Crime Thyme

Posted: 2nd July 2019 by Christian in Blog

It’s funny what shapes politics. For me it was travelling. Reading, history mainly. Talking with friends. And carefully noting *who* believed what. But there’s something else: Crime Fiction.

Crime fiction absolutely helped shape my politics.

I did, and still do, read a lot of ‘hard boiled’ crime stuff. That simply means, well, it means different things, but for now it means ‘private detective stories set around Prohibition’, a time in America of great social change and powerful organised crime.

If you’re thinking of Macintosh coats, cigarettes and snub nosed revolvers, sure. There’s more to it than that, but you think of that because two writers especially put it in there. Dashiell Hammet and Raymond Chandler.

Hammet was openly a Communist at a time it was unsafe to be so. Chandler rarely discussed politics so openly but it’s clear from his most famous character, Marlowe, that he’s at least hard liberal. His attitudes towards race, his respect for women, his understanding of how social pressure makes criminals…

These are all elements of crime fiction. And crime fiction is, at the end of the day, about people who, definitionally, are losers. And in a capitalist society, more so than ever, what makes a *loser* is related to social capital as much as financial capital.

Good people *obey* in these stories.
Good people never have opinions.
Good people are never desperate.
Or they would not be good people.

As I grew older, I realised more and more that the genre was a list of radicals. Joseph Conrad, Akunin, Mosley, Traven, Dorothy Parker, Highsmith. All some shade of lefty.

Crime fiction is *about* the marginalised, the voiceless, those who have made mistakes and those who cannot find justice to who the status quo is poison. Leftist concerns. Reading those people’s work made me more sympathetic, more interested in understanding, people who have lost.

Which is to say there’s no right wing crime fiction, but it tends to manifest more as the thriller. Powerful people who’s amazing lives are taken away. The crimes threaten banks and presidents. The best crime novel I have ever read is about a bell hop. Or then you just get dim idiots writing stories about the moral scare of the day.

I still prefer crime fiction written by radicals. But not for politics. But because I like stories about the losers.

Back to RPGs

Posted: 6th March 2019 by Christian in Blog

Getting nerdy so, politics types, keep scrolling. If you want to bring a hat to the geek career tables… come in.

Inspired by the fact that this Critical Role thing made 3 million dollars. Today. I’d like to talk a little about designing games. I haven’t ever really spoke about this part of my career publically much.

I wrote two books for Call of Cthulhu, Mythos Magic, about the various forms of sorcery Mythos creatures and cultists might use. And the Cruel Empires of Tsan Chan. A setting book for a place Lovecraft mentiond, in a few syllables, twice. A sort of horrific far future black fantasy.

I also wrote for a game called Secret World. A horror/conspiracy MMO. A few other things that aren’t worth talking about. And a game that was launched to considerable disdain called ‘Sacred 3.’ The only review of which I read started with the line ‘something went very wrong here.’

(Resisting a long diatrabe on ‘world building.’)

Anyway. I got the job and pitched ‘The Vampire Empire!’ a horrific fantasy world in which a vampire aristocracy had arisen and using monstrous faeries creatures, had destroyed the angelic empire, angels being a theme the producers saw as central to the franchise from other games.

No. I don’t like it. That was my only feeback. Start again.

OK… its 2010 or something. Steampunk! A clockwork world where magic and technology have become one. A centralised government works to control the mystic energies of the land, doing great harm.

No. I don’t like steampunk.

In the end, what they said yes to was a generic David Gemmell rip off. They bought in a writer after me. Because apparently, my take was ‘too traditional’.
That’s life. ‘You hear about the blonde so dumb she slept with the writer?’

But I think I’m good at that part of the work. It’s fun. And it’s a light touch to suggest elements people would like to play in, or design in, without being demanding.

‘Frankenstein rules this kingdom’. Ok. Fine. So what? Ten thousand world down to the innkeeper’s rash is stupid. Designers won’t design over such ruinous detail and GMs don’t stop to look up innkeepers.
But ‘Frankenstein rules here from his father’s old school. He ritually taxes dead bodies. At night, his born again wolf-bear things patrol the wood, keeping out Dracula spies.’ Yeah. That’s the stuff.

