Thursday, November 14, 2013

Five Suggestions For Rimworld!

Hello, video game fans!

Thanks in large part to perhaps my favorite Lets Player of them all, Scott Manley (best known for his work playing Kerbal Space Program and being, y'know, a real astrophysicist), I discovered a new game called Rimworld.  It is produced by Ludeon Studios, in particular by a gentleman named Tynan Sylvester.  It's an extremely early-stage game, having just completed a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for its development.  They've released a pre-alpha build to donors, and it feels more complete than many might suspect.

Lots of fire?  That's about right for a first colony.  Via

The Basics Of Rimworld

You, as the player, start off with three folks who crash-land on an alien planet.  You get to click a "randomize" button until you get three colonists you're happy with, and this is important because those first three guys will determine if you live or die real fast.  If you somehow get three people who cannot build, you're done.  If you get three who cannot serve as a warden for captured enemies, you will never be able to recruit new allies.  Over time, you eventually can recruit new allies and expand your colony.

As for the threats you'll face, they are generated by a "storyteller," similar to the AI Director in Left 4 Dead.  This is probably an early-in-the-cycle AI setup, and the number of situations you can expect are slightly diverse, but begging for more variety.  Your main enemy will be the raiders who invade on a regular basis.  Fine!  When they start off way too strong for you, that's not so fun.  And, the fact that they're usually the only actual threat to your colony is a bit disappointing:  Solar flares prevent all electronics from working (with no defense against it), eclipses cut the power production of your solar panels, and random short circuits keep you patching things up...But that's not a threat, really.  Then again, the fact is, this game is very early in development.

Bearing in mind that in a recent Reddit AMA the designers of Kerbal Space Program, Squad, said one of their top pet peeves was when fans say, "just do this one thing, it'll be so easy!," here's my five suggestions for the long-term development of this game as it moves from a pre-alpha to a finished product.  After all, I put my money into their project, I get to have my say even if I know I might later be overruled!  Plus, the game can use the buzz.  ;)

#1:  Technological Development

Research exists in the game, of course, but it is largely ornamental.  The basic elements of your colonists are already developed - they can mine into solid rock as soon as they land, apparently Minecraft style.  You can research advanced picks that speed up the mining process, but you never have to produce or equip them.  Your characters might be bad shots, but they can quickly acquire firearms either from dead raiders or trade ships.

I picture a game where technological development is a little more essential.  Imagine if you were stranded on an alien planet with nothing but some raw materials from your crash-landed ship.  Even if you have the talent to build a hut and start developing technology, it might be tough for you to get all that done, all at once.

My suggestion here is simple:  Start folks off at rock bottom.  I'm not saying we need to stay at the bottom long - especially if we have a scientist in the group!  I'm just saying we need to have a little balance.  Instead of having wildly available firearms (Except perhaps in an "easy mode" setting), have characters start with bows and arrows or swords.  Colonists should have to produce their gear.  Speaking of...

#2:  Equipment Management

Again, this is a very early build.  Right now the only equip-able items are firearms.  That's fine!  But, as the game develops, the following slots should open up...

 - Armor (Possibly even powered armor at some point).
 - Melee weapon (including mining pick, because a mining pick to the head fucking hurts!).
 - Ranged weapon, perhaps even including stun guns.  NOT including grenades, though.
 - Miscellaneous item, such as ground-penetrating radar for finding mineral deposits, or fragmentation grenades.

The idea here is not to over-complicate matters, but rather to include additional immersion and options into the game.  Instead of having equipment presumed to be on a character, like how the "pneumatic picks" technology simply adds 20% to mining effectiveness, they should be items that are physically equipped.  Again, if it'll split a rock, it'll serve as a melee weapon!

Also on that note, a colony should be able to produce many of its own goods and needs, equipment wise.  As the tech tree advances, it may be hard to advance the research cause too quickly.  Just getting up to automatic firearms may be tough, and a player might wish to invest in food growth and processing instead.  So, they can produce basic arms but if they want to really upgrade their armies, they should have to trade for it.

#3:  Expanded Storyteller Elements

So, we know that there is an AI storyteller that governs matters, but there's plenty of ways that the game can be expanded and improved.  Right now, the main threat to your colonists is raiders.  They come in waves, and usually the first two are single-sucker affairs that end quickly.  The third wave, inexplicably, can be six raiders strong - six raiders who are all very skilled and very well armed!

Instead, assuming we're working from a lower technological level to begin with, the storyteller AI could decide that there is a nearby group of natives who might be exiled from their main group.  These one to three people could be approached and either recruited to join the colony, or - if they are hostile, or if you lack a socially talented colonist - could need to be eliminated before conflict emerges.  Later on, that native group might come by to inquire what happened.  If they're dead, that may be a problem - or, they may thank you, as those three may have been crooks!  If they're alive, well, they might demand you release them, even if they choose to be with you.

Other possibilities include adding predatory animals that can provide an early-on threat, meteor showers that damage equipment and reveal new sources of minerals, or waves of sickness which incapacitate your colonists and throw off the flow of work.  Also, instead of always getting raiders, you might watch as another group of colonists arrive to build their own base, and you might have to decide if you can live together - or, if you have to become the raider, yourself!

Much of this leads to...

#4:  Improved Use Of Colonists

Right now, I feel like my colonists are only under my control when they are drafted.  Sometimes this is simply because they follow what is honestly pretty impressive (if under-optimized) automated scripts.  Others, however, I feel like it's because some of my colonists don't really, uhh, do much.  I have a noblewoman, for example, who does nothing but sit on her rear and eat our food.  She doesn't build things, she doesn't haul them, and all she does is play warden to any prisoners we get and maybe call up a visiting star-ship.  She used to do research, but we're done with the tech tree, so she's pretty useless day-in and day-out.  Fun, huh?

Well, we also just recruited a former raider whose ability to work is even less.  Literally, he exists to shoot things.  That's fine!  It would be nice, however, if I could assign my soldier guy a place to patrol.  Maybe his job is to stand guard at the gates of our town and make sure we're safe?  That'd make sense, right?  Instead, he wanders aimlessly around unless I draft him, at which point I forget to un-draft him and he starves himself and fails to sleep.

By adding in other factions, like natives or other colonists (and possibly even raiders!), having a nobleman-type character would be essential because they could negotiate from a point of advantage.  Obviously the other faction may be biased against me, but at least they'd have something useful to do.

#5:  More, more, more!

Yep, that's about the best I can come up with.  The important thing with a game like Rimworld, now that it's made over 250,000 Canadian Dollars on Kickstarter, is that it needs to put out content.  It has a ModDB page, but no mods yet - and unlike Kerbal Space Program (we'll get to you!), it doesn't seem very mod-friendly, so far.  But, I could be very wrong.  I'm not much of a coder.

When a good, well-reviewed mod is produced, it could be incorporated into the game's official build.  Maybe some of that kickstarter money could be used in a "bounty" system.  No, not like the New Orleans Saints!  Instead, if someone makes a very good mod, it could be brought into the game and the mod's developer could be given either some sort of promotional award, or a small payment for services rendered.  That would really set the community going!

Well, that's it for me.  Try Rimworld, it's a great time sink with incredible promise!

Jesse Pohlman is a writer living in Freeport, New York.  He's self-published a number of novels available in Paperback and/or Kindle.  You space fans might enjoy Protostar:  Memoirs of the Messenger, a Kindle exclusive!  Or, if you'd rather something a bit present-tense, try the super-hero stylings of Physics Incarnate!

Thank you for reading!

Friday, November 1, 2013

National Novel Writing Month 2013 Begins!

