Contents

Caty and Cara's Page

Our Computers

Snapshots with Text

Essays for Fun

Ken Burch's Tales

Ken's Neocron Tales

More Neocron Tales

Secret Wars

Tales of the Walker Clan

Our Cast

Why Kevin Doesn't Dance

Writing of Mine That Doesn't Totally Suck

Stuff dl Thinks Is Cool

The Old, Old Grandma Story

The Final Battle

James' Photos

James Meyer's Birds:

Introduction

Photos 1 through 25

Photos 26 through 50

Photos 51 through 75

Photos 76 through 100

Reading

a book cover

Playing

alChandler's Halls



Serving dozens since 1999


Vorrh and Fantasies

These days when we think of fantasy we think of wizards, elves and warriors traipsing around in a landscape based loosely on Western Europe during the High Middle Ages. It's pretty sanitized, in Lord of the Rings you knew that Theoden did the right thing and left Meduseld if he needed to empty the royal bowels. More likely he'd say, excuse me, walk over to a corner and take a shit right there, all the while discussing military strategy with Gandalf and Aragorn

That's why The Gormenghast Trilogy is so jarring. Castle Gormenghast has no magic, although the miles and miles of deserted corridors attesting to a former greatness that's gone forever does seem to exert a malign influence on the castle residents. All save Alfred Prunesquallor, who might have come from other parts. When you contrast the self centered Titus and the twisted Steerpike against selfless Frodo and the once noble Saruman, Titus and Steerpike are going to lose every time.

But Mervyn Peake has influenced a lot of authors himself. Once of the first novels to show it carried Gormenghast's DNA was M. John's Harrison's novel The Pastel City. The city in question is Viriconium. Founded in an earlier age of Earth, it has diminished. What little technology remains is not understood and the city is imperiled by barbarians. There are two other novels in the sequence, A Storm of Wings and In Viriconiom. By the last novel, the city is almost adrift in time with contradictory pasts, multiple futures and an awareness of its own fictionality. Mike Harrison has little use for Tolkien's detailed secondary world. After all, it's all stories.

And so we have authors like Jeff VanderMeer, who wrote a book that ended up with the remnants of humanity in pitched battle with genetically modified meerkats and China Miéville who gave us New Crobuzon, a city so decadent that Hell has an embassy there.

And so all this is to say that I'm reading Vorrh by Brian Catling. Vorrh is a forest in Cental Africa. Like the TARDIS it's bigger on the inside and their are rumors that Yahweh strolls in the interior. No one from Europe has reached Vorrh's center but it has permitted Europeans to build the city of Essenwald on its southern border. It also permits a certain amount of logging.

I realize that while Tolkien is my first love, when I read contemporary fantasy, it's the children of Peake who loom larger to me then the writers influenced by Tolkien. And really, if you think you might like this sort of thing, start out with The Pastel City, consider it a gateway drug.

March 25, 2017


Path of Exile

I checked the 2016 gaming list and sure enough, Path of Exile is on it but for the life of me I don't remember playing it last year. I would have put my last play though in 2015.

But I'm playing now, in 2017 and I'm still following the necromancer template I found on the net. The last time I played, whenever it was, I put my upgrade points in several disciplines and I suffered for it. Now all I do is raise the dead to fight for me and while I've had some tough fights I'm doing pretty good.

Not sure what the plot is though. When the game's over I'll have to find out.

March 24, 2017


It's Just a Flesh Wound

March 21, 2017


While I Wait for the Reviews

Folks were able to download Mass Effect Andromeda since midnight EST. I checked Origin for reviews but they don't offer their customer boards, probably a wise decision. Meanwhile I put Path of Exile back on Kosh.

According to Steam I was playing Path of Exile back in September but that doesn't seem right. I do know that this time I downloaded a guide for my character, Weeping Flame, a magic user who I want to specialize in necromancy. It's very easy to get lost in the game's skill tree and that's what happened to the last version of Weeping Flame.

For the rest, the game harkens back to Diablo 2, it's free and it's fun. And I just poked around Origin, it turns out that there are boards but not in the program itself, they're on EA's sit and right now their filled with the usual first day concerns. I really am going to wait on this one.

