Ten Days Of Counting Every Calorie

Food is one of the hardest addictions to quit, because there’s no way to go cold turkey. (Mmmm, turkey.)  Even if you manage to remove, you know, food from the equation – which I tried to do with tasteless-yet-nutritious food replacement Soylent as a test – you walk into a world that’s literally advertising all the goodness of food on every corner.  New strains of food are being made every day, with commercials exhorting you to taste everything. Serving sizes have swollen to vast proportions.

Scant wonder so much of America is fat.

Now, I don’t mind “fat and healthy” – which is, actually, a thing, as I’ve known 250-pound women who regularly run triathalons.  But for Mister Former Triple-Bypass, any extra weight is risking death.  And I’ve been creeping up the scale over the past year, and though I’ve amped my exercise looking in the mirror is still an unpleasant process.

So for my health and my self-esteem, I’m trying some new approaches – with technology!

And for the past ten days, I’ve logged every calorie I eat in into myFitnessPal, which is…. surprisingly enlightening.

The thing I like about myFitnessPal is that it makes it super-easy to track my goals.  I tell it I want to lose a pound a week, and it tells me how many calories I have.  It logs into my iPhone and counts my iPhone steps, and adds those calories to my daily total.  I can scan in foods by their bar code, pretty much every major restaurant chain is included, and I haven’t been able to find a food that’s stumped it yet.

The main benefit, as it turns out, is not counting calories.

The main benefit is tying “food” to “exercise.”

Because I don’t much like having only 2,000 calories to eat a day, but I can up that by taking the dog for a walk or getting on the elliptical.  I frickin’ hate exercise, always have, always will – and don’t tell me “it’s just finding the right exercise,” because what I hate is that sweaty tired feeling – but doing it so I can have an extra glass of milk in the evening incentivizes me to get off my ass.

(And carry my iPhone everywhere so I don’t miss a step.  Every step could be food.)

The other aspect, which I did predict, is that seeing how much of my day is consumed by snacks forces me to consider whether I actually want to eat it or not.  My mother counted calories back in the day, but that was in the 1980s when you had to carry a book around with you, and look things up, and guess a lot because the book was in tiny print and still didn’t cover all the food (also see: America having food everywhere), and then write everything down in another book to do math.

Counting calories now is as trivial as it’s going to get, for the time being.  (There’s talk of an app which can calculate calories by your Instagram snapshots, but that’s not gonna work well for years.)

And being so easy makes you be honest.  I was at Jersey Mike’s the other day, and I saw those little chocolate chip cookies.  They’re tiny, and delicious.  They’re also 190 calories apiece.  But 190 calories doesn’t seem like much, except when you have the math right there to put in three of them and see that it’s basically a quarter of my allotment for the day, and would I enjoy them that much?

Which isn’t to say that I don’t.  I love chocolate milk. A big glass of chocolate milk is like 630 calories, a huge proportion.  But I fucking love it, so some days I have all that milk and am shameless.  But I’m doing so consciously.

But the end result is that I’m forced to consider, which is good.  Being thoughtful about food is good for heart patients, even if it’s not fun.

And I don’t know whether I want to do this long-term.  In September, I know that I’ll be going on a big ol’ book tour soon – visiting Seattle, Portland, San Diego, and San Francisco, all foodie places – and visiting their finest donut shops.

Will I be able to splurge on my vacation and put that shit in the myFitnessPal?

Can I look my own unhealthy happiness in the eye and enjoy it?

And honestly, I believe that you deserve to go nuts every once in a while.  I want a Voodoo Donut when I visit Portland, and I don’t mind if I don’t lose my pound that week, but I’m not sure I can enjoy a Voodoo Donut knowing that one of them is literally a third of everything I’m supposed to eat that day.

