Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Roger Zelazny Book Review: Nine Princes in Amber, the comic book






Once in a while I take a break from telling stories about my daughter and writing reviews of cartoons I've watched to write an actual piece on the works of Roger Zelazny, from whose writing this blog takes its name.

Unfortunately, I've covered just about everything he's written, meaning I have to either revisit older commentaries or review items with increasingly tenuous connections to him. (I might finish up that Chronomaster review if I'm feeling particularly masochistic one day).

Today I'll be looking at the comic book adaptation of Nine Princes in Amber. Specifically, the first issue.

Two years ago, my mother in law held a yard sale when she was moving into a smaller house. I didn't really read the comic books of my youth and it was silly hanging on to them if they were just taking up space. So she took a long box of them and offered them for twenty five cents a piece or 5 for a buck. Long story, short, she hadn't sold many, and at the end of the day, when someone offered her ten dollars for the entire long box, she took it. (I told this story to a friend who runs a comic store and he observed that's almost what you'd pay for an empty long box)

I thought I had removed all of the comics I definitely wanted to keep, and the Amber mini-series certainly would have been among them, but since I'm unable to find them, I have to assume they were with the couple hundred other books in that box. Le Sigh.

Anyways, I recently found a copy of the first issue of the series in the dollar bin of the local comic shop, so I've got that again at least.

Adaptations are tricky business, and, in general, I'm not a fan. When I was younger, I demanded slavish adherence, "Ahhh!!! They changed a single line of dialogue! It's ruined! It's crap! The book was better!! Arglebargle wah!"

Now that I'm a wee bit older, I look for distillation of the concepts in the work. The medium, as they say, is the message, and a play is not a web series which is not a novel which is not a video game which is not a comic book which is not an interpretive dance. What works in one format will not work in another. Pretty basic stuff, but it's really surprising how little effort often goes into reworking fiction for a new format.

So, how does the comic stand up? It's not too bad. While Nine Princes isn't my favorite of the Corwin series, I do think it's just about perfect the way it is.

Roger Zelazny wrote a brief introduction, Terry Bisson authored the adaptation, and it's really not bad, as adaptations go. I do think that a good portion of Zelazny's appeal is his poetic prose, which is something that is lost in translation to other formats. Bisson does as good a job as he can within the constraints of the format. For instance, I like the opening scene, where Corwin is dreaming of mountains which resolve themselves into his upraised feet as he awakens more fully.







That's something novel that wouldn't work in the book, but which takes advantage of the comic book format.

The art is solid. The bio for the artist, Lou Harrison, says he was a student of one of the Brothers Hildebrandt, and I can certainly believe that. My main complaint is something else that afflicts adaptations, "Corwin/Flora/Llewella looks different than I imagined!" (Just kidding about that last part. Nobody cares what Llewella looks like.) Silly to fault the artist for that. Corwin, perpetually passing for thirty six, did seem to look little bit young, though.


Also, Flora's bangs are hideous.

In what shadow is this attractive? Avernus? 

Giving him a beard was an interesting choice. The book seems to imply that Corwin is clean-shaven on his trump. He never says so explicitly, but he notes the facial hair of his other brothers, so it stands to reason he'd mention it about himself too. I'm pretty certain that the beard was to heighten the parallel between Corwin and Eric.

He also transforms from clean-shaven Corwin to fuzzy Corwin as Random shifts shadows. It's a departure from Zelazny's text and a little bit odd, but not so much that it ruins the book.

In the book, the attendant at the gas station was "about five feet tall, of enormous girth, with a strawberry-like nose, and his shoulders maybe a yard across."






In the comic, he's a bit different, but I give it a pass because his name tag reads "Roger".

Overall, it's pretty decent. It's a bit shorter than I would have liked. Nine Princes was ten chapters long, and the mini-series just had three issues to cover the book. By necessity, some elements are addressed perfunctorily or omitted entirely. As a consequence, it tends to suffer from the "Greatest Hits" problem of trying to include all the high points of the story that often plagues such adaptations, but Bisson understood when to deviate and/or condense such elements too, so it's not as egregious as most.

I like it, but I think it's mostly of interest as a novelty. It'll never replace the novel, and I think it's mostly of interest to people who have already read it. I think it does a fair job of conveying the same story as the book, but since so much of Zelazny's magic is in his descriptions, a lot of the mood is lost.

