The Incredible Untold Story of Sailor Moon Chapter Ten: Sailor Moon and Cartoon Network

The following is a free chapter from my book The Incredible Untold Story of Sailor Moon, available now at the Palace in the Sky Bookstore.

This One Goes Out to All the Ladies
Sailor Moon and Cartoon Network

Gather ‘round. I’m going to tell you a story of ancient times when the geeks of the world had to discover their animated television shows using strange technologies and great patience.

Television signals used to be transmitted on the same electromagnetic spectrum as radio. Channels were actually “frequencies.” Television sets were just big radio receivers designed to pick up those frequencies on certain pre-determined channel numbers and display whatever was transmitted on the screen. Televisions were big mobile phones. They even operated in roughly the same broadcast bands.

One of the problems with early television was a lot of companies wanted to build TV stations and broadcast their own programming, but there wasn’t enough room on the electromagnetic spectrum to fit the channels. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which was in charge of licensing television broadcasts, had only opened up frequencies in the VHF or “Very High Frequency” band.

But there was a second band called UHF or “Ultra High Frequency” that had roughly half the range of VHF and was only included on some TV sets. This was where everyone except the big networks had to go if they wanted to broadcast a television signal. It was the band for “independent” television stations.

UHF didn’t do very well until the All-Channel Receiver Act of 1964 mandated that every television set had to be manufactured with the ability to receive television broadcasts on all channels, including both VHF and UHF. Now at least those UHF stations could be certain their signal would be received by every new television.

PBS, foreign language channels like the precursor to Univision, various religious channels and other independent broadcasters sprang up all over the country. In 1970, a guy named Ted Turner acquired Atlanta, Georgia channel 17, which eventually found its way to satellite and became TBS, the “Superstation.” Fox Television was formed by assembling a number of disparate UHF stations into a fourth commercial network.

On the UHF band there was a station in Southern California called KBSC Channel 52. “This is Kaiser Broadcasting, KBSC-TV channel 52, Corona-Los Angeles.” They started their day at three in the afternoon and ran until midnight. The shows they chose to broadcast may very well have given birth to geekdom in the greater Los Angeles metropolitan television market.

Their headline show was Speed Racer.

They also had “The Underdog Show” which was a series of short cartoons. Underdog episodes bracketed a 30-minute broadcast including intervening shorts starring Tennessee Tuxedo, Commander McBragg, Go-Go Gophers and various other characters produced by Gamma Productions. Channel 52 also had Kimba the White Lion, The Three Stooges, The Little Rascals, Felix the Cat, Ultraman, Gigantor and Giant Robot.

If you are wondering why video games, animation, comic books and weird television shows have taken over entertainment in the 21st century, it’s because everyone in charge of the entertainment business now in 2014 grew up watching channels like KBSC Channel 52. When they got older, they all took up Dungeons and Dragons. Then they got jobs running entertainment companies.

Channels like KBSC 52 are also where every single one of them discovered anime.

I know it’s hard to imagine, but this was a time when there was no such thing as an anime convention. There was no Star Wars. There wasn’t even record-able television. The VHS video recorder was years away. There was an Internet, but there were about 19 people with access to it and 18 of them were college professors. There was literally nowhere else in the world except Japan where a kid from Southern California could see anime.

But once they discovered it, they discovered something about cartoons they hadn’t previously realized was even possible. Cartoons weren’t just funny. They were cool. The Mach Five was a revelation to the average ten-year-old boy. A car with super-powers? Sold. They didn’t even care what the show was about any more. All they wanted to do was get to the next episode so they could see what else Speed Racer’s car could do. After all, there were seven buttons on that steering wheel!

Speed Racer also had a unique animation style. Viewers in America got it at once. They understood what the animators were trying to get across, and they responded by desperately wanting to become obsessive Speed Racer fans. This vaulted them into being fans of just about everything else from Japan, including all those great toys that were too expensive for their parents to even consider buying. That stopped none of them from wishing they could own the die-cast painted steel Mach Five with real rubber tires that was about the size of the average radio-controlled cars soon to be marketed to those same boys. Oh sure, it would cost $300 and have to be shipped on a cargo boat from some faraway land, but they didn’t care. It was the Mach Five!

What followed was rather predictable. Godzilla became a household name. Johnny Sokko and UNICORN were sudden superstars. Everyone who grew up watching Channel 52 remembers the giant eye and the rolling iron ball with arms and legs from Giant Robot. Underdog was awesome. They watched the same nine episodes of Little Rascals for months. Why, they even became fans of roller derby, even though nobody seemed to be able to explain the rules. Nobody cared. It was on Channel 52. It was cool because it’s the same channel Speed Racer was on.

KBSC Channel 52 Corona-Los Angeles was the original Toonami.

Fast forward twenty years. It’s not broadcast television any more. Now it’s all about cable, and there was a fast-growing little channel called Cartoon Network getting ready to knock cable television on its ear.

In 1986, Turner Broadcasting (remember Ted Turner buying that UHF station in Atlanta?) bought the MGM Film Library. Included with it was a collection of cartoons like Looney Tunes, Merrie Melodies and Popeye. Later, Turner Entertainment bought Hanna-Barbera and added Scooby Doo, The Flintstones, Yogi Bear and The Jetsons. They suddenly found themselves owning one of the largest animated television libraries in the country with 8500 hours of programming. So what did they do with it? Simple. They started a cable channel with nothing but cartoons.

