Monday, December 31, 2012

Review: Hyperion

A friend gave me Dan Simmon's 1989 novel, Hyperion for my birthday in 2011 and I only just got around to reading it. Overall, the book has many wonderful things to recommend it. Unfortunately, it also has one major drawback, which we will get to later.

The story takes place in a post-Earth galactic human civilization and centers on the mysterious outpost planet of Hyperion. The planet is home to a mysterious set of structures, called the Time Tombs which produce strange effects in space-time. The tombs are home to and/or associated with a mysterious, spiky figure known as the Shrike or pleasantly nicknamed the Lord of Pain… though I hear his college buddies called him "Scooter".

The course of events follows a group of travelers selected by the Shrike Church to go on a final pilgrimage to the Time Tombs. The characters all have some previous association with Hyperion and to figure out why they were selected for the journey, they share their tales of Hyperion.

Hyperion felt like a nexus of sci-fi literature. It is unashamed in its references to science-fiction and literature in general. On a basic level, the book is one giant homage to the poet John Keats. The novel takes its name from anunfinished work by Keats of the same name. To me, it read very much like a science fiction version of Heart of Darkness, following the journey of not one, but several narrators across a bizarre and dangerous landscape on the fringes of a great hegemonic power's reach. They travel to face an enigmatic and dangerous foe, like a shiny spiky Kurtz who is able to manipulate time.

Numerous smaller references are thrown about making this a fun bit of hide and seek for the reader. For example, many of the other worlds in Hyperion hold a noirish feel similar to Blade Runner. One of the main characters, in fact, is a detective hired by a cybrid being to investigate the murder of his first body… in a weird sort of Deckard role-reversal. Human civilization is linked together in a Gibsonian vision of cyberspace called the World Web complete with black ICE, virtual wave-riding hackers and an overly visualized cyberspace. There are references to one character running with the John Carter Brigade during his early military career, and on and on…

On the other end, the book introduces many things that I see reflected in later works of sci-fi. Hyperion is, in many ways, analogous to the island from Lost with the Shrike as its very own smoke monster. There are deep-space barbarians who may very well have been appropriated into the Reavers from Firefly  and one of the characters pulls a Gaius Baltar, falling in love with an AI construct that persists in his mind even after he has unplugged from his stim-sims. Oh, the post-Earth post-wandring civilization bound in a nervous peace with machines/AI of its own creation is also very BSG... so which way does that reference flow?

Dot-connections aside, Simmons does an excellent job of telling some dark and brutal sci-fi tales. You get to know the characters, get to like them and realize that many of them have been dealt a really crappy hand. So, good characters, good plot, lots of inside references. What's not to like about Hyperion? Well, like the poem on which it is based, it doesn't have an ending. Sure the words stop, but they do so at a place that feels like a complete cop-out and leaves pretty much everything unresolved. I haven't yet opened the sequel, Fall of Hyperion, but I can only hope it finishes what this book started.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Map: Lastholt Ice Caves (Entrance)

This post from mapmaster Dyson Logos, which linked to this page by also mapmaster Kevin Campbell has inspired me to step up my game when it comes to hand-drawn maps. Lately, I have been using my trusty quad-ruled notebook to sketch out maps for my D&D game. I find it to be quicker and easier than mapping with a drawing program like Gimp and much easier to translate into a battle mat drawing. However, so far, my sketched maps have been... well... sketchy. After admiring many of Dyson's Dangerous Delves maps and looking over Campbell's pages of elegant simplicity, I feel like hashing out my own hand-drawn style. My goal is to balance visual aesthetics, informational clarity and ease of production.

Here's a scan of my first real go. I reproduced a map I had already roughed out in a slightly more polished fashion and without my secretly scribbled notes. It's a simple pencil sketch on quad-rule notebook paper, though the process of scanning it and adjusting the curves made the rule lines vanish... I'll need to work on that bit.

This cave mouth is where my players ended their last session over a month ago.

Lastholt Ice Caves

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Gamey Christmas

The holiday rush has ended and we now move into the great decompression and what is known in gaming parlance as inventorying of the loots.

The fiancee and I, nerds as we are, love to give and receive games as gifts. This Christmas was certainly no exception. Here is a list of our games given and received.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Darth Nicholas

My lovely sister gave me a Lego Star Wars advent calendar for my birthday back in November. Now, I am a big fan of Lego, Star Wars (at least the original trilogy) and Christmas. I am also a fan of Lego Star Wars and potentially of Lego Christmas, and at least ironically entertained by Star Wars Christmas but mixing all three together creates a melange of flavors that is eclectic, dissonant and possessed of some very bizarre potentials... and Lego appears eager to explore these odd potentials to their fullest.

