Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Election Day

Although of no interest to out-of-staters and possibly of marginal interest to Californians, here's how I'm voting tomorrow:

Governor: Jerry Brown
Lt. Governor: Gavin Newsom
Secretary of State: Debra Bowen
State Controller: John Chiang
Treasurer: Bill Lockyer
Attorney General: Kamala Harris
Insurance Commissioner: Dave Jones
U.S. Senator: Barbara Boxer

All of these people are the Democratic candidates for their position. I did consider each office on individual basis, and there were a number of cases where I would normally think of voting third party: governor (I doubt Brown can even get himself excited at the though of his possible future term), lieutenant governor (I respect Newsom a great deal for his stand on same-sex marriage, but, even with a collection of shitheads in the Board of Supervisors, he's been a failure as mayor), and, most especially, attorney general (it seems it's a tradition among SF district attorneys that they be absolutely worthless). However, there has never been an election year where the choices are more clearly defined. Thanks to the polarization of the irrationalism, bigotry, and sheer ignorance of the Tea Party (otherwise known as the Republican wing of the Republican Party), I simply will not consider a third-party vote when it might it possibly benefit the Republican candidate on any level. It would be like voting for anyone but the SPD seventy-seven years ago.

As for the propositions:

Prop 19: Yes. Structural flaws or not, it's essential that the push towards drug legalization gets rolling, and state legalization of marijuana will hopefully be a major step towards that. As of today, the War on Drugs has cost $42,524,538,184 this year alone. That's over half of what the federal health care reform bill will cost on a yearly basis, and, while the health care bill gives us something tangibly beneficial, the War on Drugs has provided nothing but misery and frustration for all involved.

Prop 20: No. There is a very simple and easy solution to gerrymandering: mobilize and elect politicians that support your views. Gerrymandering isn't what is keeping the Republican Party out of power in California, it's your baffling adherence to extreme positions that don't play in the sane part of the country. Republicans and other parties have done nothing to deserve an equal representation in redistricting, and if Judge Walker's decision on Prop 8 was against "the will of the voter," then establishing unelected committees to redraw districts is just as equally undemocratic.

Prop 21: No. I like parks. I like representational democracy even more. I elect politicians to have balls and pass taxation when they need money (although I recognize that's not so simple in California, see Prop. 25 below). Vehicle license fees are regressive taxation that pays no mind to the income level of the person being taxed. I will vote for officials that will increase funding to state parks. I will not vote to do the job they should be doing themselves.

Prop 22: No. It sucks that Prop. 13 has set up a budget structure by which city revenues can be so easily raided by the state to pay the bills on the gargantuan administration needed to manage what should be city services that can't be carried by the city because they have no money because their revenues can be so easily raided by the state to pay etcetera et-fucking-cetera. Lockboxing revenue is never a good idea, especially during tough economic times when it needs to be flexible to meet our most necessary demands. The problem is Prop 13, and this is just another band-aid on what has been the ever-growing cancer at the heart of the California government.

Prop 23: No. Do you like Texas oil barons spending millions to keep California's from even attempting to do anything about climate change, regardless of what they've already supported at every level of the decision-making process? Do you like being anally-raped by your corporate overlords? If you answered yes, then vote yes on Prop 23. If you are not a complete tool, vote no.

Prop 24: No. Basically this an attempt by the Californian Teacher's Association to work around tax breaks given as consolation prizes by the Democrats in the state legislature to moderate Republicans to get a budget passed. Regardless of whether those tax breaks hurt or help the California economy, this is another example of an attempt to use the proposition process to micromanage the budget and have voters do the jobs we elect legislators to do for us. Hopefully if we can pass Prop 25, we can end this nonsense. Speaking of which...

