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Feb. 17th, 2012

*creaky wheeze, sound of machinery starting up*

So a few days ago, someone anonymously sent me a little glass heart over LJ. I've been super-busy the last few days (in a good way),  so didn't have a chance to say this then - but thank you, Anon. You brightened up my day a great deal.

Hearts to you, and to all you other LJers...

*machinery grinding to a halt*

And now this is going back into the shadows. 'night, folks...

Sep. 21st, 2011

I just finished A Dance with Dragons, and Ghost Story earlier this week. This discussion and spoilers thing seems like a good use of LJ, so let's do that. I'll cut any spoilers in the course of the entry, but the comments are fair game. 

I borrowed the two from calledtovienna , who commented something to the effect of "Start with Dragons, then finish with Ghost Story - you'll feel better about the entire enterprise." I actually did the reverse, since I wanted some popcorn to fortify me for the oodles of work I had lying before me earlier in the week.

Ghost Story is the latest Dresden Files book. I referred to it as "popcorn," because that's how I think of the series - it's light, fluffy, and tasty. It's not very filling - you finish it quickly and it doesn't tide you over for very long. It's not a hard series by any means, but it's fun

Ghost Story continues in this vein. It's a nice light romp. Butcher continues to write "oWoD: the Awesomeing," and turns to Wraith this time around. The action scenes are enjoyable, the characters are nice stock characters - but good ones at that - and the arcs and plot threads are satisfyingly predictable (or predictably satisfying, take your pick). 

The one bit that rings hollow isn't something intrinsic to the book, but a bit of broader knowledge about the author. A while back, Jim Butcher was dinged on Tumblr for completely bollixing up Chicago, and the criticisms seem fairly valid to me. Thus, when a scene focusing on Dresden's love for his city shows up, it's really hard to read it and take it as it's intended. 

A Dance with Dragons is a giant doorstopper. As giant doorstoppers go, it's a reasonable one. Enough plot threads got resolved that I feel reasonably satisfied, and the chapters I liked were sufficiently entertaining that I don't feel bad about the venture. Unfortunately, the book needed a lot more trimming down; there is no reason for it to be as big as it was, and lots of the chapters were foot-dragging.

Unlike Steven Erikson's work (my formerly regular reads for fantasy doorstoppers), ADWD doesn't feel particularly cogent as a book - just a random collection of viewpoint chapters until it's time for the end. There's no particular feel to the book, no climax, just the braided stories continuing on and on. While there are certainly climaxes to some arcs (Jon's for instance) they don't tie the book together, they just hit for that thread. It's not quite Jordan-esque, especially since the writing's still good, but it isn't that far off. 

The excellent thing about ADWD, though, is that I didn't have to struggle, despite having read the other components of the series years ago (and skimming through the last one, at that). It was easy to delve into, and followable.

Jul. 22nd, 2011

Books read so far this summer, non-exhaustive list:

Howard Andrew Jones, The Desert of Souls - Swords and sorcery fantasy set in 8th-century Baghdad. The author is one of the editors of Black Gate, a fantasy magazine (strongly recommended, except for anything that they have written by Vox Day, who is an asshat.) The Desert of Souls is compellingly written, with strong characters and an appreciation for Muslim culture and history without being appropriative. The one objection I have with the book is that the lead female character is set offscreen with just a few lines near the climax of the book. It's not contrived, and it makes sense within the plot of the story, but it still doesn't sit well with me. That said, I would strongly recommend the book - Jones manages to mix historical Baghdad, the fairy-tale atmosphere of the Arabian Nights, and a dab of Barry Hughart in, and produces an excellent book.

Thomas Sugrue, Sweet Land of Liberty - An examination of the civil rights struggle in the northern United States throughout the twentieth century. Sugrue is going after the popular perception of the civil rights movement as being concerned solely with the South and over with Brown v Board and the March on Washington. Sugrue takes a look at how several other facets of life and problems facing the disenfranchised - labor issues, housing, education - all tie into each other, and into widespread racism within society.

Steven Erikson, The Crippled God - This is the final volume in Erikson's gigantic 10-volume Malazan Book of the Fallen series. It ties up a lot (but not all) of the loose ends present throughout the series. It could perhaps have used a tighter editor (not unlike another major doorstopper fantasy book released this summer, or so I hear). The first 500-some pages are devoted to getting all the pieces in play, and while there are compelling bits there, there are also a lot of frustrating sections to trudge through. As the series has gotten larger and larger, Erikson has made it a point to include one set of characters who I rather dislike reading about in each book. This trend continues, but in the second half of the book, the annoying characters a) get less screen time, and b) actually do useful and interesting things. Loathe as I am to reference TVTropes, the folks there coined two useful terms. The first is a Xanatos Gambit, based on the villain of the TV show Gargoyles, who would construct complex and Byzantine plots. The second is the Thirty-Xanatos Pileup, about what happens when you take a bunch of these schemers and SMASH THEM INTO EACH OTHER AT HIGH SPEED. The Malazan books are the best Thirty-Xanatos Pileups I've come across. Unfortunately, because it's the conclusion of the series, some characters don't get the sendoffs that one would think appropriate - some get just a few paragraphs of denouement, and others get a rather anticlimactic death. (On the other hand, rather anticlimactic death is a hallmark of the series.) I can't say I enjoyed it as much as I did the earlier Malazan books, which had a tighter focus on the Malazan Empire, but it was still pretty darn good.

