Tuesday, 20 February 2018

My liefe, my lifes desire, - FQ Book 6 Canto 5

I am ending this bitch, so get ready for a rollercoaster of a week and a bit while I get to the end.

We return to Serena and the Savage Man in the forest. The opening lines tell us that Edmunds brief experimentation with democratic nurture-over-nature is over and we are back to 14th Century Genetic Essentialism;

"O what an easie thing is to descry
The gentle bloud, how ever it be wrapt
In sad misfortunes foule deformity,
And wretched sorrowes, which have often hapt?
For howsoever it may grow mis-shapt,
Like this wyld man, being undisciplynd,
That to all vertue it may seeme unapt,
Yet will it shew some sparkes of gentle mynd,
And at the last breake forth in his owne proper kynd.

...

For certes he was borne of noble blood,
How ever by hard hap he hether came;
As ye may know, when time shall be to tell the same."

We never find out where this guy comes from.

Somewhere in history there are a bunch of scrawled notes for the next 6-9 books of the Faerie Queene with Edmunds arrows and plot-plans.

The Savage Man goes off to look for Calepine, who went missing last Canto after the deal with the Bear and the Baby and finds no sign of him;


"Tho backe returning to that sorie Dame,
He shewed semblant of exceeding mone,
By speaking signes, as he them best could frame;
Now wringing both his wretched hands in one,
Now beating he hard head upon a stone,
That ruth it was to see him so lament.
By which she well percieveing, what was done,
Gan teare her hayre, and all her garments rent,
And beat her brest, and piteously her selfe torment."


After a lot of drama she decides to grab her horse, which has been chilling in the forest, and make off to find Calepine, despite sill being wounded/poisoned by the Blatant Beast. The Savage Man decides to go with her and picks up Calepines armour, left behind, and shield to follow her. (Though Calepines sword is still hidden.)


"So forth they traveld an uneven payre,
That mote to all men seeme an uncouth sight;
A salvage man matcht with a Ladie fayre,
That rather seem'd the conquest of his might,
Gotten by spoyle, then purchaced aright.
But he did her attend most carefully,
And faithfully did serve both day and night,
Withouten thought of shame of villeny,
Ne ever shewed signe of foule disloyalty."



"then purchaced aright"?

Its the middle of the Canto again, so time to introduce a new plot element. Remember that guy Tiamas, who was Arthurs Squire and who ended up making out in the forest with that Amazon chick? Back iiin, Book 3 or 4 I think? Well here he is, turning up with Arthur himself and about to stumble over the Serena/Woodwose situation.

How did they get here? mysterious auto-generated enemies.

FLASHBACK. Everything was going fine with Tiamas except he developed some generic Rennaisance pre-Iago-esqe enemies who just hated him because they were hateful dudes


"Three mightie ones, and cruell minded eeke,
That him not onely sought by open might
To overthrow, but to supplant by slight.
The first of them by name was cald Despetto,
Exceeding all the rest in powre and hight;
The second not so strong but wise, Decetto;
The third nor strong nor wise, but spightfullest Defetto"

(Spensers italiainised terms for Despite, Deceat and Defect.)

These guys want to hurt Tiamas but aren't tuff enough alone, so they lure him into fighting the Blatant Beast, knowing he won't be able to resist such a challenge.

Tiamas does encounter the beast, and drives it off;


"Yet ere he fled, he with his tooth impure
Him heedlesse bit, the whiles he was thereof secure."

Which is interesting becasue it seems the Blatant Beast isn't actually that hard to scare away, (every Knight it has fought has done that) but is almost impossible to catch and kill, and it has a 'tooth impure' so even if it gets a nip in, the bite slowly corrupts.


Tiamas rides after the beast but is waylaid by Despetto, Decetto and Defetto (who I now can't help but see as Warner Brother characters). They surround him;


"Like a wylde Bull, that being at a bay,
Is bayted of a mastiffe, and a hound,
And a curre-dog; that doe him sharpe assay
On every side, and beat about him round;
But most that curre barking with bitter sownd,
And creeping still behinde, doth him incomber,
That in his chauffe he digs the trampled ground,
And threats his horns, and bellowes like the thonder,
So did that Squire his foes disperse, and drive asonder."

But who should be randomly riding around but magnificent Prince Arthur himself! Tiamas's former (current?) boss. They didn't seem that close several books back when Arthur rode off after (I think it was false Florimell?), but now they are back they get some surprisingly emotive verse about being reunited;


"Whereof exceeding glad, he to him drew,
And him embracing twixt his armes entire,
Him thus bespake; My liefe, my lifes desire,
Why have ye me alone thus long yleft?
Tell me what worlds despight, or heavens yre
Hath you thus long away from me bereft?
Where have ye all this while bin wandring, where bene weft?

With that he sighed deepe for inward tyne:
To whom the Squire nought aunswered againe,
But shedding few soft teares from tender eyne,
His deare affect with silence did restraine,
And shut up all his plaint in privy paine."


So again, we have a powerful Spenserian theme of held vs expressed emotional pain. And we have the very-Chivalric situation of guys who just feel a lot of big feelings for each other. This is all over Mallory as well, friends and brothers who find each other after being seperated will grab and kiss each other and cry a lot.

But now these two see Serena with the Savage Man looking like an absolute freak who has captured her, so they arm up and Tiamas starts dicking with Doc Savage. This does not go well for him;


"Gnashing his grinded teeth with griesly looke,
And sparkling fire out of his furious eyne,
Him with his fist unwares on th'head he strooke,
That made him downe unto the earth encline;
Whence soon upstarting much he gan repine,"


In another classic chivalric gender situation; the woman stopping the pointless intra-male fight, (women have a very strong, rarely directly referenced theme of both legitimising and preventing violence. Sometimes it seems like there is a kind of gender-lock on men fighting. This even starts with Una preventing Redcrosse from suicide in Book One) Serena explains everything;


"Had not this wylde man in that wofull stead
Kept, and delivered me from deadly dread.
In such a salvage wight, of brutish kynd,
Amongst wilde beastes in desert forrests bred,
It is most straunge and wonderfull to fynd
So milde humanity, and perfect gentle mynd.

Let me therefore this favour for him find,
That ye will not your wrath upon him wreake,
Sith he cannot expresse his simple minde,
Ne yours conceive, ne but by tokens speake:
Small praise to prove your powre on wight so weake."

(The guy is invulnerable to harm but whatever.)

And they all calm down and travel together through the forest. It should be noted that both Serena and Tiamas have been wounded/poisoned by the Blatant Beast.


"Till towards night they came unto a plaine,
By which a little Hermitage there lay,
Far from all neighbourhood, the which annoy it may.

And nigh thereto a little Chappell stoode,
Which being all with Yvy overspred,
Deckt all the roofe, and shadowing the roode,
Seem'd like a grove faire braunched over hed:"


Inside the pleasant chapel is a hermit who, I'm sorry to say, is not going to be Archimago in disguise (miss you bro!). But seems to be something of a Sean Connory type.


"And soothly it was sayd by common fame,
So long as age enabled him thereto,
That he had bene a man of mickle name,
Renowmed much in armes and derring doe:
But being aged now and weary to
Of warres delight, and worlds contentious toyle,"



"he thence them lead into his Hermitage,
Letting their steedes to graze upon the greene:
Small was his house, and like a little cage,
For his owne turne, yet inly neate and clene,
Deckt with greene boughes, a flowers gay beseene.
Therein he them full faire did entertaine
Not with such forged showes, as fitter beene
For courting fooles, that curtesies would faine,
But with entire affection and appearaunce plaine."

After hearing about the terrible things that have happend to Serena and Calepine Arthur rides off to do some fucking-up of bad knights locally. Serena and Tiamas stay behind. And so everything seems fine, for now.


Monday, 19 February 2018

A Review of the Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes

(This showed up on my Goodreads page first, so if you read that then you have already read this.)



The dusty hard-drive of oral culture found in the back of a drawer, lets dig out an old emulator and see what's inside.

