Author: dbbaldwin (Page 1 of 6)

March Happenings

Spring has arrived in England, and the weather has turned beautiful again. It’s still cool, but the sun is out and the rain is more sporadic. It makes for wonderful jogging weather. With the country still mostly in lockdown, I’ve been getting out of the house by jogging around the borough. I’m in the middle of a half-marathon training plan and doing about 20 miles a week right now. Carissa and I are signed up for a 10k at Kew Gardens in mid-May, and I am confident in repeating my September 2020 victory in our head-to-head competition. She’s back to running, but not with the same consistency as I am. Maybe I should feel bad for taking such joy in beating her at her own sport, but that’s not how either of us are wired.

Grazing deer at Richmond Park

The deer at Richmond Park. There were about 30 more to the left.

In other news, I have received my first vaccination. The NHS sent me a text message on Saturday a few weeks ago. Initially, I thought it was a scam, but when I went to the NHS website and entered my information, it allowed me to schedule a jab for the following week. It still seems odd–and honestly kind of inexplicable–since I’m younger than the current age group getting the jab and I don’t have any current underlying conditions. Maybe childhood cancer has been useful for once? Maybe I am the beneficiary of a computer glitch? Either way, I wasn’t going to turn it down.

I received the first round of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab a few days after my invitation. My shoulder was a little sore by the end of the day, but I felt pretty well until I woke up in the early hours of the morning with a fever, headache, and full-body aches. Even my achilles tendons ached. After tossing and turning for an hour, I took a tylenol and dozed for a few more hours. One of the benefits of working from home is that I was able to roll out of bed at 8:50 and be online before 9:00. I felt a bit under the weather throughout the day, but it was like deal with a mild cold. I wanted to go out for a run, but Carissa wouldn’t let me.

Kebabs on the grill

Chicken, mushroom, onion, and bell pepper kebabs right after they went on the grill

The next morning, day 2 post-jab, I felt fine, other than a sore shoulder. That evening I went out for an easy four-mile jog and had no issues.

On day 3 I woke up and my shoulder was a little sore, but otherwise I felt completely fine. I did a 5k time trial midday. My time wasn’t great, to be honest, but that’s probably more about my own fitness and pacing than the vaccine.

By day 4 even the shoulder soreness was gone.

Pepperoni pizza, fresh from the oven

A pepperoni pizza with pepperonis from the local butcher

When I made the original appointment, I was able to schedule a second jab for June, but it was at a pharmacy a few miles away, which was annoying given that the first jab was at the Twickenham Stoop (Harlequins rugby stadium) that’s half a kilometer away. I gambled a little and canceled my follow-up appointment. It took two days, but I was able to book one at The Stoop for the week after the original follow-up.

Carissa is still waiting to be called for her first jab, but we expect that to happen in the next month or so. Given the 12 week delay in second jabs, we’re thinking we’ll postpone our planned trip to America this summer and try to do it at Christmas instead. Neither of us want to get on an airplane with a bunch of our fellow Americans until our systems are fully-loaded with covid antibodies. It will also be nice to spend the holidays with family; it’s one of the things I miss most about living so far away.

Uncooked Hawaiian pizza

Hawaiian pizza with Black Forest ham. Because Germany is closer than Canada.

The girls were doing remote schooling from January until early March, but they’re back to in-person classes. Well, they were. They’re currently on Easter break for two weeks. They were fairly happy to go back, but happier to have the break. I’m taking a week off, too, so I can relate, kind of.

The country has relaxed the lockdown a little. We can now meet up to six people outdoors and get takeaway beers from the pub. The kids both met up with friends today. The next big relaxation is April 12th, and the whole country is looking forward to being able to get haircuts and drink in the beer gardens again. Or maybe that’s just me.

A slice of homemade carrot cake

A slice of homemade carrot cake for our March birthday girl. The icing didn’t quite turn out, but the flavor was divine.

In the meantime, we will continue our usual routes. Planning groceries. Buying groceries. Cooking groceries. Planning groceries again. Insert some laundry in there, too.

