Monday, 19 June 2017

Suze's Do - Act Two

Here's Act Two of my Choose Your Own Dinner Party gamebook (see Act One here), in which sloe gin may or may not be drunk, past lives may or may not be revisited and the Burgess shale shelf may or may not be discussed.

Click Pop out on the preview below and then download the PDF so you can make use of the handy go to links at the bottom of each section.

As with all trad gamebooks, you'll need a pencil and paper to keep track of a few numbers and codewords. Make sure you have played Act One first.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Suze's Do - Act One

Hello. This is the first part of a Choose Your Own Dinner Party that I have written. If you are familiar with Choose Your Own Adventure books, Fighting Fantasy books or any of the other so-called gamebooks that followed them into the 80s and 90s, then the structure will be familiar to you.

Loyal pouchwatchers may also recall my earlier effort The Fright Before Christmas, which I wrote for the 7TV game a few years ago. There's also the thrilling half-orc detective adventure Murder Run which I will endeavour to post to the Pouch shortly.

Unlike traditional gamebooks, Suze's Do draws on a very different genre for its source material, that of the 70s Mike Leigh drama. Classics like Nuts in May and (of course) Abigail's Party. Not an obvious choice for a Choose Your Own I know, but I think it has legs as a play with many branching plotlines, though I pity the drama group that attempts to put it on the stage.

Please do have a go at this first act of the book. Click Pop out on the preview below and then download the PDF so you can make use of the handy go to links at the bottom of each section.

As with all trad gamebooks, you'll need a pencil and paper to keep track of a few numbers and codewords, but it's nothing too onerous. You may be relieved to know that there is no die-rolling in this; I prefer to let players stand or fall according to their own decisions rather than blame the capricious D6.

Disclaimer time: I should probably also mention that the tone is intentionally comic / darkly comic / dark, depending on the choices you make. Themes and subject are meant to homage both the source material and the period in which it is set. The author does not endorse the views of the characters. Apart from the bit about caravanning holidays.

Finally, I had specific actors from the 70s in mind for each of the characters in this story. See if you can work out who's who. One actor is actually the template for two different characters.

Fear not; the rest of the book is written and ready to go. If there is sufficient interest in Act One, we'll see about publishing the entire thing.


Act Two is here.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Zenith: the TV series

(Originally posted on Saturday, April 1st, 2017)

Cautiously optimistic about Amazon's Zenith cast. Laurie Kynaston from Cradle to the Grave is a good choice for the lead and old reliables Walker, Night and Teale are spot-on for the retired superhumans of Cloud Nine.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

We Have to Talk About Taboo

So the BBC's shiny period drama Taboo came to an end last night, and I think it's time we talked about it. To be specific, I think it's time we talked about how it promised so much in the first episode and then proceeded to deliver increasingly little with each installment.

What started out like a sort of Regency Batman of Monte Cristo, with dollops of mysticism and gorgeous scenery of equal parts East End mud and East India bling, soon deflated into a confused muddle of board meetings, growly monologues, pointless visions and shots of Tom Hardy striding through the mud with his special hat on. All structured around the least engaging trade negotiation plot since The Phantom Menace.

No, I didn't use an accent coach, since you ask 
Rather than rant further, I give you some alternative titles for the show that I feel are more accurate descriptions than the one which makes it sound like an aftershave from the 80s:
  • Jonathan Pryce Drops The F-Bomb
  • Bane Has Magic Skype Sex With His Deep One Sister
  • Look! It's Another Muddy Scene On The Thames At Low Tide!
  • How Come The Only Two Doctors In London Look Identical?
  • Sea Otter Pelts: The Crystal Meth Of 1814
  • What, So Is It Magic Or Not?
  • We Get It, A Boat Sank
  • Mark Gatiss Is Apparently Allowed To Play Any Character He Wants In The Style Of Widow Twankey
  • Just Get On A Boat To Nootka Fucking Sound Already

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Alan Moore's Providence - a plot map


If there's the remote possibility that you - like me - are

  • slavish devotees of the wizard-author Alan Moore, 
  • obsessive-compulsive continuity freaks and 
  • strangely compelled to distil all complex structures in your life into colourful Visio diagrams to better please your 'probably some way along the spectrum' mind, 

then you may be interested in this pictorial project I have just completed.

