Saturday, June 27, 2015

Crossover Combat: Battle of the groups that are puns on the word “Android”

Well, that’s curiously specific.

Our contestants:

The Bandroids: The Bionic Six was really kind of wonderful in its distinctly 80s way. (See also, Spiral Zone) It was very much a product of its time, but it does have one of my favorite story arcs from any show in my childhood. At the end of the first episode, the main characters are captured, so their patron, Professor Doctor Amadeus Sharp, PhD (one of the all-time great character names, thank you very much) assembles a rescue team of second stringers and former guest stars. This legion of substitute heroes includes the robot rock stars called the Bandroids.

Truly Truly Truly Outrageous

From the Bionic Six Wiki: The Bandroids are androids, created by Dr. Bruce "Bad Brains" Huxter, designed to perform as a musical band. The Bandroids are guitarist Rivet Rick, keyboardist Techno Tex, bassist Metalhand, and drummer Bob. Each Bandroid has their musical instrument designed into their chassis and showcases some special ability: Rivet Rick can generate force fields, Techno Tex is equipped with two six-shooters, Metalhand can grow in size and has a jet pack, and Bob can generate electrical blasts from his drumsticks. The Bandroids perform in concert and are reported to have had four consecutive number one hits

Annedroids: If this TV show were a person, it would be Morgan Freeman talking about penguins. One of its goals is to educate children about STEM topics, and comforting and inoffensive in a way that only Canadian children’s television can be. The new girl in town in a precocious super-genius, and she builds robots and makes friends up in Canada. She has three main robots, Hand, Eye and Pal.

Randroids: All right. Debates about “Who would win in a fight?” tend to be even more subjective than most things on the Internet, and, like modern jurisprudence, chiefly involve working backwards to justify one’s favored outcome, all the while issuing protestations of one’s role as a neutral arbiter and declaring that the only possible interpretation of a sober reading of the evidence regarding a hypothetical matchup between Batman and Galactus will, of course, force any reasonable party to conclude that Batman would just throw batarangs at Galactus’s face until he decide to leave the earth alone forever.

I’m going to forgo even that slender fig leaf. It’s hard to overstate how much I hate Libertarians. When my seven-year-old daughter overheard the word and asked me what they were, I answered “People who like living in a civil society, but don’t like paying for it.” That’s perfect. So accurate, and so simple that a child could understand it. Several years ago, I first heard someone refer to Senator “Rand” Paul. I knew that that perennial Presidential candidate and part-time garden gnome Ron Paul was a hard core Glibertarian, and when I heard someone on TV say “Rand Paul”, I assumed that the speaker was just being snarky and facetiously referring to Ron Paul as Rand Paul. I didn’t realize that the man had actually named his son after Ayn Rand.

To Quote John Rogers:

There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.
This is not an environment favorable to Libertarians, is what I’m saying.

We’ll rank our contestants in four categories.

Fighting: This is going to be a bit of a curb stomp isn’t it? Pal knows kung fu (or at least has some katas down), but only one team has rocket packs and shoots death rays. The Randroids learn how fickle the free market can be when they learn that the going rate to hire someone to fight against killer robots is out of their price range.


Annedroids: 1
Bandroids: 2
Randroids: 0


Annedroids: 1
Bandroids: 2
Randroids: 0

General Knowledge:Anne is a TV super genius. The Bandroids were never shown as particularly bright, but at best, Libertarian philosophy is intellectually dishonest sophistry. The word “scrub” has taken on a more specific meaning in recent years. Previously, it had been more or less synonymous with a bad player, but now it has increasingly come to mean a particular type of bad player, one who plays a game according to how they feel it should be rather than how it is. Consequently, their strategies are never effective as they feel they should be, and they blame everyone but themselves for this. Paul Ryan will answer “Ayn Rand” to every question, and sulk when he’s told that she didn’t write Othello.


