Monday, May 8, 2023

Is it Appendix N worthy material? The Sword Itself by Joe Abercrombie (Review & my Appendix N)

This is part 2 of our book review series. "Our" meaning that Eric Diaz over at the wonderful blog Methods & Madmen and yours truly started readig books together and share our thoughts about them on our respective blogs. I'm a little late for this one, so this one better be good. What I can say up front is that I did NOT like the book, and I could go on in detail why it is objectively bad just by comparing it with the book I read after The Blade Itself, which was Ravenheart by David Gemmell ... A book so much better, the thought Abercrombie is a younger author, standing on those mighty shoulders just to take a piss, almost brought me to tears. Instead of  being negative about a bad book, I'll also offer my Appendix N at the end. Never did that for some reason, and this is a good opportunity.


Before I start doing my thing and embrace my feelings for this grotesque mockery of a "dark fantasy story", you might want to go and check out Eric's take on the book here.

If you are just here for the Appendix N, and not for the rant, please feel free to scroll down to that part.

Kudos for writing a book, champ ...

I'm not trying to be cute here. Writing a book, quality not withstanding, is a HUGE task. If you manage that, and even end up with something close to coherent, you deserve praise. There are no two ways about it. It shows dedication and stamina. But to write an atrocity like "The Blade itself" and end up being called an "authority" in the dark fantasy genre is a bit much. Gemmell could have written circles around the guy after having a stroke, it's so bad.

Calm, calm, calm ... All I'm saying is, we have very capable fantasy authors out there writing good books, even setting new standards. Go as far back as the pulps and you already get Burroughs and Lovecraft and Howard and Turner and Moorcook and Farmer and even Heinlein. Add Lewis Carroll and C. S. Lewis to that and don't forget Tolkien, Peake and Ursula K. Le Guin, voices so strong, they shaped fantasy for centuries to come.

All of them providing more than enough reading material to have you set for a long time before you have any need to look for something good next. And an even longer time before your eyes should fall on Abercrombie's atrocity.

There is free amateur translated Chinese fantasy out there that is better than this shit. Microsoft AI could write a better novel than that, it's that bad.

Anyway, there is better. You go contemporary, you'll find Pratchett there on the high throne all things fantasy. There's also Robert Jordan worth mentioning, as well as Neil Gaiman (although they'd be on different ends of a spectrum that could be considered "fantasy"). Simon R. Green has some very solid entries into the genre, and there are Joel Rosenberg, Garth Nix, Paul Kearney and Philip Pullman to check out as well. Or have you seen what Piers Anthony is offering? Roger Zelazny needs to be on this list, too!

And that's just a superficial look at my book shelves, not even going beyond the native English authors. There's lots of great French fantasy, for instance (if you can track down the books by Gilles Servat, for instance, that's good reading), Poland has a strong scene as well (the Witcher series is quite popular, it seems), and Germany isn't that bad either (Cornelia Funke, Wolfgang Hohlbein, Kai Meyer, Walter Moers ...). Doesn't matter where you go, you'll find something that shines more than this turd. Even if you use google translate to read them, you'd end up having a better reading experience.

It's that bad.

You just want it dark? There's also lots to read: G. R. R. Martin has his cult following, Steven Erikson's Malazan series is among the best dark fantasy you could read, Glen Cook wrote lots of great dark fantasy (although I really love his Garrett P. I. series more). And David Gemmell is up there, of course. As is Stephen R. Donaldson.

What gets a good book recognized? Time!

I always loved to read. Right now I manage to read round about 40 books a year. It'd been more for a long time, it'd been less for a bit of time. I'm also, as you might know, a bookseller. One of the things you learn when becoming a bookseller in Germany is that every category has its jewels, its great books. Doesn't matter if travel or IT or fantasy or, say, women's books, you look long enough, you'll find something worth your while (although I always found it strange that women get their own category of books while men don't).

Another thing is the idea of fixing prices for books, which we still have in Germany. That's a good thing, and I'll tell you why as well. For one, big publishers cannot strong-arm small publishers out of business with price dumping. Seen the other way around, small publishers can make a living with their products and that leads to more diversification. It gives people a chance who wouldn't have one otherwise, which leads to an enrichment in culture.

And those publishers do get their chance here. Maybe less so than 20 years abo, but they still do. Book fairs, for instance, are great for the small press, the book sellers still go through all the catalogues and complimentary copies they get sent, and there still are solicitors sent by publishers that aim to shine a light on new books we'd miss otherwise ... 

... because here's the thing: in Germany we get round about 90.000 new publications per year. Books, all of them. There are school books and all that jazz among them, but still, it is a humongous amount of books. If you were just to trust the industry, you could, for a long time, see a process at work

  • where people write a book, then
  • go to find a publisher (first gate to filter out trivel like that Abercrombie book)
  • if, done, have the book edited, printed and marketed (another filter, if a finer one ... your book may come out, but without getting some love from the publisher, so no one notices), then
  • book sellers get their dirty paws on it, maybe read it (sometimes even before publication), maybe give it a special place in their shop with higher visibility, maybe recommend it, and then
  • people buy it and read it and, ideally, talk about it or buy it again as presents for others or review it, to finally
  • the book gaining some profile in the general public.

And that is a lot of rings to jump through. Usually, the way it is set up, it might be hard on authors, as they have to actually manage to carve out a place among other well established authors, old or contemporary, but for a culture it is what you'd want to have, as (ideally) you'd build excellence on excellence.

Now, we know that things have never been easy like that. You'd have phases of (unfounded) elitism surrounding literature, you'd have societal trends that bring specific needs that wouldn't last but earn a pretty buck in short terms. And still, over time those established systems would produce results. Quality (usually) will be recognized over time.

Nowadays it is somewhat different, however, as all active elements in the list above try to subvert that system for as long as it exists, obviously. We also experience a severe form of cultural stagnation right now as the mainstream will not stop ruminating the last 40 years of the 20th century. To a degree where the only innovation in that regard seems to be to charge old ideas with new ideologies. Established publishers are not immune to those trends, and it shows.

Add to that desktop publishing and self publishing and all the other new and beautiful ways that allow authors to directly market to their audience ... with all the good and bad that entails.

But the far bigger problem, the problem that allowed for something like The Blade Itself to not only be published, but even gaining popularity, is that publishers try to sell us the same ideas again and again by claiming it'd be something "new". It is why you don't see as much Pratchett or Gemmell in book shops anymore. They are dead, so there won't be any new books written by them, which is why they aren't presented as options anymore.

In a way, The Blade Itself is what 60 years of cultural incest looks like. The good genes authors like Tolkien provided diluted over time into something that lacks in every capacity. And that The Hype Machine (tm) never looks back and compares, well, looking at D&D 5e we know what that looks like. Reviewers want free shit and money, they don't really care what they are hustling. Or even what they are saying, most of the time. It's only always just about pushing the next hype in order to milk it.

And it needs to happen fast, too. Good example for that was the finale of Game of Thrones the tv show. You could see what disregarding quality in order to keep the pace HBO deemed necessary lead to: a total train wreck, with the author of the book series not even having a say in how it's going down nor getting a chance to have his final book in the series published.

See what I mean? You can't take 4 years to write a book. You need to have published at least 2 books a year to get a chance.

Those cycles are so fast right now, the only thing still working properly in recognizing something worthwhile is time combined with the experience to sniff out bullshit before buying it. Most of the time that means taking a step or two back from what's happening in book shops and forums, and branching off from titles you know instead. What did authors like who wrote books you liked? What did they recommend? Find opinions you can trust (actually one of the original functions of booksellers, believe it or not), go it from there.

That's at least what I'm doing ... Even so, every now and then you'll encounter a stinker like The Blade Itself. Which is okay, as long as you learn from it and adapt. In this case, I really hope Abercrombie got better in his later books, but I won't find out until some very compelling evidence emerges that it's not all unjustified hype. Same goes for Brandon Sanderson, btw. Another highly overrated fantasy author I won't touch anymore after reading one of his abysmal books.

