A (dia)Critical Look at English Spelling

October 20th, 2016

This morning my brain woke me up at 4:30am, and demanded that I couldn’t go back to sleep until I completed a task: I needed to go through the English written language and replace all of the consonant combinations with new letters and diacritical marks. Some version of this happens every time I come to Eastern Europe–I have so much fun figuring out how to spell and pronounce people’s names that I get all excited about diacritical marks, and I want to add a bunch to English to help standardize our ridiculous spelling system. I tried to ignore it, but I also wanted to sleep, so I finally gave in and gave my brain what it wanted in the hope that it would let me go back to bed. In the end it took about four hours, so I never got back to sleep at all, but on the other hand I do have this blog post, so: enjoy.

First things first: my goal here is not to produce a phonetic alphabet, partly because those already exist but mostly because they serve a different purpose–I don’t want to reproduce the exact way we speak, because people speak in vastly different ways depending on the region they come from and where they learned English. All I really want to do is get rid of our wacky system of letter combinations: the o makes a certain sound, as in bot, but sometimes we want it to sound different so we add an extra o for boot, or we add an a for boat, or we tack an e on the end for bote (which is not a real word, but bode is, and you know what I mean.) This is especially stupid where it’s inconsistent: sometimes oo makes a long sound, as in boot, and sometimes it’s a short sound, as in soot. And sometimes that same short sound is written with a u, as in put, and sometimes that u sounds totally different, as in putt. Wouldn’t this be so much easier and simpler with a bunch of diacritical marks, so that every sound has a single symbol that always makes that same sound? Of course it would. Diacritical marks are going to save us. Hooray!

(Hooray, by the way, is going to look completely different by the time we’re done.)

(Side note: I’m not trying to get rid of letter clusters in general, just the ones that we use as hacks to make the letters say different sounds. The pr in pray, for example, can totally stay, because both the p and the r are doing exactly what they’re supposed to do. The sh in show, on the other hand, forces both the s and the h to do things they don’t normally do. That’s the kind of thing we’ll be changing.)

We’ll start with consonants, because they’re easier, and the first one on the block is the h in sounds like sh and ch. The simplest change here is to steal the Slovakian system, which is to add a little arrow (called a caron or haček) over the top of the letter, so those are now Š and Č. The combination th is harder to deal with, because it makes two sounds: it’s voiced in words like this, and it’s unvoiced in words like thistle. And even though that difference is almost never phonemic (ie, it almost never changes the meaning of a word), sometimes it is: word pairs like thy and thigh are extremely rare, but they do exist, so we need a way to handle them both. I thus declare that a voiceless th shall be written as Ť, and the voiced version shall be written as Ď. Because both of those letters have risers in the lower case, they’re written as half-carons, which mostly look like accent marks: ť and ď.

Just for the sake of completeness, anytime z makes the same kind of sound, as in azure, we’re going to give it a caron as well: Ž. Why? Because I can.

(Side note: yes, I realize that the voiced partner of Č is J, but as much as I’d like to I’m not going to add a caron to the J, because in English J only has one job, so we don’t need a caron to differentiate it from anything else. If we start adding a caron to every affricate in the alphabet we’ll go insane.)

We have more consonant clusters to deal with, and one of them is super easy: ck is now just k. Sorry, c, but if we’re being honest you’re pretty unnecessary to the language as a whole. Your hard sound can be handled by k, your soft sound can be handled by s, and your only job in the consonant cluster is to preserve a vowel sound, so that, for example, the e in baker doesn’t mess with the a in backer. (Imagine of every kickstarter had bakers instead of backers–the world would be delicious but confusing.) Now that we have diacriticals to handle all our vowel sounds we don’t need to protect our vowels from the tyrannical e, so I’m afraid we’re downsizing the language and c is being let go. The only place it’ll show up, in fact, is in the Č, which is a far cry from it’s former glory but it’s better than nothing.

(Side note: yes, I realize that I just said I’m not putting a caron on the J because that’s it’s only job, and I just made that C‘s only job as well, so why am I still putting a caron on Č? Because it will be super confusing otherwise. That may seem like a silly reason, but trust me. It’s way too crazy without that caron.)

Speaking of nothing, that’s what Q and X get: they are eliminated completely. When we need the qu sound we can already make it with kw, so we don’t need a stupid vestigial letter that only functions when it’s clustered with something else. X dies for the opposite reason: it’s a self-contained cluster, without any other letters involved, so we’re killing it and just using ks. Done.

And what about ng? That’s not really an n or a g, so it needs it’s own letter. The phonetic alphabet writes that sound with a funky symbol that most keyboards can’t produce easily, so I’m nominating the Ń instead. It’s not a perfect solution, but at least we can type it. Maybe when the world’s smartphone and keyboard makers adopt my genius system we’ll come up with a better solution.

