Double Apologies

I’ve been posting these far too often lately.

I hope that I will be able to pick up my posting schedule in the near future. Last week, I had a sore throat and fatigue, and now a middle ear infection has rendered me too tired and dizzy to write much of a coherent nature. My doctor just prescribed some medicine, and the pills are so large and difficult to swallow that I have every confidence they will be effective.

While I recover, please enjoy this picture of a sleepy gorilla.

 

sleepygorilla

Advertisements

Disney Re-imagined

I must apologize for my lack of updates this past week, but I’ve been very busy. I went into space, was accosted by some very hands-y Jawas, took an elevator ride to the fifth dimension, took a limo ride with Aerosmith, went hang-gliding, went into space a couple more times, took a trip around the world, went on a safari, went to the Jurassic to rescue a baby iguanodon, climbed Mount Everest, went on a couple of mine trains, went into space a few more times, went into a haunted house, had dinner with nobility, and had myriad other adventures.

In other words, I very much enjoyed my trip to Disney World!

Of course, now that I’ve returned home, I’m recovering from all of the fun. After spending so much time trying not to say inappropriate things around children, I just had to share some of the alternate endings I’ve imagined for several beloved Disney classics.

Snow White, the alternate ending.  Prince Ferdinand dismounted his horse and stared, captivated, at the maiden who lay before him. He had arrived too late to save her, and yet she looked as though she only slept. She was as beautiful in death as she had been in life.

He leaned down to steal just one kiss from those lifeless lips- to capture just a taste of a love that could never be. As his lips touched hers, he realized his mistake.

 It was too late. The lingering poison was the most deadly ever concocted. Just one drop…

As Prince Ferdinand’s body hit the ground, Doc sighed. “Grab your shovels, boys. We have another grave to dig. Dig dig dig…

Sleeping Beauty, the alternate ending. “The dress should be pink!” Flora insisted, aiming her wand at the obviously happy girl who danced in the distance.

“No- the dress should be blue!” Merryweather snapped back, aiming her own wand. Fury seemed to boil her very blood. She’d put up with Flora’s bossiness for sixteen years, and now it was time for payback.

Merryweather put every ounce of her pent-up anger into the spell; this one would not be so easily undone.

The resulting explosion destroyed the entire kingdom, leaving only a sparkling, blue crater in its place.

The Little Mermaid, the alternate ending. “Eric, stay away from her,” the sea witch croaked miserably, but she knew it was too late. The spell was broken, and Ariel’s beautiful voice was swirling around her, finally settling in Ariel’s swanlike throat. The final haunting notes of Ariel’s song hung in the evening air.

What’s worse, Eric reached Ariel just before the sun dipped below the horizon, kissing her gently, tentatively, on her perfect lips.

“I knew it- it was you all along!” he said.

Bako pari mos daia. Mon bleet!” Ariel replied.

Eric stared at Ariel in shock, and Ursula laughed triumphantly. “You fool!” she cried. “Your precious princess may have her voice back, but she only speaks the language of the merfolk!”

It was true that Triton had forbidden the study of human speech, but Ariel had always been a rebel. She’d been secretly studying human speech for years, and she had a very good teacher.

Ariel took a deep breath, and tried again. “Squawk squawk SQUAAAAAAAAWK! Dinglehopper, squawk!”

Beauty and the Beast, the alternate ending. Gaston was a skilled hunter, and his blade stuck true, plunging deep into the beast’s lung. The beast let loose a roar of pain and flung Gaston off, sending Gaston hurtling into the ravine below.

Belle ran to the beast as he lay dying. She covered him with her cloak to shield him from the rain, but it was a gesture that would only serve to make his dying moments more comfortable. She reassured the beast that everything would be alright, but she could see the truth written in his eyes.

“At least I got to see you one last time,” the beast said. Then he closed his eyes, and he was no more.

Belle collapsed in despair. There had been so little time, and so many things that had gone unsaid.

“Please, don’t die,” Belle pleaded, a tear falling down her cheek. “I love you.”

With those words, a shaft of white light engulfed the beast’s body, and a great wind lifted his huge bulk into the air. His hideous visage twisted and shifted into the elegant face of a young prince.

