Monday, February 28, 2005

MMORPG Survey!

One of my co-workers, a senior art director, is working on her final paper for her theory class ("Empirical Traditions and Theories in Technical Communications" - It's for her Master's), and is looking at discourse communities in Massively Multiplayer Online RPGs.

Translation - she wants to know about your game-playing habits, in particular your guild/group/superteam when you're online. Yes, she wants you to tell her about your character.

Her survey is here. She can use as much data as possible. Go have fun.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Comics Stash

The Big Box still hasn’t shown up, so I had a chance to make my regular comic run, and I thought I’d make another pass through the week’s purchases. The interesting thing is, I’m seeing similar patterns to the first lot – stunt casting, mini-series starting and stopping, as well as a definite sense of history in the books, both in adhering to tradition and re-imagining old tropes.

Oh yeah – Danger, Danger Will Robinson! Spoilers!

Seven Soldiers of Victory#0 - Grant Morrison is the hot writer with a taste for serious weirdness, including mind-bending stints on JLA and X-Men of late. Here he writes a big check here – A collection of 7 four-issue mini-series over the next year, with an intro and exit piece. This is the intro, where 6 old/new characters, all with connections to the DC mythos, go hunting and in turn are hunted. The challenge here will be to make each of the following miniseries something grand as opposed to repetitions around the original theme.

Fantastic Four #523 – This particular arc has been about separating the characters from their powers – Johnny and Sue switch powers, and then they separate Galactus from his power and hunger, and try to convince him that mortals are friends, not food. It runs like a Star Trek, Next Generation episode, but the ending, continuing the theme, is a nice twist.

Earths Mightiest Heroes # 8 of 8, is another time-unstuck comic book, in this case, weaving around the early issues of the Avengers, from the founding to the “Old Order Changes” when the original team left and was replaced with Cap’s Merry Madcaps. This series has shows how we’ve changed expectations in comics over the years, where suddenly, they are worrying about government oversight and whether Thor really is a god. When the collection comes out (only a matter of time), it will be a good add for the Avengers fans.

Flash #219 guest-stars Wonder Woman, and also reminds how much comics have changed. Heroes in the DC universe in the 60s were pretty replaceable –they held a common viewpoint of the world, and generally they got along (The Green Arrow/Green Lantern relationship was considered radical at the time). In the modern DC Universe, the mythologized, noble Wonder Woman now contrasts sharply with the blue-color, mortal Flash. They are in turn fighting second-generation versions of the villains Cheetah and Professor Zoom, who are more potent than their originals. In addition, the book sets up for a civil war among the Flash Rogue’s Gallery, a collection of villains who have transcended their lameness.

Meanwhile Wonder Woman #213 deals with the mythologized maiden of might. Wondy, blinded after a battle with Medousa (with echoes of the recent demise of Thor over on the Marvel side), is called to Olympus as the female part of the pantheon overthrows the old patriarchic gods. There has been some nice re-imagining of the gods – they aren’t all guys and gals in togas. But Zeus is still a jerk, which is his downfall . This issue has a way-cool piece of art as well, one of those turn-the-page and go wooo when you see it, where Wondy defeats a hundred-handed one.

Outsiders #21 – More comics history - there were Outsiders back in the 70s, a bunch of B-listers led by Batman. The new team is led by Dick (Robin, now Nightwing) Grayson, who didn’t know the team was secretly funded by Bruce (Batman) Wayne. Nightwing finds out and gets cheesed off by Bats being a control freak. What’s interesting here is that we get into bits of Zatana’s spell on Bats (from Identity Crisis) is starting to erode around the edges and Bats may be going a little more bats.

Legion of Superheroes #3 – this series has been stopped and restarted and re-formatted a number of times, as the future keeps changing. Latest version – there is a generational gap between underagers and ruling old coots, who are conservative and want the kids to wipe their feet before entering the future. So the Legion is part fans (dedicated to the heroes of old), part revolutionaries, part role models, and part protectors. The characters are re-thought (Colossal Boy is naturally forty-foot tall – his power is that he can shrink to human size). Last issue was a great retake on Dream Girl, and this issue deals with Triplicate Girl, and has her make more sense than ever. Scary-good for the ancient fanboy.

Ultimate Nightmare #5 wraps up another series in the Ultimate Marvel Universe, which is at core an X-Men/Avengers fight in Russia at the site of the Tunguska crash. They’ve been able to write in most of the old Marvel Soviet Heroes (Red Guardian, Unicorn), but the final surprise really impressed me with the way they are walking away from parts of the sacred cows of the Main Marvel Universe.

The Straczynski Books are Spiderman #571 and Strange #4, Straczynski being the Babylon 5 guy (more stunt casting on the writing side). It’s been a good run on the Spider-Man book so far, but this particular art, sort of a reimagining of the Molten Man, just doesn’t work for me. Dr. Strange seems to be swerving in the direction of Straczynski’s Midnight Nation, which is also giving me grief – You want Strange to gain enlightenment and be done with it.

And finally, through the magic of shifting schedules, four X-Books show up at once, two of them by Chris Claremont. In Uncanny X-Men #456 they fight advanced dinosaurs. In Excalibur #10, they fight cast-offs from the Age of Apocalypse miniseries of ten years back. In the Un-adjectived X-men #167 they fight, well, it looks like a ball of snot, and the story really hasn’t seemed to settle. But the recommended X-Book of the group is Phoenix: Endsong, where a wounded Phoenix force comes to earth, brings Jean Grey back to life (again), and forces the team to make hard decisions about getting rid of her danger, as well a trying to cement the relationship between Cyclops and the White Queen. More readable than you would think from the description.

More later,

Friday, February 25, 2005

The Weird Turn Pro

You know, I thought I could get away with a slug line about Hunter S. Thompson’s passing, a head nod, recognition of his life and work, and then pass on to the next thing. But here it is nearly a week later and people are still talking about it. Blogs, newspaper columns, tributes. I even was channel surfing a few nights ago and saw a local newsreader doing an on-the-set standup with someone who had worked with the man. All of them are saying good things, offering comforting spin, speculating on his self-inflicted death, and trying to be honest in his name. But there is just So Much Of It.

Arthur Miller passed on a few weeks back, and got the head-nod and a mention of “Death of a Salesman”. Sandra Dee, beloved by a slightly-older generation than mine, died and got the same passing recognition. HST, on the other hand, is getting near-Reaganesque attention, which would probably amuse him, as it would give him the chance to snarl at the mendacity of his mourners.

So here’s mine.

The big thing I want to pass on to everyone who never read him is that Hunter Thompson is not Uncle Duke from Doonesbury. Yeah, the comic strip version is based on him, but expecting Thompson to be equivalent to the curmudgeonly drug-inhaling greedhead of the strip is misleading and dangerous. It’s like seeing a Yogi Bear cartoon and trying to use the knowledge gained to deal with the grizzly rooting around in your trash. It’s a recipe for a mauling.

