Friday, February 28, 2014

Winter the Way I Like It

… in Slightly Twisted. The creator describes it as "A whimsical but  serene and peaceful  landscape filled with art, animals, and fun elements.” And indeed it is.

And much better than snow that requires me to shovel it.

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Wonderland Again

Speaking of Alice in Wonderland, I realized I had several photographs from an Alice-themed sim, dated from last May. The name of the sim is lost to time - in other words, I forgot to write it down - but it clearly has some Steampunk elements.

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Monday, February 24, 2014

Victorian Fantasy: "Through the Looking Glass"

This month, the Victorian Fantasy discussion group had a short field trip, convening on the Great Lawn of Victoria City, in front of the main library. The topic of discussion was Lewis Carroll’s two books about young Alice, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, though the thrust of the discussion was about the latter book.

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Our normal master of ceremonies, Sir JJ Drinkwater, had transformed into the Mad Hatter, and his cohost, Dame Kghia Gherardi, into the Queen of Hearts:

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Through the Looking Glass begins as Alice, playing with a white and black kitten as well as a chess set, steps through a wall mirror into a fantastical world in which the chess pieces are now life-sized and come to life. Alice, a mere pawn, starts on the second row of the chess board and makes her way across the board, to the eighth row, thereby becoming a queen. Along the way she has a number of adventures with strange characters, including Red and White Knights, Humpty Dumpty, and Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

Dame Kghia posed an interesting thought: "Are the rules a symbol of adulthood that Alice is trying to figure out?” She continued, "I'm thinking about White Queen's statement and the fact that the rules often seem arbitrary to Alice and children in general. [T]he book seems to be leading Alice through rituals so she learns the rules but things are still confusing to her, which is why words are taken so literally in this world.” In this view, the queens are the “adults,” and Alice, in becoming a queen herself, has taken a step into the adult world. It was a view that had not occurred to me, but seems entirely consistent with the book. (If this interpretation is commonplace knowledge, don't disillusion me.)

Some of the many attendees - only some of whom are pictured below, I fear - arrived in costume for tea and conversation:

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Miss Janet Rhiadra as Alice, enjoying a cuppa 

Victorian Literature  Looking Glass 005Mr. Rory Torrance, with a Mad Hatter-inspired top hat

Victorian Literature  Looking Glass 006Miss Herndon Bluebird

Victorian Literature  Looking Glass 007Miss Aznana Shieldmaiden

Victorian Literature  Looking Glass 008Mr. Ludo Merit, with his wonderful Cheshire Cat avatar

Victorian Literature  Looking Glass 011Miss Eve Compton

Victorian Literature  Looking Glass 012Our White Queen...

Victorian Literature  Looking Glass 013…and our Red Queen, also known as Queen Mystic

Victorian Literature  Looking Glass 014And another Alice, your humble scribe

Next month’s discussion will be held March 19, and the topic will be The Novel of the Black Seal, by Arthur Machen. I am not familiar with either the author or the work, so I look forward to reading it. The 1895 work is part of a longer episodic novel, The Three Impostors, and is described as “incorporate[ing] several inset weird tales and culminat[ing] in a final denouement of deadly horror, connected with a secret society devoted to debauched pagan rites.” This sounds like quite a story!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Traveling to Oblivion

Thanks to the explorations of the indefatigable Honour McMillan, and a little sisterly nudge, I visited the Steampunk area of Oblivion.

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Oblivion is pleasantly sepia-toned, reminiscent of New Babbage in that regard (though perhaps, unlike Babbage, not because of the incessant use of coal). Although one starts near ground level, where signs welcome visitors, much of the city is aloft. Alas for English speakers, the signs are auf Deutsch, but one gets the general drift of things.

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Transportation takes the form of teleportation via the above-pictured person-sized cages, a smart-looking design, though cozy for more than one at a time.

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As one is many meters above ground level, one must be careful not to stray too far off the path. And if one sees a “road closed” sign - in English, no less - one would do well not to depend on the macadam extending much beyond that point.

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The sim is rated “adult,” and indeed one of the buildings in the floating city does house some… interesting contraptions, along with a few traps for the unwary. Keep your eyes open and step lively and all should be fine.

It’s exciting to see new Steampunk areas arising. It gives hope that the 19th century is not yet over.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Bryn Oh's "The Singularity of Kumiko"

Bryn Oh’s latest exhibit, on her Immersiva sim, is “The Singularity of Kumiko,” a story told in pictures and letters (in written and audio form) that unfolds as one moves through the sim. Kumiko receives messages in a bottle, as though from across a sea, from her friend Iktomi, and responds through messages of her own. (Miss Oh has an introduction and a brief video about the exhibit on her blog.)

In the arrival area, a visitor receives instructions regarding Windlight and other graphics settings, the main effect of which is to render the environment very dark. To compensate, there is a helmet-mounted flashlight, like a miner’s lamp, that allows one to see, imperfectly, in the dark.

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The first scene one encounters is this accident: a car, a damaged bicycle, and a backpack, its contents strewn about the roadway. The roadway then peters out, and one is left looking for the next patch of light.

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These set pieces contain objects in Miss Oh’s distinctive style. Often animal forms mix with machine parts, such as the giraffe swing set below.

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Be careful, however, and do not linger in the woods. The sim is damage-enabled, and the sound of a squeaky wheel signals the arrival of a lunatic homicidal mechanical rabbit, Mr. Zippers, who will kill you if possible. You will encounter Mr. Zippers later on as well, in an abandoned, dilapidated house.

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Because a visitor may encounter the tableaux in the “wrong” order, one has to puzzle together the narrative from receiving the exchange of letters between Kumiko and Iktomi out of order. Ultimately, however, one reaches a resolution of the story, even if some of the specifics remain left to the visitor’s imagination.

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In mathematics, a singularity is a point at which an object is not well-behaved - for example, undifferentiable. However, perhaps a better definition of the word in this context is “the state of being singular, distinct, peculiar, uncommon[,] or unusual.” As the story unfolds, we discover that Kumiko is all that.

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The darkness adds to the unsettling atmosphere of the exhibit. On my monitor everything was so dark between the set pieces that I sometimes felt as though I was stumbling blindly through the woods. I wonder if increasing the light a little would still allow the spookiness while making navigation easier. And while I’m on the subject of minor cavils, I’m not sure that allowing Mr. Zippers to kill visitors was necessary, especially as it removes one from the exhibit, at least temporarily, and breaks the atmosphere.

One interesting decision that Miss Oh made was to limit the number of visitors at any one time to 10-15, both in order to minimize the likelihood that visitors would run into one another and, more importantly, to minimize lag on the sim. I had no trouble teleporting into the sim several times (damn you, Mr. Zippers!) and experienced no noticeable lag, so this seemed to be a good idea.

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“The Singularity of Kumiko” once again demonstrates Bryn Oh’s, er, singular vision and her use of Second Life to provide a multimedia form of narrative. It’s a fascinating, emotional, and disturbing journey.

For better pictures and a better description of the project, see Inara Pey’s review and Honour McMillan’s review.