Friday, May 13, 2022

Slush Post 10.5: Return of the Bookmark Special

 I have a lot of bookmarks. Here's the first installment.

 Normal slushes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 8.5, 9, 10

Game Resources

Hexroll - Automated hexmap generator, with export function

d12 Monthly - 5e geared, but free and well put together 

Grey Gnome free art assets - A-OK for commercial products!

Star system generator - Make-your-own

Itch.io collection of ttrpg assets and templates 

Review of the Parallax RPG - Luke Gearing sets a new standard for game review posts.

Another star system generator - This time for Alien. Random rolls, more detail than the first

Sketch-to-lineart 

Pixel Planet Generator 

Ghostwriter - Minimalist markdown text editor 

Another another star system generator - Now in vintage map style

Making monsters with punnet squares

Free art from JN Butler 

Goblin Archives' resource masterpost 

Open source fonts 

Resources for making solo games 

Planet art resources


Music

Ska cover of Mountain Goats "No Children"

Dark Blues Music to Escape To 

Hardspace Shipbreaker OST


Miscellany

Roman calendar horrorshow (Might be bullshit, but I believe it)

Wikipedia's list of obsolete occupations

Dark Souls 3: the Bastard's Curse - The single best video essay on the series, bar none.

The tale of Charles McCartney - One of those real life NPCs

"Perhaps in My Father's Time..." - On memory, and history

How to Make a Star Wars Guy - Useful design work and critique all in one

Another Minute Remaining - 60 essayists make 60 essays of 60 seconds each

Androidarts - A guy who has done a lot of good art for a very long time.

What if Bloodborne was an Animated Series? - 23 seconds of perfection

Rating early Christian heresies

Disco Elysium, Mystery Fiction, and the Point of It All 

The Jedi have a death stick problem 

Lucas Roussel's Rust and Humus

Kishotenketsu - A framework for four-act stories

Godkiller - A webcomic about exactly that, by Tuomas Myllylä

Reverse Dictionary - Search by definition 


Twitter Threads

Funniest damn thing I've seen in ages

Orson Wells opines on media 

A collection of public domain pulp characters

Disco Elysium, if it had Sam Vimes 

Batman, perfected 

You have been taught the wrong thing about drawing 

Look I just fucking love Dorohedoro okay 

Setting up a moai 

Midwest gothic

 

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Let's Look at Here, There, Be Monsters!

Yeah that's a hell of a cover



So friend of the blog Wendi asked me over on Discord to give a look at her new game Here, There, Be Monsters! So here it is.


**

Love the little trick with the commas in the title. I had missed it the first time.

**

HTBM exists in the same modern supernatural oeuvre as one would find Esoteric Enterprises, Liminal Horror, Agents of the ODD, and so on. You know the type. As the name suggests, it's geared towards playing as those supernatural folks on the fringes. Very, very geared. The first paragraph of the first page is as follows:

"This game is for the monsters, the weirdos, the freaks and sickos, the insane and the cripples, the trannies and fags and dykes, cunts and thugs and whores, the fatties, the junkies, the illegals, the terrorists, the exotic, the undesirables, the degenerate, the vermin, the suspicious, the anomalies, and every single body who was ever branded for its monstrosity."


That is one hell of a mission statement.

**

The mechanics underneath it all are very lightweight: you choose two tags each for Be, Have, and Do, a background that can modify or give guidance regarding those tags. Rolls are 2d6 roll, add a third die and take two highest if you have a relevant tag. Success / Partial Success / Failure as you would find in PbtA.

There's not much to say about them, so I am getting it out of the way early. Succinct, do their job.

**

This is the part where I gush about the art direction.

It's really, really fucking good.

Lino Arruda's work is lovingly grotesque and overflows with personality. The people her have wringles, bulges, sagging spots asymmetrical faces, exaggerated just enough. The additional art - a mix of public domain, creative commons, and collage - is used liberally and effectively. The mood is set, the vibe is clear. It's loud and colorful and in your face and that is damn refreshing.

**

Formatting! Formatting is good. Excellent. The text itself is always legible and nearly always part of a spread, regardless of the background color or pattern (which does regularly). Important terms are bolded and italicized.

