Wednesday, 21 September 2022

The Rest of All Possible Worlds: Appendix N (+1)

Somebody's got to have made an N+1 joke before about the Appendix. Still, it fits in this case: only the first and second parts of the below details the inspirations for the continent of Calliste and its residents. 

Some of this has already been discussed in this post, or in passing in TRoAPW posts. Footnotes added where apt. [Square brackets] indicate something unfinished or unread. This doesn't quite include every piece of fiction or non-fiction or art or <Other> set in or around the Long Eighteenth Century that I've read, but hopefully there's enough. 

This is Appendix material, so I suppose it's Spoilers, in a vague sense. A peek behind the curtain. But, well, some of the references in (say) my post on Pavaisse were not subtle.

Image added to break up the text - and to remind the reader that there is a Classical Antiquity for Calliste one may refer to with a different set of influences.

Inspirational Fiction
Candide, Voltaire
The Baroque Cycle, Neal Stephenson
Mason & Dixon, Thomas Pynchon
The Island of the Day Before, Umberto Eco
An Instance of the Fingerpost, Iain Pears
A History of Henry Esmond, Esq, William Thackeray
The Luck of Barry Lyndon, William Thackeray (& Barry Lyndon, 1975, Dir. Stanley Kubrick)
The Three Musketeers, Alexandre Dumas (& the 1973 film of the same name, Dir. Richard Lester)
Guns of the Dawn, Adrian Tchaikovsky
On Stranger Tides, Tim Powers*
Gulliver's Travels, Jonathan Swift
The poetry of John Dryden
'The Cavalier of the Rose', in Anthony Burgess's collection The Devil's Mode (this is a prose version of Der Rosenkavalier - though actually listening through one of Handel's operas wouldn't hurt).

Inspirational Non-Fiction
Map of a Nation, Rachel Hewitt

An Answer to the Question: 'What is Enlightenment?', Immanuel Kant 
The Search for the Perfect Language, Umberto Eco 
The Age of Wonder, Richard Holmes
Peter the Great, Robert K Massie
Imperial Spain 1469-1716, JH Elliot
Prince Eugen of Savoy, Nicholas Henderson

These would fit neatly into the world of TRoAPW. 
Against the Wicked City, Joseph Manola**
Hot Springs Island, Jacob Hurst
Qelong, Kenneth Hite
[Behind Gently Smiling Jaws, David McGrogan]
[There is therefore a Strange Land, David McGrogan]

These offer images of a magical past and future. 
Cthonic Codex, Paolo Greco
[Ars Magica]***
Magical Industrial Revolution, Skerples
The Lord Darcy mysteries, Randall Garrett

These don't necessarily inspire the world in which Calliste is set, but rather some of the magical systems and ideas behind it or offered as possibilities by TRoAPW.
Anathem, Neal Stephenson
The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (et al), HP Lovecraft
The Blazing World, Margaret Cavendish
The Chronicles of Earthsea, Ursula Le Guin
Perdido Street Station, China Mieville
Warhammer Fantasy
Chronicles of Amber, Roger Zelazny
The Anubis Gates, Tim Powers
Tales of The Dying Earth, Jack Vance
[Planescape]****
Fafhrd and The Grey Mouser, Fritz Lieber*****

* The 2011 Pirates of the Caribbean film differs so significantly that it will not be cited in the same breath as the book. Still, scrubbed of the franchise elements, the movie could be used as a TRoAPW plot.

** I've not been shy about my appreciation for Against the Wicked City, or employing posts like this. Of course, the clockpunk elements of AtWC don't quite cohere with TRoAPW (nor do, I should say, the Romantic elements), and there's already a thumbnail sketch of 'Europe' and expanding powers

    But none of that outright bars the various states of Calliste from existing alongside the Great Road. Honestly, I quite like the idea also that while 'Europe' is running round debating the definitions of spells schools or the use of grimoires, 'Central Asia' is tinkering and fiddling and making and doing in a thousand different workshops (and you can get clockwork prosthetics and airships and robots and The King Is Watching You Through His Statues and.....)

    Maybe one day this could make Calliste ready for an explosively effective magical Industrial Revolution (Cf. Part Two of this post, in the para starting 'I'm going to tangent...') - but that hasn't happened yet.

*** Unread - see here.

**** Unread, but there's plentiful internet material on the subject. 

***** An RPG references Lankhmar? Unheard of! But, of course, the reference here is less the City of Sevenscore Thousand Smokes and more of an option for magical antecedents: see here. See also McKilip's Forgotten Beasts of Eld, which I should reread. 

† I guess The Gardens of Ynn and The Stygian Library should be here as well. But, well, their ability to be plugged into a game is part of their selling point.

‡ Cthonic Codex could be the 'Magic of Late Antiquity RPG'; Ars Magica the 'Magic of the High Middle Ages RPG'. Magical Industrial Revolution is, as I wrote in my review, a possible result in my mind to TRoAPW. 

    The world Garrett makes for his Lord Darcy mysteries is clearly Victorian in tone (gas lamps, revolvers, steam trains, evening dress) but the magicians and the laws and mores around magic make it rather more like a world in which very few of the reforms proposed by mages in TRoAPW happened (or were defanged, or overturned, or....). The Medieval elements of Lord Darcy (Western Christian practice without a Reformation, an enduring Anglo-French Angevin Empire) naturally reinforce this. 

