davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
I know there are several people here who are quite into gaming in various forms, so it's probably worth passing on a fascinating website I just came across (and save myself a link to it at the same time).

PaxSims is run by Rex Brynen, professor of political science at McGill University. His focus is "the development and effective use of games and simulation-based learning concerning issues of conflict, peacebuilding, and development in fragile and conflict-affected states" So you get lots of stuff trying to simulate the intersection of politics, military affairs and humanitarian crises. There's at least one complete game available under the Aftershock link, but it's the reviews I've been finding fascinating, as there are more games in the sector than I'd imagined, ranging from the serious military simulations with added politics (Persian Incursion - Israel tries to take out the Iranian nuclear programme, incidentally the link that brought me here), to slightly more balanced mixes with BCT Command Kandahar, to much more political/resource management focussed with Afghan Provincial Reconstruction. Even better, the reviews are mostly based on having played them, in some cases with his students, and analysing what worked and what didn't, rather than simply having skimmed through the rules.

There's also reviews of books on wargame and game design, which I'm pretty certain [personal profile] yhlee  will find interesting, and a ton of links to related sites
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)

Beyond my part in the Spartacus Network response to the Work and Health Green Paper, I wanted to do a personal response as I take a slightly different view of the Disability Employment Gap that Work and Health is supposed to challenge and think it's much more to do with employer/recruiter disability discrimination and tacit government acceptance of the same/reluctance to display employers in a bad light.

I'd set today aside to do that, as submissions have to be in before 11:45PM (and dyspraxic, so bad with deadlines and planning), so of course today was the day I crashed and burned and slept all day because of cumulative fatigue.

The consultation had 46 questions, I managed to answer about 30 of them between waking up and remembering and 11:30PM rolling around which was when I pressed submit (just in time, it wasn't exactly quick to respond).

Which means I couldn't thoroughly respond to Work and Health because it was too much work for my health....

*headdesk* *headdesk* *headdesk*
 


 

davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
The multiply-transatlantic parcel finally arrived this morning, the alarums and excursions around it claiming to be delivered last week were due to it being held up with a customs fee - VAT to pay - which I finally got a card telling me needed paying on Tuesday.  I wouldn't have minded the VAT too much if the Royal Mail's handling fee hadn't practically doubled it.

I may have been slighty more wound up about it than I realised as I'd no sooner glanced through the contents and confirmed everything was there* than my body decided I was going to sleep. Now. By my reckoning I'd already had 6 to 7 hours, and my body decided to double that.**

So it's 8PM and I just had breakfast....

I haven't been sleeping particularly well since early January when I came down with that blasted cold, I seem to have been on more of a 30 hour, or 36 hour, cycle than a 24, which keeps you functional, but in a state of permanently too knackered to do anything constructive, not to mention awake at awkward times of the day and it looks like it may finally have caught up with me. Hopefully I can get back to something resembling normalcy now.

* Except for the stuff that went permanently out of stock in the near year it took the main item to finally be published,

** Complete with two*** dreams about starting a PhD back at Lancaster and having a pleasant conversation with the fiercest of my old lecturers. There are also vague memories of being signed up as an officer for World War Three (and Case Nightmare Green from the Laundry Files), but that's down to the reading I've been doing. All of them surprisingly domestic, rather than kinetic.

*** Or one dream, interrupted, as I woke up in the middle of it, checked the time and picked up the narrative again when I fell back to sleep.


 

 


davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)

The new Spartacus report, Smokescreen, into the government's Green Paper on Work and Health, is out. I'm listed as a co-author as it incorporates my 'Ticked Off' dissection of Disability Confident, but didn't actually do any work on the main report - which is a monumental, spectacular effort by Caroline Richardson and Stef Benstead.

TLDR: The government want us to see disabled people as the problem in disabled people being unable to work, rather than challenge employers as the actual cause of the Disability Employment Gap.

Executive summary of Work and Health: The beatings will continue until disability employment improves. *Headdesk*
davidgillon: Text: I really don't think you should put your hand inside the manticore, you don't know where it's been. (Don't put your hand inside the manticore)

Just checked the status again. Since our last episode:

 

Date & Time
 
Status of Item
Location

February 10, 2017 , 10:52 am

Delivered

UNITED KINGDOM

 

Your item was delivered in UNITED KINGDOM at 10:52 am on February 10, 2017.

