Thoughts about Monsters

posted in: Writing | 0

This past weekend, I was a presenter and panelist at LTUE (Life the Universe and Everything Symposium). Among other events, I was on a panel about monsters, and I thought I would write a few of my thoughts down.

First off, I love me some monsters. I’m a huge fan of the Universal Monsters movies of old. I love zombie stories. I love creepy imagery with subtlety. I love tragic monsters that don’t want to be villains or monstrous. Still, it is there nature to be so.

So, I thought I would share some of my favorite monsters. First up, as a content creator, this is the reaction your monsters should evoke.



If you can pull that off, you’re winning. The monster is from Orphan Black:

Helena is one of my favorite monsters. She isn’t quite a human monsters in the traditional sense of say Hannibal Lecter. She’s the monster you hope is on your side, one capable of anything and you just have to direct her against the bad guys. Helena exhibits one of the traits that monsters give you when you are creating content. They allow you to surprise your audience. Oh, so many ways to surprise them. In this scene from Orphan Black, Helena is wearing a wedding dress covered in blood. She looks creepy and has a knife. She just killed the man that had Sarah tied up. What is she going to do? Is Sarah next? Based on the horror on Sarah’s face, she thinks terrible things are going to happen? But…

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She hugs her. Surprise!

At the panel, we were asked what monster we wished we’d created. I went with the Shadow King from the TV show Legion, but not this face:

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Terrifying yes. But it is supposed to be frightening. I could point to this:

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I figure this wouldn’t be quite as fantastic without Aubry Plaza in the role, as she bring everything to this face of the monster, so I could hardly hope to claim credit to a masterpiece such as this. So, the face of the Shadow King that I found they creepiest is the Angriest Boy in the world:

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It starts out as just a drawing in a children’s book–a disturbing book, sure. But then we see it in the wild, and it chases us:

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That is the monster I wish I had created. So awesome!

My LTUE Schedule for 2018

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Here is where you can find me at the Life, the Universe, and Everything Symposium on February 15-17, 2018. Here’s a link to my class and panel schedule. Here’s a rundown:
I’ve attended LTUE a lot over the years, and the whole experience is fabulous. Now, I’ve achieved my goal and am sitting on the other side of the table as an instructor and panelist. I can’t wait to share my take on this writing adventure!

My first LTUE appearance

posted in: Writing | 0

Nearly one year ago, I sat in the audience at Life, the Universe & Everything Symposium. I vowed then that next year I would be on the other side of those tables, sharing my own thoughts and vision on writing, monsters, science fiction, and fantasy. Well, I made it!

I will keep you updated on all the times I’ll be presenting as the schedule is finalized.

About LTUE

Life, the Universe, & Everything: The Marion K. “Doc” Smith Symposium on Science Fiction and Fantasy is a three-day academic symposium on all aspects of science fiction and fantasy. I attended my first LTUE as a kid for the board games aspect, but I slunk away from my brothers and hit the writing panels. LTUE is chocked full of panels and presentations on writing, art, literature, film, and gaming. The focus is on speculative fiction, but the writing advice shared is well worth the small price tag for any writer. This convention is a must attend for any aspiring writer near Utah.

All the Podcasts…

Over the last two months, I’ve been on three podcasts talking about writing, mad science, and my book, Devil in the Microscope. In case you missed them, here are the links. Thanks to all of the hosts for being awesome and for listening to me ramble about stuff that I love. I had fun at each one.


Dungeon Crawlers Radio

I talked with the awesome DCR crew about the choices I made writing Devil in the Microscope, including why I chose a teen girl as a protagonist, why my story takes place in Florida, and why I chose mad science as a backdrop. They had excellent questions and were entertaining.


StoryHack Podcast

Bryce and I had a great conversation about all the fun stuff I love: board games, mad scientists, writing, and my book. Bryce is also a writer and runs the StoryHack magazine. Check it out.

StoryHack Podcast: Interview with Ryan Decaria


r. r. campbell has a great voice and a excellent format in his podcast. He grilled me on my mad science and science fiction in general. We discussed whether the science in science fiction needed to be realistic and accurate or whether it is better to treat it like magic.

Writescast 018 – Mad Science in Science Fiction with Ryan Decaria

And if you not sick of listening to my sultry voice, you can also head over to Meeple Nation to listen to me gush about all the awesome board game action.

Meeple Nation

May I recommend episode 177. We talk about mechanics and themes that we are suckers for in a board game.

Was Doctor Poison a Great Mad Scientist?

posted in: Mad Science | 0

I loved the Wonder Woman movie. It was nearly perfect for the level of entertainment it provided me. I loved Chris Pine and the talented supporting cast, especially Lucy Davis as Etta. But ultimately, the movie had to sink or swim based on Gal Gadot, and she was amazing at every moment. The villains were great as well, for the most part.

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The one thing that didn’t impress me was the mad scientist, Doctor Poison. In spite of a nickname too on the nose, Isabel Maru had a classic mad scientist look with an implied tragic back story. She could have been great, but in the end, the writer’s failed her.


Spoiler Warning: I’m going to spoil some stuff.

