The Open Font Tag
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Monday, October 18, 2010
Sunday, July 18, 2010
Sunday, April 25, 2010
Saturday, January 23, 2010
Thursday, December 03, 2009
Sunday, October 04, 2009
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Out of 24 submissions this time around, I accepted one story, one piece of flash fiction, and one poem (plus I ran one story I accepted last quarter, leaving me with none in reserve).
I'm slipping a little behind my intended quarterly schedule. If submissions are slow for issue 8, I might let it run through the end of the year and call it the Winter 2010 issue. Even if I do that, it shouldn't have much impact on anyone who wants to submit, because I'm still generally maintaining my one-month-at-the-most response time and posting most stories soon after I accept them. So check the submissions page and send me more stories!
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
This time around I accepted 4 stories and 1 poem out of 17 submissions, which means I now have one story already stockpiled for next issue. These numbers would seem to indicate that I'm not being very selective, but I thought the submissions were strong this time around, including several very near misses.
Sunday, March 01, 2009
My introductory essay this time was so immense that I won't even repost it here, but it's a very important document: the Preliminary Report of the Late-Career Genre Author Human Rights Investigatory Commission.
And here are the selectivity stats: out of 16 unsolicited submissions that I would have considered only for this issue, I accepted 2 stories. There was a poem I probably should have accepted, but I was being too snooty so I turned it down. Plus, I solicited and accepted one other story.
The most common reason for rejecting submissions, as always, was that they did not take place in a mysterious artificial environment. However, violations of the "no blank or featureless settings" rule made a strong showing this quarter. I have a feeling that, as the archives grow and people get a better sense of what I'm looking for, "featureless setting" could conceivably become the most common rejection criterion.
These are exciting times!
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Let me quote a dialogue from Neal Stephenson’s recent novel Anathem:
MENTOR: “[The] whole point of living in a cloistered math is to reduce our causal linkages with the extramuros world to the minimum, isn’t it?”
STUDENT: “Socially, yes. Culturally, yes. Ecologically, even. But we use the same atmosphere, we hear their mobes driving by—on a pure theoric level, there is no causal separation at all!”
MENTOR: “If there were another universe, altogether separate from ours—no causal linkages whatsoever between Universes A and B—would time flow at the same rate between them?”
(In Anathem, a “math” is a sort of monastic order for mathematicians and scientists who shut themselves off from the outside or “extramuros” world for one, ten, one hundred or one thousand years. “Mobes” are cars, except awesomer.)
The question the wise old mentor raises in this passage is central to the labyrinth inhabitant subgenre: If humans create such a self-sufficient environment for themselves that it effectively becomes a world unto itself, is there any meaningful connection between events inside the artificial environment and events in the outside world? The mentor speculates that there may have been a secret math whose inhabitants cut themselves off for ten thousand years, and who separated themselves from the outside world so effectively that they created a separate causal domain unknowable to people in the rest of the world, like the inside of that box that contained Schrödinger’s cat. In a phenomenon called “Causal Domain Shear,” their timeline ended up drifting so far afield from the timeline everyone else inhabited that when they finished their ten-thousand year mission and came out their front gate, only some three thousand years had passed in the outside world.
Anathem spends hundreds of pages showing how artificial environments enable the development of unique cultures despite the abjectly postmodern global monoculture outside the maths’ gates (the cloisters themselves aren’t in the form of labyrinths, but when the inhabitants choose to promote themselves to a math that will be cut off for a longer period, they do so by traversing a labyrinth to reach the more isolated area where their new order lives). But Anathem isn’t just a labyrinth inhabitant novel; it’s a meta-labyrinth inhabitant novel. Events force members of the maths to come out of their cloisters so they can influence one another and be influenced, and they tangle with enemies who live in an artificial environment of a different sort and who have a habit of spinning off new causal domains right and left. In fact, the discovery of the different ways that causal domains can influence one another is arguably the central intellectual adventure of the book. It’s a question that quickly runs into some thorny issues of quantum physics and philosophy. I couldn’t do justice to Anathem by trying to summarize Stephenson's ideas any further, but I recommend it as a thought-provoking book and a good example of why there deserves to be a whole subgenre of stories about people who live in giant artificial environments of mystery.
But do the stories in this fourth issue of Labyrinth Inhabitant Magazine happen to address the very same theme? Why, yes, it seems that they do!
The prison cell in Terence Kuch’s “Simon Says” is a perfect example of an isolated causal domain. The prisoner seems to have some residual knowledge of what the outside world is like, but ever since he got imprisoned by some totalitarian overlord his access to new information has been strictly curtailed. And, of course, the assumption that there is a totalitarian overlord is part of the problem. In the prisoner's mind, the system that keeps him in captivity is personified as a single Keeper doling out the same rations and stimuli every day and every year. But in the outside world, it’s just as likely that the prisoner has a succession of jailers working from the same set of directions, or perhaps an automated feeding device programmed by the now-dead Keeper long ago. Maybe the Keeper is so far out of the prisoner’s causal domain that he’s in an indeterminate state between all of these possibilities. At least, until the day when the prisoner gets out of his cell and learns that his causal relationship with the outside world is even stranger than it seems.
That’s right, “Simon Says” isn’t one of those prisoner stories where the hero is trapped in a cell and he thinks some thoughts and then the author gives you the “artistic” ending leaving it up in the air what, if anything, will ever happen. In “Simon Says” the prisoner is in the cell, and then he is outside the cell, and then something further happens. Here at Labyrinth Inhabitant Magazine we get things done.
In Therese Arkenberg’s “The Wall,” I’m pretty sure the heroine’s causal domain includes the entire planet except for a dead zone right in the center of the city where she lives. It’s as if humankind fanned out and started exploring the planet at the exact antipodes of her city, and now the normal rules of reality apply everywhere except that one spot they don’t quite have a handle on. My theory is that the city is essentially a donut-shaped labyrinth. What I’m trying to say is that if somebody who lived in the city was to sneak into that mysterious area in the center—I’m not saying somebody will sneak in, I’m just saying if somebody was to sneak in—some crazy shit would probably happen to that person.
And in Lindsey Duncan’s “Ten Cities Down,” the causal domains are arranged in a hierarchy one on top of the other like the levels of the Inferno, and there are strict immigration controls between them. The privileged people who live below are free to travel to higher levels, but travel in the opposite direction is prohibited. As a result, people from the lower levels are free to influence whoever they want in the higher levels, but they can prevent the Hylaean flow from running in the opposite direction (I can’t explain it; read Anathem). But the normal order of things turns upside down when one man returns from the dead in the lowest city, and the authorities must keep him from escaping to the surface.
Thanks to this issue’s authors, and thanks to all of the approximately 100 authors who submitted to Labyrinth Inhabitant Magazine during its first year!
Sunday, September 28, 2008
As for issue four of Labyrinth Inhabitant, one story is posted and another has been bought, so I'm still looking for at least one more. I'd like to wrap the issue up by mid-October. Don't bother sending in any reviews of Anathem or Minotaur China Shop--I'll handle those.
Saturday, August 16, 2008
There were a couple of nonfiction subs, but I didn't feel they'd fit. An accepted article would have to be something unique, with original research or at least original observations. What I got were more like general facts about labyrinths (not plagiarized though, as far as I could tell! I googled!).
Overall, the four accepted works were culled from a total of 22 submissions. Those aren't such bad odds for a writer, so keep submitting!
Sunday, March 23, 2008
All right! The internet came through for me again with three more terrific labyrinth stories, and once again they arguably share at least one other theme: Libraries in the Labyrinth. Combining these two great flavors probably seems like a natural idea, since LabInhab patron saint Jorge Luis Borges wrote about them both, often at the same time. So what do these two themes have to do with one another?
When I think of characters trapped in the labyrinth of a library, the first one to come to mind isn’t from Borges. It’s the Reverend Edward Casaubon, the old, dusty love interest from George Eliot’s Middlemarch, who the heroine mistakes for the next
It’s one of those universal stories, you see. A well-meaning wannabe polymath tries to lay out all the world’s data in some kind of universal monument to human knowledge, but he inevitably ends up wandering lost in his creation until he dies. There’s just too much knowledge to get a handle on in one lifetime (since I’ve got cross-references on the brain anyway, see also Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, and its librarian “Jorge of Burgos”).
But maybe by harnessing the work of hundreds of researchers, rather than working alone, it would be possible to achieve total knowledge? That’s the approach of the sorcerer in Daniel Ausema’s The Canyon of Babel, who (spoiler alert) discovers that an abandoned canyon is a library of multilingual echoes. He impresses every left-handed man, woman and child he can find into service cataloguing these echoes in the hopes of finding one in the “Language of Wisdom,” the language so perfect that knowledge of any one word would imply the whole language, and some metaphysical secrets besides. I guess if Reverend Casaubon had written his Key to all Mythologies in the Language of Wisdom, he could have fit it on the back of a postcard.
The tragedy of these quixotic archivists is their dawning realization that there’s no organizing principle, no grand unified theory tying all their knowledge together. When we meet the Curator in The History Eaters, he’s well on his way to that understanding, but it’s only Judith, the Librarian from Subodhana Wijeyeratne’s The Sentinel Gate, who has given up the notion of enlightenment and found a way to go on, writing in the sand in forgotten languages but sweeping her work away before it can be read. Maybe she understands her actions as a way of preserving the skills of literacy for future generations without fostering the illusion that writing is itself a means to lasting knowledge, and without adding more needless complexity to the labyrinth where she lives. But one thing Judith can’t preserve for posterity is her sad knowledge that there’s nothing to be found out in the maze. Despite Judith’s warnings, the young hero of the story is driven to journey out and read the gnomic inscriptions on the labyrinth walls for himself. Maybe that’s for the best.
Who’s to say Judith didn’t miss something?
Sunday, March 09, 2008
- It's not enough if the characters just live in a mysterious artificial environment. The plot of the story also has to be about addressing that mystery, either by resolving the mystery or learning to live with it. (Or just dying. Dying is allowed.) I hate to say I'd never take a romance story, for instance, but the mysterious setting would have to be a very major theme, if not the focus of the story.
- Also, if your character can easily come and go from the mysterious place that is the setting for your story, you may be in trouble. Part of the idea of a labyrinth story is that you're kind of stuck there, at least for the time being.
- The plot of the show Lost would make a good Labyrinth Inhabitant story (If it hadn't already been written! No fanfic!). The plot of Battlestar Galactica, or an X-Files episode, would get a sympathetic rejection letter.
Just today I googled "Labyrinth Inhabitant Magazine" to see if it was listed on enough writers' market sites. I came across this encouraging note on the Novel and Short Story Writers' Market blog:
The editor sounds a little desperate on his blog, so if you have a story that fits his criteria, you should have a good shot at getting it up.At least somebody noticed!
Thursday, October 18, 2007
I'm getting a lot of stuff about the actual Greek labyrinth with Daedalus and the minotaur. That's fine, but the labyrinth inhabitant subgenre is much broader than that! It's a subgenre about the problem of being born into an environment that is hard to understand because it's very complex, because it was built long in the past, because the reasons for building it are largely forgotten, and because it was built for the benefit of people who are now dead. In other words, labyrinth stories work as a metaphor for the problem of understanding one's place in an advanced technological society. That's a big subject.
A new entry for the "Elements I'd prefer not to see" list: works whose only connection to the labyrinth inhabitant subgenre is that they argue that the real world is the greatest labyrinth of all. (The Two Kings and the Two Labyrinths doesn't count; one of those was a real labyrinth.)
