Sunday, July 7, 2024

Mothership Patches 3

100 Patches, 100 Trinkets , 100 More Patches, 100 More Trinkets
  1. F.O.M.O.
  2. Red giant w/ sunglasses
  3. Harpooned heart
  4. Ferret biting its tail
  5. Logo: Iago Prime Clown Reserve
  6. Gorilla throwing up the horns
  7. Molecular model of cocaine
  8. Bull’s head
  9. Golden rat
  10. "RUN AWAY!" (sprinting stick figure)
  11. “I’m manifesting my boot up your ass”
  12. Skeleton holding a chili pepper
  13. Logo: MegaSnax Protein Puffs
  14. “Disabled Veteran”
  15. Black cat (one eye, left)
  16. White cat (one eye, right)
  17. Calico cat (one eye, third)
  18. Logo: soft drink-affiliated PMC
  19. T-rex head (feathered)
  20. Bear w/ bug head, sleeping
  21. Flag: constructed language community
  22. ENDURANCE (Cherokee)
  23. Mushroom-headed astronaut
  24. Meditation labyrinth
  26. Cassette tape (red)
  27. GTFO
  28. Torii gate
  29. Logo: Unicode Consortium
  30. Logo: Defrag (android thrash-metal band)
  31. Flower with a bloody mouth
  34. Cupcake with pink frosting
  35. Bodhyangi Mudrā
  37. Golden lion tamarin (with a gun)
  38. Presidential Seal of Buer
  39. “VERIFIED ABDUCTEE” (Flying saucer)
  40. Barbed wire peace sign
  41. “I SAW THE SIGN”
  42. Skull with five eye sockets
  43. Cute mascot character (parasitic xenoworm)
  44. Voyager 1 mission patch
  45. “5-EVER”
  46. Billiard ball (9)
  47. Cuneiform (Misspelled, illegible)
  48. “REPENT” (Circular saw blade)
  49. “SANDWICH” (Hot dog)
  50. Interrobang
  51. Red panda (with a halligan)
  52. Rotten banana
  53. Heart-eyes emoji
  54. Crossed fingers
  55. "FORGET NOTHING" (elephant skull)
  57. Phallus with a smiley face
  58. Rusty gears
  59. Haloed alien skull
  60. Icon of Kannon
  61. Takeout menu
  62. Icon: Church of the Celestial Choir
  63. Icon: 105th Spaceborn Division ("DAMN FOOLS")
  64. Ruby, sapphire, emerald
  65. Skeleton playing flute (Back patch)
  66. Salad dressing bottle + 23 knives
  67. "DISOBEY"
  68. Laughing harpy
  69. Celtic knot
  70. Circular double helix
  71. "NO GLORY"
  72. Whiskey bottle
  73. "POLITICAL ANIMAL" (bloody dolphin)
  74.  Empty fuel gauge
  75. Dripping hypodermic
  76. Bouquet with a knife handle
  77. Flag: cambion mututal-aid community
  78. Sewn-shut mouth (grinning)
  79. Unicorn skull
  81. Beer stein
  82. Logo: BoxOfficeBuster Video Rental
  85. Broken violin
  86. Potted cactus
  88. Cinnamon roll
  89. "DR. GOAT" (Dr. Goat)
  90. Dart board
  91. Highland cow
  92. SHIT CREEK (canoe)
  93. Clam with a pearl
  94. Red-striped snake
  96. Bird-handled scissors
  97. "OH HECKO, IT'S GECKO" (Leopard gecko with finger-guns)
  99. "HORSE" (Cow)
  100. Amphora with ghosts emerging

Monday, June 10, 2024

Slush Post 15

 Previous piles: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 8.5, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

  1. Dwarves carve enormous monolithic fortresses because they will, over many long centuries, grow into giants. In death, these giants will supply the next generation of dwarf larvae with the nutrients needed to pupate in their stony chysali.
  2. Xenomorphs in a fantasy context: what sort of forms might they develop using the inhabitants of Generic Vernacular Fantasyland as prey?
  3. The Onion Drive, which is not related to the similarly-named Orion Drive.
  4. MoSh dungeoncrawl - oxygen as the time counter for exploration turns
  5. Post idea: the fantasy Klingons everyone wants orcs to be
  6. An out-of-service payphone on a streetcorner. Still functions as a means of occult communication.
  7. Using occultism-sustained defunct chat clients to serve as secure communication.
  8. Real historical linguistics: 'eyesight' and 'farsee' as units of measurement.
  9. Holy water container next to trauma kit in greenbox.
  10. Dream: movie about some Mowgli-type wild child who lives in the bayou swims around inherited a magic flute through a series of ancestors. Trailer is hyping it all up and this giant with wings is fighting an alligator but the gator’s animations are out of synch.
  11. Making a syllabary with Latin extended Unicode blocks
  12. [Make sure to add cadaver synod]
  13. Black holes are ascended dragons, coiled around hoards that can never be stolen from.
  14. Demons are summoned by invoking the subject of their hyperfocus
  15. Number stations as their own autonomous organization, outside of human involvement.
  16. Giant chains connected to things that should not float is primo aesthetic. That and building things on top of horrible dread underground cities. Combine the two and you’ve got something grand cooking.
  17. Something is down there.
  18. Cronus is actively autocannibalistic, budding off copies and then violently consuming them.
  19. Handwritten lecture notes, Swahili. Detailed description of colonization mission to Trappist 1.
  20. Human embryo encased in raspberry rock candy shell. Deleterious effect against magic practitioners.
  21. The stasis undergone by the original colony ships was much longer than one would think, as they waited for the faster star wisps to prepare worlds for their arrival.
  22. Video game - explore hell to find and insult various political figures.
  23. Fix the gay fanfic problem by spelling oblique pronouns with ɛ and ɪ.
  24. House of the Ouroborous
  25. Crab options for mothership, since EP won't give them to us.
  26. The existence of a natural logarithm implies the existence of an unnatural logarithm.
  27. Anarchist collectives chip in to buy a central exowomb to be shared among the group.
  28. Opening description: The PCs, wage-slaves and debtors of a brutal military-industrial dictatorship, are made part of a forced relocation effort destined for...
  29. Sisters of the Sable Maid as an rpg / fighting game hybrid. Like Indivisible but good
  30. If Discworld had an anime, who would Norio Wakamoto voice?
  31. To be wizardly is to be a miser with knowledge
  32. The dungeon as literalized hauntology
  33. Short story idea:


An important message from Timothee Lambert, the world's most bizarrely uplifting spambot

"Thank you for being a reliable source of inspiration and encouragement. This blog has motivated me to pursue my passions and embrace new challenges. Your authenticity and genuine enthusiasm shine through in every post. You're making a difference in the lives of your readers!"

And then a link to some scam site


Delta Green character concept: Fr. Andrew. Jesuit priest & professor of anthropology. Liberation theology & heterodox views. Friendship with the bishop has kept him safe from internal politicking so far but won't last forever. Bonds: The Bishop (mentor) Fr. Enrique (friend), Julia (mistress) Shelly (sister).

Entry into Program: Rachel Muir drops out midway through the semester, only to call weeks later requesting confession. During this, she confides that she's no longer safe at home and is trying to escape. She's clearly dancing around something and won't go to the cops. Fr. Andrew makes the call to get her to safety himself, and drives her through the night to his sister Shelly's house on the other side of the state. There's possibly a bhyakee sighting involved on the way: turns out Rachel's family was deep into horrible cult shit and was at that time getting busted by Operation BIG SMOKE. Rachel is found three days later by Program agents, and Fr. Andrew gets read in as a friendly, later a full agent.


