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Posted by Anna Merlan on The Muse, shared by Sophie Kleeman to Gizmodo

The Handmaid’s Tale is one of the finest dystopian novels ever written, and it is, inescapably and fundamentally, about women’s oppression under an ultra-conservative regime. The much-anticipated Hulu series based on the book doesn’t shy away from the original subject matter; it couldn’t, really, and remain the


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Posted by Kristen V. Brown

If the brain is just a bunch of wires and circuits, it stands to reason that those components can simply be re-wired in order to create a better, smarter us. At least, that’s the theory behind a new project from the military’s secretive DARPA research branch announced on Wednesday, which aims to enhance human…


What Kind of Dog Is This?

Apr. 26th, 2017 06:25 pm
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Posted by Hudson Hongo

Have you seen this dog? If you’ve been on Reddit lately, where this video by Japanese good boy enthusiast Hirofumi Kawano has been making the rounds, there’s a good chance you have.


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Posted by Ryan Felton on Jalopnik, shared by Sophie Kleeman to Gizmodo

The night 18-year-old Bernard Howard was hauled into Detroit police headquarters he was unequivocal: he knew nothing. Police had heard a man nicknamed Snoop—something Howard’s friend on the east side called him—might’ve been involved in a triple homicide, but Howard was clear: he didn’t know a thing. So he was…


I have started the garden

Apr. 26th, 2017 08:08 pm
[personal profile] karinfromnosund
I put down some seeds the other day. Not in the ground -- we're having snow and hail -- but in a box in the living room window.

They are beans and peas. I usually have trouble with them: the season here is a little too short, especially for beans, but I'm thinking of putting them in the greenhouse, which might give me couple of weeks more.

Okay, this is me having a go.

Apr. 26th, 2017 08:32 pm
moreteadk: Close-up of hedgehog bristles, with my username written above (Default)
[personal profile] moreteadk posting in [community profile] 2017revival
Name: [personal profile] moreteadk. I don't give out my real name online, unless necessary.
Age: 38
Location: Denmark
Tumblr/Goodreads/IG/etc: Angrboda on Goodreads. Don't have tumblr and don't even know what "IG" is.

Describe yourself in five sentences or less: Happily married to Husband, no children by choice, but two extremely cute cats. Preferred reading genre is primarily fantasy, but also enjoy historical fiction. Hate my job, but although we are wanting for nothing, only one of us working would still be rather expensive. Strongly introvert and quite shy. Immensely enjoying relatively new-found hobbies of cross-stitching (been doing it for three or four years) and patchwork/quilting, and am an ambitious beginner.

Top 5 fandoms: I don't really participate in fandom as such any more. I used to be active in Harry Potter, but although I still love the books, actual fandom activity is behind me. I will occasionally write about things, books, games, films, television that I'm enjoying, but that's about it.
Right now, for example, I've been enjoying "Grace and Frankie" (haven't got very far into that yet), and weirdly have fallen into "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic" much to the amusement of Husband. I don't know what it is, it's just so charming. And of course my previously mentioned crafty pursuits. Can crafts be a fandom?

I mostly post about: Personal life stuff, which is always friends-locked. I also try to do 'What I'm Reading Wednesday' posts at least semi-regularly, and once in a blue moon similar for whatever I've been stitching or sewing. (I picked up the idea of a Crafty Tuesday sort of post, similiar to the reading ones, from someone on my flist, I forget who, but it doesn't seem to have taken off. Tuesday is not a good day for it for me anyway. Haven't given up on the idea, though.)

My last three LJ posts were about: What I'm Reading Wednesday (today), What we did on my birthday (about five days ago), and another What I'm Reading Wednesday (one week ago)

How often do you post? It varies. It's not daily, but I tend to have something once or twice a week or so.

How about commenting? I am not a frequent commenter. I comment if I have something to say and feel like I actually have something to add. I do not comment simply for the sake of commenting. Likewise, I don't expect people to always comment on everything. I would much rather have one meaningful comment than ten comments only made for the sake of commenting. If receiving regular comments from flisters is important to you, then we would probably not be a good match. I do reply to all comments I receive, although sometimes it takes me a little while to do so.

