Fire and Fury: The National Book Club

Colbert was right on the money when he joked that Fire and Fury has spurred a new generation of book clubs. I’ve inadvertently taken on the task of annotating the living hell out of the book. It started as a joke among friends, but now we have a thrice-weekly discussion group complete with supplementary materials and literary analysis. It’s reading gone mad.

Risk Management?

The effort has squeezed out my efforts to read just about anything else. I’m a few pages short of finishing Come an’ Get It, a non-fiction exploration of the old West’s chuck wagon cook. I also intended to read The Power this month, but that’s not happening. The Power, by Naomi Alderman, is a spec fic novel about an alternate reality in which women become supernaturally strong out of the blue. The way Fire and Fury took over my reading list eerily mirrors how a whole year of my life slipped away in 2017. I barely wrote a single novel, but I pounded out hundreds of thousands of words.

Everyone else has already punched out enough articles on the danger of inviting the 24/7 news cycle into your life. There’s nothing I can add to the conversation about retaking control, about joining movements, or about protecting yourself.

What I can say, though, is that the surge in discourse is the best outcome I could’ve hoped for from the book. It’s been about two weeks and people are still discussing Fire and Fury. The upcoming midterms should, I hope, sustain our renewed interest in politics (and that this was sparked by a book that reads more like a longform TMZ article just cracks me up).

The Audience

One thing I do wonder about is who Wolff’s intended audience is. If I’ve learned anything from novels, it’s that readers need occasional reminders. We often read while distracted; we might read sections and then put the book down for quite a while; maybe we’re not necessarily strong readers; or perhaps we’re not well-versed in the subject. Readers forget hooks, miss lines, or don’t recognize the significance of some breadcrumb the author placed. Writers have to jog their audience’s memory from time to time.

Well, Wolff repeats his central theses multiple times each chapter, often to excess. He links any bit of evidence right back to restatements of those ideas — incompetence, mismanagement, disorganization, narcissism — and then repeats those restatements again, but adorned with theory-crafting the next time around. The level of repetition is something you’d expect from a work aimed at a novice audience, whether low reading skill or barely initiated into political reporting.

But then he busts out the big guns. Bête noire. Persiflage. Hortatory. I won’t lie, I’ve learned some new words — I’m not a proud person. Then there’s the sentence structure. It’s complex to the point of madness. Don’t hold your breath when you start any given line here. Given the story’s timeline and the January release, I can only imagine that he had a limited time to pitch the book, sign contracts, write it, and ram it through fact checking, so no one had time to untangle Wolff’s wicked web of clauses. Some editors need to chase Fire and Fury into an alley and beat half the commas and em dashes out of it. I won’t even address the typographical errors. But that leads me back to my question: who was the central audience? New Yorker readers like me, who have some manner of memory impairment?

Geneforge

Let’s Play Geneforge!

Back in the wilds of November 2016, I began a screenshot narrative let’s play for one of my favorite underrated CRPGs, Geneforge. This is the third edition of the LP, this time tidied up for a more general audience.


About Geneforge

Geneforge

And lo, a new adventure…

Geneforge is the first of a five-game series developed by Jeff Vogel of Spiderweb Software. The games are all turn-based tactical RPGs on isometric-ish maps. They can get quite challenging even on normal difficulty depending on your playstyle; it’s very easy to be overwhelmed and you’re almost always outmatched. You might know Vogel’s games from the recently completed Avadon trilogy, or from the ongoing re-remake of the Exile games – he has an old school vision that punishes rushing into combat.

But Geneforge hasn’t received the remake treatment yet and probably won’t for at least a few more years. The graphics and performance show the game’s age. Geneforge was originally released on Mac in 2001, with a PC version in Q1 2002. Performance is grindingly slow, the engine is dated to the Jurassic era, and this indie title lacks a lot of the graphical and musical polish players have come to expect. Graphics and audio have never been Vogel’s focus, so if you come into the games expecting them, you will be disappointed. His focus is gameplay and storytelling, and the latter is where this series really excels.

Each of the Geneforge games focuses on pursuing alliances or rivalries with political factions, and as such, you have many, many decisions to make over the course of a playthrough. I can’t promise that I will be able to show all of the possible outcomes, but I can show each of the basic endings. We will be playing as a Shaper; a mage whose training and abilities allow him or her to create and modify life from drought-tolerant wheat to mind-controlling vlish. Of course, we don’t start out with that much power, but I’ll let the game speak for itself.

