Category Archives: Nerdism and Geeky stuff

Why Rogue One sucks not so bad

Yes, I made a funny title, but I’m really torn about Rogue One. When I watched it the first time, I really dug the film. I had the full on cinematic experience with popcorn and was not too critical. Maybe also because I was celebrating my 5 year relationship (really proud of that). So why did this film suck not so bad?

Rogue One story

The story of Rogue one is so thin, that you can see through it. If you would wear Rogue One in public, it would be indecent. The plot revolves around the Death Star. To destroy it, the blueprints need to be acquired. We all know where this is going, but just not how it’s going to get there.

The protagonist is Jyn Erso, whose dad designes an builds the Death Star. Jyn is as a character not very believable, mainly because there is so little of it. We see Mads Mikkelsen as Galen Erso, daddy, in a performance that is as convincing as he always is, but also thin. It’s hard to find any sense in the motivation and acts of the characters, which is incredibly sad. Alan Tudyk (Firefly) voices a droid, who is ment for comic relief… Well, atleast it’s not Jar Jar Binks. But do the characters really matter that much? Not really, because the whole point of the film is hinting at the Trilogy and those characters. Shame that Jyn Erso and her compatriot Cassian Andor are just such lousy characters… No clue why they would risk their lives. I just didn’t understand them, nor connected to them.

source: petercushing.blogspot.com, “A display of people who… well, don’t really matter.”

Mind, this is in no way ment to criticize the actors. You can only offer criticism on that, when they are actually allowed to act. Maybe the actors know who their characters are, but they never have the room to bring that across. In a franchise that asts Hayden Christenson as Anakin Skywalker, perhaps character simply doesn’t matter…

Cinematographic spectacle

But the spectacle of seeing Darth Vader in his castle, or seeing Grand Moff Tarkin brought back to life with technology is amazing. Even a fleeting glimpse of Leia made a guy in the row in front of me jump up in frantic movement, simply because the enthusiasm couldn’t be contained. The way they movie makers did this part is absolutely glorious and brilliant.

The huge battles, the explosions and creatures of many different kinds are brilliant and believable. The film has all the spectacle it needs but maybe just a little too much. Maybe a bit of character build up would have made the overal performance of this film better. It’s such a shame, because this part is so brilliantly done. Still, I remain with the question that if the character Cassian carries with him a personal prison, why don’t we find out? Why trivialize the character so much with a mere response to this mystery, that goes like this: ‘yeah, I did some bad things… but I believe in this.’. Grandeur replaces character and that is murderous for the quality of a film.

The Star Wars Canon

A big bummer for many fans of the franchise was probably the fact that there was not a single mention of Kyle Katarn. Kyle Katarn is a character in the fringes of the Canon, who really came to life in the video games and legends of the Star Wars universe. Originally, he was the one who stole the plans of the Death Star. Well… no more.

Though more and more Legends are being reintegrated into the Canon, it’s hard to see what the impact is of the film. Rogue One is in a sense a rather small bit of history, that regarding the progression of the story will have little impact on the rest of the canon. It remains unclear though what this will mean for the further universe and the way it will develop. Rogue One doesn’t open any new doors, just rushes towards one that is wide open and titled ‘Star Wars IV – A New Hope’. It’s from there it derives all its value.

Insignificant

History will call Rogue One an insignificant film I fear. The overall response is that it lacks any real meaning, some real sense of inspiration. All the vibrant enthusiasm it evokes, it evokes by referring to the Trilogy. The highlight of the film is the moment you see Leia. If you haven’t seen it yet, that might keep you to your seat till the end of the thing. It won’t be its narrative brilliance.

So to wrap up the story, it doesn’t suck so bad. Just curb your enthusiasm and enjoy the spectacle. There’s little else Rogue One has to offer. All in all it will be a footnote in the franchise’s history.

 

RIP Carrie Fisher. I’ll miss you, dear princes. 

Star Trek Beyond and Spock: a reviewism

Stardate 24 december 2016, Captain’s log. For those who have read the more nerdy bits on my blog before, you already know that I’m a Star Trek fan. I had not watched Beyond yet and not really penned anything about the death of Leonard Nimoy. Christmas seems to be as good a time as any to do so.

Christmas time is an odd time for me. It’s a moment where everything winds down.  Suddenly the time presents itself to do some things you normally never get around to. For me this is particularly so. So yesterday I cancelt the christmas party at work, didn’t go to two great shows in Eindhoven, but instead crashed on the couch with a glass of stout, a pizza and Star Trek Beyond.

[Spoiler Alert: though I tried to keep things foggy]

Star Trek Beyond

I’m someone who grew up with Generations, not The Original Series, so I have a bit more of a modern view on the show perhaps than others. Also, I did see TOS as a child, so characters like Spock, McCoy and Kirk are as vividly present in my subconscious as those of other childhood heroes from other universes. Still, I liked the intellectual quality of Star Trek. It was a static show, hard to get into sometimes, but so rewarding if you were in the flow of things. It was rather opposite the ‘other fandom’  of Star Wars, with its lightsaber wielding, blaster bursting action.

