Monday, March 31, 2014


Work and other items have been kicking my butt for some time lately.  That said, I have made some posts on my hiker blog, since I've been in serious planning and gear pick-up mode for my big backpacking trip that I'll take in the High Uintas Wilderness.  Because that's coming up soon, and because I'm really excited for it, I've done a better job updating that particular blog over this one. 

Here's a thought, though.  I don't often "punt" and do random topics (rather than gaming or at least sci-fi/fantasy related ones) but this has been on my mind lately, and frankly, my desire to spend some time alone in the wilderness has contributed to my thoughts on this.

For many years--close to twenty--I've taken off and on Briggs Myers personality tests to determine my personality type.  This isn't, in my opinion, necessarily indicative of anything particularly meaningful, but some people disagree, and at the very least, it's kind of interesting.  A nice conversation piece, if you will.  And like I said, some people swear by it; I first took it in an Organization Behavior class in my MBA program, and I've taken them for work-related workshops and whatnot over time as well.

An interesting effect of this is that I test fairly strongly for the last three (of four) indicators on the Briggs Myers test.  But I always tend to straddle the line betweeen Extrovert/Introvert.  I don't get a "clear reading", if you will, on that particular axis.

I don't think that I'm a complete ambivert, but clearly where I fall depends on a great number of variables, and it can change over time.  I can get energized and greatly enjoy social activities that would tend to put me on the extrovert side of things, but I can also get really tired of doing that and just want to be by myself.  Something my father said to me a few months ago put it in some perspective--I was talking about my own kids and their development, and he mentioned to me that he was somewhat surprised that as a teenager, I won an "air guitar" contest at a dance.  It was a small thing, but to him it was significant, because he never would have thought that just a few years ago, I would have done something like that.  I recall the event, but I didn't attach any special significance to it.  I think that he was able to see a pattern in my behavior that I wasn't, however. My conclusion is that naturally I'm an introvert, but that I learned at a fairly young age how to run a convincing extrovert subroutine.

This has been a good skill to have, but I also kind of devalued my natural introvert tendencies, confusing them with shyness.  It occured to me also that introversion and shyness are not the same thing at all.  I have little to no social anxiety to speak of (i.e., shyness) I just simply don't care to be social sometimes, or to participate in certain types of social events, and sometimes I'm just simply not in the mood at all.  This is actually much more frequent now than it was when I was younger.  I blame my general busy-ness for this, which makes firing up the extrovert subroutine more tedious and cumbersome when I'm already emotionally exhausted from doing so much.  But again, this set of circumstances was instrumental in allowing me to see past the subroutine that I ran, kind of subconsciously, to percieve my native introvert tendecy in sharper focus.

In any case, I'll be essentially on my own, with no social interaction to speak of with anyone at all, for at least a week, hopefully closer to two, as I drive out to the west and hike in the High Uintas Wilderness.  I can't wait to indulge my long-delayed need for solitude!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Y is for Yog-Sothoth

It's been a really long time since I did an A to Z post.  Good thing I didn't try and attempt the challenge over the course of 26 days!  I've been lingering near the end for a long time now, though, and I've had on my list Y is for Yog-Sothoth for a while now.  I've usually steered just a step or two shy of outright pastiche, without at least adding much of my own to it somehow, but in the case of Yog-Sothoth, I think he stands alone as he is quite well.
Yog-Sothoth knows the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the key and guardian of the gate. Past, present, future, all are one in Yog-Sothoth. He knows where the Old Ones broke through of old, and where They shall break through again. He knows where They have trod earth's fields, and where They still tread them, and why no one can behold Them as They tread.
Of course, what exactly in the world is Yog-Sothoth?  Known by various names or nicknames, including The Lurker at the Threshold, The Eater of Souls, 'Umr at-Tawil, and others.  Yog-Sothoth is considered by many to merely be a literary personification of the idea of using sorcery to travel between worlds to the Realms Beyond, both the somewhat more earthlike Near Realms, and the considerably more alien Far Realms.

But others believe Yog-Sothoth to be more than a literary device, and that it is indeed some kind of creature with a bizarre and inhuman perspective on space and time.  Cultists make fiendish sacrifices in the name of Yog-Sothoth, seeking knowledge or power.  And occasionally something answers.