March 21, 2017


Iron Fist Observations

I never followed Iron Fist in the comics, although I'm aware that he and Luke Cage had a book together called Heroes for Hire. So all I know about Iron Fist AKA Danny Rand comes from the Netflix series.

Danny Rand's dad was rich, he and his partner ran Rand Enterprises. So the Rand family are on their way to China when their plane goes down in the Himalayas. Young Danny survived and was taken in by monks from K'un-L'un, a city that only turns up on Earth from time to time. Danny was very good at kung fu, worked his way up the ladder and eventually gained the power of the iron fist. This entitles him to guard the entrance K'un-L'un for the rest of his life.

Having gotten his dream job, Danny finds it's boring as shit so the next time K'un-L'un interfaces with Earth Danny just ups and leaves. He makes his way to New York City and wants to take control of Rand Enterprises.

And that's all you really find out about Danny's motivation for leaving his post. Which kind of makes Danny an asshole, like the dick who makes his parents pay for medical school who gives it up two weeks into his residency to try his hand at stand up comedy.

Anyway, Danny finds out that the family business is being run by Ward and Joy Meachum, the children of the cofounder of the business. At first they don't believe that Danny is a fraud. After Danny's identity is confirmed he get control of his family's share of the stock (51%) and proceeds to behave like a monk who knows nothing about business. For the rest, Ward, Joy, Danny and everybody else in the show except Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple go on to careen from one ill considered course of action to another. Indeed the one big criticism I can level against Iron Fist is that the plot is driven by the characters making utterly disastrous decisions. I still enjoyed the show but it was disappointing compared to Netflix's other Marvel shows.

You see, when I watch something like Flash or Supergirl I don't expect the plots to hold withstand a lot of scrutiny. But shows like Daredevil and Luke Cage could stand up to the best of television. But Iron Fist was more like a good season of Elementary. But what's done is done, Netflix had to have Danny Rand because their next show is going to be The Defenders, a program that teams up Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist to team up and, one presumes, fight the Hand, a gang that his been threaded through the Marvel Netflix shows.

I suppose the bottom line is that I liked Iron Fist but I like the superhero genre. If you don't like the genre you still might like Luke Cage but there's no reason to sample Iron Fist.

March 20, 2017


Iron Fist

I mentioned that the critics hated iron Fist. Last night I watched the first four episodes and while it's not a game changer like Daredevil was it's not so bad and I'm enjoying it. I'm hoping that this bodes well for Mass Effect Andromeda.

March 19, 2017


Everything Ends

In this case, Torment: Tides of Numenera after a marathon Saturday session that finished at four in the morning.

And a bittersweet ending it was. It turns out that the Sorrow, the big bad of the game, was a force for balance and good. And my character, and the other cast off bodies of the Changing God, by our abilities to manipulate the tides, were causing unnecessary misery in the world. If my character was going to be a good guy then of necessity I and my fellow cast offs had to be removed from the board.

But the kicker was that the Sorrow recognized that I had come closer to beating him/her/it then any other cast off or, for that matter, the Changing God himself. So he/she/it offered me a choice of what I was going to do. At five in the morning I learned that the Sorrow would even have acquiesced if I chose its destruction.

But that wasn't my choice. Instead I decided that all of the remaining cast offs would be absorbed by the First Cast Off. We would die, the First Cast Off gain our knowledge, vow to make no more cast offs and when she died the ability to manipulate the tides died with her, until then she'd use the knowledge she gained from us to try to undo some of the damage the cast offs had caused in the world. The Sorrow approved of my decision and that's how it went down.

No happy endings for my character, although by his self sacrifice he died as he lived.

The game had its flaws but I enjoyed it a lot. Now for a breather. Next Tuesday Mass Effect Andromeda arrives. I'll wait for a bit and see how things shake down with that one before I pull the trigger on buying it.

March 18, 2017


In the Bloom

Although Torment: Tides of Numenera is billed as Planescape Torment's spiritual successor, there aren't many locations in the Ninth World that remind me of the earlier games look. Except for this shitheap. It's called the Bloom and it's the interior of a giant alien thing that somehow ended up in Sagus Cliffs.

