Links of Interest: Keys to Publishing Contest & ARG News

I know the contest has already started, but I wanted to get this link up while the contest is still happening. There’s a contest that the people behind Adventures in SciFI Publishing and I Should Be Writing are collaborating on called “The Keys to Publishing”. You basically listen to their podcasts, starting with AISFP #56 and ISBW #94, listen for the key and write it down, and when you have all six, email them to adventuresinscifipublishing@gmail.com with “Keys” in the title. Two lucky winners will receive a set of books from publishers Tor and Pyr SF, featuring their latest titles.

So why should you care? Because each ‘key’ is given by a well-known author, as well as the reasoning behind that key’s title. Sean Williams, Jay Lake, Tobias S. Buckell, to name a few. And it’s fun to listen to, even if you don’t plan to enter the contest. Either way, aspiring authors will get a lot of it.

The only other link I have today is not a writing one, but a (surprise!) gaming one. After the experience of reading the Artificial Intelligience: A.I. ARG, I decided to take the plunge and try out an ARG for myself. There are many websites that speak about ARGs, but the ones that stood out to me was ARGnet, which blogs about the ongoing ARGs that are in play on the Net, and Unforum, a great forum for players to talk about the latest games as well as post rumors on new ones. Through the both of these, I’ve learned of a game that will be put on, by all places, the Smithsonian called “Luce’s Lover’s Eye”. (You can read an article about it here, and to see the actual entry point into the game, you can go to this page here and find the secret link on the upside down writing). I don’t know what’s going to happen when the game starts in about a month, but I’m sure it’s going to be quite an experience.

Contests and eye games, oh my! Looks like the rest is of my summer is going to be pretty busy. Oh yes, and I’ll be writing. Can’t forget about that. Yeah. Writing.

What’s on LaShawn’s iPod? Well, nothing since I don’t have an iPod…but I do have a reasonable enough facsimile…

So I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts lately. It’s been an unexpected benefit of working part-time. That’s not to say that I haven’t been listening to podcasts before–in my SAHM life, it’s mainly what I did to keep from turning on the TV to, say, Oprah or The View. Cleaning time was done to podcasts. Playtime with Daniel was done to podcasts. Writing was not done to podcasts, because it distracts me. And besides, I got the Geico commercial for that…

But ever since I started working, I’ve been using my mp3 player a lot more than normal. I use it when I’m walking to work. I use it at work when I’m filing. I use it when I walk to Daniel’s daycare to pick him up. And I use it when I’m at the Circle M farm, pulling weeds or planting seeds.

It’s weird. Ever since I started working again, it’s freed up a lot of listening time. I like it, because it’s allowed me to catch up on a lot of writing podcasts that’s been building up in my iTunes. And I’ve even been able to add a couple of others I’ve been meaning to get to, but never had the time–such as short story podcasts and indie music. Having gotten around to start listening to novels, but I’m working on it.

Anyway, since I’ve been listening to so many podcasts as of late, I’ve decided to make it a weekly feature at the Cafe to give brief links to the ones I find interesting. I’m hoping to bring a bit more exposure to good stories and interesting topics. For instance, I just listened to a short story on Podcastle called “Fourteen Experiments in Postal Delivery” by John Schoffstall, a surrealistic tale of a woman receiving ‘notes’ from her ex-boyfriend. The woman comes across as rather pedantic (I’ve been dying to use this word all day) and bitchy, but the things her boyfriend sends her are hilarious and touching. I mean, what would you do if your ex sends you Spain to try to make up with you? It gets a little gory near the end, and that’s a lot from a surrealistic story, but I do have to say that the ending itself is a very nice touch.

I’ve also been catching up on my writing podcasts, which is awesome, because by the time I get home, I’m itching to write. Mostly good interviews: Mur Lafferty interviewed Matthew Wayne Selznick on “I Should Be Writing”. I just finished listening to the “Adventures in Sci Fi Publishing” interview with Kelly Link, and oooh! They just put an interview with Neil Gaiman in the feed! Better load that up!

So I’ll going to try to make this a regular feature at the Cafe. Gotta spread the love, man.

Friday YouTube Fun with Vocaloids!

So now that things have settled, I’ve been catching up on Youtube–seeing what’s out there. I stumbled upon a very interesting phenomenon: vocaloids.