February 9, 2017 , 7:14 pm

Processed Through Facility

UNITED KINGDOM

February 9, 2017 , 12:52 pm

Processed Through Facility

UNITED KINGDOM

February 7, 2017 , 6:24 am

Departed

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM

I was in the house all day yesterday. I actually took delivery of a parcel for a neighbour just after 11AM. But I certainly didn't take delivery of a parcel just before 11AM, or at any other time.

Seriously unimpressed and will be letting USPS know that.

davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)

Pretty good article on what Obamacare did for US bendies, and what taking it away might mean. The cost for those with vEDS doesn't bear thinking about.

And what goes for EDS applies to every other chronic illness that previously caused people to miss out on insurance cover.

Because god forbid an insurance company might not make a profit on every single patient.

davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
Date & Time
 
Status of Item
Location

February 7, 2017 , 6:24 am

Departed

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM

 

Your item departed a transfer airport in HEATHROW, LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM on February 7, 2017 at 6:24 am. The item is currently in transit to the destination.

February 6, 2017 , 5:11 pm

Departed

MIAMI, UNITED STATES

February 5, 2017 , 3:23 pm

Departed

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM

February 5, 2017 , 10:22 am

Departed

PHILADELPHIA, UNITED STATES

February 1, 2017 , 10:58 pm

Departed

PARIS, FRANCE

January 31, 2017 , 4:17 pm

Departed

WINDSOR LOCKS, UNITED STATES


So do I stay in on the chance it's going to arrive today, or assume it's crossing the Atlantic, again.

And can I claim its frequent flier miles?

WTF USPS?

Feb. 7th, 2017 12:36 am
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
I'm expecting a parcel from the States, which I've been tracking using the USPS website. All I can say is I understand now why transatlantic shipping is so costly.....

February 6, 2017 , 5:11 pm

 

Departed

MIAMI, UNITED STATES

 

Your item departed a transfer airport in INTERNATIONAL, MIAMI, UNITED STATES on February 6, 2017 at 5:11 pm. The item is currently in transit to the destination.

February 5, 2017 , 3:23 pm

Departed

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM

February 5, 2017 , 10:22 am

Departed

PHILADELPHIA, UNITED STATES

February 1, 2017 , 10:58 pm

Departed

PARIS, FRANCE

January 31, 2017 , 4:17 pm

Departed

WINDSOR LOCKS, UNITED STATES

January 31, 2017 , 4:16 pm

Departed

LOUISVILLE, UNITED STATES

January 31, 2017 , 3:11 am

Arrived

LOUISVILLE, UNITED STATES

January 30, 2017 , 9:49 pm

Departed

WEST PALM BEACH, UNITED STATES

January 30, 2017 , 9:49 pm

Departed

LOUISVILLE, UNITED STATES

January 30, 2017 , 8:25 pm

Departed

WEST PALM BEACH, UNITED STATES

January 30, 2017 , 5:10 pm

Arrived

MIAMI, UNITED STATES

January 30, 2017 , 4:31 pm

Processed Through Facility

ISC MIAMI FL (USPS) 

January 30, 2017 , 6:22 am

Arrived at USPS Facility

MIAMI, FL 33112 

January 30, 2017 , 6:22 am

Arrived at Facility

ISC MIAMI FL (USPS) 

January 27, 2017 , 9:50 pm

Arrived at USPS Facility

BIRMINGHAM, AL 35222 

January 27, 2017 , 8:35 pm

Accepted at USPS Origin Facility

BIRMINGHAM, AL 35210 



davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)

I've had a headache every day for the last fortnight, it's not constant, but every afternoon or evening, there it is again. It's not migraine level, but intense enough to be wearing.

My initial thought was it was part of my cold, which seemed to be staging a last stand in my sinuses, but I'm not really getting a lot of other cold symptoms anymore, so I've started thinking that may not necessarily be the case.

An obvious possibility is my new glasses - I switched to varifocals just under a month ago, or a combination of new glasses plus posture - the varifocals are inevitably going to change my ergonomics when I'm reading in a reclined position, particularly precise head/neck posture. The third option would be something otherwise c-spine-ish. I'm not aware of having done anything to my neck, but I've a history of neck issues suddenly popping up without warning, and sleeping with a collar on the other night seemed to help a little, but not enough to be entirely sure.

So I'm going to have to spend a few days experimenting with different combinations of things to see if they make a difference, starting with going back to my old glasses for a day or two.

Bah, this is a headache....
 

 


 

davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Crutches)

I did a quiz night with friends on Saturday (which we won, he says smugly) and there was one moment of humour that's worth repeating.

Questionmaster: "What is the largest species of lizard?"

Instant voice from the back: "Trump!"