Welcome to Sucia Island, apprentice.

Demoware

Spiderweb Software develops demoware, meaning they put out substantial free demos of all their games. You can check out the demo for Geneforge 1 here if you’re interested in playing along. The games are available directly through Spiderweb Software’s website and on the usual digital retail platforms for Windows and Mac.

Compatibility

Because Geneforge is rather old at this point, you may experience poor performance on the latest Windows OSes.

  1. Install this Application Compatibility Toolkit: http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=7352
  2. Run the 32-bit iteration of Compatibility Administrator.
  3. Create a new custom database and name it ‘Geneforge’ for clarity.
  4. Right-click the new Geneforge database, click “Create New…”, then “Application Fix.”
  5. Name this ‘Geneforge’ as well, because why not?
  6. Click “Browse” and locate “Geneforge.exe.” If you purchased your copy through Steam, you will likely find the .exe file along the “This PC \ Local Disk (C:) \ Program Files (x86) \ Steam \ Steam Apps \ common \ Geneforge” path.
  7. Under “Additional compatibility modes,” check “Layer_ForceDirectDrawEmulation” and click next, next, next, finish.
  8. Save your new database — I saved it to the Geneforge folder — and install it!

Many thanks to Ratty on Steam. This is all their research!

This will help reduce lag and stutter, though some will remain present. I find it especially bad in areas where text comes up on screen but not in a dialogue box.

Nukadoko ingredients.

Nukamisozuke – Rice Bran Preservation

I rescued this old forums post quite a while ago with the intention of posting it up a year ago. Well, the road to hell is lined with good intentions and posts that languish in draft mode!

As far as I have been able to discover, rice bran pickling is unique to Japan. I could not find any instructions or discussions pointing to native nuka-style pickling in Korea or anywhere in China/Taiwan. Nuka-style pickling appears relatively unknown in the US until recently–it seems to have blown up online this last summer, which was wonderful since I could actually troubleshoot this recipe at last.

Nukamisozuke (nuka = rice bran; miso = fermented paste; zuke = preserved/pickled/fermented) is a pickling technique which uses a fermented bed of rice bran with added salt. It’s a lactic pickling method and, once you have your bed going, it pickles your fruits and vegetables (and even meat and fish) very quickly–we’re talking hours. Despite the name, there is no miso added to the bed. You could certainly add some for flavor if you like, but then your pickle would be more of a misozuke and less of a nukazuke. The “miso” just refers to the fermentation and paste-like consistency of the pickling substrate. Numamiso is the pickling substrate, nukazuke/nukamisozuke refers to the items pickled in the nukamiso. Nukadoko is another way to refer to the pickling bed.

The bed is alive during the whole process. This is a perpetual pickling substrate that with five or so minutes of time each day can live for decades and be shared with friends and family. In our house, we refer to it as a pet. It gets stirred once or twice a day, and if we are leaving for more than one or two days, we actually take some trouble to store the bed so that we can take it out when we return and get back to picklin’. The goal is to maintain active colonies of friendly yeasts and bacilli which impart a good flavor to your pickles. This pickle does require more time investment than pretty much any other method, but the result (daily fresh pickles!) is worth it, in my opinion. If anyone reading has made takuan, you might notice some strong similarities between the methods.

Nukadoko ingredients.

Everything you need to start out, and then some!

To prepare a basic bed, you’ll need the following:

  • Rice or wheat bran
  • Non-iodized, unflavored salt (kosher, sea, or pickling salt are all great)
  • Kombu (a type of dried seaweed)
  • Dried chile peppers (I use tien tsin)
  • Fresh ginger
  • Plain white or wheat bread, not multigrain
  • Optional: mustard powder, whole dried soybeans (or other dried beans), beer, garlic cloves

You will also need an appropriate container. If you’re lucky, you might have a Japanese market nearby which sells the traditional wooden, lidded bucket that an oldschool household’s nukadoko lives in. Ceramic, glass, and food-safe plastic vessels also work. I advise against bare metal containers, though an enameled one would work fine. The substrate has a low pH, so it might interact unfavorably with exposed metal (bad flavors, leaching, rust). The container should be large enough for the amount of substrate you intend to make. You do not need to have a fitted lid, especially since the substrate requires exposure to air. Cheesecloth, a tea towel, or a clean undershirt will all work fine. Lastly, I strongly advise the use of a scale to measure your ingredients. Following the ratio is critical for scaling the recipe up or down.

