Nightscapes
reviews



WELCOME TO THE FIRST ISSUE OF NIGHTSCAPES



THE XOTHIC LEGEND CYCLE, by Lin Carter, edited by Robert M. Price

THE COMPLETE DREAMSLANDS, by Chris Williams and Sandy Petersen

HERO OF DREAMS, by Brian Lumley

THE DEVIL GROUND, by Ted Pons

"The Ebon Harp", by James William Hjort




THE XOTHIC LEGEND CYCLE, by Lin Carter, edited by Robert M. Price. Oakland: Chaosium Books, 1997. 271 pp. $10.95. ISBN 1-56882-078-X (Chaosium Publication 6013).

[Reviewed by Peter A. Worthy]

Subtitled 'The Complete Mythos Fiction of Lin Carter,' this isn't the case. Carter's material also appears in The Shub-Niggurath Cycle and The Necronomicon; and some yet to come in The Nyarlathotep Cycle, all from the same series from Chaosium. This pedantic little complaint aside, there is nothing else wrong with the book as a whole.

Robert M. Price and Chaosium have done their usual sterling job with book # 13 in their Cthulhu Cycle series, which has now become a personal favourite of mine, along with The Necronomicon and most of the others. I find Bob Price's little pre-story bits highly informative and brief without being overbearing, providing little tidbits fans might want to know. It is nice to see most of Lin's work collected in one book for the first time, including the 'Dreams from R'lyeh' sonnet cycle and 'The Strange Doom of Enos Harker' completed by Bob Price. It also allows you to read the stories that would have become The Terror Out of Time that Derleth was planning to publish, but he unfortunately died and the novel was then rejected. Much like the planned Plains of Nightmare collection by John Glasby.

For years, Lin Carter has come in for quite a knocking, along with August Derleth and, most recently, Brian Lumley in a vile 'Brian Lumley deserves death' string that was circulating on the newsgroup alt.horror.cthulhu. One of the main reasons I like HPL and the Mythos is that it is not a set paradigm, often fluid with no definitive structure, thereby allowing for many different stories. Yet many people feel the structure is set by a 'Lovecraft wouldn't approve' standard, which I personally feel the Old Gent would find obnoxious.

Carter, Derleth, Lumley, et al, have written their stories their way and they should be enjoyed for what they are, simply stories. Although Carter was known for writing stories to simply fill gaps in an attempt to systematisize the Mythos, not all of them wonderful, at least to me they are filled with an enthusiasm for the Mythos; making them fun to read. I would certainly recommend purchasing The Xothic Legend Cycle for that reason alone. It is certainly an item most collectors of Mythos fiction will want to own; it just seems sad that Lin is not here to see it.


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THE COMPLETE DREAMLANDS, by Chris Williams and Sandy Petersen. Oakland: Chaosium Inc., 1997. 186 pp. $21.95. ISBN: 1-56882-086-0 (Chaosium Publication 2363).

[Reviewed by Frank "Kiz" Sronce]

For those of you unfamiliar with the Dreamlands, Lovecraft wrote several stories (most particularly "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath") set in a fantastic realm which only a few humans are capable of sending their dream-selves into. The supplement outlines the major areas of the earth's Dreamlands, creatures found there which are not found in the waking world, important NPCs whom you might encounter there, spells which exist (and function) only in the world of dream, some adventures set there, and even a section on designing a dreamlands native as a player character.

Almost all of the original material from the previous edition has been kept, except for a couple of the adventures. Apparently these were cut to make room for the new material.

Let's take the sections one at a time.

The article on ways to reach (and leave) the Dreamlands is an improvement over the original write-up. For those of you unfamiliar with it, the previous version said that the only requirement was a certain level of Cthulhu Mythos + San, which never really fit with Lovecraft's writing. Now having too many scientific, technical skills can prevent you from dreaming your way there, which fits in perfectly with Lovecraft's writing.

There is a very good, albeit short, article on evoking the atmosphere of a dream, which even brings up the fact that the material here is based upon three main authors, each of whom have a very distinctive and different style: Lovecraft, Myers, and Lumley.

Incidentally, I'm very much a Myers-style GM. My ongoing Dreamlands campaign is called "The Children of the Worm" and is based heavily upon Myer's The House of the Worm. I mention this as it may explain some of the opinions that I expound below.

