Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Random Cool Stuff #1: Antique Dice

I'm an inveterate dice collector myself, so I loved this site. Here's a cool sample:

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

New Pharaoh Publishing Release...

Pharaoh Publishing USA (my artisanal publishing house) has released My Heart It Beats the Lonely Runner, a collection of rock lyrics and drawings from William (Scott) Chaffin. It's available right here, right now! Scott has been a friend for a long time (like all the Pharaoh authors) and we've been in two formal bands and various side-projects together over the years. Our egos often clashed, but I think we've always been mutual fans and together we produced some incredible stuff. Of course, Scott is extremely prolific and this collection covers only a small sampling of his total output. With an introduction by our frequent musical collaborator Ryan Ashmore, this book is a reunion of sorts. Scott's lyrics are deeper than one might think from watching him hump amplifiers on stage, and his drawings and block prints are strong, deftly executed and somewhat brutal - just like the man himself. In a first for Pharaoh Publishing, I made back my (modest) investment in just a few hours. As I said on the Pharaoh site, that's the power of rock & roll.

Aside from a Kindle version of my dad's latest book, which will be released sometime around Christmas, the 2013 season for Pharaoh has come to a close. In 2014, I'll do more of dad's books, but beyond that, I intend to focus most of Pharaoh's efforts on the Nerd Glows On gaming imprint, with a Manifesto Ultimate Edition and Ryan Ashmore's BRAAAIINS! as well as (hopefully) my own Swords Against Satan (weird fantasy roleplaying in Elizabethan England) and Lex Ludos Simulatis, my retrocloned OGL version of that famous traditional fantasy RPG. Those last two are intensely personal projects - gifts from myself to myself - so I'll take my time on them, and refrain from setting any release dates. BRAAAIINS! is intended to be released in time for Halloween 2014.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Robert Louis Stevenson: Wargamer

Did you know Robert Louis Stevenson invented a wargame?

The first book my dad ever read to me was Stevenson's Kidnapped (even though I was too young to understand it). A favorite bedtime book of my childhood was this beautiful abridged edition of Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses. Stevenson was a part of my childhood, not to mention being instrumental in creating the kind of "normal guy goes there and back again" sort of adventure structure so common in fantasy and adventure literature, from Dorothy Gale to Alan Quartermain to John Carter.

So I was pleased to learn that Stevenson shared a strong interest of mine - gaming. In reading Jon Peterson's Playing at the World, I've learned that Stevenson created a wargame with toy soldiers and pop guns, with his primary stomping ground being an attic floor marked with chalk, and his primary opponent being his American stepson, Lloyd Osbourne. This was, in fact, the chief way he bonded with his new stepson.

Stevenson left few written notes about the rules for his game, but we know it wasn't just about knocking down toy soldiers. Lines of supply for the pop-gun "cannon" were required, and the nature of individual units could be hidden, by moving numbered cards across the floor until the enemy was close enough to spot them: then the cards would be flipped to reveal the troop type and strength, the the corresponding toy soldiers set out.

What we do know about the game comes from an article Osbourne wrote years later in Sribner's Magazine in Dec. 1898. Luckily, you can read a high-quality facsimile of that article right here. If you're interested in the history of wargaming, or are a Stevenson fan in search of some insight into his character, it's worth a read!

It should be noted that Stevenson never published these rules, possibly due to embarrassment at the idea of a grown man playing with toys. It was relatively early in his career when he created the game, although he played it until he died with a generation of step-grandsons and other family members. Most intriguing to me about this game - and it's an important step in the creation of fantasy gaming - is that Stevenson and his stepson created their own imaginary country to fight over, and detailed it rather meticulously in notebooks (though none of this has ever been published, and only tantalizing hints about the nature of this fictional country remain). Furthermore, the duo (somewhat presciently) incorporated a bit of what would later be called "role-playing" into their games, as "General Stevenson" and "General Osbourne" were represented by mounted toy soldiers as well.

H.G. Wells, a bit later, would create his more famous "Little Wars," and he felt no scruples about going public with his habit. However, he was already famous and had made a fortune as a novelist by that point, so perhaps he had greater confidence.

Both Stevenson's and Wells' games made use of toy guns or cannon that shot projectiles to actually knock down miniature soldiers, and the primary playing surface was the floor - this is not a method used by wargames today, which favor tabletops, odds and dice in the German kriegspiel tradition. However, the concept of making the manual dexterity and aiming ability of the player as important as his tactical ability is an interesting one, and if you're going to play a wargame with a young child, I think "knocking guys down" is a great way to do it.

Still, it's nice to know that two authors I admire share my fascination with the hobby of serious gaming, and were instrumental in its foundation.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Overlooked Arneson

I've always been a Gygax fan, for one major reason - not because I think his method is the holy grail of gaming, but because I reached out to him once and he was nice to me and took time to talk when he didn't have to. I admired that. I also like his over-the-top prose style, and appreciate his sheer productivity, and I think the entire RPG industry owes its birth to Gygax's obsessive writing schedule and convention appearances.

That being said, my reading of this book has me realizing that Dave Arneson has been pretty badly overlooked by history.

This article on Grognardia, an influential blog of the so-called Old School Renaissance, discusses the First Fantasy Campaign, a distillation of Arneson's own campaign notebooks for the Blackmoor setting, which predated and inspired Gygax's own Greyhawk setting.

In fact, the idea of a party of adventurers descending into a dungeon to loot and slay is almost entirely Arneson's, as is the idea of an ever-evolving campaign setting. I do think Gygax's rules and procedures were superior to Arneson's, who came from a Napoleonic wargaming background and tended to be somewhat more arbitrary as a GM - but the bottom line is, I think Arneson had the core concept - Gygax had the energy, the enthusiasm, the background, the contacts, and the extroverted nature needed to refine and "pimp" it at conventions. The more introverted and scholarly Arneson was overlooked in the long run. 

It sounds as if maybe our group - certainly my GM style - is a bit more Arnesony than Gygaxy, at least on the face of it. I know that the Expedition to the Barrier Peaks module, though written by Gygax, was hugely influenced by Arneson's habit of including high-tech anachronistic stuff in his "medieval fantasy" world, a concept which obviously informed the Gonen's World and Dearth of the Red Sun settings. This book certainly looks interesting, though I will surely not plunk down the large change to get a rare copy.

I'll be exploring more of Arneson's contributions to the hobby in later posts, I think, though, admittedly, all my research comes from this.

