Sunday, October 11, 2015

Play: Bridgework

A View From The Bridge: By Arthur Miller, Directed by Braden Abraham, Seattle Rep, though October 18th.

The Rep leads off its season with a straightforward tale well-told, a bit of classic theatre that dusts itself off and knocks one out of the park. There are no surprises, no twists, no musicians, no special effects, no supernatural undercurrents, no puppets. Just good actors and good words.

It even starts out with the statement that you've seen this before - Leonard Kelly-Young is Alfieri the lawyer, who is our narrator and declares at the outset the relentlessness and eternity of the tragedy along with his own feeling of helplessness is preventing. That feeling of helplessness spreads to the audience as well as the tale unfolds.

Eddie Carbone -. (Mark Zeisler) is a longshoreman in Red Hook who controls his household - his wife, Bea (Kirsten Potter) whose life is confined to the role of wife and his niece Catherine (Amy Danneker), who has been overprotected with an uncle's affection that borders fully on the creepy and runs through the play. That personal fiefdom is threatened by the introduction of two cousin from the old country who are  illegal immigrants - "submarine men"; stolid, strong Marko (Brandon O'Neill)  and good-natured, flamboyant Rodolpho (Frank Boyd). Rodolpho and Catherine hit is off, and everything just runs to a natural and bloody conclusion.

And that's the thing about the writing - not a word is wasted, not a bit of fat I could have done without. The characters are straightforward but not one-note, and the actors bring nuance to the roles. I'd give highest marks to the women, Danneker and Potter, who capture the flavor fully, while Boyd verges towards that Balki from Perfect Strangers stranger-in-a-stranger land humorous immigrant. The fact that the world, and Eddie in particular, pushes back hard on Rodolpho, recognizing him as being "not right" for their universe, and therefore an invader, grounds the character fully.

One thought did occur to me after leaving the play: The entire family dynamic echoes the later All in the Family sitcom, particularly with Zeisler as blue collar Eddie. And while the TV show is based on the earlier britcom Till Death Us Part, Miller's shadow looms large over other productions that came along later, in this tragedy of a man trying to enforce his will against the changing universe. The line that Alfieri the Lawyer comes back to is "Take half and like it", and the tragedy is that this is an option that is never taken.

Solid theatre, well-performed. Go see it.

More later,

Friday, October 09, 2015

DOW breaks 17000!

Well, that was fast.

Martin Luther King, Jr, paraphrasing Unitarian minister Theodore Parker, said "The arc of the Moral Universe is long, but it bends towards Justice."* The arc of Modern Wall Street is much, much shorter, but it too bends upwards towards a higher rate of return.

I mean, why the recovery, and so quickly? Greece is still as much a mess as it was back when we dipped into the 15000s a few weeks back. China's stock market is just a wobbly. Saudi Arabian investments are being reduced as they keep their oil prices low enough to close down the Dakota Oil Shale operations (successfully, as there are fleets of mobile homes now available on the cheap out there). Austerity hawks still circle despite the proven failure of that approach. Congress is just as dysfunctional, and all these lefty operations on the West Coast are raising wages and reaping low unemployment rates. Yet now we're back.

I believe, inherently, that we have trained certain markets to move inevitability, but not smoothly, upwards. The market is overheated because we are willing it to be, and the rise of various tech or housing or stock bubbles are a feature, not a bug, in the system. We talk about corrections, but until that point where we pitch ourselves into a full-bore, we-cannot-ignore-it, mile-wide-steamroller of a recession, the trend line is inevitably upwards.

My own gut check for economic health, by the way, is my commute. The worse it is, the better things are in general. And for the past week, traffic has really, really sucked, for reasons I cannot fully fathom. I think it may be tied with the shortening days, such that people who are used to rising with the first light suddenly are confronted with the fact that this first light is much later in the day. I may be tied to the return of school, which regiments when children have to get out the door, and as such puts an addition timer on the adults. But I do think that it is because we have crossed a threshold where the infrastructure itself is taxed by the increased load of the employed, who all, apparently want to get on the road at the same time I do.

