<M <Y
Y> M>

Sycorax: Constellation Games begins serialization later this month (preorders open soon!), and I've working on the auxiliary material that will ensure a fun experience for subscribers. Things like bonus stories, and the Twitter feeds that will play out as the serialization progresses.

In general, a chapter of Constellation Games covers 5-7 days of story time. So... I can script those characters' Twitter lives ahead of time, and then enact them during the week, so that they talk to each other in a way that looks natural. If one day a character stays up late, they'll post to Twitter late at night and then go silent until early afternoon. What could be simpler?

Except, when you search for software to automatically post to Twitter on a schedule, you find software that is designed to make your personal Twitter account look like a robot is behind it, timing your tweets for optimum "penetration" into your "social network" in the hopes of "going viral", all at the cost of your "personal agency". Talk about the ELIZA effect!

So, I wrote my own client, Sycorax. You write a script with approximate timings in a text file, and Sycorax a) time-codes everything in a way that looks natural, and b) enacts the script on Twitter. I wrote more documentation and made the usage more friendly than was necessary for my personal use, in hopes that you'll find a use for it.

(My preferred name for this program was "Prospero", for reasons that will become clear, but Twitter said that Prospero was taken, so I went with the other magician from The Tempest.)

Sycorax is written in Python and published under a BSD-style license.

[Comments] (1) Game Roundup: Minecraft Edition: When I was a teenager the hot game in my BBS circle was ZZT, a top-down game about running around a grid and collecting things. ZZT came with an editor that let you fill up the grid with characters from the IBM extended ASCII character set. Some characters had special meaning to the game: π was a tiger which, like the tigers in In Watermelon Sugar, would hunt you down and eat you. (Also like real tigers, I guess.) ⇿ was a slider, which could be pushed left or right, but would never move up or down. And so on.

The hot game in my circle today is Minecraft, a 3D game about running around a grid and collecting things. I played the beta a while ago and exhausted the game's non-obsessive-compulsive possibilities, but I picked it back up when I discovered that people have been making and sharing custom Minecraft maps in a way that strongly reminds me of the ZZT days. In honor of the impending release of Minecraft 1.0, I present an overview of the custom map scene, with links to my favorites and commentary from a game-design perspective.

I got all these maps from the Minecraft forums. If you go there you'll see lots of people posting maps, advertising in the title the number of downloads each has received and the genre of the map. ZZT's game mechanics gave rise to certain genres: RPG, slider puzzle, the nebulous "adventure", and so on. Minecraft's mechanics have given rise to significantly different genres:

Survival: The genre that's the name of one of Minecraft's game modes. In this genre, you're put into a situation and you have to do... whatever you want. It's like playing Minecraft on someone else's map. Usually they've constructed some cool things for you to explore, or constrained your access to resources in some way, or at least created some arbitrary challenges like "build 64 bookcases". For me, all the memorable instances of this genre fall into the subgenre of:

Survival puzzle. (My term, it's lumped in with [SURV] on the forums.) In vanilla Minecraft, you have easy access to unlimited amounts of dirt, grass, water, wood, and stone, which can be crafted into unlimited amounts of food and basic tools. In a survival puzzle map, severe constraints are put on these inputs such that you have to figure out unusual ways of reaching certain desirable spots in the game world (cool-looking cave) or in the crafting graph (useful pickaxe).

The best pure survival puzzle map is Skyblock. ("500,000+ DOWNLOADS") Skyblock dominates this genre to such an extent that any new entry in the genre will be derided as a Skyblock ripoff. That's because it's very difficult to come up with a new survival puzzle. Survival puzzles depend very heavily on the implementation of Minecraft: facts about what inputs you can craft into what outputs, and facts about the environment. Facts that you can't change without modding. This is where the differences between Minecraft and ZZT begin to emerge.

Your best bet is to either come up with a totally new survival puzzle, or to combine the puzzles popularized in Skyblock with some fun pure-survival content. The Pit does the former, and the Complete The Monument genre (q.v.) does the latter.

