Thursday, April 27, 2023

Forward to the Past

Last week things kind of came to a head.

My questing buddy suggested that we run a few Heroic Wrath Classic dungeons on her Warlock, and I agreed. I had hardly played a Mage in a couple of months*, so I grouped up with Linnawyn instead.

Then the fun began.

My questing buddy began fielding queries, complete with GearScore, and ALL of them asking "H+?"

"No, just Heroic."


This went on for quite a few minutes, and finally my questing buddy got disgusted and grumbled "At times like this I really hate this game."

I figured the grouping was going to be a lost cause, because H+ was all anybody ever seemed to care about --and don't give me any bullshit about how "there's plenty of people who will want to run normal heroics" because my experience has been exactly what we found that night**-- so I made a radical suggestion.

"How about we roll up some characters on WoW Classic instead?"

"You mean Classic Era?"


There wasn't even a moment's hesitation. "Sure!"

She delisted us and we immediately began discussing what server to try. I was the only one of the two of us to have copied our toons from original Classic, and I knew that the cluster of servers those toons were on were fairly dead, so I was open to trying other locales. That night we initially tried Bloodsail Buccaneers-US, which had a listing of "Full", but we quickly discovered that the RP server is the current home of the Hardcore Challenge for the Alliance side. When you have a line of 6+ people deep to kill the boss in Northshire Abbey starting zone at lunchtime, you've got a population problem. 

So the next evening we abandoned Bloodsail Buccaneers and tried the server cluster that Pagle-US is part of. 

We quickly discovered that this server cluster was more to our liking. The crowds weren't overwhelming, people weren't stealing each other's mobs, and we relaxed.

"We're off on the road to Darnassus..."
(Please tell me someone recognizes that line.)

The Gen Chat was relaxed in both the Night Elf starting area as well as the Human starting area, and it also had a dearth of people selling boosts and other assorted meta behaviors.

The second night on the Pagle cluster, we got into a group to run the Ban'ethil Barrow Den in Teldrassil, which is notorious for being hard to handle due to the respawn rates of the mobs inside the packed area. 

This is like the beginning of a joke:
"Three Hunters and a Rogue walk into a bar..."

Much hilarity and fun was had.

The next day, my questing buddy had a proposition for me: would I like to run to Mulgore with her? She wanted to get a chance for her Hunter to tame a lion there named The Rake, and she figured I'd like to tag along. I quickly calculated the path we were likely to take, as low level toons (around L10 or so), and replied, "We're going to die a lot."

"It'll be fun!"

"Then count me in!" I never let a little thing like death get in the way of seeing the wide world of Azeroth.

So we took the ship from Teldrassil to Darkshore, 

You know, I think we can do that.
Blizz got rid of that quirk in Wrath Classic.

ran the length of Darkshore to Ashenvale,

took the Talondeep Path through to the Stonetalon Mountains,

We died almost immediately after
this screenshot.

died a bit on the way, but we finally escaped Stonetalon and into the Barrens.

Who knew the landscape could be this beautiful?
All that's missing is a voiceover saying
"Welcome to Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom!"

"I hate what they did to the Barrens in Cataclysm," my questing buddy said.

We eventually did make it to Mulgore after dying a lot more, but alas I missed taking screenshots as proof. Still, it was an adventure made more real because we had to put in real effort to make it there. I mean, if this were Wrath Classic we'd likely have waited until we got to L20 and got riding, which would have made this jaunt a lot easier. Indeed, in Wrath Classic everything at the lower levels comes easier, but we'd have not likely gotten the satisfaction of making it through to Mulgore if it would have been so easy.

I will say that Shintar is correct in her assertion that the leveling cadence in Classic Era just feels right; you're not leveling so fast that you're choked by the lack of coin on you (Season of Mastery), or that you're plowing through content so quickly courtesy of heirloom gear and whatnot that you lose sight of all of the world around you (Wrath Classic). You're also not getting major rewards so early --such as riding-- that you forget how important of a step it is. 

"OMGosh! Bloodvine is important again!" my questing buddy gushed.

"And I can make my own poisons once more," I added, which earned a laugh. "Hey now, I missed that connection to being a Rogue. It's part of why I chose Alchemy on Az!"

"When was the last time we saw both Onyxia and Nefarian heads hanging in Stormwind?" My questing buddy mused.

And then I went and just had to do this:

"Lady Prestor is back!"

"What did you do??"

"I, uh, hugged Lady Prestor."

(Do you know how long it took for me
to wait for the throne room to clear
out for this screenshot? Better you not know...)

"Oh, the Windsor questline is back too!!"

"And no more Varian!"


The past few days, even the Pagle cluster has been so busy in these lower level zones that we've resorted to heading off and doing other things while we waited for people to split so we could quest a bit longer. Travelling to Darkshire for the flight point there or cutting across a zone that have enemies that will still aggro on you to gather mining nodes ("I'm NOT addicted!" my questing buddy insisted) are just a few of the things we got into trouble with in Classic Era.

