Thursday, September 29, 2016

Civilization V Countdown: #5 America

America, fudge yeah! Is any more of an introduction necessary? Well, yes, obviously. America has always been a strange case in the Civilization games, a relatively recent "tribe" going against opponents with thousands of years worth of history in some cases. In later iterations of the game this became less of an issue, but it always struck me as strange to see Boston as a bronze-age city with clay buildings and stone monoliths. The bottom line is America was never a favorite of mine until Part 5, which really got it right with the USA, as it did with so many other things.

Why is America #5?

Part of me likes America just because it's off badmouthed as a weak civilization or an inferior version of other, better choices. Even the usually even-handed Civilization wiki feels the need to tell us that America has boring unique abilities and won't come into its own until the modern era. None of that is even true, let alone the bottom slot on tier list America sometimes inhabits. In reality the extra line of sight is a nice ability for the entire game, helping with both exploration and war and the cheaper tile purchases is nice for anyone who regularly buys tiles i.e. any competent player. The unique units are fun as well, with the Minutemen getting an advanced promotion right away and the B-17 bomber which is both powerful and hard to hurt. I'm not sure why there's all this negativity against America, but I am a bit of a contrarian (wait a few days for my Venice review...) and this is a fun civ to play as.

The leader is Washington this time (Lincoln has appeared as well and in part six we're getting a ridiculous cartoon version of Theodore Roosevelt) and he appears in Mount Vernon, complete with a picture of the Oracle on the wall, finally solving that whole ancient 'murrca problem. It's such a cool little detail, well done whoever got that put in there.

  If you print this out and fold it you can make his head into a mushroom.

Most Memorable Game as America?

What started with the usual peaceful development became a battle for survival against a very hostile Mongol horde that wanted me gone. About halfway through the war I was able to start building Minutemen and was soon using them to fight steppe riders in the forests around New York. It's moments like this which make this game so much fun. It was like the world's worst, or possibly best, alternative history novel. American revolutionaries throwing off the Mongol yoke, using their own novel tactics to counter a ruthless and bloodthirsty Genghis that wants to make them a Golden Horde colony. One of you #amwriting newbies needs to make this concept happen, I'm dead serious. 


Aaron Zehner is the author of "The Foolchild Invention" available in paperback and e-book format. Read free excerpts here and here.  

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Civilization V Countdown: #6 Babylon

Today we're going to tuck in between the Tigris and Euphrates and talk about the Neo-Babylonian empire or the Chaldeans if you prefer. That's what is clearly represented here, rather than the more ancient version of Babylon led by Hammurabi from the first game of the series, but as the world's biggest fan of the ancient Near East I'll still take it. Can you guys please include Sumeria, complete with a godawful mobile phone cartoon version of Ur-Nammu, in Part Six? You might get one extra sale, maybe. Think carefully before you say no.

I am aware that there's a mod that lets you play as Sumeria in Part 5 and that's all I'm going to say about that. Aren't we supposed to be talking about tertiary characters from the Old Testament?

Why is Babylon #6?

In this case there's more than just my unhealthy fixation on silt, complex irrigation, ziggurats and cup-bearers that later become kings and conquerors. The ability to quickly generate Great Scientists, including getting a free one just for researching Writing, is probably a bit overpowered and this is the reason this civilization tends to appear on the top of tier lists. The bowman is a fun throwback to early games and could be used for early rushes if you want to play against the obvious focus on peaceful development the science bonus encourages in the early game. The Walls of Babylon, a sort of off-brand Ishtar Gate, fit nicely with this theme and your typical "four city tradition" is going to be very strong as Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar II is a colorful character as well, what with his madness and cup-holding butterfingers. Not quite the cup bearer skills I was hoping for, but it will do.

My days of putting people in furnaces without result are over.

Most Memorable Game as Babylon?

I was playing on a lower difficultly level and got an absolutely ridiculous technology lead while otherwise avoiding conflict. We're talking nearly the "tanks vs. spearman" ridiculousness you could pull off in the early Civilization games. Instead of using this edge to conquer I played the policeman of the world, restoring nations that had been conquered, liberating city states, punishing warmongers and gifting generously to weaker rivals. I eventually won a science victory, but the entertaining part was being the world's sole Super Power and actually acting in responsible fashion. We are nothing if not civilized kings.

This particular museum wall is now much tougher.

Aaron Zehner is the author of "The Foolchild Invention" available in paperback and e-book format. Read free excerpts here and here.  

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Civilization V Countdown: #7 Rome

It's time for lucky seven. Be it ever so crumbling, there's no place like Rome. Besides, you had to know it was going to be on the list if the lesser descendant somehow made the cut. We're talking Roman Roads, the Senate, the people and giant crossbows used for shooting obnoxious enemy cities. Slip on the toga, let's get comfortable and talk about it.

Why is Rome #7?

Rome has been one of my favorite civilizations to play as since the first game of the series and this preference has more to do with their iconic status as one of the World's most powerful and aesthetically glorious empires than with any in-game features. Indeed, what you get isn't all that exciting, although I do enjoy building roads with Legions and the Ballista is a slightly better version of a unit I never use. The unique ability is what would be considered boring but practical, giving a production bonus to satellite cities on any building in Rome itself. Just use gold to quickly buy a new science building when the relevant technology is gained, for example, and then get it cheaper everywhere else. That's not too bad actually, but it's a subtle effect compared to some of the other abilities. Rome is mainly in this spot because of my arbitrary personal preferences, but that's the best reason there could ever be, right?

