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March

April 6, 2018

Watched

  • 10 Cloverfield Lane – Enjoyed the middle third a lot, the simmering tension was great. The twist, once we hit it, was fine, but it killed any tension. Our heroine was going to survive, or die, but it wasn’t going to be that interesting either way.  ★★★
  • Mute – This was pretty bad. ★★
  • Icarus – This was very good. ★★★★
  • Gattaca – I remember this coming out, which makes it all the stranger that it took me twenty years to watch it. It’s a great bit of speculative fiction, the world and characters are great, as it the cast. ★★★★★
  • Annihilation – I’m gutted we didn’t get a theatrical release in the UK, there’s some incredible scoring and sound design in this movie that would’ve been even better in a theatre. I loved this. Just the right amounts of beauty, weirdness, and horror. ★★★★
  • The Master – Jonny Greenwood’s score for this is outstanding, genuinely unsettling. Some very good performances, characters that aren’t easy to like, not always an easy watch. ★★★★
  • For the Love of Spock – I have fond memories of watching Star Trek re-runs as a kid and loving Mr Spock. This was nice. ★★★
  • Isle of Dogs – Love it. I highly recommend watching it then listening to the Wes Anderson episode of the Adam Buxton podcast where they discuss the film (amongst other things) ★★★★★
  • The Eagle Huntress – From what I gather, the director took some liberties with the story, but as a showcase of Mongolia and eagle-hunting this was pretty darn beautiful. I didn’t like the part where the eagle fledgeling was taken from her nest. Or the parts where the various foxes were killed by eagles. But without those there wouldn’t have been much of a documentary here! Also one of the grumpy elders they lined up reminded me so much of Bill Murray I couldn’t help but chuckle any time he was on screen. ★★★★

Read

  • Red Seas Under Red Skies – This is the second book in the Gentlemen Bastard series. I thoroughly enjoyed The Lies of Locke Lamora, this took me a little longer to get into; I think I read the first few chapters back in December or January then put it to one side. I think I was expecting more of Lies, when this is a different story, in a different part of the world. Once I got my head around that I chewed through this pretty swiftly. ★★★★
  • Flintstones Vol. 2: Bedrock Bedlam – If you haven’t read any of the Flintstone comics do yourself a favour, they’re so sharp. ★★★★
  • Jim Hensons’ The Storyteller: Witches – I was sucked in by the art for an upcoming issue in the Storyteller series so picked up the back issues on sale. This collection was pretty so-so: the art was variable, one of the stories was nice, the rest forgettable. ★★★
  • The Long Earth – This was neat, on one hand I would’ve liked more Pratchettian touches, but equally they might’ve made the idea too implausible. I’ll definitely read the next one. ★★★★
  • The Dying Earth – I listened to an episode of the Plot Points podcast recently where they designers of each edition of D&D talking about the game. Jack Vance came up, of course, so I decided to the Dying Earth a go. They were fun! A collection of vignettes that paint an interesting world. There’s part of me that wants to know what an alternate me who hasn’t played D&D would think of them, but this me enjoyed them. ★★★★
  • Doctor Strange, Vol. 2: The Last Days of Magic – This was ok. I enjoyed the first volume, but I don’t think I’ve enjoyed enough of Doctor Strange wielding supreme magical powers to get a kick out of the destruction of magic across the multiverse. ★★★

February

March 26, 2018

This one’s a bit late. That said, I didn’t get a whole lot read or seen.

Watched

13th was the only movie I watched at home in Feb. After I Am Not Your Negro the month before I don’t really know what to say any more. It’s just so horribly broken.

Out at the pictures we saw Black Panther and loved it. It’s the best treatment of the ‘baddie with same powers as the goodie’ trope we get in Marvel films, it looked great, it was funny, mostly self-contained, deserving of its success.

Then a week later we saw The Shape of Water which I adored.  I’m a sucker for fairy tales and this was a wonderful fairy tale. I just want GDT to keep making films like this, Pan’s Labyrinth, man I would loved to have seen his Hobbit. “Fuck. You are a god.”

Read

I picked up Bera the One-Headed Troll a while back but only just got around to reading it. It was… ok? Not quite what I expected, I don’t think I’d recommend anyone seek it out. The gist is a troll (the titular Bera) finds a human baby and is trying to return it while all the other trollkin want to kill it. She has to evade the baby hunters while trying to find ancient troll heroes who will help her, each in turn essentially makes her realise she can be the hero. There are some commando mice. Reading that back it sounds cooler than I found it. I also read vol 3 of Invincible (Perfect Strangers), we got a bit of explanation about some of last volume’s events. These are well-drawn and written and I enjoy very much when I’m reading them, but once I’m finished I don’t feel compelled to read the next one. I imagine I’ll pick at these over the course of the year.

