Wednesday, October 31, 2012

“Do not meddle in the affairs of Garden Gnomes, for they are subtle and quick to anger.”

We got hit by Sandy, and lost power for a little bit. It was uncomfortable and unpleasant, but we got off a lot lighter than a lot of people, so we're thanking our lucky stars for that.

Lily has always been very literal minded. From the point when she was able to talk well enough to have a discussion with me, she's always been able to articulate that she understands that the people on TV are performers playing a role, that nobody has super powers and that special effects are used to make it look like they do.

Despite this, she sometimes comes up with a memorable turn of phrase. During a storm when was three years old, she said,  "The rain sounds like pebbles falling on the ocean floor." I wasn't expecting her language to be so metaphorical at her age.

The rain got heavier that night, and she was worried that it might storm. She said "Sometimes I think that thunder sounds like a dinosaur roaring up in the clouds and I get scared by that. I know it's not really a dinosaur, but I still get scared."

She fell asleep on Monday before we lost power and before the wind really picked up. She came into our bedroom, and here's where accounts differ. I'm a deeper sleeper than either of them, so I'm usually the groggiest for one of this midnight visits, but I swear that Lily said, "I'm very scared, because it sounds like the winds are saying 'You must chooooooooooooooose!", but Lily and Jen says that she each said something entirely different, that it sounded like teenagers on a roller coaster all going "Oooooooooooo!"

Since they both insist that they never heard that former phrase before I mentioned it, I think I must have been partly awake and I must have incorporated what I was dreaming to what Lily said.

I remember when I took Taekwondo as a kid that I was disappointed in how mundane the names for the maneuvers were. I grew up with the Shaw Brother chop-sockies, so I was expecting to learn things like the Dim-Mak, the Tiger Uppercut and the Icy-Fire jab and I got the inside-to-outside block and the front snap kick and the double jump front snap kick.

So when Lily goes on to develop her own martial arts style, I don't know if it will be composed of maneuvers she'll call Laser-Hyperdrive Exploding Head No-Shadow kicks or with techniques with prosaic names that could have come from the the monosyllabic judge from Karate Champ. "Half. Point."

Like I said up above, it was inconvenient, but not terrible by any stretch of the imagination, and we were very lucky. I don't even think we had any spoiled food.

My grandmother still lives on her own nearby. She's one of those tough old ladies who's going to outlive everyone, but she is getting up there in years, so we decided to check in on her.

This is what she saw when we pulled around the corner.

My father said that he happened to be in the house making a call from the second floor when the tree came down. He said that he was keeping an eye on it and that it was swaying back and forth, and then he realized that it had stopped with the back and was all the way forth and coming down right at him.

No one knows what it's like To be the bad gnome To be the sad gnome Behind blue eyes.

It's actually not nearly as bad as it looks. I guess the weight must be very evenly distributed, because even the drainpipes are barely damaged. For the brief time we were at my grandmother's, we were approached by wandering bands of tree-removal technicians, so at least she won't have trouble finding someone to get rid of it.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The authoritative list of the best siblings in fiction

When I was writing about Gravity Falls a couple weeks ago, I mentioned that brother-sister teams are one of my favorite vehicles for story telling. As you may know, I was born from the sea foam (like Aphrodite, but more manly) and never had any siblings, but I always wanted a sister. I think this might be part of why, as an adult, so many of my close friends are women.

Anyway, that got me thinking about sibling pairings in fiction I enjoy, and I decided to make a list, because that's what nerds do. My original thought for this piece was best brother-sister pairs. I thought I might be missing something, so when I brought it up on Facebook, I expanded it to "best siblings in popular fiction", and when my cousin asked me what I meant by "best", I said that I had deliberately left it undefined so as to receive the greatest variety of responses.

I got a bunch of good suggestions, but since my list was already heavily skewed towards my original conception of brother-sister sets, I eventually decided to limit it to that. (Though I did think that Phil's offer of Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes was particularly inspired.)

So here's my list of the best brothers and sisters in fiction, with one sister-sister pair at the end because they were too good not to include. More specifically, it's a list of properties that I happen to enjoy primarily on the strength of the brother-sister sibling interaction, but that's hardly a catchy title.

I'll open with a brilliant show from the first decade of the 21st century. It featured Jewel Staite and a brother and sister and was cruelly axed by Fox before more than a handful of episodes had aired.

I speak, of course, of Wonderfalls.

Oh, were you expecting something different, Browncoats? I don't want to hear your bellyachin'. You got eleven episodes! We got four!

Wonderfalls, Jaye and Aaron Tyler:

Ah, Wonderfalls. I caught the show one night, fell in love with it, proclaimed it my new favorite show, and then issued a resigned sigh when it was cancelled before the next episode could air.

The main character, Jaye, is an Ivy League underachiever from a family of overachievers who works at a dead-end retail job while she tries to figure out what she wants to do with her life. I love that the other people in her family are named Karen, Sharon, Darrin, and Aaron, because it's a great way to show that she doesn't really belong.

Let me tell you a story about myself. After a particularly nasty breakup, my Evil Ex confronted me in the parking lot of the place where we both worked. She was crazy. Climbing on the roof of my car and trying to kick in the windshield crazy.  I finally got away from her and got into my car and got on the road. She had this bright blue Geo Metro. The color is called "Competition Blue". You might be able to imagine it if you've seen that model of car. Anyway, she starts following me on the highway. Somehow I lose her and she actually gets ahead of me. I see her waiting at a jug handle to turn around and go home, and in a demonstration of the motto ("We never leave well enough alone!") for which I've become famous, I beep at her as I go past.

So I'm driving over a hilly road now, and in my rear view mirror, I see the Geo, rising into view like the bright blue dorsal fin of a shark. She's right behind me this time, and I only lose her by pulling off the road next to a cop who was ticketing someone, something, I have learned, that they do not appreciate.

Anyway, I always felt sympathy for Jaye, because she's unable to resist the Akratic urge to honk that horn and self-destruct as stupidly as possible. She'll cut her whole head off to spite her face.   I like Aaron too, though. He's a phlegmatic counterweight to his neurotic sister.

Gravity Falls, Mable and Dipper Pines: 

Watching them is like getting the Halloween episode of the Simpsons every week! I mentioned in the Gravity Falls review that I think I like Dipper a little more than Mabel, but they're a package deal. You can't have one without the other. Unfortunately, I wrote that post pretty recently and I don't have much to add to what I said there. But you can click over if you're so inclined.

Avatar: The Last Airbender, Katara and Sokka: 

I love Avatar, in no small part due to these two. They bicker, they watch out for each other, they have the shared experiences that only siblings have. Again, I said everything I had to say in an earlier post about them.  But you can click over to that one too.

The Simpsons, Bart and Lisa Simpson: 

There's not a lot to say about the Simpsons that hasn't already been said. My favorite episodes of the show were always the one where the two of them work together.

The Fantastic Four, Sue and Johnny Storm: 

The Invisible Woman and the Human Torch. With a lot of super-people, you call them by their superheroic identity. When talking about the person who spins a web any size and catches thieves just like flies, you don't call him Peter Parker unless you're referring to his civilian identity. You don't call Superman Clark Kent unless he's wearing glasses and a tie. And so on. But with the Fantastic Four, they always seemed to be a family who happen to be superheroes and not the other way around, and when they talk to each other, it's never with the codenames, but always with their real names or affectionate nicknames.  I didn't especially care for the animated series, but I did like the dynamic between Sue and Johnny. 