You read Thompson for the first time and you wonder, “What is he on?” (and if you get more than two paragraphs in, he’ll likely tell you). I don’t think that Gonzo Journalism is journalism at all, though it has a better ring than “Gonzo Essayist.” Journalism was the excuse, the vector, the delivery system for something that was very, very different. Thompson was a journalist in the same way Twain was a newspaperman, because you don’t know where else to put him. He put personal experience into his work, and pushed that experience to the limit. That’s different than most media talking heads who merely put personal opinion into their work (or, worst of all, recite approved corporate lines). You often doubt Thompson’s veracity, and that was part of the point. He’s not easy. He’s not comforting.

I’m not even sure I want to live in his world. If August Wilson can be typecast as an African-American playwright, then Hunter S. Thompson is a European-American writer. His subjects are strongly causcasian, and caucasian-with-money at that – motorcycle gangs, whiskey, Vegas, the Kentucky Derby, guns, The Superbowl, blow cocaine, American politics. And they are covered in the style that pries away any fa├žade of gentility and reveals them for the sweaty, grunting, venal beasts that they are. And like August Wilson, you quickly realize that you have wandered into the deep end of the pool, and you’d better keep your wits about you or you’ll be dragged under.

Hunter has given me words that I use: Gonzo. Mojo wire. Lono. Salah. Ether binge. Bad craziness. He opened doors that I would in other circumstances have rather left shut, and de-mythologized a lot of sacred cows. He was swimming beyond the reef, in the deeper waters where the dark shapes moved, and brought his reports back to those of us paddling around in the lagoon. I think a lot of media attention comes from that realization – where he’s gone, not a lot of people would or could follow.

Now here’s the last thing, the weird thing, the gonzo thing, the Gaea-earth-mind thing of it all. Sunday afternoon, I’m sitting downstairs, watching some cooking show on PBS. They cut to fund-raising, and my mind wanders over the bookcases in the room, and I see “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”, and think I should read it again sometime. Odd thing is, I don’t have a copy of that book anymore, and it’s not on the shelves, but for a moment, I saw it. Only later in the day do I read the news off the net of the Doctor’s passing and discover that the book's not really there. It wasn’t that the retort of pistol shot finally reached the West Coast, or even the discovery of the body or the announcement to the media - the time frame doesn’t line up. But for a moment I was visited by the spirit of the recently-deceased, and his message was one that every writer understands.

You want a testimonial? Go read the man. More later,

Thursday, February 24, 2005

The Big Box

This has been a strange week, in that I've spent it waiting at home for the Big Box. UPS is supposed to deliver the Big Box, which was supposed to get here in the wilds of Seattle Suburbia on last Friday or this past Monday. And while I thought Friday was hopelessly optimistic, I came home early to take delivery. And have been working at home (mostly) ever since - Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. No Big Box.

This has been OK, since I am working on a part of my current project which requires relatively little outside input. And my boss in on the East Coast for Toy Fair, and some of my co-workers have had the Yucks and have also been working out of home. Its a relatively quiet week. If there has been an ideal time to work at home, this is it. But still, no big box.

So far, the work has been good. I keep a home office for my freelance life, and work at home in my freelance identity, and know that working out of the home is often perilous - filled with distractions and with a lack of adult supervision. When you're writing, it is very easy to get into something, anything, that is NOT writing. Checking email, computer games, washing dishes, mowing the lawn (I know, its February, but its already due). ANYTHING.

But for the past three days I've been incredibly productive. Haven't even touched the addiction that is World of Warcraft. Part of it is that this is the chunk of the project that I find interesting - the icing as it were. And part of it is, since it is my day-job, I'm bringing to it my day-job mind - if I get this done, I can go home. Hang on, says the other part of my brain, I AM home (which may account for my lack of game-playing: if you spend your day at the keyboard in a room, at day's end you want to be anywhere else but in that room).

So I've been working - the Canadian Women's Curling Championship opening rounds on the telly in the background in the morning (Go, Alberta!), and the blues station on in the afternoon. I've been focused and productive. Late lunch, watching a cooking show on PBS about Scandanavian cuisine. But, alas, No Big Box. I'm in the office this morning, but only because I have an overiding concern - car repairs to the Saturn (but that is another tale).

Of what is in the Big Box, I cannot say (yet). Others have recieved their Big Boxes, so I am concerned about how long it is taking to get my Big Box. In the meantime, I remain productive.

More later,

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Political Roundup

I’ve been quiet on local politics for the past few weeks, primarily because I don’t know exactly what’s been happening. Which puts me in the same boat as most of the rest of the State – changes come, things evolve, decisions are made, life goes on, but there has been no really hot, sudden news. So here’s a quick roundup:

The GOP lawsuit for governor (“The Undying Campaign”) is progressing in fits and starts, and here’s the pattern in the past couple months:
• State GOP demands the judge makes his decision right now.
• Judge refuses, forcing both sides to collect evidence to prove their points.
• State GOP declares victory.

Would-be-Governor Rossi held one of those victory-declaring press conferences after one such set-back (when the judge said no to a revote), declaring it a victory. Rossi also made a statement that, if the election is thrown out, he will call for a new election immediately (yeah, there’s a recommendation for deciding in his favor – if elected, he’ll make you do it all over again). At least that was what he clarified after the press conference, because it was a little unclear at the time. My big gripe about Rossi, which goes way back to watching him in the early debates, is that he takes on the issues by surrounding them from all sides.

Meanwhile, Still-Governor Gregoire is dealing head-on with the problem of, you know, actually governing. Which, when you look at it, is a money problem. Everyone wants cash, in particular since federal support is disappearing. So her mantra has become “Good idea – how do we fund it?”

Washington has always been accused of being out of step with the rest of the country, but it has gone positively bizzarro, where Dems are the party of fiscal responsibility and the GOP is the party of lawsuits and vitriol.

More court stuff: The suit against Sam Reed, the Secretary of State who was accused of not doing his job when he was doing his job, has been dismissed. This cause has now been replaced in wingnut-land by a call for Eastern Washington to secede. Which feeds in with the “States of Mind” series I’ve been running off and on. So some of the more radical dunderheads on the right are threatening to leave, and some of the more radical dunderheads on the left are saying “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” Which is of course ridiculous on both sides.

My research on the “States of Mind” does point out that such in-house secession – Jefferson, UP, Franklin, West Virginia, always revolves around the pro-secession group feeling they don’t have enough of a piece of the action and funding from the parent state. The prob with the Eastern Washington is, like a lot of the conservative heartland, we’re pouring more money in than we’re getting back. Which makes sense because there is a lot more land and a lot fewer people out there, so basic improvements (like a bridge or a community center) will affect fewer people while holding the same price tag. Look for this to rankle on for a while, and I’ll get back to the State of Mind write-ups.