    Perhaps Lamentations of the Flame Princess could be a 'Magic of the Reformation and Wars of Religion RPG'. But I think that LotFP doesn't quite counts as a fully fledged setting, and while I appreciate its use of Early Modern Europe, it's rarely consciously about that time. It may be that some LotFP publications would fit in this proposed niche.


***

Your chance, chaps. What am I missing? What is there that I really ought to read?

Saturday, 27 August 2022

Six Deadly Artefacts

 One

From the Travels of Clareta de Maisfeld, Prioress of the Order of St Rhadegund de Sanglier


... but that was not the only tale that the Dwarf had for me. The next day I returned to the conduit bunker where Graustern stood in a turret overlooking the watering hole, ready to defend the position he had bid for so ardently from the Masters of the Aqueduct. 

He told me of a prince of the unbelievers, the quatremanu, called by his own people Robust Tungsten, who passes for a captain amongst them. This Tungsten carries a blade of great size and length, but that is not its sole gift. It is a bearer of light - it does not flash in the desert sun, nor does it glow with the sorceries some enchant their blades with, but steadily and without dimming. The hilt is enclosed in a working of brass and garnets, and the long blade curves slowly, like the tail of a catamount. 

When I asked Graustern how he came to know this, he said that he had seen Robust Tungsten twice: once in the fourth compartment of the city, routing an attack: the glowing blade of the sword cut through a thick stone wall to make room for him to fall upon his foes from the rear - until bolts and hurlbats from the Aqueduct brought an uneasy peace. 

The second time, he had sold water to a party of the Punthites, who had been the escort of Tungsten. They offered no conversation, but he had seen the great stone-cleaving sabre and the writing upon it. An scholar offered a loose translation of what he took to be the name of this awful blade: Close and Few.

You may be shocked that a Dwarf such as Graustern would sell water to such a butcher, but as The Book of Other Kinds reminds us.....



Two

From The Life of Turbnoth, Envoy of Pharnaces, held in the School of Civic Etiquette at Rabbelisotor.


The Qryth are a people with a law, but not a people of law. I hope that they possess a law could be doubted by none of my readers, but this distinction may be lost on some. I have said already that I had made a friend of the magistrate Wonderful Zinc, or as much of a friend as any Envoy can be to one such as her. 

One day I was summoned to the Ziggurat. I was kept waiting while Zinc retrieved something from an inner room and then rode out into the desert with her and a band of the Qryth. They spoke animatedly amongst themselves. In time we came across a group of the bandits called the Ka-Punth. The cause that keeps them outside the harmonious embrace of settled society in Punth is unclear to me, but this desirable outcome will never be brought about by the conduct of the Qryth. 

Wonderful Zinc carried under her second set of arms a flat box, like a quiver patterned with many small stars. As the Qryth advanced upon the Ka-Punth, I waited behind with thier porters. I saw Zinc draw from the quiver a long rod, with a handle set square to it near one end. This she gripped with one of the upper arms, so that the length of the rod lay along her inner arm. One end appeared to be slightly padded with dark leather so that it could rest in the crook of the arm. The rod was ornamented with polychrome enamels, burgundy and emerald and copper to make it quite as colourful as the buildings of the Qryth.

I wondered as to its purpose when I saw it, for I could fathom no ritual purpose to it, and the Qryth themselves make no use of the arcane. It was revealed to me in good time, for Zinc lifted the rod and the Ka-Punth one by one crumpled.

Once I given an office overlooking the courtyard with the kitchens. There, I saw the palace servants preparing a feast for a visiting prince: a brawny man struck with a cleaver at the carcass of a pig. There was a sound much like that, the repeated echoing slap of force against flesh. A great number of the Ka-Punth fell with great wounds.

When Wonderful Zinc returned to me, making the gestures of contentment that pass for a smile, I saw a few words on the rod-case: Close and Many.


Three


From a letter found in the papers of the Nizam of Rokunna:


...but the fifth section lies deepest of all, behind several broken corridors. The sands moved fitfully above me as I crawled through such spaces as one can find. However, in one chamber deeper than any other I found a device quite unlike those now in Punth.

It was one pace long, and made of a three bands of metal, those on the outside being white as tin, where the inner band was black like jet. Gold patterns, a little like the cramped text of Imperial scribes, covered parts of the black sections. When I touched it, it grew in length out to a length of five paces - while remaining as light as before. A square pattern on the first segment extended from the pole to the thickness of a feather. When I pressed it, there was a constant humming or droning and indigo light covered the tip of the pike, for such it now seemed. This fire left not a scorching on the walls, but the rock was hot to the touch, smooth and filled with purplish streaks like marble. If I pushed the tip against the stone, it entered it smoothly. I made out some words on the shaft: Near and Few.

Excellent Lord, I do not doubt that this was once a weapon of the Sky Princes, nor do I think that they know of this now, or they would have taken it. I could not smuggle it back through the tunnel and past my guides, but there is time enough to return to that lonely place...


Four


A nautical song found in various forms around the Inner Sea and the Traitorous Passage.


Men stood in the fo'c'sle, harness on their backs
Seeing there the shoreline, closing on the crags
Haul! Haul! We're getting very near.
Haul! Haul! Each mariner here. 


