Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Uncertain-tea Principle

I thought this was pretty cool. There is a semi-official and very comprehensive Doctor Who wiki online. I was looking for something else and I came across a reference to my story, Forever Fallen. I clicked on that and noticed that someone had typed up an entry for the Uncertain-tea Principle, the cafe where the story takes place.

The thing is, Lily came up with that name last year when I asked her if she wanted to contribute something to the story. She's rapidly becoming a serious Doctor Who fan and she was thrilled that her entry was acknowledged as canonical. Not bad for nine years old.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Our trip to the Da Vinci Science Center (with pictures from the bathroom)

Our membership to the Da Vinci Science Center is expiring at the end of the month, so we decided to head over on Sunday afternoon. Lily found a tiny horse!



It was quite the enjoyable trip. The thing that impressed me the most were the posters in the men's room. I thought it was a very clever move to have it there where men might not otherwise think about the issue would see it.



Lily spent a long time building with the KEVA planks. Some selected shots.












Friday, May 5, 2017

Ian Atkins at Raconteur Roundtable

Ian Atkins was interviewed on the Raconteur Roundtable this week and it was a really interesting piece. I’m particularly glad his interview followed mine, because a portion of it deals with the process I discussed, taking the Forever Fallen from concept to conclusion, but from Ian’s perspective. (Also, he had some nice things to say about the story and that’s always  welcome.)

He also touches on other topics, and it’s worth listening for people interesting in entering this year’s Paul Spragg Memorial Short Trip Opportunity, because he makes some observations on differences between Short Trips and Monthly Range stories and offers some other helpful hints.

If you think you would enjoy it, please download it, and if you do enjoy it, please leave a quick review on iTunes, because that really helps them out.

If you missed my episode it’s here.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Day 30: Roger Zelazny Poetry Month 2017

My flight from Chaos
to this small sudden island
in the sea of night? 

Dworkin, in The Hand of Oberon.

And that's a wrap for the year! 

Day 29: Roger Zelazny Poetry Month 2017

In it, he hurried
toward Twilight, near the place where
the bright bird had sung. 

Day 28: Roger Zelazny Poetry Month 2017

Virtue lies in thy
homely words, and thou art most
beloved of the Flame 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Josh interviewed at the Raconteur Roundtable

Remember that time I made a brief and unnecessarily cryptic announcement that I had been interviewed for a podcast?

It's now up! Episode Six of the Raconteur Roundtable! I mostly talk about the process of writing Forever Fallen but I also touch on Roger Zelazny and the Drinking Game. I'm in the second hour of the podcast. You should listen to me first because if you listen to anyone before me, I'll sound even worse by way of comparison. After you're done with me, go back to the other episodes, which are better.

I wasn’t as bad as I had feared, but I still got so flustered and tongue-tied that I sounded like a text-to-speech robot with a stammer and collection of weird vocal tics. I speak my sentences like a Zack Snyder fight scene SLLLOOOOOOOWWWW MOOOTTTIIOONNN. THENSUDDENLYFASTMOTION! Then SLOOOOOOOOWWWWWW MOOOOTTIIIIOOONNNN AAAGGGAAIIIINNNN.

I think I learned from the experience because when I gave my panel at ReGen 3, I think I avoided some of the mistakes I made here. It was a lot of fun and the crew over there really loves Doctor Who.

Day 27: Roger Zelazny Poetry Month 2017

Our swords were shattered
in our hands and we hung our
shields on the oak tree.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Day 26: Roger Zelazny Poetry Month 2017

"You have rather odd
beliefs for a C Twenty
Cleveland art dealer."

Another haiku from the Haiku Finder. This time from Roadmarks.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Day 25: Roger Zelazny Poetry Month 2017

It is survival.
The laser flashes again,
this time to the right.

Extracted from Permafrost by the Haiku Finder

Monday, April 24, 2017

Day 24: Roger Zelazny Poetry Month 2017

On the coasts, you can
never tell where the sea ends
and the sky begins

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Day 23: Roger Zelazny Poetry Month 2017

He has other names,
but the remembering machines
know him by this one.

From Eye of Cat

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Day 22: Roger Zelazny Poetry Month 2017

They are now become
pale emeralds, and a yellow
spark lives within each.