The table across from us was particularly raucous - they turned up with takeaways and a bottle of gin - and only got louder as the night went on and the level of gin went down. That prompted one of my friends who knew them to note that mass would be interesting in the morning - apparently the two being noisiest were the cathedral's Director of Music and the organist.

There were a couple of answers I was dubious enough about to check up when I got home, and it turns out I was wrong to say John Wayne played the lead in Genghis Khan, it was Omar Sharif. But I wasn't wrong by much, he played Genghis Khan in The Conqueror. And I guessed right that they'd go with Copernicus as the first person to propose the heliocentric hypothesis, but I was right to think it was Aristarchus of Samos, who only beat him by 18 centuries (admittedly I couldn't remember the 'of Samos'). One of my friends was particularly upset that she couldn't remember the name of the Welsh Assembly's First Minister, because 'I'll get teased about it at work' - it wouldn't be an issue for most of us, but she works in the Constitutional Affairs team at the Cabinet Office. Whoops....

It's about a year since I last did a quiz, we used to do them much more regularly. The only drawback to this one was that there were really too many people in too small a space, which made conversation difficult to impossible, but still an enjoyable night.

davidgillon: Text: I really don't think you should put your hand inside the manticore, you don't know where it's been. (Don't put your hand inside the manticore)

I finally caught up on the missed sleep that had turned Friday into a stumbling disaster by sleeping through most of Saturday.

But I couldn't work out why I felt so feverish when I finally woke up Saturday evening, I'd thought my cold was long past that stage and my whole head just felt unpleasantly warm.

I didn't realise what was actually going on until the wee small hours of Sunday morning, at which point I promptly face-palmed myself.

I was supposed to have changed my butrans patch on Friday. I'd just spent 12 hours in opiate withdrawal because I was too stupid to realise I was in opiate withdrawal.

Fortunately it was easily enough fixed once I'd had a new patch on for a few hours, but I really hope this coming week is better than the last one!

 

davidgillon: Text: You can take a heroic last stand against the forces of darkness. Or you can not die. It's entirely up to you" (Heroic Last Stand)

That annoying thing when you wake up pre-dawn and two hours later it's still pre-dawn and you realise you're 12 hours out.

And then two hours later realise it's not the day you thought it was either.

I had to check the modification date on a file I knew I saved earlier to confirm I haven't entirely missed Friday, which means I was so tired Thursday and Friday have merged together in my head. I can vaguely remember thinking I must check Friday's webcomics, which is more confirmation, but I don't think I managed to actually do that. It also explains why there was one less helping of soup in the fridge than I expected at lunchtime.

I can sort of piece it together, Thurday night's sleep was more two or three hours trying to doze followed by eventually giving up and going downstairs, rather than actual sleep, but that led to a crash-dive onto the couch sometime late-afternoon, and staggering to bed sometime after dark. When I woke up and the alarm said 6:30 I definitely thought that was AM, not PM, so at this point I'm really, really glad I rolled over and slept another hour.

But that still means I may only have had 4 hours sleep in the last 56(?) hours.

I'm not sure I'll manage to get back into a proper sleeping rhythm, and at this point I'd even settle for nocturnally awake, until I'm rid of this damned cold, which is clinging on by the claws in the back of my throat and proving annoyingly difficult to get rid of. It's really not much more than sniffles and a cough, but just enough to disturb you as you drift towards sleep.

Meh!!!
 

davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)

I seem to have picked up my mother's cold as a parting gift from the North, so the first few days back home haven't exactly been productive. I've spent most of the time curled up on the couch under a blanket, which isn't absolutely necessary, but is comforting. It's one of those colds that mostly manifests as a wracking cough, so it's a useful excuse for breaking out the hot toddies. It's just as well I bought myself a new bottle of whisky pre-Christmas as I seem to need a hot drink in reach pretty much constantly even if they don't all have to be alcoholic..

Plus we had snow on Thursday night, so I'm not planning on going out anywhere until the cold fades away and it warms up. The snow itself has mostly melted, but taking the cough outside at the moment would likely leave me puddled on the floor with the rest of the snowmelt. I was amused to find from one of the articles about snow in the papers (this is Britain after all, even the prospect of weather is headline news) that I grew up about 5 miles away from the place that sees the 5th heaviest snowfall in the UK and the heaviest in England - Copley is a little village just up the road from Bishop Auckland, but does have the local weather station. No wonder I remember a lot of snow as a kid.

