Welcome to Midnight Oil Diary

I’m glad you dropped by!  This blog contains commentary on gaming, fantasy, and science fiction, along with some of my own stories.  If you’re here for the blog, please read on.  If you’d like to go right to the stories, follow the links below.  You can also find links to the stories on the sidebar at right.

The Stories

ChildhoodsReverberationsA Hand to Hold
The Harp’s Call What We Leave Behind Let Us Then Be Joined Together

A Fallout 3 Picture Story (Part I)!

Hi Folks! Long time no see! I know it’s been a while — lots of life (meaning, work) getting in the way these days. I’ve got a pretty good idea how “Cobblestones and Mud” is going to turn out, but haven’t had a ton of time to write it all out. In the mean time, I thought I might post some screenshots I took while playing Fallout 3. These shots originally appeared on Emma’s Elder Scrolls Forum, but I thought I’d show them here as well.

So let’s set the scene: If you’ve played Fallout 3, you’ll remember that you learn the game controls as your character grows through infancy, childhood, and adolescence. We’ll start there with a youngster named Iris, who’s lived her entire short life in Vault 101. While you can’t go into third person mode when your character’s an infant, you can at her tenth birthday. And here she is, with her best (and probably only) friend Amata, the daughter of Vault 101’s overseer.

Amata (with party hat) and Iris at Iris’s tenth birthday party

One gets the sense that neither Iris nor Amata is terribly popular. One also gets the sense that nobody at Bethesda put much time into building convincing child models (and why would they, if you think about it). Iris, with her brand new BB gun, a gift from Papa, looks just a little, well, evil.

Cool birthday cap and cool BB gun!

Time passes. Iris grows up. On her way to take the General Occupational Aptitude Test (GOAT), Iris finds Amata being harassed by the awful Butch and his Tunnel Snakes gang. In the game, one has the choice of getting into a punch-up with the young hooligan, but if your character’s charisma is high enough, simple words might be enough to dissuade him.

A smooth talker!

The GOAT is used to identify optimal futures for young vault dwellers. As the overseer’s daughter, Iris’s friend Amata is slated for supervisory roles, while Butch will go into hairdressing. And Iris? She’s destined to be Vault 101’s future chaplain!

Does anyone remember projectors like the one above?

It’s all a lot for a young person to take in, but in later years, Iris would look back at her youth in Vault 101 as a time of almost careless bliss. She had no way of knowing what life-shattering changes were coming her way, and how soon. To find out more, just stay tuned!

———————-

Oh, by the way, if you want to see some great Elder Scrolls screenshots, plus artwork from other games, Emma’s Elder Scrolls Forum is a great place to visit. Hundreds of pages and thousands of images, and if you’ve got some screenies you’d like to share, just join up. We’d love to seem ’em!

Voices of the Dragonborn Era, Part III (And a Little Headcanon)

Hey Folks! I know it’s been a while, but I wanted to let you know that I’ve published Part III in our oral history of the Dragonborn Era, as presented in a book our friend Cari Ayalu received special delivery. In this story, we learn a little more about Whiterun and the roles its citizens played in that momentous time, specifically:

  • What happened to Dragonsreach?
  • What role did the Battle-Born clan play in bringing peace to Skyrim?
  • How did Lars, the youngest Battle-Born, earn the respect of all the loyalist clans in the province?

Up to this point, I’ve tried to keep the plots of my stories separate from the plot of the Skyrim game. Since everyone plays the game a little differently, I didn’t want to make my stories dependent on choices individual players made on their playthroughs. This time, though, I needed to add some headcanon, so here goes:

A couple years ago, I found out that one of my nephews was an avid Skyrim player. He said, with great drama, “Now I have to ask you the question that could tear this family apart: Are you for the Imperials or the Stormcloaks?” Laughing, I told him I didn’t think that much of either side. Bethesda was smart enough to design good and bad into both (by the way, I won’t be debating the point here). And while the player can join the civil war on either side, the civil war subplot is not essential to finishing the game. Indeed, when I play, I ignore it altogether. Now, the basic thrust of my headcanon is this: The Civil War ended in an armistice without victory for either side.

How could this be? The Empire and the Stormcloaks were going at it hammer and tongs, egged on by the Thalmor. To reach an armistice, the Thalmor would have to be out of the picture. In my head, they were out of the picture, based on two factors.

