Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Play: Not Bad. You?

Well by Lisa Kron, Directed by Braden Abraham, Seattle Rep, Through March 5.

Well. That was a bit of a mess. But I think that's the whole point.

Well is a monologue (with other people) that goes horribly and amusingly awry. It is not about the monologist and her mother, when it is, of course, totally about the monologist and her mother. It is also about racial matters, illness, being an outsider and few other things I haven't mentioned. But ultimately, it about mother and daughter.

The talented Sara Rudinoff plays Lisa Kron, who is both IRL playwrite and character in her play about putting together the play. Yeah, its very meta, and that's one of the challenges. Rudinoff/Kron sets herself up as a target at the outset, effervescing early about how this would be an "theatrical space showing the status of illness and wellness on the community and the individual" (I may be paraphrasing here). Then she starts undercutting herself by interacting with her mother.

Her mother (a fantastic Barbara Dirickson) occupies one half of the stage, her domain being a comfortable clutter of binned items for various projects, bound magazines, her favorite lazy-boy, and nostalgic age. She has been in pain most of her life, which she blames on allergies, but she is sweet, interrupting, and continually countering her daughter, whether as to her intent, the veracity of her stories, or whether the audience would want something to drink.

The other half of the stage is bare, where Kron is putting together her work, with the help of four supporting actors who are sometimes various roles, and sometimes actors. These merry elves are supposed to carry out her scenes, but they start having their own suggestions and comments. Various sets wheel and lower onto the stage, with the fussiness that becomes obvious when things start to go wrong.

And things go wrong. Kron is trying to address why some people stay sick and others get well, and cast it against her integrated community where her mom was an activist in the 60s and 70s. However, she is ultimately trying to understand why she and her mother, so similar in many ways, went different ways, where she recovered from her illnesses and her mother merely continued with them.

Kron as character loses control of the proceedings quickly, as her mother expands her own reality into the play, sweetly and relentlessly. The merry elves rebel as well, brought over to mom's side. And an childhood bully, a creature of id, appears in the midst of all this from the audience to terrify Kron further. She is creator left at the mercy of her creation, because she is not dealing honestly with them.

I think. To be fact, I don't know. The play doesn't go for easy answers or explanations (and subverts a potential happy hug moment at the end). It sort of ends where it ends, and could have gone on longer or ended a few lines back. I'm really not sure, and I'm not the only one: for this review, I cheated and looked up other comments on the play - all seemed positive, many just embraced the facile facts at the surface of the place, and a few deliver that mantra of the midwest indeterminalism - "Well, it's different".

And I came away with this: Did I have problems embracing a memoirish play where I knew that the individual portraying the monologist was not the original creator? Does monologue (even as burlesqued here) demand the authenticity of original voice? I accept actors portraying all manner of characters on the play, but strain at them portraying the author of the work? And why this work, when I had little problem with a similar conceit in the earlier "Viet Gone" (where the playwrite shows up to say that it is not about his parents (It is totally about his parents)? In short, would a Mike Daisey monologue be a Daisey monologue if I delivered it?

So put me down as puzzled on this one. Well reminds me of a performance of  Six Characters in Search of an Author that I saw many, many years ago in Milwaukee.  I feel I have experienced theatre, but I'm not quite sure I know what it all means.

More later,

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Adventure: Not-So-Pulp Tentacles, Part II

Darkness, Descending by Mike Mason, an adventure from Cthulhu Britannica, from Cubicle 7 Games

Goodness, it has been more than two years since the last time I checked in with my plucky crew of Lovecraftian malcontents? Seems as if. My Call of Cthulhu group is still playing semi-regularly, but for the past few years, we have been working our way through the upgraded Horror on the Orient Express, run by one of my fellow group members. I tend not to review RPGs I am playing a character in, as such a review is a reflection on the limited information my players has, the group the GM/Keeper's style as it is of the product itself. And while I read a lot of Call of Cthulhu gaming material, I don't tend to review THAT publicly without actually taking it out and running it.

Anyway, this is the second of the adventures from the Cthulhu Britannica booklet from Cubicle 7 Games. The first was Bad Company, which I talked about here. The book consists of four adventures for different eras, set (mostly) in Britain. I won't be running the last two for this group, since they have modern and futuristic flourishes which would be difficult to fit into my campaign, in which it is eternally 1928 and consists of a company of random individuals who have come together to fight the Mythos.

