I have not done a Weird & Wonderful Interview in a while. I had intended to do them more frequently but got derailed a bit by Maximum Recursion Depth*. However, I had the opportunity to interview Patrick Stuart of False Machine fame (Fire on the Velvet Horizon, Veins of the Earth, Deep Carbon Observatory, Silent Titans...), and I wasn't going to turn that down. I hope you all enjoy this conversation.
* If you did not follow that link and have only just discovered my blog because of the Patrick Stuart Interview, I'm referring to my successfully kickstarted game: Maximum Recursion Depth, or Sometimes the Only Way to Win is to Stop Playing: The Karmapunk RPG. It's a very weird Mark of the Odd-adjacent game inspired by works such as Persona 5, Doom Patrol, Bojack Horseman, Superhero comics, my own interpretation of Buddhism and Taoism, and a bunch of other weird and/or pretentious stuff. I'd like to think I have a flavor all my own, but if you like Patrick's works, you may be interested in mine as well. And MRD will be available soon on drivethrurpg, hopefully by late August or early September 2021 (which is to say, a few weeks or a month from date of posting)!
Max: First, what made you decide to do this open call for interviews?
Patrick: I NEED PUBLICITY DAMNIT. I have a Kickstarter on* and several days in I realized that I had no particular plans to publicize it. last time I did a ping-pong post duel with scrap but neither of us really felt like it this time. Most of the things you can do to do 'marketing' are almost palpably unpleasant to me so this seemed like a reasonable compromise.
* Note(Max): He is referring to Demon-Bone Sarcophagus
Max: That makes sense, I figured it had to do with the Kickstarter, but I wasn't sure why you chose to do it this time and not on previous occasions, but I guess you've already answered that as well.
How have they gone so far? Have they, in the aggregate, left you with any particular impressions yet?
Patrick: I think I've only done two, one was a rather whimsical one by text and one was a book-centered one that isn't really related to the whole Kickstarter thing and is coming out after it finishes anyway. No strong gestalt impressions so far.
Note(Max): I believe he has since gone on to do at least one more, but it took a little while before publishing this post, and I'm not sure which all that he's referring to have themselves been published yet.
Max: Fair enough.
As you're working now on this Kickstarter, I'm thinking a bit about another project you were working on. You haven't discussed Goose-Gold & Goblins / "Soft" D&D in a while on your blog. Is that because of this, or any other reasons?
Patrick: It's a few things. I felt it was meaningless to go forwards without getting a decent grasp of child and family psychology, and my attempts to find out more didn't go great initially. I also don't really have the time to read a lot on it.
That links into my second reason which is having to seriously ramp up the time spent working on DBS as it got closer to Kickstarter time. That, and other projects that looked like they had more of a chance of becoming real soaked up a lot of attention.
Lastly, I would really need to playtest with families and kids. That would be a whole project on its own. Covid made it hard and generally fucked me up a little bit even without that I am not the most outgoing of people.
So all of that led me to de-incentivize GG&G.
It may come back one day. There are a few projects back there that have never died and never been born.
Max: That is pretty consistent with what I imagined was the case, and you had made some comments along these lines on your blog as well. This actually leads into a related question:
Can you talk about any (other) ideas you've had, either that have shown up on your blog or books, or especially that you haven't written openly about before, that never quite worked out? What do you think happened?
The Prospero - A readaptation/hack of Magpie games Zombieworld which is basically Powered By the Apocalypse with Cards. Was meant to be a kind of investigation/game where a bunch of slaves from an early slave ship crash and are washed up on the island from the Tempest and find Caliban there ruling the place calling himself 'The Prospero'. It's all based around Caliban's character and how it interacts with these pseudo-Shakespearean escaped slaves. Complex, difficult, and a lot of research required so put on hold.
Eclipse Knights - Gazetteer about a land of Evil Chivalry - another big project but after not doing anything with it for a while is hard to get back into.
Knights of the Snail - Was going to be a book made of 20 short stories about 20 snail knights that interlace, but got jammed on one and it wallowed since then.
Lanthanum Chromate - People keep asking for this and it's tiring.
Unnamed Colour Landscape - A project with Scrap but not sure where we were going with it and it stalled.
False Machine 2011 to 2019, the abridged posts - This book actually exists in basic form. I hope to run a KS for it once Aug 2021 has passed, and once everyone has their copies of DBS - so hopefully in early 2022.
Spectrum Is Green - Basically a handful of lines in a notepad doc but may one day be something or something like it make exist.
Veins of the Earth Remade - May one day exist but we have to wait for the rights back and then do the very hard work of remaking the book.
Essentially, I have limited time and attention, many many things got to a certain point and get jammed or lost in development hell, what tends to send something to the front of the Queue is if an artist is actively interested in it and talking to me about it if I am making regular progress and if it looks like it will be a simple series of steps between here and making it a product. Think that's all.
Max: Wow I did not expect you to have so many answers for that question offhand, I feel like a hit a gold mine! I could ask a million questions about all of these alone but I will restrain myself.