Adventure: Unlike with ZZT (and games in general), the "Adventure" genre is very clearly defined. In an Adventure map, you have to go from one place to another, and you are not allowed to place or break blocks. In other words, the game stops being Minecraft, and becomes a 3D platformer with awkward controls and blocky graphics.

I've played a couple Adventure maps that showed off really impressive designs, notably Deep Space Turtle Chase (requires a mod that remakes Minecraft as a world made of spaceship components) and this Indiana Jones trapfest where you should probably just watch the video. But prohibiting the game mechanics that Minecraft does really well, and relying solely on its mediocre platforming, is a recipe for boredom. Specifically, my boredom.

There's a subgenre of Adventure called Parkour, which I haven't even tried because it requires very precise jumps, and I can't do that. Parkour is popular enough to rate a top-level genre on the forums, but it operates under the same constraints as Adventure, because if you could place blocks there'd be no need for very precise jumps.

Complete The Monument: My favorite genre, pioneered by the excellent Super Hostile series, and spread by the fact that the Super Hostile author put up a "toolkit" full of useful idioms to copy-and-paste into your own CTM map.

Basically, CTM turns Minecraft into Zelda. To win the game you need to collect a bunch of identical things (blocks of different-colored wool, generally). You explore an overworld until you find some dungeons, and at the end of each dungeon there's one of the identical things. If you're smart, while you're in the dungeon you can usually score an upgrade to your equipment (the Survival Puzzle aspect).

Turning Minecraft into Zelda works great! It leaves the building/crafting mechanics alone, it gives some goal-direction to the aimlessness of vanilla Minecraft, and it gives the creator a chance to show off some cool designs. Unlike Zelda, CTM games tend to be brutally difficult (it's called Super Hostile for a reason), but a little strategic cheating always works if the fun starts to fade. In addition to Super Hostile I've enjoyed the Twisted Logic series, the Forgotten series, the Corrupt Lands series, and Timetoslide's maps. See? Lots of series, just like Zelda.

If I were twenty years younger I'd be making Minecraft maps right now. Instead I'm the age I am, but I did have an idea for an arthouse Minecraft map: "Return To The Town Of ZZT". I'd build ZZT screens in Minecraft, making those stereotypical ANSI-yellow borders out of glowstone. I'd fill those screens with all the awful cliches of ZZT design: the broken slider puzzles, the "X of ZZT" naming convention, the talking trees. And it wouldn't matter because everything would be one block tall and you could just jump over the obstacles.

Except... I don't think the awful cliches of ZZT design can even be implemented in Minecraft. ZZT had a simple object-oriented programming language. In Minecraft if you want a programmable computer you have to lay out the circuits yourself. ZZT made it easy to display messages to the player. The Minecraft maps I linked to above are covered in little signs, 60 characters to a sign, worse than Twitter. A long message will be stuck on a wall with a grid of 9 or 16 signs!

The ZZT level editor was designed to make games to share with people, and Minecraft is designed to make an environment to walk around and enjoy. The genius of Minecraft is that the level editor is the game. But writing code isn't really a game, it's work. So instead of programming stupid games with ZZT, kids are building roller coasters and pixel art and Skyblock ripoffs with Minecraft. Clearly it's not Minecraft's job to be a programming environment, but this feels like a step backwards.

I'm giving some thought to minimal additions to Minecraft that would give players more scope for programmer-style creativity, without changing the nature of the game. I'll post my ideas in a separate entry.

Constellation Games: Subscribe!: Starting today, you can buy a subscription to the serialization of Constellation Games, my space opera novel about video games. Here's the blurb:

First contact isn't all fun and games.

Ariel Blum is pushing thirty and doesn't have much to show for it. His computer programming skills are producing nothing but pony-themed video games for little girls. His love life is a slow-motion train wreck, and whenever he tries to make something of his life, he finds himself back on the couch, replaying the games of his youth.

Then the aliens show up.

Out of the sky comes the Constellation: a swarm of anarchist anthropologists, exploring our seas, cataloguing our plants, editing our wikis and eating our Twinkies. No one knows how to respond--except for nerds like Ariel who've been reading, role-playing and wargaming first-contact scenarios their entire lives. Ariel sees the aliens' computers, and he knows that wherever there are computers, there are video games.