And while we're on the subject, the Incredibles: Violet and Dash Parr.

Violet! An awkward teenaged Invisible Woman, PLUS Sarah Vowell's voice! And Dash is great. I think everybody has the same favorite scene with Dash. It's when he's running from the bad guys, realizes he's on the water but he's moving too fast to sink. And he looks down and throws back his head and laughs with a joy so pure that the sound of it would have killed the Dust Witch.

Peanuts, Linus and Lucy Van Pelt: 

I put out a call for suggestions, and my buddy Tim provided this one, and I'm a little embarrassed that I didn't think of it myself. The thing I imagine when I think of Lucy is not the bit with Charlie Brown and the football (an image I instead now associate with the Democrats in Congress), but, when her brother falls asleep in the pumpkin patch as she knows he will, she arises in the predawn gloom, turns off her alarm, puts on her coat and tenderly retrieves him.

Freaks & Geeks, Lindsay and Sam Weir: 

Another show cancelled before its time and a rare non-genre example. I love the whole family, (Mrs. Weir: "Nobody's home. You wanna have a little sex?"  Mr. Weir: "Sex?! Well, okay." ) but these two in particular. I think the best scene is in the pilot. Sam is worried about a bully, but Lindsay clearly has something else on her mind and she tells him how she was the only one there when their grandmother died.

Sam: Can I come in? Do you think that me, Neal and Bill could beat up Alan?

Lindsay: Just Alan? Yeah. Alan and his buddies. No to maybe.

Sam: That's what I thought. Um, why are you throwing your life away?

Lindsay: Did Dad tell you to ask me that?

Sam: No. Millie did.

Lindsay: Figures. Forget it. You know, tell her to mind her own business.

Sam: You know just because she asked me to ask you doesn't mean I was going to tell her what you said.

Lindsay: Sam. Did Mom and Dad tell you I was the only one with Grandma when she died?

Sam: No.

Lindsay: Yeah. They went down to the cafeteria to get some coffee. And all the sudden Grandma looked so terrified. I didn't know what to do. She grabbed my hand, told me she didn't want to go. She looked so scared, Sam. I said, Well, you know, can you see God or Heaven or a light or anything?

Sam: What did she say?

Lindsay: "No. There's nothing." She was a good person all her life and that's what she got.

And there's a long pause when Lindsay, this middle class, middle America honor student is ruminating on the event that caused her to revaluate everything she thought she knew. She's in the midst of this when her brother speaks up.

Sam: So... you do think that we could beat up Alan?

Lindsay: Yeah. He's a goner.

And I just love her smile there. Because she knows he doesn't understand what she was saying, but he's her baby brother and she still loves him, so she puts on her brave face, because even though she can't comfort herself, she can still comfort him.

A Wrinkle in Time, Meg and Charles Wallace Murray:

And here's a rare non-TV example. (There's a TV movie version, but I didn't like it) This book has been one of my favorites since I read it in the fifth grade. Jen and I used to read out loud to each other before Lily was born, and this is the second book we read (the first being The Last Unicorn).

One of the things I like most is being awake with someone I love in the small hours of the day. Times like that make it seem like the night lasts forever and you're the only people awake in the whole world. A Wrinkle in Time opens with a scene like that, with thirteen year old Meg and five year old Charles Wallace making hot chocolate together, and it conveys that warm feeling of intimacy so lovingly.

Meg is one of my favorite characters in fiction anyway. And Charles Wallace too.  Each of them makes mistakes, but they always manage to pull the other back due to their unwavering love for each other. “I love you. Charles Wallace, you are my darling and my dear and the light of my life and the treasure of my heart. I love you. I love you. I love you.”

And honorable mention:

My Neighbor Totoro, Mei and Satsuki Kusakabe:

This is such a wonderful movie. I think it's one of the all time great movies ever made. It's set in post war Japan. The girls move with their father to the country in order to be closer to their mom, who's in the hospital with spinal tuberculosis.

There's a scene where the eight-year-old sister, Satsuki, is talking to the four-year-old, Mei. Their mom was supposed to come home for the weekend, but her visit from the hospital had been canceled because she had caught a cold. Mei says that she wants mom to come home anyway, and while Satsuki does too, she understands the reality of the situation and knows that she has to stay. In disappointment and frustration, she yells at her sister "Do you want mom to die?!"

Mei starts crying and she runs away and decides to walk to the hospital by herself. She gets lost and the whole village is searching for her. Satsuki is running all over the countryside, not with any hope of finding her, but because running is better than doing nothing, and someone catches her and tells her that they found a little girl's sandal by the pond and it might be Mei's.

So Satsuki runs there as fast as she can, and you see the adults are dredging the pond. She gets there and an old woman holds up the sandal and asks if the sandal is Mei's. What follows is a ten-second eternity while Satsuki catches her breath enough to answer the question. The whole scene is so beautifully composed, and while we wait for Satsuki to answer, the focus slowly draws in on the woman holding the sandal, and that effect and the half-hopeful, half-fearful expression on her face gives the impression that the whole world is closing in.

Roger Ebert loved it. It's on his list of great movies.

From the review:

Here is a children's film made for the world we should live in, rather than the one we occupy. A film with no villains. No fight scenes. No evil adults. No fighting between the two kids. No scary monsters. No darkness before the dawn. A world that is benign. A world where if you meet a strange towering creature in the forest, you curl up on its tummy and have a nap.

There is none of the kids-against-adults plotting of American films. The family is seen as a safe, comforting haven. The father is reasonable, insightful and tactful, accepts stories of strange creatures, trusts his girls, listens to explanations with an open mind. It lacks those dreary scenes where a parent misinterprets a well-meaning action and punishes it unfairly.

I'm afraid that in praising the virtues of ''My Neighbor Totoro'' I have made it sound merely good for you, but it would never have won its worldwide audience just because of its warm heart. It is also rich with human comedy in the way it observes the two remarkably convincing, lifelike little girls (I speak of their personalities, not their appearance). It is awe-inspiring in the scenes involving the totoro, and enchanting in the scenes with the Cat Bus. It is a little sad, a little scary, a little surprising and a little informative, just like life itself. It depends on a situation instead of a plot, and suggests that the wonder of life and the resources of imagination supply all the adventure you need.

And a list of other people's suggestion that didn't quite fit what wound up being the theme of the post.

  • The March sisters from Little Women
  • The Hardy Boys
  • Thor and Loki, which I particularly liked.
  • Jaime and Cersei Lannister from the Song of Ice and Fire series (nominated by a couple people. Poor Tyrion is their brother, but he always comes up short)
  • From the Harry Potter series, in various combinations,  Fred and George, Ron and Ginny Weasley
  • Various Greek Gods
  • Corwin and his siblings from Zelazny's Amber books
  • Neil Gaiman's Endless (Particularly Dream and Death in The Sound of her Wings)
  • Tim mentioned Seita and Setsuko from Grave of the Fireflys but that movie is so sad that I couldn't include them because it would shift the whole timbre of the post
  • Scott and Stacey Pilgrim (I wanted to include them, because I particularly liked Anna Kendrick's performance in the movie, but I couldn't think of a standout moment to justify them.)
  • Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes (Win!)
  • The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (also clever)
  • Raistlin and Caramon Majere
  • Cain and Abel (both Biblical and House of Mysteries/House of Secrets versions)
  • Greg suggested some characters from the Sisters Grimm series of tweenie girls books, which is apparently what professors of Arthurian Lit read when they're not translating Geoffrey of Monmouth
  • He also nominated Leto II and Ghanima from Dune, whom I had considered on my own, but rejected for being too obscure.
  • Also Paul and Alia Atreides
  • Luke and Leia came up too, from Star Wars, and while I like each of them individually as characters, I don't think of them as siblings, possibly because of Leia's propensity for sticking her tongue down Luke's throat whenever he's laid up in a hospital bed.

