I’m not a big fan of religion. I like Stevie Wonder’s lyric: “When you believe in things that you don’t understand, then you suffer. Superstition ain’t the way.” Religion, it seems to me, is precisely the act of believing in things that you don’t understand. And all too often, it’s not only the believers who suffer. They enthusiastically inflict suffering on those around them.

I have a friend who is quite insistent that my disinclination to show respect for religion is a form of dogmatic belief. If I understand her correctly (it’s hard to be sure), she feels that I’m insisting that I’m right, insisting that the rest of the world ought to believe what I believe.

I’m pretty sure she’s way off base. Really, the only thing I believe is that concrete evidence provides a useful corrective for unbridled fantasy. In the absence of concrete evidence, fantasy is all too likely to lead to confusion, hurt feelings, suffering, and outright cruelty.

I remember Richard Dawkins explaining the distinction this way (and I’m paraphrasing, I don’t have the exact quote handy): “I’m a scientist. When someone shows me evidence of the existence of a God, I will change my mind. The difference between a scientist and a religious believer is that religious believers will tell you quite explicitly Read more

The Once and Future Sequel

TADS 3.1 was released today. The new features are deep and powerful. If you’re not into writing text adventure games (also known as interactive fiction, or IF for short), the 3.1 release will be of no interest to you. Even if you are an IF author, you’re far more likely to be enamored of Inform 7. While Inform 7 is very popular, the user community for TADS 3, never large to begin with, is languishing. Nonetheless, TADS 3 is the authoring system for grown-ups.

Or at least that’s my usual thumbnail description. I’m compelled to admit that people like Aaron Reed, Erik Temple, and Andrew Plotkin are, in fact, grown-ups, and they all use and love Inform 7. So maybe I should be saying, “TADS 3 is an authoring system for grown-ups.” But that doesn’t have quite the same ring.

I’ve used Inform 7 too, but I don’t love it. It has always struck me as rather gawky and mystifying. TADS 3 is sometimes mystifying, too — but it’s mystifying in a much less mystifying way. Its syntax is always conceptually clear and concise. The syntax of Inform 7, a programming language that purports to be based on “natural language,” is sometimes a bit murky.

The 3.1 release adds two of the most attractive features of Inform 7 to TADS. Cross-fertilization of ideas is a good thing. Now if only we could get Mike to port Workbench to MacOS….

I wasn’t going to blather about the languages or their features, though. I was going to whine about the game I want to write — the game I’ve been working on, off and on but mostly off, for the past couple of years. I’m still kind of stuck. I know how I want the ending of the game to work, that part is okay, and better than okay. It’s going to be great fun! What I don’t understand is Read more

Surprise Ending

I stopped reading science fiction years ago because none of the scenarios actually made a lick of logical sense, if you thought about them for more than five seconds. Sadly, I’m starting to feel the same way about mystery novels.

Last night I read Michael Connelly’s The Fifth Witness. All the way through, I was thinking, “Wow, this is great! This is real courtroom drama — the kind Erle Stanley Gardner tried to write, and had not the talent to succeed at.” But then, at the very end, the logic of the story teeters and slips and falls sideways into a heap. Be warned: the rest of this post will contain a complete spoiler for the book. If you don’t want it spoiled, please stop reading!

As we near the end of the book, Connelly’s lawyer hero, Mickey Haller, is struggling to Read more

Nothing Ventured

This week I thought I’d try a new mystery novelist. Anne Perry has written a lot of mysteries set in 19th century England, and historical settings and historical research interest me. So let’s give her a shot.

After 40 pages of The Sins of the Wolf, I’m bored. Elmore Leonard, who has also written a lot of mysteries, once said, “I try to leave out the parts that people skip.” Leonard would have left out the entire beginning of this book.

Hester, who is a nurse, takes a train to Scotland. She has been hired to escort an elderly lady on a train trip from Edinburgh down to London and then back. The elderly lady has a large and varied family. The family is, of course, rich; they could hardly have hired a nurse otherwise. After 40 pages, nothing much has happened. Hester has met the family and eaten luncheon and dinner with them. She and the old lady are now on the train.

The old lady requires, of course, medicines, which have been packed in little bottles from which Hester is going to administer daily doses. It’s not hard to guess that one of the little bottles may Read more