Monthly Archives: September 2016

The Anti-Hillary Preference Cascade Is Now In Full Swing

hillarycollapseIn January I described the phenomenon of a preference cascade and posited that Hillary Clinton would eventually find herself on the wrong end of one. In February I noted that the cascade looked like it might have started. Indeed, a few months later it looked like that might have been the case – except that it proved to be too little, too late. The tide turned against Hillary at the end of the Democratic party’s primary process, but by then she’d secured enough delegates to win anyway.

Today, however, the situation has changed. The anti-Hillary preference cascade has blasted into full swing.

Five weeks ago the Real Clear Politics polling average showed Clinton with a 7.9% lead over Trump. Democrats and mainstream media sources declared the race over. Trump had no way to close such an insurmountable lead. He might as well pack it in, they told us. Nate Silver showed Trump at one point with just a 12% chance of winning in November.

Except that today the polls have narrowed dramatically. Today’s RCP polling average shows Clinton with a mere 1.8% lead over Trump. To be sure, that’s still a strong lead. Yet it is no longer a commanding lead. In a mere five and a half weeks, Trump has moved the polls by six points. To the best of my knowledge, this is unheard of in presidential politics.

Keep in mind, also, that this massive shift in the polls does not yet fully include any of the following:

  • Clinton’s “basket full of deplorables” comment – the 2016 version of Mitt Romney’s 47% gaffe.
  • Reactions to the news of Hillary’s health issues over the weekend.
  • Any new information from the 600+ megabytes of new information on the DNC leaked by WikiLeaks earlier this week.
  • Reactions to the child care plan Trump announced yesterday.

Most damning of all, it does not include the fact that Hillary Clinton has a proven history of choking under pressure. By next week the polls will factor in all of the elements above. As a result they will crank the pressure all the way to eleven.

This is the beginning of the preference cascade, not its end.

Lyonesse Update – Submissions are Still Open!

Logo-01We’re closing in on a launch date for Silver Empire’s upcoming project, Lyonesse. We’ve combed through our first batch of submissions and found some really great stories. As of this morning, we have contacted every author we’ve received submissions from. If you haven’t heard back from us, check your spam folder. If there’s not a response there, we didn’t get your submission.

We’re working hard behind the scenes to get everything ready for a solid launch. Here are a few of the exciting things you can expect from this industry-changing project:

What’s In It For Readers?

  • Low price point. You’re going to love how affordable it is.
  • Support your favorite authors – not a big corporation. The vast majority of your money goes straight to the authors you love and read, not to one of the world’s largest corporations.
  • Lots of new short fiction. And we do mean lots. You’ll be amazed how much we’re delivering for our low prices.

What’s In It For Authors?

  • High royalty rates. At least 50% (our target is 75%!) of all Lyonesse revenue will go straight to authors.
  • Connecting with your audience. Our model pulls your story out of the crowd so that readers can find it, read it, and love it.
  • Promotion of your other works. And it won’t get lost in the noise – Lyonesse is not supported by advertising revenue.

There’s still time to contribute! We’ve gotten some really fantastic stories over the summer, but we need more – lots more! In case you missed it, here are our Lyonesse submission guidelines:

  • Science fiction or fantasy short stories of roughly 3,000 to 20,000 words.
  • Previously unpublished works.
  • There is no theme – topics are wide open.
  • This project is not specifically superversive. However, superversive stories are preferred.
  • The payment model for this project is royalty based. However, the model is somewhat unique. Details will be provided upon acceptance of stories. We expect this project to be able to at least provide payment comparable to old school short-fiction magazines (ie, within the range of $0.03 to $0.05 per word). In fact, we think it will eventually do considerably better than that. However, this is an experimental project and this is not guaranteed.
  • Stories that are part of a larger world or series that you’re developing are perfectly fine – even if previous or later stories are not published through us.
  • Authors whose stories are accepted will also have opportunities to advertise previous, current, or up and coming works as part of this project.
  • Submissions should be in Word format (doc or docx is fine).
  • At this time we’re ONLY looking for submissions for this particular project – but we will be opening up for more in the very near future.
  • E-mail submissions to submissions@silverempire.org.

And one extra requirement that didn’t make the first list: please specify that your submission is for Lyonesse!

Lyonesse is coming and it’s going to be awesome. Tell your friends about it!