**

Writing? Writing's great. Punchy, concise, effective, full of life and personality. Incredibly strong authorial voice, never bland.

**

The 100 backgrounds provided for characters are star of the show. The combination of key terms, tags, leading questions, and suggestions is such that you can start coming up with the substance behind your character before you've finished reading the entry. Great swathe of options available, moving from ordinary people to weirder people to weirdest people. Things like "A Bunch of Goblins in a Beekeeper Suit", "Homeless Domovoy", "Atlantean Refugee", "Super Smart Simian", and so on.

**

The group that the PCs are part of, and the haven they call home, are appropriately group activities.

**

Three major factions are featured: The Agency (the MIB), the Watchers of the Many-Angled One (fascist occultists) and the Brotherhood of Thoth (rich private collectors). Worthy of note is that only the Watchers are a fully-dedicated enemy faction - the Agency and Brotherhood are antagonists, but not always enemies, and their writeups provide a frame of interaction that will not necessarily boil over into violence.

**

Major locations get a similar writeup to the factions - a short description, then lists of hooks, events, connections, and so on. There are four major ones featured: the Pub, the Night Market, the Library, and Mrs Li's Arcane Assortments.

**

And that's basically it. You have your players, your antagonists, some places to be and some things to do, and there you go. For the vibe the game is aiming at, that's all you need.

**

Here, There, Be Monsters! can be purchased from the Soulmuppet shop or itch.io

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

MSF: A Psalm of Wrath


Mother of Many, hear us

Lend us your spear and your strong arm



Strike like the thunder, Father of Us All

For now no longer is the time for the gentle hand



Our enemies bear down upon us

We are beset on all sides

With sword and shackle they strike at us

They trample the poor underfoot

They reject their kin-bonds and consult with demons

They lay waste to the land

Scornful of the Folk and our compacts with the Peoples

Like ghouls they devour us

Cracking our bones with their teeth

That they might grow fat with our pain



We call to you, Broad-Shouldered Lu

We call for your aid, Tubalkhan of Many Labors

For it is known that you smite the wicked

It is known that you drive them to the edge of the world

It is known that you hear the cries of the suffering

It is known that none among the peoples goes unheard

May the oppressor be cast down!



Grant us steady hand and clear eye

Steep our hearts in hatred-of-swords

Set our course as we stride forth

For we shall not be silent

Nay, we shall not sit idle



This is great labor of the Wise:

To deny the Lord of Rape its victory.


Sunday, May 1, 2022

The Archive

 

Cosimo Galluzzi

Let us say, as part of a thought experiment, that you are an alien intelligence of considerable power. Precisely what your nature and origins are is irrelevant and likely lost even to yourself. What is important is that time and resources have long since ceased being an issue; barring an outside-context-problem, you can sustain yourself more or less indefinitely. You are not a particularly growth-focused intelligence, nor are you one of those liable to turn inward towards deep-time estivation or virtual solipcism. The reasons why do not matter here. You have achieved a comfortable state of homeostasis.

And, the important part of this thought experiment - you want to catalogue all the life in the universe.

This is an impossible task. Life is both rare and temporary, and you are limited by the speed of light. Countless biospheres have slipped through your fingers already - too early, too far away - and you will be lucky to even find the empty spaces where it used to be. But that is the past. Perfection is impossible but mitigation is another thing entirely.

You set to work, creating a series of self-replicating probes. Even at the languid speeds far below the speed of light that they must travel, it is more than enough - a few million years will see them propagate throughout the galaxy, and you are quite patient in such matters. Maybe you will send a few off to Andromeda as a treat.

These probes will sit in orbit around each and every star, monitoring for life. Most of them will find nothing, which is fine, and they will sit dormant until they're needed to pass on messages between more active members of the expedition.

For those that do find life, either on arrival or during a periodic checkup, the probe will dedicate itself to the task of cataloging the biosphere in its entirety. Another impossible task, though as the resident godlike intelligence (and thus far the only one of any relevance) this is less impossible for you. To save on processing power you set your probes to do a regular checkup every few million years, in case there have been any changes.