In the legislature, legislators and Sam Reed are backing reforms in the process, many of these proposals actually have a chance of becoming law. Most of the proposals are pretty solid – move the primary up, get the absentee ballots in before Election Day, provide the option of all-mail-in ballots. A couple I have problems with. One is to make Secretary of State a non-partisan office. I think this one is a bad idea, in that it creates the chance of “stealth” candidates, who claim no political affiliation, but get backing from one major group or the other. State Supreme Court justice Jim Johnson, backed heavily by the developers, was effectively running as Republican, but without the downside of having to identify himself as one. I’d prefer the man in the office to be non-partisan, not the office itself.

And lastly, what of the OTHER Republican in State Government, Attorney General Rob McKenna? Well, so far he’s been doing a pretty good job - he has been pushing for greater transparency in state business, and has been moving forward on fighting identity fraud. If the GOP keeps throwing talented individuals into office, the Dems would have something to worry about. For the moment, the State GOP still always has spin, lawsuits, and radio.

More later,

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Curse of the Gonzo

Hunter S. Thompson has committed suicide. He is survived by family and an imaginary character created by Garry Trudeau.

More later,

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Play: August Sings the Blues

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom by August Wilson, Seattle Rep, through 19 February.

One of the down sides of the Lovely Bride's tax preparation career is we move all plays from our season tickets out of late January/Early February, and out of late March/April, as this is part of the "Tax Rush". The result is that we have a Late Feb/Early March bumper crop of plays all bunching up on another. Another result of all this shifting around is that we see plays on the very last day of their run.

Which is just as well, because I am not a great August Wilson fan (and I say this knowing he is a Seattle resident, and I have even seen him, at a distance, when he was prepping King Hedley II a few years back). I have seen a lot of August Wilson's work, in Pittsburgh (he writes about the Hill District), in Milwaukee, and now in Seattle. And while I recognize that he has become the "go-to-guy" for the African-american experience on stage, the proverbial Spike Lee of theatre, I find myself frustrated with his work. The "Wilson-in-a-nutshell" is: A lot of people yell at each other until somebody pulls a weapon and kills someone else - and it takes a fair amount of stage time to get there.

Here's the rundown on Ma: A group of black blues performers meet at a white-operated recording studio to make a new record for Ma Rainey, the mother of the blues. Ma is late, and once she gets here, is an imperious diva making demands and generally raising the stress level. Add to this the conflicts among the musicians themselves, in particular between the young upstart Levee (Alvin Keith) who deplores the "jug music" of the more traditional band members, and Cutler (Wendell W. Wright), who acts as band spokesperson with the hot-tempered Ma, and so we have a lot of people yelling at each other.

Wilson is unafraid to show his characters as flawed individuals, and this is a wonderful thing about his work. Ma Rainey, well-performed by Cynthia Jones, stands her ground on her issues, including the ones she is dead wrong about (she wants to give a part on the record to her stuttering nephew). Young bluesman Levee is equal parts progress and ego, dream and rage. Cutler is proud tradition and weary acquiesence. Characters are completely right and with the next sentence, going plunging into wrongness, and seem natural when they are doing it.

Wilson's word is a violent one as well, and much of the play involved smack-talk among the musicians, which weaves between good-natured, time-killing arguments, and heavy-duty challenges that are just half-a-word away from someone throwing a punch. Wilson obliderates that line over time, and the action of the play seamless starts with the first line and ends up with the shiv stuck into the ribs, a smooth and understandable process. Wilson layers his characters enough, and spends enough time with them, that you see what is happening as it unfolds, and all becomes a deeper tragedy for it.

The company is excellent, though to be frank, I would have preferred the musicians to have a bit more musical chops - the instruments wait their masters too long on the stage, and the "rehearsal" consists of a lot of arguing and very little rehearsing. Wright and Larry Ballard (who plays Ma's flustered, frustrated agent), are particularly good as men who have had to learn to deal with the unpleasant and unbending realities around them.

I'm still not a fan of August Wilson, but Ma Rainey holds together well, and rates up there with Joe Turner's Come and Gone as one of his good ones.

More later,

Comics Stash

I don’t make fun of people who collect souvenirs of their favorite sports team, nor do I mock readers of romance fiction, nor do I taunt people who have to see the latest movie on opening day, then get it on DVD in five different versions. I don’t do these things because I have my own deep, dark, jones – I am a comic book fan.

Every week, I help keep Bookworld, my source for comics, afloat by dropping a few bills for the week’s shipment. Most of these are comics I’ve been reading for thirty years, in one form or another, and I still enjoy them more often than not. What I’d like to do real quick is run through this week’s take – here is what I’m reading (this week).

(Oh yeah, Spoilers abound. Just deal.)

The Authority: Revolution #5 of 12*. This comic deals with the question: If superheroes are so powerful, how come they don’t take over? Well, they do, here, in this case taking over the US Government. It’s a bad fit, and problems arise. Worse, one of their number gets word from the future that if they don’t break up, the world becomes a distopia, which was lame when they did it to cancel the Defenders back in the 90s and actually pretty lame here as well. The team breaks up, but not before Washington DC gets dusted. And that allows the series’ true big bad guy to move in.

Daredevil: Redemption #2 of 6 – Comics have become temporally unstuck at the moment, writing “lost stories” of the heroes in other, simpler times, unconnected to the current universe. In this one, an early Matt Murdock/Daredevil goes down south to defend a kid in a satanic killing. Issue two and he’s already shot down the confession another kid made. The law feels fine, but the costume has yet to really come out.

Daredevil #70/450** Meanwhile, over in the main Marvel Continuity, Matt Murdock has been outed as Daredevil in the press. Now this would be a one-issue imaginary story from DC in the 60s, or a six-issue arc with a cheesy reset button in the Marvel 80s. Its been going on for what seems like three years here, and changes everything that happens in the book. Everything ties back to Matt Murdock denying he’s Daredevil while being Daredevil. It’s been a good read as the dominos continue to topple.

Green Lantern: Rebirth #4 of 6 – About a decade ago, Hal (Green Lantern) Jordan*** went crazy, became a supervillain, killed the rest of the Green lantern Corps, died, and was replaced by Kyle (Green Lantern) Raynor. Now, the fans who liked Hal grew up and are now writing the stories, so Hal is making a comeback, where it is revealed that it was a yellow, fear-based parasite that caused Hal to go whacko. Hal is purged of the parasite (as well as his mantle as the Spectre, which he got as sort of consolation prize) and is back in action. Kyle may or may not survive the return, which will cheese off the NEXT generation of writers.

Hawkman #37 – Of all of the comics, this is the one that is just treading water. Someone is gathering all of Hawkman’s villains for an attack. Problem is, Hawkman has really lame villains.

The New Invaders #7 – So you create a superteam to be rougher and nastier than its predecessors, because the world is rougher and nastier. How far do you go before you’re as bad as the bad guys? That’s the problem with this book, and the JLA-Elite book on the DC side.

JLA Classified #4 – This book was written by the guys who did the “Funny” JLA of the 90s, and was originally set up for a miniseries. The bad news is that as they were writing it, the Identity Crisis came along and killed one of their key supporting characters in a gory, unfunny fashion. So watching this now-dead character engage in funny whackiness is more than a little queasy-making, like watching Sam Kinison’s act when you know he’s been spread out on the California desert.