With that much RPG money on the table, I think it would be irresponsible of me to not get back in the ring.

Kid Dracula

Posted: 27th October 2018 by Christian in Blog

In Transylvanian myth, high up in the mountains, the devil has a school. The scholomance. A dragon is said to live in a lake the school overlooks and once you enter, you cannot leave for seven years. You will not see the sun.

Magic that was taught included power over nature, the weather, and riding dragons because fuck yeah, why not? The Solomonari, graduates of the school, have a whole dragon riding tradition.

Now, fact is, it was almost certainly called the Solomance, Solomon’s mansion. King Solomon is the Gandarf of world religions.

But Bram Stoker, he read an article on this school which introduced the Sko big, and so, in ‘The Draculas… learned his secrets in the Scholomance.’ That’s why Dracula can do all that turning into a bat, controlling weather stuff. He’s a full on wizard.

Dracula is a full on wizard, man.

All of which leads me to believe there’s a Young Adult book in Teen Dracula, overcoming the legacy of his dad, Dracul. Of his brother Radu… well, don’t look him up in history. It’s bad!

Honestly, though… it would probably work, wouldn’t it? Teenage Dracula in magic school. He could make friends with a lonely werewolf and deal with that jock Frankenstein…

Pain Passes

Posted: 25th November 2017 by Christian in Blog

Pierre-Auguste Renoir died in 1919.
This is a happy story.

He had an interesting life. Apolitical, the Communards nearly killed him during the Paris Commune because he was painting during riots. He was mates with Pisaro and Manet, Wagner and Delacroix. Traveled the world painting and seeing art. Discovered things about colour.

Then, in the early 1890s, he got rheumatoid arthritis. In his hands. A horrible disease that twists the bones. His shoulders went. He had to be helped to his canvases. He couldn’t lift brushes. He had to have them placed in his hands. He had to learn whole new techniques in his 70s.

Just before Renoir died, the painter Matisse came to see him and was horrified. Hands wrapped and in terrible agony, Matisse asked him why he still painted. Renoir told the young man ‘The pain passes. The beauty remains.’
Renoir lived long enough to see his works in the Louvre next to the Old Masters he had once traveled the world to see.

Pain passes. Beauty remains.
This is a happy story.

Behold, I Shew You A Mystery

Posted: 18th November 2017 by Christian in Blog


So I’ve been reading an early draft of Star Wars and it’s fascinating stuff.

Luke Skywalker was originally ‘to be played by a burnt stick in a towel, chain smoking’ and was ‘imprisoned in his own verbs.’
Han Solo was a woman character named Threatbelly. He had a starship called ‘Pointless Question’ and his sidekick was ‘a kind of homosexual lamprey with barely any hats’ who’s name was Golda Meir.

Yoda is described as ‘hated by his own organs’ and is ‘70% the sad-eyed ghost of a chimp god.’ He eventually trains Luke in how to ‘inject a kind of stupid poison’ into the bloodstream of his enemies before deciding ‘life is for those who’s high heels and worn to nubs’ and essentially begging himself to fade from existence.
Darth Vader, described as ‘what if a golem couldn’t be arsed’, eventually fights Obi-Wan (‘a human vulture soul drunk on his own impersonation of snide Christ’) in a duel of ‘moral courage and pudding.’ A fierce space battle rages outside where ‘inverted space intestines and socks of fearsome size battle their own metallic self-doubt. Make no mistake, it’s a threshing, by golly.’

Princess Leia remains exactly the same except for one unusual scene where she begs to be ‘released from those pulleys and strings of meat I am not just a marionette, muchacho’, to a bored golden robot wearing gloves.

Reading about ‘Empire’ now and one of the really interesting things is how Jedi were re-imagined.
Lucas’ notes are a bit confused but at one point he refers to them as ‘completely juiceless. No Jedi could ever be pressed into a drink and I’ll fire anyone who disagrees’ and also as ‘Trained mainly by being squeezed up against sharks.’