I thought LIM would be mainly about stories with poem submissions far between. In fact, though, a lot of what I've gotten has been poetry. Maybe it's because LIM's rates don't scale very much. According to LIM's Duotrope entry, I'm paying "semi-pro" rates for poetry and stories under 500 words, although I'd probably never buy such a thing. (Again, The Two Kings and the Two Labyrinths is an exception. I would pay a semi-pro rate for that.)
Also, I'm getting some stuff that's only kinda-sorta labyrinth-related. None of it has been flagrantly irrelevant, but stuff that seriously tries to be a part of the subgenre stands a much better chance with me.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
Right now I've got it parked at http://labyrinthinhabitant.110mb.com, but within a matter of days it should be up at its permanent address at www.labyrinthinhabitant.com. As of now I have zero authors, zero stories and zero readers.
Monday, April 23, 2007
"Withrow made himself a party to the glass-sellers’ contracts by accepting their debts as payment of the widow’s tithe," My Dear insisted. "And then he intentionally frustrated the contract by inciting the glass-sellers not to pay! All you have to do is hold him to account for the widow’s lost profits and make him acknowledge her tithe as paid. If she was not properly ejected from the church, then she was not properly dispossessed of the factory, and everything is undone!"
"My Dear, I assure you, I cannot. To hold the curate liable for a sermon he gave in his capacity as a church officer would violate the basic principle of separation of church and state. Sir Dodge wrote on this very point only the session before last. If I seem to misunderstand such a basic doctrine he will think me an imbecile, and that is an injury that no mere gift of flowers for his wife will undo!" After this outburst she left me alone, and although I regretted having to rebuke her, I was glad she understood that this was one realm in which she could be of no help to me. It would have been the work of a few minutes to rule against the widow, but it took several hours of study and composition to produce an adequate opinion in her favor. Its reasoning was attenuated, garbled, and in all probability applicable only to the specific facts of the widow’s case. I thought it might be studied in the academies for generations.
I was unable to justify returning the ownership of the factory to the widow outright. I accepted the validity of Riley’s transfer of a leasehold estate in the glassworks to Kale, but I ruled that the central furnace and other instruments were never annexed to the building, and they therefore could only have been leased to Kale by means of a separate contract. Finding no such document in existence, I ruled that Riley had created an implied covenant to operate the furnace to facilitate Kale’s use of the glassworks. This meant that Riley was obligated to provide an experienced manager for the glassworks at his own expense, and also to indemnify Kale against any expenses arising from failure or misuse of the glassmaking equipment. I anticipated that Kale would be willing to let the widow run the factory if it meant that her brother-in-law would take on the risk of any further catastrophe. My ruling would deal a ruinous financial blow to Riley, but that was acceptable.
I sketched out as authoritative an outline of my opinion as possible. The hour was already quite late, but My Dear and I agreed that I should return to the Riley estate that very night to make our proposal to the widow, since her family might spirit her away at any time, and there would most likely be no reaching her for a private conversation in the daytime in any case. During her visit, My Dear had subtly asked the widow where she slept: a bottom-floor room at the back of the house. My plan was to ride out on horseback, tap on her window and hope that no one would raise the alarm. If caught, I would simply claim than an informant had accused the widow of performing Satanic rites out in the swamp at midnight, and as Inquisitor in her case I had been obligated to investigate. I bribed the stable boy to let me take a horse out in secrecy, and I made the long journey back to Riley’s plantation with no more light than came from the half-full moon and a weak lantern that I often had to clutch to my chest as I grabbed at the reins to keep from falling from the starting creature. Twice my mount stumbled and I thought I would be thrown off the road into some ditch or bog, and when it began to rain I feared she would refuse to go on. Finally I arrived near the plantation and tied off the horse’s reins to a sapling away from the road. I removed my brown riding cloak to reveal my black robes beneath, which I believed would better hide me in the darkness. Silently praying that the occupants would not spy me and shoot me on sight, I crept behind the house to the window that My Dear had described, which was illuminated by the dim light of a guttering candle. I could distinguish movement in the shadows but nothing more, so instead of tapping I peered harder at the scene inside. To my shock I recognized the widow’s body, unclothed, and the larger arms of a man who embraced her, sharing her bed. I tried to see his face, but then I was gripped by terror as I heard footsteps racing toward me through the grass along the side of the house, very close. I could not even move before I was dealt a blow on the side of my face and knocked down into the muck. A hand covered my mouth and forced my cheek to the ground so I could not scream or even look up and see my assailant. I heard three taps at the widow’s window, and the shadows on the ground grew shorter. The widow, or her lover, was looking out at us.
More footsteps came around the house toward us and my captor allowed me to turn my face upward so that I could see the widow’s lover, still buttoning his shirt. It was the foreman from the glassworks. The one who had knocked me down was a large woman who I had not seen before, and the maid who had admitted me to the house that afternoon was standing a little apart, watching. The foreman, from whose belt hung a sheathed hunting knife, pointed out across the bog, and then the three of them bore me up against my struggles and began to carry me out into the darkness, the women’s arms looped under my shoulders and the man holding my legs at his side like a bundle of firewood. Soon I could hear the sucking sound of their boots being dragged through the mud, and save for the grizzled foreman they panted with exhaustion. There were also others walking alongside us, but I was unable to turn my head to see them.
The widow was the first to speak. "How far do you think voices will carry tonight?"
"Screaming carries for miles," the foreman said.
"Then we cover his mouth."
"I wouldn’t reckon on no screaming. Not to save us a short walk."
I tensed up to hear this exchange, but then they were silent for a while and the foreman made no threatening movement that I could distinguish, so I relaxed. I waited until the fat servant whose hand was clapped over my mouth was off-balance straddling some obstacle on the ground, tottering a little, and I lurched my whole body away from her arms using the foreman’s firm grip on my legs to give me leverage, striking at her so she stumbled away from me and dropped me on my back in the mud, leaving the terrified maid with only a grip on my left arm.
"You need me!" I whispered harshly. "I’m here to help! Don’t try to silence me or I’ll wake the Rileys to screams and a house empty of servants." The fat servant hesitated and looked to the foreman for help.
"I have a message for you," I said. "It’s a proposal. I can return the management of the glassworks to Ms. Riley. If you let me go I can return to the church and file my ruling. I have it right here in my coat."
"No light to read by, Judge," the foreman said, holding my legs up at an angle that seemed to make movement in any direction impossible.
"I ruled that her brother-in-law must indemnify Kale against any future accidents such as the one that happened yesterday, and provide a commercially acceptable, experienced manager for the glassworks. Naturally, Ms. Riley is the only option, and that means that Mr. Riley will have to pay for her readmission to the church so the townspeople will allow her to perform her duties. In exchange I ask only that my wife and I hold the exclusive commission to import the first shipments of glass objects to the capital, for a period of some months, open to discussion."
The widow now stood over me to speak. Her flashing eyes were like tapers in a skull. "Your ruling, whatever it is, is nothing but words. No words will protect us from men with the will to steal my factory and the power to hold it. We’ll sabotage the furnace until no one else dares to work it. Then I resume control, and manage it with people I trust. The rest of the village can work for me or starve. If it had been my choice alone, we never would have waited to hear your response to my petition before we acted." She moved to clap her own hand over my mouth, and the foreman pulled his knife from its sheath. For the first time, I entertained the thought of meeting my death under such circumstances, at the hands of a disgraced woman and her secret paramour. Absurd.
"My wife’s testimony will hang you all!" I said, not raising my voice in the slightest, not setting off the blind panic of the final mortal struggle. I pushed the widow’s hands away with a gesture. "Do you think she needs evidence? She was in the pigment room when the blasting powder was planted. No matter that she doesn’t know who did it; she’ll say that it was the widow herself! She will recall a figure in uniform who walked strangely like a woman and lurked in the room where we were, watching us. Do you think anyone would doubt a woman like my wife, bereaved, respectable? What about Kale, who sent me to interrogate you about the sabotage this very day? What about the curate who will hear your case, who accused you of witchcraft and was poisoned by your factory’s accursed glass?"
The maid who still held my arm was quaking with fear, but the fat woman, the one who had knocked me down, calmly looked to the foreman for direction. I addressed her. "And you! You’re the cook who made the widow eat, aren’t you? My wife knows your story. She knows she can avenge the widow’s crimes on you. She will begin to destroy you on the very first day. She will come with a group of villagers who she trusts and say that I went missing here--she will have a fine innocent explanation for my visit--and pointedly she’ll observe how filthy is the rose glassware, and she will have Riley’s wife make you scour it clean in front of her, and drink from it--" The widow slapped me across the face, but there was perfect silence until I recovered and began again.
"And when the Reverend Withrow has seized his excuse to convict you, My Dear will befriend the next circuit-rider who will come to Lemoine in another three years, and warn him about you. But that will do you no harm, because witchcraft is a capital crime and no judge takes appeals from a pile of ashes."
I let my words echo in their ears and propped myself up on my elbows. I became aware that two other servants, who had followed us but never laid a hand on me, had withdrawn into the darkness, fearful, I think, that I would see their faces. They carried spades. The nervous maid released my arm and spoke first. She begged the widow to accept my terms, and swore that she never cared whether she stayed in the Rileys’ service for the rest of her life, so long as she escaped the weight of the guilt and fear that their crime had laid on her.
We reached an arrangement, advantageous to my wife and me and with adequate provision for us to take some of the glass flowers from our shipments and dispose of them as we like. The widow Riley relit her candle and read my judgment, found it acceptable, and knee-deep in the swamp we shook leech-covered hands. I began to plot how to be absolutely certain to avoid the widow in public for the rest of my stay in Lemoine, and indeed forever. I have heard that it becomes necessary to make many such bargains, and develop a long register of such contraindicated people, as one’s political career blooms.
Given what had passed between us, none of my hosts offered to accompany me back to my horse, and I spent a long time wandering around in search of her. The journey back was difficult as well, as clouds rolled in across the moon and fatigue compounded upon confusion to slow our progress. Finally I returned my horse to the carriage team, which I hoped would not be taken out too early the next day lest someone notice that one horse was not fresh, and snuck into the guest house by a window that My Dear had promised to leave unbolted. I crept up to her room and tapped on the door, twice high and once low. She admitted me and I gave her my filthy robe to hide. I reassured her that I was alright, and explained to her about the foreman and our bargain.
"That’s wonderful. It will be all right if Lemoine glass is coming in to the capital when we arrive, so long as for Lady Dodge we have the widow create something unique. And very large."
"It wasn’t in the agreement I made with the widow."
"Don’t feel sorry for her. She understands that she has to pay a price." She smiled merrily. "You’ve done it!"
She kissed me. I embraced her and kissed her again, but she held me back.
"You have to go," she said. She explained to me that every time that Withrow had come to the door searching for me, she had made sounds of passion and refused to acknowledge him. This had infuriated Withrow, who promised not to sleep until I was in my own bed, and threatened to have the door unscrewed from its hinges.
"Try to be seen," My Dear said as she sent me out the door. To this end I took a long route back to my cell, passing not only through the courtyard but also the much-trafficked servants’ area downstairs. I spied a dim light in the kitchen and I looked inside to see a couple of Imps, both drunk, and watched them make merry by the embers of a fire in the brick oven for a short time before they noticed me. One of them was a gaunt girl with dark eyes and withered legs. She propped herself up against the table as she drank. The other could have been a young grandmother, sly-looking and toughened by hard living, though she seemed greatly loosened up by drink at the moment.