The Raven, The Elf, and Rachel – BOOK REVIEW

"The Raven, the Elf, and Rachel" by L. Jagi Lamplighter
“The Raven, the Elf, and Rachel” by L. Jagi Lamplighter

August was a great month for me, but it was also pretty rough. So after DragonCon last week, I took a bit of time to just relax. Outside of my day job, which I can’t really shirk, I didn’t do much “real work.” That will catch up with me later. I still have a ton to do. But I did get to read a few good books.

Last week I left a review of Christopher Lansdown‘s Ordinary Superheroes. Today it’s The Raven, The Elf, and Rachel by L. Jagi Lamplighter (aka the Mrs. John C. Wright). Full disclosure: Mrs. Lamplighter sent me a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes. I had been prepared to buy it anyway, because I absolutely loved the first book in the series. Thankfully she caught me in time and saved me some money!

Like its predecessor, this book is a very fast and easy read. The language, as befits a young adult book, flows off the page easily and quickly – but it will still give younger readers enough new words to expand their vocabularies. It’s also immediately engaging, and the characters retain your attention throughout. In the first tale, Mrs. Lamplighter introduced us to the rarest of mythical fantasy creatures. Rachel is a believable thirteen year-old girl that doesn’t make you want to strangle her. That continues in this tale, and it’s the strongest part of the series. Rachel herself is immediately recognizable as a true-to-life young girl, and she’s extremely likable. All of her friends are fleshed out even further, and each of them continues to be an absolute joy to read about. The characters are easily the best part of this tale.

In a coincidental bout of timing, Morgon and I also watched the entire first season of Stranger Things last week. These two series shared something that I greatly enjoyed: both featured smart, interesting, and believable children doing heroic things – but heroic things that weren’t actually above their abilities to do as children. In our modern society of helicopter parenting and sheltered youth, it’s refreshing to see children let out of their shackles for a while to grow and thrive.

I do have two complaints about this book, however. First, there is a pretty fair amount of talking rather than doing. It’s engaging talking, and it’s fun. It never gets dull. But at the end of the day it feels like not much actually happens… until all of a sudden there’s a giant confrontation at the end. The first book suffered a bit from “talking rather than doing” syndrome as well, but not to this degree. And that feeds into the second problem, which is closely related. This book is a “middle” book, and it kind of felt like it. It wasn’t anywhere near enough to destroy the book – I still found myself so enthralled that I finished it very quickly. But it is enough that I noticed it.

Even so, the book was a lot of fun, with a little depth to it as well. I’d highly recommend it for any youth into fantasy stories, and most especially to young girls and Harry Potter fans. Adults will enjoy it, too, however. I don’t read a ton of young adult fiction these days, but this was a welcome bit of light fare. All told, this is a four out of five star book and I greatly look forward to finishing the series.

Flying Boutique

Last weekend my wife and I actually flew to Dragon Con. This may not seem like a big deal to many of my readers. Some of you, I’m sure, fly all the time. I have friends who do. Hell, I used to fly a lot myself. When I was a child my father traveled a lot for work. We used his frequent flier miles… frequently. But as an adult, I haven’t flown much at all.

I have four children. Flying a family of six is expensive, even when the individual tickets aren’t that bad. Even though our youngest can fly free if she sits on our lap, that’s still five tickets. It adds up fast. Also, it means we pretty much need to rent a van on the other end, and that isn’t cheap either. Oh, and then we get to our destination without car seats. The law isn’t too happy about that.

On top of that, our nearest airport is Huntsville International – consistently rated one of the most expensive airports in the country. And it really is that expensive.

Our frequent vacation spots also happen to be relatively close by. We typically travel to Atlanta for Dragon Con every year. That’s only a four hour drive. Between arriving at the airport an hour early, an hour in flight, and then time in the airport on the other end, it doesn’t actually save much time to fly there. Our other frequent vacation spot is Orlando. It’s only a ten hour drive. Flying actually would save some time… but it takes it from a full day trip to a half day trip, at best. That’s nice. But not nice enough to be worth the cost. I have family in the DC suburbs… but the math there is very comparable to Orlando.

pc12This time, however, my wife stumbled across Boutique Air and we gave it a shot. We had to drive an hour to the airport. On the other hand, we basically showed up and walked right onto the plane. Lines? What lines? There were eight of us on the PC-12 we flew on – and we were the only eight passengers in the airport. The TSA check took about two minutes. Boarding took another two minutes. In essence, we traded the TSA wait for no line.