It's a stupidly complicated plot map of issues #1 - #11 of his latest HP Lovecraft-inspired comic series Providence.

As well as charting all the characters, locations and objects in a delightfully rainbow-hued explosion of arrows and polygons, there are supplementary pictures laying out specific areas of interest such as the methods of prolonging life as detailed in the story, a timeline of St Anselm's college and a timeline of the sinister Worshipful Order of the Stella Sapiente.

I'm going to lie down now.


Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Causal Sexism

A teeny little thing happened recently and has been niggling away at me ever since. It's not even a thing that happened really. It's just something someone said. A single word in fact. A throwaway single syllable that has left me in a state of… I don’t know what ever since. See what you make of this.

I've been trying out a new garage recently. Or should that be motor mechanics? Garage is a weird one for Brits; it's the little room where you put your car, it's the place where oily people in overalls make your car better and it may even be a place where petrol and/or diesel for your car is obtained. And even some sort of music, I am given to understand.

Anyway, this is beside the point. I took my car to a new garage for to get it serviced and MOT'd. MOTted. Motted. Signed off as roadworthy. The main person there, we'll call him John, was friendly, did a good job on the vehicle and didn't charge me a fortune. So far so good. But he did also call me love.

Now, whoa there. Easy. Before you jump ahead, this isn't your common or garden casual sexism article here. Though it may well include casual sexism, and probably does, that's not the whole of the story. So let's return to our tale.

Yes, so he called me love a few times. Just casually in that sort of way he almost certainly says mate to other sorts of people, naming no names and gendering no genders. It was delivered, I have no doubt, with absolutely no thought of perpetuating the patriarchy, keeping the sisters down and or even a doomed attempt to flirt with the customer. The Ocelot is not at home to Dame Flirt in any case. It was just a throwaway term that he probably uses on lots, if not all, female humans.

Now, standard practice would be for the recipient of the aforementioned love, in these days of zero tolerance to casual sexism, to dwell upon John's love as the tool of oppression it is, and rightly so Maybe have a word with him about what century this is. Maybe quietly seethe about it to friends later. Maybe write an overly long self-regarding blog, I don't know. But your friendly neighbourhood Ocelot was momentarily pleased, for the Ocelot is differently gendered from the vast majority, and thus constantly frets about being accepted as female in day-to-day transactions, and not chased across the moors by outraged citizens wielding torches and pitchforks. And for someone who is regularly 'sirred' on the phone (usually by overseas call centre operators) it was thus a strangely validating incident, and yet one that was also, of course, a bit sexist.

So I am, much like Natalie Imbrugliuglia, torn. I should be irked and annoyed and peeved at John's sexosity, but I am also a bit grateful that at least one stranger that day accepted me for my apparent gender. Of course, one cannot possibly know how others see oneself in terms of gender identity, not without engaging the services of a first-year psychology student with a clipboard and a questionnaire who constantly follows one around at a discrete distance and asks anyone that one has encountered on the street or in a shop what they made of one, genderwise. Incidentally, I have no idea why I have started using one all of a sudden. It may be in an attempt to use a gender neutral term that avoids the foulness of it, the plurality of they and bonkersness of zhe.

Many among the differently gendered strive for total transition. 100% confirmation of the gender to which they identify. Sometimes this is called passing or going stealth or simply fitting in. Some folks achieve this goal with great success, either through luck of genetics and physical features, transitioning at a young age (something increasingly common, though perhaps a bittersweet pill for older folks who switched sides later in life after the ravages of puberty had left their mark), or simply through massive amounts of practice, therapy, medication, surgery and ongoing cosmetic treatments. Some others are happy to exist somewhere in between the monolithic poles of M and F, and this self-identification as gender non-binary is an increasingly acceptable option in recent years, and rightly so.