Vocaloid is a synthesizer program that creates vocal music. Simply put, it is a synthesizer for the human voice. You can program it to sing, talk, do anything vocally. In Japan, there’s a special series called the “Character Vocal Series”, where each voice is assigned a ‘character’, with a name, age, and “favorite” type of music it likes to sing. The voices are based on samples from Japanese anime voice actors. Just input the music and lyrics, and out pops a song.

vocaloid

What’s cool is that not only are people create songs, they also create music videos that are uploaded to the Net. Most range from flat, amateurish pap with only a crudely-drawn sketch, to beautifully-drawn moving portraits.

Below are a few videos that I thought was done extremely well. The music’s wonderful, and at times, you forget that it’s only a program that singing, not a real person (though the voice is based on a real person–aw, you know what I mean…) All the singing’s done in Japanese. And yes, most of the videos below are of the young blonde hair girl, because I like her. She’s called Rin. The boy next to her is her brother Len. Both are done by the same voice actress, Asami Shimoda.

This video is called “Salvage”, and it’s about Rin learning that her brother accidentally got deleted. So she goes into the Recycle Bin to save him. Yes, it sounds hokey, but it’s actually more moving than you think.

This one is called “Kokoro”. It’s subtitled in English, so I won’t go into details, other to say that KOKORO in Japanese means “Heart” or “Soul” or “Mind”. This one happens to be my favorite video.

This one is the same is Kokoro, except it’s done by the point of view of the scientist, using Len’s vocals. It’s not subtitled, but if you’ve seen the one above, you get the gist of it.

This one is rapidly becoming my favorite as well. It’s subtitled, it’s twisted, it’s demented, and it’s absolutely divine.

And just to show that I do listen to other Vocaloids other than Rin/Len:

You can find more vocaloid videos at YouTube. Just type in “Vocaloid”. Watch out though. You just might get hooked.

After many years of waiting, the Quest is in sight (maybe)

http://www.reuters.com/article/filmNews/idUSN0932864920080709

I only pray that it’s animated. But still–exciting news nonetheless. Hmm…so giving stuff out for free can have some good in it after all…

And what did YOU do this weekend? Played an ARG, of course!

Here it is, Wednesday. And I am not doing any work on Willow. Why?

Because I can’t stop reading about this stupid alternate reality game.

Last weekend, I watched “Artificial Intelligence: AI” for the first time. It was okay. A little creepy in parts. I totally understand why people say it should’ve ended 20 minutes sooner; but at the same time, I understand why it ended the way it did. Overall, I liked it.

But while reading the IMDB entry, I noticed one bit in the trivia:

“The elaborate series of promotional websites included information about the characters’ lives after their last appearances in the film. For instance, one website revealed that Martin Swinton grew up to be an architect who, after being traumatized by David’s disappearance, spent his career building sentient AI houses.”

That intrigued me. After all, the movie mainly focuses on David, the boy-robot who can love. I was pretty bummed that the movie didn’t follow up on David’s family after he ‘disappeared’. Such an event would have emotional consequences for them. (And yes, I know I’m including a spoiler for the movie while at the same time being vague. If you haven’t watched the movie, then watch the movie. It’s interesting.) So I figured if I go to this so-called Cloudmakers website, it should include some information on what happened to David’s family in the movie. I thought it would be a webpage or two, at least.

Webpage? Turns out to be a lot more than that.

In 2001, a bunch of Microsoft folk got together and created an interactive online game using puzzles buried fake webpages, journal entries, emails, faxes, voice mails and the promotional posters of AI. Through all of these, they told an elaborate story of love, hate, betrayal, murder, insanity and hacking–not bodily hacking, but website hacking. All this set in the world of AI, where robots are gaining personalities and consciousness for themselves. The game ran from April to July 2001, but there is a well-documented guide that details the entire story from start to finish. And better yet, the website hosts nearly all the webpages used in the game. So basically, you can still ‘play the game’ for yourself.

So that’s how I wasted a whole weekend. And Monday. And Tuesday…and, today, I guess.

Part of the thing is that I’ve never seen anything so elaborate used to tell a story. Well, yes, I heard about such websites games before, mostly lame, obvious commercial tie-ins to movies or products that are featured prominently in the story. This game is different in that it is telling an actual story. A massive complex story (so much that the game has been nicknamed “The Beast”).