Caesar: scheming and powerful yet full of human frailty.

Most Memorable Game as Rome?

It was one of the first times I went Liberty instead of Tradition and I was actually able to settle six cities before direct violence became the only way to expand further. The Glory of Rome bonus was hitting on all cylinders in cranking buildings and the bland successors to the unused unique units took out the rest of the continent. I got the Order ideology first and became ridiculously strong but decided to stay out of the affairs of the other continent whose nations regarded me as a peaceful trade partner without wondering why half of my cities had French or Aztec names. Then it was just a matter of choosing the victory condition, ultimately settling on building a spaceship. Ad astra per aspera.

Remember when the Civilization games actually had a senate that overruled your wars? 

Aaron Zehner is the author of "The Foolchild Invention" available in paperback and e-book format. Read free excerpts here and here.  

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Civilization V Countdown: #8 Germany

Let continue the countdown of what is an objectively perfect ordering of video game tribes with a little iron to go with all that blood. Today's entry is, of all things, a story of redemption. What started as a one-note stereotype was fixed with only two official expansions and some patches. In the world of computer gaming this is a massive victory. Compare and contrast with "let's add more rebels!" for example.

Why is Germany #8?

Before Brave New World fixed them you'd be asking "Why is Germany #29?" Despite my highly vivid ancestral memories and an enjoyment of the color gray their initial incarnation fell well short of the glory suggested by vaguely recalled past incarnations. It even seemed somewhat lazy. We all know that the early war panzers were inferior to the Soviet and even the British armored units, right? A special pikeman is decent (and not missed at all when it went away) and the ability to snowball barbarian units combined for an overall lukewarm reaction, at best. Then they added the Hanseatic League via the Hansa bank special building and all was forgiven and then some. It's thematic, it's fun and it's breaks the usual boring "German people as militaristic robots" theme seen so many times. Whoever made that decision deserves a promotion or a medal or something.

Let's not forget Bismarck, who is the spitting image of a gym teacher I had in grade school. Couldn't it be Frederick the Great? One more patch, guys? Please? Fine, Mr. Angry Walrus it is.

Ve Germans are not all sunshine and chocolates.

Most Memorable Game as Germany?

That's an easy one: my first ever domination victory. This was in the original release, where this was all Germany was good for and I wanted that little achievement in the Steam library because why wouldn't I? I believe my thought process afterward was "Well, I'll never play as them again." If I only knew that a highly abstracted tribute to Renaissance North Sea trade would be later inserted, but a surprise is always better than a disappointment, isn't it? 

If I ever get a tattoo it would be this.

Aaron Zehner is the author of "The Foolchild Invention" available in paperback and e-book format. Read free excerpts here and here.  

Friday, September 23, 2016

Civilization V Countdown: #9 Byzantium

We pick up the most scientifically and aesthetically pleasing attempt to rank the civilizations with the Eastern Roman Empire! Because being able to play as Rome, Greece and The Ottoman Empire isn't adequate coverage of this geographic region, not even close. I want to experience what Gibbon regarded as an extra thousand years worth of less interesting decline and collapse.

Why is Byzantium #9?

Greek fire! The dromon might be my favorite unique unit in the entire game, from the flamethrower animation when it attacks to the ability to conquer coastal cities early in the game when there's little your enemies can do about it. Then upgrade those experienced dromons into galeasses and then frigates to take even more cities. The religion bonus is one extra choice from any of the categories is also fun, providing almost as much entertainment as reading posts by people whining that they get a religious bonus but no help with faith and you obviously wouldn't prioritize shrines or a pantheon or display any situational awareness whatsoever. As for Theodora, I love how lazed-out she always is, just maxin' and relaxin' on a balcony no matter how bad things are going and generally resembling a "Did you get a job today?" teen more than one of history's most interesting women.

I'll do my homework later.

Most Memorable Game as Byzantium?

I was looking to perform some of that peaceful turtle power and maybe spread my extra-strength Orthodoxy, but my neighbor was the Huns, so you can guess how well that went. I conquered one of their cities with my dromons and some spearmen, made peace and pretty much assumed that was the end of that. Then they started another war and took their city back. I was upgrading my badly out-of-position navy for revenge, but then the game was abandoned in favor of a new beginning, probably as one of the top eight yet to be revealed. As much as I enjoy playing the Second Rome, I really haven't had many remarkable games with them, as you probably guessed after reading the above anecdote.

All those Greek words roughly translate to "get rekt."

Aaron Zehner is the author of "The Foolchild Invention" available in paperback and e-book format. Read free excerpts here and here.  

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

News You Can't Use: Colleges Turn to Coloring Books to De-Stress Students

How would you like to go to an adult version of kindergarten for four years for a six figure price tag? Did I mention you can get a loan for that exorbitant charge that won't fall due until those four years are over, which is such a long time it will probably never come, right? What do you mean, "no?" Come back here, the entire future of our society somehow depends on maintaining this farce. And if you're still not convinced how about some coloring books? This is preparing future leaders and high-achievers, honest it is.