That’s the horse you fall off of.  Sometimes, there’s this hard conflict between “The enjoyment I seek” and “The restrictions I’m under,” and it’s really hard to enjoy yourself on lockdown.  Part of the reason some alcoholics go off the wagon is not that they can’t have a single drink and stick to that, but they want to have the enjoyment of not worrying about their inebriation level all the goddamned time.  And so they go on benders because why the hell would you give yourself an evening where you’re luxuriously not counting beers and not pound ’em down?

So I suspect that myFitnessPal will become like my exercise – something I do for periods of time and better myself, then stop it and be shamed, and then start it up again.  And it’s not as good as exercising and calorie-counting all the time, but it’s better than never doing it, so you wind up with a net benefit even if the net benefit isn’t full-throttle.

But for right now, I had a glass of orange juice.  It’s full of Vitamin C, myFitnessPal tells me, and it was also 143 calories.  I can burn it off with a walk around the block for 167 calories.  Which isn’t even a full Pop Tart.

But combine it with the possibility of hatching a Lickitung in Pokemon Go, and it just might be worth hauling my fat ass out the door.

My Book Tour Announced! I’m Coming To SF, Seattle, San Diego, And Portland!

In four weeks, Angry Robot will release the final book in my ‘Mancer series, Fix.  And then, just like I did for the first book, I’m going on tour!

And as usual, when I go on tour, I will not only provide a dramatic reading, but I will also provide you with donuts (because a key plot point in Fix revolves around the choice of a proper donut), and will go out afterwards for drinks with as many of you as care to hang with me!

Last tour was an absolute hoot, and the joy of the tour was introducing my online friends to other friends and watching new and interesting alliances burble out afterwards.  (There have even been a few scandalous hookups.  God bless you people.)

If you’re planning to go, I’d kindly request that you a) say “Yes, I’m going” on Facebook, and b) Invite your local friends who you think would be interested.  Because honestly, I have no idea where any of you people live.  And Facebook said, “Hey, a Seattle event!  Would you like to invite your friends?” and I had zero idea who lived in Seattle except for Amy Sundberg, who I only remembered lived there because she just moved there.  My geography is weak, so if y’all could cover for me by clicking the city link and then inviting interested local folks, that’d be greeeeeeat – I don’t mind people knowing and not attending, but I do mind people who’d want to attend but didn’t know because I am a doof.)

So!  If you’d like to meet a Ferrett, here’s where I’ll be:

Tuesday, September 6th.
Loganberry Books, 7:00 pm.
13015 Larchmere Blvd, Shaker Heights, OH 44120-1147, United States

Saturday, September 17th.
Borderlands Books, 3 p.m.
866 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110-1739, United States

Friday, September 23rd.
Mysterious Galaxy, 7:30 p.m.
5943 Balboa Ave Suite 100 San Diego, CA 92111
(With special co-reader J. Patrick Black, author of Ninth City Burning!)

Tuesday, September 27th.
Powell’s Books, 7 p.m.
3415 sw cedar hills blvd / beaverton, or 97005
(With special co-reader K.C. Alexander, author of cyberpunk thriller Necrotech!)

Thursday, September 29th.
University Of Washington Bookstore, 7 p.m.
4326 University Way NE, Seattle, Washington 98105

There may also be one or two dates to drop for the East Coast and/or Michigan, but those are taking a little longer to fit together. Remember, this is all taking place on my dime, so as much as I’d love to travel to Australia or Abu Dhabi or Texas, me being everywhere just isn’t possible.  (Thanks much to Mike Underwood and Penny Reeve at Angry Robot for making this all possible.)

But you can encourage me to come back by showing up at the signings, if you can! I’ll sign whatever you put in front of me, assuming it is legally permissible to display it in a bookstore.



Maybe The Biggest Problem In America: Bad Economic Measurements

Here’s one of the huge problems I see driving the rise of Trump and Bernie Sanders: our economic measurements have almost nothing to do with how my checkout clerk at Target is doing.

Like, it’s great to have the S&P 500 to tell me how corporations are doing, but Google can be making a fortune and that only really affects people who own stocks.  Which, with 401ks and such, is more people than you’d think – but even then, what happens to people’s 401ks, which sane people don’t touch except in times of emergency or great opportunity, has little to do with their bills this month.

