A Gnome's Ponderings

I'm a gamer. I love me some games and I like to ramble about games and gaming. So, more than anything else, this blog is a place for me to keep track of my ramblings. If anyone finds this helpful or even (good heavens) insightful, so much the better.

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Even middling Lord Dunsany is good stuff

Lowell Kempf
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I was surprised to realize, when I started reading it, that I hadn’t read Tales of Three Hemispheres before. While there are vast sections of Lord Dunsany’s writings I haven’t read, I’ve still read a lot of his early short stories.

There was a period about ten years ago when I was reading collection after collection on Project Gutenberg and I assumed I had read Three Hemispheres then. I’m glad that I didn’t. While it isn’t the best Dunsany wrote, if I had read it amidst a flood of other Dunsany, I’d have missed what nifty elements it does have.

The book actually breaks down into two distinctive parts. Some unrelated stories and three interconnected stories, including the previously published Idle Days on the Yann.

I enjoyed the first part. The stories might not have been extraordinary but even middle of the road Dunsany is good reading. I particularly liked the Old Brown Coat, which would have been at home as a Jorkens story.

But the last three stories, collectively known as Beyond the Fields We Know (a phrase that since been pounded into the ground until it has reached the Earth’s core), that’s the best part of the collection. Although the best story being a reprint from an earlier collection doesn’t Tales of Three Hemispheres any favors as a stand-alone book.

I’m not exaggerating that each of these stores is Lord Dunsany going to the land of dreams… and being a tourist. In particular, Idle Days on the Yann is a flat-out travelogue. It isn’t a narrative. It’s world building. And in Lord Dunsany’s hands, world building is magical.

Between The Gods of Pegana and Beyond the Fields We Know, Lord Dunsany basically created splat books.

Tales of Three Hemispheres is not one of Lord Dunsany’s greatest hits. However, it isn’t just for the completists either.
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Wed Sep 15, 2021 6:28 pm
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Wow, the Great Pumpkin is BLEAK

Lowell Kempf
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Since stories are already selling Halloween stuff and you can only watch The Nightmare Before Christmas so many times in rapid succession, we let out seven-year-old watch Its The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. It’s a special that neither of us had watched in at least a couple decades.

Wow. Was this actually aimed at kids?

The world of Peanuts is always bleak but there is usually some element of hope somewhere, particularly in the specials. And there are some many that there have to be ones I’ve forgotten or never seen. But the Great Pumpkin seems particularly bleak.

All of the characters are either mean or miserable, with the exception of Snoopy. It’s just a profoundly unhappy setting. In particular, the way that the world treats Charlie Brown is rough. Linus and Sally choose to ignore trick or treating and parties to wait for the Great Pumpkin. Bad things just happen to Charlie Brown. Every adult in his neighborhood singling him out to give him a rock is Kafkaesque.

The most redemptive character is Lucy. While she is cruel and bullying, she also gets extra candy for Linus and brings him home from the pumpkin patch in the middle of the night.

Truth to tell, given sophisticated jokes (needing to have a signed document notarized, denominational differences between Santa Claus versus the Great Pumpkin, demands for restitution) as well as the black comedy (as opposed to the slapstick of, say, the Three Stooges), I honestly wonder if adults were the actual intended audience for real.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Sep 13, 2021 7:19 pm
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The Sound of His Horn is a fever dream of a dystopia

Lowell Kempf
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The Sound of His Horn is a novel that I occasionally saw listed as an influential one but not one I heard a lot of conversation about. As if it was a book that mostly read by authors It was written by Sarban, which was the pseudonym for the British diplomat John William Wall. And, as I read the book, I couldn’t help but wonder if his professional life influenced his artistic one.

The Sound of His Horn is a ‘What if Hitler won WW II’ stories but it’s one that not like any other I have read. Instead of an authoritarian dystopia, it is a fever dream with touches of primal fear and Brave New World eugenics.

The story is framed as a story within a story. An unnamed narrator hears the story from a WW II veteran named Alan Querdillon who is clearly suffering from PTSD. During the war, he escaped from a German prison camp. Shocked by a mysterious barrier, he wakes up a hundred years later in a world where Germany had won.

The entire future section of the book takes place at the hunting estate of Reich Master Forester Count Hans Von Hackelnberg. Almost medieval in many respects and science fiction in others, the estate is an absolute horror show where human beings, sometimes genetically modified, are the prey.