The last consonant cluster I want to talk about is wh. Sometimes the w is dropped completely, as in who, and sometimes the h is dropped completely, as in what, and sometimes the h and w are both pronounced but in reverse order, as in, um, what. Maybe what was a bad example? The problem is that some English-speaking accents pronounce the h and some don’t, which is where we get, for example, the Family Guy clip of Stewie saying “Cool Hwip” and Brian being confused by the h. This is further complicated by the fact that in some cases the difference is actually phonemic: the h changes the meaning between, for example, which and witch, or whether and weather. So how are we going to handle this in our glorious new system? By siding with the more popular pronunciation and dropping the h from our written language, though you’re still welcome to use it in your spoken language if you want. There are going to be a jillion spoken dialects no matter how we alter the written language, so we’ll do our best to keep things simple.

And as for wr? Screw wr. We’re just going to write it as an r.

Now: on to the vowels. Vowels are going to be hard because English has a shocking number of vowel sounds, and almost all of them are phonemic. The root form b-d is a great example, because you can add almost any vowel sound to those consonants and change the meaning of the word: bad, bade, bed, bead, bid, bide, bod, bode, bud, booed, bowed, Boyd, and probably a bunch more that I’m forgetting. Vowel sounds that don’t fit this particular construction, such as the short u in put, are still phonemic in other words, as we illustrated earlier by the difference between put and putt, or look and Luke, or soot and suit. Compare this to something like Spanish or Japanese, which only have five phonemic vowel sounds each, and you see one of the reasons that so many people have trouble learning English. The fact that we represent these sounds in grotesquely inconsistent ways (ie, boot and soot don’t rhyme, and for that matter neither do bowed and bowed) only makes it worse.

(Side note: as we did with the wh cluster, we’re going to be ignoring certain regional pronunciations during this streamlining process. There are accents on the American east coast where, for example, Don and Dawn sound completely different, and I in fact once knew a family who named a son and daughter Don and Dawn, respectively, and were shocked that people from other parts of the country pronounced them the same. So yes, some vowel sounds are phonemic in some dialects, but if the rest of us can get by without them so can you. Feel free to keep saying them however you want; all we’re changing here is the spelling.)

(Other side note: American English is currently undergoing a massive change in vowel pronunciation called the Northern Vowel Shift. If you live in the great lakes area, odds are good that you or your neighbors pronounce, for example, bag as beg or even baeg, with the same long vowel as bade. This is linguistically fascinating, but throws a wrench in my plans to alter spelling based on vowel sounds. I’m still going to do it, but I’m going to use classic, midwestern, pre-vowel shift vowel sounds. Remember that my goal is not to reflect spoken pronunciation, but to replace the letter combination system: I’m less concerned with how you say hat than with how we as a language turn hat into hate.)

So: we’ll keep the base letters pretty much the same as they’re pronounced in the list I showed above.
A as in bad and lash
E as in bed and felt
I as in bid and ship
O as in bod and far
U as in bud and some

This is already going to shift a bunch of our spellings, since the old system used a for the o sound all the time. Father and mother will become foďer and muďer–and already you’re seeing us start to reverse some of the major consonant and vowel shifts that differentiate modern English from our Roman and Germanic roots. And don’t worry, because foďer and muďer are going to change EVEN MORE by the time we’re done. It’s going to be awesome.

The next set of vowel sounds we change is going to be the long vowels, which I choose to represent with a line over the top, like so:
Ā as in bade and pray
Ē as in bead and need
Ī as in bide and sight
Ō as in bode and cold
Ū as in booed and rude

Next we’re going to deal with the diphthongs, which are vowels we think of as a single sound, but are actually two. We often represent this by tacking on an extra vowel or even a w, as in ouch and wow and point. Using the sounds we’ve codified above, what you’re actually saying in those words is aūč and waūw and poēnt. Sometimes a diphthong is just one letter by itself: technically the ī sound is a diphthong; say the word my really slowly and you’ll see that what you’re actually saying is moē. Even the ā is often pronounced as . But I don’t want to handle diphthongs as vowel clusters, because a simple diacritical mark is way simpler: makes sense to us in a way that moē does not. So I’m going to leave ā and ī as-is, and I’m going to write ow and oy as:
Å as in ouch and wow
Ø as in point and toy

Why am I using these specific symbols? Especially since I’m not using them to mean what they already mean in the languages that already use them? I’m doing it for expedience: I need symbols that a typical smartphone keyboard can produce, just like I did with ń, so here we are.

On the other hand, we’re going to write the short u (put, soot, look) as Ö, because that’s how a lot of languages already do it, so we’re not being completely ridiculous.