A vessel out of Punth nosed into the bay
Painted like a lady, going to a play
Haul! Haul! (&c)


On that other ship, something caused alarm
A great green bastard, with four arms
Haul! Haul! (&c)


Now one against a dozen is hardly ever fair,
Even if of limbs, he's got an ample share
Haul! Haul! (&c)


Yet green-boy didn't waver, or call for all his friends,
But he wasn't looking his life to surely spend
Haul! Haul! (&c)


Hanging on a strap, looking like a keg,
An eldritch thing, thick as your leg
Haul! Haul! (&c)


The snake it winds around the drum, glowing awful red,
A gout of fire it bursts out, send to make men dead
Haul! Haul! (&c)


That many on the fo'c'sle near soon were made as dust,
A pall of smoke hung over it, coloured all like rust.
Haul! Haul! (&c)


Yet all aboard who saw this so, hauled and held tight
Their course was laid such that they would strike upon the right.

Haul! Haul! (&c)


A ram thrust upon the foe, and brought them down to ruin,
Sundered thus, green boy's fate can read'ly be assumed.
Haul! Haul! (&c)


The snake it winds around the drum, but winds now in the deep,

And if it stays sunken there, we all may soundly sleep.
Haul! Haul! This song shall now be ending.
Haul! Haul! Oh, go: to your work be tending.


Five


The Gesta Tancredi, Chapter XXXVII, Section Six


On the fourth night from the City of Aqueducts, camp was made by the low pool of Three and Seven. The pool was called so for the men of Punth had numbered it in their avaricious manner as Pool 3067. But in the Fifth Crusade, a band of squires had taken a hammer to the low plaque so that only the Three and Seven remained: for that crusade was conducted under the blessings of the Third and Seventh Aspects. 

Johannes of Turquine conducted prayers that evening before the knights dined. Now all men slept with their arms to hand, and three patrols of five circled the camp, each patrol bearing two tocsins. 

Now, towards the end of the first watch, there was a noise like thunder, and a single thread of fire that came from the mountains to strike a sleeping Serjeant. There was the sound of the tocsin, and the camp rose. Again there was thunder, and the fire struck. Men, who would have ridden against the cursed champions of wretched Punth cowered at the sound, and desperate prayers began. The bonded mages began to chant, but their charms seemed to find nothing to respond to out in the hills. But one man, Yago Lacceter, a Knight of the Equestrian Order of the Seventh Aspect covered himself in the dark blue cloak of the Order and snuck into the night. Six more the fire struck, but then it ceased, and he returned out of the dark carrying a long tube of strange construction, with a crooked flat surface at one end, like the leg of a destrier. The tube was the height of a man.

Lacceter had fallen upon a quatremanu out in the dark, and slain it before it could take another life with this enchanted weapon. Those men who had seen the beam likened it to a sailor approaching a dock, throwing a line from a ship and thus called it the Nautolocrian. Others who saw the tube called in the Cowardly Hoof, for many had been slain at great distance. In time it returned to the Citadel of Garrowain in Kapelleron, where scholar read on the tube that the men of wretched Punth had written Far and Few


Six


Story told by a veteran at a Sodality Campfire


Brothers, listen. You'll need to hear this. Strangers, listen if you care to. 

You know that there's the northerners and the strange northerners. The big ones. Our plains and trails meet their stones, and they insist we must walk on those stones. Sometimes we don't care to, and we are pursued. 

One summer I went north with a train of goods. I was an eager young cub like you, Brothers, except better looking. We went north from Donja. I had to carry two water-skins and a bag of meal, along with my weapons and cookpot and ornaments. 

The first stone road you meet north of Donja doesn't lead to their southmost city. They call it Twenty-Three, and don't ask me why. But it doesn't go directly, and the twists it make add at least day to your journey. Why follow this path? We're men of Rawhide. We don't need a road. So off we went to Twenty-Three. We'd rejoin the road half a day's march from the city, to make ourselves look right to their pye-powder officers. 

So we tramped off. And we crossed the sands, and finally crossed the line of markers they scatter like aunts with fripperies at a wedding. So we crossed that. I'd say we didn't even look at them, but I had a look. I'd never seen one before. Everyone else just kept walking. Apart from the one who needed a piss. 

Another day up the trail and there was a shadow on the rise. One of the strange northerners, except he looked even stranger than normal. Well then we saw that he was riding something, much like a horse or one of our onagers. Except strange men get strange horses. More legs, horns where horns shouldn't be. 

He got off his horse and pointed at us. He might have said something, but I didn't hear it and it wouldn't have made any sense if he did. Then there was something in his arms, and there was a bang and something flew at us. It didn't fly like a javelin, and it didn't fly like a hurlbat that the swine from Terracota use and it wasn't a slingstone from the Brazen because he wasn't whirling his arms around like they do, you know. It didn't just fly funny, but it burst. Didn't quite hit us, but fragments did. Hot, cutting fragments. 

The beasts panicked and so did we. More things flew at us, and men fell.
Old Brothers, Lost Brothers. Pt-aah!

I saw one of the things he shot. They looked like knucklebones, things you were playing with not five years ago, but made of metal. He shot from far, and many of us fell with less than a dozen shots.

That time, we took the winding stone path. If you go north, know what to expect. Know what you plan to do.