There is absolutely no way to talk about The Sound of His Horn without mentioning the complete objectification of women in the bad future. They are hunted, bred to be hunting animals and even used as furniture. Since this is depicted as despicable and nightmarish, I’m choosing to believe that Sarban does not support such a view. The degree of dehumanization is profoundly and effectively disturbing.

And I also have to mention Von Hackelnberg. While he actually shows up in a relatively small portion of what is already a short novel, he looms over everything. A giant of a man who is full of primal rage and violence, I’m not sure if he’s supposed to be supernatural or not. His scorn for his fat, pampered guests emphasizes his other nature.

As I mentioned before, Querdillon is clearly suffering from PTSD in the present time and the future section has a definite fever dream quality. A very possible interpretation is that he went mad and all of his fantastic experiences were in his his head. That possibility makes the already dreamy, nightmarish book even more uncertain.

After reading The Sound of His Horn, I can see why the book is considered so influential and also why it doesn’t seem to be widely read. I don’t know if it is a good book but it is a memorable and disturbing one.
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Fri Sep 10, 2021 10:19 pm
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Nearing the middle of Cozy Grove

Lowell Kempf
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As I wrote a couple months ago, we started playing Cozy Grove. It’s a video game about being gently helping unhappy ghosts let go and pass on. And we’ve made it to about the halfway point.

Short version: the game has kept us engaged and want to keep playing. So, that’s a thumbs up.

Here’s a recap: You are a spirit scout, a branch of scouting that is into wildernesss skills and helping the restless dead find peace. And you are stuck on an island that is full to the bursting with unhappy ghosts. Who are all pretty friendly. At the worst, they are rude but they will still talk to you. You don’t have to worry about the dead trying to horribly murder you.

While there is a plenty of crafting and decorating for you to do, the heart of the game is fulfilling literally hundreds of fetch quests. And, slowly, you find out each ghosts story. As opposed to random, faceless ghosts, you have a small collection of ghosts, each with their own story to explore.

And so far, those stories range from the melancholy to the seriously depressing.

Every time you level up, the island expands and you get a new ghost so we haven’t seen everyone yet. But none of the stories have been ‘inappropriate’ and forced us to edit them for our seven-year-old.

None of the stories are that surprising. We’ve only completed one but they all seem to have plenty of foreshadowing.

Cozy Grove hasn’t been shocking or surprising but it has been a slightly sad way to decompress.
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Wed Aug 18, 2021 8:04 pm
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Okay, Tom Baker was great. I admit it.

Lowell Kempf
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I keep going back and forth when it comes to Tom Baker.

As someone who got into Doctor Who in the mid-80s, Tom Baker was _the_ Doctor. He still holds the record for the most years on the show. He was the iconic version of the character. If people knew nothing else about Doctor Who, they knew about the scarf.

And there have been so many times that I have felt his time on Doctor Who is so over-hyped. But, to be completely fair, I blame that almost entirely on Graham Wilson.

While my introduction to Doctor Who was reruns of the Jon Pertwee era, a lot of the people I knew who loved Doctor Who had been introduced through Tom Baker. For some, he was their only Doctor. I’ve heard of at least one station (I think it was a college TV station, not a PBS one) that ONLY showed Tom Baker. When they’d get to Logopolis, they’d loop back to Robot.

I think of Tom Baker’s time as breaking down into three distinct parts. Phillip Hinchcliffe as the producer, Graham Wilson as the producer and John Nathan-Turner as the producer. And, frankly, I don’t think Phillip Hinchcliffe’s time as a producer can be overhyped. Those three seasons are such a golden era of Doctor Who that I have seen retrospectives that basically ignore Tom Baker’s other four seasons!

Graham Wilson’s time, on the other hand, was hit by budget struggles, production union strikes and a demand to make the show lighter and sillier. (Mary Whitehall was the murderer of children’s dreams) There were still some gems. City of Death is a _classic_ But I sometimes rewatch The Horns of Nimon just to relive my utter amazement that it exists.

Honestly, as controversial as John Nathan-Turner was as a producer and a human being, I remember having a sense of relief when I first watched his one season with Tom Baker. I was just so tired of the goofy tone of Wilson and the Doctor being so unbeatable.

Tom Baker’s time had some low points (The Nightmare of Eden anyone?) but it had more high points than low points. It was during his time that Doctor Who had its first time as an international phenomenon. And as singularly unique as Tom Baker is, I don’t think another actor could have done the same. We may well not have a New Who without him.