Annedroids: 2
Bandroids: 1
Randroids: -1


Annedroids: 3
Bandroids: 3
Randroids: -1

Entertaining:Everyone knows that the Bandroids are the most popular singing robots of the 80s. (Sorry Chuck E. Cheese)

Who wants to get badgered?! 

Hand wows everyone with paper-rock-scissors artistry, but Anne accidentally say “A-boot” and alienates the American judge.

Rand Paul tries to deliver the I Am John Galt speech,  but he comes down with food poisoning from something he ate, because the free market no longer has any obligation to provide safe foods to its customers.


Annedroids: 1
Bandroids: 2
Randroids: -1


Annedroids: 4
Bandroids: 5
Randroids: -2

Passing the Voight Kampff Test:

The Bandoids and the Annedroids are, of course, actual robots, but they have many time more empathy than actual Randroids.


Annedroids: 2
Bandroids: 1
Randroids: -10 


Annedroids: 6
Bandroids: 6
Randroids: -10

There you have it, folks! The numbers don't lie! Annedroids and Bandroids beat Randroids, every time! 

Monday, June 22, 2015

"Roger Zelazny" Book Review: Chronomaster

I was reading this book when my eight-year-old daughter walked up to me.

Lily: What are you reading?
Me: A terrible, boring book.
Lily: Why are you reading it?
Me: So I can tell people how bad it is. (Flips over book so she can see the cover)
Lily: But Roger Zelany (sic) is a good author.
Me: Ah, but he didn’t write it, though you can be excused for thinking so, seeing as how his name is in twelve point font and the name of the person who actually wrote is in ten point.
Lily: They stole his name!
Me: Well, I certainly wouldn’t go that far, but they’re certainly overplaying his contribution in order to market the book-
Lily: (Wanders off) They stole his name!

I’m surprised my daughter has an opinion on Roger Zelazny at all, though it’s doubtless due to the fact that she sees me reading them all the time, and it’s something of a transitive property. She likes me, I like Roger Zelazny, she likes Roger Zelazny. I haven’t read her anything yet, though she’s probably old enough to appreciate A Dark Traveling.

Also, his name is spelled with two Zs. It’s not that hard, people.

This exchange really happened. You could be excused for not believing it did, because it dovetails so neatly with the points I want to make about the book. It’s hard to overstate just how bad Chronomaster is. In my opinion, it’s the worst of the third party books related to Zelazny’s work, rivaled only by the equally execrable Complete Amber Sourcebook.

As Zelazny fans know, the story that eventually became Chronomaster was originally a story about Francis Sandow, of the Isle of the Dead, To Die in Italbar and Dismal Light. The Outline to Sandow’s Shadow was published in volume six of the Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, and you should really read that instead of Chronomaster, because it’s three hundred pages shorter, and about three billion times more interesting.

But it is not to be. We get Rene Korda in place of Francis Sandow, and Jester in the place of the Model T.

It was also a video game, and most of the reviews praise the story, but pan the mechanics and the interface. Looks like it’s going cheap on Amazon, but as it’s from the early 90s, it’s probably requires Dosbox. Boo. I ordered myself a copy. I’ll review it once I have the chance to play it.

Wikipedia lists Zelazny as a co-author of the novel, but I don’t think that’s right. I believe he provided the outline and the plot, but that Lindskold otherwise wrote the book in its entirety. (She’s credited as sole author in the book itself) I don’t understand why this book is so bad.

I’m hardly the biggest fan of Jane Lindskold’s writing,  (as I’ve said before, her style doesn’t hold a lot of appeal for me, but I do respect her work as custodian of Zelazny’s legacy, so I generally say that her writings are outside the scope of this blog, and leave it at that) but she is a professional writer, and she’s certainly more than technically competent, and she’s shown that she’s capable of so much better than this.

