Thursday 30 January 2020

A Review of the Natural History of Selbourne by Gilbert White

This is an exceedingly charming and at times very slightly boring book made up of letters sent by the Rev Gilbert White around the time of the American Revolution, in which he closely describes the flora and in particular, the wildlife, of his small parish of Selbourne in the south of England.

(Other books I've read a little like this are The Peregrine, which has a similar intense focus, but this time on a single subject, and which is a much more intense and moody book, and Fire on the Rim, which is also about a particular relationship with a certain environment over time.)

The modern form it most closely approximates, with its short particular chapters, some focused, some wandering, all linked by a common personality and subject, is a blog. Though Gilbert Whites blog is unusually good.

Whites language has the lucidity, slight sensuality and precision that I have become accustomed with from the best Scientific writers of the 18th Century. One person who he reminds me of a great deal is Faraday in his book on the observation of a candle flame, who also combined great powers of observation and keen description with a controlled sensuality and love of beauty.

If anything the book is a masterpiece of observation. It is meditative, like the Peregrine, but not othering. The vividness and close attention of Whites scenes and prose, and the lively humour one perceives behind it, means that to read we almost walk alongside White into moments and scenes. The closeness of his eye and the exactness of his words create moments and sights that bring fragments of his world before our eyes. Particular moments - a bug scurries along the letters of a page, White hurls a clod of earth into a bush or races home excitedly in his carriage with a recently obtained tortoise.

(The savagery of the natural philosopher is well displayed throughout the book. White began as a huntsman and has no trouble shooting his way through animal life, cutting it open, or messing about with corpses. This is all part of his world.)

All novels and books are in some sense a compression of time but Whites Natural History makes the brilliance of that compression its chief ornament. To open it is a little like being given access to a time machine and being able to hop along Whites existance, dipping in and out into a myriad of small experiences.

Drama, other than the drama of cutting open an eel or finding swallows nesting on the corpse of a dead owl, is absent, and must be, in order to maintain the coherency of the related world. One Large Incident would cast the whole thing into shade.

We do see fragments of Whites social and cultural world, and a mirror of his personality (or at least what we assume to be his personality) through his description. The existence of the poor of his village is mentioned in one chapter, the uses of farmland. Farm-lore and house-lore spring up (bats come down chimneys to eat bacon in the night, an old sow grows intelligent enough to open her own gate and travel several miles to a male pig when in heat).

And it has the greatest benefit of many good books, that it is short.

Monday 27 January 2020

The Vana Parva and Viata Parva

Two books this time, the Vana Parva, the Book of the Forest, and the Viata Parva, the Book of Virata, the name of the Lord at who's court the Pandavas hide themselves.

Book of the Forest First

Something of a Rocky montage, a wisdom quest. A little like a 'greenwood story' - like the Robin Hood stories in which the heroes live in a place where their identities become negotiable, and without social context people become who they say they are (though really the Vana Parva is more like that). Also a bit like the Clone Wars cartoon - coming between two major parts of the main story,  but with a huuuuge amount of time to cover, and room enough for the characters to get up to potentially anything.

I suspect this is also a part of the story where, since the Pandavas have enough time to get anywhere in India. If you have a local temple or a local Mahabharata story anywhere outside the north where most of it happened then this is the period where you can say "Ah yes the Pandavas came here while they were banished to the forest".

Or a bit like Neal Adams Batman Oddesy thing where, here's our main character on the move, in a variety of other situations.

Their main sage tells the Pandavas that, since they are banished for 13 years they should use that time to learn and gain wisdom, the primary method by which they do this is by wandering around, getting into adventures  and meeting sages and hearing even more stories from them. All of these tales have some kind of Dharmic point.

None of them seem to inculcate enough wisdom to persuade the Pandavas to not hate Duryohana, its pretty clear they are still going to try to kick his ass when this exile thing is over. Clearly I don't understand Dharma that well...

Arjuna ends up going off to Heaven, or Swarma and encountering Apsaras who teach him to dance, which comes in useful later on. He also gets DIVINE SUPERWEAPONS - which are hidden away.

Then the Book of Virata

the Pandavas have to spend the last year of their exile hidden, so they take up low-status disguises and go to work in the court of Lord Virata.

This is pretty much like every 'Fair Unknown' story from the Arthurian mythos, where a suspiciously clean servant arrives one day and does menial work for a while then turns out to be a Prince. Shared into-European story-structure or parallel story evolution?

This is where Arjunas dancing skills and Apsara experience comes in handy, as he acts the part of a eunuch dance instructor - taking on a female, or quasi-female role. He's actually much nicer like this, its pleasant to see him not being a tit, maybe all that forest stuff did wear off on him.

Their cover is blown towards the end of this period by a sketchy aristocrat lusting after Draupadi, Bhuima takes that guy out. This leads Duryohana to suspect them and he launches an attack on that kingdom, (the sketchy aristocrat was the kingdoms main defender). The Pandavas go to help him, still in nominal disguise, but are clearly super duper guys so give themselves away.

Duryohana says this breaks their promise as it hasn't been 13 years by the solar calendar. They say no we were calculating by the Lunar calendar....

I think my main question from all of this is did they really learn much from all this stuff?

Considered as ordinary people - they went from a state of conflict, learned about Dharma and humility, and then went straight back into conflict. But apparently these are divine beings, or semi divine, and what they do, the whole of it, is a lesson or a ritual for humanity, acting out the divine order.

So this returning to conflict thing is part of that

Also quite possibly this is a beowulf-style situation with a story coming from a slightly older more 'honour-culture' culture, being written down and interpreted in the terms of a more settled 'dignity-culture' culture, so all this barbaric vengeance-based stuff actually has hidden meanings and layers of interpretation.

We will see....

Saturday 25 January 2020

a strong propensity to bees

From Gilbert Whites 'The Natural History of Selbourne'

Letters to Daines Barrington

Letter 27

Selbourne, Dec 12, 1775

Dear Sir,
We had in this village more than twenty years ago an idiot-boy, whom I well remember, who, from a child, shewed a strong propensity to bees; they were his food, his amusement, his sole object. And as people of this cast have seldom more than one point in view, so this lad exerted all his few faculties on this one pursuit. In the winter he dozed away his time, within his fathers house, by the fire side, in a kind of torpid state, seldom departing from the chimney-corner; but in the summer he was all alert, and in quest of his game in the fields, and on sunny banks.

Honey-bees, humble-bees, and wasps, were his prey wherever he found them; he had no apprehension from their stings, but would seize them nudis manibus [with bare hands], and at once disarm them of their weapons, and suck their bodies for the sake of their honey-bags. Sometimes he would fill his bosom between his shirt and his skin with a number of these captives; and sometimes would confine them in bottles.

He was a very merops apiaster, or bee-bird; and very injurious to men that kept bees; for he would slide into their bee-gardens, and, sitting down before the stools, would rap with his finger on the hives, and so take the bees as they came out. He has been know to overturn hives for the sake of honey, of which he was passionately fond. Where methglin was making he would linger round the tubs and vessels, begging a draught of what he called bee-wine.

As he ran about he used to make a humming noise with his lips, resembling the buzzing of bees. This lad was lean and sallow, and of a cadaverous complexion; and, except in his favourite pursuit, in which he was wonderfully adroit, discovered no manner of understanding. Had his capacity been better, and directed to the same object, he had perhaps abated much of our wonder at the feats of a more modern exhibitor of bees: and we may justly say of him now,

Had they presiding star propitious shone,
Should'st Wildman be...

When a tall youth he was removed from hence to a distant village where he died, as I understand, before he arrived at manhood.

I am, &c

Thursday 23 January 2020

Thoughts on the Sabha Parva

Its book two! The Book of the Assembly Hall. And it has the best quality of any book - that it is short.

I'm pretty sure a guy gets cut in half in this, maybe two guys?

There's some dude who was born in two halfs which were then sealed together by a demon chick - well Bhima rips that guy like open a phone book.

