Friday, December 30, 2016

Forever Fallen now released and available to download

It's the last release of the year - and it's free to everyone: Doctor Who - Forever Fallen...

In May, the Paul Spragg Memorial Opportunity saw hundreds of submissions to Big Finish, out of which Joshua Wanisko's Forever Fallen was chosen to be read by Big Finish Executive Producer Nicholas Briggs as a Doctor Who Short Trip:

Until now, an offered chance from the Doctor has never stopped the villain's schemes.

Until now, the android armies, the powerful space stations, the mind-control rays, have gone unchecked to disastrous effect.

Until now...

...But then what happens?

Doctor Who - Forever Fallen is available now as a free purchase - simply put into your basket and process your order as you would any of our usual titles. For those who do so, you will also be able to download Joshua's original entry, and the script PDF which went into studio.

The Doctor Who - Short Trips range continues next month with Nicola Walker reading Doctor Who - The World Beyond The Trees. And we'll see any budding Big Finish writers next May.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Lord of Light adapted as a Doctor Who audio play?!

This is a rather tidy convergence of two of my passions.

Apparently, Lord of Light was loosely adapted for a Doctor Who audio play in 2007. I must listen to this immediately!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Forever Fallen in Doctor Who Magazine

There is a brief piece on my story in issue 507 of Doctor Who Magazine. If you'll excuse me, I need to run out to the local bookstore and buy all the copies.

At the end of November, I was listening to Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, which is a current events quiz show on public radio.  They have a segment called Not My Job, wherein they ask a celebrity questions unrelated to their area of expertise.  The guest that week was Country Music star Garth Brooks and he said something that struck me as particularly cogent.

From the transcript of that episode.

[Host Peter] SAGAL: So you became, not to put too fine a point on it, probably the biggest country music act that ever has been. Do you have any reason why it was that your music became so universally popular, even people without - who weren't country fans?
BROOKS: No, I don't have a clue. You know, a lot of things happened right at the right time. It's all timing because here in Nashville - this isn't a statement of humbleness, it's a statement of honesty - your waiter can out-sing you, out-write you, out-play you. I mean, everyone here is talented…

That made me think of my situation.

My story was selected as the winner. Was it good? I think so. I’m happy with it and proud of it. Was it the best story submitted? I don’t know. How are you going to measure that? I would venture to say that every one of the stories on the short list was as good as mine.There are so many factors so far outside of your control in a situation like that that you may as well call them luck. Is there an similar story in the pipeline? Does the television series have a similar story planned? Does the proposed story work in the time constraints and the format of the range? Is it a fit for their vision?

One of the important components about this contest was that it was memorializing the life of Paul Spragg, a beloved staff member at Big Finish who passed away suddenly. I never had the good fortune to know Paul; he passed before I started listening to Big Finish very seriously, and I felt very self-conscious about that, as he had been very encouraging to people who had written to Big Finish, and many people in the contest had touching personal remembrances of how kind he had been. Not only was I an American, I was an American who never knew Paul.

However, I later discovered that we had each contributed to Geek Speak magazine. The archive seems to be gone, but Paul's piece was titled The Big Finish Story.

Paul's author page

I won't presume to have known him, because I think that's an insult to those who did, but I like we have that little bit of a connection, and that he was an evangelist for something I came to love so dearly.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Hey, I'm internet famous!

There is a lovely remembrance of Paul Spragg and brief profile of my story at the newest issue of Big Finish's Vortex magazine.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Fantabulous Beasts and Where to Find Them

That's right! Fantabulous Beasts!  That will do wonders for my Search Engine Optimization.

I was working at Dreamscape Comics when the Phantom Menace was released in 1999, and in the run up to the release, everyone wanted to talk Star Wars. After the premiere, not so much.  There were one or two guys who half-heartedly defended it as not as bad as everyone was saying it was, but even they conceded the basic point that nobody would think twice about trashing it if it had been a generic sci-fi movie instead of the first Star Wars in decades.

The same thing is true for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, but to a lesser extent. It’s not bad, but it’s not really very good, either. Take away the nostalgia the audience has for the Harry Potter franchise and you’re left with a thoroughly average movie that would probably not be able to stand on its own.

We open with spinning newspapers straight out of Batman informing us that future Magical Hitler Gellert Grindelwald is on the loose after his latest tomfoolery.  We then transition to Newt Scamander arriving in New York.

Eddie Redmayne is appealing as Newt Scamander.  He’s got a suitcase full of monsters, and one of them, some kind of greedy platypus (I know it’s called a Niffler, nerds. Put down your tweets) escapes into a bank. While trying to capture it, Scamander briefly crosses paths with Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), a man there to get a loan in order to open a bakery. Hijinks ensue! The Niffler makes its way into the vault and Newt and Kowalski are discovered there by the bank manager, who triggers the alarm. Scamander paralyzes the manager, and escapes with Kowalski.

I think the Harry Potter series peaked with Prisoner of Azkaban, and slowly declined from there, but I’m not going to argue that Rowling is anything other than a brilliant author. However, she is not a good screenwriter, because this is a very sloppy script. The manager is never Obliviated onscreen, and later events (such as the fact that twenty-four hours later, MACUSA had no idea that Scamander was in New York) imply that he never had his memory wiped, as that’s the kind of thing that would have been uncovered in the course of the investigation.  The manager knows who Kowalski is, and sees him apparently robbing the bank. You’d think that would be the kind of thing where he’d want to follow up on it?

Kowalski slips away before Newt can wipe his memory, and he and Newt accidentally swap briefcases, shocking those members of the audience who have never seen a sitcom. Before Newt can catch him, he is apprehended by Sam Waterston’s daughter, disgraced former Auror Tina Goldstein. (I’m surprised that magical law enforcement officers are still called Aurors in America, seeing as they have different names for almost everything else over here.)

She tries to bring him in the to the President of the Magical Congress, who holds important staff meetings in grungy back rooms, but is dismissed. Meanwhile, Kowalski opens Newt’s suitcase, but is attacked by one of the critters inside, allowing a bunch of them to escape. Goldstein and Newt find Kowalski and take him back to Goldstein’s apartment, where they meet her sister, Queenie.

Holy crap, Queenie is the best part of this movie! I just want a good parts version, which will be nothing but scenes of Queenie and Kowalski driving around in his Dodge Charger being cute.

Meanwhile, a newspaper magnate’s senator son is killed in full view of hundreds of credible witnesses by some obviously magical force.  Okay, then.  Maybe I missed some throwaway line about mass Obliviations in a later scene, but unless MACUSA got right on top of that immediately, it kind of looks like an irreparable breach of the Masquerade right there. (And seeing how the publisher recognizes the beast that killed his son in a different scene that takes place at least twenty-four hours later, this mass Obliviation doesn’t seem to have happened.)

Newt and Kowalski sneak out of the Goldstein’s apartment in order to attempt to recapture the escaped creatures.  There is a cute set piece where they break into a jewelry store because they see the Niffler grabbing stuff inside. It’s effectively the same scene as the Niffler stealing stuff from the bank, but better. But here’s the thing. We don’t need both of those scenes.  The movie has entirely too many set pieces like this that do nothing to drive the plot forward.

That said, I did like it, and I found it legitimately funny when Kowalski, bedecked in a jeweled tiara that fell on his head when they captured the Niffler, points down the street and tells the responding officers “He went that way.”

The officers are distracted by the arrival of a lion, which escaped when one of Newt’s critters broke into a nearby zoo in order to find a mate. Newt takes advantage of this to disapparate away with Kowalski. So, what happens next here? Either the lion mauls somebody or the cops shoot it. That’s kind of a shitty outcome for somebody.

More wacky slapstick farce in the zoo. Kowalski spills magical critter musk on himself and the critter wants to mate with him! Newt tries to save him, but a money steals his wand! (He can’t  seem to perform any wandless magic to get it back, but as he’s canonically a Hufflepuff I’m willing to let it slide.)

Kowalski and Newt get trapped in the case by Tina after they catch the critter and she takes them to her old job. Her boss, Seraphina Picquery (Carmen Ejogo) is presiding over  a meeting that seems to include every one of the most powerful wizards in the world and they don’t even have a guard at the door. Tina walks right on it.

Ejogo looks like she’s cosplaying as a Young Eartha Kitt and the role comes directly out of the Useless Authority Figure from Harry Potter central casting.  She demands to know why Tina didn’t tell them about Newt and his creatures earlier, and Tina doesn’t even acknowledge that’s what she was trying to tell them earlier. It’s a bit baffling that she doesn’t even make the effort.

President Picquery turns them over the moustache-twirling Percival Graves. Colin Farrell plays him, and tend not to enjoy his work, but he gives a really entertaining performance in the film. Graves takes them to interrogation room, name drops Dumbledorf for the fans in the audience and then sends Tina and Newt off for execution in an acid bath.

Queenie has a flash of insight and she mounts a rescue operation where saves Kowalski, because Queenie is the best.  Newt breaks out of his restraints because nobody bothered to empty his pockets and our nebbishy Hufflepuff beats up a bunch of Aurors and rescues Tina. The two groups meet up in a garage and manage to defeat BOTH pairs of Aurors who try to stop them, in what was a remarkably easy escape. The MACUSA seems to have a serious manpower shortage. That hiring freeze must have hit them pretty hard.

