Swan Tower

Oct. 22nd, 2014

08:00 am - A Year in Pictures – Ceder in the Circle of Lebanon

Cedar in the Circle of Lebanon
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I mentioned before that the “Circle of Lebanon” is named for the cedar tree atop its central structure; well, this is the tree. I would have loved to climb up there and sit beneath its branches, but somehow, I think our guide would have objected. :-P

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Oct. 21st, 2014

11:00 am - Assorted book-type-news-things

In the order that they occur to me:

1) Michael R. Underwood’s The Younger Gods is out! Main character is a runaway from a family of evil cultists, has to try to stop them from kicking off the apocalypse. Mike is a friend, of course, but this one would sound good to me even if I weren’t biased. :-)

2) I’m starting to rack up some foreign sales for the Memoirs. So far it looks like you’ll be getting at least the first book in Thai, French, and Polish. I’m on the verge of completely outgrowing my brag shelf, where I keep one copy of every edition of my books: there are worse problems to have.

3) Speaking of my brag shelf, the Mythic Delirium anthology is also out! This has “The Wives of Paris” in it, among other things. You may recall this anthology as the one that got the excellent starred review from Publishers Weekly; well, now you can own your very own copy. :-)

4) Strange Horizons is currently holding its annual fund drive. There are prizes listed here, but it isn’t the full list yet; they’re adding stuff as the drive goes on. Two of the additions will be a signed pair of the UK trade paperbacks of A Natural History of Dragons and The Tropic of Serpents, and a signed ARC of the third book in the Memoirs of Lady Trent, Voyage of the Basilisk. If you want a crack at those, head on over and pledge some money!

5) I’ve got another ebook coming out next week, this one a collection of my dark fairy-tale retellings called Monstrous Beauty. You can pre-order it right now from Amazon or Kobo, or wait until next week and get it from Book View Cafe, Barnes and Noble, or iTunes. Just in time for Halloween!

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08:00 am - A Year in Pictures – Grave Candles

Grave Candles
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I don’t know the story behind it, but judging by what we saw in Poland, it’s a common tradition there to put candles in red vases and lay them on graves around Hallowe’en/All Souls Day. My husband got to see an amazing display of them in one of Kraków’s cemeteries at night; these are, of course, in Peksow Brzyzek, the cemetery we visited in Zakopane.

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Oct. 20th, 2014

11:58 am - Kick their Starters (or Indie their GoGos)

<looks at subject line> Apparently I’m in a weird mood today. :-P

Found out recently that a friend of mine is running an IndieGoGo campaign to fund the post-production for a documentary on the Rocky Horror Picture Show phenomenon. Why the post-production only? Because they ran a Kickstarter to raise the money for the whole project, but so many of their pledges defaulted that although they officially made their goal and then some, they didn’t actually collect all the money they needed to finish the task. They’ve been traveling the country to film and interview the various casts, and the result is likely to be awesome . . . but they do need the rest of their funding. Since it’s an IndieGoGo flexible funding campaign, every bit of money you pledge will help — it isn’t an all-or-nothing deal.

And while I’m at it, I should mention that both the Not Our Kind and Daughters of Mercury campaigns are still running, if you haven’t checked them out already.

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10:00 am - at the corner of Bourbon Street and Nostalgia Lane

The 20th anniversary HD remake of Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers came out last week.

This is one of the few video game series I’ve ever really fallen in love with. It had drama! Character development! Random trivia about real-world history! My sister introduced me to it, and sat with me during my first playthrough, offering advice and possibly taking the controls from me when I couldn’t get past that one mummy in the mound. So, naturally, when I heard the HD remake was coming out, I a) bought her a copy as a gift and b) invited her over for a slumber party/playthrough evening.

First things first: the voices are different. Apparently they lost the original recordings in the intervening twenty years, and the result they got from stripping the audio out of the game files was not good enough. And I’m guessing they could no longer afford the services of Tim Curry and Mark Hamill. I was very apprehensive about this, because Tim Curry’s terrible Nawlins accent is such a memorable part of the game; what would it be like without him?

