Monday, April 23, 2018

Tanith Lee's Dark Dance

Episode 21: Tanith Lee, Dark Dance
Bringing the ennui of the Decadents to tried-and-true Gothic themes, Tanith Lee's Dark Dance is a fascinating entry in the 90s horror novel canon. Heroine Rachaela drifts back and forth from her shoddy apartment to her dull retail job until the relatives of the father she never met lure her out to their rambling seaside mansion. Once there, she learns the secrets of the mysterious and sinister Scarabae clan and experiences a shocking sexual awakening that ultimately spells the doom of the family. Jack and Kate enjoy a spooky nostalgia trip by returning to a book that holds up rather well across the decades.

How does the shape of a story change when its heroine is outrageously passive? What taboos are smashed within the pages of this book? Is the real world more monstrous than being part of a family of maybe-vampires? What does Bigfoot have to do with all of this? Find out the answers to all this and more in this month's episode of Bad Books for Bad People.

BBfBP theme song by True Creature
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Friday, April 20, 2018

A Gathering of Megatalent at the Oddities Market

I would be remiss and cruel if I did not inform anyone near the Jersey City or NYC area that three very talented friends will be selling their impossibly wondrous wares at Spring Mourning: Jersey City Oddities market on Saturday, April 21st, from 12-6pm.

Tenebrous Kate, my partner in the Bad Books for Bad People podcast and artist/publisher of the Morbid Fantasies book on Gothic fiction, will be there.

Becky Munich, who did the cover and chapter illustrations in Krevborna: A Gothic Blood Opera, published my stuff in the Occult Activity Books, and contributed to Morbid Fantasies, will be there.

Carisa Swenson, who contributed to Morbid Fantasies and made the pocket puffin I talked about here, will be there.

And they'll all be at one table. How could you miss that and still live with yourself?

Hey, here's some directions:
Where is Kearny Point?

· Kearny Point is located in South Kearny, New Jersey. Below are approximate distances and driving times to nearby transit centers and highway arteries:
o U.S. Route 1&9 direct access
o I-95 direct access / 0.4 miles Exit 15-E
o Journal Square PATH station 3 mi. / 10 min. An Uber Pool Ride from this point is typically from $5-9
o Newark Penn Station 3.8 mi. / 15 min. An Uber Pool Ride from this point is typically from $5-9
o Exchange Place PATH 4.6mi / 20 min. An Uber Pool Ride from this point is typically from $7-11 * You can also connect to NJ Transit #1 Bus from this PATH station stop*
o Holland Tunnel 4 mi. / 15-20 min.
o Newark Liberty Airport 6.4 mi./ 11 min.
· We are also served by the NJ Transit #1Bus –
See above link to schedules. This bus travels between Newark and Jersey City. Kearny is literally in the middle of these two cities and the #1 Bus stops on both Hackensack and Central Avenues (Central Avenue runs parallel to Hackensack Avenue – our building entrance is on Hackensack Ave)
These are the stops closest to our site:

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

A Giant is an Accumulation of Ambitions

Campaign: The Excruciata (Umberwell, 5e D&D)

Characters: Raymondo Cortiz (human assassin rogue); Grumli Fellhammer (dwarf path of the ancestors barbarian); Nina Kessler (genasi way of the frozen fist monk); Hiroshi (human samurai fighter); Wexel (goliath college of valor bard).

Events: The Excruciata tracked Doctor Nymenholt down into the basement of the clinic, where they discovered a hellish industrial laboratory. Unfathomable machines spit galvanic arclight across a field of corpses on metal tables--a horrific charnel factory. Nymenholt was ready for the group; behind him stood a giant whose body was stitched together, obscene.

Nymenholt cackled madly, and spoke: "Do you know what a giant really is? A giant is nothing less than an accumulation of smaller men's ambitions." Nymenholt waved his hands, gesticulating wildly to the giant that lumbered and glowered behind him. Then, the Excruciata saw it as it really was, and Nymenholt was right: the giant was not just a monstrosity of flesh, bone, and hate; it was revealed to be comprised of men and women, harnessed together with sutures and hellish surgery to form something larger than each minuscule individual, their bodies thrashing together with the syrupy sick sound of sweat-coated skin striving against other sweat-coated skin.

The amalgamate giant charged the party. Grumli, Hiroshi, and Wexel met the charge and engaged the giant in melee, while Raymondo and Nina attempted to cross the laboratory to get to Nymenholt. The giant hit like an avalanche, its fists pummeling the crew. Nina and Raymondo's sprint toward Nymenholt was halted by the rise of the corpses laid out on the metal tables. 

