Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Excerpt Day 8

The winds flew through the cold desert night as they barreled into the sides of steel girders and concrete walls that made up the destroyed facilities of the empty city. A land which was previously hailed as a paradise had been reduced to rust and sand. Within the bowels of this city, there lies a colossal old steel container filled with sand and ruined metal. Buried in the gravel and sand of this metal box a single light would shine out and pierce the inactivity and silence of this desolate land. A small robotic skeleton would awake to the darkness of the night and the howling of the wind as it whistled through the narrow opening at the top of the container. The automaton pulled himself out of the sand and stood up for the first time since he was thrown aside. His steel legs wobbled and shook as he took his first few steps in a very long time. The pistons replacing his muscles scraped as they pushed out the sand that had clogged over so many years of inactivity.
Soon he regained his composure and began to walk across the artificial dunes, his legs were getting used to walking, but the metal rod making up his left leg was rusted slightly and the movement of the piston scraped and scratched against the rust, making a horrible noise and causing a limp. The robot moved across the darkness, only the dull blue light of his eye illuminating the ground in front of him. He passed the rusted skeletons of cars, the mangled metal limbs of robots half buried in the sand, and the charred black iron of incinerated machinery. He felt no guilt or sorrow at seeing the state of those that would be considered his comrades, he was not programmed to. He would walk along the sand until he located the means to escape, a simple ladder that went down to the bottom of the container, which was now over half-buried in the sand. The rust having been scraped from his leg for good by the piston, his metal fingers would wrap around the rungs of the ladder as he ascended, pulling himself upwards on the steel until he reached the top of the container, where he found a small hatch only big enough for one normal sized person to go through. He flung open the hatch, making a loud clanging sound as it hit the roof of the container, the sound bounced off the surfaces around the robot as it echoed through the lonely city.
The automaton looked around, noticing that the moon was visible in the sky above him, bathing his body in light for the first time in what seemed like forever. His face was made up of a large metal plate with rounded edges with a large visor like eye that shone out a dull blue light, this eye had a wide range of vision, and could zoom in up to 100x. There was a serial number printed on the side of his head beneath his eye, but most of it was scraped away over time to the point where it was no longer legible. Behind the faceplate there was a mess of metal and wires, his primary brain was in there, and it was very easy to damage him. The faceplate was covered in tiny scratches and dents, with small sections of rust. His neck was a bundle of steel rods and pistons with wires threaded in between. The body contained several metal plates, some of which were curved, covering the chest and back in a way that mimicked the muscle that would be on a human body. On his right pectoral plate there was the text “C-4-592” printed onto the metal, the only name he was ever given.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Blog Day 7

Today, we read Brandon Sanderson. A lot of Sanderson. Specifically, the laws of magic, Sanderson’s guidelines to using magic or magical elements in literature. We learned about the hard/soft magic dichotomy and learned how to weave these systems into stories. Specifically, soft magic is a less concrete kind of magic, something that is less restrictive and able to do much more. Hard magic has set rules and regulations, with clear limits and rules. Most stories use a mix of both for worldbuilding. Magic systems are also not always magic, the example Sanderson gave was superhero systems. Superman isn’t a wizard, but his powers could easily be considered a magic system. Even science fiction has magic systems, commonly in the form of technology. Roadside Picnic in particular uses a sort of magic system to make the Zone treacherous, with the dead rising once more and invisible meat grinders twisting those unwary into piles of gore, each of these anomalies having some specific rules to them. Most settings feature both systems at once, for example, Warhammer. Warhammer has mages tapping into the Winds of Magic, the Winds being the stuff of pure Chaos, and as such, they risk suffering corruption by the Dark Gods in the setting each time they cast spells, possibly resulting in madness or mutation. The hard magic exists in the casting of spells by mortals, and the soft magic exists in the unfathomable power of Chaos lurking behind each of those spells.

Sanderson’s first law states that magic’s ability to solve problems in the setting should be directly proportional to how well the reader understands the magic system at play. This to avoid problems getting solved in unexpected ways that would snuff out the tension in a scene. The second law, the last law we covered today, had to do with limiting magic systems. The law stated that limitations are greater than powers. Magic systems, in story terms, are more defined by their limitations than their abilities. The example given was that Superman isn’t interesting when he’s fighting someone. Sure, the fight scene is likely entertaining, but there is no tension in story terms. Superman fighting someone with Kryptonite is far more interesting, as the stakes are raised significantly and tension is high. In addition, Superman can do just about anything, but his powers are further limited by his morals. It’s what he won’t do that makes him interesting as a character, not what he can do. His immense power gets a reader to start reading, his restrictions get a reader to keep reading.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Excerpt Day 6

I've always been able to remember more detail than everyone else, but combined with my new abilities I'm able to push my limits. When I feel someone's hands, I can memorize the patterns of their fingerprints, when I feel a leaf I can trace out its system of veins. At first I didn't know what felt so different about each hand and leaf, but now it becomes natural to analyze and memorize every touch and sensation.