Interestingly, I've learned that both Gygax and Arneson were devout Christians. Arneson did mission work in the 1980s, and Gygax was a Jehovah's Witness who once retired from gaming in 1969 to focus on his ministry (thankfully this was short-lived, and he'll always be remembered for the Church of D&D). Still, that's kind of weird, given the religious hysteria against D&D in the early 1980s. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

In Thrall to the Crimson King

For the past several months, my obsession with King Crimson has pushed most other bands (temporarily) out of my line-up. I believe I've discussed Robert Fripp & Co. before on my blog, but I think I've finally figured out why I like 'em.

First, I have widely surveyed the field of rock music, and after more than 30 years of active listening, I guess I've just gotten bored with the traditional verse/chorus/verse format. I have nothing against a good formulaic pop song: Cheap Trick's "Tonight It's You" is one of my favorites, for example. But my growing sense of ennui with the sameness of much popular music led me, a few years ago, into jazz. After watching the Ken Burns documentary on the subject, I became enamored of older Herbie Hancock, Charles Mingus, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonius Monk, and Dave Brubeck. I also enjoy Duke Ellington when I'm feeling classier, and have recently begun to explore Coltrane and Miles Davis.

And yet I still love that loud, metal guitar. Totally absent in the world of jazz, of course.

That's why I like King Crimson - and I should specify here that I am specifically speaking of the so-called "Third Incarnation" of the band: the albums Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Starless & Bible Black, and Red (aka the John Whetton period) - because they give me everything I love about the jazz I've become accustomed to: that is, abandonment of the typical verse/chorus/verse structure, expansive free-form improvisation and intense dynamic swings from mellow to hard. King Crimson also gives me the heaviest metal there is, in tiny doses, when I want to hear it. It's really the best of both worlds for me right now.

I'm enjoying my initial explorations of the post-1980 Adrian Belew period, especially Discipline and Three of a Perfect Pair; I also like the pre-Larks' Tongues stuff, and am only missing Islands and In the Wake of Poseidon from that period.

After many years of playing in bands, I sort of "retired" simply because it was difficult for me to find much meaning or excitement in the types of bands I'd be likely to start. The KC music scene is very much awash in what I call "duh rock," and while I dig on that from time to time, it's just not for me anymore. I can't see myself, a 41-year-old man with a growing pot belly, leaping and prancing around on stage like some second-rate Jon Spencer. I've been there, done that. But I can see myself getting a bit artsy and esoteric along the lines of King Crimson, recognizing that "art rock" is still "rock."

So I've been toying with the idea of starting a progressive rock band - and I don't mean a throwback to 1970s art rock. What is the new prog rock? That term seems to have been appropriated by very heavy, math-y "nu metal" bands. I think the terms is broader, and I'm interested in discovering what "progressive rock" means to a post-punk, post-alternative world. If anything happens on that front, I'll let you know. Until then, I'll leave you with this:

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Wilson Bay

Pharaoh Publishing USA has just released Wilson Bay: Tales From an Eskimo Village, the latest book by my dad, Conley Stone McAnally. You can get it on Amazon, or better yet here, where I'll make more money. :)

From the blurb on the back of the book:

“What follows is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. However, I did change names, dates, facts, and major details a little, and any resemblance to anyone now living or dead is coincidental.” 

The author of TALES FROM HOMER takes us on a year-long odyssey to a remote region of Alaska, where he chronicles his experiences as a “gussick” among the Eskimos. Stories range from hilarious misadventures (getting stuck in tundra mud, losing a friend off the back of a snowmobile, eating frozen raw eggs) to the mysterious (exploring a ghost ship, seeking a Shaman, hunting “little people”) to serious reflections (a young girl’s funeral, a priest’s doubts, the neglect of a child). WILSON BAY is a comical, heartfelt, and unflinching portrait of life in rural Alaska - one where the line of fact and fiction is often blurred.

This is the third book of fiction Pharaoh has released; we have one other, Manifesto: Universal Tabletop Roleplaying Game under the Nerd Glows On gaming imprint. In November we'll wrap up the 2013 production season with a collection of lyrics and drawings from my old buddy and bandmate William Chaffin. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Playing at the World

I've been neglectful of my blog for a while...much has been going on, and I haven't made the time. But I want to take a moment today to share the fascinating book I'm now reading - Playing at the World, with the mouthful of a subtitle: A History of Simulating Wars, People and Fantastic Adventures, From Chess to Role-playing Games. You can get it right here.

I won't do a proper review because I'm barely one-twelfth of the way through this massive tome. The history and development of tabletop wargaming, hobby boardgames, and role-playing games is given full, scholarly treatment. Author Jon Peterson is that rare, special sort of journalist who can weave together rhythmic prose, academic-level research, and deep understanding of his subject matter into an utterly absorbing narrative. It's not easy to pack in this level of obsessive detail, and if nothing else, Peterson's earned one solid fan of his writing style - me.

Here is a fair-minded review with a better look at the actual content of the book. Note Peterson's response to the review, which I'll quote here:

"One point, on the question of what the book is basically about. If you read it as a story of how wargaming systems inspired D&D, I can understand why some of the material might seem interesting but superfluous. But I aimed for something a bit larger. I wanted to show how the techniques of simulation invented for wargaming expanded beyond the point of just modeling conflict, and beyond modeling things that were real or even possible. D&D was the focal point in this transition, but by no means the end of the story. The ways that D&D simulated people and fantastic adventures have set the stage for a radically different kind of cultural product, a participatory form of media that is today exemplified by video games – but I think this revolution is still in its infancy. This book is thus written, in a sense, as a history of a form of media that is still evolving, so we can’t be entirely sure where it will end up, but we can see where it started: with D&D."

Wired also posted a review that's worth reading. For myself, I adore the almost obsessive level of detail; it's a triumph of research, as most of Peterson's sources are long-lost fanzines and periodicals, as well as private correspondence, and a ton of interviews. I don't know whether the development of such games "deserves" this level of treatment, but it's now got it, and from the reviews I've read, this book writes circles around similar books, which are often written through a lens of system/company bias and partisanship. He's not afraid to call "bullshit" to many claims of RPG industry luminaries or statements in similar books, and while he's always respectful to Gygax, for example, he's not above poking holes in some Gygaxian hyperbole about convention attendance and other matters.

But maybe what I like most about this book is how familiar seem the scenes it depicts and stories it tells. I like hearing about a "crisis" developing when a bunch of gamers realize they need different rules to govern the movement of mounted and regular troops, or the vociferous arguments that developed between adherents of fantastic vs. historical wargaming.