The writing continues apace. I’m nearing the end of the first draft of the novel I’ve been working on since the autumn. (I’ve taken lots of breaks to write short stories and play video games.) The plan is to get the last few chapters into place over the next week while I’m off work, then do some cleanup before I send it to some writing peers at the beginning of June. I don’t know if this novel is good. I re-read the first chapter, and I genuinely enjoyed it, so I’ll take that as a good sign. I have more in mind after this one, whether this one sells or not.

On the short story front, I have 50 submissions so far this year with 43 rejections and 0 acceptances. Eighteen stories are currently out at various markets, including some reprints. It would be nice to sell another story or two this year, but much like the novel writing, I have more tales to tell, whether these sell or not.

The author at the Stoop after his covid jab

A quick selfie at the Twickenham Stoop after my covid jab, complete with my “I was vaccinated sticker.” Did you know the jab comes with FREE STICKERS?

Take care, folks. Stay safe. Get vaccinated.

EDIT: It has been brought to my attention that you get free donuts in America if you get vaccinated. I’m so jealous. Get vaccinated. Get those donuts!

A Proper Chili Recipe for the UK

A pot of fresh chili

Based on a combination of Ozarks and Texas chili recipes, this chili is adapted to work with UK ingredients

I’ve been in the UK for a few years now, and I think I’ve finally adapted my American chili recipe to work with local ingredients. It’s harder to find Mexican chilis in the UK, and impossible to find fresh Mexican chorizo.

Given that this is a stew, you have a good bit of flexibility on ingredients, but I’ve found that using fatty minced beef (20-22% fat) helps the overall mouthfeel. The size of the beef roasting joint is flexible. Around 1kg works well, but you can easily use more or less, depending on what’s available.

American-style chili powder isn’t available in the UK, so I use a few pinches of chili flakes plus extra jalapenos. You can replace a couple jalapenos with habaneros or birds-eye peppers. You can also roughly chop half the peppers for extra flavor and spiciness. We usually use four jalapenos with two of them chopped. This is a low to medium level of spice.

As an added bonus, I’ve also included a cornbread recipe. It’s a Yankee cornbread, complete with sugar. My southern family may disown me for it. You can easily cut the sugar entirely or reduce it to a tablespoon (15 grams), and the cornbread will still be delicious.

I’ve converted my imperial measurements to metric, and things may be slightly off, but it truly will not matter. Six grams is about a teaspoon, and 15 grams is about a tablespoon.

Chili and cornbread, ready to eat

The golden cornbread is peaking out from a blanket of deliciousness

Chili Recipe
Ingredients
35ml of any cooking oil
800 to 1500g of beef roasting joint, cut into 2 cm cubes
500g of minced beef
1 large onion, any color, coarsely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
6 to 15g tsp chili flakes, depending on spiciness preference
12g cumin powder
6g dried basil
800 ml chicken or beef stock
800g tinned whole tomatoes, drained
400g tinned black beans, drained
400g tinned kidney beans, drained
165ml Coca-Cola (half a can)
1L beer, your choice of brand, but don’t cook with beer you wouldn’t drink
50g chopped coriander (a decent handful)
1 cinnamon stick
3 bay leaves
3-6 green jalapenos, slit lengthwise (adjust based on spice tolerance)
15g yellow cornmeal (polenta)
Salt and pepper to taste

Method:
Pour 500ml beer into a glass. Serve to the chef. Cooking is thirsty work.

Add the oil to a large, heavy pot and turn heat to medium-high. Seven on my induction hob. When the oil is sizzling, add half the stew meat and cook until browned. Remove and cook the other half of the stew meat. Remove the meat and set aside once browned.

Add the minced beef and onion to the pot. Cook until the beef is browned, breaking it up as it cooks.

Preheat oven to 150C.

Drink 250ml of remaining beer. Pour remainder into pot.

Add all remaining ingredients to the pot. Bring to a simmer.

Move simmering pot from stove to oven. Cover and cook for 2 to 3 hours, until the stew meat is tender.