Day 21: Roger Zelazny Poetry Month 2017

We are a people
apart and we have found our
home. What else matters?

Day 20: Roger Zelazny Poetry Month 2017

You were the best car
I ever had. Surrender.
Fire off your ammo.

Unintentional poetry from Last of the Wild Ones

Day 19: Roger Zelazny Poetry Month 2017

Snip, snip went her shears.
Cut fragments of twisted flax
floated in the air.

This one was extracted from the text of If at Faust You Don't Succeed, by the haiku finder.

Day 18: Roger Zelazny Poetry Month 2017


Holds within it a chill like
The nearness of death.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Day 17: Roger Zelazny Poetry Month 2017

The winds of Winter
blow bright and brittle in The

Uncharacteristically, for Josh's Roger Zelazny haiku, I think this one actually meets the criteria for a haiku, rather than just being seventeen syllables of unrhymed verse. 

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Day 16: Roger Zelazny Poetry Month 2017

"Nobody steals books
but your friends." Wise words from Prince
Corwin of Amber.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Day 15: Roger Zelazny Poetry Month 2017

Few Memorable
Villains in Roger’s books. Why?
Busy narrating.

This may require a bit of explanation. I was trying to think of my favorite villains from Zelazny’s books and I couldn’t come up with any that jumped out at me. What I was trying to say with the haiku is that in some cases, it's the villain telling the story.  I don’t agree with people who posit that Corwin was an actual Nazi, but he wasn’t a good guy either.

Corwin straddles the line between a Byronic hero and a villain.  Then there are some straight up villain protagonists. Jack of Shadows is right up there, but Nemo also killed some innocent people rather than be arrested.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Beauty or the Beast: Which is better, the original or the remake?

The second weirdest thing in the world is the fact that Disney is remaking its animated classics as live action films. They remade Beauty & the Beast. Perhaps you've heard about it? It got a little bit of press when it came out.

How does it compare to the original?





The Live action Beauty and the Beast reminds me of nothing so much as the director’s cut of Aliens.


Yeah, that Aliens

The theatrical release of Aliens was a taut action thriller with some inexplicable decisions by its protagonist. The director’s cut explains those choices (Ripley went back after Newt because her own daughter died when she was in suspended animation) but at the expense of the pacing. It’s rather uneven and herky-jerky compared to the claustrophobic horror of the original.

Which one is better?

If you had asked me twenty years ago, I would have said the theatrical cut.

If you had asked me ten years ago, I would have said the director’s cut.

If you ask me today, I’ll say I don’t know. They scratch different itches.

I wrote about the original Beauty and the Beast here when we saw it in 3D. It was a classic, but one with some huge plot holes and some seriously problematic elements.

It would seem that in adapting the film, the creators sat down with a list of every criticism ever leveled against Beauty and the Beast and resolved to address every single one of them.

Issue: Belle is kind of a whiny jerk.

Solution: They made her less of a whiny jerk. Look, I like Belle. But in the original, she is literally stepping over people who are doing their chores while singing her song about how she has nothing to do. As the Offspring tells us, it’s cool to hate. (I hate a lot of things/I hate a lot of people that are lame/I like to hate stuff/cause then I don’t to have to try to make a change.) Hey, Belle, your dad goes to invention fairs. Maybe you want to check that out? Look, I grew up in a small redneck town and I didn’t have a lot in common with the people around me, but I didn’t spend all my time telling them how much they suck.

Issue: The Beast was transformed for a decision he made as an eleven-year-old boy.

Solution: They aged him up.

Issue: Belle falls in love with her captor

Solution: They twist themselves in knots to justify this, and really, they’re only halfway successful. Maurice wasn’t arrested for trespassing; he was arrested for stealing a rose. The Beast gives Belle a chance to say goodbye to him, but she locks herself in the castle tower instead. That’s great, but it’s a symbolic act, as I’m pretty sure the Beast has a key. It’s still his call to allow her to take her father’s place. The Beast comes off looking a little better, but it’s so clearly an after the fact justification that I have difficulty accepting it at face value, and the fact of the matter is that she’s still his prisoner.

Issue: We don’t know how Belle’s mom died.