While the focus of the book is on the development of Dungeons and Dragons, much space is also devoted to the lengthy "prequel" of games development that went before it, beginning with the "kriegspiel" wargames played by the Prussian military in the 1800s, as well as H.G. Wells' "Little Wars," the rise of Avalon Hill boardgames in the 1960s, and the slow development of a wargaming/hobby/fantasy community in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Of course, I haven't read the whole thing yet. At 720 pages, with small type and copious footnotes, I could be at this a long time (I'm also reading some fiction and history simultaneously). But my "gut reaction" review so far is this: this is the ultimate gift for any game geek who happens to be a voracious reader. There is definitely "too much information" here, but it's all interesting to me, at least, and by the time I'm through with this book, I know I'll be an absolute expert on the development of this hobby - which, as Peterson implies in the quoted material above, goes far beyond "D&D."

Peterson is a thoughtful and intelligent blogger as well, and has much interesting supplemental material and insights here in his blog, which has all the extra stuff he couldn't fit into the main book.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

History's Overlooked Mysteries

Interesting stuff, especially from a gaming perspective. Good fodder for a "fortune & glory" style campaign.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Top 5 Regrets of the Dying

Damn. Makes you think. Maybe I'll leave work early today. :)

Thursday, August 15, 2013

This is My Manifesto

No, I'm not about to spout my political beliefs - just my gaming beliefs.

Even then, I'm not sure how firm those beliefs are. I experience an internal design revolution every time I read a new game. But for a long time I've been tinkering with game design, and this is the best I've come up with so far.

Nerd Glows On (an anagram of Gonen's World) is the "gaming imprint" of Pharaoh Publishing USA. Nerd books will be smaller than Pharaoh books (5.5x8.5, as opposed to 6x9) and I'll always price them as low as createspace will let me. The official Nerd Glows On site is right here. Much thanks to Ryan Ashmore for helping me get it all set up.

I still find it astounding that it's cheaper for me to make a book via createspace than it is for me to print, fold, and staple even a single copy. I've done the math.

I don't intend to market this book - there are so many great RPGs out there that I don't have the time, knowledge, or desire to go out and make myself known, hanging out at conventions, casually posting on message boards so there's a link in the sig line, etc. I made this book for me and my friends, and if someone out there stumbles on it and wants to give me some feedback or even play it, great. But in the end, having this book in my hands is reward in itself.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Travels of Sir John Mandeville...

A month or so ago I read the Renaissance-era travelogue The Travels of Sir John Mandeville as a follow-up to the first travelogue I'd ever read.

Mandeville's work, in its day, was more popular than Marco Polo's travelogues, although I found myself occasionally doubting my narrator. There's good reason for this, of course - the writer was probably not a knight, and he may or may not have actually visited many of the places he claims to.

But then again...there's a touch of reality to parts of this. Particularly when he travels the far east, and describes China, parts of India, and other exotic locales. Mandeville seems somewhat confused by the Buddha, but he then goes on to opine that these Buddhists (he does not call them by name) must be very special and loved by God, because they are so good and peaceful. He says even though they are not Christians, he feels sure they are destined for a place in heaven.

That's hardly the whole point of Mandeville's book, but it's the main point I took away from it. So often, even today, we hear that folks of earlier generations must be forgiven for their racism - "that's just the way we were raised," they say.

But in an era not known for tolerance, a time of xenophobia, religious persecution, and more-or-less constant warfare, I'm deeply impressed that Mandeville - whoever he was - would go out of his way to make that observation. I wonder how it was taken by his contemporaries? He's proof that racism and intolerance aren't a necessity when you were "raised that way," because he probably was.

As an avid player of tabletop roleplaying games, I'm always looking for the RPG applications of the books I read. Mandeville's travelogue serves as the perfect sourcebook for any Warhammeresque historical setting. In fact, many of the legends he relates - such as the man who was so in love with his dead wife he had sex with her corpse, the result of which was a headless apparition that flew about the town terrorizing people, or a valley in India where he saw a gateway to Hell shaped like a giant's head - would make great kernels for full adventures.

Mandeville also has a sort of dry sense of humor from time to time, and he's not above a little braggadocio. He's able to travel through Muslim lands because he's good buddies with the Sultan, apparently. Not only the Sultan, but many other kings and potentates with whom Mandeville visits, reportedly beg him to do things like marry their daughters and take over parts of their domains, but Mandeville always modestly refuses, professing his Christian faith.

No need to order a copy of this book if you're interested. Project Guttenberg has it right here.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Funeral Train & Other Stories on Kindle

Colin Lee Campbell's Funeral Train & Other Stories is now available in a Kindle edition, which is readable by pretty much all the other e-readers, too. As the publisher of this book I was hesitant. I love books so much that I hate e-books pretty much by definition - they're just not "real" books in my opinion. But it's the words that count, at the end of the day, not the paper, and e-everything is here to stay. My personal focus will always be on print, and my Nerd Glows On line of games will NEVER get digital versions. I'll ride a print-biased wave of eccentricity, nostalgia and spite into the grave when it comes to my game books. But fiction and poetry from Pharaoh Publishing USA will all get e-book versions from now on. It's just the way it is, and never let it be said that I'm a Luddite. Well, I am, but just on weekends...

Monday, August 5, 2013

Attack of the Man-Purse!

First of all, let me just say this: It's European!

A few months ago I bought a man's hand bag. I carry a lot around with me throughout the day and this way I don't lose anything (when I can find it in the purse, that is). I joke about the name - this is modeled after an ammo pouch and is rugged and manly. People say not to call it a man-purse, but I'm with George Carlin who said, "if you can't say the word, don't carry the fucking bag!" It's not big enough to be a satchel (won't hold 8.5x11" paper w/out folding). It's too small for most game rulebooks (except for Burning Wheel and other 5.5x8.5" books). It's too small for my laptop. That means it's good for holding all the little accessories I need/want to get through my day. That pretty much makes it a purse. And I'm OK with that.

What's in my man-purse today? Let's keys. Scout Book and blue ballpoint pen. A camera. My e-cigarette kit (charger, battery, juice). My wallet/checkbook. A compact men's personal grooming kit (handy for eliminating stray nose hairs or dirty fingernails at work). Two pieces of nicotine gum for emergencies. Five ibuprofen tablets. This book. An external hard drive with a bunch of music on it. A Swiss Army knife that has come in handy about a BILLION times.

I really hate to have things in my pockets (I've lost a bit of weight lately, nothing to brag about, but it's made my pants fall down a lot!), so this has been a real quality of life improvement.

Now, for the important question: why am I blogging about my purse?

