Thursday, 7 May 2009

Dance of the Hours

I'm not a huge Clive Barker fan - actually the only book of his I've read and thoroughly enjoyed was Galilee. But I do love his ideas. In this respect he's rather like China Mieville: the sheer creative brilliance of the concepts presented is hard to deny, and yet in the final analysis the books are merely okay, not great. Along with Mieville and perhaps John Courtenay Grimwood, you could put him into the category of authors who should really be designing RPG settings rather than writing novels... if only there was enough of a market and enough money to support that.

My favourite Barker idea is Abarat - a fantasy archipelago in which each island corresponds to a different hour of the day, where time never changes. The first island, corresponding to 1am, is the "Pyramids of Xuxux", where six pyramids rise up out of the sea; at 9am is "Qualm Hah", which is divided into two halves, one densely populated and the other empty; at 3pm is "The Nonce", an island of rainforests which induces immediately sleep in visitors. As you can probably already tell, Barker demonstrates in it a genius for names - other islands are entitled Yzil, Hobarookus, Yebba Dim Day and Ninnyhammer.

At the back of the first book is an appendix containing Klepp's Almanack, in which Samuel Klepp, a famous traveller, details his journeys through the archipelago. For Yoon-suin I'd already planned on having a similar device in the form of Laxmi Ghuptra Dahl, but flicking through Klepp's almanack has confirmed it in my mind. All fantasy campaign settings should have travelogues, I feel, if for no other reason than to give the DM and players an idea of what the world is like at the level of an individual adventurer. Thinking back over the D&D campaign settings I don't think any of them used such a device, which could be one of the reasons why I always felt them to be in the most part flat and lifeless.


  1. "...rather like China Mieville: the sheer creative brilliance of the concepts presented is hard to deny, and yet in the final analysis the books are merely okay, not great."

    Thank you. I have taken some serious shit from friends for saying the same thing. He's an idea man, and a great one, but as far as story goes... just okay.

  2. I always thought of Clive Barker as primarily a short story writer. None of his longer books quite stayed with me the way some of the - really visceral - horror in his "Books of Blood" series did. Heck, even the framing story in that series was excellent.

    On the subject of travelogues as gaming introductions. I know these are 2E - 3E (and thus likely inadmissible), but Mystara had The Voyage of the Princess Ark; Dark Sun used excerpts from The Wanderer's Journal as prologue and introduction to the setting; Eberron used an illustrated travelogue as promotional/introductory material; and Pathfinder has an ongoing travelogue/diary detailing Goralion in their Chronicles(?) books. IIRC Fading Suns did similar.

    Sure, none of the above were exactly Gulliver's Travels, or Utopia, or The Lost World, but the andecedents are there...

    PS: Abarat (twinned with Ursa Beta Minor) hopes you have a nice diurnal anomaly. ;)

  3. I remember liking the first two-thirds of Weaveworld (lo these many years ago) but ultimately growing to resent it as it just went on and on.

    Who's to blame for the plague of tome-itis afflicting genre fiction? Tolkien? King? Raymond Chandler was just as busy creating an exotic world, and he never lollygagged for 300+ pages doing it.

  4. The Volo's Guide series were ostensibly travelogues, although having never read one, I can't say how much was travelogue and how much was generic rpg sourcebook. I think they were for Forgotten Realms.

  5. blizack: I think there's a lot of smoke and mirrors when it comes to Mieville. His ideas are brilliant, and I love his prose (though some think it's overwrought) but in many ways this disguises the fact that the stories are a bit bland.

    Mind you, I find a lot of famous media-darling writers a bit dull. Neil Gaiman and Neal Stephenson for starters.

    Chris: 2e is by no means inadmissable but 3e is! Funny that I'd completely blanked The Wanderer's Journal from my mind.

    Max: It's just come to be expected, I think. It's now as much a hallmark of the genre as magic, dragons and hot girls in chainmail bikinis kicking ass.

    kelvingreen: I'll have to see if I can find some of those. Although I'm not the biggest FR fan, to be honest.

  6. I will probably get flogged for this comment, but I've always said the same thing about H. P. Lovecraft. I've enjoyed the Cthulu world much more than I have the actual stories.

  7. All most all settings have travalogs; in addition to the Volo's line and everything other DnD setting (which people have mentioned:
    Rifts had Erin Tan
    Shadowrun had their "shadow-bbs" (or whatever they called it)
    Scarred Lands Termania had one too.

    I agree that Abarat was a better idea than execution.