Free Utopian Novella

Taking a break from obsessively checking the news every five minutes to learn the latest developments in the great national nightmare of my country of residence, I want to mention an interesting little gem.

A Remembrance of Her is a novella from Blackwyrm Games about a man trying to escape from utopia for the love of an android. It’s a teaser/moodsetter for an RPG they’ll be releasing this summer. And it’s free right now at DriveThruRPG.

I’ve just downloaded it, so no review yet, but the zip file comes with the novella in five formats (Sony, Epub, Palm, PDF, and DOC–Kindle users like me can just email the DOC file to their Kindle email address and it’ll autoconvert), and PDFs of cover art, a blog post, and a mysterious "Posthegemony Decision Chart" which I assume will make more sense after reading the story.

You know I’m a fool for utopian stories, so naturally I’m interested.

Also, it’s April 1st. I don’t much feel like playing April Fool this year; instead I’m kicking off something that I hope will be a lifelong habit. Over the past few months, I’ve given roughly $1200 to charity. It started with the floods in Australia, then the earthquake in New Zealand. After that, Junko and I gave the bereavement money for my mother’s death to a local animal-rescue shelter–Mom was a big supporter of animal rescue.

The very next day, the Tohoku Earthquake struck. It took a few hours even to begin to realize how devastating that was, and we are still coming to grips with it here in Japan. I gave some money to the Red Cross…then some more…then some more as we started to see how very bad it was.

With the job I have now, I don’t have much time to devote to volunteering. But I am paid pretty decently, and I now that by cutting back on the Starbucks and such I can easily afford to give every month–to tithe, if you will. There are a lot of good charities, local and international, and from here on out I am going to give every month, whether it’s for a specific disaster or not.

At the same time, I am going to find ways to volunteer. I’m in touch now with the animal-rescue shelter–I’ve offered to start translating their website to make it easier for people who can’t read Japanese to participate. I’m going to do what I can. Hopefully work will ratchet down to a more reasonable level of busy-ness within a couple of years, and I’ll be able to do more.

And my mandatory retirement age at the university is 65, so it won’t be THAT long before I find myself with plenty of free time and little money. By then, my Japanese should be a lot better, and I should have relationships with several volunteer organizations, and I can start working with them a lot more. I don’t want to be sitting around watching TV, that’s for sure. Well, not more than a couple hours a day.

Fallout continued…

Posted on my other blog as well:

Mostly bad news. The nuclear emergency is only getting worse. I’ve read some extremely alarming things from pretty reliable sources. Of course it’s hard to be sure what to believe–even setting aside the likelihood that the Japanese government and the power company representatives would put a rosy spin on things to prevent panic, it must be very hard for even the people right at the scene to be sure exactly what’s going on or what will happen.

It seems very likely that there will be a major meltdown. The only chance to stop it seems to be a suicide mission by engineers at the site. There is no doubt in my mind that there are enough who will volunteer to carry out the mission, and those who do will be honored as heroes. What is uncertain is whether it will work.

The only good news is that the winds continue to blow out to sea which is normal and constant for this time of year, minimizing the land contamination and danger to the population, especially those of us in the south. But the high winds are also the reason that such things as dumping water from helicopters haven’t worked.

I have packed a backpack with water bottles and such, and I’ll get Junko to pack a bag too. We are going to coordinate with the rest of our family here on where to meet in case we need to move quickly to a shelter or even another city. Frankly we’d probably be better off sealing up the apartment and staying indoors if we got a dose of fallout. The chances of Fukuoka receiving dangerous levels of radiation are still quite small, but it feels better to be ready. And anyway, I should’ve put together a good emergency pack for each of us years ago.

I wouldn’t blame anyone for leaving Japan altogether at this point. A lot of my colleagues are traveling abroad right now, in fact, as it’s between school terms at the moment. I wouldn’t blame any who delay their return, either. But I have a wife, kids, grandkids…I’m not going anywhere. Not unless I can take them all with me.

The Black, Devouring Sea

[ Scared Mood: Scared ]
On Facebook, I’ve been keeping a running commentary on the unfolding disaster here in Japan, and I posted an entry to my family-and-friends blog on that as well. All this is mostly just to let people know I’m OK. Junko and I and the kids are well outside the danger zone.

In a way, I’m kind of used to this sort of thing. On a per-square-kilometer basis, Japan has the most earthquakes of any country in the world, and every time we have one big enough to make the news, I get emails from overseas making sure I’m OK. Naturally, few of those quakes are close enough to my city for me to notice. I’ve only been in one significant quake in my entire life (Texas doesn’t have a whole lot of them), and while terrifying, the only thing that fell down in my apartment was my Shakespeare Action Figure.