It's a very weird feeling, seeing these zones so active when they were so totally dead from, say, mid-2020 onward, but this is a level of activity that is entirely organic. Blizzard did not directly create this demand by doing anything, this has been players coming back to Era on their own. I suppose you could argue that Blizzard did this by providing the greater Classic community what they wanted in Wrath Classic, but I'm not quite sure. After all, people did leave WoW entirely for other MMOs (such as Final Fantasy XIV) during Shadowlands' run in Retail, and the WoW Classic community has been embracing the meta for so long that people have simply just stopped playing. I know of a dozen people who stopped because they didn't like what TBC and Wrath Classic became; they never even bothered with Classic Era. But here we are, and Era is experiencing this renaissance in activity.

Will it last? I don't know. I don't even know if my questing buddy and I will continue to play Era in the long run, but there is hope that we will. We've already begun talking about potentially joining a guild that is going to experience leveling and raiding content as if we were all new to the game, and there is no shortage of guilds that are advertising exactly that. We can afford to be choosy, because we've been there before, and we know what we're getting into.

*I'd prepped Neve for a transfer off of Myzrael-US to Old Blanchy-US, and I wasn't inclined to do anything with her in the interim. Cardwyn... Well, Cardwyn I've hardly touched at all since the raid team broke up except to tailor a few bags here and there. And those few times I did get on I got whispered by some people in the now defunct raid team, asking how I've been and what raids I've been on. I'm polite enough, but I'm really not interested in hearing about all the raiding they've been on and all the loot they've gotten. In that respect I'm like our Bear tank on the raid team, who left WoW entirely when the raid fell apart. He'd committed a lot of effort to making that raid work, and then.... pffft.

**And if you listen to Trade/LFG chat or the Blizzard forums you'll hear people say "Oh, there's plenty of people who will run normal Heroics," but if that's the case, where the hell are they? I simply am not buying what people are selling, because as Folding Ideas put it, "We brought the bug back with us."

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

What on Earth is Red Reading This Time: Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City

There are times when your past catches up to you in unexpected ways. 

A few years ago* my wife and I were perusing our local bookstore when I came across a title that stopped me dead in my tracks. I pulled out the book from the shelf and stared at the cover for a hot minute. 

"It couldn't be."

I flipped the pages until I found the "About the Author", read it, and sucked in my breath.

"Wow. It IS him."

My wife saw the look on my face and came over. "What is it?"

I held up the book and pointed at the author.

"Holy shit."


It was her ex-boyfriend. The boyfriend immediately before me.

"Do you want to buy it?" I asked with a mischievous grin.

The look she gave me could have curdled milk.

I was reminded of that story when I read Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City, by K.J. Parker. It's not because I knew the author or anything, but I certainly did know the protagonist. Or rather, I knew of him.

It was sunny outside, but clouds
and gloom rolled in this afternoon.
Hence the off color to the photo.

The protagonist of the story, Orhan, is an outsider who had risen through the ranks of the army to reach the title of Colonel of Engineers of an Empire which was heavily based on the Roman and/or Byzantium Empire. Orhan was a member of a tribe that have been uncharitably called "milkfaces", which pretty much loosely identifies him with the Germanic tribes. And he kind of gets roped into leading the defense of, well, Constantinople. I say Constantinople rather than an equivalent to Rome because the two main factions within the city are Blues and Greens, which do have a historical precedent in the Byzantine Empire itself. (Seriously. And no, I'm not channeling old episodes of The Tomorrow People.) 

Orhan himself, however... Well, I have met people exactly like him in the past. In college.

It's not that he's snarky or has an issue with authority, because a lot of people I knew in college were both. In fact, that was part of the appeal from the back blurb, that Orhan has those traits. But Orhan also has one thing in spades, that when combined with the others, just really give me flashbacks to a couple of people I knew in college: arrogance.


I suppose you could argue that a person has to be confident in their abilities if they rise to being a Colonel of Engineers, particularly if they are an outsider. But I will counter that there's a big difference between confidence and arrogance, and Orhan may profess the former but adheres to the latter. 

The novel reads like a "how I did it" story, in which Orhan either did something himself, directed people in how to do something, or he happened to know the exact perfect person to do something he wanted done. 

A screencap from Young Frankenstein;
no idea who did the initial screencap.

The first couple of times I kind of ran with it, but as the coincidences kept piling up I began to question the story itself. I mean, I know that it's possible that in a large city the right people might be out there, but that Orhan happened to know exactly the right person for each conundrum became less and less likely as the novel progressed. Likewise, that Orhan happened to have exactly the correct amount of foresight and the corresponding strategy ready to defeat what was thrown against him became more and more eyebrow raising the deeper into the novel I went. 

It was then when I began to wonder whether I was missing the point of the novel, and if this was actually a commentary on Fantasy novels that seem to have the protagonist pull everything out of a hat by the end. Well, that's all fine, but those sort of Fantasy novels aren't in that much demand these days compared to the grimdark aspect of Fantasy, so I kind of set that analysis aside. Then I began to wonder if the author was using Fantasy as a commentary about real history, given the obvious parallels with the Roman/Byzantine Empire and the Germanic invasions that brought about its fall. I couldn't quite disprove this angle, as I couldn't disprove the concept of the novel being satire --ala Gulliver's Travels-- but for some reason I didn't really get satire vibes that much. 