(Of course we rarely have access to actual oral culture as it is annihilated and transformed by contact with the structure of academic recording, more on this at the end. What we actually have is records of the point of transformation and/or translation from orality into text, almost always into print since it requires the cheapness and replicability of print to make 'common' culture worth recording to most societies.)

It’s a mixture of trash and gold, but even the trash isn't actually trash because, like Belloq's watch, it is ennobled by survival and time, and because, like an ink-stained stream used to trace a water table, watching its flow and mutation lets us trace the structure of human thought.

Some common elements;


COMMON SONGS

A huge amount of nursery rhymes are alterations or mutations of the historical version of pop-songs; broadside ballads, folk songs, music hall numbers etc. These provide the seed structure for a lot of rhymes. Like a mother singing a half-remembered chorus of a Taylor Swift song, altering the words, keeping the structure.


MISSING MUSIC

If there is one huge failure with this, and with the whole culture of transmitted orality studies, it is that there is no smooth or *commonly* readable way to encode musical notes, rhythm or any of that musical stuff in text form. Even Rubins Memory in Oral Tradition, didn't talk enough about the music.

In their natural environment, a vast range of these structures exist, are transmitted with, generated by and possess a deep interrelationship with music. They exist sung, the exist played, they are symbiotic with instrument, voice and song on a lot of levels, and that very rarely shows up in books like this.

For good reason; it would mean opening up an entire new, parallel track of scholarship and resourcing it like the first track.

And because you would then need to integrate the two, needing more time and more resources.

And you would need to find a way to present this to a mass, or at least a common/educated audience - though modern neo-orality like Youtube etc, could be good at this.

But still, the text-based nature of the transmission of orality studies is a major, and unacknowledged limitation, and more dangerous BECAUSE it is unacknowledged - as people will default to text-fetishism.


RIDDLES

Still a minor, but continual theme. 'Good' riddles (the kinds I like) where you could understand them even if they were translated. 'Dick' riddles, where the clue is that four kings each took an apple even though there was only one apple because the guys name was 'Fourkings' or some bullshit like that, Textual games as well, including some elegant verse forms made from the removal or alteration of punctuation and shifting of line-meanings.


THEEVES

The heavyweights of nonsense verse, Lear & Carrol, both based their early stuff on generative verses, subjects and forms from mass oral culture.


THOSE CRAZY KIDS

The moral universe of children, as seen through their rhymes, is arbitrary (yet rule bound), stark, intense, bordering on surreal (as in super-real), morally cruel or violent, funny, imaginative; loving both the excise and overturning of authority, highly animate (everything is alive, has intention and a self), with many changes in scale - living in shoes, floating to the moon etc.

Doubtless the moral view of children is shaped by the fact that they exist under the dominion of gigantic tyrants exercising what seem like arbitrary and inexplicable rules which they often do not meaningfully explain. And by the fact that things seem to exist, and not exist, to be brought forth, and to disappear, without any clear cause or meaning. It may simply be a rational view of an insane experience.

(Children live in a world where every useful object is out of scale for their use - too big, and where they are given other, arbitrary objects, which they may do with as they will, which mimic the larger objects but which are scaled much too small for their use. A child, for instance, cannot simply get in a car, they can be lifted into a giant one, or play with one too small to drive. No wonder they are obsessed with strange changes in scale; their world does not make sense.)


COUNTING

Counting rhymes are a big dal and, from textural analysis it looks like these may actually (some of them) be evolved or decayed forms of old, even pre-roman, counting rhymes.


HAPSIS

Bouncing rhymes where the child is manipulated on a knee, finger rhymes where the adults hands form a kind of shifting model and where fingers become people, pigs, houses, churches and priests, are common. As well as limb-naming and face-feature naming rhymes. The body in space being at the primary root of much human culture.


ANCIENT FEEL

To bring up Belloq's watch again, it doesn't take much processing or many revolutions through an oral culture for something to gain a feeling of deep numinous or oneiric ancientness. As if it referred to something huge and shadowy, just out of sight. But this feeling seems to have no, or little relation to whether something actually *is* ancient. A generation of oral transmission and manipulation might be enough to give something this feel.


BULLSHIT HISTORIES

Consequentially, Nursery Rhymes are plagued with minor academic, or general enthusiasts who swarm like flies and who are all universally sure that;

- A known personage coined this particular rhyme (usually a distant relative)
- Its a political thing about this particular king or whatever
- its ancient celtic/Indo-European stuff (pls also read my book on the occult)

Any of these might actually be true for any particular rhyme. But usually they aren't. Usually its an old pop song about a squire, often with some dirty bits taken out and changed.


BOWLDERISATION

There’s a lot of dirty vague sex stuff in popular folk culture, as well as a lot of scatological stuff. Almost all of this is edited out either by gradual cultural transmission, or by some Yankee or Victorian with a pen. before the scatological stuff at least is put right back in by the children as soon as mum has left the room.


THE REAL OLD STUFF

There are a few fragments, Snail, Ladybird, London Bridge, and a few others that are almost certainly really very old indeed. If you want to have strange thoughts about deep time and human culture, there you go.



There should really be a leather-bound version of this so you can leaf through it and intone mysterious stuff while giving people curious and meaningful looks.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

A Review of 'Forges of Mars' by Graham McNeill.

This is clearly one long story, I feel a little bad for anyone who had to read it as a serial.



SPOILERED
TO 
FUCK
FROM 
THIS 
POINT
ON

I read it on the kindle and its designed well for that. All three books together would be physically huge , but its a lot more convenient of you can shlep them all around as-one, digitally.

So; ages ago, crazy-ass radical genius space-Peter-Thiele went off to the inaccessible cake-slice of the Milky Way to look for GODPOWER. And no-one ever heard from that guy again which was probably fine.

But now someone’s found message in a bottle and it looks like he might still be alive out there beyond the Halo Scar. So bankrupt space-Elon-Musk grabs his recently excavated super-ship and calls in his few remaining favours from 40k central casting;

"I need a Rogue Trader, some Space Marines, some army dudes, some GOD MACHINES, and hold the Inquisition."

And a microcosm of the Imperium are off to the far reaches of space to find a guy who definitely will not have gone completely insane just because he was already a radical and has now been alone with GODPOWER for millennia.

Some Space Elves follow because they are obeying the weave of fate. The weave of fate basically says whatever the Graham McNeill wants it to say at any particular time so the space elves are enemies or quasi-allies whenever required.

(Some of the space elf characters do seem rather aware of, and pissed about, this, repeatedly asking their farseer; "WTF is up with these strands of fate?")

It takes them ages to get there, they meet one seriously bad freak, some bad stuff happens and when they get there the guy is nuts and they have to fight him and run away.




GOOD THINGS


Scale

If there's one thing that 40k excels in and that both Abnett and McNeil are great at, its scale. The sheer, intense, piling-on of stuff, the enormous reaches of material and the gogmagogic size of events themselves, and the ability and story-artefacts to tell a story that passes through every possible scale of action, in which they all interact.

The gothicness of 40k helps with the assembly of scale in writing, art and in 3d because it provides an endless palette of specific and ominous detail. To put in in its simplest form; it’s easier to make something feel big when there are skulls everywhere.

In slightly finer language; the sheer number of things, censers burning strange unguents, forgotten embossed walls of ancient crusades, old weapons emplacements with some pale servitor still plugged in and gathering dust, yet active, banners, heraldry, gargoyles with camera eyes, tables with hexamathic equations in the margins, servo-skulls, ivory wings on the chests of space marines, the glimmer of tertiary-grade augmetics around the margins of the eye, old guard tattoos, electro-tattoos of old work-groups, strange sub-cults,  feral wolf-tattoos on the pilot of a God Machine, dermal sockets, mechadendrites, everything, all of this means that when the eye of the viewer, or the 'eye' of the reader scans, not only up and down large structures, but focuses first on tiny small details and then opens to grand vistas, there is always something to be seen, a particular and specific object or sign, that makes sense/unsense in the context of the world, and that there is an endless transmission of specific meaning, a linkage of particular object and feel, that joins one scale to another, at every point at which the eye or story rests.

