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.  EDIT: Call of C'thulhu game postponed due to what amounted to a city shut down thanks to a pot festival.  Well played, Nyarlathotep, well played.

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."

Monday, April 25, 2016

[Book Review] Paper Girls, Volume 1

Paper Girls (Volume 1) / Brian K. Vaughan

Pre-dawn, November 1, 1988.  The hour of the paper boys.  Or in the case of this small town, the paper girls who have stood up and grabbed a place for themselves.  November 1st carries its risks, the tricksters and vandals still running amok from their Halloween revels, bringing the four paper carries together for strength in numbers.

Then things start getting strange as the girls are caught up in a time-traveling, inter-generational conflict from a surrealist future.

A brilliant and inventive, with gorgeous color, fast pacing, and a dash of Sci-Fi.

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

Sunday, April 24, 2016

[Book Review] Manties in a Twist (The Sub's Club)

Manties in a Twist (The Subs Club #3) / 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.

Previously reviewed: The Subs Club and Pain Slut

Kamen is the joker, the one who says awkward things and never seems to take anything seriously.  Hal was his friend, but the Sub's Club has never been an avenue for social justice or education to him, but something that he did with the people who mean the most to him.

Things are going well for Kamen, he's in a serious relationship with a man he loves, and their kinks compliment each other's.  Spanking, women's clothing, lacy panties, you name it.  But it's hard when his friends don't seem to get Ryan, or his relationship with him. 

Then an argument with the Sub Club's "arch rival" Cinnamon pulls Kamen and Ryan into a Pony Play competition, and the two of them start getting serious about something they never thought about. 

Love, trust, and friendship lie at the core of this story.

Each of the stories of The Subs Club series takes on different aspects of BDSM and types of relationships, and Manties in a Twist stays true to form.  Not only that, but it explores Kamen as a character, not just the silly but simple member of the best friend foursome.  The story has a levity not quite present in the first two books, but still carries both individual and ongoing serious threads.  The featured kink of Manties in a Twist revolves around dress-up, costumes, role-play, and accessories, rather than pain or discipline as featured in The Subs Club and Pain Slut.  A solid continuation of the series.

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

[Book Review] 30 Nights

30 Nights / Christine d'Abo (Powell's Books)

All work leaves little time for play, and with a demanding, opportunistic boss, Glenna O'Donald always has less time than the various abortive relationships want.  The high points?  Sharing an office with her best friend, her boss' current sabbatical, and drooling over Professor Morris.

Reeling from the death of her beloved great-grandmother, and wondering how to best fulfill Great Glenna's good bye encouragement to step out of her comfort zone, Glenna finds a deck of index cards in the cemetery.  Index cards lovingly written out for a woman, and encouraging her to explore her own sexual horizons.  Cards that Eric Morris seems quite interested in exploring with Glenna.

Glenna and Eric embark on a sexual exploration together, filled with explosive sex and a growing affection that they try to ignore.  Will they find what they need beyond their 30 nights?

30 Nights cleverly continues the story started in 30 Days, but through the index cards rather than directly through any characters.

The story is smart and sexy, delivering character and relationship growth in a tight narrative.  I tore through it in a single evening.

Advance Reader Copy courtesy of Kensington Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review; changes may exist between galley and the final edition.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

[Book Review] A Study in Sable

A Study in Sable (Elemental Masters) / Mercedes Lackey (Powell's Books)

A Study in Sable takes us to cusp-of-the-century London and into the world of Sherlock Holmes.  Our protagonists are the increasingly favored Nan and Sarah, not magicians/elemental masters, but with powers in their own right that prove invaluable.  As one would expect, Sherlock is not inclined to believe in magic, but would be a fool to turn his nose up at clear results.  Watson, on the other hand, is written as a Water Master, with his wife Mary as an Air Master.  The pivotal case for all parties revolves around a hugely successful opera singer, and her oddly missing sister.

I have a sneaking suspicion that devout fans of Sherlock Holmes will not appreciate this interpretation of the famous detective.  I've never actually read any of the stories, not being one with a significant interest in mysteries as a genre.

My personal preference with the Elemental Masters series are the novels that reinterpret fables and fairy tales.  This one pulls some on knowledge of mythical creatures, but between the return of now regular characters of Nan, Sarah, and their birds, plus the addition of Holmes and Watson, there's little room for a fairy tale.  Perhaps because of Nan, Sarah, and the disconnect from fairy tale re-imaginings, A Study in Sable contains none of the typical light romance that one might expect of the series.

