July Gaming

Jennifer is away practicing her Italian for the month– I’ll join her for a couple of weekends in the middle. Meanwhile, what do you want to do on Friday nights, if anything? Board gaming on Friday was a lot of fun– does that appeal to you. Let everyone know what you’re thinking and we’ll arrange for more fun. (Heck, this upcoming week we may press Mike into bringing the new Axis and Allies. It’d be interesting to see where it has changed.)

Current Plan: Gaming on Friday, June 26th

It looks like Dad should be back in town this upcoming Friday, which is also Jennifer’s last weekend in country until August. Can you make it? Please let us know if you’ll have any problems.

Kev, this weekend should be a Christian weekend– Ben had Emily last weekend. (Though if you’d confirm, I’d appreciate it Ben.)

Would everyone prefer to handle game updates via Facebook or Email? Please let me know what service you check regularly, if any.

Her Smoke Rose up Forever by James Tiptree, Jr.

A great collection of short stores. If you’re interested in James Tiptree, Jr./Alice Sheldon, this is the place to start. The stories are typically short and punchy, and the best are gathered here under one cover. It’s easy to see why she came to prominence so quickly; her stories are still cutting edge and quirky forty years later.

I disliked the introduction by John Clute– it’s a bad way to begin the book. Do yourself a favor and skip straight to the stories. The views of James Tiptree, Jr. by Jeff Smith (who originally interviewed her and kept in close correspondence with her throughout) and Julie Phillips (who wrote a long and well researched biography) are much less superficial.

James Tiptree, Jr.: The double life of Alice B. Sheldon

(by Julie Phillips) The book was extremely interesting and held my attention throughout. I’ve never been a big fan of biographies before, but this was either exceptionally well written, hit my interests spot on, or I’ve come to enjoy the complexities of a full life.

Alli’s life was full and complex. She grew up half smothered under parental love, but was also dragged along on long journeys from the time she was six. He parents were famous and a part of the society scene, and her mom in specific was highly respected. Alli tired early on of being told, “if you grow up to be half the woman your mother is…”

Alli seems bright, but very prone to the trap of originality. Throughout her life she struggled with big issues [the relations of male and female, the role of artists], but seemed determined to intuit her way to solutions rather than learning from others. Part of her problem stemmed from a lack of good woman role model in art and the other fields that interested her.

Her life wasn’t a string of successes, though the support of her family meant that her failures could be weathered in some comfort. She was impulsive– she married her first husband four days after meeting him. It didn’t work out very well– they were both rebellious and felt it was their duty to shock and provoke society. Alcohol and drugs made their marriage a difficult one to endure. It was stormy, with lots of shouting, threats, and temporary separations. They soon moved on to a full divorce.

At loose ends, she joined the army auxiliaries in the 1940s, survived the absorption of the auxiliaries into the full army, learned the tricks of analyzing surveillance photos, and found her husband “Ting”. They had a shaky marriage as the war wound down and they transitioned to civilian life, and soon decided to move to a farm and breed chickens. That lasted for almost five years before they drifted back into city life and joined the new CIA. Her husband did very well in the CIA, but Alli bounced from assignment to assignment and wasn’t looking forward to a career well behind her husband. Her introversion surfaced strongly and reacted badly to the stress and long hours of CIA life– she could project a cheerful front, but it wiped her out. (This entire time was trying to their marriage; she disappeared for months and they considered divorce, but they negotiated a very non-standard arrangement. They soon came to really love each other and twined deep into each other.)

She retired from the CIA and went into research. She enjoyed research and learning, but was terrible at getting along with her department, didn’t want to go through applying for grants, and picked a great singular topic for research– a fascinating study about novelty. But it wasn’t really structured to lead to a stream of research on the topic and she soon after defending her thesis, she left the life of research behind.

Throughout her life, Alli had a strained relationship with her mom, but now her mom was suffering more severely from aging. Alli also struggled with depression throughout her life, and particularly after her stint in the CIA, amphetamine addiction.

She was in her fifties by now and kind of at loose ends. She submitted some quickly written short stories and was amazed when they were accepted. She sent them in under the name James Tiptree, Jr.– whimsically selected from a jar of jam and joking with her husband.

Her pen name allowed her a whole new world of relationships with editors, fans, and fellow authors. Her life’s experiences were well suited to a man’s history, allowing her to write without much separation from herself. She kept her real identity hidden for almost a decade despite increasing curiosity from the whole science fiction community. During this time she established several strong relationships with other authors– including Ursula LeGuin, who she nicknamed Starbear. After his mother’s death Tiptree’s identity fell apart, robbing her of the solace the alter ego had provided. [Particularly interesting to me was the strength of her connection to LeGuin– she was the first person Alli wrote when she was warned that her secret was unraveling.]

Thereafter she wrote fewer stories, as age struck her husband and herself. Their yearly vacations to the lodge, Canada, and Mexico became more complicated (due to health issues) and finally had to be set aside. Eventually she killed Ting and herself at home.

There’s a lot of very interesting stuff that I skimmed right by– her sexuality and her lifelong questions about it, her early career as a painter, and a lot of interesting depth about all of her relations. It made for fascinating reading, and is a book I highly recommend.

Grand Battle Report: Attack!

