The Prisoner’s Dilemma

There’s this thought experiment in game theory called the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Wikipedia has a good write-up here. There’s a lot of argument about what a wise person would do, not knowing what the other person will do, and I often consider it while playing Diplomacy.

Game Theory doesn’t seem to address the fact that you can only betray your partner once. Then they will always betray you, and that’s the worst outcome. Often it is worth it to take a risk now so you don’t guarantee failure later.

That’s why I like playing series Diplomacy and not just one-offs. There’s a world of difference between a single game and a seven game series with the same people. They’ll remember a betrayal or a compromise. A lot of people in politics are blind to the notion that they’ll have to deal with these people in a few years and a few dacades.

More Flat Earth

In reality Flat Earthers usually aren’t grounded in whether or not the Earth is flat. They’re grounded in one of two points: the government is lying to them or the government/science people think they’re stupid.

If the government is lying to them, they just disbelieve everything the government says. Republicans did this under Obama, and Democrats are doing it under Trump. It’s the same kind of passion, only even more extreme. The Flat Earthers are just against whatever the government says, and NASA does say the Earth is round. Therefore, the Earth is Flat, QED. It’s not a cosmological theory; it’s a social theory. “Those people are lying!”

The other one is that science people called them stupid, so they just don’t believe anything. People do this all the time. If you tell someone smoking is stupid, the smokers will keep smoking just to show you. This is why people roll coal. A lot of people think sciency types told them they’re stupid, so they just refuse to agree on principle. This also happens a lot with vaccinations and GMOs. Like FE, they sorta feel right if you don’t explore the notion much. Again, social theory not physical.

You can argue physics and explore physics. You can’t argue that someone shouldn’t distrust the government or be insulted by physicists who call them stupid.

Anyway, imagine you have a boat and you go to the Pacific Northwest. You can sail fifty miles out to sea and see the mountains near Puget Sound. But you can’t go thousands of miles out to sea and see them. You should be able to if the Earth was flat. What’s more, again, when sailing east towards Puget Sound, the mountains will appear to rise. IF the Earth was flat, they’d just sort of appear out of darkness. This is not the case. They rise.

Geography of Treveriane

The Doonish plateau is a tectonic subcontinent moving south and subducting the great flatland plate that makes up Treveriane. To the north is the endless Fhysay, comprising more than half of the northern hemisphere. The Doonish plate moves at roughly two inches a year and is already piled on top of the Treveriane plate. Given the plateau’s youth and comparatively high-speed, it holds a distinct ecosystem. Life from the lowlands and deserts of the west and east, and south respectively have difficulty moving up, keeping the highlands ecologically separate. Average plateau elevation is between six and fifteen thousand feet above sea level, and the highest peak that has been measured is nearly twenty. The Palm, a midrange peak, has neighbors at least six thousand feet taller, and newcomers report breathing on the Palm is moderately difficult. Altitude sickness is known to be fatal. Generally the Doon’s highest plateaus are to the south of the central area, but the taller peaks are evenly distributed on the interior.

The subcontinent is defined by escarpments to the west, forming the walls separating the highlands from the lowlands. It is in these escarpments the canyon city of Ashirak crouches. Here the Treveriane plate is steadily sinking into the sea. The Bay of Dylath-Leen is a young sea, less than a millenia old, and deepening. Dylath-Leen itself is an old inland city that the sea has come for. Already it has become a port, and built on both plates, part of it sinks while other parts rise. The tallest peak on the escarpment is Rherm, which stands approximately ten thousand feet above the lowlands.

To the east the Doonish plate meets the great depression of the Karas. The center of the Karas depression is far below sea level, and the Doonish plate is climbing on top. It does not extend as far east as the Treveriane, and the rising floor of the Karas meets the eastern sides of the Fhysay in high cliffs. Without carefully examining rock layers and sedimentation, the distinction between Doon and Treveriane is difficult to see. The goblin-filled Typhanf Mountains that make up the barrier between the Karas and the Fhysay are a thin range elongated over thousands of miles. The peaks are far shorter than the mighty Doons but steeper. Made of softer rock, they are eroding faster and the canyons between them are deep, filled with the great trees on the south but bare on the north. The great Jymlin and Ghosthearts do not endure bitter winters well.