Monday, October 22, 2012

X-Com: The old and the new

I loved the old X-Com back in the day. I remember when I first played it. It was the Playstation port, so it would have been in 1995 or so. I was up in New Hampshire and my friend Tim and I rented a copy from VideoHQ, not knowing what to expect.

I guess the best way to describe it is a kind of Sim-Earth Defense. You're the administrator of a UNIT-type task force (The X-Com of the title) tasked with defending the earth against alien invasion. You build your bases and recruit the troops, decide what to research and reverse engineer from captured technology, and when you encounter aliens, you organize the squad and deploy them. I always loved the quartermaster parts more than the combat, but the combat had its own appeal and that's where a lot of the memorable stories came from too.

There was nothing quite like it at the time and even though there's a sequel 17 years later, there's still nothing quite like it.

The new game is great. They didn't include everything I liked about the original, but everything they did include was great. The combat is turn-based, which was a gutsy move in 2012, but it wouldn't feel like X-Com without it, and almost everything is a vast improvement over the original. The biggest change is that rather than each soldier having a pool of time units governing all actions, he or she has a move action and a combat action. I liked the time units, because you could take multiple actions in lieu of moving, but I have to admit, the new system certainly streamlines the tactical experience. It felt like some of the longer battles took hours in the original game.

Things I miss from the original

Multiple interceptors: In the original game, you could build more than one base and engage a ship with several interceptors at one time. The game was very simulationist, and there was no story except what happened through the confluence of happenstance and your actions. But I've never felt so immersed in a game as when I had to bring down an alien battleship and the only thing I had was two basic interceptors, my good ships all in various states of repair after earlier battles. They were armed with powerful warheads, but were very fragile. I knew I had to get lucky, so I had one ship hanging just short of engagement, waiting on the other. When I got there, I launched both at the mothership and they darted in right on top of it, unloading nuke after nuke, hoping to bring it down before it landed a hit with its plasma bolts.

Multiple bases: In the new game, you're limited to a single base, but with the old one, I think you could have up to six. It added another element, because sometimes the aliens would hit a target while the team from your main base was already engaged or refueling or otherwise unable to respond, so you'd have to put down a contingent of Reapers and Chryssalids with Lt. Gorman and his gang that couldn't shoot straight.

Ripley: How many drops is this for you, Lieutenant?
Gorman: Thirty eight... simulated.
Vasquez: How many *combat* drops?
Gorman: Uh, two. Including this one.

Also, additional bases meant that losing one wouldn't end the game, so sometimes the aliens would find one of your bases and invade it. Base defense was my very favorite part of the game. I built my bases with a bunch of bottlenecks simply so they would be easier to defend. They didn't include it in the new one, I'm told, because, as you do have just one base, losing it would end the game. I think there are ways around that, but another aspect is that base defense, even moreso than the other battles in the game, tended to be one-sided slaughter, and this may have been a factor in deciding not to feature it. I think it could have been made to work, but I understand the decision.

And while we're on the topic of multiple bases, everyone who has ever played X-Com seems to have discovered this part independently. The laser stuff sold for a lot more than it cost to manufacture, so you could earn a ton of money by building it and selling it. As soon as I had enough money to do it, I would set up a base (Sweatshop-1) and staff it with engineers, workshops and a skeleton crew to protect them and set them to churning out gear to sell. I always used to joke that X-Com was earning its funding by arming third world dictators, and I'm not sure to what extent it was intended, but in the new game, it's made explicit, that if you sell your technology to nations, they will sometimes use them to oppress their people. Also, you sell them on the "Gray Market", which I thought was an amusing pun.

More options in combat: If I suspected that there was an alien was in a farmhouse, I would mine the entrances, then set it on fire with incendiary rounds. I would also arm my solders with a grenade with a 0 turn timer, meaning that it went off immediately. If an alien dropped a soldier, at least the soldier would get a retributive strike, because they dropped their inventory when killed, and the grenade would go off and hopefully kill the attacker. (This sometimes backfired, because sometimes attacks would stun, rather than kill a target, and a stunned soldier would drop a grenade, taking him from stunned to killed)

My favorite tactic had to be near the mid-to-late game, when we had flying power armer and handheld mini-nukes. I'd send the squad up to the top of the alien ship, blow a hole in the roof (the sides would withstand a blaster bomb, but not the roof) and we'd drop down like a cyborg ninja SWAT team. My friend Frederick, also an aficionado of the original game, got so good that he could steer the blaster bomb through the bowels of the ship on memory alone.

As I said, there was no story except what happened in the course of play. I remember the first time we encountered a Chryssalid. Chryssalids are like Giger aliens. They lack the acid blood, but they do transform their victims into more copies of themselves, and they move very fast and hit super hard.

So, we thought we were pretty hot stuff at this point. We were three months in, we had some laser weapons, some body armor and we'd brought a tank and I thought we would just roll over this mission. We're picking off the dinky little aliens and then a Chryssalid shows up. It looked scary, so my squad, which was still tightly clustered around the landing zone, starts unloading on it. It takes everything that we've got, sprints right in our midst, demolishes the tank and then kills a soldier. We finally drop it on the next turn, whereupon a new Chryssalid popped out of our dead guy. Tim said it best, "Team to Headquarters. We're fucked. Over."

Everybody has stories like that from the original, which is why I think it's endured as long as it has. The new game has a slightly more structured framework. Soldiers have classes now (Heavy, Support, Assault and Sniper) and you pick various feats as you level up. I like that. They start out very similar in capabilities, but as they advance through the ranks, they play very differently.  My standard compliment is two support, two assault, one sniper, one heavy.

Squads are a lot smaller, maxing out at six, compared to the platoons you could field in the original. Maps are smaller too, and these combine with faster movements of the characters on screen to really speed up the battles. (Nothing like spending 45 minutes hunting that last sectoid who's hunkered down in an attic somewhere.) Soldiers recover a lot faster too. Being badly wounded could sideline a soldier for weeks in the original and I think the worst I've seen so far is nine days.Cyberdiscs and floaters are tough now, though. Back in the day, they were like training dummies.

Overall, XCOM 2012, is a superb game and a worthy successor to the name.The maps are wonderful. You haven't lived until you've chased a Chryssalid through a Barnes & Noble armed with nothing but a shotgun and sand in your belly.

(Though I'm not entirely pleased that whenever there's one with a gas station, the guy who flies our skyranger always drops my squad right next to the pumps.)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A tale of Wiener dog racing, Cemetery walking, Cthulhu Worshiping, Animal Blessing, Oktoberfest, Temper Tantrums, Gravity Falls, Freaks & Geeks and protecting the world from the six-fingered hand of alien domination.

