Monday, January 13, 2020

Remembering Mike Resnick

I first met Mike Resnick at the Writers of the Future workshop week the year I won. I didn't know who he was. I think he might have given a talk to the new writers as several of the judges do, but I don't remember a thing. I'd never heard of him before (or least I thought I hadn't) so for whatever reason, his presence just didn't register with me.

My first memory of Mike, really, was after I'd won the gold award (the grand prize) and was ferried off to do tons of autographing as the annual winners do. Mike came up to me when I had a break (though in retrospect I don't know how a break even existed) and said that he didn't want my autograph but did want to congratulate me. At some point, it finally sunk in that he was one of the judges.

When I got home from the event, I set up Facebook for the first time and friended everyone I'd met as well as all the judges, including Mike. I thanked him for judging the contest and picking my story as the grand prize winner (I knew he'd been on the final judging panel), and he wrote back encouraging me to keep writing. He said something that one else ever had, that it would be a loss for the field if I did not continue.

I still do not think I write at the level that Mike thought I could, but he always encouraged me and said I was free to e-mail him whenever I wanted. I tried not to bother him too often, but he always responded when I did, whether it was about which conventions to go to, how to behave at a convention, or where I should send a story.

Mike mentored a lot of writers. You'd know if you were one of Mike's "writer children" because he'd call you that and invite you the breakfasts he'd have for the writer kids at Worldcon. I only got to attend one, but it was surprising to see how many writer siblings I had, across such a range of ages and experience levels.

He had a lot of love for the history of the field, and I'd occasionally disappoint him by not reading some classic he'd enjoyed. To me, the field formed during my childhood, so there are few books I've read from before I was born, and I tend to be skeptical about how well they've aged. I think he wished we could have talked about the same authors, but when I refused to read them, he'd roll his eyes like a put-upon father and that would be the end of it.

At some point I discovered, years after I met him, that the first time I'd read any of Mike's work was actually back in high school. It's just that I hadn't known him at the time, so he was just another name in an anthology.

Mike was talking to a group of novice writers about themed anthologies, telling them about how it's good to have an unusual take on the theme, because it gives the editor something different to fill the volume with. As an example, he talked about a military science fiction anthology he submitted a story to. Obviously there are certain expectations in a military sf story; generally combat, daring missions, etc. So Mike sent in an off-kilter story about the military wanting to set up a base where they weren't wanted from the POV of the person trying to get rid of them. It was a comedy.

And this is how Mike inadvertently taught me a different lesson.

On hearing the name of the anthology series and the details of the story, I realized I'd read that story in high school and it was my least favorite in the volume, precisely because I was expecting some soldier or military-affiliated protagonists, and I didn't like the jerk who was trying to get the soldiers to piss off while they're busy trying to save the galaxy.

So being different is good, but don't be so different that the reader doesn't get what they signed up for.

And I know Mike was not much of a military sf reader or writer, which is likely why he took that tack in the first place.

But Mike's more serious works often had a lot of heart. You could feel the emotion behind his characters and their decisions. And whenever he decided to put on an editor's hat, I noticed that heart was what he looked for the most.

It's something I started doing whenever I struggled with a draft. What is the emotional heart of the story? What do I want the reader to feel when they get to the end?

This started to inform my writing, and is probably the biggest lesson I've taken away from him.

Though I didn't know the full extent of Mike's situation until his daughter Laura's post on his GoFundMe page, I'd known from his sporadic posting on Facebook that he'd been struggling with health issues for the past year, and even before then he'd had some bouts of illness due to his age. But the fact he lived long enough to deal with the symptoms of advanced age is a blessing itself.

I know he helped and encouraged a lot of people, and he didn't stop doing that throughout his career. I once asked him why he spent so much time doing this, and he told me that everyone who helped him get started was now either well off or dead, so he chose to pay it forward.

I last saw Mike two years ago, when he told me that "Living Rooms" was still the best story he'd seen through the Writers of the Future contest. The story has been a bit of an albatross for me as it continues to be one of my most read works, as if I haven't done anything in the ten years since I won the contest. Sometimes, I wished that Mike would have liked one of my later stories better, and he'd bought multiple from me, but still... Maybe it's because that was the story that introduced me to him, and him to me.