The few recipes I found early on were all for huge portions of nukamiso, but some writers have been kind enough to specify the basic proportion: salt to rice bran. If you live in a temperate climate, you should start with 12-13% salt to the mass of your dry bran. If you live somewhere colder, you can scale that down closer to 10%. If you live somewhere warmer and you need to slow down fermentation, you can go anywhere from 15% – 17%. Hitting 17% is going to result in a really salty pickle, though, so I wouldn’t start that high. Ikuko Hisamatsu, who wrote the wonderful Quick & Easy Tsukemono: Japanese Pickling Recipes, starts out with 15%. I found that to be a little too salty for my tastes and it inhibited the bed’s start. After that, it’s one part water to one part bran for the most part. Wheat bran is much fluffier than rice bran, so I felt the need to add more liquid while using wheat. I found that other people felt the same way. If your bran is really dry, you may find that you add more water on day one or so.

Amounts for a modestly-sized nuka bed:

  • 10 oz. or 285 g bran
  • 2 oz. or 59 g salt
  • 10 oz. or 285 g water, preferably filtered, with additional water set aside for mixing
  • 4 dried chile peppers
  • 2 square inches of kombu
  • 1 knob of fresh ginger
  • 1 slice of bread, torn into small pieces
  • Vegetables!
  • Optional: 1 oz. mustard powder, fistful of dried beans, beer, peeled whole garlic cloves

Heat your measured water enough to dissolve the salt. Add the bread and let cool to room temperature. Bread helps provide food to the germs you’re trying to invite into the nukamiso. It’s not strictly necessary, but it is helpful.

Rice bran

This is nuka, or rice bran.

Heat a large wok or pot over medium until a bead of water will bubble away, then add bran and stir continuously until you can smell it toasting. Your bran may smoke a little, which is fine. Do not allow the bran to burn. Pour the toasted bran into a large bowl and let cool. Toasting drives off staleness and imparts a nutty flavor.

Kombu, soybeans, dried chiles, ginger, garlic, & powdered mustard.

Here are just a few additional ingredients.

While you wait, prepare your seasonings and vegetables: Wipe your kombu with a moist paper towel and then cut or shred into 1 cm wide strips. Cut the chile peppers lengthwise into two pieces. Scrub the knob of ginger, pare away any dried up or dirty spots, and cut into four pieces any which way. Don’t use shriveled up or even slightly moldy ginger. It needs to be top shape, because this is to add to the health and flavor of your bed and it’ll probably stay in there a long time. Likewise, the garlic cloves should be spotless. For tester vegetables, clean leaves from turnips, beets, cabbage, radishes, and other brassica-family plants are great. So are whole or split carrots/parsnips, turnip rounds, kohlrabi, whole small radishes, and the like. Make sure the starter vegetables are clean. You can even use kitchen scraps! It’s fine to use something a little past its prime here, just not something moldy of course. Your starter vegetables help inoculate the bed with bacteria to get the fermentation started, and they will also help you gauge your bed’s progress.

Once your bran has cooled, add your mustard and beans and give a swift mix. Then add the bread and brine and mix. Add more water as necessary until you achieve a soft but not liquid texture, similar to the resistance of your earlobe or wet sand. You don’t need to knead the bread, just mix.

Toasted rice bran, salt, mustard powder, and dried soybeans.

Toasted rice bran, salt, mustard powder, and dried soybeans.

Options: If you have some nukamiso starter, you can add that to the new nukamiso at this stage. If you want to add some more moisture but are tired of boring-ass water, add some beer! A stout or IPA would be too strong, but a lager or wit bier are good and mild. Nothing fancy necessary. I’ve added a couple various ales to mine. It helps start fermentation and adds flavor. Besides, who doesn’t want to share a beer with a pet that doesn’t end in vet bills?

With your clean, dry nuka home ready, add half of the nukamiso to the container, making sure to cover the bottom (but don’t compress it much).

Yes, I used my bare hands. So can you!

*In this picture, I’m actually adding the starter nukamiso to the middle. That’s alright too.

Scatter the chiles, kombu pieces, ginger, and garlic cloves. Then cover with the rest of the nukamiso. If you find that your bed is still a little too dry, you can add more water or beer here. If you find that it’s too soggy, add more dried beans or a more bran.

Bury your starter vegetables.

