Essay: The “American Gods” Trinity

Greg Gibbs: Capturing the NightTime for the essay on the monthly book club reading, Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.  (Spoilers, of course!)

I spent a lot of time following connections between symbols, mythological figures, and themes; I was struck by the deliberate choices in which gods were represented and which were not.  When you think about different pantheons, you can come up with all kinds of symbols being represented, and not all symbols appear in every pantheon.  Gaiman made the choice of using very specific types of gods connecting thanks to very specific symbols; here is my essay on the topic.

This is only my second book essay where visual support is actually part of the critical argument; the previous one was on Alice in Wonderland.

Three groups of traditional deities or complexes prominently feature in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods: gods of light and (re)birth, cthonian gods of death and destruction, and gods of knowledge and trickery.  These are not factions, all the gods from one complex are not working together; but they represent the domains, the groups of symbols, that form the core of the novel — the solar myth.  A mind map below shows some of the associations we can make.  Continue reading “Essay: The “American Gods” Trinity”

Pacific Rim: Shortcut to story

Pacific Rim poster: Coyote TangoBeing my usual big freakin’ gaming nerd self, I watched Pacific Rim with both halves of my brain: the comic-book geek half, and the gamer geek half.  On the comic book side, of course, it is a visual delight: if, like me, you sat down for a big live-action rendition of a manga or anime fest, it was perfect.  Pitch-perfect, colour-perfect, choreography-perfect, design-perfect.

But there was also something there for the story-lover in me, the game-master, the attentive reader of clues, the analyst of systems; Guillermo del Toro and Travis Beacham use some interesting shortcuts to emotional impact that I think are worth a GM’s time to analyze.  (Note: I’m offering minor spoilers that are mostly covered by the introductory minutes of the movie.)

First of all, let’s get something out of the way: a simple plot does not have to mean shallow impact.  Not only does Pacific Rim have to be true to its origins in manga, anime, and kaiju movies — just like The Avengers or X-Men had to be to their superhero comic book roots; but it really only has to measure up to movies like Star Wars, Big Trouble in Little China, or Titanic in terms of plot.  If you think about it, these were very simple stories.

What it does have to do is bring the usually drawn frame into photo-realistic life, both literally (from manga to film) and figuratively, making us believe that someone is threatened, angry, frightened, vengeful, or elated in the film convincingly enough that we don’t keep pulling out of suspension of disbelief.  We have to care enough about the characters that we don’t start rooting for the kaiju the way I rooted for the bugs in Starship Troopers.

In game terms, that translates to wanting my players to get emotionally engaged with the adventure, just like del Toro wants his audience engaged with the story, while keeping the plot elements simple and clean, without oodles of backstory to labour through.  He uses a few tricks that GMs can plunder from.  Continue reading “Pacific Rim: Shortcut to story”

octaNe: Born to Be Wild

octane_squareI love Jared Sorensen’s little role-playing/story/indie/hippie game octaNe (Memento Mori Theatricks).  The premise: post-apocalypse road warrior adventures in the style of Six-String Samurai, Repo Man, or the Mad Max movies:

octaNe is a roller coaster ride through the trailer parks and strip malls of a post-apocalyptic, trash-culture America. A garish B movie brought to life in living Glam-O-Vision. A funkadelic, no-holds barred steel cage match of… well, you get the picture. octaNe shares a kinship with the B-movie action of Feng Shui, the PoMo gestalt of Over the Edge, and the weird western vibe of Deadlands (and its post-apocalyptic follow-up, Hell on Earth). But unlike some of those games, it’s not a grim, cautionary tale of the apocalypse or a gritty slice of urban street life. It’s a ridiculous world gone out of control, where the Mythic West meets Hollywood, where the clichés of film noir collide with the excesses of pulp comic books.
— Jared Sorensen, Introduction to octaNe

Google's Driverless CarThere are three dozen stock character templates, or “roles”, provided in the book: Masked Luchador, Elvis Impersonator, Outlaw Biker, Greasemonkey, etc.  One of them is the “Classic Smartcar”, more or less modelled after Kit 2000 and other similar vehicular wonders.

I’ve just been struck by a fierce hankering to play a renegade Google driverless car.  Won’t someone run a game for me?

Role: Classic Smartcar

Quote: “Don’t be evil. Amateur.”

Mode: Psychotronic

Gear: A mostly accurate pre-Collapse map database, advanced camera system, dual machine guns, a mine dropper, and an evergreen-scented air freshener.