Scrapped Post: More 60 Years Bullshit

Last year, I stumbled across an RPG by the name of Sixty Years in Space. Since I am drawn to imperfect art with grand vision with a consistency that borders on the compulsive, it swiftly became one of my white whales: the sort of game that I cannot stop thinking about no matter how glaring its many flaws were. I wanted to make it work. I am beginning to think this might be some sort of compulsion.

I tried, last summer. I hacked out some rudimentary procedures to run through the history-simulation aspects (since generating a solar system was nigh-impossible), and I was able to get through to the end. I disliked the end result and shuttered the draft.

I tried it again this spring. I still dislike the end result. I can't honestly say that I was trying to get anything out of it beyond blood from a stone - there are easier and better ways to make Mothership stuff.

A waste of time useful only in providing examples of what not to do. Went and deleted the files from my PC so I wouldn't have an excuse to spend more time and brainpower on it.

(I legitimately forgot that I had something to this very same effect in Slush Post 14: perhaps now I will have learned my lesson)


Warframe-like bodies grown from devil-tumors incubated in human victims - Cancerous notules of incohate flesh, caused by an imbalance of atum and fed upon the flame imperishable.


Enormous bulkhead gates, carved and painted with a sefirot tree. Characters who know Hebrew can instantly see that most of the text is fake; gibberish, written backwards, grammatically mangled, and in one spot clearly a recipe for tomato soup someone snuck in as a joke. The guy who bankrolled this facility doesn't know jack shit about kabbalah.


An Otherworld - Antilla and the Satanazes

An island chain in the north Atlantic, originally settled by Visigoths fleeing the Umayyad conquest of Hispania sometime between 714 and 732. The settlements, woefully underequipped, ill-prepared, and cut off from the outside world after burning their ships on arrival, suffered tremendously from famine and sickness and suffered near-total colony collapse within the first decade on the islands. Still, a very small population survived until contact was re-established in 1447.


The day Tulu rose from the sea, nothing much happened. Splitting headaches for everyone or nearly everyone on the planet is unprecedented, and there were a good number of accidents and deaths by aggravated pre-existing conditions, but on the whole it was within the norms of the 21st century in regards to ill-omened events. Fucked with some satellites. But it was all over in 20 minutes, and after that there was nothing. The stars were right, and it was time to leave. A world such as ours is no place for a priest of the Outer Gods. The violence in the aftermath was the result of the same factors that it always is; fear, greed, pent-up aggression looking for an excuse. But that died down soon enough, and then the world settled back into its newest of normalcies.


A message received by a Delta Green command cell:

[three green triangles]



Wednesday, June 5, 2024

A Week in Ireland

I recently spent a very enjoyable week's vacation in Ireland: me being me, I keep a running list of notes on my phone of assorted thoughts and observations, which I have expanded in editing but have kept in mostly the same order.

"The perfect cat pic doesn't exi-"

Phase 1: Cork

We saw exactly two cats the entire week, both of them in Cork and one pictured above. She was hanging out around a bike repair shop meowing for attention from pedestrians. (the picture is perfect, isn’t it?) The other one was a Siamese on a leash. 


Irish political signs are the candidate’s face, name, party and maybe a blurb. All except for the reactionaries who just have the fearmongering slogan and a vague “The Irish People” on it.

Sausages with crispy skin are a gift from the gods themselves.


While it was probably because we stuck to city center, Cork is remarkably clean and uncrowded. The cavalier attitude to street crossing is mostly because there just aren’t that many vehicles about, which is nice. Still an unfortunate number of derelict buildings with a lot of graffiti, which was occasionally about the dereliction)


Everything is god-damn green. Like you may think people exaggerate the green-ness of Ireland: they are not.


There's a bat cave!

Visiting Blarney Castle was fun, we were able to get there by taxi out of the Cork and it is just so, so nice to be able to get out of a major city and have the whole thing take maybe 20 minutes including being stuck in traffic.


We got stuck in line for a bit on the way up top (someone had a fall, apparently - not off the castle) Being ruins, there’s not a whole lot in the castle itself besides tourists and people carving their names in the earl’s bedroom, but it is still a fun thing to visit. The dungeons were closed to tourists because they are a roosting spot for endangered bats, which is probably the best reason for dungeons to be closed off.


The real treat are the castle grounds, though, which have some nice walking trails and gardens.


I noticed, overall, a lot fewer pride flags (they were still present) and a lot more Palestinian ones.


Number of pizza chains named after derogatory exonyms of Native American nations: 2. I think they were variants under the same parent company, the storefronts were identical besides the name.


Pictured: a couple of nice asses at Blarney Castle grounds


Sweet potato and mushroom savory pie at the English Market was one of the best choices we made. America’s unwillingness to adopt savory pies into the national cuisine is a food crime, it is impossible to feel bad if you have a good savory pie.


Fun business names in Cork: Abra Kebabra, Fred Zeppelin’s, Pizza Daddy


An image that stuck with me: Teenagers malingering near the old belltower of the Red Abbey, with a thunderstorm coming in, listening to Tom Jones’ “It’s Not Unusual”.


Always found myself double-guessing, more than usual, if I should walk on the left or right side with oncoming pedestrians. 


Pubs close the kitchens pretty early. However, the doner kebab place is open until 3, which solves that problem.


d10 Cork city center businesses:

  • Pub
  • Non-pub food place
  • Turkish barber
  • Non-Turkish barber / salon
  • Gambling parlor
  • Cell phone repair & secondhand store
  • Tattooist
  • Pharmacy
  • Solicitor
  • Other


It’s light outside till 9:30, which really threw me off, and which //really// threw me off on cloudy days when the light is basically the same from mid afternoon till sundown and it’s very difficult to tell the time.


Bathroom in McDonald’s: large and gross and bad; bathroom in the 7 table cash-only cafe that had just enough room to stand in: fucking spotless.


Graffiti tagger SWFTY certainly gets around


Our original bus to Kinsale just completely skipped our stop by inexplicably turning one intersection before us, but the next one was fine.


Again, I cannot overstate how green everything is. You want to start believing in old and nameless gods sleeping under the hills, go take a bus through the Irish countryside.


Kinsale was very nice, we managed to visit right in the middle of a craft fair and farmer’s market. We were able to do a very nice walk along the coastal road outside of Kinsale. Visited the beach for a little bit. Saw two dogs having a blast running around, and two women trying unsuccessfully to hype themselves up for the cold water.


Pictured: a little guy

This little guy was the only souvenir I bought. Couldn’t leave a little guy of this quality left behind.


Dogs are very well behaved here. We only really saw one or two that even barked at people or got excited.


Annoying high schoolers at the bus stop with little sidewalk poppers / snappers


Hit my head twice at Blarney castle and twice on the bus both to and from Kinsale.


Chocolate whiskey and brown bread ice cream from Murphy’s. Had a good chat with the two staff - walked into a convo about how all the staff are clones, partner says “not the weirdest conversation I have walked in on” and then uses my DMing as an example. (She’s right, of course, I have said some bizarre shit)


Seeing a Papa John’s in Cork threw me for a loop.


Stonewell Cider is local to the Cork area; very dry and very recommended if you like dry ciders. Had it at a pub that hosted a free comedy night every Wednesday (premise being that it was where the comedians would test out new jokes for their paid shows. The paper towels in the bathroom were blue.


It’s amazing how long a day feels when you aren’t waiting for it to end. The old summer camp adage of “days last forever, weeks go by in a flash” is still very true.


While I am envious of the work-life balance on display, it does throw a wrench into things if you need to get food or something from the pharmacy early in the morning or during the evening.

Phase 2: Dublin

We didn’t see billboards until actually riding into Dublin - it was a wild experience to be on a bus for three hours and realize that "wait, there were like no billboards on the highway, that's weird and also extremely nice."