Livewires #1 of 6 – Marvel does the Metal Men. A bunch of anime-style super-robots run around the MU, blowing up other advanced technology man was not meant to use. Actually better than it sounds from that description. First issue involves introducing all the characters in bang-bang-bang fashion.

New X-men – Academy X #10 – The New Mutants with new mutants – kids with superpowers. In this issue, the mutant-smart character has his mental blocks removed to attain his true potential, and things get weird fast, such that we’ve probably swerved into an “in-your-mind” fantasy sequence halfway through it.

Ocean #4 of 6 – I like this one – an SF story without spandex. Earth explorers find a bunch of flying coffins beneath the ice of Titans. The inhabitants look mostly-human, and are packing star-destroying weapons. Add an evil corporation and stir. Well-written.

Promethea #32 (final issue) – So if you never had the chance to drop acid and then discuss the nature of magic when you were in college, this is the issue for you. Nonlinear, and meant to be read back to front, front to back, or as two posters, it is . . non-linear musings on the nature of magic with a technicolor lightshow. Alan Moore has done this before – taking a traditional comic trope and spinning it into utter, unique weirdness, but I think he’s gone further than ever with this one. The story in this book really ended like issue 29 or so, but there are 32 trumps in the tarot deck, so . . .

She-Hulk #12 (final issue) – Always a weird book - during the Byrne years, She-Hulk lived in a self-referential universe where she knew she was a character in a comic book. For this series she becomes Ally McBeal, working in a law firm that specializes in super-hero law, which uses back issues of Marvel comic books as legal documents. Whackiness ensues. Has the same JLA-Classified problem in that She-Hulk had a major breakdown over in the Avengers book (she ripped up the Vision), but is more even-keeled and witty here.

Stormbreaker #2 of 6 – Back in the 80’s, Walt Simonsen created an Alien Thor-clone named Beta Ray Bill. Here he fights a servant of Galactus you’ve never seen before. I swear the big G has been plowing through heralds like he was Donald Trump with apprentices.

Tom Strong #31 – Michael Moorcock! How can you not like a story by Michael Moorcock! Even better, he ties in all the multiple-world crap that he’s known for, including cross-dimensional zeppelins, and a slightly-altered Elric of Melnibone. And Pirates! How can you not like pirates?

Teen Titans #21 – One of the pendulums in comic books is that a super hero is cool (Superman) because he’s unique, but because he’s popular, he tends to aggregate a bunch of similarly-powered assistants (Supergirl, Superboy, Steel, Krypto, Streaky), so that he’s no longer unique. Green Arrow has this problem, in that he has a small platoon of archers working with him (His son Connor (also Green Arrow), Roy (Speedy, later Arsenal) Harper, and now a new (female) Speedy). The second Speedy joins the Teen Titans, and Green Arrow gets kidnapped by Doctor Light, who is no longer a loser because of the Identity Crisis. Got it?

Astonishing X-Men #8 – Joss Whedon, of Buffy and Angel, has been writing this, bringing Colossus (also dead), back to life and doing nice turns on all the characters. This issue is all set-up as a broken-down Sentinel attacks the school, all the telepaths pass out, and the Danger Room gets angry. Don’t ask me, this is the middle of the arc.

*A lot of my comics are mini-series these days, so they come in bite-sized, easy to collect bitsies, and don’t commit the companies to regular schedules.
**The dual numbering system is an avatar of a badly-thought out relaunch for most of the Marvel Universe, that allowed all their books to restart (DC did it as well, but did a better job). So Marvel is drifting back slowly with bigger numbers.
***One thing I love about the old DC comics was that they identified the secret identities with the super hero name in the middle – Clark (Superman) Kent, or Bruce (Batman) Wayne. I love this stuff, but then I’m Jeff (Big Fanboy) Grubb.

More later,

Friday, February 18, 2005

The Blog Goes Ever On and On

First off, the RSS Feed. Monkey King set this up for me, and reports that about 28 people are currently pulling it from my site. This, of course, weirds me out mildly, since I cannot think of 28 people (including relatives) who would want to read a semi-daily essay on my basic geekness.

Now the odd thing is that the last RSS got garbled in transmission, deleting about four paragraphs between the appearance of an ampersand in the text, up to the appearance of a semicolon. This leaves the 250 words sent out on the feed looking more bizarre and disjointed than usual. All I can say for the moment is, to the Feedsters, if it sounds like I'm making less sense than normal, hit the link to the main site (I may still not be making sense, but at least you know its not a problem with the feed).

Oh, and yes, the time codes seem to be mangled up as well. I suppose the management will have to look at that as well.

But, in any event, I want to pass along that we got physical copies of The Dragons' Return in the mail yesterday, which has storied by myself and the Lovely Bride (appearing here under her professional name, Kate Novak). Kate hasn't written anything for publication in, well, it seems like forever, so I'm delighted to see her return to the game. The book should be meandering its way to the your better bookstores in the very near future. Enjoy.

More later,

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Bonus

The Seattle Times has a very good Sunday book section. It's the back three pages of the Arts & Entertainment section, and has usually two major lead articles, about a half-dozen smaller reviews, and usually a "collection" article of new works, SF, Mysteries, etc., and it covers authors visiting the Puget Sound region. What makes it good is that there is as often as not something in it that piques my interest,

In this case, my interest got me to drive to downtown Tacoma to meet Paul Dickson, one of the authors of The Bonus Army, which is a book on the veteran's march on Washington in 1932, and how the protests were a major turning point of the development of the American Dream. The Times had done a full-bore writeup of the book, mentioned he was appearing, and it sounded good.

Here's a quick summary for something that most people consider a footnote in US History: At the close of WWI, there was debate about what, if anything, was owed our Doughboy veterans who served overseas. Six years after the Armistance, it was ruled that the Vets should get a dollar for each day served, to be paid in 1945. In 1932, in the depths of the Depression, a Texas congressman pushed forward a bill to pay them off now. A vet from Portland decided to go to Washington DC to lobby, and gathered up his friends to go with him. News spread, and soon the "Bonus Army" was marching on Washington. It arrived, settled in, and when the bill did not pass, decide not to leave until it was passed. Finally the Army, led by Doug MacArthur and with the young officers Patton and Eisenhower, drove the Vets out of the city. They would be back, and would get their bonus, but their protest refocused american attention on how it treated its veterans, and paved the way for the GI Bill.

Oddly enough, I know about this from two sources; One was William Manchester's The Glory and the Dream, which was a history of the Swing Generation - Manchester uses the bonus army as the kick-off point for his history. But more importantly for me was Howard Waldrop's short story "Ike at the Mike". I will enthuse about Howard's writing some other time, but the story artfully creates an alternate universe where Eisenhower and Patton were bluesmen playing for the Bonus vets. It originally appeared in the now-extinct Omni magazine in the early 80's, was collected in the impossible-to-find Howard Who?, and later appeared in the merely difficult-to-locate Strange Things in Close-up. So I knew the framework of the tale. But I'm digressing.

