Sword of the Stars: Control!

As many of you may know, the team at Kerberos participated in the Extra Life! Charity Game-a-thon this year to raise money for the BC Children’s Hospital. Our game-a-thon was very successful! We stayed up for 24 hours playing demo games of our two new board-game projects based in the Sword of the Stars universe, Sword of the Stars: The Pit Boardgame and Sword of the Stars: Control! and we broadcast live from the Kerberos offices here in Vancouver on the Kerberos Twitch Channel.

The viewers who logged into our channel had a pretty good view of The Pit Boardgame being played at the main table, but they couldn’t see the Control! table very well. Since some of you asked to get a closer look at the game which was causing so much laughter, I thought I would post a few photos of the demo cards for the game.

As you can see, Control! is a pretty simple game in terms of the deck. The cards and planet bases are beautifully designed by our in-house artist Ken Lee, but the real elegance and fun of the game is in the mechanics and rules. We’ll be broadcasting a live play demo of Control! later this month, if all goes well, and you should get a chance to see the game in action.

In the meantime, I just want to share this because it’s one of the major rewards of creating a universe that has enough depth and detail to support a lot of different games. Sword of the Stars is by far the longest writing project of my life. But it is also a gift which keeps on giving, creatively speaking, and that is a source of immense joy.

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Don’t Be a Sheepskin Jacket

Yet another stinkbomb of misogyny explodes in my professional sphere this week.

Yet another misogynist sociopath in the industry, taking cover behind a progressive, woman-led team and forcing them to waste energy defending his predations rather than creating their art and achieving their mission.

It’s bad enough to encounter a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It’s even worse to realize that the sheepskin the wolf is wearing…is you.

S0. A few words to the wise regarding sexism in a professional setting.

1. Not all misogynists are open, obvious, and easy to identify. Some predatory men are in fact very cunning, manipulative, and successful in recruiting strong women to serve as their defenders and meat shields. Sociopaths are often SPECIFICALLY ATTRACTED to strong, brave, progressive people because we make the best and sturdiest cover from which to hunt others. We lower the guard of potential victims and we provide plausible deniability and front-line defenses.

Men who prey on women seek to embed themselves in progressive institutions and woman-led teams for the same reason that people who prey on children choose to become teachers and pastors. It gives them access, authority, and a LOT of deniability.

Remember the examples of Joss Whedon and countless other false allies who abused positions of trust.

Not every friendly face belongs to a real friend.

2. There is no antidote to being used and manipulated by predatory men except for one: believe women.

Believe them immediately, believe them early, believe them often, believe them preemptively.

Where there is smoke, your best practice is to assume that there is fire.

3. The realization that you have been duped and used by a misogynist predator sucks.

It is one of the most unpleasant experiences that a strong progressive woman can have.

The only thing MORE unpleasant than being duped by a misogynist predator is being the victim of a misogynist predator, and having his female friends and family attack you as the enemy.

I have had experiences in both categories. The latter is the reason I was banned from a local science fiction convention in Vancouver–by the women who ran it, not the man who had stalked and harassed me on Twitter, tried to have me fired, etc..

4. Whatever strategy you are personally using to cope with sexism, as a woman, is just that–your current strategy.

No, it’s true that whisper campaigns do not overthrow the system and that you cannot remove misogynists from positions of trust and power without confronting them directly.

But even a whisper is better than nothing, if it saves another woman from pain and harm. And even a whisper can come at significant personal risk and cost.

Your current strategy for dealing with sexism does not define you as a person. There is no wrong way to survive and thrive in a system that is stacked against you, unless you are deliberately throwing other women under the bus.

Take care of you, take care of your friends. On days you have the strength and resources to stand up for others, that is great. But you do not owe the world your life blood, your livelihood or your trauma. When you’re ready to speak, speak louder, whatever–our place is not to judge you, but to support you.

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Extra Life!

Greetings all! 
 
