LANCE officially released, signing in San Diego this Saturday (4/28), reading in SF 5/19

Today is Lance of Earth and Sky’s birthday!

To celebrate the launch, one of these little gryphons will be released into the wild with a signed copy of Lance:

Stop by the Andovar World Facebook Page to vote on the giveaway type (random draw? art contest? haiku contest?), or leave a comment here. 🙂 The gryphons were created by Becca Gollins of DragonsAndBeasties, and if you can’t wait for the draw, you can order your own tiny gryphon from her on Etsy.
I will be signing at Mysterious Galaxy this Saturday at 2pm in San Diego! The good folk at MG were kind enough to host a book launch for Sword of Fire and Sea last year, and Lance will officially launch there again this year.

You can RSVP on Facebook here, check out the event page here, or just stop by if you’re in the area! If you can’t make the event, there will be signed copies in the store after. Mysterious Galaxy is over eighteen years old and is a bastion of independent genre book love in southern CA.

And if you’re in northern California, I’ll be reading at SFinSF with Ysabeau Wilce and Marie Brennan on May 19th! SFinSF is sponsored by the wonderful Tachyon Publications (publishers of a great deal of Peter Beagle’s work, amongst other things), with books provided at the event by the equally amazing Borderlands Books, another amazing independent haven for genre fiction (with a super delicious cafe joined to it to boot).

Hope to see you if you can manage to be in either area! My head is deeply buried in SHIELD and the Work Game, thus the blog sparsity, but my plan for both of these is to be manifestly present. Possibly with cookies. Stay tuned for another post next week about Lance‘s dedication, some family history, and my short story “At the Foot of the Lighthouse: Todai Moto Kurashi”, appearing at in May. My cup runneth over.

FogCon schedule in Walnut Creek

Jay and I are here at FogCon (FogCon through tomorrow! Come and say hi if you’re in the area!

Friday    8:00 p.m.   
 The Redefined Body   
Up to now, science has mostly focused on repairing our existing bodies. What happens when our technology is good enough to let us change our bodies, or control other things as if they were parts of our bodies? How might technology let us go beyond keeping healthy and into changing our physical selves? What fiction or nonfiction books do the best job painting the upcoming possibilities?   
Salon B/C   
 Moderator: Alan Bostick    
 Emily Jiang    
 Eva Folsom    
Erin Hoffman    

Friday 9:30pm
BroadUniverse Rapid Fire Reading
Santa Rosa
Saturday    10:30 a.m.   
 Gray Is the New Purple   
 Aging isn’t for the weak of heart. What sf/f works deal with the topic of aging, either positively or negatively? Who gets it right and who should do some homework?   
 Salon B/C   
 Moderator: Madeleine Robins  
Phyllis Holliday    
 Erin Hoffman    

 Sunday    1:00 p.m.   
Let’s Design Some Aliens   
The audience will design three separate alien species, with gentle guidance from the panelists to help keep them semi-plausible.    
 Salon B/C   
 Moderator: Vylar Kaftan       
 Erin Hoffman    
 Juliette Wade    
 Phyllis Holliday    

Guest Post: The Importance of Ethical Video Game Design

Happy First Day of Spring, everybody. 🙂 In January I was contacted by Erin Palmer from the US News University Directory about a guest appearance here. After some discussion and review of their directory, I asked if she might be interested in coordinating a guest post about finding a game design school that specializes or allows for a focus in Games for Health or other “social mission”-oriented game design. Rather to my (happy) surprise, I’m often contacted by students asking where and what they should study if they’re specifically interested in designing games that have an educational or social mission. This seems to be a growing specialization desire for students going into college, and it’s pretty terrific. So here’s the guest post they came up with. –Erin


The Importance of Ethical Video Game Design

Video games have grown up. No longer are games designed for entertainment purposes only or just for gaming enthusiasts. The U.S. military uses video games for training. Through video games, Fortune 500 companies sell products and charities raise awareness. Schools use them to teach logic and problem-solving skills.

As video games’ reach and use extends across broad segments of society, they are increasingly being held up as models of ethical and social inquiry. That focus is spilling over to the curriculum in game design schools, as well.

