Where to Blog?


The Newbie Blogger Initiative (NBI) for 2016 is fast approaching. If you haven’t heard of it before, it’s an event run by experienced game bloggers to encourage other people who want to get started blogging themselves, and also to help those who have already started in the last year and who could benefit from some advice or exposure.

I started this blog back in October 2013 as result of the NBI, and you can read my thoughts on that experience in Reflections on the NBI. The next year I wrote an article that addressed some of the worries people often have when they’re thinking of starting a blog, To Blog or not to Blog? Then last year, I wrote an article on deciding how broad or narrow to make the topic of your blog, Blogging: To niche or not to niche?. I guess I’m very slowly building up a “Lessons Learned” series on blogging, based in part on my own experiences, and also drawing on what I’ve observed happen with the rest of the community.

This year I want to look into the topic “Where to Blog?” I think it’s good to get into this early, so that people who have yet to actually start their blogs for NBI get some input while they’re still mulling over the options.

Basics of Blogging Platforms

If you’re actually thinking of starting a blog, you probably know some basics about blogging platforms already. But just in case you don’t here’s a brief guide…

Free Options

There are many free options for blogging, but the following are the big two:

  • WordPress.com powers this very blog, Thinking Play, and many others such as The Ancient Gaming Noob and Gaming Conversations. It’s completely free-to-use, though you can pay for extras like doing advanced customization of the look of your blog, or getting rid of the ads that sometimes appear. I personally don’t pay a penny, so you can see that the free service provides pretty much all that you need for a fully-featured blog like this one.

  • Blogger powers blogs like Gamer By Design and I Have Touched the Sky. It’s also completely free, and as far as I know there are no extras that you could pay for even if you wanted to.

Both of these will allow you to quickly and easily create a very nice blog. The startup process will be simple and probably take less than five minutes. You can choose a “theme” to get a look and layout that you like, and perhaps tweak it in various ways to make it your own. Then you’ll be all set up to start writing posts, easily including pictures, YouTube videos etc if you want.

Paid Options

The free options are very good, but there are two paid options worth mentioning.

  • Self-hosted WordPress – is like WordPress.com, but instead of using the service provided by the company, you create your own independent website, and have complete control over how you customize it, and what you do with it. However this means more work, takes more tech savvy, and entails paying ongoing costs, usually at least a few dollars a month. An example of a self-hosted WordPress blog is Herding Cats.

  • Squarespace is supposed to be a hassle-free paid option, in which you pay a monthly fee, and don’t have to worry about technicalities. The current version of Contains Moderate Peril uses Squarespace, though in previous incarnations the site was a self-hosted WordPress one.

So… does it matter which?

As you can see, all of these free and paid options are perfectly viable, and you will be able to express yourself to your heart’s content whichever you choose. For many people, just picking the option you like the look of will work out perfectly well. However, there are various issues that might become important in some circumstances, and that are at least worth knowing about in advance.

WordPress v Blogger

Both WordPress and Blogger are capable, and most likely either will meet your needs well enough. There are a few possible gotchas though, depending on what exactly you’re planning on doing.

  • You can customize Blogger sites much more than those on WordPress.com, without paying anything. To make large scale changes you might well need to understand HTML, CSS and Javascript though. Something you can do without too much knowledge is to embed “Javascript widgets”. For example you could embed a chess puzzle like this in a Blogger blog, or a self-hosted WordPress, but not on WordPress.com, even with paid features.

  • WordPress.com’s social and community features seem to be far better than Blogger. It’s very easy for a WordPress.com user to keep track of all the conversations they’re having in comments on blogs there for example. It’s also easy to “Like” posts, and follow blogs with the built in WordPress.com Reader. This extends to many self-hosted WordPress blogs as well, as they can choose to use plugins that hook them into the same ecosystem.

  • You’re allowed to put advertising into Blogger sites. In fact Google makes it easy to put Google Adsense ads in there, as they would get a slice of the money. However in practice putting ads into hobby blogs is largely pointless, and the sums of money made are usually tiny.

  • WordPress is focused on WordPress, while Blogger is just a small part of Google. Some worry that means Blogger doesn’t get updates and new features too often, and even fear that someday Google might decide it’s not important to the company, and pull the plug entirely, as they did with Google Reader and numerous other services.

Why Pay?

Let’s focus on self-hosted WordPress versus the free WordPress.com as a way to understand why anyone would consider paying, when the free services seem to be excellent.

  • WordPress.com comes with a large selection of themes for the look of your blog, and “widgets” and “plug-ins” that add extra features. For example in my sidebar you can see a bit of my Twitter feed, provided by a so-called widget. For many people this selection is plenty, but out in the world at large there are vastly more themes, widgets and plugins available for use in a self-hosted WordPress, and which have not been approved and made available on WordPress.com.