Hmm. That's a good one.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Wax Houses, Pt. 2: Vinyl Renassiance

Now for the next installment in my quest for cool old records. This time, I stay close to home, and only venture across the state line to Vinyl Renaissance. This entry is specifically about the Overland Park, Kansas location, not the 39th Street location. That one, I've been to many times. I'd never been to the OP store.

One thing I'll say, downtown Overland Park is pretty. I didn't expect it. Go out there at lunch time on a weekday and you will see a wide variety of people with one thing in common: disposable income. Luckily, that day, I was one of 'em. I found the whole place rather pleasant in spite of myself.

Since the 39th and State Line area is so widely considered to be so hip, I figured that location would top the OP store. Wrong! In some ways this one seems like the "HQ," though I have no clue how all that works. They do repair work on turntables and accessories at this location, apparently upstairs.

A long, loft-style room holds many treasures. I was asked to leave my man-purse at the counter, which annoyed me. I wonder, if I had been a girl, I would have been asked to leave my purse. It's not big enough to smuggle out an LP in. But whatever. Rules is rules.

I bypassed a tempting copy of Lou Reed's Rock and Roll Animal in favor of hitting the soundtracks section and was well rewarded. I found the soundtracks for the original Clash of the Titans, Mark Knopfler's beautiful score for The Princess Bride, and - still sealed in the original packaging - the one for Quest for Fire. This one's great, because there is no dialogue in that movie, so the soundtrack has a strong narrative quality - great for background music when I was writing the other night.

This location is actually closer to my office than the 39th street one, so it may see a little more action from me in the future. I didn't even stop at the rock or jazz sections, and stopped looking in soundtracks when I ran out of spending money. So I will definitely explore it more in the future. 

One thing I can say about both Vinyl Renaissance locations: they don't sell crap. I've never picked up a record from them that had so much as a skip on it. Their prices are reasonable (many stores automatically mark up collector's items to inflate their perceived value). They also have a deal where - if you save your receipts - 20 percent of everything you purchase goes to new equipment or accessories. So if I spend $100, I've got $20 toward a new turntable. That's a good deal.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Return of the White Orchids

From the "it's the little things that make me happy" department, I bring you this photo.

I started keeping orchids after plowing through a few dozen Nero Wolfe mysteries, and by mid-summer they were all gone (I started pretty early in the spring). I'm told to just keep them in light and keep watering them, and they'll come back. We have very little direct sun at our house, so I decided to "winter" my indoor plants at work (even though it's mid-summer), where there is plenty of light. They sit there, naked stalks on my window sill.

Monday morning I got a surprise to see my white "yellow lime" orchids are back already. I picked them up in mid-June. They were died blue (an Independence Day thing, I think). I brought them up here with a few flowers still in bloom, but they fell off soon after. I don't know when they started coming back, but I just noticed them Monday. I never thought I'd be thrilled over the sight of flowers, but I was. Three beautiful bright white orchids (apparently the blue dye is not perennial, heh) have been keeping me enchanted all week long - and that big bud in the foreground looks like it's going to bloom soon. Edit: I came in a day later to find that last bulb popped - now there are four!

Like I say, it's the little things.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Funeral Train & Other Stories

Pharaoh Publishing USA has released our second book: Funeral Train & Other Stories by Colin Lee Campbell: you can (and should) order it right here. It's a collection of eight short stories, all in the realm of speculative fiction, ranging from contemporary fantasy to horror to science fiction. My personal favorites are "The Abels," "Horror Vacui" and "The Looking-Glass Planet," but they're all good.

Colin has published his work before, in Atomjack Magazine, Big Pulp and The Absent Willow Review. I think he's got an imaginative but straightforward writing style, with strong characterization. The plots of these stories are all "classic" - not in the sense that we've seen them before, but in that their core idea is always essential to the action of the narrative - that's pretty much the defining element of speculative fiction.

Colin is hesitant to be compared to other writers, and his voice is pretty unique, so that's hard to do. But I'd imagine that fans of the short fiction of Ray Bradbury or Philip K. Dick would enjoy Funeral Train & Other Stories. Needless to say, we're pretty proud of it.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Wax Houses, Pt. 1: ZZZ Records

I have to travel about 2-4 times a year for work, so I've decided to hit the most prominent used record stores in every town I visit. Every time I do, I'll cover it here. My first trip? To exotic West Des Moines, Iowa.

There, I found ZZZ Records. I'll start with a gripe: I purchased the Shaft soundtrack here, only to get home and open it up and find Black Moses. That's a great album, but it's not the Isaac Hayes album I wanted. This means whoever is taking in new records isn't even looking at the labels. This overall sense of shoddiness extended to stacks of uncategorized vinyl, haphazard decor, and a sense of it being more of a flea market than a collector's store.

That being said, I did come away with a decent haul: Physical Graffiti (one of two Led Zeppelin albums I consider essential), complete with all the original overwrought packaging; the first two Huey Lewis & the News albums (the first one is relatively unknown, borderline punky, and may be their best); Herbie Hancock's Jazz Africa, and Cheap Trick's At Budokon, among others.

The real treasure here, though, is one of my new favorite albums, a classic I'd never heard: Something/Anything? by Todd Rundgren. This double-album, packed with four sides of diverse music ranging from sugar-sweet pop to bombastic rock to out-and-out weirdness, makes me wonder why Rundgren didn't become the biggest pop star of the 1970s. It's worth a post in itself and will probably get one here eventually. I listed to all four sides twice in a row one night, exploring all the subtleties (and there are many). This is headphone music for recording/songwriting geeks at its finest. A real winner, and worth the trip. I'm actually kind of embarrassed I'd never heard it before, but if there are still great classic rock records out there that I've missed, I guess that bodes well for the future.

So, while it may be a bit dingy and disorganized (but after all, I'm spoiled by having one of the best record stores in the Midwest right here in Kansas City, which sets a very high bar), ZZZ Records is worth a visit, and from the word-of-mouth I got about it, is fairly highly regarded by many Des Moiners.

That Black Moses in my Shaft still rankles, though.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Nero Wolfe: My Favorite Detective

For a little over a year, I've been reading Nero Wolfe mysteries by Rex Stout. I'm still not finished and I haven't repeated any: that should give you some idea of just how prolific Stout was.
With a few notable exceptions like Gordianus the Finder and Inspector Banks, (not to mention Sherlock) I'm not a huge fan of the mystery genre (though both Encyclopedia Brown and his more realistically smart-ass 1970s successor, Jack McGurk, played huge parts in my childhood). But there's something about the world Rex Stout has created that keeps me coming back and back and back.

