Monday, February 28, 2011

The adventures of the Big Big kids

We were driving in the car when Lily said, "I'm going to make up a story. It's about the big big kids. They're really old, like thirty."

Me: They can play teenagers in Beverly Hills 90210.
Lily: They can do anything! They can fly without wings!
Me: Wow!
Lily: They can lift up trees!
Me:They must be very strong!
Lily: They can go in the pool naked!
Me: Err...
Jen: I don't think that's actually a super power.

I wound up getting pretty sick on Friday, which was disappointing, because we were planning on getting together with some friends that we hadn't seen for a while. I threw up around noon, just a little bit and took off from work, and just kept getting sicker and sicker. I drank Lily's Pedialyte and I couldn't even keep that down. Fever of about 102, chills, disorientation, it wasn't life-threatening, but I don't get sick all that often, and it was really unpleasant.

I rallied a bit on Saturday, but not completely. Jen got Lily from Aunt Lori's and I told Lily that I could only kiss her on the top of the head because I was still sick. Lily threw me 100 "Love Bags" (imaginary little presents) and she said that each one was full of doctor's supplies to help me feel better. I managed to keep some food down, but my throat was really raw.

Jen did a wonderful job taking care of me when I was sick. She picked up a really nifty thermometer too. She played CSI with Lily to give me a little time to rest.

"What do you think, honey? Who whacked Rainbow Brite?"

I was feeling somewhat better on Sunday. Lily was curious about different parts of the eye, and I was able to answer some of her questions. (Jen is probably not pleased that I used sclera. I think it's a neat word, though.)

Sunday night, I went back to feeling very sick at night. I think I said to Jen that my throat felt like it was full of knives. I was trying to decide if I wanted to come into work or schedule a doctor's appointment. I decided that with a dentist appointment coming up later in the week, I couldn't afford to miss any time.  I can barely talk, and I'm still feeling sick, but I came in so I could lick doorknobs and sneeze on the bagels here.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Addition to the site

Since we're starting to get some lengthy exchanges within certain posts, I added a link to the most recent comments so that these conversations will be more obvious to those not participating in them.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Roger Zelazny Book Review: Angel, Dark Angel

Another review with SPOILERS:

Today's Roger Zelazny review is the story Angel, Dark Angel. The thing that sticks with me is the story of how the story came about.

Yet another variation on the way stories come into being. Back when Fred Pohl was editing Galaxy, Worlds of Tomorrow and Worlds of If magazines he used to encourage artists by buying pieces they painted to use as covers. These days, the contents of a magazine tend to come first, the cover subsequently commissioned to illustrate something within. But I can't complain about the old order of things, which paid a number of bills. Fred would send a reproduction of such a cover to a writer and request a story to go behind it. One of my better short stories, The Man Who Loved the Faioli, came about in such a fashion. (Also, my absolute worst, but never mind) This one showed an extended, black-gloved hand, a strange little creature with a near-human face standing on the palm.

I always imagine the Simule looking like the little slimes from the Dragon Warrior/Dragon Quest series of video games.
The salvation of the human race, baby

We get a more detailed description later in the story,  (Stain studied the tiny, six-legged creature, with its disquietingly near-human face. Near. Yet not quite. It was unmarked by the physical conversions of those abstract passion-producers men call good and evil, which show in some form upon every human countenance. Its ears were large, doubtless for purposes of eavesdropping, and its two antennae quivered upon its hairless head and it raised a frail limb as if to shake hands), which shows that my initial impression was rather inaccurate and yet that's how I still see it.

I would imagine that the cover is featured in the Ides of Octember, so I should probably just break down and buy it already.

I like the story. It's vintage early Zelazny, where he presents a world and explores it. In the distant future, mankind has stagnated under the guidance of Morgenguard,, the supercomputer which took fifteen years to build, and its executioners, the Angels of Death. If Morgenguard determines that an individual must die to preserve society, then an Angel is dispatched to do the deed.

What is an Angel of Death, you ask?

The Angel of Death is, at any given moment, any one of ten thousand anonymous individuals whose bodies bear the mark of Morgenguard, after this fashion: Selected before birth because of a genetic heritage that includes heightened perception and rapid reflexes, certain individuals of the homo sapiens variety are given a deadly powerful education under force-fed conditions. This compensates for its brevity. At age fourteen, they may or may not accept employment in the service of Morgenguard, the city-sized machine created by the mutual efforts of all civilized peoples over a period of fifteen years and empowered to manage their worlds for them. Should any decline, these individuals generally proceed to excel in their chosen professions. Should they accept, a two-year period of specialized training follows. At the end of this time, their bodies have built into them an arsenal of weapons and numerous protective devices and their reflexes have been surgically and chemically stimulated to a point of thoughtlike rapidity.

They work an eight-hour day, five days a week, with two daily coffee breaks and an hour for lunch. They receive two vacations a year and they work for fourteen years and are retired on full salary at age thirty, when their reflexes begin to slow. At any given moment, there are always at least ten thousand on duty.

On any given workday, they stand in the transport cubicles in Shadowhall in Morgenguard, receive instructions, are transported to the worlds and into the presence of the individuals who have become superfluous, dispatch these individuals and depart.

He is the Angel of Death. Life lasts long, save for him; populations would rise up like tidal waves and inundate worlds, save for him; criminals would require trials and sentencing, save for him; and of course history might reflect unnecessary twistings and turnings, save for the Angel of Death.

One dark form might walk the streets of a city and leave that city empty of life at its back. Coming in lightning and departing in thunder, no world is foreign, no face unfamiliar, and the wearer of the black gauntlets is legend, folklore and myth; for, to a hundred billion people, he is but one being with a single personality.

All of which is true. Quite, quite true. And the Dark Angel cannot die. 

Should the near-impossible occur, should some being with speed and intrepidity be standing accidentally armed at the moment his name on the roll yonder and up is being shouted, then the remains of the stricken Dark Angel vanish as, with a simultaneous lightning-and-thunder effect, another takes his place, rising, as it were, out of ashes.

The few times that this has occurred, the second has always finished the job.

I don't like having such long passages in my reviews of short works, but that was all so great that I couldn't find anything to cut. I especially like the detail about the two coffee breaks. I can't help but imagine that Angels of Death clocking in at an old-fashioned time clock at the beginning of their shift.

A retired Angel, Stain, is asked by Morgenguard to take up his gauntlets for a special mission. He accepts, and the narrative shifts to Galatea, "who has red hair and stands to slightly over five and a half feet in height. Her eyes are green and her complexion pale, and men call her lovely but generally avoid her company."

They meet up and hit it off and wind up competing in the Cyborg Open Mixed Doubles tennis matches. It just seems absolutely incongruous with the rest of the setting, but maybe that's why I like it, for its whimsy.

Galatea has a fresco depicting human thought in her apartment and she explains it when Stain asks about it. It depicts John Locke, Einstein, Homer, Virgil, Dante and Da Vinci, with five empty spots at the end, empty because civilization has become stagnant under Morgenguard, with everything now "planned, prescribed, directed", and no ill coming of it but no real progress either. That is why she developed the Simule, creatures who share a mass mind who wish only to learn and instruct.  For this she earned a visit from the Angel of Death.