Now something that I found disappointing. A decision was made to exclude all of Lord Dunsany's writing as belonging to a similar but wholly separate realm, and not belonging in Lovecraft's dreamlands. So there is no new Dunsany material to be found here. The author does admit that some people wanted more Dunsany material and explains this decision in his introduction.

As a rabid Dunsany fan, however, I certainly hope they aren't ruling out the possibility of one day publishing a Dunsany-oriented supplement, since his writing inspired Lovecraft's dreamlands.

Next is a 23-page summary of "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath" inasmuch as it summarizes Randolph Carter's wanderings thoughout the lands of Dream. This is an excellent addition to the text and manages to cover most of his journey while glossing over such surprises as would otherwise spoil the book for new readers. It also veers off into tangents at several points to mention things that Carter "did not encounter" in those areas. Most of these are new additions by recent authors.

Of course, I'm not really sure how much real use there is to this section. It makes an interesting read, but like a piece of fiction included with a gaming supplement, it doesn't really do anything else besides (hopefully) provide inspiration.

Then there is the Gazetteer, a semi-alphabetical listing of all the named places to visit in the Dreamlands. The city and location descriptions have been greatly expanded. Not only are there new areas described, many of the old areas receive much more attention and longer entries.

Here my personal opinions come into play: the authors have decided to take the work of several recent authors as "canon," by which I mean that where they contradict older works the older works are described as "inaccurate." At least one city was used in one of Lumley's books wherein he reveals that Lovecraft's original description was only a "false legend."

Now, I haven't read any of Lumley's Dreamlands books. Indeed, the few times that I've considered them, a skim of the back cover convinced me that they were more along the style of pulp-adventure stories. At first I was pretty disappointed that they had taken a large portion of the new material from his books.

But really, I can see their problem. The various writers who have contributed to the Dreamlands setting aren't completely compatible. Different people have taken very different tacks on things. I think they should have admitted that, and broken things up according to their source/style. For instance, Lovecraft was big on beautiful landscapes and fabulous places. Myers had a darker Dreamlands, where the influence of the Outer Gods is actually more present than in the waking world, for here they are more easily reached. And Lumley seems to have a swashbuckling, heroic version, where brave men might be seduced by depraved monsters disguised as beautiful women.

But rather than admit the inherent contradiction, they have tried their best to combine all of the sources into some sort of coherent whole. It works . . . sort of. Just be prepared to cull the bits you don't like.

And I do have one minor gripe with the arrangement of this section: it is broken up into several subsections based upon what continent the location lies on. So to look up Ulthar, which lies in the West, you must first flip to the West section, then skim through its alphabetical list to find "Ulthar." Of course, if you didn't remember which continent Ulthar lies upon, you'd have to skim through every subsection until you got to the right one.

So if you want to read about a particular area, it works well because all of the important locations there are grouped into one list. If you want to use it as a reference to look up a name found elsewhere, well, try the index first.

But, as I said, overall I like the expanded entries. And several of the new ones are interesting enough that I may try to find the stories that they come from.

Next is a section on various NPCs found in the dreamlands. There are lots and lots of them, compared to the 4-5 in the previous edition. Some of them are Lovecraft or Myers characters who were left out of the previous version; the rest of the new ones are from more recent authors. Each character has a decent-quality facial sketch as well. The writeups are also fairly good, although naturally there are a few of them with skills or stats that I find questionable, but those are easily changed if you dislike them.

Next is the Dreamlands Bestiary, which also has a number of new entries. Most of these are taken from the more recent authors, naturally. Not having read any of Lumley's books, I can't really fault or praise their writeups of his creatures. They have now given entries to all of the "obscure" monsters mentioned in the Petersen's Field Guide to Creatures of the Dreamlands, so if you were wondering what a Sloblubikik looks like, they've got an entry for one now.

Any creature which already had an entry in the main Call of Cthulhu rulebook, however, only gets a couple of sentences and a note to see the entry there. This can get annoying if you don't remember which ones are from where. In particular, I think it's kind of silly that they didn't reproduce the entry on Gugs, who should never have been included in the main rulebook's bestiary, anyway.

