Thursday, February 6, 2014

"Anuta Fragment's Private Eyes" @ Shimmer 18

Yes! It is true. It is not a lie. You can now pre-order issue 18 of the famed and acclaimed Shimmer, which includes my store "Anuta Fragment's Private Eyes."

 This is totally awesome for any number of reasons: the peerless Ann Vandermeer guest-edited the issue (and pulled in my story - thanks Ann!); it's Shimmer, one of the best spec fic magazines currently running; and - last but not least - I consider "Anuta" to be the best story I've ever written. "Anuta" actually makes me feel sad when I read it, and I have never been able to create any feelings for myself with my writing except humour. But that is also sad, because I wrote the story three years ago and I don't know how to outdo it.

Alas! Go acquire your issue 18. It is an issue that will be spoken of for long ages to come!

-bn

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Dirty professor tricks reveal dirty student tricks

In my "Change Management" course last night, my professor played a trick on the students. We'd been asked to prepare a case study in advance, and, during class, he put us into groups and told us to analyze the case anew using the six "hats" of De Bono.

The first thing I thought when he asked us do this analysis was, "Uh oh. This wasn't in the reading. Was this in the reading? What's a De Bono?"

My worries were assuaged when he handed out a sheet of paper describing the six hats. I ended up the "white" hat (who uses cold factual information), and my group also included a black (pessimist), two reds (emotional information), and another white (there are also yellow [optimist], green [creative], and blue [mediator] hats). It seemed easy enough: play the role of the white hat, while my peers did something else.

But it didn't go well at all. I had a lot of trouble dissociating from my regular, "multicoloured" thinking (where I structure opinions and decisions based on a variety of "hats") and our group didn't get very far into the analysis. We were supposed to answer two questions that the professor had put up on the board, but we didn't really get there; we spent too much time arguing over the kind of information that each roleplayer was allowed to use. The very rules of the game became the subject of our analysis.

And, as it turned out, no one else could answer the questions, either - except that that didn't stop people from trying to. When the professor went around the room asking each group for their answers, everyone managed to spit something out. It was exactly the kind of conceptual, theoretical, utterly imprecise gobbledygook that earned me, in my undergraduate degree, the following comment from a TA on one of my philosophy papers: "Stop the linguistic acrobatics." In other words, no one really answered the questions "What can you say about the feelings of the actors in this case?" or "What communications plan would you use?" They just rehashed the concepts of the professor's most recent PowerPoint slides to try to create a semblance of an answer - even when the professor called them out on it.

I, however, had to speak up and say that I was completely confused. It had been a horrible exercise, and I actually felt kind of crappy about it. Why didn't I get it? I'm a pretty smart guy. I am, at least, not a Neanderthal. But when I mentioned my confusion, the professor kind of smiled and started asking other people how they felt - felt, not thought - about the exercise.

That's when he revealed that, quite rightly, no one had answered the questions, because he'd deliberately engineered a situation in which a sudden change - the introduction of De Bono's six hats, a concept that hadn't been introduced in the course - made it hard to grapple with a familiar situation (the case everyone had already spent time preparing).

I found it all pretty funny at first. And then I realized something horrible. Every group had given some kind of half-witted explanation when asked to by the professor. One woman had even vigorously defended her gobbledygook when the professor told her she hadn't answered the question. In short, everyone had attempted to "BS" the professor.

This isn't really all that unusual - people BS each other all the time - but it was a horrifying, face-to-face, socially engineered example of the lengths people will go to in order to make it seem like they understand. Everyone in my MBA program is highly intelligent, very professional, and exceedingly competent; and some of the smartest of them had refused to admit defeat, spitting out concepts and theories as though they were answering a practical problem, instead of providing summaries of the professor's notes.

But I've learned a good lesson here. It's never worth it to pretend you know something, because someone else probably knows - very well - that you're BSing them. Better to admit you don't know and try to learn so that you can move on to solving the problem, than going red in the face when you reflect on your actions later. I suppose that's part of the purpose of "Change Management."

And, on a side note, I am definitely not a white hat - for better or for worse.

-bn

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Dungeons & Dragons, a.k.a., "storytelling together"

I've been playing some form of Dungeons & Dragons (mostly 2nd edition AD&D, though I played and Dungeon-Mastered a few 3rd edition campaigns in my university days) since I was 9 or 10, when I visited my friend Mark and his older brother cracked out the "intro-to" boxed set (Silverleaf Halfmoon, anyone?). Although my pen-and-paper gaming has been on a hiatus for nearly four years, I finally got together a new group of adventurers and started DMing again at the beginning of January.

D&D is awesome for a number of reasons: killing crazy monsters, fighting evil sorcerers, finding amazing magical items, and hanging out with friends, for example. But I think the greatest part is the stories that come out of it. Although the DM is in some way responsible for structuring the outcome of a campaign, the reality is that, when everyone sits down at the table, no one knows what the result will be. Players react to the situation that the DM creates, and in so doing, change the way of the world around them.