Monday, January 6, 2020

My Year in Review 2019

2019 was a rough year for me. Ever since the car accident last January that eventually led to me being diagnosed with cancer, to the surgery itself, to the radiation treatment afterwards, last year was rough, and a lot of it was whiled away playing video games. (If anything can be considered accomplished last year, it's putting a dent in my backlog.)

Between mid-January and September I hardly wrote anything, though I still put down a few paragraphs here and there. People told me not to feel guilty about it, that it's self-care, but sometimes I couldn't help wondering, was all this self-care needed? Maybe I was just being lazy?

But I did do a number of things!

I launched my Ko-fi for my blog, which ended up being the primary way friends reached out to help me with the financial costs of treatment. People contributed much more than I expected and I am extremely grateful for that, though if I'd known I probably would have set up a GoFundMe instead, since I suspect that everything that went through Ko-fi is going to be taxable.

Mostly, I want Ko-fi to be a place for my readers to drop a tip and then help choose which game I'm going to play next when I hit critical mass. I know that gaming has little to do with writing (other than the times a game inspires a story), but it's also my biggest hobby, and gives me something to write about when I have nothing fiction-related to post.

In additional to Ko-fi, I also set up Curious Fictions as the primary online repository for my reprint fiction. Though not everything is there, a fair number of my shorts and novelettes are available to monthly subscribers. You can read as much or little as you want, and there are five free stories as well if you'd just like to check it out.

Curious Fictions also saw the debut of my original novella Jack of Spades, which is currently only available to subscribers, though the first chapter is free for everyone. Jack of Spades is an older work of mine that I really enjoyed writing, but eventually pulled from the market since it needed a rework and the Hunger Games had come out (that shows you how old this is) and I felt people might find the two a little too similar. In retrospect, especially now that I have gone in and done the rewrites, I don't think the similarities are really what I needed to worry about it. It was fixing the plot!

Also, to push me back into writing, I participated and completed NaNoWriMo 2019, even though I took time to visit two local conventions and visit family over the Thanksgiving holiday. Completing my 50k even though I had all those other distractions going on was a good boost to my morale.

Moving into 2020, my health appears to be good. At least, there's no sign of the cancer returning, though of course I'm continuing my check-ups. Most of my health expenses from last year are taken care of now, though there's still the possibility of another bill floating around due to some doctors billing their work separately from the hospital.

I want to thank everyone for being so supportive during my illness last year, and here's to 2020 being better!

Monday, December 23, 2019

I'm Just About Done With Persona's Length

I was a little over 90 hours into Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth when November hit and I shelved it to focus on NaNoWriMo. I was disappointed that I didn't get to finish it, but I really wanted to get back into writing after being out of commission most of the year.

After finishing my 50,000 words, I came back to Persona Q2 and decided to power through to the end so I could finish before the end of the year.

About 95 hours in, I realized I'd likely finished all known side quests and had about two floors of dungeon left to complete. This would probably clock in about a 100 hours. (It was eventually 100 hours and 22 minutes, so my guess was really close!)

And I realized, this is way too long.

I've felt all right up to 70 hours with an RPG, even 80 for one I'm really enjoying, but something about crossing the 90 hour mark really deflates my balloon, even for a franchise I'd ordinarily enjoy. I mean, Persona Q2 is pure fanservice. I got to build a dream party out of all my favorite characters from Personas 3-5, even the female protagonist from Persona 3 Portable! There's nothing wrong with the combat system, the persona collecting, or the story. It's just so long that I was ready for it to end at about 90 hours.

I ended up doing a lot of gaming this year due to being on medical leave and lacking the focus to do creative work. (I seriously tried doing revision work while going through radiation treatment and ended up deciding to lay down instead.) So this year I had a lot more game time than I ordinarily would.

This is a day and age when the capacity for a game to be long is greater than ever, but as a working adult who loves games, this also means that there's also a lot out there that I really want to play that long games prevent me from getting to.

Persona 5 was similarly a 100+ hour game for me, and though the upcoming Persona 5 Royal rerelease is supposed to streamline some of the gameplay in acknowledgement that perhaps it was too long, Royal is also adding new content, so the end result is likely to be the same length or a little longer.

I don't precisely remember my Persona 4 playthrough time, but I think it was about 80 hours, which is long, but not unforgivably so.

