The only good thing that's happened in the last two weeks has been that every lunch break at my new job I get to sit down and read a book that I wrote. The hours at the job and various other things are kind of burning away my inner life so I don't really feel stories and ideas inside myself like I used to, and I can't feel words as much or as fluidly as I could, but I can sit and read this, which has a lot of me inside it.
I like it. It makes me smile.
It's not really like anything else I've read before. I don't think its really like anything else that anyone has ever done. I'll be interested to hear if it reminds anyone of anything.
It's a little bit like R&PL and would fit in there reasonably well but there's something.. a difference in tone. It's difficult to put your finger on. It's sillier and slightly warmer than R&PL and a lot lot sadder. The feel of the thing is a kind of synergy or mixing of our two characters. I think if R&PL is really, deep down, a kind of horror story in very fine clothes, then MotBM is a tragedy in ironic guise.
Breaking it down; Zak puts hot girls in a dungeon - Patrick makes sure that none of them ever get laid.
So it's decadent and sexy and baroque and slightly cold and hates euclid like a Zak book, but also sad and tragic and slightly silly and a bit pleased with itself like a Patrick book. And pretty dark in both cases.
There was a bard in it, couldn't get that guy through. There was an elephant in it, an actual elephant, see if you can spot it in the painting. There is a John Donne quote that got through, see if you can find that.
There are almost no pages without alteration or addition. The general feel is of a constant small shaping and crafting at the mechanics, the nature of encounters and the informational shape of the text.
The vision that came into my mind when I thought about this was of the painting itself being like a giant red hot griddle, my words being like a huge hunk of oddly shaped meat cooking on the griddle and Zaks edits being like a series of fishooks and wire driven into the meat, webbing it back and forth, drawing it into even more of an odd shape as it cooks.
So far as I can see, Zaks primary alterations are;
Flow - alternating and patterning of incident and challenge from room to room to provide a steady and alternating flow action and decision.
Excision and compression - several large and unwieldy tables were removed, simplified or condensed. A lot of quite minor characters were removed or simplified, many encounters were simplified.
Prachetectomy - Anything that sounds like Terry Pratchett might have written it was removed. Like a surgeon madly hunting an invisible cancer, anything that might be considered twee or 'zany' has been taken out, sometimes aggressively, sometimes simply on suspicion and sometimes apparently left in for unknown reasons.
Responsiveness - it's more organic, acts more upon the players, is adjusting continually around you, rather than simply being a series of places. Less paratactic.
Sticky - a lot of the changes add stickiness in one way or another. Objects don't wait around for you to happen to them, they happen to you and they stick. There was a fair amount of this but now there's more.
Three-Dimensionality - levelled rooms, drowned rooms, more movement up and down.
Hooks & Treasure - there's more help, more potions & hidden switches, more treasure, quite a bit more.
The backstory is a little more unified, it sprawled a little more and lead off in more directions before. Empires have been formed to give purpose to a roving band.
Also he moved text around a bit inside the descriptions.
I don't really have 'design goals' I let the back room in my head handle that, the same way the Apollo astronouts let the guys at Nasa handle the boring stuff. People are generally as important as their image is dominant, so the two most important people in the painting are the Medusa and Chronia (the naked girl in the centre).
There were a lot of women in the maze so they needed to be interesting, and emotionally powerful, and potentially dangerous. But, if they are all that dangerous then why are they in a maze?
If they are dangerous enough to be a threat to the PC's and if they have their own ideas then why haven't they left?
Powerful agents, momentarily stilled somehow, temporarily. Half-prisoners. So they have to have the most interesting reasons for being powerful, and the most interesting reasons for being still.
Also why are you hanging around naked, maybe you are just into that?
(Of course its a glimpse of my intuitively conservative morality that someone would need a reason for hanging around naked, and it might not be a happy reason, wheras if Zak was writing it alone then it wouldn't even be a question, nakedness would just be an assumed optimal situation, like, of course people should be naked, especially attractive people. Well, only attractive people really.)
Though men, that is, normal human males, heroic or not, don't really exist in Zaks art, there are none in this painting and I don't think I've ever seen them in any other painting, beautiful women, monstrous women, crones, skeletons, liZards, moon-men, demons, mutants, freaks, but no men
(I tell a lie, there are two crowned figures with nothing noticeably wrong with them, I made them cannibals. And there are maybe a few more hanging around.)
There kind of is a big bad guy at the end, the Medusa is capable of filling that role, and probably wouldn't mind doing it, but she doesn't need to be the main villian, that's really a role you choose for her by the way you interact with her. The only real villain is a dead empire, and that empire was built on love and charity.
Some people are prisoners in the maze. Should you try to free them?
People can end up in prison for a lot of reasons.
I started at the top left in the archives and worked round counter clockwise area by area until I hit the Medusa. (You can kind of see my writing style shift a little bit in the time it took to write the thing.) Then I went back and made everything fit and be together. Then I did that again, and then again.
The hardest part was the Golden machine and working out what happened in the wedding, I think i stared at that for 3-5 or so hours before understanding what it was and how it all fit together. (3 hours is a long time to stare at a blank page.)
As to what the book is about,if it has a theme. I think I can say truthfully that its about whatever the players make it about. Not in a vague way like a lump of clay is about whatever you make it about, but like repairing a broken stained glass window with bits of other stained glass windows is about what you make it about, or like being caught in a snare when alone in the wild is about what you make it about. You better make it about something. You will make it about something, just by being there.
I am glad we kept some of the more ridiculous elements in. Caphtor fucking Cloudman for one and his ridiculous book-within-a-book, and the unsortable tomes to frustrate those poor librarians.
Zak and Mandy kind of both ended up in the book. (Well Mandy was already there visually.) This was without any real planning or conscious awareness from me, they seeped in between the lines. There's a girl who looks a lot like Mandy and she's trapped in a series of rooms, in this case becasue she's super-invulnerable and bleeds time.
In one of the last edits I said something like this to Zak;
"I was going to have a bunch of sexy blind girls hanging out with the Medusa, but I thought it was a bit too much, plus I made her too much like you already."
He put them back in.
EDIT - I fucking forgot to talk about layout and I fully intended to but it's late and I'm tired. briefly; its exceptional and it had nothing to do with me. Its all down to Anton Khodakovsky, Ken, Zak and Kirin.