My writing efforts as we close out January have been mixed. I managed to get 10k new words on the novel, but that stuttered to a halt late month and not much has been added in the past two weeks. A series of rejections last week pushed me into a bit of a funk (on top of the usual seasonal depression), only managed by recognizing the worth of the most important one. That rejection was actually a “feel free to revise and resubmit during our next open period”, which is an incredibly rare gift in a rejection.

I’ve spent the past week working hard to revise that story based on the feedback, because it’s one I absolutely love and which I feel is one of my best efforts. The changes will only serve to make it stronger. I’m starting a revision of another story as well, and made some progress on a steampunk western story called “Gentleman Jack.” A couple of other stories are getting attention, and I’ve completely revised an older work that I haven’t been able to sell with a brand new through line, focus, and ending. In effect, it’s a new story with a similar premise. So, short story work is going well right now and will continue to be the focus.

All in all, not terrible. Not quite what I wanted to achieve, though. Maybe 10k short of my goal.

My reading efforts also lag. New issues of Apparition Lit and F&SF are still to be read and reviewed. I have a longer list of semi-pro, mid-level market magazines I need to wade through, which I plan to cherry pick favorite stories out of to highlight the work they are doing. I started with On Spec, Volume 31 this morning and hope to get caught by the time my birthday comes later this month.

I have consumed a ton of media, though, this month. After playing through X-Com 2: War of the Chosen once, I switched over to a game my wife has been pushing me to try, Outer Worlds. Later month, I went back to my well of comfort games and have played a bunch of older 4X space strategy games like Galactic Civilizations III, Stellaris, and even Master of Orion II, released WAY back in 1996. Still holds up, too, though it’s graphics and depth of play have been well eclipsed by the newer titles. I’ve also caught up with some television, like Book of Boba Fett, the series finale of the Expanse, and the new Wheel of Time series.

So, a bunch of mini-reviews coming. Minor spoilers involved (you’ve been warned!):

Outer Worlds

On paper, this game has everything to entice me. Single player story line; western-in-space-Firefly feel; dark humor mocking corporatism and the treatment of workers; a very cool and broken-down ship to call home; Patrick Warburton as sad moon man shilling Spacer’s Choice products sadly. So why did it take me so long to finally play it, whereupon I fell in love with it so much I played it through twice, back and back, using every free waking hour I had?

Visual attenuation.

Not that they looked terrible. But the field of view is default set to be narrow. That gave me vertigo and nausea when I tried to play the first time. Every turn I made in the game jarred my head. So, I left it in my Steam library and didn’t revisit it until this month, when I finally figured out I could fix that. Once I did, everything fell into place.

The game is fantastic. Sure, not the best looking game ever, with kind of wooden looking character models, but it has a definite aesthetic to it that I simply adore. Lots of interesting planets to visit. Cool companions you get to know and rely on and admire and even love. Fun systems to modify weapons and armor and improve them. Just a really solid game through and through. Check it out if you haven’t, and make sure to get the two DLC that were released after the initial game so you can have the maximum experience possible.

Now I can’t wait for Outer Worlds 2, coming… sometime eventually? Please?

Master of Orion II, Galactic Civilizations III, and Stellaris

I love 4X games (Explore, Expand, Exploit & Exterminate). These are civilization builders where you start with one small village or colony and research tech as you grow and expand your civilization. The three titles listed here are three of the biggest of all time, with Master of Orion being the original. GCC III more closely resembles that, but with far deeper game play, while Stellaris forges a different path with real-time play (the others are turn-based) and some wicked graphics.

I love Orion for it’s simple game play and quicker games. It’s old, and doesn’t look as good, but you don’t have to think quite so much about everything. Simple is sometimes better, and the interface is much easier to learn. GCC III is similar enough that I loved it, too, though for some reason it has significant problems running on my fairly robust system when much of the universe has been explored. Stellaris, on the other hand, is far prettier than both of those and never had a run problem at all. The game is simply gorgeous.

For all that, GCC III is probably my favorite. Runs like a dog late game if the universe you picked at the start is too big, but more closely hews to the MOO aesthetic. Stellaris was far deeper in terms of choices to make, and I loved exploring and researching, but it’s so convoluted half the time I had no clue if things I were doing mattered in any way to the advancements of my society. If I can’t easily tell what a choice is going to lead to (tech trees, for example), it’s just a random pick without any real strategy. There was also the issue of not being able to easily tell if my survey ship could jump from one star system to another nearby, making it painful to plot out minimal routes. And frankly, I’m not a fan of real-time games where I don’t feel like I have control when my fleet is in a battle.

The Book of Boba Fett

I’m caught up now, and phew… episode 5 was amaze balls. But as someone said, it’s more of an episode of The Mandalorian shoehorned into Boba Fett, and shows why that previous series is so much better. Boba Fett’s story – broken into past flashbacks and current events – is disjointed and confused. His purpose isn’t really clear. The Mandalorian has a clear code, broken up into “I’m a true Mandalorian,” and “I’m a father of a youngling who I miss.” Those two things guide every action and every choice he makes, however surprising, makes perfect sense.

It’s great to see Boba get more of a real story, even if it is post-Star Wars-fan-love for a character who had only a few minutes of screen time and didn’t deserve it then. All those years between dad dying and The Empire Strikes Back deserved a series. But they should have focused on either the events after he escaped death, or his current activities. As that same person said, this feels like a show Disney demanded, not a show anyone else wanted to make. Feels like the actors and writers are just going through the motions.

The Expanse

Best series is best. The last season wasn’t perhaps as great as previous ones, but it satisfied and I felt sad that it came to a close. Felt like the main characters had been given plot armor, to some degree. And the ending turned on a bit of a deus ex machina to resolve the war. But I loved it for all that. Going to miss the Rocinante and its crew.

The Wheel of Time

I didn’t really dig the first episode much. It felt… too… 90’s fantasy movie? If that makes sense? The production values and music just struck me as feeling a little cheap (special effects are pretty good though, to be fair). But four episodes in and I’m digging it now. I’ve never read the books (maybe I will go back and do so now), but the show is interesting and, despite the usual medieval fantasy tropes that sometimes crop up, has some fascinating world building. Good acting, too, though I could do with a little less of the angsty “teen love” stuff. But that’s just me. Definitely a worth-while watch. My wife pointed out that pre-Game of Thrones (first four or five seasons), we would have killed for a show like this, so we can overlook some of its minor flaws.

Raised by Wolves

My wife started watching this new series on HBO Max last night, and I joined her. It’s… very bloody. Not what I expected at all. Science fiction set in a far future, with human-like androids, and science so powerful it looks like magic. I’m not sold on it yet, but it’s intriguing at least and is certainly a very unique work compared with most sci-fi offerings these days. We’ll probably return to it for at least a few more episodes to see how it evolves.

Babylon 5

Everyone says this is the best science fiction show of all time. Everyone. I’ve tried a few times to watch it in the past, but couldn’t get into it. So, this time I’m forcing myself to watch it. I’m going to power through all five seasons over the course of this year.

Last Sunday, I watched the pilot episode.

I hated it.

That’s all I have to contribute to this. Sorry folks. For me, the production quality is terrible in every conceivable way. Costumes, music, acting, dialogue, facial prosthetics, even the visual effects. Just bad. I hope this gets better eventually, because right now I’m ranking it around the level of the 70’s Buck Rogers series. Few redeeming qualities.

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