Cartoon Network was by no means the only channel interested in capturing the ever-profitable children’s broadcast market. Nickelodeon had several successful shows of their own, including Doug, Ren and Stimpy and Rugrats. They would later go on to bring a certain sponge to animation, but that’s another chapter. The Disney Channel and the Family Channel had also thrown their hats in the ring. It was going to be a short, expensive and rather angry competition, but the late 1990s was shaping up to be the battle of the cartoons.

Except that one of the competitors had an insight and an historical perspective the others lacked.

Events in the early 1990s and the deal that brought Sailor Moon to the United States and the English-language television market had placed anime squarely on the radar screens of those who were taking the time to pay attention. By 1996, Sailor Moon’s syndication deal had run its course and the fortunes of the show were beginning to lag behind others of its type. What DIC and Program Exchange didn’t realize at the time was the transition of the television industry was about to give them an opportunity they couldn’t possibly have envisioned when the first plans to broadcast Sailor Moon in English-speaking territories were drawn up.

Cartoon Network’s first completely “ridiculous” idea was Space Ghost Coast to Coast. This was essentially the first YouTube parody. It featured a bunch of re-purposed superhero animation footage intercut with live “guests.” It was snarky and silly and a gigantic hit with exactly the wrong audience: adults.

Turner Broadcasting was not a company terribly interested in the status quo. Ted Turner had always been a maverick, and his tendency to do things that didn’t make any sense to his colleagues or the rest of the industry was well known. He was the first to bring the world 24-hour news coverage. He was also the first to bring the world 24-hour cartoons. Some might argue one had more than its share of influence on the other, but nobody can argue with the success of either approach.

A note was made on someone’s desk in someone’s important notebook that maybe they ought to do a little thinking about this whole “cartoons for adults” thing. It didn’t take very long.

Cartoon Network Studios was the source of the What a Cartoon! show. It was 1995. The idea behind What a Cartoon! was to invite independent animators to put something new and interesting forward. Cartoon Network had actually taken a first step towards putting creative people in charge of being creative. “Lunacy!” shouted the other stations and companies. “Only executives and rich people are capable of entertaining the masses!” “Well,” replied Cartoon Network, “we’ll just have to see about that.”

The first show they came up with was Dexter’s Laboratory. It was rapidly followed by Johnny Bravo, Cow and Chicken and later shows like Courage, the Cowardly Dog and The Powerpuff Girls. All of them were later combined to form Cartoon Cartoons. They would go on to make animation a prime time ratings powerhouse.

Cartoon Cartoons were an industry-changing milestone. The reason was the creators of these shows were able to synthesize animation entertaining for children with writing entertaining to their parents. This was a wild idea that would have been absolutely impossible to even discuss if Cartoon Network had been trying to program a broadcast network. But, cable television wasn’t regulated by the FCC, so they could get away with things broadcast networks couldn’t even touch.

Using this synthesis model, the first punch Cartoon Network threw basically knocked their competition cold. The reason was they weren’t trying to come up with programming for kids. They were trying to come up with programming for whoever would watch it. This forced them to think in ways that weren’t familiar to traditional animation production companies. That’s why they were able to create shows about flying five-year-old girls beating up villainous monkeys.

But more than this was the fact there was a unique energy to it all. Fans of one show were very often fans of several shows for roughly the same reasons. When an episode of Dial M for Monkey came on, a viewer could almost sense the echoes of The Powerpuff Girls and Dexter’s Laboratory in it. All of the shows benefited from this effect. Johnny Bravo and Courage even saw increased interest. It gave these new upstart shows a sensibility and an edge that other animation seemed to lack. It was almost as if the creators of the shows understood their audiences. Well, it turns out they did understand their audiences much better than anyone thought.

With the success of these original shows and the growth of the network as a result, Cartoon Network had already caused a huge shift in the entire business of animated entertainment. Then, in 1997, at almost exactly the same moment Sailor Moon’s syndication deal had lost most of its energy, Cartoon Network began airing a block of programming called Toonami.

Sailor Moon’s history in the 1990s was one of timing. The character set off a merchandising explosion in Japan at precisely the right moment to change the course of the American comic industry (and, as it turns out, everything else in entertainment), the show came to the United States at exactly the right moment to serve as the vanguard for the anime movement of the late 90s and early 21st century, and now, it was running out of syndicated mojo at exactly the right moment for Cartoon Network to say “hey, what if we put some anime shows in a new action block on our network in the afternoons?”

Every entertainment industry veteran knows their business is all about timing. As Bill Moyers pointed out in Empire of Dreams, a documentary of the making of the original Star Wars Trilogy, (paraphrasing) “If you bring Star Wars out too early, it’s Buck Rogers. If you bring it out too late, it doesn’t capture our imaginations. But if you bring it out right when the [Vietnam] war is ending, when the old stories have died. Suddenly, it’s a new game.”

Cartoons and animation have always prospered when their timing is right. In the 1970s and 1980s, the best cartoons were always on at about three o’s clock in the afternoon, when all the kids were getting home from school. That, or Saturday morning, when all the kids were eating breakfast. This was the golden age of the children’s television trifecta: breakfast cereal, cartoons and toy commercials.