The rebooted series lacks that static element and is as action packed as any Hollywood blockbuster of these days. I remember reading in Leonard Nimoy’s biography, how he felt that Star Trek gave people something to think of. This was his biggest pride in the series, the fact that scifi changed reality. This part is hard to see on first glance in the new film. The characters, don’t get me wrong, are great picks. They really fit the shoes they’re stepping into. Maybe for me Chris Pine as Kirk does lack some of the bravado that William Shatner has, who did of course make his name as a Shakespeare actor.

So the action packed story is great, though perhaps slightly unlikely, but so are the original Star Trek films. Perhaps the near-death experiences are a bit too numerous. Where old Kirk took gambles, that luckily worked out, new Kirk jumps into the fire and rolls out unscathed a bit too often. But that’s part of the spectacle of current day cinema, particularly the fantastic. Simon Pegg was co-writer on this film. Regarding his view on nerd culture, that might be a good thing for the future, keeping Star Trek in line with its past.

To equality and beyond

But to the subtext, are there still provocative elements in Star Trek? Well, though Uhura would be the sexy lady of the film, she is now also a strong, independent woman, not just that one at the intercom. Looking back, that was something new in TOS, a woman in a professional position, but in a way it was a glorified secretary.

Sulu meets his ‘husband’ (implied by the fact the two have a child), which of course still counts as controversial in many parts of the world. It is peculiar to know though that George Takei’s homosexuality was never part of the show (though many will say it was evident). Takei didn’t like the decision, because it was contrary to the characters history and identity, and rightly so. So though it was intended as being forward thinking, the result feels forced and not very sincere.

So what remains? There is a story arch, culminating in a fight between Kirk and a former soldier, who believes war is what shapes us and can’t deal with the peaceful way the federation works. The obvious triumph of Kirk can be read as peaceful means of bureaucracy to be always preferable over war. It suggests that flawed organisations like a NATO or the fledgling EU are atleast attempts at something that is better than the sword. As a friend of mine told me once: “Ask any veteran who has seen battle, they’ll all tell you that to prevent war any alternative is better, any situation is preferable over war…”.

United in diversity… Food for thought for a generation or perhaps two that only knows discontent in peaceful times.

Also, before I forget to mention, the actor who plays Chekov, Anton Yelchin, died before the release of the film in an accident due to a problem with his car. No recasting for Chekov follows in the future.

Spock

One scene that makes an impact, is where the young Spock is informed of the old ambassador Spock’s death. A wordless scene, only briefly a picture of Leonard Nimoy shows on the screen as the elder Spock. There’s a moment that touches you. Nothing needs to be said, but Star Trek itself needed this good bye. We’ve said goodbye to Nimoy and now also to Spock.

The next mourning, I watched Star Trek II: Wrath Of Khan, with the end scene where Spock dies as well in the reactor chamber. It now really hit me that Spock is gone with Leonard Nimoy. Sure, Zachary Quinto is an excellent actor, but he is not Spock. The loss finally really sank in for me and it saddened me greatly.

A legacy

Leonard Nimoy has for me become someone who is larger than life. I read his biography’s and even though he’s just a man with failings, he is also a role model. He did so much in his life, which is hugely inspirational. I love how he spent his latter years exploring poetry and photography and vigorously opposing smoking. His first biography was titled ‘I’m Not Spock’. In this Nimoy is denying the connection between him and the character (check my bits on those books here). This book was difficult and felt like an identity crisis, but also conflicted on different levels. In the following book, 20 years later, Nimoy was free of those concerns. The title is ‘I am Spock’ and in it Nimoy embraced Spock as a part of Nimoy (and I guess of Nimoy as part of Spock).

It shows that unique thing that fantasy can do, which is to change the real world. To affect real people and inspire millions. Spock has become an entity, that used Nimoy as a conduit, or vice versa. He is fictional, but he can’t be, because he impacts the world, no? Maybe our fantasy is much more powerful than we know. That’s what I learned from Spock.

It’s like losing a father figure in a way, someone you truly look up to. Not like a child, blind to the failings of the man, but seeing them as character, like an adult. . I’m glad that there was a good bye moment. I’m not sure if the future of Star Trek will rekindle the fire of passion in me that I felt for it. Let’s hope so though.

Live Long and Prosper.

source: Trekcore.com

[END of Spoiler Alert]

There is a documentary out on the life of Nimoy/Spock, titled ‘For the love of Spock’, made by Nimoy’s son.

 

Lessons Learned from playing Dungeons & Dragons

Not too long ago I started running a Dungeons & Dragons Campaign. Though the game we play is just the starter set of the fifth edition, ‘The Lost Mine of Phandelvar’, you can gain some insights. Though they are crude, I’d like to share them with you.

