#50: Stories Progress

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #50, on the subject of Stories Progress.

This is about the creation of my book Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel, now being posted to the web site in serialized form.  This “behind the writings” look definitely contains spoilers, so you might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them.  That link will take you to the table of contents for the book; links below (the section headings) will take you to the specific individual chapters, and there are (or will soon be) links on those pages to bring you back hopefully to the same point here.  There were also numerous similar previous mark Joseph “young” web log posts:

  1. #18:  A Novel Comic Milestone (which provided this kind of insight into the first six chapters),
  2. #20:  Becoming Novel (covering chapters seven through twelve),
  3. #22:  Getting Into Characters (for chapters thirteen through eighteen),
  4. #25:  Novel Changes (chapters 19 through 24),
  5. #27:  Novel Continuation (chapters 25 through 30),
  6. #30:  Novel Directions (chapters 31 through 36),
  7. #33:  Novel Struggles (chapters 37 through 42),
  8. #35:  Quiet on the Novel Front (chapters 43 through 48), and
  9. #37:  Character Diversity (chapters 49 through 56),
  10. #39:  Character Futures (chapters 57 through 60),
  11. #43:  Novel Worlds (chapters 61 through 66), and
  12. #47:  Character Routines (chapters 67 through 72).

This picks up from there.  Our characters are advancing in their efforts.


There is some essential background to the book as a whole in that first post, which I will not repeat here.

Chapter 73, Slade 24

I took Slade’s cryptic comments in another direction with his statement that he’s died before and will do it again.

The concept of an “auto-mechanic” is very much a twentieth century concept, and while it’s not dead yet it probably will be if we keep going a few more centuries.  Thus I realized that the crew of the spaceship would be just as clueless regarding what an “auto-mechanic” was as the medieval adventurers.

The captain’s comment that the assassin Ishara has “problems with intimacy” is, as far as I recall, the only line of which my editor specifically said it was funny.

I also thought it likely that people in the future would have no understanding of smoking, and that faced with that Slade would realize that it can’t be explained.

The stuff in the small treasure chest was invented on the spot, as things I thought might have use as well as value.

Chapter 74, Hastings 26

I had imagined—not as much as envisioned—that in future books when Lauren trained Bethany in the past some of these magics would come into that.  They never did, although the trick with the die came to have plot significance in making something work when I painted myself into a corner with Merlin.

I still had no clue about the acorn.  I often wonder when I read books by others whether the author knew when he put the “shotgun over the mantel” how he was going to use that particular shotgun, or whether it was an “I can do something with that” moment, or simply a bit of serendipity.  This was a highly serendipitous “I can do something with that” object, and I stunned myself when I realized what I had given myself.

Chapter 75, Kondor 25

Kondor’s dream is dealing with the idea that the fact that you disbelieve something does not mean it could not be a reality.  It is easy to laugh at supernatural horrors when you know them to be fictional; it is much more difficult when they might be a reality.  Army of Darkness can fill the screen with horrors, but they are never real horrors for us, and we can laugh.

When he was in Sherwood, I spent very little time on the notion that he would learn their skills; but it seemed reasonable that having been there for years he would take a bit of time here and there to learn a few things outside his medical specialization.  He was, after all, also a soldier.  Thus the bow was a reasonable choice; at one time all English peasants were expected to learn the bow, and it was the weapon that defeated the French.

Joe had a resource problem:  his bullets were limited.  I knew by this point that I was going to have to find a way to re-supply him, but also that he was going to have to be careful about how quickly he used what he had.

Because of Kondor’s skepticism, the explanation of the vorgo is a superstition, and he thus thinks that what is being done in that vein is wasted resources.  He tries to justify this based on the morale of the fighters, but at every turn he sees more problems—such as the fact that manpower is going to be used to move corpses to the pyre when it should be on the walls.

Chapter 76, Slade 25

In technology skills, Multiverser recognizes that the level of skill necessary for various tasks differs in kind.  The ability to design a machine is the highest level, but there are people who are very good at building a machine from a design, even better at building than the designers, who could not create a design.  There are those who can modify a machine by looking at how it works and improving it, those who can repair a machine if it breaks, those who can (intelligently) sabotage a machine so that it won’t work properly, and those who can operate a machine with only a basic knowledge of how it works.  Slade is looking at star drives and gravity generators and particle weapons, and he cannot begin to fathom how these work—but he’s also looking at electrical systems and fluid and gas conduits and support structures, all of which are simple enough that he could fix a problem without knowing how that particular part of it makes the rest of it work.  Thus he has repair skills that can be used here.

The listening post raid is inspired by a Blake’s 7 episode in which they attack a Federation Outpost to get the latest code cipher machine.  It was an obvious type of mission for this kind of scenario, and I run it frequently in live games (although, as I think I mentioned, this world was created in this novel and only subsequently detailed for game play).  I had to remove the code cipher machine, as that was too obvious a connection, and I expanded the outpost significantly both to give me more room for my adventure and to make it different.

The line about Slade trying to decide “what medieval gear he should have for a raid on a space station” was another that my editor mentioned positively.  The image of an armored knight with a sword attacking a space station does have something of a lark to it.

Chapter 77, Hastings 27

The game system imposes limits on how much people can carry, both in terms of what can be lifted or carried while walking and in terms of how much will move with the person from universe to universe.  This latter limit increases over time, but particularly in the early worlds people who are pack rats have to consider what they really need to take with them.

It is also often the case that players wish they had gotten one thing or another in a previous world where it was relatively easily obtained, and Lauren is considering that aspect now.  She has sort of left it to the last minute, and while I might be accused of the convenience that she managed to think to do this shopping very shortly before she left this world (and I had at this point realized that I was going to have to move her before I’d used all the cool stories I’d developed in play), it is certainly the case that facing the fight she has planned she would be aware of the possibility of moving to another world in it.

Chapter 78, Kondor 26

The darkness was needed because without it there would be no explanation for how the undead were able to fight in daylight.  I don’t think I ever explained how it was done, but I attributed it to magic used by the specters, the most powerful of the enemy.

The eyesight adjustment was one of the key reasons for giving him that eye before.  I wasn’t certain where or when I would use it, but seeing in the dark was the point.

It is interesting that Joe thinks of the natural eye as the “good” one, and the cybernetic one as a substitute, not a real eye and therefore inferior, even though it does more and responds faster.

That the castellan regards Joe’s vision magical fits into Joe’s preconceptions about magic, that it is simply a word to describe what we do not understand.

Interest in these “behind the writings” continues, so I’m still thinking they’re worth producing.  Feedback is always welcome, of course.  Your Patreon support is also needed to maintain this.

#49: Duchovny, Anderson, Sexism, and the Free Market

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #49, on the subject of Duchovny, Anderson, Sexism, and the Free Market.

The scuttlebutt in the entertainment industry at the moment is that for the new X-Files revival, actress Gillian Anderson, who plays scientist/agent Dana Scully, was offered half the pay that was offered to actor David Duchovny, who plays agent Fox Mulder.  The outrage arises, that an actress (I’m sorry–“female actor”) would be paid only half as much as an actor (that is, a male actor) for the same work.  It screams that the wage gap is still a real issue, even in mostly liberal Hollywood.

No one can argue that Anderson isn’t every bit as good an actor as Duchovny.  She has more awards and more nominations, even in the “big” ones–Duchovny has two Golden Globes (the second in 2008 for Californication) to Anderson’s one, but she also has a Prime Time Emmy and a Screen Actors Guild (SAG) award.  Even supposing that the competition is stiffer for the male awards than the female ones, her credentials are impressive.

Yet in all the hullaballoo a few points are being overlooked.  So, what’s the real issue?


