Written by Melissa Shaw Reprint from Fantasy Magazine
The new “Ratchet and Clank” game, “Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time (CIT)” for the Sony PS3, has a lot to live up to. The series is renowned for its quirky humor, vast array of gadgets and weapons, gorgeous visuals, and fast-paced, gleefully destructive action.
This installment picks up where the last left off: our favorite Lombax, Ratchet, is searching for his little robot pal, Clank, who vanished just after they won the big boss fight in “Ratchet and Clank: Tools of Destruction (TOD).” (“Ratchet and Clank: Quest for Booty,” a short game that was released between TOD and CIT, was a Ratchet-only digression that, while it had a few entertaining moments, added nothing to the ongoing storyline.) Clank himself ends up becoming a caretaker of the Great Clock, a device that sits exactly in the center of the universe (give or take 50 feet) that maintains and repairs the stability of time. The main villain of the story, Dr. Nefarious (familiar to fans of earlier R&C games), is scheming to gain control over the Great Clock and thus time itself, so he can change history, wrong past rights, and rule the universe.
Like previous installments, CIT delivers lots of weapons (though the Quickselect menu is no longer customizable), enemies, worlds, spectacular visuals, and gadgets. The series’ humor is still firmly in place. Particular favorites include Mr. Zurkon, a homicidal “synthenoid” robot who loves to taunt your enemies (and sometimes your friends), and the battery bots, who complain bitterly every time their brief rebellions against being used as power sources are thwarted. The game also introduces mini-worlds with mini-games that feature various prizes, including treasure items and weapons mods. Clank’s role and abilities are expanded dramatically, particularly with an interesting self-cloning and time-manipulation gameplay mechanic that lends itself to some challenging puzzles. Story-wise, you finally learn more about Ratchet’s mysterious Lombax heritage (turns out he’s not the only one left).
The game is not without its flaws, however. You spend most of the game playing Ratchet and Clank separately, precluding opportunities for the character interactions that make up so much of the series’ charm. Also, the game is slow to get going. It opens with more than six minutes of cut-scenes, interrupted only by one brief training sequence in which you play Clank, not Ratchet. While the cut-scenes are entertaining and slick, they get between the player and the action, and the first four minutes can’t be skipped. The first third of the game feels a bit dumbed-down and slow compared to previous versions, more oriented toward the 8-to-10-year-old set than the older demographic it’s ostensibly intended for. (Minor spoiler alert ahead!) And while it’s likely supposed to be a pleasant surprise, discovering that not one but both of our titular heroes are essentially princes feels heavy-handed and too coincidental.
But the game steadily picks up steam as you progress, and by the second half, it’s worthy of its place in the R&C universe. The game gives you not one, not two, but three big boss fights at the end (although one is dependent on finding all of one particular treasure item, a time-consuming venture), and all are challenging and exhilarating.
The soundtrack is a mixed bag: sometimes orchestral and seamless, sometimes a jarring, retro 80s rock. Standout voiceover performances include Armin Shimerman’s as Dr. Nefarious, and Jim Ward’s as Captain Qwark.
Overall, while “Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time” gets off to a slow start, it ultimately delivers the humor, spectacular visuals, variety of weapons and gadgets, and lively action that fans of this series have come to expect.
Melissa Shaw’s short fiction has appeared in Asimov’s, Realms of Fantasy, Analog, and several anthologies. Melissa is a Clarion West graduate and a “Writers of the Future” contest winner. She is currently writing for an as-yet-unreleased video game.
Technology is constantly changing the way we do so many things, and writing is no exception.Â How exactly?Â I’ve broken down the answer to that question into a set of categories. Keep in mind that all of this is through my own perspective on writing, which has been primarily speculative fiction short stories.
Is there anything I’ve left out, related to any sort of writing?Â Leave a comment!
a.Â Spell Check-Many would be lost without spell check.Â Many programs, including Microsoft Word, even do a spell check as you type, and immediately mark an incorrectly spelled word the moment you type it.Â The spell check program can suggest alternative spellings, provide dictionary look-up.Â Still, spell checks could be improved–if the program could recognize a name through context this would prevent a lot of false alarms.Â Word also comes with a grammar check, but that is less useful because its grasp of grammar rules is shaky at best.
b.Â Revise and print-You decided you want to add a new paragraph on page one of a five hundred page manuscript?Â Or you discovered that all of your pages need a 1.5 inch margin instead of 1 inch?Â No problem!Â All you need to do is open up the document in your word processor, make your changes, and it’s ready to print.Â If you wanted to do this with a typewritten manuscript, it would not be fun at all.
