Tuesday, April 27, 2010

San Francisco and Penny Dreadful

Kevin Andrew Murphy may be to blame for a very strange case of deja vu.

Back in 2007 I read his ridiculously entertaining novel, Penny Dreadful, based on the Mage: The Ascension world by White Wolf.  I even corresponded with him briefly.  He was lovely and friendly and I feel quite fond of him yet.  But it wasn't until I actually travelled to San Francisco last year that some very odd events played themselves out in my mind's eye.

You see, Penny Dreadful is set in San Francisco.  I had forgotten this.  There are landmarks there, such as Ghirardelli's and Alcatraz that, I'll admit my ignorance, I hadn't heard of before.  Being from Australia, I had no idea what the Bay City was.  And, coming from a world of tabletop experiences, I'm somewhat used to the unexpected taking shape.  Just not usually where I can see it.  You know, with my eyes.

So back to last year, when I was wandering around San Francisco.  Some things, while not looking at all like anything I'd ever seen, were sounding strangely familiar.  The sights, while brand new and exhilarating, were sounding warning bells in my head.

Werewolves, they said.  Vampire clubs, evil witches and a manor house on a cliff.  If you go to Ghirardelli's, order a milkshake, and for goodness sake don't open your lunchbox!  And if you think that's weird, I won't even tell you what I thought when we went for yum cha.

You see, Mr. Murphy's San Francisco was so close in spirit to the feeling of the place that I got lost in the world I remembered only vaguely.  Everything that happened was a little bit like being in one of those dreams where you've already been everywhere, and now you're looking for someone.  Going to San Francisco was like looking for someone I've never met in a place I'd never been.  It was an experience of surreal expectation, forever sure that the next corner would reveal what I had been waiting for.  If anything, that made it more magical.

But is that a good thing?  Remembering a place I'd never visited through a book I read two years ago - how does that affect my experience of the world?

I guess it's like travel writing, only vaguely terrifying.  Perhaps if every city had a pseudo-occultist history based in a roleplaying game fantasy world, things would be a lot more interesting.  Or perhaps there'd just be more Cthulhu.

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