Also, Flora's hair. Is this closer to "...a cross between sunset clouds and the outer edge of a candle flame in an otherwise dark room..." or a day glo fright wig? You be the judge.


You should extend that distrust to your hairdresser, Florimel 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Superman: Unbound, or "Shrinking stuff is so much fun; I am Brainy and I stink!"




I've observed that Superman doesn't really have a rogue's gallery worthy of a hero of his stature.
I was thinking of this when I read that Edgar Wright had said that he never even considered using Ultron as the villain for the Ant-Man movie. Well, who does that leave?  Whirlwind? Porcupine? Egghead?

Well, we shall see when 2015 rolls around.

Superman does have the occasional worthy opponent, mind you. Not a consistently great Rogue's Gallery, but his top tier enemies are comparable to the top tier bad guys anywhere.  Zod or Brainiac can each carry a movie on their own. Ask me which one is my favorite and I'll give you a different answer on a different day.

My favorite interpretation of Brainiac is probably that introduced in Superman: The Animated Series, that of the malevolent Kryptonian AI.

 I think this version makes more sense, is far more distinctive and has a much stronger link to Superman's story. Also, Corey Burton's monotone is chilling.

I also really liked him as an adversary in JLA: Earth 2.  "Energy is not dead. Information is not dead, Luthor.”

Superman: Unbound is pretty typical of DC's recent direct to video animated films, adaptations of recent comics stories that are never bad, but are rarely good, either.

I guess each animated movie exists more or less in its own continuity. However, characters like Supergirl and concepts like Argo city are introduced the way of context, so it does seem to assume at least a superficial knowledge on the part of the viewer.

Brainiac here is closer to his comics incarnation, that of the Coluan scientist who augmented himself with cybernetic components. He travels the universe miniaturizing cities and destroying the planets that were home to those cities (by destroying the star they orbit, which seemed unnecessarily circumspect, but I'm not a 12th level intelligence, so who am I to judge?)

I've been spoiled by the Culture books.

It's not hard sci-fi by any stretch of the imagination, but Banks understood the scale of both a galactic civilization and machine intelligence. To steal a line from an earlier review, most media deals in a scale of miles and minutes and the Culture deals in parsecs and picoseconds.

I think that's the biggest failing in the story. A FLOP is a computer term for for FLoating-point Operations Per Second.  The world record is held by a Chinese supercomputer, which achieved 33.86 petaflops.  To put it another way, that is 33,860,000,000,000,000 operations per second. This is from a human computer in modern times. There are any number of other factors involved here, but machines perform operations much faster than organic beings, even Kryptonians.

I was thinking of this during a fight early in the movie. Superman is tussling with a probe droid. He's getting the better of it when he sees it s-l-o-w-l-y reaching its hand towards its chest. He uses his X-Ray vision and sees that it's reaching towards some type of transmitter and he punches a hole through its chest before it can activate it. It's a neat visual and all, but it makes no sense. Why build so many extra steps into the process? It's like the authors never really gave any thought to what attributes machines would have, and rather than robots, they just feel like interchangeable minions that look like robots. With some extremely minor changes, Brainiac could have been Mongul and the story would barely have to change at all.

It's a problem that persists throughout the movie. Brainiac never really rises to anything greater than a physical threat to Superman. He lacks the distinctiveness that his animated incarnation had. His robots are ass too. I refuse to take seriously anything that can be defeated by the impact of a rolling office chair.

(The argument could be made that the robots are just there to run interference while Brainiac shrinks a city, but requires an extremely generous viewing.)

Brainiac uses his shrink ray to shrink Metropolis and fires a sun-destroying missile at the sun. I like the wikipedia summary of this, because it says "Superman breaks free and then frees Supergirl and convinces her to stop the Solar-Aggressor from hitting the sun."

How much convincing did she really require?

There is a point where Superman is captured and imprisoned so that only his head is free. Brainiac is standing right in front of him, monologuing.  I believe my exact words were "If only Superman had some kind of death rays that come out of his eyes!"

Anyway, Superman hulks out and smacks him through the hull of the ship, (Brainiac accuses him of being nothing more than "fists", and since his only approach to problem solving across the the entire movie is punching things, it's hard to dispute that)

They fight for a bit in a swamp, and Superman gives a variation of the speech he gave to Zod in the Man of Steel when Zod's filter helmet was destroyed. Considering that the same film was advertised at the beginning of the movie, the similarity between the speeches was very conspicuous.  Brainiac can't deal with the natural world, so he gang aft agley and explodes.