Then there's a ceremony or something. An underachieving relative gets honoured and some irritant starts giving everyone shit

There's a self-fulfilling prophecy (there always is).

Anyway, thus guy tells the irritant "I'm gonna let you insult me exactly one-hundred times. Because of that dumb prophecy. But that one-hundred and first time.. mate don't fucking do it...."

But the guy is a tool and does it one more time and gets bisected by a high-speed chackram.


The main thing that sticks in my head about this is the horror of severe Gambling addiction.

The Pandavas main guy, Yudhishritha  is the son of a God, and meant to be incredibly wise. (Though *not* his monthers first son, that child was raised by a charioteer so even though he's super-amazing he can never be important ever).

The Pandevas build a big wonderful palace in the kingdom they made from that forest they torched.

There is an official ceremony where you basically Brexit yourself, or sign your own constitution and get your own flag and now you are a proper kingdom.

The Pandavas want a bunch of kings to come to this thing to validate it, so the go and beat up a bunch of local neighbouring kingdoms who were "bad" (one, the demon-sewn half-n-half guy, was apparently "about to" do a human sacrifice, which sounds like a 'they have weapons of mass destruction' situation. The Pandavas deal with this guy the same way they deal with a lot of things, like Old School D&D PCs - sneak in dressed as Priests then have Bhima tear the guy in half).

So the Pandevas do some local regime changing and invite everyone to their big ceremony.

Duryodhana of the Karuvas, their main rival, arrives. His low self-esteem is about to get everyone in trouble.

He's so amazed (and jealous) about this palace that, staring about at all the cool stuff they have, he falls over.

AND Draupadi, the wife of the Pandavas mocks him public ally.

AND she makes fun of his blind parents at the same time!

So this seems some very classic Mahabarata stuff - pride, shame, public shaming, the little impulsive worm desire to publicly dominate or degrade someone.

Duryodhana  goes home, and in his increasingly customary Dick Dastardly manner, comes up with a clever scheme - invite the Pandavas to a big gambling thing.

An interesting thing from the Doring Kindersly edition - apparently at the time, inviting a King to gamble or play games of chance was completely normal and, in fact, it would be weird for a King to *refuse* such an offer.

Dharma and the Gods express themselves through the random generation method (usually dice I think) so for a King, the chance to show that they were 'lucky' is the chance to show that Dharma favours their rule, because they themselves live within Dharma.

So turning down an opportunity to gamble is slightly sinful (wrong word) and questionable. Which is an interesting inversion from the West.

But the Kanavas have a gambling expert.

(This guy has his own backstory - a branch of the Pandavas family imprisoned his whole family and as they starved slowly to death in prison they gave all their food to him, the most intelligent of them all, hoping that he would survive and take revenge for them. Which he did and does.)

Yudhishritha the Pandavas main guy has an absolutely crushing gambling addiction.

Its a really horrid scene, still effectual through a few millennia and multiple translations

The Karuvas just keep winning

Yudhishritha just keeps going back - the Karuvas gently chide and humiliate him if he tries to to leave, and the mania for gambing and the sunk cost situation make him go back and back and back, each time losing more and each time thinking he can win it all back.

There is a general atmosphere of increasing horror to this as everyone can feel it going deeply wrong but no-one has the will, strength or authority to stop it

Its not Duryodhana doing it *directly*, so he is disassociated. The king is blind and weak. The Pandavas all have to go with their older brother, because = Vedic India, but he is temporarily mad.

So he loses the money, the kingdom, the houses, his brothers one by one then himself, then his wife. The same wife who humiliated Duryodhana in the palace, and who he now systemically humiliates in front of everyone by dragging her in, stripping her naked (divine intervention stops this) and making it extremely clear that her husband gambled her away.

Then she flips out and says the next time she braids her hair it will be after she washes it in his blood.

You went too far dude. It's such an overwhelmingly bad idea to humiliate your enemies.

Then the Pandavas get banished to the Forest for so many years.

All of this fine-grained humiliation relies on people really wanting to hurt each other but staying juuuust within the rules, and sending the Pandavas off to the forest is using their sense of honour against them "hey you gave your word right? In public?"

They leave in this ritualistic way, each performing some action that symbolises how much shit they are going to cause in the future.

Its made pretty clear that this isn't just one persons failure. Its a systemic societal or general human crime. Everyone in the Assembly Hall had something to do with it, and everyone somehow contributed to it.

Draupadi humiliates Duryodhana.

Duryodhana sets up the game but Shakuni the evil dice master does the dicing.

(But is he actually evil? He is taking revenge for his starved family and in some versions his cool dice are his dads fingerbones.)

Yudhishritha just keeps going back, the Kauruvas plan works waaaay better than they thought it would. Too well in fact.

None of the other brothers have the nerve to act in an un-Vedic way and to tell the older brother to knock it the fuck off.

The blind king doesn't stop things going wrong.

Duryodhana publicly humiliates Draupadi in turn.

Just a biiiig web of circumstance and different failings, with everyone trapped in it and contributing to it. Which I suspect is the point with the whole Dharma thing. You can win the big fight at the end but how do you get out of that web?

Tuesday 21 January 2020

Thoughts on the Adi Parva

Just finished the Adi Parva - The 'Book of the Beginning', first part of the Mahabarata, this thing is so huge that I will have to review it piece by piece as I go along.

A friend recommended this to be as being 'like the Horus Heresy', which it isn't, yet. But it's getting there.

The bits that are extremely unlike the Heresy are that there are loads more women in it, a really surprising amount of gender-bending and trans representation. Its all about families (which is a bit heresy), but has multiple overlapping divine hierarchies. And instead of its moral axis being dark-good vs ultimate super-evil, its Dharma vs Vengeance/Justice, which is very different indeed.

The story doesn't really have a villain.

The ways in which its getting to be more like the Heresy is that it has a lot of very tough, ultramasculine and VERY FUCKING TOUCHY men, and a complex attitude to what might have been a little bit of a genocide, or at least a dab of ethnic cleansing, if the Nagas are indeed standing in for or representing an earlier forest-dwelling snake-worshipping people and if book is also about how Aryans burnt down the forests and dispossessed the Naga to build Civilisation, which was terrible, but necessary.

A few things made this a challenge (for me specifically) to wrap my head around.

It’s an epic based on descent so there are multiple family trees and a complex cast of characters, plus the specifics of how parentage work in the ancient Indian society are reeeallly important.

It's Doring Kindersy so everything is quite carefully laid out, with lots of reminders, but I would still have had a big, main family tree with portraits on a dominant page.

Non-anglo phonemes and unfamiliar cultural stuff make it more of a maze than it otherwise might be for my born-in-the-80's ass, but that’s the path of Dharma I guess.


The extreme intergenerational obedience between fathers and sons would be strange for me even in a historical European context.

The curses are fascinating, they are often more like challenges, or weirdly specific superpowers.

Long chains of circumstance which often begin with the mild or errant wish of some god, or the unwise (or too-quick) promise of some king. A god basically momentarily arranging furniture can really fuck up someone’s life, or fundamentally change its context.

In many cases the originating crack is a worm of superiority and contempt, a desire for social dominance.

So far I find myself probably more on Duryohanas side, even though he is "the baddy".

This story has really complex feelings about status, gender, ethnicity, civilisation and interpersonal bitterness.

There are lots of things here that remind me of old dark-age Euro-stories being 'reinterpreted' by Christians so "actually" they were spiritual, and not just about men and death.

The thing with 100 sons, I couldn't help but imagine a historical king going "Well this Yogic magic has DEFINITELY WORKED and now I have 100 SONS and absolutely not just a chunk of abortive meat. Any FUCKING QUESTIONS ANYONE???"


Dharma- what is this story really about, a bunch of dudes hitting each other? Or spiritual growth, via dudes hitting each other.

Well they do tell us at the start that actually its about Dharma so really we should be looking out, not just for dudes smacking each other up the head but *what it means* that they chose to smack each other up the head, in this or that particular instance.