Our heroes head to a speakeasy run by Ron-Pearlman-as-a-goblin. He’s basically playing Hannibal Chau from Pacific Rim, but not quite as understated.  It’s another interesting set piece, but it’s as unnecessary as many others. It seems like Rowling just wants to fit as many 1920s tropes as possible without worrying how the scenes come together to make a narrative.  Pearlman double-crosses them and the MACUSA Aurors apparate in, but Newt and company elude them by…crawling under the tables? That can’t be right.

I think it’s a mistake to graft what is for all intents and purposes a Harry Potter plot to a film with adults in the lead.  In Harry Potter, the kids were the heroes because they had information the adults didn’t and but the adults wouldn't act on it because they didn't take the kids seriously, so they had to save the day themselves. Rowling has preserved the same structure by making everyone but the protagonists thunderingly stupid and alarmingly incompetent. I think that’s a cheat.

There has been a secondary plot running throughout the movie. Calling it a B Plot is almost being too charitable, because it has almost nothing to with the main story. It’s almost like a second movie running parallel to the first. Only at the end do they intersect, and even then it’s almost incidental.

Samantha Morton plays Mary Lou Barebone, who runs an orphanage and an anti-magic activist group. The thing that killed the senator was a called an Obscurus, and such a creature is created when a young witch or wizard suppresses his or her magical powers. Is the Obscurus coming from the obvious red herring or Ezra Miller? (Spoiler, it's Ezra Miller)

So we have the big Captain Obvious reveal, Ezra transforms into the Obscurus and flees into the subway tunnels, pursued by Newt, Tina and Graves. They fight, but Tina succeeds in talking him down. Ezra starts transforming back into a human, whereupon President Picquery arrives with a couple dozen Aurors and they execute him right there.

Here's the most baffling part of the movie. Graves has it made. Tina and Newt were sentenced to death under apparently legitimate authority. As far as anyone knows, they're escaped fugitives. There is physical evidence, in the form of the Obscurus Newt had in his briefcase which supports Graves' narrative. If Graves had kept his mouth shut, no, if Graves has done anything short of OFFERING AN UNPROMPTED CONFESSION, it would have been "Well, back to the acid pits with you two."
I would have gotten away with it, if not for you meddling me!

Seriously, dude. Know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, etc.

He rants, confesses and starts blasting dudes, but he's overpowered by a Hufflepuff, and it turns out that he's really a fat, blond Johnny Depp!

The President is like "Well, I guess we're boned. No way we're covering this up", but Newt is like "Not so, Madame President! I will seed the clouds with rohypnol, and those dumb muggles will forget everything!"

Ugh, listen. The Obliviate charm is problematic. Narratively, it's easy solution and Rowling overuses it. Morally, rewriting someone else's memories for your benefit is nothing short of abhorrent, but it's treated as a matter of course by almost everyone in the series. The hero's solution to the movie's final dilemma is to dose everyone in New York with a date rape drug and I find that...troubling.

The President tells our heroes that Kowalski is going to have to be brain-wiped too, but she lets them do it themselves. I figured this was going to be a "Yeah, we totally erased his memory" type situation, but everyone, including Kowalski feels like going ahead with it. Alright then. (Spoiler/Not Spoiler: He gets his memories back almost immediately. The last episode of Gravity Falls made us wait longer.)

It wasn't all bad.  It had plenty of Easter Eggs. The score sounded like John Williams composed it. I thought he had until I looked it up. It incorporates elements of the score from the original movies, and it's used to good effect throughout the film. The Harry Potter movies have a distinctive visual aesthetic and they draw on that to create a look that's both familiar and new. The individual set pieces are all neatly composed, but they lacked the connective tissue that would have tied them together into something meaningful. I watched Zootopia again in the time between when I watched Fantastic Beasts and when I completed the review, and I couldn't help but think how tightly written that movie was. The opening sequence is not only entertaining, but it gives us exposition AND it foreshadows the conclusion. We needed that kind of rigor here. There are too many scenes that do nothing to advance the plot.

Fantastic Beasts is not a bad movie. It’s fine if you don’t think too much about it. The thing is, it could have been so much better, but they didn’t even bother.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A visit to Derpycon

We attended Derpycon 2016 over the weekend. It was a bit small for what we paid to get in, but we had a really nice time. Lily and her friend went as Derpy and Dr. Hooves/Time Turner, Jen went as a Weeping Angel and I was the Seventh Doctor.

The Miyazaki panel by Charles Dunbar was outstanding. Lily particularly enjoyed it because we had front row seats and he answered all her questions and treated her like an adult, which is what every smart little kid wants. At one point he proclaimed her the "future of fandom".

The next best part was probably Super Table Flip.

It's a delightfully bonkers game. Here's a short video of a kind of chubby, but extremely sexy Doctor Who cosplayer playing it. It was brought to the con by a group called Tokyo Attack!

I'm somewhat divided about going again. It was nice, but they didn't have a lot of material, Unless they expand, I don't know if I can justify the expense next year. 

Monday, November 21, 2016

People are strange, when you're a Doctor (Strange)

I saw Doctor Strange last Saturday with Lily, and I generally liked it, aside from a few quibbles.

Big Quibble! Halfway through the movie, Rachel McAdams uses a defibrillator to shock Strange back to life when he was flatlining. That's just...not how they work. I can accept demonic pacts and mirror dimensions, but that totally ruined my suspension of disbelief.

Smaller Quibble: Sling Rings have a really dumb name. I'm not sure if it's canonical, and I don't care. If something is dumb in canon, you change it for an adaptation, which is a point I'll address momentarily.

I thought it well produced and visually distinctive. The cast was solid. Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelsen, all great.

But mostly for Chiwetel

Cumberbatch, an actor with a face like a Mad Magazine parody sketch, who, if the once great Mary Sue had its druthers, would be cast Malcovich-like in every role in every movie, is good too, but he's eclipsed by both the effects and his costars. His American accent was decent.

 It was a fairly standard super-hero origin story, and that formula is starting to wear a bit thin at this point, but I think it's largely forgivable, in that Strange's origin is such an important component of his identity. However, the emphasis on his origin led to an abrupt third act resolution, because 85% of the movie is "Ehhh...I'm not sure I want to be a superhero" Joseph Campbell-seque refusal of the call. "Ooops, I guess we're at the end of the movie already. Time to wrap it up."

 I had some concerns about Tilda Swinton (a white woman) as the Ancient One (traditionally an Asian (specifically Tibetan, which is another thorny issue) man, but I think in casting her, they chose one of the better options.  I'm still not entirely comfortable with it, but the Ancient One, as a concept, is rooted in 1960s exoticism, and what might have seemed acceptable back then looks an awful lot like cultural appropriation today. The comics version of the character was unknown except to serious Doctor Strange fans, but millions of people are going to see the movie before it's through. None of the options were great, but I think they did the least bad thing by not perpetuating a damaging and dehumanizing stereotype.

I'm glad we saw it on the big screen, if only for the trippy visuals of the Inception city folding. The first one reminded me of nothing so much as Fred Astaire dancing on the ceiling and the walls in Royal Wedding, 

but the second one was really impressive.

There was some nice details. I like how Strange first looks for a rational explanation, and when he asks the Ancient One if she's practicing in such an isolated location because there is no medical board to come down on her.

I liked Swinton's fidgety mannerisms and the fact that she had no master plan. I think my biggest complaint, other than the defibrillator, is that it didn't take a lot of risks with the narrative. It was a fairly standard super-hero origin story, and that formula is starting to wear a bit thin at this point, but I think it's largely forgivable, in that Strange's origin is such an important component of his identity. However, the emphasis on his origin led to an abrupt third act resolution, because 85% of the movie is "Ehhh...I'm not sure I want to be a superhero" Joseph Campbell-seque refusal of the call. "Ooops, I guess we're at the end of the movie already. Time to wrap it up."

I do like that he defeats Dormammu, through save scumming and I laughed at this

Kaecilius: You'll die defending this world, Mister...
Dr. Stephen Strange: Doctor!
Kaecilius: Mister Doctor?
Dr. Stephen Strange: It's Strange!
Kaecilius: Maybe, who am I to judge?

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Evaluating the Evil Overlord list, 91 - 100

91. I will not ignore the messenger that stumbles in exhausted and obviously agitated until my personal grooming or current entertainment is finished. It might actually be important.

Evaluation: Prudent

92. If I ever talk to the hero on the phone, I will not taunt him. Instead I will say this his dogged perseverance has given me new insight on the futility of my evil ways and that if he leaves me alone for a few months of quiet contemplation I will likely return to the path of righteousness. (Heroes are incredibly gullible in this regard.)

Evaluation: Unlikely

93. If I decide to hold a double execution of the hero and an underling who failed or betrayed me, I will see to it that the hero is scheduled to go first.

Evaluation: A good overlord is going to want to avoid public execution. Just use the lead pipe in the conservatory and stick his head on a pike afterward.

94. When arresting prisoners, my guards will not allow them to stop and grab a useless trinket of purely sentimental value.