Remove pot from oven. Remove bay leaves, jalapenos, and cinnamon stick from pot. Break up tomatoes with large spoon, butter knife, or sword. Simmer until liquid is reduced to about 1 cm above the meat and vegetables.

Season with salt and pepper, to taste. (18 of salt plus 10g of pepper ought to work)

Serve with warm cornbread.

Bonus Cornbread recipe
125g corn meal (polenta)
125g all purpose flour
60g sugar (reduce as desired)
21g baking powder
6g salt
240ml milk
80ml cooking oil
1 egg

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl until combined.

Take 20g or so of butter and grease a cast iron skillet or pie plate. Pour batter into skillet.

Bake at 180C for 25 minutes.

If you start the cornbread batter just before taking the chili out of the oven, you can cook the cornbread while you do the final seasoning on the chili.

Kintsugi for a Broken Heart

It’s another new story day. Kintsugi for a Broken Heart is out at Nature Futures.

This is a story I wrote as part of a writing community event in 2020. It’s near and dear to my heart, and if you know my children, you’ll know exactly which child inspired Violet. I’ve been told that the story should come with a warning for other parents: have a tissue handy. No children or robotic dogs are harmed in the story, but it does tug on your heartstrings. Mission Accomplished, imo.

2020 Writing Statistics

I mentioned in my end of year roundup that while 2020 has been a terrible year in general, it’s been surprisingly good for my writing. One benefit of being at home all day, every day is that I have had more time to write. Truthfully, I’ve spent much of that time watching football (soccer) and playing video games, but I have done a good bit of writing, too. At various points I’ve felt unproductive, but I think that’s a reflection of working in small, productive chunks followed by long, fallow weeks of football and video games.

Looking back, I have completed:

10 flash fiction pieces
4 short stories
1 novella
1 novel (in-progress)

All told, that’s about 100k words of fiction, not counting rewrites and edits. Even within that 100k words, not all of them were keepers. I’ve trunked (retired with no intention of submitting or publishing) a few of the short stories and the novella already. They are story-shaped pieces of prose, but they either don’t have much to say or need to be tackled with a new story rather than edits. Some of the others may end up in the trunk if they don’t sell, but there are a handful that I think are legitimately good, and three have already sold.

Selling, dear reader, does not come easy. You don’t spend long in this business without learning to deal with rejection. I’ve gone back and looked at my statistics for the year, and while I’ve had a record number of sales, I’ve also had a record number of rejections. According to the Submission Grinder, I have submitted a story 145 times this year. Of those, 104 were form rejections, 17 were personal rejections, five were sales, and the rest are either pending or were closed with no response. That may seem like a huge number of stories, but the reality is that many stories were rejected multiple times, and I have been submitting stories from prior years as well as 2020.

Five for 145 is a 3.5% success rate. It’s not great! Selling three of 15 finished stories this year is a 20% success rate, which looks better, but that still means 80% of the stories I’ve written are misses rather than hits. The 100k words written is probably my lowest since I got back into writing seriously in 2011.

And yet, I’m actually thrilled with how the year has gone.

It feels as if I’ve turned a corner in the last eighteen months. Not just the sales, though the external validation certainly feels nice, but the way I look at my own work. In the past I would write a story, feel good about it, and send it out. Sometimes the story was decent, but many times it was flawed in a way that I couldn’t personally see. Sometimes my writing group could help me see the flaws, but I couldn’t fix them in a satisfactory way. Turning the corner has meant seeing the flaws sooner. It’s meant crafting stories in a way that the flaws other people find are more-easily resolved because the story itself has stronger characters, setting, conflict. It’s also meant looking at a story, seeing what I can use later, and throwing out the other 90%. Knowing what doesn’t work is just as important as knowing what does work. Writing is sometimes adding little pieces of clay to a skeleton until the sculpture is built, but other times it’s starting with a roughly-shaped block of marble and carving off the parts that don’t belong until the sculpture emerges.