Directly south of the highlands are the flatlands of the Horned-Lords. Most terrain here is flat and blasted by heat. The prevailing winds run east to west, and therefore dump most of the moisture on the Arsae. The Arsae crests are famous for scavenging lower rain clouds from the sky. Thus little rain gets to the middle of Treveriane, a broad mix of equatorial grasslands and deserts. Rivers define ecological characteristics, but the rivers of the flatlands are notoriously changeable. Within a decade one can move tens of miles and deserts bloom while grasslands fall to gray dirt. The geographical oddity of the Gunerae hills which manacle the Gunnen River to a course and give it its name rise near the middle. Directly south of the Doon lies Wilno and the equally inexplicable Leng Plateau that rises as high as the Doon, separated from the subcontinent by roughly forty miles and completely distinct geology.

Far to the southeast of Wilno and the Doon plateau lie the elvish cities. Their forests follow the coast as it sweeps south and finally west, crossing the equator and catching the southern equatorial westerlies. The far southern coast is mostly smaller scrub and pine, existing between prevailing winds. The Knifehead deserts meet the Krassich ocean south of the Languid. Farther east lies the Emerald Ocean and Korgan. Meanwhile the Treveriane coast begins to sweep north as it continues west, passed the Spur of Tems and the Spike before cutting due north. There, in the Ungale Ngalnek, is the hottest of the flatlands. Tropical storms in the Korgan tend to move east to west, but upon passing the Spur and Spike, sometimes shank hard right, hooking around to smash the Ungale coast. This land is thus desert known to receive torrential downpours and unimaginable flooding. Rainstorms dropping more than three feet of rain within a few days are not uncommon.

K.R.I.S. – First Impact by Herrick Erickson 2/2

Herrick reached out to me on after he started two series. The first, A Scholar’s Journey, is complete. It’s available at Patreon here. I don’t have a book or ebook link. The second is KRIS – First Impact which is still ongoing. I offered some advice about dialogue, and he said he would like it for First Impact.

Anyone who reads and subscribes to my material may get a chapter’s worth of extensive C&C. I hope this is useful and productive.

Chapter 1 consists of three total conversations, the first I addressed yesterday. The second one is the most important, and the third should be the most exciting.

Preliminarily, I’d put the description of Dane between the guards talking and his holo message with Hale. Otherwise it’s a bit far from where it becomes useful, and I had a scroll a few times to recall who was talking. Likewise, the quote at the very beginning which introduces Hale was an odd place to introduce characters. I also thought Haley and Kaylee were the same person, and Hale, Kaylee, and Haley are very close names. Maybe switch that up a bit so they’re not so phonetically similar?

Also preliminarily, grammar and syntax: “They Killed Kaylee!” Killed shouldn’t be capitalized. Dialogue, specifically direct quotes, usually takes its own paragraph. Don’t stuff description and dialogue in the same paragraph, especially not if they’re on dissimilar ideas. Later: “Kaylee,” he gasped. “No!” he yelled <- is redundant and repetitive. Remove the 'he yelled.' The mantra Dane repeats to himself should not have the same punctuation as a direct quote, because it becomes unclear if it's being said out loud. There's no speech attribution, but it's got the double quote marks of a direct quote.

But what is said here works much better. Hale's internal conflict is visible and accessible. The words themselves do a good job of displaying his anguish, and I'd rely on the strength there instead of explicitly stating it later. Hale also has a good description. I can pin that name and face to an identity. I'd put Dane's big No closer to Hale saying they killed her, because as is there's a pause and Hale's moved on to other topics before Dane let's loose. Again, I would condense that paragraph (the one where Kaylee is killed and Aiden disappears) into one idea. Right now Hale talks about some problems and goes into his 'I need you' Dane bit. Those are distinct ideas. Let Dane react to Kaylee dying and have his freakout.

Also, names so far are Hale, Haley, Kaylee, Dane, and Aiden. Syntex breaks the streak, but those are too many names too close together.

Dane escapes with hacker help, and then we finally get the description of the guards. But this is long after the guards are introduced. They shoot him, and the narrative goes back to that attempted de-escalation. The officer says don't shoot the prisoner, and now the stakes of Dane's escape are lowered. I assume you're going to raise them next chapter, but again, you've got to set your hooks in the first chapter. Very challenging to maintain excitement. Also, Dane says that was a "fatal mistake" right after the officer says don't kill the prisoner. So Dane's the killer, but he's also got the nannites, so he comes across as the unstoppable bad guy trying to kill the good guys. The whole thing is very jumbled.