I usually buy the extended versions of the various Persona games at some point, FES and Golden, so I'll likely get Royal as well, but I already know it's going to be something tossed in the backlog and when I finally get around to it I'll play on the easiest difficulty because I already did it "for real" on the original version and a second time around would just be to see the new stuff.

Atlus is probably in the planning stages for Persona 6. I can't imagine they're not already thinking about the next game while they're milking Persona 5 for all the spin-offs/updates they can get.

But please, shorter this time. And while I'm asking for ponies, give me a female protagonist too.

Monday, December 16, 2019

RPG Talk: Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth

In which I talk (write) about RPGs from a storytelling perspective...

Platform: 3DS
Release: 2019

Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth was going to be the rare RPG I played the day of release. Being built on a hybrid of the Etrian Odyssey dungeon delving mechanics and the Persona fusion system, it's easy enough to play through without requiring much in the way of a walkthrough, which solves my biggest issue with most modern RPGs (needing a walkthrough to make sure you don't miss anything).

Unfortunately my health problems escalated right about when my pre-order arrived so I set it aside and eventually forgot about it, even neglecting to list this on my Reader's Pick poll, which Final Fantasy XV won.

But I came back to it afterwards, and was happy I did.

Since this game is less than a year old, here is your spoiler warning as I'll cover everything up until the end of the game.

Persona Q2 is first and foremost a fan game. It exists as a crossover to allow the casts of all the modern Persona games (3-5) meet each other at the peak of their Persona-fighting abilities. The first Persona Q did much the same thing, only with the casts of 3 and 4.

Unfortunately there appears to be no continuity with the first game as the returning characters behave as if they've never met each other before, but the structure is very similar. For some reason or another, each cast has stumbled into movie worlds connected by a single theater from which the audience cannot leave due to a series of locks placed around the door to the exit. Much like the first game, completing each dungeon (in other words, a movie world) grants a key that removes one of the locks.

Unlike the first game, where players could play from the perspective of the P3 or P4 casts, this one is solidly from the POV of the P5 crew. The player starts with them and Joker is the only one allowed to make dialogue choices. But the flipside of that is that the P3, P3P (yes, the female protagonist is here!), and P4 protagonists all have actual personalities that make them their own people.

The P3P protagonist is especially a ray of sunshine. Though she has her doubts and can be overly cheerful at times, she gets to hang loose in a way that the other female party members don't. She's used to be outspoken and marching to the beat of her own drum, because where she comes from, she's the party leader and she has the confidence to match.

Also, it's about time she got featured in a spin-off game! I understand the male P3 protagonist is canon, but the P3P female protagonist has never been offered in other games, even as DLC when she could be safely included without worrying about whether her existence breaks the laws of reality. She's long been a popular request in the English fan community, and Persona Q2 has finally brought her back in a big way, making her a major player in the storyline. She appears much earlier than any of the other Persona casts, joining the Phantom Thieves as early as the second floor of the first dungeon.

While the story of Persona Q2 isn't her story in particular, her subplot is given a lot of space. She meets the Phantom Thieves while separated from her companions, so one of their early goals aside from trying to figure out their current circumstances is to reunite her with her team. But the second dungeon yields the P4 Investigation Team rather than SEES, and when she finally does meet SEES in the third dungeon, she's distressed to discover that not only do they not recognize her, but they have a different leader who she doesn't recognize.

The male P3 protagonist is pretty accepting about it, concluding that they are essentially alternate universe versions of the same person (which they are), though I wish the two of them had more lines interacting with each other. It would have been funny if they commiserated over the P3 cast's foliables as only people who share the same group of friends could. Sadly, they might as well not exist to each other for the majority of their time together, which makes their mutual farewell, with the understanding that they'll never meet again, ring hollow. This could easily have been fixed with a special screening side quest to unlock a team attack, but oddly the game never tries.

Since Persona Q2 is of debatable canonicity, it's not surprising that its story is ultimately not about the Persona characters or the struggles they're currently in the middle of. Rather, like the first Persona Q, the story is about the new characters specific to this game; Hikari, Nagi, and Doe.