Then Superman retrieves the shrunken Metropolis, sticks it in the hole that that it had occupied, finds an air pump and reinflates it. It's another scene that seems ridiculous when you think about it for more than five seconds. Frederick observed that it sure was lucky that Superman was able to match up the gas lines so they reconnected.

While it had a couple good moments, overall, it was a big disappointment. Comic books have been grist for the movie mill for quite a while now, but DC's animated movies don't even bother pretending otherwise. They identify a storyline that was well received and more or less transcribe it into a 75 minute movie, making no effort to ensure that it makes sense when removed from the original milieu.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Monster-Mania 25: An Unexpected Journey


I was chatting with my friend Frederick last week and I asked about his plans for the weekend, as I usually do of my friends by the time the week rolls around to...Tuesday. He said he might hit a horror con down in Cherry Hill on Sunday. I replied "Great! When can you pick me up?!"

In retrospect, that might not have actually been an "invitation", but carpe diem and all that.

Jen and Lily were out of town and I was looking for something to do to keep me out of trouble on Sunday anyway, so this was just about the optimal solution to my problem.

Frederick has acted in a couple horror movies, so when he got to the house, I asked him to sign my Zombie Food shirt. Lily also signed it.

My first autograph of the day.

Jen and Lily took off for their trip and Frederick and I took off for ours. We wound up heading in the exact opposite direction initially, but through the magic of GPS, we made it there on time.

It was nifty. This is the 25th Monster-Mania. I want to say it's the 25th "year", but I see that Monster-Mania 26 is being held in September 2013, and I don't know if they've always been semi-annual.

I go to conventions now and again, but it's been a year, since I attended my last one, and that was small and local.

The thing that surprised me the most about this one was how focused it was. Comic conventions tend to cast a wide net and welcome anyone with even a fig leaf justification for being there. This was billed as a horror convention, and that's what it was, by God!

The only exception was a local TV channel. I don't know what they were doing there. The interns staffing the table never had any reason to look up from their phones, and their pile of literature had clearly not been touched. Here's a picture of their van.



The con had a pretty impressive guest list. Carrie Fisher was there, which, aside from the TV station, was their only dilution of its horror theme (though I assume that if Carrie Fisher accepts an invitation, you make whatever concessions you need to in order to keep her there), George Romero, Danny Glover, Christopher Lloyd, Malcolm McDowell.

George Romero (Most well known as the director of the original Night of the Living Dead and godfather of the genre) is of particular note, because Frederick and I were wandering around the hotel looking for a particular booth hosted by a friend of his, when Frederick looked past me at some guy. I was like "What? What? What is it? What?" and then the guy continued on his way, and I was like "Did he look a little like George Romero?" and Frederick was like "Yes, he did."

Then Frederick excused himself to jump on top of George Romero and yell "I'm going to keep punching you in the face until you start making good movies again!" He had to be pulled off by security. It was awkward.

Also in attendance was Gary Busey. It was weird, because he looked exactly like he does in the movies. The other celebrities there looked different, not being favorably lighted and airbrushed and made up, but Busey looked exactly the same.

R2-D2 was there, and he sure looks different when I saw him later without his makeup.

With makeup
Without makeup

We attended a charity auction to benefit Yorkshire Terriers, where Frederick picked up some nifty stuff, and then it was on to the screening of a movie called Baggage, by a friend of his. It was a short film and we came in a little late and missed a bit too much of it, but Frederick had won a copy at the auction, so we figured we could catch up at our leisure later. That was followed by a movie titled Déjà vu?

Frederick: Ah, man! I've already seen this one!

Me: *Baleful look*

We also did some shopping, and I'll show you pictures of my booty at the end of the post.

I'll probably have some pics of the stuff I bought, too.

Near the end of the convention, we saw some zombie face painting, which Lily would have loved. I said it was cute. A couple minutes later, I described something else as "cute", and this time Frederick called me on it.

Frederick: Did you just call two things cute in the last five minutes?

Me: Yes. And I don't know why it's suddenly my go-to word at a horror movie convention.

Frederick: ...

Me: Awww!!! That fetal pig is adorable.

We wrapped up our time at the convention and met with our friend Jen at the local Barnes & Noble. She got there shortly before we had, and was trying to browbeat the staff into joining her Jane Austen book club.