The GDP, likewise, tracks large-scale levels of motion – which has an ill-defined affect on how many people are employed, but it doesn’t say what kinds of jobs they have or their potential for forward motion or their monthly expenses.  The job creation indexes would be just as happy if I got fired from my skilled programming job and had to take the minimum-wage pay of a checkout clerk.  The unemployment index doesn’t count people who’ve given up looking for work because there’s no jobs to be found, though admittedly tracking the inactive is a hell of a task.

The statistics the government uses to set policy, in short, have zero to do with how well Mabel the Target checkout clerk is doing.  That’s why Bernie and Trump have gotten so much traction – what’s good for corporations is often not good for blue-collar Americans, yet everything we have is aimed at corporations.

In a sane world, we’d have some sort of “quality of life” factor for people who don’t have college degrees, or who work nonsalaried jobs – a very finely detailed combination of reports on average debt, average rent/housing expenses, average medical care, average income, so we could have one number that says, “If you’re forced to work down in the trenches, here’s how fucked you are.”

Assuming that quality-of-life measurement was widely touted enough, politicians would be incentivized to use that number as part of the calculations they do to set policy.  And things would get better for Mabel.

But we won’t do that, because then we’d have to admit how crappy things have gotten for Middle America.  Hell, we voters can’t even bring ourselves to acknowledge that Middle America has shrunk to the point of emaciation, and the politicians on either side don’t want to create an index that makes it starkly apparent how much of America they’ve just given up on.  And even if we got it, chances are good that every department that fed numbers into that ultimate report would skew them as pleasantly as they could.

I understand why we won’t get it.

That doesn’t stop me from dreaming of wanting it.

Understanding Trump: An Imperfect Guide From A Stunned Liberal

I’m not going to claim to understand all of Trump, because frankly, Trump’s nomination is the culmination of hundreds of intersecting cultural trends.  Anyone who claims to have a simple answer for Trump’s appeal and his rise to power and his history is lying as badly as, well, Trump.

But I have figured out a few things.

Trump’s Not A Good Liar.  America Wants To Believe Rich People.
The slightest fact-checking would tell you that Trump has always lied to the press, often when he didn’t need to, often in ways that are trivially verified.  I grew up in the shadow of New York City, so I’ve been watching Trump get away with flagrant and fragrant whoppers almost all my life.

Trump is an awful goddamned liar.  I’ve seen five-year-olds who lie better than he does.  You want to watch a good liar, watch Bill Clinton – his speech of “I did not have sex with that woman” was impassioned, believable, precise in what undeniable truths it left out, and took hard-dug evidence to contradict him.  That’s how you lie convincingly, folks.

But the horror show of America is that Trump doesn’t need talent.

We’re so in love with wealth that we assume anyone with money is telling the truth.

Trump’s always been a consummate bullshit artist, but he’s always had fans because he was born wealthy, and Americans are desperate to believe that wealth is the sign of talent and hard work.  (And, conversely, poverty is the sign of indolence and incompetence.)  To much of America, “having lots of money” means “You made smart decisions, so we should listen to you.”

Thankfully, I grew up Connecticut among trust fund kids, so I am deadened to that lie.  I’ve seen dumb, lazy kids given millions and still wind up with hundreds of thousands.  Being rich and well-connected means you can make catastrophic fuckups that would get other people jailed or bankrupted, and come out with more than most people have.

Now, some people have worked hard for their money and made wise decisions.  I support those guys.  But America’s inability to distinguish between “earned wealth” and “luck wealth” means that all millionaires are essentially self-made Gods to many, these greater-than-human people who don’t err.

People don’t fact-check Trump because that would break the illusion.  They need Trump to be someone who tells the truth, because otherwise millionaires might be fallible human beings, and deep inside they burn for the day when they become wealthy and perfect and inevitable.