Lumley has apparently invented a number of critters which either hunt or parasitize dholes. I presume that the hunters only go after the very smallest of dholes, because the stats for them don't make them powerful enough to take on an "average" dhole, even in groups of 100+.

Oh, and there are a few "unique" creatures who probably should've been in the NPC section rather than the Bestiary, but that's a minor point.

After that comes a separate section on Gods. It's probably a good idea to list them separately from the monsters, although it might've been better to further split them up into multiple types. Anyway, they include all of the old dreamlands deities and add writeups for several new ones. Again, any creature listed in the main rulebook just gets a note to see the entry there. But at least they are in the alphabetical list, rather than being left out.

And they have included some of the Myers deities previously undescribed, such as N'tse-Kaambl and Sthood. I dislike the first writeup and love the second, but this is doubtless influenced by the fact that I had written up a very different version of N'tse- Kaambl for my campaign, long ago.

Then, the Grimoire. They include several new magical artifacts, and a bunch of new Mythos tomes. The artifacts are all taken from Myers's works. Then there are the dreamlands spells, of which only two are new, although a few of them have been slightly modified.

Like a lot of CoC spell-lists, it suffers from the fact that there is no standardized format. Important information, such as the maximum range at which the spell works, or whether or not the victim gets a resistance roll, may or may not be included. But this is a small complaint.

An odd note -- in several places in the text, the authors expound a strange new rule. A dreamlands-native spellcaster can cast any spell from the regular rulebook (not dreamlands spells) at the minimum San cost. Apparently they justify the San loss from spell-casting as being entirely based upon the psychological effects of seeing magic happen and feel that since most waking world spells are subtle that dreamlanders won't be as disturbed by them. But spells out of the dreamlands section cost their regular San cost for both natives and waking-world dreamers who learn them.

I don't think that this new rule makes much sense: a dreamlander can cast Dread Curse of Azathoth for less San loss than Crystal World (a dreamlands spell which encases the caster in a life-sustaining bubble)? Anyway, it's easy to use (or ignore) this rule.

Then they have the adventures, both of which are reprints from the previous edition. It's worth noting that the previous edition had six adventures included. Only two have been kept as "examples." Alas, "The Land of Lost Dreams," which in my opinion was the best of the old adventures, has been dropped, probably because it was incompatible with Lumley's interpretation of the fantastic realms, particularly Xura. Which has been renamed Zura, now, apparently a Lumley change.

It's kind of odd -- they've made the Captain of the White Ship into something of a mystical entity, then apparently see no contradiction in throwing out the original descriptions of the fantastic realms, which were described by the Captain himself in "The White Ship." As I've said, the various authors are not very compatible.

Finally, there is a short section on creating a Dreamlands native as a player character. This is very nice. The stat-generation is slightly different (lower Education, but they get those points back in their physical stats) and there is a nice list of potential occupations they could've belonged to previously. There are suggestions as to what sort of PCs different cities might generate.

There are a number of sensible skill changes. Most of the scientific skills have been dropped or converted to some more primitive equivalent. There is a table of primitive weapons common to the dreamlands, as well as an armor table showing the protective values of medieval armor. This is a very nice addition, because it was a notable lack in the previous version.

Unfortunately, there are no assigned costs for these items, so the GM must come up with his own prices if anyone decides to purchase them. Furthermore, they don't suggest any penalties which the GM might use to limit the utility of dressing up in platemail all of the time, so the GM is on his own. Oh, and wearing a shield apparently just stops two additional points of damage when you are attacked; no skill or dice roll is necessary to block with it. On the plus side, they do mark one item as being particularly rare, which is a step in the right direction.

There is even a new "Dreamlands" character sheet, to reflect these changes.

After that, there is a bibliography and an attempt to organize some of the stories in chronological order (of events, not when they were written). And, of course, the index, which looks decent. I haven't used it enough to discern if any of the entries are wrong (always a painful thing to encounter).

Now -- the overall quality. Well, there are a number of typographical errors and minor goofs. For example, there is one creature which can drain CON from a victim, but this ability is listed among its attacks as a "POW drain." There's something nasty which can happen to your PC which causes 1d4/1d0 San Loss. But I haven't found any errors that I couldn't easily figure out what should've been there.