A GIF to describe how your day has been today so far: To be honest, I don't actually like GIFs at all. I find these constantly moving images distracting and a little unpleasant to look at. I've got a browser extension installed that makes them play once and not repeat, and it's worth its metaphorical weight in gold.

wednesday reads 'n things

Apr. 26th, 2017 12:45 pm
isis: winged Isis image (wings)
[personal profile] isis
What I've recently finished reading: Er, I haven't actually finished anything recently. Which is a bit embarrassing because it's been two weeks since my last books post. But I've been reading fanfiction, including an original fic which I'm going to count as a book; and also, playing Ruzzle (a phone wordgame akin to Boggle) and Witcher 3 and watching some more Black Sails (four eps left in the last season), and I was on a vacation for four days mountain biking with my husband and another couple and didn't manage to read anything because we spent the evenings talking and drinking and playing bocce. /excuses

What I'm currently reading: Lots of things!

Grace of Kings by Ken Liu - my current audiobook, of which my opinion goes from two-star to four-star and back again pretty much every listening session. After my grumbling to [personal profile] ambyr that he just fridged another potentially excellent female character, the next bit I listened to...introduced a fabulous female character and gave her what looks like a starring role! After a really solid scene which sounded very much like an ending...I realized I was only 3/4 through the book.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins - I am at the point where I'm sort of hatereading it just because it's there. All the characters are awful, which I realize is the point, but I don't care for books like that.

The Course of Honour by [archiveofourown.org profile] Avoliot - original m/m arranged marriage in SPAAAACE fic. The arranged marriage bit is kind of dubious to me (dynastic marriages require the capability of making offspring!) but the story is entertaining and reasonably well-written, with interesting world-building and a solid non-romance plot (which is what sold me on it). I am not a romance fan, but I love relationships as b-plot to adventure/action/mystery/thriller stuff. (I found this because people were discussing it in a Books thread on ffa, and it sounded interesting enough to suspend my no-WIP rule.)

What I'm reading next: More fanfiction. (I'm reading a Witcher WIP right now, another exception to my rule, not really anything I'd give an unqualified rec to, but it's time travel, which is my bulletproof trope. Also I have promised two people I'd beta-read their fic, and I should be getting those soon.) I should get back to my collected Hugo-nominated short stories (spoiler alert: I haven't really liked the ones I've read, which is more about me not liking pro short stories in general than about the quality of the stories). I also have Catherynne Valente's Deathless on my phone, courtesy of a recent Tor books monthly giveaway, and I've been wanting to read it after a friend recommended it on my review of The Bear and the Nightingale as another Russian-mythology-inspired work.

Speaking of fanfic, I have my NoFM assignment and am pleased, though I have too many general ideas right now and not enough specific ones. I've also started writing another Witcher fic about totally minor characters nobody will be interested in, and have been poking at an abandoned WIP in another fandom that I might try to resurrect. Nothing like an assignment with a due date to make me want to write other things...
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Posted by Guest Reviewer


The Husband Maneuver

by Karen Witemeyer
May 3, 2016 · Bethany House Publishers
NovellaInspirationalRomanceHistorical: American

This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by Phyllis L. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Romance Novella category.

The summary:

1890s Texas

Marietta Hawkins has been in love with ranch foreman Daniel Barrett since she came home from school three years ago. Unfortunately, her father’s rule about hands not fraternizing with his daughter has kept him out of reach. She believed patience would prove a virtue in winning him over–until now. He is leaving. Starting up his own spread. To have any hope of maneuvering him into a proposal, she has to act fast or lose him forever. Fans of A Worthy Pursuit will enjoy seeing these characters again!

Here is Phyllis L.'s review:

Marietta “Etta” Hawkins is the twenty-one year-old daughter of a ranch owner in 1892 in Texas. She runs the household and takes care of all the woman-slash-house stuff. Her father is extremely protective and warns all his ranch hands not to even think about “making advances” or they’ll be fired. He has fired several men.

Daniel Barrett is the ranch foreman who has been breeding and training mules on the side and is in the process of buying his own ranch. He’s a former bounty hunter and the subject of a series of dime novels about Dead-Eye Dan, which are mostly fiction and which irritate him for glorifying violence.

The two of them have been attracted for years, neither knowing the other one is interested beyond basic friendliness. When the dad and most of the hands go off on a trail drive, leaving Daniel behind to keep an eye on things, Etta decides to take her chance and instead of staying in town with her aunt, gets someone to drop her back off at the ranch to do, uh, stuff. (You know: really important stuff! Honest, Aunt Ada.) Etta’s out there with no chaperone to get a chance to declare her love.

