Last night, I finished the first draft of my maintenancepunk novel – which is like cyberpunk, except you spend way more time troubleshooting device conflicts and field-stripping your cyberlimbs.
I’m looking for about seven to ten people to beta-read for me and give me feedback. (Why seven to ten? Because I’d like four to five people, and generally I find that you hit about 60% on getting beta readers to get back to you in time.)
I’m giving special preference this time to military folks and gun nuts, because this is a novel written by a pansy-ass civilian about a veteran in future combat, and I am positive I’ve gotten the details laughably wrong.
Now. If you’re saying “Let me do it, I’m really good at proofreading,” alas, I shall pass. Assuming I sell it to a publisher, we’ll have professional copyeditors and proofreaders sniffing this sucker like a hound dog. Flagging misspelled words and grammatical errors is a distraction from the overall point of “Did this book deliver an emotional cyberpunch?”
No, what I want are the sorts of people who can explain four separate things, each cogently:
• The things that confuse you (“Why would $character do that?” or “Wait, cyberlimbs shouldn’t be able to do that?”)
• The things that throw you out of the story (“Character wouldn’t do THAT!” or “Factually, that’s so wrong!”)
• The things that give you ass-creep (“I got bored here”)
• All the things that make you pump the fist (“This moment was truly awesome, and unless I tell you how awesome it is, you might cut this part out in edits”)
So if you think you can do all that in five weeks, do me a favor and email me at email@example.com with the header “FERRETT, I WOULD LIKE TO BETA-READ YOUR MAINTENANCEPUNK.” This service comes with the great reward of being name-checked in the acknowledgements, if this eventually sells. I may get filled up on people, but if I do, I’ll put you on the list for the next revision, if there is one – I’ll need to give this one two more drafts in the next four months.
(And if you have beta-read for me before and are asking, “Ferrett, why didn’t you ask me directly?”, kindly remember that I am shy and dislike bothering people. If you’ve got the time and want to volunteer for another go-round, pitch in!)
(Also note: I’ve not been blogging much on my main blog because, well, I’m still deciding what to do about LiveJournal’s recent TOS change, and moving away from LJ involves some technical preparation I hain’t had time for. If you’re on LJ, well, consider bookmarking my main site.)
From a gameplay perspective, every one of Mass Effect’s missions is cut-and-copied:
- You travel to a location where:
- You fight a group of alien beings, OR:
- You search for a place where you can press a button.
If you’re super-lucky, sometimes you combine the two! You press a button, and then fight people! Or when the fighting is done, you get to look for a button!
The excitement never ends in Mass Effect.
The only thing that stops Mass Effect from being endlessly repetitive is the narrative wrapper. Quite literally, “story” is the sole difference between missions – and, largely, it works. Because let’s say the three missions are:
- An innocent girl has wandered out into the desert and been kidnapped by slavers.
- An evil scientist is formulating a new plague, and you must track him down to his lab to stop him.
- Mysterious monsters have awakened and are threatening a small frontier town.
All three of those missions are perfectly identical gamewise – you go to a set location and kill alien beings. Yet the feel for each of them is subtly different solely because of who you talked to in order to get the mission!
Furthermore, your emotional reward is often skewed by the mission. Let’s say that you chose “an innocent girl has been kidnapped by slavers” mission. You find out when you get there that the slavers have turned her into a monstrous techno-beast, and you must kill her. From a gameplay perspective, hey, you fought another monster and got your XP for finishing the mission. It’s the exact same procedure as every other mission. But chances are you now feel bad. Maybe you’re more willing to take on missions destroying these slavers.
What fascinates me is that how these games become pure storytelling. They are literally the most inexpensive way of making the game better! I mean, BioWare could have spent money on setpiece battles – places where you’re battling on a plummeting airbase, or the rain makes visibility dim and the ground slippery, or created unique enemies for each location.