The group consists of Smokes, our exiled Chicago gangster; Horace, our spy/newspaper photographer; Cliffy, our aspiring archeologist; JB,our wealthy dilettante, Hyacinth, our author' and her bombastic boyfriend/hero of her novels, Goodwin McNash. My style with them is very pulp/adventure, and I tend to run with more of an eye towards survivability than TPKs. They have been world-travelers, but are based out of London, and I've been eying this adventure as a means of doing something local. Spoilers, of course, follow.

Cliffy's player could not make it, so I used him to bring the others. The young archeologist was assigned to a dig sponsored by Cambridge in the county of Norfolk. A small team working in a small forest found a site of an old Roman settlement. Among the potsherds, tools, and weapon fragments the group found a particularly ugly bat-statue, and Cliffy called in the rest of the team as volunteers.

The bat-statue is one of five vaeyans, used to imprison an Elder God, Cyeagha. Cyeagha can only break free (apparently) on the fall equinox, which is three days away. Removing the vaeyans will allow him to return. Cyeagha has already possessed a local poacher, and is working on one of the archaeological team as well. should Cyeagha escape, bad things happen. Challenge to the players is to figure out what is up, and either keep the Elder God trapped or banish him entirely.

The adventure is based on a Eddy C Bertin's "Darkness, My Name Is", from The Discples of Cthulhu short story collection, moved from Germany to England as its location. It is designed as a one-shot  as opposed to part of a larger ongoing campaign, and shows it, from pre-generated charters with more archaeological backgrounds to a lack of SAN rewards and the general "everyone dies horribly" ending if things go terribly wrong. So some work is needed to make it part of a campaign.

There are some additional challenges for the adventure. A good chunk of the space is made up of describing the inhabitants of Middle Harling, a community to the dig site, but there is nothing within the presented flow of the game to get the players to TO Middle Harling.over the course of the game. This is particularly nasty since some of the clues to explain what is going on are located in Middle Harling, and straightforward playthrough could miss them entirely.

For my session, I dropped them off in Middle Harling at the outset and let them interact with the locals a bit before Cliffy (being run as an NPC) picks them up to take them to the dig site. They are made aware of the local constable and the church and in particular the local pub. While it felt like the first ten minutes of an episode of the old British Avengers TV show - before the small quirky town reveals its dark secret, it actually gave me a good collection of NPCs to do horrible things to later on.

Worse from a playing perspective was that I had no note how far it was from the small town to the dig site. It had to be short enough that that they could come back and interact easily, but far enough away that whatever happened at the site would not immediately become known. I settled for a 45 minute walk (or a half-hour run), but it is something that is pretty basic for the game. In this case, unlike the usual curse of Cthulhu, the maps were pretty good, and had player versions that I could share with relative clarity.

Organization was a pain. Useful information was sometimes lost in body copy or in numerous sidebars, such that despite it being a short adventure, I kept flipping back and forth trying to find some scrap of data that I swore I knew was in there. Plus, the entire section on Middle Harling itself was banished to the back, after the adventure itself, making it unclear when or where the players would encounter it.

And the handouts were a bit odd, with Library Use getting standard information on "What is an Equinox?" while the translation of an old Latin tablet gets a summary as opposed to a full translation. This is worse because it has an incantation to trap Cyeagha, without any clue to what it says (there is a second spell to defeat Cyeagha utterly which is presented in such an off-handed way I'd be surprised to see anyone understanding and using it).

Art was a bit off as well, as the description of Cyeagha's minions (vomitting forth black tendrils) did not quite match up with the art of half-melted, tentacle-armed individuals, but that part is minor.

In play, however, the townsfolk were surprisingly useful, and I could show the madness that the players take for granted slowly dawning on them. The vicar who translated the tablet for them went more than a little mad, the constable was overwhelmed by sudden deaths, and one of the farmers met a messy end at the hands/tentacles of the possessed poacher. The investigators did have enough action and mystery, and headed down a few wrong paths before they understood that they needed to re-bury the statues (and re-chant the locking spell for the good measure). The poacher (unkillable, slimier each time he returned, and the possessed archeologist made a last-minute assault to break the magical seal on the their god, but ultimately, the player characters survived. And, being an ongoing campaign, they had to figure out how they would seal off the area to prevent anyone else from trying to break the thing open again (like - what about NEXT equinox?)

In general it was OK, but it required a bit more work than I had put in with the Goodman Games versions. Still, it provided a nice base that one can spin an adventure out of, and merits a revision to strengthen the parts that could be part of a long-standing campaign.

More later,

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Gaming News

There are a lot of Kickstarters going on right now, and I missed the closing of a couple of them, but want to mention the others in this space as "offered for your consideration" before they all shut down.

