Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Puerto Vallarta, Part Four

I slept in today. I'm on vacation, so I'm allowed to do that from time to time.

Today was one of those awesome days in a vacation when you don't do much of anything at all. We woke up late and ate breakfast at a waffle shop in the mall. I had the huevos divorciados while my compatriots had waffles and pancakes. The eggs were done over-hard (it's how I always have my eggs given the choice) with green salsa on one side and red salsa on the other. Between them was a line of refried beans and tortilla chips. It was tasty enough, but desperately wanted some hot sauce, which was later provided.

If you haven't been able to guess, I really like food. I'm a pudgy dude, and I spent a couple of years apprenticing to be a chef, and many more in high school Food Science class. So I have a certain expectation of my food when eating abroad in that I want it to be a great example of the cuisine of the land. When I was in Paris, I had the Lapin a la Cocotte. In London, I went out of my way to have a Full English Breakfast. I had chocolate sprinkle sandwiches in Amsterdam, and when I'm in the States, I eat like a fatty fat slob (Steak and Shake, I both love and hate you...). So when I eat Mexican food in Mexico, I'm after the real deal. I want spicy salsas and flavorful tacos and beautiful chimichangas and creamy guacamoles. I'm looking forward to going back to that restaurant in town tomorrow. It was both less expensive and the food was incredible.

In my long-standing grudge against the ocean, I've chosen to arm myself. We hit the beach today, this time armed with boogie boards. Boogie boarding is a lot like surfing for people who don't know how to surf, and is also a lot like flailing around in the water for people who don't know how to boogie board. For the record,  my understanding of boogie boarding is at a pre-school level. I'm terrible. I never catch the belly of the wave, instead catching the crest and floating along for a second before tumbling back into the ocean. N and Z were doing much better, with Z having the clear advantage. Having now done some research, I can see that I have been working with equipment not well suited to me; I'm too tall for the boards they'd given us, but they were free, so I'm hardly complaining.

I did catch one wave, which was pretty exhilerating. It felt something like flying over the surface of the water like one of the many sorts of birds that lives in the area, skimming across the water effortlessly. It was a lot of fun, and it's probably something I'm going to try again the next time I'm in an area conducive to it.

I spent a lot of time writing in a Starbucks today. I understand that this doesn't sound like the sort of thing you do on a Mexican vacation, but I find that spending too much time focusing on the place you're in begins to dull you to it a touch. I'm on an adventure, but at the same time, it's a chance for me to catch up on a couple of projects I've been putting off and to make some room for new projects. I've been working on a new role-playing game project, one that I think is pretty neat. I'm putting together my ideas for the Extreme Library as a campaign book or adventure path. I'm not really sure how I'm going to publish it, if I ever get it done (most of my projects like this die sometime during the part where I have to make the words march on paper), but it will likely be an online thing.

The girl behind the counter at the coffee shop asked if I had a girlfriend and seemed a little put out that I'm married. So there's that.

I took an afternoon nap, as I wasn't feeling very well, during which I had gods-awful dreams about my wife and our unborn child dying during birth. I've just looked up the statistics on that in Canada, and while it's not a zero percent chance, I'm feeling a bit better about it. Still, the dream was horrific, and N and I had a chat about it after I woke up. We decided it was a good occasion to go out for a romantic dinner and walk on the beach, which was entirely lovely. The moon was out for the first time since our arrival, and a few stars dared peek out from among the clouds. I stepped on a crab, but he seemed okay when he scuttled out from under my foot (I couldn't see him, I'm just guessing), and we chased some birds who were eating whatever was in the waves as they came up on the beach. The bed we've been sleeping on is really firm, and N is really feeling her pregnancy this week, so I really appreciate her making the extra effort to come out and reassure me.

Game Stuff

There are some things I could write about today - regional food, boogie boarding, ideas for Z's new game Hero of the Beach, or, as I like to call it Whoa Dude: Seriously Dude, Whoa. I could write about pregnancy and how to handle it in-game or even if you should, or I could write about various bits of accommodation while traveling as a factor in the places you stay - I mean, we're in the nicest condo I've ever stepped foot within, and the bed is still really uncomfortable. Instead, I figure I'll share what I was writing today in Starbucks and see how y'all dig that.