When the Phantom Thieves first arrive, they quickly figure out their new situation. They are trapped inside a movie theater with two other people; the theater curator, Nagi, and a high school girl, Hikari. There is also a mysterious inhuman projectionist called Doe (for John Doe) that doesn't speak or seem to be hostile, but nevertheless runs the movies that the Phantom Thieves can enter by jumping through the movie screen.

Each of the movies revolves around some element of social unfairness. For instance, in the first movie, Kamoshidaman, the superhero runs the city because he's the hero, so of course he's in the right. But he's not actually a nice person and makes objectionable judgement calls. Though people might privately feel disagree, no one is willing to call him out on it because he's the one in charge and to fight him is to lose.

By journeying through the movie, the Persona casts are able to change the endings to those movies by defeating the various bosses and convincing other characters that it's okay to disagree, that it's okay to be yourself, it's okay to have a different opinion.

All these changes have an effect on Hikari, who (though it's not immediately apparent) is suffering from memory loss. Hikari is incredibly shy and introverted, so she understands the various characters who are oppressed in the movie worlds. Standing out and making trouble can actually make it harder for the person who has to endure the scorn of others. But as each movie is changed, Hikari comes to understand that even though putting one's head down is the easy way, it's not really the way she would like to live.

This culminates in Hikari getting kidnapped by Doe and being brought into the fourth movie world, which is a musical that reflects the worst moments in her life. Being berated by her teacher, even though Hikari was following the rules, was what led to the formation of the movie world with the abusive superhero. The other movie worlds are similarly inspired by key moments in Hikari's life that caused her to give up what she believed in.

Since Hikari has grown over the course of the game though, she's now able to challenge Doe on her own terms and recognize him as a distorted fear that her father (who actually loves her a lot) would reject her in the same way that so many other people in her life have. After coming to terms with Doe, she realizes that her father doesn't hate her and regains her sense of purpose. This allows everyone to leave the movie theater.

But, since this is a Persona game where things happen due to the involvement of supernatural entities, that's not the end of everything. Though Hikari is free to leave, and by extension so is everyone else, there's one more dungeon to defeat Enlil, the being that trapped Hikari in the first please. Enlil is fine with Hikari leaving since her theaters are supposed to be a way to placate for people who've given up, but naturally Hikari wants to restore to hope to others who were like her, so the team stays long enough to beat up Enlil.

While Hikari's story isn't bad, it's not as heavy as Rei's storyline from the first Persona Q and lacked the same punch when the truth was revealed. Perhaps being the second game it wasn't surprising that the main thrust of the plot would be around Hikari instead of the established Persona cast, but it also felt that the messaging in the movies was too explicitly geared towards someone with Hikari's personality, making it obvious by the second dungeon that Hikari was the reason we were going through these movies at all.

The rest of the game is pure crossover fun. Shinjiro (known to be a good cook) gets to feed Yusuke (known to be frequently hungry), Akechi and Naoto get to solve a mystery together, and Makoto and Mitsuru get to talk about what it's like being a student council president.

If anything, having the entire roster of the modern Persona games shows what sort of tropes are in play and how the design team has tried to make them all a little different, by mixing and matching character attributes or putting a little spin on their personality. Makoto might be a student council president like Mitsuru, but she's also a knuckle-wielding bruiser in combat like Akihiko. Junpei, Yosuke, and Ryuji might all fill the male protagonists' best friend role, but removed from that they don't feel like the same person copied and pasted into three games.

That said though, I think the next game should avoid student council presidents, detective princes, and wealthy heiresses (all of which were revived in Persona 5). And though I know it's unlikely to happen, it would be nice to see a male navigator character for once as Persona Q2 made it glaringly obvious that every navigator the series ever had has been female. A lot of the party roles, elemental alignments, and weapon types switch across genders. Even the protagonist has had a female option. But the one thing we've never had is a male navigator. We've had males in that role temporarily (like Morgana and Teddie, who are notably both "not human"), but they always leave it once the real navigator shows up.

As far as the ending goes, Persona Q2 ties itself up better than its predecessor, which left the door open for everyone remembering their encounter. (I suppose this means that for the P3 and P4 casts, Persona Q could have happened after Persona Q2 to preserve continuity.) Everyone loses their memory of the movie world when they go home, which naturally makes everyone sad, especially since everyone wanted to see the movie Hikari would make once her love for cinema is rekindled.

