Friday, December 31, 2021

Snowed In

As you may have heard, we've had a a bit of snow up here in the Pacific Northwest. It is not unusual to have snow once or twice a year, and by snow I mean snow-level-at-sea-level, lasts-more-than-a-day type of snow. We're used to snow with visiting rights - if we want snow, we can just go up to the passes, or to watch it at a respectful distance from the foothills. Rarely does it come to visit, squatting down in your driveway, and showing no intention of moving on.
After the first wave

This is one of those times. The there was a light set of flurries just before Christmas, and the main onslaught began that night. About 6 inches up here on Grubb Street, judging from the pile-up on the deck railings. Then a few days of flurries as the high
dropped into the 20s, then another wave of about 3 inches more. Currently it is hovering just around freezing, with most of the blacktops clear from melting.

So, enough to shut everything down - this level of snow is so rare that the local authorities are limited in response. King County has all of 14 plows. Kent itself has 8 de-icer or sander trucks that have snow blades on them. Kent does have a priority list of streets to plow. Odds are that your street is not on that list. Businesses are either shut down, running with reduced staffs, or closing early before the roads freeze. I haven't had a newspaper delivered to the house for a week, though the Post Office, Amazon delivery guys, and milk deliveries have been uninterrupted (thought one of them has lost his gloves in our driveway - if you're missing brown fur-lined gloves, they are on the bench out front).

Snow Halfling
Still, this is an opportune time, and not just because so many folk are still working from home. Hitting the Christmas break puts a lot of kids at home from school. Our department had already decided to take off between Christmas and New Year's. We managed in the break between storms to get out to the grocery store, and while the deli counter was shutting down (not enough workers that day) and the bread aisle was severely depleted, there were neither major shortages or panic in the aisles.

Swedish Snow Lantern
And the housemates have been playing in the snow, making both a snowman and a set of Swedish snow lanterns. The Lovely Bride and I have been keeping to the warmth of the house, and I have enough new books to tide me over.

We still have power and the Internet, so that puts us ahead of game, as opposed to several years back, when the power went out and we relied on the fireplace and wind-up emergency radio. So we are fortunate. Rumors (meaning the weather report) say that it should warm up in the next few days, then we get hit with another round of snow. Nothing is overheated, nothing is on fire, so we are doing well. And we at Grubb Street hope you're doing well, too, and have a safe and sane New Years.

More later.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Ten Movies

 So, talking about other things, I considered what my favorite ten movies were. And I had to think about I would mean as "favorite". There are movies that a really like, and would recommend to others, but probably not watch again. They were a great experience - blockbusters, indie films, but they were one-and-done for me.

And there are "films" where you want to take apart how the plot is unspooled, how the shots were taken, how they got that take, or sought out that emotion. Films can be analyzed. Movies are just embraced.

And then there are the films that I will watch. Every time. Channel hopping or random streaming, coming in on the middle of them, and I will hang on until the end credits. I know the lines. I know how they end. I know the stories behind them. But these are movies that I will WATCH again and again. This is what I'm talking about.

Not all of these are great movies. Not all of them have "worn" well since their release. Some of them are a bit cringe. Many of them lack deeper meaning. A lot of them bunch up in my teen aged years. Some are even in Black and White. But I will watch them. Every. Damn. Time.

Here are ten movies:

The Thin Man (1934)

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

The Longest Day (1962)

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)

The Great Race (1965)

The War Wagon (1968)

Ice Station Zebra (1968)

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Star Wars (1977)

Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

So what are YOUR Ten?

More later,

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Season's Greetings

 Wishing you a safe, sane, and secure Holiday Season.

Art by Eyvind Earle

More later, 

Monday, December 20, 2021

Seattle Weather

When we moved to Seattle twenty-some years ago, I started encountering weather features and climate conditions that I hadn't encountered before, or had few references to. Here's a handy list for new arrivals:

Weather Forecast: Fiction. 

5-Day Forecast: Science Fiction. 

Mountain Day: We are surrounded by mountains - Cascades to the east, the Olympic range to the west. But when we say "The Mountain is Out" (and we do), we are talking about Mount Rainier (rah-NEER), which looms to the south like something out of Greek Myth.If we can see it from base to tip, we call it the "Full Mountain".  People are usually happy when we can see the Mountain, despite the fact that Rainier is an ACTIVE VOLCANO (not erupting, but not quite dead, either).