We subsidize patently awful lies to keep this illusion going.  Which is why Trump has gotten away with it all along.

Part Of Why You’re Hearing Trump’s Flaws Is Because The Machine Is Turning On Him.  
I posted this Tweet this morning about how Trump asked, repeatedly, during a national security briefing, “…why can’t we use nuclear weapons?”


Note that this unsourced accusation is from Morning Joe, a conservative talk show.  A talk show that, several months ago, was vaguely pro-Trump.

Note how he said this meeting happened “several months ago,” and yet somehow he’s only bringing this topic up now.

I’m not necessarily saying that the accusation is a lie.  In fact, I suspect it’s absolutely true.  (But that’s my anti-Trump bias showing.)

What I am saying is that the conservative party has always held a tight focus in what their journalists have been allowed to say, and Morning Joe would have lost viewers, support, guest access, and support had he allowed this to be spoken on his show when Donald Trump was in favor with the Powers That Be.

I’ve said that you have to keep in mind that the leaks you got about Hillary the DNC was orchestrated by Putin to affect the election.  You can get mad – because what happened there was suuuuuuper shitty – but also keep in mind that someone is purposely magnifying Hillary’s flaws to make her seem unelectable, and keep your outrage, if not checked, at least within a firm context that it’s part of a smear campaign.

Likewise, I loathe Trump, but a lot of the things that are being said by conservatives are things that are allowed to be said now, because key figures to conservative media have finally decided it’s okay to take a potshot at Trump to keep the party together.

Get mad.  But also remember that Trump hasn’t changed; what’s changed is the opinion of the guys who hold the reins on people like Morning Joe.  And you should be asking yourself, “Hmm, I wonder what stories from other Presidential candidates who sucked up more effectively got swept under the rug?”

Because, you know, several months ago Trump was baffled why he couldn’t lob nukes around like tennis balls.  You’re hearing about that now, along with all sorts of other things that are undermining his campaign.  All the facts that fit this “Trump is unfit to be President” narrative were there all along, it’s just that the media chose not to display that until now.

Question that process.

Trump Is What Happens When You Remove All Possibility Of Apologies.
People were shocked when Trump went after Khizr Khan, a grieving father of a decorated veteran. But that was Trump’s only strategy!

Look.  Trump is about two things that appeal to narrow, yet terrifying, portions of the electorate:

  • They want a strong candidate who’s not afraid to go toe-to-toe with anybody.
  • They want someone who never apologizes.

For a lot of people, “an apology” is a weakness.  It means you did something wrong – and remember when I said the people who believed Trump were seeking someone who’s infallible?  They don’t want a President, they want a Godhead who dispenses perfect decisions the first time, every time.

Any time Trump breaks that narrative of “Trump is never wrong,” he loses core votes.

So you can’t apologize.  What’s left?  Well, you could ignore the remarks, but strategically, then you look weak if enough people are addressing it – and Trump’s gotta go toe-to-toe.  Once an issue gets enough media attention, which Khizr Khan’s speech did, Trump can’t afford to not bring it up.

So what are Trump’s options?

He’s gotta go on the attack.  When you can’t back down, and you can’t ignore, the only option is to go assault the person and tear them down until they’re no longer a worthy opponent.  You’ve got to go after their moral standing so the things they said are compromised; that’s exactly what he did with Hillary.

And I’m not saying this is a campaign strategy, but it’s the sad strategy of the Alpha Dog who believes very firmly in status.  If someone’s risen to a challenging status, you have to lower their status.

I doubt that even Trump understands what he’s doing, but watch his Tweets – he’s literally confused by the concept that someone, anyone, would get to say nasty things about him and he’s not allowed to respond.  Alpha Dogs can’t ignore threats, and he perceives himself as the ultimate dog.  WHY SHOULD I BE LEASHED.

That’s why he lies all the time.  He can’t say “I was wrong,” because that would indicate weakness.  Instead, he pretends he never said what he said and never did what he did.  This is what happens when you remove “Yeah, my bad” from the equation.