Yet instead, they resorted to a trick literally as old as cavemen. We used to sit around fires and, with nothing more than a voice, tell crazy stories about the gods. Story is the cheapest entertainment we have, because our imaginations will fill in so many details.
And BioWare, in a cost-saving mechanism, uses story to make the same “go here, kill things” quest into a hundred different emotional shades. Because sometimes you’re going there to kill things because your friend is in trouble. Sometimes you’re going there to kill things to get to the treasure. Sometimes you’re going there to kill things for revenge against those evil slavers.
Without that story, nobody would play Mass Effect. Other games that focus more on gameplay do the actual gaming better – I’m told that Overwatch has practically no story, but Blizzard has focused on making the game deep and rewarding for those who invest hours into it. Not so with Mass Effect, alas; I’m now a 57th-level tech, and I’ve been using the same three powers to sleepwalk my way through battles for at least 30 levels. (Overload, Incinerate, Remnant VI.) There is zero need to change up my tactics, or indeed, to learn any new ones.
And let’s be honest: Mass Effect Andromeda is one of the weakest BioWare games because you don’t even get to make any choices that matter to the story. In previous Dragon Age and Mass Effect games, you could make decisions that alienated your teammates to the point where some of them would no longer work with you. Your decisions determined who among your companions lived or died, and who ruled which empire, and which species survived. ME:A, alas, has minimized that influence to the point where literally everything you say to your companions will make them love you more – if you’re snarky, they love snark! If you’re a romantic adventurer, they love adventuring! There’s now no decisions that will lead to you being unloved by all (which is, I think, why Mass Effect 2 is BioWare’s high point).
But even stripped of choice within the larger story setting, I play these repetitive missions because, well, BioWare’s always got a new story twist to make me go, “Okay, what happens?” As does Bethesda. I think the reason I’m drawn to these games is because essentially, you take away the story and there is no game worth playing.
Every mission has me as a writer going, “Oh. That’s another spin you can put on an identical set of events.” Mass Effect is all about shading, all about nuance, all about that wrapper we put on the same old grind to liven it up.
Stripped bare, Mass Effect: Andromeda might not be a good game. But it’s a good example of the power of storytelling. And while I wish we had a new BioWare game that combined the two effectively, it’s proof that tons of people will prioritize storytelling over game play any day.
After I presented at Kinky Kollege a weekend ago, I had some people asking for my class notes on my presentations. I’m a little leery on that, because my notes are sketchy – they’re not detailed notes, more like waypoints to remind me to hit all the topics I wanted to cover.
However, a lot of these cryptic class notes are referencing essays I’ve written in the past – and so I went through and linked to those essays, so you can read more in-depth if you’d like. This isn’t quite the in-depth seminar experience I give when I’m yammering before a crowd – but if you’re looking for a cluster of Ferrett-thoughts on a topic, well, here they are.
Jealousy Is Not A Crime: Troubleshooting Broken Polyamory
If you’re dating multiple people, bumps will occur, sure as death and taxes. The question is, how do you figure out what’s wrong… and how do you repair the faults so that you emerge stronger and saner? Kinktastic writer Ferrett Steinmetz will lead a discussion about how to fight fairly, how to be respectful to all the people in your poly web, and tout the merits of a solid set of dealbreakers.
You Don’t Perform Surgery With A Butter Knife: Holding Safe, Sane Breakups
One thing’s guaranteed in every poly community: eventually, you’re going to run into your exes. And as such, learning how to break up responsibly becomes of paramount importance – you don’t have to adore them any more, but you should be able to at least function in the same spaces. So how do you call it off with a minimum of drama, even when people are trashing you in public?
As a reminder, in addition to these I also teach the following classes:
- How to Fight Fairly
- Ten Perilous Poly Patterns
- Wet With Words: Writing Erotica
- Burninating the Peasants: Fireplay 101
If you’d like me to teach at your event, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org – I usually ask for travel/hotel fees, and a small stipend. But if my schedule’s free, I’m happy to come teach wherever I’m wanted.