Remember KBSC started its programming day at 3PM. That wasn’t a mistake. They knew their audience. Their scheduling approach, however, would only work if they could coordinate it across a network. This was the key thing Cartoon Network could offer Sailor Moon that a syndication deal could not. David E. Nelson pointed out the differences between the syndicated approach and the network approach when he said “the different manner in which Irwin’s toys [and Sailor Moon in general] performed in the US and Canada really reflects the exposure that audiences in each country got to the show itself, due to the different distribution philosophies used in each country.” His insight would later prove true. When the relative success of the syndicated version of Sailor Moon is compared to the Toonami version, the results are beyond dispute.

These observations were not lost on Cartoon Network. The idea of running cartoons 24-hours-a-day was incredibly silly from an advertising standpoint. Nobody is going to run a toy commercial at 11:30PM when every single kid in America is asleep. But they all knew a toy commercial broadcast eight hours earlier was a wheelbarrow full of solid 24-karat gold coins with pictures of money stamped on them.

Cartoon Network had taken two swipes at the “action afternoon block” concept before. It started as the “Power Zone” which was version two of “Super Adventures” which debuted when the network signed on in 1992.

Even in 1997, the Toonami lineup was pretty grim. Voltron, Jonny Quest and The Thundercats were scheduled alongside a witches brew of weird re-purposed leftovers called Cartoon Roulette. The show was hosted by Moltar, a villain from the original Space Ghost show.

One year later, they discovered anime. More importantly, they put it on the air at 4PM nationwide. Leading the block was one Sailor Moon aka Usagi Tsukino and her 82-episode two-season show that until then had been obscured by unfortunate syndication scheduling. Anchoring the other half of the two hour lineup was Dragonball Z, an anime series consisting of about 18,000 episodes which was essentially Sailor Moon for boys.

Remember that first punch when Cartoon Network knocked all their competition cold? This time, they took an iron fist the size of Mount Rushmore and smashed the competition flat. Dan Bednarski, publisher of a prominent Sailor Moon fan site said “chances are that the majority of people who are asked when they first watched Sailor Moon will answer they saw it on Toonami.” This is true of a number of series. The spotlight was brightest at the 4PM and 5PM anchor slots.

Once again, Cartoon Network was about to benefit from advantageous timing. While they were assembling the pieces of Toonami into a legendary weapon, Time Warner, the company that had purchased Turner Broadcasting (and Cartoon Network) in 1996 had been experimenting with its own kids programming block called Kids WB. It didn’t work out as well as Cartoon Network’s version, but it did feature a little show called Pokemon. The first broadcast of Pokemon in the U.S. was September 8, 1998, only a few months into Sailor Moon’s run on Toonami.

What Pokemon did was bring a marketing angle into the world of U.S. adapted anime that was simply brilliant. There was a collectible card game, video games and merchandise of every kind. The frenzy among the exact market sought by shows like Sailor Moon and the rest of the Toonami block created a positive feedback loop that resembled one of Dragonball Z’s five-episode power-ups. Pokemon was about pets, which appealed to girls. The pets fought each other, which appealed to boys. It had an “evil genius level 12″ marketing plan, which was collectible pets. And it was a TV show, video game and merchandising campaign all at once. Pokemon swept the land like a push broom.

By 2003, Pokemon was worth more than the gross domestic product of Denmark. Thirty billion dollars. It took five years. Any fan of Pokemon looking for more anime to watch didn’t have to go far. Cartoon Network had coincidentally just started scheduling anime five days a week in the Toonami block.

The results were immediate, but not just because Pokemon was making a lot of money. Everything converged around Sailor Moon at exactly the right moment.

Sailor Moon had an unparalleled Internet presence, which meant anyone who “found” the show could find volumes of information about it.

Sailor Moon was also a top 100 Usenet group.

Sailor Moon was on at the exact center of kids prime time: 4PM weekdays nationwide.

Sailor Moon was on what was about to become the number one cable channel in the United States.

Add to these the fact it was the show that had spearheaded a ten-figure merchandising blitz in Japan, and you had the perfect set of circumstances for a breakout hit.

These events should not be too quickly overlooked, because they demonstrate something unique about the entertainment business. Toonami was Sailor Moon’s “Silver Age.” The Golden Age was its original run in Japan. In the space of one year, Sailor Moon had gone from a largely failed syndicated show to one of the anchors of the most dynamic programming block in all of children’s television. It was the second act to end all second acts. Toonami gave the show the visibility it needed, and Cartoon Network’s reach gave it clout.

Once again, the old adage about timing had been proven beyond all doubt. In 1997, it would have been very easy for the average executive to dismiss Sailor Moon as tried and failed. By early 1999, the show had over 100 million fans worldwide.

Then the ratings were measured, and the results floored everyone. Even Cartoon Network. By 1998, 82 episodes of Sailor Moon had been dubbed. This included the original 65-episode syndication package produced by DIC and the 17 episode balance of the second season.

During its run on Toonami, between 1998 and 1999, the 82-episode run was broadcast seven times. That means anyone who watched the show from the first Toonami episode to the last ended up watching the first and second seasons of the show seven times each.

Not once during that 560-plus episode run did the ratings drop below a 0.5. That means at least a half-million U.S. households sat through the same series of 82 episodes seven times. This was Star Trek level dedication that nobody was expecting, especially from an anime show most people had never heard of.

It proved there was a loyal fanbase in the United States that logically could not have come from Cartoon Network itself. These were fans that were already there and were already invested. Even if the television world didn’t understand it, the results were clear and could not be waved aside or dismissed. Half a million households! It was a tiny fraction of the audience that populated the Internet.

The 21st century was right around the corner, and Sailor Moon was in exactly the right place at exactly the right time.

