Populating Pandora

I have my team of six for my Pandora Excess fiction – still need a better name, but I keep using PE, so I haven’t put the energy into thinking up something better. Ah well, it’ll do as a working title.

For the PE characters, I am being very spare with description because I believe we all tend to create an image in our head of characters that can be contrary to how the character is described. If I leave it intentionally vague, with maybe a few general pointers, that allows readers to fill in the numerous blanks with the image they would have overlaid on anything I described. Maybe that’s a mistake, but I’m interested in finding out.

Here’s the team, their role, and what little description I offer. I wonder who people see in their heads when they read this.

Hazard, the boss. She does not map to a Borderlands class, though if required, I’d put her as Lilith except the leader rather than 2IC. Her primary weapon is a heavy assault rifle, like a battle rifle. She is intro’d with: ” Lean, dark, and commanding, Hazard took a chair, spun it around, and then sat in it, arms resting on its back.” A little later we get: “Hazard spoke with assurance, her voice resonant, lightly touched by amusement.”

Rutger, the second in command. He’s the “Commando” but instead of a turret, he has UAV-type drones that provide close support. His primary weapon is an assault rifle. He’s intro’d with: “He leaned back and ran his hand over his bald head.” A little later we get: “He had a swimmer’s build, lean and tight.”

Solitaire is the ESPer/mage. She’s the “Siren,” and her primary weapons are an elemental (fire) personal defence weapon (a compact SMG) and a larger, scoped SMG. For her, we get: “Sparse of build, with short dark hair and an angular face, . . . ”

Jester is the sniper. He’s the “Assassin” of the group, and he has two large-frame revolvers and a sniper weapon system. When he enters a scene, we get:”. . . lean man, all in dark colours, masked and with an enhanced vision device over his eyes, . . . a revolver in each hand.” And a little later, when he first speaks: “As always, a modulator veiled Jester’s voice.”

Aura is the tech-head. Originally, I didn’t map her to any of the Borderlands classes. Then I played Gaige, the Mechromancer. Her Deathtrap ‘bot is pretty awesome, and I enjoyed the interaction. I decided that Aura would be the child prodigy that had attached herself to the group, built them a bunch of awesome gear, and got herself “adopted.” She’s a young lady now, and not only integral to the maintenance and design of a lot of the group’s kit, but she has grown into a true bad-ass herself. When intro’d, she’s the PoV character, and so we get: “She had stopped growing when she was 15, and so everyone constantly underestimated her, . . .” Later, through another character’s PoV she is described as “this kind of laughing pixie with guns and deadly intent. Someone somewhere would mention her ‘heart of gold,’ but that gold would be melted and poured down your throat if you messed with her or her friends.”

Her deathbot is called Bruiser, and she built it in imitation of Chopper, her bestie on the team. She once had a crush on Chopper, but that has grown into a big brother-little sister relationship.

Chopper is the heavy weapons dude. He’s “Brick” but more erudite. His primary weapon is a light support weapon that has an auxiliary scope and a removable suppressor. For him, we get a collection of descriptors strewn around in the first couple of paragraphs, including massive hands, beefy frame, and “strongly defined bicep with fluid black and red tattoo in the characters for ‘grace under pressure’ in his native language.”

So that is the team. It doesn’t hit all the Borderlands character types – we’re missing a Hunter, a Psycho, and a Gunzerker. The Soldier is basically the proto-Commando, so I think we have that covered.

I’m interested, though, what people think about the descriptions, or lack thereof. I have been chided before about describing scenery – I generally don’t provide enough details. For characters, though, I feel like the more description I give, the less freedom I’m offering the reader.

Your mileage may vary.

You can read more about Pandora Excess here and here.

You can read a very short snippet of Pandora Excess fiction here.

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Total Recall (2012)

Last night I watched the Total Recall remake with my wife. I really wasn’t expecting much and was pleasantly surprised. It’s a fine actioner, but not outstanding. I would not call it a good movie. I would call it a fun movie with good actors, exciting action, and good special effects.

This movie is pretty standard fare for director Len Wiseman. If you’ve enjoyed his other work (Underworld, Underworld: Evolution, and Live Free or Die Hard), you’ll probably enjoy this movie. Colin Farrell, Jessica Biel, and Kate Beckinsale are all great. Bryan Cranston has a smaller role, but delivers as expected. None of these great actors were outstanding, but then again, the script was really pedestrian.

Maybe I’m viewing the original through the lens of nostalgia, but I remember Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall holding together really well. Almost all movies have plot holes of one size or another, but I don’t remember any that bugged me in the original. The remake is full of them. Put any logical scrutiny on the movie, and it’s going to fall apart.

In the end, it was a fun movie for a night when my wife was sick of studying and didn’t want to think too hard. And a good thing she didn’t, or the movie wouldn’t have been as enjoyable.