Ariel just wants to start a business translating alien games so they can be played on human computers. But a simple cultural exchange turns up ancient secrets, government conspiracies, and unconventional anthropology techniques that threaten humanity as we know it. If Ariel wants his species to have a future, he's going to have to take the step that nothing on Earth could make him take.

He'll have to grow up.

The ESRB would rate Constellation Games M for Mature. It contains strong language, sexual content, alcohol and drug references, comic mischief, and cartoon violence. It's a little bit "Mallory" and a little bit "Let Us Now Praise Awesome Dinosaurs".

Interested? $5 gets you the story: one chapter a week, delivered electronically, starting November 29th. You'll also be able to follow along with the Twitter feeds, as the characters live the events of the novel. (You can follow along with the Twitter feeds anyway, but they might not make much sense.)

Pay more than $5 and you start getting bonuses. Seven bucks gets you the serialization, plus a bonus short story afterwards. $20 gets you three bonus stories, and a hard copy of the trade paperback, and a phrasebook for the Pey Shkoy language Adam Parrish created just for Constellation Games. And so on. There is a ton of extra stuff available, with more on the way. Read the first two chapters now (requires Flash), pick a subscription level, and let's get this started.

(n.b. You might notice a few artifacts in the cover image. All but one of the artifacts will be gone in the final version.)

[Comments] (1) Programmable Minecraft 1: Circuit Layout: I had two distinct kinds of ideas about making Minecraft more programmable, so I'm going to do two posts. (The end of this post explains why I was thinking about this.) This first post is all about circuit design. I'm not trying to get to Python or even ZZT-OOP here, just trying to pull Minecraft up from the "do your own wiring" level without betraying its aesthetic. I don't really build mechanisms in Minecraft because the primitives are so primitive. I got plenty of that in college. I suspect other people are in the same boat, or at least other boats in the same flotilla.

If you're really into redstone circuits then any of this stuff may, for you, betray the Minecraft aesthetic. If so, take heart, for I am not a Minecraft developer and I doubt anything like this will ever be implemented except in a mod, for performance reasons if nothing else. (Here are some mods with blocks for logic gates and basic digital functions.)

My second post will be about ways to programatically interact with the environment, and I think even purists will be able to appreciate that. For now, here are ideas for making circuit layout easier.

Infraredstone repeater: When this block receives a redstone or infraredstone signal on one side, it sends out an infraredstone signal on all other sides. Infraredstone works like redstone, but it's a beam that operates across line-of-sight, rather than a current through a wire. This makes wiring easier and can also be used to make electric eyes, since an intervening mob/opaque block will block the signal.

Logic gates: Don't make players build their own logic gates out of redstone and torches. Just provide them ready-made. Logic gates don't have to be ugly boxes labelled "AND" and "XOR". I really like how a redstone torch acts as a NOT gate. You could add objects to the game that happen to act as logic gates if you hook them up correctly. For instance, the infraredstone repeater, as described above, acts as an OR gate.

Data: Now it's gonna get heavy. I want you to imagine that data itself is an object in Minecraft. You can carry it around and put it in chests and hold it in your hand and dig holes in the dirt with it. Data has no use, but unlike other objects, which are stackable up to 64, data is stackable up to 255. This lets you carry around an eight-bit value in one slot.

How do you get data objects? One way is to use a:

Display: like a tiny chest for data. It has space for one eight-bit value, and on all sides of the block it displays its current value in a big font (using IBM's CP437 character set, like ZZT). You can right-click a display and use keyboard input to set its value to any keyboard-enterable character. If you chain multiple displays together, you can type more than one character at a time, as you can when placing a sign.

A display has an "input" side and an "output" side. If you stick a redstone torch on the "input" side of a display, a single data object will appear inside it, it will start showing a ☺ (character 01 in CP437), and the "output" side will go live with a redstone signal.