Sanderson is also bad memories ... [source]
You might wonder at this point what has me so riled up, so here are some highlights. All the characters are one dimensional, there is no development at all, there is no growth or interaction. A character is one thing, and that's what they are throughout. Since they are all "dark" in addition to being flat, you'll end up only getting the superficial trifle of unlikable people.

The world building is atrocious. You have pseudo Scandinavians in the north, pseudo Renaissance in the middle and pseudo Persian in the south, all of them portrayed as their worse cliches and with a bit of magic mixed in to cut even more corners. No variety, no color, no depth just arrogantly uneducated surface perceptions. Not only is it a very low resolution understanding of history, it is also in almost all cases the most boring choice of world building imaginable (a modicum of research would have rectified that, but even that seemed too much effort).

The story is so flat, it can be summarized in two sentences. Instead it is spread over more than 500 pages. And nothing happens. If something interesting happens, it does so between chapters. Example: There's a big fight scene, built up for over two hundred pages ... and it is skipped. What we get, as far as combat goes, is uninspired at best. The dialogue is lacking as well. And all of it is riddled with stupid cliches. The king is fat and unable to function, so others do his job, but they are corrupt meanies ... Oh, also no relevant female characters worth mentioning.

And don't get me started with the "monsters" this book tries to establish. One is introduced in the first chapter, the so-called "flatheads". But they are neither described nor distinguishable from humans and we learn only some 400 pages later that they are supposed to be the creation of some evil wizard back when ... So they are something like orcs. But actually, they are not established beyond being a MacGuffin. No culture, no color, no details ... you get my drift.

As for being "delightfully evil" as the Guardian seems to put it (and whatever that is supposed to mean, btw), I couldn't agree less. Nothing in this book is "evil". I've seen evil (listen to her story, for instance ... the part with the dog? that's pure evil), this ain't it, and I actually despise people that try to make "evil" look "cool". Who wouldn't after seeing what evil does?

It is an awful book. Not recommended, and people doing so should be regarded with suspicion, imho.

Concessions ...

Let me be clear: I don't regret one word I wrote about The Sword Itself. It is a bad book, published in a cruel marketing scheme that aims for quantity before quality, that wants you to buy, not necessarily to read or even think and compare, and is feeding a whole industry that is more about looking good while standing in front of a wall of books than about actually talking shop.

Customers are fucked with this scheme, and usually you won't have more than one in five people not going along with anything like this and being open about it. 20% will just drink the cool aid, 60% will not challenge it, and 20% will be really pissed when falling for books like that or the hype surrounding them.

That said, I do recognize that hyped books like this are one way to motivate newbies into looking for other books in the same genre, which will, which MUST lead to better options sooner or later. So if you don't know better and ended up liking the book, not all is lost.

I'll also concede that taste is an evolving phenomenon. The more you read, the more refined your taste will end up being. Not sure I could stomach some of the books I liked, say, 30 years ago, and I might, after rereading some, change my opinion on others. All part of the process. For sure.

I'm also willing to concede that taste is a spectrum. To a degree, and with the constraints, that "popular" doesn't mean "good" and that cultural standards are necessary to get some evolution going, even only to have that evolution challenge the standards. Same goes for opinions, while we are at it, as it is easy to see why you would not just trust anyone, and instead hope that the standards you have for opinions actually bring good results in your everyday life. You wouldn't trust a six year old with their opinion on what car to buy, for instance. 

Which has nothing to do with Abercrombie's writing here, as that's just unacceptable all around. 


Anyway, enough of this. You wanna see why this is a bad book, and mine or Eric's take aren't enough, check out the one star reviews over at good reads. They seem to sum it up well. I'd rather end this with something more productive and positive! Hence ...

My Appendix N

It is always fun to learn what inspires others, so I decided to share what works inspire my writing and game design (as far as I'm aware of it). It is also in the hope that others will do the same. I'm sure it has been an OSR trend at some point in the past. Even so, remind me then, why not?

A few caveats: I'll go with "inspirational and educational" first, so this might end up including creators of movies and music instead of "just" authors. I'm reluctant to share works I know to be only available in German, or at least not in English, because what would be the point of you knowing I liked something that is completely out of reach for you? If you are interested in that, say so in the comments and I will oblige.

I'll also order it alphabetically within different groupings and I'll spare you recommendations for Tolkien, Herbert and K. Le Guin, authors you'll still easily find in well sorted book shops anyway (and if I end up recommending another classic, then I liked it more, hehe). No hierarchy is intended, nor do I believe that this trumps the original Appendix N (which is very much its own thing). I think it is a fun thing to do, with a good chance of being informational for people*.


Richard Adams -  Watership Down is one of the great adventure stories out there. A must read, imo.

Peter S. Beagle - Mainly for The Last Unicorn. He caught magic in a bottle there.

Glen Cook - While all his other work is very well worth checking out, the Garrett P. I. books are what brought me joy for decades (I'm a sucker for "fantasy noir" that is also funny). Great world, great voice, fantastic characters, and funny as well.

Warren Ellis - Transmetropolitan (comic) is the ultimate cyberpunk story, imho. And he did way more great work than that. Wrote some really weird and funny books, too: check out Crooked Little Vein for a wild ride.

Steven Erikson - Malazan Book of the Fallen ... this series had me laughing and crying and thinking. And binge reading hundreds of pages in sleepless nights (to be young again ...). Such impressive world building, mixed in with epic battles and complex characters. Can't recommend enough.

Philip José Farmer - Have yet to read a book penned by him I didn't enjoy. So many great ideas through all genres.

Neil Gaiman - Great comics, great books. My favorites are: Neverwhere (proper dungeon under London), Stardust (great story, made for a great movie, too!) and The Graveyard Book (a child growing up among the ghosts of a graveyard ... what's not to like?!).

David Gemmell - Start with Knights of Dark Renown, his second novel, and the Drenai Saga ... go from there. His last books are so well written, it is a marvel to behold.

William Gibson - Such an unique and innovative voice ... All his books are demanding and fun experiences.

Katharine Kerr - I immensely enjoyed here Celtic fantasy series about reincarnating souls, the Deverry Cycle ... very unique way of telling stories. And she's rpg nobility, too! Co-wrote an AD&D module and some Pendragon adventures, among other things (check out her wiki ...).

Michael de Larrabeiti - The Borribles is one of the more obscure titles in this list, but still a great trilogy. As far as adventure stories go, I'd rank it up there with Watership Down, actually.

Garth Nix - The Abhorsen Books (Old Kingdom) are why I wanted him on this list. It is among the best world building out there (alternate steampunk UK with old magic and zombies). And he wrote a lot more than that ...

Mervyn Peake - Gormenghast is poetic and funny and weird ... believe people telling you those books are among the best out there. They are.

Terry Pratchett - His Discworld books are among the best fantasy you can read. Funny, humane, stimulating ... and full of great characters. But I guess everyone knows that (still had to make the list).

Joel Rosenberg - The Guardian of the Flame is a series of books about a group of role-playing gamers that magically gets transported to the world of their gamemaster and into the bodies of their characters. If that doesn't sell you for the books, it's well written, too.

James Stoddard - The three books that make the Evenmere series are an alternate take to the idea of an endlessly sprawling dungeon world (a mansion so big, it has kingdoms in the lower levels). Fantastic world building and storytelling.

Jack Vance - The only author I learned about through the original Appendix N (the rest I had heard about through other channels), but such a great discovery. I have yet to read a book by Vance I didn't like. All of it fascinating and entertaining, not only the Dying Earth books.

T. H. White - The Once and Future King is another classic series that made the list. Although the first one is the most famous (for the obvious reason that Disney made an animated version of it), I loved all four books (if for different reasons, as each change tone as Arthur ages).

Roger Zelazny - The Chronicles of Amber books ... I binged an omnibus of the first five books of this series when I was 13. A great and epic story about powerful plane shifting nobles fighting The Court of Chaos.


