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The Bookshelf Dilemma

This is the bookshelf in my office.  When we moved in, this was a blank wall.  The room had no shelves of any kind.  Hell, no closet either.  So we had this built across one entire wall, with deep cabinets underneath to hold my board games and zombie heads.  As is proper.

It’s hard to see from this picture, but each shelf is double stacked, with a row of books behind the ones you can see.  There are more books, naturally, stacked all over the place: next to the bed, in the bathroom, on the kitchen counter, but this is where the ones I want to keep track of generally are.  It’s where people who visit eventually end up, eyes roving up and down and side to side, looking for something good to borrow.

To me, that’s the best part of having a bookshelf.  I get to pluck stuff off the shelf and talk enthusiastically about the plot or a particular character or whatever.  I get to practically re-live the book while talking about it.  Usually it’s a book I haven’t seen in some time, and if the person doesn’t borrow it, I’m likely to pick it up myself.

Now for the dilemma.  While I love books, I don’t really think of the physical object itself as a book.  I’m only interested in the word parts.  So, for the last year or so, I’ve been buying ebooks if they’re available.  Sometimes they lag behind the release of something I’m dying to read, so I go ahead and get the paper one, but if I can read something in seconds instead of hours or days, then that’s what I’m going to do.

Which means that my bookshelf isn’t growing like it used to.  There was a time when we had to fill up a trunk full of books to donate or sell at Half Price Books every couple of months, but that’s becoming a lot less common these days.  I can see a time when my bookshelf just stops growing.  It’ll still have my favorites on it, no doubt about that, but more and more the things I recommend to people will be books that I only have electronically.  Either because that’s what I’m enthused about at the moment, or because they’ve already read all the stuff I have on the shelf that they’re interested in.

And that’ll be sad.  I find that while I love to own books, I like sharing them just as much.  It’s a fundamental part of reading culture, this sharing of the books we love, almost like trading bits of our lives with each other.  It’s how I became a reader, and eventually a writer, same as nearly everyone else I know.

So, even as ebooks become more commonplace, don’t forget to share.  If you have a Kindle, you can still lend your books to a friend. Same thing if you own a Nook.  And check with your local library, you’ll be surprised at how many lend ebooks as well.

Speaking as both a reader and a guy who sells books for rent money, I encourage you to lend your books.

I want to see a hell of a lot less of this and more of this.  Much more.


Today’s Inspiration: Shane Koyczan

I like to think, and I don’t say it out loud, that I’m a writer.  But compared to Shane, I’m just some clumsy guy, fumbling around.  Nobody can do what he does, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try.  Shine on.



KS Alert: There Came An Echo

I want to tell the truth here.  I would never have taken a look at this Kickstarter if Wil “Look at my manly beard while I brew this beer” Wheaton hadn’t been associated with it.  He tweeted, I clicked like a lemming, and things got interesting.  In that order.

First of all, I learned that TCAE is a tactical squad game that is controlled entirely by voice.  Yes, that’s weird.  But also brilliant.  If you’ve ever played a squad tactics game, maybe the recently released X-COM:Enemy Unknown for example, then you’re familiar with the ubiquitous voice that follows you around telling you what you should be doing in every mission.  You know the one: “It’s an Atomic Skulleater!  Quick, try diplomacy!”  and “We had to identify the last team we sent in here by their teeth.  They were collected over a one mile radius.  Good luck!”  Well, in TCAE, you get to be that disembodied know it all.  FINALLY.

I also learned that Mr. Wheaton is doing voice work for the game.  Woot!  If you’re fan of his acting, and I totally am, then you’re going to be happy he’s involved.  But if you’ve listened to his voice work narrating books, then you’re already reaching for the pledge button.

Then I watched the gameplay demo and my wallet fell completely out of my pants. I love the idea that the squad talks back, asks specific tactical questions, and that’s not even getting into the challenge of guiding a group of operatives through a combat mission just by yelling at them.  The whole idea is bananas.  And awesome.

I have no association with the game or the studio, but I am a game nut who wants more developers to take chances and do something unique.  There are plenty of me-too Diablo/CoD/Bioshock clones already.  As a gamer, I want to support and encourage this kind of thing because I know how risky it is.

So give Jason Wishnov at Iridium Studios a minute and watch the pitch video.  Then join me in throwing money at the screen:



Food Heaven on Wheels: ssahmBBQ

Last night we went to this:

And it was awesome.  Street performances, paper lanterns, live music using traditional Chinese instruments…all fantastic.  Also, not what I want to tell you about.

See, this event was part of the Chinese New Year celebrations that started last weekend on the official day.  As such, it was partly inside the museum and partly out in the surrounding streets, where throngs of cold but jubilant celebrants could watch martial arts demonstrations and a spectacular traditional dragon dance.

It was basically a big old street party.  And you know what street parties bring, right?  Street food!  I know, I’m a bad man.  I was standing next to twenty-foot-long gyrating dragon and gazing longingly at the row of world-class food trucks down the block.

Specifically, this world-class food truck:

It was too dark to get a good shot, so you'll have to settle for this one from their site.

It was too dark to get a good shot, so you’ll have to settle for this one from their site.

