Session on Saturday went ok. Still feel like little actually happened, but I think it moved things along, setup some future events and had at least one unexpected twist. I expect next session will be a little more... adventurous, since we're getting more to the heart of the current adventure. I think it did help that the setting we are in (the Warhammer Fantasy city of Marienberg which is like a fantasy... Amsterdam/Venice) is pretty well defined. I don't know all the details, but I have the sense of the flavor/tenor of it, which allows for some easier improvisation.
Trying to catch up on the piles of reading in my office. I read more than a quarter of Alisdair Gray's Lanark before giving up on it yesterday. The first quarter (it's divided into four "books") was interesting and strange, starting out just a little "is this realism or fantasy" and then moving into a more fantasy/sci-fi flavor. But then book 2 shifts and becomes this realist bildungsroman about a kid growing up in Glasgow and... bleah... my tolerance for children protagonists is limited. I read a few chapters, then started skimming, then just gave up when I realized book 3 just continued the character's story. Book 4 seems to go back to relate to the first part, but... I give up.
In the same vein I'm starting to weary of Doom Patrol in season 2, a large part due to the introduction of a super obnoxious child character who talks with a whiny British accent. If she doesn't go away (or grow up) soon, I may have to give up on that show too.
Reread Shirow's Dominion: Conflict 1 which I actually find better drawn but less interesting narratively than the previous one. The story as a whole felt very unfocused and more like the start of a series than a single (mostly) standalone book. I'm going to indulge my nostaliga and reread more of his manga, going back to Appleseed, the first real (that is not American's making faux manga) manga that I ever recall reading (got a copy of one of the translations as a freeby at a comic book convention when I was pretty young).
Read a few comics by Sammy Stein (Visages du Temps, Pompei 2079) that I got via the online Printed Matter book fair this year. I really want to like them more than I actually do. They have an immediate appealing brightness and precision to them, as well as the real oddity of being almost completely figure (i.e. bodies/characters shown) free. There is a diagrammatic quality at times, a sense of constructed objects and often destructed objects, that reminds me a bit of Vaughn-James' The Cage. The use of color alone is wonderful (and really I think is what drew me to buy them), lots of interesting use of gradients. But actually reading them... I just don't feel them. They seem very cold.
Melek Zertal's Together is also one I feel... conflicted on. As a whole it's a nice large book, well printed, lots of space for the images, great soft colors, a nice mix of single page images, interesting panel layouts, repetition and variation. The drawings are all in pencil and frequently lovely. One thing that bugs me is how sometimes the characters seem to shift from a more naturalistic rendering into a more cartoony look (especially the eyes), and I want to assume it is purposeful for some reason, but it also just looks like inconsistency (partially I think because the cartoony shift, looks rather... bad... to me). The narrative, loosely shows the relationship between two young women, one arriving on a plane to stay with the other. Specifics are hazy, it is more about individual scene and moment and even just image, with the text providing both dialogue and what seems to be some inner monologue by the one woman. Just reread it, and... on repeat I actually like it more, it holds together more than I first thought. It doesn't play out a story, but it hints at one. In many ways (particularly the ellipses of narrative) it reminds me of some of Aidan Koch's work, though I don't think it is quite as... assured in method. Looking at her site it seems she reuses the two characters in Together in other work. I'll keep my eye out for future work.
All those previous critiques feel a little underbaked. At times I feel like because the work exists it deserves my attention and time, moreso with comics than other art forms, since the audience for comics of a certain type is still so limited.
Into volume 3 of rereading Appleseed and it's interesting to me how much the scenes that stick in my head are the interludes, the non-action scenes in between all the espionage stuff and the sci-fi morality questions about humanity. There are still aspects of that plot that I don't totally follow, partially perhaps because it doesn't hold my interest as much or it's not that important to really follow it all (or maybe parts of it really just don't make sense). It's when Shirow steps outside those plots to focus on his protagonists that it becomes more interesting, though oddly I think that is the part Shirow really started getting rid of the longer his career continued. By volume 3 you can see his art getting slicker, his woman just starting to take on the look of the creepy fetishization that his later work has become.