Nina became a whirling engine of destruction, taking down zombie after zombie. Raymondo tried to break away from the horde to reach Nymenholt, but was felled by the monsters he was trying to evade. By the time Nina fought her way to him, Raymondo had been torn apart by the zombies. Nina began to climb the room's uncanny machinery to get out of the reach of the things, all the while throwing bolts of radiance at Nymenholt as he struggled to find cover.

Meanwhile, Hiroshi, Wexel, and Grumli were slugging it out with the giant. Grumli was knocked prone by the giant's meaty fist, and then he was trampled underneath its feet--crushing him utterly despite his barbaric dwarven resilience. Moments later, Wexel cut the thing asunder, spilling the bloodied bodies that made up its bulk like ropes of offal falling to the floor.

Hiroshi's bow put an end to the cowering Nymenholt, and his remaining animated dead were duly put to the sword. Down two long-standing members, the Excruciata ransacked the clinic quickly, locating Nymenholt's collection of spellbooks and occult tomes for their cultist allies. 

Crime pays dividends in violence, and the Excruciata had held up their end of the bargain with the Church of the Outlander. They would have the magical backing they needed to go into the production of magical gunpowder for sale in the criminal underground.

* * *

Deaths over the course of the campaign: Ramondo Cortiz, Grumli Fellhammer, Zanna Cobblestop, and Erron Halethorpe.

* * *

Other installments in season one of this campaign:
Enter the Excruciata
Aboard a Blood-Hunting Ship
Rumble in the Urban Jungle
We Kidnapped Your Son, Sell Us Dragon Blood
The Dark of a Tavern in the Cemetery

Misery and Death Have Their Own Staccato Rhythm

Stay tuned for Season Two!

Monday, April 16, 2018

Faith and Devotion in Umberwell

Religion in Umberwell, the City of Shivs

Previous posts in this series:
Blackened Be Thy Name
Crime and Punishment
Industry and Technology

  • The People's Covenant is the state religion of the Empire. The current head of the Covenant is High Augur Yan Kai.
  • The Covenant does not preach the gospel of a god or a pantheon of deities. The Covenant believes in the perfectibility of mortal agents through a life of correct behavior, and that puritanical adherence to the Covenant's tenets leads to a peaceful nonexistence after death. A sinful life leads to eternal punishment in the Emptiness.
  • The priests of the Covenant tap into abstract cosmic principles for their divine powers. These principles are symbolized by astrological signs, constellations of stars, and other celestial bodies.
  • The People's Covenant believes that the gods worshiped by “primitive cultures” and heretics are simply misunderstandings of impersonal cosmological truths.
  • The Covenant's priesthood is divided into two orders based on gender: the masculine Priory of Augurs and the feminine Sibylline Sisterhood.
  • The rites of both the Augurs and the Sibyllines include officiating marriage ceremonies, regulating the Imperial Calendar, and sanctifying elaborate feasts on holy days.
  • Clerics of the Covenant wear ritual masks when attending to matters of faith. The holy symbol of the faith is simply the letters PC written in an ornate blackletter script.
  • The Adversary is the antithesis of the Covenant's vision of constrained behavior and spiritual purity, and therefore must be actively fought against and resisted.
  • Arcane magic is outlawed throughout the Empire. The Bellari are a militarized branch of the Covenant assigned to combat the trade in enchanted objects and the use of wizardry.
  • The Bellari are authorized to publicly burn or otherwise execute arcane magic-users.
  • The only exceptions allowed by the Covenant to its Empire-wide ban on sorcery are the members of the Bellari and the Corpse Takers. They are allowed to fight fire with fire, despite the risk of spiritual contamination.

The Breviary of the Chalk Scar, supposedly written by Frederick Tyr, the First Augur of the Covenant, is the holy book of the People's Covenant. The Breviary's many confusing passages elaborate on the following seven tenets:
  • The Parable of the Mirror. Look not upon gold; turn your eyes inward and attend to the state of your soul.
  • The Parable of the Inferno. A dishonest tongue is the serpent within; speak only truth and abjure falsehood.
  • The Parable of the Harvest. Honest labor purges sins of the body; be ever industrious and hard-working.
  • The Parable of the Tempest. Grasp not the treasures of others; find happiness in what you have.
  • The Parable of the Locust. Devour nothing; eat simply and purely to strengthen body and mind.
  • The Parable of the Concubine. The call of the flesh is a call to damnation; resist bodily lust and carnality.
  • The Parable of the Shepherd. The Emptiness whispers to all; reject heresy and the temptations of arcane ways.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Industry and Technology in Umberwell