The giant mouth there seems to have swallowed the Caravanserai. Unfortunately that's the place I need to go to next.

March 17, 2017


Mass Effect: Andromeda

I've preordered every Mass Effect game since the first one came out in 2007. But I haven't preordered Mass Effect: Andromeda. For one thing I'll still be playing Torment: Tides of Numenera when the game is released next week but also because I feel a little burned about the ending of the third game. The negative vibes about the game tell me that, for once in my gaming life, I've made an intelligent decision.

March 17, 2017


Torment: Tides of Numenera

If you're interested in seeing what Torment: Tides of Numenera is like, the author Patrick Rohfuss has a saved Twitch stream that will give you a good sample of the combat. Unfortunately for me, I'm rather underpowered for combat compared to his characters but in most cases my silver tongue allows me to talk my way out of danger.

March 17, 2017


Sure, Crush My Dreams Why Don't You

EA released the first few hours of Mass Effect: Andromeda to reviewers. This was a game I was really looking forward to and I'm afraid there are some problems with it:

Then there's Iron Fist the latest Marvel series from Netflix, it's been universally panned by reviewers. All I can say is that if Prey turns out to be a disappointment, I'm done with 2017 and moving on to 2018.

March 16, 2017


RPGs

Having played games by all three companies, yeah this is how their games work.

March 14, 2017


The Dying Earth

It occured to me as I was finishing up The Story of the Stone that since Torment: Tides of Numenera owes a lot to Jack Vance's The Dying Earth that now would be a good time to reread that book. So that's what I'm going to do.

You know the drill, the Earth is incredibly old the sun is dying (dead in The Night Land) and the remnants of humanity make their decadent way across the landscape. Jack Vance didn't create the genre, William Hope Hodgson, but Vance named it.

You know what, I've read Gene Wolfe's books about Urth, The Night Land, Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique cycle and Arthur C. Clarke's The City and the Stars and The Dying Earth is the best written book of the lot.

March 14, 2017


Pulse Pounding Turn Based Action

My second fight of the game. I'm the guy in white, Callistege is in red and Erritis is in brown. The hazy things are the enemies, released from a mirror in the Changing God's old workshop. Two of the things are down with three to go. Erritis eventually was knocked out but by that time Cal and I were able to mop up.

So that's what combat looks like.

March 11, 2017


The Quest for the Resonance Chamber

The Last Cast Off, Callistege and my new buddy Erritis are still looking for Matkina, another cast off who might know how to repair the resonance chamber. The search for Matkina led us to the Underbelly, a series of caves underneath the city where the poor and the marginalized live. A fellow named Mapper knows where Matkina hangs out but he won't tell me unless I explore the Changing God's Sanctuary. That's the one place in the Underbelly he hasn't mapped out.

The reason he hasn't mapped it out is that its entrance is in the sticha tunnels. Sticha are tunneling non human creatures and right now there's tension between them and the government of Sagus Cliffs. It seems that their tunneling has eroded the cliff the city sits on to the point where houses have collapsed. When I get to the sticha tunnels there are mercenaries getting ready to take on the sticha.

And I save the day. I use my powers to access the knowledge of the sticha language the Changing God had when he was in my body. Once I do that I discover that the sticha leader, Ch'kekt, will take me to the path that leads to the Changing God's Sanctuary, but only if I can get the mercenaries to leave. I manage to broker a peace deal by persuading the sticha that their tunneling is killing people. I point out that the city is about to launch military action against them. But if they go further down in the system of caves underneath the city they'll be able to tunnel without damaging Sagus Cliffs and the government will leave them alone. Ch'kekt isn't enthusiastic about that but accepts my logic and agrees to relocate. The mercenaries aren't jumping for joy either, they were hoping to take away a lot of sticha eggs after they killed the adults, but they too see the benefits of my compromise. Peace is maintained and Ch'kekt takes me where I have to go.

Of course I could have just started fighting with the sticha but alChandler is always ready to hold out the hand of friendship. But woe to he who doesn't take it.

This is the third two-dimensional isomorphic RPG I've played in less then a year. I'm not going to apologize for disliking Tyranny but I'm really starting to feel bad about how I played Pillars of Eternity without immersing myself in that world. But I'm going to try to immerse myself in the Ninth World, which was once called Earth.

