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Genre in a Shoebox



Tweet of the Day: Bustin’ Makes Boys Feel Sad- Why Ghostbusters is So Hated 

As I delved deep insight a dwemer (dwarves in The Elder Scrolls games) ruin in Skyrim, I remember how much I loved exploring the halls full of steam pipes, robots and weird techo-magical devices. Which is weird because the game I finished before that one, Dragon Age: Inquisition (the fourth installment in the Dragon Age series of video games) gave me a completely different vibe when I visited Val Royeaux and everything there clashed with my middle ages vision of the world of Thedas, from the dresses right out of an Elizabethan theater (Elizabeth I that is), to some contraptions that would not look out of place in the Victorian era.  Why am I comfortable with the former but find the latter hard to accept?

It is because genre in media is a double edge sword.

For the consumer and the critic, genres help classify, clarify and catalog the media they consume. It is much easier to search for new things to consume based on our previous likes. Just ask Nextflix, or Amazon, or Google, or any other search algorithm/engine. It also tempers our expectations about the media we consume. Science fiction means things like lasers, space travel, psychic powers. Romance means chance encounters in parties, long glances across short distances and characters that simply can’t spit it out (when it comes to feelings, everything else depends on the “heat” level of the story).

But for authors genre can be a straight jacket, inhibiting their imaginations, constricting the possibilities of the plot and shrinking their settings. nf if you stick to genre conventions you risk being seen as someone who merely paints by numbers. So how do you breakout of genre conventions? It is all about foundations. Going back to the example above, I first met the steampunk loving dwarves in Morrowind, they were part of a very weird setting, with dark elves that rode giant floating bugs/crustaceans, lived in homes inspired by sea conchs and whose wizard grew giant hollowed mushrooms which they navigated through levitation spells. The universe of the Elder Scrolls was nothing like what I experience in other fantasy themed stories and therefore my suspension of disbelief did not suffer in the slightest when I plunged into those abandoned ruins. My introduction to Thedas (the setting for Dragon Age) was quite different. While it skewed some genre conventions established by Tolkien, it still showed Bioware’s deep roots in Dungeon & Dragons. It looked, sounded and felt like D&D with as many references to 12th-14th century England as they creators could cram into a single disk. When confronted with their version of fantasy France that looked like something out of the 17th century I half expected the Musketeers to ride past chased by troops loyal to the Cardinal. This did not make Inquisition a bad game, but the clash was there none the less.

Audiences will break out of the genre shoebox if given a fair chance. It is all about the setup.

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TV Tropes Monday: Earth That Used to Be Better


Tweet of the Day: Reconsider the Party? 

There is one question that always comes to my mind when I’m reading sci-fi set on distant worlds and centuries in the future? Where on Earth is, well, Earth? Why? Because Earth, our beautiful blue/green jewel in the eternal night of space is our home and where all of us live today. It makes for a handy reference point for the setting. The answer comes in three broad categories:

  1. It is the Homeworld: Earth is the center of the universe, at least as far as humanity is concerned, and since most readers/writers are human, it will tend to be the center of the universe for everyone else.
  2. You maniacs, you blew it up! Or it goes missing. Humanity forgets that it exists or loses contact with Earth, so stop asking.

The third is Earth That Used to Be Better. The once proud (and only) home to humanity has seen better days. It is still very much there, just not that important, like the empty corner bed in a retirement home. A sad little reminder of where humanity came from but far from being a representation of where humanity in the current time of the story. It answers the question without putting to fine a point on it. It also explains the importance of where ever the story tends to take place, Maybe it is humanity’s new home, or the source of a particular MaGuffin, or what have you. The point is, it is not Earth, so stop asking.

Of course, returning the old homestead to its former glory might make for a handy plot point as well.



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TV Tropes Monday: Trilogy Creep



Tweet of the Day: Emotional Wound Thesaurus: Being Held Captive

Trilogy Creep is what happens when you have an unexpected runaway success. A good thing for working actors, publishers, studios and writers, but not so much for the story itself. The writers didn’t plan on creating longrunners, but they end up being creating them anyway, with all the attendant problems that come with them. Continuity goes to hell, internal consistency is thrown out the window, you know, the usual things that derail any story.

On the flip side, authors are notorious for writing more than they should and cramming all of it into one volume can turn a doorstopper into a door breaker. But without a firm plan to deal with the bulging story line, well disaster is sure to follow.