I give Total Recall (2012) 3 embedded memories out of 5.

You can find out more about the Total Recall remake at IMDB or Wikipedia.

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Weekly Round-up for 14 September 2014

Yeah, I’ve fallen down on the weekly wrap-up thing. It’s tough, because I spend so much of my time doing research, reading, and writing at my day job, when I get home I’m pretty mentally wiped. I still find time to work on RPG stuff for my group, but really I am just looking forward to having dinner with the family, then playing some Borderlands 2.

Now, my lunches are almost always at my desk (for reasons), but since it’s lunch, I don’t feel guilty doing a little surfing. These are the three sites I try to visit every lunch during the week.

Blastr. It takes a lot of flak from its readers for a lack of accuracy, but for media news in the speculative realm, I think it does a great job. Yes, it’s light and frothy and not too concerned with fact-checking, but that’s fine. I don’t read every article, but there’s plenty of interesting articles. This is not a news organization, think of it more as a fan rumour and geek interest site. It’s fun.

Tor. I will admit that I am buying fewer and fewer novels these days. I’m just not reading for pleasure as much as I used to. However, the Tor website has got lots of great articles about speculative fiction both in the literary realm and beyond. I love the “re-watch” series, and am really enjoying the DS9 re-watch. It’s also fun to read about books that are coming out, get ideas and inspiration, and bathe in the nostalgia of retrospectives.

Black Gate. I am biased. When Black Gate was a heroic fantasy journal, it was my top target in which to get published. I achieved that, and it happened to be at the point when Black Gate was transitioning to a virtual-only presence. I will admit that I am saddened by the demise of the published work, but this was obviously a labour of love for editor and publisher John O’Neill, and if the money isn’t there to keep it publishing, saving it as a website/news blog works for me. Black Gate pretty much hits all my sweet spots, with lots of sword & sorcery articles, previews, and reviews. It does lots more, like a great series on the Godzilla movies just before the new one came out. There are a lot of very talented people writing for Black Gate, and I always find an article I read from top to bottom. That’s about the biggest compliment I can give.

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Habits Change

I realized that I haven’t read that many novels this year and I was thinking “man, I really don’t read any more,” and I was planning a blog post exploring that.

So I thought about it. And, yes, I haven’t read that many novels. But not reading any longer? I read on average 3 to 4 hours a day at work. I do some reading at home – mostly history stuff or articles on the internet – but mostly at home I am listening. I’m listening to podcasts, to the radio, and to recorded lectures.

What I’m not reading or listening to is fiction. Not sure why that is. I do still read some short fiction or novel excerpts, but I rarely read novels. When I do read them, they tend to last for a while because my reading tends to be 20 minutes on the bus in the morning going to work. On the way home? I’ve been reading all day, so I rarely read on the way home.

I guess the big question is: is this a problem? Considering that I read for enjoyment, no. No it is not a problem. Now, were I to get back into writing regularly and for submission, it might be a problem. The only way to know the clichés and tropes of your genre is to read in your genre. An effective way to improve your genre writing is to read outside your genre. Were I writing to submit, not reading would be a problem.

But I’m not. So it’s not.

It is, however, extremely weird.

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Numbers Without Value

I’ve been looking at numbers of visitors to the site after working through Sword’s Edge Publishing’s numbers. Like SEP, the numbers at SE seems pretty consistent, however there is more noticeable variation. For example, in August the site had 163 unique visitors while in July it had 222. An interesting data point is that August had 10 posts while July had 9. Following this through, June had 147 unique visitors and 11 posts.

Like SEP, the data that I have doesn’t really seem to point to consistent posting leading to higher visitor numbers. Also like SEP, I have no idea what draws people here. On a more personal note, other than my egotistical need to prove I’m interesting, what purpose does SE serve?

The intent has always been for SE and SEP to support money-making ventures – whether through RPGs or fiction. Yes, it is a product as much as it is a personal site. Were it simply a personal site, I doubt I would post as often, maybe doing just reviews and such.

What the numbers tell me is that attendance at SE is very similar to patterns at SEP, but that while SEP gets around 250 visitors, SE gets around 175. I’m pretty sure that vast majority of those 175 are included in SEP’s 250.

Right now this is all just interesting rather than applicable. And I think it is probably interesting pretty much just to me.

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The Lost City of the Numalo: After Action Report

Kevin Sack, Lord Blackstock (or is it Zantar?)

Friday night, the Ottawa crew embarked on further pulp adventures using A Team of Losers. The team includes the archaeologist Dr. Nicholas Hollows; the martial artist and occult seeker Johnny Cargen; the gunslinger Gertrude Blaze, a trick-shot artist with a background in circuses/travelling carnivals; Zantar, Lord of the Jungle; and Lenny Something, non-descript comic-relief and remorseless killer.

Gertrude Blaze was not in attendance for this game.