Does she not know that her dad has forbidden the men from flirting with her? I don’t think that was in the story anywhere. Because if she did and she had been trying for years to get Daniel’s attention, she would have known that she was putting him in a bad position, him being so honorable and all.

She was juvenile and didn’t come across to me as a twenty-one year old, though if all the men she ever met were ranch hands who weren’t allowed to flirt, she maybe wouldn’t know how to act around men. She had stayed with Aunt Ada in town several times and you’d think there were young men there who didn’t work for her dad. For being an Inspie, there’s no mention of going to church, where she would presumably see male human beings. There are no female friends, either, for that matter.

Daniel is twelve years older and has a great deal of life experience (see: bounty hunter), so I didn’t understand what he saw in Etta. She was pretty and ran the household well, which would be useful to him, but she acted like she was about sixteen (which would have been the age when they first met five years ago. And I hadn’t thought about it until now, so I’m a little squicked) (though they’ve only been pining for each other since she was eighteen. Or something.)

Anyway, my point there was that other than how hot she is (and this is an Inspie, so Dan has no fantasies about sex, though his arms ache to hold her and his knees go weak. In the last scene, they’re married and he takes her hair down and they make out on the sofa) I don’t see the attraction from his side.

Also, she idolizes him and reads all those dime novels about Dead-Eye Dan that he hates, so she doesn’t seem to have a clear idea of what there is about him that’s special.

He eventually finds her stash of dime novels and gets mad. She goes all drama queen and sobs that the novels let her “pretend that a part of you could actually belong to me” and immediately gives up her campaign and avoids him. Because of course. It takes him a few days to realize that he’s going to have to make the next move because now she thinks he’s not interested.

OK, so he was going to wait until he had quit working for her dad, but still, he could have said something about how he would court her once he had his own ranch. Once he finally figures it out, her dad walks in on them kissing. OF COURSE. But after he says Dan’s fired, they have a man-to-man talk in which the dad gives permission.

I mostly liked this novella, don’t get me wrong. The series of contretemps and ways Etta threw herself in Dan’s path were amusing. The way he stomped around and acted mad all the time instead of explaining himself went a bit too far into Big Misunderstanding territory, but he’d been hiding his feelings for so long, he didn’t realize the time had come to show them.

I wasn’t convinced she was grown up enough for him. She comes across as whiny and teenager-y instead of growing into an adult who has a chance of understanding Daniel. I didn’t feel convinced that this was going to be an HEA and that Dan wasn’t going to get annoyed with her by the end of their honeymoon.

I’m going to give it a B-.

Wednesday Reading

Apr. 26th, 2017 11:29 am
oracne: turtle (Default)
[personal profile] oracne
What We Pretend To Be by ifitwasribald is one of the more interesting Avengers stories I've read - the "normal" humans of the group, Tony Stark, Clint Barton, and Natasha Romanoff, are all dosed with super serum by an enemy. The story is a sort of psychological study of how each of them would deal with the potential of becoming more like Captain America, or more like Hulk. There was also unexpected Tony Stark/Bruce Banner slash.

The Price of War by shuofthewind is a massive retelling of the first season of the Daredevil Netflix series, with the addition of Darcy Lewis, who never met Jane and Thor and ends up becoming a lawyer. I loved that this story had a lot more female characters than the original version, but was sad that Karen's character gets less to do because it's Darcy's story now. There is eventual Darcy Lewis/Matt Murdock. My interest in the story lagged a bit once the romance kicked in, but I still enjoyed all the comics (616) characters who appeared.

Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow.

Apr. 26th, 2017 02:20 pm
malkingrey: ((default))
[personal profile] malkingrey
Today's joy -- I tripped going into the living room and caught my hand in the frame of the adjacent bookcase as I went down, and now I have a sprained wrist.

At least it's my left wrist. But typing one-handed is always such a delight.

Dialect readers redux?

