Archive for January, 2012

My Journey Into The Far West

Posted: January 29, 2012 in E-Book, Kickstarter, RPG

I am in the middle of reading a short story collection called Tales of the Far West right now, so I thought I would share some thoughts on the stories and my journey into the world of Far West. (If you are already familiar with Far West or want to jump right to my partial review of the short story collection, click here.)

Kickstarter

I first noticed Far West on Kickstarter (or maybe I got pointed there by someone else, but if so, I can’t recall from who or where…bygones). The project was described as a “transmedia” project, including fiction and a role-playing game (RPG) set in a fantasy world “based on the inspirations of the Spaghetti Western and Chinese Wuxia. Add steampunk elements. Mix well.” Well, I’m not a big Western fan, but I have enjoyed Wuxia movies ever since I saw Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (perhaps the only movie that I have paid to see in theaters three times in the span of 2 or 3 weeks) and I have always thought steampunk was great fun. The project also referenced Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. Okay, now we’re talking. I may not have watched a bunch of Westerns, but I tore through that series and I could imagine the type of gunfighting skill that Roland displays mixed with the high-flying acrobats of Chow Yun Fat and Michelle Yeoh. Add to that a really cool selection of Kickstarter rewards, and I was in. By the time the Kickstarter was over at the end of August 2011, they had raised just shy of $50,000 (their original goal was only $5,000) and had added a bunch of great rewards as time went on.

Into the Far West

The website for Far West had a number of vignettes set in the Far West universe, and informative short entries about some of the people and places that make up the world. Some combination of the excitement that led up to the successful funding of the Kickstarter project and the intriguing setting led me to write a short story based in the Far West universe, even though I did not have much knowledge of the details of the world yet. I sent it to one of the game’s designers, Gareth Skarka, and he was kind enough to edit it and post it on the Far West site, and even to create some art for the piece. The story, Digging in the Dirt, can be found here.

Forums

My excitement for the project waned a little as the project had its completion date pushed back a couple of times; I understand the reasons and the nature of Kickstarter projects, but without any new details about the setting, I didn’t give much thought to creating more stories in the Far West world. Without a “bible” to work off of, or the core RPG book, I don’t feel like I could add much to the setting. Not so some other fans, who have already come up with some cool ideas on the Far West forums, which went live in January 2012. (Caveat: You have to belong to the Far West Society to see the forums that contain these ideas; membership to the society allows you to pitch ideas that can be voted on for inclusion in the game.) The forums have been a fun place to be introduced to new (to me) music and movies that either inspire or mesh well with the Far West setting, and background information on Wuxia. So even if you do not plan to get involved with Far West, you could do worse than to browse the Inspirography and Far West Music discussions for some cool links.

Tales of the Far West

Last week, the short story collection Tales of the Far West was released. I have only read four of the twelve stories so far, but I have to say that the first story, He Built The Wall To Knock It Down by Scott Lynch, re-energized my passion for the Far West setting. It is cool in exactly the way a Western/Wuxia/steampunk tale should be, with clear, concise action scenes that impart a very cinematic feel to the story with an amazing brevity. It has bar fights, the requisite master teaching the apprentice by having him do mundane tasks, amazing feats of kung fu and gunfighting, gravity-defying acrobatic stunts, explosive fights, and steampunk limbs aplenty.

The second story, In Stillness, Music by Aaron Rosenberg, is about a Wandering Star, a member of a clan of couriers who, according to the Far West website “are carefully neutral, no matter what their hearts may tell them. While many of them would be swift to assist wounded farmers after a bandit raid, for all their martial skill, they would not lift one brightly colored finger to stop it in progress.” So of course this story is about an exception to that rule. This story was good but not quite as strong as the opener. I also wonder if this exception will be overused by players once the RPG comes out, because a character that must remain neutral could be a very difficult character to roleplay in the context of a larger group that likely will be taking sides quite often. (One minor complaint regarding my Kindle version of the book: in this story, the character sings songs and the formatting does not show up correctly on the Kindle. Two phrases are smushed together with no separation on each line, and with no punctuation it was up to me to guess where the sentence break should be.)

The third story is Riding the Thunderbird by Chuck Wendig. I would call it more of a scene, or the seed of a story. It starts in media res and ends there as well. Secrets are hinted at and what happens next is implied, but as a stand-alone story in a collection, it left me shrugging my shoulders. It might just be me, but I expected something fleshed out more. If this is a prelude to a longer story someplace else, it should say so. If not, I don’t think it stands on its own.

The fourth story, Purity of Purpose by Gareth-Michael Skarka, is one of the vignettes that was already up on the Far West website. While short, it is a complete story with a well-described, fantastical fight scene that combines gunplay and kung fu.

There are eight more stories to go and I am hopeful that some of them rise to the level of kickassedness in the first story.

The RPG

Even though I do not currently have a roleplaying group, I am still looking forward to the RPG’s eventual release. Why? Because once it is released, the setting will be wide open to all the fans to help flesh out the world. In effect, I will have the setting bible in my hands at last, and I am looking forward to writing more stories once I have that. I only hope my pen and paper style kung fu will be strong enough for the task.