Paul Dickson himself was an engaging older man who looked like the idea of a history writer, down to the silver hair and glasses perching on his forehead. More imporantly, he sounded like a writer who was excited about his work, to the point that he had to slow down to let his words catch up with his thought. I swear that if he had been given a chance, he would have told the entire tale of the book right there, but as it was, he held about a dozen people in the small bookstore in Tacoma mesmerized as he kept tying in historical figure after figure (Hemmingway, Sinclair, Truman, Eleanor Roosevelt, the owner of the Hope Diamond), into what is a key point of American History.

And he had reason to be excited, because his tour has brought him into contact with ancient Bonus marchers, and with their children and grandchildren. When he arrived at this signing, there was a phone message left with the bookstore from the grandson of the original vet who started the ball rolling. The grandson has a lot of his grandfather's papers, and would Dickson be interested in them? This infused Dickson with an palpable and contagious excitement that spread to his listeners, several of which were child and grandchildren of the WWI Vets themselves.

This is not a book review, because I have yet to read the book. But after listening to Paul Dickson speak, I catch that whiff of summer lightning in the air, of someone who has caught something that others have missed, and wants to share it. I'm looking forward to reading his work.

More later,

Def Star

Too good not to pass along: Star Wars meets Gangsta Rap. (warning- Safari crashes on the site, use Internet Explorer)

More later,

Porn

Don’t get your hopes up – All links are Safe For Work.

It’s just that there has been a wave of “adult-entertainment” related news in the past few weeks, from local to national, and this gathers it all together

First off, on a very, very local note, fellow blogger and gaming creative NikChik was a recent victim of Drive-By-Pornography. You know those mini-vans, with the little TVs in the back, mounted on the ceiling? And how the commercials for these vans they always show some candy-colored cartoon entertaining the kids? Well, in the real world they are sometimes showing porn flicks (talk about your driver distraction). So you’re at the stoplight with your kids while some unclad duo/trio/foursome/moresome is doing the horizontal mambo on the screen in the next car over. Yes, it’s a public nuisance and no, it’s not a free speech issue.

Of course, more of a free speech issue is the fact that Mike Aivaz has been bounced off local public access TV. Mike, who runs the Mike Hunt show (precise diction is so important when discussing this) runs hard-core porn on his show, supposedly as a “deterrent” to all the violence on the tube. Despite running oh-god-late at night (though everyone I spoke with on this knew the time of the show), it was determined to be obscene and was removed. While this is the latest round in an ongoing struggle of determining community values, does this mean that liberal, liberal West Coast is getting more conservative?

Hold that thought before you answer, because from down the coast, Adelphia Cable, known for its conservative bent and family-friendly fare, has STARTED airing hardcore porn (and though I caught it as a “look-at-those-Californians” story, they’re doing it in Upstate New York as well). Adelphia has had financial problems for the past few years, and porn looks like a hail-mary pass to keep them afloat as they move through bankruptcy court.

But that’s what pornography in America is all about – if you give it away for free, its bad, but if it has a business plan, its good. For future reference, here’s the current status of the types of TV:
Broadcast VHF – Very limited – massive freaking over Janet Jackson’s shuriken-shrouded nipple.
Basic Cable – Some adult language and subject matter, digitalized blur over anything interesting, badly dubbed replacements for the naughty words.
Premium Cable –Nudity! Bad language! Teenagers everywhere willing to watch the scrambled feed!

So the answer for Mr. Aivaz is to get his own show on Adelphia, and charge for it.

And speaking of Basic Cable, the latest atwitter in the News Band (the late forties on our channels), is the pseudo-journalist in the White House Press Briefings who floated administration-friendly questions, who turned out to have minimal credentials, who got into the White House and reported under a false name, and who worked for a news organization that is a PR adjunct for the GOP. None of this seemed particularly newsworthy to the Press Corps that surrounded this imposter, until it was also revealed that he was deeply involved in gay porn sites. NOW the media is suddenly paying attention, because, of course, it’s not about the sex, it’s about the deception.

Uh-HUH. Actually it’s about the fact that this guy is passing himself off as a reporter for over two years, surrounded by reporters, and none of his co-workers gets a clue. This clown was taunting those few who did point out his questionable background, right up to the point where the porn site report surfaced (along with “male escort services”), at which point he vanished like a three-card-monte dealer hearing the heavy tread of flat feet. He has now decided not to talk to the press anymore.

And since no gathering of questionable conservative ethics is complete without a mention of Sinclair Media, Rolling Stone turned over some rocks and discovered that its head honcho (David Smith) got his start making bootleg copies of porn films in the basement of one of his father’s properties back in the 70s. I just have to say that I am shocked, simply shocked, that the well-off citizens in this country have nothing better to do than to engage in such prurient activities.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going cruising for minivans. More later,

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Alliterate Technology

So the Alliterates, our secret society bent on world literary domination, met last night, on a Tuesday because Monday was occupied with romance an' stuff. Our group religiously observes a "Cone of Silence" around our proceedings, so I will not go into details, though they consist of gossip, life updates, critiques, gossip, reviews, gossip, job opportunities, rumors, and just a side of gossip. What set this one apart for me was my slamming into 21st Technology full-tilt, to the amusement of my more technologicall ept brethren.

Normally we meet in a bar, which has the advantage of food and alcohol close at hand, but the disadvantage of other distractions (such as Monday Night Football). This time we met at the Bellevue Public Library, where the Monkey King snagged us a room. And for the first time, the WiFi on my laptop was enabled. This has not happened before. Most of the time the laptop is either at home or at the office, neither of which has a wireless hub, so I've never accessed the net without a cable. Yet here was my computer handshaking with King County Public Library system. Despite myself, I had to download my email (just because I could) and tapped into World of Warcraft (to the amusement of my fellow Allits, to whom I looked like a monkey encountering a bar code scanner for the first time).

Then, one of my fellow Allits gave me his comments on a story I wrote by handing me his USB drive. It looked like a key for a toy car, and I said "Oh, its like a floppy disk". Actually its more like a portable hard drive with its storage capacity, and (after being told) I plugged it into the back of my machine, and got the new millenium version of sneaker-net (Old-guy computer term - running floppies between machines). Again, monkey with bar code scanner.

So now I'm feeling a little behind the technological curve, like a 20th century man trapped in a new century. And I'm scanning the skies for those flying cars I was promised.

More later,

Monday, February 14, 2005

Want to See Something REALLY Scary?





You Are Not Scary

Not Scary!

Everyone loves you. Isn't that sweet?




(Its all part of my evil plan - just waiting to get them to let their guard down, and then . . . )

More later,

Valentine

So with St. Valentine’s Day (chocolates for the Lovely Bride, plus we both stay home tonight to cook lobster, thanks for asking), I started to do some digging about the origin of the holiday and the Saint himself.

Naturally, I was surprised by what I turned up.