Now, most of the advent entries are what you would expect from a Lego Star Wars advent calendar: mini-spaceship models and Star Wars-themed mini-figs, many of them related to the scenes set on the ice planet, Hoth. The grand finale of the calendar, however, takes things to the next level. The sets for December 23 and 24 realize the full flavor potential of Lego Star Wars Christmas. The set for the 23rd is a snowman R2 droid, and for the 24th... Darth Maul dressed as Santa Claus holding a snow shovel. The mind reels.

Okay... maybe this is actually a step up from the Star Wars Christmas special.

Merry Christmas, happy Life Day, etc.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Sketches of Yore

I used to be quite the prolific drawer in my youth. This kind, not that kind. Recently, I pulled a load of my old stuff out of storage, and uncovered a plethora of sketches drawn up during my childhood. Flipping through the sheaves of artwork brought back quite a few memories. It also provided adult me with a wonderful glimpse into the mind that was young me. Poring over the fruits of my creative impulses, now protected from the hormonal mire that was my adolescent brain by an irreversible temporal buffer, I was able to analyze the works with a more objective, dare I say wiser, eye.

I drew a number of conclusions while sifting through the ephemera of my past:

  • I was a weird kid in quite an amusing sort of way.
  • Stuff that I thought was super awesome at the time often did not hold up to later scrutiny.
  • I was politically opinionated in a way that only unfiltered, too-smart kids can be: driven by a desire to seem edgy or at least not dull, but which in practice comes across as reactionary.
  • I had a real emo streak before "emo" was a word. Lots of pictures of moody teens, half-drawn faces, single eyes and leafless trees.

I have wanted to scan my earlier scribblings into a digital format for some time now. After this most recent perusal, I finally began that process. I think I will share a selection of them here, along with the stories... when they exist behind just what the heck I was thinking.

Portrait of the artist at work

I actually have several drawings related to unorthodox systems for spaceflight

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Flexing my Mini Muscles

So, I have taken steps...

Jeremy Bates commented on my last post, suggesting that I change my habits in order to break out of the aforementioned creative funk. As I thought things through, I realized that a change was just the ticket I needed to get out of Funkytown (see what I did there?)

I realized that my malaise had spread to more than just my creative endeavors. I was also feeling unfocused at work. It didn't take me long to realize that the incredible amount of clutter that filled both my physical and digital life was creeping in to clutter my head. To remedy this, I turned to some videos on time management, Gmail power use, and Outlook organization from Over the course of a couple days, I got both my work and personal email inboxes down from over 1000 emails each to just the one or two active conversations I had going on. I also did a major clean of my office workspace and set up a massive OneNote brain dump of all the to-dos I had rattling around in my head. All of this cleaning and organizing was aimed at one ultimate goal. Get my thoughts into an organized structure so my head could be clear for creative pursuits. So far, it seems to have helped.

Now to the point... minis! Over the past couple days, I used my newfound Zen to churn out a couple mini-painting projects!

I now give you, the three forms of Templeton the wererat

and Daethin Moonshadow, elven ranger

I'm pretty happy with how these turned out, especially since I have painted less than a dozen minis ever (including these) and that these were the first to include human flesh tones and un-obscured faces. Nevertheless, after feeling all good about my work, I made the mistake of looking back at the tutorial pages for the painting techniques I used and find myself feeling super inadequate once again. Ah well, my next step is to practice with some ultra thin paints in an effort to get smoother application and less caking. I fully intend to have this painting thing mastered by the time those 250+ Reaper Bones minis arrive next year.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Creative Doldrums

Being December 2012's post for the Insecure Writer's Support Group

I have been one of those ubiquitous creative funks of late. It's not exactly a block because I know what I need to do to move forward. It's just that none of the creative projects I have sitting around appeal to me. I have several blog topics jotted in my notebook, partially painted minis on my desk, partially written adventures for the next step in my D&D game, and even a really engaging book that I've been picking my way through at a snail's pace. I feel a bit like the despondent child with too many toys, surrounded by fun, but having none of it. Waaaah!

That's not to say that I haven't been doing anything creative. I have occasionally been dabbling here and there. I recently watched a bunch of instructional videos on OneNote and have been using my knew knowledge to reorganize my D&D notes into a more functional system.*  Like everything else, however, my reorganization remains unfinished. To make matters worse, I only feel the faintest spark of inspiration when I'm at work and can't devote time to this stuff.  I have created this handy graphic, which illustrates my current creative process quite nicely.

What do you do to break out of the creative blahs?

*I may even upload a blank copy of my notebook structure, or at least a couple pages in case any of you are OneNote GMs too.

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