They don’t have the iconic lightsabres but rather ‘apple corers chock full of diseases’ and ‘frozen rods of urine.’
But I think most fascinatingly, they don’t have the Force. Instead, they worship a deity called, variously, the Throb, Throbbinator, Old Mr. Throbby, Big Force Frank, Joseph Zeppelin, Invisible Finger Men and eventually Mrs’ Pachuchoa’s Gold.

This miraculous ‘space voodoo’ grants Jedi that ability to ‘effortlessly ignore business meetings’ and ‘banish shoes.’ At one point, Darth Vader is seen ‘proving nipples aren’t real’ with it. Obi Wan Kenobi, now a ‘discarded exhalation from a lung you wouldn’t let marry you’ is seen to use Old Mr. Throbby to punch himself in his ‘vulgar ghost neck.’

Lando Calrissian is imagined as ‘six foot eleven’ and ‘luridly covered in gold paint’ and ‘unworthy of even a face.’ With ‘knuckles like the ambition of a gorilla.’
Boba Fett’s role remains the same except that he ‘is almost entirely a dog’ and his armour ‘a dizzying array of failed ambitions and slimy meat.’ He actually disintegrates Han Solo, here called ‘Fancy Dan’, a kind of ‘elaborate wig who refuses to learn.’

But perhaps the most interesting change is the revelation that Princess Leia, here called ‘Balls McLean’ is Chewbacca’s father. ‘Yes, I spawned you, half my luck. How was I to know meiosis strikes like lightning in the depths of space. I’ll loan you no money.’
Honestly, this is a exceptional reading.

But it’s Return of the Jedi that things get really meaty. Originally subtitled ‘Suffering Bastard Tree’, we open up in Jabba’s Palace.

Jabba went through many revisions. ‘A bean bag filled with puppies’. ‘The screaming face of my father, projected against the moon’, ‘Immoral soup’, ‘Very big pants filled with unlikable giblets,’ ‘Imagine J. Edgar Hoover as an alluring, houri cheerleader’, ‘A vimana of custard’ and ‘space arses emphatically linked.’ He is not a gangster but a collector of ‘interior nurse faces’ and scribbled notes seems to suggest this is Lucas’ vision of how God looks.
Eventually he feeds Luke to ‘Dave’, a ‘tedious monster barely worth mentioning.’ Luke, apparently bored by the predicament, tells Dave ‘Mince and whinge as you will, you’re not impressing anyone.’ Dave, hurt, escapes and we are given a frankly baffling subplot of a gigantic monster in various forms of therapy by clearly unqualified shonks.

Han Solo refuses to be freed from carbonite, referred to as ‘the apotheosis of cheese’ and promptly kills himself, only to be resurrected by Luke who takes visible pleasure in the screaming wig’s denied death. ‘What have you done to deserve a blank future, you and your sticky fingers?’
We meet Ewoks, at first called ‘Ham Larrys’, and they seem to be ambulatory mushrooms covered in religious icons. There is no mention of the Death Star, the Rebel Alliance seems to visit the forest moon of Pork Devastation only to seek out ‘a cheering up.’

While there, the Ham Larrys demand ’14 Euros’, which is quite prescient as the Euro was fifteen years away from becoming currency and is seen by many scholars as being an anti-Brexit statement.
Luke eventually goes to the Imperial Homeworld – called Party Slug, apparently an impressively huge mollusk, to reluctantly confront Darth Vader. Not his father in this draft, but as the climax reveals, Luke’s abomination of his own reflection given life.

Why Darth Vader is ‘scary as a burst sausage tickling your trachea’ is never revealed. Nevertheless, he still wields an impressive weapon, a 2×4 with a feral cat welded to it.