There’s one more thing that I want to do, though I’m not sure if it’s strictly necessary. We have a lot of words in English that use a kind of null vowel, such as the second syllable of social, or both syllables in curdle–you can’t really tell what those vowels are, and they certainly aren’t any of the vowel sounds we’ve already defined. The two liquid consonants, L and R, have a strong tendency to modify vowels this way, by reducing them to a kind of faceless placeholder between two other sounds, but even D does it, as in the final sound of landed. These three sounds are all different from each other–the final sound in tumble, and the final sound in tumbler, and the final sound in landed–and they’re not really e‘s either because they’re not really anything. The consonants dominate them to the point that they lose their own identity. I kind of want to eliminate them completely, which the Internet is already doing with things like tumblr, but that creates all kinds of stupid situations: if someone tumbled, I don’t want to write tumbld, and if someone is a murderer I definitely don’t want to write mrdrr. But I don’t want to write murderer either, because we’ve already defined what those u‘s and e‘s mean, and it’s not that. So I’m going to create a new vowel that just means “there’s a vowel here, but only in the most technical sense.” And that symbol shall be henceforth Ë, because it’s very similar to what we’ve already defined the Ö to mean, and it lets us use the umlaut again, which is always fun. So remember when I said foďer and muďer would get even weirder? Now they’re foďër and muďër.

(Side note: A lot of words that end in ed don’t actually give it a vowel sound at all, such as looked or leaped. We don’t use our null vowel in these cases, so if you looked before you leaped it would actually be lökt and lēpt.)

And that’s the whole thing. Our new alphabet looks like this:


See how fun this is? By which I mean:

Sē hå fun ďis iz? Wē kan rīt evrēťēń wē wont wiť dīukritikël morks! Hërā! Ińgliš māks sō muč mōr sens nå. Ī ekspekt evrēwun to rīt ďis wā frum nå on: insted uv år kluńkē ōld sistëm wār wun letër köd mēn a bunč uv difrënt ťińs dëpendiń on wič letërz it wuz nekst tū, wē hav an ajël, eksītiń sistëm in wič evrē letër olwāz māks ďu sām sånd. It’z simpël and kënsistënt. Jøn mē in ďis glōrēës revōlūšën! Rīs up ugenst ďu folēz uv år antikwātëd rītiń sistëm!

Deť! Deť!

Or mābē Ī got u litël kerēd uwā. Nō deť rēkwīrd. Just tīpiń.

My schedule for the Frankfurt Book Fair

October 6th, 2016

BluescreenI’m going to the Frankfurt Book Fair! I’m very excited about this, because as big as Frankfurt is (the biggest book fair in the world), I’ve never been before. I’ve done Leipzig several times, and that’s already big enough to make BEA look adorable in comparison, and everyone says Frankfurt is several times bigger, so: awesome. Let’s do this.

I have a handful of events, and of course I’ll be talking about the John Cleaver books and the movie, and about the Partials books as well–Germany just got a really cool omnibus edition of those–but the big story will be the grand debut of Bluescreen. My favorite new cyberpunk series is finally coming to Germany, and I couldn’t be happier.

I have a fairly full schedule for the fair, though most of it is private interviews and meetings and such. If you want to see me and say hi and get book signed, this is where you can find me:

Saturday, October 22

12:00-14:00 – Meet-up With Bloggers
Me and Nina Mackay, hosted by Christian Handel

I suspect this is probably an event you need to sign up for, but I don’t actually know. If you’re a blogger and you want to be there, check the festival’s website, or talk to Piper, my publisher.

16:00-17:00 – Piper Fantasy and Science Fiction, at the “Stage
Me, Andreas Brandhorst, and Christoph Hardebusch, hosted by Christian Handel

Andreas and Christoph will read a bit, and I’ll answer questions about Bluescreen.

17:00-17:30 – Signing, at a tent near the Open Stage
Me, Andreas Brandhorst, and Christoph Hardebusch

I will sign every book you bring.

Sunday, October 23

11:00-11:45 – Signing at the Piper Booth

I’ll sign books, babies, etc.

12:00-13:00 – Reading at the Azubistro (the Mediacampus booth)
I will read a small section of Bluescreen in English, and actress Paula Hans will read some in German, and I will talk some more with Christian Handel and answer questions. Afterward we’ll have another book signing, though I don’t know how long it will go.

So that’s the schedule! If you’re at the book fair, please come say hello.

I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER won a really big award

September 27th, 2016

meliesSo over the weekend I announced that I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER had one the Silver Melies award at the Strasbourg film festival, which I and many of you thought was awesome, but it turns out that I was grossly underestimating it’s actual awesomeness. The Olympics have trained me to think of Silver as second place, but looking into the award I have learned the truth: the Silver Melies is Strasbourg’s top prize for international films. The top prize. First place. That’s a big honkin’ deal.

But there’s more: there are a whole bunch of European film festivals that have a Silver Melies, and throughout the season they give them to their favorite films, and winning one means that you are eligible for the Golden Melies: the straight-up Best Film in Europe prize, awarded by the European Fantastic Film Festivals Federation. This year that prize will be awarded at the Lund International Fantastic Film Festival in Sweden, coming up in just a few weeks. So basically, I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER is now on the short list for one of the biggest honors European film has to offer.

