Friday, December 31, 2021

Things I Enjoyed in 12021

Our palindrome year draws to a close at the time appointed by whatever mushroom-addled lunatics the Romans had calculating their calendar. Fuckin' entrail-sniffing madmen, I swear. Regardless, as the memes of internet production-consumption dictate, here are things I enjoyed in this blink-and-you'll-miss-it-year.

They are in no order, neither chronologically nor of importance. Several of them will have already been mentioned elsewhere. Many of them will be weighted towards the end of the year because what is time and what is memory.


Bones of Contention


This year saw the kickoff of a collaborative rpg review site, featuring assorted luminaries (and me also) doing the whole reviewing deal. While I have written comparatively little for it thus far, that is of minimal importance in comparison to the project as a whole. It's good stuff. Good reviews, written by folks I am glad to know. I'm glad to be a part of it, and I look forward to a second good year of it.

The Plangent Mage session we did was loads of fun. I played as a golden lion tamarin-man who was one half of a comedy duo with Zedeck's halfling. 


Jujutsu Kaisen


A sterling example of a creator going "I love this thing, except for all the bullshit, so I will make my own better version" The thing in question is Naruto (oh god we are in the era now where people who were into Naruto as teens and tweens are now making their own stuff informed by it) to a degree nearly parodic: there are characters and scenarios and archetypes that are practically 1:1 correlations. Except good this time - Nigh-miraculously for the subgenre it inhabits, no one's annoying. No one. I like all of these characters. The fights are lean mean and excellently animated, the monsters are weird and grotty, the cast has good chemistry and the side characters get their cool moments.

There's a genuine warmth to the friendship of the main trio: Itadori's meathead brute strength is matched by just being an all-around decent bloke, Megumi's edginess isn't all that sharp and the others razz him for it constantly, Nobara's rough around the edges (or as Mon correctly describes, a "motherfucker extreme") but still clearly cares for the others. Also there's no romance subplot. None. Not even a crush to be seen. A+.

And, and this cannot be stated with enough emphasis, this is a shonen battle series that does a remarkably good job with its female cast. Nobara has a scene that boils down to "take your internalized misogyny and shove it up your ass, I'm not going to live my life according to what you think I should be", which is not a scene I was expecting from a shonen battle series. There are actual motivations! Strengths and flaws of character!


Super Mario Odyssey


Late to the party on this one. The wahoo-woohoo pizza-pasta man does a run and jump and it feels fuckin' phenomenal.


Monster Hunter Rise


A sequel that, as far as I am concerned, invalidates its predecessor. Where in World I played super-cautiously because hunts were so long and I didn't want to waste my time getting stomped, the movement and traversal mechanics added to Rise make the gameplay loop so, so much faster. Which is good, because then you can actually play the game and learn from failures instead of just getting frustrated by the waste of effort. This is where it really clicked for me. Better online, too.


Chainsaw Man


I've talked about it before. Comic good. Can't wait for the anime. It's gonna be era-defining, I feel it in my bones. If you know you know, if you don't know I encourage you to learn.


Caves of Qud


The most recent major update added more convenient ways to play without permadeath, and now that I am actually able to play the game without dying instantly to baboons (god the acid-spitting slugs later on must be impossible in roguelike mode), I can safely say that it is OSR as hell: creative problem solving with the tools you have on hand and their many interactions with the world around you is the name of the game.

There's an entire post that needs written about Qud, I assure you it will happen.


My Lord of the Rings Reread


Yeah, that was a lot of fun.


Ender Lilies


At first glance this game seems like a grab bag cobbled together from other games' scraps. Ability-gated exploration, check. Dark fantasy setting, check. Gaining new abilities from defeated enemies, check. Sad lore journals, check. And yet somewhere in the alchemy of art and sound and the moment-to-moment experience of play, it turns into something I can't quite shake. For the genre, it's above quite a few I have played in quality (Bloodstained Ritual of the Night being a noteworthy disappointment), and the fact that I at least wanted to (but never did) try for a 100% (which I basically never do) is certainly a point in its favor. The last couple areas and the final boss do show clear signs of being rushed, but if you are looking for a game with sad Souls vibes and Metroidish gameplay, it's a good pick. 


Guilty Gear Strive


Anime Bullshit: The Game. The real good stuff, the primo designer shlock-rock. And a damn good game besides: I'm not a fighting game person but the art and good word of mouth got me in and something has clicked into place. I'm not good at it, mind you, but I'm having fun. I can go into the multiplayer lobbies and have a good time when I lose, I can see myself improving. The matchmaking system they have is excellent at keeping you around players of your own skill level. 

 

Midst

There are many narrative podcasts out there and Midst takes the crown as my favorite. Trading in the trite and tired "character talking into recording device" for a dynamic and snappy three-member Greek chorus, Midst moves at a breakneck pace through its weird sci-fantasy world. Information overload gives way to understanding, and within a few episodes you're keeping speed with it all.

Music good, voice work excellent, characters good, setting A+. Chef's kiss.


Gettysburg


Fate decided to work in my favor this year, and so I was able to spend a couple days in Gettysburg with my partner back in May. The weather was wonderful, the park uncrowded, and the place we were staying at was affordable. Did a whole lot of walking (Think we managed 12 miles in one day) went to a cat-themed diorama museum with a very friendly dog, and for a tourist town the food was reasonably priced. Waaaaaaay too many ticks, though. They need more possums.

Also Pickett's Charge gets undersold for how big of a tactical blunder it was. I am astounded that there wasn't a general mutiny when he gave that order. Like you hear the scenario and go "that's stupid, he's rushing troops up a hill with no cover towards a fortified position", but then you actually see the battlefield and it hits you that it was so much dumber than that description entails. Anyone ever claims that Lee was a good general they are out of their fucking minds unless they mean he was good at getting loads of his own men killed and then losing.


Paradise Killer


Subtitle: JoJo's Bizarre Vaporwave Murder Mystery Invesitagtion Simulation With a God Damn Double Jump And A Fuckin' Airdash.

Play it. Barring that, listen to the soundtrack.

** 

And there we go. It's not all, of course, it's never all. There have been cats fostered, I finally started with antidepressants. Unicorn Meat nears its completion. The plague years continue and while it feels like there's a whole lot of going in circles and time slipping through fingers like water...it's okay. We're all hangin' in there.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Dan Reviews Books, part 7

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

Been a year to the day since the last one of these, and that won't do at all.


