Articles Worth Looking At (The Week of 17 June)

Hullo, everyone! Today, I would like to share a few of my favourite articles from across the internet! #EverythingIsContent!

I’ve been reading Gene Wolfe and it’s been a beautiful adventure. The Shadow of the Torturer is complex and full of mystery, a world far in our future, dark and hard, subjected to rules and laws I haven’t begun to grasp. For anyone who, like me, has an interest in reading Wolfe’s work, Neil Gaiman has offered up this guide: https://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/public/neil-gaiman-gene-wolfe-folio-society/

This key to Wolfe’s work goes well beyond The Book of the New Sun and it’s worth the read if you want to get familiarised with the works of one of the most lauded Grandmasters of SFF.

There may not be a wrong way to read a book, but if you will indulge me, I will offer advice on how to read the books of Gene Wolfe. It helps to have a key, or it can. The first book of his I learnt to read was the novel Peace. The first time I read it, in my late teens, I read a gentle memoir of Midwestern life. The second time, in my early twenties, I discovered that if, as you read it, you realize that its narrator has been dead for many years, and you look for deaths in the text, particularly deaths he might have been in some way involved in, the shape of the novel changes. It becomes darker and more precise. I had learnt that, in reading Wolfe, every word matters.

If you’re feeling an itch far less literary, something more based in the land of fantasy gaming — whether computer of role-playing tabletop — then perhaps you’ll be interested to learn more about Larian Studios and Wizards of the Coast‘s wonderful collaboration in bringing the much hoped-for third game in the Baldur’s Gate series. Great changes are afoot for the ranger class but that’s far from the only thing discussed in this podcast/article, published by Kotaku.

One of the things that’s been nice is that [Baldur’s Gate 3 developer Larian and D&D steward Wizards of the Coast] have a very similar design culture. So there was one instance where, as we look at our character classes, we look at feedback we get in the tabletop space. There was one class we were working on at that got a lot of negative feedback, so I shot an email over to Nick [Pechenin, systems designer] about “Hey, we’re looking at making some changes, potentially playtesting some new material for this class in tabletop, just to let you guys know.” And he actually got back to me and said, “Hey for this class, actually that same exact issue has come up, and here’s what we’re looking at doing.” It was almost like we had already shared notes.

I love the team at Larian Studios and I’m really fond of the excellent work Wizard of the Coast has been doing with D&D 5e. Their collaboration is a recipe for greatness. What strategems will they deploy in order to make mindflayers of us all?

Speaking of strategems, I came across a six-part series that I’ve only began exploring, about a historian’s views on The Siege of Gondor. I’m a large history nerd and this is such an illuminating read, with a lot of strategic terms to educate the reader. I could read a book by Bret Devereaux talking through all the different engagements from Lord of the Rings without any trouble at all.

…the immediate operational goal of Sauron’s army is getting the army, intact, to Minas Tirith to lay siege to it; in comparison, the strategic goal of the campaign is the destruction of the Kingdom of Gondor through the capture of its capital and primary defense (Minas Tirith).

This set of objectives and the means chosen to achieve them are immediately historically plausible.  Pre-modern states – like the Kingdom of Gondor – often had a very limited administrative apparatus which was focused in a single place (it is hard to distribute your administration when the best communications technology you have is “man on horse”).  The destruction of that administrative center might very well be enough to end the war.

What else, what else?

Sea of Solitude image, courtesy of RPS

Sea of Solitude looks promising enough, doesn’t it? Apparently, it’s rather a unique game in that it aims to tell a deeply personal story about solitude, loneliness; creator Cornelia Geppert’s purpose is to explore the effect of these through the interactive medium. An article by RockPaperShotgun goes in-depth:

The screen is deliberately and serenely free of any user interface or button prompts. Being alone can be quite beautiful. The clue is in the title, Geppert says. “Solitude is for me the positive form of being alone.”