Styles: Daring

Skills: Stunt maneuvering, Weaponry, Knowing the lay of the land, Sensors

Raise the Curtain! — A Muppet adventure for FAE, coming soon

Muppets group portrait

Yesterday at Endgame we heard that more game proposals are needed in order for FATE Con to be a success on August 10.  That’s a whole Saturday of games showcasing the varied ways in which Evil Hat Productions’ newly revamped FATE system can be used — free, in a friendly environment with great gamers.  Edmund and I have sent our own game submittals, and I hope to see my Bay Area friends there!  The system is available free in PDF, ePub and mobi formats from Evil Hat.

So here is my game outline:

FATE Accelerated coverGame System: FATE Accelerated Edition (FAE)
Scenario Name: The Muppet Show – Raise the Curtain!
GM: Sophie Lagacé
Variations: None; suitable for all ages, kids welcome.
Power Level: Muppets
Number of Players: 6
Characters provided? Yes; add aspects as needed
Description: The Muppets must put on a show — but they have no guest, strange noises can be heard backstage, and the chickens are acting even stranger than usual… Based on Tom “Blue” Tyson’s mini-setting “FAE: The Muppet Show – A New Season”.

There are some neat resources available online which I’m using in order to make nice character sheets.  If I can, I will post my full game notes.

Chicken Curry, Colombo Martinique-style

Full disclosure: I’ve never been to Martinique and I don’t have any family or friends from there to teach me proper recipes. This is, therefore, reverse-engineering as best I can a dish I’ve only had in restaurants. Still, the result tastes good, it’s easy to make, and it’s a one-dish meal.  (I stupidly forgot to take a photo, but we still have some in the refrigerator so I’ll try to snap a shot when I reheat it.

The sauce needs to be pretty spicy because the chicken, potatoes, coconut milk and fruit all serve to tamp down the heat.  So don’t be afraid to put in the whole hot pepper, and even add more spice if you have to.  And upon reheating any leftovers, the fruit will tend to overcook so you may want to add more.

Using de-boned chicken allows cooking a little faster (especially if you cut the meat in one inch or 2.5 cm cubes) but I like using a whole chicken that I cut myself; it’s cheaper and it gives me a carcass to make chicken broth with.  You can vary the vegetables and tropical fruit as available.

Spice Mix

  • 2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • ½ to 1 hot red pepper (Scotch Bonnet is great) OR ¼ tsp (1 mL) dried chili seeds plus ½ tsp (2 mL) black pepper
  • 1 ½ tsp (7 mL) sea salt
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) coriander seed
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) yellow mustard seed
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) cumin
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) cardamom seed (from shelled pods)
  • ½ tsp (2 mL) turmeric
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) fresh ginger, grated
  • ½ tsp (2 mL) dried marjoram

Grind all into a paste (a food processor is good!), put in a plastic bag, and toss the chicken pieces in. Shake well, seal, and place in the refrigerator for at least three hours.


  • 4 Tbsp (60 mL) oil (olive, sunflower or peanut are good)
  • A medium chicken, cut in pieces and skinned, marinated in the spice mix
  • 4-6 potatoes (depending on size), peeled and diced
  • 1-2 big carrots, in thick slices
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 4 big shallots or 2 small onions, chopped
  • 1 cup (250 mL) chicken stock
  • 1 cup (250 mL) coconut milk
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 yellow squash, diced
  • ½ cup (125 mL) rum
  • 2 ripe mangoes, peeled and cut in big chunks
  • 1 ripe papaya, peeled and cut in big chunks
  • 2 bananas, in chunks
  • Juice of ½ lime

Heat 2 Tbsp (30 mL) oil in a heavy sauce pan. Sauté shallots or onions for 10 minutes; set aside. Brown the chicken on all sides. Add the potatoes, carrots, more oil, and return the shallots or onions to the pan; cook until softened and browned, stirring frequently.

Add bay leaves, stock, tomatoes and coconut milk. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for about 40 minutes. Add the squash, simmer for 5 more minutes. Adjust seasoning.

Five minutes before serving, add the rum, lime juice, and fruit. Serve on rice.

Makes 8 portions.

More Casting for American Gods

Here are additional casting suggestions for supporting characters in a televised version of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. The first post is here.  Naturally, this contains minor spoilers, but I tried to stay away from the big stuff.

These are all tough ones to cast because they are older women and let’s face it, showbusiness is not kind to older women.  As a result, I end up with superstar picks that would likely be too expensive to cast for real, but hey, it’s my dream casting, right?  So I spared no expense.

Zorya Vechernyaya: Vanessa Redgrave (Camelot, The Charge of the Light Brigade, Mary Queen of Scots).  Strong, savvy, capable both of soothing white lies and bitter truths.

Vanessa Redgrave
Vanessa Redgrave

Zorya Utrennyaya: Ellen Burstyn (The Exorcist, The Ellen Burstyn Show, The Spitfire Grill).  She’s known mostly for her own television show and a plethora of supporting parts.  I could really see her early to rise and early to bed, with a sunny disposition and devastating honesty.

