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Games Workshop open in Shanghai

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Bit of a preface first. I'm aware that this is not the first shop opened here for these type of hobbies. I bought the miniatures I use in D&D games from the hobby shop in the Daning mall in Zhabei a while back and there's a place in Xin Tian Di too. And there's online shopping, but we'll get to that.

Anyway, Games Workshop have a newly opened Shanghai branch. It is entirely focused on its flagship table-top war games Warhammer and Warhammer 40 000 (the sci-fi version). They also have official Citadel tool kits, work stations and paints. The store (misleadingly called the Xu Jia Hui store on the cards) is at 153 Xu Jia Hui Road. That's a block along from the east end of Taikang Road, past Madang Road. 

The store is small but cool, the guys who work there, Leon and Caesar are friendly and knowledgeable and they have a game table set up for teaching you stuff and free games. They will also show you how to use the tool kits and paint the miniatures. That's why you should go to the physical store. They even stock White Dwarf Magazine and Warhammer spin off novels. The hard back bible of 40K, the 6th edition rule book is 450 rmb, but they also have the Dark Vengeance starter boxed set. That has the condensed rule book, the quick start guide, miniatures and all the dice and measures for 600 rmb (remember you play with others and split this). [Bane voice] Let the games begin!

(There's a Pudong store too: Exit 6 Science and Tech Museum, store KJ-025)

Rating D&D covers through history

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I'm about to curse and rant about a D&D thing. For those not up with the latest developments, here's an overview post I wrote pertaining to the upcoming Wizards of the Coast 5th Edition:

And here's the article I'm reacting to, a Wizards long term employee talking about rating rule book covers:

Now on to the unfocused blather. If you're not really into this, stop here. 

So, there are the four Player's Handbook covers from AD&D 1 and 2, then Wizard's D&D 3 and 4. Firstly as to rating them and how to judge that, the answer is obvious. See also: most comments there. They get progressively worse. 

The pictured 1st Ed cover was a typically sketchy TSR early product but it embodies everything good about the game, especially at that time. A bit DIY and then showing a party checking a map, cleaning off a sword next to dead monsters and looting treasure from a cool location. Also you come to this game in many ways ... but being attracted by a shiny book cover as you shop for something else - having never before entertained the notion of playing - is not one of them. And for people into the game already, the cover becomes all but irrelevant.

If you look at the industry insider article on this that I linked - many things are revealed, especially through his criteria for judging the covers. I think it not only shows why the older ones were better - but gives us a clear view into how the 4th Ed was developed and then failed.

Steve Albini on music fads

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Over at the A.V.Club they have a newish music feature called Hatesong. In it, they invite famous musicians to pick a song they hate and dissect it.

DIY / independent provocateur-in-chief Steve Albini seems like the perfect choice for such a comlumn - and he is. As usual, he goes beyond gripe and makes solid far-reaching points about music and culture in general.

In this case he starts with the Cher song Believe, pinpointing it as the start of brazen auto-tune use as a sound in itself. He then goes on to use it to illustrate the nature of crazes and fads, and where they all ultimately lead.

There's the supernova moment where a cliché like that doesn't exist, and then suddenly it does, and you just know it's going to run like a rash through music and really bum you out. I don't listen to a lot of pop music, so I'm not that conscious of what's going on in the contemporary world. But once in a while, a song out there in the mainstream pop world develops some appeal within my peer group--which is the rock-band and abstract-music people--and for some reason, they latch on to some piece-of-shit pop song that they can listen to ironically, or listen to as a guilty pleasure, or sometimes just listen to outright.
The full interview is long and detailed. Check it out. Unless you are ironically into pop fads and/or corporate/sponsor ass kissing, in which case don't waste your time ... you could be at that hot product launch right now! 

Seriously though. Check out Albini's band Shellac. Great stuff.

Liveblogging Ballard's Crash Chapter Twelve

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crashcoverTo access the whole series of posts just click on the tag crash at the bottom.

Vaughan's presence in their lives has invigorated Ballard's sex life with his wife Catherine. It has also triggered multi-layered psychological games.

In this short (four-page) chapter we see it in practice. Catherine takes Ballard's almost self-righteous obsession with Vaughan and first shows him that he is possessive over it. Then he realises she gets off on the fantasy herself ... but her pushing of him, and near goading of him to extrapolate on the admiration into homosexual attraction strikes a chord. He has thought about this and Catherine reaches another level of fantasy visualizing them. 

Ballard and Catherine are now willingly immersed. What we are waiting to see in the narrative is if this will lead them back into the physical and dangerous part of Vaughan's world. That is assuming that Ballard has ever been away from it since his first accident.

Liveblogging Ballard's Crash Chapter Eleven

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crashcoverTo access the whole series of posts just click on the tag crash at the bottom.

The landscape, inner and outer, is now set and the action, and the threat of action, begins in earnest. Ballard's surreal images and juxtapositions achieve deep resonance here. 