Quick overview: Three of us played the Attack! scenario from Cry Havock 2. Mark played 3000 points of Therians against me and Bryan, who each fielded 1500 points. My army was UNA, while Bryan played Red Blok. The struggle was mighty, but in the end the Therians were victorious.

A note on setup: We ran each side with two commanders, so the Red Blok and UNA each had a commander and the Therians had two separate platoons, each with a commander. Initiative was strictly alternating; for example, a Therian authority test victory might lead to Therian A – Red Blok – Therian B – UNA. Having two separate commanders for each force led to a lot of LP floating around.

Warning: I took notes along the way and took a lot of pictures. The post is below the fold because of its length. Continue reading “Grand Battle Report: Attack!”

Next Game: Serenity on Friday, June 19th

Dad, Jen, and I are traveling for a birthday/graduation party this upcoming weekend (though Dad may leave for it much earlier), so we’re looking forward to Serenity’s next session on Friday, June 19th.

Otherwise, I’m looking forward to continuing the Aviary’s saga on the 19th!

Update: Kev will be out of town celebrating his father’s birthday and Father’s Day. We’re planning on continuing the session… it sounds like he’ll be busy in the hold of the ship keeping everything together.

Out of the Everywhere by James Tiptree Jr. (and Raccoona Sheldon)

Out of the Everywhere and Other Extraordinary Visions (1981) is a solid short story collection by Alice Sheldon. (The two names in the title are the pseudonyms she wrote these stories under). This is a solid collection of mostly good stories. As she later wrote, the weaker stories are typically written by Raccoona, but they’re all interesting.

One interesting short story is Raccoona’s The Screwfly Solution, which turns men into monsters. The final two stories in the collection are also interesting. Out of the Everywhere is a strange mix of viewpoints, including a cosmic wisp drifting among the stars and several humans who are all linked. The last story was very strong– With Delicate Mad Hands— a strange longing for the stars, a tale of repression and bullying, and a first contact story all rolled up together.

Thinking about Stunts in Spirit of the Century

Rob Rendell explains the breakthrough that made stunts “click” for him, in response to a general question on the mailing list about Stunts and Aspects.

Since you mention stunts, I assume you’re playing Spirit of the Century?

Aspects are explained extensively in the SotC rules in their own chapter (starting on page 33). I’m pretty sure I can’t do a better job of explaining them than the text of that chapter.

Stunts took me a while to come around to really understanding. Superficially, they grant all sorts of random “always-on” abilities that your character enjoys, and are detailed in their own chapter in the SotC rules starting on page 115.

When I first read SotC, stunts felt at odds to the Fate 2.0 way of doing things to me. Since then, however, various things I’ve read[1] have finally gotten the idea through my thick skull of what Stunts are: they’re cool things that anyone with appropriate aspects could reasonably do by spending a Fate Point, locked down to allow whoever has that stunt to do that cool thing over and over as a shtick *without* having to spend a Fate Point. You’re sacrificing versatility for repeatability.

The example that really drove the point home for me was the racial aspects in Spirit of Swords and Sorcery: the only mechanical effect of being a Dragon is a single racial aspect, “Dragon”. To do dragon-like things, you can spend a Fate Point to invoke the aspect to fly, or breath fire, or shape-shift into human form, or various other dragon-y things. This worked for me as a racial aspect: it was *possible* for you to do these cool things that a regular human character couldn’t, but the requirement to spend a Fate Point each time you wanted to do one of those things meant that it was limited in its frequency.

And then I got to the stunts for Dragons, and there was a stunt that mean that you could fly without spending a FP, one which allowed you to breathe fire without spending a FP, one for shape-shifting with the FP. Suddenly, I grokked what all the stunts in SotC were about: as I said above, cool things that your character probably *could* do by spending a FP, but because you want it to be one of the defining shticks of your character, you spend one of your stunts to be able to do it over and over without the FP.

Hope that helped.

[1] Things that I read which helped me come to my understanding of stunts: discussions on this list, reading Rob Donoghue’s “Going Stuntless” article and the conversion “Spirit of Swords and Sorcery” (both of which are in the Files section of the yahoo group) and discussions of how buying Stunts reduces your refresh (the number of Fate Points you start the session with) in the Dresden Files RPG.

Next Game: Friday June 5th

Jennifer and I are getting away for the weekend to celebrate her birthday. Kev’s also busy on Friday the 29th. It looks like the next session will be Friday, June 5th. Let’s make it Serenity, since it’s just getting off the ground and we’ve had trouble with the last few sessions.

Can everyone make it on Friday the 5th?

Meet Me at Infinity by James Tiptree, Jr.

This is a great book to read if you’ve read everything else by/about James Tiptree, Jr./Alice Sheldon. I made the mistake of reading it first and it was just… okay. The book consists of rarely and never published fiction (some from before her writing career took off, some published once in a zine or small collection, and so on), and non-fiction contributions to fanzines. The stories are generally weak but fun– it’s not hard to see why they weren’t submitted or weren’t accepted at the time, but they’re still interesting for a breezy read.

The fanzine non-fiction contributions and relationship with Jeffrey Smith, the small-circulation fanzine editor who later became literary executor of her will, are the core of the book. She is insightful about her vacation spots, with great snippets of place and people. I particularly liked the contributions to the Women in Science Fiction circular– I think I’d like to read the whole thing and get the context.

Again, if you already love Tiptree, you’ll probably love this book. If you’re just getting started on her works, save this for last.