  • On a self-hosted WordPress, you can change the very workings of WordPress itself. This is exactly what many of the plugins do, in some way or another. If this sounds powerful it is… If it sounds complicated and potentially dangerous, yes it can be that as well!

  • You have total ownership and control over your site. For example WordPress.com doesn’t allow ordinary users to put advertising on their blog, and it has fairly strict rules about affiliate links to Amazon and such like. Similarly on your own site, you can say what you want, without any consideration of anyone else’s rules about what is acceptable content.

Why Free?

There are many articles out there that extol the virtues of going for a self-hosted blog. They claim that you can thereby make a properly professional site, perfectly in tune with your own needs, and with so little hassle and expense that it’s hardly worth thinking about the free options at all. They’re the blog equivalent of gamers who speak dismissively about noobs, casual players and F2P games. So are free platforms just for noobs and losers?

Well there are some big advantages to free that may not be obvious at first glance.

  • The cost of hosting a blog is proportional to your traffic. It might be a few bucks a month to start with, but if you happen to get a lot of readers, it can go up considerably. Also bear in mind that you have no control whatsoever over how many people decide to read your blog, so ultimately you have no control over your costs.

  • The cost goes on as long as your blog continues to exist. Many wonderful blogs and podcasts have been taken offline because the owners didn’t want to carry on paying the recurring costs, especially as they may have moved onto other hobbies themselves, perhaps because of life changes. It’s rather sad if something that you may have worked on for years vanishes from the world like that. It’s also a little antisocial, as others contribute to your blog in comments, link to your posts from their own blogs, engage in debate with you, and so on.

  • If you’re blogging as a hobby, “professionalism” is overrated. Do we regard Wilhelm with less respect than Jessica because one is on a free platform, and the other self-hosts?

  • There is a middle way, which may be appropriate for some. For example like Braxwolf you could use WordPress.com, but pay a little extra for your own domain name. Or like Wilhelm, pay to stop advertising appearing on your blog. With such things, it is possible to enhance the “professional” look of a blog, while keeping costs low, and ensuring that the blog could stay online with no cost at all, should that become necessary.

  • It is possible to move from a free blog to a self-hosted one later. This becomes even easier if you were using your own domain name from the outset.

  • With a self-hosted blog, you will likely need to worry about keeping things up to date, as there are frequent changes to WordPress itself, and to the themes and plugins which you’re using. While this is not too hard, you probably already have far too many computer things you need to keep updating, and extra work is not something you need.

  • The unusual plugins that are not available on WordPress.com, and which might be your reason for self-hosting in the first place are also the most liable to get broken by changes to WordPress.

Final Thoughts

Personally I highly recommend that people stick to free platforms, unless they have very clear and specific reasons why they simply can’t do what they need to do there. If for example your blog will be pointless without the use of some specialist plugin that is not available on WordPress.com then you will have to bite the bullet and self-host. Otherwise, I say don’t risk that someday – due to cost reasons of all things – you have to let your words become lost, like tears in rain…

Heroes Reborn – Mini-review

Heroes Reborn
I recently finished watching Heroes Reborn, and afterwards read a few reviews and articles on it. They seemed undeservedly harsh, so I thought I’d write up a few of my own thoughts on the show.

Here’s a short spoiler-free review for anyone who’s not seen the show yet, and is wondering if it’s for them or not.

Heads-Up Review (Spoiler Free)

Heroes Reborn is set in the Heroes universe a few years after the end of the last series of Heroes. However the only character who is as prominent in Reborn as in the original is Noah Bennett. Some other well-loved characters from the original series do also feature in Reborn, but they have significant screen-time for only a few episodes at most, and some only have small cameos. I won’t tell you who appears, as seeing some of my old favorites turning up unexpectedly was one of the most delightful things about the show.

I found Heroes Reborn a little hard to get into at the beginning, though that could just be me, as I have often had the same problem with other shows. There are a lot of characters to take in, and it wasn’t that easy to remember who people were, to figure out why they were doing what they were doing, understand who was working with whom etc etc. To be honest, between being confused about what was going on and being disappointed by the lack of familiar characters, I nearly gave up on the show early on. But I persisted with it, and I’m glad I did.

After a while things came together, the main plotline kicked in, and the show started to make sense. Also we started seeing some of the old faces, and so I was reassured that this was not going to be an all-new cast and story, completely disconnected from what had gone before.

