Thursday, July 19, 2018

The golden age of post-modern role-playing 3 - Shadowrun

Alright, let's go high concept.

Because what separates Shadowrun (online home here) from the genre collages of Rifts and Torg is that it tries, and to be fair mostly succeeds, in explaining why elves, dwarves and orcs should be runnng round the back streets of Seattle looking like members of The Sigue Sigue Sputnik Fan Club

To understand Shadowrun you have to know how big a deal cyberpunk was in the late 80's. Influences from fiction (Neuromancer et al), film and music had combined to create an aesthetic and a set of tropes that were very marketable.

Gunmetal bionic limbs! Mirrorshades! Cyberspace! Defy the corporate system in tight leather trousers! Hairspray!  

Ahem. You get the picture.

What pure cyberpunk role-playing games foundered on, in your correspondents opinion, was translating the moral ambiguity of the genre into a satisfying gaming experience. Usually - at least if you were teenagers who had cut your teeth on DnD and Games Workshop, any complexity tended to be discarded in favour of those cool cybernetic implants and those outsize guns in a nihilist race to the bottom.

By combining fantasy and cyberpunk - the old favourite and the flavour of the month - Shadowrun gave itself more options. Rather than banging your head repeatedly against the nightmare of dystopian capitalism, it opened the door to myth, magic and the possibility of hope.

And nothing demonstrates that more clearly than the narrative of how enchantment returns to the moderm world, with the indigenous peoples of the Americas regaining the use of their traditional magics to reclaim much of the continent east of the Mississippi. 

(as I recall, it's pretty well done for its time and a tribute to the never knowingly under-backstoried original creators at FASA, a company who lavished such love on the Battletech universe - a game essentially about giant mecha firing rockets at each other - that I can still remember whole star systems-worth of it today.)

Shadowrun says another world is possible. Which is most decidedly not a cyberpunk sentiment. 

One can see how the genre-blending understandably irritated William Gibson and wouldn't work half as well in a literary context. But it goes to show a) that books and role-playing games are different media with different needs and in particular that b) role-playing narratives often benefit from being anti-hegemonic in a way which fiction simply doesn't need to be.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Link library: compassionate communities

Thinking of narratives for volunteer recruitment, I wonder how useful the concept of compassionate communities will be?

Dying Matters: why we should develop compassionate communities?
Compassionate communities: end-of-life care as everyone’s responsibility - article in QJM by the originator of compassionate communities, Professor Allan Kellehear
Ambitions for Palliative and End of Life Care: A national framework for local action 2015-2020, by the National Palliative and End of Life Care Partnership of which the MND Association is a member. See in particular chapter 6 which is all about volunteers
Blog post on Marie Curie about Prof Kellehear's ideas and its implications for their work.

Update: a couple of new links courtesy of Sue Muller

Compassionate Inverclyde launches
Bill's story - video explaning compassionate communities from Palliverse

Update The Second: similar issues from a slightly different angle - as a joint group of government officials and voluntary, community and social enterprise reps put forward an action plan for involving the sector in improving health, well-being and social care outcomes. See the VSCE Review website for more information.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Reading recommendations from 2018 so far

A quick round-up of the best books I've read so far this year.

At The Existentialist Cafe: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails - Sarah Bakewell
The Honours - Tim Clare 
Walkaway - Cory Doctorow 
Normal - Warren Ellis
Winter's Tide - Ruthanna Emrys
Raven Stratagem - Yoon Ha Lee
The Will To Battle - Ada Palmer
Aurora - Kim Stanley Robinson (review here)
Osama - Lavie Tidhar
A Night In The Lonesome October - Roger Zelazny

All genre fiction, except for Sarah Bakewell's overview of existentialism. And all very good, although not quite great enough to merit bold type. :)

Friday, June 8, 2018

The patron saint of Eurodance

Found art: author unknown but fond of Eiffel 65.

Useful charity links 8 June

Why self-care and collective well-being are crucial to winning change (MobLab) 
City of Dreams: report from a Brazilian climate change campaign mobilising popular input and support (MobLab)
Hardy Merriman offers a useful theoretical model for defining a movement (International Centre on Nonviolent Conflict)
A blueprint for distributed organising (MobLab)
Free download report from Outrageous Impact on charity innovation

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Link library: volunteer recruitment best practice

For the Support Volunteer Project at work, we're having a look at the Association's approach to recruiting support volunteers like Association Visitors. A quick search this morning brought up the following articles, often saying more or less the same thing but each with their own slightly different perspective.

Alive With Ideas - 12 ways to keep your volunteers motivated and engaged
Charity Times article - a useful overview, with editorialising and quotes from various charities
Civil Society Voices - guest blog by Janet Thorne, Chief Executive of Reach, on skills-based volunteering.
Constant Contact - on using social media to recruit volunteers
Energise Inc - some recruitment maxims, including the interesting suggestion than no role should have 'volunteer' in the title - and writing persuasive volunteer recruitment appeals.
NCVO volunteer recruitment advice page - good summary of the basics - and how to write a persuasive advert
Nonprofit Hub - QR codes on posters and ensuring your enquiry process is mobile friendly listicle - especially for points 6 (gratitude) and 8 (getting out there with stalls etc)
Volunteer Hub - a nice point on volunteer advocacy on social media (Southampton Voluntary Services make a similar point about asking volunteers to design the ideal recruitment effort)
Volunteering Matters volunteer recruitment advice page 
Volunteer Now (p17-20) of a longer PDF - discusses 'warm body', 'targetted' and 'concentric' approaches to volunteer recruitment

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Dream Master! Dream Faster!

Over the years, Roger Zelazny has been the most reviewed author on this blog (see previous thoughts on Amber, Lord Of Light and This Immortal), which is odd because while I like his work I don't necessarily love it.

I may find him easy to write about because many of his interests - pop psychology, mythology, religion - coincide with my own. I also like the way his allusiveness - rich descriptions and deep conversations spanning the pulp architecture of his plotting - resists easy explanation.

In a way Zelazny represented the accessible end of the 'New Wave' of fantasy and SF of the late 60's and early 70's. He displays influences beyond the genre and a degree of literary experimentation, but he is a much easier entry point than fellows such as Ballard, Disch or Delany.

That said, his second novel The Dream Master (1966) is more difficult to fathom than many of his works. It follows Charles Render, a psychologist trained in the construction of healing dreams for his clients using a technowomb. Ostensibly the perfect therapist, his hubris undoes him when he attempts to give a blind woman dreams of sight.

It's a confusing book - intentionally so. Fragments of other narratives are placed alongside the main plotline, often without context. So much is hinted at, often in crucial passages that attempt to follow the logic of dreams themselves, that the reader apprehends the book as if through a glass darkly.

This gives it undeniable atmosphere. But a rushed ending in particular ultimately denies The Dream Master its potency. Zelazny himself felt the short story on which it was based did a better job, but having not read that I can't comment. 

I will say that several of the supplementary narratives felt like padding (interesting, but nevertheless padding) and the one-dimensional nature of the women in the book much less easy to overlook than they might have been at the time.

Interesting enough that it begs a re-read, but flawed enough that it stands more as a statement of ambition than of craft.