New Page on Dillon Development!

A while ago, I had begun working on a “list essay” to submit to a magazine.

Essentially, the submission needed to be a creative non-fiction piece told through some sort of list. As a student of library science, I decided to create a reading program with events, books, all that jazz

Unfortunately, I missed the deadline, and the essay was lost to sea of writing projects on my computer.

I recently rediscovered it and decided I actually really liked it, and I didn’t want to see it remain incomplete. I finished it, and in lieu of a magazine providing context for the existence of this tongue-in-cheek, autobiographical reading program, I created a quasi-creepypasta framework story:

The Committee for Individualized Reader Development is dedicated to creating unique programs for each potential reader’s needs and interests, as well as tracking the progress of each participant as they grow in their consumption of fiction and non-fiction books alike. 

The Committee does not allow children or their families to “opt out” of their programs. They are as inescapable as they are beneficial. Under our guidance, the world will be literate.

The full framework story and the list essay can be found its own page.

The Hero of Alpha Halo, The Woman Called McKay – Gaming’s Place in Literature

Gaming’s Place in Literature seeks to examine game-related fiction through different lenses of literary analysis.

Master Chief is not the protagonist of Halo: The Flood. He’s certainly the protagonist of Combat Evolved, but in the novelization of the game, he hands the driver’s seat over to one Lieutenant Melissa McKay.

The base definition of a protagonist is simple: “the leading character’ of a story [X]. However with a cast of thousands, and multiple viewpoint characters, it can be difficult to pinpoint who the protagonist actually is. Quickbeam, a content writer over at, gives us another method of locating the main character in a story: the narrative.

“[A] character-driven story like LOTR is not strictly about sacrifice (or heroism, or the impermanence of beauty, or all those themes that are intrinsic). I must admit the novel is woven of many threads but the groundwork of the tale, the telling of it, spins on a single proviso: Who is transformed the most between the opening and the closing page, taking the reader through his transformation?” [X]

The telling of the tale, as Quickbeam so graciously highlighted, is also called the narrative. This is the way a story is told, the grand combination of themes, characters, plot, and writing style. Now not all narratives work off the same proviso or condition as Lord of the Rings does. While we do see character transformation in our protagonists throughout the Halo series, Halo 2 being an easy example, one of the groundwork pieces for Halo as a whole is sacrifice.

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Halo: The Flood – Gaming’s Place in Literature

Gaming’s Place in Literature seeks to examine game-related fiction through different lenses of literary analysis.

The Flood is a Halo book that’s known to get some flak from the fanbase, and I can understand why. Coming off of Nylund’s close look into the way the Master Chief thinks, the more action-oriented style can feel shallow. There are parts where Dietz slows down the story to describe in detail how the Master Chief dispatched the Covenant squads, which is particularly dull when you’ve played the campaign and recognize the scenes. I’m not sure we needed the description of our first Warthog jump in the tunnel system that “is not a natural formation.” Furthermore there are some interesting continuity choices that Dietz makes, such as everyone and their Sangheili zealots knowing that John was a child soldier.

With all these issue in mind, I will defend this book vigorously. Dietz had a lot of obstacles to overcome that were different from Nylund. Frank O’Connor has explained that Dietz not only had to transfer a well-known story from one medium to another, but also had to do so in less time that Nylund had (X). Therefore, even upon rereading, I remain both impressed and delighted with what we were given.

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Sympathetic Villains – Maul, Fisk, and Jul ‘Mdama

Tumblr user scribbleymark wrote a brief analysis on (“formerly Darth, now just“) Maul and how he is somehow able to be a sympathetic character despite doing incredibly horrible deeds.

The key to making Vader and Kylo Ren redeemable is that they eventually or constantly feel guilt or remorse for their wrong-doing; that they know what they’re doing is wrong on an emotional level, and suffer from it internally. This same idea is employed a lot with villains to make the audience like them. Consider all the reluctant, beloved baddies you know of, who do bad things only because there’s no other way! These types usually spend time pining over the pain and loss of life they cause.

Maul has none of those moral dilemmas or guilt. Maul doesn’t feel bad about what he does. Ever. He has no problem using people up and then discarding them, or maiming and murdering them for his own satisfaction. But at the same time, he genuinely cares about his brother. His heart is broken when his mother dies. He’s left emotionally scarred by the fact Sidious quickly replaced him and didn’t even want him back, and that bitterness tracks him for decades after.

Even at the finale of Rebels, Maul lashes out at everyone except Ezra. Why? Because he’s attached to Ezra.

