May 31, 2017

Shards



Shards is now available worldwide

My third Kindle book is now available worldwide. Shards is a small collection of poetry. I am even less prolific as a poet than I am as a fiction writer and thus my entire life's work fits into one tiny volume. Nonetheless, it is now available worldwide on the Amazon Kindle.

American poetry in 2017 is in pitiful shape. Inner city black or hispanic poets have an almost infinite number of venues to publish their work in. Apparently, the rest of us have too much "privilege", and therefore we are not acceptable to poetry journals all across the United States. It is a very odd world indeed when "white privilege" means no one wants to publish your writing. Apparently "privilege" in 21st Century America has a different meaning than it did back in the 70s when I was in high school.

I have hesitated to publish this collection. In point of fact, I started laying the groundwork back in April 2014, but I just could not bring myself to put it on the market. A few days before my 56th birthday, struggling to find the motivation to keep writing anything at all, I pulled the poetry from my portfolio at Writing.com for the third time and began the long work of revision and arrangement. Yesterday I deleted my portfolio at Writing.com and uploaded the final version of Shards to Amazon.

Poetry is an odd beast. For some insane reason people want to assign poetry a "truth" value that it does not merit. Poetry is no more "true" than any other art form. Let me take a moment here to be blunt and offensive: there is no truth in art! All art, even sloppy art devoid of meaning, begins out in the real world. Something or someone has an impact on the artist and the artist tries to communicate that impact. It does not matter if the artist sculpts a statue, paints with oil, or colors with crayons. The art they produce has been filtered through the internal world of the artist. It is, at best, a reflection of the artist's reaction to their subject rather than a "true" representation of the subject. Poetry is no different than any other art. The only "truth" it carries is the prejudices and preconceptions of the poet. By the same token, that inability to create pure "truth" is the very thing that makes all art so important and valuable to us as individuals, as communities, and as societies. Art is our experience of this life in this place and at this time. It is only "true" to the extent it reflects the internal world of the artist. Therefore, there is nothing "true" in art in the sense that there is nothing "real" in art.

It will be very tempting for some people to read these poems and try to find themselves. Doing so would be a mistake. Shards is neither historical nor autobiographical. Most of it is pure fantasy. Anything autobiographical is buried beneath metaphor and symbol. I did this on purpose. I made no effort in these poems to record my real life or my real experiences. Instead, my entire focus is on conveying a combination of emotion and context. All of these poems began with something real, but none of them now contain the reality that inspired them. My effort was focused on finding images that would carry the emotion of the moment, not the reality of the moment. I leave it to the reader to decide whether or not I succeeded.


May 23, 2017

Normalization of aberrant behavior


I'm sure by now most people around the world with access to either the internet, radio, or television are aware that a terror attack at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England has claimed the lives of at least 22 people and wounded at least 59 more. Just in case you haven't, here's a link to the most recent Fox News report as of this writing: "Manchester Terror Attack Suspect Identified".

Now begins the same round of questions without answers that always follows one of these attacks. "How could this happen?" "Why would anyone do such a thing?" "What kind of monster targets children?" "Why didn't the police know about it ahead of time?"

And the same answers will be offered that are always offered. "He's not a real Muslim." "Police resources are stretched too thin." "There is no way to know ahead of time who is blowing off steam and who is seriously planning violence."

One of the reasons police have so much difficulty determining who is serious and who is not is that our modern world has become far too tolerant of aberrant behaviors and attitudes. In game forums all across the internet PvP fans lovingly throw around terms like, "slaughter", "massacre", "kill them all". Television, internet, radio and print journalists alike, all of them feel no hesitation in calling for the assassination of world leaders they disagree with. Politicians in France, the United States, the United Kingdom, and hundreds of other countries routinely give interviews where they compare their political opponents to Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot, or some other genocidal dictator. Not two days before the Manchester bombing, this went viral on social media platforms:

During the most recent national elections in the United States, the United Kingdom, and France, street graffiti calling for the assassination of candidates became commonplace during street protests. This particular photo is after a street protest in Oakland, California:

Even more ominous is the graffiti showing up in cities all across the United States calling on people to "Kill all police", "Kill all blacks", "Kill all whites" or "Kill all Muslims". This photo is from Detroit. "James Craig" is the Detroit Police Chief:

Even President Donald J. Trump, the leader of the free world, is routinely criticized for the outrageous bursts of emotion that routinely fill his personal Twitter feed: @realDonaldTrump.

All of these behaviors, from PvP players calling for virtual massacres to Pres. Trump's blanket condemnation of American news media, are abnormal. These attitudes of violence, hatred, blanket condemnations of entire groups of people, these calls for political assassination, are all completely aberrant behaviors. And yet, in today's world this kind of outrage is considered both normal and healthy. Being able to scream profanity over the internet in defense of some political agenda, some personal objective, or some dissatisfaction with a popular television show has become normal, everyday behavior for otherwise rational adults. People who treat their neighbors with kindness, who take care of their children and spouse, and who show up on time for work everyday, turn into violent, slathering animals when they post to social media. If we truly want to understand why a man born and raised in England feels free to build a bomb and slaughter children at a pop concert we need look no further than our own social media accounts. We have allowed ourselves to normalize such outbursts. Emotionally, intellectually, and psychologically, we have all become thugs and terrorists rampaging through the information superhighway with profane calls for destruction of anything and everything we find disagreeable.