Pat the top of the nukamiso down lightly until it’s mostly flat.

 

Keep your baby tidy!

This is a second crock. I’ve patted the surface flat and am wiping the inner rim clean.

Wipe the exposed inner sides of the nukadoko container clean with a moistened towel, then cover with a cloth and place in a dry, dim, cool (but not cold–65F – 75F are solid parameters) location. A pantry, beneath a sink, in a closet, or in the basement are all pretty good locations. It needs to be somewhere accessible–it shouldn’t be hard for you to get to the container and stir it.

From here on, stir your bed once a day by hand. Your hands should be clean and without any lotions or scents, which can impart sour and narsty flavors to the nukamiso (and thus to the pickles). Using your hands helps colonize the bed with delightful germs. If you’re a germaphobe, this is a terrible project for you to take on, but you can try stirring using a wooden spoon instead. Stirring in this case is much more like crumbling. Lift up the compressed bottom portion of the bed, break up any clods, and make sure the substrate is nice and loose. You should also check each day that there are no molds growing and no horrible bugs nesting in your nukamiso. I haven’t encountered either of these events, as a healthy germ colony, mustard powder, and salt all help inhibit most fungi through competition and adverse conditions.

In about three days, you should start to smell a change in the bed. It will take on a nutty, earthy, slightly sour smell. Depending on your local conditions, this may take a couple days more. If you find that it’s taking a long time, you might go ahead and add some more beer. Swap out your tester vegetables each day. You can try them out to see how your bed’s flavor develops, but you will not have very tasty pickles until your bed is well colonized. This took about seven days for me, give or take. Starting out, your vegetables (especially harder or larger items like carrots, pumpkin, and burdock) may take a day or two to take on pickle taste once the colony has established itself. As the bed matures, this time will decline until you can have a whole salad radish nicely pickled within 4 – 6 hours. Compressing the nukamiso will increase the speed and intensity of the pickling process, but you risk your colonies going out of balance and turning the bed sour due to lack of air.

Stirring once a day every day is crucial. In hot weather, you should even consider stirring twice a day (say, once in the morning as you go about your bidness, then once in the evening when you want to fish out your dinner pickles.) Stirring allows you to incorporate air into the nukamiso mixture. This helps keep colonies of anaerobic bacteria such as lactobacilli in check, given that air is bactericidal and also carries competitive microorganisms. You want populations of anaerobic bacteria, but they cannot be permitted to grow out of control. Stirring regularly helps balance this.

Adding Flavor

The basic recipe is a solid basis on which to build a good pickling bed. Given enough time, everything you add at the start will mature and change in taste over time. The vegetables you pickle also add to the flavor of the bed.

  • Whole szechuan peppercorns
  • Whole garlic cloves. You can eat these, too, so keeping a rotation of pickled garlic improves the bed and yields an interesting pickle.
  • More kombu! This adds a good deal of savoriness. Your kombu will likely break down over time as it absorbs liquid and is chewed on by germs. This is fine.
  • Whole garlic knobs. Can eat ’em just like garlic.
  • Dried fruit peels/zest strips: mandarin, apple, persimmon are all good places to start. Make sure the peels are well dried. In the oven at 200F until they become brittle works.
  • Dried chiles – whole or powdered. I haven’t tried smoked chiles, but that would make an interesting bed.

Maintenance

The importance of regularly stirring your bed cannot be overstated. Stirring is the primary mechanism that prevents an infection of unwanted microorganisms by permitting oxygen to touch more of the bed. Oxygen exposure also helps the fermentation and leads to better flavor. Technique is more like breaking something up with a spatula than whisking stuff around. Dig your hands in deep, get down to those corners, bring them up, and destroy the clods. Try to keep the sides of your container relatively clean so as not to invite bad guests. Keep the top of the bed smoothed out (not pressed flat) to help a bit with this as well, and to make inspecting the surface easier.

As I wrote before, your hands should be clean and have no lotions or other potions applied. Those will contaminate the bed and cause off flavors and who knows what sort of gnarly shit.

From time to time, you will need to add more nuka, salt, and potentially water (depending on local humidity). This is just to replace the nukamiso lost from stirring and removing vegetables.

Vegetables get washed before and after adding to the bed.

Storage

For short-term storage, remove the nukamiso from its container and put into (clean) doubled plastic bags. Tie loosely, then put in the refrigerator. Your nukamiso will survive this for about a week. Once you return it to its (clean) home, make sure to stir it frequently for the next few days, as the surviving bacteria need to get a little kick-start to re-grow.