I'm thirsty. Brothers, give me a moment. Strangers, you can fill my bowl.....




***


I've been rereading Harrison's Virconium. So that's where these tales of futuristic weapons come from. The minimalist 'Close and Few' names seemed to work and to tie it all together.

Links into Punth: A Primer, obviously, but is a little more explicit about the wider Terrae Vertebrae setting - some of the oldest posts on this blog. Contrast with these posts.

Sunday, 24 July 2022

July Miscellany and Noisy Sheep Shearing

It is unlikely to have skipped the attention of readers of this blog, but PDFs of In the Hall of the Third Blue Wizard Issue One are now available. Do take a look!

***

Following the suggestion of at least three people, I have made a recording of my recent blogpost Eight Pious Arachnids.  

 

***

Regular readers will know that I have written about or around images of fictional Mars (and the other planets). Well, Marat of Red Berries for the Red Planet - occasional commentator on this blog - has put together a pocket bestiary of his own more specifically Martian setting. You'll find Hic Svnt Myrmeleones on DriveThruRPG here, currently at Pay What You Want.

The cover.

Anyway, this isn't just a signal boost from me. Time to put on the reviewing hat. Hic Svnt Myrmeleones (hereafter HSM) is quite a pleasant read. It's doing the decrepit, magic-ridden, faintly-Byzantine empire thing. Now, this is perhaps quite a stock setting by this point - A Princess of Mars is hardly new, and neither are the various Dying Earth properties (see also the perennial Aesthetics of Ruin). But like the young, vigorous, wild, vaguely-Viking setting (see below!) there's an obvious pleasure in seeing it done well. I believe, for instance, that Gus L's Fallen Empire posts are still loved

Time for some particulars. The Thin Desert is laced with strange beasts. The titular antlions are only part of this. Of particular joy are the Spellridden Jackals, Melachilisks and Road Elementals. These make the desert feel like a land that has been worked and used over and over - not just in terms of infrastructure, but in terms of magics, ideas and philosophies. A feeling I have tried (and more-or-less failed) to approach well in The Estates Immaculate.  

The main point I want to make is that I want a bit more of this. A series of bestiaries for the Red Planet. Get HSM and say good things about it on the internet.

***

I found a copy of The Taheiki in a secondhand book stall, in a translation by Helen Craig McCullough. Its a Japanese chronicle detailing a period of civil strife (not quite the more famous Senjoku jidai, but not far off). Can't really review such a thing, obviously (or it would feel bloody odd to do so).

Still, it's good to see Medieval Japan write about Medieval Japan - rather than a Kurosawa film or an Occidental comic strip or what have you. I mean, it has much of what you might expect: all the battles, Buddhist sects, poetry, Confucian anecdotes and colourful armour (Cf. this [Thanks, HCK!] - not quite beyond some of the written descriptions in the Taheiki) you could want - and more ritual suicides than I strictly speaking care for. Is it rather exaggerated? Indeed, but if you've done a bit of primary source reading before you'll pick up on it. The occasional footnote helps. 

Not one for everyone, I suppose. Still, this is probably easier to get into that Sei Shonogon, and while a familiarity with the Analects of Confucius and Po Chu-I will help, you can get by.

***

Robertson Davies was a Canadian academic and writer, perhaps best known for some of his trilogies - The Salterton, Deptford and Cornish trilogies. Lots of scholars from Ontario and a bit of Jung. These are not purely comedies, but frequently comic. Good reads: I possess the Penguin UK collected editions, with the older still-life style covers.

He was the founding Master of Massey College in the University of Toronto (site of a Chapel Royal!). He was an established writer by this time, and thus took up the habit of telling a Ghost Story each Christmas. This was self-conscoiusly in the manner of MR James and so there's a heavy element of pastiche in it - as Davies admits in his introduction. It was also for a specific audience and in a specific place: the modernist architecture of Massey College filled with mid-century Canadians. Davies is the narrator of all the stories, and finds himself drawn into such supernatural encounters as may befit a Master of a College. 

It's more comic than scary, and Davies is not immune to a few puns. Some of the more precise elements of the time and setting will have flown over my (British) head, even if I already knew who Sir John MacDonald and Pierre Trudeau were, or about Mackenzie King's Spiritualism. But I still enjoyed digesting these, one a night. Some as the 'Refuge of Insulted Saints' have a bit of Saki about them; some are a little like the tales of Max Beerbohm in Seven Men and Two Others. There's a little good comic malice or grotesquery in here - see 'The Kiss of Khrushchev' or the last story 'Offer of Immortality'.

Not perhaps a proper entry into the work of Robertson Davies, but fun all the same. Wikipedia informs me that this was reviewed in a 1984 edition of White Dwarf - how's that for a gaming connection?

***


To continue within academic pursuits, I chanced upon two essays on John Milton by TS Eliot. Naturally, I had to compare it with CS Lewis's Preface to Paradise Lost (also seen here). Lewis wrote in 1942, Eliot in 1936 and 1947. Both writers refer to one another in the respective texts: Lewis is not enamoured of Eliot - who had a chance to respond in 1947 and update his 1936 observations. 

Front inside cover of the Eliot.

