Tor.com content by

Bruce Baugh

RPGs and Haiti relief

DriveThruRPG is the biggest vendor of roleplaying material in PDF form. There are others (and I’d like to do a fresh survey of the markets this spring), but this is the one co-owned and backed by several of the industry’s relatively large players and with the largest sweep of the commercial side of the field. White Wolf sells here, and Mongoose, and Fantasy Flight Games, and Green Ronin, and on and on.

The DriveThru management have taken up charitable support in the wake of past crises, and are doing it again for help with Haiti’s recovery, in the biggest way yet for them. They’re matching all donations made to Doctors Without Borders, and have provided some easy links for donating. But they’ve also got a sale going. For $20, customers can buy a bundle of PDFs from lots of DriveThru’s partners worth at least $1000 US. Many such claims are worth treating with skepticism, but if you look at the list of who’s contributed files to the project, it clearly holds up. The list goes on and on and on and on….

There’s some of the best of the d20/D&D 3rd edition boom of the early 2000s (vintage Spycraft books); Green Ronin’s awesomely Phildickian alternate ’70s gone very bad (Damnation Decade); Marcus Rowland’s game of the 20th century given the sort of respectful attention to precise detail that made Xena such fun to watch (Diana: Warrior Princess); the intriguing-sounding steampunk soap opera game Full Light, Full Steam, which has some drama-advancing mechanics I’m curious to try out; the Savage Worlds edition of Adamant’s wonderfully, awesomely Edgar Rice Burroughs-ian Mars; Jamie Chambers’ Serenity Roleplaying Game…quite a few things I knew I wanted, and quite a few I’m sure willing to look at given this kind of deal.

I don’t see an expiration date on this offer. If one turns up, I’ll update this post. In the meantime, if you’re at all curious about the state of the roleplaying market, this is a heck of a way to see a big slice through it.

Photo by Flickr user austinevans, used under Creative Commons license.


Bruce lives in Seattle, WA, and notices his hard drive sagging under this sudden influx of data. He is freshly happy for the iPhone app GoodReader, which helps a lot with big PDFs on his well-loved little analytical engine.

Ken Hite on Lovecraft and Everything

It’s not quite true that “if Kenneth Hite doesn’t know it, it’s not worth knowing” when it comes to the Lovecraftian world. Ken himself will tell you with great pleasure about his ongoing discovery of new facts and interpretations and of new things to do with those ideas, for starters. But it is nonetheless true that Ken has knowledge and love of Lovecraft and his works that runs very deep and wide, through channels others of us might never see without his expert guidance. Think of Ken as the world’s nicest incarnation of the sinister bargeman who poles you silently through dark waters in deepest night (or better yet, the crepuscular light of an approaching morning in which the sky glows with the hues of a sun gone strange), and who quietly explains the mysteries around you so as to turn vast ignorance into wise dread. And it’s fun to go for the ride with him.

Ken’s been dealing with Lovecraft and the lore of Cthulhu for a good long time now. His recent works include Tour de Lovecraft, Dubious Shards, and Adventures Into Darkness, and between them, these nicely show his range. Tour de Lovecraft is a short guide to each of Lovecraft’s prose fiction pieces, with comments ranging from a few paragraphs to more than a page. They have the quality of excellent footnotes, sometimes pointing out features of particular passages, sometimes quoting critical analyses of others, sometimes discussing sources, sometimes engaging in less readily articulable sorts of commentary. Dubious Shards combines essays (including one on the sympathetic bonds between the Cthulhu mythos and the conventions of the Western, which I’m still chewing over), Lovecraftian Tarot, and a roleplaying adventure. Adventures Into Darkness is a berserkly wonderful guide to superhero roleplaying in the milieu that Lovecraft would have created if he’d gone into writing comics, combining Golden Age superheroics with the various fantasy, horror, and science fictional elements of his own creations. Ken? Ken is the kind of guy who writes that sort of thing and has a good time doing it.

[And what does Ken have to say to us today? Gentle Reader, read on.]