2.Â Backing up your work
Imagine that, after putting weeks, months, or years of work into creating a masterpiece of prose, you suddenly lose your only copy of your manuscript.Â You remember the major plot points, but you’ve lost all the little details, and all the beautiful sentence-level work.Â It’s a terrible thought!Â Well, these days, there’s no reason to lose all your work if you just take a little time to prepare.Â Email is a convenient way to back your documents up.Â Many email services provide large storage banks for each account.Â I have a Gmail account that I started for free that makes a great aid to backing up documents.Â While I’m working on a new document, I email myself every couple of days.Â If I ever lost my other copies, all I would need to do is dig up the saved email.Â In addition to that, if someone plagiarized your work in the future, the timestamp on the email could help prove that you had a work in progress of the story long before it was in print.Â In addition to email, it’s always a good idea to back up a file in several places, each at different physical locations (so that a disaster like a fire doesn’t destroy years and years of hard work).
There are even programs designed specifically to help you keep your stuff backed up.Â Anthony recommend Carbonite.
3.Â Learning the craft
a.Â Interaction with pro authors-When I was younger, professional writers seemed to be a race of distant and otherworldly beings that I could never hope to interact with, lest my head explode (like when humans hear the voice of God in some belief sets). But now that illusion has been mostly dispelled.Â Don’t get me wrong, I still admire my favorite writers greatly for the amazing worlds they’re able to pull seemingly out of nowhere, but it turns out that quite a lot of them are quite nice people, and I’m even pretty sure that some of them are at least mostly human.Â Lots of them have blogs where they freely give writing advice to anyone who’s interested in listening.Â David Farland, for instance, has an email blog called Kick in the Pants–you can sign up for it at his website.Â Dean Wesley Smith is another favorite, providing great advice on his blog, including ideas for self-motivation like The Race.Â I’ve even added quite a few of my favorite authors as friends on Facebook–I enjoy hearing their writing updates and hear when they’re coming through my area for book signings.
No single writing method works for everyone, so if David Farland’s advice doesn’t work for you, don’t be discouraged.Â Just keep trying different methods until you find something that really clicks. Check out the sites of a few different authors.Â At the very least, their perspectives are entertaining.Â And if you have any questions, drop a comment to one of them.Â Keep in mind that they’re busy, but it’s not at all rare for them to take some time to reply to questions or comments.
b.Â Peer critique forums-Once I decided to start writing I spent more than a year writing a novel, mostly in isolation.Â I had just a few people who were willing to give me feedback on my stories, but these people tended to be inclined to tell me that they really liked the story, but not tell me much else.Â This was good for my ego, but not so useful to improve my writing skills.Â After that year, I decided to start writing short stories, and while doing market research I came across Baen’s Bar, a peer critique forum that doubled as a submission vehicle for Jim Baen’s Universe.Â You can post a story to their forum, and it is available immediately for feedback from others registered on the forum.Â Staff members of JBU often gave their comments, as well as other aspiring writers.Â Not only can you get feedback on your own work, many of whom are very experienced and have a good eye for picking out what’s missing in a story, but you can critique the writing of others.Â Of all the ways to improve your own writing, critiquing others is the best way, in my opinion.Â It allows you examine the stories of other aspiring writers and examine them with a cold eye without any emotional attachment to the story.Â You can decide what you like and what you don’t, and the real trick is to learn how to apply this to your own writing.
Jim Baen’s Universe will be closed as of mid-2010.Â There are no official plans to close Baen’s Bar critique forum, and the newsgroup it exists on will probably still need to be maintained for Baen’s Books and the Grantville Gazette magazine, so i hope the venue is around for a good long time.
c.Â Easy sharing-If you want to share a copy of a story with a friend, all you have to do is drop them an email.Â It’s free, and it’s quick, and a great way to share your work for feedback or just for fun.
d.Â Autocrit-Autocrit is a subscription-based service which provides automated tools to help watch for trouble spots in your manuscripts.Â It can look for potential flaws such as overused words and phrases, cliches, and overused dialogue tags.Â No tool is the end-all be-all of revising your manuscript, but this tool in combination with other techniques and tools can make a big difference.
The effect of the Internet on research is obvious.Â Anyone with Internet access has nearly endless banks of information at their disposal, but one must always keep the source in mind.Â Wikipedia, for instance, is good for finding quick, interesting information, but because it is created by users, information provided there may not be correct.Â If a writer decides to write a story about doppelgangers, a quick Google search can provide a plethora of information in a fraction of a second.