Strangely, while he receives no lines and takes no part of the action, the Emperor is present. ‘A mad puppet’, ‘shrieking like a mongoose,’ ‘fishing,’ and ‘flapping about in his dress like a woman with ants for feet’. Nevertheless, Luke studiously ignores him, at one point clearly annoyed the Emperor is dangling a Punch and Judy doll in his face as a piss sword battle takes place, yet refusing to acknowledge the distraction.
There is no clear winner to the fight as Darth and Luke eventually daintily grip hands and simply stare at each other. Cut to black, credit rolls.
I hope this has been useful to you and not, as I fear, about as productive as explaining gravy to a cat.

As ever, the best place to hit me up is mrchristianread on twitter. Goodbye. I love you.

Lord Horror

Posted: 1st July 2017 by Christian in Blog

So there’s some interesting ‘free speech’ discussion in comics right now. I find the notion of art hostage to politics suspicious. Let me tell you a story that might illustrate a point. Just a quick one.

In the 1980s, Savoy Books were a store and publisher who’d survived 60s New Wave of Science Fiction. If you like Ballard and Moorcock, early champions. They published a book called Lord Horror, and a spin off called Meng and Ecker.


Lord Horror, and for space, I’m going to include disparate works here, is obscene. Horror exists in a hallucinated WWII. He’s loosely based on Lord Haw Haw, a British born Nazi propagandist who used to make pro Nazi speeches on pirate radio. Reborn as a switchblade punk nightmare of thigh highs and razors.

Horror exists, as I said, in hallucination. He stalks the streets of London, stabbing Jews, eating Jews, fearing the blacks and the gypsies and all the rest. It is bloodthirsty and cruel. Meng and Ecker are rapist mutants, obscene and vicious. It is dealing with the unthinkable horror and vileness of Nazis by being vile and horrific. Death and pain and cruelty are the currency of this world. A world where fascism has its way.

And then. John Coulthart took over the art and did the graphic novel ‘Reverbstorm’. A staggering work, not only did this announce Coulthart as a new master of fanastic and dark illustration, it became an incredible story. Modernism itself, the imaginary life of Europe before WWII and the Nazis haunts horror. Jazz music, pre superhero comics, James Joyce, more and more are used. It becomes the peer of Mirbeau, de Sade, Lautreamont. This is not the clever fictions of Deighton or the considered grief of Bellows. This is a primal howl of sickness and despair at fascism, written as it began to live again. Only a witless fool could think this obscene! You don’t have to like it. It is strong beer indeed.

Dark and terrible and austere but not obscene! Only the philistine or censor could do aught but respect it.

Meet Chief Constable James Anderton.

by Sefton Samuels, bromide fibre print, 1983

by Sefton Samuels, bromide fibre print, 1983

Anderton was basically that copper from The Wicker Man. An uptight and dangerous Christian moralist. Anti gay, anti black, anti worker. Anti child. Just… the very image of a Tory Catholic. He was very keen on things like blasphemy laws and had no time for free speech.

He had Savoy raided over and over. Copies of Horror seized. Britton, the writer, gave Lord Horror a speech in which the word ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual’ was replaced with ‘Jew’. Britton did time over that. They put him in jail. Meng and Ecker, banned in ’92.

Now, imagine in this day and this age, that kind of a book being published. Imagine a book which starred a punked out sexy Nazi hunting Jews and fighting off the forces of the Allies. Imagine a comic clearly outrageous by our own politics and the rise of the Right again, again, again! Dismiss a book if you like. Misunderstand it. Be disgusted by it. True art isn’t so easily digested. They’re not all Pixar and they don’t all fit into childish heuristics like “punch up, punch down.” This is the world, guys. It’s never that simple.


We owe it to ourselves to not kick out against art. We owe it to artists to give us truth as they see it and that is all we owe them. But we must greet them in good faith. Art cannot be made safe and it cannot be made to fit in with the now and we must not ever try to muzzle it. You don’t have to like works like Lord Horror but by God, we are obliged to protect it.


New novel

Posted: 20th March 2017 by Christian in Blog

NP small

Ten Signs You’re In A Toxic Relationship!

Posted: 2nd February 2017 by Christian in Blog

1 . He is made of poison.

Girls, if that saliva is green and bubbling, don’t kiss him, you’ll die from poison! To say nothing of his corrosive sweat!