But that's a just a theory. In the meantime, the DOW has restored itself, until the next correction.

More later,

* What Theodore Parker did say, nesting his semicolons neatly, was: "I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sigh; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure its bends towards justice." which is a darn sight better than the current attitude of "Past behavior does not guarantee future performance"

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Gaming News

I have been a tad busy this month, but would hate to let September slip away without some Gaming News.

Let me start with the good news: Jim Ward has gone home from the hospital and is on the mend. He really appreciated all the kind words and cards. Two months in the hospital is enough to make a man despair, and the support was greatly appreciated.

Also good news: former TSR editor Jim Lowder has been taken on as the consulting editor for Chaosium's  Fiction line. The original series of books edited by Robert Price and others were important in spreading the mythos further, and I look to see what the future holds for this.

Speaking of Cthulhu, Oscar Rios, who has put together the excellent Islands of Ignorance and Tales of the Crescent City, has launched a new kickstarter for Tales of the Caribbean, taking the mythos into the lands of rum-runners and voodoo. Oscar has delivered some excellent books so far, and I have no doubt that this will be a strong addition to his line.

Finally, Jon Peterson, has tracked down the script for the nigh-legendary D&D movie, the one that Gary Gygax was working on. Even at the time I was working at TSR, this project, announced in the pages of DRAGON magazine, was the stuff of legend. Jon walks us through the script beats.

That is it for the moment. October may be a bit bleak here as well, at least up to release day. After that, more later.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

DOW breaks 16000!

Wait, isn't that going the wrong direction?

Totally true, though. After sailing past 17k, the DOW topped out around 17.5, weakened, and then proceeded to dive off a cliff. After a trading halt and a dead cat bounce, the venerable market marker is in the high 15000s.

So, what happened?

The thing is, no one is really sure. I mean, the Chinese Stock Market has had all sorts of problems, and the government has devalued to the yuan (you knew that the currency there, right?) in order to keep things going. But that has happened weeks ago, and has to be attached by the proviso that the West doesn't think the East knows what it's doing (Mr. Pot? Meet Mr. Kettle).

Or it could be the challenges poised to a dis-United Europe, with German austerity colliding with Greek poverty. But again, that's been going on for some time, and while accounting for the halting of a bull market, doesn't do much to explain the here-and-now of the slide.

Some point to oil prices, which have been low and dropping lower all the time. This appeals to the economic view of "Whatever happens, it's bad for YOU". You'd think lower prices at the pump would a good thing, but it is the result of various oil factions fighting it out with knives in a back alley. So you'll take your three-dollar gas and like it!

Another points to this sudden, massive "correction" as a response to the markets afraid that the Fed, which has kept borrowing rates phenomenally low during the Great Recession, will now get around to raising it a fraction of a point or so. And I'll be honest, that does appeal to the part of me that treats the corporate market as a small petulant child who panics when it seems like he will not get a cookie.

Or it could be none of them. It could be nothing more than a market suspended on happy thoughts and dreams of growth, but backed up with computer programs (William Gibson called them automated agents in his latest book, and nicknamed them "Aunties") sniffing around for the first signs of softening to bail out at the maximum peak.It could be a feature, not a bug.

But the thing I notice most of all, and want to pass on in these early days, is how calm and positive all this has been. After jumping at every noise and financial what-if for years, the market sage heads, confronted with a major jolt, are nodding and saying that a correction (from what error? to what truth) as been overdue, and this too will pass.

Color me suspicious. But then, I leave most of the investing to the Lovely Bride, and don't ask too many questions.

More later,

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Gaming News

GenCon, and its lingering con crud have passed (and for most people I noticed, it was a delayed con crud, moving in two days or even a week after the event), so let me catch up on stuff in gaming.