The series reached its peak in mid-season, especially the two-parter called “June the 13th”. The plot developments were superb, and some of the strongest I can remember in any sci-fi show. A whole series of those “Oh wow! Of course!” moments when a lot of mystifying threads suddenly make total, surprising sense. And with plenty of emotional punch too.

The latter part of the series was a bit more routine, but no worse than any other “save the world from disaster” climaxes that are so common in shows like The Flash.

Overall, I’d say Heroes Reborn is one of the best seasons of Heroes, and certainly on a par with many well-liked contemporary shows. If you loved Heroes Season 1, you’ll probably get a kick out of Heroes Reborn. You might need a bit of patience with the early parts though.

My Playtime in 2015

The year is nearly over, so it’s time for a brief look back.

Streaming Boxsets – The New Hotness

I’ve mentioned a few times that streaming video, and especially watching TV boxsets in their entirety, was the big new thing for me this year. That took up a lot of time that I might have otherwise spent playing games of some kind. Here are some of the highlights that I can remember, with micro-reviews…

  • The Walking Dead – prior to 2015, I hadn’t seen a single episode, now I’ve seen them all, and it’s probably one of my all-time favorite TV shows. I thought I wouldn’t be into it because zombies == horror, and horror has never really been my thing. Instead it turned out to be one of the best post-apocalyptic stories, a genre that I love. Especially love the way it explores how people retain – or lose – their humanity in an extreme survival situation.

  • Downton Abbey – another that I hadn’t seen at all before, and assumed was not going to be my kind of thing, but loved it when I gave it a try. I suppose they’re a lot like hobbits aren’t they? The era it’s set in is the same that formed Tolkien, and the overall atmosphere is not unlike The Shire.

  • Justified – Superb crime drama, great characters, and excellent one-liners.

  • Agents of SHIELD – the best of all the plethora of superhero-ish shows. Interesting characters, and well-thought out storyline. After some of the lame arcs and finales we’ve seen to shows like BSG, Lost etc, a show that seems to have been worked out properly from beginning to end is so refreshing! Also, a lot of fun.

  • Elementary – Continues to be excellent. Remains surprisingly true to the flavor of the original Holmes, while also exploring things like addiction and family in a thoughtful way.

  • Buffy and Angel – I had seen large chunks of them before, but this year I rewatched them in their entirety. Deservedly considered some of the best TV ever made, though not all the seasons live up to that billing. So much of the dialog is so fantastic they’re very enjoyable to rewatch even when you know the plots already.

  • The Flash – I watched Season 1, and the early part of Season 2. In the end I just didn’t have time to fit this into my life! There are so many good shows nowadays that the bar for what I get around to seeing is very very high. In decades gone by this would have been one of the highlights of the week, something to look forward to when it was on. Now, regretfully it has to make way for other things. For the same reason I saw a little of Agent Carter, Arrow and Supergirl but had to drop them.

  • Bosch – another excellent crime drama. Recommended if you like police procedurals and intelligent grown-up stories. A little like The Wire, and some of the actors from that do feature.

  • Outlander – I saw it, but now I mostly remember the landscapes and the music rather than story or characters. The time travel element was sadly neglected in it I felt, and likewise the historical drama aspect.

There were probably others, but that’s all that comes to mind at the moment.


I continued to play LOTRO, but a lot less than in previous years. See Why I’m not playing LOTRO much for an explanation of why not.

One thing that I did fail to mention in that post… in 2014 I sorted out some knee problems I’d been having. As a result in 2015 I was able to be a lot more physically active and outdoorsy than I had been for a while. So that’s another major reason I ended up not gaming so much – I was actually not home as much!

Anyway, towards the end of the year, the server mergers did give a fresh impetus to my LOTRO playing. For one thing there was the need to decide what to do with my characters, for another the transfer process let me hook up again with kinnies that had already re-rolled onto busier servers. And it is nice to see the consolidated servers buzzing, a lot like in “the old days” when I was first in the game.

At the moment there is a “Triple Bonus Points” offer on Turbine Points and that still feels very exciting. But I can’t decide whether to splash out, as I’m not sure I’ll ever need those TP again. Maybe I will.


This year I played quite a lot of chess, maybe averaging 3-4 hours a week of playtime, and possibly a similar amount in reading books and such. One of these days I’m finally going to get around to doing a post explaining what I like about chess and how it compares to MMOs. There’s more parallels than you might think!

As usual, I’m rapidly running out of time to finish up this post before 2015 is officially over! Time to wrap up.

A Happy New Year to all my online friends!

Careers, Hobbies and Fun – Part 2

chihuahua-1378374417jQtThis post continues on from Careers, Hobbies and Fun: Brain Dump, Part 1. While I haven’t included “brain dump” in the title this time, this still is one, so don’t expect highly polished structure and an orderly linear flow!

