Sunday 31 May 2015

"Ain't we a pair"

Max has to keep getting reincarnated in different realities until he fixes his relationship with the spirit of his wife and son. He has to save both at the same time but never quite pulls it off.

From the perspective of his wife its about her spirit becoming strong enough to re-build the world in a better way, but grappling with her own anger and desire for power.

The child just wants to live. but will protect Max if it can.

In Mad Max I his wife is a weak victim and she and the son die.

In Road Warrior she comes back as a fierce warrior woman to protect both herself and the children, Max doesn't recognise her and she dies on top of the tanker. He does save his son though, in the guise of the Feral Child.

In Thunderdrome the spirit of his wife is angry over her multiple deaths. She has grown in power again and now rules Bartertown, but her urge to power has made her tyrannical. Max doesn't recognise her and pisses her off. She banishes him. He meets the children and ends up saving them, again saving the spirit of his dead son. At the end his wife forgives him, but he has ruined Bartertown and she has to rebuild it.

She does recognise him though before the end:

In Fury Road his wife is Furiosa. She's still angry with him. Again they don't recognise each other. This time he manages to protect her and help her back into power,hopefully creating a less-evil society and repairing the damage he did to Bartertown. The child-spirit guides and protects Max but the only child in the film (Joe's baby) dies.

So Max has to keep going to the next reality to see if he can save both.

Wednesday 27 May 2015

5e Wizard Spell list with Direct-Damage spells removed.

This is a boring-but-potentially-useful post, a list of the spells available to the 5e wizard with all the direct damage spells taken out.

(The direct damage spells are so boring in the 5e list that taking them out probably makes the wizard more interesting. I was thinking about using it with this post about the non-magical characters you can build in 5e, then PC's would be either firmly non-magical or magical-but-not-damaging. So I suppose its an attempt to restore old-school niche protection to 5e, if you give a fuck about stuff like that.)

Cantrips (0 level)

Blade Ward
Mage Hand
Minor Illusion
True Strike

1st Level

Charm Person
Color Spray
Comprehend Languages
Detect Magic
Disguise Self
Expeditious Retreat
False Life
Feather Fall
Find Familiar
Fog Cloud
Illusory Script
Mage Armour
Protection from Evil and Good
Silent Image
Tasha's Hideous Laughter
Tenser's Floating Disk
Unseen Servant

2nd Level

Alter Self
Arcane Lock
Continual Flame
Crown of Madness
Detect Thoughts
Gentle Repose
Hold Person
Locate Object
Magic Mouth
Magic Weapon
Mirror Image
Misty Step
Nystul's Magic Order
Rope Trick
See Invisibility
Spider Climb

3rd Level

Animate Dead
Bestow Curse
Dispel Magic
Feign Death
Gaseous Form
Glyph of Warding
Hypnotic Pattern
Leomund's Tiny Hut
Magic Circle
Major Image
Phantom Steed
Protection from Energy
Remove Curse
Sleet Storm
Stinking Cloud

4th Level

Arcane Eye
Conjure Minor Elementals
Control Water
Dimension Door
Fire Shield
Greater Invisibility
Hallucinatory Terrain
Leomunds Secret Chest
Locate Creature
Mordenkainen's Faithful Hound
Mordenkainen's Private Sanctum
Otiluke's Resilient Sphere
Stone Shape

5th Level

Animate Objects
Conjure Elemental
Contact Other Plane
Dominate Person
Hold Monster
Legend Lore
Modify Memory
Planar Binding
Rary's Telepathic Bond
Wall of Force
Wall of Stone

6th Level

Arcane Gate
Create Undead
Drawmij's Instant Summons
Flesh to Stone
Globe of Invulnerability
Guards and Wards
Magic Jar
Mass Suggestion
Move Earth
Programmed Illusion
True Seeing

7th Level 

Mirage Arcane
Mordenkainen's Magnificent Mansion
Plane Shift
Project Image
Reverse Gravity

8th Level

Antimagic Field
Control Weather
Dominate Monster
Mind Blank
Power Word Stun
Trap the Soul

9th Level

Astral Projection
Prismatic Wall
Time Stop
True Polymorph

Wednesday 20 May 2015

An Interview with Dungeon Smash about Fire.

A long time ago, looking for inspiration and information about a still-ongoing project, I asked my G+ stream if anyone knew anything about fire. Dungeon Smash, (blog here) responded and, after quickly finishing a bestiary with Scrap over about six months, I was able to ask some further questions.

Since the resulting interview is both exciting and illuminating I asked if I could share it on the blog. Dungeon Smash agreed, so long as I redacted his name and any personal details. Which I was pleased with as it gave me the chance to use the redaction tool addon I got for Word, which makes me feel important.

He also sent me a bunch of images. I'm not sure if I should be redacting the name of the image-author but since its a copyright thing I won't. All photos and captions credit to JOSHUA TERESZCIEWICZ.

An angry god.
(Some small spelling and grammatical errors have been corrected.)

Hey Pat, I'm gonna just start answering these questions piecemeal as they come to me.

toys in his hands
What signs are fearful, what would you look for to tell you that it is too late, that you are cut off?

Yesterday, I was on a prescribed burn (an intentional, controlled fire).  I was carrying a drip torch (a metal canister that holds a gallon of kerosene, with a flaming spout at one end).  We were running with a crew of newbies and state-sponsored folks (some of them pretty soft), and somebody had neglected to close the cap to the torch.

We were running hot and trying to get the piece burned off before nightfall.  I noticed that the can was leaking accelerant, and that the top of the can was on fire, but figured I'd be in and out of the burn zone before it would made a difference.  As we went deeper into the unit, we hit a wall of bramble and holly.  Being the dipshit that I am, I elected to plunge in with no visual of the firefighter on either side.

The bramble got deeper, knocking off my helmet and tearing my skin.  I was scrambling like a spaz to get it back on and keep my shit together.  It was getting hard to move - arm caught, free arm, leg gets caught, free leg, pack gets caught, etc.  I looked down, and the drip torch had ignited my sleeve.  I batted it out, but at this point the torch had grown so hot that the accelerant inside was boiling, shooting out a jet of fire and super-heated vapour about 6 feet long.  I was now holding something between a bomb and a flamethrower. I turned to back out, and realized I was stuck.

I tried to hang on to the drip torch, but it was shooting fire everywhere and lighting everything around me.  Reasoning that my life was not worth equipment, I pitched it overhand ahead of me.  The last I saw of it, it was spinning on the ground, a little tornado of fire.  I turned to run, but the fire I had lit behind me was pretty intense.  Burning holly leaves were drifting down around me.  Luckily, the guy on my right called me in to his location through a clear spot.  He was good.  I didn't hear the drip torch explode, but apparently it was loud enough to hear back at the road a quarter mile away.
This was a bad incident.  It could have been worse, but there was definitely a moment of "Shit, ''''''''''''''''''' [I refer to myself by my surname internally]*, you are about to become a statistic."  That was when I ditched the torch.  I was very glad that it was me holding it, and not one of the rookies I was in command of.

I don't know if this really answers your question.  I have only truly had to run from fire on two other occasions.  The signs that are bad are panic, clenching at your chest.  No way out, no clear spot, no idea of which direction even to head. 