5.Â Market info
1.Â Sites like Ralan provide submission information for a wide variety of publications.Â
2.Â Most markets have submisions page which describes exactly what they’re looking for, including any special formatting they require, required length, and preferred themes.Â Be sure to check out this page each time you send out a story to that market.Â You never know when some of their requirements will change.Â Many markets close to submissions from time to time, also, and it’s best to check here to be sure the market is still open as well.
6.Â Electronic submission/staff interaction
a.Â Save money-It costs nothing to send an email.Â That’s a major perk!Â Mailed submissions usually cost something like 2 dollars domestic within the US, including the SASE, and that’s not including the envelopes or the printing costs.Â Email submissions cost nothing.Â When you’re just getting started, those postage costs add up fast!
b.Â Quick interaction-An electronic submission arrives nearly instantly, ready for perusal by the magazine’s staff.Â My record fastest response was only 47 minutes (from Fantasy Magazine).Â That one was an outlier, but a few magazines consistently respond within 24 hours such as Fantasy, Clarkesworld, and Podcastle.
c.Â Geographically separated staff-A magazine’s staff members no longer have to be located anywhere near each other.Â In many cases, staff members may have never met in person, but members can interact easily with technology like email and online forums.Â This makes it much easier to find staff members, if you have the entire net-connected world to filter for candidates.
d.Â Competition fiercer every day! A downside to the recent ease of submission is that when submissions are both free and easy, more and more people will try it, which means more competition!
7.Â New publishing mediums
Printed words (either in magazine or book form) are no longer the only way to publish fiction.Â In fact, print may be the hardest one to maintain profitability with, and is probably the hardest method to start a new magazine with.Â Even a few years ago, print publications were generally considered to be more prestigious, but minds are opening a little bit more every year.Â SFWA recognizes professional markets based on pay and the circulation level, regardless of the medium.
Both of my sales to date have been to non-traditional publishing formats.
b. Podcast-I’ve recently discovered audio fiction and I honestly don’t know how I’ve done without it.Â I can load up many stories on my iPod and I listen to them every day on my commute.Â Now I look forward to driving to see what the next story is!Â My first fiction sale was to Pseudopod, so I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for podcasts.Â And, even better, audio rights and text rights often do not overlap, so there is a large potential for resales for audio markets, as they are providing a substantially different product.
c. Print on Demand-Even just a few years ago, POD wasn’t really a viable option.Â Nowadays, if you have a good idea for a book or an anthology, you can publish it through POD and if you can find the audience for it, you can really do well.Â POD is not as risky as doing a huge preprinted print run (the traditional method), because you only print copies of the book that you have already sold.Â This means that once you’ve covered your artist/design and other upfront costs, each sale holds a share of profit.Â This is particularly appealing if the level of interest is uncertain or expected to be low.
Northern Frights Press was the publisher for my second sale.Â This was NFP’s very first anthology, provided via POD.Â Despite it being POD the printing is of a high quality that you could find in any bookstore, and it’s available to order from Amazon just like any other book.Â I’ve been very impressed with POD so far.
d. E-books-E-readers like Kindle are just starting to gain more widespread popularity.Â For a small fee, you can download books right onto the e-reader.Â With this technology you can grab new books instantly for less than what you would pay at the store, and you can carry your whole library with you wherever you go.Â I’m not sure that they will ever replace real books entirely–there’s just something I love about holding a physical book in my hand, the smell of the pages, the feel of the binding–but there are a lot of advantages to e-readers.
8.Â Social networking
In decades past, writing was generally considered to be a pretty lonely profession.Â Long hours alone with your typewriter were the norm, making a writer feel isolated from the very world she’s trying to write about.Â But if you’re writing on a net-connected laptop, you no longer need to be isolated.Â The importance of social connections in writing cannot be understated.Â There are many forums focused solely on writing, some geared towards particular genres, and they’re a great place to meet fellow aspiring writers.Â You’re not the only one struggling to be published.Â Together you can celebrate your successes, console each other for your failures, swap critiques, discuss writing techniques, and maybe just unwind a little bit.
#8 is closely related to #9 and #10.Â Read on!
This overlaps somewhat with social networking in methods and tools, but the intent is different.Â Rather than meeting people for the sake of meeting people, this is working to spread your work to as many people as possible.Â Site like Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit work as very powerful promotional tools.Â With each of these you can share links with huge amounts of people with minimal effort, and they’re all free.Â Most of the hits for this article were probably generated by these tools.Â With a little careful promotional work, like book giveaways, traffic can be driven to your site to advertise your writing and help with name recognition.
10.Â Availability of distractions
The flip side of the coin of all these advantages is that with the whole web at your fingertips, distractions are easy to find.Â If you’re stuck on a story, staring at the word processing screen, it is far too easy to pop up Facebook to go read your friends’ statuses, to hop on an online forum to discuss True Blood vs. Twilight, or to go read (or write) a blog post about writing.Â Those things all have their time and place, but if you want to write, make sure you get your writing time in too!