Hears audience cries of “When do we ever? It’s not like that’s normal around here!”

Pretends not to hear and carries on.

The Ground Floor Effect

Last time around I talked about the concept of scalability, and how that leads to hyper-competitive fields in which success is nigh on impossible to come by. If your aim was to become a movie actor, a rock star, a bestselling fantasy author and suchlike, that would be about the end of the story. However when we think about blogging, podcasting, YouTubing and such, there is more to be said.

The point about say blogging is that not so long it didn’t exist. Therefore there was a time in its infancy when it was not in fact a hyper-competitive field, and all kinds of unlikely people were able to get a start and establish themselves. Of course at that time since not many people were reading blogs either, it was still not particularly viable as a career. However as the web in general grew, and blogging readerships grew, some of those people that had “gotten in on the ground floor” were able to grow with it, to the point where it could be a decent livelihood, or even in exceptional cases something of a business empire.

If you were thinking of emulating those people, now it’s (very probably) too late. The field suffers all the problems caused by scalability, plus you’d have to overcome the competition of all those little empires that have already been built!

Do I mention these things just to cause you angst at missed opportunities then? Not entirely, mercifully. Given the times we live in, there’s new stuff coming along all the time… Blogs! Podcasts! YouTube! Phone Apps! Twitch! And the type of people that read this blog are perhaps more likely than most to become aware of whatever is going to become the future next-big-thing while it’s still a teensy-little-thing. Should you have a hobby or passion that fits this description then it could well merit looking into as something that might have serious career potential.

It’s only “might have” though, because of course not every teensy-little-thing becomes a big thing. Plenty stay teensy, or indeed become pretty-much-non-existent-thing. The problem is to know which pretty-new and pretty-teensy things have a good chance of becoming big or at least biggish. You do have a couple of things going for you though. If you have geeky tendencies then you may well be an early adopter of new stuff as it comes along. Based on what got you excited in the past before most people got into it, you have a chance of telling if what you’re excited about right now is just a personal enthusiasm, or something that might catch on in a big way. Also since we’re talking about hobbies, most likely if there is anything that fits that bill, chances are you are naturally spending time exploring it for fun, without having to invest extra time or money on delving into it.

Scalability vs Niches

Despite the problems of scalability, quite a few people do manage to make at least a modest livelihood doing things such as writing books. This is possible because while a pretty small number of authors can easily meet most of the entire planet’s demand for say young adult fantasy fiction, there are a large number of specialist interests and tastes out there with smallish audiences that writers can cater to. Such writers can never hope to make it big like J K Rowling, but sometimes they can do reasonably well.

I’ve written before on the topic of whether it’s a good idea for hobby bloggers to stick to a niche, and many of the same points apply here too. Including alas the fact that “Finding a niche that is actually a good one is rather difficult”. I won’t go over the same ground again, so if this seems relevant to you, check out the older post.

In the context of turning hobbies into careers, I will add one thought though. Most of us have a number of things that we enjoy and/or know a lot about. You might have a couple of hobbies, and maybe there are aspects of your job that you enjoy as well. One place to look for potential niches is in the combinations of these different parts of your life. For instance if you like (among other things) playing video games and working with children, and your day job is in the field of mental health, you might consider things like:

  • Therapeutic uses of games for children
  • Gaming advice site for parents (e.g. reviews of children’s games from the parent angle – age appropriateness, side benefits for learning, suitability for parent and child to play together etc)

It’s not enough though to come up with something that appeals to you, you also need to determine if it’s a viable niche for you to inhabit. The types of questions you need to ask yourself are:

  • How many people would want such a thing?
  • How much would people pay? (e.g To buy a product you’ll make, to hire you to provide some service you have in mind, or to advertise on the kind of site you’re thinking of making)
  • What is the competition like?
  • Is there room for more people to do this?
  • What’s going to be different or better about what you’ll do that enough people would choose that over the other options?

If you have good answers to such questions, there is hope for your plan.

Also bear in mind the possibility of combining the “ground floor effect” with a niche. The Chihuahua podcast market may be saturated, but the time may yet be ripe to get into the Chihuahua-wearable-devices industry. Or it may not, see above.

To be continued

Looks like this is turning into a mini-series. I can only hope that a mid-season break is not needed.

Careers, Hobbies and Fun: Brain Dump, Part 1

Fabiano Caruana

Career change is a perennial interest to many people, me included. I’ve made a number of career transitions in my time, and seen plenty of other people try switching careers, sometimes with astonishing success, other times with depressing outcomes. Over the years I’ve pondered such things a good deal, talked to others, and read a bunch about it. In this post I’m going to attempt a brain dump of my thoughts and findings on the topic.