Fire in the woods does funny things to the brain.  It becomes very easy to get lost, to run straight into the blaze by accident, thinking you heading for freedom.  I have noticed that this is particularly bad in the endless Black Spruce swamps of Alaska, which are like shifting walls of Velcro untouched and unseen by mankind.  There is no substitute for experience.

To a wise man, the forest and the fire can speak.

"Torching & Crowning; observe the structure therein

Is there an impulse to move toward as well as away?

The instinct to flee is immediate and almost universal.  There are some exceptions amongst some humanoids, who are weirdly drawn to the blaze.  There is a hypnotism in fire, and firefighting attracts an unsettling amount of pyromaniacs.

Anyone who has ever stared into a campfire knows the magical effect it can have; the result is exponentially greater when the fire is 500 feet high and 500,000 acres across.  Men will sometimes stand dumb, overawed.  I have to constantly remind people to get their eyes out of the fucking fire and into the unburned shit they might actually be able to protect. 

But no, it is very rare to see an individual knowingly walk into a fire.  The animal brain takes over; the three times I have run from fire I barely remember.  I was running entirely on amygdala and adrenaline. 

It is possible for very experienced individuals to gain a sort of immunity to this impulse, to be able to see and to think and to speak rationally within the fire. 

On one occasion, my crew boss thought it would be humorous to put a rookie in charge of a holding operation (holding the fireline to prevent fire from crossing into unburned terrain).  We saw a flareup right on the line, and the rookie shouted, "Charge!".

Yelling like warrior poets, we rushed in with hand tools and immediately the wind switched direction, blowing the fire right back into our beards.  I remember very little of the next few seconds, except for my crew boss standing tall atop a rock and motioning everyone into a nearby creek.  Then I was in the creek, my voice hoarse from roaring in pain and fury.

What are the first signs that a fire is near? (other than the fire itself)?

Smell.  Different fires have different smells.  Some are swampy, moist and dark.  Others are clean and hot.  Some smell like filth.  An active fire has a very different smell from a smouldering or a dead one.

Active fire has that fresh, campfire smell.  Smouldering fires smell awful, a sour mix of burning leaf litter, water and mud from the hoses.  A dead fire is a ghostly place.

I once knew a man who could smell heat like a bloodhound.  It was uncanny.  He could follow it to the source, even up a tree or underground, and tell you if it was out or hot and what type of fuel.  He had about 15 years of experience.

Light.  It is dark inside a fire, but a hellish dark with flares of red light.  From far away, it looks like sunset - daylight creeping away, blocked by a pillar of smoke illuminated from beneath.  The smoke drifts over the sun, giving everything a reddish tint.  When things get bad, it is as black as a pit.  The only light is from flashlights and the fire.

When you imagine what it's like in there, what do you imagine?

Pain, vomit, darkness.  The smell.  The aching of the body crying out against the task you are shredding it against.  The weight of the gear.  Voices yelling.  The brief rush of fire, singing the face and beard, We work 16 hour shifts, 14 days in a row.  You get 2 days off in between each 14er.  This goes on for about 6 months, or until the fires are out. 

The human body is not meant to countenance this.  Your gear begins to smell of cat piss - the smell of ammonia.  That smell is the smell your muscles make as they break down.  It's the smell of your body dying.

Birds & Fire, do you see them?  Do you hear birdsong?  What's the closest you hear birdsong to a large fire?

Despite the popular image of the phoenix, birds have a very strong aversion to fire.  In fact, birdsong is generally one of the signs that a fire is completely dead. 

Birds are the alarm systems of the forest - when the birds startle or go silent, it is generally a sign that something big and dangerous is moving through. A wise woodsman listens to the birds, because the animals listen to the birds too.  A wise woodsman does what the animals do, because they know the forest better than you.  If you aren't hearing birdsong, it means you are making too much noise and they are sounding the silent alarm - "Something big and dumb and loud is moving through!  A giant beast!  Hide, flee!"

The size and therefore threat of the intruder can be judged by the radius of the silence.  When they start chirping again, you can be fairly certain that the other animals in the area are now unaware of your presence. 

The exceptions to birds and fire aversion are ground birds, such as grouse and ptarmigan.  These birds are loath to leave their eggs, and it is fairly common to find their scorched carcasses still sitting atop a pile of burst and boiled eggs.  In other cases, the birds will flee the eggs but return as soon as the fire has passed.

This is a happy circumstance for hungry firefighters, because these birds are not very intelligent and can only fly short distances.  Because they so hate to abandon their eggs, they will often trust their natural camouflage when a human approaches the nest - a good tactic under most circumstances, but a poor one when all the nearby foliage is burnt to ash.  A thrown stick or rock is generally
sufficient to stun the bird such that she can be caught and her neck wrung, after which the breast may be parboiled to provide a rare respite from military rations.

Some men on the crew carried hunting slingshots or pistols for this express purpose.

The first time i ever ran from fire
How does the fire move through and around the things it takes and consumes? Like a liquid? a breeze?

I'm going to get into the science of fire a little; forgive me

Combustion is a chemical reaction which requires 3 things in order to function -
1. Fuel
2. Oxygen
3. Heat

Heat transfer can occur through one of 3 methods:
1. Conduction - you touch something hot and you become hot.  A burning coal falls onto your foot; your foot is heated to the point of burning.

2. Convection - heat moves through another substance to you, like water or air.  Air around fire heats up; air becomes so hot that objects within it ignite.

3. Radiation - light makes you hot.  The sun makes you hot; the light alone from a fire hot enough can blind you or torch you aflame.

Wind pushes hot air and conductive materials from place to place; Fire is primarily a wind-driven event.  It can shoot up natural chimneys, along the fronts of storms, and down river valleys and canyons. 

Occasionally it moves like some awful apex predator; coiling around branches and squirrel-nests before leaping from limb to limb, roaring furiously into a juicy fuel cache like a gambler into a jackpot.

I have seen it move like a liquid.  Usually, this occurs when an accelerant has been utilized.  If you pour gas all over the ground, fire will follow the liquid.  The other case is extreme convection-driven events.  Sometimes, the air becomes so super-heated that it begins to roll over the things in front of it like a wave.  As I mentioned, I've also seen trees become so super-heated that they begin to melt like candlesticks, with the sap evaporating into the sky and then falling as a golden, trickling rain that ignited the leaf litter in splashes.

Mostly, though, it moves with the wind.  It lashes and flickers with the wind, wraps and envelopes like a shroud, consuming and subsuming simultaneously, a sacrifice to itself, of itself, unto itself;
that the one burning chemical reaction that destroys what it embraces is thus empowered to embrace again.

The photographer, cutting a burning tree
Fire in the green; a fearful thing.  unburned fuels with no protection.
* (Patrick speaking here. O.K I know it sounds like I made this up because Fiddlin' Joe Cooper does exactly the same thing with his internal voice. But I didn't, honest.)

My Crew.

Monday 18 May 2015

Reasons not to lock myself in Time forever

In Arnold's game I am a Void Monk named Zengar of Strongtown.

He looks nothing like this

Currently Zengar is sitting meditating by a lighthouse, he has just passed the 2000 xp mark and as soon as the next game starts he will be Level 2.