See, role playing may seem like a fun activity for your free hours, but you can learn a lot and apply a lot of it to, so here’s five lessons I’ve learned from playing D&D. But let me preface that with the fact that D&D’s magic doesn’t lie in the characters or setting, it’s in the collaborative effort. That’s where the magic happens and how that comes to be is not so different to work situations.

1. Being a DM is much like managing

For those who don’t know, a DM is a dungeon master. Essentially you play the monsters, other characters that the players encounter and you judge whether things that the players try to do work out. Most importantly though, you run the story and try to make everyone enjoy the ride. As a DM, more often than you think, you’ll try to guide the players or direct them. However, you shouldn’t, as this is exactly the part that they need to do themselves. As a DM you have to rely on the qualities of the party. You can suggest or hint at things, or throw some extra stuff their way, but basically you’re managing a team of skilled individuals. Trusting them is a challenge.

2. Role playing only works when you are vulnerable

Role playing is collaboration. Collaboration between the DM and the players and between the players. This only works fully, if you manage to be open and trust each other. As a DM I sometimes have to voice certain characters. Since I’m not a voice actor, it can be tricky, so the willingness to engage with my meager acting skills is extremely important for the mutual fun we want to have. Similarly, if I laugh or mock another player for attempting things in the game or imitating a voice, I might cause a big decrease in expression and joy of that player. He or she will think twice before speaking up again.

Do you have one of those managers or bosses that are hyper-direct, blunt and pretty much always right (even when they clearly aren’t)? Pretty much everyone knows the kind of character I’m talking about. It’s that person who chokes the creativity out of any project group or team, the one that makes refrain from sharing ideas/suggesting things. That’s exactly the same thing. Feeling safe and being able to feel vulnerable are key ingredients in any collaboration.

source: Dungeonsmaster.com Click the image for a great article (even though its 4) on engaging your players.

3. Engaging your players is harder than you think.

Apart from that safe environment, there is another huge challenge if you want to get things done. Engaging with your players is vital to the success of a D&D campaign. If they don’t feel invested or attracted to the campaign, they won’t get into it. Even less chance that they do in the way you want them to. In fact, to get the interaction going and the story rolling, you need every single person around the table to be invested. To achieve such engagement, knowing their various strengths and interests is vital.

This, again, is very similar to a project. No one wants to be bothered with a project that doesn’t offer any challenge. Why? Because it’s boring and doesn’t give you those positive vibes of excitement that make you go out of your way to contribute your best/to do your best, etc.. Simply ‘challenging’ someone does not make for a good project. It’s a matter of constantly estimating their attitudes and interest and working that on a personal level. Challenges have to be tailored to the individual. Have you ever been in a project where everyone was agitated and nobody felt like it was really his or her project? That’s the absolute opposite of an engaged group. If you find that exact bit of the story in which the player can excel, it becomes her story. The same goes for work-like situations: if you don’t feel engaged, you’re not switched on.

4. Reward effort, even when it fails.

Your players will attempt stuff, that will be creative, weird or even utterly out of place. Also stuff that you were simply not prepared for. So… sometimes they fail. Sometimes players come up with elaborate schemes and actions, but they roll, you roll and they fail. However, that’s not the end of it: the creativity of the players should always should be rewarded. Just let them succeed or do some accidental good to the players. Why? Because speaking out is brave, trying things is daring. Creativity already is stomped upon way too often in this world of ours.

Again, let me compare this to the bad manager that sits you down at a table and asks for ideas, yet somehow every idea gets ridiculed and mocked. How many ideas would you like to share with this person? None. So it’s vital to reward people that share thoughts, give feedback, offer suggestions and so on, because once that flow of information stops, you might end up having to do all of the work by yourself. For a D&D game, that would suck. For any work endeavor… well, what do you think? Always show grattitude for the input of others and reward the courage to stand up and say whatever you have in your head.

5. You could treat any project like a dragon

Ok, so I kind of added this one for fun, but also to wrap it up. If you spark the interest, engage players and manage to provide that environment where people feel cool and feel that they can be creative, you can do anything. Seriously, ANYTHING! You’d be surprised by how often you see a D&D party beat the odds with daring ideas, out-of-the-box thinking and the creative madness that is born out of the excitement.

You might think: well, yeah, but they’re beating paper dragons… Well, isn’t most of the work we do all just paper dragons. Paper dragons are, at their core, problems that need to be solved. If you can make your team feel like they are facing a dragon and if they get as pumped and inspired as my D&D party, you’ll be surprised by what you can achieve. Really, they might just slay it in a way you had never thought of.

Blue is the hardest colour

Do you know that it actually is true that blue is the hardest colour to see? It’s a physics thing, for real. It’s no surprise that I have a beef with the colour blue. Not like. the color itself, but the blue bouldering routes.

I’ve started bouldering almost half a year ago, after being introduced to it by a friend. I’ve always enjoyed climbing and fondly remember my experiences with the activity in the Belgian Ardennes and secondary school gym classes. Now, climbing high walls is cool, but it requires a partner at all times, so bouldering felt more fitting.

