East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

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Never gonna be the same

No, not the minor hit for Scottish band Danny Wilson.
I was reading an article on the plight of the poor fiction writer, relentless purveyor of narratives for the entertainment and the edification of the hoi polloi. You see, not only your garden variety fiction writer is locked up in their house, with the stress and anxiety of seeing the system slowly trying to cope with a change that was expected but ignored, and often failing in the attempt. Not only the writer has to deal with insomnia, increasing alienation, the pneumatic void of most social media contents and the bills that keep piling up as the bank account dwindles. No, the fiction writer has to deal with the fact that our world and our society are changing, and what the writer writes is no longer relevant and connected with our present.

No, but… really?

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Elves and revolution

Never liked the guys myself.
Elves, I mean.
Certainly the responsibility rests mostly with Tolkien, but really it was playing D&D that fuelled my antipathy for the elves. Maybe it’s because we never met a poor elf, a down-on-their-luck elf, a working stiff elf. No, the guys were always clean-cut and haughty, with their magic bonuses, their blade-dancing, their artifacts of power and what else. Later, Shadowrun nailed the whole thing, by portraying elves as an elite, and other metahumans – especially orcs and trolls – as discriminated minorities.

Now, I tend to take the accusation of an “inherent racism” in fantasy with a grain of salt, but there’s no doubt that when you write that there’s a whole species that is evil by birth alone… genetically or culturally, you’re off on a dangerous path.
Stuff like “Zingarans are all full of boast and pride” can go from a cliché to a generalization to a racist slur pretty easily. And do not even start me on Zamorean women, or the people of Kithai.

Now, in recent years, we’ve seen a lot of good stuff coming in the field of fantasy, both fiction and roleplaying games, and such issues are, if not happily archived, at least being tackled with intelligence by good authors.. Sometimes the effect can be a little blunt, but the fact that an issue is being addressed is always a plus.
Which, in a rather circuitous fashion, brings us to Spire: The City Must Fall.

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A candle in a tomb

According to an old saying among Chinese grave robbers, “The living light the candle and the ghosts blow it out”. That’s my story and I’m sticking it… or rather, that’s Chinese fantasy author Zhang Muye’s story, and by sticking to it, his first novel in the Candle in the Tomb series got six million online readers, and when it later was printed, it sold half a million copies.
More volumes followed, then an online videogame, and it was quite obvious that the movie people would come along soon afterwards.
Films were made, and then TV adaptations.

And last night, as I was once again dealing with my insomnia, I went through the first five episodes of 2016 the web-series that was based on Zhang Muye’s novels. The 35-minutes episodes can be found on Youtube, with handy English subtitles.

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Civilization is Overrated: Hunting the Beast of the Gévaudan

I mentioned Brotherhood of the Wolf in yesterday’s post, and then realized that apparently I never wrote about that movie, that I saw in 2001 in a movie theatre in Turin together with my brother. We went to the first show in the afternoon, packing chips and some lemonade, and we had a lot of fun. Twenty years on, a director’s cut has been published, and so I went and checked it out again.
So, let’s see what this is all about.

And for starters, a bit of history – between 1764 and 1767, in the province of Gévaudan (South-Central France) an animal later identified as a wolf, or a dog, or a wolf-dog hybrid, went on a rampage, attacking an estimate (based on a 1987 study) 210 people, killing 113 and injuring 49 more. Based on the documents, 98 of the victims were partly eaten. Envoys from the King of France killed a wolf in 1765, and the case was considered closed – but the killings actually kept happening for two more years. Many considered the Beast to be some kind of werewolf, and indeed some pointed out in the chronicles of the time that the killings stopped after the Beast was shot with silver bullets.
The movie is thus based on a true story, and gets most of its historical references right, and offers an alternative interpretation of the historical events.

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Regime Diabolique

In these confused times, a lot of friends of mine have found a way to relieve part of the pressure by, as they say, “exorcising” the fear of the pandemic by a steady diet of post-apocalyptic fiction – zombie movies, TV series about viruses and the collapse of civilization, novels and comics about crumbling cities and lone survivors.
And it’s all good and fine, if that works for them – it just does not work for me. And I am keeping myself up with old pulp adventures, sword & sorcery and space operas, and classic swashbucklers.

And last night I was checking out what’s new on DriveThruRPGs and I found a massive discount on a game I know and I’ve wanted to play forever.
A complete game for 5 bucks?
A game with musketeers fighting werewolves on its cover?
Come on, are you kidding me?

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The Process

The idea for this series of posts came to me after viewing a video by an American jazz musician, music teacher and vlogger I follow (Adam Neely, you find his videos here), and from the reading of an article I found while following up on some of Adam’s contents. The article is Music Theory and the Epistemology of the Internet; or, Analyzing Music Under the New Thinkpiece Regime, by William O’Hara, published in 2018.

Both the video and the article made me think about how information on creative/artistic pursuits is represented online. I was in particularly striuck by Adam Neely’s description of his “working musician” videos as “heist movies” in style – videos in which, just like in, say, Ocean’s Eleven, the preparation of the “heist” (the performance) is as entertaining as the “heist” itself, and leads to a deeper understanding of the process that goes into the work.

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