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Onto Draft 2

I hit an ending to The Phoenix and the Swan last week. I am now done primary drafting. Over the weekend, I began reading over what I'd written and getting an idea of just what I'd produced.

Overall, the story isn't nearly so bad as I thought it would be. The opening took a fairly substantial amount of elbow grease, but once I got through that, the story has held up. Occurrences of nonsense sentences has been minimal. I've found places to add more detail and to explain away some of my dropped plot lines. On the whole, this rag is turning out far more coherently than it has any rights to turn out.

I added some touches this morning that inordinately please me. They felt right going in.

In terms of fluffing, I'm not adding very much this round. I'm more likely to redraft a paragraph here and there than add fluff. I'll leave more of that until I've gotten feedback from my first readers.

I'll soon be at a place where I can start writing something else. Hopefully I can get back to Double Jack.

Onto the Second Pass

I'm onto my second pass of The Phoenix and the Swan. This is the part where I look at my story and realize that I used English grammar, but only optionally, and only where necessary. Yeesh. And that whole story party, where one paragraph leads to another? That was optional, too.

I hope that my draft improves as I go along, or I'm in for a world of work.
1978 brought the first Amber series to a close with the Courts of Chaos. In this relatively slim volume, Roger Zelazny managed to wrap up almost every plot point raised in his four earlier books in an ending that felt like an ending. In this way, these conclusions helped this book to feel satisfying at the end, unlike every other Amber book so far.

As with all the Amber books, the amount of lies, treachery, and deceit reach dizzying levels. Sides get switched, then switched again. Villains are revealed. Fates are decided.

Like so many fantasy books of the 70's, there's a big battle at the end. To his credit, Roger makes this battle plausible. The forces of Amber have been planning this counterattack for three books. There's no sense of "let's invent an army fast." Quite the opposite, he sets the stage for a truly titanic battle, complete with multiple generals under the brilliant tactician Benedict.

If you've been on this hell ride so far, you either love it or hate it. Most likely, you'll love it and be satisfied. If you've hated the ride to this point, you'll be well rewarded by reaching the end and never having to look at these books again.

The overall writing skill of the novel is notably better than Nine Princes. Roger has certainly developed, but don't be fooled. This is still very raw writing. There are places in the book well paced and engaging, and other that fill like filler. Given how short the book is, having sections that feels like filler is an utter crime.

On the whole, I respect Roger's imagination here, going where no other fantasy had gone before with its ambiguous politics and political backbiting. I can imaging George R. R. Martin sitting down with Roger over a few beers and getting some pointers on his future books, A Game of Thrones. Yet, I am also the first to admit that there are enough stinker parts of this series that it's claim to fame rests on its rawness, not its refinements.

Final Fantasy IV (Game Review)

I made it through 3/4 of Final Fantasy IV before I quit the game. Despite the fact that it looked like a charming game, instead it turned out to be one of those abusive girlfriends who passively-aggressively ran the relationship without any input from you. Yeah, you got to be there, but you didn't actually get to decide anything.

What brought about my quitting was a fight with Golbez, after a cut scene and a battle, kills 3/4 of my characters. I think that I could have done that fight if I was playing a proper RPG, but as Final Fantasy has this ticking time that doesn't like to stop for you, you are never quite sure when time has stopped. I usually got this right, but sometimes, as I'm busy selecting my next command, the game proved me wrong. I despise that sort of combat system, but I had muddled my way through thus far. Add to that the tendency of the touch screen to accept double-entries, along with a vague user interface, often left me doing the wrong thing. Finally, this fight occurred after an annoying cut scene, followed by a fight, followed by a cut scene, and then that fight, so losing meant a 5-7 minute penalty just to get back to it. I even looked up how to survive this fight to no avail.

Do you know what I don't need? I don't need a game that treats you like that. I'm all up for challenges, but that wasn't a challenge, that was voluntary misery. So Final Fantasy IV, I'm breaking up with you. Go pull your BS on somebody else. I'm done.

How did this even emerge from the adorable Final Fantasy III? That wasn't a work of art, but at least it was more fun that this pile of steaming bits. I want my $15 back.

I haven't walked out on an RPG in years. I think the last one I aborted was Daggerfall, not because I wasn't enjoying it, but because I somehow screwed up the main quest line and couldn't finish the game.

If this was the only game in town, I might try and finish it. It's not the only game. There's a metric ton of Kemko games out there that are equally dull and far less abusive.