The art is of variable quality, but there are no painted color plates this time; it's all strictly black and white except for the cover art and the map. Some of the art is good, but many of the small sketches are actually of very low quality -- it looks as though a decision was made that every creature and god was to get a picture, even if that meant rattling off a sketch in five minutes. I'd have rather seen them leave some of the creatures without pictures and include some more useful text.

Is it worth getting? If you don't already own one of the older Dreamlands supplements, definitely. If you already have one of the older versions, as I do, well . . . it does have some useful new material. If you like Brian Lumley's work, then you should probably snap up a copy as soon as possible. All in all, I'd say that I'm glad to have it, but that I won't be using as much of the new material as I had hoped to.

PS -- I'm now mildly interested in actually reading one of Lumley's books, if only so that I can opinionize about it honestly. I'll admit that when I first purchased the new supplement, I ranted quite a bit to my friends about the new parts that I would never have included.

I will admit that the Lumley entries have potential adventures built right in. If you feel comfortable including things like the "evil ter-men" (termite-men) and their depraved queen, then there is a lot of new material available. A running theme seems to be handsome heroes threatened by the "unspeakable sexual lusts" of alien beings. Well . . . it's different.

As far as Lumley's version of the eidolon Lathi, I can only assume that Lumley was unaware that the word "eidolon" means ghost or spirit.

Oh, and while there is a writeup that "reveals" what certain veiled priests actually look like under their veils, I can't see how the critter described could possibly pass for human, unless the veils were opaque and big enough to double as a tarp. It doesn't even have humanoid arms or fingers, for crying out loud. The locals must suffer from extreme near-sightedness.

Oh, and the entry for the Messenger of Azathoth. Okay, the Myers quote for it describes it as "bubbling and blaspheming." I won't tell you what the entry in the book says, in case your GM wants to use the adventure they suggest, but it certainly doesn't appear to fit that description.

N'tse-Kaambl (a Myers Elder God) now reads like a Deities & Demigods entry. She uses several "magic items" (her armor rating of 25 is apparently provided by her shield and helmet) and has the power to fire blasts which do as much damage as her current POW. Mind you, she has no abilities listed which could lower her POW, nor would I believe that a god's POW could be reduced in the same way as a mortal's.

Also, the attack works like this: she spends 1 MP to fire it. It does damage equal to her POW of 100. Isn't that a bit excessive?

Oh, and while she is described as an Elder God, kin to Nodens, in most places, in at least one spot she is referred to as a Great One living in Kadath.

As a Myers-fanatic, I'd like to point out that the Talisman of N'tse-Kaambl (never actually described in the story "Xiurhn") should probably not have been described as an "amulet" since in the story it is carried about in the fellow's pocket and later held in his hand, not worn around the neck. Or does the word amulet really imply a worn item? My dictionary doesn't really confirm or deny that, but I've always heard it used as a charm hung around the neck.

The stats for the witch-tree: I'm not sure why they decided that the base damage for being hit with a tree branch was a whopping 1d10. I think having the tree do a base 0 or 1d3 would be plenty; they have a very high damage bonus, after all. Bear in mind, when I say that it hits you with a tree branch, I don't mean that it swings a severed branch and hits you with the heavy end; I mean that the tree whacks you with the thin, leafy end of its branch.

Oh, well. Anyway, I'll be sticking to my own Dreamlands material in cases of conflict. My advice to new purchasers is: don't be afraid to dump/change anything that displeases you, or which seems to violate the atmospheric style you are trying to create.


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HERO OF DREAMS, by Brian Lumley. New York: Tor Books, 1993. 240 pp. $4.99. ISBN: 0-812-52419-5.

[Reviewed by Frank "Kiz" Sronce]

Well, I mentioned in my review of the new Dreamlands supplement that I wanted to buy one of Lumley's dreamlands series so that I could give a more honest appraisal.

Anyway, I just finished Hero of Dreams, apparently the first of the series. Here's a couple of notes for people who've been following the Lumley/Dreamlands arguments. Naturally, the later books might be done differently, but I tend to think that they weren't.