Ballard, the character, works at Shepperton Studios where Elizabeth Taylor is filming. He goes on set to find them prepping a car crash scene. There are two cars, the before and after. Taylor is made up in fake injuries. Meanwhile, Seagrave the damaged stunt driver sits a top the before-car in full drag, caked make up and fake breasts. Vaughan flanks him, camera in hand. Ballard tries to protest but is absorbed into the sinister entourage.

Almost as a punishment, Vaughan later drives recklessly around Ballard's wife Catherine on the highway. Ballard had been thinking over his mental image of Catherine, her purity, her impossible cleanliness. He entertains definite notions of post-crash superiority over her. But Vaughan's actions ignite her sexually and reveal to Ballard the impulses that are in all of us.

Continuing on from last post, I find this reading keeps bringing up memories. I'm sure this is a familiar story, although I'll avoid names or details. While I was at university, I casually knew a guy from another year. He was handsome and healthy, strong yet unimposing. He had an assured manner that made him instantly popular. He held the right amount of eye contact, was always friendly and yet none of it was forced or fake. He seemed supremely comfortable in society and an expert, natural player of its rules, as well as having many natural advantages. He exuded control but no one felt controlled. One summer we heard he'd crashed his car. 

It had all the features of the serious crash. Friends or relatives had died in the crash. He had an extended stay in hospital. His legs were severely broken and he was on a morphine drip for pain. His spleen had been removed. What I expected when he returned was a kind of nobility in the face of sadness, like a distant stereotyped World War One veteran. But, from my casual point of view, it was quite different. He seemed dangerous, unpredictable and reckless in a way. You couldn't expect a certain reaction at a certain time. But I think, and I've personally seen four of these cases in my life, that he ceased to exist in the conventions of society described before. Not a conscious rejection, the rules and conventions simply didn't exist anymore, they had been dispelled. 

Liveblogging Ballard's Crash Chapter Ten / Interlude

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I took a break from blogging Crash in order to read Ballard's autobiography, Miracles of Life. It had coincidentally arrived in the post as I finished chapter ten and got to the halfway mark. 

In Miracles, he talks about Crash and all the controversy around it and his pre-novel art installation of crashed cars. It was fascinating to me because it made me realise something. My reaction to this book is the opposite. I have spent the whole time nodding gentle approval and recognition internally. 

Ballard's world of car fetishization, sex and death, accidents and the advertised glossy lifestyle commercials of near religious fervor is one I am intimately familiar with.

Car adverts are just that, sexual and fetishized. And death and injury are all around. I have been in a crash, and my home area has the A41, a road famous for its roadside wreaths. I can recall many stories of sex in cars, of accidents, of friends on morphine drips with shattered legs, and of sperm on the plastic back seats. All the while, TV, magazines and leadership lead us by the nose into this landscape using unsubtle sexualized symbolism developed through actual psychology research. It is real and uncontroversial to me.

Now Ballard has entered Vaughan's inner circle and gazes at his own photo dossier. There is Seagrave the stunt driver and his wife Vera, Vaughan himself, Gabriel the young social worker crippled by her crash whose leg braces and wasted muscles show new sexual possibilities, there is now Helen ... and Ballard himself. The chapter ends when he stops short after Vaughan mentions Elizabeth Taylor and he realizes the extent of Vaughan's plans and how complicit he will be in the outcome.

Liveblogging Ballard's Crash Chapter Nine

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This pleasant domestic idyll, with its delightful promiscuities, was brought to an end by the reappearance of Robert Vaughan, nightmare angel of the expressways.
Let's recap a bit, because the story is about to plunge back into the spaces of the mind hinted at in chapter one.

James Ballard had his life transformed by a near fatal car crash in which another driver was killed and the man's wife, a doctor named Helen Remington, was injured. The transformation was internal and his perception has been altered. He is now alive to the  psychogeographical landscape of motorways, vehicles, concrete and airports - and the inevitable promise of fetishized death they bring.

Ballard and Helen has started an affair, reliving the accident through sexual encounters so powerful that arousal has ceased to function out of this context.

They now attend a stock car rally held by stunt car drivers working on the nearby Elizabeth Taylor movie at Shepperton. Part of the entertainment is a re-creation of a real crash which itself goes wrong creating a crash. The scene director was none other than Vaughan himself and Ballard and Helen help him take the injured driver to the hospital. All the set up, the characters, the ideas and the symbolism, are now coming together and paying off. Ballard sits in the car out front of the hospital and marvels at Vaughan's scarred body and confident manner. The real revelation comes at the close of the chapter, a shocking physical realization of Ballard's dreams and feelings about the crash.

In the lavatory of the casualty department I stood beside Vaughan at the urinal stalls. I looked down at his penis, wondering if this too was scarred. The glans, propped between his index and centre fingers, carried a sharp notch, like a canal for surplus semen or vinal mucus. What part of some crashing car had marked this penis, and in what marriage of his orgasm and a chromium instrument head? The terrifying excitements of this scar filled my mind as I followed Vaughan back to his car through the dispersing hospital visitors.