We will see how this goes.

You can lose, but win spiritually. Or be in the right, but still fail.

You can win, but lose spiritually. Or be in the wrong, but learn and change, and hence attain Dharma or whatever.

This book is large so I read it on a pillow across my crossed legs and I feel extremely deep and philosophical doing so. I feel like I want a Prince to wander into the room with a complex query and I can be like "Ahhh, the answer is Dharma..."

Monday 20 January 2020

A "Puritanical Instrument"

The Lictor

The Lictor, a flail of stained brass carrying twin morningstars said to be the petrified eyes of a sleeping god, carries a mixed reputation in Blackwater.

For Somon, especially for the great masses for whom holding a pike in formation is the closest they will come to adventure, and for whom getting a month ahead in their rent is the closest they will come to freedom, the Lictor represents a force of near-revolutionary possibility.

For this is the Flail of Judgement, carrying the eyes of the Sleeping God who's nature was Justice, and whomsoever wields the Lictor carries also the right, and the duty, to Judge both high and low. From the Frogsnatchers to Fyrdmen to walkers of the Waste and Sustainers of Reality, no-one is beyond the Lictors power. For a mass of Humanity often crushed by debt, ritual and fear, the idea of those with power being punished and held to account should they prove false, is deeply inspiring.

Perhaps regrettably, functional governments are rarely entirely "fair" or even "just". For those in power, who regard themselves as having the duty and the burden to make the best possible decisions in difficult circumstances and with limited resources, a bunch of angry Somon proles hopped up on justice juice, and lead by some lunatic swinging a magic flail, are not well set-up to percieve and enact a complex version of Justice.

For the minority races of Blackwater, especially the Aeth, the Lictor is seen often as a tool of Somon dominance,  a "Prejudicial, Puritanical Instrument", or them may simply give the flail its somewhat degrading Aeth-name; "The Somons Balls".

In many cases the Lictor has been carried at the head of some Judgement Crusade or Penitent Parade. Supported by great masses of the poorer Somon, and empowered by their belief. For those rural and urban poor, victims of injustice, taxation and repression, the Lictor is a source of rare, impartial judgement.

For urban elites, Aethm and some other minority groups, the sight of a great mass of poor Somon, empowered by an overwhelming belief in what they consider to be "justice", is not reassuring.

Through exactly who's eyes, and with who's mind and temperament, will this 'justice' be perceived?
Who's interests will it serve?

The Aspect Of The Flail

The staff and crossbars of heavy, dark, gleaming brass worked in the style of the early diaspora, mark the haft of the Lictor as being clearly a creation of early Blackwater, after the chaos of the Great Flight, but long before the treaty of Birch Falls.

Though this makes the Lictor thousands of years old at least, compared to other Curia it is young. Not something fallen from Old Esh or drawn into Uud from some collapsing Parallel, but a creation of this world, this time and this age, shaped by its people and dedicated to its cause.

The morningstars though are a different matter.

Most Somon believe these spiked, black balls to be the petrified eyes of a dead or sleeping God. Formerly the God of Justice in Old Esh.

Esh had an myriad of Gods, of different qualities, hierarchies and dispensations, and probably several hundred of these were either dedicated to Justice or at least had the concept under their purview, so it’s not clear exactly which God the crowd is thinking of when they speak of the Lictors eyes.

But this is the kind of tiresomely accurate but essentially incomprehending detail atheists tend to fixate on. Whether it makes "rational" sense or not, and no matter how it is accounted, for the masses, the Eyes of the Lictor are the Eyes of Justice, either prised from the Gods bleeding sockets during the fall of Esh, or spontaneously bursting out in spikes like some defensive sea creature, in horror at the sights they were forced to witness, and rolling from the Gods sockets themselves.

Clearly the Morningstars are not of the same substance at the flail. In theory they could be removed from it, (though no-one on record has done this). They are currently soot-black, but their edges and the gleaming tips of their spikes suggest that beneath this may lie some stranger and more lucid substance.

(The Aeth covertly refer to the stars of the Lictor as petrified whale testicles ensorcelled by some ancient Thaumaturge.)

Practically, the flail is heavy to the point of being near-unwieldy. In combat its morningstars swing in an unpredictable, looping orbit, curving on their carrying chains like bound snakes and crashing violently into the most strongly-armoured opponents.

The Powers Of The Lictor

Common Powers

Like many Curia, the Lictor seems to have a range of expression which differs both according to the individual who wields it, the cause in which it is used and the Age in which it swings.

And, again like many Curia, the ability and understanding to express and use those powers can grow with time and experience, deepening with use.

In battle the pointed stars of the flail swing with irreducible force, batting aside guarding weapons, crashing through shields and crunching through armour as if it were paper.

The stars themselves are reputed to execute vengeful destruction on other items of magical power. They are considered so destructive to other artefacts that those wise in knowledge of such things will often refuse to take the field against the Lictor.

One blow from those black stars can shatter magical blades and annihilate long-deepened enchantments, especially those Thaumaturgies of illusion and the alteration of minds. Illusions, charms, unreal vistas and shadow creatures, all waver and fracture before those black, spiked eyes.

Should the day go ill for those opposing it, there is little chance of magical escape from the Lictors swing. Like a judge in court, it enforces the coherency of reality around it. Attempts to teleport, to slide into alter-realms, to change shape, to fly or become invisible, all become more and more difficult the closer comes the flail.

And the strength of this effect deepens the longer and the stronger is the bond between the Lictor and its wielder.

Though these powers are considerable on their own, they matter little when compared to the one, key power which the Flail bestows;

The Power Of Judgement

When the bearer of the Lictor closes their eyes, they see twin realities, one etched in black, the other engraved in silver.

One orb, or "eye" of the Lictor, sees the Truth. Not the believed truth, or the arguable truth, but the simple cold, hard fact of what-is.

That which is not True will not be seen by the Lictors black eye.

But Justice is not only about seeing what is true, but about deciding what is right. It is action, perception and understanding combined.

The second orb, and according to Somon myth, the second eye of the Dreaming God, sees Justice. An image of what should be, in a Just world, engraved in silver. For some this is a tenuous silver thread, for others a shifting maze, a path or an altered image of the world. For others the image itself is clear, but so hard to reach, always just a handful of actions and a fingertip away.

Each wielder of the Lictor sees a subtly different reality when they close their eyes.

For average individuals, the world perceived through the eyes of a sleeping god is so hypnagogic, surreal and strange that they can barely comprehend it. Even some remarkable individuals have only been able to functionally see through one or the other Eye of the Lictor at a time, closing first one eye, then another, and attempting to understand what they perceive sequentially.

TRUTH is vast, and Justice is both deep and wide. A mortal mind can only 'see' those fragments or elements of it which its nature allows it to perceive.

The flail responds to its wielder, with the nature of its judgement shifting in its intensity and action according to the empathy, intelligence, willpower and perception of the person who wields it

The wiser and calmer and deeper the wielder, then the wiser and calmer the nature of justice perceived and desposed.

If the wielder of the Lictor is wilful and intelligent, but ruthless and cold, then the image of Truth and Justice which they see will be that of a cold, ruthless and calculating God.

In a way, justice is itself a kind of power, one that must be understood and comprehended in order to be controlled.


The History Of The Lictor

A surprising amount of knowledge of its origins survives.

The creators of the Lictor are said to be 'The Judges of the Fall'.

It is written that after the Fall of Esh and the great flight and escape to Uud, a group of intelligent Theists dedicated themselves to investigating the reasons for the Fall. Their original purpose was that, only once those weaknesses to Yggsrathaal were identified and understood, only once Humanity fully understood why it had failed, only then could they truly begin to fight back. They were the first to recover the Eyes and to create the Lictor.

Over the centuries though, the Judges of the Fall decayed (or evolved) into a cult of repentance and penance. Instead of simply seeking for the weaknesses in Humanity in order to record and correct them, they slowly fell into a fetish of despair and purposeless, narcissistic repentance.

