What I’ve been doing

It has been a few days since I posted anything, so what have I been doing?

I have mostly been doing actual design, working through some ideas for solo D&D. I will post the results in a day or two once I’ve figured out a few knotty details. I have also been reading Whitehack and cogitating about that. It is fascinating, and complex. The magic system is wonderful, and I’ll write about it after I’ve pondered some more.

I also had a think about a new series of posts, where I’ll be all excitable about great secondary characters in some of my favourite books. I might start with Angvasse Khlaylock, the Fist of Khryl, from the last two of Matthew Stover’s Caine novels. She is awesome: everything a paladin character in a RPG ought to be, but never quite manages to be.

I read a novel, too. The Annihilation Score, by Charles Stross. A newer entry in a longish series of stories about fending off eldritch armageddon from the bowels of British bureaucracy, and also, alas, the weakest so far. The narrator has shifted, in an interesting move, from Bob Howard (affable geek and emergent sorcerer) to his wife, Dominique ‘Mo’ O’Brien (combat epistemologist – I love that! – and serial occult trauma victim). They got married a few books ago, but Mo was always very much relegated to a source of worry and confusion for Bob. Unfortunately, whilst this book starts snappily, it drags horribly and telegraphs the plot: worse yet, Stross is the kind of writer who pads a thin story with excruciating pedantry rather than (say) irrelevant sub-plots (although he manages one of those too). The drag in the middle of this novel is a genuinely painful trawl though the life of a mid-grade middle-aged civil servant, which might be germane to one of the themes of the series, but which needs the light touch of Bob’s narration to be readable.

Which brings us to the other, still bigger problem: Mo as narrator. I could not come to terms with her tone or reasoning. Sometimes I thought Stross was being outright misogynistic, giving his female lead the attitudes one associates with the worst stereotypes promulgated by certain sorts of bitter men. At other times I was worried that I was being misogynistic for detesting the narrator for having these attitudes, although the reader is given precious little justification for them other than ‘getting older, husband difficult, badly traumatised’. I’ll give Stross credit for making me think, making me uncomfortable even – Bob was a cosy, familiar narrator, and Mo could have been too – but my sense of this book was that his reach for complexity with Mo far exceeded his grasp. Worst of all, I think he was merely trying fill a lot of space in his story rather than actually write a sophisticated character, and ended up doing neither well.

There are some amusing digs at the superhero genre, some lively dissections of politics, and a few snappy one-liners in there: Stross, playing to his strengths, is very readable. I would unhesitatingly recommend the first book in the series, The Atrocity Archives, to anyone. It’s really fun, and also surprisingly horrifying. This, the sixth book down the line, not so much.

I also drank gallons of tea, avoided practise, had my entire dinner fall on the floor before I could eat it – because cats! – and watched a few things utterly devoid of interest on TV.

So, hopefully a fresh wave of stuff will hit this weblog next week. Until then, keep checking those corners.