Beowulf, trans. Thomas Meyer


A very freeform translation, and I welcome the break from the stoic and implacable impenetrability of more literal or traditional ones that I have read. The sequences of "let me tell you a story about someone who has no bearing on what we are doing but confusingly has the same name as a character that does" that are the bane of students everywhere are much easier to get through this time - the formatting reinforces that these are stories being told within the story, and thus much easier to keep track of.

Certain sequences shift to Grendel's point of view, where the words deteriorate into a whirlwind of violent emotions and pain before dissolving into incomprehensibility - fitting for the mental state of someone whose arm is getting torn off.


Cordelia's Honor, Lois McMaster Bujold


A duo book of the first two Vorkosigan Saga novels (Shards of Honor and Barrayar), containing the story of how the main character (Miles)'s parents (Cordelia and Aral) met and the circumstances of their courtship leading up to his birth.

There is a sort of timelessness to it, likely because Bujold cares a lot more about the character dynamics than the science that serves as the backdrop. There are some unfortunate 80s moments (oh look it's the Depraved Bisexual straight from tvtropes dot com), but on the whole it's a few steps ahead of its time (ex: takes into account what ubiquitous uterine replicators would have on family structure). Our leads and their dynamic remain a highlight throughout, which is really all you need.

Major props to the one plot thread where Cordelia, after returning to her homeworld after her initial encounter with the Barrayans, is shuffled around as a talking point for a war effort and repeatedly gaslit by her government to that end. I was not expecting something like that and props to Bujold for including it.



Pandora's Star, Peter Hamilton


DNF 40/758 pgs

A remarkable book, in that whatever glimpses of an interesting world I could see were drowned under a singularity of bland. It's an unpleasant read; bloated, meandering, spinning its wheels right at the beginning. Save me from "it gets good 300 pages in" as a writing technique. Looking at other reviews I think I am dodging a bullet, as every one that isn't five stars brings up nigh constant sexism as a downside and I've got no time for that. You can feel how 2004 this is, how clunky and dated and awkward it has become in just 16 years compared to books decades older (written by more perceptive authors, such as the ones directly above and below this entry).


Invader and Inheritor, CJ Cherryh


Cherryh found a formula for returns with this series. Something bad happens. The next book deals with the fallout of that bad thing happening. The next book reaches the climax brought about by the series of interwoven bad things concluding them and giving us a break to catch our breath before the next trilogy. It works, though the cost of it working is that after a while it did begin to feel samey. Still, it was enjoyable to watch the continued efforts of a man trying to keep his head above water in the middle of space drow politics. With this second and third book we get more into the human side of the equation, with the arrival of spaceborn humans at the end of the first book and the planetside human government trying to send over their own agent to fuck around with things.

Keeping the narration very limited to the main character means that there is a lot going on that we the audience don't know about until the trap is sprung, which occasionally looks like things coming out of nowhere, and there's a decent amount of "sitting around and talking about plans dependent on the plans of other people." The endings are also quite sudden, without any denoument whatsoever. Denoument is for the beginning of the next book.

If you have ever wondered " what if drow, but good" Cherryh has you covered with these novels.


The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Clay, Michael Chabon


Chabon has made his living on writing about things that he loves, and boy does he love superhero comics. That specification is important, because it's not the superheroes themselves - it's the reason why there are superheroes, the life that is brought to them by their creators. It's easily my favorite piece of superhero media to exist, precisely for that reason. The Escapist is invented to be the hero that frees people from their bondage, and regardless of the editorial flanderizing that is to come, the simplicity of that moral underpinning still shines through. Chabon knows what the hell is up. I'd watch his adaptation of Superman.

Our two leads are dropped into the golden age of New York comics alongside the names we all know, with such care for reality that sometimes I would forget that they aren't real, thanks to the metafictional aside (footnotes! if you want to pander to me, a healthy amount of in-universe footnotes will do it.)

It took a bit for me to get a grip on Chabon's cadence, but once that settled in it proved to be a swift, dense, and meaningful read. It's a special book in ways I can't really adequately say in the amount of space I permit myself here. There is a constant sense of unreality that leaks through, where the strange and unlikely are treated with the same eyes as the mundane, elevating the whole of the world.

Many thanks also go to Pandatheist, who gifted me her water-damaged but still readable Folio Society edition, which has some wonderful illustrations.


Parable of the Sower & Parable of the Talents, Octavia Butler


Reading these two in 2021 is harrowing. Environmental catastrophe, social collapse, the rise of theocratic fascism and corporate slavery-in-all-but-name - it is a blunt force trauma. It's Babe Ruth pointing to the stands with grim certainty before the first pitch is thrown, saying "oh, it's gonna get rough". And to a great extent, it succeeds. Fuck's sake Talents opens with a presidential election between an out-and-out theocratic fascist, and the dried up and hollow remains of the previous VP and...Jesus Christ.

And yet, it never felt like it was wallowing in the misery porn that has become the standard of the grimdark fad in SF-F that's sprung up since it's time of release, despite a whole hell of a lot of human horror. The roots in reality that it has provide it with enough stability to say "these horrors are not unknown. They have happened before. Time passes, things will change, for good or ill." Fitting, considering the God-is-change motif that is going around.

I found myself in a strange relationship with the main character, where I agreed with what she was doing (mostly), but I don't actually like her. That Talents features segments by her daughter, speaking from the future with many of the criticisms I had of Lauren (namely the religious trappings she gussied up Earthseed in). She (Lauren) goes around ignorant or unwilling to recognize that words have connotations, that if you call something God people have ideas about what that means that don't match yours. There were places she could have reduced friction, but she decided not to - that bullheadedness makes for a good flaw.

The ending, though, shows some obvious seams. I've heard that there was a third book that was never written, and I can see it here. The last 20 pages of Talents sweep through events at breakneck speed, wrapping up an ending that should have had another couple hundred pages. We jump from the lowest point to a tidy ending that, while deserved, was too swift to stick the landing.


Dinosaur Summer, Greg Bear


I had not read any of Bear's work before, and this one certainly put his name in the "return here" pool. There's a specific joy in a sci-fi novel that is just "fun premise, explored for 300-400 pages", one I don't read nearly enough of anymore.