The Extreme Library

Libraries are where it all begins.
-                                                                   - Rita Dove

Ten Things About the Extreme Library

The Extreme Library is not like other libraries, and bears resemblance to them in only a few ways. The ways in which it resembles a real library are thus: it is a place that contains books, there is something that resembles an organizational system, and there are people who will help you get the books you are looking for. The ways in which it does not resemble a typical library are slightly more numerous.

First, it is built into the side of a cliff, endless shelves open to the elements. The cliff has no bottom that anyone has ever found, and it is thought that the library grows out from the realm of some long-forgotten – perhaps dead – god of knowledge and learning.

Second, the organization of the books is hardly ideal. The Library is fabled for having at least one copy of every book that has ever been imagined (including every book ever published in every language). Books that are published are nearest the top, with books that were only a fleeting idea near the bottom of broad, poorly organized “sections.” There is a “History Section,” certainly, but it contains everything from the histories of real nations to histories of those nations as imagined by the insane. There is a book in that section that is every thought Grand Emperor Zan Shoa ever had; “Zan Shoa” is a character not known to exist in true history or in any popular fiction. There are comprehensive histories of events that never happened, of people who were entirely unimportant to world events, of things that were the subject of wild dreams or flights of fancy. This sort of thing is true of every Section of the Library, and the divisions between one Section and the other are largely arbitrary and make no sort of sense.

Third, there are things that live in the Library. Many of them are the sorts of things you would expect to see living on the face of a cliff, but twisted by the strange magic of the place. Birds, bats, rodents, insects, spiders; all have been reshaped and remade into the image of the library. You will not find a bird that is just a bird, it will be an origami bird built from the pages of a philosophy text. Bats are built from hardcovers, their heads jutting awkwardly from the spine. The rats are made from quills, the insects typewriter keys and fingers. The spiders build trap doors beneath the tomes, waiting for an unsuspecting Librarian to pull out an important book. Moreover, there are things that have moved into the Library. There are at least three tribes of goblins that are known to the Librarians, for instance. A group of trolls lives a day’s climb from the top in Pseudo-Anonymous Autobiographies. There are at least a dozen dragons, though no one has come face-to-face with one and lived to tell of it – they can be seen sometimes, circling, hunting. And perhaps worst of all, there are the creations of the library itself: the haiku elementals, the stream-of-consciousness-shadow-monsters, the half-formed-idea swarms, the mimics. There are whispers of monsters both horrifying and beautiful in the deepest depths, and scarred veterans will swear up and down that they’ve met the worst the Library has to offer.

Fourth, the Librarians are adventurers. Getting a book out of the Extreme Library requires a man or woman of spectacular fortitude, wit, and dedication. It can often be like finding a needle in a haystack. The Librarians are a unique lot, consisting of as many warriors, wizards and rogues as scholars. There is a mercenary air about them: they are a rag-tag group in it for the gold and the experience, and that shows in the way they carry themselves. The only unifying ideal the group holds would be a love of books, an appreciation of knowledge. Beyond that, Librarians are as diverse and rag-tag as any other group of adventurers.

Fifth, the most important books in the world can be found here. That book of apocalyptically powerful spells you wanted to own when you were in wizard school? Yeah, it’s here. The book that describes how to attain godly power? Also here, somewhere. A book that will immediately make the reader the most charismatic intelligent creature on the plane? Yeah, that’ll be in Self Help. If a book can be imagined, it is located somewhere in the library. Seriously, if you have ever thought about an overpowered magic tome, it is totally in this library somewhere for a brave enough adventurer to find. That makes the Library an incredibly lucrative business. People will pay top dollar for trained Librarians to make excursions to find a specific book, a book they have just thought up.

