Sunday, May 21, 2017

Jim Lowder Chaosium Announcement

So, the latest issue of the Chaosium e-newsletter announces the news that my friend Jim Lowder is now in charge of their fiction line. Jim's a good guy -- I've known him since we were at Marquette in the early '80s, he as an undergrad in the honors program and I as a grad student working on my PhD while sneaking off to look at the Tolkien manuscripts in the archives in my spare time. Together we survived The Science Fiction Class of Doom (more about that some other time), having found a shared interest in fantasy, roleplaying games, and King Arthur.* Later on he became the first person I knew who worked at TSR, and gave me good advice when I eventually came to apply for a job there myself.

He's also an experienced editor and designer, both freelance and in-house, with a long string of successful anthologies to his credit, and a longtime advocate for creator's rights, especially when it comes to things like work-for-hire, royalties, and reprints. Here's hoping he can revive Chaosium's fiction line, which put out some interesting collections in the '90s but has rather languished of late.



CHAOSIUM APPOINTS JAMES LOWDER EXECUTIVE EDITOR FOR FICTION

Award-winning editor and author James Lowder has joined Chaosium as executive editor of fiction. Chaosium President Rick Meints commented: “James embodies that magic combination of wisdom and enthusiasm. Knowing his craft inside and out, he brings his advocacy and integrity to the table at every turn. Having him relaunch our fiction line is a ‘the stars are right’ moment.”





I look forward to seeing what new releases they have in store.

--John R.
current reading: THE PROFESSOR AND THE MAD MAN by Simon Winchester, an interesting and annoying book about the creation of the O.E.D.


*he later put together the Green Knight Publishing line of Arthurian reprints

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Whistleblower Freed

So, the US news sites I checked yesterday didn't even mention it, but yesterday morning whistleblower Bradley/Chelsea Manning was freed after serving seven years of a thirty-five year sentence,  sometimes under conditions international rights groups decried as torture, for leaking news about war crimes ("Collateral Murder") and an illegal surveillance program.

It's been a long time coming.

Now if only the US would stop its attempts to jail Snowden and Assange.

Here's the link.

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/may/17/chelsea-manning-released-from-prison

--John R.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Gygax Tolkien-bashing




So, just before leaving for Kalamazoo I got a message from my local Barnes & Nobel that an item I'd pre-ordered had come in: RISE OF THE DUNGEON MASTER: GARY GYGAX AND THE CREATION OF D&D by David Kushner (text) and Koren Shadmi (art).  Essentially this is a biography in graphic novel form, with word balloons sometimes representing the biographer's narration or commentary and sometimes the thoughts of the character being shown instead—usually Gygax but for one chapter switching over to Arneson (co-creator, with Gygax, of D&D). Often these bits of text sound like they're answers to a question, which is because many of them were taken from interviews. 

Throughout their book Kushner & Shadmi try to be fair to both Gygax and Arneson, admirably so. There are few pure villains in their account (excepting the Blumes, whom they lambaste), which makes their unabashed Tolkien-bashing stands out all the more.

Here's the page in question:






For those who can't read the tiny print, the top half of this page proclaims Gygax's love of Rbt. E. Howard's Conan stories, the bottom half his disdain for Tolkien's work. 

— You're a fan of the "Conan the Barbarian" books by Robert E. Howard.

— You hope to evoke their swashbuckling action in a war game.

— But you loathe the major fantasy touchstone of the time, J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings series.

— It was so dull.
— I mean, there was no action in it.
—  I'd really like to throttle Bilbo and Frodo.

(tosses the book into a box of discards)


This mainly raises my hackles because it misrepresents Gygax's relationship with Tolkien's works.

First, the two greatest influences on original D&D where Howard and Tolkien. Tolkien provided the player character races, a goodly proportion of the monsters (I once worked it out to be about a third), and the whole idea of the player-character party, the plural hero. But the world in which those characters adventure, and the kind of adventures they have in them, owe far more to Howard (and Howardesque authors, particularly the great Fritz Leiber).

What's more, Gygax's criticisms of Tolkien began only after Tolkien Enterprises (the movie people) sent TSR a cease-and-desist over their many obvious borrowings (mithril, balrogs, nazgul, hobbits, half-orcs) from Tolkien's work. After that point Gygax sought to distance his game from Tolkien, to deny (in the face of overwhelming evidence) any but the most superficial influence. But the flat dismissal they present here as his initial response goes beyond anything I've ever seen; I'd like to know their source.


Luckily it's possible to enjoy the graphic novel as a whole despite this passage.

--John R.
current reading: THE BEATLES: AN ILLUSTRATED RECORD by Roy Carr & Tony Tyler





The Cat Report (W.5/17-17)

Being neither sick nor out of town, I got to come in and see the three cats today: Avery, Edith, and Minerva. It was nice to renew acquaintance with Avry and Edith and to get to meet Minerva. All were glad to get some attention but reluctant to come out of their cages. Avery was out the most, asserting her Boss Cat credentials, while Edith seemed to be trying, not very successfully, to get Minerva to accept a position at the bottom of the totem pole. All three had long (twenty to thirty minute) walks. 

Edith went first. I carried her around the store for the first half of her walk, then she decided she wanted down on her own feet and did pretty well.