My guest today is Cat Rambo, fantasy and science fiction writer and editor of Fantasy Magazine, a market recognized as being professional by SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America). Check out her website at http://www.kittywumpus.net and check out Fantasy Magazine’s website at http://www.fantasy-magazine.com
David Steffen: Cat, thanks for coming. I really appreciate you taking the time for this interview.
Cat, what plots or types of stories are you tired of seeing?
Cat Rambo: I am tired of seeing retold fairy tales that don’t do anything new with the fairy tale, where they just kind of say, okay I’m going to retell Cinderella but it’s going to be a shopping sale at the mall and don’t do anything new with that.
I have a great fondness for sword and sorcery. I grew up reading sword and sorcery. I read Fritz Lieber and C.L. Moore and a lot of Michael Moorcock, but I think there again you have to do something new for me to be interested. I get a lot of stories that are sort of Conan the Barbarian revisited but they’re not as good as Robert E. Howard. Unless you are as good as Robert E. Howard it’s probably best for writers to steer their way away from that.
David: Do you prefer certain subgenres of fantasy such as urban fantasy, contemporary fantasy, high fantasy, etc?
Cat: I love urban fantasy. Paradoxically enough, given how much of it is out there, I don’t get a lot of good urban fantasy. I like stories that tend to work on more than one level. We have, for example, a story that was very popular with our readers last year, Elena Gleason’s Erased, which I was just looking at again. That story on one level is about someone’s boyfriend who is invisible and what do you do when you’re confronted with an invisible boyfriend. But on the other hand, at a deeper level, it’s about what do you do in a relationship when the other person is vanishing. So I like the stories that work on more than one level. The stories where you go away and you find yourself thinking about later and think “Oh, yeah, okay, it works like this too.”
David: Are there any big changes on the horizon for Fantasy Magazine?
Cat: Oh, onward and upward for Fantasy Magazine. We have a web comic that will be appearing soon. We have been reorganizing and getting a lot of people in to drive individual areas like TV or books, and comics. So there’s going to be a lot. We’re hoping to up the amount of content to put out something interesting at least two or three times a day.
David: Can you elaborate about the web comic?
Cat: It’s a fantasy comic based on a setting that will be familiar to a lot of our readers, which is inside a fantasy role-playing game.
David: Are there any features coming up in Fantasy Magazine that you’re particularly looking forward to?
Cat: Right now we’re running a series called “Game-mastering NPCs”. The first of the five part series was just posted last week, talking about the importance of NPCs (non-player characters) to a roleplaying game campaign. Also, I’m particularly looking forward to some articles by Genevieve Valentine.
David: Which were you first, a writer or an editor?
Cat: First and foremost, always a writer.
David: Do you think that being an editor has changed the way you write?
Cat: Not really. It’s one more thing nibbling at my writing time. I think every writer experiences that in some form or another.
David: Has being an editor provided you with extra skills that have been useful as a writer?
Cat: Yes. One thing about reading slush is that it gives you greater confidence in your own writing. It has really driven home the importance of making the first paragraphs of a story draw the reader in.
David: Has the economic crisis impacted the magazine at all?
Cat: Not really. Previously we hadn’t been drawing in as much advertising revenue as we could have. We’re making an effort to do better in that respect, so we may actually be doing better now than before.
David: SFWA added Fantasy Magazine to their list of professional markets earlier this year. Has this sparked any change in submissions, either quantity or quality?
Cat: Yes, in both respects. We’re getting 500-600 submissions a month now, as well as seeing submissions from some pro writers we hadn’t seen before. It’s been a good thing we have the new online submission process, which speeds things up significantly.
David: I have noticed in my submissions a large reduction in turnaround time since the new online submissions system was set up. How exactly does that system make things faster?
Cat: We were just using Gmail before, so every couple weeks we had to check the junk folder just to make sure that things weren’t getting lost there. And there was stuff bouncing every once in a while. Someone’s spam filter would eat our stuff. So it just makes it a lot easier to track what’s going on and you’ve got a system also where we can see which slushreader is reading and who is slacking and go prod them. *laughs*
David: What are your personal pet peeves when reading stories?
Cat: Personal pet peeves? In terms of the stories or in terms of the way they’re presented?
David: Like little grammar mistakes that you see too often, things like that.
Cat: Oh, “its” and “it’s” drives me nuts. I taught composition a few times and I always tell students that is the one error that will get under my skin. Its/it’s and they’re/their/there. Nowadays we have spellchecker, so there’s really no excuse for having too many actual misspellings but we still see alot of the it’s/its.
