Tag Archives: Thoughts

Cardboard Carpenter – City of Remnants

Image courtesy of Plaid Hat Games, by kind permission. Art by John Ariosa. All rights remain his.

It wasn’t the most dramatic or interesting moment of the game, but it was arresting.

A gang of hulking, violent heavies breaks into a stronghold held by a police patrol, directly in the centre of the city. A few cards on the table and a roll of the die. The right cards meant it was almost a certainty, but dice don’t often deal in certainty. It was an aggressive move, rude even. It wasn’t their stronghold. Unoccupied until the police moved in, presumably putting off the gang who built it. A fruit for picking, for the prestige as much as anything.

Three Iggaret scrappers checked their guns, ran round the corner and climbed the walls of the stronghold. They rolled the dice, and set the police on fire.

I realised after I succeeded that I’d basically just done an Assault on Precinct 13.

City of Remnants is a game that deserves a John Carpenter soundtrack. It is threatening, it is tense, it is lean and beautiful. It is just a little scary.

I won’t go deep into the rules, you can find plenty of reviews that do that. The short version is that you are a gang of refugees, dividing along racial lines and fighting for renown in a bleak wasteland of a city.

The game has a backstory only slightly more detailed than that single sentence. The manual provides a paragraph, and a short story at the back. But this is a game full of stories. It makes stories with its mechanics, and it tells stories in little flashes of detail.

Each card in the game has at least a line of backstory, something someone said, a little slice of insight. These fragments build a world. You could miss that world if you didn’t read it, but I don’t think there’s any way you can avoid what’s going on in this game.

You are hard up. You are building yourself up, but you are building by treading on other people’s faces. Not even just the other gangs. There is slavery. There are drugs. There are fight clubs and gambling dens. The game is fundamentally about gangs divided on racial lines, and some aliens don’t play nicely with others. At the end of every round, you will get stomped on by the police. If you fight back, there’s a real chance that they’ll just stomp back harder. Bribery often feels like the safest option.

So much of this comes directly from the rules. The story is clear. Every decision is a fight. Every fight is for your life.

Each turn is a single choice. You can only do one action. There aren’t that many actions.

Each fight is a gamble. You don’t know what your opponent has, and if you have to fight a second round, you may find you’re playing blind. If you lose, you could lose an important linchpin of your strategy. Every item, gang member and ability is a card. If you only put one gang member into a fight and you lose, that gang member is gone. Even if it’s your leader.

Put it in the box. You’re dead.

There’s weight to actions. Choosing what to do is a little agonising, but you’ll almost always get some benefit, so it doesn’t slow down the game. There’s a lot of ways to get ahead. It’s just deciding which one might work. Making a plan. Making it work.

And then it’s gambling, pushing your luck, and playing cool when things get desperate.

Desperate is the word. This world is desperate, and you will be too. You have not got much time, and you can lose momentum quickly.

The game is the theme is the story is the world is everything.

This is a game with a lot of moving parts. Set up takes a while, and once you get there you’re left with a lot of piles of tokens and stacks of cards and a small army of little plastic miniatures. Each person has a gang pool, a draw deck, a discard pile and a hand. You can recruit gang members, buy contraband or build developments. You have to position your people, and your buildings; a rude combination of tetris and chess. Make sure everyone is protected. Make sure everywhere is efficient. You build an economy. You build a gang. You get angry when you die, or you lose ground. You get revenge.

I think this is a lean, taut and brutal game. It is immediately engaging, despite the initially intimidating appearance. It’s straightforward to teach (although probably not enough for boardgame beginners), and it quickly becomes clear how much possibility there is.

It looks complicated. And in a way it is.

But at the same time, each element is simple. You can play these cards any time during your turn. These cards are for battles. Everything does what it says on the card. Positioning is important and clear. Having neighbours makes you stronger.

It’s all a series of simple choices, simple mechanics, combining in a well thought out, solidly balanced way.

And more than all of that. It feels right. It feels like you’re scraping by with very little. It feels like you’re building a precious, precarious empire. It feels like every time you expand you just make it more likely the police are going to knock down your door. It feels like you have a gang. A gang made of remnants. A gang you could lose.

It feels like proper sci-fi. Grim, dirty, desperate and intriguing. Not a story, but a world.

And then you make your own story.

