The Doom That Came to Santa Fe

It’s not every day that, as an adult, I get to impress my younger self. Last week certainly made up the difference. For those who are unaware, The Jean Cocteau Cinema in Santa Fe which is owned by George RR Martin, author of the fantastic Tuf Voyaging and also some books about wolves, invited me out to perform my Ask Lovecraft routine on their stage. This was one of those out-of-the-blue opportunities that I simply couldn’t in good conscience refuse and so after a bit of babysitter-wrangling, I found myself out in the Land of Enchantment, living up to the state’s sobriquet.

I’ve been performing as HP Lovecraft for seven years now and am in the fifth year of Ask Lovecraft and as with any long-term creative endeavour, questions arise as to just how long I want to keep at it and where do I see it going. Folks who have been watching this spot will know that I’ve hit certain milestones that make me pause and look back on the show with a touch of introspection. Going to my first NecronomiCon in Providence, followed by my attendance at the CthulhuCon in Portland were certainly powerful moments as was getting the opportunity to do my schtick at the HP Lovecraft Film Festival in San Pedro. These and other opportunities to take my show before a crowd have been immensely humbling and rewarding but there was something unique about this particular adventure to Santa Fe.

This was my first time commanding a theatre by myself, not as part of a larger convention or festival but just me on my lonesome, standing or falling by own bizarre appeal. Now, I was not alone in this endeavour. My hosts at the Jean Cocteau were absolutely astounding and generous with their time and support. They organized an interview with local radio host, Richard Eeds, The Voice of Santa Fe who allowed me to babble mostly coherently about my show and my background. I was also taken out to Meow Wolf, an artistic… experience? that proved to be well worth the trip itself.

The shows themselves were breathtakingly fun. I never know if I’m going to get a crowd, let alone what sort of audience they are going to be. I’ve performed before die-hard Lovecraft fans with encyclopedic knowledge of his oeuvre, bored German tourists, and confused Anglican women’s auxiliary group attendees. Making sure to have a few ringers in the crowd in case things went south, I was still sweating bullets until fifteen minutes before my first show but it proved to be unwarranted as the folks who came out were warm, lively, willing to engage, and only mildly sauced by the cinema’s excellent bar staff. They were an incredibly delightful crowd made up of friends and complete strangers curious to hear what the reanimated corpse of HP Lovecraft had to say about his life, the world, and art.

Finally, there was my opportunity to perform for Mr. Martin himself which proved an immeasurable delight. I’ve been reading his books since my brothers grabbed a copy of the aforementioned Tuf Voyaging and I have fond memories of making my way through A Song of Ice and Fire while studying in London. His Livejournal was even a part of my regular internet experience back in the heady pre-facebook days. So I was very fortunate to have met Mr. Martin as a fan over a decade ago in Nashville when Feast For Crows came out and I could pester him with questions about whether Tyrion and Miles Vorkosigan were modeled on the same person. It made getting to interact with him as a professional colleague quite a bit easier. The fact that there were fans of my own who had driven in from Albuquerque or elsewhere also helped dilute the fan-talent divide that can sometimes make casual conversation a touch awkward.


All in all, this was an absolutely wonderful and career-defining moment for me. If putting on Lovecraft’s flesh-mask doesn’t earn me a more visibly rewarding moment than this one, it will have been worth it. I’m still holding out for the ultimate goal of hosting late night monster movies on SyFy but all in all, this was a really special week and I am so grateful to everyone for making it a possibility. Thanks to David and the Jean Cocteau for bringing me out, to Margaret for generous use of frequent flyer miles, to the Schumachers and Griggses for allowing me to hijack their vacation, to Linda for these beautiful photos, to Billiam for letting me bend time and space, and especially to Mr. Martin for being the most generous host I could ever ask for and allowing me to caper madly before him, I know, I know, oh oh oh!

 

-Leeman Kessler

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We Rebel – A Review of Star Wars Rebellion

The holidays came and went and in their jingled wake, new board games have floated ashore and one I highly anticipated was Fantasy Flight’s game of galactic cat and cosmic mouse, Star Wars Rebellion. This game caused much salivation but its price and its sheer size meant that I could not justify adding it to my growing shelf of games. Luckily, the Good Lord in His wisdom and magnanimous nature saw fit to grant us older brothers who, sensing our need, reached out and provided what we could not provide for ourselves.

Needless to say, it was a merry Christmas.

Having cracked open the game now and played it once by myself using this handy website, and once and a half with one of my dad friends (pictured above) I can give it a qualified thumbs up.