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This post is an update to my 8/30/11 post about which C.J. Cherryh e-books are available.

Since that time, books 1 and 10 of the Foreigner series have been added to the Kindle Store on Amazon.com, while books 2-6 are still MIA. Also, Alternate Realities is also available for the Kindle now, and is a great deal at only $7.99 for the three-book collection. (Most of the books available are priced at $7.99, which is nice.)

Despite the books that are on Amazon or on the author’s own Closed Circle website, there remains a gaping hole in Cherryh’s bibliography for those of us hoping to port our physical book collection into the digital world.

I e-mailed Ms. Cherryh to ask about these “missing” books and her thoughts on e-books in general. She kindly replied and here is what I learned.

There are indeed plans to release more of her books, both on Amazon (and other such websites), and the Closed Circle site. Per Ms. Cherryh: “I had some rights to part of Foreigner; DAW and I conferred, traded, and now you’ll be seeing more DAW e-books on Amazon et al., and some of my earlier non-series works on Closed Circle.” She describes the process of converting her physical books into e-books as “practically a comma by comma revision process into CSS” and not just a matter of scanning pages. This gives me some comfort because there is nothing worse than buying an e-book and realizing it is a scan-and-sell job (although when this has happened to me, Amazon has been excellent about giving me a refund).

Finally, I asked Ms. Cherryh about her feelings toward e-books in general and whether she sees the conversion of her books as a positive thing. She replied, “Change is [positive]. It was bound to happen. Piracy is a problem–but it’s a funny thing: people who understand the point of my books and like what I write are not thieves and do not have the mindset of thieves, and when they’ve gotten a pirated copy not knowing there was a problem, they’ve kindly come to Closed Circle and dropped a donation in the bucket.”

So, more C.J. Cherryh books are on the way, and Book 13 in the Foreigner series is set to be released on 3/6/12 (which should give me time to re-read the last few books to get back into the atevi-human mindset). Good news for fans of Ms. Cherryh’s works!

4/1/12 update: Per Ms. Cherryh’s website, she is close to adding Chernevog and Yvgenie to the Closed Circle site, with major changes made to Yvgenie.

I checked Kickstarter for comics for the first time in quite a while and found a slew of them to check out. Here’s a couple that I checked out today:


Namesake (W: Megan Lavey-Heaton, A: Isabelle Melançon) is about a girl who discovers she can enter literary worlds (a story which I always enjoy) and has black-and-white art with select splashes of color for emphasis. I have only read the Prologue and the first chapter of Book One so far but it has hooked me and I look forward to catching up (about 200 more pages so far). The Kickstarter project is to put Book One in print (144 pages). I pledged $5 for the PDF version. With a month to go, this project is at about $4,000 of a requested $7,000.


Plume (W/A: Kari Smith) is still in its infancy (about 40 pages up so far), but is a well-drawn manga-ish webcomic set in an alternate early 1900s with some magic thrown in. This one has potential and I hope to see it continue. The Kickstarter project will collect the first 24 pages in print and has met its funding goal. I have not pledged for this one; $10 for one comic book is more of a donation than I feel like making. (I submitted a question to the creator to see if a PDF could be made available for $5 instead.)

Speaking of comics I did not Kickstart but that are cool, check out this update for an adaptation of the Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. Even though I did not Kickstart it, I have since pre-ordered it through Midtown Comics. It looks great, and I really enjoy Lovecraft’s dream stories, so I can’t wait until April when I get my hands on this.

Okay, so I read Penny Arcade and I am vaguely aware of some other webcomics out there, mostly by seeing them trying to put out print versions through Kickstarter. But I unlocked a whole new corner of the webcomics universe today, thanks to a Google+ post by +Eddy Webb, who shared the latest Battlepug strip.

Where to begin with Battlepug, written and drawn by Mike Norton with color by Allen Passalaqua … It is the story of a warrior whose mother, along with the rest of his people, was murdered by a giant, cute seal (yes, a gigantic killer seal with kawaii eyes). The warrior ends up enslaved to the Northern Elves and their red-suited, un-jolly master, before setting out on his own and running into a giant dog, the aforementioned Battlepug. The comic manages to skirt the fine line between silly and serious as the warrior learns more about the greater world and the magic forces that destroyed his village and set him on his current course.

Oh, and the story is told by a naked woman to two talking dogs, one sweet, the other sarcastic. This is my kind of weird.

Battlepug, in turn, led me to Lady Sabre & the Pirates of the Ineffable Aether, which looks to be a science-fiction/steampunk/western combo replete with airships that float through the aether, western towns, sword fights, gun battles, fortune tellers, gas-mask clad bad-guys, and the violin-playing Lady Sabre herself. The art is clean and colorful and reminds me of the old full-page Sunday comics from before my time, like Flash Gordon or Terry and the Pirates. Lady Sabre is written by Greg Rucka with art by Rick Burchett.

What I only discovered as I writing this and doing a little research, is that these are all creators who also do more traditional comic book work , so it comes as no surprise that these webcomics seem so professional. The surprise, for me, is that there is such well-done, free comic fare out there. And each site links to more webcomics, so it seems I have plenty more to discover.