The girl affected a high, falsely aristocratic voice as she swung her rose goblet, which still refracted the light in vibrant vermilion despite its filthiness. "Oh yes. Pardon me. Marvelous. And if I may say so, mankind could learn a _lot_ from the common apple maggot, my dear Lady...Loathesimia."
The old woman drained her glass and smirked mischievously. "Is that so? How charming, Lady _Pigs__t_."
The girl doubled over with laughter and clutched at the table. "You know...you know, this is such a special occasion, Lady Loathesimia, that we’re drinking the communion wine, which is the only magical wine in the whole valley. If this was Sunday I could change it into Godsblood. But because you’re such a noble lady, I’ll change it into the Holy Mother’s Piss. This is very special. All you have to do is say a prayer over it...and pour some on the floor as an offering..."
"Oh, no, Lady Pigs__t, I believe you must _not_ pour some on the floor as an offering."
"You’re right. Next we don’t pour any wine on the floor as an offering. And look! It’s piss!"
Lady Pigs__t emptied the rest of the bottle into their glasses and gave it to Lady Loathsimia, who concealed it at the back of a high cabinet full of empty bottles. Then the two Imps drained their goblets, hurled them at the back of the brick oven, and stirred the embers to hide the shards.
"You were able to pull yourself away!" she said to me. "Darling, I’m so pleased."
"You honor me, Judge Cushing," the widow said. Her clothing was even worse than it had been when I saw her the day before: having been interrupted at work, she wore a plain white garment of little more than rags stained all over, evidently designed so that she could be set to filthy tasks without any fear of ruining good fabric. Given what I knew about her now, I could not but think of this garb as a strange costume into which she had been forced by happenstance, while her true guise laid waiting for her in some nearby wardrobe.
"The honor is mine," I said graciously, though I could say no more because I had no idea what pretense had excused my wife’s visit, and was supposed to have brought me as well. Though she had plainly meant to conceal her presence here from me, she seemed to have no concern that I would ruin her charade.
"I gave the quilt to Mrs. Riley," My Dear said to me, pointing to a table where lay the blanket that the glass-broker had given to us the night before, now bound by a silk ribbon tied in a bow, no doubt torn from some precious garment from our luggage. To the widow she said, "When my husband heard your sad story he promised that we would not let our stay in Lemoine pass without giving you a bereavement gift."
The widow bowed her head and said, "You are very kind, your honor."
"You were saying that after your poor husband passed away, you maintained his legacy by operating his factory for some time," My Dear said.
"I did. For eleven months. And then they took the glassworks from me and brought me out here."
"We had the pleasure of meeting your brother-in-law and his wife at our welcoming dinner last night," My Dear said. "But I can’t help but wonder whether, even though they are your family, you might not have been a little happier before you were with them?"
"A little happier." The widow laughed ironically. "Have you wondered why the servants’ quarters are filled with Lemoine glass? In the old days, rose glass was kept under lock and key. But when it began to kill its users, we received crates of glass every day in the mail from customers who cursed us and wholesalers demanding refunds. The respectable people of Lemoine could not bear for the glass to go to waste, so they gave it to their servants, who they believed had neither knowledge nor any concern about threats to their constitution. To drink from rose glass is now expected of every member of the subservient class. Anything else would be considered presumptuous."
"That’s terrible," My Dear said.
"I want to show you one of them." The widow went to one of the cabinets and brought out a heavy, long-stemmed wineglass. "During my servitude, I’ve learned to recognize the way that small marks memorialize long and painful struggles between bodies animate and inanimate. Can you see the way that the glass is much thinner on the bottom of this glass than it is by the rim? Its owner must have made his servant scrape it clean with a scouring-pad, hard, every time he drank from it. Imagine the number of hours that women must have spent polishing to wear down the insides of every glass in this cabinet, grain by grain. And when she was done cleaning, the glass-dust and poisonous pigment that she had scraped off remained in the bottom of the goblet. It mixed with the next glassful of wine or mead and the master drank it down until his body was petrified and his mind destroyed." She let us look into the glass to see the servants’ own way of avoiding this fate. The glass was filthy, its inside encrusted with old, hardened mead.
"Even so, I must drink from the rose glass like everyone else, because it is my place. I have no happiness here. Only a place."
"And if you were ever to return to the management of the glassworks," My Dear said to her, "no doubt new complications arising from suspicion of your product abroad would require you to retain...an agent..." The sound of Reuben Riley’s wife stomping her way to the servants’ quarters, unfortunately, forced My Dear to lapse into silence.
Riley’s wife stood in the doorway with an expression of theatrical surprise, pleased or displeased, I could not tell. The moment seemed suspended between us, gathering weight and import upon the fulcrum of her arched eyebrow. She had seemed a small, unassuming woman on her husband’s arm at dinner the night before, but now her face went sour.
"Are you the one receiving guests, now?" she asked of the widow. "This must be our new parlor."
"No, ma’am, I..."
"I suppose I needn’t even be told when company comes to my home. Was your plan to bring them down to your dirty rat’s nest and send them off again with me none the wiser?"
"Do you want me to cut you loose, Pearl? If you can’t take living in my house then you can say the word. I bet that’s why you’re acting up. You want to end up at the church, don’t you?"
"No, ma’am." The widow looked straight forward and spoke flatly, her eyes focused on nothing.
"That’s good, because I’ll never send you there. I’m not going to let you bring more shame upon this family. I’ll have you off to the farm at Cudworth as soon as I can spare so much as a mule." Only once her tirade was done did Mrs. Riley seem to notice us.
"I should apologize," My Dear said. "I came uninvited, to offer my condolences. I beg you to blame me for the intrusion."
Mrs. Riley curtsied. "No, ma’am. It’s her. She causes trouble. I’m sorry I can’t receive you today; I have another engagement and Mr. Riley is not at home."
"There is one more thing," I said. "It is incumbent upon me to question Pearl Riley about the recent accident at the glassworks." Mrs. Riley assented, but then she simply sank down into one of the chairs and watched the widow like a hungry owl.
"Did you have anything to do with the explosion in the furnace yesterday afternoon?" I asked the widow.
"No. I returned here from my errand to the post office yesterday morning, and have been here ever since," the widow said. "I know nothing about any explosion. These days news of the glassworks comes to me late, if at all."
I sat thinking about her response, stymied. I could do nothing to advance our cause with Mrs. Riley present.
"Fine," I said. "That will be all." Then My Dear and I retired to the carriage.
"She meant to make a bargain with us," My Dear said once we were well down the road, in low tones so the driver would not overhear. "She would give anything to have the factory again. She is desperate. Is that not what her mistress was hinting at, her willingness even to live in Withrow’s cloister to be nearer the glassworks?"
I agreed, and we decided between the two of us that we would make the widow an offer as soon as possible, though I can hardly imagine what ruling of mine could restore to her what she has lost. To do that, I would have to reverse the depredations of her husband’s family, and the cruelty of the church and the opinions of all the townspeople. I would have to nullify the concept of property and ban the village of Lemoine from the face of the Earth, and perhaps reach back to the beginning of time to overrule God’s original act of Predestination, which made the weak and unfortunate subject to the powerful and righteous. If I can help the widow Riley, it will be by cruder and less honest means.
The warped furnace was far from ready to be lit again, but most of the glass had been chipped away, and a couple of engineers crouched inside the crucible, pounding away at its inside. We joined the foreman who had been on duty at the time of the explosion and Benediction Dalton, the elder owner of the mine, who stood gazing at the furnace and speculating tersely to one another. The work floor was otherwise deserted, the finished glass gone. Kale pointed out a little bolus of white powdery residue which had been left on the floor. Apparently one of the glassworkers, being a former employee of the mines, had recognized the lumps of matter left behind when they scraped up the glass as the same as were left behind by detonations of the blasting powder that was used to blow up the sides of mountains in pursuit of copper.
"There couldn’t have been more than a gallon of powder in your furnace or your whole operation would have gone the way of Barkley Peak’s east face," the old miner said. "We’d hardly miss a barrel of it up on the mines. The men take great handfuls of it and pack it in mortars. Stack ‘em at the base of the cliff like bricks. We don’t frisk ‘em on their way home, neither; we’re not a gold mine."
"What about on our end, then?" Kale asked his foreman.
"It’s only works gangs that strike the kegs and grind up the stones," the foreman said. "Ain’t no gang of men could agree in secret to set a hazard like to kill or maim their fellows. But I known stones to come in blasted d__n near to powder already. Could be some miner spied some ore he thought precious, he swapped it out for a kegful of blast powder left unguarded, and our men never saw no difference."
"You and me both know every stone we sell ye for pigment, and I know the blast powder. Ain’t no fool could mistake one for the other," Dalton snapped.
The foreman thought about this, unhurriedly. "Then somebody poured that powder down the pipe and run off fast. It would a heated to burn in a couple three minutes."
"One of the men poured it in while we were touring the pigment room, knowing he wouldn’t be recognized behind his mask," I said.
"This is your fault," Kale said to the foreman. "You said the men wouldn’t work the pigments without full facemasks."
"And so they wouldn’t," the foreman said.
"If we can’t identify the person behind the mask, perhaps we ought to consider who had a motive for the crime," I said. Kale and the foreman had been staring at one another in a contest of wills, but now all eyes turned on me.
"I will speak with the widow," I said. Kale was kind enough to grant me the use of his carriage once again for the journey to Riley’s plantation.
I put on my wig and formal robes and we went down arm in arm to the banquet hall at seven, scandalously late by the standards of the country folk. The welcoming committee all stood drinking from mead-glasses which, to my relief, were clear. The wizened burgomaster was already at his seat at one of those charming long tables made from a tree split in half down the middle, polished a bit and propped up on pegs. His beard brushed the bottom of his soup bowl as he nodded off. A cheerful man who combined the energy of youth with the appearance of middle age approached me and introduced himself as Reuben Riley, the owner and lessor of the glassworks. After a pretense of discussing the weather, he talked to me for a long time about his pastime of alpine hiking, and bragged that his friends often tried to restrain him from going up a mountain after a new snow, but always to no avail. The unblemished beauty of the vista from atop a mountain peak at such a time, he said, was like a presentiment of the peace of Heaven.
"The lynx could teach mankind a thing or two. Or it could teach me something, anyhow," he said at one point. Eventually he told me that he had heard I’d received a petition from the widow.
"Yes. She lives in your home, now?"
"She does. I hope you’ll forgive our poor Pearl if she troubles you. The death of my brother was a blow she never overcame. After she lost the glassworks she wanted to take a room in town to be near it still and I said to her, Pearl, you’ve got to think about your future. There’s no place in town for a woman alone. That’s what _this_ place is for. And it wasn’t only moving in; she wouldn’t eat. Our cook would sit her down with a bowl of soup in front of her and say, I want to see you drink that soup up, Pearl. I’m not going to let you starve yourself. Pearl wants to go on living, but strike me if anytime I looked in the kitchen those first few weeks the cook wasn’t making her eat or looking after her. The two of them became fast friends."
"She joined your household as a servant?" I asked.
"In a way. She’s certainly below stairs, but she remains a part of the family. When she came to the plantation there was the question of what place, exactly, she would occupy. I am a married man...and my household was already established." Riley reddened a little, I think, to recall that I might not share the attitude toward such matters common in the countryside.