I’m my wife’s secondary relationship, even though we’ve been happily married for almost twenty years. And it’s been that way since Day One, when she said to me:
“Look, Ferrett Steinmetz, I love you with all my heart. But if there’s a house fire and I can rescue either you or my daughters from the flames, there will be Ferrett Flambé.”
And that is the truth of our marriage: her kids come first. Which I’m fine with; even though I’m technically their stepfather, they’re my kids too. I’m very content to be secondary, which means there’s been any number of times the kids have been prioritized.
But here’s the trick:
“Secondary” does not mean “Continually overshadowed.”
Just because the kids’ needs come first does not mean that I am expected to have no needs. My wife juggles. If, on a scale of one to ten, I am having an absolute meltdown day of a 9 when our eldest is having a pretty poor day of a 6, she’ll do triage on our kid and then come and comfort me. Likewise, if our youngest is having a horrible 8 day and I’m having a mildly depressive 4, she’ll still make time for a hug or two before heading out.
Because “secondary” does not mean “dispensable.”
Yes, technically speaking, if there is a flat-out conflict between my daughters’ needs and mine, I will lose. But the trick is that my wife does absolutely everything she can to ensure that direct conflict never happens. She advocates for both the kids’ needs and also mine. She negotiates with all three of us to see if there’s some happy medium we can all reach, asking whether this might be a “want” and not an actual “need.” And when an argument breaks out, she serves as mediator and not arbiter.
Which is why, in almost twenty years of marriage, there’s been no dealbreaking conflicts. Life is not a television drama, and moments of absolute need (the “10” on the one to ten scale) are rare for any actual functioning human being, let alone for two human beings to be in absolute crisis at the same time.
Which is why I hate it when I see the term “secondary” used in polyamory to indicate an auto-lose situation – sorry, I know you want me to be with you at your mother’s funeral, but my husband needs help washing the car.
The truth is that a secondary’s important needs should sometimes take priority over your so-called primary’s sorta-wanna needs. “Being secondary” should not be an excuse to blow someone off, just as “being primary” should not be an excuse to become a tyrant. The job of a functional relationship should be to balance needs to make as many people happy as possible, not to cut off emotional support when it becomes inconvenient for the “primary” people.
I’m okay with being secondary to my wife because I trust she’ll be there for me when I need her most of the time. I’m not “someone who’s important to her as long as the kids don’t yell too loud,” I’m someone she advocates for and defends when I need it and also, yeah, if the kids are in a bad place she’ll be there but she also elbows space to make room for me.
It’s a good space.
I wish I could say the same for a lot of secondary relationships.
My corner of Twitter has been talking about women, typing books.
Not their books.
Their husbands’ books. Often when they’ve also just had a child, and also had an academic position (sometimes at the same damn college), they were expected to type up their husbands’ notes into manuscripts as well. Because, well, that’s what wives did back then: clerical work.
Which has sparked a discussion among my writer-buddies about how often, the wife is expected to do the housework and take care of the kids if she’s a professional writer – there’s a fair number of working examples of that in the field – whereas if the man becomes a Writer, the default is that he is cleared space to Do Important Writing.
This is actually true in our house.
Basically, for about two hours a night, I head downstairs to the word mines. My wife does more of the cleaning because it’s understood that I am trying to make a career out of this, and so she takes on a disproportionate brunt of the housework. She runs more errands, because she has more free time. She cooks the meals so I can get three hours in if I have to. And my God, does that poor woman have to endure me yammering on about how this plot point doesn’t make sense, I’ve written myself into a corner, what do I do, let’s go for a walk and try to hash this out?
My wife works a lot more to support me at being a writer. That’s just how it is. We didn’t discuss it, we just settled into that mode.
When she was going to law school and working full-time, I did all the cooking. (In fact, I taught myself to cook nice meals to make things easier on her, but that’s a separate story.) I did more errands back then, because I had more free time. Looking back at our history, if something’s been important to either of us, we’ve made the necessary sacrifices to try to make it happen for each other.
