Review: Miranda in Milan by Katharine Duckett.

To say that Katharine Duckett’s debut novel picks up where Shakespeare left off in The Tempest is more than a little inaccurate, Old Will wrote a weird play about a cruel wizard bent on enslaving every creature he meets and abusing his enemies as much as his borrowed powers allow — but, you know, there’s like love and drunks and stuff so it’s a comedy? Duckett proposes some very good answers to questions left open by the play, but more importantly examines this 400-year-old fever-dream with the lens of a careful reader and reveals some of the worms in its core.

Please allow me skip the part where I provide some examples of the excellent prose and plotting and jump right into the stuff I want to nerd out about. [Some spoilers, I suppose.]

So, the big question, of course, is “who was Miranda’s mother”? Prospero doesn’t have much to say about her in his extensive As-you-know-Bob-ish exposition speech. Duckett places her very firmly in an unusual place — the underworld. The palace in which Miranda lives/is confined has many tunnels beneath it, and it was there that the mad Duke studied his magics. The entrance most commonly used during Miranda’s Milanese mischiefs is right behind a statue of Virgil. And her mom’s name? Beatrice, called “Bice”. [Cue lit-nerd excited squees at Dante’s Inferno reference.]

So is this Beatrice Portinari? Did Milan join Naples during her lifetime? Or is it just the name? Further research will be reported upon here. Either way, the blending of two Italian fantasy stories in this book is delicious.

And here’s another question, one I wasn’t clever enough to realize even should have been a question: where is Antonio’s son? Ferdinand blathers about “the Duke of Milan and his brave son being twain,” a line I completely missed. So one of the “others” always entering and exiting with the Milanese is the son of the usurping Duke? Doesn’t that bear a little more screen-time? Duckett comes through again with this little tidbit.

Caliban is the son of an exiled Algerian woman — why does Prospero treat him as a monster? (The accusation of attempted rape in the play is managed in this book by presenting it as a possessive Prospero’s misunderstanding, which works well with the “Prospero is an evil prick” interpretation (to which I subscribe)). Are we just supposed to think it’s ok that the wizard keeps putting Miranda to sleep with magic? Was Antonio wrong to wrest power from his brother, considering that Prospero by his own admission ignored his civic duties? What was the old bastard studying so intently anyway? And does everyone really just welcome him back? Plenty to explore here, and the author satisfies every curiosity.

The power of words makes an appearance several times (including some very much appreciated mocking of Prospero for his histrionics), my favorite of which is the question of Caliban’s language. Prospero taught him Italian (enough to curse in it), but what did the poor guy speak before then? Are we truly to believe he had no language at all? Language in this book holds the key to power, yes, but also to respect and understanding between people of different cultures. (Not Prospero’s forte).

The only thing missing, and this is only because I’m a huge game nerd, is a chess scene. Ferdinand and Miranda spend a quiet moment playing chess in the play, and a moonlit match in the gilded rooms of the palace would have been the last drop of icing on this very good cake for me — but near the end, Miranda is chided for speaking not of her heart, but of politics, “the chessboard of kings and queens, where all of us are only pieces.” I think we can safely say the author covered all the bases.

Also, the cover is awesome. Go read it!

Crazy Rich Asians, Mahjongg, and Madness

“I watched Crazy Rich Asians. There was a scene with this game with tiles. It was beautiful — the colors and the clacking….”

These are the words of a woman who clearly wants me to go out and buy a mahjongg set and a book and go crazy over the whole thing.

Games as story-telling tools are My Thing Lately, so I had to find the scene and obsess over it. Not really knowing the game, we get the point — older woman beats younger woman, but younger woman reveals she could have won and chose not to. But HOW? I MUST KNOW.

Mahjongg is sort of like rummy, if rummy scoring was more complicated and had awesome names for hands like “Catching the Moon from the Bottom of the Sea”. Match sets, knock before your opponents can get a good hand, score what you’ve got. I’ve got a book, so it should be pretty straight-forward, right?

The hands are presented for us to see clearly, which is nice. The elder’s:

And the younger’s:

And right from the get-go, I’ve got trouble. No idea what that bendy cucumber tile is in the elder’s hand (next to the three Nine Circles). But, the game has random unmatched tiles that give you points if you draw them, so maybe it’s just a different printing of one of those. (Cue frantic, useless googling of mahjongg tilesets.) I’ll just see what the book says.

Well, the book has seven different games in it.

If I take the Cantonese game, it looks to me like the elder wins. But that can’t be right. None of the other variations seem to work either.

Well, why not download an app that scores mahjongg hands? Couldn’t be simpler! Except for when the app is for Japanese-style scoring. The elder definitely wins that one.

