Monday, July 6, 2015

Old Times at TSR

So, yesterday I took a break from working on my paper and sorted out some more rpg magazines down in the box room, putting more on the pile to throw away. This time it was old issues of INQUEST and CONJURE, my thinking being that I cd do without price guides for ccgs some twenty years ago.*

I was glad that I skimmed through them first, though, because in the process I found two of the old TSR routing lists, which list all the designers and editors in the creative department at a particular time (mid and late 1995, respectively).

You see, back in the day, a bunch of rpg magazines (WHITE WOLF, SHADIS, &c) circulated through the design & editorial department, along with a box of comics (leftovers from the days when TSR had the Marvel license) and some misc. journals relevant to the industry (LOCUS, SCIENCE FICTION CHRONICLE), et al. And at one point I volunteered to keep track of them, starting them on their journey through the department desk by desk, for skimming or reading or ignoring, as each person saw fit.

All that's now moot, but the listing is interesting, to me at least, in and of itself for its snapshot of everyone who was in the department back then. For some reason that department has always been surprisingly opaque to those outside it, and most fans (and industry professionals), I've found, have no idea who does what on which projects, who was in-house and who was not, and the like. So here's a little contribution to the historical record.

THE FIRST LIST dates from June 1995, after what had been a remarkably stable department began to change, with the rate of change ever-increasing right up to the December 1996 smash.  Zeb Cook (1994) and Jeff Grubb (Jan 1995) had left the department, Rob King has transferred over to Books, and the big influx of people hired away from West End had just gotten underway (with Ed Stark being its harbinger). It's alphabetical and thus plays no favorites. A few names (Mike Nystul, Bill Olmesdahl, David Gross, Michael Huebbe) were added in while the list was in circulation (i.e., while the particular magazine this list was attached to made its way through the department), so I've gone ahead and included them as representative of a department in flux. A few are struck out, but I've left them in because I can't tell which left TSR and which just wanted not to be on the circulating-journals list. This makes the 'snapshot' a slightly blurry one, but it seemed good to err on the side of inclusiveness.

THE SECOND LIST is from a few months later, October 1995. I was experimenting at the time with different arrangements of the list: alphabetical, reverse alphabetical, by seniority, by reverse seniority, by degree of interest, to see what might work best. This one has added interest, to me at any rate, because it gives members of the department in order of seniority, from stalwarts like Jon Pickens and Steve Winter (who went all the way back to circa 1980-81)** to the newest hire, the now-legendary Bruce Cordell (I was happy to have gotten to edit both Jeff Grubb's final design before his departure and Bruce Cordell's first upon his arrival). Comparing it with the first list, I see that Wolf Baur and apparently also Tim Beach had already departed for Wizards and that the hiring binge had stopped, with Steve Brown (aka 'Stan!') the last of the West End hires and Bruce Cordell the last r&d hire for quite a while, or at least that's how I remember it.

One caveat: I shd point out that some of the names on this second list had been at TSR far longer than their ranking here wd indicate, like Harold Johnson (circa 1980?) and Skip Williams, Kim Mohan and Dale Donovan, who transferred in from other departments; they're given here in the order in which they joined r&d. Also, I've inserted myself into the appropriate spot in the lists.

A lot of talent. A lot of memories. A lot of unpaid overtime. Enjoy!

FIRST LIST (alphabetical, June 1995)
Rich Baker
Wolf Baur
Tim Beach
Carrie Bebris
Karen Boomgarden
Anne Brown
Tim Brown
Jim Butler
Michele Carter
Bill Connors
Monte Cook
Dale Donovan
Andria Hayday
Bruce Heard
Dori Hein (previously Dori Watry)
Slade Henson
Harold Johnson
Julia Martin
Colin McComb
Steve Miller
Roger Moore
Bruce Nesmith
+Mike Nystul
+Bill Olmesdahl
Jon Pickens
Thomas Reid
Steve Schend
Bill Slavicsek
Lester Smith
Ed Stark
Doug Stewart
Ray Vallese
Jim Ward
Sue Weinlein
Dan Wenger
Skip Williams
Steve Winter
David Wise.

Stephen Daniele
Scott Douglas
Rob King
Duane Maxwell
Marshall Simpson
+David Gross
Carolyn Chambers
+Michael Huebbe.