Billy and the rest of the cast and crew did an amazing job with this movie, and I’m delighted that they’re being recognized for it. If you haven’t had a chance to see it yet, do it! It’s opening on new screens all the time, so it might be at a theater in your area, and if it’s not it’s still and always available on VOD.

Who Wants to Win an Advance Copy of My Next Book?

September 16th, 2016

imageMy newest book is called EXTREME MAKEOVER, a standalone novel about cloning, greed, and the beauty industry. It comes out in November, and I honestly think it’s the best SF I’ve ever written.

And I want to give you a free copy of it.

Here’s how it works:

1. EXTREME MAKEOVER is about a beauty company that accidentally creates a hand lotion that can overwrite your DNA. To help get us all in the festive spirit of cloning, I want to see your doppelgangers: people who look like you, or have the same name as you, or showed up in the same outfit as you, or whatever. Take the theme of “I am not the only me” and run with it.

2. Post a pocture of you and your copy on social media, along with a quick blurb or comment. These can be serious, funny, random–this is all for fun, remember–but the closer the resemblance the better. Bonus points for creativity, for making me laugh, and for tragically hilarious schadenfreude.

3. Use the hashtags #ExtremeMakeover and/or #NewYew, and tag me on one of these four platforms:
Twitter: @TheDanWells
Tumblr: @TheDanWells
Facebook: The Dan Wells
Instagram: @authordanwells

4. You have two weeks! I shall choose a bunch of winners at the end of September, and send you a signed book totally for free! I’ll even send a couple outside of the Us, so if you’re in Germany or Argentina or anywhere else, feel free to join in!

As an example, here’s a picture of me next to a picture of actor and personal trainer Dan Wells, holding a book written by Dan Wells and dedicated to Dan Wells. Which is which, and who is who? I can’t even tell anymore.



September 6th, 2016

My movie is coming to Utah this Friday! It opens at Jordan Commons and runs twice a night, 7pm and 10pm.

This weekend, on both Friday and Saturday, I will be there at 7pm for a special event: we’ll watch it together, and do a little Q&A afterward. If you want to see the film, this is absolutely the best way to do it.

Buy your tickets now!

NOTE! The website lists it as an R rating, but that’s a misprint. We’re working on getting it fixed.

See I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER on the big screen!

August 22nd, 2016

I-Am-Not-a-Serial-Killer-official-posterThe time has come!

(Updated 8/26/16)

I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER, based on my book and starring Christopher Lloyd, Max Records, and Laura Fraser, comes out this weekend. This weekend! I can’t even tell you how long I’ve been waiting for this day. Actually I totally can: it was June of 2009 when I first got the email from Billy O’Brien, the amazing director, telling me he loved the story and asking if the rights were available. I still have the letter; here’s a snip from the first paragraph:

“I like John. I believe in him. It reminded me of my teenage years, not that I feared I would be a serial killer, but that the world around me was juddering and that I needed something to hold on to until it steadied again.”

That sentence, more than anything else, was why I said yes–because I knew that Billy saw the story behind the story, and that he loved it for the same reasons I do. It’s a murder mystery, and a horror story, and a coming-of-age story, and a very dark comedy, but mostly it’s a story about a boy trying to hold himself together in a world we can’t understand. Very few of us (I assume) have been hunted by ageless beasts who prey on the fringes of society. But all of us can relate to John Cleaver.

So enough talking: where can you see the movie? You have three choices: theater releases, one-night big-screen events, and VOD. As an indie film, the theater engagements start off fairly small, and your support is key. The more you see it, the more you talk about it, the more you call your local theaters and demand that they talk to IFC and request it, the more the movie will spread. We need to get the word out, and drum up support, and vote with our dollars. Little indie movies compete with the big boys all the time, but only when they have an army of fans to back them up. You are my army of fans. Let’s make this happen.

Opening Dates for Theater Releases
August 26:
Arena Cinema, Hollywood, CA
IFC Center, New York, NY

September 2:
Cine-Rama, Chattanooga, TN
Gateway Film Center, Columbus, OH
O Cinema Wynwood, Miama, FL
Screenland Armour Theatre, North Kansas City, MO
Alamo Drafthouse, Yonkers, NY
Coolidge Corner Theater, Brookline, MA
Chalmette Cinemas 9, Chalmette, LA

September 9:
Celebration Cinema, Grand Rapids, MI
Jordan Commons Megaplex, Salt Lake City, UT
Zinema 2, Duluth, MN

September 16:
PFS Theater at the Roxy, Philadelphia, PA
Mall of America 14, Minneapolis, MN

September 20:
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, Winchester, VA

September 23:
Guild Cinema, Albuquerque, NM

October 21:
Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar, Austin, TX

If you want to check for local showings in your area, just to be sure, try GoWatchIt.com

Festivals and Events
September 2:
I will host a special screening of the film at DragonCon, in Atlanta, GA.
5:30 PM, in Hyatt International North.
I will be there to introduce it and host a Q&A. Bring all your friends! (Though they will all need a DragonCon badge to get in.)

