Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Roger Zelazny Book Review: Lord of the Fantastic



Since I'm running out of books and stories by Zelazny himself, I'm going to look at something a little different today.  Lord of the Fantastic was a tribute to Roger Zelazny, collecting a number of stories and personal reminisces from the people who wrote them. The stories are all "inspired by" Zelazny, and Wikipeidia calls it a festschrift, or an anthology that memorializes someone's art, usually written by colleagues. I liked it more for the remembrances than for the stories, though some of them were pretty good. The thing it reminded me of the most was a wake, where those assembled tell stories about the good times they shared with the departed, and thereby keep him alive in their memories for a little while longer.

I guess I was in the mood to write this review because of the conversation going on over in the post about the Locus Awards. I write this blog in part as a tribute to Roger Zelazny, and Chris said that similar factors went into the creation of The Collected Stories.

The book opens with an introduction by Fred Saberhagen, who unfortunately did not also a contribute a story to the collection.

The first story is "Lethe" by Walter Jon Williams.

I can clearly see the Zelaznian touches in the story. The story opens with a man named Davout, whose body is being broken down by nanorobots and whose mind is being uploaded in preparation for later reconstitution elsewhere. The narration suggests that this is in no way an unusual procedure, but rather just the way things are now.

He awakens on Earth and learns that there was an accident and that all hands were lost, among them his partner Katrin. The story goes on and we learn that Davout and Katrin had sibs, or slightly modified clones of themselves. (We have Fair Katrin, Dark Katrin, Red Katrin, Davout the Conquerer, Old Davout, and Davout the Silent) Sibs would upload their experiences to be shared with their sibs.

I like how the people in this culture supplement their spoken communication with mudras. It's a neat detail and makes this society seem more alien.

I like it. Davout remembers how he met Katrin:

On their first meeting, attending a lecture (Dolphus on "Reinventing the Humboldt Sea") at the College of Mystery, they looked at each other and knew, as if angels had whispered into their ears, that there was now one less mystery in the world, that each served as an answer to another, that each fitted neatly into a hollow that the other had perceived in his or her soul, dropping into place as neatly as a butter-smooth piece in a finely made teak puzzle - or, considering their interests, as easily as a carbolic functional group nested into place on an indole ring.

They started a relationship and formed a partnership, but their interests covered many disciplines, they cloned themselves so each set could collaborate on one area of study. I thought that was a nifty detail.

Davout is talking with one of Dark Katrin's sibs, Red Katrin, about the possibility of getting ownership of the downloads of her mind that Dark Katrin had made. I had two thoughts about this. 1.) The whole thing reminds me of Isle of the Dead and 2.) This exchange,

"Recent court decisions are not in your favor."

"I'm very persistent. And I'm cash-rich."

sounds like something Sandow would have said.

Also, gratuitous green eyes!

she signed, and turned on him a knowing green-eyed look.

It features a lot of what I like about Zelazny's work, the examination of what possible advances in human achievement will do to the human condition.


...I remember experiencing the download of a master sitting zazan once, and it was an experience of a similar cast."

"It may have been the exact same sensation." Sourly, "He may have just copied the zen master's experiences and slotted it into his brain. That's how most of the vampires do it - award themselves the joy they haven't earned.'

"That's a Calvinist point of view..."

Red Katrin observes, "...I can't help but think that surely after a person is a century old, any problems that remains are her fault," which is another line that could come from any number of Zelazny's characters.

Davout is not adjusting well, and he wonders if he should subject himself to the Lethe procedure of the title, something advocated by Silent Davout, which will replace his memories with facts, and remove the emotional connection.


Later, I will go mad, he sometimes thought. It seemed something he choose, as if he were a character in an Elizabethan drama who turns to the audience  to announce that he will be mad now, and then in the next scene is found gnawing bones dug out of the family sepulcher.

I like that bit, because it seems like it's there as an homage to Zelazny, whose degree was in Elizabethan and Jacobean drama.

I like it. It's a nice story and a nice tribute.


"The Story Roger Never Told" by Jack Williamson

In this story, a young Roger Zelazny is mistaken for an agent of an alien race, specifically, agent 850-28-3294, and I have to wonder if that is someone's Social Security number.

This story didn't really work for me, but again, the remembrance was nice.

"The Somehow Not Yet Dead" by Nina Kiriki Hoffman



Isle of the Dead presented a universe in which godlike terraformers reshape worlds to their clients' bidding. In Nina Kiriki Hoffman's tale of ghosts and science, a new player takes a hand in the process.

The intro above implies that this is set in the Isle universe. I don't know that this is the case, while there are certainly similar concepts at work, I didn't notice anything specific tying it to that setting, and Sandow was the only human world-shaper. Still, there is nothing preventing it and this could be set after Isle and Italbar.

It's neat though. The main character is trying to adapt humans to life on a life an alien planet. He tests the adaptations on himself first before propogating them to the rest of the colonists. The last time however, he went too far, and when he tried to eat the alien peaches, they killed him. He was buried three days ago. Then why is up and about, walking and talking? That's the question that drives the story.

It's nice. It's another almost-Zelazny story, and any number of passages would fit in seamlessly with his work


"Hi, Dreen," I said, I stooped, picked up a fallen peach, brushed green-tan dirt off of it, and bit. My mouth filled with an array of flavors and textures - mango, persimmon, peach ice cream, cinnamon applesauce; firm juicy flesh inside an envelope of fuzzy skin. The faint fizzy aftertaste of an intoxicant. "Oh god. You can't believe how good this tastes, Cranston."

I like the resolution to the story, too, that death and incubation in the soil of the world are the final stages in adapting to it.


"Calling Pittsburgh" by Steven Brust

Ah, Stephen Brust. When I make requests for authors like Roger Zelazny, the names that come up most often are Stephen Brust and Neil Gaiman. I like Gaiman, but Brust's work never clicked with me. It's close enough to Zelazny's stuff in some ways that the areas where it's different just make it into something I'm not interesting in reading. And he was apparently a good friend to Zelazny and seems like a decent fellow. I just don't like his stories. (Not that I dislike them especially either, though.)  I suppose he'll have to console himself by reading letters from his millions of fans while sitting in his hot tub full of champagne.

The concept is neat. There is a very high stakes card game going on, with entire cities being wagered. I also liked the note at the end from Brust, where he recounts Zelazny's sage advice that his short stories are simply the last chapters of novels he hasn't written. (This always reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut's fifth rule of writing: Start as close to the end as possible)

That's as far as my notes go, so I'll return with part two in another day or two.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Roger Zelazny Book Review: The Engine at Heartspring's Center

I'm not sure if I want to do another Croyd Crenson post, so while I chew over that, I'll put up this review of The Engine at Heartspring's Center.

The Engine at Heartspring's Center
is one of those stories that keeps slipping away from me. I look at my list of stories I haven't reviewed, and I think "What a great title! Which one is that again?" and then I check it out and say, "Oh. Right. The one with the Bork. Why can I never remember that?"

Probably because I first encountered it in The Last Defender of Camelot Collection, which also features a story called Halfjack, which  also opens on a beach and features a half-human character named Halfjack, which is a much better name than the Bork, and there are some concepts are so similar in how I visualize them that I always mix up the two stories. (Also, "Bork" is close enough to "Borshin" that I also think of the creature of that name from Jack of Shadows.)