The Incredible Untold Story of Sailor Moon is available now at the Palace in the Sky Bookstore!

Am I Part of a Trend?

Seems I’m not the only one who has had enough of social media. Can’t say I’m surprised. Even Forbes looked like it was in on the trend until the writer decided to add 1000 words of “you’re doing it wrong.”

Folks, there is nothing you can do to make social media better. Twitter and Facebook (and all the other noise-hoses) have a vested interest in keeping your stuff invisible. They don’t want people to click away to some other site. They want to keep them on Twitter and Facebook so they can show them ads. That way they get paid when someone clicks or taps away.

Social media is central control on a platform that was specifically designed to prevent central control. Here’s the basics: Big tech knows what the individuals on the web want. Everyone wants their stuff to get attention. Attention is the currency of the Internet. Big Tech hoards attention and uses it to reward their sharecroppers in exactly the same way medieval kings hoarded gold, land and wealth. Their rules are just like your boss’ rules: never pay ’em enough to sue you.

You know what the first thing is central control does when they get control? They make you invisible, and then they force you to work for them in order to get your visibility back. Except you never actually get your visibility back. You sure do waste a lot of unpaid time making their sites better and sending them free traffic, though.

If you are trying to get traffic to your site, social media is competing with you. They are not cooperating with you. Stop. Unplug it. Stop spending your treasure on “post boosts” and dollar-a-click ads. Stop trying to pick better hashtags. Twitter has an automated system designed to make everything you post there invisible, no matter what hashtag you pick. So does Facebook and every other social noise site.

Here’s the good news: If all the social media sites disappeared tomorrow (from my pen to God’s ears), the Internet itself would shrug and reach for another chicken salad sandwich. AOL came and went. Myspace came and went (and incinerated $500 million in the process). Google+ came and went. The “portal” thing came and went. Internet’s still here, and the basic technology hasn’t changed much. The web, links and e-mail all work pretty much the same way they ever did.

If you want to get your message out, you have everything you need. You don’t need social media.

Public Photography Permit

Hey folks. If you ever find yourself out in public confronted by an officially officious official, and you are asked for your permit to record video or photograph in public, bookmark this article on your phone and feel free to present it as your permit. You may also optionally choose to read it out loud.

United States Public Photography Permit

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

— First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

— Article VI, Section 2 of the Constitution of the United States

Big on the Interwebs

Now that I’m done with social media, I’m putting my blogroll back online.

I dumped Twitter yesterday after the third locked account warning in as many days. If I’m going to publish something, why would I put it on someone else’s site first? That’s the question you should be asking yourself if you actually believe social media performs any useful function other than wasting time.

Hey Twitter, it’s Time Someone Said It

I think I speak for more than a few reasonable people when I say I’ve about had it with Twitter. Three times this week I’ve been presented with the lockout screen because I followed a few dozen people.

Now we all know there are limits on the number of people we can follow. That’s enforced at the account level and is usually calculated by adding some margin to the number of followers you have. The more followers you have, the more people you can follow. Fair enough.

Then why is there a second and a third limit on the numbers of people I can follow (or unfollow) in some arbitrary time interval? Why not just leave it at the original limit? Well, the answer is pretty obvious. Twitter doesn’t want you doing too much communicating. The croppers might get uppity and out of control, dontcha know.

Here’s what needs to be said: Twitter is a worthless, pointless waste of bandwidth and air conditioning. It is a noise machine. It is a firehose of nonsense that nobody pays any attention to. It produces nothing of value. At all. It is about as useful as a rocket-powered unicycle.

Twitter’s LIFETIME stock value is -30%. The company basically lit fire to six billion dollars. If you had invested $10 in Twitter in 2013, it would be worth $7 now. Why? Because Twitter doesn’t produce anything except noise. For $21 billion I could rent a 747 and park it someplace with its engines running to produce all the noise I want and still have enough left over to do something useful, like create jobs or build a product people actually want to pay for.

Here’s the value proposition for you, dear user of Twitter. You know what this site does? It takes your hard work, in the form of tweets, videos, pictures, animation, links and so on, and it publishes them at That gets Twitter more traffic.

What do you get in return? Well, if you follow this many people, nothing. If you follow this many people plus one, your account gets locked and you get a reading from the book of no-nos.

Let me tell you about my experience on Twitter so far. I have 8000 followers and change. Our account features Jessica Halloran and has been traditionally presented in her voice as a fictional character. We’ve posted 5200 tweets, many of which had full color art from our comics, games, books, book covers, videos, etc. Want to know how many referral clicks we’ve gotten from Twitter in the last nine years and seven months? (We joined in March of 2009)


That’s one click for every six tweets on average. Now that might sound pretty good, until you look a little closer. In 2009, Twitter had a tiny fraction of the number of users it has now. So you’d expect that since our tweets are getting better and our potential audience is growing, we’d be getting more clicks, right?

Since January, 2017 we’ve gotten 42. We got a total of 3 clicks in all of 2017.

Three clicks.

In the five-and-a-half year period between October of 2006 and July of 2012, when we were publishing our comics, generated over 218,000 uniques.  That’s roughly 100 visits a day.  LadyStar produced more traffic in nine days than our lifetime total on Twitter produced in nine years.

Now I’m not going to say this reminds me of the 179 clicks I got from Facebook that I thought were “targeted” for English-speakers in the U.S. but turned out to be from anywhere-but-America, but what I am going to say is this reminds me of the 179 clicks I got from Facebook that I thought were “targeted” for English-speakers in the U.S. but turned out to be from anywhere-but-America.