But as she was a retired Angel herself, her body's implanted defenses turned back the charge and slew the Angels dispatched to kill her. This was hinted at, earlier in the story, and I can't remember if I saw the twist coming the first time I read it.  But Stain loves her and can't bring himself to harm her, and departs, requesting  an audience with Morgenguard upon his return. Once there, he turns the power of his gauntlets against himself, resulting in a perpetual chain reaction which destroys the computer and will give Simule time to grow.

This is another story which grew on me. It seems like such a straightforward tale on its surface, and I was familiar enough with Zelazny at the time to see the influence of his time at the SSA on his writing. But there's more to it than the simple theme of "bureaucracy enforcing conformity" that I first saw in it.  Maybe that's the core of it, but since it's told on such a grand scale and presented in such a compelling way that they combine to infuse a straightforward plot with a universal relevance.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Roger Zelazny Book Review: Psychoshop

The abridged story of Psychoshop: Alfred Bester wrote half a novel. Then he died. Then Roger Zelazny wrote half a novel. Then he died. Finally, somebody published both halves. The end!

I like Alfred Bester. The Demolished Man is one of my favorite non-Zelazny SF stories. There's a reason it won the very first Hugo award.

Tenser, said the Tensor.
Tension, apprehension,
And dissension have begun.

That said, his style is very different from Roger Zelazny's. When I was reviewing Damantion Alley, I said that, for me, when Hell said "squares", it made me think of "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis", but Chris said in the comment section that it made him think of Kerouac and the Beat movement. The Demolished Man is something that makes me think of that era.

To digress for a moment, Al Pacino starred as a Revolutionary War era farmer in a film titled, imaginatively,  Revolution, where made no effort to hide his rather distinctive accent. I haven't seen him in the 2004 Merchant of Venice (where he plays Shylock), but I imagine it's the same deal there, with Pacino channeling Frank Slade from Scent of a Woman: "Hath not a Jew fuckin' eyes?! Hoo-wah!" And he's undoubtedly one of the finest actors of his generation, but he's unmistakably, distractingly Al Pacino, and that's the problem.

There is a similar dynamic at play with Psychoshop. I like Bester's distinctive style. I like Zelazny's distinctive style. However, they really are very different, and Zelazny doesn't even attempt to mesh his style with Bester's when he takes over the writing duties.  It's not even like they're two stories with the same characters. It's like they're different stories with different characters that happen to have the same names. And I can appreciate both sections of the book for what they are, but it's not the same book I was reading ten pages ago and the difference is more than a little jarring, (like, say seeing Al Pacino in 14th century Venice.)

All right. The book itself. There are two things that cause really a visceral revulsion in me. One of them is faces with too many eyes. (I don't mind them on spiders, though, because I like spiders and eight is the right number of eyes for them). The other is brains. I don't know why it is. My mom says I used to freak out if someone even said the word. The sight still unnerves me on a really instinctual level. And I like the cover of a brain in shopping bag, because I think it's a clever way of depicting the theme of the book, but it just gives me the heebie-jeebies.

I really need to get around to buying The Ides of Octember to see if there's an alternate cover.

All right, spoilers ahoy, so if you haven't read the book, please stop reading.


Greg Bear provided the intro, and I think he must have been hungry and listening to Miles Davis when he wrote it.

And then there is the story. Alf Noir is a writer for a bleeding edge magazine and is dispatched to Rome in order to do a story on the "Black Place of the Soul-Changer". I have to wonder about the character's name, because Alf seems like a diminutive for Alfred, which is of course, Bester's first name. It seems a very odd choice. I don't write fiction, but if I did, I don't think that I'd name my protagonist "Josh".

He meets Adam Maser, proprietor of the Psychoshop, and when I read the name, I thought, "Aha!  Microwave Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation" and felt briefly kind of smart for knowing what a maser was right off the top of my head, but then it's explained a couple of pages later. Rats!

The first part of the book deals mainly with Adam brokering deals with people. His shop is actually a ship and he's capable of using it to strip away or add aspects to an individual's mind. So you might trade your telepathy for total recall or precognition for assertiveness. It's an interesting concept, and I like that everyone goes away happy, that there are no monkey's paw bargains in the mix.

I kept thinking of Kalifriki as I read it. There were bodies hanging from hooks, clones, singularities and superhuman bounty hunters. But more on that later.

The whole book is overflowing with references. I'm sure I didn't catch them all. (Edgar Allen Poe gets a cameo, which reminded me that I need to wrap up my review of The Black Throne.) I think I'd like an annotated edition, as I've been spoiled by the truly comprehensive references in the Collected Stories.

Bester's chapters were just collections of these vignettes. They were just plain fun to read, and if they didn't really go anywhere, that was a feature, not a bug. I like that someone with the pseudonym Etaoin Shrdlu comes into the shop and Alf immediately makes the connection. I like the random Burma Shave reference.

Zelazny takes over at around chapter four and it's really like starting a second book. The language changes and I really can't say if that change is for better or for worse, but it's a radical shift nonetheless. We also start seeing the plot pull together into story rather than a collection of scenes. I can enjoy each of these on their own merits, but I do think that Zelazny pulled Bester's dangling plot threads together with a very deft touch.

We learn fairly late in the book that Alf is a superhuman bounty hunter who gave himself a post-hypnotic suggestion and a set of fake memories so he could get close to Adam. It gets very convoluted at this point, unnecessarily so, and though it wasn't impossible to follow, it seemed more complicated than it needed to be.

What can I say? I was certainly entertained. Memorable characters, clever concepts, the occasional dash of psychology and philosophy, some nifty action sequences. I like Gomi the Mi-Go. I like Alf tossing up a handful of coins, moving fast enough to catch and repocket all but a quarter and tearing that one in half. But as much as I enjoyed it, Bester's beginning doesn't seem to lead to Zelazny's ending.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Zombies & Stardust

I bought myself an E-Reader with my Christmas money (and a B&N gift card) and I've been pretty happy with it. I doesn't do PDFs as well as I'd like, but it's pretty decent for a wide variety of stuff. I picked up a cheap little digital copy of  The Little Mermaid: A Special Song for Lily and she enjoyed it. When we finished, it took us to the store, so I picked up a Phineas and Ferb book for her.

I thought it was just a little kid's book when I got it, but it's actually a fairly lengthy chap book aimed at older kids. This is our first time reading a book we couldn't finish in a single sitting and she's been remarkably patient and attentive for the whole thing. Lily likes Phineas and Ferb, but there's something about the show that I don't enjoy. I'm finding the book a bit more enjoyable, though, and perhaps this will be the start of a movement away from reading the same books every night.

We were driving in the car when Lily said "Did you know that we're made out of star dust?!"

And I said, "That's technically true, yes, but I can't explain it further in a way that would make sense to you."

She then said, "I'll have to make a star explode if we want to make more people!" and I replied that we have more efficient ways of going about that these days.

Later on, she made my coffee mug very happy.

I took a walk today and found a crushed car in a dumpster. That's certainly not something one sees every day. I'm trying to think of the set of circumstances where putting a car in a dumpster is the best option and I'm kind of drawing a blank.

I took some pictures, but a flying pink whale got in the way for the second shot.

Damn you, space whale!

While on that walk, I was listening to a podcast of WHYY's Radio Times, which featured an interview with Dan Drezner, author of Theories of International Politics and Zombies. He was remarkably deadpan throughout the whole thing.

