Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Assorted almost Zelazny news

I figure in the Big Venn diagram, there's a fair amount of overlap between people who are interested in Roger Zelazny and people who are interested in Chris Kovacs, Renaissance Man and one of the people who put together the Collected Stories. He and his wife, Susan M. MacDonald, author of the young adult book,  Edge of Time wrote a piece for the The New York Review of Science Fiction: "Medical Myths and Errors in Science Fiction and Fantasy." I haven't read it, but I'm told it looks at the tropes we see in genre works and examines how realistic they are. That's in the September issue.

While were on the subject of Chrises and their works, if you enjoyed Chris DeVito's Anise you might also enjoy this interview with him about the story.

And if none of that tickles your fancy, Dr. Kovacs was kind enough to point me to a video of Zelazny reading LOKI 7281. (There's also a bit with Merlin at the end, but I assume everyone will just want to skip that part.)

Link to the video of the reading..

Josh's favorite comics: All Star Superman

It's no secret that I'm a fan of Superman. The post here of which I'm proudest explains why.

He's not an easy character to write, but when an author gets him right, it reminds me why he's one of my favorite characters in all fiction.

Here are a few panels that get him right. They're from Grant Morrison's All Star Superman. In this story, Superman is dying, poisoned by an overdose of solar radiation. He's rushing from crisis to crisis,  acutely aware of how little time he has left. This might be his last chance to speak with Lois Lane before he dies. And yet, when he needs to choose, he has to go. Because someone needs him.

I love that last panel.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Another post about Josh's weekend!

We had another in our series of good weekends. On Saturday, we got together with my friend Amy and her family and we all went to a local event with scarecrow building and pony rides. Jen built a new boyfriend

If he only had a brain

and the little kids had a great time burying me in straw.

A rare picture of me for your collection

Lily was positively euphoric for the pony ride. She was so excited for the whole thing. She went on five times and we gave the guy a good tip.

We went out for pizza afterward. You can tell that we're all parents because when Amy was moving one of the kids around, three pairs of hands reached for her ice tea to make sure it wasn't knocked over.

As we were leaving, Lily had seen some face painting. Amy's family had already taken off, and Jen thought that the other kids would be upset if Lily showed up looking like a little kitty. So on our way home, we stopped at the store and Jen picked up some face painting supplies and made all three of us into a family of puppy dogs. Best mom EVER!

In other news, I'm very proud of Lily. Her dolls are playing more nicely with each other. Princess Daisy is in the hospital with a broken arm and a leg. The other dolls are visiting her to wish her well.

She was watching a scary Scooby Doo movie and Scott Pilgrim was watching it in the other room. She heard him screaming and at first he denied it and said maybe an invisible person in another room was screaming.

Lily as Daisy: I went to every room and touched everywhere and didn't feel any invisible people.

Scott: How did you do that if you have a broken arm and leg?

Daisy: (After a very brief pause) Someone carried me and I used my good arm to touch things.

I thought that was some good reasoning on the spur of the moment.

After that she said, "If you were scared, that's okay. You're my best friend and you never need to be embarrassed around me."

On Sunday I went to church with Jen and Lily. Jen wound up teaching a Sunday school class, and I'm not into the whole Cthulhu-worship aspect of Unitarian Churches, so after they went to the classroom, I quietly slipped out of the church. Afterwards, I heard they put on a performance of The King in Yellow, and it was "mind-blowing".

I, of course, went to a local cemetery and walked around there. It was nice. Peaceful. They always are.

A friend recently asked me "What's the deal with you and cemeteries?" I'm not sure what it is. They say that in Europe they think 100 miles is a long distance and in America they think 100 years is a long time. I guess that's the reason. I think it's because they're one of those places in any town where time seems to run deep.

I said before that Lily seems to be recovering well from her burns. I guess she's carrying a little baggage with her though. I came back to the church as Sunday school was wrapping up and picked up Lily. We went down to the coffee room, but all the good snacks were already gone (the only thing was chicken in white ganglia sauce) so we went outside. I was wearing short sleeves, so Lily started asking about the scar on my arm. (I was burned by sulfuric acid in high school chemistry)

"Is that a first level burn or a second level burn?"

We talked about second degree burns in front of her, but not really to her. I'm surprised by how much she's internalized.

After that, it was on to a local Celtic Festival. Lily had another good time here too. She especially enjoyed the girls performing the step dancing. While it was going on, she said to Jen, "I might cry because this is so beautiful!" We ran into my friend Eric and his family and that added further to Lily's enjoyment.

That night she asked me, "Did you know that only men used to be allowed to vote?" I told her that I did, and I asked her where she learned that. She said it was at Sunday School. I knew the answer when I asked the question, but for all my teasing about Unitarians, I'm happy that my daughter is learning about Susan B. Anthony in Sunday school.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Roger Zelazny Book Review: Love is an Imaginary Number

After a long delay, my Zelazny reviews are back!  ;

I'm not the first to observe that Godfrey Justin Holmes was something of a proto-Sandow, and similarly the character in this story has a number of attributes that would later become codified in Corwin and his kin. (There's more than a little of Sam in there too.)

I've been fascinated by imaginary numbers every since I heard of them in about fifth grade, though I haven't thought about them in ages.  Normally, when you square any number, you always wind up with a positive number, however, the square of an imaginary number is always negative. A quick trip to wikipedia confirmed what I remembered from grade school, that imaginary numbers are used in the calculation of electrical resistance.

(You know, when I was younger, I was this smart kid who hated school, and here I am, writing book reviews in my spare time. This one even has a math lesson.)

Like Corwin, the nameless narrator is a man who awakens one day to his birthright after a long period of quiescence. He was bound by his fellows, most recently for the crime of introducing gunpowder where it didn't belong.

They should have known that they could not keep me bound forever. Probably they did, which is why there was always Stella.

He awakens to strange music, and wanders through the house as it goes stronger.

Then I descended the stair to the living room, moved to the bar, poured out a glass of wine, sipped it until the music reached its fullest intensity, then gulped the remainder and dashed the glass to the floor. I was free!

