Watch City Festival 2013 and food outings

On Saturday, 11 May 2013, Janice and I met Beruk A. and Ken G. for the annual Watch City Festival in Waltham, Mass. We also ran into other acquaintances at the steampunk fair.

Beruk chatted with various exhibitors and fellow attendees, and Ken took pictures of people in neo-Victorian garb. Unlike past years, Janice and I tried to attend more panels and performances. It was interesting to see an academic track at the “Author’s Den.”

We sat in on “Ay-leen the Peacemaker’s” (Diana M. Pho’s) panel on “Steam Around the World: Steampunk Beyond Victoriana.” Her discussion of the multicultural aspects of the burgeoning subculture was interesting, and I was glad that Avatar: Legend of Korra was among the many works she cited. Exploration of social issues is part of the “punk” in steampunk.

We enjoyed a little of Shin Daiko’s drumming as we went to Margarita’s for lunch. We then browsed a bit among the vendors on the Waltham Common before attending artist James Gurney’s excellent discussion of “Dinotopia: Art, Science, and Imagination.” Gurney’s talk was a master class in how to combine elements for fictional world-building.

Ken left for another event, and we then went to “Seeing What the Old Masters Sought: Thoughts on 19th Century Design,” by Steve Ebinger. It was a good analysis of how real-world architects, painters, and inventors reacted to the politics, trade, materials, and expectations of their time and how they’ve influenced the do-it-yourself ethos of those developing the alternative styles of steampunk.

Overall, the turnout for the International Steampunk City was good, but the cool, damp weather may have turned some people away on Saturday. Janice and I had dinner at City Streets Restaurant, one of our regular haunts.

The next day, we returned to downtown Waltham after Janice’s usual stint volunteering at the animal shelter, and the sun shone on a crowd that included families celebrating Mother’s Day. It was much easier to be in costume.

Steampunk fair May 2013
At the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation

We went to Brandon Herman’s panel on “Clockwork Beyond Thunderdome: Steampunk in the Movies.” While I think that Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome shares only a few aesthetic elements with steampunk and dieselpunk, the genres are inclusive. Granted, there have been more bad movies and TV shows — such as Wild, Wild West — than good ones — see The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.

I do think the literature (including some tabletop role-playing games) is ahead of other media in terms of quality. I have fond memories of Tim M.B.’s GURPS 3e “Arth” and my “Gaslight Grimoire” scenarios. Speaking of RPGs, Janice and I then had an early dinner at the Skellig before heading home for the latest “Vortex: Terra’s Pride” telecom space opera.

In the past week or two, I’ve also eaten lunch with co-workers at the Newton St. Deli, Coconut Thai Café, and Taqueria el Amigo. Although I didn’t run the “Vanished Lands: Vistel’s Circus” fantasy campaign for my regular Monday night group this week, we did go out for dinner at Angelo’s House of Pizza and Seafood, watch the amusing animated Despicable Me, and discuss upcoming games.

The “Escapists” book club of former co-workers had dinner at Habaneros, one of Janice’s and my favorite Mexican-American restaurants in the area. At Lizzy’s, we had dessert and discussed Robert A. Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, which I liked more than everyone else.

This coming weekend, I look forward to hosting Byron V.O., an alumnus of the Boston-area social/gaming groups who now lives in St. Louis. But first, I’ve got to survive the workweek!

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Memento mori

We typically celebrate new life in spring, but it’s late this year. One downside of reaching middle age is that we recognize obituaries more than new people entering public life. The recent deaths of Muppet co-founder Jane Henson, film critic Roger Ebert, comic book artist Carmine Infantino are reminders of our mortality and that life is precious. There is always war and suffering in the world, but we tend to focus on individuals.

Promise of resurrection
We shall all return to the earth

After traveling to Chicago a few months ago for the wedding of my cousin’s daughter, Janice and I have dealt with less pleasant family news. Her Uncle Greg, who was always friendly and upbeat, died after a painful illness (at least partly caused by exposure to chemicals during the Vietnam War). We attended his wake and funeral in Pennsylvania, and it was evident from the turnout that he was much beloved by his community.

My cousin Socorro, who had taken me under her wing when I first visited my mother’s side of the family in the Philippines back in the 1970s, died unexpectedly in a fall. She had worked as a nurse in the U.S. and helped move me into college. Socorro returned home after illness, and her kind spirit will also be missed.

Three of my friends are still fighting cancer, and my thoughts are with them and their families. In the meantime, I have college chum David I.S.’s visit and a wedding in Upstate New York to look forward to later this month. No time to waste!

