Reading Clark Ashton Smith For the First Time Again, Part 1

Sure, Clark Ashton Smith’s stories are readily available online, it’s still nice to have hard copies of his works. When I originally read them it was in the Panther reprints of his Arkham House collections, which retain some tampering and revisions and censoring by various hands. When William Burns tipped me off on my previous article that Night Shade Books’ Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith series had presented the definitive versions of his short stories, restored as closely as possible to his intended texts by Scott Connors and Ron Hilger, I decided to retire my Panther paperbacks – which by now are a bit tatty – and pick up the new line to reintroduce myself to Smith in a whole new way.

Connors and Hilger arrange the anthologies in as close to chronological order of composition of the stories as they can attain. This is a bit of a break from previous attempts to anthologise Smith, which have tended to collect the stories from his various fictional settings like Hyperborea and Zothique into little clumps, but it does mean that we get to see Smith’s writing evolve over the span of time presented.

It’s not exactly amateurish to begin with, mind. Connors and Hilger don’t include Smith’s juvenilia in the main run of the series – what was available at the time was collected in Miscellaneous Writings, a companion volume, and other early prose fiction from Smith has been rediscovered and reprinted by Hippocampus Press. Instead, volume one – The End of the Story, picks things up in 1925, when Smith – encouraged by his pen pal H.P. “Creepy Howie” Lovecraft – decided to try his hand at it.

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Blake’s 7: Second Insurrection

As you might remember from my thoughts on season 1 of the show, Blake’s 7 was the brainchild of Terry Nation and he ended up writing the entire first season all on his ownsome, establishing the series’ unusually dark tone for a 1970s space opera television series along with a beloved cast of core protagonists and recurring enemies. This was actually more than originally planned – the initial intention had been that he’d write the first seven episodes and a two-part finale for season 1, and the remaining four episodes would be written by other hands.

As a result of having to pen more episodes than expected, Nation had to rush it, turning in only a first draft of each script and giving script editor Chris Boucher a very free hand in script revisions, which explains why the first season is a bit shonky in places. (Apparently Bounty was especially badly affected, to the point where on set director Pennant Roberts had to improvise ways to pad out scenes to reach the target running time.)

Clearly, it was time for other hands to get involved, so on season 2 more writers ended up getting involved. In fact, Terry Nation only wrote three episodes for the season – each of which a significant tentpole episode setting up the action for the next third or so of the season – whilst Chris Boucher ended up turning in 4. (By this point Boucher, in his script editor role, had become so conversant with the series continuity that he actually wrote the terminology guide to assist other writers in churning out Blake’s 7-flavoured technobabble.) Let’s see if the additional hands boosted the quality of the series whilst retaining its consistency of tone – or whether they steered it right into a ditch.

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Mini-Review: Just Say No To the Greater Good, Kids!

Cavan Scott’s Warhammer Adventures: Warped Galaxies series of Warhammer 40,000 novels for kids continues with its third episode, Secrets of the Tau. The kids have finally managed to get off the freezing, Genestealer-infested world they were stuck on since the closing sections of Attack of the Necron, having hitched a lift with Amity, a mysterious Rogue Trader who is very keen to avoid questions about why she has no crew left beyond the servitor Grunt.

Zelia, Talen, Mekki and their jokaero friend Fleapit still don’t really have a plan for what to do with themselves beyond rendezvousing with Zelia’s mother at the mysterious “Emperor’s Seat” – and checking Amity’s star charts revealed that in the course of their adventures they’ve ended up inadvertently flung to the other side of the galaxy entirely from where they started out, more’s the pity. Taking pity on them – and perhaps taking into account the potential archaeotech reward from Zelia’s collector mother – Amity takes them to Hinterland, an independent space station where humans and xenos rub shoulders in an uneasy truce, and where a cartographer friend of Amity’s just might have the information on where the Emperor’s Seat is…

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GOGathon: The Devil Got Overindulgent Here

So, we’ve come to the end of our reviews of the Devil Came Through Here trilogy, and as with all the reviews in the series a ton of content warnings apply. I’m not going to give an exhaustive one for the game, not least because I can’t 100% guarantee that I’ve seen all the content in the game, but this review has content warnings for suicide, abuse, abuse, abuse, more abuse, abuse and abuse.

Lorelai is the story of, well, Lorelai, an 18 year old who arrives home from her job at a nursing home to bear the stress of her hideous family life. Lorelai’s father died of cancer when she was 12, and whilst Lorelai’s a survivor by instinct and has by and large kept it together in the intervening six years, her mother has largely gone to pieces.

In particular, she’s struck up a relationship with John Doe, our antagonist for the game. John’s an Afghanistan war veteran who hasn’t remotely adjusted to civilian life, especially after his job at a brick factory vanished when the factory shut down, and he divides his time between violently abusing Lorelai’s mother and being extremely creepy towards Lorelai. He’s glued himself into the family fabric in part by siring a child with Lorelai’s mother, little Bethany, and Lorelai’s intent on keeping her head down and earning enough money that she can move out and take Bethany with her, since it’s evident that her mother just can’t bring herself to leave John.

This dreadful night, however, Lorelai becomes concerned when her mother locks herself in the bathroom and won’t come out or respond. With the aid of the boy next door, Zack, who has a very obvious crush on her and who she may or may not have a crush on in turn, Lorelai forces her way into the bathroom to discover that her mother has hung herself. John shows up, laughs at the situation, and then ends up brutally assaulting Zack and slashing Lorelai’s throat open with a broken bottle.