SECOND LIST ("Seniority Has Its Privileges", October 1995)

John Pickens
Steve Winter
Anne Brown
Andria Hayday
William W. Connors
Steven Schend
Slade Henson
Dori Hein (formerly Dori Watry)
Colin McComb
Julia Martin
John D. Rateliff (Oct. 7th 1991)
Thomas Reid
Rich Baker
Michele Carter
Doug Stewart
Lester Smith
Bill Slavicsek
Skip Williams
Sue Weinlein
Monte Cook
Ray Vallese
Harold Johnson
Jim Butler
Steve Miller
Ed Stark
Carrie Bebris
Dale Donovan
Kim Mohan
Bill Olmesdahl
Miranda Horner
Kevin Melda
David Eckleberry
Keith Strohm
Cindi Rice
Steve Brown (aka Stan)
Bruce Cordell

Dave Gross
Stephen Daniele
Scott Douglas
Duane Maxwell
Robert Weise

Carolyn Chambers


current reading: WILLIAMS AND THE ARTHURIAD by C. S. Lewis (re-reading)

current music: old cassettes (Boiled in Lead, Blondie)


*a stack of CASUS BELLI are next up on the chopping block, being a good magazine in a language I only read haltingly and with difficulty.

**the true antediluvian at TSR back then was Dave Sutherland, employee number six (1976?), who has long since transferred into the mapping department, from which he had produced such masterpieces as the castle map for I6.Ravenloft.

Charles Williams' faerie poem

Among the odder things I've found while working on my current paper is that Charles Williams once wrote a 'faerie' poem. Since it's fairly obscure (having appeared back in 1924 in a volume that sold very few copies), I thought I'd share.


Under the edge of midnight
  While my love is far away,
A wind from the world of faerie
  Blows between day and day.

And wandering thoughts possess me,
  Such as no wise man knows,
Death and a thousand accidents,
  And high impossible woes.

Whether now in her pastime
  She turned a little, sighed
With the heaviness of breathing
  And even in turning died:

Or whether some cloud covers
  The lobes of the conscious brain
And all that she knew aforetime
  She shall never know again,

But her friends shal bring her to me,
  Bewildered and afraid
Lest a stranger's hand should touch her,
  A shrinking alien maid, —

Yet such distress in patience
  And faith an end may find,
And a more fantastic peril
  Moves in my dreaming mind:

None knows how deep within us
  Lies hid a secret flaw,
Where spins the mad world ever
  On the very edge of law.

Under the chance that rules us
  Anarchic terrors stir,
Lest what to me has happened
  Has never happened to her.

First love in our first meeting,
  Changed eyes, and bridal vows,
The incredible years together
  Lived in a single house,

The kisses born of custom
  That are sweeter and stranger still
Than any clasp of passion,
  And the shaping of one will, —

Was it some wraith deceived me,
  And lives she still apart
In her father's house contented,
  With an unwakened heart?

Now at this striking midnight
  Through the chink between day and day,
Has a wind from the world of faerie
  Blown all my life away?

Here am I now left naked
  Of the vapour that was she:
While the true maid 'midst her kindred
  Has never thought of me?

For ten long years together
  Can a thing be and not be,
Till it ceases to be or ever, —
  And has this chanced to me?

—Ch. Wms, Windows of Night [1924], p. 56–58

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Annoying People are Creeping Me Out

So, a while back I got a letter in the mail asking if, as a veteran, I'd like to be cremated and buried at sea.

My response to this, and the three follow-up messages I've received (so far) from the same folks is to feel as if I'd suddenly found myself in an old Monty Python skit, the one where a man (Terry Jones) is sitting minding his own business when the person sitting next to him (Eric Idle) starts asking him all sorts of annoying and increasingly inappropriately personal.

Them: Hey there. Would you like to be cremated and buried at sea?

Me: Excuse me?

Them: What with you being a veteran and all. Of the navy.

Me: Do I know you?

Them: It's a great offer. Save your loved ones a lot of bother and expense.

Me: Go. Away.

--except they won't. They've ignored Janice, who called them and told them to stop. I thought I'd sent them an email message telling them to stop; have to resend that.  I suppose the next stage is a letter to desist.

The odd thing is, I not only not a veteran, but (in the words of Gilbert & Sullivan), I've never been one. After all, there aren't many conscientious objectors who are also veterans, and precious few pacifist in the V.F.W.

