Back to Brewing (Kinda)

Years ago, I was an avid homebrewer. Then I moved someplace hot, where it wasn’t really practical to brew, and when we moved back to Korea, one thing after another prevented me getting back to it. (At first, it was just money and having a new kid; then it was the shoddy electrical system in our apartment, and the fact I was focusing on writing and parenting.)

But finally I am brewing again… and, unsurprisingly, part of the motivation is my son: I proposed a trade to my friend, whose kids had outgrown their LEGOS—a batch of beer for the blocks—and my friend assented. 

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MP Mini Delta Advance!

So, I got my wife a MonoPrice Mini Delta 3D printer years ago, when she expressed an interest in learning to do 3D printing. Turned out she wasn’t so interested after a while, so I figured I’d try put the thing to use. However, I was pretty daunted by the problems with the original firmware, and with the explanations of how to do bed leveling and get quality prints out of it. I did print off some low poly dinosaurs for our son, and game pieces for a friend. Here are a few of the things I printed: far from everything, just what I had handy in a single folder of images:

… but then there was a clog, and even after unclogging it, I found myself annoyed by the fact I couldn’t get the bed leveling and proper calibration done. Off and on, I fiddled briefly and gave up.

Things got better over time. For one thing, some alternate firmware became available! Someone named Demitrios V. (a.k.a. aegean-odyssey) forked the Marlin firmware and made some adjustments to make it work better for this specific model of printer, and once I got the hang of it, this system of calibration helped me out a lot. There were a few speedbumps along the way: I didn’t quite understand the auto-calibration process at first, and also learned that because my model is a very early one (as in, I backed the original production on IndieGoGo), there’s some alternate steps I have to follow when using the auto-calibration codes. (Which is to say, anytime I make any hardware adjustments.)

I also was getting some warnings about things overheating or underheating—but it turns out that was just an issue somehow related to the start code in my slicer overriding the stored calibration settings. 

Now, though? Things seem to be working pretty well. There’s some small upgrades I am looking to do—I need to print the bed clip upgrades, and want to add some legs to the bottom of the printer, as well. I also have a magnetic build surface I need to add to it, though I’m sort of waiting till the old disposable sticky-backed build surface I’m using now just gives out (or until there’s enough stuff accreted on it that I can’t remove and I just decide to junk it). 

My current printing project is a Halloween item for my son: megawillbot’s Halloween Pumpkin Spider Transformer. The (admittedly ugly) feature image for this post is actually the pumpkin slices for that Pumpkin Spider, in the process of being printed. (I only had red and white PLA, not orange, but it’s being painted anyway.) 

I guess I’ll update when the thing is fully printed, assembled, and painted—probably with a few images, one at each stage along the way. (I probably won’t bother snapping an image when I experiment with smoothing some bits using my Dremel tool, but I will report back about how it goes. I know from experience that the thing needs to run slow or it’ll melt the PLA and then bad things happen, but maybe I’ll be able to get it to work well this time…)

I don’t have a lot of time to sink into this, but it’s nice to have the machine functional again. My son’s very into Pokemon at the moment, and there are a lot of little Pokémon figures that people have shared on Thingiverse, so I’ll probably print off those occasionally for him for now. 

I did also back a few Kickstarters for 3D printable STLs, and the one I’m likeliest to try print up and paint within the next year or so is the Hexton Hills map tiles STL set. I’d like to try run a West Marches-styled game with a map slowly taking shape as players explore it; I figure having a good pile of tiles ready to go would be nice when the day comes. (I was thinking earlier today maybe “The Waste Marches” would work: a sort of postapocalyptic take on the West Marches style, that is. In any case, a pretty set of hexmap tiles would be fun to print, and the Hexton Hills tiles are also set up for decent printing in PLA. (And if there’s a place I can go to paint them, and it’s not too busy… so much the better.)

Review(s) of “Sojourn,” and Other Thoughts

I was very gratified a few weeks ago to learn of Simon Scott’s comments about by story “Sojourn”, one of the stories from the 2020 collection  City of Han that he discussed in a review in Kyoto Journal. He begins this way:

In this era of extreme global hypersensitivity to race and national narratives, it is arguably a high-risk proposition for a Western expat author in Asia to write about such things. Yet two of the authors represented in this volume of expat short stories from South Korea, Gord Sellar and Ron Bandun, fearlessly walk the ideological plank of their own privilege and manage to say something that is provocative rather than condescending about race in Asia.

Scott’s analysis is thoughtful and, I think, quite perceptive. (I would think so, he’s praising my story, of course, but it’s obvious he’s read and thought about the text.) In the end, he sums it up by saying, that my use of mutant superpowers and marginalization—and how people react to both in a small Korean cram school—was:

… a clever way for the author to explore issues of race, perception, discrimination, and the cultural status of foreigners in Korea.

It’s heartening to see that at least part of the point of the story got across. Not that I sat down to write something didactic, but certainly the story was informed by the kinds of things Scott mentions.

Meanwhile, it turns out I missed a review last year in the Asian Review of Books, as well, this one by Hannah Michell. She discusses several of the stories, but of “Sojourn” she writes:

A memorable science-fiction story, “Sojourn”, depicts Korea in an alternate reality where people are divided into mundanes and the gifted—those who have extra-sensory powers. An English teacher with the extra sensory gift of observing microscopic worlds witnesses the gift in a student as she levitates her pencil box. She is terrified of her powers as those with gifts are not celebrated but labeled as “deviants” and may be policed and sent away. It is through this extended metaphor that we are offered a glimpse of the stifling education system which punishes those who do not conform to expectations.

