Monday, August 15, 2016

Moorcock Mondays: The Stealer of Souls

Stormbringer RPG supplement
We just finished The Stealer of Souls this past weekend. The title was the first Elric "novel" that Michael Moorcock published. It's a fix-up of the first several Elric stories he wrote. The book begins with Elric mobilizing the fleets of his allies, the merchant princes of the Isle of the Purple Towns, to sack the home of his forefathers: the Melnibonean city of Imrryr. The first story ends with Imrryr's destruction in flames. And the destruction of the raiders' fleet, thanks to Melnibonean dragons.

I read the first Jerry Cornelius novel earlier this year, so I understand exactly what Alan Moore meant in his essay, "The Return of the White Duke", when he points out that both sequences begin with the hero (Elric or Jerry) setting out to burn his father's home to the ground, AND rescue an imprisoned female kinswoman. In both cases also, it is a servant who opens a back door to allow the hero ingress to carry out his plan.

For Alan Moore, this is one sign that Elric has a presence, even within many of Moorcock's more literary and experimental traces. There's lipstick traces of Elric everywhere.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Moorcock Mondays

The Second Foundation Reading Group will be taking on the work of Michael Moorcock, especially the Elric and other Eternal Champion stories, for its meeting on Sunday, September 11, 2-4 PM at Parkway Pizza on Minnehaha Avenue in Minneapolis. People who are interested in Moorcock are most welcome to attend!

I am currently reading the first volume of the recent Del Rey Elric series: Elric: The Stealer of Souls, Chronicles of the Last Emperor of Melnibone, Volume I. This volume contains two fixup novels, The Stealer of Souls and Stormbringer. Judging from the first volume, the Del Rey series appears to be structured primarily in the order in which the Elric novels were originally published. In other words, some of the "later" episodes in the life of Elric of Melnibone were published first. 

The collections also feature art from various Elric publications, maps of the Young Kingdoms, various essays by Moorcock and others on Elric, the Eternal Champions, and Moorcockian fantasy, as well as samples of related or not-so-related works and inspirations for Elric (such as the Sexton Blake pulp detective series). I remember being really irritated by the Del Rey volumes' "jumbled" order of Elric stories-cum-Moorcockiana. But essays like the evocative opener by Alan Moore, which reveals the plot homologies between The Stealer of Souls and the first Jerry Cornelius novel, are adding to my appreciation of the texts as I encounter them again.

Each volume also contains new art by a featured artist. Volume I's featured artist is John Picacio, whose work strikes me as somewhat vacant; the cover at least is vibrant, I suppose.

I hope to finish The Stealer of Souls in the next couple of days and then begin rereading Stormbringer.  The stories are great to come back to again; I haven't read them since the '70s. The Elric stories are more literary than I remembered. Not bad at all.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Ryuutama Saturday

This is the "world map" for my Ryuutama session at Diversicon 24 this weekend. The game happens from 1-4 PM on Saturday. My favorite game to run this year has been Ryuutama. Its rules are easy for players to learn. The characters are interesting. The monsters range from cute to terrifying. The game's mechanics are very traditional, but the writing and art do most of the heavy lifting in creating a Miyazaki mood. Come join us if you're coming to Diversicon.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Ou Lu Khen and the Beautiful Madwoman

A couple of months ago, I found a copy of Ou Lu Khen and the Beautiful Madwoman (1985) by Jessica Amanda Salmonson. I missed out on reading this work in the 1980s. Now, I've been fond of Jessica's other works from back then for decades: especially the Tomoe Gozen trilogy, the singleton novel, The Swordswoman, as well as her two Amazons anthologies. Each of these for me served as a companion piece to Lee Gold's classic and magnificent samurai RPG Land of the Rising Sun - but the value goes even deeper.

With its overtly LGBTQ characters, Tomoe Gozen was also a kindred spirit to the classic RPG works Deeds of the Ever-Glorious and the Tekumel Sourcebook by M.A.R. Barker. It might be an exaggeration to say that these works are the reason I am alive today. All I can say with any certainty is that they were among the very few things that sustained me in the days when I was struggling to come out. Back then positive representations of LGBTQ persons were few and far between - in both SF&F and gaming.

But Ou Lu Khen and the Beautiful Madwoman (there, I typed the title for the first time without writing "Beautiful Swordswoman"!) is very different from the other Salmonson novels that I'very read. The other novels are written in the terse style familiar to readers of swords & sorcery. Ou Lu Khen's style is more meditative, reflective, lyrical, and descriptive.

It takes its time going places.

But it does go places, and that's not always something that happens (for me) in stories about unrequited (or almost-unrequited) love. The novel is very intentionally an exploration of human suffering. It takes the form of a quest - really, five different characters' quests - or three journeys along the same path.