Hello, everyone!

It's that time of year again!  I'm gonna be blogging my progress as often as I can, when I make some!  This weekend'll be tough; tomorrow I'm actually doing an interview for a webTV show!  So, expect me to be in catch-up-mode on Sunday!  This is my third time doing NaNo, and in 2011 I "won" it!  Read all about it here.

For now, my word count is:  1,743!  That's juussttt ahead of the 1,666.6666666~7 you need to break even by the thirtieth!  But, rest assured, I'll make it.  I've done this before, and I know what I plan to write and how!

I look forward to seeing you all!  I'll also be heavily using the Twitter hashtag #NaNoFreaks, so get ready!

Ramble About Writing is produced by Jesse Pohlman.  Jesse is a freelance writer working out of Freeport, NY.  He writes books - Just check out his Amazon Author's Page.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Five Ways to Improve Grand Theft Auto Online!

It may come as a surprise to you, but there was a brief window of my life where I was an avid World of Warcraft player.  Yes, I know, the roleplaying-and-writing nerd played the legendary MMORPG for a bit - shocking, huh?  I really only played the Cataclysm expansion, and had retired long before Mists of Pandaria came out.  What was initially enjoyable and challenging became repetitive and pointless once grinding for gear became a central focus; if I wanted to try something different for a change, I had to go through a bajillion steps I'd already undertaken...

...Whatever.  We all know the MMORPG score.  It's a formula designed to make players into addicts, and to drag out the experience so as to consume time, thereby extending the value already present in the game and squeezing more paid subscription days out of users.  Consider the months of work it takes to get a character to level 85 90 just so they can begin the process of getting geared up appropriately!

So, when Rockstar Games announced an MMORPG-caliber Grand Theft Auto, inventively titled "Grand Theft Auto Online," I was skeptical - especially since it was built into GTA 5.  But, I love me some GTA 5, and the ensuing industry standard launch-day-apocalypse got me thinking it might just not be terrible.  Once I got in game, I discovered its capacity to be fun and engaging without half of the gearing-up bullshit most MMORPGs deal with.  I fucking love Rockstar to begin with, and GTA 5's unprecedented success coupled with GTAO's availability has presented them with a chance to seriously contend with WoW and its dozens of would-be competitors.

That said...There's room for improvement.  Here are five ways GTA Online needs to be upgraded in order to realize its potential as a breakthrough MMORPG hit!

#5:  Special Skills

In Rockstar's GTA 5, our three protagonists each have a special talent; Franklin, for example, can slow time down while he drives so that players can execute insanely complicated techniques.  It's true that GTA Online can't capitalize on such "bullet time" mechanics, since all participants have to be on the same clock, but that doesn't mean there can't be special abilities.

Here's one example:  A character with a sufficiently high Stealth score could have an ability which, when toggled, removes the player's icon on the radar for a short time; say, one millisecond for every point of Stealth the character has.  A Stamina special might be a double-speed sprint, causing enemy fire to be less likely to hit; or, perhaps, a character's health regeneration might advance beyond the halfway point.

Unlocking these skills would require a bit of game balancing:  Perhaps a side-quest or two has to be completed?  Of course, characters could only know one ability.  Maybe they could delete it and/or overwrite it, but - again - it should not be a task undertaken lightly.

#4:  Improved Customization

Following up on our fifth entry; Rockstar, let's face facts.  I don't so much mind this "hereditary" system you whipped up for character creation, but let's get at least a little organized.  Different heights?  Body shapes?  C'mon!  This is the best chance we, as players, have ever had to interact with the crazy-ass world you've created.  Let us have a little control over ourselves?  Please?

Another thing:  This system of picking what your character does with their time, and having that decide what a character is capable of?  I dunno.  Wouldn't it just be easier to use a stat-building system?  I guess it was nice when I was rolling up my character, and it helped my sense of immersion, but then I found my character's clothes changing drastically and erratically based on half an hour here or there?

While we're on the topic; make customization options a little less based on rank?  Like clothes - having a random-looking shirt unlock at rank 80 when a button-down high-end suit unlocks at 10 just makes no sense, to me.  Why is it so hard to have an RGB-style color wheel for clothing?  That would be awesome!  Instead, I'm 90% satisfied with the attire my character started with, and I feel no inclination to change it.  I dunno.

#3:  Make Money Make Sense

Okay, Rockstar, now we're gonna get into one of the biggest annoyances there is in this game - Money.  It's not that you don't kick out okay money per mission, depending on the mission.  A friend and I spent, like, half an hour chasing a car literally across your continent for a measly $1K when a ten-minute run can net me upwards of $5K, but that's beside the point.  When I died at the hands of another player who just popped up and killed me as soon as I left a mission, then killed me two or three more times when I respawned, I lost a few hours of work.  And I don't just mean the money from the mission I was on - I mean I lost a couple thousand out of my bank.

I'm told (we'll get there) that this has been addressed in a patch.  Maybe; I've been careful not to die, since.  But, even deaths during missions or - get this - deathmatches have the perception of overwhelming loss.  I appreciate feeling a need to conserve ammo, but I shouldn't feel like using my SMG is a travesty!  It just feels like resources are too scarce - and, to top it off, it even feels like I can't carry around much ammo.

I mentioned earlier how games like World of Warcraft exploit the need to get gear (and gold) in the interest of making players spend massive amounts of time and therefore expend their monthly subscriptions; GTA Online is free, so why not be a bit more liberal with the...Oh.  Oh, yeah - they want you to pay for your in-game money.  Still, have fuckin' mercy.

#2:  Improve Matchmaking!

Rockstar, I honestly don't know which to make the #1 or #2 suggestion here, but I feel like this is a problem that follows, at least for me, from the one I'm making number one.  Now, I play on X-Box 360.  I play on X-Box Live.  In fact, I only bought X-Box Live Gold so I can play GTAO.  I'm not really regretting that decision, but I am slightly annoyed because - either for XBL-specific reasons or GTA-specific ones - I can't seem to find a good match.

I get that a simultaneous session is limited to 16 players.  I'd heard rumors it might be at/get to 32, but at least for now it's 16.  I understand that, and that's acceptable to me.  What makes no sense, however, is that - in my pursuit of a 16 man death match - I feel like I am constrained to only the 15 other people I'm in a session with, plus or minus my online friends.  There are suggestions, vis-a-vis the "skill-matched players" panel, that matchmaking looks for more than just a dozen-and-change people, but I don't feel it.

Let me pull another example from WoW:  When I search for a random dungeon or PvP map (think "mission" or "Deathmatch," or "Race" in GTAO), WoW searches over each and every server in my region for any player looking for any suitable game.  This allows it to query literally millions of players, and - in Raid Finder's example - usually lets me into a 25-man raid within a minute or two.  Neat, huh?  Forming up an in-game team in WoW is easy; I don't know how to do something so essential in GTAO.  Who is that talking over my XBL headset?  Why doesn't the game tell me who, at least, has an active mic?

Why isn't GTAO the same way?  Is it just XBL?  I don't think I should feel like I'm limited to 16-20 potential candidates when I'm searching for a 16-player match.  Given the way Rockstar's servers were overwhelmed, I feel like I should have thousands of possible players - teammates, or enemies.  I get that some of these gripes come off as spoiled PC gamer gripes, but let's be real here - some of these problems were solved back in Everquest.

#1:  Tell Me What I'm Doing!

Seriously, Rockstar, here's the deal:  GTAO has incredible potential.  I get that you haven't released Heists yet, as Heists in GTA5 are reminiscent of "end-game" raiding to me.  I get that you can't make it too easy for players to acquire new assets.  What I don't get is why it feels like I'm signing up for game sessions with the objectives list covered up.

