Brian Hazzard, host of the Instadeath Survivors Support Group podcast, recently devoted an episode to interviewing Jamie. You can listen to it here. The discussion includes: Fabled Lands, Falcon, Fighting Fantasy, Way of the Tiger, Dirk Lloyd, and of course Vulcanverse.
Friday, 24 December 2021
Thursday, 23 December 2021
Strange things in old speech
The Dark is Rising is one (well, five) of those kids' fantasy classics that I haven't read. In my defence, the books came out when I was already in my teens, but they have been recommended by younger friends whose judgement I trust, so if you have children you might want to get hold of them.
The general tone of dark rural British folk fantasies with a psychogeographic tinge includes much of Alan Garner, John Masefield, and others. They tend to be set in the depths of winter, steeped in tales of the landscape, with lengthening shadows of mythic figures like Herne or Merlin bringing a chill of delicious danger to the sometimes stiflingly cosy world of childhood.
You feel as if all of these books should exist in 1970s BBC television adaptations, even if most of them don't. Which is why Handspan has produced this album of tracks from the non-existent adaptation of The Dark is Rising and this theme from "In From The Fields", an imaginary kids' series in the manner of Garner or Masefield.
And for grown-ups who want to revisit the comforting nightmares of younger days, there's always Becky Annison's powerful one-shot game When the Dark is Gone.
Tuesday, 21 December 2021
Seasonal scientific silliness
Monday, 20 December 2021
Kiss kiss bang bang
This year's Christmas scenario (which is not set in Legend; the clue is in the picture) is over on my Patreon page. But if you don't want to shell out for that and all the other stuff to be found there, you can select from the specials of previous years. Tomorrow there's a free boardgame here, and that's followed by a surprise extra on Christmas Eve. Ho ho ho.
Thursday, 16 December 2021
A cartographic conundrum
Here's a mystery that maybe you can solve. While clearing out (aka moving files of old papers from one shelf to another) I came across these two maps. Both rather nice, I think you'll agree. But what are they?
My best theory is that they were samples sent to us by the editors at Pan Macmillan when the Fabled Lands books were originally in the planning stage. For some reason the editors didn't want Russ to do the world maps, perhaps because they were concerned at his workload as he was doing all the interior illustrations and the colour maps of the regions.
Jamie and I looked at various map artists, all the while arguing that we really wanted Russ for the job. These two must have been our favourites. I can't remember who the editors hired in the end -- neither of these guys, by the looks of it. And then they printed the west and east sides of the world the wrong way round in Over the Blood-Dark Sea. Stab me vitals.
By the time The Court of Hidden Faces came out we finally had Russ drawing the world map as we'd intended all along. But, as Frost said about ice, these other contenders were also great and would have sufficed.
And yet -- what's niggling at me is the stadium at bottom left in the second map. Tékumel gamers like me are bound to look at that and think: Hirilákte. Surely it couldn't be...
Does anybody recognize these or the artists who drew them?
Friday, 10 December 2021
I’ve never seen the point of fashion. If a work of art is good it will stay good, regardless of whether or not it’s regarded as the in thing and everybody is talking about it.
Literature, for example. You’ll find a book that reviewers praise to the skies, and publishers adore. But give it ten years and they’re gawping at the next shiny bauble. You know the movie stars’ saying:
“First it’s: get me So-&-So. Then it’s: get me somebody like So-&-So. Finally it’s: who’s So-&-So?”It even happened to Fitzgerald:
“In Pickwick Books on Hollywood Boulevard he asked for anything by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The clerk said they had none in stock. Fitzgerald asked whether there was any call for them. ‘Oh, once in a while, but not for some time now,’ he replied. He tried another store – with the same result. The proprietor of a third bookshop asked which titles he was interested in and, promising to track them down, requested a name and address. ‘I’m Mr Fitzgerald,’ he replied. The man was shocked; he had believed that F. Scott Fitzgerald must surely have died years ago along with his era.”
