Wednesday, November 26, 2008


My reading has stumbled a bit. All these books, and I'm not as excited as I used to be to read them. I think it's because I've read a series of them that are fairly mediocre. I haven't yet figured out exactly what I am currently excited about doing, so it's been a few weeks that I've been kinda drifting relatively purposeless. I'll eventually finish The Prisoner of the Horned Helmet but I'm not in a big hurry to do so. I watched Quantum of Solace which I quite liked and Twilight which I didn't mind, but didn't really like. The 007 film was better, in my opinion, than Casino Royale although apparently I'm in the minority for thinking so. I preferred the plot structure, if nothing else, and I even liked the villain better. I liked the development of the Quantum mythos; it's been a long time that Bond has needed a non-silly equivalent to SPECTRE to rear its ugly head, after all. But maybe I was alone-ish in thinking that Casino had a rough go with the pace-dragging recuperation scenes and the tacked on longish epilogue. I did, however, think that Quantum suffered from lack of exposition. I hadn't seen Casino recently, and Julie and I kept turning to each other and going "who was that again that they're talking about?" "what was this all about again?" I suspect that Casino and Quantum will stand together very well; they're quite tightly intertwined.

Twilight's target audience is teenage girls, so it's not terribly surprising that I was mostly unenthused by it. Not being a teenager anymore and never having been a girl, that is. I thought it was a bit slow and occasionally emotionally over-wrought, but not exactly terrible.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Mostly repaired

Well, I've mostly repaired my blog. I still can't figure out exactly why I have that weird little dark rectangle up in the top right hand corner. However, since I also don't have that weird scrunching up that I used to have, maybe I'll live with it for now.

If anyone is an expert on the CSS used to create these blog templates and can figure out what's wrong up there, let me know! I'd love to get rid of that little unsightly formatting gaffe.

EDIT: Hey, a little playing around and it's gone. Suh-weet!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


I deleted some files from my Photobucket account without realizing that they actually were an hotlinked in my blog rather than having been uploaded to blogger. Whoops! Shoulda known; I mucked with the code myself, I'd just forgotten.

Anyway, over the next few days, I may play around with the look and feel of the blog a bit, since I don't really remember the formatting html I used, and I don't actually have those images anymore. It'll take a little work to settle on a look and file that I like. I'd like to return to the dark text on ivory/parchment look eventually, though.

Monday, November 10, 2008

S&S Setting

Although it's hardly a new idea, I've been (off and on) fascinated with the concept of a prehistoric sword & sorcery setting. This isn't terribly different than the idea behind the iconic Sword & Sorcery setting, Howard's Hyborian Age or his earlier Pre-Cataclysmic Age of Kull of Atlantis. Clark Ashton Smith's Hyperborean cycle of prehistoric, temperate Greenland also fit into this mold, as do L. Sprague de Camp's Conan ripoff stories of the Pusadian Cycle. However, the primary source that really kicked off this idea in me several months ago was the mediocre movie 10,000 B.C. which takes an excellent idea, and then fails to do anything really dramatic with it.

More recently, I started reading James Silke's Death Dealer novels (I found the first three of four in a used book store for $2 each a month or so ago) which are set in the Mediterranean Basin during the Ice Age, a time which he assumes the basin was not flooded. As near as I can tell, this view is not supported by anyone anymore, and the closest thing is the Messinian Salinity Crisis some 5 odd million years ago in the late Miocene when the Mediterreanean partially (or maybe completely) dried up. Of course, this was twice as long ago as the best estimate for the appearance of Homo sapiens so naturally it doesn't work. Still; the idea of a Pleistocene high civilization that has since vanished without a trace is not a new one, and some archeological suspect, yet entertaining nonetheless books about the subject do appear from time to time. Heck; Graham Hancock seems to have built an entire career in trying to prove the existence of global high civilization that existed some 10,000 years or so ago and which subsequently disappeared and set humanity back eons to claw its way back up to where it had previously been only after thousands of years of suffering through the most prolonged dark age known to man.