 A Team of Losers is based on the Untitled Game System. You can find out more here.

You can read more about A Team of Losers here and here.

When last we left our intrepid band of adventurers, they had uncovered a fragment of the Pithos of Pandora and has used the inscription on it to ward off two white witches. Overcoming the forces of the Priests of Thoth and the minions of Thethei, they finally faced and defeated Thethei himself.

Zantar, Lord of the Jungle, recognized inscriptions in the temple complex as similar to those he knew from ruins in Africa. Those ruins were in the territory of the Numalo, a tribe of tool-using great apes/hominids with a basic vocal-somatic language. These are the apes that raised Zantar and of whom he is lord. The group flew to Brazzaville in French Equatorial Africa, where Zantar was wanted as a revolutionary – how dare he try to stop the rape of his homeland and the murder of his adopted tribe?

Linking up with Zantar’s old contacts and totally deceiving the local police, the group hired a river boat to take them to Mossaka, from which they would need to hike six days along the Likouala River to reach the territory of the Numalo.

During the trip up, the first mate of the river boat snuck off and met a group of Bambuti (aka Mbuti or Pygmies), and he was overheard telling the Bambuti that the PCs were seeking “broken clay thing.” Spotting the PCs, the Bambuti attacked. The PCs captured the first mate and the Bambuti, and the Bambuti said they had been visited by a representative of their god and told to guard the “broken clay thing.” The first mate says he was hired by a corrupt cop back in Brazzaville to report in on the PCs to the Bambuti.

The rest of the trip was uneventful, but upon reaching Mossaka, they found a ghost town. Tracks suggested the Bambuti had attacked the village (really just a depot with a few buildings no more than a dozen residents) but among them was a giant – based on footprints – who walked toe-heel rather than heel-toe, which Dr. Zarkov identified as a behaviour linked to the mythical Sasquatch of North America (but also a behaviour of apes with mid-tarsal break).

Travelling in land, the PCs identified a German Heinkel He 59 float plane flying south along the river, and then four days in, north along the river. Since the group were near German Cameroon and rivers were generally used for navigation, this aroused only moderate suspicion. On the fourth night in, Johnny felt a thrill of something akin to fear – obviously, something Johnny had almost forgotten existed – and saw shadows moving on the ground, but could not discern any actual figures. The feeling dissipated and the group could find no evidence of intruders that night or the morning after. The next night the same occurred during Zantar’s watch.

On the sixth day the group came across a clearing in Numalo territory, newly cleared and surrounded by poles on which were affixed the skulls of twelve Numalo. A raised mound in the centre of the circle proved a burial pit, with bones seemingly boiled clean. Racing to the site of the ruins, the group encountered the bodies of the rest of the Nuamlo tribe, shot or pierced by darts (which was incorrect – the Bambuti use poisoned arrows, not blowgun darts – my bad). The finally body, on the outskirts of the ruins, was Zantar’s adoptive mother, an aged she-ape.

The ruins themselves had been cleared of vegetation and one of the buildings apparently rebuilt with a copper roof and bronze doors. The only tracks were those of sandaled feet. There was no evidence of how the stones to rebuild could have arrived at the ruins. Opening the bronze doors, the PCs found the bodies of a dozen Bambuti and two German Wehrmacht officers, totally stiff and stacked like cordwood.

Moving the bodies, the PCs found script similar to the one in Momun which referenced Pandora. At night, they encountered a spectral form of a cobra-headed man claiming to be Arebati, King of Niankukla and claiming to be the guardian of a fragment of the pithos. He says he has defeated Thethei and his minions (he referenced Negoogunogumbar and Obrigwabibikwa) and has no fear of them while he remains in Niankukla.

In a silent jungle, lacking even the sound of birds or insects, the PCs parley with Arebati, uncertain how to deal with this mysterious figure.

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The Last Synn

If you are hanging out here, I’m going to assume you like speculative fiction. If so, you might want to check out James McCormick’s The Last Synn. You can find it at Amazon, and you can learn more about James here.

From the Amazon blurb:

A mysterious Lupine race, the Krall, descend on Avlan, destroying the historical peace between two kingdoms. Only one force stands in their way, the Synn warriors. Tashir is the last to fall, dying beneath the sword of the Krall prince himself.

Yet death fails to claim the young warrior. He wakes in a far off land, thousands of miles across the sea, an undead filled with a dark magic which grants him inhuman powers. With no recollection of what happened or the fate of his people, his thoughts return to his homeland.

The odyssey back sees him battling demons, vampyres, elementals, sorcerers and ghouls. As he finally confronts the Krall Prince he realises they have all been victims, merely pawns of malign and otherworldly powers. Tashir, the last Synn, must now prepare for his greatest battle of all, one with an ancient god itself.

Check out the reviews at Amazon. The look inside feature allows you to read the opening of the book, so that should give you a good idea if this is up your alley.

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