Many years ago, I did a small chunk of the Midgard Campaign Setting for Wolfgang Baur at Kobold Press. Now, the setting is making an expanded return (and other talented hands are picking up the parts I worked on) as the Midgard Campaign Setting: Dark Roads and Deep Magic. There are three main books now, the first of which, on the world itself, clocks in at 300+ pages, with volumes of rules for both 5th Edition D&D and for Pathfinder. Plus a lot of adventures. This one in huge, and is already funded and moving to stretch goals.

Wolfgang Baur is a member of my regular gaming group. So is Bill Webb, whose company, Frog God Games, is putting together a contemporary card game ripped from the headlines. Conspiracy theories, faux news, and click-bait reign in Alternative Facts. Hasn't funded, yet, but has about two weeks to go.

Also in the department of projects with long names, Goodman Games is putting together a series of essays on How to Write Adventure Modules That Don't Suck. The venerable and wise Jim Ward has invited in an all-star squadron of veteran designers and editors to give you the inside track on building cool adventures. Also funded, and wraps in three days.

I usually talk about Goodman Games in connection with their Cthulhu adventures, and that makes as good a segue as any for moving into Lovecraftian territory. Stygian Fox got good marks for their previous foray into Cthulhu Modern with. The Things We Left Behind and is plunging into one-night short adventures with Fear's Sharp Little Needles. The talent behind this one is solid as well, with Brian Courtemarche and Oscar Rios among the names contributing. Bonus: they are making The Things We Left Behind available at an upper supporter level, in case you missed it the first time around.

Oscar Rios is the man behind a LOT of good Call of Cthulhu scenarios from Golden Goblin Press. He was the writer of Miskatonic Press The Legacy of Arrius Lurco, which is on my list to run (on top of everything else currently in the queue). Making that running even MORE imperative is that he just launched a Kickstarter for a new version of Cthulhu Invictus, Cosmic Horror Roleplaying in Ancient Rome. This sourcebook got its start as fan-made tome, and the officially published version from Chaosium could have been improved. I have no doubts that the new edition will give a firm foundation for the Ancient Roman time period (and, at a high level of support, you can get De Horror Cosmico, a collection of Roman adventures which confirms for me the fact that this will be a good project). It just launched, and is well on its way to funding.

I'm not certain about the last one, but I want to bring it to everyone's attention. WotC-vet Rodney Thompson, who was behind the excellent Lords of Waterdeep game a few year back, is launching a caper-style fantasy RPG - Dusk City Outlaws. Apparently one is running heists in a large fantasy city, which is intriguing, but what makes it interesting is that the games sessions themselves are set up to be easy to run and get into as a player. That's a bit of a grail quest for RPGs, so I am interested in seeing him pull it off.

And that's more than enough Kickstarters for the moment. More later,

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Book: After Midnight

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil - John Berendt, Random House Publishing, 1994.

Provenance: This is one of the older volumes on my "Shelf of Abandoned Books". I picked it up in the nineties, and it has been sitting there, waiting for me to get back to it, for over twenty years. The book has a good rep - finalist for a Pulitzer Prize, long-term status on the NYTime's best-seller list. And it is a physically odd book physically, tall and narrow, more like a door than a text. Maybe that is why it stayed on the shelf when other Abandoned Books were started, ignored, and quietly sent away.

Review: The book is (much to my surprise once I engaged fully with it) a true-crime story of a murder in Savannah, Georgia in the early 80s. The author tells you that there will be a crime at the beginning, but he takes a meandering route to the murder itself, and then feels distanced from it afterward. Really the book is about Savannah itself, or at least the more elite chunks of it.

The author arrives in Savannah as a result of airline deregulation, which makes it cheap to set up a second apartment outside of New York City. He is enchanted by the heart of the Savannah, in particular the antebellum historical district, where the original streets were laid out around park-like squares. He settles in and starts meeting the locals, who are as quirky as anything that would come out of Lake Wobegon. In fact, it does feel like we're dealing with a Southern fantasy version of that Minnesota town that time forgot and the decades cannot improve  - where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and there is a murder just hanging on the horizon. In fact, every time the characters seem to get up a good head of steam, we're reminded that a murder is about to occur and that this is what the book is supposed to be about.