I can't think of a single Zelazny book or story where he had a weak opening paragraph, and the first lines of Engine are characteristically great.

Let me tell you of the creature called the Bork. It was born in the heart of a dying sun. It was cast forth upon this day from the river of past/future as a piece of time pollution. It was fashioned of mud and aluminum, plastic and some evolutionary distillate of seawater. It had spun dangling from the umbilical of circumstance till, severed by its will, it had fallen a lifetime or so later, coming to rest on the shoals of a world where things go to die. It was a piece of a man in a place by the sea near a resort grown less fashionable since it had become a euthanasia colony.

Choose any of the above and you may be right.

The story opens on the Bork walking on the beach of the euthanasia planet, poking things with its stick. He runs into a woman fleeing two men and rescues her.

"What is the matter?" he asked, his voice smooth, deep, faintly musical.

"They want to take me," she said,

"...Well?"

"I do not wish to go."

"Oh. You are not ready?"

"No, I am not ready."

"Then it is but a simple matter. A misunderstanding."

He turned toward the two.

"There had been a misunderstanding," he said. "She is not ready."

"This is not your affair, Bork," the man replied. "The Center has made its determination."

"Then it will have to reexamine it. She says that she is not ready."

"Go about your business, Bork."

The man advanced. The machine followed.

The Bork raised his hands, one of flesh, the others of other things.

"No," he said.

"Get out of the way," the man said. "You are interfering."

Slowly, the Bork moved toward them. The lights in the machine began to blink. Its skirts fell. With a sizzling sound it dropped to the sand and lay unmoving. The man halted, drew back a pace.

The thing that I like about that scene is how they address him, "This is not your affair, Bork," "Go about your business, Bork." as if he were an animal or just an unthinking machine.

I think it was a better story back in the day. Most Zelazny stories age quite well and certainly don't seem like they were written at any specific time, but I think this one is an exception to some extent. Even in the era of Raymond Chandler, the double cross by the pretty girl wasn't unknown, but now it seems to be the norm. Modern audiences are more savvy about these kind of things and when reading the story for the first time, I couldn't help but think that the big surprise would be if she were anything but a mole.

It's still an engaging read, and the dialogue crackles with the characteristic Zelaznian flare.

"Charles Eliot Borkman," she called.

That name again.

He halted once more, tracing lattices with his stick, poking out a design in the sand.

Then, "Why did you say that?" he asked.

"It is your name, isn't it?"

"No," he said. "That man died in deep space when a liner was jumped to the wrong coordinates, coming out too near a star gone nova."

"He was a hero. He gave half his body to the burning, preparing an escape boat for the others. And he survived."

"Perhaps a few pieces of him did. No more."

"It was an assassination attempt, wasn't it?"

"Who knows? Yesterday's politics are not worth the paper wasted on its promises, its threats."

"He wasn't Just a politician. He was a statesman, a humanitarian. One of the very few to retire with more people loving him than hating him."

He made a chuckling noise.

"You are most gracious. But if that is the case, then the minority still had the final say. I personally think he was something of a thug. I am pleased, though, to hear that you have switched to the past tense."

"They patched you up so well that you could last forever. Because you deserved the best."

"Perhaps I already have lasted forever. What do you want of me?"

"You came here to die and you changed your mind—"

"Not exactly. I've just never composed it in a fashion acceptable under the terms of Item Seven. To be at peace—"

"And neither have I. But I lack your ability to impress this fact on the Center."

The euthanasia centers make me think of the Ethical Suicide Parlors in Vonnegut's Welcome to the Monkey House. The woman, Nora is eventually moved by the Bork's decency and humanity and her ruse becomes the truth. She had been dispatched to bring him in, but takes her own life instead.

The ending hearkens back to the beginning.

Let me tell you of the creature called the Bork. It was born in the heart of a dying star. It was a piece of a man and pieces of many other things. If the things went wrong, the man-piece shut them down and repaired them. If he went wrong, they shut him down and repaired him. It was so skillfully fashioned that it might have lasted forever. But if part of it should die the other pieces need not cease to function, for it could still contrive to carry on the motions the total creature had once performed. It is a thing in a place by the sea that walks beside the water, poking with its forked, metallic stick at the other things the waves have tossed. The human piece, or a piece of the human piece, is dead.

Choose any of the above.

It's a pretty good story. I think my biggest problem is that The Man Who Loved the Faioli examines similar themes of love and loss in a much more compelling way. It's not a bad story by any means; merely one overshadowed by its older brother.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Roger Zelazny Book Review: Concerto for Siren and Serotonin

There's Been a Lull in my Zelazny book reviews lately, but here's another, at long last.

Concerto for Siren and Serotonin
is the third Croyd Crenson Wild Cards story.  I'll touch briefly on the second one, Ashes to Ashes before looking at Concerto.

On reading the title, I couldn't help but think of Merlin's "Concerto for Cuisinart and Microwave" spell in Knight of Shadows.

Croyd Crenson, the Sleeper (first story here) wound up being one of the more popular characters in the Wild Cards shared world, to the extent that the Wild Cards website features a Croydwatch cataloging his appearances. Someone on a message board I frequent pointed out what should have been obvious. Croyd is popular because he can be plugged into any story, because he can exist in any time frame, and he can have whatever appearance the author prefers and whatever powers the plot requires. Even though there is a reference to Croyd in almost every book in the series, Zelazny himself only wrote four Sleeper stories, The Sleeper, Ashes to Ashes, the multi-part Concerto for Siren and Serotonin and The Long Sleep.

Ashes to Ashes
was pretty terrible. I would be very much surprised if it came into being any other way than Martin asking Zelazny for a Wild Cards story and Zelazny hammering this one out as fast as he could type it. It's got a few clever bits (like Croyd checking his "cash cache" upon rising, or the bit where he inadvertently uses his power to impart hypnotic suggestions through speech alone.)

"Just what the hell is going on here?"

Croyd turned and beheld a uniformed officer who had just crossed to their island.

"Go fuck yourself!" he snarled.

The man began unbuckling his belt.

"Stop! Cancel that," Croyd said. "Buckle up. Forget you saw us and go walk up another street."

It reminded me of the similar bit in Preacher, though it came a full ten years earlier.

I also liked the exchange between Kid Dinosaur and Croyd. KD is a prepubescent Ace with the power to turn into dinosaur of the same mass as his normal form. He's skipping school to follow Croyd around.

 "Hey, how come you're not in school?" Croyd asked.

"School sucks."

"Now, wait a minute. I had to quit school in ninth grade and I never got to go back. I always regretted it."

"Why? You're doing okay."

"There's all that stuff I missed. I wish I hadn't."

"Like what?"

 "Well. .. Algebra. I never learned algebra."

"What the fuck good's algebra?"

"I don't know and I never will, because I didn't learn it. I sometimes look at people on the street and say, `Gee, I'll bet they all know algebra,' and it makes me feel kind of inferior."

The story as a whole is pretty weak, though, and all the swearing seemed gratuitous. I mean, my commentary here is peppered with all sorts of profanity, so it's not like it's something that bothers me, but it does feel out of place in an Roger Zelazny story.

Concerto
is much better. The Croyd with the faceted eyes is the iconic representation of the character.


Hey kids! Stay in school!

It's a funny format. The story is divided into eight chapters woven throughout the book.

