I’ve been revisiting some of my favorite goodies in the Slack menagerie, and I figured I might pass them along to some of you looking for Scooby clues to your own personal mystery. I’m something of an explorer junkie, and I get a thrill out of finding new and exciting things that delight me. I have a certain rarefied taste for the weird, the exotic, the forgotten, and the “snake fingers”. Or at least I tell myself I do!
There’s an artist named Eric Shanower, who is doing a comic book adaptation of the Trojan War, called Age of Bronze. When he completes a story arc, it gets published in a graphic novel (I’m sorry, “trade paperback”) form by Image Comics. Two of the seven volumes, A Thousand Ships and Sacrifice are out now, and the third volume is coming out by the end of this year. I’m getting the shakes just thinking about it.
The writing and the artwork are nothing short of stunning. Eric has studied his subject well, and he manages to make the culture and the historical events come alive in a way I’ve never quite seen before. Every character comes across so you know who they are, and what part they are playing. The clothes, the weapons, the intrigues and customs are so fascinating, I can’t pull away. I highly recommend anyone who loves ancient cultures, epic stories, or human drama pick this up. The realism and the believability are very high. The sex and violence are handled very well, played out as matter-of-fact experiences suitable to the era. There are no cheap thrills here.
Two things really move me about the series. One is the way in which the “gods” are handled. When it comes to the supernatural, dreams become messages from the Gods, centaurs and nymphs are a particular type of people studying a certain kind of craft, and storms become visible manifestations of a deity’s divine disfavor. It’s all in their heads, but the psychic influence is very real. The characters in the story come in all shapes and sizes of “belief”, but they all accept the supernatural as a given explanation for anything beyond their immediate psychological experience. It reminds me of the closeness of aboriginal peoples to the unconscious, and yet these are all characters who are setting down one of the foundations of western culture. It’s fascinating.
The other thing that moves me is the way in which the story makes the Trojan War accessible and interesting. I just haven’t had an interest in reading about the Trojan War, even though it’s something that is set down as a classic of “literature”, simply because nothing hooked me about it. But this stuff is awesome. Eric’s writing manages to juggle dozens of names, kingdoms, and events and keep them down-to-earth and understandable. You want to know about these people, because you become invested in their stories, from the problems of King Agamemnon, to the destiny of Achilles and the hubris of Paris, it’s captivating in a way that makes history (such as we know of it) fun and exciting.
In case you haven’t guessed, I’m a “gamer”. I have a lot of hours of the roleplaying game culture under my belt, some of it productive, some of it not so much. Right now, there’s an independent movement in the roleplaying game community, and it’s producing some of the best gameplay and theory I’ve ever seen. While the big models lose money and produce increasingly meaningless drivel, creator-owned and developed games are hitting the market from left field in a way that is exciting and amazing.
One of the games from this fertile field is Lumpley’s Dogs In The Vineyard. You play the watchdogs of God in a wild west that never was. Essentially, you are traveling witch hunters who deliver the mail, lend a hand in the community, and purge the faithful of their demons and sin. The background is some of the most awesome stuff I’ve ever read in a roleplaying game. The rules are pretty simple; you have a character sheet of “traits” that measure how much narrative control you have over conflicts. When there’s a conflict, everyone rolls dice and describes how they bring their traits into the fray. The dice are used like cards in a series of “raises” and “sees”, until somebody runs out of luck and has to give. The game can be played in four hours and tossed aside, or played for long-term character development.
The gamemaster is a just another “player”, and the group has to collaboratively create the game’s story as it moves along. There’s no “prep”, really. You make up characters, the gamemaster makes up a few proto-NPCs and a basic town structure, and everything gets created as the play moves along. Players are expected to be effective and win, and the gamemaster is not allowed to have an outcome in mind. The challenge is in coming up with conflicts that escalate out of control so that when the players get to decide the outcome, they have to decide if it’s worth the cost.
