Fire & Ice and Warcraft 3

Fire & Ice is currently available on Amazon Prime. In case you’re unfamiliar with it, it’s a 1983 fantasy flick animated by none other than Frank Frazetta. If you’re a pulp fan, you probably know who he is. Even if you’re not, you may have seen some of his work:

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So on one hand, Frazetta is awesome. On the other hand, the film was directed by Ralph Bakshi, whose name is also attached to the ill-fated 1978 animated Lord of the Rings film (not to be confused with the excellent Rankin and Bass movies).

I gave F&I a watch, and I have to say it’s okay. It’s not bad, and although Frazetta was a lot more skilled at stills than animation, I loved watching his art here. And that’s basically what the movie was – a vehicle for his art. The story wasn’t great, but it was serviceable in that role.

One thing that struck me – as far as I’m aware no one from Blizzard has cited F&I as an inspiration for pieces of Warcraft 3. But.

I mean come on. Also Frazetta was the master of thick chicks.

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Also Nekron is a gaylord.

-Bushi

bushi

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Poctober: The Imp of the Perverse

Continuing on with our seasonally-apropos look at Edgar Allan Poe, we’ve got the short tale “The Imp of the Perverse.”

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Really had to power through the first half (or more?) of this one, which reads for a while like a philosophy essay. Poe throws out all sorts of “word of the day” vocabulary (“supererogation” is a nice one) as he muses about the purposes of men’s actions – why they do what they do. Really the most I can say for this is that he touches upon some interesting pseudoscientific and philosophical ideas. His references to phrenology help create a nice gothic kind of vibe.

Eventually he gets to talking about something that is rather opposite the conscience (man’s impulse to do good) or his selfish sense of self-preservation (man’s impulse to do what is good for him) – what he calls “perverseness.” Perverseness, he contends, is a sort of impulse without a motive that drives a man to do something ill.

The story picks up when he shifts to narrative, telling us of a crime he had committed in a bout of perverseness. Again I won’t give away the ending, but once more there is a sort of madness that overtakes him and causes his undoing.

If you can make it past the first half, it’s a nice, weird little tale.

-Bushi

bushi

 

Conan, Cugel, karma and Leiber

I’ve been making my way through Swords Against Death, the second collection of Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories. First off, let me say for the record that I heartily subscribe to Cirsova’s Rule that starting with Swords And Deviltry, the “first collection” of stories, is unwise. Indeed I’d be hard-pressed to think of a situation in which reading by publication order would be a bad idea.

Second, after reading a couple of the “good” stories, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are kinda cool. Or at least entertaining.

Third, I don’t foresee them ever taking a place among my favorite SFF characters. It’s not that they’re overly tropey (even if it sometimes grates, gotta forgive that when reading older tales, for it was fresher back then!). It’s not even that they’re morally gray, for look at characters like Howard’s Conan or Vance’s Cugel. I think it’s more that they’re cads who are cast as the good guys.

Let me rap on that a little bit.

Conan the Cimmerian is a badass dude. He’s also a noble savage, after a fashion. But he’s not really a hero in the sense of being a good guy. He’s a thief, a mercenary, and a pirate. And at times he is a murderer. I’ve seen this one debated, but the opening of the “Tower of the Elephant” is pretty clear-cut to me: a dude insults Conan, Conan gets pissed and lops the guy’s head off.

But we love Conan anyway. Why?

It’s not hard to imagine that Conan may have robbed and pillaged from innocent people. But during the time we spend with him, we don’t see that. Mostly we see him thieving from people who deserve it; fighting monsters; killing men who are bad, or at least worse than him. Often he’ll save a pretty wench, and he never forces himself upon her. As a leader he thinks of his men, and as a ruler he has compassion for his people. We like Conan because not only is he a tough-as-nails man’s man, but he generally winds up doing the right thing. When he does play the rogue, it’s largely targeting people who deserve it.

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Cugel the Clever is not a badass dude. He’s a a charlatan and a scoundrel. I must admit I disliked him throughout a large segment of my Dying Earth reading. But he grew on me as two things happened: one, I tempered my expectations, and two, I recognized the karmatic element to his adventures. First we have to recognize that Cugel is not a hero. He’s not marketed as one, and though he thinks very highly of himself, he doesn’t claim to be one unless it’s material to one of his scams. Second, when Cugel targets the innocent or victimizes the good, he usually pays for it in some way. These misadventures can be fun, but my favorite tales are the ones where Cugel winds up pitted against villains worse than him. In these cases, he is often the initial victim and he plays a part in delivering a sort of justice. He may wind up demolishing a ratmen lair or conning a niggardly merchant out of some valuable wares, and “yay” because they deserved it. It’s possible to appreciate Cugel when you accept that he’s a cur and learn to enjoy both his failures and successes.

