Friday, March 21, 2014

Game Review: South Park: The Stick of Truth South Park: The Stick of Truth was like Final Fantasy 7 and Diablo 2 moved to South Park and had a baby, with some of the puzzle elements of Sanitarium and the button mashing of Dante's Inferno (the game, obviously) thrown in. Needless to say, it was by far one of the best games I've ever played.

Naturally, I expected a great storyline and hilarious writing. It did not disappoint on that score. It was like a long episode of South Park. However, I was genuinely impressed by the game play, which I'll discuss. I'm trying to avoid spoilers. Without any connection to South Park whatsoever and a standard, yet predictable, fantasy storyline it would have still been a good game. Not a great game, but a good game. It borrowed (and satirized) elements from many different RPGs. The fast travel, for example, consists of calling Timmy to pull you somewhere.

The story begins, like most, with character creation. You assume the role of the new kid who moves in next door to Butters, who soon takes you to Kupa Keep (Cartman's backyard) where you join his forces. Like most fantasy RPGs, you get to pick a class, like fighter, mage or Jew (Cartman is the NPC who leads the character through this part). Each offers different skills, etc, though the player character will have the ability to use “magic” (farts) regardless of class.

The combat works about like Final Fantasy. It's turn-based, and each character has different skills and abilities. You fight with one ally by your side (Butters, Kenny, Stan, Kyle, Cartman or Jimmy). Each turn you can attack, use magic, use a special ability or use an inventory item. The items are pretty standard, health potions (cheesy poofs, snacky cakes, etc), mana potions (cans of beans, burritos, etc), strength potions (Weight Gain 4000) and revive potions (basically a phoenix down, but in taco form). Some can also be used to attack or provide skill bonuses. You can also get summon spells, which call upon some powerful character, like Mr. Slave or Jesus to assist the player in combat, not unlike summon materia.

Unlike Final Fantasy, the attacks (and blocks) all require some timed button tapping, holding and occasionally some mashing (and it actually refers to it as “mashing” in the game...instead of the “tap B rapidly” or whatever. Most of the special abilities required a degree of button mashing, often in sequence, much like Dante's Inferno. Unlike Dante's Inferno, you can poop...and pooping requires button mashing.

Aside from the potions I mentioned, there is a variety of weapons and armor available in South Park. They all require a certain level, and give different bonuses (aside from being silly), just like every RPG ever. You can even add modifiers to your weapons and armor, just like the gems and runes in Diablo 2 (I'd like to toss a few in a Horodrics cube and find out what happens). Armor patches and weapon “strap-ons” can add additional types of damage, like fire, frost or the especially lethal “gross out” damage. Unlike Diablo 2, your inventory is almost unlimited (you can only hold ten of each type of potion), and you can move patches and strap-ons.

There are also items you can use to modify your appearance (like in Fable), but they serve no practical purposes (like many things in Fable), except for in certain quests. There is also a large quantity of junk that can be looted from all over the map. In traditional RPG fashion, one tends to walk into every accessible room and take everything that isn't nailed down. Much of this stuff relates to specific episodes. It can all be sold in shops, though I never really found it necessary. I usually seemed to find better weapons and armor than what the shops carried, and I was never really short on cash. Some of the descriptions were funny to read though.

The world of South Park is fairly open, with a lot of side-quests. While combat rewards the player with experience, quests cause the people he or she helps to become Facebook friends. Gaining Facebook friends allows the player to get more perks, which grant a variety of bonuses. The quests offer an impressive variety; they aren't a bunch of repetitive “bring me X random items that are occasionally dropped by such and such monster (I once wiped out a significant portion of the Zehvra population trying to obtain four hooves. You'd think each one would have exactly that many),” like you get in World of Warcraft. They're all pretty unique.

There are a decent amount of puzzles required, primarily to get places, and the player is required to use magic and other skills outside of combat to do this (I don't want to say what specifically and spoil anything). It's a bit like Sanitarium, especially in the level at the end where you can assume forms from each of the previous realities to get through different obstacles in the last world. Manipulating the environment can also be used to take out enemies before entering combat. Each buddy also has special skills, like Jimmy's “Bardic Access” that are sometimes required.