Soon the Reverend Withrow invited us all to take our seats around the dozing mayor. As the owners of the two large plantations to the north, Messrs. Riley and Plympton sat next to him with their wives. Then came the aged mine owner Benediction Dalton and his son who is the manager of the mine, the rector at one end of the log-table, the glass-broker, Wheeley, who keeps his office in town, a preoccupied Vincent Kale and his pearlike wife. Last, the Imp maid led my wife and me to our seats at the opposite end of the table from Withrow. I will elide my account of our meal (Plain. Heavy.) and come directly to the end of the evening, when the village luminaries were to honor us with gifts.
According to tradition, the burgomaster gave us the gift of the town seal--a crudely minted coin with a mountain on. He unceremoniously pulled this prize out of his pocket, stood and placed it in my palm, and then muttered "Thank you for coming," as he shuffled his way back to his seat. From the two farmers, the Imps brought in mossberry compote from the Rileys and sweetened mossberry wine from the Plymptons. This seemed an elegant way to squeeze two gifts out of their one crop whose renown extended beyond the valley where it was grown, and it showed that there had been a little coordination between the two in advance of our coming. The miners gave us a fine pair of gilded bronze candlesticks, and Wheeley supplied us with a stitched quilt depicting an apple tree in full bloom with nesting birds. We accepted the quilt with grace, though it seemed to me that there was a little too much of the bedroom about it for perfect decency on such an occasion. Finally all that remained was to receive tribute from the glassworks, and My Dear could not quite contain her eagerness to accept the gift which she had speculated about daily for the last leg of our tour at least. I could see in her rapt posture that it was all she could do to make polite conversation with Dalton the younger while she eyed Kale for some hint as to what was coming. And then a maid emerged from the kitchen bearing a single glass rose, and placed it in her hands. My Dear sat perfectly still, but she could not conceal the flush in her face at this shock! The rose was intricate enough, but it was not even life size. And the green pigment of the stem spilled over into the petals quite imperfectly. How tiny it looked, cupped in a pair of hands that had been ready to embrace bouquets, bushels of glass roses! I nearly coughed up my mead when I discerned the warring passions beneath her cold expression.
"It’s a lovely little thing," she said in an even voice.
"Yes, it’s every bit the match of your factory’s noble reputation," I added hastily. "You honor us. Here, let me hold it."
I took the rose from my wife and made a show of admiring it. It really was quite beautiful. It was translucent, but even in that dim banquet hall it seemed to glow with inner light. Each of its multifarious petals had its own pattern of blended oranges and reds, like crystallized fire. But it was the self-satisfied smile with which Kale watched me admire his gift, I believe, that finally called down the furies upon him.
"We shall have to find some kind of special vase for it, won’t we, darling?" she said. "I suppose any of our ordinary ones would swallow it up like a crocodile."
There was an uncomfortable silence, through which my wife positively beamed. There was no logic to my wife’s transports of vengeance, but I knew that it was useless to try to stop them. Her outburst was visibly very satisfying to her.
"An economical sort of gift," she went on with the merest veneer of innocence in her voice. "I’m sure it’s very practical to be conservative with your glass given the state the factory is in. Who knows if you’ll be able to repair the damage, or work the furnace reliably ever again?"
Wheeley the glass-broker pricked up his ears and said "Trouble at the factory? I’ve heard nothing." Riley looked disconcerted as well.
Kale waved down Wheeley’s concern. "It’s hardly anything. The furnace will fire tomorrow, or, in the worst case, the men will work double shifts the day after. The factory’s obligations are well in hand."
"You undertook to notify me of any more trouble," said Wheeley. The formal setting and his many uncomfortable observers had plainly receded from his awareness, leaving only him and Kale alone.
"And I will tell you everything, but in private," Kale begged. Then our entire company sat for the count of ten in complete silence.
"Fine, then, why don’t we adjourn?" Withrow said. He beckoned to the Imps to clear our dishes.
"I’ll just take my pretty little flower," My Dear said, and mock-admonished a mortified Imp, "Don’t go mistaking it for a caviar spoon!"
At that, Kale and the rector jumped to their feet and left without a word, with Wheeley in their wake. I remained to send off the others as graciously as possible. When I was on my way back to our quarters, Withrow buttonholed me in the corridor and told me that a new chamber had been made ready for me, because it would not be suitable for "a man and woman of passionate disposition" to lie together in the Lord’s house. Naturally I recognized this new rule as nonsense concocted for petty revenge, but I could not remain long in my station in life if I failed to observe the Lord’s more whimsical commands at least as diligently as the rest. And so I find myself this evening in a musty, windowless cell, separated from my wife by locked doors and the courtyard where the watchman prowls, with only my Diary for company.
But I observed one other thing. As Withrow lighted our way down the narrow hallway, the fingers of his right hand, which he liked to keep in the folds of his cloak by his side, remained fixed in the same position I had seen them in when he fled from the overflowing molten glass. The bones of his hand were fused in place. I do believe that even the ascetic Reverend Withrow has drunk too deeply from the luxurious goblets of Lemoine. How must it have appeared to his eyes when the substance of his hidden shame erupted from the widow’s furnace? The glowing hand of his old vice, belched forth to drag him down to Hell!
Mrs. Riley’s husband, owner and proprietor of the Lemoine glassworks, died two years ago of a pulmonary complaint. The widow Riley, having no family of her own to speak of and being (I infer, from certain details of the factory’s stock ownership and administration) out of the good graces of her husband’s family, was encouraged to sell the glassworks: to the Rileys if they made her a fair offer, or otherwise to some third party. The widow does not dispute that the offer made by her brother-in-law was a fair one, but nonetheless she refused to sell, and even invested in certain improvements to the facility, such as a set of four pipes in the great central furnace, each of which emitted what I can only describe as jets of fire, some wider and some narrower, some with their blue flames tinged by red or white indicating their varying temperatures and the compositions of the fuel they burned.
Men in leather protective suits gathered around each of the openings in the oven, their eyes fixed on flower-shaped glass works-in-progress that they held in front of these flames with long-armed tools that rested in notches like oarlocks: scoops and sticks with which they gathered up the white-hot liquid glass like honey from the crucibles at the bottom of the furnace, pincers to suspend their work in space, paddles and scrapers they used to flatten and carve, and scissors that cut away unneeded, dripping protrusions. Sometimes they returned the object to a hotter inner furnace to keep it pliable enough to work the entire surface, but more often they created its details by melting the unneeded glass away with the more precise blowlamp flame-jets. One man constantly regulated the precise angle of the flame emitted by one of the jets by blowing on it through a narrow glass tube and then, when the flower bulb’s shape was almost complete, he inserted his tube through the back of the blossom and blew into it gently to create a tiny, delicate pistil and rounded stigma. At first I thought they were making roses, but they delighted us by producing something more like a luxuriant, long-petaled orchid. As the tint of the glass cooled it revealed that in places a hint of purple and of other colors had been added to the vivid red the factory was known for. The foreman, the one who used the pincers and called out the orders to the rest in his high-pitched yeoman’s voice, pulled the orchid out of the heat so that another artisan could etch in the finest details by hand. In the far end of the furnace we could see that the next new flower had already been suspended in the flames by another team working a set of tools on the opposite side.
"You are very kind to let us witness the glassmaking," My Dear said to Vincent Kale, a Northeastern man who now leased and operated the factory. "I imagine such a legendary technique must normally be shrouded in secrecy."
"An object of exceptional fineness," said the Reverend Withrow.
"Actually, my lady, secrecy is almost unnecessary so long as we keep a close watch on our protective spectacles," Kale said. "Our glassmaking process produces temperatures so extreme that any man who watched it closely enough to reproduce its operation would be struck blind on the spot." This struck me as a tale to gull children, given that since our arrival a few of the older glassworkers had gazed into the crucible bare-eyed with no ill effect. All the others wore safety goggles with tinted lenses--the proverbial rose-colored glasses, perhaps. In the moment of silence that followed Kale’s warning, the Reverend Withrow mentioned that I had read Mrs. Riley’s appeal, and Kale asked me whether there was anything in it that could affect his interest as the operator of the glassworks. To be honest, I had to tell him that if Mrs. Riley prevailed, he would be at her mercy. But then I told him that he needn’t worry, as I had already considered the widow’s claim and there was no merit in it at all.
While the new, mechanical central furnace was still under construction, reports of a new plague among the users of Lemoine glassware had become impossible to ignore. Over the objections of her distributors and the working men of the town (so she claims), the widow Riley shut down all of the old, traditional glassblowing ovens until such time as the complex furnace was finished and the factory was converted to the production of detailed decorative objects. She promised that with the added capacity she would still be able to meet that year’s quota of glass objects in each of her contracts with the glass resellers who operated out of Lemoine. During the period of the factory’s closure, as a result of her several misfortunes and expenses, the widow found herself unable to pay her annual tithe to the parish church. Expulsion from the congregation for nonpayment, of course, would place her in a position hardly better than that of the Imps who mucked out the church’s stables, incapable of doing business or moving in the normal social circles of the town, and indeed if she had no household that would take her in at that juncture, then wardship might be her only hope. The widow forestalled that fate by persuading the Reverend Withrow to accept the accounts due on the factory’s contracts with the resellers as payment of her tithe in lieu of cash.
When the widow finally reopened the factory, the village had suffered a long period of hardship, and the people blamed her personally. The Reverend Withrow seized the spirit of the moment by preaching a sermon named _A Trumpet-Blast Against the Capricious Tyranny of Women_, which called on Mrs. Riley to relinquish her ownership of the glassworks. The distributors (who, the widow speculates, saw an opportunity to renegotiate the wholesale price of rose glass) responded to the sermon by repudiating their obligations under the contract, saying that they would buy no more glass until the factory was owned and operated by men. This meant that their accounts with the glassworks were worthless, and the widow was in default of her debt to the church. Withrow ejected her from the congregation on the very next Sunday after he had sermonized against her, in the presence of the entire flock. To consider the shock that she must have withstood, while on the verge of financial ruin to have returned to the place where such obloquy had been heaped on her the week before, and then (if the order of worship were observed) after she had joined in a single hymn, during the period reserved for church business, the black-coated curate would have towered over her in the pulpit (as her social standing would certainly have afforded her a seat neat the front) to cruelly cast her out--leaving her to walk past the rows of her former peers, head bowed, or perhaps held high in dignified resolution--helps me guess at the origin of her nobly tenacious pride, which so struck me upon our encounter at the post office. After all this, Reuben Riley, the brother of the widow’s deceased husband, accepted ownership of the factory encumbered by its debts and took the widow into his household. A landowner and farmer who lived with his family in the nearby countryside, he salvaged the value of the glassworks by leasing it to Vincent Kale. Pearl Riley brought a lawsuit against the glass-resellers on the theory that they had broken their contract with her and they were the ones obligated to pay her debt to the church, and furthermore prayed for a declaration that because her exclusion from the church was improper, ownership of the glassworks had never validly passed from her to her brother-in-law, which would also void the lease to Kale. The Reverend Withrow decided the suit against her nearly a year ago.
"The widow accuses the court of denying her the right to enforce her contract because of her sex," I told Kale. "She has the right to enforce contracts, and her sex does not diminish it. But her argument proves too much, because she must grant that the factory’s customers have the same right. The right to contract includes the right not to have one’s agreement altered in any material respect after the signing, and clearly for any businessman the gender of one’s business partner is a material consideration. The freedoms guaranteed under our laws apply to each person equally; they do not strain to favor parties that find themselves, for one reason or another, disadvantaged."