This change was neither unnoticed or accepted by the entirety of the group. Over time, as the more despairing and ritualistic elements of the Judges played a part in the rising tensions that lead to the Great Theistic War, the movement splintered.

One faction dove headfirst into self-flagellation, hyper-religiosity and mass ritual, while the other increasingly began attempting to retrain and prevent what they considered the mad excesses of the Theists; crusades, pogroms, mystery cults and unrestricted warfare.

Strangely, over time this second faction of Theists ended up having more in common with the ruthlessly atheistic mechanists and the 'greater humanity' survival-based near-humanitarians (and allegedly, the 'Wise Undead'). Ultimately, during the disaster of the Great Theistic War, the Judges, with these other groups ended up forming a the nucleus of the Tolerance, a group dedicated absolutely to the survival of Humanity and the reasoned suppression of any vast societal forces which might threaten that survival - whatever the cost might be.

Allegedly the Tolerance still carries in its hierarchies, rituals and processes, the ghost of the substance of the old Judges of the Fall.

After the treaty of Birch Falls, the creation of the Tolerance, and the birth of 'modern' Blackwater, the Eyes of the Lictor have come forth on many notable occasions;


The Lictors 'Crusades'

The Purge of the Invisible Kings

When the Cult of the Grand Illusionist attempted to re-create the seeming of Esh in Fallen Uud; spreading a great veil of magic over much of the land in which life seemed simply 'better', more free, fulfilling luxurious and kind than it truly was, and in which many of the sights and sounds of Old Esh (or at least as much as could be recalled in this ruined age) were re-created, it was the Lictor, at the head of a great procession of commoners, which penetrated the illusion and restored cold, unfeeling reality, breaking the power of the Invisible Kings, just in time to avoid a mass invasion from the Waste.

The Breaking of the Crystal Crown

When the insidious invasion of a dark, curled reality into Blackwater lead to a plague of hallucinations, madness and the entrapment of people in loops of Fey imaginings, adults acting like children and animals speaking in riddle and rhyme, castles of Black Glass rising up from the shadows of burning forests, filled with mirror-people who served the Eld King, it was the Lictor which smashed the Eld Kings Crystal Crown.

(Aeth histories of this incident are quite different and the situation only deepened the Aeth belief that the "Somon Balls" are essentially racist.)

The Emperors Second Death

When the Imperial Line of the Grey City of Nelvana seemed to come close to dying out, then returned in great power, with the megastructure of that city vibrating to unearthly frequencies, shifting reality instead of preserving it, creating streets like dreams and towers like pillars of sleep, realms of soft silence and warped, quiet carnivals of faceless fear, it was the Wielder of the Lictor who penetrated the Forbidden City at the Megastructures heart and discovered the Emperors were, not ageless or renewed, but un-dead, and totally mad.

The Judgement of Mad Queen Orgula

When Orgulas precognitive fear of her own future judgement drove her to try to transform her entire Queendom into one great argument for her own innocence, using magic, torture, transformation, propaganda and direct law to create a land of 'perfect purity', it was the Lictor which lead the brutal, and attritional war against her. (As any war against a Precognitive must be - pursued relentlessly until every alternative and escape is exhausted.)

The Entropy Cults of Yga

When Yga's noted tolerance came close to being its undoing and the City became infested with covert Cults of Entropy. ("Not only evil, but extremely dull" - Vosis Fail). Even that bastion of liberal humanism called for the Lictor to be Wielded, believing that only its cold, ruthless, but exact judgement, could fairly separate the guilty from the deceived.


Ultimately, the vast majority of those beings capable of using the Lictor to some meaningful end, without being corrupted by it, and without going utterly mad from its black and silver visions of truth and justice, invariably leave the Flail to be, after a time.

For these individuals, their gradually increasing comprehension of Justice and its meaning, as seen through the eyes of a Dreaming God, leads them to a too-great understanding of their own limitations. They come to believe or that they are not wise enough to wield the Lictor for too long. And perhaps that no-one is.

Wednesday 15 January 2020

Letters from Ir - The Beginning

Inspired by Jon Petersons 'Playing at the World' and in particular the stories of Proto-Roleplaying/Wargaming in the U.K. in the 70's, and by reading (listening to really) Churchills 'Marlborough', for the last few months I have been trying to run a kind of letter-writing, RPG/Strategy game.

Basic idea is this - 

Every player gets a chunk of the map, invents a nation and a ruler, generates a power level (which they do not disclose to other players), and assigns points from that power level to armies, individuals etc.

Players write orders to their assigned agents by writing, in character, to me. They can send one envelope per month but include as many orders as they like.

They can also write as many letters to each other as they like (in character, as rulers).

They are not meant to chat online to each other or do political stuff (on the Discord at least, I can't really stop them if they do it secretly.

Each month, towards the end of the month, I work out the results of all the Rulers orders and write back to them, in character, describing what happened - and OH MY GOD ITS DENSE.

And I could do a whole post on the evolution of my questionable rules for this.

So things proceed, month by month, with the history of Ir and the interactions of the various nations.

Ir as of today

To make diagetic sense of the existence of these nations who essentially had little or no contact before October (Month of the Time-God 'Oct') 2019, but who still know enough about each other to write letters, I created a quasi sci-fi origin story which links them in somewhat to the Esh/Uud metaverse.

Here's the original background text;


The planet, or plane you are on used to be part of a trans-dimensional super-empire. This might be where all the different races and peoples of your biome came from.

About a thousand years ago [EDIT - is not 2two thousand an nineteen years], something went wrong and the giant intra-dimensional portal that connected your world, or realm, to this great commonwealth, was closed.

The Optimate, a kind of super-wizard meant to be in-charge of keeping your realm stable, or at least coherent, and safe from creepy interdimensional predatory elements, gave vague or unclear reasons for this. 

The Optimate evolved into a kind of world-ruler. They used their powers to keep all the nations, cultures and races stable, and somewhat separate. Individuals are allowed to move around, but only members of the upper classes. A kind of passport system was used, so the educated rulers have knowledge of each other but there were no mass movements of population. And the Optimate used their powers, and the remains of the Trans-Dimensional Government they headed, as a kind of 'nuclear option' which prevented anyone from amassing armies, invading each other, challenging their rule, or putting together magical or technological forces that might challenge them. The general opinion of thinkers was that, separated from their interdimensional culture and not knowing what else to do, the Optimate essentially tried to set the planetary/realm culture into 'survival mode' and to keep it stable and alive for as long as possible, and that meant tamping down on innovation of most kinds.

Over the millennia the forces of the Optimate have been gradually lessening, generation upon generation, so slowly that really only historians believed it was happening. They haven't been seen, and nothing has been heard of them for fifty years, and the previous messages indicated some kind of sickness. You don't even know if there is only one Optimate, or if its a generational thing or a cult, or what. You just know whenever anyone tries to put together military forces or magical forces above a certain (proportionate and deliberately-unclear) threshold, they get whacked by super-magic, and no-one has done it for 200 years.

Your rulers and cultures may well have very partial and very vague ideas about most of this. Its not like they necessarily know what a ‘dimension’ is, or even that the Optimate was a kind of Magic-User. For most of them its as if the world was ruled by a kind of very bureaucratic, distant, but very material demigod. Its been like this for a millennia and that’s long enough for history to become highly legendary.

The game starts as the radical traveller and poet Uxlorian Vesh has entered the Optimates silent city of Esh, broken into the City of Portal, evaded the decaying guards and discovered and confirmed that the Optimate is definitely either dead or gone. No-one is guarding Esh. No-one is policing the use of force. The only people enforcing the passport system are you, if you want to. 

There is no dominating centre to the geopolitical world, and no-one knows what to do next. A massive power vacuum has opened up, perfect for someone to fill it, or, if they are more morally responsible, to prevent anyone else from filling it, in order to maintain stability.

None of you can be certain how militarily or economically powerful each other are. It has literally never been tested in memory or record.

