The Life and Crimes of Lockhart & Doppler: An Illustrated Journal of Amusement, Adventure and Instruction
It’s got treasure hunting, monsters, strange aliens, alternative history, it’s got dashing young men, a ballsy woman with a dangerous ‘side-kick’! It’s got pictures – well, a couple.
It’s pulp fiction, penny dreadful. It’s 12 stories starring the titular Lockhart & Doppler, who travel from Lancashire to France, South America, North America, Saxe-Coburg, Italy and Somaliland!
Grab a copy now! (You could always use it to line the cat’s litter tray!)
I stood on the drive smoking a cigarette, taking in the cool evening air and disparaging the stiflingly formal gardens. At a sound behind me I turned. Lord Nelson Orange stood about five feet away. I looked at what he held;
“An 1860 Tesla ray gun with delayed action paralysis release bullets, explosive heads an added option – why is it pointed at me?”
“You know,” Nelson Orange said, “at first I wasn’t sure what about you drew my attention, then I realised it was exactly that, you’re designed not to draw attention. Very subtle, playing the slightly dull mother-in-law to be and melting into the background. But how many mothers would leave their daughter in the company of strangers?”
Damn! I thought.
“Then when I looked for you again at the buffet, poof,” he made a motion with his free hand, “You were gone. And grandmamma left in the corridor? Tut, tut.”
“Lord Nelson,” I continued with the ploy, “I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“And there’s another thing, your accent, doesn’t quite fit, no breeding you see, one can always spot a lack of breeding.”
“I beg your pardon?!”
“Very good ma’am, keep at it.” He lowered his chin and gave me a chilly smirk.
Genre:Science Fantasy/Crime Pub First Date: 2009 Publisher: Pan Books Length: 373 pages Paperback : Local Library (£7.39)
When the body of a murdered woman is found in the extraordinary, decaying city of Beszel, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks like a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad. But as he probes, the evidence begins to point to conspiracies far stranger, and more deadly, than anything he could have imagined. Soon his work puts him and those he cares for in danger. Borlú must travel to the only metropolis on Earth as strange as his own, across a border like no other.
China Miéville is perhaps best known as a writer of ‘weird fiction’ [self termed], of science fiction, fantasy, urban fiction – a number of genre terms have been applied to this English writer who has won the Arthur C. Clarke Award three times and the British Fantasy Award twice.
Years ago, I dipped into a story by Miéville and was confounded by the twisting, corrugated way he wrote. I don’t think I reached the end. What the hell was that all about?! I wondered.
Then I tried again – ‘Looking For Jake and Other Stories’, and the same thing happened. Was I stupid? Is my command of the English language so infantile and undeveloped? Most recently, I read ‘Embassytown‘, I say read, I got half-way through and abandoned it.
So why, you may ask, did I bother to continue?
There is something about Miéville’s work that keeps drawing me back. I’m not sure what this elusive thing is that draws me, but I can’t leave it alone. Am I ashamed to have not reach the end of previous novels? Hm, maybe. But ‘The City and The City‘ is different. For one thing, I finished it, secondly, it’s crime, and I’m a sucker for crime stories, and this writing I found more accessible than any of the previous I had read.
The world it is set in is familiar, though the prime cities of the title do not exist. To me, it smacks of East and West Berlin, divided by a wall – in Berlin an actual, concrete structure – in the novel, by ‘unseeing’ and – and it is this ‘unseeing’ that gives the story it’s flavour.
In the city of Beszel, where our protagonist; Inspector Tyador Borlú lives and works, the people are living in a grey, sort of post Soviet state. In Ul Qoma, it’s neighbour, the economy thrives; more or less, it’s a chic modern place with better transport, better clothing and so forth. Parts of the two cities overlap, some buildings are even shared by both – BUT – the citizens of neither place are allowed to notice the other.
Trained from childhood, and enforced by both countries’ governments and populaces, the citizens pass each other in the streets without looking or ‘unseeing’ each other.
It’s a bizarre concept. But this is more than a straightforward crime story – of course it is, it’s Miéville! It’s about how we do this ‘unseeing’ ourselves, in real life. We ‘unsee’ what we don’t want to know about – the homeless, we ‘unsee’ what doesn’t affect us directly – an attack on another’s person, we ‘unsee’ what goes on in other countries politically.
Added to this bizarre brew is Breach. To breach an area of one city to another is a crime, the details of how to and how not to are as convoluted as Cold War politics. To breach is punishable. But Breach is also a shadowy, secret and invisible, till it wants to be seen, power. When a citizen has breached the boundary in any way, these dark figures emerge at unnatural speed to ‘clear up’ the situation. When Breach takes someone, they may be extradited – or never seen again.
This is intelligent and original writing. Miéville offers us a Ballardian type world where the rules are both clear, yet unclear, it looks like reality but smells like fantasy, it’s both a murder investigation and a metaphor for our times, and Inspector Borlú is as dogged a policeman as you will ever meet.