Life is slowing becoming a little more "normal" in the sense of pre-pandemic. We went out to dinner (outside dining) for the first time since March 2020. And today we are headed up to visit my parents and my brother and his family.
I slip away from writing here more and more as other activities steal away my time. Into Mass Effect 3 at this point, playing with a certain obsession that I recall from previous playthroughs, interestingly I am finding new parts of the game (or at least parts I haven't seen before), possibility related to slightly different choices I made in the first or second one?
We were up at mom and dad's last weekend to spend time with the family. It was nice to get to just hang out a bit and catch up. This week we even ate inside at Dettera, and then ended up out Friday night for food truck and beer at one of the local breweries. Also went back to my barber this week for the first time since last February. This Saturday we are having our first in-person D&D game since... last February I guess. Around here, for us, things have become almost normal again, which I know is partially at least a result of class and geography.
Can barely recall what I have been reading all week. I finished rereading all of Shirow's Appleseed chapters, including the one that just cuts off and was never continued. Almost feel like I could write an essay about them and my feelings on them, as there is a lot of nostalgia in it, but also they are interesting sci-fi. Another comic left unfinished.
Started up on another Lois McMaster Bujold novel, The Hallowed Hunt, the third in the very loose series set in the same world, this one seems even further removed from the other two. But, like the others, features protagonists who are wrapped up in religious-magical experiences that they don't understand, the resolution of which forms the greater part of the narrative (at least it so far looks like that is also the case for this third one).
Finished up season 2 of Doom Patrol this morning, still half annoyed with it, because of the annoying kid and how much plot time she takes up, but sticking around for the other parts of the show.
Reread Ghost in the Shell (vol. 1) as part of my ongoing reread of Shirow's work. Having much more recently seen Mamoru Oshii's animated version, I was surprised how different they are. In recalling the anime, all the scenes that stick in my head (and are, I think, the most famous): the long opening where we see the creation of an artificial body; the Major leaping off a building in her optical camo; the Major chasing a camouflaged man through the streets; the long fight with the tank at the end; even the great scenes of the city accompanied by that haunting music; all of those are completely or mostly unique to the film (and one assumes the work of screenplay writer Kazunori Itô). It's a really great example of adapting for the media, actually. Those scenes are all really reliant on movement and to a large part, the play of visible vs. invisible, the seen and unseen. Shirow, in the manga, introduced a lot of the ideas (like the optical camo that makes one mostly invisible), but uses them almost in passing, another example of his tech fascination, but in the anime they use those ideas to make something visually engaging and memorable. In comparison to the anime, the first volume of the manga feels baggy and often dull.
Read The Hallowed Hunt the third in Lois McMaster Bujold's loose fantasy trilogy. I did not find this one as engaging as either Curse of Chalion or Paladin of Souls (or the Penric and Desdemona novellas), partly I think because the protagonist/focalizer is not very interesting and partly because we get very little of any other character. It reads like a poorly written mystery (there are very few clues and the ending feels sudden and... unexpected) that mostly finds the protagonist just... going along. I felt like I understood the previous ones and their religious/magical underpinnings, but this one felt opaque in many ways.
Barely started, then gave up on, Barry Windsor-Smith's long coming brick of a comic Monsters. Despite the dense cross hatching, the drawing feels really flat to me, and the dialogue unreal, and... yeah I thought I'd give it a try, but I can't get through what seems to be a superhero origin story gone horrible wrong, especially when we even have a scene of an older guy looking at his old comics and his kid wanting to read them and the mom telling him they are trash... groan.
Actually sort of at a loss for what book to read next. I'm still working my way through Shirow's work in small bits, but I don't have a novel lined up. I was rereading Flaubert's A Sentimental Education but it didn't really click with me at this time (it doesn't have the same draw for me as Bouvard and Pecuchet does). I think all the books on my to read shelf(shelves) are comics or art books. Probably a good time to go browsing on the shelves for a reread, revisit something I really love, or reread something I was unsure of in one read and wanted to try again.
