Monday, June 1, 2015

I Aten't Dead

I'm sorry for the silence, but I lost my laptop to a faulty mainboard and I'm using my tablet just now. The mobile Blogger interface makes me want to kill it with fire. Regular services will resume as soon as possible.

In the meantime, let me recommend The Corpse Door to you, a short,animated comic about a dead Norseman. Very creepy and very well done.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

If you find me


Carey lives hidden away in the woods with her little sister Jenessa and their meth-addicted mother. One day, her mother has been gone for weeks already, her father comes to take the girls to live with him.

If you find me by Emily Murdoch is a chilling book to read, especially when you think about that children really go through this: abducted by their own parent, hidden away somewhere, abused. But what happened to Carey in the woods is revealed only slowly and mostly, you have to read between the lines, until the very end of the book.

One thing that bothered me a bit is that Carey is something of a Mary Sue. She is very beautiful, she's an extremely talented violin player, she's very intelligent and the most popular boy in her grade immediately falls in love with her. There's a reason why he's interested in her, but the other things are pretty Mary Sue-ish. It doesn't really harm the book because it's well written and the story is gripping. Also, the reason why Mary Sues are so popular and get written so often is that young girls identify with them, they make them feel powerful. When you see it like that, it's actually a plus for the book. Also, the horrible things that happened to the girls are never glamorised or idealised.

I love the relationship between the characters, between Carey and her new family. Even her new stepsister, who doesn't like her at all - but she has her reasons and she's not the caricature of a Mean Girl she could have been. The relationship between Carey and her sister is my favourite, though. Carey has been more her mother than their real mother has ever been and whenever Janessa is concerned, she quickly switches back into adult mode. You get to see the world through the eyes of a girl who has had only very little contact with everything we think of as normal and just enough that this doesn't turn into The Wolf Boy.

I highly recommend this book because of its subtlety and because of its positive outlook. There are many YA novels that deal with teens who have a horrible life, but way too many of them never offer any hope or way out. Kevin Brooks, I'm looking at you. When You Find Me is different and that's important.

3. book for the Everything YA challenge

Reviews 2015

Monday, April 27, 2015

Alif the Unseen

Alif thought that State cybersecurity are the biggest of his worries. Evading them on his mission to protect his clients, people with opinions forbidden in the Emirate, is hard enough. But when he suddenly steps into a part of the city where he encounters marid, effrit and a book that is even more wanted by State security than he himself is, his life suddenly gets a lot worse.

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson is Cyberpunk goes 1001 Nights during the Arabian Spring. The setting works really well and the combination of jinn and cybertechnology starts to look fairly natural. But never so natural as to be boring, more like: yeah, okay, sounds logical now that I think about it. I mean, of course jinn will go with the time and acquire their own computers. Create the Jinnternet.

The book has the same kind of energy I love about, for example, Cory Doctorow's novels, the excitement about technology and the changes it brings to society. The new ways people interact and link the online world with the real one. If there is such a distinction to be made at all. It's a fast-paced story, hilarious at times, and yet it always finds time for some philosophy. Seeing technology through the eyes of jinn opens the way for some really creative hacking.

Alif may be the main character, but it's the women who drive this book. In particular, Alif's childhood friend Dina, a deeply religious woman who gets caught up in Alif's problems against her will. I liked it very much that she stays true to her beliefs during the book and doesn't confirm to some Western idea of a free woman. She's independent, but on her own terms, thank you very much.

Reviews 2015

Third book for the Diversity on the Shelves Challenge.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Vampire: Don't Drink the Pianist

Here's a transcript of the diary I found at the archive. It's been badly damaged by mold and mice, but it's still readable, mainly thanks to the owner's Copperplate penmanship. A lost art, methinks. Anyway, read it and tell me this isn't huge.

14.3.1947

The Prince held the first Conclave for ten years and he has opened his own house for it. It was a grand occasion and people had dressed the part, which meant that fashion styles from the last five hundred years were being worn. It was the first time I had ever seen all of our society in one place and there were quite a few people I hadn't met before or only heard about. Rolf introduced me to some and later I made my own way around the room, ending up at a table with some archeologists. There were discussing the possibility of an expedition to Russia and Poland to recover artifacts, but decided that the time was not yet right for this. And after all, there was so much still in Germany. Which is a very polite way of saying that the Germans have stolen and plundered their way across the continent.

The talk was interrupted, mostly pleasantly, by Lysann Couronne who captured everyone's attention with a beautiful piano piece she performed on the Steinway and dedicated to the Prince. He was flattered indeed. Quite to my surprise, he invited me to keep him company when Rolf introduced me. A few minutes later, I found myself in the library with the Prince, Miss Couronne and Professor Justus-Emmanuel Hoffman, the archeologist who had advised patience in the matter of the Russian expedition. The Prince told us that he is expecting a train from Berlin and for reasons unknown to him, it's three days overdue. That is late even considering the fact that the route has just been restored from the damage it took during the war. The reason he is so eager for the train to arrive is that an heirloom of his is on board, a dagger supposedly enchanted by the Tremere. It enables Ventrue to forgo their clan weakness and chose any vessel to drink from. We have been charged with finding that train. Despite my low status, my ability with languages has made me part of this. I suspect that my experiences during the war have been taken into consideration as well.

Before we left the room, Lysann noticed that a single rose placed in a vase had moved even though none of us were anywhere near it. We also saw someone making a very hurried exit from the main room. I followed him, but once outside, I saw no-one, except for one of the British soldiers guarding the house. He told me that he had seen no-one. Well. For someone with enough practice in obfuscating themselves, the guard wouldn't have been much of a problem. Professor Hoffmann had followed me and searched for tracks, but found none. However, I did find a soldier, half-hidden in the bushes with his neck broken. The same soldier standing guard outside the door. Who was gone when we looked again. This, too, is possible for someone who has a higher degree of Obfuscate, but we hadn't heard anything. I know of no clan possessing that kind of power. Rolf did, when I asked him, the Assamites.

