Wednesday 30 April 2014

[RFM] Eclipse of the Kai Audiobook [1/4]

Welcome to Radio Free Magamund, wherein I listen to stuff then write about it. Here we are listening to the audiobook of the novel of the gamebook adaptation of Lone Wolf Legends: Eclipse of the Kai, by Joe Dever and John Grant, read by Edward DeSouza.

Part 1: A Magician Spurned or "I Allied Myself with the Kitten"

The story opens with Vonotar debating magic and morality with the head of the Brotherhood of the Crystal Star, DeSouza voices him with an snarky arrogant sneer, whereas the Guildmaster is given something of a airy, slow, pedantic drone - perfectly capturing his infuriating, pompous holier-than-thou attitude, I imagine DeSouza doing Saruman would have been great. Right from the start, the character voices are delineated very well, clearly and DeSouza seems to be enjoying the roles, especially Vonotar  get the sense he likes to play the villain.

Vonotar - Gary Chalk

During their debate, much is made of the Left Hand Path (good) and Right Hand Path (evil) schools of magic, probaby inhereted from Tantric traditions, but strangely inverted. Dakshinachara (Right Handed / Orthodox) and Vāmācāra (Left Handed / Heterodox). It's often quite suprising  how much real-world magical terms creep into UK gaming literature  - off the top of my head, the neopagan flavoured Wood Elves from Games Workshop and the Treasure Trap's >mana< system. Here the terms seem to be almost exactly more along the lines of of OD&D Alignments (a system of narrative motivational consistency for roleplaying, or perhaps part of D&Ds cryptosatanic training methods [j/k]) Lawful and Chaotic than any direct influence of contemporary New Age or hindu mystical traditions.

HAMSA| Left Hand Path | Disturbia
or well, Right hHnd Path if you're from Magnamund

Vonotar's Chaotic Evilness is clear from the start, his sneering, his lust for power, seeks change, a disruption of the old order and repalcing it with the new - which is necisserilly evil.  And we see him move very swiftly from 'The Right Hand Path can be used for good' to murdering a kitten called Grey One (don't worry, he's resurrected) - which gives the first unintentional piece of comedy when Vonotar, trying to prove his Lawful Goodness spits out  in furious tones "I allied myself with the kitten!" But it's not long that he's packing his bags to go in search of darker magicks, which leads him  to murdering an aged wizard whose a bit interested in all this Right Handedness.  By now there is absolutely no doubting the direction of Vonotars moral compass as he runs off to the Darklands to join with the Darklords and learn the true power of the Right Hand Path and take over the world.

Lone Wolf: Last of the Kai | Gary Chalk

Meanwhile... we are treated to some foundational episodes in in Landors childood (Landor being the pre-Kai name of Silent Wolf ), suffering tradgedy and becoming a Kai Initiate which gives him his rather grim demeanor. The Kai are can order of  Rangers  - warriors with magical talents, and again, like the Brotherhood of the Crystal Star - a class-based order suitable for training. Somehow the D&Dness of the Lone Wolf seems more apparent in the listening than the playing, perhaps the contraction and juxtaposition of the charatcers makes comparison easier.

Silent Wolf is being punished for falling asleep in class. Somewhat contradictory, we're told that he studies books while other children play,  and more interested in physical combat skills than book-learning. His time at the monastery is something he has to just put up with rather than engage with. This seems to mirroring the school life of a remedial reader: lack of academic achievement, having to stay in and read (forced 'to catch up' - whilst Silent Wolf does this through choice), not really being interested  and being punished for not paying attention. Not that I have personal experience, but know people who do. This could be a strategy to create empathy with the protagonist - fantasy novels and game-books in particular seem to be perennial favourites on those lists of getting boys to read, so giving Silent Wolf. He also doesn't say much, which is another technique in building a narrative character as a useful avatar - dialogue being one of the most common mood-breakers in gamebooks.

Screenshot of the ZX Spectum version of Flight From the Dark
   Audiobook of the Novel of the Gamebook

For his ability to fight, Silent Wolf is instructed to accompany Kai Master Storm Hawk on a reconnaissance mission to the edge of the Darklands to substantiate rumours of gathering bands of Giaks. These reports are confirmed,  but on their return they encounter Vonotar, who proceeds to kill Storm Hawk, using Right Hand magic.  Silent Wolf heads back to the monastery bearing the grim news... it all moves along ant quite a pace.

We are also introduced to some kind of puckish female cosmic superbeing who isn't named at this point. I don't recall this from the gamebook. She causes an eclipse by clicking her fingers, "but not a very good eclipse, because she's not a very good person". The throwaway 'good person' judgement curiously out of place with the rather heavy wrought delineation of the morality of the different magic schools, and the down-to-earth human concerns and motivations of the other characters - it all doesn't seem quite to fit somehow, we'll see how this pans out.

So ends Side 1.

Being familiar with the original much of the story quite nicely foreshadows the events of Flight from the Dark, quite tempted to pull it off the shelf for a comparison. After the initial establishment of the moral universe, the focus swiftly moves on to action  - we don't get long Thomas Hardyesque descriptions of the Magnamund countryside, and developing character.

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.