Avry objected to going out and then had a good time once out in the store. She wanted to go in the dog-training room, a favorite spot of hers, but unfortunately it was locked. She kept leading me back to it again and again, hoping I’d change my mind and be reasonable. She was deeply alarmed by the fish, thinking that anything that chose to live in water was not to be trusted. 

Minerva was a real surprise. I had a time getting the collar on her, but once outside she showed herself to be energetic and decisive. She went all over the store, inspecting each door and wanting it opened. She wasn’t bothered by the fish tanks at all, apparently deciding it they stayed on their side of the glass and she stayed on hers all would be well. Think a lot of her exploring was to map out the store in her head, taking careful note of the location of things like the row of cat-trees. It’ll be interesting how much she remembers and to see where she goes next time.

Back in the room between the walks I tried out various games, with little results. I also got slapped a lot when petting all three cats; they welcomed attention at first but quickly decided that was enough and I shd stop now.

random observations: 
Avry is definitely the Boss Cat in the room.
Avery deliberately used Minera’s box while Minerva was out on her walk. 

Edith really loves being scratched beneath her collar; think it’s a bit itchy for her there.
Edith has an amazing purr. 

Minerva doesn’t look or act like a senior cat; I’d have guessed she was about half her posted age.
Minerva is a great walker; the best we’ve had in quite a while. But it’s a real struggle getting her suited up and on her way.

—John R. 

P.S. (update):
Sorry to hear about the Calci. Glad Pierre is responding to treatment. 

Also sorry at the news that Avry’s potential adoption has fallen through. Hope she’s soon in a home of her own again.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

A Year Ago Today

So, it was a year ago today -- the Friday night and Saturday morning of the Medieval Congress here at Kalamazoo -- that I lost the lucky coin I always, always carry around with me, only to have it rescued and restored to me the next day by Vaughn Howland (cf. my post at the time, 'Vaughn is my hero')


http://sacnoths.blogspot.com/2016/05/vaughn-is-my-hero.html


 Vaughn died a few months ago, but he's in my thoughts today. For one thing, he knew about, and thoroughly approved of, the festschrift project.


He was one of the Good Guys, and he will be missed.


--John R.
--most recent book purchase at Kalamazoo: Neidorf's THE TRANSMISSION OF BEOWULF.



Wednesday, May 10, 2017

festschrift flyer (Flieger)



So, I'm happy to announce that A WILDERNESS OF DRAGONS: ESSAYS IN HONOR OF VERLYN FLIEGER now has a publisher, Gabbro Head Press. Primary editing has now been all but completed. The book still needs a second editorial pass, plus an introduction and index. We're hoping for a publication date before the end of the year. Here's the flyer I'm distributing here at Kalamazoo, where several of our contributors are in attendance.

--John R.




Here's the Table of Contents for the Flieger festschrift






Monday, May 8, 2017

An Old Character Sheet

So, looking through my file of the original version I played, the one current in Fayetteville Arkansas in 1980-81, I found a bunch of character sheets. Characters tended to die very quickly in this game: no one ever advanced beyond third level because that'd make the DM have to go to a different random encounter chart, so he just killed anybody who was near leveling up (it's pretty obvious when all the monsters bypass the front-line fighters and unerringly focus all their attacks on that one character among the dozen or so in the group).

Two important stats were Reaction Time and Death Level:

--to determine Reaction Time, divided Dexterityby 3, with the result subtracted from 8

--to determine Death Level, multiply Constitution by .03 and add 1, then multiply the result by your hits (=hit points).  That this is such a needlessly complicated process says a lot about this iteration of the game in a nutshell -- but I did take away from it a strong belief in some sort of negative hit points system so that there was a brief window during which characters who'd fallen to zero hp or below cd still be brought back.

I'm off tomorrow for Kalamazoo but will try to post some of the character generation material when I get back.

For now, dere's the character sheet:






--JDR


Saturday, May 6, 2017

Echoes of Eowyn

So, recently I came across a passage I'd found years ago and never been able to re-locate. I had been reading the first (and, so far as I knew at that time, only) volume of Ursula Dronke's edition, with extensive commentary, of THE POETIC EDDA, Volume I: HEROIC POEMS, a 250-page edition of four relatively brief Old Norse texts. In the commentary on the first such poem, Atlakvida ('The Lay of Atli', better known as Attila the Hun) I found a fascinating brief discussion in which Dronke cites the appearance of shieldmaidens in legend, like Hervor in THE SAGA OF KING HEIDRIEKS THE WISE, and goes on to say that such women existed in real life as well, however rarely:

'That in the Viking Age women occasionally became warriors would give vitality to the fiction; cf. . . . the skeleton of a woman aged about 25 in a grave at Asnes, Norway, from the tenth century, surrounded by sword, shield, spears, axe, whetstone, bridle, with the skeleton of a horse at her feet' (Dronke p. 58)

 Dronke follows up by citing a historical source dating from 1900 for this find.

Was this something Tolkien knew about? I suspect he did -- after all, we do know that Tolkien knew the history of his period extremely well (just cf. Finn & Hengest).  

So, not conclusive but highly suggestive.


THE WIFE SAYS:
Eowyn - wyn - wyn . . .
Eowyn - wyn - wyn . . .