It’s nice to feel seen. Or, rather, to feel read.

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The Adventures of Samurai Cat by Mark E. Rogers

I first read this book as a teenager: I think my mother found it among the remaindered books at a local bookstore and brought it home for me, as she had so many other books I fondly remember. It’s gonzo parody featuring a samurai cat named Miaowara Tomokato adventuring as he avenges the death of his master—accompanied, at times, by his homicidal little nephew Shiro. 

The world of these books—it’s a series—is a patchwork jumble of pop/geek culture franchises and canonic works tossed it into a blender with Norse mythology and Japanese history, except with (a few) anthropomorphic cats. It opens in 16th century Japan, but then satirically crosses over into a pseudo-Middle Earth (overrun with D&D players), a Lovecraftian town named “Outsmouth” haunted by evil gods such as Isaac Azathoth and K’Chu, the Hyperborea of Con-Ed the Barbarian, and finally Ragnarok (which Miaowara Tomokato prevents).

Later books go to a long list of “places” (referentially, as much as geographically): King Arthur’s Court, Barsoom, the Star Wars universe, our world’s history, a number of popular blockbuster movies (including The Terminator, Alien, The Magnificent 7, and The Wizard of Oz), Dante’s Inferno… Samurai Cat apparently ranges very, very widely, literally cutting a wide swathe through whatever caught Rogers felt like parodying.

The writing is very much in the vein of 80s comedic parody writing: if you read Mad magazine, it’ll feel familiar. In the first book, there’s a recurring gag where people marvel at Tomotako’s feats and say, “What a stud.” 

I’m guessing that alone will  should tell you whether or not the text of these books might appeal to you. It’s a greasy, delicious cheeseburger, not Wagyu beef, but there’s nothing wrong with that as long as you know what you’re getting into and are happy to please your internal twelve-year-old for an hour or two. I don’t know that I take the idea of a “guilty pleasure read” seriously: I don’t feel guilty reading or being amused by these, even if the most they demand little of me as a reader. 

However, I would not be doing justice to the Samurai Cat series if I didn’t talk about the art. It’s… at least half of the appeal, at least for me, because it’s heavily illustrated, too. (I’m still kicking myself for not having picked up both of the portfolios of Samurai Cat art when I could. I have one, though, and since Rogers’ passing away in 2014, they’ve gone up in price significantly—and become more rare on the ground, too.)

Rogers’ website has gone offline since his passing, but I was able to find some images from a few (now long-gone) sites via the Wayback Machine’s archive. 

There’s some more thoughts after the cut, too, following the images. Continue reading

A**hole Island

Hey, finally post that’s not about RPG stuff, huh? 

I’m ending the first week of my month of writing time this year. This is the first time I’ve reallyt sat down and done some serious writing since 2018. I… just didn’t have it in me, somehow, in 2019, and throughout most of 2020 our son was home with us and my wife was recovering from a work-related injury for a chunk of the year, so … really, honestly, I guess I’d have to say it was some combination of there being no time and no energy.  

This year, though: we worked out a deal where I work days—like the normal semester—except I’m spending the time writing fiction, specifically trying to end a novel project. Seriously, the first day of the project was just me sort of installing Dropbox on the desktop I’m using these days, sorting through the mess of a fiction folder I have hosted there, and then trying to figure out what was a draft of what from when. 

(For that Gin Craze Era novel, there are actually five versions, and I’m not sure which—thr 3rd, 4th, alternate-4th, or 5th—is the one I need to return to when I get back to it. I think I’ll need to just export PDFs of them and skim them on my iPad. A big reading job in and of itself.)

The happy news? I’ve made good progress on A**hole Island, as you can see from the (rarely-updated) progress bar on my website. (It’s at 85% now, though I think I’m probably closer to 90% done. 

This is a novel that expands on a novella I wrote many years ago—so long ago that it was before I was married and had a kid. I expanded it into a novel back in 2018, hit a wall, and then just sort of never managed to get past it. Until now, that is.  

There’s three big things I need to do. 

  1. Work out the ending. This was something I just couldn’t make headway on, but the past week has been good for it. I wrote about 12,000 words in the past week (half of which were just me spinning my wheels and which ended up in the trash), but the result is motion toward a dramatic conclusion now, so that’s something!   
  2. Reintegrate some material into the text from an expanded opening section I ended up cutting. At some point when I was expanding it, I got it into my head that I should add some of what happened prior to the beginnning of the story in the novella, but on very good advice from a few people, I cut that again and went with the original beginning, which I think is a lot stronger. However, there’s some stuff I skipped over later on in the story because it’d been covered earlier, but which now I need to kind of get into in more detail. I think there are probably other little things, too, little asides and whatever that need to be introduced, for references to events before the start of the book to make sense.  
  3. A thorough reread/edit. Because, you know, it deserves that. 

I think I can probably do that next week.

That’ll leave me with two more weeks, which I think I’ll probably sink into a new novel project I haven’t mentioned before. It’s sort of… well, it’s kind of a mix of Office Space, Erin Brokovich, Glengarry Glen Ross, and At the Mountains of Madness. Kinda? It’s a moving target. But it’s fresh and not quite like anything I’ve written before (though it reminds me a little of the parts of James Morrow and William Browning Spencer’s work that I enjoyed, among others). So, you know, hey, I’ll go with it. Especially since it was pouring out of me a few weeks ago, when I was gearing up to start writing again. (That never hurts.)