Thursday, January 31, 2013

An A to Z of Creative Weirdos

The deed is done!  I've signed up for the 2013 Blogging from A to Z April Challenge, and I nabbed the coveted 365th spot in the signup list.  :-)

I still haven't come up with a pithy, catchy name for my theme, but right now I'm just calling it "An A to Z of Masters of the Imagination that You Oughtta Know About."  In other words, on each day I'm aiming to profile a person whose brains were just overflowing with weirdness and creativity.  So far I've got artists, authors, magicians, scientists, poets, and game designers; hopefully there will be other categories represented, too.  It will end up being a mix of famous and lesser known people, both living and dead.  I also hope that it's an eclectic enough mix that each reader will discover at least one new Master (or Mistress) of the Imagination they've never heard of before.

"Creativity is contagious. Pass it on." 
-- Albert Einstein

It took me a while to choose a Blog Category from the list of 22 options on the A-Z web site.  I tend to think of Servitor Ludi as mainly a Gaming (GA) blog, and I do hope to post a lot of cool stuff that will inspire gamers of all sorts.  However, I can't guarantee that the posts will contain things that will translate immediately to the game table.  I've also been hanging out with more writers (WR) lately, but this isn't much about that specific craft.  I didn't want to just punt and say miscellaneous (MI)!  Although not all of the creative people on my list are authors, nearly all of them can be found on the printed page, so I ended up going with the Books (BO) category.  We'll see how it all turns out! 

"There’s something special about encountering someone’s raw, passionate art. It can change your life. It has the potential to influence the way you see your day, the world, and eternity." 
-- David Santistevan

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Rome if you want to

Very light posting this month... not sure why.  I can't blame quantity of work; that hasn't been bad.  But maybe the quality is such that I'm feeling the mental resistors starting to smoke a bit.  :-)

I've been slowly pondering and planning my April A-Z posts, and I hope to have an official announcement of my topic sometime soon -- probably whenever they get ready with the official 2013 sign-up gadget on the main site.

The other day, I caught the bug with another blog challenge.  William Dowie of Ramblings of a Great Khan is hosting a contest to come up with an awesome old-school D&D adventure with an ancient Roman theme.  It took me a while, but I did eventually come up with the kernel of something that could be cool.  It won't be a traditional "module" type adventure; more like an outline of ideas and first steps for setting up Roman-era characters in a sandbox setting with OSR-ish D&D rules.  Unlike my other project for a fantasy type RPG setting (which I think will have gravitas to spare), here I'm aiming for light-hearted and fun.  Can it work with the general high-lethality "murder-hobo" assumptions of low-level D&D?  We'll see!

Of course, if you mention fun characters and the ancient Roman era in the same sentence, many peoples' minds are drawn to the oeuvre de Goscinny over there.  I've actually never read these comics, though.  I may be unknowingly reinventing his wheel with some of the tropes... but we'll see.  I'll definitely cite my sources for some other blatant pop-culture borrowings.  I just hope it's finished by the end-of-month contest deadline...  :-)

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Alphabet of Neptune

Last April, I shared many of my weird thoughts about signs, symbols, and alphabets.  Turns out, I left out something quite important!  I remedy that by presenting to you, for the first time in history, the alphabet of the planet Neptune...

How did this humble blogger come across such a rare piece of linguistic arcana?  I take you back to the late 1970s, to an elementary school in Springsteen County, New Jersey.  Young Cygnus lived in a town with a significant population of Asian immigrants with a Tibetan Buddhist lineage.  Getting to see their shiny, colorful temples was probably a formative experience in my learning there are many paths up the mountain.

I had a friend from this community who was, shall I say, a bit of an oddball?  I'll call him B.  In some ways he was very traditional and devout (he got to meet the Dalai Lama when very young, I think), but in other ways he was a pure American original.  After seeing one of the Roots miniseries, he wanted everyone to call him Cambay Bolongo, and thought of himself as the reincarnation of an African ancestor spirit.