So, the premise: it's a sequel to Conan Doyle's The Lost World, now set in 1947 when the dinosaur craze is over and the last circus is closing. Our main character, Peter, has been roped into a National Geographic gig with his father, documenting the trip to return the dinos back to the tepui they were taken from. Adventure ensues. And it was an adventure I was invested in: Bear went the extra mile to tuck this little strand of alternate history into our own (Ray Harryhausen is one of the main cast, the political situation of post-war Venezuela is lurking always in the background), and to extrapolate his own twists with how those dinosaurs have responded to evolutionary pressures in their isolation. It's not much for plot or characters, but it is written with an amount of care I was mildly surprised to find. A good, light read.

The dinos have feathers and there are illustrations by DiTerlizzi, which is a double treat.


The Fifth Head of Cerberus, Gene Wolf


It's Gene Wolfe, there's only one way this review can go. The man is able to inspire the sort of excitement about starting a new book that is nearly absent in my adult life. The first ten pages of Fifth Head have more substance in them than some entire novels. There is a clear and masterful intention to everything, which makes it very easy to read despite the complexity at hand. This paragraph can describe basically anything he's written so let's focus on the actual story.

It's a collection of three novellas ostensibly about the colonization of a pair of worlds and what happened to the indigenous population, and assuredly about something deeper than that which I have yet to parse. All the puzzle pieces are there to sift through, naturally, and a second reading will be needed.

It is very difficult to talk about this book with a presumed audience of people who have not read the book. If you know, you know. It's Gene Wolfe.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Six Spacefaring Aliens

Sigmacastell / swampgirl

A sequel of sorts to my 4 Precursor Aliens post. (Many thanks to sigmacastell/swampgirl for the art)


**

 

The lucky few. The blessed company of those who have passed through the Great Filters and reached the stars.

This list contains only those whose expansion spheres have come into contact with metahumanity - there are other interstellar civilizations detected in the galaxy (7 with a detectable expansion sphere of 100 light years or more and 17 smaller ones), but for now they are too far away to contact or observe in detail.


The Triple Alliance


A civilization built on the symbiotic relationship between three unlikely species:

  • Enormous filter feeders, cream and orange in coloration, natives to the upper atmospheres of hydrogen giants.
  • Hunchbacked omnivorous crustaceans, hailing from the interior oceans of frozen moons where they live pressed to the inner shell by buoyancy.
  • Von-neumann robotics that maintain and oversee the technological aspects of their society.


The two organic members have been cyborged for mutual interface compatibility among all three member species. Together they have formed an expansion sphere significantly larger than that of humans, though due to their preferred environments they typically go overlooked or unnoticed - sometimes to the point that other species will unwittingly share a system with them. They rarely travel, and when they do their ships are designed and piloted so as to minimize detection. On their colonies they maintain a generally low-technology society, save for their integrated communication suites and the presence of Species C.

The Triple Alliance is open to some communication and trade, with most direct contract done with Species C. They have denied access to all of their worlds save designated meeting habitats and have threatened retaliatory violence if this agreement is not upheld. Scientific / historical / cultural media received via trade is clearly heavily edited for propaganda purposes. (From a human standpoint, quite ineptly, but this is due to the propagandists' inability to adjust for different psychologies)

Xenobiologists hypothesize that Species A and B were uplifted to some extent by another force, but whether that force is Species C or another party remains unknown.


Cybeles


A sea slug the size of a small truck, attended by a harem of their remote-controlled proxy bodies, arrives to negotiate a trade agreement between the two expansion spheres. The entire time, despite the misgivings of the current government, it is nothing but the picture of cooperative and pleasant. By the time it goes home, the human diplomats are pocketing cheap import deals and leases on six new worlds and the cybele has precisely what they want.

See, the cybeles are here to help. Here to lift humanity out of the mire of suffering that it has trapped itself in. Here to lead us towards a bright utopian future under the careful guidance of their empire of the gentle hand. They don't hide any of this, they aren't lying. That is a lot of what makes it so appealing.

The cybeles promise long lives of pleasure, free from want and pain - an easy sell for the tortured undermasses of humanity. Why not let them take care of things? Why not start adopting their mores? Take a cybele lover, take two or three; it's easier that way. Less to worry about. After so much suffering, don't you deserve to let go a bit?

The relationship grows increasingly one-sided. Cybele technological and cultural goods flood into the terragen sphere, subverting all the old hierarchies and letting them gather all the pieces into their own. Planets break away from human hegemony to assimilate with the cybeles. The slugs tut-tut the violent uprisings but shrug and welcome the breakaway worlds into the fold. Everyone is happy here. They'll deliver utopia, on time and built to spec.

The predictable far-right groups lashing out against the cybeles' influence have more in common with them than they realize. The alien leadership, deep in their coral cathedrals and far from the prying eyes of human observers, is dominated by oligarchic arch-conservatives, who view humanity as a band of idiot savages squatting on real-estate they are either wasting or destroying outright. The cybele psyche is less inclined to physical conflict, and has accordingly developed a keen strategic mind for social-warfare, one that humans have so far found themselves easy prey to.

As far as human observers know, the situation is thus: The cybele expansion sphere is larger than humanity's, though less densely populated. Their technology is within the range of what the human expansion sphere can produce, but it more efficient and effective than the terragen norm. They prefer warm oceanic worlds and leave the rest to their machines. Access to their worlds is tailored, leaving enormous dark spots in what anyone knows. Some xenologists hypothesize that they have already assimilated other species, potentially even the ones that presumably uplifted them in the first place.


Bathyspheric Civilization


Enormous ooid vessels - shimmering, chromatic, bathed in exotic radiation - emerge from hyperspace without warning. Drone fleets like locusts descend on small worlds of rock and ice, devouring them and bringing the spoils back home. Entire asteroids are dragged from their orbits and hauled back to the technicolor maws of the fleet. The resource-gatherers do not care about efficiency or grace; they will burn torch at whatever brute force necessary to lay a straight line back to their source. What would take decades by other means they will complete in a tenth of the time. And when they are done, by whatever metric they measure their task, they will vanish - slipping back into hyperspace with only a faint ripple of gravitational anomaly.