I’d really like to participate on Twitter, but the reality is Twitter isn’t going to allow us to communicate with our followers or find new ones without constantly interfering and threatening to close down our account. So we’re leaving.

Those of you investing time and energy in Twitter, I recommend you consider what I’ve written here. Twitter is not the least bit interested in you, and they have no obligation to protect your account or do anything valuable for your life or business. All they are doing, ultimately, is trying to profit from your relationships with others and sell your hard work to advertisers while giving exactly nothing back. The same is true of Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and all the other noise factories out there.

Social media is a waste of time.  I say this as someone who was doing business on the Internet when Mark Zuckerberg was in sixth grade. The people who tell you they are getting zillions of sales and visits from social media are either lying or they are leaving something out, like the bill for their paid ads, which is a taffy wad of stupid I’ll reserve for another post.

Set up your own site. Make real connections with other people. Don’t give Twitter the power to interfere in your life and business. Black out.

Dawnsong Chapter Five

The following is a free chapter from the first book in my LadyStar™ fantasy adventure series Dawnsong: The Last Skyblade

“The mind that is without fear is a weapon with a diamond’s edge.”
– Mitre

Barrotog Farm House
In the Bristlebarrow
Two miles south of Songbird Wick

All six girls were gathered around the main table looking at Talitha’s book. Not long after the girls “moved in” so to speak, Alanna had organized a cleaning detail. The search for furniture to dust led to the discovery of more than fifteen rooms, some of which were furnished, some of which seemed to have been once set aside for storage. Ranko and Talitha made the beds as best they could using what linens they could scrounge up.

During the exploration party, Shannon had discovered a collection of partially used candles each mounted on a pot metal holder. After considerable effort had been invested in figuring out a way to get a fire started during a driving rainstorm, Jessica discovered a metal box containing several broken pieces of flint. With Talitha’s help, the girls assembled a small nest of straw in the fireplace and managed to get it to light by striking the flint against a metal cup Alanna found in the water barrel. Moments later they had light in the farm house. The scent from the candle helped dispel the musty air. It even seemed a little warmer.

“We should keep one candle lit all the time, huh?” Jessica said.

“Especially at night, otherwise we won’t be able to see at all. This place is going to be pitch black after dark,” Shannon added.

“How come it makes sparks like that when you hit those rocks together?” Cici asked, playing with the little pieces of flint.

“It’s ‘cause of iron!” Jessica exclaimed. “I remember when me and Talitha were in the Dandelion Guides and went on the nature tour! We learned how to make campfires and torches and lots of stuff. If you take something real hard and hit it against a piece of iron, it makes sparks fly because iron burns in the air!”

Talitha nodded, confirming Jessica’s explanation.

“You know we could use a torch or two if we’re going exploring,” Alanna said.

“Except we’re not going out there at night,” Shannon replied.

“Okay, I have to ask, Professor. What is the deal with that book? Where did you find it?” Ranko asked, leaning against the big table’s surface with both hands.

Talitha turned the page. She hadn’t spoken more than six words since they got inside.

“There it is,” she said, pointing at a strange, ethereal symbol printed on the elaborately illuminated page. “That’s the symbol I touched on the red globe.”

“The one from my ring?” Jessica asked. Talitha nodded.

“Was it part of the map?” Alanna asked as she and the other girls stood to get a better look.

“Not the dot that I touched?” Ranko asked.

“This symbol was next to it,” Talitha replied. “I saw an enormous library. Some of the books were so big I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to lift them. I had just picked this one up. Then I saw you all and ran with you to the shack.”

“Maybe that symbol means ‘Makoce’ or something,” Jessica said. “Like Enken said.”

“Yeah, but look at these words here.” Ranko pointed at the opposite page, which was covered in handwritten script. “I can’t read this, can you?”

“That doesn’t look like any language I’ve ever seen,” Shannon said.

“It looks like cursive writing!” Cici said. “I learned that in school last year!”

“But it’s not English,” Alanna noted. “And you’ve read almost 40 pages so far.”

“It’s indexed,” Talitha replied, straightening her glasses and turning to the back of the book. “Here. This appendix has a primer that describes the phonetics, grammar and symbol syntax. It’s also illustrated after a fashion, so it explains some of the verbs and gives examples. The structure of this language isn’t all that different from our own, except none of the individual sentences seem to have objects. Only subjects. They have to be combined to make complex phrases. At least that’s what I’ve figured out so far. I think this book was written to help teach the language it was written in. It recounts historical events I think the authors wanted to preserve. It might even be some kind of children’s book. Some of the chapters are written in verse.”

“Verse?” Alanna asked.

“Like a poem.”

“Like fairy tales or something?” Jessica asked.

Talitha nodded.

“I feel like I just got beat up by my English homework,” Ranko said.

Cici giggled.

“What about this symbol?” Jessica asked. “What does it say?”

“The only word I can find that references it is ‘Lockvern.’”

“That’s what that weird guy was talking about!” Shannon said.

“Wait a second! Hold it!” Ranko exclaimed. “If all the books are written in fairy tale language, how is it that guy was speaking English?”

Nobody answered.

“Well? Do you know?” Ranko asked Talitha. The bespectacled girl shrugged.

“Do you know?”

Jessica shook her head.

“Well who knows!?” Ranko gestured with both hands.