The pair of them immediately began harassing me, over all things, the clothes I was wearing. I had on jeans, sneakers and a shirt-sleeved collared shirt. It wasn't like I was dressed up for high tea. And yet, the man in the neon green Holiday of the Dead t-shirt was giving me shit about what I wore to the convention.

Actually, I did make a decision to dress somewhat conservatively. (We were going to wear our matching  "I'd rather be hunting zombies" shirts, in their garish shade of traffic cone orange, which my lovely and generous wife had picked up on clearance a while back, but Frederick couldn't find his.) I had asked Lily what she wanted for a souvenir, and she said one picture of a guy in a scary costume and one of a pretty girl in a costume. I wanted to come off as un-skeevy as possible, so I went with the collared shirt instead of a t-shirt.

(We did get some pictures, but few people were dressing up on the third day of a three day con.)

Had a nice time shooting the breeze with Jen and Frederick in the B&N. We walked around the plaza, before settling on the Wegman's as a place to eat dinner.  The conversation turned to the Superman movie and one of them asked if the "S" was really a symbol for hope. I gave the answer I used in my blog post about Man of Steel, that it's been canon for a while that Superman's "S" chevron represents the Crest of the House of El, but it's a newer idea that it also represents a symbol of hope.

Frederick: So, if the "S" stands for hope, what's the Kryptonian symbol for dickwaving?

Me: A bat.

Heh heh heh.

Also, Batman has fallen on hard times and is selling pictures with the Batmobile.



As promised, here are some of the pictures of our purchases. I bought a pillar of skulls for $5 at the pillar of skulls table.



Frederick bought a Jayne hat. Le Sigh.

 Pretend you're a Firefly fan.

 Make a face like a douchebag.


Douchier!
I said douchier!
Great!

Now spend the next 10 years bitching about how your crappy show was cancelled.



This is for Lily, Princess Leia as the Mona Lisa. It's from the Thirteenth Floor. Here is a link to their website, where you can buy their prints, which I found both very high quality and very reasonably priced.



I also liked this guy a whole lot I wasn't absolutely sure if that pig was supposed to be Waddles until I saw a Mabel pin too.




He had prints too, but I only spotted him near the end of the con, and was already approaching the end of my budget. I do plan to buy some more from his website, however.

Pretty great and surprisingly inexpensive weekend. Very happy with how it went.



"And for those who might be interested... a giraffe!"


Thursday, August 15, 2013

"Bond. Hamish Bond."


Oh, sorry, rowing nerds. Did you see the title and come here thinking this post was about the New Zealand athlete of the same name?

I guess we're even, then, since my searches for the character of Hamish Bond from the Anno Dracula series kept turning up information on his performance at the World Rowing Championships.
Not a spy

Now that we're settled, allow me to segue into a long digression.

When I was younger, I thought I was on a trajectory to become a science fiction author, since they all seemed to have these careers of oddball jobs with no connection to each other: "Spunky Q. Prunewhistle has been a fusion rock guitarist, brain surgeon, towel folder, ballerina, large animal veterinarian, marmoset wrangler and a mime, but now lives at home with his 19 cats and writes science fiction."

One of my odd jobs was a direct care provider for a developmentally disabled man. I worked a couple standard shifts and then one marathon sixteen hour shift from 3 PM Thursday into 7 AM Friday. (That was nothing compared to the 40 hour shift handled by the woman who worked the weekend.)

It was asleep overnight, meaning that I could sleep once my other responsibilities had been discharged. I did, eventually, but seldom well, because I always find it difficult to sleep in a different bed.

Fortunately, there was an outstanding used bookstore on my way into work. (I happen to think used bookstores are, by definition, outstanding, but this one was especially good.) I'd like to link to them to give them a little more press, but since the person for whom I was a caretaker still lives nearby, I don't want to give away any information that could serve to identify him.

That was the place where I rounded out my Zelazny collection. They had a huge inventory of books that was constantly changing. Among the many books I acquired there and read during my overnight shift were Ian Fleming's original James Bond novels.

Now I grew up with the James Bond movies. The series has been going on for decades, now. I never thought they were high art (not even Goldfinger, which might even improve on the book), but they were always entertaining.

But after I read the books, I couldn't take the movies seriously. Fleming has said that he wanted Bond to be "a blunt object" and by god, that's what literary Bond is, an amoral thug, a high-functioning psychopath who found an acceptable outlet for his anti-social impulses.