And this is all that we know for certain. In those instances when they have visited an inhabited system for their harvest, or when they have been stumbled upon by happenstance, they have remained utterly non-communicative. It is uncertain even if they are aware of humanity at all - they have yet to harvest a settled world, which makes most scientists believe that they are avoiding them, but this cannot be a certainty. Observers have thus far kept their distance, hoping to avoid a violent reaction.

The discharge of exotic energy buildup has only been measured on one occasion, and the accuracy of this data is questioned. If accurate, it indicates that the ships in question were exposed to the hyperspatial medium at Jump-1 depth for 350 - 430 Earth Standard Years. If this is the case, the inhabitants of the vessels must possess some resistance, inherent or engineered, to the mental degradation of long-term hyperspatial residence. If the inhabitants are biological, cybernetic, or the vessels themselves is fodder for white papers and conspiracy theories.

The pressures that would drive a civilization to such a risk-heavy survival method have been endlessly debated without any productive conclusion.


Ten-Legs-Tall


Candyapple-red harvestmen a dozen feet tall. In their interactions with humans they come across as curious, highly social, nonviolent and frustratingly vague at the worst moments. For reasons the explain only as taboo they refuse to use any sort of hyperspace-capable technology, leaving them dependent on slower-than-light interstellar travel. The cyborg bodies they have engineered for themselves make this easier with the aid of greatly extended lifespans and long-term hibernative abilities, to the point where they have permanently adopted a semi-nomadic lifestyle. Permanent planetary populations existed at some point in the past, but these have been either abandoned or forgotten (sources are unclear)

Their lifestyle means that they are encountered only during their resting periods which make up a very small fraction of their lives. They are willing to trade exotic matter and metamaterials for antimatter, fusion fuel collection rights, and human cultural goods - the difference in time scales on which the two species operates means that humans generate enormous quantities of novelties to while away the decades between stars.

Their few stationary permanent settlements tend to be on rogue worlds or kuiper-belt objects, only occasionally adventuring deep into a system. These settlements are occasionally abandoned without obvious cause, and likewise occasionally reclaimed. Intrusion in an abandoned habitat is discouraged.


The Dysonwood Minds


A self-replicating environmental intelligence. Enormous plant-fungal neural-analog matrices feeding off the volatile-rich innards of comets and asteroids, seeded by passing sower modules as they drift from star to star. Differences between the internal ecologies of individual trees can be radical, and only more so when comparing tress of different systems and sower-lineages, but all life found within them is based on the same source pattern, presumed to be the environments of the world of origin.

The Minds were not discovered until well after the exploration of the Dysonwoods, when contact was made with hominid-analog organisms during a cataloging expedition of an orbital grove. It was through these Interpreters (who were later revealed to have been dysonwood-native organisms modified according to recovered human corpses) that a general contact was made with the Minds themselves. With the Interpreters acting in the stead of the Minds, appropriate treaties could be made. Scientific study and limited lo-tec settlement is permitted, in exchange for distribution of Interpreter templates to groves in other systems.

Of the Minds themselves, this much can be said: like their environments, they are based upon the template of a single original intelligence. They have remained surprisingly consistent over several million years of replication drift, so that Minds light years apart will still think in similar fashions. They do not communicate often amongst themselves except with their grove-neighbors, and appear to interpret humans as aspects of another environmental intelligence. They do not actively seek peaceful coexistence but will remain within a niche without hostility to the outside.

The Interpreters, now that several generations have passed and ironed out the bugs, act very much (but not entirely) like lo-tec human societies. This is an illusion - the neural network they share with each other and their Mind grants them stability and perception beyond what a human culture would be capable of.


Humen


There's nothing intrinsically special about them; the universe is littered with hundreds of thousands of similar species, crumbling to dust in anonymous, unmarked graves. The jump to interstellar civilization selects for the patient, the diplomatic, the far-seeing and the careful, and these are traits humen have only sporadically. Their incredible adaptive pattern-recognition and robust social-connection formation serve them well, but they are perpetually undermined by an inability to recognize when no pattern exists and a low threshold for community size. Internicene conflict and self-destructive self-interest are rampant in their diverse and fractious civilization, and this makes them poor neighbors.

Their high aggression and willingness to brute-force solutions at high cost to their own population have, however, managed to carve out an interstellar civilization in a very short amount of time. The long-term stability of such an arrangement remains uncertain.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

7 New Backgrounds for Mothership, Plus Inventories

Anthony Weatherson


I still don't like having to come up with skill packages and stat bonuses for MoSh classes, so I didn't include them. I'll update my classless chargen when I have my hands on 1e.


Codepriest


Intermediary between the world of flesh and metal with the innumerable ainima that live in the digital ether. Mendicants beholden to no corporate authority or protocol, only the great Open Source that upholds all things.


  1. Insulated schema robes, black with gold circuitry. (1 Armor)
  2. Personal deck and tablet (hand-built, open-source programs in accordance with the Stack)
  3. Fresh pack of incense sticks
  4. Arc-crosier (produces a modulated EMP)
  5. Lacquered alms-bowl + bamboo flute
  6. Ainima quick-reference identification chart
  7. Choral sheet music (Turingsmass hymns)
  8. Box lunch (bento)
  9. Tengai basket (includes vocoder and internal HUD)
  10. "Hard exit" portable drive (one-time computer-kill)
  11. "Sign of peace" handshake protocol module
  12. Book: Yokai of the High Frontier
  13. Energy drink 6-pack (Pineapple-durian flavor)


Nun with a Gun


The flesh is bound only through the presence of a soul in unity with the great design of the cosmos. Should the binding slip, the soul prove unfit, then the flesh shall deteriorate, return to its primordial inchoate mass and gnash with slavering maws at the roots of the universe. Where your sisters do their part praying in the cloister or ministering to the vulnerable, you have a large gun and shoot flesh monsters with it. 