It would be hard to do this with a modernist aesthetic, because modernism, and classic techno-futurism, is smooth. It is made to abrade and sand off detail, to present a clean, regular whole. So when you look at a modernist city or building, it doesn't feel fractal or busy in the same way. It's smooth and clean in each room, on each road, in each block, and the star ships are smooth and clean as well.

One Star Trek corridor is one Star Trek corridor, A 40k corridor has the crumbling statue of Archmagos Vedek who rediscovered binary incantations, or it has an auto-generated list of names of the heroic fallen etched into the steel by a blind servitor, who is permanently etching even though the names at the beginning are worn smooth by the passage of hands, or it has at least some huge cogs with the AdMech Skull/Cog emblem on them.

There are always things. The Dark Future is a world of things.


>>> scale makes scale

Godzilla always has birds flying around him in films - so do big robots. This is to create a sense, rather than a view of scale.

40k has a lot more to play with at every level. Flags, people climbing up and down huge machines, or living inside them, giant gun-bullets, chains, servitors, and of course skulls.


>>> unity of self

Because the setting has been gone over and gone over and developed and developed for 30 years; all the things in 40k are the right things. They repeat, intensify and construct a deep coherence of mood. Everything is awful, everything is doomed and death-obsessed, and everything is coherent with the setting. Of course the AdMech would build actual, literal altars in the middle of big machines, of course they would have cyber-monks hanging around to watch cyclopean random number generators to divine prophecies from the Onmissiah.


>>> sense/unsense

Most pop science-fiction for a mass audience (or all of it really) has to not make sense. Because the deep future probably won't look like anything we can understand. So big ships are run by apes instead of AI's, they hang near each other to shoot tracer bullets, phasers are less dangerous than AK 47's, guys fight with lazer swords, etc.

All for good reason so far as creating necessary technological and socio-cultural chimerae to use in the transmission of story.

But in 40k the fact that things don't make sense is integrated into the setting in a different way. The things that don't make sense meta-textually often literally don't make sense in the setting, but are kept in place because it’s an insane, superstitious, authoritarian, deliberately-ignorant dark-age. So every time you come up against a fragment of incoherence in the imagined world, it often adds to the strangeness of the setting and concentrates the feel of the world.

>>> Anyway.

Anyway, to get to the point - there is a lot of cool scale-switching in the book. The memorably good parts often include the Titan-Legions (building or sky-scraper sized) fighting inside the Speranza (Manhattan-sized space ship) with Imperial Guard and tanks and whatever (WWII-scale combat) happening mixed in with that, while planetary stuff is happening outside, with a world blowing up or whatever, while cosmic-level stuff is also happening tearing space & time apart, while psychic dream-world-hell-reality stuff is also happening, which postfuture cyberpunk stuff is ALSO happening. Multiple layers of reality, many ranges of scale. All at the same time, all mixed in together, all reacting together. You don't get that many other places.


Detail

Dealt with above somewhat, but as I said, there is a lot of it and it is good. Our doomed Archmagos, Lexell Kotov, obsessively changes his mecha-bodies like clothes for each mission and each of them reflect a differing level of pretension or utility unique to it.

People wield particular brands of Las-Pistol or graviton gun.

A good test of whether you will like 40k is if you prefer;

"Ah, a pre-heresy Agrippna-Bellusarius pattern grav emitter, praise be to the Machine God, you will find its plasma converters unstable and its machine spirit unwilling."

Or;

"You! Drop the gun!"

If you think the first one is better, you may well like 40k.

If you like the 'behind the warfare' sub-genre of 40k fiction where we tool about in the background of the omni-conflict looking at how people live; there is a lot of that here, all centred on the Mechanicus. So if you want to find out what kind of equations Archmagos Kotov gets acid-etched into the hems of his synthetic dragon-scale cloak, then you have come to the right place.



Titan-Driving Whakos

We get a little look inside one of the Titan legions and its fun. A kind of gothic techno soap-opera based around a quasi-family of people who are all selected to be the one-in-a-billion who are OK'd to fuse with the spirits of the insane hyper-murderous God Machines.

They run like some kind of feudal/barbarian/wolfpack inside the belly of the Mechanicus, guys and girls taken from feral worlds, raised from early youth to ride the god machines whose biofeedback  will slowly reduce them to physical cripples chilling in amniotic tanks, and working out feral dominance/submission hyper-dramas with each other.

One of the best parts is when a Titan Alpha guy has a PTSD flashback to his Titan nearly being consumed by a Tyrranid swarm, while he is actually piloting the Titan, inside the space ship, during a training mission, and accidentally fires his insane super-weapon inside the ship, killing, at least a couple of thousand of people. Scale, size, meta-consequences, human drama and differing levels of reality all smashing together.


Society

Since it’s a long series of three large books mushed together, and because everyone is jammed together in a super-ship, we get to take a Grand Tour of this microcosm (still a couple of million people probably) of the Imperium, going all the way from the shitty disposable near-slave-grade bondsmen, through the crew, to the bridge where they fancy cybernetic bois hang chilling with the ivory-winged Space Marines.

It's rare that we get to do this in a 40k book since, even when they go "behind the scenes" we usually only get bits and pieces of each particular part of society as the main badasses pass through.

(Actually there’s no, or almost no ‘middle class’ in this book. But maybe that’s because the Imperium is a goddamn feudal shithole.)



Techno-Incantation Prose

The main thing I liked about McNeil’s prose, which some other reviewers hated, was the big janky sentences with lots of mechanical detail. There is a shitload of this. Let me see if I can grab a random fragment;

"At the heart of the Ciborium was an elliptical chamber like a grand hall of governance, with stepped tiers of hard metal benches rising to either side of a perfectly circular table. The table was easily ten metres wide, fashioned from wedge-shaped planes of segmented steel inset with panels of a smooth red rock that could only have come from one world of the galaxy. Gently humming data engines ran around the curve of the chambers walls, and a number of blank-faced servitors were plugged into several exload ports, holo-capture augmetics recording every angle of this gathering."

Better than; "They sat around the table." It's not high-poetry but its fucking fun.



I Can Actually Remember Who Most of These People Are

Well done Graham. There are a huge number of people in this and a lot of them are various kinds of funky machine-boys made from cogs, but I actually remembered who nearly everyone was and even recognised them. It’s not necessarily easy to achieve this. The initial impression of the characters has to be STRONG, with each one bound closely within a particular social/dramatic matrix with their immediate group, a meaningful visual aesthetic that can be communicated through natural language, speech-patterns and, personality and, of course, 40k-style 'hero objects' for the writer to use in their incantations.

This is all done well.


Freaky Toaster Bois

I like me some crazy Ad-Mech dudes and we get a bunch of them and even though they are all apsergers-cyborgs shouting at each other about LOGIC like a MTG tournament bar, they are all different in personality, form and expression. of particular use is the way each Toaster-Bois physical form is used to intensify, counterpoint or just highlight their inner nature.

In the Ad-Mech, everyone’s gonna cyborg eventually, and the way they do, the things they do and do not change, are interesting elements of character, and useful dramatic objects and tools you don't get in other fiction. (Apart from the main baddy in this, more on that later.)



Never Learn Anything Ever

I like how narcissistic, self-important and shallow Archmagos Kotov (our main Odysseus guy) is, while still remaining likable, sympathetic and interesting enough to be fun reading. This is manages by surrounding him with absolute freaks, Asperger’s space marines and varying levels of backstabbing idiot. And also by often making him the most reasonable, least puritanically-insane person in a lot of his scenes.

I also like how his apparently sincere desire to improve as a person and finally learn his lesson, never seems to actually work. He keeps getting beat in the face by the fruit of his own stupidity, picking himself up and thinking "Ok, Lexel, this time you've really learnt your lesson." and then doing exactly the same shit.