The game takes steps towards making this "reunion" happen by featuring the P3, P3P, and P4 casts taking the unusual step of sitting down and seeing a movie together. The P3 protagonist picks up a DVD even though he's not really sure why, and in the P4 time period Nanako mentions that the movie they're going to watch has a dinosaur that looks like Yosuke, which was leading me to believe that Hikari had come from a time period before all three games. Since she never confirms what year she's from, that would have been entirely possible, and I would have found it heartwarming, if she'd turned out to be a director beloved by all three casts.

Unfortunately the P5 cast's epilogue wrecks that but having them attend a high school movie festival (showcasing films are made by high school students), where they watch Hikari's movie and when the director of the film is introduced, the game cuts just as the P5 protagonist recognizes her. So what was even going on with the P3 and P4 casts? Why is there a movie with a dinosaur that looks like Yosuke that has nothing to do with the events of this game?

I don't know.

Though I enjoyed the game, it was just a little too ham-handed, and even the supernatural events felt like rehashes of previous Persona games (Enlil's motivation is a lot like Izanagi's from P4 and Doe's existence is like a cognition from P5). I enjoyed it for the gameplay and the crossover fun, but this isn't one of the better spin-off stories.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Attack on Titan: Sometimes the Smaller Characters Matter

On occasion, I really fall in love with a secondary character. And I don't mean the fan favorite, the sort of character that has primary character potential. I mean a character that will in all likelihood live out their life in their secondary role. In a long running series (or game), they might only have a few scenes.

I'm going to talk about one of them from Attack on Titan, and be warned, there are spoilers for manga Chapter 124, which was released just yesterday.

One of my favorite characters in Attack to Titan is Nile Dok. I hesitate to call him my favorite out of all of them, because he's definitely not part of the main cast and isn't given as much breathing room, but he is definitely my favorite secondary character.

I like Nile because he's complicated, and in a setting where most of the primary cast is willing to lay down their lives for what they believe in, Nile is a lot more humble than that. He could have joined the Survey Corps like his friend Erwin (who eventually became the Commander of said Corps), but instead he decided to settle into a job with the military police and marry the woman he loved.

Though he considered it a bit of a cowardly move on his part, because out of all their classmates only Erwin survived, Nile does not regret it, because that decision allowed him to have a family that would have been impossible for someone in the Survey Corps (which is known for its high fatality rate).

Nile was not popular when he was first introduced, because he appears in an adversarial role. He wants to take Eren, the protagonist, away from the Survey Corps, a group of people who Eren (and by proxy the audience) highly respects. When everyone else is hiding away within their walled cities away from the titans, the Survey Corps explores the outside, hoping to discover the truth about their world and the titans that surround them.

But gradually, through his connection with Erwin, Nile's backstory comes through and he becomes a more sympathetic face among the leaders in the military. By the most recent story arc, he's willing to take a chance on peace by discretely handing off a child combatant from the opposing country to the boy's older brother. He's not supposed to do that, but he knows that the boy should really be with his family rather than in the middle of a warzone.

It's sadly the last good deed that he gets to do.

We know from earlier in the arc that Nile has been "infected" (for lack of a better term) with some spinal fluid that's going to turn him into a mindless titan when the antagonist gives the signal, and the signal goes off. He wasn't the only character infected, so narratively the transformation had to happen to avoid making it a toothless threat, so I'd made peace with the fact that in all likelihood Nile was going to die and never make it back to his wife and kids.

It's how he died that bothers me.

There are multiple named characters who are transformed by the signal, and the two who clearly die as titans this chapter are Pixis and Nile. Pixis is killed when the Titans in the city are led to the fort and they're collectively taken out by members of the Survey Corps. However, Pixis gets a few lines said about him and regrets expressed by those about to kill him. Pixis, at this point in the story, is the de facto head of the military and he's also the first sensible officer the series introduced, so it's not surprising that he would get a little bit of a send off before being slain by his own soldiers.

Nile is handled differently though. None of the primary cast has ever been in Nile's court aside from Erwin, who is long dead by this point. Any relationship has been a professional one. But we as readers still know Nile and that he was one of the ones who should have transformed, so it's not surprising that he appears post-transformation so we can learn about his fate. But it's not a reluctant send-off by those who care about him.

