Saturday, December 25, 2010

Skip the movie. Read the book: 1984

Nineteen Eighty-Four
by George Orwell

Chilling. Terrifying. All too real and all too possible.

This is the book to read if you want to see masterful world-building in action. The entire first third of the story is world-building. There's almost no dialogue, no action, no plot. It takes Orwell one-third of the page count just to set up his vision.

It's a world where everyone is monitored day and night. Actions are not a crime in this society; *thoughts* are criminal.

Winston is a member of the Outer Party (the government), and he is one of the people responsible for altering the past. One of the first examples we receive is the chocolate ration. A news report states the ration for chocolate is reduced from 30 grams to 20. Winston's job is to go back over newspaper articles and newsreels that featured government promises of the chocolate ration not being reduced, and change them to warnings that a reduction may come. One day later, newsreels start reporting that the ration is being *increased* to 20 grams a week.

And everyone accepts it. People celebrate Big Brother, the symbolic head of the government, for his decision to bestow this generous gift on the people. Everyone simply forgets that there was a time when the ration was higher. They accept this alteration of the past, and the government's propaganda that times are good and always getting better, when in fact they are continually deteriorating.

This is just one example of the terrifying society Winston inhabits. Orwell never comes out and states what the government is doing. He instead presents all the different methods the Party uses: convincing the people that the orgasm is a crime, erasing people from the record, and Newspeak.

What hit me hardest is Winston's conversation with Syme, one of the developers of a new language called Newspeak. Syme's explanation that "shades of meaning" are being eliminated from English, and Shakespeare will have to be rewritten to reflect it, slapped me across the face. Not only is the government manipulating people's memories, but they're making it impossible for people to have rebellious thoughts.

If people can't remember happier times, but instead are convinced that they are living in perpetually good times (even as those conditions deteriorate), the people will always stay in their place. If they lose the ability to have thoughts, feelings and emotions in the first place, they will never want to overthrow the government.

The proles, the working people, are living in perpetual poverty, but are happy to live in it and never complain because as far as they remember, there have never been better times to live. Chocolate rations have always been high, standard of living has always been wonderful, and times are good. But they are uneducated animals scraping a pointless existence out of the refuse of an unending world war. They mindlessly accept what they're told, do not strive to achieve anything, and don't even know they're oppressed. The government has seen to that; everything they do is to keep the people docile and in their place so the ruling class (the Inner Party) can live in luxury. That is scary.

This is masterful world-building. The story is almost irrelevant. The real focus is the world Orwell creates. A truly terrifying and completely believable vision of a future that may have already happened, and we'd never know it. It had my head spinning for hours after I finished it. I strive to blow my readers’ minds away like this, too. It is the best novel I’ve ever read.

Compare that to...

starring John Hurt

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


It's been a year since I played this game, and you know I'm still thinking about it.

Machinarium, a point-and-click, third-person adventure game made entirely in flash by a Czech game company.

It's a beautiful world full of robots and mechanical equipment. Even the decaying equipment is beautiful to look at. If you like Myst-style adventures, The Neverhood, or games to test your mind instead of your trigger finger, try this one!

The puzzles are the ideal balance between inventory, environment and logic. There is no pixel-hunting here--everything you need is out in the open, you just have to decide how to use it. As you progress, the story gradually becomes clear, and your actions have a purpose. The puzzles are fair and make perfect sense. They never feel like contrived devices to delay the player, but are part of the world. Sometimes they're even fun distractions.

As if that weren't enough, the soundtrack is kickass! It's done by a man named Tomas Dvorak, an upcoming musician in the Czech Republic. You get the soundtrack in mp3 format if you purchase the game directly from the developer, and the music alone is worth the price! It stands very well on its own. I listen to the thing in my car all the time.

The characters are memorable long after finishing the game. The simple story is fun to discover. The puzzles are challenging, but never unfair. It's the perfect balance of humor, challenge, puzzle and action. Check it out!

Quickie interview

Steve Lowe, author of Muscle Memory, interviewed me for his blog. Check 'em both out here.

It took longer than "2 minutes" to do this, and it will probably take longer than that to read it...but it's still quite revealing.

I'm happy to be a published author, but damn it I chose a difficult book to be my first. If I keep getting interviews like this, pretty soon my name and Mister Hands are going to be associated in google searches. What a way to get started.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

We Wish You A Turtle Christmas / and / Now that gas prices are "down"

We Wish You A Turtle Christmas

How do things like this even get made?? Thank God I never saw it when it came out. I thought The Next Mutation was bad!

In other news, I came across this news story on yahoo: Worst-selling cars of the year

Small cars in general aren't selling as well now that gas prices have fallen and pickups and larger vehicles are making a comeback.

What a short memory we have, eh? When gas broke 4 bucks a gallon, everyone was scrambling for smaller cars this, fuel-efficient that, green this, alternative fuels that. But now gas prices are all the way down to $2.90 a gallon, suddenly no one seems to care about reducing our dependance on oil. Cars that need less gas are suddenly dropping off in sales. Well, don't forget: as soon as gas prices spike to 4, 5, or 10 bucks a gallon again, we'll all be wishing we'd kept up the efforts before it was a problem.

Don't stop! Things are not ok! Gas used to be a buck fifty a gallon before 2003! We got used to it, but things are not ok! They're only going to get worse! Keep up the effort! Buy those fuel efficient cars! Invest in alternative fuels! Don't stop now that there's no need to panic! There will be later on if stop now!