Somewhere outside the realm of logic and linear time lies the Akashic Library, its phantasmagorical shelves stretching off endlessly into the distance. What unknown esoterica shall we uncover there today? Read on, visitor, and find out . . .
Hello, Happy March! For a monthly newsletter, I'm cutting this one pretty close to the wire--but look at the calendar, it is indeed still March. This time I have a gift for you, a free copy of a brand new game. But first . . .
Last time I told you about the Kickstarter campaign for the RPG Swann Castle that my daughter Blu and I are writing. The Kickstarter concluded and we ended up raising $1588, which was enough for us to hit our two stretch goals, hurray! That means we added extra world descriptions and we were able to commission art by Evlyn Moreau. Evlyn just sent me a sketch for her first piece, and it's looking good.
I also have an uncolored cover illustration from James Hornsby, check it:
The blank spot at the top is where the title goes, obvs. But look at that, the life, the dynamism, the excitement! James is a treasure.
Blu and I continue to work on Swann Castle. We've added some more sections to the book, because we can't help ourselves, but we've almost got a complete draft of the text done. We're still on track to have it finished in the summer.
I BELIEVE I PROMISED YOU A FREE GAME
That's right, I did. I was going to attach a PDF to this email but it turns out my account won't allow me to do that. So rather than upgrade, I'm going to share a link to the Google Doc, but first let me give you some context. This is a storytelling game called Bel-Eresh. It's about the incomprehensibly vast history of a 100,000 year old city, and players work together to reconstruct stories from the past. I started work on this years ago, set it aside and forgot about it, then recently got it out and finished it up.
Here's the link. (If, for some reason, you can't access a Google Doc, let me know and I'll figure out some other way to get it to you). This is just a first draft, mind you, and there's no artwork or fancy layout, just text. This has not been playtested--I just finished writing it this morning. I'm going to try to revise it and release it later this year but you, friend, get this exclusive sneak peek. Feel free to leave comments on the doc. I would love to hear about people's experiences playing it--maybe give it a try, and let me know how it goes?
I STILL HAVE BOOKS AVAILABLE THROUGH KINDLE VELLA
You can read the entirety of my occult detective novel The Lobster-Quadrille on Kindle Vella. If you like hardboiled detectives, men with lobsters for heads, Nancy Drew, occult conspiracies, and/or the works of Lewis Carroll, go ahead and start at the beginning.
There are also 26 chapters available of my science-fiction adventure Armistice Hawkins and the New Architects of Creation. I will finish it in the near future! I wanted it to be done by now but Swann Castle has taken up a lot of my time.
BOOKS I'VE READ SINCE LAST TIME
Fade In: From Idea to Final Draft – The Writing of Star Trek: Insurrection, Michael Piller
Captain America: The Bloodstone Hunt, Mark Gruenwald, Kieron Dwyer, and various
The Dying Earth, Jack Vance
Defenders Beyond, Al Ewing and Javier Rodriguez
Dear Martin, Nic Stone
The Eyes of the Overworld, Jack Vance
Namor, the Sub-Mariner: Who Strikes for Atlantis?, Roy Thomas, Marie Severin, John Buscema, and various
Yes, I read a book about the making of Star Trek: Insurrection, I'm not sure how that happened. It's not like the movie is a favorite of mine.
The stand-outs of the stuff I read were the first two Dying Earth books by Jack Vance. This was self-assigned homework, so I could run the DCC Dying Earth role-playing game. I backed the Kickstarter, and got SO MUCH cool stuff in the mail last week:
They hit a lot of stretch goals. It's a beautiful package--in fact, look closer at this glorious cover by Erol Otus:
Magic! Over the weekend I stayed in a cabin in a state park and hung out with some of my closest friends, and on Saturday I ran this adventure, "Pilgrims of the Black Obelisk," for Steve, Josh, Andy, and Stacy. It was hugely fun! Recommended.
But, the RPG aside, the Dying Earth books are great. The first one, The Dying Earth, is a collection of 6 loosely connected stories set millions of years in the future in the final days of Earth. The sun is red and bloated, the mountains are worn smooth, and countless civilizations have risen, fallen, and been forgotten. Magicians memorize the few remaining spells and create life in vats; ne'er-do-wells roam about and try to make easy money. The book was published in 1950, and it holds up very well for the most part--as you might expect, the women tend to be passive love interests, but there are a couple of active female protagonists.
The second book, Eyes of the Overworld, focuses on Cugel the Clever, a morally bankrupt schemer and thief, and his long journey home and the adventures he has along the way. Cugel is an awful person but so are most of the people he encounters, and everyone inevitably suffers for their bad choices.
Reading these books I asked myself, "Why haven't I heard more about these? These should be beloved classics of Fantasy Literature!" Then I remembered, most readers in our current world get caught up in characters first and foremost. As I understand it, many people want to read about likeable characters, because they want to imagine themselves as the character, or they want to imagine themselves hanging out with the character (I'm sure this sounds obvious, but I'm a weirdo and an English major and I frequently forget people read this way.) In this series, the first book is an ensemble piece with few recurring characters and the second is about an unlikeable character, with no consistent supporting cast, who does not grow or change, so no real draw for character identification.
One of the great joys of the book is the language Vance uses, and the strangely formal and colorful dialogue, but it seems like most modern readers, at least of fantasy, have no interest in the aesthetic value of prose. That's the impression I get, anyway, from this widely criticized profile of best-selling fantasy author Brandon Sanderson and this thoughtful blog post about what people mean when they talk about "transparent prose." People want clean, tidy, predictable stories about nice people having adventures.
There is another way of approaching fantasy, though, where you want the author to transport you to an unfamiliar world. And though that world might not make any logical sense, the author brings it to life for you with beautiful writing so that it feels real, and you delight in the fascinating people and creatures you see there, and the whole fills you with a sense of mystery and wonder, of encountering something sublime, something you've never seen before. That's what these books do.
Well, I sure ended up writing more about the Dying Earth than I meant to. But the Dying Earth is a world with a lot of history, and so is Bel-Eresh--so what do you know, this newsletter is thematically coherent. Let's pretend I planned that.
Take some time to ponder ancient history, friend, and I'll talk to you in April.