But instead of the 1-bit signals of normal redstone, a display block sends and receives data through an 8-bit data bus. Basically I'm increasing the bandwidth of redstone from one bit to eight. Existing equipment such as redstone repeaters will work on an 8-bit signal just as they currently work on a 1-bit signal. Instead of "1", a redstone torch sends "00000001". If you type an "A" into a Display, a stack of 65 data objects will be placed in it, and its output side will read "01000001". By the same token, if you open up a Display and dump a stack of 65 data objects into it, it will start reading "A".

Now that we have redstone data buses, we can support some more interesting blocks:

Multiplexer: Takes two redstone bus signals: "input" and "select", and outputs a redstone bus signal. A single-block multiplexer is useless and never outputs anything, but if you chain two of them together you get a 1-bit multiplexer whose "select" chooses between two input signals based on its low bit. You can chain together up to 256 multiplexer blocks to use all eight bits of the "select" signal.

Similarly, you can chain together up to 256 Demultiplexer blocks to make a demux. I originally proposed a Register block, but the Display is almost a register already--it just needs a "set" line so it doesn't change whenever its "input" line changes.

Perhaps at this point, even non-purists are thinking, "Leonard, all these fancy blocks are spoiling my enjoyment of Minecraft! I like laying out complicated circuits in three dimensions so that I can make a frigging flip-flop! Well, I don't like that, exactly, but I do like having a relatively small number of core blocks, and I don't like where this Multiplexer/Demultiplexer/Register business is going!"

That's why I'd like to introduce you to The Item World. I learned of this insane concept when Dr. Aaditya Rangan showed me the Disgaea series of RPGs. In Disgaea, you can go through a dungeon and kill a demon and collect a sword, just like in any other RPG. But only in Disgaea do strong magics exist that let you go inside the sword, where you'll find another dungeon full of demons, which you can kill to level up the sword.

The Item World is a crazy time-sink in an RPG, but it's a really useful time-sink when you need to lay out circuits. The circuit layout program I used in college had an Item World: you could lay out a circuit with logic gates, then zoom out a level and treat that circuit as a tiny black box in a larger circuit. Minecraft could do this too. Let's introduce a block called the:

Computer. When you place this block and right-click it, you're sent into a translucent 15x15x15 room which you can decorate as you see fit. You can build sophisticated mechanisms inside the Computer block, but to the outside world it looks like a single-block black box.

The bottom four rows of one wall form the display. By putting Display blocks on this wall, you can achieve the same effect as putting a sign on a block. Only here, the message on the sign can be dynamic. This lets you do display output and keyboard input.

Opposite the display wall is the input wall. If you send an 8-bit redstone signal to the side of the Computer block opposite the display, then inside the Computer, every block on the input wall will go live with that signal. Every other wall of the block is an output wall. An 8-bit signal sent to any block of that wall will leave the Computer and be emitted by the corresponding side of the Computer block. If you send more than one signal to an output wall, they get ANDed.

With Computer blocks you can implement a logic gate, a multiplexer, a demultiplexer, or a register in a single block, without adding any code to Minecraft itself. Of course, you can put one Computer block inside another. Since this will not actually be implemented, let's suppose you can nest Computer blocks to arbitrary depth.

Building a sophisticated system will still be a huge pain if you have to craft every AND gate by hand. So I'll also introduce a new crafting block, the:

Replicator. This device takes raw materials and produces a copy of its input. Non-redstone example: I want to make a torch. I drop an existing torch into the Replicator. It says: "Gimme 1 stick and 1 coal." I drop a stick and a coal into the Replicator, and it spits out a torch. That's stupid, but you get the idea. Now say I spent five hours building and debugging a Computer block that acts as a shift register. I want another shift register. I drop my Computer into the Replicator. It says "Gimme 861 redstone, 201 sticks, 52 wooden planks, 8 stone, 29 cobblestone, etc. etc. etc." I dump all that stuff in and it gives me another shift register.

OK, you get the idea. The next post in this series will take a much different tactic. I'll accept that circuit layout isn't going to get easier, and suggest some blocks that can be used to make fun maps that aren't currently possible.