Instead, he's used as a prop to recreate the trauma Kaya expected when she saw her mother being eaten right in front of her. This allows Gabi to save her life (causing Kaya to see her in a new light) by killing Nile. Gabi and Kaya have no idea who Nile is. All Gabi knows is that it's a titan, and it's about to eat Kaya.

Gabi and Kaya have had it rough, Gabi being a child soldier and Kaya having lost her sister due to Gabi killing her during the invasion of Gabi's hometown. But Gabi eventually learned that Kaya's people aren't the heartless devils she thought they were, so she's learned to see them in a new light. Putting them in this situation where Kaya's about to get eaten allows the two of them to start talking again (instead of trying to kill each other).

I understand what the story was going for, but it was really hard to cheer for Gabi when she's killing my favorite secondary character in an incredibly heartless (but necessary) manner. From her perspective, it really could have been any titan, and the result would have been the same.

But for me, the reader, it wasn't, so the choice to put Nile there was purely authorial intent. For the most part, I think was simply a tidy way to wrap up Nile's fate, but there's a problem with that, because even though Nile isn't part of the main cast, he has been given enough depth that he's not simply a cardboard cutout. He has a life beyond his immediate function on the story, and he's been built up so that there's a reason to care about him.

Attack on Titan isn't a series that's kind to its characters, so I wasn't expecting survival, but I did expect closure, and for what Nile has been, it's a sad thing to go out as a character building prop.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Thoughts on Psycho-Pass 3

Psycho-Pass 3 launched last month, and we're just over halfway through the season. It's weird though because numerically we just finished episode 5, but in terms of run time, it's actually more like episode 10. I've never watched an hour long anime episode before. They aren't usually structured that way, but aside from some rockiness in episode 2, Psycho-Pass 3 seems to be making good use of its extra time, and in that way, we'll be getting what would ordinarily be sixteen episodes' worth of dystopian crime goodness.

Fair warning, there be spoilers ahead!

I fell into Psycho-Pass late, but since then it's become one of my favorite anime series. I still think the first episode of the first season is one of the best examples of world building I've ever seen. Though the second season was definitely a mixed bag (to the point I think the spin-off visual novel did a better job), it wasn't bad enough to sour me on the series as a whole, so I was waiting with both anticipation and trepidation for Psycho-Pass 3 to come out.

Would it be watchable since the Sinners in the System movie trilogy was never released in the US? Would I be happy with the new protagonists? And most of all, could it find a new angle on what it is like to fight crime in a world where it is possible for criminal intent to be read before it can ever come to fruition?

So far, the answer to all three is yes!

Granted, not having seen Sinners in the System means that there is a new character who I don't know much about, but given that there is a clear time skip between Psycho-Pass 2 and Psycho-Pass 3, she doesn't feel too much out of place. Since the composition of Division 1 has changed, it's not surprising that someone new would slide in representing a different part of the organization. Aside from the fact she exists at all, there's no knowledge needed that the show won't tell you regarding how she fits in and why Ginoza, Teppo, and Kogami are now working for her. (Well, seeing Kogami is a bit odd, but hey, time skip.) Frederica's team isn't the focus though, so I don't feel we have to have a lot of detail on how her team came to be. And judging from some comments I've read, a lot of this is new even to people who've seen the movies.

My biggest surprise though was how well Arata and Kei won me over as the new protagonists. The original Division 1 was the best, and while they got jumbled a bit in Psycho-Pass 2, at least we kept mainstays like Akane and Ginoza. But I think the series is better for setting up our new duo, since they're able to give us a new story with fresh points of view. It also allows Akane to be moved into another role. While she was the rookie in the first season, the veteran in the second, she is now, oddly enough, imprisoned in the third, and no doubt the mystery of why that happened will be part of the story.

And finally, does Psycho-Pass 3 manage to find a new way to tell a crime story in a world where criminal intent can be monitored before a crime happens? Why yes it does! And it does it through diffusion of responsibility, a real world phenomenon where a person does not feel responsible because of group think; because they were just following orders, or because they assumed someone else was taking care of it. If a dozen people individually do small things that lead up to an accident, and the victim feels that dying in said accident is better than the alternative, then who can be blamed? Even if the suicide is awfully convenient for someone else.