By the way, I don't know if you've ever read Jack Vance's Dying Earth stories but there's a lot of that in this game. The game also owes a lot to M. John Harrison's books about Viriconium.

March 11, 2017


Immersive Sims

PC Gamer talks to Warren Spector, Harvey Smith, Ricardo Bare, Tom Francis and Steve Gaynor about immersive sims. Giant Bomb defines the genre this way:

Immersive sims are primarily concerned with making players feel as though they are truly experiencing a believable world by creating mechanics that feel appropriate and logical within the game world and try to avoid feeling arbitrarily 'Gamey'.

It's no secret that I like games like Dishonored, Thief, Bioshock and Skyrim so it was interesting to hear Warren Spector and the gang shoot the shit for a bit.

March 11, 2017


A Gaming Revelation

I've always hated dying in games, even when dying is a basic part of the game's mechanic. Take Middle Earth: Shadows of Mordor, the game has a built in nemesis system. If an orc kills you that orc becomes your nemesis. You're supposed to die from time to time and I'm told that it's difficult to finish the game if you don't die. What do I do? I play until I'm killed by an orc captain, then I uninstall.

Added to this is my age. Anytime I encounter difficulty in a game I wonder if it's my age that's causing me to have trouble. Yes, I know I'm being silly about all this but there you have it.

So then, today in Torment: Tides of Numenera I found myself in a bar called The Fifth Eye. I started talking to the other customers and one of them, a ghost tried to strangle me. The game gave me the option of fighting back or of letting her kill me. This time I decided to go against all my instincts and let her kill me. I woke up in some kind of astral plane and she was there. She, and five other women are being controlled by an entity. She asked for my help and I agreed. Then I made my way back to my body.

And so by dying I obtained a quest. I actually feel proud of myself.

March 11, 2017


Welcome to Sagus Cliffs

So then, there's this guy called the Changing God. Sometime in the past he achieved immortality by transferring his consciousness from body to body. But the discarded bodies don't die or become vegetables when he exits, they develop their own personalities and try to get on with their lives. The discards are called husks.

In Torment: Tides of Numenera I'm the latest husk. I'm new to the world but so far I've discovered that I may be able to recover memories by repairing a resonance chamber, so that seems to be the big quest right now. I'm in the city of Sagus Cliffs, which happens to sit on a cache of ancient technology from another age of the world. The city was, in fact, founded ages ago by the Changing God.

I've done two quests and discovered that another husk in the bowels of the city may know how the regeneration chamber can be repaired. Problem is she's an assassin and isn't considered too friendly. But that's the next step so Callistege and I are going for it.

Let's see, what else, I can read minds and Callistege is linked to alternate versions of herself, they sort of hover around her. The game is set about one billion years in the future and a lot of stuff is just weird, detritus left over from previous civilizations. Cal and I have just had our first major fight and come out all right, she's level 2 and I will be level 3 shortly.

The game was made by the people who did Wasteland 2. I never played that game but it's old school, released in 1988. While I never played Wasteland I did play a game called Planescape Torment in 1999. It took me some time to get into it, by 1999 my parents were declining rapidly and I don't think I actually finished it until after they died, so I don't have the fond memories other folks have of it. But the setting, Planescape, was interesting and I wanted to play the spiritual sequel.

The game uses the same engine that Pillars of Eternity used. I was in a lot of pain when I played PoE so I'm seeing the engine for the first time, as it were. It's not going to blow you away but for an isometric game with two-dimensional pre-rendered backdrops it looks very nice.

I've been playing for seven hours now and I've only been in combat once. My first encounter ended peacefully after I lied my ass off and in my second encounter I was able to bluff a bunch of rat people. It's that kind of game.

I'll be honest, the older I get the less patience I have for this style of RPG but I'm starting to like Torment: Tides of Numenera. If this hold up, the next time I hit the gaming doldrums I might check out Wasteland 2.

Oh yeah, the Big Bad is called the Shadow. The Shadow has a beef with the Changing God and keeps going after his husks. Since I'm one of his husks, this is a matter of some concern to me.