Sunbreaks: The opposite of Partly Cloudy, but rarer out here. It a term used from the Fall to Spring, and usually means "You might see some sun today." Most of the summer is pristine, blue, and cloudless. That's when your relatives from back East visit and tell you how nice it must be to live out here. You want people to stop moving to Seattle? Invite them out in the dead of winter.

June-uary: When we say "summer" in Seattle, we don't count the first two weeks in June. Sure, May is nice, with soft rain in the evenings and fogs in the morning, but a grey overcast dominates the landscape in early June, so much so that it gets its own month. Also called June Gloom.

Atmospheric River: A recent term, it reflects the fact that Washington State doesn't really have any large agricultural states to the west of it we can call up and ask for steady weather forecasts.What we often see on the doppler radar is the thick stream of heavy red bearing down on us. Makes the weathermen on the evening news excited.

Pineapple Express: When the atmospheric river commutes from Hawaii. Really makes the weathermen excited.

Convergence Zone: I mentioned the Olympics, they are a massive upthrust of mountain due west of us. They tend to stand in the way of the atmospheric rivers that buffet the coast. Of course, the weather tends to go AROUND this big chunk of mountains, so Seattle is often at the point where the weather coming around the northern side hits the weather coming around from the south. When they hit, we get interesting, local effects. So Kirkland can get heavy rain and hail while Kent gets nothing.

Rain Shadow: The flip side of the convergence zone. Because the mountains are in the way, some places get untouched by rain while it rains heavily to both the north and south. The Olympics become Seattle's umbrella, and like an umbrella, a treacherous wind can turn it inside out.

Microclimates: As a result of the differences in altitude, plus the rain shadow and convergence zone, microclimates mean that you can have radically different weather in relative close proximity. While in certain parts of the country, the saying is" If you don't like the weather, wait fifteen minutes" in Seattle it is "If you don't like the weather, drive fifteen miles."

Misting: What Seattlites call it when it really ISN'T raining. You don't need a slicker. You don't need an umbrella (a sign of being a tourist). It's just misting. Works up to the point when you start seeing hail.

Thunder:  A rarity. It happens maybe once a month, consists of one long, rolling peel. and people will talk about it at the office the next day. It is so cute to those who come out from the Midwest. 

Snowed In: More than a quarter inch on the roads. Everyone forgets how to drive. Archaic term now that everyone is working from home.

Snow Level: Snow is measured by altitude here, and as winter proceeds the snow level descends down from the mountains to the sea. So we really pay attention to where the snow level currently is. "Lowland Snow" sets off alarm bells and closes schools. Grubb Street is located at the 500 foot mark, just in case you were wondering. 

Seattle Freeze: Has nothing to do with the weather, but is as close as we get to feeling chilly. 

Black Ice: Not a uniquely Seattle phenomenon, its the scarier way of saying "It's a little slick out there".

Closing the Passes: The main east/west highways out of/into Seattle go over the Cascade Mountains, and as winter arrives, travel over them become perilous and often avalanche-y, until finally the passes are closed, sealing us off from the rest of the northern US. We're pretty happy with that.

Polar Vortex: Not so much a Seattle thing, this is a weather effect that has been picked up on the national reports. It is bitter cold with heavy snows and wind - what Wisconsin used to call "A pretty average winter".  The weakening of the Jet Stream around the Arctic Circle results is sudden bulges of cold air descending on the heart of of the country, giving Climate Skeptics the chance to complain "Where's your Global Warming, now?"

Pyroclastic Flow: We have an active volcano nearby (see Mountain Day, above). Someday, it will go off, and send a cascade of molten rock, hot mud, and melted snow down the surrounding valleys, including the Green River valley, where Renton, Kent, and Auburn lay. This is a reason that Grubb Street is up on a hill. Have a pleasant day. 