Liveblogging Ballard's Crash Chapter Eight

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The inquest for the original accident has now come and gone. Ballard has been cleared of all charges and accidental death has been returned. But the transformation in Ballard's thinking stays. He is now having regular car fetish sex with Helen Remington, who herself is taking a new job in the Road Research Laboratory.

Six hundred yards behind us the traffic waited on the raised deck of the motorway, the afternoon sunlight crossing the windows of the airline buses and cars. My hand moved around the outer curvature of Helen's thighs, feeling the open zip of her dress. As these razor-like links cut my knuckles I felt her teeth across my ear. The sharpness of these pains reminded me of the bite of the windshield glass during my crash.
Their encounter in this chapter is detailed, precise and very specific with both of them following a kind of ritual. Many juxtapositions and images flood his mind at the height of his ecstasy.

This small space was crowded with angular control surfaces and rounded sections of human bodies interacting in unfamiliar junctions, like the first act of homosexual intercourse inside an Apollo capsule.
Finally he notes that over many encounters, the transformation has become complete with both of them now fully associating sexual acts with cars, motorways and the accident. They try to have sex in Helen's house but she is distant and Ballard cannot get an erection. How much farther can this go? We move towards the midway point with the mysterious Vaughan waiting in the wings.

Liveblogging Ballard's Crash Chapter Six

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Ballard, it has been established, works for a TV studio that makes commercials. He uses their regular car rental service to try out all kinds of cars now. Then he drives around the various highways of the airport zone, taking in the flyovers, bland hotels, 24 hour supermarkets, traffic islands and new apartments. The cars seem alive to him with the previous drivers.

Like the other cars I had hired, this one was covered with scratches and heel marks, cigarette burns and scuffings, translated through the glamorous dimension of Detroit design. On the pink vinyl seat was a deep tear large enough to take a flagstaff or, conceivably, a penis.
Driving about the surreal artificial landscape by night, and experiencing the traffic around his crash site, proves too much. Ballard picks up an airport prostitute - who waits on a traffic island of all places - and takes her to the deserted open roof of a multi-storey carpark.

His blowjob is suddenly interrupted by a flash of light and then a noise and commotion below. An airport bus has rear-ended a taxi and the bloodied driver is being pulled out by the light of police headlamps. But Ballard turns to see the original flash was in fact from a camera. Vaughan has been stalking him again. This time he recognizes him as the famous TV scientist.

As he reached the balcony his face was lit by the headlamps of the police car. I realized that I had seen his pock-marked face many times before, projected from a dozen forgotten television programmes and news magazine profiles - this was Vaughan, Dr Robert Vaughan, a one-time computer specialist. As one of the first of the new-style TV scientists, Vaughan had combined a high degree of personal glamour - heavy black hair over a scarred face, an American combat jacket - with an aggressive lecture theatre manner and complete conviction in his subject matter, the application of computerized techniques to the control of all traffic systems. In the first programmes of his series three years earlier Vaughan had projected a potent image, almost that of the scientist as hoodlum.
Now it is Ballard's turn to follow him deeper down the rabbit hole.

Liveblogging Ballard's Crash Chapter Five

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The chapter starts with Ballard home after his discharge from hospital and ends with him driving again for the first time. He has become hyper-aware of psychogeography. He sits on the veranda of his house contemplating the motorway, the flyovers and the airport.

I realised that the human inhabitants of this technological landscape no longer provided its sharpest pointers, its keys to the borderzones of identity. The amiable saunter of Francis Waring, bored wife of my partner, through the turnstiles of the local supermarket, the domestic wrangles of our well to do neighbours in our apartment house, all the hopes and fantasies of this placid suburban enclave, drenched in a thousand infidelities, faltered before the solid reality of the motorway embankments, with their constant and unswerving geometry, and before the finite areas of the car-park aprons.
He returns to his office and orders a rental car. After a brief and distracting meeting he takes his coworker Renata out for a drive. They clearly have had regular sexual encounters in the past. This time he drives back to the site of his accident, parks and starts to initiate the sex. Someone has been following them and taking photos. It is Vaughan.

At my feet lay a litter of dead leaves, cigarette cartons and glass crystals. These fragments of broken safety glass, brushed to one side by generations of ambulance attendants, lay in a small drift. I stared down at this dusty necklace, the debris of a thousand automobile accidents. Within fifty years, as more and more cars collided here, the glass fragments would form a sizable bar, within thirty years a beach of sharp crystal. A new race of beachcombers might appear, squatting on these heaps of fractured windshields, sifting them for cigarette butts, spent condoms and loose coins. Buried beneath this new geological layer laid down by the age of the automobile accident would be my own small death, as anonymous as a vitrified scar on a fossil tree.
Cometh the autogeddon.

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