David Gerrold, Voyage of the Star Wolf - Gerrold had a strong involvement with Star Trek, writing "The Trouble with Tribbles" and the show bible for NextGen. This shows. The premise of Voyage of the Star Wolf in Trek terms is, essentially: First officer James Kirk brings his grievously wounded ship back home after a Klingon attack on a major Federation convoy destroys half the fleet and kills his captain. After Starfleet decides to fix blame on the Enterprise, they stick Captain Stereotypical-drill-instructor and Lieutenant Worf on board the Enterprise to deal with a potential Klingon peace treaty. Shit goes wrong and Kirk+Worf must save the day. (Oh, and Data is the ship's AI.)

Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49 - I'm getting bored writing this, so let me sum these last two up quickly. Pynchon puts together an interesting conspiracy theory book, and I suspect that there had to be a Lot 49 before there could be an Illuminatus! trilogy. That said, there's not as much meat to Lot 49 as there is to Illuminatus!, not as much anger, not as much surrealism, and not as much humor. I enjoyed it enough to pick up another Pynchon book, though (see below).

Roger Zelazny, Roadmarks - not bad, but not great either. A Zelazny Hero travelling through time and space (one part Dr. Who, two parts walking in Amber's shadows) and meddling winds up getting an assassination contract (or ten, rather) out on him, and he's not really sure why. A decent read, but not super-compelling - tasty popcorn, not unlike the Dresden Files, which also has its next book coming out soon.

In Progress
Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell
William McNeill, Plagues and Peoples
Alistair Horne, A Savage War of Peace
V, Thomas Pynchon

I Made a Thing!

And by "thing" I mean "hexmap for my ongoing D&D game."

Well, ongoing LotFP/D&D/REIGN game. But whatever.

This is the hexmap that players will get to see when figuring out where to go. Not shown on the map (but available) is a map key, with the names of various towns and points of interest, as well as the interactions between the four rulers present.

The primary towns/cities here are:

Vornheim, at (08, 20). This is the primary city on this map. 
Sanctuary, at (14, 14). This is where the players are right now.
The Citadel of the Raven at (23, 10). A bandit prince and exiled noble rules here now, and is at odds with the rest of the rulers shown.
Lithquil, at (07, 02). A major seaport, rivaling Vornheim in decadence and general weirdness. 
There are smaller towns which haven't been elaborated on in this little blurb. 

Big Image Below CutCollapse )

In Memoriam

For the Fallen
Laurence Binyon

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal,
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation,
And a glory that shines upon her tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables at home;
They have no lot in our labour of the daytime;
They sleep beyond England's foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known,
As the stars are known to the night.

As the stars will be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Apr. 27th, 2011

 After poking and dusting and stuffs, the computer fan is now working! Thanks, guys. :)

Tech Help?

 Hi guys,

The fan below, under the LJ-cut (indicated in red) doesn't seem to be running, and the computer is making a strange sort of grinding/processing noise (not an alarming grind, though) every few seconds. Even though the grind doesn't sound like components are getting wrecked, that doesn't seem good. 

The fan above the one indicated, in the power supply area, is running fine. 

Any thoughts? I'd noticed the grinding/processing noise before, but it hadn't registered.

Meanwhile, I'm going to make a quick run to grab some compressed air and clean out this beast.

Pic below cutCollapse )

Apr. 25th, 2011

 Hey guys, sorry for being a loser and not responding to your comments on the last few entries. I will get better at this whole "using LJ like you're supposed to" business.

Part of that is going to happen through summer. I have a few books ready to go in my queue, and we'll see how those go. I hope to write reports and thoughts as I read through them. I also hope to start cross-posting links I share from Google Reader more often, since I'm just sharing stuff through there without adding commentary and thoughts of my own. Should fix that. 

First I have to get through finals, though. But after that...