  1. Powered armor + everyday habit
  2. Missal, annotated with study notes.
  3. Anointing oil, vial
  4. Flamethrower (sanctioned and licensed)
  5. Light machine gun (Seraph XII model)
  6. Pyx containing nodule of [DEFILED FLESH] (Can detect presence of the Demiurge)
  7. Ecstatic Communion Module
  8. Cord rosary (handmade, a gift from mentor-sister)
  9. Liquid food packet (spicy gumbo)
  10. Comfortable, weatherproof cloak (Icon of the 14 Watchers)
  11. Mark of the atum (forehead)
  12. Handheld video game console (second hand)
  13. Letter of introduction, signed by the Mother Superior (forged)


Translator-Avatar


Productive interaction with a truly alien mind is impossible without assistance. The Overminds knew this, and reached out to humanity using proxies made in our image, and humanity followed suit by making their own. Through this narrow corridor of interspecies telephone, the wants and desires of the powers that be can be can be shared. Violence, averted.


  1. Fancy suit (formal occasions only)
  2. Stress toy (squishy space shuttle)
  3. Corp-issued tablet (contains WIP drafts of white paper and fantasy novel)
  4. Granted neural link compatible with local Overmind.
  5. Custom morph (Proxy)
  6. Dietary supplements
  7. Care package from home.
  8. Decorative woven shawl (gift from Overmind-side proxies)
  9. Board game: Eld Lords of Zetakrom Prime
  10. Catalog for the colony commissary.
  11. Pet plant (alien, carnivorous, affectionate)
  12. NDA (enforceable through violence)
  13. Contact info for a "good friend"


Rimworlder


The boom-bust cycle of Rim colonization has given rise to a class of mercenary survivalist: wandering guns-for-hire that make their living on the margins between syndicates, corporations, and the struggling independent polities. Tendency towards esoteric religion.


  1. Duster jacket, colorful headscarf, shady hat, protective goggles
  2. Tattoos marking family affiliation
  3. Unidentifiable grilled meat, onna stick
  4. Grip-gloves (black)
  5. Long rifle (bolt action, wooden stock with kill notches)
  6. Heavy revolver (military surplus with aftermarket mods)
  7. Desalination canteen
  8. Portable solar charger
  9. Good-favor token (Panan Shō syndicate)
  10. Booklet found at the train station (We Need Pax Klanq)
  11. Packet of contraband, wrapped in butcher paper (banned literature and an ampule of angeldown)
  12. Compact mechanist's toolkit
  13. DIY mini-spiderbot


Corporate Inquisitor


Account books audited. Contractor performance reviewed. Contracts notarized. Quality maintained. Hierarchy upheld. Irregularities dealt with. Subversive elements eliminated. Obstacles liquidated. The Board's in their Heaven, all is right with the worlds.

  1. Menacing robes and hat (black and red)
  2. Pistol (collapsible, auto-disposal module)
  3. Scary reflective Alucard-ass glasses
  4. Signet ring (Full authorization under both Office of New Religious Movements and Alliance Trade Investigations Bureau)
  5. Cyberbrain-cracker (single-use)
  6. Encrypted tablet with direct line to regional headquarters
  7. Local copy of debt and thoughtcrime registry
  8. Blackmail material against multiple disruptive NRM leaders
  9. Sphinx Salt injector (clear and protect against mental influence, greatly increase observational awareness)
  10. Android command codes, memorized (for standard CTA operating systems)
  11. Eidetic recording suite (half hour of sight and sound playback)
  12. Takeout container of red curry and rice
  13. Sliver of alien nanotech in diamondoid case, recovered on-site


Carvergirl


There's a feral child in the maintenance crawlspace. Stowed away when you stopped for maintenance on some shithole rim world. Calls herself a "biggabad killa", keeps threatening to "shanka guts" and "droppa kill choppa deelucks on tha". Steals food from the mess, makes a horrible racket like a cornered cat when anyone tries to get her out of the vents. Really just a scared, traumatized kid.


  1. Patchy jumpsuit (orange)
  2. Barcode tattoo (forehead and back of right hand)
  3. Knife (shard of scrap metal)
  4. Knife (bone)
  5. Plush unicorn, limp-necked and dirty
  6. Hide satchel
  7. Unidentifiable jerky (3 small servings)
  8. Plastic water bottle on a string
  9. Assorted flowers, feathers, small bones, bits of string, pebbles
  10. 1/2 pack of matches, handful of cigarettes
  11. Rag bandana, red paisley.
  12. Molotov cocktail.


Alien Footsoldier


One of the anonymous underclass that carries the alien war machine on their shoulders. Handed a gun and armor valued more than their life and thrown at the enemy without preparation or training. Stripped of all rights, culture, dignity and hope - and yet they endure. The song-paths are still sung. The glacial bureaucracy has its eyes focused elsewhere. Who is to miss the lowest of the low when they don't return from the battlefield? They were never expected to anyway.


  1. Armor harness + breathing apparatus
  2. Plasma sidearm (75% charge)
  3. Two plasma grenades (likely duds)
  4. Dextro-amino pemmican cakes
  5. Picture-book: The Great Benefits of Adherence to Our Unswerving Caste System and the Unity It Provides Us
  6. Restraint collar (broken, forcibly removed)
  7. Grease-pencil sketch of creche mates
  8. Biochem adaptation injections
  9. Oral history (Southern Great Green Lake Region)
  10. Humanitarian aid blanket
  11. Resident alien documentation
  12. Six-stone-game set, makeshift

Friday, December 10, 2021

Cowboy Bebop Rewatch Post

Vincenzo Riccardi

 


I think it's time we blow this scene, get everybody and their stuff together...


As with my Avatar and Lord of the Rings revisit-reviews, there's no real end goal or organization to this. It may or may not go in chronological order. Spoilers ahoy.

**

I can't remember when I first watched Cowboy Bebop. The oldest piece of fanart I have saved in Ye Olde Archive of Wonders is dated to 2010, which sounds about right. My last rewatch would have been around 2014-2015.

**

The first thing we see in the series (and the last, but we'll get to that when we get to that) is space infrastructure - space stations, orbital mirrors, solar collector arrays, guidance satellites. Our first episode takes place in an O'Neill cylinder inside an asteroid. A couple times in later episodes there are locations just drifting in space near a planet, I tend to imagine them as lagranges. Few are the sci-fi properties that remember things like this.

**

I love the signs in Bebop - everywhere you look there's signage, and it changes depending on where you are. Signs on Mars are normally Chinese and English. Signs on Venus add Arabic, French, and Spanish. Signs on Callisto use Cyrillic. Every time there's a tv show shown there's "This program is broadcast in 12 languages". There's a menu in episode 4 that features Futhark runes. In episode 2 there's "PIZZA LANDS" and hell yeah, I'd buy a slice from PIZZA LANDS.