This would not be my game to win people over to boardgames. It’s a bit too complicated (but actually it doesn’t waste a drop of anything), it’s a bit too grimdark cliché (but actually the world is much richer than first glance) and it’s a bit long and slow (but actually it’s tense and pacey and ends just at the right amount of a little bit too soon).

But once someone has taken their first paddle into the cardboard waters, and started to see that there’s more going on than they thought, I think this is the game to show them just how deep the water is.

I can’t stop thinking about it. About the mechanics, about the tactics, about the world. It doesn’t ever feel like just a game. It feels like a City. A place where people live, somehow, and die.

I can’t wait to put that City back on my table, and tell some more stories in it.

Further reading:

I’ve already linked to the Shut Up show video review, which might get you almost as excited as me. I’d also recommend the Cardboard Republic review. I particularly like their explanation of why it is good for different ‘gamer archetypes‘. Not entirely sure I agree with their definitions, but I like the idea, and it’s a good critical tool.

Much of my boardgame enthusiasm and knowhow comes from the chaps at Shut Up & Sit Down, so here’s an obligatory link. They’re great, fun, and informative.

Obviously check out Plaid Hat Games to see the developer, they have great how to play videos, and I think they are genuinely lovely people. The SU&SD interview confirms some of that loveliness. Also, check out Plaid, although they have nothing to do with Plaid hat, and some people even say they pronounce it differently.

Thanks to Plaid Hat for permission to use John Ariosa’s picture for the header. Ace customer service, I’ve had two email responses directly from Isaac Vega, the maker of this game. Which makes me feel cool.

 Oh, and the Escape from New York and Assault from Precinct 13 soundtracks are awesome.

Mounting Darkness and Creative Destruction on the Dark Mountain – Uncivilisation 2012

Uncertain Ground

To civilise is to build.

To uncivilise is to destroy?

I may just be tired, but I actually feel very lost. Last year’s Dark Mountain Uncivilisation Festival made me grounded and full hearted, my mind swirling with ideas. This year, the thoughts are still torrential, but my physical form feels adrift.

It’s a scary place to be. But I think that might be part of the point.

There are some things we need to look in the eye, and they are going to be terrifying. The future is real, and it’s not far away.

Someone this weekend bought together a number of statements under the heading ‘why am I here?’ I was reminded of my fear and dread of why questions, and the leaps they ask you to make. It remains my conviction that no ‘why’ question has an answer that isn’t guesswork or an act of faith. Reasons aren’t available, no matter how hard we reason. A why asks a fundamentally different kind of question. We don’t tell people why the sky is blue, we tell people how air bends light. Or we just lie and make up an answer.

Dark Mountain is looking for new whys. Rightly so. Our civilisation is based on a series of misleading myths that are causing us to eat ourselves. The world is falling part, and we are just digging deeper into it. This weekend’s recurring motif was mythology. Stories that can accompany the logos of understanding. Stories that can tell us ‘why’.

Myth is everything that we think we know, anyway. Our memories of our lives are as distorted as our understandings of history. A well told story is what builds our past. That’s how we remember things.

I am intensely conscious that as I write about this weekend, I am going to create my vision of it. Make it again, after the fact. Ignoring the grumpiness and tiredness. Probably unable to go into why I repeatedly lost my voice and felt afraid to speak. I am here to build my own Dark Mountain myth.

But I am tired, and I am worried it will be the wrong one.

It’s the problem with trying to build our own whys. A new myth is untested in the waters of people, open to interpretation and destruction, a story has as many sides as it has listeners. There is no way to know the impact of a new myth. The inventors of the myths of capitalism probably never saw its natural result as the greed of today. Adam Smith’s invisible hand was supposed to stop this kind of thing, not claw into the world, desperately tearing its livelihood to destruction.

We either need to get this right, or we need to work out a new way of myth making, something that allows us to adapt, something that returns us to the now, allows us to be more present in the moment, more aware of the now.

Steve Wheeler, dazzled me a little, drawing links between the slow disease of ‘progress’, the notion of apocalypse, and utopian, teleological world-views. It’s seems so simple to remember that some of our oldest revelations are not simply about the world ending, but about something new and perfect beginning. The book of John of Patmos does not mourn the destruction of the world, but beckons in the kingdom of god. Even Ragnarok ends with two survivors building a new world. Marx pushes towards another utopia, the apparently inevitable conclusion of wave after wave of revolution.