September 9 and 10:
I will host two screenings of the film in Salt Lake City, Utah, at 7pm both nights.
Jordan Commons Megaplex.
Buy tickets here.

Video On Demand
The absolute best way to see this movie is on a big screen, but you can also download it starting August 26 from pretty much any streaming content provider. Please note that the movie is currently available for rent only; it won’t be purchasable for a few months at least.
Google Play
Xfinity on Demand
And more!

If you want to help this movie, do these three things
1) Tell everyone you know. Rave about the book, show them the trailers, and tell them about the incredible buzz the movie has from its early reviews–especially for Chrisopher Lloyd. One of our SXSW reviewers said that the movie “reminds us why Christopher Lloyd is a national treasure.” Don’t you want to see that? I want to see that. And so do all your friends, so make sure they know about it.
2) If you’re near one of the theaters on the list above, go see it there. Take all your friends. Go seven times. Money talks, and a movie that makes money in a limited release will slowly and powerfully spread out across the world.
3) Download it through VOD. Download it even if you’ve already seen it, or even if you plan to see it elsewhere, or even if horror movies are too scary you don’t dare watch it–download it anyway. Vote with your dollars and your clicks.

Please Note: I do not currently have any information for non-US screenings or VOD. I’ve been contacted by a few different international distributors, and I’m planning some neat stuff with some of them (Australia is ON TOP OF IT), but I don’t have a complete list of countries where it will be available, and I don’t know dates. I will add that info here as I collect it, and I will broadcast it through social media, but for now just remember that I haven’t forgotten you :)

Bonus Content for Writing Excuses

August 17th, 2016

So: Writing Excuses records more episodes than we can afford to produce.

Writing Excuses

You may have noticed, about a year-and-a-half ago, that the audio quality of our episodes shot way up–that’s because we stopped just posting them with a little cleanup, and started paying an actual audio engineer to make them awesome. So now they’re awesome, but that level of quality costs money, and that’s where you come in. We’re no longer ad-supported, so all our pay-the-audio-person money comes from you, through Patreon. Help us get up $1500/month, and we have a great big backlog of bonus episodes that we’re ready and waiting to pour down on your heads.

Most of these guest episodes come from conventions: awesome guest host, amazing interviews with authors and editors and poets, and sometimes just fascinating talks with subject matter experts who can give us a cool new perspective on a thing we don’t know about. We’re currently sitting on some amazing stuff from GenCon and the World Horror Convention, and we have more in the pipeline. These don’t fit into our regular schedule, and thus not into our regular budget, either, hence this plea for your support. We had slated these bonus episodes for the $3000 level, but they’re too good to hold on to, so we’ve found a way to pinch some pennies and get them out to you early. Please note that the episodes will always be free, just like all of our episodes: Patreon subscribers will get them early, but everyone will get them a few weeks later with no restrictions. Writing is for everyone, whether they can afford cool classes or not. So if you have a little extra cash, consider helping us bring out this content at a high level of audio quality.

Of course, if you are a Patreon supporter, we do have a few extra perks to throw your way. Our current perk is a brilliant piece of writing from Mary Robinette Kowal: Conan the Barbarian, as written by Jane Austen. Yeah. You don’t want to miss it. We put out little tidbits like this every two weeks, so check them out.

Support Writing Excuses on Patreon today, and get some super cool stuff, and help us produce these sweet bonus episodes. Thank you!

Let’s Talk About Some Recent Games

August 12th, 2016

I just got back from GenCon, which means I played a ton of new games, and a ton of old games, and it’s been a while since I talked about games so I have a big backlog of game thoughts in general. Here we go!

Games I played/bought/saw at GenCon

This was the number one game I wanted to pick up at GenCon…and it sold out before the doors even opened on day one, so boo. No early SeaFall for me. It comes out in October-ish, so I’ll pick it up then.

Legendary Encounters: Firefly
Legendary is my favorite deck-builder game, by a mile, and though the base system is designed for Marvel superheroes, there are also four “Encounters” games that expand it into cool SF properties, all fully compatible with the base game and each other. First was the Alien and Predator, and now we have Firefly (and Big Trouble in Little China, I guess, but meh). Firefly is an amazing addition to the line: it really feels super Firefly-ish, in a deep and satisfying way, but it does so at the expense of some cross-compatibility, which is too bad. It’s still integratable with the other sets–you could toss out one of the crew and add in Spider-man, for example, and it would still work–but the transition isn’t as smooth as, say, playing through Aliens with the Avengers (or the Predators!) instead of Ripley and Hicks. Still, though, it’s an absolute blast, and probably my favorite of the Encounters games. Great stuff.
EDIT: Yes, the art in the game is awful. The art in ALL of the Encounters games is awful. I assume there’s a good reason to use original illustrations instead of movie stills, and I assume that reason is money, but the games are ugly because of it, and this is the ugliest. If that’s a deal-breaker for you, well, you’re missing out on a great game, but maybe Upper Deck will finally get the hint?