For those not familiar with bouldering, it’s a sport that focusses on the technical aspects of climbing. Short ,technical routes that go up to like max. 4 meters on a straight or overhanging wall. Difficulty is shown in different colours of the routes, to make it easier for you. You climb with just your wits, body and a pair of climbing shoes that fit so tight you feel like a ballerina. It’s funny how that colour thing works When you start, you just see the colour of that level and slowly you find, while your skill advances, your eyes shifting to the next ones…

Very close to my home is a boulder gym, named Monk, which has 3 locations in the Netherlands (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Eindhoven). The staff is friendly and laid back, there’s usually some cool jazz, triphop, hiphop or electronic music playing while you climb. Some people come in groups and chat a lot, but I often go alone and enjoy the solitude of my efforts. There’s a moment between starting the climb and tapping of on the top grip (usuallly there’s an indicated start grip and a finish grip), where sounds fade away and there’s nothing but you and the wall. It’s your physical efforts versus nature in a way, it’s a moment of complete focus and tranquillity.

So for me the name Monk seems fitting, because it’s not about your fancy outfit or cool shoes, not about impressing others (I really think there’s little of the ‘gym flexing’  going on in general). It’s about you and that challenge, which makes it very pure for me. It’s not about succeeding, there’s no points to be handed out, it’s a very solitary, mental thing to me and that’s probably why I enjoy it so much. It cleans away my thoughts.

But still, blue is the hardest color, it’s the wall you hit when muscle and ability have gotten you as far as it can. It’s no longer easy or doable, now it becomes harder to progress. I will have to ask for help to move forward and that is also a lesson, because it breaks that solitude open again. I imagine that climbing in this form (or any form) isn’t for everyone, but I recommend it anyways. It shapes your body and mind, strengthening both. Facing your limits is not always pleasant, but it gives you the chance to break through them. That’s probably what I love most about this sport.

So I am certain I’ll start liking blue at some point.

The picture is not me, it’s a stock photo. Since I really don’t want to offend anyone by misusing their work, I use stock photos.

Stranger Aeons: An overdue introduction

When I started my own blog, I was over the moon with a broad scope of topics and I named it ‘Wheaton’s Law’. It was a geeky thing, but if you really look at any blog, it’s probably run by a geek of sorts. When I launched that blog, I decided to inform the world of what, why and how. Time to do that for the rebranded Stranger Aeons.

Origin of the name

Like any name, you want it to be original, to be yours. I’ve recently got a tattoo above my knee saying: “with strange aeons even death may die”. Now, this is an obvious Lovecraft reference. I love that phrase, I really do. So that was my first real idea after many, many failed ideas. I mean, I am the guy who came up with a tumblr blog titled ‘Fascism and Fascination’, so I have a history of bad names. Oh yeah, first blog ever was titled Psychosis Safari… Ah well.

So yes, obviously when one finds a unique name, registers it and all, you find out about things. Like an Entombed EP and a Lithuanian band named Stranger Aeons. You can’t win ’em all.

So why Stranger Aeons?

I picked the name because it resonates with the things that fascinate me in life. I’m an avid reader about past or fictional aeons and I feel that we live in a rather strange one as well. There’s a lot of mystery in the world and this is what fascinates me. It allows me to explore places, drinks, books and music and share it under the same banner. Surely, my focus is on music, but even in that I hope to offer the strange and mysterious.

So my focus is on extreme metal, folk and records that are just too unnatural, weird or haunting. I try to get some interviews in with bands that fascinate me and maybe more if my time becomes more liberal.

I think you should write about my band, we’re sort of strange

I would love to, so just contact me and I’ll check it out. Since this is still a one man endeavour, I can hardly cover everything. If I don’t sorry, but I always try to when I’m asked.

Just to be clear, I’m interested in anything that pushes the envelope, anything that is rediscovering our ancient past and roots. Things that explore and evoke thoughts. Be sure to contact me, I don’t bite.

Your ultimate Lovecraft soundtrack part 3

After going into some random interesting music and then focusing on the heavy, doomy stuff, in this third part I want to just bring out the Lovecraft inspired music that I missed on the first search for music. This focuses on what I’d like to call honorable mentions, artists that put themselves out of the box with haunting, harrowing tributes to Lovecraft.

Enjoy the madness.

Honorable mentions

Working on this bit, I came across some brilliant works of music, which I will gladly share with you here.

Old Witch is a bit of a mysterious black metal band from Canada, but on this reading of Lovecraftian magic, they offer the B-side of their ‘Come Mourning Come’ record for The Picture In The House, read by Glenn Hallstrom. The band offers the sonic ambiance to the reading. Great material therefor.

Nothing like a bit of dark ambient, on this homage to the mad God swirling in chaos ‘Azathoth’ by Cryo Chamber Collaboration. That is too little words to pay truely respect to the effort this 2 hour piece must have taken to make. A stunning number of 20 artists worked on this project, to create this ultimate bit of music.

