Diary of a Network Geek

The trials and tribulations of a Certified Novell Engineer who's been stranded in Houston, Texas.


Magical Maps

Filed under: Art,Fun,On Creativity — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:17 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

Autogenerated fantasy landscapes feel like randomly programmed dreams.

I wouldn’t really call myself a writer any more, since I don’t really write regularly, outside of emails at work and these weekly desperate blog posts. But, I was once, and when I was, I would obsess over what fantasy writers and fans call “world building”. In fact, eventually, that obsession took over all my time and energy and became my primary excuse for not writing. Still, I find it hard to let go of the idea that if I’m writing a fantasy story and don’t know where people are, or are from, or are going, that I can’t relax into telling their story. I know I’m not alone.
So, that leaves a writer with a couple of choices; steal someone else’s setting, or make your own.
I’m not a big fan of stealing, or even borrowing, someone else’s fantasy setting, because there’s always the possibility that you may need to pay royalties one day, if your new work sells. Or, that other author, or their estate, may squash your work altogether. It’s been known to happen. So, then, your other option is to build your own.
Personally, I’ve always loved the maps that come with my favorite fantasy stories. And, when I tried to write, I often would spend inordinate amounts of time trying to draw my own.
Now, though, there are other options. The one I’m sharing with my faithful readers this week is Uncharted Atlas. It’s a Twitterbot that automagically generates a pretty random fantasy map every hour. Yeah, a new fantasy world every hour. And some of these maps are pretty damn good! You can read some notes by the developer, Martin O’Leary, at his website about both how the maps were generated and < href="https://mewo2.com/notes/naming-language/">how the names for the maps were generated. Also, that page explaining the code includes an interactive, step-by-step example of generating a map. It gives you a bit more control over what the final map looks like and is a great way to waste a few minutes on a Friday.

Okay, so this isn’t likely to really fix any writer’s block issues, or even jump start my own writing, but, hey, it IS a great way to waste a little time on a Friday!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words


Build Your World

Filed under: Fun,Life Goals,NaNoWriMo,On Creativity,Stimulus and Production — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Now you have a story and the characters in it, but what about the rest of your world?

Most people think that only fantasy or science-fiction writers have to create a world for their writing, but even writers who create contemporary stories create their worlds. They just create a fictional world based more closely to our real world, which is pretty subjective in any case.  I’ve been assuming that you are following these posts in order this month, but there’s certainly no reason that you should start with a story and not your world.  I know that I often start with a setting when I’m thinking of stories and, especially when I’m thinking of fantasy stories, a map is often a great place to start.  In fact, in How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, Orson Scott Card writes about starting a novel by essentially doodling a map.  And, thanks to the internet, there are an almost endless number of pages about making maps.  Let’s start with A Guide to RPG Mapmaking.  It’s focused on fantasy role-playing games, but everything in the guides and tutorials are applicable to other kinds of fantasy maps.  And, if you like that, check out Observations of the Fox: Map Tutorials for even more details on creating detailed maps.  Most of the techniques there are pretty applicable to any tools you might use, and there are many to choose from, but if you’re serious about making maps and aren’t a professional artist, I highly recommend ProFantasy’s Campaign Cartographer.  It’s not incredibly expensive, and there is a bit of a learning curve, but I think it’s worth the investment in time and money for some of the results.  To see what some of those results can be, with practice, as well as Campaign Cartographer specific tutorials, be sure to visit Ralf Schemmann’s site Maps and More.
And, if you just want some inspiration, check out Fantastic Maps or Fantasy Cartography by Sean Macdonald.

Of course, you may not need a map at all, but want to create some other details about your fictional world to make it seem more real.  For that, I humbly submit Fantasist.net’s own World Building resources for your use, which includes, among other things, an on-line Timeline Generator to create a little history that your characters can refer to in conversation.  It also has a link to the incredibly complete Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions by Patricia C. Wrede, who covers pretty much every detail you could ever ask yourself about a fictional world.

As much as I love worldbuilding, in recent years I’ve realized that I can easily get so lost in world and setting creation that I never get around to actually writing fiction!  Don’t fall into that trap!  Make enough world to get your story going and then let the world create itself as you go.  For some more helpful worldbuilding ideas along those lines, take a look at Chuck Wendig’s 25 Things You Should Know About Worldbuilding.  It’s a very up-to-date approach and I found it quite helpful!

So, now you should have characters, setting and plot nailed down and you can start letting that marinate before actually starting National Novel Writing Month in November.  But, come back next week to see what final tools I have for you before you launch your NaNoWriMo project!

This post originally appeared at The Fantasist’s Scroll.


FRPG Cologne

Filed under: Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Fun,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:15 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Third Quarter Moon

Geek smells must be on my mind lately.