I like that. It's a bit corny, but a nice visual.

Stella is his wife and warden. He flees her and others of their kind, slipping through worlds and manipulating probabilities. An exchange between the narrator and one of his adversaries mirrors the one between Brahma and Sam at the beginning of Lord of Light.

"Fool! There is no such thing as progress! Not as you see it! What good are all the machines and ideas you unloose in their cultures, if you do not change the men themselves?"

"Thought and mechanism advances; men follow slowly," I said, and I dismounted and moved to his side. "All that your kind seek is a perpetual Dark Age on all planes of existence. Still, I am sorry for what I must do."

He is the greatest of their kind and dispatches his adversary, and is then confronted by Stella. He leaves her, flees his fellows in many forms, and is overwhelmed and captured.

"I pleaded with them to give you a chance at peace, but you threw that gift in my face."
"The peace of the eunuch; the peace of lobotomy, lotus and Thorazine," I said. "No, better they work their wills upon me and let their truth give forth its lies as they do."

In the end, he is bound again, this time where

All day long a bound serpent spits venom into my face, and she holds a pan to catch it. It is only when the woman who betrayed me must empty that pan that it spits into my eyes and I scream.

But I will come free again, to aid long-suffering mankind with my many gifts, and there will be a trembling on high that day I end my bondage. Until then, I can only watch the delicate, unbearable bars of her fingers across the bottom of that pan, and scream each time she takes them away.

It's a nice story. Is the narrator Loki? He's a shapeshifter, as Loki was, and is bound in a similar fashion, but he also had a vulture ripping at his side in punishment for his gifts to humanity and you don't see me asking if he's Prometheus. My personal opinion is that Zelazny was just playing with mythology and archetypes and he drew upon those myths to lend some heft to the story, but not to populate it.

Legion of Super Heroes: Sundown, Part 2

I love this episode. It's probably my favorite of the series. It has two of my favorite themes, the team up with the bad guys and heroic sacrifice. And yeah, spoilers, but I find it extremely unlikely that anyone reading this is unfamiliar with the Death of Ferro Lad story arc. (If you're not, Wikipedia has a pretty decent write-up.)

As you can see, the episode borrowed quite a bit from the original story. That's okay though. That's what I like about the series. It changes some details, but it distills the essence of the Legion. In some ways, I think this improves on the original story. It's important that Ferro Lad actually turns into metal, for instance, rather than being your basic comic book super strong guy.

We open with three people breaking into Takron-Galtos.

I really like the visual here. Superman breaks open a blast door and then he and Saturn Girl and Phantom Girl each pull down their mask so the audience knows who they are.

Superman smashes his way through Takron-Galtos, rather unnecessarily, I thought, since Phantom Girl came along and she could just phase them through.

Shrinking Violet pops up to announce that she's knocked out the cameras. Yay, Shrinking Violet! We get to see more of her in the second season, which is one of the very few good things about it. She tells everybody that it's time for stage two and then hustles off to take care of it.

Superman passes Alexis, who sticks her tongue out at him.

 I would have liked to see more of her, but loyalty to the source material demands that this be a Fatal Five show. They release the group, but Tharok reminds them that the alliance is only until the Sun Eater is defeated.

There's a cute moment where the Empress cuddles with the Eye


My daughter likes the Emerald Empress. She thinks she has pretty hair, but she feels bad about liking her, and she asked if it were okay to like her a little because she was helping the good guys. I said it was.

The teams start to tussle, but Bouncing Boy calms everyone down and tells them the plan. The group splits off into teams an collects the components for Brainy's machine. It's a cool little montage, and we get a family reunion with Validus, Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl and finally see Ultra Boy in uniform for the first time.

Since the Sun-Eater is still powered by Cheyenne's red sun, Superman would be powerless against it, so Brainy sends him off to the now sunless Cheyenne system, ostensibly so he can look for the Controller who engineered the release of the Sun-Eater, but in reality, it's just so that if everybody dies fighting the Sun-Eater, Superman won't be among them.

We get a couple great scenes of the vast legions of the Legion, and man, they did dig up some obscure legionnaires. They even have Tyroc, who I never thought we'd see in a cartoon in a million years. He has something of a strange history.  I forget the exact quote and I haven't had any luck finding it, but the gist of it was "Tyroc was offensive to anyone who had any opinions about anything."

Anyway, Brainy builds the device, and the combined forces of the Legion and the Fatal Five team up to deliver it to the heart of the Sun-Eater.

Meanwhile, Superman has found the Controller, but it's more than a match for him.

That had to hurt.

The Fatal Five try to go for a double cross, but Bouncing Boy anticipated this and had Shrinking Violet hide herself in the Emerald Eye. She sabotages it at a critical moment and it takes down the Fatal Five when it malfunctions. Bouncy uses the cruiser emergency force field as an impromptu prison. I like his plan quite a bit, in both planning and execution. Of course the Fatal Five are going to try to pull something, and while heroes don't go back on their word, they're ready if the villains do. Bouncing Boy anticipated this betrayal and took a reasonable countermeasure. Bravo!

Brainy activates his device, but it fails to detonate. Analysis shows that a coupling came loose on impact. Ferro Lad slips away from the bridge, armors up and fights his way to the heart of the Sun-Eater. Once there, he tears the casing free with casual ease, reaches for the broken coil, pauses long enough to say, "Long Live the Legion," and then reaches out and completes the circuit, destroying the Sun-Eater and himself.

The Legionnaires aboard the cruiser avert their eyes in silent grief, and on the other side of the galaxy, the Controller mocks the battered Superman, which was precisely the wrong thing to do. Superman goes absolutely berserk and manhandles the Controller, shredding the armor with his bare hands and countering the Controller's every move. The Controller tries to escape, but Superman demolishes the devices that would trigger the escape portal. He finally activates it on his fourth try, and as he's making a parting threat before slipping away, Superman blurs over, grabs him, issues a threat of his own and then tosses him through the portal. Great scene.