But for a lot of the differently gendered, an occasional confirmation that society accepts who one (there I go again) wants to be is a welcome pellet of encouragement. In a life where one may be constantly fretting about walking funny, talking funny, looking funny, it's nice every now and again to get a bit of a thumbs-up from someone, though they know it not, who says yes, you're fitting in. Even if it is a bit of casually sexist chitchat from an oily fossil who's just been fiddling with your sparkplugs.

It's a weird situation. I am literally holding two opposing opinions of the incident at the same time. Which might make me some sort of philosopher. Or nut. Or vacillating wuss. It's like Schrödinger's Casual Sexism. Or maybe Causal Sexism. It both is and is not insulting. Both is and is not validating of different states of being. Or transition. Or identity. Argh.

I do know it's bloody confusing though.

Actually, now I come to think of it, he may have called me sweetheart. Is that better or worse?

Monday, 10 October 2016

Grand Anciens - a partial translation

Long time readers may recall a frivolous piece I wrote some time ago which made mention of a French graphic novel called Grand Anciens, by Jean-Marc Laine and Bojan Vukic.

It's a mixture of Herman Melville's Moby Dick and H. P. Lovecraft's dark mythos god Cthulhu. It looks lovely and has a particularly fine cover, but it's in French, and unlike a few other popular graphic novels like Blueberry and Blacksad, it hasn't been translated into English.

Over-ambitious fool that I was, I thought I might be the person for the job.

I managed eight and a bit pages. Jeez, 19th century French whaling terminology is hard to translate. And this self-imposed project has hung around my neck like a Gallic-Cthulhu-shaped millstone ever since

So the time has come to put away failed projects like this and move on. I'm giving the Grand Anciens book(s) away and putting the sorry affair out of my mind. But to preserve what little progress I made for anyone who fancies getting ahold of a copy and continuing my work, I include here the first few pages and my efforts and translation.

Grand Anciens, or The Great Old Ones
Part 1: The White Whale
By Jean-Marc Laine and Bojan Vukic
Translated into English by Helena Nash

Page 3
Caption:               The whaling port of New Bedford
…on the Atlantic coast of Bristol county, in Massachusetts…
…a misty autumn in the middle of the 19th century…
Caption:               My name is Ishmael.
Melville:               So.
Tell me, my young friend Ishmael…
…you want to be a sailor?

Page 4

Melville:              What could induce a well-respected, educated young man to share the life ​​of salt, blood and death of whalers?
I’m quite curious to learn the answer to this mystery!
Ishmael:               I’m afraid I have no extraordinary reasons like those in the great novels.
My life wouldn’t even warrant a chapter, Mr Melville.
Melville:               Nonsense, my young friend. Don’t be so modest.
I tell you, if I were to look for characters, I’d have my hands full. Look around us. The Admiral Benbow is full of characters.
Ishmael:               “The Admiral Benbow”! The landlady was having a laugh when she named her inn!
Melville:              Oh, Moira’s not the landlady. She just serves the beer and kicks drunken sailors out the door.
The real landlord’s James Hawkins. His story’s well-known throughout Bristol county. People say he found treasure and built several inns like the one in which he grew up in England.
The inns are all called “The Admiral Benbow”, and they all serve the same English beer!
Ishmael:              The same English beer? That’s stupid! Why would people want to drink the same beer in places that all look alike?
Melville:              Haha! The world is full of surprises.
Melville:              I believe that you do have reason, my young friend Ishmael.
You want to board a ship and travel the world. You’ll love it!