It's not even the plots of the mysteries. These are by and large fairly simple, without too many twists and turns. What makes these books special is the characterization. Imperious, arrogant, gormandizing, misogynistic, lazy, beer-swilling, orchid-loving Nero Wolfe is one of the most sharply drawn and consistently realized characters I've ever read. And of course, the narrator of the books, Wolfe's wise-cracking legman Archie Goodwin, is hands-down the most flat-out likeable narrator I've ever had between my ears.

Stout's writing is simple, crisp, uncluttered, and rolls off the page. For me, the best writing is the kind that makes me forget I'm reading and get completely lost in the fictive dream. In this, Stout delivers, and between 1934 and 1975 he cranked out about 75 Nero Wolfe mysteries - that's far more than one a year.

I was introduced to Nero Wolfe through the A&E Network's short-lived and much lamented series A Nero Wolfe Mystery, with the late (and vastly underrated) Maury Chaykin as Wolfe and evergreen good-guy Timothy Hutton as Goodwin. I can say without reservation this series is the most true to the source material of all the book-to-TV-or-movie adaptations I've ever seen. The show is a bit old-fashioned, but in the timeless, not dated, sense, and uses an ensemble cast to play different roles in different episodes (only Chaykin, Hutton, and a few other regulars don't rotate between roles).

So if you ever want to get lost in a rat-a-tat-tat whodunit, you could do much worse than picking up any Nero Wolfe mystery. You can start anywhere - one of the charms of the books, for me, is that from 1934 to 1975, the outside world did, occasionally, intrude into the lives of the characters, but the bulk of the action takes place in Nero Wolfe's home office (he refuses to leave the house on business), which is as timeless a place as I can think of. No matter how crazy or upsetting real life ever becomes, I will always know a place where I can sit back in the red leather chair, order a beer from Fritz (Nero's chef/caretaker) and see my old friend Archie. Wolfe's office in his New York brownstone is refreshingly comforting.

I'm a big fan of the original Sherlock Holmes mysteries, but I'm not so sure Nero Wolfe couldn't out-fox and out-detect Holmes any day of the week. The difference is that Wolfe needs Goodwin far more than Holmes ever needed Watson. But in almost every way that counts, Nero Wolfe is the American Sherlock Holmes.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Wow (new Cosmos trailer)

I won't get into my love of the original Cosmos here, now. I think this new one looks incredible, at first glance. It captures the right tone. I have high hopes. Seth Macfarlane, of all people, was instrumental in making this happen. Inspirational/educational programming, in prime time, on a major network, may or may not fly, but I'll watch.

I'm not sure I like Neil Degrasse Tyson's new Spaceship of the Imagination as much as I like the old one, but Tyson himself is one of the few people I can think of who can personalize and popularize science the way Carl Sagan did, and with Ann Druyan (Sagan's collaborator and widow) on board, this is as legitimate a re-vamp as it could possibly be. All I needed to see in this trailer was the dandelion seed...

By the way, the screen is black for about 15 seconds at first. That threw me off initially, but it's intentional. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Slow Summer

Actually, that's not true. It's a busy summer. I'm acting in a movie, getting Pharaoh Publishing going, finishing the Manifesto RPG, starting the Dearth of the Red Sun RPG, conducting amateur mold remediation, and switching bedrooms, and, of course, working. So very little blogging is going on.

I realize the entire internet is waiting, but it will have to wait awhile longer. As soon as life returns to some sort of normalcy I'll be back.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Ian Fleming's Thrilling Cities

I've finished Thrilling Cities, by Ian Fleming, one of his two non-fiction books. I talk about his other, The Diamond Smugglers, here.

Fleming was commissioned by the Sunday Times of London to take two trips - one through the Orient and United States and the other through Europe - and write of his experiences in each one. The collected columns are here in this book.

First published in the early 1960s, Thrilling Cities is certainly outdated, and I'm sure it wouldn't do anyone any good as a guidebook. But as a travelogue it is certainly interesting. Fleming does hit a few of the must-see tourist sites, but for the most part he hits up the underground joints, off-the-beaten-path eateries, and after-hours clubs. Fleming was of course famous at the time for James Bond and if he told of these thrilling cities with a thriller-writer's touch, who can blame him?

I'm glad I read this book for two reasons. One, travelogue is not a genre I'm overly familiar with, and I enjoyed this one. I'd like to try more. Two, I tend to look at the tabletop gaming applications for pretty much everything I read, and Thrilling Cities could easily serve as a "spy locale" sourcebook. I recently reacquired the old Top Secret, S.I. game from TSR. If I wanted to run a Cold War era campaign and needed a great sourcebook for the world's thrilling cities, what could be better than a first-hand account from the creator of James Bond himself? It might be a bit dated for games set in the 1970s or 80s, but if you weren't overly concerned with exact historic accuracy, this book would have everything you needed to describe exotic cities. Even if you were a stickler for historic accuracy, you can certainly soak up a lot of atmosphere from this book. And if you set the game in the 1960s, you'd have one hell of a realistic and accurate backdrop.

Speaking of travelogues, next up is The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, which I'm about a fourth of the way through. Oddly, certain parts of it resonate with Fleming's book. I guess that stranger-in-a-strange-land feeling is the same no matter what era you live in.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Vinyl Renaissance

That's the name of a record store in Kansas City, but what I'm referring to is my own personal vinyl renaissance. Lately I've been buying and listening to music on LP. I have always loved that hiss and pop of old vinyl. Maybe it's just nostalgia; records are certainly not the most hardy or convenient medium. But older music produced to sound good on vinyl sounds much better on vinyl than in digital form. Most of the time people say it sounds "warmer" and I agree, but I can't be sure why that word fits. With vinyl, I sense more of the "space" of the sound - what Jerry Garcia called the "sound of heavy air." It's a more active form of listening to music. The turntable requires my attention every now and then. When I listen to digital music, it's usually as background. When I listen to my turntable, it's because I'm listening.

My collection is not extensive. Most of what I've got I picked up at various sales at places like the much-lamented Recycled Sounds. Some of my stuff I actually found at thrift stores. I have everything from mainstream rock like Boston's first album - which I really don't listen to - to a weird-ass 1950s electronic interpretation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead (I don't really listen to that, either...).

But for years I didn't have a solid turntable. That changed last year when my son got me a refurbished TEAC. Recently, I got a new receiver and speakers and I'm definitely experiencing a renaissance.