Okay. Tom Baker’s Doctor was great.
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Tue Aug 17, 2021 12:16 am
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My biggest takeaway from Coco

Lowell Kempf
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As I am perpetually years behind watching even kids movies (and I have a kid so those are usually the only movies I watch!), it was only a month or so ago I finally saw Coco. It only took me four years.

And everyone I know who watched it and didn’t force me to see it has a lot to answer for.

While Coco doesn’t knock Inside Out down from being my favorite Pixar movie, it is very high in my opinion and enjoyment. Not only is it ridiculously visually beautiful, I really enjoyed the music. I don’t know if Pixar has done any other musicals.

And keeping with how rare their musicals are, all the music is diegetic (I had to look that word up), meaning all the musical numbers comes from the characters actually performing them within the context of the story. IE, there isn’t an offstage orchestra and the songs aren’t in theater of the mind.

I am not going to give away any spoilers because there must be some people like I was who haven’t seen the movie yet but would like to. But there is a takeaway I want to comment on.

The movie has two protagonists, Miguel and Hector. They both have their own character arcs and personal journeys to make.

However, I believe the actual hero of the story is Mama Imelda. (Okay, just saying that is a spoiler) While she has her own character arc, she is also the one who saves the family in life and in death. Imelda gets things DONE and she is magnificent for it.

I really enjoyed Coco, not the least for its kickass skeleton great great grandmother.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed Aug 11, 2021 7:00 pm
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Arthur C. Clarke can be funny?

Lowell Kempf
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Every few years, I find myself rereading Tales from the White Hart by Arthur C. Clarke. After reading The Travel Tales of Mister Joseph Jorkens, I felt almost obligated to revisit the book.

Tales from the White Hart is a collection of club stories, all science fiction tall tales, being told at the White Hart pub. They are all comedic, which makes this only comedy I’ve read by Clarke. (He may have written more and I just don’t know about them)

While the fantastic club story is now a well established genre, Tales from the White Hart is a relatively old example. (Although, looking it up, Gavagan’s Bar is just a little bit older) All of the stories in the White Hart fall firmly in the Science Fiction camp, although some, like the Reluctant Orchard and What Goes Up, are pretty ridiculous. Which is admitted in story

Clarke himself is the narrator but most of the stories are told by the hopefully fictional Harry Purvis. And when he isn’t telling the story, Harry is annoyed by that fact. Harry Purvis is a classic Munchausen, someone who has been everywhere and knows everybody. And he gets a bit of development by the last story.

What is interesting to me is that Clarke was apparently friends with Lord Dunsany and actually name-drops Jorkens at one point. However, Clarke’s stories remind me a lot more of Wodehouse’s club stories, like Mr. Mulliner. For one thing, they are flat out comedies while the Jorkens stories I read have more melancholy and wonder. There is a snarky tone running though White Hart. And the gender dynamics of henpecked men and in-charge women also reminds me of Wodehouse

But Wodehouse is great so that’s okay.

Tales from the White Hart isn’t the best collection of club stories I’ve ever read. But the stories are consistently good all the way through.

(Okay. Since someone will ask, I enjoy the Callahan stories (although their quality can drastically vary), the Draco Tavern Stories and the Black Widowers (which isn’t fantastical but is by Asimov) more than the White Hart)

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed Aug 4, 2021 8:49 pm
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Target made me underestimate Patrick Troughton

Lowell Kempf
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As I’ve written in the past, I come from the generation of Doctor Who fans whose primary source of Doctor Who was the Target novelizations. It was certainly a different experience from a world where so much can be streamed at the touch of a button! That said, if I hadn’t had those books as a source of Doctor Who, I never could have become the fan that I continue to be today.

However, there is absolutely no denying that the books simplified the stories. They were aimed at younger readers. Which was okay since I was a younger reader at the time! I have even read that Terrance Dicks, who wrote over sixty of the books, may have helped British kids learn to love reading more than any other author. (I would love to see an actual study that claims that. Still, better him than Enid Blyton)

So, when I actually got to see stories that I only knew through the books, I was often amazed at how much depth and nuance there was. And, yes, a lot of that had to do with the actors and their acting.

I was underwhelmed by the novelization of the Three Doctors, which was a major milestone by its concept alone. And the actual episode wasn’t meaningfully different. (I am convinced that Terrence Dick often worked with the original script in one hand and a typewriter in the other) But Stephen Thorne as Omega hammed it up to eleven, chewing the scenery to the point where you’d think he was trying to eat the TARDIS console. It was over the top and kind of ludicrous but darn if it wasn’t entertaining.