The unamed narrator (though the tale is first-person, so he'd be John) takes a glancing blow across Savannah Society. We meet Jim Williams ,the eloquent antique dealer with his hot-headed poor white trash assistant/lover. We meet the African-American drag queen The Lady Chablis. We meet Joe Odom, the questionable lawyer who squats in fine houses that are not his own and turns them into 24 hour party venues. There are others - the man with non-existent dog, the pianist who criss-crosses Georgia to play any song for anyone, the fellow with enough poison to kill all of Savannah, but Williams, Odom, and Chablis are carry most of the plot, though they rarely encounter each other. The author encounters folk in cafes and drives people around a lot, such that at one point I wondered if he were the only one with a car in 1980s Savannah.

The murder itself takes place at the midpoint of the book, and I shan't spoil a twenty year old text on a true-life event by telling you who was involved (that would be what Wikipedia was all about). But the murder passes through with just the same level of attention as one of Williams' parties or a bar-crawl involving glowing fish. Having occurred, the murder (and the resultant trial) is just one more thing in the Savannah social life. It takes more than a dead body to overturn that.

After the fact, the accused seems to engage in magical thinking on two levels. One is a faith that system will not convict a highly respected member of its own community. The other is a reliance on the old magic, and a literal conjurer name Minerva who uses the garden of the title to put the hex on folk. And both approaches work and neither work and we are left with double-handful of stories and not a lot tying them together.

Our narrator is practically passive throughout - he is transportation and confessor. He drives and he listens. The exception to this passivity is late in the book when The Lady Chablis crashes a black debutante ball he is covering, and he tries to extricate himself before the inevitable meltdown, showing some true emotion and engagement with his surroundings. But that's the exception that tests the rule - he is otherwise incredibly neutral, non-judgmental, and empty throughout. Savannah is the show and he is just the announcer.

So did it age well? Pretty well. It reminded of parts of Reagan's America, and perhaps what is scandalous about it is how much of it isn't scandalous at all in those days, or at least is politely ignored. The tale is all strained through a venue that is as much of a hot-house environment as anything Tennessee Williams ever envisioned. This is a closed eco-system, kept afloat by its own form of magical thinking.

And while there are more than enough working-class types drifting through this environment, they seem to be swept up in the magic of the Squares of Savannah as well, in a weird little ecology of social gatherings and parties at all levels. I suppose that's what holds it all together, ultimately - the parties, whether it is The Lady Chablis performing in drag, Odom's continual bacchanalia, or William's legendary Christmas party (and his OTHER legendary party). It about the social engagements.

Maybe that's what makes the book worth reading after all these years.

More later,

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Electric Car Blues

Literally a Museum Piece
So, back in August, the Lovely Bride and I purchased an electric car. No, I haven't mentioned it before in this space. What, do you think I tell you EVERYTHING that's going on in my life?

The big reason for the purchase that the my 2001 Hybrid Insight, DOCBUNNY, was after 15 years of service, was on its last legs. The seats had been worn threadbare long ago, the radio was down to one speaker, the HVAC was spotty, there were some oil leaks with lash-up solutions, the transmission was getting mushy, and the hybrid battery was showing a sudden and shocking discharge rate, such that going up small hills could drain it completely. so the time had come to replace it.

After checking out a lot of vehicles online, we went for the sit test. We went to dealerships and sat in their cars. Test-drives were the second step of this but the big initial thing was whether I would be able to fit in the vehicle in the first place. While I am a bit wide, I can fit behind the wheel of most cars (Chevies in particular are a tight squeeze and off the table immediately), but I also have a long torso, so that for many cars, I cannot see out the front windscreen - the roof line drops down into my field of vision. Toyotas are like that, and so are the older Teslas (and I was not going to wait to see what was the case for new Teslas). We decided on a Kia Soul
Electric, blue with a white roof.

I'm a Soul Man.
And car purchasing is just as painful as it was fifteen years previous.Despite excellent credit, knowing exactly the car we wanted to purchase, and informing the dealership with 24 hours notice and filling out forms online, it was four hours of filling out forms, waiting for them to be processed, giving more information, waiting for THAT to be processed, checking options, agreeing to options that we didn't necessarily want but were on the car anyway (to be fair, the puddle lights have been rather nice), and then learning that the car that we had TOLD them the day before we wanted to purchase wasn't even at the lot (this was cheerfully reported as "We're preparing the car for you - it will be just a little while").

So, then, how is it? Well, it depends on what you're after. I am looking for a vehicle that will get me the 20-some miles up the Amazon and back to Panther Lake once a day, with the occasional side trip. It does that nicely But it does affect my ability to go to various locations in a single trip, so I'm finding myself planning more.