I

We open with Croyd waiting for someone who is hiring Aces. He meets a man named Mazzucchelli, who wants Croyd for something more than mere muscle.


"With that understanding, I want to hire you. It's a little more subtle than breaking heads, though. And it isn't any sort of simple burglary either."

"I've done lots of odd things," Croyd said, "and lots of subtle things. Some of them have even been legal."

I like that Mazzucchelli takes Croyd's special circumstances into account:

"When you go to sleep you turn into a different person, right?"

"Yeah."

"Well, if that happens before the job is done, that new guy's still got a contract with me."

"So long as he gets paid."

"We understand each other."

He flirts with Water Lily, his waitress and comes across as kind of a dick.


II

The chapter opens with Croyd following James Spector, aka Demise, an Ace who can kill people by making eye contact with them.

"Yo, Demise!" the man called. "I need to talk to you!" Demise stared, trying to place him. But there was nothing familiar about the man, not even his voice.

The man came up and stood before him, smiling. "I just need a minute or two of your time," he said. "It's important. I'm in a big hurry and I'm trying for a certain measure of subtlety. It isn't easy."

"Do I know you?" Demise asked him.

"We've met. In other lives, so to speak. My lives, that is. Also, I believe you might once have done some accounting for my brother-in-law's company, over in Jersey. Croyd's the name. "

"What do you want?"

"I need the name of the head of the new mob that's trying to take over operations from the kindly
old Mafia, which has run this town for half a century or so."

"You're kidding," Demise said, taking a final drag on his cigarette, dropping it and moving his toe to grind it.

Croyd is kind of a brutal moron, but I think that's a feature, not a bug, because I think that's how fourteen year-old boy with a drug addiction and super powers would go about solving his problems. He strong arms Demise, who gives him the little information that he has after some rough persuasion by Croyd.

III


Croyd enters the Jokertown Clinic asking to be put to sleep. Finn, the centuar doctor assists him

"I don't know how much of this is in the file," Croyd told him, "but I've a terrible fear of going to sleep-"

"Yes, there is something about your paranoia. Perhaps some counseling-"

Croyd punched a hole in the wall.

"It's not paranoia," he said, "not if the danger is real. I could die during my next hibernation. I could wake up as the most disgusting joker you can imagine, with a normal sleepcycle. Then I'd be stuck that way. It's only paranoia if the fear is groundless, isn't it?"

"Well," Dr. Finn said, " I suppose we could call it that if the fear is a really big thing, even if it is justified. I don't know. I'm not a psychiatrist. But I also saw in the file that you tend to take amphetamines to keep from falling asleep for as long as you can. You must know that that's going to add a big chemical boost to whatever paranoia is already present."

Croyd was running his finger around the inside of the hole he had punched in the wall, rubbing away loose pieces of plaster.


Dr. Finn helps him get to sleep and that ends the chapter.

IV

Croyd wakes a super strong albino.

Artist's depiction

He follows up on his clues and arrives at Club Dead Nicholas. I couldn't help but think that this is how investigations usually go in role-playing games and Mike Hammer novels, a little bit of investigation, but mostly smashing heads until somebody gives you the name of the next man in the organization.

Zelazny's observations enrich the story: Croyd rode the elevator to Aces High, regretting the absence of a power of flight on such a perfect spring evening.

He hooks up with a woman named Veronica and then goes on to investigate Danny Mao in much the same fashion he conducted the earlier investigation. Specifically, he beats people up until they tell him what he wants to know. At one point he rips the nose off of some guy there and ends the chapter telling him to "keep your nose clean."

Croyd's kind of a jerk

V

Croyd continues his investigation, such as it is, arranging an appointment with the next name on the list, St. John Latham.

"Who is the head of this new family? That's all I want to know."

"Why?"

"Perhaps someone wishes to arrange a meeting with that person."

"Interesting," Latham said. "You wish to retain me to arrange such a meeting."

"No, I only want to know who the person in charge is."

"Quid-pro-quo," Latham observed. "What are you offering for this?"

"I am prepared to save you," Croyd said, "some very large bills from orthopedic surgeons and physiotherapists. You lawyers know all about such matters, don't you?"

Latham smiled a totally artificial smile. "Kill me and you're a dead man, hurt me and you're a dead man, threaten me and you're a dead man. Your little trick with the stone means nothing. There are aces with fancier powers than that on call. Now, was that a threat you just made?"

Croyd smiled back. " I will die before too long, Mr. Latham, to be born again in a completely different form. I am not going to kill you. But supposing I were to cause you to talk, to stop the pain, and supposing that later your friends were to put out a contract on the man you see before you. It wouldn't matter. He would no longer exist. I am a series of biological ephemera."

"You are the Sleeper."

"Yes."

"I see. And if I give you this information, what do you think will happen to me?"

"Nothing. Who's to know?"

Latham sighed. "You place me in an extremely awkward position."

"That was my intention,-Croyd glanced at his watch, "and I'm on a tight schedule. I should have begun beating the shit out of you about a minute and a half ago, but I'm trying to be a nice guy about this. What should we do, counselor?"

Latham gives him the name, and Croyd calls Veronica to tell her that he thinks he's almost done, and they can take some time off together, but she's really sick.

While Croyd is walking home there, he is attacked by a guy with some knives, this coming almost simultaneous with a drive by. Croyd overpowers the attacker and and makes lemonade out of his lemons.

Croyd moved forward and stuffed the man he held into the car. He did not fit through the window easily, but Croyd pushed hard and he went in nevertheless, losing only a few pieces along the way. His final screams were mixed with the roar of the engine as the car jumped forward and raced off.

He goes to collect his payment, and gives them the name he was hired to find. I like how the chapter ends.


The expected question followed: Where could she be found?

"This I do not know," Croyd replied. "Chris asked me for a name, not for an address. You want to hire me to get that for you, too, I suppose I could do it, though it would be cheaper to use your own talent."

This drew some surly responses, and Croyd shrugged, said goodnight, and walked out, stepping up his pace to the blur level as the muscle near the door looked about, as if for orders.

It was not until a couple of blocks later that a pair of such street troops caught up and attempted to brace him for a refund. He tore out a sewer grating, stuffed their bodies down through the opening and replaced it, for his final bit of subtlety before closing the books on this one.

VI

He heads back to his apartment, where there is no Veronica, but there is a Bengal tiger, which Croyd smacks with a table, whereupon it turns into an origami tiger.

Then after this, he sees his name in Lights in Times Square, with a message to call Dr. Tachyon. Croyd kind of meanders through town, being attacked by men wearing the face of Senator Hartmann, Croyd questions one of them and when he is not satisfied with the answers, he responds thusly: 

"This is a political statement," Croyd said as he raised the gory Hartmann and tossed him after the others. "See you in November, motherfuckers!"

which made me chuckle.

Croyd sees a number of people in surgical masks and one of them tells him about a new outbreak of the Wild Card virus.  He runs into the joker called Snotman (*sigh*) and tells him his story.


VII

This chapter begins where the previous one ended. Snotman falls ill and eventually passes out, so Croyd finds a place for him to sleep it off. Snotman begins changing as he sleeps, and Croyd realizes that the joker has somehow become reinfected with the Wild Card virus.

Croyd grows more paranoid, a condition that is not helped by the arrival of authorities outside his refuge.