There are some things that feel different though. For one thing, even though there is still a fair amount of Dominator pointing, it takes until the third episode for someone to even fire the thing. While that's partially due to the lack of an enforceable target, it feels strange not to have anyone use the show's signature weapon, especially since the cast change and time skip make this a decent entry point for newcomers. Some of that might be a bit of a backlash over the second season's willingness to explode bad guys left and right, especially since the blood and gore for such lethal enforcement has been drastically toned down. (No bright red to be seen, no sir.)

But we also see new protagonist Kei get into fisticuffs a lot for an inspector, which is really supposed to be enforcer work. The whole reason inspectors have enforcers is so that the enforcers (who are latent criminals cleared to do detective work) do the dirty work so the inspectors' psychological profiles remain undamaged. Kei even punches someone in anger at one point, and though he was temporarily suspended, I was surprised he passed the psychological exam to come back to work. Though Kei outwardly appears calm and composed (until he isn't), the opening animation suggests another side to him that could be a lot more manic and dangerous, so I'm curious if this is something that has always been lurking in him (in which case why isn't he already a latent criminal) or just that he has yet to turn.

Kei and Arata are more maverick thinkers than Akane and Ginoza too, in that the two of them are clearly pursuing their own agenda. The Sybil System did not find them to be compatible as partners, and yet they choose to work together anyway. Moreover, we know that Arata's father killed Kei's brother, so the fact they are working together means that they suspect there's more to the murder than what has been publicly declared the truth.

Though Akane has always had a humanitarian side to her, in that she would prefer to avoid killing if at all possible, I believe Arata is the first inspector to point out that the Dominator has a trigger for a reason, so if the inspector or enforcer feels that Sibyl is in error, they can choose not to shoot. Akane believed that implicitly, but Arata is the first to call out what has always been true. And once it's spelled out, it's actually a fascinating consideration given that Sibyl otherwise controls so much of people's lives.

The new enforcers in Psycho-Pass 3 also get short-changed, though to be fair, this is also a problem Psycho-Pass 2 had due to the shorter season length compared to the first. Though Irie and Todoroki got a little character development, we don't really see much of Hinakawa and Kisaragi. Kisaragi looks like she's going to be getting more focus soon, but we're past the halfway point and she's barely done anything other than look sharp in a suit. Hinekawa arguably had some development in Psycho-Pass 2, but I still don't feel like I know the guy. Since he and Karanomori are the only returning members of Division 1 I was hoping he was kept so they could do more with him this time around, but that hasn't been the case. I get that he's the introverted hologram expert so he's not cool like Ginoza and Kogami, but he still could be more of a character with his own personal stakes.

The funny thing is that the season has now aired five out of its scheduled eight episodes and I feel like there's no way Kei and Arata are going to unravel this conspiracy and learn the truth about their family members in the three episodes we have left. And yet, if this wasn't an hour long show, I wouldn't be as concerned with six episodes remaining. Logically, they should have the space. There's still a third of the season left.

So far I've been enjoying Psycho-Pass 3 a lot more than its immediately predecessor, so here's hoping it can make a strong finish.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Loscon and NaNo Progress

I will only be at Loscon for one day this year, but if you happen to be there, you can see me on Ethics in Speculative Fiction at 10:00 am on Sunday, December 1st. I'll likely hang around for a little while after as well.

It's kind of funny heading back to the same hotel again so soon since it's where World Fantasy was only a few weeks ago!

In other news my NaNoWriMo progress is going well, and I'm pretty happy with that. Not just because I'm on track to finish, but because this means that I'm getting over the creative logjam that started with my illness earlier this year. It was a little nerve-wracking getting started and my outlines are never as thorough as I want them to be, but I'm relatively pleased so far.

I'm currently at the 30k mark and have started the second story arc. I don't want to talk details this early in the process, but I'm stretching my creative legs and trying a few things I haven't done before. I can see there the rough spots are and I'm already leaving myself revision notes, but I think the draft will be viable.

This is going to go past the 50k NaNo target range, which was expected, but how far, I'm not sure yet. I was picturing the novel broken into three parts, but at the same time I don't see this draft hitting 90k as the middle arc feels leaner to me.