I can't really say much more without running the risk of spoiling something. I don't exactly have complaints, but there are a few things that could be better. First it needs to be was 29 hours (keep in mind, I kick ass), but I want to play more, damnit. At least they could hurry up with the DLC. Anyway....second, there were some bugs. Not as bad as some games, but there were some. Last, I noticed that the character's choices don't effect the storyline much. The same was true of Final Fantasy, and Diablo 2 (well, there weren't really choices), but I do like games (Mass Effect, Fallout or even Dragon Age) where the character's actions do have some effect on the story. Despite the freedom to roam and the availability of side-quests, the story is completely linear.

Overall though, it's definitely one of the best games I've ever played. I highly recommend it to everyone who owns an xbox, playstation or computer (or at least knows where an unoccupied one is). It helps if you happen to be familiar with South Park, and it helps if you happen to be familiar with common tropes in fantasy RPGs, but neither is necessary to enjoy the game (I am both a huge South Park fan and a serious gamer, so naturally I thought it was fucking awesome!).


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Twin Suns: Advanced Weaponry

In any work of action science-fiction, advanced weaponry plays a pretty significant role. Laser, plasma and ion weapons are so prevalent in SF shows, books and video games, that despite their limited relation to reality, people have a pretty specific concept of each. We all know that laser weapons fire faster than plasma  weapons, and do less damage, while ion weapons knock out electronics. It's  not unlike the way that we know silver kills werewolves and zombies require head-shots. It's no longer specific to any one work, but part of the general body of SF lore.

Once again, in Twin Suns, I decided to go in a different direction, and draw on both modern technology, and some throw-backs from the past that might actually be practical in the future. Let's start with small arms and work our way up.

Small Arms

There are two major considerations when selecting a personal arsenal aboard a ship; mass and penetration.

Obviously, you want things to be as lightweight as possible, so I went with case-less ammunition. It weighs about half as much as regular ammunition and has about eighty percent of the volume. The crew of the Tranquility uses the Benelli M9 and the  HK G42. I chose Benelli because it's the name of one of the first weapons manufacturers to make a handgun that fired case-less ammunition. The H&K G42 is just a fictional, futuristic version of the H&K G11, which does exist and fires case-less ammunition. To further save on space and mass, I made the H&K G42 modular, so that extensions could be added to make the same weapon capable of fulfilling a variety of roles. Plenty of modern firearms have similar options (I'm currently in the market for the grenade launcher attachment for my SKS if anyone knows where I can get one).

 The other, possibly more important factor when choosing your space-borne weaponry is penetration. It's all well and good to leave the other guy's ship venting atmosphere, but what about when you're the ones fending off boarders? Fortunately, there's already a solution in place: frangible ammunition. It's the same stuff that security personnel on airplanes use to prevent cabin depressurization should they accidentally hit the plane. It's a special type of ammunition that's designed to shatter on impact, rather than penetrate. It still has more than enough force to pass through flesh, but won't go through something more solid. On Tranquility, clips of frangible ammunition are bright red, to avoid mistakes. That'd be a big mistake.


Gyrojets were first pioneered in the 1960s, and discarded as an idea shortly thereafter. What separates them from other firearms is that the propellant is inside of the projectile rather than behind it. Therefore they're really tiny lead rockets rather than bullets. The project was abandoned because the projectiles were expensive to produce and their manufacturing required greater precision in order to guarantee accuracy. They also had little advantage over conventional weapons, on Earth at least. In space they offer one huge advantage: there is virtually no recoil. A bullet releases all of its energy at once, launching the bullet forward and the shooter backwards, but gyrojets release energy at a set rate and continue to accelerate after they've left the muzzle.

I decided to use this technology for heavy "outside" weapons, like the DW38 .50 caliber sniper rifle and the DW2 .50 caliber machine gun. I gave Tranquility's fighters each a pair of DW13 20mm machine guns. The DW is not based upon my initials, as I'm not quite that big of an egomaniac. It stands for "Death Wind," a project I found online that's looking to further research into the technology. The name refers to another interesting quirk of gyrojets: they just make a quiet whistling sound. (Until they break the sound barrier, and there's a sonic boom).