Ancient Mariner Sense Ov DOOOM

"Archmagos Kotov, do you think that since your planets got blown up, except for the one that mega-crashed when you turned on your accidently-found super-ship, and that you are going beyond the edges of reality through the HALO SCAR, to find a guy who was pretty fucked in the head to begin with, and who has been on his own with the POWER OF THE GODS for millennia, that things might not necessarily go to plan?"

"Nah, it'll be fine."

It's not subtle, but it is effective. The continual, mistakes, failures, accidents, attacks, losses, dangers, betrayals, and the piling up of weird freaky shit, does add nicely to the Colridge-esqe (GET YER ALBERTROSS BOY) you're-really-fucked-now feel of the story.



Arco-Flagellant

There is an Arco-Flagellant in this which, despite not being that good in the 40k rules, in this book can apparently murderfuck anything.

We get to find out how fucking weird it is to spend time hanging out with an Arco-Flagellant, exactly how they turn you into one, and what a seismic level of evil fuck you need to be in order to actually get that punishment.

None of this actually seems to go anywhere, but there you go.


Harlan Ellison Cyborg Dude

One of the main antagonists, Galeta, is essentially the Harlan Ellison story 'I Have No Mouth Yet I Must Scream', but as a character. A pissed-off crazy AI made from stringing a bunch of brains together with a semi-intelligent computer stack, it essentially refused to die when its original brains started to wither, and started luring in and capturing people to get fresh brains.

It’s a quasi-AI, a gestalt intelligence which can't exist without human flesh, but which SUPER HATES humanity, so captures and tortures its brain-selves, even though they make up part of its essential nature.

It's just great fun, and much better than the main Ahab-Baddy, Archmagos Telok.



People Banging on about Honour

You know I love people banging on about honour and brotherhood in space. There is no shortage here, we have enough last-minute speeches about brotherhood, sacrifice and THA EMPRAH to fill about twenty Michael Bay third-acts. Its raining in Arlington cemetery, and  a FLAG IS FLAPPING IN THE WIND BECASUE HE WAS... MAH BRATHAAAA.



No Chaos

One character does get eaten by Slanesh, but that's is, and its mainly offscreen. A nice refreshing break. You see, even in the slightly-more-science-fictional Dark Future, things can still be Unutterably Terrible.



(Multiple) Non-Sociopath Characters

Because so much of the cast are massive freaks one way or another, it means there's a nice range of people who are not totally fucked in the head to sympathise with, and they don't come off as too boring since they are surrounded by Gothic Weirdness.




Daddy-Daughter Day

Two of the main characters are likeable star-charting Magos's Vitalli & Linya Tychon. Vitalli created Linya as a clone-replacement/servant but a freak chromasonal change made her female, and this was enough to make sure she developed into an entirely different and unique individual. Someone with all of Vitalli's intelligence but an entirely unique world view.

It's a really interesting, and engaging relationship and a stroke of elegance for the book



Cyberpunk trash/Strands of Fate mishmash

This is both good and bad, I'll talk about the bad later.

There's multiple levels of reality - the Eldar are doing their psychic straaaandds oooov faaaate stuff, and there is also a lot of William Gibson 90's style virtual reality where people deep dive into the noosphere and look at the GOLDEN NETWORKS OF PURE INFORMATIONS.

The fun part is that there are worlds within worlds, and without, and like the business with scales, you can have people in different sub-realities affecting and influencing each other in a variety of different ways. STUFF HAPPENS.




The Hrud!

They are in this and we see them from a distance.

My idea for a Hrud model is to create something that feels 3d printed, but is actually just assembled. But you paint it first, then assemble it, so it feels like the model has these inner layers and this illusory but felt interior space, and it looks kinda like an optical illusion, as if it were phasing through our reality and also in others at the same time. And they would also be pink, hairless super-rats with jezzails.



We Took The Breaks Off This Planet - see 'scale' above

Teloks Colonel Kurtz planet of 'what if we left and Ad-Mech nutter alone with the power of THA GODZ for a coupe centuries, is pretty fun. It's largely an insane BLAME!-like planetary factory where everything is generating energy for insane cosmic plans and where everyone has been lobotomised except for the Main Guy. Like a death factory on a Giga-Scale. It's kinda horrible and wonderful. Maybe more could have been done with the idea but this was fun.




"Good" Guys Kind-Of Win?

I think the Imperials actually win this one? They do lose a staggering amount of men and material, and ships and whatever, and they were part of the problem in the first place, but they get to keep the Speranza, many of the main cast survive and they do stop the Entire Cosmos (technically the Eldar stop it) from unravelling to nothing. So I think that’s a win?





BAD THINGS


Crystals

The main bad guy has this vague nanotech crystal thing going on, so his armies and the things he sends to beat up the goodies are all these crystal dudes.

McNeill does what he can with this. There's the initial shock of encounter; "They're adapting! They're transforming!", then he has a grand theatre moment with this giant titan-sized scorpion thing which is pretty good, then in the last act Telok, the baddy, blasts these self-assembling crystal dudes into the Speranza (the good guys ship) with superlightning, and they assemble themselves from air and stuff, and that’s pretty good. Somewhat BLAME!-esque.

But he is pushing up hill all the time because holly shit there is just something inevitably boring and lesser about bad guys made of crystal. It’s a boring material. It might be ok as a counterpoint to something meaty and sweaty like, "Here's my gross Ogre enforcer who sweats beef dripping and bleeds black ale as he's descended from a Titan, and here's the light ethereal crystal dame that follows him around to keep him in check.' Like a caliban/ariel thing, but I think that’s actually it.

Emma Frost from the X-Men (I accidentally typed 'Z-Mane' there for a second. Parralel-earth cryptoculture X-Men? Metatextual X-Men series where they get saved by the mass-produced Engrish Chinese Knockoff X-Men from another dimension? Anyway.)

Emma Frost from Morrisons X-Men is the only thing that really comes to mind when I think 'crystals + interesting'.

Why?

Is it the abstraction central to their nature? It’s just an empty box of light. The lack of features, of character? Of particularity? Transmission of meaning?

There is another fight against a terrible swarm at the start of the trilogy, it’s very like the crystal fight but noticeably better because it’s against lobotomised cyber-altered (big mad scissors) Orks that have been flayed and wrapped in vat-grown, pink, human skin.

See, that already sounds more interesting than the crystal stuff doesn't it? Why? It's still a mindless swarm working for one evil dude. It still just walks forwards and stabs.

My best guess is that crystal stuff is separate enough from the human lifeworld that it’s hard to write about in natural language. If you are J.A.Baker, or a great prosidist, (or Ballard even, but even his crystal things were altered normal things) and you want to devote a tonne of descriptive energy to getting your crystal stuff exactly right, then you can probably do it.

But if you are writing adventure/genre and there is just a lot of stuff you need to get done, then it’s a lot easier to link elements and objects to the human lifeworld. Which, even though it’s not real, and Ork is, more than a crystal man, because it breathes and poops and sweats and has eyes and a mouth and looks at you. And then the ork wrapped in human skin is another thing you know about, and you sense what it is in the text right away, and go ugh. And then you can use literary techniques to embroider and make it extra-bad.



Was That Going Somewhere?

Oh my gaaawwd they've found and Arco-flagelent! Oh my ghaad he's going INSIDE the Arco-Flagelents mind! Oh my ghaad this was a space hitler who went super evil and now actually likes being an arco-flagelent and this is the guy protecting one of our more likeable heroes! WHAT WILL HE DOOOOOO?

Goes nowhere.


Oh my gaaawwd tHE Speranza has a super space cannon that shoots fucking black holes or something that no-one noticed because manhatten-sized + dark-future fuckups, but then they awaken the Mysterious Spirit inside the Speranza and it uses the ancient mega-cannon to blast some dudes! What does this mean for the future?

Nothing. Goes nowhere.