And if I weren’t conversant with how privilege ought to work in the field, I would scoff loudly and go, “See? There’s no privilege here! Look, we are equals, pass by, we have done it correctly!”
But the truth is that the fundamental nature of understanding privilege – in this case, the male privilege of “Men’s work is generally considered important, women’s work is generally considered less so” – is that you’re not supposed to flog yourself with guilt for it.
You’re supposed to use it as a corrective lens to consider.
Because the deeper truth is that one of the reasons our household works is because I am, in fact, aware of traditional gender roles, and I am aware that I’m leaning on Gini heavily to make my writing career easier. If I see a mess lying around the house, I go, “I’ve been acculturated to let women handle that, but I should really take care of that for her if I have the time, just to make things fair.” I make sure to thank her profusely for sorting my pills and doing the laundry.
I don’t lean on privilege – I interrogate it. Is what I’m doing actually fair, or just a decision I’ve sleepwalked through? If it’s not that fair, what can I do to even the scales?
And in this case, the personal scales are “We both make time for each other’s dreams.” That’s a healthy dynamic. But underlying that is a quietly sexist assumption of “The wife does the housework” that could actually undermine that healthiness, if I didn’t work to combat it.
That’s what privilege should be, if you could acknowledge its existence. Privilege often winds up being a club because folks don’t want to admit that any portion of their good luck might have come from millions of people lining up and quietly deciding you randomly benefited…
….Because my wife has “assumed she’ll do the housework” as one of the minor dings of being woman, but she also benefits from being born white. Privilege isn’t The One Benefit To Rule Them All, as it often gets argued by mooks, it’s a complicated intersection of identities, some of which are helpful, others are not. Privilege often gets dumbed down a game of playing Identity Uno, in which everyone’s trying to score the most points instead of working to see who can learn the most.
As I’ve mentioned before, I had a lot of privileges in being able to publish my first novel by being physically healthy, by having solidly middle-class background that helped get me a desk job so I had time to write, by having the wealth to attend the writers’ workshop that unlocked the stall I was in.
None of that takes away from my relentless work ethic, or the mental illness that makes it harder to write. It’s just something I consider as I write: Wow, I benefited from that. Is that something everyone gets? If not, is there something I can do to make it easier for those people?
(Hint: Even if you can do nothing else, acknowledging “Wow, that’s hard for you” usually helps people by letting them know they’re not deluded for seeing a division in circumstances.)
In my case, there’s covert sexism threaded through my marriage. We work to examine that, to pluck out the threads and sew those gaps up with healthier patterns. If I didn’t, I’d probably just quietly go, “Yeah, that’s what she does, she’s a good wife” whenever Gini picked up my slack, and Gini would actually be more overworked, and our marriage would suck a lot harder because I’d be bellowing at someone in an online forum that I don’t ask my wife to type, I worked hard for my novels, I don’t have any privilege.
I have privilege.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing if I use that privilege to examine why I’m privileged, and to make my world as fair as possible.
That’s what it should be for, in an ideal world.
1) Pokemon Nails!
It’s been a couple of months since I updated my Pretty Pretty Princess Nail Gallery, where you can see a visual history of my fabulous nail designs – but this week Ashley damn near killed herself to do Pokemon nails for me. She had to redraw Jigglypuff like four times, and now hates Jigglypuff. But the nails came out great!
2) Fix On Audiobook!
For you fine audiophiles, the final book in my ‘Mancer series is finally available as an audiobook on Audible! For a mere $14.99, you can listen to weaponized paperwork magic, a battle at the heart of a dying Europe, the struggle of a brainwashed daughter, and also – as always – testimonies to the goodness of donuts!
(EDIT: And apparently, if you bought Fix through Amazon, you can get the audio upgrade for a mere $3.49. Nice.)