Electronically-fired Bullets

For the big ships, Tranquility and bigger, recoil is less of an issue. Between their increased mass and maneuvering thrusters, it makes more sense to trade stability for power...and rate-of-fire. That's why I went with electronically-fired bullets. The world record for rate-of-fire is currently (well, when I wrote Twin Suns) was over one million rounds per minute. It is held by a product of the Australian defense technology company Metal Storm. Their weapons utilize stacked, electronically-fired projectiles. So I fitted Tranquility with six MS22 40mm machine guns. The turrets also fire rockets and other conventional stuff, but those machine guns are their main anti-fighter defense. Rate of fire is especially important when you consider how maneuverable a fighter is when it can ignore atmosphere and gravity.

Rail Guns

The largest ships in Twin Suns, the battleships, have rail guns. Rail guns have been around, at least in theory for nearly a century. The principle is relatively simple. I'm assuming you've played with magnets. If not, I apologize for your terrible childhood. Anyway, while more famous for attracting, magnetic fields can also repel. If you've got a projectile being repelled by the magnetic fields from rails (hence the name) on each side, it shoots out the end. Now, if you substitute the magnetic fields emanating from the magnets you played with as a kid for extremely powerful electromagnets, you can make that projectile go really, really fast. In fact, the velocity you can attain is only really limited by the power at your disposal (for a decent one, you most likely need a nuclear reactor) and how strong of materials you have access to, as the rails also repel each other, thus constantly trying to rip the entire thing apart. On top of that, it generates massive amounts of heat. That's why only the big ships in Twin Suns have them. They need a ton of space for reactors to power them and radiators to dissipate all that heat. Despite those limitations, they're a pretty impressive weapon, and have the potential to be made more devastating by upping the power, and thus the velocity. To quote the motto of the US Navy's rail gun project: "Velocitas Eradico," (basically, speed kills, but literally something else. You get the idea.)

So that's about it for the advanced weaponry of Twin Suns. Again the novel was a pleasure to write and I hope that you enjoy(ed) it (and review(ed) it on Amazon). If you have any questions, feel free to ask. Because of the underwhelming level of feedback I receive on this blog, I'll definitely dedicate an entire blog to answering your question(s). To reach me, can always comment here, or contact me via email, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, phone, text, fax, mail, telegraph, courier, carrier pigeon, message in a bottle, smoke signals, or shouting very loudly.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Twin Suns: The Technology

Well, it's finally out. My first book, Twin Suns, is available as an ebook from Double Dragon. It's also available at Amazon, and for Nook and Kobo. To celebrate (and you know, try to sell more books), I've decided to write about it. As much as I love talking about myself, and writing about writing, I actually don't like writing about my writing. But here goes.

With Twin Suns, as with any other work of science fiction, the technology is an integral part. Star Wars without light sabers would be less exciting, Old Man's War without BrainPals wouldn't work, and Starship Troopers without the super-advanced battle armor would be, well, the film version of Starship Troopers. In any work of science fiction, the science is important (whether it's done realistically or not) the whole world is built around it.

The technology in Twin Suns is done just about as realistically as I could. I opted to use nuclear pulse propulsion, which is theoretically possible. A ton of research has been done on it, and we'd probably be using it now if not for a certain international treaty prohibiting it. Karl Sagan once suggested it as a use for the world's surplus nuclear weapons. The idea behind it is simple; blow up a nuke behind the ship and ride the wave. Obviously this requires a special shock-absorbing plate at the back, which has to be made out of a material that can withstand the heat. Thick copper works. Radiation shielding is less of an issue as space ships are already shielded from radiation. Then all you need is a device to shoot nukes out to the appropriate distance prior to detonation. According to one source, coca-cola was consulted about their design, as dispensing delicious canned beverages and nuclear bombs works on basically the same principle. Nuclear pulse propulsion lets us travel at around fifty percent of light speed. Theoretically, if we use a matter-antimatter explosion, rather than a standard nuke, we can get up to about sixty-percent. All the distances and times in Twin Suns were calculated based on realistic estimates.