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TV Tropes Monday: Up Through the Ranks

Tweet of the Day: Emotional Wound Entry 


You heard about the Officer and a Gentleman, the type of military officer that if not exactly coming from the upper classes, has at least a degree of university education which tends to put him or her at least a cut above the rest. But not this doesn’t apply to the officer that got their commission after coming Up Through the Ranks. This trope is a good way of introducing a down to Earth character that serves as a reasonable authority figure. This is an officer that knows what the ranks (enlisted soldiers) go through, they know where they come from and how they view the military. They can also clue in their fellow junior officers on how to deal difficult situations since they have the experience that the newly minted officer does not.

It is also a way of keeping an existing character around. Making a senior NCO (Non-Commission Officer) a full fledged officer gives them a lease on life.

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TV Tropes Monday: Repressive but Efficient



Tweet of the Day: When It’s Persona. When It’s Political 

How do you make oppressive governments attractive to the people other than by the use of terror by the powers that be?  You show them that their government is Repressive but Efficient. The streets are clean, the children well behaved, the trains arrive on time and your nation’s enemies cower before you. I mean it makes sense once you get rid of all the messiness of elections, the corruption of party politics and the loopholes in the legal system that what is left has to be the very model of efficiency.


WARNING: Rhetorical questions are rhetorical.

There are four reasons for this:

  1. If all you have is a hammer…Repressive regimes offer simplistic answers to difficult problems. Having a problem with violent crime or poverty? Scapegoat an entire ethnic, racial or religious group for your troubles. Mind you the process of suppressing, incarcerating, deporting or waging war on said group(s) or nation(s) is going to be expensive and often tends to backfire, but hey they are not hating on the Generalissimo. Which brings me to….
  2. The amount of resources dedicated to maintaining the regime tends to eclipse that allotted to other areas such as transportation or education. And even then, don’t expect the police, the army or in some cases the military police to be all that efficient. Fighting an insurgency (often prompted by the brutal oppression of a minority or subculture) is not the same thing as facing a professional army pressing on your borders. Nor can you equip or train ever larger forces to the best of your ability. The best rifle in the market may cost $100,000 per unit but when you have to equip over a million men, well, the $1,000 dollar version will have to do.  Not to mention the propaganda machine to complement the rifles never comes cheap.
  3. Over-centralization is another reasons for inefficiency. A political leadership already known for its concentration of power will invariably create a bureaucracy that puts an emphasis on loyalty to the state rather than efficient service to the masses.
  4. And finally, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Even the lowliest police officer or bureaucrat will get drunk on power pretty quickly. And that is a sure fire way to piss away resources (and people).

Yet people (including many authors) tend to confuse short gap measures during times of emergency with long term solutions to complex problems. That is why this trope survives to this day in spite of all the evidence to the contrary.


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TV Tropes Monday: Never Trust A Trailer



Tweet of the Day: Fantasy as Protest 

Trailers are meant to hook you in, but often they little or no correlation to the product sold because:

  1. The product is crap and if they show you that you won’t buy or watch
  2. The producers don’t want to spoil major plot points
  3. The trailer is made by another company that neither knows nor understand the product

Ergo it is a good idea to Never Trust a Trailer. The fact of the matter is that trailer maker walk a fine line between teasing a production and spoiling it. Show too little and  nobody has a clue of what it is your selling them. Show too much and they feel like they already experience the thing. Even the editing is a factor. The pace, the music and the order in which scenes are shown can radically change the way people think of the product. It can lead people to believe that a psychological thriller is a fast action summer blockbuster or a horror movie is really a fluffy children’s flick.

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Mass Effect/AEC: Chapter 7 (c.3)- Speakeasy



Tweet of the Day: How many people needed for a space colony?

Bailey & Willingham Metal Works,  3rd Factory District, Capitol City of Progress, Libertas, Sphinx System, Argos Rho Cluster, Attican Traverse September 6, 2197

Our footsteps echoed through the abandoned factories. The moonlight from Libertas five small moons filtered through the broken glass panes above us. Broken robot arms lay dormant on both sides of  the empty production line. The industrial decay clashed with Miranda’s blue sequin dress and my silver trimmed black tux. But something was amiss.

“Not a single speck of dust,” I said.

“I noticed. They probably employ maintenance drones to keep it that way,” Miranda said.

I nodded, “Talking of which.”

A blue spherical drone flew in our direction. It spoke after it scanned us, “Mrs. Lawson, Mr. Thompson-Ramos, please come this way.”