I was going to post about our weekend, but Jen went ahead and wrote the post that I was going to write. (There are two Jens in this story. The Jen I am married to is Jen Classic and the one who came to visit us is Kenobi Jen.)

The weekend started on a bleak note. The services for Nick, my friend and old boss, were on Friday night, and I headed over to the funeral home right after work. It was tougher than I had been expecting. Funerals are never easy, but the thing that really chokes me up is when the departed is surrounded by the things they loved in life. For Lily's grandfather, it was a picture of her. For Nick, it was Halloween napkins and comic book stuff. I don't know why that saddens me like it does. Maybe it's the juxtaposition, or the knowledge that they will never be around to enjoy the things they loved. I don't know.

I always think of a line from Slaughterhouse-Five that reminds me that we'll always have the memories of the people who are gone.

The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just that way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them. It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever.

So I said my goodbyes to Nick.

After that, the happy part of our weekend began. As the title suggests, it included Wiener dog racing, Cemetery walking, Cthulhu Worshiping, Animal Blessing, Oktoberfest, Temper Tantrums, Gravity Falls, Freaks & Geeks and protecting the world from the six-fingered hand of alien domination.

Our original plan was to head to the PA Ren Faire, but it turned out to be a bit further away than we had thought, and it was pricey to boot. So we settled on something almost as fun, but much less expensive.

Jen Classic, Kenobi Jen and I all went out for Indian at the place that had catered Lily's culture night. They were pretty decent. To hear Kenobi Jen tell it, she lives in some kind of post apocalyptic wasteland and subsists on gruel and and whatever roots she can forage. We all enjoyed the meal. Oma came to drop off Lily halfway through and we had an impromptu round of My Little Pony trivia. Kenobi Jen claims, over at her blog, that Lily won the contest, but that's just bullshit. Only Bill Clinton and Batman know more about My Little Pony than I do. I happen to know that she was hopped up on goofballs when she wrote that post anyway.

We returned home and watched some Gravity Falls. I stayed up a little later to play some of the new XCOM game. I loved the old one and while the new one didn't retain everything I loved about the old one, I don't think it has a single element that I don't enjoy tremendously.

Then we woke up in time to go the local Farmer's Market. Lily was moaning about going, but I don't know why. There are always a million dogs there and she gets to pet every single one.

After that, we headed to SteelStacks for their Oktoberfest and Wiener Dog Races. Jen Classic noticed that there were some people watching the races from a sparsely populated gallery, so we made our way up there.

Here's a picture if you think this was some elaborate troll about wiener dog races.

Apparently, too, wiener dogs are known by some other name sometimes, but I'm not one of your highfalutin' professors of dog-ology, so I couldn't tell you.

Then we went home and had some falafel and couscous and watched a little Avatar. Lily had a bit of tantrum, and while that's always embarassing, I'm sometimes kind of of grateful for it too, so my friends don't think we have this perfect little child.

Kenobi Jen was supposed to show me a good Matt Smith episode, but she was unable to find one, so we skipped it for now. Lily went to bed and got a bedtime story from all three grownups. Jen and Jen and I played a little Taboo, which was fun, (We didn't have the buzzer, so we just took turns reading off the cards) and we watched some Freaks and Geeks and I remembered why I fell in love with the show.

On Sunday, we went to Jen's church. She had a meeting before the service started, so Kenobi Jen and Lily and I walked around a local cemetery. Lily read three paragraphs of rules off the sign before losing interest, which is about two paragraphs more than most people.

We were at this particular service because it was their annual blessing of the animals. Because this was a Unitarian Church, in addition to the usual cats and dogs and birds, parishioners brought shoggoths and byakhee and mi-go. Somebody even brought Ghroth, but he had to stay out in the foyer.

It was a pretty fun visit. I'm glad that Jen was able to make it to see us.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Josh's Zelazny Tribute: The Great and Groovy Game!

I said a while back that I don't really write fiction. I used to. I wrote my own stories as a teenager, but I think every teenaged geek did that. I had discovered Zelazny in my early teens and while I could eventually mimic the superficial characteristics of his prose, I lacked his imagination and his depth and breadth of knowledge, and now that I look back at the stories I had written back then from the vantage point of adulthood, I see them for the fan-fictiony knock-offs that they always were. Also, I'm trained as a technical writer (and I even find work as one once in a while), and the skill set involved with that tend to be incompatible with writing fiction.  So I drifted away from it, and satisfied my need to write with this blog, which is a strange combination of a weird Roger Zelazny shrine and family stories.

I didn't think anything could ever move me to write fiction again. However, I saw the call for stories for submissions for sequels to A Night in the Lonesome October in Lovecraftzine, which I've long felt is the story written by Zelazny that most deserved the anthology treatment.

If you'll excuse the digression for a moment, my grandfather died in 2000. I loved him more than almost anyone in the world. I was a painfully shy kid and that endured well into adulthood. I had a chance to speak at his funeral and I was petrified at the thought of speaking in front of so many people. But I knew if I didn't, that I would regret it for the rest of my life.

So, I put together a list of the things I loved and admired about him and when the time came, I got up and said them. And I never had a problem speaking in public again. I call myself an atheist, but I also call that his final gift to me.

And likewise, with the October sequel, I didn't know if I would have a good idea or if I could express it, but I knew that I had to try. I knew this would be my final chance to write this story (this was before Mike Davis announced that this would be an annual event), so I screwed my courage to the sticking place, did my best and sent it off.

And here we are.  And well, you're probably reading this because the story was published. (If not, here's the link!) You can read it on the web or buy an issue for a buck on your Kindle or Nook. Buy it today! Support your local starving artists!

I particularly like the art they used for my story. I had no idea that that there would be art and certainly nothing that good. I'm always a sucker for cover art that actually reflects the source material, and I would have loved this piece even if it had nothing to do with me. Likewise, I didn't know there would be an mp3 version of the story. I love audiobooks! (And they even pronounced my name correctly, which is something that very rarely happens in real life.)

If I ever do go on to write more fiction, this will be one of the two events that moved me. Lovecraftzine actually pays its writers. The fact that it's any amount at all tells me, hey, maybe my writing is good enough that people want to read it!

The other thing, and the one that is more important to me, is that I was reading a story I had written for my daughter to her and she was bouncing up and down on the couch and beaming throughout it, and when I got to the end she said "I could see it all happening in my mind!"

So, check out Lonesome October. Check out my story and all the others! I'm happy with it and I hope you will be too.

Link to: How Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light transformed into the CIA's Argo covert op

This is probably old news to the people here, but Boing Boing has a piece on how Lord of Light was used in a ruse to scout the Iranian Embassy hostage crisis back in 1979.

I touched on it briefly in the first part of my Lord of Light commentary, but this goes into much greater detail.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Remembering Nick Yutko

I've mentioned a couple times that I used to work in a comic store. The store was called Dreamscape Comics and the owner, my old boss, passed away on Sunday, so I'd like to take a little time to remember him.

I was more familiar with Bill and when I handed in my application to the ponytailed fellow at the register, he asked me a couple questions. Did I read comics, play Magic: The Gathering and play RPGs? I said I did all three. He asked me my opinion on comics. I said most of the stuff put out by Marvel and DC was crap,  but the smaller publishers still put out good stuff which, I'm convinced is what got me the job.