More importantly, it was cheap. Round trip tickets for both of us were only $250. Given that it would have cost us $25 a day to park at the hotel in Atlanta and more or less a full tank of gas to make the trip, flying proved to be only twice the cost of driving. On the trip out, it meant that we could wait until very nearly the end of the work day to leave, saving me the use of some precious vacation hours. And since we didn’t need parking at the hotel, we weren’t worried about the late arrival.

The trip home probably didn’t save us much time, since we had to get to the Atlanta airport so early. But I got to spend most of that time reading instead of driving, and I would’ve taken the whole day off anyway. And since we had no kids this weekend, and weren’t really driving anywhere, being without a car was actually convenient.

I have no idea how viable the Boutique Air business model is. But it worked really well for us. I only wish they offered service to more areas.

Ordinary Superheroes – BOOK REVIEW

"Ordinary Superheroes" by Christopher Lansdown
“Ordinary Superheroes” by Christopher Lansdown

DragonCon 2016 was great. I got to spend the weekend with my good friend Dan Baker of Oxide Games. I met a few folks who were well worth meeting, including meeting Declan Finn in person. We enjoyed a few fantastic panels. I photographed some lovely cosplayers. And I finally had some time to catch up on a bit of reading.

In particular, I finally finished Christopher Lansdown‘s Ordinary Superheroes. I must apologize to Mr. Lansdown. He sent me a free review copy of this book quite some time ago. The delay in this review is through no fault of the book. It is merely because August was one of the busier months of my entire life. Merging two already-functioning businesses together is a lot of work.

Quite to the contrary, this is a pretty fun book. As the title and the cover might suggest, it’s a young adult book and should be approached as such. With that said, however, there’s a lot here for adults and parents to like. For one thing, this is a pretty clean book, which is not at all guaranteed in YA these days! As a parent, I’d have no objection to even pretty young children reading this. For another, there’s genuine humor in the superhero banter, much of which will actually leave young readers thinking. The characters are fun, and Mr. Lansdown fleshes them out well.

But the best part of this book is its villain: The Bureaucrat. Seriously, how can you not love that concept? The name alone makes me want to punch him in the face – and it’s rewarding when Mr. Macho, one of the book’s trio of protagonists, finally gets the chance to do so. What’s his beef? He hates living. Not his own life, but all living. Basically, he’s like any other small-b bureaucrat. He just has a lot of superpowers to go with that. I’ll refrain from spoilers here, but the ending isn’t quite what I expected. That’s a good thing. And I liked how the characters found their way into it smartly, thinking their way through.

My biggest complaint about the book is that it bogs down a bit in the middle. If you find this happening, like I did, then note that it’s worth pushing through to the finish. You won’t stay stuck in that bit for long. The short, quick nature of the book helps alleviate this quite a bit.

I give this book four out of five stars. Most adults will enjoy it. But if you’ve got a young teen who likes superheroes, this one is for them.

Free Will is Real

candlesI received the following tragic e-mail from a friend and former co-worker this morning:

My 9 month old nephew just died and it brought up thoughts about destiny versus free will.  So many people have beliefs that Daniel Dennett calls “good tricks”.  My mom died when I was 2 and I was told she was in heaven just as many believe my nephew is in heaven… I like to believe that too.  And a destiny versus free will conversation doesn’t change that “good trick” belief.

People who believe this was all part of God’s plan get to be ignorant of human mistakes.  That can be very alleviating for people.

So I encourage you to share a writing about destiny and free will with this event in mind.  Consider the good tricks – in that a belief can be helpful without being true.

First, the same response I gave him in e-mail: my thoughts and prayers are with the young child and the family. There is no doubt this is a terrible tragedy.

What my friend refers to in the final paragraph is a longstanding debate we’ve had about free will. As a Catholic, I firmly believe in it. My friend’s beliefs lean toward a strange, relaxed sort of Calvinism. In discussions past, he has indicated that he doesn’t believe in it.

One argument in particular that I’ve made to him in the past, however, did strike home. It’s worth repeating here, especially since he requested it.

Even if free will is an illusion, we must act as if it’s real.

The plain and simple reality is that if we begin acting as if we don’t believe in it, society breaks down – and rapidly. When we don’t hold people accountable for their actions – “because they don’t have free will” – then people become unaccountable. Again, whether or not free will is real, we know this to be the way humans respond. Free Will is one of those things we must believe in, or else it all falls apart.