Apr. 26th, 2017 04:02 pm
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Posted by Mark Seidenberg

In a recent article Patriann Smith, a professor of Language, Diversity and Literacy Studies at Texas Tech, makes a bold proposal: that “nonstandard Englishes” such as African American English (AAE) and Hawai’i Creole English be used as the primary language of instruction in educating children who speak them. ("A Distinctly American Opportunity: Exploring Non-Standardized English(es) in Literacy Policy and Practice", Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 9/12/2016) Smith reviews evidence that speaking “nonstandard English” (her term) as a first language interferes with children’s educational progress, given the way children are taught and progress is assessed. She also questions the privileged status accorded to the “standard” (aka mainstream, higher status) dialect of English (SAE) used in education, business, government, and other institutions, and the traditional view of literacy as the ability to read that dialect. Hence the proposal that children be taught in their native dialect whether “standard” or not.

In this post I'll look at some implications of this proposal for learning to read. The idea that children who speak AAE (or another nonstandard dialect) might benefit from being taught to read using materials written in their dialect isn't new.  Some 40 years ago there was a brief, a mostly-forgotten educational experiment with "dialect readers".  They weren't widely accepted then.  Has their time finally come?

Smith's article is gaining some traction: It was picked up by the Federation of Associations in Behavioral and Brain Sciences (FABBS), a major advocacy group, and an article about using AAE for instruction will appear in The Atlantic magazine some time soon. Many of her observations are accurate and yet her proposal raises difficult, contentious issues, including ones that fall outside the greater Language Log topical area (e.g., who would be willing or able to teach in such programs? Would they create race and language based tracking? Would they be legal?)

The evidence that amount of AAE usage is negatively related to progress in learning to read is substantial (see, e.g., Gatlin & Wanzek, “Relations Among Children’s Use of Dialect and Literacy Skills: A Meta-Analysis,” Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 2015, and articles cited therein). The basic reason is simple: Books are written in the mainstream dialect. Every beginning reader's progress depends on familiarity with this code. Greater use of AAE is usually (though not always) associated with weaker knowledge of the mainstream dialect. The children then have more difficulty learning to read than do mainstream dialect speakers.

Dialect readers were intended to address this disparity.

Bridge—A cross-cultural reading program” by Simpkins, Holt, & Simpkins from 1977 consisted of five pamphlet-length books. They were written as remedial texts for older children, not beginning readers. The first few stories were written in “Black vernacular.” Here’s a screenshot from Book 1. Over the course of the series, stories written in “standard English” gradually replaced the Black vernacular ones. The thinking was that the child would initially benefit from language similar to their own speech, and then transition to reading the standard dialect.

The design of the Bridge series is explained in an article by Simpkins & Simpkins in the 1981 proceedings of a conference at Wayne State University ("Black English and the education of Black children and youth: Proceedings of the national invitational symposium on the King decision"). The "King decision" is better known as the Ann Arbor decision, the famous case (Martin Luther King Junior Elementary School Children et al. v. Ann Arbor School District) about the education of lower income Black youth in the Ann Arbor schools.  Judge Charles W. Joiner (an African American) described, with remarkable linguistic insight, how dialect differences could affect children’s education.  The judge ordered the school district to identify Black English speakers and to "use that knowledge in teaching such students how to read standard English".

The Wayne State meeting brought together experts in education, law, literature (James Baldwin attended) and other areas to consider how to create educational practices better matched to African American language and culture in accord with the Ann Arbor decision.  The Bridge readers were a serious attempt to accomplish this for reading. I found the proceedings very moving, an account of people attempting to develop novel solutions to urgent educational problems with little research or precedent to build on, and also revelatory, because they identified basic issues that still haven’t been adequately addressed (e.g., the need for teachers to be educated about language variation and strategies for accommodating it; meeting the educational needs of African American children).

Bridge readers didn’t get very far. They weren’t widely adopted, it wasn’t clear whether they were effective, and other research from that era suggesting that dialect differences have little impact on reading or school achievement undercut the rationale for the books and killed off interest in them. The Oakland Ebonics controversy (1996-97) made it harder to incorporate AAE in instruction.

Now there is stronger evidence that AAE usage can interfere with learning to read standard texts and a proposal to use AAE in the classroom. Do dialect readers merit a second chance?

These issues are genuinely intersectional, involving race/ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, and history. Let’s set aside those factors long enough to look at the linguistic, psycholinguistic, and educational considerations.  The approach is consistent with some common educational tenets. The Bridge authors recognized that books that were more closely connected to students’ experience might encourage deeper engagement, a tenet of what is now called culturally-relevant instructional practice.  Using one type of material as a bridge to another is a fundamental instructional strategy. Books for beginning readers are often written in “nonstandard” English: Run, run. Run, Dick, run. Run and see. That Sam-I-am, that Sam-I-am! I do not like that Sam-I-am.  Books can also be written in a nonstandard dialect, and the Bridge readers could be updated.