Even at those speeds, it'd still take a pretty long time to make the journey from Earth to the Twin Suns solar system. For that I combined real medical technology with those little exercise-for-lazy-people devices on infomercials. You know, the ones that send electrical impulses to your muscles to expand and contract them so that you can get "exercise," while watching TV and eating cheetos. My version of suspended animation was simply an induced coma, while attached to those things.

I also tried to make the fighters a bit more realistic than most. As cool as X-Wings are, the way they move in space is completely ridiculous, and the wings themselves are completely superfluous. In space, you don't need to generate lift. I went with a spherical design, and gave them gyroscope-like rings around the main sphere that move and rotate to apply thrust in any direction.  The controls, as I envisioned them, are a slight variation of the Xbox 360 controllers (I added a loop on the thumb-controlled joysticks so that you can move up, instead of just clicking down.) Admittedly, it still took a few rewrites to get them moving like-space ships rather than atmospheric fighters.

In the initial draft, that's about where the realism stopped. As much as I hate to admit it, I even had "magical" artificial gravity. Fortunately, one of my critique partners pointed out that if you could manipulate gravity at will, that would make more sense as a propulsion system than nuclear pulse propulsion. As it originally read, it was a bit like having computers on a steam ship. That's when I got to research and write about spin-generated gravity. I still have spread-sheets with which I analyzed the necessary rates of rotation and dimensions required to produce different amounts of gravity. It also required a complete redesign of the ship, and left a lot of problems to address. How do you try to pilot a ship when the room you're in is rotating? How do you shoot from a rotating turret? Should some sections be immobile? How does one move between the moving and non-moving sections? I like to think I handled those questions well, and in later parts of the story, some of those details even became important to the plot.

In the early stages it did mean rewriting a lot of the first part of the book, but I must say it made me glad to be a science fiction writer. All writers occasionally have to make large global changes and do some rewriting. Sometimes you've got to take a character out of a few scenes. That's part of the job. But what other kinds of writers have to rewrite scenes in order to cut gravity out?

Overall, it was a pleasure to write and I hope that you enjoy it (and review it on Amazon). Next week (or whenever I get around to it,) I'll write more about it. If you have any questions, feel free to ask. You can always comment here, or contact me via email, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, phone, text, fax, mail, telegraph, courier, carrier pigeon, message in a bottle, smoke signals, or shouting very loudly.


Thursday, June 13, 2013

Fun with Altered Timelines

I’ve been pretty thoroughly neglecting this blog. I can sense your outrage (not really). But I have a good reason: I’ve been writing another book. Aside from the time required to actually write it. This particular one involves an altered timeline, which takes a ridiculous amount of research and speculation.

     Anytime you opt to change history, there is an inevitable ripple-effect from that point. We know this, because every science fiction series that has had an episode where this occurs has exhibited this phenomenon. Often the world is drastically changed. Major organizations/nations have different names, often several major characters are now on opposite sides in some conflict, and typically the female character(s) have different hair-styles.

     I’m not doing a one-off time-is-changed-then-fixed thing (No, this is not in any way related to my first book, Twin Suns). My whole setting is a world that, from a specific point, developed along a different track. Fortunately, that point is about 150 years ago. If it were a thousand, I’d still be doing preliminary research and possible institutionalized as a result of the strain. 150 years is doable, or as doable as the task of predicting the actions of several generations of humans all across the globe can ever be. Fortunately, accuracy isn’t really the goal, plausibility is enough.

     For the big events, it requires the analysis of a variety of linked events. For example, as those of you who can do math realized, my change in the timeline occurs at the end of the American Civil War. The results are far-reaching. By 2013 in my timeline, Israel, Cuba and Pakistan aren’t nations, but California is; India is Communist, and China isn’t. How, you ask? It’s complicated.

In my timeline there is a Confederate victory at Gettysburg. This doesn’t win the war, but results in Lincoln narrowly losing reelection. The McClellan administration signs an armistice with the CSA, and hostilities cease. A few years later, it’s not unlikely that California (combined with the Oregon/Washington territories) would secede. By this time the CSA has taken possession of the territory between California and the USA, which basically guarantees California’s right to secede. At that stage there would be little reason for it to remain in the Union, when the majority of their contact with the USA is sending them gold. At the same time, they would have little use for joining the CSA.