So that's what I'm playing at the moment. And here's a picture of my character, called the Last Castoff, and Callistege.

March 10, 2017


Torment: Tides of Numenera

I'm taking this game very slowly. I finished Path of Exile last year but went through it with little understanding of the world I was inhabiting. Granted, a lot of it was because I was in pain but I don't want to go through Torment that way so I'm taking it slow. I've just reached level 2, levels are called tiers in this game, and I'll wait until tomorrow to decide how I'll use my points.

I've a feeling that I'll be playing this for a bit and I'll have to delay getting Mass Effect: Andromeda for several weeks.

March 9, 2017


Firefox 52

This week Mozilla released Firefox 52. While Mozilla will continue to update its web browser, Firefox 52 will be the last version that will run on Windows XP and Vista. So if Firefox is your browser of choice and you want to keep it updated you'll have to upgrade to Windows 7 or Windows 10.

And as long as I'm being a bummer, browsers are rapidly dropping support for Flash and Adobe Acrobat. Chrome has its own PDF viewer and I believe YouTube has moved on to HTML 5.

March 8, 2017


Schedules

Left to myself I fall into a half assed schedule, going to bed anywhere between two and four in the morning and getting up between ten and noon. But I've noticed that if my schedule is disrupted my sleeping pattern drifts out to sea, sometimes for over a week.

In my younger years I would rage against the tyranny of people and institutions that were defined by sun up and sun down. These days I accept the fact that most people get up at seven in the morning and go to bed between eleven and twelve at night. And I try to be accommodating. If I have a doctor's appointment in the morning I deal, but then they'll be a week's worth of long naps and spotty concentration. Right now it's 3:30 PM and I'm fighting a nap with coffee.

You know, the ShopRite in Absecon once stayed open 24/7. The idea was that casino workers would get off work at midnight and come in for groceries. It didn't work out that way. I would come in at midnight but my business alone didn't justify the extra hours. To my sorrow the store started closing before I got off from work.

And yet, I don't want the rest of the world to stay up late, it would take the fun out of it. And today I will fight the temptation to take a nap. Instead I'll read, watch the tube and later play a little Torment. For the last week I've been trying to decide if I want Callistege or Aligern to travel with me. Aligern seems more reliable but Callistege seems like she'd be more fun to travel with. Tonight I'm making my decision.

March 8, 2017


The Night Ocean Part 2

H. P. Lovecraft was a friend of a young writer named Robert Barlow and Lovecraft visited him at his home in DeLand, Florida. After Lovecraft died in 1937, Barlow acted as his literary executor. Barlow himself moved to Mexico and became chairman of the anthropology department at Mexico City College. Barlow committed suicide in 1951, L. Sprague de Camp, in his biography of Lovecraft, said that Barlow killed himself because some students were about to expose his homosexuality. Thus we have the bare bones of Barlow's life.

La Farge takes this and runs with it. Marina Willett is a psychiatrist, grieving over the death of her husband Charlie. Charlie was researching Lovecraft and tracked down Lovecraft's erotic journal, the Erotonomicon. Lovecraft wrote about his secret life as a gay man and talked about his sexual relationship with Barlow. Charlie later obtains evidence that Barlow was still alive at 94 and goes to Mexico to find out the truth. When he gets back home Charlie is clearly shaken by something. He and Marina both agree that Willett needs some time in a mental hospital but Charlie leaves the grounds and makes his way to a lake. Although no body was found, Willett's clothes are at the shore and the police are calling Charlie's disappearance a suicide.

But Marina isn't buying it and it looks like she's going to try to uncover the truth. Uncovering the truth always leads to unpleasant complications.

This is going to be one of the more interesting novels of the year for me.

March 7, 2017


The Night Ocean

The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge will make the third book dealing with H. P. Lovecraft that I've read in a year, the other two were The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle and The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson.