Is Unnamed Colour Landscape related to that series, I think you did a few posts on it several years ago, where the world was basically a painting and so the physics of the world was tied to the canvas? Or am I misremembering or it's unrelated entirely?
Patrick: That is the painted Plane which is actually coming out as part of a book called 'Gackling Moon' which is being done by a guy called Emile
That's actually probably going to be my last book done with a publisher, it was on hold for a while due to various things but is actually approaching completion now.
It's a series of posts I did about 'the wodlands' of which the painted plane was one part - I'm actually meant to be sending feedback on the proto-layout but the Kickstarter and stuff has me knackered so I have not gotten back to them.
Max: Oh nice, maybe I missed that Kickstarter somehow? I really liked that setting idea so I'm glad to hear it's coming about in some fashion.
Patrick: I don't know if they are actually doing Kickstarter. The original plan was to do it Print on Demand but don't know if that's changed.
If it's PoD it should be out pretty soon. The book is called 'Gackling Moon' and is a pretty shortish work about these strange lands lit by a mad moon that has different magical effects depending on the time of the month.
Got a really good artist working on it, let me see if I can track down his deets-
Tom K Kemp is the guy https://tomkkemp.com/ (I think this is him).
Max: Aah ok, well in any case I'll be keeping an eye out for it then, good to know either way.
This is kind of a flip side to that last question I asked about ideas that didn't work out. Are there any ideas from your books or blog that you feel have slipped under the radar? That you thought were really good or profound but for whatever reason didn't gain traction?
Patrick: Not off the top of my head. I think there are a lot of 'good' ideas out there in my work but a lot of difficult to game with or hard to communicate so, relative to the intended purpose of the work that means they aren't actually 'good'.
I have a lot of stuff, some of which people ask me about, and there is so little time that my experience is really much more triage and having to focus on specific things rather than yearning for what didn't happen.
There are opportunities that seemed would happen career-wise but didn't, but I don't really regret those at this point as my experience has confirmed that I am better at and enjoy most working on and producing my own stuff with a small number of collaborators.
Max: I can definitely appreciate that notion.
So maybe now is a good time to slip into some "heavier" (or maybe "headier") conversation. Subtext clearly exists in your works, and it's clear from your book analyses (such as your recent series of analyses on Warhammer 40K) that you are conscious of subtext and themes. Are there any common themes that you think permeate many or all of your works?
Patrick: Probably madness, deep time, maybe complex hierarchies, and ritualized societies. There was a period around Veins of the Earth where everything was very "Patricky", very dark-and-edgy in a highly particular way, maybe it is less so now, or maybe I haven't changed at all. Hard to tell from the inside.
Max: Deep Time definitely comes through in Veins, but I think generally makes sense if one is interested in Fantasy. It is a rich source for Weirdness and Horror, and arguably one of the core aspects that make Science Fantasy interesting. The other themes also come through in your works though, and I think these themes can be de-coupled from being dark-and-edgy but I do see what you mean.
Why do you think these are the themes of your work?
Patrick: I honestly have no idea. My dad says he read me, Moby Dick when I was like five years old and I seemed into it. I think I can half-remember those readings. Did he just go straight for Moby Dick or was that one part of a staged attack on my aesthetic sense? No idea. But I have largely been into 'dark' or at least 'deep' things. McBeth rather than As You Like It, big looming strangeness, shadows, Warhammer probably played a part.
There has also been a dumb and ridiculous strand to what I like as well, Harry Harrison and Terry Pratchett from an early age.
Reasons? Maybe a touch of autism leading to social alienation leading to internal stress and an obsession with things deep and dark enough that they could sound clearly in a high volume brain?
Maybe I'm just built that way and always would have been. Sometimes I think you can spot the tragedians in life pretty quickly, it's like a medieval humours thing.
Max: That is all very on point haha. That mix of tragedy and comedy, whether that's McBeth vs. As You Like It, or Moby Dick vs. Terry Pratchett, with a dash of absurdity, is something that appeals to me as well. There are many reasons, but one being, I think it expands the emotional but also conceptual range of what the work can be if that makes sense.
Patrick: They like to hang out together for sure. 'nother idea I had was about differently-minded people which I compared to Fission and Fusion reactors. But basically, for some people, ideas and intuitions in creative work gain power and meaning from their closeness and interrelationships both with each other and the experiential world and that tends to lead naturally to stuff like social dramas and real-life dramas. Whether soap operas or booker novels or whatever. Others draw power and meaning from how far apart concepts can be and still be connected. Stranger and more distant ideas yet still allowed to resonate. Ideas that stretch the web of cognition yet still find some sympathetic vibration releasing the greatest 'charge'. Simply - the pleasures of the known and the unknown. Though as with all such binaries we are all on a continuum. Like Tolkien hated Dante because he put his grocer in Hell and Tolkien thought that was basic as fuck.