Prop 25: Yes. HOLY FUCKING YES. This is the most important item on the ballot. California has tried this experiment of a two-thirds majority requirement for voting in a budget for decades now, and it was all fine until Prop 13 added a supermajority to taxation and screwed everything to hell. We have been living by Howard Jarvis rules for 32 years now and California ain't exactly been the Libertarian Utopia that was promised. As long as we keep the supermajority for the budget, Republicans can continue to stymie the process, Democrats can continue to claim it was all the Republicans fault, and the legislature will continue to pass bonds that are so devaluing the state's credit and no one will ever get held accountable. Only Arkansas and Rhode Island require a two-thirds supermajority for passing a state budget, and that might be all fine and dandy for Sister-fuckingville and Tinyland, but this is the 8th largest economy in the motherfucking world. Do the right thing.

Prop 26: No. See Prop 23, just here the attempt is to neuter Prop 25 and keep the carbon emissions flowing. Do you like the taste of corporate ass? If so, vote yes on 26 and get licking, slave.

Prop 27: Yes. See Prop 20. Right or wrong, democracy means you get the government you deserve people. When less than three-fourths of all eligible voters bothered to make a choice in 2008 for the California state senate, you can't tell me that democracy is being subverted by anything other than apathy in this state. And if it turns out to be true that Californians do overwhelmingly vote Democrat in this state, then change or die, Republicans.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

PacifiCon 2010

This is my face. This is my face on bad gaming conventions. Any questions?

That's probably not fair, as PacifiCon 2010 wasn't that bad, at least not the half I was able to attend. I ran my game on Friday, played in a couple of games on Saturday, and woke up on Sunday to find half of my face had gone dead. Luckily, it was just my face (and not the rest of my body, which would suggest a stroke) and, following a visit to my local emergency room, I was diagnosed with Bell's Palsy, an almost-certainly reversible but highly-annoying disease that is a lot more common than I realized. As I write this, I still can't make a proper smile, but I am getting better and expect a full recovery by the end of the month.

PacifiCon 2010 was pretty much the same as PacifiCon 2009: same hotel, same sign-up procedure, same dwindling number of role-playing gamers. The big difference between last year was the number of games. There were about 47 RPGs at Pacificon this year, whereas there were something like 120 games at KublaCon and almost certainly more than that at DunDraCon. It also didn't help that the games were poorly scheduled (there were more RPGs scheduled for Friday afternoon before people got off work than there were for Friday evening). Now, with such a small number of gamers and an equally small number of games, PacifiCon is looking more and more pointless, especially as there will be a new weekend gaming convention in October next year.

As for what I played:

The Last Flight of the Cathay Clipper (Call of Cthulhu: Delta Green)
My game, running it for the last time. A good time seemed to be had by all, and the game itself unfolded in some different ways than it had previously. I still think it's always been a good premise in need of a much reworked climax, but I'll never run it again.

To End All Wars (Savage Worlds)
This was a pretty straightforward pulp game where the characters (stock two-fisted heroes) found out about a Nazi plot to gas the Lincoln Memorial from a zeppelin and foiled the plot. The GM didn't have enough characters so I ended up creating one (a Chinese teenage baseball player named Wide Load). It was short but fun, and I got to play more Savage Worlds, which is good because it's the system I'll be running at the Dead of Winter convention this December.

Gre'thor Rising (FASA Star Trek)
We were a bunch of Klingon officers (I played the Captain of Marines) commanding a fleet of warships to recapture a lost vessel and destroy a nest of mutinous separatists. The system is quite old (percentile-based with the highest skills in the 50's) and the GM was very old-school (must roll to do pretty much anything). Ordinarily, this kind of game would've been my fifth or sixth choice on a schedule, but beggars can't be choosers at PacifiCon. Nevertheless, it was a surprising amount of fun, primarily because the GM had crafted a nifty starship combat system onto the game (and every player got some role to do, either handling some part of ship operations or commanding a lesser vessel in the fleet). Once I had recognized the parameters of the "fun" in the game, I focused on that and ended up having a great time.

The next morning, I got into an ICONS game run by a good friend of mine, but very early on I realized that there was something seriously wrong with my face and I would need to see a doctor, so I had to bail out. That was a shame, as that ICONS game and a later Cthulhu Dark Ages game were pretty much the only things that really looked interesting to me on the schedule (or I had not already played at a previous convention).