Superman addresses the assembled Legion at the memorial for Ferro Lad. The camera briefly pans to deep space, where Ferro Lad's body has gouged a path across the surface of an asteroid. The first time I saw it, I was sure he was dead. But then I read some other reviews and they saw some ambiguity there, and I'm less certain that he's dead after this most recent viewing. Specifically, the fetal position suggests to me the possibility of rebirth.

The scene returns to Superman, who concludes the service by leading the Legionnaires in "Long live Ferro Lad! Long live the Legion!" The first time I watched this one with my daughter, she said it right along with them, and there's something about a four-year-old chanting "Long live the Legion!" that brings tears to my eyes.

"Long live Ferro Lad! Long live the Legion!"

The episode wraps up with Superman returning to the 21st century and his more or less normal life. He takes off his Legion gear and puts it in his suitcase, and then goes down to join his family for dinner. It's a nice ending for the season.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Notes from the week

Last Saturday, we went to Lily's cousin's party. The theme was Jake and the Neverland Pirates. My brother put on an episode during the party and Izzy, the girl pirate had a puzzle box that Captain Hook wanted, and every time they said something about the puzzle box, I couldn't help but think of Lemarchand's Box from the Hellraiser series.

The party was nice, but a little boy was mean to Lily, and that upset her for the rest of the party. I was happy to see that her other cousin stuck up for her though.

The rest of the week was pretty uneventful. Lily and I had a daddy/daughter date on Wednesday.Since she's has been complaining that everyone tells her what to do, we've been trying to let her make more decisions. I asked her how she wanted to spend her afternoon. "I want to go home and play on the computer." She is so my daughter.

I suggested the local Chinese buffet and she was all over that. Then we went home and played Wenkinz. She really, really likes it. She has two of them, and she bought them matching beds, matching sinks...and matching toilets.

This weekend was pretty full too. Jen and I had been looking forward to a meal at a Thai restaurant downtown all week. We decided to drive part of the way, park on the hill, then cross the bridge over the Delaware on our way to the place. We did this and as we we crossing the final block, we saw a bunch of police cars pull up and double park outside the restaurant. We crossed the street and we weren't sure if we should go in or not, but the waitress waved us in, so we sat down and had our meal. We eat had the house curry, Jen with soy and me with chicken, and it was neat, with lots of pumpkin, but as the on line reviews said, it was a bit too watery.

On Saturday, we hung out, Jen helped her Nan set up for a show, and we did some shopping. I joined Frederick and Danny, and we walked around a cemetery and played Dead Island. I was pleasantly surprised. I had heard a lot of bad things about the game, but Frederick told me that the patch mostly fixed them.

Cemetery Pictures:

Abel, hmmm? Does that make this the House of Mysteries or the House of Secrets? I can never keep them straight.

I went home at around ten and Jen and I streamed some TV, the Parenthood premier (and I think I need some antidepressants of my own after the hundredth time that fucking Abilify commercial played) and the pilot for Up All Night, which was downright inspired.

We had a leisurely Sunday, then Jen took off for church and I stayed home and played video games. She came back for Lily and we met Oma at a local carnival. Lily was so awful that we almost turned the car around. I think that if Oma hadn't been there waiting to see her, that's what we would have done. Lily was upset that she was too small to go on many of the rides, and I already made the Tom-Hanks-In-Big joke in an earlier post, so I'll spare you a rehash. We spent twenty dollars on the thousand different variations of moon bounces they had there.

Lily's mood was much improved when we got back home. Sunday night is becoming Make Your Own Pizza night, so that's what we did.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Josh's list of his favorite characters in the Dune Series

I haven't written a post in a while, so here's a list of my favorite characters from the Dune series in order to prevent that interval from growing any longer.

I've been listening to Dune again while I'm deciding which audio book should be next (I'm open to suggestions) and, in preparing to blog about it, I went back and read my old posts on the subject to find that my observations about it are pretty unchanged from the last two times I blogged about it. To summarize: Thufir is a shitty mentat, Frank Herbert could hardly been unaware of author Peter De Vries when he came up with the character Piter De Vries, "Damn him, he's strangling all the best kittens himself!", the Sardaukar sure are feared for an elite force that loses every single battle it enters, a 33 year old Sting does not play a convincing 16 year old boy, man that David Lynch movie sure is long, man the prequels sure are terrible aaaaand...done! 

The Sardaukar deserve special mention. They're presented the elite troops of the Dune universe, but really they're just stormtroopers with better press. As best I could recall, they only managed to kill two people over the course of the entire series, Duncan Idaho and Leto II the Elder, Paul and Chani's firstborn son. I looked into it and it turns out that I was overestimating their prowess, though, and it was actually Beast Rabban who got the latter. And Duncan, well, everybody beats up Duncan sooner or later. See accompanying list. (And sure they capture Thufir, but if they were serious about doing that, they could have just scattered a bunch of rakes around his hideout and waited until he stepped on one.)

I like Dune, but I'm surprised that other people do. I think it's a very, very good book, but not something that would have broad appeal. It's dry, it's difficult and though it's been consistently ranked as one of the best science fiction novels ever, I don't know that many people who actually like it. I guess they're out there (somebody must be buying those dreadful prequels), but it doesn't seem to have the same following as other SF classics. 

To continue what's already a monstrously self-indulgent post of interest to no one but me,  here's a top ten list of my favorite characters in the series.

10: Murbella: I first read Chapterhouse:Dune one summer in Florida when I was in high school. If you're not familiar with the series (If you're not familiar with the series, I can't imagine that you're reading this far into the note), books 1,2 and 3 (Dune, Dune Messiah, Children of Dune) are set a couple years apart, then there's a big jump of thousands of years for book 4 (God Emperor of Dune), and then another jump for 5 and 6. (Heretics of Dune, Chapterhouse Dune) Chapterhouse is the direct sequel to the book preceding it, so I was kind of jumping into the middle of things, but I thought it was absolutely awesome. Murbella was a big part of the awesome. She was one of the Honored Matres, super hot kung fu badasses who use an adrenaline based drug to move faster than the eye can follow. I cannot begin to tell you how appealing that combination was to fourteen-year old Josh.