I thought you might be interested in what my team is up to this week. We’re showing off our new board game in development on Twitch TV, and raising money for Children’s Hospitals around the globe. ūüôā
 
We’re going to play-jam The Pit Board Game on Friday and Saturday, November 3 and November 4. So if you’d like to watch the live stream or support the team (or my personal page, with a fundraising goal of $100), I’ll post the links below.
 
Anything you can do to help is great. Money for the hospital is fantastic, but you can also help us out by sharing the links below as widely as possible. We’d like to get people interested in the new game as well. ^_^
 
Thank you all for being awesome, as always. And I wish you all a safe and joyous Halloween.
 
 
 
The Kerberos Team Page: Kerberos on Extra Life
 
Our Twitch Page: Kerberos on Twitch
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The Crap Metaphor

Male Gamedev Logs Into Twitter: Wow. You women sure do have to put up with a lot of crap. I don’t know how you manage.

Female Gamedev: I manage crap with a shovel, same as everyone else.

Male Gamedev: Yeah, I guess so. Sure is a lot of it! Oh well, guess I better get back to work making my art and building my career and my network of support, since there isn’t a mountain of crap in MY way. Good luck with that mountain of crap that you get for being born female! I *REALLY* don’t know how you manage!

Female Gamedev: *picks up the shovel and mutters darkly* Best move along, or you’re going to find out…

___

Here’s some message variants that I am done hearing from “allies”:

“Wow, there sure is a lot of crap…”

“Wow, don’t know how you put up with all this crap.”

“Wow, if I had to put up with all this crap, I would quit.”

“Wow, I sure am glad that I don’t have to deal with this crap.”

If you wake up one morning and see that someone has delivered a mountain of manure to your doorstep so high and deep that it keeps you from leaving the house…?

You have no choice but to deal with it.

No, it doesn’t matter whether you asked for the crap. It doesn’t matter whether you deserve the crap. It doesn’t matter whether you have better things to do than shovel crap.

THE CRAP IS IN YOUR WAY. If you want to get anywhere–to work, to the doctor’s office, to drop your kids off at school–you have to shovel that crap out of your way as quickly as possible.

And when you are bent over in your business suit, sweating as you shovel crap and cursing and weeping as it gets all over your work clothes, the absolute last thing you want to hear is your crap-free neighbor walking out the front door, looking over at your yard, and saying, “Wow, that sure is a lot of crap! I don’t know how you manage! I’d be late to work all the time if I had to deal with all that shite!”

Yes. Funny you should mention it!

You fucking would be late to work all the time. And you’d be late to everything else all the time. And you’d be arriving at work covered with crap all the time. Especially if your neighbors wouldn’t pick up a shovel and help you to clear up the mess.

In short, if you can’t be bothered to pick up a shovel and deal with the crap? Shut your pie-hole. It doesn’t matter whether the crap you see on your neighbor’s doorstep is sexism, racism, transphobia, ableism, whatever….announcing your privilege while you stand by and do nothing is not an endearing habit.

 

 

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They’re Made of Meat

meat01

I’ve been taking an important writing intensive this week, Nisi Shawl and K. Tempest Bradford’s Writing the Other. For the past seven days¬†I’ve been mainly focused on keeping up with the reading and writing/craft exercises, all of which are illuminating and useful, none of which I’m going to share in detail with those who have not taken the course (because it is copyrighted material presented by top-notch instructors and it is so cheap that you should take the course ASAP, if you consider yourself a serious writer of fiction in any medium).

One of the recommended readings for the course is available for reading online, however, and I thought it was worth passing along: “They’re Made of Meat”, by Terry Bisson. This is a classic tale, first published in Omni in 1990, and still relevant today. It’s a masterpiece of comedic SF but it’s also an excellent lesson in SF world-building, in that it demonstrates when and how to use world-building detail in an SF story¬†without destroying the pacing, sandbagging the tale with excessive word count, or losing the thread of the point that the story (and the characters in the story) are trying to make.

