Archive for the ‘Random crap’ Category

“Love, Simon” – Why It Sucks


I have a running joke about my husband Bryan. I don’t ask him what he thought of a movie until about a week after we see it. That way I can get a proper answer. You see, movies are like hand grenades for him: they only explode after time has elapsed. The more he thinks about a movie, the more likely he is to hate it. I think the world record for fastest turnaround with him was Star Trek: Generations, where after the lights came up, he was gushing about how great the movie was. When we were out in the hall he was like “wait a minute.” And by the time we started the car he was saying “WTF was that piece of shit!?”

My opinions about Love, Simon by comparison have gone full circle. I hated the idea of it, then I loved it, now I can acknowledge that it does, in fact, suck.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda I loved the book the movie is allegedly based upon, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agendaso I was cautious going in. (Much the same way I am dreading seeing Ready, Player One in the theaters, knowing that no matter how good the film is it will never live up to my imagination.) I was especially concerned because all the trailers and advertising were making it out to be an epic love story, which the novel is not. In the novel, the romance is really the “B” or “C plot, just the catalyst for the main storylines. I won’t give away any more for those of you who have not read the book. No spoilers here if I can help it.

Seeing the movie, and the fact that they at least made the book’s “A” plot the “B” plot, I felt better. I was especially entranced by Nick Robinson, who I had earlier fallen in crush with watching The Kings of Summer and how he realistically portrayed Simon Spier. So I felt good leaving the theater.

Now, with distance between me and the screen, I can look at the movie with clear eyes and acknowledge it for the shitstorm is actually is.


Probably the one time each year that the average American thinks (if they do at all) about “cultural appropriation” is around Halloween when the backlash against racist, sexist, and other -ist costumes once again makes itself known. It’s when people who are not part of a culture dress themselves (figuratively or literally) in a stereotype of that culture for amusement’s sake. For a more recent example, consider how the 12.5% of me that is of the O’Donnell Clan feels when they hear “everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.” Hint: it feels worse than the Polish part of my ethnic heritage, which is always afraid that the German part of my heritage is going to invade it again.

Cultural appropriation is wrong. I acknowledge that. The use of “Indian” stereotypes like Chief Wahoo are subversively racist and have no place in today’s culture. And while my alma mater’s team will still always be the Brown Indians I agree that the school was right to change it.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Love Simon is the gay equivalent of if Chief Wahoo and the Washington Redskins had a gangbang with the Frito Bandito and sired a love child who would grow up to be a big buck-toothed squinty eyed “Japanese” character out of a World War II Bugs Bunny cartoon.

Let’s start with, sadly, the book. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is a coming of age, coming (or being forced) out story about a young gay man written by… Becky Albertalli.

That’s right. This story about a gay boy was written by a straight woman.

In and of itself, this is not a big problem. It’s just a symptom of a larger problem. After all, about 90% of all books about gay teens that are on bookshelves are written by women. Another 4% are written or co-written by John Green. That leaves 6% or so of books about gay teens that are actually written by gay men. And 5.8% of those are by David Levithan. In the competitive world of retail bookselling there isn’t much room on the shelves for people like Bill Konigsburg or Mark A. Roeder and nearly no room at all for up and coming authors. Booksellers have to go with what they know will sell and to them YA is written by women for women.

Now let’s go on to Nick Robinson. Nick is straight. Openly straight. Almost flamingly straight. When there are so many young out actors, or those who are on the verge of coming out, the protagonist of what is being billed as the first great teen gay romance is being played by the straightest of straight boys. I don’t know whose decision it was, whether the studio forced the straight boy onto the project or if Greg Berlanti, the openly gay director and creative force behind the film, made the choice himself. But it’s not encouraging to see that gay leading roles still have to be played by straight men who are “brave” for making the choice to play against their orientation. (This is nothing new; I’ve been bitching about this for 20 years ever since straight Eric McCormack beat out gay John Barrowman for the part of the gay leading man on Will and Grace.)

“But there are actual gay boys in the movie,” you’re saying. Yes. There are three. Oh, what the hell.


One of them is Joey Pollari, who plays a straight waiter named Lyle. Another is Keiynan Lonsdale, who plays Bram, who in a fake-out the novel did not need, we are led to believe is straight the entire freaking film. And before you ask, the kid who plays Cal the pianist (who has a much larger part in the book and is acknowledged as gay therein) isn’t number three; Miles Meizer is straight.

Number three is Clark Moore.

Oh, Clark.

Stepin Faggot

Clark Moore plays Ethan, who is the movie’s homophobic comic relief. He swishes and sways, wears his hair long, and is played like someone plucked off the runway of RuPaul’s Drag Race (“Category is: realness!”) and dropped in a high school. He is played as every bad mincing stereotype for maximum comedy, and no main character (not even newly outed Simon) treats him nicely or even as a human being. The script and direction surely don’t. He’s there to make straight people laugh at him, a Stepin Faggot character of the worst kind.

There is literally no reason to have Ethan in the movie. Other characters with more actual impact (like Simon’s older sister) who were in the book were cut out of the film, so why keep Ethan who has no impact at all on the plot?

Just to show everything “gay” that Simon is not.

Ethan is there to show what people expect gays to be: effeminate, swishy, just south of cross dressing. Simon is none of those, so Simon is the acceptable gay. Especially because he’s played by a straight boy.

Clark Moore and Nick Robinson are very talented actors who deserved better than to be stuck in these sad stereotypes of femme and butch queer kids.

The film loves to ask “why is straight the default” so much that they sell freakin’ T-shirts with that slogan. Here’s the answer: it’s the default because Hollywood insists on casting straight actors for gay roles.

But that’s okay, because we queers aren’t the film’s target audience. Straight girls are.


For those of you who have not been around manga-obsessed teen girls in recent years, “YAOI” is a form of manga about boys in love with each other. The term comes from a Japanese acronym for “no climax, no plot, no meaning.” It’s just slightly androgynous boys getting it on with each other to make straight teenager girls aroused. It’s written by women for girls and the men are just objects of the audience’s lust.

Love, Simon, is American cinematic YAOI.

Written by women (novel – which is not YAOI but has a compelling plot – by Becky Albertalli, screenplay co-written by Elizabeth Berger) for teen girls.

Simon is portrayed throughout the film as ideal boyfriend material, played by a masculine actor who is not unpleasant to look at, to provide a sex symbol for teen girls to desire. And when he kisses another hot boy at the end? Boom.

For Hollywood, this is not a bad thing. Teen girls first showed their power by keeping Titanic afloat for so long, seeing the film and its love story multiple times.

(For the record, I almost linked to the theory that Jack from Titanic is actually a cross-dressing woman here, but when I went googling for a link I got scared; never search for “Titanic Transsexual” if you know what’s good for you.)

But I digress. Teen girls in cinema.

According to MPAA numbers for 2014 (most recent I could find online), more women than men buy movie tickets, and 40% of all tickets are bought by people 24 and under. So if you can win over a big bunch of teenage girls and get them to see your movie multiple times it’s a formula for success.

Yes, it’s nice that gay teens have representation on the screen. It’s nice that a gay teen love story did so well. And it’s wonderful that it’s inspiring gay teens to come out to their parents.