2021 will mark 10 years of serious writing for me. If I’ve learned nothing else in that time, it’s that downs follow the ups, and ups follow the downs. I may not sell a single story next year. I might sell ten. I might sell ten and a novel. (Dream alert!) Obviously, I’d rather sell than not, but if it’s another year of growth and learning without any sales, that’s okay, too.

My goals for the year aren’t measured in sales, they’re measured in finished stories. I want to complete at least ten short stories, finish my current novel that’s in progress, and get another novel started. Those all feel achievable and they are within my control without being subject to the whims of editors or agents. If I can write a few more stories that I’m proud of, I’ll be a happy writer.

When I was a kid my mom had an old Ford sedan. It’s been so long, I may be fuzzy on the exact details, but it was a white, four-door sedan approximately half the length of a WW2 aircraft carrier. On the back bumper was a sticker in red, white, and black that said M.A.D.D. Mothers Against Drunk Driving. I had to ask Mom to explain what it meant, and I no longer recall how that conversation went, but I remember my feeling at the time: anger. Anger that people, through their own willful negligence would put another momma’s little boy or girl in danger so senselessly.

I am reminded of that bumper sticker today when I see social media posts and talk to people and hear that they are opposed to vaccinations in general and the covid vaccines in particular.

Anti-vax is the moral equivalent to drunk driving.

You may be able to get in a car while drunk and get home safely. You might catch covid and get away without symptoms. Depending on the number of drinks you’ve had, your base level of health, and your age, you might even be low risk. But this isn’t about you. It’s about the people around you. It’s about the other drivers just trying to get home from a long day at work. It’s about the other shopper just trying to get a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread for their little boy waiting at home.

Did you know that we’ve eliminated smallpox globally? We’ve eliminated polio in the USA. We did–for a while–eliminate measles in the USA, until people forgot how much damage it did two generations ago. My grandmother is a polio survivor. These diseases aren’t ancient history; they affected people you know.

I still have my vaccine card from when I was a kid. Measles, mumps, and rubella. Even polio. I can’t think of a single person my age who had to deal with any of them. We both know why: vaccines work.

You may get in your car while drunk and end up in a ditch, or maybe you catch covid and all you experience is a minor cough. But maybe you wrap your car around a telephone pole or end up on a ventilator. It’s impossible to know when you put your key in the ignition.

You might also get in that car and t-bone someone in an intersection, kill the other driver, and orphan her little boy. You might even walk away from covid without a single symptom. Unlike driving drunk, there are not consequences for spreading covid while symptom-free. You might not even know you’ve done it. That won’t bring back that boy’s momma.

For me, it’s an easy choice. I’m (relatively) young and healthy, and I’m about as far down on the list as you can be. I’ll be in line as soon as they’ll let me. I don’t want to spread covid to my friend that’s undergoing chemo. I don’t want to spread it to the friends and family that can’t be vaccinated due to other medical conditions. A shot and a sore shoulder is a small price to pay to protect my neighbors and my family.

Join me, please. We can even start our own club: S.A.A.V. Sons Against Anti-Vaccination.

2020 – Year in Review

Hello friendos and welcome back. It’s the end of another year, and I feel that I should leave some notes for my future self that I may remember this most-unusual of years.

2020 has been, in many ways, an absolute shitshow. Bad enough to have a global pandemic, but then to see both the country in which I live and the country of my birth handle it so poorly is beyond disconcerting. I’m not going to get too political in this post, but I will say this to both my American and British friends: it didn’t have to be this way. Look around the world and you’ll see plenty of places that did much better. Americans and Britains are no more dumb than Australians or Germans, but we did have worse political leaders. Please remember that the next time you have a chance to do something about it.

Bushy Park with trees along a rainy path

Bushy Park on a rainy autumn morning

Family Notes
Many of my friends and family have been affected by covid, though my immediate family has escaped either without catching it or with mild cases. We’re not actually sure if we’ve had it since we had mild symptoms back in March when testing was unavailable. Since then, we have spent much of the year in one stage or another of lockdown, though it’s felt like a faux lockdown for the most part. The kids are still going to school in person, and I’m still busy with work, albeit remotely. Hordes of people are still shopping, and restaurants have had plenty of diners. We have only been able to make one trip into central London since March, and we spent most of it outdoors looking at the Christmas lights. For the most part, we’ve stayed in our borough and made many trips to the Thames and to the local parks, including the ever-beautiful Kew Gardens.

