Monday, October 31, 2011

Player Blackmail

So we have started another adventure in our Shadowrun campaign. The GM asked us all to send him the details of our characters and we all did (or let him make characters for us). Which led me to believe that we could start playing without problems.

Muahaha. Naive little me. We could not, because one player decided that he didn't feel like playing the character he had chosen after all and he wanted another character and it should be an adept (someone who used magic). The GM balked at this because we already had one magic using character and he didn't want any more, which he had already said beforehand.

After a bit back and forth the player packed up his things and threatened to leave because he felt that it was unfair that he wasn't allowed to play his character. Another player offered to switch to a non-magic using character and so an agreement was reached, but to be honest, I would have let the player walk out. There is a reason why we all had to choose our character beforehand and I don't see why blackmailing the GM, not to put too fine a point on it, should be rewarded.

Or is that just me overreacting?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

City of Stones

German history is a big hobby of mine, especially the years 1914-1945. So when I saw Berlin - City of Stone by Jason Lutes at the library, I was immediately interested: a comic about Berlin during the Weimarer Republik, very tumultuous years all over Germany and in Berlin in particular.
The story follows Marthe Müller, an art student who moves to Berlin, and Kurt Severing, a journalist writing for the Weltbühne. We also get to know a worker family, a Jewish family and in the second book a group of African-American jazz musicians. Berlin was an exciting city at the time, where you could see and experience things not found anywhere else in Germany. It was also a city of shocking poverty and misery. City of Stones captures both.

We also get to meet quite a few historical characters, it was fun to see who I recognised. Kurt Tucholsky, Carl von Ossietzky and Joachim Ringelnatz (see below) for example.

The Weimarer Republik was never stable and violent fights in the streets were common. One of the worst of such fights, the massacre on 1 May 1929 (Blutmai, Bloody May), is shown at the end of the book and I got a kick out of seeing a DZVR 21, an armoured vehicle used by the police at the time. I saw one at the Panzermuseum and I thought at the time that it must have been a terrifying sight when one of those appeared, especially at a time where cars where not all that ubiquitous and common.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading both City of Stones and City of Smokes and I'm looking forward to the third and final book of the series. For anyone with an interest in that time or someone who wishes to learn about it, I absolutely recommend those books.

41st book for the Library Challenge

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Queen and Country

Shortly after I began watching The Sandbaggers, I picked up a comic at the library called Queen and Country by Greg Rucka. It looked interesting, so I took it home and started having deja vu after reading the first few pages. Turns out Queen and Country is heavily influenced by The Sandbaggers - talk about synchronicity.
click photo to see bigger version
The comic follows Tara Chace in her work for the SIS. There's quite a lot of action, but also a lot of scheming and politics and both are equally interesting.
The artwork is in b/w, nothing flashy, but incredibly effective for the type of story it tells. The style is equally simple - simple as in nothing superfluous, but all that's necessary and the characters are instantly recognisable and alive, right down to their expressive body language.

I haven't read the complete series, but I definitely plan to (Christmas is coming up, after all). I have this thing for stories that don't treat their characters well. Although I do complain just like everyone else when a character (including my own RPG characters) dies or gets really taken to the cleaners, I enjoy it at the same time because it's interesting. Queen and Country is definitely capable of this, just like The Sandbaggers and I love them both for it.

Queen and Country is my 40th book for the Library Challenge

Wednesday, October 26, 2011



Ernst isn't tame at all, so he panics and flutters when I reach for him. Sshh, I tell him, it's going to be okay. Except it's not.

Ernst has been with me for 13 years, I bought him and and a friend for him soon after I moved to Hamburg. I always had budgies as a child and I missed the chatter. His partner died, I got him a new one - I've had a lot of budgies over the years, but Ernst was always there. He found a partner, a female called Susi, and lived happily with her for years. Susi died earlier this year and Ernst grew more quiet, he didn't try to bond with the new females I brought home from the shelter.