Charles Bukowski - So much talent, always a great read.

Kinky Friedman - Surreal crime fiction, very drug induced, pretty weird, always funny.

Harper Lee - I loved To Kill a Mockingbird, so it made the list.

Elmore Leonard - Among the best writing out there. Good reading, all of it (and some great movies and TV series as well!)

Chuck Palahniuk - Everyone knows Fight Club, the movie. He wrote the book and you could guess by that alone that he's as weird an author as they come. I love him for it. No book is like the other and they all are wild rides into the unknown and unthought.  Funny, too.


Ken Webster - The Vertical Plane is the over four decades old account of a "haunting" that hasn't been debunked yet. No one reads this (or looks into this) that doesn't go away thinking "This might actually have happened ... but what the fuck would that mean for our understanding of reality!?". One of the best books I ever read, I kid you not.

Jeffrey John Kripal - Authors of the Impossible is another one of those books that pushes the boundaries of reality. Highly recommended.

Truddi Chase - When Rabbit Howls is a book written as the collaborative effort of the roughly 100 souls of Trudi Chase, a very well documented case of multiple personality disorder. And a very tough read that is VERY hard to stomach, but all the same endlessly fascinating.


Lao Tse - The Tao Te Ching introduced me to a new and different way of thinking compared to what I was used to, growing up in 90s Germany. I still read and re-read it (different translations, different languages ... stuff like that) and it inspires my thinking to this day.

Chuang Tse - If you read the Tao Te Ching, checking out Zhuangzi is the next logical step. And also, for me at least, a life-long exercise.

I Ching - Basically the shamanistic roots of the Taoist books quoted above, and a great oracle (in my experience). You want to play around with it, check it out here.

The Edda - The older I get, the more I appreciate that these old stories are attempts to describe a long gone reality, and as such they are immensely precious. The Edda especially so, since it is about the pre-history of Europe and as such of great interest to me.


Wes Anderson - A director with such a distinct and beautiful voice that he had to make the list. Movies I grew up with, so to say. some are outright perfect, all of them have something magical (personal favorites right now are Fantastic Mr. Fox, Moonrise Kingdom, The Grand Budapest Hotel and The French Dispatch).

David Lynch - Yeah, he pushes all the buttons. I love Twin Peaks. All of it (third season was ... not what anyone expected, which is what Lynch aimed for). Dune is a piece of art (and one wonders what he'd done with it if the studio hadn't interferred!). Blue Velvet was the movie I shouldn't have seen as a kid ... Mulholland Drive is such a trip. I love it all.

Shinichirō Watanabe - The original Cowboy Bebop (not the live-action atrocity that is on Netflix) and Samurai Champloo are fan favorites everyone should have seen. But all his anime series are fantastic for one reason or another, and I have a special weak spot for the genius that is Space Dandy. So much fun.


Edvard Grieg - Norwegian Composer, mostly know for his Peer Gynt Suite. Such a great entry point for learning about classic music.

Tom Waits - I discovered him late in his career and worked my way through all of it. A great musician, of course, but where he always gets me is the lyrics. So inspirational. Favorites of all time are the albums Alice, Blood Money and Real Gone.

Gautier Serre (IGORRR) - Strangest for last, I guess. A weird mix of all musical genres I like. Always fresh, always different, very complex ... fun all around! Here, check it out.

So this is where it ends, the strange tour through what inspired me for the last decades. I'm pretty sure I missed something and it'll come to me later ... It's also part of a journey I'm still on, of course. My reading list is HUGE, and I'm bound to discover more gems like the above (at least I hope so). I already mentioned my approach: look closer at what you like and follow the bread crumbs.

Either way, 37 entries that should keep one busy for a long time. I hope you all found something you didn't know but is interesting enough to follow up on. I definitely had fun with all of it. Just one more thing before I wrap this up: I'm sure all the people linked above had their flaws. I just don't care. What I shared here is in appreciation of their art, of the positive marks they left on the world. Everything else is just noise. 

So what's your guys' Appendix N? What did you find here that intrigues you?

* Monkey Business and ORWELL both feature lists like that to help readers getting an idea where I'm coming from, same is the case for be67 (as shown here).

Friday, April 7, 2023

"I'm a horse now!", says the mule ... (mistakes have been made)

Let's have some commentary on the latest WotC kerfuffle: no "mixed races" anymore, because that is deamed "racist". Now, we need to be careful here as not to fall for the obvious groupthink bait, and look at it as is. Has it merit? Is it a good idea? Because it could have, but still is! This, then, is a the simple attempt of a small blogger to see what they are talking about here. Spoiler alert: this is not about racism, in any shape, way, or form. All of this is, if nothing else, a mistake in terminology ...

Cutting to the chase real quick

Half-Elves are no more, at least officially and as far as D&D is concerned. Same goes for Half Orcs and any other halves you could think of in your games. We are talking fictional characters here, just to be very clear about this from the beginning, so no sensitivities are presumed. I mean, if a true half elf were to comment to make their case, I'd be listening (needs to be the real deal, too, just "identifying" as one won't be enough).

Just a little joke ... hehe [source]
 But I won't be holding my breath.

This is about a twist to a character one might want to play in a game. Something that plays differently on a narrative and (ideally) on a mechanical level of the game. I've always held the opinion that each GM should play with those options in order to make their campaigns unique. I have a very different take on elves, for instance (very old post here). Either way, taking away those options is bad style. Doing it for "politics" just leaves a bad taste in the mouth here. Pandering like that is divisive and should be frowned upon for that alone. Where are the bridges? Where is the love?

In other words: why isn't there a compromise? Because there is compromises to be had, for sure. Just a very superficial survey of less reputable sources like Wikipedia will tell interested parties that an "Elf" is considered to be a "humanoid supernatural being". It is right there in the first sentence. "Humanoid", now, would mean that it is a "non-human entity" carrying some human traits. That second Wikipedia entry goes on to explain that there is the idea of "convergent evolution", which would mean that different species may come to the result through different evolutionary paths.

I think that's quite easy to understand. There's a couple of useful ways to interact with reality, less so the more specific the interaction, so the concept that different species come to the same results isn't hard to grasp.

The next stop down this rabbit hole would be "species", then. Wikipedia says:

In biology, a species is often defined as the largest group of organisms in which any two individuals of the appropriate sexes or mating types can produce fertile offspring, typically by sexual reproduction.

You see, just by following some easily visible bread crumbs, you'll find out that saying elves can be considered a humoid species would be a very well grounded assumption. Not "race" (which is obviously politically AND historically loaded), but "species". Took me longer to write this than to find it out, which should be an indicator how readily available this information is.

There are even pictures about it:


"Traditionally" it is "Race" in D&D, though. Right?

The funny thing is: yes and no. As far as I can tell, when it first came up, they talked "demihuman races", which is all mixed up terminology. And yes, it is carried along for some time unquestioned. That said, they caught up to it relatively early, actually. Here's what you'll find in the AD&D 2E Player Handbook (first paragraph introducing the concept):

After creating your character's ability scores, you must select a player character race. This is not a race in the true sense of the word: caucasian, black, asian, etc. It is actually a fantasy species for your character -- human, elf, dwarf, gnome, half-elf, or halfling. Each race is different. Each possesses special powers and has different lists of classes to choose from.
That's interesting, isn't it? They are actually talking species and just CHOSE to call it race (maybe because it had been established as "races"?). They willingly tried to expand what "race" means instead of using the term "species". But they also CLEARLY categorize it in the sense of SPECIES (that is: biologically) as early as 1989!

My beloved HackMaster 4E actually makes the same statement (HM 4E PHB, p. 22):

Note that when we speak of 'race' in HackMaster, it has nothing to do with what we in contemporary society know of races, i. e. Eurasian or African. In HackMaster, race simply refers to the fantasy species of your character.

