Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Texas in June (NETrpgCon)

So, I wanted to share the news that this June I'll be travelling down to Dallas to attend the NETRPGCON, or North-east Texas role-playing games convention. I've been wanting to go to this for years but other commitments have prevented that from happening. This is the year it finally all came together. I'm really looking forward to it.

First off, playing roleplaying games (esp. AD&D 1st edition, Call of Cthulhu, and Pendragon) is my favorite hobby. And the chance to spend a weekend playing games and watching other people play games and talking with folks about games is my idea of a good weekend.

And second, it's been a long time since I've been to a rpg con. I always used to go to GenCon, but the last one of those I attended was the last one held in Milwaukee, back in 2002. And this one is geared to old games, which are the ones I like best.

Here's a link to general information about the con itself.

And here's a list of guests -- some of whom I worked with back in Lake Geneva days (1991 to 1997), some I know only as legends of the industry who'd worked for TSR back before my day, whom I look forward to meeting:

We have the following confirmed guests at this time (Bill Barsh, Wolfgang Baur, Jobe Bittman, Bob Bledsaw Jr., Jason Braun, David "Zeb" Cook, Chris Clark, Michael Curtis, Darlene, Jeff Dee, Jeff Easley, Matt Finch, Ernest "Skeeter" Green, Allan Grohe, Jeff Grubb, Allen Hammack, Lance Hawvermale, Jack Herman, Jon Hershberger, Alex Kammer, Tim Kask, Doug Kovacs, David "Diesel" LaForce, Stephen Marsh, Frank Mentzer, Erol Otus, Terry Pavlet, Steve Perrin, Stefan Pokorny, Merle Rasmussen, John D. Rateliff, Mike Stewart, Dr. Dennis Sustare, Jeff Talanian, Jim Wampler, Bill Webb, Steven Winter). The lineup usually includes several of the more important figures in the history of RPGs as a whole and Dungeons & Dragons in particular.

So, if you're there and see me wander by, say hi.  If you want to sit down and talk a while, ask me about Tolkien.

--John R.
current reading: Stephen Jay Gould, BULLY FOR BRONTESAURUS (?1992)

Wednesday, February 28, 2018


So, Rivendell, the long-running Minneapolis/St. Paul area smial (book group)* recently did something new for their January book-of-the-moth: a web comic. This was one I'd not heard of before, called GUNNERKRIGG COURT, but once I took a look I was hooked. It's science fantasy, about a group of kids attending a rather strange academy. Some have incipient powers (like teleportation), at least one is a mad scientist (the main character's best friend and sometimes roommate), and not all are fully human (like the girl without eyes**). The story starts with them as basically kids (I'd guess first year in junior high) and follows them through the next several years. Unlike many strips, which are locked in an eternal present, here time passes and the characters age, with some interesting consequences when hormones start to kick in. It's clear that there's a well thought out overarching story which the author gives out to us bit by bit, with the implications and consequences of things the characters do only becoming apparent a good deal afterwards (hey, kinda like real life).

The style of drawing changes a lot over the course of the strip; I'd recommend picking a random point and diving in, then if you like it going back to the start and reading straight through. At any rate that's what I did, starting with the chapter where a ghost*** tries to haunt the main character but finds she's unimpressed by anything in his repertoire; she winds up giving him advice on how to make his effects creepier. It's a good, short bit that gives a good hint of the overall flavor of the strip.

Here's the link:


current anime : Antarctica (seasick episode);Death March; Grancrest; Ancient Magus

most recent ebook: A FINE AND PRIVATE PLACE, the newest Flavia de Luce novel by Alan Bradley (this series finding its feet again after having ran seriously off the rails a few books back; still a bit of going-through-the-motions though with lots and lots of loose ends).

other recent books: MEDDLING KIDS, a ScoobyDoo gang, grown up, meets Cthulhu Mythos story (great concept, poor execution; THE FOURTH WALL, a murder mystery play by A. A. Milne (poor); DINOSAURS (A Very Short Introduction); and currently a collection of Stephen Jay Gould essays (good!)
**except when it rains.
***whose full backstory we get much later, including how he met his death and why he's haunting the Court.

Monday, February 26, 2018

When an Author dislikes His or Her Cover Art

So, I was bemused by the news that a fantasy author (Terry Goodkind), whose work I've not read, expressed his dislike of the cover art for his most recent book. The artist responded, with dignity if a little testily, that he'd done the job as requested and a little professionalism wd be appreciated. The comments that I saw on this were interesting in that most seemed to have no sense of the near-total lack of contact between an author and his or her illustrator.