VIII

Croyd flees, barely coherent.


He hurled chunks of concrete, broke streetlights, and dashed from alley to doorway. He crouched within parked cars. He watched the choppers go by, listening to the steady phut-phut of their blades. Every now and then he heard parts of appeals over some loudspeaker or other. They were talking to him, lying to him, asking him to turn himself in. He chuckled. That would be the day.

He breaks into a Wild Card museum, tearing open the armored vehicle previously used by the superhero the Turtle and falling asleep within.

The story doesn't work that well as a stand alone work, but it wasn't written as one. As a Wild Cards story and a framing mechanism, I think it's pretty decent. It's by no means great, but it's decent pulpy fun.

Take me out to the Ball Game

We took Lily out to the ball game on Friday night, along with her favorite little cousin. Lily spent the day with Aunt Lori and when we called ahead to say we were on our way, we were informed that they were so excited that they were waiting out for us on the front porch.

We made it to the stadium. It was for the Iron Pigs, the local minor league team. I had gone to a couple minor league games in Florida, but those were in tiny stadiums with bleachers. This was an honest-to-god ballpark with outrageous food prices and all.



Lily didn't really enjoy the game. She didn't have a nap earlier that day, and her bad mood was only exacerbated by the fact that she was too small to ride on the big inflatable slide when we got to the playground. She started crying these big blubbery tears and I felt terrible for her.

Her mood improved a little and we ran into my friend Frederick and Jen's friend Karen. Another of my friends was going to go up to the game, but she got sick and had to cancel and Eric had been up there the previous night. It seems like everyone I know found their way up there last week.

Lily conked out in the 7th inning, our team was losing and we looking at the sold out crowd thinking about how traffic was going to be, so we took off early. As we were putting her into the seat, she woke up briefly and asked about the fireworks, which were going to be held after the game. We told her that they were put off until July 4th weekend, and she seemed to accept that as she settled down to full sleepiness. 



Lily's cousin was sleeping over with us, so when we got home, we put Lily to bed, and Chris and I played some video games. I downloaded Little Big Planet as part of Sony's "Sorry for giving away all your personal information" campaign, and it is really a super fun game. Lily enjoyed designing the little sack girl and making her smile, and Chris and I had a wild time running through each level.



When the time came to take them home, what's usually a fifteen minute trip took almost an hour and a half, because of an accident that closed a big chunk of the highway. Both kids were really good though, even though they were bored and miserable.

Lily woke up in a good mood on Sunday morning (!) and decided that she wanted to clean her room (!!). She did that for a while, then she took off for church with Jen and then we all hung around the house for a bit until it was time to go to another cousin's birthday party. She had invited us to her surprise party last weekend, and strangely, didn't seem too surprised when she saw us!

The party was nice enough. There was one little girl there who was acting like a little monster, though. Lily has two cousins from this branch of the family, the one who was turning five, and one who is not quite three. I always try to keep an eye on the smaller kids at these kind of things. The little monster girl's balloon popped, so she just took one from the two-year-old, who was playing contentedly with her own balloon. I didn't want to discipline someone else's kid (and I didn't know to which adult she belonged), so I just grabbed an extra balloon and gave it to Lily's cousin. I did resolve to keep a close watch on this kid however.

That paid off when she started going through the bags of personal stuff we had on the blanket we were using. Lily was closer and she said to the little kid "That's my toy. Do you want me to show you how to use it?". The kid didn't respond to her, but kind of tried to hide the toy behind her back. I came over then and Lily said to me, "That little girl has my toy." The girl saw that she had attracted some grown up attention and wisely decided to drop Lily's toy back on the blanket. That was the end of it, but it really pisses me off when young kids try to bully even younger kids.

Lily realized that Baby Bear was missing, but Jen called around and somebody had turned her in at the store where we lost her, so all was well in the end.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Legion of Super Heroes: Timber Wolf

I think this is one of the weaker episodes. (though "Lightning Storm" might beat it out. We'll see how it holds up when I review it)

This is the episode where Timber Wolf joins. He's familiar to long time Legion readers. Non-long time Legion readers may recognize him from his appearance in the opening credits.


Hold that pose, Brin.
I was never a huge fan of Timber Wolf. He's okay, I guess. As I observed in the Chain of Command review,   Timber Wolf predates Wolverine and has pretty much has the same power set of being feral and pretty strong and pretty tough, which isn't a bad package at all, unless Superman happens to be on your team.

We open with Superman and Lightning Lad trying to take care of some hideous space monster. They get a distress call from a Dr. Londo, who heads an isolated research facility, so Superman stops dicking around with the space monster and ties it in knots.

Brainiac 5 and Bouncing Boy maintain some low level bickering throughout the entire episode. Saturn Girl looks like she's going to have an aneurysm if she has to put up with the boys on this team for much longer.



They get to their destination, and  Dr. Londo is acting suspicious as fuck. He asks the Legion to find his son, Brin, and I've been reading LSH so long that Brin Londo actually sounds like a perfectly normal name.

Brainy and Bouncy stay behind to continue their feud and Superman, Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad go looking for the werewolf that's been attacking the robots. (Yes, the werewolf that's been attacking the robots. Only on the Legion of Superheroes, folks! )

The group gets separated, robots attack, and Saturn Girl uses some kind of TK blast that leaves her unconscious. The werewolf fights off the robots and leaves with Saturn Girl. The Legion Abstract notes in their review that presumably the robots belong to Doctor Londo and it's kind of like the stupidest thing ever to send them after the Legion if they're still there to help.

But anyway, Braniac 5 is fixing the ship when Bouncing Boy goes off for a walk to get away from him. He chastises Bouncing, reminding him, that "Doctor Londo asked us to confine ourselves to the hanger. He insisted!" Twelfth level intelligence, my ass.

Saturn Girl does some bonding with the werewolf and discovers that he's a nice enough guy, but then boys burst in and subdue him. She's knocked out in the struggle and goes into a healing trance, of which Lightning Lad observes, "Watch what you say, though. Sometimes, she can hear you. I found that out the hard way."

Hey, that healing trance is a pretty cool power! I think the only thing that could ruin it for me would be if the writers used it as an excuse to sideline her for nine episodes in season two!

...

Moving on...

Once they're outside the hanger, Bouncy and Brainy are attacked by a shitload of robots. Brainiac's disabling of the robots was pretty cool (it made it into the opening credits).



They head outside and Bouncing Boy wants to contact them through his flight ring, but Brainy tells him not to, because Londo will be monitoring the communication bands. This leads directly into an amusing exchange.

Brainiac 5: Perhaps if I think hard enough, Saturn Girl will notice my brainwaves.

Bouncing Boy
: Or I can just do this! (run out, waving his hands) Hey,  Guys down here! (To Brainy)  Looks like they caught it.



Bouncy remarks on the wound Lightning Lad took from the wolfman. "Nice scratch, hope you don't turn into one of those."  I'm going to pretend it's foreshadowing his love of horror movies for the Fear Factory episode.

Saturn Girl comes around and asks to me set down, and Lightning Lad tells her that she could be a little more grateful. She retorts, "It wasn't going to hurt me. If you hadn't charged it, fist a-zappin', I would have told you that."


Fists A-Zappin'!

