Monthly Archives: January 2012

Update

Purple Mountain

Well, that’s Purple Mountain Level 10 (a¬†Pathfinder dungeon written for Purple Duck gaming)¬†finished and under the editor’s red pen even as I write. It clocked in at 35,000 words in the final analysis, but we’ll see how much of that survives the transition to the final version.

Still, one more thing with my name on.

False Idols

I wrote a modern-day pulp story for submission to an anthology produced by Pulp Empire, featuring a hyper-competent lawyer, a Chinese criminal mastermind, a psychic Russian, and an indestructible idiot who can also shoot fire. It’s modern-day, fast-moving, high-action and ridiculous, but I’m not sure it’s the sort of thing they’re looking for. Oh well: just got to run it past a bunch of test-readers to get some feedback, polish it up a bit and submit. Fingers crossed.

More Writing!

I have so many ongoing projects! Including one which I started in response to feedback on a previous piece which said “nothing happened for 10,000 words”. (Fair criticism, really. Sigh.) So this one is split into 1000-word segments, and something happens in each one. It’s my homage to the Traveler in Black, which I’m very deliberately not re-reading in order to avoid inadvertent copying. On the plus side, short works are easy to finish so it’s unlikely that this one’s going to get put aside halfway through.

Burning Wheel Now Burned Out

We finished up the BW game we were playing – it was fun, although I put more of that on the group I was playing with than any properties of the system itself. I still think it’s fundamentally flawed in a lot of ways.

Maybe I’ll try to start a Burning Empires game with the same group. Maybe I’ll test-run Fatescape again. (The all-new magic system is about 50% complete.) Maybe I’ll try to keep Fridays free for socialising. Truly I am a creature of unlimited whimsy.

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Why Lovecraft isn’t scary any more

Let me say right up front that I’m a fan of Lovecraft’s work. Not all of it, to be sure, but I think even the most die-hard Cthulhu-hat-wearing devotee of old Howard has to admit that his work covers a wide range of quality. People just tend to disagree on which pieces occupy which ends of the spectrum. I personally rate Herbert West: Reanimator and The Colour Out of Space as my favourites, although I’m less fond of the ‘Cthulhu Mythos’ such as it is.

Anyway, none of that is the point. The point is that Lovecraft isn’t scary, and I think I know why.

Back in the 1930s faith in God was strong and people believed in human agency. Lovecraft’s invitation to imagine that the universe was a vast and meaningless place full of things which could casually snuff us out without even noticing our presence was a pretty big deal. His writing said ‘What if you’re wrong?’ What if there is no God, no eternal life ever after, and we’re just specks in a huge void? And people read it, shuddered, and thought ‘That’s terrible; good job God is real and looks out for us!’

Side note: this ‘what if’ underpins a lot of horror. From Lovecraft to SAW, the thought is always ‘What if this was me?’ If the answer is too easy – something like ‘I’d kick the obvious bad guy’s ass’ or ‘I’d get in my car and drive away’ – then the horror falls flat. If we have no empathy with the victims or, worse, find them obnoxious (Cloverfield, I’m looking at you) the horror falls flat. The trick to effective horror is to take real, sympathetic, average Joes, isolate them, make them helpless, then do terrible terrible things to them. And it’s really hard.

Back to the main point: Fast forward 80 years to the early 21st century. Modern science tells us that the universe really is cold and meaningless, full of uncaring cosmic forces that could end us all with little or no thought, there really isn’t a God or an afterlife, we really are just specks in the void, and by the way we’ve put a computer in your telephone so that over a significant chunk of the earth’s surface all of humanity’s collected knowledge is at your fingertips. (Googling for the scale of outer space while sitting on the toilet pretty much sums up the modern age.)

When a modern reader reads Lovecraft, the response is a resounding ‘so what?’ There’s nothing in his central premise to scare us because, hey, turns out he was right. It also turns out that the human mind really can’t comprehend the vastness of the universe and really can’t operate while cognisant of our cosmic insignificance – but we also have a battery of psychological defences to shield us from the effects of this knowledge, so Lovecraft was at least wrong in his estimation of our mental resilience.

Familiarity, as they say, breeds contempt.

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