Yellow construction cranes like giants on the city horizon


The crosswalk signals sound like Hydrogen by mo|on and I kept waiting for the pitch to spike.


Asian nun with glasses wearing black windbreaker.


Chester Beatty Museum had exhibitions on bookmaking and world religions. Both very nice exhibits, though the latter was disappointingly light on Judaism. Some truly gorgeous art on display (and free entry!) Good gift shop too.


Munch Diddly’s candy superstore (has a pink and yellow monkey mascot)


Homeless folks with pup tents in the area around Trinity college.


Pour one out for the absolute champ staffer at O’Riordan’s who was able to pantomime us to the upstairs bar (the music was way too loud downstairs)


Sometimes a trashy tourist bar is what you need.


While out drinking, they were showing professional darts, which gets an award for “most inexplicable highlight”: there were cheerleaders, professional wrestler entrances, the whole shebang. We were enraptured. Looked up the rules on our phones and everything. The guy in the green shirt was the most po-faced human I have ever seen, that man was FOCUSED.

(Professional darts rules summary: players start with 401 points, and subtract what they score. They have to hit 0 exactly to win the round.)

With a couple pints in you, it is extremely investing, because it moves fast and is usually an extremely close competition. Very tense. 


Wake up new hex map just dropped


Orchard Thieves cider is a cavity waiting to happen. Tastes like a liquid Jolly Rancher.


Country Roads is apparently a smash hit in the tourist bars, we heard it in multiple places.


Time to Wonderwall: four days


A pub in Temple Bar loudly singing “What’s Going On” as we walk past


Very good donuts at the train station. Can’t remember the name of the place, but they were real good dessert donuts.


The train has little name displays for reserved seats, which was nice and convenient.


Kilkenny Castle is on the entirely different end of the spectrum from Blarney, though it has similarly good walking paths around the grounds. The castle itself is in much better shape and has been converted into more of a museum. The self-guided tour was very nice. Also hosts the Ros Tapestry, which is some incredibly embroidery work by volunteers over 20+ years.


Friendly bulldog on the castle grounds, just having a wonderful day.


Can recommend the Medieval Mile Museum in Kilkenny, which is inside a refurbished medieval church. The self-guided audio-tour is nice, focuses on things excavated from beneath the church or in the surrounding town.

This might be my favorite

The highlight of the MMM is this tombstone right here - for reasons unknown (probably they didn’t like the guy), this monk’s grave slab was cracked and chucked in the river, where it landed in the muck face-down, preserving the surface carving for 600+ years. I can’t get over how much it looks like a modern cartoon, which then gets me thinking about how many other pieces were of a similar style and we just don’t know about them.


The reactionary candidate in Kilkenny looks AI generated. Decanted from a vat, squeezed out of a tube. Barely looks old enough to drink.


“I’m never wrong, I’m just slightly unright” - overheard while walking around Kilkenny.


The Black Chapel turns 800 next year, which is just wild to think about.


I'm telling you something is down there.

This floating bird hutch on the pond at Kilkenny  castle grounds looks like a perfect dungeon entrance. We sat on a bench and watched the little grebes for a while, it was very relaxing.

(Little grebes are like ducks, but not actually ducks, and they are very small and very cute)


Returning from Kilkenny was less enjoyable than getting there or being there, starting with issues with the ticket machine, a total lack of charging locations at the station, and the kid on the train who kept playing  with some god damn toy that kept going  //waoh waoh woah wah-ha-ha!//


The sounds of Dublin: drunken German (?) tourist singing “Zombie”  very off key.


We managed to, entirely by accident, get a hotel very close to the National Gallery and Natural History Museum, which were right across from the International Dublin Literature Festival.


We had perfect weather on our last full day, to cap off a week of anomalously good weather. However this was marred by the fact that we somehow ended up in the section of Dublin that did not have a single cafe open on a Saturday morning before 930/10.


The National Gallery was fantastic - admission is free, but we paid admission for the special “Turning Heads” exhibition, which was all about the tronies (headshot portraits) of the Dutch masters. Some absolutely stunning work on those. And just fascinating in general because of how they were used as reference work, practice pieces, or to show off (and boy did some of these guys like to show off how well they could paint hair)


There was also an exhibition of the An Tur Gloine stained glass collective, which was cool, and a visiting exhibit containing two Vermeers (one of which has a hometown connection via the Frick Collection. I suppose I should start keeping track, I have seen 3/34 Vermeers.


After a while all the paintings and names and accumulated art history were too much for our brains, so we contented ourselves by pointing out every time there was a cat or dog.


Number of paintings where Venus is lounging and Cupid is driving a foot into her crotch: 2


After the Gallery we visited the book fair, at which I bought no books (having already bought 3 at this time) but thank all gods above and below had food vendors. We got Szechuan pork dumplings and they were great.


Magpie feathers have a sort of blue holographic effect to them. They are also utterly fearless and I would not want to get in a fight with one.


The beach at Kinsale


The National Museum of Natural History is not called the 'Dead Zoo' for nothing - it is essentially a single room filled with taxidermy, which has been deliberately kept in as close a state to when it opened in the late 1800s as possible. The Carnegie it is not. But it is free, and it does have neat little glass models of sea slugs and a bunch of preserved fish with goofy-ass googly eyes. The bramble shark in particular is just having a great day


Public park quality in Dublin is overall really high. Though one of them had so many birds that I would advise going anywhere else for your picnic lunch.


Gollum’s Precious designer jewelry


My partner wanted to do a proper fancy afternoon tea, which we had at the Silk Road Cafe in Dublin castle. Wonderful stuff, as you no doubt can see above.


Jehova’s Witnesses spotted outside Dublin castle, looking just as gormless and intrusive as they always do.


Walking back to the hotel on Friday had us crossing the paths of several very loud bachelorette parties on pedal tour mobiles.


Getting our bus back to the airport ran into issues, but thankfully we were able to catch a taxi and get there in good time.


Dublin airport straight up has the Spongebob perfume department gag after you pass through security.


All hail Mr. Tayto


I had actually repressedthe memory of a layover in O’Hare a decade ago when returning from my college trip to Rome. There was a creeping sense of deja vu and then I realized “holy //shit// I am sitting in the same fucking chair Jesus Christ this is the same god-damn chair I am retracing my exact steps”.


Books Purchased

  • Mort (Terry Pratchett) - now with a fancy hardcover!
  • Collins Easy Learning Irish Grammar - I warned people that I would, and I went and did.
  • The Complete Poems of Enheduana, the World’s First Author (Sophus Helle) - Saw this in the Beatty Museum gift shop and come on, I couldn’t not buy it. Reading it now, it is excellent, expect a follow-up post.

I am a parody of myself at this point.

Food Reviews

  • Badger and Dodo (Cork) - We had time to kill for the hotel to open up check in, so we went and got ourselves some nice hot sandwiches and tea. Good stuff.
  • Cafe Nero (Cork) - Didn’t realize this was a franchise when we went, but hot damn was that croissant I had good.
  • Perry Street Market Cafe (Cork) - A bit fancier than a normal breakfast place, but extremely tasty.
  • The Pie Guys (Cork) - ACQUIRE SAVORY PIE.
  • Spresso (Cork) - Unassuming breakfast place, but nice. Black / white pudding has such a weird texture, it’s hard to describe.
  • Istanbul Kebab (Cork) - You want doner kebab, you’re gonna get some fucking doner kebab. Enormous portions, absolutely delicious.
  • Kitty O’Se (Kinsale) - Overpriced, mediocre, touristy. Spent 20 euros on some bland fish and chips and we should have gotten better stuff down the road from the food trucks or at the farmer’s market.
  • Murphy’s (Cork, Dublin) - Ice cream chain, no frills, very tasty. The one in Cork, we walked in to Employee A telling Employee B how he tells people that “yeah, Murphy’s just grows us all in vats”.
  • Tara’s Tea House (Cork) - I have encountered God, and it is a TTH scone with strawberry compote.
  • Silk Road Cafe (Dublin) - If you are feeling fancy and want to take someone out on a date, go for the afternoon tea. Or just go normally and get the curry chicken. It’s in the same building as the Beatty Museum.
  • As One (Dublin) -  Fucking fantastic hash up with chorizo and dippy egg.
  • Black Cat Cafe (Kilkenny) - Had a very nice turkey sandwich here.
  • O’Riordan’s (Dublin) - It’s a touristy place on Temple Bar, you know what you’re in for. But we got drunk and watched darts and had a good time.