One of the strangest cases, the details of which were purged and surpressed by Terassan authorities, but which are known to a few daring students of black esoterica, is that of the small village of Dunvicus.  The Green Book, which can be found in a few mouldering collections, tells of one Lavinia Vatleigh, a balshatoi woman who lived deep in the marshy hills outside of Dunvicus with her father, Old Man Vatleigh. Officially, her father was accused of incest when Lavinia became pregnant and gave birth to a strange boy, Vilbur, although the Old Man always denied it.  Yog-Sothoth himself was the father.  Vilbur was a strange child, who grew quickly and seemed intelligent after a fashion, but who always inspired loathing and dread where ever he want.  Vilbur disappears from the public record and the Green Book makes no mention of his eventual fate, although whatever sinister design Old Man Vatleigh had planned seems to have been thwarted, at least for the time being.  Shortly after Vilbur's disappearance, the Green Book makes reference to a garbled account of some kind of menace that nearly destroyed the entire village of Dunvicus entirely, and even today, several generations after the event, locals are suspicious and recalcitrant to speak with anyone who mentions the Unpleasantness, as they call it.  The Green Book suggests, horrifyingly, that Vilbur had a twin brother--one who resembled more closely his unearthly father, Yog-Sothoth, rather than his earthly mother Lavinia.

Otherwise, however, references to Yog-Sothoth are vague and sporadic.  The name is known to students of the occult, but much of his or its nature is not, nor is their agreement on who or what it is, if it is indeed a thing at all, and not just a cosmic principle like gravity, for instance.

The Green Book does make reference to Yog-Sothoth as a being of blasphemous glowing orbs and ever-changing shape.  Few take this literally.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Megafauna again

I'm a big fan of paleontology, and while dinosaurs have to be my first true paleontological love (of course) not far behind them are the therapsid and thecodont assemblages of the late Permian and Triassic--prior to the dominance of the dinosaurs--and the late Age of the Mammals: the Pleistocene megafaunas that we mostly just barely missed seeing.  Today, only Africa (and to a slightly lesser extent Asia) contain full, robust mammalian megafaunas.  Those of Europe, North America, South America, and Australia are impoverished.  (And Antarctica hasn't had a robust mammalian megafauna since at least the Grand Coupure, or Eocene-Oligocene Extinction Event of 34 million years ago.)

My initial thought, then, was that the DARK•HERITAGE would feature a North American Pleistocene fauna.  This is pretty much the same as the current fauna, but it adds a number of other players--big lions, sabertooths, mastodons and mammoths (mostly non-woolly, because I'm doing a more temperate climate), giant bears and beavers, giant camels and llama-like creatures, wild horses of various species, etc.

I decided to mix this up just a bit, although the details are somewhat esoteric and probably not of interest to many.  But they were to me.  I decided to use "bone-dogs" instead of dire wolves, because I thought they'd be a little more interesting and exotic.  "Bone-dogs" are what I call Borophagus diversidens, often called "bone-crushing dogs" because of their hyena-like jaw morphology.  These poor guys have unfairly been labeled scavengers, but given the numbers of them, that's seems fairly ridiculous.  Given the fact that hyenas have also been conclusively demonstrated, despite long-held prejudices to the contrary, to be successful active hunters who are often hanging around hoping to scavenge their own kills after lions have bullied them away from it, the idea of bone-dogs being obligate scavengers, or even primarily scavengers, seems intellectually bankrupt.

I also referred to hyenas in Kurushat earlier, when it was more overtly D&D-like, because it included gnolls as well.  This led me to decide that the southern shores of the Mezzovian Sea have a European-Central Asian Pleistocene megafauna, including cave hyenas, Elasmotherium and other hairy rhinos, cave lions, etc.  It isn't really terribly different from that of North America if you pave over minor differences--cave lions vs. American lions, tarpans vs. Equus scotti and other species of American horse, Columbian mammoths vs. steppe mammoths or straight-tusked elephants, ancient bison vs. steppe bison, red deer vs. elk, etc.  There are a few unique indicators, like hyenas and rhinos to Europe, and ground sloths, glyptodonts and various camelids to North America.  And besides, who really cares about the difference between a cave lion and an American cave lion anyway?