First, let’s be clear:  In the new revival X-Files miniseries Gillian Anderson is being paid the same amount as David Duchovny.  The complaint is that when they contacted her initially they offered her considerably less than they had agreed to pay him.  Of course, they did not contact her, and they did not contact him–they contacted her agent and his agent, and made offers, which the agents then negotiated to an agreed salary.  Further, we are not privy to any of this negotiation.  We do not know any of the numbers.  It might be that they offered Duchovny a half a million per episode and then settled for a million per episode, and then made the same half million per episode offer to Anderson and negotiated to the same million dollar mark.  The numbers might be much smaller than that; they might be larger.  No one is talking numbers, and no one is talking about the negotiation process.  However, clearly there was a negotiation process, because Anderson’s complaint was that they offered her half of what they were paying Duchovny, but she does not know what they initially offered Duchovny and she does know that her agent negotiated her the same pay before any filming was done.  Maybe that’s not the case; maybe they really did offer Duchovny twice what they offered Anderson.  Neither we nor she know that.

There is, though, a more fundamental issue here.

Star Trek:  The Next Generation was one of the great “ensemble dramas” of the eighties.  Hill Street Blues, L. A. Law, Dallas, and a number of others dotted primetime.  One of the things that distinguished this type of show from those of the sixties was that there was not really a “star”–that is, the original Star Trek was a vehicle starring William Shatner as Captain Jim Kirk, with Leonard Nimoy’s Spock and the other characters all in supporting roles.  Even when a particular episode was primarily about Spock, such as Amok Time, Kirk was the hero.  By contrast, in Next Generation there were entire episodes in which Patrick Stewart’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard was not on screen at all.  Yet when the first film was made, it was reported that Patrick Stewart was paid twelve million dollars to appear, and Brent Spiner (Commander Data) eight million, the two together making near as much as the other major members of the cast combined.  Sure, they had big roles in that film–but we don’t know to what degree they got paid more for the bigger roles versus were given the bigger roles because they were costing the studio more.  The latter is the more likely.  Studios negotiate with actors (through their agents) individually, and from the studio’s side the question is whether having this actor is worth the money in the sense that more people are likely to buy tickets if he is in the show than if he is not.  Presumably Paramount concluded that Michael Dorn (Lieutenant Worf) could be written out of the script if he wanted more than whatever they paid him, and Dorn agreed that he would rather work for that lesser amount than be dropped from the movie.  Picard and Data were vital characters; Riker, Crusher, Troi, La Forge, and others not so much.

So if we assume that 20th Century Fox actually did initially offer Duchovny more than they offered Anderson, the obvious conclusion is that they thought Duchovny was worth more to the show, or would demand more to be on it.  Further, there is evidence to support such a conclusion.  Duchovny had a starring role in the popular pay-cable series Californication for seven years, and since then has the lead in the police drama Aquarius.  Anderson has had a number of critically acclaimed roles–the National Theatre’s A Streetcar Named Desire, Great Expectations, Bleak House–but no leading roles in something primarily popular.  As important as she is to the X-Files franchise and as highly praised for her other work, her name does not sell as many tickets as his does.  The producers do not have the financial incentive to pay her as much, because they would not necessarily expect–or get–the same return on their investment.

Arguably, Duchovny has gotten popular leading roles and Anderson has been working in less prominent jobs because Hollywood favors leading roles for men.  Yes, it does–but not because Hollywood producers prefer men in leading roles.  It’s because of audience preferences.

Geena Davis played a powerfully compelling action hero in The Long Kiss Goodnight, and Samuel Jackson as the sidekick was every bit as entertaining in it as he was in Die Hard 3 alongside Bruce Willis.  Willis was the actor who made yet another sequel, because men prefer to see men in the action hero roles.  Meanwhile, women prefer hearthrob men in their romantic leads, from Rudolph Valentino to Matthew McConaughey.  The prejudices are not with the producers–they will attempt anything they believe will make money, without regard for names or quality or race or gender.  The track record, though, says that male leads draw bigger audiences, and so make more money, than female leads.  There are some women who buck the trend, get good roles and make them work, but most big roles go to men because that’s what audiences pay to see.

So there is indeed sexism in the video entertainment industry, but it’s not in the producers, not in the people who make the movies and television shows.  They pay for what they perceive themselves to be getting.  What they are getting is viewers, ticket purchasers, and what they are selling is what those viewers want to see.  If most of the world wants V-Neck sweaters, most clothing manufacturers are going to invest in V-Necks and avoid Turtlenecks.  When fast food purchasers move more toward healthy food, McDonalds shifts its emphasis away from burgers into chicken, salads, wraps, and yogurt.  Male actors get more money, in the main, because more viewers are more willing to spend more money to see them.  The sexism Gillian Anderson faces is not that of the people making The X-Files.  It’s the sexism of the people watching, who would pay more money to see David Duchovny than to see her.

Sure, there are people who will scream to high heaven that Gillian Anderson is the important person in the show.  Never mind that she was originally hired to be the sidekick to Duchovny’s starring role, instructed to stand slightly behind him so he would be prominent in most shots in the first season, she became the indispensible equal, for some even superior, partner.  Yet the numbers say that you, the viewers aggregately, pay more to see Duchovny than to see Anderson, even if some of you consider her the real star.  The producers are only trying to provide the product that will draw the most customers, the biggest audience, at the lowest total outlay.  As far as they are concerned, the fact that they might be paying a man more than a woman has nothing to do with gender and everything to do with spreadsheets.  It is, ultimately, what viewers are willing to buy that pays those salaries.  That’s where the prejudice is found.

#48: Inequities in the Justice System

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #48, on the subject of Inequities in the Justice System.

I have a story that intrigues me on so many levels I have to tell it.  It is, as they say, a true story–that is, I have my information largely from the first-hand account of one of the key persons involved, but for parts of it that I on the one hand witnessed myself or on the other hand deduced.  I shall attempt to keep them clear.  It is a case of an injustice that was, in large part, remedied, but the sense of injustice looms over it nonetheless.


The story begins with a young man in his early twenties out for a walk on a late summer afternoon.  He happened to pass what must be the main intersection in the sprawling sparsely populated town, as it is the only traffic signal, and there are two gas stations on the corner, owned by the same near-eastern immigrant family, the only gas stations within the town.

He was at least three blocks from there, around a corner out of sight, when two police cruisers arrived behind him.  The young man has been detained by police before, largely because he has friends who have been in trouble with the law on several occasions, although he himself has never been charged with anything.  They asked him to identify himself, and he gave his name but was reluctant to tell more.  After some discussion he gave his address, and was told he was not permitted to leave until they had identified him.  They then insisted on patting him down, then handcuffed him and informed him that he was under arrest.

I have to interject here.  The police are indeed permitted to stop a person if they have a reasonable suspicion of possible involvement in a crime, and if we stretch that–as you will see–they might arguably have had that here.  The purpose of such a check is to ensure that the person with whom they are speaking is not able abruptly to produce a weapon; the rule exists to protect the police.  It’s called a “Terry Stop” after the case which confirmed that it was legitimate.

On the other hand, an arrest requires “probable cause”.  At this point all the police have–well, we’re getting ahead of the story.

They emptied his pockets into a plastic bag, and put him in the back of one of the patrol cars.  The officer in that car then produced a bag of marijuana from another satchel and placed it in the bag with his possessions.  The young man objected, loudly, that he had never seen that bag in his life, but the police officer claimed that an attendant at the gas station had seen him stop and hide the bag at the control box at the traffic light on that corner.  He was told he was under arrest for possession of marijuana.  The officer then drove to that gas station, and once in the parking lot read the young man his Miranda rights while this witness, a near eastern immigrant, observed.

Maybe you have noticed the three problems with the “identification” here.  I did immediately, but then, I hit these problems in law school.  Still, I cannot believe that the police procedure here was so incredibly bad.  One of these problems might have been excusable, even unavoidable, but there was no reason for this kind of work unless they expected to strongarm the suspect into a confession.