Before we get into all that, you might wonder what the heck such a post is doing on this blog, which is supposedly about play. Well, the answer to that is in three parts…

  • The topic, while always fascinating and often in the air, was brought to mind by the latest Beyond Bossfights podcast. Braxwolf seems to be considering a career change, and seems to be looking to base his new direction on some hobby or interest.

  • One angle I want to talk about in this post is whether and when it’s a good idea to look for careers based on things you love, as Brax seems to have in mind.

  • Another theme is going to be: What makes work work, and play play? Is turning your playtime activities into work going to take all the fun out of them? Conversely, can you turn something that is “just work” into something actually enjoyable?

Follow Your Passion?

In the past you used to pretty often hear advice to follow your passion, do what you love, and epigrams such as “If you get a job doing what you love, you’ll never have to work a day in your life”. Such sayings have become a lot thinner on the ground since the global economic crisis hit a few years back, and nowadays people tend to be pretty cynical about such ideas.

What do I personally think of this nowadays? Well this is a brain dump, which means it is not going to progress in a nice linear fashion with well structured points! So before I answer that we’re going to make a little detour into economics.

On supply and demand

If you ever took an economics class and didn’t doze off, you heard about supply and demand. If you never did any such thing, that is possibly unfortunate for you because unlike a lot of things you learn in school it’s actually pretty useful for making good life choices.

Long story short…

  • Demand – The more people want a thing, the more badly they want it, the greater the quantity of it they want, the more money they have available to spend, the higher the price of that thing will be

  • Supply – The more people are offering to sell a thing, the more of it they have to sell, the greater their desire to sell, the lower the price of that thing will be

  • Where the pushes and pulls between supply and demand even out, that’s where the price for said thing ends up

When we are talking about careers, the “thing” in question is your work, and the “price” is what you get paid for doing it.

When passion doesn’t pay

One upshot of all this is that something that a lot of people enjoy, and a lot of people would love to do for a living, is likely to be something that is going to be relatively low paid.

Let’s think about acting for a moment. We know big name stars make a lot of money, but what about actors generally? Well, in the first place it’s remarkably hard to actually get a job, because lots of people want to act, and plenty are good enough to do it too. Second, even if you can get to do it professionally at all, for the most part the pay is pretty bad, and working life is very insecure.

The same kind of thing applies to the majority of fiction writers, to sports people and even things like college research jobs. It’s also why a career as a game developer is often not such a bed of roses, comparatively.

Good news for geeks!?

But plenty of people reading this site are going to be in luck. If you have a passion for something that is in big demand, and which relatively few people are able or willing to do, it should pay well. This applies to many tech fields at the moment, and likely to for a long time to come.

There’s many times when following your passion is a very good plan indeed, whereas what might seem like “playing it safe” is not such a good idea. Sometimes people ask “Should I focus on this niche skill which I love, or go for something mainstream where all the jobs seem to be?” It turns out that with niche skills, frequently while there may be relatively few jobs going (demand!) the number of people who can do them is even smaller still (supply!). So paradoxically it’s often easier to gets jobs in a niche you love than in something less interesting.

Scalability, the Double-Edged Sword

“But wait a minute,” some of you are thinking. “What about those actors and writers and sportspeople and YouTubers that do make it big. Maybe I can make it big too in my field of choice?”

Maybe you can indeed, and far be it for me to pour cold water on such notions.

But let’s talk some about “scalability” first. Some activities are “scalable” in the sense that the same amount of work by you can be pretty easily scaled up to serve or benefit a large number of people. Other activities are not scalable in this sense, and some are in-between-ish. Let’s think about some examples:

  • You are a fantastic cook, and you make the most amazing meals. For better or worse however you can only feed so many people in a given day, so what you can earn in a given day has an upper limit of what can be made from providing that number of meals, more or less.

  • You are a fantastic actor, and you make the most amazing movies. Well, now your day’s work can be enjoyed by millions, or even billions of people. No wonder you can earn astronomically more, potentially, than the incredible cook can.

  • You’re a brilliant surgeon, and you save lives every day. However you can only do a few operations per day, and though you will most likely be very well rewarded for your work, you’ll never be in the movie star league.

So, clearly scalability is a wonderful thing? Well, no.

The flip side of scalability is that the world doesn’t need many movie stars. One movie star can entertain hundreds of millions, so the entire population can have their movie-watching needs largely fulfilled by a handful of actors. Whereas the population needs legions of cooks to make enough meals for their special nights out, and a pretty hefty numbers of surgeons to be available to operate on them in their hour of need.