For long-term storage, make sure all vegetables and vegetable scraps are removed from the bed. Take out any garlic cloves or ginger knobs for good measure. Add extra bran to get the nukamiso thick and to balance moisture. Pat down the nukamiso and clean the inner sides of the container well with a moist cloth. Spread a double (or triple, depending on hole size) layer of cheesecloth over the nukamiso surface. Cover with about 1 cm of mustard powder, and then cover that with enough salt that you cannot see the yellow mustard anymore. Cover with a drop lid (or a plate that fits inside your container) and cardboard/thick cloth. Store in a cool, dark place until you are ready to retrieve the nukamiso. This will keep for months.

To reinvigorate a hibernating bed, take the lid off, then carefully remove the cheesecloth, taking care not to spill salt and mustard. Discard. Take about an inch off the nukamiso’s surface, as that’s going to be way too salty for flavor and pickling. You will need to add more bran and other seasonings to the bed, and might need to adjust salt and water content. Stir twice a day for a while until the bed has regained a nice smell. You’ll be doing tester vegetables again just like when you first started. As soon as those taste okay, you can get back to picklin’.

Troubleshooting

My bed is watery!

The easiest fix is to add a handful of beans to the nukamiso. Soybeans will absorb water and slowly enrich the flavor. Other dried beans are also acceptable. If your bed is really wet, give it a good stir, then add a clean sea sponge on top. Squeeze it out (into a sink) as it wicks away moisture. Another option is to give the bed a stir, smooth the surface, then make a hollow. Set a sake cup or similar small cup into the hollow.

A watery bed will quickly make the vegetables taste too sour and will take on a bad smell. The problem is pretty easy to correct, so take care of it quickly.

My bed is sour!

This and wateriness are the most frequent issues. Beds usually sour because they are not being turned frequently enough compared to the ambient temperature and the nukamiso salt content. The higher the temps, the more often the nukamiso needs to be stirred. Any bed can benefit from a twice a day turn, but it becomes necessary in the summer if you do not have the blessing of central air. If your bed gets a little sour, stir more and the problem will correct itself.

But the bed is super sour, you say? It smells a little alcoholic, you say? Then sterner methods are required. In addition to stirring more, you have a few more tools to wield. More salt, more mustard powder, umeboshi, and dried eggshells can help solve this problem. Start by adding a palmful or less of salt and a Tbsp or two of mustard powder. Stir those in. Mustard powder will kill microorganisms, and depending on the acidity of your bed (which is what you detect as a sour smell or taste), it may raise the pH. Calcium in dried eggshells will raise the pH. This counteracts the sourness and renders the bed less hospitable to lactobacilli. You want lactobacilli in the bed, but keeping that population in check is important to your food’s quality and safety. Umeboshi also has a high pH, so that contributes to balance and also flavor. Since they are salt pickled, umeboshi will also add more salt to the bed. Again, salt’s role is controlling bacteria colonization and growth rates.

I just rehabilitated a bed which had gotten a little of a solvent smell. It is once again smelling earthy and slightly sweet rather than like proto-moonshine. It took a week of turning before and after work, adding salt, mustard, and eggshells.

A note on prepping eggshells: just the leavings from breakfast eggs or whatever will do fine. Rinse them out in the sink and pop them into the oven on 200 for a while. I leave them in for a couple hours. Then crush them and add to the nukamiso.

My bed is moldy!

I actually have not encountered this issue. However, guidance from other sources all concur that if it is surface mold, you can take the surface off (go down about an inch to remove mold filaments). Then add more salt. This mostly occurs if you have not been stirring frequently enough or if your salt content has gone down too far.

I forgot some pickles in there!

Shit’s hella sour now, isn’t it? This can lead to excess water in the bed, too. For the soured vegetables, there’s a save!

  • Wash them and slice, chop, or julienne. Soak them in clean, cool water to draw out the excess salt. Taste after about 15 minutes. If it’s good, you can stop here!
  • Stirfry: For soured vegetables, prep as above, then stir-fry with a little sesame oil, garlic and/or ginger.
  • Salad: Prep as in first line, then mix with toasted sesame seeds, some ginger, and/or other furikake. Add a little rice wine vinegar and/or soy sauce. I’ve minced up over-pickled radish and used it in vinaigrette. Works nicely!