For example, for our first session, I designed a dungeon that I thought the party could sweep through in a single evening. However, they took a cautious approach and ended up laying a trap for a sortie of monsters leaving the "abandoned" fortress at night. They ended up killing two important "sergeants" of the evil boss, without even stepping foot inside the dungeon - something I hadn't expected at all.

Then, for our second session, I had to rearrange the entire dungeon. The death of a whole slew of monsters at the hands of the party - including eight goblins, three hobgoblins, an ogre, and a handful of evil priests - meant that the "ecosystem" of the dungeon had changed. This made the boss fight a lot harder, because the evil priestess running the place decided to raise the ogre and a couple of the hobgoblins to fight for her in zombified undeath.

But that's the best part. The final battle became much harder than I had intended it to be, because of the actions of the party. But just when I thought everyone was going to die - and, consequently, develop a deep hatred for me as a DM - the one player left standing whipped out a mancatcher (essentially big metal mandibles on a pole used for dragging horsemen off their mounts), caught the evil priestess in a vise grip, and proceeded to squeeze her to death. It was both hilarious and - for the end boss I had lovingly designed - ignominious.

I can't wait for the next session. Although I have some work to do - preparing possible adventure hooks, designing some dungeons, thinking up new monsters for the party to fight - the fun part is that I have no idea what will end up happening. Storytelling is extremely fun when it's done together.

-bn

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

"Fathers & Sons" @ Goldfish Grimm's Spicy Fiction Sushi

My short story "Fathers & Sons" has been published in Goldfish Grimm's Spicy Fiction Sushi. Outside of Brain Harvest, this might be the weirdest story I've ever published.

Curiosity led the boy to dig in the front yard with a spoon. He wanted to know, in a roundabout subconscious childish sort of way, what it was this stuff in the earth that was trying to get into the house. It couldn’t just be earth and stones. He scooped up the soft green grass with his spoon and chucked it aside, then worked on the loamy topsoil, gently brushing worms and beetles aside so they wouldn’t be harmed by his excavations.

“What’re you doing there, son?” asked the father, who had appeared at the edge of the dig site.

“Digging,” replied the boy.

“Don’t dig too deep,” his father cautioned, not without a little chuckle. "You’ll come out on the other side of the planet, and everything you know will appear upside down.”

Anyway, I'm really pumped. I love this story. The editors of GGSFS loved it. AND WE KNOW YOU'LL LOVE IT TOO.

-bn

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

"Star-Severer" in Tesseracts Seventeen

My story "Star-Severer" has been published in Tesseracts Seventeen: Speculating Canada From Coast to Coast to Coast. I don't live near a coast and none of my stories are speculation: they are all nightmare horror stories spawned in dreams from previous lives. But go buy a copy of Tesseracts Seventeen anyway, to support right true Canadian speculation fiction/nightmare horror stories spawned in dreams from previous lives.

-bn

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Pro tips for companies always experiencing higher-than-expected call volume

Whenever I call Telus, my cellular service provider, I am warned that they are experiencing higher-than-expected call volume. Morning, noon, night; weekday, weekend, holiday; it doesn't matter the time, day or place. They were never expecting this many calls.

Here are a few tips for Telus, and other companies like them (Bell Canada, my Internet provider, and Hydro Ottawa, my electricity company, are also similarly consistently flabbergasted by the number of calls they are receiving), that have not yet entered the modern era:

  • Your customers aren't morons, and there's no way Ben Godby of Ottawa, Ontario is the only one who has noticed this trend. You're either poor planners, or treating your clients like they won't notice you've understaffed the call-centre and slapped a generic "sorry!" message onto your call-in service. Either is bad. Just solve the problem.
  • There are currently in existence more database management and customer resource management programs than I suspect any human being can count. You can use software to measure and analyze call volume across the weeks, months and years, compare it to fluctuations in your customer base depending on special sales, regulatory changes, holidays and product releases, and staff your call-centre accordingly. In fact, there are professionals who analyze this kind of data for a living. We live in an era when the tools exist to very nearly almost never be surprised.
  • There is absolutely nothing I can do to stop you from being a bunch of lazy, incompetent jerks, because the other Canadian telecoms companies also suck. I only prefer you because you use cute animals in your commercials. However, I will complain about your customer service and I will do so in bullet points.

Hopefully this helps, Telus. If you'd like, you can hire me as a business operations consultant. Send me an email, but be forewarned: I seem to always receive more emails than I expect, and sometimes I send messages back unopened with a MIDI attachment that plays annoying radio rock. Yeah, here's another tip:
  • Play a better radio station - namely one that doesn't get static interference (for reasons I literally cannot fathom, in an era of satellite and Internet radio) - on your hold line.
Thank you. You're welcome.

-bn 

Saturday, August 3, 2013

So I've got a Tumblr now

Yeah, I know you were all waiting on the edge of your seats for this. You were all thinking, "When is Ben going to get on that boat and produce interesting curated content instead of this BS OC he only sporadically delivers on his personal blog?"

I actually tried to use Tumblr a few months ago to stimulate my writing, which was in a faltering place at that time. I used it to publish "fragments" of fiction or pseudo-esoteric philosophizing. That didn't really work, though. It wasn't the right feels.