Legendary: Civil War
Yes, I got two Legendary games: it’s really good, dudes and ladies. Civil War works better for me than last year’s big Legendary release, presumably because I’m more familiar with the Civil War storyline than with Secret Wars, plus it has some really great new additions, like the pet sidekicks and the grievous wounds and similar fun stuff that you can shuffle into your base game. Plus we finally get Luke Cage as a playable character, so I can play the New Avengers and the Secret Avengers and all that good stuff. I can’t help but be disappointed overall, though, because this was supposed to be the expansion that gave us team-based head-to-head play, and it didn’t. Bah! That would have been so cool! Maybe they’ll get around to eventually? I don’t know? I’m super bummed, though.

Mansions of Madness Second Edition
I loved the first edition of Mansions of Madness, for about seven or eight plays, and then the balance problems became too obvious to ignore, and eventually the inconsistency in scenario design–and the gargantuan setup time–eventually killed it for me. I packed it away and haven’t played in five or six years, completely ignoring the two expansions. The Second Edition does away with the balance problem and the setup problem by replacing the evil mastermind player (or whatever it was called) with an app. The app runs the setup, the combat, the clues, the narrative, the whole thing. A lot of people are understably leery of this, but in practice it works really well: the games get started quickly, the story unfolds in a more fluid and mysterious way, and the scenarios are randomized in a way that maintains a consistent story while still making each play-through unique. Even better, a hard scenario just feels like a hard scenario, not an “unbalanced” one, because all of the humans are on the same team. It’s even fully compatible with all the first edition stuff you bought before, which is a nice touch. It’s entirely possible that the same inconsistency problems that plagued the first edition will pop up as we play it more (ie, some clues required you to run toward danger, and some required you to run away from it, with no clear way of knowing which was which), but I’m hoping that the intervening years and two expansions’ worth of experience have helped them solve that issue. I guess time will tell.

The Siege of Annuminas
The Lord of the Rings LCG is my favorite customizable card game these days, so I joined some friends to play through this new scenario and it KICKED OUR BUTTS. The Siege of Annuminas is an Epic scenario: you can play it with one group of 1-4 players, or you can play the Epic version with three groups of 1-4 players each, all working on different parts of the same goal. My group was tasked with defending the walls, and our most experienced player–my friend Alan Bahr–lost two characters literally in the first turn, and was out of the game completely on the second. If you haven’t played before, let me assure you: that’s not supposed to happen. This scenario is brutal, and even one misstep–even from a different team in a different part of the war–can destroy you. I love a challenge, though, and I look forward to finally beating this one into submission.

New Angeles
This was a newly announced game that Fantasy Flight was demoing, and is not yet for sale, but I got to play through several turns and I loved it. It’s based in the Android universe, like Netrunner, but it shifts the focus from hacking to megacorp negotiations. Each player takes the role of a massive company (I played my favorite, the blatantly evil Weyland), and then they have to work together to solve problems and improve the city of New Angeles, but always trying to do so in a way that helps your company more than anyone else. It’s an incredibly social game, structured such that everyone always has something to do and something to pay attention to and some meaningful way of influencing the outcome no matter whose turn it is. Good stuff, and a first day purchase when it gets released.

Black Orchestra
This is a Philip DuBarry design (one of my favorite designers) from Game Salute, and it’s a co-op about assassinating Hitler; it’s not released yet, and they didn’t even have demos running, but I got to look through the sample copy and it looks great. “The Black Orchestra” is the “Schwarze Kapelle,” which was the S.S. nickname for the actual historical group that tried to assassinate Hitler, and the players each play the role of one of these real people–the character cards include bios, and in a chilling historical detail every bio ends with either a suicide or an execution. This is not a light-hearted game, but it looks like a very tense and strategic one, with deep roots in historical research and accuracy. I’ll need to see some gameplay reviews once it finally comes out, but I have very high hopes.

Star Trek: Ascendancy
Another game I demo-ed, but in this case it was available for purchase and I chose not to buy it. It was actually an awesome space game, kind of 4X-ish, with some clever mechanics and some cool ideas and great bits, but it had the same problem I have with every Star Trek game: it just doesn’t feel like Star Trek. Star Trek is about exploration and problem-solving; it’s about ideas. Ascendancy is about combat, and I can get plenty of that in other properties. Someone please give me a good Star Trek game! Fleet Captains does the best so far, but even that’s a stretch. I guess this is what roleplaying games are for. Come to think of it, what I really want is an app-driven mystery game, a la Mansions of Madness, in the Star Trek universe. I would spend SO MUCH MONEY on that.