I don't believe this kind of stuff for a minute, but... what if it's true? What if high civilization existed during the Pleistocene, perhaps in North America even? I started looking around for some geologically interesting places where I could construct such a setting, and came up with the idea of Lake Agassiz. This gigantic lake was once situation right in the heart of North America, and it took up more real estate than all of the Great Lakes today do combined. During the Younger Dryas, the last glacial maximum and cooling period of the Ice Age, Lake Agassiz was drained into the Atlantic Ocean. In fact, some scientists claim that it's feasible that the rapid draining of Lake Agassiz in fact caused the Younger Dryas, by putting all that cooler fresh water into the ocean and disrupting current flow. In any case, Lake Agassiz is a candidate for catastrophic, rapid draining; walls of water racing across the continental face in an event that would have been a suitable candidate for the elimination of the civilization that dwelt on its shores.

In addition to Lake Agassiz, Lake Bonneville is another good candidate; a gigantic lake that covered pretty much the entirety of what is now the state of Utah. This is another one that's believed to have flooded catastrophically about 14,500 years ago. See, this would be the difference between my setting and some of the others I've read; the utilization of real life geography as much as possible as the building blocks of the setting.

I know, I know, for anyone besides me, who cares? But I think it's an interesting challenge to try and build a setting, set around the shores of prehistoric Lake Bonneville, featuring the Pleistocene megafauna, and conforming to sword & sorcery conventions for wildness and fun.

Anyway, I'm excited. I've started making notes and playing around with maps already, and I'm eager to see what I can come up with here.

Atronomy pic of the day

If you haven't ever checked out the Atronomy pic of the day link, you should.

Here's a slightly older one of some bright, blue stars in a star-forming nebula in the Small Magellanic cloud. Get the full-sized version to check out all the background galaxies you can see. Wild stuff.

Friday, November 07, 2008


For some reason, I've been on a bit of a Predator kick. I've watched both the movies, and read the Concrete Jungle novel and am now reading the Cold War novel. They're not brilliant, by any means: both are by Nathan Archer, who was a newcomer to the writing gig at the time, and both are adaptations of prior Dark Horse comic book runs. Both of those original source materials were (apparently) written in the interlude between the first Predator movie and the second, since they completely fail to allude to anything in the second Predator movie, which honestly doesn't make sense unless they were simply written first.

Not brilliant... but fun enough and easy to read. Disposible fiction (probably why I bought them at used book stores) and frankly kinda mindless in a way; retreading the movies significantly, yet... after slogging through Gardens of the Moon that really kinda hit the spot. I'll read the rest of the Aliens and Predator and Aliens vs. Predator books that I picked up before I attempt anything a bit more serious.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Gardens of the Moon

Precision with terminology is a pet peeve of mine. In particular, I'm thinking about labels for subdivisions of fantasy fiction. At least at the moment. I've heard plenty of really sloppy labeling, like calling the Lord of the Rings movies Sword & Sorcery for example. One example that's not quite as blatant, yet is nuanced and significant nonetheless is the mislabeling of any fantasy that is highly fantastical as High Fantasy. High Fantasy as a subgenre is many things; ironically, having a high level of wahoo fantasy is not necessarily one of them, and in fact is probably a good indication that the work in question is not High Fantasy at all. High Fantasy tends to take place in fairly realistic worlds that closely resemble some real world society on many levels, usually a medieval one.

The reason I bring this up is because I finally finished reading Gardens of the Moon last night. And frankly, I don't think it's High Fantasy at all, although it is highly fantastic. You've got flying giant bugs, for example, that serve as mounts for army couriers. You've got gods and godlike beings that play around in the mortal worlds as a matter of course, and in fact the clash between several such beings is the pivotal climax at the end of Gardens. But the book is not High Fantasy. It's fairly dark in many ways, it's gritty, it's got tons of intrigue and espionage, it's got strong military themes: it does a lot of things, but adhering closely to standard High Fantasy plot points, setting points and other familiar themes is not one of the things that it does at all.

I can't say that I really liked it. I thought it was poorly structured. For hundreds of pages, I really didn't have any idea what was going on, who the characters being described were, and why I should care about the bizarre, inexplicable and unexplained things that were happening to them. That changed a bit as the book got on and I started to be able to follow plot threads, even though they still bounced around like the literary version of ADD without any explanation of what was going on. As the book wound up to its climax, though, I found that I was underwhelmed by the entire thing. There were some cool ideas in it, but I just never really bought into the characters or their plights, and the subplot resolutions felt empty to me. Not only did I not really like most of the characters, some of them very actively annoyed me (Kruppe being the biggest offender here, but Lorn, Rake and a few others count as well.) The characters all felt very flat and poorly conceived, and their cardboard motivations, or sometimes lack thereof, made them unsympathetic and boring to read about.