But lately, I've been somewhat obsessed with Patagonia.  I'm now putting it high on my list of desirable hikes, and I especially like that their hiking season is directly opposite that of North American mountains (the same is also true of the Southern Alps of New Zealand, by the way.)  It occurs to me, however, that I can get this fairly quickly in DARK•HERITAGE by focusing more on the flora than the fauna.  Lenga and ñirre trees instead of pines--maybe even some monkey puzzle trees instead of stuff like ponderosa or white pines and aspens or junipers.  Most of the animals of Patagonia, actually had close analogs during the Pleistocene in North America; in fact, most of them originally came from North America during the Great American Interchange.  There were some specific Pleistocene South American animals--like toxodons and Macrauchenia.  Gomphotheres and giant sloths are similar enough to mastodons and North American giant sloths.  Tapirs, guanacos and llamas are all animals that had Pleistocene North American counterparts.  A few flightless birds, like rheas, are about the only significant orphans that can be found in Patagonia but don't have analogs in North America, but I can add them if I want them, or not if I don't.

Why bother?  Eh.  It's just a minor detail.  Windswept lenga forests that turn orange and then red in the fall as opposed to conifer clad mountains aren't all that different.  Pampas and Great Plains--well, other than the rheas, what's the difference?  It's a bit of color that most people won't even notice.  But I would.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Clone Wars season six

The Clone Wars finally coming to Netflix, with thirteen all new, never before seen episodes is great news for Star Wars fans (and I certainly count myself as one of those.)  I've had the series on DVD, so this is actually the best I've ever seen them; in HD, on my bigger TV with the better stereo.  And what better way to kick that off than with all new episodes?

Unfortunately, I had a busy weekend, so I only got to see the first story arc--of four episodes.  I think it's probably not much of a spoiler to say that "protocol 66"--the engineered programing in all of the clone's mind that enables Order 66; the Jedi extermination order, remains undiscovered by the Jedi.  Revenge of the Sith would have had a hard time playing out as it did otherwise.

But it's interesting to see how this show has gotten progressively darker as the seasons have progressed.  Sure, there's still some silly Jar Jar episodes, or whimsical droid episodes, but we're also diving into pretty deep stuff, and pretty dark stuff, as the series led up to Revenge of the Sith.  It was originally the intention of the show's creators that the end of the series would dovetail perfectly into that movie, but because of the business reality of Disney's purchase of Lucasfilm, and their not surprising desire to get out of airing shows on a competitor's network (The Cartoon Network, in this case) it's tragic yet unsurprising to see that that goal remains incompletely fulfilled.  A similar thing happened to the great Marvel shows that were on at the time; the Avengers show, the Spectactular Spider-man show, etc. all moving aside to make room for DisneyXD shows with similar characters.

Luckily, however, Disney is fully onboard with the Netflix business model, and is putting stuff on Netflix fairly quickly.  And luckily, some of the replacement shows are pretty good.  I was initially quite sceptical of Spider-man and his Ultimate Friends; my somewhat tongue-in-cheek nostalgic nickname for the current show, but I have to admit that it's grown on me a bit, and it's not a bad show at all.  I have similar hopes that Star Wars Rebels will be as good as The Clone Wars was... but it won't be the Clone Wars, and that's a bit of a shame, really.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Ah... Patagonia!

For the most part, I've moved my hiking discussion to my hiking blog, so I don't clog up this blog with posts that are off topic, but I hope I can be indulged to make a generic one today.  I love hiking.  I love backpacking.  Because I have a typical cubicle job and a family, including older kids who are going to graduate from High School sooner than I'd like to think, I don't get to get out hiking and backpacking as much as I'd like.  My wife tries to be supportive, but since she has no interest in doing this herself, that leaves me on my own, and honestly; there is some psychological toll on leaving the family behind to go indulge a hobby that's exclusively my own for a week or two at a time.  Luckily, my younger boys are expressing a keen interest in the activity.  Although they're not (quite) big enough to carry a serious backpacking backpack into the wilderness yet, they're only a year or two away from it.  In fact, Little DARK•HERITAGE No. 3, who is twelve and about 5' tall right now (although I'd be surprised if he weighs more than 80 lbs.) thinks he's ready this summer, and I'm inclined to agree.  Although he'll have an even easier time of it in the next few years to come.

Luckily for me, I live in the US, which is blessed with some of the most beautiful, scenic, dramatic and amazing terrain to be found in the entire world.  I'm quite patriotic about the landscapes of my homeland, in fact--I've often said that I have no need to go abroad to go backpacking.  With all of the myriad destinations in the Rockies and the deserts of the Southwest, I'm probably good for most of the rest of my life, in fact--and that says nothing of the lands of the Great Lakes, the Sierra Nevadas, the Cascades, the Appalachians, etc.