Alanna shrugged. Ranko threw a piece of flint over her shoulder and collapsed into one of the wooden chairs.

“We’ve got a lot to figure out. We’ll have to start taking notes,” Alanna said. “Who wants to volunteer?”

“Meeee!” Jessica exclaimed, jumping up and down. “Talitha helped me with all my homework this year, so we work super-good together!”

“Super-well,” Talitha said quietly as she turned the pages.

“Right! See?”

“We have to find some notebooks!” Cici said. “And pencils and pens! And crayons so we can color them!” Alanna helped the younger girl up on her lap so she could see better.

“Okay, so you’ve got a handle on the written language. What have you learned from this thing so far?” Shannon asked.

Talitha turned back to the beginning of the book. The first page was decorated with an elaborate illuminated painting in red with gold ornaments. At its center was an enormous symbol. “This book was written by someone calling themselves ‘Devao.’ My best guess so far is that could be a name for a race of people instead of someone’s personal name. A crude translation of the title is “The Devao Book of Music-Stories.” Talitha turned pages as she spoke. “It seems a collected history passed down from generation to generation. Most of the chapters I’ve read apparently started out as metered lyrics. Someone took the time to write them down one by one, and then they were all compiled in this binding. Some of them are about Jessica’s ring.”

Ranko stood up, pulled out one of the wooden chairs, sat right next to Talitha, folded her hands on the table and looked directly into the bespectacled girl’s eyes. “Talk to me.”

Talitha turned to a spot near the beginning of the book where a painted illustration of a magnificent hand-and-a-half longsword filled the page. “I think this is what that boy was talking about. It is a weapon, but it’s disguised. Jessica’s ring is one form of an enchanted sword. Its blade is made of celestium, which is a very rare mineral that can only be found here in Aventar. Both the ring’s and the sword’s powers are based on light and fire.”

Alanna and Jessica glanced at each other.

“What.” Ranko asked.

“I’m glowing. Or, I was glowing. At least sometimes.” Jessica smiled and let her chin rest on her folded hands as she leaned her elbows on the table.

“She’s right. We saw it when we first came in here,” Alanna said. “There’s this golden light that fills the air around her. You can see it from a distance. It even shows up on the floor and walls. We also found out that ring disappears if she tries to give it to someone else.”

“And then it appears back on my hand like only a second after. It likes me.”

Ranko made a face and shoved Jessica’s shoulder. “Pssh. It ‘likes’ me,” she said sarcastically. Jessica closed her eyes and kept smiling contentedly.

“There’s more,” Talitha said. “Whoever wrote this book theorized quite a bit about Dawnsong’s powers. Ring and sword are the same object, and the Devao believe Dawnsong can take as many as three forms. We’ve only seen the ring so far.”

“How do we get the sword one?” Jessica asked.

“That’s the confusing part,” Talitha replied, turning ahead in the book several dozen more pages.

“Okay, if the Professor is confused, we’re sunk,” Ranko said. The other girls leaned closer to see what Talitha was pointing at.

“This part of the book speaks of more abstract concepts like honor and courage. That’s one of the things that is making it so hard to read. The sentence structure in this language is like a storybook for small children, so when it tries to describe more advanced concepts, it gets very choppy and hard to understand. What I’m pretty sure of, though, is that Dawnsong responds to honor.”

“What does that mean?” Shannon asked.

“This is just a guess, but I think the ring and sword become more powerful when they are wielded by an honest, courageous person. I think they lose their powers if they are wielded by a wicked person. In fact, I don’t think an evil person could even touch the ring or the sword without some kind of reaction, possibly a dangerous one.”

“Whoa,” Ranko said. “That little thing is dangerous?”

“Well, only if you’re evil,” Jessica replied. “Are you?”

“If winning and looking good doing it are evil, then I’m a super-villain!” Ranko boasted.

“How sensitive is it?” Alanna asked. “I mean, I don’t think any of us are going to trip the evil alarm, but what if Jessica does something not quite evil but not exactly good either?”

“I’m not going to do anything evil!” She closed her eyes to emphasize her self-assurance. “I’m a nice girl.”

“I don’t know for sure, but I would expect it would become less powerful if Jessica did something less than honest. On the other hand, if she is dedicated and follows a virtuous path, there’s no telling how powerful it might become.”

“Okay, then. Goofball is our secret weapon. If we run into something haunted, like evil scarecrows, she goes first,” Ranko said.

“Seconded,” Shannon added.


“What? You’re glowing, you’ve got a sword and you’ll never tell a lie or steal my lunch. You should march right out there and ‘chop chop.’ No more haunted scarecrow,” Ranko said. Shannon and Alanna smiled.

“I liked it better when it was just glowing,” Jessica said, folding her arms and pouting.

“There are seven other rings,” Talitha said.

Ranko snapped around. “Say again?”

Devils Demons and Dead Men Chapter Two

The following is a free chapter from the first book in my Kings and Conquests LitRPG series Devils Demons and Dead Men, available now at the Palace in the Sky Bookstore.

Thirty-Four Years Later

“I would rather be flushed down a saltwater toilet full of razor blades than play this game one more minute!”

Jordan Hall eagerly re-adjusted his seated position in his tech-office-model desk chair. He checked the chat room feed again and then turned back to his camera, which had a spectacular high-definition shot of his chin bathed in monitor light. Someone in the chat room challenged his opinion yet again. Why were they defending this worthless game?