It is all about Ranger and Recharge: Range is how far you can go on a charge. The listed average range for the Soul is 90 miles. Tesla is talking about 300 miles with its new batteries, but they're still building them. Ninety miles is about 3 gallons of gas in a traditional car. So if you're not comfortable driving around with three gallons of gas, then you may want to wait for the future models,

Recharge is finding out where you need to go to get the charge back. The Soul came with a "trickle charger" which ran off house current but does so VERY SLOWLY. Such that you might not drain the battery to half and then not be able to regain the lost energy overnight, creating a deficit situation (plus by "overnight" I mean 12 hours, which means you bring the car home and let it sit.

This car magnet works on so
many different levels.
The Lovely Bride and I went the extra distance and installed a Stage II recharger, with the help of a state rebate plan. This brings me up to full charge in a couple hours, but it is STILL a couple hours. If you are on the road, you again have to plan for some downtime to recharge. Fortunately, my garage downtown has charging stations. Unfortunately, they just started charging for them. There is also a Stage III charger, which I have yet to use (the only one I know about is at the dealership), but then you are still at the mercy of the time it takes to recharge.

Let me add to that another challenge - cold is an enemy. The battery holds less of its charge during the cold weather. We have a spate of freezing weather in Seattle and the range plunged precipitously. Not that the weather has returned to typical Seattle winter (rainy and grey), the numbers have recovered, but it was a concern. This ALSO may mean you won't see as much of electrics in, say Chicago, for a while.

How does it perform. Nicely. There's not transmission, so it accelerates extremely quickly and smoothly. It is a bit boxy, but navigates and turns well. Downsides? Minor things like no CD player, so I had to download my books on tape and put it onto a USB drive. Oh, and the GPS is absolutely horrible. If you want to know at the traffic conditions an hour ago, it is more than suitable, but I found no traffic on roads that it claims are clogged and have been held stock still on patches of highway that are supposed to have clear traffic. But that's kinda minor.

Ah, yes, and the tire sensors are, in the terms of my mechanic, "sensitive", such that if they get even a little out of balance, a sigil lights up on your dash that is supposed to be a cross-section of a tire with an exclamation point but really looks like the Eye of Sauron atop Barad-Dur. I've had it go off three times so far, but to be fair, one of them was the result of picking up a nail and really needing a patch..

The thing I tell people is that having an electric car is like owning a horse. You can't ride it too long without giving it a rest. You have to water (well, recharge) it when get there. And you're always checking out other horses to see if their owners are having the same challenges.

More later,

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Theatre: Roll on, Guthrie, Roll on

Woody Sez: The Life & Music of Woody Guthrie, Devised by David M. Lutken with Nick Corley, Darcie Deaville, Helen Jean Russel, and Andy Teirstein, Directed by Nick Corley,  through January 29, Seattle Rep

The Rep has been a time machine this particular season. Raisin in the Sun is set in 1950's Chicago, Roz and Ray covers the AIDs epidemic during the 80s, Charles III takes us a few years into a possible future of England, and Vietgone deals with the Vietnamese refugees in the 70s. So we get another chunk of the 20th Cent with Woody Sez, covering the life of the populist and progressive folk singer from the 30s to the 60s.

The performance is more revue than a traditional play, in that the events Guthrie's life is highlighted by his music. The narrative of his biography is the frame for the performance. We get his boyhood and his family life, but much of his life crystalizes in the Great Depression, when the economy crashed, the dust bowl yawned wide, and people took to the road. Guthrie was a creature of the road, moving from town to town, busking, working, and singing. And the presentation frames that life in the terms of his songs.

And it is excellent. There about about 25 songs from his canon woven through the story, not counting the encore our Sunday afternoon viewing was treated to (which every Sounders fan knows, at least the chorus of it). David Finch narrates and portrays Guthrie himself, a tall drink of water with an Oklahoma twang and a nasty habit of pointing out obvious truths. David M Lutken, who is the "deviser" of the production from the credits, plays all the other roles, including radio announcersm, other travelers, male relatives, and Pete Seegar. Darcie Deaville and Helen Jean Russell, also parts of the original productions, switch off on the female roles, including Guthrie's mother and various wives.

They all sing well, and they all play. The instruments line up on the stage, and they move from one to another easily - fiddle and base, banjo and mandolin, and various breeds of guitar. The songs are from all over Guthrie's career, but power though the story of the man.