I repeatedly stated at the con that this PacifiCon might be my last. It's just not worth the hotel expense for so few games (and so few gamers). However, my plans for 2011 also included a pilgrimage to GenCon, and with my sister getting married next September, that's looking much less likely. So, I may end up attending PacifiCon 2011 after all, although if I do, I'm thinking I may just ignore what little RPGs are available and concentrate entirely on wargaming, something I've never tried before.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

From the Original Draft of the Declaration of Independence

"he has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it's most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people, who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. this piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian king of Great Britain, determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or restrain this execrable commerce; and this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms against us, and to purchase the liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people on which he also obtruded them: thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another."
We could have been better then, and over the course of hundreds of years, we have become better. The lesson of America's past is not in how great our country has been, but in how much greater our country can still become, so long as we continue the revolution to expand the ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

KublaCon 2010

This year's KublaCon was fantastic. I didn't get into a single bad game, and it was surprising how consistently good all the GM's and almost all the players were in the games I played. Usually there's at least one problem player that drags the game down, but there wasn't anything like that at this con. Although there wasn't as great a variety as I'd hoped to see in terms of games (no Eclipse Phase, Dresden Files or Doctor Who, and the Supernatural games both got cancelled), KublaCon gave the great experience I've come to expect from it, and was so much more satisfying than this year's DunDraCon.

Hitting the Bottom (Call of Cthulhu)
Most of us played professors that had burned down part of our university to stop a Mythos ritual encoded in a music performance, and were now hiding out in Seattle. I played a physicist with a scoped AR-15 and some proficiency in Martial Arts, which gives a good impression of the kind of game it was. We ended up saving some creature that was being tortured by a punk band managed by Men from Leng in a raid that killed half the party. That part was fun, but we spent a good fourth to a third of the game corralling one character that didn't want leave his mental treatment center and (we believed) we desperately needed to continue the story. That was not fun, at least for me, although, considering that player was voted best of the game, I'm assuming the other players had less of a problem with it. I like player conflict, even just internal conflict within a single character, but not when it goes on forever and turns into the rest of the group watching one player's performance. The GM did try to step in and force the player to get on board the plot, and ultimately it was an interesting story, but it seemed to get rushed near the end because so much of it was spent dealing with that one situation. That did a disservice to what might have been a really great game, but was still a pretty good one.

Operation Queckselbradler (Story Engine)
We were all (except for a British spy) the crew of an American B-17 bomber during WWII, who was assigned to bomb Hanover and then drop off the spy on the way back. After some nasty scrapes with ME-262s we ended up being catapulted through time into an alt-England where the Germans won the war. When the game started, it looked like it would only be three players, so I made a pilot character thinking we'd need one; but, then a bunch of folks turned up and I ended up playing a command role I didn't expect to. The system was designed to be very cinematic, so I had to cast my character (Brad Pitt's Aldo Ray from Inglorious Bastards, the only Southern kick-ass type in recent movies I could think of that wasn't Sawyer from Lost) and we rolled a group die roll to determine how the scene played out before we actually role-played it. It was like a lot of narrative games for me - great fun as a one-shot, but nothing I could see playing for even a short campaign. A very good GM though, and a good group of players.

Strange Bedfellows (Spycraft)
The last time I played Spycraft it was run by two of the most incompetent GMs I've ever played with, and my strongest memory was of spending most of an hour trying to get from one side of a balcony to another as we ran through the combat actions of over a dozen PCs. This was so much better, although I had a bit of a panic attack when I saw all the pages of character and equipment stats. We definitely seemed to play by the rules, but the GM had a steady hand on them, and they didn't turn out to be very difficult to learn once we got into the game itself. Having now played Spycraft with a good GM, I can say that the rules work well for a strongly tactical game, but are far too crunchy for me. Still, the game felt very cinematic and pulled off a bunch of over-the-top action scenes one would expect of a Bond movie.