Unless things have changed greatly, and I don't think they have, the art is the responsibility of the art director, who usually sends to the artist a detailed description of what the piece should look like. The artist produces a rough sketch and sends it in; the art director either accepts it as is or requests various changes. The artist then does the finished piece and does the turnover. The art director may send the author an image of the cover as a courtesy, or then again he or she may not. If the author does see the art and objects to something in the picture, it raises a lot of ill will but doesn't affect the outcome unless the author is someone with a lot of pull, and sometimes not even then (as in the present case).

It's sometimes more complicated than this --e.g. Marketing tends to get involved at some point-- but roughly speaking the cover art is out of the author's hands. Still, it's considered bad form for an author to badmouth his or her book's artwork, or even to request a different artist next time: those decisions lie within the art director's purview. My suspicion is that Goodkind, having sold twenty-five million books, has decided to speak his mind. Luckily a lot of people have rallied round the artist, so it doesn't seem like there will be any practical fallout from the episode, just some lingering bad feeling.

Here's the link to the story, as it was told in THE GUARDIAN:

current viewing: old Philip Marlowe movies (mostly very bad).
current reading: DINOSAURS: A VERY SHORT INTRODUCTION (a quick check to see how much of what I was taught in school is now discredited),

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Cat Report (W. 2/7-18)

Just two cats today: no-longer-so-shy MOUSEY and newcomer BELLA. Both were alert when I arrived, thanks to my fellow volunteers from the preceding shift: Mousey relaxed and Bella on edge. Over the course of two hours Bella went from crouching behind her litter box to sprawling on her blankets, happily sniffing up catnip. It turns out Bella loves catnip. She let me pet her, scratch under her collar, rub her chin, so long as I was petting her with a little bag stuffed with catnip. She ended the morning blissed out on her blankets. Didn’t play any games for me (most of them just seemed to put her on edge), but did watch the laser pointer with interest, so think she’ll enjoy that once she settles in. Which I don’t think will take that long.

MOUSEY had a long walk (the better part of an hour), during which he showed that he’s a smart cat: he now has the layout of the entire store in his head, and mapped out the routes he wanted to follows. He did get stymied at one point, when he wanted to get from the far side of the store over back towards the cat-room but there was a large dog barking in the way (nr Banfield); he took a lot of time trying to figure out a detour. He did slip under the shelves at one point but was quickly recovered: he’d only just ducked out of sight. I think it’s a good sign that the mewing has pretty much stopped: he’s a lot more confident on the leash now.  

Not long before the shift ended, my fellow volunteer took a call from a potential adopter who’s interested in Mr. Mousey and said he plans to drop by while an adoption councilor is there this evening. I really hope this is Mr. Mousey’s time and that it’s a good match. I’ll be really glad if he goes home, though I’ll also really miss him.

—John R.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

an early anti-Lewis, anti-Sayers book

So, just recently I've become curious about the early days of Inklings studies, and how differently things seem to have looked from a pre-Carpenter point of view.* Pursuant thereto, a few days ago arrived a copy arrived of a book I've heard about for a long time but never read: Kathleen Nott's THE EMPEROR'S CLOTHES. This is an attack on postWar English literary figures advocating a return to a traditionalist Xianity, focusing mainly on Eliot, Sayers, G.Green, and Lewis; the relevant chapter so far as Inklings studies goes being "Lord Peter Views the Soul", which is mostly a closely-argued refutation of CSL's MIRACLES (published just a few years earlier, in 1947, and generally considered the least successful of Lewis's apologetical books).

From my point of view, more interesting than its philosophical approach is the fact that Nott's book was published as far back as 1953, making it I think one of the very earliest book to devote a chapter and more to an Inkling. The only one still earlier I can think of wd be Chad Walsh's book on CSL, APOSTLE TO THE SKEPTICS (1949). Others I can think of as belonging to this ur-generation of pseudoInklings studies are Hadfield's INTRODUCTION TO CHARLES WILLIAMS (1959), and Charles Moorman's ARTHURIAN TRIPTYCH: MYTHIC MATERIALS IN CHARLES WILLIAMS, C. S. LEWIS, and T. S. ELIOT (1960).**

All of these were published during Lewis's lifetime. Am I leaving out anything? Is there a book back from those early days I'm overlooking or not taking into account?

--John R.
today's music: the new Barenaked Ladies album (thanks, Stan).

*most notably that they tend to include T. S. Eliot and Dorothy L. Sayers as belonging to the same group as CSL, and that they tend to omit mention of Tolkien, who was not yet on their radar.