Our apocalypses are our idealisms.

Steve tried to draw us into the now. To stop wanting stuff for the future. To live in a now that would not rely on desires and fears, that could be content with what is.

It’s that thought from last year. To be happy in the future, we’re going to want to be happy with less. There’s a lot of internal work you can do for that.

Tom Hirons pulled me into the woods, and tried to offer a brief taste of extreme wilderness. The taste and feel of the earth on your face, screaming into the ground, whilst hearing a chorus of others doing the same. It is something I will never forget, perhaps the wildest moment of the weekend (apart form my wriggling terror as I forced myself into the dark night’s woods, jumping at every noise). I admire Tom even more after his talk, in which he talked of trying to create  a rite of passage without appropriating the culture of other peoples. He is one of many people there this weekend, who I am simply incredibly glad exist, and feel blessed to have even passing contact with.

Speaking of passing contacts, I only spoke to Vinay for about two minutes, and still got an intense snippet of knowhow that I think I need to build on.

Stories are better with a little added noise. That was taught by Tom and Rima on the first night, and Martin Shaw the next day.

And an intense debate about I vs We, sent me into tumults of worry about the nature of consensus, and the ability of people to assume its presence. No community is uniform. Be wary of your words when you speak for others. I am not enough, but I cannot know enough of others to speak for them. That is dangerous personal mythmaking.

But then, there is this desire for community, and I suspect that’s what draws the Dark Mountaineers together. The people that really want to leave civilisation can do it. There is still wildness, and it can be escaped to.

There’s more than that, somewhere. There’s a desire to make change. I hope that’s what it is, anyway. Because this isn’t just about personal reinvention, this is about finding a way to make our society stop killing people, and stop killing the planet. I really hope so. Because beyond that goal, I don’t really see what’s worth it.

I feel like we’re sometimes too far up the pyramid of needs of the world. We haven’t found a way to feed everyone, we haven’t found a way to stop burning and poisoning the actual ground and water and air that gives us everything we have, have ever had, and will ever have. We’re obsessing about self actualisation when there are people dying.

But then, as individuals, we need to focus on our own changes and our own world in order to exemplify, promote and build a new way of thinking. Without doing that thinking (and the acres of self destruction and re-creation that accompany it) we can’t make new things, escape old traps or be new people.

So we must be in the now, whilst remembering the past, and building a future that might be able to work for everyone.

The weekend sometimes feels like time travel, or perhaps, stepping out of time long enough to get the overview, seeing how things once were, are still, and always will be. Changed, different, but built from the same stuff.

That earth, that water, that sky.

When I was there, I thought I saw a common theme. I thought the answer was in building mythologies. Finding old stories that can show us new ways. Finding new stories that can reconnect our future to our past. Building worlds within worlds to teach our world new dances.

Now I return, and old fears come back with me. How do we build a right future, built on uncertain ground. How can we decide to teach myths as truths, when we know their truths, and ours, are so malleable, so frangible.

Frangible

I touched the earth, the ground, and told it I was grateful. I acknowledged that it had built me, fed me, made everything I have ever known. I screamed, giving it my voice. I didn’t feel like I was pouring out. Maybe I was feeding, as it always fed me. It was a connection, nonetheless.

So I did connect. And despite my voicelessness, I found connection to people as well. I am not as good at this as I imagine, or perhaps I have just forgotten some of my people skills, or perhaps I’d thought I was going for my self, and not to connect with people. This is probably the wrong way to go into most things.

Or not.

I honestly don’t know. I feel more questioned and challenged than solidified.

But this is good.

Controversial example.

After the festival ended, many people stayed behind to finish off the beer and have one last fire and gathering. A great atmosphere was suddenly interrupted by a story. Someone had ventured into town and stumbled upon a symbol of civilisation, he suggested we burned it. Another chimed in saying we should tear it apart and burn it piece by piece. Properly excoriate.

Before it got far, some raised a complaint. The ritual interrupted, atmosphere shifting as people try to search for something.

The symbol, you see, was a book. The burning of books is a deep symbol, easily misread and misinterpreted. A reminder of savagery, organised violence. Impromptu rituals, a joke to celebrate the destruction of civilisation, worry of what that destruction is, or means.

