Friday, January 30, 2015

Mint, Infected

Release day for episode 4! Mint, Infected returns us to the hard-boiled narration of Orgood's minion Mint as he deals with his own infection while continuing to track down others and understand what's going on with Orgood's serum.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A listing of season one episodes

I've been meaning to clean up the Spire City tab here with that latest information. Since the two season one bundles are now out, I don't really need each episode listed there as well. However, I didn't want to completely lose that information. So for anyone interested in an episode by episode breakdown of Season One, Infected, here it is:

Episode 1
, A New Infection: Chels is an immigrant girl who has found a home among the infected, though she is still healthy. She watches new beetles arrive by train and does her part to help the band find food and allies within the city. Infection, though, is always a danger...for her and every one who chooses to help.

Episode 2, Batan's Caper: As the members of the Weave try to help Chels through the initial stages of her infection, Batan decides they need a distraction. Two wealthy brothers who come through the area seem like the perfect targets of a con game that might bring in enough money to keep them all fed for months...if they don't have to spend too much money to pull off the con in the first place.

Episode 3, The Spires: Desperate to escape thinking about her newly infected body, Chels seeks an old friend of her mother's, one of the city's singers who live their lives chained to the spires so that their songs guide the city's beetles through the maze of streets below.

Episode 4, A Watcher in the Alleys: Marrel has learned that the scientist Orgood—or someone—is seeking out those who are infected and targeting anyone willing to help them. She sends Batan to get weapons from a gang of infected criminals, while Chels and Sairen go to the immigrant quarter to warn those there and ask for any help they're willing to give. But who is the strange man who seems to be following them?

Episode 5, High Society: In the hope of learning more about who is pursuing the infecteds, Chels and Williver attend a high society ball in honor of the inventor Orgood. The ball is a whirl of too many people, of elaborate food carved into sculptures and dance fighting and whispers and intrigues on all sides. How is Chels supposed to maintain her false identity long enough to learn anything that will help them?

Episode 6, Completing the Map: Spire City is full of abandoned alleys, sewer tunnels, disused attics, and forgotten cellars. For years Batan has been mapping these routes, which form a sort of alternate city, unknown to both the uninfected citizens and the authorities. He can feel his body failing, though, as his infection runs its course. Can he give the others his knowledge before he completes?

Episode 7, Mint, the Sleepless One: Among the many experiments of the scientist Orgood, one of his earliest was an attempt to modify people so they wouldn't need to sleep. The perfect solution for bodyguards and police officers, except the experiment failed. Mint survived the experiment and needs no sleep, but he has other side effects. When he can, he wanders the city as Orgood's agent, seeking out those who are infected so he can report back to Orgood, and adding to the numbers of infecteds every day.

Episode 8, Crossing the City: Desperate for the cash to see the Weave through the winter, Marrel accepts a job from a gang of infecteds. All it requires is some muscles and careful timing, smuggling a mysterious load of crates from one side of the city to another. But can she trust the other gang? That question is nothing to the mystery of the craft that will come and pick up the goods.

Episode 9, Calling in the Press: Inspired by a newspaper she stumbles across, Chels decides they need a news writer to speak for them, to tell people what the infections really are and who is responsible. Can she find a reporter willing to help, and if she does, is she ready for all the questions he will ask? Who in Spire City can she ever trust?

Episode 10, Lady Janshi's Treasure: On their way to help the Priestess Chemille with some work at her church, Williver, Pemisza, and Chels become lost in an old catacomb that wasn't part of Batan's maps. A strange mosaic on the floor recalls a much earlier city. And the work in the church also brings them face to face with history, a history that will tempt them, one way or another.

Episode 11, The Stranger: In the middle of a snowstorm, Sairen finds a man raving outside the Weave. He sings and shouts in a language none of them know. They'd leave him alone, except his singing might well draw attention to their hiding place, but how can they get him to go away? As they try to find an answer to that, some mysteries about the stranger reveal themselves and force Marrel's band to change their plans.

Episode 12, In Claw's Catacombs: Trying to protect the Weave and keep watch is stretching Marrel's band thin. They need more members, but where can they go to find them? At Williver's prompting they journey underground to seek out Claw, if he still lives. What they find is not at all what they were expecting.

Episode 13, Mint's Arrival: Despite all their caution, Mint has tracked down the residents of the Weave to their neighborhood. Mingling threats with subtle promises to anyone who will betray the infecteds, he is coming closer and closer to discovering where they live. And now he may have kidnapped an innocent, uninfected child. The time has come for a real confrontation, but who will prevail? Find out in the climactic finale of Season One: Infected.







Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Poetry Podcast at Strange Horizons

This month's poetry podcast is up at Strange Horizons. Well hosted by Anaea Lay and great to hear the other poems being read. This is the third time I've had a piece of mine narrated for a podcast, but the first time I've been the one doing the reading. People complaining about how their voice sounds in recordings is a trope by now...but it all comes back in full force when your own voice isn't just recorded but is out there for everyone to hear. Even despite the fact that I listened to my own recording a number of times before sending it in to be included...

Still, I'm pleased to be a part of this and despite that initial cringe of self-doubt, pleased with how my poem sounds as well. So give it a listen, and share the podcast with a friend or two.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Steam Poetry on the Darkside

Not "steamy"... Steam poetry is a poetic form in the city of Southwatch. Find out more here: http://thedarksidecodex.blogspot.com/2015/01/the-poetry-of-southwatch-volume-3.html

We've been creating various in-world things to go on the Darkside Codex blog--reports from the streets, alternate looks at the history of the city, etc. Given my post at The Oak Wheel earlier this month, I figured it made sense to take a look at Southwatch's poetry scene.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Duolingo review, Portuguese

Have no worries, I'm not making a habit of reviewing apps. But many people know I love languages, and I've spent the last year playing around with this app and just finished the final Portuguese lessons, so I thought I'd share my thoughts.

First, a bit of background to explain my experiences with learning languages. If you want the short version, I'm good with languages but no savant. If that's enough background, feel free to skip the next five paragraphs.

I didn't begin learning Spanish until my junior year of high school. I remember a brief vocabulary unit in grade school, and starting at age 9, I worked in the fields in the summer time, often interacting with migrant workers from Mexico, so I'd picked up a bit of (mostly inappropriate) words, but not much even there. My high school Spanish teacher had a reputation for pushing his students. Some responded very well, while others, even those who did well in other classes, really struggled. I did well. Usually, language teachers say each year of high school foreign language is the equivalent of only a semester at the college level, but after two years of high school Spanish I tested into third year college classes.

I went on to major in Spanish, spend a semester in Spain, worked part-time one semester for a Spanish-language newspaper in Grand Rapids, MI, and generally brought my ability to a pretty high level--reading, writing, speaking, listening, each of which can be a very different skill. I am not at the level of a native speaker, by any means, but fluent.

I was always interested in other languages as well...but had less success, especially when it came to trying to teach myself. At a friend's urging, I tried to learn Welsh at one point. That went nowhere. Just before my semester in Spain, I spent a month trying to learn Catalán and picked up...a bit. While there we were exposed to quite a bit of Valenciano, which some linguists consider a dialect of Catalán and many of its speakers consider a distinct language (a political debate I won't get into). Between the two, then, and with its similarities to castellano Spanish, I could understand moderately well the general gist of what people were saying. But I couldn't speak it beyond a few words. (¡Bona nit!) I also recall watching Italian- and Portuguese-language films and barely relying on the subtitles.

Near the end of college, I had some extra time in my schedule and decided to add another language. I wanted to learn Portuguese, but the only option there would have been an independent study, and the prof who might have done that couldn't that year. I was also tempted by Dutch because of my ancestry (and given the college I went to, it was actually an option), but I ended up taking French. It was easy. French is another romance language, so even if the pronunciation is markedly different, the grammatical rules and root words are often enough the same. Still, I only took one year of that, so I wasn't fluent in the least, but enough to muddle through a text or catch the drift of a discussion.

After college, I lived in Dearborn, MI for four years, and given the number of Arabic speakers who live there, decided to try to teach myself. That went barely farther than the Welsh I'd attempted earlier. I found the materials I got from the library just poorly arranged for how I processed things.

So that brings us to Duolingo. If you're unfamiliar with it, it's a free app that lets you learn any of a handful of languages. It actually has quite a few options for English learners coming from many different languages. At the time I installed it, I think the only options from English were German, Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Italian. Finally my chance to learn Portuguese!

After almost exactly a year, I've completed every exercise, and I'm very pleased with my understanding of Portuguese. I never really took advantage of the social competitive aspects of the gamification, but the quick mini lessons and interface worked well for me.

It helps that Portuguese is so similar to Spanish. There are differences, but generally even those differences follow a pattern, so once you notice one thing, it's easy to extrapolate to other vocabulary or grammar.