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That brings me to Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. I think what bothers me about them is the fact that Leiber almost suggests that they’re heroes. And to be fair, their battles with the Thieve’s Guild can be fun. But despite being the Best Swordsmen in the Universe (TM) and master thieves, and later also bards and magicians, they aren’t good guys. One story offhandedly mentions that they like to rob merchants on the road (so they’re highwaymen). Fafhrd’s origin story renders him almost completely unlikable in my eyes – the fact that he abandons his pregnant girlfriend because he’s got the hots for a traveling dancer.

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It’s certainly plausible that Conan’s got a bunch of bastards floating around. And maybe if he were in Fafhrd’s situation he would have done the same thing and abandoned his woman rather than be pinned down at home. After all, Conan is driven by wanderlust and a thirst for adventure. But we’re not told that Conan did any of this, and I think that’s important to maintaining his image as an almost-hero.

You may be able to say that justice is visited upon the pair. After all, even if they always survive, they don’t always win. Their plans go awry, they lose the treasure, they get beaten up. But it’s never really presented in the “ha-ha you got what you deserved” kind of way we see when Cugel gets his comeuppance. That’s because Fafhrd and Mouser are supposed to be likable and Cugel isn’t.

For now I’m just trying to enjoy the stories of Fafhrd and Mouser for what they are – the fun exploits of two rogues who get into trouble and do some cool stuff. But when I think about who they are as characters and what Leiber built them into, I’m just not impressed.

-Bushi

bushi

Poctober: the Spinx and the City in the Sea

“The Sphinx” turned out to be an interesting choice for starting off the month. Set against the backdrop of a cholera outbreak in New York, Poe immediately establishes a potent undertone of dread. In the tale, he is staying at the country cottage of a friend for the summer. Though they are distanced from the plague and surrounded by the beauty of nature, the peacefulness is tainted. Daily they receive messages about the passing of acquaintances and friends.

Poe relates his growing anxiety amid the gloom, and eventually shares the story of an experience beyond his explanation. He describes witnessing a giant horror across the river and admits that the sight made him question his sanity. This thread of madness-inducing (or sanity-questioning) horror places Poe’s influence on Lovecraft on full display, for this would become HPL’s brand through and through.

I’ll forgo explaining the ending here, in case you’d like to read it (it’s quite a short story), but suffice it to say it ends on a somewhat humorous note. Rather than madness or death, Poe issues something of a sad trombone to his literary persona.

“The City in the Sea” is a dark piece about a city in the West where Death sits upon a throne. The titular city is visited by a “long night-time” and untouched by the light of heaven. It is a place of riches and impressive constructions – domes and fanes and Babylon-like walls, and towers, and shrines.

In the end, the waters turn red and Hell rises to do reverence to the city.

I was quite impressed by the poem, though I can’t say I fully grasp every element of it. It sounds much as if the city is a domain of Hell on earth (how’s that for a commentary on Western civilization), and yet one of the earliest lines says

“Where the good and the bad and the worst and the best
Have gone to their eternal rest. ”

Perhaps this line is speaking of the West in general, rather than the city. Otherwise I’m not quite sure what to make of this haunting place, beautiful and yet foul, if the best be there as well as the worst.

In an earlier form, the poem was titled “The Doomed City,” and was later reworked and renamed “The City of Sin” and then finally “The City in the Sea.” Inspirations for the work are said to include the Biblical city of Gamorrah and Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan.” It would go on to inspire other creators, including Danish composer Poul Ruders:

Overall, I’d say this was a pleasing reintroduction to Edgar Allan Poe. Much like Howard and Lovecraft before I’d read and researched further about them, his work was more varied than I’d realized.

-Bushi

bushi

 

 

Poctober

“Poevember” would probably have been catchier, but here we are. Last year, in honor of Halloween, HP of the Every Day Should be Tuesday reviews blog and I did readings and critiques of Frankenstein. This year, as HP has a look at Rob Howard’s horror stories (an excellent choice), I’ve decided to return to gothic fiction with Edgar Allan Poe.