But she's more than that. She's already in custody of the Bene Gesserit by the time the book begins. They captured her previously and didn't know exactly what to do with her, so they just kind of held on to her. She started training as a Bene Gesserit as a way to mock them, but that was just the start of a slow transformation where she discovered that they just might have something to offer her. At the end of her journey, it's not about what they can offer her, but what the person she has become can offer them. Plus she slaps around Duncan Idaho! 

9: The Lady Jessica: It was either Paul or Jessica in this slot, but since Jessica smacks Duncan around and Paul does not, Jessica gets the nod. She also never goes native in quite the same way.(I don't really like the Fremen, because they don't make any sense. Living in the desert makes you good at surviving in the desert. I'll accept that it makes you tough and the best fighters in a desert. It doesn't make you the greatest fighters in the whole universe.) She's the closest thing the first book has to a viewpoint character. Plus she slaps around Duncan Idaho!

8: Nayla: Fresh from the Lion King, it's Nayla in the number eight spot! Nayla is the world's worst double agent. She's a fanatical worshiper of Leto and believes him a god. He orders her to join the rebellion and obey them unquestioningly. When ordered to kill Leto by the rebellion, she does it, despite her fanaticism, believing that the instructions are another test of her loyalty. That's what I find the most interesting recurring theme in Dune, where characters slowly become what they most hate. Plus she slaps around Duncan Idaho! 

7: Moneo: Another God Emperor character. Per the Dune wiki: "Moneo" is Latin for "I advise", quite befitting Leto II's chief aide. I always liked Moneo. Like Nayla in the same book, he has undergone an interesting transformation in his life, becoming the majordomo to the tyrant he sought to overthrow. Plus he slaps around Duncan Idaho!

6: Count Fenring: "The killer with the manners of a rabbit." "Fenring was one of the might-have-beens, an almost Kwisatz Haderach, crippled by a flaw in the genetic pattern — a eunuch, his talent concentrated into furtiveness and inner seclusion." He's intriguing because we only really see him twice, once on Feyd's birthday and again at the climax of the novel, where he refuses to kill Paul because of the kinship he feels there. He's a monster, like, frankly, almost every character in the series, but it's hard not to feel sorry for him.

5: Dr. Wellington Yueh: I don't know why I like him as much as I do. Yueh hated the Harkonnens, but he committed hideous betrayals on their behalf. There is something profoundly pitiable in seeing your destruction and being too weak to turn away from it. His calm awareness of his own futile and self-destructive behaviors - even as he engages in them, and knowingly lies to himself about the consequences is just so profoundly sad. 

4: Darwi Odrade: She never slapped around Duncan, but I bet she could have. Both mother and daughter to the Bashar. My favorite Odrade moment was on Rakis, where the Tleilaxu Master Waff tries to repeat the poison dart trick that worked flawlessly against the Honored Matres, whom he considered far more dangerous. Grandmotherly Dar sees it coming from parsecs away and breaks both his arms when he tries it.

3: Leto II: I forget the first time I read Dune. I think I had read it by the time I first saw the cover to God Emperor of Dune, the one with a bunch of plebes worshiping a sand worm with a human face. I thought that the image must have been metaphorical or simply one of those sci-fi book covers that don't reflect the contents of the book. It never actually occured to me that the God Emperor might actually be a sandworm with a human face. 

Leto is complex. Leto is alien. To borrow a line from Whitman, he is large, he contains multitudes. To ensure that humanity will survive, Leto has spent millennia enforcing quiescence on humanity: people really don't do anything under his reign. They just exist. This repression has created in humanity a deep and urgent need to explode upon the universe, scattering itself beyond the reach of any single tyrant. In Dune Messiah, the Face Dancer Scytale reveals to a Reverend Mother that the Bene Tleilax created their own Kwisatz Haderachs, and discovered that Kwisatz Haderachs will die before becoming their opposites (and so can be killed by manipulating them into betraying themselves). The Ixians create an artificial human called Malky in order to manipulate Leto into turning on his holy creation, but he fails because the Ixians don't realize that Leto, more than anyone, knows the blasphemy he has created.

He's by far the worst monster in the books, his acts accounting for thousands of years of atrocities, and yet it is through his Golden Path that humanity survives. Leto more than anyone, has no illusions about what he is or the evil he does. Hey, this reminds me of a Zelazny quote: "In the mirrors of the many judgments, my hands are the color of blood. I am a part of the evil that exists in the world and in Shadow. I sometime fancy myself an evil which exists to oppose other evils...and on that Great Day of which prophets speak but in which they do not truly believe, on that day when the world is completely cleansed of evil, then I, too, will go down into darkness, swallowing curses. Perhaps even sooner than that, I now judge. But whatever . . . Until that time, I shall not wash my hands nor let them hang useless."

Plus he opens his book by flattening a Duncan Idaho.

2: Baron Harkonnen: "I, myself, your uncle, the Baron, which is to say, me." He's really one of the great villains. He outmaneuvers two Mentats (but one of them is Thufir Halfwit, so let's say one and a half). He twists a Suk doctor to his will. He possesses his killer from beyond the grave. The thing I like about him is that his machinations never seem forced. I occasionally (which is to say, constantly) bitch about Batman orchestrating these elaborate Xanatos Roulettes where he anticipates the arrival of time travelers at 11:47 PM in Times Square and has already placed silly putty there because that's the only substance that nullifies their powers. The Baron plans "feints within feints within feints" to use a Dune-ism, but he's not omniscient and he even has his failures and setbacks, but he always rebounds.