Series: December Belongs To Cthulhu

Review: Dracula the Un-Dead, by Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt

Dracula the Un-Dead
Written by Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt
Published by Penguin Group, 2009

This is a gothic melodrama with modern trimmings, and it’s a lot of fun if you like your horror with good historical detail, moderate carnage, and intense passions complicating both life and death. It is the sort of book Stephen King refers to in his analysis of Peter Straub’s Ghost Story: “Most gothics are overplotted novels whose success or failure hinges on the author’s ability to make you believe in the characters and partake of the mood. Straub succeeds winningly at this, and the novel’s machinery runs well (although it is extremely loud machinery; as already pointed out, that is also one of the great attractions of the gothic—it’s PRETTY GODDAM LOUD!).” Dracula the Un-Dead is indeed pretty loud.

[Read more…]

Review: Interviews With ADD, by Alan David Doane

Conversations With ADD: The Comics Interviews of Alan David Doane
collected by Alan David Doane
free download at comicbookgalaxy.com

I love a good interview. Good art works as it works and doesn’t require me to understand what’s going on the life and mind of its creators, but I like to know the rest of the story. Good interviews help me understand the work better, may point me at things worth knowing I was unfamiliar with or needed to give a second try, and just plain entertain. The interviewer’s art is a subtle one, because if it’s too much about the interviewer rather than the subject, then it could have been an essay in the first place, but human beings being what we are, it helps to have a gentle hand guiding a conversation to fill it with the really interesting parts and let the rest drain off.

Alan David Doane is one of those reliably good interviewers, and here’s an e-book filled with some of his good interviews.

[Read more…]

GoodReader: Huge advance in PDF handling on iPhone

Short and to the point: GoodReader is a really significant advance in the state of the art for PDF reading on mobile devices. It loads just one page at a time, which means that it no longer matters how big the overall file is.

If you’re reading this and thinking, “So what’s the big deal?” you have probably not tried reading a large PDF on an iPhone/iPod Touch, or PSP or anything else of the sort. If you have tried it, then you’ve seen how truly awful it can get, with files making the machine slower and slower and slower, and finally simply not working. There are a lot of book-length PDFs I’ve been wanting to look at on my iPod Touch, and couldn’t.

Until now.

It’s a $4.99 app (on sale for $0.99 at the moment, but I am unsure how long that sale will last), available from the iTunes store, and there’s a handy link to that along with more information here at the publisher’s site. It’s ingenious: it can download files from the web, and transfer across a local wi-fi or Bonjour network, or set itself up as a network folder for very rapid copying from another machine. In addition, as the screen shot here suggests, it’ll let you organize transferred files into a folder arrangement of your choice.

Since I got it, I’ve been using it to read recently roleplaying game rulebooks in PDF form, and by golly, it works. The big ones are as easy to handle as the small ones, and standard iPhone OS pinching and zooming lets me sail around each page without much fuss.

I still don’t think that PDF as a format is anything like ideal for ebooks, but since it is in such widespread usage, may as well be able to read it easily, right? Right!


Bruce Baugh spends a lot of time lugging around more books than he ever dreamed possible without ever even sweating, and really likes this whole e-book thing.

In related news, we are finite: reading priorities over time

Here’s what I’d like to see, either pointers to existing work on the subject or getting to watch someone with better, wider information than I have inventing it: discussion of making decisions about reading priorities that draws on the facts of human maturation in ways shaped by scholarship as well as personal impression.

I lack the sort of background I’d like to see applied to this. I can point at some obvious truths, like:

  • It’s good to cast your intellectual net widely when you’re young, and when you encounter concepts and topics new to you, before you form mental ruts.

  • It’s good to be aware of when your judgments are impaired by stress and crisis, and make decisions informed by the realities of impaired judgment to keep yourself out of avoidable trouble.

  • It’s good to recognize when you’re reading the same old stuff all over again and feel that you’re at liberty to stop that and move on, whether it’s a subject you know enough about now to reach some conclusions about or a viewpoint you know enough about to be clear in your own mind whether you’re accepting or rejecting it.

  • It’s good to be open to new thoughts, but also good to have some confidence in your own thoughts after a while, and to be aware that you can’t in any event know everything that might conceivably be known about anything.

But I don’t know how, or if, these might add up to something systematic in the light of psychology, physiology, and the like. Or, for that matter, theorizing from the life of the mind as such, in the realm of literature, philosophy, or what have you. Anyone know of such things and want to take pity on my ignorance?