Ellen Burstyn
Ellen Burstyn

Zorya Polunochnaya: Julie Christie (Doctor Zhivago, Fahrenheit 451). Al Pacino called her “the most poetic of all actresses.” She recently played Grandmother in the movie Red Riding Hood.

Julie Christie
Julie Christie

Mama-ji: Rekha (Bhaburekha Ganesan).  She would need ageing make-up for the early parts of the role, but she can do dark and strong and independent — and terrifyingly beautiful.

Rekha (Bhanurekha Ganesan)

Relic – the game, not the players!

Relic - box coverEdmund and I played Relic, the recent release from Fantasy Flight Games, with our friend Steve earlier this week.  If you’ve played the old Talisman board game from Games Workshop, it’s very similar.  Instead of two stats you now have three, and the “flavour” is the universe of Warhammer 40,000 rather than fantasy, but it plays the same way.

I don’t really know why I loved Talisman so much — I can list the things that are wrong with it, but for me it remains a great beer-and-pretzel game.  I guess it’s associated with memories of a lot of fun times with friends.  Really, you’re at the mercy of luck (or poor shuffling of the cards), and you wander around hoping your fellow players will be hit as badly as you are by goofy die rolls.

Anyway, Relic plays the same way but offers a tiny bit more opportunity for strategy.  Not much more, mind you, but it’s still fun.  You know have more choices of gear and options for powers, plus missions to complete in order to acquire “relics”, the WH40K equivalent of “talismans”; and as before, you want to wait until the right time to advance to the end section of the board.  I don’t have too many complaints (at least not ones that would not apply to Talisman as well!), except that the graphic designers have put in way too much purple for my taste!

We finished the day with a few rounds of Race for the Galaxy, a fun and quick card game which I’ve discussed before.  In the end things were pretty fair: I think everybody won a round of one game or another in turn.

I’m not sure I trust technology…

KindleIn July 2011, my husband gave me a Kindle Keyboard 3G, my first e-reader ever.  In October 2012, it started malfunctioning, unable to stay charged and taking longer and longer to charge.  Amazon’s service was nice, though, and they sent me a replacement because the power supply is guaranteed for 3 years (the rest just for one year).

A few months later, I noticed that Kindle #2 was taking longer and longer to charge, ~14 hours to get to green light status.  So I notified Amazon and they sent me a replacement.  But I was wary and checked Kindle #3 closely; it charged at normal speed, but was losing its charge within a few hours…

I received Kindle #4 today, i.e., third replacement.  I spent yet another day transferring my library (I’m getting good at this, though, I have a workflow!)  Hurray for the free open source library management software Calibre.  Now, I admit that when I consider that I have many boxes’ worth of books on this little thing, it’s really neat.  But when I consider that I own books that are nearly 200 years old and still “work”, I wonder how long this collection will last.  No complaints at all about the Amazon support, but this seems ominous.

American Gods: Dream Casting

Playtone, Tom Hanks’ production company, is currently working on a television series based on Neil Gaiman’s novel American Gods, which is expected to show on HBO in late 2013 or early 2014.

Playtone has several successful series to its credit, including Band of Brothers, The Pacific, John Adams, and Electric City.  The series is to be directed by Robert Richardson (cinematographer for The Aviator, Hugo and Django Unchained) and the script written by Richardson and Gaiman.

No word yet has been released on the casting, so I thought I’d play the fore-casting game (haha) and propose my pick of actors.  I want to emphasize that this is a wish list, not news I read anywhere.

Shadow Moon: Jason Momoa (Khal Drogo in A Game of Thrones, Ronon Dex in Stargate: Atlantis).  He’s got the physique and the mixed heritage.

Jason Momoa
Jason Momoa

Continue reading “American Gods: Dream Casting”

American Gods: First Impressions

American Gods coverI started the July book for my reading group, Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, a week early and I took advantage of yesterday’s holiday to finish it.  I wrapped up my reading notes this afternoon; I have eight pages typed in 11-pt font…I had to plow through it quickly and without pause because otherwise I would have forgotten all the little details between reading sessions.

I liked it, largely because I paid a lot of attention to the aforementioned details and played connect-the-dots.  In terms of superficial story or characters, it was enjoyable but not sweeping; it’s the tapestry of references and allusions that were the meat of the book.

I will be curious to see if the same will come across in the HBO television series that is planned to air in late 2013 or early 2014.  It is certainly doable; the excellent Carnivàle, for example, and to an extent Kings, gave just that kind of impression.  Unfortunately, both of those were cancelled early, so I’m not sure how much mass-market appeal the style would have.