Friday, May 6, 2016

[Book Review] I Hate Fairyland Volume 1: Madly Ever After

I Hate Fairyland Volume 1: Madly Ever After / Skottie Young (Powell's Books)

I Hate Fairyland is a piece of demented madcap genius.

Imagine the rage of Spider Jerusalem in the body of a six-year old girl on a maddening quest through fairyland for some 30 years... complete with magic mushrooms and added immortality (but minus the bowel disruptor).

As a young girl, Gert may have wistfully desired a visit to fairyland as she played with her toys, but that dream quickly turned to a nightmare as the ground literally opened beneath her and she was bodily thrown into a magical realm.  Terrified rather than delighted, the confused Gert was told getting home was a simple matter, she just needed to complete a little quest to find a key.  Nearly 30 years later, Gert is unchanged in body, seemingly no closer to finding the key to escape, and long past the end of her patience with anything to do with Fairyland.

And it turns out, enough wholesale slaughter will drive the Queen of Fairyland to seek out any opportunity to rid herself of Gert's menace.  Violent shenanigans ensue.

Advance Reader Copy courtesy of Image Comics in exchange for an honest review; changes may exist between galley and the final edition.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Link Smorgasbord, April 2016

Website Seeks to Make Government Data Easier to Sift Through
Always awesome, and the site in question can be found here:

Sincerity is the Watchword
On horror stories and what makes them compelling.

Americanizing Words and Witches
Super interesting, and I'm definitely wanting to read this book even if I tend to eschew horror.

Blizzard Erases Gaming History By Axing a Fan-Made 'World of Warcraft' Server
A commentary on the impermanent and changing natures of MMOs.

Encryption bill would force companies to surrender user data
More security theater.  Because weakening protection never goes wrong...

How music streaming service exclusives make pirating tempting again
Irony: the Hulu banner ad at the top of that page.  But access is an issue.  I know that if there's an album that my only option is to buy as a download from a walled-garden account, I will not buy it.  I'd rather give the artist money directly and pirate than deal with walled-garden access.  Also, the Oatmeal also rather succinctly put this whole issue a few years ago when talking about Game of Thrones.

Why The FBI Director Puts Tape Over His Webcam
And why people are upset by it.
But as the San Bernardino iPhone fight made clear, the privacy debate in the U.S. is no longer just about legal processes and judicial oversight. It's about whether unhackable devices should be allowed to exist, warrant or no warrant. And a taped-over webcam is about as unhackable as a device can get.
Now they're coming after the librarians
The Library of Congress wanted to drop the "illegal alien" subject heading and replace it with vocabulary that is more understandable, such as "noncitizen" or "unauthorized immigration," which allows better granularity on the part of the cataloger, and removes such accidentally hilarious subject headings as "Church work with aliens."  From a service point of view, changing the subject headings may very well be beneficial for non-citizens seeking to become legal citizens.

10 Books I Wish My White Teachers Had Read
Worth looking at.

Good Omens: Neil Gaiman to adapt Terry Pratchett collaboration for TV

Follett Acquires Baker & Taylor
Well... that narrows the seller field a bit.

Google Books just won a decade-long copyright fight
There's a lot on both sides of the fight worth thinking about.

Here Are the 2016 Hugo Award Finalists
Some amazing titles, some whu??? titles, and various presence of the Puppy factions.  Seems like they're actually going with a number of titles that have a high chance of winning and seem oddly out of line with their "anti-SWJ" stance.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

[Book Review] Rat Queens Volume 3: Demons

Rat Queens Volume 3: Demons / Kurtis J. Wiebe, Roc Upchrurch (ill), and Stjepan Sejic (ill) (Powell's Books)

On to continuing adventures of the Rat Queens!  If you want my review of Volumes 1 & 2 (or specifically, the Deluxe Hardcover edition that contained both Volumes 1 & 2) it's here.

Well, the good news is the Rat Queens have saved the world from ending, with some general leveling up in knowledge and power along the way.  The bad news is those gains have a cost, and life keeps throwing complications their way.