Dead of Winter: The Long Night
I love co-op games, and I especailly love co-op games with a traitor, and Dead of Winter basically rules that category in untouchable splendor. The new expansion (technically a stand-alone companion game) adds some awesome stuff to it, and I’m very excited to try it, but I haven’t actually gotten it on the table yet because Mansions of Madness keeps grabbing us. Soon.

My biggest expense of GenCon was my decision to update my four factions (plus my brother’s Menoth) to the third edition rules. I’ve basially been out of the game since my primary opponent Zach Hill passed away several months ago, and it became sad to try to play without him, but I figured it was time to move on and get back into it, which meant acquainting myself with all of the changes in Mark III. Overall, I like them a lot. My two main factions are Retribution (which is a POWERHOUSE under the new rules) and Khador (which got some weird rebalances but overall some very nice stuff). Most notable: Retribution can finally run multiple warjacks effectively, which allows our awesome ‘jacks to shine, and my personal favorite unit the Khadoran Man-o-Wars got the buffs they needed to become a viable threat. I also play Legion of Everblight (which made Proteus awesome!) and Circle Orboros (which got some weird nerfs but is now The Heavy Warbeast Faction), and overall I’m pretty happy. Now I just need to, you know, actually play.

Infinity: Corvus Belli
As much as I love Warmachine and Hordes, Infinity is hands-down the best skirmish game for tabletop miniatures, and I picked up the new Miyamoto Musashi model at GenCon. I’m excited to get him on the table with my Nomads. If you love minis games and you’re looking for a relatively cheap one, with a truly phenomenal ruleset, give Infinity a try.

Games I didn’t play or buy at GenCon, but I want to talk about them anyway

As long as we’re talking about minis games, I’ll point out that I didn’t buy any of the new X-Wing stuff. Most of it’s just ugly or boring, frankly, and the ships from the Rebels TV show don’t look like they belong in the same universe as the others. I like the Protectorate starfighter, and I might pick one up eventually, but I’ll wait until Wave 10, for the Quadjumper and the Upsilon shuttle. If I played competitively, I’m sure the new stuff would hold more interest, but as a casual player I’m content to stick with the stuff that looks cool and feels familiar–the stuff that feels like Star Wars, basically.

Sushi-Go and Sushi-Go Party
Sushi-Go is basically “7 Wonders Lite,” and in that niche it’s become a family favorite that I can play with my kids anytime and anywhere. There’s no setup time, it’s super portable, and it’s simultaneously deep and cute, in a way that everyone from my 4yo to my 14yo can play it with me, all in a big group, and all enjoy it at the same time. Sushi-Go Party looks awesome on the surface–more of the stuff you loved, only bigger and better!–but in practice it’s just a bunch of added hassle without a comensurate addition of fun. If we’re going to take the time to set up decks and choose card types and all of that nonsense, we’ll just play 7 Wonders.

Another play-with-the-kids game, Hoagie is actually super fun. It’s a card game where each player is trying to build a sandwich, but the other players keep rotting your ingredients. There’s not much else to say, except that this has become one of our go-to travel games.

Yes, I know, this one’s been out since LAST GenCon, but I didn’t get it until a month ago. I wish I’d listened to everybody and picked it up earlier, because it’s super fun. One player is a ghost, who gives the other players visions (giant cards with crazy art on them), trying to get them to correctly identify a murder suspect, a location, and a weapon. One fun thing I learned with this game: my 9yo’s brain works in exactly the same way mine does. I can give my other kids a bunch of super-obvious clues, and watch them stumble around like morons, but my 9yo can look at a bizarre, esoteric nonsense clue and instantly see what I need her to see. It’s kind of hilarious. Of course, my 14yo and 13yo are the same way with each other in Codenames, so it all evens out.

Shoot Your Friends
This game promises chaos, and delivers even more of it than you’re expecting. It’s a card game with no turns, played in real time, where you’re trying to build sets both for you and your opponents; a player who has a set can booth shoot and be shot, so sometimes you’ll want to build them up and sometimes you’ll want to destroy them to protect yourself. My 13yo and his friends freaking love this game, though they had to apply a bunch of house rules to help constrain the madness a little. Plus it comes with an awesome toy gun :)

Among Nobles
I kickstarted this game last year, and I love it, and I don’t think I’ve ever talked about it. Short version: I love it. Long version: it’s a bloodline game, which is one of my pet subgenres (ie, a game where you play not with one set of characters, but with successive generations of characters over time, building a giant family). Among Nobles is kind of loosely War of the Roses-based, though it’s fairly a-historical because the characters all show up out of order, based on how you draw them. You have children, and arrange marriages with other players’ children; each character has access to different actions (war, piety, intrigue, commerce, etc.), but you take actions based on couples, not individuals, so arranging ideal marriages with good action sets is key. It’s awesome.

