Spawn of Mars
Don't worry. If you like your religion, you can keep your religion.
Friday, May 22, 2020 4:26 pm
So I've joined Twitter. As a matter of principle I normally wouldn't, given its biased suppression of free speech, but monopolies are monopolies and Twitter is where everyone is. Though I may initially treat it as a glorified RSS feed for this blog, I suppose I will eventually start tweeting more independently. Even then, given my history with my internet presence, my tweets will not likely be numerous. We'll see. Follow me at Spawn of Mars.
Cirsova Summer Special 2020 Is Out!
Read My Story in It!
Thursday, May 14, 2020 3:53 pm
The annual Summer Special of Cirsova Magazine is here!

Buy it on Amazon (to give the publisher money). Review it on Amazon (to increase its rank). Read my story The Fourth Gift and be amazed by my wonderfullestness. Go, now!
You Will Be Assimilated
My Career as a Cartoonist
Tuesday, May 12, 2020 10:33 pm
Recently I noted that I have, on occasion, attempted to make clever-funny comics. Prompted by that note I have finally finished a certain comic, the rough pencil sketch of which has been stashed near my desk for years.

Since there is a lot of talking in the comic, I didn't directly ink the text. The text and layout and so on were done on PC (in GIMP). I did draw the one character, in ink and water (using nib and brush). I then scanned the drawing and integrated it with the layout.

My scanner is so old — an Epson Perfection 1200U — that a driver hasn't been released since Windows XP. Luckily I can use one of the later Epson drivers, although there's a bit of jiggering to do so. I thought it was already installed on my PC but apparently my Windows 7 64-bit forgot it was there, and I had to reinstall. Bothersome.

To keep the comic legible I had to make it too big to fit in the normal column of this blog. The image will overlap to the right but should be fine on most browsers. If not so on yours, download the image (via right-click) and view it elsewise.

Enjoy!  

Derivative of Nictzin Dyalhis
Writing Another Chronicle of the Venhezian Heroes
Monday, May 4, 2020 10:11 pm
Somehow I became aware of The Sapphire Goddess: The Fantasies of Nictzin Dyalhis, a collection published by DMR Books in 2018. It collects all the fantasy stories of the unprolific Nictzin Dyalhis, who wrote primarily for Weird Tales between 1925 and 1940.

Two of Dyalhis's contributions to Weird Tales are science fiction: When the Green Star Waned (April 1925) and its sequel The Oath of Hul Jok (September 1928).
I really liked both of these stories — so much so, that I have written a derivative work. Since Dyalhis's stories are in the public domain, I am free to have my story published, and I hope that Cirsova Magazine will accept it when submissions re-open later this year. 

There's an earnestness to Dyalhis's two stories. They are all superlatives, exclamation points, and outsized drama. The seven friends are the very best of their kind: the greatest scientist, the greatest diplomat, the greatest warrior, the greatest cultural scholar, the greatest biologist, the greatest reader of minds, and the greatest... well, the narrator is not presented as the "greatest" chronicler and poet, but he is part of the amazing circle.

The stories are clearly science fiction written before World War II. There isn't a lot of hard science. Nor is there magic; but there is an easy and intriguing occultism. Evil is as much a force as electricity. The technology has that alluring mechanical flavor, free of the atomic and the cybernetic.

The setting is the Planetary Chain, an alternative Solar System. Maybe it's the far future of our own but it seems much more a different place. The names of the planets are just a little off — Venhez for Venus, Jopitar for Jupiter, and so on. There are invocations of Our Lady of Venhez, a being who is not really Aphrodite. Venhez is a planet of love and its sign is the Looped Cross (i.e., ), but everything is sideways of our reality and mythology.

And that was my first handhold in creating my derivative work. Dyalhis doesn't develop things deeply. The world-building, though neat, is mostly suggestive.

My second handhold was the sketchiness of the characters. Hul Jok the warrior is vivid, Vir Dax the biologist has some color, Lan Apo the mind-reader is not a blank, and Hak Iri the poet, if only because he is our melodramatic narrator, is not one-dimensional, but by and large the characters are just carriers of superpowers. As you revel in Hul Jok you lament the general blandness of the others.

So there is a lot of foundation in the two stories but not a lot of definition. There's also an enjoyable spirit (and the touch of an outlook rather removed from 2020). The past century has not exactly produced a communal literary expansion of Hak Iri's Friends & the Planetary Chain. I may even be a pioneer. In any event, I had cause to continue Dyahlis's work; and therefore I did.

No, I did not write a gritty reboot. I'm not out to subvert expectations. Vir Dax does not have a gruesome past with a missing call-girl and Lan Apo is not struggling as a transgendered pansexual. My story is not a parody or even an affectionately comedic re-imagining. I simply wrote the third in a series.

Obviously I am not Dyalhis. Yet there is a manner to his writing that accords with my own and I don't need to mimic him wholly to evoke him. My goal was not, in any event, to don a Dyalhis mask. My work is truly derivative, neither identical nor separate. It follows well, I think.

Now I just need Cirsova to accept it — so that you can read it! Sadly, even in the best case, it won't be published for a year or more. But keep an eye out for The Impossible Footprint.

P.S. "Nictzin Dyalhis," though nom-de-plumey, was the man's actual name, near as can be determined. And I do recommend the collection from DMR.