Last Flight of the Cathay Clipper (Call of Cthulhu)
My game. This was a great bunch of players, and every single one of them really took ahold of their character and played it to their fullest. Besides playing with less people (a cap of 6 players) and speeding up the second half a bit, I didn't do anything particularly differently than before, but the game did seem to run a little more smoothly. My only complaint was myself: I felt really tired and bumbling through the whole game, and don't feel that I brought my A-game. I've decided to try and run my next con game on Friday evening (when I'll be fresh) and hopefully be a little slimmer and more healthy so that I'll have a higher energy level and a clearer mind.

Planasthai (Cinematic Unisystem)
Another really good game, this one based in the Star Trek universe (it was never settled whether it TOS or the "new movie" Trek). The Cinematic Unisystem rules (the same one used in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel games) worked flawlessly, and made me wish more GMs were still using that system because it works so well for genre games like this. Again, there was a great bunch of players, especially the one playing the Captain who did a dead-on impression of a starship captain somewhere between Kirk and Zapp Brannigan that still managed to be original. I played a Vulcan security officer, perhaps a little too strongly, as one of my friends (who also played in the game) was concerned afterward if I was feeling alright because I had been so quiet during the game. The game itself nicely captured the feel of a TOS episode, especially as it dealt more with philosophical issues of violating the Prime Directive than how awesomely we might blast monsters with our phasers.

The Replacements (Storyboard)
I didn't get into any of my choices for Sunday evening, so I threw caution to the wind and crashed into this game, mostly on the fact that I knew and liked the GM. A high-magic fantasy game about mephits who serve an elderly wizard too old to be adventuring that are sent on a deadly errand into the Underdark and face drow and spider queens is not my usual cup-o-tea, but, even though I was exhausted, it turned out to be a lot of fun. The game had the feel of a Miyazaki movie, at least to me, and was light-hearted and full of laughs. The Storyboard system worked fine, but it was (again) the high quality of the players and the creativity of the GM that really made the game for me.

The Backups (Mutants & Masterminds)
There were not a great deal of choices on Monday morning, and as this one was GM'd by a guy I used to play Shadowrun with, I thought I'd give it a try. It had some really good players who were also a bit loud, which faded out some of the other players at the table. All that became a non-issue once we got into the action, which was fun and well-paced but I get the feeling it was never as threatening as the GM intended it to be. The M&M system was easy to pick up, enough so that I might take a look at if I ever get another hankering to run a superhero game. The real highlight of the game was probably the greatest superhero character I've seen made for such a game: the Metagamer, a guy whose powers were that he knew he was in a role-playing game, and had the (limited) power to rewrite reality but also anything the player said at the table was always considered in-character. The guy who played Meta-Gamer did an exceptional job, and half the fun of the game was everyone just dealing with the nonsense created by the character interacting with the GM. A really good game.

I can't believe how good KublaCon ended up being. So many good games run by thoughtful and inspiring GMs trying to create something more than just the average con game, filled with people (I think there might've been a single game that didn't get filled-up by the shuffler) that were not all mouth-breathing, neck-bearded, morbidly obese, t-shirt torturing grognards. Which probably just means that I was that guy in the room for everybody else. It still worked for me.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Endgame Mini-Con April 2010

I made a serious mistake with this mini-con at Endgame - I waited too long to sign-up for games. In the past, I've signed up as soon as games show up on the schedule, and, while I almost always get into a good game, there are usually one or two unique games that get posted late that I really would've liked to play but can't now that I'm already locked into something else. So with this con, I waited to the last minute. On the one hand, this meant I did get to play two very unique games; but on the other, the morning session filled up so quickly that I couldn't get into a single game, and ended up only playing two instead of three games.