“Okay, it wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t do such stupid things! Look, I have battleships in my invasion force. Battleships! Two feet of steel armor! Okay? Then I get them next to the beach so they can bombard the city and they get taken out by archers! Archers?! Against a battleship!? Aaaarggh!”

The chat room scrolled and scrolled. About half the respondents were sympathetic. The others were questioning Jordan’s ancestry, rehashing old “your mom” jokes and having a grand old time trolling the others. A digital furball erupted over the accusation that “maybe your battleships just suck” until the troll was dumped into the penalty box for fifteen minutes by one of the mods. It was the chat equivalent of the dunk tank.

Jordan sighed. “This game is just disappointing. The graphics are atrocious. I can’t play it any more. Hah! And now the archers are sinking my transports. Sure! Archers on Normandy Beach. They wouldn’t have lasted thirty seconds!”

The game in question was Emperor of Cities, which had just released an expansion that added industrial era units, new city types and new factions. The game media had sleepily rated it mediocre, but players had other ideas. Jordan had only scheduled it on his “No-Name Games” streaming video show because he enjoyed the original release and said so in one of his previous shows. By now he had taken it all back. Now, the game was the worst product ever sold and anyone who bought it was a remedial-class idiot. One of the cardinal rules of being a video game critic was the complete abandonment of subtlety. It was either a gift from on high or it was something you scrape off your shoe. There was no middle ground. Kind of like a ninth-grader’s opinion of female movie stars. They were either indescribably hot or not worth mentioning by name.

A quick check of the NNG viewer count wasn’t encouraging. Only 80 people were watching his streaming Internet show. About 12 of them were the regulars, and half of those were people he knew from work. The rest were undoubtedly unemployed semi-coherent guys in their late teens and early 20s who gathered around video games in much the same way their fathers and grandfathers gathered around Monday Night Football. Video games were one of the last places where males could experience true competition, complete with all the cheating, name-calling and profanity one could possibly want. It was 21st century stickball with a satellite audience.

The viewers weren’t all that different from their host. Jordan was fully prepared to call in sick to his IT job the next morning. He wasn’t sure why, but he was sort of positive he had discussed it earlier that day. It was fine. Nobody could expect a gaming streamer to remember details at 2AM.

“Hey, hey! You guys will know this. Why am I calling in sick to work tomorrow?” Jordan sipped an energy drink. He had a refrigerator full of them in his room.

The scrolling of the chat room paused momentarily. The viewers of the show were also participating in the chat so they could respond to what Jordan was saying “on the air.” At least some of the viewers were thinking and not typing, which was occasionally encouraging. It didn’t happen often. Then the chat window accelerated back to full speed with eight out of ten responses being some variation of “you suck at your job” and more random criticisms of Jordan’s mom. Then he found what he was looking for. He had to squint at the third of three widescreen monitors arrayed horizontally across the main desk-level platform of what he called his “battle station.” He actually joked about it not being a moon during an interview on someone else’s streaming channel and was promptly cut off and permanently banned.

One of the viewers typed “The Kings and Conquests announcement.”

“Thaaat’s right, the old KNC saga. Everyone’s favorite subject.” He sighed again, because he knew what was about to happen. The chat window became clogged with random imagery. Most were parodies of Fairly Unusual’s company logo. Some were offensive pictures where everything and everyone in the image were wearing crowns, and so forth. More people were banned. One user with the screen name “AngryFluid” was identifiable because he was typing in coherent sentences with nouns and everything. Jordan recognized him. He had been a subscriber for a few weeks.

“Okay, Angry. I’ll add you to the stream if you want to tell us what you know. I have to tell you I’m kind of interested in what they have to say tomorrow. Fairly Unusual puts on some pretty good announcements.” A few adjustments to the equipment ensued. Fellow streamer AngryFluid appeared next to the host in the webcast.

“How’s it going?”

“Not bad, how about yourself?” Jordan’s counterpart had a setup similar to his own. Each battlestation was wired in the corner of its owner’s room with the furniture, strewn clothing and other accouterments visible in the shot. The only difference was AngryFluid’s room had no windows, as he was broadcasting live from 40 feet under the Alaskan permafrost in his basement. Jordan was enjoying a much balmier climate in Southern California.

“So what’s your take on the big announcement tomorrow?”

“There isn’t going to be one,” AngryFluid replied with a fatigued drawl before sipping an adult beverage in an old-fashioned glass. “The real news happened about eight hours ago when nobody was paying attention. This is something FUG is making a habit of lately. They time everything just right so the main online media doesn’t catch it until the next day, long after social media has driven it into the ground and it’s old news. Blunts the impact.”

By now the chat room had reached “berzerk factor one.” More than 95 out of 100 responses were accusing AngryFluid of being a wacko conspiracy theorist. Jordan knew the basics of the controversy. Fairly Unusual had been accused in the past of using proxy companies to do their crowdfunding in order to throw off their competitors, but that was nothing compared to the just-about-to-break bombshell. The company’s PR department pretended to leak something crucial, then walked it back, then later revealed it was true right before announcing three more even bigger developments.

Company CEO Garrett Wyland was famous in tech circles for staying one step ahead of the rest of the game industry. Now he was gaining a reputation for staying one step ahead of the media. More than a few of the companies that he had repeatedly upstaged with strategically timed PR were quite keen to see him fall, so they invested heavily in various flavors of corporate espionage, hoping to divine his intentions before he made his next move. The smart money had already concluded the non-scandal scandal had been engineered on purpose long before the leak. Intrigue was something Fairly Unusual couldn’t really afford, as they were gearing up for an IPO. At least that was the conventional wisdom. Garrett Wyland was anything but conventional. Leaks that could later be denied and then re-revealed for maximum media points only made FUG more attractive to early adopters. Their next game was going to be the one to push them over the top.

