Books

This week I read:

  • Trimalchio’s Feast by Petronius, in the Penguin Little Black Classics collection.

    An account of the decadent feast of Trimalchio, in which everything which goes wrong (like a servant forgetting to gut a pig before cooking it) is actually part of the act (the pig was gutted, and filled with more food). I think I missed a lot of the nuance, by not being familiar with the norms of such a feast, but it was still a fun read.

  • Wailing Ghosts by Pu Songling, in the Penguin Little Black Classics collection.

    A collection of fairy tales, though if they are as the blurb says “Classical China’s greatest stories” I’m not very impressed. Most of them are more what I would describe as a sequence of events, not a story. Some of them have clear morals, like to respect the dead or to be polite, others I couldn’t really tell what the moral was (which may be due to my lack of familiarity with the culture). There were a couple of longer stories which I quite liked, King of the Nine Mountains was a good supernatural revenge story, but on the whole they weren’t great.

  • The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories by Tim Burton.

    This is a collection of short poems with illustrations, mostly about unfortunate things happening to unfortunate children. I particularly liked The Boy with Nails in His Eyes:

    The Boy with Nails in His Eyes
    put up his aluminum tree.
    It looked pretty strange
    because he couldn’t really see.

  • The Doors of Perception & Heaven and Hell by Aldous Huxley.

    A pair of essays about one time Huxley had a mescaline trip. The first is about the trip itself and how it affected his senses and thoughts, the second is a reflection on visions, and how depriving the brain of glucose (as mescaline does, and as fasting and self-flagellation can do) may be connected to them.

    I quite enjoyed this. It’s well written, and there’s a bit somewhere where Huxley says, after talking about how incredible the experience was and how connected he felt to the rest of the universe, that of course he’s not so foolish to believe that the drug actually gave him some transcendental experience; the whole thing was ultimately in his head. I particularly liked that as I have had the misfortune of knowing people who talk as if you can’t really understand the universe unless you’re on drugs, and that people who don’t partake are close-minded and missing out. It was refreshing to read an account of a trip in which the author felt like he understood the universe and was connected to everything… and then go on to say that that insight was ultimately something he made up, and not some greater truth.

  • Assassin’s Quest by Robin Hobb, the third of the Farseer Trilogy.

    The end of the trilogy. A nice story, much smaller in scope than Malazan, and it’s nice to have a bit of a break from huge epic storylines on occasion. I’m not sure if I’ll move onto Robin Hobb’s other books, there are more series set in this same world, but ultimately the world wasn’t that interesting to me. It was well-written and I got through the books in a day or so each, but I don’t feel any great compulsion to get more.

Bringing my 2020 total to 99 books.

Games

We began the Australia chapter of Masks of Nyarlathotep in my Call of Cthulhu campaign. I had planned to have a climactic ending to the New York chapter of the story, with a kidnapping and a daring rescue, but decided that it had been a little time since the previous session, so it was probably better to move onto the next chapter instead.

I think that was a good decision, the players are having a good time so far, and are looking forward to reaching the ancient city in the desert next session. I’m also quite looking forward to it, because I’ve not run this MoN chapter before—my previous group never made it to Australia—so it’s all new to me as well.

I think after months of playing it now, I can definitely say I prefer Pulp Cthulhu to regular Call of Cthulhu, at least for campaign-style play. Player characters are much tougher, and giving them wacky abilities (one of them had a new skill “Knowledge of the Future of the Universe” implanted into their brain by an alien) and gadgets is entirely in-keeping with the tone.

Miscellaneous

Back to work next week. This time off has been good, but all good things must come to an end. Though I’ve still got a few days to use up before April, so I’ll be having another little break soon.

I’ve spent the last couple of days watching a lot of anime, finishing off things from last season or even earlier, in preparation for the upcoming season. There’s a lot of good stuff I’m going to check out:

There’s an unusually good lineup this season, normally there’s only one or two (or no) shows I end up watching.