Oh fucksticks, the main Titan-driving pack-head guy is an ok dude but has mega-PTSD and literally shot a fucking hole in the sacred ark-mechanicus and killed a couple 1000 (more?) people INCLUDING Cadian and Ad-Mech troops who’s job it is to fight alongside him. And the next in line to be pack head doesn't have super-PTSD (good) but is generally a twat that nobody likes (bad). WHAT WILL HAPPEN?

Nothing. Situation is resolved and Cadians apparently just deal with it. Cog-boys can have their resentment deleted.


Magos Blaylock, the second in command of the expedition, thinks Kotov, the main guy, is an absolute tool on a fools errand who is wasting a huge amount of imperial and Ad-Mech resources just trying to avoid future-bankruptcy. Not only is he planning ways to dick him over, with every new turn of the expedition, it looks more and more like the conservative Blaylock is simply correct? Maybe he actually should just take over?

He doesn't. They just decide to work together for the OMNISSIAH.


Fffffuuucck. The Speranza is in terrible danger, falling into the orbit of a world on the Brink of Destruction! Forces on the ground are being ferried up. Big arguments in the bridge. And At. This. Moment. The machine-touched apparently-real prophet hero guy stages his insurrection to demand better (i.e. not slavelike) living conditions for the millions of people who make the ship go and who have been treated horrifically since the start of the book. Morally he's in the right! But the ship might die! And if he backs down he's ffffuuuccckked because this is the Dark Future fascist Imperium where dissent is punished with a massive skullfucking for everyone regardless of whether you had a point or not! What's going to happen???

Nothing. The prophet backs down. Kotov is persuaded not to lobotomise everyone or open the lower decks to space and conditions improve a bit. That's a surprisingly reasonable solution for the Dark Millennium (maybe that's the point?)


There's a lot of that in this.




Cheeze

The wheel of one of the land-leviathans is allegedly from Nelsons ship at Trafalgar. The Big Strike Speech that a main character gives is that classic 'throw yourselves on the wheels' speech that somone gave in the 60's and which was also in Battlestar Galactica.

Telok hunts the good guys on his doomworld by unleashing some freaky AI machines from either the Dark Age of Technology or from even further back he found floating beyond the galactic rim and which he's hacked with Necron, or C'Tan technology to be UNKILLABLE. They are vaguely hound-like and decently written. They are programmed to only eat the person they are chasing, to not be able to eat anything else, and to grow ever-more hungry.

The fairytale + Dark Future Megatech thing is ok, there's a fair amount of that in the book.

It's just that he calls them 'The Tindalosi'.

Do you get it?

The references in this book remind me of the bit in Y-The Last Man, where the hero has a 'Fuck Communism' lighter, which is a reference to Preacher, another (better) comic book.

It's difficult to explain exactly why this leaves me with this pained expression and vague sense of tiredness and age, but it does.


 
I really fucking hate absolutely everything about this.


Basic-Ass prose

If you are worried that Graham McNeill is too much of an expert in good prose; don't worry. He multi-classed and is also an expert in basic-ass prose!

Do you think of George R.R.Martin as a Great Writer? Then you are in luck my friend!

Here's a random page;

"Abrehem heard Ismael's words without understanding them, but knew they were only pulling him into the mire in which he was already neck-deep."

Here's another, it took me a bit of flipping to find it;

"'I don't have many phobias, Ven, but being trapped alone in the darkness is one that's haunted my nightmares ever since the Preceptor was crippled by that hellship.'

'Understandable,' said Anders.

'And it feels like I'm living that nightmare right now.'

Anders nodded, and left him alone after that."

Not terrible, but not great either.




I Get You Did RE In School

There's lots of vague religious stuff in here. Ketov thinks he's on a mission for the Omnissiah, Good-Guy Abrehem Locke seems to be touched by a force that literally does miracles. The Black Templars pretty much worship THA EMPRAH. It's suggested that the Speranza is some kind of quasi-immortal being but with a ship wrapped around it, like an angel of order & science or something.

None of its really bad, and a lot of it is relevant to people from the Mysteriously Religious Dark Millenium. But a lot of it is vague and blathery and it’s never really clear what is and isn't just a big old computer or an alien death god or a thing that bleeds golden light or just some crazy stuff in your head.

And the lack of clarity is not interesting in the story. It’s not suggestive in an ‘aaaaahhh’ way, its vague in an ‘eh?’ way.



Basic-Ass Bad Guy

Telok, the main Doctor Moreau, Colonel Kurtz figure that almost all of the trilogy leads up to, is very average. Mad in exactly the way you would expect from a serial villain, making terrible choices exactly the way you would expect, with boring crystal minions. Galeta was much better.

His physical form is a big dreadnaught guy with claws and a waxy face and crystal grooowths. Fuck crystals




A Handful Of Historical Times

So, time compression in 40k is a thing. Just like our view of history being shaped by the needs and drives of today, the faux-history of 40k, its general shape and historiography, is shaped by the period of its creation.

So in classic 40k, from the late 80's to the 90's, most things happened in the 10,000 years since the Horus Heresy. The heresy itself was myth and if the writers needed to locate something 'old', they could put it in the 10,000 years of the Imperium. More than enough time to work with.

Then with the development of the Necrons, C'tan and the War in Heaven mythology around the 2,000's, thing could now be super-fucking-old. Like, birth-of-the-cosmos old. So now there was a new place to put ancient things, they could be from the last 10,000 years, or from MILLIONS of years ago.

(This means the Eldar race has been around for literally millions of years, billions maybe?, gradually taking over the galaxy, before Slanesh woke up, relative to them, yesterday, and started nomming on them. And we know nothing about this time, it’s just featureless empty eons, and so it feels not-real.)

And since the development of the Horus Heresy novels from the 2010's on, the Heresy has become a Real Place, and the imagined time between it and Now has essentially been annihilated, like distance in Westeros in Season Six. Things go into hibernation in the age of heresy, then 10,000 years later - BOOM, they pop right back up, almost unchanged.

And in addition to this, there has been some exploration of what exactly was going on in the Age of Strife (imagine Ian M. Banks Culture if the machines suddenly went Harlan Ellison, the Xenos went like Any Non-American in an episode of '24' with Kiefer Sutherland and Actual Fucking Demons popped up). So now things can be from there as well.

And the weird thing about there being much more detail is that it feels like there is less time for things to be in. The Thousand Sons codex has a cool timeline for 'what have the Thousand Sons been up to?' and the answer is nothing. They did the heresy, then kinda hung around for like three entries, then popped right back up in the 41st millennium.

Most of the stuff in this trilogy feels like it comes from War In Heaven stuff, and a bit from the near-past of the Imperium. But even though Telok Mysteriously Disappeared maybe a millennia ago, it hasn't affected his insane Xanatos Gambit at all.




We Need To Do What Now? For What?

So the Eldar are follwing the straaaands of faaaaate, and this is somewhat fun but it’s also slightly bad because it means that they want to do exactly what the writer needs them to do at any particular moment. We need to stop the humans!, no, wait, we fucked that up, now we need to save the humans! If almost any Eldar farseer character at any point in the imagined sequence of events had just got out the graph paper and told any human 'Look, we are trying to stop *this*, so *this*, you see that green line? Well we are trying to stop that. Ok, don't worry, I'll get a whiteboard." Then the whole fuckup would never have happened.

Likewise Abrehem Lock the good-guy machine-touched prophet who sometimes exudes golden light, gets Mysterious Assistance from an Unknown Source. This assistance is somewhat irregular since, if there was a bit more of it a bit sooner then a lot of bullshit could have been avoided, but if there was a bit less of it any later than there was, then everything would be fucked.

And to a certain extent this is just the nature of storytelling. But there is a bit too much of it in this story.