Let's start with the "Missions" that you can sign up for.  "Missions" is a very vague term - many of them are player-versus-player missions!  Two teams fight over one McGuffin.  In principle, this is a great idea!  But, it's also PvP.  When I think of "Missions," I think of PvE - Player Versus Enemy.  Still other "missions" are called "Last Man Standing," which is actually a form of deathmatch.  Meanwhile, Deathmatches come in many shapes and sizes - that's good!  But they aren't well-categorized - that's bad!  Do I land in a team match, or every man for himself?

Moving on, now we'll look at the actual job rewards.  What the hell is "JP?"  Nobody seems to know.  How much money and reputation will you get for a mission?  No idea, it varies from assignment to assignment (good!), and you aren't told anything in advance (bad!).  What are your objectives?  Well, you're sometimes assigned to chase down a car that spawns halfway across the map on you, doesn't give you a GPS reading, and - even if you assign one manually - moves so that by the time you reach where the car once was, it's halfway across the map again!

And then you get a pittance of $1,000 for chasing it?

Worst of all, however, I think is the lack of communication from Rockstar to players on the matchmaking issues they've experienced.  Never mind what's gently called "Disappearing Character Disorder!"  How about a solid explanation as to why GTAO created a disastrous bottleneck in the first couple missions?  How about details on what jobs are available when?  How about a cohesive story line for our silent protagonist?

How's this for an idea, my oh-so-beloved Rockstar - how about, when I post this article to your twitter feed, you guys actually read and respond to it?  Hah!

Jesse Pohlman is a writer and gamer hailing from Long Island in New York.  He's an independently published author, as well as an educator and ski bum.  Check out his Amazon Author page and buy a book, stop by his Facebook page, or follow him on Twitter.  Or, y'know, just anonymously gripe in the comments section.

Friday, September 13, 2013

I've been interviewed about Physics Reincarnate, by J. Chris Lawrence!

Hello, all!

I'll keep it short and simple:  J.  Chris Lawrence, an amazing writer and a staple over at Every Day Fiction, has taken the time to engage in a genuinely awesome interview with me.  Check it out below:

Thanks for your time, and make sure to spread this around!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Committing to NaNoWriMo 2013!

There are a lot of things I've wanted to get accomplished, both throughout my life and in the last year or so, that I haven't.  Things come up, things slip the mind, whatever.  Excuses are excuses, and while there is a difference between "excuses" and "explanations," I'm guilty of a little of each.  However, despite an abortive attempt in 2010, I succeeded in completing National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo, in 2011.  I produced a little-known work called Protostar:  Memoirs Of The Messenger, released it on Amazon's Kindle, and it's probably my best-selling novel to date.

It was genuinely a blast, and while I'm too much of a coward to venture into the public, in-the-flesh NaNoWriMo gatherings (and I question the sense of having them during the "contest," when everyone is wired on the fifty-thousand-word deadline!), I certainly enjoyed the self-imposed challenge of writing 50k words in thirty meager days.  I took 2012 off for many reasons, not least this - let's be polite! - unpleasant woman named Sandy who strolled through my town, but now I'm back, baby!

For 2013, I plan to pen a sequel of Protostar!

I've written some notes.  I'm assured that isn't cheating!  So far I think I want to go with a sort of jarring start, and while I plan to feature the same cast of characters (the crew of The Messenger), I'm going to make the first chunk of the book about solving a riddle trapped in Captain Lahira Ocean's mind.  At least, that's what I'm thinking I'll do!  Once that's deciphered, her team will have to put that solution into practice - a completely different scenario!

Will Humankind survive it's war against the Orphans?  Well, when the first novel ended we were assured that Lahira had succeeded in creating allies among her former enemies, and a rebellion was afoot in the alien ranks.  Whatever the exact state-of-the-war, this isn't one of those tales where last-minute heroics is the only hope of our future-species.  At least, not yet!  Remember, dear reader, that there are in fact three other alien species out there:  The fish-like Aquarians, the brutish Firions, and the artificially-intelligent Automatons.  Despite Mankind's good relations with all three (and even with military aid coming from them!), is it possible that they could somehow change this war's course for the worse?

Outside of the realm of plot devices and character arcs, I also want to experiment with more editorial precision when it comes to creating the final, distributed product.  Protostar is probably the least-edited of my more recent books, since it was written in under a month and all.  There was no ongoing proofreading process.  Things just got, well, written.  Publication was never a major consideration!  This time, it is.  So this time, after November is done, it will be heavily redacted processed.

As always, I'll blog about it!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Why I Fight To Bring Back Old Shows

Hey everyone!

One of the trends that I have, when writing on this blog, is to cover old television shows and video games I liked as a kid, and to explore why.  Once in a while, like with Arrested Development, there's a level of success that's achieved!  It's sort of like bringing back the dead, in a sense, so let me ask a simple question:

Why do some people like myself get caught up on bringing back old programs from their heyday?  And why, in particular, am I so caught up with it?  Maybe it has something to do with this:

See, I'm a creator.  In particular, I'm a 28 year old creator.  Ten years ago, in 2003, I was an 18 year old wanna-be creator. Two years before that, some other 18-something year old wanna-be creator got a TV show approved by MTV.  It's a complicated story, but in 2001 this Pete Williams guy, along with Josh A. Cagan and Andy Rheingold, basically got this show off the ground.  It was immensely popular...In Canada.  In America, well, MTV didn't want to keep their animation department.  So says Williams in a recent interview on the "Guys With Pencils" podcast!  Plus, I've already looked into other reasons it was unfairly handicapped.  But this doesn't answer the underlying question of, "Jesse, why do you keep attaching yourself to these crazy creative causes!?"

Personal Identification

Well...There are two fundamental reasons.  First off is the fact that this show had an impact on me.  It aired just as I was getting ready to go to college (It aired 2001, I started college in fall 2002).  It's main creative drive was a few years older than me and a local native.  It was, tacitly, about a close-knit group of friends based on real people; and it was a group who, even dramatized, I found resembled my group of friends.  So there's just a great deal of personal identification, there.  Maybe, in my starry-eyed brain, I wanted to be like this Pete Williams guy.

It helped that the show was about an awkward college guy who was trying to become something of a new person, but at the same time tied unbreakably - and pleasantly! - to his friends.  That's the life I wanted, in essence, and to this day I'm proud to be close to many of my old friends.  I could name them, but they'd kill me, so I won't.  I also loved the music; most of it was spot-on, which is actually a surprise given that the show aired on MTV.  The animation was notoriously flawed, having been produced in a korean lab that didn't quite "get" what the show was going for; in fact, a fan going by Steffan B had to actually re-edit the ending to get the damned point across:

So, one thing led to another and, the show died.  At the time I was just sad, and I bought my DVD and wrote my e-mails to MTV without anyone knowing, at the time, just how vain that second prospect was.  And, then, I got older.  I always kept an ear open, but until 2012 I sort of assumed it wasn't going to happen - we'd get little tidbits here and there, but I understood better than many that the problem was simple - MTV and others owned the rights, and that was an impossible-to-procure object.  I moved on, in large part because everyone else involved had moved on.  Then, however, Pete made his way to Canada and discovered his canuck popularity!  This guy realized, to paraphrase him, that he actually had been quite successful!  He just didn't know it.  Him, Cagan and Rheingold got a goat (hah!) and appeared at Calgary Expo, and from there shit took off.  Now, there's a vibrant fan community and there is real talk about creating a movie continuation!