One thing is certain: the novel is certainly well written, and the author did keep the pages turning. The story itself is quite good, and outside of some issues with the plot --such as how Orhan kind of falls into "relationships" with women, which kind of oozes "privileged" and Marty Stu-- and the characterizations of the various races Robur (Romans/Byzantines) are darker skinned, and the oppressed barbarians are all light skinned (aka "milkfaces"), I wanted to see how the story ended. So kudos to K.J. Parker for that.

But K.J. Parker is not K.J. Parker.

K.J. Parker is a pseudonym for novelist Tom Holt

"Well," I mused, "that explains a lot."

A listing of Tom's quotes from Goodreads establishes the humor behind his pen, and through those I could see exactly where Orhan got his voice. 

Orhan has the voice of someone who is so confident in their intelligence and wit that they can't help but share it with you all the freaking time. It's fine to have that wit and to make occasional commentary with it, but when you spend all of your time trying to prove how witty you are, you tend to turn people off. And with those people I knew in college, they are interesting to talk to in small bites, but if you lived with them or were in a class with them, all we got was a steady stream of said witticisms.** After a while you just want them to give it a rest, already. I mean, I'm not a killjoy, and I do have my own snark (I mean, have you read this blog?), but there comes a point where the overall effect of the steady stream of witticisms is diminished by their sheer volume. 

Then again, this might be a question of pacing for Fantasy versus some other genres. I didn't have much of a problem with Robert Lynn Asprin's Myth Adventure series, but after about Book 5 or so the humor started to wear a bit thin.***

So if you don't mind the steady stream of snark and witticisms, and that Orhan's inner voice has an answer for just about everything, this book might be for you. For me, it was uncomfortably close to a few people I knew in college so I couldn't disassociate the novel from my experiences with them, which were not uniformly happy ones.


But oh, there is one thing of note: this is a Fantasy novel without, well, Fantasy.

It's a work of fiction to be certain, and the countries and personnel are completely made up, but there is absolutely no magic or fantastical dealings of any kind. This leads me to one big question: why is this book a Fantasy if the only thing "fantastical" about it is that the countries and people are made up? People don't stick the aforementioned Gulliver's Travels in Fantasy, and neither do they put 1984, The Handmaid's Tale, or The DaVinci Code in Fantasy either. But for some reason, Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City is shoehorned into the Fantasy genre.

So... What makes a Fantasy novel a Fantasy?

Now THAT is a question that begs a good discussion. Preferably over a drink (your choice) with some food. At a bar or a coffee shop (again, your choice).

I'm open to suggestions, given that someone had to have had an idea that this story belonged in the Fantasy genre, so let's hear them. Obviously a fictional city or society wouldn't count, or a lot of "General Fiction" suddenly lumped into Fantasy, and the tension in the novel doesn't mean that it suddenly has turned into a Thriller, so why Fantasy? Anybody got any ideas?

Regardless, I think I'm going to take a pass on the other two novels in the "series". I put the "series" in quotes because I've discovered that each successive novel isn't built upon the others in the same way that you'd expect a series to be, and from what I've read the tone of each novel is pretty much the same as the others: if you've read the first one you know what to expect with the next two. In that respect, they're a lot like a David Eddings series: if you read The Belgariad, you already know the plot (and to a lesser extent the characters) of The Malloreon, or The Elenium, etc. That doesn't make the story bad by any stretch, it's just that you pretty much know what you're getting. And for the personal flashbacks that this story gave me, I think I'll pass this time around. Maybe with some time and distance I'll come back to the second novel in the series, How to Rule an Empire and Get Away with It.


**I had an English seminar with a professor who basically lived by spouting off all sorts of quotes and observations from a variety of upper class and/or noble people to the point where I often wondered if he were a Royalist at heart. I remember once making a comment about Tolkien in his class, and I discovered very quickly that said professor did NOT like J.R.R. Tolkien or his works. I believe the words "juvenile trash" were thrown around more than once in his acerbic reply to my brief comment. And this was coming from a guy who --while he adored the modern novel (Ulysses and Mrs. Dalloway and others of that ilk)-- binged on Romance novels whenever he could. "The trashier the better," he frequently said.

***Ye gods, that series went on for how long? Yikes.

Monday, April 24, 2023

Meme Monday: Spring Memes

Spring has sprung! Well, on the northern hemisphere at any rate it has, the frost warnings and surprise snowfalls notwithstanding.

So in honor of Spring, here's some Spring-y memes....

Oh yes, I can agree with this.
From someecards.

I have had teachers do this to me when
I was a kid. This hurts, like pouring salt
in a wound. From Reddit.

That's just like today!

And for those who have a bone to pick with the ol' Groundhog who predicted an early Spring...