Wizards of the Coast, however, did not carry on that sentiment into the D&D 3E they published, which is also interesting, I think. There is, of course, a biological definition of "race" that is synonym to "subspecies" (see here), so in that sense it is not necessarily wrong to use the term in D&D (or any other game).

What made it problematic, it seems, is the claim that categorizing a species into subspecies is somehow "racist", which is (at least!) highly debatable. If, as history teaches us, a categorization like that is used to argue some sort of superiority for a subspecies, it is plain stupid, wrong and objectionable. And very dangerous. For obvious reasons. But that has nothing to do with the idea of categorization itself, which can be quite useful. Also for obvious reasons.

So what's the case we can make here? The hobbyists that created D&D used "demihuman races" as the distinction to categorize their "fantasy species". It created some adjacent terminology, and they never changed it across editions, although it is noteworthy that they cared to define it properly in the AD&D 2E (and the HackMaster 4E, which just revised 2E).

It is, in a sense, legacy terminology, but never "abused" to paint some sort of "hierarchy of subspecies" (as far as I'm aware of). Instead, it is merely terminology for a categorization that became necessary as the game grew and evolved, and was done with good intentions and taste throughout. Again, for obvious reasons, as they wanted people to like and use the options they got. Like in: all people interested in the game, with no reservations.


Now "mixed races" are banned ...

... for ideological and emotional reasons, as far as WotC are concerned. This is, at the very least, nothing but big mouthed pandering or ill adviced marketing and social media politics. It is not about bringing the game forward, as it should be, but about virtue signalling. I'll say that as unbiased as I can. Of course, it is their business and they can do what they want. But categorization is useful, as we have learned, and this move should be catgorized for what it is: done in ill will.

In a way it shows the same contempt WotC showed with their attempt to change the OGL. It shows the same lack of competency, too, imho.


Why do I think that, you ask? Because compromise would have been so easy, but wouldn't send "the message". If they'd been "Language is important, and since the term "race" is so loaded and convoluted these days, we decided to use the more precise term "species" instead so all of you can keep enjoying playing your half orcs and half elves!", or something along those lines (and to give but ONE obvious example!), it'd barely been worth news.

Instead, it would have helped bringing people together (would be my guess, anyway).

It's just not what they wanted to do. They wanted to put fuel into a divide that already went to far as it is. People should build bridges again and come together, not wallow in resentful hatred against some idolized opposition. If we are able to find and cultivate what unites us, we'll be able to overcome our differences.

Easy as that.

And you can't tell me that they did that stunt out of the good of their heart. That's just not where those ideas come from. War is not peace, slavery is not freedom, and ignorance is not strength, no matter how loud those people claim to have good intentions when supporting ideas like that.

And if you think that's a bit far fetched, to go from saying it is "racist to have mixed races in a game" to full blown 1984, I'd urge you to think again. They keep saying that the origins of the game are racist and misogynistic (among other things), despite all the good the game did. Despite all the science, even, that exists today, pointing out how it brings people together, how it helps personal growth, how it helps mentally. Tbh, all this posturing completely goes against common sense.

There is no healthy rationale behind it. There never is behind revisionism, which this is, because what they are saying is that chosing that term "race" to begin with was out of hatred by the original creators. Maybe they'd say it was "subconscious" or whatever, but it doesn't change that thinking like that is small minded, to say the least.


A horse is a horse, of course of course ...

I don't know if you are aware of this, but horses and donkeys, two distinctly different species, can have (infertile) offspring. If a male donkey mates with a female horse, that hybrid is called a mule (if it's the other wa around, that's called a "hinny", which is somehow cute, I think). Different species, some sort of outcome.

Zonkeys are a thing, too! [source]

 A little closer to home, the same is said for humans being able to reproduce with Neanderthals (leading to their extinction, is one theory). Which leads to another well established fact: we used to live with other humanoid species here on planet earth, and not that long ago, too. Not only Neanderthals, but it also had Denisovans and some smaller hominid groups. We interacted with them, and I believe some of our oldest stories are proof of those interactions (which is neither here nor there, but still interesting to note).

What I'm saying is, there is no reason to say this phenomenon of interspecies reproductional activity cannot exist or talked about. To be completely honest, I'd say, if we were to encounter aliens, people would find ways to fuck them before anything else. That's just who we are.

So if you don't like the term "race", use subspecies or species and be done with it. Nothing I wrote here is "newly established science" or something like that, it is no secret knowledge. The information is right there, publicly available. Why act as if a decision like that wouldn't need checking what can be gathered about it?

No need to make a stink.

Will this hurt the hobby? Fuck if I know. There are enough alternatives to D&D out there, published by companies that don't feel the need to act like WotC. Will it hurt the brand? More likely, if bullshit like this keeps mounting up. And that is a shame on multiple levels. For one, as I said above, this hobby of ours should be about uniting people with good intentions, but D&D is more than that, culturally speaking, and the little history it has should at least be looked at with the benefit of the doubt, if not heralded for the good it did.

Tainting that history by implying some sort of moral superiority and to gain, what?, social credit?, well, I think that's something reprehensible. Especially if it's done by people that have proven to be morally suspect, as WotC did on multiple occasions in the last couple of years (not just recently).

Final thoughts

Not sure how to end this ... I recently came to believe that there is too much anger all around. People dug in and aim to hold their positions. There's also a lot of negativity around, and I don't know how you guys feel about it, but I just can't take it anymore. So I'm pointing this out as bad behavior to encourage people to do better. Not that I believe that anyone addressed here will read this, or care about those things, for that matter.


The point of the exercise is more along the lines of reminding anyone reading this that we worked hard in the last couple of decades to create a culture of exchange, understanding and personal growth. We have an obligation to check what can be assumed as useful interaction, and what should be considered disruptive or even harmful. We already know a lot about these things, we don't have to start at the beginning with every dilemma that presents itself.

As a matter of fact, why not try to be a bit more mindful in general? I know I struggled with this in the last couple of years, for sure, and I know it'd help me to find more peace.

Easter is traditionally the time for new beginnings, so with this I'll renew my efforts to be a positive force where I can. If you read all of this, I appreciate you. If you have any thoughts about my take here, you are welcome to share them.


Currently reading: Penetration by Ingo Swann (a Why Files recommendation, and so far a good read ...)


If you liked any of this, you could go and check out my offerings over on drivethru. The latest is part three of the blog anthology I'm working on. Part four is already in the works, and I aim to offer a PoD of the first three books as well. Soon ...

Sunday, March 5, 2023

REVIEW: Of Dice And Men

Let's try a new thing. It will be a variety of "I read a book and talk about it", the difference being: I'm not doing it alone. My good friend Eric Diaz over at his (fantastic and fantastically productive) blog Methods & Madmen will read the same book and we will cross-post and talk about it. We've decided four books to start with (two of which offered by Eric, two by yours truly), all connected to the hobby one way or another. We talk about it, and see how it goes. The first one will be "Of Dice And Men" by David M. Ewalt, a book I wanted to read (and like) and now can't make my mind up about ... 

Character Sheet (what are we looking at?)

The "revised and updated" softcover version Of Dice And Men (ODAM, 2013) I perused clocks in at 285 pages, 32 of which are afterword, notes, acknowledgements and an index. Formally this book is done well, good formatting with no serious hickups in the editing (one word he kept repeating rubbed me wrong around the third time it was used, but that's all that comes to mind right now). Just from handling it, it's a nice book, pleasant to read, even.

Another positive observation up front: Ewalt consistently writes "role-playing games", with the "-" (the hyphen) connecting "role" and "playing" ("role-playing" is a verb, therefore the hyphen is correct). It is a conscious choice, because when quoting other sources, he uses their writing, which can be (and often is) different. I applaud that.

Somehow I care about this more than about if "gamemaster" is possible or not. If "storyteller" is possible, "gamemaster" sure as hell should be as well ... interestingly enough, Wikipedia's respective entries go by "role-playing game" and "gamemaster", so I feel vindicated.