They played clips from Johnathan Coulton's "Re: Your brains", Dawn of the Dead, Shaun of the Dead, and Night of the Living Dead. He also referred to Dawn of the Dead as the best zombie movie ever, which makes him okay in my book.

A caller who sounded suspiciously like Frederick called in to take issue with the fact that he calls the infected in 28 Days Later "zombies". He also plugs World War Z, which I blogged about here. It was a pretty entertaining interview.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

$#*! My Daughter Says

Just a random collection of Lily's wit and wisdom.

I was reading Lily a Little Mermaid story for bedtime and as we were wrapping up, she asked why Ariel had red hair. I couldn't remember the name of the pigment that accounts for red hair in humans (and presumably mer-people too), so I stalled for time while trying to recall it by saying, "Because her mom had red hair."

Lily: Or maybe it's because she dyes it.
Me: I guess that's possible. It must be hard to dye your hair underwater, though-
Lily: Or maybe she eats red seaweed!
Me: Wha-?
Lily: Yeah, instead of dying her hair, she eats red seaweed and it turns her hair red! And Triton is like 'Ariel, I don't want you eating red seaweed to be more like a human!" but she keeps eating it because she likes having red hair.
Me: (To Jen) Your daughter is weird.

Lily had a pretty nice Valentine's Day. She's only four, so everybody gives everybody else a Valentine with Scooby Doo or Jesse from Toy Story or one that says "I Choo-Choo-Choose You" and there's a picture of a train. She was telling us that she got a Valentine from a certain boy and that he was her boyfriend. She said, "Don't worry, daddy. You're my other boyfriend." Blink. "And mommy's my other girlfriend." Her other girlfriend? I didn't even know she had a first one! She had once told us that she liked two boys in her class (because they each "dance funny and don't get many time outs and sometimes they pull their eyelids down to look like monsters") and I asked her about the second boy. She said he was her "last boyfriend". Boy, we're never getting out of this rabbit hole.

Jen: Want to hear a dirty joke?
Lily: Yes!
Me: (From the other room) It's disturbing how enthusiastically she agreed.
Jen: A pig fell in the mud.
Lily: *Laughs*
Jen: Want to hear a clean joke?
Lily: Sure.
Jen: The pig took a bath.
Lily: That's not a joke.

I've mentioned that Lily likes watching anything she describes as "Scary stuff". Lately, she's been having bad dreams every night, so I asked her why she likes scary stuff when she's awake, but it scared her when she was asleep. She said, "Well, I know it's just pretend when I'm awake, but sometimes I don't remember that when I'm asleep," which I felt was an unusually cogent answer for a four-year-old.

We were watching some cooking shows on Youtube and one of the videos was some random Austrailian dude teaching us how to make doughnuts. Lily listened for a minute and said "I think he's one of the Wiggles."

I replied, "Well, he's from Australia so he sounds like one of the Wiggles, but I don't think he's actually a Wiggle."

She nodded in understanding. "Oh, right. He just pretends to be a Wiggle on TV. I think he's the one in the yellow shirt."

And I said, "Yes, that's exactly right."

Later on in the car, we were listening to some songs from the Sound of Music and Lily likes to sing along with the high notes that conclude certain songs. I told her that under certain circumstances, a human voice could shatter glass, but that she'd have to practice a lot if she wanted to be able to do that. Jen said something about not practicing it when mommy and daddy were in the house.

Lily asked, "Because daddy wears glasses and I might break them, right?"
And I said, "Yes, that's exactly right."

After we got home, Lily was talking with mom, having the same conversation that mothers and daughters have had down through the generations.

Lily: When you die your head falls off.
Jen: (Pause) I don't thinks that's always true.
Lily: It is. (Pause.) But they don't mind, because they're already dead.
Jen: ...
Lily: I think God makes people's heads fall off so He can eat them.
Jen: Lily, you have some strange ideas in your head.

I have two tags at my blog, Lily does something cute and Lily does something horrid, and it's strange much overlap there is between the two.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Roger Zelazny Book Review: The Long Crawl of Hugh Glass

There is no chin behind Hugh Glass's beard. There is only another fist.

For today's Roger Zelazny review, I'll be looking at The Long Crawl of Hugh Glass.

I suppose I've been thinking about Hugh Glass for a while now, what with the coverage of Rep. Gabby Giffords, her shooting and her ongoing recovery, which is frankly, nothing less than astonishing. People die from the stupidest things all the time, and sometimes happenstance allows us to survive catastrophic trauma that should by all rights, kill us outright.

First things first. The Long Crawl of Hugh Glass is such a great title for a story.  I first read it in the Varley/Mainhardt Superheroes collection in about 2000, give or take. These were the days before the Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny undertook their mammoth endeavor, back when a fan had to look in the pages of random magazines or largely unpublicized anthologies to find works that hadn't been collected elsewhere. I was already partial to superheroes (as I've talked about elsewhere on this blog)  and I probably would have picked up the collection even if it didn't have Zelazny's name on the cover, though once I saw it, it certainly sealed the deal.

Personally, I think it's quite a stretch to include this story in a superhero anthology, as it's only a superhero story in the extremely broadest sense.

 Hugh Glass is a hunter mauled by a bear. Zelazny sets up the opening scene beautifully.

Hugh Glass had one chance to kill the bear, and whether his shot struck it or went completely astray, he never knew.It charged him, brushing aside the rifle before he could club with it as its paw fell upon his face, smashing his nose, tearing through the skin of his brow. Then its great forelimbs came upon him, its breath awful, fetid of ripe flesh and the musky smell of skunk, overlaid with a sweetness of berries and honey that made him think of a waiting, perfumed corpse too long aboveground while distant mourners hurried for the viewing.

His spirit seemed to turn slowly within his head and breast, a white and gray eddy of dissolving perceptions, as his blood ran into his eyes and traced trails down his frosted beard. A large man, bearlike himself in the eyes of his fellows, he did not cry out, did not know fear; a great gasp had rung much of the air from him, leaving him voiceless and the attack had come so quickly that there had been no time to be afraid. Now what he felt seemed familiar; for he was a hunter, providing game for eighty men, dealing daily death as a way of business of life. And it was suddenly his turn. It would have been good to say farewell to Jamie, but there are always things undone. The cracking of his ribs was not such a terrible thing through the falling white and gray; the sound from his thigh might have been a snapping branch in some distant forest. He was no longer there to feel the ground as he crashed against it.

The first page is just one of those times an author gets everything perfect. The choice of words, the repetition, the descriptions of the smells and the distant sensations. Flawless.

The meter of the opening line strongly parallels the introduction of John D'Arcy Donnerjack, which is also a bit of writing I happen to particularly enjoy.
  • Hugh Glass had one chance to kill the bear, and whether his shot struck it or went completely astray, he never knew.
  • John D'Arcy Donnerjack loved but once and when he saw the moiré he knew it was over.

Immediately after the attack, Hugh's companion Jamie comes upon the scene, recognizes "the shaggy totem shape" of the bear and kills it. He then goes to mourn Hugh, only to find that the big man is still alive. He decides to sit with his friend so that he might have companionship through his final hours. But Hugh hasn't died by the next morning.

