“The Buntline Special” wounds, but fails to kill.

Just finished reading Mike Resnick’s “The Buntline Special.”  I had first come across Mike Resnick a couple of years ago by way of the Escape Pod podcast of short fiction stories.  Mike’s “Robots Don’t Cry” was so good I had to play it a second time for my family on a trip up north.  Resnick is one of the most prolific and decorated SciFi writers.

So… I came into The Buntline Special with high expectations which, unfortunately, for me went unmet.  At its core, The Buntline Special is an alternate history retelling of the Gunfight at O.K. Corral with steampunk and weird west, please pardon the expression, “chrome” liberally applied.  The basic thread of the story is enhanced with supporting cast members Tom Edison and Ned Buntline – the inventor and implementor of the steampunk goodies.  Geronimo and indian braves provided the Weird in Weird West.

The biggest problem I had was that both the steampunk and weird west elements were really not that intrinsic to the story.  I am not trying to be a purist here, but if you are going to have steampunk elements in the story, make them part of the plot and not just window dressing.  The weird west parts provided some interesting opportunities that mostly went unexplored.  I think the problem here is the constraints placed by historical accounts or the author’s desire to try his hand at explaining what may have actually happened with a steampunk weird west spin to make it more interesting.  One thing he did accomplish was to increase my interest in the event and its participants as much as Band of Brothers raised my interest and appreciation of WWII.

What I really did like about the book was Resnick’s use of dialog.  On the scale of narrative to dialog driven, this one is hard over on dialog.  I have a lot of respect for what he was able to accomplish with only a couple sentences of scene setting followed by extensive dialog.  I know how hard dialog is for me so I have a lot of respect for what he was able to accomplish between the quote marks.  I also think he struck a good balance with the western elements, enough to create the atmosphere but not too overdone that it was difficult to read.

Bottom line for me… It was a well researched, well implemented re-telling of the gunfight at O.K. Corral that suffered from sticking too close to the historical accounts.  I enjoyed it, but wished it was better.  Looking forward to his next book “The Doctor and the Kid.”

Steampunk Library page has been updated.


“The West Wind” – A Steampunk Adventure set in the Old West

Un-sticking this post…

Status as of 10/23/11  11/26/11 1/29/12 11/23/12: Putting the rewrite “on hold”

It is the summer of 1912 and the western frontier of the British American Colonies is a pressure cooker of intrigues fueled by greed, resentment, and the need for revenge in this steampunk adventure dominated by plots and power struggles between rich and powerful industrialists. It is a world of massive floating mansions, horses, stagecoaches, airships, private railroad cars, dusty western towns, flying machines, and a traveling mechanical freak show.

Dramatis personæ:

Roland Pritchard – a true success story of Her Majesty’s American Colonies having built an extensive railroad empire that is the backbone of industrial development in the western frontier.

Eli Hardy – the only child of Jakob Hardy, recently returned from studying abroad (something more controversial) and is confronted by the real truth behind his father’s success.

Rachel West – an apprentice clock maker (something less banal) has emigrated fled to the American Colonies in search of a place where she and with her half brother Clarence will be accepted for who they are and not what society dictates. to escape a deadly conspiracy only to find herself embroiled in even more dangerous intrigues.

Boardgame Design and Novel Writing

I ran into a number of my gaming colleagues at Gen Con (designers, publishers, industry pundits, etc.) with whom I had become acquainted when SDRGames put out Bootleggers– see Other Publish Credits page.  I also attended another Stackpole seminar where he stressed the importance of character development – a common thread through his 21 Days to a Novel and Secrets Podcast.

It got me thinking that game design and writing share a common thread.

Gaming has two acknowledged major schools of design – European and American.  I don’t want to start a debate or go into a dissertation on the details of both, but suffice it to say that the major differences are in their views of conflict and luck.  European eschews direct conflict and mechanics involving a lot of luck.  Their focus is primarily on strategy and indirect conflict.  The American school of design, by contrast, prefers direct conflict and has greater amounts of luck.  A hybrid, which is what we intended to create with Bootleggers, has elements of both.  To drive the point home, think of Risk: I am attacking your country and rolling dice to win.  I “attack” another country in a Euro game by outbidding them for cheaper resources thus making it more expense for them to improve their armies– that’s indirect and no luck.