Jump ahead to the Spanish-American War. The CSA supports the Cubans in their fight for independence and Cuba joins the CSA as a state along with Puerto Rico (Guam and the Philippines would have been left alone since the CSA would lack a Pacific port at this time.)

World War I begins in much the same way, but the ending comes quickly. The CSA relies much more heavily on trade with the allies, and is quicker to enter the war. A quicker end to that war would have a wide array of effects. Most significantly, there would be less debt on both sides, and thus lower reparations demanded by the Treaty of Versailles. A less financially devastated Germany makes it impossible for Adolf Hitler to seize power.

There is a good chance that World War II, as we know it, wouldn’t have happened. As a result, the British Empire would have had the strength to hold on to their colonies like India and Pakistan, Mao Zedong would have been defeated by Chang Kai-Shek (The Japanese invasion saved Mao’s ass) and Israel would have never been formed in the wake of the Holocaust (because it no longer would have happened).

A likely result would be the early battles of the Cold War occurring on a much larger scale. Without the strong imperative to avoid “World War III,” (because much like Terminator films, two is simply enough) the Cold War becomes World War II, rather than a series of smaller wars. The allies are the European nations (and probably Japan) struggling to hold on to their colonies, and the axis is the USSR and the rebelling colonies. As a result, India gains its independence with Soviet support, becoming Communist, and isn’t partitioned to create Pakistan.

Because of my prediction that the USA would embrace a philosophy of greater central control, while the CSA would move in the opposite direction, I think it’s likely that the CSA would have closer ties to the Allies and the USA would likely support the USSR. However, I doubt that either would get directly involved, though perhaps they’d fight each other a bit.

I also predict that the Balkans will still be a confusing mess, purely because the Balkans have always been a confusing mess.

So that’s just one example highlighting a few major changes, to create consistency when off-handedly mentioning the rest of the world. The story is actually set in the USA and CSA, so all of that is just peripheral data that occasionally gets mentioned (or may never get mentioned).

The level of detail for events occurring in the USA or CSA requires a greater level of research. In order to have my protagonist buy something, I had to devise a new economic system independent of the government, which led to a lot of reading about the Free Banking period in Scotland, the Gold Standard, Reserve Banking, prominent Southern banks during the Civil War, etc. By the time I finish the damn thing I expect to have a bibliography longer than many works of non-fiction.

On the plus side, I think it’s pretty damn good so far. If you happen to be interested in reading the first few chapters, communicate these desires using some method of communication.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Guest Post: Victoria Thompson

This is the first ever guest post on my blog (had I known how little work this would require on my part, I would have started doing it ages ago). This post comes from Victoria Thompson, author of the Gaslight Mystery Series, and one of my classmates in the Seton Hill University Writing Popular Fiction program. The series is set in New York City in the 1890s, a fascinating time when trains were in the air rather than underground, bicycles were a terrifying and dangerous new invention and they used gas for lumination. Here Vicki is writing about the fifteenth book in the series, Murder in Chelsea, which is coming out May 7th in both hardcover and ebook.(You may take a moment to pre-order it now. Don't worry. I'll wait.)
By now you're probably wondering what this has to do with science, or science fiction. The answer is: nothing. But that doesn't matter because this blog has only one true focus: ME. Vicki's post certainly meets that criteria. How, you ask? I'd elaborate, but I'll let Vicki explain that instead. She's a whole lot better with mysteries than I am. Enjoy.