B told me a lot about the details of their Tibetan traditions -- the beads, statues, flags, and bells -- but not much about their actual beliefs.  Well, he did say that their holy books were transmitted to them by aliens from the planet Neptune.

Um, yeah.  He stuck with that story for a while, though.  He said that he snuck into the temple at night to copy down some of their writings, which he brought to school, complete with the helpful alphabetic cipher given above.  Even at age 11 or 12, whatever it was, we all knew he was pulling our legs.  But he spun a fun yarn, and I played along.  He went through all that work, after all!  I borrowed his transcriptions and was genuinely curious to "translate" them back into the regular alphabet.  It's so nice that the ancient Neptunian progenitors of Tibetan Buddhism wrote in plain English!  :-)  Here's a low-quality cell-phone picture of the only scrap that I still have:

Translation:  Unknown Scriptures Auricle 40.  Darned if I know what it means... I do recall that B wrote in these "scriptures" about weird alchemical recipes and potions that would produce wondrous effects if made properly.  I wish I remembered more; I never tried to make the potions.

I hope it's not coming off like I'm making fun of B.  He was a genuinely nice, if somewhat troubled, kid.  I've just been fascinated with his strangely evocative alphabet, and the tales he told about it, for more than 30 years.  Suffice to say, when I first heard about the Voynich Manuscript, my first thought was "Been there... Done that!"  :-)

The kicker:  B eventually engaged much more with his faith in a real way in his 20s and became a Buddhist monk.  His superiors soon recognized him as the reincarnation of an ancient spiritual teacher, and today he is the leader of a large Buddhist community.  (I'm one of thousands of fans of his on Facebook.)  I won't say more, since I don't want to give away his identity, but he's lived a really amazing life.

Still, nowhere in his published works -- and I've searched -- is there any mention of the planet Neptune.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Lost Cover Art: Bantam's Hesse

Astute readers may recognize my Blogger avatar as being from the cover of a 1970s-era paperback edition of Hermann Hesse's Glass Bead Game.  The editions of nearly all of Hesse's books that I own are from this time, when the English translations were published by Bantam Books in the US.  Fresh from Hesse's rediscovery by 1960s hippie culture, the back covers of this time gush about how "The Hesse Phenomenon" appeals both to the underground and to the establishment, man!   (Well, without the "man.")  :-)

The art on the front covers of these Bantam paperbacks has always intrigued me.  They were usually done up in a lush, Romantic style, which contrasted with their stark white backgrounds.  The images ran the gamut from the dull and dreamy to the surreal and freaky, but there was a unity of style that (to me) suggested they were all done by one artist.  For fun, I rounded up as many of them as I could find via Google Images and assembled them into a collage...

Click for bigger JPG image
The bigger JPG image isn't that much bigger, so I also put a higher-resolution PDF version on Google Docs, HERE.

The 15 images are in as close to chronological order as I could figure, with three multi-decade anthologies all put on the bottom left.  In any case, the top two rows are in exactly the order that Hesse published them, so it was totally not my doing to artfully arrange the oddball blue-covered version of Siddhartha right in the center!  :-)

Out of the 6 or 7 of these that I've actually read, it's interesting how my perceptions of the books are flavored by these images.  The Glass Bead Game (Magister Ludi), for example, can be pretty dry in places, but those floating beads and the colorful scene behind Hatty McMustache, there, help fuel the imagination.  This seems related to an ongoing discussion in the RPG blogosphere about art in game books, too... Is it just extraneous fluff, or does it serve to get those creative juices flowing?  A little bit of quality is worth tons of page-padding quantity.

But the big question is: Who is the artist (or artists)?  I wish I knew!  The books themselves don't give any attributions for the cover art.  I did find a web page that claims the artist for the covers of Demian, Beneath the Wheel, and Narcissus & Goldmund was someone named William Edwards.  However, such a common name brings up many hits that makes it difficult to learn more.  My two favorites -- Journey to the East and The Glass Bead Game -- do appear different enough from those other three that they could conceivably be from a different artist.  If anyone reading this has additional information, please comment or contact me.  I'd love to give proper attribution for my own avatar!  :-)