Willliams regularly communicates with the fan-base, answering long-standing questions and soliciting ideas for how we can best make things work in the future.  I'm infinitely proud to say I've actually earned some shout-outs, there.

More Personal Identification

But there's an even more fundamental, selfish reason I do this gung-ho stuff.  This second basic reason I push for old TV shows to get picked up, especially Undergrads, is that, well...I want my stuff to get picked up.  You've probably figured out I write, but did you know that I literally released a novel today?  It's called Physics Reincarnate, it's the sequel to my five-star rated book Physics Incarnate, and it's available now in paperback and on Amazon's Kindle E-reader.  If you count my kindle-exclusives, this is the fifth novel I have self-published (Pillars of The Kingdom 1+2, Protostar:  Memoirs Of The Messenger, and Physics Incarnate), not to mention a short story collection.

Moreover, just like Williams, I have plans to revisit my old work.  Even now, I'm re-editing Pillars of The Kingdom 1 and 2 for re-release as Kindle exclusives (the print versions are honestly not worth purchasing except for historical value, perhaps!).  Eventually I will finish the last few chapters of the third installment of that novel.  Protostar was my National Novel Writing Month project from 2011, and I fully intend to make a sequel this November - even if that, too, is a Kindle-Exclusive.

Using my copy of Abnormal Psychology For Masochists (most assuredly written by the author of Abnormal Psychology For Drunks, Rocko's most beloved textbook from the show!), I have determined that I am projecting my desires to be a successful creator onto the people who created Undergrads.  We have similar backgrounds in terms of geography, friends, and age-group.  We have seen success, faced defeat, and we keep going.  We've learned that the best way to help ourselves is to help other creators - writers, artists, animators, musicians, what-have-you.  Is it any wonder that I would have attached myself to someone similar to me, at least in my own perspective?

Sure, I might just be crazy.  I think all creators are crazy because we're standing here and attributing serious value to the stories we conjure out of our brains!  We're standing here saying, "you will be happy if you spend your hard-earned money on listening to our tale, because this tale will leave you changed."  Well, Undergrads changed me.  It served, most of all, as proof that someone could just walk into a room (in Pete's case, enter a contest), prove they're skilled, and actually get something produced!  Isn't that every creator's dream?

That's why I keep fighting to get this show a proper conclusion.  If you watch the show, you'll understand why you should, too!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Thoughts on Physics Reincarnate

Hello, writing and reading friends!

So, for starters, this is the mostly-official cover art for my next novel, pending a formatting tweak or two.  It's nice because Blogspot takes a picture out of each entry to use, so I'm gonna use this because it's easy and almost automatic promotion.

Awesome, isn't it?  It's by the talented Lawrence Shvartsberg, and it's awesome.  Need I say it again?  Awesome!

Anyway, my fans (I love you, all!) probably remember that Physics Incarnate was written as a single book.  It was meant to be sort of a psychological take on the traditional super-hero story.  Emmett Eisenberg wasn't overtly powerful, from the reader's initial perspective.  He was just strange!  Eventually, readers discovered that he was truly "physics incarnate."  He rearranges atoms at will.  His friends, originally portrayed as potentially delusional, are by-and-large like he is.  They have different powers, but similar circumstances.  They all worked at the Connor Point research facility, under the direction of a group called The Consortium Of Trust, and they were all involved in a major disaster there.  One might think that means they saved the world, or something, but that's not quite true. Emmett, in spite of his friends, isn't a hero by any stretch of the imagination.  He doesn't save cities - in fact, he's come closer to destroying them during moments of emotional instability.  He's not evil, he just lost control over his powers, and they nearly killed him.

Expanded Universes

However, as the book became more popular and as people started asking, I realized there was more to tell about the characters of Emmett's world.  I started thinking, in particular, about James Lowery.  James was Emmett's friend who has mastery over his physical senses:  Superhuman hearing, sight, nervous and muscular systems...Whatever!  It's a very cliche power, but it isn't coupled with anything greater.  No super-strength, no regeneration, no flight; just senses.  Yet James uses them to deadly effect.  Moreover, James was the "Head of security" at Connor Point.  His tale felt incomplete.

I toyed with the notion of a prequel, but I've never been a big fan of them.  I like to paint where things go, not where they've been.  We already know Emmett's crew has super-powers, so there's no "twist" to be found there!  Yet I wanted to talk about Jim's past:  He's Irish, he's got a history with intelligence agencies, and he's the group's unelected ringleader.

But, I also came up with ideas for new villains.  I came up with ideas for new characters in general.  Most of all, I realized that there's some cohesive themes to explore:

 - Physics Incarnate, for example, revealed the core of Emmett's past.  It explained what the Consortium Of Trust was.  It introduced us to Erica Hall, and dealt primarily with resolving Emmett's past.
 - Physics Reincarnate, as the sequel is titled, focuses a great deal more on Jim.  Sure, the book will delve into how each member of this super-group was recruited, but it mainly focuses on a new threat.  It's actually set in 2016, by the way, but it's less "future" and more "present."  Survival is essential, because this new threat is more than well enough equipped to challenge Emmett - never mind the threat they are afraid of!
 - Physics Trincarnate will be the third book, and it is about creating a new world.  I haven't written this one, yet, but I know how it goes in principle.  The world will undergo a complete change and become truly divergent from the one we occupy.  Also, it's 99% certain that this is where the series will end.

The thing with these novels is that nothing is quite as it seems.  In book one, Emmett just seems like an odd guy with a very strange, science-minded point of view.  References to atomic lattices are portrayed as simple metaphors - after all, every "solid" object is truly just a collection of atoms held together by bonds!  And a physicist would be keenly aware of this!  But Emmett isn't just seeing objects as a metaphor, he's literally seeing the bonds that hold our world together.

So, there's purpose behind everything, really.  Even, as a hint of a spoiler, the name of one of my favorite characters - Sari.  A "sari" is a robe worn by women in India.  The idea of an exterior covering isn't anything new to this series, as Sari is originally presented as a 30-something-year-old doctor when in reality she's ten years younger than the bulk of the cast and is, moreover, really just a mystical healer.  I know, "just" a mystical healer!  So even on the outset, her identity is a lie.  And will there be more truths to come, more layers of "saris" to peel away from her?  Well, I wouldn't be posing this rhetorical question if there weren't!

So, all in all, get ready!  Physics Reincarnate is coming soon!

Monday, June 10, 2013

X-Box One: A "How To Kill A Console" Rant.


This is gonna be a quickie.  It's about the X-Box One, and it is a new revision to the textbook on ruining a console.  To be fair, I'm more of a PC gamer, but I have and love both the XBOX and 360.  Well, more love has probably gone to the original, but that's a side-story.

Oh, speaking of the X-Box 1, We'll start with the obligatory "Name makes no sense" entry, calling it the fucking "one" as if this is a very bad pun on the concept of a square serving as a zero, and move on to a file-photo.

X-Box One.  Image Courtesy of Forbes

Now then.  Right off the bat, Kinect.

Kinect Is Terrible

The sub-title should give it all away, really.  I mean, really!  The Nintendo Wii was great, in terms of its motion controls, mainly because they were still controls.  You held them in your hand.  Sony ripped it off, but Kinect went a different way.  And, I can respect them for that.

However, the Kinect has added absolutely nothing that I can think of to gaming.  Sure, I guess it's kind of neat to be able to wave my hand and make something happen on the screen, and I can maybe see that being incredibly awesome in an adventure/puzzle game (think Strong Bad's Cool Game For Attractive People) , or an RTS.  But action?  First-Person Shooters?  Platforming?  No.