Hyper-competitive fields

High scalability necessarily means there are very few jobs in the field. It means it’s extraordinarily hard to become one of the few who really makes it, that most of the people in the field are actually pretty low paid, and that most of people who badly want to get into the field work their socks off, bang their head against the brick wall time and again, and eventually give up and do something more commonplace instead.

You have of course heard the stories of people who suffered failure after failure, almost gave up, but didn’t and finally got their break. So, that means if you just want it bad enough, and never give up, you will eventually succeed right?

Unfortunately that reasoning is flawed. Yes, most all the people that made it were very talented, passionate, persistent and got a break somewhere along the line. The bar is so high that all that is a requirement. However there were countless equally talented, passionate and persistent people who never did make it, and we don’t get to hear their stories of trying, trying, trying but never succeeding, because they’re nobody famous.

As logicians like to say “It’s necessary, but not sufficient”. Everyone that won the lottery bought a ticket, but that doesn’t mean buying a ticket will make you a winner.

Never say never!

Yet there are still circumstances in which I’d encourage people to “Go for it” if they want to get into such a field. Some of those factors are…

  • They can afford to fail. Maybe they’re young, and if it doesn’t work out, still plenty of time to do something else. Or maybe their spouse’s income is enough to pay all the bills, and it’s not going to be disastrous if the dream doesn’t pan out.

  • It’s a field where the experience is valuable even if you don’t make it to the big time. If you throw yourself into some tech startup idea, the chances of it turning out to be another Google are pretty remote. But even it goes nowhere at all, that experience will still help get you a good job.

  • You are extraordinarily good, and it’s not just you and your mother that thinks so. If for instance your sports coach says you’re the best he’s seen in his whole life, it could well be worth taking a shot at that pro career.

Putting it all together

Where does all this leave us?

I think passions and enthusiasms are an important indicator of what you might be able to succeed in. Apart from anything else, major life changes take a lot of time and effort and come with plenty of setbacks along the way. If you weren’t highly motivated in the first place, you wouldn’t be able to stick the course anyway, so things that you are highly motivated by are at least worth sizing up for their potential.

But as well as yourself, you need to consider the world at large. How much demand is there for what you’re thinking of doing? How much competition is there? Given the level of competition, just how good would you need to be to have a hope in hell of being successful?

Given some pragmatism and creativity, ideas based on enthusiasms can often be tweaked this way and that and finally turned into something workable.

To be continued…

Since the post is already over 1500 words, and I haven’t got to most of the topics mentioned at the beginning, I think it’s probably best to make this Part 1, and continue another time.

Top photo by Przemek Jahr via Wikimedia

Don’t underestimate science fiction…

I came across a great article by Neil Gaiman on what science fiction, reading and exercising our imaginations via daydreaming can do for us. Here is a very striking quote:

I was in China in 2007, at the first party-approved science fiction and fantasy convention in Chinese history. And at one point I took a top official aside and asked him Why? SF had been disapproved of for a long time. What had changed? It’s simple, he told me. The Chinese were brilliant at making things if other people brought them the plans. But they did not innovate and they did not invent. They did not imagine. So they sent a delegation to the US, to Apple, to Microsoft, to Google, and they asked the people there who were inventing the future about themselves. And they found that all of them had read science fiction when they were boys or girls. Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you’ve never been. Once you’ve visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in. Discontent is a good thing: discontented people can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different.

This certainly rings true for how science fiction and fantasy helped to make me the person I am. Though being the person I am, I also have to wonder how far the causality goes the other way…. are the kind of people who would anyway have been drawn to creativity and innovation, esp of a technological sort, also just the kind of people that will get into reading SF&F if it’s around? My guess is it’s probably a bit of both. One issue I’d take with the article is the wording “an obligation for all citizens”. Obligation is a killer of playfulness, and it’s playfulness that is the most fertile ground for creativity. In fact too much emphasis on the value that can be gotten from things like reading, daydreaming and playing is going to undermine that very value! (see also)

Do it, encourage it, but don’t get overly serious and worthy about it I say!

Tolkien Themed Questionnaire, Part 2

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Part 1 is here. If you want the questions to do them yourself, they’re here. If you do them, please let me know too!

16. Rivendell or Lothlorien?

“For what?” is the question! I’d feel more at home in Rivendell, so if it’s a question of settling down somewhere, Rivendell it will be. As I said in Part 1 of this questionnaire, I’d love the mountains, the valley and the company.