I enjoyed the role of music, as well as the obfuscation of the true roles and natures of key parties, to the point of honest surprise at one of the reveals.  We also get an expansion of mythos, bringing into the story different schools and sources of magic.  I also quite enjoyed the insight to some of the less high fashion aspects of 1890's fashion, curiosity leading me to look into exactly what was meant by such garments as a "Rational Dress."

A good continuation of Nan's and Sarah's story.

Advance Reader Copy courtesy of DAW (Penguin RandomHouse) in exchange for an honest review; changes may exist between galley and the final edition.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

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

Herein lies possibly one of the most remembered, at least in part, chapters of The Fellowship of the Ring.  The council of Elrond and deciding the fate of the ring.

I'm going to hazard a guess and say that casual reads likely skim over the histories revealed as they go, or at least retain a little less of it.  There's a lot of fill-in here that is totally relevant but easy to skip over.  I totally did when I first read this at 10.  On the other hand, that might also be why the whole story got super confusing to me later on...

The council itself is full of familiar faces from this book and from The Hobbit.  I do have to thank Steve Jackson for one thing here though, this is the first time I've actually noticed Thranduil.  In my defense, I'm really bad at names.  Like I have to make a concerted effort to keep Les Paul and Les Claypool straight (as for Ice Cube and Ice T, I feel like if I ever get to meet one of them I should apologize).  As for non-familiar faces, we have someone from the Grey Havens.  That's... a pretty damn big deal.

The council itself is very timely met, no one was summoned due to the Ring's presence, or even necessarily it's approach.  Again, coincidence is always an option, but I'm holding to my previously stated theory that there is an agent acting in opposition to Sauron.  The coincidences in this story however are a bit beyond ordinary happenstance.  Boromir traveled almost three months to get a dream interpreted. 
Seek the Sword that was broken:
In Imladris it dwells;
There shall be counsels taken
Stronger than Morgul-spells.
There shall be shown a token
That Doom is near at hand,
For Isildur's Bane shall weaken,
And the Halfling forth shall stand.
So not just a dream of what is to come, but a dream that directly relates to the very gathering we are now present for.

A large part of this council is news of the world at large and answering questions about activities previous unknown.  The biggest trend is the growing shadow of Sauron over the lands.  Kingdoms of men and dwarf alike have been approached by his agents, seeking "friendship" and hobbits, offering rings of power in return.

The extended history of the Ring starts with the elves, and a friendship with Moria before Sauron revealed his true nature.  The elves are so often presented as infallible, but Sauron gained the knowledge to make the One ring directly from them.  The only reason that the Three elven rings are untainted is they too were made in secret and hidden from Sauron's power (for now).  Elrond is relating much of the history as a primary source.  He was there for the war, and when Isildur took the ring for himself instead of throwing it into the fires of Orodruin, also known as Mount Doom.

Knowing what I do of the story to come, I wonder what would have happened had Faramir had made the journey instead of Boromir.  Would they have met the same fate?  The dream only came to Boromir once, after many appearances to Faramir.  Boromir is both prideful and earnest, truly wanting the best for his people, but pursuing paths with perhaps the "impatience" characteristic to the short-lived race of man.  Foolish, yes, for thinking to stand against the ring's corruption, but he has not the frame of reference that the elves and wizards possess.  If any man present should know of the true nature of the Rangers, Boromir should be it, yet until enlightened he looks down on Aragorn.

I absolutely love that Tolkien treats us to Bilbo's sass.  "Not very good perhaps, but to the point - if you need more beyond the word of Elrond.  If that was worth a journey of a hundred and ten days to here, you had best listen to it."  His time recuperating has served him quite well.

Gandalf's tale is perhaps the darkest part yet, minus him fulfilling his trickster nature by making off with Rohan's best horse.  It provides proof of malfeasance by Saruman, connects the different elements of the stories so far, and explains how Gandalf escaped his incarceration.  Part of all of this is the role and fate of Gollum, tracked down by Aragorn, questioned by Gandalf, left in the hands of the wood elves, and now escaped as relayed by Legolas.  Learned from all of this is that Sauron knows Gollum's tale, the re-discovery of the ring and of hobbits.