And I don't mind that. I've said elsewhere that that I like anti-heroes as long as the author isn't trying to pretend they're something they're not. Bond does a bunch of shitty things in the service of a good cause and Fleming is pretty up front about that.

So, that's my conception of James Bond these days. Daniel Craig comes closer to that, but as he took the role that should have gone to Clive Owen, I am obliged to hate him. And the last time I sat down to Roger Moore, with his wiggly eyebrows, terrible puns and pigeons doing double takes, I just couldn't get through the movie.




And this extremely long tangent explains why I liked Dracula Cha Cha/Judgment of Tears the second time around. I heard it read by William Gaminara, whose performance was next to flawless, except when trying to perform American accents, which he couldn't quite seem to manage. It's not that Brits can't manage to sound like us, I think Hugh Laurie is particularly good, but there is just something I couldn't articulate about Gaminara's performance. I described it as sounding like Hugo Weaving as Agent Smith in the Matrix to my friend Greg, who is a doctor of some unspecified discipline and knows quite a bit more about linguistics than I do. This is how he replied and he was kind enough to give me permission to post it here:

I haven't seen Weaving in particular doing an American accent in quite some time. I'm thinking of the scene in The Matrix where he as Agent Smith is interrogating Neo / Tom Andersen. In my opinion, Weaving is trying very hard to reproduce an American accent in this scene rather than actually doing it. He's enunciating an awful lot more than a speaker with a native accent would. You can hear it in words like "fresh start" where he really draws out the [sh] sound. He also says [two liFes] instead of [two liVes], which always struck me as odd. Now, I do know a bit about how voicless [F] changes to voiced [V] there--it has to do with the fricative coming between two vowels in English--so I'm guessing Weaving is being rather conservative in his pronunciation, to the point that it sounds funny to me. And that could be the way a South African would normally say the plural of life, but I'm only guessing. Still, I think some of the oddities I've brought up get at what you're asking. Going with my last point, I think Weaving's cadence, rhythm, and pace are more like how a South African person would speak (or I'm guessing--not much experience with South African speakers though some) but that his accent is American. I think perhaps that incongruity between inflection and accent might be throwing you.

And Josh is distracted yet again from the body of his review! Let's see if we can get back on track! Despite what the summary implies, Hamish Bond is not the main character of the story, that honor goes again to Kate Reed and Geneviève Dieudonné, but he's instead, the lead of the B-plot, which weaves in and out of the primary storyline.

Hamish Bond is kind of an idiot, and my dissatisfaction with the book the first time around grew out of that. He's constantly fucking up. But here's the thing. So was movie Bond. He was a sexist jerk (I just watched Goldfinger the other day, and I think the sound effects guys used the crack of a bullwhip for the slap on the ass he gives the woman at the pool) and, well, he's not always that great at his job either.

The book hangs a lampshade on this. Bond careens around Rome, using his real name, smoking his extremely distinctive cigarettes in his extremely distinctive sports car, and everyone in the book knows he's a spy.

The thing is that the Bond parts of the book were substantially more interesting than the other parts. Bond might be a jerk and a fuckup, but he's an extremely entertaining jerky fuckup.

The other main reason I liked the book more is that I knew what to expect. It goes off in a very different direction than I was expecting with regards to Dracula, and I was initially very disappointed with what happened. It wasn't at all the book I was expecting. This time, knowing the twist, I was able to appreciate the book for what it was, instead of being disappointed for not being what I expected.

I still think it's the weakest of the series, but it's a worthwhile read anyway, if only so you can be caught up for the fourth book, Johnny Alucard, coming this September!



Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Hardcore!

It was either this or Batman. It was an easy choice.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Mark Millar is a Tool, by Josh

In order to keep myself sane at work, I correspond in my free moments with friends about a wide variety of topics.

On Friday morning, a friend sent me this link:

Josh, I assume you are up on this?

http://herocomplex.latimes.com/comics/mark-millars-rape-comments-superheroes-tca-panel-the-comics-world-responds/

I replied: Yeah. Not that particular post, but another blog covered it from a similar angle.

My reply will be in two parts.


Part I: Mark Millar is an asshole




This is fairly common knowledge. From the story he wrote with Captain America yelling "Do you think this A stands for France?!!" to the story he wrote with the booby-trapped vagina, Mark Millar has consistently pandered to the lowest common denominator, those who think sex and violence somehow equal mature story telling.