And it is political, but it is a hopeful politics of disempowered people that moves him forward, of those down and out without much up to look up to. Framed against a time when the GOP trashed the economy ("Don't worry," Finsh says as Guthrie,"I'll get to the Democrats", but I don't remember if he ever does), it shows where a lot of his thinking comes from. Less detailed is when he changes his mind, which he does - he is advidly anti-war until it comes knocking, then volunteers for the Merchant Marine in WWII and gets his ship sunk twice.

Guthrie died of Huntington's disease, an genetic affliction that claimed his mother and would evenutually rob him of his voice and his talent,. But he left his music and his writing behind, and the performance builds finally up to the one Guthrie song everyone knows - " This Land is Your Land." And yeah, there was not dry eye in the house, and you got the feeling that, no matter how bad things get, there is a way to see things through.

More later,

DOW Breaks 20,000!

It happens during the current occupant's tenure, he gets the score. Never mind that another quarterback drove the ball down to the five yard line, he was the guy who takes the snaps when the ball crossed this particular goal line.

Actually, the weirdness is that it took so long to get here after the last one. Given the traditional end of the year run, a new and a definitely pro-Wall Street administration, with a declared reduction in watchdogging and ethics, the question is why it didn't happen sooner. The market had been rising through the year, but showed an almost hesitancy in crossing this milestone. Working against it possibly has been a general uncertainty of what this new administration is really going to do and a chief occupant of the White House that has a tendency to lash out against anything that displeases him (with the result that an errant tweet can cost a company tens of thousands of values).

Back in 2009, the DOW was below 7,000. So while it's nice to celebrate the most recent milestone, I have to note that it'll have to get to 33,000 before we get a comparable run. Hey. it could happen.

More later,

Monday, January 02, 2017

Book: Midsummer Night's Dreamquest

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson, TOR Books, 2016

Provenance: Kij Johnson was a colleague at Wizards of the Coast and one of the ringleaders of a writer's group I belonged to (The Thousand Monkeys) more than a decade ago. I saw mention of the novella on the book of Face and the Lovely Bride ordered it from Amazon as a Christmas present. I am glad I got it in hard copy so I may press it upon friends to read it as well.

I have spoken of Lovecraft before. I love his cosmic vision, enjoy his prose, tolerate his poetry, and detest his racism. But I have also said that it is the nature of creation to have other creators arrive and develop, add, and subtract. That is what Kij Johnson has done here, to amazing effect.

Vellit Boe is a professor at the Ulthar Women's College in the Dreamlands. One of her students, Clarie Jurat, the daughter of a major supporter, has run off with a man from the Waking World, a dreamer, Vellit Boe must find Clarie and convince her to return before her father finds out. That sets Vellit off on a mission that leads from the stairs to the Waking World to the court of King Randolph Carter to the ghoul warrens below, as the situation becomes more dire with every step.

And it works. Vellit Boe's dreamlands is a "real" world with its shapechanging sky, few stars, monstrous inhabitants, capricious gods and questionable geography. It is a dreamworld with a grounded sense, a trust in its own mutability.  It has its own rules - they are just unlike ours, and change at a whim.

It is a world with its own gender issues - this is the Dreamlands shown from a female perspective. It does not negate what has gone before, but recognizes that it is a male viewpoint with male heroes and male interactions. The women were always there, it says, but confined to the scenery, to the background, to the support team. Kij brings these women forward, aware of the hurdles before them  - Dorothy Sayers' Harriet Vane would be comfortable in Johnson's Ulthar. Exceptional women are still considered unusual. The timeline is also advanced, to say that the Dreamlands exists in a hundred years back - the Women's College is a new thing, and there are steam engines and mechanical farm equipment in this version.

Yet while even subverting it, Johnson remains true to the work. There are the zoogs and the gugs, and the world pivots on the caprices of the gods sleeping in distant Kadash. The seriousness of the situation, and the doom that hangs upon Vellit Boe, deepens the further she goes on the hunt. It lacks the nihilism of Lovecraft, but does not shy from the hard choices.

And the tale is a perfect novella. Love or loathe Lovecraft's style, it often involves ornate flourishes and arcane terminology. Vellit Boe's language is tight and precise and the book is just as long as it needs to be. It could have been a short story, but a little cramped, ticking off locations, more paean than prose. And it could have been a thumping large fantasy epic, or even a trilogy, where you are ten chapters in even before Claria disappears. But  it is not, and its economy serves it well.

This is a contender for the Hugos and Nebuli this year, barring any further weirdness from the Sad Bunnies and their ilk for whom good fiction is unrecognizable and anathema. Read it now and avoid the rush.

More later,