And probably some other places I have forgotten, plus the dumpling guy whose truck name I have sadly forgotten.

In-Flight Movie Reviews

  • Fury Road - Surprising no-one, movie remains incredibly fucking good.
  • John Wick - All I could think was how kickass Monkey Man is, and how much I would rather be watching that. It is a surprisingly lifeless, tensionsless, uninteresting movie.
  • A League of Their Own - Despite my father’s deep and abiding love of baseball, I had not watched this one before. Great film, very funny, has aged pretty well in most respects. Marla’s scene in the dance hall could have been terrible but actually turns out legitimately funny because the joke isn’t “look at the autistic-coded character making a fool of herself”, it’s “this absurd thing is happening and it all works out because she finds a guy who thinks she’s the bee’s knees.”
  • This one nature documentary about pliosaurs - David Attenborough is 98 years old. I was going to make a joke but god damn, that’s just impressive. They got a giant pliosaur skull out of a cliff face, that was cool.
  • The Mandalorian, episodes 1-3 - As the first time around, I appreciate that the Mando isn’t an untouchable badass, he just kinda eats shit in a lot of fights. It’s a good way to deflate the typical Mandalorian aggrandizement (which I typical dislike)

Heading back to Pittsburgh

Final Thoughts

Had a great time. Ireland is very laid back (well, outside of Dublin, but Dublin’s business is not evenly distributed), and it’s the kind of place where if you like going out walking you’ll always find something to do. We lucked out (immensely) and had more sun than rain when we were there, had only minor transit issues, and overall got along without a hitch.

Green / 10, would go again

Friday, May 17, 2024

Some Thoughts About Xenolanguage and "Story of Your Life"

A while ago (timely as ever), I got to hang out with Layla and play a session of Xenolanguage. Here are some of my thoughts on the matter, in no particular order. (Her thoughts are over here)

Xenolanguage is a roleplaying game where you take on the roles of the research team sent to investigate the Mysterious Alien Vessel. It's Arrival the storygame. You make your characters, set up your relationships, and go around the table step by step drawing prompts from the deck and playing through the various encounters.

It's Arrival: the Game. It couldn't pretend to be anything else if it tried.

It's not a puzzle game, that should definitely be said up front. I didn't know what I was getting into with this besides the pitch, but I had thought that there would be some sort of puzzle element or decipherment going on: this is not the case at all. There's no meaning to the symbols for you to discover; what you get instead is some prompts to guide players towards "what do you feel that this symbol is?"

This was fine for a while, but by the end of the (~3.5 hour) game, it felt pretty hollow. Since you're stuck on the path set by the pre-ordained plot, there's only so much forward action you can take, and when on reaching the end it felt like it didn't really matter. My character ended up spearheading a theory that the alien ship was a damaged probe spitting back junk data without any meaning to it at all, because that's kinda how I felt towards the end of the game. Maybe that means it succeeded, I don't know.

Granted, I have a pretty particular way of engaging with these topics (hard science fan with enough knowledge of linguistics to be dangerous), but I do feel that playing things so close to Arrival (in all ways except the actual linguistics) hurt it overall. It's a game about aliens and language, technically, but it is really more of a game about 4-5 characters and their relationships: the aliens are entirely incidental.

It was still fun to hang out with friends, and it certainly worked well enough as a game about characters and their relationships for the most part, but I left it feeling "that was a nice afternoon" rather than "that was a good game."


"Story of Your Life" is a short story by Ted Chiang, which I just finished reading (several months after writing the above segment). It is, as one likely already knows, the progenitor of Arrival, and thus the ancestor of Xenolanguage.


It seems appropriate that a story about language has got translation issues.

Villanueve did a great job with the visuals, and I prefer them in the film to the story. The story is better at delivering its themes, but ran into the issue of the delivery method not playing well with film as a medium. I am saddened that my copy of "Story of Your Life and Others" has ARRIVAL on the front cover, with your obligatory "now a major motion picture" slapped on it.

Now for whatever flubs the film committed in adaptation, Xenolanguage looks a whole lot worse in comparison to the segment I wrote a month and a half ago. It sacrificed having an actual central idea (the story is centered on figuring out how the Heptopods interpret time, and what that means for the character who can write in their language, interlaced with what that means for the narrator and her relationship with her daughter) for just evoking the aesthetics of the movie, and the end result is just empty. Not a revelation, I called it hollow just up the page, but in light of what was lost in the double translation of story to film to game it feels vaguely insulting and somewhat cynical. Loaded phrase but that's what my gut is calling it. Like the insides were scooped out, the chassis was put in a (much too big) box, and there wasn't any new substance added to the inside or out. Everything to make it work is put on the players, and maybe that works for the dedicated improv crowd, but in the practical world it needs more scaffolding than we got.

Saturday, May 11, 2024

Bookpost 16

Previous installments found here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 , 7, 8, 9, 10 , 11, 12, 13, 14, 15

While the writing might slow, the reading never does.


And What Can We Offer You Tonight, Premee Mohammed

A magical realism novella about a sex worker in a fucked up future, a co-worker who comes back from death without explanation, and taking revenge against the killer. The prose is good when it hits its stride, but it has a major issue with focus: our POV character is primarily an observer of events, and so we end up with a lot of her musings while the actual revenge plot happens offscreen. Of the two climaxes of action in the book, one is off screen and both are confusingly written, where I really had very little idea of what was going on. Ultimately, very little lasting effect.

These Prisoning Hills, Christopher Rowe

A novella about people dealing with an AI that carved out a fiefdom in Tennessee and turned it into the Zone. Decent character work and interesting setting building let down by the fact that it is paced like the opening 130 pages of a much longer novel: it just stops with an extremely abrupt and overly-convenient ending for a plot that had barely started, satisfying nothing.

All the Horses of Iceland, Sarah Tolmie

A charming novella about an Icelandic man traveling to central Asia in a merchant caravan and bringing home some horses. Features Jews in Khazaria, novel solutions to ghost problems, and some very good jokes. Listened to the audiobook for this one, very good narrator. It's two hours and on Libby, no reason to not give it a listen.

A Stranger in Olondria, Sofia Samatar

One of the best fantasy books I have read in ages. Samatar writes with a care for language and a richness of prose that flows gracefully despite its density, making 300 pages feel like it contains more in less space. You know it's good because the review is short, and that is doing the book an extreme disservice. It's great. It's wonderful in that it evokes wonder, in a way that the Orientalists of long ago grasped at but could not extricate from their dreams of empire - here presented such that the narrator main character is clearly genuine in his love for fall-off places, but he's also bought into the lies woven about them. It's so, so good. I haven't even gotten to the ghost yet, there's a ghost in it and that entire plot gets wrapped up in the politics of religion and just go read the dang book.

