“It’s not that these things happen or even that one survives them, but what makes life strange is that they are forgotten.”
- Jean Rhys, Good Morning, Midnight
That’s one of the books I finished recently. It’s pretty good if you like your modern novels on the short, impressionistic, and ultimately sad and depressing side. In fact if that’s what you like, it’s better than pretty good.
Now if only it had a wizard or some astronauts in it…
Welcome to Lazarus Sector!
A resource rich galactic borderland, Lazarus Sector serves as the buffer between several interstellar polities and is littered with the ruins of past civilizations. Adventurers, outcasts, and criminals call Lazarus Sector home, hoping to get rich and score big, before their luck runs out.
Here are the big players in Lazarus Sector, although by no means is this every one. Countless organizations and cabals have their agents in the Sector.
The Illuminated: An expansionistic technocratic empire that serves a mysterious God-Emperor known as the Omnissiah, the Illuminated have aggressively pushed into Lazarus Sector and made dubious claims at sovereignty over the region.
The Morn: A once advanced human civilization that destroyed itself in ancient times, the Morn now exist as arrogant scavengers on the fringes of society.
Panoplian: The inhabitants of the Panoply Republic, a vast collection of worlds, cultures, and societies known for its open-minded attitudes and dismally slow political infrastructure.
The Union Worlds: A splinter group of Panoplian corporatists that bristled at the constant meddling of Republican bureaucracy. Their worlds are known for their advanced technologies and gross economic disparity. Pragmatists to the extreme, the Union Worlds are everyone’s ally as long as the credits keep rolling in.
The game starts in Wendigo Station, a Union owned “free” station with lacks governmental oversight that orbits the ruined Morn world of Shard and serves as a crossroads to the Sector.
The group starts with a spacecraft. FTL travel is done via the use of “slipstreams routes”. Known slipstream routes will be on the map. Unknown slipstream routes exist and are a valuable commodity. Who doesn’t want to be the first trader to discover a lost world and fleece the poor souls for all they’re worth before the competition arrives?
The first adventure will be a salvage operation as the crew tries to locate a lost Illuminated ship and reclaim its cargo.
It appears I’m running a space game for people here in town. Setting details are partially recycled from a few SWN games I ran last year and every SF RPG I’ve ever read ever.
This time around I’ll try and be less bloodthirsty.
A thought experiment – every fantasy novel in the world has been destroyed. You have only been able to save three. From these a new fantasy genre will be born. What three novels are they?
I know two of mine, but I’m still trying to figure out the third.
In the meantime what are yours?
Two weeks back I had a day off and ran a Fate Accelerated game. The picture above gives you some idea who the party were. The set-up was the PCs were senior citizens in a shitty rest home called Sunny Valley, and in the middle of an escape attempt stumbled onto a Martian plot to invade Earth. It was silly. I didn’t completely know how to run the game (I’m pretty sure I tracked Stress wrong), but everyone had fun, and the oldsters saved the day. The party consisted of a retired detective, a military sharpshooter suffering from dementia, a hacker with ties to Canadian Separatists, and a former getaway car driver that operated a souped-up scooter. While prepping for the game I made some NPCs that either died or didn’t get used. Here they are:
High Concept: Elderly ex-biker gang member
Trouble: Trouble tends to find me.
Aspect 1: I’ve seen some shit.
Aspect 2: The Man’s always trying to pin shit on me.
Aspect 3: Where did I put my glasses?
Stunts: Dirty Fighter
(Dirk can improvise hand to hand weapons)
(Dirk knows Pennsyltuckian martial arts and gains a +2 when forcefully attacking.)
One More Stunt to be determined in game.
2 – Mild:
4 – Moderate:
6 – Severe:
High Concept: A Mean Old Witch
Trouble: You say I’m cruel like it’s a bad thing.
Aspect 1: Ms. Taffy is my wittle sweetums.
Aspect 2: I’ve turned better men than you into toads.
Aspect 3: It’s never too early for a drink.
Stunts: No one suspects an old lady.
(+2 to sneaky when bluffing and hiding.)
Hexes and curses
(+2 to careful when creating advantages)
(once per session Ms. Taffy may attack)
2 – Mild:
4 – Moderate:
6 – Severe:
Now that work and grad school are both back up and running I don’t know when I’ll get the chance to run or play another game. Which is too bad since the summer game I ran here in town was fun, and ended on something of a cliff hanger with one character having a severe curse put on him.