Rat Queens: Demons is by and large Hannah's story.  The story still has humor, warmth, and sass, but this volume is not a happy one.  There are moments of delight, like finding that Violet has some beardbirds of her own from Orc Dave (honestly, everything involving their relationship just is awesome to me), or what I will refer to as "the Candy Dragon Encounter."  But Hannah has her literal and figurative demons, and this journey home takes her to a dark and desperate place.  She projects her self-loathing on to others and makes bad choices, not realizing that she's being played and her friends love her dearly.

Excellently written, beautifully illustrated.  I'm left eagerly awaiting Volume 4.

Advance Reader Copy courtesy of Image Comics in exchange for an honest review; changes may exist between galley and the final edition.

[Book Review] 24/7 (The Sub's Club)

24/7 (The Subs Club #4) / J. A. Rock

Disclaimer: This is a review of an erotic novella about people who get off on what some readers may consider rather horrible things being done to them in consensual situations.

The books in this series portrays kink in a manner that you are not likely to have encountered in popular erotic romance (Fifty Shades of Grey, Bared to You, etc). Depending on your general stance, you'll end up either shocked or thrilled at the kink play within. 

The Subs Club series follows a group of four men still mourning the loss of their friend due to carelessness during an edge-play scene at a BDSM club over a year ago. These are the stories of them reconciling their loss, developing relationships, growth, and hot and heavy sexy times.

Out of the four friends who founded the Sub's Club, Gould feels the loss of Hal the most deeply and personally, and the one who does the most to hide it.  It's not just the loss of a close friend, but the survivors guilt that plagues him.  After all, he wasn't there for Hal anymore.  If he hadn't ended their relationship, would Hal have been playing with Bill?

And sometimes it seems like he's the only one really still bothered by it all, even if the Sub's Club new focus on community education is fantastic.

For the past year Gould's been playing with GK and Kel, the owners of Riddle, the club where Hal died.  And they seem to get him, his quiet withdrawals, and make him feel safe while pushing his boundaries.  Gould's starting to feel like he wants to try something more with them, a 24/7 M/s relationship, but can he forgive, move on, and trust again?  Can he forgive and trust himself?

Out of the whole series, 24/7 is the most emotionally raw and vulnerable.  The other men are upset by Hal's death, but Gould is deeply unbalanced and fighting with a deep level of self-loathing and depression as part of his survivor's guilt.  He specifically asks for scenes with design to inflict mental injury, seeking debasement and feelings of worthlessness to escape out of his own head, and as a reader that can be disturbing.

I'm really glad this book gives us a personal look at GK and Kel, fleshing them out as loving and caring individuals rather than just the sometimes upsetting owners of the local kink club.  There is real affection and friendship here, between all three of them, and it's something that both Gould and GK are learning to deal with as the relationship and their desires push them to re-evaluate what they know about themselves.

Advance Reader Copies courtesy of Riptide Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review; changes may exist between galley and the final edition.

Lord of the Rings : Fellowship of the Read - Book 2, Chapter 4

Rock, meet hard place.
"To go back is to admit defeat, and face worse defeat to come.  If we go back now, then the Ring must remain there: we shall not be able to set out again.  Then sooner or later Rivendell will be besieged, and after a brief and bitter time it will be destroyed."
the fellowship at the gates of moria
Only way in fact is one that neither Gandalf nor Aragorn want to attempt.  Going around the long way would take too much time and has too much risk while they have the Ring.  Once their path is revealed, no one particularly cares to enter the Mines of Moria, with Boromir near refusing, but Aragorn knows of some threat to Gandalf in particular.  Out of the entire party only Gimili has a vested interest in exploring Moria, and it's not a mission of much hope.  The detour itself is less than safe, some 15 to 20 miles while wargs are about.  We are treated to a rare ostentatious display of magic by Gandalf, who tends towards generally subtle applications of magic and deception.