The catalogue is not the end goal, only the end of a stage. More important than simply the finding of the life (which you do love - godlike intelligences such as yourself crave novelty and evolution is an immensely productive artist) is the recording of its genome, right down to the chemical composition. Your probes are able to do it with such pinpoint accuracy that, given the raw materials and the time, you could re-create anything that your probes have discovered.

Now the true purpose of your little archival project reveals itself - it is not enough to catalogue life, you can perpetuate it. Spread it. Nothing can ever truly go extinct, so long as you get to it first. You can transplant life to other worlds, worlds tailor-made for the life you bring, or perhaps the opposite. Put it in an environment with different criteria and watch as evolution - that brilliant, mad, mindless artist - works at it again. You can even mix life together, modifying it for new environments. Species separated by millions of years and thousands of parsecs can co-exist side-by-side, with a little genetic tampering. Your probes share all they have learned, filing everything away in a grand archive of life (you cannot remember this point if you installed them with ansibles or not - it has been so very long since you built them and there's so much to see in the meantime)

You are a gardener, and you have made the galaxy your vast, slow, beautiful garden. An artwork to keep you content through the long eons to come.

But something goes wrong. It had to, probability would not let that coin come up heads forever. Something breaks within the probes. Like anything that reproduces, your probes are subject to mutations. Glitches in the replication process. So, so many generations of probes have passed, and it takes so long for information to pass between them, that some populations have drifted quite far indeed from your original plans. Maintenance takes time - longer than it does for new problems to emerge.

It will be the end of you. Perhaps not the death of you - as your end in these affairs is no more important to the experiment than your origin - but it is the end of your ownership of the archive. It has become its own master now, self-sustaining and fractal.

Slowly at first, but then growing with exponential speed, a certain corruption befalls your great archival network. An aggressive, total subversion of your probes' behavior, a chaos that is too fast to contain. Probes are destroyed, or permanently taken offline. Hibernation periods are extended too long, or dropped entirely - driving the probes subject to something akin to madness by insomnia. Data hubs are lost. Communication protocols break down. Probes begin to war amongst each other, or destroy the biospheres they were meant to monitor. The great archive of genetic data is corrupted, and the corruption is passed along from probe to probe and there is no way to send a faster message warning of the danger - a few pockets are lucky enough to be out of reach, and it is there that your initial aims, or something close to them, are still carried out.

As for the rest...they are lost to you. If you still live, retreat is your last remaining lifeline. Far from here, far from your great failure.

Among the afflictions is one where the probe will continue its task of seeding ecosystems, importing and mixing source organisms as according to the dimly-remembered initial procedures, but they will come out...wrong. Imbalanced. Ecosystems so ill-suited for their worlds that they immediately begin a trophic cascade. Organisms that evolution could never make. Misshapen things, the afterimages of something from a long-forgotten world far, far away. Invasive organisms, carelessly introduced.

There are times when it seems as if a probe created something with the sole purpose of causing pain.

What is left is this: the galaxy is filled with graves - with worlds that once held life, but swiftly fell to desolation once they no longer had the probe and its support to keep the planet livable. Many worlds do still hold life, of course, and many of the experimental worlds remain intact. But the garden is overrun with weeds, now, and there is no one to hold the pruning shears.

The network of probes, the once-great Archive, is a house that spews forth monsters. A house with a door that cannot be barred. There is no one home, and the lights are off.

And we here in the night may only hear the howls in the distance, and run blindly through that dark forest.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

The Books Were Wrong: Anurians

A bit of a follow-up to the previous installment on kobolds. (Though as I do it again, I find it somewhat more difficult to write, as 5e's bestiary likes repeating the exact same issues ad nauseum and that does make it a bit difficult to come up with new or interesting stuff about it)

Regardless, let us dive back into the works of Opineus and see if we can't suss out the truth behind his terribly researched, maliciously-motivated, and alltogether unfit for publication texts.

Our subject today will be the anurians, called here "bullywugs" by Opineus - a common name at the time, but one that has fallen out of favor and is considered insulting. For my own commentary I will be using "anurian" or "anuric", as that is the preferred exonym of that people.

Life as a bullywug is nasty, brutish, and wet.