David: How about other things that bother you. For instance, some editors really dislike reading stories that begin with the character waking up.
Cat: I don’t like the beginnings that start out with kind of two heads talking in space where there’s no sense of location and you don’t know what’s going on. I don’t like beginnings that aren’t well-grounded and give us a sense of the story world.
I don’t like the endings, not so much the beginnings, where someone wakes up as the endings and is “Oh my God it was all a dream.” And it’s like “Oh, come on!”
David: It sort of makes you wonder “Why did I spend my time reading this?”
Cat: That’s it, it insults the reader: “Ha ha I tricked you and you wasted all your time.” I don’t like stories that take the “I’m cleverer than you approach” to the reader.
David: I’ve heard that some editors like a little humor, but so many people have different views on what’s funny. How do you judge a humorous piece in submission to Fantasy or do you generally steer clear of humor pieces?
Cat: I like humor. I love a good funny story. I love, for example, the Terry Pratchett books which I think are just wonderful, or the Jasper Ford Tuesday Next stories. I like humorous pieces that don’t depend on cliches. If it’s a joke that’s been told before, I’ve heard it before, so I don’t really want those. Good humor is very hard to write and it’s far too scarce in the submission pile.
David: What was the last book you read?
Cat: It was a really cool Japanese murder-myster that Ann Vandermeer turned me onto. I just did a workshop with her and she recommended it. It’s titled “Out”, written by Natsuo Kirino.
David: Your favorite book?
Cat: I will go with a classic and say Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte D’Arthur which is one of my desert island books.
David: Who is your favorite author?
Cat: I will be slightly pretentious and say James Joyce because I do love what James Joyce does with language.
David: What was the last movie you saw?
Cat: We went and saw The Hangover which I thought was a lot of fun. We love Zach Galifianakis. We’d seen him in a documentary called the Comedians of Comedy and he was so hysterical in that.
David: I saw that last week as well. There are a few moments in that movie that are sure to be nominated for the MTV Movie Awards’ WTF award.
Cat: *laughs*. It just had so many moments like that where you were just like “Oh my god where are they going to go with this”
I kind of want to go so Land of the Lost simply because I loved it when I was a kid. I like Will Ferrell but I”m just not sure the combination is going to work. I like Will Ferrell. I have liked him in a great many things, and then I have seen him in many things where I’ve said “Well okay that’s not as interesting as it could be.”
David: What is your favorite movie?
Cat: I really love the Wizard of Oz.
David: I just wrote a story specifically for a Wizard of Oz horror anthology called Shadows of the Emerald City.
Cat: Oh cool, what a neat idea. I had just been reading John Kessel’s The Baum Plan for Financial Independence. Which I think kind of pokes gentle fun at the economics of Oz which is kind of a funny way to do it.
David: Do you have any upcoming publications that you’d like to tell us about?
Cat: Indeed I do. I have a collection coming out with Paper Golem Press. The title is “Eyes like Sky and Coal and Moonlight.”
David: That’s a catchy title.
Cat Rambo: That’s the title story.
David: Is it a collection of reprinted stories or all-new writing?
Cat: I think It’s about half and half, there is about 50 percent new stuff, and a couple Strange Horizons stories, and the Weird
Tales stories. Kind of the best stuff that’s appeared in publication. I’m really happy about that, because somethings appears in small magazines then sort of vanishes like a leaf on the wind. It’s nice to get a chance to put stories I’m really pleased with out in front of folks.
David: If you could give only one piece of advice to aspiring writers trying to get published, what would it be?
Cat: Be persistent. More than anything else you have to cultivate the hide of a rhinoceros, put your head down and keep plugging away.
David: Do you have any works in progress you’d like to tell us about?
Cat: I am finishing up a young adult novel called Phat Fairy. It is my reaction in some ways to reading the Twilight series.
David: What did you think of the Twilight series?
Cat: I thought that they were decently written but I thought they were just an appalling message for young women. You have this utterly passive heroine whose main motivation is nailing her man. I really didn’t think they were a good message for young women at all. I have a goddaughter who will at some point be reading YA fiction, so I wanted to make sure there was at least one book out there with a healthier message. Though I am not trying to write a message-driven book either.
David: Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions, Cat, and letting us get a glimpse into Cat’s world of writing and editing. Also, thanks to Frank Dutkiewicz, Brad Torgerson, and Gary Cuba for your contributions to this interview.
Stay tuned for more interviews! I’ve got a full schedule, at two interviews a month, lined up through mid-October!