Although the logic was clear, the approach nonetheless seems seriously flawed. Here are a few major concerns.

1. The goal of dialect readers was to develop children’s ability to read standard texts, using stories that incorporated elements of AAE as a transitional tool. The books focused on getting children into reading despite limited knowledge of SAE. But if the goal is being able to read such texts, the linguistic gap has to be filled. Dialect readers didn’t address this.

The problem with dialect readers is that the children’s problem isn’t reading; it’s knowledge of the language the books employ.  An alternative approach might be to focus on increasing the child’s familiarity with that language (for example, via language enrichment activities in pre-K and after).  Or, the opposite: drop the goal of being able to read standard-language texts, as Smith considers, a radical step that raises many other questions.

2. The concept of writing a book in African American English seems straightforward but what would it involve? American English has numerous regional variants and dialects. No one speaks the “standard American English” used in texts.  Illustration: people don’t talk the way this post is written; I certainly don’t. Texts are written in a more or less conventionalized version of English that exists mainly because of the ways that texts are used in education, government, business, etc.  Social, historical, political, and economic factors are also involved.  (See previous Language Log posts such as:

"Trevor Noah reflects on language and identity", 12/1/2016
"Mutual unintelligibility among Sinitic lects,” 10/5/2014
"About those dialect maps making the rounds…”, 6/6/2013
"Understanding across varieties of English," 8/1/2013

and many others.)

AAE also has numerous regional variants (Wolfram & Kohn, "Regionality in the development of African American English"). However, because it is an oral dialect, they aren’t anchored to a “standard” version. Prescriptivist dialecticians would have to create one—and then figure out how to render it orthographically and get people to adopt it. Given the regional variants and large individual differences in dialect density, a text written in Standard AAE would still vary in how well it aligned with children’s own speech.

3. Would dialect readers be effective?  For whom? Judged by what criteria? Compared to which alternative approaches?  The answers aren’t known.

There is no credible evidence concerning the effectiveness of dialect readers, though advocates of the approach can point to some suggestive findings. In “Dialect readers revisited,” Rickford & Rickford offered several encouraging anecdotes about the use of the readers, and described the results of two suggestive “mini studies” that were not published elsewhere.

Smitherman (2015), "African American Language and Education: History and Controversy in the Twentieth Century," describes the results of a more substantive study in which 413 children used Bridge readers and 137 used another “remedial reading” program.  When tested after 4 months of instruction,  children who used the Bridge readers were said to have made much more progress than the other children.

The source for these findings is the 1981 Simpkins & Simpkins article mentioned above.  It is another unpublished study that can’t be assessed because so little is known about the methods and data.  These findings nonetheless have been repeatedly cited as evidence that dialect readers worked but were abandoned prematurely. They are also repeated because other evidence is lacking.  Evaluating the effectiveness of reading curricula and instructional practices is a notoriously challenging task. Intriguing but unverifiable findings from several decades ago aren’t an adequate basis for adopting an approach.  They might at best justify conducting additional studies, if researchers could find enough children, parents, teachers, and educational authorities willing to participate.

The conceptual problems with the dialect reader approach seem insuperable to me, and the prospects for adopting them in the present political context seem remote. However, the pressures to improve literacy outcomes are such that novel, untested educational approaches are often implemented in case they might work. Nor is there evidence that the approach can't be effective in principle. I am not a speaker of a minority dialect and the decision is not mine to make. But the logic of the dialect reader approach is questionable and the evidence that it is effective and superior to other approaches is lacking.

The title of Smith’s article frames these issues as "distinctly American” but that isn’t entirely accurate. American circumstances are unique but the linguistic phenomena are not.  Dialects exist in languages, not just in English, and there are low status “nonstandard” dialects spoken by lower SES minority populations in other countries. Australia and Canada have programs in which speakers of minority dialects learn mainstream English as a second dialect (Siegel, Second Dialect Acquisition), analogous to learning English as a second language. Language Log readers will undoubtedly be familiar with circumstances elsewhere.