But at its heart Sea Of Solitude is exploring loneliness. One of the things I liked most was that at the very start Kay said to herself: “I have family. I have friends. And yet here I am, feeling lonely. Again.” There is an understanding that, just as being by yourself is not synonymous with being lonely, you can be surrounded by loved ones and still experience loneliness. In the immediate aftermath of my most recent break up, I found it difficult to talk to anyone when I was sad about it. Geppert related. She hummed agreement. “Mmmm! You feel lonely even though the other person is right in front of you telling you how much he loves you.”

Some of these monsters are, Geppert explained, humans at their core, changed by their extreme loneliness. It is changing Kay too: she is covered in black fur, and her eyes are red. In Geppert’s first concept she imagined scribbling with pen on paper to just let the anger and frustration out, creating a bundle of strange lines. “You always struggle with, ‘Am I wrong? What is going on? I’m so different from everybody else.’ When you feel lonely you always feel excluded,” Geppert said. “That was very clear for me so I wanted to tell the story like: loneliness represented as monsters.”

I don’t know about you lot but to me, this sounds like a wonderful way to explore and add to the conversation about human loneliness. After reading this article, I’m terribly excited to see how Sea of Solitude does.

That’s it for this week, the most interesting articles I read on the Internet. Hope you enjoyed some or all of them, dear reader! Until next time.

Sunday ComiX: Bone, Volume 01–Out from Bonetown

For as long as I’ve read superhero comic books, I have less experience with non-Marvel/DC titles than I’d like. I recently listened to the excellent “The View from the Cheap Seats” audiobook, written and performed by Neil Gaiman, who is one of the most talented writers I’ve read, dead or alive. He is also a constant source of inspiration, and this non-fiction novel has inspired me to read comic books a lot more broadly. I thought to start off with Eisner award-winning comics and I what’s a better start than…Bone, a series that took the 90s by storm!

A bit of backstory on Bone. It came out between 1991 and 2004. The complete run is 55 issues, and, as you’ve probably reasoned by now, these issues were released irregularly over the 13-year period. Bone was both drawn and written by one man, Jeff Smith. The art is reminiscent of a Looney Tunes cartoon in the very best of ways.

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The first volume presents us to our main cast of characters. First among our heroes if Fone Bone, a kind-hearted inhabitant of Bone Town who has the ill luck of being cousins with the most conniving man in town, Phoney Bone, a millionaire who’s been kicked out of town for the umpteenth time due to his constant scheming. This time, Phoney was kicked from Bone Town due to a scheme involving a statue of himself, a 50 ft. tall balloon, and bad prunes. To make up for Phoney Bone’s generally negative attitude, we’ve Smiley Bone, a tall, cigar-smoking empty-headed bone with a blissful smile permanently stuck on his face.

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Those are our Bones. But…there’s more! Take the dragon below. He too is a smoker, in fact. He also seems either very bored most of the time, or generally droopy. He’s introduced pretty early on in the first volume but his reasons for protecting Fone Bone don’t come into play until much later.

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All you need know is, the dragon is not to be trifled with.

One thing every colourful fairy-tale-leaning-towards-dark-fantasy comic book needs is a love interest! Enter Thorn.

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Now, I may have called her a love interest but she is so much more than that. Thorn is the first human we come upon, a gentle teenage girl living with her kindly old grandmother in the woods.

Did I say kindly? I meant to describe her as a cow-racing badass gramma, who fought the rats back in the BIG war! The name’s Gran’ma Ben, better not forget it, or she’ll make you regret it! The rats, naturally, are our bad guy goons; fluffy but monstrous, just as good children’s villains should be.

And this is the perfect graphic novel for a kid — it will never talk down to anyone, nor will it underestimate children’s intelligence. You’ll gain a lot from reading it regardless of age. This first volume serves as a nice introduction to the colourful world of Bone, some very entertaining characters and a mystery that gets a lot darker in the subsequent two volumes. (I just finished the third volume recently; expect my Bone vol. 3 post to be a lot more specific, with a number of panels and thoughts on specific issues.)