In gaming terms, St. Valentine represents 1d3 different people, who may or may not have their remains buried in 1d4 places, and of whom 1d2 are celebrated by the Feast Day on the day of his execution, 14 February (it was a Feast Day at least until 1969, when Valentine, Christopher, Nicholas, and a lot of other “legendary” saints lost their universal feast-day rights).

Of what is known of the historical Valentine, well, there isn’t a lot. He was martyred during the reign of Emperor Claudius Gothicus (also called Claudius II) in 269, and martyrdom itself was an automatic gimme for early saints. Some two hundred years later, Pope Gelasius set Valentine’s feast day in February to compete with the Lupercalia, a pagan holiday celebrating fertility.

Now, accreted to these bare facts is the legendary St. Valentine legend, most of it in place by the 1300s. Here’s the tale: Claudius Gothicus, an evil and warlike Emperor, banned his soldiers from getting married, as married men were more likely to worry about their loved ones than the task at hand. Valentine continued to conduct marriage ceremonies on the sly, and was caught and imprisoned. Additional legend adds the jailor’s blind daughter, who falls in love with him and regains her sight, causing the jailor to convert. Alas, Valentine is still offed, but sends a last letter to his now-visually-enhanced girlfriend, with the signature “From your Valentine.”

Now this is a great story, and hits all the points for a medieval tale – Evil pagan Roman Emperors, Christian challenge in the name of goodness, confrontation with imperial authority, imprisonment, forbidden romance, miracles, and a moral (“He died so you could get roses”). It sounds so very – Valentiney. The fact that it is untrue has no bearing on the matter, and so it has been unchallenged by what few facts can be brought to bear.

For example - Claudius, the evil emperor who kept his troops from being married? Claudia took the throne at a time when the legions were deeply involved in choosing the emperor, and they chose Claudius, who might have been involved in the assassination of his imperial predecessor. Claudius, in turn, urged mercy for the dead emperor’s family, and in his brief rein (268-270), was responsible for soundly beating the invading German and Goth tribes. He died of plague in while on campaign, and was deified immediately because he was thought of as being a good emperor by his people. He was so well thought of that, in the 4th Century (before Val got his day), Claudius was ret-conned into being the ancestor of the Byzantium Emperor Constantine to improve Constantine’s standing. There is no mention in the biographies of Claudius II of anything as mule-headed as keeping the legionnaires who supported his rule from marrying, and while Christians were persecuted in Rome, Emperor Claudius was more often in the field than on the throne.

But all this leaves me with a Lovecraftian feeling on this day, which is that our “known universe” consists only a thin veneer of widely-accepted untruths, with darker and stranger things moving in the turgid waters beneath that ice. So Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone, and try not to think about it too much.

More later,

Sunday, February 13, 2005

A Quiet Life

It is interesting that I can go great guns for post after post, then just drop out for nearly a week. Part of it is the last vestiges of the cold lifting off, leaving me tired and exhausted. And part of it is wrapping up the last of the freelance projects I went looking for back in November (This one a Christmas story for this year - more on that later). But its also been that I have not had any whacky hijinx for the past few days - the day job has been going well, I've been playing in two D&D campaigns, I'm in the midst of reading a great book, and I've been way too deeply involved with World of Warcraft (to the point that I've picked up a stand for my laptop with built-in fans to fight the heat problem on my laptop). Oh, and they're covering curling on the CBC again, leading up to Briar Cup, so that reduces me to couch-potato-ness.

So this is a bit of down time. Don't worry, I'll be back and ranting before you know it.

More later,

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

My Life in Plastic

Of course that it figures that while I was out of action nursing this cold, Hasbro would announce the action figure game I’ve been working on for the past few months. Its called Attacktix, and the initial information can be found here.

This becomes the third miniatures game that I’ve been deeply involved in the past few years. First was a good run on Heroclix from Wizkids, and my work there included Unleashed, Ultimates, and the biggie Galactus figure. That was followed by the successful Star Wars Miniatures Game from Wizards of the Coast. And now Attacktix from Hasbro.

Attacktix is a different type of figures and a different game than the previous two. While both Heroclix and Star Wars Miniatures were primarily miniatures games, aimed at a hobby market, Attacktix comes out of the toy side of the business and comes with a different set of sensibilities. As an example, one of the hobby’s sacred cows is that physical skill should not be a factor. Attacktix, on the other hand is very much about the physical, the tactile, and the kinetic. It is all about playing with the toy

The figures move on bases that have small rollers beneath them, causing them to make a ratcheting "Tix" while they move. No grids, no rulers – movement ability is contained in the figure itself. The figures also have launchers that fire missiles across the table, or swing at the waist to strike an opponent (that explains the over-sized wookiee-paw you’re seeing). So aim and physical ability is much more important in this game than is traditional hobby games.

In addition to the action-oriented nature of the game, the figures have special powers on the bottoms of the bases. Knock an opponent over, and its special power may activate. Some special powers bring in reinforcements, some allow free attacks, and some brings figures back. Mace Windu is the energizer bunny of the first wave – he’s tough to stop.

Attacktix is a more straightforward game than either Heroclix or Star Wars Miniatures, and aimed at a younger audience. The figures are larger (3-4 inches tall), are articulated at the arms and head, and have a strong kinetic vector (Translation: You make things fall down go boom). What I like about this game is that it teaches a lot of basics that older players take for granted in hobby games, but which newcomers always find odd and often off-putting – things like turn order, collectability, customizing your forces, combos, and the like.

This is important because, once these basic concepts are in place, the younger players can move into the hobby end of the game spectrum more easily. When I was a lad, I played and loved the American Heritage games from Milton Bradley – Dogfight, Battle Cry, and Hit the Beach!. That led to wargames and from there to RPGs. I know a lot of gamers whose introduction to the hobby was the original Marvel Super Heroes game. And, I’m betting, Attacktix will be another cool game kids will enjoy and which will ultimately bring more people into the hobby.

More later,

Monday, February 07, 2005

Random Notes: Comics & Cartoons

Still have not recovered fully - my entire system is out of temporal whack, with 12-hour sleeps filled with viscous, liquid dreams alternating with massive insomnia and long dark nights of the soul. So if this is less . . . coherent . . . than normal, forgive, but at the moment it all seems to orbit around lines on paper, in the form of cartoons and comics. Oh, and some old-guy ranting.

I surfaced briefly from my sickbed this weekend for the Emerald City comic convention, which reminded a lot of the old Chicago Comic Con when it was downtown, before it moved to a hotel by O'Hare, which was before it was moved to a Rosemont Convention Center which was before it was swallowed by a larger organization and shed its last fragments of fannish charm. A lot of dealers, a lot of fans, and a smattering of big names (The biggest line was for the creator of "Invader Zim", a now-extinct show from Nickelodeon). I padded out some of my collections and made small talk with others of my ilk. Seattle comic fans seem to be younger, thinner, and more active than their midwestern counterparts, but that just may be my age showing. There were also a lot of goths, but they are were a lot "perkier" than when I was a struggling punter. Again, it may be my age, but the goths in MY day did not do cheerleading routines. Anyway, the con still had the small-town feel, with lots of comics, animation, and action figures.