Its that indirect conflict that I find similar to the Stackpole character development process.  In Euro game design, there is usually some objective that is required to win, e.g. the most victory points, the most money, longest road, etc.  Each player develops a strategy and plays that strategy to achieve the objective.  It is in the process of playing that strategy that the player’s actions will disrupt other players’ attempts to achieve the objective.  The disruption, or “player interaction” in a game is really important in the design – the preference being greater interaction.  No interaction between players and the game earns the negative “multi-player solitaire” reputation.

So what does this have to do with writing?

Consider each character a unique player in the game and, unlike a vast majority of the games, each has a very unique goal they wish to achieve.  It is in the attempt to achieve these goals they will be faced with obstacles that they must overcome.  Just like game design, it is best if these obstacles are put in place by the other players.  The more one character’s actions to reach their goal disrupt the other character’s ability to achieve their goal, the more engaging the story should be.  The conflict arises between the characters going about achieving their goals.  Sometime this conflict is direct – Sally is going to stab Drake because he has been cheating on her in an attempt to find happiness, or more of the indirect kind – Sally has locked the house and gone looking for her cheating husband Drake.  Drake returns to find the house locked and is forced to spend the night in a cheap flea infested hotel where he is forced to confront his definition of happiness.

Some random musings there for the folks that have an interest in board game design and writing.  Probably a bigger group than the intersection of NASCAR fans who are also opera season ticket holders… but that is another story.

Kilts are like Bacon? (and other #gencon highlights)

Gen Con never fails to deliver – and I did ultimately find the Stormtroopers (see previous post), though one was wearing a kilt.  I nice tartan if I do say so but a kilt on a Stormtrooper?  Indeed.  Scottish Stormtrooper or the kilts have become like bacon – they make everything better.

Another great trip to Gen Con this year.  I would have posted more but wifi continues to be a purchased commodity at the Indy convention center.  $14.99/day for internet access.  The opposite was true of the hotel.  Free, but connections maxed out.  I am betting the $14.99 pay internet was not maxed out.  So what is the right price for free internet?

So on to the highlights:

Elizabeth Vaughan was a treat.  She sat on a number of the panels I attended and though she writes a genre that I have never been interested in (romance) I found her engaging and interesting.  I met her afterward and thanked her for the enthusiasm and encouragement.  Just a real fun, nice, and energetic person.  The comment that she made that stuck with me (paraphrased): while writing you need to hear the things your pre-readers like as encouragement, when done with the draft, you need to hear all the things they don’t like.

I also enjoyed Maurice Broaddus.  He was on the Steampunk panel somewhat by accident from the sounds of it.  As it turned out, I think he had some of the most interesting commentary on the evolution of the Steampunk genre.  The overall opinion was that of an evolution of the genre to something of a Steampunk v2.0 that is more focused on the gadgets and less on the “punk” portion that emphasizes counter-cultural resistance and class warfare.  In that regard, I think my work on The West Wind holds more true to the original Steampunk genre definitions despite being a western mashup.  Overall, expansion of steampunk into other areas (aliens, magic, etc.) being the major trend.  His best story – an offhanded tweet on the needing to correct the racial bias of traditional steampunk by proposing to write “pimp my airship” followed by being forced to write it after hearing back from five editors that they wanted to buy it.

Rigormortis: A Zombie Love Story.  A romantic comedy musical about zombies.  It works and was a lot of fun.  Follow the link and watch for yourself.  I snuck in about half way through and found, after the movie, that I was sitting next to the director and his mom.  I love indie movie fests.

Unicorn City was the hit of the movies for me.  About a slacker gamer that organizes a LARP to prove he has leadership skills in order to get a management position at a game company.  It was superb.  Writing, acting, directing, camera and effects were all perfect for this level of a movie.  Hit al the right buttons for me with some extremely hilarious parts usually involving the centaur.  Check it out if you can at a local movie fest if you can while they are touring.  Their FB page is saying early 2012 for DVD/Blueray.  I’m in.

Aside from the traditional sleep deprivation, sore feet and legs, and too much junk food, it was a great trip as usual.