The story needs to be told in bits and pieces, with weird disjunctures, because it was a hundred stories.

I for one, felt my mind tumble through them.

The book burned, but not by consensus; the owner took charge. A line was drawn between burning ‘civilisation’ and burning ‘Civilisation, by Kenneth Clarke’. The knowledge inside it was given respect by some, the author disdain by others. The iconography was terrifying. Reminders of oppression. Oppression is still everywhere. This is not safely ironically distant territory.

As I watched the book slowly explode and burst outwards, I wondered. Were we ready to destroy civilisation?

The noise of thought processes around that fire. The arguments and emotions. The fear and the anger and the humour. A real, deep sacred happening. Sacred and scared.

If we are truly to become uncivilised, this is not the only taboo that will need to be put to the flames.

But do we want to build our world on destruction? Is there even a choice?

How to we destroy destruction? How do we consume consumption?

Dangerous symbols make for dangerous ceremonies. It was the first time the festival had felt dangerous. And something was created from that destruction. Every mind focussed and intensified. Not necessarily for the best, but it’s good to shake things up.

A simple act. A simple fire.

It was a terrible and beautiful moment.

I felt like it shouldn’t have happened, but I felt it was needed.

Written down, it probably doesn’t have the power. But in the moment, my gut was wrenched.

What would it really mean to undermine and challenge the very fundaments of our civilisation. To not just nibble at the edges, but cut to the centre.

To burn something up.

Last year, I was reminded of what it was I wanted to protect and connect too. This year, Uncivilisation felt like it was more about facing up to how challenging it will be to change the world, and the self. The things we need to destroy are dear and dangerous. The arguments we need to have are heartfelt and hurtful. There will be pain, if we are to wrench our world into something new. There will be a risk, that we will turn into things we despise even more than our current state.

Dark Mountain remains a very civilised festival, full of very civilised people. It’s hard not to see it as having a taste of that kind of middle class avoidance of privilege that is so common. This was expressed eloquently and emotionally by someone who noted that they wanted to scream, from knowing that in their day to day life, they did not always live what they believe. Trying to connect, from behind a wall of socialisation and comfort, to something more primal, honest and pure than the myths of progress and futurity is painful and difficult. I am aware of how lightly and slowly I am treading that world, kept wrapped and safe in my comfort and my privilege.

Eventually, there are parts of our selves we will have to burn up and cast aside. We need to do it inwards, and then outwards. Our black iron prison will need to be burnt. Watching that happen may feel a lot like tearing hearts out. It is not safe, it will be misunderstood, it could lead us closer to destruction.

We have to be wary of the myths we create. They can make us destroy, they can convince others to destroy. I don’t know how to do this right. I feel paralysed, knowing that the destruction I am living in now is killing, but that any step forward could do the same.

I want to run away and cry tears into the ground. Let it know that I don’t know what to do and how to live any more.

I am cut adrift, my anchors burned off.

Actually, somehow, I feel like something in me has been uncivilised. More than before, I am adrift from my assumptions. I do not feel like I went to the same Dark Mountain as most. Even though I had plenty of (wonderful) company, and was shown some beautiful things, I feel like a scaled a height, was torn apart, and will now fight to put myself together.

This is probably only a first step, still. I think I need to work on this more. Work out where it should take me. Work out where I should take it.

My heart is opened up.

I come back down the mountain, and the world swirls around me as it always has. Will this be enough to make a difference. Will I be able to leave my heart open in this other world, that will not care for me as the community of the fire would? I am worried I will become overexposed again.

It’s scary, but I think that’s the point.

The work to be done, on self, on the world, is scary.

I feel I have walked into a fire. Sunk into the earth. Drowned under the water. Dissolved into the air.

And yet I am still here. In the now.

I do not have a replacement for self, for civilisation.

I do not know what to do next.

Illustration by the incredible Helen. Apologies this is being posted so late. I had a crisis of faith in it.

It’s all in the Execution – Art with Heart

Manet Vs Lichtenstein

Corner of my bedroom, complete with Manet’s Execution of Emporer Maximillian and a Lichtenstien with a title I can’t find.

First up, apologies for the puns in the title, sometimes (most times) I just can’t help myself.

Right.

Art.

Hmm.