The app progresses through a number of topics, some vocabulary-related, some grammar-related. (I've only used it on my phone--there may be other aspects of the browser-based lessons that I missed.) Then each topic has anywhere from a few to ten lessons which you have to complete before you unlock the next topic. The lessons are a mix of translating from Portuguese into English, from English into Portuguese (sometimes by choosing and properly arranging words, sometimes just with a blank text box), identifying a word based on a picture, recalling a Portuguese word, and listening to a Portuguese speaker and transcribing what she says. The transcription has both a normal speed and a half-speed option, which is helpful. Really quite slick...most of the time.

Some of the grading gets confused at times, if you don't translate exactly how the app expects you to. Primarily the problems come up in translating from Portuguese into English rather than the other way around. It usually has some leeway for alternate translations, but sometimes it expects the English to be closer to a word-for-word translation even if no one would speak like that (or vice versa, if you try to guess an awkward translation because you think it's what the app expects). And sometimes the nonsense of the practice sentences might trip up some learners--"The bears write the letters" takes the cake there, though perhaps that's pedagogically intentional...

I probably spent anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes a day most days, during that time. As you go through the lessons, the earlier lessons will change color as you move away from them, to indicate that you need to practice some of the words or structures in them again. Early on, I was doing as many as five new lessons a day and keeping everything up to full strength. After a few months I gave up worrying about keeping earlier lessons at full strength, and I dropped to one or occasionally two lessons each day, and had more gaps where I missed a day or even two. For the final couple of months it's been more like two to three lessons each day, with occasional but rare missed days.

After a year, how does it compare? Most closely with my year of college French, actually, and far better than the other languages I attempted to teach myself. In the classroom setting, we did much more listening to the prof speaking French and much more speaking the words ourselves (something the app doesn't require at all--understandably, but to its detriment). So you definitely miss out on that. I made myself speak the Portuguese words as often as it made sense, but I'm still not creating, but reading/reciting sentences. So that's on the con side, but I'm actually quite impressed with how much of the grammar and structure the app teaches over the course of its lessons, more in fact than we ever got to in a year of French classes.

If I were faced with having to speak the languages, I'd probably have done better in French after a year of studying (not anymore--it's been, umm, a decade and a half...), but I think I'd read a Portuguese text better now than I would have been able to manage a French text. In fact, that's one of my next goals, to find some Portuguese stories and give them a read. (Preferably Brazilian Portuguese, as that's what the app teaches--if anyone has suggestions, let me know!) If I found myself in São Paolo, I think I could make myself understood. My pronunciation would undoubtedly be more Spanish than a native speaker's would, and I'd probably slip into some Spanish vocab now and then, if I forgot the Portuguese word. But I think it's at a point where I would just need to be in a situation where I had to use the language, and after a little while I'd feel pretty comfortable, though not anywhere near my comfort with Spanish.

Ah, but is that really much more than if I'd just gone to Brazil knowing Spanish? That's the big question I have now. The muddling around and confusion would have lasted longer, but remember I watched Portuguese films in college without too much difficulty.

So...now on to Dutch, which is one of a few languages that Duolingo has just added. Despite my ancestry and despite growing up in an area with a high concentration of people of Dutch descent, I know next to nothing of the language. Like English, it's a Germanic language, so in some ways I'm sure it will feel familiar. But I suspect it will be much more of a challenge than learning Portuguese was.

I'd love to hear how others have found the app for their language learning. And any other language related things that fits here--comment away.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

A great review for Spire City: Season One

I'm very pleased with this review of Season One.

Especially loving "Some of the imagery is mesmerizing and I thought the author did a wonderful job of giving me a sense of place."

And this: "The author has done a good job of crafting diverse male and female characters with strengths and weaknesses that worked well together. And their slow transformation into the animals they have been infected with is a constant reminder of how fragile and doomed their lives are."

Some valid criticisms as well, about the episodes not always having much to do with the underlying conflict with Orgood. There are reasons why I went the way I did. It goes back to comments I've made here about the balance of return-to-status-quo episodes and those that propel the longer arc of the stories. But it's certainly possible another approach would have worked better. As the series goes on, I think the looming confrontation with Orgood takes an increasingly central role.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A visit at Clarissa Johal's blog

All week Clarissa Johal is hosting other writers at her blog, with blurbs and excerpts, etc. I'm there today, so hop on over and share with your friends. Don't forget, also, the huge Darkside Codex giveaway which is going on this month. There's all the information there if you missed it when I posted here. And then keep visiting her blog all week for other great writers.