Sixth, the Library is organic. It heals when it’s damaged. It grows new sections. New books are being created every day and circulating throughout the various Sections. No one really knows how it works, or why, but the Library is constantly changing, constantly shifting and building. This makes it more difficult to locate the books you’re looking for, and also makes it damned near impossible to predict how the Library may react to any given event. Sometimes, a section burns down and is replaced by the same thing; other times, something entirely different takes its place. There has never been an accurate map of the Library, and any attempts to map the area have been met with a great deal of frustration. There is, however, an up-to-date atlas of the Library somewhere in the Library itself that was imagined by Headmaster Aufast Nordlebrink. No one has ever found it, and there have been a dozen Headmasters since.

Seventh, the Library is not national. While many nations have attempted to claim the Library as their own, none has ever been able to hold it, and the laws passed that relate to the Library are universally ignored by both the Librarians and their patrons. The Library’s remote location makes it a position of strategic unimportance (it’s on a cliff in the middle of nowhere), but it is thought that possessing the Library provides a great deal of political clout.

Kings and Emperors have occasionally tried to take the Library by force. The Librarians have never put up a fight, but maintain that looking for a book for a King costs the same as for anyone else. In one famous example, a conquering king tried to side-step the Librarians and send his own army in search of a book that would make his words instantly binding to those who heard them. 
The army did not come back. Two weeks later, the conqueror had died of a terrible malady, and a card was delivered to the Library by an imp. The card read “We regret to inform you that the book you seek has been checked out,” in a tight, perfect script. That card is still on display at the Longhouse.

Eighth, there is more than one thing that is called the “Library.” While the Extreme Library proper is a cliff face covered in books, there are other things commonly referred to as the “Extreme Library.” There is a small village that exists near the cliff’s edge that serve to shelter Librarians and the books they’ve retrieved. There is a longhouse near the Library where the most important Librarians (the Headmaster and his council, who are largely responsible for the upkeep of the village and for dealing with patrons) live and work. There is the Vault, which is a huge, fortified building in which the most dangerous books ever retrieved from the Library rest with layers upon layers of protection. Any of these might be called the “Extreme Library.”

Ninth, the Library does book transfers. The fact that the Library as a copy of every single book that has ever been imagined means that when one is removed from the library, another copy takes its place. One of the biggest reasons the Vault exists so near the cliff-edge is that books that close to the Library proper rarely cause the library to spawn new copies. So if a more conventional library or book collector requires a book, the Extreme Library is often happy to send a copy of the book for an appropriate price. Librarians always accompany books when they are on transfer, often a small team of them. Book transfers rarely occur for books that are not incredibly difficult to find, dangerous, or both.

Tenth, the Library is a place filled with mysteries. There is an enormous steel safe with a lock tall enough to stand in (but don’t, because it will electrocute you). Chains secure it to the cliff face, and bolts the size of an ogre’s hands bolt those chains to the cliff wall. No books grow within ten yards of the place. No one knows why. There is an old man who lives three day’s climb from the top of the cliff, and maintains something of a modest book-garden there. He keeps old, hard-to-find volumes, and is often willing to offer advice or some small amount of help. No one knows who he is, but he’s been there through two dozen Headmasters and has been referenced as far back as a thousand years ago. There is a statue of an ibis’ face that juts out of the bottom of an overhang, facing straight down. It looks concerned. Only one kind of plant has ever been found to grow on the cliff-face, a kind of phosphorescent lichen that produces just enough light to comfortably read by at night. Attempting to grow this lichen anywhere else has proven universally futile; it dies within a couple of days. Ten days’ climb from the edge, there is a hundred-yard garden of this lichen that grows into the shapes of people who have stopped there. There is a podium in the Encyclopedias in Fictional Languages Section that will change the text of a book in any language to any other language, but it seems to intentionally omit key sections of text, or change the context of paragraphs to mean something very different from the original text. There is a swarm of glyph-shaped biting insects that lives over the Prohibited Works, Forgeries and Hoaxes Section of the library; they only attack people who don't have a banned book on their person. There are dozens, perhaps hundreds of examples of this sort of weirdness, and the further down one travels, the more one is to find something deeply unnerving and strange in the Library's depths. 

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