First, was the growing Maric movement as described in the story “A Hand to Hold” on this site. In that story, the teachings of Lady Mara have taken hold in the Summerset Isles, making some portion of the ruling classes reluctant to support Thalmor plans for conquest and suppression. Since most Altmer weren’t crazy about the Thalmor to begin with, Thalmor power was threatened.

Now, the Maric movement would have been no great problem if a Thamor faction hadn’t made a monumental blunder. For that, we turn to the famous “Rigmor of Bruma” mod. In this mod, an impatient Thalmor faction called the New Order launches a military expedition to defeat the Empire once and for all. To counter the threat, Imperial and Nord join forces and rout the New Order troops. To my thinking, that event must have plunged the Aldmeri Dominion into political chaos, leaving them unable to control events in Skyrim province. As a result, the Empire is able to renounce the terms of the White Gold Concordat, creating an environment where the Stormcloaks are ready to discuss peace.

Oh, regarding Ulfric Stormcloak: The Empire, aware of Ulfric’s ego, basically kicked him upstairs. He was given an impressive title, like “Viceroy of the North.” In addition, he was allocated a grand mansion in the Imperial City and lots of cool upgrades to the Palace of the Kings in Windhelm. And what were his powers? None whatsoever.

Anyway, that’s the environment I pictured for Part III of “Voices of the Dragonborn Era.” To read about Whiterun, Dragonsreach, and the diplomatic brilliance of the Battle-Borns, CLICK HERE!

Cobblestones and Mud, Part II

Hey Everybody! I’ve just posted Part II of our Cobblestones and Mud story. In this installment, Max and his best friend, teammate, and classmate, Bopo, take part in the annual Bucket Battalion celebrations, flinging assorted sweets to a scrambling swarm of much younger pupils. As expected, it’s a chaotic affair, and it forces Max to reflect on how he behaved years before, when he was scrambling for the sweets himself. But he has little time to contemplate, as two quick encounters send Max’s day just a little further off-kilter!

The idea for Bucket Battalion came from a lot of places, I suppose. Anyone who’s taken part in a candy scramble can imagine what it’s like, either on the giving or receiving end. To that I added something I observed a few years ago in Manila, where we were visiting my wife’s family. It was October 31st. While my wife was out with one of her nieces, I found myself rattling around our borrowed apartment by myself. Late in the afternoon, I heard a rhythmic noise from the street below. Looking down from the balcony, I saw an assembly of costumed school children. A Trick-or-Treat parade! They marched along to the beat of a small drum, and while I never got to observe the kids that closely, the idea stuck with me, and eventually found its way into the story. Sort of. As I thought about how to write the scene, I realized the idea of a bunch of little kids scrambling for candy could come off a little creepy. Well, let it be creepy, then. It won’t be the last creepy thing in this tale, I assure you!

To read Cobblestones and Mud, Part II, click here!

Happy New Year!

Hey Folks. just wanted to wish you all a Happy New Year, and to thank you for reading Midnight Oil Diary in 2021! I’ll leave you with this photo of the interior of Washington Union Station, Washington, D.C. (I had to go up that way this morning, and it’s an interesting building). See you soon!

Even More Notable Links

What, another Notable Links post this month (What, more than one post in thirty days)? Okay, I haven’t been able to put any work into Part II of the Cobblestones story — we’re on a family holiday trip, and family holiday trip stuff tends to take precedence. But I did get a chance to do a little reading today, and have a couple links to pass along:

First, Kent Wayne, the Dirty Sci-Fi Buddha, talks about the series that started his writing career. A four-book epic, Echo covers a lot of concrete and abstract topics, along with plenty of swashbuckling violence. And if that’s not your cup of Earl Grey, you can always jump into Kor’Thank: Barbarian Valley Girl! Link is here.

Now, I’ve talked about Dirty Sci-Fi Buddha before, but here’s a writer I hadn’t come across before this afternoon. Nila Patel has been writing the Storyfeather site since 2013, and has added dozens of stories since starting. The latest, entitled The Lunarian, concerns a pair of lunar explorers, an unexpected encounter, and a complete reassessment of humanity’s relationship with the cosmos. I expect I’ll be spending a lot of time on this site!

Oh, where did we go on our family trip? Wife, kids and I did a little traveling in Colorado. It’s a beautiful state in any season, but the Rocky Mountains are absolutely striking in the winter. I hope everyone’s having a great Holiday Season — see you all soon!