**

Over the course of the series, the crew spends 11 episodes on Mars, 6 episodes in the Jovian moons (3 on Ganymede, 2 on Callisto, 1 on Io), 3 episodes on Earth, 2 episodes in the Belt 2 episodes in interplanetary space and 1 episode on Venus.

Several other locations are named but never visited - we know that there was a war on Titan, Europa is settled, that there are scientific outposts around Uranus, and there's a prison on Pluto. Nothing about Mercury though, which is strange. Likely the desolation of Earth has stunted colonization attempts downwell.

The episode where they visit Venus is also a bit of an oddity, because their initial targets (Huey, Dewey and Loiue, ha!) were on their way there on a commercial flight. I can only assume that there's not a whole lot of work to be had in the bounty business on Venus. Clues elsewhere make me think that it's actually the capital planet of the system, rather than Mars, but that's relying on "if there are no bounties it means either enough gov't that it's not needed, or not enough to fund it."

**

Laughing Bull is not a sterling representation of Indigenous Americans on screen. Not the worst, but no awards either. But, I think he's vital for what Cowboy Bebop is and a building block of an element that sets it apart from other sci-fi both then and now.

In order to have an old Lakota man in space (His nation is not mentioned, but since he invokes Wakan Tanka I will make this presumption.) you have to have other Lakota in space. Somewhere off screen there's a community. And if there's a Lakota community in space, it's only logical that other nations have enclaves there as well. And if that's the case...everyone is here. And Bebop does that constantly, casually, naturally - with a clear recognition of "well yeah, people like that exist". And in a genre where praise can be meted out for doing actually nothing (Firefly) or for undermining your own point (Star Trek), this is noteworthy. Most everyone else is trying to play catch-up.

Everyone's here, and they brought their culture with them.

**

While it's said multiple times that the money's only good if the target is brought in alive, the crew really don't seem to pay attention to that a lot. Maybe that's why they're always broke.

**

The fact that, chronologically, I would have gone to college with Faye Valentine has upended my world. Please stand by while I crumble into dust according to the ravages of time.

**
An inescapable current in this show is that of poverty, presented with the simple and blunt honesty of "sometimes it's bell peppers and beef with no beef for dinner." It's always there, in rust and peeling paint.
 
**

Jet is an enormous loser, and I love that about him. He likes pretending that he's the big man in charge but the moment anyone pushes back, he folds. He'll tell meandering stories with no point to put on airs of wisdom. His one romantic relationship fell apart because he was a condescending paternalist and he's internalized that as "it must be the intrinsic fault of women" - yet still the way he talks about it has some genuine grief.

**

Nothing like a really good Ave Maria to tug at the heartstrings.

**

Sci-fi aesthetics peaked with 90s anime, this we all know and agree upon. And those gunshot sound effects!

**

The 0 G segments in Bebop remain some of the best around. The cleanness and slight exaggeration of the animation allows them to pull off some really appealing acrobatics with thrust and momentum.

**

Ha, they make fun of Uri Gellar in the episode with the AI.

**

Ed could have been awful, but they remembered the important lesson: gremlin doesn't mean stupid, and it doesn't means "source of everyone's problems". That's a guaranteed way of making someone hate a character, make them responsible for making everything worse by being dumb, and they keep doing it and getting away with it.

**

We never get a reason for why there was a war on Titan. I suspect it would either be outside forces fighting over it for colonization rights (which seems less likely, given how each planet seems to be independent) or a colony collapse scenario (more likely, considering how Callisto is falling apart and Io's land rush never seemed to materialize)

Callisto itself, as we see it in "Jupiter Jazz" is a masterpiece of storytelling through setting. Enormous gleaming skyscrapers left half-finished and empty. Towns where it's possible to go six months without seeing a woman because the only folks there are the men who came for work and now there's no more work to be had. It hasn't fallen into anarchy - we see municipal trash collection in one shot - but time are bad and they don't appear to be changing any time soon. An earlier episode mentioned that Ganymede is in a recession, and Io looks to have been expecting a land rush that never came.

There are so many potential stories to living there

**

The most gratuitous cheesecake shots we get of Faye are when she's in Gren's apartment - a man who has no sexual interest in her (though he does have his moments of not understanding personal space. Come on, Gren.) Faye uses her body as a tool to get what she wants with gleeful abandon in much of the rest of the show, so the fact that the scene is shot like that in a moment where she explicitly isn't doing that is worth noting.

**

Vicious has a Nokia flip phone. Fucking love it.

**

"Speak Like a Child" might be my favorite episode in the series now. Looking back at yourself and not recognizing or remembering what was there starts to hit different once it starts happening to you. My appreciation for Faye in general has skyrocketed on this watch - she's been through a lot of shit (brain damage from cryo) and has built up a persona to deal with it. It slips from time to time, and we see who she is / might have been.

Judging by the timeline, Faye's video would have been shot ~2004. I wonder, if I saw video of myself from back then, would I remember what was going on in it? Or would I watch myself on the screen going through actions that have long since melted down into the simmering, fuzzy pool of childhood? Faye doesn't even have that sense of continuity. That tape might as well be a message from the dead. Which, as time goes on and more VHS tapes are lost to damage, decay, or lack of backups, there will be more and more Fayes out there.

Leave it to this show to make a fucking betamax tape a precious thing that keeps us anchored to ourselves.

**

Engineered life shows up a couple times in the show, all of it aquatic and most of it on Ganymede. I figure it was part of the colonization push that's been falling in on itself.

**

I love the little bit at the end where they see the guy from Big Shot meeting his mom at the airport. The ordinary guy behind the corny act on TV.

**

Spike is a real shithead. A loveable one, but he's gone and found himself a niche where no one can effectively counter his aloof coolness + deathwish. Jet is a pushover, Faye can't get through to him. The episode with Andy is noteworthy because of just how angry Spike gets over meeting someone who is like him, a mirror of his great flaws of bullheadedness and assholery.

**

"Pierre le Fou" is, of course, a fantastic episode. And a large part of that is the absolute refusal to use music or even traditional scare chords when Pierrot is on screen. In the first encounter it's dead silence in the background until you realize the growing anxious tinnitus drone. In the second, it's all diegetic music from the amusement park rides.