But kids? Make no mistake. You are the side effect. This is not your movie. You were not the intended audience. And this is not going to blaze a trail for real gay cinema. This is just another teen girl-targeted romance. This is this year’s Everything, Everything or The Fault in our Stars as far as Hollywood is concerned.


Is it worth seeing? I guess. I don’t regret seeing it. I may watch it again when it comes to Netflix. But so much about this movie leaves a bad taste in my mouth. (No gay pun intended.) It reinforces the “acceptable gay” trope. It continues the tradition that only straight boys can play leading roles (or, even, gay roles!). And it’s appropriation by straight women of gay youth culture and stories by straight women to appeal to straight teen girls.

All of which I would have thought Hollywood would be long past by now.


“The Catcher in the Rye” – Why It Sucks


NOTE: This is a repost of an essay that appeared on my old “PaBlog” back in May of 2008, and was my most commented upon posting ever. My opinions have not changed in the intervening six years.

After re-reading portions of Rumpled Trenchcoats and Rubber Bullets while preparing this latest round of queries, I felt the need to revisit one of the most famous novels of modern time, J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher In The Rye. I didn’t like it when I read it before, but I decided to keep an open mind as I read it for the second time.

catcher-194x300I still don’t like it.

There are those who will say that Catcher is a classic. I will not dispute that. However, Childe Harold is also a classic. Lord Randal is a classic. Everyman is a classic. That does not mean that they are good. What they are, which is what makes them classics, is that they reflect the time in which they were written, took revolutionary (or, in some cases, evolutionary) jumps in style or form, and greatly influenced works that came after them. None of them, however, stand up well against the passage of time.

Sadly, a lot of what makes Catcher unbearable are the things that made it revolutionary and innovative 57 years ago:

Holden, the antihero: Antiheroes as protagonists were not as common prior to Catcher as they have been since. Holden is not heroic. He isn’t even likable. He’s annoying, petty, depressing (appropriately enough, as he’s depressed), and borders on stupid. It was the presence of such a well-crafted character with no redeeming characteristics that swept through the literary (and popular culture) world like a sirocco wind blowing in warm, fresh air. Today, however, this type of character has been done to death. Salinger didn’t invent the antihero (that honor goes to Apollonius of Rhodes), he perfected it. Doing so, however, invited an onslaught of imitators who through their copying diminished the original.

The prose style: Let’s face it, Catcher really is the quintessential first-person narrative in the style of an extended dramatic monologue. Salinger really is unparalleled as a writer when it comes to an ear for dialect and creating a believable voice for a character, except perhaps for Mark Twain. However, the narration of Catcher, like that of his rival for the dialogue crown in Huckleberry Finn, does not age well. It is too grounded in the 1940′s and early 50′s. Popular slang has drifted over the past half century, and those not familiar with a lot of the terms used by Holden will get lost easily. Also, Holden tends to ramble. This is understandable when you consider his other character traits, but Holden is not someone you go to for clear, concise, narration.

That fucking ending: I hate it when stories don’t end, but just stop. Catcher is the worst offender in this case. True, there’s the epilogue, but there’s so much time that’s passed between the carousel scene and the epilogue that one can’t help but feel cheated. There’s a lot of story chopped out of there, which I would like to see. What happened when Holden finally revealed himself to his parents? Why is he in California? Is he institutionalized? Is he insane? If Salinger had left out the last chapter, it would have been a better ending, but it’s still too abrupt, and doesn’t tie up any of the story. The epilogue, to me, reads like something an editor forced the author to write to answer some questions he or she still had.

Books in the 1940′s had happy endings, or they had sad endings. Catcher has no ending, which was innovative back then, but today is just grating.

The plot: Or, should I say, the lack of one. Catcher seems to be following the Campbellian model at first, but its hero never leaves the Underworld, is never transformed, and never returns with a boon for mankind. Holden has no goal, no desires, essentially no character arc. His misadventures in Manhattan do not destroy the boy that was to make room for the man that will be, they just bump him around and kick him when he is down. Holden never learns from his mistakes. He doesn’t even acknowledge that they are mistakes. The Holden we have at the end of the last sentence is the same exact boy we meet at the beginning of the first sentence. I liken this to watching a man continually getting shat upon by a large bird, who keeps wiping the offal from his face, but never thinks to change his seat or chase the bird away. This may be funny to sadists, or Tom Green fans, but it is not enjoyable for me.

And this brings me to my biggest gripe:

Holden does nothing.

Holden spends the entire length of the story walking around, with no needs and no desires. Maybe Salinger was drawing inspiration from the Lost Generation that followed World War I, and anticipating the self-absorbed Baby Boomers that were being born as he was writing the story, but surely that’s no excuse for telling us a story that is no story.

Take a look at some of the characters from more modern works that owe their existence to Holden. Tom Henderson from King Dork has goals: get to know some mystery girl, get to understand his dead father, and make it through high school. Dennis Cooverman from I Love You, Beth Cooper may be carried along by the unyielding stream of circumstance, but at least he stands up and takes matters in his own hands from time to time. DeeDee Truitt from The Opposite Of Sex wants to scam a family member. The refusenik kids of Like We Care actively rebel against popular culture by not buying anything. Holden walks around muttering to himself. The kid can’t even get laid by a prostitute for pete’s sake. Honestly, if Holden had mentioned thinking about calling Jane Gallagher one more time, I would have screamed “JUST PICK UP A PAY PHONE AND CALL HER, YOU DICK! DO SOMETHING!”

If you are reading this, Mr. Salinger, please take it in the manner I intend: loving criticism. You are perhaps the greatest living writer, much more talented than I could ever hope to be. You have a unique talent with words. There’s a reason thatFranny And Zooey was on the little bookshelf in the headboard of my bed all through my high school years. But what is commonly believed to be your greatest work just doesn’t push my buttons. It’s not aged well. In the end, what was innovative in the 1950′s is now old hat; it suffers from the curse of “it’s all been done before.” It’s the novel equivalent of reading an e.e. cummings poem: it was groundbreaking when it came out, but today you just want to smack the guy and show him where the SHIFT key is on the typewriter.

On Puppies, Sad and Otherwise.


PuppyAs an author of what could be construed as science or speculative fiction, it’s been difficult to watch what’s been going on with the Hugo Awards and their hijacking by a group calling themselves the Sad Puppies.

The weeks following the Puppies’ attacks on the Hugos have led to a lot of interesting reactions. There have been criticisms, counter-criticisms, backlash, and some ingenious satire brought about by the whole controversy. And while it might have had the beneficial effect of drawing attention to the Hugo Awards nominating and voting process, that’s probably the only real benefit we writers have felt from the whole thing.

Now I have no real personal objections to any of the Sad Puppies or their anointed nominees, (except for John C. Wright, who is a notorious homophobic dick) and think that they should be allowed their opinions. As well as the freedom to express those opinions. (Even when, like famous homophobic dick John C. Wright, they try unsuccessfully to remove their dickery from the internet.) I question their tactic, however, of hijacking the most prominent awards given to writers of SF in order to advance their agenda.

But the real questions that should be raised by this whole mess have gotten lost in the accompanying shitstorm. The Puppies have concerns. Are they wrong?

Not entirely, but their arguments have sadly lost legitimacy.

The Future Has a Liberal Bias.

Yes, most SF leans toward what those on the right would construe as “liberal” beliefs. And it’s that way for a reason.

Without liberalism and progress, there wouldn’t be a “future.”