[Part 2]

From Hiroshima to the Moon: At a flea market Sumana got me a really good book: From Hiroshima to the Moon: Chronicles of Life in the Atomic Age by Daniel Lang. It was published in 1959, so the "Moon" in the title is purely aspirational--nothing in this book even gets close to the moon. But Philip Morrison does go to Hiroshima, a month after the bomb is dropped, and Lang gets him to tell the story of that initial fact-finding mission.

The commander started things off by gravely explaining that he had asked one of his aides, a young major, to tell the Americans the "facts of the disaster." "They always referred to it as 'the disaster,'" Morrison said. "It made me feel as though I were a member of an earthquake commission."

"A Fine Moral Point" is one of many amazing essays in the book, all written for magazines in the 1940s and 50s, when the world was just starting to measure the effects of fallout, learning how to treat the diseases caused by radiation, and coming to terms with the inevitable destruction of civilization. As Lloyd Smith says in one of the essays, "If war should come, we scientists might die the same as anyone else, but at least we would understand exactly what was causing our death." It's a time that's obscured in hindsight by our view of the Cold War and the Apollo program, but there's a lot of interesting and/or horrifying stuff going on here.

Other books I've read about the atomic bomb focus heavily on the scientists who designed it. Lang has a lot of scientists, but he also writes a lot about their families, the workers at plants like Oak Ridge, and the soldiers who work with the bombs—the people who are buying the magazines.

In "What's Up There?" Lang visits the White Sands Proving Ground where they're strapping scientific instruments onto leftover Nazi V-2 rockets. Capt. Edward Detchmendy shows him around the base and introduces him to Lt. James Kincannon, the Recovery Officer. Once the rockets go up, Kincannon very much cares where they come down, because he has to go out in a Jeep and recover the instruments. Lang asks to tag along:

"Well," [Kincannon] said, "meet me outside the blockhouse right after the shoot. Don't be late. Look for the Monstrosity—that's the name of my jeep. Can't help spotting it. It'll be kind of loaded. I carry ten gallons of water for the vehicle, five for passengers. Also four quarts of canned oil. Tools for the vehicle and rocket extricators will be in it. It has two-way radio-communication equipment, a bedroll, and binoculars. I carry a first-aid kit and a snake-bite kit with serum. I always have my forty-five for snakes and mountain lions, and also for coyotes. And don't bring a pillow, the way some people have. That's sissy stuff." Kincannon abruptly proceeded into the blockhouse, and Detchmendy said to me, "Take along a pillow."

Apropos Werner von Braun and the other German scientists, Lang gets off this line:

They were originally signed on for one year at a small wage and six dollars a day for expenses. Since the expiration of the contract, however, they have come into substantial raises. It is probably the first time that the kidnapper has also paid the ransom.

In "Bombs Away!" (1952) Lang visits Yucca Flat for an Army field test involving a live bomb drop. It's like getting to see Dr. Strangelove twelve years early:

From [a helicopter] emerged a lieutenant general, who strode past us halfway up the knoll, turned around, and delivered a talk. He had been up forward with the troops, he said, and the boys had made jokes immediately before and after the explosion. The weapon, he declared, had to be regarded as so much firepower. From a tactical point of view, he went on clinically, the day's bomb had been too big, because it had prevented the troops from advancing quickly enough. "We learned in the war that you have to follow close behind your firepower to capture your objective," he said.


Of the various officials I talked with during the tours and between lectures, none awaited the impending test more eagerly than the civil-defense people. "We're counting heavily on this bomb," one of them told me. "It's a tough job selling accident insurance."