Industry and Technology in Umberwell

Previous posts in this series:
Blackened Be Thy Name
Crime and Punishment

  • Power. Galvanic energy, known as arclight, is produced from kraken blood to provide power to homes and light on the city's streets. Arclight is transmitted wirelessly throughout Umberwell via arc towers.
  • Factories. Mechanized factories produce goods for consumption at home and abroad, although their emissions pollute the city's environment and their conditions often pose a threat to workers' lives.
  • Transportation. Arclight-powered trains traverse the city on electrified tracks below ground and through the city on suspended skyrails. Turbine-driven ships, submarines, and dirigibles make long-distance travel expedient.
  • Recording devices. Solograph cameras capture sepia-toned images on paper coated with silver and gelatin. Auriphones play music recorded on wax cylinders.
  • Broadcasts. Voxcast radio transmissions bring news and entertainment into the homes of Umberwell. Loudspeakers placed throughout the city continuously broadcast the propaganda of a pro-government station.
  • Firearms. Black powder—a mixture of charcoal, sulfur, and kraken blood—has made the production of firearms and explosives possible.
  • Prostheses. Mechanical limbs, eyes, and organs can replace lost, wounded, and diseased body parts.

  • The pursuit of scientific progress in Umberwell—and the empire as a whole—has been bolstered by the professors and researchers of the Institute of Natural Inquiry, an exclusive university regarded as the finest academy of higher learning in the world.
  • Umberwell's premier inventor is Alexi Malishnikov. Malishnikov is the current dean of the Institute of Natural Inquiry; he tirelessly recruits the best minds in the Empire for the school.
  • The members of the Institute tend to be of the opinion that technocracy is the way of the future, and that the working class are expendable cogs in the greater machine of progress.
  • The scientists and inventors of the Institute are responsible for the creation of the armored ships used by the sea hunters who track and slay krakens for their blood, as well as the mounted harpoon guns used in the trade.

  • Umberwell's industrial supremacy has also been challenged by the Adamantine Caucus, a collectivist organization that acts as a trade union on behalf of the city's laborers.
  • However, because the Adamantine Caucus protects the interests of of the working class over the concerns of industrialists, it is often looked upon as little more than an anarchist cell inimical to proper authority.
  • The most radical members of the Adamantine Caucus also belong to the Defiant Collaborative, a secret society that advocates for the violent overthrow of the ruling class to create a worker-led syndicalist government.
  • Rumors abound that the Adamantine Caucus has ties to the criminal underworld and operates a number of underground safe houses for rogue arcanists.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Total Skull: Iron Council, Thinner, The House of Dead Maids, Planescape, etc.

Things that brought me delight in March, 2018.

China Mieville, Iron Council
I remember the reactions this book got from more conservative readers when it came out, but I'm not seeing where the umbrage came from. Is it triggering somehow to have to read about characters who endorse left-of-center politics? Is it the causal homosexuality that some of the characters indulge in? Is it the rifle core of men in dresses who embrace in loving camaraderie as they die?

But I'm also shaking my head at how the fantasized politics of Iron Council reiterate the most frustrating parts of academic Marxist theory: there's a lot of thought put into how to achieve freedom, but not a lot of thought put toward how people are going to get fed. (Seriously, how do the train's occupants get food, water, fuel, and other bare necessities?)

It's hard not to explicate Iron Council, and the iron council of the title, in terms set down by Deleuze and Guattari--as a line of flight away from the state apparatus of Bas-Lag that, as a consequence of rhizomatic movement, that has inadvertently become a war machine. And I'm left holding the bag at the ending, wondering if the perpetual stasis of the time golem is a functional version of the terminus that D&G outline: being appropriated as a trapped history might actually be a form of propagandistic, ideological fascism. 

Carisa Swenson, Pocket Puffin
I got the above smol frand in the mail and it definitely brightened my day. Made of wood and epoxy clay and hand-painted, this little guy has already earned a spot in my Wunderkammer. The striped ones are currently sold out, but the equally charming natural style are available from Goblinfruit Studio if you want to add one to your collection.

Stephen King, Thinner
After re-reading Stephen King's Thinner I have to admit that I liked it an awful lot more as an adult than I did as a teenager. I remember being annoyed at the novel's swerve into hardboiled crime territory, but now I find King's gleeful detour into Jim Thompson homage to be very entertaining. If you're read it, you'll definitely see where King's love of The Killer Inside Me informs Thinner.

The real themes of the book also flew over my head when I was younger; I think I just hadn't live long enough to get what King had to say about "white men from town" for the book to feel as rich as it did during this second reading. The connection between Thinner and Iron Council is probably not obvious, but it's interesting that both novels, despite being very different kinds of fiction, both revolve around the idea of the commons and how we've lost sight of it to our detriment. Sometimes the pieces just line up that way.