Let me start with the toughest news first. Gaming legend Jim Ward (Metamorphosis Alpha, Gamma World, my boss for many, many years at TSR) has been in the hospital for the past way too long for a diabetic ulcer on his foot. He's not doing particularly well, but is most worried about losing time on various projects he's involved in. A GoFundMe Account has been set up to help offset his medical costs. Cards and letters also appreciated, and he can be found at:
       St. Lukes
       James Ward
       Floor 4 28B
      2900 Oklahoma Ave
      Milwaukee, WI 53125

We're all pulling for you, Jim.

The big news that hit right at the end of the convention was an agreement clearing the way for a D&D Movie. The short version: Warner Brothers wants to make a D&D with Hasbro's permission, but has been blocked by Sweetpea Productions, who claims the rights (Though, like all things, it is complicated). The settlement puts Sweetpea as an exec producer (and probably more - we aren't partial to those dealings) and clears Warner to do the movie.

Now, this news, and the mention that it will be set in the Realms, has kicked off a flurry of speculation about a Drizzt movie, or an Elminster movie, or even (yes, in some parts) an Azure Bonds movie, but the best thing to look forward to is a good movie with a good story. The Marvel franchise has not slavishly wed itself to its original books, but instead did films that captured the flavor and magic of the IP without having to lockstep into previous continuity. Have fun, guys.

Speaking of Elminster, his creator, Ed Greenwood, has teamed up with Gabrielle Harbowy to edit the Women in Practical Armor short story collection. Their Kickstarter already made their numbers, but check em out anyway.

Also news out of GenCon was the change of ownership of the venerable Chaosium, home to Glorantha and the Call of Cthulhu games. This is all tied together, because the guys at Rising Moon, who delivered the glorious Guide to Glorantha coffee table tomes are now running things, and Elder Gods Greg Stafford and Sandy Petersen are retreating to the background once more. More information here.

In the wake of Gencon, this popped up on Vice of all places. It's a paen to the wonderful weirdness that is D&D. Author Zak S created the award-winning A Red and Pleasant Land, and his thoughts on the game evoke the writing style of Harlan Ellison when the man was doing essays as a regular column.

Over on the computer game side, there is this about writing for games. I have tales of my own, but you're going to have to buy me a beer. The article includes a link to this twine game (sort of a newfangled Choose-Your-Own-Adventure) called The Writer Will Do Something.

Also on the net is your chance to check out Chaldea: War Room. Chaldea was the home campaign of Peter Adkison (you know, WotC and, um, GenCon) and Peter has been polishing up his chops as a film-maker. War Room in the first of his videos.

And finally, a video that turned up a few weeks back from the Guild Wars: Nightfall game in 2006. Originally put together for the deluxe edition, I don't know if it ever shipped with the game, but instead made its way to the net years later. There are a lot of interviews with the old gang (myself included), and all I can say is ... we all look so YOUNG in it.

More later.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

GenCon Notes

So. GenCon.

It has been about 10 years (give or take) since I last attended a GenCon. I went to the first couple in Indy, but then got caught up in other things, like MMOs and found myself otherwise occupied in August. This year, through a convergence of events, I found myself back. Here are some notes:

1) Yes, Indiana is still in all sorts of hot water regarding its bonehead legislation against American citizens, many of whom attend GenCon. However, Indianapolis itself is a tad bit more progressive. On the way into town, I saw a billboard welcoming gamers to GenCon, with a pride flag in front of it. A nice start.

2) And to a great degree, I found the natives to be friendly and helpful and incredibly tolerant of the huge herd of nerds (nerds with money, but still nerds) that descended on them. "Good People", as they like to say.

3) The convention was big when I last saw it, and is huge now. 61k people (counting as unique hits).

4) It is so large that it is now not only is it important to get a hotel near the convention center, but to get one near the rooms where you have events.