“Is that the Frosty Cat page everyone was linking last week until it disappeared?” Jordan asked.

“Frosty Cat is the name of the company. They put up a fake-looking page just long enough to get a couple of headlines out of it. Then they took it down to create mystery. The lawsuit rumor was fake. The crowdfund rumor is true.”

“Looks like it worked too. There were at least a half dozen stories in the aggregator feed this morning about it. Are they baiting the media with the scandal you think?”

“Have you seen the page today?”

“It’s back up?”

“Take a look.” AngryFluid took another sip of his drink while the chat room quieted and Jordan pulled up a browser. He navigated to the Frosty Cat crowdfunding page for the new Kings and Conquests game. Jordan paused. It had to be a mistake. The counter read $988,717.

The campaign had been active for 106 minutes.

Devils Demons and Dead Men is available now at the Palace in the Sky Bookstore!

Text Files

If you use computers, you’ve probably run across the phrase “text file” before. Unless you spend a lot of time using computers, you probably don’t know for sure exactly what a text file is or why it is important.

Most people compose documents with applications like Microsoft Word or Google Docs. When those applications save your document, it is put in what developers call a “proprietary” format. Only Word is supposed to be reading and writing .docx files. They aren’t text files. They are Word files. Google Docs has its own formats. So does LibreOffice.

When an application like Emacs or Notepad saves a document, it is saved as plain text. This means there is no formatting, no tables, no fancy fonts or images. It is just the alphabet, numbers and punctuation. Developers sometimes call this “plain ASCII text” because it uses only characters that appear in the basic ASCII table, which is numbers, letters and punctuation.

ASCII is the American Standard Code for Information Interchange. ASCII tells a computer which arrangement of bits correspond to each letter of the alphabet. It has been the PC standard since 1981.

Why is text important? It is important because text files contain only the data. There is no extraneous information like “put an image here” or “change the font there.” It’s just the raw data in the absolute simplest possible format.

Now you might think that raw data in a simple format is pretty boring. It is. That’s the whole point. When things get fancy, they tend to get broken and start wasting huge amounts of time and money. Ask any programmer which is better: simple or not simple?

The fact is boring works. The entire world wide web runs only on plain text. Usenet runs on plain text. The entire global e-mail system runs on plain text. UNIX and Linux are configured with plain text. Google runs on plain text. The source code for every application you have ever used was originally written as plain text. The entire Perl programming language was designed to work with plain text.

That’s why ASCII is still around and is still running all the world’s electronics after 37 years. If you’re an author, I strongly recommend you consider storing your manuscripts as plain text. If at some point in the future you decide to put your work into a proprietary format, you can, but you’ll always have the plain data to fall back on. Going from proprietary back to plain text is never a sure thing.

Plain text is the universal data format. Everything can read it. Everything can write it. Plain text is safe.

Are You a Blue Shirt Picard?

If you’ve watched Star Trek: The Next Generation much, you’ll recognize this episode. Alongside “Lower Decks,” “Tapestry” depicts the life of the low-ranking officer aboard a ship commanded by a legend.

These episodes tell an important story, and one we can all learn a thing or two from. If you spend your life following the “rules,” you’re going to find that society will be very happy to have you sit quietly in the corner and un-volunteer yourself from life. You’ll be shoved out of the way and be expected to spectate while others get their share and yours.

Consider your favorite social media site. They all want you to communicate and interact, but not too much, because that’s bad. What you’ll eventually discover is social media is specifically engineered to stop you from communicating, but that’s another article. Who is to say how much is too much? Well, if you’re selling something, how much ain’t much, that’s for sure.

How do you get a date? Well, you just walk right up to her and introduce yourself and announce you have a favorite table at her favorite restaurant. Shocking, I know, but that’s how men and women find ways to avoid eating alone on a Friday night. The rules say you can’t just ask her out. Who do you think you are? Well, you’re the guy who breaks the rules, because that’s how you get noticed.

There is one principle you can always count on. The rules are there to separate the blue shirt Picards from the starship Captains. Follow the rules and play it safe, and you get to sit at a table in Ten Forward listening to Counselor Troi “there-there” you about your wrecked life. Get stabbed through the heart by a gorilla with teeth on the outside of his mouth, and you get to command the Enterprise. The latter is most assuredly not following the rules, now is it? Which result interests you most?

If you’re in business for yourself, ask yourself this question: are you avoiding the Nausicaans, or are you prepared to start a bar fight to get what you want?

When you run into an obstacle in your pursuit of what you know you need to get to the next level, just ask yourself if the decision you’re about to make will lead you to becoming Blue Shirt Picard or Captain of the Enterprise. Then you’ll be sure to make the right choice.

Digital Bookshelf Subscription Idea

As you all know, running a web server comes with regular expenses in the form of bandwidth, CPU usage and storage costs. For the time being, the Digital Bookshelf will be free. My intent has always been to offer my new Digital Bookshelf as a free service, but I also have a subscription model for it.

If I charged you $5 a month to be part of a premium readers club, and made the bookshelf one of the perks, and gave you a free book every month alongside an enhanced newsletter, would that be something you’d subscribe to?

Tell me what you think in the comments.