As for the confrontation with Saruman, it's worth noting that he's not actually lying.  A dark power is rising, an age is ending, and the elves' power is waning.  His arrogance and condescension in something else all together.  As Gandalf points out, the Ring can only have one master.  As the foremost scholar of Sauron and the Ring it strikes me as particularly arrogant and self-defeating to seek to embrace the ring for himself since he would know better than any of the bond between the Ring and Sauron.  At this time, he's seeking his own power, "Saruman mustering a great force on his own acount, in rivalry of Sauron and not in his service yet."

I find it interesting how much the council dances around the solution.  Early on we learn the only way to truly end the threat of Sauron is the destruction of the Ring.  Yet that is the last solution that the council discusses.  I can think of several reasons, including the reluctance to destroy something of such value and power.  The elves stand the most to lose, a likely diminishing of their Three great rings of power.  But the Ring is present, and it wouldn't be beyond it's power to subtly influence those present.  It does definitely effect Frodo, with a sudden disgust and reluctance when called on to display the Ring.

And as is true to Samwise's nature, he was listening in this whole time (certainly not the first time he's done so), and steadfastly pledges to remain at Frodo's side.

Taking a look at the film, we've been seeing Gandalf's difficulties all along, minus Radagast's unwitting role in Saruman's deception.  Jackson has Saruman as an agent of Sauron all a long, rather than in opposition.  With the exclusion of Radagast, Gandalf summons his rescue with the aid of a passing moth, rather than the beasts acting on their own initiative.  I'm generally a fan of how these segments were done, and it helps minimize the amount of dialog needed for the Council.  We actually do get Gandalf's journey into the Necromancer's lair, or at least an interpretation of it, in The Hobbit.

Jackson does give us some extra flavor here; conversation between Gandalf and Elrond that otherwise replace the need for exposition, the arrival of council members, the importance of specific individuals, foreshadowing of the weakness yet to be revealed, and further building principle relationships.  Honestly, the time is generally well used.  Arwen's choice is momentous, but one of a magnitude that loses some of it's weight without the extensive history and elven legend that appears in the book.  Largely the love story between Arwen and Aragorn does not come into play at this point, but I think it makes sense to start establishing it here rather than "oh hey, that pretty elf lady is now your queen" at the end.

The council here is specifically about the Ring, rather than a meeting of individuals all answering different needs and calls.  The ring is even brought out from the start, and everyone hears its whispering call.  The politics are bared down to short and to the point, with Boromir is already being painted as prideful, impetuous, and desiring of power.  But everyone is quick to anger here, arguing instead over who will complete the necessary task rather than skirting around what must be done.

On a personal note, I'll admit to beingsomeone who found Aragorn super hot when the movies first came out (my weakness for men with long hair?).  Watching it now... I almost wish that the casting for Aragorn and Boromir were switched.  I think Sean Bean would have made for an excellent Aragorn... and to me he has the better voice.  In comparison, Viggo's voice comes out a bit too thing and nasal.

Friday, April 15, 2016

[Book Review] Blood Stain Volume 1

Blood Stain Volume 1 / Linda Sejic
Mad science at its finest. Chemistry major Elliot Torres has been unable to keep a steady job and eventually accepts a job by a rumored mad scientist Dr. Vlad Stein. Humorous hijinks ensue as their collaboration becomes epic.
Ok, where has this comic been in my life?  Why am I just finding it now?  Did you know she's been publishing it all along as a webcomic on DeviantArt?

Volume One doesn't quite get to the Vlad and Elliot's collaborative hijinks, ending as they finally meet in person, but the trip (and story) to that point is definitely worth it.

Blood Stain has a fantastic blend of light and dark.  The humor runs rampant through the pages, yet providing deeply relateable experiences of depression and the at times frustrating futility of job searching.

Linda's artwork is and storytelling is delightful, and yes, I am using delightful in a conjunction with a comic book where from what I can tell every time we see Dr. Stein his hands are dripping with blood.  I am also using "delightful" in a comic with such horrors as this.  No regrets, it applies.

When does Volume 2 come out?