Exordia, Seth Dickenson

DNF 174/529

In what seems to be a recurring theme in books I read, and extremely promising opening act is followed by a drastic tone and subject switch that abandons the positives of what came before for a renewed focus on weaker content that is unfortunately the rest of the book.

The opening is rock-solid - a breakneck whirlwind of bonkers high-concept sci-fi of the sort where I feel like I can pinpoint specifically what SCP wiki tale series he's got bookmarked (If Dickenson hasn't actually read There is No Antimemetics Division or Admonition, he certainly writes like he has.) It has no brakes, it throws out so much bonkers bullshit on so many plates and just keeps them spinning. Hell it pulls in narratavistics and that is an extremely hard sell for me. It's unrelentingly weird and bitter and makes itself exceedingly clear by the end of page one that the narrative voice is a particular kind of internet-hardened millennial.

And then Act 2 introduces fucking Erik and god damn Clayton. The whole thing shifts to an alphabet soup of US military garbage plate, and this is where it loses me. New characters are introduced en masse, their flashbacks interrupting any forward momentum. On page 50 there is a crashed alien machine that we know nothing about; on page 150 we still know nothing about it. The effective prose and shots of Junji Ito body horror are overwhelmed by fucking Clayton and god damn Erik, who are the most toxic codependent shitheads ever to wear spooksquad badges in the name of Uncle Sam. They are insufferable. The narration will jump between their POVs mid-paragraph, to the point where multiple times I could not actually tell where the characters were in relation to each other, and once I thought it was pulling a Fight Club on me. And then there's fucking Clayton, a US intelligence agent who has the absolute fucking gall to whine about how hard it is to make all these hard decisions he is just forced to make. He gets three fakeout deaths in the space of 20 or so pages. Dude survives a plane crash, a small nuke, and someone deciding to not shoot him in the head, which borders on "letting Kylo Ren live at the end of The Last Jedi" levels of garbage life choices.

The book uses an alien invasion to allegorize US interference in the Middle East and a set-up for loads of trolley problems, which would work a lot better if I didn't have to listen to Clayton whining about it. The other characters give him shit for it, but you still have to sit through it.

Bonus points for name-dropping Interstellar Pig, though.

There is No Antimemetics Division, qntm

Long-overdue, this one: TINAD is one of the big-name SCP story series (now including a minifilm adaptation), and, fashionably late to the party as always, I have finally read it.

If you have a basic knowledge of the gestalt setting of the SCP Wiki: go read this, it's good.

If you do not have that knowledge but are willing to learn as you go: still probably go read it.

The book itself is a collection of short stories strung together into a relatively cohesive storyline following Marion Wheeler, director of the Foundation's Antimemetics Division - an antimeme is anything that cannot be perceived or remembered without the use of drugs that rewire your brain and force you to remember. This results in a terrible patchwork where the Antimemetics Division is only occasionally even remembered to exist by their own parent organization, and deals with very important stuff that no one knows they've forgotten.

It is an excellent example of amateur web fiction; Meet it where it is, and you will probably have a decent time. The ebook is cheap and the same text is available for free on the wiki itself.

Gotta love that creative commons.

The Prince of Milk, Exurb1a

DNF 220/339

Picked this one up alongside its compatriot The Fifth Science because of the novelty of finding them at random in my local used bookstore. There are fake pullquotes on the back from the author's mother, wherein she disparages the books. That alone got me to buy them, and thus far Prince of Milk is Fine, but not fine enough to go all the way through.

Prose is decent, there are some good jokes and turns of phrase in there, but the extremely short chapters (and related swift pacing) run into issues with the sheer number of characters (with no dramatis personae) and the plot (lots of wheel spinning). By the midpoint, when the wild high concept stuff is supposed to really start kicking in, we're still stuck with mostly mundane English country village drama and there are entirely too many characters to remember when we're jumping around too fast. Some of them get decent characterization but there's no time to settle with it before you're launched to the next chapter and have to remember who these new people are again.

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Dan Plays Video Games, Part 3

Previous episodes: 1, 2


This game is fucking dangerous. Absolute chronophage. One-more-run taken to the extreme. Makes brain chemicals go brrrrrrr. Cheapest casino you'll ever visit. Will devour your life.

Symphony of War: The Nephilim Saga

A Fire Emblem-like that is all around decent. Not winning any awards for uniqueness and the story is eye-rollingly, but the gameplay is solid and it does what it needs to do. You can turn off ironman mode mid-campaign, which is a blessing.

Limbus Company

The idea of a bunch of certified freaks and weirdos named after characters from classic literature riding around in a demon bus in a post-apocalyptic city doing missions for an inscrutable patron that considers them disposable is a great setup, wasted on a gatcha game that somehow has a battle system that is simultaneously one of the most mind-deadeningly complex things I have ever seen while also being so simple it barely counts as a battle system.

20 minutes Till Dawn

A Vampire Survivors-like. It was okay.

Chants of Sennar

it can be a bit obtuse at times, but on the whole I enjoyed it a great deal. Great aesthetic. Loved the language puzzles, obviously. They're not super in-depth, but I think they're handled better than Heaven's Vault did (where I was often frustrated, especially later on, of knowing what a word should be and not being presented with the correct solution in my limited pool of options for any given puzzle.) A very chill game.

Path of Achra

For a game that is mostly choosing skills and pressing a single button, there is a certain meditative quality to PoA that is very difficult to adequately describe. It is a game of immaculate Vibes that are nothing like Qud but I keep thinking about Qud.


Have not played much of this, but picked it up on recommendation from Reycevick. Oozes style.

The Dungeon Beneath

Fun little roguelite autobattler. Bonus points for using an asset pack to one's advantage.

Blasphemous 2: Blaspheme harder.

It's more Blasphemous, the fuck else do you want. Game good, then they added more good to the game. not too much new stuff to make it seem like dead weight, not too little to make you think like it didn't do enough. The ideal iterative sequel. Did not beat it, got to the final boss, got tired of doing the first phase only to get bodied in the second. More games need a mercy mode for multi-stage boss fights.


It's not as OSR as Roadwarden or Fear and Hunger, but it is a great game if you want some lightweight fantasy tactics and some custom glorbos to run through some campaigns with. Honestly it is probably the best at simulating the idea of a tabletop campaign into videogame form: a campaign is three to five missions long, and takes maybe an hour to complete each mission. There's an overarching plot and side missions you can stumble into. It's not a "do anything" type of rpg campaign, but it is very good at establishing the mood and tone of one.

Also it has a solid modding community attached: I haven't tried any of those out yet, but it's always great to see.

Forgotten City

Been meaning to get back to this one, only played a small bit of it. Yet another game I wish my dad were alive to see.


I like soulslikes, I like Metroidvanias, this one never really clicked for me. Fine enough, but just slow enough that I didn't get much further past the first boss. Also based entirely around parrying.

Fermi Paradox

There's not much mechanical complexity underneath the hood, but it allows for some very fun sci-fi stories, and you get attached to your little civilizations. I had alien velociraptors who were convinced that they had angered the monkey gods (they were beset by disasters constantly), and sapient T-rexes that destroyed their homeworld, fled to another system, and then destroyed that one too.

Book of Hours

I didn't realize that Alexis Kennedy was behind this game when I bought it, and the further I looked into the matter the more mudlike it became. Regardless of his troublesome behavior, he is an extremely talented writer for a niche I desperately want a game to play in, and a terrible game designer.

Book of Hours is "hurry up and wait" writ large - all the sins of Fallen London, Sunless Sea, Cultist Simulator increased. You have a limited number of actions per day. Fine. There is no "skip to tomorrow morning" button, you have to hit fast forward and wait. And this is for a game where you learn EVERYTHING by trial and error, which means you are going to be hammering on that fast forward button and waiting a whole fucking lot, after wasting your time and accomplishing nothing.