In short:

The combat system is painful.
The story is dull.
Most spells are useless except for damage and healing.
Equipment doesn't matter.
Your heroes always feel stepped on and useless.

Cordless Phones

Our current crop of cordless phones is dying a slow death. One hand unit is down. A second hand unit goes out intermittently, it's battery shot. The final unit works OK, but I don't know ho much longer it has. I bought the set back in 2010. I did an honest search to find replacements. On eBay, handsets run $15-34, which is as much as new.

The old system was an AT&T SL82118 with SL80108 handsets.

With that in mind, I bought a new Panasonic KX-TGF383M with three KX-TGFA30 handsets for $110 (on sale + tax). This thing does more things than I can comprehend, but best of all, the handsets come with ordinary LiOn batteries. Yay. Batteries will be easy to replace when they conk out. (That's assuming that the handsets don't conk out.)

What's new and cool about the handsets? I have no idea.

What's new and cool about the base unit? I have no idea.

Oh, wait, it lets you use your cell phone as your phone line, so you can use your cordless handset to dial out, using bluetooth, through your wireless account. That is so cool and just about the most useless feature that I ever heard of. Wouldn't it be more sensical to let you use your bluetooth phone to answer calls on your landline? Otherwise, I'm left absolutely mystified at the target audience for this feature. And given that your smartphone may be using your wifi to talk through your internet connection, isn't that just some roundabout VoIP system? This give me headaches.

I'll watch some videos on the system to see else it does. Maybe the reviewer can make some sense of it for me.

Other than that, the base unit has an answering machine, and it appears that you can just pick up the handsets and dial out with them. That would be amazing. I hope that dialing is simple. I generally expect that modern technology will take anything simple, add a ton of options, and return little to no value. (How does more choice lead to less value? That's actually a very interesting question, but too much right now.)

Books or Ebooks?

Books or ebooks? I consider this among the most remarkably poorly posed arguments in the publishing world today. In general, I tend to see this as a winner/loser argument, with the loser being relegated to obscurity.

Say it ain't so!

Well, it ain't so despite the history of the music industry. In the music industry, one format has come along to usually displace the next. Sheet music was replaced by music rolls, which was replaced by 76's, which were replaced with LP and 45's and cassettes and 8 tracks, which were replaced by CDs, which were replaced by MP3s, which were replaced by streaming. Wow, what a mouthful of inconsistent story.

You see, right there in the middle, LPs and cassettes thrived next to each other. Serious listeners preferred LPs while portable listeners preferred tape. Rather than displace each other, they complemented each other. Each filled its own niche. Not only that, but record players came with a selector allowing you to change speeds, so that you could also play 45's and 78's on them. The record players were backward compatible.

When CDs came along, they first savaged the LP market, then they went on to savage the cassette market. CDs for the win.

So, which market do we have? I believe that we are living in the LP/cassette market. Rather than one medium winning and the other losing, each is best suited to a different environment. Each comes with substantial strengths and weaknesses.

The book is a fabulous package. You may not think so, but it's a technological marvel developed over the past millennium and barely changed. The user experience remains primarily the same no matter how old the book, yet each aspect is the child of years of development, from paper and ink, to the fonts used and the methods of binding. These products are perfected for reading.

Not only are books perfected for reading, they hold advantages over ebooks. First, they're cheap compared to electronic devices. In any environment that could threaten a device, the book is likewise threatened, but far cheaper to replace. Even if damage, the book still works. It never needs charging. Its technology does not age it out in five or ten years. It is simple to lend, but not so easy to get back. The backlist is epic. To their detriment, they take up space, which means that the more you like books, the more that you need to store. Fortunately, libraries solve some of these problems, as well as used book stores.

Ebooks are like cassettes in that they are not as technologically good or aesthetically perfect, but what they lack in perfection they make up in portability and convenience. Ebooks can be read on existing hardware that a person might have, such as a cell phone or table. They never take up space. They can be bought at will while traveling. Ebooks are convenient. However, unless you're using a dedicated reading the device, the overall experience is not as pleasant. Backlit screens don't work as well as digital paper, and digital paper doesn't work as well as actual paper, except when they do. Lit screens work in environments where light is less available. Add to that the huge list of independent authors cutting out the middle man, able to sell at bargain, especially in genre fiction and underserved niches, makes reading electronically very attractive. On the other hand, selling off those ebooks isn't as easy and lending them can be cumbersome.