In general, the dialogue needs to be simplified. The first few paragraphs of Hale speaking have multiple speech attributions and statements and descriptions in a single paragraph, and that is difficult to read. Descriptions of people should be close to those people talking. The flow needs to follow ideas. Again, going back to Hale's BIG REVEAL, Kaylee is dead, presumably Hale is deeply upset about that too. But he rushes past it. Hale needs to react to what he says and Dane needs to react too.

That came across as being far more negative than I meant. My objective here is to help you improve, and I focused on what should be improved. But I'd like to point out a few things that worked well.

Hale saying come to me is perfect. It sets up the immediate plot and an immediate bit of direction. The next few chapters have a clear idea, and as a reader, I know what's going on and I know why.

Syntex opening the cell is fine. Gets things moving, develops the bit of help Dane needs to get working, and now the actiony stuff can take place without a series of 'how did he get out of the cell' questions. That's good, and establishes Syntex for later. It's good to have characters in the wings for later use.

Hale's internal conflict, anger at Dane for abandoning him and presumably Kaley/Halee, is good. Got some characterization there, and the conflict makes it interesting. Dane's aside that he can't pilot a shuttle is also perfect. Adds danger.

The setting is cool. I like the idea of orbital prisons, so I'm interested in seeing the details of where this thing is, who runes it, the cool technobabble and futuretech within. That's a good hook to drag your readers along.

I think you have some potential here. Good luck, and I hope this helps.

K.R.I.S. – First Impact by Herrick Erickson 1/2

Herrick reached out to me on after he started two series. The first, A Scholar’s Journey, is complete. It’s available at Patreon here. I don’t have a book or ebook link. The second is KRIS – First Impact which is still ongoing. I offered some advice about dialogue, and he said he would like it for First Impact.

Anyone who reads and subscribes to my material may get a chapter’s worth of extensive C&C. He subbed Bloodharvest so here goes. I hope this is useful and productive.

C&C for Herrick
Your number one objective in writing is make the reader care. Through dialogue you have a few tools to do this.

The first is empathy. Your reader will follow a character’s emotions at least a little bit, and more or less depending on how the character is presented. (While there are exceptions, they usually involve odd situations or a lot of setup.) In an intro chapter like this, you want the reader to care about the story. As such always have the characters care. Never have them dismissive or apathetic about the plot, because the readers will empathize with the characters and thus not care about your story.

The beginning of your story gets exciting a few pages in with the introduction of Hale. The first part is just rounds. But since you’re using dialogue to introduce the setting (This is a great choice, btw), you need to make two guards making rounds interesting. This is another form of making the reader care, so you want to use more tricks.

The next trick is use the power of names. People attach memories and importance to names. I’m not talking about anything mystical; I’m talking about the fact that if someone knows someone else’s name or a character’s name, caring about that person or character is a little easier. The two guards need names and descriptions, and those names and descriptions need to be interesting, because we need to care about them enough to read about two guards making rounds.

Who are the guards? I need detail. The first should be name, the second rank (just because you invoke one calling another sir and in the military, that’s a rank thing). So Private Smith and Lieutenant Jones need nametags or something. Most uniforms have them. This also gives you an inroad to describing the guards. Keep it brief unless they’re going to be important characters, but we need a few details.

In terms of detail, specific is almost always better than general.

So Private Bob Smith’s khaki uniform needs to be excessively clean and pressed, his weapon, the newly issued assault rifle with Micron Optic and double-mags, should be slung in a single-point sling, and his head shaved to perfection. Lt Marian Jones needs to be ten kilograms overweight, rough-shaven, and his slacks and jacket have faded until they’re different colors. He’s unarmed except for a holstered gel-wand that hasn’t been drawn in so long it has lint stuck in it. Lt Jones clearly doesn’t own an iron, much less has used one on his uniform since mankind reached the stars.

Obviously I’m making all this up, but see how it’s fast, specific, and identifiable? Smith and Jones are now people. That description also sets up the discussion of weapons later. Call-back details like that reward the reader and encourage investment.

Now into the dialogue itself.

First, regarding point 1, never have another character tell the first one to relax or not care unless you want the reader to empathize with the second character who is about to emphatically care. Lt Jones needs to be telling Pvt Smith how deadly these killers are. He needs to be telling Smith to never let his guard down. Prisoner Dane might look innocent, but no one on this block is innocent. He is a seriously bad dude. It’s a damn shame they’re not allowed to shoot to kill. If Lt Jones had his way they wouldn’t shoot first and ask questions later, they’d shoot first and reload.