Had our first in person D&D game in forever on my porch yesterday. I really enjoyed seeing everyone in person and having a fun game without network slowness or confusion from people trying to talk at the same time, with snacks and drinks and more contagious laughter. Finished up a little adventure Eric wrote using the Black Hack rules. Eric, not unexpectedly in general, went a little weird fiction-y on us. He wants Ian and I to help edit the adventure into a one page dungeon, so I'm curious to see how what we played differs from what was written down (what did we miss? how else could it have played out?).
Looks like our next game is going to be a special one-shot I am running with the insane concept of a murder mystery in a 90's mall, starring an assortment of characters from other 90's media. Since
█████ ███ ██████ are going to be in town, we wanted to play a game all together, and somehow the snowballing of some jokes lead to this. Going to run it as rules free as I can. Hopefully the whackiness of the situation will create enough amusement that I don't need to worry about any too detailed plot.
My Hadleyville online app is still coming along as I slowly add features and check items off the todo list. It's a lot of UI improvements now to try to make it look nice and pretty and work smoothly, and probably an import/export feature. Then I'll try building it for production as a v1 release. The next big thing is setting up integration with some cloud data storage, so you could store anything.
Still obsessively playing the Mass Effect Legendary Edition though I am almost through Mass Effect 3, having now completed all the side missions and DLCs I just have to do the final run of primary missions. ME3 gets a lot of its power from the way it heavily draws on the previous 2 games to revisit plots, decisions, characters, and locations. This is especially prevalent in the slightly tongue-in-cheek Citadel DLC which, while it has an action based plotline as about half of it, is primary about your PC hanging out and talking to various NPCs. It's probably the most fan-service-y game I've played (not in the erotic way), but it works, I think because it's well written and veers between humor and a kind of bittersweet nostalgia. I'm also finding that even on my... third or fourth playthrough now, I'm still coming up storylines that I've missed in the past.
Reread Ghost in the Shell 2 and Ghost in the Shell 1.5 (in that order, which is the publication order though not the creation order) to finish up my Shirow reread (I don't have any of his post GitS 2 work, and from what I've seen of it online, there's not much to "read" in it). GitS 2 is perhaps one of the oddest and most incomprehensible comics I own (and I say that as someone who owns a significant number of abstract and non-narrative comics). Shirow moves heavily into digital art, but in a way that is completely unusual and feels really dated (not exactly like Batman: Digital Justice does, but sort of). There is a still drawing going on, but also manipulated photographs, 3d modeled imagery, copy/pasted assets, digitally added overlays, gradients, metallics, even digital blurs for motion. The plot is abstract, still spy/hacking/fighting/intrigue stuff but burdened by layers and layers of neologisms related to the futuristic cybertech that can make whole pages mostly abstract from a story point of view. Shirow peppers the text with annotations explaining different aspects of the story that are not at all clear from images or dialogue/narration, even he seems to understand the opacity of much of it.
Someone probably has (or could) do a whole analysis about the nudity (or kind of lack thereof) in the comic. Clearly the last stage before his subsequent work that is really just barely narrative illustrations/panels about impossible woman in states of undress in various genre settings, GitS 2 finds the protagonist in an almost constant state of floating around in cyberspace (or underwater, very rarely on the ground amongst any people or physical objects) in a kind of sexless nudity like she is wearing the tightest, thinnest, full bodysuit with no seams. Even when in the physical world, there are constant references to her clothes, like why as a robotic/android/cyber body she wears them at all, or how ridiculous some of the clothes are (in their practicality). It's like Shirow is obsessed with drawing these woman's bodies and their nudity but also... almost completely avoiding drawing them actually naked. It is so fetishistic and it almost (completely) takes over the comic.
I think it is very telling about the popularity/quality/comprehensibility of GitS 2 that I don't think (I haven't seen them all, though I've seen most of the animes) any of the many multilmedia franchise works that continue to come out (mostly anime, but some other manga, video games, that movie with ScarJo) have not adapted or even seem to borrow from this volume.
GitS 1.5 is thusly a strange change of pace, until you realize that despite its "later in the publishing timeline at the back of the books" status, it was an aborted earlier attempt at a sequal to the original GitS (like that incomplete Appleseed book). This has a much more traditionally cyberpunk/esponiage/detective plot focusing on the other characters from the first volume, with the former protagonist Kusanagi only appearing a bit in one or two chapters. It's not hard to see why Shirow gave up on it, as it feels like just a not very exciting retread of the first volume without the novelty or the most interesting character.