To me, the most powerful and beautiful art unfolds.

I mean. The pieces that I love. Or rather, one category of pictures (or whatever) that I love, have a factor in common. Multiplicity of meaning.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the potent, filthy erotic monstrousness of Francis Bacon. But I don’t come away thinking, I come away feeling. I love that feeling, and that is the other category of art i love, the stuff that makes me feel baptised in…something. Whatever it is.

But these two paintings, there’s something more ethereal in them that I love. It’s all about meaning and interpretation. It means that they excite me now, in a way that I don’t think many people understand.

I’m going to try and make you understand now. I will probably fail, but let me know what you think.

Let’s get back to unfolding. It’s a recurring feeling. It’s not like turning an origami swan, it’s more like turning an origami swan into a smaller origami swan, like a fractal.

Down the rabbit hole.

I’m going to anchor this with something more solid, like a picture of the piece we’re looking at first.Lichtenstein's Pianist

‘Although he holds his brush and palette in his hands. I know his heart is always with me!’

I discovered this piece upon moving into a house. The poster was on the wall, and it gazed over our kitchen table for the whole year. Everybody wanted to take it down, because it looks (apparently) uncannily like a friend of some of the people that lived there, and it freaked them out (aforementioned someone passed away in tragic circumstances sometime before). I insisted it stayed up, because I thought it was magical. When we moved, I took it with me, and it’s always been on one of my walls.

What is it that strikes me about it?

Well, I’ll tell you what it isn’t.

It’s not the image.

It’s not the whole ‘Pop art’ thing either. No praise of kitsch or low culture. No blowing tiny items up to a level where they become art. No celebration of the infantile or banal. No. It is none of these things.

Not for me anyway. And that’s what everybody says when they talk about Lichtenstein.

I think they miss the depth, or at least, the critics I’ve read miss it. They miss a lot.

For me, it’s the wordplay. The thought bubble, and the way that interacts with the artist, the girl trapped in the image, the viewer and society at large.

Like I say, once I start looking at it and engage my brain, it starts unfolding, until it has engulfed everything.

I still don’t have it all in my head. I still find it challenging to think how the very thing that fascinates me represents a critique or reinforcement of the male gaze. I rarely even try and explore that avenue.

Let’s look at what I’m trying to talk about here. That might help.

She (the flat static image) is pondering her relationship with the Artist, Roy Lichtenstein. She sees him, from the canvas, painting her. He is entirely focussed on his art, the creation of a beautiful meaningul object. But in true pulp style, she is in love. She senses, beneath his art, his love for her. She is in his heart, and he is pouring that heart onto the canvas, which is her.

And then my heart skips a beat, as I wonder if she’s right?

What was Lichtenstein thinking? Who is this woman (eerily like someone I’ve never met, but who has had an impact on my life)? Did he sneak a lover into one of his pictures? Or is she just an object? Is he aware of his objectification? Is she? Why does she decieve herself? Is Lichtenstein an aware tool of the patriarchy? Why does he create this woman for us, society, or me?

What is she playing on the piano?

Is the whole, together, a statement about art? Is it a parody of assumed relationships between artist and model? Is it simply a sad, mournful statement, that some people fall in love with people who could never love them back?

I always settle on melancholy, but maybe that’s just me. THe fact is that I feel like I can always break it down another layer, in ways that I can’t describe.

I do this for hours. And with each new level of discovery, I am more in love with the interplay between everything. It is the meaning that gets me, not in anyway the aesthetic appreciation. Aesthetically, I find it bland and static. Well. It’s striking, in a way, but it doesn’t excite me.

But behind the image, is something far greater.

Next.

Manet's Execution

Manet’s Execution of Maximilian – Fragmented , and with earlier (complete) versions.

Édouard Manet’s painting, perhaps requires a brief history lesson. I’d recommend a read of the article I just linked to, it’s fascinating, though I’m making a point of not re-reading it now, as that’s not really what I want to talk about. This one is perhaps more ethereal than the last, but I’ll try my best.

Basically, it’s the fragments.

The history lesson will tell you more about why it is like this. But I don’t really see the magic in the image until it’s broken up like this. Not even because of the politics behind that.

Once again, I think the critics are missing the point, at least the ones I’ve read.