The entire book reads like a very, very rough draft. (“Joe! Have you thought about your orders?” “I know my duty, Frank,” Joe responded.;“Oh boy! What have I gotten myself into!”) I do derive a certain level of amusement from lines like “You will ever have my gratitude if you help me find my beloved Tico and save me from the lusts of Dwister!” (Lusts of Dwister! Sounds terrible!), but I doubt that’s how the author intended them to be appreciated. She never misses a chance to tell instead of show, and there are interesting concepts like Cybersoul, a holiday celebrated by AIs, but this is glossed over and forgotten almost immediately.

If I didn’t know better, I would literally believe that Lindskold was given the Prima strategy guide as her sole reference, and asked to write the novelization using only that. It would certainly account for the emphasis on puzzles that doubtless appear in the game. (“As an afterthought, he took the medals and officer’s insignia from one of the guard’s tunics. If Urbs was as bound by military hierarchy as he was coming to believe, they could come in handy.” Several pages later, they come in handy. If that’s not taken directly from the video game, I’ll eat my hat.)  However, the book credits her as co-creator, and she seems to have been closely involved with the production of the game.

Jester is the name of Korda’s ship, as well as its AI.  The book would have been bad in a more quotidian way without her, but her presence just scuttles it without any hope of recovery. She usually manifests as a zany holographic projection, and seems to have been written based on notes copied down from the back cover of an advance reader copy of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing Spec Scripts for Three’s Company, first edition.  Her catch phrase is Sugar pop.

She’s "comically" possessive of Korda, and at one point, he trips and falls into the arms of a very pretty lady, at the exact moment Jester chooses to call. Hilarity ensues! When Jester dresses her avatar in a harem costume for a trip to Aurens, the Lawrence of Arabia desert world, Korda laughs so hard that he can’t breathe. At one point, he throws a scone at her in comical frustration. Lindskold has vastly overestimated how amusing readers would find Jester. They have such an anti-chemistry that they make Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman look like Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.
I mentioned in my review of Lord Demon that the portrayal of other cultures made me somewhat uneasy at points, because it seemed so stereotypical as to be borderline racist.

 I’m sure it wasn’t intentional there, just as it’s not intentional here, but ignorance as a defense only goes so far. Tico, the collection of clichés, has three components in every sentence, a noun, and praise to Allah.

We’re introduced to Milo Minderbinder, the vastly more interesting secondary protagonist, on page 315 of a 348 page book. He’s a survivor of the Pasqual Wipeout, which is a distractingly bad name and sounds like a sequel to the Surfaris’ most famous song.

I thought this was another case of Lindskold substituting lighting bug in the place of  lightning, but this one is apparently all Zelazny, as that name appears in the outline.

The story ends as abruptly as Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings. Our heroes have visited three of the pocket universes, the bad guys are tracking them, and…roll credits. It’s not like I was invested in these characters, but that much of a non-ending is a real cheat.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Sky High 2: Sky Higher

We ran the first installment of what will hopefully be a long-running superhero campaign. This one was very short, and mostly just served to establish the setting and the characters. Lily was pretty good for the whole thing. She was very excited to be playing with grownups, and she wanted to co-GM (“How about he says this instead?!”) but she settled down when I told her that I’d do most of storytelling, but I’d listen to what she said after I described something and we might incorporate her embellishments.  (And like every new role-player, she wants to roll for every action, no matter how trivial.)

Dramatis personæ

Amethyst “Amy” Midnight, aka “Night Glory”: Player character. Fourteen year old Freshmen at Sky High, and inheritor of her family’s secret ninja techniques. When she was five years old, her superhero parents (Golden Moon and The Shadow Flame) fought off a pair of supervillains (Crimson Thunder and Winter Rose) They saved the city, but heroes and villains alike were hurled into another dimension and Amy was paralyzed from the waist down. She was sent to a maximum security evil orphanage, but managed to escape. She wears a mystical ninja uniform that heals all wounds suffered by the wearer prior to the donning of the uniform. Consequently, she can walk when wearing it. She is a master martial artist, to the extent that she can paralyze her opponents and nullify their powers by blocking the flow of their chi. She is enthusiastic and upbeat. Her pet peeves include DJs, snobs and Chihuahuas.