The year has not been all bad, however, and the Baldwin house (at least this Baldwin house) has escaped the worst of it. The girls are doing well. They are both quick-witted, independent young ladies who are more than capable (believe me) of speaking for themselves, but I’ll share a few things. They are both in music lessons, and it warms my heart to hear flute and piano riffs echoing down the stairwell. The oldest started year 10. The youngest started year 7. That’s 9th grade and 6th grade for my American readers. They are now both at the same school near where we live in Twickenham. They both very much enjoy it and have complimented the school’s instruction and general attitude toward students as being positive. Do you know the joy it brings this writer’s heart to talk about history and Shakespeare over the dinner table? It is boundless.

The girls are in a Goldilocks age. Old enough to be independent, but not so old that their social life has overwhelmed their sense of self-preservation. We certainly have some moments when we remember there’s a teenager in the house, but both girls are such vibrant, delightful people that I embrace even the “teachable moments” when they come.

Personal Notes
I’ve sold five short stories this year, an all-time high. Three of those have been published already, and two more will be out next year. You can find more info on the stories here. I’ll also be putting together an end of year post with submission statistics for my writer friends.

Being at home so much has meant that I’ve had plenty of time to cook. It’s also meant that I’m not walking all over London to work off those calories, so I decided to make an effort to get more exercise. Initially, that meant cycling, but the time commitment to get a decent workout wasn’t something I wanted to undertake. So I started running in June. I’ve always hated running. That didn’t change for the first few runs, but I kept going. After about the second week, I was able to run the first couple of miles without wanting to die. Somewhere in there I found that there’s a yearly 10k race a Kew Gardens, so Carissa and I signed up. That gave me about 10 weeks to train, so I found a plan online and dove into it. The problem with running, it turns out, was with me. Once I had a basic level of fitness, I found that I enjoyed the thirty to ninety minutes of solitude. I especially enjoyed how I felt the rest of the day. It helped that the weather here is so mild. It also helped that I’ve done much of my jogging along the Thames while listening to history and writing podcasts. The only downside has been the injuries. Running in your late thirties isn’t as simple as running in your mid-teens, it turns out. I’ve had to learn more about physiology, warm-ups, and stretching than I ever expected.

We did successfully complete the 10k race in September. I finished in 56 minutes, which was a few minutes faster than Carissa. My body may have rebelled during the training, but I still ran faster than she did, so it’s all good.

This year also marked a milestone anniversary for us. We celebrated by going to our first-ever Michelin starred restaurant. (This was when covid cases were super low in London!) The Dysart in Petersham isn’t too far away, and it was absolutely delightful. The food was good, of course, but the service was a level above any other farm-to-table restaurant where I’ve eaten. We have both agreed that we must return in the future, and we’ll have to find a special occasion when we can bring the girls with us.

Dishoom's Ruby Chicken and Naan

Ruby Chicken with a side of rice and naan

Some favorites from this year:
Book:
Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky. It was published in 2015, but I only found it this year. It weaves two story threads together, but it also weaves two veins of science fiction. One is a doomed generation ship, which is a common science fiction trope, but the other is the evolutionary biology of a colony of super-intelligent spiders. The biology-focused thread was an absolute delight. It was everything I love about science fiction, and I cannot recommend it enough.

Short Story:
There have been many wonderful short stories this year, and my favorite isn’t one that I necessarily think is going to place highly in the usual awards, but I absolutely loved “Yo, Rapunzel!” by Kyle Kirrin. It is simultaneously fun, playful, and deadly serious. The artful swearing made me giggle, and Rapunzel’s take-no-shit attitude made me wish I had written it.