2. His palms are hairy, his index finger is longer than middle, and there’s a pentagram there.

Kween, he a werewolf! You just know he’ll chase you along a moor one day and you ain’t no Buffy LOL! But for serious, run. He’ll rip your apart.

3. He’s said the phrase ‘Guards, seize him!’

Does he have a big read cloak? A crown! He’s the prophecied master of the Eastern Dark! Don’t get with that!

4. You can taste human meat on his breath.

Lady, he’s a cannibal and even if he eats you the good way now, one day he’ll straight eat you! He can probably cook though so time that break up! ROFLMAO (help me)

5. You saw him peel of his skin and he had scales underneath.

Grrrl – he’s a lizard man and he lives under the earth and controls Jewish banking! In conjunction with the Annunaki, he’s got plans to make destructive weapons from the human soul and overthrow God!

6. He’s eight feel tall, biomechanical, and has two sets of jaws.

Sista, your man is a xenomorph! You don’t want to mess wif no horrifying assemblage of fear producing elements in one body! Only room for one set of eggs in yo body and they ain’t his! Also, when that dating profile don’t match, you know something ain’t right!

7. He’s twenty feet tall and hates the sun.

We all know we like a tall man but a giant who has sworn to destroy the very concept of light and drown the earth in perpetual darkness? We can’t get down with that.

8. He is a shark

He is a shark!

9. You notice weird strings from his body, which is wood.

Come on, girlfriend! A creepy human sized marionette controlled by an invisible puppeteer made from a wood which is uncannily close to, but not exactly the same as, the texture of human flesh? Who’s spasmodic jerking motions are ineluctably sinister? We all like a woody (aw yiss!) but his urge to transform you into a half-alive doll shrieking forever inside your own lacquered skin just ain’t worth it!

10. He owns a black carriage and the local girls hide when it arrives in the village.

If he took all them other girls up to his castle and then weird blue light spilled from the windows and the girls were never seen again, but you can hear their pitiful weeping on moonless nights, he a playa. And possibly offering women up to The Unclean One for eternal life, or doing some wack ass experiments on the human soul. You can hit it, but you got to know he’ll quit it.

Right, Buzzfeed, employ me.

Ripping Yarns

Posted: 24th January 2017 by Christian in Blog

So then it was 1330 and Jeanne married Olivier de Clisson. This story is about her.

It was her third marriage since she was 12. They had five children. One of them was nicknamed ‘The Butcher’, so you know this is a good one.
There’s two wars you need to know about. The Hundred Years war is a long, long, series of war between France and England. These cats did *not* get on. And the Breton War of Succession.

Modern day France used to be a series of related but culturally separate series of kingdoms. One was Brittany (Breton) and it was very strategically useful in the war between France, a smaller country than now, and England. They were subject to France but were trying to get out from under. (Its actually hella more complicated and I don’t understand it all. Brittany, France, fighting. Ok?)

In 1342, England captured Oliver’s city. He is captured and ransomed back for suprisingly cheap. Nobles were rarely killed in battle. This cheap ransom makes people suspicious he was actually a traitor. A guy called Charles De Blois especially thought that.

Remember that name.

Anyway, not long after that, Brittany and France reached truce.
A great joust was declared to celebrate. Just like in that telly show ‘Tits Out For Dragons!’ Only problem was, it was a trap. Olivier was found guilty of being in league with England and his head was chopped off and mounted in front of a castle.

It was bullshit. It was weird he was hostaged cheaply but not a sure sign of treachery. 14 other Breton lords got the chop. It was the King of France being a dick. It was a show trial to cow Brittany. Probably Charles De Blois being a dick too.


Jeanne knew this. So she took her children to see her husband’s severed head. She told them that their father’s murder was a savage act of cowardice and betrayal and they would have their revenge.
One kid was nicknamed ‘The Butcher’, remember?

I *told* you this was going to be good.

So Jeanne goes back to her holdings and has a sale. She sells everything off. And with that cash she pays up fighting men. She raises an army.And hunts down every motherfucking Frenchman she can find in Brittany. She cons her way into one castle. When the drawbridge goes down, her men attack. They kill everyone in it.