The game is devised for two players although it’s designed to be able to handle three or four by dividing up the Rebels and Empire into teams with each player getting specific duties which felt… busy. At heart it feels like and works well as a two-player game although I am not above trying it with more people.

Set up is a bit of a chore but there is a basic set up that works pretty well for quickly getting all the pieces on the board with a more complicated version for when you want to try playing with different starting systems and military force arrangements. The best part of setting up is definitely placing the Death Star on its little stand and plopping it down on the board to really set the tone for the whole affair. Also, if you have access to a Star Wars soundtrack, I do recommend cuing it up. For some reason, my wife had The Attack of the Clones on hand and that worked really well because most of the music is forgettable and non-distracting but still feel Star Wars-y

Then you get to it. It’s a Risk style game of moving armies around and trying to conquer systems but there are many quirks. First, the Empire has one objective: Find the Rebel Base and dispatch any Rebel forces there. That’s it. The Death Star can blow, Darth Vader can be frozen in carbonite, and the whole galaxy can be on fire but if they manage to find and crush that base, they win. The Rebels play a very different game. They have a victory points tracker which ticks down towards the turn marker and if every the twain shall meet, they win. So their job is to hide the Rebel Base long enough to run out the clock while fulfilling various missions and quests that make the clock run faster. If you’ve played Fury of Dracula, you might have decent idea how the asymmetric gameplay feels. These uneven victory requirements really flavour the game and make it incredibly stressful in very different ways. The Empire is running around both trying to send its massive fleets to hunt Rebels while also needing to be able to thwart their nefarious do-goodery while the Rebels have to decide between hunkering the Rebel Base down and preparing for an inevitable show down or keeping it in perpetual movement.

The system control mechanic is really fascinating. Systems not only give you places to fortify and launch attacks from but they give you troops and ships if you can keep them loyal and this building and maintaining loyalty really becomes a fun puzzle for the rest of the game. The Empire can still get some materiel by just occupying with troops but the real gains come from actually building up loyalty, which can be accomplished if needed by Death Starring a planet into space dust. Needless to say, it is very gratifying.

Perhaps the real defining mechanic of the game is the use of Leaders. It essentially grafts a worker placement game onto a war game. To move fleets, carry out missions, or thwart the other side, you need to plop Skywalker and Palpatine and Bobba Fett down on the board and put them in harm’s way. This is where the heart of the game’s strategy lies. At the start of a round, both players simultaneously secretly assign leaders to missions and leave the rest in reserve. This can be frustrating because you can’t change mission cards later on during the actual round when you might want to respond to crises as they play out. It also means you can try to chain missions only to have them fall flat. This can happen with the Empire’s Capture mission which unlocks other missions like Interrogate or Freeze in Carbonite. The stress comes from trying to figure out if it’s worth it to lock in a leader for the whole rest of the round or if it makes more sense to hold on to them to try to stop the other side from carrying out their missions.

Moving the fleets is a different stress. To move the fleet, you plop a leader down in the system you want ships to go to and then you move the ships from any adjacent systems like iron filings sliding towards a magnet. What can really jam things up is that you cannot move fleets from a system that *already* has a leader even if the leader hadn’t moved any fleets prior. So if the Empire sends Palpatine to carry out its Espionage mission into the heart of the Rebel fleet and the Rebels send out Obi-Wan to stop him, the Rebels can’t move the fleet because now, presumably, they are too busy entertaining General Kenobi. The rule makes sense as a way to keep the Empire from darting its fleet around with leader after leader like a sinister game of leap frog, but it can feel a little arbitrary at times.

Of course, the worst part about moving fleets is that they might do what they are meant for and get into combat and if there is one place where this game absolutely drags it is combat. If you were like me and played a lot of the Total War games, you might have had lots of fun scheming and politicking and then as soon as you got into a real fight, clicked Auto-Resolve so hard, your mouse cracked a little. That’s the same feeling I get when I engage in combat. It’s a bizarre mini-game with a lot of finicky, non-intuitive rules and sub-rules and when I say it slows things down, I am not joking. Part of the problem is that it’s hard to use the actual game board to lay out the pieces for the fight and there are so many different types of ships, vehicles, and soldiers that you need to be able to see them to know how to take them out so we will often move the pieces to the box top or some other flat surface to help show damage and remaining force sizes. In our last game, combat also presented us with a moment that almost made the Rebel player flip the board.