I also emerged into the real world long enough to watch the Super Bowl with the Monkey King, and had what was probably the best Super Bowl halftime I've ever seen (The worst was a "Celebration of the Blues" which was used as vehicle to promote the upcoming Blues Brothers 2000 Movie). Four full songs, a performer who could carry it, and what for the Super Bowl was a minimalist set. This was Pro Football's version of "Unplugged". Sir Paul is not my favorite Beatle, but he pulled it off. But the question is: When did "Live and Let Die" become pop's version of the "1812 Overture" for pyrokinetic goodness?

Sir Paul reminds me of the Mad Mod (did I mention I might be a little disconnected this time out?), a really, really lame DC Villain from the 60's. The Mad Mod himself was sort of a prototype for Austin Powers, but in a evil way, and has now reappeared on the Teen Titans show on Cartoon Network. The Mod takes over the city, converting it into a big Carnaby-Street-Swinging-London-Calling sort of nightmare. The entire show is filled with paens to Monty Python and the Beatles. Which I found amusing, but I'm of that era. My only question is, when does the next generation get a culture of their own?

Speaking of cartoons and my age, I watched way too many edgy cartoons (on Comedy Central and Cartoon Network's Adult Swim) of the type where the characters all die messily in the final moments of the cartoons. After the third one in a row, I had to admit - I didn't get it. It reminded me of the 80's, where every domestic comedy sketch seemed to end with "Dad" pulling out a chainsaw from behind the couch. Maybe it's the cold. Maybe it's the insomnia. Maybe it's the age-thing. Maybe its a rejection of Post-Modernistic thought. Nah, it's the age-thing. I'm going to become a grumpy old pensioner before you know it.

OK, I had more, but I think I've dug myself in deeply enough. Enough for now.

Friday, February 04, 2005

The Shelf of Abandoned Books

So I have a miserable cold at the moment. No, let me correct that. The cold is amazing, fantastic, an incredible cold– it is a cold that other colds will talk about in years to come. I’m the one who is miserable. And because of this I have kept to the house, sleeping, eating, and wandering from room to room honking like Felix Unger. And I’ve been staring at the Shelf of Abandoned Books.

Several years back, the Lovely Bride, tired of tripping over the stacks of books next to my bedside, got me a small bookcase. This quickly filled up with books that I started, and then set aside, intending to get back to. Of course, I never did, and hence, the Shelf.

And the weird thing is, I remember great chunks of these books, remember enjoying them, and yet never got the drive to finish them. They sort of hang at the edges of the dance, not horrible enough to be rejected, but not kindling enough fire to get themselves noticed. I look at the their spines and say, “Yeah, I want to read that. Eventually.”

So here is my Shelf of Abandoned Books:

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt is a great example of an Abandoned Book – there is nothing really wrong with this book, but after getting into it about fifty pages (just setup for the murder, nothing more), I set it aside and never returned. I think its odd size keeps me from shelving it away, and holds out hope that I will embrace it again.

I begun The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver on the recommendation of the Lovely Bride, stopped at the first section break, and never picked it up again. It was interesting and well-written, and dealt with a missionary family in Africa, but I never re-engaged with it, so it got its place on the shelf.

There are a lot of Africa books on the shelf - The Scramble for Africa by Thomas Parkenham, The Great War in Africa by Byron Farwell, and The Rwanda Crisis by Gerard Pruneir. All research for a future book, but have not been cracked for at least two years.

Blind Lake by Robert Charles Wilson is a problem book, since I really, really, like his work, starting with his Darwinia, which I picked up on a whim. I like his stuff, since he plays fair with the reader. This is his largest book so far, but I found it hard to maintain interest. The protagonists are on a military base, watching aliens on another planet. The base has sealed, the alien they have been watching has left his city, but I cannot seem to get the energy to pick it up again.

There are a bunch of Unbegun Books on the shelf – trapped in a permanent on-deck circle, Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler, The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman, The Telling by Ursula K LeGuin, The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, All good books, all recommended by others, and I will get to them.

I got about fifty pages into Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz, enough to get past his immigrant grandfather’s Civil War book and the recreators who can accurately reproduce battlefield corpses. I enjoyed his Blue Latitudes on tape, and I may end up going the same route with this one.

The Money and the Power by Sally Benton and Roger Morris is another unbegun book, and another one recommended by the Lovely Bride. I don’t know how she found out about it, since it’s about Vegas, one of the last places on earth she ever wants to visit. This book also convinced her that it was the mob that killed JFK, so maybe that’s a good reason to avoid it as well.

The Monkey’s Bridge by David Rains Wallace hold a record of sorts for abandonment, in that I left it at my dentist’s office, forgot that I even had it, had it returned to me six months later, and still haven’t finished it. Yet it’s a good book on evolution and natural history in Central America. Also good is The Eternal Frontier by Tim Flannery, which looks at the North American continent, though I started flagging when the Europeans arrived in the story.

Collected Fictions– by Jorge Luis Borges is not quite an abandoned book, because its stories just break down so elegantly into bite-sized morsels that they can be read easily and digested slowly. I’ve been reading this off and on, in three- and four-essay bursts, for a couple years. The Chomsky Reader is also in that category, since Chomsky comes in from such an oblique angle from what we consider to be traditional political discourse, and shatters a lot of preconceptions.

Dorothy L. Sayers is a favorite author, and I recommend heartily both Gaudy Night and Murder Must Advertise. Sayers captures sense of place and class distinction like no other mystery author. And yet, I have yet to finish Busman’s Honeymoon, even though I really want to know who moved the cactus in the living room.

Comic Wars by Dan Raviv is business porn. It is supposed to be about Marvel Comics and its trials and tribulations over the past few decades, but really its about who is leveraging who and where. Toy Wars, which does the same for Hasbro, is another example of the genre, and when I want to read business porn, I’ll probably come back to this.

Five Complete Novels by P.G. Wodehouse. How can I walk away from Bertie and Jeeves? Well, the first book in the compendium has no Bertie in it, and is set in post-war Britain (Wodehouse talking about the atom bomb is a weird juxtaposition, and not one that I am prepared for). So it gets a half-hearted attempt every year or so, and then left to gather dust.

The Cousin’s War by Kevin Phillips has an interesting idea – that the English Civil War, the American Revolution, and the American Civil War are all parts of a larger conflict between class and religious structures. I don’t know about his conclusions, but Phillips did make the inadvertent point that the early colonies came from very different religious backgrounds, and that the American freedom of religion in many ways was intended to be a freedom from religion.

Nostromo by Joseph Conrad, is my most-traveled abandoned book. Small, compact, and intriguing, I think I have read it on a dozen plane trips. And yet I have to really engage with it, always letting myself drift off to shinier lights.

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson should be another completed book, in that I met the author a few years ago (he did the excellent Isaac’s Storm). Yet again, this combination of Chicago’s Columbian Exhibition and the Holmes Murder House never gelled for me.