Max: That is an interesting framing, I'll have to think about it more. I had always taken it in a more zero-sum sense, that it's just easier to focus on character-work and drama when you have a fairly straightforward world (the Fission case in this analogy), whereas a world full of abstract ideas, it's just harder to focus on both (the Fusion case). I mean, certainly, there are people who succeed at both, but they do seem to be at least weakly anti-correlated. But ya, this framing is a little different.
Although it's possible my comparison above is itself misinterpreting the idea, in which case, as I said, I'll have to think about it more.
Patrick: Not necessarily a conflict between the meta-scale and looking at it simply as a matter of practicalities, often two points of view can only see part of a deeply interconnected subject which has feedback loops on every level - "There are no subjects in nature" as I always say.
Max: Hmm I always think of the Blind Men and an Elephant parable, but ya, I think now I'm maybe getting a better sense of what you mean.
Circling back a bit, although I think maybe it's consistent with some of these themes we're discussing, Veins of the Earth deconstructs the concept of the Mythic Underworld in a very literal sense, using ideas inspired by science, while still prioritizing fantasticalness over hard science. Have you thought about other similar kinds of deconstructions?
Patrick: I don't really use the term deconstruction, I don't think it really means anything and I think Derrida is terrible but I will answer to my best understanding of your assumed intent
Most of my combinations of science and the fantastic come about more from a desire to make something good, new, and original than from any desire to 'deconstruct' anything. It's just that most people in the same field often don't do a lot of really deep research and are often happy to do variations on the same ranges of ideas.
Thinking about semi-scientific and science fictional concepts is pretty normal for me, it's more that I don't know why it isn't normal for everyone else. Those ideas really don't have a meaningful wall between them. With nature and history, the more you look into any one thing the more you are lead to others, "no subjects in nature".
I'm rambling perhaps. The short version is; I like classical things and often think they are good. I want to do good versions of them. The way like that is not to imitate the content of the people who made those classics but to imitate their characters - imagination, will, passion to create something genuinely new, curiosity in the world. If I have these things I am fortunate but I don't know how much praise I can accept for them as a lot seem "built-in" like many of my flaws.
NOTE(Max): I would have been very interested in unpacking that last sentence, but I felt it would have derailed the conversation too much so chose to move on.
Max: What you described is, to my mind, deconstruction, but in retrospect, as someone with limited formal knowledge of these concepts, perhaps I should have been more careful with my language haha. In any case, I can appreciate the distinction in your intentions between making something good, new, and original, vs. deconstruction for its own sake.
Thinking about semi-scientific and science fictional concepts is pretty normal for me, it's more that I don't know why it isn't normal for everyone else.I have lost much sleep over this myself!
With that said, what in particular do you think is good, new, and original about Demon-Bone Sarcophagus?
Patrick: Hard to say at this point as I've been living with it for years. It's actually a pretty trad dungeon crawl - the triangular nature of the dungeon is new I think - it was created partly as triangles are a symbol for fire but also to maximize the number of loops and possible connections between rooms.
The core concept of a no-country-for-old-men massacre up top, and then the escapees from that jumping into the holes into the dungeon and racing about,
So - first you do some forensics and possible investigation up top, then hopefully you go inside and meet some of the characters from that event. So you are putting together pieces and trying to work out what happened and trying to understand that, whilst at the same time encountering these people as dungeon encounters, and that mixed up with monsters and traps.
Other than that the main points of originality come with its integration into a larger series -there are elements that will hopefully echo and mean something as people play through the whole saga and which will become important even in the last book 'Palaces of Fire' ... though the idea of having a big interrelated adventure is hardly new, publishing it in three books over three years might be.
the triangular nature of the dungeon is new I think - it was created partly as triangles are a symbol for fireI love little touches like this- small bits of symbolism or subtext, that end up bringing about all of these other dynamics in how they interrelate with other aspects of a work.
I remember Mike of Sheep and Sorcery did a really interesting analysis of Silent Titans. Not asking for spoilers or big reveals, but do you imagine there will be room for similar analysis with this book?
Patrick: Once the whole trilogy is finished probably yes. Simply because there is a lot of STUFF in there and it's all themed around fire, renewal, loss, destruction, and utterly different societies and cultures interacting through time.
Max: I see some familiar themes there ;).
I've really enjoyed this conversation, thanks for putting yourself out there like this. I hope things go well with the book and with your other endeavors. We're already a bit over time, but are there any last things you'd like to say, with regard to anything we've discussed, or about the Kickstarter, or really anything else?
Patrick: Not really, just thanks to everyone who backed the KS and the Kickstarter in the past, you are keeping my head above water! Her Majesties Revenue and Customs department thanks you also!
Also to you, Max, was a good interview, thanks for doing it.
Max: For sure! Your works have inspired me quite a bit creatively- if I went back in time and told myself several years ago that I'd be interviewing you now, my mind would have been blown! Whenever you're situated with all this and on to something else, hopefully, we can do this again.