I like how Zelazny is true to both his distinctive style and the style of the frontier. I don't know if phrases like  "Looks a sight, too" or "Amazing strong" are factually representative of the manner of speaking in that time and place, but they certainly feel like they are.

As a rule, I generally don't like fictionalized accounts of actual events. I touched on this briefly in an earlier review, where I said of Forever After "The cover pages reads 'created by' Roger Zelazny, which reminded me of something my high school sociology teacher said, 'If the label on your spaghetti sauce reads 'flavored with meat', it just means they walked a cow past it.'

After reading this (possibly apocryphal) account of an encounter between the author Honoré de Balzac and Eugène François Vidocq (founder of the French Sûreté) I warmed to the process of tweaking the specifics of a story, but keeping the essence.

Balzac was munching a Montreuil peach, when Vidocq said to him, "Monsieur de Balzac, you go to a lot of trouble to create stories of the other world, when reality is here under your eyes, near your ears, under your hand." Balzac laughed. "So you believe in reality! You delight me. I would not have believed you could be so naive. Reality! Talk to me about it. You have just come back from that beautiful country. We make reality." Vidocq protested: "No, Monsieur de Balzac." Balzac persisted: "Yes, Monsieur Vidocq." He held up his peach. "You see, the true reality is this beautiful peach from Montreuil. The one you would call real, you, that one grows naturally, in the forest, on the wild peach tree. Well! that one is nothing; it is small, bitter, sour, impossible to eat. But here is the real peach, the one I hold, which has been cultivated for a hundred years, which has been obtained through cuttings here and there, through transplantation in dry or light ground, some kind of grafting; the one one eats, which perfumes one's mouth and heart. That exquisite peach, we made it, it is the only real one. Same thing with me. I get reality in my novels, as Montreuil gets reality in peaches. I am a gardener of books."

TVtropes calls it Adaptation Distillation and I think that's as good a name for the technique as any.

...The bear approached Hugh again and he couldn't run from it. It was as if his feet had grown roots. The bear walked upright , its face flowing like dark water. He saw his father there, and the faces of men he had had to kill. Dark birds flew out of the bear, flapping their wings in his face.

Did Hugh Glass really have this nightmare following his bear attack? I doubt it, but it conveys the delirium and desperation he must have felt as he hung suspended between life and death.

Hugh was "Amazing strong" but that strength was working against him. After several days, his companions dig him a grave, take his gun and his gear and split, because they have noticed signs of Ree (Arikara) in the area.

Hugh, like other Zelazny protagonists is moved by "a hate so big it would burn the innocent to reach the guilty", and like Corwin, by an indomitable will to survive. The story is nothing less than astonishing. He was so weak he could only crawl at first, he rolled on to a log and let maggots eat out the infected flesh; he did everything he needed to to survive.

I found the flashbacks to his time as a pirate less interesting, but only because the account of his saga in the wilderness was so good.

I like it a lot. As is typical with me, I prefer the shorter work in the form of The Long Crawl of Hugh Glass to the version interspersed with accounts of John Colter in Wilderness.

I'm not as huge a science fiction fan as I used to be. As a kid, I would devour whatever trash you put in front of me as long as it had aliens and ray guns. Now, I'm just as omnivorous, but in a different fashion. I'll read anything as long as it's good. The Collected Stories touches on this a little bit, but for a variety of reasons, Zelazny never published a large amount of non-genre material, which is a bit of a shame, because the little bit he did is every bit as good as his well-known works.

According to the Wikipedia entry on Glass, Christian Bale may portray him in an upcoming movie, though it seems that this is in the very preliminary stages, as the IMDB doesn't even have an entry for it as of this writing.

Also, I don't play World of Warcraft, but apparently Hugh is there as an NPC with a pet Grizzly Bear. How awesome is that?!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Star Wars Campaign Log, Part Two

This is the second part of my Star Wars campaign log. The first installment can be found here.

Part Five

Early in the game, Eric had started describing one of the aliens as a kind of regal looking eagle, and I said "Oh, like Sam the Eagle from the Muppets", and Frederick said "Man, the Muppets sure come up a lot during Star Wars games", and both Eric and I said "No, just in our Star Wars games" at the same time.

We were extra heroic that night. We, uh, fixed a baseball game. Well, a shockball game. Apparently it's the Star Wars version of baseball and very popular in the setting. Palpatine throws out the first pitch or something. That lead to a lot of jokes of the Emperor sitting in the stands with a big foam finger and one of those hats with the beer cans on top.  The star player for the Rancors, Hron, had reneged on a deal to throw the game and it was our mission to take him out of the picture, "discretely".

Our idea of discretion was to sneak into the locker room with forged press passes, under the names Clark Kent, Jimmy Olson, Perry White and Lex Luthor, steal some sedatives from the medical droid, stuff an ewok into the doctor's bag with the drugs, get close to Hron by asking him "Have you stopped beating your underage mistress yet?", and then inject him with the sedatives when he answered. (His answer was , No, he doesn't, and he likes to work himself into a frenzy watching snuff films before the game.)  With our reward money we bought more guns for the ship, baby gates to keep the jawa from getting around the ship, and, errr...a mail order bride for the ship's captain. Yup, I sure feel heroic.

Part Six

Played Star Wars this Friday. Brought Ancker along and we had the best time we've had in ages. It may be the most fun I've ever had role-playing, and I've been in the hobby on and off since I was twelve. We were trying to rescue some prisoners, but ran afoul of a Dark Jedi at a press conference. He noticed us in the crowd, and started chasing us down the hallway. I played Yakety Sax (the Benny Hill theme) on my cell phone as we ran away. He threw a landspeeder on top of me and decapitated our Ewok. (The Ewok was disguised as a Jawa. I think they knew that we have a Jawa Jedi, so, on reflection, that might have been a poor choice of a disguise.)

Normally the death of an Ewok is a time to rejoice, but since he was buying time for my character to escape, I'm going to forgo cheering about it just now.

Part Seven

In this session, some Cthuloid entity crushed our spaceship. Eric was using some of my ideas from my "The Stars are Right Wars" pitch and that was a lot of fun.There was an amusing moment (well, amusing to me) when it looked like Frederick's character wasn't going to abandon his post in the turret and I mumbled a line from The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner ("When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose"), but nobody got the reference but Bob. We put on our vac suits and did a spacewalk out to the Imperial Ship that was summoning the thing, and fought our way to the bridge. Neat adventure, lots of fighting. I don't think I made a single skill check all night. The stormtroopers were laughing my marksmanship.

Part Eight

We played Star Wars again this Friday. It went pretty well. Captain Morgan turned out to be the long lost relative of some Baron who just died and we all went to the moon where they were reading the will. They invited us to go hunting, but then they turned around and poo-pooed our suggestion to use our ship's guns. Nobles are such a bunch of snobs, I tell ya!

It turned into a pretty standard murder mystery at this point, but it was fun, even if there were only three suspects and we couldn't remember any of their names. We called them "Gaston" and "Lady Bigtop". The third guy who was such a non-entity that he didn't get a nickname.

The game kind of petered out at the point due to disparate schedules and other reasons, but it was an enormous amount of fun when it lasted. There is occasional talk of a reboot, but Eric keeps threatening to use Savage Worlds which I find neither fast nor fun (though it does make me furious).

