Friday, December 23, 2016

I review FIRE ON THE VELVET HORIZON by Scrap Princess and Patrick Stuart

This is my favorite book to come out of the OSR next to Zak Sabbath’s VORNHEIM and I want to tell you about it. 

1. It’s an original and useful bestiary

There’s like a hundred original monsters here. They’re super individual. They’re cheeky and weird. Some of them are sad and some of them are funny. There’s a lot of birds, a handful of variants on classic D&D monsters, a bunch of organizations, some bugs, and just a whole lot of monsters. Each one has a picture by Scrap with a description by Patrick. He’ll describe very carefully and clearly what it looks like, what it does, what makes it special, and what other people and monsters think of it.

Here’s some examples, they’re ridiculous:


There is such a range of monsters, it’s impossible to tell what’s next. Most of them would not be out of place in any D&D game and have an obvious use. They range from monster-y NPCs like the ABHORRER and MONSTER MAIDEN to grunts like the STAR GROOLS and FLAMMEOUS LADS to powerful brutes like the IMPERATOR APE to bizarre uniques like the ICE AGE EYE and EOCHIAN WYRM. 

There’s like a hundred of them. There’s no stats, thank God. These days stats in a monster book just confuses me since whatever system I use will be so hacked that any stats a book has will be completely invalid. 

They have powers like “Laws and social norms cannot be broken nearby” and “Cannot be touched” and “can get inside your vision which means that you see it constantly but can’t touch it until it decides to get out of your vision” and “creates chains of ice out of its eye that it uses to bind natural features in chains of ice.” 

2. It’s beautiful

Oh my God, it’s so beautiful. Patrick’s descriptions are musical and detail oriented. Some of his sentences are blunt, some of them are fluid. He moves from sentence to sentence so lightly and beautifully. He describes the monsters with sentences like “She will eat a special reed and with this she can speak and sing beautifully in a low soft whispering voice” and “From afar the head of the Imperator seems like a featureless black axe, relentless and blind” and “They are hard to harm with fire and feel very little pain, but they can be chopped up, smashed, drowned, and salted.” Notice the specificity, this is a level of specificity on par with the best literature.

Scrap’s pictures ooze insane intentions. Her monsters crouch, leap, stand, squat, look at you, look at nothing, grin, and think evil thoughts. A lot of them are smiling and it’s scary. Some of them look like they could have just been a gesture but instead they’re a skinny crane or a loathsome wisp. Some of them are dense scribbles with menacing form. A lot of them are grinning or screaming or look like they’re thinking about something sad. There’s something that looks like a dog with a scorpion’s tail kind of, there’s one that looks like a chandelier or a mobile, the color monster looks ready to befriend and jump away. Most of them are black and white but sometimes there’s color. The PRIEST-OF-HOOKS is red and surrounded by pages of black drawings on black backgrounds (except for the red skull of the PREDATOR SAINT) and its red looks otherwordly and on-purpose. The PREDATOR SAINT’s skull just looks evil.

Patrick describes her drawings in each description of the monster, usually almost literally. The way the monster is, is like the way the monster looks. It as if the drawings and the words have grown together. Which I’m sure is what happened. The effect is a pleasant mirroring. My mind goes back and forth between the words and the pictures and the words and the pictures. The words make the picture more real, the picture makes the words worthwhile and energetic. I tried to imagine the book without the pictures.

The backgrounds are complex. Pattern, density, texture, sometimes it’s like looking into another world the monster’s resting on, sometimes there’s a sense of geography (a horizon maybe or city patterns) and sometimes it’s like you’re looking at something alive magnified, sometimes it’s black broken by scratches or folds or patterns, sometimes there’s a form or shape. The DUMBSMOKE has these prismatic distortions around it that look like possibly the world looks like when you’re looking through the DUMBSMOKE. The backgrounds are as complex and varied as any zine I’ve read.

I’m so proud to own this fucking book and have it on my bookshelf or coffee table, seriously it just looks so good.

3. I’m a sucker for zine culture

I’ve read a lot of zines and I make my own zines. My friends make zines. This is some top-notch zine work. I love it when people make their own book out of scraps and collages and marker and scan it on the work printer and give it to their friends. This is like that except it’s ten times longer than any zine and it’s about monsters. I was born to love this book for that reason alone.

4. Unusual themes 

Some of the themes explored (and Patrick and Scrap really explore them really thoroughly) in this extraordinary and completely over-the-top book:

Deep Time
Extraplanar Civilizations That May Be Our Own World From Another Perspective
What If This Monster Actually Existed, What Would That Be Like
Competing Perspectives Of The Same Reality
Language And Words 

5. Reading it is like reading a collection of beautiful fairy-tales, except not

If you want you can read it like you read a story-book. I do. When I get to a part I like I go, “Oh my God, here comes the part I like!” and then I read it and remember and get chills. You can flip through it and go to something that looks interesting and read about it and it won’t take too long because each part is only a page or two long. You can do that during breakfast, or if you’re trying to take a break from something else you’re doing. Each monster description is its own little journey that’s exactly as long as it needs to be to incarnate its idea. 

Except it’s not like a book of fairy-tales because it’s a book of monsters, except it’s not like the book of monsters you’d find in the YA section of your bookstore because the themes and ideas and images are so violent and unusual, and it’s obviously meant to be used in a game. Except even though it’s obviously meant to be used in a game, it’s shockingly beautiful and satisfying to simply read, but reading it makes me want to use it in a game, and that’s part of what’s so satisfying about it. Seriously it is completely unique from any other book I’ve ever read.

6. You can buy it at and I hope you do so that Patrick and Scrap can make more incredible books like this one and make me happier.