Belle could hear cries of joy echoing from within the castle as the servants transformed into humans, but her tears continued to fall. On the roof, a beautiful prince lay in a puddle of blood and rain with a knife in his back.

Aladdin, the alternate ending. “Genie, you’re free,” Aladdin said with an affectionate grin.

“Finally!” Genie said as the shackles fell from his wrists. Being a spirit, he could not exactly feel the physical sensation, and yet it still felt as though the weight of millennia had fallen away.  

“I’m going to miss yo-”

“I mean seriously, what is wrong with you mortals? I thought I was going to get to help people when I became a genie- to relieve the suffering that comes with the mortal state. I thought that if I left the wishes up to you, I could give you the help that you really wanted, aligned with your human values.

“So why is it that most of you wish for shiny pieces of metal that you can exchange for other pieces of shiny metal? Never once has anyone said ‘I wish for you to cure cancer,” or ‘please stop war,’ or even ‘I wish everyone had enough to eat.’”

“I didn’t thi-”

“I clearly told you the very few limits on my powers when we met. Nowhere did I state I couldn’t do those things.”

Genie turned away, and with lightning speed, began to pack his bags.

“I am out of here.”

Young Adult Dystopia and You

Featured image- Lelouch from Code Geass

You don’t quite know how it happened, but you’ve ended up in a young adult dystopian novel. You were aware that the political climate had been a little messy of late, but hey- politics are always messy. And sure, there has been a mysterious leap in the level of technology, but you’ve never been one to stand in the way of progress. Nevertheless, when you woke up this morning, you realized that society is highly stratified, children are participating in deathmatches, you are under constant surveillance, and your eyes are watering from all of the darned nanites blowing around in the polluted air.

Now that you’ve “awakened” to your situation, here is a handy guide to help you navigate your new reality.

Step One- Don’t panic. Take the words of Douglas Adams to heart. “Don’t Panic” should actually be your first step for any process, but it’s a bit more difficult to remember when you’re being chased by a cyborg shark cop than when you’re ordering a sandwich.

Step Two- Blend in. This will be hard, because you are special. For example, you might be the only person with more than one personality trait, like in Divergent, or you might be the only person left who reads real books, like in Fahrenheit 451. Either way, unlike the sheep around you, you are starting to question the system, and if you can’t hide this fact you will become a target.

Step Three- Find allies. Ok- I lied. You aren’t really special. There are hundreds, if not thousands, just like you. Unfortunately, like you, they are all trying to blend in. If you want to survive, however, you’ll need their help. To find the other malcontents, search for the nearest attractive and mysterious stranger. This stranger will betray you eventually, but in the meantime they can secure an introduction to the underground resistance.

Step Four- Win over the resistance leaders. Your attractive and mysterious stranger has an admirer, and they will mistrust you on sight. What’s worse, the admirer is one of the resistance leaders. You will need to strike an amazing blow to the government in order to prove yourself.

Step Five- Become the resistance figurehead. Congratulations; whatever you did in step four has completely blown your cover. You really should have been more careful. However, your act of defiance has inspired millions, and now the revolution has begun.

Step Six- Get Captured. Don’t worry- this is the easiest way to confront the true villain. The evil overlord respects you enough to capture and interrogate you personally, and he won’t kill you, because he doesn’t want to create a martyr. However, he will probably destroy a small city or an orphanage if you don’t do as he says.

Step Seven- Make a faustian bargain. The evil overlord will offer you a deal- compromise your ethics and help him to calm the agitated masses in exchange for some freedom for the people and the lives of your friends. You will have to ally yourself with the enemy in order to serve the greater purpose.

Step Eight- Become that which you despise most. Even after the bargain is struck, a rogue resistance soldier will kill the evil overlord. Because you were the resistance figurehead, you will now be the new overlord. You learn that being an overlord is more difficult than you thought, and that sometimes you must do morally grey things that hurt some segments of society in order to keep society functioning.

Congratulations! You have survived the Young- Adult Dystopian novel- unless of course you sacrificed yourself and your second-in-command replaced you. Still, job well done. Now it’s the next generation’s turn to overthrow the regime you’ve put in place.