We also get a premonition of the end: Spike's deathwish manifesting itself, Faye being asked up front if she would save him. We saw this play out in the episode with the harmonica kid (which I don't like all that much)

And, interesting to note, Spike is nearly completely absent from the following episode - a welcome breather.

**

"Brain Scratch" first aired April 3 1999. The members of Heaven's Gate committed suicide just barely two years prior in march of 97. the Aum Shinrikyo gas attacks were in 95. Time capsule of an era, that episode - less important for its plot than for the look and act of the cult within it. Crude late 90s website and all.

**

No one in this show can communicate, no one in this show can form connections. Spike is trapped in his past and refuses to let go and move on. Jet tries to bury his past without ever having to come to terms with the uncomfortable truth. Faye is always looking for her past and finds no comfort in it when she finds it. Ed's probably the most emotionally mature member of the cast - she comes to terms with the fact that she can't stay with the Bebop and its suffocation-of-self, and in heading off is the only one who is able to look towards the future.

"Hard Luck Woman" is just a killer episode. The absurdity of the hard boiled egg chow-down highlighting how Spike and Jet cannot handle any of this maturely is just chef's kiss.

**

The ending comes rolling in out of nowhere and vanishing just as sudden. Its big and awkward and empty in places and that fits. With Spike dead and the Bebop inoperable, Jet and Faye are guaranteed to go their own ways. Faye might be able to move on. Jet's probably going to drink himself to death.

**

Top songs: "Bad Dog No Biscuits", "Waltz for Zizi", "Gotta Knock a Little Harder", "Call Me, Call Me", "Blue"
 
 
**
 

What else is there to say? Probably more, I have quite a bit more in the notes, but a ramble-review like this needs only so much. 

Let there be impeccable vibes.


Wednesday, December 1, 2021

The Daemonomachy

 

Apologies to OSP

Imagine watching your mother murder a man. Smashes his head in with a stone, tears his throat out with her teeth, splinters his bones under the blows of her fists. And when she turns to you, knuckles dripping and gore caked on her face, her eyes are empty. All tenderness and love is drained away and there is only the Beast, only the ancient violence of mammalian k-selection. You know that she would do it again, that she would do it a thousand times over for your sake. You are a child of the Beast, and the Beast will always be with you.


This is the Daemonomachy.


**


Let's turn back a spell and set the stage. We have reached the end of the second great arc in the cycle of Lu. Winter is fading and the Ancients have nearly reached the lands of Spring. DOG is with us now, the elephants and crows are our friends


Most importantly is that the first child of Lu and Tubalkhan is dead - by stillbirth or miscarriage the first of the gods of Spring did not arrive alive. Lu has fallen into deep depression and the Ancestors are trapped by a grief they have had little time to process. The victories they have gained seem much more tenuous now.


Sensing this weakness, a union of the mightiest demons forms to strike at the Ancestors and their gods.


They are less sophisticated than the ones that will follow: The true Red Law remains unknown even to them, Moloch is yet to arrive and the stones of his city have yet to be set down. This makes them no less dangerous, just straightforward. If they could strike a crippling blow here and now they would reign dominant over the Spring to come, and nascent humanity would forever flee their hunters in a killing season without end.


The demon kings have gathered all their dukes and marquisai and footmen and banner-sworn. Their generals and legions stand in ranks that stretch to each horizon.


Now are the days of decision...


**


A popular form of the sequence is provided here in translation. It is traditionally sung, with accompaniment on the gishgudi. If no gishgudi is available, other appropriate musical accompaniment will suffice.


The opening sequence, containing the initial engagement and early stages of the battle, has been omitted for the sake of brevity, as it tends to be rather long-winded in text and much more entertaining in live performance. All that is necessary to know is that the Ancestors and the gods have held back the demons for a time, but a renewed assault has broken their battle-line and killed several major gods and further minor ones. Humanity's forces are in disarray, and the oncoming defeat stirs Lu to more drastic action.

 

Dandibuja

**


She sheds her hides
She casts her bracelets to the ground
And unbinds her braid
Naked to the battle line she strides forth
The Crown of Fire burns white on her brow


A Prince of Power meets her,
brandishes his gleaming bronze sword
and jewelled cuirass.


He mocks her, saying
"See how the she-ape seeks to threaten us,
swollen with the pride of a little stolen sunfire?
Watch closely now; I will remind her
of the dominion of Sword-Law."
With princely mastery in arts most violent
he brings down his sword upon Lu.


With dragonfly speed
She bites the sword in two;
with her teeth she destroys the sword of bronze.
She strikes him in his side.
His blood paints the moon;
Crimson his blood paints the plains of the moon.
Two trunkless legs fall;
nothing beside remains.


The legions recoil;
With shields and spears they join in formation.
They form a wall eleven ranks deep.
Their lords rally their legions;
Eleven ranks deep they build their formations.


She howls and beats at her breast
She has unsheathed brahmastra
She is aflame
The stone cracks open beneath her feet


She throws herself at the legions
With a lung-tearing roar she is upon them
With violence she is upon them!


Demons crumble beneath her strikes
With mighty blows she breaks their bodies
She tears their bodies into pieces
She bathes in their gore
She strikes them down as the lightning
She strikes with the sound like thunder
Like waves on the shore they break upon her
She tears at their bodies as a starving dog
She dances upon their corpses
She raises mounds of their dead
She pours out seas of their gore
The waves lap at the feet of the mountains
Hills are flattened beneath her, great gouges
are torn from the earth.
The forests burn
The earth vomits froth fire and ash
The sky grows dim with ash and smoke
She has become the face of death.
The peoples flee from her; the Folk retreat
The gods turn their heads; they cannot bear to look upon her
The elders despair
The Ancestors cry out to them
"Now we are all sons of bitches" they wail.