So, two weeks ago, I brought you Eau d’BBQ.  This week, it’s fantasy role-playing game cologne.
And, no, I’m not even kidding.
From the Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab website:

In most pen and paper fantasy RPGs, three of the primary attributes that you must choose for your character are race, class, and alignment. Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s RPG scent series was designed to emulate the character creation process, and are meant to be layered in order to create a character concept. In short: you layer your class, race, and the two fragrances that compose your alignment to construct your character scent.

Okay, I hate to perpetuate a stereotype, but, well, I’ve hung out with gamers.  Lots of gamers.  And, I’ve got to be honest, for most of them, smelling nice was just not a big priority.  On the other hand, the genre may have changed in the 20+ years I’ve been away from it and now regular showers and healthy eating habits are all the rage.  It could happen, I suppose.  In any case, I applaud these folks for tapping into a virgin market, if you’ll pardon the pun.
Also?  The whole idea of having to buy several scents to “layer” them?  Marketing genius!


Arab/Muslim Science-Fiction

Filed under: Art,Fun,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Things to Read — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:40 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

This may cost me readers.

But, honestly, I think that’s okay.
I’ve never been shy about criticizing aspects of internationalism that I don’t like, like off-shoring call-center jobs.  But, on the other hand, I’m also not shy about reminding people that extremists give us a skewed view of a larger population.  I know there are people in the United States right now that think every Arab or Muslim is bad.  I disagree.  I think those people who claim to believe that they are all evil are simply ignorant of the rich and diverse culture that exists outside of their own small neighborhood.  I hope before those of my readers that may think that there is no such thing as a good Arab, or Muslim, follows the link I’m about to share and reads a little of what they find there before writing me off.

Some time ago, through various other blogs, I came across a link to Apex magazine’s 18th on-line issue.  The Arab/Muslim Issue.
I have to admit, I was intrigued.  For one thing, I don’t think I’ve read any recent fiction by anyone from that culture.  For another, Apex specializes in fantasy and science-fiction.
This is some brilliant work.
Go read “The Green Book” by Amal El-Mohtar, a story about a book possessed of a spirit that corrupts her reader.
Or, try “50 Fatwas for the Virtuous Vampire” by Pamela K. Taylor about a Muslim vampire trying to follow the Law of the Koran and stay pure.
Or, my favorite, “The Faithful Soldier, Prompted” by Saladin Ahmed about a soldier who’s combat implants talk to him with the voice of God Himself, perhaps.
There are more, but these three stories were masterful looks at a culture most of us don’t see.  They see myths reinterpreted in ways we may not have considered, or a future which may be all too possible.

Really, I joke around a lot on wasting time on a Friday, but these stories aren’t a waste of your time, I promise.
Go and read them.  Then think.


Flickering Fantasies

Filed under: Art,Bavarian Death Cake of Love,Deep Thoughts,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Movies,News and Current Events,Personal,Review — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Rat which is in the wee hours or 12:53 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous


Originally uploaded by Network Geek

I love movies.

I saw Public Enemies and The Proposal this weekend. The best part of Public Enemies, I’m afraid was the bits of Chicago architecture and the fight that broke out in the theater which required security.

Now, in spite of the critics panning it, I enjoyed The Proposal. Of course, that’s because I am a great, girly, romantic at heart. You see, The Proposal was a romantic comedy and well worth enduring the hawk-like stares of the angry women who could not seem to get their men to go with them to see it. Also, it was quite funny. Not a movie filled with surprises or twists and turns, but very satisfying in that it gave you just what you went in looking to find; namely, romance and comedy.

I saw another romantic comedy that was a little heavier on romance on DVD from Netflix, as well, this weekend called Lucky Seven. That was even sappier than The Proposal. It was about a young woman who’s mother dies when she’s young and gives her a time-line that has her marrying the seventh man with whom she has a long-term relationship. She thinks she’s found her “lucky seven”, but he’s number six, so she quickly finds a replacement six, with whom she promptly falls in love.

Now, you might wonder what these movies all have in common. You might wonder why I find movies, especially romantic comedies when I’m single, appealing. Well, the answer is surprisingly simple and straight-forward. They are all fantasies in which I indulge myself when things are going in ways other than how I’d wish.
Perhaps unrealistically, I think of myself as a mostly practical man. A trait I come by honestly from my parents and their parents before them. It’s not the only trait which seems to run through our family, however. On my mother’s side, my grandfather was quite an accomplished painter and my mother, his daughter, inherited that artistic talent from him. On my father’s side, well, they had the more practical talent of story telling and facility with language. All modesty aside, I do believe I inherited more than a fair portion of that. Though I am in many ways quite shy, I do seem to have my father’s ability to perform in front of a crowd. I know, as he would say, how to work a room. But, I never really followed through on most of those creative talents.