Xanatos Gambit in Extremium

Yes everything you did, even the apparently MASSIVELY random things, were part of my MEGA PLAN to bring you here! A plan which started before I probably could have thought of it, which was almost perfectly timed, (TO THE SECOND), even though it took centuries to work, which relied almost totally on you making a lot of really-pretty-questionable decisions than sane people probably wouldn’t have made, and which (spoilers) is STILL IN EFFECT even though my planet has been eaten by mega-entropy, my crystal dudes are smashed, my AI freak is dead, my ancient reality-bending super-weapon is gone and I have been literally code-wiped and brainfucked by a conclave of vengeful Arch-Magoses AND destroyed by a Mysterious Golden Light which might actually have been The Omnissiah or at least some kind of extra-reality techno-god. It was all (nearly!) JUST AS PLANNNED!!!

Yes! Telok is still around! Will he return in later books? No-one cares. Bring back Galeta.



No-Ones really Autistic Enough

If the Ad-Mech or the Black Templars where as Autistically fucked in the head as they are often portrayed in other stories or background, then this story would probably have been impossible to tell. It would just have been cogboys and homeschool space marines going REEEEEEEE in separate padded cupboards. Instead we get the Tony Stark of Ad-Mech and the Black Templars who were allowed to watch The Simpsons after homework, even though its from a fallen world.



It’s an Insane Death-Cult as the Heroes

Same as all 40k really. Dark Warning from Future History? Quasi Fascist Masturbation Tool? Harmless, but Aesthetically Intense Playgound and Generator for a rare Deep Gothic Mood?

Most of the current writers believe they are fully in the "Dark Warning" crowd. None think they are in the "Fascist Masturbation" crowd.

But you can't really write a 40k story without, to some extent, 'good guying' the Fascist Imperium, or the story would be unreadable. In 'real life' it would be like living in North Korea, plus the medieval Catholic Church. It would be bad.

But the fascist space-boys we spend our time with are almost always the good commissar with the deaths-head cap, or the _good_ autistic mass-killer space marine who will never know love, and if our hero did an exterminatus then by tha emprah they HAD ta do it! So you can't really interact with the darkness of the world without lightening it. There may be a complex moral element in there

And its unquestionable that some fascists are masturbating to 40k.

I don't think I really care, mainly because I'm from the 80's and am happy to go with the power of the non-fragile individual to absorb and contain powerful aesthetic energies without harm as a point of belief. And I think the world is better for 40k being in it. Dark Dreams have many sources and many ends, not all obvious.

If it fucks with your head, just keep repeating "It was a satire in the 80's. IT WAS A SATIRE IN THE 80'S!!!!" with your eyes closed and your hands clutched to your head.





ODD THINGS



WTF is the Speranza? And, Who is the Omnissiah?

Who the fuck is the actual Omnissiah in this book? Because someone, or something is hanging around in the background EXACTLY like the Judeo-Christian god is sometimes wont to do, handing out irregular gifts involving healing golden light that also fixes and powers machines.

Is it THA EMPRAH!? It certainly does the stuff you would expect the Imperiums version of the Emprah to do. But isn't the point of view of most 40k books that the Emprah being the Omnissiah is just a massive, and obvious, snow-job to unite humanity and that everyone just goes along with it because the alternative is cyborg/human civil war? Also - no Eagles.

Is it the Speranza? So everyone who goes noodling in the Speranzas data core thinks there is some Huge Unknowable Intelligence in there. Kotov encounters it and it directly tells him that it is eternal and the ship is just a body, that it has had many names (one is 'Veda') and it seems not-evil or chaosy, but also largely indifferent to actual people, but it does appear to speak in first person in one of the chapter introductions in first person and to say that yes, it is 'Hope in a Hopeless Age'.

Is it a nice C'tan? This seems unlikely but would fit with the Speranza being built around it, then being hidden and all records wiped, then waking up and wrecking a planet as it did so. One of the people helping good-guy machine-touched prophet Abrehem Locke has a literal goddamn Void Dragon tattoo from a cult they are in. Do they know wtf that is?

Is it a 'nice' AI from the Age of Strife? One that didn't get Chaos-boned? But now just hangs around not really interacting? But how would it be immaterial? Is it a tardis-like quantum computer shoved into another dimension but interacting with this one through a big ship?

If the Speranza makes it back to 'normal' 40k, is anyone going to ask basic-level questions like 'What Was Up With That Magic Golden Light'? and 'Shouldn’t We Investigate The Speranza?'




I gave it three stars on Goodreads. There was a lot to like. But there was also just a LOT.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Enter the Good-Guy Wild Boi Woodwose - FQ - Book 6 Canto 4

Nice and neat, this Canto gets to the point and gets out.

We open with a classic Spencerian ship-metaphor verse illustrating how bad things are for Calepine;

"Now farre from harbour likely to be lost,"

I don't know what happened to Edmund on that ship but it must have been traumatising. If he'd stayind out there we might have ended up with Englands first Sea-Poet.

Luckily for Calepine, and fans of Gilgamesh/Endinku buddy-dramas, these woods home a 'salvage man' who 'Drawne with that Ladies loud and piteous shright' runs towards the sound and finds Turpine trying to murder Calepine, a sight so horrid that;



"The salvage man, that never till this houre
Did taste of pittie, neither gentlesse knew,
Seeing his sharpe assault and cruell stoure
Was much emmoved at his perils vew,
That even his ruder hart began to rew,
And feele compassion of his evil plight,"

The woodwosy guy has no clothes or tools but, for some mysterious reason, is invulnerable to harm due to 'Magicke leare.'. No explanation in the notes, hopefully something will come up later.

"He stayed not to advize, which way were best
His foe t'assayle, or how himselfe to gard,
But with fierce fury and with force infest
Unpon him ran;"

Yeah boi! Turpine jabs him right in the chest with his spear, but cannot harm him.

"With that the wyld man more enraged grew,
Like to a Tygre that hath mist his pray,
And with mad mood again upon him flew,"

He grabs the sheild and they wrestle for it;



And nearly pulls Turpine off his horse, until Turpine runs for it. Our wyld boi chases after him and Turpine;

"Gan cry aloud with horrible affright,
And shrieked out, a thing uncomely for a knight."

Eventually Wild-Man Martin Riggs gets tired of chasing and returns to Calepine and Serena, he finds them both bleeding and Serena terrified of him, because hes a naked invulnerable wild dude.

"But the wyld ma, contrarie to her feare,
Came to her creeping like a fawning hound"

Wildy has no language;

"But a soft murmure, and confused sound
Of senselesse words, which nature did him teach,
T'expresse his passions, which his reason did empeach."

On seeing the 'streames of purple blood' flowing from Calpine he makes 'great mone after his salvage mood'.

And guess what he does next?

He stops the bleeding.

"And running streight into the thickest wood,
A certain herbe from thence unto him brought,
Whose vertue he by use well understood:
The juyce whereof into his wound he wrought,
And stopt the bleeding strait, ere he it staunced thought."

I think the reason I like this cano so much is, not only the bleeding thing, but this might be one of Spencers few low-status heroes (except maybe Glauce, Britomarts nurse) and its nice to seem something that doesn't quietly outrage my 21stC democratic instincts with Spensers Beauty=Good, Status=Good paradigm. Plus I really like it when mis-matched guys team up.

(Its looking like Serena has internal bleeding?)

From later;

"But that same Ladies hurst no herbe he found,
Which could redresse, for it was inwardly unsound."

He then takes Calepine and Serena off to chill in his hollow glade where they sleep on grass and are vegetarians;

"For their bad Stuard neither ploug'd nor sowed,
Ne fed on flesh, ne ever of wyld beast
Did taste the bloud, obaying natures first beheast."

This goes on for an indeterminate amount of time until the mid-point of the Canto is reached and we know its time for a new element to be introduced. Calepine is out wandering alone 'To take the ayre, and heare the thrushes song,' WHEN HE SEES;

"A cruell Beare, the which an infant bore
Betwixt his bloodie jawes, besprinckles all with gore."

Calepine is still a knight goddamnit so he races off to save the baby. He is not wearing his 'heavy armes' and has become so used to their weight that;

"Now wanting them he felt himselfe so light,
That like an Hauke, which feeling her selfe freed
From bels and jesses, which did let her flight,
Him seem'd his feet did fly, and in their speed delight."