Before now we've had little direct mention of the hostility between dwarfs and elves, but here we learn that once strong friendship existed between the two races.  A friendship that waned for reasons each blames on the other.  Later in the chapter we learn of the true value of Moria and the mithril found within.  The greed of dwarfs is mentioned in delving too deep and unearthing Durin's Bane, but I think we'd be amiss to not also note the greed of the elves.  Dwarfs may have mined the ore and built their wealth upon it, but crafting of mithril is associated almost exclusively with the elves.

the gates of moria - "speak friend and enter"
Our party also loses its first member.  Bill the Pony must be set free to find his own fate.  Sam is most distraught at this separation, but logistically the loss of a pack pony is quite significant.  Now that I think about it, it's a bit optimistic that they only have one pack animal for this journey.  Gathering food while one travels takes quite a bit away from ones speed.

The door riddle remains one of my favorite moments in the book.  Tolkien introduced us to dwarf doors in The Hobbit, but for that they used a key.  This door presents a riddle, one with a delightfully cheeky answer (to be honest, don't all the best riddles have cheeky answers?).

the great halls of moria
Like their attempt to cross the mountain, creatures and the land seem against their quest.  Wargs hound them to the mines, a creature of many tentacles latches on to Frodo, once within the mountain their exit blocked by stone fall, and the water in the Mines unpotable.  Nothing bodes well for the expected 40 miles through the mines they face.

Adding on to the growing dread, we learn that changes are coming over Frodo.  The text implies the changes coming over him are since the wound received from the Wraith, but I don't want to discount the effects of the Ring which has been tied to changes in physiology in a previous bearer.  Dark vision and sensitive hearing also developed in Gollum.  I do think the wound and the Ring complement each other's efforts.

balin's tomb

The scenery in the film is, as always, gorgeous.  Even when we're looking at barren rocks and withered trees.  The gate itself is no exception, even if the moon-script was a bit too detectable without moon's elimination.  The stairs of Moria make no sense, since we're talking about the halls of a short people with correspondingly short legs.  The stairs left are way too steep and with too narrow of a tread.

Jackson has given Frodo a bit more intuition here, registering both the riddle and the answer.  Hobbits are quite fond of their riddles, so it's not without president.  Frodo also picks up on Gollum's presence much earlier, spotting his skulking form in the shadows.  Gollum in this story was not known to be an escaped prisoner, with Legolas purely as an envoy and not as a messenger of bad news.  His presence and the following discussion to give rise to very significant insight by Gandalf.  That Gollum may yet to have a significant part in the fate of the Ring, and that pity is not to be scoffed at.

Gimili is excited about the entrance, expecting to find friends and family.  It's not until they enter and find the corpses of dwarven defenders do the dangers of the mine emerge.  His optimism and hope is all out of place with the attitudes of the journey and the book.  On the other hand, greater hope means greater grief, which was likely the intent.

Even if it's not depectied as a four day journey, Gandalf's words give us that time frame - which I greatly appreciate.  The film compresses time again and again, and now that they are inside a mountain we lose even the markers of night and day.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Gaming Shenanigans

The above pretty much describes what little free time I have these days, be it active involvement, planning, or ideas bouncing around in my head.

I've been running a Dungeons & Dragons game for a few months now, with a bit of an unintended break thanks to crazy schedules.  Also, I'm still new enough at running games that I'm not at all confident in my ability to create a solid world and plot.  But folks seem to be having fun, so I must be doing something right.

Also on the table top/RPG front, I joined Chaosium's Cult of Chaos, which is a fancy way of saying I now run organized play Call of C'thulhu games.  Also, it means I get to GM without having to write the scenarios.  Yay.  First up for that is their A Time for Harvest campaign, which I'll be running at Modern Myths.  Game one takes place this Saturday from 3-7 (part of International TableTop Day activities), and then will continue through on the last Sunday of the month until we've finished all 6 chapters.  Since it sounds like chapters 1 & 2 will run long, this will ultimately take longer than 6 months.  I will also be speaking with Modern Myths about running a one-shot Call of C'thulhu game on Free RPG day.