Kent doesn't see anything like as much snow, often none at all in a winter, but does tend to get a fairly good dose when it does - I've waded to work through waist deep snow when I was young and stupid but that was exceptional (it was noticeable that only the Northerners and the Welsh made it in that week day, none of the locals). This batch was only a couple of inches, but was falling quite heavily for several hours. As I have a streetlight at the bottom of the back garden to backlight it falling snow makes for a very pretty effect. It seemed to be quite waterlogged as snow goes, so heavier than it might have looked, and after a couple of hours I heard a dull thud from the patio. When I went to look I found my jasmine bush had peeled itself away from the fence and was flopped over the patio chairs. Fortunately it picked itself up once the snow melted off it and there's no need for me to go out and tie it up. I was very surprised it did fall over as there's definite triffid in its breeding and it curls itself around everything.

Of course the lack of regular snow here means no one knows how to drive in it, and it fell over the Thursday rush hour. I was truly glad not to be stuck in the queue of traffic that was inching down the main road into town. I have been stuck in it in the past, when I was still working, and it was truly miserable, an hour plus to get home instead of 5-10 minutes. There were also times pre-car when I was on foot, gave up on catching a bus and outpaced the traffic, on crutches. Not missing that at all (though I got some memorable evil glares from drivers as I effectively skied past them <g>).

OTOH I do actually like snow - my dad could never understand that, but ensuring the roads were all ploughed was one of his professional responsibilities (see above re place with most snowfall in England), so I can understand his mixed feelings - and I've not had any chance to enjoy the clean crispness and nippy chill of this batch, so is it really evil of me to hope we get some more in a week or two when I'm rid of this damned cold? Of course it's not exactly practical in the chair, but my New Years resolution is to try and get back into the daily waddle, the number of times I walked more than 100m in the last year is probably into double figures, but not by much (and I measured my length on a couple of those).
 

davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)

Virgin Trains just emailed me and asked how my journey went yesterday and whether I was likely to recommend their service.

I gave them 3 on 10.

We're sorry that we didn't deliver a great service for you.  Could you tell us, in your own words, why you gave us that score?

I travelled as a wheelchair-using passenger in the Standard Class wheelchair space. (Coach F). The wheelchair space on the left side of the carriage places me in line with the aisle as it passes the accessible toilet, making my space a bottleneck. Passengers were continually brushing past me and with no door between carriage and vestibule space the environment was so noisy I could not hear announcements, safety or otherwise. The right hand Standard Class wheelchair space, which does not have these drawbacks, was occupied by a non-disabled passenger for the entire trip. (And passengers were being encouraged to place bulky luggage in the space a chair would have had to occupy had one boarded at York).

Additionally the accessible toilet was out of service for my entire trip of almost three hours, including the nearly two hour fast section between York and Kings Cross. I recognise that mechanical failures will occasionally happen, but none of the on-train staff thought to check whether the lack of a an accessible toilet was an issue for me. Given that a disabled passenger being forced to wet themselves through lack of an accessible toilet had been national headline news within the past week (even if with another TOC), this reflects poorly on Virgin East Coast's standards of customer care.

If it is not already policy that train staff should check with wheelchair using passengers if the accessible toilet is out of action, then it needs to be made so urgently.

I would also suggest that if a train has a wheelchair passenger due to board, and an out of service onboard toilet, the message be passed ahead to station passenger assistance staff and the passenger offered the options of i) being boarded in the other class if the wheelchair space is available (obviously with a refund in the case of a First Class passenger forced to travel Standard Class), ii) travelling by a later train, iii) opting not to travel and receiving a full refund.

It rather boggles the mind that on a previous journey on-train staff specifically approached me to offer to fetch and carry for me as the trolley service was out of action, but on this trip didn't even speak to me when the accessible toilet was out of action, no matter that at least two interacted directly with me during the ticket check.

If you have any other comments or feedback please type them in the box below.

On my prior journey to Darlington I received an offer of an upgrade to First Class for £20, with instructions to approach the Guard on the train to see if space is available. There appears to have been no thought to how this offer would work, or rather fail to, for a wheelchair-using passenger. By the time I have boarded it is impossible for me to upgrade to 1st Class because I cannot move through the train, nor can I move through the train to locate the guard to enquire if there is space for me to take up the offer.

As there is only a single First Class wheelchair space, in comparison with several carriages of non-wheelchair First Class spaces, the overwhelming likelihood is that wheelchair passengers are much less likely to be able to avail themselves of this offer than non-wheelchair using passengers.