However, the season in which to enjoy mountains in North America is fairly short.  It varies somewhat based on the depth and lateness of winter-time snow, but it is reliably July, August and September in the high country... and sometimes June and portions of October if you get lucky with your weather, or don't get too high in your elevation.

The southwest deserts, on the contrary, are best avoided during the height of summer; their hiking season is (mostly) the shoulders of that--March, April and May, September, October and November.  They're even doable in the winter sometimes.  And the far southern deserts, as found in places like Saguaro National Park or Big Bend National Park, can even reliably be hiked in December, January and February.

But, let's face it--while I can find options here, what I love the most are the mountains, and the season is too short.  I'm not reliably going to be available every year to hit the kinds of mountains I want to see in the northern hemisphere.  This has got me looking at other potential destinations in the southern hemisphere, where the reliable hiking season is January, February and March.

Thanks in part to the Tolkien movies filmed in New Zealand, the scenic appeal of that country has reached worldwide consciousness, but for my money, I've always been drawn to Patagonia.  I actually lived in Argentina for two years many years ago (over twenty, now) although I was in Buenos Aires province, on the Atlantic side.  Too far north (by a small margin) to be in Patagonia proper, and certainly too far east to benefit from any of the scenic grandeur of the Andes.  I am, however, despite the rustiness of my Spanish (or castellano, maybe I should say) quite comfortable with the notion of traveling in Argentina and Chile, and the Andes portion of them have been a source of backpacking destinations for some time, albeit somewhat quietly.  Patagonia is a wide, wild region--over 400,000 square miles.  Roughly equivalent in size to Ontario, or two and a half times that of California (about half again as large as Texas, although notably smaller than Alaska.) 

There's some great advantages, in fact, to backpacking in the Andes.  There's a notable lack of dangerous wildlife (no grizzlies, or even black bears!) and compared to many of the big destinations in the US, they are fairly undeveloped and still remote and relatively inaccessible... which keeps the crowds down.  Way down.

Here's a few of the destinations I'd like to add to my "to-do" list in the Patagonian Andes:
  • Parque Nacional Los Glaciares [The Glaciers National Park] in Argentina.  Famous as the site of Monte FitzRoy and Cerro Torre, this wide, wild open area has relatively well-developed lodges/resorts and a trail system, and is wide open.  You just show up and start hiking in some of the most spectacular, glacially carved mountains in the world.  Then, when you're done with that, you take a bus to the southern portion of the park and watch calving glaciers coming down off of the Southern Patagonian Ice field (the largest continental ice other than the Antarctic and Greenland ice caps) into massive Lake Argentino.
  • Future Pagagonia National Park, which is today, Reserva Nacional Jeinimini and Reserva Nacional Tamango, with Estancia Valle Chacabuco in between them, private land that is being developed to be donated to the park service of Chile.  It's open now to the public to enjoy as if it were a Wilderness Area or National Park in the US.  Beautiful scenery, called "The Yellowstone of Patagonia", this is one to watch.  I'd like to see it while it's still on "the ground floor" so to speak.
  • Parque Nacional Torres del Paine [Paine Towers National Park] includes some of the most iconic mountainscapes in all of South America, if not the world.  Curiously, however, it's Monte FitzRoy from nearby Glaciares that was used for the old Patagonia clothing label.  But this is one of the best hikes in the world, according to connoisseurs of such things.
  • Reserva Nacional Cerro Castillo -- a very lightly traveled, yet stunningly beautiful portion of the Andes.
  • Lagos district -- I haven't really nailed down any specifics here, but the Bariloche disctrict was justly famous when I was in Argentina.  I'd love to climb up to Lago Frey, which is a famous rock-climbing destination.  I'm not really a technical rock-climber, but I appreciate the same kinds of formations that rock-climbers do, because they tend to be beautiful and dramatic.
  • The Lonquimay and Tolhuaca volcanos--Andean Shastas or Rainiers, draped in monkey-puzzle tree forests.  Tons of other Araucanía volcanic sites, actually.  This is where they love to go to film the landscape portions of CGI dinosaur movies like Walking With Dinosaurs or Chased By Dinosaurs.  The black volcanic soil, dramatic mountains and ridges, and ancient-looking monkey puzzle trees make for a truly unique landscape.
  • The Navarino circuit, around Navarino island, with the famous "Dientes" [Teeth of Navarino] mountain range down in the Tierra del Fuego area.