At the no-pictures end of the reading scale I read A Line in the Sand: Britain, France and the Struggle for the Mastery of the Middle East. You may take title length as an indication of book length and density. But damn it was good. It covers British and French activity from the First World War through to the second. Given the state of world affairs, this should be taught in schools. I understand that trying to explain that, “during this war, in which we were the goodies, as well as fighting these people, who were the baddies, we were also sort of trying to beat these people, who were our fellow goodies, and also screw over these people, who (again) were our fellow goodies,” isn’t as simple but it seems important. Especially when the people living in the Middle East today are still living with the consequences, which in today’s world means we all are.

The Chain of Minauros

February 15, 2018

Thanks to a pretty successful Kickstarter campaign (I mean, I guess it’s going ok), Matt Colville will be streaming his next D&D campaign. I’m especially excited because the campaign his players have chosen is the Black Company campaign:

A mercenary company, the Chain falls on hard times and regroups in Capital, the greatest city in this, or any age. There the small band must lick its wounds, recruit new members, and plot its
revenge… Read more.

One of the features of this is that each player will hold a rank/title in the Company, one of which is Standard Bearer. I, of course, then had to think about what this standard might be…

So what does the name mean? Well, Minauros is a layer of the Nine Hells, and home to Jangling Hiter:

Suspended above the fetid bogs of Minauros, it is a literal city of chain, with everything from the buildings to the ground itself made of chains or chain mesh of various sizes…there is no finer chain anywhere in the multiverse than that from Jangling Hiter.

So as well as sounding super fucking cool, the Chain of Minauros are named for a chain that cannot be broken: they will honour their contract, they will hold their nerve. In word and in resolve they are unbreakable. Which is what you want from a mercenary company! (Damn, he’s good at writing this stuff.)

One train of thought I like that is that whatever the banner might be the standard is also hung with actual chains. Maybe when you enlist you’re given a single link of a chain, when you die that link is added to the chain on the standard so the standard bearer is literally carrying the history of the company.

Or, maybe the standard is hung with chains and the link you’re given when you join is from one of these chains. When the company is small the banner hangs heavy with chain, but if you can see the standard you know you face the company at full strength. That seems cool to me. But anyway, let’s play with some chains.

I think black and white makes sense, their contracts are written in black and white, they honour things to the letter. It’s no nonsense. (I guess they could write their contracts in blood? White on black is just so stark and powerful though.)

I think some of the horizontal chains look a bit weak. But! I also think that they make the most sense, imagine a wall of shields all side by side, forming a single, unbreakable chain. This even fits with the ability the Sergeant gets. So we need to make that cooler.

What else do I like? The bottom right with the surrounding chain could work, it could be a bordure with the insignia of their employer in the centre.

The chain on a bend sinister is fun too, the sinister could be a nod to the hellish origins of their name. Or maybe when they fight for ‘good’ it’s a bend proper and when they fight for the less good it’s sinister. Probably impractical, unless they have an ‘are we the baddies?’ checkbox on their contracts or something.

Let’s play with that horizontal chain and employer arms:

I think the horizontal chain is much stronger as a chief. We’ve also got the arms of Haldrim to stand in as the employer of our company but I’m less enamoured of this. It looks a bit jumbled. And I think I’m set on white on black.

If you went with the chief you could use different chain patterns to denote rank or distinguish troop type:

 

It’s neat enough but how can we take it further. How about some more intricate chainwork:

I really like the fine rings, they reinforce the idea of standing strong together, you can picture the row of shields bearing this chain. I think this might be pick of the lot. We’ll see how I feel in the morning.

The centre one is riffing on the idea of the link to the hells what with the sharp, angular chains, and an impossible/unbreakable link at the centre. But I like it less.

The last one is what I’d choose if the direction was to go functional, mundane.

As they’re a mercenary company including weaponry makes sense. There are a few directions I thought of on this tack:

The first is that the Chain is  stronger than any blade. I tried to do something with a hammer striking the chain and shattering but it was a bit too busy, the broken blade is ok but I’m not sure how well it conveys the concept.

The next is intended to show that the swords are bound/chained in your service. It also has a Damocles motif which I think works: when they take a contract there’s a burden of responsibility, and possibly, death hanging over each member of the company.

The last one is somewhere between the two ideas. The sword can’t break free from the chains but equally the chains are bound to it. Not sure about that. I prefer things to be less busy.