Students in game design school take courses like animation, special effects and graphic design, and 2D and 3D modeling. They’ll expect to learn how to create a game from concept to launch – but they should also be expected to dig deeper into social theories and impacts, as well as ethical questions of game design.

Game Design Ethics Are a Hot Topic 

The debate over violence in video games has always been lively, involving everyone from game producers to parents, educators to criminal justice professionals. Lately, designers and critics alike are increasingly calling for games to help solve social problems, contribute to ethical inquiry, improve social discourse and help users examine their own views on issues.

It’s clear that games can be used for more than just escape and entertainment. Some experts say they can – and should – help solve global issues like climate change, poverty and hunger; or individual challenges, like obesity and depression. It sounds like the future could be in the hands of those who play and design video games – and it’s imperative that game design schools focus on both ethics and entertainment.

Ethical Questions for Video Game Design Educators and Students to Ponder 

The video game field can lead in countless directions, from design and development to production and project management. Regardless of the focus, students of game design should be encouraged to ask how they can use the profession for the greater good:

  • How can we leverage the power of video games to deliver education to more people?
  • How do games influence users’ choices regarding social and environmental issues?
  • How can video games make a positive contribution to society?
  • What is the role of video games in ethical discussions?
  • Can games promote certain ethical positions while entertaining? Should they?

It’s important to learn how games influence and affect not only the players, but society as a whole. It is possible to create video games that advance moral and ethical education.

Incorporating Ethics into Video Game Design Programs

Whether single-player or MMOG, video games can teach basic skills like math and spelling; moral lessons like integrity and accountability; and life lessons that come from inhabiting another world with a different personality. They offer ways to explore philosophical and ethical ideas that are not otherwise readily available to most people. Where else can a player make the choice to be a hero or a villain, to invade a village or rescue it, or to keep a found treasure or share it with others? Where else can players learn the consequences of their choices, with the ability to try again, and hope for a better outcome?

Video game designers are being encouraged to think about games in a different way; to create games that are fun and have a positive message; and to help young people navigate through life with a better understanding of themselves and their choices. More game designers are seeking out ethical game companies. As demand grows, educational opportunities should expand as well. More students pursuing video game design careers will be seeking out design programs that include an ethical component, or that focus on educational, social or environmental issues. Together, game design educators and students can help make the world a better place, one game at a time!

Guest post provided by U.S News University Directory a leading resource for locating online computer degrees and IT certification programs from accredited colleges, as well as, a growing collection of education articles and career information.  For more information please visit

Cover art for Lance of Earth and Sky! Plus, get Clockwork Phoenix on Kindle

We’re sliding into the holidays, and there is prettiness to share! Behold, Dehong’s latest lovely creation:

(Click the image to open a larger version.)

You can now preorder Lance of Earth and Sky on Amazon also. 🙂

It’s truly an honor to have another cover from Dehong. I understand he’s been very busy with Time Voyager (and their MMO coincidentally titled Chaos Gate!), so it’s especially fortunate that he was able to make some time for Andovar. 🙂

Also, you can now pick up Clockwork Phoenix on Kindle for $3.99! The anthology was critically acclaimed and has some great stories in it from Laird Barron, Leah Bobet, Michael J. DeLuca, and others — including my fableish thing “Root and Vein”, which got a nice call out from this recent review at Dark Cargo.

Reviews continue to come in for Sword of Fire and Sea and I have been inexcusably lax in getting them all compiled onto my website. But That Bookish Girl saysSword of Fire and Sea by Erin Hoffman was an incredibly exciting and compelling read.” — and weighs in on gryphons and more: “Through her characters, Hoffman imbues the Gryphons with a true sense of awe, and an initial feeling of them being the Other.”

I hope you are all winding toward a great holiday season, and an even better 2012.

At World Fantasy Today in San Diego, 2pm panel

The little gryphons and I are at World Fantasy today! Amazing to see so many awesome people in my hometown. Hope you’ll say hello if you’re in the area!

