Thursday, December 14, 2017

'Tis the season

So, anyone care to guess, sans google, what I've been listening to lately? Here are three clues, each being a direct quote:

matches, and candles, and buns

Go Freda!

It'll be the usual rubbish, but it won't cost much

--John R.
current reading: THE SHOW THAT NEVER ENDS by David Weigel

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

TSR bibliographic ghosts

So, one of the things that used to fascinate me back in the Lake Geneva days were the old TSR catalogues from earlier times. Each was a kind of time-capsule of the company as it was at the time it put out that particular catalogue. Particularly telling were the products that got announced as forthcoming which never saw the light of day.*

A case in point: a page from the 1984 catalogue features new and forthcoming adventures for TSR's second-tier games: TOP SECRET, GANGBUSTERS, BOOT HILL, and GAMMA WORLD. And in the course of a single page they announce no fewer than seven adventures that never came out.

For TOP SECRET, these were the adventures TIN MAN, about fighting off computer hacking (which still sounds timely), and WHITEOUT, set at a base at the South Pole (from which I conclude that somebody had seen ICE STATION ZEBRA, or indeed read the book).

For BOOT HILL, the promised modules were DELTA QUEEN, a riverboat full of high-stakes gambling, which sounds like it cd have been a really good BH adventure, and BARON OF SAN ANDREAS by Zeb Cook, about a local strongman, the self-proclaimed 'baron' of the title, who's set himself up as undisputed ruler of a small town.

For GAMMA WORLD, there was NIGHTWIND RIDER by Bruce Nesmith, which sounds as if it might have been a solo adventure, and RAPTURE OF THE DEEP, set on a mysterious island (aren't they all).

Finally, and to my mind the biggest lost among these might-have-beens, was the GANGBUSTERS adventure BASES LOADED: The Lakefront Mudcats Scandal) by Jeff Grubb, which wd have been GANGBUSTERS' analogue to the once-famous 'Black Sox' scandal in which one team was bribed to throw the World Series (way back in 1919). But then I always did like GANGBUSTERS, and was sorry there were so few adventures for it published (just five)

Here's the page in question, with more information about the individual intended releases.

--John R.
current listening: Leo Sayer, of all people

*most famously, perhaps, Gygax's SHADOWLANDS

P.S.: I forgot to include the scan. Here goes.

UPDATE (Th.Dec.14th)
Jeff Grubb has just posted an interesting account with much more detail of BASES LOADED (and TIN MAN as well) on his blog: highly recommended.


Monday, December 11, 2017

New Director(s) of the Wade

So, there's big news from the Wade Center, the most important of which is that after an interim of several years,* during which their highly skilled and dedicated staff has carried on as usual, the Wade has a new director.

Indeed, new director(plural), since Dr. David C. Downing and Dr. Crystal L. Downing become co-directors --the first time in the Wade's history that a husband-wife team will be representing the Collection.  I hadn't known Dr. Crystal's work; it seems she's a well-regarded Sayers scholar. That's outside my field of expertise, but it'll be interesting to see if that brings more attention to Sayers at Wheaton. And Dr. David is of course well-known in Lewis scholarship (an island I visit but do not dwell therein) for books like PLANETS IN PERIL and THE MOST RELUCTANT CONVERT.

Other recent big news is that the President of Wheaton College has a new book out on Tolkien:

Aside from Kilby himself, the founding father of the Wade, its directors have tended to focus of C. S. Lewis more than Tolkien (perhaps feeling, with some justification, that JRRT was well represented elsewhere), so this book's focus on Tolkien is welcome to those of us who are more Tolkienists and general Inklings scholars than whatever wd be the CSL fans/scholars equivalent (Lewisists?)

--John R.

*following the departure and then untimely death of director Chris Mitchell

Monday, December 4, 2017

Yesterday I Found . . . (Jim Ward Memo)

So, yesterday while doing a little sorting in the Box Room, I found a memo from towards the end of my TSR days (October 1995), reproduced here:

For those who can't see the image clearly enough, it's from Jim Ward, addressed to Sales & Marketing and Creative Services, dated October 10th [1995], with the Subject line 'Existing Rules'. The full text of the brief memo is as follows:

'Do not change any existing rules of any games or products without my imput. This is causing continuity problems that are hard to impossible to fix after the damage is already done.'

I remember the occasion of this announcement, but the details are gone: I no longer recall what Sales & Marketing had done that upset R&D (the editing and designing department, at the time briefly known as 'Creative Services') so much. They had already botched the release of MYSTARA and bungled that of BIRTHRIGHT, so it's hard to imagine what made the endlessly optimistic everybody-get-along Jim Ward so terse.

In any case,  I do remember that Jim prevailed in this interdepartmental power struggle, making this was one of our rare victories.