"I agree entirely," Kale said, though not without discomfort at having discussed such a matter, and in the presence of a lady. "I could show you our pigment room. Do you see the smaller pipes from the furnace to the floor above, around the chimney? Those are the chutes that supply the raw materials, both the sand and the rare minerals that give our glass its color." We followed him up a stairwell to a room on the second floor, though it was at ground level on the uphill side of the building. The room was a sort of stable, with wide doors thrown open, as Kale said, to admit the carts full of minerals that arrived at all hours from the copper mine up the mountain. In truth, the workers must have kept them open out of fear of the accumulation of dust: in this room they wore not only protective goggles but masks and leather hoods that covered their whole heads, and still they looked away furtively when they beat lumps of metal with pestles or ground them down with cranklike machines, and then poured the resulting powder into the chutes that led below. Beneath their heavy clothes, some of the workers were stiff and hunchbacked, or seemed to lack the full use of their limbs. My Dear, Withrow and I all discreetly covered our faces with our hands and inclined toward the exit, though Kale seemed oblivious to anything but My Dear’s praise of the factory’s clockwork organization. Perhaps he thought that terror of the Lemoine Rheuma was but another of his ingenious safeguards against spies. From the cart-path outside one could see up the slope to the strip-mined mountain peak far in the distance, where the strata of sediment lay cross-sectioned and exposed to the sunlight. I could begin to make out a complex wooden scaffolding built among the shored-up earth around the base of the man-made cliff which would allow miners to dig anywhere on the cliff face for its rich veins of copper, or for the more mysterious substances that they sold to the glassworks. As we were leaving, the call came up from the furnace room for more sand, and the workers began to dump sack after sack of it down the chutes. I overheard My Dear asking Kale whether any of the town’s glass-brokers would resell the rose glass as far away as the capital. Kale assured her that they would. The factory’s many woes were finally over, he said, and he had already arranged for shops across the country to be stocked with Lemoine glass by the end of the summer. My Dear seemed to take it in stride that she was not the first to understand the commercial potential of the new, reinvented Lemoine glassworks.
Finally we returned to the main room to see the annealing furnaces, which must have been used for glassblowing before the new furnace was constructed for that purpose. The annealing furnaces keep the finished objects at a high temperature which gradually decreases until the furnace has entirely cooled and the finished glass is packed away in straw. The works we saw there, illuminated by the fires beneath them, were an incredible array. To my dazzled eyes it seemed as if no two of them were the same. There were even complex blossoms like carnations, sunflowers and wisteria. The range of color and taxonomy was astounding, and most of the flowers were grouped in brilliant, riotous arrangements in rose glass vases each with its own subtle, often intricate design.
"Some of these common flowers must have taken far more work than the rare ones," My Dear said aside to me. "They are not exotic, nor do they represent wealth or love. Who do they expect will pay for them?"
"It is as if they were made for the pure aesthetic joy of their creation," I said.
"Or they may be a challenge to the buyer’s taste," My Dear said. "A discriminating collector will know that a representation of a common object need not be common. It may be rarer than all the gods and paste jewels of a governor’s parlor."
My Dear had only just begun to express her appreciation of the glasswork to Mr. Kale when we heard an awful popping and a cry went up among the workers at the central furnace. Men recoiled from their stations in pain and bits of glass skittered across the floor, some of them glowing and fluid. The white light of the crucibles brightened and rose--I could not see its source, but the shadows around the furnace changed shape--and I took my wife’s arm and shielded her body with mine while Withrow lurched away from the danger. There was nowhere for us to take shelter, and the barred front door was too far. Streams of fire soared from the furnace like flares from the sun, and the bubbling liquid glass overflowed the furnace rising like yeasted bread. The wiry, grey-haired foreman called out "Stawp the gas!" in a tone that betrayed no fear, and his subordinates attended to it by closing all the valves bolted to the furnace. Then the half-liquid glass, which had bled out onto the floor, slowed in its expansion. It was like a creature that reached out to consume us without the encumbrance of solid form. In the main it was a vibrant red, but it contained whorls and shapes of other colors hidden beneath its surface like unknown organs, and the crucible fire shone up from beneath it like a malignant animating spirit. The glass efflux hardened as it expanded and its fire died, having cast its arms out only a few feet from its place of birth, the glassmakers’ tools encased in its solid form like pikes in the flesh of some skinned beast. Once calm prevailed again, we were able to see how badly the furnace was damaged. The pipes that emitted the jets of fire were warped and filled with hardened glass, as was the pipe through which sand was delivered from above. The inside of the furnace was scorched, and though the level of the glass had fallen, it still fully encased the heating mechanism beneath the floor. A medic attended to the men pierced by shards of flying glass, while Withrow and I interviewed My Dear for signs of shock. She was unhurt, and strove to overhear the discussion between Kale and his engineers.
Kale was plainly astonished, and the glassmakers were perhaps even more so. From their baffled arguments I inferred that the eruption we had witnessed was not among the ordinary mishaps known to occur during glassmaking.
"Witchcraft," bellowed the Reverend Withrow, surprising even himself, I think. I told him I found his theory unlikely, but I do not think he quite followed my reasoning. There are several quite compelling arguments against any accusation of witchcraft, but courtesy demands of a gentleman that he not explain those reasons too clearly to a clergyman. I almost hoped that one of the glass-blowers (whose profession, after all, seems a rather satyric one) would come to my aid, but no. In any case, Withrow demanded an investigation, as was his privilege, so to satisfy him I agreed to act as inquisitor. Withrow made it clear that he wanted to investigate the matter himself--I am sure he relished the thought of empanelling a jury of captious church elders to hunt down the traces of evil as far as their fevered imaginations could spin them out--but I reminded him that witchcraft is a civil crime, and the church only borrows the authority to prosecute such crimes in the absence of state authority, and only when the representatives of state authority are actually absent. I had an idea of who he intended to blame for today’s act of ostensible witchery, and I was not about to let him complicate the widow’s lawsuit beyond my ability to bring it to a final resolution in the next few days. I gave Kale a perfunctory invitation to notify me if he found any sign of criminal mischief, and considered the case inactive. My Dear and I shared a carriage back to the parish church with a very irate clergyman.
Such thoughts color my recollection of my wife’s scheming in the carriage this morning. After all, we two are outcasts of a sort, exiled to the provinces to ride circuit among the country folk rather than taking our place among the tumult and glory of the capital, where the nation’s bright lights make their careers. We approach the end of this year’s tour, and My Dear is desperate to find some way for us to curry favor with the Lady Dodge (and thereby with her husband the great jurist Sir Dodge) before the end of the season. I myself am no great socialite, but I have promised to devote my utmost attention to this year’s engagements. No doubt our very state of grace may depend on the most casual remark, on the slightest gesture.
Our best hope is to obtain some trinkets from the glassworks in the valley where I’ll next hold court, which was greatly celebrated until recently, when symptoms of idiocy and bone-melt arose in the noble families that drank most often from its famous "rose glass" goblets. After the panic, the glassworks reopened to produce decorative objects such as sculpted glass flowers, but its wares have been scarcely seen in the capital lately. My Dear predicts a resurgence and believes that with a timely gift of rose glass, we can set the Lady Dodge so far ahead of the fashion that the fashion will seem to have followed her. She expounded all this to me while eating smoked jujubes out of a sack that we were given in the last town, handing me the pits to toss out the window (she always sits in the exact center of a carriage-bench, to minimize jostling).
Not so long ago I hoped that My Dear would not join me on this year’s circuit, but would remain in the Old Retrocession to make a home for us and bear our first child. Then the time came for me to leave and she was still not expecting, so along she came once again. The journey would have been very different without her. It would not have been ethical for me to accept the gift of a racing foal from the murderer’s wife in Addis, had my wife not been there to do so for me. Nor would I have even dreamed of buying the land on the Duck River to develop irrigation canals, had My Dear not pointed it out to me and set me about it. We both continue to wish for the blessing of a child, but with the chaos of travel and the dust of the road, lately we’ve found it hard to arrange a quiet moment together.
The country here is pine forest, and the weather is still brisk even at this time of year. We rode alongside soil-clogged creeks that flow down from hills which are strip-mined above the tree line, often with squared-off segments carved out of them as if their natural shapes had been invaded and displaced by geometric solids from the Platonic world of forms. The glassworks, and the town that supports it, are nestled into the base of one of these hills. As usual, My Dear and I are to reside in guest rooms within the parish church of the rector whose rulings are appealable to me. It has been nearly three years since I last held court in Lemoine Valley. My Dear has made me promise to work quickly.
We came to an agreement with the driver that he could stop at the post office and carry in the mail, so long as he inquired whether any message was waiting there for us from another direction. That was how my wife and I came to be sitting unattended in a tethered carriage on a close, shadowy street so muddy that escape on foot, for a decent person, was impossible. A servant woman with an upturned, rooting sort of nose and grey-streaked hair like straw pulled back in a bonnet walked right up to the window of our carriage and accosted us. She asked if I was Judge Cushing, and I admitted that I was.
"I have a petition for an appeal," she said, and waved at me a few wrinkled scraps of paper.
"That," I answered, "can only come to me through official channels."
"It has been, and its duplicate awaits you now in the church house, only my brother-in-law and the Reverend Withrow will have agreed between themselves that you needn’t be bothered by it and removed it from the docket. Nonetheless, it’s a valid claim brought on my own account, not theirs."
"You witnessed these two tampering with the motions?"
"They will have," she repeated. "It’s in the matter of the glassworks. As to whether I own it."
"Is that why the glass shipments stopped?" My Dear asked avidly. "The factory was in a lawsuit?"
The canny old crow simply held out the petition for me to read. Under the will of both women, I had to take it. At that moment our driver returned and shouldered the old servant aside to give us a letter with news from one of My Dear’s young allies in the capital: Lady Dodge had taken up croquet.
My Dear is an excellent person with whom to witness the spectacular. I do not mean only that she has a sense of awe. Awe is nothing but sensations overwhelming the senses, like wine overflowing a bowl. I mean also to say that My Dear is a very deep bowl: observant, discerning, appreciative. But resultantly, when we are together in some ordinary situation, I sometimes feel that certain faculties of her mind go unused, and in my greed to experience the pleasure of her company as fully as possible, I often wish that I could sequester her from the mundane.
The Reverend Withrow’s church is a rambling arc of rotted, shambling brick and lumber with chapel, parsonage, meeting house, guest house, dormitories, a few rugged fenced-in vegetable gardens and pens for pigs, chickens and goats, all of it tended by a troop of ragged, skittish women who were the legal Wards of the church and the town. Having no other cloister or avenue of retreat available to them, these women were committed for some combination of poverty, age, ill-repute, prostitution, adultery, bastardy, widowhood, spinsterhood, asociality, criminality and lunacy. Their faces, for the most part, are ill-favored and undernourished. Some have loathsome diseases. Yet they are needed here: in their way, they serve as the Imps and demons that complete their church’s rustic cosmology. It is an image without grandeur, maintained for the edification of the simple. My Dear and I aspire to a higher vision. A great jewel, one might say, of which a gaudy old woman swatting at croquet-balls is but a single, gleaming aspect.