If you look closely, you can see that the side of the truck says, “Gourmet Korean Tacos”.  What it should say is, “Minds blown, line forms to the left”.

First of all, the tacos.  Soft flour tortillas filled with kalbi (beef), daeji (pork), ddak (chicken), or dubu (tofu) and a stunning collection of crisp veggies, sesame soy vinaigrette,  Korean salsa roja, spicy mayo, and carmelized kimchi.  It’s amazing.  I had the kalbi and the daeji, and they were tender and sweetly spicy, and the taco itself was crunchy and bursting with tangy flavor, followed by a deep and mellow heat.

Next, the ssahmdog.  Ssahm (or ssam) is a traditional Korean dish where a crisp lettuce leaf is wrapped around meat, usually accompanied by rice and a spicy condiment.  Now, imagine that for the meat, you wrap some bacon around a hot dog and fry it, add caramelized kimchi and two kinds of spicy mayo, Monterrey jack cheese, and put the whole thing in a bun.  It looks like this, and it absolutely blew me away:

That stuff on top?  That’s what caramelized kimchi looks like.  I know, looks weird.  Tastes like pure unadulterated joy.  Spicy and dense and tangy, I could probably just eat that and call it a day.  I probably don’t have to tell you about a fried, bacon wrapped hotdog.  Should be illegal, glad it isn’t.  The spicy sauces were just short of scorching and perfectly offset the complex flavors of the dog, making every bite a blissful combination of meaty and crisp textures, sweet and spicy flavors, and hot and cold sensations.

Finally, KIMCHI FRIES.  I’m not going to say much about these except that the only thing that could possibly make caramelized kimchi better is to smother french fries in it and drizzle spicy sauce and shredded cheese over it.  I honestly don’t know how many of these you get in an order, because they almost didn’t make it to the table.  My advice, order two and eat them hunched over like Gollum so your ‘friends’ can’t steal any.

So.  I totally enjoyed celebrating the Year of the Snake.  I did.  But I may have enjoyed celebrating the Truck of the Ssahm a little more.  If you want to join me in stalking them around the city, go here to check their schedule of appearances.


Yeah, That’s WAY Too Close

I’m sure you’re aware by now that an asteroid is going to pass about a cat’s whisker away from the Earth today.  It weighs in at about 130,000 metric tons, and has a diameter of about 50 meters, or 150 feet.  If it were to hit the Earth, and it’s not, the force of the explosion would be around 2.4 megatons.  Not quite equal to the Tunguska Event, but pretty impressive nonetheless.

The spooky thing is how very, very close this pass is going to be.  The Moon is pretty close, yes?  It’s going to come closer than that.  A lot closer.  In fact, it’s going to pass through the Geosynchronous Ring, which is where we park satellites.  Meaning that it’s going to pass UNDER them.

Not cool, universe.  Not cool.

Here’s a quick peek at what it will look like.



Unlike Chocolate, Free Books Won’t Make You Fat

BB sez: Happy Valentine’s Day, giant carnivorous primate!

Because I have been filled with love today by a naked, heavily armed flying baby, I felt compelled to give you a gift.  Two, even.  From today until 2/18, Bad Radio and Walker are as free as love and sunshine.  (Note: if you’re paying for it, odds are it’s imitation love at best.  Or fluorescent lighting.)

Anyway, totally free.  Tell your friends and loved ones, especially if you think you can get away with pointing them at a free book and claiming it’s a gift!

Just like I’m doing right now…

Happy Love Day!


Dungeon World – The Good Old Days, Only Better

I try to be vigilant, I really do, but I missed the Kickstarter for this bad boy last summer.  Which was a real shame, because it’s exactly the kind of thing I like.  Fortunately, the circle of nerds that I call friends have sharp eyes and grasping claws, and succeeded where I failed.  We managed to sit down to a game last night, but before I get into that, let me give you a quick idea of what Dungeon World is and why it matters.

Remember playing D&D back in the day, when you were a Cheeto-stained, soda-addled young person, giddy with the thrill of role playing for the first time?  Some of you might have gotten into the hobby a different way, but for most, this was the rite of passage into the world of tabletop RPGs.  And it was amazing.

The best part was that we touched the rules only lightly, and mostly as a way to measure success or failure of an action.  It was about shouting and laughing and standing up brandishing a pencil like a sword and cracking the group up with your bold refusal to let the Lich of Unending Smugness get away with his plan to eat the sun.  It was about participating in the story, with just enough support from the rules to make it a game, to have success mean something because the rules allowed failure to enter the narrative.

Fast forward to now.  Pen and paper RPGs have gotten much, much more sophisticated over the years.  And don’t get me wrong, they can be fun as hell.  But they lack the spontaneous freedom of those early days.  They often boast sourcebooks hundreds of pages long, with tons of tables and skills and conditional actions.  What you gain in realistic simulation, you lose in freedom.  And the required level of commitment from a group of friends to dig into one of these can be high.