This, of course, is different. This is one of those events that Japan will be marking with about five minutes of silence (the duration of the quake) at 2:46 in the afternoon every March 11th for at least a generation. I haven’t felt the main quake or any of the dozens of serious pre- and after-shocks, and Fukuoka was very fortunate in experiencing only minor tsunami swells. But the effect on Japan as a whole, and all of us living here, is profound. Exactly what those effects will be are still unknown–with aftershocks and radiation leakage from damaged powerplants, this catastrophe is still developing.

Here is an article with links to international aid groups that are providing disaster relief.

Pic Parade 1: Worldcon

It is time to start posting pictures. Long past time. I put them up on Facebook already because, with a plugin for iPhoto, it’s ridiculously easy to upload them there. Here, not quite so easy.

Well, here goes:



At the Nightmare Ball–that’s friend (from the DGML) James Haughton on the right.

James getting down.

Gotta love Undead Snow White.

The big prize.



I didn’t know it at the time, but on the right is author Alaya Dawn Johnson.

My lame costume: Wear a suit and stuff the pockets with snakes.

Accosted by clockwork creatures from Dr. Who.

China Mieville making a point–something he does a lot.

George R.R. Martin

Scholar Tess Williams–we share an interest in Octavia Butler



Collecting for the kiddies.



No pirates in Imperial Space!

See, to be a sexy Jedi, you don’t have to reveal a lot of skin.


Boba Fett as a schoolkid.




Kim Stanley Robinson

Charles Stross

Great Cthulhu…in Plush Avatar Form!



Cthulhu and dinner. Om-nom-nom.

Kim Stanley Robinson and Robert Silverberg

Kim Stanley Robinson

Farewell Exalted!

[ Very Sad Mood: Very Sad ]
I just finished reading what appears to be the final big Exalted book, Return of the Scarlet Empress, in which (you guessed it) the Scarlet Empress Returns…with her new husband. It’s a huge end-of-the-world campaign, with demons invading Creation, Deathlords fighting the demons, Fair Folk invading and unraveling reality, the Autochthonians, the Gods, and of course all the usual Exalted getting caught up in it all.

Darned good stuff! It takes in all corners of the compass, allowing a GM to focus on whatever she wants to, or to tackle the whole darned thing, either through giving characters the ability to travel vast distances quickly (with say a magitech aerial conveyance), or even let them make several different bands of characters, each of which struggles to save their own corner of the world. It is as truly epic in scale as a good Exalted campaign ought to be.

Sadly, though, it really does seem to be the final book. To paraphrase the closing lines, once you’ve defeated the demon hordes, replaced the gods, brokered peace with the Fair Folk, revived the Dragon King culture, sealed away the Neverborn, freed the Deathknights, built a new order in the Underworld, reestablished a just world government, and rebuilt from the devastation of war to give everyone a chance to live in peace and hope, it’s time to play another game.

This brings me to the utopian theme here: Utopia is kinda boring. Once you have it, what are you going to do with it? And how long will it remain a utopia? The Exalted box set, Dreams of the First Age, presented the Exalted world during its utopia, and with the ever-more-insane Solars in charge, it was rapidly turning into a nightmare.

There’s also just the fact that, once you have utopia, you’re going to long for something better. You’ll probably take what you have for granted. Utopia just becomes "normal."

More later…must do some class prep.

End of the WorldCon, and I feel fine

[ Happy Mood: Happy ]
[ Listening to Junko practicing piano Currently: Listening to Junko practicing piano ]
WorldCon Day 5 was pretty uneventful. I packed the night before, checked out in the morning, and left my luggage with the hotel desk while I went to a panel with Kim Stanley Robinson, Greg Benford, and David Levine on the bioethics of terraforming Mars. Interesting discussion between three hard-SF authors who are either scientists or very well-informed on the science involved.

After that, I just dumped some things I didn’t want to carry back with me in the attendees’ lounge with a note saying "take it if you want it." I dumped my little 7-11 umbrella there as well, since the day was uncharacteristically sunny.

Then I went George R.R. Martin hunting. I had purchased three books, and I’d gotten two of them signed; only Martin’s was as yet unsigned. Finally, just as I was giving up and getting ready to leave the con and head to the airport, I saw him! He went into the con organizers’ lounge before I could accost him, so I waited outside, feeling like a stalker, but when he emerged and I explained that I was about to leave, he graciously signed the book. He was just as nice as everyone says he is.

Then it was off to Tullamarine Airport. I regretted giving away my umbrella when I got caught in a downpour on the way to Southern Cross (aka Jenkins Street) Station–but I rather enjoyed that one last cold drenching from Melbourne. The express bus is quite comfortable and, at $16, pretty cheap by Australian standards (man, I thought Japan was an expensive place to live!). My seat-mate was a sweet middle-aged woman, and I had one last good conversation with a local as I was leaving Melbourne.

I may have mentioned this in another post, but I’ve realized that when I go somewhere, I’m really not all that terribly interested in seeing the sights. What I really enjoy doing most is getting out on my own and getting a taste what it’s like to live there, and striking up good conversations in cafes and restaurants and on street corners. So for me, Melbourne is a great place to visit.