At Level 2 he gains the following ability:

"Lock Time

- You designate a length of time (of any duration, including infinite).  For that length of time, your body becomes frozen in time, rigid and utterly unmoving.  While in this state, you cannot be altered--you are effectively harder than adamantine.  The only things that can affect you are spells that affect all matter (like disintegrate) or time spells.  If the time spell is cast on you, your stasis lock is dispelled and you are stunned for 1d6 rounds.  This ability is usable 1/day.

It takes an action to go into stasis lock; you cannot activate it fast enough when falling, unless the fall is more than 200'.

In your hands, an immovable rod turns into an immovable quarterstaff.  If you have an immovable quarterstaff in your hands when you use this ability, you can have the option to also lock Space as well as Time.  If you choose this, the effects of the immovable rod apply to your entire body while you are in stasis.  If other people are holding the immovable rod, you have the option to bring them (willingly) into stasis with you."

With the following proviso:

"Once you gain this ability, you must resist the temptation to immediately use it on yourself with a duration of 'infinite'.  Make a Wis check with a +1 bonus for every reason you can name for staying on this mortal plane a while longer.  (Why postpone annihilation?  It is what you truly seek.  On the other hand, what's a few years in the face of infinity?)"

Therefore, here are my reasons not to lock myself in time forever.

- Will never reach outer space.

- Will never find the sphere of Annihilation.

- Will never erase the universe.

- Will never be able to lobotomise my friends, thereby leaving them trapped in the illusion of self.

- As an extension of the above point, all intelligent beings could theoretically be lobotomised and it is debateable as to whether this is not indeed a reasonable duty for a void monk.

- It is just possible that in the future a member of some ideology opposed to the void monks (i.e. almost all ideologies) might seek out the frozen monks and maliciously un-freeze them. Therefore the eternal non-being of all void monks, including myself, is not safe until all other ideologies no longer exist.

- As an extension of the point above, since time itself is an illusion, it is possible that some previously-living opponent of the Void Monks might use their own apparent death as a device, travel forwards in time, and maliciously awaken the time frozen monks. Therefore I should not freeze myself in time until there can be no, and have been no enemies of the Void Monks throughout all of time.

- Will never find that fat fucker Oshregaal and feed him his own teeth.

- Will never find that witch he had as a hostage who I should probably try to get back.

- If I freeze myself in time without being utterly and absolutely certain that I am truly one with Total Absence, it is just possible that some tiny worm or germ of thought or being might still remain, timeless as I would be, still within my timeless skull. If this did occur then, instead of reaching true non-being I would instead be trapped in an eternal almost-being with a fragment of the False Reality encoded in my being, inaccessible not only to myself but also to any future Void Monks. I would be in hell, and would be hell.

- As an addendum to the above, if I do become utterly timeless and do persist to the death of time in this cosmos, it is possible that the vile powers of False Being might use their awful abilities of meta-illusion to 'reincarnate' this universe into another, therefore all these agents of False Reality, or 'Gods', must be introduced to the Void before time ends in order to ensure that it in fact does end.

- As a further addendum, should I persist to the end of time and either one or both of the two above circumstances take place, then any fragment of reality still encoded in my timeless being might prove the 'seed' or source of a new False Reality on the other side of time, thereby making me the origin of all 'matter' and 'being' in that fresh cosmos, truly the most evil entity imaginable. This should be avoided.

- If time is an illusion, as I KNOW that it must be. Then is avoiding or freezing time truly escaping it? Or should the true path be the denial of time from within time? A patron who leaves the theatre does little harm to the play, but an actor who, on stage, refuses their part and acts against the stories flow _whilst still on the stage_ does true damage to the False Entropy of the feigned reality. Is this not the greater duty?

- As an addendum to the above,I  must immediately seek out other Void Monks and relate the stated revelation as it may be of doctrinal significance.

- It is certainly of doctrinal significance, perhaps paramount significance. It is possible that other Void Monks may resist or deny the fundamental correctness of the revelation. This opposition is no doubt indicative of partial or total entrapment by the False Reality, therefore those who oppose must be introduced to the void. All time frozen Void monks must be woken and queries as to their understanding of this concept as, without it, their stasis may be invalid. I do not have the power or ability to unlock frozen time monks, therefore the other members of this party must be imbued with or otherwise learn this ability so that they may be of service.

Saturday 16 May 2015


Ways to end a marvel film that do not involve a giant fucking thing hovering above the earth

Extra points if it stays away from the whole grimy industrial city aesthetic

First options comes curtesy of Nathan Ryder:

1. The North POle during a solar flare. The Northern lights are going crazy, there's a huge tunneling device drilling into the ice for (sorry nathan i forget exacty why but there could be all kinds of shit down there, I'm going with ancient city).

Solar flare radiation keeps glitching Iron mans armour, presumably also communications so that means NO ONE IS COMING TEAM. Ice is alleady beautiful and cinematic, ad amped up aruara borealis, a gigantic vertical tunnel in the ice and whatever the fuck a giant tunneling machine looks like.

2. Giant redwood forest, cyclopean pillars of nature streatching off into the distance. Secret ninja tree-base. Everything quiet, maybe TOO QUIET, then armies ninjas attack by running vertically down the trunks of the gigantic trees. The trees get set on fire, turns into a crown fire and whole thing looks like a scene straight out of hell. Villian starts laughing at captain america cause at least he fucked up one of Americas WONDERS OF NATURE.

I can just imagine the Red Skull chortling: "this tree was older than your 'Declaration of _Independance_, and YOU destroyed it Captain _America_. Cap freaks out, gets Thor to summons storm to stop fire. Thor freaks out, accidentally brings on tidal wave. Fire drowned then brutal showdown in the half-drowned ruins of the forest with everyone leaping between the burned up trunks floating on the surface. Ninjas are undead and climb out of the black ooze. Team wins but Thor cries at the end.

3. Microverse. Ant-Man shrinks everyone and they battle an army of robotic ultron-ants. maybe the Avengers just have to make it across New York when they are the size of pinheads and it starts funny but turns into a surprisingly-serious ODDESSY and hawkeye dies saving everyone from a Godzilla-Rat in the pharonic tomb-complex of the New York sewer system. The earth mightyl heroes learn an important lesson in humility, Thor questions meaning of heroism & summons tine lightning. In the end team saved president, gets tiny medals, returned to normal size by Reed Richards in SHOCK COURT CASE as marvel get the FF rights back.

4. Hell. Cap DIES saving LOKI in a shock twist in the pre-credits stinger and Hela takes his soul. They have a funeral but Thor CANT TAKE IT and twists Lokis arm (literally), swears he will INVADE HELL and recover the soul of Captain America. Team seems up for it. Meanwhile in hell, Cap finds numerous souls of discrased soldiers from every human conflict, decides suffering has gone on long enough and turns this rag-tag bunch of misfits into a team to escape death itself.

Stage is set for a WAR IN HELL and Marvel can afford the rights to Wayne Barlows paintings so it actually looks good. Avengers win, in the end of credits stiger Cap stops Nazis leaving hell, "Sorry Gunter, you guys have to stay." Audience laughs.