(I love Lightning Lad's expression)
She calms the werewolf, which assumes the less feral, but still furry form of Timber Wolf, and then Doctor Londo shows up to take custody, flanked by a bunch of his shitty robots that everybody in the Legion was demolishing with contemptuous ease all episode long. The fight goes about like you'd expect, though there is an amusing moment when he releases a bunch of mutant dogs that pile on top of Superman. He snarks about "dogpiling" and then lifts the lot of them and tosses them away.

Friends again!

They win the fight and the episode ends with Timber Wolf being sworn in as a Legion member. A bunch of Legionnaires watch the ritual via monitor.  Among them is Shrinking Violet. I really like the character design for her. This is just a non-speaking cameo, but she gets a bigger role (as it were) in the season finale.



Overall? It's an okay episode of a great series. Not bad, but it pales in comparison to the better episodes.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Legion of Super Heroes: Man of Tomorrow

I love the intro to this show

I think I'll cover the rest of the Legion episodes in order. The series opens with the Legion getting curb stomped by the Fatal Five. Lightning Lad laments "Where's Superman when you need him?" and then it cuts to Clark Kent in a bathroom in Smallville. He's practicing his heat vision on a newspaper.

He has a heart to heart with his mom about his upcoming departure to Metropolis, and then heads to the local carnival. I noticed in the credits that the same guy (David Lodge) did the voices for both Carnival Barker and Tharok. I think that's awesome.

Brainiac 5, Saturn Girl and Bouncing Boy show up in Smallville and I like the screenshot I used in an earlier review so much that I'm going to reuse it here.



If you'll excuse the digression, I'm going to steal a theory from the excellent Legion Abstract site, which posits that Brainiac 5 didn't make a mistake when they went to the point in Superman's life when he was a teenager, but that it was a deliberate choice on his part. I'm inclined to agree with that. Whether it was to train Clark to be a hero or just because Brainy wanted someone to be his friend, and he couldn't get that with the Superman who already knew the original Brainiac is up to debate, but I think there is enough evidence to support the "not a mistake" school of though. As Brainy himself says, "I have a twelfth level intelligence, Bouncing Boy. I don't make mistakes."

When at the carnival, the Legionnaires take in the local flavor and Superman considers but rejects the idea of using his powers to show off.

Food on a stick, indeed! You're too good for Triplicate Girl!
 He does have to use them when the Ferris wheel starts collapsing. The Legionnaires assist him and then Saturn Girl wipes everybody's memory.

Brainy shows off his flight ring

Superman runs off, but the Legionaiires beat him home and persuade him to come to the future with them. He yells to his mom that he's going to the future and she yells back, "Take a sweater!", which was predictable, but obligatory.

Back to the future, everybody's excited about meeting Superman except for Lightning Lad. I like his portrayal here. He's a bit of a jerk, and maybe more cynical than the rest, but he's still a hero.

"Excuse me, Lightning Lad. Just passing through!"



We get a little bit of training and we see how much Superman can lift, which is helpful if I ever get around to statting out the Legion for DC Adventures. I already did Alexis and Wodehouse from the Legacy episode. Maybe I'll post the sheet here, because you know, blogging about an obscure and defunct kid's show isn't niche enough.

They get the alert that the Fatal Five are attacking the city, so they go to stop them. I really like Jennifer Hale's voice work as the Emerald Empress, and lauding the performance of the probably the most respected voice actress isn't really going out on a limb, I think she really deserves all the kudos she gets. The animation and character are really suited to her voice. Tara Strong takes over the duties for the second season, and she also does a respectable job, but I think the writing was a little sharper for the character in season one.


Superman runs off and the Legion puts up a decent fight for a while. Jesus, the Persuader is a a jobber. The same thing happens every time he runs into Phantom Girl. She phases through him, grabs his ponytail and uses it to pull him to the ground. Unless his hair gives him super-strength, he should really look into shaving it.



The tide starts turning against the Legion and the Emerald Empress is picking them off one by one. Lightning Lad is holding off Valdius, but he's keeping aware of the tactical situation too. When he sees the Eye positioning for a shot, he disengages. Tharok gets him as he's flying away, but he was outnumbered five to one at that point, and he made them work for it. I think that's why I like him in the cartoon. Even when Validus has him in those giant mitts of his and the Emerald Eye is blasting him full in the face, he's still fighting till the end.


So the Empress takes out the rest of the Legion, and just blasts Saturn Girl, who's too strong to brainwash, and then Superman comes in to save the day. He puts up enough of a fight against the Fatal Five that the rest of the Legion can get back into the game.



Very cool visual


Resisting Tharok

I'm usually pretty harsh on Triplicate Girl, because, let's face it, she sucks. But I do really like her fight against the Persuader.  It's very nicely imaged and extremely well animated.



Then she goes on to accomplish precisely dick for the rest of the series, except for one of her bodies dying in the season two opener. It's a shame it didn't get killed by Brainiac's creation Computo as had happened in the comics, because that would be another reason to love Brainiac 5.

The Fatal Five are routed, but they teleport away. The episode closes with Superman putting on his flight ring and joining the Legion in the sky. All things considered, a great intro to a great series.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Locus Awards

The Locus awards are this weekend, and the finalists in the collection category are:

Though I dearly love Peter Beagle (and Fritz Leiber for that matter), I'm of course pulling for Chris Kovacs and the rest of the team who put the Collected Stories together. Fingers crossed for them this weekend!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Site Update: Follow by Email

I added a little widget to the site so that people can get blog posts by email. I tried it with my alternate email address and I'm not entirely thrilled; the post arrived almost a full day after it went up. Still, if you're interested, the option is there.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Roger Zelazny Book Review: The Sleeper

It's funny that I never got around to commenting on Roger Zelazny's Wild Card stories. I like Roger Zelazny (obviously).  I like super heroes (also obviously). I'm even kindly disposed towards shared world books.

I think part of the problem is that the series occasionally reads like an account of somebody's RPG campaign, perhaps because that's how it got its genesis. Years working in a comic book store have given me an almost visceral revulsion to the words, "Let me tell you about my campaign..."

If you're not familiar with the Wild Cards series, it's a shared world created by George R.R. "Song of Ice and Fire" Martin, originally based on his Superworld RPG campaign, though it grew beyond that. A number of writers contributed characters and stories and subsequent volumes built on the earlier ones. The gist is that in 1946, an alien virus was unleashed that killed 90% of those exposed, transformed 90% of those who survived the initial exposure into hideously mutated Jokers, and made the rest into super-powered Aces.

Zelazny's contribution was Croyd Crenson, the Sleeper. All the best Superheroes have alliterative secret identities. Just ask Clark Kent, Bruce Banner or Peter Parker.

I used to watch Smallville and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and in each show, the main character would occasionally whine about his or her lot in life and I would think, "Oh, poor healthy attractive teen with super powers." Croyd has a legitimate grievance. His case is unique and described as something like malaria, in that it periodically re-infects him every time he goes to sleep, (a sleep that can sometimes last for months), and upon awakening, he has new powers and a new appearance.

To digress for a moment, I feel that authors are public figures, but they're entitled to privacy just like anyone else. So I try to keep a respectful distance with these reviews. I don't like to speculate about personal details in an author's life that might have influenced the writing, unless they're a matter of public record (like Zelazny writing Divine Madness and Comes Now the Power during his self-described darkest day, a fact which I think is essential to understanding the stories.)