Because that effort was not enough to prove the brilliance of the Cryo Chamber Collaboration, they did one more titled ‘Nyarlathotep’ and ofcourse earlier the masterful ‘Cthulu’. Well done sirs, well done! This is for the long winter nights, I’d say, to immerse yourself for hours in darker realms.

Ultar is a Siberian post black metal band. A tortured, dreary sounding track, that well describes the daunting journey to find that city of Unknown Kadath past the planes of Leng and you know what I’m talking about, don’t you? This is truly one of the best things I’ve heard.

Ok, maybe Shoikan Grove isn’t your run of the mill Lovecraftian project, but it definitely should be mentioned. A project over mail by two friends, inspired by D&D, Magic and Lovecraft and a joy to listen to. Not the best quality, but the enthusiasm is enough to keep me listening.

Nuclear Cthulu from St. Petersburg in Russia is definitely a different case, taking the great old one to a more industrial sphere on their album ‘Desecration’. Black metal combined with doom and industrial and a lot of unholy chanting. Feel the cold!

It sounds like a forlorn videotape with a peculiar soundrack to a creepy horror film and that is what Black Mountain Transmitter is best at on this tribute to the Goat with the Thousand Young. Ambient soundscapes and eerie effects, to get you through the day and haunted nights.

In his own image The Gateless Gate/Khan Tengri has made a record that celebrates ‘At The Mountains Of Madness’ in a peculiar psychedelic and ambient rocking way. I like it, perhaps you do too, but I do miss the threatening vibe. I still enjoyed listening to his interpretation and drift of on the cosmic vibes.

This is again just a small selection of stuff that is out there. I hope you enjoy checking some of this material out and reading some more books by the Great Old One H.P. Lovecraft himself.

 

Your ultimate Lovecraft soundtrack part 1

I’ve noticed the curious fact that so many bands have recently gone in the direction of Lovecraftian themes in their music, it’s astonishing. Some of them are brilliant.

Entering the Mythos

I stumbled upon a library book when I was around 16 years of age, featuring assorted Lovecraft stories. Though the book was more aimed at New England stories (the witchcraft stories of Lovecraft), it was an immediate succes for my reading pleasures. For years it felt like a nice underground thing, that only the initiated of my friends knew about. It’s the kind of work that makes you feel like you know something others dont.

The mythos isn’t for everyone, there’s a style of writing inate to the work of Lovecraft that is dense, old and sometimes a bit too stale, but it all helps in the proces of scaring you. Not everyone can get that far, which always prompts me to recommend short stories. Lovecraft could astonish you in a  100 pages of ‘At The Mountains of Madness’, but evenly so in a 3 page short story.

Academic interest

The Lovecraft mythos and its impact has even become a topic of some academic/essayist interest with the writings of even a Michel Houellebecq adresses the topic of Lovecraft. The early 20th century pulp writer has become an underground culture phenomenon. Specially in the later decades of past century, Cthulhu is rising.

Not only are there tons of cartoons, re-issues and weird fan art, Cthulhu and other Lovecraftian creations have been part of music (mostly heavy or underground) for a while. Gary Hill documented this in his book ‘The Strange Sound of Cthulhu: Music Inspired by the Writings of H.P. Lovecraft’.  It mentions an astonishing amount of bands from all sorts of places, but I feel quite often from the southern part of the USA. I guess the foggy swamps bring about something supernatural.

Musical Reading Support

Though many bands featured mention the fact that they veel their music should stand on its own, I find personally that having a good slab of music to listen to while reading the works of Lovecraft is an entirely cool thing to have. The comical Lovecraft tunes and punkrock probably doesn’t fit very well as material that supports you while reading. Instead you would go for something more atmospheric, heavy and oppressing, leaving classical/postrock/ambient and metal. I prefer metal.

Recently there’s been a boom in Cthulhu stuff, which ranges from audiobooks on bandcamp to strange experimental rock similar to the soundtracky stuff by X-ray Dog. An example of that are these guys:

Triskaidekaphobia would be right up your sleeve if you are interested in more electronic, trance-like material. A bit of goth flavoring and a ton of electronic assistance create something akin to a game soundtrack.

Similarly, the work by guitarist Brett Miller takes on that sound, but more metal oriented and maybe akin to the famous Red Alert videogame soundtrack. Strong riffing, but little other effects. Quite up front, which  is not for every reader, and highly captivating.

More out to get some prog in your ears? The recording done by Back to R’lyeh is a worthy endeavour with soaring, big sounding adventure-music. There’s a bit of heavy vocals mixed in their, but overall they sound a bit like modern day Opeth. Good stuff by this Spanish group, but to me a bit too all over the place.

More sticking witht he ambiance of a radio show? Reber Clark supplies the music to the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society’s Dark Adventure Radio Theatre and more, so he’s well versed in this. You can find a lot of his work online. 