He'd had troubles with his heart for a long time. It couldn't be treated and the vet told me that he probably wouldn't last all that long. That was five years ago and I kept a close eye on him, but he was doing okay. A bit short of breath after flying, but that was to be expected. Last week Ernst couldn't fly any more, he'd drop to the floor and couldn't get airborne again. I knew then it was time.

I don't take the others, it's cold outside and I don't want to stress them out as well. I regret that when Ernst starts calling once we are on our way, loud contact calls. I wish I had brought at least one of the others along. Too late now.
The vet agrees with me that there is nothing more to be done. Ernst screams when he gets the first injection, but I know he's not in pain, it's just the usual protest scream when someone holds him. He falls asleep quickly and after the second injection, it's only seconds until his heart stops. I astonish myself by not crying and I talk a bit with the vet about budgies - my vet's amazing and I know my pets and me are in good hands.

At home, I show Ernst's body to the other budgies. They won't call for him now, but they would if I just took him and never brought him back. And then finally I sit down and cry for Ernst, who was my companion for much of my adult life.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Click Click

This is a serious trip down memory lane for me. One of the first songs I ever heard at a Goth club. I still love it.

Monday, October 10, 2011

All Hallows Read

I love this, both the video and the whole idea. Also: thank you, Neil Gaiman, for encouraging people to use their local library. We appreciate the support.
I think I'll give away some Edward Gorey for this year's All Hallow's Read.
Why Gorey? Because.
Here's a very nice little edition of this brilliant, macabre and hilarious book.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


The October Draconids meteor shower will be at its maximum this weekend, so take a look at the sky.
Unfortunately, for those of you in North America, the peak will be during daytime, but in Europe, it will be between 16h-22h Universal Time on Saturday night and several meteors per minute are possible (forecasts differ, though). Grab a deck chair or a blanket, some warm clothes and get as far away from lights as possible. Outside the city would be best, although I've been watching meteors in a public park for years now, with trees shielding me from the streetlights.
Here's a maps that will help with spotting the meteors.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Sandbaggers

I came across The Sandbaggers via a list of people who vanished in airplanes, of all things. The casual reference was enough to intrigue me and I wasn't disappointed - the series is brilliant.

If you prefer your spies to be Bond-ish, then this may not be for you. If you like John le Carré and possibly Somerset Maugham's Ashenden stories, then by all means check it out. There is very little action in the sense of guns and explosions, but it's thrilling nonetheless. You will need to pay close attention, the characters move in a complex net of favours, bureaucracy and unspoken rules and a lot of things are only hinted at. A crash course in all the abbreviations used isn't a bad idea either.

Roy Marsden is excellent as spymaster Neil Burnside. Who is not all that likeable, but definitely fascinating and a lot more fun to watch than any of the no flaws-characters so liked by script writers today.

Oh, and don't get too attached to characters. I'm just saying.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Germany From Below

Alexander Graf Stenbock-Fermor travelled through Germany in 1930 and visited worker families all over the country. The resulting book is hard to read at times because of the unbelievable misery it describes.
Unemployment was high and those that had work were paid only a pittance that was just enough to starve slowly. Ten, fifteen people living in one room and sleeping in two or three beds was not an exception, but the norm. The rooms were damp, cold, infested with mould and vermin and disease like tuberculosis or syphilis were rampant.

At the time Germany was well-known as a producer of high quality toys and dolls, but there was rising competition from the US and the UK. Families who had earned their living making toys for generations now were fighting for their survival. Child labour was illegal at the time, but without the children helping (sometimes as young as four to sex years old) the families would starve. Retirement was not an option. The woman in the picture was years old and worked 12 hours a day (every day).

I learned about the strikes and riot at the Leunawerke (a huge industrial complex producing ammonia) in 1921, when workers first put down their work and then barricaded themselves at the Leunawerke. The strike was brutally beaten down by the police, murdering 46 workers in the process. The workers were executed pretty much at random, without any kind of trial.

It does shine through at times that the author was well on his way to becoming an active communist, but he doesn't force his political views on the reader. The scenes he describes are matter of fact and heartbreaking at the same time, enough for anyone to draw his own conclusions. It's a book that deserves to be read even now.

My 39th book for the Library challenge