Friday, February 28, 2014

H. P. Lovecraft's "Most Important" stories

So, I've been reading "The Complete" works of H. P. Lovecraft (although it doesn't include the ghost-writtern or collaborative works).  The stories in this collection are arranged chronologically, which is a little bit unfortunate... I've been reading some of his least polished works first, including several that I've never read before (like "The Transition of Juan Romero" or "Old Bugs."  I wasn't missing much with most of these.)

This leads me to wonder which stories I would recommend as the "most important" ones to read.  I'm thinking that there are plenty that Lovecraft initiates would never really have to read  But some are the really iconic ones--the ones that have led to long-lived and lasting influence, either because they've contributed something that has since been utilized by the "Yog-Sothothery" circle, or have been important in gaming since.  I'm going to try to limit this to the "Top Ten" stories, but it may end up being "To Ten (Or So)" if I feel I need to add one or two more to get the list "complete".  Given in no particular order, because they really all should be read by anyone who cares to learn anything about Lovecraft's work.  Many of them are novellas, but none of them are particularly long.  In fact, I'd go so far as to say that all of his novellas make the list, as well as several of his short stories.
  1. The DreamQuest of Unknown Kadath was, curiously, my gateway into Lovecraft.  I used to have an old "adult" coloring book complete with essays that identified important writers of fantasy, and this was the one that was referred to.  I still prefer it to many of this stories, although from a Lovecraft fans' perspective, it's an odd one.  Taking place entirely in the DreamLands, it reads in many ways more like an odd Sword & Sorcery story than a Lovecraftian horror story.  In spite of that, it's one of the main sources of many creatures of the mythos--the nightgaunts, the moon-beasts, the Plateau of Leng and Kadath, the Gugs, the ghouls, Nyarlathotep and Azathoth, etc.  In many ways, it's a trojan horse--it seems like sword & sorcery, but it's actually one of the better horror stories in the corpus.  I do, however, admit that the long, rambling, unbroken-by-chapters text can be a bit difficult to read at one go...
  2. The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is one of the first Lovecraft novellas I read way back in high school in the late 80s.  It feels, in many ways, more like a traditional horror story, albeit a pretty good one.  I don't know that it necessarily brings a lot of anything new or unique to the Mythos to the table, but since it's one of his better stories, and one of only five novellas that Lovecraft wrote, I think it deserves to be on the list.
  3. At the Mountains of Madness is, on the other hand, one of the most iconic of Lovecraft's stories, and the capstone of his phase of writing that really drifts into science fiction horror.  It's a flawed masterpiece, no doubt.  After a very strong beginning, it wanders into an extended flashback that largely dilutes the ambiance of horror that it delivered in the first half of the story.  And at the very end, it comes to a confusing and anti-climactic finish.  But wow, the story that you can see Lovecraft reaching for here; the one that he almost but doesn't quite manage to tell, but which you can glimpse regardless, it's not hard to see why this story is fondly well-regarded.  It's one of the most important to read to understand the whole ouvre of Lovecraft and his fellows.
  4. The Shadow Over Innsmouth is a truly effective horror story, as well as one of the most crucial in terms of icons that are remembered today--Innsmouth itself, the Deep Ones, the Esoteric Order of Dagon, etc.  It's also the starting point for the wildly successful Delta Green setting for the Call of Cthulhu RPG.  You can't say you understand what a CoC game, or Lovecraft's writing is about, really, if you haven't read this, I think.
  5. The Shadow Out of Time, along with Mountains, best encapsulates the science fiction horror that later seemed to take over a fair bit of Lovecraft's writing.  However, this is one that I haven't read in so long, that I don't remember a lot of details about it!  Luckily, it's on my to-read list in two formats--electronic and in print--so I can get back up to speed.
  6. The Mound is a ghost-written novella, but it's one of his most important, and equal in quality (and similar in theme) to Mountains or Shadow Out of Time--although rather than being weird aliens that it describes, it talks about serpent men who live under the earth and worship the snake-god Yig--an element that has taken on a bit of a life of its own outside of Lovecraft's writing per se (Yig is important in the Green Ronin setting of Freeport, for instance.)
  7. "The Doom That Came to Sarnath" is an interesting story, more along the lines of DreamQuest, that is a history essay, of sorts, of the Sword & Sorcery setting that Lovecraft loosely developed.  Many may quibble with its inclusion here, but especially for gamers who come out of a D&D milieu, I think these two are important gateways into more "complete" Lovecraftiana.  It also contains an iconic Lovecraftian element; the said "Doom" which harks back to many of the same themes that infuse his other work, including Innsmouth, "Dagon" and others.
  8. "The Call of Cthulhu" is often considered the most iconic of Lovecraft's stories, the one that most fully explored his themes (or at least the themes he explored at a certain phase of his writing; as I said earlier, Mountains of Madness and Shadow Out of Time evolved him into slightly different themes...)  Plus, the RPG is names after this one.  If, for some reason, you can only read one Lovecraft story, it should be this one.  The structure of the story, too, encapsulates the best of Lovecraft's work, and features most of his recurrant themes--distrust of foreigners, fear of the sea, etc.  It's really got it all.
  9. "The Colour Out of Space" is an unusual and creepy story from his more "science fictional" phase--an alien presence of some kind that kills a farmstead and destroys the area around it, but which is never fully understood or even adequately described.
  10. "The Dunwich Horror" is the iconic story for a Call of Cthulhu adventure, given that it has a cadre of "informed" academics that heads out into the hills of Arkham County to confront a supernatural menace and stop it with a magic spell that they've learned.  This is less in the science fiction horror department, and more in the "weird supernatural" horror, with witchcraft, and more, featuring as important focii in the story.
  11. "The Whisperer in Darkness" is the source, as far as I know, of the mi-go, which are an iconic Lovecraftian element, and vastly important to the Delta Green setting.  This is also just a pretty good story, and the subject of an independent movie.
  12. "The Dreams in the Witch-House" is a great example of how even the more traditional witchcraft/ghost story has weird, science fictionish elements in it.  Also, c'mon--Brown Jenkin has got to be an iconic Lovecraft character!
Anything I'm missing?  I'm sure at least a couple of these would be controversial picks--I admit that I picked some of them just because I like them, rather than because they're objectively important.  But mostly the ones that I like are also the ones that are important.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