Moreover, the Kinect functionality of the 3rd Box is going to subtract something from gaming.  We all know what it is, by now.  It's "Privacy."  Namely, the fucking thing spies on you!  Yep, Kinect's camera must be on, must be attached, and will watch you walk into a room.  So, basically, it's spying on you.

Privacy > Piracy

Oh boy, speaking of privacy, here's a conundrum - who is watching what I do with my games?  Well, if I want to return it, re-sell it, loan it to a friend, or whatever, guess what?  It's a fucking hassle!  It's neat that I can sign in to any XBox One and play my games, I guess, but if I try to "lend" my game to a friend, I can do it once.

Okay, time-machine time.  Back when SNES was still the top dog, my friends and I used to loan each other games all the fucking time.  "What's that?  Secret Of Mana?  And you've already beaten it?  And you're working on Earthbound?  Dude!  Can I borrow it for a week?  I'll let you borrow my Final Fantasy III(6) if you need something in the meantime!"  No more.

Did I mention that, to fight piracy, the "One" is always going to be online?  Yeah, this is another of those stupid gimmicks designed to fight piracy.  "OH!  But now you can run for up to 24 hours off-line!"  "It's a smoother experience!"  "You can have Facebook!"  No.  No, and no.  That's ridiculous, and you're ridiculous for thinking that's a good argument.  Always online?  That shit sounds like a wet dream for the makers of PRISM, the (latest) major scandal involving internet companies like Verizon sending the private data of American citizens to our government in what is certainly a breach of the Fourth Amendment.

Look, I get that piracy might be kind of an issue, but it's apparently an issue reserved for PC games, due to the ability to bring greater game-copying software and distribution to bear.  And, moreover, according to this chart it's not really much of a problem!

Image courtesy of IGN

So with PC gaming set to eclipse console gaming, and with the technical capabilities of consoles having proven pretty much unable to hold up to the versatility and power of a PC - not that they really need to, because "better graphics" are pretty much not a concern anymore - this anti-piracy effort is essentially, as always, bullshit.

Oh, and did we forget the Playstation Network Outage?  Hold on!  Add one plus one real fast, and you get the obvious:  "What happens if Microsoft's network gets hacked or otherwise crashes?"  That's right, you have an expensive brick on your hands - oh, oh, wait, after 24 hours.  How expensive?

Price Tags Talk

By this point, I'm obviously not in the "going to buy this thing" camp.  Two generations ago, I owned all three systems - X-Box, Game Cube, and PS2.  Why?  Because all three were reasonably priced, had reasonably priced and accessible games and controllers (Oh, and the "One" doesn't use 360 controllers.  Ha-ha!), and I liked what it put out.  The X-Box actually was probably my #3 console, with mainly Halo/2 to tide me over; the GC had Smash Brothers, Metroid Prime, some Zelda iteration, and even Phantasy Star.  The PS2?  Oh boy - that system kicked ass!

So why did I ultimately opt to get a 360 first?  And a Wii second?  And a PS3 not-at-all?  Well, economics was a huge factor.  Wii's were un-gettable, PS3's were we'll get to it!, and 360's were applicable!  It also had Halo 3 to serve as a killer app, plus GTA4, plus Final Fantasy support (I never got around to it), plus the Live Arcade or whatever it was that I got Sonic, Scott Pilgrim, and other stuff from.  In other words it was a solid, reasonably accessible, reasonably priced console with reasonably fun games.

Oh.  And here's what really killed the PS3.

You fucking knew it was coming!!  You fucking knew it!  The PS3's fully decked-out model sold for $599, with it's 1/3rd-the-memory selling for $499.  This with virtually no games?  Screwattack did a virtually flawless explanation of why that console had such a shitty life.  Did it eventually stabilize?  Sure!  But it got its ass kicked - hard - early on, largely because it's price point and games simply didn't match up.

The "One?"  Well, it's set to release at - surprise! - $499, as compared to the 360's $399.

The X-Box Breakdown

Let's recap:
 - Five hundred bucks for a system that...
 - Demands to spy on you so it can...
 - Connect you to the internet, another demand...
 - Cannot function without the internet...
 - Could well be leaking your private information to the government...
 - Doesn't allow you to freely move your own games...
 - Isn't something you can purchase if you live, say, in upstate NY due to lack-of-internet...
 - Has a stupid name...
 - Has games which might or might not be good, but can't be just fucking played...
 - Oh, and costs five hundred fucking dollars!

Hey!  Hey!  Here's a newsflash:  The "market" speaks.  That means that consumers have a voice, and when they like something they buy it.  When they don't they don't - and they often buy something else.  You want some real, hard truths about this system?

According to Haverzine, sales of the Nintendo WiiU (Another stupidly-named console) on Amazon's UK portal jumped 875% after the specifications of the "One" were announced in May.  That's specifications, like all the privacy/Kinect crap.  This astronomical price was released today.  And the Wii U's deluxe model is $349 regularly, a full hundred-and-fifty less than the default "One."  Whaddya wanna bet that, regardless of what happens with the PS4 announcements, sales of the Wii U continue to skyrocket as the "market" showers disapproval on Microsoft by feeding Nintendo?

After all, while all I might get out of a Wii U is another meh Mario game, at least I know Mario isn't demanding to watch me wander around in my living room while he's jacked into to the internet in order to stomp a few Goombas.  If you know what I mean.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

With Arrested Development Back; Five More Shows We Need To Return

We all had our doubts.  We wondered if it could be true; right up until we saw our friend Gob doing the promos, and even then, we - I - felt like it was just magic.  Or, an illusion.

Gob.  Not Job - Ed.

Arrested Development has returned, thanks to Netflix!  What's more, although I'm only six episodes in and it's sort of a compromise of my values as a critic, well, it's good.  It's damn good.  It's coming together so beautifully that, well, I'm a bit wistful for other shows I loved as a kid.  Or, in Arrested's case, discovered something like nine years after it was cancelled.  So, here's five other shows that need to return - either on TV, on Netflix, or just somehow.

They aren't in any particular order.  I thought about quality-wise, but many of them are different styles of show, so that wouldn't help.  I thought about doing things chronologically, but that's not helpful; do you go with starting date, or cancellation date?  So, this is just five shows in a (mostly) non-deliberate order.  If you disagree...Hey!  I'm just some guy.  You're you!  Surely you have your own view!  And, surely, you've dedicated hours to writing editors and producers like I have.  Right?  No I'm not rabid!

Candidate Number One:  Firefly.
Chance Of Return:  Medium.
Fan Devotion:  Slavish!

Probably the most critically acclaimed and well-known of the shows on this list, I've written about it before.  Is it my personal favorite?  Probably not; but it had some nice stylings, it got a pretty decent movie conclusion in Serenity, and it has a fan-base which is pretty dedicated.  Dedicated fan-bases are important, but there are two problems blocking it's revival.  First is Serenity, itself; in getting that as a wrap-up, it essentially wrote major characters out of any potential new series.  Bringing dead people back, or "having it all be a dream," or whatever?  Not going to go over well, though I suppose it would be forgivable.

Second, and worse, is the very savior of Arrested Development itself:  Netflix.  On May 1st, in the full and raw light of Arrested's return, Netflix bigwig Ted Sarandos said to Stuff.TV:  "..."  Okay, he gave us a paragraph which didn't quite say "No," but he said that Firefly's fan-base had, in his opinion, shrunk down.  I already cited low viewership as a cause for it's original demise.  If that problem is exacerbated, well, I can see Summer Glau needing something else to do...

Candidate Number Two: Terminator:  The Sarah Connor Chronicles.
Chance Of Return:  Low.
Fan Devotion:  Medium.

