Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Tuesday Quote: HP Lovecraft

Image result for HP LovecraftOcean is more ancient than the mountains, and freighted with the memories and the dreams of Time. H. P. Lovecraft


Read more at: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/h/hplovecr278136.html

Friday, 22 July 2016

FFF: Songs for an Urban Fantasy

As I think I've said many times before, I love Urban Fantasy. So much so that I've actually started writing some (set in Birmingham)  - I won't say more but fingers are crossed that something cool will come out of it.

In that spirit, I thought I'd look for some songs to serve as inspiration.

Depeche Mode: World in My Eyes

Enticing us to step into the dark, to see the world differently, this song seems to sum up what all fiction is all about, but because we are an urban species now, this feels like a call to see past the hoardings and shop fronts to look at the cities we live in with fresh eyes and see the magic hiding there. Step off the path you know, wander into the dark a bit and see what's lurking out there.



Die Laughing: Safe Little World

As a complete counterbalance to that idea of stepping into the dark, this song serves as a warning in some ways, suggesting that going too far might not do you the world of good. Clinging to some sort of normality (whatever that is) will always be necessary. Who knows what you might lose if you stray too far. Like everything it's a question of balance.



Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Red Right Hand

Another word of caution, from Mr. Cave, as we saunter into twilight, this time, that here be dragons, and the darkness seethes with temptations. Traveller, beware.


The Ting Tings: Great DJ

Describing a particularly, peculiarly, modern form of magic, this song catches the 'street' elements of the Urban Fantasy genre, that idea that magic could be anywhere, just waiting to spring forth and spread out into the world. Dancing and music are traditional elements in a lot of forms of magic(k) and can be transformative acts. They make perfect tools for navigating the modern occult too, if only because they're so common. Want to commune with a deity, hit the dance floor and dance your way to nirvana.



The Wonderstuff: Caught in My Shadow

An actual song about Birmingham, this seems, to sum up, the 'return' to the normal, sunlit, world of safety.


And that's your five.

Which songs would you choose for this sort of thing? What's on your writing or reading song list?

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Tuesday Quote: Bram Stoker

Image result for bram stokerThere are such beings as vampires, some of us have evidence that they exist. Even had we not the proof of our own unhappy experience, the teachings and the records of the past give proof enough for sane peoples. Bram Stoker
Read more at: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/b/bramstoker359617.html

Saturday, 16 July 2016

FOMO? F.O.

Image result for FOMOFOMO, or Fear of Missing Out, has become a pretty big feature of the lives we live today, one that seems to dominate a lot of Culture when it comes to things that are perceived as easy to consume, films, TV, perhaps music (I don't think I've seen it extended to books yet, but I imagine that it will when the next Harry Potter novel is published). As a committed Cultural Contrarian, as explained by Oliver Burkeman in the Guardian, which is a position I've sort of stumbled onto over the years probably starting with an over enthusiastic friend telling me I'd love Rocky Horror back at university, I tend to look at these things with either bemusement or irritation. Partly that's because I quite dislike being told what I should like, especially by strangers on the internet, and partly because the more people go on about how I must like a thing, the more I resent it and dig my heels in (stubborn me, never!) I imagine that Mr Burkeman and I aren't the only ones out there, and I do view FOMO, as a concept, as the sort of thing that you can only really subscribe to if you have oodles of cash or time, the two main currencies that dominate our lives (the third, if you're interested, is power in the social sense and the people telling you you're missing out because you haven't seen Rat King or heard the new album Panther's Roar* are using it to influence debate, albeit in an unconscious manner).


There is so much to consume these days, that Missing Out is inevitable unless you have a TARDIS, and making choices about what we consume grows ever more important if only because of that. Time is limited and too precious to waste on something you don't enjoy. If something doesn't grab you in the space of an episode, should you actually persevere? Admittedly sometimes it's worth doing so, some of my favourite books are ones where I had to invest the time in reading them to enjoy them - though I am occasionally haunted by the idea that I only like them because I invested the time and my brain is pumping out feel good vibes to convince me all that time was well spent. I guess the same may be true of shows and films that start slowly and blossom, if you have to watch six episodes to get into a series then perhaps the same thing happens, if it was no good, you would not have spent so much time watching it already, right?

This, of course, suggests that in some cases the things we like, we actually do not, but that we trick ourselves into doing so because of the phenomenon above or because of social pressure. Finding out what we really like can be half the battle, and being told that you're missing out does not help, and may contribute to the growing levels of anxiety we're seeing in society. I feel, and I also feel as if I'm sticking my neck out here, that the impulse is at least in part rooted in humanity's natural need to be a member of tribes and clubs; fandom has replaced family and tribe in many respects and we cling to the identifiers that link to other people. In some ways this seems to suggest fandom has become just another subculture, one that's mutable to fit in and around the old music tribes of the 20th Century. The other thing is that the people who are pushing particular shows may be reflecting their own insecurities, pushing their likes and dislikes hard because they are looking for more of the tribe. I'm not sure how that connects to Cultural Contrarianism, but it does feel as if there should be a link, doesn't it?

