Thursday, January 24, 2008

Night Thoughts: Lovecraftian Tarot - Deal or No Deal?

These (somewhat pompously titled) 'Night Thoughts' are brief commentaries, odd musings and inane ramblings - usually written late at night - about whatever Lovecraftian topic takes my fancy. I plan to post these two or three times a week (depending on how the fancy takes me) in addition to a more substantial weekly post.

On this occasion, I have taken as my topic Lovecraftian tarot, of which a number of sets exist. Principally, there are two commercially available decks: one published by Mythos Books which constitutes a monotone/sepia deck (and to my mind the more Lovecraftian of the two), and Donald Tyson's full colour Necronomicon deck published by Llewellyn. This latter deck is more closely tied to Tyson's novels Necronomicon and Alhazred, and deviates somewhat from 'canonical' Lovecraft.

As regular readers of our missives already know, we at Ghooric Zone Central have a long standing fascination with such occult gewgaws. Thus we wasted no time in charging our agents with the task of purloining copies of these strange artifacts. After a careful examination of the cards for evidence of genuine otherworldly power, I was reminded of the observation (which I think was first made by Jason Colavito) that worshipping or otherwise placing one's faith in Lovecraft's Old Ones constitutes a kind of 'cargo cult'. Given that the role of the tarot is to elide some kind of structure or meaning from the seemingly random occurance of events, it strikes me as odd that producers of a Lovecraftian tarot are not in the least dissuaded by the possibility that the Old Ones, in their indifference, would simply have no interest in providing humans with such a useful tool of divination...

Still, the cards do look rather nice on our bookshelf.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Night Thoughts: Post-Lovecraftian Lovecraftian Fiction

Recently, we at the Ghooric Zone have been pondering what shape a post-Lovecraftian Lovecraftian fiction might take. In other words, if we recognise that Lovecraft's 'non-supernatural cosmic art' radically overturned the established themes and tropes of supernatural fiction, what (if anything) could replace push Lovecraftian fiction forward and beyond Lovecraft's original cosmic vision? Is such a thing even conceivable? Did Lovecraft, as Erik Davis suggest, mark the limits of human conceptual boundaries with his fiction? If so, could it be that a post-Lovecraftian Lovecraftisn fiction could only be suggested through the scrawl of a Burroughsian word-salad, or via an inscription of alien sigils perpendicular to reality?

These perverse and impious ruminations aside, a few viable contenders to the post-Lovecraftian Lovecraftian throne spring to mind: Thomas Ligotti, of course. No doubt a worthy successor to the Lovecraftian mantle; though perhaps Ligotti's work strays a little too close to personal horror to fully qualify as 'cosmic' in the way that Lovecraft's best work does. China Mievielle at his best wonderfully evokes the cosmic in new and alien worlds although his work ultimately revolves around a very human politics. Jeffrey Thomas' 'Punktown' novels also merge Lovecraftian themes with the urban decay and inhumanity of far-future cyberpunk: a universe populated by chameleon private dicks and tentacular-eyed alien prostitutes, where Vietnam-like corporate wars are waged across dimensions and the dead communicate through the latest cell-phone technology. However my personal recommendation - and about as far from trad Lovecraftian as you can get - is M. John Harrison. His most recent novels (Light and Nova Swing) come very close to articulating the inconceivable via the fractured physics of an alienated and alienating (almost)posthuman universe.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Coming in 2008

Christmas Cthulhu Cornucopia!

Alas, yet another yawning gulf between posts...
Undaunted by my seeming inability to add something to the blog on a (semi-) regular basis, I'm yet again setting myself the task (New Years resolution!) of trying to produce one post - no matter how brief or banal - per week. To facilitate speed of writing and publication, I've neglected to include links in this post. Sorry, but if you're interested in any of the below it should be easy enough to find via Google.

The Christmas/pre-Christmas season was marked by a dearth of Cthulhoid rpg goodness, including: pre-release copies of Cthulhutech and Trail of Cthulhu (both of which I managed to pick up at Dragonmeet 2007), as well as the long-awaited Delta Green: Eyes Only. In addition, Worlds of Cthulhu issue 5 also appeared just prior to Christmas. In light of which, this first post of 2008 constitutes a brief review of the former three volumes.

Cthulhutech: an interesting Mecha-style take on the Mythos (not as bad as it sounds!). The book is glossy full-cover and looks beautiful - only marred by the cheap print-on-demand style binding. The mythos is dealt with in an interesting (but often 'non-canonical') manner, and although the idea of giant robots taking on Mythos beasts sounds counterintuitive to Lovecraft's original vision, it is dealt with intelligently and is well supported by some of the short fiction found in the volume. Probably something I won't get around to playing. Unless, of course, they were to turn it into a tabletop miniature game...

Trail of Cthulhu: the pre-release version was very nice looking, with some great illustrations and gaming content geared towards an innovative, storytelling style of play. I still have issues with one of the central claims of this book - that it 'fixes' what was 'wrong' with Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu (namely that finding clues is dependent on die rolling, and a bad die roll can blow the game). In my opinion, this is a non-issue and is easily dealt with by thoughtful scenario design(most Keepers worth their salt will ensure that there are multiple routes to clues built into scenarios). I haven't yet had time to fully read and digest the rules, but one problem I noticed with the Esoterrorist rpg (upon which ToC is based) is that it seemed to encourage a kind of railroading when it comes to character creation. Even so, a worthy effort, and worth picking up for Ken Hite's take on the the Mythos alone.

Delta Green: Eyes Only: Of the bunch, the one I was most looking forward to, and the one I was subsequently most disappointed with. I'm avoiding spoilers here for fans of the DG universe so some of the following may seem rather vague. Despite the hype, Delta Green: Eyes Only (published in a limited run of 1,000 copies) didn't quite deliver. The book is essentially a collection of material that didn't make it into the original Delta Green sourcebook. This was put out in a series of three chapbooks in the late 1990s, now collected for the first time in this volume with some additional material. The piecemeal nature of the material shows - particularly in the first section of Eyes Only. Overall, the first half of the book doesn't really seem to add anything substantial to the DG background, and only one major secret concerning a member of the Fate is (kind of) revealed to be pretty much what was hinted at in earlier volumes. The latter half of the book is an improvement (especially the stuff on the Philadelphia experiment), but overall Delta Green: Eyes Only failed to excite despite the anticipation.

That's it for now. Be seeing you!