Equally, to the best of my knowledge there are two Standard Class wheelchair spaces, but only a single First Class wheelchair space. If both Standard Class wheelchair passengers have received the offer, the Guard could be faced with two people requesting upgrade to the same single space at exactly the same moment. There appears to have been no thought whatsoever as to how the offer would function for a wheelchair-using passenger.

The offer can only function in a fair and equitable manner for wheelchair-using passengers if they have the same likelihood of being able to access it as non-wheelchair-users. It cannot work for them at all if they must wait to contact on train staff, and needs to be modified so that they can approach station passenger assistance staff instead in order to be boarded in the appropriate carriage.

As the system stands, Virgin East Coast are running offers that can only be used by non-wheelchair-using passengers, which constitutes direct disability discrimination and places the offer in violation of the Equality Act 2010.

Home

Jan. 10th, 2017 09:16 pm
davidgillon: A pair of legs (mine) sitting in a wheelchair (wheelchair)
Finally back from Durham, normal service will be resumed as soon as I'm caught up with stuff.

No disasters with passenger assistance on the trains this time, but the accessible loo was out of action for the entire nearly three hour trip from Darlington to Kings Cross. I plan on gently needling Virgin East Coast about it on Twitter tomorrow. It gives a whole new meaning to #NoGoBritain ;)

And doubly troubling as lack of accessible loos was a headline story barely a week ago.
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
Still in Durham and only getting internet when I get over to my sister's, but surviving. Weather is incredibly mild - 8c today, when we'd normally expect it to be hivering around zero.

Christmas was slightly topsy-turvy as we have a tummy bug working it's way around the family, we ended up doing presents on Boxing day instead and I bailed out early on New Years Eve as I wasn't completely over my bout with it. OTOH I left the house with £40 in my pocket and came back with £55, so that wasn't bad ;) (I'd still rather have had the bottle of whisky my -- teetotal -- Mother won in the raffle, OTOH I did win a hamper of chocolate in the Christmas one).

Normal service should be restored in about a week.

davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)

 Made it up to Durham without too much trouble - the usual 50% hit rate on boarding assistance for the train - one waiting on the wrong platform with the ramp when we pulled into St Pancras, and the help at Kings Cross finally turned up just after they locked the doors. Fortunately the on-train staff stepped in in both cases. I was so ahead of schedule getting to Rochester that I was running an hour and a half of schedule. Of course that didn't help when I was on a fixed train out of King's Cross.

I've spent the last week doing nothing much at all, and enjoying it thoroughly!

Season's Greetings to everyone!
 

davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
I'm headed North for Christmas with the rest of the family in the morning and I can't find my mifi hub, so getting online is going to be a case of wandering over to my sister's - i.e. intermittent.

Given which: Season's greetings to everyone, in whichever is your preferred format.
 

I'm hoping the break in routine will let me reset my sleep pattern so I'm actually getting more than 4-5 hours sleep a night, which clearly isn't enough. I'm fighting to stay awake right now for long enough to pack, though fortunately there's not a lot of packing needed. I'd say I was feeling exhausted, except I've just seen my friends who are caring 24/7 for their adult son who has brain cancer, and my gauge for exhausted just got reset.

Stuff I'm hoping to do while away: work on book 2; consider rewrite of book 1 based on [personal profile] yhlee 's excellent comments; promised beta read - planning to load this onto kindle in a minute for tomorrow's train journey; respond to two different government consultations - work and health and disability hate crime - both due by January; and possibly blog on disability hate crime as well as I just realised the way prosecutions aren't working in court can be construed as forcing disability hate crime to pass a double jeopardy test.

Of course most plans don't survive contact with reality.
davidgillon: Text: You can take a heroic last stand against the forces of darkness. Or you can not die. It's entirely up to you" (Heroic Last Stand)

I'm currently stuck in that thing where my body keeps insisting I fall asleep on the spot. This wouldn't be so much of a problem if I was getting 8 hours as a result, but it's been more like 4 or 5, or even 1 or 2, and that's just not enough. Worse, it means I'm tired enough any activity is triggering the fall asleep on the spot thing.

It's a good thing I'm off to spend Christmas and New Year with the family on Wednesday, as that will probably break the cycle. I haven't quite decided what I'm doing about internet while I'm up in Durham, it may just be intermittent access whenever I pop over to my sister's, or if I can find my MIFI hub I may buy a SIM and hope it lasts longer than the 2 hours of the one I bought last Christmas.

On the plus side, two years ago today I was being rushed through A&E with acute pancreatitis, so at least I'm doing better than that.