5. Europa. DAREDEVIL investigates what seems to be a simple case of kidnapping but is surprised when THOR shows up and things rapidly escalate from there. Turns out is SUPER ALIENS trying to awake an ancient army hidden deep in the europan ocean. (Yes exactly like that Warren Ellis comic though marvel can probably afford the rights to that too). Team ends up on Europa fighting a HIDDEN ALIEN FEET and WAKING SUPER RACE. All seems lost until Thor summons unexpected help from a nearby storm: Jupiters RED SPOT. Lightning leaps between Jupiter and its moon destroying alien fleet. credits stinger: on earth an ancient hero wakes from his slumber: HERCULES. Messing with Jupiter has upset ZEUS. Sage is set for HILARIOUS SEXY GODWAR in next Thor film.

6. THE SARGASSO SEA OF STOLEN SHIPS. Kang the Conquorer (Joseph Gordon Levitt) has stolen shitloads of ships from all over history and brought them together into a kind of armada-city in a timelose sea (totally unlike that China Mieville book) the Avengers follow him there with the help of his future self (Joaquin Pheonix), but which of the timelost sailors will help or hinder the team, and what will the Mexican government do when a new city of ships from every point of human history turns up off its coast?

7. Fucked-Up Detroit

Its a cliche for a reason.  And the reason is it looks cool as fuck.

Taskmaster loses his memories with all the shit he learsn, what better foe for the Avengers than a Hawkeye-style 'normal guy' who still manages to take them all down, with the help of an underclass that they ignored? TOPICAL.

8. The White House. Time for some DARK REIGN shit. People finally get tired of the property damage every time the Avengers do anything and the government authorises NORMAN OSBORNE to start a government-sanctioned Avengers team. The Avengers are ON THE RUN. But then it turns out the predsident is a skrull and they need to expose him, except doing that looks exactly like an assasination atttempt leading to the Avengers fighting the US ARMY on the streets of Washington. Thor fights the USS Nimitz battlegroup. The Avengers can win, but will they kill US soldiers doing it? And will Cap spaz out if they do?

9. Avengers Tower? (O.K I'm running out of ideas) After the MASTERS OF EVIL detonate an anti-powers bomb over New York the Avengers are de-powered. HAWKEYE is now the most competent member of the team and has to lead the rest on a DIE-HARD type tower runaroud to use cunning tactics to take out the still-superpowered bad guys. Turns out its your heart that makes you a hero after all.

10. Thors Well Oregon

Becasue it has the word Thor in it and looks amazing. And there the Avengers fight THE X MEN. Come on, get the fucking rights back Marvel! Maybe Professor X is down the hole.

You should all share this and add as many as you can in the comments ond on G+ as maybe someone from Marvel will see it and we will not get ANOTHER FUCKING FLOATING THING THAT IS FALLING.

Wednesday 13 May 2015

Eight Navigating Houses of Nox

Nox is a city on the Nightmare Sea, an ocean far beneath the earth. There is no light to sail by on the Nightmare sea, no sun or moon or stars, only the predatory phosphorescence of the things that live beneath its waves.

Yet some do navigate the Nightmare Sea. The Iron-Eye tribes have their own methods and many smaller cultures have some scraps of knowledge, the careful measuring of swells to give the shape of nearby isles, the migrations of the glowing plankton strands.

The greatest navigators come from Nox. They are the secret of that cities power. The Navigating Houses of Nox are the will and the engine of the city of the wind and the white flame.

They navigate by nightmare.

Whenever any conscious being near the Nightmare sea sleeps, the have Nightmares. This is true for everyone.

No-one knows exactly what the sleepers are, if they are all of one species, or utterly different beings who only happen to all sleep beneath the Nightmare Sea. No-one ever knows if they are truly alive. But the sleepers dream pained and anguished alien dreams, and so powerful are their minds that these deep dreams leak into the thoughts of all who sleep upon the Nightmare Sea.

Each person has utterly different dreams as their minds process the strange thoughts of the Sleepers, yet, with practice, certain commonalities of nightmare can be perceived.

The Navigating houses of Nox each specialise in observing and understanding the nightmares born from a particular sleeper. By sailing the nightmare sea and measuring the substance of their awful dreams, a navigator can sense their relative distance from a particular sleeper. Since the sleepers are vast and rarely move, discovering your exact distance between two sleeping minds gives you a heading, discovering the distance between three gives a position.

And so the Nightmare Sea can be reliably sailed. And so Nox rules the Nightmare Sea. And so the Navigating Houses rule in Nox. And the Navigating Houses are all mad.

The navigators of Nox must observe, remember and analyse their nightmares every night. They must dive into the horrors prompted by contact with an alien mind and become familiar enough with its inner nature that even the most surreal distortions can be easily comprehended. They must become experts in an unknowable horror.

They more expert a navigator becomes, they closer they get to the coveted position of Navarch, the ruler of their house. The Navarchs of the eight great houses of Nox form the Navigating council and, though there is technically a government in Nox, it is a wheel in their hands. The masked Navarchs rule the city and the sea.

The Navarchs are all utterly insane and their madness is shared in some degree by all the members of their house.

1. House I-Other

Sleeper - Old Not-To-Be-Here

Mask - A long cone head. Huge circular eyes with black vertical pupils leading from edge to edge. a black rhomboid straight-edged mouth and two nose slits.

Speech & Manner - The younger members of this house bring their Navarch by force and if not compelled they may run away. They are clearly in pain, bewildered by horror.

The Navarch denies any responsibility  yet pushes for resolution. Intolerant of vagueness, they commit to nothing. Judges all from a position of assumed difference. Always 'you' and 'they', never 'we' or 'us'. Gives opinions like an animal being forced to comment on its trap.

Madness -  A knot of pain at the heart of the world. Someone, something that should not be here. The pain it spreads is the pain of a foiled escape. The hatred that it spills is the hatred of an animal for the trap in which it is caught and cannot fully comprehend.

2. House World-Eye

Sleeper - Lord Panopticon or 'The Comprehending One'

Mask - A featureless white sphere except for two horizontal black lines for the eyes.

Speech & Manner - The Navarch has a haranguing, lawyerly manner.  They push for details and perfect recollection, assume hidden meanings and secret intent. They become angry and afraid when their assumptions fail. They always assume their knowledge is correct and will predict the nature of events way outside their experience based on the slightest fragment of knowledge. When wrong they collapse totally yet will rapidly re-build their world view based on tiny pieces of interacting meaning, with no apparent memory of the collapse.

Madness - A crystal of abstraction that wishes to encode the world in full but is revolted by its touch. A slow madness, the illusion of comprehension and a reasoned perfection like a mirror webbed with hairline cracks where darkness grows. A darkness whose presence cannot be directly observed yet which yawns ever wider till the reflected splinters of that perfect world collapse.

3. House Blood-Joy

Sleeper - The Tailor of Flesh

Mask - Turquoise and squareish. A single round red eye rimmed with gold and a flat black line for an expressionless mouth.

Speech & Manner - The Navarch makes self-righteous accusations and claims of vast conspiracy. They posture and brave the assumed secret threat. They will physically attack with joy, yet always claim and believe that they were surrounded and had no choice.

