What’s the Point of an RPG Without a Main Villain? How Ultima IV Changed the Game Published at Tor.com

Daniel Casey:

I adored this game as a kid. I think I even made weird side notes & early fan fiction from it. Great article

Originally posted on The Whimsy of Creation: The Blog of Tieryas:


One of the most important and compelling games I ever played was about you being a good person. In Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar, you helped the poor, sacrificed blood, defended the weak. There was no main villain, no prince or princess to rescue. You had to become a a good person. Period. It was an inspiration growing up and an honor to write about it for Tor.com. It’s funny as I think about the game, all the hours poured into it. Bits and pieces from the essay which I explored in the format of the eight virtues which comprise the avatar, like compassion:

The homeless and the sick exist in most of the towns of Britannia. One of them is dying of bubonic plague and looks so pitiful as he begs for money. No matter how much money you give him, he’s still there every day. I know…

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The World As We Know It: The Races of Syr Nebra

I’ve been rather short on writing substantive posts on my fantasy series Ascendant Realms. But, since I just released book two, Winterfinding, I thought now would be a good time to expand details of the world.


There are no elves or dwarves or orcs or ogres or wizards in Syr Nebra. There are only people, humans. Within humanity there is a myriad of races. Often when we read we imagine the characters (unless we are told otherwise) as white. It’s an ingrained, insidious form of racism that can’t be simply done away with or ignored. It’s especially an issue in fantasy, a genre that is virtually synonymous with white men. 

Forcing people of color into a narrative doesn’t resolve the issue. But shouldn’t the issue be addressed? Shouldn’t fantasy writers strive not to throw stereotypes into characters by simply saying that those characters are ‘elves’ or ‘dwarves’ or ‘hobbits?’ Or ignore the issue altogether? I think responsible world building requires one to not just acknowledge the issue but grapple with it. I’ve tried to address my own concerns. I think I’ve done so rather clumsily, here and in my fiction. But no one ever got better by not trying.

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Get to Know the Arab Authors on 2015 Man Booker International ‘Finalists List’

Daniel Casey:

I went out to my library after the Man Booker finalists were announced with the intention of getting the two most recent books by each. I realized in my days of editing Gently Read Literature that I had already read some Hoda Barakat (even though I failed to generate enough reviews of her work).

I was only able to get Amitav Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies and The Hunger Tide. So here is perhaps the best English language Arabic Literature blog out there providing some much needed info.

Originally posted on Arabic Literature (in English):

The 2015 Man Booker International announced its ten-strong “finalists list” today, and — unsurprisingly, since the judging committee is chaired by Marina Warner and includes Arabist Wen-chin Ouyang — it includes two very worthy authors who write in Arabic:

Finalists - web images2This year will mark the sixth Man Booker International Prize, which is granted in odd years, and awards an author from anywhere in the world £60,000 for his or her achievements in fiction — although the author’s work must be available in English.

Celebrated Lebanese writer Hoda Barakat and much-awarded Libyan novelist Ibrahim al-Koni are the second and third Arabic-writing novelists to make the MBI “finalists list,” after Naguib Mahfouz (who had already won the Nobel Prize) in the prize’s inaugural year, 2005.

Also on the finalists list this year is prominent Anglophone Indian writer Amitav Ghoshwho has said, “I’d say I’m one of the few non-Arab writers who’s read a…

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Winterfinding: Ascendant Realms, Book Two

I’ve finished the second book, Winterfinding, in my epic fantasy series Ascendant Realms.

The first, Adversaries Together, didn’t do poorly. At least, I didn’t have any real expectations. My only desire was to write the story and get it out there so that it was more meaningful than just being forgotten on my computer. As of today, Adversaries Together has sold 35 paperback copies, 34 Kindle copies, and 731 free Kindle copies for a total of 800 copies overall.

I think that’s a damn good number for a book that’s only been available since November 4th, 2014 (nearly five months) and had more than a few glitches. I need to thank Jessica Bazely-Utrup and Logan Ryan Smith (a proper fiction author who’s book you should read) for doing some post-production proofreading. I’m hoping to make available a ‘2nd edition’ of Adversaries Together in April.

My hopes for Winterfinding are modest. Shorter in length and priced lower, I would suspect that it would sell just as well as the first book in the series. There’s also the belief that since so many free copies were downloaded a portion of those people would want the sequel. However, I’m not going to hold my breath.

I think Winterfinding is a better story. Going into it my goal was to focus in on a couple of characters in order to give readers a bit more of a connection with them. As I wrote, the book became dominated by Jena Char’s story. The tough woman ranger became an excellent foil for not only advancing the plot but humanizing the characters. This, at least, was my hope.

Continuing to write the series has been a pleasure. Is it high art? No. But I’m pleased with the work I’m doing, and I think it’s improving. It’s very enjoyable getting lost in crafting a story. Even now I’m working out notes for book three, which I hope to have ready in the autumn.