That ponytailed fellow was Nick, and he was an occasionally maddening but always wonderful boss. I was thrilled to get the position. I had shopped there as a kid and I was over the moon to work there as an adult.

I remember how he told he he started collecting Marvel comics because he liked the way they put the faces of the characters in the box in the corner. Then he laughed, and if you knew Nick, you're hearing that laugh now.

Nick was smart. Nick was fun. Our annual Dreamscape outings, to Celtic Classic and Musikfest, were some of the best times I've ever had.

Nick was a confirmed skeptic and an eloquent defender of free speech and human reason.

Nick passionately supported local artists.

Nick loved the sounds of the Big Band era, and he'd blast it through the sound system of the store, which he wired himself.

Nick was funny. I remember doing year end inventory with him and when we couldn't find "The Complete Thief's Handbook",  he quipped "Maybe somebody stole it."

Nick was infuriating. It took us more than three years to sell the Kiss eight-tracks that were taking up valuable real estate in the display case, and the very next day after we finally did find a buyer, Nick went out and bought four more to stick in the case.

Nick saw where the industry was headed long before anybody else.

Nick let me keep my employee discount after I left and would ever so gently remind me that it had been a year since I'd been in and it would be nice if I could come by and pick up the stuff he was holding for me.

Nick was occasionally grumpy. I remember one time when we invited him to a Halloween party and he was sitting there with a slice of cake and hangdog face and he said, "I've gained ten pounds since college."

And Jeannie, wonderful, grounded Jeannie said, "Nick, it's a party!" and that was the end of that.

Nick kept a specialty store afloat in an industry that was shrinking every year.

Even fifteen years after I had moved on, gone to New Hampshire and returned to the area, I still made it a point to go back to visit Dreamscape. Even since Lily was born. Especially since Lily was born. She loved visiting "Mister Nick's Store" and he was always so kind to her and had the best suggestions. I forget if it was he or Jeannie who suggested "Silly Lily", but I know I got the book at Dreamscape and she loved it when she was smaller. He gave her free comics when she was in the hospital recovering from her burns.

He helped pick out the comics my friend Eric gave out as party favors at his son's birthday party. That was such a good idea and I intended to repeat it with Lily's party, but time got away from me and I didn't get around to it, and now I regret that even more because doing so would have meant that I got to see Nick one last time.

Just yesterday, a friend asked if I thought Lily would continue to read comics as she got older. I told her I didn't know, that it was really up to Lily, but I never doubted that there would be many more years of trips to Mister Nick's store, which was the daddy-daughter activity Lily enjoyed the most.

I'm sorry that Nick is gone. He was a good guy and there were too few people like him out there.

Eric over at Gaming with the Gnomies also has a remembrance of Nick.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Six Candles

Lily's birthday itself was on Thursday. We gave her some small gifts and Jen bought some doughnuts for breakfast and we put candles on them.

I think the thing that made me really feel like a good dad was positioning myself to the side in case Lily needed help blowing out the candles on her birthday doughnut. She took a deep breath and blew and I saw that two of them weren't going to go out, so I quick blew them out from the side. Lily asked Jen, "Did you see that? I blew out all my candles with one breath!"

The party was on Saturday and we had it a pavilion at a local park.  The park itself is nice, though the bathrooms are frightful. They're so awful that we're happy when they set up port-a-potties for sporting events because those actually smell nicer than the regular bathrooms.

Jen worked at Riverbend for a long time (a nature center that kept winning awards as the best place the to have birthday parties in the very wealthy community that housed it) and she's worked with kids for ages, so she's got a lot of experience and a lot of talent and she throws a very good birthday party. People occasionally say I'm good with kids, and I've come to think that's true, but only within a certain milieu. Jen is great with kids all the time and it showed with this party.

It was Batman themed. We even had the giant penny.

Enlarged to show texture.

I have to wonder how long it's going to be before Lily comes under more pressure to reject the "boy stuff". A kid last year told her she couldn't like Danny Phantom because it's a "boy's show, and I told her that she can like whatever she wants. She wanted a Batman party, and while I certainly relish the thought of hitting a Batman pinata with a crowbar,

Your ass belongs to me, Batman

I had the creeping dread that one of her friends would plant the seed that it's "wrong" to like Batman* and she would wind up feeling bad about being interested in the things she likes.

But that wasn't a problem this year. Boys and girls alike either came dressed up as a superhero or enthusiastically donned the capes that Jen had thoughtfully provided so they could become one. I wore my Superman shirt, Jen wore an Avengers shirt (despite not knowing who Iron Man is! The shame! I've failed as a husband) and it was pretty great. I have lots of wonderful pictures, but while I'll post pictures of my own kid online, I don't do that for pictures with other people's children, so you'll have to use your imagination.

A caped crusader in a quiet moment

Giving Batman the beating he so richly deserves

Almost all of Lily's friends were able to make it, and there were only two meltdowns over the course of the party. My mom is fond of telling me how hard she worked on the treasure hunt for my eighth birthday party and how disappointed she was when I threw a tantrum and told everyone that it was the "worst birthday ever!" so I think that any snags I have with Lily's temper tantrums are just my way of working off my karmic burden.

*It is in fact wrong to like Batman, but that's neither here nor there. He keeps getting arrested, you know.

Pictures of Lily

Among the gifts we got Lily for her birthday was a combination mp3 player/camera. She's wanted a music player ever since a friend of mine gave her a Totoro pillow with a speaker built into it and connections for a music player.

You plug your player in and the music plays right out of Totoro's mouth. And she's never expressed a specific desire for a camera, but seeing as she steals my phone at least once a day to take pictures of her feet or the TV or of her stuffed cat from three different angles, I thought it was a worthwhile investment.

Perhaps you thought I was kidding about the cat

There will be more about the party in its own post, but Lily wanted a Batman party and the only Batgirl costume we'd been able to find at our local store was this bright pink one. Lily didn't really like it, because she wanted to be Batgirl and not this neon nightmare. So, aware of this, I skipped over the more girlie music players. I think I overdid it, because the one I picked out was this gunmetal grey, brushed steel and chrome monstrosity that looked it had been sent from the future to kill John Connor. Jen vetoed that one and we compromised on something halfway.

We went to her school culture night on her birthday. The school has a significant Latino population, and a lot of the activities reflected that. (A local Indian restaurant provided some of the food, which made it extra awesome.) One of the tables had pre-printed pictures to color and one of them was a skeleton in a dress from a Day of the Dead festival. Lily went directly for it, seeing as it combined her two favorite things, princesses and scary stuff. (q.v. her burgeoning interest in Monster High dolls) She spent a full 30 minutes coloring it in exacting detail.

I provided cover for her, because she was doing some detail work with the finger bones and I knew she would be really upset if someone jostled her and she went outside the lines. She really did a pretty great job. I think I would have had trouble with those stubby magic markers she was doing, but she kept her hands really steady.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

“A Night in the Lonesome October” issue preview

This is probably not news to anyone, seeing as just about everyone who has ever commented here has a piece in the issue, but I thought I'd post it here anyway. The preview for the Lonesome October theme issue is up over at Lovecraftzine. Zach and I both have stories, and it looks like Chris Kovacs has an essay. Be sure to check it out!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Six years of Lily

Lily turns six tomorrow. I always knew I would love her, but I had no idea how much I would like her.