Oh boy.  This is perhaps my favorite sci-fi show, aside from one I'll mention (but decidedy not nominate) later.  I loved the Terminator series as a kid, and boy did I love this show!  Summer Glau did a great job as Cameron, Thomas Dekker did a great job as John Connor, and Lena Heady as Sarah?  Yeah.  It kicked serious ass.  So what happened?

Well, Season One was crippled by the infamous Writer's Strike.  Season Two, besides being poorly promoted, broken up into two halves as TV shows are wont to do (complete with shifting the night it aired), and having an admittedly drunken stupor for a middle-of-the-season, well...I guess that's a pretty complete list.  It's pending death was well known by the time the final episodes were written and aired, which is a damn shame - and it wasn't really well capped off, if only because there were hopes of it being picked up.  And it was - By Syfy, which didn't actually do anything with it.

Of course, the rights to the Terminator series have since fallen into a nightmarish maze of auctions and purchases, and the epic failure of Terminator 4 (That one Bruce Wayne bought his way into) really just kind of left the whole franchise under-ground.  This show was great, with an awesome storyline, very well developed characters, and a devoted fanbase at the time.  Now, however, "the resistance" has proven futile.

Candidate Number Three:  Undergrads
Chance Of Return:  Low.
Fan Devotion:  Canadian!

Well, wouldja look at that!  Another show I did a "Cancelled Before Prime Time" for!  This animated TV show retains a fairly strong Canadian following, vis-a-vis Teletoon.  And that's, honestly, quite awesome.  I try to introduce my friends to it, and they tend to love it, but that doesn't contribute to the still-flagging revival movement.

However, what gives this show a chance of being picked up is the fact that series creator Pete Williams keeps himself engaged with the fan-base, even myself.  Fans produce videos trying to egg the show back into existence, and it still comes up as a leading topic at conventions.  Up in Canada.  Is it forgotten in America?  Not quite; but in Canada, it certainly still lives quite well!

I know, scary - I've actually had, like, something resembling a conversation with a television guy!  Maybe he can help get Physics Incarnate made into a movie...If he can get his own TV show brought back!  Oh!  And speaking of people who ramble on as if talking to a computer screen while they type, but are constantly outrunning the speed of their brains with their fingers!

Candidate Number Four:  Homestar Runner
Chance Of Return:  High.
Fan Devotion:  Crazy-Go-Nuts!

If you don't realize that the above picture is not of Homestar Runner, but of Strong Bad, then you just don't understand, and must immediately go to the linked text within this sentence.  Homestar Runner was one of the biggest things on the internet, pre-Youtube.  Regular Flash animations uploaded once a week, often in response to fan e-mails?  Musical collaborations with They Might Be Giants and others?  A whole five-part video game created by Telltale Games?!  Oh, god, yes!

Homestar Runner is, and was, probably the best free show on the internet.  Yes, I am including The Angry Video Game Nerd.  H*R started off as just something small and fun, but ballooned into a series with inside jokes contained inside of other inside jokes.  It hit on literally dozens of TV tropes, like when a TV show would replace one actor with another without explanation; or, on other, more mundane topics like time capsules.  All you have to do is mash the "random" button about a thousand times a day and you'll understand.

But what happened to it?  Well, after more than ten years of content creation, The Brothers Chaps (and Missy Chapman, and others I'm sure) probably just burned out.  Up until a couple years ago, they'd occasionally drop a new bit of content onto the site, but the latest official update (as per the Homestar Runner Wiki) came via twitter over a year ago, merely teasing another Strong Bad Email that has yet to be made.  There's word that, as Matt Chapman has worked on shows like Yo Gabba Gabba, the "time versus money" equation has led to the need of H*R's creators to focus on real jobs in the face of independent projects, and that would make sense.

But, then again, sooner or later I expect at least one more cartoon to come out.  Or, for all we know, maybe something even crazier - after all, a tremendously huge adventure game was probably never in the original offing!

Candidate Number Five:  Arre--WAITWHAT?!  Arrested Development?
Chance Of Return:  Very high!
Fan Devotion:  Insomniac, today.

Okay, look.  We went from hoping to just get a movie made, to having something like ten episodes on the slate, to what we've eventually gotten:  Fifteen!  I'm six in!  I'm taking time out of my Arrested Development viewing to write this article!  And for what?  Because I am so impressed with what I've seen thusfar that I am confident that any more AD they make will, in fact, be also amazing.  And, frankly, because we have no guarantee that more will be made.

People like to forget that, as explained at the end of Season Three, one of the reasons the show was originally cancelled was that it was not exactly a show which could be carried on indefinitely.  And, people like to forget that writing anything is difficult - writing it at the caliber AD's Mitch Hurwitz and crew do?  Well, Hurwitz himself had said he was exhausted.  Unfortunately, television production is hard to "take a hiatus" from.  Let's mention T:TSCC - Lena Heady played Sarah Connor, but now she's playing Cersei Lannister on Game Of Thrones (an awesome show, by the way!).  So even if she wanted to go back, she's got a whole new contract on a whole new show to soak her life up.  Did I mention Homestar Runner addressed replacing an actor?  This was not an accident.

Moreover, I want to look for a moment at Lost.  Lost was an awesome show.  A lot of people didn't like Season Five, or how it ended, or that it was ever ended at all!  But Lost was the kind of show with a "closed plot," so to speak:  It had an ending which the creators surely had some ideas on, even if they weren't fully formed at the onset of the show.  And even though many hated the ending, and even though I kind of felt a little wonky about it myself, the DVD extra "The New Man In Charge" really gave it a nice cap.  To bring Lost back would probably hurt the series, not help it.

But Arrested Development is not Lost.  Lost is serious - AD is, well, not serious.  Not seriously serious.  True, there may be limits to what the show can become.  And, true, their writing staff is good enough to know when enough is enough!  But here's the trick:  Season Four is proving, so far, that Arrested is a real contender to be more than just fifteen episodes released on one day to temporarily nudge up Netflix subscriptions.  I don't know how Season Four ends yet, and it might end in such a way that the show couldn't possibly go on (for another half a decade, anyway!), but it's good enough that, if the writers wanted, they could always find a way to make it work!

And I think, as long as the writers have faith in what they're coming up with, that we need Arrested Development to serve as a benchmark for other shows which have returned from the cancellation void (Family Guy), and even ones that subsequently failed again (Futurama).

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Statute of Limitations: Personal Narratives, Coming-Of-Age, and Employment Tales

Quick show of hands, folks?  Who's seen High Fidelity?

How about Kevin Smith's breakthrough comedy, Clerks?  If you have, you've probably figured out that they both feature protagonists who work in a shop of some sort, deal with romantic stress, engage in all sorts of hi-jinx with their colleagues, and tell a now-legendary "coming of age" story about how the main character comes to terms with their aging.

In High Fidelity, John Cusack's character Rob Gordon deals with a pretty miserable break-up.  He cavorts with the employees he's hired to work his record store (dated?  Perhaps!), and with their help he figures out how to set his life on a "better" path.  He frequently talks to the viewer directly, opening the movie with the story of his Top-Five Breakups.  There's the early-on elementary school disaster, the high school disaster, and the college disaster!  Rob follows up with his past loves, trying to figure out what to do with his present despair.  It's a funny tale, and it's got some great music in it to boot.

More renowned with the budding creator, however, is Clerks.  Filmed by nerd legend Kevin Smith on a shoestring budget, at night, at the convenience store he worked at, Clerks is about Dante Hicks and Randall Graves, two miscreants (well, Randall is) who fuck around at work all day, play hockey on the roof, and - oh, yeah - have to come to terms with the fact that they are getting older.  Dante's conflicted between two love interests, and in the end he has to deal with that problem, as well.