The first problem can be called the problem of cross-cultural identification.  You’ve probably heard the rubric that all Blacks look alike, and while that’s not at all true it is true that Whites and Asians have trouble recognizing the distinguishing features of Blacks, and that the same is true for most cross-racial or cross-cultural observers.  If you did not grow up among people of a particular racial/ethnic group, the specific features that distinguish one from another are often difficult to spot.

I often recall the story of The Five Chinese Brothers.  In brief, one of five brothers was condemned to death, but he and each of his brothers had a particular invulnerability.  Each time the emperor declared how the boy was to be executed, he would ask to say goodbye to his parents, and be replaced by the brother who was invulnerable to that form of execution.  The conceit is that no one can tell the difference between one Chinaman and another, so if they were also brothers not even the Emperor could tell them apart–which tells me that it is not a Chinese story at all, but a European story about European perceptions of the Chinese.  Had it been a Chinese story, it would have been The Five Swedish Brothers–all tall, light hair, light skin, light eyes, they look exactly alike, because the characteristics by which Chinese distinguish each other are not those by which Europeans distinguish each other.  That’s the problem of cross-cultural identification:  our near-eastern immigrant gas station attendant would have trouble distinguishing one tall white American boy from another.  The identification is already suspect.

However, even if that were not so, there is a much more significant problem.  You’ve probably noticed that on television shows when the police want a witness to identify a suspect they have a lineup, or if not a lineup a photospread.  They don’t usually present the suspect to the witness and say, “Is this the guy?”  That’s because those kinds of identifications are inherently prejudicial–and this one is extremely so.  We have a suspect who fits the description “young white male” in a town where that describes a significant portion of the adult population.  Our young white male has been brought to the witness handcuffed in the back of a police car, and in the presence of the witness the arresting officer makes a point of Mirandizing the suspect, clearly placing him under arrest and signalling, “This guy is a criminal.”  The witness then has in essence been told, “Identify this guy,” and even if we assume that the witness wants to be honest and has been honest to this point, we just played a game with his memory.  The police told the witness who to remember; human memory is a fluid and flexible thing in most people, and by this act the police helped the witness solidify an image that matched the guy they caught.

It should also be noted that if the story the officers told is true, the witness must have called to report having seen someone hiding something at the traffic light control box perhaps fifty feet away, the police must have arrived and searched the area and found the bag, then the witness must have told them in which direction the person left who had placed it there.  By that time, anyone who might have been in the area would have walked out of sight, and indeed the suspect was not in sight–which means that the witness could not point to him, and the police could not see him when they arrived at the scene.  They have no idea who they are seeking.  Anyone they find who roughly fits the description is likely to be identified by the witness as the person he saw.  He made no claim of having seen him up close, or having recognized him from previous acquaintance.  He had not kept his eye on the suspect, and could not be certain the person he saw didn’t enter one of the houses along the street.  About the only information the witness gave the police was young white male, went that direction.  They should have known their identification was going to be problematic.

For a legitimate witness identification, they needed to take the suspect to the station and take the witness there separately, keeping them from seeing each other until the suspect was mixed with several other persons who also roughly fit the description, and then determining whether the witness could choose the suspect from among the group without any assistance or prompting.  That would not solve all the problems here, but it would be a much better case for the police than what they did.

They also should have known that they had insufficient basis for probable cause.  A young man walking quiet sub-suburban streets in a rural town on a late August afternoon is not suspicious.  Being a young white male is not suspicious.  Nothing was found on the suspect to connect him to this or any other crime.  The police don’t like it when you avoid answering their questions, but even if it could be argued that the refusal to answer questions implies guilt, it is illegal to draw that conclusion:  the exercise of the Constitutional right to remain silent cannot be taken as evidence of guilt of any crime, and therefore cannot support probable cause of such guilt.  The police had sufficient cause for the Terry Stop–it requires an articulable suspicion, and it is reasonable to argue that a young white male walking somewhere within several blocks of the site of an alleged crime allegedly committed by a young white male afoot is at least vaguely suspect.  Having questioned him and learning nothing that connected him more closely to the crime, they did not have probable cause for an arrest.

The police took him to the station and held him for a while, and then began questioning him.  They intimated that they had surveillance video of him planting something there, and he responded that he knew they did not because he never did so–he was not even really cognizant of the fact that there was an electrical control box there.  They attempted to get him to explain how he thought the marijuana got there, as if it were his problem and they hoped in solving it he would confess something they could use against him.  They then gave him a summons to appear in court to answer charges, and released him.

He went to court and applied for a public defender.  His parents had prepared him well–within twenty-four hours of the events he wrote down everything that happened, so there would be a clear written statement, and he gave a copy of this to his attorney.  He also had been made aware of the problems already mentioned regarding witness identifications, and also that in New Jersey the governor had recently required that all police cars be equipped with dash cameras, and a Superior Court Judge had ruled that all those recordings were public records, so his attorney subpoenaed these.  It took six months for the State of New Jersey to realize that on those facts they had no case, and dismiss the charges.  The public defender application fee is not refundable.

No one apologized for the wrongful arrest.  In fact, in an odd turn, as the judge dismissed the case he told the defendant to be sure not to be arrested on that charge again.  It was an entirely inappropriate thing to say under the circumstances, although the judge probably was not fully aware of the circumstances.  After all, the young man had been charged simply because he was the nearest person out walking somewhere near the scene of the crime, and he could not have anticipated that there might have been such a crime.  If we assume the integrity of everyone involved, and that these were the honest mistakes of a couple of police officers who found the contraband and believed they had the right person who would probably confess and plead guilty (and not that they were trying to create a case from nothing), there was no way he–or indeed anyone–could have avoided being so charged under these circumstances, except perhaps by staying at home at all times, or at least never taking a walk in public.

In all of this I want to mention one point that you probably did not notice, although it was mentioned.  The defendant was not a young black male; he was a young white male.  It may or may not be true that young black males are unfairly singled out by police, but it might not be because they are black so much as that they are young and male.  It is difficult to know how to react to that; young males disproportionately commit crimes, and so it becomes proportionate to suspect them disproportionately.  Yet if one is more likely to be arrested and charged because one is a young man, the claims that the disproportionate arrests of young black men demonstrate systemic racism are seriously weakened.  Such racism may still exist in some places, but racial oversensitivity also plays a role in causing us to perceive racism where the real problems are agism, sexism, and classism.  If there is a real disproportionate correlation between criminal activities and factors such as age, gender, race, and social class, it can hardly be said to be discriminatory to make disproportionate arrests.  If such correlations cause police to be careless in their procedures, that needs to be corrected–but it does not make it a matter of racism.

#47: Character Routines

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #47, on the subject of Character Routines.

This is about the creation of my book Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel, now being posted to the web site in serialized form.  This “behind the writings” look definitely contains spoilers, so you might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them.  That link will take you to the table of contents for the book; links below (the section headings) will take you to the specific individual chapters, and there are (or will soon be) links on those pages to bring you back hopefully to the same point here.  There were also numerous similar previous mark Joseph “young” web log posts:

  1. #18:  A Novel Comic Milestone (which provided this kind of insight into the first six chapters),
  2. #20:  Becoming Novel (covering chapters seven through twelve),
  3. #22:  Getting Into Characters (for chapters thirteen through eighteen),
  4. #25:  Novel Changes (chapters 19 through 24),
  5. #27:  Novel Continuation (chapters 25 through 30),
  6. #30:  Novel Directions (chapters 31 through 36),
  7. #33:  Novel Struggles (chapters 37 through 42),
  8. #35:  Quiet on the Novel Front (chapters 43 through 48), and
  9. #37:  Character Diversity (chapters 49 through 56),
  10. #39:  Character Futures (chapters 57 through 60), and
  11. #43:  Novel Worlds (chapters 61 through 66).

This picks up from there.  Our characters are settling into new plans.


There is some essential background to the book as a whole in that first post, which I will not repeat here.

