Transcript / LoLT: Immersive Storytelling with Chaos League and Two New Books — 14 June 2024

Transcript / LoLT: Immersive Storytelling with Chaos League and Two New Books — 14 June 2024

Friday, 14 June, 2024

This is a transcription of LoLT: Immersive Storytelling with the Chaos League and Two New Books — 14 June 2024

[cheerful music]

Melissa: Coming up, a thriller about a reformed assassin on one last mission.

David: Questlove and the history of hip hop.

Melissa: Plus, our distraction of the week. I’m Mel.

David: I’m Dave. This is the library of lost time.

Melissa: I’m a long-time fan of the American author Rob Hart. He writes thrillers that mashup with other genres in really fun ways. There’s always a lot of action, but the stories are character-driven. They’re awesome thrill rides with themes you can sink your teeth into.

Melissa: His book ‘Take-Out’ is a collection of culinary crime stories set all over the world. Big thanks to him for introducing me to Hainanese Chicken Rice from Singapore. I devoured his book ‘The Warehouse’ in the summer of 2019. That one is set in the near future at a company like Amazon. It basically controls — everything — and an unlikely duo has to team up to stop the company’s nefarious plans. His novel ‘The Paradox Hotel’ is a sci-fi crime story set in a hotel that caters to ultra-wealthy tourists about to embark on time-travel trips.

Melissa: He has a fantastic imagination and from the first page, I’m always immersed in the worlds he creates. His new book is ‘Assassins Anonymous,’ and the premise is a killer. The hero is Mark. He WAS the deadliest killer-for-hire on the planet. But he’s seen the light. No more killing. He’s even joined a 12-step program for former assassins. It’s only the straight and narrow for him. Until he’s attacked by a mystery man. So he has to go on the run to figure out who’s trying to kill him… all without killing anyone himself.

Melissa: The story opens on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Mark is at his Assassins Anonymous meeting, and after a little peek into his internal monologue about adrenaline and pain, we’re dropped into the middle of the action. I love the hard-boiled, first-person narration. Here’s a bit from the first few pages:

‘When you’ve been at this long enough — and I’ve been at this long enough — time turns into a thing you can hold in your hand. You can rotate it and examine the angles. You end up confronting things about yourself. Like why you’re sprawled on a cold linoleum floor, amid the shattered remains of a flimsy folding table, covered in cheap coffee and leftover donuts. You wonder which of your sins summoned the man who put his boot to your chest and set you flying.’

Melissa: Mark is a character you want to root for. The writing is snappy. And the chapters end with mini cliffhangers, so it’s nearly impossible to put down. Which is exactly how I felt about ‘The Warehouse’ and ‘The Paradox Hotel.’ This one is ‘Assassins Anonymous’ by Rob Hart. This is a great summer read. Do yourself a favor and get it now.

David: Questlove is a drummer, a record producer, a filmmaker, a music journalist, and an actor. And he might be the coolest man on the planet right now.

David: He is one of the frontmen for The Roots. They’re the house band on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. But that is just the shiny outside of the Questlove onion. He’s produced albums for people who include Elvis Costello, Jay-Z, and Amy Winehouse. He produced the Hamilton soundtrack. He won an Oscar for directing a documentary about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival. That movie is called ‘Summer of Soul.’ If you’d like to see Stevie Wonder or Sly and the Family Stone play live in the 1960s — and you absolutely do — you’ll want to see this. Nina Simone steals the show.

David: But. I’m here today to talk about Questlove as an author. Because he’s also written a handful of books. He wrote a book called ‘Creative Quest,’ which is what he’s learned about the creative life. That came out in 2018. It feels like Questlove sitting with you and walking through all the hard parts of making stuff. More recently, he wrote ‘Music is History.’ That book came out in 2021. It’s a popular history of contemporary America spiked with music suggestions. He walks the reader through the years 1971 to 2002, talks about what was going on with him and American culture, and then gives a playlist of significant songs that came out that year. Taken together, it feels like a museum display about how music and history talk to each other.

David: He has a new book out. It’s called ‘Hip Hop is History.’ As you might expect, it’s the history of hip-hop combined with his reflections and opinions. He starts with “Rapper’s Delight” in 1979 and walks forward. I honestly can’t think of anyone else I’d rather have take me through the last 45 years of that music. I’m very curious to see what he says about it, but I’m even more interested in hearing the tracks that caught his ear.