Subduction Zone: The Big One - that massive earthquake that will cause the West Coast to fall into the sea, belongs to us, Oregon and California, so it not unique to Seattle. However, we DO talk about the tectonic plates far out to sea that have the potential to slip and create a Tidal Wave, which, given the narrowing of the Straits leading to Puget Sound, will channel it like a shotgun blast at the city.

Tsunami Route: You can see signs occasionally. I'm not sure they're being kept in order. They are usually pointing towards higher ground (well, yeah), in case the subduction zone triggers a tidal wave that will swamp the low-level areas of the Sound.

Solstice: Solstice is an important holiday in Seattle. We are the furthest north major metropolitan center in the continental US. We are further north than most of the population of Canada. So this means that our day/night cycle takes wide swings back and forth during the year. In the summer months, we are used to the sun setting in the Northeast, and twilight showing up around 10 PM. In the winter months, we are looking commuting in the darkness both to and from work. Both are a bit wearing on the senses, and the Solstice is the moment when the pendulum reaches its furthest point, and starts slipping back.

Happy Solstice. More later.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Book: Jail Break


Help, I'm Being Held Prisoner By Donald E. Westlake, Titan Books, original publication 1974

Provenance: Half-Price Books. When I am in a used bookstore, I check the mysteries to see if there are any Rex Stouts I am missing. In the same area of the alphabet I found this Donald Westlake in trade paperback format.

Review: So, Donald Westlake is an incredibly accomplished author, and wrote the original Parker novels. He also wrote the novel The Hot Rock, which became the film of the same name with a screenplay by William Goldman, starring Robert Redford, George Segal, Paul Sands, and Zero Mostel. Funny movie. So if you want funny crime stories, Westlake has you covered. And the original publication of this book falls hard on the heels of The Hot Rock movie, so there was probably a demand of funny crime stories.

And it is a prison fantasy, in that it takes place in a prison, but is scripted in a way that breaks your sense of reality if you think about it too hard. 

The unfortunately-named Harold KΓΌnt (with an umlat - it just gets worse the longer you look at it) is inveterate and uncontrollable practical joker whose latest stunt on the Long Island Expressway gets him sent up the river for a short stint. He falls in with a band of tough guys who have tunneled out of the prison, but they are not planning an escape. Instead they leave the prison, commit a few crimes, go out to dinner, take in a movie, then come back for roll-call. Harold accidentally and easily crashes the party, and after some deliberation, the tough guys take him in because they have a big plan - they are going to knock over not one, but two banks in the town the prison is located in, then come back to prison because that's the last place anyone would think to look for criminals.

And we're ignoring stuff like, you know, fingerprints. Like I said, let's park reality at the door for this one.

Its a fun, light read. Harold is a nervous wreck, trying to keep himself from committing any more practical jokes, plus keeping the gang's secrets, plus dealing with someone else pulling practical jokes and him taking the blame, plus trying to keep the gang from finding out that he is NOT a tough guy, plus desperately trying to keep the gang from robbing the banks. So most of the book consists of him going to greater and greater lengths to keep all the balls in the air. Sort of French farce, with a lot of door slamming, but the doors have bars on them in this case. 

I have to call out the Paul Mann cover of this one, only because, in the tradition of hard-boiled mysteries, it conveys the theme while misrepresenting what is going on inside the covers. The protagonist is a broad-chested he-man dressed up in classic hamburglar stripes (he is not, and the book is set in a period of Folsom prison denims). The babe is all legs and bare;y-buttoned men's shirt (there is a love interest, but not as dolled up) with an obligatory gun - It is something something off the old Carter Brown covers by Robert McGinnis. 

So, it is a fun book, and a nice break from change ringing in the fens of East Anglia, but not one to hunt down. 

More later,

Monday, December 13, 2021

The Things On The Doorstep

Recent Acquisitions, with a Cameo from Kia

Here are some of the game products that have been piling up here at Grubb Street. The bulk of them are Kickstarters that have delivered. Kickstarter has a been a boon for small and medium publishers which might otherwise not have the reach to find their audience.

This Kickstarter boom, though, has been kicked in the teeth of late by the global situation, not just the perils of the pandemic but the shipping crisis as well. The backup has delayed delivered even further and small shipments are getting lost in the shuffle. And, given Brexit, I do think twice before ordering anything from England, as the shipping fees can rival the cost of the product itself.