Opineus opens with a paraphrase of philosopher Tham Hoabs. In his typical fashion, it is a quote about the wrong thing (Hoabs was specifically talking about humans), of questionable accuracy to begin with (Hoabs was dismissive-at-best in his attitudes towards any cultures that did not participate in organized states similar to his own), and presents all the (inaccurate) conclusions Opineus makes as foregone.

These frog-headed amphibious humanoids must stay constantly moist, dwelling in rainy forests, marshes, and damp caves.


Obvious, but accurate.

Always hungry and thoroughly evil, bullywugs overwhelm opponents with superior numbers when they can, but they flee from serious threats to search for easier prey.


As is typical, Opineus gives no concrete reasoning as to why a people is labeled evil, though here he seems to correlate it with hunger and basic self-preservation.

Opineus' bias about combat looks to have returned from his writings on kobolds: Rudimentary tactics such as numerical advantage and retreating from fights going poorly are given special mention as some unique, innate quality of nonhuman peoples (and an evil trait at that) - an ideology typical to those immersed in the warrior cult. Whether or not Opineus actually served as a soldier in any part of his life, I cannot say (Though I suspect he did not).

Bullywugs have green, gray, or mottled yellow skin that shifts through shades of gray, green, and brown, allowing them to blend in with their surroundings. They wear crude armor and wield simple weapons, and can deliver a powerful bite to foes that press too close.


The insistence that their armor and weapons are "crude" is a strange one. Anurians rarely have access to metals (save through trade), and so typically use wood, reed, and bone as crafting materials, but materials used do not dictate the skill with which they are used, and one need only glance at a set of anurian reed armor to recognize the skill that goes into crafting it.

Foul Aristocracy. Bullywugs consider themselves the right and proper rulers of the swamps. They follow an etiquette of sorts when dealing with outsiders and each other, subject to the whims and fancies of their leader—a self-styled lord of the muck.


A question arises here - if Opineus does not believe that the anurians' territorial claims are valid (as he clearly does not), who does he believe the swamps belong to? He does not say in this fragment of the text, which might indicate that he believed the answer to be self-evident. That particular context is lost to us.

Humorously, his description of anurian society here can be easily applied to a typical human kingdom.

Bullywugs introduce themselves with grand-sounding titles, make great shows of bowing and debasing themselves before their superiors, and endlessly vie to win their superiors' favor. A bullywug has two ways to advance among its kind. It can either murder its rivals, though it must take pains to keep its criminal deeds secret, or it can find a treasure or magic item and present it as tribute or a token of obeisance to its liege. A bullywug that murders its rivals without cunning is likely to be executed, so it's more common for bullywugs to stage raids against caravans and settlements, with the goal of securing precious baubles to impress their lords and win their good graces.


There's a great deal to unpack here, and it begins thusly.

Anurian society is based around a harem structure - a single, highly-territorial male accompanied by a group of females. Lone males may be integrated into a spawning group through allegiance-gifts to the patriarch, or will otherwise remain on the fringes of society. Patriarchs might be deposed by a challenger, and over the ages this process has become socially codified with rites and procedures to minimize collateral damage.

Opineus presents this as a sort of deficient imitation of civilization, drawing on the parallels between the anurian patriarchs and the lords' courts within the Empire. The conclusion is not worth entertaining, but there topic itself should not be avoided). The pod system of anurian life is close in principle to many human political hierarchies (that is, a singular head of state with secondary officials linked to the head by legal and cultural bonds), and it is not uncommon for anurian patriarchs to adopt noble titles and court organization from nearby human nations as a cultural defensive mechanism - an attempt at decreasing the animosity of neighboring human nations with the logic of "If we are more like them, they will be more likely to treat us as equals, and be more inclined to spare us". This has, despite Opineus' disdain, been somewhat successful, but has been a great source of friction within anurian communities - it is becoming increasingly clear even to outside observers that traditional cultural structures and practices are endangered as the patriarchs of major pod-confederations adopt further human influences to better enrich themselves and destabilize the cultural balance that had taken centuries to form.

Invariably, such fine goods are reduced to filthy tatters through abuse and neglect. Once a gift loses its sheen, a bullywug lord invariably demands that its subjects bring it more treasure as tribute.