And the story’s good. Real good. It starts off with the boating accident of a man named Evan Chan, whose personal homepage you can visit here. From all accounts, it looks like an actual webpage of a man who lived, had a family, loved, life, enjoyed boating. You get pictures of his family and everything, including links to his company and to family friends, Jeanine and Laia Salla, who may be connected with Evan more than you think. Jeanine is mentioned in the AI movie credits as a ‘Sentient Machine Therapist’. Following the webpages, you learn that Laia suspects that Evan’s death wasn’t accidental and that foul play was somehow involved. And we get our first puzzle that will take you to an interesting letter…

I’m not going to go into much detail–if you want to see for yourself, read the guide. But the websites and the clues and the puzzles work to pull you in, where you act as both sleuth and observer. And you start to forget that this is a game promoting a movie–the movie itself is more of a foundation, a surrounding environment for the game and its characters, both human and artificial. When the movie characters do show up in the story, even they are characters in their own right rather than supporting characters from the movie. It’s like…it’s like a fanfic.

Take that, Enter the Matrix video game that wouldn’t load on my computer.

What really impressed me about the whole thing was the writing. Obviously, the story used different formats to tell the story from puzzles to emails to players calling phone numbers to listen to voice mails. But the writing! Take, for instance, one of the ways you got into the game. On one of the billboards and a few trailers, there are notches in the words that correspond to a phone number (don’t ask me how). If you call the number, you will get a message that directs you to a website that spawns an email message for you to send. Then on a certain date, you get an email back:

“Once upon a time there was a young man who dreamed of the sea. The waves, he thought . . . the waves beat like the world’s heart, crashing and hissing against the shore.

Crash and hiss.
Crash and hiss.

He loved the sound of the swell as it slapped and gasped against the hull of his boat.

Slap and gasp.
Slap and gasp.

And he was thinking about the rocking ocean, gentle as a mother’s arms, at the very moment he was murdered.

A mother’s arms.
A mother’s arms. “

“Slap and gasp”…Man! That’s good!

You get pages written in hacker-speak. Transcript style interviews. Rambling diatribes. Alice-in-Wonderland nursery rhymes riddle taunts. A written analysis on a woman slowly sinking into insanity. Letters written before someone’s death (and by the way, to the person who wrote the last Svetlana letter–I’m so not worthy to be a writer. <much bowing and scraping> So not worthy, so not worthy…and I’m never going to take a bath again…) So much good writing here that doesn’t translate well in book form. This game shows that not only webfiction can be done, it can be done well. (It certainly helps that the head writer, Sean Stewart, is a science fiction/fantasy writer.)

Well. I certainly didn’t expect this to turn into a review of a now defunct webgame. I was going to bemoan the fact that I wasted a good part of the week reading and absorbing this thing. That means no writing. No reading of Willow. No looking for markets for “She’s All Light”. And no cleaning. No laundry. No emptying of the dishwasher.

Oy.

But you know, I just need to process this. This whole game was a wonderful way to get a story across. And just think–this was all done in 2001. Before YouTube. Before Twitter. Before broadband. Imagine what would happen if they released that game now? It boggles the mind. Of course, there are now ARGs all over the place, as well as their cousins MMORPGs. None as complex as “The Beast”, but who knows? Course, I got dishes threatening to top over onto the floor, so I think this will do for now. Maybe I’ll use an ARG as a treat once I kick myself into writing again.

Ah, so glad I got that out of my system. Now I can get to work again. At least, until the next new fad hits me.

I don’t think I’ll watch any movies for the rest of the week.

Saturday Fun: Inanimate Alice

“My name is Alice. I am eight years old.”

And thus begins “Inanimate Alice“, an interactive story/game that I found through the Jay is Games website. Alice tells her story through moving snapshots, journaled words and haunting music. We never see Alice, but we know that she has lived all over the world, her parents may or may not be involved in some type of shadowy employment, and she keeps herself entertained through her ramped up phone/ipod gizmo called a “ba-xi”, which she uses to create a playmate called Brad.

Each chapter (there are currently four) contains a mini-game that’s not essential to win in order to finish the story. My favorite is Episode 3: Russia, where you collect nesting dolls. The narrative gets a little dark sometimes–from Alice’s anxiety as she waits for her parents to come home in Italy, to going through an abandoned laberinthine building in England. But the darkness doesn’t get too dark; just enough to add atmosphere to a wonderful story.

I wonder if anyone remembers “Madeline’s Mind”, an interactive game from Digital Planet that came out when Java was brand new. “Inanimate Alice” reminds me a lot of that old game in its haunting play, its feeling of loneliness. But Alice is beautiful in that we start to forget that it’s a just a game and we began to connect with her, all her fears and hopes, and her joy too.

Go play “Inanimate Alice“. Right now.

Online Elfquest Comics for Free & Crowntree review!