Madness - A divine redemptive fire. A final last stand against the oncoming dark. The violence which renews. Joy with each swing, a horrid truth revealed and expunged with trauma to the flesh. The friend throws away their mask to show the monster underneath. All becomes clear. Mask after mask after mask, each beneath the other endlessly.

4. House Reed-Red

Sleeper - Lord Hears-All

Mask - A pale hemisphere, three pupilless ellipses of red glass for eyes. Drawn-back lids, arranged in a triangle. The nose-mouth is two short parallel black lines.

Speech & Manner - This Navarch listens very closely and demands the source of any information relating to them. They race ahead of the conversation and pre-empt any possible detail that might be relevant to their affairs. They deny all fear. They deny that they know anything but wish to know what *you* know.

Madness - Fear. Fear of the things. Fear of them listening. Listening to thoughts. Fear of being known by invasive things. To know the thing whose thoughts you hear fears you hearing them, and yet its dream is so strong that you are consumed with the fear of your own listening. Dashed back and forth by alternating tides of surveillance-voyeur power and a simultaneous dread that something observes you. Joyous superiority over the invisible subject and secret terror of the invisible eye.

5. House Shadowglass

Sleeper - The Emperor Of Glass

Mask - Like a brown-glass welding mask with a single horizontal band of green where the eyes would be.

Speech & Manner - The Navarchs hands are bound, if they are released before they speak they will compulsively strangle themselves to death. Before speaking the Navarch seems like a whining shuffling, crying bestial lunatic. They speak rarely and will do so only after taking life. When they do they are a magnificent and persuasive orator who can read and synthesize the desires of emotions of the audience into a noble-seeming goal. They will usually carry the vote.

Madness - The consuming certainty of a self-directed death. The otherness on the far side of despair. The paper world, the glass-shadowed world, the ease and quiet mundanity of harm. The beauty and correctness of a wound. They will kill everything if they can.

6. House Hearts-Ease

Sleeper - King-Queen I-am-not-me

Mask - A wide brass oval, small insectoid mouth. Huge circular eyes so large they almost meet in the centre and are wider than the mask. The rims are riveted and the eyelids are almost-totally closed, leaving a thin yellow slit running across. This mask is over-detailed and ornate.

Speech & Manner - This Navarch tried idiotic trickery when there is no need to do so. They ingratiate themselves feebly and hunger for any confirmation of self. They are like an actor paid to pretend to be them.

Madness - Dissolution. Loss of memory, loss of self. The awful sense of something slipping away, of knowing that something was there. That there are gaps in yourself. You are know who you are. You do not fit into your life. You do not fit into your being. Something has changed, the mind does  not understand.

7. House Eats-Wounds

Sleeper - The Stable Gentleman or 'Our Friend'

Mask - Greenish skull-dome with round eye coverings intersecting it like spectacles with thick gold rims and green eyes. pale, tapering squared-off chin, drawn cheeks, starved slit mouth and nose.

Speech & Manner - This Navarch is revolted by and yet drawn towards its own actions. They resist any changes that come from themself. They are in two minds and two voices, conversing and disagreeing with an unheard inner voice. The inner voice becomes the outer, then they swap again, and again and again.

Madness - The consuming and yet half-consumed self. The sense of being half eaten by something and wanting to be consumed. to be absorbed, translated, made other. To think this process normal and reasonable and yet persuaded. Not to know which is valid, which is a wound of the other. Which is cursed or a curse.

8. House Clearwater

Sleeper - The Pure Philosophy

Mask -  Blue-black faceless cylinder like a stove-pipe hat or an inquisition mask. Narrowing a little at the top into a kind of rim. the surface runs directly into a covering that drapes down over the chest and back.

Speech & Manner - This Navarch is adoring, romantic and forward. They are passionate and poetic in their descriptions of beauty. They are brilliantly creative and compelling in their body horror and racial loathing.

Madness - Guilty desire. A deep and sensual passion for what you loath. To adore what disgusts you and be disgusted by that adoration. The rapture of loathing. The deep deep hunger to destroy and possess.

Sunday 10 May 2015

A review of 'Fire On The Rim'

Review of Fire On The Rim

Fire on the Rim is a a book by Stephen J. Pyne about the 15 years he spent as a seasonal firefighter on the North Rim of the Grand canyon National Park. It is unusual and good. Like most good books it does a lot of things.

Growing Up

The simplest story in Fire on the Rim is about growing up. Pyne starts his tours of duty as a teenager on summer break from collage and ends them as a 32 year old married man with a bad back and a small child. In another kind of book this would be a story of the civilising or emplacement of a man in society, but since Pynes self-chosen environment is one directly connected to fire, it is a mercurial kind of growth. The fires in the park and the culture of the fire fighters is the most stable and continuous strand of life during his assumption of adulthood, yet the fire cannot be predicted and can barely be controlled, and the culture of the Fire Fighters is fluid, a ship of Theseus, with members joining, leaving, flowing past and re-arranging season after season. The Fire Crews sustain their culture through a kind of central temple, the Fire Cache, the store house of all their preventative gear, their dispatching house, waiting room, pit stop, repair shed, office and museum.

The cache is closed each autumn at the end of the fire season, and re-opened every spring. its contents and organisation continually and ritually re-arranged by shifting seasonal crews. There have been many different caches but there is only ever one Fire Cache. Inside the Cache is the Pit and inside the Pit is the patchwork museum and cultural core of the crews:

Page 33 - Omnium-Gatherum

"The walls are saturated with fire paraphernalia. There are dispatching maps for the North Rim and the North Kaibab Forest, and a Federal Aviation Administration flight map of the Grand Canyon, all covered with Plexiglas. A trellis of clipboards posts biweekly tours of duty, requisition needs, helicopter schedules, work projects. There are posters of Smokey Bear, lightning, a pinup advertising Husqvarna chain saws; there are photos of former crews, our Hall of Flame; a slab of aspen, sheared longitudinally and routed with red letters that read NEVER GIVE AN INCH. Above the desk hangs a square sign constructed from scrap plywood, with a metal button (scavenged from a government-issue brown metal cabinet); a large arrow that points to the button has been routed out with the caption "Lightning Button. Press for Fire." Elsewhere, mounted on wood, are a pair of photos, one from 1936 when the fire cache was opened, and another, forty years later, with FCAs taking the place of CCC enrollees but with the vehicles and arrangements otherwise identical.

The Kid opens the windows, but the only effective fumigation is smoke. From the floor Kent picks up a ball of flagging tape - the "Dragon Flaggin'," recovered from the great Dragon Fire - and places it on a shelf labeled FCA Museum. There are other trophies: a pulaski coated with slurry on one side and charred on the other that Alston recovered from the Sublime fire; the lucky turkey feather that guided Rethlake across Powell Plateau; a memorial plaque, signed by Park and Forest crews after the Circus fire; a two-foot bronze nozzle, discovered in a dark corner of the structural fire cache, now the John Smokechaser award; a metal Log Cabin syrup can; a Mickey Mouse hard hat; a motorcycle helmet with drip torch nozzle and fusees bristling out of it; and the wooden sign itself, FIRE MUSEUEUM, whose misspelling instantly qualified it for inclusion. Mementos flood the wall. For a seasonal crew - for a migrant folk society like ours whose collective memory is brutally short - this omnium-gatherum of artifacts is our surest record of the past. If the cache tells us who we are, the Pit tells us who we have been. Outside the window stands our fire totem, a fire-sculptured snag brought back from Walhalla and planted as a sentinel."