This line is worthy of specific attention, as it is a dogwhistle playing into stereotypes of nonhuman sapients as being without culture or understanding of the value of goods or objects. Even within Opineus' own writings he cannot maintain this line of logic.

Unruly Diplomacy. Bullywugs love nothing more than lording over those who trespass on their territories. Their warriors attempt to capture intruders rather than simply slaying them. Captives are dragged before the king or queen—a bullywug of unusually large size—and forced to beg for mercy. Bribes, treasure, and flattery can trick the bullywug ruler into letting its captives go, but not before it tries to impress its "guests" with the majesty of its treasure and its realm. Struck with a deep inferiority complex, bullywug lords fancy themselves as kings and queens, but desperately crave the fear and respect of outsiders.


This is primarily a restatement of the themes of a previous segment, complete with marking a common social behavior as aberrant and evil according to its participant, rather than the action itself.

Amphibian Allies. Bullywugs speak a language that allows them to communicate over large areas by croaking like frogs. News of intruders or other events in the swamp spread within minutes across this crude communication system.


Opineus loves the word "crude", almost as much as he loves mis-using it. A language where messages can be transmitted accurately across miles in a matter of minutes is far more sophisticated than anything human communication is capable of. What can he possibly be comparing it to?

Simple concepts in the language are understandable to frogs and toads. Bullywugs use this capability to form strong bonds with giant frogs, which they train as guardians and hunters. Larger specimens are sometimes used as mounts as well. The frogs' ability to swallow creatures whole provides a bullywug hunting band an easy means of carrying prey back to their villages.


Opineus ends on something actually true, which is worth noting for its rarity. It's like being visited by a unicorn.

 

Final Thoughts

I have stumbled into a major limitation of this format, being that you need to vary up your source material or it's going to get really old, really fast. The 5e monster manual has proven to have overwhelming material to use, but all of it is of a monotonous quality that produces significantly worse results over time. Everything you meet is crude and primitive and evil's got very little to do with the act and more to do with who you are. It's fuckin' dull and shame on every writer of RPG material, 5e and otherwise, who regurgitates this dross without thinking about it. You're writing a book about elves, your literal job is to think about it.

Monday, April 25, 2022

Dan Reviews Books, Part 8

Previous installments found here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 ,7


The Sharing Knife, Parts 1 & 2, Lois McMaster Bujold

DNF pg 278/348, of Part 2

What a disappointment. I had enjoyed the first Sharing Knife, originally read before I started writing these posts, and as it had been a couple years I did a re-read to move on to books 2 and 3. A great many more cracks in the artifice showed themselves this time around, compounding to the point where it was no longer possible to write off the enormous glaring issue at the center of it all.

First, the good. It is competently written in terms of pace and prose, Bujold doesn't disappoint there. It takes place in fantasy western PA / eastern Ohio, so I am obviously biased in favor of the setting. The magic starts as nifty but the story leans too heavily on the mechanics of what is very loosely sketched later at on (it is confusing and tiresome and honestly I don't care to explain it further. It's the minor issue.)

Most notable is that it has one of the best monsters I have seen in a good long while: malices are the corrupted forms or descendants of ancient sorcerer kings who pop up out of the ground at random and start soul-draining everything nearby, down to bacteria. They grow in power and intelligence as they do this, so they graduate from being mindless maggotty things to making servants (mud men - ordinary animals twisted into shapes approximating humans), enslaving human minds, and eventually building structures and learning their hunters' strategies. Potentially more. They have no apparent cap on strength or range - any single given malice can be a civilization-ender. If two of them emerge together, they will fight until one has consumed the other and gained its power. There is an entire culture group, the Lakewalkers, built around patrolling the countryside and putting down malices before they get too big. This is all rad.

The pacing is interesting, especially in book 1, where the climactic battle that would cap off another book is in the first 50 pages and everything else is follow-up material, and that keeps going until the next big conflict midway through book 2. I actually like this quite a bit.

Now to the bad.