Solution: They explain it in excruciating detail.  We get an explanation of what happened to Belle's mother, but who gives a shit? She's dead when the story begins and how it happened is outside the scope of the story. Are we going to get an extra special edition in twenty years where Cogsworth shoots first and we have an extended flashback to Maurice’s apprenticeship as a junkyard slave?

Issue: LeFou is ambiguously gay.

Solution: LeFou is not ambiguously gay.  To the extent that I thought about it at all, I always figured that the animated LeFou was sublimating his feelings of attraction towards Gaston into a form that his society would accept. I’m not saying that this was what they intended, but I do think it’s a valid read. Listen to the song he sings about Gaston.

Issue: The unconscious Beast is too heavy for Belle to lift him on the horse.

Solution: More than any other change, this infuriated me.  It’s done so gracelessly. The Beast is unconscious and nearly dead after defending Belle from the wolves. Belle kneels down and says, “You have to stand up for me.”  I can not imagine a less elegant solution.  I’m surprised he didn’t mug for the camera.

Issue: It sure was shitty of the Enchantress to punish the staff for the Prince’s actions.

Solution: Mrs. Potts explains that they ARE to blame, because they didn’t raise the prince to be a better man. Weak. I just don’t think they were in that position to effect that kind of change.

 Issue: Not every inanimate object in the castle was once a human

Solution: Talk about a solution in search of a problem. Apparently, some people at the internet looked at the wreckage in the west wing and decided that those chairs were a bunch of transformed servants the prince murdered. I always figured that they were just chairs. That was the case, but Lumiere spells it out specifically after Belle tries to make friends with a hairbrush.

Stuff they didn’t address:

Wolves rarely attack people. When Jen and I were first dating, we watched this on VHS. When the wolves attacked, Jen remarked, “What a negative portrayal of a predator species.” Maybe they’re magical wolves, but since nobody explained to me at great length that they were magical wolves, they’re probably not.



Mrs. Potts is too old to have a child Chip’s age. They lampshade this when someone takes him for her grandson, and I suppose it’s possible that’s the case. Emma Thompson is only 57 and it’s possible she could have a child Chip’s age, if unlikely. I think a more probable explanation is that she’s raising her grandchild as her own because something happened to Chip’s parents.

Bottom Line: Jen and Lily loved it, but I prefer the original. It was very nearly perfect, but it had some problems. They fixed the problems, but without addressing the rest of the narrative and watching the movie felt like looking a wall where someone had plastered over a hole. It's just as conspicuous as what it's intended to conceal.

Despite my gripes here, I don't think it's bad at all. New songs were solid and it captures the essence of the story admirably. I think it's close enough to the original that any choice will come down to a matter of personal preference and I happen to prefer the original.

Day 14: Roger Zelazny Poetry Month 2017

More hits for Martin's
Lord of Light than Zelazny's.
Most annoying, that.


Top search result: R'hllor. R'hllor, also known as the Lord of Light, the Heart of Fire, the God of Flame and Shadow, is a prominent god in Essos, but has only a few followers in Westeros, where he is more commonly known as the red god. His symbol is a fiery heart.

It's churlish to be upset with Martin over the use of three very common English words that happen to be suitable for his purposes. It might have even been a nod to Zelazny, of whom he has been a tireless advocate. Still, a little annoying.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Day 11: Roger Zelazny Poetry Month 2017


Logic, poetry,
a dash of noir. The core of
Roger Zelazny.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Day 10: Roger Zelazny Poetry Month 2017

I can take or leave
Wild Cards. But everyone
adores the Sleeper.


I’m pretty sure that he’s the most popular character in the series. Zelazny did a clever thing by creating such an adaptable character, and George Martin, bless him, is great about acknowledging Zelazny’s contributions and praising him every chance he gets.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Day 9: Roger Zelazny Poetry Month 2017

I’ve said it before
But Mark should have been the lead
In Changeling.  Pol sucks.

Roger Zelazny Crossword Puzzle

I was having a conversation on Facebook and I decided to dig up an old crossword puzzle about Zelazny I had created back in 2015.

Unfortunately, when I returned to it, I found that I made it mostly as a joke, what with answers like Melbriniononsadsazzersteldregandishfeltselior and Kjwalll'kje'k'koothai'lll'kje'k. (I'm surprised that I found the restraint to avoid throwing Strygalldwir in there too.)