Since its a description of the shaping forces of his life, its impossible to review this part of Pyne's book without also reviewing Pyne, and that I cannot do as I do not know enough. If you take a look at his wikipedia page though, you can see he kind of stuck with the fire thing.


I must take you for a moment beneath the earth. The stone is mentioned in Pynes book but not explored, he serves a different element, and so we must move briefly from his mind to mine.

Limestone shapes the North Rim:

Page 177 - Karst and Alliteration

"The Basin is the greatest of the North Rim parks. If The Dragon testifies to a geography of fire, The Basin speaks for a geography of water. The geologic column that constitutes the Kaibab Plateau consists disproportionately of limestone, and it is capped by a thick limestone crust. Cold temperatures, abundant moisture, and a plexus of cracks from the warping and fissuring of the Plateau have conspired to karstify the Kaibab. There are few surface springs, and they are little more than seeps. There are a few permanent ponds - sinkholes lined with clay. Small, intermittent streams drain the Plateau during spring melt when the saturated ground cannot absorb more moisture, but even these are intercepted before they reach the Rim. Everything is sucked underground into a subterranean plumbing system that discharges through springs deep into the Canyon. Some springs are feeble, fed only by a local watershed. Other drain large expanses of the Plateau and debouch in spectacular waterfalls like Roaring Springs, Thunder River, Tapeats. The potable water demanded by both Rims is largely dependant on these Inner Canyon springs. Roaring Springs is the principal reservoir for both North and South Rims, and the principal watershed for Roaring Springs is The Basin. The people gather where the water is - or where it can be pumped. The hydrologic connections between Plateau and Canyon, of which sinks and sinkholes are runic manifestations, are internal. They bypass the Rim."

Limestone is a very radical stone, it eats water and therefore civilisation.

Readers may be familiar with my post on 'The Art of Not being Governed' which described the mountains, swamps, mangroves and deserts on which it was difficult for authority to imprint its stamp and the cultures that relate to those zones. Limestone is another such place.

We can see this in the Jamaican cockpit country where maroons fought he british empire for years, I suspect we might see it in a wide range of places if we look for it. Where we find limestone, we find anarchy.

Because Limestone eats water at takes it away into the earth, there is not enough surface water for large numbers of people to drink. High population densities cannot survive on the Limestone plateau. The only reason the park can accommodate visitors at all, or fight fires at all, is because a sophisticated modern pumping system brings up stupendous amounts of water from below. It the pumps fail the visitors cannot come en-masse, if the pumps fail there is not enough water for the fire crews to reliably fight fires in large numbers. The pump is a railhead of civilisation and it is in conflict with the ecology shaped by the stone on which it grows.

Limestone eats the water, yet provides enough for trees to grow, the rim dries the trees, the sky brings storms, lightning starts the fires and the fires control which kind of trees may prevail and in what densities they may grow.

Until people turn up with pumps and decide this is a wilderness area that they would prefer not to be on fire all the time. They build a system to suppress the fires, the fuels in the forest build up and the environment shifts.

On the North Rim, the conflict between the dense, highly populated, rule bound hierarchical civilisation and the lightly populated, socially flat, freedom-obsessed anarchical societies has been re created in miniature.

Culture Conflict

Pyne begins his story already in the lea of the great years of fire fighting. A powerful organisation called the CCC was previously in charge of fire suppression on the Rim. They had vast resources, hundreds of men and total moral certainty. It was the age of heroic fire prevention.

Page 91 - Pulaski

"...The story of Edward Pulaski is one of the informing legends of American fire-fighting, a triumph of faith over higher criticism. The episode is true to its times. Conservation had assumed the proportion of  a national crusade, with the Forest Service in the vanguard. Pulaski acted out his high drama the same month that William James published his essay "On The Moral Equivalent Of War," in which he urged a national conscription of youths to wage war on nature as a surrogate for war on fellow humans. Eventually the Forest Service established a graveyard at St.Maries, idaho, to receive the bodies of fire-fighters killed in the line of duty. The exit to the War Eagle Mine was declared a National Historic Site.

The need for heroism was there, the timing right. In California that same August the Forest Service policy of fire protection came under attack by advocates of "light burning", an alternative strategy that sought to make fire use, not fire control, the basis of fire management. The 1910 fires decided that debate and set American firefighting down a distinctive path. At the trailhead stood Ranger Pulaski."

Wherever Pyne goes on the North Rim he finds evidence of the CCC lost and forgotten like the ruins of a great empire. They cut the network of fire roads which the current crews can barely maintain, they build vast spotting towers where watchmen would sit in lightning-fastened chairs, bound with conductors so that any strike will pass around the observer, they carried vast cyclopean tanks into the forests core where they slowly rot and are covered with graffiti by generations of fire fighters, they fenced and guarded the tiny springs, securing their flows and hiding them from the roads so as not to be disturbed.

But all of this is fading and will fade further as Pynes tours go on. The power and prestige of the fire fighters has waned and is slowly passing away. In their place come the rangers.

Pyne does not like the rangers. or, perhaps it might be more true to say that while he may like many individual rangers, he hates what the rangers are. Those of you familiar with the D&D culture wars of the early 21st century will be familiar with this I think:

Page 190 - The Ranger Mind

"Rangering becomes more than a job; it is a state of mind. The ranger mind is designed to function in crises, real or imagined. It delights in juggling many thoughts and decisions but within a context whose purpose is predetermined and whose context demands only a choice of techniques, not of philosophies. It is a mentality of triage; it works rapidly but shallowly; it detests contemplation and shuns moral or philosophical ambiguity. On the surface, it appears to be an odd state of mind for future park administrators to cultivate, but it explains the almost total absence of any kind of contemplative study within the agency. No park ranger has ever written an important statement of national parks values or purposes. Instead, the ranger reacts to crises, and if existing crises are not enough, new ones must be invented. The best bet is crime."

(The rangers train exhaustively for showdowns with criminals, biker gangs and terrorists. The expected moments of crisis never quite arrive. Terrorists never attack the Grand Canyon, the biker gangs turn out to be quite friendly.)

By comparison, the Fire Crews are un-uniformed, badly paid, barely-hierarchal, irregular, highly independent, openly contemptuous of authority and almost completely cut off from the visitors to the park. They are also highly ritualistic in a very improvisational way, they generate performances and stories which are destined to fade and be forgotten while the culture of the rangers is slowly formally-encoded in maps and procedures.

Page 41 - Two Realms on The Rim

"This is the dichotomy that divides the North Rim into two realms: you work either in the Area or out of the Area. Every job apart from ours relates directly or indirectly to the Park visitor, and that compels everyone else to stay in the Area because this is where the visitors cluster. if there were no visitors, there would be no Office, no Lodge, no Inn, no campground, no paved highway or overlooks, no saloon, no sewage treatment plant; there would be no park rangers, no ranger naturalists, maintenance labourers, carpenters, plumbers, road workers, no supervisors. But we could pass an entire summer and never contact a visitor in an official capacity. We could be stationed anywhere on the Rim. We are informed by fire - by fires that originate from lightning, not from people; by work that puts us in contact with the forest and the rolling ravines of the North Rim, not with visitors or with the Canyon to which they come to gaze; by events that cannot be forecast with managerial precision prior to their occurrence, that can only frustrate career tracks and budgets. Fire is eclectic, ineradicable, invasive, stochastic, opportunistic, fun - and its attributes become ours."