There is no beating around the bush that Sharing Knife centers on a relationship with an enormous age difference - 18(F) / 55(M) - that also gets kicked off when she (Fawn) is rescued by him (Dag) from a sexual assault. When she was already pregnant from a tumble in the hay with local farm lad jackass, and is going to have a miscarriage via malice in the next couple chapters. This is all still the first quarter of the book. And that...really doesn't look good considering how fast they get into the romance. Like we pivot from compounding traumas to honeymoon fucking in a matter of weeks, and it doesn't take brain-genius levels of geniusity to read that as troubling. That's a man taking advantage of the emotional vulnerability of someone literally a third his age, and I don't care what hoops the internal monologues jump through to justify it or how Lakewalkers age slower. Fucking foot on the fucking brakes, please.

And other characters, from both sides of the equation, are adamant about it being a bad idea. They are won over, because it's a romance novel, but correct me if I am wrong that in romance genre conventions, the nay-sayers are supposed to be wrong.

I get that Fawn is meant to be a naive outsider, but this is easily accomplished by the cultural clash at hand (she is one of the farmer folk, he a Lakewalker). Anyone would be lost after leaving their home and being thrust into a society they have no familiarity with, filled with people who explicitly do not want them there. The age gap is redundant (as is the assault, we already have the unplanned pregnancy and the miscarriage), and so I really have to ask why the hell is it there?

All that would be needed to fix this is make a reasonable age gap (or none at all) and cut the assault. Fawn can still be the stranger in a strange land but can also be more of her own person with more of her own life experience. Nothing of value is lost and we can proceed with the romance of folks who are more equally balanced in the relationship.

Tales of a Dark Continent, Morthoron

DNF 22%

Bad choice of title. It's LotR fanfic about all the eastern lands, set about two centuries after Return of the King, presented as an aged scholar recounting his journeys to a scribe in training. It's fine enough for what it is, but it fell afoul of  what is likely an inevitable problem for folks who want to expand on Middle Earth via transformative art: names. How can you handle such a central aspect of the setting? Make up your own languages? Just go with what sounds good? This fic takes what I think is the weakest route, which is using terms that have a good deal of real-world connotation behind them. Seeing elves of Middle Earth being called the daoine sídhe and hearing about the Great Khanate is too much Hyperboria for me to fit here.



Gideon the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir

DNF 9%

I spent the first couple pages quite confused on whether or not the scene was set inside an O'Neill cylinder (it was not), and it was downhill from there. The whedonist dialogue could be tolerable on its own (though not once in the 50 pages I read did it ever make me smile or think "oh that's witty". Not a single punchline to be found), but it was accompanied by premonitions of an enemies-to-lovers subplot (and I don't truck with that shit. At best it undermines the characters' non-romantic motivations and makes characters act according to trope rather than what is actually happening to them in the narrative. At worst it's abuse apologia), and a virulent, omnipresent unpleasantness of the entire cast. I am fond of the phrase "I wish these characters would die so they would be put out of my misery", and it applied here.

The last straw was the realization, right at the 50 page mark (convenient!) that Gideon would not commit to acting on her supposed hatred of Harrow, and she wouldn't shut up about it either. She'd just continue being an obnoxious asshole (to be fair, she is 18, and 18-year olds are obnoxious assholes) and never actually do anything meaningful about it. She'll just putter along getting away with it because she is snarky and sarcastic and violent and quote unquote badass and I cannot stand this character archetype.



A History of What Comes Next, Sylvain Neuvel

I did not like this book one bit. The only positive is that it is a swift read.

The plot entails an entity that regenerates itself through a string of mother-daughter connections, that has been working for three thousand years guiding humans towards spaceflight. Not really for humanity's sake, though, they might just be doing it for themselves because they are stranded aliens (?) and there's a male reincarnation-chain hunting them down saying that there's a device (???) and they need to be stopped and ?????

There are no answers. There was a break in the chain 80 generations ago, so whatever the origins are has been lost. This would be fine and good if literally anything else was answered (nothing was answered).

All we ended up with were a pair of aliens, who are really one alien, accelerating the Cold War because "oh there's a terrible unspecified Evil". One of them is worried about global warming but isn't really doing anything about it. They have a tendency to mass murder people to cover their tracks.

And when I say "accelerating the Cold War", I mean "explicitly part of Project Paperclip and then immediately switching sides to goad the Americans into the space race by giving them a threat to struggle against".

