Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Red Baron

Der rote Baron: Die ganze Geschichte des Manfred von Richthofen by Joachim Castan opens with a thrilling re-telling of the Richthofen-myth practically everyone with a bit of interest in the topic knows. Or even without an interest - after all, you just need to read Peanuts to come across the name Red Baron.
And then the book goes on to deconstruct that myth very effectively. Castan used a lot of sources that authors previously ignored or didn't have access to and as far as I can see, he gets his facts right.

There's also a lot of speculation about Richthofen's character and psychological state, a bit too much I felt at times. I tend to distrust attempts at analysing historical figures because it's so often used to replace facts. But here, it's never wild speculation without factual basis, it's always marked as speculation and the reader is left to draw their own conclusion.

And so we're left with a Richthofen who was not the honourable knight people love to imagine - first of all his mother, whose diary used to be an important, but questionable source for earlier biographies. Which explains a lot about the myth, along with the propaganda about him that catered to the desire for a hero people could believe in without any doubts. Instead of this, we get a man with weaknesses, who wasn't fearless, who did not believe in some code of honour even when his life was at stake.

The book has garnered quite a number of scathing reviews on Amazon and the main point of all that critique is: how dare anyone question one of Germany's last heroes? Isn't it time to stop drag our heroic soldiers into the mud?
I have no words for that much wilful ignorance. And I find it a bit disturbing that so many people feel the need to cling to the fiction of a shining hero in a war almost one hundred years ago.

Reviews 2013
Library Challenge 2013

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Classics Club

Since the Turn of the Century Challenge collapsed and merged with the Classics Club, I decided to join. The goal is to read at least 50 classics in 5 years (so I need to be finished in August 2018...). Here's my list (which may be subject to change, depending on which books I can get because I'm not going to buy them all).

1. Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
2. Don Quixote - Cervantes
3. The Stranger - Albert Camus
4. Flowers of Evil - Charles Baudelaire
5. The Idiot - Fjodor Dostoevski
6. Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
7. The Old Man and the See - Ernest Hemingway
8. Ashenden Short Stories - W. S. Maugham (re-read because they're brillant)
9. Oedipus Rex - Sophocles
10. A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens (I've been meaning to read this for so long now)
11. Medea - Euripides
12. The Sound and the Fury - William Faulkner
13. One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
14. Dead Souls - Nikolai Gogol
15. A Doll's House - Henrik Ibsen
16. Lolita -Vladimir Nabokov (re-read)
17. Beloved - Toni Morrison
18. Orlando - Virgina Woolf (re-read, it's been too long)
19. poems - Annette Droste-Hülshof
20. Die Weber - Gerhard Hauptmann
21. Frühlings Erwachen - Franz Wedekind
22. Professor Unrat - Heinrich Mann
23. Das siebente Kreuz - Anna Seghers
24. Justiz - Friedrich Dürrenmatt
25. The Stars My Destination - Alfred Bester
26. Canticle for Leibovitz - Walter M. Miller
27. The Man in the High Castle - Phillip K Dick
28. Woman on the Edge of Time - Marge Piercy
29. The Daughter of Time - Josephine Tey
30. The Witness for the Prosecution - Agatha Christie (re-read because I can only remember the movie)
31. Ronja Robber's Daughter - Astrid Lindgren (re-read because...just because)
32. Taran - Lloyd Alexander (re-read, first time in English)
33. The Haunting of Hill House - Shirley Jackson
34. Master and Commander - Patrick O'Brian
35. 39 Steps - John Buchan
36. Naked Lunch - William S. Burroughs
37. Room with a View - E.M. Forster
38. Uncle Vana - Anton Chekov
39. Kalevala
40. Leben des Galilei - Berthold Brecht
41. Reisebilder (poems) - Heinrich Heine
41. Maria Stuart - Friedrich Schiller
42. The Tempest - William Shakespeare (re-read)
43. poems - Gottfried Benn
44. If This Is A Man - Primo Levi (re-read)
45. Unendliche Geschichte - Michael Ende (re-read)
46. The Fifth Child - Doris Lessing
47. Detective Fiction - E.A. Poe
48. Frankenstein - Mary Shelley (re-read)
49. Treasure Island - R. L. Stevenson
50. Julius Caesar - William shakespeare

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

7th Sea: Hunting

For cast of characters and background information, see our campaign homepage on Obsidian Portal.

continued from the last letter

We followed the trail left by your kidnappers. It was slow going, but at least that gave me time to pay some attention to the edition of the Malleus Malleficarum Logan and I had found at the tower and the notes it contained. I did not have any difficulties in recognising your handwriting, but the content of your notes was quite another matter. It was clear enough that the notes were written ín a code, but that the book needed to decipher that code was missing – as a wild guess, I would have assumed Cautio Criminalis.

It became clear that the men were making their way towards Altamira and we decided to ride fast, following the street. We gambled that Altamira was indeed their goal and did our best to overtake them. We reached Miravete at dusk and there were three very tired horses in the stable of the tavern. Sebastian is the priest of Miravete and while we never liked each other and he considers me a criminal, I decided to talk to him. His housekeeper grudgingly told Ramon and me that he was to be found at the tavern where he had to give last rites to a stranger.

We found Sebastian just preparing to leave the tavern. Upon seeing me, he probably would have ordered the peasants to seize me, but he was so surprised that I got a word in before that and asked him where you were. Demanded to know, is the better choice of words. He did not know that you had left Altamira or that the men he had just administered to had anything to do with your disappearance.