Chapter 67, Slade 22

People who quit addictions remain addicted.  My father quit smoking in essence by saying that he did not need to have a cigarette right now whenever he wanted one, and managed not to have one for half a century.  Bob Slade had quit smoking before he was a verser, which is why he always had those matches, later toothpicks, in his mouth, but the tense situation of finding himself trapped and hunted on someone’s starship made him nervous enough that he wished he had one.

Slade realizes that he’s having something of an alien encounter, but the crew looks human, so he’s dealing with that in his own offbeat way by discussing little green men.

The spell is gibberish.  I needed him to cast a “darkness” spell, and the particular concepts of magic he was learning from Omigger involved incantations in lost languages combined with specific movements (and sometimes materials) to tap supernatural energies.  Darkness is a relatively easy spell, in Multiverser terms, as far as what works in different worlds, and it’s defensive without being aggressive.

Although this is a Blake’s 7 inspired world, my captain is more like Kirk than Blake (although I think he’s more like a choral conductor I had in New Jersey All-State in 1971), and my computer/science guy has more Spock than Avon in him.  Slade’s claim that he called some darkness makes no sense scientifically, but as I wrote decades ago, in magic cold and darkness are energies opposed to heat and light, not mere absence of energy.

My predictions concerning the demise of TV and console games seem to be on track a bit faster than I anticipated, but it certainly made sense to assume that they would be unknown this far in the future.  I had seen PBS specials covering wearable computers, and was expecting them to move into use more quickly than they have, but they do seem to be coming via the smartphone and possibly Google Glass®.

The name game is something that happens with versers, because no one knows who you are until you tell them.  I’ve often had players invent names to identify themselves, or use the names of fictional characters.  Bob at this point just gives them the names people have used for him in the past, and the reference to his girlfriend is a throwaway—I never detailed the girlfriend.

Chapter 68, Hastings 24

In game, I was working with Chris Jones’ character Shadow, who had the ability to become invisible, was incredibly strong and very hard to hurt, and could fly.  He grabbed the ghoul and flew with him, and let me pretend I was doing it somehow.  We got the guns after we reached the airport.  Most of the rest of it was very similar to the game, although I think the game character chose Atlanta.  I liked the idea that Arnie’s now long dead parents retired to Miami so he could visit their graves there.

I was not sure what should happen to the bullet that hit the wall.  It could have deflected, but that would have created a serious danger that it would hit Arnie, and I didn’t want that.  I thought it made sense for a telekinetic force wall, as opposed to a psionically generated force shield, to hold things that hit it, and prevented the dangerous bouncing.

I know that cursing is common in modern books, but it’s not part of my speech patterns and I saw no reason for including it in the books.  It was simple enough to say that Arnie cursed.  I have often wondered how I would cover this if it ever went to film or video, because of course he would have to say something.

The guns will become part of Lauren’s gear.  They are just like a set my character has.  John Cross has since raised issues with whether the design is possible, but has concluded that it could be, given certain assumptions that are not contrary to the book.

I liked the gag about dropping him at the airport where people land safely all the time, instead of just dropping him from wherever they were over Philadelphia.  She doesn’t actually say that she could smash him into the ground below or put him down gently, but she conveys it in the metaphor of landing at the airport.

Chapter 69, Kondor 23

That iridescent indigo sky is among my favorite colors, and I included it largely because of that.

Kondor’s wariness probably reflects the way I run game characters when I’m playing the party leader:  always cautious, moving slowly and keeping eyes open at all times.  I don’t like to lose party members, and I don’t often lose them.

I notice two points now, in retrospect.  One is that I never mention horses in the telling in the book.  Often in play characters will ask for horses to make the trek more quickly.  The other is that when I created the world I made the distance twelve miles, which no one can walk in an hour.  The “less than an hour” is not from the castle, but from the sunrise at the second crossroad.

I like the phrase, “monumental reminder of his own mortality” as a description of a graveyard.  I should shorten it, removing the possessive, and put it on a Facebook image card or something.

People are often uncomfortable among dead bodies, and for many that extends to cemeteries.  I thought it was a good counterpoint for Kondor’s atheism and general skepticism of all things supernatural that he could not account for his own discomfort with tombs, and that his explanation that it was a reminder of his mortality was both a plausible excuse and an answer that had been invalidated by his experience.  It also sets up his own internal inconsistency, that he does not want to admit he is afraid of something in a graveyard but he is compelled to express the fear through his actions.

Standard marching band steps are usually a short eight steps to five yards or a long six steps to five yards.  Both of those are slightly unnatural practiced steps.  A standard pace—a double stride—is about five feet, varying from one person to another.  Ten yards is thirty feet, six paces or twelve strides, so his steps are a bit short.  He is struggling to do this.

People think that football fields are a hundred yards long; they are actually a hundred twenty yards long, due to the end zones of ten yards each.  Kondor makes, and then corrects, that mistake, although he is estimating, and he is trying to encourage himself.

I wanted my characters to be credible adults who did not swear.  It was easy with Lauren, and with Slade his oaths are all references to Pagan deities.  With Kondor, the solution was that he was raised to avoid such words, and had his mouth washed out with soap more than once for using them, so he tended to avoid saying them.

When I originally designed the vorgo, I described it as exactly the size and shape of a bowling ball, roughly the same weight.  Someone suggested that it ought to be bright green, which would add to the comedy for the player character who made a trek to retrieve what proves to be a bright green bowling ball.  When I got to this point in the story, though, I ignored the color suggestion—I was trying to maintain a dark mood and did not want the levity.  It is still humorous enough that he identifies it as a bowling ball and sees nothing of value to it.

The “gravest” importance was a deliberate word choice.

The shock value of the bodies rising to seated positions works in the game; I hope it works in the book.  I put the break here, again returning to the notion that I wanted readers to want to know what happens next and so keep reading.

Chapter 70, Slade 23

I have a very clear image of Ann Parker in my brain, but have no idea where I got it.  She’s got long blonde hair, and is petit.  The implant is there because of the character Gan on Blake’s 7, who had an implanted violence limiter, and there was an episode in which there was a defect with it which forced them to find medical help; I did not know what adventures we were likely to have at this point, so I wanted options.  Her implant is my own idea, although it owes something to some book I read where pilots interfaced directly with their ships by a plug.

Kozakowski was the name of the smartest kid in my high school class (or at least, that’s what everyone thought), but I just used it for a name.  The character is somewhat modeled on Tarrant, pilot who joined the Blake’s 7 crew in a later season, but I made him black to push myself away from the feeling that I was copying the show too closely.

Tom Titus is again very much Vila Reston.  I always loved Vila’s line, “There isn’t a door I can’t get through if I’m scared enough.”

Bert “Burly” Bently is more of a copy of Gan, a big gentle guy, but I made him the engineer.

Ishara Takamura is another whose image is very clear in my mind but whose origin I cannot identify.  He has typical features for a slender Japanese male, with a bit of a sinister look to him.

I always picture Toni Bently as tall, thin, and black, a sweet smile and gentle disposition, and an air of culture.

George White is a composite of a number of people I’ve met over the years none of whose names I recall, a guy who can do all different kinds of things because he’s done all different kinds of things; he’s older than most on the crew, probably in his late fifties or early sixties.  A “Jack of All Trades” skill set was used in the game Traveler, which I never played but for which I created characters once, and I liked the idea.

When I put Marilyn Wells on the crew, I had in mind a character something like Troi on Star Trek:  The Next Generation, but a slightly different look with lighter hair.

The notion of finding a ship adrift was a bit of an improbability, but I needed an explanation for how they had a ship, and to avoid being too much like Blake’s 7.  This barely qualified, but I couldn’t think of another option.

Torbin is based on the computer of the original show, including the idea that it won’t talk about what happened previously or where it originated.

When I run this world in games, I often give this chapter to the player to read when he finds a way to get historic background on the world.  I pretty much invented the Federation backstory, looking for a credible way that a totalitarian regime could arise in something as vast as interstellar space.