Secondly, don’t shift gears suddenly, especially not this early. The officer tells the newbie that Dane does nothing but workout and eat, but then says he’s dangerous. That’s a shift. Set it up so working out and eating is dangerous. Make mention of the nanites if you can. That’s a good detail, so use it. Likewise, later, the newbie mentions this is an orbital prison where no one has escaped in twenty years. Then he suddenly asks what’s the prisoner’s name. Massage that a little so it’s one thought.

Suggest: “But sir!”

“Didn’t I say don’t call me sir?” asked Lt Jones, looking away and above Smith’s head.

Pvt Smith was too excited to stop. “Sir, no one’s escaped from Orbital Prison 6 in twenty years. There’s no chance that prisoner—” Smith paused to look up the prisoner’s name in his datasheet. “—Dane could be the first!”

See how that’s one thought and it escalates? It drags the reader into caring. Notice also how Pvt Smith is the newbie learning about the setting, like us readers, and he cares, like you want us readers to do? Jones reiterates that he doesn’t like being called sir, the callback that reinforces investment, and is very speciifcally dismissive about only that, not the plot as a whole? The reader is rewarded and encouraged to care about the plot.

On the subject of escalation, it’s an old rule of thumb that the author should always be raising the stakes. It’s a good rule of thumb. Build, build, build. If your characters get more and more excited, they’ll drag the readers along too.

Look, as a reader I want to be excited. I want to care about your story. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t read it and I’d be writing VHDL for work. I’m not doing that. I want to be dragged away. Give me an excuse.

Speaking of, the orbital prison is a good detail. Support it. Add cool space-age details. Don’t wait until the next chapter, because you’ve got to hook your readers now. Throw some zero-g around, or make everything green. Add awesome. Have a window that overlooks the sun to demonstrate the space station isn’t even in orbit over a habitable world. Raise the stakes.

Part One

Maps – The Ungale

The Ungale Ngalnek

About the same age as before. It adjoins the map of the lowlands of Ashirak on the previous map’s southern edge, this map’s northern edge.

The Red Guard and Greater Ashirai Empire naming and forms of address

The Red Guard call themselves Swordsmen or Reds, with Swordsmen (always capitalized) being the more formal term. Reds is diminutive and used by Swordsmen addressing Swordsmen. It is also used externally, but generally as an affront. At the very least it’s considered rude.

The nomenclature of the Red Guard is complex. The enlisted order of rank is Junior Swordsman, File Leader Swordsman, and Senior Swordsman. Junior Swordsmen and File Leaders are addressed by the Ashirai word for Swordsmen, Ve, placed before their name as a prefix. Junior Swordsman Pittin would be referred to as Ve Pittin, and upon being promoted to File Leader, his form of address is officially unchanged. A Senior Swordsman is called Svir, as in Svir Garin. Swordsmen omit titles for lower or equal ranked enlisted when talking informally, so Svir Garin would address File Leader Pittin as Pittin, and two junior Swordsmen would address each other by their names alone. File Leader Pittin speaking with Junior Swordsman Aryst would call him, ‘Aryst’ while Aryst would address File Leader Pittin as ‘Ve Pittin’ (He doesn’t because they’re on name basis*). This promotion is called making the Ve. File Leaders may also be called Stones. Senior Swordsmen are called by Svir by others of the same rank as well, but the less formal Head is also used. So Ve Pittin could be called Stones, and Svir Garin could be called Head. These forms of address are most common when the speaker does not know the other’s name.

The First Svir of a legion is a separate rank higher than Svir, and there is no informal means of address. A First Svir is called First Svir. Since there’s only one per legion, the presumption is that the speaker knows the appropriate name. If the speaker doesn’t, the name of the Legion, First, Second, Third, etc. may be appended as in First Svir Second Legion, but this is rarely necessary. Each city in the Ashirai empire provides one legion, so First Svir almost always provides sufficient specificity.

Red Officers are called by their titles. All officers are nobility, and therefore use an independent and complex hierarchy. Since the ruler of the Ashirai Empire is currently the Baron of Dylath-Leen and intent on keeping that title due to political reasons, the normal chain is broken. Noble sons that did not inherit the family titles, ie most Red Officers, use military ranks. Roughly, low officers are War Marshals, Higher Officers are Field Marshals, and the highest are Generals. However the Baron of Baroon is an active Red officer as are the Lords of Van and Tyr. Of note is that the Baron of Baroon is not the ruler of Baroon, a city of Lords with a King, whereas Baron Dylath-Leen rules Dylath-Leen.