2:00 PM

Pacific 1: The Successful Misfit as a Theme in Fantasy

Is Schmendrick the Magician endearing because he’s a lovable loser, or is there something else going on? Nerds, geeks, and absent-minded professors abound in the pages of genre literature. What is it about the social misfit that attracts readers and makes them empathize with the protagonist? Are authors and readers self-identifying?

Peter S. Beagle, Deborah Biancotti, Erin Hoffman, R. L. LaFevers, Mark L. Van Name (M)

Goodreads Giveaway of Sword of Fire and Sea

Poking my head in here since it looks like Goodreads has approved my giveaway — must have missed the email!

On Halloween entries will close, so get it while it’s hot! Three copies up for grabs.

More news… soon. 🙂 The game is afoot! Also, in Andovar news, this past week I received the countersigned contract for Shield of Sea and Space, which means: IT’S A TRILOGY!!! Lance of Earth and Sky comes out April 2012, and I turn in Shield in June.

But I know you’re really here for giveaway details. Let’s see if this works!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Sword of Fire and Sea by Erin Hoffman

Sword of Fire and Sea

by Erin Hoffman

Giveaway ends October 31, 2011.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

1988, Game Piracy, and the End of an Escapist Era

It’s been awhile since I last wrote for the Escapist, so I’m glad it appears I haven’t forgotten how to do it. “1988: the Golden Age of Game Piracy”, went live today. Many thanks to Paul Reiche for providing insights; in addition to his actual quotes, his perspective pivoted the article away from a first draft that had a rather different tone.

I had intended to post about the article with some “bonus features” in the form of a section that was ultimately removed (rightfully) for being too academic. Maybe I’ll post that another time, since I’d really like to know whether I was properly applying some economic theory.

But instead I’d like to draw your attention to this post from Russ Pitts, “Goodbye is Still Goodbye”.

As you might gather, Russ is moving on from the magazine, and while I’ve worked with a great number of wonderful folk in the last five years, I don’t think any of them would disagree that Russ’s departure in particular marks the end of an era.

My first article for the Escapist back in 2006 was a rather impetuous call to arms for the modern game industry, when the E was quite a different place. It had almost none of its current features and was instead “purely” focused on what would become its “feature” articles; there was a beautiful graphic cover and full spread art for each feature. Even then, in the magazine’s youth, I thought it was a tremendous honor to write for them, and over the years I do believe they remained the best and most thoughtful source of game journalism in the US. They aimed to set a standard of excellence, and Russ was a big part of that success.

Joe Blancato and Jon Martin (both also by now departed) made my introduction to the magazine, but Russ was the consistent editorial steady hand on the wheel throughout — even, interestingly, when he’d moved on to fresher pastures to grow the magazine’s new video content. Where many game magazines have a very well-intentioned but limited tunnel vision view of the industry and the market, Russ had a worldliness that gave the magazine breadth and, I think, greater relevance. He published some tremendous stuff, and as the magazine grew and changed — even when it transitioned away from some of the thoughtfulness and cultural forward-thinking that had first earned it my loyalty as a reader and a writer — I always respected his ability to ride the leading edge of a wave that made new careers even as it destroyed many others.

So, as Leah would say, tip your hat, folks; the times they are a-changin’. There is little doubt that the Escapist will remain a powerhouse in game media for many years to come, and even less doubt that Russ will go on to even greater adventures. But among other things, Inside Job, the quality of life column I wrote from 2007-2008, wouldn’t have existed without him, nor, I’m sure, would many of my feature articles. I am a better writer as a result, and I will always think back on the production of each — even when edits and deadlines plus a “real” job resulted in all-nighter catatonia — with great fondness.

You can keep up with Russ’s rather strange blog here, and peruse records of his own odd internet notoriety.

Creature of the Week #8: the Budgerigar

Coming to you a bit late this week — I kept picking this up late at night, then holding onto it for hours when folks are more likely to actually be awake. 😉 Hope that you all have had a good week, and hope that all of you on the east coast are staying safe.

This week’s Creature of the Week is one of the most widely known pet birds in the western world — but some quick announcements first!