Upon alighting I introduced My Dear and the Reverend Withrow, although I must admit that I recalled him but vaguely from my last visit, as a man with unusually poor conversational timing (in joining discussions, making interjections, laughing at jokes, et cetera). Soon enough the driver carried up our trunks and My Dear and I retired to our quarters. Among the papers reserved for my perusal, the petition regarding ownership of the glassworks was, as forewarned, missing, and the records referring to its existence amateurishly altered.
by Matthew Carey
Sunday, April 01, 2007
Vocabulary Quiz: Lesson 13
a) swindle b) culprit c) felony d) incriminate
2. France produces the finest flower of ____________ in Mallarme but the desirable life is revealed only to the poor of heart, the life of Homer's Phaeacians. (Ulysses, James Joyce)
a) arson b) corruption c) felony d) jurisdiction
3. And others __________, in this wise: / The king commands his constable, anon, / On pain of hanging by the high justice, / That he shall suffer not, in any guise, / Constance within the kingdom to abide / Beyond three days and quarter of a tide. (The Canterbury Tales: Modern English Translation, Geoffrey Chaucer)
a) counterfeited b) acquitted c) incarcerated d) incriminated
4. And here is implyed another maxime of the law, that where the common or statute law giveth remedy in foro seculari, (whether the matter be temporall or spiritual) the conusans of that cause belongeth to the king's temporall courts onely; unlesse the ___________of the ecclesiasticall court be saved or allowed by the same statute to proceed according to the ecclesiasticall lawes. (The First Part of the Institutes of the Laws of England, Sir Edward Coke)
a) felony b) jurisdiction c) arson d) culprit
5. __________ yow as now of youre biheeste, Thanne have ye do youre devoir atte leeste. (The Canterbury Tales: Original Version, Geoffrey Chaucer)
a) Corrupteth b) Swindleth c) Counterfeiteth d) Acquitteth
Answer key: B, B, B, A, D
(Har har har! These questions are too hard for eighth graders!)
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Blurb: Simple Adventure is a basic Scott Adams-like adventure game written for the 12th annual interactive fiction contest. The goal is to slay the ice dragon.
As happens every year, somebody insists on reinventing the wheel. At least nothing bad happens when you run out of HP. How did dunric know I love leveling up? 4
Fight or Flight
Blurb: The counselors at
The tone didn’t quite catch my attention. I would have completely missed the sentence “A headless corpse spurts blood inside the truck” if I hadn’t been reading closely.
This provokes no reaction.
Specify the body.
She giggles. "I'm sorry. You've got such a crazy sense of humor!"
After the only way to convince my friends that a horrible murder had taken place 100 yards away was the Hulklike feat of ripping the hood off the truck that the body was in and carrying it to them, I stuck to the walkthrough for the rest. 3
The Tower of the Elephant
By Tor Andersson
Blurb: An adaptation of the classic sword & sorcery tale by Robert E. Howard, first published in 1933.
I strongly approve of IF literary adaptations, but if this is a faithful adaptation I don’t see how this one ever worked as a static story either. The main character has no agency. He mostly just follows people’s instructions. He’s supposed to be a thief, but he’s not willing to leave once he’s stolen the loot; he’s too busy helping a couple of superbeings he doesn’t know sort out their personal drama. When he leaves the tower, does he even know he has the jewels? Better title: The Tower Of Way Less Than One Whole Elephant, No Matter How You Look At It. 4
By Madrone Eddy
Blurb: Beam is a short escape adventure.
Beginnings have a special significance in IF: they are the only part of your game your player can reach without figuring out how to play the game. If the beginning makes no sense, nothing else matters. A protagonist who can’t walk on the ground without running into trees, and a parser that insists you can only get to the top of a tree by typing IN, make no sense. Experimentation revealed that the game wasn’t designed to respond to commands that deviate even slightly from the walkthrough, so I punched it in verbatim. I think if I had waited longer (in real time!) after doing this I might have won, but I got bored and wandered off until I met the sweet embrace of death by asphyxiation.
P.S. Why is there no air? 1
Xen: The Hunt
By Ian Shlasko
Blurb: John Richardson returns in this sequel to Xen: The Contest. Two years later, he finds himself caught again in the crossfire. This time, however, his life may be forfeit.
I used to watch a lot of TV in the ‘80s, so until I lived in a city I thought it was quite plausible that if I ever went into an alley, six black guys would pop out of nowhere and be like, “Yo, yo, yo, looks like the white boy wants to play tough!” So I feel bad that I have to take a point off for that. Apparent success on the train ID puzzle killed me, while doing nothing allowed me to escape but made the next event impossible to trigger. Would be helpful if I could show the ID to the cops, but the game doesn’t understand when I refer to them. There and elsewhere, the game became confused if I didn’t copy the commands from the walkthrough precisely. Still, this has a fair amount of detail and visible effort. I especially admire the creator for putting in so many active NPCs and scripted set pieces. It may be a little too plot-heavy: half as much supernatural exposition probably would have had the same amount of impact. 5
Enter the Dark
By Peter R. Shushmaruk
Blurb: My first complete IF game. An interactive thriller, where you find yourself in an unexplainable situation with the memories of your sister’s murder haunting you. There is something waiting for you. You can feel its presence watching your every move.
It’s a little weird, seeing these strange acronyms cropping up year after year: ALAN, HUGO, ADRIFT. It seems like popular opinion would bring IF authors to enough of a consensus that we could at least narrow down the range of languages that are considered worth using. I’ve never experimented with ALAN, but it seems like it must encourage some bad IF-writing habits. Enter the Dark doesn’t even seem to have the equivalent of an EXAMINE verb. Obvious methods for trying to kill the crow elicit no response, not even an “I don’t understand” message. I couldn’t figure out the command to load or fire the crossbow, and neither could whoever wrote the walkthrough. 1
By Matt Barton
Somebody got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning! I have to admit, though, the bleak tone was consistent and engaging, and the pacing was good in terms of both obstacles and plot revelations. I would recommend this game as a good example of how to make the plot clear while still allowing the player to feel he’s accomplished something in piecing it together. The parser was better-implemented than I could have expected, even given the limited range of actions required, though it still wasn’t as good as in the average Inform or TADS game. 8
(or, how I became a zombified hitman for Jesus Christ)
Blurb: You are on a beach with the LORD.
You've got a headache, but you're with Jesus and he's not nailed to a cross (he's having one of his better weeks).
The goal is to find out why you ended up here with a guy who eats locusts, honey and speaks oddly.
Plot is nonsensical, I can’t seem to level and I can’t find anything to spend my gold on. Also, “Whether expressed or implied” is a phrase normally applied to warranties, not copyright. 2
By Edgar O. Weyrd
Really inventive. It’s rare that I can get absorbed in a puzzlefest, but because of the meta-puzzle structure there was always something new to fiddle with that gave me hope of getting unstuck. The “notes” function was a great help and a fun reward for making things happen. This may be laziness on my part, but once I solved the puzzle I would have liked a message telling me who was left alive at the end (and what happened then). I didn’t bother to work the survivor’s identity out on my own. Come to think of it, maybe the second-to-last heir committed his murder and then died of slow-acting poison. Who knows. 9
By Theo Koutz
Blurb: You are Sisyphus, a Greek king who is being punished in the underworld by being forced to push a huge boulder up a hill for all eternity. Can you figure out a way to weasel out of your predicament, escape from Hades, and get your job as king back?
I don’t know how to put this delicately. I’m trapped here for eternity, I have the use of my hands, and I’m naked. The proper course of action is obvious, and it’s not coded. That’s just sloppy. 1
The Apocalypse Clock
A Race Against Time
Blurb: You must stop the end of the world. Your tools in this task: A crayon and a cat.
Starting up a game like this, I have to ask myself: is that typo some kind of intentional joke I don’t get, or am I in for a really bad time? In this case the answer was the latter, but at least I was able to identify a couple moments that were apparently intended to be funny, so I had a feeling the author basically likes me and wants me to be happy. That’s a lot more than I could say for “Sisyphus”. Or “The Initial State,” probably. (Where was the crayon?) 2
The Bible Retold
The Bread and the Fishes
By Justin Morgan and "Celestianpower"
Blurb: A light-hearted adaptation of the classic Bible story, The Feeding the Five Thousand. Not for the fundamentalist!
“Not for the fundamentalist” is an odd thing to say about this game. Are there really people out there who are so doctrinaire in their Christianity that they would find the addition of silly anachronisms and a tedious math puzzle offensive? This game makes a few slight gestures toward irreverence toward the beginning, but it quickly switches to doctrinaire recapitulation of the original Bible story, even resorting to the “copy your character’s actions directly out of the original book” style of puzzle that plagues IF literary adaptations. Could this be a sneaky ruse, designed to lure unbelievers with the promise of blasphemy and then cram the Good News down their throat before they know what’s happening?
Anyway, I don’t think the idea of things disappearing “in a puff of logic” quite fits this particular story, but the sliced bread joke made me laugh. How was I supposed to guess to “say grace” rather than “pray”? Making Jesus pick up only one loaf at a time was a mean trick, given that it was about a 50 move round trip to go to the crowd, try to feed them, be told I didn’t have enough food (I thought that was the whole point?) and walk all the way back to get the rest. Even if I were clever enough to type in “get crumbs” after the feast, the game wouldn’t know what I was talking about: the authors insist on direct copying from the walkthrough only (and no “scraps” show up in the location description to give you a fighting chance). 4
By Ian Anderson
Blurb: She will not triumph. We are strong. We are legion.
Cool design. I would have liked a little more guidance toward the beginning. I still don’t know exactly what I did there. I thought I had an unwinnable state when an object I possessed got destroyed, but given the range of interactions possible there was probably something I could have done to get inside. Maybe the descriptions could have been a little less sketchy? The protagonists started to develop a little personality only toward the end (or maybe I became able to relate to their personalities because I started to see them in a human context). This game accomplishes exactly what it intends to with the POV, but the plot is pretty conventional and the characters are sketchy so I’m going to hold back the perfect score. 9
By Jason Ermer
This story has been done before, but somehow it worked again. This game was a lot of fun at first, as I had a clear goal and an interesting environment to explore. Around the locket and the grandfather clock, it was almost like Curses. After a while, it got a little less logical and interesting. There’s something about being instructed to perform ancient rituals that puts me off, because it means I’m no longer trying to understand the relationships between objects in the game, I’m just trying to follow the authors arbitrary and intentionally opaque instructions, which will make something unpredictable happen. Someone like Emily Short can make magic feel like it operates according to fair rules, but it’s not easy to do. Logistic complaints: I think it would have been fairer if looking at the pebbles anywhere outside was the same as doing so in Grandma’s yard. I still don’t know how I was supposed to find out the walking stick’s history. Was trying every direction from every location the only way to find the graveyard? It wasn’t clear at first that Grandma was also the Witch. And I could have sworn I had two mushrooms rather than one… 6
The Primrose Path
By Nolan Bonvouloir
Blurb: You've led a fairly uneventful life, perhaps; certainly you never planned on having to save your best friend's life. Now, it's up to you to unearth the secrets he's been concealing from you, perhaps learning a thing or two about yourself in the process...