When I told him what had happened, he ran upstairs again and slammed open the door to the room the strangers had taken. And as you know, Sebastian has a body and voice supremely fitting for barging his way into rooms. The next thing the man closest to the window knew was that he was being held out of the window by the scruff of his neck while Sebastian yelled at him. I pushed the second man against the wall, a knife held to his throat. He denied that they had anything to do with kidnapping you, but he was not a very good liar. He tried to attack me, I stabbed him in the shoulder and he fainted. I did not have the patience to wait for him to wake up, so I brought him over to the window and asked Sebastian to please not push the last witness to his death. At the sight of the lifeless body of his comrade, the second man completely lost his nerve and agreed to take us to the hiding place where their leader waited for them to return, guarding you. They had not dared to risk bringing you to Miravete, although I wish they had been stupid enough for that.

We found our way to the hiding place without problems, a cave by the river used by smugglers, accessible only from one place. With some more prompting, the man told us that his leader was not alone and that the cave was trapped. I wasn't sure what to believe, but there was nothing for it but to go and see. Accompanied by Logan, who has some experience with traps, I made my way down to the cave and we found nothing but a cold campfire and an old, rotting fisher boat. Alain had used a rope to scale the cliffs and dropped down the last few metres. He investigated the boat in search of a hidden mechanism and we signalled for the others to join us.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Cthulhu Weimar: Doll House

last time

Time: April 1921
Place: Berlin

Cast of Characters:
Doctor Karl A. Schwarz - physician who works at the Krankenhaus Moabit and who has a surgery on the side in Berlin Wedding (a district known for being a stronghold of the Communist Party and for being populated almost exclusively by working class people)
Gero Thalmann - a student from a middle-class family who plans to become an architect. Meanwhile, he's involved with the Communists and has taken an interest in the pressing social issues of the time. He has been living in Berlin for about a year.

3rd May 1921, Tuesday

The white room turns out to have no doors. At all. And nothing in it except for a big grandfather clock. Schwarz stops the clock and it strikes painfully loud. When they look again, the clock is gone and a doll house has taken its place, an exact replica of the orphanage, right down to two puppets that resemble them, lying on the floor of the room they are in.

A dripping sound makes them turn round and they see a black liquid seeping into the room from the ceiling, gathering into a puddle and stretching tentacles towards them. Gero throws one of the stones with the Elder Sign and the liquid turns to stone. At the same moment, the house starts to shake and something scratches at the walls.

A closer look at the doll house shows dark shadows that prowl outside the white room, trying to get in. Next to the room is a cross between an office and an operation theatre, the most modern Schwarz has ever seen. Gero knock on the wall in the doll house and they hear a knocking on the real wall. He then pick up some books from on of the shelves in the operating theatre and puts them into the model of their room. With a thump, the books appear behind them, in real size.

After some discussion, Gero uses a pen knife to make a door into the wall and puts some of the bookshelves in the way of the shadows. Everything happens in the real house as well. Schwarz uses the new hole in the wall to go into the operating theatre and it works just fine. Gero places the doll house inside the doll house in the operating theatre and it appears there. Since he also sees a miniature tricycle, belonging to the child whom they were warned would betray them, Gero puts the tricycle into a room and a bookshelf in front of the door. He then puts the miniature house into the entrance hall and leaves the white room himself.

Pursued by more of the black liquid, they run to reach the only room they haven't seen on the ground floor and notice that it's much smaller than it should be. The wall on one side sounds hollow, but they have no tools to break it down. So they once more use the doll house and simply break down the wall there. They find another room that contains a big elevator platform and use it.

In the basement, they find a tunnel, well-built and with electric light. They follow it to the cistern they were told to find and there, they see a sort of lectern with a huge book on it and a big well that emits a strange white glow. Both can be reached by following a footbridge across the cistern. The book contains a ritual that gives eternal life and all that is needed for its completion are two living sacrifices. Armin, the dead boy who ran into Schwarz when he tried to escape the orphanage, apears from the well and warns them: Doctor Haensler and the nurses are on their way. They come towards the cistern, the nurses burned and crippled, Haensler with black liquid dripping from his mouth and nose.

Gero attacks Haensler with the mace and misses, but causes a gruesome wound nonetheless. Emilie appears once again and urges Schwarz to complete the ritual, to give the required blood to Haensler. The doctor does as he is told, reading aloud from the book in a language he doesn't speak and yet understands. When he's finished, he cuts his hand on the lectern and splashes Haensler with his blood. Haensler once more is completely alive, while the nurses catch fire and fall into the cistern, where they dissolve.

Schwarz and Gero attack Haensler, who is not only alive but mortal again. Schwarz cuts his throat and Haensler dies. At the same moment, the walls of the well crumble and they find themselves surrounded by the ghosts of the children and Emilie. Schwarz is given the picture that was hung in the entrace wall, but it has changed and now shows happy children in front of a brightly painted, friendly house. As a last favour, Emilie open another tunnel that leads Schwarz and Gero away from the collapsing nursery. They come out into the park surrounding the nursery and see that it is once more the burned ruin it should be.


what happens next

The doll house was an incredibly powerful object and once we had figured out that we could change the real house with it, things took a turn towards the surreal. We usually don't do much metagaming and really, we didn't do it here either. There was metagaming, but it was all done in character.

The GM admitted that he had painted himself into a corner with that story. He simply couldn't stand to see us mess up and doom the children and would have given an unusual amount of help. But we managed fairly well on our own. In any case, it was a story that got to us all and when we had finished, we took a while to just sit and talk about it. Not that we don't do that anyway, but this time we need it.