He overtakes the bear, which drops the baby to fight him;

"But the bold knight no whit thereat dismayd,
But catching up in hand a ragged stone,
Which lay thereby (so fortune him did ayde)
Upon him ran, and thrust it all attone
Into his gaping throte, that made him grone
And grasp for breath, that he nigh choked was,
Being unable to digest that bone;"

The bear gets a pretty cool death-verse, full of brast bowels and 'wanting breath', but so much for the Bear, now Calepine has a baby to look after, and he's now lost in the forest;

"He could no path nor tract of foot descry,
Ne by inquirie lerne, nor ghesse by ayme.
For nought but woods and forrests farre and nye,
That all about did close the compasse of his eye."

So he wanders around for ages with the baby crying, which drives him nuts, until he happens to wander out of the forests edge, and hears someone else, a lady, crying. Again we get an interesting piece of verse about the necessity of speaking your harm;

"Nathlesse (quoth he) if need doe not you bynde,
Doe it deisclose, to ease your grieved spright:
Oftimes it haps, that sorrowes of the mynd
Find remedie unsought, which seeking cannot fynd."

This is Matilde, her husband Sir Bruin is the local lord. He beat up a 'Gyant' called Cormoraunt (a name apparenly used after the sea-bird to describe greedy people). He scared the gyant of but, oh no, they can't have children and they are scared once Bruin gets old the Gyant will come back. And by we, she means her, because her husband has blamed her & kicked her out. And wouldn;t you know it, Calepine just happens to have this guarunteed untraceable baby _right here_, who's owners probably aren't even missing it.

Then we get another very un-Spencerian, somewhat democratic moment;

"If that the cause of this your languishment
Be lacke of children, to supply your place,
Low how good fortuen doth to you present
This litle babe, of sweete and lovely face,
And spotlesse spirit, in which ye may enchace
What ever formes ye list thereto apply,
Being now soft and fit them to embrace;
Whether ye list him traine in chevalry,
Or nourlse up in lore of learn'd Philosophy.

And certes it hath oftentimes bene seeme,
That of the like, whose linage was unknowne,
More brave and noble knight have raysed beene,
As their victorious deedes have often showen,
Being with fame through many Nations blowed,
Then those, which have been dandled in the lap.
Therefore some thought, that those brave imps were sowen
Here by the Gods, and fed with heavenly sap,
That made them grow so high t'all honourable hap."

Nurture over nature? Noble blood not even being that important? Edmund what has happened to you?

So she takes the baby. She offers Calepine help but he doesn't want it;

"Vowing, that never he in bed againe
His limbes would rest, ne lig in ease embost,
Till that his Ladies sight he mote attaine,
Or understand, that she in saftie did remaine."


Wednesday, 14 February 2018

The Stolen Skin of Sun

This is a half-written plan for a fairy-tale-esqe adventure, or maybe a mini-game. I just started scrawling this down freehand in an empty pad, apropos of nothing, and stopped when I got to the middle bit, or the end of the first act.

I had the idea that the PC's could all be women (an idea that seems to re-occur to me with some regularity), they would be the friends and handmaids of the Princess in question and, as in all good child-adventure films, the only people who know what they are doing. But it could also work with the standard band of vagabond adventurers who have strolled into town.

If they were the Princesses friends then;

Fighter = Kitchen Maid
Specialist/Thief = Handmaid, or possibly Young Lady, if high Stealth.
Cleric = Virtuous Lady
Magic User = Bookish or Peculiar Lady




OPEN


The skin of Princess Sun has been stolen!

She was found, still alive, in her bed a few hours ago. At this moment she floats, skinless, in a bath of milk and honey, with new fresh milk and new fresh honey being brought every hour and drizzled all over her horrible body.

The sticky, sweet, blood-stained milk is brought out at the same time.

Only a handful of the toughest old Maids can even look at her to perform this duty, so horrible is the sight. Her mother, the Queen was dragged out screaming and is still in a swoon.

The halls of the castle are full of her low moans.

It is a terrible situation. The Princess herself is barely able to speak but seems to have no idea what happened.

Old King Gloom calls for aid! Someone must find the skin of the Princess and return it to her to be sewn on.

Maybe you?

.......


CLUES


·        A pair of bloodstained golden scissors were found on the Princesses silk sheets.
·        The Princesses pet monkey has also been stolen from its silver cage.
·        Children, churls and alcoholics, whisper that The Master Thief was seen last night, standing in the town square, staring at the tower where the Princess lay.
·        The Witch of the Black Woods (who cannot be named) lives within reach. She never seemed to have any hatred for Princess Sun, but stealing a Maidens skin seems like exactly the kind of thing she would do.
·        In Addition: Three different gentlemen had all recently proposed marriage to the Princess, and been denied. They are;
o   Lord Blue Beard. A huge, handsome, wealthy, multiply-married (they died) local lord.
o   The Grand Vizier. An wealthy and mysterious potentate from far away. He travelled with camels laden with gold and offered a huge dowry.
o   Brave Prince Brawn. A very strong, very big, very confident, very loud, red-faced leader of the Knights of Iron.



.......


FOLLOWING THE CLUES


The Scissors and the Seamstress


One person in the Castle is an expert in scissors - Mistress Quick, the Royal Seamstress.
·        She is in her parlour.
·        Anyone listening can hear her crying.
·        And hear her say "Oh my Love! Oh, my scissors! Oh, my Love"
·        If they knock, they will hear a small 'click' before the door is opened.

Inside;
·        Mistress Quick is an older lady, fine, plump and unmarried, with very fast hands.
·        She carries a big pin-cushion full of golden needles, some fine green gems on rings, and a golden locket at her neck.
·        If they ask about the scissors she starts crying again.
·        Those ARE her scissors.
·        She says they were kept safely in a locked ebony box. No-one should have been able to get them.

At this stage, Miss Cheek, the Maid, bursts in and starts cleaning and knocking things over.
·        She has a red face.
·        The sound of bottles clinking comes from her skirts.
·        She gives the PC's a wink.
·        "Oh Miss Cheek. Must You?"
·        "Oh!"
·        The hand of Mistress Quick goes to her locket. She falls on the bed.
·        "Oh the Tragedy of it, so never know LOVE...."
·        "Young women today only care about pretty dresses and gender equality, where are the true romantics?"

Possibilities;
·        Beat the truth out of Mistress Quick, she's not that tough.
·        Bribe Miss Cheek with booze (she is severely alcoholic).
·        If female, convince Mistress Quick you are a true romantic.
·        Steal or grab the locket.

The Truth;
THE SEAMSTRESS WAS IN LOVE WITH THE MONKEY.
The picture in the locket is of the missing monkey.
"It wasn't his fault!"
"Oh! He would say such wonderful things to me!"
"The Dreams we shared!"
"We were to be married."
"He was an enchanted Prince!"
"No-one would have understood!"
"Yes, he had access to my room."
"I'm sure he is a victim of the Witch of the Black Woods (who must not be named), or.. The Master Thief."

If King Gloom discovers that Mistress Quick has been intimate with a monkey she will be thrown in the cells.



The Monkey in the Silver Cage


·        King Gloom thinks the Monkey was a Birthday gift from Lord Long, his brother, the Uncle of the Princess.
·        Lord Long says he thought the monkey must have been a gift from Duchess Puss, the cat-obsessed Aunt.
·        Duchess Puss says _she_ thought the monkey was a gift from the King (and a poor one too, a kitty cat would have been much nicer).



The Master Thief


How do you know it was.. The Master Thief?
·        He wore a black hat with a wide brim.
·        He had a ragged black cloak.
·        He had long, long legs, with pointed toes.
·        He carried a sack of mysterious things.
·        When he saw me see him in the moonlight, he looked right at me, and gave me a tip of his hat. Then disappeared.
·        And behind him, he left an orange peel.

What did he look like?
·        He wore a mask.
·        But he had a cunning look.