I love the way the different elements are frozen in blankness. Isolated from each other. The focus (perhaps) of the piece, is entirely missing. The Emperor is nowhere to be seen, though someone who holds him is still there. The puff of smoke is all the evidence of the action. We don’t know who or what is being held, but it’s absence is telling. Like the red hatted sergeant, it is distanced, and cut off from everything. Not just his attention, fixing the barrel of his gun, not paying attention to the destruction he is supposed to be leading. He washes his hands. And he is cut off. A fine line breaks him apart from his unit.

And so we see the world, as a series of fragments. Like the old cliched story of the blind men and the elephant. The whole picture is absent, we only see tiny elements. We can’t have everything, and (if you want to take it that way) the victim is removed entirely.

Which makes it briefly about news media.

Or is it just about alienation. The way we stand aside and watch things happen. Or the way we may never see our firing squad.

I love it. I can’t explain it. But somehow it’s fragmentary nature speaks more to me than a whole painting like this could. It engages my mind and makes me challenge the very image I am gazing at. Questioning it and everyone in it. They become more relatable, because they are only one piece of the puzzle, like all of us.

I find it incredible.

One last picture, which we’ve already seen, but bears repeating.

Manet Vs Lichtenstein

My corner again.

So the reason I decided I wanted to go in depth into this post, and these pictures, is because of this picture. Whilst scouting around my room for my last post, I was just snapping everything I cared about, and I took this picture of my two pictures.

I saw something I had never seen before.

The way I had arranged them, meant that Manet’s Firing squad was shooting Lichtenstein’s Pianist in the heart.

Another layer started unfolding, entirely unique and other. Entirely accidental.

No authorial involvement whatsoever, and suddenly I had a new meaning created. We have the forces of oppression, fragmentary (not knowing themselves?) and male, shooting an image of femininity, totally unaware of her imminent doom. Somebody please tell her it’s not a palette and brush (false consciousness?), it’s a gun.

The oppression of the patriarchy, and the way people stand by and watch, ignoring it, whilst the oppressed are left unaware and fooled?

It’s a horribly depressing image, and incredibly infantilising to women (many of whom are aware of the bullshit that slowly tries to destroy them) and it lets the men get away with it (what’s this ignorance business all about…they are murderers, surely…all completely guilty and involved).

The stories multiply. The meaning increases, and the whole thing unfolds.

And tomorrow it will tell me a different story entirely.

Which is one thing I love about art.

***

All images low res photos of reproductions. Copyright definitely not mine, but I feel it’s fair use. If representatives of the copyright holders ask me to remove them, I will, but it will make me sad.

Radio Free Ambibath

I’ve just had a rather strange and awakening experience.

I’m currently reading The Divine Invasion, more of my ongoing obsession with Dick you see.

Anyway, I’m astonished by how much of a rollercoaster ride it’s been already. Normally when I read something by Dick I start of fascinated, and become increasingly so until I reach a point of complete bafflement that barely eases up.

Well…I’m starting to get used to it, the recurring motifs are easy enough to pick out, and I have read a lot now (coming soon is my dissertation essay on Dick and the Uncanny by the way…but first I need to proof it…which I probably should have done before I handed it in to be graded…but what the heck).

But this is the second in the mental breakdown/divine revelation trilogy, and it’s bat fucking insane.

I mean…it’s incredible. I feel like I need to read the Torah just to have a clue what’s going on.

But it’s deeper than just religion. There’s something grand here about a basic understanding of the universe. It really is a bit like taking your feet off the ground and realising that the ground isn’t there any more.

It is surprisingly coherent if you pay attention and remember to step back…but there’s a strange rhythm to the madness, and occasionally it’s terrifying.

My own experiences of mental breakdown start to flit into my mind as I read.

Brilliant and terrifying. Wonderful.

Anyway, so I’m stepping into the bath, tuning in my clockwork radio. I couldn’t find the French Jazz I normally listen to, and so fiddle around until I think I can hear something interesting.

I hear something interesting, but with the water running I can’t tell if it’s static or not. There’s some kind of irregular pulsing noise, a cat screaming and all manner of fuzz and lack of definition. I finally tune it in properly and get rid of the fuzz, only to find that the cat and the pulse are really there. The cat fades after a while and I realise that I’m sinking into the water to the sound of echoing abstract noise. Little bursts of strange eerie sound bubble around me. (Also I’m farting a bit…but you don’t need to know that).