Evaluation: Prudent

95. My dungeon will have its own qualified medical staff complete with bodyguards. That way if a prisoner becomes sick and his cellmate tells the guard it's an emergency, the guard will fetch a trauma team instead of opening up the cell for a look.

Evaluation: Prudent

96. My door mechanisms will be designed so that blasting the control panel on the outside seals the door and blasting the control panel on the inside opens the door, not vice versa.

Evaluation: Hello Star Wars tropes! It’s nice to see you again!

97. My dungeon cells will not be furnished with objects that contain reflective surfaces or anything that can be unravelled.

Evaluation: Prudent

98. If an attractive young couple enters my realm, I will carefully monitor their activities. If I find they are happy and affectionate, I will ignore them. However if circumstance have forced them together against their will and they spend all their time bickering and criticizing each other except during the intermittent occasions when they are saving each others' lives at which point there are hints of sexual tension, I will immediately order their execution.

Evaluation: Pardon me, your terribleness, you’re trying to run an evil empire, not critique a screwball comedy.

99. Any data file of crucial importance will be padded to 1.45Mb in size.

Evaluation: Obviously that specific file size is no longer a barrier, but the intent behind it is prudent.

100. Finally, to keep my subjects permanently locked in a mindless trance, I will provide each of them with free unlimited Internet access.

Evaluation: It was phrased as the cutting edge of 90s internet humor, but I do think this has merit. I even think there’s an interesting story in this. You’re going to want to want to have a filtered version of the internet, so give me a story of a day in the life of a low-level staffer at Mordor’s Pravda.

And that's the list! I'll probably post a recap in a couple days, where I break down the percentages of each answer.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

This is why we fight

The morning after the election, I thought about a lot of things.

I thought about James Comey and how my nation's law enforcement apparatus influenced the election.

I thought about Wikileaks (of course they're in Trump's corner, those sex predators gotta stick together, amirite?) and the media and stupid, glib talking heads who chuckled to themselves about what an "interesting" night this was for the Clinton campaign.

I thought about how a hostile foreign power exerted influence in selecting the next ruler of my country.

I thought about the voter suppression in North Carolina, and how the State GOP bragged about it on public media, suppression which was enabled by the evisceration of the Voting Rights Act three years ago.

I thought about a friend's brother on Facebook boasting about how Trump would renegotiate our debts with other countries, which is such a fundamental misunderstanding of the situation that it would have more sense if Trump had said we would pay our creditors in bologna.

I thought about the people who say the establishment needed a kick in the pants to wake up, and I thought about the people saying this wouldn't be the ones paying the price for it, and I thought about the people who said the same thing sixteen years ago, when we also won the popular vote but lost the presidency.

I thought about my wife and daughter crying and holding each other on the floor that morning.

But then I thought about how my daughter was inconsolable an hour after being told the news, and I told her that she had to go to school, because people like Trump want us to give up, and I thought about how she went upstairs and put on her "It's called GIRL POWER for a reason!" t-shirt and put on her game face and grabbed her backpack and went out the door to face the world.

I thought about how it's not over until we give up, and when I'm tempted to back down and let things go because I don't want to make waves, I will think about the girl power t-shirt and the bright and brittle fire in her eyes and I'll stand up and I'll fight back.

It's not over until we give up.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Evaluating the Evil Overlord list, 81 - 90

81. If I am fighting with the hero atop a moving platform, have disarmed him, and am about to finish him off and he glances behind me and drops flat, I too will drop flat instead of quizzically turning around to find out what he saw.

Evaluation: Prudent

82. I will not shoot at any of my enemies if they are standing in front of the crucial support beam to a heavy, dangerous, unbalanced structure.

Evaluation: Prudent

83. If I'm eating dinner with the hero, put poison in his goblet, then have to leave the table for any reason, I will order new drinks for both of us instead of trying to decide whether or not to switch with him.

Evaluation: Prudent, though it’s probably best to avoid the kind of situations that would give rise to such quandaries.

84. I will not have captives of one sex guarded by members of the opposite sex.

Evaluation: Let’s say “sexual preference” instead, and we’ll be fine.

85. I will not use any plan in which the final step is horribly complicated, e.g. "Align the 12 Stones of Power on the sacred altar then activate the medallion at the moment of total eclipse." Instead it will be more along the lines of "Push the button."

Evaluation: I’m not sure you get a choice. If aligning the stones of power, etc. is the only path to REAL ULTIMATE POWER!! then you align the stones of power.

86. I will make sure that my doomsday device is up to code and properly grounded.

Evaluation: Prudent, but fuses aren’t magic.  If the current exceeds their breaking capacity, it’s going to result in a short, and there probably isn’t a lot of documentation on the proper thresholds for doomsday devices. Yeah, take all reasonable precautions, but be aware that you’re in uncharted waters.

87. My vats of hazardous chemicals will be covered when not in use. Also, I will not construct walkways above them.

Evaluation: Oh, good lord yes. Also, this applies to bottomless pits. I’m looking at you, Emperor Palpatine.

88. If a group of henchmen fail miserably at a task, I will not berate them for incompetence then send the same group out to try the task again.

Evaluation: Prudent. Even Skeletor eventually caught on.

89. After I captures the hero's superweapon, I will not immediately disband my legions and relax my guard because I believe whoever holds the weapon is unstoppable. After all, the hero held the weapon and I took it from him.

Evaluation: Prudent.

90. I will not design my Main Control Room so that every workstation is facing away from the door.

Evaluation: Prudent.

Monday, November 7, 2016

American Writer Josh Wanisko

Looks like American Writer Josh Wanisko wrote a Doctor Who story. I hate his stupid American accent, and his stupid unpronounceable last name and his stupid punchable face! 

Heh heh.

I'm very proud of the story and you can read more about it here.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Evaluating the Evil Overlord list, 71 - 80

71. If I decide to test a lieutenant's loyalty and see if he/she should be made a trusted lieutenant, I will have a crack squad of marksmen standing by in case the answer is no.

Evaluation: Prudent.

72. If all the heroes are standing together around a strange device and begin to taunt me, I will pull out a conventional weapon instead of using my unstoppable superweapon on them.

Evaluation: Prudent.

73. I will not agree to let the heroes go free if they win a rigged contest, even though my advisors assure me it is impossible for them to win.

Evaluation: Prudent.

74. When I create a multimedia presentation of my plan designed so that my five-year-old advisor can easily understand the details, I will not label the disk "Project Overlord" and leave it lying on top of my desk.

Evaluation: Prudent.  You’re boring but practical today, my liege.
75. I will instruct my Legions of Terror to attack the hero en masse, instead of standing around waiting while members break off and attack one or two at a time.

Evaluation:  Like Stormtrooper marksmanship, this one is somewhat discredited. It was never all that prevalent, and when it did happen, it was generally because the hero used the environment to force the goons to come at him in small groups.

76. If the hero runs up to my roof, I will not run up after him and struggle with him in an attempt to push him over the edge. I will also not engage him at the edge of a cliff. (In the middle of a rope-bridge over a river of molten lava is not even worth considering.)

Evaluation: Prudent.

77. If I have a fit of temporary insanity and decide to give the hero the chance to reject a job as my trusted lieutenant, I will retain enough sanity to wait until my current trusted lieutenant is out of earshot before making the offer.

Evaluation: Prudent.

78. I will not tell my Legions of Terror "And he must be taken alive!" The command will be "And try to take him alive if it is reasonably practical."

Evaluation: It depends how much he’s worth you.

79. If my doomsday device happens to come with a reverse switch, as soon as it has been employed it will be melted down and made into limited-edition commemorative coins.

Evaluation: It took me a couple reads to figure this one out. I think the meaning of “it” changes, and what he means is  “If my doomsday device happens to come with a reverse switch, as soon as [the doomsday device]  has been employed [the reverse switch] will be melted down and made into limited-edition commemorative coins.

I do like a good commemorative coin, but it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where one would want to use a reverse switch.

80. If my weakest troops fail to eliminate a hero, I will send out my best troops instead of wasting time with progressively stronger ones as he gets closer and closer to my fortress.

Evaluation: This parallels the reasoning in “40.I will be neither chivalrous nor sporting. If I have an unstoppable superweapon, I will use it as early and as often as possible instead of keeping it in reserve.” and is flawed for much the same reason. If you dispatch your level 99 goon squad to kill the hero when he’s still a level 1 farm boy killing rats in the tutorial, sooner or later they’re not going to be on hand when you encounter a situation that only your best troops can handle.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Evaluating the Evil Overlord list, 61 - 70

61. If my advisors ask "Why are you risking everything on such a mad scheme?", I will not proceed until I have a response that satisfies them.

Evaluation: Prudent.

62. I will design fortress hallways with no alcoves or protruding structural supports which intruders could use for cover in a firefight.

Evaluation: I think we can dispense with this precaution. If you’re doing your job right, firefights should be a relatively rare occurrence and you shouldn’t sacrifice the structural integrity of your supervillain lair against the outside chance that one might break out.

63. Bulk trash will be disposed of in incinerators, not compactors. And they will be kept hot, with none of that nonsense about flames going through accessible tunnels at predictable intervals.

I think there is a Toy Story 3 joke in here somewhere, but this seems like a reasonable precaution.

64. I will see a competent psychiatrist and get cured of all extremely unusual phobias and bizarre compulsive habits which could prove to be a disadvantage.