From all over the net. Really.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Upon Further Review

I suppose I ought to explain a few things concerning my sudden interest in posting about books, and no, it has nothing directly to do with my own attempts at fiction.* 

Several months ago, a long-time blogger friend of mine put out a request for beta readers of a novel she was completing. Given that I’d long been an admirer of her artistic endeavors, I raised my hand and volunteered. “Why not,” I figured, since I was very curious about how her writing had been progressing.

A month or two later a PDF file was sent to me, and that meant I had to buckle down and get to work. Still, it was the holidays, and I’d already committed to installing some office furniture in the dining room of the house, effectively turning it into the home office we’d been using it as for over a decade.** So when I finally sat down to begin reading, I wasn’t sure if I had the time commitment to finish reading the novel to make any review useful. 

I guess I need not have worried, because once I got into the groove of reading, my usual issues with being sucked into a story reared their head and I found myself staying up far past 3 AM multiple nights. It got so bad that I would start reading during some particularly boring meetings at work. I have read books that I’ve simply had to give up because there was no drive to continue with the story, so kudos to my friend for writing an engaging novel. 

Oh crap, I hope I didn't look like
THAT. From Ranker.

When I finished, I sat back and said to myself “What now?”

I knew I should write up my thoughts and send them off to her, but I did ask several questions during a chat session we had after I reached the ending. I think I can count the number of romance novels I’ve read on one hand (two hands if you count Sharon Shinn, whose novels straddle the line between Fantasy and Romance), so I had questions about the genre, the word choices, some of the tropes I noticed, and how some parts of the novel fit together. She is currently well on her way toward finishing the second novel featuring the same characters, so I’m glad she’s continuing to write in the same world.***

Still, there was the nagging hole in my free time that only fiction could fill. 

Alcohol and reading books generally
don't mix well. Don't ask how I know
that one. From Imgflip.

I glanced over my long standing “to be read” pile, which had grown into a fairly large collection over the past decade, and poked at it for a while, wondering what to do. I eventually settled on The Chronicles of the Black Company rather than finish a series or two I’d started years ago as I would likely have to start over for those, and that can be a bit daunting. 

I’ve since reread my post on The Black Company, and one thing I noted was that while I tried to explain away my liking of the omnibus trilogy, the post itself was rather bland. I don’t think that I was intentionally avoiding taking a hard stand in either direction, because I realize that different people like different things about a book review, but watching the brouhaha over the Wired profile of Brandon Sanderson I realized that I was being the anti-rabble rouser. It’s not as if I have any grand, incisive commentary on the prose or the story, but even if I did I would have never have written my review in the same fashion that the author of the Wired article did. 

TL;DR: I don’t believe in being a dick.


"Card, you're too nice," is what a guildie once told me when I passed on gear I needed but that other people could use in the raid. He wasn’t wrong, because I don’t believe that being an asshole helps much in the long run. That doesn’t mean I don’t get angry or inveigh against the gods from time to time –and I am a tower of fury when that happens—but I recognize that being in a constant state of anger is unhelpful. 

Which is also why I dislike certain aspects of the media –and social media—that rely upon raw emotional reactions to drive popularity. 

I have caught myself being angry at something I’ve seen on television or social media and only a while later I’ve gone back and discovered that the news article (or whatever) was carefully crafted to generate such a reaction out of me, or more importantly, people with my background. And that in turn has generated even more anger, but this time against those who performed the manipulation. Because of that, I’ve oriented my posts in PC to be less confrontational than they could be. There’s always a little devil sitting on my shoulder, telling me that if I was a bit louder, more arrogant, or more combative I’d see more traffic on the blog. And perched on the other shoulder is a little angel musing “You know, you could be a bit more assertive…”

“You’re not helping,” I tell her quite frequently.

“Still, in the end it’s who you want to associate with,” she presses on, ignoring my commentary. “Do you want to be with assholes, or with people you like?”

And I know the answer to that one. 

Yes, they are modeled after
The Devil's Panties. If you haven't
read this webcomic yet, GO!

So in the end, I'm going to stick to my guns and not be an asshole about these reviews. That doesn't mean I'm not going to be critical when I feel the need for it, but I can separate being critical from being a jerk.

And maybe after some months of reading I'll be able to slow down a bit and not read so voraciously. (I hope.)

*Back in high school, my guidance counselor would constantly hound me to read as much as I could, because he believed strongly that reading –any reading—would prepare me for college. He wasn’t picky about what I read, unlike my dad; he only cared that I was reading. My AP English teacher encouraged reading as well because he felt it would improve my writing. So, while I do realize that reading would improve my writing, that was only of secondary concern to why I’m reading more fiction than I have before. And stumbling on my high school journal entries a few months ago while cleaning, I can only say that my writing certainly needed all the help it could get. I was not a wunderkind like Christopher Paolini, for certain.

**It also meant my wife wasn’t spreading her papers all over the house and she finally had a space of her own. We had been using a dining room table we received as a hand-me-down from her sister for my desk, and a hodge-podge of 25-year-old pre-fab desks and microwave carts to hold everything.

***I even borrowed the name of something in the story for a baby Tauren Hunter I have on a Wrath Classic server, so I hope that imitation is surely the most sincere form of flattery.