Many other things were introduced and then not fully explored, while other things got tons of activity, but it felt like buzzing around in a great deal of rather pointless noise. The plot structure really needed a stronger focus and concentration on accomplishing goals, and the characters (and dialogue) needed a lot of work. The setting was decent, although also not as well explored as perhaps it could have been. It wasn't showcased well enough to make it a real asset.

Do I like the book well enough to go on? Well, frankly, I've already bought Deadhouse Gates so that's a moot point. If I bought it, eventually I'll read it. If I hadn't bought it already, would I now that I've finished Gardens? Honestly: probably not.

Monday, November 03, 2008


One problem with a Play-by-post game is that you're stuck according to vagaries that don't plague face-to-face games. One of them is that people aren't necessarily posting at the same time. Games can lag for even simple tasks that could be resolved in seconds in face-to-face.

Another issue, and this has been plagueing me today, is server availability. Circvs Maximvs, where I run the "Demons in the Mist" game, has been flaky today, and quite frequently as I've tried to update it, I've found it unavailable. Grrr... One of the things that has made this game (so far) so successful was the fast pace. I'm concerned long term about losing momentum. These server issues, right on the heels of a long, weird, holiday weekend where folks weren't as available as they had been prior, is worrisome, as it can cause the game to slow down and never pick back up again as well as it had been.

Also; just a minor thing; I changed the settings so comments are now on a pop-up window instead of a new page. Maybe I'll get a few more that way.

Sword & Sorcery

Just for fun, I spent a little bit of time earlier on the Wikipedia article for Sword & Sorcery, and I like what it says about the subgenre in terms of influences. I think what's occasionally forgotten, especially today, is the influence of swashbuckling authors like Alexandre Dumas and Rafael Sabatini, and the influence of the classic Arabian Nights style Orientalism that also informed guys like H. Rider Haggard and Edgar Rice Burroughs.

This is really just a plug, though... Rafael Sabatini. If you haven't read this guy, you should. In my opinion, his best novels are Scaramouche, Captain Blood and The Black Swan. Captain Blood also got a credible film adaptation in the 30s; the movie that made Errol Flynn and Olivia de Haviland both into superstars. The adaptations of Scaramouche (with Stewart Granger) and The Black Swan (with Tyrone Power) aren't bad, but aren't as good. Don't miss out on the original novels, though... Sabatini's skill with prose is considerable.

Sword & Planet

I really, really applaud Paizo for putting together the Planet Stories imprint to bring a lot of older pulp stories back into print. I've talked about it here and there from time to time, but I'm fairly anti-establishment in terms of literature, and part of that means that I eschew "sophistication" (to some extent) and celebrate the cheap and gratuitous thrills of the pulps. Of course, that's not really anti-establishment, especially since some of the pulp writers have now been dead long enough that its fashionable to like them again.

Be that as it may, I applaud Paizo for publishing the stuff, but I haven't yet become a consumer myself. In part, this is because I already have so many of these works from their earlier published efforts (especially the Leight Brackett and Otis Adelbert Kline.) I realize that in many cases, those earlier DAW or Ace versions or heavily expurgated and badly mauled, but I'm a tightwad by nature and it goes against the flow to buy something that I already have, even if the newer version is better. Other times, they just haven't happened to hit on stuff that I liked (the Michael Moorcock Mars books, for example, are absolutely terrible. I'd never buy those, no matter how fancy the new cover art is.)

That said, there are a few of their imprints that I actually really want to buy, including those by Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore.

In any case, if you're unfamiliar with Paizo's line, or the whole brand of planetary romance and sword & sorcery pulp fantasy/science fiction in general, then do yourself a favor and browse through their catalog.

Rat Bastard vs. Cuddly Puppydog Love-a-thon

I've found myself somewhat subconsciously pulling my punches a bit in this Pbp, in part because I'm enjoying the character interactions too much to bring them to a premature end this early. That ever happen to you? Shautha really probably should've died this weekend, but she pulled through. Just barely. I didn't "cheat" per se, but I also didn't really give her the full treatment that I would have otherwise.