Evaluation: Careful there, sport. You’re going to psychoanalyze yourself out of wanting to be an Evil Overlord.

65. If I must have computer systems with publically available terminals, the maps they display of my complex will have a room clearly marked as the Main Control Room. That room will be the Execution Chamber. The actual main control room will be marked as Sewage Overflow Containment.

Evaluation: This could work. We get a little tension when our heroes approach the “Main Control Room” that they have identified from the map , and only realize in the nick of time that it’s  not what it seems. Alternately, we could use this to show how smart a hero is. She’s looking at the schematics on the terminal and after a time she says. “Look at all the infrastructure around the Sewage Overflow Containment. It must be the control room.”

66.My security keypad will actually be a fingerprint scanner. Anyone who watches someone press a sequence of buttons or dusts the pad for fingerprints then subsequently tries to enter by repeating that sequence will trigger the alarm system.

Evaluation: Having worked in a place with a fingerprint scanner as part of its time clock system, I can attest that that the fingerprint recognition aspect of it generally functions poorly. I suppose it’s fine if you can get the system to work, and if the heroes don’t get to wondering why the goons always take off their natty leather gloves to punch in a keycode, but think this is too much of an edge case to come up with any regularity.

67. No matter how many shorts we have in the system, my guards will be instructed to treat every surveillance camera malfunction as a full-scale emergency.

Evaluation:  It sounds great now, but after the third lockdown in an afternoon because a pigeon farted on the roof, I think you’re going to walk this back plenty quick.

68. I will spare someone who saved my life sometime in the past. This is only reasonable as it encourages others to do so. However, the offer is good one time only. If they want me to spare them again, they'd better save my life again.

Evaluation: This sounds like a terrible idea. This is the kind of thing the list should be encouraging you to avoid.

69. All midwives will be banned from the realm. All babies will be delivered at state-approved hospitals. Orphans will be placed in foster-homes, not abandoned in the woods to be raised by creatures of the wild.

Evaluation: Coming to a theater near you, Vanessa Ross, Guerilla Doula of Mordor, Summer 2017! This actually doesn’t seem evil, but it does seem hard to enforce.

70. When my guards split up to search for intruders, they will always travel in groups of at least two. They will be trained so that if one of them disappears mysteriously while on patrol, the other will immediately initiate an alert and call for backup, instead of quizzically peering around a corner.

Evaluation: This gets into the best practices concern from the last segment of the list.  I play a lot of video games and it’s always good for a chuckle when you shoot someone and make his head explode, and his buddy, standing two feet away panics for ten seconds before settling down and assuring himself that he must have imagined it. This is concession to playability, otherwise games with stealth components would be prohibitively difficult and frustrating.

I think the list is exaggerating this trope to make a point. I think a better summary of the situation would be that Guard #1 walks out of the line of sights of guard Guard#2, and is taken out by the hero. Guard #2 looks around for the #1, but at this point hasn’t registered anything is wrong. To the extent that he’s thinking about it at all, he is interpreting the situation as “I don’t know the precise location of Guard #1 at this moment” not “Holy shit! Guard #1 has been attacked!” And then Guard #2 us attacked by the hero either before he realizes what’s wrong or immediately afterward, as he’s on his way to trigger an alarm.

It’s similar to item number 67. If you lower the threshold to treat every possible problem as a full scale alert, then you’re crippling your own security system.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Evaluating the Evil Overlord list, 51 - 60

51. If one of my dungeon guards begins expressing concern over the conditions in the beautiful princess' cell, I will immediately transfer him to a less people-oriented position.
Evaluation:  Prudent.

52. I will hire a team of board-certified architects and surveyors to examine my castle and inform me of any secret passages and abandoned tunnels that I might not know about.

Evaluation:  Unless you want to go full-on Pharaoh here and have your architects executed immediately afterward (which you probably do), you’ve added a dozen people who know the ins and outs and your secret lair.

53. If the beautiful princess that I capture says "I'll never marry you! Never, do you hear me, NEVER!!!", I will say "Oh well" and kill her.

Evaluation:  It depends on why you want to marry the princess.  If it’s a love match, the list has already covered the perils associated with this path at some length. If it’s political power, have your show ceremony, and then lock her up like Eleanor of Aquitaine.

54. I will not strike a bargain with a demonic being then attempt to double-cross it simply because I feel like being contrary.

Evaluation:  Infernal pacts are generally to be avoided.  You want to sign a magically binding contract with something smarter than a human that has possibly millions of years of experience in the ins and outs of exactly these kind of covenants? Be my guest, but don’t come crying to me when you lose that fiddle contest.


55. The deformed mutants and odd-ball psychotics will have their place in my Legions of Terror. However before I send them out on important covert missions that require tact and subtlety, I will first see if there is anyone else equally qualified who would attract less attention.

Evaluation:  Prudent

56. My Legions of Terror will be trained in basic marksmanship. Any who cannot learn to hit a man-sized target at 10 meters will be used for target practice.

Evaluation:  This is a bit of discredited trope, and if the list were written today, I don’t think it would be included.  As any Star Wars fan will tell you, the Stormtroopers on the Death Star were trying to miss so the Empire could follow them to their base once they escaped. (They might also add Obi-Wan’s line regarding the devastated sandcrawler: “Only imperial Stormtroopers could be so precise.”)

57. Before employing any captured artifacts or machinery, I will carefully read the owner's manual.

Evaluation:  This reminds me of criticism I once made of Joss Whedon’s work. It’s a bit of a cheat to have your villains engage in every hoary cliché since the dawn of cinema while simultaneously making your heroes incredibly genre savvy.  It works the other way. On its face, this is good advice, but as the list preaches the gospel of misinformation, I’d expect the your enemies to engage in the same practices, and leave you incomplete or misleading instructions.
58. If it becomes necessary to escape, I will never stop to pose dramatically and toss off a one-liner.

Evaluation:  Prudent

59. I will never build a sentient computer smarter than I am.

Evaluation:  Intelligence is notoriously difficult to quantify, and computers don’t process information in the same way humans do. AI, just like the infernal contracts mentioned above, can backfire in so many ways that you’re better off avoiding them entirely unless they’re absolutely essential to your plan.

60. My five-year-old child advisor will also be asked to decipher any code I am thinking of using. If he breaks the code in under 30 seconds, it will not be used. Note: this also applies to passwords.

Evaluation:  The hands down best description of hacking I’ve ever heard came in a Doctor Who audio play. One of the characters had to get into the restricted area of a space freighter, but a login was required to get in. The Doctor's companion met up with him in 1989, but went undercover at a university in 2001. When trying to access the door, she remarked to the Doctor that sometimes she would accidentally enter her password on the login line, where it would be added to the drop down menu. She checked there and saw that someone on the freighter had done exactly that, and with this information, they were able to access the restricted area.

The point of this is that security is hard, and the people that use the system are the weak point. Mandate hard passwords for your staff and they just wind up scrawling them on post-it notes stuck to their monitor.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Evaluating the Evil Overlord list, 41 - 50

41. Once my power is secure, I will destroy all those pesky time-travel devices.

Evaluation:  Ugh. Time travel. There is a reason that, until relatively recently,  Doctor Who wasn’t really a show about time travel. Rather the TARDIS was a mechanism for getting to the adventure, whereupon it was out of the picture. The thing is, when you introduce time travel to the story, it comes with all sorts of baggage.  I’m of the opinion that unless it’s absolutely integral to the story, you’re better off not including time travel.

That said, this probably falls into the “easier said than done” category.  It’s a good idea, but difficult to pull off.

42. When I capture the hero, I will make sure I also get his dog, monkey, ferret, or whatever sickeningly cute little animal capable of untying ropes and filching keys happens to follow him around.

Evaluation:  This falls into the same category as “Be sure to find the body” from earlier in the list.  It’s great if you can capture the little bugger, but it’s a lot easier to capture a human than it is something small and fast. It seems most villains attempt this; they’re just unable to pull it off.

43. I will maintain a healthy amount of skepticism when I capture the beautiful rebel and she claims she is attracted to my power and good looks and will gladly betray her companions if I just let her in on my plans.

Evaluation: Prudent.

44. I will only employ bounty hunters who work for money. Those who work for the pleasure of the hunt tend to do dumb things like even the odds to give the other guy a sporting chance.

Evaluation:  I remember an issue of the Justice League where Batman doubled what Lex Luthor was paying the Mirror Master in order to get him to switch side (specifically, he made a donation of that amount to the orphanage where Mirror Master grew up. Despite that, this is probably a prudent course of action.

45. I will make sure I have a clear understanding of who is responsible for what in my organization. For example, if my general screws up I will not draw my weapon, point it at him, say "And here is the price for failure," then suddenly turn and kill some random underling.

Evaluation:  I’m thinking of Grand Admiral Thrawn in Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars books. An underling failed him, but the guy had a solid plan that he executed well. Circumstances just conspired against him. Thrawn didn’t punish the guy. Rather he commended him and told him to refine the technique. The underling does and pulls it off successfully later in the series.

46. If an advisor says to me "My liege, he is but one man. What can one man possibly do?", I will reply "This." and kill the advisor.