My exposure to the man’s work is pretty limited. I remember reading his seminal work, “the Raven,” in my school days. I also read the “Cask of Amontillado” at some point. I don’t recall much of my high-school reading, but that one stuck with me.

After soliciting some recommended reading from the tweet gallery, I’ve come away with the following list for this month:

The Sphinx

The Telltale Heart

The Fall of the House of Usher

Imp of the Perverse

The City in the Sea

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym

I may explore some others over the course of the month, but it’s my goal to get through and share some thoughts on each of the above by All Hallow’s Eve. This morning I read “the Sphinx” and “the City in the Sea,” and it’s readily apparent how great an influence Poe was on H.P. Lovecraft in particular, and probably the likes of Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and many other scifi-fantasy-horror greats, as well.

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Stay tuned!

-Bushi

bushi

 

McLintock! and the Minstrel of Gondor

I recently discovered that Amazon Prime’s got a nice little cache of westerns and have been picking through some of the old John Wayne flicks. Yesterday’s lunch break selection was McLintock! – a kind of comedic western about the titular wealthy, but of course manly, cattle baron (Wayne) and his estranged wife (Maureen O’Hara). I was pleasantly surprised to see her in the leading woman’s role. Hadn’t realized the two of them had co-starred in so many films together!

Anyway, there was something familiar about movie’s opening song. It took me a moment, but it was that lead vocalist. Sounds a lot like the vocals from that 1977 animated Rankin and Bass Hobbit production. Well, turns out that’s because it is!

Glenn Yarsbrough, who just passed away last year, had a real nice timbre. Here are a couple of his pieces that I remember fondly, despite not knowing who he was until now.

The Minstrel of Gondor! Not a bad post.

RIP, Minstrel.

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-Bushi

bushi

Orcs and trucks

I had given up on Shadow of Mordor, not knowing how near I was to finishing it. Every now and then I felt an itch to go back and make an attempt. Even if I wound up ragequitting again, killing orcs and pitting brute against brute was fun in stretches.

Well, I beat it this weekend. And I even ran into that Bloodlicker guy at one point near the end, no joke. He wasn’t alive long enough to do much licking, but.

The game’s got a lot going for it, and I’d heartily recommend picking it up during a sale (or for full price if you’re one of them rich folk with dollars to burn). That is, of course, dependent on a certain tolerance for (well-done, albeit) Middle Earth fanfic. The writers put together a decent story, but there are some pretty egregious changes to Celebrimbor and Sauron and the nature of the ring. If you can get past that and just slay some orcs, though, it’s good fun.

Mordor isn’t quite as barren and Verdun-y as I imagine it was intended to be, but there are all sorts of barby things and sinister towers. Orcs quarrel and grumble and brag amongst themselves as you slink around. Power struggles go on and orcs get promoted or die with or without your intervention.

There are many little touches that make for an immersive and enjoyable experience. You may kill orc captains, but they don’t really “die” until you cut off their heads, which so far as I can tell is random. I ran into this drunk orc (that was his “thing”) three or four times, and with each encounter he became more and more disfigured. At the end he was missing half his face, replaced by metal plating.

Being able to ride beasts was cool, as were many of the wraith powers. The biggest draw for me was the ability to dominate (ghosty-mind-control?) enemies. Not only can they help turn the tide of large skirmishes for you, but the ability affords you a bit of flexibility in accomplishing your objectives.

The quest I was stuck on was tied up in dominating a particular warchief, but he would only show up if you grabbed one of his followers and made him squeal for help. The problem was, this dude would always be hanging out in the middle of a fort with a big posse. Every attempt I made to lure him off by himself failed and led to a never-ending battle that ended in either retreat or the death of the follower.

Finally it occurred to me that I could just get one of my own lackeys to challenge the warchief. So long-story-short, I did. Little did the chump know that his bodyguards were also my creatures. And so I just showed up and it was no difficult task to overpower and dominate him.

It was pretty fun to send my captains and warchiefs on missions, too. By the end of the game I had a strong enough group that they were able to wipe out the Black Gate captains and forces almost on their own (I helped a little).

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So that’s Shadow or Mordor.

I’ve also been playing a bit of American Truck Simulator, which isn’t something I’d ever have imagined myself getting into.

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But with all the politics injected into everything and the culture wars raging, sometimes a game like this can really hit the spot.

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I mean, sometimes it all just makes you want to kill hordes of orcs. And sometimes it makes you just want to deliver construction equipment from Flagstaff to Carson City while listening to streaming country radio.

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-Bushi

bushi