March 3rd, 2011


Eye of Nebuchadnezzar. (24)

Pathfinder Player Companion: Inner Sea Primer by Colin McComb et al.

I left Starfall, for
Absalom, axis mundi,
To see the Starstone.

You can tell a supplement is good when you start building a character with it, in your head. Even better, when you start trying to build an avatar of yourself as you read along with it. "Alright, so I left the Wasteland of Ohio & moved to the Metropolis of New York City..." I thought as I flipped through the pages, referring all the while to the map on the front inside cover. "Okay, so Absalom is clearly the New York of the Inner Sea region. What next?" As I read through it, Irrisen jumped to mind-- "The Always Winter Never Christmas country, ruled by Baba Yaga? Sure!"-- but I had to admit that the Wasteland isn't always cold; that would be better left to Canada & above. Fine then; my next requirement was a body of water-- The Eerie Ocean of Lake Erie being a vital part of the Wasteland's mythology. "Lake Encarthan? Then I guess maybe Ustalav, the gothic horror nation where Prince of Wolves was set?" Could be I guess, though there were other likely suspects. "Numeria is a land of decayed industry & super-science, & borders the Lake of Mists & Veils?" Could be, could be. Then again, the wheels kept turning-- "Actually, if we look at Absalom as New York, then the eponymous Inner Sea could be viewed as the Great Lakes in their entirety. Maybe Cheliax is Ohio?" In the end, I was left with more questions than answers...or if you flip it, I was left with more story hooks. I'm very happy with this book, & I don't even run Pathfinder. I admire the layout of it-- each nation gets a column of text, complete with a flag. The header contains information of the nation's "alignment" as well as major races, religions, & languages. After the descriptive text, you get two regional traits to choose for characters from the region. It is just the right length to provide seeds for the Narrator to elaborate upon. The end of the book has some fighting styles & magical techniques, but the bulk of the text are the nations-- which as I said are easily referenced in the endpapers. All the nations of something unique, & exist in a plausible web with their neighbors. A nice piece of worldbuilding.
blacklick goblin

Fecalpolitik. (25)

Excrement in the Late Middle Ages: Sacred Filth and Chaucer's Fecopoetics by Susan Signe Morrison.

In Purgatory,
Chaucer languishes, laughing:
"Nicholas farted!"

First off, yes. Hell yes Susan Signe Morrison just dropped the F-bomb. Fecopoetics. When a co-worker first suggested this book to me, I was like "meh, books about poop aren't really risque...but then I saw the word "fecopoetics" & it was on. I rather liked this book. I'm not particularly focused on the discussion of excrement, but I find the subject curious-- I once charmed my favorite professor, Olaf Prufer, by stating that the landmark from barbarism to civilization ought to be plumbing. Besides that, I'm always curious how any given culture wipes their behinds-- the Roman trough of water & sponge on a stick system being particularly ingenious. What I really wish was that I'd known about this book back when I'd run my first full Oubliette campaign. Sewage, dualism & transformation were all intertwined subjects at the heart of the "enemy" cult. Heck, the dragons of Hell both vomiting & defecating souls, I can totally use that in my overall cosmology (29!) That goes in the idea bank, & along with it goes the discussion of dung merchant's wages-- three times the average wages, & then with the major perk of reselling the feces to farmers (60, 72). That sort of factoid is always interesting to me, in a Dirty Jobs sort of way. Along with integrated human-animal living quarters-- something only briefly touched upon, but it makes me think of Viking settlements in Greenland, which have been on my mind again since I read Magnetic North (65).

Susan Signe Morrison's frequently used term in Excrement in the Late Miggle Ages is "rhizomal," which she contrasts to "arborescent"-- sprawling & networked compared to rigid & hierarchical (15). This isn't to be confused with the notion of the "vegetable body," which should rather be contrasted with the computer-brain of the modern day, the machine-man of the industrial revolution, & the architectural mind of Cicero's day (18-19). I won't talk about the bulk of the book-- which is as you'd expect, an interesting discussion of the role of excrement in the literature of the Middle Ages, with a special focus on Chaucer. It is full of lots of Middle English, for that matter-- a skill I rarely get to brush up on, so hooray! Instead, I'll just talk about a few of the side notes that I enjoyed. I really found the discussion of the etymology behind "feces, dung & shit" to be interesting-- the Latin root of feces being the most "proper," followed by the serviceable Norse dung & the offensive German shit. Morrison spices things up with a liberal use of textual references-- Ezekiel 4:12-15 being a favorite of mine. In it, Ezekiel is starting a fire & God suggests he use his feces. Ezekiel is appalled, & persuades God that he should use cow dung-- I just like the alien God, blind to human taboo (27). In a more humorous vein, there French farce that charmed me-- a farmer is eating dinner with his wife, when a priest storms in & says he caught them "fucking." The farmer insists they were only eating dinner, so the priest has him go outside & peek in the keyhole. The farmer obliges, & meanwhile the priest begins to have sex with the farmer's wife. Outside, the farmer exclaims that it really does look like people fucking when they eat dinner (80).

There is a section of Excrement... devoted entirely to alchemy & marginalia-- as you can well assume, it was my favorite (103). There isn't that much devoted to alchemy, all told, but a few interesting points. The discussion of metallic versus organic alchemy, & the latter's association with filth & purification was particularly enlightening (111). The transubstantiation of the Pilgrim, transformed from profane to holy-- I hadn't considered that. The Pilgrim as counterpoint to the Alchemist; I like that. Speaking of transubstantiation-- what happens to the body of Christ when you poop out the wafer (80)? If the whole of Jesus Christ is in every crumb of the Host... well, what happens? & do you need to defecate in heaven (43)? If not, what is your anus & intestine for? I mean, if God made a perfect creation. & what about Jesus' poop-- were baby Jesus' diaper holy (92)? All very real theological questions, & the heart of dozens of heresies. There are a few further notes-- in particular, a bit of talk about Lévi-Strauss' discussion of cooked food, always a temporary spot between raw & rotten (123). Really reminded me of how much I liked Catching Fire. The book ends with a descent (ascent?) in manifesto-- Susan Signe Morrison invokes Kuhn & Lacan in the vein of "The Cyborg Manifesto" (155). "I shit, therefore I think" (156). The one thing missing from the book? The word "secretion." The division between secretion & excretion seems to be germane to the subject. I don't know the history of the term, however, & perhaps it has no place in a discussion about the medieval. c'est la vie. The book ends in a glorious explosion of notes, a bibliography & an index-- the comforting hallmarks of well supported academia. Hooray.