So here is the link to a revised and updated version of the puzzle. It's challenging, but all the answers are readily available online if you google around a bit.

Basic Puzzle

Interactive puzzle, solvable within browser

Printable PDF of the Puzzle

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Day 5: Roger Zelazny Poetry Month 2017



He sold his soul for
vengeance, after being damned.
How Zelaznian!


I go back and forth on the merit of Dilvish. Intellectually not suited for pulps. Elric of Melnibone worked, but he was written as a subversion. Dilvish is like Elric having Conan's adventures. I think I'll go back for a reread after April is over, but my assessment right now is that Zelazny's writing is too cerebral for the sword and sorcery genre and there are too many elements in the stories that don't quite mesh. If Zelazny had gone on to follow up with his follow up to the Changing Land, exploring what Dilvish's life would have been like now that he no longer had a target for his vengeance, I think he would have pulled those disparate elements into a more cohesive whole.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Monday, April 3, 2017

Day 3: Roger Zelazny Poetry Month 2017

Betancourt's Amber
has fans. The internet is
stranger than I knew. 

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Day 2: Roger Zelazny Poetry Month 2017


Red thinks Flowers is
his sidekick. Flowers knows it's
the other way round.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Friday, March 31, 2017

(Re)Generation Who 3: The Story of “The Story of the Story”


We went to our third (Re)Generation Who over the weekend. I always enjoy them, and this time it was extra special for me because I would be administering my own panel about how I came to write Forever Fallen, which had been inspired in large part by Tom Baker’s Skype address at Regen 1.

Last year Jen and I went with two other couples, Jeremiah and Nicole and Dave and Jen. You can read about our adventures here. Spoilers: Nicole gets married to a Dalek.

My wife Jen had a big work commitment on Saturday, so she wouldn’t be able to join us to until later in the weekend. The rest of us headed down together.

Friday

We made great time and got to Maryland at around 2 pm. No problems with check-in or registration. Regen has always been a well-run convention and they continued that here. This was their first ReGen at this location, as it had outgrown the smaller venue in nearby Hunt Valley. It felt a little smaller, but I’m sure that was a matter of perception. Four pints looks a lot bigger in a five-pint pitcher than five pints does in a gallon jug.

3 pm:  We are (Re)Generation Who: The showrunners, Oni and James always bookend the convention with “This is who we are” and “How did we do?” panels. They’re very good at what they do.  I wrote about them in my post about Balticon 50, so refer to that if you’d like to hear me rave about them for a bit.

The primary reason I went to the panel was because it seemed like the convention was moving towards more guests from the modern incarnation of Doctor Who, and I was wondering if that was deliberate or if that was simply a reflection of who happened to be available.  Oni’s answer was that they were aiming for a 50/50 split between the old and the new and they want to be accessible to all fans. That’s reasonable. My interest skews much more towards the classic series but I absolutely support their aim to be as inclusive of everyone as possible.

She also made a joke about a six hour Doctor Who rock opera. I know she was kidding, but I kinda want that for next year.

4 pm: Doctor Who Novelizations (Andrew Cartmel, George Mann, Paul Magrs) Right at the beginning panel, Andrew Cartmel pointed out that while they were all authors none of them had ever written a novelization. Consequently, the panel didn’t really deal with that subject as much as it did the general topic of writing Doctor Who.  I’ll deal with this topic later on in the post, but Cartmel was extremely deft at keeping things going with just a few questions. Whenever things started lagging, he’d interject with “Don’t you have a story about that?” to one of the other panelists. It’s an underrated skill set, but one for which I have enormous respect.

Paul Magrs has the nicest head of hair I have ever seen on a human being. This is not something I tend to notice about guys, but seriously, it’s perfect.

I was less familiar with George Mann since he made his name outside of Doctor Who and I haven’t read any of his work, but he seemed like a great guy too.

5 pm: Eight is Great: Celebrate the Eighth Doctor (Nick Briggs, Craig Cobalt, Rob Shearman) I’m not actually much of a fan of the Eighth Doctor. I was mostly there to see Nick Briggs. I was hoping to tell him to “Buck up!” but he asked the crowd to say, “Buck up!” and the “Stopdon’tmove!” right at the beginning of the panel, so I had to abandon that plan. Craig Cobalt (which is the best name ever) mentioned to him that I was the writer of Forever Fallen, so he interviewed me briefly and our exchange made it into the Big Finish podcast!  If you have the desire to hear my strange, off-putting voice punctuated by awkward pauses and numerous vocal tics, you can listen to the podcast here. I’m at about nineteen and half minutes in.