Both refer to similar writers other than Milton: Samual Johnson and John Dryden among others, along with their contemporary Denis Saurat - a scholar that Dr Jeffrey Shoulson (currently of the University of Connecticut, I think) apparently identifies as at the heart of mid-twentith century discussions of Milton.

If you want to know what Eliot thinks about poetry, read his Two Studies. If you want to know about Paradise Lost, read Lewis's Preface. Given that the one was a professional poet (if there is such a thing) and the other an academic (yes, among other things) this should not be a surprise. Moving on.

***

An impulse purchase netted me a copy of Michael Scott Rohan's The Anvil of Ice, as reprinted by Gollancz Fantasy Masterworks. This is, I suppose, a sort of fantasy I haven't read in a while, in which a young man gets drawn to his destiny in a far-off land and develops magical powers. It even has the X of Y style of title, in which X = An Object and Y = An Elemental-style Force.

[The Blade of Wind. The Axe of Flame. The Ship of Death. The Robe of Night. The Book of Shadow. The Coins of Malice. The Fork of Balance. The Harp of Tranquility. The Horn of Winter. The Ace of Love. The Plough of Iron. The Lance of Bone. The Guns of the Dawn. The Throne of Blood. The Sword of Honour. The Glass of BlessingsThe Red Badge of Courage. The Elements of Style......]

Fine, a brief end to humour. ("Did it ever begin?") I don't tend to mention or discuss things I think worthless or unpleasant on these Miscellanies, so I suppose you'll have guessed that I appreciated Anvil of Ice. As last paragraph indicates, it's very easy to imagine a pretty uninspiring version of this sort of story. Even mentioning some of the features of the book - barely veiled references to Norse myth, an Appendix detailing 'the Old Chronicles' - make it sound like Tolkien pastiche.

What can one say? It works, like HSM above. The smithing elements are used to good effect: magic is not shown as performed by an instinctive point-and-click or Vancian meticulous preparation, but as a matter of craft. Rather like Tolkien's elves, not that I should make the comparison. The titular ice is not some mystical power; the anvil is not some magical device - the book is set during an encroaching ice age (quite possibly The Ice Age). The glaciers are over there, and even if they are baleful and malevolent, they don't need to be magic to be so (even if they are). 

The barely-veilled Norse references aside (A chap on a horse referred to as Raven? Huh.) there's the suggestion that this is taking place on the Pacific coast of North America. See the map below; note the avian-form compass, reminiscent to me of Tlingit art. References to Thunderbirds also help.  I'm not quite sure how well-versed on the region Micheal Scott Rohan was: he was born and lived in Britain and died in 2018, and his website gives little mention of his studies. Still, it does help steer Anvil of Ice away from the generic. I'm glad not every fantasy is like this, but I'm glad I read this.

Mythic Maps on Twitter: "The Anvil of Ice - Michael Scott Rohan  https://t.co/l2inja3DNV" / Twitter

(Incidentally, I note from the brief Anvil of Ice Wikipedia page that this also was reviewed by White Dwarf in the 1980s. By the same chap who wrote the High Spirits review. Hmmmm....)

***

EDIT: HCK over at Grand Commodore is running a Play-by-Email game based on city states - including my own Saxherm. Take a look!

