May 27th, 2012


Dry Store Room No. 1: The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum

Richard Fortey's book is named after a somewhat mysterious storage room at the Natural History Museum (formerly part of the British Museum). I believe whatever review or precis I saw suggested that that was what the book was about, so I was expecting a strange unearthing of random semi-treasures not considered worthy of display, mothballed and forgotten. But that's not exactly what the book is about at all.
Fortey is/was an expert on trilobites at the museum, and this is really more his recollections of the people, all experts in their fields, with whom he came into contact, and the collections housed in the behind the scenes areas. And some history of the towering figures that were either very important in the Museum's history, or picturesquely eccentric. And plenty of insider gossip and scuttlebutt that makes for a good read, whether it's vodka hidden among the velociraptors or amorous trysts among the molluscs.
Despite not being about what I thought it was about, the book was still (?) very absorbing. I think the best thing it does is to set out how useful the giant collections are that are all behind the scenes, where no public visitor will ever see them. In the modern age, perhaps the point of the museum is to attract paying visitors, but the real value is in these collections that form the real basis of many disciplines.
And now, since I read it on kindle, the pull-quotes:
Nor is it permitted to cause offence by naming a creature johnsmithi after John Smith while stating that it is the most unattractive member of the genus. I have to say that Linnaeus himself did not follow this prescription, and named a useless weed Siegesbeckia after one of his enemies.

The edible properties of the truffle are not matched by their aesthetic ones, for most truffles look like some kind of knobbly animal excreta, which have been passed with not a little discomfort.

Mineralogists also tend to be the more mainstream scientists. They are the ones that wear the white coats, and hide away in the basement while reading dials from sophisticated machines. Only a few of them have gone mad, and many of them have lived blameless lives in the single-minded pursuit of mineral excellence.

'This stone is trebly accursed and is stained with the blood, and the dishonour of everyone who has ever owned it.'

Maxicon XII

Once again I announce: "All hail popepat!" And Mrs. Pope and Minipope. They once again opened up their house for (can it be?) the 12th Maxicon (which is still ongoing, but I moderated my participation to Saturday only... stretching into Sunday).

First up for me was Garrett's Dead Space RPG. I had played the demo, which made me the most knowledgeable about the source material I think. Which is not a problem, since the whole point is to scare the pants off you with the unexpected. It went well: fast-paced, high tension, limited resources, stressful timing deadlines. If there was any problem, it was that the gods of luck smiled on us too much in the final showdown. Good scary fun.

Next up, aaronjv ran The Tribunal, an award-winning LARP created by jiituomas. The 12 players play soldiers in a totalitarian state, faced with a difficult decision: whether to value honesty over expediency. I'm torn about how much I should or shouldn't reveal. One part of me says it doesn't matter since whatever happens is almost entirely the product of the players; the other part says that hearing the rationalizations or bullshit produced by one set of players might affect future players who read about it, and thus color whatever they would ultimately produce. I'll err on the side of caution and step back a bit.
I enjoyed the experience. This is perhaps controversial. Some people (named Aaron) have denigrated the idea that LARP is merely (?) an enjoyable pastime. It is Art with a capital A. I don't have a problem with that, except that in its extreme form Art becomes Pollock and Rothko. You're a rube if you expect to enjoy it, it's Art fer crissakes. Art!
I had my doubts about whether I would enjoy being an ant in a totalitarian army. But I came in to the game with not only an open mind, but a willingness and readiness to do it right. And the other participants probably saw me red-faced and shouting more in those couple hours than in the rest of their experience of me. Anyway, my awesome role-playing (relatively speaking) is beside the point; the point is that I enjoyed the experience. But am I supposed to enjoy my Brussels Sprouts?
My answer is that I don't care. LARP for me is an enjoyable pastime, and as long as I enjoy it I will continue to participate. It may also be Art; it may also be therapy; it may also be escapism; I don't care: Philistine that I am, I'm only interested in doing it if I enjoy it.
Anyway, stepping back in. I liked the way that character names instantly invoked associations that helped to establish character, and aided others in remembering same. I liked the way that the game was essentially entirely created by the players rather than directed from outside. The game relies on the players being willing to play, and I'm glad we had a group up to the challenge.

Following that was an impromptu meeting of the Live Game Labs & other interested parties, wherein we plotted the future of American LARP while simultaneously solving the problem of monetizing LARP and trading juicy gossip.