These issues are a reminder that language variation and dialect are not widely understood despite decades of basic research. Non-mainstream dialects are still commonly perceived as “bad English,” even by people who speak them. Teachers are conflicted about whether to correct their students' use of a nonstandard dialect. The linguistic integrity of dialects is not clearly distinguished from their sociolinguistic status. Dialect variation needs to be addressed in education, as Judge Joiner stated years ago. But dialect readers are unproved. At this point, introducing them would be like conducting a large, unregulated behavioral experiment.  This country has a long history of experimenting on minority and low income individuals without their knowledge or consent, and educational experiments raise the same ethical concerns.

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Posted by Amanda

Workspace with computer, journal, books, coffee, and glasses.RT is almost here! I’ll also be traveling today as my little baby brother is graduating from college and his Air Force program, then heading off to Texas. Expect lots of blubbering from me. After that, it’s RT time and the Bitches will be here. Hope you can all say hello!


For RT attendees, just a reminder that the SBTB crew is doing three separate events (plus Sarah is doing a gazillion panels).

There’s the SBTB Reader Recommendation Party on Wednesday, May 3 from 2:45pm-3:45pm. Swag and free books! Hello!

That evening, Wednesday, May 3 from 8:30pm-10:00pm, we’re having a casual meet-up at the hotel bar.

Sarah will also be taping a LIVE episode of Smart Podcast, Trashy Books on Friday, May 5 from 4:30pm-6:00pm!

It’s starting to get warming in parts of the world, which means endless articles about how to get a summer beach body. Carrie found this one on how to get a “Regency beach body.”

1. Eat what you want.

Seriously, no one is going to see an inch of your torso or thighs because you’ll be covered by your Regency bathing outfit. Once you step out of the water and into your bathing machine you’ll only be seen by some servants who just really don’t care about the fabric sticking to your wet body because life sucks for the working class.

I feel like I’m already one step ahead then.

Tor.com is giving away FREE ebook copies of Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway! The offer ends today, April 26, at 11:59pm EST.

Sarah discovered these Gender Bias Riddles from McSweeney’s:

A forty-something celebrity actress visits her holiday home on a tropical island. A hurricane strikes, destroying the oceanfront property. The actress manages to escape and save Pebbles, her teacup Chihuahua. Afterwards, she says she feels blessed because all she needs in life is to be with precious Pebbles. No one who reads the news story the following day believes her.

How is this possible?

100% of people who follow celebrity news cannot imagine a childless forty-something actress feeling blessed or fulfilled.

All of them are pretty damn good. They’re funny in a “kind of painfully true” sort of way.

Frixion click pen in blue

Frixion Erasable Pens

I love these pens far more than is probably natural. They write smoothly, they erase for real (yes, way!), and they come in a bunch of colors. I have one with me at all times.

And because the internet can be a wonderful place, people are photoshopping Mr. Bean’s (Rowan Atkinson) face onto pop culture images and works of art as part of a design competition.

Mr. Bean wearing a Captain American costume

Don’t forget to share what super cool things you’ve seen, read, or listened to this week! And if you have anything you think we’d like to post on a future Wednesday Links, send it my way!

WisCon schedule / review

Apr. 26th, 2017 11:04 am
gwynnega: (books poisoninjest)
[personal profile] gwynnega
My day began with two excellent things. The first: Charles Payseur's in-depth review of the latest Mithila Review, which includes my poem "family (a form somehow must)."

The second: My finalized WisCon schedule!

This Genre Kills Fascists
Sat, 1:00–2:15 pm
Capitol B
Gwynne Garfinkle (moderator), ANONYMOUS, Alexis Lothian, Victor J. Raymond
Let's dig into the history, the present, and the future of genre fiction as resistance texts. The uses of genre conventions to speak out in ways that would be dangerous if stated baldly in a realist or non-fiction text, the power of imagining a way forward, the issuing of warnings, the rallying cries. The epitaphs and the freedom songs. The voices that endure and the voices that are needed.

Fanfic, Retcon, and Zombies, Oh My!
Sat, 9:00-10:15 pm
University B
Carrie Pruett (moderator), Gwynne Garfinkle, KJ, Victoria Janssen
Let's talk about what happens in the murky territories where fanfic meets original works. Do writings that use original works in the public domain—modern-day Sherlock Holmes characters, zombies in Jane Austen's worlds—count as fanfic? When a series gets unwieldy or unpopular, it can be rebooted or rewritten with different parameters: maybe a character comes back to life, changes gender, or gets a new backstory. Are there differences between retcon and fix-it fic, other than who owns the copyright?