After we puzzled over it some, Janice hit on what is probably the right solution: somehow they've gotten ahold of some reference to my father (John Dale Rateliff Sr) and put it together with my address. My father was a veteran, of the Korean War. And since that was before I was born (John Dale Rateliff Jr), being years before my parents met, at that time he of course didn't use the 'Sr'. Even so, he was never in the Navy,* having been a radio operator in the Army instead.** Plus he hated the army, all that being ordered about, and in latter years rarely told war stories and avoided showy displays of patriotism, figuring that he'd done enough (as the saying goes, having walked the walk he felt no need to talk the talk).

Which makes me annoyed all over again, knowing how much he'd have hated these 'Neptune Society' folks as well for their attempts to cash in on elderly vets.

For my part, I've discovered that it's really disconcerting to have people eager for you to die who contact you on a regular basis to convey that wish.

There must be some way to make these vultures go away.

--John R.
current reading: THE FIGURE OF ARTHUR by Ch. Wms (his half of ARTHURIAN TORSO; a re-reading), while walking cats.

*it's just possible they have him confused with my uncle J. W., who was in the navy (in the Pacific) in WWII; the family legend goes that when he signed up they asked him what the initals 'JW' stood for and he told them they didn't stand for anything: that was his name (which it was). The army recruiters apparently weren't having any of that and insisted he pick a name to stand for each initial, so he opted for 'John Wesley', this being the name of his father (my grandfather, John Rateliff II; I'm John Rateliff IV if you ignore the middle initials). If so, they're overlooking the fact that, like my father, he's been dead for years and has no need of their services.

**he said he chose radio operator because you didn't have to shoot at people, although they got to shoot at you. That seemed fair to him, and it does to me too.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

My Cat Is Radioactive

So, when we got back from our trip before last (the one to the Midwest, not the one to Arkansas), our cat-sitter reported that one of our cats, little Hastur, has been drinking a lot of water, and there'd been a lot of activity in the dirt box. That in itself's not a big thing, given how hot it's been this summer, except that being both overweight and thirsty all the time are two of the warning signs of diabetes, and we wanted to make sure she didn't have it (or got prompt treatment if she did).

Turns out it's not diabetes, but it's a good thing we got her tested because in the process we discovered she has a hyperthyroid condition. As the vet explained this, older cats sometimes get a benign tumor in their thyroid gland, which goes into overdrive, causing it to boost their metabolism. The cat starts losing weight (she's dropped from 15 to 12 pounds between vet visits) and its behavior changes. We'd noticed that Hastur was much more alert lately and also becoming talkative for the first time in her life, but we attributed that to her filling in some of the  void caused by Rigby's passing.

In any case, there's a treatment for hyperthyroidism in cats that's expensive but is said to have a 95% success rate. There wasn't time to get things set up before we left for our then-pending Arkansas trip, but we read up on it and got her an appointment at the Hyperthyroid Treatment center down in Tacoma. Once we were back from the trip, it was time for her big adventure.  We dropped her off Tuesday, which was hard, and got daily updates on how she was doing.* Since the treatment involves injecting the cat with a radioactive isotope of iodine (I-131), she couldn't be released until the radioactive iodine in her system fell below a certain point,** making her street-legal, so to speak, again. I was out Thursday (working on my Ch Wms piece down at the local Starbucks) when Janice got a call that Hastur cd come home if we came and picked her up right away, so she set off and braved the Kent-to-Tacoma traffic in rush hour, collected little Hastur (who I'm sure was VERY happy to see her).

She came home slightly loopy (prob. a side-effect from cat-tranquilizers they had her on), with a list of do's and don'ts' regarding everything from what to do with the contents of her dirt box (where there could be concentrations of radiation), about not being in direct contact with the cat for more than one hour, cumulatively, per day, not letting her sleep with us, and so forth. All these were protective measures, it turned out, the actual risk being v. low (in a worse case, we might be exposed to as much radiation as we just got from cosmic rays during our recent flight to Arkansas and back).

Hastur was clearly delighted to be back home again, and has been fairly clingy ever since, as often as not staying in the same room with one or both of us. Feanor, on the other hand, has been weirded out by the whole thing. He didn't notice she was gone for the better part of a day, after which he seemed to adjust pretty well. But when she came back, he looked as if he'd seen The Ghost of Hastur, hissing and running away from her. Even after he calmed down a bit, he's crouch down and stare at her as if he could see with a cloud of radiation round her and shooting off rays in all directions. He's finally calmed down as of Friday night.