Star Wars Campaign Log, Part One

Our team versus Dark Jedi Gelman

I was talking with a friend about Star Wars books and then I got to looking through some posts I had made at my old blog about our old Star Wars campaign. My friend Eric ran it and it's some of the most fun I've ever had in a quarter century of role-playing. We played the worst team of Rebel operatives, ever!

Since there is certainly nothing more entertaining than hearing about someone else's role-playing campaign, I now present our Star Wars campaign log.
Part One: Muppets in Space

Our heroes got captured in this session. At one point, after we got captured, the mission commander asked "How did this happen?" and I offered, "Because we ran this mission like a bunch of muppets?" He had to agree. We weren't even the semi-competent muppets like Scooter, Bunsen Honeydew or Kermit. We were like Doctor Teeth, Rizzo the Rat and Beaker. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I was playing Lloyd. He's a force-sensitive android based on Bishop from Aliens. He looks like Miguel Ferrer. He was designed to look like a younger version of his creator, who is on wanted posters all over the galaxy, and also, apparently, a porn star. We also had:
  • A rogue stormtrooper (a character that seems somehow obligatory for Star Wars RPGs) - (Bob)
  • An Ewok "with no neck" (Jay)
  • A slacker jedi. (Marino)
  • A bounty hunter using the identity of a dead, notorious bounty hunter. (Butch)
  • A random mercenary named Shadow. (Jay's son)
On a previous adventure, Butch's bounty hunter had placed a listening device in an imperial base in the Minos Cluster, and the rebel alliance was mining that for information. We were sent to blow up a supply depot that had been located with that information. The supply depot was located in a hospital that had been taken over by imperials, and we had to get into the secure section to blow it up.

So we land on the planet, but not before the Ewok manages to flush himself down the ship's toilet. He also chewed the upholstery off the co-pilot's chair. (Sadly, the Ewok is the group's best pilot.) We got passcards from our contact ( Zorak from Space Ghost), and split into two groups to sneak into the hospital. Lloyd, the storm trooper, the jedi and the merc were disguised as doctors, and going through the doctor's entrance, and the bounty hunter and the Ewok were claiming that the Ewok was wounded and required medical attention.

Both groups ran into trouble: For some reason, Lloyd was radiating energy, and he was setting off the scanners that detect weapons. The security checkpoint asked everyone to wait while they got handheld scanners.

Meanwhile, in the patient entrance, the bounty hunter was trying to sneak his Ewok through, to no avail. The plan, such as it was, was to blast the Ewok repeatedly with a blaster set on stun. We wound up shaving his ass too. I'm a little fuzzy on why we needed to do that. But whatever. The problems with this plan were A.) The hospital was several miles away and a stun blast only lasts a few minutes, so every couple minutes, the bounty hunter was pulling the Ewok into an alley to stun him again. B.) When they finally got to the hospital, the reception droid refused to acknowledge an Ewok as a sentient being. It suggested the bounty hunter take him to a veterinary hospital instead. C.) Things deteriorated further when the Ewok woke up, grabbed the hunter's blaster out of his holster, and shot the droid in the face.

Meanwhile, we were trying to bluff our way through, to no avail. It was like the scene with Han in the control room (" Uh, everything's under control. Situation normal. "What happened?" "Uh, we had a slight weapons malfunction, but uh... everything's perfectly all right now. We're fine. We're all fine here now, thank you. How are you?"[ winces] "We're sending a squad up." "Uh, uh, negative. We had a reactor leak here now. Give us a minute to lock it down. Large leak, very dangerous." "Who is this? What's your operating number?" "Uh..." [ shoots comm]), except we weren't as slick as Han. They get the handheld scanners, and a guard starts scanning Lloyd, whereupon the scanner blows up in his face. In the confusion, we slip through.

I think that this is about the time that I observed that we were playing something that should be a rollicking adventure game like an episode of Mission Impossible written by Umberto Eco.

Meanwhile, the bounty hunter and the Ewok had been captured by a bunch of storm troopers. The Ewok woke up. The storm troopers blasted him with stun bolts.  They found the bounty hunter's fake ID. He was pretending to be Jodo Kast, a notorious bounty hunter who had been impersonating Boba Fett. "Jodo, huh? We've got somebody who'd like to meet you." And they drag him off to an operating room where he encounters a man in Mandoralian battle armor, the kind worn by Boba Fett...or Jodo Kast. There had been some discussion previously that Jodo Kast might still be alive, and he apparently did not take kindly to the man who had tried to kill him stealing his identity.

Both Bob and I realized at about the same time that this wasn't Jodo Kast, the second rate imitation. This really was Boba Fett. Butch caught on a little later. The Ewok woke up. Fett stunned him. Now, Boba Fett hated Jodo Kast. But Butch didn't know that. He thought they were friends, or, at the very least, partners. So when Boba Fett growled, "So you're the one who killed Jodo Kast," Butch was like, "No, not me!" "So you were friends!" "Well, not so much friends, but we worked together." At one point, to the horror of the rest of the group, he asked Boba Fett "Have you ever been to the Rebel base on Rigel?" (Butch thought he was giving him the location of a fake Rebel base, but he got confused, and gave him the location of a real one.)

 Eventually, Boba Fett decides to leave him alive, because he decided that Butch did him a favor by killing Jodo Kast. "If I have a mission that I can't take, you're going to do it for me. Also, you might want to run." And with that, he armed a thermal detonator and threw it into the room. Butch grabbed the Ewok and bolted from the room, just in time.

Our group saw the explosion from elsewhere on the wing, and figured that if there was an explosion, then our guys were probably there. We all hooked up, then tried to figure out how to get in the secure wing.  Somebody slipped us a keycard. "What luck!" We thought, "We must have a man on the inside!" The keycard got us through the blast doors, which closed behind us. A voice announced over the loudspeaker that "You are probably one of the 17 Rebel teams using information acquired from the listening device planted in the Minos Cluster." The mission commander said that we should advance deeper, and blow up the supply depot. I said, in light of the announcement we just heard, that I didn't think there was a supply depot. We bickered for a little while, until a cyborg jedi and a bunch of black armored storm troopers showed up.

He said he sensed two Jedi and said he would turn them both to the Dark Side. There was considerable discussion about this, because, while we had one person who was obviously a Jedi, nobody knew that Lloyd was the second. He summoned our Jedi's lightsaber to him, Force Choked the mouthy merc. The Ewok woke up just in time to hold up his hands and say "No stun!" before the party all got blasted into unconsciousness. We faded to black and waited for the next installment.

We were the alpha team. Two characters who couldn't make it for this session will probably need to rescue us. Imagine an alcoholic Jack Burton from Big Trouble in Little China channeling Han Solo, and "a Gungan version of Paris Hilton". I think we're pretty well screwed.

Part Two: Star Wars as it was meant to be played

When we finished this session, Butch accurately and succinctly summed up our achievements by saying: "Well, the rebel base was compromised, so I went to a club and got lots of lap dances, while the Wookies hung out at the bar and killed Sullustans."

That about sums it up.

Since our main characters had been captured in the previous session, we had all either rolled up new characters or played ones we'd used in previous campaigns.

Butch played Captain Morgan. I later learned that he looked exactly like the guy on the bottles of rum.