The progression from ‘chairman of the meetings hosted at my home’ to ‘chairman the most powerful ruler in known history’ is modeled after one theory of how the Bishop of Rome became the Pope.

As Slade defines himself as landing on the rebel side of a civil war, it is the first step in his view of who they are and what they do.  It takes another step in a later chapter.

Chapter 71, Hastings 25

My recollection is that Lauren forgot her workout in part because I forgot it.  I considered going back and trying to work it into the earlier chapters, but decided that there was enough happening in her life that it was perfectly logical that she would forget an appointment.

The thing about throwing off your sleep cycle with a nap is a rather personal experience of my own—I often find that a nap at the wrong time means I’m awake too late and can’t get up the next day.

John “A1Nut” Cross gave me a lot of trouble about those bullets after the book was published.  I might have handled it differently had he given me feedback on the draft (he helped me immensely with the rifle/pistol arrangement for the world Dark Honor Empire I created for Multiverser:  The Third Book of Worlds), but I was working pretty much from what Ed did in-game.  The issue is whether you can have a pistol that fires the same bullets as a fifty-caliber machine gun; fifty caliber revolvers (they are made) use a shorter bullet with less kick.  However, in the end he agreed that one could custom-make such a gun, and the fact that it would have a lot of kick was covered in the description.

I used the trick with the coin to destroy the Coffee Shoppe.  By this point I had decided that Lauren was not going to survive the attack on The Pit, and the coin would become both a meaningless scrap and a problem for future worlds if I didn’t use it—besides, I thought it a clever idea and wanted to use it.  In game, I used an epoxy, because PC7 was the best glue I knew when I was still keeping track of such things (I read about Superglue and have some grasp of how it works, but don’t ever use it for anything), and Ed had me use something called PC12 when I looked.  But here I thought that the more modern superglue type adhesive was the better choice.

I had worked out what the three objects did for which the clues were given, and was working out how she would test them as I did it.  With the die, though, I thought I could get a good cliffhanger from having her black out—particularly as both Slade and Kondor had already died and gone to other worlds, so I figured the reader was expecting it to happen to Lauren, and I wanted to use that expectation.

Chapter 72, Kondor 24

Part of the fun of this chapter lies in the tension between Kondor’s certainty that there is no such thing as undead monsters and his recognition that something which looks entirely like that is now pursuing him.  He tries to invent explanations for what he sees, but he is still terrified and running for his life.

It was part of the conceit of the world that the undead could, at need, walk about within their cemetery but could only cross into the world in darkness.  The notion of the importance of darkness gave me some other problems, but the solutions were at least workable.

Interest in these “behind the writings” continues, so I’m still thinking they’re worth producing.  Feedback is always welcome, of course.  Your Patreon support is also needed to maintain this.

#46: Blizzard Panic

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #46, on the subject of Blizzard Panic.

I am going to blame, or credit, Isaiah Richardson for the push that moved this from annoying musings to an article.  I do not know him well, but he is connected to me through Facebook, and more particularly through being one of my sons’ peers.  He posted to his Facebook to the effect that those who do not live around here must be quite confused that the impending blizzard caused us all to need to make so much French Toast.  Think about it.

I have never understood the panic over a bit of snow.  People seem to lose all sense when the snow is threatened, and don’t know how to live when it arrives.  I live in Cumberland County, in New Jersey, which is almost as far south as you can live and still be considered in the Northeast Corridor–we are south of the Mason-Dixon Line, south of Elkton, Maryland.  I grew up much farther north, and I learned to drive in the snows of Massachusetts–I was there for the Blizzard of ’78 (which as you can see in the picture closed highways pretty completely).  Down here, within a couple days the snow is mostly melted.

New England's Blizzard of '78
New England’s Blizzard of ’78

That’s part of the problem, of course, is that people down here have rarely experienced the kind of snow we had, even at the northern end of the same state.  My parents do get snow that would make me nervous about driving, and they’re just south of the New York Thruway off Route 17.  I drive in weather like that–weather like this–but people around here don’t, and those who do usually are too frightened to drive well.  They become the worst part of driving in this weather.  For one thing, too many of them drive so slowly that one mistake, one change in road surface, and they’ll be stuck, without any momentum to carry them forward.  I know, they’re afraid that if they have momentum they won’t be able to stop if they lose control and something is in front of them, but controlling a car out of a skid is not that big a deal as long as you are familiar enough with the experience that you respond correctly and smoothly.  It’s just a bit nerve-wracking at that moment.

That aspect of having the experience, though, is a significant part of it all.  My father spent his childhood in central Mississippi (I don’t know whether that’s why I can spell that, or whether it’s because of that song).  He commented once that in central New Jersey, where we then were living, if it snowed a few inches they had plows and other equipment out on the roads to make it possible for everyone to get where we needed to be.  I walked to school in snow like that–snow like this–many times.  Back home, he noted, if there was a layer of white dust on the road, everything closed, because no one was equipped for it.  By contrast, years later when I was in Rockport for the aforementioned famed blizzard within hours the town was clearing roads as front end loaders filled dump trucks which emptied snow off the stone pier into the ocean, jackhammers chipped away the underlying ice, and small caterpillar-driven plows rode down sidewalks to carve paths for pedestrians.  They knew what to do when it snowed a bit.

The worst fear here is a power outage.  We are fairly resourceful.  It is a design flaw that most gas appliances operate electronically, but the stovetop can be lit to keep a fire going in the kitchen, which will prevent the house from freezing.  The problem is the water–pumped electrically from a well beneath the house, the pressure is generally gone within the first half hour even if we’re mindful of it.  In summer blackouts, pool water can be used for washing and other sanitary needs, but melting snow is not the best choice for such problems–the amount of air in snow makes it very difficult to thaw over a fire without burning the pot. We keep a dozen two-liter bottles of water in the freezer, but they take time to thaw and we go through them fast if we’re not careful with them.  Mercifully, the power company is pretty good, and only once in memory was there a blackout that lasted more than a couple days.  We had a scare this morning when a breaker blew, but it was quickly resolved.

Usually we have enough food in the house to last a few days, if only because I don’t want to have to shop every day.  That has become less so of late–financial pressures have meant less long-term shopping and more focus on immediate expenses–but if pushed to it there is enough pasta to keep us fed for a few weeks, as long as we can light the stove and put water in a pot.  So I’m not one of those who suddenly has to fill the larder because I might not be able to get to the store for a few days.  That seems crazy to me.

Which brings us back to French Toast.  I’m hoping you got it.  It’s about the products that fly off the shelves during blizzard panic.  Everyone talks about how very quickly the three perishable staples vanish.  Those would be milk, eggs, and bread.  Those are the primary ingredients of French Toast.  The odd question is, what else would you make with these three ingredients?  Bread pudding, perhaps?  So it is a strange combination for people to be stocking in anticipation of being trapped at home, but those are the products most noticeable in their absence from the shelves, so that’s probably what people plan to make.  After all, you only need to light the stovetop and put a bit of oil in a pan….

#45: The Math of Charging Your Phone

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #45, on the subject of The Math of Charging Your Phone.

I once had a charger for my phone that I could plug into the cigarette lighter outlet (now called “power outlet”) of a car.  I used it sometimes when I would leave the house and then discover my phone was dying, or when I was headed to a convention and knew I was not going to be in the hotel room long enough or frequently enough to support the battery, or when the wires on the one in the house came loose and I couldn’t justify buying another house charger right away.  I don’t use it now because the lighter outlet in the one car we still have on the road broke.  However, I’m given to understand that newer cars are more and more coming equipped with USB ports for the specific purpose of charging cell phones or powering similar equipment, and people are doing this far more.

So of course now someone has come along and said that we shouldn’t do that because it’s contributing to an environmental disaster.