Maul’s emotional attachments are what humanize him to the audience, rather than moral guilt. 

While I do like a good villain-redemption story based on morals, this caught my eye, because there have been times where villains have endeared themselves to me, while still being villains. And I’m the sort of person who likes the goody-two-shoes like Captain America and Superman. Looking back at many of these villains, who I have actually liked and not just enjoyed their monologues, I have liked them because of their emotional attachments to others.

Continue reading “Sympathetic Villains – Maul, Fisk, and Jul ‘Mdama”

Halo: The Fall of Reach – Gaming’s Place in Literature

The first entry in my series, Halo’s Place in Science Fiction for Halo Archive, this analysis on The Fall of Reach will also be the first entry in a more expansive series.

Gaming’s Place in Literature seeks to examine game-related fiction through different lenses of literary analysis.

Fall of Reach is very much a character-driven story. Scenes transition from one to the other when a character point is made or developed, as opposed to the completion of an event. In fact, looking at it from a whole, there is not that much of a solid plot. There is the underlying themes of what it takes to save humanity and the continual comparisons of lives spent and lives wasted. Each segment gives something else from which the next can continue and build. However, there is no overarching story line; it’s more a chronicle of events.

I do not fault Fall of Reach for this, not in the slightest. This is no detraction from the novel. One of the most widely celebrated science fiction novels, Starship Troopers, is the same. There is an end goal and a final exciting event that changes the course of the war, but the story is more about the characters and their journey. Quite frankly, I think a plot would get in the way with the sort of story that Fall of Reach is trying to tell.

A plotted story calls for resolution at the end, be it triumph or tragedy. Here, there is no resolution. Halsey’s constant questioning of morality is never answered. John’s understanding of winning/losing and spending/wasting lives is never finalized. Keyes and his crew find their morale, only to have to torn from their grasp. Cortana has barely entered the world proper and already her goals have been forced to shift drastically. It’s a strange sense of reality that was interwoven so beautifully that I didn’t even realize the lack of plot until I sat down to write this piece.

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The Socratic Method in Science Fiction

I recently read James White’s Hospital Station for the first time, thanks to a friend’s recommendation. One of the things that stood out to me very strongly was the similarity to Isaac Asimov’s style. Both White and Asimov approach their protagonist’s respective fields – diagnosing and treating alien patients and troubleshooting the Three Laws of Robotics – much like a mystery novel. We follow along as Dr. Conway or Dr. Calvin work out the solution through reasoning and thought experiments.

However the way the deduction was handled between White’s work and Asimov’s work is also an interesting exploration. In many of the adventures of Conway in Hospital Station, once he has has an inkling of what the correct diagnosis and proper treatment of the patient is, the reader is left in the dark with coy references to a new discovery supporting Conway’s hypothesis. It’s only at the end, when Conway triumphantly reveals his plan to the other hospital staff, that the reader is let in on the discovery. It still makes for an entertaining puzzle, but I personally prefer Asimov’s deductive process.

Asimov does not leave the reader in the dark unless the viewpoint character is in the dark as well. We are baffled alongside poor Powell and Donovan as they encounter yet another loophole for the Three Laws. We get to test our deductive skills alongside Dr. Calvin as she discovers the solution to a robot’s malfunction. And because Asimov is so dialogue-heavy, much of this deduction is done in a dialectic fashion.

If you’ll pardon my use of Wikipedia, the dialectical method is a “discourse between two or more people holding different points of view about a subject, who wish to establish the truth of the matter guided by reasoned arguments.” The more well-known Socratic Method is a subset of dialectics, and both are accredited to Socrates. In fact, I’ve discovered that a number of science fiction works utilize dialectics in order to explore concepts further. There could be an argument made that such discourses are lazy writing and exposition dumps, but I think that these have their place in fiction.

Asimov, a dialogue heavy writer by his own admittance, uses this technique frequently, and not just in his robot short stories. Pebble in the Sky has a the antagonist go on a very convoluted stream of logic to connect the wholly-unconnected protagonists three. In The Gods Themselves, all three parts of the book are wrapped up in different dialectic discussions from different viewpoints about the story’s central conflict. Asimov’s most dialectic conversation occurs again within his robot series, namely Robots and Empire. In the previous three books, Daneel the robot is more a sounding board for the detective Lije Baley, but in the fourth, Daneel and his fellow robot Giskard take up multiple pages in discourse discussing the future of humanity and their own identities, and they are both active and equal participants.