Storm season, 2013 edition

Just over a week ago, the U.S. Northeast was hit by a blizzard after a relatively mild winter so far. “Nemo,” as some dubbed it, dumped about two feet of snow on Boston between 8 and 9 February 2013. Fortunately, we had ample warning, and Janice and I were able to work from home on that Friday.

Found Nemo
Clearing up after February blizzard

It took several rounds of shoveling to clear our patio and cars, especially since Janice’s car got buried in the 12-foot-tall pile at the end of a row in our apartment complex’s parking lot. Still, hardy New Englanders were back to work on the following Monday, even if my face-to-face tabletop role-playing game was postponed again because of narrowed roads and difficulty getting quorum.

On Friday, 15 February 2013, Janice and I traveled to Chicago for the wedding of a daughter of one of my maternal cousins. We had visited them a few years ago. At Logan Airport, we had breakfast at Potbelly Sandwich Shop. Janice and I had an uneventful flight, picked up our rental car, and checked into the Hyatt Place in Hoffman Estates, Illinois.

We then joined my parents and my brother’s family for a filling lunch at the Lucky Monk brewpub. After a brief rest (since large gatherings usually involve eating), we went to Margie & Joe’s wedding rehearsal and the rehearsal dinner at Bankok House & Shanghai Restaurant in downtown Elgin, Ill.

The next morning, I watched cartoons with my brother and nieces, who also follow the strong but underrated lineup of Young Justice, Green Lantern: the Animated Series, and Star Wars: Clone Wars. We returned to Lou Malnati’s for proper deep-dish pizza.

My second cousin’s wedding was conducted at the Highland Church of the Brethren. The groom’s step-grandmother officiated at a ceremony that Margie & Joe designed themselves, gathering a diverse set of traditions. The reception was held at the Seville, a large hall that can apparently host several such celebrations simultaneously.

We ate, conversed with fellow guests and family members, and danced (even if we didn’t join the younger folks for “Gagnam Style“). The partying went on late into the evening, and a good time was had by all in Chicago. I’ll try to share some photos when they get uploaded.

Our return to Boston was delayed by only an hour by the latest snow. I finished reading Redshirts, which I enjoyed — it’s similar to the movie Galaxy Quest as a loving riff on Star Trek, but it was a little meta for my taste. On the way home, Janice and I got sandwiches at Charcoal Guido’s, a new eatery on Moody Street in Waltham, Mass., for “linner” (lunch+dinner).

After a few weeks’ interruption, the games resumed last night with Jason’s “Barsoomian Adventures: the Tenth Ray of Mars.” I’ll try to post an update for the planetary romance session soon.

Tonight, I’m meeting some former co-workers for dinner at Little India and the latest “Escapists” book club meeting. We’ll be discussing the magical realist graphic novel Daytripper, which I enjoyed. So much to do, so little time!

Barsoomian Adventures: the Tenth Ray of Mars, Session 1

Fellow role-players, here are Jason’s and my notes for Session 1 of his latest game, which Brian W. hosted in Newton, Mass., on Monday, 21 January 2013:

Player Character roster for Jason E.R.‘s “Barsoomian Adventures: the Tenth Ray of Mars” (Tē-sis ē Bâr-süm) pulp planetary romance miniseries, usingSavage Worlds,” as of spring 2013:

  • Sgt. Joe ‘Knack’ Kanaki” [Gene D.]-male Nisei Jasoomian (Japanese-American Terran human) tail gunner; two-fisted patriot who’s smarter than he looks
  • Beauregard ‘Bo’ Jennings” [Beruk A.]-male African-American Jasoomian, USO trumpet player, expatriate (NYC), former professional boxer and member of the French Foreign Legion
  • Kar Dalan (Kâr Dé-lan)” [Brian W.]-male aysismad (red Martian), an independent panthan (sellsword/scout) currently serving the nation of Raxar (Rax-âr)
  • Olera Gala” [Sara F.]-female Barsoomian masena (Thurian/Martian), one-eyed feline hunter and scout
  • Capt. Billy ‘Rip’ Rohrer” [Bruce K.]-male American Jasoomian pilot of the “Lucy Goosey,” a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber
  • Betsy ‘Blaze’ Harper” [Rich C.G.]-female American Jasoomian, fiery redhead, former Olympic hopeful, and aspiring actress on USO tour for exposure and patriotic duty, along with Carla Rizena and Lucy McIntyre

[From the correspondence of Joseph Kanaki] “26 December 1943:” Dear Mother, I don’t know when and if you will get this note, but as I promised, I’m taking notes during my travels. Between the censors at the Air Force and those at your internment camp, who knows if you’ll ever get this? Still, there are moments when things make even less sense than usual.

