Even though this blog has been in existence for less than a month, I have been asked to write a book review. Naturally, I feel it is my duty to apprise my cherished readership about RPG related products they may find of use. The New Death and others * is not a set of rules, or a module, or a game supplement per se, but the author asked that I provide “either a normal book review, or a review of its suitability as gaming inspiration.” Well, 'gaming inspiration' certainly falls within the purview of this blog. Also, why write a blog and turn down free swag? (If Raggi is reading this, my sensibilities would not be offended by a complementary copy of Carcosa.) Thus I present my humble commentary.
The New Death and others (hereinafter 'New Death') is an e-book that collects short stories, poems, and vignettes by James Hutchings. This is the same James Hutchings who is responsible for the 'Age of Fable' website. (For the record, 'Age of Fable' earned a place on my Links page before Hutchings contacted me about New Death.) The short stories are indeed short; I think the longest runs no more than six pages. Make no mistake, I consider this a good thing. As the Bard said, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” I would think that someone traveling for the holidays might appreciate this format since it allows the reader to frequently start and stop without having to consider a given piece within the context of a longer narrative.
Among the poems, there are some that are based on stories by Howard, Lovecraft, Smith, and Dunsany. The influence of these staples of fantasy literature extends beyond Hutchings' poems and into his prose. (Perhaps I am mistaken, but there seems to be a hint of Borges as well.) I'm afraid that my appreciation of poetry is not what it could be. I make this disclaimer because my lack of praise for the poetry should not be interpreted necessarily as a deficit of merit, but as a deficit of my ability to evaluate such.
In “Everlasting Fire,” mention is made that making puns is the Eighth Deadly Sin. If this were indeed so, Hutchings would be on death row right now. Some of his stories (such as “The New God”) turn on a pun while others (such as “The Adventure of the Murdered Philanthropist”) are infested with them. If puns are to the reader's taste, then the reader is in store for a feast. Personally, I prefer them in small doses if they must be included in my literary diet at all.
All in all, there is a respectable variety of stories and there is little conceptual repetition. Some stories are cute and some are clever. With certain exceptions, New Death supplies as much gaming inspiration as any work of imaginative fiction. In my opinion, these exceptions are what sets New Death apart from 'any work' and permits me to add this book to the 'thoul approved' reading list. These exceptions are the stories (and one poem) that regard Telelee.
Telelee is Hutchings' outstanding setting that incorporates the city of Telelee and the wider world beyond. “How the Isle of Cats Got Its Name” provides the following description of the city:
...Telelee is as the sea into which all rivers flow, or the market where all gather, or as some moralists have it, the lowest point in all the world, to which all base matter must descend.
A story set in Telelee will have protagonists, but Telelee is always the star. This is where Hutchings' creativeness shines and if gaming inspiration is to be found anywhere in the book, it will be found here. Outside of New Death, Hutchings has a blog devoted to Telelee, although the blog refers to it as Teleleli. I don't know the reason for the difference. If Hutchings wants to provide gaming inspiration, I suggest that he cull his blog, excise the puns, organize the information, and publish Telelee / Teleleli as an actual setting – perhaps system neutral – for role-playing games. (He should then find some outlet for his puns and whatever other inner demons he might have.) Regardless, even without Telelee, New Death is suitable for gaming inspiration; with Telelee, such inspiration is almost guaranteed.
New Death is available for download from either Amazon or Smashwords for a low, low price of ninety-nine cents. Most people spend more than that on a cup of coffee. New Death is more valuable than a cup of coffee (and lasts longer), so the buyer is getting a real bargain here.
* From what I can tell, the 'o' in 'others' is not capitalized.