In the age of safe spaces and trigger warnings comes another new trend to the college repertoire: coloring books.

One of the clients yelled at me, Mr. Johnson, so I'm going to hide in this beanbag fort for a few hours. I'm sure you understand, I'm quite fragile emotionally and display almost zero indication of adult maturity and you as the employer should have to cater to that just like my diploma mill did.

This fall, campuses nationwide are offering coloring books to students to help them de-stress.

Well, it was that or allowing you to declare bankruptcy on your student loans after you become a hopeless derelict and we're certainly not considering that option. Here, try this wacky word find game.

At American University on Monday, its counseling center provided coloring sheets in honor of Healthy Campus Week, noting on its Facebook page that adult coloring books “can help with a number of emotional and mental health issues.” Conditions cited include obsessive-compulsive, eating, anxiety and depressive disorders, as well as anger management and substance abuse issues.

Filling in pictures of cartoon animals cured my heroin addiction, brought my explosive temper to heel, made me happy and calm, hungry, less concerned with constant hand-washing and it maybe cured my Type H Hepatitis.

“The time and focus that adult coloring takes helps the individual remove the focus from the negative issues and habits, and focus them in a safe and productive way,” the AU center stated. 

Eating these lotus leaves will remove your focus on negative issues, thus solving them.

We offer scheduled Art-Well times, but if you can’t make those, come to the Wellness Center Zen Den any time on your own.”

We can hacky sack it and maybe play some make-believe. Rad!

On tap at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth is “StressLess Days.” Held monthly on Wednesdays, the university will provide coloring in addition to other “crafts and games” to help students unwind. 

An Ivy League education, my friends.

According to Northcentral University Professor Mary Jill Blackwell, “Coloring is like meditation because it encourages engagement with the present moment. When we focus on the present moment, we do not worry about the future, ruminate about the past, or engage in negative self talk.”

Come down from your spaceship and land.

Adult coloring books have taken off recently, becoming a trend outside campus first. An estimated 12 million were sold in 2015, up from the 1 million sold the previous year, The Washington Post reports.

Yet another sure sign of societal health to throw on the pile with all the others.

Now several universities — which have also been known to offer napping rooms, opportunities to frolic with puppies, yoga, chair massages and other de-stressers — have added coloring books to the mix.

 Now the article is just repeating itself while making the news slightly more appalling each time.

Brown University notoriously offered coloring books as part of its safe space room in 2015. But now coloring books are just another way to de-stress students.

First they criticize you, then they move on to something else because honestly, who cares, and then you win???

Full Article.

Aaron Zehner is the author of "The Foolchild Invention" available in paperback and e-book format. Read free excerpts here and here.

Civilization V Countdown: #10 Assyria

Over the next several days I'll be ranking my ten favorite civilizations from Civilization 5. They are not necessary chosen for being especially unique or powerful, but I like them for whatever reason. It's all opinion, but it is the correct opinion, clearly.

Why is Assyria #10?

I've always been fascinated with the fertile crescent and the ancient civilizations of that general region (more on this when we get to Babylon, major spoiler). I love the aesthetics, the actual game bonuses not so much, which is why they're not ranked higher. Ashurbanipal is jacked, bloodthirsty and a literary gentleman, a combination you don't see nearly enough in either fiction or history. How can you not root for a cultured villain from the bronze age? As far as actual crunch, the siege tower absolutely mauls enemy cities and the Royal Library can hold literary works that grant an experience boost to soldiers trained in that city, because knowledge is power. You can also take technologies by conquest, a fun throwback to the early games of the series. I'd probably be more excited if I wasn't a peaceful builder at heart, but if you're going to be a force of evil and chaos you should at least look good while doing it and maybe horde books to make your armies even deadlier. As usual, the romantic needs no explanation and the cynic won't be satisfied by any, no matter how carefully crafted.

Loves books, bench presses 315, massacres indiscriminately.

Most Memorable Game as Assyria?  

I was still learning the game, but wanted to try out this whole "war" mechanic to see if it could be fun. Soon I'd taken over two city states and destroyed Germany, wielding my siege towers with all the care and discretion of a child who finds a gun in a sock drawer. I wasn't really getting that there is a diplomatic and economic drawback to killing anything that moves. After the glorious early conquests my happiness was low enough to cause revolts and my neighbors Denmark and Sweden both declared war. This led to a seemingly endless conflict where they were both throwing alternating invasion waves at a frontier city, while I converted two generals into citadels and still struggled on defense, what with the massive discontent due to a lack of zoos and the like.

After hundreds of years of constant warfare I was finally able to turn the tide and eventually force a bitter peace after taking a few more cities, while still playing wack-a-mole with rebel scum, as if this was a Paradox game or something. For awhile it looked like I was going to lose the game on Prince level, something that, strictly speaking, should be impossible. Luckily I was able to eek out a victory on points after the final time, recording the lowest score of any victory to this day.

Nice city you got there. Would be a shame if this thing crashed into it over and over.

Aaron Zehner is the author of "The Foolchild Invention" available in paperback and e-book format. Read free excerpts here and here. 