It starts like this:
I’m back home visiting the States and out and about as it’s generally when I have a social life. I try to cram in as much time as I can visiting everyone I know. Invariably I’ll meet someone I don’t know and it comes out in conversation that I live in South Korea at which point they’ll slip into a script where they mistake things they’ve heard about South Korea for knowing something about South Korea. It’s like they can’t help themselves, and they have to tell me right now about one of these four things:
1. North Korea and/or the Korean War. It’ll be about the war if it’s an older guy because that’s the war the guys my dad’s age remember from when they were kids. MacArthur will get mentioned. If it’s a younger person they’ll go on and on about North Korea cribbing from Vice documentaries.
2. Asian Sex Tourism. This is always a younger guy and he’s incapable of not sharing everything he knows about sex tourism. I find it best to back away from these people and leave them as quickly as possible.
3. Plastic Surgery. Mostly women bring this up. And they may or may not bring up foot-binding as well. This is what I term an obsession with an obsession. And you can generally throw a wrench in the works by asking them if they think getting braces is plastic surgery. At least with this one I can have a conversation.
4. Dog Eating. Not as common as the above three, but still on the list. As with the Korean War and sex tourism when someone starts down this road I can actually see their eyes gel over as the obsessional script-worm burrows through their psyche and erupts from their mouth.
Here’s my 9/11 post. It might explain why I don’t want to read yours.
I was at work in Greenwich Village when the first plane hit. I heard the crash and went outside where I saw people in apartments at their windows and on their balconies looking downtown, so I went up to the roof and saw the first tower on fire. At this point I was the only one in the building and since I didn’t have a cellphone, I needed to get to a phone so I could call Jin. She would have been coming into the city through the WTC path station and I wanted to call her before she left and tell her that “something was happening”.
No one at that time knew what was happening, and I was thinking about how I’d wanted to go to the WTC station that morning and go to the Borders Books on the first floor. Jin had reached the Journal Square path station and heard what was happening and come back home. We hung up. I went back to the roof, bumping into a few of my coworkers. We all went to the roof. We all had numbed, confused looks on our faces. The buildings burned.
Incongruous moment one: the buildings were on fire and burning and there was such a mix of this is happening, but we’re also at work and the day’s routine must be adhered to that my friend Rob and I had time to go to the deli, which had other people in it, and buy coffee. We took it back up to the roof and stood there drinking over-sweet coffee from blue paper cups with Greek urns on the sides while the buildings burned.
We saw black specks falling from the building and speculated about their nature. Rob had had a studio grant to paint in the WTC and did panoramic landscapes from there. Another acquaintance now had the same grant and, although we didn’t know it at the time, she was down there in one of the burning buildings. She escaped. One of only a small number to do so from that floor in that building. The first tower collapsed and there was this scream from all around us, this moan from everyone watching that just gave way to silence.
Incongruous moment two: that silence.
Jesus. That silence.
We were far enough away that we couldn’t hear anything. Later I’d meet people who weren’t in New York that would say something like “It was like watching a movie”. This was nothing like a movie. The first tower fell without any sound and after it fell this cloud of paper rose up in the sky. From where we were those pages sparkled in the sun. They were beautiful. I know. I know. There was nothing beautiful about any of this, but there it was incongruous moment three. Beauty – maybe the way sharks are beautiful.
I could not watch the rest. I could not see the second tower fall. I went downstairs to be alone.
But the day didn’t end there. The more I remember that day, the more incongruous events occur: the mad rush to give blood for the “survivors”, we’d go from hospital to hospital, lines everywhere, but nothing to be done, a cop car passing coated in white dust, the sight of an artist who I had worked for standing in the middle of University Place crying. She’d lived 6 blocks from the WTC. She was frozen with shock and her boyfriend and I got her moving again. Uptown. Always that long procession uptown.
And then there were the days and weeks after. The checking in with everyone you knew. The National Guard soldiers in Jersey City standing around the armory carrying baseball bats. The way the news had no script. No one had a narrative for the event. And weeks later when I woke up to the news of an engine falling off a plane in Queens – I couldn’t bring myself to get on the train and go under the river to get to work.
I’ve never watched the TV footage of 9/11. The moments when it shows up in a documentary – I am shocked to the point of tears by it. Even in movies. I can’t watch the destruction of New York in some action flick (like The Avengers) without getting at least some small whiff of a panic attack coming on.