This game is full of inventive supernatural concepts while still maintaining realistic characterization and tone, which is one of the best results that fantasy fiction can aspire to, really. One of the first lines, about “a half-second of pure ‘Where the hell am I,’” doesn’t seem to fit the protagonist’s voice, but after that she’s very consistent and engaging. The meta subplot is fun, though I’m not sure if it adds up to anything. I don’t know Irene found out about the player, and Matilda’s feelings about the object in the drawer seemed a little extreme. Come to think of it, how did that get there anyway? And the first paragraph of the game alludes to an extra supernatural twist that I did find in the game, but I couldn’t figure out how it connected to anything else. And, by the way, I believe the author forgot to explain how the protagonist gets the ring in the “You have won” ending. I’m curious to know if there are major elements I haven’t seen yet; I’ll certainly be comparing notes about this game once judging is over. 9
By david whyld
Blurb: "She told me she needed my help. She told me someone was after her and that he would kill her. She told me where to find him, told me what needed doing... and left the choice in my hands. What I didn't know was that there was a lot more to the story..."
A lot of repetition and wordiness: “Something seems wrong the moment I enter the apartment. It takes me but a moment to put my finger on it: it’s been trashed.” This protagonist feels compelled to explain what he’s thinking in great detail, several times. For some reason his detective agency has a staff, his house is implausibly big, and he doesn’t seem to know if he bought it when he was thinking about starting a family or when he “hit bottom”. The author says he doesn’t like puzzles, which must be why this game mostly boils down to walking into places, getting attacked and knocked out, and agreeing with things NPCs say. The walkthrough says that there’s an alternate path if you try to kill the bad guy the first time you meet him, but I reached the scene that you flash back from in the beginning, so I considered my responsibility fulfilled. 3
A Broken Man
A story of revenge.
By Geoff Fortytwo
Blurb: Your little girl has been mercilessly killed at the hands of a heartless terrorist.
The police won't even admit that it happened.
It's time for revenge.
This plot for this one is way more complicated than it has to be. Why couldn’t the main guy have just read “The Punisher”? Instead it goes into this whole alternate reality plotline about “What if there the movie Swordfish was originally a book?” Man, if Swordfish was a book, Chapters 1-5 would read about like this: “If it were somehow possible for the police to view the explosion in extreme slow motion, they would see a giant wall of flame, slowly undulating, with metal ball bearings soaring around in a totally awesome way, and then one of the ball bearings hits one of the sleek metal-and-glass bombs attached to another one of the hostages, and then that makes another huge awesome explosion that slowly blossoms in a hundredth of a second that stretches out for a really long time, and a couple of cops and a cop car are floating in midair and kind of rotating like in The Matrix, and then if we were to pan slowly to the right we would see…” Anyway. So to give himself a break after coming up with that concept, the writer has you enter the mansion you’re invading just as a burglar is leaving with all the furniture, decorations, some of the rooms and pretty much all the characterization that otherwise would have been in the game. Sample quote: “This side of the building is almost entirely made up of a grid of glass panes. One of those panes appears to serve the function of being a window…” 2
By Robin Johnson
Blurb: It's 1920s
Weird and fun. This game got lots of laughs out of me with the way bizarre things kept happening so abruptly, starting with the meal of salad dressing at the beginning. I especially enjoyed it, actually, when the game threw in bizarre occurrences that were transparent plot devices, like the cop eating the paper, and I normally hate that stuff. I’m not sure I’m quite sold on the supernatural stuff with the butler and the warping around, though, because toward the beginning I quite enjoyed the consistency of style. I rarely enjoy it when it seems like a game could take you absolutely anywhere on the next screen: if anything can happen, then nothing can have consequences, and I don’t care about anything. Speaking of consequences, I triggered an unwinnable state on the spaceship (!) and since I’d never figured out how to use the save/restore system, I had to give up. Based on the walkthrough, it looks like the author doesn’t always know exactly how to save the game either. That’s what offline interpreters are for! By the way, if it’s low-class to call a drawing room a sitting room, what is it when you call a foyer a lobby? 6
By Thorben Bürgel
Blurb: A Game made with TAG from Martin Oehm.
Unfortunaly only in german.
Dieses Spiel ist komplett nur in deutsch.
I clicked on this, it said the game was too big to fit in my computer’s memory, and it shut down. Next time, try writing in a language with shorter words.
MANALIVE, A Mystery of Madness - II
Part II: Explanation
By Bill Powell
Blurb: Having attempted murder in your landlady's front garden in Edwardian London, you receive a private trial in the dining room. Enemies expose your wretched past: burglary, desertion, polygamy, murder...but you remember these incidents a bit differently...
I’m kind of offended that this author has made both halves of his game separate entries, but I took him on his word by playing this one first. Too few of the objects in the scenes were implemented, many scenes required reading the author’s mind, and others were trivially easy. There was not much of a sense of interaction. It wasn’t clear how this guy managed to get on trial for things he’d only allegorically done. The plot had a little charm, although I’m quite skeptical of guys who think they can find the meaning of life by running around, getting married a lot, shooting guns and bragging about how they’re living life to the fullest (I recently read On the Road for the first time). The main character’s message is so commonplace that I’d still find it a little uninteresting even if I bought it. Also, this game loses a point for featuring a “
By Christopher Lewis
Soon upon opening this game I smelled a rat. It was really cagey about my identity, and it didn’t seem to want to give me details like what my favorite bands were when I was little. Either this writer was very unimaginative, or he was pulling an unreliable narrator on me. It turned out to be both: in a shocking twist, the game reveals it’s being narrated by a guy who doesn’t bother with many details! The ending is perfectly arbitrary, and provides no explanation for why the narrator keeps telling you not to solve the puzzles he’s given you no choice but to solve. Also, would the game really have made itself unwinnable just to punish me for leaving the cell phone on too long? That’s low, man. 3
Blurb: 'The Sisters' is a haunted house game written with ADRIFT. It's my first ever entry and one of my first efforts, so go easy on me.
Because the author of this game has requested that players go easy on him, this review will contain only positive comments.
I like the description “Trees and assorted foliage. You don’t know the proper names. You are no nature expert.” It reminds me of Nice Pete in Achewood, which apparently means it’s like Faulkner. Green on black text makes ADRIFT games much eerier than INFORM or especially TADS games. The location of the game is creepy, the way it’s gradually revealed works well, and the puzzles are fair and fun. The story is cool and, for the most part, it comes together in a coherent way. 6
The Curse of Eldor
Blurb: A mysterious shadow demon has taken the countryside of Eldor captive. It is up to you, brave one, to rescue it!
Multiple entries using identical data resources shouldn’t be allowed in the comp, in my opinion. (“The wolf massacred you in to small fragments.”) 2
Madam Spider's Web
By Sara Dee
This is a basically well-meaning and competent game, but it bothered me by having so many played-out IF tropes: supernatural events as allegory for real-life trauma, the character’s real identity and the main conflict of the story revealed only after it’s over, unavoidable car crash. It’s frustrating for me to play games as apparently different as this, The Sisters, Polendina, and A Broken Man, and have them all turn out to be the same thing: exercises in hiding critical facts from the player. Obviously, after a while it ceases to be a surprise. It’s cool to see that Adam Cadre’s influence is still so important in IF, but surface-level imitation does nobody any good. In this game the dream world seemed half-hearted, too sketchy to offer any insight into the “real” world that gets revealed at the end. The endgame felt abrupt, triggered after solving just two puzzles that didn’t seem particularly important, although nothing had happened that made me want the game to go on longer, either. I don’t know what the difference is between the house in this game and the one you explore in The Sisters that made the latter so much more interesting to me. Atmosphere, I guess. 4
Carmen Devine: Supernatural Troubleshooter
File CH357 (
By Rob Myall
I think the title gave me the wrong idea about this game. I was impressed that BECOME WOLF got a response as soon as I got out of the car! But then I was anti-impressed when BECOME HUMAN in a room that turned out to be dark apparently caused an unwinnable state by making my inventory inaccessible. I thought about starting over, but I couldn’t figure out the command to make the pack help the injured wolf, so I accepted defeat. 5
By Steven Richards
Blurb: Hedge is a modern fantasy piece revolving around the legendary Hedge, a very exclusive club with a nasty reputation. You try to get in, and then out again, without dying. The duality of man may make an appearance.
Maybe I’m dumb, but I couldn’t get the list without the walkthrough, and I have no idea what I was supposed to get out of the crossword puzzle. A description of what the puzzle looked like would have been nice. A way to fill it in would have been even better. The allegory here didn’t do much for me, and pretty much every puzzle called for a look at the walkthrough. This seemed like one of those surreal/anything-can-happen environments where it’s tough to get enough of a sense of context to learn how to interact with it. This is an interactive medium, so if you’re going to make your game surreal, you need to find a way to make the player surreal as well. 3
Another Goddamn Escape the Locked Room Game
By Riff Conner
Blurb: A satire of the popular genre of flash-based webgames. It's my first attempt at authoring IF, so please don't hesitate to send me reviews, reports of bugs I missed, and so forth.
I was disappointed when this game let me go in the bathroom right off. That seems to violate the rules of the locked-in-a-single-room genre. Plus, if you’re going to add a second room to a one-room game, a bathroom is a poor choice. It’s as if this author made a list of all the greatest rooms he could have in his game, and a bathroom came in second on that list. Think of all the compromises an IF author has to make with himself when he codes a bathroom. “I wonder if I can get away with not writing a pointless shower, if instead I write that the bathroom is really crappy because it doesn’t have a shower?” “Okay, what do I say when the player tries to make a dookie?” I guess it makes sense to require illogical actions if you’re satirizing locked room games that do the same, but those games are solveable because they have a strict limit on the number of available objects and actions, and you can just try every possibility. This game had too many items for that. For instance, I don’t see how anybody could guess to throw the hand out the window. And by the way, OPEN WINDOW ought to elicit a response. 4
Lawn of Love
A Santoonie Romance
By Santoonie Corporation
Blurb: Santoonie Corporation's first ever romantic adventure.
I was looking forward to this game, but then I realized I had Santoonie confused with Textfire or something like that. I don’t think there’s any need to develop an IF brand associated with comical badness, because comically bad is pretty much the default position for IF. Lots of people put in lots of hard word and still come out with comically bad. (One exception to the no-antibrand rule is Rybread Celcius, who threw in enough exciting weirdness that he made me remember him). Anyway, Lawn of Love makes very little sense but it has occasional flashes of perfectly competent prose. The joke about the fondue pot, for instance. 4
The Elysium Enigma
By Eric Eve
Blurb: It was meant to be a routine visit on behalf of the imperial government, just to remind the settlers that the Empire hadn't forgotten them. But maybe there's more going on on Elysium than your orders bargained for.
This was a good one. I liked how the author integrated a category of hidden objects to find (food items) into the plot of the game, especially in a context where I felt a little guilty for stealing them. Other puzzles, too, had multiple solutions and required you to find some but not all of them. The decision to have only a few, well fleshed-out characters was probably the right one, as ghostly as it made that village seem at first. It wasn’t exactly clear to me how and why the backstory (Captain Villiers) echoed the present action of the game. I thought the explanation would have to be supernatural, but then the story went in a different direction. In a couple of places I would have liked more guidance in the location descriptions, like about what I had to do to use that path through the forest, but I’m bad with puzzles. The plot was more low-key than I expected, but I thought it was good that it delivered on its promises rather than cutting the plot short with huge pyrotechnic confrontations. And no twist ending! 9
Blurb: Wumpus Hunting will never become "the sport of Kings" ... too many risks involved for royalty (although, they've been known to allow any number of fools, er, adventurers, to partake on their behalf). Let's not be under any delusions here - you could die!