As an exercise for people who want to learn the craft at a deeper level, try this: read this story, which is literally 815 words long by my count. Then tell me–how many world-building details can you count?

I counted 102.

Bow before the master, folks.

 

 

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Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

Valerian-and-the-City-of-a-Thousand-Planets-International-Poster-cropped

Went to see Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets today.

Beautiful and visually opulent as expected? Check.

Pretty white kids with a nice switchy rom-com dynamic? Check.

Lots of crazy surreal aliens and starships and guns and tech and space-opera-spy derring do? Check.

 

….

 

….

 

….

 

SPOILERS

 

….

 

….

 

….

 

….

 

And….

 

All the major characters connected to the plot are white?

 

Ten minutes of genuinely agonizing alien character design that looks like the old racist/ableist caricatures from Robert E. Crumb in the 1960’s?

 

And you LITERALLY have a black female-flagged character dying to forward the romantic relationship between two white characters?

 

….sigh…

Check.

 

People can bitch about critics being “over-sensitive” or “over-thinking” things all they like, but I honestly think that blatant racism spoils the fun in a genre like space opera. Especially space opera that’s otherwise suitable for people in their early teens.

Racist caricatures really ruined the Star Wars prequels for me from 1999-2005, to the degree that I couldn’t be bothered to continue watching them after the second one. This movie should not have had to repeat any portion of that mistake, since it’s already been made. Nearly 20 years ago.

On a personal note…yes, I know that nothing created by/for white people is likely to be perfect when it comes to representation. But really blatant, negative racial tropes are increasingly¬†off-putting to a lot of us. Finding them in your space opera is like finding a roach on your wedding cake.

Yeah, I know, you’d just pick it off and eat it if you were hungry enough. Yes, I know that back in the old days, every wedding cake came with a roach, and if you wanted any cake you just removed them¬†or crunched them up and that was that.

¬†But in this modern, highly saturated market for science fiction….is anyone really hungry enough?

Rihanna stars in Luc Besson's " Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets". Photo credit: Daniel Smith ¬© 2016 VALERIAN SAS ‚Äď TF1 FILMS PRODUCTION

Rihanna stars in Luc Besson’s ” Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”.
Photo credit: Daniel Smith
¬© 2016 VALERIAN SAS ‚Äď TF1 FILMS PRODUCTION

P.S. Personal suggestions to make this particular wedding cake more appetizing?

1. Have one of the two commanding officers in the film be any race but white. I don’t care which, the hero or the villain, but give a POC character a major role which is not in “Alien-Face”. Maybe switch the actors who played the Hero and the Hero Who Got Fridged? That would have been clever. Because literally two out of three black characters in a film being pointlessly murdered is kinda crappy.

2. When the race-marked cabaret performer finished her death scene, seemed to collapse into talcum powder, and our Brave and Noble White Adventurers turned away to go save the day…give me another 30 seconds of film to show that the shapeshifter had faked her death to ditch Valerian and the authorities, and be genuinely free. Subvert the trope. That’s all I need.

3.  Ditch the awful character design of the cannibal aliens. Do not murder the cannibal alien emperor, even if he was planning to have White Girl Brains for dinner. And have your character designs reviewed by an adult, please?

 

P.P.S. The original comic actually billed both characters, didn’t it? Valerian and Laureline? Why couldn’t the film do the same, since she’s such a prominent character…? Ennnngh, fuck it, nevermind. Just not so much with the dead black women and Crumb aliens. Ok? Kthanxbye.

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Clarion West News!

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Just posting a quick bit of news for summer and fall. Summer is here, which means that it’s time to raise some money for charity! Once again I will be participating the Clarion West Write-A-Thon, raising funds to help forge the next generation of great science fiction, fantasy and horror writers.