What I like about this game is how the focus is all about the moral decisions of the players. People do the unexpected, and the story can change at a moment’s notice. At the end of it I’m exhausted and exhilarated. You can play with timing and effects so that the conflicts work out in amazing ways, giving the group a lot of freedom to decide on outcomes that make sense and are cool. You don’t sit there and expect the gamemaster to entertain you, or lead you along a story they’ve already written with a few “yes” and “no” answers along the way. I haven’t felt this hopeful and delighted about gaming since 1987. It’s an explosion of creative energy.
There was a remake of The Wicker Man, starring Nicholas Cage, which probably has to be one of the funniest crummy movies I’ve seen in a while. It made me go back and watch the original starring Christopher Lee (You know, the dude that played Saruman in that horrible Two Towers gorefest) and Britt Ekland (Who played the “Bond girl” Mary Goodnight from The Man With The Golden Gun, which also, maybe not-so-coincidentally starred Christopher Lee). I also cracked out the CD and listened to the music from the film. Crumbs, its all evidence supporting Gore Vidal’s contention that good movies only get made by accident in the “entertainment industry”. Or maybe it was an accident that this movie slipped through the cracks in the mid-seventies and was made at all. The story of how the movie survived is worth reading about.
If you haven’t seen it, an English policeman comes to an isolated island off the coast to investigate the disappearance of a young girl named Rowan Morrison. Lord Summerisle (played by Christopher Lee), the local aristocrat, runs the island. The town’s source of wealth is a yearly harvest of apples. The policeman finds that nobody knows who the girl is, and that everyone practices a form of paganism based on the old traditions of their ancestors. The policeman is a deeply devout Christian, so he soon comes into conflict with the island inhabitants. Despite the uncooperative nature of the townsfolk and Lord Summerisle, the policeman learns that last year’s harvest failed and in a few days the missing girl will be sacrificed to restore the fertility of the apple orchards!
There’s a sinister aspect to the townsfolk, and yet they are all very musically inclined. Many people who watch this horror classic are stunned to encounter the musical numbers of this film, and the context in which they are presented. The musicians who worked on the soundtrack were pure talent, and have crafted some memorable numbers. From “The Landlord’s Daughter” sung by the men in the pub to honor the gifts of Venus, to the tense fear of “Chop Chop” as the townsfolk place their heads one by one in a circle of intertwined swords, hoping the Hobby Horse doesn’t choose their head. You will certainly laugh at the fiddle work of the “Maypole”. The pagan version of sex-education is, well, original I suppose.
The reason to check it out is because there’s nothing else like it. The movie stands on it’s own as a unique work of art never to be repeated. It really is one of the best horror movies ever made, with the theme of personal and group ignorance at the end haunting you in a way that won’t let you sleep at night. The town and it’s inhabitants have to be seen to be believed, and Christopher Lee gives what is probably, and rightly so if it is, the best performance of his entire career as Lord Summerisle. Brrr.
In any musical genre there’s the dross mixed in with the gold. I have a hard time finding a dark ambient artist that tops the spectral atmospheres and cavernous sensations of Lustmord. The entire catalog of this artist is showing up on Soleilmoon, and I’ve been snapping them up as I get the bonus warp power from my engineer.
I came across some scattered MP3s that friends had on their memory sticks and I was like, “whoa”. My tastes are really weird and unpredictable, and part of that combination involves music that I can space out to, relax with, and go into deep imaginations with. So when I heard the landscapes of a couple of tracks off of Stalker and Where the Black Stars Hang, I had to see for myself if the rest was any good.
Well, save for Metavoid, I have yet to be disappointed. The aural landscapes Lustmord paints are dark, threatening, and deep. It’s like going into the depths of Loch Ness and touching the slimy back of something alive, encountering the monolith of 2001: A Space Odessey, or traveling through the secret tunnels of the Great Pyramid and witnessing a rite never seen by outsiders. You can’t help but walk away from these soundscapes and feel stunned. Gotta love it! I’ve still got a few left to snatch up, and am looking forward to further journeys into the unknowable that Lustmord makes possible.
But don’t take my word for it, scare these goodies up in your online search and see what other people have to say. It’s all about the lucky coincidence. These veins of mithril found me, maybe they’ll find you!