You know a bit about each others existence, travellers and ambassadors pass back and forth, there is some trade, but compared to, for instance, any point in the civilised history of earth, you really know shit all about your neighbours, or what might lie in the spaces between powers. You do have a general map of your world though."

The Oceans of Ir

The current nations (some are only recently 'awoken' are;

Xingando -mercantile alchemists ruled by Cerberus Or

Ulukaa - mixed nation of lizard people, tattooed humans and masked priests living in a super-jungle, ruled by All-Eyes the Pontiff Queen

Illmora - pretty reasonable growth/nature worshipping nation ruled by The Great Father-Mother

THE GREAT GLORIOUS GRONNATE - an extremely reasonable nation of arts and education ruled by THE GRON MAXIMAL

The Secret Dutchy - as yet unawoken.

Kanibalo - shark-toothed individuals in steel canoes. Ruled by Cefa Kuristo.

Slug Isle - Isle of rain-swept slug farmers, ruled by ysbryda Holyworm.

Highvern - freezing mountainous nation of jewel-mining Goblins, and others, ruled by High Queen Settra.

The Mourgelands - desert nation of pharonis Hobbit necromancers ruled by The Great Zarazant.

Twelve - currently isolationist nation of insect-people ruled by Holy Three Hand.


In addition to their monthly letters I give the players a chronicle of the events of the world as told by the 'Heralds of Ir' - with all the news at least a month old.

Here's the current chronicle;

The God Oct- Year 2019

 1st of Oct – Rumours begin to reach the Halls of the Rulers that the sot, Uxlorian Vesh, has penetrated the boundaries of the Optimate and found them Void.

7th of Oct – It is said that the Verdant Fleet of Doth-Far the Clever, of Ilmora, is anchored at Metheltossos on the Insect Sea, and there trades valued metals with the peoples of Ulukaa.

9th of Oct – Sailors claim that a great fortress of Wax has been seen crossing the Shadows Reach between Twelve and the unknown lands which lie between the Green Reach and the Sea of Shadows.

11th of Oct – A single fisherman of Xingando tells a wild tale, that he was driven by storms across the Reach Inferior and into the Circle Sea, where he was captured and brought aboard a mighty armada, and there entertained by a most beautiful Admiral, Eralassua, as if he were himself of Noble Birth, before being sent upon his way.

The God Nov – Year 2019

2nd of Nov – Rumour states that war has broken out between Xingando and Illmora! The Illmorans flee in terror as Xingado invades!

3rd of Nov – The Illmorans make ready to resist the Imperious Invaders of Xingando with what force they may.

8th of Nov – A Great Host moves in Highvern. Tales speak of Wolves in the Desert lands.

9th of Nov – Sailors and fishermen claim to have witnessed Ships of the Dead in the Ocean of Alien Dreams to the South of Twelve.

10th Nov DISASTER IN ILLMORA –A Great Massacre! The Illmorans fall back in disarray, is Illmora doomed at the hands of Xingando? Surely Xingando is now the Great Power of the East.

13th Nov – It is said the Dead now rise also in the Circle Sea, ghosts are sighted within its waves.

15th Nov – The Battle of the Desert Wolves! In the far West of the Mourgelands the Wolf-Riders of Settera the Ice Queen have met the Undead Hordes of the High Zarazant. In a conflict which lasted till the stars burned cold the Wolves of Settera were driven back. Their General, the Savage Clasnat, swears revenge against the Zarazant and his general of the East, Kathegras Ekibe.

18th Nov – Disaster at the Pillars of Delusion! A Great Host of Setteras Armies did attempt crossing of the Pillars of Delusion to invade the Realm of the High Zarazant. They faced catastrophe! The skeletons of mighty sea-wyrms, the foul zombified corpses of Whales and the ghosts of sharks did battle with the Navy of Eralassa for a day and a night. Ultimately, so great was the phanstasmorgic terror that the forces of Highvern fell back to port. It is said that Tadaitzol, Hegeomon of Settera, and wielder of the Sword of Destiny, made of Motherfucking Diamonds, does rage against High-Admiral Eralassa for this failure.

20th – The savage army of Xingando, the so-called ‘Rough-Gut Boys’, advances upon the Illmoran capital, so far with neither response or opposition from the Great Father-Mother.

23rd – A Great Host of beings fleeing the Insectoid Nation of Twelve are pursued across the wildlands west of the Shadows Reach by the forces of “Holy Three-Hand” and were sure to be destroyed. Yet as they approached the border of the Great Glorious Gronnate, that border did open! The refugees claim this is a Sign and beg succour from the Great Gron Maximal.

28th – In the Northerly Isle between the Optimate and Xingando, a new power rises. She who names herself the “Optimatrix”, called by some “The Golden Witch” declares rulership of all Optimate lands and demands recognition from all other rulers of Ir, beginning with the impudent and imperialistic Cerberus Or.

The God Dec – Year 2019

6th Dec - The Hot/Cold War drags on!

The conflict between Highvern and the Mourgelands staggers on in its southern theatre.

The Mourgelanders are unable to push Clasnats Goblins out of their land, but it is said they have poisoned the desert and made the area impassible for living beings in large numbers.

All observers believe that neither Setra or the Zarazant are about to back down and many wonder what their plans may be.......

8th Dec – Setra Fails!

Ice Queen Setra leaves the Crystal City and attempts to use her Great magical Power to freeze the gulf between the Pillars of Delusion claiming that her armies will simply walk across.

She leaves only icy bergs and black water which proves a serious impediment to shipping.

The Mourgelanders send up fireworks of ultraviolet mockery in response.

9th - Ghosts in the Crystal City

Wild tales grow of ghouls and spirits in the Crystal City, and of a Strange Gackling Moon. Highverners believe this is the work of the Foul Zarazant.

Dec 10th - Build That Wall!

The Great Glorious Gronnate proudly announces the building of an extremely long and narrow school, in the shape of a wall, which exactly matches the shape of its Eastern border with the wildlands.

General Snavros insists that anyone can apply to study in the Wall-School, the only two rules, The first is that to get in, you have to climb over the school. The other rule is that anyone trespassing on school property will be ejected.

The hordes of Human Chattel fleeing the Wasp-People of Twelve moan in Great Terror as their former owners repossess them by force.

13th Dec - Clasnats Betrayal!

It becomes common knowledge across Ir that the Goblin General Clasnat. Leader of Setras Wolf-Riders and main commander in the Southern Hot/Cold War, is considering betrayal, either for money or because he fears Setra has sent him and his riders there to die, as they may be potential threats to her continued Rule.

It is said that Setra has taken Clasnats family hostage to ensure his loyalty


Crazed and confused stories speak of something Gigantic and Amorphous slithering beneath the waves of the Pass of Indecision between Northern and Southern Illmora.

Heralds are sent to investigate but their only report is that EVERYTHING IS FINE HERE ABSOLUTELY FINE


Will probably be a year (assuming I even manage to keep this going for a year) before I can post any of the letters back and forth between rulers and their agents, but I might be able to put up some of the 'opening letters' from the start of the game.

Thursday 9 January 2020

Adventures On The Margins

Here are ten very basic adventure seeds for Uud, specifically for the Margins of Blackwater.

1. The Memory Thief

I imagine this as maybe the classic or essential Blackwater adventure. PCs are villagers in some marginal and forgotten place. One day they discover that something from the surrounding swamp has been through the village and stolen many of the important memories of the people they love. (Maybe even the memories of their parents, lovers or children). They work out what happened and then the mission is to go into the swamp and track this thing down, kill it, (or trick it somehow) and get back those memories and be - HEROES OF THE VILLAGE

Stuff - need generator for stolen memory relationships. Clues around village telling what happened but also contextual stuff telling what kind of creature and *how it works*, maybe a mild loremaster character. Then swamp generator. Maybe a goblin PC or "enemy" group after the same thing because the Goblin tribes memories got stolen too  and maybe you could team up? Hmmm.