I spent 5 hours running errands today, and I think my body hates me for it. It wasn't meant to be 5 hours and it started quite well, I whipped through the stuff with my banks in Chatham - there was a really helpful guy on their helpdesk who did everything for me on the spot rather than sending me off to the teller windows, which made things much simpler. OTOH the Coastguard SAR helicopter was overhead and searching the river, which was a bit grim. But then I went to Rochester and it was full. I literally could not find a space to park at lunchtime. Presumably that was down to the Christmas Market in the Castle, but I couldn't park so I never got to find out. I went off and did some grocery shopping instead - okay some booze shopping, the bar is bare - and tried again at 3:30. Even then I only just managed to find a space, but at least I managed to get my repeat prescription (the one my GP forgot to do on Tuesday) and finally picked up my train tickets for the trip to Durham. God help anyone trying to park tomorrow if it was like this today.

So I came in and fell asleep. For 6 hours.

I hit a milestone on the car while I was out - 20k miles on the clock.

Since 2001.

And no, that isn't missing a zero

One of my friends was complaining on FB this morning that they'd just had an email about a delivery that excluded any useful information whatsoever about what was being delivered and who it was from. I'd no sooner commented on that than I found a card through my door from the post office. They have a parcel for me, with inadequate postage on it (fortunately only £2), and I need to pay up to get it. Of course there's no indication whatsoever of what the parcel is and who it's from.

I suspect it's the stuff I ordered from the States. In May.

I knew I was ordering in advance, I just didn't realise how much in advance. As soon as they indicated they'd started shipping a few days ago, it's been a nightmare as to whether it would arrive before I disappear North, because I'm away for longer than the post office hold onto parcels before sending them back. The postage is already extortionate, I really don't want to have to pay it twice. Delivery on Monday, hopefully.

On a completely different topic, one of the webcomics I read stopped updating over a year ago, with no real word as to what was happening. I noticed today it had been updated, and it's the author explaining how she had a breakdown, but is now recovering. Its fascinating to see someone talking about it so openly, and in graphic format.

 

davidgillon: Text: You can take a heroic last stand against the forces of darkness. Or you can not die. It's entirely up to you" (Heroic Last Stand)

No standard print media since the last update, that was just last Sunday, but I accidentally got sucked into re-reading some Schlock Mercenary. Schlock has been running daily since 12-Jun-2000, which makes for a very large archive - it just completed book 16, so a post the other day suggested a few potential starting points for people. The earliest suggestion was the start of Book 10, so I followed the link to remind myself which one that was, and, erm, started reading. From 29-Feb-2008. 3025 strips in three days. Eek!

What rereading them revealed is just how good a storyteller Howard Tayler has become, there are bits buried at the start of books that illuminate things that happen a year or more later in our real time when the story reaches the end of the book. It''s often difficult to remember those when reading them daily, but they really show up in a reread.

Ostensibly about Schlock, the series developed into an ensemble cast:

Schlock - Cheerfully amoral 'Carbo-silicate Amorph', a sergeant in the mercenary company Tagon's Toughs. A shapeshifter, he keeps being mistaken for a 1.5m pile of manure. Occcasionally bright, commonly childlike, mostly violent.
Captain Kaff Tagon - Commander of Tagon's Toughs. Inclined to appear a bit dim, but actually very good at what he does. Which still doesn't stop him wedging his foot in his mouth with predictable regularity
Commander Kevyn Andreyasn - Possibly the smartest biological sophont in the galaxy. Has repeated revolutionised technology (and started galaxy spanning wars as a result). Resident Mad Scientist.
Ennesby - Formerly the AI running a virtual boy band, now Tagon's snarky adjutant.
Petey - Formerly the AI running the Tough's starship, now the face of the Fleetmind, a hivemind of starship AIs that control the Plenipotent Domain, the galactic superpower, which is running the war against the dark matter Pa'anuri of Andromeda, a war Kevyn accidentally restarted. Appears as a koala-like hologram,
Ebby, Legs, Andy, Nick, Elisabeth, Chisulo - the other members of Schlock's squad, with Ebby in command. Nick's the only human, and he makes Tagon look bright. Eventually designated as Xeno Team.

Book 10: The Longshoreman of the Apocalypse

The Toughs get a new job - escort a shipment of relief supplies to the artificial world of Credomar (a cylinder about 6km in diameter and 40 in length, with a population of 5 million). But first they pick up a few new recruits, including 18 year old roboticist Para Ventura. To a large degree Book 10 is about Para finding her place in the Toughs

So how difficult can delivering a few supplies be? Very, it turns out, when Credomar is factionalised over control of the food supply, the contract says they have to distribute the supplies, and the docks are out of action. With 65 megatons of supplies to unload, they should be done in about 25 years. That's when Para repurposes a damaged tank as the eponymous Longshoreman Of The Apocalypse, which promptly proclaims that it, LOTA, is too mighty for puny pronouns. When things go wrong, the Toughs have to launch a desperate raid to sieze a stock of antimatter, Para finds herself alone against a mob, and LOTA siezes a solution to the problem.