(And if, as a conservative, you’re upset at what Trump has done, keep in mind that y’all opened the door to this when you mocked Kerry’s war record in 2004. Either veterans are deserving of respect no matter when they disagree with you, or you’re mocking a decorated veteran by wearing “Purple Heart” bandages to show that any idiot can get the medal. That is on you.)

Why Does Trump Appeal To Poor White Voters? 
I don’t pretend to know.  But I think this interview with J.D. Vance, who wrote a book called Hillbilly Elegy, which discusses the motivations of the white working poor, talks a lot about how desperation and culture affects you. I’d definitely read that; I plan to buy his book.

That said – and read that guy more than me – I’d remind you that “dignity” is a thing that people will literally kill for.  People will tolerate being poor, as long as they’re seen as worthy members of the community.  But they cannot tolerate being shunned or mocked.  And the saddest lesson of history, shown time and time again, is that folks who get the shaft will almost always listen to comforting lies that assure them their lives are worthwhile.

The rise of Trump is fundamentally an upper-class liberal failure.  When we bitch about hicks and idiots, we’re exacerbating the problem.  I’m not sure how to reach to them, because part of the issue is that I don’t connect to people like that on a regular basis.  (I know a lot of poor people, but they’re all Democrats like me.)  But I am smart enough to know that this failure to connect is an issue.

Which is not to say that the people who vote for Trump are somehow correct in what they do, or free from unexamined racism.  But I think the only way to change that culture is to interact with it in more positive and less dismissive ways, and that’s something upper-class liberal twits like me have consistently failed at.

We need to do better.  I need to do better.

But again, read that interview.  And maybe the book.

My WorldCon Schedule! Come And Say Hi To A Ferrett!

Friday, 8:30 pm: Ferrett Reads From Fix!
If you’re looking for a sneak preview from the next book in the ‘Mancer series, I’ll be reading the chapter where Aliyah starts out playing a soccer game and ends up destroying large swathes of Kentucky.  And I will be reading it dramatically.

Saturday, 5:00 pm: Ferrett Signs Books!
I’ll be signing in the same room with John Scalzi, so I’ll just sit there with a sign saying “MY BOOK’S NOT AS GOOD BUT MY LINE IS SHORTER.”

(As usual, I will be so happy to be there that I’ll sign anything.  Doesn’t necessarily have to be my book.  Or even a book.  If I can put a pen on it, I’ll sign it.)

Friday, 2:00 – 3:00 pm: Second Childhood: Cartoons For Adults
Hear me squee about Steven Universe and Adventure Time with several people on a panel!  Because I assure you, I can squee about Steven Universe ALL DAY.

Entire Convention: Hey, Text Me.
If you wanna get a lunch or a dinner or hang out at some point, I’m amenable.  This is a light schedule, and I’m there to say hello to people, so if you’re there let’s find someplace to meet!

How Pokemon Go Simulates The Ravages Of Old Age Though Terrible Game Design

Want to know what it’s like to go senile?  Pokemon Go is the perfect way for teenagers to experience what it’s like to get old, so much so that I presume your trainer just dies when he hits level 30.

Because in Pokemon Go, you start out as a young and hale Pokemon trainer at the top of his game.  Every monster is capturable.  You can track down monsters easily, and the rewards for getting them are plentiful.  The world is your oyster.

But as you level up, old age settles in.  Your senses dull.  Monsters you once tracked easily become findable only with great effort, and by today you can’t even find them at all – you know, maddeningly, that the Clefairy you so desperately seek is somewhere in the neighborhood, but deafened and blinded, you have no idea where it might be.

Your grip weakens, too, as you level up.  Trivial Pokemon that once took a single ball to capture now require you to weakly lob five or six balls with your arthritic, useless hands.  The rewards you used to get for accuracy and skill get removed, so the 50 extra XP you used to get for a nice throw no longer count – presumably because you’re so bitter and jaded that you no longer believe you deserve reward for an excellent throw.