1) Lumley's Version of the Mythos

Well, I'd give this summary: The forces of evil are referred to as Cthulhu and his Cycle, making Cthulhu the main force of "evil" on earth. They are referred to by the author as "demon gods." They still have some power to reach into the world(s) of man, but they canít do much because they were magically imprisoned by the Elder Gods long ago.

Ancient races such as the Elder Gods, and another called the "First Ones," use recognizable technology mixed with magic, i.e., they travel from world to world in spaceships, but also use devices like magic wands. Lumley even puts a sentient computer on earth's Dreamlands, left there by the First Ones.

The Elder Gods are also apparently on the level where they can interact with humans on a one-to-one basis, because he makes mention of Titus Crow being given a home on the hidden planet of Elysia, where the Elder Gods live, in reward for his efforts in stopping the last major takeover attempt by Cthulhu and his minions. When the main characters talk to that aforementioned computer, it uses contractions and has the standard set of human emotions -- surprise, anger, fear, etc. They have no trouble dealing with it as an equal.

There is no mention of any Outer Gods in this text, but I get the impression that they should all be considered associates of Cthulhu, and like him, barred from direct action.

2) The Style of the Book

I suppose "swashbuckling adventure" is the best way to refer to it. Our brave warrior heroes face untold odds again and again but emerge with only cuts and scratches thanks to their amazing skill and daring (and a very large amount of luck). Iíd call it Conan-style, but really, most of the Conan stories were much grimmer and grittier than the imitators who came later. The book definitely has "larger than life" heroes.

Iíd say that the author is more concerned with telling a "rousing story of adventure" than in keeping the plot believable. Itís a fanciful adventure story; the characters even make references to the idea that things are just more possible in the dreamlands than they would be in the waking world.

3) Rewriting Lovecraft, Particularly Thalarion

Something I should mention. He does make mention of the word "eidolon," including the fact that the characters arenít sure why the eidolon Lathi was referred to as such. He defines it as an "ideal or image," whereas my dictionary said it was a "ghost or spirit," but Iíve now seen another dictionary which included both definitions.

He explains away the false rumors of Thalarion by saying that it looked like an enormous city, at least from a passing ship. Having dug out my copy of "The White Ship," I would have to state that Lumleyís Thalarion could not match the description given there. If nothing else, the enormous buildings inside of Thalarion are supposed to be visible over its walls and adorned with "rich friezes and alluring sculptures." In Lumleyís Thalarion, there are only a few crumbling towers that give an illusion of great size because of their thinness.

4) Enjoyment

Well, I would like to say that the book isn't tripe. Itís a decently entertaining story, if taken on its own virtues. The heroes emerge victorious (and there was never any doubt of that) and the villains fall. When all seems lost, fortune smiles upon them and a new chance for victory appears.

As an example, early on the pair of heroes are captured by an evil wizard. But lo! When all seems lost and they are doomed to be sacrificed, they are rescued by the evil wizardís beautiful slave-girl, who frees them in return for being rescued herself.

So, itís more of a "two-fisted adventure" book. If you like that, youíll probably like the series. If you find that kind of book annoying and unfulfilling, youíll hate it. There is no real fear or horror. Nice people donít get killed, but all of the bad guys get their just desserts. So if you can read and enjoy an adventure story without stopping to question the odds of two men actually emerging alive and unmaimed after fighting dozens of scythe-armed Ter-Men, thatís fine. Also, you probably shouldnít question exactly how the main characters have heard of "Lathiís hive of horror in Thalarion" when supposedly no one has ever made it back out of the city alive.

5) Mythos References

One thing that always turns me off is a mythos writer who uses too many references. The main characters, even before the book begins, both know about: Thalarion, Ulthar, Celephais, Ilek-Vad, Dyath-Leen, Oriab, most of the monsters in the Dreamlands, Cthulhu & his minions, etc. Itís a small point, really, and itís not overdone to the point where I couldnít believe it, but the characters are surprisingly familiar with these things. I donít know, I just prefer those stories which include little or no "name-dropping," and where the names of the gods are little known instead of widely known.

But donít get me wrong: at least the discussion where they exchange all of this info is justified -- the two waking-world men are comparing notes on the dream-realm that they have both been exploring.

6) Utility for Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying

If you want a high-adventure campaign, then this is probably a useful reference. If you prefer a "low-fantasy" atmosphere where any man who faces a dozen swordsmen will be cut to pieces in short order, regardless of how skilled he happens to be, then you probably wonít want to use it.