New publishing

I've been really excited about the new publishing model that seems to be generating a lot of steam these days.  Here's an article on Publisher's Weekly about it (although you probably can't read it, because it's subscriber's content only.  I couldn't.)

I did, however, find an excerpt from it that was available, shown below:  "For decades, aspiring authors were taught to bow before the altar of Big Publishing. Writers were taught that publishers alone possessed the wisdom to determine if a writer deserved passage through the pearly gates of author heaven. Writers were taught that publishers had an inalienable right to this power, and that this power was for the common good of readers. They were taught rejection made them stronger. They were taught that without a publisher’s blessing, they were a failed writer.

And it was true. Without a publisher, the writer was doomed to failure, because without a publisher the writer couldn’t reach readers. Six years ago publishers controlled the three essential legs of the professional publishing stool: the printing press, the access to retail distribution, and the knowledge of professional publishing best practices. It was a print-centric world where e-books were but an inconsequential glimmer in the eyes of a few delusional hippies, me included. A writer could self-publish in print, but without retail distribution these writers were destined to fill their garages with unsold printed books, all the while lining the pockets of vanity presses who exploited their dreams of authorship....

Today, the myth of traditional publishing is unraveling. The stigma of traditional publishing is on the rise.

The author community is growing increasingly disenchanted by Big Publishing’s hard line on 25% net e-book royalties, high e-book prices, slow payouts, and insistence on DRM copy protection. The recent news of major publishers touting record e-book-powered earnings only adds insult to authors’ perceived injury.

Authors are also disappointed by Big Publishing’s misguided foray into vanity publishing with Pearson/Penguin’s 2012 acquisition of Author Solutions, a company known for selling over-priced publishing packages to unsuspecting writers. Multiple publishers have formed sock puppet imprints powered by ASI: Simon & Schuster’s Archway, Penguin Random House’s Partridge Publishing in India, HarperCollins’ Westbow, Hay House’s Balboa Press, Writer’s Digests’ Abbott Press, and Harlequin’s Dellarte Press. These deals with the devil confirmed the worst fears held by indie authors who already questioned if publishers viewed writers as partners or as chattel.

This, along with a number of other articles and posts and discussions with authors about the state of the publishing industry, speak to a very changed (and still evolving) environment that benefits both authors and readers at the expense of the middle-man.  For example, here's another fascinating post by Michael Sullivan, an author I've read a little bit of and reviewed here before:

Here's an entire series of posts on the subject:

Of course, my excitement for this new movement has been tempered by the fact that my forays into ebooks has not gone well.  Of course, I've been really cheap and only picked up (so far) Kindle books that were free, and that probably skews my experience downward.  I've read some great ebooks... but they were public doman, and I already in fact own print copies of many of them.  And then I've read--or tried to read--a number of ebooks that were the free first offerings in series with pay for sequels.  Until now, my experience there had been fairly dismal.