A bit weirder…

A bit more odd, but I’m not judging, is the lo-fi surf inspired noise rock by Zpider on this endeavour. Granted, for me the weirdnes of it would be a bit too distracting, but the Burzumesque drones and spiralling sounds may just be what you need to get in that Lovecraftian groove.

So the Suction Cups took that and made it even more weird and silly, with a carnivalesque organ jam that sounds way to much like a party to me, but damn,… it’s captivating.

Thomasz Bylina is a metal musician, but on the side he started doing something he likes to call illustrative music. That is great, because that is exactly what you’d be looking for. The record, titled firstly ‘Teomachia’ is in fact ment as a soundtrack of a game Thomasz is part of developing. How awesome is that!?

Or you just don’t give a tick, give Cthulhu boobs and a vagina  that looks like the mouth of  Gene Simmons , like Blinding Eye Dog. I don’t know what more to say about this. Lovecraft probably didn’t envision this, but then again Lovecraft was a bit of an old fashioned guy… The music is good in my opinion.

Mind, this is just a pick of recent materials that have been released. It’s not an all encompassing list, but just what I came across.

The thing is, the inspiration that Lovecraft’s work has given to musicians is one of a kind. Even the weirdos from Blinding Eye Dog have clearly read the works and decided to do a strange spin on that. Sure, it’s very different, but the impact is shown. Yeah sure, it’s not thet profound expression of appreciation, but it shows the impact of Lovecraft’s work.

The Books I Read #18 Dungeons & Dragons

I kind of stopped mentioning the books I read for a while. Mainly due to the fact that I was stuck on the same saga for a while. I’ve started reading the ‘Legend of Drizzt’ series by R.A. Salvatore.

I mentioned a few of those books already in an earlier post. Since I shunned my responsibilities since, I have to now catch up with these things for a bit, to regain my self respect. I’m going to discuss the Drizzt series books from the start and the comics I’ve been checking out on this topic.

R.A. Salvatore – The Dark Elf Trilogy (Homeland, Exile, Sojourn)

goodreads.com

In the first series we are immersed in the world of Drizzt Do’Urden, warrior, thinker and hero of the Dungeons & Dragons Universe. Drizzt is born underground, in a place of certain death and evil: The Drow city of Menzoberranzan. On the night of his birth his elder brother is killed by his sibling, which means the life of Drizzt is spared. A third son would be sacrificed to the chaos goddess Lolth. Drizzt is raised in the matriarchal society under the tutelage of his father and the weapons master of house Do’Urden, while the matriarch watches. His father, Zaknafein, installs a different moral code in his son, one that strays from the evil path of the Drow and will set Drizzt apart from his kind.

The storytelling is such as to really allow the reader to immerse in the otherworldly and unholy beauty of these realms, specifically the hard to imagine Underdark, where the drow live. One could argue that Salvatore is engaging in the nature vs nurture debate here as well, since the character of Drizzt only starts to really be discussed after the real ethical questions are being raised. Before this point, he is an empty vessel in a way, following the path layed out for him. Once Salvatore opens up the characters, it feels elaborate and completely in sync with how D&D players would express their characters. The journey is quite beautiful, but very solo Drizzt. It is a necessary story that allows the reader to appreciate and embrace the character and the element that is Drizzt in the further stories.

R.A. Salvatore – The Icewind Dale Trilogy (The Crystal Shard, Streams of Silver, The Halfling’s Gem)

goodreads.com

In the second trilogy we fast-forward a little bit to a point where Drizzt has made some friends in the northern valley of Icewind Dale, a place of thieves, robbers and outcasts trying to start new lives. His friends include dwarven king Bruenor Battlehammer, halfling Regis and Catti-bri, human adopted daughter of King Bruenor. The characters are introduced during the story, slightly lifting up the veil on their backgrounds, while a threat grows in the dale. Not only do the friends need to unite, they’ll also need to unite the bickering villages of the vale, who have only once managed to work together to save their hides.

It is also the story of another character, namely the barbarian child Wulfgar. During the battle where the villages united against the Barbarian tribes, he was spared and indentured by Bruenor. We find the child coming of age as a man with the right mindset and principles, but the stubbornness of his own people. In the story the characters develop and find themselves amid the turbulent times they are part of. Ofcourse the story kicks of a leap to the next trilogy as well and much further adventures for what becomes the ‘Companions of the Hall’.  Where the first book focuses on what can be called pretty much ‘survival’, this book focuses on other D&D values such as diplomacy, wisdom and cunning.

goodreads.com

R.A. Salvatore – Legacy of the Drow ( The Legacy, Starless Night, Siege of Darkness, Passage to Dawn)

The events in the previous trilogy lead to an expansion of the world that the adventurers face, but also brings forward a longing for peace and home. Unfortunately the figure Drizzt has become a much desired prize for the evil drow, his own people. The matron mother of the city of Menzoberranzan decides on a hunt for the rogue drown to appease the displeased deity Lolth. In fact, Lolth herself has a hand in the whole events, tricking a great demon into cooperating with her against the prodigal son of her people. This reconnects the reader with some old familiar figures and brings us back to the Underdark, the realm of the drow. Dramatic events start to unfold soon, which will reshape the personalities in the game, even assassin Artemis Entreri, now a mortal enemy of Drizzt.

