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.