Friday, 24 June 2022

Eight Pious Arachnids

  1. During the years of strife, the Prophet Erimon was in the service of Argoz, High Prince of all Letarmine. When Erimon failed to obey Argoz in a matter of the interpretation of his dreams, he threw Erimon into a dark stone pit which contained giant spiders, there to be devoured. The seal of Argoz was placed over the pit, and Erimon was left there. But Erimon despaired not, and a veil of light was placed about him, and he sang of the Highest Heavens. When Argoz came to re-open the pit, he was shocked to see Erimon alive and well; he had even taught the spiders to make gestures of blessing, and to stamp their feet as if they were at the Festival of Palm Fronds. Great was the astonishment and sorrow of the High Prince!
  2. The blessed hermit St Arilan is said to have cast aside his possessions to take up a life of prayer and contemplation, living in peace with every beast of the earth and bird that steps upon the winds. However, the Hagiographies speak of him dressed in plain robes, for in the land of Rhoopagno the winters can be cold indeed. Rhoopagno tradition holds that these robes were woven for St Arilan by spiders that visited him in his cave; however, research by ecclesiastically-approved natural philosophers has demonstrated that this would be quite impossible.
       It is far more likely that the spiders provided thread with which the Saint was able to sew together the bolts of cloth given to him by the charity of the region. This does not stop tailors and weavers in Rhoopagno from dressing up as spiders on the Eve of St Arilan. Moreover, it is a custom of the region that every bobbin should have carved into one end an eight-legged image of a spider.
  3. The War of the Chalcedony Kings kept the pious daughters of the sage Octesian from maintaining his tomb shrine in a proper fashion. The tomb was of course complete, but the Ten-Day Seal had not yet been set in place. They were driven from their lands under the Caustic Edicts. However, when finally peace settled again over the land, they were able to return. They rejoiced, but were saddened that the tomb was still unsealed: creeping things could have entered the tomb, and flies - which, as any reputable sage will tell you, are merely a curdling of the Widdershins Force. 
       Yet when they reached the tomb, they found that no fly - neither the gadfly, nor the horsefly, nor the cranefly - had entered that place. All had been blocked by the webs of a benevolent spider - who was, through sad circumstance, better able to manifest the virtues of filial piety than the daughters of Octesian.
  4. By the accounts given in the Hymns of Drinian, the 11th Avatar of the Preserving Sovereign appeared on the Fifth Day of the Sixth Month, mounted on a heavenly steed. The steed took the form of a great spider of marble countenance, but four of its legs terminated in gold hoofs, like the hoofs of a mountain goat, and four of its legs terminated in bronze talons, like the talons of a forest hawk. Each of its eyes had the colour of a flawless pearl; the chittering of its mouthparts was like the temple sistrum and it span indigo silk to cover the body of the Avatar. This spider could run faster than the pheasant-flighted arrows shot by the Passarid Mothers and of all earthly foods would eat only dates and scallions.
  5. One summer month the hero-sage Mavramorn began a series of extreme ascetic exercises, designed to purify her soul. She threw down bow and spear, and retreated to the woods. She forsook the company of all comely youths and sweet-mouthed singers, deigning not to even look upon them. Even when not in a period of fasting, she would pluck a berry from a bush and then wait an hour and a half before consuming it. Her days were spent in prayer and meditation. 
       Beyond the woods were she did this, however, demons descended from the mountains, riding upon war-wagons pulled by tusked swine. Mavramorn knew of their presence, for her eyes saw clearly after her asceticisms. But she was bound to remain in the woods. Then, one afternoon as she sat in contemplation under a tamarind tree, a spider with its own notions of defence policy bit her upon the tricep. Mavramorn let out a highly unpleasant oath and batted at it. Having spoiled the effect of her ascetic exercises she sighed, sorrowing exceedingly, and went to retrieve her bow and spear.
  6. The maiden Prismia dwelt upon the farm of her father, a heathen. Her wish was to enter into a convent, yet her father wished her to make an advantageous marriage to the son of another heathen landowner. She sighed at this, and her sighs were lifted by a passing angel to the ear of the Pancrator. The Pancrator then caused a message to be taken to a certain spider in the barn of Prismia's father. One morning when Prismia woke, she saw that the spider had written the first two-thirds of the Sistine Creed in a vast web in the barn door. Her father was baffled, enraged, and then bowed to the inevitable.
  7. When Uvilas was driven from the city of Miraze, he fled to the rocks of Belisar, there to shelter among the jagged boulders. He reached the rocks and found a place to lay his head but was stricken by a fever and lay among the boulders for a month. No food had he, and only dew to quench his thirst. Yet spiders among the rocks came and found him stretched out and still and fed him on certain roots and berries and nourishing gums of that region. Therefore, no man of wisdom and respect goes among the rocks of Belisar, in memory of the sustenance given to Uvilas. 
  8. A bravo of the city of Glozellea was lounging near the Plaza of Fractured Stars. He spotted a fair maiden of sound health and radiant beauty passing by, and called out to her "Fair One! One whose hair falls like blossom! Tarry a short while. I have a sack of newly-roasted beans, but none to prepare mocha for me. Use those long-fingered hands, quite devoid of imprisoning rings, to prepare a brew of pleasure for us both!"
       The maiden hissed at him like an irritated cat, and directed her chaperon to make the signs of scorn and vexation towards him. Puzzled, the bravo slumped against a wall. A spider descended from a web and began to laugh at him "Hoo! Hoo! Hoo!"
       "Why do you mock me so?" said the young man. "Surely you know I could crush you beneath a boot-heel."
      "I merely thought," said the spider "that when my kind mate, the man has his head bitten clean off. It struck me as funny that you run so fast into the arms of your doom. Hoo! Hoo! Hoo!"
      The bravo, hearing this, resolved to live a healthier and more circumspect life.

Saturday, 18 June 2022

States and Emergence: COULD YOU GOVERN A COUNTRY?

"Hey, the first Fighting Fantasy gamebook was in the 1980s, right?"

"Sure, 1982. But you can't call yourself a real true genuine grognard unless you've played State of Emergency."

"....what's State of Emergency?"


State of Emergency
is a 1969 'do it yourself novel' that Yr. Hmbl. Crrspndnt. found in a second-hand bookshop. It was written by Dennis Guerrier and Joan Richards, both civil servants. A paperback copy (below) was published by Penguin; William Heinemann issued a hardback. From the back cover:

COULD YOU GOVERN A COUNTRY? Would your decisions be better than those of its Prime Minister? This is your chance to find out. State of Emergency, the very first of its kind, combines a conventional novel with the technique of programmed learning. The reader is actively involved with the development of an emergent nation and the decisions which are made. 

Lakoto is an independent state within the British Commonwealth. Formerly Eastern Victoria, it was one of the last British colonies in Africa to be granted independence. Its Prime Minister, Toumi Okobo, is a man facing destiny, in a situation repeated many times today. Stricken by his estrangement from his British wife, Erica, and by the suspected disloyalty of some members of his Cabinet, and hampered by a grave lack of trustworthy information, he desperately needs an adviser whose judgement is sound.

You are at his shoulder. You can choose between the courses of action open to him. Could you govern Lakoto? Here is your chance to try.

"So where is this Lakoto place? Who lives there?"

Oto lind Lakoto!

Reader: 
    You may well feel you know as little about Lakoto as Fournier's prospective readers. In this event we suggest you read Appendix A page 243, before going any further. 