24-Hour Bacon
My Career as a Cartoonist
Sunday, May 3, 2020 4:02 am
Many thousands of years ago, given that I have something of a talent for art and (maybe) for humor, I tried making some clever-funny comics. Not many have survived. I unearthed this one an hour ago. It was drawn with ink and brush. There was a bit of photo-duping and keylining (e.g., you can see that the frame outlines are all the same). It's amusing.

StoryHack #6 Is Out
Read My Story in It!
Wednesday, April 1, 2020 1:53 pm
The latest issue of StoryHack is here! And it contains the second Hamlin Becker tale!

Buy it on Amazon (to give the publisher money). Review it on Amazon (to increase its rank). Read my story Due a Hanging and be amazed by my excellentivity. Go, now!

P.S. Canada speaks! A reader from Canada, in reviewing this issue of StoryHack, has this to say about my offering:
David Skinner wrote a punchy and brilliant story in Due a Hanging. Giving the reader just enough information to tug them along and explain his world, you get a strong feeling for the web of revenge closing in, and the tension of the events. A terrific example of show don't tell.
Thanks, Canada!
A Damn Fine Experience
Thoughts on Remnant: From the Ashes
Tuesday, March 31, 2020 5:06 pm
I don't really play intense video games these days. Mind you, I'm hardly a filthy casual; but I am fussy. More than that, I suppose, I've fallen somewhat into Gaming as Macramé, in that I just want to fight some things for an hour, rank up my adventure dolls, and not worry too much about campaigns and bosses and the like. Hence my recent years-long bouts of Guild Wars 2 and Warframe.

I can't even seem to play the two DLCs from Witcher 3, one of my very favorite games. I did enjoy the recent Doom but I'm not excited for Doom Eternal (mostly because the aesthetic is so unhellishly colorful and carnival-like).

Anyhow, I heard about Remnant: From the Ashes, and even though people said it was a Dark Souls clone (that is: brutal to the player), I gave it a try. 

Yes, it is very hard. It's been a while since I've been so agitated by a game. Many times I've been utterly adrenalized, until my hands afterwards were trembling. I've always been fairly adrenalized by difficult games, but given my age I suppose I am risking a cardiac event. That would be amusing, I suppose, to die literally during a boss fight, and slump in my chair as my character — no longer controlled by a living human — is finally killed, and the screen announces he is dead, and the authorities find me lifeless in front of that informative screen.
Anyhow, I just reached the point of the final boss and, frankly, I doubt I will bother. I usually don't bother with final bosses. Why should I? Whatever you earn provides progression to nowhere. The game is done.

And then I think: I can do it. From video walkthroughs it looks frustrating, but half the reason one plays a video game is simply to meet a challenge. So... I am undecided.

Besides, the game would not be utterly done. I could take all I've earned — armor, weapons, mods, traits — and restart at the beginning. Although such a New Game Plus is not uncommon, Remnant allows you to re-roll your campaign at any point. I could skip over the final boss. That is really nice.

There's a lot that's nice about Remnant. I'm not going to claim that Remnant is unique in its features, but everything really clicks. Here are a few nice things:

When you die you lose nothing to that point. Especially in a dungeon, it would be a drag to lose all the loot and xp you've been accumulating. Also, when you return to the checkpoint, your ammo and health recharges are replenished. (Consumables are not, but that's how it should be.) Repeated deaths harm your pride but not your purse.

You can return to homebase from any checkpoint, even right before a boss fight, to buy consumables and improve armor or weapons. The checkpoints are well placed, too, which is great if a dungeon or boss has worn you out and you want to quit for now.

You can change your loadout at any time. This is perhaps the most awesome feature. If you discover your loadout is inappropriate to the current challenges, you can swap out anything right there, without abandoning progress or returning to homebase. Your inventory contains everything you own. Goodness, I love this.

There is an Adventure Mode that allows you to play episodes from the game without altering your campaign progress. The game is partially procedurally generated, so it is able to generate these microcosms off to the side. If you're in the mood to play but not in the mood to fight that brutal boss, you have an alternative. Also, all the loot and xp you gain in Adventure Mode sticks with your character. It's a great way to farm. Heck, I even acquired one of the super-rare crystals to create another health recharge!

The enemy AI is predictable enough to allow you to better your skills, but not so much that it's ever boring. Enemies dodge and flank intelligently. Fights are gratifying even if — or perhaps because — I often curse the game for being a bastard.

All in all, the game is just really good. If you are into vidya and, like me, want a challenge that doesn't quite bloody your keyboard, play Remnant.

P.S. Although any given campaign contains optional and random bosses, a few bosses are fixed. I managed to solo one of the hardest, namely Ixillis. I got a Steam Achievement for that. According to Steam, only 48% of players get that achievement. Which means 52% of players stall at Ixillis. It is possible to bypass Ixillis by instigating a fight with the Undying King; but that's like trading an acid bath for an acid bath. I wonder how many of that 52% just can't continue. I empathize with them. And I laugh at their weakness.

P.P.S. Huh. I beat the final boss in one go. Yes, I have heard it was nerfed a bit since all those videos of frustrating play were made a few months ago. But in fairness to me, I really did build up a solid character with good weapons and traits, and I have gotten good at the game. Only 33% of Steam players have defeated that boss. So I'm pleased. (I got a neat shotgun, too, which you can just see in my character portrait at the start of this post. When it's charged it briefly banishes enemies to the void [for some nice CC] and returns them damaged. Neat.)

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StoryHack #6
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