So I try to refrain from long distance psychoanalysis. However, as soon as I started rereading Sleeper for this review, I immediately thought back to Carl Yoke's fond reminisces of his childhood with Roger Zelazny in the Collected Stories. Croyd begins the story as a fourteen-year-old ninth-grader in 1946, and Zelazny would have been eleven nine years old that year. I can't help but imagine that descriptions of Croyd's class is informed by Zelazny's own. I think that because Zelazny did grow up in that postwar period, he brings an unusual verisimilitude to his depictions of classroom life in that era. When the air raid sirens go off, one character says to the other:


"Do you think the war started again?" Charlotte asked.

"I don't know," Leo said.

I don't think that's an exchange that would have occurred to an author who grew up at another time. I like the kids he wrote in A Dark Traveling and I like the kids he writes here.

Entries about Croyd usually begin with the opening line from the story, which I like for a number of reasons. One, it sets up the premise very quickly. Two, it seems so characteristically Zelaznian that I think that I would have been able to identify the author from that brief excerpt alone.

He was fourteen years old when sleep became his enemy, a dark and terrible thing he learned to fear as others feared death. It was not, however, a matter of neurosis in any of its more mysterious forms. A neurosis generally possesses irrational elements, while his fear proceeded from a specific cause and followed a course as logical as a geometrical theorem.

This is why I love his work. He couldn't resist putting his twist on the Wild Card concept, and it resulted in one of the most enduring characters in that series.

I like how he conveys the weirdness of the initial outbreak:

Croyd saw a man perform a series of dancelike movements, tearing at his clothing. Then he began to change shape. Someone back up the road started howling. There came sounds of breaking glass...Far up the street, a man raced from a doorway screaming. He seemed to grow larger and his movements more erratic as he moved to the center of the street. Then he exploded....He halted again beneath a tree. There came a moaning from overhead.When he looked up he realized that it was not a tree. It was tall and brown, rooted and spindly, but there was an enormously elongated human face near its top and it was from there that the moaning came...He had long yawning spells now, and the remade world had lost its ability to surprise him. So what if a man flew through the skies unaided? Or if a human-faced puddle lay in the gutter to his right?

Croyd gets home, passes out, wakes up and eats a lot. This bit reminds me of Corwin. Perhaps "hungry hero" should be an entry in my Roger Zelazny drinking game:


There was a half-loaf of bread in the breadbox and he tore it apart, stuffing great chunks into his mouth, barely chewing before he swallowed. He bit his finger at one point, which slowed him only slightly. He found a piece of meat and a wedge of cheese in the refrigerator and he ate them. He also drank a quart of milk. There were two apples on the countertop and he ate them as he searched the cupboards. A box of crackers. He munched them as he continued his search. Six cookies. He gulped them. A half-jar of peanut butter. He ate it with a spoon.

Back when I was still in high school, I took a job working the graveyard shift. I was having trouble staying awake, so for my second night, I bought some extra strength No Doz, took double the recommended dosage at half the recommended intervals and washed it down with black coffee and Jolt Cola. I stayed awake for my shift...and the next thirty hours after it. To this day, I can't ever remember feeling that sick. Reading the account of Croyd employing increasingly desperate efforts to prolong his waking moments brought that all back.

It was quite sudden that he found himself weak and shaking. He realized what it was and he took another pill and set a pot of coffee to percolating. The minutes passed. It was hard to remain seated, to be comfortable in any position. He did not like the tingling in his hands. He washed them several times, but it would not go away. Finally, he took another pill. He watched the clock and listened to the sounds of the coffeepot. Just as the coffee became ready the tingling and the shaking began to subside. He felt much better. While he was drinking his coffee he thought again of the two men in the doorway. Had they been laughing at him? He felt a quick rush of anger, though he had not really seen their faces, known their expressions. Watching him! If they'd had more time they might have thrown a rock....

It's a pretty lightweight story, but it has everything I like about Zelazny's work. He quickly establishes the premise, then works on variations. I love how he thinks things through and thinks about probable consequences and then writes about them:

At about four in the morning he stopped in an all-night diner off Times Square, where he ate slowly and steadily and read a copy of Time magazine which someone had left in a booth. Its medical section contained an article on suicide among jokers, which depressed him considerably.

Little details like that really enrich it.

Croyd wakes up and goes to sleep several times over the course of the story, changing powers and appearance each time. His final awakening in this story comes shortly before his sister's wedding. Unfortunately, it's also somewhat premature, and his body is not yet finished with its transformation. The last third of the story deals with Croyd's attempt to stay awake long enough to see the wedding.

The inhuman and still-mutating Croyd enters the church, drawing strange looks from those assembled.

Through perspiration-beaded lashes he saw the priest enter. He wondered why the man was staring at him so. It was as if he did not approve of non-Episcopalians sweating in his church.

Heh.


The ending is bittersweet. There are a few more Croyd stories after this one, and I can't tell if Zelazny intended this one as the first in a series, or a standalone piece. I think it works either way.

By dint of sheer will he was able to hold himself steady through Mendelssohn's "March." He was unable to focus on what the priest was saying after that, but he was now certain that he was not going to be able to remain seated through the entire ceremony. He wondered what would happen if he left right then. Would Claudia be embarrassed? On the other hand, if he stayed, he was certain that she would be. He must look ill enough to justify it. Still, would it become one of those incidents that people would talk about for years afterward? ("Her brother walked out...") Perhaps he could stay a little longer.


There was movement on his back. He felt his coat stirring. He heard female gasps from behind him. Now he was afraid to move, but the itching became overpowering. He unclasped his hands to scratch, but in a final act of resistance he seized hold of the back of the pew before him. To his horror, there came a loud cracking noise as the wood splintered within his grip. There followed a long moment of silence.


The priest was staring at him. Claudia and Sam had both turned to stare at him, where he sat clutching a six-foot length of broken pew-back and knowing that he couldn't even smile or his fangs would show.


He dropped the wood and clasped himself with both arms. There were exclamations from behind as his coat slipped away. With his full strength he dug his fingers into his sides and scratched cross-body.

He heard his clothes tear and felt his skin rip all the way up to the top of his head. He saw the hairpiece fall away to his right. He threw down the clothing and the skin and scratched again, hard. He heard a scream from the rear and he knew that he would never forget the look on Claudia's face as she began to cry. But he could no longer stop. Not until his great batlike wings were unfurled, the high, pointed vanes of his ears freed, and the last remnants of clothing and flesh removed from his dark, scaled frame.

The priest began speaking again, something that sounded like an exorcism. There came shrieks and the sounds of rapid footfalls. He knew that he couldn't exit through the door where everyone else was headed, so he leapt into the air, circled several times to get a feeling of his new limbs, then covered his eyes with his left forearm and crashed out through the stained glass window to his right.

As he beat his way back toward Manhattan he felt that it would be a long time before he saw the in-laws again. He hoped that Carl wouldn't be getting married for a while. He wondered then whether he'd ever meet the right girl himself. . .

Catching an updraft he soared, the breezes sobbing about him. The church looked like a disturbed anthill when he glanced back. He flew on.