Isabel was a Spanish chemist recruited by General Erich Ludendorff to create chemical weapons for the German army. At first she seemed a master of her own fate, creating the evil of her heart. We soon see her as a lapdog to the General, at the mercy to his will and whim. Even worse, we find out that she hadn’t even developed the poison of her own doing, instead having the menace spoon fed to her by Ares. To top it all off, she seems almost swayed by Chris Pine’s charming face and perfect accent, making her seem a foolish girl instead of the powerhouse she could have been.

She served the greater plot, which is the fate of most supporting villains, which is unfortunate in a movie celebrating woman power it all its marvelous glory. Still worse is her fate at the end, a pawn in Ares’ plan to tempt Diana. He gives Diana a chance to kill Isable for her crimes. Diana of course has pity on the good doctor, realizing that killing isn’t the answer, but love and sacrifice for others is what will heal the world and end the war.


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So, in the end, Isabel is a mere pawn in a game of immortals, which was highly disappointing to me. She had agency to act on Ares’ whispering, which made her an evil person. She did horrible things, murdering countless people. She should have had agency in her demise, for good or evil, instead of being a plot point in the conflict of the hero and villain.

A slight blemish in a fantastic film.


It’s alive. It’s alive!

Devil in the Microscope is alive and out into the world. I hope you have as much fun following Anika’s science fantasy adventures as I did when writing it.


Read more reviews on Goodreads:

Here’s a highlight:

Buy the Kindle version on Amazon right now. The print copy will go up for sale in a few days.

Thanks to Immortal Works for believing in my creation, and to everyone who helped in the process of bringing my book to live.

I hope you like it.


My author page at Immortal Works Press and Goodreads

Here are some awesome links:

My author page:

Immortal Works:

My Goodreads author page:

Devil in the Microscope on Goodreads:

If you use Goodreads, please Follow me and mark Devil in the Microscope as a Want to Read!


The Postmodern Frankenstein’s Monster: Aida from MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.

posted in: Mad Science | 0

Mad scientists have taken many forms/personages/appearances over the decades since Frankenstein, Moreau, and Rotwang. We have the plucky good guys like Flubber and Doc Brown, and the villainous breed in the Re-Animator and perhaps 90% of Spider-man villains. In our postmodern age, the mad scientist has adapted in appearances and subtlety, but the moral dilemma between what science can do and what it should do is still very much in the public sightgeist. I believe mad scientists are at their best when we really aren’t sure where they fall on the good-guy/bad-guy spectrum, or when they can shift depending on what serves them best.

As a connoisseur of the sub-genre, I have been enjoying Season 4 of MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. as the show explores the motivations and consequences of our mad scientist, Dr. Radcliffe, and his creation, Aida, the postmodern Frankenstein’s monster.

Dr. Radcliffe and Aida


Dr. Radcliffe is a brilliant scientist and transhumanist, which is a person who believes in transcending normal human limitations with science and technology. In the show, Radcliffe seems to have endless resources to carry out his experiments. Back in Season 3, Radcliffe was forced to help HIVE by experimenting with the whole Terrigen/Inhuman plotline. Eventually Radcliffe helps the team and becomes an ally, though a condition of his pardon is he is not allowed to conduct unauthorized experiments. Luckily, you can’t keep a good mad scientist down. Radcliffe builds AIDA, an artificial intelligence based on S.H.I.E.L.D. technology.

We already know this will not end well. Through the course of Season 4, Radcliffe and Aida go from ally to adversary and back several times as they carry out Radcliffe’s schemes. There is a season’s worth of pseudo-sciences with a splash of dark magic, which I’m not going to delve into here. The point I want to make is how brilliant the writers have architected Aida’s character arc.

Aida transforms from simpleton in mind and body to a warrior and infiltrator. As she struggles to understand her place in the world and tries to interpret Radcliffe’s programming, Aida finds herself and comes up with a few goals of her own. Using power gained from reading an evil magic book (not my favorite part of the story), Aida saves several of the team, proving her value and earning herself a bit of trust. 

But Aida’s transformation is far from complete. When the team learns that Radcliffe has betrayed them, Aida and Radcliffe flee SHIELD to the enemy. Aida goes from sidekick as she tries to understand Radcliffe’s selfish and personal goals, to mastermind. She ultimately betrays her creator, like any good monster should, albeit in a way that doesn’t circumvent her programing logic. Aida kills Radcliffe’s body and traps his mind in a reality simulation of his own creation. In this simulation, Aida becomes the supreme dictator, Madam Hydra.

Her real motivation, though, is slowly revealed as our heroes struggle to free themselves from the simulation. She wants to become a “real” person, free from the constraints of her programming. Using the power of the evil “magic book,” Aida uses a mix of sciences and magic to gain a real body and is free. Thankfully, Aida’s story is far from over as she apparently has magic teleporting abilities. Aida is a true monster in a postmodern age, although the story is still exploring the same themes and struggles found in the pages of Frankenstein and the Isle of Dr. Moreau.

Radcliffe’s story did come to an end as he ultimately found some redemption helping his protege escape the grasp of his creation.

