Britain’s National Health Service weighs heavily on my mind today for two reasons. The first, as is being widely discussed, is that today marks the point that the NHS starts to become privatised, portions of its budget handed over to companies and its services forced to open up to competitive bids. The second reason is that I had to go an NHS hospital today for a rather important scan, and it reminds me of an incident that happened to me when I was in the United States and found myself dealing with their private healthcare system. So this post is a matter of two stories, today’s story with a free public healthcare system and the story of my experience with privatised, paid-for healthcare. One of these stories has a happy ending.
As with many people, Everquest was my first MMO experience. While others like Ultima Online had come before it, Everquest became the foundation that defined the genre. It is remembered mostly in negative terms, not because it wasn’t popular at the time but because of how far we’ve come since. Everquest was a game of heavy difficulty, which focused around grinding experience by killing packs of monsters over and over. Rewards were hard-earned and mistakes were severely punished. There were few quests, no mounts and no instanced content. To those who started their MMO experience in the World of Warcraft era, Everquest seems like a cave painting next to the Mona Lisa.
However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t things that MMO’s could still learn from their psychotic grandfather. Last year I went back to play Everquest on a newly launched ‘progression server’, a server which would play the game from it’s original version and then add on an expansion pack every couple of months. It was a chance to go back and enjoy that original experience which hooked me as a teenager and so I leapt at it. After years of playing World of Warcraft it was quite a shock to the system, however the more I played, the more I realised how much MMO’s have lost as they’ve grown and become more popular. Elements of true danger, extreme difficulty, and socialising not just as a bonus of online play, but as something without which gameplay could not happen.
As you may have guessed, my Nanowrimo efforts didn’t really get off the ground, mostly due to my time being taken up with real-life work. However, I have been continuing to work on Codex Machina when I can. For those of you who like reading comic book scripts, you can read the whole chapter 1 by clicking on the link below. Unfortunately I can’t post the whole thing here because wordpress doesn’t like the Final Draft formatting, but you can read it in PDF. Enjoy and please contact me with any feedback.
Like many other creative writers out there, November is an exciting time because it means I get to take part in NaNoWriMo, the online creative writing project. Typically people use NaNoWriMo as a chance to start writing a full-length novel, but I’ll be joining some friends in bending the rules to make our own particular projects. We’ll be tweeting our efforts under the hashtag #Nanorebels.
My project is to write a graphic novel named Codex Machina, a science-fiction story inspired by Aztec mythology and Lovecraftian horror. I’ll be using the guidelines of Script Frenzy, a similar event to NaNoWriMo that focuses on scripts rather than novels. I’ll aim for the Script Frenzy target to write one hundred pages of comic book script over the course of the month, which will only get me through the first four chapters of the novel, but that will be an amazing start. If I can exceed that, all the better.
SPOILER ALERT: This post contains minor spoilers for Half-Life 2 and Babylon 5.
It started with the above image. A couple of weeks ago I caught this article on Kotaku about how a set of new skins for the game Batman: Arkham City changed Catwoman’s outfit from a cleavage-revealing latex suit to the armoured costume you see above. I was impressed with the improvement this simple redesign made, not just in terms of cool points, but in how it shifted my perspective of the character from the sexualised love interest of Batman (thanks Dark Knight Rises) to a competent street-fighter. The Catwoman above is strong, confident, and just a bit cocky. She can clearly take some damage and doesn’t mind getting stuck into a fight. Admittedly it’s very figure-hugging armour and the high heels retain an element of sexualisation, but it is Catwoman, she would look rather wrong without them. The point is that all it took was some tougher clothing to make me do a 180 on how I viewed Selina Kyle.
Today it occurred to me how odd it is that science is seen as something cold and impersonal, an exercise purely of the mind. When seeking enlightenment, or comfort, or spiritual meaning, most people would to turn to the abstracts of religion rather than the data of science. This is something I don’t particularly understand. When it comes to the big questions surrounding our existence and mortality, my interest in science is the only thing that makes me feel like there’s some kind of sense to it all. In fact it does far more than that; our scientific knowledge of the universe provides me with nothing short of wonderment and awe.
The door wrenched open spilling light and bass thumps into the night. She let it swing closed behind her as she stormed through and escaped out to the road. For a moment she felt like running, screaming or trashing the car that rested next to her. Instead she sat down on the front of the car and wrapped herself in her hoodie. Squinting at the brightness of the streetlight shining down on her, she searched out a cigarette from her pocket. Several deep inhales later her rage was beginning to temper.
Behind her the house was still thudding and thrumming with the noise of the party. The door opened again, and a for a moment the music was everywhere before it was shut back inside. Ciara glared at the figure intruding on her space, although her eyes lost some of their sharpness when she saw it was Alex. He was looking at her with that trademark smirk that she hated.
“That was pretty impressive in there” he said. “I’ve never seen a guy go down so quickly. Or seen Tommy beaten up by a girl for that matter. That was hilarious.” Ciara looked down at her fist. The smeared blood on it looked almost black in the urban twilight.
In case you were unaware, there’s currently a war being fought over the freedom of the internet. Two bills are being pushed through the US House of Representatives and the US Senate, known as SOPA and PIPA, which have the potential to completely change the internet as we have come to know and love it. While these bills are nominally being proposed to curb online piracy, which is a noble cause, the proposed measures have caused global outrage as they would limit people’s free access to information on the internet. The bills also provide the US government, big businesses and internet service providers the power to shut down websites or limit access to their content without any form of due process. In short, this is a blatant attempt by the US government and their corporate bedfellows to take control of the free voice of the internet.
Author’s note: The following is the first three chapters of a novel proposal I wrote for the Black Library, who publish stories set in Games Workshop‘s Warhammer 40k universe. Unfortunately they didn’t go for it, but I thought I would put it up here in case anyone is interested.
If you’re not familiar with the 40k universe some parts of the story might not make much sense to you, but that’s no reason you can’t enjoy it. You may find this article on Explorators useful, as they feature quite heavily.
The ground was stained red where two of the Enemy had been slain the previous night. The Earthborn scouts who had dispatched them had already dismembered the bodies and taken what was useful: the bones, the meat, the skin. Any remaining waste had been burnt, as evidenced by the blackened patch of debris nearby.
What is geek knowledge? It’s all the powerful ideas and beliefs that you form as a result of pursuing your geeky passions. I’ve found that where school and university taught me factual information, the fictional worlds borne by books, tv shows and computer games conveyed important lessons about people. It’s a mistake to think that science fiction is about spaceships or that fantasy fiction is about magic, all fiction is the study of people. It’s not the special powers of a superhero that make them compelling, it’s seeing how an ordinary person works under extraordinary circumstances. Geek knowledge is what you learn by looking at humanity through an unfamiliar lens