Monday, September 19, 2016

Civilization V Pantheon Rankings

With Civilization 6 due out in about a month I'm going to be celebrating one of my favorite strategy games with some tier lists, a Top Ten civilization countdown and maybe some other fun stuff (most calming Civ colors, leaders ranked by how jacked they are, who knows). Will six be any good? Well, we're going to have mobile app-tier graphics, the return of Unit Stacks of Doom, exciting "innovations" no one asked for (Now they're called "Builders. Oh wow!). Trust me, that abortion of a video would be a DotTeeVee if it was shorter and I could control my gag reflex while watching it. So the answer to the hypothetical is probably "No, or at least not until it's been fixed with mods and expensive add-on packs." With that in mind, let's take a long hard look at five, which was the best in the series in humble and correct opinion.

To grade the pantheons I'm assuming the relevant terrain/luxury is present, but I will be taking into account the relative scarcities (Marble doesn't spawn in clusters, for example) as well as the set-up time involved to gain the bonus. Everything is graded A to F and there is no grade inflation. A "C" is solid but unspectacular, in other words, not a failing grade where your Panama City spring trip plans get cancelled. With that in mind, let's get going.

Ancestor Worship: +1 Culture from Shrines. This is pretty lackluster, in most games you're only going to have a few shrines when you get this and the bonus is too small to matter much later in the game. Since this won't help you get a religion you're also likely to lose it by then, although you probably won't even notice when you do. Grade: D

Dance of the Aurora: +1 Faith from Tundra tiles without forest. If you're unlucky enough to be surrounded by tundra...well, there are probably still better choices. This will help you get a religion, but at the expense of having to work tiles that are absolute garbage, especially early in the game. This one actually gets better later on when you can at least build trading posts, so at least there's that. The fact that this doesn't work on forest tundra, squares that are likely to have deer and thus not be worthless, is one final insult. Grade: D

Desert Folklore: +1 Faith from Desert tiles. There's reasons why a desert start is considered desirable and this very powerful pantheon is one of them. Unlike Dance of the Aurora it works on all desert tiles, including flood plains and oasis (That is the correct plural, right? Oasises? Oasisi?). The upshot is a large increase in faith generation and a chance to get a strong religion. Later in the game you might be able to build Petra and make this one even stronger. Grade: A

Earth Mother: +1 Faith from Copper, Iron and Salt. Tiles that are already very desirable now generate faith,  it's hard to find fault in that. Especially nice if you have salt, which is arguably the game's best luxury. I wouldn't hesitate to take it if the relevant resources are there. Grade: A

Faith Healers: +30 HP healed in adjacent to a friendly city. Sounds bad, is bad. You're not only giving up some very nice early boosts to take a pantheon that's only useful when you're in defensive wars, but the bonus itself isn't even all that great. To get the healing the unit can't take any action, making its worth as a defender very passive indeed. I could see how this might have highly situational use, but you're giving up way too much for a bonus that only activates when you're getting your lunch eaten. Grade: F

Fertility Rites: 10% bonus to surplus food. When the effect is correctly stated, as it just was, it's clear this one is deceptively awful. The promise of early growth is definitely enticing, but you're unlikely to get even a full unit of food from this. Grade: F

God of Craftsmen: +1 Production in cities with 3 or more population. This is yet another choice that sounds good on paper, but has a minimal impact on the game once it's chosen. Compare it to God-King, which gives +1 production and many other bonuses, God of the Sea which could generate many hammers in the right city or even Monuments to the Gods and it's clear this one is a pretty under-performing choice. Grade: D

God of the Open Sky: +1 Culture from Pastures. This is a nice culture boost early on tiles that would be worked anyways. On the down side, you'll have to actually build those pastures, which is time-consuming but would probably be among your first worker projects anyway. Overall, this is a very nice bonus in the early game, but loses some points for the set-up and the fact that it won't help you get a religion and as such is likely to be lost. Grade: B

God of the Sea: Definitely better than God of Craftsmen, but still not what I'd consider a top-tier choice. It can give a nice production boost, but is somewhat set-up intensive. Work boats are surprisingly expensive early on and there's often more pressing concerns to build. Once it's up and running it's a strong bonus, especially with a lighthouse in the city, but expect to lose it unless you gain a religion via natural wonders, world wonders or building lots of shrines and temples. Grade: C

God of War: Gain Faith for destroying units within four tiles of your cities. Much like trying to use the honor tree to generate a steady flow of culture, but even weaker. You'll need to fighting within your borders, something that shouldn't be happening if you're a serious war-monger and is likely to spell your ruin if you're not. It is marginally better than the other combat-oriented choices, but is still no prize. Grade: D

Goddess of Festivals: +1 Culture and Faith from Wine and Incense. On the plus side no special set-up is required other than working the relevant tiles. On the downside these are tiles that shouldn't be prioritized in the early game due to their lack of production and food. Overall this is pretty middle of the road. Grade: C

Goddess of Love: +1 Happiness in each city with a population of 6 or more. This provides a small boost in happiness, but only in larger cities. In other words, it's not going to solve those happiness problems, although at least it's something. Grade: D

Goddess of Protection: +30% to City's ranged attack strength. This is even worse than Faith Healers. A stronger one-shot per turn ranged attack won't save you if you're being overwhelmed and won't matter if your defense it strong. It would be interesting to try to pair this with the Red Fort and Their Finest Hour from the Liberty ideology to create insane city strengths, but let's be real, why would you even pick it? Grade: F