1: Miles Teg: The Bashar! Man, what don't I like about Miles Teg? The Mentat Bashar, so feared by the Honored Matres that they burned an entire planet to kill him. (He also slaps around Duncan Idaho, but that's just gilding the lily.) When I came up with this list, I knew he'd be in the number one spot, but when the time came to articulate why he was my favorite, I couldn't come up with a reason. I think it's because he's a decent man, probably the only decent man in the entire series, save for perhaps Leto I. I like the Dune universe, but the characters in it are not nice people. Most of the heroes are so ruthless that they would not be out of place as villains in other works. But Miles manages to avoid this somehow. He's just a quiet man, his wife gone for many years, content to tend to his garden in his retirement. 

(I don't actually dislike Duncan. He's just kind of there and not very interesting.) 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Legion of Super Heroes: Sundown, Part 1

All right, we're almost done with the reviews of the first and best season of the Legion of Super Heroes animated series.

This episode and its second part are both simply phenomenal. I think the second half is a little stronger, but not by much, and this episode highlights a lot of what I like about the Legion of Super Heroes.

If you want to talk about iconic Legion stories, the Death of Ferro Lad is right up there. I think I have a slight preference for the Great Darkness Saga as the best Legion arc, but Ferro Lad is definitely a strong contender.

The episodes with Bouncing Boy coordinating a space battle against the Fatal Five from within the Legion crusier. He makes a series of misjudgments and the other Legionnaires are picked off one by one. The Fatal Five breach the cruiser, strike their favorite pose, and then we cut to the opening credits.

When we return, we find it was just a training simulation. Bouncing Boy is worried about his ability to lead the team. He confides his insecurities to Triplicate Girl, but they're interrupted by Braniac 5 on the intercom, telling them about a distress call.  It came from Cheyenne Delta, location of the Fenton Arms Depot.

The Legionannaires suit up, Brainy gets them past the universe's worst robot guards, and they learn that there has been a category nine containment failure. They don't know what has been unleashed, only that it's trying to escape, and they can't allow that.

There are a couple shots of Legionnaires looking for the device. This episode has a real wealth of the details that I love about this show. When Lightning Lad is off looking for the thing, he uses just enough of his powers to provide illumination for himself.

The device, a floating mechanical globe, is escaping despite the best efforts of the Legion. This is another really well done sequence. They try their best to stop the thing, but it's just overwhelming, and it bursts past everything they set up to stop it. Bouncing Boy lures it to the rest of the Legion. Brainiac 5 recognizes the weapon as a Sun-Eater, and the Legion tries to stop it, but it blasts them and then rockets off into space.

Here's another detail I liked. This is on the screen for just a moment, but the animators took the time to have Cosmic Boy shield himself when the Sun-Eater was blasting him. I had to rewind the video a couple times before I could get a screen shot, but I really like the image and the attention to detail here.

Back on board the Cruiser, Brainiac 5 briefs the rest of the Legion as they follow the Sun-Eater. He tells them that it was created during the Great Crisis by the Controllers as a weapon to end all wars. It was locked away because it was too dangerous to destroy or dismantle. Since it was locked away for so long, it's only running on reserve power, so it's stiill somewhat vulnerable, but if it consumes Cheyenne Prime, it will become almost unstoppable.

The Legion launches another assault, but the Legion flagship cruiser suffers a mechanical failure and the Sun-Eater survives this onslaught too. Since Cheyenne Prime is a red dwarf, Superman is wearing a protective suit. He dives into the gas cloud surrounding the Sun-Eater, but it burns away his protective gear. Brainy comes to his rescue, forming his hand into an oxygen mask in another blink-and-you-miss-it coll scene.

They regroup on the Cruiser, with Bouncing Boy issuing orders. Superman questions why the ship failed in the first place, but Bouncy seems to ignore him. Triplicate Girl passes him a screwdriver so he can go down to help with the repairs. Once down there, he hears something, and finds a cloaked robot performing more sabotage on the ship.

He's still weakened from his exposure to the red sun, so it's getting the better of him until Brainiac 5 shows up and destroys it. Superman thanks Brainy, who says that he really should be thanking Bouncing Boy, who enters and sasys that he'd been thinking about what Superman had said and "It always used to drive me crazy when the guy in charge wouldn't listen," so he performed a scan of the ship and found the cloaked robot.

If you'll excuse the digression, I always loved the Robotech novels, which were considerably more literate than their pedigree might suggest. Each chapter began with a Dune-like epigraph, and any book with a throwaway line about Vonnegut's concept of the duprass as a bonded pair is really a cut above the norm. Brian Daley and James Luceno, two long time friends and Star Wars novelists, collaborated on them under the pen name of Jack McKinney. It was mostly third person point of view, but for the final series, they would occasionally have a couple chapters from a character's memoirs of the experience, and I liked that, because I thought Rand had a distinctive voice.

I haven't read the series in at least ten years, but there was a line that stuck with me after all this time. Our heroes are under fire by a superior force,  and they are forced to retreat underground into a sewer system, which collapses due to the bombardment. Their by-the-book leader Scott Bernard immediately begins working to get them out. Rand's memoir says about this: "Scott hardly batted an eyelash. He just fell back to Plan W, or whatever letter he was up to by then. Can-do, that's the attitude they had drummed into him."

That's what the Legion reminds me of here. They've been beaten back twice and twice they fail to stop the Sun-Eater, but they never despair. They fall back, regroup, take an accounting, and come back at it with a better plan. They're not the strongest, but they have determination and teamwork and belief in themselves and their friends.

The Cruiser is back on line and several reinforcements have arrived by this point. I rather like the plan they came up with. Saturn Girl links minds with Brainiac 5 to cloak Cheyenne Prime from the Sun-Eater's cybernetic mind, and Sun Boy makes an artificial sun as a distraction to lure it close.

You're never alone in the Legion

I liked this image too. I thought they did a good job conveying the  massive scale of Colossal Boy here. 

Phantom Girl phases down through the cloak and activates a beacon on her belt. She'll stay there until the airstrike is ready. I love Phantom Girl. She's got guts!

Ferro Lad lowers his goggles and assumes his iron form, and Lightning Lad and Cosmic Boy supercharge him with electricity and magnetic energy, respectively.

