Books and TV

I spent a fair bit of the weekend writing up the third and fourth session of the Demon: the ??? playtest, and the response has been pretty positive. The main purpose of a playtest when you get right down to it is to identify what works and what doesn’t – what is ripe for abuse, what is lame, what doesn’t quite fit the tone. This gives writers and developers some idea of what changes need to be made before the game reaches the end of that long road leading up to the part where it’s put up for sale. The purpose of a playtest write-up, however, is to tease and hint and generally make people interested in the game. People want to see what kind of stories the game can tell, as well as the feats of which its protagonists and antagonists are capable. These were fun for me to write in no small part because this game, even in its early draft form, was a blast to run. Now it’s time for me to return my focus on Nosamae Ascending, so with luck we’ll have an excuse to tease and hint about that soon.

I’m about two-thirds of the way through Robin Hobb’s Ship of Magic, which I picked up because Beth described it as a fantasy novel driven primarily by economic hardships and family relationships rather than threats of physical violence. This is unusual in the genre. The Name of the Wind has some elements of this, certainly, but even that book (and more-so its sequel) has occasional outbreaks of violence to move the plot forward. It’s far less than most, mind you. Kvothe worries mostly about money, his access to education, the well-being of his friends, and the mystery of his parents’ murder.

As I’ve mentioned in this blog before, it isn’t that I think violence has no place in fantasy. It’s just that it often gets used as a crutch. It is shorthand for conflict and peril, a sign that matters have gotten serious. It works the same way as putting the hero’s lover or child in jeopardy does. It can become crutch the same way as a romance or burning quest for vengeance can be. These things aren’t bad, but they’re a simple, effective, safe way to motivate a character. So the idea of a fantasy novel that didn’t rely on violence and the threat of violence to motivate characters (nor on the use of violence to solve problems) appeals to me. It has been an interesting book so far, especially in that spirit of study.

The only issue I have with it is that it has decided to use slavery as a fairly heavy-handed way of telling us who the bad guys are, which I find disappointing. No banality of evil here. The bad guys buy, sell, traffic, and/or oversee slaves. There is only one character who, though a bit of a villain in many ways, at least has a clear and not entirely awful motive for getting involved in the trade. His family is desperately in debt, and he sees it as the most profitable cargo with the greatest chance of saving his family from financial ruin. Is it a great and noble cause? No, but at least I can imagine someone rationalizing it on those grounds. Kudos for the horrible pirate captain who somehow gets turned into some kind of anti-slavery folk hero in spite of himself, though. That was a clever twist.

My household just wrapped up watching the premier of Defiance on Syfy, which has a solid pedigree (brought to us by the folks behind Farscape). It’s intriguing so far. It doesn’t manage the “holy shit they seriously threw down every gauntlet” opening of Battlestar Galactica, but the world-building is good so far, it has a touch of the Firefly Western vibe with a post-apocalyptic twist, and you can see flashes of Farscape’s sense of humor in the writing. I’m not predicting an instantly amazing show, but if it can deliver an entertaining show before getting down to the very serious business of being incredible beginning in its second season the way Farscape went, I’ll be pleased. Better that than the promising start of Heroes, which was an amazing first several episodes that quickly proceeded to turn into complete crap in later seasons.

Tomorrow is Game of Thrones and Doctor Who. I don’t know how I ended up watching not just one weekly TV show but three, but that’s apparently what is happening now.

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