Also, I hesitate to mention again, but my upcoming book The Uploaded is available for pre-order, and pre-ordering super-helps authors. I’m also stoked about it because for the first time, the copyeditor made an alphabetized list of all the proper names and terms used in the book to keep everything consistent, and the lists make this book sound even weirder than it is.
3) Me In A Story!
So I was complaining to my friend Alex Shvartsman (a name old Magic fans may recognize as a former pro from Magic’s Grand Prix circuit) that nobody tuckerizes a guy with a name like “Ferrett.” I mean, my books are rife with names of real-life people I’ve slipped into there as minor characters, ranging from Ken Liu to an appropriately gender-swapped Ann Leckie to Sean Patrick Kelly and other buddies… but it’s hard to put in a guy with a name like “Ferrett” and not have it stand out.
“I’ll do it,” Alex said. “I like a challenge.”
So he wrote me into a science-fiction golfing story. Seriously.
And I thought, “Wow, that’s great,” but then Alex had to sell the story. And who would buy a story about science-fiction golfing with a guy named Ferrett as a side character?
The question I should have been asking is, “Can Alex sell that story?” And you bet your buns he can! He even sold it at pro rates, damn his talented soul! And so if you want to read that tale – and why wouldn’t you? – it’s currently free to read for the next five weeks or so.
Thank you, Alex. Seriously. It’s nice to see my name in print.
I can see where it’s getting the “meh” reviews.
Because I love the backstory of the new Mass Effect. It’s a great sci-fi story with a lot of room to maneuver, classic space opera – and it feels big.
I just don’t see how I connect with it.
Like, as an example: an early mission has you scanning walls to find enough evidence to stop a saboteur – your standard “Find the foozle” quest, wrapped in a story to make it compelling. And you scan enough evidence, and the trail leads you to your saboteur.
Except the game says, “Wait! That’s not the saboteur! The real saboteur is trying to frame these two people!”
Which is a great twist, if I the player had any decision in that process. If there had been some evidence I could have overlooked where I might have accidentally jailed an innocent person, thus having to make the hard decision of putting away someone who claims they didn’t do it, that would be dramatic! Maybe I could do the wrong thing by mistake! But literally your AI buddy kicks in to go “WHOAH, NOPE, YOU GOT MORE WORK TO DO.”
And so the tension is defanged.
Then you find the real saboteur, who is mildly angry about how the previous administration did his family wrong. But again, the game doesn’t ask you to take sides – the guy doesn’t even tell you what the new administration did except in really abstract terms. And you don’t even get a chance to let him go, or try to talk him out of his deadly saboteur nature, as far as I can tell from the dialogue options – either way, he’s meekly caught, even though you’re just one dude and you didn’t bring any security and I guess the game didn’t feel like ending this mission with a chase or a battle or a dramatic emotional decision or anything.
So my reaction at the end is, “Uh, well, I guess some people are angry at the government.” But I don’t feel it. I’m not invested in any of these schmucks because while it’s a great story, Mass Effect seems to have forgotten to add the decision points that get me involved.
I could have jailed the wrong person, thus getting mad at those fiendish saboteurs.
I could have been asked to side with the saboteur thanks to the righteousness of his cause.
I could have been presented with a chase sequence to stop some suicidal madman.
But instead, I got railroaded along a series of decisions that weren’t actually decisions. And if Mark Rosewater has taught me anything, games are about interesting choices. If I ask you, “So do you want this magical wand of destruction at to fight with, or this stubby pencil?”, that decision is automatic for everyone but the people who want to make it purposely hard.
“Do you want to continue this quest or not?” is not an interesting decision.
The decisions in Mass Effect thus far aren’t interesting. The story is interesting, on a meta level. But I am not given an access point so I personally am invested in what happens.
I mean, it’s still fun. I like levelling up. But if these guys want me to care more, they need to have less people telling me, “Oh, here’s a gout of backstory” and more of me making emotional decisions based on that backstory. And until now, there’s a whole lot of people telling me how they feel and very little of me deciding how I should feel.