Since my friend also asks for tricks of the mind to help him through this, I leave him with one last bit of thought. If I may be so bold as to brutally summarize William James’ excellent essay, “The Will to Believe” in one sentence, it is this: religion is worth believing in because even if it is wrong, it makes your life measurably better in the here and now. I encourage him, and all of you, to read the whole thing.

I began by a reference to Fitz James Stephen; let me end by a quotation from him. ” What do you think of yourself? What do you think of the world? . . . These are questions with which all must deal as it seems good to them. They are riddles of the Sphinx, and in some way or other we must deal with them. . . . In all important transactions of life we have to take a leap in the dark…. If wc decide to leave the riddles unanswered, that is a choice; if we waver in our answer, that, too, is a choice: but whatever choice we make, we make it at our peril. If a man chooses to turn his back altogether on God and the future, no one can prevent him; no one can show beyond reasonable doubt that he is mistaken. If a man thinks otherwise and acts as he thinks, I do not see that any one can prove that he is mistaken. Each must act as he thinks best; and if he is wrong, so much the worse for him. We stand on a mountain pass in the midst of whirling snow and blinding mist through which we get glimpses now and then of paths which may be deceptive. If we stand still we shall be frozen to death. If we take the wrong road we shall be dashed to pieces. We do not certainly know whether there is any right one. What must we do? ‘ Be strong and of a good courage.’ Act for the best, hope for the best, and take what comes. . . . If death ends all, we cannot meet death better.”

Author Gladiatorial Challenge: The Second Challenge!

Round one of the author gladiatorial challenge went to Brian, as he turned a battle with a barbed devil into an existential discussion of shoes. But Declan turned in a fantastic entry as well, so both contestants move along to stage two!


Gelatinous_CubeThe crowd erupts as our hero stands over the fallen corpse of the barbed devil. Weary and wary, she pauses to catch her breath. The Gamelord oozes dark mirth as he joins in with lazy applause of his own. Clearly he has more planned for her. Suddenly the torches go out. A moment later, the stars themselves go dark. As the applause fades to silence, so does our hero’s vision.

She awakens some time later. She isn’t sure how long it’s been, but she’s feeling strangely refreshed. Her small cell features no windows and no obvious light fixtures. There is but a single, simple door, but it closes tight with no cracks. Even so, the room is strangely well lit. She rises from the hard bed and gathers her belongings. Testing at the door, she finds that it opens easily.

She steps out of the room into a sewer of sorts. At least, that’s what it smells like. The same strange, pale ambient light fills the corridors. Water and muck line the floors. Still, it beats staying in a cage. The first obligation of a prisoner is to escape. She steps out into the catacombs.

She hears the dark laughter of the Gamelord, but she can’t place the source. Then, across the hallway, she sees it. The gelatinous cube approaches. Ten feet to a side, green in tint, it moves toward her, slowly and silently. Bones and remains are visible through the translucent gel, as well as strange objects: a tennis racket; a pair of running shoes; a stop sign. The creature closes in, blocking our hero’s only escape.


Our second challenge is a Gelatinous Cube.

One of the dungeon’s most unusual and specialized predators, gelatinous cubes spend their existence mindlessly roaming dungeon halls and dark caverns, swallowing up organic material such as plants, refuse, carrion, and even living creatures. Materials the cube cannot digest, such as metal and stone, can eventually fill up the creature’s mass with such detritus, and at times the creature may excrete some of this material out of its body. Often the treasure and possessions of past victims remain inside the gelatinous cube, leaving a ghostly impression of their material remains.

As before, both champions face the same challenge, one at a time. The fights will be posted in the order in which they are received. Authors are encouraged to be creative, over-the-top, and above all awesome. The Gamemaster reserves the right to require edits to combat under the standard Gamemaster “no, it really happened this way” clause. The more entertaining, exciting, and awesome the feat is, the more likely it is to be approved. Stats of the creature are available at the link in standard D20ish format, but there is absolutely no requirement for the combat to stick to D20 rules. Descriptions of D20 rules are discouraged; they make for great gaming but boring reading.

Go!


If you enjoy these characters, please remember to stop by and patronize the authors by buying their books. Brian Niemeier’s Souldancer and Declan Finn’s Honor at Stake are both well worth the purchase.