Then comes LARPing.

I was hoping to do so much of it this past year, even if cast rather than playing.  But then my job ended up being Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and SATURDAY, instead of Tuesday-Friday like was tentatively offered in my job interview.

So I got myself involved in establishing two new LARPs instead.

The first LARP is my friends and I got together and established a Mind's Eye Society domain in Western MA, with a Changeling: the Lost game as our first venue (and others in the pipe).  MES games are 'parlor LARP' - which means conflicts are resolved without the aid of padded sticks or Nerf guns.  I'm not involved at all with plot development or storytelling, but instead on the administrative side as the Assistant Domain Coordinator (Outreach).  The short version is I do various outreach and promotional duties, and generally hassle the Domain Coordinator about stuff that's coming up (hey, might as well make my tendency to obsess over details into a marketable skill).

For the time being the Changeling: the Lost game meets the first Saturday of the Month at the Amherst Unitarian Universalist Church, 6-10PM.  We're looking at starting an Accord game in the near future, and hoping for other WoD settings.

For the curious:
So that's fun, and gets me playing in a game.

Now the other LARP project is something else altogether - and let me tell you, it's going to be awesome.

Through the various survival horror games I've played, I've gotten to know a group of pretty awesome people... people who are starting a brand new LARP.  I was tapped for my cat-herding skills to handle NPC coordination (sort of a stage managing role) for their one-shot inaugural game this summer.  So the past few months we've been coming up with all sorts of horrible things to do to our players, and having loads of fun.

From the Ink LARP page:
Here's what everyone's been talking about: In the summer of 1983, the people of New Albion, Massachusetts experienced an incident of "mass hysteria" - rumours speak of the sky turning red, and a rash of sudden, unexplained deaths... many people speculate that it may have been a massive viral outbreak, but many of the murmurings in circulation lean more to darker, possibly supernatural explanations. What we know is that a lot of people died, and now a big chunk of New Albion's red light district along the Boston River is locked up tight. The event was contained when the US Department of Scientific Intelligence, partnering with local technology magnate Phosphor Polytechincal, instituted a small-scale quarantine of the area known as The Combat Zone.
It's been two years now, and life goes on for those of us who go on living - thanks largely in part to the Albion Broadcast System, who make it their mission to provide us alternative and far more cheerful intrigues with which to occupy our minds. Now, everyone's talking about the brand new game show, American Centurions, set to film its premiere episode on July 4, 1985!
American Centurions gathers amateur athletes and adventurous sorts of various disciplines, many of them former military, and takes them to their limits in tests of strength, agility, and combat focus - all in spandex and spangles, of course. Players are challenged to survive a Greek myth themed “Labyrinth” and fight off its numerous hordes to claim their prize. There are individual trials, but almost every challenge requires teamwork and support to complete. It is suggested that teams be formed if groups do not come in together. Successful parties are being offered sponsorship deals and a chance to be involved with a movie based on the troubles in the New Albion Quarantine Zone.
Do you have what it takes to be an American Centurion? Albion Broadcast System will be taking applications beginning in March - don't miss your chance to be part of history! 
Currently we're mid-registration, and the character histories being submitted are just glorious.  I can't talk too much about what we're working on, since we don't want to ruin the surprise.  But seriously, this is going to be so much fun, and is laying the groundwork for further one-shots and an eventual campaign.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Lord of the Rings : Fellowship of the Read - Book 2, Chapter 3

Elrond's middle name is 'Deliberation.'

Not that it's a bad thing in this case or anything.

At the start of the chapter nothing is decided beyond that Frodo must take the ring to Mount Doom, and that Samwise will accompany him.  Merry and Pippin are a bit put out that Sam is "rewarded" for snooping on a private meeting, though they wisely hold no envy for Frodo.  The best news out of this all is that Gandalf says he will likely go along.  As if he wouldn't.  I mean, even without my familiarity with the rest of the story, does anyone seriously think this meddler wouldn't do everything in his power to see the story to the end?