[Photo taken by Flickr user Austin Evans, used under Creative Commons license.]

2009 Hugo Best Novel Nominee Spotlight: Saturn’s Children, by Charles Stross

Charles Stross’ Saturn’s Children is a 2009 Hugo Award nominee for Best Novel.

Saturn’s Children (Ace) is an adventure yarn of the road-trip sort. Narrator Freya Nakamichi-47, an everywoman trained for work made obsolete by social changes, gets snared in a very complex web of schemes and counter-schemes aimed at solar-system-wide conquest, involving stolen and appropriated identities, lies and half-truths, true love and brutally imposed slavery, and a great deal of travel through a variety of exotic locales. There is sex and violence and pursuit and stealth and travel via unusual devices and the whole deal.

In the end, some schemes foil each other, some are set back for a mix of reasons foreseen and surprising, and our heroine makes some context-changing decisions of her own. It’s a classic sort of framework and Charlie Stross works it well. So first and foremost, this is a ripping yarn that kept me reading past my bedtime and in moments stolen in the midst of other errands.

But Stross isn’t in the habit of doing just the same old thing, and hasn’t started doing so here.

[But what is he doing? Gentle Reader, I’ll tell you.]

David Eddings (1931-2009), In Memoriam

David Eddings passed away yesterday, at the age of 77. At the risk of sounding cliched, he’ll be missed.

He wrote epic quest fantasy in the grand style, with heroes who discover unsuspected destinies, companions who ply their various specialties on behalf of the hero and their shared missions, highly-placed evil schemers, and the lot. But as I discovered when friends persuaded me in college to try the Belgariad (not long concluded) and the Malloreon (then just beginning), he brought several personal advantages to his work.

[Read more below the fold.]

I’m In Your Media, Divorcing Your Intent

Nobody told me that May 2009 was my month for finding old subversions made funny. First it was Roombas. Now it’s video recontextualization, or maybe just reinterpretation with a healthy dose of dubbing. I promise I won’t keep doing this indefinitely, I’m just struck by this little wavelet of finding multiple examples in such close proximity.

The gangs, too, were out in force that hot night: the Lizard Imperials (snake-skin boots and surgically split tongues), the Zombie Analytics (subcutaneous pixels offering up flickering flesh-images of dead video and rock stars), the anarchist-physician Croakers, the Yakuza Rebels and the Gypsy Titans; even the Naginata Sisters were out, swinging blades and drinking on the corner in front of the Iron Orchid.

[Read more]

The Living Room Also Has Its Own Uses For Things

William Gibson once wrote “The street finds its own uses for things,” and that’s always been the essence of cyberpunk for me. Well, the revolution has moved indoors, with Roomba art.

A couple of samples, with more at the link:

(Roomba Painting 2, by Flickr user reconscious)

(Pretty in Pink, also by reconscious)

The dance of robots is an old theme in sf. Examples that came immediately to my mind include Alfred Bester’s “Fondly Fahrenheit” and Gregory Benford’s “Me/Days.” But it’s often, maybe even usually, been a threatening manifestation of machines going bad. And of course there are real-world efforts in a tradition that includes Survival Research Labs (caution: may arouse those who have too much fun with explosions). This is one of the most purely cute and beautiful implementations I’ve yet seen.

Dracula by the Day

This is great. Bram Stoker’s Dracula is an epistolary novel, every letter and diary entry given a  date. (And Stoker did a lot of calendar work to make sure it all fit.) Whitney Sorrow is posting the whole novel blog-style, with the entries dated a particular day posted that day. The first entry is for May 3rd, so you don’t have much catching up to do yet; the last one will be November 6th.

There is an RSS feed for it, and this seems to me like one of the best uses since Pepys’ Diaries for the technology.

Special thanks to Alejandro Melchor for tipping me off to this. Having informed friends is like having a bigger brain yourself!

[Photo by Flickr user Barnaby Dorfman, used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.]

Dave Arneson, RIP

The roleplaying world has lost the other half of its founding duo this week. Dave Arneson, who introduced Gary Gygax to the possibility of roleplaying gaming, succumbed to cancer on April 7th, at the age of 61.

Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax met in 1969 at one of the early GenCon wargaming conventions. They hit it off, and collaborated on a set of naval battle rules in the early ’70s. It was one of those really productive partnerships, each seeing potential in the other’s contributions and helping draw it out. But before proceeding to their more famous collaboration, some context.

[An age undreamed of…]

Review: The Cole Protocol, by Tobias Buckell

The Cole Protocol, written by Tobias Buckell, read by Jonathan Davis. Macmillan Audio, 2009. 9 CDs. (Print edition Tor Books, 2008.)

Tie-in fiction is hard to do well, but when it clicks, the author’s individual vision meshes with the inherited legacy to produce something very distinctive. The Cole Protocol clicks.

The Halo universe does entertaining things with a lot of classic sf tropes. The details are very complicated, but the essentials are simple enough: FTL let humanity spread to dozens of colony worlds over several centuries. Now it’s the 26th century, and humanity’s in a losing war against the alien races united in the Covenant. The Covenant has superior technology and numbers, and is wiping humanity out one sterilized world at a time. Three video games show what happens when several unexpected developments happen at once, and five prior novels expand on that story and cover pieces of backstory.

The first remarkable thing about The Cole Protocol is that it doesn’t require you to know all that massive backstory.

[The art of exposition is not dead, nor doth it slumber.]

It Came From eBay: Big Numbers #3

Big Numbers is one of the great unfinished works in the comic book world. In 1990, Alan Moore and Bill Sienkiewicz set out to make a 10-issue series about the effects of an American-built mall on an English town. The first two issues are great reading, full of Moore at his quirky, most observant best, sympathetically portraying people in a wide sweeping range of present states and prospects, and full of Sienkiewicz’s fascinating pen and pencil work, evoking mood and mental conditions with flights of fancy and exaggeration, then swooping back to meticulously detailed realism.

Then things went wrong.

The workload proved too much for Sienkiewicz, and the collaboration less than entirely satisfactory to either. Sienkiewicz bowed out. Moore then asked Sienkiewicz’s assistant, Al Columbia, to take over. Columbia worked on the next two issues, then also bowed out, for reasons that have never been fully aired publicly and about which there’s all the usual tedious gossip. What matters for this purpose is that he did stop and the artwork was destroyed, under circumstances and with motives that remain the confidences of those involved. (Artist Eddie Campbell, who illustrated Moore’s massive story of Jack the Ripper, the doom of individual perspective, and more, From Hell, has some comments about it at his blog.) Ten pages of issue #3, photocopied with the lettering overlaid, were published in a short-lived media magazine in 1999, and that’s all for the artwork. Readers have had to content themselves with the script for the issue.

Until now.

[And then what?]

Review: The New Annotated Dracula, by Leslie S. Klinger

Formally: The New Annotated Dracula, by Bram Stoker, edited with a foreword and notes by Leslie S. Klinger, additional research by Janet Byrne, introduction by Neil Gaiman. W.W. Norton and Company, 2008. Hardcover, 613 pages, list price $39.95 US, $44.00 Canada.

What a perfect delight this is. There’s a point where scholarship and sheer enthusiasm fuse. “That is the point that must be reached,” as Kafka said of something else. Klinger’s gotten to that point and then set up camp for an extended stay.

This is a beautiful volume, and a pleasure to read and view. It’s almost square, with a heavy black binding and silver text on cover and spine. The paper is heavy and creamy, the typography elegant. The format is my favorite for annotations: one column for the text of the book, and one for annotations in somewhat smaller type. Most of the time, therefore, the notes are right next to the text they’re commenting on. This is one of those books that really thoroughly justifies its existence as a printed work rather than an e-book, with so much present besides the words themselves.

The version of the novel starts with with the original 1897 edition rather than the abridged 1901 paperback that is apparently the basis of many modern editions. In addition, Klinger draws heavily on Stoker’s working notes, fascinating in their own right. We see Stoker’s calendar pages, assignment and reassignment of plot points to different narrators, and annotated bibliography on subjeccts from the Carpathians to shipwrecks. Furthermore, Klinger notes differences between this text and changes made through the decades. So it’s a comprehensive and careful presentation.

[But wait, there]