My project this year is a deck of world-building cards for writers of science fiction. Each card will have one or more Writing Prompts, questions that you can answer to get our imagination revved up and your juices flowing. My funding goal is $1000: if I reach it, all of my supporters will get

Graduates from Clarion West are represented in multiple media, including games. The current President of SFWA, Cat Rambo, ¬†and the multiple award-winning author Ann Leckie both graduated in the same year. The CEO of Kerberos Productions and I are both graduates; so is Eric Nylund, who served for many years as the lead writer of the Halo series, and Monte Cook, currently the CEO and Creative Director of Monte Cook games. Jeff Spock, who worked on Ubisoft’s Might and Magic series and Dark Messiah, is a graduate–so is Diana Sherman, who has worked with a number of studios, most notably at¬†Cryptic Studios on Champions On-line, Star Trek On-line, and the Neverwinter roleplaying game.

In short, an investment in Clarion West is an investment in the future of entertainment, on a variety of levels. My campaign for the summer is a little over 20% to its goal; all support is appreciated.

IN OTHER NEWS…

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Speaking of world-building, I will be teaching a one-day intensive on the subject in September!

The Clarion West One-Day Workshops are for serious writers who want to build skills in a certain area of fiction writing. Previous workshops have covered a variety of topics, from craftsmanship to career-building, and this intensive will be no different. For a modest fee, you get a full day of instruction which includes an overview of basic techniques and the opportunity to¬†bring a specific world-building problem to the table. Come spend the day with me in Seattle and let’s fire up the Forge of the Gods and hammer out a setting that your audience will love.

 

 

 

 

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Zootopia (2016)

Zootopia

 

Watched Zootopia for the first time recently, assuming I was about to see a mildly amusing Disney cotton candy story about a plucky rabbit.

Instead I find myself watching a Furry Noir narrative about a naive young cop from a farming town, who comes to the big city and stumbles onto a grim missing persons case which leads her to the heart of a segregated society riven by intersecting boundaries of race and class, and built on a legacy of brutality and violence.

Starring a plucky rabbit.

Spoilers follow. If you don’t want to have the plot twists of a Furry Noir movie ruined for you…go see the movie, and then come back. It won’t take long.

I would agree with critics who say that this film is pretty damned problematic. ¬†The core premise of this film–that racially motivated fear is wholly justified by “biological narratives”–is a serious problem, especially where children are concerned. Speaking from the anthropologist’s perspective, I found those scenes in the “Natural History Museum” and the campaign to dehumanize and blame a minority group using “science” to be fairly on point. This is how it is done, and how it has always been done. And we see why.

I would also agree with those who say that the metaphors of the film are mixed to the point of being unintelligible at times. The primary divide in the Zootopia world is supposed to be Predator-Prey, but the protagonist’s problem is not the fact that she eats carrots–it’s the fact that she’s physically small. The cops that surround her are not all Predators, but they are all large, formidable animals–her chief of police is a¬†Water Buffalo played by Idris Elba.

Technically an elephant or a rhino is a non-predator, but they don’t spend a lot of time hiding in holes or running up trees. I think the issue with the animals on the police force is that they are all coded with the traits of MASCULINITY, not race. And to be honest, a lot of the first half of the film is basically a White Feminist’s narrative about sexism…Officer Hops struggling to prove her competence and her worthiness for equal opportunity for the first half of the film is a feminist narrative. The assistant mayor and Officer Hops are the classic two faces of white feminism: Deliberately Evil Vs. Dangerously Blinded By Privilege.

That being said…Zootopia is most definitely about racism to some degree. It’s also most definitely about class–the foxes are framed as whites from disadvantaged backgrounds repeatedly.¬†All the Fox material in the movie is a “White Trash” narrative about class.

The real issue from my perspective is that the film actually upholds a racist worldview, by framing racism as founded in real biological differences–whereas in reality, racism is an arbitrary political system which has very little to do with DNA. I also agree with the criticism that depicting racism as a personal vice that people choose to indulge or not, while all parties play on a relatively level playing field…is a very bad idea. Everything that fails to address racism as a systemic problem, and frames it as a personal vice, tends to perpetuate racism. That is a given.

There are a few powerful visual metaphors sprinkled throughout the film that I suspect will nag at the back of the mind for children and adults alike, however.