Goddess of the Hunt: +1 Food from camps. A nice early game food boost, one that actually makes a difference, unlike Fertility Rites. On the down side camps require Trapping, which is a second-tier improvement, so it will take time to get this bonus online. This makes this one a little weaker than Sun God, the strongest of the growth pantheons. Grade: B

God-King: +1 Science, Culture, Faith, Gold and Production in the Capital. Several small advantages are given and they activate right away without any need for constructing improvements, specific technologies or assigning citizens. This is the strength of God-King, but also the weakness since what you get is relatively minor compared to the stronger pantheon choices. I would take this as a consolation prize if what I really wanted was already gone. Grade: C

Messenger of the Gods: +2 Science in cities with a city connection. It's Science (!) so it's automatically good, right? Well, not really. The time to get your extra science is the major downfall, you need to research roads and then build them, as well as have enough cities built to gain the benefits. Maybe use Carthage's free harbors? Yeah, maybe. In most cases by the time you're getting this bonus it doesn't lend a huge advantage and you're about to lose it because you don't have a religion. Grade: D

Monument to the Gods: +15% production on Ancient/Classical wonders. On the highest difficulties this one is almost worthless for world wonders, although the bonus on national wonders is still nice. If you're playing on King or lower, this is probably a more reasonable choice and it does stack with Aristocracy from Tradition, the Marble bonus and Egypt's ability. Build the Pyramids in one turn? Not going to happen, but could be nice under the right circumstances. Grade: C

One with Nature: +4 Faith from Natural Wonders. A nice faith boost that activates immediately if you're working a natural wonder. If said wonder also offers faith, you're all but assured a strong religion. If the natural wonder is Grand Mesa or the Barringer Crater, this one might not be as attractive. Keep in mind that if you playing as Spain the faith from this is doubled, creating an insane 24 faith per turn if you're lucky enough to have Mt. Sinai. This one will be affected by the value of the natural wonder in question and it's unlikely you'll have more than one in your early empire, but it has the potential to be extremely strong. Grade: A

Oral Tradition: +1 Culture from Plantations. Another nice early culture boost, with the notable disadvantage that you need to build plantations first. It's worth noting that in many cases it's actually more desirable not to build a plantation, especially if you want to keep jungle tiles for science later on. This is the major failing of an otherwise nice pantheon. Grade: C

Religious Idols: +1 Faith and Culture from Gold and Silver. No set-up required and one of the rare choices that provides both faith and culture. On the downside Gold tends to spawn singularly rather than in clusters and you're going to need to get food for the city from some other source to enjoy the bonus. Once those issues are dealt with, this is a good choice. Grade: B

Religious Settlements: +15% faster border growth. Another choice that sounds useful and really isn't. The percentage boost is too small to make much of a difference, simply stated. If you went Tradition you probably won't even notice the effects and you get no boost to faith, culture or anything else, just marginally faster access to tiles that you could just buy or go Tradition to get. Grade: D

Sacred Path: +1 Culture from Jungle tiles. The good news is this also applies to tiles with special resources and you don't have to build any improvements. The bad news is that jungle tiles aren't desirable early on. A pretty mixed bag. Grade: C

Sacred Waters: +1 happiness from cities on rivers. Like Goddess of Love this provides a small boost to overall happiness. This time you need to build cities on rivers, something that realistically is not always going to possible and even if it were you're not getting a huge boost. I consider this one slightly better than Goddess of Love, but both are sub-par compared to other options. Grade: D

Stone Circles: +2 Faith from Quarries. This is a nice boost and stone/marble are very desirable tiles. Unfortunately, masonry is a second-tier technology and then the quarries must be built, so it's going to take time to start reaping the rewards, time that you can ill-afford if you're racing for a religion. This drawback is significant, along with the relative scarcity of marble, but overall this one is pretty decent in spite of these limitations. Grade: B

Sun God: +1 Food from Bananas, Citrus and Wheat. The best choice for early growth. This goes into effect immediately and once combined with farms and granaries it's possible to gain the equivalent boost of building the Hanging Gardens. This is the best non-faith pantheon. Grade: A

Tears of the Gods: +2 Faith from Gems and Pearls. The other +2 faith pantheon can be activated immediately and as such is potentially stronger. The tiles won't be as productive as quarries, however. Still, if the relevant luxuries are present there's no reason not to take this. Grade: B

Thanks for reading, stay tuned for more Civilization 5 goodness in the coming days!  

Aaron Zehner is the author of "The Foolchild Invention" available in paperback and e-book format. Read free excerpts here and here. 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Choose Your Own Adventure #23: The Lost Tribe

After another uninspired Which Way offering it's time to return to Choose Your Own Adventure. To sweeten the pot we've got another debuting author for this series, Louise Monro Foley, who was last featured on this site as the creative genius behind a Twist-a-Plot mess. Despite this, it's hard to tamp down my enthusiasm when today's subject features a glossary of Maori words and the promise of plenty of South Seas violence. Travel to exotic locations, meet interesting and exotic people, explore ancient cultures and try not to get killed and eaten. Let's go.

Engage in thrilling head-squeezing battles!