You're not here for a compare-and-contrast essay, though.  There's thousands of points of comparison!  There's equally as many differences between the two.  None, though, are more stark than this one fact:  High Fidelity is based on a 1995 novel of the same name by Nick Hornby.  Did I know this when I first watched the movie?  Nope!  In fact, I have yet to read it.

But I have learned something from this contrast, and from both films put together:  Stories change and become distant over time.

Statute of Limitations

Both stories are about young, disaffected men having relationship issues, employment disassociation, and general-old-lives.  They have fun with friends!  The events of each film (debates over music; debates over Star Wars) are pretty familiar to any twenty-something American male.  It's a universal appeal that practically begs people to tell their own twist on it.  And that's a danger to any writer - tropes are attractive because they're easy to fall into, but virtually impossible to pull off.  You need, at the very least, a hook.

You also need to have something you can still relate to!  After fifty or so years, you just won't remember the details.  It becomes hard to remember exactly why your friend Billy was hilarious, and you'll have boatloads of difficulty explaining why the events of May 27th, 1997 were so incredibly awesome!  And explaining it?  To a reader, or a viewer?  Even when you decide to twist the actual events and embellish it, you're still not doing anything more than patching the core of the story up.

Fiction often has a core of truth; writers draw from their lives all the time.  They're stories about fake people, and the circumstances they find themselves in are only somewhat lodged in what can possibly be real.  An autobiography, a personal narrative, a story about your youth?  These contain facts, or at least are supposed to!  But time adds a fog to certain things, and even well-kept journals and friends who retell their experiences will differ from your recollection.

The point, here, is the same as any other time you, as the creator of art, have an inspirational flash.  If you plan to tell a story, tell it while it's rather fresh.  Sure, you need a few weeks' removal from it, to really process what happened.  In fact, sometimes even a couple years could benefit the wordsmith!  But with each re-telling, each re-hashing, each passing minute, the raw impression of the incidents you were so enamored with become fainter and fainter.  It's a balancing act, just like the act of editing and processing a story can fundamentally change it from it's more primal roots, waiting too long can cause your memory of an experience to go beyond crystallization and into fracture.

Sometimes, you just have to act.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Jesse Pohlman releases his latest novel, Protostar!

Hey internet world!

This is just a quick reminder that I've put out my latest novel, Protostar!  It's a Kindle exclusive, at this time, but if demand is high I'll convert it to a hard-copy book.  The teaser text goes something like this...

Ensign Lahira Ocean is the chief navigator of the Human battleship, the "George Washington." Born on the world Magellan, she comes from a wealthy family and joined the fleet as a precursor to her future as a trade magnate; aside from astronomic charts and hyper-drive calculations, she studies history as a pass-time as well as a rationalization for her circumstances. She regularly muses retirement, despite her incredible skill in military affairs. Fate intervenes when another world, Hudson, picks up an group of alien ships heading straight for it. The "George Washington" is deployed to help handle this initial contact, but the exact nature of the response is as shocking as it is stereotypical of a 20th or 21st century science-fiction epic!

Now, Lahira has little choice but to accept command of a brand new generation of ship, one born just on the temporal edge of a war unlike any Mankind has seen before. Bringing together a hard-nosed specialist in military doctrine, a free-wheeling reformed space pirate, a nonchalant communications expert, and her own chief rival as a chief navigator, can the now-Captain manage to survive her own crew long enough to face the alien menace? What has made these foreigners so ready to wage war against any species it meets? Will she be up to the task of leading the counter-attack against these mysterious Orphans?

Now, you might remember Protostar from my 2011 National Novel Writing Month expedition.  It was a successful mission, and Protostar was the result.  Well, a year and a half later and it's done!  Now, I might do a sequel to Protostar if it's effective, but I'd do it as a 2013 NaNoWriMo.

So...Encouragement, maybe?  ;)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Why I'm Not Celebrating Valentine's Day

Tomorrow, on Thursday, February 14th, the world will celebrate a holiday based on love.  Okay, so it's based on the imprisonment of a man who performed weddings for Roman soldiers, and who was ultimately executed, but that's fine.  The main idea - a holiday based on love - exists today to remind couples how happy they are, or to at least fuel the diamond and jewelry industry; and, of course, for this particular author to offer his novel (which contains a love story!) for free on Amazon's Kindle.

Sorry, do I sound cynical?  Well, if I am, there's certainly a reason for it.  A few months ago, immediately after my dad got out of the hospital, my girlfriend of nearly three years dumped me without ceremony or warning, and began dating someone who will almost assuredly be her Valentine, this year.  It was a crippling blow, but I've learned something in the time since that rather grievous Friday.  First, I have some amazing friends who I really am happy to have; and, two, I'm not alone in being alone, and that's okay!

The Boring, Depressing Background.

See, for the longest time I had allowed my relationship status to define me.  I watched who I talked to, worried that speaking with a pretty girl might convince my girlfriend-at-the-time I was cheating on her (while she cheated on me, naturally).  I moved in with her, but by the time we settled on an apartment I knew it was out of my affordability range - and I went with it, because it's what she wanted.  Vacations, dinner plans, hanging out with friends?  All of these are things I had sacrificed to make sure I kept that relationship status.  It was one I didn't even necessarily want, and for all the love her and I had truly shared at one point, by the end it wasn't hard to see that it was over.

Oh, there were good times.  I got her a giant penguin for our very first Valentine's day.  Trips to other states, places I'd never been and might never have gone in the first place.  She was there, in the hospital, when I had my shoulder surgically repaired - and though she could have taken better care of me, immediately post-op, she didn't leave me to suffer all too often.  Most of her family was miserable, but some of them weren't so bad, and I had some good conversations.  What's more, some of the friends we made together have become long-lasting friends of mine in their own right.

Nevertheless, this break-up was by far the harshest I'd ever been through.  It came at a time when I was still in a fairly decent amount of physical pain, still fighting an insurance company for physical therapy, and still fighting to keep the few family members I have left, well, here.  It also didn't help that I had grown very attached to our cats, and that one of -them- had been in the hospital just weeks ago (I offered over $3,000 dollars to pay for his treatment, asking only for about $500 back within a year).  Or that all my stuff was at her apartment.  Or that we were under a month away from our three-year anniversary.  Like I said, it's a good thing I have good friends, or I'd probably have ended up in a much worse place than I did.

It was time to start learning from this fairly-modified picture of one of our happier times, and the lesson should be pretty obvious.

Being Okay Being Alone

In that wedding-scene, open-bar-influenced photo, my left (pre-surgical; painful, thusly-medicated, but not crippled) arm is pointing at her.  The idea was obvious:  I cared about this person, and this person was #1 to me, even as we gave one-another bunny ears.  It was nice, and the memory would warm me if it didn't hurt at the same time, like getting too close to a bonfire.  However, I've learned that this finger really should have pointed at me, instead, as it should for all people in any relationship.

That doesn't imply someone should be selfish.  It indicates, instead, that people have to take care of themselves, and as much as someone may "Complete" you, they can't do so without first taking into consideration the thing known as you.  Modern day love stories always involve two people who, come hell or high water, are destined to be together.  It's fate.  One virtually completes the other, like those broken-heart necklaces; half a heart that only fits with it's chosen mate.  For that matter, you might as well think of shoes as a metaphor - you've got the left one on, now go find the right one.  And make sure it's the same damn shoe!