The “Lucy Goosey,” our B-17F bomber, was assigned to Pavia, Italy, on the Adriatic Sea. It has been a hard slog up the peninsula, but the infantry has it even worse, between the mud, the cold, and having a tough time telling friend from foe.

My commanding officer, Capt. William “Rip” Rohrer, is a standup guy. He always tells it straight to the men and understands our frequent need to blow off steam. Unfortunately, not every member of the brass is so relaxed. We got called into the strategy room at the air base. Tarps had been thrown over the maps so we wouldn’t see more than we needed to.

Col. Frank Allen explained that we were to conduct “Operation Neapolitan.” We were initially disappointed at doing a milk run rather than a combat mission, but since it would count toward leave and such, nobody complained too loudly.

Apparently, Brig.Gen. Lawrence had requested specific U.S.O. entertainers for his birthday in Tunisia. We’d have no fighter escort and no bombs aboard, but we shouldn’t need any, Col. Allen said. I offered to check out our passengers and scrounge any extra supplies. You know me; if the skipper wants something, he can count on “Knack” to get it.

As I left the command tent, I ran into Lt. Merlin Shields, he of the thin mustache, superior attitude, and the “Pistol Packin’ Mamas.” I call his unit the “Mama’s Boys.” I know it’s puerile, but every jibe is worth it. Shields was oh so interested in our assignment but couldn’t help but get in a dig at our expense.

Anyway, I found trumpet player Bo Jennings playing poker in the officer’s mess. He had wasted no time since his arrival. His companions were just as interesting: a blonde, a brunette, and a redhead. Lucy McIntyre [Sara/Non-Player Character] was bubbly, Carla Rienza seemed interested only in learning if the officers were wealthy, and Betsy “Blaze” Harper was a real pip, one of the boys in manner, if not in looks.

Sometime later, we took off, turning over the Mediterranean. I helped the already restless passengers get secure and then headed to my gun in the tail. Capt. Rip had already pointed out the uncanny resemblance between Lucy and our nose art, which featured a famous duck pinching a pretty girl.

Up in the cockpit were Capt. Rohrer, newbie co-pilot Lt. Milton Dunlap Jr. [Brian/N.P.C.], and navigator Lt. Victor Frisbie. They were joined by bombardier Lt. Harvey Kramer, flight engineer Lt. Conrad Zufall, and radio operator Sgt. Eugene “Pick” Lydic. All good guys, but I think you can already guess why I’m noting all of them here.

Without bombs, it was up to me, ball turret gunner Sgt. Benji Moon, and waist gunners Sgts. Harry Houchins and Billy McMillan to keep an eye out for German or Italian attackers. What we did see was something else entirely — a foo fighter!

A huge aircraft with the rising sun glinting off its dragonfly-like wings overtook us. I warned the cockpit via intercom, and we made evasive maneuvers. It passed us again, and numerous personnel stood on its ship-like decks. When I say “ship,” I mean a sea vessel like the one grandfather sailed. We gained altitude and came about.

The strange airship didn’t look like anything I’d seen before, but we tried to get closer, since it seemed to be struggling to stay in the air. Crazy Rip Rohrer tried to get himself killed as we lowered a cargo net to bring up evacuees. So of course, I had to go after him, but only after warning our crew and passengers to be ready for anything.

The men we brought aboard were underdressed, with reddish complexions and tattoos. They didn’t look or sound like Bedouin, but what did I know? An older man was trying to manipulate some device, which we grabbed. There was a blinding flash.

You’ll never believe this, but try to keep an open mind about what I write next. They say war does strange things to a man’s perceptions, but I don’t know any shell shock that can explain what I’ve seen, so here goes: We suddenly found ourselves flying over an unearthly desert.

Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars
Barsoom

The “Lucy Goosey” flew over some ruins. I thought it was too soon to see North Africa, but with all the fuss over the rescue operation, nobody had time to double-check our course. We clipped a white spire, and something heavy hit the top of our plane.

Rip and I managed to get the crew of the airship aboard our bomber, and we quickly cut the netting loose. Unfortunately, it was our turn to have difficulty, and we crashed into the sands outside the ancient city. We lost Milton, Harvey, Conrad, Victor, and Benji. Like I said, all good men.