Winterfinding, Paperback 

Winterfinding, Kindle


Back flap summary:

Winterfinding, book two of the Ascendant Realms series, picks up after where Adversaries Together left off.

After defeating the pirate mercenary Asa Salda, Avery Roth leaves his new allies and goes north to deliver to his elders–the mysterious Caretakers–the orphaned child Colm. Meanwhile, Jena Char erases any traces of the group to prevent or stall any further bounty hunters.

Wynne Landis has gone to the seat of the world’s dominate religion, The Cathedral in the city of Sulecin, in the hopes of negotiating an end the siege of his home city of Rikonen. His daughter Fery stays by the side of the fallen paladin Goshen Staad, the mercenary Declan Rainway, and the priestess Kira Ambrose as they discover more about who is pursuing them and why.

All the while, the Seven Spires has amassed an army set to conquer Rikonen with The Cathedral’s blessing. But before it can set out on its war path, intrigue unsettles The Cathedral as word arrives of an armada from the far southern nation of Lappala.

Do they want war? Trade? Or something else?

Foodiesphere: One-Pan Shakshuka With Feta

I’ve had a lull lately in my cooking. Not really experimenting or learning anything new, just sort of making the same stuff. Well, kinda. Or, not really. I had a week were I attempted to fry fritters and patties. That was a disaster. I can’t seem to get pan frying down. I can saute like a boss, but pan frying I always fuck up. What I make is edible, it’s just doesn’t turn out the way I want it to and I lose my shit.

So yesterday I turned towards my strength–sauteing. Much like my menemen recipe, this shakshuka recipe drew me in with its promise of eggs and peppers. The major difference between these two dishes, the menemen is a tad sweet and the shakshuka has a nice heat to it.

This is a Tunisian dish popular in Israel and the whole of North Africa (Libya, Morocco, Algeria,  & Egypt). There are also variations of it in Yemen and Turkey. In fact, the version I’m making is a bit Balkan (at least, according to my one Albanian friend). I love one-pan recipes and this turned out well, the feta really works great with the spices.


Shakshuka with Feta


  • Olive oil
  • Onion
  • 2 red bell peppers
  • 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon cumin (I was more liberal with my cumin & paprika, but at least a teaspoon each)
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 cans (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes
  • teaspoon salt
  • teaspoon black pepper
  • 12 ounces feta cheese crumbles
  • 6-7 eggs 


Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Finely chop onion and add with chopped bell peppers and garlic once the pan is hot. Saute until fragrant and soft (at least 15 minutes). Add spices (cumin, paprika and cayenne) and stir well for about a minute. Pour in tomatoes adding salt and pepper to taste. Stir the whole thing letting it simmer for at least 10 minutes. The mixture should thicken slightly and once it does add feta. Once you’ve mixed the feta in, create a few pockets where you can crack the eggs into. With the eggs cooking, I like to reduce the heat a bit and cover the pan so that they poach, which takes about 10 minutes.


An Opiate of the Masses: March Madness becomes Marx Madness

Bounce soccer makes me sad. I mean, basketball makes me sad. But I’m not going to begrudge someone watching or cheering for a particular sport. We all have our preferences. The only thing I’ll really get twisted about is when people claim driving around in a circle is sport (NASCAR) or that something that can be done stoned, in your pajamas, and listening to your iPod is a sport (snowboarding).

Mostly, I loathe college sports. There’s nothing redeeming about the NCAA. Few people dare admit this, fewer still in the media. I love John Oliver but I’d rather see him do twenty minutes exploring the unapologetic sexual assault that the NCAA condones and fosters than grouse about pay.

All this ignores the fact that NCAA shouldn’t even exist. It does exactly zero good for athletes, students, faculty, and higher education. It’s an organization that fleeces the public and can do so because it sells them soma.

So with that in mind, let’s re-appropriate March Madness. The good people over at Marx Madness have done just that with their parody bracket of Marxist thinkers, activists, and politicians.

The Round of 32 is over. It’s time fore The Socialist Sixteen.

So here are my picks:

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Aqueously Acquiesce: The First Farewell to LFK Mixtape

My wife made it official today, taking a tenure-track job at Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky. Finally getting a real professorship is a genuine feat. She’s been working at it for years. I’m glad I could buttress her efforts. I’ll continue to do so in Murray because, well, there’s no there there. The chances of me finding work is slim to none. So further house-spousing.

So here’s the first of the farewell to Kansas mixtapes. I will miss Lawrence. Kansas is a terrible state but Lawrence is pleasant.

Track list:

My Brightest Diamond, Pressure
Wild Beasts, Wanderlust
Diagrams, Dirty Broken Bliss
SW/MM/NG, Some Dreams Come True
Oscar, Daffodil Days
El Perro del Mar, An Eye For Gold
Jarryd James, Do You Remember
Buscabulla, Metele

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