He’s not a nutcase.  He’s an automotive electronics engineer, retired.  In general, he makes a good point; but in making it, he does a few things that create a misleading result.  We will get to the good point eventually here.

He begins his calculation by estimating that a smartphone requires 4.8W (four and eight-tenths watts) to recharge.  That’s fascinating, because Universal Serial Buss (USB) ports don’t deliver that much.  All USB ports deliver five volts (5V).  The common USB 1.0 and USB 2.0 ports are limited to a maximum of five hundred milliamps (500mA), or half an amp.  That means maximum output is two and a half watts (2.5W).  The newer USB 3.0 ports can deliver nine hundred milliamps (900mA), nine tenths of an amp, which comes to a maximum output of four and a half watts (4.5W).  You can’t get as much as he says the phone draws from a USB port.  We might presume that the ports in a car, not being directly tied to a computer, might have higher current capabilities, but the way USB works, the connected device controls the current flow (amperage) and thus the total power (wattage), and the smartphone is not going to assume the port can provide more than specifications dictate.

Our author gets his number not from what USB ports provide but from the amount required to charge the phone from completely dead to fully charged.  It might take a long time to do that on a trickle charge, but he’s right to the degree that if you are completely charging your phone from nothing, you’re going to use that much power to do it.  But then he assumes that you get that 4.8W in one hour, from which he calculates that this will cost you 0.03 (zero-point-zero-three, or three one hundreds) of a mile per gallon.  That’s not negligible–it’s about half a football field per gallon, a bit more than the distance around the high school track on a ten gallon tank–but if you’re getting thirty miles per gallon, it’s point one percent (0.1%), one part in one thousand.  He then multiplies that by the three trillion road miles traveled by all United States drivers in a year assuming an average velocity of thirty miles per hour, and comes up with one hundred million gallons of gasoline spent to charge phones.  That’s two hundred million dollars.  It also produces as much greenhouse gas as burning nine hundred forty-five million pounds of coal.

The article does make one excellent point:  It will cost you thirty times as much to charge your phone on your car’s engine as it will to charge it on your house current.  That’s because electric companies don’t use gasoline engines to generate electricity, but go for the least expensive options at all times, and automobiles are designed to be efficient transportation, not efficient electrical generators.  It will cost you about two cents an hour to charge your phone in your car, about six one-hundreds of a cent for the same hour of charging at home.  It will cost you, personally, even less to charge it in your hotel room if you’re on the road.  Car chargers should be the backup option, not the primary choice.

On the other hand, he’s using the phantom of big numbers to frighten us.  It is reminiscent of the famous “National Geographics Disaster” covered thoroughly (and facetiously) in The Journal of Irreproducible Results, in which scientists jokingly calculated the long-term consequences of the fact that the relatively heavy National Geographic Magazine is never scrapped but rather stored in growing piles in basements and garages, such that in millions of years the accumulated weight would cause continents to buckle and sink.  Because we’re multiplying that tiny two cents an hour by three trillion miles of driving, of course we get a huge number.  If all of that charging was shifted to wall outlets, the cost would still be over six million dollars–a lot less than two hundred million, but still one of those huge frightening numbers.  The amount of power we’re talking about for one phone is still a very small amount.  Your car stereo probably draws several times that.  If you don’t have the new light-emitting diode (LED) or similar high-technology low-power headlights, they almost certainly do.  Besides, even were you to leave your phone connected to the charger for every minute that you drive, one of the functions of USB charging systems is that when the device is fully charged it stops drawing power.  So if in that first hour of driving your phone is fully charged, it doesn’t charge more until you’ve used it.  It’s absolutely foolish to imagine that we are, or ever will be, charging our cell phones every mile that we drive.  We charge them until they tell us they’re charged, then we put them away until we notice that they’re getting low again.  The scary numbers are inflated by this critically unreal assumption.

So do the reasonable thing and charge your phone from less expensive more environmentally sound wall current instead of the power system of a gasoline engine, but don’t obsess over the number of charging ports in new vehicles.  Driving is already an expensive environmentally unsound convenience.  Using the charging ports in the car is another one, a far less one on the grand scale of things and one which can more easily be replaced by something better.  Do so when you can.

#44: The Feeling of Victory

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #44, on the subject of The Feeling of Victory.

Moments ago I finished a game of computer pinball, and it was such an exciting finish–on the final ball I finished the extra point task list, crossed the two million mark, and lost the ball, all within a second, and I couldn’t help going, yes.

Don’t get me wrong.  Two million is a paltry score, even by my standards. I have to break six or seven million just to get on my own leader board, and I think that my record score is up somewhere above fourteen.  This wasn’t a particularly well-played game overall.  It was just–

Screenshot of 3D Pinball Space Cadet (c)Microsoft

It illustrates something that every game designer and every role playing game referee needs to grasp.  It is something inherent in Multiverser, something that I tried to capture in the novels.  Some call it the “payoff”.  It’s the feeling, perhaps the “rush”, you get when you do something special.

Note that you don’t have to win.  You don’t even have to break even.  You don’t have to have reached some pre-defined goal.  At no point did I think that I wanted to reach two million–on throwaway games of pinball, I figure I did fine if I passed the million mark, and I’d done that.  Nor did I give much thought to whether I was going to “complete the mission” by hitting all the intended targets.  It was this juxtaposition, the unexpected success on both of those in-game milestones at the moment of defeat.

After all, let’s face it, you never “win” pinball.  It’s not like Solitaire, where sometimes you win and sometimes you lose and if you know enough you can improve your odds.  With pinball, you keep playing, and you keep winning, until suddenly you lose.  You can count it a win if your particularly high losing score is high enough to put you on the leader board.  Yet this unwinnable game has an appeal of its own, an appeal that comes from the small victories along the way, and particularly from the unexpected ones, the ones that come in under the wire, the ones that surprise.  It’s fine for me to lose, as long as at some point I felt like I won–even if it’s the same moment.

It’s fine to run or design a game in which people lose.  In Multiverser, player characters get killed all the time.  Ron Edwards once wrote that the game had some of the best answers to the problem of character death, because we use it to advance the plot into the next adventure.  You lost the round; get ready for the next round, because you get to keep playing, you’re just on a different board.  The game you lost isn’t lost if you won something along the way, and the sting of defeat is considerably mitigated by the thrill of a victory gained at that same moment.  People love their victories, but they also love their glorious defeats.  Icarus may have crashed and burned, but for a moment there, he was flying.

#43: Novel Worlds

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #43, on the subject of Novel Worlds.

This is about the creation of my book Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel, now being posted to the web site in serialized form.  This “behind the writings” look definitely contains spoilers, so you might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them.  That link will take you to the table of contents for the book; links below (the section headings) will take you to the specific individual chapters, and there are (or will soon be) links on those pages to bring you back hopefully to the same point here.  There were also numerous similar previous mark Joseph “young” web log posts:

  1. #18:  A Novel Comic Milestone (which provided this kind of insight into the first six chapters),
  2. #20:  Becoming Novel (covering chapters seven through twelve),
  3. #22:  Getting Into Characters (for chapters thirteen through eighteen),
  4. #25:  Novel Changes (chapters 19 through 24),
  5. #27:  Novel Continuation (chapters 25 through 30),
  6. #30:  Novel Directions (chapters 31 through 36),
  7. #33:  Novel Struggles (chapters 37 through 42),
  8. #35:  Quiet on the Novel Front (chapters 43 through 48), and
  9. #37:  Character Diversity (chapters 49 through 56), and
  10. #39:  Character Futures (chapters 57 through 60).

This picks up from there.  Two of our three characters find themselves starting in new worlds in these chapters.


There is some essential background to the book as a whole in that first post, which I will not repeat here.