1. The idea that stereotypical negative behavior from people who are marked by marginalizing racial or class stereotypes is coerced, was fairly powerful.

2. So was the idea that stereotypical behaviors can be the result of abusive scripts in childhood. Children do perpetuate these stereotypes in peer-to-peer settings, and “stop doing this” is a good message for them to hear.

I also found it telling that two equally good people could take very different paths based on moments of violence in childhood.

3.¬†The film also puts forward the idea that the message “you can be anything” is a lie, for at least some of the population. And that being framed and stereotyped as a “thug”, “criminal” etc. can be far more potentially damaging than being framed as a victim.

4. The movie tends to suggest the system fails certain people habitually and that it is often built from the ground up for someone other than “the little people”. This message was reinforced often through the use of size as a visual metaphor. The rabbit trying to use equipment and toilets in the police station. The complete absence of a police force in the rodent part of town, and the complete inability of conventional law enforcement to move through that space without destroying the people and the community–even when an outside criminal element has entered that space and poses a serious threat.

Anyway.

Yes. Easy to see why white liberals love the movie. There is a lot going on here, much more than in most films for children.

Unfortunately…the goal here seems to have been to strike a blow for equality and social justice. And every¬†white person who saw this film seems to have been crowing about this movie¬†as if it was a mighty knock-out of a haymaker…

…When all we have here is a harmless rabbit punch.

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Baskin (2015)

Baskin

I watched this extremely disturbing little horror film as part of my research for my horror panels at Norwescon this year. I had a panel on religious horror, and this was a rare opportunity to see a religious horror film that was made from a non-Christian point of view–Baskin was made in Turkey, and its visions of sin and grace were Islamic rather than the usual Catholic or Protestant fare.

The story is fairly simple. A group of Turkish cops who operate out of a single vehicle are ordered to investigate an incident in an isolated village. They roll out in the middle of the night to respond to the call, but wind up in a car accident that dumps their SUV into the river. When they climb out of the wreckage, the situation in the village is still ongoing, and they move in as a unit to check it out.

There isn’t a great deal of plot to spoil here, but if you want to see the film and be surprised by its twists and scares, this would be the place to stop reading…

Spoilers follow:

Overall, I wouldn’t call this a good film. It has a few moments that truly impressed me as awe-inspiring or terrifying, but these are just high points in a movie that’s otherwise pretty banal or dumb.

The strongest writing of the film is in the characterization of the cops, their banter and their various personal agendas and flaws. There’s one¬†haunting and somehow charming scene of these brutal men singing along to a pop song on the radio as they ride through the dark, snapping their fingers and dancing in their seats. They know every word of the lyrics, a teenage anthem of defiance against the authorities that keep you from meeting your lover after curfew–including the cops.

There is a scene where the youngest of the cops is drowning in a black river at night, and we get a really beautifully shot side view of him sinking into the deep water. What pulls him out of the situation is literally the Hand of God–a massive ethereal hand that lifts him up to air and safety. It’s quite a beautiful and exalting image, and a great special effect. I thought it captured very well how the faithful see the world.

The ending of the film places all of our heroes at the gates of hell, to be tortured by demonic forces/witches. The sequence is long and exploits all of the anxieties of the intended Turkish audience, particularly the sexual fears–there is some heavily taboo material here, including torture and mutilation, and some forced sex fantasies that are extremely kinky and disturbing.

What struck me most about this sequence, however, was the way the demonic witch cult¬†was modeled on a Christian ceremony, with the male leader of the congregation presiding over the sacrifices. They picked an amazing actor for the role, Mehmet Cerrahoglu–to my knowledge this was¬†his first film, although surely not his last. According to the Wikipedia article, Cerrahoglu suffers from a “rare skin condition” which gives him his remarkable appearance…his appearance has not been altered for the film, and he looks genuinely misshapen and inhuman in these scenes. The contrast between his grotesque appearance and ultra-violent sadism and¬†his beautiful voice and gentle tone is a great source of dissonance.

