Saturday, December 29, 2012

Challenges 2013

So I spectacularly failed most of my reading challenges in 2013, except for the Classics Challenge, mainly because I didn't feel lke writing reviews for all the books I read. Which doesn't stop me from signing up for challenges in 2013.

The first is the Graphic Novels Challenge:
runs from Jan.1 - Dec. 31, 2013

Levels
Level 1: read and review 12 books during the year (you could spread them out and read one a month or have a blast and read all 12 in a row!)

Level 2: read and review 24 books during the year (same as above only you would read two a month for the slow rate)

Game Play

Basic: no change from last year. just read any book generally considered a graphic novel, manga, or collection of comics, write a review and link to your post.

Advanced: For advanced play we are going to play categories. Players will pick 1 book from each of the 12 categories below. If you are playing at Level 2 you could double up, choosing two from each category, or use the remainder as free picks. You only have to read one book from each of the 12 categories.

1. manga
2. superhero
3. classic adaptation (a classic work adapted into the graphic format)
4. memoir
5. fantasy
6. translated from a foreign language
7. a single-issue comic book
8. science-fiction
9. crime or mystery
10. fairytale or mythology (true to the original or fractured, such as Fables series)
11. children's book (specifically written for children)
12. anthology (a collection of short stories by different authors/artists)

12 books sounds like a good goal here.

and the second is the Library Books Reading Challenge:
Requirements:
choose a level - you may move up as needed, just not down.
check books out of the library
books may overlap with other challenges
any format allowed (print, ebook, audio)
reviews are not necessary but a list of books read is.
a blog is not necessary, just comment that you want to join in

Levels:
board book - 3
picture book - 6
early reader - 9
chapter book - 12
middle grades - 18
Young adult - 24
adult - 36
just insert IV - 50

Since it doesn't require reviews, I go for the highest level...but I will try and write as many reviews as possible.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Mushrooms on Books

Despite what people think, librarians are very good at throwing books away. We have to, we need all the space for new books and if a book doesn't get checked out enough, into the trash it goes, unless it's a classic (but then a new edition may help) or the information is not available elsewhere.

But I still like to see other uses for old books than just throwing them out. Growing mushrooms on them for example. You can make your own mushroom spawn or you just buy it online.. Soak the book - a thick paperback with three hundred pages or more - in warm water for a couple of hours and then spread the mushroom spawn between the pages. I used The Mists of Avalon because it's nice and thick and because it was one of the most boring books I had ever read. I put fifty pages or so between every layer of spawn, with a thinner book you may want to use less pages.
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I left the book open like that, a thin book can be closed.

Put the book somewhere out of direct sunlight, but not in the dark, and at room temperature. I had it on top of a kitchen cabinet across the room from the window. Mist the book every day and wait.

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After five days or so the first strands started to appear and after ten the whole book was covered in it. There was some mildew, but I just removed the top pages to get rid of that. The the first actual mushrooms started to grow (I know, those are just the mushrooms fruiting bodies, but you know what I mean).

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After twenty days:
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Here's a online shop in the UK that sells mushroom book recycler kits, but you really just need an old book and mushroom spawn. I bought oyster mushroom spawn because they seem to grow well on books and one litre of spawn was more than enough for this book, I have enough left for a second one (stored in the fridge). I want to try shitake mushrooms next because they can be dried much better than oyster mushrooms.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Pity of War

It's quite hard to find books on World War I in Germany, at least compared to book on World War II. WWII completely overshadows it and often authors treat WWI just as a sort of prequel for WWII. I'm trying to remember if I learned anything about WWI in school...it cannot have been much. But WWII/Nazi Germany - huge topic. At least I was taught in depth about the Weimarer Republik, another chapter of German history that unfortunately gets the cold shoulder when it comes to books.

In The Pity of War, Niall Ferguson challenges popular theories about WWI, like the enthusiasm that is supposed to have greeted the outbreak of war or the allegedly superior armies of the British and French. He makes a good case against those theories and provides a lot of sources and in-depth research for his take on things. It was interesting to read such a different view of this war, a view that differs greatly from what is usually written about it.