Frederick played Kord, a Trandoshian like Bossk, from the Empire Strikes Back. He's a warrior, and like the rest of his species, flies into an uncontrollable, homicidal rage at the site of Wookies.

Marino had Wozzie, a Wookie.

I had Lumpy, another Wookie. Heh.

I kind of liked Lumpy. He was a Wookie sociologist. He lived on one of the Outer Rim worlds, and for the past 30 years, he'd been working on his dissertation. Now that he's finally got it completed, he returns to the galactic core only to find that the Empire has replaced the Reublic, and Wookies are no longer considered people.

Anyway, we were all flying in Captain Morgan's spaceship. We were supposed to go to a rebel base, where our relatively inexperienced characters would be paired off with veterans for training purposes. Anyhoo, when we emerged from hyperspace, we saw a bunch of TIE fighters swarming around. Morgan immediately takes evasive action and starts barrel rolling the ship around while Kord opens fire.

The fight goes on for 45 minutes of real time. We just couldn't hit them. Finally we just outrun them and jump to hyperspace.

We wind up on a Cowboy world. Kord rents a speeder to meet with his contact, and the rest of us go to a bar and make trouble. We're joined on our bar hopping by a little Sullustan, a tiny little alien. One of them had been Lando's co-pilot for RotJ. He's yucking it up with the rest of us. He's approached by three aliens, who say something along the lines of "So, you've found someone to hide behind, instead of paying your debts!" (An amusing footnote about Lumpy is that he's got a C-3P0 level ability in languages, but since he's a Wookie, his vocal cords aren't set up to do anything more than growl. So while he can understand all these languages, he can't speak any of them.) The Sullustan replies, "That's right! And you'd better back off unless you want them to beat you up."

I provide a quick translation to the rest of the team. Wozzie steps forward. The alien pops some kind of claws out of its glove. Wozzie bops the Sullustan on the head. The Sullustan collapses comically, like the albino in the Princess Bride. We check him. Ooops. He's dead. The alien retracts his claws. We all have a quick conference, the aliens take what they were owed and leave the rest in his pockets. Captain Morgan spends the money on lap dances from a Twi'lek in the bar.

We take the body back to the ship, dress it up in Kord's clothes and leave it in his quarters. He is not amused to find it. Heh.

We head to another planet, and we're pulled out of hyperspace by pirates. We jettison the Sullustan's body as a distraction, and then make a run for it.

Part Three: I forgot to take notes for this one

Unfortunately, I failed to write down notes for this session. Lumpy and company are on the Mon Calamari homeworld, where we have intercourse with some Quarrens and kill somebody in a bar. Again.

Part Four: Quickly, to the Bacta Tank!

We didn't accidentally kill anyone in the bar in this session, and I was kind of disappointed. I was hoping for a hat trick. Here's what happened. Bob's Jawa Jedi had a vision. We did some research, the Jawa got run over by a floor cleaning robot, and we learned that the Jedi holocron of his vision was on the Imperial High Inquisitor's medical ship.

Frederick's character, a bounty hunter named Kord, got a job as a bodyguard on the ship. He ordered some Bacta tanks and the rest of the crew pretended to be a delivery crew for those Bacta tanks. We didn't actually have the tanks, but the ship's manifest said we did, and that was good enough to get us on board.

So we snuck around for a while, until we got to the restricted wing, where the victims of experiments were housed. (The commander of the ship was Commander Gelman. After the game, Eric explained that if you reversed the syllables, the name would be (Dr. Josef) Mengele, the infamous Nazi doctor on whom the character was based.)

We encountered some zombie Wookies, which is cool. Eric implied that the adventure was based in part on something on which we had collaborated earlier. I don't know specifically where he's going with this, but I think it's going to be really awesome. Anyway, we encountered the Dark Jedi Gelman. He was in the middle of a depraved experiment. We looked at each other for a moment, and I said, "Can anyone sign for these Bacta Tanks?"

A fight broke out. He hit Kord really hard and almost killed him. We finally managed to take him down, and Kord was in pretty terrible shape. Bob rushed him back to the ship.

Bob: I put him in a Bacta Tank! 
Eric: (Blink) You don't have one. You were just pretending to, so you could get on board.
Bob: Oh. Right.

We left the zombie Wookies behind and brought as many people as we could on board the ship, but they had radioed for a Star Destroyer. And that's where we broke for the night.

Scooby Doo, Valentine's Day and the Catcher in the Rye

Jen's Valentine's Day present came in the mail on Thursday. I showed it to Lily right before her bedtime story. She loved it. She put it on and posed for the mirror in her "Princess Pose" which she learned from Belle at Disney World. She's such a diva.

I put it back in the box and stowed it away and Lily said, "I have an idea! I'll tell mommy that you're throwing out a candy box." She's alarmingly adept at coming up with plausible cover stories.

(Sadly, Lily had a more interesting Valentine's Day than we did. She had a party at her school. Jen and I did Jack Squat.)

Later on in the kitchen Jen was telling me a funny story, and she started laughing a little at her own story and the way her laughter mingled with her words reminded me of Lily, who is sometimes so overcome with amusement at her own story that she'll react the same way. Of course Jen must have done it first, but adults laugh at their own stories much more rarely than kids do, so I never noticed it as a trait of Jen's until Lily had done it all the time. Strange what kids teach us about ourselves.

For our Wacky Wednesday movie, Jen and Lily and I were watching a Scooby Doo movie where Fred was going to be a councilor at the camp he attended as a kid, and I commented "Yay! It's the real Fred! He's wearing his ascot!" because some of the more recent character designs have him scarfless and in a striped shirt.

Lily asked "What's an ascot?" and I explained "It's that scarf he's wearing" and then on the TV the person in charge of camp exclaims "I'd recognize that ascot anywhere! C'mere, Freddie!" and Jen and I cracked up.

I got A Pup named Scooby Doo for Lily and it came on Monday. I thought she'd like it, but she asked for a Scooby Doo movie she'd already seen a thousand times after watching two episodes. She said she prefers Fred's hair as a grown up. I don't even know how to begin to make sense of that.

Later on, I was discussing Beatle's songs with a friend (specifically the fact that Fiona Apple's cover of Across the Universe is better than the original) and I got to wondering when Mark David Chapman (John Lennon's assassin) had died. I discovered four interesting things.

  1. He's still alive
  2. He's kept largely sequestered from the rest of the population for his own safety, which as Jen pointed out, is kind of bullshit, because it's really pretty unlikely that somebody now imprisoned in Attica going to be a big enough Beatles fan to recognize him and start something.
  3. He's still married and
  4. He gets one 42-hour conjugal visit a year from his wife. 
When I related this to my friend, he observed, "Sadly, he's probably had sex more recently than I have" to which I replied "Here's a map to Ringo Starr's house. I think you know what to do next."

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Roger Zelazny Book Review: Forever After

I'm not sure if I ever really considered this a Roger Zelazny book (though his contribution here is certainly greater than it was with Flare, where it seems he basically said to Thomas T. Thomas, "Hey, write a book about a solar flare.") The cover pages reads "created by" Roger Zelazny, which reminded me of something my high school sociology teacher said, "If the label on your spaghetti sauce reads 'flavored with meat', it just means they walked a cow past it." So I expected his involvement to be rather minimal.