My afternoon game was Agon, run by Sean Nittner (of the Narrative Control podcast). Agon is a game of Greek heroes doing mighty deeds and overcoming great odds to gain glory. Most of the game was narrative-based, with mechanics where players rolled off against their various skills (a D4 to D10 die + their D6 "name" die) to succeed in a conflict (to further the plot) and against each other (to be the one that claims credit for the success and thus gain greater glory). Players can help each other by offering their skills to another when not directly involved in the roll, in exchange for an oath that will compel the other player to return the favor at some later point. As oath-taking and failing conflicts quickly degrades skills and depletes the "divine favor" useful to make rolls highly successful, there is a mechanic where the characters engage in a week of revelry, challenges, or rituals to regain some of their original values (although this can be very slow, in particular to regaining skills). This aspect of the game works pretty well, moving the story quickly and favoring aggressive role-playing. Combat gets a little more crunchy, with a positioning mechanic similar in feel to the new Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, but is still relatively smooth and quick. My only real criticism of the game is that, while there were a time or two where I felt my character was less than effective (this was mitigated by an interlude of revelry), I never felt my character was in danger. A fate mechanic, where the character gets closer to the end of their story, never really came into play, and wounds never got terribly serious. I think this might have been due to the one-shot nature of the game, and those aspects could come up more in a campaign. All in all, I liked the game, the GM was good, and the players were fun, so I'd like to try it again.

My evening game was a playtest of an unpublished system run by Paul Tevis (of the Have Games, Will Travel podcast) based in the Delta Green setting. I won't talk about the mechanics of the game (as Paul may be thinking of publishing it) except to say that it was a quite effective story game that emphasized the interpersonal relationships of the agents and the internal questions each character was grappling with during their battle against the Mythos. I was little worried when I saw we'd be playing characters from Paul's campaign, as that situation has never worked well for me when I've played it at other con games; but, the players were all top-notch and we so quickly got into our characters that it worked out great. It was a fantastic game and lots of fun.

The next Endgame Mini-Con will be the Good Omens Con on July 17, although KublaCon at the end of May is what's next on my agenda.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

DunDraCon 2010

After this year's DunDraCon, I've come to the conclusion that it, in terms of good role-playing experiences, DDC is the worst of the three gaming conventions in the Bay Area. DunDraCon still sounds better than what I've heard of non-Bay Area cons, which seems to be fixed to 4-hour game slots in communal rooms rather than the local standard of 6-8 hour slots in individual rooms. And I plan to go next year. I've just realized that, for this and every other year I've attended, the games I've played at DunDraCon tend to be mediocre.

Once again, I almost didn't attend the convention. I was sick (so much so that my doctor sent me to the ER the previous week) and still have something (possibly a fatty liver) as of yet undiagnosed, but on the second day of the con, I was feeling well enough to go. So I only played in four games, and was never feeling 100% solid throughout the entire con, and that could be considered a factor in why I had such a mediocre experience... except that I've had a lot of mediocre experiences at past DunDraCons.

DunDraCon has a reputation as the premier RPG convention in the Bay Area, as it's the oldest, not just in Northern California but on the West Coast as a whole. It has more RPGs than KublaCon, which is considered more of a general gaming convention as it equally focuses on card, board, and miniature gaming. It also has more RPGs and number of attendees than PacifiCon, which has been an almost ad-hoc affair over the last few years. Nevertheless, PacifiCon has such fewer players that it's easy to get into your game of choice, and there's more of a feeling of "can do" attitude (or least, lowered expectations) that I almost always have a good time there. KublaCon is just always a great time: the hotel is gorgeous, the atmosphere feels vibrant as everyone is getting their game on with so many choices (even if there are less RPGs), and the slate of RPGs tends to be more varied than the usual Call of Cthulhu, Hero, and endless iterations of Dungeons & Dragons that make up most of DunDraCon's schedule.