I had to give myself a crash course in finances to better understand wide parts of the book. Economy plays a huge part in Ferguson's analysis. The most interesting chapters, for me at least, were those that investigated why soldiers fought in the war and why they continued to fight even in the horrible conditions of the trenches, why events like the Christmas truce didn't last.

So if you are looking for a book to learn about the Great War, this is a good place to start. You won't get the dry facts of what happened when and where, but you will get a good idea of why.

And since I'm on the subject, here are a couple of online sources I found very helpful when doing research on WWI:
First World War - multimedia history
WWI Document Archive - anything from diaries to photos. Including the Nicky-Willy telegrams
The Great War a collection of photos, postcards and other document...very graphic at times
a massive list of WWI links - I've spent hours exploring all those sites linked here

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Cthulhu Gaslight: Captive

Cast of Characters:
Thomas Roquefort, American, archaeologist and adventurer, recently arrived in London after an expedition to Egypt
Richard George Thomas Lumley, second son of the Earl of Scarbrough
Jasper Burnside, physician and in the last two years something of a hermit. It's common knowledge that he has lost someone close and there are rumours aplenty for those willing to listen (he's my character)

last time

Jasper ventures out to get the body of Farnsworth off the horse and takes a closer look at the corpse, but he finds nothing he didn't expect. Thomas and Richard take stock of what is left after the attack and things look grim indeed. The only weapons are the bows of the Touareg, there is just one horse and almost no water.

After a while, another rider come out of the dark, this one very much alive. He demands that Thomas surrenders himself or the attack on the camp will continue. After some deliberations, Thomas accepts, but only if the survivors are given water and camels or horses to make their way to the nesxt oasis. He will also be accompanied by Kamal, Sir Jeffrey and Jasper. The rider agrees to these terms.

Richard decides to stay with the survivors because he thinks that it's suicide to go with Meheret's Heirs. The others can't argue with that, but will go nonetheless. Richard promises to try and get help if he can.

Kamal, Sir Jeffrey, Jasper and Thomas give themselves into the hands of Meheret's Heirs. Their are bound, blindfolded and everything that can be used as a weapon is taken from them. Japser, however, has hidden the dagger in the bandage around Thomas' arm and it is not discovered. After a ride of a few hours, they arrive at a camp and are locked into a hut build from rough stones.

There, they find Sir Thomas Kincaid, who has clearly been held prisoner for a long time and who has not been treated gently, he's chained to the wall and has had very little to eat and drink. Kincaid is glad to see them, but becomes agitated when he finds out that Thomas will be able to show Meheret's Heirs were the Book of Toth is hidden. He has held out all this time to keep the book hidden because he thinks that it should never be found. Kamal couldn't agree more. Thomas plans to destroy the book if he can and to delay the search as much as possible.

Thomas asks for water and better treatment from the leader of the cult. The man laughs at Thomas and tells him that he's hardly in a position to make demands. He then proceeds to shoot Sir Jeffrey in the leg to get his point across. Thomas refuses to back down, not even when the leader aims his weapon at Kincaid, and finally he gets what he wants. They get food, water, some bandages so that Jasper can treat Kincaid's and Sir Jeffrey's wounds and rest until tomorrow night. Then Thomas will continue the search for the Book of Toth.

Kamal tells Thomas the complete story about Meheret: when she failed to win the battle at Toth's Shadow, where the book is hidden, she was taken prisoner. But Tezud, the priest of Toth, fell in love with her and spared her life. She betrayed him, fled and was captured again. This time, Tezud could not save her life and her organs were taken out of her body while she was still alive and then she was burned. Tezud kept her organs and it is said he made them the key to the book. Thomas remembers the murders at the East End that started the whole story, where women were killed and their organs (one at a time) were taken.

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

So...yeah. Jasper wouldn't bet on his chance to get out of this alive. But he is determined to see this through and anyway, his hold on life is not as strong as it used to be.

My last few Cthulhu characters have survived for a very long time and I will even pull one character (Dai) out of the game to keep him alive if I can. So the thought of an epic death has a certain appeal.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Moxyland

After reading and loving Zoo City, I bought Lauren Beukes' first book, Moxyland.