Chapter 61, Slade 20

I was building Shella into a sorceress for no real reason other than that it gave me story and character development for Slade.  It turned out for the better in the long run, but at this point I did not see where it was going.  I recently read the quote (and I confess to being terrible at sources) that writing a novel is like driving home at night in the fog:  you can only see a hundred feet ahead, but you can make it all the way home.  That makes sense to me.

The “not bad, for an auto mechanic” line was important.  It was enough that Slade regarded himself a fighter, and was becoming one; I did not see him embracing a career in magic, and doing so would have made him too much like Lauren.  I needed him to think of magic as something he didn’t really do well and wouldn’t pursue seriously.

Having Shella there also gave me a side door through which to arrange Torrence’s marriage.  I wanted it to be something with which the modern Slade would be comfortable, but knew it had to fit within the concept of arrangements of the time.  Using the sister to introduce girls to her brother seemed the way to do it.

I found my way to get Slade out, and had tied up most of the loose ends to this point.  I did not know that any of these people would ever come back into the story, so the parting from Shella was a bit melancholy for me.

At the time I gave very little thought to what it was Slade was trying to do, that is, what spell he was trying to learn.  I don’t think I’ve returned to that, but it’s possible that I mentioned it again somewhere and have since forgotten.  Anyway, I’ll probably recall it in some future book.

I think the fact that Joe and Bob versed out in successive chapters was strictly coincidence here—I’d brought them both to the point that they were ready to go, and I had worked out where they were going, and found ways to move them, so it happened.

Chapter 62, Hastings 22

I wanted Lauren to learn the sort of “hyperspace” travel the werewolves used, as I was certain it would be useful to her in the future.  I had no idea just how much she would use it eventually, but here and now she needed to learn it.

In copying this chapter, I noticed that I’d missed a close quotation in the book.  It’s fixed in the online version.

I’m fond of grilled ham and cheese, and of cream of mushroom soup.  Tomato soup goes well with grilled cheese, too, but is a bit cliché, so I went with my preference.

I had eaten at Bookbinder’s in Philadelphia exactly once—treat of the executives of a company for which I had worked security, when I had to testify at a National Labor Relations Board hearing concerning the termination of an employee I had caught stealing from the company.  All I remembered, really, was that they had really good lobster bisque.  It’s also the only fancy restaurant in the city I know, but at least I knew it was there.

Chapter 63, Kondor 21

I created The Quest for the Vorgo as a world for a stripped demo game that ran very rough, but I found the world to be fascinating and reworked it for full game play; it was slated for release in The Third Book of Worlds, which is a work in progress.  It owes a lot to the wonderfully comedic Army of Darkness, and its idea of dropping a modern person into a medieval undead horror story.  I’ve used it for a lot of demos since I wrote this.

I was particularly interested in running Joe Kondor in it, because he was an atheist, and he would have to find naturalist explanations for the magic that permeates so much of this world.  I figured it would be fun, and there would be a sort of message in the very fact that in the face of all this magic he could maintain his persistent unbelief.

The opening of the world was also fun, because we have a group of magic-using locals who have just performed a ceremony which is supposed to call a “supernatural” deliverer to aid them, and the character appears in their midst.  I will never say whether he appears there because the spell worked, or they think the spell worked because he appears there, but generally people who land in this world take the bait and go on the quest whether or not they think the magic worked.

The names of these characters were invented quite off the cuff; the only one that has any real source is Dimtri, which I got by shortening Dimitrios, cover artist Jim Denaxas’ given name.  When I pulled the world together for game play, I did not carry the names into it, because they are not all that easy to remember.

The castle is on a motte and bailey design, but Kondor would not know that (and the reader probably would not connect the description to anything specific even if told that it is the design of the Tower of London) so I simply had him describe it.  The photo selected for this web log entry is a motte and bailey castle, but rather a smaller and more simple one than the one in the story.

The name mistake, Jo-suede Candor, was at the time intended as a way of intensifying the sense that these people did not think of him as human.  They did not understand the structure of his name.

The comment on the bed was on the thought that medieval life was not comfortable, that they had nothing like the comforts we take for granted.  Even when Joe was in Sherwood sleeping on a mattress he made from local materials, his bed was more comfortable than this one in the main tower.

Chapter 64, Slade 21

In-game, players roll each time they enter a new universe to see whether they have moved to the next “stage”.  In the first stage they enter unconscious and awaken.  In the second stage, though, they arrive in a dream state, and the referee mixes bits of reality with bits of the past and whatever fantastic elements he wishes, much as the sort of dream you have when you are awakening but still dreaming and things in the room mix with the dream.  I wanted this to happen in the book, and Slade’s second world gave me an opportunity to experiment with it.

I created this world specifically for the book, although I later distilled the essential elements from it for demo games and was hoping to release it in a planned project of short world books called “Triple Play”, sets of three worlds that were of similar substance, this one one of three space settings.  That has not materialized.  I based a lot of this on the concepts of Blake’s 7; as I previously mentioned that my thief Filp was based significantly on Vila Reston, I also based characters here somewhat loosely on those characters.  I had run a Blake’s 7 world at least twice in playtest (after all, Ed always encouraged plagiarization for game play) but knew I couldn’t use it as it was, particularly as I think someone had been working on a role playing game for it about that time.

Kondor was surprised to find himself on a spaceship; Slade is similarly surprised, but his situation is different.

Chapter 65, Hastings 23

I gave the impression through Bethany’s dialogue that she and Lauren had fought vampires together before.  I already knew that Lauren was going to train Bethany when she returned in the past, but had not worked out any of the details of that.  When I got to that part in the second novel, it was something of a challenge to figure out how to make that happen.

The use of her psionic powers is becoming automatic for Lauren, which is going to matter eventually.

The hints are riddles.  I had by this point worked out what the paperclip, die, and marble each did, and found a way to create seemingly related riddles for them.  I still did not know what the acorn did, and had to make it seem as if Bethany knew but was keeping it secret.

I remember that when Ed ran this scenario he had his Bob the Ghoul (whom I have renamed Arnie) attack someone I knew—but I do not remember who it was.  I had Chris Jones’ character (known by the not very original name Shadow, I renamed the character Whisp in the rulebook) working with me, but I can’t now recall the details of how we found out about the attack, or who was attacked.

Chapter 66, Kondor 22

The particular fun at this point is that the summoners believe Kondor is a supernatural immortal—which in a sense he is—and therefore that he does not understand anything about being mortal—which of course is not true, he just doesn’t understand the details of their time and place and the nature of their enemy.  So it is difficult for him to make sense of the information, because they assume on the one hand that as the summoned deliverer he must know the problem and the solution, and on the other that as an immortal being he knows nothing about graveyards and corpses and the undead.  His situation is actually the reverse of that.

It would have made more sense for Kondor to send the emissaries sooner so that troops would be arriving the same day he returned with the vorgo, but he did not think of that.  This gave me more drama during the fight, though, because there would be reinforcements if the troops could hold long enough.

The wall was not envisioned as thick enough for an entry passage with arrow slits and murder holes; Kondor’s corral achieves something of the same effect, although less effectively.

Interest in these “behind the writings” continues, so I’m still thinking they’re worth producing.  Feedback is always welcome, of course.  Your Patreon support is also needed to maintain this.

#42: Politicians and Statemen

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #42, on the subject of Politicians and Statemen.

19th century American James Freeman Clarke left some memorable and sometimes Tweetable quotes behind.  Perhaps the most famous of these reads

A politician thinks of the next election. A statesman, of the next generation.

  He was apparently not a politician, being a clergyman, educator, and activist reformer.  He may have been a statesman.  However, it is clear that he approved statesmen over politicians.