Creature itself needs highly deductible as in, you can work out what it is, strength which makes it seriously dangerous - probably too dangerous for just the party alone, and a weakness which can be discovered and exploited.

Then the surveillance/fight/trickery at the end.

2. The Waste Wanderer 

Lets see.. This feels like its built around a single, strong central character. Someone like a high powered adventurer. A Wanderer who knows the Waste and who goes out there into danger and comes back alive a lot. But the Waste has fucked them up and the people of civilisation fear and hate them.

Something happens which brings the PCs into contact with the Wanderer, maybe some Orcs or something, the 'main threat' isn't really the main adventure. The real thing is that the PCs have to go off into, or end up in, danger with the Wanderer, and this is someone powerful and dangerous that you really can't work out. And it may be that they are the main monster at the end. Maybe the Wanderer has a thing where they are doing a deal with the Orcs, so it seems like they are a traitor, but it could be for the Right Reasons. Maybe they are a Half-Orc themselves?

This might seem like a doomed mission but could be instead it’s a situation the PCs can peacefully resolve - if they perceive that they should or could.

3. The Monsters Dream 

Another swamp and/or desert situation. There is a super-dangerous Hyperpredator in the wilderness hunting people from the local culture. Seems impossible to beat. Maybe some high-level adventurers try and all they find is their corpses.

One (or more?) of the PCs is swapping dreams with the Monster. Once they work out this is what's happening, they can try to use this knowledge to track the beast, but the monster is smart and since its dreaming of their life it can use the same process to try to find them. Hunter/Hunted.

Possibly the monster isn't the real villain and there's a cackling wizard or something behind things or some other conspiratal stuff about the dream swapping. Maybe it lairs in a fallen voidship or its a transformed human or something.

4. The Bandit Knight 

This is another dominant complex character situation. In this case the antagonist is a bandit threatening the PCs culture or home, but they are a former (or current) knight, and are known to have an iron-shod sense of honour (though also being unforgiving and super ruthless).

The PCs end up captured by this person (maybe there's a captured Princess or high-status vulnerable there as well) and to get out and/or get the Bandit knight away from the village, they need to make a promise or oath to do something either super-dangerous or somewhat immoral.

Will they give their word? And if they do, will they keep it? There's a lawman and his posse about who's job is meant to be protecting the village, but this is one Gaston motherfucker, just a gross, deceptive lying scumbag. Will the PCs sell out the honourable baddy to the dishonourable "good guy"?

5. The Inquisitors Bequest

A PC inherits a super-dangerous thing from a strange relative. Maybe this is an uncle or something they didn't know about or who disappeared. This person apparently joined the Tolerance and became a High Agent and a bit of a scary badass. Now they are dead, and they have left their effects to their closest living relative, which is you.

But, as they were a badass secret agent Inquisitor, these effects include some scary stuff, some Tolerance stuff that young people really shouldn't have, and possibly information about their last investigation.

So now the PCs have to work out what they are going to so with the secret agents cool stuff, while the subjects of their last case are coming at the PCs because there's some evidence or a tool or artefact or something disguised in there, and the Tolerance themselves are doing the same thing. Because Inquisitor X wouldn't just leave that stuff to some rando would they? There would have to be some special reason....

6. The Armour of the Sun - The Stolen Hope

A village on the margins has been slowly and painstakingly assembling a suit of plate armour. This has been patched together from bits and pieces, some found, some bought over years, or even generations. The Suit occupied a central place in the village and just stood there like the shell of an invisible hero, growing slowly over the years.

Like a lottery ticket really, the Armour was probably more important for the possibilities it presented; freedom from corrupt power, from predators and Orcs coming in from the Waste, the idea that one of them might be the hero they were waiting for.

Then someone steals the suit?

It disappears one day, the PCs are asked to do what they can to find it and bring it back. Not much to offer, but the PCs are lvl 1 anyway.

Aaand, it turns out the Suit was taken by someone from the village, to do something really heroic?

Or the fact that it could be divided up makes a fetch-quest relatively simple, with say a den of thieves and monsters who split it up with each taking their part to a different place, and the PCs will have to trick, steal, persuade or just kill a whole range of local baddies in order to get the suit back together.

I am still not sure what this one *means*.. There's more there than the fetch quest itself I think.

7. The Small, Strange Hole

This one seems pretty simple. A small strange hole has been found, or has opened up, somewhere nearby, and everyone is quietly terrified about it, though no-one can say why. Every time someone tries to block or obstruct it, by the next day, the blockage has gone, and the hole is a little bigger.

Then some children disappear and everyone thinks they went down the hole.

So the PCs are asked to squeeeze themselves into the hole to bring back those kids, and, if possible, to find a way to make it close up.

Think this one would be a good introduction to Marginalia. Whats inside the hole is not a dungeon but a different realm, like a Labyrinth/Fairyland situation, and what the PCs will have to do in order to get back these kids and shut the whole will be more like Dream Logic, or an Alice in Wonderland thing than a standard D&D challenge.

The place is under the control of a sad goblin King and threatened Cheese-Wyrm - a Cheese-obsessed hyperdimensional Cheshire-cat dragonish thing, but thin and slender. The Wyrm insists on being paid in cheese and since there is none to be had it has become aggressive and unpredictable, boring holes in reality and letting all kinds of random crap drop through.

The Goblin King has these children endlessly stirring milk in a effort to make cheese for the Wyrm, but the milk curdles beneath a green gackling goblin moon which flies about unpredictably. The moon itself has some thing that it wants and something it is scared of, etc etc.

Ok this one got weird. And 'Realm of the Cheese-Wyrm' is a better title but gives away faaar too much of the contents.

Could do this one almost as a series of personal encounters; The Goblin King, the Moon, the Cheese-Wyrm and others, with say two or three strong desires and strong fears/weaknesses and some randomisation to decide how they will relate to the PCs. You can get bits and pieces of info about each NPC from different encounters and the play-area has a range of strange elements which could be re-purposed in order to start solving the web of interlinked problems (i.e. the Goblin town has huge pots of unsellable yellow paint for sale and the PC's could use this to paint a huge sun on the ground to convince the Moon it is trespassing at the wrong time etc etc.

8. The Tax Collectors Crime

This is more of a 'real world' one where the village or small polity is threatened economically by an evil Worghast Tax Collector. This individual is slowly crushing the people out here with unjust taxes (the government would be crushing them anyway the same way, but much slower, this person is really pushing it).

The PCs are hired, or asked, to 'do something about it'.

If they investigate they may discover that the Tax collector has actually done something illegal, like made a deal with Orcs from the Waste, broken the Worghast Laws, or something else. In that case thier challenge might be - do they do things 'right' and try to gather evidence and prove the Tax Collector is guilty and get them removed? Or do they get edgy and decide to be bandits, effectively and take them out? And if they break bad, are they now outside the law?

Problem here is dealing with someone who has a LOT more institutional power than you, and who is seriously corrupt, willing to lie and manipulate, so doing the right thing becomes very difficult and risky indeed.

Elements - the villages the Tax Collector visits, the Collectors personal security, the Collectors connections and a map of the legal stuff that would need to be done to bring them down. Also some kind of external foe, maybe the Orcs they are dealing with or an illegally made Worghast gang.

9. The Shape of Fear 

Here the threat is a very mediocre individual, like a Goblin or a very poor bandit or wastrel, someone who would barely be dangerous on their own and who is very clearly driven by fear, rage and low self-esteem.

So they have this thing, maybe its a magic mind-control ring, a lantern which brings nightmares to life, some demon sword which is clearly piloting them around, a false eye which sees lies and fires lasers or something.

Anyway, its made them super-dangerous, much too much to challenge them directly, so the only way to win is to get close to them and work out the patterns and weaknesses of the Thing, and the psychology of the person in question in order to trick or defeat them.