--John R.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

This Year's Tolkien Calendar(s)

So, they're getting harder to find, but between luck and persistence I now have both of next year's Tolkien Calendars.

The first is the movie tie-in calendar, though I didn't realize that when I ordered it. I really liked the cover art, which is all I saw from the online image, and had high hopes for the calendar as a whole. Which have now been disappointed. The art, all derived from the LotR movies, makes heavy use of silhouette and collage. I think the intended effect was to evoke some of the desolate landscapes Cor Blok attempted to convey. But I think they all fail, with the notable exception of the cover piece: a striking image of the Nine Walkers* silhouetted against a yellowish background dominated by the Barad-dur and Mt Doom.

What you get in most of these pieces is a silhouette of a character, taken from the film. Within that silhouette is a still of a scene featuring that character. Unfortunately in many cases it's difficult to figure out who the silhouette is supposed to be (luckily they're labelled, but that shdn't have been necessary); in others the image within the frame seem poorly chosen, almost random. Gollum fares best, because the silhouette element is strongest here. They'd have gotten a better result if they'd just used solid-black silhouettes throughout.

The second is Tolkien-themed, and reproduces Alan Lee's art for BEREN AND LUTHIEN. The art is up to Lee's usual high standard, as anyone who got the book these come from (published earlier this year) knows. Sadly, I have to confess that I'm getting tired of Lee's muted pallet. It worked wonderfully for the one-volume edition of THE LORD OF THE RINGS; less well for THE HOBBIT or other works. I do like their including a well-chosen quote in Tolkien's own words at the bottom of each calendar page; these help evoke the scene being depicted.

I guess I feel like someone who wanted soup and got served steak instead. Again. It's a fine steak, but I can't help feeling wistful about the soup I'd rather have had.

There are so many fine artists out there I'd like to see do a Tolkien calendar: Thomas Canty for one, with his beautiful art decco style producing a sort of stained glass effect.  Or Michael Whelan might be interesting: he's a fine artist, but would his style accord with Tolkienian characters and scenes? Alas that we'll never see a Tolkien calendar from Keith Parkinson.

What I think would make an even better, more striking calendar, would be to feature Tolkien's calligraphy --scrawled pages that mark significant passages in the stories; careful fair copy; various examples of his invented scripts. Many of these have been published, so reprinting them in such a format would seem imminent doable.

--John R.

current reading: lots of unfinished books all left hanging, including Scott Berg's LINDBURGH (which I'd been wanting to read for some time but not been able to find our copy; it luckily turned up in some sort out/re-organizing I've been doing) -- one chapter of which covers the events that provided the historical inspiration for MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS.

*well, eight of them anyway; Aragorn their rearguard got cut off

Where I'll Be Tomorrow Night (play reading)

So, my friend Jeff wrote a play.

And tomorrow night they're doing a read-through, where a half-dozen or so people sit in a row and read out loud their various assigned parts. It's the first step when rehearsing a play, though in this case there aren't plans to actually stage it yet.

If you have the evening free and want a to enjoy a sharply observed comedy about what it's like to work in today's corporate culture, come join us over in Burien for what promises to be an entertaining time.

Here's information about the event:

"Human Resources"
(A Corporate Comedy)

with the Seattle Playwrights Studio at the Burien Actors Theatre
14501 4th Ave SW, Seattle, WA 98166

Monday, December 4th, at 7 PM

Bonus! One of the readers will be our own illustrious STAN!

--John R.
current reading: lots of stuff I'm sorting, like TSR style guides and trademark digests from the early nineties.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Meanwhile, Back in 'Birmingham

So, news of the upcoming Tolkien Amazon tv series has somewhat overshadowed the Tolkien biopic, where the big news is that filming has apparently actually begun. Here are some stills purportedly taken on location:

The actress shown interacting with young Tolkien is Genevieve O'Reilly, presumably during a break while young Tolkien is playing rugby. Interestingly enough, the character she plays isn't named, even on the imdb site (where the actress's name is given but the character name left blank).*

My guess? Aunt Jane.
Though that's just a guess, and it cd just as easily be some reimagined version of Jenny Grove (Edith's cousin and later companion) or that favorite easy-out of 'based on a true story' biopics: composite (i.e. fictitious) character.

Here's another link (like the one above, taken from the Tolkien Society's site), showing some on-location setting (this time in Cheshire) said to feature in the film:

One significant bit of casting since I last posted on the topic is Colm Meaney (Mr. O'Brien, Transporter Chief on STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION) as Father Francis. I wonder if this means they're making Fr. Francis Irish or if Meaney will be assuming a Welsh/Spanish accent.

Another interesting casting annoucement, for reasons having to do with the character rather than the actor, is the addition of Sam to the list of characters -- no, not the hobbit Samwise Gamgee but apparently Tolkien's batman (aide) during the war.

--John R.

* There's now a wikipedia page for the film, which also omits the character name