However, I do have a long trail of material that I've ordered previously which continues to show up at my door. And this is a very mixed bag this time. As always, these are not reviews,. in that I feel you need to play the game in order to review it fully, but a rather is a first glance and reactions to them.

Southlands (Richard Green, with Wolfgang Baur, Basheer Ghouse, and Kelly Pawlik; Kobold Press; 316 page hardbound) as well as the Southlands Player's Guide (Green, Marks, McFarland, Merwin, Pawlik and Suskind; 80 page softbound) and City of Cats by Richard Pett; 202 page hardbound). The Southlands was originally detailed for the Pathfinder Game, but makes the transition to D&D 5E with this volume. It deals with the territory south of the core Midgard territories and is a melding of Arabian Nights, Dynastic Egypt, and Lost World African themes. Looking forward to reading it in more detail, given my background with Al-Qadim. The Player's Guide gives you a lot of the nuts and bolts for creating characters and new races in this region for 5th Edition. The City of Cats looks at first blush to be this world's Cairo analogue, with a lot of urban fantasy intrigue. Full color, high production values, excellent maps.

Bayt Al Azif (Jared Smith, editor; Bayt al Azif Inc.; Issues 1-3; 80-120 pages squarebound magazine) This is an irregular magazine on the Call of Cthulhu game. The release schedule is "When the Stars Are Right" which means I have three issues so far, the most recent from 2020. I got it off Amazon, but you can order it in real-world or pdf form off DriveThruRPG. Really high production values, echoing the old World of Cthulhu magazines from Pegasus Spiele. Contents are a mix of adventures and articles, the latter being about the history of the game, and reviews/overviews of recent Cthulhu products. Their website is here.

The Oracle #14 (Stephen Hart (writing/design/layout) and Jane Spenser (editing); The Grinning Frog; 50 page squarebound). Ordered this during the 'Zinefest on Kickstarter, but to call it a 'Zine is to round down. Landscape formating, glossy stock, excellent art,. This particular issue deals with a fantasy version of Venice, with canals, duels, masques, masks, and magic. Great on flavor and inspiration, light on mechanics. Website is here

The Dee Sanctions Adventures - (Paul Baldowski and Richard August; 44 pages squarebound) I got the ruleset for this a while back, and while the kickstarter included these rules in pdf, I picked them up in print and got a bonus adventure as well. Short version - John Dee's Suicide Squad. This one is softback and nice production values.  Website is here.

All Must Bow (Ryan Hatt and Joshua Flaccavento,; Bleak Horizons Press; 58 page saddlestitched) This one is weird, and more of art-project than a game setting.The idea is that there are uncaring, monstrous Dreadful Ancient Things in our universe, and you're working with/for  them to achieve - whatever it is you think they need to achieve. It mentions the use of X-cards at the start and actually feels like it may need it. System Agnostic (with hints and helps about particular systems in the back  it almost feels like it is an experience hung on an RPG's blasted skeleton than a full RPG itself. Includes a sealed envelope that I am quite frankly a little frightened to open. Company website with links to other sites is here.

Nahual (Miguel Angel Espinoza, 288 pages Squarebound)- This one is very interesting. An RPG by designer of Latino heritage, Nahual is based on a comic book that has only been published in Mexico, where the angels, representative of Western Colonizers, are hunted by descendants of native shamans, Upon slaying the angels, the shamans turn the bodies into drugs and food served from taco trucks  Powered by the Apocalypse Engine but complete in and of itself,with high production values and good B/W art, it is an urban fantasy not based on traditional western tropes. . Website? Here.

Orun (Misha Bsuhyager, Jerry D. Grayson, Eloy LaSanta; New Agenda Publishing; 288 hardbound) Also from diverse voices and avoiding traditional western tropes, this game is billed as Post-Apotheois Afro-Futuristic Space Opera. So that's a bit of a niche market, but it looks great. Pulling from  the "Lost Present" school of SF (like Tekumel and Dune, our present is far in the game's past and Western Civilization has wiped itself out long before mankind made it to the stars), the game uses Nigerian/Yoruba terminology like Oya (for Earthers) and Orisha (for ascended humanity) to craft a futuristic setting with multiple planetary heavens and a Sauron-level meme-devil as an ultimate big bad. The product itself is high production values - Hardback, full-color, glossy stock, with a book ribbon and a slip case. Worth a deeper dive.