David: He has narrated all three of those books as audiobooks. Some readers say that’s the smart way to go through them. Play a little Questlove, jump over to YouTube, hear the music he’s talking about, and repeat. The book is called ‘Hip Hop Is History’ by Questlove, and it just came out this week.

David: And now our Distraction of the Week. [magical sound effect]

Melissa: I was scrolling around Twitter the other day when I should have been working, and I saw a message from a friend of ours. He said he had just booked his tickets for the Sahara to go LARPing with the Chaos League.

Melissa: There were so many things in those dozen words that I needed to know more about. LARPing! In the Sahara! Something called the Chaos League!

Melissa: So let’s unpack those things for anyone who’s not familiar. First, LARPing. LARP stands for live-action role-playing. It’s like being in a play or a movie out in the real world. You play a character, but there’s no audience and no written script — everyone that’s participating is creating the story as you go along. When you participate in a big event, there will usually be a game guide, but the idea is to be spontaneous and create the narrative with other people.

Melissa: Chaos League is an organization that hosts big LARP events in amazing locations in Europe. Their mission statement is pretty awesome: ‘We believe in people, in the best part of each person. We love stories, which are what make us human. We know that wherever there is a good story and the right way to tell it, there are opportunities to do great things and open doors to different perspectives. We create immersive and interactive experiences that transport people of all ages into unique worlds to explore.’

Melissa: They’re based in Bologna, Italy, and have been doing this since 1992. Their stories are inspired by HP Lovecraft’s works. Lovecraft was a horror writer. His most well-known creation is an entity called Cthulhu. Sadly, he’s also infamous for being a racist. But Chaos League is very clear they won’t tolerate discrimination. They’re super inclusive and all newbies to LARPing are welcome.

Melissa: They provide a game outline, character guides, suggestions for costumes, and when it’s time to play, there’s staff to help facilitate the whole thing.

Melissa: The one I was most excited about was run in 2023. Maybe they’ll do it again sometime? It’s based on Miskatonic University, which is a fictional school created by Lovecraft. For the event, they took over a neo-Renaissance castle in Poland, and transformed it into their fictional university. It has a billiard hall, a theater, dungeons, cloisters, and I can only assume, secret passages. I’ll link to photos in show notes. It’s stunning! And the story is a stunner, too.

Melissa: It’s set 1924. A group of students and faculty are about to unseal a mysterious sarcophagus fo the first time in thousands of years. The LARPing was focused on student life, so there were lectures, sports events, cultural workshops — and investigations into the occult mysteries of the sarcophagus. I found a blog from someone who attended, and he said they had to use old books to translate hieroglyphics to solve part of the riddle.

Melissa: Another event is called Eclipse. That one immerses you in a sci-fi story in a Polish forest. They take over a former movie set that has a space station made up of 13 domes connected by plexiglass passages. If you spend the weekend, you pretend it’s 2059, and you’re a member of a mission to establish a base on an alien planet.

Melissa: And now we get to the Sahara. Expedition Sahara is set in 1934. It’s the story of an expedition to find the legendary city of Zerzura. Your character can be an explorer, a parapsychologist, a legionnaire, politician, or adventurer. The adventure takes place in the Sahara desert, in southern Tunisia. The desert camps have real Berber tents, working antique objects from the 1930s, carpets, cushions, and torches. The meals are cooked by local chefs, and they promise you get to eat bread that’s baked under the sand. There’s a gallery of photos from a previous run, and they are so good. Everyone looks like they’re in the movie ‘The Mummy,’ walking across reddish sand under a hard blue sky. I can see why people are compelled to do it.

Melissa: If combining LARPing and travel sounds like your kind of thing, they do have an upcoming event in Florence, Italy, this fall that still has spots available. It’s called ‘The Secrets We Keep.’ It’s a thriller set in the ’80s and ’90s with only 35 players. The backstory is that everyone grew up in the same orphanage. Now they’re all meeting again for the first time in a long time, and buried secrets are unearthed. It’s loosely inspired by ‘Stand by Me,’ ‘Lord of the Flies,’ and ‘It.’

Melissa: Visit for more on the books we talked about today and links to photos and info about the amazing adventures of Chaos League.

David: Thanks for joining us on the library of last time. Remember to visit your local library and your independent bookstore to lose some time yourself.

Melissa: Stay curious. We’ll talk to you soon.

[cheerful music]


Top image courtesy of Parker Hilton/Unsplash.

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