Eight hours after the detonation, a hundred troops who had been in the foxholes and trenches that morning were marched into the City Hall auditorium. They were ranged against the walls in groups, by states, for the convenience of newspapermen interested in local stories. Almost instantly, the barnlike structure was alive with the din of feature stories. I wandered down one of the aisles, listening to snatches of the interviews, and found that the atomic G.I. sounded very much like his counterpart of a few years ago. An Arizona boy had prayed. A chipper California man said that he'd take the atomic bomb any day over those German 88s he'd known in Sicily. An Illinois corporal said that he'd drawn a stranger as his foxhole mate, but that after the hot earthquake they'd experienced together he was sure they'd be buddies for life. A very young blond New York City corporal wanted the reporter talking to him to do him a favor. "My name is Geiger, Vincent Geiger," he said, "and all the fellows in my company keep asking me if my father's the guy who invented that counter. I would appreciate it if you wrote that he isn't." The most hopeful, though unconsciously hopeful, words I heard were uttered by a New Mexican, an earnest, swarthy private first class named Evaristo Hernandez. "I passed up my furlough to be in on this test," he told his interviewer. "I figured I might never have another chance to see an atom bomb."

I could just go on and on. The book ends with a story on the impending launch of the first Vanguard rocket, a postmortem on the failure of said launch, and the super-speculative early phases (1958) of "what is known to researchers, in and out of the U.S. government, as 'the man-in-space program.'" Apparently the word "astronaut" hasn't yet found currency outside the pages of Astounding, because the still-hypothetical astronaut is always referred to by ominous terms like "the space man" or "the space traveller".

Thanks, GameSetWatch: As this GameSetWatch post implies, Constellation Games was triggered by, and originally written for serialization on, that site. Here's what happened: at the end of 2008 Simon Carless emailed me and said (paraphrase) "Hey, I liked 'Mallory', would you like to write some kind of game-related serial on GSW?" Later that day I sent him a pitch that still describes the novel pretty well. Turnaround was quick because I took the setting wholesale from my 2007 novella "Vanilla", which now needs to be rewritten because I completely cannibalized it for the novel.

Writing the book was not quick at all. The original plan was to build up a backlog and then start the serialization, the way webcomics work. I did about a quarter-draft that was awful, and then I had a conversation with some published novelists in which the novelists were unanimous that they would never start serializing something without having at least a complete draft. I started over and told Simon I'd like to finish a draft before we serialized.

Fortunately, the second draft was much better, I finished it by the end of 2010, and we decided it would be cool to try and find a real publisher for the novel. (Serializing the novel on GSW would pay me as a columnist, which--spoiler alert--is not very much.) I was apprehensive about chasing this particular carrot, anticipating years of bitter failure and publishing-industry drama, but I was able to get Candlemark & Gleam interested quickly, and the rest of the process has moved very smoothly.

So, thanks, Simon and GSW, for giving me the push I needed to write something novel-length. I'm also happy that on GSW I will forever be "Leonard Richardson (robotfindskitten)". It's like the way the Columbia alumni magazine refers to "Barack Obama ('83)".

Sycorax 1.9.1: The link to the initial release of Sycorax was broken, and although several people tried to download it, nobody was distressed enough by its unavailability to complain. However, this will change once the CG Twitter feeds start up and you see how useful Sycorax is for making fictional characters bitch at each other on Twitter. Then, you'll download my software!

Oh, uh, the point of this post is that a new version of Sycorax is out. This one has sanity checks like "is a tweet longer than 140 characters?" and "do a chapter's tweets overflow their alloted time?". This version also has a script that makes it easy to get OAuth access tokens for your characters. Plus, I checked that the link works.

Haul Of Kickstarter: Here's a photo of all the physical objects I've received because of Month of Kickstarter:

It's been almost four months, and I frankly expected a slightly bigger pile by now. It's possible that some of the projects asked for my address in an update rather than with a survey (please don't do this, folks--I'm getting 5-10 project updates a day, and I don't read them all), but the big items are board games, which just take a long time to produce, so I don't feel bad. I took this picture now instead of waiting for a bigger pile of stuff, because I have a feeling that pretty soon that bar of Firebird Chocolate is going to go "live on a farm" with the other three bars I was sent.

"The Day Alan Turing Came Out": One week from today serialization of Constellation Games begins. Today, as a pre-Thanksgiving promo, I'm putting online a story I sold to the Retro Spec anthology in 2010.