Evaluation: Dude! I thought you weren’t arbitrarily murdering underlings!  It was literally the bullet point right before this one. What purpose does this serve? Honestly!

47. If I learn that a callow youth has begun a quest to destroy me, I will slay him while he is still a callow youth instead of waiting for him to mature.

Evaluation: This requires a pretty serious surveillance state to pull off. You’re going to keep tabs on every callow youth in your empire?

48. I will treat any beast which I control through magic or technology with respect and kindness. Thus if the control is ever broken, it will not immediately come after me for revenge.

Evaluation: Depends on how intelligent the creature is, and how well it comprehends what you’re doing to it.  A gilded cage is still a cage. Slavery is abhorrent for a reason, and no amount of kindness is going to offset that.

49. If I learn the whereabouts of the one artifact which can destroy me, I will not send all my troops out to seize it. Instead I will send them out to seize something else and quietly put a Want-Ad in the local paper.

Evaluation: I take it that he doesn't mean this absolutely literally, but rather he'll employ some misdirection when looking for the Mcguffin. Placing a want ad only works in Single White Necromancer.

50. My main computers will have their own special operating system that will be completely incompatible with standard IBM and Macintosh powerbooks.

Evaluation: Take that, Independence Day! Ya burnt!

Friday, September 30, 2016

Evaluating the Evil Overlord list, 31 - 40

31.All naive, busty tavern wenches in my realm will be replaced with surly, world-weary waitresses who will provide no unexpected reinforcement and/or romantic subplot for the hero or his sidekick.

Evaluation: The Duchess approves!

Dredd didn’t need any forced romantic subplots, and neither does high fantasy. Plus the Molly Grues of the world are much more interesting that the Tika Waylans anyway.

32.I will not fly into a rage and kill a messenger who brings me bad news just to illustrate how evil I really am. Good messengers are hard to come by.

Evaluation: Prudent.

33.I won't require high-ranking female members of my organization to wear a stainless-steel bustier. Morale is better with a more casual dress-code. Similarly, outfits made entirely from black leather will be reserved for formal occasions.

Evaluation: Probably falls under the umbrella of “uniforms should be practical”, but very prudent.

34.I will not turn into a snake. It never helps.

Evaluation: Curiously specific.

35.I will not grow a goatee. In the old days they made you look diabolic. Now they just make you look like a disaffected member of Generation X.

Evaluation: Of course not. You’ll leave that to your parallel universe counterpart.

36.I will not imprison members of the same party in the same cell block, let alone the same cell. If they are important prisoners, I will keep the only key to the cell door on my person instead of handing out copies to every bottom-rung guard in the prison.

Evaluation: More difficult in execution than in theory, due to the costs of making prisons truly secure,  but a prudent idea.

37.If my trusted lieutenant tells me my Legions of Terror are losing a battle, I will believe him. After all, he's my trusted lieutenant.

Evaluation: Prudent.

38.If an enemy I have just killed has a younger sibling or offspring anywhere, I will find them and have them killed immediately, instead of waiting for them to grow up harboring feelings of vengeance towards me in my old age.

Evaluation: Wow, this is kind of dumb.  It just shifts the vendetta to the friends of the guy you killed.

39.If I absolutely must ride into battle, I will certainly not ride at the forefront of my Legions of Terror, nor will I seek out my opposite number among his army.

Evaluation: This, coupled with 38, probably plants the seeds for a different type of trouble.  Who among us can forget the time Fingolfin challenged Morgoth before the gates of Angband? Although I really love this entire passage, I’ll limit the quote to the relevant portion.

'Now news came to Hithlum that Dorthonion was lost and the sons of
Finarfin overthrown, and that the sons of Fëanor were driven from
their lands. Then Fingolfin beheld (as it seemed to him) the utter
ruin of the Noldor, and the defeat beyond redress of all their houses;
and filled with wrath and despair he mounted upon Rochallor his great
horse and rode forth alone, and none might restrain him. He passed
over Dor-nu-Fauglith like a wind amid the dust, and all that beheld
his onset fled in amaze, thinking that Oromë himself was come: for a
great madness of rage was upon him, so that his eyes shone like the
eyes of the Valar.

Thus he came alone to Angband's gates, and he sounded his horn, and
smote once more upon the brazen doors, and challenged Morgoth to come
forth to single combat. And Morgoth came. That was the last time in
those wars that he passed the doors of his stronghold, and it is said
that he took not the challenge willingly; for though his might was
greatest of all things in this world, alone of the Valar he knew fear.
But he could not now deny the challenge before the face of his
captains; for the rocks rang with the shrill music of Fingolfin's
horn, and his voice came keen and clear down into the depths of
Angband; and Fingolfin named Morgoth craven, and lord of slaves.
Therefore Morgoth came, climbing slowly from his subterranean throne,
and the rumour of his feet was like thunder underground. And he issued
forth clad in black armour; and he stood before the King like a tower,
iron-crowned, and his vast shield, sable on blazoned, cast a shadow
over him like a stormcloud.

So you’re an Evil Overlord who kills large groups of people for what must seem very arbitrary reasons to the populace at large.  The populace will have reason to revolt, and they’ll be further encouraged by your apparent reluctance to get involved. They won’t fear you. Plus there is the danger from ambitious underlings who may see this as a sign of weakness.

I suggest doing what the Harkonnens do. Public gladiatorial matches stacked heavily in their favor.

40.I will be neither chivalrous nor sporting. If I have an unstoppable superweapon, I will use it as early and as often as possible instead of keeping it in reserve.

Evaluation: Somewhere between ineffective and foolhardy.  The Death Star, to use a notable example, was used as early and as often as possible. They had a field test to make sure it worked, and then they were trying to use it to blow up Yavin 4 when the rebels destroyed it. You’re better off using conventional forces for most of your military actions.

What’s going to happen is that Princess Leia is going to bait Grand Moff Tarkin with a tweet about his tiny hands. He’ll warp the Death Star to her last known location and she’ll have the entire rebel fleet waiting for him.

Either that, or the weapon will be on the other side of the galaxy or recharging when you really need it.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Evaluating the Evil Overlord list, 21 - 30

Evaluating the Evil Overlord list, 21 - 30

21.I will hire a talented fashion designer to create original uniforms for my Legions of Terror, as opposed to some cheap knock-offs that make them look like Nazi stormtroopers, Roman footsoldiers, or savage Mongol hordes. All were eventually defeated and I want my troops to have a more positive mind-set.

Long excerpt from something a buddy sent me

When modern media wants a group of baddies to look badass, it’ll often borrow design elements from Nazi uniforms. It’s not hard to understand why; the Nazis famously had their uniforms designed by professional fashion designers, including runway mogul Hugo Boss, and it worked wonderfully in terms of giving Nazi troops a stylish and intimidating public image.

What’s less well known, however, is how ridiculously terrible those uniforms were for any purpose other than looking smart.

Let me give you an example: suspenders. Back in the 1930s, the modern tactical harness hadn’t yet been developed. Instead, soldiers would wear a sturdy pair of leather suspenders in order to help distribute the weight of their ammo belts (which could be substantial - bullets aren’t light!). Hitler didn’t care for that - he thought it would make his troops look like farmers. Instead, he commissioned his uniform designers to come up with a complicated system of internal suspenders that could be worn under the uniform jacket, with metal hooks projecting from special holes near the jacket’s waistline. The idea was that the ammo belt would rest on the hooks, thus allowing it to be supported without disrupting the jacket’s clean lines.

The problem? The system’s designers, being accustomed to crafting for the runway, had completely overlooked that soldiers sometimes need to move quickly. At any pace quicker than a brisk walk, the ammo belt would bounce off of the hooks and slide down the wearer’s torso, often tripping him in the process. Worse, news of the issue didn’t filter back to the high command until the uniforms had already been widely distributed, so it was impossible to fix in an economical fashion. The Nazi troops eventually resorted to wearing external suspenders over the internal suspenders in order to keep their ammo belts in place, thus entirely defeating the purpose.

Then there are the cold-weather jackets, made infamous by the Nazis’ disastrous Winter Campaign against Russia in 1941-1942. At the time, the standard cold-weather jacket in use by most armies consisted of heavy quilted fabric stuffed with torn-up cotton. Hitler didn’t like that at all; in his opinion, it made it look like his troops were wearing blankets. So he had each soldier issued an individually tailored winter jacket made of suit-grade fabric and lined with fur (sourced from civilian clothing seized from death camp inmates, because of course it was).

You can probably guess where this is going. Predictably to anyone who’s not a Nazi fashion designer, the fine fabric of the jackets wasn’t tightly woven enough to stop the wind. The fur, meanwhile, harboured lice and fleas, stank abominably when wet, and was impossible to launder in the field. They’d managed to issue their troops dry clean only winter apparel, in a campaign that would send them far from their supply lines. That the weather ended up killing more Nazis than the Russian army should thus come as no surprise.

And these aren’t outliers. Virtually every element of the Nazi uniform made up for its smart styling by being ridiculously impractical. The officers often had it worst of all; their uniforms were expertly tailored to make their builds look trim and powerful, at the cost of being stuffy, uncomfortable, and difficult to move around it. Indeed, some officers’ uniforms were so smartly tailored that they couldn’t sit down without taking their pants off. Yeah, let that image roll around in your head for a moment or two.