Lakoto is a landlocked Eastern African republic on the eve of independence. The majority of the population is made up of the Cantarbi people - who in the sixteenth century began to fall under the influence of Islamic expansion from their neighbour Mokoran, eventually gaining a Sultan. Accordingly, when it became a British colony in 1893 there was a strong Muslim minority that would grow to dominate many Lakotonese institutions. Other neighbours include East Kangola and Lawtonia - the latter apparently being rather like Rhodesia (although Rhodesia is mentioned as being alive and well in the course of the novel).


"Duly noted. And the tone of the novel?"

Rather like a certain kind of British thriller of the late 1960s-1970s. Bits of the prose are like the exposition segments in, say, Forsythe's Day of the Jackal.  There's the occasional illustration - Lakoto's flag, some postage stamps - and sketch maps in the back for the country and the capital, Tanabi. Information is sometimes presented as part of an in-universe document - newspaper articles, extracts from Hansard, confidential reports, the page of a notebook. (Some of this is in the Appendices, but not all). 

Incidentally, intentions might be good but language can be dated: hence the use of Moslem for Muslim throughout. The French journalist Fournier reflects the following in the introduction at a pre-Independence gala: 

Vicky Sarola just about summed up how he liked his Africa: with a European gloss on top but with definite hints of untamed forces prowling about not too far below the surface.

Adjust expectations accordingly.

The provided map of Lakoto. Enlarge if desired.

"What of our protagonist, Toumi Okobo?"

An Oxford-educated compromise candidate between the various independence movements. Born to a pro-British Cantarbi Chief in east Lakoto. Spent time in Britain and married Erica Okobo, née Williams. They have two children. His life as portrayed seems rather middle-class - a good but relatively modest official residence, he drives his own car and doesn't have an entourage of chauffeurs, aides and bodyguards. Maybe this is semi-plausible for someone in Okobo's shoes, but I would expect a few more secretaries and the like. The strain on his marriage is also a note that rather grounds him.

It is tempting to believe that Okobo was designed as a sympathetic protagonist for a (White, British) reader. Certainly, enough features of his life seem deliberately familiar: the novel can even take him back on a trip to London and Oxford. Is a sympathetic protagonist necessary for 'the technique of programmed learning'? Of course, the fact of his possible Anglophilia is not necessarily a useful trait in a newly independent Lakoto - an interesting trait to explore. 

The provided map of Tanabi. Enlarge if desired.

"Fine. So how does a do-it-yourself novel work?"

There are no paragraph numbers, only page numbers. And instructions:

DO NOT READ THIS PAGE UNTIL TOLD TO DO SO

Messages from the authors ('Reader: Please turn now to page 40.') are given in italics. Directions to the Appendices are given in the text and occasionally as footnotes. As to actually governing Lakoto....

[Spoilers, I guess. Supposing any of you really wanted to go out and read this fresh.]

You may join the first Cabinet Meeting of the newly independent Republic of Lakoto. Not only join it but also see if you can influence its decisions. [...] That is the broad picture; you will have learned the essential details from what you ahve read so far. What is the long-term solution?

Recruit professional men and technologists from other countries....Organise a comprehensive unemployment insurance scheme..... Seek more financial aid from Britain or any other country.....Concentrate on improving standards of education at all levels.

Let's say we want a comprehensive unemployment insurance scheme to 'relieve the poverty and reduce the possiblity of racial disturbances'. Turn to page 30.

Reader: 
    Your long-term solution would be to organise a comprehensive unemployment insurance scheme. With respect, you would have the country bankrupt in the short-term and would never reach the long-term. An unemployment insurance scheme can operate only where there is a large employed population and a low risk of unemployment. The first step to be taken... [....] It wants to become a modern society, not a soup-kitchen society. Please return to page 29 and choose another answer. Re-read Appendix B, if this will help you to choose.

Blighters! Which of us is meant to be Prime Minister, hmm? 

Did you guess the correct answer? That's right, it was in fact Education. (Education. Education.)

So, yes, Guerrier and Richards do this a lot. There's even one choice you can make where the advisor responds:

"I'm sorry, I know you don't mean it seriously."

"I'm sorry too," said Toumi. "I shouldn't be wasting your time with solutions which we both know are unacceptable."

This is even addressed directly at one point:

Reader: 
    You may feel at this point that the outcome of your choice has been 'stage managed', and that events would not have taken the turn described in the paragraphs you have just read. This may be true. It is possible that order might have been restored in Benallahi. However, what we are now seeing.....

The argument offered is not perhaps unreasonable, but the manner of presentation did make me snort.

Some policies are barred to you, as are some methods:

But Toumi found he was quite unable to approve cold-blooded murder. He had to find another, more subtle, method of getting rid of General Nashur.

Reader: 
    Your choice may have been the correct one. Time may prove that a ruthless leader, capable of authorising the death of his enemies, is necessary for Lakoto. But surely, this would be the first step.....

 [...]

Reader: 
    Toumi cannot dismiss Nashur. Neither can you. Please turn back to page 99 and select one of the other choices.

Blast it all, State of Emergency! Let me make some bloody stupid decisions! 