World Building- Part 1

From Writing to Reality

 

I’ve always loved world building. There’s a certain magic to creating a place for my characters to live, and an almost godlike power in setting up and controlling an entire universe for them to inhabit.

I use world-building to write stories with a rich environment for my characters to explore, but why should we leave world-building to fiction? Societies and communities develop almost organically- each part are built in a patchwork fashion and problems are solved as they arise in the process. However, I prefer to look at things from the top down- to envision the society I want and then make it a reality.

When I was young, I would often write stories or create shoebox dioramas of the worlds in my imagination. As I got older, I became better at it, and I’d often have opportunities to practice at school. Several of my teachers, in different grades and all teaching different subjects, would give a similar assignment: build your own world and describe how it will work.

Sometimes this world would be a city-state, like in my History class. Sometimes it would be a country, like in my Civics class. One time, in art class, I even got to build my own space colony. Funnily enough, though I hadn’t yet read about Carolyn Meinel and Keith Henson, my colony involved mainly goats and hydroponic vegetables.

These assignments were mostly free-hand. The teachers didn’t want to give us the framework, but rather, for us to discover what was needed to build a society for ourselves. In this spirit, I’ve sketched out my own framework.

  1. The Environment. Where do people live? Is this a city, a space station, or a forest tree village? What resources does the environment provide? Is it stable?
  2. The People. What is the culture, religion, language, education level, and class structure of the people?
  3. The Economy. What resources do the people need and value? How are these resources distributed?
  4. The Infrastructure. This will include all of the mechanisms that help the other systems function, such as buildings, roads, electricity, water, education, hospitals, emergency response, etc.
  5. The Government. How do you create and enforce the rules that help all of the systems work properly? How are the rule-makers and the enforcers chosen?

Keep in mind that this is only a rough sketch, and that the systems are far more complex in reality. In fact, many of the systems are so intertwined that it’s difficult separate them. For instance, the economy can be a type of infrastructure, and infrastructure shapes the environment, as well. In the second part, we will look at this framework in more detail, and see how individuals can affect all of these systems once they get ideas about what sort of system they want.

Rules for the Effective Hero

While reading the Evil Overlord List, I was inspired to create its counterpart- a list of rules for any aspiring hero to avoid the most common, cliche’ mistakes. My resolve to write this list was strengthened while watching a certain terrible anime.

This list is dedicated to anyone who is the hero in their dreams- may you make your dreams real. Please read, and if you think of any rules- add them in the comments!

 

  1. Do not play a game the villain has stacked against you, even if he calls you a chicken or uses a mean voice.

2.If the key that you’re protecting will destroy the world if it falls in the wrong hands, just go ahead and throw it in the nearest volcano.

3. Don’t turn down rewards to appear noble. Saving the world is a worthy cause that needs funding.

4. Give weapons and combat training to the beautiful damsel as soon as possible. Give the same training to the cute kid.

5. Don’t leave the ailing king in his obvious, poorly-guarded palace. Don’t wait until the palace is under attack to spirit him away through a hidden passage.

6. Don’t pin all of your hopes on the power of love. Superior technology, strength, and political power are pretty cool, too.

7. Don’t leave your friends in a misguided attempt to protect them.

8. If a villager mentions a legendary item, you will have to find it. If all of the villagers warn you not to go into the mysterious forest or cave, you will have to go.

9. The old adage is true- never split the party.

10. Don’t trust the beautiful, mysterious princess that you just happened to rescue from the dungeon.

11. Give alms to every old woman you come across. If you sneer at her appearance, don’t be surprised if she curses you.

12. Listen to the mysterious old hermit- especially if he sounds crazy.

13. When everything seems to be going well, you are unwittingly working for the bad guy. When everything goes wrong, assume the same.

14. When you face the bad guy, don’t just sit and listen as he gloats about his evil scheme. Use the distraction to attack or escape.

15. Don’t waste your time with the bumbling minions. They mostly exist to give the boss a chance to escape.

16. Don’t assume the villain is gone for good. Double tap.

17.When you enter the villain’s lair, look for the quickest escape route first. Look for the self-destruct button second.