If it’s for a visit, perhaps even quite a long one, I’d pick Lothlorien. It’s more unique and unearthly, unlike anything I’ve ever seen in real life. But for the very same reasons, I wouldn’t quite belong. Plus while I do love spending time in woods, I’d prefer more open countryside to gaze upon every day.

17. Least favorite character?

Grima is meant to be unappealing, and he is.

18. Have you ever cosplayed as one of the characters? If not, who would you choose?

I never have. It might be fun to try any number of characters, perhaps especially Gimli. Not sure I could pull it off though, not particularly dwarf-shaped.

19. What scene makes you laugh the most?

Not so much the scene as one great line.

“Your bodyguard?”

“His gardener.”

20. If you could meet 3 of the actors, who would you choose?

  • Sam Astin, he’s up to interesting stuff these days.

  • Ian Holm, seems like a nice guy, with a long career to talk about, including the radio version of LOTR,

  • Andy Serkis, because I think it’d be fun. Also – Gollum!

21. What are your top five favorite lines from the films?

Usually I like a passage rather than a line. Mostly a line only makes complete sense or gets its full impact from the context, and that’s what makes it a favortire. So I’ll quote passages and highlight the lines I mean.


Frodo: I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.

Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.


Frodo: [of Gollum] It’s a pity Bilbo didn’t kill him when he had the chance.

Gandalf: Pity? It was pity that stayed Bilbo’s hand. Many that live deserve death. Some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo? Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. Even the very wise cannot see all ends. My heart tells me that Gollum has some part to play yet, for good or ill before this is over. The pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many.


Frodo: I don’t suppose we’ll ever see them again.

Sam: We may yet, Mr. Frodo. We may.


Aragorn: Hold your ground, hold your ground! Sons of Gondor, of Rohan, my brothers! I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of wolves and shattered shields, when the age of men comes crashing down! But it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good Earth, I bid you *stand, Men of the West!*


Gimli: Never thought I’d die fighting side by side with an Elf.

Legolas: What about side by side with a friend?

Gimli: Aye. I could do that.

22. What are your top five favorite lines from the book?

Some of my favorite lines are shared between the books and movies, but I’ll try to come up with five different one this time. (Also both times I decided not to include other lines like “His gardener” that I’ve included in other parts of this questionnaire.)


Bilbo: “I am old, Gandalf. I don’t look it, but I am beginning to feel it in my heart of hearts. Well-preserved indeed! Why, I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread. That can’t be right. I need a change, or something.”


A man may do both,’ said Aragorn. ‘For not we but those who come after will make the legends of our time. The green earth, say you? That is a mighty matter of legend, though you tread it under the light of day!


Theoden: Maybe we shall cleave a road, or make such an end as will be worth a song – if any be left to sing of us hereafter.


Elrond: The road must be trod, but it will be very hard. And neither strength nor wisdom will carry us far upon it. This quest may be attempted by the weak with as much hope as the strong. Yet such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere.


Bilbo: I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.

There are so many great lines and passages, these selections are a little bit artbitrary. Another day, another mood, I’d pick some different ones.

23. Who do you think is the most underrated character?

I think all the major characters are well-loved, so it’ll have to be a non-obvious choice. How about Sauron? He never appears in person, but he permeates the book, and if Tolkien hadn’t done such a great job of portraying him, the whole story would have lost its power. Maybe that’s why the book is named after him.

24. Have you watched any of the animated films? If so, what are your opinions?

Not yet seen them.

25. How has LOTR affected your life?

A proper answer to that would take up its own blog post if not a whole series. But here’s a short version…

When I first read it, about 14 years old I think, I was moved, delighted and enthralled. When I re-read it at various times, I was transported back to Middle Earth, and also to that especially happy period of my life when I’d first read it. In some particularly bad patches of my life, that could be a big comfort.

Also the book’s influenced my outlook in various ways, especially when it comes to dealing with situations that seem frightening, daunting or hopeless. I’ll quote things from the books and movies to myself – like “It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish”, or “The day may come when the strength of Pasduil fails… but it is not this day” – and it will help me approach the situation with the right attitude.

Lastly since th movies came out, I’ve got to connect with lots of like-minded people via our shared love of Tolkien, either adding an extra dimension to relationships with people I knew already, or making new friends.

26. Which characters would you want in your Fellowship?

How big would my fellowship be, and what would be its mission? The actual fellowship seems nearly ideal. Though I always found it hard to understand why Glorfindel wasn’t included.

27. Weapon of choice?

I’ve always had a liking for bow-wielding heroes, even before reading LOTR, so I’ll have a bow.

Alternately, if it should be a specific named weapon from LOTR, I’ll go for Sting.