He's Scottish and he was recently knighted (I think? Made a member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. You Anglophiles can tell me exactly what that means) for services to film and literature.

I haven't seen Kick-Ass, even though my friend Frederick is always pestering me about it, because A.)The Lord loved it and that's a big red flag right there and B.) It's Mark Millar's baby and that may be an even bigger red flag.

Also, he was once good friends with Grant Morrison, who served as his mentor. They've since had a falling out, and Morrison has admitted that he heavily rewrote all of Millar's early work, the stuff that was actually any good.

So he's an asshole and a hack and he's only interested in churning out comics in order to get his name on another shitty movie. Fuck that guy.

Part II: Rape Culture in Genre Works


I was talking about Anno Dracula with my buddy Frederick a couple weeks ago, and he asked what it was like. I said it was kind of like the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but without all the rape.  (Not to mention the fact that Anno Dracula got there first and did it better, but that's irrelevant to this point.)

We have TV again (and much faster internets, yay!) and I caught a show that Jane Lynch was hosting. It's called Hollywood Game Night. A contestant is mixed in with celebrities and they play party games. It's kind of neat, mostly because I like Jane Lynch a lot.

One of the games was that you had to get your teammates to guess a current TV series with the fewest number of words possible. One team bid two words, the other bid one word and they got to go. The player said "Meth!" and his teammates guessed "Breaking bad!", which was, of course, the correct answer.

To bring this labored analogy to its point, if you were playing this game with comics creators and you wanted someone to guess Alan Moore, your word would be "Rape!". It figures prominently in all of his major works, often as a plot point.

Lost Girls...here's the link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lost_Girls and here's the summary. Lost Girls is a graphic novel depicting the sexually explicit adventures of three important female fictional characters of the late 19th and early 20th century: Alice from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Dorothy Gale from The Wizard of Oz and Wendy Darling from Peter Pan. They meet as adults in 1913 and describe and share some of their erotic adventures with each other. The story is written by Alan Moore and drawn by Melinda Gebbie.

This is kind of veering into "Alan Moore is an asshole" territory too. He made a huge stink that DC was writing Before Watchmen, using characters that he had partially created. His argument is "Waaa! The contract I signed means something different from what I thought it meant and now the people with the legal right to use my characters are using my characters", moans the man who just wrote a story celebrating the rape of prepubescent  public domain characters.

To return to the main point, rape and its sister, fridging are easy and lazy routes to characterization. I recall reading something on screenwriting, that writers used to have a villain kick a dog if they wanted the audience to hate him. If you want to have the audience hate a villain now, he rapes or kills a woman who matters to the hero. They're not much more than props.

I don't think comics are any better or worse than any other genre works; they're just a reflection of the larger subculture, which is not friendly to women. I was able to come up with two well known and respected comics authors who employ these this tricks time and again, but that's only because I'm familiar with the comics scene.

My friend Tim said that he couldn't point to any director who is the "Guy who makes all the rape movies" in the way Alan Moore or Mark Millar are, but I think it takes different forms in cinema.  It's a common trope in torture porn, that of the the pretty young woman, begging for mercy while she's tortured/killed by the serial killer, her face smudged with dirt, her nipples poking through the fabric of her tube top. It's been said often, but it bears repeating, that rape isn't about sex. It's about control, and scenes and movies like this make that clear.

I was on Google+ the other day, where there was a debate going on about a monster in a new RPG that existed just give birth to monsters.

Based solely on what you've described here, I would say that the monster has the potential to be problematic, and would likely be so in the hands of a GM who has issues with women, but is not, by itself inherently offensive.

Somebody challenged me on that so I asked to see the entry in its entirety so I could make a more informed judgment, and I revised my opinion based on that.