Slamming someone online is not the moral equivalent of setting off a bomb at a concert. Absolutely not. However, both behaviors originate from the exact same emotional and psychological core assumptions in the individual. Far too many of us in today's world are running around with the delusional belief that we as individuals are entitled to dictate social morality. Whatever we feel inside, especially if it stems from emotional pain, is automatically accepted as reality and as fact. If we feel angry or offended we assume that someone else is to blame. We believe that other people are responsible for conforming to our internal expectations and therefore, any reality which contradicts this assumption is immediately dismissed as false. Our internal emotional world has become our reality, regardless of any facts that exist out in the physical world that surrounds us. Instead of starting with real-world facts and choosing our emotional response to those facts, we start with our emotions and demand other people shape their personalities into some form that will please us.

This kind of thinking is aberrant because it creates very real problems for us as individuals, for everyone around us, and for society at large. No one can read our mind. No one can see inside our hearts and know what we desire. No one can serve our emotional needs through instinct or through shared assumptions. No one knows our internal emotional world. Even those of us who "wear our hearts on our sleeves", who are prone to passionate emotional outbursts both positive and negative, are not completely true in how we express ourselves. Countless tiny events, combined with a nearly infinite number of variables in our physical bodies, contribute to our emotional state in ways that no one truly understands. We cannot predict our own emotional response to any given situation because it is wholly dependent on biological factors we cannot control. The one thing that every one can do, and has stopped doing, is consciously choose to ignore our emotions. This is something we are supposed to learn as adolescents. Part of the process of learning to be an adult is learning that our emotions can, and regularly do, betray us. Unfortunately, in the modern world we have begun teaching adolescents that whatever they are feeling is appropriate and true. We tell them over and over again, as parents, as educators, in cartoons and in television dramas, that they are wiser than the adults who surround them. Because we keep repeating this message that there is something sacred and right about hormone-driven adolescent mood swings, adolescents never learn to become adults.

Perhaps I am only a tired old man. That is always possible. However, I look out at what is happening in the world around me, both online and offline, and the future looks to be a very dark place. What good does a global communication network serve if all it does is reinforce old prejudices? Old, destructive ideas about socialism, capitalism, nationalism, aristocracy and peasantry are becoming more acceptable everyday. Instead of helping us overcome self-destructive highly aberrant behaviors, the internet is reinforcing the idea that every individual's internal emotional reality is more true than the physical world around them. It has become natural to assume that everyone is wrong. Partly as a result of this assumption of wrongness in everyone around us, the opinion of some expert we emotionally agree with has become a kind of sacred truth that cannot be debated. You and I, both of us, all seven billion individuals walking around interacting with one another, we are all naked emperors parading our invisible robes of gold so finely spun we cannot feel it and no one can see it.

Yes, it is possible I am the naked emperor. It is also possible I am the child asking their mother, "Why does the emperor have no clothes?"



May 15, 2017

Reading the writing on the wall


Recently I have begun feeling somewhat aimless and driftless in my writing. I am currently working on two books, a short story collection and a poetry collection, so it's not like I'm totally devoid of goals. However, I am becoming less convinced that even with proper marketing I'll be able to find an audience. Japanese trains are the problem. Once upon a time almost everyone on the trains could be seen reading books or manga. The Japanese were vociferous readers and they had the largest per capita expenditures on books, magazines, and newspapers of any society in the world. Not even the book-loving French could keep up! Now, however, everything has changed.

We went to Barcelona a short time ago. Spent a week wandering around Barcelona and even took a day trip up to Madrid. Everywhere we went people were staring at their phones. Getting on a Japanese train these days is the same. There used to be a dozen bookstores here in Koenji, and half a dozen used book stores. Now, those few people who still buy manga get them at convenience stores. Gone are the days when every Monday there would be thousands of two-inch thick manga magazines stacked in front of the kiosk at Koenji station. Most Mondays now see only a single stack. There are still two bookstores here in Koenji, and one used book store, but the used bookstore is almost always empty. The situation in the States is just as bad.

Granted, some of this results directly from the success of Amazon.com and their Japanese counterpart. However, my honest impression is that a much greater factor in the decline of reading is the explosion of smartphones as a mobile gaming platform. Sure, there are manga apps that carry all the major titles, and just like everywhere else in the world, Japanese readers can download a Kindle app for free in order to read ebooks. However, I don't see people reading. I see them playing games. All kinds of games. From recreations of classic arcade games, to elaborate RTS games, to cute pet simulators, the mobile game market in Japan has exploded and is only getting larger. How can I, a simple writer, ignore such an obvious reality? I can't!

I'm still working on those two books. Once they are finished, they're going straight into the Kindle store. Once I have four titles, I will arrange for paperback print-on-demand versions to be available and I will spend a little money on Amazon.com promotional advertising. Nonetheless, I am not optimistic. Mobile gaming is the future. Unfortunately, when I tried to learn programming back in my thirties I failed miserably.