And now she's growing into a kid, and a good one. I'm proud of her. We went to the library on Tuesday and she went directly for a book called "Monster Goose," a collection of scary nursery rhymes. I saw the book a moment before she did and knew she was going to grab it. She dove into, reading it when we were waiting to check out, on the walk across the parking lot and during the five minute car ride, finally plopping down on an easy chair to finish it when we arrived home.

See? Here's a picture!

In fact, each of us were reading and the house was totally silent. It was a strange sensation, but a nice one. I'm glad we're raising a reader. I'm proud of the person she's becoming. 

She's kind, she's happy, she's healthy, she's so smart, and if there is one thing I would give her, it would be the gift of failure.

And that may seem like a strange thing to say on her birthday, but failure teaches valuable lessons. Somewhere along the line, a professor of mine described sympathy as "I feel sorry for you" and empathy as "I know what you're going through". And failure teaches empathy, and humility. I don't want her faith in herself to be this brittle thing that's going to shatter the first time she fails. I want her to understand that it happens, sometimes there's nothing you can do about it and that it's not the end of the world when it does.

But that can wait. Here are some happy thoughts!

My thoughts always fall into familiar patterns on her birthday.

We'd been waiting through the night for Lily to be born, but she just didn't want to come out. I think she'd been reading Shel Silverstein's "I will not hatch" inside mommy's tummy. So the decision was made to perform a C-Section. I was going to be there in the room for it, so they sent me to put some on protective gear, including these things that were like plastic bags for over my shoes. And I was having trouble getting them to fit properly, alone in that room. I supposed I should have been frustrated by my inability to get them on, but I knew that I had all the time in the world, that they would wait for me, once I stepped out that door,  they would start the procedure and I would meet my daughter and my world would change forever.

And that's what happened. I had known the first words I was going to say to her and I said them as the nurses were weighing her for the first time.

Listen the Mustn'ts, child
Listen to the Don'ts
Listens to the shouldn'ts, the impossibles, the won'ts.
Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me
Anything can happen child,
Anything can be.

And I said those words to her, she looked up at me with those great big eyes. I was her very first friend. An hour ago I couldn't imagine what she'd look like and now I couldn't imagine her any other way.

 She had a bandage on her cheek for her first few days, because they cut too deep for the C-section.

She still has the scar, and I think she always will, though by now it's small and faint..

Shortly after we returned from our trip to Longleat gardens, I chipped my "World's Largest Hedge Maze" mug. But I've come to like my chipped mug. It reminds me of the Japanese aesthetic of Wabi-Sabi, which holds that things are beautiful precisely because they are imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. And likewise, Lily's face would look strange without that scar. I like it. It gives her character.

Lily woke up from a bad dream last week and when this happens, we usually stay with her in her bed until she falls asleep. So we had this conversation.

Me: Lily, I love you more than anything in the world.
Lily: I won't tell mommy. It would make her sad that you love me more.
Me: It's okay. Parents are supposed to love their kids more than anything.
Lily: (drifting off to sleep, patting me on the arm) Daddy, I love you like my son...

I couldn't ask for a better kid.

Watching Cartoons with Lily: Gravity Falls

I mentioned to my friend Eric one time that I didn't like Phineas and Ferb and he was surprised, because it's about two precocious kids building these wildly imaginative projects week after week. But another thing that happens week after week is that Phineas and Ferb's big sister tries to tell her mom that her younger brothers are building a nuclear reactor or an anti-matter engine in their backyard, but circumstances always conspire to destroy the evidence. And I'm not all "Won't someone think of the children?!" but humiliating a female character when she oversteps her bounds is something with a a long and ugly history. And while I'm sure it's not what the creators of the show intended when they established this schtick, there it is, and it's the awareness of this that prevents me from really enjoying the show, because I know this is lurking in the conclusion of every episode.

And I don't really think about the show much. There's enough good stuff out there that this is one situation where I'm more than willing to ignore the stuff I don't like, but to bring it up for context. When I first saw an ad for Gravity Falls, the art reminded me of P&F and I think one of the blurbs came right out and compared them. So I was like, "Looks like this is another show I'll be skipping!" And aside from maybe the random ad here and there, I don't think I thought about it for months. We got rid of cable in favor of streaming the stuff we're going to watch and thus we don't even see random commercials any more.  But one time I was talking about Ben Franklin and Lily was like, "Was he a lady?" and I was like "No! Where did you hear that?" and she said "Gravity Falls," and I shook my fist at the heavens and cried out "GRAVITY FALLS!!!!!!"  I looked just like Tim Robbins in the Shawshank Redemption.

And then another couple weeks passed and my buddy Tim came down for a visit and he brought an episode of Gravity Falls with him. And I was like, "Fine, I'll check this stupid thing out. Anything to shut you up."

Actually, I was a bit more receptive, because his tastes tend to be similar to mine and his instincts are usually good with regard to these things. The episode was "Fight Fighters", where Dipper enters a secret code in to a fighting game and brings the character of Rumble McSkirmish to life.

I liked the show immediately. That episode was the perfect introduction to the series for me. The pixel animation was done by Paul Robertson, the animator for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, the Game, so I already knew I liked his style. The jokes were a wonderful sendup of the occasionally ridiculous fighting game genre.

And so, we sought out the other episodes. My favorite episodes of the Simpsons were always those where Bart and Lisa work together, and Gravity Falls had the same vibe. I sprung forth fully formed from the brow of Zeus and was raised by a pack of wolves, a bear and a panther, so I never had siblings, but I always wanted some. The part I really like in Gravity Falls is during the opening sequence, (which is a rocking tune) when twins Dipper and Mabel are walking through the oddities of the Mystery Shack and they see something cool and Mable wordlessly turns and smiles at her brother, knowing that he would appreciate it too. It's just such a loving and human gesture.

The main characters are Dipper and Mabel, fraternal twins sent to live with their Grunkle (Great Uncle) Stan in the town of Gravity Falls, Oregon. I described the show as a bit like an animated version of Eerie, Indiana, which would have been the ideal frame of reference had anyone else actually remembered that show. It was about a small town where weird stuff happens and so is Gravity Falls.

It's hard to say who I like more, Dipper or Mabel. I was certainly like Dipper at that age (and at twice that age, for that matter) prone to making lists and over-analyzing situations, so there is a certain identification  there, but Mabel is voiced by Kristen Schaal in an inspired bit of casting and she gets all the best lines. On reflection, I think you can't have one without the other, and it's the combo of Dipper and Mabel that I really enjoy, as they play off each other's foibles. 


I can sometimes enjoy kids as protagonists. I thought the early Harry Potter books did it extremely well and so does Gravity Falls. Kids aren't all that far behind in their straight up reasoning ability than adults. They simply have a smaller base of experience to draw upon than adults. Indeed, a lot of the time, adults (at least the adults I know) are on autopilot and don't experience things the way kids do.

I like the supporting cast too. Of particular note is Linda Cardellini as Wendy, the object of Dipper's crush.

 I've liked Cardellini since her Freaks & Geeks days, and she's one of those actors for whom I'll watch a movie just because she's in it. Wendy's demeanor (and name, I realize on reflection) are similar to the character of Lindsey from F&G and I don't think that's a coincidence. 

