How are you? I'm thinking about lines between the mid-period Clash singles, Marc Bolan and Destiny's Child's Lose My Breath. Because I remain me. Sadly. No-one can save me.
Bigger On The Inside
Yes, it's my triumphant return to the Marvel Universe, before I immediately leave again. Spinning off Donny Cates' brutally energetic THANOS, this is an anthology of Really Awful Things Thanos Has Done. Editor Jordan asked me if I had any ideas, and I was about to say No, when something came to mind. André Lima Araújo (“He Who Drew The Meat Lyre”) and Chris O'Halloran illustrated it, and it was a fun thing to do. Lots of my favourite people do shorts as well, so if you like murderous titans, this is for you, evidently. Anyway – my shot at a Nicki-Minaj-esque Guest Verse, about a real Monster. Hope you like it.
Oh – new Doctor Aphra too. Yay Aphra.
This week's reading is for the next WicDiv special. And yes, this will inevitably lead to the WicDiv conspiracists heading off and trying to work out what I'm doing, based on things we've already said in the book, because we've got them pretty well trained by now. Actually, of all the specials, this is the lightest in research. It's a simple, character driven story with a minimum of human parts, and I'm looking for the relevant period detail and an exact setting. I thought The Great Mortality would provide that. It totes did.
It follows the Plague on its tour of Grand Tour Of Europe, hitting all the cities and decimating their populations. It's best in making each city live before decimating it - it has an almost soap-ish vigour in its choice of anecdote, and some of its interest in the figures of power is openly scurrilous. The writing leans witty – and while it defines the book, it's not an approach which does much to convey the physical awfulness of the second biggest die-off humanity has ever faced, and regularly undercuts it. There are exceptions which lean into the corpse's physicality, but they feel like exceptions.
I have two other reservations. The book uses the plague as the backbone of the piece, and feels free to wander off to talk about connected issues it likes – I tended to think of the guy in the pub who knows a lot about a topic, but extends his stories by bringing in details from other topics he knows about. The cruel image comes to mind: Jeremy Clarkson plus book learning. That these are often not developed or examined sufficiently leads me to have suspicion of the book as a whole. I was put on alert for this early on when an observation about the Little Optimum (8th century higher temperatures) seguing into an off-handed piece of Climate Change Denial – or at least an observation which could fuel it. Frankly, this is irresponsible. Do it properly or not at all..
The other reservation is one of omission. Early on, it's mentioned that while Europe called it The Great Mortality, it was known as The Year Of Annihilation in the middle east. The tour takes every country in Europe, it never follows the arrows on its opening map to Cairo, to Jerusalem. This was a disappointment. It's a similar (though less obvious) story with China, which gets a couple of interesting details – that the area being so war-torn in the period making it difficult to judge what was Plague test – but little more. While it is called The Great Mortality (its name in Europe) it subtitle is An Intimate History Of The Black Death not An Intimate History Of The Black Death (In Europe).
I'm obviously being hard on the book – I enjoyed it, found it useful and it did everything I required. Some of the associated topics it explores are excellent - it's particularly good with the antisemitism of the period and the murderous wave of pogroms the Plague provoked. Equally, where it's good, it's particularly good – it's a travel journal of this slice of the medieval period, but with a plague as the wandering reporter. You get a portrait of almost all the great cities of Europe, and it made me want to know more about nearly all of them. I love non-fiction as a gateaway to other bits of non-fiction, and the raconteur aspect of the book is perfect for that kind of prompt.
I was asked to read Scotto Moore's debut Novella by Tor for possibly giving a quote. I don't know Scotto, so me saying yes would be a surprise, except for the fact it's called Your Favourite Band Cannot Save You. I gave it the following blurb: “understands a key truth about Ziggy Stardust: Rock and roll messiahs are really fucking scary.” You like what Jamie and me do, you'll probably like it.
Amiga Power was the greatest magazine in gaming history. Along with Melody Maker, it's the other half of my pop-journalist heart. It was my Beatles. It was also the first place I ever wrote for money for, in its byzantine days, mainly hammering out tips under my pseudonym C-Monster. This led to things like doing walkthroughs of an early FPS, and naming all the monsters after characters from My (So-Called) Life, because this is basically the sort of stuff AP ran off. On one hand, this was a bit like getting to play the triangle in the Beatles. On the other I got to play a triangle in the fucking Beatles. Stuart Campbell and assorted chums have actually assembled the whole run in scanned form, which will give people of a certain age nostalgia and worth nosing at for those who are interested in games writing, because basically about 70% of the stuff I ripped off (and then everyone else ripped off from me) is right here.
A little secretly-ironic arrogance there, AS IS MY RIGHT AS AN EX-MIGHTY BEING.
(No-one is going to get this – Ed)
I bought INIS... November last year, I believe. I finally managed to play it last night. That's an example of why I've basically stopped buying boardgames, as I simply am bad at organising groups now. It's good enough that I wanted to write about it now, but I have to head out to Dan Watters' signing for his DEEP ROOTS which debuts today.
It's a great design – a real sense of concentration and drive to it. It seems to have so few moving parts, but just writhes beneath your fingers. I'll look forward to having another game by October at this rate. In the mean time, I'll direct you to Shut Up And Sit Down's review for more. Just look at the art on this lovely box. All the interior stuff is just as good.
Oh – DEEP ROOTS! I read this, and it's Watters and Rodrigues doing a particularly sharp and playful take on Fae apocalyptica. Or is it? It's one of those sort of books. Out this week.
I'm a little over half way through the latest WicDiv special. It's either going to be WicDiv 1372 or 1373 depending on how a beat falls, and is surprising me with every page. Mainly, in being shocked at how it's finding ways to be dour on a scale that even regular WicDiv struggles to reach. This is just horrible. I suspect the writer notes for this will just read “you know I was raised Catholic, right?”
I've almost cleared my inbox, which means that I'm actually responding to mails about next-projects-after-current-projects. Which is fun – there's a couple of short things I'm thinking of throwing on the slate to stretch in a couple of random directions. Plus there's a handful of really microprojects I'm increasingly sure I'm doing. I've said I'd do another prose short for an anthology, and it's likely I'll be writing something in a guest-format for a digital thing. While the grand sweep of a five year epic is one thing, I'm also someone who likes the velocity of microprojects. It's something I think comes from my background as a working journalist and critic – while the script-a-week model of sustainable mainstream comics is pretty close to the longform essay feel of that, there were also weeks were I just hit a half dozen things, varying from a few thousand words to a couple of sentences. An idea, expressed succinctly, and out. That keeps you awake and agile.
Of course, my main creative worry is wondering whether I can successfully run Blades In The Dark for a group of two complete RPG newbies and two played-a-session-or-two neophytes. Hmm. It may not be wise, or even possible, but I'm finding it hard to resist.