Anyway, it slowly becomes clear that I’m listening to a new local community radio station, which is doing a programme full of ambient soundscapes and ‘sonic sculptures’. There was some great stuff there…including a really bizarre vocal harmony loop that was almost terrifying in its beauty. Then as it builds you start to get sound processing on the top end…little mechanical bubbles in the tone of her voice (mechanical bubbles…how in the hell does that work?). Really really amazing. (Brightoners check out Radio Reverb, apparently it starts broadcasting live tomorrow, though they’ve got recorded preview stuff playing already).

So I’m here, listening to frighteningly bizarre music and reading horrifically wonderful prose, realising that I’m a massive pretentious cock.

Either that or I just really love strange experiences. That noise was amazing, really makes you re-evaluate the way you hear. The book  to is so different to anything else. There’s a narrative and people and happenings, but there’s another level of wonder. A fear that you might learn something you can’t unlearn.

Okay…So I definitely am pretentious…but it doesn’t mean it isn’t wonderful that this kind of stuff is going on. It’s great to stumble on that kind of weird and wonderful thing…especially when you’re in the right state to absorb it.

Live for the Weird Experience.

Hopes and Schemes – The Promise of Fiction

So, I have this problem.

I love reading, I really love reading. I’ve got huge stacks of books left to read and I’ve read huge stacks of book. The one problem is that bigger than either of these stack, is the stacks of books I’ve started but not finished.

I’m terrible at it.

I’ve started two books in the last week. One of them I only got two pages in before deciding I wanted to read something else first. (It’s the second in a series, I decided I wanted a break before continuing).

So instead I read something else. A book I bought on a whim last year because I thought the central idea sounded amazing.

Now here’s the problem.

I am enjoying this book thoroughly. But I’m pretty sure it’s not turning out to be the book I originally intended on reading.

It couldn’t be…that book doesn’t exist.

Yet.

But let me explain further.

The book I just finished reading is the first book in the Riverworld Saga ‘To Your Scattered Bodies Go’. I enjoyed it, despite it lapsing into sexist and old fashioned views quite regularly, it’s definitely a little dated now, though part of that is because the main character is a Victorian Explorer.

Now, the basic premise of this series is incredible. Everybody in the history of Earth has been resurrected. Absolutely everybody. By some mysterious force. On a strange and vaguely Paradisical world. With no idea what’s going on.

Just think about that for a while….think of all the possible stories you can have in a world where everybody in history, from the cruellest dictator to the humblest peasant. From the most modern to the prehistoric. Every person ever.

There’s a lot of fun to be had in that setting.

The book picks a good path and makes for an entertaining yarn. But as the book continues, the options and possibility narrow. A narrative path is chosen and the adventures you imagined become, well…part of what you imagined but no longer part of the world that you’re reading.

I enjoyed the book, but I enjoyed my imagination more.

I guess this ain’t that bad, but it is frustrating.

Now, the book I’ve just started reading is called ‘Dying Inside‘ by Robert Silverberg. So far it’s actually been great, and quite unexpected it it’s route. But I still can’t help but think that the central idea is so fascinating, that I’m missing out on a million other stories that I want to read.

The central premise is that an aging telepath, as he grows old, is losing his power to read minds.

Really simple, but give space to have the whole raft of fears and worries about growing old and fading in a totally new way. It’s even got that Epilogue to The Tempest thing going on for it.

The emotional depth of the book, even just a few chapters in is incredible. It’s winding mid life crisis, with being a bit of a moody bastard, with the touching beauty (and horror) of being able to experience another person’s mind, with losing that, and hating it even more than you hated the power itself.

It’s powerful reading.

But it’s not the story my mind was imagining.

But then, that’s actually the joy of books really isn’t it. Seeing how someone elses mind works. It really is a joy; surprises come from that.

Now, us writers (ha) we know what that’s like from the inside, we’ve been surprised by ourselves, but its still not the same.

You can get so angry at an author when the characters don’t do what makes sense to you. But you remember, the characters aren’t you. The author isn’t you. You’re finding out things that don’t come from you.

Seeing into another persons mind.

Books are great.

***

I’ve kind of rushed this because I have to go to work, but still, what do you think?