What do we learn from these stories? What does the mad scientist trope teach us about our constant need for progress and technology? Is this a warning? Can we leave our future in the hands of corporations and governments to regulate our scientist? Whose morality do we rely on?


My Strength Finder results and Board Games

At work, my boss gave me the book Strength Finder 2.0 and challenged me take the quiz to discover my true strengths and to develop ways to utilize those strengths in my job.

My results were not surprising to me at all, and the names the book gives to those strengths are all almost intuitive enough to guess at what they represent. My results were, in order:

Intellection, Maximizer, Ideation, Strategy, and Adaptability.

Basically, I love to think things out, maximize the potential for things and people around me, love to generate ideas and am flexible, love to strategize, and can adapt to things that come my way. That really does sounds like me.

Note: Under Intellection, which was my #1, the book says “Because of your strengths, you usually give good advice.” Just in case anyone was on the fence on this particular issue.

This whole process got me thinking. As I was contemplating my results, one thing that dawned on me is that these 5 areas are everything that I love in a board game. If a board game challenge me in these specific ways, chances are I will love it!

Let’s extrapolate. Terraforming Mars by Stronghold Games and Fryx Games is one of the best new games (if not the best) of 2016 and the last few years. Also, it is a personal favorite of mine. So, let’s see how it aligns with my 5 strengths.


Terraforming Mars is a science based game, using terms, ideas, speculation, locations, and perceived processes of actually terraforming the planet Mars. Each card is based on one of these ideas. The thought that went into the design of this game is amazing. Each card resonates with me on an intellectual level. Take for instance the card “Deimos Down.”

The goal in the game is to make Mars habitable for human life. This card represents crashing Deimos, one of Mars’ moons into the planet. Why would anyone want to do that? To raise the temperature on the Mars closer to the goal temperature that will sustain human life. The effects of this card start with that. After playing, we raise the heat three times. Also, we gain four steel from the mineral content contained within the moon that we can now harvest easily from the crater left behind when the moon impacted the surface. Also, the card says we get to remove 8 plants from another player. Why? Because we had to crash the moon somewhere. It landed on your trees. Oops.

The whipped cream on top of this awesome card is the flavor text at the bottom. “We don’t use that moon anyway.” Fabulous. This whole card is thought provoking. The theme resonates through all of the mechanics. Superb design. Also, when I draw this card, I get to think about how and when to best use it.


Terraforming Mars is won by making the most of every resource and card available to you. The player who can maximise the effects of all the options available is going to win. The only luck involved in this game is the cards you draw. This is also mitigated by drafting the cards you get every turn. The luck of the draw can help or hinder, but the game is about maximizing the potential of the cards you do draw or draft. There are a few points during the game where timing of plays matters, but that is minimal and there are always other things to do on your turn. So, as a maximizer, this game is fantastic.


To quote the book, “People who are especially talented in the Ideation theme are fascinated by ideas. They are able to find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena.” Connecting cards, options, board placement, mechanics, and board position is what makes this game shine. You have to set up certain cards to maximize the play. Take for instance the card “Capital.”

This card places a city tile on Mars, like many other cards, but this city is worth points for each water tile next to it in addition to any greenery tiles. In order to make the best use of this card, I should consider several factors in addition to just placing it near water. I also cannot play the card until there are four water tiles on Mars, which is the prerequisite for playing the card. Also, I need to figure out how to pay for the card, and when the best time is to play it. I may have other cards I need to play first, and need to balance my spending on other cards in order to make the plan come together. How I play the cards is determined by my board position, my other cards in hand, other actions I have in play, the speed other people are playing and actions they are taking, and my own personality. You got to come up with a plan.


“By nature, you are innovative, inventive, original, and resourceful.”

Terraforming Mars can give you a direction to travel, restrictions on how to proceed, and a roadmap to victory, but each player needs to be innovative with the cards they have access to.  Player take the role of a corporation with a unique starting position and ability, which hints at a direction, but ultimately, each player needs to use the resources better than the other players in order to will. You have to blaze a new trail each game, find an original path, using the resources you gain throughout the game.


Each generation or round of play, you get access to new cards, which may play into your current plan, or you might end up changing everything in favor of a new one based on the new cards. A spot on the board you had your eye can get taken, so you have to find the next best spot, or perhaps abandon that plan and form a new one. Adapting to the ever changing board state can be challenging, but also rewarding. Each new card is a potential for maximizing your play if you can adapt your plan to fit that card in.


I may have over thought this a bit. It was fun though, and I’ve enjoyed every time I have gotten to play Terraforming Mars. There are many other games that hit all of these strengths which I love, Magic: the Gathering and Firefly: the Board Game for example. Other games hit some of my five, and are still great and fun. Others may hit some of these, but perhaps include areas that I have a weakness in. The Strength Finder team choose deliberately to focus on people strengths, but I would be interested in learning what the five areas I’m weakest in. I don’t think I would try to strengthen them so much as try to avoid situations that I have to use them. Hey, I probably do that anyway without thinking about it.

If you would like to hear more of my board game musings, check out the Meeple Nation Board Games podcast, where my cohosts and I talk about the board game world!