You all know I write stuff. ‘Course I do, I write this blog for one. Had some stuff published. Done posts for other blog sites.
So, what’s this TTRPG Writing all about Alex?
Table-top Role Playing Games. As opposed to LARP- Live Action Role Play (kind of like historical re-enactment societies, but with fantasy, and monsters, and probably more drugs!) or RPG in relation to video games (which I also spend quite a bit of time on)
It does what it says on the tin – you play it on your table, like a board-game, with dice and little pewter figures (painted or not), and maps, well some maps, sometimes.
I’ve been playing Dungeons and Dragons for nigh on 30 years – oh, my wasted youth!
I have been DMing campaigns for about 10 of those.
What? People get paid to write gaming stuff? Thinks me. Of course I knew people wrote all the initial games books – Dungeon Masters Guide, Players Rulebook, Monster Manual, blahdy, blah blah – but get paid?
To write new ideas?
To create new monsters?
And magic items?
But how do you do it? How do you actually go about writing a game for others to play? To sell? What’s the process? How should it look or be presented?
Who does what to whom and when and how?
I haven’t a feckin’ clue!
I have been trawling the internet for three days – and it seems there is some sort of D&D gaming conspiracy going on! *Sh! Don’t talk about it otherwise more writers and creative types will muscle in on our patch.
and I thank those guys (John Bennet, Keith Ryan Kappel, and Christopher Hunt), for sharing their experiences and suggestions.
I’m going to start putting a few posts up here as I go along to share what knowledge and experience I gain on my path to becoming an #RPG writer.
I hope you’ll join me on this journey – who knows where we will end up – roll a D10 and we could run into a brick wall and fall at the first hurdle, twisting our ankle and hobbling back home shamefaced – or – we could vanquish the mummy of apprehension and discover the giant glow-worm of enlightenment!
Baron Cohen portrays a variety of characters who interview/interrogate, train and discuss pertinent issues with real persons from across the political and cultural spectrum of America. His creations include – Dr. Nira Cain-N’Degeocello, far-left lecturer on gender studies and activist who wishes to “heal the divide” in America between conservatives and liberals, Rick Sherman, an ex-convict artist, recently released after about 21 years, and Erran Morad, an Israeli anti-terrorism expert and former agent of Mossad. Both characters have their own Twitter accounts!
Erran Morad interviews US Vice President Dick Cheney.
I have been a fan of Baron Cohen’s work since his arrival on British TV in 2002, in the guise of Ali G, a drum n bass enthusiast with a poor education who’s childish questions and inability to grasp the fundamentals of politics, allowed him to reveal the flaws in those he ‘interviewed’.
And this is the basic premise of all Baron Cohen’s characters – they are either dull-witted, or extreme in their own views, or foreigners in an English speaking country, allowing him to behave and ask inappropriate questions, thus hi-lighting the hypocrisy of various individuals who represent the mind-set of certain groups.
Someone didn’t read the small print (image from tooFab)
In Who Is America? Baron Cohen in the guise of Dr. Nira Cain-N’Degeocello, dines with a South Carolina Republican and her husband, and not only pushes their buttons with his questions but tests their white, middle-class sensibilities to the hilt by talking about his daughter’s menstruation and how he won’t allow her to use sanitary products.
As Gio Monaldo, an Italian billionaire playboy and fashion photographer from Italy, he gets minor celebrities to endorse things like child soldiers, or to pose in a sexy manner for a supposed advert to help aid workers in Africa fighting Ebola.
Nira attempts to ‘heal the divide’!
Occasionally, an interviewee will refuse to continue with the interview – and this is to their credit. Baron Cohen pushes and pushes with more ludicrous or offensive questioning thus exposing an individuals biases, prejudices and idiocy. What sort of politician would agree to drop his pants in order to fend off terrorists? Or take up-skirt photos under a ladies burqa? Or repeatedly shout the ‘n’ word? Jason Spencer apparently! (Spencer has apparently resigned since filming.)
Who Is America? May be more of the same from Baron Cohen, but it is still hilarious, we Brits love seeing people knocked off their high horses or taken down a peg or two. But the fact that Baron Cohen is still able to produce such a programme says a lot about American (and British) society. We don’t listen, we don’t read the small print, we don’t pay attention, most of us – and especially those in high-profile positions – fail to question our own opinions and attitudes to those who are ‘not like us’. We can be so small-minded and bigoted and obsessed with how we appear that we are not listening to what is really going on.
Baron Cohen strikes me as one of those frighteningly intelligent people we so often see in comedy – think Peter Cook, Jonathan Miller and Chris Morris (all British) – who hold a mirror up to society and we either don’t ‘get it’, or laugh ourselves silly because we do, but with the added poignancy of feeling impotent to do anything about the issues highlighted. We need humour like this, we need people like Baron Cohen to show us what ludicrous monkeys we can sometimes be.