In particular, if you donít like the Derleth-ish approach to the gods, then you wonít want to use it at all. In my campaign, which is very Myers-ish, the Great Ones of Kadath are the only gods that a mortal could actually deal with as an equal. The Elder Gods are themselves pan-dimensional to the point that even when they speak to you, or show you something, you are dealing with only a tiny part of their being. But at least they are capable of picking out one human from a crowd and recognizing him as an individual; the Other Gods arenít even capable of that, except for Nyarlathotep.

And you might well choose to throw out the "science" references. Iíd never put a computer in the Dreamlands in my campaign.

One other thing that makes it poor roleplaying material. Too much sex. Not actual, on-camera copulation (there isnít any of that) but the characters are often ruled by their libidos when female villains with naked breasts start showing up. Most players donít roleplay that sort of thing well. They either feel completely uncomfortable with it, or they overdo it.

Itís a sharp contrast to the more victorian attitude you find in Lovecraftís writing. The narrators in his work never flirt, nor dwell on the beauty of some woman encountered. And if Lovecraftís writing is too prudish in this context to be realistic, Iíd say Lumleyís goes too far in the other direction. The heroes quickly forget all of the warnings theyíve heard when they finally see Lathiís handmaidens, and thus are easily captured by them.

7) The End

Anyway, Iím glad I bought it. Lumley does not discard Lovecraftís writing casually, but bear in mind that he has a very "cheery" take on the gods and the nature of the universe. I can certainly see why Lovecraftís original version of Thalarion could never fit into his cosmology -- the original Thalarion was the city which held all of the secrets man has striven in vain to fathom, and any man who actually learned them would be driven mad and quite possibly die from horror.

In Lumleyís version, Mankind is in danger, but isnít doomed, has powerful allies who are there to support him, and is otherwise actually important in the scheme of the cosmos.


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THE DEVIL GROUND, by Ted Pons. North Hollywood, CA: Shroud: Publishers, 1975. 28pp. Volume 3 of The Library Lovecraftian.

[Reviewed by Ian Davey]

A conventional mythos tale of a reporter on the track of a story relating to an FBI raid on a Devil Cult in 1929. The story itself is told in the first person, over a number of days and nights spent in the village of Downsville., where upon a hill, shrouded in mysterious lights, the cultish activities still continue. Unfortunately it doesn't seem to ever go anywhere, and contains fragmentary dream sequences which, though apparently important to the outcome, add nothing to the tale. Apart from the occasional moment of hamminess and plodding pace, it is passable, but the ending is weak with a lacklustre demonic appearance and a ridiculous escape (set up by the earlier dream sequences). It's a story which has been told better many times before. A shock ending would have also been more appropriate and might have added a sense of horror lacking in the tale itself. As it is, the final highlighted sentence is an extreme anti-climax.


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"The Ebon Harp", by James William Hjort. In EBON ROSES, JEWELLED SKULLS, by James William Hjort. Buffalo: Weirdbook Press, 1990.

[Reviewed by Ian Davey]

A mythos-inspired tale, very much akin to the full-blown fantastique of Clark Ashton Smith, in which a man purchases an Ebon Harp once belonging to the sorceror Amoth Von. The Harp holds within its tones the harmonies to open gateways to other dimensions. The narrative at the centre of the tale is a simple one, yet it is well told and the author quickly sets up and sustains an atmosphere of unearthly strangeness; from the opening paragraph it is clear the story is not set in conventional environs. The main character, with his doomed curiousity disguised as gallantry, is a familiar type, as is the close-lipped curio seller, yet the story still works very well. All the various elements come together as a coherent whole, as steps enroute to the inevitable conclusion. The ending may be slightly predictable, but, as always with this kind of tale, it's the journey to it that's most important.


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© 1997 Edward P. Berglund
All reviews: © 1997 by their respective writers. The two reviews by Frank "Kiz" Sronce are reprinted from their postings on the alt.horror.cthulhu newsgroup.
Graphics © 1997 Old Arkham Graphics Design. All rights reserved. Email to: Corey T. Whitworth.

Created: June 27, 1997; Current Update: August 9, 2004