And meanwhile, there's the puzzle of Credomar's wierdly inefficient design.

Book 11: Massively Parallel

After accidentally bending their ship and its AI in Credomar, the Toughs have to split up to make enough to cover wages while it's repaired.

Schlock, Elisabeth and Chisulo get a job at the circus. As Chisulo is an uplifted elephant and Elisabeth looks like a elephant-sized gorilla they aren't entirely out of place, though Carbo-silicate amorphs are old news, which leaves Schlock playing janitor. They're undercover to investigate a murder, but something smells very off about their employer.

Kevyn, meanwhile, is back off to Credomar, King LOTA wants an evac mechanism for the city's inhabitants, and Kevyn is the inventor of the teraport. Things get murkier when they figure out the smoking gun of just why Credomar is so inefficiently designed, Are they building a safety mechanism, or unlocking a weapon of mass destruction? And can they trust LOTA?

And for Tagon and most of the company it's the humiliation of being reduced to mallcops. In Mall One, a rotating spacestation, full of open spaces and plagued by a mysterious set of urban runners. There's only one way to catch them - train the Toughs in Parkata Urbatsu, the martial art of urban running. Meanwhile, is Nick about to get a girl, and which girl is it going to be, the mysterious blonde spy, or the fast food clerk?

And all the strands braid back together again with a desperate mission into the heart of an enemy-held asteroid to rescue Kevyn's clone, and Tagon's dad. Of course neither are exactly helpless - never underestimate a man with a remote-controlled headless monkey and a bandolier of grenades.

Book 12: Force Multiplication

An earlier book saw the Toughs stumble on a deep black UNS intelligence operation, one that they only got out of alive by agreeing to have their memories altered. Petey now has a way to reverse that, and it's time for the Toughs to remember what really happened, what really never happened, and who did it to them. One of the not-memories is the wedding of Doc Bunny Bunnigus and the Reverend, which means doing the whole thing over.

Given the need to speak to her (not-)mother-in-law, Bunny quickly decides on a field trip to check up on Shep, one of the Toughs' retired soldiers. Given Shep lives in a rough habitat, she takes Schlock, Para, Legs and Ennesby along with her, and hires Kathryn (that would be the mysterious blonde spy) to ferry them there. Things rapidly escalate as they discover the whole habitat is under the control of the mysterious Professor Pau, who doesn't like doctors, but has a medicine to cover every eventuallity. With Shep kidnapped, it's up to them to get him back, and Kathryn may have just the skills they need. Well she would have if she hadn't just defaulted on the contract she signed, giving Schlock the right to eat her.

So it's Kathryn vs Schlock in the bowels of Haven Hive, and Kathryn turns out to be unexpectedly resourceful. But then she stumbles onto what's really going on, and she's not about to let that go unanswered. Even if it means a chance of running into Schlock again as the Toughs make their move to free Shep.

Book 13: Random Access Memorabilia

The Toughs are hired to provide security on an archaeological dig, the dig being on an artifact, Oisri, that's so old it has a planet wrapped around it. The problem being Oisri is potentially so valuable it may be worth throwing entire fleets at them. Fortunately the Toughs have an answer for that, an autofabricator with a large pile of dirt going in at one end and lots and lots of missiles coming out at the other. That takes care of the overt threat, but leaves covert routes open, including nano-warfare, which it turns out Tagon has a history with.

It actually turns out the major threat is on a more human scale when one of the scientists accidentally rips his head off, then gets up again. The Toughs are up against Redhack, the culmination of the intelligence project they stumbled on. It was supposed to be a means of immortality, now it's a weapon, turning people into killing machines, and the only way out may be to kill everyone the Toughs signed on to protect.

Meanwhile, there is a spy aboard their ship.

Book 14: Broken Wind

Kathryn is back at Mall One, bonding with Tagon's dad over a little urban running, when they run into an alien with a job for both Tagons and the Toughs. Which is when Karl Tagon finds out his son has blown up yet another UNS battleplate; time to get everyone out of Dodge before they're scooped up by UNS intelligence. That includes Kathryn's urban runners and Alexia Murtaugh, the mercenary/cop who took the blame for what went down in Book 12.