In keeping with a well-worn tradition the action kicks off with yet another wacky uncle, this one with an unhealthy interest in a Tasman Sea tribe that was exterminated in a canoe war by another, similar tribe that was better at handing out deadly violence and has since faded into legend. Genocide, head-hunting, "glowing caves;" this is clear a job for someone like myself who used the awesome power of the library (!!!) to learn some general knowledge facts about these long-dead people groups. To wit, I've even learned some crazy foreign words, mostly important stuff like "parrot" and "white man." Yeah. Really.

Y'all savages got any parrots?

With a head full of islander terms for colorful avians and delusional ideas about exploring and finding the Lost Tribe (what part of "War of Annihilation" don't you understand?) it's off to New Zealand to begin the adventure. I meet up with my uncle Charlie and his friend "Murdoch." We get equipped with supplies and build up some more hype for this well-conceived expedition. I might even see "skeletal remains!" I still cling to the possibility of finding actual living members of the Lost Tribe, in spite of more attempts to explain the whole concept of how they were killed en masse and then, presumably, cooked.

Naturally, things start going wrong almost immediately as Charlie and Murdoch forget the archeological tools that we will need to hunt for exciting human remains and decide it's wise to go back and get them while leaving me alone in a jungle to "set up camp." But not before giving me an official permit to show government officials, because having ihnen papiern is a lot higher on the priority list than the numerous dangers this environment offers. I'm even given the chance to wander off once they're gone, but decide maybe I should get that camp going, like I promised.

No one without a permit will be allowed in the Great Patriotic War.

While setting up tents or whatever a dog pops out of the bushes and knocks me down, provoking unpleasant Sugarcane Island flashbacks. Luckily, this is a much more effort-intense narrative, so the encounter with the dingo is followed by a shirtless native who calls me "white man" (that library trip keeps paying off, see kids!) in a scornful fashion while brandishing a tomahawk. Granted, my polyglot privilege isn't actually useful as I get punked out (he's more muscular and I don't even squat, you see) and tied up with vines to be frog-marched deeper into the forest. If only I'd learned how to say "I taste terrible" instead of "parrot."

It turns out there's more tribesmen and they've also captured Charlie and Murdoch, somehow. I mean, they left in a boat in the opposite direction, yet here they are bound, completely helpless and ready to be mistreated in hot, hot ways. Apparently the villains "got their boat" but I'm really not content with that fig covering what may be a minor logical error in a children's book from 1983. This probably doesn't matter, because they're debating where to kill us, in English I guess, unless I also learned all fifty of this tribe's words for "murder the captives" at that amazing library where you can really get that learn on, young people.

I'm giving a choice between trying to run and simply resigning myself to our fate, so of course I choose the path of resigned despair. That should improve the situation!

You're questioning my cowardly defeatism because you have "weak nerves."

So it's more marching in search of a more suitable place to get murdered. During this tedium Charlie informs me that our captors are actually escaped convicts from the Auckland prison, so that's at least good news. Instead of being grilled to mouth-watering perfection by savages they're just going to kill us and leave the bodies for carrion animals. Enjoying this story so far, kids? First they want our boat, and it turns out I've got the only set of keys. The logical course of action obvious.

The keys go into the drink and the criminals are less than thrilled, but gullible enough to believe that my uncle is now willing to hot wire the boat for them, if they just cut him loose first. They even decide to cut me loose too in order to "make something to eat." Can we outwit New Zealand's dumbest criminals? Turn to the next page to find out!

I put "roach powder" in the food and it promptly gives painful stomach cramps to the most trusting hard cases in the entire world. Rendered helpless, it's an easy matter to get the boat going, turn in the escapees to local authorities and celebrate our victory with an steak dinner because they now "don't trust my cooking." As for the Lost Tribe, I guess we won't be finding all their split open skulls, but life is for the living and all that.

This one wasn't bad, although I wasn't expecting a crime thriller based on the set-up. Either way, it was perfectly serviceable and the gaping logic holes would probably be less obvious to the intended audience. Besides, a rare happy ending covers any number of sins and it's not often that displaying apathetic resignation in the face of deadly danger is rewarded, as we all know it should be.

Yeah, get over yourself.

Aaron Zehner is the author of "The Foolchild Invention" available in paperback and e-book format. Read free excerpts here and here.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

News You Can't Use: Watching People Eat Is Big in Korea; Now It’s in the U.S.

Is it possible to become too passive, voyeuristic and, frankly, broken to the point where the internet won't cater to your needs anymore? Clearly not, but what about the desire to watch others eat? The process of mastication is indeed one of the most beautiful mysteries of nature and you might even learn some new tricks. Then there's the comforting illusion of social interaction with any chance of failure removed by the one-way nature of the exchange. We might not have those wall-sized televisors yet (patience, patience) but we're clearly getting closer to finding ways to completely simulate a normal human existence while remaining a pathetic troglodyte.

Twitch Interactive Inc., the video-game streaming service Inc. acquired for almost $1 billion two years ago, hinted at what could be the next sensation in Internet broadcasting: watching people eat.

Instead of watching some up-talking millennial play Bayou Billy we can now watch them shove edible objects into their gobs.

Dubbed “social eating,” the practice is popular in South Korea and is picking up steam in the U.S., Twitch Chief Executive Officer Emmett Shear said Wednesday at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco.