Whereas KublaCon always feels fresh and new, DunDraCon always feels stale and old. Although the systems may change (often though they don't) gamemasters at DDC tend to run the same kind of games with the same kind of standards for the same kind of players they have, year-in and year-out. Whereas at KublaCon and PacifiCon, I've played in games where the GM put a strong effort to create a compelling story, cool handouts, or run a new kind of system, at DunDraCon, GM's tend to run something just good enough to fill 6-8 hours. DunDraCon also feels choked to death with mouth-breathing, neck-bearded, morbidly obese grognards; and while I myself may fit some or all of those descriptors, I don't wallow in it. The players at DunDraCon are often more likely to want to joke around at the table than to get into their characters and role-play out a story, whereas I often run into players at Kubla or PacifiCon that really try to create an exceptional experience. DunDraCon feels to me like it's become comfortable in its own mediocrity, and it shows in the quality of the games and gamers it attracts.

As for this year's games...

Tales of the Singing Skull: The Clipper (Call of Cthuhu)
We played actual passengers onboard the Hawaii Clipper, which disappeared in 1938. My character was a Chinese-American restaurateur bringing 3 million dollars to the army of Chiang Kai-shek. Since I was the only character expecting trouble, I was the only one armed when three black-clad "ninjas" armed with submachine guns burst into the lounge in mid-flight, took over the plane, and started killing everyone onboard once they found the two American scientists they were looking for. One of those scientists was the only PC not be killed (in the first five minutes of the game!), and then we were all resurrected by the Singing Skull, a skull packed in cargo containing the spirit of an ancient Italian sorcerer compelling us to take back the plane and bring him to Ponape where his "friends" were waiting to take him home. The "friends" ended up being Deep Ones, who we allied with so as to take over a Japanese patrol boat. The Deep Ones sacrificed the Japanese to power the ritual which sent the sorcerer home, while we tried to make for Wake Island with the captured patrol boat. As a Japanese destroyer barreled down on us, the Singing Skull returned to ancient Rome, causing everyone who had been resurrected to die, and the sole surviving PC got picked up by the U.S. Navy.

The Dirty Half-Dozen (Millennium's End)
The characters were American military convicts during World War II, assigned to blow up the air defenses and steal the experimental plans of a Nazi V-3 rocket facility. Completely ill-equipped and unprepared for the mission, we parachuted into occupied France, killed a bunch of guards at a checkpoint, killed more Germans who came down the road, and then, because the GM felt we were moving too slowly, got fast-forwarded to the secret Nazi base. After a rushed plan to ambush a couple of trucks with noisy explosives, and then infiltrate the base in our own (flaming) truck, most of us successfully got onto the base and started blowing up the anti-aircraft emplacements when the Nazis suddenly fired off six V-3 rockets that spun around and turned into cyborg "Iron Men." The Iron Men then proceeded to kill us all with great ease.

The Fight for Gailea (Star Wars Saga)
My character was a heavy weapons expert on a three-man Rebel squad assigned to disable the sensor station for the Imperial anti-aircraft defenses, then wreck havoc on the local garrison to keep the enemies' attention away from the other teams (a group of spies capturing the corrupt planetary governor, a team of local revolutionaries inspiring a popular uprising at the palace, and squadron of fighter-bombers). We pretty easily took out the station, and then, with a quad laser on the roof, we knocked out many of the AA guns themselves, as well as the communications array the Imperials were using to jam everyone's communications. This drew the attention of the elite 501st Legion, who we fought off long enough till the starfighter pilots could drop a danger-close bombing run on us and wipe them out. Then we were attacked by two "dark troopers" who nearly killed us before we whittled down their shields and cut them down. After posing with the corpses and broadcasting the footage over an open channel (still trying to draw the enemy's attention), we met up with a Jedi (a PC shuttling between the tables) and fought our way into the garrison, where she commandeered a vehicle to infiltrate a Star Destroyer now sitting over the city. With nothing else to do, we blew up the garrison, took control of an AT-AT, then blew it up to finally just end the game and wait for the other tables to finish.

Project ACORN (All Flesh Must Be Eaten)
As the last game of the con, I didn't take the time to write out a synopsis of what happened, which basically boiled down to black ops spies shooting zombies on a cruise ship.