I think this is the best of the Croyd stories, before the Wild Card books became bogged down in an increasingly snarled continuity, but I might review the others, as I'm kind of on a superhero kick lately.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Movie Review: X-Men: First Class



We got to the theater a little bit early, so we saw a lot of TNT previews and what felt like 45 minutes of Tom Hanks plugging Larry Crowne. About halfway through, I started wondering if my insurance covered trepanning.

We had stopped at Wal-Mart and smuggled some candy into the theater. Jen brought Junior Mints, in homage to Jimmy Buffet and I brought Bottle Caps. When the advertisement told us "Refreshments are in the lobby," Jen yelled out "Or in my purse!"

Coming Attractions:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Boy, that trailer makes it look like a top notch music video.

The Change-Up - In the tradition of 80s Body Swap movies!

Rise of the Planet of the Apes - This looks, surprisingly, not terrible. Also, I've liked Professor James Franco ever since his Freaks & Geeks days.

Okay, the movie. It opens with a young Magneto in a concentration camp, just like in the first movie. Then we cut to a scene of Charles and Mystique meeting as kids, and the actors they got for the roles were just adorable. 

Then it's back to the concentration camp. The evil Dr. Schmidt had seen what the boy did with the metal gates when he was taken away from his parents, so he tries to get him to reproduce it with a metal coin. The boy is unsuccessful and so, in a later trial, Schmidt has the boy's mother brought in, and tells him that he is going to count to three, and if the coin hasn't moved, then he'll shoot the mother. Schmidt slowly counts to three in German, and then fires, killing her and causing young Magneto's powers to tear up the office and kill the soldiers present by crushing their metal helmets. (He screams "NEEEIIIIINNNN!!" showing, I suppose, that it's okay to make your characters yell "NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!" as long as they do it in German.)  Far from being upset at the death of his men, Schmidt is delighted, declaring "Wunderbar!"

Fast forward a couple years to 1962 and Magneto is now a grown man with full control of his powers. I've always liked Magneto. If you'll forgive the digression, when asked about themes in his work, Roger Zelazny mentioned a number of things, including,  "a hate so big it would burn the innocent to reach the guilty", and that's what comes to mind when I think of Magneto.

I was looking for my favorite Magneto moments and I found them in the first issue of the 1991 X-Men series. At this point, he's absented himself from Earth entirely, returning only when a group of mutant refugees find their way to his doorstep.


I would love this as a wraparound design on a t-shirt.

Later on, he heads on down to the Earth to raise a Russian sub. Previously, the sub had launched a missile at him. Magneto deflected it, then sank the submarine as object lesson. He's raising it now to salvage the nukes for his own use. I really love how these panels are put together here.

Click for larger image

They fight and the battle continues below deck, where Magneto stumbles on the remains of the crew. This is another sequence that I really love.

Click for larger image

My favorite part of X-Men 2 is when Wolverine and the kids who managed to escape from the school are at Bobby Drake's house and Bobby's little brother calls the police on them and they surround the house. Pyro is there, and he's this cocky little kid, but he only has that attitude because he's so scared. And then there is a point where he lashes out at these people, ("You know all those dangerous mutants you hear about on the news? I'm the worst one.") and I think there is something about that with Magneto. He does the wrong thing for the right reason.

And it's hard to pigeonhole him, because the character has been in circulation for almost fifty years (he was introduced in 1963) and written by dozens of different authors in the time. So anyone with any opinion at all about Magneto can find textual support for it somewhere. His creator, Stan Lee, said of him in a 2008 interview,  that he didn't think of Magneto as "a bad guy". "He just wanted to strike back at the people who were so bigoted and racist... he was trying to defend the mutants, and because society was not treating them fairly he was going to teach society a lesson. He was a danger of course... but I never thought of him as a villain."

Anyway, back to the movie. I would watch an entire movie of Magneto - Nazi Hunter. The scene at the villa in Argentina was extraordinarily well done.

The villain of the piece is Sebastian Shaw.



After the Emperor blasts him with his Force Lightning, the life support on his suit fails and he says goodbye to his son, Luke Skywalker. (Oops, not that Sebastian Shaw!) 



I like Sebastian Shaw. I like Kevin Bacon. It's hard to reconcile the two, but I like the character Bacon plays in the movie, even if I have a hard time seeing that character as Sebastian Shaw.

Eventually Xavier and Magneto team up, and join with the CIA. We get a bit of sublime continuity porn with a reference to Agent Stryker's son, William, who was the villain in X-2.



Nicholas Hoult as Hank is McCoy endearingly awkward. There's a scene where he's having a little picnic with Mystique, complete with those 60s era glass Coke bottles (which was really an inspired stroke and kudos to whichever person in the prop department took care of it). I'm not sure where it's supposed to be. There are these big fan blades, so maybe it's some kind of jet propulsion lab where they tested the Blackbird. I dunno. It's some out of the way place. They're having this conversation, and then Magneto comes strolling past in his black turtleneck to drop a cryptic observation. It was like a Calvin Klein commercial.

I really liked the recruiting montage. (I also liked the quick exchange where McCoy says something about getting better reception from Cerebro if Xavier would let him shave his head and Xavier tells him not to touch his hair.) But the recruiting bits were all pretty great, and the Wolverine cameo was brilliant. I liked Ron Weasely, even if he was calling himself Banshee.

Once all these young mutants are recruited, there's a scene where they're giving each other code names and showing off their powers, and I liked it for two reasons. 1.) It seemed like something that young people would do in these circumstances and 2.) It was just fun to watch. When they get busted by the adult mutants, Jen quipped it was like "Risky Business for mutants."

Magento and Xavier leave to go with a strike force to Russia to take out Shaw, but when they get there, they find that Emma Frost is there instead. There's a nice bit where she "seduces" this Soviet general, except she's just using her telepathy to make him think that he's getting it on with her, and she's really sitting on a chair next to the bed, eating a cracker.

And up until this point, I thought all the comments about January Jones's acting being the weak point in the movie were needlessly harsh, and they were misinterpreting Emma Frost's aloofness. But no, she really is pretty awful (though she's awful pretty, so I can see why they cast her) and I'm convinced that she's actually just a mannequin with a good agent. With a name like January Jones, though, she's a shoe-in to be the next Bond Girl. (Jen suggested that she could be a centerfold, because, you know, she's already "Miss January".)

Meanwhile, Shaw and his mutants attack the CIA lab where the mutants are staying. They give the chance to join up. Darwin is killed trying to resist them, proving that even mutant powers are no protection against the Black Guy Dies First rule.

They regroup, then move up to the X-Mansion up in Westchester. Again, the montage is really excellent. This time it's a training montage, with everyone fine-tuning the use of their powers. After a time, they see JFK's address on TV, and they realize that Shaw is finally acting, and tomorrow they will have to intervene to stop him.

They turn in and Magneto finds the teenaged Mystique in his bed, ready to seduce him. He says, "Maybe when you're twenty years older," and she transforms into Rebecca Romijn, who played Mystique as an adult, which was another great cameo. Afterwards, she talks to Xavier in the kitchen. She's having the slow realization that Xavier and Magneto have different goals and that her goals are more in line with Magneto's. I love her line, "Pets are cuter when they're little."

So the X-Men all take off in the Blackbird and they avert the Cuban Missile Crisis. Something I think I saw, but of which I'm not entirely certain is that when the jet is hit and spinning out of control, Magneto throws himself on top of Xavier, and then uses his powers to clamp himself to the metal floor in order to protect him. It was pretty chaotic, and I'm not absolutely certain that's what happened, but if it is, it was an excellent detail.