I wish that either it was a better game, or that someone else was able to scratch the itch.


You are a robot. Go on a quest! A very well-made roguelike FPS. Plays a little like Doom 2016 with aesthetics a little like Borderlands. Decent but not incredible depth, shines primarily in the moment-to-moment moving and shooting gameplay. It just Feels Good (TM).


I cannot believe this game is free. Excellent, excellent, excellent RPG. Unfortunately, I have played very little of it, because the Steam Page is lying about the Steam Deck compatibility. This is not compatible in the slightest.

Brutal Orchestra

This is a weirdass game for absolute sickos like me. Difficult to describe. Purgatorial roguelike RPG where you're all playing a bunch of freaks. Vibe feels similar to Isaac in a way, just unapologetically weird and gross but in a different way from how Isaac is weird and gross.

Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood

A game where you play as an exiled immortal space witch who summons a demon from beyond time-space and get to make your own tarot cards. With me so far? Sounds great, right?

I have never played a game that hit a brick wall this hard before. A nice, easy, enjoyable 55 miles an hour to dead 0 and a cloud of shattered glass and body parts in the space of a single sentence.

It's not anything special, really - a character drops a mention that only women can become witches. But it happens to be used in a setting where being a witch means you're immortal, spiritually potent, and immeasurably powerful. And it is used here in a specific narrative context where witchdom is correlated with a state of self-actualization - the entire scene is about a transwoman coming out to herself (and the scene leading up to this is very well-written!), and the line is dropped as sort of a "you see, if you've ascended you are definitely a woman, because men can't ascend" type of deal. It's meant to be reassuring.

I thought this was a mistake, at first. A blip in the script that didn't get caught on the editing pass. Turns out it was intentional, as per the dev response to this here Steam thread, to which I say "that's a crock of bullshit."

It's one thing if you're playing up this coven of space witches as hidebound and oppressive (this is, in fact, the main brunt of the plot), but to go and make it a cosmological constant of the setting and double down on it? That's a choice. There are Witches, but there are no Wizards. You cannot ever become a Wizard. Wizardry is entirely off the table. If you're a cis man, a transman, or a masc-presenting nonbinary, you're just fucked. You are ontologically incapable, within the universe of this game, of achieving spiritual ascendance or any measure of magical power and by extension the you are barred eternally from the self-actualization represented by that magic.

Man it's so nice down here under this bus, wonderful bit of asphalt, you should come visit some time.

And I wouldn't have even thought of it if they hadn't brought it up! Remove the line, and the empty space can be filled with "oh yeah, of course there are space wizards out there, pondering their orbs, but this story isn't about them so they don't show up." Even the extremely easy and well-in-line-with-the-plot out of offering the Peppermancer "hey you can join the Wizards if you'd like" and getting the response of "no, I think I'd rather be a Witch" was not taken.

If someone wrote a game with the exact same situation and the genders were reversed, they would rightly be pilloried for it. It's one thing to say "this magical occupation is gender-restricted due to loads of social and cultural factors that have built up over time, here's a story about breaking through those restrictions" - Pratchett solved this problem how many decades ago now? Equal Rites was '87, so...37 years ago.

God what is it with these tarot-based video games I keep having shit luck with? First Book of Hours and now this.

Monday, February 26, 2024

Fear and Hunger 2: The First 45 Deaths (Plus Game Design Notes)

I picked up Fear and Hunger 2 back in December, and I've been keeping a running tally of all the horrible ways my characters have died since then. A couple months and thirty some hours later, I've got enough for a good post out of it.

So as to not just have a table of random information that only makes sense with the context of having played the game, there will be some notes about game design at the end.

Entries are listed as Death # - Date - Character - Cause of Death

  1. 12/16 - Levi - Infected wound from a Moonscorched
  2. 12/17 - Levi - Smashed in the head with a pesticide canister.
  3. 12/17 - Marina - Smashed in the head with a pesticide canister, again.
  4. 12/17 - Levi - Tackled into submission by armless villager after sleeping in the wrong bed, then fed to pigs.
  5. 12/18 - Levi - Shot by sniper outside of town.
  6. 12/18 - Marina - tackled to death by the Woodsman after getting freed from the well.
  7. 12/20 - Abella - Tackled to death by armless villager.
  8. 12/22 - Marina - Shot by rifleman, only had one arm left anyway.
  9. 12/22 - Levi - Gummed to death by headless wolf
  10. 12/23 - Marina - Killed by Father Oscar's //hurting// spell, which crashes the game if it kills you.
  11. 12/23 - Levi - I am not kidding, that motherfucker can crash your game with the amount of //Hurting// he can deal.
  12. 12/23 - Levi - I told the mayor that the sausage looked like a penis and he stuck a meat cleaver in me.
  13. 12/25 - Levi - Starved to death in latrine pit.
  14. 12/25 - Marina - Stabbed by manic villager.
  15. 12/25 - O'saa - Brutalized by an ogre in a flashback during character creation.
  16. 12/27 - O'saa - Choked to death on pesticide fumes.
  17. 12/27 - O'saa - Stabbed by Henryk.
  18. 12/27 - O'saa - Shot in the head by Needles.
  19. 12/28 - O'saa - Again with the pesticide.
  20. 12/28 - O'saa - Grappled into submission by Fr. Oscar, de-legged, strung up on a ritual crucifix, rescued, crawl away only to get killed by the Vile and his pesticide again.
  21. 12/31 - O'saa - Bitten by rats, which were summoned by a Rat Hag
  22. 1/1 - Marcoh - Pesticide gas, again.
  23. 1/6 - Marcoh - Needles fucked me up, again.
  24. 1/9 - Marcoh - Killed by //Hurting//, via Dysmorphia.
  25. 1/11 - Marcoh - Punched myself to death after getting mind-controlled by a Crimson Father.
  26. 1/11 - Marcoh - Shot by an Elite Trooper
  27. 1/12 - O'saa - Shot and power-sawed by a mob.
  28. 1/14 - Marcoh - Dysmorphia and //Hurting//. Should probably mention that there's a monster named Dysmorphia.
  29. 1/14 - O'saa - Machete'd by a Death Mask.
  30. 1/15 - Marina - Tackled to death by Karin.
  31. 1/15 - Marina - Clawed to death by a Moonscorched.
  32. 1/15 - Marcoh - Bludgeoned with a meat mallet.
  33. 1/15 - Marcoh - Gutted by the knife of a Crimson Father, right after I shot Marina in the head due to mind control.
  34. 1/18 - Marina - Impaled in trap pit while running away from an Owl Cultist in the woods.
  35. 1/18 - O'saa - Police brutality.
  36. 1/18 - Marina - Landmine.
  37. 1/19 - Karin - Machete'd by Death Mask, but not before he cut off both my arms.
  38. 1/21 - Karin - A great run ended by a Death Mask machete. Got too greedy.
  39. 1/22 - Karin - Decapitated by owl spirit.
  40. 1/23 - Abella - Gnawed by a Crimson Father.
  41. 1/23 - Karin - Shot by a mob.
  42. 2/2 - O'saa - Slapped to death by a sewer monster that screamed "Choke on my balls" when it attacked.
  43. 2/4 - Marina - I thought I knew how to handle the Vile. Hubris, etc. My characters, apparently, have not built up any resistance to pesticide.
  44. 2/10 - O'saa - Impaled in a spike pit while wandering the woods at night.
  45. 2/19 - O'saa - SHOT BY A FUCKING TANK

As you can see, this game will result in a lot of character death. What this list doesn't show is the stuff in between.