Consider the very nature of conservatism. By definition, conservatism prefers a lack of change in society. It thinks things are just fine as they are and that change for change’s sake is a risky thing. That’s a valid argument on their part, but it doesn’t make for good SF. Once again, by definition, science fiction requires major advancements in society and technology in the fictional worlds created by its authors. Using the other popular term for this genre, speculative fiction, you still require a world very unlike the present world which conservatives want to conserve. You need futuristic, fantastical, or supernatural elements that just don’t exist in today’s world.

If you fast forward, say, 300 years for a story and society is essentially the same as it is today (which, to grant them their due, is how conservatives would have it), the story is going to be fairly boring. Yeah, they might have rocket ships and laser guns and that sort of thing, but the most interesting things about future worlds are the way their societies differ from ours today.

Never mind that in just about any sci-fi world worth its salt you’re going to have an alien culture of some kind in it. How does society react to the aliens? How do we perceive their cultures, values, and mores? The only half-decent “right wing” sci-fi I’ve seen with an alien culture is Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, and when you get down to it, that novel is really about how humanity is xenophobic by nature, and we tend to react violently toward the not-we. And xenophobia is one of the driving forces of the extreme right wing.

George R.R. Martin put it best in his blog entry criticizing the puppies linked above: “we love to read about aliens and vampires and elves, are we really going to freak out about Asians and Native Americans?”

So sci-fi and spec-fi really can’t exist in a proper conservative sphere. To have a story, you have to have change. Otherwise you might as well set your stories in the here and now and save yourself the world-building.

While we’re on the subject, let me say a few things about dystopian sci-fi. The rise in popularity of dys over the past decade has rankled some on the right because of the perception that since the granddaddy of the genre (Orwell’s 1984 of course) was an anti-right wing screed that all dys has to be anti-right. Not so. The best dystopian novel of all time actually look place in a liberal utopia which was shown to be crushing the human spirit. Don’t know which one I’m talking about? Go read it for yourself.

But let’s move away from the big picture and zoom in a bit. The Puppies believe that in addition to the genre’s left leaning tendencies there is an active bias against white males in publishing today.

Scratch out the “white” part, and you’re closer to the truth.

No Boys Allowed

In my particular market (again, I don’t consider Young Adult to be a genre; it’s a market) there really is an active bias against males. Not so much male writers, however, but male readers.

Look at the Young Adult bookshelf in any bookstore. What do you see? Plucky heroines. Girls coming of age. Strong women fighting misogynistic dystopias. Plucky heroines coming of age in misogynistic dystopias.

Where are the books for boys?

There are plenty of writers (like myself) who are churning out books aimed at teen boys. There are brave publishers out there who are taking a chance on books aimed at teen boys. But you just can’t find them. It comes from a misguided belief that boys don’t read. Perhaps because boys buy fewer books than girls do. But a large part of that is because there are fewer books for boys to buy than there are aimed at girls. So it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So when it comes time for buyers for bookstores to order books, they have a subconscious bias against stocking books for boys. Books written for boys are either passed over, buried, or mis-stocked. Publicity people who are used to marketing books towards teen girls have no clue how to target boys and launch less-than-successful campaigns to sell books for boys.

The bias exists. It isn’t a deliberate one, but it’s there nonetheless. And it will be hard to overcome.

But the way writers like I are going to overcome it isn’t to stuff the ballot boxes for YA book awards, or demand that books aimed at girls be removed from preferential spaces and books for boys inserted. The way we are going to overcome it is by writing fiction for boys that is so compelling that it demands to be bought, shelved, and read.

That’s what the Puppies have to do. If you want to sell Boys’ Own, Action-packed, Right-Wing Oriented Sci-Fi, then you have to write BOAPRWOSF that is so good and so compelling that it demands to be read and can stand on its own in a crowded field.

It All Comes Back to Heinlein

Robert Heinlein was a racist, sexist, homophobic, fascist dick. His writing reflects that point of view.

And he won the “Best Novel” Hugo four times.

Four. Times. He holds the record. No one has yet surpassed him.

I hate everything Heinlein stood for, and yet Stranger In a Strange Land* is one of my all-time favorite novels. As is Job: A Comedy of Justice. He’s written some other stuff I like, too. He was a terrible human being but he was a great writer. And he still gets props for it.

The people who are doing most of the whining that “Heinlein couldn’t win a Hugo today” (never mind that the main reason that he couldn’t is because he is dead) because they can’t get their stuff nominated for awards overlook the fact that their writing is nowhere near as good as Heinlein’s. Nor is mine, but I admit it. I aspire to be that good but I am not there yet. But that’s not the fault of people who don’t nominate me for awards; it’s my own fault for not being good enough to compete with much better work.

And if you look at your own work objectively, maybe you’ll come to the same realization.

In Conclusion

Probably the worst thing about the whole Sad Puppies debacle is that in order to fight against the Social Justice Warriors (“SJW’s”) they so rightly despise is that they have adopted the exact same tactics as these SJW’s! They have resorted to blacklisting, ballot box stuffing, bullying, and threats. Rather than embracing the conservative belief in the free market, they have created a Stalinist situation where voters are allowed to vote for anyone they want, as long as it’s candidates approved by the oligarchy. Instead of producing work that is capable of winning awards on its own merits they have perverted the process to bestow now meaningless awards on substandard product.

Worse, they are pushing good writers who deserve the recognition to pull themselves out of contention because the tactics of the Puppies has forever tainted their nominations. And they may have just robbed the most prestigious awards for SF of all legitimacy in the future.

That, Puppies, is sad.

* By the way, if you ever want to see how Progressive Capitalism can work in sci-fi, and how rightist theories can lead to technological advancement, the world of Stranger is one to look at for a model.

How to build a real life superhero costume on the cheap


Writing superhero fiction is a tricky thing. The tech possessed by heroes tends to need to be more fantastic than what we have in real life, simply for convenience in storytelling. After all, why worry about realism in a world where people can fly and shoot laser beams out of their eyes?

But you also have to keep things somewhat grounded in reality. The suspension of disbelief only goes so far, and eventually you can reach a point where a reader’s mind calls bullshit on you. I push that limit a lot with Bobby’s gear in the Sidekick series and have been called on it. Readers will accept anti-grav boots, but bulletproof boxer shorts? Get real.

The idea of a costume to conceal a crime fighter’s identity dates back to 1936 when Lee Falk created the Phantom, arguably the first modern “masked man” vigilante. When Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster invented the modern superhero with Superman in the 1938, they dressed him in a sideshow strongman’s outfit to stress his strength and added a cape to allow fluidity of movement in their art. Then with Bill Finger’s designs for Batman in 1939, the idea of a functional themed costume became reality. These costumes served their purposes and set the standards for creators like me to this day.

So I was thinking recently, what if I wanted to create a superhero outfit today? Something that would make it easier for a person, should he or she be so inclined, to go out and fight crime in their spare time. Granted, intense training would be required and a budding superhero would be most effective in peak physical condition, but there would still be weaknesses that the costume would need to help.

DISCLAIMER. This post is for entertainment purposes only. I am not suggesting anyone out there actually try being a superhero. It’s dangerous. Do not sue me if you do something stupid.

The Head

Most superheroes wear masks, thanks to Lee Falk, but a mask alone is not sufficient protection today. We don’t have comic book tech to help us, so we need real life possibilities.