After much pantomime, we learned that the old guy with the device was Thuran Gan, an isvar [is-vâr], which we later learned meant “chief ray scientist.” The red men (not to be confused with American Indians) passed around a flask, and we finally started to understand one another. Don’t ask me how; I sure didn’t make the rules out there.

Kar Dalan, a mercenary scout, joined us. He noted that there were four green men at the gates of the city. That sounded reasonable, except for the name of the place — Barsoom [Bâr-süm], or the Mars of Edgar Rice Burroughs‘ books. Blaze and I had read some of them, but pulp science fiction was now as real as the half-naked men and wrecked airship hanging above us!

The red men knew of John Carter of Virginia, whom we had assumed was a fictional character. They claimed that others from Jasoom [Ĵâ-süm], or Earth, had come to Mars around the time of the Great War — Vad Varo, now in Duhor [Dü-ōr]. I was either dead or going to have one hell of a headache in the morning. Blaze looked for javelins or spears.

A strange beast jumped from atop our downed bird. It looked like a large cat with a cyclopean eye. Kar introduced her as Olera Gala, a masena [mâ-sēn-â]. They had been sent to explore the dead city by Vora, the chief madvar [mad-vâr] of the Raxar [Rax-âr] Academy of Science.

Lucky for us, the city wasn’t entirely empty, as Olera reported seeing the yellow eyes of predatory banths [ban-iŧ] lurking in the dusty streets. Rip and Bo took advantage of the low Barsoomian gravity to jump great distances. The Olympics would sure be different here. The air was thin and cold, but it didn’t seem to bother us.

Four green men rode up on thoats [ŧōt]. I’m not sure which looked stranger, the 12-foot-tall, four-armed humanoids or their rhino-like steeds. They recommended that we seek shelter and said something about an ambassador between their tribe and Raxar, with whom they had a truce. Great, we’re in some other world or dimension, and it’s also at war.

Another airship arrived, bearing the purple banner of Raxar. Teedwar [Tē-dwr] (Col.) Kal Dan talked with Rip, Kar, and Thuran, and they agreed to take us back to their city. The Banzar [Ban-zâr], a huge vessel capable of holding 1,000 troops, towed the “Lucy Goosey,” with our surviving crew and passengers still inside. Rip and Bo jumped around for a while.

The city-state of Raxar was a sight to behold, with bustling streets, strangely beautiful red-skinned residents, and numerous flying craft. Everyone was on a war footing, with even children carrying short swords. We were taken to the academy, where we met the following people:

  • Orad Rel, aavar [â-vâr] or head of the institute
  • Kan Baniv, povar [pō-vâr] or theoretical physicist
  • Essa Naxa, soomvar [süm-vâr] or planetologist
  • Tan Orml, morvar [mōr-vâr] or biologist
  • Vora, the aforementioned madvar, or anthropologist

They all seemed happy to see us, since John Carter had once saved their city, leading to the treaty with the green men of Zarquad [Zâr-kwd]. The ambassador of Zarquad was one Torog, and the jed [ĵed] or king of Raxar was Daris Nar, related by marriage to other rulers, including Carter’s wife, Princess Deja Thoris.

Kan Baniv. the nephew of Vobia, the jeda [ĵed-â], arranged for us to have a royal audience. At the audience we were introduced to the royal family, including the jed’s two daughters, Daria and Teeza.

A wealthy noble (gem mines) named Emar Radtai was openly staring at Daria. We also caught Kal Dan stealing glances at Teeza. The jed’s two sons were killed in the last war. Apparently there is a middle daughter, Phainara, who is missing.

After initial conversations with the scientists, we Earthlings changed into Barsoomian harnesses and loincloths and debated what to do. Capt. Rip Rohrer wanted to offer our services to the jed, and Bo understandably wanted to stay, since he had little waiting for him back stateside. The red men called Bo a “First Born,” apparently from distant Kamtol, their own nation of black men.

I argued that we should look for a way home and maybe try to bring some Barsoomian stuff back with us to help the war effort. Imagine the look on Hitler’s face if he saw the Banzar with allied paratroopers! At least we agreed to keep our gear and people together for now. Me and the other gunners will take turns watching the “Lucy Goosey.”