Monday, April 17, 2023

Meme Monday: Dragon Memes

...or is that draggin' memes? It is a Monday after all...

But I digress. That rather famous "other half" of D&D is here to represent!

If only I didn't work from home...
From imgflip.

I always wondered...

I'm glad I'm not Carl.
From a lot of Pinterest pages.
I'd really like to know who
made this so I can give credit.

From lotromemes.

Sunday, April 16, 2023

The Past Casts a Long Shadow

I had the afternoon to myself*, so I did what I typically do on a Sunday when I have an itch to explore and the weather is lousy for hiking: I visited a bookstore.

After having finished The Chronicles of the Black Company, I was looking at replacing it in my "to be read" pile with another book, but I was more interested in chasing down a diabetic cookbook that I could use. I know how to break down existing recipes and eliminate sodium and carbs at least decently well these days, but it is also nice to occasionally find a cookbook where that groundwork has already been done for you, such as this one from America's Test Kitchen, the Consumer Reports of Cooking.**

The nice part about perusing a bookstore is that you never know what you're going to end up with when you walk in the door. Sure, you could stick to exactly what you're looking for --and when I've got things to do I will do just that-- but if I'm browsing all bets are off.

I know, I should check out Naomi's
His Majesty's Dragon, but I'm not a big
fan of alternate history. Although the premise,
a mashup of the Napoleonic Wars and
Dragons, does sound interesting.

At some point I found myself over at the magazine racks, perusing so-called "bookazines",

Like oh, say, THIS.
Although to be fair, I'm pretty
sure that Larry Elmore isn't gonna
lose any sleep on my interest in painting.

which seem to be books in the form of single issue magazines, when I found myself kind of crowded out by a family who didn't seem to notice me there. I mean, I'm not a small guy, and I was there at least a few minutes before they were, but I suddenly found myself crowded out by them. Rather than bitch about it, I just decided to relocate for 5 minutes or so and then come on back to finish my browsing.

When I did I found that the family had indeed moved about 10-15 feet away, but they were in the middle of a knock down drag out argument. Well, as much of one that could be had in a bookstore.***

"THAT is not a book!" 

"You want me to spend my hard earned dollars on THAT?"

"A book has paragraphs in it! Not THAT!"

"Are you really going to read THAT??!!"

Yes, those were the parents. 

I couldn't see what the book in question was, but it wouldn't have shocked me if the kid --my guess she would have been early teens, but you never know-- had found the graphic novel/comics section and pulled out something from there. 

Even then, I felt for her, because I lived that same argument 40 years ago. Many times.


The first time was back when I was in Second Grade, and my mom took my brother and I downtown and we stopped at a bookstore there. We were each allowed to get one book, and I chose a book on primary colors and my brother chose a book about cats. When my dad got home that evening, he saw the books and threw them away, saying they were "kiddie books" and "you're too old for books like these". 

Yes, there was drama, in no small part from my trying to explain to my mom and brother --who was bawling his eyes out-- that dad had said "kiddie books" and not "kitty books". 

Several years later, in the midst of some of the worst bullying I received in middle school, I buried myself in The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. It was a way of coping, losing myself in the books and loving the narrative voice. Then one Sunday afternoon when I was sick and rereading The Fellowship of the Ring once again, my dad came in and told me that if I didn't stop reading those books and "read something else", he'd take them away.**** I believe the words "rot your brain" and "something for grownups" were in that tirade somewhere, but all I saw was red.

I fumed for several days, but eventually I moved on to Terry Brooks' The Sword of Shannara and I discovered David Eddings' The Belgariad, likely to my dad's chagrin. 

This was the book cover I knew
back in the day. From Goodreads.


But from my own experience I vowed I would not be that parent to my own kids.

When my oldest was in the middle of her "princess craze", when every book she ever read just absolutely had to have a princess in it or she wouldn't read it*****, I took her downtown and we perused the absolutely gigantic children's section of the downtown library. 

The Secret Garden, found in the secret
garden adjoining the Children's Section
of the Cincinnati Downtown Library.
From the Library's Flickr account.

We went through a lot of books, and I had absolutely no luck in getting her to try another book without a princess in it, until I stumbled upon this:

No, this is not the library's copy.

"Does it have a princess in it?" my oldest asked, curiously.

The fact she didn't reject it outright was a good sign, so I quickly flipped through the book and said "there's a noble lady in it, is that close enough?"

"Hmm... okay."

I rejoiced when her back was turned and we checked the book out (with a bunch of princess books, because you knew that was gonna happen). Later that night I read the book to her, and then she asked for it again the next night. And then for the next month she would get out her watercolors and scrap paper and "make a book" in the same style as Marguerite did.

And that was that.


So yeah, I saw the drama this afternoon and really did I feel for the kid. Yeah kid, I know what you're going through; just remember this afternoon --and what it felt like for you-- when you've got kids of your own.

*Work kept me fairly close to my home office, otherwise I'd have likely gone with my wife to see my youngest play in a concert this evening. As it was, she went on and is spending the night at her parents' house, using the concert as an excuse to check in on them as they're hitting 90.