My awareness isn't only limited to external contact. I am more conscious of my breath and heartbeat. I feel the blood rushing through my veins, the poisons being flushed out of my body, and the surface of my skin exfoliating. Pain doesn't only consist of pain anymore, it sometimes feels refreshing when the blood leaves my body to allow for replenishment and restoration.

I have more appreciation for my body now that I can focus on the process that it goes through during damage, healing, and preservation. Our bodies are hard at work and most of the time we don't even have to worry about it. I try to be more careful for my own sake and give it enough rest after continuous maintenance. The body shouldn't be burdened to do everything on its own, it can only help you if you take care of it.

Blog Day 6

With the new week, we started off as usual with our daily prompt which was: One of your sensory perceptions is heightened, but no one else's seems to be. Afterwards, we spent a little bit watching or reading our individual stuff. During this time I read Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson and was able to get through around 50 pages.

Afterwards, we started building a world together as a class to practice world building. We started out by creating a map of the world, and adding different regions and biomes. We started about by putting a giant crater in the corner of the map, and then going out from there. It was fun seeing everyone bringing their ideas into the map, while also discussing about whether they would fit, and proposing new ideas as well.

Image: Students consider the structure of civilization on Cobe.
In the end we created the planet Cobe, a fantasy style world that was struck by a meteor and has a giant hole taken out it that it also a crater. The meteor contained magic properties and gave people magic abilities.

Once we finished making the map, we split up into groups of two and started working on specific regions of the map. I was partnered up with Tommy, and our region was a grassy plains and hill area similar to the Shire from Lord of The Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. Once we were done working on the physical geography and flora and fauna of it, we gathered a collage of images of what the region would look like and presented it to the class. 

Image: Sayer makes an addition to a geographical map of Cobe.
Once we had gotten the physical geography of our regions down, that was when we added people to them. We then fleshed out the civilization in our regions, and wrote about the different religions, class systems, technology, magic, and much more. We would also collaborate with the other groups to make sure some of the details fit together. 

Once we were done, we would present what we had come up with to the other groups, and they would give us some critique. We did this for every group until the end of the day discussing all our different ideas. 

Today was a good day coming back from the weekend, and the exercises that we did were fun and interesting. I hope that we will continue to flesh out the world that we've created and see where it goes from where it's at right now. 

Friday, March 22, 2019

Excerpt Day 5

A lone figure stood over an imposing cliff, a sheer drop hundreds of meters above any solid ground, though solid ground was quite the rarity. This slab of stone stood frozen in the air, lazily defying physics and common decency. There were many rocks like this, thousands of stones of varying sizes could be seen for kilometers around, but the figure seemed intently focused on one some ways away. Checking a roll of parchment one last time, the figure took ten paces backwards and breathed deeply. A few silent moments later, the figure began a dead sprint towards the edge, leaping off in a suicidal display of bravado, only without the resulting death. Midway through beginning the seemingly inevitable plummet to doom, the figure began to tumble upwards, as if to spit in the face of the universe and its attempts at order. Rising for a few hundred meters, the figure’s trajectory began to form an arc, subtle changes in gravity forming a gentle curve as acceleration mounted to incredibly dangerous levels. As gravity suddenly lurched back to its normal orientation, the figure’s sense of balance rose in rebellion as the figure was launched like a projectile from the strange phenomenon on a course directly towards the surface of another floating stone. Thankfully for the figure’s legs, this stone had soil and grass. Somewhat less thankfully for the figure’s legs, three bones shattered immediately upon impact, the shock coursing through the rest of the body even as it rolled end over end across the surface of the island. One would suppose that this was not what was meant by “break a leg”. Sprawled on the ground in intense pain, the figure threw up what little food it had ingested beforehand, motion sickness taking its toll.

Blog Day 5

For the halfway mark in our A-term, we began by doing our daily writing prompt, which was a (made up) quote about bioluminescence and glow sticks, from which we had to write a story. After that, we spent some time watching or reading for individual books or TV/movies.

Everyone in the class had to read a book (within reasonable length) and watch either:
     - a series of movies (at the maximum, a trilogy),
     - 6-8 hours worth of a TV show
     - or 3 completely unrelated movies to compare and contrast

All of the works must be speculative fiction of any sort, whether it be sci-fi, fantasy, dystopian, or anything else in between. By doing this, we hope to gain a better understanding of speculative fiction and worldbuilding, along with character design. We could work in groups of 1 or 2 for the project.