Now, I'm just copy-pasting YouTube links to sweet metal tunes. This is shallow, lame, and utterly useless in basically every sense... except to me, because it's fun to go back and look at what I was listening to a few weeks ago and smile over the mindset I was in that caused me to post it to Tumblr.  It's the same sort of satisfaction I get from reading the book reviews I post on this blog... or at least, the satisfaction I DID get while I still did that. I should do that again, too... maybe I'll call it "Extreme Book Review."

So, if you like metal, visit my Tumblr. Join me. Raise your first. &c.

-bn


Friday, August 2, 2013

That feeling when you get your hands on an awesome book

Every year (well, for the last three years, anyway), Elizabeth and I go to the Jersey Shore for vacation. She's from New Jersey, and I'm from Canada, which only really has "cottage country." The Shore and Canada's lakeland both boast sun, water, and slightly rustic ways of living, but they couldn't be more different. Nonetheless, both allow you to read books in gentle peace.

So, every year, when we go down to the Shore, I develop a sweet reading list. It's the one time of the year when I can literally sit and read for hours on end; not necessarily because my regular schedule doesn't allow me to, but because the beach, with its hot/cold alternations (i.e. sun and surf) is really the perfect environment for reading.

Inevitably, my reading list goes through many permutations. I get 90% of my books from the library, and those I don't I'm ordering from an online store because they're too obscure for any local shops to have in stock, which means I'm frequently waiting on something I've got on hold or something I've got on order. This means that my excitement goes up and down as weigh the various possibilities of my roster: I'll have some selections and swap them in and out as books come and go, slowly developing the sweetest possible pile of books. I even order the way I will read them in my read before I even crack a spine.

As I explained to Elizabeth's younger brother, who's a big football player, it's like I'm building my fantasy football team, only it's entirely fantasy.

...GET IT?

So, yeah. Time to get to the story this blog post is actually theoretically about. I just got an email that Steph Swainston's "Above the Snowline" has arrived at the local library branch for me. I literally made this face:


Steph Swainston is by far the best "weird fantasy" writer. I remember when I got into this stuff, I read her name alongside Jeff VanderMeer and China MiƩville (specifically they were being called "New Weird," but I think New Weird encompasses a lot of stuff that isn't "weird fantasy," so here I'm limiting myself to stuff that obviously falls in the same general tradition as Tolkien, only that instead of pleasant vales there's just generally absolute insanity like mushroom police and dream-eating moths); and although I was obsessed with those two gentlemen much more quickly, and though I still like both of them a lot, I can now, at the end of it, say most definitively that Steph Swainston does weird fantasy the best, by far. And that's why I made that face.

Because laying your hands on a book you really want to read is amazing.

(For the record, I also made this face for Joe Abercrombie's "Red Country" and Spinoza's "Ethics." Call me what you will.)

COME, PATSY. WE RIDE TO THE SHORE.

-bn

Friday, July 12, 2013

Three shall be the number and the number shall be three

Now that the ink has dried (albeit just barely) on the contracts, I hereby announce:

  • "Anuta Fragment's Private Eyes" will appear in Shimmer 18 this autumn. I originally sold this story to Ann VanderMeer at Weird Tales before the Great Confusion that was that magazine's sale to another publisher. "Various circumstances" led to me retracting this story from Weird Tales and re-selling it to Shimmer for a special issue edited by none other than Ann VanderMeer. Cough cough.
  • "Star Severer" will appear in Tesseracts Seventeen: Speculating Canada Coast to Coast to Coast. This is really cool because they stock the Tesseracts anthology at the Ottawa Public Library, so I'll be able to hip thrust in the general direction of my friends, family and acquaintances and indicate they ought to scoot on down to their local branch to read "my latest piece" while I look in the other direction and sniff a glass of brandy. Peasants.
  • "Secretface" will appear in the This Mutant Life: Bad Company anthology published by Ben Langdon. This is awesome because I love this story so much and because it is my first "Australian" publication. Another country off my hit list (of love).

Also, since three divided by three is one:
  • My review of Mending the Moon by Susan Palwick is up at Strange Horizons. It's a really good book, though I'll issue a warning for you big spec fic'ers: despite being published by Tor, I didn't see anything fantastical or science fictional about it. Good thing I love contemporary realism.

There are also other things going on in my life but unfortunately they don't meet the mathematical requirements of this post. It's a trial, being a numeromancer like me...

-bn

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Don't say "man," man

When the term "man" is used in the civilizational or cultural sense, that great big capitalized "Man," I either think:

1. Ah, an ancient text! From the before-times, when unenlightened gentlemen thought they were the epitome of humanity.

or:

2. Whoa, this modern person is unlearned, unwise, and sucks.

As in when I read this article, which is about a neat little contest, but which features a teacher who likes to use the term Man to refer to humanity, or people, or human beings, or earthlings. Man did this, Man did that.

NO. It's like in The Matrix: there is no Man. Get over yourself, man.

Man. Men.

-bn