**At least that's what I call them. Consumer Reports, please don't go knocking on my door for a cease and desist; it's a compliment of the highest order.

***I was once at the downtown library branch and someone, about 20 years my senior, came in looking for his kid who hadn't shown up when they were supposed to. He first demanded that the staff call for the kid over the intercom, and when the staff refused he then proceeded to start hollering her name at the top of his lungs: "TRACY!! GET YOUR ASS DOWN HERE!!" They tried to shush him up, but you can imagine how that went over, so he was grabbed by library security and a policeman on duty, and forced over into a corner. I couldn't tell if they put him in handcuffs, but I took that as my cue to leave the building.

****He couldn't throw them out because the books belonged to my mom.

*****This was before her interest in Harry Potter, by the way.

Saturday, April 15, 2023

It's All Filler in the End

Given that for almost a decade I never bothered to update the header to Parallel Context, it feels a bit weird to have people comment whenever it changes.

To be honest, I'd really like to have a series of headers that are rotated through every time you access PC like what Rav has on her blog Ravalation*, but I also recognize that it's likely a Wordpress plugin that she's using. And Blogger gets less than minimal support from Google anyway, which drives me nuts because if there was even a little bit of support Blogger would be a fantastic platform. Of course, if Google actually did what they usually do they would have pulled the plug after a couple of years when they realized they weren't gonna make a quick buck on the platform, over a decade ago. 

So.... Yay that they're not paying attention to Blogger?

Without a plugin to use I've tried building a GIF that cycles through 3 or 4 screenshots, but if you want something resembling decent quality you have to pay for it. And really work your ass off to get over the learning curve (::cough:: Gimp ::cough::). Besides, I'm not dropping a ton of money on something like Photoshop just to make a few GIFs. 

This would have been one of the pics
I'd have used in that GIF or plug-in.
If nothing else, Guild Wars 2 has some
fantastic graphics. And yes, Mikath
is yet another redheaded bearded guy.


All that's past is prologue, I suppose.

I changed the header of Parallel Context this time around because I wanted to distance myself from Wrath Classic a bit. No, I'm not planning on dropping Wrath Classic, it's that I'd rather see something on the header that brings back fond memories rather than resentfulness. I had to learn that one the hard way by stubbornly sticking to my TBC Classic header cadence just because that was the current phase of the expansion. So this time, since I'm not planning on raiding anymore** I decided to plop in a graphic from a more pleasant memory, Blackwing Lair. Blizzard's Season of Mastery used that graphic when BWL was released, so while it's not from an actual raid the picture still brings back a memory of the time when our best Mage pulled threat on Chromaggus and wiped the raid. We collectively laughed our asses off when that happened, because no more than 5 minutes beforehand the tank had boasted that he wasn't gonna have any problems with threat on ol' Chromag, and one of the Mages proved him wrong in the blink of an eye.

It was also a time before TBC Classic, when the raid split up into two and both doubled down on the hardcore route. Compared to TBC and Wrath Classic, those WoW Classic raids were just, well, fun. 

Feels kind of weird seeing this graphic.
I tried using this as a background for a short
while but it was far too busy. This was even
before my (brief) raiding career.


One thing that I have found is that I still enjoy the Classic leveling dungeons far more than I have a right to. Kind of like how if you're in a group that isn't wearing a ton of heirloom gear*** you can't simply steamroll over the content, you have to work at it. Plus the background to a lot of these Classic dungeons are fantastic, such as the quest lead-ins to The Deadmines or exploring an entire freaking city in Blackrock Depths. Now that I've been around the block more than my share of times, I do find that some of these old leveling instances in MMOs to be the most fun for me, such as Mandalorian Raiders and Athiss in SWTOR, the Garth Agarwen and Great Barrow instance clusters in LOTRO, and The Sanctum of Burning Souls in Age of Conan.

Sith Inquisitors are the Warlocks
(aka Purple Mages) of the SWTOR universe.

Maybe I should stop being so narrow-minded and spice things up a bit with a greater variety of headers from a greater variety of games. And not just MMOs, either...

The inner cover of the old Moldvay
D&D Basic Set. Willingham's artwork still
holds up to this day.

*If you reload her blog you'll see the header pic changes each time. I'm jealous. (Oh, and yes, it's HTTP, not HTTPS. Rav is still around, but hasn't updated the blog in ages.)

**Maybe the occasional Vault of Archavon, because it's pretty simple to do.

***Until I finally reached max level for the first time back in 2009-2010, I used to complain about the unfair advantage that heirloom gear gives a player compared to those without heirloms. I mean, you not only have to be max level to buy them, but you have to have enough badges from running heroic group content at max level to afford them; you can't just walk in and buy them with gold. Then, when you get them, you have a built in advantage of having gear that "levels" in quality with you. Still, a couple of my toons do have heirloom gear because they do make it easier to forget about trying to scrounge for the best gear on several of your item slots while questing out in the field. And this is coming from someone who tends to forget about selecting talents on a talent tree for, oh, five levels' worth of talents at a time.

EtA: Corrected some grammar.