I also tried (and failed) to reread his Orion which has a lot of neologistic incomprehensibility like GitS 2 but is even worse because it's a combination of sci-fi, buddhism, lovecraftian magic, and other things all wrapped in a plot that is mostly long science-magical fights.
In total, having reread all these manga, Shirow is on one hand very consistent (his interests in technology, his reliance on police action tropes) but also wildly inconsistent in his implementations as stories that are enjoyable and readable.
Lianne went off to a weaving class for the week, so it's just Buddy and I here through Saturday. It's been... years, I guess, since she's been away and me at home. Last weaving class, back in 2019, I went along and hung out in the town there. Especially after the past 16 months of her being here even for work, it's extra strange to be the only person in the house, most prominently in the evenings. Cooking dinner for one, waking up in the middle of the night with no one there next to me. Thankfully I will have work to keep me busy this week, as we are releasing code (and our last release was 2 months ago, so it's a big one).
I did a v1 release of my Hadleyville webapp yesterday. It still needs a lot of work (especially for mobile friendly UI), but it can be found currently at https://hadleyville.derikbadman.com. I've got a bunch of other plans for it, to make it easier to use, but it felt like it had at least reached a solid first version state. Spent far too long trying to get a color scheme that worked and am still not happy about it, and never did get a dark theme set-up. There's a interesting tutorial on doing that here, though it requires a lot of messing around with the numbers to get color contrast at an acceptable level depending on what starting color you pick (I think the dark yellow/tan I chose was a poor choice in that respect).
With Lianne away, I'll probably be watching a lot more movies over the course of the week. Last night I watched John Boorman's Excalibur and Christian Petzold's Barbara two very very different movies.
Excalibur, from 1981, is a very 70's fantasy movie, quite reminiscent of other pre-cgi fantasy movies (like the Conan movies). The wizard talks creepily and has a metal skullcap, the fight scenes are a little silly but also a little more realisitic (you can tell the actors are struggling to move around in the plate mail they are wearing), they let certain set elements do a lot of heavy lifting. The movie is both too long (it gets boring) and too short (it just doesn't have room for all the plot elements of Mallory). Patrick Stewart (somehow young yet still looking old) was a surprise appearance, as was a very young Helen Mirren (who plays a great Morgana), and Gabriel Byrne, as Uther, was unrecognizable to me until I saw his name credited. A long action scene of knights storming a castle wall and Arthur climbing around the scaffolding they are using is quite well done and ends with a dramatic oath of loyalty with all these knights standing in the water, while Guinevere watches on. Over the course of the movie they get a lot of use out of actors getting grey long hair and beards to show time passing. It's all rather... downbeat by the end. One thing that amused me is how many of the fights involve the ground being on fire, as if knights really like to set grass on fire and then fight while it burns. That is clearly missing from my D&D games.
Barbara (2012) on the other hand, is a quiet movie about a doctor in 1980 East Germany. She did... something wrong (I don't think you ever hear exactly) and has been sent to a country hospital where she is spied upon and her apartment (and herself) searched more than once during the course of the movie. She seems to have a West German lover who is trying to help her flee the country. The drama (low key for the most part) comes from the clash between the oppressive state in the form of mostly everyday people, her desire to leave, her new found desire for a colleague who she doesn't trust, and a few young patients. Like the previous Petzold I watched Transit I really enjoyed this, and like that movie what could be a very over the top dramatic genre plot becomes a much more low key character drama. I saw nothing particularly notable about it stylistically, yet I was never bored by it. It's not flashy visually or narratively, but it's really well executed on all fronts.
Read two more of the Lois McMaster Bujold Penric & Desdemona novellas (5th and 6th I believe). Realizing I might have read some of these out of order, but also confused that the order of them is out of order chronologically... anyway, these two follow from what is apparently the 3rd one (which ended rather... incomplete). Bujold continues to surprise me with how often she can avoid a host of fantasy tropes, in particular violent combat, while still maintaining a certain suspense (of the "will they survive this danger/mission" type).