Anyway, moving on, stated mission of this book is to offer "an enticing blend of history, journalism, narrative, and memoir", which is a tall order for 253 pages, but not impossible.

David M. Ewalt was an editor and wrote Advertisement for Forbes magazine, it seems, so there is nothing to gather about the guy's opinions whatsoever ... Not hating here, it's a plus in my book that he keeps a low profile, although writing advertisement is a stance in itself, right? His bubble is, according to his homepage, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and Forbes. His job now is editor over at Gizmodo, again also writing advertisements ...

Good money, for sure, but it takes a special mindset to work in circles like that, and it shows in the book. At least it explains a lot how he constantly feels the need to denigrate his fellow gamer nerds (a group of gamers is a "stink" now, is it?) while telling everyone how great the role-playing is he's involved in is, implying his approach is more artsy (or whatever you'd say to "safe face" in front of an audience that'll judge you for the company you share but think you shouldn't).

Unfortunately that's a strong theme in the whole book and we will have to revisit it throughout, I'm afraid.

So this already is a mixed bag. I'll be honest and in-depth about my findings (and feel the need to state this because I feel it won't be a nice review in the end). Is this really "the story of D&D and the people that play it"? Let's find out!

In-Game Analysis (how does it play out?)

I will go through this roughly and from the beginning. Re-reading the introduction for things I could say about that already has me more critical about the text as reading it casually did. So keep that in mind. It nicely connects with the impression the book left with me, but we'll see if I'm able to connect those dots ...

The introduction it is, then. It seems to be the part of the book where the author aims to establish himself in the hierarchy of gamers as the "DM" of this book. As the moderator and the authority, if you will. It begs the question if the author just felt it necessary to build a defense against some hostile grognards, or if he just addresses the necessity of it.

I completely understand the urge, especially if one is used to write stuff published online. In a book, however, it appears to be a bit too defensive. I will not be very detailed about the structure of the rest of the book, but this introduction checks so many boxes already, a closer look at it helps to form and understanding how the book is written.

The introduction is titled "I am not a wizard" and starts with addressing the "hardcore fantasy role-playing gamers in the audience". The mainstream audience can just skip it and start reading. The text then switching to chum up to those "hardcore gamers" alluding that the "muggles" are gone now and we can talk business.

That's just a couple of sentences after claiming he isn't a wizard, so it is already a strange move to use a Harry Potter quote. But that's not even what bothered me (although I'm thinking now he meant not a "Wizard from that coast"?). It is the term "muggles" I object to, as it is abrasive while ALSO painting a less favorable picture of what he implies "hardcore gamers" think of the dirty masses.

It is divisive and I don't like that at all, especially when considering that no one reading that first paragraph would just skip it, so those "muggles" will read at least as far as to read being classified like that. It's not even cute, it's just cringe (if I'm generous).

 Moving on. Next, authority needs to be established. It reads like he wants to be the big man among equals, pointing out that he mostly uses 3e, because that's what he likes and plays, so if people think they need to criticize that, they can go and shove it up their asses (that's actually what he says ... if you don't believe me, just go and read that part on amazon).

Again, the only reason to be aggressive about this is that he expects some sort of backlash in that regard OR wants to establish hierarchy with a reader he thinks needs subjugating, because just stating that 3e is what he's playing now and what he likes would have been plenty enough.

Now imagine what someone would think reading that, who doesn't identify as "hardcore gamer" ... they'd have to think this sort of chest bumping must be necessary for some reason, which directly feeds into negative stereotypes already established. I'm so tired of shit like that.

Ewalt goes on and talks about how his session reports will at times not follow the rules of the game they played, but might take creative license in that regard to make it work in the book. First of all: obviously, duh. Secondly, that's not even how the session report sections are written to begin with, so why bring it up?

Feels like the "I'm the author here, and that's my skill, so shut up"-kind of way to, furthermore, establish authority over what he seems to perceive as a hostile reader? Again, painting what picture?

In closing he writes:

ODAM, p. 2

You read that as I do? Now he's protecting the "mainstream audience" from those evil grognards while snubbing the gamers as having "failed" in reading this properly.

But did they? The book claims to be "the history", not "a history", not "a short history", it's definitive. Nothing in the marketing actually gives any hint of this book being anything else but what it claims to be.

Anyway, he's (again) hinting the reader to go somewhere else. The last sentence, then, aims to cement his authority and advises to play it nice. It's funny, but if someone about participating in a game came at me as aggressive and divisive as that, I'd laugh them in the face if they ended it with "be nice to each other, this is a friendly campaign". Textbook passive-aggressive behavior, I'd say, and I don't care for it one bit.

This could (should?) have been done way more amicably. Easily. As it is, it starts the book off on the wrong foot, and every time he puts himself in relation to those (perceived) hostile readers, you'll see little stabs like that. Here's just a small selection:

  • says (as mentioned in the beginning) that others refer to a group of role-playing gamers as a "stink" (p. 56)*
  • explains how he's anxious to tell others since people have negative associations with the game, to a point where girlfriends leave (p. 75)
  • says gamers are a welcoming bunch, but then goes on to make an example how abusive gamers can be, alluding to something called "Arrogant Nerd syndrome", which isn't even a thing** (the story of Jonathan starts at p. 84) 
  • actually, this is worse than "just" showing how "abusive" gamers can be, it's inverting who's the victim here by saying that gaming should be a "safe haven" for nerds, but ostracizing them is understandable, because they can be, after all, difficult people ... and that's a shitty move***
  • he also dedicates three chapters talking about aspects of the hobby he doesn't like: traditional war-gaming, traditional role-playing and LARP, and I don't think he's giving them a fair shake just because it's not his thing ... more shitting on fringe aspects of the hobby

Let's leave it at that (see the footnotes for the venting). As I said above, it's written well enough, but what's showcased here is also evident in the whole book. Little stories and hints that seem innocent if encountered alone, but accumulate to something where the sum of the parts is uglier than the single encounters. A stink. Ha!


Honest to god, I started reading this book to my wife, who's not a nerd at all, and she did not care for the tone of the book. I'm saying, it's not just me and it is important, imo, to highlight this aspect of the book before going into other aspects of it.

So what else is there to talk about? The history sections are excellent, from the very beginning of the idea of cooperative play in history, via early war gaming roots to the first conception of the rules that would become D&D and how that went viral in the seventies. All of that framed by Ewalt's gaming experience and intersected with gaming reports from when he started playing again (a D&D 3e campaign in a vampire apocalypse setting).

Mixed into that we get some D&D quotes, learn about some of the great minds of the hobby, now and then. Anecdotes, quotes from interviews ... Good show, and he runs strong with that until page 172, when Gary Gygax dies. After that, the book loses steam considerably, most of all because the history part of it is basically neglected. We learn how TSR fared after Gygax' departure, and how all of that ended in TSR being sold to Hasbro, but it's basically bullet points of names and dates.

It's just not where the development of D&D ended, or the cultural influence of it. It's just where the writer stops doing what he did well in the first three quarters of the book. We get more of the session reports and quotes and anecdotes, but even there Ewalt'll shift focus and introduce new stories. It doesn't always work, and that last third drags on until the author describes his pilgrimage to the origins of D&D and helps us see through his eyes what all the famous locations are now, which was a nice touch.

Beyond that, we get lots of fan-boying and shilling for WotC and the development of the D&D 5e, which I didn't care for. So, yeah, that's basically what you'll find in the book, without going that much into detail.

Awarding Experience Points (is it any good?)

A book can read well, but transport horrible ideas. Or better yet: it can hide terrible ideas behind a casual tone and a good reading flow. Not that ODAM is in any way, shape or form offensive, but it is "politically correct" while being uncritically vague and even favorable towards WotC and their business practices to a degree where boring just ends up being a vehicle for, well, advertisement or at least craving endorsement.

And sure enough, there are plenty of examples in the text where WotC is being presented favorably ALTHOUGH there is something to be said about the business practices of Hasbro and WotC in 2013 when this was published (the OSR was thriving back then for good reasons).