No, no, and no.  I have, as a meagerly-successful, reportedly-handsome, hopefully charming man, the opportunity to call a girl up tomorrow, ask, "Hey, do you wanna go out to dinner?  Do you wanna be my Valentine?," and probably get a positive answer in response.  As a kid, as a hopeless romantic, all I'd ever wanted was that precious status!  To be someone's Valentine, or their boyfriend, or more!  Hell, I was a gentleman, right?  I needed to find a nice lady to settle down with, to fall in love with, and to be happy with!  This was so important that I never even took the time to, A, figure out who I was when it came to romance; B, to make the classic mistake of confusing sex for love; and, C, most of all, develop the courage and tact to actually approach any of the girls I secretly admired.

In short, I became a Nintendo generation cliche:  Full of pitiable, emo-model unrequited loves, long-distance relationships, and even weaknesses in other areas of my social life.  The very pressure of this monogamous, hollywood-style romance that fuels Valentine's Day had really kicked my ass, huh?!  And even as I grew older, wiser, and bolder, I still measured my positive traits based on how, frankly, they enticed whoever I was with.  Did this girl like me more as a writer, or as a goth?  Did she like me more dominant or submissive?  Did she prefer McDonalds at home or hibachi at an expensive place?  What did I need to do to win that girl of my dreams?

To paraphrase Bruce Willis' character in Lucky Number Slevin, I woke up to find my dreams were the stuff of pipes.  Though, if I'm not bold in my reinterpretation of cliches, a "pipe dream," derived from friendly herbs in accordance with local and state law, doesn't sound too bad when I think about what I'd gone through!

Now, Then Worry About Later

So you know the story and you know the lesson I had to learn.  I knew, even as I recovered from the shock of the split, that a "rebound" relationship was a bad idea.  I focused instead on developing good friendships with as little pressure as possible, and I am so proud to say that the friends who have chosen to trust me so far are helping, a lot.  And I hope I'm helping them!

And right now, I'm starting to see the both forest and each individual tree.  I don't feel like I have to force a relationship to manifest.  I don't feel like I have to wait, on my tippy-toes, for a text message back from someone I'm interested in.  People have lives, and they live them.  I'll wait for a while, then I'll move on until they return.  I'm learning that I don't need someone to complete me.  Compliment, perhaps, but those are different words with different meanings.  I don't need to spend every waking minute with a person, nor do I feel any unnatural obligation to devote blocks of time to a specific someone.  What I do, I choose to do when it is reasonable for me and for those I do it with.

That's not to say I'm turning into a man-whore or a drifter.  Eventually, I'm sure, the time will be right for me to settle things down.  Eventually, things will be "official," and there will come a February 14th wherein I once again live up to that old, childish goal of having a Valentine.  However, it will not be this year, and it isn't a goal which must be met in time for any certain, pre-designated year.  As many nagging feelings as I might get about Valentine's day, this year, I don't have any obligations.

And that's a feeling I'm quite in love with.

Jesse Pohlman is a starving artist, sub-species writer, from Freeport, New York.  He is me.  Buy my book - or get it for free, on the 14th, in a universal "fuck you!" to the commercial system perpetuating this holiday's hyper-importance!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Writing/Art Tips: Dealing With Project Sprawl

Hello, fellow creators!

While I was working on my lego comic, and debating on drawing some more cover art for a book I'm almost done with, I was networking and writing my local news blog and...

...And I realized I have a problem.  See, I have a lot of projects on my hand at any time.  Sometimes I get commissioned to write an article, while other times I just end up in a pointless debate with someone on the internet.  Most of the time, though, I'm working on a book.  And there are lots of them I'm working on, and lots more that I've de-facto abandoned.  That's probably the greatest shame, because I've written them all in my head!  Just not on paper!

But if I were to start on them, then I'd leave other projects un-done, and therein lies the problem.

Focus On One Thing?  Hah!

Some people's first bit of advice is to pick one thing to focus on at a time.  For many people, that works - and if you're that lucky, hey, good for you!  Put that talent to use.  But many others find themselves always waking up, each day, with a different "feeling."  Maybe some day they feel like writing, while another day they feel like painting.  If they don't write, their manuscript goes unfinished; but if they try to force themselves to write when they want to paint, well, nothing gets done except for the denial of the true desire!

In my case, I wanted to write this article because I was working on the cover-art for my next novel, and realized that I was all over the place in terms of goals.  There's so much I want to get done, but so little I can.  It's a problem.  So I decided I needed an image that really demonstrated this feeling, and showed what "Sprawl" is.  Creating the above picture took me about 20 minutes.  True, I learned some new GIMP tricks that, had I known them earlier, would have sped the process up!  But it's still a significant expenditure of time, especially when time is unpleasantly short.

So what's my answer?  Well, one thing is to try to have a schedule.  "Day one, work on project one.  Day two, work on project two."  Whatever it is.  Sometimes, however, my daily life limits me to only having 15-20 minutes of "Creative time."  This forces me to pick something I can get done quickly, or at least something I can make a major contribution towards.

Truly, sprawl is a problem.

The Answer Is Patience

Most of all, I feel like I'll never get something done in time.  That the book cover will take so long I don't want to do it; that finishing a novel will take forever; that doing the research I need to perform in order to properly establish my older novels as viable is just going to be a brick with which I can bash my own head, and little else.

And none of that is true.

See, I'm young.  I'm 28.  But even if I were 68, I'm probably not dying tomorrow.  I'm probably going to wake up tomorrow and have time to work on my next idea.  The biggest reason why people seem to differentiate into working on dozens of projects at once is because they don't know how to be patient, to put their ideas on paper until the ones they're already executing are complete, and come back to it later.  That's right - patience.

For me, it's patience to know that, yes, this cover-art will get done; yes, the book will be released; yes, I can re-release old ones, and - finally - I can put out new material.  I can clear this massive plate I have in front of me, and I can think about new ideas and not feel like I have to immediately act on them in order for them to ever happen.  The key?  If they are strong enough ideas, they will be there when I'm finished with what's got me busy.

For others, I'd recommend the same - or, at least, a conscious evaluation of which projects should take priority and should be the subject of the most effort.  Immediate performance and financial income isn't the only guideline, here; existential reward and personal satisfaction matter, too.  Each person will be different, and there's always some creep, but sprawl should be kept to a minimum - before it gets out of hand, and nothing gets done.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Dystopian Reality: The Aaron Swartz Story | Suite101

I have a channel on called Dystopian Review.  I actually write for it fairly regularly, about once a week.  I recently wrote a particularly powerful and well-received article, so I figured I'd hit it up with some attention.  Give it a few minutes of your time - it's worth it.

Dystopian Reality: The Aaron Swartz Story | Suite101

Monday, January 21, 2013

Dystopian Lit Guest Post at BookGoodies

Howdy, sports fans!

I open with this line because if you're a sports fan, you're well aware of the Har-Bowl coming up?  Sweet.  I dislike that the Patriots made it that far, but at least they ain't gettin' another Super Bowl!

Moving on.  I recently submitted a guest post to, and low-and-behold they posted it, today!  This marks the second one they've posted by me, the first being about NaNoWriMo.  It's about Dystopian literature (and art in general), and it serves as a fairly basic introduction to the genre.  All in all its a fun, quick little read to get you into the spirit of nightmare worlds!  I might write another one for them, one about Hyper-Local Journalism.

Moving on.  Again!  Today is a special day for me because it's the year-and-a-day of Physics Incarnate.  My precious little baby novel is getting so old!  And as much as I'm working on its sequel and other projects, I'm celebrating by having it as a free book on Kindle, today.  So, check it out!

Enjoy yourself, and stay safe!