And while the books never undersold the Master, you actually have to see Roger Delgado to appreciate his charm and lovely creepiness. There have been many fun interpretations of the Master but the character would have never gotten off the ground without Mister Delgado.

But I think Patrick Troughton is the one who got the worst of it. The books portrayed him as a clown, a cosmic hobo. Sight unseen, he was my least favorite Doctor.

However, actually seeing Patrick Troughton act, there is a presence and gravitas that I had no idea was there. More so than any of the Doctors who followed him (except maybe Sylvester McCoy), there is a thin layer of silliness over a core of steel. Troughton’s Doctor would see things to the bitter end and he would make them right.

The more exposure I have to Troughton’s Doctor, the more impressed I am and the more I like him. William Hartnel was where the Doctor got started but Troughton is the one who has informed every portrayal afterwards.

Yeah, didn’t get that from the books.

I am very glad that I had the Target books. In a world before the internet and streaming, they were essential. But, yeah, getting to actually watch the show is better

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Jul 30, 2021 3:12 pm
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Bluey works by not talking down to kids

Lowell Kempf
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Our son has recently fallen in love with the cartoon Bluey. I don’t know how long that will last but the more we are exposed to it, the more we his parents are appreciating it.

Bluey is about an Australiaian family in a world of anthropomorphic dogs. Mum Chilli, dad Bandit, six-year-old daughter Bluey and four-year-old daughter Bingo. Bluey is the title character but it’s very much an ensemble work. Every character has a chance to shine and sometimes it’s even one of the friends.

Here’s the thing. One of the first descriptions I read of Bluey was that it was the Australian version of Peppa Pog. But what made it work for us was the vast number of things that are completely different than Peppa Pig. While, of course, it’s idealized, it’s a very grounded slice of life show. It doesn’t show big events, just tiny common life events. Other than talking dogs, it’s the most realistic show he’s latched onto.

I was already warming up to the show when my wife insisted that I watch the episode Bin Nights. In Bin Night, the girls help Bandit take out the garbage every week. They talk about their day, with a focus on Bingo talking about someone she’s having problems with at school. That’s it. Bandit supports and comforts her but doesn’t magically solve her problems. It’s very ordinary and very sweet and very relatable.

In many cartoons, parents only exist as an extension of the child. In Bluey, the parents are very much their own characters. To the point where we enjoy the parent-centered episodes much more than our son

Kids shows have been about teaching life lessons for decades. My childhood included several PSAs awkwardly welded onto cartoons. Bluey actually conveys life lessons in a genuine and gentle way somehow without being preachy. Our son is in danger of actually learning something.

We know other adults who watch Bluey to decompress and we can see why.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed Jul 28, 2021 11:31 pm
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Wodehouse and the nature of Club Stories

Lowell Kempf
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After reading the first collection of Lord Dunsany’s Jorkens stories, I found myself thinking about Wodehouse and his Mr. Mulliner stories and his golf stories. I had assumed that Dunsany had influence them until I learned Wodehouse has started writing them first

(It is hard for me to imagine anyone influencing Dunsany since he seems to have created or cultivated so many concepts that have shaped literature as at least I know it

(I also don’t know where the Drones Club stories fit into the Club Story genre. The Eggs, Beans ans Crumpets stories are stories told in a club but the reliability of the narrator doesn’t come into play)

I love both the Mulliner stories and the golf stories. That said, compared to the Jorkens stories that I have read, they are incredibly formulaic. Boy or girl has problem. Their attempts to solve problem make it much worse. Something crazy happens that solves the problem and they get happily married. The end.

And, in the golf stories, nine times out of ten, the guy with the lower handicap gets the girl

In the introduction to one of the Mr. Mulliner omnibuses, Wodehouse wrote that by telling the stories through a story teller, he was able to further and crazier than he could otherwise. He wasn’t asking the readers to suspend their disbelief that something crazy happened. They just had to suspend their disbelief that this guy at a bar was saying crazy stuff.

I’d say that the Mr Mulliner stories go farther than the golf stories as far as the craziness goes. Most of the golf stories are from the hilarious perspective of the oldest member who uses golf as the golf standard for everything. In the world Mr Mulliner’s relatives, anything goes. (Pun intended, thank you Cole Porter)

As much as I love Wodehouse, I can’t say that his work reached for a deeper meaning. The man wrote entertainment but he was one of the best at it.


Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Thu Jul 8, 2021 4:14 am
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