If not written in favor, that part of the history of the game is actually not present at all, instead we get a reference to another book for checking out the decline of TSR and nothing but praise for WotC "rescuing" D&D and moving on with the brand. No word on the counterculture movement and success of the OSR and the revival of the old editions ... Especially since he's obviously aware of "old gamers" and "edition wars" (as it is evident in the introduction).

And you don't have to be a "fan" to recognize this, but you have to mention it to cast a complete picture. WotC felt pressured to go back to those old roots because people turned away from 4e in troves.

At least Ewalt is honest about being an "ally" of the company and quite happy to support their drafting of 5e. He wants to be in on that action and is happy to be recognized as a "fan" by WotC. Even gets an invite, or so he writes.

All of that is problematic, in my view, as it goes against journalistic integrity to be biased like that, and "journalism" was claimed to be part of this "enticing blend". No xp for advertisement or networking framed as "journalism", I'm afraid (0/5).


History next. Those passages I enjoyed a great deal. It's well researched and cleverly put together. Lots of interesting trivia. The early years of the hobby sure as hell make for a great story, the good writing puts it to the next level.

But there is a huge stylistic shift after roughly 170 pages. The whole interplay between talking the home campaign (the narrative/memoir part) and the history of the game falls flat. The history part all of a sudden gets rushed and the home campaign gets neglected as well. With what is left, we go as fringe as talking about LARPs while important transition points in the hobby get ignored entirely or just mentioned very briefly.

The last 80 pages are full of odd choices like that, and I get the impression that the author didn't have the stamina to go it all the way (which would have ended in a far superior book, imo).

See, you can make fringe excursions if the main text has enough meat to carry a little extra context. This is well illustrated in chapter three, when Ewalt's talking about legacy war gaming (although I did not care much for the retelling of those battles). But when all the interesting bits fall flat (for instance, how the game developed beyond Gary's involvement), we are left with a boring mess of praise for Big Corp, at least three different session reports and an overall text that goes nowhere until it ends with a pilgrimage to something that isn't there anymore.

I have to admit, the end works for me. The whole idea of the tying the book together like that is nice, and my guess would be that it came up pretty early in the writing of the book. However, there are at least 150 pages missing, and that's a shame. Still, what's there is great (4/5).

Gygax, making history again ... [source]
Memoir and Narrative, now, are interwoven to form the skeleton the history is presented on. I liked bits of that, didn't like others. As with the whole book, it is all crafted by a skilled writer, but I still felt it lacking at times, especially when Ewalt tries to be non chalant about not liking his fellow gamers (the stink, it's an addiction, all being welcome means there are abusive people ... but I'm repeating myself) or blatantly paints an uncritical picture of those currently owning the game (WotC).

That said, I did like the idea of structuring the whole book that way (not the negative parts, but the private aspect of it). It works well until it falls short 172 pages into the book. And when he not tries to paint himself as "the gamer that isn't a gamer anymore but then falls prey to the addictive elements of it again and now plays a far more sophisticated version of the game", it is quite the engaging read.

Even the session report sections work most of the time. Again, until they don't because they have to carry the book in the last third while adding several additional new narratives.

Using this memoir/narrative angle, the book mostly manages to paint a picture of what the game can be and what its elements are in almost all dimensions (the roots, the social dynamics, how it plays, ...), and that's good, although not fully realized and with the caveats already mentioned (3/5 each).

Nice ass, though! [source]

In closing ...

When all is said and done, this is not "the" but "a story of D&D and the people who play it". The historic part is interesting and I wish there would have been more of that and not just the pre-history and the first 20 years or so. Our cultural dialogue with D&D is not over yet, as the latest WotC fuck-up about the license of the game gave ample evidence to gawk at.

Writing a 250 pages book (with only a third of that actually being about the history, if you take away the memoir/narrative parts!) and claiming there'd be no room to explore the history of D&D after Gygax left TSR just to avoid shedding a light on some "problematic" truths regarding Big Businesses Ewalt likes to associate with, is just bad style.

So how should we end this? Is it a good book in my opinion? Yes and no. There are so many shortcomings, masked by a well crafted book that reads well enough to actually work, that it comes down to a meager 2.5/5 (tendency towards the 2, after taking as close a look as I did just now).

The history part that is done, is done well and I enjoyed reading those passages. Learned something about the early history of the hobby, too. The rest was engaging enough for the first two thirds of the book and the last chapter.

What left a sour taste in my mouth was the blatant adulation for WotC and the constant (somewhat underhanded) misrepresentation of most the people that actually play those games as undesirable company. Add to that the missing history of the game after Gygax left TSR and a weak last third with a somewhat strong ending that would have needed a bigger book to work properly.

If that sounds like something you could stomach, you can sure go and get that book.

Let's see what Eric's saying about it (we coordinated publishing, but didn't read each others take ... what fun!): follow me there.

This has always been true ... [source]

* He just came up with it, btw., or at least I couldn't find an easy reference for it. People call their spouse "stink" or relatives, but not a group of nerds, as he implicates. At least not as wide spread as he'd make "us" (assuming a main stream reader? pleasing the WSJ buddies?) believe the term is.

** Try and google that, the only proper hits are referring back to his book, one making the (great!) point that he neglects talking autism in gaming while instead re-enforcing negative stereotypes again. Same pattern as with the "stink", all to make role-players look bad (or make it seem that they are perceived in a bad light). I think it's projection, but that's just my two cents.

*** I'll segue a bit into this in a footnote because I feel it's important: people are not socially awkward because they are assholes or abusive, it's because they are made feeling unwelcome and pressed into the fringes. And what happens in the fringes? Subcultures, which D&D is one of. Or was, it seems, given its popularity today. Anyway, point being, I associated with another subculture back in school, in Germany: the punks. And those had been REALLY socially awkward. For the same reasons. To now go and act as if those phenomena are just direct results of ones conduct instead of symptoms of something far more difficult to tackle (social dynamics of bullying and hierarchies and whatnot), is insincere. At best. "My people" have been excluded and ridiculed for a long time now, what Ewalt does implicates he's more like the people that didn't get along with nerds to begin with ... I wrote about this some time ago in detail, see Nerd Pride and Pop Culture going Full Circle.

Friday, February 10, 2023

In Defense of AI Art (the drawing kind ...)

Calm down, no one is being attacked here. I come in peace. Just one thing up front: it is not theft. Now, hear me out! Whoever came up with that sure knows how to do propaganda marketing. At least that's where tactics like that come from. Please understand: "AI Art is Theft" as a catch phrase is what the literature calls "... [shifting] the focus of attention away from facts and information, and towards altering the context within which people act" (MINDSPACE document, UK government, p. 14). It means using shock and awe (for instance) to make you stop thinking about a topic and start acting in a certain way ... in this example, it negatively associates something with theft to elicit either guilt to avoid it or compassion to "fight" those "thieves". I don't like harmful shit like that and it makes me wary instantly.

Think, do the research, form an educated opinion, share it with others in open discourse. Repeat ... So I'm going to make my argument here, and you can read it or leave it. If you come to consider my points, I'd be happy to talk about it some more.

This post will be illustrated with results from InspiroBot. You brought this unto you. It also ended up being a bit rambling. Just a bit ... If I repeat a point I deem important, just nod and move on :)

Cui Bono?

That age-old question: who earns a pretty buck by having things go their way? Closely followed by: who benefits from halting this innovation for as long as possible? And (something you should ALWAYS ask yourself): who benefits from you not thinking about it? You get answers to those three questions, you get a good idea what's going on.

I'm going to say it up front: in my opinion, AI art does not infringe on meat space artists. Or to be more precise, not more than technology already does. That I can write these words here to share it globally instead of screaming them words against a cave wall cost at least one person a job: the guy I had to pay to walk to the next village to tell my story to the people there.