I freely admit that my selection process was informed more by abject cheapness than by any kind of rational process that I'd have used for books that I was buying normally, but still.  It was a sad prognosis of the state of the self-published and electronically published world that hinted that finding good material was going to be more difficult than I'd hoped, which of course, strongly argues against the movement in the first place.

I was able to break this sad streak with Jonathan Moeller's Demonsouled, a first book in a sword & sorcery series that I not only happily read from beginning to end, but enjoyed quite a bit, and will probably go on to pick up the pay-for sequels to it.  Probably (although in the meantime, I still have a lot of material to wade through.)  The book is free, and I read it on my phone's Kindle app, often while sitting around waiting so I got it in fits and spurts at times when I otherwise wouldn't have been able to read at all.

Now that I've finished it, I'm reading The Complete Works of H. P. Lovecraft, another free ebook that I picked up on Cthulhuchick's website, and then sent to my Kindle.  The title is somewhat misleading, as it doesn't actually include any of his collaborations or ghost-written stories.  Keen-eyed observers may note that on my to-read page, I show a variety of Lovecraft collections.  This suggests that I haven't read Lovecraft, which given the focus of this blog would seem very odd.  Of course, I have read an enormous quantity of Lovecraft.  I added those books because I picked them up on Amazon and hadn't ever read those copies before.  Also, because although I've read many Lovecraft stories, including many that I've read many times, I've never read all of them, and a casual glance at the table of contents of each of the volumes all show at least one story that I've never read.  So I added them.  And then I got this Kindle collection, which will make them somewhat obsolete, but still.  Included in my print copies is a volume of most of Lovecraft's collaborations and ghost-written stories, only a few of which I've read, as well as a good collection of Mythos stories by other early Mythos writers.

And actually, my "relationship" with Lovecraft is much more complicated and complex than merely saying that I'm a fan.  I've often claimed that he's my favorite terrible writer, and that I like many of his stories in spite of themselves, not because they're so good.  On the one hand, the idea of horrible, alien monstrosities, lurking just below the surface, an entire "secret history" that invalidates everything we think we know about science, philosophy and more, are all right up my alley. On the other hand... Cthulhu himself is kinda limp, if you think about it. I mean, he just sleeps all the time, lurking at the bottom of the sea. Apparently, if he rises, rather than it being the apocalyptic end times, all you have to do is thump him on the head with a boat. Many of the rest of the ideas in Lovecraft's corpus, as well as that of his imitators, is similarly just silly rather than scary. Non-Euclidean geometry? Huh? I suppose that's scary if I have to remember any parabolic or hyperbolic calculus, but otherwise, so what?  The Hounds of Tindalos live in the angles of time rather than the curves? Wha...? Even the Elder Things, in "At the Mountains of Madness" are surprisingly humanized and robbed of any "tooth" when it comes to being frightening. This "masterpiece" starts of great and atmospheric, and then completely falls apart under its own weight, so you almost have to read between the lines to actually get a good story out of it.  And all of this, of course, says very little about Lovecraft's writing craft, which often rendered his works anticlimactic and faintly humorous despite his intentions.  The finale of "Dagon" in particular comes to mind, although it's not a unique failure.

In fact, that is so often a failure of his monsters and horrors that it's almost a running joke.  They're just not really horrible.  You can't not eventually have a reveal of your monster--that's kind of the whole point from a reader's point of view of reading a monster/supernatural horror story.  And yet, Lovecraft either sidestepped it on occasion, or more likely, had disappointing and anti-climatic monsters that were limp and silly when actually revealed.  Acute angles that behaved as if they were obtuse angles just isn't a scary concept.  It's a silly one.  Plus, horror works because it stimulates the imagination (over-stimulates it, possibly) and it's a bit hard to actually imagine these weird angles in a building.

No doubt, he was on to something--and later writers and fans could sense it--but somehow he failed in his execution.  He grasped and something perpetually out of his reach.  But we, as readers, could sense in a way, what he was grasping at and applaud the effort--and want to see it somehow successfully reached by someone.  So we keep coming back for more.