I read something recently that brought the quote back to mind, causing me to wonder who in the nation today are the statesmen and who the mere politicians.  Of course, that’s not simple to assess.  If we look at the Democrats, we see a lot of policies that seem to be aimed at pleasing voters–free or low-cost healthcare, food and welfare programs, as well as policies to protect minority benefits.  It has been argued, and not entirely unreasonably, that this party is attempting to buy votes with government money and other generosity.  On the other hand, despite the fact that the Republicans pioneered such policies as protecting the rights of blacks and protecting the environment, the Democrats have managed to make those their issues, becoming the “progressive party” after for decades being the party of oppression with people like George Wallace spearheading the fight against civil rights.  Democrats are the ones who push for taking steps against climate change (although Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger has spoken on that subject as well), insisting that present economic hardships, whatever they might be, are small compared to a potential future crisis.

Of course, many argue that the Republicans are using government money to buy the votes–and the pockets–of big business and Wall Street.  Forget that Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton has close ties to the financial markets and backers from that group, it is maintained that the Republican party is bought and paid for by big business.  On the other hand, the Republican party coalition (we talked much about how coalition government works at the party level in the United States) contains several groups that focus on principles:  the pro-life coalition fighting against the rampant killing of the unborn, the gun lobby focusing on Second Amendment rights, Christian groups upset about First Amendment protections in the changing moral landscape, Originalists pressing for the America of our ancestors.  These are issues focused on the future and the betterment of the nation.  You might not agree about them, but they are the thoughts of statesmen looking to improve the nation, not of politicians seeking to buy votes.

Of course, both parties are packed with politicians.  There is a degree to which they have chosen the party with which they are most in agreement, but also a degree to which they mold their own messages to appeal to the voters of that party.  Politicians are always thinking of the next election; the next generation is a distant second in most cases.

However, what intrigued me about this article is not the politicians but the voters.  In brief, correspondents for a news organization swapped jobs for a week–the one covering the Republicans tackling the Democrats, the one working the Democrats turning to the Republicans.  They both noticed the same difference in the voters.

Republican voters frequently talked about issues.  They were invested in questions like originalism, abortion, homosexual marriage, gun rights, free speech, et cetera.  They wanted to know what candidates were going to do to protect and advance these principles, these policy positions, for the perceived good of the nation.

Democratic voters by and large were concerned about their own needs:  what was the candidate going to do about my welfare check, my medical care, my housing problems.  The Democratic voters were personally invested in putting people in office who would give them what they perceived as their wants and needs.  They were strong-arming their candidates into that supposed position of promising giveaways.  They, in the main, fit the stereotype Republicans have of Democrats, of trading the future of the country for a paycheck.

It seems that whatever we can say about the politicians, among the voters, the Republicans are the statesmen trying to think of the next generation, and the Democrats are the politicians extracting promises for the next election.

This may be too harsh.  After all, it does appear demographically that poorer voters tend to vote Democratic, and if we consider Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we recognize that people who have trouble putting food in their stomachs and a roof over their heads don’t care so much about such esoteric questions as the rights of the unborn or freedom of expression or the right to bear arms.  They care about meeting those fundamental needs.  One of our founding fathers quipped that the democracy would end the moment the voters realized that they could all vote themselves money from the Federal coffers.  That’s been happening for quite a while, but the situation is worsening.  It’s probably also the reason why early voter regulations required that the voter prove he had real property and an education–that he was intelligently invested in the future of the country.  There are problems with that arrangement, certainly, in its tendency to maintain the status quo; but there is also something to be said for its ability to resist the tendency toward candystore giveaway politicking.  The fact that poor people are more interested in what the government is going to do to alleviate their situation and rich people are more interested in what the government is going to do to ensure long term economic and social stability is perfectly logical.  It also suggests that the former breeds politicians and the latter statesmen, at least to the degree of short-term versus long-term economic stability.

Republican politicians might be merely politicians, and there might be statesmen among the Democratic politicians, but if we want the party whose members are most concerned about the longer-term future, it might be the Republicans.  In contrast to the politicking for personal gain among the Democrats, the Republican membership might be the statesmen.

Assuming statesmen are still to be preferred….

#41: Ted Cruz and the Birther Issue

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #41, on the subject of Ted Cruz and the Birther Issue.

The unabashedly liberal Huffington Post has reported that a Texas attorney has filed suit against Ted Cruz, claiming that the Republican United States Senator from Texas is not eligible to be President of the United States because he is not a “natural born Citizen” as required by the Constitution.


This is ground we covered in detail quite a few years ago; in fact, it was this issue that launched our political writing at The Examiner–only then the object was Barrack Obama.  We have preserved those articles as The Birther Issue elsewhere on this site, and we’ll look at that.

The problem for Cruz is that he was not born in the United States.  People argued whether Barrack Obama was or was not born in the United States, and whether the birth certificate published by the White House asserting a Hawaiian birth was in fact a forgery.  The issue this time is not whether or not he was born in the United States–it is clearly established that he was born in Canada, to a mother who is incontrovertibly a United States citizen, and a Cuban-born father who fled to the United States and became a Canadian citizen a few years after the birth of his son Ted, then became an American citizen just over a decade ago.

Thus the question is whether Ted Cruz is a “natural born” United States citizen as required by the constitution, based on the fact that his mother being a United States citizen gave him U. S. citizenship at the moment of his birth, or whether he is not “natural born”, based on an interpretation of that phrase that requires that the President was actually born in these United States.  It is a perennial issue–before Cruz of course it was raised concerning Obama, but it has also been raised in connection with Mitt Romney (born in Mexico to American parents), John Cain (born to a U. S. military family stationed on the U. S. military base in the Panama Canal Zone), Mitt’s father George Romney (born to U. S. citizen parents in self-imposed exile in Mexico), Barry Goldwater (born in the United States Territory of Arizona before it became a State of the Union), and quite a few others.  In many of these controversies, scholars have asserted that the Supreme Court has never said what the Constitution means by the words “natural born citizen”.

They are only half right.

In United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649 (1898), the Supreme Court addressed a citizenship case.  In that case, they cited Dicey’s Digest of the Law of England with approval, quoting that

“Natural-born British subject” means a British subject who has become a British subject at the moment of his birth.

They then quoted from a case which cited Blackstone to the effect that

a person who is born on the ocean is a subject of the prince to whom his parents then owe allegiance….

It seems quite evident that Wong Kim Ark asserted that “natural born citizen” of the United States meant no more and no less than that at the moment of birth the individual was a United States Citizen–something that clearly applied to Obama, both Romneys, and Cain, at least.  By the standard set forth by Dicey and Blackstone cited by the Supreme Court in Wong Kim Ark, because Mrs. Cruz was a United States Citizen at the time that her son Ted was born, Ted Cruz is a natural born citizen of the United States, and eligible to become President of these United States.

So what’s the problem?  How can anyone say that the Court has not decided this question, if the court has decided it?

The problem is that the court stated that, but did not decide it.  It falls into the category of what is called “dicta”–statements made by the court that are not directly relevant to the decision in the case but express what the court probably would decide about such an issue.  Wong Kim Ark had nothing to do with presidential eligibility.  It was about the California-born son of Chinese citizens refused admission to the country on returning from a visit to foreign relatives abroad because of a California anti-immigration law, and decided only that the child of anyone born in the United States to parents who were legally present in the United States at the time of that birth was a citizen of the United States at the moment of his birth.  The cited passages in Dicey and Blackstone were part of a more general discussion that supported that conclusion, and although they clearly support the conclusion that anyone who was a citizen at the moment of his birth, wherever born, is a natural born citizen, the decision of the case technically only supports its own conclusion, that anyone legally born on United States soil is a United States citizen at that moment.

So technically the critics are right:  the issue has never been “decided” because it has never been raised as such.  However, the reasoning of Wong Kim Ark leads inexorably to the conclusion that people in the position of any of these politicians, including Ted Cruz, are “natural born citizens” under the intended meaning of the Constitution, and eligible to be President of the United States, and there is no reason to imagine that the Supreme Court would decide otherwise given that precedent.

Cruz is right:  the issue which did not matter half a year ago is being raised now because he has become a serious contender for the Republican nomination.  It is not, and should not be regarded, a real issue.