I wound up enjoying the panel anyway. Nick described Big Finish in the best way possible, by saying that they make stories based on the Doctor Who that exists in their memories, so it was worth attending for that line alone. It’s a great community, and the enthusiasm from both the audience and the panelists is both genuine and infectious. I’m still not much of a fan of the Eighth Doctor, but I really appreciated the anecdotes. Nick Briggs is a born storyteller and Rob Shearman was possibly the best part of the convention. It’s been more than a decade since he wrote Jubilee, considered one the most beloved Doctor Who audio plays ever made, but he still seems surprised and delighted when people are excited to see him. He was just so very gracious and enthusiastic. If someone told me they didn’t like Rob Shearman, I would need to know why.

6 pm: Sylvester McCoy is the Seventh Doctor: I almost skipped this one. I planned to head over to the I like my Doctors Grumpy panel, but a friend texted that she was saving me a seat for this, so I headed on over to them.  McCoy is the best. Just as Briggs is a born storyteller, McCoy is a born entertainer. I could watch him all day.

My group headed out for a late dinner, then returned to our room to hang out and talk.

Saturday

This was my big day.

I got off to a good start. I wandered down to the vendor area to kill a little time before I was to start my panel. Sylvester McCoy was just getting set up in the autograph area. I brought my copy of the script with me in hopes that he would sign it, and he did!



I ran into Andrew Cartmel in the vendor area. He is just brilliant. He oversaw my favorite era of the show and he really impressed me with the depth and breadth of his knowledge and the incisive way he answered questions. I picked up both of his books and he signed them and complimented my t-shirt. I didn’t realize what a compliment this was at the time, but apparently, he was renowned for his collection of t-shirts during his time at the BBC.

This is the t-shirt I wore


My friend Jeremiah caught up with me. He’s been hosting a podcast for two years (The Loaded Couch! Check it out! Good stuff!) and he had kindly offered to record it. He figured we should check with the convention staff in case they wanted to look over our stuff. They were very helpful and they were fine with us recording it as long as it didn’t interfere with their equipment.

And before I knew it, it was 11 am and time for my panel.


I was nervous. I’m terrible on my feet but I had gone through the entire presentation several times and I was confident that I had something that worked. It was a PowerPoint presentation of 50 slides, broken into three parts, and I had fourteen pages of script/notes.  Also, I had a bunch of friends planted in the audience to act as ringers and they jumped in with questions like “Is it a burden to be so handsome?” and “What’s it like being so talented?!” whenever there was a lull.

I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. Any problems it had were with my execution and not the concept. I was nervous, because I’m a socially stunted introvert who dreads human interaction, but I enjoyed it and I think the folks in the audience did too!

Then I went upstairs and caught up on all the sleep I didn’t get last night.

I changed into my Whizzkid outfit and met Andrew Cartmel at his table in the vendor room. I said, "Check me out! I'm Whizzkid!" and he replied in the most neutral tone of voice I've ever heard. "Yes, you are." It was such a neutral tone that not even J.K. Rowling would attach an adverb to that statement. He just said it. He did add that Stephen Wyatt (author of that story) would have appreciated it, so that was cool.

A brief defense of Whizzkid

If you’re not familiar with the character, he appeared once, in the Greatest Show in the Galaxy. He was written as a parody of obsessive Doctor Who fans and he’s best known for the line: Well, yes, of course. I've never been able to visit it before now but I've got all sorts of souvenirs. Copies of all the advertising satellites that have ever been sent out. All the posters. I had a long correspondence with one of the former members too, soon after it started. Although I never got to see the early days, I know it's not as good as it used to be but I'm still terribly interested.




Andrew Cartmel said of him in this interviewThere was a lot of laughter on the set when we finally executed that fucker, I can tell you!

Which is kind of hilarious.

He gets killed off by the Gods of Ragnarok when he fails to entertain them. The only thing left is his blue distinctive blue frame glasses.