Except for one man. One man goes free to tell what happened. And why.
She then sacks another castle and does the same thing. One man to testify. This second castle belonged to a vassal of one Charles de Blois.
She was looking for the man who she blamed for he husband’s death, the pious, self-mortifying weirdo, de Blois.

The King of France couldn’t lose two castles. This was a Deal. And so he dispatched armies looking for this renegade army. They couldn’t fight the King’s armies on land so they took to the sea. Pirates. They’d raid ships.

And leave one survivor.

Jeanne served on these ships. She was there.

Eventually they were found by the French navies and largely her fleet was destroyed. Jeanne and her kids got in a rowboat and made it to England. A five day trip without food. In the cold. One of her sons died.

Jeanne was able to get audience with the King of England as asked for money for ships, for men. England was happy to give it to her.
So she bought herself three warships. She painted them black. She had the sails made in red. She named her flagship ‘My Revenge.’ What a sight that must have been. Red sails coming out of the sun…

She never found de Blois, contrary to all rules of drama, who was actually captured by an English lord during this period. Perhaps she never knew. But she kept herself busy by killing as many as 3000 French.
This is where her son, an enthusiastic marine, got his nickname. Oliver the Butcher.

In time, the King of France died and Jeanne was getting on. She raided and reaved for six more years before marrying and settling in England.
Oliver would be there at the battle in which de Blois died, though. And he would go on to a bloody career, rising high. An ally would remark ‘By God I see why they call you Butcher’, after he personally killed 15 prisoners.

What must it be like, I wonder… to get a revenge as complete as Jeanne de Clisson. To have literally washed the seas in your enemy’s blood…

Next up,Joanna of Flanders, the fearsome general who destroyed the House of de Blois.

If you liked this, humorless commie posts at twitter: @mrchristianread

Penny Dreadful.

Posted: 23rd June 2016 by Christian in Blog

So, Penny Dreadful.
Spoilers to follow so, sling your hook if you’re soft.

I thought it ended up…

Clearly, it was rushed to the end. When you’ve got a two season prophecy and it doesn’t really play out, something’s gone a bit wrong.
And there were wheels spun. Bride of Frankenstein’s bacchante revolution went nowhere and ended anti-climatic.

The Monster remained the weak link of the show. If it was me, I’d have had Dracula go ‘you’re not really undead. Now I will pick on you.’ We’ve already seen the Monster smack the shit out of other monsters. Let’s have an undead war on the streets!

The Gothic Western is, I’m sure you’ll not be shocked, a great favourite of mine. Family secrets, ancient sins. Physical isolation and desolation. Great stuff. Thought that stuff popped. Plus it lead us to werewolves vs vampires in Chinatown, so who can complain?

I thought the ending was… I dunno. It certainly needed a rethink. Her dying I’m fine with. It’s a good place to end the show. But the main theme of Penny Dreadful is shaking hands with your monsters. For her to emphatically deny that part of herself? Ending religiously in a show that’s had no use for God? Didn’t buy it all.

Let her go in a monstrous battle of her evil self versus the carnal predator Dracula, who lied and manipulated her!

But… oh well.

I shall miss the show terribly. The aberrant sex, the amazing costume, the brilliant, brilliant set design, taking fine actors and letting them act. The signifying characters. The morbidity and cruelty and all the rest.

But most importantly, and this *is* important, Penny Dreadful wasn’t modern. While it wasn’t strictly historical, it never made the mistakes lots of shows like that do. Making conspicuously non-racist characters, for example, to gain sympathy, is a trick they always pull. I hate that. People were different. It’s part of what gives historical stories their power. Penny Dreadful never lost sight that the Victorians were a morbid bunch, with neuroses throbbing, throbbing underneath it all.

And if it failed to cross the finish line, well, at least it had one, right Deadwood fans?

We can only hope that the next time someone gets their gothic horror/supernatural adventure show on, they can learn. And pray they are as ambitious and daring as Penny Dreadful.