Let’s start with a helmet. The Premier Crown JCR100 Riot Duty Helmet offers a lot of neat features and will withstand some pretty nasty blows. It also offers enough room for some of the features we will be adding to it.

opplanet-armasight-dark-strider-night-vision-scope Instead of a mask, why not go with something functional as well as disguise worthy? I chose the ESS Profile NVG Military Goggles from Safety Glasses USA. Good eye protection, and the tinted lenses will also keep your eyes from being recognized. Eventually, however, you might want to replace these with the new Israeli Lightweight Night Vision Goggles when they become available. Until then, if you need night vision, try the Armasight Dark Strider Gen 1+ Night Vision Binocular (pictured), which seem to be the least bulky option.

north-7700mask You’ll also need something over your lower face. The North 7700 Half Mask will hide your nose and mouth, provide some protection against pepper spray and tear gas, and also help distort your voice if you need to speak. Remember, the bad guys you will be up against will not have any delusions of being honorable and obeying laws against certain anti-personnel weapons, so get the most protection you can.

Finally, there is room under the helmet for earphones, so try something like Kinivo BTH220 Bluetooth Stereo Headphones linked to a cellphone stashed safely away so you can stay in constant communication. And since you won’t want to call the cops with your real number, go with the Burner app!

The Body

Why does Batman have a big yellow target on his chest? Because that’s where he’s the most protected. Yeah, the super-cool lycra suits artists like to draw might look good, but unless you are nigh invulnerable, they’re worthless. Body armor is the way to go.

The best bet is to get everything you need in one handy kit: the M2100 Disturbance Control Kit. It provides you with a vest, shin pads, forearm guards, and groin protection with a nifty carrying bag. Its vest isn’t bulletproof, however, so you’ll want a ProMAX Concealable bulletproof vest to go underneath everything. And when it’s warm outside, you may want to add a personal cooling system to your gear.

The Feet

I’m going to assume speed is of the essence, instead of some specialized need like climbing, so I selected the Timberland PRO Mudsill Low Steel Toe from Zappos. Steel toed protection, lightweight, and traction. Good running shoes for when you’re chasing down the bad guy.

Weapon and Tools

You will need some kind of weapon when facing down a supervillain. The one I decided upon doesn’t come stock, and will need some gadgeteering on your part to work perfectly.

taser-c21 Start with a Taser. You’ll probably want two: one with cartridges that you can stash in your utility belt (see below) and one that you are going to jury-rig into your glove to deliver a trademark Knock-Out Punch!

Wire the leads into the glove that you will wear on your dominant (punching) hand. Wire one lead to a steel band lined with a ceramic center worn over your index finger like a ring, and the other to an identical band around your little finger. This way it’s unlikely the two electrodes will come into contact accidentally, and the ceramics will provide extra insulation to protect you.

Then wire the trigger into a button you can easily reach with your other hand. When you go to deliver your punch, squeeze the trigger with your other hand as you deliver the blow. Pow! Incapacitated villain for about 30 seconds; more than enough time to secure the evildoer.

Speaking of which, you’ll want some disposable zip-tie handcuffs to secure your villain while he waits for the police to arrive. Always keep a few on you.

Add in the usual necessaries like a flashlight, first aid kit, and an energy bar or two all held close to you by a freakin’ Ninja Utility Belt!

Finishing it off

Over top of all this, you’ll want the actual costume. Sure, you can be gaudy and decorative, but if you’re more into function than style, you can’t beat some flame-retardant coveralls. If you must, add on a cape, too

The Bottom Line

So how much will all this cost? Not as much as you might think! I’ve been keeping a running total, and everything in this entry can be purchased today for under $2,500.00. That’s allowing you $200.00 for the outer costume and cape. If you want to pick up a prepaid burner cell phone that you can swap SIMs in, add on an extra $30 to $700 depending on how nifty you want it to be. I suggest cheap because going into battle with the baddies will tend to take its toll on electronics.

Again, I don’t recommend going out and fighting crime on your own. But from a writer’s standpoint, it is nice to know it’s possible, and not just for a millionaire playboy!

What to Read to Prepare You for when Your Girlfriend Forces You to Read “The Fault in our Stars.”


The Fault in Our StarsAttention, teenage boys. If she hasn’t already discovered it, your girlfriend will shortly become entranced with John Green’s The Fault in our Stars. And you know what that means.

She will force you to read it.

Okay, maybe she’ll drag you to the movie that opened this weekend. But you probably aren’t going to get off that lightly. She will read the book. And she will fall in love with it. And she will give it to you saying that it will change your life.

Now, let me say up front that The Fault in our Stars is a great book. And it’s a book you should read. But let’s face it, it’s chick lit. It’s a book for teenage girls. It’s from a girl’s perspective, it’s got sappy romance in it, and its male hero is a guy who you will be compared to for your entire relationship and found wanting because he is too good to actually exist.

You will, however, be forced to read The Fault in our Stars. And you will be better off for reading it. In the end, you will probably enjoy it. But you should prepare yourself now for the experience, to make it easier and more enjoyable for you.

Book Swap

How do I know that you will be forced to read The Fault in our Stars? Because your girlfriend is going to get the idea from the book itself. Hazel, our plucky heroine, forces Augustus, her impossibly perfect boyfriend-to-be, to read her favorite book, An Imperial Affliction. He, in turn, forces her to read his favorite series of books based on a videogame that he loves. They both end up enjoying each other’s books.

This is what is going to inspire your girlfriend to make you read this book. And you should be prepared to give her a book in return. While I ought to put in a plug here for Sidekickit’s probably still too much a guy’s book. It won’t give you an insight on what your girlfriend sees in books, and it won’t be as easy for her to love as it was you (I hope). So I’m prepared to offer some suggestions for you. You should pick at least one of these books right now (as in as soon as you are done reading this article) and go read it. Then when your girlfriend comes rushing at you with the black-white-and-blue paperback you are going to get to know so well, you will have something to put in her hands in return.

Looking for Alaska

Probably the best way to prepare for a John Green novel is with another John Green novel. Believe it or not, John Green has not always written chick lit. TFioS (better get used to the acronym now; you will be using it in texts with your girlfriend soon) is his first book with a female narrator, written from her perspective. Up until now, his books have been pretty much firmly in the “guy” camp.

Looking for Alaska follows Miles (also known ironically as “Pudge”) as he transfers to a boarding school and meets a group or somewhat insane friends. Chief among them are his roommate, “The Colonel,” and the girl across the hall, Alaska Young. Alaska is your typical John Green female character: perky, quirky, deep, and batshit insane. You will fall in love with her right away. And just as Augustus is the too-good-to-be-real boyfriend you will be compared to for your entire relationship, your girlfriend will think of Alaska as the too-perfect-to-be-real girlfriend you must be secretly comparing her to. Maybe that will lead her to go easy on your imperfections.

And if The Colonel, Miles, and Alaska aren’t enough crazy for you, wait until you meet Takumi. I can all but guarantee you will wear a fox headband the next time you go out to do something stupid.

Best of all, Looking for Alaska is not light reading. It’s fun, upbeat, quirky, then takes you right off an emotional cliff. It’s brilliant, and will prepare you for the rollercoaster that is TFioS.

King Dork

King DorkDid you have to read The Catcher in the Rye? Did you hate it as much as I do? You are in luck. Read this one.