Story by Robert McKee is interesting in that I have read the bulk of it, and I enjoyed it primarily because it inadvertently underscores what is so successful and so crappy about mainstream movies. As I’ve told a number of people – you follow all the rules for scriptwriting detailed within these covers and you end up with Up Periscope with Kelsey Grammer. I’ve bogged down as McKee makes his way to the details, but this is the “bible” for storytelling in Hollywood.

There are more – The People’s History of the United States, In the Beginning (The history of the King James Bible), The Great Influenza (NOT the book to read if you’re under the weather), Terry Brook’s Sometimes the Magic Works, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. If I finish any of these, I will tell you, but for the moment I feel like curling up with some hot tea and China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station.

And for my fellow journalistas, the question is now: What abandoned books are on your shelf?

Thursday, February 03, 2005

What I Do For A Living

Yes, I write novels and short stories and games, but that's the part of the iceberg that sticks up above water. My day job, as I've mentioned, is working for a company called True North Consultants, doing web design and creative writing. Now when I joined the group, I asked where our web site was (since we do web site design) and was told the tale of the cobbler's children. You know the saying, "The cobbler's children have no shoes?" - well, we've been so busy that we did not have the chance to put together our own web site. No shoes, indeed.

Until now. We now have shoes. The web site can be found here.

More later,

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

State of the Journal

My fellow Americans, we as a nation are faced with a vague and overhyped threat, which can only be met by overwhelming government activity, and which requires that we sacrifice money, lives, basic freedoms, and our future. And when I say “we”, I mean “you”.

Sorry, wrong speech. Start again.

So it has been almost a year and half on Grubb Street, and, as noted earlier, I have done a little light dusting in the blog. Most noticeable is the handsome mug that occupies the upper right corner, but I have also expanded the blogroll to represent a lot of people that I check out on a semi-regular basis. Of course, in the process, I am still trying to figure out what this journal is about.

I write about politics, but I would hesitate to call this a political journal. I lack the killer instinct that seems to be necessary to clamp onto an issue and worry it like a rat terrier with its rodential prey. Also, while I am not above picking on the current Administration in Washington (and let’s face it, it is a target-rich environment), I am more interested in the local levels, which are more comprehensible to me. I also don’t scream nearly enough. I fear that these obvious weaknesses make me unsuitable for cable news shows.

I write reviews, but this isn’t really a review journal. In addition to not be nearly snarky-cool enough, I tend to use reviews as a springboard into other matters, which is both more and less than what a review is about. And I tend to recommend things I like, pan only the worst of the worst, and leave the rest in the middle, uncommented-upon.

I suppose that this could be an essay journal, though some of the essays are very very short. And it could be a promotional blog, though again, I usually talk about my work en route to talking about other things. And it could be a humor journal, except I’m not always that funny. And one thing it is not is an Award-Winning Journal, if for no other reason than it doesn’t really fit into any handy categories.

And I write about my life, but I wouldn’t quite call this a personal journal, either. You don’t get every dream or health update or what I had for lunch (and if I ever start writing about what I had for lunch, you have my permission to come to my house and get me roaring drunk). I just pass on the interesting parts.

On the other hand, I have found that I have been more active in real life because of the existence of this journal. I will do things (Go to an Alton Brown reading, finish a novel, be an extra in a movie) because the experience has the chance of being reported and shared. So, in the end, I guess, it IS all about me. I’m good with that.

And with the previous statement in mind, I have chosen neither to enable comments nor to put a traffic tracker on the site. I have my feedback mechanism over to the right, and I’m comfortable with that level of response. I suppose I need a mail policy. Hmmm. How about this: “All mail sent to Grubb Street becomes property of Grubb Street, and may be reproduced, edited, and revised with an eye towards clarity, accuracy, and mockery. Those with their own version of the truth are encouraged to get their own online journals.”

Yeah, that sounds about right. Goodnight America.

More later,

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Book: The Anti-Code

Codex by Lev Grossman, Harcourt, 2004.

There are no albino holy assassins in this book. No cryptographers who resemble Harrison Ford. No convenient Land Rovers parked in the barn, no private planes for hopping the Channel surreptitiously, no grand tour of famous sites, no conspiracy theory cribbed from decades-old paperbacks. In short, this is no Da Vinci Code, and those that enjoyed Dan Brown’s book will be angry at this one. After my own experience with Da Vinci, though, I found this book to be a tonic.

I came to this book roundabout – I read a review on Salon, then saw another mention in the Seattle Times, and then a friend in New York mentioned he had read it in manuscript form, and scored me a copy. And now I’m seeing Codex being offered from the Quality Paperback Book Club in the “If you enjoyed the Da Vinci Code, you will like this” category. That statement is understandable but wildly incorrect.

And at first blush, you see the similarities: Edward Wozny is an investment banker taking his first vacation in years. He is rooked into sorting out the library of one of his firm’s powerful clients, the Duke and Duchess of Bowmry. Oh, and if you find an old book by the medieval author Gervase of Langford, tell us, would you? This old book is the codex of the title, a lost text hunted by rival factions.

Now, in the genre-universe that Da Vinci Code belongs to, this initial event would be immediately followed by threats against Wozny’s life, a frame-up, a desperate flight, a beautiful assistant, intricate clues, random killings, and the realization that this is a quest the protagonist has lived his life for, which challenges and transforms him. Instead, we see Wozny trying to get out of the assignment, and slowly being seduced into participating. Instead of action following action in a page-turning extravaganza, Wozny starts, stops, changes his mind, despairs, gets sick, recovers, and generally stumbles his way through the mystery, in much the manner that most mere mortals would.

Indeed, if anything, Wozny seems a little denser than most mere mortals. He misses clues, he reacts from emotion as opposed to logic, and often chooses the less-heroic but more-pragmatic path. While Da Vinci’s hero is four steps ahead of the reader (and won’t share the information with you), Wozny bumbles his way through, and his motivations are altogether human. Grossman stays grounded in a real-world, to the degree that his protagonist is flawed, his journey is personal, and his quest is ultimately doomed.

One weakness in the book is the description of MOMUS, a MMORG that Wozny starts playing, which turns out to have connections back with his experiences in the real world. Just like when the media shows a lack of knowledge when it reports on something you know about, the description of the online game sounds off, and seems to switch from one type of game to another without consideration, throwing me out of the book at times. The purpose of MOMUS within the novel, of course, is not to be a game, but a counterpoint for Wozny’s own life (and the fact that he screws up the game form the onset is both a reflection of that life and a big plot point for the future), but the lack of accuracy works against the book.

In the end, we are not granted full answers – there is no cosmic reveal, no “Will Gibson Phone Call” that explains what’s been happening behind the scenes, no revelation of why individuals did what they did – only hints and statements of relative truth, which the reader has to weigh and determine as to their worth.

In the end, I enjoyed this book, though I’m not sure if others would. Particularly if they came into the book thinking it was another Da Vinci Code. Its better than that.

More later,