I guess it's "social eating" in the same sense you might acquire a "social disease." If those Japanese cartoon monsters waiting to be caught in quarries and artillery testing ranges taught us nothing else it's that we no longer have any resistance to terrible societal trends from the Orient. 

It’s a difficult pastime for people in the U.S. to initially grasp, he acknowledged, but he said it’s gaining traction, along with rising demand for non-gaming content.

I demand more non-gaming content on this video game streaming service! Also, there should be more shadow puppets and balloon races during NFL broadcasts.

Disbelief about the growth potential for Twitch, a platform for watching people play video games, has taught him not to discount something he doesn’t personally understand, Shear said.

"You losers, man. I don't even pretend to understand your pathology, but on the other hand I can get paid, so here's your gaping maw films."

A Twitch streamer with the user name Hacklyn was eating a bowl of soup Wednesday morning, with about 20 people watching live. She was listening to music and chatting with people about relationships while they watched her dig in.

Communication, I think is important. *sucks up noodles* Got to be open with your feelings *disgusting slurping* You can't assume your partner knows what's going on in your head. *licks bowl*

Honesty is important to your relationship, too.

Investors have been watching to see how Amazon integrates Twitch’s highly engaged audience of video game enthusiasts -- numbering 10 million daily users -- with its offerings in online shopping and streaming video and music. 

After you get done watching the vidiot games, how about buying one, sucker?

As the company further seeks to combine services from its businesses, could the the next big step be streaming video of a gaming champion eating a box of cookies delivered via Amazon drone?

Or will it be your entire city going up in flames as civilization collapses? Who knows!

Full Article.

Aaron Zehner is the author of "The Foolchild Invention" available in paperback and e-book format. Read free excerpts here and here.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

News You Can't Use: North Carolina Man Arrested for Lying About Clown Sighting

Despite the best efforts of professional organizations the highly respectable vocation of clowning is not only held in low regard but has perhaps been permanently linked with psychotic criminality. Combine this with the fact that we seem to be nowhere near peak jester despite the heavy saturation that has occurred and it's a recipe for phony killer clown reports from below the Mason-Dixon line. It seems the best way to obtain both highly temporary southern celebrity and the interior of a jail cell is to cook up an apocryphal encounter with Homie the Killer Klown.

A North Carolina man who told police someone dressed as a clown had knocked on his window at night landed in jail on Friday after admitting he fabricated the story, the latest twist in a string of such reported sightings in recent weeks.

More creative than any movie, full of incredible twists and turns like "I just made it all up." I don't what exactly it says about a society when "clown sightings" becomes something that must be recorded and studied, but it's nothing good, that's for sure.

David Wayne Armstrong, 24, described to Winston-Salem police how he had chased the clown into nearby woods, but authorities said in a statement he had lied.

I think I liked it better when you were being levitated into flying saucers instead of opening up a can of whup-tush on Pennywise.

He was arrested on a charge of filing a false police report.

Yes, the sensationalist headline totally misrepresented the reason behind the arrest. Could journalism be somewhat untrustworthy? The answer is clearly "no" so I'm not sure what to think.

Reports of clown sightings in the state and neighboring South Carolina since late August have residents on edge and prompted more police patrols.

I mean, they might make balloon animals or throw a bucket full of confetti on you. Better call in the National Guard.

In most cases, investigators have found no one matching the varying descriptions of the clowns.

Yeah. Imagine that.

Creepy clowns are a fixture of pop culture and entertainment in the United States. 

This is why we're the best country in the world right now and the greatest in all of human history other than Neo-Sumeria.

"We’re still investigating to see what the actual purpose is, whether it’s for ill intent or if it’s a prank," said Officer Gilberto Franco, a Greenville police spokesman.

"Shutting down those drug houses will just have to wait."

I dun chased it into the woods.

A film distributor debunked speculation that the sightings were connected to the release of director Rob Zombie's new independent horror movie "31," which features a gang of sadistic clowns.  

And was also written by a bunch of sadistic clowns, haw haw.

But as of Friday, officers had not found the clown, who according to a statement was chased off by a man wielding a machete.

Whether the nightmare man with the finger knives participated in this remains unknown.

"We don't recommend that," Greensboro police spokeswoman Susan Danielsen said.

Stick with sensible clown counter-measures like shooting them with silver jewelry from a slingshot or chainsaws.

Aaron Zehner is the author of "The Foolchild Invention" available in paperback and e-book format. Read free excerpts here and here. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

News You Can't Use: How the Super-Rich Make Their Homes Super-Secure

While those of lesser means will have to settle for bags full of dirt and 100,000 round of ammunition, minimum in their preparations for the coming WROL cataclysm the people that are wealthy and as such actually matter are building super fortresses to hold off the rampaging peasants. It is, after all, only fitting that our beloved oligarchs survive the collapse they authored. And, like I said, these clearly are morally, intellectually and spiritually superior beings of goodness and light, not like you down in that hole with your AR-15 and tattered copy of the Constitution.

If you had to choose a country in which to be kidnapped — which is, granted, an unlikely eventuality — consider Ecuador. 

While you're having your little Latin America kidnap fantasy I'll be going through your stuff, bro.