Read: Jhegaala, Steven Brust (Yojimbo, the Vlad Taltos way)

Reading: History of The Peloponnesian War, Thucydides
Bismarck, A.J.P. Taylor

To Read: The Desert of Souls, Howard Andrew Jones
The Crippled God, Steven Erikson
The Thirty Years' War, Geoffrey Parker
Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity, Laurence Lessig
Coyote Kings of the Space Age Bachelor Pad, Minister Faust
RPG Materials Purchased: 
The Dungeon Alphabet, Michael Curtis
The Majestic Wilderlands, Rob Conley
RPG Materials Used:
Tower of the Stargazer, James Raggi
Death Frost Doom, James Raggi
REIGN, Greg Stolze

Cool RPG stuff

So. I ran a short AD&D 1e/2e campaign the summer before law school, then returned to it for a smidgen last summer. Now, I'm starting up another group of players in the same setting, using a hybrid of AD&D and Lamentations of the Flame Princess, set contemporaneously with the smidgen portion of the game. And now, I'm hoping to start running a REIGN Company game with the folks from the first sessions (it's long distance, so REIGN's company mechanic will be good). This feels kind of silly, but it's also really exciting. 

All the more so, since I got this response from one of my players:

"I think it's totally awesome that you have this continuous world and that we can play a part, however small, in another party's campaigns."

And I am kind of BOUNCING OFF THE WALLS because this totally made my day. 

Feb. 4th, 2011

A bit belated, now, since new statements have come up, but still...

When I saw Obama's speech on the situation in Egypt a few days ago, one thing came to my mind:

"They're sending a new flag up on the tall ship," the watcher said. "The flag is yellow...with a black and red circle in the center."
"There's a subtle piece of business," Paul said. "The CHOAM Company flag."
"It's the same as the flag at the other ships," the Fedaykin guard said.
"I don't understand," Stilgar said.
"A subtle piece of business indeed," Gurney said. "Had he sent up the Atreides banner, he'd have had to live by what that meant. Too many observers about. He could've signaled with the Harkonnen flag on his staff - a flat declaration that'd have been. But, no - he sends up the CHOAM rag. He's telling the people up there..." Guerney pointed toward space. "...where the profit is. He's saying he doesn't care if it's an Atreides here or not."

-Frank Herbert, Dune, p 452

This one book has done so much in shaping my worldview; I get new things out of it every time I go through. A subtle piece of business, indeed.

Feb. 1st, 2011

Have you heard the Josh Ritter song "Thin Blue Flame"?

If not, take a listen. It's linked right there, takes about ten minutes. The rest of my post will make more sense after you've done so.


Reading a Steven Erikson book is a thousand-page version of Thin Blue Flame, except that the crescendos are not constrained by the volume control on your speakers. He hooks you in with a set of innocent, slow-building incidents. Maybe a little bit of fighting, maybe a little tension, a bit of the supernatural. Then the pieces start to click together. The innocent suffer.

"And this whole thing is headed for a terrible wreck / and like a tragedy, that's what we expect." 

There's a moment of quiet, the eye of the storm, a sudden ebbing as you think that everything could be OK. 

Then the music swells again, the cymbals start up into the background again, and the inevitable drive forward and breaking your heart and a final unsustainable crescendo, bizarrely stretching across three or four chapters, apocalypse and terror and sudden transcendent moments of kindness amidst the pain and horror, but mostly Pyrrhic victories and terrible, terrible loss.

Then the skies clear upon desolation. 

And then a sunbeam shines down from the sky, and maybe there is hope after all. 

Jan. 24th, 2011

 So while working on this comment (no, still not done), I realized that in an insurgency, the population is the objective of both sides, as well as being the location where the conflict is fought. I noted this down and felt very proud of myself.

And then I realized that David Galula beat me to that punch about 50 years ago.


Roll Ti---er, what?

Next time I have to give an Inspirational Speech in the BSG boardgame, I know how it's gonna go...

Covering All The Bases

A greeting presented by some folks in the Steven Erikson book "Toll the Hounds" (non-spoilery):

The elder one, on the right, now held up both hands, palms outward, and said in archaic Daru, 'Master of the Wolf-Horses, welcome. Do not kill us. Do not rape our women. Do not steal our children. Leave us with no diseases. Leave us our g'athend horses-of-the-rock, our mute dogs, our food and our shelters, our weapons and our tools. Eat what we give you. Drink what we give you. Smoke what we give you. Thank us for all three. Grant your seed if a woman comes to you in the night, kill all vermin you find. Kiss with passion,  caress with tenderness, gift us with the wisdom of your years but none of their bitterness. Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not hate, do not fear, and neither will we hate or fear you. Do not invite your wolf-horses into our camp, lest they devour us and all our beasts. Welcome, then, wanderer, and we will tell you of matters, and show you other matters. We are the Kindaru, keepers of the horses-of-the-rock, the last clan left in all Lama Teth Andath - the grasses we have made so that trees do not reach high to steal the sky. Welcome. You need a bath.'