Other games, foolishly, have equated “levelling up” with “more power” and “greater skill.”  Pokemon Go breaks with that tradition by demonstrating that levelling up is merely crawling closer to the nursing home – with each level and Pokemon Go patch, you lose power and skill.

I’m level 19 now, and I dread becoming level 20 because I can barely catch a Weedle as it is, and how do the poor bastards of level 24 shuffle about?

You may think I’m kidding here: I’m not.  Thanks to a combination of poor game design and inexplicably terrible patches, Pokemon Go has become a game that actively punishes you for playing it, and players are not happy about this.

Let me first explain how I play Pokemon Go, however, because there’s two ways you can play the game.  A lot of people are concerned about levelling up their biggest Pokemon so they can battle for dominancy of the gym markers placed all over the map.  Personally, that’s of no interest to me.  Pokemon Go released in summer, which means that teenagers and college kids have nothing to do except squat near their gyms and battle.  If I, the underlevelled fortysomething, do manage to squeeze a Vaporeon into the gym, the seven camp kids squatting near the Rocky River pool will ensure I’m kicked out in short order.

No, I play Pokemon Go for Pokemon’s very mandate:

Gotta catch ’em all.

There are a hundred and fifty or so Pokemon, and the only way to catch them is to go wandering for great distances in real life.  My wife and I, who know little about Pokemon, get a thrill every time we find a Pokemon we didn’t know about – “What the hell is that magnet thing?  Look at that” we cry happily, as one of us captures some weird-ass beast we had no clue existed.

We could look up the list of Pokemon on the Internet.  We don’t.  For us, as for many people, the joy is in the exploration.

And Niantec has actively started punishing us for exploring.

In the beginning, the game gave you a list of Pokemon in your neighborhood, along with a rough estimate as to how far you needed to walk to get them.  You had no directional element – but you knew there was a Ponyta roaming through this Target parking lot somewhere, and you could play an elaborate game of cold/hot to find it.

After a few weeks, Niantec removed this feature.  Now you could see the Pokemon in your neighborhood, but they were only sorted by distance.  You couldn’t tell how far away you were, only that you were closer to the Ponyta than you were this useless frickin’ Weedle.

And now, with the latest update, Niantec has removed the order.  You can only see the Pokemon in your neighborhood.  You don’t know which direction to go, merely that they’re within about a half a mile of you.  Good luck!

If you started playing from the first week, in the last month you have watched your ability to find Pokemon degrade.  That’s Pokemon Senility, Part One.

Now, “finding Pokemon” is pretty much the largest reason people play – so much so that there are multiple sites that fake geolocations to map out the Pokemon in your neighborhood.   Or there were.  Niantec has shut them down, ostensibly because they were overloading the server – but their game trailer promised that you’d be able to find Pokemon by direction and distance, so basically Niantec has eliminated third-party services that provided what they promised.

Want to find a rare, specific Pokemon?  Hell with you, buddy.  Now you can’t.  And by the way, we’re going to punish you for wanting to do anything else while you’re hunting for rare Pokemon.

Punish?  How?  Well, as every Pokemon player knows, your local neighborhood is infested with Com Mons – Pidgeys and Rattatas are everywhere.  You will, quite literally, find Pidgeys and Rattatas on every corner, sometimes two or three at a time…

…and you will hardly find anything else, if you live in a “Pokedesert” like I am.  See, Pokemon are generated according to the number of people playing Pokemon Go in your local area.   If you live in a big city, rare Pokemon spawn all the time, because the game goes “Oh, there’s fifty people there, let’s drop some good loot.”  But if you’re walking through the sleepy suburbs Rocky River, you will hardly ever find a Pikachu – just Pigeons and Rats everywhere.

Which would be fine, if the game encouraged you to capture pigeons and rats.  But as you level up, it encourages you not to.