The Rebels had been building up their Rebel Base for a while and were trying to keep the Imperial fleet split up enough while drawing a remnant into a trap. The trap sprung but the combat wound up being a disaster for the Rebels and they lost the game all because of one rule: You can only roll five dice at a time. You see, the Rebel player had tons of troops in his base but he could only ever use so many at a time and while the Empire had the same limitations, the Imperial forces are just that much stronger and have more hit points that the limit benefits them more. The combat was still close but really, given the force size difference, it shouldn’t have been.

However, after discussing the game and going over all the frustrations, within about ten minutes we were eager to play again and I think that says something that is very Star Wars. You see, none of the movies are perfect and indeed, they all have gaping plot holes. plodding acting choices, and cheesy effects. However, their is something about any given film as a whole that makes you overlook those flaws so that a Force Awakens feels like a better movie than a Phantom Menace even if you could put both movies side by side and show how they share many similar weaknesses. This game is like that. Yes, there are problems. Yes, there are frustrations. I still enjoy it and still want to get back in there and that, I feel, is the hallmark of a great game.

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Episode 82: Ghostbustin’ Lady Chains

We saw Ghostbusters and whoo boy do we have some thoughts!

Topics Discussed and/or Spoiled

Does Leeman play too many videogames? Mario Teaches Typing, Joel McHale on the TV, Ghostbusters (2016), Bridesmaids, Airplane! Sisters, Intersectionality episode, Ernie Hudson, Dr Who, and My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

Our outro is Debs & Errol’s If I Were an Undead Crawler

Geekually Yoked is a proud member of the Crossover Nexus

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Episode 81: Hamilton

hamiltonKESSLER

We talk Hamilton. A lot.

Topics Discussed and/or Spoiled

Beauty & the Beast, Les Mis, Fiddler on the Roof, Hamilton, Miranda on MBMaM, Miranda on Still Buffering, Hamilaria, John Adams miniseries, Miranda freestyle on Washington, Got Milk? Miranda at the White House, and Miskatonic Musings.

Our outro is Debs & Errol’s Double Rainbow

Geekually Yoked is a proud member of the Crossover Nexus

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Episode 80: Sex, Love, and Killer Muppets

Shipping to the next level

Shipping to the next level

We ship so hard.

Topics Discussed and/or Spoiled

Sleepy Hollow (MASSIVE 3rd Season Spoilers) X-Files, Star Wars, Farscape, Firefly, Next Generation (Sorry, season 8), Deep Space Nine, Babylon Five, and Due South.

Our outro is Debs & Errol’s My Pachebel Song

Geekually Yoked is a proud member of the Crossover Nexus

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HP Lovecraft Film Festival – San Pedro

Howie and Me

Howie and Me

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to comprehend just how exhausted one will be after a convention. However, now is that particular, fleeting window of time when one’s mind is still brimming and buzzing with all the excitement and all the immediate memories in their appropriate context before time softens and blurs them into a morass of “experience” so do forgive me as I try to relate just what occurred this weekend.

Mike Davis, some jerk, Mike Griffin, Sam Cowan, Kelly Young, and Nick Gucker

Mike Davis, some jerk, Mike Griffin, Sam Cowan, Kelly Young, and Nick Gucker all being real cool.

I had the absolute pleasure of being flown out, driven through standstill LA traffic, and set up in colourful San Pedro where I hosted the Livestream  of the HP Lovecraft Film Festival. I announced programs, interviewed authors and artists, and at the very end, got to put on my live show and take questions for a very friendly if somewhat sleepy Sunday morning crowd. People I’ve known for years through the glow of my laptop monitor stepped out and shook my hand in the flesh. Bleary-eyed breakfasts at the Happy Diner were paired with late night discussions of punk bands and just what went wrong with Nightmare On Elm Street 5 from one of its writers. I had an especially wonderful time getting to hang out with Lee Joyner who sculpted and gifted me with that magnificent bust at the top of the page.

We fight crime!

We fight crime!

It was a blast and a half and I really appreciate everyone who brought me out but it was also a learning experience as I explore just what it is I do and what my role is in this strange world of conventions, festivals, and all around gatherings within the realms of horror and weird fiction.

Since 2013, I have been having to adjust to the idea of being someone who is invited to conventions. This time last year, I wrote about how I reached that bracing level where I no longer feel like a fraud waiting to be discovered and sent back home or like I need to apologize for what I do which is a liberating if also frightening achievement. To go from feeling like a glorified busker to a sought after asset who adds real value is wonderful but it brings with it some daunting responsibilities.

Some conventions get a little *too* educational.

Some conventions get a little *too* educational.