What was his build?
·        He wore a cloak, but his legs were long.

What colour was he?
·        He was neither too dark, nor too light.
·        Not cream, nor wan.
·        And not a foreign fellow, but certainly not a local.


How to Catch The Master Thief.
Anyone can tell you; No-one can catch The Master Thief, he can steal what he wants and go where he likes.
BUT - there are three things he loves more than anything else;
·        Stealing things that are nailed down.
·        Selling things to those who have too many of them already.
·        Oranges - for he leaves orange peels wherever he goes, that is how you can tell he has been near.

IF the PC's
·        Nail down something valuable.
·        Acquire too many of a common object (at least fifty).
·        And possess oranges.
They will encounter The Master Thief.

Encountering The Master Thief
·        A child, woman, nun, gaunt old man, or someone they know well, will approach them in an unexpected way and offer them something for sale, it only costs a shilling.
·        It is in this box.
·        If the PC has a particular object they are after, they can see it in the box.
·        If not, ask (as the Referee) what the character most desires, they see that in the box.
·        If they pay the shilling this person runs away as fast as a shadow, spilling wig and disguise as they go.
o   If the PC catches them, it is only a pig dressed up as a person (you may keep the pig, they will be a loyal friend), or a reflection of The Master Thief in a mirror they run into and break.
·        In the box is a single one of the mundane object they have collected.

The Nailed-Down-Thing will have either disappeared, leaving only the nails, or;
·        They will notice a large number of flies landing on it.
·        Then a dog licking it.
o   It has been replaced with a cake of equivalent size and exquisite design.
o   The cake is delicious.

The oranges, wherever they are and however they are guarded, are all eaten, leaving only peels.

But in the midst of the peels is a napkin marked with ink.

The first person to open the napkin reads this;

"A skin for a skin
All ripe together
In summer weather
Morns that pass by
Fair eves that fly
Come buy, come buy
Buy a skin from Goblin Men
Buy a skin down in the glen
Come buy, come buy"

·        And a map to the Goblin Market, which fades as soon as it is seen.
·        The napkin was written in disappearing ink.
·        Anyone who saw the napkin can now remember the way to the Goblin Market.

Anyone who encountered The Master Thief now realises that all of their personal valuables are gone, their clothes have been replaced with paper equivalents and their shoes are now cheap, worn through, the wrong size, and not their shoes.



The Witch of the Black Woods (Who Cannot Be Named)


·        She lives in a cottage of food in the Black Woods.
·        No-one who goes there has ever returned.
·        Her name is 'Mistress Sertsim' but if anyone says it out-loud, she hears it immediately and curses them straight away. From that day on, if they ever hold two separate objects free in their hands, they will both come alive and fight each other till one of them is smashed to bits.
·        From that day forward you can only pick up one thing at a time.
·        She turns people into pigs.
·        She eats children.

Going To Her House
·        The path is made of cool white stones in the black wood.
·        Crows watch you from the trees.
·        Silver children appear.
·        They are ghosts.
·        They seem terribly afraid.
·        They do not understand they are dead.
·        They are running away from something, they shout "she will catch me!"

The House of the Witch of the Black Woods (Who Cannot be Named)
·        Walls of dripping beef.
·        The roof tiled in Cornish pasties.
·        Windows of pale, polished fat from slices of giant Black Puddings.
·        The gutters are soggy, dripping baguettes.
·        The door is a huge pizza with a pineapple doorknob.
·        It is surrounded by the skulls of children on black poles.
o   (Some still have hair and skin.)
o   They clack when you come near.

Inside;
·        A big black cooking pot.
·        Stuffed moles, voles, rats and cats, with gold buttons for eyes.
·        They are rushing around sewing clothes for a young woman.
·        An old crow croaks at you and tells you to go away;
·        "The Mistress is out!"
·        "Come back later, for dinner."
Where is she?
·        "She has flown to the Goblin Market to buy a new set of clothes."
·        (All the creatures laugh at this.)

If you are cunning, perhaps you can persuade the Crow to tell you the way;
"Walk north till noon.
Then west is best.
In the Evening - you'll hear grieving, follow that.
Then watch the sky for stars.
Follow the seventh star to appear.
Close your eyes.
Sing; 'All ripe together
In summer weather
Morns that pass by
Fair eyes that fly
Come buy, come buy'

And then you are there.




 Lord Blue Beard


·        In the Dutchy of Lord Blue Beard, everyone seems sad.
o   Except the butcher, who is manic-happy, and grins.
o   Slabs of meat are dripping in his window.
·        The pigs are eating something red.
·        The girls are all dressed as boys, with hair cut short.
·        There is old confetti clogging the gutters.

When you reach his old, rambling castle, an ancient Butler opens the door.
·        If you are a young lady, he asks; "Are you here to be married?"
·        Lord Blue Beard left quite suddenly.
·        He is going to fetch a dowry for his bride-to-be - Princess Sun.
·        (He WILL marry Princess Sun.)
·        He went north, in a carriage with silver bells..



The Grand Vizier


The Grand Vizier didn't seem that upset by the refusal of Princess Sun.
·        He left a few days ago.
·        He travels quite slowly, because his camels are laden with gold.
·        And guards wilding huge scimitars walk alongside the camels to guard them.
·        He stays every night at an Inn.
·        (He refuses to sleep outside.)
·        He stayed last at The Golden Thatch, on the north side of town.

The Golden Thatch
·        The innkeeper is very pleased.
·        He has new clothes, new shoes, a fine hat and workmen are adding a gazebo to the Inn.
·        “Some say gazeebos can be dangerous, but I have never seen one harm a man.
·        He has nothing bad to say about the Grand Vizier.
·        "That man is rich enough to buy anything."
·        "But who can buy what cannot be bought? That's what I said."
·        "He went north, I don't know why."
·        "He won't be travelling fast."
·        "I recommended the Ammonite Inn, on the forests edge."

The Ammonite Inn
·        The Inn has a roof of blue-grey slate.
·        The stone of the walls has fossilised ammonites in it.
·        And the sign is that of an ammonite.
·        The innkeeper is terse, she cleans her glasses and says little.
·        "That man stayed here, only two nights ago."
·        "He paid well and asked strange questions."
·        "He wanted to buy that which cannot be bought."
·        "I send him to the only place such questions might be answered - the Black Wood Inn, between the Black Woods and the Swamp of Pain."
·        "I would recommend you do not go."

The Black Wood Inn
·        A creaking low building of black wood.
·        Damp and part flooded.
·        Crayfish scuttle across the puddles and the Gas-Frogs howl outside.
·        The Innkeeper is a giggling little man with pointed teeth, and pointed ears, and pointed eyes.
·        He will not say much, answering only in questions and puns.
·        If you ask him; "How can I buy that which cannot be bought?", he will say;
·        "All ripe together
·        In summer weather
·        Morns that pass by
·        Fair eves that fly
·        Come buy, come buy
·        "Ill tell you  for a kiss, or a riddle that I cannot solve."
·        If you provide either, he will direct you to the Goblin Market
·        "Just step into this black coracle behind the Inn, close your eyes and sleep. When you wake up you will be there."



Brave Prince Brawn


·        Prince Brawn is still practicing his jousting with his Knights outside the town.
·        You can find them by the sound of crashing and of men shouting.
·        The Knights of Iron are all big, strong, loud, red men in bright red armour.
·        Prince Brawn is the biggest and strongest and loudest and reddest of them all.
·        He is not afraid of anything.
·        Prince Brawn will decide, immediately, that he must rescue the skin of the Princess.
·        If the characters are ladies, and are attractive, charming, virtuous or any combination of the three, he will insist on following them around, getting the way, being loud and confident.
·        He will not listen to anything they say.
·        It is a notable aspect of Prince Brawn that every decision he makes is exactly wrong, not part wrong or slightly wrong, but utterly opposite wrong.
·        He has no idea this is the case.


.........

THAT'S ALL FOR PART ONE