Another one of those books I can just pick up and read when I have nothing else to read is Last and First Men by Olaf Stapledon.
I’ve mentioned him here before, but the book deserves some singular attention. It’s a novel without characters except the general human race that reads as the history of the next several million years documenting the rise and fall of civilizations on Earth, then Venus, and later Neptune. There’s a war against Martians, Venusians, and others. Glimpses into religious ideals of the various civilizations and like a thousand ideas for your role-playing game. Every page holds its brilliant little kernel of ideas:
For some thousands of years the race remained in a most precarious condition, now almost dying out, now rapidly attaining an extravagant kind of culture in some region where physical nature happened to be peculiarly favourable. One of these precarious flashes of spirit occurred in the Yang-tze valley as a sudden and brief effulgence of city states peopled by neurotics, geniuses and imbeciles. The lasting upshot of this civilization was a brilliant literature of despair, dominated by a sense of the difference between the actual and the potential in man and the universe. Later, when the race had attained its noontide glory, it was wont to brood upon this tragic voice from the past in order to remind itself of the underlying horror of existence.
Shit. What was their breakfast cereal like?
Anyway the covers are secondary to the book itself. The first cover makes you expect an Armageddon disaster novel, the second’s cool in its way, the third bland but colorful, and the fourth gets points for getting in your face with the Ernst Haeckel. The covers don’t matter. This is one of those books people foist on you, mad-eyed like, “YOU GOTTA READ THIS!”.
So let me be one of them: for folks that want some big idea SF that they can read in desultory fashion, this book is the answer.
This will be an RPG update post. If that sounds boring, tedious, and/or excruciating, then I suggest you look away.
For the past six months or so I’ve been playing in a face to face Pathfinder game down the road in Gyeongju. It’s been great fun (although I can’t really be bothered to learn all the rules of Pathfinder and do all the accounting – honestly, I don’t think I’ve updated my character’s skills in levels), and it’s made me realize how much I missed regular face-to-face games. Don’t get me wrong, G+ games are fun; I can’t believe I’ve run a game for two years now. But, having a local gaming group that meets regularly and rolls the funny dice together? Can’t beat it.
Of course, the buddy from town that makes the trip with me and I are talking about starting a new game here in town. Our current idea is to run a campaign where every character is the same class (either fighters or thieves, so every adventure is either a Black Company novel or a heist movie – also maybe start characters at 2nd level, so they can have 1 level in another class).
But trying to get a game together here in town is proving to be a bit on the silly side. There are lots of stealth gamers and lots of enthusiasm, but no one wants to set the time aside to actually do it. Not only that, but it’s been fun to once again witness that creeping shame of not wanting to look a nerd when you mention RPGs that some people never get over.
It’ll be interesting to see if anything actually happens. As it is I’m pleased to have the game groups that I do.
Back in 2010 when I first moved to South Korea and was living in a town of ~200 people, friends back in the States sent me some books (thank you again Rick, Kris, Jeff, and Geoffrey!)
Among the books and magazines were a few paperback anthologies from the 60s and 70s. A more innocent time when paperbacks had cigarette ads in them, and you could put a half-naked hooded fat man in tights on the cover and no one at all would look at it and think maybe it’s not a good idea.
A couple of recent additions to Project Gutenberg that look like they might be worth a further look simply on account of their illustrations alone.
“In every manor there was held annually the assize of bread and ale, the two staple articles of diet which it was essential should be pure and of good quality. “Bread, the staff of life, and beer life itself,” not unknown as a motto on the signboards, is a saying that[Pg 97] has come down to us from a prehistoric period. And modern science, as it seems, is inclined to endorse the maxim. Good old-fashioned wheaten and rye bread, made from the whole flour from which only the coarser brans had been sifted, built up the stamina of our forefathers. Their chief drink was ale brewed from barley or oaten malt. The small proportion of alcohol served as a vehicle for the organic phosphates necessary for the sustenance of strong nerves, while the ferment of the malt helped to digest the starch granules in the bread. Bread and ale are still the main diet of our labouring classes—but alas! stale, finely-sifted flour contains a very poor allowance of gluten, and chemically produced saccharine is destitute of phosphates. O, that our modern legislators would revive the assize of bread and ale!”
And from The History of Mourning:
“The Italians, and especially the Venetians, spent enormous sums upon their funeral services, which were exceedingly picturesque; but as the members of the brotherhoods who walked in the procession wore pointed hoods and masks, so that, by the glare of the torches, only their eyes could be seen glittering, and as it was the custom, also, for the funeral to take place at night, the body being exposed upon an open bier, in full dress, the scene was sufficiently weird to attract the attention of travellers.”
Small follow-up on Law & Order: Elementary School. Three of the four kids have been removed from their class and switched into other classes. (There are four 6th grades at my school, all these kids were in one, now they’re spread amongst the four.) I’m not sure what affect this will have. Maybe it will make a difference. Possibly apart they’ll be less trouble. Or possibly they’ll spread their influence to all the other classes and I’ll end up with three more fuxxored classes.
I suspect it will be some alternating combination of the two.
Here are my ten favorite reads for the past year.
Yes, this list ignores publication dates, and the numbers are arbitrary.
1. A Pretty Mouth by Molly Tanzer
2. Memory by Linda Nagata
3. Snitch World by Jim Nisbet
4. A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar
5. Dagon by Fred Chappell
6. Temporary Agency by Rachel Pollack
7. Engine Summer by John Crowley
8. Fair Play by Tove Jansson
9. Linger Awhile by Russell Hoban
10. The Trouble With Testosterone by Robert M. Sapolsky