The tone of these novels is much more grim and dark, similar to their setting. Where battles are usually briefly mentioned and the focus is usually in the Drizzt novels on the interaction and experiences of the characters, this time a full out war is part of the story as well. It makes the story bigger and more grim than the previous outings. Also noteworthy is the return of some other elements from the previous books, that prove that history is not something for archives but a real thing that can come back to haunt you. In this book Salvatore also chooses to connect Drizzt to some other figures from the D&D universe, which is for a long time fan an absolute pleasure obviously.

R.A. Salvatore – Legend of Drizzt: The Graphic Novel Omnibus Vol. 1 & Vol 2

source: amazon

When a book has so much detail and characteristics embedded in its way of telling the story, the big challenge of course is to bring that to a visual medium. Luckily, there are plenty of capable artists and the team that worked on these first two installments of the two trilogy’s of Drizzt are definitely worth your reading hours, if not only for the strong way of transferring the story to a new medium, without completely bastardizing the text. In fact, much remains the same, apart from the painting parts about the landscape. Those are replaced with stunning images of the realms and the characters.

Granted, sometimes the drawings don’t correspond with your expectations, but that’s an inevitable qualm you’ll have with any adaptation. Ofcourse here and there sections are left out or minimalized, but you can’t prevent that from happening either.  When a fantasy story doesn’t have a film or something, itś always great to have something that offers you a visual experience. These comics definitely do that for you.

Cover image; Website Wizards of the Coast

Brews that Rock: Põhjala

Apart from a specific enthousiasm about music, I’ve been a beer enthousiast for a long time. I’d like to share a bit about one of my favorite beers, namely Põhjala from Estonia. A wonderful little brewery.

It says a lot if a small brewery is willing to drop by in Eindhoven twice to give people  a taste of their brilliant products. Põhjala dropped by the first time in Van Moll, the local brewpub where you could enjoy a wide range of beers from the Estonians. Lately they returned to hang out with beer lovers in the cosy beer shop De Bierbrigadier. These are also two spots that I really recommend if you drop by in my city and wish to try some beers.

I got a Pohjala shirt, it's really seriously cool
I got a Pohjala shirt, it’s really seriously cool

Estonian Craft Beer

I’ve been to Estonia twice, to visit the capital Tallinn and Tartu. What was immediately noticable was the lack of traditional brews and the more flavorous products. What you’d find was pretty much the big brews like SakuAlexander and the weirdly named A. Le Coq. There was also a beer named ROCK, but it didn’t really rock.

That is indeed the case, according to marketeer Peeter Keek, who dropped by in Eindhoven on the next tour of the young brand. It just wasn’t there: “When we started making beer with Põhjala, we really were the first. No one else was making craft beer in Estonia. Since, it really has exploded in our country.”  It’s true, Estonia has really seen a brewvolution in the last years with with tons of brewers popping up and as a cherry on the cake there’s even the Tallinn Craft Beer Weekend (organised by Põhjala apparently). According to Peeter, the weekend is well worth the trip with a lot of beers to taste. The price is well worth it.

Scottish inspiratin

The secret ingrediënt of Põhjala brews is a very specific one. He’s called Chris Pilkington and he used to brew beers for no other than Brewdog, the pinnacle of craft breweries for many beer geeks. Where Brewdog is pushing out a stable series of high class beers, Põhjala  started pushing the envelope on flavor with interesting, refreshing brews. The brewery was started by four entrepeneurs and a master brewer and clearly has their eyes set on the top, nothing less.

There’s a lot of experiment going on in their brewing, but also a lot of tweaking. What they don’t do is try to make crazy beers, they’re aiming for good stuff. I highly doubt that anyone will reinvent the drink in a radical manner, we already know what is good and so do these gentlemen.

yeah, this is some of the beer from Pohjala with very cool labels.
yeah, this is some of the beer from Pohjala with very cool labels.

The Beers

Peeter informed the visitors at great length about the special flavors and unique beers the brewery is producing: “We are as a brewer focussing on the heavy, black beers. It’s our specialty, which you can also see in our range.”  As he hols up a bottle of the brilliant Öö and the Must Kuld. The first is a imperial Baltic porter, offering the unique flavors of a Baltic porter with the dark nights and the unruly nature of these regions. The Must Kuld is more temperate, but a great porter that is the basis for various other great products, like a Kenya coffee porter and a cherry porter.