The final direction I thought of was having the chain bind a creature, the difficulty here was that the company could end up in service to… anything! If you bind a dragon or demon in your arms (not in the romantic sense) would it be awkward if you ended up in service to them? Not sure. I drew a shackle anyway:

Asylum

February 15, 2018

Asylum is the second arc of Board With Life’s XP Academy series.

I love these guys, they just crack me up, and the adventure is cool (longtime readers will remember I’m running my own XP Academy campaign).

In Asylum, four residents of a village where beasts talk like men have committed the ultimate crime: they murdered and ate one of their kin. In fleeing they end up at the titular Asylum but asylum does not await them there. Our heroes must capture the creatures alive and bring them to justice but fate has other ideas.

January

February 8, 2018

This year I’m trying to keep a diary of what I watch and read. In January I…

Watched

I started the year with a couple of rewatches, Life of Pi (I think the beauty is best appreciated on the big screen but I enjoyed it again on the small) and La La Land (still delightful).

Next up was Silence. It was beautifully shot, overlong, pretty harrowing, and an interesting exploration of the (depending on your viewpoint) nature, cost, or futility of faith. Adam Driver looks like he walked out of an El Greco painting, he was perfect.

As part of an effort to watch some classics, Casablanca and Rio Bravo both hit my screen this month. With Casablanca especially, it was interesting how much I could know about a film and still not really know what the film was about. I could name the characters, the locations, quote the lines, but I couldn’t have told you a jot about the plot. It was great, and reminded me how much I love Peter Lorre, even though his appearance was brief.

Free Fire was better than I thought it would be (and the facial hair lived up to expectations). The Lego Batman Movie was… something I’ll keep for when my nephews visit. And The Big Sick was lovely and funny, more Holly Hunter please.

Rounding out the month, I watched Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and I Am Not Your Negro. I think if you don’t know that there’s something fundamentally wrong with racial equality in America (and elsewhere) then I don’t know how to help you. I Am Not Your Negro is often sad, at times brutal, and throughout a necessary reminder that something needs to be fixed.

Three Billboards is also sad, and brutal, and at times hilarious. Frances McDormand is phenomenal, Sam Rockwell too. I think those complaining about Dixon’s ‘redemptive arc’ saw something I didn’t, the sad truth is that monsters in the real world are human. A horrible person can try to do something good, a virtuous person can do something bad, real people don’t have alignments, it’s not that simple.

Read

The Comixology bug is still strong, but I’m trying to make a concerted effort to read more books this year. That said, I read the first two Atomic Robo collections, these were fun, reminded me of the early BPRD collections. The Sheriff of Babylon Vol 1 didn’t grab me at first but got interesting, I don’t think it’s hooked me enough to keep going. If I spot future collections on offer I might pick them up. I found Captain Marvel Vol 1 so-so, I picked it up what with the movie adaptation in the pipeline but my knowledge of the Marvel Cosmic and recent events wasn’t up to snuff. Cap is a badass for sure, but I felt like I was on the back foot with the story.

The comic highlight for me this month was Invincible, Vol 2. I enjoyed the first volume just fine, but then something happened in this volume that made me double take and flick back to make sure I hadn’t missed something (a bit like the time I read the Red Wedding chapter in A Storm of Swords).

On Kindle I read a couple of historical non-fiction books: The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval Europe and Longitude. The Time Traveller’s guide was a bit of a slog, it was clearly well researched and referenced but severely lacking in character. Longitude was much more enjoyable; genuinely dramatic, peppered with historical figures and notable events. There’s a pullquote from a review along the lines of, “makes horology sexy,” which feels a little trite, but this was a genuinely world-changing development.

In fiction I read The Big Sleep, in a similar vein to Rio Bravo and Casablanca I feel I know all the tropes of hard-boiled fiction, but I’ve never read any Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett. Man, this was cool. To begin with I was definitely reading it in my head with the movie voiceover I mostly know from parodies but yeah, I ate this up. I picked it up as a trio on Kindle so I have Farewell My Lovely and The Long Goodbye to look forward to.

And on paper I read One Thousand Monsters, the latest in Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula series. If you’ve tried one of the earlier ones and it didn’t grab you, then this probably isn’t for you either, but they are very much for me, and shifting the setting to Japan only appeals to me more. Yokai as vampire strains is a great way to bring them into Newman’s world, and they are just as weird as yokai scrolls would indicate. The lads from Silence make an appearance of sorts, Popejoy is a wonderful insert. If you enjoyed the others in the series, or are a superfan of Japanese myth and cinema, then this is for you.

A girl, her wizard, and his cat

January 18, 2018

Caleb Widogast, Nott the Brave, and Frumpkin.