P.S. This once again proves that Neil Gaiman has spectacular taste in literature.

Next up, in Bone Vol. 02: The Cow Race! In it, a grandma races cows, a Phoney Bone is phoney, and a Smiley Bone is the most charming fake cow you’ll ever meet. Also, a honey boy comes between Fone Bone and Thorn! Oh, the horror.

Quote of the Day 09/09/2017

Another day of hard studies that keep me from writing the long’n’proper blog post about Dishonored 2 I’ve been toying around with, in my head. For that reason, have some filler content!

This quote is one of my favorite and comes from American Gods, by Neil Gaiman. American Gods is a fantastic novel — a spice of Americana, a dash of fantasy and about seventeen cups of mythology!

“Hey,” said Shadow. “Huginn or Muninn, or whoever you are.”
The bird turned, head tipped, suspiciously, on one side, and it stared at him with bright eyes.
“Say ‘Nevermore,'” said Shadow.
“Fuck you,” said the raven.”

Fragile Things

Whenever I read Neil Gaiman’s short-form fiction — his poetry and short stories — I feel as if I’m inhaling some alchemical substance, an aroma whose very essence is imagination, refined by years of study and hard work.

Fragile Things is one of several short story collections which might very well be my favorite (althought that’s arguable).  Some of the best stories you’ll discover in it include:

  • A Study in Emerald, a short story that mixes the Cthulhu mythos with Sherlock Holmes…with a major twist. The title is an obvious riff on A Study in Scarlet, where Holmes and Watson first appeared.
  • The Problem of Susan, a short story that acts as something of a study/critique of Susan Pevensie, one of the protagonists of the Narnia series. It’s a haunting story, and you can read it here, if you’ve nowhere to pick the anthology from, or if you need a taste before you commit to a purchase.
  •  Fifteen Painted Cards from a Vampire Tarot is a weird, disconnected tale; a few tales, revolving around the names of tarot cards.
  • The Monarch of the Glen, a novella-sized sequel to American Gods. If you haven’t read American Gods, I’d advise you to do so before touching this.
  • Instructions, a poem that gives instructions (what else) for surviving in a fairy tale land — since that can still happen, occasionally. How else could you explain Neil Gaiman’s hair?
  • Sunbird, which is also in the anthology of short stories prepared by Gaiman–Unnatural Creatures– is all about a club of bored rich people, who seek the most amazing gourmet food; when all else is tasted, they decide to feed on the exotic Sunbird.
  • How to talk to Girls at Parties, which is getting the movie treatment, was nominated for a Hugo, and is an overall fascinating piece of fiction, is about a shy boy going to a party with his best friend, and things getting pretty weird.
    As things are bound to, at parties…which you’d know, if you ever went to parties with me.

There’s more, of course, but these are the ones that left the biggest impact on me. The collection is very much worth your time!

Sunday Flirt, Vol. 03

Sundays are for…wandering through an abandoned metro and shooting at Nazis and Reds; They are for solving thirty-fifty corporate finance problems; Sundays are also great for stuffing yourself full of pizza. When in Italy… and you might as well watch the season finale of American Gods while you do that. Gods, I’ll miss that show.

Today’s dreadful pick-up lines are, in fact, inspired by American Gods!

  1. “As sure as water’s wet and days are long, so am I. But don’t take my word for it!”
  2. “And I know a nineteenth charm, and that charm is the sexiest of them all, and that charm I can tell no man…but you, my lady, are certainly no man. That I can tell, even with the one eye.”
  3. “Look at you! So buff, so strong – just ready to be bled dry for the glory of Odin!
  4. “Girl, I’d hang from a tree for nine days if it meant getting another kiss, and a coin-sized moon!”
  5.  “My dear man, no matter how much knowledge you discover from the deep waters below Yggdrasil, it won’t prepare you…for me.”

And that’s that. Awful, aren’t they?