We followed the drone to a cargo elevator at the back of the factory. The elevator took us down several levels underneath the factory floor. As the doors opened a mixture of dance music and clatter of dozens of Quasar machines washed over us. Scantly clad waiters and waitresses walked pass with trays full of drinks. Above us dancers performed in floating platforms made of clear glass. Every single sinful activity the local government regulated or outlawed was on display.

A  human hostess approached us, “Mrs. Lawson, Mr. Thompson-Ramos, Ms. Nyte is waiting for you in the Velvet Lounge. Come right this way.” She led us past rows of Quasar machines, a security door flanked by batarian bouncers and into a small room painted in deep purple. A few scented candles, one per table, lit the interior. The thick walls thrummed with the music from outside. A woman dressed in a black rhinestone studded dress stood up to greet us.

“Mrs. Lawson, Commander Thompson-Ramos, it is a pleasure to finally meet you,” she said with an outstretched hand.

Miranda shook her hand, “Nyte?”

“Anonymity has its benefits, Miranda. Most of the people I knew from the old days, well, they are no longer with us, but…I’m working for a for a beeter cause these days,” Nyte said.

“I take it you two know each other?” I asked.

Miranda winced, “Yes she was one of my assets when I worked for Cerberus.” I put my hand over hers and smiled. “So, what are you doing here, Nyte?”

“Doing what needs to be done Miranda and that is why I needed to talk to the Spectre,” she said.

“I’m listening.”

Nye slid a datapad across the table, “We are well aware of your mission here, but there are a few things you should know before you attempt to retrieve your target, commander.” It showed a picture of Alana Petrova surrounded by a squad of body guards. “To get to her you’re going to need help. Our help.”

“And why should I work with you?” I asked.

“Do you know what the Lord Magistrate does with his political enemies?” she asked.

“Execute them?”

“If only. He declares them heretics, and under current Libertian law, heretics are outlaws, with none of the protections or rights guaranteed by  the Systems Alliance or the Citadel Council. And when that happens you stop being a person and become a thing. A thing to be used or sold as your owners see fit.”

My disgust dripped from every syllable, “Slavery.”

“Dissidents are sold to off-world slavers. A neat way to dispose of them with the added benefit that all profits going to the Lord Magistrates coffers,” Nyte said.

A not so little detail the ambassador forgot to include in the mission brief. Which meant either the Alliance didn’t know, or worse, it didn’t care. It also showed that Nyte had done her homework. I’ve worked with batarian abolitionist before….

I glanced back at the entrance, “You’re a Chainbreaker.” And the Chainbrakers were number eight in the Citadel list of top ten terrorist organizations.

Miranda chimed in, “I trust her, commander. And besides, Spectres do what they must to get the job done.”

A wry smile appeared on Nyte’s deep red lips, “Like working with human supremacist groups to stop attacks on human colonies or cooperate with well known crime lords to enlist mercenary gangs to fight a galactic war.”


“My mission has nothing to do with you or any other illegal activities on this world,” I said in a deadpan tone.

“True but,” she raised a finger” any attempt to extract Miss Petrova will harm our operations here. I want to avoid that, at all costs. If that means working with a Spectre, then so be it,” Nyte said with her eyes locked on me.

She knew how to push my buttons. I looked down at the datapad, “Can I keep this?”

“Of course,” Nyte said.

“Nyte, if you don’t mind, the commander and I would like to take our explore this wonderful club of yours,” Miranda said.

“Of course, you are my guests. The datapad has one time only comm number on it if you decide to cooperate with us. And no, you are under no obligation to work with us. If you decide to continue without our assistance we will not interfere. Things are complicated enough without having a Spectre as an enemy,” she said as we got up.

Outside we sat at one of the bars and ordered drinks. The datapad had little information except the photo and Petrova’s bio. But there was something about that image that looked familiar. I pulled the mission brief on my omni-tool, then sent a copy of it and data on the pad to Miranda.

“This is the same picture,” she said.

“One zoomed in on Petrova face, the other zoomed back to show her entourage. Look at the time stamp on the Alliance file,” I said.

“Zero eight, twenty-third, twenty-one seventy,” she said.

I took a long pull from my Mentirita, “Exactly. Which means our friends here leaked that information to the Alliance.”

“Could be,” she said.

“Do you trust her?”

Her blues sparkled, “She help me find Oriana. I owe her.”

“Well then, this mission just got a lot more interesting.”



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