As indicated, the decision making process is quite narrow. This is at its most frustrating when discussing big domestic plans - long-term education policy, hydroelectric dams, the exploitation of oil or mineral wealth. Towards the end of the novel, the rapid pace of the titular state of emergency, the desperation and the diminishing options means that the narrow set of decisions offered makes more sense and feels more fitting. Or maybe I was just used to the technique of programmed learning.

Reader: 
    We have set out in this book to show that a country like Lakoto cannot survive as a viable economic proposition without outside financial and technical aid. That, given the political situation she is in, she cannot survive without military aid. If you really think she will be better off without aid, either we have put all the arguments badly, or you haven't read them properly. Rather than admit the former we are forced to conclude the latter, and suggest you go back to page 229 and make another choice.

Apparently I'm not that used to it. 

A veritable multimedia experience!

"So what was the point of all of this?"

Well, State of Emergency isn't really a good simulation of governance. There's some interesting political manoeuvring, but the reader doesn't exactly get to plan this out. The best way of fending off Nashur is given a level of detail and finesse that is not offered to the options for assassination or dismissal - maybe one could finesse a way to dismiss the General safely. 

I shall tell you what it puts me in mind of. One year at school, while other year groups were dispatched off on trips of one kind or the other, my own was kept back. We were herded into the main hall and addressed by the representative of an international development charity - I'm not being coy, I cannot recall which. The year group would form the Parliament of an emerging fictional African nation and select the options of a computer programme. This was all projected up onto a screen.

Anyway, the government collapsed. Well, fair enough. Young twits like us could well make poor decisions. Yet we were told that we could go back and try again online. Some did: I was told later that every single choice led to collapse.

At this point, somebody will doubtless mention Star Trek's 'Kobayushi Maru' - a training exercise for a no-win scenario. [Post-Colonial Africa: the only winning move is not to play.] Given the relative sedateness of the occasion (and of reading State of Emergency), I wouldn't call it an assessment of how we were meant to behave under such circumstances.  More likely, it was an exercise in sympathy. The age of the participants meant we well aware of the cases made for our support by charitable appeals. This meant that we had an awareness not just of the problems involved for a worker and his family in a famine-stricken region, but the problems for the state around that family.

State of Emergency seems planned to do something similar. The tone is, naturally, different, the level of detail higher, the Cold War ongoing - but the notion is the same. The pastiche of East Africa is faintly informative, but ultimately unspecific: one doesn't learn much from that. The decisions made by the state don't get played out in much detail: this isn't a lesson in statecraft. What is left? A sketch. The end is inconclusive, but the fact that Okobo (in the face of a breakaway region, civil strife and border incursions) has started taking aid from Communist China indicates part of how this may develop. 'This is how a rational, sane and sympathetic man can end up taking aid from a sinister foreign power,' Guerrier and Richards are perhaps saying. 'Don't back people in a position like Toumi Okobo into a corner.' Not the worst moral, if you need one.

"But this," said Vicky "is a documentary, not a play with a clever denouement and breaks for commercials. If anybody expects a nice neat ending in this situation they're too cut off from reality to worry about." She took the papers from him and put them on the table. "You're just not in the mood tonight," she said. "Let's have a drink and leave it til tomorrow."

Reader: turn to page 240. 

Friday, 10 June 2022

"When all else fails, have a lizard with a gun come through the door."

This indoor scene needs pepping up. Consult the below, or roll 1d6.

1. The click of clawed feet echo down the road. There is a knock on the door. There are four soldiers outside, each with a cornflower-blue coat and a tall periwinkle shako. Four muskets with four gleaming bayonets are also on display. The first fusilier darts a forked tongue over sharp teeth. "Your pardon, sir, but we have orders to search this house. It is believed to be the site of an illegal printing press."

2. The door's unlocked. That's odd. You're generally quite careful about such things. Your hands ball into fists. You nudge the door open with a toecap. On the other side is the stark muzzle of a sawn-off shotgun, and a scaled hand holding it. "Told you what would happen, O'Grady. Told you what'd happen if you couldn't make yerr payments." The muzzle lowers slightly. "You ain't that bastard O'Grady! Where is he?!"

3. You're in the front parlour. The noise of the street drones on in the background. Then, there are muffled shouts, a cry and an almighty crash somewhere from your front door. You run into the hall. The door has been splintered asunder by the muzzle of a great bronze cannon. Behind it, there is a heaving mass of scaly flesh. You hear military oaths, and the sound of an aristocratic voice. "Packmaster! Get this curséd lizard moving! The Marshal wants these field pieces by the front line tonight!"

4. An iguana with a string tied to it crawls under the cellar door. As the little beast skitters forward, you see that the string is tied to some heavy object. Under the door comes a slim little nickel-plated pistol with a hand-written note: FROM A FRIEND.

5. "Aah, I see you've spotted my old hunting rifle!" Vindemiatrix the Golden rejoins you in the cavernous library, by a typically draconic roaring fire. He hands you another drink: it smells like paraffin and vermouth. "A lovely piece, don't you think? I wonder if it still shoots."

6. Lunchtimes are busy at the Hessian Grill, but it's the one place in the neighbourhood you can get good labskaus. Your order arrives, just as you finish a glass of switchel. Fork loaded, you are about to take your first bite....
"Everybody be cool: this is a robbery!"
Third time this week.

From Warren Ellis's Nextwave: Agents of HATE.

Context is available, but do you really care?