28. Would you have volunteered to destroy the Ring?

Yes, I would. That is if no one more likely to succeed at the task was willing to try. I’m not sure how good of a candidate I’d be as ring-bearer. Possibly I’m hobbitish enough to resist it, but I might be susceptible to being lured into thinking it could be used to do good. But as humans go, I’d probably be a better candidate than most.

29. Who do you think is the most attractive character?

Physically attractive? I’ll say Eowyn, though I could easily have said Arwen instead.

30. Do you own any LOTR merchandise? If so, what is your favorite item?

I own books, DVDs, audiobooks etc, but nothing you’d call merchandise.

31. Have you read the book?

Yes, lots of times. By now you probably guessed that right?

32. Have you ever had a LOTR marathon? Describe your perfect marathon.

Not as such. I’ve had long sessions of watching a movie and then rewatching selected scenes, but never all three movies in one go.

If I was going to have a marathon I think ideally I’d want it over a long weekend, with one of the extended edition blu-rays per day, and having a bunch of Tolkien fans over to watch them with. Allow plenty of time for rewatching of favorite scenes, and talking them over together.

There should be time for pies and walks too.

33. When did you first watch the films and/or read the book?

I was about 14 or so when I first read Lord of the Rings. I saw the films as they came out, a good many years later.

34. What is your favorite film/book?

I tend to think of LOTR as one book. I first read it as a single volume paperback, so that’s how I always thought of it. But of the three volumes, I think Fellowship of the Ring might be my favorite. They all have many great scenes, but maybe FOTR has the most such. and the greatest variety of them too.

I’d chose the FOTR movie for the same reason, and also because seeing Middle Earth done so well for the first time had the biggest impact.

35. Get drink with/marry/fight to the death. (Pick three characters)

Drink – Gimli. He’d be fun to talk and banter with over a beer. Any of the hobbits would be great too though.

Marry – Eowyn. She’d be more fun to live with than Arwen, I’m thinking.

Fight to the death – Tricky. I don’t want to fight any of the goodies, and would I be able to defeat any of the baddies? If I can borrow a suitable Second Age weapon, I’ll fight Shelob.

36. Which scene scares you the most?

The Shelob scene scared me the most when I first read it in the book. I’m not sure anything in the movies really scares me, but perhaps Shelob again. Being in complete darkness with a monstrous spider is hard to beat for creepiness!

37. Gondor or Rohan?

Rohan, not least for their wonderful theme tunes.

38. Which character(s) would you want as your parent(s)?

I think Sam and Rosie would be great parents.

39. Which characters would you want as your best friends?

Sam is the bestest of best friends. Can there be any debate?

All of the fellowship would make great friends, and so would Bilbo.

40. When was the last time you watched the films/read the book?

I’m not sure. It’s been a few years since I watched or read them in their entirety, though I do read and watch chunks from time to time.

41. Favorite horse?

Bill the Pony.

42. If you could spend a day in Middle-earth, what would you want to do?

There’s lots I’d love to do, but I’ll say a day in The Shire, walking, talking and eating with some agreeable hobbits. Bilbo, Frodo and Sam would be excellent company if they’d show me around.

43. Is there anything you would change about the books?

Dare I meddle?

A way to extract the interesting stories from the Appendices and put them someplace they’re more likely to be read and enjoyed maybe?

Have an extended edition that’s a lot longer and shows us a lot more about the world and its cultures?

44. What do you think is the greatest lesson LOTR has to offer?

Victory, success or even survival might not be in your hands, but how you live your life and how you face up to whatever life brings you always is.

45. What would your dream home in Middle-earth be like?

Make Bag End big enough for me, and I’ll be very happy. Put it near a small river and some woodland too, and I’ll be even more delighted.

46. How would you describe what LOTR means to you in one word?


Ok, that’s one word that needs a lot of explaining. I’ll give you a less surreal answer.


47. Which death makes you the most sad?

Theoden. He’s like a beloved grandfather by the time he falls.

It might have been Gandalf on the first read through, when I didn’t know what happened afterwards.

48. Favorite behind-the-scenes moments from the films?

I don’t really remember too much of the behind-the-scenes stuff that I’ve seen. I haven’t rewatched it since the movies came out on DVD, so a long time ago now.

49. If you could own any item from the films, what would it be?

Gandalf’s staff. I might go walking with it.

50. If you had the opportunity to meet the Professor, what do you think you would say?

I’d tell him how much I’ve loved his work of course. And then there would be plenty of other things we could discuss. For example: Do Balrogs have wings? What did he mean when he said LOTR was a fundamentally Catholic work? What does he think about his work being beloved by technologists?

Credits: Hobbiton photo courtesy of Rob Chandler (flickr)