So what does an author do when she’s written herself into a corner and can’t for the life of her figure out how to get out of it—all while thousands of fans are clamoring for her blood? That’s the situation in which I found myself last year at this time.
If you are a fan of the Gaslight Mystery Series (Berkley Prime Crime), you know that Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy of the New York City Police and Midwife Sarah Brandt have been solving mysteries and gradually falling in love over the first 14 books in the series. Unfortunately, I had started the series by creating insurmountable barriers to their ever getting together, never realizing that the series would become so successful or that readers would become so invested in Frank and Sarah’s lives.
Now let’s face it, how many mystery writers are lucky enough to have a series that runs for 14 books? I count my blessings every day. But in the spring of 2012, I realized that if I didn’t take care of Frank and Sarah’s relationship, readers probably would not keep reading. But how to do it without ruining the dynamics of the series? I was getting desperate, so I vented to my classmates.
Classmates? Yes, I was just finishing up my master’s degree in Writing Popular Fiction at Seton Hill University. One of my classmates, David Wilbanks, who writes Science Fiction and had at that time never read anything I’d ever written, took my challenge and sent me a list of about 20 things that could happen. Unlike me and my fans, Dave was unencumbered by knowledge of the characters involved, so his solutions didn’t have to be feasible or even sensible. His ideas were outside the box. Some of them were even outside the Universe. But one of them was the perfect solution to Frank and Sarah’s problems!
Since then I've read the first ten books in the series (which I've thoroughly enjoyed) and am hoping to be completely caught up by July when my parents are visiting me in Turkey and bringing me my copy of Murder in Chelsea.
If you’re expecting me to tell you what that solution is right here, I’m sorry.  I write mysteries, so I’m not giving away anything that might spoil the book for you. I will say that in MURDER IN CHELSEA you will finally get to see Frank Malloy propose to Sarah Brandt. Of course they also solve a couple murders and locate the birth parents of Sarah’s foster daughter into the bargain. This is a mystery series after all! And to thank Dave for his help, I named a major character after him in MURDER IN CHELSEA.
I hate to interupt again, but just so you know, she didn't even tell me which of my suggestions she decided to use...and I have to wait until JULY to find out.
So this is how a fellow writer rescued me, saving me from the wrath of frustrated readers! You can see how he did it by reading MURDER IN CHELSEA, a May 2013 hardcover release from Berkley Prime Crime. It’s also available in all electronic formats. Please let me know if you like the solution by contacting me though my website, or liking me on Facebook at Victoria Thompson Author or following me on Twitter @gaslightvt.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Obvious Ways to Ruin Your Chances of Employment

My good friend Kim Stiens asked me to do a guest post for her blog. Hers is about business (it's called Business for Good, Not Evil. There you can see this very same post, but in a different font! Oh, and also she writes stuff, too.). I’m just sharing some excellent examples of what not to do in an interview. Since I’m too lazy to write two blogs, I’ll post this on mine too (which you are aware of if you’re reading this from there right now). It shouldn’t matter much since I think Kim is the only person who reads both blogs, and thus the only person (aside from my mommy) who reads mine.

     I’m going to talk about the last three applicants we considered at Hasdil, the school I work at. Like most language schools, the requirements are pretty much a passport from an English speaking nation and whatever minimum requirements the government has for a work permit/visa, unless there is an easy way around it. One language school in the Ukraine, for example, had no requirements because they were getting their teachers missionary visas. Obviously, having things like experience, extra degrees and sanity are a plus, but not required.

This is sensible, as the job is comparable to being a stage magician with really lame tricks (and POOF the sentence is now in the present perfect continuous tense). You have to be moderately amusing, and 90% of the students will hide amongst the herd every time you ask for audience participation (while one or two eagerly volunteer every single time). There is nothing about this job that really precludes an under-educated crazy person from excelling at it their first time.

I’m saying all of this to provide background. The job is damn easy, and there aren’t many applicants (in fact, we’re looking for someone at the moment, hit me up if you’re interested). I want to make it absolutely clear that to fail to obtain this job you have to be a pretty serious screw-up.

Let’s look at screw-up number one: This woman had a TEFL certificate (a good one, not a shitty online one like me), a degree in English (but not an MFA, like me) and at least five years of experience (not three months, like me). Then came the Skype interview. While many things were discussed, she repeatedly hit upon two points.

First, she repeatedly said, “I am used to a very high standard of living.” While it’s a bit different when you’re applying to a job where they pay for your accommodation, it’s still something you really shouldn’t say. It essentially translates to “The accommodation you provide isn’t shit, is it?” For a lot of ESL jobs, this is a pretty significant concern, as is the likelihood of being able to live off of what they’re paying. However, that isn’t the way to ask. If you have questions of that nature, ask in specific, objective terms; “What size are the rooms?” “How far are they from the city center (centre)?” “Do they have air conditioning?” etc. For the general ones about the city, just use Google. Don’t waste your interviewer’s time.