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

Sunday, April 10, 2016

[Book Review] The Wicked + The Divine Book One HC

The Wicked + The Divine Book One HC / Kieron Gillen, Matthew Wilson, Jamie McKelvie, Clayton Cowles

Now, usually I do try to write my own synopsis.  But really in this case Image nailed it.
Every ninety years, twelve gods incarnate as humans. They are loved. They are hated. In two years, they are dead. The team behind critically thermonuclear floor-fillers Young Avengers and PHONOGRAM reunite to start a new ongoing superhero fantasy. Welcome to THE WICKED + THE DIVINE, where gods are the ultimate pop stars. But remember: just because you’re immortal, doesn’t mean you’re going to live forever.
I don't know why I waited so long to read The Wicked + The Divine, and there's really no excuse, my library owns the first two volumes and even if we didn't I could have requested them through inter-library loan.

The Wicked + The Divine is a vibrant and engaging rock and roll journey through dreams, aspirations, lust, murder, and celebrity.  Whether you believe they are gods or not, whether they actually perform miracles, they burn hard and bright and the world cannot take their eyes off them.

Laura is a devout fan who manages to get close by catching Lucifer's attention, and is drawn in deeper as Lucifer is incarcerated for murder while the pantheon does nothing.  Along with a skeptical journalist, Cassandra, Laura is drawn deeper into a complex story played out in the shadows while the gods burn brightly for the public.

Laura makes for a fantastic lead, self-aware, caring, devout, witty, and biting.
"I'd appreciate it if you could at least be creepy in a way I could understand."
After the Persephone incident I'm not sure where the story will go, who the story will gravitate around the most.  And there is so much more to tell in this story.

The incarnation of Lucifer is brilliant, I want more of her even if that clearly won't happen.  Luci to me remains the most defined (and most defiant) of the pantheon, and ensnared my interest from the start.

Excellent read with gorgeous and vibrant art.  I cannot wait for the next installment.

Advance Reader Copy courtesy of Image Comics 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 1


In other words, Frodo comes to in Rivendell.  Even better, Gandalf is there.  Gandalf remains reticent about what delayed him, but says that the interfering events may be to their benefit overall.  Now, within the sanctuary of Rivendell, comes the time to discuss exactly what happened to Frodo... and how close all was to being lost.  The Riders are not vanquished, but temporarily stymied.  The rising of the river itself was in response to Elrond's power (not Frodo's invocation of Elbereth and Luthien), with flourishes provided by Gandalf.  But there's something underneath the surface, with Frodo experiencing a sensation of drowning when the riders were swept away.

Frodo also learns a little bit about assumptions and prejudice. Needless to say, let us hope Frodo learns from his assumptions about Butterbur and Strider.

Of particular value here to me is the further naming/explanation of "the Last Homely House."  Specifically that it is "the Last Homely House east of the Sea."  That was something of particular curiosity to me in The Hobbit.

Rivendell is filled with all manner of folk, elves (of course), dwarves, a wizard, some hobbits, and men.  Of all the guests and residents, Arwen seems to be the only female present.  Other interesting parties include the Gloin of Bilbo's adventures.  News of the Beornings makes me happy, but that, along with news of Bard and Dale does assume reader familiarity with The Hobbit.

In many ways this chapter truly is the start of a new book.  The threat of the ring and the enemies at large are re-established.  We're re-introduced to characters and introduced to relationships previously hidden.  In particular the close friendship between Strider and Bilbo, as well as details of Strider's past.

After a dramatic transition, the film starts up with Frodo coming to in the light environment of Rivendell with Gandalf in attendance.  Gandalf's statement of "I was delayed" almost comically sums things up, but through added scenes and discussions later with Elrond, we do learn about his extra-curriculars and that the situation is beyond the protections of Rivendell.

Rather than a drawn out reunion with the various hobbits, including Bilbo, we get a compressed (and joyous) timeline.  Bilbo has finished his book, which triggers nostalgia for home.  Frodo and Samwise in particular want to go home, they've had their adventure and done what was asked.  "The ring will be safe in Rivendell.  I am ready to go home."  Of course, if that was the case, this would be a far shorter story.  But the longing for home does emphasize how out of place the hobbits are, no matter how peaceful and gorgeous Rivendell is.

Fellowship of the Ring came out in the middle of The Matrix trilogy, which perhaps unfortunately influenced how people perceived Hugo Weaving in his role as Elrond.  Personally I love Hugo Weaving, but for me his iconic role is that of Mitzi Del Bra in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.  Hugo is a very distinct man.  So combined with the fantastic box office successes of The Matrix and Fellowship of the Ring and the deliberate speech of both his roles, the association is hard to avoid.  Cyberpunk mashups aside, I am a fan of his performance here.