Or, make this a larger problem - maybe some kind of demon box has been opened or some dark traveller is going around handing these things out to low-level scumbags, and someone wants the PCs to deal with it. Possibly an Agent of the Tolerance, like and Inquisitor, is on the case but can't give away their involvement as the mind behind this whole thing is a Major Power? And you can't (or shouldn't) use the things because they get you mind controlled, or mutate you or are obviously radioactive in some way obvious to anyone not using them. (Though PC's will of course be tempted to take them and use them).

10. The Silence in the Ash 

Another "real life"-ish situation. Out on the Margins, the great Ash dunes blowing in from the Waste have sent fingers deeper into Blackwater, separating two villages where communication used to be relatively stable.

Now the road between them leads over the Ash Dunes, and with the dunes have come bandits. Now anyone travelling between the villages is preyed upon. (Maybe the Bandits have some kind of ‘silence engine’ which stops anyone calling for help so all their attacks take place in a creepy silence). Calls for help have been either ignored, or someone from the polity has gone in with 'big battalions' and the bandits have simply fallen back into the Waste, only to return once the heat dies down.

How will the PCs find the Bandits? Tracing their intel source in the villages? Tracking them in the Waste? Using trickery to get themselves attacked? Pretending to join them?

And how will they fight them? Openly using terrain and cunning tactics? Set them up to be attacked by something even more dangerous? Lead them into a trap? Use scheming to set them against each other? And if they stop the bandits, will the dunes start to recede? Is there something even worse either puppeting the Bandits, using them or simply so dangerous that it drove them to this position?

Only three major elements, the Villages, the Dunes and the Bandits, though each would be pretty complex. The villages would be mainly social and political networks, the Dunes largely a map and generator and the Bandits a complex Tactical/Social matrix with their plans, habits, methods and social and other weaknesses coded in.

Tuesday 7 January 2020

Dear Monstrous Effulgence

Clearing out and consolidating stuff on the hard drive and ran into this forgotten piece of Diagetic text. I kinda thought these characters were going to fuck at some point;

A turquoise-robed woman, bald, heavily tattooed, with her moth stitched shut, approaches you, and delivers this message, written on diaphanous silk, before leaving without a word.

"Dear Monstrous Effulgence,

I write to express my deep satisfaction on receiving your recent communication. The brutal and moronic aesthetic of its delivery, contemptible effrontery of its contents and marginal grasp of magical art involved in its creation succeeded in reaching a near-animal level of courtesy, style and beauty. The Yak-minded nature of your missive confirmed on every level my suppositions about the shameful mediocrity, decadence, poverty and gauche materialism of whatever culture squeezed out your form and character, very much as the afterbirth of a pigs womb is squeezed from the corpse of a plague-dead sow who crosses the terminating line of life at the moment of delivery, spewing forth, no doubt, some vile litter of squealing, mutated and bile-slick young with which to harry and torment the wiser cultures of the world.

I was as pleased as I was unsurprised to hear of your near-death at the hands of one of the more minor spirits to torment this unhappy land, deeply amused by your frantic flight and likewise disappointed in the servants of the Mantis God. If only they had known that by simply closing their doors on your shivering and wasted mortal form and leaving you to your one-thousand-times-deserved and absolutely brutal death (may it come soon!), they would have been performing a service to the city and the world equivalent of excising a cancer from the body of an innocent child. (For you are indeed a tumour, both the disease and its symptom.) Perhaps they would have chosen differently.

No doubt though you still cling to life with the thoughtless and ratlike cunning of your tree-dwelling ancestors. Like all true vermin, I do not suppose that your extermination will be easily achieved. In addition to this, the presence of a Baital in Syr Darya, though only a pin-prick in the magisterial reach of my truly global paradigm, is of some small interest to me.

While I am certain that this is one of the few instances in which the predations of these darker spirits are justified, (probably by one of a range of secret and shameful crimes engaged in either by you, or the effluvia of your sewer-like home of mediocre yet-still-utterly-certain basically fucking stupid rationalist filth who accompany you), nevertheless, in this one instance, it would please me greatly to laugh directly into your tiny, sharp-boned, dog-eyed, monkeylike face.

Should you still live, (and I hope you do not!), you may drag your degraded and pustulent flesh to my door where I will not immediately excise you from creation.

Pursuant to this, I Xab Yeng Yaaj, swear by the Chaos Tree, Father of my Race, that I will do you no harm etc etc. Offer ends Midnight, 9th October."

May you burn forever in the deepest pits of whatever your fallen race calls Hell.

Yours sincerely, Xab Yeng Yaaj."

Sunday 5 January 2020

There Is No Bus - Peter Fehervari's Dark Coil

A long time ago, in school I had a teacher in Russian History and was trying to explain the slavic temperament.

They talked about being in Russia; they went to the bus stop and found an old lady waiting for the same bus.

they wait

they wait more

This teacher turns to the old lady and says;

"Looks like the bus is late."

The lady stares back and says;

"Perhaps there is no bus."

This is likely why Peter Fehervari is big in Russia. Because for him, there is no bus.

Stolen from this reddit thread;
With Apologies


Peter Fehervari's 'Dark Coil' books are a strange little corner of the Warhammer 40k Universe made up of three books, which I have read, and a handful of short stories, which I have not. For some reason (perhaps interdimensional meddling) the first two were given rather odd names.

Fire Caste - still has its primary name, which has little to do with its contents. (Although A Fehervari book having a curiously misleading name become strangely appropriate as the series goes on). Here the Imperial Guard fight the Tau on the planet of Phaedra which is essentially Jeff Vandermeers or JG Ballards 'Apocalypse Now; Fungal jungles, coiling rivers and spiritual decay.

Cult of the Spiral Dawn - used to be called 'Genestealer Cults'? Here the Imperial Guard fight the eponymous cult on the Koronus Ring, a black megastructure on the world of Redemption, which is mainly fire, doom  and spiritual decay.

Requiem Infernal - The Adeptus Sororitas and Imperial Guard fight, well mainly themselves, which is a main theme in every Fehervari book, but also Chaos, on the Koronus Ring, which here is on the world of Vytarn, a planet made of water, religion and spiritual decay.

Is Vytarn Redemption? If so, how? Well read to find out I guess.

All the books are quixotically interconnected, not in a direct sequential way, but through a kind of web-work of timelost wanderers, strange chains of cause and effect, dream-visions etc. They all interrelate but you can read each individually and there is no real beginning, and no end - JUST THE CREEPY SPIRAL.


Reading a Fehervari book is like walking into a cinema in the middle of a horror movie, and then the cast and story of a different horror movie cross over with it, or the events of a whole new horror movie, with a different monster and cause, start up in the second act. And the film just keeps-going, so at some point, you leave.

As if the protagonist of Rosemaries Baby ends up in a lift with someone who is being pursued through dreams by Freddie from Nightmare On Elm Street and they meet Ellen Ripley, either traumatised after the first film or actively living through the second.

This, and the relentless interconnections between stories, create the really strong illusion that there is this warp and weft of just really terrible stuff happening to almost everyone most of the time. occasionally they meet and interconnect and we only view one particular section of these connections. Like looking at a map through a toilet roll.


The actually-scary (or at least, perturbing) elements of a Fehervari book are rarely at the end, when the actual monsters show up, the horror-movie 'scenes', stuff pulled from cinema (there are actual 'jump scares' in Reqiuiem infernal, which is, its wierd seeing people in a textual medium describe things as they would be seen in a film on the screen, with all the assumed camera movements and furniture but I suppose its as valid as any other aesthetic choice from other generations), and usually by the time of the big fights at the end, the full war-scenes.

When things become explicit in his books, and the horror is actually manifest, that a relief, even if people are dying, because there it is, you can see it

The actually-worrying things;

- Dark Imperial Culture, just pushed a little further into horror than it already was. The Imperiums already fucking dark, but now its a little worse. Like the fanatical teen commissars wearing barbed wire on their hats, with rotten teeth, reading intel from a stained page, the dirty and self-blinded monks with lips sewn shut, the Inquisitors who will literally watch a world die to measure exactly how it happens.