One of the rules in Culture is Sturgeon's Law, AKA '90% of everything is crap'. With an ever expanding market for the Arts, it is inevitable that we will have to spend more time working out what our individual good 10% is, and what our 90% is. Remember, you are completely right to say you don't have time to watch or read something, and that no matter how much pressure anyone puts on you, it is fundamentally your choice how you spend your leisure time. It's just that our culture hates that, which is arguably a form of cultural hegemony, as well as monkey tribe stuff, kicking in. Linking back to the anxiety, when there are reports of people so paralysed by choice they struggle to buy washing liquid and breakfast cereal, it does make me wonder if the explosion in TV shows etc. is a healthy thing. It may be better for us to narrow down our perspectives and stick to the things in Culture we know bring us pleasure, dipping a toe outside for variety every so often.

In short, do what you want, like what you want to, and if you do feel the need to evangelise, then find good reasons why other people might enjoy the things you love rather than just parroting the party line.

*As far as I know these are completely fictional, I didn't want to use real names.

Friday, 15 July 2016

FFF: Anime Theme Tunes

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

I love this show and the track from the start and it's so strong and innovative, mixing Russian, Japanese and English lyrics. It's from the second season, and I may be odd in preferring it to the first season's.



Fullmetal Alchemist

A lovely piece of J-Rock, this has a beat is great and makes me want to dance.


Read or Die

This sounds like a Bond theme, and I think it's great. It really feels appropriate to the genre, and as if it could actually be attached to a big film.




Serial Experiments Lain

Beautifully melodic and well written, this song captures the isolation Lain feels as she learns the truth about herself.



XXXHolic

Reminding me of INXS in many ways, this is a great track.


Thursday, 14 July 2016

Cover to Cover: Mage the Awakening Supernal Lore (part one)

Starting with the latest part of fiction, this chapter deals with character generation and we finally encounter the door and the sense that things are lurking beyond it.

Moving on we start the chapter with a quote from one of my favourite films, Dark City, which is a nice touch. After that, we get into character creation, which happily starts with the reaffirming that Mages are human, not from the planet Zog. Starting with concept and Aspirations, things that you want to achieve in play for your character (not things that your character will want, necessarily, but that the player wants their character to experience).

After this, we move onto the Attributes and Abilities, which are all pretty much as I remember them. I'm still glad that Appearance vanished with the Classic World of Darkness, not because I dislike it as a concept but because I don't think character's looks should matter that much (and I always feel it was only ever included because VtM's Nosferatu had Appearance as a 0. We also get to select skill specialities that serve as focuses for the character, The blank character sheet is here.

For example, I fancy putting together a character who's an Antiquarian, someone who has a small shop in Birmingham's back streets, up in the Jewellery Quarter, and who specialises in silverware. He inherited the business from his Father, who had it from his Father and so on. Albert, the character, started off taking watches apart in the back of the shop in the 1970s, and he's pushing 50 before he gets within an inch of Awakening. I'm picturing Albert as a cautious man, one who is rather fussy and old fashioned, who has always been trapped, though he doesn't know it. He inherited the trap, and has maintained it.

I decide on the following Aspirations:

  • Positively, I want him to grow in power, gaining influence among the Mages in the city. 
  • Secondly, I want him to get a Familiar. 
  • Last I want to see him lose the things that he holds dear, being forced to change beyond all recognition as his world is taken from him.

With that in mind, let's consider the Attributes. There are 9 in total, divided two ways - first into Power, Finesse and Resistance, and also into Mental, Physical and Social. This leaves us with Intelligence Wits, and Resolve, Strength, Dexterity and Stamina, and finally Presence, Manipulation, and Composure. The game gives the player 5/4/3 points to spend however they want and there's a free point in each of the Attributes.

For Albert, I think he'll be fairly social and mental, with the physical side of things lagging, so I prioritise the three groups, putting mental first, he's had lots of experience with puzzles and appraising items, which seems to nod to that idea. Social comes second, Albert can be distant but he's been around people a lot and knows what makes them tick. Last, physical, with most of the points going into Dexterity.

In the end, I plump for Intelligence at 3, Wits at 2, Resolve at 3, Strength 1, Dexterity 3, Stamina 2  (Albert isn't a guy to have in a fist fight obviously), while his social stats shape up at Presence 2, Manipulation 2, and Composure 3 (this last has been hard won by facing down robbers).