I got bugs!

Theoretically, your bed can still be saved as long as any larvae have not penetrated beyond the first inch. The issue is similar to the moldiness: remove the first inch of surface, add more salt and stir. If bugs have penetrated further, dispose of the whole bed. In the future, remember to secure a linen tea towel or some layers of cheesecloth over your bed’s opening. Bugs are not welcome.

Some old school households use nukamiso started by somebody 30 years ago, so this is really a project you can do for a long, long time.

Book 3 of The Polaris Chronicles is out!

knives-of-the-ring-for-website

Knives of The Ring is now available (ebook and paperback) on Amazon. Click here to order!

Kingslayer and battle-mage Taki Natalis now fights for the empire that conquered his homeland. It’s not a question of loyalty: it’s a choice between kill or be killed.

Battered by defeats on the Ursalan campaign, Taki and his squadmates must race against time to find a legendary, ancient fortress suspended in the heavens. But their nemesis, the Sanctissimus Rex, desires it too and will stop at nothing to harness the unimaginable power waiting within.

Mighty foes, unhinged commanders, and malevolent fortune stand in the way, but the lives of millions hang in the balance.

We had actually intended for The Polaris Chronicles to be a trilogy, but realized that to both take the story full-circle and also end the individual books at good stopping points, we’d need to go for four. Would our series be a tetralogy or quadrilogy? Anyone who knows the answer, let us know!

For the upcoming holiday season, we although thought it important to get our act together and make sure people could buy paperbacks if they wanted, so we started that even earlier and ended up that you could order a paperback before the electronic copy. Make sure to leave us reviews on Amazon and Goodreads if you like Knives!

So, when can you expect to see the concluding volume go on sale? All we can say is sometime in 2017, and then it’s time to start another series, beginning with Watcher.  Never fear, though. We plan on releasing another spinoff/continuation soon, this time about a certain redheaded, foul-mouthed fan of things that go bang.

A (sort of) walkthrough for Ladykiller in a Bind

lady3

Christine Love’s Analogue: A Hate Story will always hold a special place in my heart, because it is possibly the only popular game out there about Koreans in space (besides the venerable Starcraft, of course). Yet, if you’ve ever played Analogue to the end, you’ll also know that it’s not exactly a lighthearted romp or something you play for casual fun: you must construct additional pylons, and they’re all made of sorrow.

I’d heard that Ladykiller in a Bind, the newest entry from Love Conquers All Games, was going to be a sharp departure from Analogue, but since I’d loved the previous entry so much, I knew I’d buy Ladykiller when it came out. I didn’t even need to try the demo when I met the developer at PaxEast a year ago—I’d already decided. And, as expected, the game is worth every penny. Thus, this won’t be a traditional review of the game, since there are already better-written ones on other sites. Rather, this is going to be a summary of my two (so far) playthroughs: one that I “lost” and one that I “won.” And for those of you who want to end up together with The Beauty (and keep her), I guess this would be one of the first walkthroughs out there.

For simplicity, all characters will be referred to by the first item on the default choices list, even though you can rename them to whatever you want.

My first playthrough:

I decided quickly on that I probably wasn’t going to win the in-game “Game” and its five million-dollar prize, and that for this run I’d attempt to to romance as many of the side characters as I could, while pursuing The Stalker as my night-time interest. I wasn’t really interested in seeing what happened if I racked up 5 suspicion points, although I may try for it on another playthrough just for completeness.

I clicked through the tutorial, met The Boss and the other major side characters, and was left with my first set of options for the afternoon of Day One. I clicked on the branch with the least difficulty: The Athlete and The Nerd with one star, and…promptly fell head over heels in love with The Nerd.

thenerd2

Spoiler alert: I don’t think it’s possible to really romance her, since the furthest I got was a kiss that fizzled pretty quickly. But I think she might actually be the best-written character in the game. Not because of compelling drama or a tragic back-story or unexpected betrayal, but because she’s just so breathtakingly, amazingly real.

I pursued The Nerd’s route with a vengeance, didn’t steal her phone from her when she fell asleep on my shoulder, and ended the route with fewer votes than I’d started with. I also earned the extreme pleasure of seeing her smile and blush.

After the Nerd was through, I started The Boy. After he stole my phone and used it ala Anthony Weiner, I found myself pining for the option to chuck him off the side of the ship. Alas, this isn’t Hitman and murder wasn’t an option. For Ladykiller Unleashed I think The Beast should have a garroting wire and cyanide in the ol’ inventory. Please, Christine, if you’re reading this?