The fire crews have minimal material support and a staggering degree of latitude in what they do. They interact with the geography of the Rim in a way no-one else does. They must literally chase lightning. They must think of trees as 'fuels' they must drive fire roads deep into impassible forest and find their way through maddening broken ground to places no human would ever have a reasonable reason to go, purely to fight fires. They must sleep on the borders of quelled and slumbering fires, watching them through the night, they must go everywhere and be capable of going everywhere. They go to places that have no names so name those places themselves. They are allowed, and compelled by paperwork, to name each fire:

Page 129 - The Naming of Fires

"Unlike the Forest Service, which names fires only after existing geographic places, we name fires for any reason. We name fires after girlfriends. There is a Carol, a Lynn, a Kate fire. When Tom receives a "Dear John" letter, the Shauna fire is redesignated the Disappointment fire. Then Stone wants to name a second, larger fire after Carol, we name it after the great Carolinian, Charlemagne. We name fires for events or natural phenomena. There are Morning, Sunrise, Evening, Star, Sandy and Rainbow fires. When everyone from 176 goes to a fire, it becomes the 176 fire. When the Cosmic Cowboys vow to "return by 7:00 pm." that evening, they hurry to the BB7 (Back By 7) fire. A fire on the Fourth of July becomes the Independence fire. The first fires of the year take names like Shakedown, Preamble, Prologue, Kickoff, Inauguration. When the season opening, long delayed, appears at Cape Final, it becomes the Finally fire. Closing fires take names like Farewell, Epilogue, So Long, 10-7, Adios. A crew birder names fires after grosbeaks, flickers, and owls; a physicist names them for high-energy accelerators like SLAC CERN; a Mexican-food devotee gives us the Taco, Frijole, and Enchilada fires. No one has ever found the Phantom fire. The Poltergeist fire withstands three attempts before it is ultimately located. The Phoenix fire occurs on the side of an old burn. A wrong compass bearing leads to the Miss fire. A crewman whose last name is DeForrest gives us the DeForrest fire. The punning impulse yields the Sure fire, Cross fire, cease fire, Balza fire. A fire that has cases of rations but no tools becomes the Porker fire. When Sonja and Tim smell smoke while driving to a project near Cape Royal, then follow the odour to an unreported fire, we have a Sniffer fire. A reeking burn in deep duff becomes the Odoriferous fire. A fire north of Point Imperial evolves the Emperor fire. When Dave and Ralph have to share a sleeping bag, we have a Honeymoon fire. The growth rings on a burning fir date it to 1687, the year of Newtons _Principia Mathematica_, so we have a Principia fire. Since it looks as if it could be the start of something, a fire in the Iron Triangle becomes the Genesis fire. Sonja and Fran have a Femme Fatale fire; Becker and Stiegelmeyer, a BS fire; a second trip to Akoto Point by Alston yields the Atokotwo fire. There are Funky, Whoopie, Pits, Booga Boogs, and Far Out fires. The Dancing Pole fire results when Lenny - a Polish kid from Syracuse - tries to make a Sterno burner out of saw mix and a hot ration can, only to have the mix ignite and spread to his plastic quart canteen; when he is unable to blow it out, he drops it to the ground and tries to stomp on it, misses the flaming head, and strikes the canteen, which shoots out a ten-foot flame and sets fire to his boot, which he tries to beat out with his other boot, resulting in a jig that sends the remainder of the crew into hysterics. The names fires become geodetic points in our collective map of the Rim."

But the culture of the Fire Crews dies. There is a deep error in the nature of the park. It exists as a wilderness for people to visit, but if the fires are not suppressed, if it is allowed to act like a real wilderness, then the people will be in danger. Furthermore, it won't look like a wilderness any more, because it will be one.

The more effective the fire suppression, the more fires are stopped early, the greater the buildup of fuels in organic matting and new species of pine. A highly effective fire suppression programme merely builds up fuel. The programme has been running for fifty years by this point. Controlled burns are incredibly dangerous and could damage the park.

Everyone knows that things cannot go on. No-one is willing to take responsibility for change. There is a kind of moral void about the fire programme. The Fire Service is allowed to wither yet its responsibilities are never formally removed. Members of the Fire Service alway leave, either to go elsewhere, or to gain promotion into any other part of the Park workforce.

Page 184 - Radio Syndrome

"Tom shows all the symptoms of the disease, and it is terminal. Radio syndrome. He speaks in a quiet yet urgent voice, as though slightly bored with the routine of emergency calls; he chatters; his speech is flooded with jargon, ten-codes, in-group intonation; he holds the radio at a slight angle when speaking into it. he hand radio is no longer a tool; it has become media. Tom is defining, for a Park audience, his functional personality in terms of the persona he projects over the radio. It is inevitable now. Tom will join the rangers.

Radio syndrome is only the first step. It will be quickly succeeded by a fascination with uniforms. In extreme cases FCAs will purchase at their own expense a set of ranger duds, complete with beaver hats. The aspirant will arrange to join rangers on patrol. Ranger slang will creep into fire-based radio traffic. On lieu days he will hang out by the ambulance instead of the fire cache, will join the climbing team, will participate in emergency medical services and make ambulance runs to Kanab, will practice with firearms. The final, confirming symptoms find the victim at Santa Rosa, California, usually again at his own expense, to take a special Park Service training course and receive a law enforcement commission. The process is not reversible. It never happens that someone leaves the rangers to become active in fire; no one surrenders a uniformed position for a non-uniformed position; no one exchanges a direct connection to the park visitor the bureaucratic anomie that accompanies fire management. If the visitor makes the park, the ranger-who administers to visitor needs-makes the Park Service. The park ranger is the Park Service."

Gender plays almost no part in Pynes story, everyone is male apart from some people who might not be, Pyne had to marry someone after all.

As with gender, so with race, everyone is white unless they aren't. Race enters with the SWFF's, temporary auxiliary fire fighters who are often native american. The first SWFF crews are Hopi, these gradually transition to Navajo:

164 - Everyone named John

"Misunderstandings are legendary. Nearly everyone, it seems is named John, and last names seem to consist solely of Tsotsie, Yazzie, and Begaye. The distinction between the National park Service and the U.S. Forest Service seems to be untranslatable, and confusions, real or contrived, are endless. We-want-a-fireshirt, they say. Forest-service-gives-us-fireshirts. No, they don't, we reply. They-let-us-keep-shirts. No, they don't. They don't even issue them to you. They-give-cigarettes.Why-doesn't-Park-Service-give-cigarettes? Nobody gets cigarettes. It becomes apparent that the point of confusion is itself a bargaining ploy; in perverse ways the cultural disjunction is something to be exploited. When John Tsotie and I are tossing garbage into the dry dump, he picks up an orange pylon kept permanently in the pickup and stares questioningly. I shake my head. "Keep it," I say. He nods and throws it into the pit. When Kent explains to John Peshtony how to get to the fire, John nods sagely in agreement, then crashes into the brush 180 degrees from where he is sent. A nodding head means a nodding head. The spectacle of an FCA and a SWFF - barely able to communicate, staggering through the woods with overburdened firepacks and fistfuls of shovels and pulakis, trying to find a fire that Recon 1 has mislocated-is one of the enduring images of the North Rim.