Meanwhile the Toughs are facing up to the news their ship was totalled when its AI went berserk during the events at Oisri. Petey wants them to retire, and some of them are seriously tempted, the Plenipotent Dominion is a post-scarcity society, thanks to having turned the galactic core into a power generator. If money isn't an issue, then boredom may be, and when Karl Tagon turns up with a gunship and a job, he finds his son and the Toughs ready to board. Of course there is the small matter of the gunboat refusing to answer to anyone but the spy who betrayed them.

The job the Oafans have for them is a bug hunt, but the scale of the bug hunt wasn't actually as clear as it might have been. Eina Afa, the ancient spacestation that needs delousing, is big enough you could stuff the Moon and Mars inside with room to spare. The job gets fairly rapidly rescoped as a biological sampling mission, but then the station's old defences wake up, and they're stuck trying to find a way to talk down yet another berserk AI.

Book 15: Delegates and Delegation

The Oafans send an embassy to Sol in Ennesby's new ship, with Captain Murtaugh and  Xeno Team along as security. Of course, diplomatic credentials or not, there's a certain intelligence agency that may consider the Toughs to know too much. If they knew what the Toughs really have in mind they'd nuke them from orbit, as the only way to be sure.  This time the Toughs aren't going to revolutionise technology, they're going to revolutionise society.

Of course theirs may not be the only revolution people have planned. So it's up to the Toughs, a UNS ship designer, and a killing machine in a body he doesn't own to save the day and stop the UNS descending into civil war. (With a little help from a 750kg uplifted Polar Bear).

Book 16: Big Dumb Objects

The Toughs are still helping get their new home in the Neofan Freehold (aka Eina Afa) up and running. There are cities to be built in a day (okay, two), judiciaries to be created, and ancient librarians to be resurrected to see if they know enough to save the Galaxy (they don't, but they do know where the index is). Fortunately money isn't an issue when you have an ancient spacedock stuffed to the gills with millions of derelicts whose trans-uranic hulls are individually worth a fair fraction of the annual GDP of Sol system. And in between times, there's an archive Petey needs looting access to, which rapidly descends into a crime-scene.

But everything comes together when the science team stumbles onto the location of an ancient Oafan 'world forge'. Only one problem, it should be the size of Saturn, and it's been squished down to the size of Earth. Plus someone's already living there.

Fortunately the Essperrin are perfectly willing to sell access, for a ship or two. They would even be cute, as knee-high space ant-butterflies, but for their habit of 'improving' any technological system they can get their hands on. And their senior commander can't help noticing how much portable worth the Toughs new ships represent....

Over-Arcing Thoughts

I don't quite know how far back Howard Tayler has had the Schlock arc pinned down, but it's been clear for a while that the core arc is the Redhack technology and what functional immortality is going to do to society. The roots of that arc stretch right back into the very earliest days of Schlock Mercenary, when it was still primarily a daily strip and a long story arc was a month. The stories above represent the arc moving into the end game (Tayler's said as much), which is perhaps obvious when Book 17 is called A Little Immortality.  There's still the war against the Pa'anuri to resolve, and will Petey end up a benevolent god, or a tyrant, but I think those are the backdrop against which a more human story plays.

Schlock went through the same art evolution as a lot of webcomics, in fact it's early art is much more basic than a lot of comics start with. Tayler himself says: "Seriously, don’t start people at the beginning. Just don’t."  But if its art has evolved further than most, I still think it's the storytelling that has come furthest. That goes for characterisation too. Earliest Schlock had almost no female characters, but current Schlock has 5 female command characters out of 10 and several significant female characters in the enlisted ranks. Schlock doesn't just beat the Bechdel test, it has military operations being entirely run by female officers (the male officers are almost entirely absent from Book 15), and other female characters getting together to talk about the spaceships and robots they're designing and building. Kevyn, the resident mad-scientist, is regularly mocked by Para, who is simply better with robots and AIs than he will ever be (and Elf, his partner, is often the more practical engineer) Meanwhile Tagon started out as almost a buffoon, and he still has his foot in mouth moments, but he's now convincingly a commander to be reckoned with.

Howard Tayler is right, the Schlock archive is huge and intimidating, but I think it's worth the investment. Personally I might start with Delegates and Delegation to see if it appeals, the story is relatively self-contained even if some of the motivations won't be. That will leave you in a good position to work forward from there to the leading edge of the story, and you can go back and pick up the older stories at your leisure.
 


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David Gillon

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