I’ve always wanted to draw, and never really seemed to find the time to work on it enough for anything to come of it. My writing has likewise been replaced by more immediately lucrative pursuits. Paying bills took precedence over “indulging” in my artistic leanings. Photography has been the most artistic thing I’ve done, outside of this blog, in more years than I care to count. And, some days, that seems to go better than others.
But, that latent, dreamy quality of escape that I found once in writing and occasionally still find in photography, comes to a full head in movies. Especially when things are going in ways other than how I might wish. I imagine, I’m not the only one seeking escape in movies these days, what with the economy going the way it has been. I remember the stories my paternal grandmother and my father told me about people going to the movies during the Great Depression. In fact, movies and the long gone Biograph Theater in Chicago figure prominently in Public Enemies, which is the story of John Dillinger. My grandmother was there shortly after he was shot, as it turns out, and provided me with one of the most vivid mental images of my childhood when she described people soaking up his blood with their handkerchiefs to sell later as souvenirs.
I don’t know what drives anyone else to go see movies, but I can tell you that the momentary fantasy and escape is one of the biggest attractions for me. Even a bad movie can provide a few moments of fantastic denial of my personal reality. A minute or two not thinking about I have bills to pay and work to do or how big my empty house is with no one to fill it but me and my dog.

As I do not expect to see many more rapid improvements in the economy, I hope that the rest of this Summer’s movies improve. I suspect I won’t be the only one who needs escape from both the Summer’s heat and the pressures it will bring.
So, how about you, gentle readers? Are there any movies you’re looking forward to for escape this Summer? Are there any favorites you like to use for an escape?


Review: Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine

Filed under: Art,Fun,Personal,Review,Things to Read — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:47 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Full Moon


Originally uploaded by Network Geek

I got a free review copy of Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine last week.

F&SF Mag, as I will refer to them for the rest of this post, had a deal which I was lucky enough to get in on. They offered a free review copy of their July issue for bloggers who would be willing to review that issue and, well, blog about it. They kept up their end of the deal, so, now, I’m keeping up my end.

F&SF Mag is, in general, fabulous. The July issue will be no exception. Now, I haven’t read all of it yet, but what I have read lives up to the already high standard that they have set for as long as I can remember.
In this issue, you’ll find one novella, two novelets, three short stories and all their regular columns. The novella is The Roberts by Michael Blumlein. The novelets are Fullbrim’s Finding by Matthew Hughes and Poison Victory by Albert E. Cowdrey. The three short stories are Reader’s Guide by Lisa Goldstein, Enfant Terrible by Scott Dalrymple and The Dinosaur Train by James L. Cambias. Now, I haven’t heard of any of these authors, but, frankly, that doesn’t mean much as I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction the past several years. Also, they may be short-form stars, but, honestly, there just aren’t that many venues available to showcase fantasy and science fiction short work any more. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to get this magazine and why I’ve bought it regularly in the past.

I read Reader’s Guide by Lisa Goldstein, Enfant Terrible by Scott Dalrymple and The Dinosaur Train by James L. Cambias, but I plan to read the longer work, too, eventually.
Reader’s Guide is a story about a kind of librarian in a special kind of library filled with potential books, as well as books that have already been written. The story follows the protagonist through a transformation to a new, deeper understanding of the library and the people who haunt it. But, to tell you more than that would, I think, ruin the story.
I also read Enfant Terrible by Scott Dalrymple. This story was about a very special little boy and his somewhat symbiotic relationship with another life. Again, to say more would ruin the story and, as this story is better than the last, I’d hate to diminish your pleasure in reading it.
The third, and best, story I read was The Dinosaur Train by James L. Cambias. I wouldn’t be surprised if this author ends up being an award winner in the near future. The Dinosaur Train was about a family who own and operate a dinosaur circus. Sadly, the circus has seen better times and, what’s worse, their main attraction, a huge sauropod, is sick. The plot is driven by both this, and the conflicts within the family. It is, as I already mentioned, the best story of the bunch. I look forward to reading more from this author. And, I must admit, I may have had a bit of deeper resonance with this story due to my own family’s history in the circus business.

The short story, indeed, all short fiction, is a very different art than the epic-length novel. Sadly, it seems to be a dying art. There are fewer and fewer venues that we might find this form and, thankfully, Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine shows that form in my favorite genre very well. I’m glad that they seem to still be doing so well. If it’s been some time since you’ve looked at magazines with short fiction, I highly recommend getting the next issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine. It’s worth every penny and then some!

Oh, and if you’re interested in getting a subscription to Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine, they have a special offer for bloggers who did a review. Just click this link!



Filed under: Fun Work — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Horse which is around lunchtime or 1:06 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Why have I been neglecting this blog?

Ah, the answer to that is long and complicated. It involves other websites and other projects. But, it’s more complicated than that. It involves a real job that keeps me busy during the day. It’s about spending time with family. It’s about actually having fun! But, mainly, it’s about that other website……
Hey, why not go check it out? If you’re a game geek or a fantasy fiction geek you might just find something that tickles your fancy!

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