Clare B. Dunkle, The House of Dead Maids
The House of Dead Maids was my biggest surprise in March. I don't remember when or why I picked it up, but at first blush it presents a trifecta of warnings that it might be pretty bad: that cheesy photoshopped cover! young adult horror! a Wuthering Heights tie-in! And yet, The House of Dead Maids turned out to be a really slick little Gothic novel that excavates a uncomfortable truth: the prosperity of the English estate was predicated on both the devouring of the working class and a Freudian generational struggle for inheritance. Throw in some Wicker Man-esque folk horror flourishes and you've got a potent little chiller that is more than worth spending a few hours with. Against all odds, even the coda that connects the novella to Wuthering Heights and the Brontes' biography works well.

Planescape reprints on DriveThruRPG
I used a little bit of my profits from the Krevborna book to buy the POD versions of the Planescape books available on DriveThruRPG. The quality of the prints are pretty good, despite some of the books being obviously resized to fit the print on demand format. The color art reproduces well, the text is clear, etc. But more importantly, there is some really quality content in the Planescape line that I missed out on when it was fresh off the presses in the 90s. Uncaged: Faces of Sigil is probably my favorite of the lot right now; it's essentially just a book of NPCs living in Sigil, but the characters it describes are inventive and idiosyncratic. Anybody who claims that 2e AD&D didn't have any real creativity to it hasn't seen this stuff.

The Alienist
Watching The Alienist is probably another entry in a long-running attempt to find something to fill the Penny Dreadful shaped hole in my heart. It doesn't hit that mark, of course, but The Alienist was a surprisingly well-down miniseries. The story centers on a rag-tag group of misfits from outside the police force investigating the crimes of a serial murderer who preys on male prostitutes in the New York City of the late nineteenth century. Interestingly, the show was part of a commonality that colored my television viewing this month: in both The Alienist and Babylon Berlin, we have a male lead in the investigating team whose genius and skill we're supposed to marvel at, but they are consistently show up by a police secretary who does the actual investigative heavy lifting. Dakota Fanning kills it, in other words.

Brian De Palma, Body Double
Brian De Palma's movies probably don't count as technically "good" films, but I find them absolutely compelling. Body Double was the last flick I watched in a run of De Palma's movies, and it is a movie that lives at the juncture of Hitchcock pastiche, popcorn art film, and American giallo. The level of psychosexual imagery is jaw-dropping, and the scene in which Frankie Goes to Hollywood perform "Relax" on the set of a porno in a film-within-a-film sequence is absolutely astounding.

Bell Witch, Longing and Four Phantoms
Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper was undoubtedly their break-out record; it got a lot of justly-deserved attention, making it onto several "best of" lists at the end of 2017. Hopefully that success will lead listeners to do what I did: check out Bell Witch's earlier albums. In March I spent some time with Longing and Four Phantoms, and both are definitely rewarding experiences. Unpopular opinion: Longing might even be better than Mirror Reaper. The conciseness of Longing leaves you wanting more; the more ethereal textures are elusive, compelling.

Honorable mentions:
L. P. Hartley, Facial Justice (we did a podcast on this one)
Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda, Monstress vol. 1: Awakening
Jeff VanderMeer, The Strange Bird
Therion, Beloved Antichrist
The Frankenstein Chronicles
Red Sparrow
Kentaro Miura, Berserk vols. 5 and 6
Tom Parkinson-Morgan, Kill 6 Bill Demons Book 2: Wielder of Names
Moonspell, 1755
Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook, Harrow County vol.6: Hedge Magic
Chris Dingess, Matthew Roberts, Owen Gieni, Manifest Destiny vol. 3: Chiroptera & Carniformaves

Monday, April 9, 2018

Mel Gordon Tribute

Mini-episode 9: Mel Gordon Tribute
Jack and Kate take a different approach in this mini episode by paying tribute to author, scholar, theater expert, and collector Mel Gordon. Mel's books had a huge impact on both of your hosts and they discuss his importance and the legacy he leaves us with. Kate talks about her personal encounters with Mel and Jack dives into where he fits within an academic context.

How does one get cast in a Mel Gordon theatrical production? What kind of gift would one receive from him at one's wedding? Why is there no Weimar Berlin simulation for the Oculus Rift and how do we fix that? Where does Werner Herzog fit into all of this? Find out all this and more in this month's mini episode of Bad Books for Bad People.

Books discussed include:

Voluptuous Panic: The Erotic World of Weimar Berlin

Theater of Fear and Horror: The Grisly Spectacle of the Grand Guignol of Paris, 1897 - 1962

The Seven Addictions and Five Professions of Anita Berber: Weimar's Priestess of Depravity

Horizontal Collaboration: The Erotic World of Paris, 1920 - 1946

BBfBP theme song by True Creature

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