Fortunately for me, someone who actually knows what they’re talking about posted about this. It doesn’t go into full detail on the scoring, but it does clarify that this is the Singaporean game.

http://blog.angryasianman.com/2018/08/what-was-really-happening-in-crazy-rich.html

It even explains the cucumber.

The author goes through the trouble of scoring the younger woman’s hand:

SCORING RACHEL’S HAND

If you’re really curious, here’s how Singaporean rules would have scored Rachel’s hand:

Half Flush (hand composed of all one suit plus honors): 2 points

Fully Concealed Hand (no pong or chow sets revealed in front of her): 1 point

Animal tile: 1 point

She scores no points under Singapore rules for the flower, since it’s associated with the 4th seat, which is neither her seat nor the “prevailing” seat (East is dealer in this hand).

That’s 4 points, out of a typical maximum per round of 5. Every player would pay her $16, for a total of $48 for the hand. Singaporeans play a low-stakes version of mahjong!

But what about the elder’s. Well, let’s try it: She has:

3 9 bamboo
3 8 bamboo
3 white dragon
2 red dragon
3 9 circles
The centipede

The three dragons = 1 point.
The centipede = 1 point.
Triplets hand = 2 points.

And I think that’s everything. So… equal hands. But the wikipedia article doesn’t take into account “fans” (doubling opportunities), as noted in the site listed as a reference. So maybe the elder won twice as much?

It’s worth noting that the they both have two red dragons hidden. Thus either could only get what they wanted (a valuable triple) if the other gave up and broke her pair.

Thus ends my adventure in trying to score mahjongg hands from a movie without knowing what I’m doing. I hope in Crazier Richer Asians they play again, but there’s a misunderstanding as to if they’re playing Old Rules or American, and they both have ridiculously good hands for their respective systems. If not I plan on stealing the idea. From myself.


New Game: Castlevania Genesys Mod

I don’t know if you had a chance out the Netflix Castlevania series, but I started watching it right around the same time I started playing a tabletop RPG using the Genesys system. Enjoying both thoroughly, I naturally decided to build a Castlevania mod. You can find it in the Games menu above.

I fear the Genesys make-your-own-setting system is going to prove extremely addictive. Just check out this forum for all the IPs and original concepts people have built already. You want Mass Effect? Dinosaurs and cowboys? The Prisoner? There’s… a lot.

More Tor and Nano

Another post on tor.com, this time about Tak.

A friend got my playing Tak before I had read the books. I… still haven’t finished them. I thought I’d go with an audiobook for the second one. I’ve been listening for a loooong time.

Also, I’ll be doing Nanowrimo again this year. Any year anyone says “hey, you doin’ nano?”, I immediately say yes. Just having conversations about our novels is worth the price of admission. Which is nothing!

Shakespeare, Asimov, Tor, and What’s Going On With Me

The latest news is a post of mine on Tor.com: https://www.tor.com/2018/09/13/asimovs-guide-to-shakespeare-exists-and-you-need-it/

It was a blast to write, and I am looking forward to having the chance to work more with them.

The last few seasons have been all about the job, which has meant precious little writing. I did pull myself together well enough to write a story recently, and am finishing up the latest draft of the novel I’ve been working on.

I’ve read some great stuff, and am currently relishing Hard in Hightown, an in-world noir novel from Dragon Age: Inquisition. It’s the first time I’ve seen this particular brand of meta, and I recommend it.

Stay strong, friends!

Quill White Box, pt 2- Some Friendships Never Die

Adventure: Uncharted Waters

Irina Raveneye, whose darkness rivals the deepest mines of Khaazimn –

I gave you little reason to love me when we met. I sent your pack of croaking undead to the void, may their souls slumber in eternity. But you had something I needed. You may not forgive me for slaying your minions and taking what you thought was yours, but I know you respect my motive. After all: for those as long-lived as you and I, possession is a mere matter of patience.

The runestone I claimed from you leads me toward its kin, toward my father’s unclaimed treasure. It has led me to a dark tower. I took my prize from a cruel one there, just as I took mine for you. Now it guides me to mysterious emerald waters. And this insistent woman.

Greystroke says she knows how to find Bloodfyre Isle. Unlikely. This spit of earth is ever shrouded by an unnatural fog. And yet I must find my way there. The fool thinks an old captain made it to those shores, and could be asked how he did it. His death was hardly more than a span ago; his tongue should still be mostly whole. And I would be iron beholden if you would get him talking again, to hear the truth of it from his own dead lips.

A promise of booty is enough to get most pirates up from their barstools. A promise of a dead captain’s hidden prize galleon would get them to sell their own eyes. But Greystoke has no ken of the true treasure to be found on that island.