The Black Hack (David Black, Black Label/Squarehex, 124 page hardback)- Hacks are something that have popped up in the past decade - Minimalist designs, using old-school games that push ease of play over detailed background. Take a system (usually a 3d6 one) and reducing it to its most basic components. This Black Hack is the revision and has a clean presentation and art that would fit in the liner notes for the Gorillaz Clint Eastwood album. Player's section has four classes, like the classic. DM's section has a lot of tables for random results. The Kickstarter came with a bunch of small tchotchkes, like mini-booklets for maps, lore, and spells. This one (and the Dee Adventures) actually shipped from England, and made it in a timely fashion. Stripped-down web page is here.

And that's about it. If I get a chance to actually play any of these, I will come back to them. But in general, Kickstarter has produced some really fine opportunities to get hold of games that might not otherwise make their way to your friendly neighborhood gaming store.

More later,

Friday, December 03, 2021

Book: Whom the Bell Tolls

Mass Market Paperback The Nine Tailors Book

The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1934

Provenance: Picked up at Page Turner Books down in Kent, took with me as an airline read.

Review: I've said before that Dorothy Sayers mysteries are about other things, which just happen to have a mystery, a murder, and a detective mixed in. Murder Must Advertise gets into the weeds with advertising and office culture. Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club deals with men's clubs and the casual damage from the war. The Nine Tailors is a mystery that involves deep discussions of  bellringers and water management in the fens of East Anglia. The full title is The Nine Tailors: Changes Rung on an Old Theme In Two Short Touches and Two Full Peals.

And I'll be honest, the book put me to sleep on the trip back from Florida. I don't sleep on planes as a rule, but it put me under for a good two hours.

That's not bad in any way, shape or form - if there is anyone who can write about bellringing and East Anglian fens, Sayers is the person to do so. But there is a lot of text to be waded through, and much of it steams of a writer showing off their research.

So here's the general gist of it. Lord Peter Wimsey and his manservant Bunter get into a car accident near the village of Fenchurch St. Paul. They are taken in at the local vicarage, and Lord Peter lends a hand with a nine-hour ringing session of the church bells for the New Year. He stays for the funeral of the Lady of the local manor. He returns a few months later for the funeral of the Lord of the local manor, but when they open up the Lady's grave to inter the Lord's body, there is another unexpected body in the grave.

There are more tropes here than in an episode of Murder She Wrote. The befuddled minister. The town fool who speaks in riddles. The old-timer who remembers everything. The busybody who is incensed about the placement of the mourning wreaths. The young heir with the grumpy uncle. The well-meaning souls who cover up for those they think guilty. The key piece of evidence destroyed by someone washing up. The body where it shouldn't be. The missing emeralds. Add to that clues which are in code using the script of campanology and the ever-present threat of flooding in the fens, and there is a lot going on here.

Lord Peter does his detective thing, but he almost feels incidental. He doesn't have much of a character arc for himself in this one other than to hunt down clues and make deductions. He's not in his native clime, but adapts well, people like him, no one is really working against him. He sort of Mary Poppins his way into the lives of those at Fenchurch St. Paul. By this time (9 books in), Wimsy's personality is pretty much crystalized, but his reaction to a sudden flood (which gives him the final piece of the puzzle) still feels overwrought and unexpected. 

Oh, and the nine tailors of the title are not about men making suits, but about the nine tolls of the bells to commemorate the death of a man.  There is a lot of jargon within the book, particularly about bellringing (more exactly, change ringing), and it is easy to lost in the Stedman's Trebles and the Grandsire Triples..

Mind, Sayers can write, and she writes up a storm. Her writing is eloquent and literate. If you are forced, through circumstance or at gunpoint, to read a mystery featuring bellringing and water management in the East Anglian marshlands, this is as good as you're going to get. This volume has a reputation as being one of her best, and if you love it, you love it utterly, and if you hate it, it is one of the worst. I would not make this a first read for the series or the character, but it stands well of its own right.

More later,