I think I’m still waiting for those incongruous moments to end.
Here’s what I read over my vacation. It would have been twelve books, but I’m still reading The Orange Eats Creeps, but it’s okay since that book’s like prose no-wave. I sometimes kick myself for not putting up more content here, but other than a weekly writing status report, which I suspect no one wants to read, I can’t think of anything to write for regular content. So monthly book reports it is.
The Drowning Girl – Caitlin R. Kiernan (2012): An impressionistic ghost story that might not be a ghost story, but more along the lines of a Blackwood story where someone encounters something and the something is unfathomable. Here we have a schizophrenic young woman encountering the unknown in the person of another woman, who may be a ghost, or a mermaid, or a wolf dressed in the skin of a girl. Atmospheric and weird in the best way.
Smonk – Tom Franklin (2006): Violent over the top Southern-fried Western populated by mutant cartoon characters armed with guns and high explosives. If you like your violence tobacco-splattered and foul-mouthed, you’ll probably like this.
The Dinner – Herman Koch (2013): Two brothers and their wives get together for dinner and attempt to come to terms with the fact that their sons committed a horrible crime that’s been caught on camera and broadcast around the nation. As the man-hunt remains ongoing each family prepares to do all it can to protect itself, including murder. A somewhat enjoyable book with an unreliable narrator, but I couldn’t help but feel that Koch required pages to tell you what Simenon would only have needed a paragraph and a few ellipses to do.
Missing out: In Praise of the Unlived Life – Adam Phillips (2012): One problem I have with nonfiction is that too often it reads like it would have made for a better article than a book, and that’s the case here. Some nice nuggets buried throughout such as: “We know more about the experiences we haven’t had than about the experiences we have had.” And Phillips then goes on to critique this omniscience and poke holes in it, but often I found the conclusions drowned beneath the erudition.
Killing Rage: Ending Racism – bell hooks (1995): Essays and analysis on racism in America. A counter-point to the Terkel book I read last month. I started it right after that book, but its density slowed me down and I ended up reading it a bit at a time week by week. I’ve recommended it to friends since then. Most people should read this.
Junky – William S. Burroughs (1953): I forgot how great this book was. Yeah. Burroughs was a criminal psychopath. There’s no denying that. But when writing white-hot, as he is here, his prose throws sparks off the page.
Resume with Monsters – William Browning Spencer (1995): Protag works a series of dead-end jobs while trying to get back together with the woman who left him (for good reason) and battle Cthulhu and assorted other Old Ones hiding out behind the facade of corporate America. If you’ve ever worked a shit job and had to suffer through horrible HR presentations than you’ll be simpatico to this book.
The End of Everything – Megan Abbott (2011): This was an amazing book, part detective, part coming of age novel, all riveting, creepy, and startling. A girl’s best friend is kidnapped the summer before they’re both set to begin high school, and sets in motion events that can only lead to an end of innocence and childhood. The brilliant thing in this book is the way the jaded PI trope gets upended by a girl playing detective who’s a complete innocent encountering a wider world of adulthood mystery.
I Have The Right To Destroy Myself – Young-Ha Kim (2007): A Korean novel from the mid-90s where all the women exist to commit suicide and the guys make art and dream about cars. I don’t know what to make of this book. It’s narrator is a bit Holden Caulfield-esque – if Holden was a serial killer going around Seoul convincing alienated twenty-somethings to kill themselves. And that’s what the novel sort of exudes and revels in: twenty-somethingness that mistakes a shallow morbid lack of empathy for profundity.
Storm Kings – Lee Sandlin (2013): Two-fisted tales of meteorology! This is a fascinating account of the oft-contentious history of American meteorology and storm chasing from the Colonial Era (Ben Franklin and his kite) to the modern day. The chapter titled “The Finger of God” is worth reading, even if it’s just in the bookstore.
Jack Glass – Adam Roberts (2012): Fantomas of the spaceways that sometimes downgrades to fan fiction for equations. I preferred the former more than the latter.
Random Acts of Senseless Violence – Jack Womack (1993): The Diary of Anne Frank meets Clockwork Orange by way of Gossip Girl set in a dystopian USA that looks more familiar than it should. At the end you either feel sad for Lola, its protagonist, or glad that she’s adapted to her changing environment. Worth tracking down.