. And gardening puts Tolkien to shame. So for all the hours you have spent boring your wife about the offside rule, or oak-cask aging, or the Hand of Vecna, or one-time pads, your wife will now have her day:

Here is a sample of the kind of thing my wife says to me while shopping for plants: “We’re looking for a nightshade varietal, or it might be called Solanaceae, and I hope they have Ornamental Weatherington Hoopla. If we’re lucky, it’s a perennial, but we might have to stick with an annual. The English varieties are hardiest but they may be too sun-loving for the giardensis we have shading the back garden, in which case we’ll want a hibiscus turtleglove for the begonias.”

Every now and then, your wife will notice that your eyes are glazing over, which is the signal for her to Ask You A Question.

This is a trap.

“What do you think, should we get the Weatherington Hoopla Peppers or the Panfrunsicum Catalonia Peppers?”

This might lead to you asking what seems a perfectly reasonable question, such as “Which tastes better?”

If you are so foolish as to ask it, you will be informed, in tones so chilling that an employee may ask you to leave the greenhouse, that these plants are ornamental, which means that they produce food that is not meant to be eaten, similar to the way you have guest towels in your house that must not ever under any circumstances come into contact with water.

The experienced husbands are nodding sagely, or, in the case of very experienced husbands, reaching for their prescription medication.

The wives are already writing angry comments to inform me that there is no such thing as “giardensis.”