Thursday, December 5, 2019

Cool Stuff I Read Recently

Well, technically I listened to these as audiobooks while doing a lot of drving for work. All three of these fantasy novels have pretty interesting settings.


The Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht. In a cold, decaying city besides a bay that births horrors thanks to an ancient, magical cataclysm, a monster from streets falls into the thrall of a practitioner of forbidden magic bent on revenge against his city's occupiers. An interesting setting (something like a late 18th Century Lankhmar crossed with Halifax) with immoral protagonists hatching a diabolical.


The Ingenious by Darius Hinks. The flying city of Athanor travels between worlds (I assume, it's a bit unclear), guided by the priest-alchemists known as the Curious Men. The Curious Men care little from for the teeming masses of the underclass who inhabit their city, many unwilling refugees from Athanor's conquest of their homelands. The Exiles are political dissidents from some distant land, forced to become a criminal gang to survive. The young woman who they look to to lead them back home and to victory is now a drug addict. When she becomes embroiled in the forbidden experiments of a Curious Man she gets a taste of something even more addictive: the forces wielded by the alchemists.


The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang. An ancient China-like empire owes its power to  "slackcraft," the ability to manipulate the elemental "natures" flowing through all things. The most able practitioners of slackcraft are trained in the order known as the Tensorate. Twins born to the Empress are destined to play a role in the growing Machinist rebellion, which wants to use technology to free common folk from dependence on the Tensors. Another interesting facet of the world is that children are genderless and sexual maturity is staved off until an individual "confirms" their adult gender and undergoes a ceremony.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Wednesday Comics: Gift Guide 2019

With the holiday season drawing near, here are some eclectic recommendations for the comics lover in your life (even if that comic's lover is you):


Head Lopper Volume 2: I recommended volume one of this fantasy series back in 2016. In this volume, Head Lopper and friends take on a Tomb of Horrors-esque "killer dungeon."


Hero-A-Go-Go: Campy Comic Books, Crimefighters & Culture of the Swinging Sixties: This is a lighter, but fascinating comic book history, focusing on the camp-craze whose epicenter was the 60s Batman tv show.


Hey Kids! Comics!: This collects the limited series by Howard Chaykin about the history of comics from the 40s to the 2000s as seen through the eyes of three (fictional, though clearly with elements of real people) creators who got their start in the Golden Age. They interact with a number of other characters who are fairly thinly disguised stand-ins for real personalities in the industry. The through-line is the reputed Jack Kirby adage: "comics will break your heart, kid," or at least leave you embittered and angry, as editors and publishers profit from your work and fandom misunderstands the real history.


H.P. Lovecraft's The Hound and Other Stories: Gou Tanabe's manga adaptation of the Lovecraft's fiction plays it really straight, but that makes it accessible to the Lovecraft fan or Western comics fan that doesn't necessarily consider themselves a manga fan.

Monday, December 2, 2019

New Gods for Old

Art by Jack Kirby

While I have always been more enthusiastic about the standard (A)D&D Cosmology compared to a lot of people, one thing has always bothered me about it: the shoehorning in of the various mythological figures from Deities & Demigods into the canonical version of a planes. Perhaps they were meant to merely placeholders for something you created, but I don't think they are ever discussed as such. The every god and the kitchen sink approach loses the flavor of the various mythologies, and undermines the unique (at least weirdly syncretic) flavor of the Great Wheel. I think they can for something new and much weirder.

But there's something else wrong. Geoffrey Grabowski (lead designer of Exalted 1e among other things) hits on it:

There are infinite infinite prime material planes. Well wow. Against that, even greater gods look tiny. Even if you give them plenty o' powers like Grubb's cosmogony does, or like the immortals rules that appear in some versions of the game do, they're still essentially the pantheon from Lord of Light. They might have a lot of superpowers from tapping into whatever god-power comes from -- possibly belief-energy? -- but they don't command their context. They're finite beings pretending to universal domain against a backdrop that makes their charade a joke if you have any distance on the tableau.

Nowhere in the canon planar materials do we get the feeling that these gods created the planes. Maybe they created one of an infinite number of Primes, but they are not the creators of the Outer Multiverse. They are its inhabitants. At best inheritors, at worst squatters.

It seems to me that what the D&D Planes need is either (a) new gods that are vast and strange, so that they seem reasonable creators of the vast, baroque, orrery in which they reside, (b) more Kirby New Gods/Thor-esque super-powered adventurers (i.e. the next level of the game. Immortals done right.), or (c) both.


Sunday, December 1, 2019

Weird Revisited: The Dead Travel Fast


In the deserts north of Heliotrope, weird monsters of the outer dark and thrill-crazy youths race hopped-up roadsters across dead sea bottoms.

In Hesperia, a “car culture” has emerged. Like the Southron bootleggers, some young Hesperian men have taken to modifying jalopies for the purpose of drag-racing. Most of the modifications are strictly mechanical, but would-be racers save up for more expensive thaumaturgical or alchemical modifications.

While some racing occurs along highways, the real action is out in the desert. There, on the vast and empty beds left by ancient seas, law enforcement doesn’t intrude, and higher speeds can be reached. The speeds, and the often haphazard modification of the cars, sometimes make these races deadly--but these mundane dangers aren't the only things to fear.

Maybe it was just the psychic energy boiling off youth hopped-up on alchemical drugs, speed, and the proximity of death; or maybe the death of the ancient seas left the skin of reality thin, inviting irruption. Whatever the cause, broken and burned-out husked of roadsters--and sometimes the charred and mangled remains of their drivers--have been reanimated by outer monstrosities in forms as colorful and grotesque as something from a drug delirium nightmare.

Appearances by these creatures are things of fear and wonder for the human racers. The unholy growl of giant engines and the overpowering smell of burning rubber presage their arrival--almost always between the stroke of midnight and first light of dawn. They're practically worshipped as secret and strange god-things. Rituals are performed; crude talismans of twisted steel and burnt chrome are fashioned. The bravest (or craziest) of the young drivers sometimes join in their monster races, and those few that survive with life and limb, and sanity, intact are often dragged along in the creatures' slipstreams as they roar back into the void, and are never seen again