Enter Dungeon World.  It plays exactly like those old high school sessions, because it’s designed from the ground up for that breezy, story-first type of session.  It’s a breath of fresh air.  There’s almost nothing the players need to know to get started outside of character creation, which is as simple and straightforward as sticking a dagger in a goblin.  It borrows a few bits and pieces from old school D&D-type games with the attribute system and marries them to the narrative elements from more modern games, like the FATE system.  And it does so in a way that’s effortless to get into and play.

We sat down with zero knowledge of the system (except for the GM), and in about 15 minutes were guarding a merchant on the road to a distant city.  In that fifteen minutes, four people created characters from scratch, and had a blast doing it.  Here’s mine as an example, Strom the Bard.  He’s kind of an idiot:

Strom Theramin

Human Bard

Not a particularly handsome man, Strom makes up for it by overspending on clothes and grooming himself past the point of sanity or good taste.  He smells FANTASTIC.


HP: 19

Base Damage: D6

XP: 2

Str: 9, +0

Dex: 12, +0

Con: 13, +1

Wis: 8,-1

Int: 15, +1

Cha: 16, +2

 Alignment: Chaotic “Spur others to significant and unplanned decisive action.”

Bardic Lore: Bestiary of Creatures Unusual

 Weave Performance into Spell

  • ·Heal 1d8 damage (Soothing Ballad of Virgin Silken Thighs)
  • ·+1d4 forward to damage (Poetic Justice)
  • ·Their mind is shaken clear of one enchantment (Clarion of the Third Eye)
  • ·The next time someone successfully assists the target with aid, they get +2 instead of +1 (Rondel of Brotherly Love)

 Inventory (Load Max: 18, Current Load: 2 )

(0) A fine lute named Caroline

(0) Ostentatious Clothes

(2) Dueling Rapier (close, precise)

(0) 3 gold

As you can see, there’s not much to it.  Just enough to hang a character on, not so much that it bogs things down.  Pretty perfect, in my opinion.  The whole system works this way.  There’s a lot of innovative stuff in there, but it never gets in the way of the story, and in fact, contains a lot to help it along.

One example is the success system.  Most attempts to do things are decided by rolling 2D6 and adding the appropriate attribute modifier (so, playing a song for Strom would be 2D6 +2, since that’s charisma based).  10 or better and things worked out exactly as planned.  Less than that, and you might succeed, but you’re also going to get an unintended consequence at the same time.  Or you might fail, causing hilarity to ensue.  Unlike a lot of other systems, its not just a failure to accomplish your task and that’s the end of it.

For example, Strom tried to strike a pose and play a rousing song to give someone a bonus to assist.  He succeeded, but also made himself a target of a nearby archer at the same time.  Could you do that without the roll?  Sure.  But it’s awesome to have the prompt, and the chance to pull it off without a hitch.

To sum up: it’s frigging great.  We had a blast in no time flat, and the system stayed out of our way.  It was just like the Before Times, only better.  Also, it’s cheap.  Like ten bucks cheap.  There’s zero reason for you not to grab a copy and try it out.

If you want to hear a bit about the game from the designers, here’s a panel they did at PAX 2012.  They’re smart guys, and they made a heck of a game.


Book Recommendation: Impulse

I’m not really a book review kind of guy.  Back in the day, before I put on my author pants, I would sometimes throw up an occasional opinion, even if that opinion wasn’t exactly positive.  But now that there’s the potential to have my shenanigans seen in a competitive light, I think public criticism of that sort is firmly out of bounds.

So, instead of a review, let’s call this a recommendation.  A strenuous recommendation.  Impulse is fantastic, go get it.  Don’t even finish reading this, just go.

“But Mike,” you say out loud to your screen like a crazy person, “this is the third book!  I haven’t read Jumper or Reflex yet!  Am I totally boned?”  Not at all.  In fact, I envy you.  Not just because you’re so attractive and clever, but because you have the chance to enjoy these books for the first time.  You have to read all three in order, but it’s a Willy Wonka kind of challenge.  Oh no, I have to eat a bunch of delicious chocolate in order to win a prize!  Poor me!  If anything, you get an excuse to pick up three incredible books at once.

Here’s the official blurb:

Cent has a secret. She lives in isolation, with her parents, hiding from the people who took her father captive and tortured him to gain control over his ability to teleport, and from the government agencies who want to use his talent. Cent has seen the world, but only from the safety of her parents’ arms. She’s teleported more than anyone on Earth, except for her mother and father, but she’s never been able to do it herself. Her life has never been in danger.

Until the day when she went snowboarding without permission and triggered an avalanche. When the snow and ice thundered down on her, she suddenly found herself in her own bedroom. That was the first time.

What this blurb doesn’t tell you is how vivid and compelling Cent’s coming-of-age story is or how she’s charming, reckless, and vulnerable all at once.  It’s also fascinating to reconnect with her parents, Davy and Millie, and see them struggle to raise a teenage daughter, especially in the context of being hunted fugitives.  One of the best things about the series is how thoughtful and interesting the characters are, and Cent in this book is no exception.

Jumper was, and continues to be, an inspiration to me.  Impulse is a worthy successor to its legacy.


Today’s Reminder of Joy And Wonder

You have a lot going on right now, I get that.  Me, too.  But don’t get too bogged down in it.

Remember why you’re here.