Here's the entry:

NIBOVIAN WIFE 3 (9) These biological constructs appear to be beautiful female humans. Their only function, however, is to seduce male humans so they can get pregnant. Pregnancy in a Nibovian wife opens a transdimensional rift inside its womb, giving an ultraterrestrial (such as an abykos, an erynth grask or any ultraterrestrial creature the GM wishes) access to this level of existence. The time required for “gestation,” which is actually the aligning of phase changes to create the rift, ranges from ten minutes to nine months. When the ultraterrestrial creature is “born,” the Nibovian wife nurtures it as if it were a child, even though it clearly is not. During this time, the construct defends the “child” fiercely, using incredible strength and resilience. The young creature develops quickly, and its first and only compulsion is to hunt down and kill its “father.” Once it does so, it is free to do as it pleases in the world. Nibovian wives are likely the cause of many ultraterrestrials currently in the Ninth World. Motive: Seduction for reproduction, defense of its “offspring” Environment: Anywhere Health: 9 Damage Inflicted: 5 points Armor: 2 Movement: Short Modifications: Resists mental effects as level 4. Combat: Nibovian wives attack with their fists, which pummel with a strength that betrays their inhuman nature. Their flesh is as resilient as armor. Interaction: As long as you give Nibovian wives what they want, they are kind and eager to please. They can never be convinced to abandon their imperative (reproducing and nurturing their terrible child), but on other issues, they can be perfectly reasonable. Use: A strange encounter with Nibovian wives can introduce the concept of otherdimensional beings in a horrific way. The ancients explored other dimensions and interacted with ultraterrestrials, but in the Ninth World, such beings are thought of as demons. Loot: The inner workings of a Nibovian wife can provide 1d6 cyphers to someone trained in scavenging them.

This was my reply after reading it, with just some editing to protect the identity of the other parties in the conversation:


Having read this, I think it's pretty bad and I think I'm more in agreement with F. than not. I think there is a place in fantasy for a monster that exists solely to make more of its species. That could be interesting, if it incorporated the alternatives she suggests (not limiting itself sexual intercourse with human males, for starters. If they're as alien as we're led to believe, then those should be trivial problems to overcome. I don't know the the system, but I'm assuming that ultraterrestrial refers to some Lovecraftian/Far Realm deal.) Knowing that if this monster defeats you that not only will you be dead, but that your body provided a host/food source/incubator for more of its kind? Scary stuff.

However, the Nibovian Wife, is such a narrowly defined subtype of that, that I'm not sure that I want to put it in the same category. Depending on how it's presented, I could possibly accept one individual who operates in the fashion outlined in description(this is how this particular monster decided was the best way to fulfill its imperative), but a whole species of flawlessly beautiful sperm-jackers who each operate in exactly the same fashion, with each and every one of them seducing poor internet nice guys, is pretty insensitive and does, as she observed, seem to speak to personal issues. (A beautiful woman who only wants to get pregnant and loses interest in her baby daddy once she does? Um, really?) Again, as she also observed, it does make for a rather two-dimensional adversary.

The word choice is not great either. "Interaction: As long as you give Nibovian wives what they want, they are kind and eager to please. They can never be convinced to abandon their imperative (reproducing and nurturing their terrible child), but on other issues,they can be perfectly reasonable."  Women, they're so unreasonable, amirite?

I'm sure they didn't intend to be offensive. They're probably just tone deaf. However, that doesn't it make it any better. It's 2013. They should know better.

I do think Geek Culture is getting better, very slowly and gradually in this regard. And I won't lie, I do have a dog in this race. I'm the father to a wonderful and precocious six-year old, who loves superheroes and adventures. I don't want her to be worn down by hundreds of daily microaggressions and give up the things she loves because someone tells her that they're not right for girls. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Ranking the Neils

There was a somewhat contentious debate within my circle of friends over which Neil is the best Neil. This is the proper order. You may print this list out and laminate it and keep it in your pocket as a handy reference guide.

  1. Neil Armstrong
  2. Neil deGrasse "I killed Pluto and I'd do it again" Tyson
  3. Neil Gaiman
  4. Neil Patrick Harris
  5. Neil Diamond
  6. Neil Peart 
  7. Neil Young
  8. Young Neil
  9. Neil Sedaka   
  10. General Zod. He's pretty great, but the cardinal rule in Ranking the Neils is always "Neil Before Zod"


Monday, August 5, 2013

M.S.P.




I've thrown three surprise parties for Jen in the time we've been together.

The first was when I was working in a bakery. Maybe 1997? I remember the cake. It was a picture of a Dragon Whelp, which Jen always thought looked really cute. The bakery had a projector so the cake person could blow up an image to trace on the cake. It was pretty nifty.



I suggested we take a walk in a nearby park, where the revelers had already gathered. Everything was going swimmingly until, as we were walking to the pavilion, a late arrival pulled up and said "Hey, where's Jen's party at?" and I was like "You mean her surprise party?"

She got an industrial size can of pudding at the party. We're still working through it today.