Tom Henderson (known not so affectionately as “Moe,” as in “Chi-Mo,” as in “Child Molester,” you’ll find out why) is trying to survive high school with the help of his best friend Sam Hellerman (to whom he is permanently bound through the power of alphabetical order). They start a band. Okay, several bands. The names of which change every week or so whenever they get bored with the old name.

It’s a coming of age story in the modern world. It’s hilarious. It’s got some deep mysteries in it. But it’s not plodding, it’s not condescending, and none of the characters are anywhere as unreally perfect as the characters in TFioS. You will like them. Even the ones you’re supposed to hate.

This is one of my favorite books of the 21st Century so far. There’s a reason I put a dog-eared copy of it in Bobby’s backpack in Sidekick. And best of all, the sequel is finally coming out! Your girlfriend may not like it as much as she might some of the others on this list, but that will give you an excuse to not like everything she gives you.

The Maze Runner

The Maze Runner (Maze Runner Series #1) (MTI) (Exclusive Edition)The girls had The Hunger Games, Divergent, and Legend. Finally, here’s some dystiopYAn fiction for guys.

Thomas wakes up inside a maze with a bunch of other boys and no memory. They have a nice structured life in their clearing in the middle of the maze, but the corridors around them are patrolled by some really nasty creatures.

Then a girl shows up and announces that she is the last one who will be sent. Supplies stop coming. Other nasty crap happens. And it’s up to Thomas to lead the boys (and girl) toward their destiny.

This book really is a boys’ Divergent. It’s dystopian, action packed, with mysteries to solve, and two sequels that take the story in really unexpected directions. You will really get a kick out of this one. And your girlfriend might enjoy it, too, if she likes other dystopian stuff.

Oh, and please read the book instead of seeing the movie. Yeah, I know the movie has Stiles from Teen Wolf in it, but read the book. You will thank me later.

Beautiful Creatures

Beautiful Creatures (Beautiful Creatures Series #1)“Huh?” you’re saying. “Isn’t this just more chick-lit?”

True, it’s a paranormal romance, but unlike other series in this sub-genre, the Caster Chronicles (as this book and its sequels and spin-offs are known) are generally written from the point of view of the male protagonist, Ethan Waite. Ethan falls in love with Lena and finds out that (a) she’s magical and (b) she’s cursed. And all the fun spills out from there.

If you’re going to be forced to read romances by your girlfriend, this is a good chance to get used to some of the tropes of the genre while still having a protagonist who you can identify with.

Plus, the two comic relief characters of Ridley and Link proved so popular that they’ve been spun off into their own series. I’ll bet you fall for them harder than Ethan falls for Lena.

Again, please read the book and ignore the movie.


TFioS is, I must emphasize again, an amazing book. Well written, great storytelling, and worth reading. But if you’re reluctant to jump into it just because your girlfriend found it compelling, the books on this list will help you prepare your brain for the experience to come, and give you something to foist off on her in return. (And since Augustus and Hazel did that in TFioS she’ll probably find that fact romantic.) Pick one and go read it now. Then you’ll be ready.

And I guarantee you will love it.

Helpful Hints for the Aspiring Galactic Dictator


This article originally appeared on the late, lamented Science Fantasy Universe blog in 2010.

Congratulations! Your ships are fueled and armed, your minions are prepared, and your course has been laid in. You’re now ready to complete your conquest of the galaxy and establish yourself as Galactic Dictator. However, before you set out to lay waste to that insignificant blue planet that always seems to be pivotal to building your space empire, there are a few things you should know. That’s why we’ve compiled this pamphlet, to make your journey of pillage, destruction, and conquest as pleasurable as possible.

6a012876c6c7fb970c017eeb1f81c1970dTip #1: Stop shaving.

Galactic regulation #ZX-765-1/P specifically requires the Supreme Ruler of the Galaxy to wear facial hair. Since the destruction of Earth is expected to take no time at all, it is best to start work on your facial grooming now. While recent changes in the law mean that a full “beard-of-evil” is no longer required, at the very least a mustache is de rigueur. If your facial hair is complete before you arrive at Earth, then there is less of a chance that red tape and paperwork will delay your coronation. (See also galactic regulation #ZA-847-5/E, “The Supreme Ruler of the Galaxy must wear a funny hat at all times.”)

Tip #2: Watch your language.

No matter what your native tongue may be, or whether or not your species is capable of verbal communication, the common language of the galaxy (as of this writing) is English. All communications, even between yourself and your home planet, are required to be conducted in English. Failure to comply with this regulation may delay your coronation. True, your native language and the structure of your vocal chords may lead you to have a ridiculous sounding accent, but don’t be self conscious about it. (Please note that there is an exception allowed if you plan to locate your base of operations on one of the islands of Japan, but only under those circumstances.)

flash-gordon-conquers-the-universe-to-the-rescueTip #3: Hire locally

Your henchmen may be the people that you trust the most, and have served you loyally for hundreds of space years, but they’re no replacement for having boots on the ground. Earthlings are greedy by nature, but paradoxically work cheap. Recruit a few in the early, covert, stages of your operation to help lay the groundwork. If you promise an Earthling dominion over his fellow humans, he will prove to be more loyal than your pet hovark, a harder worker than any of the slaves running your Ice Caves on Uranus, and can double as your eyes and ears as you gather intelligence. When your plans are sufficiently advanced, feel free to dispose of them as you see fit since you will have dominion over the entire race shortly, and need not be bothered with piddling little things like the lives of the people you’ve exploited. (See also Chapter 4, “Mwa-ha-ha!”)

Flash_Gordon_Conquers_the_Universe_(1940)_1Tip #4: Surround yourself with the babes.

There are many perks to being a galactic despot, but by far the best has to be the fact that chicks are drawn to you like a space magnet. Take advantage of this fact and make sure you always have plenty of feminine pulchritude at your disposal. Sure, they may prove to be an obstacle if some meddling hero seduces one into betraying you, but there’s always plenty more fish in the sea. (However, be aware of galactic regulation #ZX-555-9/W, the “too dangerous for a girl” clause.)

6a012876c6c7fb970c017c38a18b22970bTip #5: Full disclosure.

Regulations require that planets about to be conquered be fully informed of their fate in advance. This is to give them fair opportunity to prepare themselves for their upcoming enslavement or destruction, whichever your plans require. It may seem like gloating when you tell them that they are all about to die, but don’t look at it that way. Think of it as helping them. Likewise, if one of them should infiltrate your ship, make sure that you tell them all of the details of your plan down to the minutiae. Then make sure that they have plenty of time to come fully to terms with what you are about to do by selecting a slow and convoluted method of execution. An Earthling who dies with full understanding is a happy Earthling. Well, a happy dead Earthling, but happy nonetheless. Do not worry that their knowledge might hinder your plans. Nothing can stop you now.

Tip #6: Have fun!

This is a joyous moment. You are about to become the undisputed Galactic Dictator, and consolidate a rule that spans the cosmos. Smile as you go about your conquest. Laugh. Enjoy yourself, because after the conquest is done, it’s nothing but work.

You will find these six tips invaluable to you as you begin this final stage of your great plan. Take them to heart as you fire your atomic piles and engage your hypersonic engines, and we’re certain that you’ll find a lot to enjoy as you subjugate Earth. Good luck.