On these journeys, we encounter a river serpent, a giant frog monster, a winged demon that calls itself Garuda, a weretiger, a Naga, and an incarnation of Ganesh. We wander inside a vast, iconic ancient-ruined-city-as-dungeon. In a moment of transformation, we meet a bodhisattva, a place in which the novel reminded me of another enlightenment occurring long after (and long before) the novel was written.

People interested in Buddhism and fans of Hmong forest tales are in for a treat.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

La Compania for Free RPG Day

I ran two games for Free RPG Day. The first was "Slugfest," using Lamentations of the Flame Princess. This was my first time running Lamentations, which is a pretty crisp little retroclone. The PCs were members of La Compania, a private mercenary company in the pay of the Viceroy of New Spain.

I was pretty proud of the PCs that I created for the game (eight created, five used), which included one based on Lance Hendrickson's "Bishop", another based on the notorious historical figure Malinche (didn't get played), and another a member of the von Bek family (I often have a von Bek or another of the Moorcockian-Hal Duncanian lines of Champions in my games).

They PCs entered a Smoking Mirror Engine beneath an ancient shrine to an ur-Lord Tezcatlipoca in the long-abandoned city of Teotihuacan, and proceeded though a series of Engine gate links to alien worlds. First they were surprised coming out of a gate by Octovoidal Transvectors, and later had an encounter with some Achernarians investigating a crashed starship module.

The mood shifted from grim SF to goofy Slugfest shortly thereafter. The slug minis up above are Garganta-Slugs from the Hereticwerks blog, as were the Octovoidal Transvectors and the Achernarians, who have been recurrent characters in a number of my Fate, Dr Who, and old school SF games.

The Slugs sourcebook for Free RPG Day has great illustration (with typical, not-for-children LoTFP flourishes). But I don't really see the "gaming revolution" promised in its introduction and the re-release hype. There's a difference between revolution and revolt, which is why both punk and metal were ultimately dead ends, but persist as simulacra. I'll leave it there.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

More on Tomoe Gozen

I am not sure whether it was Lee Gold's Land of the Rising Sun RPG, or Jessica Amanda Salmonson's novel Tomoe Gozen where I first learned of the rapid draw-strike-sheathe sword art of iaijutsu, but the novel ends with a moving dueling scene as ably depicted above by Wendy Adrian Shultz. (I love her illustration, and I believe she also illustrated Phyllis Ann Karr's Wildwraith's Last Battle).

It's a moving scene - particularly the aftermath of the duel.

Prior to the Epilog, which is where the duel occurs, the third part of the book deals with a mishap at sea, and adventures on a mysterious island. There is a memorable sex scene (among many other things). So I am not sure how I had forgotten this part of the book entirely.

Or had I?

You see, in our recent Ryuutama RPG games, I had created a setting called The Sinking Lands, which served as an alternate setting which allowed Rachel to play from time-to-time rather than GM. I had thought that this setting was more influenced (if anything) by the swampy landscape in C.J. Cherryh's Gate of Ivrel but now that I have re-read the third part of Tomoe Gozen, I notice a couple of supernatural similarities (for clues, seek the Labels to this post).

There's no failed marriage though.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Tomoe Gozen

Jessica Amanda Salmonson is our Guest of Honor at this year's Diversicon 24, July 29-31. Right now I am re-reading her first novel, Tomoe Gozen, for the first time since I read it the year of its publication in 1981. It tells the story of Tomoe Gozen, a female samurai who is mentioned in the Tale of the Heike, the epic poem of the struggle between the Taira and Minamoto clans in 12th Century Japan.

This may have been the first novel I read that had openly LGBTQ characters, but at any rate it was definitely the first novel (for me) that did not make a "big deal" out of same sex attraction. This was just a few short years before I came out. My first reading of Tomoe Gozen was at roughly the same time that I was reading Death's Master and Night's Master by Tanith Lee, as well as Runequest 2nd edition.

The early 1980s was a good time for fantasy.

I'm about two thirds of the way through Tomoe Gozen, the first novel of a trilogy about the character. The novel has held up very well in the 35 years since its original publication. One of the things that is very striking upon re-reading it is how much the novel also touches on the hero's sense of her own madness/sanity as she has terrible and wonderful experiences across the landscape of fantastic medieval Japan.

After I finish Tomoe Gozen, I am going to read for the first time Salmonson's novel set in fantastic China, Ou Lu Khen and the Beautiful Madwoman (1985). My goal is to complete reading that novel before the Second Foundation reading group meeting on June 12, 2-4 PM at Parkway Pizza in South Minneapolis. Our topic will be the works of Jessica Amanda Salmonson - advance reading for the convention.

My itinerary after the reading group meeting will be to complete Tomoe Gozen trilogy, re-read The Swordswoman (Jessica's only ostensibly SFnal novel), and then read Anthony Shriek (her horror novel). I'll also be preparing a Ryuutama game for the convention, taking at least a little inspiration from her novels.