See, Pokemon Go’s way of encouraging you to make in-game purchases is Not Subtle. In fact, it’s so blatant that it literally makes you feel feeble.  Because as you level up, Pokemon become much more likely to escape your tossed balls, until eventually a Pidgey that would have taken a single ball at level 5 suddenly starts requiring four or five balls.

Now, admittedly, quietly ramping up the difficulty on pay-to-play games is a long-standing tradition.  Seriously; go read this article on a guy who’s spent $9,000 on his iPhone game, it’s terrifying.  But Game of War has tons of fiddly options that confuse the user – which doesn’t sound like a strength, but at least when the game screws you over, your dignity is preserved because you’re not sure what’s happening.

Pokemon Go has so few stats that it’s blatantly apparent the game is jacking you.  Pokemon have a single rating: Combat Power.  And you know that at level 12, getting a Pidgey at CP 45 never took more than a single ball, but when at level 18 it takes two or three balls to capture it, there’s no denying the game is making you less effective as you climb the ranks.

And that Pidgey breaking loose is maddening, because you don’t even want the Pidgey.  You’ve captured literally hundreds of Pidgeys, and if your goal is to “catch ’em all,” then Pidgeys are an active annoyance because they’re taking up a spot that maybe an exciting Staryu or a Bulbasaur might occupy.

Why would you try?  Because the game is boring otherwise.  You’re just looking for some small entertainment while you’re endlessly wandering around, hoping a Squirtle appears.  Having it burn up four or five of your precious supply of Pokeballs, particularly in Poke-dry areas where you can’t refill them except by buying them or driving to better locations, means that when a Squirtle does hove into view you might not have the balls left to capture him.

(Oh, and Niantec inexplicably removed the XP reward for super-accurate throwing of your Pokeball.  That didn’t matter when your reward was a rare Pokemon, but removing rewards when all you’re getting is a Pidgey makes the grindy parts even grindier and less fun.)

So you wander, the game encouraging you not to interact with its low-level entertainments, rendering you unable to find its high entertainments.   And you can’t have the game on in the background, you can’t text while you have Pokemon Go on, you can’t do anything but Pokemon Go and maybe have some tunes on.

Basically, Pokemon Go demands PAY ATTENTION TO ME and then, as you level up, actively punishes you for trying to interact with what it offers the most often, and has taken away the tools that allow you to find the things you want.

That is the epitome of bad game design.

And unless Niantec can deal with this problem, it’s going to start hemorrhaging users soon; oh wait, it already has.  Unsurprisingly, people don’t like feeling stupid, and the entire game is currently devoted to making its most invested users feel feeble.

They can fix this; I know the stated issue is “server overload,” but honestly if the game allowed me to home in on rare Pokemon, I’d be okay with it not working more often.  Helping you find rare Pokemon is a must-have feature in a game that is about capturing and exploration; otherwise, why do I even have this thing on?

Likewise, yes, technically speaking we’re “encouraged” to buy Pokeballs when the game ramps the level up.  But that ramp is so apparent, and for Pokemon we actively have come to hate, that we’re more likely to quit the game out of disgust, or only check it when we’re in a high-traffic zone.

This game is broken, and broken in a way that screws over its most heavily-invested users.  It can be fixed, but that’s gonna require communication – Niantec is infamously closed-mouthed, but an announcement of “We know how important Pokemon-tracking is, we’re working on that, it’s our top priority” would keep me playing more because I’d know they knew why I was playing.

As it is, Niantec looks clueless.  That’s not a good look.  Especially when you’ve taken an interesting game and patched out all the features the “Gotta catch ’em all” people liked.

Fighting The Last-Book Hangover, Or: An Overly-Revealing Look Into The Writing Process

So as y’all should know by now, I’ve been live-writing my latest book The Song That Shapes The World to raise funds for the Clarion Science Fiction Workshop.

I’m now going to trash three weeks’ worth of work.

It’s not because what I’ve written over the last few weeks is bad.  It’s typical first-draft stuff that needs cleaning, but it’s a strong start: a musician fleeing an abusive marriage stumbles into the mystical world of Backstage, where once every decade they have a Battle of the Bands that determines the song that shapes the multiverse.  I like the lead character.  She’s got depth I could explore in a different manuscript.