But because I can't resist, here's Hugo Weaving and Guy Pierce looking gorgeous:

Guy Pierce and Hugo Weaving in Priscilla

Friday, April 8, 2016

[Book Review] Midnight Robber

Midnight Robber / Nalo Hopkinson (Powell's Books)

It's Carnival on the planet of Toussaint, and young Tan-Tan dons her favorite guise, that of the Robber Queen.  But bigger games are afoot, and Tan-Tan is inadvertently caught up with her father's trespass and taken into exile as he escapes to New Half-Way Tree.  From a world where manual labor is a lifestyle choice to one where it is a necessity in ever aspect of life, Tan-Tan's world is forever changed.  Challenges never imagined now become a reality, and Tan-Tan must become the Robber Queen in truth to meet them.

A good article over at Strange Horizons here.

This year I included a few outside suggestions for the Virtual Speculation reading list, and our March read was one such suggestions.  I'm really glad of it, as I was only peripherally aware of Nalo Hopkinson before this (it appears I had an opportunity to review a new collection of short stories a few months back, but I didn't yet recognize the name so I passed).  I definitely recommend trying out her works.

Midnight Robber is a rich and painful story.

Discussion Fodder:
  • What do you think of the narrator, narration style, and reveal?  Would you consider it a reliable narrator?
  • Folk tales and history are intertwined in Toussaint lore.  How has slave trade and racism shaped this future culture?
  • The society of Toussaint is high tech to the point of manual labor as a life-style choice rather than a requirement.  How do you envision the effects of such technology on society?  How does that compare to society as described here?
  • What do you think of the book's handling of abuse and rape, and the reactions of those in the community?  How does the trauma effect Tan-Tan?  What do you think about her coping mechanisms?
  • How does the the Robber Queen fit into the different narratives of the story?
  • When Tan-Tan first arrives on New Half-Way Tree she calls out the inequality in respect between the douen and humans, to which Claude says "is a human that?... So how he could call we Compere?"  Later on we read "A simple gift, but Tan-Tan had come to understand over the years that douens were simple people; Aislin had told her so.  They did everything with their hands and never thought to advance themselves any further."  What do you think of the relations between humans and douen?  What about the douen deliberate deception of humans as a method of self-preservation?
  • What are the implications of the reveal at the end of the book?

Monday, April 4, 2016

Catching up around town

Game four was pretty low key, with our party being made up of neophyte gamers, one of the more experienced (and troublemaking) players absent, and of course it being a town game.

I know that town games can get quite complicated when players go looking for trouble.  These did not seek out trouble... though thanks to a player joke given the right situation they may have to make saving throws against carousing in the future.

Largely they went to their various guild halls or appropriate related place of learning and studied.  In the fighter's case this was to take part in the local (sanctioned) fight club run by a healing temple.  Yes, I totally cribbed that from Critical Role.  Deal with it.  I like the idea and I was pretty sure at least one of my players would chose to interact with it.  I did use the player supplied name suggestion of "Jabrony" for the fighting partner, and I now know there is such a term as "jabrony," and that it has nothing to do with My Little Pony.  Also, my players now know that "brony" is a thing, so we all learned something.

They dickered for their lodgings, and struck a deal contingent on the bard performing.  Let's just say his attempt at performing nearly didn't go so well.  A mix of fails and botches, and then an incredible save have him starting out horrible, falling off the stage, and managing to pass it off as "deliberate."  There were some fun failures.

Eventually I managed railroad them to a plot nexus since there wasn't enough exploring to trigger any plot beyond me dropping something in their laps, and off to the Freelancer's Hall (that their ride to town explicitly told them about...).  This I stocked with a bunch of potential threads, including several that would go to the same knot, but the one posted by a dryad complaining of a blight caught the druid's eye, so yay.

So game five involves going into the spooky forest where something is amiss.  Also, welcome to level three.

[Book Review] Nameless

Nameless / Grant Morrison & Chris Burnham

A story of shifting present and overlapping realities.  Nameless could be labeled "Lovecraftian" as a matter of simplicity in summarizing it's body horror, alien threat, and embedded psychosis, but perhaps is best considered "Pre-Lovecraft" pulling directly on the Polynesian and Mayan mythos that Lovecraft also borrowed from.