Trash War
Another card game, and a really unique one at that. The players are in a junkyard, or possibly a post-apocalyptic wasteland filled with junk–either way, there’s a a lot of junk–and they takes turns chucking it at each other. You have walls, and as junk builds up on them they collapse and fall over, but you can burn the trash away to help keep your walls standing. One clever touch is that there is no standard turn order: the first player throws trash at whoever she wants, and then that player throws trash at whoever he wants, and so on and so on, volleying the ball, so to speak. It’s a light filler, but a fun one.

TMNT DiceMasters
I managed to steer clear of this one (“collectible” and “deck-building” are two of my trigger words for dangerous obsession), but then they came out with a TMNT set and my resistance crumbled. I wish it worked better for multiplayer, but as a two-player strategy game I really like it. It’s dice rather than cards, so you’re not building a deck but a dice bag, but the little dice really do feel like superhero characters, and the game moves fast and has a lot of strategy. It’s like a mashup of Quarriors and Magic: The Gathering, which doesn’t sound like it would work but it totally does.

One more dice game. This one’s a little filler game I picked up for a family camp in Yellowstone, and it was a pretty big hit. You roll a bunch of Camp dice, which will be either bears or tents, and then you roll the Camper dice, which will be either shooting or running or sleeping. You can reroll your Camper dice as much as you want, and everyone matches up dice in a big free-for all, and the game ends when either all the tents or all the bears are matched up. You get the most points for sleepers in tents, but if the game ends and there are still bears roaming free, all the sleepers get eaten and lose points instead. It’s a humorously grisly theme with more depth than you expect, and we had a lot of fun with it.

This is but a tiny fraction of the game reviews I need to write, but this is already five pages long. Time to stop…for now….

Limited Editions with Vault Books

July 19th, 2016

I have a big announcement: the new specialty press Vault Books is launching today, and their opening salvo of titles includes two from me! I’m super psyched. These books are going to be gorgeous.

The Clayton Killer: The John Cleaver Omnibus Volume 1
The first trilogy of John Cleaver books, collected in one volume. This will include a foreword by V.E. Schwab and both cover and interior art by Daniel Serra. I’ve been involved with the press at every step of the planning, helping to choose the best people, the best paper, the best everything, and I promise you that this book is going to be perversely beautiful. We’re talking heirloom quality, signed and numbered, with a slip case and leather binding and the whole nine yards. It will also have a brand new John Cleaver short story that has never appeared anywhere else. For fans of John Cleaver this will be worth every penny.

A Night of Blacker Darkness
My historical vampire farce, for the first time ever in print in English. It’s been a hit in ebook and in audio, and now at last you can buy it in a stupidly awesome print version. This will come in three editions: a regular (but amazing) trade hardback, a limited edition with leather binding, and a super-limited edition with extra art and some other fun surprises. All three editions will contain a novella set in the same world, called A Pear-Shaped Funeral, and a foreword from one of the book’s biggest fans, a plucky young fellow named Brandon Sanderson. If you love historical vampire farces–and who doesn’t?–buy this now for you and all your loved ones.

Oh, and did I forget to mention this one?

Shared Nightmares
Vault Books is also reprinting this horror anthology, containing what I consider to be my best short fiction writing to date. All the stories are about dreams and nightmares, and my story “Health and Wellness” is about a young man who suddenly gains the ability to remember all his dreams with perfect crystal clarity.

All of these books, and everything else on their lineup, will be fantastic. Did I mention they’re doing a short story collection by Mercedes Yardley? Because they totally are, and it looks jaw-dropping. Go forth and pre-order.

Social Justice Bard

July 8th, 2016

I am not a Social Justice Warrior, because I am not warrior. Sometimes I think I’d like to be, and there may come a day when I get forced onto the front lines, but for now I’m not. Most of us aren’t.

But I can be a Social Justice Bard.

I can write stories that inspire the warriors. I can tell dramatic tales of problems and dangers and awful injustice, and glorify the heroes that overcome them. I can write books about awesome women, and I can push my publishers to get black and latino faces on the covers, and I can post aricle after article and even edit anthologies about mental illness and how to see and treat everyone as a person. I can stand up for my friends, even when they do something stupid, and I can wear my religion proudly, even when people attack it, and I can raise my children to love and respect everyone, even when they disagree with them and even when they don’t have to. I can present a better world in fiction, and maybe help create a new generation of warriors who will fight to make that fiction a reality.

I watch the world, and the things people are doing to each other, and the way people talk to each other–or maybe just at each other–and I want it to change. I want the world to be as wonderful as it is in my dreams. So I’m going to take those dreams, and I’m going to write them down, and every time there’s another shooting or bombing or battle or argument or anything at all, I’m going to write that much harder. I’m going to tell more stories. And maybe the warriors will read it in some dark hour, and their spirits will lift up, and they’ll get back into the fight. Because that’s what bards do.

We sing the songs of glory, and help make the world more glorious.