Overall, this movie has a quirky little place in the catalog of any completist who collects religious horror films or sexualized gore films. Not my usual cuppa tea, but I was glad I saw it.

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It Follows (2014)

It-Follows-Movie-Poster

My usual Friday night werewolvery was canceled in May, so I stayed in one night to make myself a super fancy dinner and watch a horror movie on Netflix.

“It Follows” was…okay. The monster was a disturbing symbol of shame, sexual and body shame in particular, which has very little power over me, so I didn’t get as much voltage out of the premise as some people do.¬†It has its moments. It’s a more honest and meaningful comment on how you get hurt through sexual contact than the usual slasher nonsense–I’ll certainly give it that.

I did enjoy all the forms the curse took, particularly in the rare cases that it took on the form of someone familiar to the victim. (You definitely don’t want “Geez Mom, cover your boob” to be your last words. I’m just sayin’.)

I think the thing that struck me most was that the film actually visits the idea of fully informed consent and the difference between a) partners who manipulate you and betray your trust, for whom sex is a means of escape or transference b) partners who like you well enough as a friend, and are happy enough to have NSA sex with you, but don’t really take you seriously c) partners and friends who listen, who are deeply invested in your well being, who believe you completely when you report a consent violation, and who are willing to help you help yourself when you need it.¬†The protagonist’s support network and how they tried to help throughout the film was very interesting.

But yes. The film is very negative in some ways. Not about sex per se, but about being vulnerable with people you don’t know well enough to have vetted properly. A lot of sexual assault survivors would probably find the first act of that film upsetting. Especially if the assault they suffered was a date rape.

I would agree that any movie in which the impulse to have sex for pleasure leads to death is fundamentally sex negative. But I’ll admit that I was personally more comfortable with a horror movie which seems to be more about trauma, shame, or STI’s¬†than about teenagers being ripped apart by some Embodiment of Patriarchal Morality.

I’m going to discuss some later details of the film in the rest of this post. I’ll assume that you’ve already seen the film or that you have no intention of seeing it in its entirety if you read past this point.

So…spoilers:

For me, horror movies are very much about sitting with intense and sometimes uncomfortable emotions in a limited dose, in a setting I can control. I’m in favor of saying “no” at any point during the experience. This film made me uncomfortable, for a number of reasons. Not so uncomfortable that I had to tap out, but still uncomfortable.

There is a lot of sexism in the sex scenes, and a lot of patriarchal and heteronormative concepts of how “sex” is defined and when “sex” has been accomplished between two people. That’s always uncomfortable stuff. I was raised with some of these prejudices,¬†and they do get deeply internalized.

It’s also not a very flattering portrait of young male sexuality, for certain. Again, that’s uncomfortable. Trust, tenderness and empathy for men and male sexuality is in short supply, in my culture.

I would also add that all the different forms the monster takes, including the occasional form which has an extremely taboo connotation or a fetishistic overtone, were also sometimes super uncomfortable.

That being said, I am also interested in the things that are portrayed as “positives” in horror movies. In this case, a supportive group of female friends. And a male friend who is able to subordinate his sexual agenda to the protagonist’s trauma and swing a chair or fire a gun at an enemy he cannot see.

The most positive male character in the film has not experienced the monster at the same level that the protagonist has, but he can see its effects on her and he takes that leap of faith. He thinks and acts as if her story is absolutely true, the monster is real, and proceeds on that assumption.

I think that symbolism had some value.

There is a lot of stuff to unpack with this movie, and more than one way to look at it.¬†I’ve included a couple of links to well-written essays. One is simply about how women are disbelieved and made unsafe in horror films. The other is about “It Follows” as a metaphor for the hyper-vigilance that survivors of sexual assault experience as a symptom of their PTSD.

The Peril of Being Disbelieved: Horror and the Intuition of Women

 

‘It Follows’ is Not About STDs. It‚Äôs About Life As a Sexual Assault Survivor.

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