Friday, March 10, 2017

Shadows and Reflections not dead after all?

I'm hearing rumors that Shadows and Reflections, the long delayed Zelazny tribute anthology might be close to print after all this time. If this is true, it's great news. I thought it was dead for sure.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Crossover Combat: Battle of the Genies

There was a stupid joke in an old issue of Dragon magazine that nevertheless made me laugh.

Efreet: Let me get this straight: You want me to RAZE your ability scores?
Naïve Adventurer: Well, yes.

I started playing D&D in the era when the game was still framed as something of a contest between the Dungeon Master and the players. Advice on screwing with your players in such a fashion was not uncommon in those days.

But the smart ones always took precautions

I said once in an early post about Superman that I think “Should you do it?” is a much more interesting question than “Can you do it?” and wishes are an interesting way to explore that question.

Today’s installment of Crossover Combat is The Battle of the Genies.

In this corner, we have Aladdin’s Genie of the Lamp!

Powers: "Phenomenal Cosmic Power!"
Restrictions: “Itty Bitty Living Space!” No wishing for more wishes. No making anyone fall in love. Can’t or won’t bring back the dead.
Weaknesses: Sight gags referencing Arsenio Hall no longer topical.  Compelled to obey the holder of the lamp.
How he would grant the wish of “Make me a ham sandwich”:  For Aladdin, he’d create the biggest, most delicious ham sandwich with all the fixings. For Jafar, he’d make something flavorless and bland, with waxy cheese and stale bread.

Jeannie: Barbera Eden from I Dream of Jeannie.

Powers: Standard genie panoply of wish-granting.
Restrictions: Can't use her powers to get out of an enclosed space, which seems like a weaksauce weakness until you realize that she spent the 2000 years prior to the start of the series stuck in a bottle.
Weaknesses: Kind of stupid. Compelled to obey the holder of the lamp.
How she would grant the wish of “Make me a ham sandwich”: She’s a bit capricious. If she's in a good mood, she'll blink a ham sandwich into existence. If she's in a bad mood, she'll get involved in some sitcom hijinx like joining NASA or putting a bunch of goats in your boss's office.

The Djinn from Wishmaster: I like Wishmaster. The movie is all kinds of B-movie trashy,  it looks like it was made a decade before it actually was, most reviews are a variation of the San Francisco Chronicle's pronouncement of "an extravaganza of bad special effects and worse acting"  and the titular villain constantly mugs for the camera. However, there are parts where it's legitimately very clever and they stuck in as many cameos from horror movie actors as they could. Come on, Tony Todd, Angus Scrimm AND Reggie Bannister? Sure that's worth a few points on Rotten Tomatoes!

Powers: Must reshape reality in accordance with his interpretation of any request he hears.
Restrictions: Must grant the wish as worded even if it's to his detriment. Unable to use his powers without a request from an outside.  (The Djinn: Do you have any idea how frustrating it is to have unlimited power, and only be able to use it when some worm asks you for something? Guard: No, I can't say that I do. I can't say that I give a shit, either.) Can't grant wishes directly relating to himself. ([after Morgana wishes him to go back in the opal] I see you've done your homework. Unfortunately for you, it's not that easy. After all, I am the Wishmaster here. So any wishes pertaining to me are circumscribed by the prophecy.) Oooh, circumscribed! Sounds like somebody spent a wish on a word-a-day calendar.
Weaknesses: The Djinn is the biggest asshole in the world. My friend Frederick maintains that the Djinn is under a compulsion to twist the wording of his wishes, and that would explain a lot.  Like the scorpion in the fable, it’s just his nature. He needs to get the person who freed him to make three wishes (at which point the other Djinn are unleashed upon the world), which shouldn’t be a hard sell. Instead, he twists the first two wishes through some darkly humorous wordplay, making the wisher extremely reluctant to go for a third.
How he would grant the wish of “Make me a ham sandwich”: Do I have to spell this out? It's going to involve some kind of body horror transformation.

Mister Mxyzptlk: Grant Morrison tied Mxyzptlk and other five-dimensional entities to the myth of the djinn, so let’s go with that.

Powers: Unlimited restructuring of reality.
Restrictions: The effects of his magic disappear when he is banished back to the Fifth dimension. The TV version said that he was unable to make Supergirl fall in love with him, stop her from killing herself, or make her drink orange juice. Since these all fall under the umbrella of compelling her to do something, I'll say that he's incapable of such an act.
Weaknesses: Autocorrect. Also, like any character that's been around for several decades, he's been portrayed inconsistently, but he is banished back to the Fifth Dimension if a previously determined condition is met. It's usually tricking him into saying his name backward.
How he would grant the wish of “Make me a ham sandwich”: Unpredictably. Not the baleful polymorph of the Djinn. Maybe dropping a thousand ham sandwiches around the area, maybe putting you in a ham sandwich costume, maybe making the raw ingredients (live pigs, wheat) appear all around you.