Image result for steelheart
Image: Cover art for Steelheart.

For example, sophomore Casey Carter and I are reading Steelheart, a book by New York Times bestselling author Brandon Sanderson. The story is a simple premise:

10 years ago, a star appeared in the sky one day and gave some people powers. The power led to many gaining a god complex and viewing humans as beneath them, and the strongest of these "Epics" have taken up residence in different cities in the US. Humanity now lives under the iron boots of those with the power to kill them as easily as swatting a bug.
David Charleston is a normal human in the steel-covered city of Newcago. Steelheart–a man with the strength of 10 men and control of the elements–rules the city now. He is completely invulnerable. No one fights him...except for the Reckoners.
David has been studying, waiting, and planning like the Reckoners have ever since Steelheart came to Chicago and killed his father.
David has seen Steelheart Bleed.
He wants to see it again.

After we spent some time doing assignments for the class, we worked on–you guessed it–assignments for the class! Another requirement is that everyone writes some sort of piece of speculative fiction. It can be a short story, series of short stories, a chapter of a novel, or some other genre–within reason and it must be speculative fiction, of course. After working on this for an hour, we broke for lunch.

Image result for buffy the vampire slayer
Image: Cover art for Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

After our lunch, we began watching an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the episode "Hush" from season 4) to see a unique example of worldbuilding because the episode is silent for the majority of the runtime. Once we finished that, we talked about the episode and how it developed the world and the plot although it was silent before we continued working on our personal stories after a break. After approximately an hour, we were given a choice: either work on the stories or continue watching or reading your chosen piece(s) of media.

This was a fun first week to the A-term, and although I am an experienced casual writer, I already feel that I have learned a lot about writing fantasy and sci-fi in speculative environments, and I look forward to continuing on this path next week.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Excerpt Day 4

Based on the Prompt: "I am your Empathist. I care so you don't have to."
  “My Empathist fees are up another 30% this month.”

  “Yes, it seems they are.”

  “Is this not something I should be concerned about?”

  “No, inflation is typical and prices always tend to go up.”

  “Yes, but, well, see, I researched it, and actually, this price increase is 1781% what is reflected in inflation. I did think perhaps it was because it was a medical cost, because I understand those can increase more quickly than regular costs, but my research yielded that this price increase is also 1390% higher than what’s normal in the industry.”

  “Ah yes, very true, very true. You are very proud of your research abilities.”

  “Thank you.”

  “You’re welcome. However, you did miss something in your research, which is that these price increases are standard in fees for Empathists. Due to the importance of our profession, it makes sense that we should have to charge higher prices for our services. You feel a little foolish for not having realized this.”

  “Ah, I do, yes. I suppose it's just that, well, my son is ill, which as I remember from our last session, I was very sad about, and, see, this price increase makes it more difficult for me to acquire medicine for him, and it appears logical that if his illness makes me sad and this price increase stands in the way of my getting rid of his illness, the price increase should also make me sad.”

  “Ah, see, you misremember. You did not feel sad that your son was ill, you felt guilty. See, it was you who failed to protect your son from illness, and you felt very guilty about that. And now, prices are going up, inflation, as I explained, and you feel guilty for not making more money to be able to afford medicine for your son.”

  “Yes, that is true. I do feel guilty. It is difficult to find an opportunity for better pay though, because I had to sell my vehicle due to price increases for my Empathist a few months ago. It seems, well… yes, it seems, many of my issues are tied to the price increases for my Empathist. It appears logical, then, that perhaps I should no longer have an Empathist.”

  “Oh, no. No. You feel very stupid for that thought. I’m sure you don’t remember what it was like before you had an Empathist, but it was very bad. The extremes of your emotions hurt you badly. Now, though, they do not. See, these issues cause you to experience some difficult emotions, but I absorb the pain for you, and you appreciate that greatly, because now you don’t have to worry about your issues, you are happy now.”

  “Well - yes. Uh, I suppose I am, yes. It just - I don’t know. Do I not feel that something is a little off? It appears logical that - well, I don’t know. I just -”

  “Hey, no, its fine. You’re overthinking it. Sometimes reason can cloud your judgement, but as you know, emotions tend to overpower reason in humans. So let it happen, let your reason cease to confuse you, and understand that you are happy.”


  “You are happy. You are dealing with the challenges in life and are a better person for it, and this overjoys you. You deserve to be happy, and you are.”

  “I… suppose. Yes, I am. Thank you.”

  “You’re welcome. I’m glad you’re happy.”

  “Indeed… I’ll see you again next week then?”

  “Yes. Oh, and before I forget, your Empathist prices may be going up again in the near future. You’re not bothered, though.”

  “No, I'm not.”