Game:
Working from home for nine months has meant no commute, no travel, and far too many hours lost to video games. There have been many I’ve enjoyed. Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey was a fun open-world RPG. Crusader Kings 3 was everything I wanted it to be and more. Horizon Zero Dawn took open-world RPG storytelling to another level. If I had to pick a game of the year, I’d go with Hades. It’s a rogue-like, which means you go back to the beginning whenever you die, but it has RPG elements built into it that allow you to grow stronger with each attempt. The general concept is that you are Zagreus, son of Hades, attempting to escape Hell and get to the surface. The story unfolds on each escape attempt and as you talk to the other characters. The story alone would have been enough to make me enjoy it, but it really excels with the way you interact with the Olympian gods and receive their boons (character and weapon buffs). Each escape attempt is different than the last, and it gives the game a ton of replayability. I played on PC, but I’d 100% buy it on Switch if you have a Switch.

Song:
Working from home has meant that I’ve had Spotify running all day, every day. Mostly this means listening to a private playlist of old favorites, but I do occasionally listen to the curated lists and the new album suggestions. I’ve long enjoyed Chris Stapleton’s music and his blend of country, bluegrass, blues, and rock. My favorite song of the year is his track “Cold,” which adds piano and strings to his usual genre-bending. I am such a sucker for songs that start quiet, build to a crescendo, and throw in strings.

Album:
I mentioned country offering more misses than hits for me, and pop isn’t much better. But Taylor Swift, like Chris Stapleton, refuses to be pinned down by a single genre. I wouldn’t call myself a fan, but I’ve enjoyed some of her earworms over the years. The video for Blank Space is one of my favorite music videos ever. It packs more storytelling into four minutes than most Hollywood blockbusters manage in two hours. This year, however, she put out an album that’s a mix of folk and pop: folklore. I really enjoyed it. No single track is as strong as “Cold,” but from end to end it’s just so darned listenable and perfect for a rainy London day stuck indoors.

TV Show:
This one is pretty easy. I don’t watch television. Plenty of football, yes, but little else. After Carissa raved about it, I watched “The Queen’s Gambit” and found it to be thoroughly enjoyable. It is a bit formulaic as far as plot, but the quality of the acting, the attention given to the costumes and sets, and the novelty of following a chess prodigy all combined into something that was highly entertaining. It’s also a perfect length for me. Six hours is enough time to work through more than one story arc, but not so much time that I get bored halfway through the season and go back to books and video games (and football).

Recipe:
Who has a favorite recipe for the year? Me, that’s who! With the pandemic we couldn’t go out to our favorite restaurants, so I had to bring them to us. One of my favorite places in London is Dishoom, and the owners/chefs put out a cookbook in 2019. I’ve made a number of the recipes over the last year, and the family favorite is the Ruby Chicken. It’s similar to chicken tikka masala, but with much more depth of flavor. Buy the cookbook and make everything. Or go to the restaurant when it’s safe and order everything. I shall do both.

Conclusion
2020 has been a very bad, no good year, but I’m still thankful at the end of it. It’s been another year of good health spent with Carissa and our girls. I am thankful to be employed at a company that has not just allowed–but required–me to work from home since mid-March. I am thankful to have seen career growth at both my day job and with my writing gig. I’m looking forward to 2021 and hopefully a safer year when we can visit with friends and family again. Stay safe, everyone. Stay healthy. Try not to kill any grandparents while you wait on a vaccine.

2020 Award Eligibility

2020 has been a terrible year in many ways, but it’s been fairly decent for my fiction career. I’ve sold four five stories and had three published. All three published this year are eligible for the major science fiction and fantasy awards.

My first sale of the year was in February. “Better in Every Way” is a user manual for your new clone. It can cook, it can clean, it can do so much more. As long as you treat it well. “Better in Every Way” is available online via Flame Tree Press.

Up next is “Where the Earth Meets the Sea and the Sea Meets the Sky.” It’s a combination of two fairy tales long after those stories end. At its heart, it’s as much romance as fantasy. A tale of two lonely, broken hearts helping each other mend at the far edge of the world. Ages ago I saw someone ask “what if a selkie story ended with a happily ever after.” I’ve tried to present how that could look. This one is not available online, but the print anthology can be purchased from Air and Nothingness Press. If you’re reading for awards and would like a copy, please reach out.