In a world not that much different from our own, people depend on their phone a lot more than we already do. It contains their ID and with that, their access to such basic things as public transport, access to their homes, money ect. Criminal activities are punished by a temporary disconnection from the service or even a permanent one. And since people always carry their phones, someone came up with the clever idea to install a taser into them - not for self-defence, but to shock the owner of the phone in case he or she is doing something illegal. A Defuse, as it's called.

The book follows a handful of characters over a couple of days, a fiercly hip blogger, someone who agrees to become a mobile advertisement for a soft drink in exchange for cutting edge nanotech, a freedom fighter, a corporate drone with a decidedly anarchistic streak. Their lifes intersect and influence each other, even though some of the characters never meet.

It's a bleak vision of a not so distant future, but at the same time it's a wild ride through conspiracies and secrets where nothing is quite what it seems. There are a few things that I would love to see for real in Moxyland and I just might, like the coat that displays videos and photos or even a live feed. There are more things that I never want to see, but I'm afraid I might, like the taser-phones or the genetically engineered Marburg virus sprayed on protesters who have to turn themselves in to get treatment.

Beukes took much of her inspiration from actual events, definitely read the afterword for her explanation of her sources. And this is exactly what makes Moxyland such a great book, the possibility that we may end up in a world exactly like this. We're definitely aready on our way.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Schöne Zeiten

Schöne Zeiten - The Good Old Days in the English edition - is a collection of mostly uncommented documents and statements from Germans who witnessed or took an active part in the Holocaust.

Members of the Einsatzgruppen and the staff of the concentration camps are quoted as well as soldiers who only witnessed the mass murder by accident. Almost none of them feel any guilt and almost none of them question the thought that the Jews had to die. The most you can expect is that it shouldn't be done in such a cruel fashion. Others concentrate on how bad it made them feel to shoot hundreds of people. Most make it clear in their statements that they knew well they could refuse the order to shoot people without any real consequences and some did.

The most striking document is the diary of the physician and SS-member Johann Kremer written while living at Auschwitz. He writes about the wonderful food, how excited he is about the opportunities for medical research, about movies he saw and, just as casually, about witnessing Sonderaktionen (the murder of prisoners who were too sick or just to make more room) or having people killed to get his hands on specimens for his research.

The title of the book is taken from a page in the photo album of Kurt Franz that contains photos of Franz in Treblinka and of the zoo (!) at the camp, fondly remembered. The book also contains a number of photos taken by the Germans - it was illegal to photograph the shootings or the camps, but many people did it anyway and some even showed their photos at home. The photos are extremely graphic.

It's a book very much worth reading if you are interested in the Holocaust and how it was made possible. You won't get any analysis of interpretation of the historical facts, just the view of the involved parties and you're left to draw your own conclusions. It might be a good idea to have some sort of reference book on hand to better understand the background unless you're very knowledgeable about the Holocaust already. If you are, you will probably recognise some of the texts and photos because the book often is quoted in other works.

Reviews 2012

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Shadowrun Rat's Nest: Scams

If there is one system that I love but never wanted to GM, it's Shadowrun. All those sourcebooks that you need to have read to keep your players from coming up with gimmicks, weapons and whatnot that will destroy your whole story. All those special things the characters can do and buy...hackers, mages, riggers, cyberware in general. No, thanks.

I found myself GMing Shadowrun all the same last Monday, with only a couple of hourse of preparation. It went pretty well, except for the fact that I had to cut the story a bit short because I didn't have enough time to come up with a complete run. It was more of an introduction or a setup for the actual run.

I had two players and they played a Glim Dropper scam on the owners of Rikki's Rathole, a talismonger/bookshop. That worked out well enough, but the scam was recognised by one of the patrons of the shop. The guy, an Ork named Jacob, confronted one of the PCs and demanded the commlink number of her partner for his silence. She gave it to him and it turned out that Jacob was planning to pull a big-time scam himself and he's looking for more people. A write-up of the evening is here

So far, so good. I had GMed myself into something of a corner, though. I want the scam to be elaborate, think The Sting. That is not easy and I have only a week to come up with the whole thing. Three days as of today, actually, we play again on Monday. Nothing like last minute panic to get creative.

If you are one of my players, do NOT click this link to read what I'm planning.