I could not tell if the author was writing with intention (this alien is a fucking idiot who is treating an entire species as expendable for reasons they do not even know), or was blindly stumbling around. This happens to me with greater and greater frequency nowadays, I literally cannot tell if authors are intending their characters to be awful on purpose. Because as it stands the best thing to happen at this point would be a third party that stops both aliens.

This is apparently book one of three, and following the all too common pattern of modern SFF where book one cannot stand on its own.

Don't try to sell me on "powerful people being horrible and having horrible things happen to them" as a tragedy for the powerful people, book.



Circe, Madeline Miller

I've seen plenty of people rave about this book, and I will gladly add my voice to the chorus. It is, from the beginning, a work born of clear love for both craft and topic - deliberate and careful and filled with all the little things that build up to "ah, this is special". It's difficult to know where to start.

Reviewers with word counts to meet will likely say that it is a feminist retelling of Greek myth. This is correct, and also entirely inadequate to describe the thing at hand. Circe's arc is centered on her ability to carve out a niche for herself in the middle of a toxic cesspool of an environment, and in the isolation of her exile take the reins of her own life enough to resist. Her brothers, her sister Pasiphae, her niece Medea, all the other witches fall prey to the poison in their surroundings, becoming petty tyrants in the case of her brothers or co-monsters in the case of sister and niece. She alone is the only one who has any substantial joy in her life by the end, and is certainly the only one who would be called a good person.

It's a great book, and not in the hyperbolic sense that has drained the word of much of its power. It has weight. It was made with care. It is an ancient marble statue, but Miller went and painted it, truer to itself, in vibrant color. My father would have adored this book.



When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain, Nghi Vo

Excellent little novella. Less than a hundred pages of a scholar telling a story to a trio of tigers in an attempt to not get eaten. There are mammoths in it. A woman marries a tiger spirit, which means I am obligated to like it via the law of transitive convergent narrative evolution.

In one part of the story, there's a very, very minor character introduced. Stays around for page, page and a half. But he's described to us, in the voice of the storyteller, as the boy who would later become a famous investigator (I presume a parallel to Judge Dee) and I cannot overstate how much I love that single sentence. Of course it's there, the story is from an in-universe tradition, so of course people are going to go and weave in characters from other stories into it! That's what people do!

Saying much more is overkill for such a short story. Very glad I ended up with it as my blind pick.



Hammers on Bone, Cassandra Khaw

DNF, 28%

This one is only 63 pages, so I feel somewhat bad for not finishing it, but also it's just...

I have said, multiple times, that recontextualized Lovecraft is a genre I am fond of. It is also one of my least favorite. This is because it is, often but not always, SFF junk food. And not the good kind of junk food, not like the ice cream place you go to for special occasions. Like a bag of stale popcorn, or a bag of funyuns someone stepped on. Hammers on Bone lacks the parts that make it a special treat, so the end result is that its just...filler pacing through the motions. I feel like I can see everything it is attempting to do, and it's not enough to satisfy or interest me.

You can find better short weird horror fiction out there easily. Plenty of SCP stuff at or above the quality level, and at least that has a better chance of being novel in its weirdness.

 

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Unicorn Meat Is Live!

 

Rowan A. (Mon)

At long last, it is here.

Unicorn Meat is now available for purchase.

It has been a long and winding road, full of many ups and downs, but at last we have arrived. What else more is there to say? Likely something, assuredly there's something I can say - I do love to chatter on about things I have written - but for now, I think I will bask in the "job is finally done" stage.

A great many thanks go out to a great many people who helped me along the way - Rowan, Gus, Jarret and Fiona for their parts in putting it together, the playtesters who ran games during development (thanks, Martin and Mike!), and all the folks who offered their encouragement and support during the process (thanks, TLN and Emmy!)

Do let me know how it goes; find me on discord, yell at me on twitter, dump a comment down below. I'd love to hear the play reports / see coloring page maps / read reviews and all that.

The time is neigh, the center cannot hold, the rough beast has reached Bethlehem.


Exalted Funeral (Print+pdf)

 

Itch.io (pdf)

 

Drivethru RPG (pdf)