Dru-Zod Periwinkle, aka “Zod”: Player Character. Fourteen year old Freshmen at Sky High.
Gangly, pimply, emo teenage version of General Zod, fostered by the Periwinkle family. Like Supergirl in the upcoming TV show,  he spent several years in the Phantom Zone, and is thus several years younger than his Kryptonian peers. It’s unclear why he was in the Phantom Zone in the first place, and Zod doesn’t like to talk about the subject. He is conceited and bombastic, and has a ridiculously one-sided rivalry with Superman, who barely knows that he exists. His parents are well-meaning, but clueless. They dote on their talented biological son, and can’t understand why Zod can’t be more like him. (It’s always Neil before Zod at the Periwinkle house) They’re constantly lecturing about how he should get out, get a little more sunlight and start applying himself, instead of sitting in his room all day, listening to the Cure and painting his toenails black.

Summer: Non-Player Character. Fourteen year old Freshmen. Younger child of the supervillains banished by Amy’s parents, and Amy’s best friend.  She has control over heat and fire, but lacks the confidence to make full use of her powers. One of the nicest kids on campus. A little bit naïve. Close friends with Night Glory. She loves her parents, but understands that they were criminals, and doesn’t blame Amy for what happened.  She has strawberry blonde hair that becomes more red the more emotion she feels.

Winter: Non-Player Character. Seventeen year old Junior. Think Rachel McAdams in Mean Girls, the villain in every Disney Channel TV movie. She controls cold and ice. She would probably hate Amy even if their parents had no history together, because Amy is kind and sincere, and Winter hates that kind of thing. She places full blame on Amy’s parents for what happened to her parents and will stop at nothing to make Amy’s life miserable.

Neil P: Non-Player Character. Nineteen-year-old graduate of Sky High, and student teacher. He was the valedictorian  and captain of the Sportsball team when he was at school, as well as Prom King. Beloved by staff and students alike, with the exception of his foster brother, Zod, towards whom he is loving, but patronizing. Has vaguely defined energy control powers, and might have some luck powers, since everything always seems to break his way.

Ursa: Non-Player Character. Fourteen year old Freshman. Kyptonian, like Zod, but can never remember who he is. The most popular girl in school. She’s a member of Winter’s clique, but not as nasty.

Vice Principal Nairn Hodor: Non-Player Character. Nearly seven feet tall and built like a vending machine. Super strong and nearly invulnerable. His hobbies include DJing, snobbery and teaching his Chihuahuas how to be DJs.  His detention is thing to be feared. The student body suspects that he was (or is!) a supervillain. (Kristian Nairn, the actor who plays Hodor, is a DJ in real life, thus the reason for a name that may otherwise have seemed completely random. No word if he is also a snob, a Chihuahua maestro or a supervillain.)

President Dog: Non-Player Character.  Super-intelligent cairn terrier, but no one knows it because he can’t talk or build things with his stubby little paws.  Everybody loves President Dog.


We open with Amy eating breakfast before her first day at Sky High. She was raised by her aunt after her parents disappeared. Her aunt has some super-powers of her own, but she gave up heroing to take care of Amy.  She made Amy her favorite for the first day of school, buttermilk pancakes with Andes mints.  She meets up with Summer and they head to the bus stop.

We then turn to Zod at the Periwinkle family. He wakes up to a giant pimple on his forehead, and it joins the constellation already there. He wants a milkshake for breakfast, but his parents remind him that milkshakes always make him break out, so he has banana pancakes instead. His mom gives him a bagged lunch, reminds him to be more like Neil and sends him on his way.

The kids meet up at the bus stop and make small talk for a little while until the bus arrives to pick them up. Their bus driver is named Steve.