"The Day Alan Turing Came Out" is short and bittersweet. I've licensed it under CC-BY, the most permissive Creative Commons license. It doesn't have much in common with Constellation Games, but I've been wanting to put it online for a while, and this seems like a good time.

Retro Spec has lots of other F/SF set in the past (one of my favorite subgenres), so check it out.

Pey Shkoy Benefits Humans: If you're on the fence about subscribing to Constellation Games because you only want the trade paperback when it comes out next year, get off that fence! The trade paperback will cost $20 on its own, so spend $20 on the Plutonium package and you'll get the trade paperback, the bonus stories, and today's promo spotlight: the Leonard Richardson/Adam Parrish joint, Pey Shkoy For Humans.

In Constellation Games, Pey Shkoy is the language of an ancient alien civilization that produced some amazing (and some really awful) computer games. Adam took the fragments of Pey Shkoy found in the book, mostly names of people and companies, and reconstructed the language around those fragments, allowing us to present a basic guide for game importers and Creative Anachronism types.

The book's native-language title is Uiksel Pey Shkoy A Human, lit. Pey Shkoy Benefits Humans. Here it is in Pey Shkoy syllabic script:

The book will have a complete syllabary, a guide for transliterating English, and translations of handy phrases like "My secondary sexual characteristics explode with delight!" I've got to be a little vague on the details, partly because Adam and I just started working on this, and partly because one of the best bits of the book is who (within the fiction) wrote it. The latter being a tricky selling point when you, the potential buyer, haven't met any of the characters yet.

BTW, you can also see Pey Shkoy script on the Constellation Games front cover (it says "Perea", the name of the device manufacturer), and there'll be quite a bit more on the back cover.

Scientific Dadaism: This was an interesting history paper: 'Reactionaries and Einstein's Fame: "German Scientists for the Preservation of Pure Science," Relativity, and the Bad Nauheim Meeting'. The story of a fascist anti-relativity astroturf organization:

Indeed, the theory of relativity was being “thrown to the masses” in exactly the same way as “the dadaist gentlemen” promoted their wares, which had to do as little as relativity with the observation of nature. No one should be surprised, therefore, Weyland concluded, that a movement had arisen to counter this “scientific Dadaism”.

Update: In other anti-Semitism news, I also found interesting this paper on Moscow State University's "Jewish [Math] Problems".

[Comments] (2) @ArielBlum: Tomorrow the first chapter of Constellation Games is pushed out to subscribers! It's a weird situation because you can already read that chapter. In fact, you can read the first two chapters, in a nice PDF or semi-nice HTML format that you can pass around to your friends (a la Tales of MU), instead of the clunky Flash interface on BookBuzzr.

Although the launch is tomorrow, the Twitter feeds start running today. Here's Ariel, the novel's narrator, on Twitter. Right now it's May 30 for Ariel and he's fixing last-minute bugs in a video game about ponies. Tomorrow is May 31, the first day of Constellation Games. On May 31 Ariel's world will change irrevocably, and you get to watch the entire process.

Every week, the Twitter feeds will enact the events of the most recent chapter, using the Twitter-language of jokey status updates. If you subscribe to the serial, you can read each new chapter and then watch its drama play out on Twitter over the week, in something like real time.

You don't need to follow the Twitter feeds to understand Constellation Games, but they add another layer of fun. They contain tons of subplots and details that aren't in the novel because everything in a novel has to be useful to the main plotline—the polar opposite of the Twitter philosophy. I'll be archiving the feeds on my forthcoming "episode guide" page, so if you come in late, you can read the tweets for a given chapter en masse.

I said "feeds", plural, but right now there's just the one. Another feed will rise in a few weeks, but its owner hasn't entered the solar system yet and won't get a Twitter account for several chapters. I have created Twitter accounts for Jenny and Bai, the two other major human characters, but I won't be posting to those feeds. I grabbed the names because Ariel @talks to them a lot, Bob Newhart style, and I don't want someone else hijacking them/taking them innocently and getting very confused. The feeds are fun to write and I'd love to do four of them, but I'd rather spend my time working on subscriber bonuses. (If Brendan or someone who's read the story wants to role-play Jenny and/or Bai on Twitter, I'll hand over the keys.)