The second point she made was that every one of her previous employers ripped her off. Again, it’s not all that uncommon in this field, but still probably something you don’t need to tell your interviewer. It not only comes across as a premature accusation, but generally suggests something is wrong with you. The possible reasons that you’ve been ripped off repeatedly are:

1) You got fired and they didn’t pay you your last month’s wages, as you were being escorted out of the country.

2) You quit before your contract was up, so they didn’t pay you all of your last month’s wages.

3) They recognize that you’re a useless drunk/incompetent, and rather than firing you and dealing with the hassle of replacing you, they start paying you less with the intent to fire you if you ever say anything (only recently heard about this in Taiwan).

4) Just bad luck.

     While having shitty luck won’t hurt your employment chances, it won’t help them. You might as well tell the employer about how each year in high school you developed a really big zit the day before prom. The first three things will definitely hurt your chances, and are significantly more likely than the fourth.

     Generally speaking, in an interview, you should really keep the conversation about topics relevant to the job. It seems like a no-brainer, but yeah. Also, try to appear sane. We still refer to her as “the crazy woman.”

To further impress upon you how desperate we were “the crazy woman” was actually hired. Fortunately, she got to Istanbul and sort of wandered off or something. Consequently, Hasdil had the pleasure of interviewing applicant number two.

Applicant number two illustrates what you should do in an interview. He was a charming, brilliant and sexy teacher with an MFA in writing, a BA in English, a TEFL certificate (shitty online one) and basically no experience. In the interview he excelled by asking specific questions about the job and accommodations, and talking about his previous jobs only to show that his experience, little as it was, served to perfectly prepare him for precisely this job (Yeah, that was me). Obviously, they hired me (otherwise I never would have heard the stories about the rejects).

The most recent applicant sounded like a shoe-in. Number three looked great on his resume. He’s a Brit, and worked at the Brighton branch, for the same school. Then my boss got an e-mail from him saying that he would need private accommodation away from the school, because he’s a writer and needs privacy to write (obviously an amateur). Hell, we have private rooms, and except for during the children’s classes, the place is pretty quiet. Aside from revealing himself to be a pretentious douche, he effectively asked for a 50% raise, prior to the interview.

What really makes applicant three so entertaining is the fact that he only worked part-time for the Brighton school, for a few weeks, before being fired. If you’ve been fired from a job, and want to lie about it, you will get away with it, in many cases, especially when you’re changing countries. However, it’s probably not a great idea if it’s THE SAME COMPANY.

So yeah, hopefully this has reassured anyone currently seeking a job. Some of your competitors are idiots, and that helps your odds. Also, again, we’re hiring. I’d continue to dither until coming up with a decent ending (as I usually do), but I’ve got class in five minutes and I need to prepare (by which I mean put my pants back on, have a smoke and locate the book).

Friday, February 15, 2013


     So just a week after the attack on the American Embassy in Ankara, I went to get my passport the American Embassy in Ankara. Fortunately, savvy traveler that I am, I was able to avoid both explosions and tedious paperwork. Waiting and disappointment, unfortunately, was inevitable.

     I began my journey at a quarter past nine, Turkish Standard Time. The time-zone is actually completely irrelevant, since I didn’t change time-zones at all. Mehmet drove me over to the Konya High Speed Train (that isn’t a capitalization error, the name of the high speed train company is High Speed Train) station. I got tickets, and got to practice my Turkish to confirm that he’d be back to pick me up.

     I learned the Turkish words for “Departing from” and “Destination,” after giving the chick the wrong ticket...Yes, I should have checked the times, but it was far too early for coherent thought.