I don't think that's the case, though. By page count, he wrote over half the book and provided the outlines for the other authors. All right. If it's not a Roger Zelazny book, it's certainly a Roger Zelazny creation, just as it says on the cover, and the prose is certainly influenced by his characteristic style.

This review will SPOIL a plot twist, so read further at your own risk.

I didn't know what to expect. On the inside cover it listed BAEN BOOKS by ROGER ZELAZNY

Forever After, creator
Wizard World
Mask of Loki

And I thought, "Ah, Baen only publishes the shitty ones."

I haven't been able to find a lot online about this book. It seems to have been largely ignored. It was his last project, by all accounts something he enjoyed, written by people who liked and respected him enormously. David Drake's afterward speaks fondly of the process and of Zelazny, saying that "...the real trouble with Forever After for me was that it called for whimsically funny fantasy with a serious core - the sort of thing that Roger Zelazny did better than anyone in the field..."

He used Zelazny's Furies as his stylistic model, saying "It's an extremely funny story on the surface and gut-wrenching just beneath below the surface. To my mind it's one of the best SF stories ever written."

That absolutely nails it. I wish I'd been the one to say that.

Forever After is the story of what happens after the end of the quest. It looks at the question of why the magical artifacts that allowed the heroes to overcome the demigod were always such a pain in the ass to reach, and I thought the answer it gave was reasonable. You don't want them too easily obtained and too many in too close a proximity has a distorting effect on reality itself. So the same heroes who slew Kalaran the demigod now undertake a reverse quest to put the artifacts back where they were found. They're saddled with useless sidekicks, and it's almost as if the prince wants them to fail. We get an account of each hero's quest, followed by a piece by Zelazny covering what's happening in the castle, which is mostly Prince Rango acting mysteriously evil.   Forever After was first published in December of 1995, though I'm pretty sure I didn't read it until after I had played Diablo 2, which had exactly the same plot twist, that of the the conquering hero taken over by the very dark power he had overcome.

The humor is kind of stupid, though I don't mean that as a pejorative. The puns are atrocious. Which is as they should be.

The first story is the longest and the best, Arts & Sciences, the Gar Quithnik story, by Michael Stackpole. Gar Quithnik is the absurdly competent master of hingu. Gar is what we kids growing up in the 80s imaged what ninja were like. He plucks arrows out of the air like summer plums and kills people with his Dim Mak-like kuo-tak death touch ("a touch kills but the death is delayed and can even be triggered by a sight or a sound or a scent.")

Stackpole's descriptions of Gar's prowess are intentionally and ridiculously florid and I thought they were just a riot. Gar was a lieutenant to the bad guy who defected to the side of the angels and was instrumental in their victory. His love for Domino Blaid is unrequited, and he throws himself into his mission with the passionless zeal of a true hingu master.

His companion in this quest is the roly-poly Spido, a specialized sorcerer and alleged hingu-kun himself. They take a detour through Spido's village and hilarity ensues. I think Stackpole does a better job than Drake in blending the serious and the absurd in his particular offering.  I like the passage where Gar kills a saurian "TerribleClaw Fasthunter" (I admit I chuckled at the that. A velociraptor by any other name... )

Gar brought the spear back. His pale eyes have closed and he nodded the salute to the sorian. He knew it would not understand the gesture, but made it because Tian-shi-sheqi demanded it. Then he threw the spear.

I like his description of how Udan Kunn "slithered" into the Viper stance. The story has a wealth of little details and Stackpole must have had a hell of a thesaurus because he always has exactly the right word ready.

The end of this story is moving. As Gar lies battered and broken, he recalls a poem:

Born out of time
to right an ancient wrong
I enter my father's future
familiar distance dawn.
My present become past
fading with the sky
Never to see her again
dead man pass by.

Gar Quithnick, the last Tian-shi-Grashanshao, did not know why those words came to him now or what they meant. He did not know if they were good poetry or bad, but he knew he liked them. As the sun set, and Gelfait faded from the world, he considered Jord's words and reclaimed the peace of Tian-shi-sheqi.

The next story is David Drake's A Very Offensive Weapon. I like Drake's military sci-fi enormously, but his story here  just didn't work for me.  It wasn't bad, it was just overshadowed by the other installments and Zelazny's preludes.

I wasn't looking forward to Robert Asprin's contribution. I really didn't like his Myth series. But Wanted: Guardian was excellent. The wordplay could have come right from Zelazny's pen itself. I don't know if he was making a deliberate attempt to ape Zelazny's style or if this is how he usually writes, but it was a really fun read. Spotty Gulick and his faithful dwarf companion are looking for a place to stash the magical sword Mothganger, and they entreat a dragon to keep it for them. The dragon refuses and they go back and forth until Spotty comes up with an inventive solution.

On page 176 Spotty says of Prince Rango, "He is rightful ruler of this land, both by bloodline and right of conquest."  That's similar enough to Dara's comment in Sign of the Unicorn ("I hold this throne by right of blood and conquest.") that I wonder if Asprin was making a shout out here.(I doubt it, as there are no other instances of dialogue-specific homage in the rest of the book, and the line, while catchy, is generic enough to make coincidence more likely.)

I thought the final story, Jane Lindskold's blandly titled Domino's Tale was the weakest of the lot. Like Gar, Domino is a collection of cliches, but Stackpole piled them on one on top of each other until Gar became something else entirely. Domino isn't written with that same level of ironic self-awareness. Gar is absurd and Stackpole knows it, but he revels in it. I hate to rag on Lindskold, because she's done a lot to get Zelazny's work out there and to shepherd his later projects to completion (and I really do like her work on Donnerjack. A lot.) but I feel that her  story was not very good here, neither especially compelling nor especially funny. On the other hand, you've got to be William Shakespeare to make a character named Dominic Blaid work.

The final part of the book is the Postlude, covering the royal wedding, by which point the four heroes have figured out what is going on and work to get Kalaran out of Prince Rango's body.

I like it. Humor books can be tricky. The author has to strike a balance between telling a story and getting a laugh, and I think they largely succeed here. . As far as comedy collaborations go, I think I rank it somewhere between Bring Me the Head of Prince Charming and A Faust to Be Reckoned With.  If At Faust You Don't Succeed.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Catching up on Josh's exciting life!

So it's been pretty nasty here weatherwise. I logged in to check for our local updates and the top three stories were:

Dangerous storm strikes   | Crippling ice threat   | Update: Travel nightmare 

We let Lily pick the movie for the most recent Wacky Wednesday. She wanted to see something we hadn't seen before, so I turned on the PS3 and opened the Netflix app. She told me "Type in 'Movies we haven't seen before.'" and I explained that it didn't work like that.

She wanted a My Little Pony movie, but there were none available for streaming, so we poked around until we found the next closest thing, Rainbow Bright and the Star Stealer.

Holy shit. I haven't seen this many rainbows since Robot Unicorn Attack.  Between the animation and the rainbow legwarmers, it is the quintessence of the 80s animated movie.

I looked up the plot on Wikipedia because I couldn't be bothered to pay attention to it.

Rainbow takes the mission to find Orin and later learns that Spectra is dimming as the result of a massive net being woven around the surface. The net is being made so that a selfish princess, known only as the "Dark Princess," can steal Spectra, "the greatest diamond in all the universe," for herself, and tow it back to her world with her massive spaceship. The native Sprites of Spectra, enslaved by Glitterbots under the Princess's control, are being forced to weave the net.