The Boy’s route done, I then clicked on The President. Spoiler alert: I declined to give him my votes, even in exchange for the motorcycle, which is probably why I got Epilogue B in the end. I’m going to have to go through and replay this route a few times, because I either terminated it prematurely somehow or ran out of game time, and it felt unfinished. I didn’t get the achievement, either, so there’s definitely more.

Throughout this playthrough, I’d spent my nights (save for one, when I racked up four suspicion bars on The Nerd’s route) with The Stalker. Unfortunately, the three guaranteed votes she gave me every night weren’t enough to make up for my poor performance in getting votes during the week. I lost the Game and lost The Stalker, but at least I got my bike back. The ploy at the end about 5 million bucks split 137 ways as hush money was pretty nifty.

My second playthrough:

This time, I was either going to win the Game, land more characters in the sack, or at least try to end the story together with my love interest. To change things up and experience the romance that other game reviewers were crowing about, I chose to spend my nights with The Beauty instead.

I went for The Photographer this time (since her route offered up to 14 votes at the outset). As a word of warning, I think that because I actively chose to help The Photographer in exchange for 4 votes, that might have locked me out of The Slut’s route. I’ll have to go back and experiment on playthrough number three. I took the gamble, gave my votes to her, and then endured the last scene with her to get 23 votes out of it. Not bad, save for getting violated.

At this point—because I’d locked The Slut out—my options were The Athlete, The Boy, and The President. I’d already gone through The Boy’s route (which hadn’t resulted in any sort of profit), and part of The President’s (which on the last playthrough might’ve actually incurred a loss), so I decided on The Athlete.

The Athlete’s route was surprisingly fun and relaxing to play. As is the case with The Nerd, you won’t do anything more than angrily kiss him (The Beast is about a 5.5 on the Kinsey Scale), but playing his scenes gave me a treasure trove of backstory on not only the side characters on the ship, but also The Beast’s fractured relationship with the rest of her family. Unfortunately, The Athlete resulted in no profit in terms of votes.

With only enough game time for two more scenes, I revisited The President’s route. Only this time, I went ahead and gave him all measly twenty-three votes I had in exchange for the motorcycle (this may rack up a suspicion point, by the way), figuring that again, I’d failed to win The Game, and once again, I’d leave his route incomplete.

Yet in the end, giving The President my votes in exchange for The Beast’s bike proved to be exactly the right thing to do. The move impressed The Prince so much that he offered to have The Beast become him (forever) in the eyes of the outside world, and thus gave me the leverage to convince the Beauty to dump her engagement with The President and stay with The Beast. I’ll consider this to be the “good” ending, and definitely better than epilogue B. Otherwise, I’m sure I’d have gotten a variant of epilogue B, save with The Beauty stuck in some unhappy arranged marriage.

So there you have it (Spoiler alert): Looks like the way to at least stick with The Beast’s love interest may be to make a deal with The President during his route. I had more than twenty votes at the time, though, and I’m curious as to whether the same outcome might be had with fewer.

My goals for the next playthrough are: 1) Unlock The Slut, 2) Complete The President, 3) Win The Game. Actually, that sounds like politics as usual in the good ol’ US of A. If you’re interested in playing it, LKIAB is for sale at the Humble Store:

And as a final treat, more Nerd:

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Prince of Maladies is out on Amazon! (yay for spinoffs!)

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Prince of Maladies is now available on Amazon!

The Imperium’s deadliest warriors are also its most despised, for they are descendants of demons. In his wisdom, the Padishah binds these tainted men and women to his service for the greater good.

Aslatiel and Lucatiel are poisoned by the same blood. When sibling rivalry plunges them into the depths of the prison school Sheol, only love will keep them alive til graduation.

Sometimes, a story’s antagonists end up getting just as much interest as the actual protagonists, as many of our readers have told us! Quite a few people wanted to know more about the mysterious and tormented sibling pair who gave Taki and his band of misfits all sorts of hell. So, just for you, we wrote this spinoff. Chronologically, it’s actually a prequel to Guns of the Temple, even though the work is listed as the third entry in the Polaris Chronicles.

Right now, Prince of Maladies will be offered solely in e-book format, but if there’s enough interest, we may be able to produce print copies in the future. But for that to  happen, we need to know, and you can let us know through your reviews on Amazon and Goodreads!