We learn survival Navajo. We pick up expressions for "fire," "water," "hello," "fuck you," "bullshit," and "bread." T'oo baa 'ih, "no good," becomes a universal antidote to "OK." The green pumper is t'oo baa'ih, the Sheep Shed is t'oo baa'ih, the box lunches are t'oo baa'ih, the Fence is t'oo baa'ih, Big Bob is t'oo baa'ih. We have a t'oo baa'ih fire. The SWFFs name Stone Shash, "bear." They call Draper Gaagii, "raven." They name Becker Tsisch'ili, "curly hair". The rangers are bilagaana, "white men." Williams, a Hopi hired for the regular fire crew, they call Kiis'aanii which they refuse to translate. The expression for "asshole," nijilchii, is indistinguishable to Anglo ears from ndishchii, the word for "pine. It becomes the source for endless bilingual puns. There-are-ants-ndishchii. He-is-lazy, he-has-no-nijilchii. The confusion is especially useful in talking about their boss, and it is doubly diabolical because they get us to do their punning. We threaten to take away their Tabasco sauce if the puns do not end. When some-thing is agreeable, the SWFFs say - accenting every syllable evenly - that it is pretty-good-all-right. A coffee break at the inn is pretty-good-all-right. They last fire bust was pretty-good-all-right.

After a fire or two together, shared experiences partially overcome the unshared. I try to pair up those COs and SWFFs who have developed some comradery. One morning the SWFFs show up wearing cords around their waists. The crew boss, Johnny Begaye, tells us solemnly that there are ghosts and advises us to ward them off by wearing a charm. We cut strands of parachute cord, and for the next two days, until we are told that the danger has passed, we wear strands from our belt loops."

But the budget for the SWFF's is gradually cut (The budget for everything is gradually cut) and they disappear from the park. Some time later, federal affirmative action laws are enacted and a crew member gets recruited, apparently because he plays for a particular football team and the park service assumes he will be black. (He isn't.)

The conflict between the water-powered hierarchies of the rangers and the fire-powered anarchism of the fire crews is made more cruel by the slow displacement and disconnection of the fire crews. They are addressing a problem that nobody wants to resolve and that everyone knows has to be resolved. As you read this it still has not been resolved. It is hard becasue it has its roots at the very base of our relationship with nature. How much should we force the world, or be forced by it? We have no unified response to this and so the drama of our fires goes on.


Fire on the Rim might be the most elegantly written 'fuck you' to a bureaucracy I've ever read. If the language was less neatly encompassing then blood would seep through the page.

The hierarchy of the park service is castigated as careerist, short-sighted, greedy, over confident and essentially stupid. The turf wars and resentments between the two great adjoining organisations of the canyon, the park service and the forest service are subtly mocked. The fact that Pynes criticism is wrapped up in an essential humanity just lets it penetrate deeper. His humour is a protein sheath for the virus of his hate. The man is fucked off.

Pyne shares with Norman Maclean a kind of clipped, woodsmans eco-poetry. The language of men who have walked a long distance carrying a chainsaw and have something very important to say and they will not waste any language in saying it. He is not a man to let a sentence run on. A good solid sentence will come neatly broken into two parts, as if for stowing in a bag. Three parts is a bit much. One is common. See the following paragraph with line breaks added by me at each full stop:

"Within limits, our identity is ours to make.
We dispatch ourselves.
We outfit ourselves.
We train ourselves.
We name ourselves.
From the Park there is little leadership.
What really defines us is fire.
Fires solve all problems: fires make everything possible.
Without fires our bravura seems ridiculous, the fire cache a ghetto, and outposts like The Dragon a kind of hallucinatory Ultima Thule of the North Rim.
Yet our relationship to fire is far from simple or unmediated."

It is overwhelmingly a spoken rhythm rather than a purely thought one. Spoken inside the head perhaps, but still 'in voice'.

And it is a certain and clear voice. Situations are vague (getting lost as fuck in the Rim is a constant situation) but paragraphs never are. There are almost no question marks in this book, even in the sections of speech. Like Cormac Mccarthy and Conan the Barbarian, Fire Fighters don't ask questions, they just say what they are going to do.

They must do in real life, since large parts of the book are a bunch of guys wandering around in a forest shouting through the radio at a guy in a plane about the location of some smoke, but it never comes through in the writing. The silent irony of an incoherent situation is allowed to stand in for the explicitly ridiculous. Its flinty old-guy humour from a not-old guy, he won't tell you what his emotions were, he'll just show you his former self having them, you'll have to work out the rest yourself.

Pyne does love an alliterated line, its rare for a sentence to escape without some linking euphony, the map-names and the names of plants assist Pyne in his enfolding structure of sound.

"There is no sign of fire anywhere. There are great swaths and stringers of pinyon-juniper amongst the sagebush plains. We cannot see the Kaibab or even the Kanab, but we can see plainly enough over the Trumbull range, and there are no smokes. There is no place to look but farther west."

He has the classic, clipped, anglo-writers habit of tucking the emotions of a paragraph neatly back under the bed of words in a simple short strip of text at the end. Nothing rises to a peak. People scream over the sound of chainsaws but nothing in the line shouts. The drama is always unfolding, but there is no Drama.

The structure of the book is unusual and original. Pyne combines all his summers on the Rim into one great season, the book runs from spring to autumn. The events and drama of fifteen years are all given in the present tense. A kind of clearly-artificial mosaic of recollection and re-creation. The illusion is not intended to deceive us into believing in one naturalistic story of a single drama-packed year, instead the older man and the young teenager, the rookie and the team leader stand alongside each other, bringing us to different fires that span years, united by geography, theme, odd twists of event or time of year. All summer fires are one fire, all fires on the Dragon, a blackened shard of rock that seems to summon lightning, are all one fire. All autumns are one autumn and all leavings of the park are one leaving.

It is a strange way to organise either the autobiography, history book or policy analysis that Fire On The Rim might claim to be, but it works. The logic of the geography overwhelms the abstract organisation of year and age. The Rim has more power than the diary in its ability to synergise events. The date and time must bow to the slope, the scrub and the distance from the road, year must bow to the season. It doesn't matter if it was 1970 or 1985, it matters if it was raining and how far from the road it was, it doesn't matter if Carter or Reagan was president, it matters if the fire had crowned and leapt the line, if it was burning in the low punk, how high the wind was and if the radios were working.

The entirety of the experience is held as one, as a present-tense recollection, peopled with re-named characters, invented people to hold the concentrated load of the memory of one man, and cast off from chronology to form its own archipelago of fires.

(As a brief cave-based aside, there is one small part in which the fossilised dung of an extinct gigantic sloth is set on fire for mysterious reasons, providing a strange and difficult challenge. Fires in natural caves are rare and sloth dung fires may be unique.)