The answer is, much the same. They did an excellent job of casting voice actors who could match the sound of their predecessors. There were a few lines where I remembered the original intonation enough to cock my head at the difference, but the rest of the time, I forgot I was listening to a new voice. I’m sure that if I did a side-by-side comparison of the two, I would find places where the HD version is lacking, but it passes muster on its own — which is what really matters.

Things that are distinctly improved: the graphics! (Duh.) Holy crap, you can tell what things are. There are books in cases and bottles on shelves, rather than indistinct blobs on horizontal lines. Gram’s house has wallpaper! Rugs have patterns! It’s not the highest-quality graphics and animation — in particular, there’s the creepy thing where people’s mouths seem to be moving independently of their faces when they talk — but it’s a massive improvement over the old look. They’ve also changed up the gameplay a bit: the mime is still a pain in the ass, but getting past that one mummy just involves grasping the general principle of “you need to dodge,” rather than having to move to exactly the right spot, wait exactly the right amount of time, move again, wait again, and then finally break for the door. And the #@$@!!! beignet guy? IS GONE. Replaced by a much less Rube Goldberg-y solution to “how do I get into Mosely’s office?” (And a really creepy moment, too, which I don’t remember from the original.) There are a couple of new puzzles to balance out the simplification of the old ones: a lever puzzle in Magentia Moonbeam’s house that isn’t nearly as difficult as it might have been, a minor unlocking thing in the Gedde crypt.

Some of the changes are amusing. I opened the window in Schloss Ritter and was perplexed to see that the pile of snow had vanished, replaced by a puddle on the windowsill — until my sister pointed out that it’s late June and really, why was there ever snow there in the first place? Gerde no longer looks like she ought to be serving beer at Oktoberfest. Gabriel says “fuck” a few times, and I’m pretty damned sure that’s new. Other things I’m less sure of; weren’t you able to go to your grandmother’s house on Day One before? And you find the sketchbook there? I’m pretty sure the priest’s collar used to be in the vestry; possibly that got moved because the placement of hotspots would have made the door we think was the vestry too difficult to click on. And I wonder how much of the dialogue was changed, apart from Gabriel swearing. They’ve definitely altered the pronunciation of several of the voodoo-related terms (presumably to make them more accurate), and I think they may have added in some more context about things like the racial politics of Malia’s family being so influential in New Orleans.

Mostly it’s the same, though, with better graphics and a score that no longer sounds quite so MIDI. I’ll probably look at the original version again before I decide, but it’s entirely possible that this will become my preferred version to play. It’s nice to have the game look less primitive, and I will put up with a lot just to avoid that mummy and the stupid beignet guy. :-P

The real question is this: what now? Apparently Sierra was revived recently; they have a shiny website and everything, complete with what looks like a teaser for a new King’s Quest game. Will there be remakes of The Beast Within and Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned? Redoing the former would be interesting, seeing as how they’d probably have to just scrap the FMV entirely and redo the entire thing as standard point-and-click, but you could probably rebuild the latter quite easily, with some off-the-shelf 3D engine that would blow the original one out of the water.

Or — dare I dream — might we finally get a fourth game?

I’m trying not to get my hopes up. But if this remake sells well . . . who knows? :-)

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08:00 am - A Year in Pictures – Angel and Book

Angel and Book
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Some of the graves in Highgate East are newer, as you can tell by the style of this angel and the relative lack of weathering. I quite liked the angel, and of course a book never goes amiss. :-)

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Oct. 17th, 2014

10:31 am - shoe shopping for the podiatrically challenged

I have bought a new dress for the World Fantasy banquet. I am sitting here trying to remember the last time I bought a dress that wasn’t a historical costume I paid somebody to sew for me.

I am failing.

As long as I’m on a roll of doing things I haven’t done in hmmmm let’s be conservative and say ten years?, I think I should also get new black heels. And this is where I turn to you, O internets, because I don’t like high heels (but I recognize their uses), and if there is any maker of heels who makes some I would actually like, I want to know about them.

