Sunday, September 19, 2010

One Shot Kill II: The Collective

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I don't think I've spent a lot of time bitching about how little I get to play. If I did, this blog wouldn't be "a fantasist's blog," it'd be "a fantasist's unending stream of bile." And nobody wants to read that. However, suffice it to say that I don't get to play much and it does bug me.

I've decided to do something about it.

If you are in the San Francisco Bay Area and within the sound of my blog, come check out my newest project, the One Shot Collective. The goal is to create a community of grown-up roleplayers who contribute time and resources to helping each other get their game on, in the form of monthly (specifically the first Sunday of every month) one shots.

I'm open to the possibility of a longer term campaign emerging out of this, but... let's just say I'm not holding my breath.

Come play.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Lady Burn

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Ah... the Creative Prompt Post. It's the new Lame-Ass Link Post. Fun to make and quick to write. The only reason I'm still able to post on school days, even now that it is autumn. Oh, how I love thee.

Today's post is inspired by this and this (these entries are clean, but the blog is not always safe for work - be forewarned), posts deconstructing the trope of the  iconic super hero costume by re-imagining Dazzler as a Lady Gaga-esque woman of many daring costumes.

And, you know, super powers.

Riff off that, my faithful reader(s). Comment with your tales of super heroes who wear many odd costumes and not just the one.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Gutters & Goblins, Zeppelins & Zombies

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I don't know where this is coming from, but I've been thinking about how some fantasy settings - especially D&D clones and subsettings - like to orbit some central monster. The most famous such game is Tunnels & Trolls, in which, at least at the time that I played it, trolls really were the big, scary monster. There's also Ravenloft, which is sometimes described as "D&D with vampires."

So, amuse me. Take a fantasy setting, wrap it around a less common monster, and tell me what you get. I'm looking for something that, like Ravenloft, is thematically coherent. That means no fair just saying "it's like bog-standard D&D fantasy except everyone's really scared of owlbears." You've got to write about why the thing you pick is important and the consequences of that choice.

Alliterating titles are purely optional.

Go.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Burning Down Town

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Upon receiving a kindle (review post to come) as a wedding present (thanks Uncle Steve!), I immediately began downloading every free things I could get my cheap-ass paws on (Mrs. The Abigail, on the other hand, has proven more inclined to use her kindle to download a huge number of free first chapters). This (of course) led me to the work of the illustrious (and prolific) Cory Doctorow.

(I like parentheses - don't you?)

Anyway, I've been wanting to read Doctorow's Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town for a long time, but I am cursed with two conflicting traits: poverty and an inability to read extendedly off computer screens without causing tiny, but surprisingly heavy, gnomes slam-dancing drunkenly in my temples. A pdf version of Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town has languished unread on my hard drive for about two years. But no more! With the kindle, both my poverty and my inability to read pdfs extendedly have been conquered, and the experience of reading Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town is mine at last!

Honestly, it was kind of an anti-climax.

Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town isn't a bad book. It begins well enough, with classically Doctorowian descriptions of mesh networks and house renovation that left me feeling like the book had made me smarter already, an entirely pleasant experience. The main character, A - he answers to any male name beginning with that letter - is the son of a mountain and a washing machine. His brothers B, C, D, E, F, and G are, respectively, a precognitive, an island (he takes after their father), a murderous little shit, and a set of nesting humans. That last is about as gross as it sounds, but the characters themselves are kind of endearing. As A struggles to integrate himself in normalcy, start writing his story, help a neighborhood punk named Kurt blanket the neighborhood in free wireless, and get to know his neighbors - including an attractively plump girl called Mimi who has wings and her sadistic boyfriend - the novel's themes emerge. We have the healing and life-enhancing power of community versus the modern trend towards stagnation and the appealing idea that information technology can be a part of the solution. We have geeks and freaks - Alan and his family, Mimi and her wings - struggling to be a part of everybody else's world. We have a post-cyberpunk universe in which middle aged computer dudes are struggling to maintain relevancy and realize the punkish dreams of their youth and big business is less a looming villain and more just another bunch of people trying to do their best to get by and make things better. It's a promising start.

The only critique I will level at the main body of the book is that A's strangeness is a bit content-free. His family includes a washing machine and her husband the mountain, a man who can see the future, an immortal zombie sociopath, an island, and three guys who live one inside the other, he was raised by golems and talks  his father by spelunking. As for A himself... he grows back lost body parts like a lizard and is a bit of a nerd. Nearer to the end, when another character tells A that he's the weirdest person she's ever met and she'd rather take her chances with her teenager-seducing girlfriend beating room-mate, it falls a bit flat. She's never even seen him regenerate lost bits.

Things fall apart near the end, however [SPOILER ALERT], when A's confrontation with his murderous brother comes to a head. The plot's coherency begins to disintegrate under pressure, with scenes that seem oddly out of place and some strange pacing decisions. Doctorow starts experimenting with interesting (or at least unobjectionable) narrative techniques, such as a neat little poetic repetitions/parentheses thing and metafictional tangents that parallel real life. These ideas would be great... except that they're entirely out of place and dangerously jarring in a novel that up till then has followed a pretty basic plot/flashback counterplot structure.

The ending is the biggest betrayal of the beginning's promise. I don't know which pit of Doctorow's soul still holds the geek self-hatred we all grapple with, but the damned thing crawls up and poops all over the final chapter. The book closes with A fleeing alongside his winged girlfriend, leaving his two remaining brothers to kill each other, leaving his house and all his possessions in flames, and leaving his friend Kurt to continue their free wireless project, alone. The last scene is A and Mimi living in pseudo-marital bliss on A's brother the island, recreating the isolation of A's youth. Even more than the closing chapters' general incoherence, this conclusion was extremely disappointing. It's no use trying to live in the real world if you're a weirdo, kids. The best you can do is try, suffer, screw up, and eventually flee back to your crazy family, abandoning your projects and friends. If you're lucky, you'll bring your cute winged girlfriend home with you.

It's better than Joss Whedon, who keeps his self-hatred on a leash and regularly lets it poop on entire seasons of his television shows, but it's still really frustrating.

This is not to say that Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town isn't worth reading. I enjoyed the journey a great deal, even if the destination was a bit of a downer. I was particularly fascinated by Mimi's relationship with her former boyriend, an abusive whack-job named Krishnah. In order to maintain her life as a run-of-the-mill club-goer, she regularly lets him cut off her endlessly-growing, endlessly-regenerating wings. The parallel to extraordinary people who let themselves be trapped in relationships with the ordinary and spiteful, who continually push them back and tie them down, make them safe and "normal," and abuse them whenever their true selves break through, is heartbreaking.

Unfortunately, the book isn't really about Mimi and Krishnah, or Alan and his family, or free wireless meshworks. Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town isn't really about any coherent thing. For all the beautiful novels it could have been, it remains merely the entertaining but mediocre novel that it actually is.