Graphic horror and so told in a way that's well suited to the still frame nature of sequential art rather than a narrative of text.  Brutal and multi-layered, without revealing a single truth over another.

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

Lord of the Rings : Fellowship of the Read - Book 1, Chapter 12

It's a trap!

Sam is suspicious... and rightly so.  I think that Strider appreciates the suspicion, even if it means repeated defending of his intentions.  Perhaps that is in part what leads Strider to confide the seriousness of Frodo's wound to Sam?
"I fear, Sam, that they believe your master has a deadly wound that will subdue him to their will."
Yeah... that fear is pretty spot on.

But more specifically, we're diving into the unnatural state of the Black Riders.  Mortal weapons are of little use against the Riders, but the name of Elbereth strikes like a blade.  The blade used to wound Frodo is found, only to melt away to just the hilt once Strider picks it up.  Weathertop itself appears as an ambush point from the start, and now their relative peace merely the Riders confidence that there quarry is not long a free living agent.  The wound that the Riders left is such that neither special herbs left from the days of the Men of the West nor elven magic are enough to stay it's dire effects.

Probably the best off of our party is the pony, who is much improved since his liberation from Bill Ferney and growing a bond with Samwise Gamgee.

Bill the Pony and Samwise Gamgee
"Still a better love story than Twilight"
Sam also further stands out as a disciple of Bilbo.  He is quite curious about the world at large for a Hobbit, and has a quite fanciful and creative bent.  The song at the site of the stone trolls is not insignificant.

The journey from Weathertop to Rivendell is still days away, days they must travel as swiftly as possible.  The roads can't be trusted, but an elf-stone left on the Last Bridge seems to indicate at least safe passage over the River Hoarwell/Mitheithel.  But the decision is made to avoid the road as much as possible until time to ford the Loudwater, the Bruinen of Rivendell.  The land between the rivers are desolate and filled with ruins of great men who fell under the shadow of Angmar, long destroyed in the war that ended the North Kingdom.

Strider gives us a slight insight to his past in reflecting on Rivendell.  "I dwelt there once, and still I return when I may.  There my heart is; but it is not my fate to sit in peace, even in the fair house of Elrond."  Not only that, but enough familiarity to say that "The heirs of Elendil do not forget all things past."  The nice thing about a textual medium like a book is it easily allows for a slow build of reveal combined with greater exposition.  We're not getting the full matter of Aragorn's heritage and birthright, but Tolkien is building up to that point.

Glorfindel is our first deliberate encounter with an elf, but spurred by that chance encounter back in the Shire.  News traveled fast, with news of the hobbits wandering without a guide, Gandalf's absence, and the Nine abroad, reaching Rivendell far enough in advance to send out outriders nine days ago.  Glorfindel is the source of the elf-stone on the bridge, left for the exact purpose that Aragorn took it for.  I do wonder that even without the threat of the Black Riders, if the hobbits could have made it this far without a guide.  The journey is far from straightforward.  As it is, luck and fortunate allies has gotten Frodo and his allies this far.

Oh, look, and ambush!

Fortunately, elven steeds run swifter than the mounts of the Black Riders, and Glorfindel's steed is well trained.  That training saves Frodo (and everyone, since his failure means the Ring is restored to Sauron), the siren call of the Wraiths pulling at Frodo nearly won, and his show of defiance would have meant little.  But once crossed the river, one last show of defiance does seem to mean something.
"By Elbereth and Luthien the Fair," said Frodo with a last effort, lifting up his sword, "you shall have neither the Ring nor me!"
And the river rises up in a "cavalry of waves" in which Frodo seems to see the forms of white riders upon white steeds in the froth.  Whatever he saw, the Black Riders in the river are washed away, and those still on land soon follow as their crazed mounts leap into the flood.  Frodo's faint into darkness in confusion could be from the toll the wound has taken on his mind and body, or maybe it's part of a last frantic pull on part of the Riders.

While looking at the film, for the time being we'll skip over the machinations at Isengard.  Long story short, Saurman is up to no good.

Actually, the whole adaptation can be summarized as "long story short."  An extended multi-day journey is compressed into one frantic day.

An injured Frodo has reappeared, injured by a dark blade who's evil magics work fast.  Frodo is going cold and is "passing into the shadow, soon he'll be a wraith like them."  No stated fear of the wound suborning Frodo's will, but a flat statement that the wound will ultimately transform our hobbit into a wraith.  Out of all the hobbits, Samwise really is the one most likely to recognize the obscure "weed" Strider says they'll need.