My final publication of the year was “Hope, Unrequested and Freely Given.” This is another story that’s as much romance as fantasy. It’s the tale of two elderly magicians in their twilight years. The woman is wracked with cancer, and her husband is trying desperately to save her. Ultimately, it’s about accepting and embracing the inevitable. It’s available online at Zooscape.

Of the three, I suggest “Where the Earth Meets the Sea and the Sea Meets the Sky” as the strongest. It’s a bit longer than the other two, and it ends full of hope and the promise of a new beginning. As 2020 winds to a close, I feel like hope is something we all need.

Cyberpunk 2077 – Review & Tips

Cyberpunk 2077 will end up regarded as a genre-defining game, but not in the way the marketing would have you believe. It’s not the next-generation open-world RPG I expected. It’s not really a looter shooter, either. It’s more a cinematic experience where you, the player, are the co-star in an A-list actor’s interactive production. At its best, Cyberpunk is a cinematic experience played out across the gorgeous, gritty backdrop of Night City.

tl;dr: did you grow up making jokes about hacking the Gibson? If so, you’ll like this game. Read on to see why.

Caveat to this mini-review: I’m playing on PC rather than a last-gen console, so bugs and performance issues were all tolerable for me.

Cyberpunk liberally borrows ideas and systems from other games. You can certainly see the influence of other open-world RPGS, from The Witcher to Fallout to Grand Theft Auto. What the different systems lack in originality, they make up for in overall fun. They all hang together well enough that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Where Cyberpunk really excels is its integration with Keanu. He plays a major role in the main story, of course, but he also turns up on many side quests and adds pithy commentary. His role is a key part of the game’s lore and of the playing experience, and it comes with all the weight of Johnny Mnemonic, John Wick, and Neo behind it. We’ve seen good storytelling in other games, but nothing that blends action cinema and action gaming like this.

The side gigs and side characters are well done. You will come to love Jackie, Panam, and Judy. Probably more that I haven’t met yet. There are some really well-executed emotional turns in there, too.

There are multiple possible playing styles available. I started with the idea that I would play as a stealthy, katana-wielding ninja (channeling my inner Snow Crash), but I found the hacking to be so fun that switched gears to quickhacks and a tech pistol. There are also options to play as a cyber-enhanced Wolverine, complete with giant retractable claws. Or as long-distance sniper who can shoot through walls. Or a grenade lobbing pyromaniac.

At its worst, Cyberpunk is a buggy, repetitive grind to raise a few thousand eddies (eurodollars) for your next upgrade. I have had NPCs disappear mid-quest, I’ve hopped through a window and out of the world, and I’ve had special effects from some NPCs stick around after they should have faded. All these were fixed by exiting and reloading the game, but they were annoying all the same.

While leveling your character increases your power, you also need to enhance your cybernetic options, and that means collecting a whole pile of eddies. The scripted side gigs and side quests are engaging and just as fun as the main story, but they don’t pay enough to get that legendary operating system or those double-jump legs in a timely manner. And Soulkiller forbid you want to respec your perks; that costs a cool 100k eddies. A resource grind is pretty typical for RPGs, but no less annoying when the world is washed in neon.

Cyberpunk is a violent game. While you can get through much of it as a non-violent player, the inherent violence of the world is inescapable. Night City is a dark, treacherous place full of terrible people doing terrible things. It’s also full of nudity and sex. I’m not opposed to there being sex in video games, but I am not impressed with how they usually handle it, and Cyberpunk is not an exception. It’s mostly ham-handed fantasy with a smattering of unnecessary violence. But hey, you get to choose your character’s penis size, which is a nice change of pace from the more-typical choosing of breast size.

On balance, I like the game. The good outweighs the bad, and much of the bad feels as if it will be patched over the coming weeks. The game really shines with the story and movie star intersection. I don’t want to say Cyberpunk is a turning point in game/movie interaction, but it certainly feels as if has let the genie out of the bottle, and I’m betting we’ll see more of a blend of games and cinema in the future. Add VR to the mix, and the next generation of entertainment will really have arrived. There’s a famous line from William Gibson, the father of the cyberpunk genre, that says “The future is already here–it’s just not evenly distributed.” Cyberpunk 2077 makes that feel true in a way few games have previously.