One of those responsibilities is money. When getting started, it is justifiable to want to put oneself out there and take some losses on the chin as a matter of course but I am here to say that the sooner you start practically valuing what you do and the time you spend doing it, the better off you’ll be. As performers, we decorate time. I take people’s spare time, or downtime, or stolen time and I hang a big old painting on it called Ask Lovecraft. Now, as Henry Rollins has told us in countless memes with white font on a black background, those times don’t exist; there is only lifetime which means that when folks let me decorate that, I need to take it seriously.

Money can be an embarrassment in the art world. Often we are told that money corrupts, that those who are in this for more than the simple love of art are missing the point, and are sacrificing their art for base ideals, and that impulse to ask for compensation should be flogged out of the temple of our mind like so many money changers. Here’s the thing though, we deserve to be paid. We deserve to have our efforts and our talents and our imaginations rewarded especially when we share them with folks who truly appreciate them.

Try before you buy?

Try before you buy?

Merchandise can help but getting to a place where you feel comfortable asking early and often and in writing for compensation for your time and for the value you add is rewarding on several levels. The part where they actually give you money is nice but more than that is the feeling of respect and being taken seriously. This isn’t just a hobby or “silly little thing” you do but something that you care about and others care about and a check goes a long way towards folks proving just how much they care. It also helps justify the chunks of your lifetime you spend at these pursuits both to spouses left at home with insomniac toddlers and to yourself. Finally, it acts as a signal to others that you are a responsible agent who values yourself and takes yourself seriously which makes them much more likely to want to make use of you.

Exposure can be a step but far too often it’s an empty bag or leads only to further exposure. Get paid and pay for the art you value yourself. You owe no-one favours with your time and if you choose to gift it, make sure it’s a genuine choice and not you settling or being bullied into it. In this world, we’re all rooting for each other and want to see good art thrive and all our time decorated as best as it can be. A big part of that is learning how to see yourself as part of that magnificent tapestry and demand to be taken seriously for it.

I bet this guy could teach me something.

I bet this guy could teach me something.

San Pedro was a truly wonderful experience and proved quite an education as all good experiences do. I look forward to seeing what other lessons I learn out on the road.

 

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Episode 79: Singin’ Jesus

Go Go Go Joe!

Go Go Go Joe!

We watch The Passion Live and talk about depictions of Jesus in film.

Topics Discussed and/or Spoiled

The Passion Live, Batman Forever, The Greatest Story Ever Told, Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth, Ben Hur, Daredevil, Passion of the Christ, God is Not Dead 2, The Last Temptation of Christ, Jeremy Sisto’s Jesus movie, Thrift Store, Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Man Born to be King, Kings, Of Kings and Prophets, and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (pictured above).

Our outro is Debs & Errol’s Falling Quickly

Geekually Yoked is a proud member of the Crossover Nexus

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Episode 78: Intersectional Lady Chains

Patriarchy!

Patriarchy!

We got a little more real than either of us expected.

Topics Discussed and/or Spoiled

Yik-Yak, Academy Awards, Room, Intersectionality, Pre-peeled oranges, James Nicoll Reviews, Hermione Granger, Flint, Hamilton, Civil War, Moving and Microaggressions, Stay At Home Dads, White Supremacy Credit Card, Fun Simon Pegg Movie, Farscape, TNC, Broderick Greer, Christena Cleveland, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Sofia Samatar, and Debs and Errol.

Our outro is Debs & Errol’s Pachelbel’s Song

Geekually Yoked is a proud member of the Crossover Nexus

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Episode 77: Building a Mystery

Detective Baby is on the case!

Detective Baby is on the case!

 

We discuss mysteries, whodunnits, procedurals, and other murdery shows.

Topics Discussed and/or Spoiled

 

Wild Seed, Oddmall, Geek Watch One, Arcadia, Sleepy Hollow, Lucifer, Fringe, Angel, Hannibal, Murder She Wrote, Mystery! Peter Wimsy, Murder By Death, Castle, House, Prime Suspect, Luther, Wallander, and Brooklyn 99

 

Our outro is Debs & Errol’s Walthrough

Geekually Yoked is a proud member of the Crossover Nexus

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Episode 76: Galavant, Our Town, and Other Depressions

Our Town...ish

Our Town…ish

We get confused about what our topic is and argue about it mid-episode.

Topics Discussed and/or Spoiled

 

Galavant, Sleepy Hollow, Our previous episode on Endings, Our Town, Noises Off, ZIP, Parks & Recreation, Hannibal, Miskatonic Musings, Angel, About Schmidt, Breaking Bad, Dead Like Me, Pushing Daisies, American Gods, and our reading or lack thereof.

Our outro is Debs & Errol’s Narwhal Pet

Geekually Yoked is a proud member of the Crossover Nexus

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