The upshot is that whenever I see baddies in a movie or a TV show with clearly Nazi-inspired uniforms, my first thought is less “whoa, badass!” and more “these men are about to be murdered by their own trousers”.
Evaluation: Fashion designers seldom place utility first.

22.No matter how tempted I am with the prospect of unlimited power, I will not consume any energy field bigger than my head.

Evaluation: I suppose that’s reasonable.

23.I will keep a special cache of low-tech weapons and train my troops in their use. That way -- even if the heroes manage to neutralize my power generator and/or render the standard-issue energy weapons useless -- my troops will not be overrun by a handful of savages armed with spears and rocks.

Evaluation: We now enter the Star Wars portion of our list. As I wrote elsewhere on this blog, the Ewoks are pretty great in theory. They should have been sold as furry little Predators, but they’re undermined by their cute little teddy bear appearance and the uneven tone of their movie.  To the point, this is a pretty solid idea. It works best as a stopgap measure, in that someone trained in primitive weaponry as a fallback is going to be less proficient in their use than someone who relies on them exclusively, but ensuring a minimum level of proficiency may delay them long enough to bring high tech weapons back into play.

24.I will maintain a realistic assessment of my strengths and weaknesses. Even though this takes some of the fun out of the job, at least I will never utter the line "No, this cannot be! I AM INVINCIBLE!!!" (After that, death is usually instantaneous.)

Evaluation: I think this is putting the cart before the horse. It’s not the declaration of invincibility that dooms the Overlord, it’s the circumstances.

25.No matter how well it would perform, I will never construct any sort of machinery which is completely indestructible except for one small and virtually inaccessible vulnerable spot.

Evaluation. I’m not sure what he thinks the alternative is here. From TV Tropes: It's almost a trope on its own that the Empire could build an amazing technological marvel like the first Death Star, but couldn't protect its only weak spot. Except they did protect it: it was ray-shielded, forcing the Rebels to use proton torpedoes to breach the shield. It was also at the end of a narrow trench surrounded by gun turrets; the Rebels only made it through because the turrets were designed for large warships rather than one-man fighters, since the Empire believed that it would be suicide to attack the Death Star with a squadron of lightly armored fighter craft. Moreover, the idea that such a tiny shot could destroy the entire Death Star actually isn't that unrealistic; most Real Life naval vessels actually do have weak spots that can cause catastrophic damage when hit, which is why the sea captains of yore would always aim for enemy ships' powder magazines during battles. If anything, it's actually more unrealistic that the Rebels would have been able to find the weak spot by stealing the plans to the Death Star, since Real Life navies usually keep important ship blueprints split into several parts as a safeguard against enemy espionage, making it nearly impossible to find a single complete copy of such plans.

26.No matter how attractive certain members of the rebellion are, there is probably someone just as attractive who is not desperate to kill me. Therefore, I will think twice before ordering a prisoner sent to my bedchamber.

Evaluation: Prudent

27.I will never build only one of anything important. All important systems will have redundant control panels and power supplies. For the same reason I will always carry at least two fully loaded weapons at all times.

Evaluation: Looks like someone learned his lesson from William Muney. This is a reasonable precaution taken by modern villains, and it leads to simultaneous strikes by coordinated teams of heroes, which is always cool.

28.My pet monster will be kept in a secure cage from which it cannot escape and into which I could not accidentally stumble.

Evaluation: Prudent

29.I will dress in bright and cheery colors, and so throw my enemies into confusion.

Evaluation: Prudent. Also, Use of Weapons shout out! "I am called Cheradenine Zakalwe. You are called dead."

30.All bumbling conjurers, clumsy squires, no-talent bards, and cowardly thieves in the land will be preemptively put to death. My foes will surely give up and abandon their quest if they have no source of comic relief.

Evaluation: This is the kind of thing that turns a populace against an Evil Overlord, dude.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Invasion of the spambots

I've made some changes on the back end, and hopefully that will help address the incursion of the spambots.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Evaluating the Evil Overlord list, 11 - 20

Evaluating the Evil Overlord list, 11 - 20

Second in a series

11.I will be secure in my superiority. Therefore, I will feel no need to prove it by leaving clues in the form of riddles or leaving my weaker enemies alive to show they pose no threat.
A chance to use one of my favorite Roadmarks passages!

"I wonder whether your reliance on an agent is a mark of fear?"
"Fear? No more than Chadwick's hiring me is an indication of fear on his part. He is a very busy man. He sought to employ efficiency, as do I. Do you think I fear to fight you, or any man?"
Red smiled.
"No," John said, noting the smile. "You shan't goad me into giving you an unearned chance at life. Your opinion of me means nothing when I know better."
Red puffed on his cigar.

I’ll mention that this reminds me one of my favorite Riddler stories. Leaving riddles was part of his pathology. He decided that he was just going to commit a no frills bank robbery and not leave Batman clues in the form of rhyming couplets. At the end of the story, Batman shows up and says something like “I solved your riddles and I’m here to arrest you.” It looks like they’re ready to fight until the Riddler says “I didn’t mean to leave clues. I did it subconsciously. I’m sick and I need help. Please take me to Arkham.”

Evaluation: Prudent.

12.One of my advisors will be an average five-year-old child. Any flaws in my plan that he is able to spot will be corrected before implementation. Evaluation : On the surface, this seems rather glib, but when I first learning the craft of technical writing, an exercise that a professor suggested really helped me hone my craft. She suggested that students explain the topics they’ll be writing about to their friends and family. It helps you refine your thoughts, spot areas of concern and frame it in language that lay people can understand. A five-year-old is unlikely to spot the flaws in a plan (because five-year-olds are stupid), but explaining it to a kid could help illuminate flaws that would otherwise have gone unexamined.

13.All slain enemies will be cremated, or at least have several rounds of ammunition emptied into them, not left for dead at the bottom of the cliff. The announcement of their deaths, as well as any accompanying celebration, will be deferred until after the aforementioned disposal.

This one is largely discredited in the modern era. The Fugitive did this, and they did it right. Villains tend to look for the body unless circumstances conspire to prevent it.

14.The hero is not entitled to a last kiss, a last cigarette, or any other form of last request. This is a restatement of items that were mentioned earlier in the list. Don’t dither on the way to execution.

15.I will never employ any device with a digital countdown. If I find that such a device is absolutely unavoidable, I will set it to activate when the counter reaches 117 and the hero is just putting his plan into operation.

This isn’t as much a best practice as it is winking acknowledgement of the rules of the genre. The hero isn’t trying to stop the countdown at “007”; the hero is trying to stop the countdown as soon as possible. All that you’ve done is given him 117 seconds less than he thinks he has to work. It’s not nothing, misinformation is always a valuable tool, but it probably won’t be as effective as this entry implies.

16.I will never utter the sentence "But before I kill you, there's just one thing I want to know." Evaluation: I suppose it all comes down to how much the information is worth to you and where else you can get it.

17.When I employ people as advisors, I will occasionally listen to their advice.
Evaluation: Prudent, however the corollary to this is that having X advisors who are well-informed enough to advise you means that there are X more people that know your secrets.

18.I will not have a son. Although his laughably under-planned attempt to usurp power would easily fail, it would provide a fatal distraction at a crucial point in time and

19.I will not have a daughter. She would be as beautiful as she was evil, but one look at the hero's rugged countenance and she'd betray her own father.

It depends on the nature of your regime. If you’re not immortal, you’re going to eventually want to groom a successor, and a biological child is a natural choice. However, as these tropes point out, it does have its pitfalls.

20.Despite its proven stress-relieving effect, I will not indulge in maniacal laughter. When so occupied, it's too easy to miss unexpected developments that a more attentive individual could adjust to accordingly.
Evaluation: Prudent.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Evaluating the Evil Overlord list, 1 - 10

You’ve probably seen the Evil Overlord list, as it’s been floating around online since the dawn of the Internet era.  If you’re not familiar, it’s a list of 100 practices an evil overlord will put into place in order to avoid the usual pitfalls of the career.

Over the next ten posts, I will evaluate the items on the list for practicality and effectiveness.

The Top 100 Things I'd Do If I Ever Became An Evil Overlord

1.My Legions of Terror will have helmets with clear plexiglass visors, not face-concealing ones.  Presumed Function: To prevent the hero from knocking out your Stormtroopers and using the uniforms as a disguise.  Evaluation: Easily implemented, minimal downsides.

2.My ventilation ducts will be too small to crawl through. Presumed Function: To prevent the heroes from accessing or escaping areas within a secure facility. Evaluation: This is largely a discredited trope at this time. Modern media tends to acknowledge that air vents are tiny and you’re not traveling through them unless you’re Eugene Tooms from that one episode of the X-Files.

3.My noble half-brother whose throne I usurped will be killed, not kept anonymously imprisoned in a forgotten cell of my dungeon.  Presumed Function: To prevent the return of the brother. Evaluation: There are a lot of unknowns about this one that make evaluation difficult. This makes me think of Nine Princes in Amber. Eric blinded Corwin and threw him in the dungeons.  But he had good reason for doing so.  He understood that that there was no way to justify Corwin’s execution should Oberon return, so he held off.