It’s been a long time since I last chased the Wumpus, but it looks like this is just a straightforward reimplementation of that game with a few extraneous words layered on top. I was surprised that this passed muster under the no copyrighted works rule, but I guess Wumpus has been ported so many times that it must be public domain somehow or other. 2
An Interactive Twist
By J.D. Clemens
Blurb: Another mission. Just when you had settled in for a nap.
I have to give this one kudos for a cool play mechanic: your actions come back to haunt you via timewarp. The puzzle wasn’t quite as good as I hoped, though. The distinction between the two different tasks you have to coordinate is fuzzy, and it’s possible to get what seems to be a victory message for either of them when there’s still one more minor action you need to perform. That can make the game misleading as to why your attempt at a solution didn’t work. It’s possible that the game was consistent in the way it treated interactions between me and my double, but it didn’t feel that way. If his actions can help me access a button in my own time, then why not the receptacle on the reactor as well? Maybe it would have been more fun if the actions the player had to perform were more fun or inherently dramatic, the kind of thing that you’d love to watch come together like clockwork according to a choreography you’d painstakingly planned. But there’s a lot to like: the sergeant, the first aid kit and the busted transporter brought disconcerting liveliness to a seemingly generic sci-fi setup. 7
How the Worst was Won
By Sartre Malvolio
Blurb: In this uncut version that YOU DID NOT SEE IN THEATRES, you'll laugh your arse off at Xorax's evil stupidity, and get to play the role of his murderer.
The most meanspirited IF parody to date!
DOWN WITH PTBAD!
It’d be funny if as a result of the Comp, this guy and the Sisyphus guy became, like, pen pals. 1
By jason bergman
Blurb: You're a producer at AXL Games. Today is the day your game goes gold, but you've overslept!
Rush to the office, get your developers paid, coordinate QA and marketing efforts and do it all before time runs out!
This is cool, but it feels like it’s directed mostly at people inside the game industry. The author seems to feel a responsibility to take the stuff that happens in game production seriously (so there’s not much humor), but as he says in his game notes, he’s not really trying to depict the process in a realistic way either. The notes claim that the opening scene was based on the Riddle of the Sphinx, but I think it was really based on the beginning of Quake (and whatever Infocom game that bathroom door trick came from). 6
The Traveling Swordsman
Blurb: You are the traveling swordsman; the strong and silent stranger; the wandering vanquisher of villainy. Damsels swoon for you. Good men respect and envy you. Scoundrels learn to fear you. Even so, you are but a rumor throughout the land.
With the logo and chapter headings, it looks like they’ve found a way to make Hugo games look like Glulx games: a cruel deception. This game is a puzzlefest, but it’s too disjointed for me. There was no real connection between the different episodes, and solving a puzzle rarely made me feel that I’d progressed toward any specific goal or that I had much sense of what to do next. This game lost points in my book for being so long without ever seeming to get started. When the puzzles made sense, it was more often because of their resemblance to things I’d done in other IF than because I started to see how they fit into the plot. The attempt to tie things together with the tapestries failed for me: I have no idea what the imagery on them represented. I did appreciate that the hero of this game was a tough guy who could at least occasionally overcome obstacles by slashing and smashing them, and he even gets through an entire battle against some giant spiders without resulting to any wimpy/clever ploys.
IF authors are often tempted to find excuses not to describe things, and Anonymous is no exception: I think this is the first time I’ve heard a girl’s face described as “featureless” without a good reason. Also, the author seems to be mistaken about what “maiden” means. 3
MANALIVE, A Mystery of Madness - I
Part I: Enigma
By Bill Powell
After my experience with the follow-up, I wasn’t much looking forward to this one. Like its sequel, this game is single-mindedly focused on reminding the player of the transcendent joy of life, but this time around, at a couple of points as the formerly unhappy people got together and partied...it kind of did the job. Probably by some measure that means it should get a 10 by default, but I’m an excitable guy so I’m not going to give the game quite that much credit. Good points include reasonably vibrant characters, the whole photography subplot, and much of the prose: the paragraph beginning “The sky above you is full of mythology,” is pretty, and I liked it when the game told me to “Leave this charnel!” The bit about happy people making rules was thought-provoking: a concept that the author develops considerably and that will probably stay with me for some time. Problems: at times it felt like my actions (for which I often turned to the walkthru) were just triggering the release of chunks of short story. Having played the second game, I kept noticing the author constructing the groaning, creaking machinery of that game’s pointless twist ending. The Doctor character, as in the sequel, was inhuman, allegorical and overblown, not fitting with the tone of the rest of the game. And the gun in these games, like the fight club in Fight Club, is simply not as existentially significant as it thinks it is. 8
By Phillip Chambers
I like the way that the simple command “NORTH” seems to be fraught with danger in this game. I guessed one of the literary sources for this game before I started; an even more astute player could have guessed both. Spoiler: I enjoyed noticing something was suspicious about the game’s response to the command “U” but not finding out what until I reached the professor. The game seemed pretty well-planned to match that conceit, although I don’t know how things like piles of newspapers or “drying racks where freshly printed papers are set so they do not smudge” can exist in this world. It was the good kind of twist: the kind that lets you go back and revisit things with new eyes. The magic object puzzle was arbitrary, kind of like the ones I complained about in Moon-Shaped. Could have used more proofreading: “They smell foul, and have all the ascetics of a a scribble.” 7
By Mark Sachs
Blurb: The looming future. An Earth recovering from alien occupation. A mysterious object is approaching our put-upon planet and it's up to one explorer to discover its secrets.
I liked the concept for the space station that was the setting for this game, but in practice the sci-fi scenery was so generic that my eyes sometimes glazed over. The plotting was exciting, propelling me from crisis to crisis, but in a lot of places the only interaction was moving from place to place. I had to refer to the walkthrough a lot. For instance, neither the room description nor looking at everything named in the room description would have revealed the existence of the call button: as far as I can tell I would have had to look at the grille more than once. 5
By Emily Short
Blurb: Note: Floatpoint requires a Glulx interpreter; I recommend Spatterlight on MacOS X or Gargoyle on Windows/Unix.
This game, about an interplanetary diplomat, is another of Emily Short’s attempts to push back the boundaries that limit NPC interaction, and it definitely offers a lot of choice in your character interactions. Even better, when you make a really dumb diplomatic decision, you can count on Short’s eloquent prose to find some retroactive justification for your decision. I’m sure that there’s nothing at all insightful about this comment, but it’s kind of strange to think that as soon as a game gives you a significant range of choices about what happens next, it has to end, because otherwise the designer would have to create a separate game for each option. Does that mean that a really good IF game has to be really short, then? Or at least, to get longer it has to incorporate more elements of simulation so the game world can adjust to changes without the author specifying the results of every possible set of inputs. It’s funny: the first thing you read in the theory of interactive narrative is that will inevitably split into an unmanageable number of branches, but it’s only in Short’s work where that threatens to happen in practice.
Like all of Emily Short’s games, this was a pleasure to play. Short always goes two or three steps beyond other authors to include helpful features and depth, and her characterization is excellent. The relationship with Jane was perfectly drawn, and I loved the way it existed on the margins of the story while looming over everything. The recording-paraphrasing machine was gratuitously awesome: I’m sure there’s some way to tie it into the main plot, but I have almost no idea how. And I can’t wait to find out how to totally offend someone with that cookbook: too bad it wouldn’t fit in the box. (Was the repeatedly bowing scientist a bug?) Part of me wants to rate this game a 9 because nothing in it was totally amazing (at least for someone who has already played Short’s other games), but that would mean I’d have to go back and scale the other games’ scores down to 8 or below, and that’s not happening. 10
An Adventure in Symmetry
By Samantha Casanova Preuninger
Blurb: Puzzle-heavy game set in an Escherian environment. The zip file contains a hints file in addition to the z8 file and the walkthrough. The hints file provides gentle nudges only, without explicit instructions.
I love digging into a severely puzzlefest-looking game like this, but always in the back of my head there’s a little voice saying “you will not be able to solve this don’t even try.” I do appreciate that the author game away the twist ending in advance. Okay, I’ve definitely spent more than two hours on this, and I think I have a solution to the true/false logic puzzle, but I spent most of my time on the code. I checked the hints for that one and found this: “It's not a plain code, it's a keyword cipher.” GO TO HELL AND DIE, author of this game. Seriously, breaking a code like that is not the kind of task you can expect people to perform in two hours. Or ever, in the case of a bunch of people who had the misfortune of playing the online web puzzle Thisisnotporn when a keyword code came up in that game. Some of us plugged away at it for months...in fact, I just checked the forum for that puzzle, and it appears that some people are STILL trying to solve that puzzle after years. This entry has made me look back into the abyss of my darkest wasted hours. That is going to cost this author some points. 5
Blurb: With nothing but a note from the Professor in hand, your are sent to an unusual
I had to open the About file to get this one running, which is how I found out that the game is “A Beavertoe Software Production”. First of all, just because you made an IF game does not make you a production company. And I do not find “Beavertoe Software” to be an acceptable name. That’s going to cost this game a point. The idea that things could pulse in “slow unison” is grammatically intriguing but probably incorrect. The author apparently couldn’t figure out how to implement a save-game function, which is a shame because for me the game crashed twice in a row at the blue door. The standard IF languages exist for good reasons. Please use them. 1 (Not that I utterly hated this game: I rated it a 2 and adjusted down for Beavertoe.)
By Richard Otter
Blurb: You are a senior investigator with the police force of what is basically a totalitarian state. On a world where nearly all forms of crime are punishable by execution, you have been called on to investigate someone who has been unlawfully killed.
Remember: the plural is formed by adding an s to the end of a noun.
“An unauthorized termination is not unusual but is fairly rare…”
I think the author may have chosen poorly by taking on a form of techno-dystopia that basically cuts off the chance of interesting character development. I felt that I was generally being led by the hand by this game at first, and then I got stuck and the walkthrough couldn’t help me. Evidently I’d lost a vital keycard somewhere along the line. 3
By Tony Woods
Have you ever been in a conversation with someone whose ideas about what you’re likely to find interesting and relevant seem to reveal a serious flaw in his perception of reality? That’s what this game is like. HEY GUYS LET’S TALK ABOUT THE IMPORTANT ISSUE OF SHADOWY OMNIPRESENT CORPORATIONS THAT TELL YOU TO KILL AND WATCH YOU ALL THE TIME AND PLANT EVIDENCE AGAINST YOU ON YOUR PERSON BECAUSE THEY’RE SCHEMING AGAINST YOU. Unsurprisingly, the action of this game is almost totally disjointed and random. The PDF news article that comes with the game is kind of funny. It’s about the cops investigating a murder and they’re like “I just want to point out that this killer did an extremely good job cleaning up the evidence afterwards. I was very impressed.” And then in the game I found myself randomly murdering somebody and looking over the crime scene and I thought, wow, I’ve got a lot to live up to. I did like the variable room descriptions toward the beginning. Bug: going through the victim’s apartment door rather than knocking traps you forever on a stage with no players. 2
By Brendan Cribbin
It looks like this is just a game where the author decided to create an IF version of his school. For what it is, it isn’t bad. The puzzles are mostly fair. I appreciate how he’s not ashamed to give you hints like saying where important things will or won’t be found. I thought that trash can was hidden a bit deceptively, and it didn’t seem like the kind of thing the teachers would be encouraging me to dig through. I probably never would have found the red-capped key if not for a bug, and in many places it would have helped to have the game recognize a greater variety of commands. The map travel system was a great idea, but it looked like the author ran out of time to implement it. 4