You get the point. Great writers fall into obscurity. It's not just an injustice, it's a tragedy because it means that readers may never get to hear about them, and therefore miss out on the pleasure they would get from their works. To name a few writers that I admire who nowadays are not as well known as they should be: George Gissing, Tanith Lee, Russell Hoban, Elizabeth Taylor, Michel Tournier.
Our own Oliver Johnson got a taste of this hemlock cup. Despite the success of his Lightbringers trilogy in the 1990s, when he returned to fiction recently with The Knight of the Fields – which I regard as one of the best fantasy novels I’ve ever read – he was told that it’s not in the current trend for the genre. So what are publishers releasing instead? Ten-volume fantasy potboilers that are all tricked up as wannabe Game of Thrones.
Luckily fashions change, and quality will out. Gissing had a bit of a comeback in the ‘60s and I’m confident he’ll be discovered again. Forsooth, even Shakespeare was out of style for a while. And, thanks to print-on-demand and ebooks, future generations ought to be able to find any work they want. Even a century from now somebody might come across Riddley Walker and recognize it for the classic it is.
The greatest living writer of English weird tales is John Whitbourn. It may be over two decades since he garnered rave reviews in the Sunday Times and won prizes from the BBC and Gollancz, but he remains a towering talent whose position in the field is right alongside M R James, Saki, Algernon Blackwood, Arthur Machen and (another overlooked genius, this) A J Alan. I am quite sure that in the future his name will be mentioned in the same breath as those other masters of the genre.
But the good news is you don't have to wait for fickle fortune to spin her wheel. Almost all of John Whitbourn’s books are available right now, and the Binscombe Tales in particular are a perfect Christmas present for any lover of weirdness and wonder. Fie upon fashion – talent is all that counts.
Thursday, 9 December 2021
Casket of Fays #5
Friday, 3 December 2021
Wouldn't have to work hard
Of course, it depends if the character’s main motivation was always cash. A rock star or boxer or actor hitting the big time might suffer an existential crisis until they realize it was the art or the sport that they really loved, not the fame and fortune. They may even find they’ve lost by winning. Adventurers in fantasy fiction often undertake the quest for other reasons: glory, friendship, duty. Achilles and the others were no doubt looking forward to the payday when Troy fell – what ancient hero didn’t enjoy a bit of city-sacking? – but their reasons for being there in the first place were many and complex.
Conan becomes a king, and in The Way of the Tiger gamebooks the character goes from being a lowly sewer rat to the headaches of running a kingdom. I had a Tekumel character who was one of the lowest of the low. He struck it rich but that wasn’t nearly the end of the story, because in Tsolyani society there’s no real provision nor room for upstart commoners. The campaign only came to an end a long time later when he led his clan to the far corners of the world and conquered a kingdom.
Joining the 1%, even when that was genuinely what you wanted all along, could be the start of your problems. You don’t even have to be nouveau riche to attract the jealousy of the ruling class. Nicolas Fouquet made the mistake of outspending the King of France. He was arrested by d'Artagnan (no, really) and spent the rest of his life in jail.
Even if you keep your freedom, most societies have things that money can’t buy – especially the feudal societies of many fantasy campaigns. Sumptuary laws will prohibit you from aping your betters. Most interactions in the world will depend on custom, land, rank – all things you might obtain if you are artful and lucky, but never simply by throwing money at the problem.
It all goes to underline that you can’t say how vast riches will affect characters in the campaign until you know the society. The rich industrialist in Bleak House is treated very differently by the ruling classes than his equivalent number in Tono-Bungay, which is set just half a century later.
Retiring the character when their objective is reached is a perfectly respectable option. It’s not just over-stuffed coffers that deprive a character of their motivation. Any specific objective, finally fulfilled, may leave you wondering what to do with the character next. In both Eureka and There Will Be Blood the lead character achieves the high point of his life near the start and then must deal with the long wait for death. Those stories might be a tad contrived in order to serve the purposes of drama. While some people might be left rudderless by success, most of us on achieving one objective would set our sights on fresh goals. After Elon Musk has the perfect self-driving car, there’s always Mars.