He fires...and misses! The Sun-Eater retaliates, which breaks Saturn Girl's connection to its mind. It sees where the sun is, and changes course to devour it, charging itself to full power in the process. It then changes course again, this time to Earth...

To be continued!

I love everything about this episode. It could have just been a placeholder, to establish the final confrontation in second part, but it's so much more than that. It captures the desperation and the high stakes, the heroism of the Legion, how they're beaten, but never broken.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Story Review: Anise

This is mostly a blog about the works of Roger Zelazny, but it only became that way accidentally. I saw that Geek Speak magazine had a feature on Zelazny and his works, so I contributed something and that led to me writing my ongoing series of book and story reviews.

And I do blog about other topics from time to time. I write those Legion of Super Heroes reviews that nobody reads, and I'll often write about movies and TV shows I catch if I think it might be interesting.

I don't read a lot of sc-fi any more and it's truly rare for me to read any short science fiction. When I do, it's usually an anthology. I don't know if I've ever read a genre magazine of the type where Zelazny's stories used to appear.

And yet, here I am, covering "Anise" by Chris DeVito, featured in the Sept./Oct. 2011 issue Fantasy & Science Fiction, available at fine retailers near you!

(Full disclosure, Chris does occasionally comment on this blog, but that's the extent of our relationship.)

I think my aversion for sci-fi short stories is that science fiction is just more work than other genres. On top of everything else a normal author must build, an author of science fiction has to establish the world, its rules, and its differences. There's a lot that can go wrong, so when sci-fi is good, it's very, very good, but when it's bad, it's horrid.

I'm pleased to say that "Anise" belongs to the former camp. The pace of a of a work is something that derails any number of stories, but Anise never stumbles. We're introduced to Anise Sodderberg, her "reconstructed" husband Robert and then gradually to the strange birthless, deathless society in which she lives. DeVito shows an extremely deft touch, grounding the alien with the mundane with a wealth of tiny details that lend verisimilitude to the piece, allowing the reader to assimilate each new concept before moving on to the next.

Science fiction at its best, introduces a world different from our own and then looks at life in such a world. DeVito's scope is far more intimate than that, focusing on Anise and her alienation, as universal a story as there is.

Because it is such a short work, I'm reluctant to talk about the plot any more than I have, because the discovery is part of the joy in a story like this. So give it a chance and check it out, and feel free to post your comments here.

Healing and hating school

Lily continues to heal, hate school and occasionally say some really weird things.

We were sitting around playing Legos, and within fifteen minutes she chopped up a lego person to hide the body ("How very Fargo of you"), immured another ("How very Cask of Amontillado of you") and ripped the heart out of another, ("How very Mola Ram of you") And she really is the sweetest little kid and very gentle around living things, but man, I would not want to be one of her Lego people.

We instituted an earlier bedtime and it's really working out. I don't think I'm giving away any secrets by saying that I'm Lily's favorite, but I hope someday that she'll come to understand that Jen was the driving force for every bit of progress in her childhood. She pushed to get rid of the pacifier and the bottle and the crib, and now for a more consistent bedtime, and each time, I didn't think Lily was ready, but one thing that makes our marriage work is that we support each other even if we're not sure the other is right.  Jen and I have time to decompress after she goes to sleep, plus she's up earlier and in a better mood,

We're also varying bedtime activities. Lately, Lily's wanted to play with her dolls. She's got a bunch of different stories she likes to play out, such as "Baby Trouble" (where the boy dolls try to impress the girl dolls, but are thwarted when babies start acting up) or when Scott Pilgrim tries to trick Glinda the Good Witch into marrying him, and when that fails, makes her fall asleep by singing "Teenager in Love". I'm sure most of you reading this surely played the same games when you were kids.

She's still enjoying Webkinz. Sometimes I'll play the scrabble game to earn some more money for her so she can buy some more stuff in game. I was happy that it let me spell "Herpes".

We still read comic books at bedtime, but not as much. I was looking at this cover of Scooby Doo, and I was thinking, even though it was the same formula every week, they really did have some memorable designs.

We watched Muppets from Space for our Wacky Wednesday, and Lily really dug it. I had picked her up that Wednesday, and as we were driving home, she asked about watching Danny Phantom. I rather like the show, but Jen doesn't, and it probably isn't age appropriate when you get right down to it. Lily suggested that we vote on it and she asked me to vote on her side. I think it's just adorable that she thinks our house is a democracy.

Fortunately, Jen was on the ball and she had Muppets ready to go. I hadn't seen this one, but all the Muppet movies are pretty entertaining. (I'm quite looking forward to the upcoming film!) There were elements that she didn't like, but overall, it was a hit for the whole family.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Roger Zelazny Book Review: The George Business

Back after a brief delay of boring personal stuff, the Roger Zelazny book reviews are back! Today, I'm looking at The George Business. Any review worth its salt will have to address the Dragonheart question, and this one will do that, but more on it later.

The story has a characteristically Zelaznian opening.

Deep in his lair, Dart twisted his green and golden length about his small hoard, his sleep troubled by dreams of a series of identical armored assailants. Since dragons' dreams are always prophetic, he woke with a shudder, cleared his throat to the point of sufficient illumination to check on the state of his treasure, stretched, yawned and set forth up the tunnel to consider the strength of the opposition. If it was too great, he would simply flee, he decided. The hell with the hoard; it wouldn't be the first time. 

As he peered from the cave mouth, he beheld a single knight in mis-matched armor atop a tired-looking gray horse, just rounding the bend. His lance was not even couched, but still pointing skyward.

Assuring himself that the man was unaccompanied, he roared and slithered forth. 

"Halt," he bellowed, "you who are about to fry!" 

It turns out the knight doesn't want to fight, but instead has an offer for Dart, who is naturally suspicious.

"I dreamt a dragon dream of a young man named George with whom I must do battle. You bear him an extremely close resemblance." 

"I can explain. It's not as bad as it looks. You see-"

"Is your name George?"  "Well, yes. But don't let that bother you-" 

"It does bother me. You want my pitiful hoard? It wouldn't keep you in beer money for the season. Hardly worth the risk." 