The expedition part of this business you can leave to me. I have plied the underground seas enough to handle a trip on the sun-burned ones. But I must beseech you to come to my aid. Leave your catacombs and see how the tale of the dwarf and the necromancer’s stone has progressed. I ever be,

Yours,

Karlsek Haukrison

Postscrivening – They say the old captain killed the crew of his galleon and left them on Bloodfyre. Betrayed pirated would make fair revenants, I dare say.

Result: Irina puts the past aside and aids Karlsek in bringing the captain back to life. Armed with the location of Bloodfyre Isle, the dwarf hires a pirate band. He lets them keep the galleon’s riches, but finds something different for himself.

Quill White Box – Dwarf Karlsek to the Dark Tower Comes

The latest thing in Quill is the White Box, which adds some RPG elements and changes the setting to a classic fantasy world. Adventure follows!)

Karlsek Haukrison, motivated dwarf from the Parliament Of Beggars who is tracking down the treasure his father died trying to find. (name from donjon, background from WTFIMDC.

Adventure: The Demon Haunted Tower

To Guhlo Chom, Keeper of Tomes, member of the Parliament of Beggars,

All librarians are like to us dwarves, after a fashion. You know the value of quiet, of darkness, and of old things well-used. This natural kinship was clear as new crystal when we met in the shadows of the Haunted Forest, and it is on the bond forged in those dark events I must now rely. I write you for aid, one old Beggar to another.

I continue to search for the treasure my father failed to find, and my path has led me to a village. I thought at first a blight had fallen on the land. The little town is ringed with farms bearing no more than miserable dead crops, and this at the height of the harvesting season. But as my feet carried my past this tragic scene and into the village proper, the ill cause became evident.

A grim tower of obsidian looms over the village like stalagmite ready to fall. The people of this poor place, drenched in dread, tell me the building appeared full-formed on a moonless night some weels ago, and that they have suffered since. The crops withered. The livestock froths and stamps itself to death. The children have grown silent and cold. The dogs are gone. A clever woman like yourself knows what this must mean.

Rumors echo around this place as to who lives atop this poisonous fang, but I have come to believe a sickened weaver of magics is the cause of this. I heard tell of a band of broad-backed youths who tried to approach the tower and were surned away by an invisible magic defence. I have seen such things used by those practiced in the arcane arts.

There is one precious book in particular which has the information this suffering town needs: the Spire Libiris. You know me to be a dwarf who respects the knowledge of elders and would treat this book as the invaluable treasure it is. I must borrow it, Guhlo. This town needs to kill that blasted wizard, and I must help them if I am to find the information I need. As a Beggar, and as a one-time axe-mate against the dark creatures of the forest, I beg your aid. I ever be,

Yours,

Karlsek Haukrison

Result: Guhlo wishes Karlsek well but cannot send the book. Instead he has scratched out a relevant page from the book to help. Karlsek enters the tower, faces many trials, and faces the wizard. Despite his power Karlsek finally bests him, and he agrees to leave and never return. (see QWB for details)

Quill – Warmth, Frigidity

Collection – Love Letters
Scenario – A Cruel Distance
Character – Courtier
Skill – Illumination

To Monsieur Aubrey Cornais,
The Bookbindery, Saut-Leronne 

I have set pen to paper at the very first moment I have been left alone since you bade me farewell from the docks of your river city. It is a memory that shall remain with me all my days, an image indelible of the charred Peaks of Vandrias against the gray sky, the mercilessly freezing wind whipping at your coat as if to tear it from your shoulders. A morning too cold for tears, though my eyes stung with them just the same. 

Though hardly a week has passed since our parting, I miss you so very painfully. The month we spent together, stealing moments from under the watchful eyes of our masters, seems a lifetime glittering with shining memories, each moment a facet in a gem I hold more dear than life. Were you here with me now, I would madly hold you to me, with no care for what my lady might say.

In my mind’s eye I see you now, finishing your days’s work just as I take this moment from my duties. Are you thinking of me? Do your lovely, gentle fingers remember my skin as they plait the smooth pages of some tome? Do they recall the laces of my dress as you sew up the bindings?

You must come to me. I ardently want nothing else. Your island is all cold and dampness – here with me you will know only warmth. I would walk with you in the fields of bright flowers here in the sunny afternoons of Voet’s countryside. I long to watch you bloom as they do in the uninterrupted sun of my love.

My request must not rudely tick you off, my dear one. You must leave off your pride and know that it is here with me that you belong, that you shall flourish in delights. Your books do not love you as I do. Come to Voet, where you must continue to court me publicly until my lady is satisfied and allows me to be merrily wed. Do not delay in your response my love, and better yet, forget writing back and simply bring the news yourself.

Awaiting your presence with love,
Marie-Irénée Chastel
Damoiselle to the Lady Seraphine Ferrand

Result: Marie-Irénée receives a response to her letter, explaining that Aubrey could never be with her. Her true love tells her to never write again.