18. If you find yourself spending an unexpectedly happy, peaceful day with your long-lost loved ones, you are really in a dungeon under a spell.

19. Work out a reliable code with your true love ahead of time, so you can shoot the real doppelganger.

20. Collateral damage is bad PR.

21.Don’t throw away the guard’s uniforms as soon as you infiltrate the castle. Keep your mask on.

22. Asking the villain, “why did you do it?” is usually pointless.

23. Maybe, deep down, you and the villain aren’t so different, but least you aren’t trying to destroy the world. That still counts for something.

24. If there is a very good reason to disregard any of these rules, do so- especially this one.

Better is Enough

The world will probably never be perfect, but it can always be better.

 

There is a certain attitude pervasive in social discourse, which seems counter to the concept of optimizing the world. In social discourse, politics, and the media, any new proposal or solution must meet a standard no lower than perfection. There doesn’t seem to be an official name for this attitude; system justification doesn’t seem to encompass the issue.

Many are understandably reluctant to update what seems to be a perfectly good system, but the problem is that people easily become complacent with flawed but familiar systems. Any flaw in a new system is pointed out as evidence that the new system does not work, and that it was hubris to mess with the old. The problem is that, even if there are flaws with the new system, it may be more effective overall than the old.

It may not be worth it, in the long run, to implement a new system whose benefits are so small that the time and expense it costs to put it in place is not worth the gains. However, politicians, pundits, and the newspapers hardly seem interested in sitting down and running a cost-benefit analysis. The public, I’m sure, is even less interested in reading a cost-benefit analysis. Newspaper sales rise when two sides are pitted against each other, and policy disputes are great for ratings. Politicians gain office by making the other side look bad. Sales of old technology is protected when new technology is attacked.

Take, for example, automobile technology. No matter how safe a Tesla might be overall, problems with the new technology can linger in public discourse.

In such cases, it’s important to remember that better is ok. In fact, better is great. Any lives saved by implementing new systems still carry great moral weight. It’s still good to scrutinize new technology. It’s important to roll out new systems slowly and carefully, to rule out unforeseen consequences in a complex system. We must not, however, hold back significant improvement in the name of impossible standards of perfection.

As long as it’s possible, let’s try to do better.

Captain Quasar Saves Christmas

 

It was an ordinary night at the Corrosive Mold Inn.

Captain Quasar sat in his usual stool, the one furthest from the stench that emanated from the kitchen, nursing a glass of Alterran whiskey. An onlooker would have called his posture relaxed- Captain Quasar seemed unaffected by the chaos in the bar around him- but an especially observant onlooker would notice that Captain Quasar’s right hand never strayed too far from the laser pistol that rested in his hip holster.

Captain Quasar downed his whiskey, and was about to call for another when the bar fell silent. Quasar sighed. There were two things that would cause the patrons of the rowdy bar to stop and take notice of anything other than their gambling, petty squabbles, and chatting up the barmaids. Those two things were named Elmer and Ray Eris.

Sure enough, in the next moment the bartender shouted, “it’s the Eris brothers!” and dove under the bar.

“Now settle down, Tobias,” Elmer Eris sat to Captain Quasar’s left and slapped his hand on the bar. “I’m a paying customer. We don’t want any trouble.”

Captain Quasar shifted uneasily in his seat, remembering the last time Elmer Eris had said the words, “we don’t want any trouble.” Two people had been taken out of the bar in body bags, and another two had ended up in traction.

After a few moments the bartender cautiously emerged from behind the bar.

Elmer smiled, baring his mouthful of sharp, green teeth “Just give me the usual, Tobias.”

The bartender, Tobias, sat staring at Elmer. A single drop of sweat trickled down his forehead.

“What’s the matter?” Ray Eris asked, sitting down on Captain Quasar’s right. “Don’t you remember Elmer’s favorite drink?”

Captain Quasar’s head shook almost imperceptibly. Elmer ordered a different drink every time he entered the Inn.

“Of- of course I remember,” Tobias stammered, grabbing a bottle of beer from behind the bar.