I was not frustrated by any of these deaths, not even that great run with Karin at #38. The key to the entire experience is that every character death means you have learned something about the game. Even if it's just "there is a horrible monster in that building, don't go inside it" - that's useful knowledge! You explore, you take notes, you die, you reload the save, you repeat until you decide to abandon the run and start with a new character.

The items you get from barrels and chests are random, but the rest of the game isn't. The map is stable. Enemies are always in the same locations. NPCs are in the same locations at the same times on the same days. Special items will always be in the same place and with the same means of getting them. Your accrued knowledge will always be useful, and it will only ever get more useful as you gain more of it. Challenges that used to be brick walls can be taken out with good luck and good planning, totally avoided, or even entirely trivialized. You're handed a puzzle box, a mystery to unravel, and as you gain mastery of its workings in one way you can apply that knowledge along another path.

If this sounds like idealized OSR game design, you are correct. It is. This game is a masterclass on it.

Let's look at an example.

Very early in the game, you come across a locked gate that leads into the city. You're told that there are two keys, and that's generally going to be your way to go in the beginning. One of the keys is easy to find, while the other is behind a particularly nasty enemy who is well beyond anything you've fought this far in the game.

It's possible to beat the encounter with minimal losses, if you get extremely lucky, fight extremely dirty, or already have figured out some ways of getting overpowered (I have managed, in later runs, to beat him in two turns without getting hit - it is possible!)

But you're not likely to learn those strategies without a lot of trial and error. More likely you're going to explore the rest of the available areas, maybe with different characters and in doing so you'll find that:

  • If you have the lockpicking skill or a small key, you can get into the sewers and use them to bypass the gate.
  • If you have the Skin Bible of a particular god, you can unlock a shortcut through the woods that takes you directly to the city.
  • If you have a shotgun and ammo, you can just shoot the lock off.
  • If you got miraculously lucky and picked up a pair of bolt cutters in Tunnel 7, you can do the same.

And once you know those other methods, you can plan around them according to your player character, your items, and the other choices you've made in the game so far.

Now just keep multiplying that by all the other decision points to be made in the game and you get an idea of what the experience is like. Despite being 30+ hours in and close to the end of the game, there's still lots of stuff I either haven't tried or haven't discovered. While there is inevitably an end state of system mastery where there is no more to learn, it is a very long road and if you're the kind of person who likes long hikes and fucked-up sights, it will be an enjoyable one. And the difficulty itself can be surmounted both by the allowances of Eas(ier) mode, or the multiple methods by which you can absolutely break the game with relatively little effort. 



As a survival horror game, F&H contains a whole lot of scrounging in barrels and rationing out your items. You're juggling depleting bars of health, mental state, and hunger for up to four characters at a time. Beyond healing items it's a game of using what you have: no cloth for bandages? Well, if the wound is already infected, you can use the dirty toilet paper and a green herb to patch yourself up.


It's technically possible for any given character to learn any given skill. But in order to get those skills you either have to raise your affinity with a god (requiring a ritual circle and the appropriate Skin Bible, both limited resources), or you have to kill one of the other contestants in the Termina festival and absorb their souls (which unlocks their branch of the skill tree); for both methods you need soul stones, which you get by trading in the heads of defeated enemies (so long as you have a bonesaw to cut off their heads) and you need to rest in a bed (which moves the world into the next time-state).

As with the rest of the game, once you come to grips with how all these interlocking parts work you can start plotting out a path to get what you want, and that path is specific to how the game is progressing. A F&H character build is a time-sensitive hit list where you have to juggle "can I reach and recruit/kill X before they die by other means" with "are they more useful to me in this run as an ally or as their skills."


In the manner of games that actually use lore well, it is optional in F&H. It's there if you want to dig into it, and when you start digging you will keep on digging, but if you just want to play a fucked-up battle royale and vibe, that's an option too.

(The lore does have some fantastic old god / new god shenanigans going on. once again I recommend Worm Girl's overview, especially if you are interested but unlikely to play the game itself - she weaves together all the variables into a coherent, though not "canonical" throughline.)


Game good. Said it before, saying it again.

Saturday, January 27, 2024

Further Short Reviews of Delta Green Actual Plays

Following up from the previous installment.


Redacted Reports (Amended)

Apparently the end of Season 6 was one of the scripted bits, which is very disappointing: I think it was a really lame way to end a certain character's arc, and knowing it was entirely avoidable is a major let down.

I was correct in predicting a move to King in Yellow content, but Season 7 is not Impossible Landscapes, and after listening to the two prelude episodes and the first two episodes of the season I don't think this podcast can handle the way Delta Green uses Carcosa. There's been a background trend, from Season 5 onward, of getting increasingly precious about the quirky NPCs and increasingly slow to actually get to the action, directly correlated with moving further away from the prewritten Delta Green adventures, and I don't feel like that's going to mesh well with the raw helpless nihilism that Carcosa necessitates. The characters are entirely too casual and jokey-jokey about it, and that sucks all the tension out of the affair.

Also, I swear I have listened to everything, but one of the agents keeps mentioning speaking to some doctor or another about the King and I am positive that has never happened on mic.

Sorry Honey, I Have to Take This (Amended)

AI art for thumbnails, fine, it's gross and surreal and feels like it fits for Delta Green. AI NPC voices I draw the line at, get those devil computers outta here.

Get in the Trunk

I dropped out very early in episode 0, when the hosts were beside themselves with laughter at the fact that a character got their degree from Johns Hopkins University. Not anything about Johns Hopkins in particular, just the existence of the college itself and the fact that an FBI agent studied there. That such a mundane fact was treated as hilarious was a very strong omen that I would not vibe with this podcast.

Recommended for: Those who find the existence of Johns Hopkins University the funniest thing on earth.

Black Project Gaming

  • Very by the book
  • Perhaps too by the book, because they run Reverberations by the book 
  • Please do not run Reverberations by the book 
  • Minimal editing, very table honest; not always a good thing 
  • Episodes are long, pacing is slow, audio quality is low; semi-regular dead air. 
  • Players have set up intra-party conflict beforehand, which I don't find that interesting personally, but is not a downside on the whole. 
  • I did come back to this after a while away and might keep going.
  • Recommended for: "Bastard's Hours are here and I have run out of everything else."

Stories and Lies

  • Good, but not for me
  • Episodes very long, pacing very slow. 
  • Otherwise well put together. Good editing, good players, good Handler. 
  • Not much else to say. 
  • It's just too slow for me. 
  • At least they didn't run Reverberations
  • Recommended for: People who are fine with slow burns.

Mayday Plays "Doomed to Repeat"

  • The one that leans into that special DG type of fucked; the players kill civilian witnesses by the end of the second episode.
  • Pacing is extremely good, no dawdling. We are on the move and operating. 
  • Does a good job at venting the tension with either something horrible or a bit of black humor. 
  • Handler and players are very keyed in, work well together. 
  • Frame narrative of "Program is attempting to do a major clean-up / compilation project" which I like, because the Program's canon dedication to having no actionable intelligence ever annoys me. 
  • I hope Agent Merrit has a good chiropractor because he's going to throw out his back with how hard he is carrying this team (this isn't a knock against the other players or their characters, just that Merrit has thus far been 110% correct about everything) 
  • Another one with intra-cell conflict, which I am more okay with because the players are very good at the role-playing. 
  • Goes hard with the consequences to fuckups returning to bite the players in the blubber, which I appreciate. 
  • They ran Reverberations. God damn it. Killed all my enthusiasm stone dead. At least they were clearly modifying it, though I didn't get around to seeing where it was going.
  • Recommended for: People who aren't sick of Reverberations because they aren't maniacs like me who binge these shows simultaneously.