So, which will win? As long as the reader wins, I don't care. This is a market where the readers know their needs and pick their wins. One medium isn't going to kill the other. Books aren't holy. Ebooks aren't the devil, nor are they the messiah of anybody. They're a medium.

As to the second argument of epublishing: will this shift kill the big five publishers? I doubt it. As I've indicated above, I think that we're looking at complementary markets. This is not a revolution that will topple the goliaths. The last few years have been hard to analyze as the economy has been so difficult. In my mind, the downturn of the printed book had just as much to do with the Great Recession as the rise of ebooks. Not surprisingly, now that the worst of the recession is behind us, physical books are seeing a resurgence. As with any new market, such as ebooks, the opening yields stunning growth, but growth eventually stabilizes, yielding smaller growth and contraction cycles.
Published in 1976, the Hand of Oberon continues the serial story of Corwin in the Chronicles of Amber. If you've gotten this far and enjoyed it, you'll continue enjoying. If you haven't enjoyed the series to this point, then why are you even reading this?

The story picks back up at this point. More information is learned. Secrets are revealed. Alliances are explored. Treachery is considered is considered and performed. And new knowledge is revealed, making everything that much more complicated.

Don't ask me to explain all the twists and turns. They were complicated before this book began and even more complicated afterwards.

I think that this section held together better than the previous book, but in no way does this feel like a stand alone story. The job of this book is to end the beginning and begin the ending, which it does quite sufficiently. 
If you want more Amber, then the Sign of the Unicorn (1975) by Roger Zelazny gives you exactly that. Corwin is now regent of Amber, for all the good that does him. Amber is so full of issues that rulership is a form of self-inflicted punishment. It's here that the politicking gets worse, and the complexity of the backstory emerges.

Roger takes time to do some very clever retconning in this book. He takes the challenge of going over his previous work, finding the inconsistencies and dropped plot lines, twisting them about, and turning them into a feature. When Amber and all its children get complicated, they get very complicated. They got twisted enough that I didn't quite follow all the twists and turns, let along spot any of the plot holes. For the most part, the entire point of the book is to retcon, to smash more plot points into the road accident that is the story arc, and leave you wondering how anyone could walk out alive.

If you are looking for "quality" writing, this isn't it. We continue living on the business end of a hack writer with a typewriter. That doesn't mean that the subject matter isn't compelling, if you find such matter compelling, but if you aren't entertained by the matter, the prose will have nothing else to entertain you with. There are often logical jumps between chapters, with some chapters having almost no explanation behind them and no orientation within them. There are some twists which feel random, not more complicated than "hey, let's go over there."

In my youth, I thought it was my fault that I didn't quite follow some parts of this book. No longer do I think that. Even as an adult, I wonder at the nearly arbitrary advancement of the plot and the swirling mixed colors that constitute a plot. I'm reading this series straight through and I still find myself alternately lost, thrown, and bored.

If you love Amber, this continues being the series for you, but if you don't, this book will surely be the rocks that you crash upon.


Jeny briefly had two tickets to Pope-a-palooza. Just her and 25,000 of her closest friends on the west lawn of the capital building. She had been smart enough to put in for tickets through our representative's office. However, she had made plans to go camping that day with our daughter, and in my daughter's world, a special camping trip to the beach beats the Pope. So, no Papacy in the household.

Papists. That's a veiled racist term for Italians and Poles around the turn of the century (not that they veiled their racism back then).

Meanwhile, I fed the cat and went to work. I had no desire to wedge myself down onto the capital, only to see the Pontiff on a big screen.


This weekend was our yearly renfair weekend. We went. Somehow, it wasn't outrageously crowded nor outrageously hot.

We did our share of bumping into people, amazingly quick for the most part. Cybele from high school was out there being a tall fairy. Mo was a human statue. (I had no conversations with either as they were working.) Bumped into Joe and Cyd.

Design Girl, my daughter, visited the pirate ship playground, but only after seeing the glass maker first. She then went on to climb the climbing wall, something like a spider wearing flip-flops. We spent some time at the joust and watching archery.

Shopping for a wooden sword proved interesting. There were too many to choose from, from the plain ones that you could paint yourself, to the artisan painted ones that were ever so pretty and expensive. In the end, she chose a medievalish wooden sword with a basic paint job.

The occasion of this renfair was Izzy's birthday, so we caught up with my brother-in-law and his wonderful girlfriend and spent time with them as well.

I brought my little camera along. It's not a "good" camera, but when it works well, it really works well. To get good shots, I really had to be on my toes.