If you’re into podcasts, interviews, fantasy, video games, gryphons, or fun hosts, you might want to check out this podcast interview courteously given by Shaun and Jen at Skiffy and Fanty. Origins of Andovar, and (I think) its place in the greater world of fantasy fiction, with nods to player rights, gryphons, escapism, and more.

A few reviews came in this week: [info]rdansky‘s review is in the lovely latest issue of Bull Spec. It’s not in the sample this time, but the issue (like the others) is well worth purchasing. Shaun of the aforementioned Skiffy and Fanty has also posted a review of Sword of Fire and Sea up at his blog, in which he says, in part:

In many respects, Hoffman’s balance between adventure, manipulated cliche, and character make for a compelling novel that is a lot of fun to read. Personally, I am not an adventure fantasy fan, and I have a very short leash for the trappings of the fantasy genre. But Sword of Fire and Sea navigated those trappings in a way that allowed me to get lost in the excitement.

Finally, Jon Sprunk has some kind words for Sword, available on Amazon or GoodReads:

Erin Hoffman’s debut shows a remarkable deftness in storytelling and beautiful language. Some of her descriptions are so good they actually made me stop and read them again just to appreciate the lilt of the prose. This is an adventure story with heart.

If you enjoyed Sword of Fire and Sea, you might also enjoy Jon’s Shadow’s Son, assassin-focused fantasy with a rich world and characters I liked and connected with immediately. (And really, who isn’t down with the stabby-stabby? Jerks, that’s who.) Amazon seems to like to pair our books together.

Now back to the budgie!

Chances are you already know what a budgie (formally “budgerigar”) is, even if you call it a “parakeet” — but there’s also quite a lot you might not know about them. They’re colony breeders, and remarkably tough for such little birds — high survival attributes that also made them very adaptable to captivity. Their small size and relative ease of care also make them very common pets. Perhaps because they are so common — and inexpensive — their intelligence is not widely recognized, even though they’re among the smartest birds in the world.

Larger African Grey Parrots (like Vasya) and performing Amazons are well known for their intelligence and ability to mimic — but to this day, the bird with the largest human vocabulary in the world (an amazing 1,728 words documented by the Guinness World Records) was a budgie named Puck. By comparison, the famous Alex the African Grey — who at the time of his death was learning to read and understood the concept of zero, among other feats — had a vocabulary of only about a hundred words.

The use of the budgie’s remarkable mimicking ability in the wild has also been studied with regard to communication in a budgie flock. Budgies in the wild live in gigantic colonies of up to thousands of birds. Considering each bird’s amazing ability to communicate and express a huge variety of sounds, the patterns of sound communication through a budgie flock can be fascinating. Studies have been done on budgie flocks where scientists isolate a handful of birds, teach them a unique sound pattern, then release them back into the flock. The instructed sound pattern will be mimicked throughout the flock, passing through it like a wildfire — for a certain time. The birds teach the sound to each other, but then one bird will modify the sound and pass along the modified version — kind of like a game of “Telephone” — and the sound mutates it, turning it into something else, and the old version dies out entirely. These morphing patterns of communication and sound have been compared to human slang, or could be compared to any sort of memetic communication (lolcat, anyone?). Not only can budgies rapidly learn sound patterns and teach them to other birds, they make up their own language tokens and spread those as well.

So, in addition to having some of the most amazing eyes in the animal kingdom (almost all birds are tetrachromatic in addition to seeing ultraviolet and having amazing motion perception), budgies in particular have amazing ears, and hear at a rate of approximately 10x faster than humans — which is why their warbles sound so garbled to us! Slow that sound down and you experience it more like a budgie, the Micromachine Man of the bird world. Budgies also have a superhuman ability to recover from deafness if the cilia in their ears are damaged (in a human, such loss is permanent).

Birdsong in particular has been studied by several genera of scientists for centuries, both for its communication insight and for sound processing. Studies have shown that not only can small “twittering” birds hear at radically different rates than we can, their brains enable them to sift through types of sound much more efficiently than ours, enabling them to hear each other and communicate across long distances even in noisy environments. Think about that the next time you consider calling someone “bird-brained”!