“Grumpy Cat” for the Atari 2600


I’m in one of those lacunae that pop up in the middle of an author’s life from time to time. My editor gave me a heads up that the first round of edits for Brothers in Arms will be arriving in my mailbox imminently. Once it does, I will need to drop everything to review the changes and notes, and start out on the rewrites stage.

Of course, being hip-deep in Crush Story could have been an obstruction. To prepare myself to go back into the universe of Bobby, Sarah, and Gabriel, I needed to get Jason and Sam (from Crush Story) out of my head. So I put the novel aside to clear my mental palate and be ready to work.

Of course, my brain doesn’t like being inactive. It wants challenges. It wants to create. So I wrote a video game. To be specific, I wrote a game for the Atari 2600.

SONY DSCFor those of you under 30 (which honestly is most of my fanbase) the Atari 2600 was the first widely available reprogrammable video game system. It pioneered the ability to change games by plugging in a different cartridge. It popularized the joystick as a control medium. And it led the way for every system that has come since. The games were simple, but addictive and compelling. And while today people might sneer at the bad graphics and simple sounds, from 1978 through 1982 it was state of the art.

The main challenge in writing a game for the 2600 is to make it as small as possible. The average game for the 2600 is 4K. That is one ten-thousandth the size of “Angry Birds” on your phone. And you only had 128 bytes of memory for your variables. We don’t even talk in bytes any more, only in millions (Gb) and trillions (Tb) of bytes.

So I sat down to write a game. All of the best 2600 games made up for their simplicity with great theming, backstories, and creativity in imagery. So I decided to make my game about Grumpy Cat.


For the action, I recycled a concept I’d used three decades before when I taught myself game programming for the Atari 800 by writing a game called “Herple” which I never released. Your character moved around the screen while being chased by a number of different enemies, trying to collect items that popped up in random places. Easy mechanic, but one that can become challenging when your opponents start to move really quickly.

The theming for the game fell into place naturally. Tardar Sauce wants to eat in peace. But the universe is out to annoy her, which it always seems to do. The player needs to move Tardar Sauce around the screen eating the “noms” (the yellow dot in the screen above). Simple goal, easy to grasp.

Of course, a game needs obstacles, so I created a bunch of “monsters” that would chase through the screen in different ways that the player would have to maneuver Tardar Sauce around.

GrumpyCat.bas.bin_2I came up with five obstacles based on things that Grumpy Cat hates. I drew a smiley face, which would represent happy people. I drew a rough representation of a camera to represent a photographer out to get the meme picture of the year. I drew a Valentine’s heart to represent the concept of love. I drew a “Bluebird of Happiness,” which would flitter up from the bottom of the screen, and I drew a Shiba Inu Doge.

One of the tricks in creating the game was for each of the five “monsters” to move differently, essentially having different artificial intelligence code for each. I made the Happy Person the simplest, moving from the top of the screen to the bottom while chasing after the player as it does so. It moves the slowest of all the monsters.

The photographer moves down the screen twice as quickly as the happy person, but is the same speed as the happy person in going from left to right.

GrumpyCat.bas.bin_8The Doge is the toughest enemy. Like the photographer and happy person it will chase you down, but while it moves from top to bottom at the same speed as the happy person, it’s twice as fast in moving from left to right. At higher speeds, you have to try and get above the Doge as quickly as possible, or it will chase you down.

For the hearts I needed something different. They also move from the top of the screen to the bottom, but I didn’t want them to chase Tardar Sauce down. Instead, they will pick a direction (left or right) and move in a diagonal as they move down until they hit the side of the screen, at which point they just move straight down.

The Bluebird of Happiness was tricky. I decided that it was way too easy to just hang out at the bottom of the screen to dodge enemies before moving up above them, so I had the bird move up the screen, flittering back and forth randomly as it did so. You can’t hang out near the bottom all the time without running the risk of running into the bird.

216562503-mainI have some folks out there play-testing the game (as I call it, poking it with a sharp stick) right now, and will be fixing bugs and making improvements with an eye toward releasing it. Of course, since Grumpy Cat is trademarked and licensed all to heck, I won’t be able to sell the game. However, I will make the binaries available for anyone who wants to play it. And I’ll probably have two cartridges manufactured of the game: one for myself and one for Tardar Sauce’s owners as a thank you for not suing me.

If you know a thing or two about 2600 emulation and homebrew games, or want to learn, you can check out the thread about the game at AtariAge.

A Centsible Proposal


As happens regularly, people are talking about getting rid of the one cent coin (“penny”), saying that it costs too much to produce and has too little value.

Some say that without the one cent coin we would just round every transaction to the nearest five cent mark, but that’s wishful thinking. Every example of where the lowest denomination coin has been eliminated has shown immediate price inflation. Plus, since Americans have been trained to think of their coins not as multiples of cents but fractions of a dollar, the dime will immediately become the lowest effective denomination to many people with the five-cent nickel relegated to the status of half a dime (which was actually what the five cent coin was called from 1792 until 1873).

And when you consider the fact that the US loses more per coin minting the nickel than it ever did on the cent, very soon there will be a push to eliminate the nickel. This will make the dime the de jure, not just de facto lowest denomination.

The answer is not to just stop minting cents and nickels, but to make them cost effective. And the best way to do that is to do what the US did in 1857, 1864, 1873, and 1965: revamp our coinage system almost completely.

The Half Dime

First, to save the five cent coin, we need to actually step backward for the answer. As mentioned above, the five cent coin from 1792 until 1873 (with a seven year overlap at the end with the nickel five cent coin) was a silver piece called the Half Dime. We need to go back to the original concept, and revive the Half Dime as our five cent piece.

The last Half Dime minted in 1873 was 15.9 millimeters in diameter, significantly smaller than the dime. I propose that we make the new half dime the same dimensions as the 1873 model, and make it of the same clad composition as the dime, quarter, and half dollar. To make it easy to tell from other coins in your pocket, I suggest we use what is called an “interrupted edge,” where the edge alternates segments of reeding (the vertical “bumps” on the side of the dime, quarter, and half) and smooth edges.

Since the weight of the new coin would once again be about half of that of the dime, it will remain economical to mint this coin as long as it is economical to keep the same composition for the dime and quarter.

The Smaller Cent

Next, we need to take a lesson from the Eurozone, and make our one cent coin smaller. The Eurocent is currently 16.5 mm in diameter, compared to the current U.S. Cent at 19.05 mm. I suggest actually going slightly smaller to avoid a clash with the Half Dime and the third leg of my reform stool, which I will mention below. I propose a Cent of 15 mm exactly.

The new Cent will look similar to the current cent, since it will keep its copper coating. However, the inner core will no longer be zinc, but steel as is used by the Eurozone, Britain, and Canada. Between the smaller size and the cheaper (and sturdier) material, the coin will be less expensive to produce and last longer.

To ease the transition, I recommend using the current designs (Lincoln/Shield for the Cent and Jefferson/Monticello for the Half Dime). This way, people will have some continuity between the old coins and the new, to help them get used to them.

As old coins arrive back at the Federal Reserve, they can be retired and melted for their constituent metals, to be made into new coins. Since the current Cent and Nickel have more intrinsic value than their face value, this will actually mean a net profit to the government. Both old coins, however, will still remain legal tender and can be spent for years to come.