Personal Demons
Sun, 10:00-11:15 am
Conference 4
Carol Anne Douglas, Gwynne Garfinkle, Cath Schaff-Stump , LaShawn M. Wanak
What haunts us, what scares us, what makes us tick. Works that deal with metaphorical and actual demons.

When the Monster Isn't the Monster
Sun, 4:00-5:15 pm
University C
William Paimon (moderator), Gwynne Garfinkle, Leigh Hellmann
Science fiction and horror have always displayed a unique ability to play with allegory and metaphor by making monsters. Sometimes, though, the monster is more than just a flesh and blood (or protoplasm) villain to be defeated. As these genres have had a resurgence over the past few years, high concept genre work has undergone something of a renaissance. From big screen successes like The Babadook, It Follows, and The Witch, to television like Jessica Jones and Mr. Robot, science fiction and horror are finding commercial and critical success by having something to say again. Let's talk about what we loved in works with horrors that are more than meet the eye, note where they fell flat, and share hidden gems we might not have run into yet.
guppiecat: (Default)
[personal profile] guppiecat

Giant Katydid (Macrolyristes corporalis)_3

Though they are larger than the average katydid, their name is misleading. They’re not really this big.

Originally posted at stories.starmind.org.

Skill challenges

Apr. 26th, 2017 06:32 pm
jack: (Default)
[personal profile] jack
DnD 4e and 5e introduced the idea of skill challenges. Basically a unified framework for handling various things other than combat or parallel to combat that should involve more back and forth than a single roll, like a chase scene, or defusing a bomb.

The idea is, instead of a single "defuse bomb" roll, you need multiple things, open the panel without setting something off, find the deadman's switch, choose the right wire, cut it.

And these might be things that require a variety of skills.

4e designed a version which really rubbed me up the wrong way. It optimised for designing a scenario that could be run mechanically for different groups and present a particular level of challenge, and assumed that each challenge would be defined by "achieve N successes before X failures, using skills A, B, C or D".

I've only skimmed the rules for 5e but it seems to be somewhat more freeform. Because I thought this was a *great* idea, basically codifying something that a good GM would do automatically, but I really didn't like the way it was hard-coded, and presented to the players up-front.

Ideally, it should be obvious without specifying to the players. For the bomb, maybe each failure makes the bomb arm itself, then begin flashing, then finally explode. You don't know for sure how many steps, but you can tell things are getting critical. (And if you're aiming for fun rather than challenge, the GM can escalate or descelate the requirements according to how challenging this encounter should be compared to other ones that have happened this session.) It should be obvious which skills might apply, but they might lead to different paths -- a knowledge skill might open up an easier path to success, not count as a success/failure itself; different skills might stack or not; etc.

Or it ties into combat, each failure makes combat more difficult (it makes the platform you're standing on move dangerously or lets more enemies catch up), or you need to coordinate making skill rolls with other characters doing combat.

If you're improv'ing, that's all fairly easy to do, even though it's hard to spec in advance.

I said on twitter, skill challenges are a great idea, but I find it more fun if it's "how the GM designs the scenario" not "a mechanic the players need to be familiar with". Now I think of it, I see the same contrast with "what monsters you encounter". That easily can be pre-specified, and the players know, basically, the mechanics are "here's the monsters who exist" or "they spawn every two rounds" (as in 4e)[1], and know everyone faced a similar challenge. Or it can be improvised -- if the players faff around, the reinforcements arrive early, if they players have a lucky plan to bar a door, they can't come in, etc, etc. (as I'd like it).

[1] This makes sense from a tactical combat perspective, but I found very frustrating. Every 2 rounds skeletons climb out of a sarcophagus. No, you can't look inside. No, you can't judge how many skeletons could fit inside. No, you can't judge what sort of spell or effect is responsible (well, you can, but you can't expect it to matter). No, you can't try to block the lid. It's screaming "accept the premise and desperately avoid imagining being there". Except that if you do that, you have no way to judge "having the infinite spawning skeletons finished or will they continue" and are punished for guessing wrong. I feel like you could have 90% of the effect by saying "there's a pile of bones, a skeleton assembles itself out of them, there's still 3/4 of the pile left" or "the sundered skeleton parts begin to reassemble themselves" or "the air shimmers and a skeleton warrior sprouts from the ground".


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