My criteria are as follows. Each one should be footnoted with the caveat that I know I may not be able to get what I want, or at least may not be able to get all these things in one shoe. But I might as well try.

  1. Not too high of a heel. You may recall I had ankle surgery less than three months ago. My ideal would be maybe 1-1.5″; anything above 2″ is Right Out at present. And in general I prefer lower heels, because . . .
  2. Padding beneath the ball of the foot. I can and do use inserts to help with this, but it annoys me that we have an industry built around providing something I think the shoe ought to provide in the first place. I end up with a lot of foot pain if too much of my weight is on the ball of my foot for too long; it’s like my body is saying “we stopped doing this shit when you quit ballet at the age of eighteen, and aren’t going to put up with it anymore.”
  3. Arch support. Does this even exist in high-heeled shoes? If so, tell me, because my god do I need it. I have stupidly high arches, and wearing shoes that don’t support them gets painful quite fast.
  4. Allowance for a high instep. A lot of those strappy shoes put straps right across the top of my arches, which, as mentioned before, are quite high. Result: I feel like my foot’s being cut in half by my shoe. This one’s more of a stylistic thing than a characteristic I’m likely to find in a specific shoe manufacturer, but as long as I’m describing what I want, I ought to include everything.

Is there anybody who consistently makes shoes that match this description? Or even parts of this description? I could go to the store and try on shoes randomly until I find something that works, but I’d like to be more targeted in my shopping if possible. Seven years of dancing on pointe left me with an absolute lack of tolerance for badly-made or ill-fitting shoes, and a desire to avoid spending hours trying things on if at all possible.

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08:00 am - A Year in Pictures – Highgate Tree

Highgate Tree
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Most of the trees in Highgate Cemetery are too closely packed to allow for particularly good shots of them. This one, however, was posing rather splendidly among the graves.

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Oct. 16th, 2014

08:00 am - A Year in Pictures – Zakopane Fern

Zakopane Fern
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This particular grave honestly looked to me like it belonged in Japan, not Poland. (In fact, I have a picture of some stones at Fushimi Inari that look rather similar.) The fern and the flowers made a nice additional touch.

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Oct. 15th, 2014

11:32 am - Posner on Voter Fraud

I haven’t yet read the entirety of this dissent by Judge Richard Posner on the topic of voter ID laws in Wisconsin, but the words to describe the bits I have read are things like “searing” and “scathing.” This is a conservative judge who formerly supported laws requiring photo ID in order to vote, but his dissent is a 180% about-face that comprehensively calls out exactly what is wrong with such laws — ranging from the fact that they’re trying to solve a problem that basically doesn’t exist, to the fact that they don’t solve the problems that do exist, to the way they disenfranchise the “wrong kind” of voter.

Nor does he neglect the partisan component here: his dissent points out that all the states with strict photo ID laws and most of those with non-strict laws are politically conservative at the state level, while those which require no ID at all skew liberal. And the kinds of people who are disenfranchised by voting obstacles are also more likely to vote liberal. This is not a “both sides do it” kind of problem, where we can waggle our fingers and move on. Whether or not you agree that it is a concerted effort with the goal of stopping “those people” from voting Democratic, it is a concerted effort with that result.

Here’s a tidbit for you: the poll tax that was outlawed in 1964, adjusted for inflation, is substantially cheaper than the average cost for a low-income voter in satisfying a photo ID requirement. You may not be forking over the cash directly for the right to vote, but when you figure in documentation, travel, and time spent away from work jumping through the bureaucratic hoops, it ends up costing in the range of $75-$175. For people who are having trouble feeding their children, this is an inexcusable price.

I haven’t been following the judicial situation well enough to know what effect, if any, Posner’s dissent might have. The fact that it’s a dissent, i.e. a statement disagreeing with the ruling, suggests that it won’t be much. But I have some hope that seeing a conservative judge come out swinging on this topic might shift the winds a little. There are a number of really scummy things going on in American politics these days, but this is one of the worst: it strikes at the very heart of our ability to make things better.

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