New purchases: I was thrilled to find Doolittle by The Pixies - a classic if there ever was one, a record that changed my life in many ways, and one I'd previously experienced only on cassette back in the day....I also re-equipped myself with my two favorite T. Rex albums, Electric Warrior and The Slider (and man does Marc Bolan sound great on vinyl). My recent interest in Blue Oyster Cult has its place here too with my favorites from them: Cultosaurus Erectus and Fire of Unknown Origin.

Warren Zevon gets regular spins - I've got all his studio albums - and one I play all the time is The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Rick Wakeman. 

Is there a point here? Not really, other than this: records are cool. I like playing with them, listening to them, slipping them into and out of plastic sleeves. To me, putting a needle on some "wax" and getting a sound to come out is more magical, somehow, than my entire laptop.

The older I get, the more I want to reconnect with the kid I used to be. Vinyl is a great way to do it. It's not just the music. It's the act of lowering that needle, hearing the subtle hiss that means the music is about to start, sitting back and letting it fill the space between my ears. That's therapy.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Diamond Smugglers

Even though I have let my Bondage series (where I review the James Bond movies) linger just post-Timothy Dalton, I still have a great love for the franchise. Picking up a used copy of the old TSR game Top Secret, S.I. returned my interest to spy stuff.

It's funny that as much as I enjoy Bond movies, I've not read many of the original Ian Fleming books. My son found an old copy of The Man with the Golden Gun and gave it to me for Christmas. The only others I'd read were Casino Royale, The Spy Who Loved Me, and For Your Eyes Only. None of them were anything like the movies, of course, the Bond movies being among the very worst films of all time in the "true to the source material" category. Nevertheless, I was inspired to dig in to Ian Fleming's original version of everyone's favorite spy.

Luckily, a very handsome set of reissues has come out recently, and I treated myself by picking up every single one of Ian Fleming's Bond books (it shouldn't matter, but the covers are awesome, and look great together on my bookshelf).

In that series, however, are two non-fiction books Fleming wrote. One is called Thrilling Cities, which I'll discuss later. The other is called The Diamond Smugglers, and it was thoroughly entertaining.

Fleming interviews a real-life spy who gives a "tell-all," or "tell-most," about British efforts to thwart rampant diamond smuggling in Africa. The spy, whose fake name for Fleming was John Blaize, frankly wanted a little bit of credit, and wanted the world to know what a big problem diamond smuggling was, and furthermore had permission from his superiors, who felt that revelations about the case would help national security more than it would hurt. Blaize was familiar with Fleming, admired his book Diamonds Are Forever, and sought him out. Fleming spent some time with Blaize in Tangiers, interviewing him, and the book is the result.

Either that, or Fleming made the whole thing up. But if he had, he would have included some gunfights or scantily clad women with ridiculous names.

Truth is, Blaize (through Fleming) weaves an extremely entertaining spy story out of very boring ingredients. There's not a single fist-fight, let alone a gun-fight. Aside from one guy who got a fever in Africa, no one died or came to grief. But over the course of several years, a spy ring put a huge dent in the diamond smuggling business (particularly out of Liberia and Sierra Leone) that, the publishers note, it has still not recovered from.

The book is slim and it's a quick read, feeling more like a lengthy magazine article than a book. If you want to hear a real-life spy story, and learn about the unglamorous workaday world of real-life spies, I heartily recommend this book.

It did give me some great ideas for a Fleming-esque villain character I've been working up for a hypothetical future spy game: Diamondface.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Táin

After finishing The Mabinogion, which I discuss here, I decided a fitting companion piece would be the Táin Bó Cúailnge (according to translator Thomas Kinsella, it's pronounced "Toyn Bo Coolinga" which basically means "Cattle Raid of Cooley"). Though mostly prose, it is the closest thing Ireland has to a great poetic epic. I've been aware of it since junior high, and even tried to read a fantasy novelization by Gregory Frost that I never quite got through.

The hero of the story is Cúchulainn (Koo-kullin), sort of an Irish Hercules, part-god, with all kinds of over-the-top powers. Single-handed, he defends the kingdom of Ulster from a cattle raid cooked up by the wicked (and somewhat slutty) Medb, Queen of Connacht, to steal a famous red bull, thus augmenting her own worth. After sleeping with several important chieftains to get them to go along (at which her husband winks) she raises a huge force and marches to Ulster. The men of Ulster are suffering from "pangs" - pains akin to what women feel in labor - as part of a curse, and cannot come to meet the challenge. But Cúchulainn is not affected, and he harries and harasses the assembled Irish force for weeks until the rest of the men of Ulster come storming in for the climax. 

Several times, Medb manipulates strong men into going out to fight Cúchulainn, and has no problem pimping out her daughter Finnabair or herself if that's what it takes. But in a series of (almost shockingly) graphic combats, Cúchulainn defeats them all. 

The most mysterious and impressive thing about Cúchulainn is his ability to go into ríastrad, or what Kinsella (awesomely) translates as "warp-spasm" and another translates as "torque," and it's best described by this passage from The Táin: 
"The first warp-spasm seized Cúchulainn, and made him into a monstrous thing, hideous and shapeless, unheard of. His shanks and his joints, every knuckle and angle and organ from head to foot, shook like a tree in the flood or a reed in the stream. His body made a furious twist inside his skin, so that his feet and shins switched to the rear and his heels and calves switched to the front… On his head the temple-sinews stretched to the nape of his neck, each mighty, immense, measureless knob as big as the head of a month-old child… he sucked one eye so deep into his head that a wild crane couldn't probe it onto his cheek out of the depths of his skull; the other eye fell out along his cheek. His mouth weirdly distorted: his cheek peeled back from his jaws until the gullet appeared, his lungs and his liver flapped in his mouth and throat, his lower jaw struck the upper a lion-killing blow, and fiery flakes large as a ram's fleece reached his mouth from his throat… The hair of his head twisted like the tange of a red thornbush stuck in a gap; if a royal apple tree with all its kingly fruit were shaken above him, scarce an apple would reach the ground but each would be spiked on a bristle of his hair as it stood up on his scalp with rage.”

 That's cool. 

As a gamer, what also struck me was a tendency of not only Cúchulainn but the other heroes to enumerate their specific heroic abilities, which Kinsella translates as "feats." Sometimes they seem like d20 feats, or Savage Worlds edges. Some names are evocative, others are more obscure: the Shield Feat, the Hero's Scream, the Salmon Leap, the Sixfold Slaughter. 