Elmer grabbed the bottle from Tobias’s hand, smashed it on the floor, and looked back at Tobias, still grinning.

“So- ah,” Tobias stammered, trying another bottle, “will you boys be in town long?”

“Just long enough to get what we need,” Elmer said, smashing the second bottle.

Tobias turned around and quickly grabbed several bottles at once. Elmer smiled, grabbed the bottle of Alterran whiskey, and swept the rest of the bottles onto the floor.

“After all of these spills, I guess this drink is on the house.”

Tobias nodded, grabbed a mop, and shuffled over to the broken bottles piled on the floor.

“Hey Elmer- there’s the old man,” Ray said abruptly, and the two men stood and strode toward the far corner of the room.

“Here, Tobias. I’ve got this round.” Captain Quasar slapped 50 credits on the bar- more than enough to pay for the wasted booze. Then Captain Quasar stood and walked slowly toward the crowd in the back, which was beginning to form around the Eris brothers.

“Hey, old man,” Elmer Eris was saying to an old man who sat in the back corner, “you owe me 80 credits for the power converters.”

Elmer  and Ray had flanked the old man, each grinning their reptilian grins, but the old man seemed nonplussed. He leaned back in his chair, twirling the end of his long, white beard.

“Now Elmer- we settled on 50 credits, and I paid you fair and square.”

“Price just went up, old man. Your ship is old, and those parts are hard to come by. Let’s call it opportunity costs.”

The old man sighed. “I’ve taken a look at the power converters- the serial numbers were filed off, as though they were stolen.”

“You calling us thieves, old man?” Ray growled.

The old man stood slowly, and looked Ray right in his yellow eyes. “All I’m saying, Ray, is that it seems like you and your brother are both on the ‘naughty’ list this year.”

Elmer’s left hand reached for his ray gun. “You a bounty hunter, old man?”

At those words, Ray reached for his ray gun as well, but before either brother could draw, two shots rang out. A stunner hit Elmer square in the back, and as Ray turned to face the attacker, another blast hit him in the hand, knocking his ray gun to the floor.

Ray growled- a low, menacing rumble that emanated from an air sac under his chin. “You don’t seem to know who you’re dealing with, stranger. Why don’t you run along and mind your own business.”

“I know who you are,” Captain Quasar said. “I’ve been tracking you two across the galaxy. Thing is, tonight is my night off, and I came here to mind my own business and have a drink in peace. But you two made a mess of the joint, cost me 50 credits, and drank the last of the Alterran whiskey.”

“So?” Ray said.

“So tonight, I rid the galaxy of two more scumbags.”

Captain Quasar raised his ray gun and readied another shot.

“Now go easy on the boys,” the old man interrupted. “After all, it is Christmas eve.”

“It’s Christmas- what?” Captain Quasar said, turning to the old man.

Ray chose that moment to dive for his ray gun, but Captain Quasar  spun back toward him and hit him with a blast square in the back of the neck.

“Don’t worry- it was a stunner,” Captain Quazar said. He holstered his ray gun and grabbed the unconscious brothers by the napes of their necks. “I only get the bounty if I bring them in alive.”

The old man smiled a wide, toothless grin.

 

#

 

“What a night,” Captain Quazar groaned after he’d deposited the Eris brothers in his ship’s brig. He threw himself into the cracked and torn pilot seat, leaned back, and closed his eyes.

Then he opened an eye just a crack, noticing a red envelope on the dash. With a groan, Captain Quasar sat up, grabbed the envelope, and leaned back in his seat again.

Dear Captain Quasar,

I had my doubts about you, but tonight you proved yourself to be one of the good guys. You helped Tobias, saved my neck, and brought the Eris brothers in, unharmed. For the first Christmas ever, you’ve made the “good” list. In this spirit, I’ve outfitted your ship with the new railgun you wanted.

Merry Christmas,

Santa Claus

 

Captain Quasar jumped up, ran to the window, and there, at the front of the ship, was a brand new railgun topped with a bright red bow.

Captain Quasar really wished he’d been able to finish his Alterran whiskey. He sat back down, took the controls, and started his ship’s engines.

 

Merry Christmas