And then come two months of waiting while scouts go far and wide to, well, scout.  The good news is none find any sign of the Riders or of Gollum.  Also, Elrond gets lots of time to think about who should go along with Frodo.

As for the final party we get a company of nine, a balance against the nine Riders, with representatives of the Elves, Dwarves, Men, and more hobbits than Elrond ever intended.
"That is because you do not understand and cannot imagine what lies ahead," said Elrond 
"Neither does Frodo," said Gandalf, unexpectedly supporting Pippin.  "Nor do any of us see clearly.  It is true that if these hobbits understood the danger, they would not dare to go.  But they would still wish to go, or wish that they dared, and be shamed and unhappy.  I think, Elrond, that in this matter it would be well to trust rather to their friendship than to great wisdom.  Even if you chose for us an elf-lord, such as Glorfindel, he could not storm the Dark Tower, nor open the road to the Fire by the power that is in him."
Also, hobbits are super stubborn, so it really was the path of least resistance to include them.  But on a larger scale, this quest is literally the stuff of legends.  The different races working together to defeat evil, a royal bloodline stepping into it's legacy, multiple named weapons, and the convergence of both prophesy and dreams.  Anyone meant to be in this company will stop at nothing to go along, and as The Hobbit has proved (as does my foreknowledge of Lord of the Rings), hobbits can be quite pivotal in the course of history.

The journey starts (wisely) with a high level of caution and sobriety.  There are things ahead that Gandalf won't speak of, which to me at least is quite alarming.  We're already staring off on a mission we know has a high chance of failure and death, not to mention the risk of corruption of the soul, but there are things too dire to talk of?  Caution cannot be overrated, with risk of spies among the wildlife and danger from the elements hindering their path.

Before this read I never fully registered what Legolas says.  In particular that elves once lived in these lands near Caradhras were ones to delve deep in the stone.  I wonder then at the relationship between these long gone elves and the dwarfs who first delved too deeply within the Mines of Moria.

I actually can relate some to the hiking through the snow, thanks to my adventures during high school.  As a short woman I'll leave it as moving through snow deeper than one's hips takes a lot of energy (though I had a lot more to spare then than I do now).  Though to be honest, the part that always drove myself and the other girls in the class crazy was the ease at which the boys could urinate in such conditions.  Part of that experience included camping in snow shelters (there was a LOT of snow that year), and it's not that bad.  Snow is a pretty good insulator, and it keeps the temperature from dropping below freezing.  However, the size of a shelter needed for two men, one dwarf, one elf, one wizard, four hobbits, and a pony... would be a bit much to heat up.

As for Legolas prancing on top of the snow... lets just say that this company is very well tempered to not act out in sheer frustration at that display.  Actually, Boromir displays a fantastic sense of humor through this trek, "And doughty Men too, if I must say it; though lesser men with spades might have served you better."

But strength and determination can only get you so far, and in the end the company concedes defeat to the mountain (and the folly of crossing the path in the dead of winter), and climbs back down to take the path through.

In the film Jackson is clearly setting up characters for their fates, with Boromir taking the cruel brunt of his eventual fall to the Ring's siren call.  Aragorn on the other hand gets bloodline prophesy, a sword, and a hot elf pledging her soul to his.  Not only that, but the dangers that Gandalf will not speak of are ones that Saruman certainly will.

I remember screaming a little in the theater when Bilbo reacts to being denied the ring by Frodo.  It's a small but very emotional scene that stands out to me, though now it's Bilbo's sorrow that stands out more than his brief possession.

The journey in the early stage has things much lighter than they are in the book.  Perhaps to better show the decline as conditions worsen.  Boromir acquits himself wonderfully with Merry and Pippin, teaching them sword play, only for the party to be interrupted by a swarm of birds that may be spies.  The weather is also clearly much more favorable than the late start in the book allows, at least until they get into the mountains.  I find the decision to involve Saruman in the inclement weather an interesting one, and it does make for a more clear obstacle than "mother nature has a grudge."