I know, I know, it is a pointed argument, but not without merit, I believe. Technology happens. Always did, does so more frequently now. Just imagine all the tools we already use. Do you know which of those already use some sort of AI to support an artist's work? Just type in "Adobe and AI" into a(n AI supported) search engine of your choice and get up to speed. They already do that with the visual arts and frame it as "tools to support creators".

And rightly so, but the uproar was about the implication where the machine learned to do what it does. Anyone exploring that for Adobe or Amazon or any of the big gorillas in the room? No, not that I know of. Midjourney and Stable Diffusion just painted a huge target on their back by being public about what happens, but it's been happening all along.

As a matter of fact, DeepDream by Google is already seven years old (went public 2015). You think that program did NOT learn from what it found online to look at? Someone suing google about it? Not that I'm aware of ... But there is more! How many apps on our phones already use AI to, for instance, alter pictures? Making you look older or adding a fancy filter to a picture? If AI was used, what do you think that AI learned from to work towards?

I could go on and on. We are already knee deep in AI, for years now, full well knowing where it leads to. HAS to lead to. If you are a (visual) artist and NOT aware of what's happening and what the trajectory of that development is, you are among few. It has been known, witnessed, demonstrated and talked about. So what's the fuzz all about now?

Be like that? [source]
What's more, technology like that is a great tool for ALL artists. For one, those pictures have to be generated. You have to get a feel for how to formulate prompts, and it will take several iterations before you'll get something you can work with. Emphasis on being "work with", since those pictures often still need some work before you can even think about putting them in publications (which is ADDITIONAL work). That's a lot of steps compared to "I tell an artist what I want, they show some samples, we talk about it and it is done".

It is also work an artist could earn money with, as they should be very capable to use their skill to pretty up prompt results.

For artists themselves, it also is a great opportunity. Midjourney is dirt cheap. Even if they just go for inspirations and elements, I imagine they could speed up their workflow tremendously with AI art at their disposal. Actually, that is already happening! Still making their own thing, but the AI takes some of the heavy lifting ... a tool, just as Adobe put it.

And then you have another important aspect of this whole thing: all of a sudden lots of small artists and publishers are able to compete with mainstream aesthetics. I kid you not, for a small publisher like myself tech like that, for as long as it lasts, is a godsend. Although lots of work, it helps me giving my products the look I imagined for them but couldn't pay for (and I already do a lot, drawing just isn't my strong suit at all).

That whole argument that the AI learning from existing artwork is "theft" is faulty to begin with, actually, as it rests on the idea that it reduces future incomes because it "copies their styles". Or learned by "looking" at pictures posted online in some form of public setting. As pointed out before, no one did that with apps or whatever, but that's not even were I'm going with this.

The point I'm making here, is, that the same happens when I get an inspiration for a layout I saw somewhere else. No one is earning a dime when I do layout and writing myself, even IF I'm inspired by someone else. Which can't be helped, of course, because we constantly look at the outputs of others. Just as the AI, but even that's not the point I'm making here. What I was aiming at was that if I can't pay an artist, I will find ways around that. The whole public domain is full of material a creative mind could make use of. 

(And yes, I know, I'm not an "artificial intelligence" but a "natural intelligence", so it is a bit different. Still, how much different should be a matter of debate in this context.)

It's also a lot more work than it sounds, but the opportunities and applications of the public domain (and open source in general) are (within their limitations) endless. There are fonts and pictures, millions of books and illustrations ... Everything used from the public domain has an active artist not earn money. Everything I can do myself has someone else not earn money. Is that all frowned upon now? No. But, obviously, the whole public domain and open source movement isn't very popular with people that are actually in a position to hurt them.

Keep that in mind.

Especially since all those AI art services under fire right now are deeply rooted in OpenAI, for instance (all using technology provided to the public via google, among other open sources). The point being, those services used publicly available technology to innovate to a point where they were able to create successful businesses with LOTS of growth and potential.

So established artists have some reason to grief, yes, but only because innovation changed their world (yet again!) and we have to adapt. That's stress, of course, but also a great opportunity for all that can make it work. So did printers not that long ago, for instance, when printing went digital. So did publishers when the whole DTP movement made Print on Demand such a success ...

I know you guys know that it happens all the time. What's different now? Nothing. It is the same players protecting their benefice. And who's that? Not the little artists trying to get by. Not even the big artists, as it has only benefits for them (imagine to be that good that your style is so recognizable, an artificial intelligence can produce work like that). Can't be them. And dead visual artists? Well, same for dead actors or writers ... new technology will revive them for our entertainment. It's inevitable.

As a matter of fact, IF AI learning could be traced to having learned from one specific artist, I doubt they would benefit more if it hadn't. In other words, if this is the future, you'd be better off if it's part of your legacy than if you are being scratched out of it, because this WILL shape our immediate cultural future.

But who really earns from using that technology?

Well ...

InspiroBot, reading minds again ... [source]
That comes pretty close to the answer of the first three questions right in the beginning. But there are more arguments to be made before we get there. Other than manipulation through psychological framing and nudging, there's another thing going on. If you check the Wikipedia page about Midjourney and the litigation connected to it, it'll lead you to a (rather level-headed, actually) article over at The Verge that basically makes all the points (see here).

You will find that it is THREE artists that are suing through a big law firm specialized in cases like that. And that they actually have a weak case, since their claim seems to be, for instance, that the AI stores those pictures, which it doesn't, and it has an open source/fair use angle plus an international aspect the court could not even begin to address.

We'll have to see how that turns out, BUT it is not a lot to begin with. And that's, to me at least, suspicious. We have seen a tendency in recent years to manipulate "the masses" via social media engineering into acting as Trojan corporate mouth pieces (of sorts), through psychological skullduggery explained, for instance, in that document I shared right in the beginning. We have learned that the "mainstream" media is complicit in this, to a huge extent (see the Twitter Files, for a really, really great example).

Not all voices online are equal. Some are bought or have a vested interest in following a certain agenda, some are more vulnerable to manipulation than others. Needn't go as far as arguing that kids, for instance, are one big group deserving more protection than we are giving them right now. There is VERY solid science about how to manipulate others into doing ... well, anything, really. Public, too! And yet, for some reason, we assume that social media is "just" an exchange of opinions? Even something where an event perceived as a widely acknowledged outrage might accumulate to something true?

No, it is used to earn money and influence. Or, the other way around, it's targeting your money and manipulating you.

So, I don't know about the intention of those three women going to war against AI art. It certainly helped them getting a profile. I also don't trust all the media attention this one got. Yes, it's all new and shiny an TROUBLED, but isn't it also pretty clear cut? What makes me skeptical the most is the perceived social media war drums, the cancel culture looking for new victims. It smells of social engineering. And who does that? Who earns the big bucks with technology? Who benefits from halting innovation forced by a couple of start-ups? Who does not want you to think about those things? Well, the conclusion is, in my opinion, the direct competition.

Not sure how true that one is :D [source]
DeviantArt makes a lot of noise, while working on their own version. Adobe, Amazon, Disney, everyone earning Big Money with media is looking for the money Midjourney, Stable Diffusion and GitHUB is not making because people get scared away or join the war path to fight those "thieves".

They also have the money, expertise and means to do so. Have been doing so for years, which is pretty evident by now ... so why assume they are not somehow involved? They are, or so I'd argue, the only ones benefiting from this NOT changing the media landscape as fast as it does.

Nowadays, in general, when I see an outrage like this online, my first impulse is to question it. It all became a huge battlefield of psychological warfare and propaganda in just a couple of years, and it is bad for all of us.

So who benefits? I tell you, it's not the little guy. We are, again, reduced to being pawns in a bigger game. Evidence for that is all around us, and it is a safe bet that it is the same machinations being at work here. If not that, than it is mimicking those processes, which is (arguably) just as bad, because:

It's the wrong attack vector ...

Here is the thing, given the huge potential of the technology we are discussing here, the whole discussion that is surrounding it is asking the wrong questions. Technological advancement is (at least) exponential until the innovations happen so fast, they might as well be happening all at once. At that point, the only arguments we as a society/culture will have about what's worth saving (or safeguarding) are those already anchored in our respective cultures/societies.