Another example of such discourse is found in The Crimson Claw, book two of the Lucasfilm Alien Chronicles by Deborah Chester. Throughout the book the protagonist Ampris and her best friend Elrabin have an ongoing dialogue regarding the merits of fighting for freedom and of surviving in an oppressive regime. While this does tend to edge more towards debate, given the emotional investments of both Ampris and Elrabin, they do work together towards a compromise of both their needs.

Probably the best instance of the dialectical method that I have seen, alongside Daneel and Giskard, is the short story “Night Meeting” in Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. “Night Meeting” is an incredibly short story, not even a full ten pages in the 1979 Bantam printing, and six of those pages are simply a dialogue between a human and a Martian who encounter each other in a brief overlap of their timelines. Their discourse is a method of discovery. Together Tomás and Muhe Ca explore what is happening to them by the comparison of notes. It’s simple, almost cozy, and entirely dialectic.

The most notable Socratic Method for me is in Starship Troopers by Rober A. Heinlein. The Socratic Method relies on the use of a student/teacher dynamic in which the teacher plays a sort of devil’s advocate and engages the student to consider moral dilemmas through a series of questions. This is the exact method used by Juan Rico’s History and Moral Philosophy classes. Both Mr. DuBois and Major Reid engage their students in this manner, and they are some of my favorite portions of this book. Now granted, I don’t take every piece of these dialogues as gospel, but I realized that even with an emphasis towards a viewpoint, Starship Troopers feels less like a didactic sermon and more like an invitation. Even the brutal take-down of “violence never settles anything” seems to me as more an opportunity to note flaws in my own beliefs and examine why I may disagree or agree in part.

And here is where I find the importance of the dialectical and Socratic methods in fiction. Fiction can have a wonderful balance of pulling you into the story and making you think about life questions both big and small. These dialogues invite us to join in in exploring the wonder of a fictional world or to reconsider what we believe and apply that to the larger dialogue that happens in our everyday life.

In what other fiction pieces have you seen examples of the dialectic discourse?

How Jodi Picoult Wrote the Vampire Story I Wanted from Guillermo del Toro

When I picked up del Toro’s The Strain, I was ready for some vampire fun and some cool monsters in the vein of Pan’s Labyrinth crawling about.

Of course, del Toro and his writing partner Chuck Hogan deliver on the monsters. The Master is especially a fascinating villain, but I didn’t care much for his interactions with the lead Dr. Ephraim Goodweather. The brief moments we had felt bland, generic. Instead, I was far more captivated by Professor Abraham Setrakian and the small snippets of his fight against the Master in the Treblinka extermination camp during the Nazi regime. That was the story that seized me by the throat. I could have read an entire book about Abraham’s struggle in that camp, flanked by human and vampiric monsters alike. Furthermore, the one solid interaction that Abraham had with the Master worked.

The small moment of these two – Abraham’s attempt to slay the Master, and the Master breaking his hands in return – felt like the birth of a true hero/villain dynamic. It was Javert and Valjean meeting at Fantine’s deathbed in Les Misérables. It was the duel of Luke and Vader in The Empire Strikes Back. It was the story that I wanted to read.

It was the story that was merely a frame for Ephraim’s, and I truly believe that the book suffered for it.

A year later, I had to select a novel from the genre of Women Literature for a university course. I was not looking forward to this assignment. Women Literature was rarely my genre and of course being a naysayer, I held tightly to the 90% of Sturgeon’s Law. There was no way I was going to find a novel that would capture my interest.

The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult proved me so wrong (That happens a lot when I step out of my genre box. Go figure).

Like The Strain, the story is told in two time periods, the past interlacing with and affecting the future. The past story also revolves around a Jewish protagonist surviving in a concentration camp.

Just as Abraham’s attempt to kill the Master was a way to save his people, so is Minka’s struggle. Within the camp, Minka begins to write a Gothic book about a pair of upiór brothers, vampires, terrorizing a town. This book, and her chapters day-by-day, help to keep the other captives going. It also catches the eye of the SS officer in charge of the camp, which is where the story connects to the present-day.

There is power in Minka’s storytelling and in her upiór tale. It comforts her fellow Jewish women, it helps a friend pull through an infection, and it allows her to enter the good graces of the camp’s officer. In a sense, it’s both through and against the upiór that Minka finds the strength to win.

The biggest win that Minka’s tale has over Abraham’s is that it is given much more time and breath to be. It’s not just a framing device – it’s a story on it’s own, even if it’s just half of the book.