The next one was up in New Hampshire in about 2000. This one came off pretty well. We were living in an apartment that had converted from an old motel. A couple friends drove up from Jersey and PA and parked behind the building and all jumped out as you do in this kind of thing. It was fun.

This time around, Lily was my partner. She loves being on on something. She's already astoundingly good at coming up with plausible cover stories and is really good at keeping secrets, and I was forced to reflect that I was teaching her how to do this better.

She decided we needed a code for it, so we referred to it as MSP (Mommy's Surprise Party) or Emma's Pee, if we were feeling silly.

I mostly invited folks through Facebook. Here's the message I sent.


Hi everyone.

I'd like to throw Jen a surprise party on Saturday, August 3rd, and
I'd like you all to attend. I'd like to do it as a pot luck, with
everyone bringing one small dish. That way I don't have to explain to
Jen why I bought 50 bags of chips.

I'm going to get Jen out of the house by telling her that Lily wants
to throw her a surprise party. That gives us an excuse to get Jen out
of the house without making her suspicious.

The plan, in theory, is that Jen will return and enter through the
back door and then Lily and I will yell surprise, and Jen will be all
like "Oh, how cute," and then, as she goes further into the house,
everybody else yells surprise.

Also, something that I'd like to ask everybody to bring is a list of
the ten things you like most about Jen. A small present is fine too,
but no need to go crazy, since I'm thinking potluck. So, a card, a
covered dish and a list of stuff you like about Jen would make a great
present.

We do have a pretty narrow window. I'm going to ask Jen to be out of
the house between two and three. I'll indicate here when it's safe to
arrive. If anyone is arriving from out of town, it might be prudent to
try to get in the area early, and meet with someone local, rather than
just lurking in the area.

If you can't make it, I'd like it if you could still come up with that
list of things you like most about Jen.


I do have a good idea once in awhile and the ten things was pretty inspired. Also, the decoy surprise party was pretty good, because Lily did slip up once and mentioned "That thing we're having on Saturday" in front of Jen, but she thought that Lily was just talking about the decoy party.

I kicked Jen out of the house and she had a little difficulty finding something to do, seeing as that all of her friends were already at our place. She eventually wound up at her dad's house, where she complained about me and my dumb plan getting her out of the house. I hope these complaints were retracted, in light of later events.

We had about 15 people, all told. Our house isn't that big, and we were close to capacity when everyone was hiding waiting for Jen to show up. Considering how many kids were involved and how many moving parts this plan had, it was a minor miracle that everything came together as well as it did.

I made my crock pot buffalo chicken, which has about a million calories  per spoonful, but is super delicious.

Here's the recipe, if you want to make it at home:

2 cups (about 4 nice breasts)chicken boiled, then food processed fine.
16 oz (whole bottle) of buffalo sauce.
1 cup shredded cheddar,
2 8oz cream cheese.
1/2 cup blue cheese dressing.

You can put all in crock pot or mix all together and place in oven 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Everyone brought something good. Giraffe Karen was there, and she brought the best guacamole I've ever tasted! She called it her giraffe guacamole, because she's as fond of alliteration as she is of giraffes, and she even sculpted it to look like a giraffe.



It was really pretty cool. Our neighbors brought an absolutely gorgeous cheese platter.

We hung the top ten lists around the house. They were all unsigned, and it was kind of fun figuring out who had written what.

This was my list:

  1. You're my best friend.
  2. You're kind. Someone else said that if he heard that someone didn't like you, he'd want to know why.
  3. You not only have the talent to make your eggs, but you have the guts to put them out there for sale.
  4. You have eyes like the edges of old mirrors.
  5. I love the way you smile when you get enthusiastic about something.
  6. You're as great as I think you are. You're kind and smart and a good and loyal friend and a great mommy.
  7. "You make me want to be a better man."
  8. Lily might play with me more sometimes, but when she wakes up in the middle of the night with a bad dream it's her mommy she calls for.
  9. While we're on the subject of Lily, I give her the things she wants, but you give her the things she needs and I hope someday she'll understand that.
  10. I remember a letter I sent you in college. I said that you should never change, but evolve and become more of what you are. In the almost 20 years we've been together, you've grown and matured, but you've never lost that essential Jen-ness, and I'm glad I could be along for the journey.


It was an extremely nice party. It came together better than I had any reason to expect it too and I want to thank everyone who attended.