When they arrive at the school, Zod strikes up a conversation with Ursa, prettiest girl in the Freshmen class, and Zod’s fellow Kryptonian. Zod is doing pretty well until Ursa notices that Zod’s mom had written a note to him on the outside his lunch bag: ”I love you, little man”

Vice-Principal Hodor arrives and gathers up the group and takes them to Summer’s sister Winter, for orientation and a tour of the campus. This passes uneventfully, though Zod uses his X-Ray vison to scope out any areas that might be restricted. Winter nicknames him “General Zit.”

Then it’s on to power placement. Coach Boomer wants to relegate Amy to sidekick status, but she activates her costume and impresses everybody with her ninja skills. President Dog is automatically promoted to hero status without the need for an assessment, because, hey, he’s President Dog.

Then it’s off to lunch, where we get a couple cameos from superheroes from other shows, including Robin, begging to be upgraded from sidekick status, which will probably become a running gag.

After lunch, the kids picked out their classes. Zod is very excited to learn that Professor Doctor Victor Von Doom would be teaching a class on the History and Application of Mad Science. He quickly signed up, and rushed off to the class, but when he got there he saw a sign on the door that announced that the class would be taught by a substitute for the duration of Doom’s confinement in the Negative Zone.

He was disappointed, but still interested in the class. When he entered the room, he heard the teacher call out to him. “Hey, baby bro? Did you miss me? I picked up some credits over the summer. I’ll be student teaching here!”

That’s where we wrapped up for the day. Like I said, just a short introductory session. I’m pretty happy with it, though. We’ve set the stage, and we got most of Star Wars out of the way, so now we can jump right in with The Empire Strikes Back. J

Final Thoughts:

I think that Young Zod is a brilliant idea which promises to be a huge amount of fun, and the concept has a ton narrative hooks.

I’m surprised how committed Lily is to the idea of playing a character with a disability. She’s always had a lot of empathy, and she’s putting a lot of thought into the difficulties such a person would have with tasks that most people can do without a second thought.

I’m really into this.  Yeah, it’s a bit goofy, and painted very broadly, but I think it will be a lot of fun for everyone.  That’s what I like about role-playing games. You get together to tell a story with your friends that none of you would have come up with independently, expanding and riffing on each other’s contributions.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

[Zelazny] Christopher Kovacs Essay on Eye of Cat at the New York Review of Science Fiction

Link: Christopher S. Kovacs: Eye of Storm

Kovacs brings his usual rigor to the piece, and it by far the most detailed analysis of Eye of Cat that I've ever read.  The best part of the essay is where he mentions me. :)

Only slightly behind is where he explains a very brief mention of Nayenezgani in Eye of Cat. Nayenezgani is the Navajo "Slayer of Alien Gods". That's such a Zelaznian concept, right up there with Jacobian Demigods. I may have to reassess my opinion of Eye of Cat in light of this essay.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Welcome Home, Mom

Lily gets along better with me than she does with Jen, but when Jen was away for the weekend, Lily started missing her very much. She decided to make a welcome home card for her.



The rose in the middle picture is a real rose, enameled in gold. I gave it to Jen one Valentine's Day, and Lily decided to re-purpose it. The leaves are from our backyard, the stampers come from Connie-Mom, and that's a bird on the back. If you can't read the note at the bottom, it says "Josh and Lily Co", but this was 100% a Lily production.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Bikini Cat

A friend is helping Lily learn Photoshop.

I present to you her first contribution to the vast collection of cat pictures on the Internet, Bikini Cat.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Zelazny: Jack Kirby's Lord of Light Art to be featured in Heavy Metal

I came across this while looking for accounts of last month's memorial. It looks like Kirby's art for Lord of Light will be featured in Heavy Metal, in color.

I think I would have would have preferred a more subdued palette, but I'm glad these are finally getting some exposure to a wider audience.