–End Review–

–Begin Lessons Learned–

Money is important! (So say we all.) There’s a gimmick for making money fast, too. You can buy soda cans from the 10 eddie machines, disassemble them, and sell the components for far more than the cans cost. It’s a little tedious, but it makes eddies fast. I won’t be shocked if this is changed in one of the upcoming patches. If you want to take advantage until then, head to the ripperdoc in Watson’s Northside for easy farming. There’s a collection of vending machines out front.

Once you have a stack of eddies, buy yourself something nice. Cyberpunk as a genre goes hand in hand with body modification, and Cyberpunk the game leans in on it. You can–and should–upgrade yourself. You’ll need some street cred to get the better choices, and I’d wait until you hit a street cred of 12 to get the legendary operating system at the Kabuki Market ripperdoc, though there are cheaper (and less reputation-intensive) options, too. Once you upgrade, hacking really takes off. You can also upgrade your personal cybernetics. The double-jump leg implants are a nice quality of life improvement.

You’ll want to put at least 6 into Tech to help with opening doors.

There’s a perk that allows you to automatically disassemble junk loot. This means you disassemble some stuff that would sell for 750 eddies, so you might want to skip it. I took it and made up the money by recycling soda cans.

Motorcycles are great. They steer better than the cars, and you can lane split.

As mentioned above, there are many useful weapon options. I loved going crazy with hacks. Upgrade your quickhacks at ripperdocs and netrunners, and you, too, can take down an entire building from the sidewalk outside.

The game will glitch. Save, exit, and reload when it does. That has gotten me around all issues so far.

Quicksave (F5 on PC) is your friend. Use it liberally. I haven’t noticed any performance impact from it.

Happy hacking, chooms.

Hope, Unrequested and Freely Given

Buddy & Kathy’s Front Yard

I have another short story out in the wild today. “Hope, Unrequested and Freely Given” is live at Zooscape. There was no rapid turn-around on this story. I wrote it in 2019 and subbed it a few times before sending to Zooscape in May 2020. They accepted it a few weeks later, and it’s out now in the December 2020 issue. This is a fairly typical timeline for many stories that reach publication. Alas, they cannot all be written in a weekend, sold a few days later, and published within a week.

It’s a story written with Missouri on my mind. Baroch and Valerie’s porch has the same view as my in-laws’ porch. The mood was inspired by the Chris Stapleton song “Scarecrow in the Garden.” Sort of a quiet hopelessness, but it didn’t feel right to end the story on the same emotional note as the song, so it goes a different direction.

Where the Earth Meets the Sea and the Sea Meets the Sky

Hello Friends,

This post is entirely politics-free.

2020 has been a good year for fiction for me. I had a story out in February, and I have another out this month. “Where the Earth Meets the Sea and the Sea Meets the Sky” is the closing story in the Upon a Once Time anthology of fairy tale mashups. The anthology is print only, and it’s available at Air and Nothingness Press’s website. (If you find this link after November 2020, you’ll need to search for “Upon a Once Time” anthology and hope it’s still in stock.)

“Where the Earth Meets the Sea and the Sea Meets the Sky” is another of those stories that irritates other writers. Not the story itself. It’s possibly the kindest story I’ve ever written. It’s the way it sold. I wrote it over a weekend a few days before the anthology’s submission call ended. I edited it a bit, let Carissa read it once, and edited it a bit more. I do love rearranging adjectives. And then it just… sold. To the first market I sent it to. I sent it at 2:02 PM and it was accepted at 8:19 PM. That’s twice I’ve had super fast turn-arounds to the very first market I submitted a piece. It simply doesn’t happen.

So that was nice.

I have another story that I sold earlier in the year that should, hopefully, be available online next month. I’ll link it when it’s published.

Until next time…

« Older posts