Monday, April 10, 2023

Meme Monday: ::wink wink:: Memes

I know, I've used the title "Naughty Memes" before, but that was in reference to Naughty or Nice for Santa Claus for Christmas. And yes, I've done "Love Memes", but this is... ::wink wink::

Thanks for that, Agnes.


We're all adults here, right? Or at least acquainted with horniness, whether we're teenagers, college kids, or older. I've been sitting on these for quite a while now, but since Easter just passed, and this would have been the time for ancient fertility rites and festivals, why not have a ::wink wink:: Meme Monday?

"I don't get it. Your names are Buzz and
Woo-- ...ohhhh..."

For my wife this is very much a thing.
The first part, not the WoW part. Since
I had no sisters and I didn't date a lot
of girls, I have no idea how accurate this is,
but "getting the @#$%-ing bra off" is
a priority after work. Just sayin'.
From LyraFTW on Facebook.

Oh, the poor player. I would have
said that by accident.
From Munkythetroll.

Well, to be perfectly honest...
I mean, even I know that and I didn't
even watch Game of Thrones.
From Tumblr.

And two bonus ::wink wink:: memes...

Pretty much this. "We all make that
face during sex when we look like Shemp
when he needed cheese." --Dennis Miller
(back when he was good.)
From Kismetsgamerpublishing.

From dndmemes Facebook group.

Thursday, April 6, 2023

What on Earth is Red Reading This Time: The Chronicles of the Black Company

As I've mentioned more than once in this blog I'm not a fan of the grimdark direction Fantasy and Science Fiction has gone in the past couple of decades. My quotable quote on the emphasis on personal suffering by the protagonist and a high body count among the supporting cast has been "If I want that out of a story, I'll watch the news."

So why did I find The Chronicles of the Black Company by Glen Cook so interesting?

The Chronicles contains the
first three books in the series.
Official pic is from Amazon because
I was lazy and didn't want to take a
pic of the book myself.

That I'll never know for sure, but I think some of it has to do with Glen Cook's writing style. He writes in a sparse style of prose that suggests a background in newspaper reporting, but from what I can tell he hasn't any training in that area. Glen's writing style does evoke a bit of Stephen King --who did have some experience as a newspaper reporter in his youth*-- and Fritz Leiber, whose Fafhrd and Gray Mouser short stories did influence him.**

Another reason why I guess I feel comfortable with these books is because of the very nature of the story itself. The Black Company is a mercenary company in a similar vein to the Free Companies of the Medieval and Renaissance eras; they are professional soldiers who accept a contract and follow it loyally, despite any misgivings they personally have. The Black Company is likely a bit more professional in stance and loyalty to a contract than historical Free Companies, but that professionalism is rooted in Glen Cook's own experience with the navy in the Vietnam war era. (Yes, Glen is a few years older than my mom.) I suppose you could also argue that his experience working at a General Motors assembly plant has an influence as well, where you do your job even if it's not the most mentally stimulating thing out there.

I'm not giving away any spoilers here when I say that the Black Company accept a contract that turns out to be held by the big stereotypical "evil empire" of this fantasy world. The members of the Company don't like it, but they honor their contract. I suppose you could call the series grimdark because of the nature of that internal conflict, but the Company's moral quandry is lessened quite a bit because the "rebels" they frequently fight against are little better than the "evil empire" itself. This isn't a matter of the rebels going down to the level of the Empire to survive, but rather the rebels are almost trying to outdo the Empire in morally reprehensible behavior. 

In this world, which evokes a lot of the Sword and Sorcery subgenre, the members of the Company are loyal to each other and to the contract, which keeps them together as a unit. 

I led him back to the fire and settled beside him. "What's the matter? What happened?" I glimpsed the Captain from the corner of my eye. One-Eye stood before him, drained by a heavy-duty dressing down.

"I don't know, Croaker." Goblin slumped, stared into the fire. "Suddenly everything was too much. This ambush tonight. Same old thing. There's always another province, always more Rebels. They breed like maggots in a cowpie. I'm getting older and older, and I haven't done anything to make a better world. In fact, if you backed off to look at it, we've all made it worse." He shook his head. "That isn't right. Not what I want to say. But I don't know how to say it any better."

"Must be an epidemic."


"Nothing. Thinking out loud." Elmo. Myself. Goblin. A lot of the men, judging by their tenor lately. Something was wrong in the Black Company. I had suspicions, but wasn't ready to analyze. Too depressing.

             --From The Chronicles of the Black Company, Shadows Linger, by Glen Cook. pp 244-5

Yes, people do die in the books, but in a mercenary unit it's established up front as fact of life. There's no excessive body count for drama or gravitas, and the members of the Company basically try to keep themselves as far away from politics as possible. Well, that doesn't exactly happen, but they do try.

The protagonist in the story is Croaker --not his real name, but the one he enlisted with in the Company-- who is the Physician and Annalist of the Company. If you remember your Top Gun, everybody has their own "name" or handle within the group: One-Eye, Silent, Goblin, Elmo, Raven, Otto. I always wondered if that aspect of Top Gun was the most fake, but apparently that's not the case. At the same time, the names in The Black Company are more accurate than what you find in Top Gun because they're more ironic or snarky or referencing a screw up rather than the dramatic sounding Iceman or Maverick. After all, a physician named Croaker evokes black humor in spades. 