Singapore Airlines was a joy to deal with, as it has been all during this trip. Junko had requested a specific perfume, so I went duty-free shopping for the first time ever. The stuff they sell in duty-free shops is not really the kind of thing I would normally buy for myself, or at least that’s what I thought. I got Junko her perfume, and then I bought some perfume for my two daughters as well (a bit less expensive), and got some plush Australian animals for the grandkids. And finally, on the way to the gate, I just couldn’t resist buying a bottle of Laphroaig Quarter Cask, a bottling of Laphroaig I’d never tried before but which I’d heard was terrific. Not something I could easily find in Japan, and if I did it would probably be twice the price. So there I am: a duty-free-shop kind of guy now.

Flight home was not bad. A large section of seats was taken up by a group of Japanese college girls who had been studying English at Melbourne University for two weeks; they were all excited to be heading home. I asked their teacher which university–she replied "Nakamura Gakuin." Whoa! That’s where my daughter Natsumi went to school! Small world.

A shorter, but still pretty long, stay in Singapore’s Changi Airport, then the last leg of the journey home. Bulkhead seats–nice! I had a window seat, so it was the best of both worlds; I could watch the sunrise, but I could also easily step past my seatmate without disturbing her.

Though Kyushu was catching the edge of a typhoon, we had no problems landing, and got in on time. Fortunately, I didn’t get my bags inspected; I was glad not to have to explain the kilo of awesome sunflower seeds gifted to me by Tim. He knows this Indian grocer who sells roasted sunflower seeds in the shell, just barely salted, that are the best sunflower seeds I’ve ever had. And I’ve had a lot of sunflower seeds.

The typhoon decides to dump a lot of rain on us just as I exit the Nishijin Subway Station, so it’s a taxi to get home. Pretty warm and sticky. We pass Natsumi on her way to work–I roll down the window and call and wave to her. Then it’s home and my dog. (I won’t see Junko until evening, when she comes home from work.)

Man, it is good to be back! I miss Melbourne, but being with my family is fantastic.

WorldCon Day 4

[ Cool Mood: Cool ]
[ Reading my iced-coffee carton Currently: Reading my iced-coffee carton ]
Yesterday, I tried to mix things up a bit. Most of the con, I’ve been attending academic-stream panels, and most of those presentations have been just as much fun, by the way, as the less-rigorous panels. But I thought I should feed my inner nerd and go to stuff that’s more "fun," like panels on anime and the like.

And so the anime panel turned out to be a very serious fan paired up with a German PhD student, and it was pretty much an academic panel after all. THe nice thing about it was getting introduced to a number of really interesting anime. As I’ve written before, I binged on anime shortly after arriving in Japan 15 years ago, and made myself sick of it. I watch very little of it for someone in Japan. And trying to discover good stuff out of a sea of crap is very difficult. So it’s nice I’ve found some stuff that I can order on DVD.

The panel on "Great Women in SF" was also nice for a similar reason. Well, it was nice to see Lucy Sussex again–she’s an Australian writer who was a guest of honor at the 3rd Monash Utopias Conference last time I came over, and I really enjoyed her collection of short stories. The panelists and the audience brought up numerous woman writers, some of whom I hadn’t read before, so again, some books to track down.

I read that there would be a signing line for both Charles Stross and George RR Martin, so I bought one of each of their books (The Fuller Memorandum and Dreamsongs II) and had lunch in the room where the signings are held. Then just before I thought that I ought to get in line, I checked the schedule and discovered that it wasn’t a signing but a kafeeklatsch. Doh! I was able to get Charlie Stross’ signature at an unscheduled signing at the Orbits booth later, but so far have been unable to get Martin’s. (My goal for today.)

So then I got in late to what seemed like an interesting presentation on models of time travel in movies, and then Evie Kendal’s presentation on how the bioethics debate uses (and misuses) the language of SF, which was fascinating in how it sparks ideas for improving the debate by reasserting control over that language.

I got hold of some friends, and it turned out that that evening was the last chance to see each other…and it was the evening of the Hugo Awards Ceremony. What to do, what to do? Well…it’s not like it’s an awards ceremony with banquets tables and black ties and the like. It’s just sitting in a plenary room. And the MCs might’ve been the same guys who did the Masquerade, and though they were intermittently funny, they had excruciatingly slooooow timing. So…I opted to spend time with friends. Heck, I wouldn’t have gotten to see Erin at all if I hadn’t gone out with them.

Thus, I admit here, that my Hugo Awards reporting was taken from the internet. I hang my head in shame before you all. But I’m glad I went out with friends who I may not see again for a long time.

Then lots of packing…my suitcase actually does seem lighter than it was on the way here, despite having three big stonking books in it. Excellent! I still need to buy presents for home, though…hm, must get lightweight stuff…plush animals, I suspect.