BTW, I got the idea for the Twitter feeds from J. Jacques of Questionable Content, who runs feeds for all of his characters. That's a lot of characters, and any given character doesn't post very often, and now I understand why.

Sycorax 0.9.2: As predicted (privately to myself, not with a sealed envelope on TV or anything), I needed to do a new release of Sycorax the first day I started using it for real. The new version, 0.9.2, will not generate new times for tweets that have already been posted: it will reuse the original times as recorded in the progress log. I also added a sanity check that keeps you from putting so many tweets into one chapter that it bleeds over into the next chapter.

[Comments] (5) Constellation Games Author Commentary #1: "Terrain Deformation": Check it out, bronies. The first chapter of Constellation Games, "Terrain Deformation", is in subscribers' inboxes. That means it's time for bonus author commentary here on NYCB. Every Tuesday I'll put up a post like this, containing whatever I have to say about this week's chapter.

Even if you haven't subscribed to CG, you can read the first chapter for free and then comprehend this post. But this magic is subtle, and will only work twice. So get on the gravy train before it leaves the... gravy station, I suppose.

These commentary posts won't usually be very long, but they'll give me a space to say whatever piece I might have. The Chapter 1 commentary would be super long, except I'm going to stretch my general comments out over the first few weeks. You can ask me questions in the comments or on Twitter. I don't intend to spoil later chapters, but eventually the callbacks will start coming due and I'll start referencing the early chapters a lot. And of course I will spoil whatever chapter I'm talking about that week.

So, on with the commentary! This is the shortest chapter in the book--I'm not doing anything but setting up the premise--and it's almost all that remains of my initial draft. I had to get rid of that draft because I tried to advance the plot entirely through blog posts. It got quite complicated, and boring. But the first contact with the Constellation is a very intense, breaking-news situation in which Ariel is not directly involved, so blog posts work well here. From start to finish I can't think of anything major I changed in this chapter.

The Twitter feeds are a lot busier this week than they will be in the future, because of all the crazy stuff that's going on in the story world. Also because I wrote a lot of tweets for the first couple chapters and then decided to scale it back so as not to overwhelm readers/myself. Pretty soon it'll settle down to 2-5 tweets per real-world day.

This chapter introduces the recurring game reviews on Ariel's blog. My original plan was to have one review per chapter (remember, this was originally going to be serialized on a gaming website). This did not work! At all! Most of the time there was no way to tie a game review into the action of the novel. I refocused on the action and now there's a review every few chapters, each one (hopefully) interesting on its own but also earning its keep, the way scenes in a novel are supposed to.

This chapter introduces the two main human characters, Ariel Blum (whose blog/framing device we're reading) and his BFF from college, Jenny Gallegos. I'm generally going to let the characters speak for themselves, but I want to talk briefly about Ariel's name.

I think super-symbolic names like "Adam Truman" are stupid, but character names are important for mechanical reasons. There are a lot of characters in a story, and if you don't give them distinctive names, readers get confused. It's worse for people like me who are bad with names in real life. And a character's name is often the first thing I come up with, with everything else flowing from that. It's not their destiny, but the name often says something about their upbringing and their life so far.

This is the sense in which Ariel's name is important. He was named after a character from Shakespeare, and shortly after he was born, his name become irrevocably associated with a woman from a Disney cartoon. Only certain kinds of characters can come out of that mold. But if you want to get super-symbolic with Ariel's name, connecting it to The Tempest and The Producers or Ulysses... well, I can't stop you, and you might not even be disappointed.

I think that's enough for now. Tune in next Tuesday for Chapter 2, when Ariel will say: "Nobody eats my coleslaw and disses NASA."

PS: I've put up an episode guide at constellation.crummy.com. There you'll find links to these commentaries, the archived Twitter feeds, etc. etc.

Next week ->

<M <Y
Y> M>


Unless otherwise noted, all content licensed by Leonard Richardson
under a Creative Commons License.