I was going to post this on Saturday, but I never got around to it. So here it is on a quieter day.

ElfquestQuite an interesting stir in the independent comic book world. The creators of Elfquest, Wendy and Richard Pini, have decided to put every single issue up on their website–henceforth to be called the Digital Elfquest.

What is Elfquest? It’s a comic that started in 1978 about Cutter, the chief of a tribe of elves who are burned out of their home. In leading them to a new home, they meet a new tribe of elves including Leetah, their healer. From there spins a tale of adventure, romance, discovery, and danger as Cutter seeks to reunite all the elves scattered across the World of Two Moons.

When I first heard of Elfquest, I was in high school, where I saw a poster of the dancing elves in a classroom. I wasn’t into comic books–I always thought they were drawn too macho and muscular. But Pini’s style was more flowing, a style that I wouldn’t see until years later when I picked up my first anime manga. It wasn’t until I entered college that I got the nerve to buy the first graphic novel. Then the second. And the third (which took place the day after I bought the second since it ended on a cliffhanger…)

What really intrigued me about Elfquest was Leetah. This was the first time I saw in gorgeous, detailed print, a woman with dark skin. The romance between her and pale-skinned, blue eye Cutter drew me in, truly captured my imagination. Pini had a wonderful way of depicting their courtship and bonding with each other and their two twin children. But it was the story itself that truly engaged me, how Cutter and Leetah dealt with rivals, evil elves, quests for the elves’ birthplace, and a gradual, grudging relationship between the humans.

So I’m pretty stoked to hear that the Pinis have decided to put every single issue of Elfquest online–for free. I have all of the main graphic novels up to The Kings of the Broken Wheel , and some of the shorter novels that carry on the main storyline. I also have a whole bunch of comics, though the collection is far from complete. It’s wonderful to learn that I can finally read the end to some of those storylines–granted, at this point, the Pinis had brought in other artists to draw the story, but once you get used to the styles, the stories are just as compelling.

So I urge you to get on over to Elfquest.com and check out the whole story. The Pinis will be uploading an issue each Friday as part of their 30th Anniversary Celebration. You can view them at http://www.elfquest.com/gallery/OnlineComics3.html. Just a note for those with kids–although these are comics, there are some adult themes that run occasionally through the storyline. They are few and far between, but keep in mind these are not kiddie comics. I’m not going to let Daniel read them until he’s at least thirteen or fourteen…there’s some things in there that would be great for discussion for teens, like war and friendship. In fact, I can do a whole post on the different themes in Elfquest, but I’ll let you decide for yourself before you decide to let little Timmy read over your shoulder.

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In other news, I stumbled upon a review for Crowntree! It’s my very first review, ever, and I think that it’s good. Check it out at the Fix’s website . I know there are other websites that review short stories in print, but this is the first one I seen review short stories online. I’m quite pleased to see it up, and I’ll be visiting it regularly to check out other writers’ short works.

A “Kid’s Rock” Interlude

Sick of all those Kidz Bop commercials you see on Nickelodean where kids sing bubblegum-tripe versions of bubblegum tripe pop songs? Then turn your tired peepers to this:

I would buy it for Guns ‘n’ Roses alone.

A Quick Wintry Moment

Courtesy of my brother-in-laws (with a little help from my kid):

snowman

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the Cafe!

Game Fun: The Asylum

How would you like to play psychiatrist to a bunch of cuddly, insane toys?

TheAsylum

The Asylum is a nice timewaster of a flash game that is sweet and a little bit sad at times, but also an interesting glimpse into the world of psychiatry. You are presented with a choice of five stuffed animals that have their own psychosis:

Lilo: a hippo who can’t quite put her puzzle pieces together
Dolly: a sheep that barks?
Kroko: a crocodile with a fear of exposure
Sly: a snake too fascinated with its own tail
Dub: a turtle that won’t stop jumping rope

After you pick a toy animal, you take it into a room where you try different ways of curing it, from dream analysis to different types of therapies. Trying to help each toy can be emotionally wearing on the poor things at times . There is a bar at the top that shows green if the toy is making progress or red if they’re regressing into a psychotic state (and there are points where you need to resort to more drastic measures to get the bar back to green again). If you need help, just click on Professional Assistance, and it will give you a psychiatric view of the next step to take.

Each toy comes with its own unique, sad story that is moving to watch. You just want to hold the toys and squeeze them after you see what they’ve been through (and you can even buy a real plush copy of the toys). I really enjoy the game, so I’m sharing it as my link of the day. Have fun!

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