We asked about Martian customs and learned the following four traditions:

  • Attar [ât-târ]: Literally “loyal sword”. To cast your sword at the feet of a fellow Barsoomian is the pledge your loyalty and trust to that person, even though it may cost you your life. If a man does this to a woman, it can be interpreted as a declaration of courtship. If the recipient is a man, he signals acceptance by reattaching the belt to the owner’s harness. A woman returns the sword, hilt first. To leave the sword where it lies is to refuse the offer. To return it point first is a rejection and insult. This means an immediate duel (if a woman, her closest male relative champions her.)
  • Dartos [dâr-tōs]: Literally “thousand bond.” The proposal of marriage among the red men, which symbolically is to last 1,000 years. A mate must be fought for and won.
  • Koak [kō-ak]: Literally “equal battle”. In private combat, you may not fight a fellow warrior in with any other than the weapon you were attacked. You may choose a weapon of lower status though. To draw a pistol on an enemy facing you with a sword is unpardonable.
  • Visha [vē-ša]: Literally “virgin forbidden”. Barsoomian men do not ask personal questions of women, except for his mother and the woman he has fought for and won (i.e. dartos). Royal women of the courts of Mars are deemed sacred — even touching them without permission has dire consequences for the transgressor.

Before the audience, Kar Dalan pulled a few of us aside to warn us to beware of making pacts too quickly. He was from a different nation of red men and had sold his services to Raxar. I agreed that it would be best for us to find out more and to share as little as possible about ourselves. I also asked him to help train us in swordplay, since blades were as common as rifles on Barsoom.

Of course, the best-laid plans of mice and men…. Not only did Rip offer his allegiance to Daris Nor, but we’ve also already got a mission! I sure hope the skipper knows what he’s doing….

I hope that Sara and Bruce had great birthdays, and I’ll try to post my notes for this past Monday’s “Vanished Lands: Vistel’s Circus” fantasy game soon. (Jason and Josh have my notes for the latest “Glassworks” and “Mystic Adventures in the ‘Big D.'”) I also hope that the weather doesn’t inconvenience everyone too much this coming weekend.

Assuming we have power and connectivity, I look forward to continuing the “Vortex: Terra’s Pride” telecom space opera on Sunday night! The current forecast for next Monday night is for freezing rain, which I hope doesn’t affect Jason’s next “Barsoomian Adventures” too much. Happy gaming!

Favorite artists — Rockwell and Ross

On the way home from Thanksgiving, Janice and I stopped at the Norman Rockwell Museum in western Massachusetts. We’re both fans of Americana, so it was fitting to see Rockwell’s paintings around that holiday.

While classified as more of an illustrator than a fine artist, Rockwell showed an idealized version of the U.S. in the early 20th century that was nonetheless influenced by the old masters. He also celebrated the common man and woman, small-town life, and the idealism of presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy.

Comparison of painters Rockwell and Ross
Truth, justice, and the American way

I was also pleased to catch an exhibit about Alex Ross, one of my favorite comic book artists. Ross’ superheroes are more Reubenesque than Rockwell’s figures, but he also shows a timeless version of ourselves as we wish we could be.

Ross has combined his childhood love of Challenge of the Superfriends, an awareness of classical mythology, and an intimate look at Marvel and DC icons to help renew the medium’s optimism. His paintings also demonstrate that four-color, spandex-clad people can look impressive rather than just silly.

Like Rockwell, Ross uses models for photographic reference rather than painting directly from life or imagination. Both painters have been criticized for the practice, but I think their finished works show that imagination, accuracy, and expressiveness are all parts of their artistic process.

On a related note, here are the comics titles I’m currently reading monthly:

DC:

  • Batfamily: Batgirl, Batwoman, Birds of Prey (to loan to David I.S.)
  • DC Nation (for nephews), Green Arrow/Arrow (to loan), Green Lantern: the Animated Series (for nephews), Justice League, Wonder Woman, Young Justice (for nephews)

Marvel: Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (for nephews), Captain America, Oz (Shanower/Young; trades only)

Other publishers:

  • Fantasy: Avatar: the Last Airbender/Legend of Korra, Conan the Barbarian/Queen Sonja/Red Sonja (to loan), Dresden Files, Pathfinder
  • Space opera (to loan): Battlestar Galactica, Doctor Who, Star Trek: the Next Generation, Star Wars: Agent of the Empire, Clone Wars (for nephews), new classic ongoing, Warlord of Mars/Deja Thoris (to loan)
  • Pulp: Rocketeer Adventures, Shadow: Year One/Masks, Sherlock Holmes (assorted titles), Steampunk/Gearhearts/Steamcraft, Steed & Mrs. Peel, Warehouse 13, Zorro Rides Again
  • Trade paperback collections only: Age of Bronze, Astro City (to loan), Indiana Jones Adventures, Liberty Meadows (to loan), Mouse Guard (for niece), Muppets, Peanuts, Powers (to loan), Star Wars Adventures (for nephews)