The sequel’s here!

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Tirefire the Lesser can’t seem to catch a break. Their country’s been taken over, Taki’s an honest-to-God kingslayer, no one’s changed their unit name, and the unit mascot’s still nowhere to be seen. So what else can possibly go wrong? Swords of the Imperium has the answers:

The Imperium continues its march over the remains of the Argead Dominion toward its next prize: Ursala, ruled by the Sanctissimus Rex and his thousand bloodthirsty daughters.

Taki and his squad, Tirefire the Lesser, must now fight alongside their former foes. But joining the Padishah’s army is riskier than facing the chopping block for a regicide like Taki.

On the warpath in a land of revenant knights and cannibal damsels, the squad faces its greatest challenges yet, and not everyone will make it out alive.

We’re happy to announce that Swords comes out on September 9th, 2016 on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited! And also because we got our act together more for this release, paperback copies will be available much, much sooner this time!

You don’t have to wait, though, if you’re on this page. Until September 8th, Erica and I are giving our free Advance Review Copies to those who sign up for our mailing list. All we ask in return is an honest review on Amazon/Goodreads when the book comes out!

Click here for your free advance copy of Swords of the Imperium.

And for those of you who can’t wait for yet another book of the Polaris Chronicles, wait ’til October. Lucatiel isn’t called the Prince of Maladies for nothing…

Bryan Reads the Price of Admiralty and Remembers the Alamo

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…It’s like Star Trek: The Next Generation, minus the cringe.

Erica and I first came across Richard Tongue’s work while trying to find an artist for our own book’s cover. Impressed by what we saw, we ended up using the same artist. Erica isn’t a huge fan of space opera military fiction, but I remembered having a ton of fun reading Timothy Zahn and Dean Wesley Smith back in middle school, and so I decided to go ahead and give the Battlecruiser Alamo series a whirl, starting with The Price of Admiralty.

The plot and characters of this first series entry are already well-described by other reviewers, so I won’t spend a lot of time covering that. Suffice it to say, a lot of the well-loved tropes and plot twists that we expect from any good scifi milfic are present in droves, right down to the mandatory zero-gee spacewalk to recapture the bridge from the enemy. The characters are the ensemble of archetypes we all expect, from the sexy-veteran-ex-wingman-turned-tactics officer to the don’t-take-no-guff-sawbones-ship’s-surgeon. And of course, the ship itself starts out as a nonfunctional mess thanks to the ressentiment (not resentment, but rather the French word for “anger and jealousy”) of its previous crew and commander. Actually, that whole scenario made me think of the allegations that Bill Clinton’s staffers removed all the “W” keys from the White House computers (also causing $15,000 in other damages) before handing over the reins to Dubya back in 2004.

But none of this is bad: these are the things that we milfic fans love, desire, and outright expect their authors to produce. We want a scrappy crew of misfits making the best of a leaky rustbucket of a ship to overcome an impossible situation through pluck, irreverence, and lots and lots of bullets. Which harkens to the point I first brought up: this is like Star Trek TNG but without the cringe factor. Although I was a fan of the show (and even videotaped its final episode when we still had VCR’s), I never got over how bothered I was by the utopian perfection of the Enterprise D and its crew. Really, it was a show about well-adjusted professionals performing their duties admirably in the most advanced ship in the galaxy, funded by post-scarcity economics where replicators can make you earl gray, hot, on command. And honestly, that annoyed me. Conflict and deprivation create drama. A lack of those things, while desirable in real life, is boring as hell to sit through.

So The Price of Admiralty hits all the high notes for me. Space is a terrible and dangerous place where you will always be clawing at the bleeding edge of survival, and yet you still have to make money. I’d hate to live that way myself, but it’s damned fun to read about other people doing it. I will definitely be checking out the next installment.

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The book is out! (And now you can review it!)

Guns of the Temple is available on Amazon! Right now, you can buy the book for Kindle, and we anticipate that print versions will be available within a week or two. That’s right, PRINT versions (for those of you who love the feeling of something physical…I know I do!).

buy4Click above to buy and leave reviews!

Also, for our wonderful advance reviewers, this is the time to start leaving your reviews! If you downloaded an advance copy through our recent giveaway, please make sure to mention that you received a free copy of the book.

Thanks so much for helping us with this launch! We truly appreciate it, and look forward to writing more for your entertainment!