I had Whizz Kid glasses for my costume, by the way, but I didn’t wear them. I scoured online eyeglass stores, but had a terrible time finding glasses with round, blue frames.  I finally tracked them down, and I was so excited that I could barely enter my prescription into the appropriate fields.

I finished the order and waited patiently for them to arrive. When they did, I quickly realized my mistake. I had ordered from the children’s section of the website and the glasses were way too small for my head.



Plus, I have a really weird prescription (legally blind in one eye without glass, fine in the other) that I can’t even give them away as a prop to some little kid.

There’s a lesson here, but I’m not sure what it is.  Maybe that the effort I put into cosplaying as Whizzkid was out of proportion with anyone else’s level of interest in it.

Anyway, Whizzkid is annoying, but at least he came across as sincere in his interests. In this age of Gamergate, gatekeeping and doxing, he doesn’t look so bad.

Long live Whizzkid!

The next panel I attended was at 3 pm Whovian Feminism: Alyssa Franke authored one of the finest essays of the primary, so I was really looking forward to her panel. The presentation itself was short, and the rest of the hour was spent in debate, centering on the topic of a female/POC Doctor.

There was a bit of a fallow period on the schedule here. I think it was because they didn’t want to schedule anything against the high-profile guests, but unfortunately, Jenna Coleman had to cancel at the last minute so they wound up with a bit of a gap.

We had some dinner at the worst pizza place in Baltimore and then my wife arrived late at night. She went down to the dance party with Nicole.

I’m not into dancing, but I enjoyed the music and the Doctor Who videos on the screen (even if it was way too heavy on Matt Smith)

Sunday

I attended the Coffee with the Creators breakfast and that was nice, but I’m way too shy to actually talk to anyone. I was happy to listen, though.

I followed that with Afterlife of the Seventh Doctor: Cartmel and McCoy are a great team.  Someone in the audience of another panel derisively called the actors on Doctor Who "the talent" (which I felt to be a rather strange attitude to hold at a Doctor Who convention, but whatever ), but I kind of understand the sentiment. The actors don't understand the show the way the writers do. Sylvester McCoy is the wrong person to ask why his Doctor acted in a certain way in a certain story, but Cartmel can speak at length on the topic.

Here’s a picture of my friend Jeremiah talking with Sylvester.



12 pm: Ace! This panel was great. It was hosted by Andrew Cartmel and some really great fans dressed up like Ace. This was possibly the best panel of the con. ReGen has always been community driven and I loved the enthusiasm here. The panelists loved Ace and wanted to share that love with us.  We talked about Hex (“Oh my God!”) and Raine and it was GREAT! Someone asked why they went with a baseball bat for Ace in Remembrance. Cartmel said because it was an offensive weapon that was easy to acquire and which doesn’t look like a weapon. I thought, “What a remarkably cogent answer!” I liked that it wasn’t an arbitrary decision, that considerable thought had gone into it. I'm not anywhere near as talented as he is, but I have the same methodical approach to storytelling.

Meanwhile, when I was doing all this, Jen was cosplaying as a Weeping Angel. She was tremendously well received.




I’m very happy for her, though I’m a little put out that I’m not even the most famous Whovian in my own family. I wrote a story! Big Finish produced it! It was pretty well-received! But nobody gave me a license plate holder!



I’m just glad our daughter didn’t come. Otherwise, I would have dropped to third place. She cosplays a great Seventh Doctor.



Overall? I loved it. I always love this con. (Re)Generation Who is the culmination of an enormous amount of passion and hard work from a ton of people.

They continue to evolve and refine themselves without losing their identity. In her introductory panel, Oni said that it was all about the fans and the community and I absolutely believe her.

I'll keep coming back to this con for as long as they hold it.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Shadows and Reflections not dead after all?

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

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Crossover Combat: Battle of the Genies


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

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

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

But the smart ones always took precautions


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

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

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



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






Jeannie: Barbera Eden from I Dream of Jeannie.

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




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

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



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

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

Akinator

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


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

It is none other than

King Suleiman! 


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



Friday, February 24, 2017

Doctor Who: Ranking the Incarnations of the Doctor



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

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





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



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



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




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



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



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




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


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


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


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


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


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

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