I have to mention one other variation of the Öö, named the Valge Öö, which is a white stout. Did you read that? A white stout! It’s a smooth flavoured, but potent drink that will set you back for a moment. The flavor is that of a stout, but the eye tells you differently. I can go on about their favulous beers, but I think this’ll do for now. Go try them yourself!
Ok, there’s this magic double IPA with ever changing hops, which makes the beer so surprisingly different. The edition I had to try was almost like liquorice hints in the beer, curious what you’ll get.

Vibe

Põhjala doesn’t feel old fashioned like a folk band, it’s a bit like punkrock in my opinion. Going against the grain, but in their own respectful way. It’s not bottled violence, but it certainly is a beer that you won’t buy in a six pack and it will surely rise above others in the years to come. Starting a craft brewery in a country that has none is kind of saying: We’ll start our own scene, we’ll just do it ourselves. Which is… the punkrock ethos in brewing.

It has its very own scene, exploring new areas with familiar ingredients, trying to perfect their craft and beers along. They are in complete control of their very own product and I hope to get to try a lot of them. There’s a risky flavor to the beer, something edgy and it really speaks to me as a brewer I dig and a beer to enjoy in winter and summer alike.

(there’s an unnecessary amount of references in the last bit to punkrock)

Don’t take my word for it, this guy says so too.

World of Warcraft is a Feeling #3

Where was I? Oh yeah, I wrote about Warcraft 2 and Warcraft 2: Tides of Darkness. For some reason Roman numbers don’t work very well online, so I’ll stick with regular numbers. So, what happened after Warcraft 2?

Well, as pretty much every RTS fan must remember: Warcraft 3 happened. Oh my god, what an epic improvement on the game that was. It was one huge leap forward for gaming and I completely missed its initial release. I had moved away from games for a bit, only playing some NHL 2001 or something like that on the odd chance and some Final Fantasy VI. This was in 2002, the game had been out for a short while and after messing about with some copy I got myself the Battle Chest.

A Warcraft Battle Chest was nothing more than the game and its expansion with two guide books. Warcraft 3 was fully called Warcraft III: Reign Of Chaos and the expansion was ‘Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne. The time between Warcraft 2 and 3 was a bit vague, things had transpired but it was pretty tricky to figure it out. Also, the storyline was hard to follow in Warcraft 2 because I never played for very long at one time, so the names didn’t stick. With the fabulous promo video and the epic cut scenes and clearly outlined story, Warcraft 3 was something new, something else and something wonderful.

Summertime Blues

It was a summer holiday and I had to work a lot at the supermarket that year, but during the holiday of my parents I would play all the time when I wasn’t working. I actually threw my matrass down next to the PC so I could save time. Ridiculous, I know, but I was that insanely into it. To follow the whole campaign and learn of the characters like Arthas MenethilThrall and Grom Hellscream (already a favorite from the past along with Korgath Bladefist) and ofcourse Illadan Stormrage. It was miraculous and completely immesive. The game was good for hours and hours of unlimited, unchallenged gameplay.

This was the game you were discussing with your friends, this was a story that you wanted to have retold and tried to trace. It was by far the best thing Blizzard had done this far and the whole sales numbers proved as much. Warcraft III is at the base of the succesful DOTA and League of Legends games and set the bar for RTS games for years to come. So while playing it, I was living in the Warcraft Universe and every moment I wasn’t, I was still there in my head. It was great stuff.

Innovation

Where the previous games had named characters, these had personalities. That was one of the things that Blizzard may have taken from the likes of Red Alert and Command & Conquer. Having characters with personalities helps the player in feeling part of the grand narrative. Something the man from Blizz understood like no other I suppose.

What also helped, was an environment that felt more natural and alive, not the barren wasteland that you were left with in the pervious games. There was a better ambient sound to accompany the setting and critters that you could kill, but also random mobs. Marauding gnolls, rampaging ogres and the ever present Murlocs. Also, the campaigns where you had to rely on skills and fast commanding were so much better and fun to engage in. Landing in Kalimdor with the Orcs really felt like finding a strange and mysterious land, not just the next puzzle. Corrupting the land with the undead felt a bit grimy and wrong, but also awakens the sadist in you.

To me these were major innovations in the game, though probably not as unique as it felt to me, but very significant.

source: Battle.net

Not just single player fun

For me personally, I’ve never been a great online player. Frankly, I sucked on the battle net servers. Battle Net had been launched already for Starcraft players a few years previously, to faciliate online playing. Interesting enough, the online playing was the future and Blizzard was one of the few companies really getting that.

Not only that, the game was so big, that you could discuss it easily with your friends who had started playing it. Funny enough, one of my best friends held the game wrapped up for 12 years before engaging in it, recently finishing the game finally. It was a weird throw back to discuss some elements in the game, since many of them where later sort of rectified in the ongoing narrative of the game in World of Warcraft.

Out of an ocean of mediocre games, this one rose above and beyond and was for me definitely the one that got me hooked forever on the game. It was not long after that WoW was released, which I didn’t start playing at first. I took some time… but I did start with the novels.

It’s just before I got into the biggest and I think best MMO of all time.