Page 5

Melville:               Yes, truly, the life of a sailor will teach you much.
But you already have your sea legs, if I am not mistaken.
Ishmael:               You… you know how to read people, Mr Melville…
Melville:               It’s my job, my young friend.
Ishmael:               I… don’t know where to begin.
Melville:               At the beginning. What convinced you to leave the merchant navy?
Caption:               The open sea, Mr Melville. The sea!
Look at New Bedford! This town sprang up thanks to the whaling industry! Look at the ships, all the inns and the stalls that live off that trade.
And Nantucket, off the coast! It’s the greatest whaling port of them all, greater even than New Bedford…
Nantucket is Whale Town! They’ve got a whalers’ chapel over there!
Ishmael:              It even seems that when a girl gets married in Nantucket, her father gives a whale as a dowry!
Melville:               You wouldn’t be a little obsessed by sperm whales would you?
Ishmael:              Obsessed? Me?
No! Not at all!
Ishmael:              Don’t be angry, my young and impetuous friend!
Obsession is something I can understand, believe me!

Page 6
Ishmael:               You’re obsessed by what, mister writer? Sailors?
Melville:              This will surprise you, Ishmael, but I have found something more exciting than sailors or the creatures of the sea.
Even though sea monsters fill many pages of this notebook.
Melville:              No, for my part, I am obsessed by obsession.
Or rather, fascinated by fascination.
Melville:              It’s been almost thirty years now, since the whaling ship Essex sank in the Pacific ocean.
Melville:              The Essex left Nantucket in 1819 and must have sailed for two and a half years before returning. No survivors were recovered.
Melville:              The whaling ship sank after a fight for several hours with a white whale.
Melville:               At least, that’s what they said.
Ishmael:               How’s that?
You think that it wasn’t a sperm whale that destroyed the Essex?
Melville:              The story that I am going to tell you, my friend, goes back several years and has as a protagonist Captain Ahab when he still had both legs.
Have you heard of Captain Ahab, Ishmael?

Page 7

Caption:               What I am about to recount to you took place some years ago.
As usual, Captain Ahab was on the quarterdeck.
The look-out alerted the crew as he spotted their prey…
…the white whale!
The sailors had seen the snowy white, wrinkled head of a great sperm whale, and the Pequod sped over the waves in the wake of that gigantic shroud-coloured body.
On his two legs, Ahab kept his eyes fixed on the whale.
His form seemed cast in bronze, and his skin was that of a man pulled from the pyre just as the flames were about to consume him.

Page 8

Caption:               The harpooners were like javelin throwers.
Stubb was Ahab’s second mate during that time. He was without equal at harpooning whales.
Stubb:                   Onward lads! Onward!
Caption:               Whalers who took to the sea flew over the waves, and cut through the water like air.
And the harpooner cried: “Make it afraid! You’re like the thunder!
The crewmen followed Stubb as they followed the other mates Starbuck and Flask.
Because as well as being their bosses, they were also sailors.
And because they were on the Pequod.
And because Captain Ahab was at the helm.

Page 9

Caption:               You will discover many things when you sign on with your first crew, Ishmael!
You will learn the tales and legends of the ocean.
You will listen to the most incredible stories, like the one about the white whale being everywhere at once, and in both hemispheres at the same time.
You will hear stories about the wildest fishing, the farthest voyages, and you will learn that your fellow sailors are a taciturn and secretive breed of men, but superstitious.
Because among the fables that plague the hearts of men, they will tell you of the scourge of the whalers…
… the Wrecker
… the Kraken!

Page 10

Ishmael:               The Kraken?
Are you…
Melville:               The sea is full of myths, especially for whalers…
Caption:               …and Captain Ahab is a sailor, without a doubt one of the best.
He knows the legends that frighten his crew. He knows that men of the sea, who come from all walks of life and speak every tongue, invent stories to warm the heart…
…stories that end up haunting them.
Ahab is not a man who believes in bogeyman tales.
But the captain is a man of decisions.
Quick decisions.
Ishmael:               And what did Captain Ahab decide to do?
Set sail to hunt the Kraken?
Melville:               It’s not that simple.

Page 11

Melville:               Rumours being what they are, they spread.
While they circulate and the sailors are still on deck, running scared or with laughter on their lips, it doesn’t matter.
But when it comes to pass that sailors refuse to go to sea, then it’s the turn of the owners to be concerned.
Ishmael:               You seem to know all of the workings of New Bedford, Mr Melville.