Powers: The ability to guess the identity of a character.
Restrictions: Stymied by obscure Star Wars characters.
Weaknesses: Only as good as the data put into it.
How he would grant the wish of “Make me a ham sandwich”: By asking “Does your character wear shoes?” and “Is your character the main character of the work in which he appears?”

So, who wins this frightful battle of the genies?!

It is none other than

King Suleiman! 

If you're playing in a format that allows Suleiman, you're going to find him in some kind of degenerate deck that costs more than my car. And before you can say Black Lotus, Ancestral Recall, Time Walk, Mox Sapphire, Mox Pearl, Wheel of Fortune, he's killed all your genies. 

Friday, February 24, 2017

Doctor Who: Ranking the Incarnations of the Doctor

This is my revised and updated ranking of the various incarnations of the Doctor in Doctor Who. The original list can be found here: Ranking the Doctors the Right Way. Last time I went from best to worst (or from most favorite to least, as there is no pretending that this list is in any way an objective ranking), this time I’ll be reversing it and going from worst to best.

1.)Eleventh (Matt Smith): 
Change in rank: None
I do feel that I've given it an honest chance, but I just don’t like Steven Moffat’s vision for the show, and Matt Smith as the Doctor is a big part of it. That’s not to say that they’re not talented. Quite the opposite, they’re each clearly staggeringly talented and they’ve managed to achieve what they set out to do. It just so happens that they've taken Doctor Who in a direction that doesn’t interest me.

2.) Eighth (Paul McGann):
Change in rank: Down
Where does the Eighth Doctor get his water? From a “Well…actually.” I was only familiar with the TV movie when I wrote the first list. I have now acquainted myself with his much larger body of work…and I don’t like it. Sorry, Eight. It's not you, it’s the company you keep, but it’s more than that. He corrects his companions constantly, making distinctions without difference. I listened to the fourth season Eighth Doctor Adventures because I thought it just might be Charley I disliked and not the Incarnation. I started out really enjoying it because we seemed to be getting a really critical look at the problems I had with the character.When the Monk tells the Doctor that he has one set of rules for his friends, and another set for everybody else, well, he was kind of right. I was cheering for the Monk right up until the very end, but the narrative converged to vindicate the Doctor. It’s a shame because I really do like Paul McGann. He’s talented and tremendously charismatic and everyone says he’s a super nice guy, but I just don’t like the character of the Eighth Doctor. 

3.)First (William Hartnell):
Change in rank: Up
 I was rather unkind and dismissive of the first Doctor in my original post. (It’s just a picture of him with the caption MATLOCK!) He’s never going to rank among my favorites, but a big part of the reason that I’m performing this reassessment now is because I’ve listened to a lot of Big Finish since I wrote the first list. I’m not even talking about the stories, even though they’re just about invariably brilliant, as much as I am the fans. I think what ultimately moved me is the people who wax rhapsodic about stories with Barbara and Ian in the same way I would about stories Ace or Hex or Evelyn. Also, he gets one of the best lines in the original series. “…One day, I shall come back. Yes, I shall come back. Until then, there must be no regrets, no tears, no anxieties. Just go forward in all your beliefs and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine…” 

4.)War Doctor (John Hurt):
Change in Rank: Previously unranked
I don’t think Big Finish is capable of making a bad story. (All true fans politely pretend that Requiem in Hell doesn't exist.) The War Doctor stories feel a lot more like modern Who than anything else they make, and I tend to be less interested in that kind of story. It's not them, it's me.It's similar to my complaint about Matt Smith. They had a vision, they worked to achieve it, but it's just not an interpretation of the Doctor that interests me. 

5.) Tenth (David Tennant):
Change in Rank: Down
This will certainly be controversial. He regularly tops the lists of most popular Doctors. There is no denying Tennant’s charisma and his enthusiasm. However, this is a Doctor who metes out infinite punishment for finite crimes, destroys a woman in a fit of pique because she failed to adhere to his inconsistent moral code and has a disturbing habit of committing genocide when frustrated. I’m reluctant to say that I’m opposed to him
on principle because I feel that overstates my position, but those traits do diminish my appreciation of what is an otherwise a tremendously entertaining Doctor. 

6.) Third (Jon Pertwee):
Change in Rank: Down
He moved down substantially, but my opinion on him hasn't changed, rather he stayed where he was and the other Doctors moved around him. I don’t have a lot to add to what I wrote initially. The Master is a great addition to the show’s mythology, Jo is one of the iconic companions (Sarah Jane even moreso, but I always considered her a Fourth Doctor Companion) and Pertwee’s time on the show was reflective of the era it was made, as one look at Liz Shaw's miniskirts will remind you. I haven’t listened to a lot of Third Doctor Big Finish, and I may yet come around to him, given enough exposure. Right now, though he’s right in the middle of the pack.