As for Hastur, she seems to be doing well. She doesn't like the pill we're to give her for her heart (her heartbeat is up to about 300 times per minute, which is too high), but at least it's a tiny one. We need to get her some kind of pill-pocket, but for now we've worked out a regimen that seems to be working: we give her a treat (her favorite kind, Feline Greenies), then the pill, then a second treat. The idea of the second treat is a reward and also a way to make sure she swallowed the pill (some cats are clever about carrying them around unswallowed in the mouth for several minutes), while the first treat is to get her willing to swallow what comes next. So, not ideal, but workable. Which is good, because while the murmur and elevated heartbeat might clear up on their own once her body resets after the thryoid treatment, it's quite possible she'll be on the twice-daily pill regimen the rest of her life -- which, now that we've got the hyperthyroidism taken care of, will we hope be a long and happy one.

When I started to write this post, she was all over paws-on-the-keyboard; now she's in her favorite box on my desk, snoozing away. Neither she now Feanor's going to enjoy the fireworks tonight, but at least they're both home and safe.

--John R.
current reading: THE REGION OF THE SUMMER STARS (Wms; re-reading), YOUNG MEN IN SPATS (Wodehouse)

*we were glad to hear she enjoyed burrowing in the crinkly paper we left with her and gladly accepted some petting and some of her favorite treats from the vet at the clinic. Felliway, we understand, was also involved on behalf of positive mood reinforcement.

**she got 3.75 millicuries; apparently it usually works its way through and out of the cat's system at the rate of about one mCi per day

Saturday, June 27, 2015

That Ten-Dollar-Bill Thing

So, back from Arkansas, and utterly exhausted. So thought I'd do just a quick little post today, about that replacing Hamilton from the $10.00 bill thing that's been going around.

First off, I think it'd a bad idea to remove the person who created our banking system from the currency.

Second, if they had to remove somebody, I'd prefer it were General Grant, from the fifty -- a man famous mainly for killing a lot of his fellow Americans and then going on to preside over a notoriously corrupt and incompetent administration.

Third, if we're going to put a woman on our currency (a good idea in and of itself), I'd vote for Jeannette Rankin:* the first woman elected to the US Congress. A suffragette who served two terms twenty years apart, Rankin was a pacifist who voted against U. S. entry into World War I, for which she got booted out. She finally won re-election twenty years later, just in time to vote against U. S. entry into World War II (the ONLY member of Congress to do so). It's rare for a politician to stand by his or her principles, whatever the political cost.

So, it they were to make the best of a bad idea, I'd say leave Hamilton where he is, boot Grant from his current spot, and put Rankin in his place.


Friday, June 19, 2015

R. R. Martin is Munificent

So, when reading about the record-breaking auction of a first edition, first printing, signed and inscribed presentation copy of THE HOBBIT, I saw the link to another story about another record being set, again with a first edition copy of THE HOBBIT.

In brief, Martin has just donated a copy of the first edition HOBBIT to the Texas A&M university library. This is not just extremely generous of him but marks a significant milestone for the library, being their five millionth book.

Their millionth book seems to have been essentially random: PROSE AND POETRY OF THE LIVESTOCK INDUSTRY OF THE UNITED STATES. So too perhaps the two million mark: A VOYAGE TO THE ISLANDS MADERA, BARBADOS, NIEVES, S. CHRSTOPHERS AND JAMAICA (1707-25) by Sir Hans Sloane. But it's v. clear that the three millionth was a careful choice: a first edition of Walt Whitman's THE LEAVES OF GRASS [1855], as was the four millionth: Cervantes's DON QUIXOTE (both volumes).

So, it's a big deal that Tolkien's work should be deemed worthy of being in such company and world-renown classic authors as Whitman and Cervantes, a point made explicitly by Martin in his presentation ("Martin expressed him pleasure at a long overdue acceptance of fantasy 'into the canon of world literature'"). It's almost as if, now that Terry Pratchett is dead, R. R. Martin has become the go-to face of fantasy guy.

Here's the link.

--John R.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Guardian Knows My Name

So, turns out that the first-edition, first-printing, autographed presentation copy given by JRRT for his student Katharine Kilbride (one of his original author's copies) didn't go for fifty to seventy thousand pounds, as estimated. It went for more than double that: £137,000


What's more, I was surprised to find myself being quoted by THE GUARDIAN.  Being referenced in an online forum or cited in an academic piece is one thing (and I'm always interested to see how others use my work); to be quoted in a world-class newspaper is oddly disconcerting. At any rate, glad to see the reference to Tolkien's THE LOST ROAD being picked up; it'd be great if that leads someone out there to discover Tolkien's strange and fascinating time-travel stories.

Here's the piece:

--John R.