When that singular event, that singularity happens, the decision what happens next is out of our hands and only our legacy will be able protect us ... or damn us.

So at this point we know AI art will be perfect in a year or two, then films and books and comics, even computer games will be done by AI within, I'd say, the next 3 years. If that slow. The whole media complex: imploding.

That'll also mean that you can have AI programming utilities, it'll teach, it'll do medical procedures. It'll do, in the foreseeable future, ALL the work. We are at that point in time RIGHT NOW. The generation born into the world as I write this will see it in ruins or live to have no need to learn and build and care other than for prosperity. None of our institutions are prepared for that other than using force to conserve the (corrupted, it seems) established. Same goes for the so-called "elites". And the rest of the population seems properly primed and rigged to function under the old paradigms.

So this should be about the BIG QUESTIONS, right? Not some petty bullshit about "the AI looked at my picture" ... no, there are far bigger issues at hand. And yes, I do believe the noise about AI art to be smoke and mirrors. Another fake problem to keep the dirty masses disoriented, disorganized and at each others throat instead of taking a closer look.

As I said, there is, in my view, only one party with a huge interest in keeping it that way, and that would be the direct competition of AI art, and Big Money in general. Proof to the contrary, as far as I can see it, is fucking rare and whimsical at best. The implications are pretty clear: Big Money sees the opportunity to replace a (cheap but still too expensive) working force and just make more profit, with even fewer benefiting from it.

In a sense, they'll tighten and close the economic circle to keep anyone not being part of the inner circle already, out of it indefinitely. To that end, they buy and cheat their way through our institutions. Big Money ALREADY earns too much money to spend, printing new money every day like crazy. So much money, in fact, that a ridiculously small percentage of it is enough to buy EVERYONE earning a regular salary or less into submission with ease. 

There's truth in this ... [source]
The cultural seeds have been planted, greed is a powerful motivator and deeply ingrained in a western culture that got rid of almost all values able to protect a culture from abuse. Education is so steeped with propaganda and manipulation now, they are already in the middle of auditing our cultural heritage towards the prevailing ideology. We've seen this only speed up, when it started is obscured in history already.

And sure enough, it all connects to how technological innovation is speeding up as well, challenging the existing order of things.

And sure enough, we already see signs of this on a global scale.

Here's what's happening and why ...

Every small business that works with artwork will sooner or later use AI art indiscriminately. I'm already seeing this happening here in Germany. It is just a tool and used as such by anyone not caring enough, even, what it looks like (and it'll be only a question of time until it will be perfect).

Chat GPT isn't challenged like we see with AI art, but already censored towards conformity (Midjourney, too, has limitations as to what can be created, and I think there's room for debate about that, too). There is a huge danger, imo (Kim Iverson has a good video on the subject here). The decisions what's right or wrong aren't a process of culture anymore, they are decided by those at the dials, following ideas not everyone agrees to (or should agree to, for that matter). Maybe even following ideas we don't want to be stuck with in the long run? But especially ideas we should have overcome a long time ago already.

Make no mistake, big money is already using this to make more money, and will do so more openly within a year. Elon Musk's (who also had a hand in OpenAI, btw) biggest investment in the last 6 months was into AI tools. This is coming, and it is coming fast.

If Midjourney, Stable Diffusion and GitHUB get thwarted or even destroyed by this, it'll all still happen, with even less access and heavier control by Big Money. We can say that from experience now, it's the pattern they thrive on. Again, look at how Adobe is setting it up. The only bone of contention with Midjourney etc., was to have those tools available for everyone and for a reasonable price.

You think Microsoft or Google would go a less greedy route? Adobe for sure doesn't, and Big Business in general seems to be very fond of some kind of subscription scheme where you keep paying until you die, ideally increasingly so and with debt as well.

So spare me the fake outrage, and start being productive about this. We'll desperately need an informed public very soon. The French are already restless ...

Fair enough ... or is it? [source]
And that's all I shall say

There is a recurring pattern in history that huge medial innovations lead to huge upheavals. It has always been that way, and maybe it cannot be avoided to be that way again or that we live to see it, but I'd urge readers to readjust their targeting a little bit. AI art is not theft, we are being stolen from all the time, we are being manipulated to believe that we have reason to hate each other instead of questioning who made us point that finger.

It is quite enough of that, I'd say.

You don't have to believe me when I say that social media phenomena like this are, more often than not, systemic these days, but the evidence is out there for everybody to find. We have open corruption in the highest administrative bodies of our western culture and it goes unpunished, for fuck sake. On a daily basis. Social media is geared to escalate shit, people are geared to get riled up like that, and those in power will use their possibilities to make happen what they see fit. Because they can.

So, just take a step back and think before riding into the next social media craze, all guns blazing. It's not all that it's made out to be. And fair enough, you can disagree with what I was writing here. I believe I made a good case, but fair enough. Allow me the courtesy to disagree with your take, then, and we move along our own paths. Works for me. Just stay positive about it all. And if you are an artist struggling because of AI art, let me tell you it'll get worse for everyone soon you'll be all right.

Actually, if you are the creating type, I really believe you will be all right. There's always something to do, always something to create, and maybe this development will wake people up to the truth that it is part of human nature to create. Not for all, but for some of us. And we should cherish that as a society. But if all fails, you'll have that drive at least and it will bring you joy. So yeah, it'll be all right and I'm sorry for your troubles. May you find the strength to overcome those difficulties.

One last thing. I am in contact with artists, and the reactions had been always the same: intrigued shock. Something between "I can stop doing that now" and "Uuuh, it's so great, how can I use it to do some wicked shit?!". I imagine it is the same all around.

Other than that, I've said quite enough about this already and I'll close with a couple of quotes and concepts for you guys to think about. First of all, I'll share the "Seven Tells of Cognitive Bias" as per Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame). The guy is a bit full of himself, in a insecure kind of way, BUT he's spot on in this, imo, so I'll share it (a short yt video about it can be found here). If this comes up in a discussion, it is fair to assume that the tells indicate that the person using it has no real grasp of the argument (describing some Rhetological Fallacies, of course, but that's unpopular and complicated).


  1. Changes Topic (something like "You don't like X, so you can't understand Z!")
  2. Ad Hominem (if all fails, people will get personal)
  3. Mind Reading (saying something outrages, implying that you think that way)
  4. Word Salad (if it doesn't make sense and can't be made sense of, it's most likely just gibberish to avoid defeat)
  5. Uses Analogy Instead of Reason ()
  6. Insists it's "complicated" and can't be summarized (basically the "I'm not a doctor." argument, which is bs, of course)
  7. The "So ..." Tell (basically the Kathy Newman approach of misrepresenting your argument with something akin to "So you are saying [add misrepresentation]")

I'll close with a quote from a Terence McKenna interview I'm very fond of (his last recorded interview, they say, you can see it here). So fond, in fact, that I used it on the back of the RPG I published (ORWELL). It was as fitting on the back of that book as it is here:

"This is what it's like when a species prepares to depart for the stars. You don't depart for the stars under calm and orderly conditions. It's a fire in a madhouse. And that's what we have: The fire in the mad-house at the end of time." (T. M., 1998)

Here's an InspiroBot quote that came up, featuring a base element of ORWELL (the title being Leet Speak and all that), so it deserves a place here as well:

I liked that on for the Ø, obviously ... [source]

And with this, I'm done. I'll use the pictures I created in Midjourney for my publications, and I see no harm in that. I'll make a note of it, so people can decide for themselves if it matters to them. I have no way of influencing that decision. After all, it is just superficial garnishing and it should be about the content instead of petty bullshit. But yeah, limits of control and all that. I'd just as quick work with an artist (as I did in the past) or use public domain art or diy it, as best as I can.

Thank you for taking the time. Stay safe out there, friends, it'll be a bumpy ride.

Yeah, sounds about right ... an AI's dream [source]