War is war. Fighting is fighting. And The Chronicles of the Black Company don't try to sugarcoat it. The first novel, The Black Company, starts so abruptly without much of a lead-in that you're thrown into the deep end of the pool before you realize what's happening. It took me about 40-50 pages before I kind of caught up with a background as to what I was reading, although people who have performed some military service or grew up in a military household will probably have an easier time of it than I did. The setting may be Sword and Sorcery, but the people evoke a more modern military viewpoint. Not necessarily the official modern military, where author Myke Cole described the modern US military as basically driven by rules, not gung ho fighting. 

Still, in spite of this trilogy being everything I ought to not like in a SF&F series, I did like it. I'm not sure what that says about me, but I guess in the right conditions I enjoy a Dark Fantasy series. Maybe it's because the story is never quite hopeless in scope, unlike some other grimdark stories. Or that Glen Cook doesn't take perverse delight in killing off characters that you cheer for. 

As you may have surmised, The Chronicles of the Black Company leans hard into the Military F&SF subgenre, and I've seen it noted more than once that Glen Cook's books have a cult following among the military. I can certainly see why, but one thing that I did note is that the first three books in the series don't hew toward a political standpoint that some other Military F&SF have (such as John Ringo's Into The Looking Glass or Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers). The focus of the story being on the Company itself and their reactions to the world help tremendously in that regard. Croaker himself is a likeable protagonist who tries to make sense of the bigger picture but recognizes that's of secondary importance when fulfilling your contract and staying alive are of primary importance.

One thing that I did note is that there's a dearth of female characters in the story. Yes, I know, there's The Lady and the White Rose as well as a few others (sorry, spoilers there), but for the vast majority of the novels the fact they are women is almost incidental. The Black Company is pretty much an all-male outfit, but the very nature of The Lady and The White Rose is such that people in the world don't think of women as a weaker sex and that "fighting is man's work". 

The stories were written in the early to mid 80s, and yes it shows. I'm still surprised that I missed these stories when they first came out because there weren't nearly as many SF&F novels released back then as there are now, but I might have dismissed them when the back blurb begins with "Darkness wars with darkness as the hard-bitten men of the Black Company take their pay and do what they must. They bury their doubts with their dead." But I also think it possible I missed these stories because I was busy reading the "classics" from an earlier era: Michael Moorcock's Elric and Corum stories, Robert E. Howard's Conan stories, and the old Grand Masters of SF (Asimov, Clarke, Bradbury, Heinlein). The F&SF of the 70s/80s that I did read were of the Epic Fantasy variety, such as Terry Brooks' Sword of Shannara, Raymond E. Feist's Riftwar Saga, David Eddings' The Belgariad, Dennis McKiernan's Iron Tower Trilogy, and Fred Saberhagen's Book of Swords

Mea culpa on my part, because I think I'd have liked it back then.

Will I pick up the other books in the series? Probably not. I'm happy that the trilogy ended as it did. Sure, there are some loose ends, but I'm comfortable with it as it is. 

*Stephen King, On Writing, pp 55.

**I found this out when I began writing this post, and when I discovered that interview I linked to above I thought "Oh. Of COURSE. That makes sense." It's become more difficult to chase down copies of the Fafhrd and Gray Mouser books, which is a shame. They kind of stood somewhere off to the side in their own snarky little corner away from Tolkien's good and evil epic fantasy and Michael Moorcock's antihero counterpoint, although the stories were closer to Moorcock than Tolkien by far. 

EtA: Grammar corrections.

Monday, April 3, 2023

Meme Monday: Dungeon Master Memes

In honor of the D&D movie --which shocked me by actually being loved by both critics and movie goers*-- I figured I'd post a few memes honoring the (not so) humble DM.

The DM (or GM, your choice) is the leader at the table and facilitates the action. They also are the arbiter of what happens, and in the end their word goes. They also come up with adventures and keep people on track in a "herding cats" kind of way.

In our AD&D 1e campaign, I hope
we don't make the DM facepalm too much.
From Tumblr.

I've had DMs who think like this.
And people wonder where my paranoia
comes from.
From Tumblr and

Ah, genial Bob Ross, whose Joy of Painting
was a secret love of millions of college
aged students back in the 80s.

I've never had a DM actually say "Whoops",
but this is the scenario I think of.
From allthingsdnd.

And one bonus meme for those of us who grew up with Mr. Rodgers:

From litrpgreads.

*Anybody who lived through the disaster that was the original D&D movie back in 2000 would be shocked as well. It was so bad that comparisons to the Star Wars Holiday Special are not totally unwarranted. Based on that movie I was mightily concerned about what would happen to The Fellowship of the Ring when it released a year later in 2001, but thankfully that turned out okay.

EtA: Just a note that my AV software flagged as using a certificate not meant for that site.