To some extent this is the stuff that would be happening in the Imperium anyway, but we don't see it through the eyes of other writers, but its also just Fehervari.

- The Interpersonal Perturbation - the not knowing.

The small personal resentments echoing through peoples webs of relationship, the micro power structures of small units, the desire for recognition, justification, power, submission, escape, violence.

Because Feheravis stuff is so morally multipolar, and because the cast changes each time, (there are no long-running, marketable 'soap opera' characters who's death is a 'big moment'), it means everyone can die - which matters less for itself than for what it signifies. Everyone can be wrong, and everyone IS wrong, probably, or deluded in some way.

The complexity, disposability and variety of the cast allows him to create situations which are a hair more like real life, in which many people are operating on subtly different perceptions and different assumptions and in which no-one is absolutely wrong in a highly dramatic way.

In a shorter more intense story, people will by necessity operate across a simpler moral axis, it'll be based around a single decision.

"Do we kill fluffy in the plane crash?"

And the argument, whether its verbal or physical, will play out more like a debate than an actual real life disagreement. Its either good or bad to kill fluffy, or  its necessary, but then at the end you say "yes we killed fluffy, but *at what cost*. So the axis is mainly good, but a bit bad

Or "yes we were terrible in killing fluffy, but wasn't it in a way understandable?", so mainly bad but a bit good.

But the same axis. And this is really largely a necessity in many kinds of story

Here you have something more like a weird soap opera where everyone is slightly mental because of slightly different things, and where everyone is super intense, but about different stuff, and deluded or mistaken, often for quite reasonable reasons, but about different things.

Everything is a lie in the Dark Coil, but its not one large central lie, like a schizo fantasy where you pull back the curtain and behind the lie is a TERRIBLE TRUTH. Its ALL a lie. Even the demons, when they turn up, are deluded, and even they don't really know how things are going to go, even though they live outside time.

But to bring it back to my main point, the complex texture of slightly dark and partially deluded interpersonal relationships, and Fehervari hopping around from head to head, means its like being at a party where you know half the people and it feels like they are talking about you behind your back. Not just for the characters, but for the reader as well. Uncertainly. Fear.

- The Time Loops

God fucking damn it did I become the demonic monster which I was chasing- AGAIN??

Like the baddy I met at the beginning of the book was actually me at the end of of the book, just really fucked up from all the shit I did during the book, which was all motivated by my encounter with the main baddy at the beginning? who was actually me? aaahh fuckin' chaos! >shakes fist at sky<

If you are in a Feheravi book and you have what feels like an 'inciting incident' with something alien, demonic, dreamlike or strange, very quickly ask them to take off the mask, or have a walk around or good look at them because there's a 1 in 4 chance its you from the future, shadow-you, you from a forgotten past or some other version of you.

time loooooops!!

- the Reality Shifts/Memory Shifts

This is some Descartes nightmare fuel.

Did your memory just change, like when you remember your mother was that really your mother? Do you feel like something shifted inside your head but can't recall what it was, and now even the recollection of the change itself is fading, leaving only a sense of wrongness like a bruise you got while blacked out drunk?

Did you just change your mind about an important topic? Like maybe you like ketchup now when you didn't before? Was it you - OR DID YOU GET ABSORBED BY AN ALIEN HIVE MIND?

hey if Weird Forces can just change reality like that why don't they just change it so they already won?

> powers strong but not infinite?
> feeding off the moral decay better than winning?
> not really interested in you specifically
> just kinda dinguses
> they already did and this is that reality you are living through
> complex time reasons
> they themselves are deluded and wrong, even though they have terrifying power over *you* <<<<<<<[its this one]

The horror of the reality shifts reminds me a lot of waking up hungover after being really drunk and/or really high. this feeling of formless shame, as if I did something terrible, or failed morally in some way but can't remember it, that there is something terribly wrong somewhere, and I don't want to think about it and my thoughts shrink from it as if from a blow, but even if I do think about it - only darkness responds.

Memory! Its just clay really isn't it?

- The *relatively* subtle psychology of chaos corruption

Its not always this basic but a pretty common bit in a warhammer book is someone either going TOO FAR

as in;

Do we need to explode that planet of puppies?

YES because CHAOS!

You fought CHAOS but in doing so you went TOO FAR, which means you get corrupted by CHAOS

Or them just being a flake who probably would have bought weed from the guys in the bike sheds at school anyway.


One or both of those is true and then at some point a demon literally physically turns up and just pulls a straight up Faust;

"hey hey hey mortal, you seem pretty corrupt, how do you feel about Hentai/ RAAAAGE/ Antidepressants/ NoClipMode?"

Then the mortal is either "no" - in which the demon goes "ha ha ha, we'll getcha next time!!"

or "yea", in which case here are your spikes and gothic tailoring

Corruption in Fehvari is not totally different, but much better done. Its really impossible to seperate actual Kaos from just the slow mental collapse that everyone is already dealing with. Everyone is just quietly falling apart, deluded, and deluding, facing impossible pressures and dark choices.

In large or small, minor or major ways, their enemy is themselves and the texture of reality. It is chaos not like a lure, except at the end but like a kind of gravity, as if reality is on a moral tilt and all any of it can do, human, transhuman, alien or even demon, is just sloooowly tumble.

In Requiem Infernal one character defies the shit out of Nurgle even to the point of death (though the Chaos gods themselves are never named), and they do die, still defying chaos, and then dead, chaos still has their soul, and still tortures and torments them because even death was not an escape, the suffering truly was infinite. And then they break.

There really is no bus is what I'm saying.


Toyetic is the wrong word, because it already has a precise meaning, but also the RIGHT word, because....

Main thing here is the really strange contrast between;

- scenes from sci fi/horror/war movies
- exacting descriptions of toy lines

This stuff isn't *bad* but its an interesting dissonance.

So there's a bunch of different warhammer books; Listening to Guy Haley Pharos right now on audible. this is a relatively 'light' fun read with some strong and lively character work good situation building and where the somewhat gauche elements are balanced by the good parts, and here (which also has a standard 40k 'faust' scene) the bits that are a bit like movies or which have detailed descriptions of the toy line or 'references' to pop culture (actually I always think the references are bad in any 40k book Graham mcNeill I'm looking at you), but these things don't really stand out as different or odd as they match the tone of the story being told

And there's your 'gourmet burger' 40k authors, where, yes we are doing proper drama now *actually,* where if there are references in a Dan Abnett book they are probably to specific sit rep reports he read about a battle, and with Aron Demski Bowden its probably to some social justice thing. But if you asked ADB to put in a reference to, say, a marvel movie, in his books, all you would see was the whoosh of his cape as he exited the audience room in High Disdain. (the correct response).

But in Feheravris work, well, 'Fire Caste' is a LOT like Apocalypse Now, and also a lot like Aguirre-wrath of god by Herzog, and I think has references to both of those

Spiral Dawn is a LOT like Aliens.

And in all of his books, the toy line, which in this imagined world is actually the military equipment and uniforms etc, is exquisitely detailed, often down to the exact model he's picking out. So the Genestealer Cult General in Spiral Dawn is armed exactly as the model is, and the cult wear exactly the same clothes as the models do.

Its not bad, its just very strange, because in the main thing he's interested in, and the thing he's really good at; the spiritual, entropic and nightmarish structure of reality itself, Ferhravi is top-tier, really unique and really expressive in how that comes together. And then here's your exact toy line. So its a bit like watching a Herzog film in which the characters are replaced by the Cartoons from Masters of the Universe but they are still doing all the same Herzogian stuff.


I guess the only correct way to end a review of a Fehervai book is with a link to a continuation, which is also a review of this review, which is itself different, yet somehow the same, and which links you to another review of that review, which links you back here, so there is NO ESCAPE FROM THE DARK REVIEW COIL

So if anyone actually want to do that, let me know and I will link it in.

Stuff I didn't cover is the visceral, grimy upsettingness of the world-texture, BIG SCENES at the end with SUPER BATTLES, and who knows what else?