I told the Price of my suspicion. There had been rumours about the Sabbath making their way into Germany from the East and it seems they are true. After checking the guest list, one name turned up: Arno Friedman. Apparently a Russian spy who disappeared right after being captured. His real name is Nikolas Poliakov and the Prince identified him as Ragna, an Assamite who has been feuding with him for the last two hundred years and who will now be on his way to get the dagger for himself.

This has made our mission that much more dangerous and urgent. We left Hamburg the next evening, equipped with fake travel documents, a truck and enough gas to last us the way. I volunteered as driver, I've always enjoyed it. We all brought along our ghouls. I do hope Miss Couronne's ghoul is less of a Quex that he looks to be or Peter may be hard-pressed to hold his tongue. While driving, I found myself telling Miss Couronne about my past. Not in detail, but if she hasn't known before, she and Hoffmann now know that I fought in Warsaw, once on the winning and once of the losing side.

We were stopped by the British when we left Hamburg. Apparently, they are on the lookout for a murdered. Miss Couronne solved the situation by charming the Sergeant. It's a useful skill to have, I must admit. I'm sure we'll have need of it again before this is over.

So. Did I promise too much? I don't think so. I haven't found out much yet, but the diary's owner is one Albin Wozniak, a Pole captured during the Warsaw Uprising in 1944 and brought to Germany as a Fremdarbeiter (the other Battle of Warsaw he mentions is probably the 1920 one). Official records state that he was killed during the bombing of the Lagerhaus G, a subcamp of the Konzentrationslager Neuengamme. I haven't yet found out about the people he's working with, but give me time. I don't know if you know what a Quex is, I had to look it up. Seems that the guy looks like the perfect model for the Hitler Youth. Probably not something that wins him any sympathies with Albin.

It's an intriguing find, wouldn't you say? I'm very sure that it's genuine.



--------------------------

It's been ages since I last played Vampire: The Masquerade. It was my first roleplaying game and I love it very much. I was a bit afraid that this might be nostalgia, but so far it's holding up. The dreaded meeting of the characters went really well, we connected over a couple of things and it wasn't just the Prince's order to work together.

I did a lot of reading for Albin's backstory - Polish history is complicated. I always played older vampires, but he's only 2 years old. Very much a child, as far as the others are concerned. And he still feels connected to his old life, I doubt that this will stop any time soon.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Northern Lights



Northern Lights in real time. Take five minutes and watch this, it's absolutely worth your time.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Strange Beasts: Harvestmen

The enemy troops come into view and while the foot soldiers look like any other army except for the masks they wear, the cavalry is seated upon high-legged beasts resembling spiders. They are colourful, have spikes all over their body and prove to be dangerously fast. Their stench fills the air over the battlefield, huge jaws grab soldiers and cut them clean in half and they just won't fall, even when soldiers band together and manage to hack one or two legs off. Indeed, the beasts will drop legs on their own accord when attacked, leaving the soldiers to deal with the thrashing limb while they stalk on. After a while, the smell becomes almost unbearable and the reason for the masks apparent: any soldier without one becomes sluggish and some even fall, unconscious or dead.

I'm sure you have seen harvestmen before. They look a lot like spiders, but they are their own order of arachnids, the Opiliones (shepherds). They are perfectly harmless and even beneficial because a lot of them feed on decaying plant and animal matter, some even hunt for insects. One species has specialised in eating slugs.

Pseudo-araña_nocturna_(opilion)

In their normal size, I think they are adorable. But let's make them big enough to ride. They will tower over everything and they will be freakishly fast. Many of them can indeed drop legs when attacked. And all harvestman species will secret a smelly liquid when they feel threatened. The liquid is irritating to skin and lungs (although one harvestman will not secret enough of it to bother a human). For invertebrates, it can make them unconscious or even kill them. Put enough harvestmen in a container and they will knock each other out with it (please don't actually try this). So, you have a steed that is big, can cover a good distance in one stride, it has fangs and it even carries a built-in chemical weapon. What's not to like. Also, it looks badass.

Extremely stinky harvestman (Holoversia nigra)

A List of Strange Beasts

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Shadowrun Rat's Nest: Schrödinger's Biker

The group is driving along Lake Erie and decided they'd rather not drive through Cleveland. Apologies to Clevelanders, but I decided that the city was in the throes of death, with next to no jobs left and people abandoning ship. So they left the highway and made a detour through the suburbs, which didn't look any nicer. Lots of abandoned buildings, squatters, gang tags everywhere, burned out cars sitting in the road, the works.

A lone biker starts following the truck.

He does not look like someone who just drives around his midlife-crisis Harley Davidson.

The players start worrying. Oh shit, they say, he's a ganger. He's going to call his buddies and we're going to be toast. They'll have a barricade further along the road. Can we fight our way out of this, do we try to just drive through it or do we stop and negotiate? In the end, they stopped, got out and the biker (now with two friends) remarked that hey, this is a nice RV and wouldn't it be a shame if something happened, the streets are so unsafe these days, it's a shame, they're just keeping an eye out. 500 Nuyen later, the players are on their way again.

This was Schrödinger's Biker. I had no plans at all for him. I just let the players tell me all about him. After this display of high-level paranoia, I was a bit worried that they wouldn't bite the next story hook because, ideally, I needed them to go and join some strangers for dinner. But not to worry, when I mentioned the nice, big farmhouse they could see from the rest stop they had chosen for the night, they went: heeey, let's go there and ask if we can stay there instead. Story saved.