These two changes are not the end-all, be-all of the change, however. There is still one way to cut down on the number of Cents that are needed each year without suffering the economic consequences of eliminating the denomination altogether. We simply lessen the demand the same way we did during the Civil War.

The Tuppence!

The U.S. had a Two Cent coin from 1864-1873, which was designed to take up some of the demand for Cents, which had been driven out of circulation by hoarders during the Civil War (back when they were made of nickel, which was a semi-precious metal at the time). I say we not only keep the “penny,” but give it its proper sibling again, as have the British and the Eurozone: the “tuppence.”

US 2 Cent Coin 2016

Since the main use of the Cent nowadays is in making change, adding a Two Cent coin into the mix makes this process easier and cuts down on the number of Cents needed. The Two Cent coin can be minted for only slightly more than the new Cent will be, and would have twice the value, so only half as many would be needed. Where three or four coins are needed today, only two would be needed with this new addition. Instead of three pennies, hand back a tuppence and a penny. Instead of four pennies, hand back two tuppences. And, of course, hand back one tuppence instead of two pennies.

I propose that the Two Cent coin be revived at a diameter of 18.8 mm, slightly larger than the current dime. To distinguish it from the new Cent, Half Dime, Dime, and current Cent and Nickel, it will have a scalloped edge as can be seen above. This edge will make the coin easily distinguishable both visually and by feel. You will know you have a tuppence in your pocket, and can easily distinguish between the four small coins either by looking at them or touching them. And even with this distinctive edge, the new coins will still be able to stack and roll in vending machines, coin counters, or automatic change dispensers.

The tuppence will be the same composition as the new penny, and will change along with it should a cheaper material ever be required.

For a distinctive design, I chose someone woefully neglected on American money: Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt singlehandedly started the design revolution in American coinage that gave us the St. Gaudens gold coins, the Lincoln Cent, and eventually the Buffalo Nickel. Since the Mint recently released a Theodore Roosevelt coin in the Presidential Dollars series, there is an engraving handy that can be adapted easily to become the obverse of the new Two Cent coin.

For the reverse, I chose an animal linked forever with Teddy Roosevelt: the Bull Moose with whom he compared himself when launching his 1912 campaign for the Presidency. It will also be reminiscent of the much beloved Buffalo Nickel, and a chance to pay homage once again to conservation and American wildlife on our coins.

The graphic below shows the relative sizes of the three new coins, alongside the current Dime and Quarter Dollar, so you can see the system I propose at work.

New US coin comparison

With these changes, the American coinage will not only be cheaper to produce, but will once again be logical. The smallest denomination will be the smallest coin. The Five Cent piece will be smaller than the Ten Cent piece again. And the new Two Cent piece will fill a need better than an ever increasing number of One Cent pieces ever could. And all without the inflationary affects of doing away with our smallest coin.

Why Build a World Only to Blow it Up? (The Problem With YA Trilogies)


In the past several years, I’ve gone through what, to me, had to be three of the most disappointing Young Adult trilogies ever.

Those three are the Divergent series, the Maze Runner series and the Hunger Games series.


Surprised? Yeah, they’re three of the most popular dystopian YA series of recent years. They sell more books in a week than I’ll sell in two lifetimes. They’ve launched or are launching movie franchises that will gross into the bazillion dollar range.

And they’re all very well written and enjoyable.

I did not say they weren’t good – hell, I think The Hunger Games is a 21st Century Red Badge of Courage and Catching Fire a 21st Century All Quiet on the Western Front and deserve to be studied alongside them – I said I found them disappointing.

And here’s why.


Why Do You Build Me Up….

Suzanne Collins, Veronica Roth, and James Dashner are expert world builders. Panem is a well-envisioned society whose development is deliberately stunted by the tyrannical Capitol. The world of the Factions is believable and fascinating. The Glade is a peek at what The Lord of the Flies might have been like if the asshole to cool guy ratio had been a little better. They’re all functional, but imperfect societies and leave the reader wanting to discover more.

Let’s start with The Hunger Games. I don’t think there is a single character we meet in District 12 who couldn’t have a good story told about them. You want to know more about Gale’s brothers. Each of the characters in the Hob has a backstory that’s hinted at. Hell, I’d sit down and read a book about Greasy Sae’s childhood. These are good characters and have so much to discover.

Then as we move on beyond the fence, we have eleven other Districts out there. Each of them have their own culture, their own values, and their own stories to tell. We get some little hints about these cultures during Katniss and Peeta’s tour, and from other tributes, but there are huge gaps that could be filled, and stories that could be told.

Moving on to Roth’s dystopian Chicago, each of the factions has a very defined role in society and they all depend on each other for survival. We are told early on how this arrangement came to be, and it’s one of those rare creatures in Sci-Fi: a dystopian origin that is vague without being annoyingly so; we don’t know how the world blew up, but we how society pulled itself back up afterward, which is the important thing.

I’d even go so far as to dispute the “dystopian” label for the world of the Factions. I’d argue it’s almost a Utopia as it’s actually set up. Everything works, and everyone has their place. And it’s not oppressively caste-oriented either. You choose your own future. You decide what faction you want to belong to and if you pass the test you are in.

There’s a lot to be explored here. Why would anyone want to choose Abnegation? What really sets Dauntless apart? Does being in Candor really give you the right to be as much of a douchebag as you want? Again, there’s room for lots of stories to be told.

Next let’s check out the Gladers. These amnesiac boys have built their own little society in the center of a labyrinth. We are told about nearly a dozen different jobs that the boys are divided up into and we get hints of how boys end up in those jobs. Society thrives. If it weren’t for the Runners who go out into the maze trying to find a way out there would be no contact with the Grievers at all and everyone could live reasonably happy ever after.

Three well imagined, well planned, well structured worlds with lots of stuff to explore.

And they’re all completely and irrevocably destroyed by the end of the second book (or in the case of Divergent and The Maze Runner, two thirds of the way through the first).

…Just to Let Me Down?

Mockingjay is a complete departure from the formula of the other Hunger Games books. It’s the story of the new rebellion and the fall of the Capitol. The Districts cease to exist as they are, and we hardly even visit District 12 at all until the very end. Plus, the characters that everyone loves are all killed or mentally raped before the end. Nothing Will Ever Be the Same.

The world of the Factions is falling apart before the end of Divergent. Abnegation is almost completely destroyed. A proper civil war is brewing. Four and Tris have to try and put things back together. By the time we get to Allegiant, the Factions and their story are proven to be essentially a lie, and a Midichlorian-sized macguffin is given for how they got that way.Things have changed so much that we now have two POV characters and two different stories to follow: Four’s and Tris’. (This is not a bad thing, by the way.) Everything you wondered about, and wanted to know more about, no longer exists. Nothing Will Ever Be the Same.

Dashner proves pretty early on that he is not fooling around. He quite openly and happily destroys life in the Glade starting at the halfway point of the first book. By the end, it’s completely fallen apart and even the Maze itself is out of the picture. A whole new challenge awaits. Nothing Will Ever Be the Same.

Which leads me to ask: why spend so much time world building if you’re only going to blow it all up?

Why tempt us with histories of the people of District 12? Why give us such tantalizing glimpses of Candor, Erudite, Amity, and the other Factions if you’re just going to not only destroy them but the reason for them existing? Why discuss the roles each boy plays in the Glade if those roles become irrelevant before the third Act of the story begins?

And Then Worst of All….