Heh. Glitterbots.

(When I asked Lily what was happening in the movie, she gave me an account that mapped pretty closely to that summary. On one hand, I'm glad that she's capable of following and relating things in such detail. On the other, I'm disappointed that she's wasting her time on that kind of shit.) My friend Jen has observed that there aren't a lot of good genre works for girls; that the female characters tend to be cast in inconsequential roles. I'll agree with that, and expand her observation to say that shows written for girls are written by adult men who really have no idea what girls really like.

On Friday, we went to the local Y, where they were having a "Flick and Float", where they project a movie on the far wall while you watch from inside the pool. It's a cool concept, but they couldn't dim the lights, presumably for safety reasons, so the image was of very low quality. That's okay, because Lily was all about the swimming. At first she was extremely clingy and very afraid of us letting go, but when she saw that the vest would buoy her, she was having a lot of fun swimming all over the place. She wasn't paying attention to where her legs were going and must have kicked me in the crotch about ten times. (America's Funniest Home Videos has the footage.)

Our nephew slept over. We spent four hours downloading Dead Nation and about fifteen minutes playing it before deciding it was just no fun. He just played Fallout after that.

Jen and I went to Olive Garden on Superbowl night. It was just about empty. The only people there were us and that guy from the protests in Egypt with the bread taped to his head.

Give me liberty or give me unlimited soup, salad and breadsticks!

During the week, Lily did a very cute job decorating a Valentine's Day card. We were working on dinner and we didn't even know she had the sharpie until we saw what she had written on the card. I was impressed that she has the "L" pointing in the right direction, because that's something that little kids usually screw up.

Lily was telling us about a pet dragon. While she thought it would be a bad idea to have one ("He would burn me every time he breathed!"), she said that if she did have one, she would name him Bernie (or perhaps Burny).

We lost phone and internet access at work for five hours on Tuesday. The IT guy, when trying to straighten things out and presumably believing there was no on within earshot, exclaimed "This place is a black hole of shit!"

There are some days that I agree with him. I call them "weekdays".

Friday, February 4, 2011

Roger Zelazny Book Review: Divine Madness

Another short Roger Zelazny book review today.

I like Divine Madness. As with A Thing of Terrible Beauty, it's a simple story whose beauty comes from how it is told, the poetry employed in its telling and the wealth of imaginative details that let the reader really believe it is happening.

It's the story of a man, who had a stupid fight with his wife who then stormed off to her car and and died in an accident. Now he's living with the guilt that comes with that, and suffering from periodic episodes that cause him to experience things backwards. His doctors tell him that it isn't really happening, that it was grief and epilepsy, meeting to form an unusual syndrome, that of "a post-traumatic locomotor hallucination, elicited by anxiety, precipitated by the attack." He knows better however.

In This Moment of the Storm, Godfrey Holmes defined man as "Man is the sum total of everything he has done, wishes to do or not to do, and wishes he hadn't done, or hadn't." and this story proves it.  Everyone makes mistakes and this story is how we relive them, and sometimes, sometimes have the chance to correct them. It's told almost entirely without dialogue and that's something that works wonderfully for the mood of the piece, because it manages to convey the sense of absolute isolation that crippling grief brings with it.

Someone in the comments section coined the word "Zelaznian" and I promised to use it as much as possible. The story crackles with Zelaznian turns of phrase and clever details (as well as the Zelaznian standbys of green eyes and car accidents) : "A  faintly-remembered  nightmare ran in reverse though his mind, giving it an undeserved happy ending." "'.dust to dust; ashes to Ashes,' the man said, which is pretty much the same whichever way you say it."

And it's not hard to evoke a feeling of grief in someone who has lost a loved one, but the story never gets maudlin. The descriptions of events are genuinely beautiful, and they do a good job getting across the desperate regret.

Time's winged chariot fled before him as he opened the door and said "good-bye" to his comforters and they came in and sat down and told him  not to grieve overmuch.

And he wept without tears as he realized what was to come.

Despite his madness, he hurt.

...Hurt, as the days rolled backward.

...Backward, inexorably.

...Inexorably, until he knew the time was near at hand.

He gnashed the teeth of his mind.

Great was his grief and his hate and his love.

I especially like the ending, because he gets a chance to correct the biggest mistake he ever made:

The door slammed open.

She stared at him, her mascara smeared, tears upon her cheeks.

"!hell to go Then," he said.

"!going I'm," she said.

She stepped back inside, closed the door.

She hung her coat hurriedly in the hall closet.

".it about feel you way the that's If," he said shrugging.

"!yourself but anybody about care don't You," she said.

"!child a like behaving You're," he said.

"!sorry you're say least at could You"

Her  eyes  flashed  like  emeralds through the pink static, and she was lovely and alive again. In his mind he was dancing.

The change came.

"You could at least say you're sorry!"

"I am," he said, taking her hand in a grip that she  could  not  break.

"How much, you'll never know."

"Come here," and she did.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Scooby Doo, where were you?

One of the benefits of having a daughter is that I can watch cartoons without being judged for it. She's recently gotten into Scooby Doo, which has impressed me with its longevity. Watching it with her, it struck me how much more sophisticated cartoons have become since I was a kid.

We were watching a DVD of one of the more recent incarnations of the series and the Scooby Gang unmasks the villain in the cold open, just as they've been doing for the past 40 years.

Disgruntled Caretaker: I would have gotten away with it if it weren't for you-
Shaggy: meddling kids? Is that what you were going to say? Come on, we've got places to be.

And then they take off to watch KISS perform, which kind of punctures that mood of ironic self-awareness, but that's neither here nor there. (Also, Fred's not wearing his ascot. That just turns my world upside down.)

Also, I was rather amazed to see just how much voice work Frank Welker had done. I knew him as Megatron and the voice of Totoro in the Disney dub, and I noticed that he did Scooby's voice. And Fred's. And then I got to poking around online and saw that he'd done just about every voice ever.

Frank Welker
Frank Welker

Frank Welker

Also Frank Welker

...and you get the picture

Earlier that weekend, we were watching season one of Superman: The Animated Series and Superman knew he was going up against two Kryptionians with the same powers and weaknesses he had.

The villains were also in possession of the Phantom Zone projector. Superman's buddy Professor Hamilton was trying to build their own copy of it, but he lacked a necessary component, a crystal with the same vibrational frequency of the Phantom Zone, which would allow them to lock on to it.

So Superman flies over to the bad guys with a a lead-lined spacesuit and a big chunk of a kryptonite. He incapacitates one of the villains with the kryptonite, but the other sends him, then the kryptonite into the Phantom Zone from a safe distance away and then destroys the projector, apparently trapping Superman in there for good.

We then cut to Dr. Hamilton in the lab. He wasn't able to recover the crystal he needed from the wreckage of the original projector, but they have a backup plan. They knew things might have turned out like they did, so they treated Superman's spacesuit with a tracer isotope, and Hamilton used that to lock on Superman and then retrieves him.

I like that. None of these contingencies are brilliant on their own, but they are reasonably clever and that kind of proactive planning just wasn't found in cartoons of my era. I'm not thrilled with every aspect of this modern world, but this is one that I like.