"I'm not after your hoard-" 

"I haven't grabbed off a virgin in centuries. They're usually old and tough, anyhow, not to mention hard to find." 

Heh. They eventually settle down to their arrangement. George wishes to wed Rosalind, daughter of the local Baron and he wants to pay Dart to abduct her and allow himself to be vanquished. Dart gets paid, George gets to be the hero, everyone's happy. Things don't quite work out exactly as intended, but everyone is satisfied in the end.

I like the story. It's the type of short, punchy little tale that Zelazny did well. A lot of my comments about the Great Slow Kings apply here. He comes up with a funny concept, explores it for a bit and then wraps it up before it gets tired. Modern stories sometimes remind me of Hawkana, the innkeeper in Lord of Light,"whose speeches, like rivers, always threaten to flow on forever", but Zelazny always understood the virtues of brevity, a fact that is doubly true, I feel, for humor stories. 

The Dragonheart connection. It's been widely observed that the plot for Dragonheart has at its core the same story as the George Business, in which knight and a dragon engage in a charade for fun and profit. George preceded Dragonheart by a good ten years, so there's no question of which came first. The question is if Dragonheart ripped off George

Let me tell you the tale of a young boy. He's is the most important wizard in the world, though he's only an English schoolboy, slender, dark-haired and bespectacled. He was told his mother died in a car crash, and after growing up a misfit in mundane society, he's introduced to a magical world that he had never dreamed existed. 

I speak, of course, of Timothy Hunter

I read Neil Gaimain's Books of Magic because I saw Roger Zelazny's name on the cover (he wrote the forward). It predates the Harry Potter books by a good decade, and while it has significant similarities, it has just as many differences, and both Neil Gaiman and J.K. Rowling have dismissed them as coincidental. 

I observed way back when in this post that similar movies arise all the time. The people who create these movies move in the same culture, and to mangle another Lord of Light quote for this review, they are coming from as a result of factors already present in the culture, and not being pulled like a rabbit from a hat.

There's no specific evidence to tie the two stories together, and the stories are sufficiently different is that my best guess is that they both happened to spring from a common well and Dragonheart didn't steal the idea from George.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Lily's first day of school

Lily was sitting at the breakfast table last week, and I told her that one of the things I like most about her is her sense of humor. She smiled brightly and then asked, "Why did the fish cross the road? To get to the other tide!"

And sure, it's a kind of obvious little kid joke, but it makes me happy on a couple of levels. The first is that she has a sense of humor, and there are a bunch of traits that go into that, chief among them intelligence, empathy and interest in entertaining your listener, all of them, I think, are essential to being a complete human being. Another thing that makes me happy is that she's still at the age that I can encourage her interests. She heard that I thought that a sense of humor was something that was good, so she showed hers off. A couple days later she regaled me with a whole performance of Halloween jokes. ("What did the mummy detective say at the end of the case? That about wraps it up!" "What's a ghost's favorite amusement park ride? The roller ghoster!" "What's the problem with twin witches! You can't tell which witch is which!")

There's a lot of truth to the old chestnut that "Minds are like jello. The trick is to put in as much good stuff as possible before they set." I've talked about schemata before (they're the structural framework we use to organize knowledge), and I think that these are largely established for her at this point, but we can still help her shape her attitudes that she'll carry with her for the rest of her life. 

That's why Pre-K is so disappointing. She had her first day, and she said she hated it, and I think she's right to hate it. As I mentioned before, she misses the cut off date for kindergarten by three days, and that's the only criteria the local district uses. They're covering the color yellow now and Lily's "homework" was to color in a poorly drawn picture of a duck and a flower. 

What's she going to take away from this? Not her colors. She's known those for years. If you'll forgive the digression for a moment, there's a school of though that there should not be unenforced laws on the books, because the existence of those laws and the awareness that they are not taken seriously engenders contempt for legitimate authority. And unfortunately, I think that's the only kind of lesson this program can teach her, that school is a place where they tell you things you already know and that you do things because someone in authority tells you to do them.

This puts us in a lousy situation as parents, because do we lie to her and tell her the program is worthy of her respect when it's clearly not? That's not a great solution, but neither are any of the others, such as telling her her it's shitty and she'll be spinning her wheels for another year.

Feeling the excitement

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Legion of Super Heroes: Lightning Storm

After a kind of long hiatus, the Legion of Super heroes reviews are back! This is another kind of average episode, saved from mediocrity by the appearance of a special guest star, whom I will discuss shortly. We open with the Legion of Super Heroes trying to defeat some kind of space squid.

Superman is captured by the thing, so of course, they call on the next best thing and send Triplicate Girl to rescue him.

 It goes about like you'd expect.

Jesus Christ, you suck.

Other reviews have been harsh on this episode, because it depicts the Legion as incompetent. I can see both sides of the debate. On one hand, the story doesn't work if the Legion is as competent as they were in, say, Fear Factory. I think there is some support for the animated Legion not being as elite as they are in the comics. Look at the expression the Emerald Empress has when she sees them in the pilot episode:

And when she says something like, "Oh, it's the Legion of Super Heroes," she uses the same  tone of voice one might use to say, "Oh, I can't believe I got dog shit on my shoe!" It's annoying,  but something you sigh and deal with.

So, the Legion is getting smacked around by the space squid when they're rescued by a bunch of other people who take care of the space squid with ease. Lightning Lad is impressed by these newcomers, who depart when the squid is dispatched, leaving the other group to clean up the mess. 

In the next scene the Legionnaires see the other team's ship parked at a diner, and they park there too for a bite to eat.

Wants to be at the table with the cool kids.
Lightning Lad wanders over to the table where the other group is sitting and strikes up a conversation. They needle him a little bit ("Aren't you a little old to be a Lightning 'Lad'?") and the camera pans to the table with the other Legionnaires, where Bouncing Boy is imitating a seal by sticking straws up his nose and balancing a hamburger on his head. 