That’s when the Queen of Maggots gives Lorelai an opportunity much like she offered to Susan in The Cat Lady: a sort of immortality which would allow her to come back and keep trying until she can defeat John and, if not save her family from him, at least stop others suffering at his hands. Lorelai’s processes of resurrection will prove to be a bit more involved than Susan’s, however, for the Queen is grooming Lorelai to one day succeed her…

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Bricking It On the Go

There’s some types of videogames which struggle to make a transition to a handheld format and some where, once they make the leap, feel like it’s almost their natural home. I’d include traditional, old-school platform games like the 2D Mario games in the latter category. Their clear, cartoonish graphics translate to smaller screens nicely, the gameplay is simple enough to not require particularly complex controls whilst having enough wrinkles to stay challenging, whilst at the same time the level structure means you can pick up or put down the game at a moment’s notice.

All this makes it rather weird why it took so long to get the handheld versions of the Super Mario Maker games right. The full-fat console versions (released on the Wii U for the first game and the Switch for the second game) provided a nice system for designing homebrew Mario levels based on the gameplay and physics of several different Mario games (Super Mario Bros.Super Mario Bros. 3Super Mario WorldNew Super Mario Bros. U), publish them to the Internet, and download and play other people’s levels. Should be simple, right?

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Unearthed Texts From the Old World and Far Future

Black Library’s extensive bibliography of Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 fiction, for the most part, consists of conventional novels and short stories, but from time to time they’ve produced texts of a different nature – books which are written entirely in-character, presented as artifacts from the settings in question. In recent years, Black Library’s produced some welcome reprints of some such books which they’d allowed to fall out of print a while back – one from the far future of Warhammer 40,000, and one bridging its setting and that of the Old World of Warhammer.

The Imperial Infantryman’s Handbook

This is a reprint of two books previously printed separately – the Imperial Munitorum Manual (by Graham McNeill) and the Imperial Infantryman’s Uplifting Primer (by Matt Ralphs). Both of these are internal documents from the Imperial Guard of Warhammer 40,000; the Munitorum Manual is a guide to its internal bureaucracy, logistical processes, equipment, medals, procedures and so on, whilst the Primer represents the sort of propaganda that its frontline troopers are bombarded with as a matter of course.

Presented as a convenient little pocketbook – and including a delightful section at the end providing a selection of prayers to the God-Emperor, modelled on the sort of condensed hymnals produced for the front line in the British Army, the Handbook – much like the constituent books that make it up – is an amusing read by itself, given that it highlights the dysfunction of the Imperium and the utter lies offered to its fighting forces via the disparity between the statements offered in there and the facts which the reader knows from other sources to be true.

In addition to this, it’s a nice prop for anyone into the 40K tabletop RPGs, or who plays LARPs inspired by the setting. One of my fondest experiences of the Death Unto Darkness LARP was playing an Ecclesiarchy priest leading the PCs in a stirring morning prayer, using the prayer section in the Uplifting Primer for fodder.

Liber Chaotica

First published as four separate books – Liber KhorneLiber SlaaneshLiber Nurgle and Liber Tzeentch – before being reprinted with a new Liber Undivided section of additional material at the end under the Liber Chaotica title, this is presented as a compilation of research on the nature of Chaos by Richter Kless, a scholar given special dispensation by the Grand Theogonist of the Church of Sigmar to plumb the Empire’s archives in search of forbidden knowledge. (The actual authors were Marijan von Staufer, for the Khorne and Slaanesh books, and Richard Williams for the remainder.)

What this actually amounts to is a gorgeous coffee table book of artwork, sketches, and little essays on Chaos, with flavourful scribblings in the margin and the like. In principle, this is a reprint of a reprint – the original combined Liber Chaotica having fallen out of print years ago – and part of me wonders whether some of the edges of the pages have been missed off here, given that some of the text spills off there. In addition, some of the random scribblings are incredibly hard to read, and being unable to check against the original I am not sure whether this was a deliberate aspect of the original books or an error that has worked its way in through the reprint process.

Still, nonetheless the book is here more for eye candy and the occasional little story than for any other purpose, and in that light it’s pretty neat. Whilst focused on the Old World of Warhammer (the setting which was blown up to make way for Age of Sigmar), there’s occasional insights into the Warhammer 40,000 universe via the medium of Kless utterly tripping balls. For Warhammer Fantasy Role Play purposes, this is a nice source of ideas for adventures, or a book you can just dump on the player characters and let them damn themselves with the information therein; there’s a few references to the End Times metaplot which brought an end to the setting, but not overwhelmingly so, and it doesn’t feel too out of place in the WFRP interpretation of the setting (which has a somewhat different focus from the wargame).

GOGathon: The Devil Checked In Here

Joe and Ivy Davis are a married couple whose relationship is on the rocks. In a bid to get away from it all, Joe’s arranged for them to have a lovely seaside holiday at a quiet coastal town, where the only accommodation on offer is from the Quiet Haven Hotel. Once Joe and Ivy arrive, however, they find that the hotel is a bit of a shambles – and Ivy’s behaving and talking in an incredibly strange manner, alternating between total silence and incoherently talking about things only she can see. To make matters worse, a terrible storm has blown in, so strong heading out into the downpour to seek help isn’t a sensible option.

Joe and Ivy go up to their hotel room and have a tense conversation about their problems, before going to sleep. When they wake up, Ivy’s nowhere to be seen. When he goes down to the hotel restaurant to look for her, thinking she might have gone to breakfast ahead of him, he finds the hotel manager standing in the midst of a bizarre tableau. She informs him that Ivy made the mistake of angering a certain Sophie, another guest in the hotel, but that if he hurries he might be able to persuade Sophie to let Ivy go.

And it’s around then that things go full Eraserhead. (With additional content warnings for issues of murder, mental health, eating disorders, and utter tripped-out mayhem.)

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