I think Reverberations is a bad adventure, and not just for the racism. In the three times it has come up it is a plodding, wheel-spinning drag where the ideal solution is for the players to do nothing at all.

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Bookpost 15

 Previous installments found here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 , 7, 8, 9, 10 , 11, 12, 13, 14


Lathe of Heaven, Ursula K. LeGuin

A book that, as I was reading it, gave me a pronounced feeling of calm for not only the day I read it, but for a day or two afterwards. LeGuin had the magic touch. Very good book, made for a very enjoyable weekend. In lieu of a review, I will just leave with a quote that has stuck with me.

"Are there really people without resentment, without hate, she wondered. People who never go cross-grained to the universe? Who recognize evil, and resist evil, and yet are utterly unaffected by it? Of course there are. Countless, the living and the dead. Those who have returned in pure compassion to the wheel, those who follow the way that cannot be followed without knowing they follow it, the sharecropper's wife in Alabama and the lama in Tibet and the entomologist in Peru and the millworker in Odessa and the greengrocer in London and the goatherd in Nigeria and the old, old man sharpening a stick by a dry streambed somewhere in Australia, and all the others. There is not one of us who has not known them. There are enough of them, enough to keep us going. Perhaps.”

Ninefox Gambit, Yoon Ha Lee

DNF 146/317

This is a weird fucking book. Only way to describe it. For a while it kept me hooked - it was so bizarrely unconcerned with explanations and so unrelentingly sociopathic that I had to keep going...for a bit. Then I put it down for a couple days and hoo boy that killed that trend stone dead.

This book is a content void. The plot has no discernible stakes, no tension - it's wheel spinning. There's a huge space battle that is neither exciting nor tense. The characters are so flat and lacking in internality that they are impossible to describe as people, and more are constantly being introduced. The setting is exceedingly loosely sketched: there's a space-fascist empire with a rigid caste system and an obsession with calendars for reasons I learned via spoilers which are the one neat idea (the word "calendar" is used to mean "civilization-scale social superstructures sustained by consensus reality that powers all the exotic technology") that does not justify the rest of the book. Nothing is explained, ever, at all, and this is a problem because the prose is so sparse that there are not nearly enough context clues to figure out what any of this shit means. So the spaceships are called moths. Okay, fine. Do they actually look like moths? You keep using the word calendar for something that is not a calendar and you're sure as shit not going to tell me what the damn spaceships look like. Spaceships that, mind you, are where the bulk of the story takes place, utterly severed from anything besides some jackboots in a few pressurized rooms. The prose is like a mouthful of flour straight from the bag. You really start to notice how words get repeated.

This book being an award darling is not surprising, merely more evidence that anyone who thinks awards mean a damn is not to be trusted.

Important: This is not a sci-fi book in anything but aesthetic. It is _aggressively_ fantasy, but not in a good or enjoyable way. It's people throwing energy blasts at each other in a featureless void for reasons we don't give a shit about.

Addendum: I also now, somehow, have two nickels in the "award darling sci-fi novel about a woman in a government job and no other meaningful defining traits in her life with the mind-imprint of an old curmudgeonly political maverick stuck in her brain through whose aid she will learn that empire is bad, actually" jar, which is fucking bizarre that it has happened twice.


Some Desperate Glory, Emily Tesh

Banger. Absolute banger. Aces. A+. Let's fucking GO. White-knuckle grip on the covers. Tesh is able to take what would normally be an extremely hum-drum premise (A young woman in a dystopian authoritarian society discovers that Things Are Bad) and makes it sing through some truly excellent character building and a commitment to never letting up on the gas. it never lingers longer than it ought, and it knows when to breathe. The tension at points got so high I had to take a proper break to come down from it all. At every point where other works might soften the blow or take the easy, this book goes for the gut punch. There's moral complexity! We get to see the horrible sausage of space fascism get made, and we get to see it through the eyes of Valkyr the true believer as the system she served takes off the mask and reveals she had been an object to be exploited in the eyes of command all along.

I can't overstate the quality of the character work: Valkyr gets most of it, but even minor characters get fleshed out so that I can remember and identify them easily. Valkyr's arc is immensely satisfying to experience as she goes from propaganda-spouting stooge through the long road of deradicalization and into becoming a more complete and better person.

My one minor complaint is that the ending is weak, and the book would have been better with the last 2 pages or so chopped off. But the mild letdown of "this isn't as good as the 300+ pages of solid gold that preceded it" is barely worth mentioning. Go read it.

Knights of Sidonia, vol 1-6, Tsutomu Nihei

It's got some great sci-fi concepts that it plays around with (ex: sudden acceleration changes on a giant colony ship kill thousands of unlucky people) but the characters are extremely flat, the plot just kinda there, and the action often difficult to follow. I liked BLAME! more, even when it had less in terms of characterization and plot.


The Songs of Distant Earth, Arthur C. Clarke

A book that has been rendered more or less obsolete by the novels that followed in its footsteps (I will limit myself to one mention of Children of Time, and use it here.) Clarke's inability to write about human beings, their culture, their relationships, or anything else involving people, is on full display here, and is somehow the focus. There are some interesting concepts here (colony ship from a destroyed solar system finds surprise colony, needs to refresh its ice shield before moving on), but there's hardly a plot to speak of. Some potential conflicts are introduced and then just...resolved neatly, or dropped entirely. There's a mutiny, but it doesn't really ever get off the ground. There are sapient sea scorpions, but nothing really happens with them.

But my god did Clarke not understand people. "This colony had no religious works in the original computers and so they have a utopia but very few swear words" is truly baffling. Not the "atheist has very inadequate idea of how religion develops, changes, or works in the lives of people" sense, that's par for the course; it's the fact that somehow this colony has one swear word, which is the name of the local volcano. Somehow people no longer piss and shit and fuck, I guess. They do fuck, in weird robotic, performative ways, but it's a step up from the absolutely bottom of barrel low expectations in that regard.


Moon of Crusted Snow, Waubesheg Rice

A story about an isolated reservation community of the Ojibwe nation in northern Canada trying to survive the winter as the rest of the world falls to an unspecified apocalypse (all the power went out, and that's all the info you're getting. Works in its favor.) The prose is straightforward, and gets the job done. There may be a few too many characters for a book without a character list, and the plot is more a meander, but in terms of realizing its core concept I think it delivers. The gut-dropping realization of just how bad things have gotten hits as hard as you would hope. 


Carrie, Stephen King

I have not struggled with a book this much in a very long time. "It's only 180 pages, you can push through, give it the old college try" I said to myself. If I hadn't, I would have quit on page 10. I don't know if the struggle was worth it.

King's raw and unfiltered stream of consciousness style is a pain - it works fine enough when you're used to it, but I found myself re-reading entire pages before I hit page 10 because I had no idea where characters were standing in relation to one another. The diegetic interludes - newspaper clippings, interviews and the like - had no formatting whatsoever to separate them from the rest of the text. If it was posted to the SCP wiki I'd leave a comment saying "Downvoted until you stick those excerpt sections in a quoteblock", which is certainly an indictment of my own hubris if it is nothing else. But nope, no quote blocks and no three center-aligned asterisks, except in two specific instances where the split between the narrative and the diegetic element took place at a page break. Bizarre.

When it falls into the groove (right around the beginning of Part 2) things are okay, but in order to get there I ended up with long stretches of reading a page or a paragraph or two and then staring out the window for reasons I can't adequately explain. I can recognize why people like it and what King is doing well, but I'm not feeling it. When King is on point, he is very on point. He's got a real good grasp of characters and their internality, but that grasp is extremely unreliable. He loves introducing new characters out of nowhere as if you had any idea who they were supposed to be. On and on.

TLDR back half was good, front half was a drag, King ain't for me.