     The interior was pretty nice. Like economy class on airplanes before they decided that only First and Business class passengers are likely to travel with femurs (Rumor has it they’re working on a drug that will temporarily liquefy your bones for the flight so they can cram even more people onto crappy domestic flights invariably and inexplicably bound for Atlanta). I guess where I was going with that is that there was actually a bit of leg room. It was as good as sitting in the same place for two hours can get without the addition of expensive electronics, copious amounts of booze or an attractive companion (and a little privacy).

     I elected to spend my time gazing out of the window at the stunning Turkish least until I realized the area around Konya looks about like southeast Idaho which I’ve driven through enough times that I know exactly where both of the trees are (perhaps I’m exaggerating). Instead I zoned out and started trying to come up with ideas for the sequel to Twin Suns which I am (supposedly) working on.

     The first disappointment came when I studied the monitors, and noted the train’s speed. It took a while to get up to top speed, but it topped off at 250 km/s. That’s right. As you no doubt just calculated, 559,234 mph. While it’s still only a paltry .08% of speedlight, it’s certainly respectable. The disappointment came when I recalled that "saat" is hour in Turkish, so we’re only talking 250 km/h. About 155 mph. Which is still slower than a 1992 Corvette (top speed 179 mph), which I’ve driven.

     When I got to Ankara, I wandered about in the underground portion of the train station, seeking an exit. Fortunately, the exploring-underground-structures skills I picked up playing Oblivion and Fallout 3 came in handy (though I refrained from killing anyone with an ax/plasma rifle). I found the weird subterranean market section (oddly enough, it's not all that different from how I envisioned the city on New Vladivostok in Twin Suns), and had lunch.

When I finally made my way to the surface it started raining (of course). I hopped in a cab, and made my way to the embassy, where they promptly told me to piss off, since my appointment wasn’t for half an hour. I had wishfully envisioned a dry waiting area where they serve complimentary (overpriced would have been acceptable) bacon-cheeseburgers and ice-cold Budweiser’s. I’ll certainly be writing to the State Department to suggest this. Fortunately there was a bar across the street so I slogged my way there.

The bar was closed (of course), so I trudged back, wondering how water had entered my right shoe. I have yet to find a satisfactory answer to this question. I loitered under the slight overhang afforded by a nearby shop, and waited. Since I didn’t have my iPad, or even a watch, I annoyed those around me by asking for the time every two minutes.

At long last, it was time, so I walked right past the massive line of Turkish people waiting for visas, flashed my blue passport, and went right in. I briefly wondered at the logic of detonating a bomb near the gate. The very prominent signs saying “walk right-in if you’re American,” make it clear that none of the people waiting outside are actually Americans, and all the security personnel are Turkish. You’d have a better chance of actually getting a few Americans if you hit the bar across the street from the Embassy around happy hour. Then again, I suppose most suicide bombers aren’t burdened by an overabundance of logic.

I got in and went straight to the special window for Americans, and got hassled by old people who didn’t get that the big-ass flag and the words “US Citizens Only” (printed in both English and Turkish) meant it was a special line. The person showed up, I signed the forms, paid them, and was in and out in a matter of six minutes. It was by far the shortest amount of time I’ve ever spent in a US government building.

The trip back wasn’t particularly eventful, though I would like to discuss the TV on the train. It cycled through random stuff, including cartoons, commercials and slide-show things that appeared to be compilations of pictures from e-mail forwards. I’m 95% sure my mom has forwarded some of them to me before. I remember some neat custom cars (including a purple double-decker bus turned into a spaceship that looked a bit like Astrotrain mid-transformation) and some weird hairstyles (None were as awesome as my mohawk).

The cartoons featured a penguin and a polar bear. Interesting, as they are the Arctic Circle (where I used to work) mascots, and two species that never ever come into contact with one another. It was moderately funny, and visual enough that you could get it without sound (there was no sound). The most bizarre part was that I heard the middle-aged businessman sitting next to me laugh, not only at each cartoon, but at the same cartoon each time it was played. They only had about twenty-minutes worth of material that they cycled through, and I watched the same cartoons, and heard him laugh at the same bits all four times. It was like clockwork. Weird and confusing clockwork.

I would write some sort of conclusion at this stage, but there isn’t much to conclude. After the trip, I went home, ate some kofte and taught a class. Pretty typical evening. So, yeah, That’s it.