7.) Twelve(Peter Capaldi):
Change in Rank: Previously unranked
I liked the first interpretation of Twelve as a vastly alien Doctor. Then he devolved into some kind of aging rock star halfway through a midlife crisis. I think the latter will becoming the prevailing interpretation, which is disappointing because Capaldi is what drew me back to the show. Also, Hell Bent was rubbish. On the other hand, Pearl Mackey looks like she’s going to be a very fun companion. I was listening to the TVCU podcast, and someone observed that Capaldi has been a fan forever, and although Big Finish does not have the license for the Twelfth Doctor now, it’s possible that they will get it in the future, and once they do, his Doctor may come into his own on audio, just as the Sixth did.

8.) Fifth (Peter Davison):
Change in Rank: Down
The best Doctor named Peter! He followed the tremendously popular Fourth Doctor, and anyone would have come up lacking compared to that. The lackluster television stories were not flawed in concept as much as in execution. I think it was the Waters of Amsterdam that convinced me that the Fifth Doctor and Tegan could make an interesting story. He gets some great characterization there, and he’s likewise excellent in Cold Fusion. 

9.) Second (Patrick Troughton):
Change in Rank: Up
I think a lot of my affection for the Second Doctor is because my friend JLA is such a fan, and her boundless enthusiasm for the character bled over to me. But he seems like the Doctor to me in a way the First Doctor didn’t. The First Doctor lacked the whimsy and joie de vie found in later incarnations, but which I think is as fundamental a part of the Doctor as his two hearts or the TARDIS. I was reading a recent review of his tenure (and it’s kind of great that we're still reviewing him fifty years after his debut) and the reviewer described Jamie, Zoe and the Second Doctor as the TARDIS team that would be the most fun to be around. I think I like the Second Doctor because he brought such joy to the role. 

10.) Ninth (Christopher Eccleston):
Change in Rank: Up
 Ah, but he was Fan-tastic, wasn’t he? I
can’t find the link, but I recall that RTD once implied that the Doctor had a century’s worth of solo adventures in the few seconds between when the TARDIS dematerializes and then rematerializes at the end of the first episode. I want more Ninth Doctor, but Eccleston does not appear interested in reprising the role.

11.) Sixth (Colin Baker):
Change in Rank: Up
Ole Sixie!  Fans of Big Finish tend to open with the acknowledgment that the Colin Baker’s run was (insert your own synonym for catastrophic or atrocious) and it’s hard to dispute that. But there was a lot going on outside of his control and no reasonable person could blame him for how badly his tenure went. Once he had a good script and the accompaniment of the best companion of all time, he was off and running and Doctor Who would never be the same. Would he have been as brilliant without Evelyn? I don’t think so. But she was exactly what the Doctor ordered, allowing him to mature into the compassionate friend that Colin Baker has so brilliantly realized.

12.) Four (Tom Baker):
Change in Rank: Down
Tom Baker was my first Doctor and to a lot of
Americans of my age, he is THE Doctor. The definite article, as it were. Tom Bake on audio is exactly the same as he was on the television. And therein lies the problem. He didn't grow like the other Doctors did. In the first (Re)GenerationWho, Bake acknowledged that he would probably not receive a new companion for the audio because a lot of his appeal was tied up with nostalgia. I think the Trouble with Drax is as good or better than anything he ever did on TV. but it's a continuation rather than an evolution of the television version of the Fourth Doctor. He was so good that he didn't have to change, and that's why I believe that he was eventually surpassed by...

13.) Seventh (Sylvester McCoy):
Change in Rank: Up\
The Seventh Doctor took longer to find his groove in the Big Finish stories. In the first fifty titles of the main range, only Colditz and Master are truly inspired. But then with title 54, we get The Harvest. And we get Hex. (“Oh my God!”) And we get a family. They are so great together. (“But you...?! You're one... little... man!” “No, not a man. Not a human being. I am a complex space-time event. I am Lord President of Gallifrey. The Traveller from Beyond Time. I am the Sandman! The Oncoming Storm! I am the Ka Faraq Gatri; Destroyer of Worlds! And sometimes... only sometimes, I. Am. Your. Worst. Nightmare! ...I am the Doctor, and I take care of my friends.”) I think that A Death in the Family may be the best Doctor Who story ever told. It's not just that it's tightly written and brilliantly plotted, it's that it positively overflows with love for the series. If this had been the last Big Finish story ever, I would have considered it a suitable finale.

And that's my list! I don't pretend it's anything other than biased and subjective, but there it is and I welcome feedback.