Skills, here I have 11/7/4 points to spend with no free points. Prioritising Mental skills, I add the following skills: Crafts 3, Investigation 3, Science 2 (specialising in metallurgy, corrosion and restoration) for 8 points. I throw in a point in Academics, a point in Computer, and one in Occult to round him out a bit more.

With Physical skills, well I don't feel he should have that much going on here. I throw a point into Drive, and one into Brawl (a legacy of his youth though he hasn't fought for years), before putting two into Firearms, for the naughty gun he keeps under the counter, just in case.

Social skills, by default, get 7 points spent on them. I go ahead and put three into Persuasion (haggling mostly), I add 2 to Socialise and put one in Subterfuge and Empathy to round him out a bit. He's not a saint but he's not truly practised at lying or at being empathetic to his fellow man's problems.

Adding some skill specialities, I throw clockwork in for Crafts, research in for Investigation and leave it there, I don't feel he's that rounded to be honest.

Next, we apply the Mage template. Given what we've already established, Moros feels like a natural fit for the Path, and while I really like the idea of adding him to a Nameless Order (perhaps a Jewellers Guild based in the north of Birmingham), to stick with what exists in the corebook I plump for the Mysterium. So he's got a focus on Matter and Death, and is part of the Order that's basically a group of librarians and archivists - which seems to fit him quite well.

I decide that his Nimbus smells of dust and decay (but a dry decay, not the wet rawness of food rotting, but of paper and libraries in a state of bad repair).

I opt to take a lead coin for his magical tool

With his Arcana, I sink three points straight into Matter and two into Death, as that seems to fit his character concept and add a dot in Time, as again that seems to tie in with who he is. Again he'll need to invest in some allies to help out if he gets into a scrap. I can't put a point into Spirit because of him being Moros (despite the fact that Death governs ghosts so he has a foot in that world already). In addition, I can add three rote skills from my Order, the Mysterium, so these are Investigation, Occult and Survival.

I'm going to leave it there and come back to this - mostly because I'm finding navigating the PDF very difficult. This is a point against the game, I'm afraid.








Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Book Review: Who Killed Sherlock Holmes by Paul Cornell

Image result for who killed sherlock holmes paul cornellPaul Cornell's third Shadow Police novel is, frankly, a corker. Set soon after the Severed Streets, it gives us a team shattered by the events of that novel, trying valiantly to pick up the pieces and to solve the new case they are faced with. A seemingly impossible case, who did kill Sherlock Holmes, and how can a fictional character be killed in the first place? With Quill confronting the terrible knowledge he learned in the last book, Ross deprived of a human emotion, and Costain suffering an immense amount of guilt over his role in betraying her over her father, only Sefton is anywhere in a good place - and his role as the team's resident weirdness specialist makes him the most likely to suffer if anything odd comes up. The fact that the book begins with him suffering a nightmare about the death of Sherlock Holmes serves as an illustration of this. As a series of impossible crimes, drawn from the Sherlock Holmes stories rock the city. Despite the nature of the crimes, and the fact that the team has a 'bible' to work from Cornell plays the events well, twisting the crimes enough to avoid simply recreating the stories. As ever, he shows a good knowledge and use of social media and the media in general, using similar ideas to the ones we've already seen in London Falling and Severed Streets.


Cornell sets about building more of his world up, focusing on the team's sponsor Lofthouse far more than in the previous novels, and on the Continuing Projects Team who have haunted the books since London Falling. We start to get answers to the questions about them, more details about who they were and what they did, and the role of Cornell's personal Satan, the Smiling Man, in both their downfall and what he intends for the city.

What struck me was the rawness of the characters' emotions, it really feels as if they are falling apart for a lot of the book, and Cornell navigates this well, bringing them through trauma and allowing the reader to feel their pain without it ever becoming overwhelming. To his credit, he does not flinch from what he's set himself to do and in particular shows the effects of what looks to be Quill's nervous breakdown on the series' main heterosexual relationship in a stark light, while allowing us to see both sides. Spurred on by the revelations of the last book, Quill, spirals into obsession and depression, almost completely breaking apart as he tries to unravel the mystery.

Ross, in the meantime, is drawn into not only an affair with one of London's Gods but also into the quest to uncover her missing emotion, It is through her plot that we largely explore London's occult world, as it continues to change around the team. Cornell's unique vision of the Underground remains one of my favourite parts of the series, setting out as it does something that feels authentic, and avoids a large number of cliches (I hope we do get a novel with vampires in it simply because I sense it'll be very different to anything else with vampires out there).

The novel does feel a little busy at times, as if a bit too much has been stuffed into it. Mostly this doesn't affect the plot too much, but there are times when it felt as if there were a few too many characters for the book to handle.