Cúchulainn is called the "Hound of UIster," and one of the Gaelic versions of my own last name (MacCon Uladh or MacConallaidh) means "Son of the Hound of Ulster," so I like to imagine that I am related to Cúchulainn. That's probably not the case. But I do know that I occasionally enter my own warp-spasm, and it's not always pretty.

At any rate, this tale - at least as translated by Kinsella - seems remarkably fresh, and what with all the wanton sleeping around, graphic violence (an image of a guy running around with a spear sticking out of his head, praising its caster for making such a good shot, comes to mind) it's a little more "pulp fiction" in tone than, say, The Illiad or Beowulf. It has a certain weirdness and charm that people associate with the Irish, and though I'm actually more Scottish than Irish, I still feel a certain pride in it.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Pharaoh Publishing USA

I have started up a small publishing company with one simple goal: to make books. We don't really market, beyond word-of-mouth, and we don't intend to set the world on fire. To me, there's nothing better than a "real book," and the print-on-demand industry makes such projects easy and accessible. It didn't take much to become a legally established small publisher. The whole process was smooth as butter.

Now I know some people don't care for print-on-demand or see it as less legitimate than other forms of publishing. But at some point you have to say "I don't care" and do what you want to do anyway.

Our first book, Tales From Homer, is available right here. It was written by my dad, Conley McAnally, in 1971 or so, at his Grandpa Weedmark's desk. I sat at that same desk more than 40 years later to edit and design it. My dad's got newer stuff in the works, but I grew up with some of those stories and wanted to do that one first.

Next up will be a collection of speculative fiction from Colin L. Campbell, better known 'round these parts as Goonie. I've always been a big believer in his work and I'm glad we're publishing his first print collection, because with a little pushing, he could probably find a much larger publisher.

Tales From Homer has already sold well enough that I made back my small investment in just a few days. But I'm not in this for the money: it's purely a labor of love, and I'll continue to do it as long as I can find good material to publish.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Another Art Post

Here are a few pieces by my friend Shawn Geabhart, who is doing some illustrations for the Gonen's World RPG.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Old School Game Art: Erol Otus

For me, no other artist captures "old school D&D" like Erol Otus. His bright colors and stylized figures always reminded me of Thomas Hart Benton, whose work I was familiar with as a kid from class trips to the President Harry S. Truman Library, where he'd done a mural.

The classic "red box" that, for me, was my introduction to D&D, featured Otus' work on the cover. It's an iconic image that will forever scream "Dungeons and Dragons."

Otus is again doing work for RPGs, thanks to patronage from the "old school renaissance." There's a great tribute site here with lots of images, although it's sort of wonky to navigate and you've gotta dig for good stuff. But if you've got a few spare minutes, you could spend them in worse ways than digging back through some of these classic images.

I think my favorite EO illustration is the one from the back cover of the classic module The Keep in the Borderlands (it came with the red box basic set). While it doesn't feature his trademark stylized figures, I think it captures the mood of an impending adventure better than anything else I've seen. I love the sky and the way it reflects on the walls of the keep - and there are our brave adventurers, seeking out their fortunes or their dooms. This illustration is pregnant with possibilities, and I think it ends this entry nicely.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Mabinogion

For years I've mentally collected off-hand references I've heard about this collection of Welsh tales. In particular, it seems to come up in conversations about fantasy books, how so-and-so got detail X from The Mabinogion, or how so-and-so transferred one of the collected tales to space, or ancient Persia, or whatever. So, when it came to filling out the "classics" section of my bookshelf, this was the place I decided to start.

I'll rely on whoever wrote this fine Wikipedia article to explain the background, and focus here on my impressions.

The stories here read like a weird mixture of myth and history; it's my understanding that real people are mentioned, along with mythological figures that have parallels in Irish and other Celtic tales from pre-Anglo Saxon days. This melding of myth and history gives The Mabinogion more of a feel of a fantasy novel than, say, collections of Greek or Norse mythology. I tried to follow some of the action on a map, but geography in these tales is very fuzzy. Fantastical places (basically the same sort of faerie or sidhe stuff you see in Irish stories) give way to real-world sites and vice-versa, like these people are able to wonder into, out of, and between parallel worlds without even thinking about it. Maybe this is a story convention but I'd like to think that for these ancient Celts, the boundary between the natural and the supernatural was almost non-existent.

These tales were transmitted orally for centuries before they were ever written down, and by the time they were written down, sort of a literary strata of Anglo-Saxon influence was laid down on top of these. The latter tales in the collection all revolve around King Arthur's court, though he himself is a minor player in most of them, and not always portrayed as all that wise or kind. The collective "writer" casts King Arthur as the Roman Emperor, and seems to classify pretty much all of Europe as his domain, giving the collection an alternate history feel.

As a gamer, I'm pleased that in almost every story, gwyddbwyll is featured as a favorite pastime, and many adjectives are lavished on descriptions of the boards and pieces. In fact, there are many compound adjectives at play throughout the whole book, and my guess is that if you read them in Welsh they would have a strong rhythm, probably derived from the oral tradition. Where descriptions of land and buildings are almost nonexistent, much care is given to describing fine details of clothing, banners, and descriptions of people, which might tell us something about the priorities of those early storytellers.

A useful thing about the edition I read was a helpful guide to Welsh pronunciation. I wouldn't have known how to say the names of some heroes at all, had it not been for the guide. I mean, how would you say "Culhwch?" According to my guide, it's "Cuh-luke."

All in all, I'm left with the impression that ancient Welsh were preoccupied with wife-swapping, sending people on ridiculous errands, turning people into pigs and maggots, wandering into the Highlands of Hell (where they have the best sheep), enjoyed trapping one another by interpreting everything literally, and cutting off people's heads and breaking their backs with spears (although we see much more of this rampant decapitation in the Irish Tain, which I'm reading now).

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Harold Lamb and The Wolf

A few weeks ago I picked up the Big Book of Adventure Stories. I've read three of them so far, and all of them were great: but one shone out, The Mighty Manslayer, by Harold Lamb. On the strength of this single story I ordered eight Harold Lamb books the very next day!

He has been called the unacknowledged grandfather of swords and sorcery. The story I read didn't have any flat-out sorcery in it, but it certainly smacked of the mysterious, as the action revolved around the discovery of Genghis Khan's tomb. The hero, who bears the unfortunate name of Khlit (supposedly pronounced Ka-leet) is a Russian Cossack who is already past retirement age, deciding to wander the Middle East and Asia seeking adventure instead of living out his days in peace. Lamb wrote many stories about this man known as "the Wolf."