On the other hand, a great deal has changed over the past two decades. Massive libraries of pre-built, pre-tested, reliable code are everywhere and a surprising number of them are open source. I was one of those who honestly believed the open source movement was doomed. I could not imagine anyone taking the time to build, test, and verify a massive programming library just to give it away. I was wrong. Almost every program and app in the world these days is build from pre-written code libraries. Most people who publish games to Google Play or the Apple Store have one or two libraries they are deeply familiar with, libraries they acquired free from one of the thousands of open source libraries around the world. They combine, recombine, and experiment with the libraries in the same way a child plays with Legos. In exactly the same way, as a matter of fact. So much so, that the comparison has become a modern cliche.

On Friday, after a month or more of grievous emotional self-flagellation, I broke down. I downloaded the Java Development Kit and the Android Studio Took Kit. There is no way I can work this out on my own, so I downloaded three books by a fellow named John Horton. Sunday morning I got everything set up and spent some time reading online material. I also watched several videos of people using these tools to make games. I found an interesting online article published in December 2016. Apparently the top ten independent game studios are literally one person uploading stuff to either the Apple App Store or Google Play. Ten of their most successful games, in turn, are retro-style RPGs. I'm glad I found that article. It linked to a couple of YouTube videos introducing even more "indie" games that various "experts" are expecting to see succeed in 2017. Overall, I found it very encouraging.

For me, this is extremely difficult study. I have barely finished chapter three in the first book. This is going to take a long time to learn, especially if I am trying to write two books of my own at the same time. But, the future is mobile gaming. The fact that I absolutely hate this idea does not change the reality of it. Now that mobile games are being written with VR capability, it is even more undeniable. I can become one of those old curmudgeons complaining about the foolishness of youth, or I can take this bull by the horns and ride it.

Maybe one of these days I can turn some of my story ideas into a killer RPG. If that is the only kind of storytelling the future holds, then I have no choice but to find a way to adapt to it. Heaven knows I'm not going to see another City of Heroes get released any time soon. To be frank, with the pace these superhero MMORPG studios are working at I might even learn enough to write my own before any of them get a finished product into the market. Wouldn't that be a shock? My own MMORPG available on mobile platforms all over the world before studios I've been following for half a decade manage to get their games finished? It won't happen, naturally, but what if it does? The irony would surely kill me.

Android Developers : Android Studio and Android Development Tools
Oracle : Getting Started Developing with Java



May 07, 2017

Ship of Heroes


For five years I have been following Heroes and Villains, City of Titans, Valiance Online, and Atlas Park Revival, along with half a dozen more that have now fallen by the wayside. Obsession is a funny thing. Different people have different obsessions. Some people are obsessed with sex, some people are obsessed with vodka, some people are obsessed with robotics, some people are obsessed with classical music, and some people are obsessed with their own self. Everyone has some kind of obsession. If nothing else, they are obsessed with avoiding obsession. City of Heroes, especially after the release of City of Villains, was my obsession for a very long time. I was there for the first Open Beta, I was still there when they shut down the servers. Every single game in existence pales next to the achievements of City of Heroes. It was not an easy game to understand, and on some days it was not an easy game to love, but it embodied innovations in creativity and versatility that no other game has been able to match. In a world of equipment-based medieval fantasy clones, City of Heroes offered dramatically different character creation, character enhancement, and combat strategy. Nothing else even comes close, not even Champions Online, which was also created by Jack Emmert and Cryptic Studios.

It is an odd thing in life that from time to time something arises out of the mist that completely rewrites a paradigm. City of Heroes rewrote the paradigm of online gaming, but no one else followed their success. Bits and pieces here and there were borrowed, but the overall product still stands alone in the history of online gaming. The degree of customization, the powerful strategic importance of secondary effects of combat powers, the ability to use enhancements to completely personalize how one character's powers function, remain completely unmatched. So I have waited five long years, following all of the most likely successors, dreaming of the day I could once again fly through the skies of a modern city fighting evil, and all for nothing. No one I have been following is even close to creating a worthy successor. And then suddenly Ship of Heroes appears out of nowhere! The connection to Jack Emmert's brainchild is as clear as day, but original thinking and the carrying forward of the paradigm into even greater innovation, are also present.

I confess. I had completely given up hope. Five years is a very long time. Half a decade. I have published two books, written over two hundred blog posts, made online friends in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, built a house in Ohio to reconnect with my father, and renewed my love of firearms. It has been a very busy five years. Just recently I finally accepted that I would never again find a game that appealed to me. My newest computer, an ASUS Zenbook Flip UX360UA, is a masterful tool for writing and drawing, but completely unsuitable for playing a MMORPG. This is the only computer I have bought since 2003 that could not run a MMORPG, the first time in over 15 years I have bought a computer from the middle of the pack instead of the fastest, most powerful top-of-the-line game machine I could afford. This is a very fine, very useful computer and I am very happy to have bought it, but if either Ship of Heroes or City of Titans actually launches in 2018, this computer will become my second-best because I will definitely need a primary gaming computer.

Now all I have to do is figure out a way to make money playing superhero games...