In the Ashirai Empire it is common for the ruler of a city to take the name of the city. Thus Baron Dylath-Leen is the proper form of address for the ruler of that city. The Ashirai Emperor himself DOES NOT call himself Emperor Ashirak because Baron Dylath-Leen won’t let him. Baron Dylath-Leen does this to keep the latter in his place.

There is another Red rank: Al, the Swordmaster. What exactly Al means is a matter of some dispute.

*A special but enlightening case is the matter of Pittin and Aryst being on name basis. Pittin briefly tried to make Aryst call him Ve Pittin, but Aryst got him drunk and won his rank in a game of dice. The rank in this case was Pittin’s physical rank, two steel orbs (ne stones) on a plate to be worn affixed to the red cloak collar that Red Guards wear as a uniform. Aryst could have shown the rank to the paymaster and requested Pittin’s salary. If he tendered the stones, he could have drawn both his and Pittin’s salary for a year. The paymaster would then have endeavored to find out which File Leader lost their rank, and if successful, Pittin would have been demoted to Junior Swordsman. Furthermore, Pittin would be blacklisted for later promotions. On Pittin waking up, Aryst put it to him plainly, and Pittin forswore ever making the Junior Swordsmen give him his Ve again in exchange for returning his stones. A year drawing two salaries is a lot of money.

The Barons of Ashirak

The City of Ashirak, seen in yesterday’s map, is a canyon city between the lowlands and the high. A long embankment facing the prevailing winds from over the ocean makes climbing to the Doon plateau tricky under most circumstances. The winding canyon of Ashirak is one of the easier ways up and down. Because the ravine is bent in three places, winter snowstorms coming off the Fhysay and over the Bay of Dylath-Leen cannot blast the road. There is some measure of protection. Beginning as a trade point and financed by one of the ancient wonders of Pallas, the Clockwork Locks, Ashirak grew to financial prominence and expanded into conquest.

By law the Emperor resided at Ashirak to keep an eye on the source of money. However no one is so rich they can’t waste their money, and roughly one hundred years before Varad came to the Red Guard, the Baron of Dylath-Leen took the throne in a power play. In order to keep the Red and White guards from getting involved, the Baron provided plausible deniability in the form of political cover. To wit, the baron did not take the mantle of emperor. The emperor remained at Ashirak. It was merely a baron in Dylath-Leen.

The Baron’s power came from controlling the ocean trade. Between Dylath-Leen and Ashirak are two roads, the old and new. The old ran through the mountains, but this rendered it vulnerable to mountain interference. Recently the Baron of Dylath-Leen built the New Road. Staying safely in the lowlands, this allows him to control what gets to Ashirak and effectively irrigate or parch the Emperor’s fields of trade.

In order to maintain treaties with the highlanders, the fiction of sovereignty of the Ashirai Emperors is maintained.

Amazon Author Page

I’ve set up an author page at Amazon, Matthew Miller. I’m not entirely sure what to put in there.

One of the reasons people post so much politics on Twitter, Facebook, etc. is that we have these platforms to spread our voices, but we don’t always have something to say. Let me pick on myself. I would like to tell people about writing, the worlds, the process, etc, but a lot of that honestly isn’t that interesting. It’s not even ‘you don’t want to know how the sausage is made’ but rather ‘I spent an hour figuring out how to move Helen into the same room as her siblings.’ This is the stuff I love. This means something to me, but you, as readers, probably aren’t that interested in my thought process, and you’re certainly not as interested as I am. Blocking out a scene can take days as an extreme but not infrequent case. Hours are typical. Especially if the scene isn’t otherwise clear, and I’ve gotten pushback on it. YOU don’t want to read six hours of me thinking about who’s in which chair.

I do want to keep the blog/social media going. And thus I’ve got to say something. So I jump to my B-line of thoughts, and most of that isn’t that interesting either. I just tweeted about beans and rice because I’m hungry. (Breaking news: Matt hungry). I could tweet about the gym or the weather. None of that sounds particularly intriguing.

So we drop to the C-line of thought: politics and global finance. If you want engagement, you need to put an emotion behind the post, but most of those C-line thoughts aren’t emotional. The stuff that really gets me going is the A and B lines, which is writing, eating, and the job. So it’s back to politics, and if you want to put an emotion in there, you find something to be outraged about or something to fanatically defend. Cynically, those are raging and virtue signalling.

I don’t have a solution. The Amazon page is pretty lean.

Working hard at Bedtime Stories. Too cold for motorcycling.