Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Radio Free Magnamund

Bless Oxfam.

I'd almost given up hope of finding anything gaming related in the swelling number of charity shops in what is laughingly called a 'town'. Once heartened by the sight of a Green Spined Book or an odd boardgame, these increasingly rare finds seem to have given way completely to a never ending supply of New-Series Doctor Who novels (although never the Moorcock one), Point Horror and Narnia books. There's always a Narnia book. So persistent are the works of C.S. Lewis in evoking charitable sensibilities in its readers, that they are literally throwing them into the arms of voluntary shop workers to mark-up in pencil at 75p.

I've finally given in and  picked up another copy of Dawn Treader of the 1970s Puffin editions with a wrap-around cover by Pauline Baynes, in the vain hope the rest may follow suit, and replace my Stephen "Tasks of Tantalon" Lavis 80s editions, which will, themselves replenish the eternal supply of Jesus-Lion books the local charity shops. Nothing against Lavis work at all, but I'm increasingly obsessed with  Puffin paperbacks and some illustrators work so firmly define their subjects, Baynes and Narnia, Sheppard and Pooh, Chalk and Lone Wolf..

But instead let's focus this rather curious gem unearthed from the abandoned goods in the music department... Lone Wolf Legends: The Eclipse of the Kai Audiobook.

The audiobook is an abridged version of the original novel  (ebook on Amazon) but I'm not familiar enough with the that to judge the editorial is a good job or not, but probably. The book is, in turn a novelization (and part-prequel) of the game-book Lone Wolf: Flight from the Dark.  Published by Random Century Audiobooks, in 1991. By no means a specialist or particularly obscure publisher, it once carried hundreds of titles, from William Shakespeare to Margaret Atwood and even beyond - to people not even considered required reading on the A' Level English Syllabus. Neither the audiobook, nor the original novel are part of the magnificent Project Aon collection of free Lone Wolf stuff...

The cover to both the book and cassette is Peter Andrew Jones "Screetch Bats" depicting the foul Zlanbeast being bred in the depths of Helgedad. However the cassette cover renders this already near abstract image completely illegible. Which is a shame, PAJs work really deserves the double-LP gate fold treatment, think Roger Deans Yessongs or Barney Bubbles Hawkwind covers, not the cramped mess overpopulated with logos and extraneous messages we are subjected to on the double cassette box.

Yessongs - Roger Dean

Speaking of extraneous messages - the cover promises 'digital music soundtrack' which seems a little odd to todays iTuned / Spotified / VST digital music landscape. Perhaps audiobooks back in the 1990s didn't have background music. I do listen to a lot of audio drama, and maybe I'm somewhat spoiled by the 80s BBC Lord of the Rings and  Big Finish Doctor who in full-cast, radio plays, and more recently revisiting Douglas Adams Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy (epic theme tune Journey of the Sorcerer by The Eagles) so kind of expect music to be there, and to be somewhat digital.

Perhaps 'Digital Music' was some way of trying to mitigate the fact that the 'digital' CD had reached the tipping point by 1992, and this was but a lowly cassette release.  Or perhaps Joe Dever felt particularly proud of getting his MIDI-rig set up (one hopes Cubase 2.0 on the Atari ST), and after all it's not every author that can supply their own music to the audiobook of the novel of the gamebook, so it does deserve some mention. The music, quite unsurprisingly falls somewhere between Dungeon Synth and ambient-prog , a kind of vaguely medieval proggy ambient thing heavily relying on the synth-string pads, I quite like it.

1990s style Digital Music Soundtrack | Via

Theres a couple of sound-fx samples thrown in for good measure, but a couple of these, specifically  spitting and screaming both mouth-sounds that may have been better voice acted.  Nonetheless the music does function quite perfectly as unobtrusive background ambience, an audible texture behind the narration, not becoming overly distracting, and often adding to the fantastical medieval atmosphere. Whilst this might not be everyones cup of tea I get the sense that Joe Dever knew what he was doing in in this regard. Similarly whoever was responsible for casting the voice talent was on top form that day too...

Edward DeSouza

Eclipse of the Kai is read by Edward DeSouza  who back in 1991 had a regular gig reading Radio 4's horror anthology Fear on Four (currently on 4Extra) as the Man in Black at the time -  a post now held by Mark Gatiss of League of Gentlemen, Sherlock and Dr. Who fame. DeSouzas sonorous, sightly gravelly voice is perfect for horror, up there with Price or Cushing, if not as well known for those kind of roles. He does accents and voices for the different characters,  which are all, bar one, very good. DeSouzas delivery seems slightly rushed, not sure whether this is to give it a sense of excitement, of pace, or meerly to try to fit as much of the story before the C90 tape runs out, but this is a small criticism, overall it's a decent performance and quite listen-able.

So In an effort to lift myself from blogging lethargy, I'll listen to one part (each side of the tape) and write a post about it, on a Wednesday - "Lone Wolf Wednesdays" I'd call them, but that sounds like some kind of American sales promotion, or tabloid TV-news soundbite for an ocd mid-week serial killer, and I dislike alliteration at the best of times, so "Radio Free Magnamund" it shall be.

As noted, there doesn't seem to have been an MP3 release, but the audiobook can be picked up 2nd hand from Amazon for around £7 incl. postage.

Monday, 3 March 2014

A Town Called Helix

Helix is a small dead-end, one horse, three goats kind of town, on the edges of dark forest and dismal bog. Well, there's a pub, and a merchants caravan and a few other locations and oddball characters who live there too.
Helix / Barrowmaze Original Art / ZHU 2014

The drawing is on A3 paper (11"x16"), and sized to fit 1/5 letter page (I'm in the habit of doing original artwork roughly 1/3 the size of final print, working in 3rds makes more sense and feels more natural than 2-up, as does doing things in inches for some reason. There are some differences in the final production piece as Greg made some alterations to make sure the place had the right kind of down-at-heel  ambience, and also adjusted the text to suit the drawing a little, as the little town developed from sketch to final artwork.

Helix / Sketch / ZHU 2014
As you can see from the first sketch the things got moved around a little, went for a windmill rather than a watermill - locations outside of town as we defined where Helix fitted into the wider world.

There are a couple of easter-eggs hidden away in there for eagle-eyed gamer types, and a big no-prize if you catch them all (not a clue by the way!) and some vague fantasy art references that served as inspiration.

The campaign funded a few days ago, and with one day left there is still chance to get in on it at... Barrowmaze Complete Indiegogo Campaign

Friday, 21 February 2014

Space Assassin: The Movie

Chris Achilleos piece from the mid 80s. probably best known as the cover for Fighting Fantasy 12: Space Assassin

 But also slightly less known as the video cover to a film called Extermination 2025...

... which, rather than being Space Assassin: The Movie is evidently the French VHS release of...

the 1972 Gorija classic, Godzilla Vs. Gigan.

No, really, it is. Just goes to show, you can't judge a VHS by it's cover.

Edit: Here's the trailer...