I've said in the past that Lovecraft was the most important American horror writer between Poe and King. But important doesn't mean best. If you decide to read him you'll get passages like this:

From a private hospital for the insane near Providence, Rhode Island, there recently disappeared an exceedingly singular person. He bore the name of Charles Dexter Ward, and was placed under restraint most reluctantly by the grieving father who had watched his aberration grow from a mere eccentricity to a dark mania involving both a possibility of murderous tendencies and a profound and peculiar change in the apparent contents of his mind. Doctors confess themselves quite baffled by his case, since it presented oddities of a general physiological as well as psychological character.

In the first place, the patient seemed oddly older than his twenty-six years would warrant. Mental disturbance, it is true, will age one rapidly; but the face of this young man had taken on a subtle cast which only the very aged normally acquire. In the second place, his organic processes shewed a certain queerness of proportion which nothing in medical experience can parallel. Respiration and heart action had a baffling lack of symmetry; the voice was lost, so that no sounds above a whisper were possible; digestion was incredibly prolonged and minimised, and neural reactions to standard stimuli bore no relation at all to anything heretofore recorded, either normal or pathological. The skin had a morbid chill and dryness, and the cellular structure of the tissue seemed exaggeratedly coarse and loosely knit. Even a large olive birthmark on the right hip had disappeared, whilst there had formed on the chest a very peculiar mole or blackish spot of which no trace existed before. In general, all physicians agree that in Ward the processes of metabolism had become retarded to a degree beyond precedent.

That's from The Case of Charles Dexter Ward and if you're interested, the rest is here. But for all his flaws, and he had a lot of them, he was very good at presenting humanity helpless before cosmic horrors that we simply can't comprehend. And the kicker was that things like Azathoth, Nyarlathotep and Cthulhu weren't even evil in the conventional sense. Most of the time we weren't even on their radar. I mean seriously, do these guys look like they give a shit about humans?

To be honest, I reread Lovecraft because I got into his books as a teenager. As a kid I was pretty alienated and Lovecraft was the king of alienation. But if I was reading him for the first time today I wouldn't have the patience for him.

March 7, 2017


Donald Trump

I have three venues for talking about Trump. There's the incisive political commentary I post on Facebook:

There's a mailing list I curate and there's this page. So, today a little thing about Trump.

Some people voted for Trump because they genuinely believe he'll bring manufacturing jobs back to America. Others felt that it was time to put an outsider in the White House. And some, I'm afraid, are bigots who felt that Trump would be good for White supremacy.

But there's another reason people voted for Trump, they thought he was a good business person and would run the country like a business.

I'm not surprised at that. Trump is good at self promotion and while he's a lousy businessman and he's declared bankruptcy six times he projects an air of confidence. But I am surprised that a number of former inspectors voted for him.

I can only hope that whatever the reasons some former inspectors voted for Trump, business competency wasn't one of them. If an ex-inspector who worked at the Taj Mahal told me that he or she voted for Trump because of his business acumen it would destroy what little faith I have left in humanity.

March 6, 2017


Doctor Who

A better picture of the scarf. All the various incarnations of the Doctor have had their stylistic quirks (I wear a fez, fezzes are cool) and the Fourth Doctor's thing was his scarf. Well, not just the scarf, he had a thing for jelly babies too.

The thing about the Doctor is that as a Time Lord he can regenerate when he's seriously injured. The first actor to play the Doctor was William Hartnell, Hartnell had arteriosclerosis and in 1966 had to leave the show. Rather then cast a guy who looked like Hartnell, they went with Patrick Troughton and came up with the idea that Time Lords regenerate and have new bodies with a new personality to match, although some traits remain consistent. There have been 14 regenerations so far but between the Eighth Doctor and the Ninth Doctor was a fellow referred to as the War Doctor. That Doctor did not go by the name of the Doctor because he was a warrior and didn't feel he could live up to the name Doctor. Doctor isn't his name, rather it's a promise he made to himself.

And dear me, I can go on about this shit, can't I? Still it's a refreshing change from the Tolkien posts isn't it?

March 5, 2017


Torment: Tides of Numenera

I'm sad to say goodbye to the Deus Ex universe but everything ends and besides, Moon knitted me a Doctor Who scarf, which I will show you in a blurry photo I took at two in the morning. It will be replaced with a much better photo taken by someone who isn't taking a selfie after drinking cognac at two in the morning.

Also I began the new game.

March 5, 2017