How many times is a mutant called Angel going to show up in the X-movies? When Shaw's mutants are emerging from the ruined sub to face off against the X-Men, well, let's have a roll call. Riptide summons these devastating tempests, Azazel is this horrifying teleporting ninja demon assassin dude, and then Angel unfurls her little cutesy dragonfly wings. flutter-flutter-flutter I mean, Jesus. Which of these kids is doing her own thing?

Magneto confronts Shaw and when he is helpless, he levitates the Nazi coin we saw in the beginning of the movie and says, "I'm going to count to three. And I'm going to move the coin," in an excellent but tremendously gruesome callback to the earlier scene. He kills Shaw by slowly pushing the coin all the way through his head.

Once the crisis has been averted, the Americans and the Soviets decide that mutants are the bigger threat than the other side, so they each authorize their assembled ships to launch a strike against the survivors. Magneto freezes the barrage in midair, where they hang for a moment, and then he turns them around and sends them back against the ships that launched them. I couldn't help but think of Gob in Arrested Development when they showed the Navy Captain looking through a pair of binoculars at his own missiles coming back at him.



Xavier begs Magneto to stop, saying, "They're just following orders! Like Eichmann!" (I'm paraphrasing here) an argument Magneto fails to find persuasive.

Catastrophe is averted, though Xavier is paralyzed by a stray bullet deflected by Magneto. Magneto and his evil mutants depart, and we cut to Westchester, where Moira is pushing Charles in his familiar X-logo wheelchair. She tells him that his secrets are safe with her, and he says he knows they are, and then gives her a kiss of forgetfulness, which I thought was kind of a dick move, because it costs her her career at the CIA.

Jen said that aside from a couple scenes like the Missile Crisis and elements like mini-skirts, it didn't really seem like a period piece. Xavier's talk of "Groovy mutations" aside, I have to agree. Havoc in particular looked like he stepped out of One Tree Hill. (Also, the less said about his hula hooping power, the better). The few small complaints I have here should in no way detract from what may be the best X-Men movie yet. (I'd have to watch X-2 again before I can say for sure.) Excellent film. One of the all-time great comic book movies. There are plans to make this the first film in a trilogy of prequels, and I'm not sure if that's something I want or not. This one was so great that it's set the bar extremely high for followups, and I think I might be happy with just this one by itself.

Father's Day Weekend

I had my best set of consecutive days in recent memory over the weekend. Lily was staying over at her Aunt Lori's, so Jen and I had a real date for the first time in ages. We finished work, rushed home, had a quick dinner, then ran over to the local theater for a showing of X-Men: First Class. At the risk of making the predictable observation, it really was a first class film, and I'll be giving it its own post in a bit.

We stayed through the credits, but there were no extras, and then we went out to the lobby. Jen wanted to play some Ms. Pac-Man, but there was a mom there, teaching her son how to play the game. She kept continuing when she lost, to the point that I suggested that Jen put a quarter on the cabinet to claim the next game, and that went over about as well as you'd expect. We played some air hockey and I won, though I did have an assist from Jen, who kept knocking the puck into her own goal.

The games were free by the time our game ended, so Jen played some Ms. Pac-Man while I shot dinosaurs in the face. She got the high score and we were both happy. Then we went home and watched some Everwood.

The next morning, we got up and headed over to my Grammy's house where she was holding a yard sale. Jen thought she was being funny by putting a "Make Offer" price sticker on my shirt until I pointed out the two I had previously stuck on her rear.



After that it was down to the local Farmer's Market, which, I hate to say, is a lot more enjoyable without Lily begging for sweets and swerving to pet every dog. We met people from the local historical society, we saw a neat sand sculpture, and we bought some pasties for lunch.



Then we picked up Lily, went home very briefly, watched an episode of Scooby Doo and then took off for a puppet show. The Mock Turtle Marionette Company in conjunction with Pennsylvania Sinfonia Orchestra put together a piece they called "Museum of Music". They're still tweaking it, (the director called it a "Public Dress Rehearsal") but it was pretty excellent. Actors provided narration while the musicians played well known pieces of classical music and the puppeteers controlled the marionettes as if they were performing the pieces. It was really pretty neat. I'd never seen anything quite like it.

After the show, the director described it as a "French Pastry" school of thought, meaning that if you give a kid a French pastry when he or she is young, the kid will think, "Hey, maybe the French are kind of cool," and likewise, if you expose them at an early age to Classical music in a really engaging fashion, they'll have that spark of interest as they get older and may be more receptive to it as they get older.

It was pretty great all around, though their Bach marionette was rather terrifying. It looked like Chucky and Hannibal Lecter had a baby.


"Hello, Clarice. Wanna Play?"

We played for a bit in the abutting playground and Lily enjoyed that too. Our day wasn't done yet, because we still had a birthday party to attend. It was at Rascals, a restaurant and arcade along the lines of Dave & Buster's or Chuck E. Cheese. We all had a blast. Jen went on the climbing wall,



Lily went in the play area and took a ride in the Batmobile.



I mostly kept an eye on her, but I did manage to sneak away for a couple games. Jen had been cheating when Lily played the Cracky Crabs game and punching the crabs with her hand when they popped out of the top row.

Cheater!

It's like Whack-A-Mole, except with scurrying crabs instead of moles. I finally got the high score.

A winner is me. Fuck you, Cracky Crabs.

I also won Lily a stuffed animal from the crane machine, which made me really happy, because that's one of the things daddies do for their daughters.

We did have kind of an ugly moment at the air hockey table. Lily is an only child, and that is unlikely to change, barring the malfunction of some kind of device. When she was smaller, we usually let her win, but now that she's playing games with peers, we don't always let her win all the time anymore. It's not like I flip the Monopoly board over and yell "WINNER!!!" while pointing to myself, but I think there is virtue in understanding that you're not going to win everything every time and I certainly don't want to raise a self-entitled monster. We were playing air hockey and I was ahead, 6-4. I hadn't decided if I was going to let her win or not at that point, but it was rendered moot when she turned away from the table in a pout. This trait has been in evidence for a while. Back when she had just turned three and we were playing "Don't Break the Ice", she would refuse to take her next turn if she thought she would lose. So, we're going to have to continue to work on this.

Sunday was Father's Day. Jen and Lily got me a kid's sized soccer ball and Lily made me a wonderful card. I scanned it with the intention of uploading it here, but the file got corrupted, so I'll have to rescan it and edit it into the post when I get the chance.

Edit: Here's the card. Lily did all the writing and all the drawing and she drew green hearts on the other side because she knows I like green.


She did all the writing herself and put hearts in the place of letter "O" because she loves me so much.
We did take a brief detour into Bizarro World. Around our house, things are usually like this:

Lily: Can we go outside and play?
Me: Ugh. Outside? Wouldn't you rather stay in here and watch cartoons instead?

I like soccer. It's unique among my interests in that for everything else, I've always had something of a natural aptitude, but not so much with soccer. But I stuck with it, and over the years, I got to be, if not a great soccer player, then at least a competent one, by virtue of sheer tenacity. I thought it would be fun to kick the ball around, but she wasn't interested. Ah well. C'est la vie. We've got some nice weather ahead of us. I'll take it along with us next time we go to the park.