5) I stayed at the Fairfield, in a block of Marriott-owned properties. It was nice. Good breakfast. Though I had to go through an underground parking garage to get to a skybridge. Sounds like something an old school DM would think up.

6) Strangest hotel rooms were at the Crown Plaza, a renovated railway station, where some of the rooms are converted railroad cars. And the place is littered with white statues of passengers, newboys, and nuns. Sort of like what would happen if Pompeii had gone off during a Call of Cthulhu adventure.

7) I was there for the Writer's Symposium and would be taking some brief shifts in the Kobold Press/TPK/Legendary booth. Kobold just launched its Southlands product and the Southlands Bestiary. Both were selling very well.

8) The Writer's Symposium, put together by Marc Tassin, was pretty damned impressive. I got to sit on panels with Terri Brooks, Elizabeth Bear, and fellow TSR Veteran Jim Lowder. The conversations were interesting and diverse. Kudos to Marc, Matt, Molly, and the others who worked so hard to put everything together. This is an ongoing thing, so if you're at GenCon, go there. Seriously, well worth it.

9) In fact, GenCon is made up, now as then, in dozens of small conventions. People are there for the RPGs, or just one RPG. For the card games, or just one card game. For miniatures. For board games. For the writing. For the crafting. For the costumes. In addition, everyone spills over into everyone else's fandoms. It's pretty cool.

10) But here's an idea of the hugeness. The area for the Puffing Billy games (Train games) is larger than the Horticulture building in Lake Geneva, where the FIRST GenCon was held.

11) The dealer's area is large enough to be physically exhausting. Huge hall, filled with companies large and small.

12) One thing that was different that made me happy - the dealers were prominent about their awards. Many had their nominations and previous awards from the ENnies posted, and a lot had their statues from the Origins Awards on display. I like that a lot, and am reminded that it was the efforts of Nichole Lindroos and Charles Ryan who brought physical awards to the Origins. Good job, and yes, it has paid off.

13) My personal haul was limited by what I would pack into my carry-on. Alas, that put most board games out of reach. But I did pick up a lot of Cthulhiana that I have been unable to find locally. Several recent issues of the Unspeakable Oath, a handful of out-of-print monographs, an autographed copy of Robin Laws' Book of Ants for Trail of Cthulhu. I bought some battle mats for Sails of Glory, a great ship-to-ship combat game. And I snagged an autographed copy of A Red and Pleasant Land, purchased before it won any ENnies, so that makes me still young and hip, right?

13a) I also bought a fez. Fezzes are cool.

14) I did not pick up a copy of Cubicle 7's Curse of Nineveh, even though the London Boxed Set where it is set looks beautiful (I have a copy from the Kickstarter). Curse of Nineveh was hardback and heavy and I hope to find it from my FLGS. I also whiffed on getting a copy of Mummy, the Curse from Onyx Path, which was also hardback and heavy but would complete my WoD Mummy trifecta. And I didn't see any Tekumel/EPT material, which may just be because it was overwhelmed by everything else.

15) Palomino's is a good place for a steak. Steak 'n Shake is everything people say it is.

16) I made it to the Diana Jones and was delighted to see that Guide to Glorantha won. Skipped the ENnies although I had a minor credit in one of the winners. Made it to the Monte Cook Games party where Monte and Bruce were bedecked in their medallions and looked like a pair of French diplomats. More importantly, the MCG party shifted over to a surprise 50th birthday party for Charles Ryan. I am incredibly pleased that all those gamers managed to keep a secret.

17) Saw a lot of friends from the industry, played some demos, signed a lot of books, sat on some panels, huckstered for Kobold Press. A lot of people thanked me for Marvel, Spelljammer, Al-Qadim, FR and other stuff I've done over the years, which is encouraging me to actually get back to some RPG design. But the best event for me was getting together with some members of my old dungeon crew from Purdue University, many of whom still live in Indiana. We are all older and greyer, but it was great to see the gang from "The Swamp".

18) So it was a good trip, but it is good to be back.

More later,