But she’s the wrong character for the book I want to write.

The book I initially described was “Pitch Perfect with magic.”  I want something that is, if not light, at least full of weirdness and humor and bizarre situations.  I want friendship.  I want oddball.

And what I wrote was mundane, everyday angst.

Now, I know why I wrote angst: it’s a last-book hangover.  See, the manuscript I finished before this one is the as-yet-unsold Savor Station – which is, hands-down, the best thing I have written.  And that novel is mournful and elegaic, because, well it’s the story of a prince who’s been starved of everything good in life (including food and dignity) and regains strength by finding the finest restaurant in all the stars.

And I hit that book so out of the park that when I started writing The Song That Shapes The World I was like, “The last time I wrote a very sad person in a dire situation, I wrote a great novel, soooooo…. let’s do that again!”  I even, I am shamed to admit, went back and reread the opening to Savor Station to go, “Okay, how can I duplicate that?”

But rehashing what I did well last time is not delivering what got me excited about this.  I could make a good book about this, but that book wouldn’t be “Pitch Perfect with magic,” it’d be “Savor Station with music.” And while it’d be nice if my muse decided to write tonally-consistent books, apparently I write novels like I write short stories – continually switching valences.

(Rich Horton, noted short story reviewer, met me at a party and said that I was notable for the way no two of my short stories sounded alike.  He did not make this sound like this was actually a strength.)

I could continue and write a book I’m capable of writing, or I could set everything on fire to write the book I am thrilled to write.

Yet!  This is a fantastically interesting situation!  Because what I’m going to do is swap out the lead character and write the exact same story, and show you how the story needs to change when the protagonist changes!

Gone is Gwendolyn of old, who’s practiced in her husband’s recording studio for three years but has never been certain of her talent before live audiences.

Arrived is Gwendolyn the new, the samurai musician, who sees fame as a virus.  She hitchhikes from obscure bar to obscure bar, waiting months between performances, playing for people who don’t even know she’s supposed to be there.

In both cases, the Gwendolyns stumble into a bar, hoping to play.

In both cases, the Gwendolyns flee the bar and head to the mystical world of Backstage.

In both cases, the Gwendolyns meet the dragon-riding, cello-playing nemesis who escorts them into this bold new world.

But what you get to see – at least if you donate and get your membership for the Clarion Echo blog I’m doing – is how a book’s plot is tailored to its protagonist’s weaknesses and strengths.  This isn’t a matter of swapping out personalities – a story’s elements are about showcasing what the protagonist can do and jabbing at their weak spots, and so the bar that Gwendolyn the old walked into would be no challenge at all for Gwendolyn the new.

The bar changes.  The people changes.  The attitude changes.

And if you donate $10, you get to see how mutable a world is when a writer’s starting out.  You can read the old chapters, then see the new chapters as I write ’em, weigh in, maybe help me refine the magic system a bit.  And you do that by donating the cost of a couple of coffees to the Clarion Foundation, which is a good cause that helps writers.

Anyway.  I’m starting that tonight.  You can come watch.

I’m kinda excited about this.

So as always, here’s the steps to do this:

Step #1: Donate at least $10 to the Clarion Foundation.  More is good if you can spare it.  You don’t have to donate in my name or anything, because honestly, their Write-a-Thon webpage forms are dreadful.

Step #2: If you don’t already have one, create a LiveJournal account.  Rejoice in this feeling of web page time-travel, as one suspects there’s not a lot of new LJ accounts created!

Step #3: Email theferrett@theferrett.com with your Clarion receipt and your LiveJournal handle, with a header of “HEY FERRETT LET ME IN.”  I’ll do the mystical LJ gestures to get you access.

Step #4: Watch me figure out how to introduce you to the new Gwendolyn and her new challenges.

Step #5: Share this post if ya can!