Cobblestones and Mud

Hi Folks! As I’ve been hinting the last couple posts, I’ve finally published the first installment of our next story. Once again, we’ll be visiting with Cari and Max, two teens in contemporary Solitude. We’ll see their relationship develop further, as Max undergoes an experience that allows him to understand Cari (and himself) a little better. Along the way, we’ll speculate a little more about Tamriel culture in a contemporary setting, and look at a couple of traditions that don’t appear in ordinary Elder Scrolls canon (in other words, I made them up, but I don’t think they override anything that’s already been established).

To read Part I of “Cobblestones and Mud,” please click here!

Notable Links, December 2021

Hey folks, I know it’s been a while. The first part of the next story is almost ready to post — I’m thinking tomorrow evening. More on that in a minute.

I did want to point out an interesting essay by Evan Davis over at The Light of Day — it seems he went to Disneyland and encountered some real, honest-to-goodness magic. Reading through his essay, I found it impossible to argue the contrary!

Also, you might remember, a few months back I gave Chris Durston’s Each Little Universe a quick review (spoiler: I loved it). Well, you might be pleased to know that it’s in its second edition, and he’s got more work out besides. Go have a look.

Regarding the next story: It’s another tale set in contemporary Solitude, and once again, we’re going to visit teenagers Cari and Max. If you’ve followed the characters, you might understand that their relationship hasn’t always been the smoothest. Will this next adventure bring them closer together? Will they understand each other more? If you’re unfamiliar with the characters, this story will provide a pretty good introduction.

Voices of the Dragonborn Era, Part II

Hey Folks! It’s been a while, I know, but we’re back with another chance to read along with Cari Ayalu as she makes her way through her new book, Voices of the Dragonborn Era. In this installment, Cari encounters an essay by an annoying, pretentious scholar, but enjoys much more the words of Irileth herself, as recorded by the Learned Berndt over one thousand years ago!

Speaking of Irileth, did you ever wonder what she might really have been like, once you got past her professional coolness? Who were her friends? Did she ever have a day off? Is being Jarl Balgruuf’s housecarl the highest point she ever wanted to attain, or did she have other aspirations? Within the confines of a video game, I suppose it’s hard to flesh out all the characters completely, and that allows us to fill in the blanks with our own imaginations.

But I just defined fan fiction, didn’t I?

To read over Cari’s shoulder, click here!

We’ll likely be returning to Cari and her book from time to time, but as we approach the holiday season and the end of the year, we’ll be starting a new story starring Cari’s sometime-friend, Max Sundberg, so stay tuned! See you soon!

Notable Links, September 2021

Max: “Umm, what are we doing here?”
Cari: “I think MOD just needed a picture. Didn’t matter which one…”

Hey Folks, still working on the next couple stories. Another installment of “Voices of the Dragonborn Era” is in the works and should be ready in the next week or so. In addition, I’ve got the beginnings of a multi-part, Holiday-themed tale starring Max and Cari partly worked out (though I’ll admit, most of it’s floating around in my skull right now, bumping into things). In the meantime, I thought I’d share a couple interesting items I found whilst browsing around the WordPress Reader:

First, author Kent Wayne, the Dirty Sci-Fi Buddha, has a nice web-based serial called The Unbound Realm, about a youngster who finds himself whisked far, far away from his mundane existence as a student destined to enter corporate dronehood. The prologue is here.

And then we have Brandi Untz’s tale, Tara of High Rock. Brandi Untz is an author and artist, and links to her stunning artwork can be found on her site. I found her illustrated story intriguing because her pictures are kind of like mine (or how I’d like mine to be, anyway!), and because I think there might be some thematic similarities to what we’re both writing. The first chapter of Tara’s story can be found here.

Enjoy! I’ll be seeing you again soon!

Max Sundberg Takes a Train Ride

So, last week we returned from a trip Out West, taking care of grad school-related matters for one of our kids. We flew out and back; I had no intention of driving all the way from the East Coast! Anyway, it’s the first time my wife and I had been on a plane in over a year, and as many of you know, some things about flying have changed, at least in the United States. But you know what I really missed? The airline’s in-flight magazine and the catalog of stuff that I would never buy! They weren’t on the plane, and the flight attendant indicated that they were gone for the duration. I was kind of disappointed.

Which brings us to the topic of this post. Max Sundberg is riding on a train with his football team, on their way to a tournament of some kind. Bored, Max looks for something to read, and finds a copy of TamRail’s on-board magazine, and reads an article on the cultural impact of Jot and Miki stories through the centuries. If you want to read over Max’s shoulder, click here!