It's also a tightly plotted  show, loaded  with a bunch of Easter Eggs. My favorite has to be the character who appeared in the background in a couple episodes. He's later shown to be a time traveller ("No, Time Baby!") , in charge of cleaning up temporal anomalies. It's good, silly fun, sometimes poignant, sometimes just absurd, but always entertaining.

Dipper: Hey, hey! Let go of my sister!
Gnome: Oh, hey there. You know, this is all really just a big misunderstanding. You see, your sister's not in any danger. She's just marrying all 1000 of us and becoming our gnome queen for all eternity. Isn't that right, honey?
Mabel: You guys are butt-faces!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Ranking the Doctors, the right way

Update! This post is out of date! My revised and updated list is here  Read that one instead!

My friend Jen wrote a post over at her blog ranking the different incarnations of the Doctor.

Her list, from best to worst:

1. & 2. (tie)  Tom Baker (4th) and Patrick Troughton (2nd)
3.  Jon Pertwee (3rd)
4.  Peter Davison (5th)
5.  Matt Smith (11th)
6.  David Tennant (10th)
7.  Sylvester McCoy (7th)
8.  William Hartnell (1st)
9.  Paul McGann (8th)
10.  Christopher Eccleston (9th)
11.  Colin Baker (6th)

It's a copiously researched and brilliantly written piece, marred only by the fact that she's completely wrong about everything.

So, here's the list of the best versions of the Doctor in their proper order.

1.) Tom Baker, the Fourth Doctor

Jen observes that most American fans of the original series grew up with Tom Baker as their Doctor. I know I did.  I'd watch it every Saturday night on NJN, with my bowl of Chex mix and my glass of lemonade. There's a t-shirt out there that says "You never forget your first Doctor". He was silly, charming, funny and very, very entertaining. He had two of the very best companions on the show, Sarah Jane and Romana II and had great chemistry with them both. He had the best companions and the best stories. I like him because he operated on a small scale as often as not, and while you can't have an episode where the Doctor fails to save the universe, you can certainly have one where he fails to save an individual from the monster of the week. I always found those episodes more engaging, because there was legitimate tension and the possibility of actual failure.

2.) Sylvester McCoy, the Seventh Doctor

I liked him because had this core of absolute ruthlessness beneath his veneer of whimsey. He starts out kind of silly, but gets darker and darker over the course of his tenure. He outmaneuvers his enemies at every turn, and not infrequently causes them to be the agents of their own demise. And while I usually don't like this kind of thing, I think an immortal, super intelligent time traveller is one of the few people for whom I'm willing to accept this level of Xanatos Gambit.

Because he was the Doctor when the series ended (though it's my understanding that the show was never officially canceled; they just stopped making or airing new episodes), there were a ton of books written about the Seventh Doctor and he gets his own side canon apart from the show.  They were leading up to revealing what his dark history includes and it's spelled out in the novel Lungbarrow. More on this a little later.

Also, I'm really getting into Iain M. Banks' Culture series and the novel the Also People, featuring the Seventh Doctor, has a thinly disguised version of the Culture in a very big part.

3.) Christopher Eccleston, the Ninth Doctor

You can't talk about the Ninth Doctor without talking about Rose. I didn't know what to think of this new TV show at first. I had been burned once before by the Paul McGann TV movie and I was afraid we'd get another stinker like that. However, I liked this new show. It was a nice mix of stuff from the old series (Autons for the win!) and an updating for the modern world. Davies was very good about taking the best bits from the old series and ignoring the rest of it. Not that he doesn't have his flaws (Ha ha, fat people are funny! and the deus ex machina of a cosmic reset button immediately spring to mind), but nor is he as terrible as his detractors claim. However, he also gave us Rose, and I can't forgive him for that.

 I liked Rose at first. She didn't twist her ankle while running down one of the interminable lengths of corridor from the original series. She had pluck, she had agency. But she never struck me as anything special. Tegan had pluck and agency too and the Doctor wasn't all falling in love with her. If she was special at all, it was because she hung out with the Doctor, not the other way around. I thought of her as the viewpoint character. She's there to do things that the audience would do if they were there and occasionally to prompt some exposition from the Doctor. But Russell Davies fell in love with her somewhere along the way and we just kept getting hammered over the head with how wonderful she was. I can't remember when I started actively disliking her, but I know that I really enjoyed this exchange from Bad Wolf, so it must have been by then:

The Anne Droid: So, Rose, what do you actually do?
Rose Tyler: I just travel about a bit. Bit of a tourist, I suppose.
The Anne Droid: Another way of saying unemployed?
Rose Tyler: No.
The Anne Droid: Have you got a job?
Rose Tyler: Well, not really, no.
The Anne Droid: Then you *are* unemployed. And yet you've still got enough money to buy peroxide.

Ha ha ha! Stupid Rose!

Anyways, I really enjoyed Jack Harkness, another companion introduced on Eccleston's run and one of the first male companions in ages. I liked Eccelston because he was angry and flawed and poisoned by his survivor's guilt, but still brave enough to sacrifice himself so that Rose (ROSE!!) could live.

4.) Jon Pertwee, the Third Doctor

A lot of the old Doctor Who episodes were in fact, kind of lousy. The effects were on par with what you'd find in a high school play and the writing wasn't good and there was not infrequently an appalling amount of filler. However, it had energy and it had charm and it threw out all these gonzo concepts without worrying about the ramifications. (I recall reading that Doctor Who never had a story bible, which is how it wound up with so many contradictory stories and three separate versions of the destruction of Atlantis, but my friend Eric suggested that this is actually a feature and not a bug and that all the time travel is overwriting previous stories.  I like that explanation. Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.)

This is to some extent, a nostalgia score, because it's been a while since I've seen Pertwee and I'm not sure how the episodes would hold up. However, I do love the Master, Moriarty to the Doctor's Holmes. I'm a sucker for an evil twin/dark counterpart story and Delgado and Pertwee were excellent together.

I'll get in to more detail on this on Matt Smith's entry, but something I really liked about the Master is that he's better than the Doctor in certain areas. He had a TARDIS that actually worked, for instance, but the thing that sticks with me is that the Master got better grades than the Doctor. That's my conception of the Doctor, a member of an advanced society, and a smart and talented guy, but not its most brilliant member. This is at odds with Stephen Moffat's interpretation of the Doctor. I can't track down the interview right now, but he said, shortly before he became the showrunner that he sees the Doctor as someone without peer.  But I think the Doctor is at his best when he has peers like Romana and the Master to play off of.

5.) Peter Davison, the Fifth Doctor

I really got into Doctor Who when I lived in Florida with my mom when I was about 12. We had a used book store in the neighborhood and I picked up every Doctor Who book I could find. One of them was not a novel, but the Doctor Who Programme Guide. (I thought that it was pronounced "Program-ey" guide, being unfamiliar with the vagaries of British spelling at the time.) The book was an alphabetical list of the characters and in which stories they appeared. I read that book cover to cover and consulted it all the time, and as a result, I knew just about everything that happened in the series, up to the end of the Fourth Doctor's run.

And we got to his last episode, and then Peter Davison started his run and I had no idea what was going to happen next. It seemed like anything could happen, and that kind of potential was really exciting.  That's something I miss, living in the modern world. We're so connected now, and it's so easy to find out what has happened and what's going to happen on your favorite show. The mystery is gone. And yeah, as with Pertwee, a lot of this is nostalgia, but I loved it at the time.