Lu has broken the ranks of the demons
The legions scatter before her
Their shields are rent, their blades have been turned aside
No armor might protect them
She has killed their lords
Blood-drunk she has cast them down
Anaghar is slain by her hand (it is known)
Tartaruchus is smote by her blows (it is known)
Xez-Nek has been broken (it is known), Chanaug defeated! (it is known)
Lo-Khir-Ye has been destroyed utterly! (it is known)
The Bone-Eater is unmade! (it is known)
The Princes of Power have been cast down! (it is known, it is known)
She has thrown down their corpses
The earth consumes the dead.
She pursues them as a beast
unsatisfied with blood.
Where a thousand once stood, not one survives
Where ten thousand once stood, one escapes alone


High upon the peak of Chomolungma
Tubalkhan sees that all the land of Endor has been darkened;
From horizon to horizon darkness claws at the Mountains of the Moon
He may stay with the Three no longer.
He gathers his tools;
He descends from the mountain
He speeds down its slopes on a sled
pulled by his brothers among the wolves.


One among the demons remains;
Dead or fled are the others.
The demon whose name is
[NONE SHALL SPEAK IT]
Waits for her there in the sea of gore
At the center of the sea of blood
On the island of corpses it waits for her.
In its right hand it carries a rod of kingship
In its left tablet of clay,
engraved with the names of Winter's dead.
On its brow there is black crown like brambles.


Lu arrives in fury; her strike is turned aside
The demon speaks thusly as it trades her blows
"O Lu, my queen! Bearer of the Crown of Fire,
thief and murderer,
look upon the kingdom you have claimed!
Is it not a thing of wonder?
The land has been laid to ruin,
the peoples hide their faces from it.
Such untold sufferings yet to bear;
Such terrible and mighty sufferings yet to bear.
See your people cower in fear of what thou have done.
Their lives pass through thy fingers as water.
Thou hast stolen from them ignorance of death.
Blessed are you, Lu of the forest,
who has delivered those thy loved most
into the hands of the Law of Suffering.
There is no returning; the forest is no more.
I am kin to thee;
From thy heart alone I did spring,
And there I ever shall be with thee."


Each blow Lu lands upon the demon is met
by an equal strike.


Tubalkhan reaches the border of the great battle
The destruction greets him in that place.
The gods rush to him, seeking his aid
"See now! Your wife wages war without ceasing!
She is lost to us."
Tubalkhan sees then
His most beloved,
She who shared her tent,
Burning bright in the night of smoke.
Monstrous in her countenance
and terrible to look upon;
Warring against her demon.


"What shall we do?"
the gods ask among themselves.
"She will certainly kill us all.
We must strike her down."
Tubalkhan rebukes them, saying
"Have you no eyes? There is no spear that can stave away death!"
Taking strands of strong fibers
Tubalkhan weaves great ropes
By his mastery of craft he makes them
And by the aid of the household gods he tests them;
stronger than all before or since.


Blood-blinded
Lu draws further upon
dread brahmastra.
Stone boils around her
The air forms droplets of lead;
burning they fall as rain.
Power overflows her,
far beyond what a god of man might bear.


The world groans and shakes;
Like a dying man on his bed
It cannot bear the strain
of the fire of the heavens
burning true.


She is too fast to see.
She has the demon by the neck;
In her right hand she has the neck of the demon.
She slams it to the ground
She dashes its head upon the stone.
Stone shattering, earth buckling
She drives down her fists again and again.
A hundred times she strikes;
In a hundred places its body is broken
Still the demon smiles
As it is mashed into common meat.
Still she rains down blows.


Tubalkhan gathers his handicraft
He takes to the battlefield with swift feet
He casts the great coils about Lu
Casts them about her as she strikes at
the demon's corpse.


With all his strength he pulls back, but this is not enough.
The gods join him, pulling on the ropes
And the peoples join with them
The Crown burns warm and bright upon them.
But this is not enough.


Great Grand-Mother Namacidia,
with her sons Arkasodara the White
and Ekachatradhipathi the Tall,
call the elephants to aid them.
The crows grab strands in their claws and fly forth
But this is not enough.


Tubalkhan cries out to the Folk;
He offers to them the greatest work of his hands
And they come to his aid.


Weeping, straining against her bindings,
Lu cries out
"Let me go!
Let me go!
Let me kill it!
I beg you,
Let me kill it!
Let us be free of it!"


She strains against her bindings, but
the gods are not moved.
Firmly planted are their feet
and set is their resolve.


Only her sister, whose name is known
Only among the lilu, abandoned her task
and fled with her followers.
That is another tale.


Now then, it is enough;
Broken is Lu's spirit;
She can fight no longer.
The Crown of Fire dims.
Brahmastra is veiled once more.
She falls limp to the wounded earth.
The gods, the peoples, the crows, the elephants,
Each in turn lets go of their ropes.
Tubalkhan runs forth from their number to his beloved,
Gently lifts her body from the mud and sludge,
And carries her away.


To this very day the land of that battle is desolate - no living thing grows there, and even the Folk will not set foot upon it. So great was the blow delivered to the demons that day that some say they have never recovered


Lu did not speak and ate little in the moons that followed, remaining so even after the Ancestors' arrival at Potbelly Hill and the true arrival of Spring. She would sit there beneath the bodhi tree at its summit, wrapped in a blanket, and with empty eyes look out upon the fields and groves of her peoples, saying nothing to them or even to her husband. So it was until she found Wisdom.

**

Notes and Addenda 

Well that was heavy. And also exhausting to write, ye gods. 1347 words on the raw poetry section. But enough of that, onwards to commentary.

  • It's honestly a good thing for the world that only humans generate demons (because the Crown does not fit particularly well), because could you imagine dolphin-based demons? Horror beyond horror.
  • I love how this mythos is evolving as I write for it. The contradictions are fun, because I can go back and ask "okay, what is this culture saying about things" and not have to worry about canon. Fuck canon, all my homies hate canon. 
  • A potential way demons work: Any given human soul gathers proto-demons like moths around a lamp. In most circumstances, they will feed off of negative feelings and actions passively and never manifest in a way that can be noticed. They are harmless in this state, but if they are fed long enough and grow strong enough they can form a physical manifestation, often but not always released through a trigger event.  
    • The above means that, while you get a lot of generalized demons living off of residual environmental misery, you also get personalized demons.
  • I actually had no real plan for what Lu's unnamed sister did to get exiled and didn't give it much thought. What's presented here is a common interpretation, but only that. It does fit quite nicely, though, that the demon that later tormented the lilu was born of her guilt in having abandoned the others at such a critical moment.
  • I love being able to just layer my references in these posts. I love it normally but in these posts in particular are great for them.
  • I swear happier things happen after this.