The last, best hope of the 31st century
The other team calls themselves the Lightspeed Vanguard, and that's really is a pretty great name. It's also kind of clever, because these guys were the Legion of Super Villains in the comics, and having the same initials means they don't need to change their monogrammed sweaters.

I don't really like the character designs for the LSV, which is unusual, because I like almost every design on the show. They even make Tyroc look kind of cool. The exception was Esper, who had a cool, kind of Egyptian flavored outfit. 

They give Lightning Lad their card and tell him to be in touch if he wants to join. He takes off and the scene cuts to Legion tryouts, where an assortments of fuckups are all waiting patiently for membership. 

Lightning Lad decides that he wants nothing to do with these idiots and activates the card, which takes him to the HQ of the LSV. He encounters the members he has met previously, and one more, his brother Mekt.

I like Mekt. He's never exactly a villain. He's Lightning Lad's ne'er do well brother, always looking for the easy way and the quick score. He's got his rivalry with Garth, but deep down he wants to take care of his little brother.

The fuck-up sibling is well worn territory, but it's probably my favorite character arc in the show. When we first meet Mekt in Champions, he just wants to show up his brother. He's willing to cheat to win, but he really doesn't want set out to hurt anybody (though he's not bothered overmuch if he does) and seems rather horrified when he realizes the full magnitude of what he's done. (Not so much that he'll stick around to face up to the consequences, though.)

Superman and Timber Wolf keep an eye on him, and rescue him during his initiation. Pissed that he was rescued in front of his new buddies, Lightning Lad declares that he's quitting the LSH to join the LSV. He tags along on a mission where they rescue a disaster relief ship and is taken aback when they then demand payment. Lightning Lad is disappointed that this new team is more mercenary than they let on. The transport captain says he can't pay, so the LSV gives him a couple days to pony up.

The Vanguard returns to their HQ, and they're looking for jobs when they get a message from  the transport captain telling them that he's not going to pay, which is kind of stupid of him. I mean, I'm up to my eyeballs in debt, but it's not like I send emails to Capital One saying, "Not gonna pay you! What are you gonna do about it?! LOL!!" I just ignore my creditors and hope they forget about me. Apparently it's working out pretty well, since I've never once been attacked by supervillains. 

Anyways, the LSV attacks the transport, intending to get their fee by hook or by crook. The transport manages to get off a distress call, which summons the LSH. I thought this was pretty well handled, because they see the LSV cruiser and think, at first that they are responding to the distress call about the hijackers. 

The heroes figure things out, everyone faces off against his or her opposite number and the heroes win the day. Superman graciously welcomes Lightning Lad back into the fold, saying that as far as he's concerned, Lighting Lad never left.

I don't like it, but I think it's a weak story, rather than a bad one. It leads into Chain of Command and the Ferro Lad/Sun Eater arc, however, which is great, so I'll forgive its shortcomings.

A Lily Update

Lily is on the mend and we weathered Irene fairly well. We never lost power or internet access and our internet tends to cut out with even the slightest moisture. There was a lot of wind and rain, but we never felt like we were in any danger. We couldn't go outside to play with Lily anyway, so the weekend was a lot of Eloise and Danny Phantom on Netflix. 

She got her little toy medical kit out, and I learned that my hearing problems were being caused by a family of rats living in my ears. I'm so glad I have health insurance! We also visited Lily's new cousin in the hospital and I think she was a little jealous. She made me and Jen promise not to have any more babies.

Lily impressed me. I have the local forecast on my start page for Firefox and she just glanced there and said, "It's going to rain today and Sunday, but it will be sunny on Tuesday and Wednesday." She was right and I asked her how she knew. She said she knew that Saturday and Sunday start with "S" and that Tuesday and Wednesday start with "T" and "W". That's not bad at all.

Unfortunately, Jen met with Lily's principal on Monday, who said the school fought off a lawsuit by concerned parents who felt their kid was ready even though she missed the cutoff by several days, so it looks like Lily will be learning her colors with kids who poop in their pants this year. I think she's more than read for kindergarten. Here's an example of a tongue twister she put together on the fly:"Sally sells sea shells by the sea shore, but a seagull snatched her spinach, salami, salsa and salt sandwich from the sink in her stand and now Sally is sobbing in her stand at the seashore." Pause. "Okay, daddy. Your turn. Repeat that."

Also, she got two Webkinz pets when we were at the hospital. They're stuffed animals that also come with a code that allows you to redeem them for their digital counterparts online. So she got a duck and a dog and after we entered the codes, she had a duck and a dog to play with online. You can decorate their houses and buy them clothes and such, and you can earn money by playing games and answering trivia questions and such. We did the five to six year old science questions, and Lily ran the category of 50 questions. She was annoyed at how easy they were, ("These are baby questions!") so we moved up another age bracket.

As I mentioned before, she's healing well. Jen took her back to the burn unit on Tuesday, where they informed us that she's healing ahead of schedule, and there is now a very fine, very delicate layer of skin regrowing, and there will likely be no scarring at all. Lily is in fine spirits. She's throwing herself around with reckless abandon as she careens around the house. Everyone asks how she's dealing with the pain, but she's really not showing any indication that she's in any at all. Part of this is because Jen does a simply wonderful job of keeping the bandages wrapped securely. 

Bath time is really the only problem we have. The burns don't really cause her any pain, but Lily is really concerned about anyone touching them, so the preliminary bath before we get underway is torture. 45 minute long baths are not uncommon. One of us keeps Lily distracted while the other does the removal of the bandages/cleaning.

For our Wacky Wednesday Lily wanted to play a video game, and asked me what games I had. I don't have a huge amount of games. We've got a bunch of fighting games (Tekkens and Street Fighters), Prototype (a hobo shoggoth in New York), Fallout 3 and Unreal Tournament, all of which are wildly inappropriate. We also have Flower, which is pretty fun, and Little Big Planet, which may be one of the all time great video games, and is also two player.  She enjoys dressing the little sack person up in outfits and she's still young enough that she enjoys just making her run around and act silly.