No Glorfindel here, but instead Arwen playfully catching a frantic Aragorn off guard.  It's a cute moment, but in terms of the bigger picture, it's a bit of an odd action on her part.  She has spent the days searching for them, and knows that five of the riders are "behind" them on the road and the other four could be anywhere.  I remember first watching the film and wondering at why Arwen glowed so radiantly when running to Frodo, as it turns out I completely forgot how Glorfindel appeared to Frodo's eyes.
Actually watching this I'm shocked at how young Liv Tyler looks, smooth cheeked with a softness of residual baby-fat.  Orlando is likely to also appear shockingly young once he appears again.  The elves in The Hobbit are played by older actors, ones that retain something of an ageless quality but that no longer have the softness of recent youth.

I know quite a few people who are emphatically not a fan of Arwen's expanded role in these films.  I have a bit of reading and re-watching to go, but this substitution I'm not bothered by.  Within it we are clued in to a long history between Aragorn and Arwen, one where body language hints at one time or perhaps hoped for intimacy.  Jackson is giving us a piece of Aragorn's story arc that needs some sort of presence for later events in the story.

The Frodo here couldn't stay on any elven steed, no matter how well trained, by himself.  So Arwen rides ahead with a barely conscious hobbit in front of her.  Jackson has made the mounts of the Black Riders a bit more evenly matched to the swift elven steed, though that likely is more for drama than anything else.  The ambush itself seems largely missing, but there is a mix of open plains riding and chaos of sparse forests before they reach the river.  There is no question about the river responding to a mystic call nor the shapes of horses within the angry froth.  The river comes in Arwen's response, washing away the riders, and we end with Frodo collapsing as Arwen holds him tight.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Link Smorgasbord, February & March 2016

Cause I had 3 links total for February.  Various side projects are keeping me a bit busy.

179. Goblins, Magical Librarians, and Fantasy Writing: An Interview with Jim C. Hines
Fun interview with an awesome author.

Zoe Quinn: Why I Just Dropped The Harassment Charges The Man Who Started GamerGate.
Her reasons are completely understandable, but it's still heartbreaking.  The whole situation is heartbreaking.  Of course, even if she didn't drop the charges and ended up with a win I think people would still see to it that it was a loss.

The Big Idea: Victor LaValle
I'm dying to read The Ballad of Black Tom, everything I hear about it sounds amazing.  For some reason no library in my consortium of 155 libraries has it.  I have recommended it as a purchase at my library to fix this.  Here LaValle talks about dealing with the realization that a literary idol is problematic.

Towards a taxonomy of cliches in Space Opera
Charles Stross talking about Space Opera.

E-book seller Nook pulls out of UK
Well now...

Why Does the Enterprise Have Anyone Aboard?
Allen Steele talking about science fiction expectations and conventions, the science behind space travel, and how he tries to address that in his writing.  I haven't read Arkwright yet, but I can say from experience that he does pretty fantastic near-space hard science fiction.

The Monster in the Mirror: On Horror, Disability, and Loving Both at Once
Fantastic read.  Also happens to tie into an area of interest of mine and may get referenced in conference presentations.

After “Ever After” — An Interview with Seanan McGuire and Lee Harris
I can't get enough of this book, I absolutely love it.  I've been waiting for months since I reviewed it for it to come out so that other people can read it.

5 Major Hospital Hacks: Horror Stories from the Cybersecurity Frontlines
Or in other words, why some of us are pretty damn squirrely about digital data storage.

Your Data Footprint Is Affecting Your Life In Ways You Can't Even Imagine
"Imagine you’re moving apartments and shopping for new furniture at a couple of stores. You see a couch you like, but you’re not sure, so you leave thinking maybe you’ll return another day. But that couch doesn’t take well to rejection. It gets up, leaves the store, and starts following you around as you shop elsewhere and even after you go home having purchased a different couch. Then you start getting offers in the mail for new mattresses."
What it's like to be a deaf novelist
Worth reading.

Google Embraces Version of Right to be Forgotten
Some news in Europe in the push and shove with Google over citizen privacy.

1000 Black Girl Books Resource Guide
Fantastic resource

These unlucky people have names that break computers
Really interesting

Notice and Takedown in Everyday Practice
Looking at the 20 years of DMCA