To such a greeting, Traveller could only stand, silent, bemused, torn between laughter and weeping. 


Not there, wish I was; eh, next time.

Good Hunting to all those there! Also, the Toad's List puzzle is the best thing ever. :D

(Offhand, I got 14/23 of the items definitively, and would get an additional 3 if I checked Wikipedia.)


 It was the year of fire.
The year of destruction.
The year we took back what was ours.
It was the year of rebirth.
The year of great sadness.
The year of pain.
And a year of joy.
It was a new age.
It was the end of history.
It was the year everything changed. 

Happy New Year, everyone. 

Dec. 14th, 2010

Well. That's one final down.

Just turned in the exam with ~2 minutes to spare.


Dec. 13th, 2010

 Marching into my first final. International Human Rights. 24-hour takehome.

See you folks on the other side.

superbeast/the thousandth landing/prelude to war/fear of the dark

Dec. 11th, 2010

An idea which I had for Legacy of the Bieth (and other non-Paranoia RPGs that I might run in the future) is to assemble a "combat music" playlist of my own songs, then ask players to contribute a theme song for their character. They would get a combat bonus - probably something like (in AD&D terms) an extra 1d4 damage with any successful attack, or a flat +1 bonus to most other rolls; something minor but noticeable and fun. To prevent these from being abused, the playlist would be restricted to songs of 3-4 minutes.

I'm curious what sort of songs people would want to use for their characters in various settings. Give me a brief character description and their theme song for a PC you've played, or would like to play in Legacy of the Bieth (or some other D&D setting), Shadowrun, and/or Warhammer 40K Dark Heresy.  As a twist, give me a PC who would have one of these as their theme song.

For an example of what I'm talking about: Caine Blackhand is a veteran mercenary, a down-on-his-luck noble seeking to rebuild his family's fortune, retake their estates, and raise them back to prominence and glory. He's a soldier, practical, hard-bitten, somewhat mouthy, and very much interested in his next payday. I'd probably give him Ennio Morricone's "Ecstasy of Gold" except that it's the campaign's theme music already, and Bear McCreary's "Prelude to War" except that it's too long. The right mix of martial, fantastic, and gritty would probably be in one of the Human tracks from Warcraft II. 

Dec. 7th, 2010

 I am feeling sick. As is apparently my habit when feeling sick, I turn to television; thus, I have seen about 1/3 of nBSG's Season 3 recently. (WHEEEE!) I'm up to "Hero" next; please, no spoilers beyond that in comments! *

A few thoughts, very minor spoilers for nBSG and Malazan Book of the Fallen below:

-I was very impressed by the portrayal of New Caprica. this was a TV show illustrating an insurgency with the insurgents as the protagonists. Airing in 2006. In the USA. I did not think that such a thing would be possible. It goes ahead and asks some of the serious questions that come up in an insurgency campaign. On both sides. It doesn't answer them definitively - it leaves that up to the viewer, though one does come away with a sense of where the writers think the moral line is, on both sides of the conflict. In Star Trek, or even Babylon 5, we would likely see the Captain taking a stand, uniting the protagonists (and the audience) behind them. We don't get that with New Caprica; Adama's not on the ground. We have others on the ground, viewpoint characters, but...they all have shaded moralities. Like people. And the results are ambiguous. Like life.

-I recently saw someone on RPGnet posting about how they skipped over the Chain of Dogs chapters in a reread of Deadhouse Gates (the second Malazan Book of the Fallen), saying that they didn't have too many important things. They were wrong, of course -- but this made me realize that part of what attracts me to nBSG, and to the Chain of Dogs, is the sense of seeking to escape overwhelming forces, of defiance in the face of annihilation.

For some reason, though, I can't adopt the same view about zombie apocalypse stories. World War Z, The Walking Dead...they don't hold that appeal to me, even though logically I suspect that they ought to. I think that part of it is maybe the nature of zombies - they are unintelligent, not like a Cylon / renegade High Fist / Berserker / etc. In the latter circumstances, the enemy is either evil and can be hated, or intelligent and can be reasoned with (or both). With zombies, they're not really "evil", but more a force of nature. There's nothing that can be done about them. It's more like watching a disaster movie, but more depressing and with more gore. I can deal with that in certain circumstances (HMS Ulysses, for instance, and I could maybe get by with things like The Perfect Storm) but something about the zombie apocalypse shtick just turns me away from it.

Left 4 Dead II is pretty nifty, though. Oh, and to bring this full circle, Bill is clearly New Caprica Saul Tigh. 

*Yes, sure, you can point out that it's been a while and there's a spoiler statute of limitations and in other ways passively berate me for not watching more sooner. OTOH...you can do that on your journal instead. :P

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