As Jen points out, Davison had the hard act of following Tom Baker at the peak of Baker's popularity. But he had Nyssa, played by Sarah Sutton, another of the all time great companions. He was also saddled with Tegan, one of the worst, and apparently there's a band called Sarah and Tegan, which I was certain had to be some kind of Doctor Who reference, but it turned out that it was just a coincidence. The Master also shows up quite a bit during his run. His death and regeneration was really poignant too.

6.) Patrick Troughton, the Second Doctor

I like him, though not as much as Jen does. But I don't think Patrick Troughton's wife liked him as much as Jen does. In the Three Doctors special, the First Doctor calls the Second and the Third "a dandy and a clown".  Jen calls him "endearing" and I think that's the best word for him. Also, I like that his companions are not in fact a succession of ingenues from modern London, but run the gamut from a Scottish Highlander to a 21st Century scientist. I like that his somewhat bumbling demeanor is in large part just an act and he's sandbagging this prodigious intellect.  And as long and as tedious as the War Games was, it does a great job of introducing the Time Lords and setting the stage for the Pertwee era.

Fun Second Doctor Josh fact: I had read that he carried a recorder around with him, but I had never heard of a musical instrument by that name, and having never seen any of the episodes at that point, I just assumed that they meant a TAPE recorder.

7.) David Tennant, the Tenth Doctor

The problems with Rose get more pronounced with Tennant, until they're at a point where Rose is talking about living in a house with a white picket fence with him. Blarg! He hit his stride once he replaced her with Martha, who ruled and once the writers stopped giving him scripts seemingly written with his predecessor in mind. He did have a number of good episodes, though. School Reunion (which drew significantly on  Dark Season, an earlier show by Russell Davis and Kate Winslet's birst major role) , Human Nature/Family of Blood and Journey's End were phenomenal. John Simm was pleasure whenever he was on the screen.

Unfortunately, we also get Donna Noble, who makes Rose look like Romana. If the Doctor is really this demigod thundering across the stars, how come Donna outwits him more than half the time? Watching her is like chewing tin foil with a mouth full of fillings.

8.) Paul McGann, the Eighth Doctor

I got nothin. The COMPLETEly Useless ENCYCLOPEDIA has this entry for Half-Human: "The  contribution to Doctor Who mythos by the makers of the 'US telemovie with Pertwee logo' and judging by the eighth Doctor's interest in Grace Holloway, it's the bottom half."  I was delighted when Tennant reacted in horror at the suggestion that he might be half human, suggesting that this is no longer canon. Thank god.

And it must have been hard for him to fill the role in the short time he was allotted. I think of the TV movie as a pilot, and there's the tedious work of establishing the premise to be done. Had McGann continued, he might have grown into the role.

9.) William Hartnell, the First Doctor


10.) Colin Baker, the Sixth Doctor, aka Miss Piggy

His interests include walks on the beach, strangling his companions and committing genocide. It's not that a dark Doctor can't work, Eccelston and Tennant have each shown us otherwise. From Wikipedia: "The Sixth Doctor was an unpredictable and somewhat petulant egoist, whose garish, multicoloured attire reflected his volatile personality." He was an unlikeable jerk, but more than that, he was an uninteresting one and I just didn't want to watch him. Also, as the The COMPLETEly Useless ENCYCLOPEDIA points out, Timelash is an anagram for "lame shit".

And it's not entirely his fault. I daresay that John Nathan-Turner had as much, if not more to do with the problems of Colin Baker's tenure as did Baker.

11.) The Valeyard


Ha! You thought I was going to go with Matt Smith here, didn't you?! In your face, hypothetical reader! The Valeyard is, oh, fuck, this is why I get embarrassed telling people that I 'm a fan of about genre TV, because I feel ridiculous writing this stuff down. The Valeyard is the Doctor's future evil self who serves as prosecutor in the Trial of the Time Lord. But he was a pretty decent villain, even if the Trial of the Time Lord makes the War Games seem like Dalek Cutaway when it comes to brevity.  Also, he shows up in about a zillion of the novels.

12.) The Watcher

The figure in white who points the Fourth Doctor in the right direction in Logopolis.

13.) Earlier Incarnations of the Doctor seen during the psychic battle in the Brain of Morbius

 It's unclear, perhaps deliberately so, who those faces seen in the psychic battle are supposed to be. The Fourth Doctor starts the battle, and we see the Third Doctor, then the Second, then the First and then a whole bunch of faces we've never seen before.  I like the theory that they're the incarnations before the Hartnell one. There's no unambiguous support for this interpretation over any other, but  the context and Morbius's question, ""How far, Doctor? How long have you lived?" seems to imply it.

14.) David Morrisey, from the Next Doctor:

15.) The Other, from Lungbarrow: In writing this, I've noticed that I seem to hold two contradictory opinions about the Doctor. I like the C-student from Galiifrey who was good at some stuff and less good at other stuff, and I also like the Seventh Doctor who hints at an ancient past and terrifying powers. When the original series collapsed, the writers were working towards reestablishing some of the mysteries of the Doctor's past. I like this quote about it: "...Omega and Rassilon were the founding fathers of Gallifrey. They towered above the Time Lords who followed. They were demigods...there was a third presence there in the shadowy days of Gallifrey's creation. In other words, the Doctor was also there. So he's more than a Time Lord. He's one of these half-glimpsed demigods."
The Doctor was the third of the Founding Fathers of Gallifrey, the Other. He threw himself into the looms that grow baby Gallifreyans and was eventually reborn as the Doctor, which I thought was a neat way of explaining a bunch of the weirdness surrounding the Doctor's past.

16.) Rowen Atkinson from Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death

17.) Richard Grant from Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death

18.) Jim Broadbent from Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death

19.) Hugh Grant from Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death

20.) Joanna Lumley from Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death

21.) Peter Cushing, from Dr. Who and the Daleks, now on the Big Screen in Colour!

22 - 99.) Future Doctors to be named later

100.) Matt Smith, the Eleventh Doctor

"That's right. I'm a tool. What are you gonna do about it?"

I like Moffat a lot as a writer. I like him less when he's charting the direction of the show. I was skeptical about Matt Smith in the role and I didn't like him when I watched his first episode, which seemed like one long warbled yalp of "This is what I think of your tenure on the show, Russell!" And, for as much as I complain about Matt Smith, I don't think he's the worst thing in the world. I took an instant dislike to his portrayal of the Doctor, but it's possible that this one episode doesn't reflect what the character eventually became. But there's so much other stuff out there that I don't feel like watching something I don't enjoy in hopes that it will get better when there is so much stuff that I know I do enjoy.

Also, Moffat's direction for the show seems to be at odds for what I want out of it. I want a Romana for the new series, a true equal to the Doctor  but he's dead set against that idea. And this dovetails into the second concern about Moffat I haven't watched the show since Matt Smith's debut, but I have a ton of friends who have and under these circumstances, one tends to absorb the information osmotically. And something that comes up time and again is that Moffat has a problem with women. He's unquestionably a very talented writer,  and I enjoy his standalone stories tremendously. I have no doubt that he can realize his vision for the series. However, his vision of the Doctor is not something I want to watch.