While its ubiquity in homes all over the world makes it easy to underestimate, the budgie is an amazing creature, worthy of consideration and care. Sometimes the most amazing features of nature are right where you least expect them!

Creature of the Week #7: The Immortal Jellyfish

This week’s creature comes a little later in the evening than usual, but it’s still Friday! Hope you all are having a good one.

Third place on the World of Andovar voting page was “Something from the Sea”, so here this week we have the immortal jellyfish!

Usually when a creature has an evocative name like “immortal” it isn’t intended literally — not so in the case of the biological-rules-defying immortal jelly! These critters are thought to be literally immortal, cycling their life phases from mature back to youthful infinitely.

All jellyfish belong to the Cnidaria phylum and have at least two life phases: mobile swimming medusae (which we recognize as the iconic jellyfish) and stationary polyps. The jellyfish life cycle typically starts as a little cyst ejected from a mature swimming jellyfish that latches onto the sea floor, grows into a polyp, possibly multiplies, and then the polyp breaks up into multiple layers, each of which becomes a mature medusa.

Once the adult medusa has lived out its life and spat out some eggs (or sperm) to create the next generation, it usually winds down — reproducing a few times and then dying. Some medusae live only hours. The bizarre and amazing immortal jellyfish, though, does something different: once it has cruised around as a medusa for awhile, it skips that whole death thing and turns back into a polyp.

Scientists have verified this transformational ability — which is similar to a starfish regrowing its arm, but unique in the known biological world in that the entire animal is regenerated — in the lab, but because jellyfish are so migratory (and because Turritopsis nutricul is so tiny — only about 1cm in adulthood), determining one’s full age in the wild has not yet been possible. BUT all the immortal jellies around the world are genetically identical. And they’re spreading.

So here we have one of the strangest things in the sea, a single species of jellyfish that has not only figured out how to defy death, but may be the biological equivalent of grey goo. Sorry nanotech — nature beat you to it! I have a feeling Philip K. Dick would have loved this creature.

Homemade pineapple-lychee sorbet — or, Richard Dansky is a Terrible Influence

We have had this 20% off Bed, Bath & Beyond coupon sitting around. I usually ignore them, but in this case we were looking for a better laundry bin solution (to give you some insight into the Exciting Life of the Writer-Game-Designer), so yesterday we got some brunch and headed off to the Pleasantville-mart that is BB&B. Only there were no adequate laundry bins to be found! Gasp! So, naturally, we had to buy an ice cream maker. They had this one on sale, and I had been taunted by Dansky’s sorbet posts FOR TOO LONG.

I don’t read appliance instructions (it’s a religious thing), so I had whipped up the base for some pineapple-lychee sorbet and poured it into the machine before I realized that the liquid-filled vessel for it has to be frozen before you can set about making sorbet. Sadness. So my delicious lychee-pineapple mixture (recipe below) went into the fridge and the ice cream tumbler went into the freezer and we went to bed.

Then, while Jay was making breakfast this morning, I dug it out, put it together, and about half an hour later there was pineapple-lychee sorbet.

And I have to say, it’s freaking amazing. As expected there is little replacement for taking very fresh ingredients and letting the cold machine have its way with them. I was a little worried that the lychee would get smothered by the pineapple, but it comes through very strong, with an explosive but amazingly light flavor that bears a striking resemblance to the most tasty thing you can imagine.

It was also really simple to make. I took:

  • Half a pineapple, diced (about 2 cups)
  • Half a bag of fresh lychee (about a dozen) — peeled of course
  • Half a cup of sugar
  • Half a cup of water

    Sugar and water went onto the stove to make simple syrup while I prepared the fruit, which went into the blender. By the time I was done the simple syrup was also done and cooled, so it went in also. Puree the whole thing, then pour into the ice cream maker. I suggest you skip the part where I poured it in, realized the drum needed to be frozen, poured it out, cleaned everything, and froze the drum overnight. Then the machine does its work, and voila! Amazing summery deliciousness.