Friday, February 2, 2018

My Favorite Le Guin

So, last week when I heard the sad news about Ursula K. Le Guin's  death I wanted to make a post  about her and her work but found myself unable to come up with any suitable words. Having since come across some posts I made when we saw her give a reading and book signing in the area a few years ago, I thought I'd repost that as a memorial.

Thinking over what were my own favorite Le Guins, I realized that most people think of her first and foremost as a novelist while I've always thought her best works were short stories and essays -- that is, that I valued her most highly as a short-storyteller and critic. Hence those loom large in any short list of my time-tested favorites among her works:


--drawings of her cat in and out of ornamental pots, demonstrating the zen of cats. She kindly autographed my copy to our three cats, being careful to spell each one's name rightly.

"The Rule of Names"

--her Tolkien tribute and my favorite, bar none, of all the Earthsea stories, with a wicked little twist at the end.

THE LANGUAGE OF THE NIGHT (esp "Poughkeepsie, though I no longer agree with her thesis, and "The Staring Eye")

--the book that established Le Guin as a major critic of the fantasy genre; provided a lot of clarity at a time when the professional critics and academics were stumbling over each other in attempts to grapple with the new genre of fantasy.

And finally and most hauntingly, "The Ones Who Walk Away for Omelas"

--the most unsettling utopia I've ever come across. It stays with you, this one; I was glad to see it called out by name in the NPR tribute to her.*

--John R.

current reading: THE PROUD TOWER (Tuchman),THE INKLINGS AND KING ARTHUR (Higgins)

*the other nice touch was that not only this piece but various ones from major newspapers that I saw online ALL GOT HER NAME RIGHT by including the middle initial. As someone who always uses his initial and all-too-often sees it dropped, I admire her persistence in wanting to use a specific form of her own name.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Wednesday Cat Walking (Mousey)

What a week for adoptions. Since I was in the cat-room last ATLAS got sent up north to meet up with his pending adopter. We had new arrivals mother-daughter pair Millie and Tink,  and PANDA, all three of whom got adopted almost right away. Shy PEACHES had no sooner settled in than she found a home of her own as wellTo top it all off, we got reports that several recently adopted cats are doing really well in their new homes.

That leaves just our special-needs cat, MOUSEY (Mr. Wobbles).* When I arrived the morning shift had him all taken care of (food, water, clean box, attention) and in a good mood. He squirmed, as usual, when I put the leash on, but unlike previous walks, which in truth were mostly carries, he spent a lot of this one on his own four feet, exploring. He’s learned the basic rules about not trying to duck under the shelving, and proved that when put down anywhere on the west side of the store knows how to find his way back to the cat-room. 

Where he did best was the far (East) side of the store, where he became deeply interested in the big dog beds, those giant flat cushions on the shelves. He thought that if he could get up on these there was no end of interesting places behind them and on either side he could explore. He thought I was unreasonable in not letting him climb up in there, no matter how many times he asked, or how politely. His persistence eventurally paid off when I let him get on one of the large flat cardboard boxes (containing I think a collapsable dog-cage) and kept a close watch (and sometimes hand) on him while he gloried in his safe secret place. 

We also went down to the training room, where I closed the door and let him roam around at will. He immediately started mewing, just like he used to on previous walks, but stopped when he settled for a while in the far corner, from which he cd see anything entering the room (i.e., trying to sneak up on him). After a while he came over and I put him in my lap, where he drifted off to sleep.

All in all he had two walks, separated by about ten minutes back in the room. He did better on the second one — warmed up a bit, perhaps? Having someone in the room to let him back inside in case he panicked was a big help.

Once back in the room the second time he went back into his cage, where he expressed no interest in any game I offered him, not even his orange string. I did work on his ears a bit, which he seemed to like. Offered some catnip, he played it cool for a bit, then surrendered to it and rolled belly-up.

As my fellow volunteer said, it’s hard to memember how he was so traumatized when he arrived that he needed a cave of blankets to hide in. He’s come a long way in just a month.

—John R.

P.S.:  According to the previous shift, this morning someone in a wheelchair came into the room to see the cats (Mousey), and apparently he was interested in her wheelchair rather than frightened by it. If I remember rightly, his personal history said that his previous owner used a wheelchair, so perhaps if conjured up some good memories for him.

P.P.S. He came fairly close to several dogs of several sizes in the course of his two walks. He was not bothered at all, when held, by the quiet and well-behaved dogs, but didn’t at all like the barky ones.

*Mousey has Cerebellar Hypoplasia, which means he has difficulty jumping and loses some control of his back legs when frightened; he also trembles when stressed. It's not a progressive condition, though, so he's fine as long as he has step-stools and the like. Knowledge that he'd have trouble getting to safety if anything attacked him is probably a big factor in his fear of unknown places.