The average rate for freeing a kidnap hostage there is roughly $10,000; potential embarrassment or personal injury can be avoided with a quick phone call to the captors, who will probably be a group of local workers looking to supplement their income, says Fred Finan of security company 3e International.

Man, societal collapse and massive corruption at all levels of a stumbling, blind bureaucracy is actually a good thing when it comes to the ransom industry. Vote Hillary, it'll be cheaper than ever to get your loved ones back from government thugs.

Moreover — and this may provide some reassurance or it may not — the local criminal fraternity are unlikely to leave you awestruck by their ingenuity. 

Third world criminals are dumb and other surprising revelations. Hey, I thought we were talking about how the kleptocrats are fortifying their homes, not the flesh trade in some loser country.

His current strategy is to leave a few thousand dollars to ensure they leave happy and without incident — like mince pies at the foot of the chimney for a criminal Santa Claus.

See, this total war of all versus all is totally manageable. Keep supporting the status quo!

This quaintly intuitive approach to personal security would attract few adherents in today’s most desirable global postcodes where, spurred by the latest technology, breaking and entering is fast becoming mission impossible.

If the sawed-off messiah can't do it, what chance do you have?

The whizz bangs start at a property’s front door. For the most discerning, fingerprint-activated locks are a must, says Heyrick Bond-Gunning, chief executive of S-RM, a top-end security company.

Before I buy a property I want to be fully informed in regards to the various "whizz bangs."

To keep both animate and inanimate house contents safe, vinyl polymer coatings make windows blast-resistant, to deter the traditional smash-and-grab raid. Fast-acting security shutters can block off key rooms, creating secure areas in the event of a break in.

Super-powerful magnets can pin the Ecuadorian kidnapper squad to the ceiling by their belt buckles.

However, the best retreat in an emergency is a safe room. 

We're definitely due for another horrible movie about that, it's been way too long.

Congratulations on your release, John Hinckley. I was very impressed with what you did, by the way.

Helping to secure the perimeters is a new wave of artificial intelligence. 

Don't worry, sir, these killer robots should keep those filthy working people off your lawn.

Barber says cameras installed in a house on The Bishops Avenue, Hampstead, are used to monitor staff. It means the owner, who is abroad much of the time, can spy on his army of gardeners, cooks and assistant staff wherever he is in the world.

As long as we're always spying on everyone we should kick off that new golden age of human decency and warmth any day now.

Aaron Zehner is the author of "The Foolchild Invention" available in paperback and e-book format. Read free excerpts here and here. 

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Which Way Books #9: Creatures of the Dark

After enduring a cynical update of what passes for a classic within this genre it's time to return to Which Way Books, where the low expectations always soften the impact. Yes, no more Edward Packard, instead the literary Alan Smithee that is R.G. Austin with some of that semi-competent efficiency that I've come to expect from this series. Today's subject probably couldn't be any more derivative and back then that's just how we liked it. Create your own lukewarm "homage" to classical mythology and add some lazy wackiness here and there...that's just crazy enough to work. Yeah, this is going to be great.

So close to creating the "puke rainbow" in 1982, so very close.

As suggested by the high-quality introductory paragraph this book is the spiritual successor to Lost in a Strange Land although this connection only exists in the low-energy premise. Once again I get swept away into a land of monsters and magic. Only now, instead of pursuing the safe and sane hobby of exploring lava floes (this bag of fine dust is all that remains of your child) my highly sensible solo voyage across the Pacific is interrupted by a storm and a plunge into a "black abyss. First, this sounds very familiar, just with most of the irrelevant details mercilessly stripped away so we can do this thang as fast as possible. Second, sick prose game from author "John Smith" here. 

From the maker of good movies comes this dud.

Anyway, we all know the drill by now: I'm in a strange land that may or may not include darkness and, possibly, even some sort of creatures loosely affiliated with said absence of light. So, naturally, the first choice is between a town or a city. Is this some sort of personality test disguised as poorly written eighties kid's entertainment? Well, if you must know I suffer from the City Boy Blues, so town it is.

As I walk through the forest toward the more intimate population center I get lassoed. Not this nonsense again. There better be some Cossacks at the other end of this rope-trick shuck or I'm not going to be happy. 

It's aliens. Why yes, this does make me rage, thanks for asking.

This, but with less artistic merit.

As you probably already guessed the little green men think I'm a wizard. Despite a blanket denial of this charge they demand I "prove it." Yeah. Come on hotshot, let's see you prove a negative. Should be easy for the kind of person who gets swept off boats and blunders into looped hemp products. I try to logic my way out of this by suggesting I would use my wizard powers against them if I actually had any but this proves unconvincing to the galactic wanderers and I'm dragged off to their spaceship where I'll presumably be tortured and executed. Wasn't really expecting another inquisition, especially one involving saucer people, but then again I suppose no ever expects them.

And that's all. Even by Which Way standards this one was a disappointment. All we needed was some quicksand and maybe a sinister dwarf and just about every element I dislike from these would have been present. Incredibly, this finishes the first ten books from this series. One day soon I may finally complete the set, realize I've reviewed the entire Which Way series and then hang my head, sobbing bitter tears and sinking into crushing despair. 

Aaron Zehner is the author of "The Foolchild Invention" available in paperback and e-book format. Read free excerpts here and here.