It really doesn’t have to be that way. Let’s look at another hot fantasy YA series, the Caster Chronicles. Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl also built an expansive and fascinating universe with well-rounded characters and intricately designed supernatural species. The first book ends with the Nothing Will Ever Be the Same moment, when it looks like everything we knew was wrong, but the rest of the series is all about restoring the order of things. When the story reached its logical end in Beautiful Redemption, not only had all the characters grown and matured, but everything had been put back the way it was before it was broken. None of the characters will be the same again, but the world will!

Garcia and Stohl have decided to do a spin-off series following two fan-favorite supporting characters (Link and Ridley) as they set off on new misadventures. But if they hadn’t, there was still a Caster World intact enough that readers would know that there could be hundreds of more stories out there if someone wanted, and all they had to do was dream it all up. (Provided a Linkubus didn’t snatch it away from you while you slept.)

Don’t Break My Heart

The dystopian trend in YA is not a bad thing at all. It has brought millions of young readers into the world of Science Fiction, touching upon the “hard sci-fi” aspects of mid 20th Century writers.

But for those of us who have been around the Sci-Fi block a few times and remember the elaborate worlds created by some of the “old school” writers like Niven, Pournelle, Asimov, Heinlein, and Dick, it’s a letdown. There are hundreds of stories set in Niven’s Known Space universe. So many stories grew out of Asimov’s robot stories. Yet each of these new universes exist solely to tell one story, and that story ends up destroying everything.

Panem was created solely so Katniss Everdeen could destroy it. The Factions were created solely so Beatrrice Prior and Tobias Eaton can shut it all down. The Glade exists solely as a place for Thomas to spend some time in before it disappears. Powerful stories, yes, but they needlessly destroy their worlds just to develop one character fully.

There are stories out there that could be told. I want to know those stories. I want to explore those worlds. And they are destroyed. That is why I am disappointed.

Writers remember: you may create the characters, but if they’re well crafted they have lives beyond what you put on paper or the screen. You may build the worlds, but they grow and evolve. Please don’t treat them like window dressing. They deserve better. At least leave room for their stories to grow in people’s minds, even if not on the page.

Dating Advice


I’ve been reading a lot the past couple of days about a school in Texas that invited some asshole to speak about how girls need to “learn how to shut up” to be “datable” and similar crap. Since I’m currently working on a book about two boys who try to make themselves over to make themselves more “datable,” this guy’s crappy advice struck home with me.

In response, I thought I’d offer some dating advice of my own. Feel free to take or leave it as you see fit.

My focus in this article is on straight boys and girls; I would offer my dating advice to gay boys and lesbians as well, but society is switching too quickly under my feet and advice I give you today may no longer apply in a year or so. Some of what I say to your straight brethren and sistren applies to you, but overall the best advice I can give to my LGBTQOMGWTFBBQ readers is to seek advice from people older than you but younger than me. When I was a teenager, the best dating advice boys like I could get was “run and hide.” It’s not like that any more.

The situation with boys and girls, however, is timeless. The interactions are the same, the conditions are the same, and the mistakes people make are the same. So here goes.


Portrait of a young guy smilingRemember that dating is not about sexual gratification. Dating is about pairing off and hopefully finding a partner for the long haul. Girls are not conquests, and if you are just dating a girl to get your rocks off then in the end you are wasting your time and hers. If you want hormonal release, that’s why God gave you an overactive imagination and tube socks.

Since you want to find a girl that you can be with on a regular basis and for the long haul, look beyond the surface. You want a girl that can hold down a conversation with you and shares at least some of your interests. If you are lucky, the two of you are going to spend a lot more time over the course of your life talking than playing bongo-bongo-bongo. You’re going to enjoy it more, too.

Look beyond the surface. Deep down, every woman is beautiful. Their surface appearance is just one aspect. Look at all the aspects of a girl. Clothes and hairstyles change at the drop of a hat, outward attractiveness may fade with old age, but the inner person and inner beauty are forever.

Remember one basic thing: don’t do anything that either of you is uncomfortable with. If she is not ready for something physical, stop. If she is pushing you toward something physical you are not ready for, tell her to stop. Any girl who won’t take no for an answer is someone you don’t want to be around, and a boy who won’t take no for an answer is someone no girl should ever be around. You are in this for the long haul. There is plenty of time for that when and if you two are ready.

Most importantly: be yourself. Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. Don’t put up a front. Again, you are in it for the long haul. If you lie about yourself to a girl (and that’s what pretending to be someone else is, lying) she’s going to find out about it sooner or later and she will feel she can’t trust you. And she’s right. Never think you aren’t good enough; there is always a girl out there for whom you are perfect.

Be patient. Finding someone takes time. Building something that is going to last takes time. Don’t despair, and don’t settle. Keep looking. When you find the right girl, you will know.

Finally, if it doesn’t work out it’s not the end of the world. A relationship that falls apart that easily is not one destined for the long haul. Don’t mope, don’t sulk, just pick yourself up and get on with it. Something worth having will stand the test of time.


One important thing for you to remember is this: you don’t need to be with a boy to be complete. Every person in the world is complete in and of themselves. Couples are just joinings of two complete individuals to make one complete combo.

As I told the boys, dating is not about instant gratification, either sexual or social. Dating is about finding someone you want to be with for the long haul. Look for someone you share common interests with and enjoy talking to. Look for someone you feel comfortable with, and who you could imagine sharing part of your life with.

Be yourself. Whatever you do, do not change who you are or pretend to be something you’re not. Do not dress “sluttily” or play dumb to make a boy like you. A boy worth dating will see past those shallow things and grow to love you for who you really are. You are someone special and unique, and you shouldn’t feel the need to change that person to appeal to someone. They are not worth it, and you are.

Remember: you are not too smart for a boy, he is too dumb for you. If he is uncomfortable because you are too intelligent for him, then guess what? You’re too intelligent to settle for someone like that. You do not need the hassle of trying to hold down both sides of a conversation for the rest of your time together.

Don’t feel pressured into anything! You don’t need to “put out” to get a boy to like you. A boy who only wants sex really is only interested in one thing. Don’t waste your time pursuing a boy who keeps trying to get you to sleep with him when you don’t want to. If he threatens to break up with you if you don’t put out, for God’s sake let him break up with you. You will be better off for it. If a boy keeps pushing forward when you say no, walk away. Run away if you have to. And if that doesn’t work, there’s a reason God made women’s shoes pointy and men’s dangly bits so dangly.

In fact, I’m going to amend the above paragraph. If a boy threatens to break up with you for any reason, let him! Remember, you don’t need a boy to be complete. Any boy who tries to manipulate you in any way is not worth it! Do not change your friends, your hobbies, or even your hair just to please a boy. He is not worth it! Remember, you want to be in it for the long haul, and that means you need to be comfortable with who you are. If he doesn’t want to be around you the way you are, then he doesn’t want to be around you.

Be patient. Finding a boy you want to be with for the long haul can take time. Don’t settle. When you find the right boy, you will know.

Finally, if it falls apart, it’s not meant to be. Anything that fragile is not meant to last the long haul. Don’t sulk, don’t mope, just move on. There are plenty of boys out there worth dating.


Dating is tricky. It’s a minefield full of dangers, both physical and emotional. Mostly emotional. No one comes out of it unscathed. But follow these tips and you might just survive it.