4.Shooting is not too good for my enemies. Presumed Function:  That elaborate but easily escapable deathtraps need not be de rigueur.  Evaluation: Prudent.

5.The artifact which is the source of my power will not be kept on the Mountain of Despair beyond the River of Fire guarded by the Dragons of Eternity. It will be in my safe-deposit box. The same applies to the object which is my one weakness. Presumed Function: Cost savings? I don’t know. This one just seems bad. Evaluation: Security through obscurity is derided by security experts, and for good reason. Any magical divination employed to learn the vulnerabilities of the Dragons of Eternity could probably be employed to learn the details of the bank where the McGuffin is being held. I’d say they’d have an easy a time locating the item and a much easier time acquiring it.

6.I will not gloat over my enemies' predicament before killing them 


7.When I've captured my adversary and he says, "Look, before you kill me, will you at least tell me what this is all about?" I'll say, "No." and shoot him. No, on second thought I'll shoot him then say "No." Presumed Function: These each seem like a more elaborate rephrasing of number 4, that if you have the hero at your mercy, don’t dither before disposing of him. Evaluation: Again, prudent.

8.After I kidnap the beautiful princess, we will be married immediately in a quiet civil ceremony, not a lavish spectacle in three weeks' time during which the final phase of my plan will be carried out. Presumed Function:  To avoid giving the hero the chance to interrupt the ceremonies.  Evaluation: Probably ineffectual. Perception is what matters here. The ceremony itself confers the legitimacy. It’s not like the oppressed peasants are reading the wedding announcements in the Mordor Evening Post. If the hero rescues the princess after the civil ceremony and you’re in small claims court trying to prove to you really did marry her (“Look! I have this document! It’s notarized and everything!”) , then, well, I think you’ve lost control of the narrative.

9.I will not include a self-destruct mechanism unless absolutely necessary. If it is necessary, it will not be a large red button labelled "Danger: Do Not Push". The big red button marked "Do Not Push" will instead trigger a spray of bullets on anyone stupid enough to disregard it. Similarly, the ON/OFF switch will not clearly be labelled as such. Presumed Function:  Self-explanatory. Evaluation: Prudent.

10.I will not interrogate my enemies in the inner sanctum -- a small hotel well outside my borders will work just as well. Presumed Function: The heroes won’t already be in your inner sanctum after their inevitable escape. Evaluation: Mixed benefits. It has its obvious benefits, but a commensurate number of disadvantages as well. Leaving your area of control for a small hotel seems questionable at best.

Next Up, 11-20.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

A Few Words from Roger Zelazny, Part Eight: A Personal Tour of Amber

Eighth in the series

A Few Words from Roger Zelazny, Part Eight: A Personal Tour of Amber

This one deals with the Merlin books, which have never been my favorites, but I do appreciate the insights. I think that the Merlin books were pretty weak compared to what had come before, but Zelazny here shows some of the reasoning that went into constructing them and it's an interesting read for that alone. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Lily is officially a gamer

Me: I got an email from mommy saying that you were interested in continuing our RPG together tonight, but I don't know if she meant the Mutants & Masterminds campaign or I am Setsuna on the Playstation.
Lily: (Dismissively) Oh, I don't consider video games true RPGs.

It's like a rite of passage for our kind.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Monday, August 1, 2016

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Mister Owl, how many licks does it take to get to the tootsie roll center...

Mister Owl, how many licks...

...does it take to get to the...

...tootsie roll center...


You know what? Never mind. I don't need to know that badly.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Some additional thoughts on the Amber adaptation

Now that I've had a chance to chew it over.
  1. We do get these announcements every couple years, but this one looks like it has some muscle behind it.
  2. So much depends on the quality and the tone of the adaptation that it's pointless speculating right now.
  3. Amber is a pretty great length for an adaptation. Yeah, the books are very short by modern standards, but that means you won't have to leave anything out.
  4. I don't think they have anything in them that hopelessly dates them. Much is always made of the smoking in Zelazny's work, but that's just to give the characters something to do when they're talking. I think it can be excised without fundamentally altering the character of the books.
  5. I'm not much for stunt casting, but a friend on Facebook suggested that Trent Zelazny play the role of Roger the guard in the Hand of Oberon. I think that's kind of brilliant. 
  6. I'll be thrilled if this happens and it's done well, but in the process of thinking about it, I've discovered that the TV adaptation I really want is an anthology series of Zelazny's short stories. We can open with Divine Madness
  7. And maybe that can serve as the gateway to the Roadmarks movie I want so much.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Amber to be adapted for TV?

I think this falls into "Interesting, if true" territory for me. More on it as it develops.

'Walking Dead' Creator Adapting 'Chronicles of Amber' for TV

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Dark World: For the sake of a wind that blew from Ireland

Since I’ve more or less run out of Roger Zelazny stories to discuss, I’ve been expanding into related areas, such as the Jack of Shadows album and Chronomaster. Since I knew the Dark World had been an influence on Zelazny, I thought I would remark on it as well.

I’m embarrassed to admit that it took me nearly twenty-five years between acquiring it and reading it. It was the focus of issue 5 of Amberzine. As best I recall, I ordered a subscription, and the available back issues. The back issues came all together, and I skimmed them all when they arrived, and when I saw this one was dedicated to some dumb story of which I had never heard and which wasn’t even about Amber (plus some people talking about the dumb story), I just put it down and moved on to the next.

It’s worth noting that  Kuttner co-wrote many of his works with his wife, C. L. Moore, and it’s believed that she wrote most of the Dark World but they put Kuttner’s name on it because he was the one with a story due. I really like the tempo of the prose. Had I come upon this without a name attached, could have believed it a Zelazny story.  And in some ways it is, as its echoes can be heard in Zelazny’s work. At the very least, The Dark World is godfather to Amber. I’ll comment on some of the similarities I noticed as I progress through this recap.

Please be advised that this recap contains spoilers. Read on at your own peril.

The Dark World is the story of Bond, Edward Bond, who had been a soldier in World War II, and who now seems to be undergoing some kind of slow-motion mental collapse that began when he was shot down in that war.
"What is it, Ed? Do you have any inkling at all?" 
"Psychologically I suppose you could call it a persecution complex," I said slowly. "I believe in things I never used to."
I like that bit. It reminds me of the piece when Corwin is discussing his memory loss in Sign of the Unicorn, and of the exchange in Hangman about the Hermacis complex. It strikes me as distinctly Zelaznian, in that the protagonist is trying to make sense of the unknown by trying to define it in terms of his existing schema. People do that all the time, indeed, I’d go so far as to call it as one of the defining characteristics of humanity, but it’s a trait that’s seldom well-depicted in genre works. It goes back to what I love about Zelazny’s writing. It always reminds me of a line from a different Ganelon: “Their voices lack the thrust and dip of men chewing over their words and tasting them.” When reading Zelazny, I always feel that he’s fully thought through the ramifications of what he’s telling us, that he’s tasted his words before sharing them with us.

And from a 1994 interview
Zelazny likes to develop different systems of magic, but his emphasis is on systems. He feels the magic should be worked out and contain no contradictions. It should run more like science and not be too supernatural in which anything goes. That route leads to magic being a crutch to move the plot along. He also likes to use the mystery plot. He feels that there is an elegance to having a puzzle overlaid on a fantasy or SF novel. The mystery helps build the mythic elements in fantasy, but is also akin to the process of discovery in science.
I like it when my fantasy worlds make sense. God knows the real world doesn’t.

Enough navel gazing. Back in the Dark World,it turns out what really happened is that Bond was swapped by for his counterpart in the Dark World, Ganelon. He is called back to the Dark World by his coven, “The Coven”.

The name for the group might not be particularly evocative, but the members of the Coven are a vividly painted crew. Zelazny calls them “semi-mythic” and he’s not wrong.

Matholch: I turned, and saw, framed against the dark portiere, the rangy, whipcord figure of a man, clad as I was in tunic and trunks. His red, pointed beard jutted; the half-snarling curve of his full lips reminded me of something. Agile grace was in every line of his wiry body.

Edeyrn: Not even now could I see the face; the shadows within the cowl were too deep. I felt the keen glint of a watchful gaze, though, and a breath of something unfamiliar-cold and deadly. The robes were saffron, an ugly hue that held nothing of life in the harsh folds. Staring, I saw that the creature was less than four feet tall, or would have been had it stood upright.

Medea: I turned, getting slowly to my feet. Medea stood there smiling, very slim and lovely in a close-fitting scarlet gown. In her hand was a small black rod, still raised. Her purple eyes met mine.

"You have remembered," Medea said. "Ganelon is ours again. Do you remember me-Lord Ganelon?" Medea, witch of Colchis! Black and white and crimson, she stood there smiling at me, her strange loveliness stirring old, forgotten memories in my blood. No man who had known Medea could ever forget her wholly. Not till time ended.

Ghast Rhymi:  Ghast Rhymi, who has more power than any of us, but is too old to use it.

We have pills for that now.

That’s kind of an awful name, right? It’s not just me? I think the second part is pronounced “rhyme-y”, like what a poem is, and it takes me out of the story every time I see it.