So that was my DunDraCon for 2010. Like I said, I'll go next year, but with significantly lowered expectations.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Blood's a Rover

Even though Blood's a Rover, the conclusion of James Ellroy's Underworld U.S.A. trilogy, is not a bad book, there's no way I can recommend it to anyone that hasn't read the first two books. While it might stand on its own, it doesn't really do anything that American Tabloid didn't do better, and the book ends up working best as part of the greater work than a standalone story.

Taking place between 1968 to 1972, the novel moves from the cover-up of government and organized crime conspiracies in the assassinations of RFK and MLK (the subject of the previous novel, The Cold Six Thousand) to an attempt by the Mafia to set up a Cuban-styled wise-guy wonderland in the Dominican Republic while the FBI attempts to destabilize fringe black-power revolutionaries with undercover agents and heroin trafficking. Tying it all together is a 1964 armored car heist and the ubiquitous presence of the "Red Goddess Joan," a female post-Grapes Tom Joad with a mysterious vendetta against J. Edgar Hoover.

The protagonists include: Wayne Tedrow Jr., fresh off of murdering his Mormon racist publisher father in The Cold Six Thousand and now serving as a bagman to both the Mob and Howard Hughes; Dwight Holly, a minor character also from the previous novel transformed from a cardboard thuggish FBI caricature there to a conflicted leftist sympathizer here; and Don Crutchfield, a young L.A. wheelman/peeping tom who quickly becomes enmeshed in the various plots that permeate the book. A couple other perspectives are clumsily brought into the narrative in the last third of the book, but it's these three that fuel the story to varying results. Tedrow is basically a shadow of his character from The Cold Six Thousand, and his chapters make up more of an epilogue to that book than anything compelling new in this one. It also doesn't help that, in that book, Tedrow's character was most interesting in relation to the other protagonists, and here he's equally dry. Holly is the classic Ellroy "killer with the heart of pyrite," cut from the exact same mold as Kemper Boyd in American Tabloid and Ward Littell in The Cold Six Thousand, with similar results. It's a great character, but it's beginning to feel like Ellroy has come back to that well one too many times. Crutchfield is best thing about Blood's a Rover, not the least interesting of which is that he's an actual guy. Based on Ellroy's history (his murdered mother, his criminal record as a peeping tom), the Crutchfield character feels like the closest thing he's ever written to his own self, and the novel is at its most raw and original when it focuses on him. How Ellroy uses Crutchfield in the last pages perhaps speaks more truly to his own politics than anything the author's actually said, and how Crutchfield himself speaks of his own fate at the very end might have something meaningful to impart on the arc of Ellroy's own fiction from the L.A. Quartet to now.

Overall, I enjoyed Blood's a Rover, but it does have some problems. A voodoo murder that parallels the investigation track into the armored car heist comes off as flimsy and tacked-on, almost as if Ellroy were making some perfunctory nod to the L.A. Quartet books. The revelation behind Joan's longtime hatred of Hoover is rather pedestrian. The murderous LAPD cop character of Scotty Bennett that becomes a major character halfway into the book feels like Ellroy resurrecting a fatter, dumber version of Dudley Smith. The terse telegraphic style of prose from the previous two books is still here, but where it was intense in the rich story and characters of American Tabloid it only points out the less adequate elements of Blood's a Rover. Ultimately, Pete Bondurant's final scene in The Cold Six Thousand was an effective end to the Underworld U.S.A. story, while Blood's a Rover makes little more than a satisfying but unnecessary epilogue.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The White City

The White City by Alec Michod is pure shit. The author can't write: his characters act like he scripted them with Mad-Libs, the prose is equally turgid and confusing, there is no mystery, and he doesn't do anything interesting with the setting much less explore its themes. I could give a synopsis of the plot and explain, point-by-point, why this hack should never be allowed to publish anything ever again, but this book was so utterly lacking in value that I can't even muster the disgust to go into why. Let this simply be a warning to those that might care: do not read this book.