This story was written in 1918, yet it seems incredibly fresh. I guess one of the things that stood out about Lamb back in the old days was his simple, direct style, which was clearly a huge influence on Robert E. Howard (who said Lamb was one of his favorite writers). It rolls along at a brisk pace, doesn't waste many words on exposition or set-ups, just smashes along from scene to scene. It's a little long for a short story but once I picked it up, I didn't put it down (which is saying something - that anthology is one of the thickest, heaviest books I own).

It's also cool that Lamb's heroes are often non-Western, which was a rarity then and now. I think of Antonio Banderas' character in The 13th Warrior as being fairly representative of the type of heroes Lamb writes about, but we'll see: I'm a Lamb newbie. 

Today the four-volume collection of Lamb's Cossack stories should arrive, as well as a four-volume collection of his stories about Crusaders, Vikings, Arabs, and Mongols. I have way too many new books on my shelf right now, so I imagine I'll read these stories piecemeal over the next few years when I want a jolt of historical action.

If, in collecting his Big Book of Adventure anthology, editor Otto Penzler aimed to give readers some bait, sending them diving headfirst into the world of pulp esoterica, he has certainly succeeded in my case. I'm sure I'll post more about stories from this anthology in the future.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Viva Estalia!

Here's a link to the Spanish version of Colin Campbell and I's WFRP 2nd Ed. adventure "Masquerade of Horrors." More about that here. You know, I've always wanted to venture outside of the Empire and set a WFRP game in Estalia (Warhammer's analog of the Iberian peninsula). Maybe in honor of our Spanish brothers, I'll get around to doing at least a one-off this year sometime.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Street & Smith's Doc Savage Covers

I've talked about my interest in Doc Savage elsewhere. When I first encountered him, it was in the James Bama ripped-shirt-and-skull-cap era. The reprints I've been devouring lately retain the old 1930s-40s Street & Smith covers, and I love 'em. I don't judge a book by its cover, but a great cover enhances my enjoyment of it. Here's some of my favorites that are either iconic Doc poses or that just scream "pulp adventure!" There's also a rare cover that didn't feature Doc himself: his teammates Monk and Ham getting squashed in "The Crimson Serpent." Enjoy!

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Amazing Leigh Brackett

I'll admit it: I'm calling Leigh Brackett "amazing" on the strength of half of one novel, The Ginger Star. I cannot put it down. Knowing my fondness for the "sword and planet" and "dying earth" sub-genres, Andrew at Pulp Fiction recommended Brackett's novels about Eric John Stark. I picked up The Ginger Star, The Hounds of Skaith and The Reavers of Skaith from Paizo's Planet Stories Library, and I have, overnight, become a huge Leigh Brackett fan.

As for The Ginger Star, it has been a wild ride. Yesterday was one of those lazy Sundays where you wake up, start to read, and then realize it's time for bed. All day, I was enthralled with the fast-paced yet subtly philosophical adventures of Stark, who, despite being raised (Tarzan-like) by primitive aliens, is one of the more human heroes of swords & sorcery. I've always enjoyed the blending of sci-fi and fantasy, and this is a great example of it (Stark arrives on the planet Skaith via spaceship; it has a spaceport; outside of the main city, though, it's essentially a medieval fantasy world). A junta that controls the world won't let anyone emigrate off of it; Stark becomes embroiled in a revolution on Skaith, as the subject of a prophecy of a "dark man" who will "open the star-roads." Interestingly, the hero, Stark, has brown skin, which illustrators mostly ignored back in the old days when his adventures were first published. He originally adventured in our own solar system; in the 1970s, Brackett transported him to Skaith, returning to speculative fiction after a long time punching up noteworthy screenplays. 

The more I learn about Brackett, the more I like her. If anyone wants to have flat-out fun while reading, I don't think it gets much better. I guess I'll withhold final judgment until I read more of her books, but right now I have a pretty strong literary crush going.

I was surprised to learn how strong the influence of women has been on speculative fiction from the very beginning. Many were not obviously women, using male pseudonyms, or initials (like C.L. Moore, who I'll write about later). Leigh Brackett just happened to have a unisex name, and most readers thought she was a man. She was equally well known for writing hard-boiled mysteries and detective fiction. Her writing is what I call "rat-a-tat-tat;" it speeds along and doesn't waste words but has an aggressive poetic rhythm to it that begs to be read aloud. I've read that Brackett was known for bringing a more action-packed, breezy style derived from pulp crime stories into the sci-fi/fantasy genre.

Paizo proudly bills these novels on the covers as "by the author of The Empire Strikes Back," but if you read the wikipedia article I linked to above, you'll see that's not exactly true. However, reading her novels, her influence on George Lucas - an avowed fan, who writes the intro to one of the Skaith novels - is clearly evident. 

All in all, Brackett (so far) gives me a nice feeling of familiarity while I'm reading: I feel like I've been gaming these stories - or ones a lot like them, in similar settings - for 25 years. I read her with a sense of admiration and validation. In other words, it has a "yeah, that!" quality.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Roman Empire Map

 Blather sent me a link to this. He knew I'd dig it. I normally prefer a more archaic-looking map, but when viewed through the lens of gaming, this one is very useful: high resolution, easy to read, clearly marked roads and borders...everything you'd need for a campaign in the Roman Empire. Very inspiring!

Fantasy Cheese, Pt. 4: Yor, the Hunter From the Future

I'm half-embarrassed to admit it, but this movie was a pretty big influence on my developing creative mind back in 1983. Somewhere between this one, Krull, (which really doesn't deserve to be sullied by mentioning it in relation to Yor) and Saturday morning cartoon Thundarr the Barbarian, it slipped into my head that there was no reason swords and sorcery shouldn't mix with sci-fi. The "sword and laser" subgenre is an interesting one, and one anyone who games with me knows it well. Blame Yor for that, partially.

This Italian movie stars Reb Brown, yet another ex-jock-turned-geekdom-icon, who played Captain America in two late-1970s TV movies (and looks the part). I'm not sure what can be said about Yor, other than it's cheesy, and it was a LOT cooler when I was 11. Here's a trailer.

The BEST and WORST thing about this movie is the sublimely bad theme song, which is most notably audible during the opening credits. However, they also use the Queen-like fanfare, clearly derived from 1980's Flash Gordon, to punch up action scenes like this one (skip to about :58 if you like).

Are there worse movies? You bet. Is this one bad? Oh yeah. But I love it. 

Postcards from the Future. Er, Past.

I follow Space: 1889 creator Frank Chadwick's blog, and he recently featured a post about some old French postcards that depicted what life would be like in the year 2000. It's pretty cool. Check it out.