I remembered Ghast Rhymi, whose face Edward Bond had never seen. Old, old, old, beyond good and evil, beyond fear and hatred, this was Ghast Rhymi, the wisest of the Coven. If he willed, he would answer my groping thought. If he willed not, nothing could force him. Nothing could harm the Eldest, for he lived on only by force of his own will.

The Coven retrieves Ganelon from his exile, but he still believes himself Bond at first.
"The artificial Earth-memories are still strong, then. Ghast Rhymi said you would remember eventually, but that it would take time. The false writing on the slate of your mind will fade, and the old, true memories will come back. After a while." Like a palimpsest, I thought-manuscript with two writings upon its parchment. But Ganelon was still a stranger; I was still Edward Bond.
Zelazny’s knowledge was so broad that it’s certainly possible that he would have encountered the concept of the palimpsest elsewhere. However, as Yama likens a mind with false memories to a palimpsest in Lord of Light

Ganelon’s personality eventually asserts itself when he realizes the Coven has betrayed him. (Rage had opened the floodgates, and Edward Bond was no more than a set of thin memories that had slipped from me as the blue cloak had slipped from my shoulders-the blue cloak of the chosen sacrifice, on the shoulders of the Lord Ganelon!) They sought to sacrifice him because they foresaw their ruination at his hands, but, in a twist as old as Sophocles, it is their betrayal that sets him on that path. Something similar happens in Amber when Fiona tells Corwin that Brand sought to kill him because he saw a vision in Tir’Na’Nogth, but I’m reluctant to say this is some kind of homage, because this is pretty standard prophecy trope.

He’s rescued by the Men of the Forest before he can be sacrificed. When Bond and Ganelon were originally switched, Bond aided the forest men, and they rescued him here, thinking him still Bond.  During his time with them, he had grown close to one of their number, the woman named Arles, who is described as follows.

She stood high upon a boulder that overhung the stream. She was dressed like a man in a tunic of soft, velvety green, crossbelted with a weapon swinging at each hip, but her hair was a fabulous mantle streaming down over her shoulders and hanging almost to her knees in a cascade of pale gold that rippled like water. A crown of pale gold leaves the color of the hair held it away from her face, and under the shining chaplet she looked down and smiled at us. Especially she smiled at me-at Edward Bond.

And her face was very lovely. It had the strength and innocence and calm serenity of a saint's face, but there was warmth and humor in the red lips. Her eyes were the same color as her tunic, deep green, a color I had never seen before in my own world.

Green eyes.  I’m just saying…

There is some question to his identity among the rebels, so he is taken to Freydis, a wise women, because she will know if he is Bond or Ganelon.

This is my favorite part in the book. Ganelon enters her cave, confident he can pass as Edward Bond.
Strange to relate, I felt sure of myself as I walked up the sloping ramp in the darkness. Ahead of me, around a bend, I could see the glimmer of firelight, and I smiled. It had been difficult to speak with these upstart woodsrunners as if they were my equals, as if I were still Edward Bond. It would be difficult to talk to their witchwoman as if she had as much knowledge as a Lord of the Coven. Some she must have, or she could never have managed the transfer which had sent me into the Earth-world and brought out Edward Bond. But I thought I could deceive her or anyone these rebels had to offer me. 
The small cave at the turn of the corridor was empty except for Freydis. Her back was to me. She crouched on her knees before a small fire that burned, apparently without fuel, in a dish of crystal. She wore a white robe, and her white hair lay in two heavy braids along her back. I stopped, trying to feel like Edward Bond again, to determine what he would have said in this moment.
Then Freydis turned and rose. She rose tremendously. Few in the Dark World can look me in the eye, but Freydis' clear blue gaze was level with my own. Her great shoulders and great, smooth arms were as powerful as a man's, and if age was upon her, it did not show in her easy motions or in the timeless face she turned to me. Only in the eyes was knowledge mirrored, and I knew as I met them that she was old indeed.
 "Good morning, Ganelon," she said in her deep, serene voice.
Ganelon is startled, but recovers himself and makes his pitch. They both want to destroy the Coven, so if Freydis wants the rebels to succeed, it’s in her best interest to tell everyone that he’s Bond.

She agrees and assists him in the recovery of Ganelon’s memories, and the description parallels Corwin’s recovery of his memories when he walks the Pattern.

DW: Ganelon's life came back in pictures that went vividly by and were printed forever on my brain. I knew his powers; I knew his secret strengths, his hidden weaknesses. I knew his sins. I exulted in his power and pride.

9PiA: The currents subsided and more of my memories returned, memories of my life as a prince of Amber. . . . No, they are not yours for the asking: they are mine, some vicious and cruel, others perhaps noble-

She then vouches for his identity, and the rebels prepare for the assault on the coven with the modern weapons Bond had helped them develop, which reminds me of Guns of Avalon.  Ganelon reflects on the nature of the members of the Coven, and this bit shows where Kuttner and Zelazny diverge in their approach to magical systems.
And such minds, with their new powers, would develop tools for those powers. The wands. Though no technician, I could understand their principle. Science tends toward simpler mechanisms; the klystron and the magnetron are little more than metal bars. Yet, under the right conditions, given energy and direction, they are powerful machines.

Well, the wands tapped the tremendous electromagnetic energy of the planet, which is, after all, simply a gargantuan magnet. As for the directive impulse, trained minds could easily supply that.
Each author posits system of magic that is logical and follows its own internally consistent set of rules, but I find Zelazny’s approach superior. I think Zelazny would use magnetism as an analogy, that we don’t fully understand the mechanism of the wand, but it appears to function in a fashion similar to magnetism, so we’ll use magnetism as a metaphor to describe it. With Kuttner, he’s essentially saying that the wands are elaborate magnets.

That was the aspect of the book that I enjoyed the least, and I do think it arises to the level of something subjectively wrong about it. When a well-educated lay person of the 1940s understands alien super-science well enough to manipulate it, it makes that science seem a lot less super.

I find the second of the book less interesting. Ganelon leads his rebels in their assault on the Coven. He loots the secret armory of the Coven for tools that will compel Ghast Ryhmi and protect him against the others.

My big problems with the second half of the book are twofold. I’ve already covered the first. Keats once said that Newton 'has destroyed all the poetry of the rainbow, by reducing it to the prismatic colours.' I normally applaud this kind of thing. Understanding the mechanism underlying a phenomenon enhances my appreciation, and I like my magic to fit a pattern, but the Dark World goes too far in the specificity of the functioning of the artifacts, to the point where it reduces the magical to the thoroughly mundane.

The other is that the revelation that Ghast Rhyhmi is an earth-born human (implied to be Merlin) doesn’t add very much to the story, and, much like the rest of the final act, doesn’t really build on what came before it. Same deal with Llyr being born a mutant and causing the schism that separated our earth and the Dark World. Both twists come out of nowhere and go nowhere.

The first one does give us the title of the post, and the second one explains why Llyr has an Irish name rather than one with all those vowels and apostrophes that eldritch monstrosities usually have, so there is that.

Overall, I like it, even with my caveats, for many of the same reasons I like Zelazny’s writings. It’s short, it’s punchy, it’s got a consistency and an enthusiasm to it. Ganelon is a great protagonist and the interplay with the supporting cast is solid. The prose probably reminds me most of Amber and the story of Jack of Shadows.

Further, there are the occasional segments that seem to have inspired similar passages in the Amber books, and those are like little Easter Eggs.

DW: I reached out, gripped Matholch's tunic, and shook him till his teeth rattled together. Hot fury filled me and something more.

This reminded me of the part in 9PiA when Corwin confronts Random about almost shooting the trucker. "I can take care of my own honor," I told him, and something cold and powerful suddenly gripped me and answered, "for he was mine to kill, not yours, had I chosen," and a sense of outrage filled me.

There are also several essays in the issue.

Imprinting Imagination - Jane Lindskold: She’s examining the influences of the Dark World on Zelazny’s writing, and takes a specific look at which Ganelon, Kuttner’s or the traitorous vassal of Charlemagne was a larger influence on Zelazny’s character. It’s a very precise, academic piece. I don't agree with her conclusions, but I very much appreciate her observations that the Dark World is the Primal Pattern underlying Amber,

Henry Kuttner: A Neglected Master - Ray Bradbury: A reprint of an introduction to an earlier Kuttner collection, saying should be better known. It doesn't have any particularly trenchant observations about the Dark World in particular, as it was intended to serve as the forward to a collection of a number of Kuttner stories, but it's Ray flippin' Bradbury, so it's brilliant, and brilliantly written.

Introduction - Roger Zelazny: I picked out my title for the post before seeing that Zelazny had used it to conclude his essay. I’m in good company! He mentions that  he tried to emulate Kuttner's versatility and remarks that Theodore Sturgeon said to him "You know, Zelazny, you don't just have one style. You have many." which strikes me as kind of crazy, because Roger Zelazny is my very favorite author, but he had a very distinctive style in which he was versatile and accomplished but from which he seldom diverged.

Double, Double, Toil and Trouble: Essay on Kuttner & Merritt - Carl Yoke: This was an interesting essay. Yoke painstakingly points out numerous parallels between The Dark World and an earlier work, Dwellers in the Mirage. The Dark World is primarily of interest to the Zelazny fan because of what it inspired in Roger Zelazny, and it's just fascinating to look at what influenced the Dark World.