Saturday, March 31, 2007

Play: Omelas

My Name is Rachel Corrie taken from the writings of Rachel Corrie, edited by Alan Rickman and Katharine Viner, Directed by Braden Abraham, Seattle Repertory Theatre, 15 March-27 April, extended to 6 May.

Controversy is not a regular attendee at the REP. Yeah, theater in general has dealt with controversial topics - indeed, it is a good place for controversy to spread out and gain acceptance. But usually a movement or subject would be creatively exhausted or safely ensconced among the marketplace before reaching mainstream stages. Putting together an August Wilson play was once gutsy. Now it is a yearly tradition (and yes, I consider such a thing to be a sign of progress).

This play is controversy. Rachel Corrie was a young woman who was protesting Israeli military actions against Palestinian civilians in Gaza. She was run over by a bulldozer while seeking to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian home. The fact that she was young and American and from the Seattle area, raised the news of her death above the messy background static that gets increasingly tuned out in our minds.

The play comes from Corrie's emails and journals, and wanders all over the place, and editors Rickman and Viner keep that wandering intact, producing a picture of the young woman that is as more well-rounded and, well, real. It is as messy as her room (which translates in a cunning bit of stagecraft from Olympia to Gaza in a smooth series of motions). She deals with boyfriends, smoking, messes, injustice, her own foul language and a need to make the world a better place, a journey that leads her into the path of the bulldozer.

Marya Sea Kaminski is Rachel (it is a one-woman show, save for off-stage vocals at the end and a film of the young real (?) Corrie). She does a fantastic job carrying us through the tangle of on-sided conversations, including a brilliant bit of Rachel sunnily screwing up while working with mental patients. This Rachel is not pared down and buffed to gleaming sainthood, and that makes the story all that much more engaging.

This is a stunning play, in the literal sense of the word. At the end, with the loss of this bright, intelligent, passionate woman, the audience was stupefied, the applause only growing after they shook off what they have been a part of. Even afterwards, I have never seen an audience file out so quietly. Some women were visibly weeping. I think everyone was pulled into unsafe territory, and given food for thought. Yeah, me included.

This is a controversial play. It is a dangerous play. It is worth seeing.

More later,

Friday, March 30, 2007

Ia! Ia!

Random Bits, mostly Cthulhu. Call it a phase. Call it clearing out the mental attack attic.

First, I should note that Jason, fellow Alliterate and all-around good person, weighs on the six generations with the various Cthulhoid computer games. He puts them in Gen Five, but I think they are Gen Four - though at this point it may be more of a fine-tuning of what I mean by each group.

Second, noted game designerKen Hite has be engaged in a "Tour de Lovecraft", analyzing all of HP's fiction with his quirky and all-seeing eye. It's worth checking out.

Me? I'm still playing with the theory. Robert E. Howard should be in Generation 1 with Smith and Lovecraft, I'm thinking, but I don't really know where to put Ramsey Campbell and his Goatswood stories. I'm thinking Generation 2, with Carter and Derlith, but I can be argued otherwise. And I'm thinking that Generation 3 really is more of 60s/70s thing as well.

What, are you missing the pithy comments on collectable quarters yet? Don't worry, I'll get back to them, eventually.

(hmmm... in digging up that last link, I came across the entrance on that trepanation dream I had. Another Cthulhoid moment)

More later

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


I'm in a Lovecraftian state of mind this week, so let's just go with it. Let me ramble on about the popularity of the Call of Cthulhu RPG.

The game itself is over twenty-five years old, written by Sandy Peterson (who would later do design work on Doom, Quake, and Age of Empires), and based on the weird fiction of HP Lovecraft and other horror writers of the 1920s. It is a role-playing game, so that means you and your buddies get together and fight evil stuff, much like in D&D.

But, whereas D&D slants things towards the heroic, CoC takes things towards the horrific, producing a very different game experience. Here the monsters are very deadly and the player characters surprisingly fragile. The gods themselves are not friendly providers of clerical spells but active opponents, powerful beyond ken and uncaring about humanity (if you are lucky). Both games have hit points, but CoC also taxes the Sanity (SAN) of the player character. See a dead body? Lose SAN. See a monster? Lose SAN. Check out the Miskatonic Library? Lose SAN.

Sanity does not recharge like hit points, so the more you learn about the true nature of the world, the less stable you are. This results in various phobias and manias in the game, and ends up with your character hopelessly insane.

Not the D&D curve of increasing power and challenge at all. Yet, this is a very popular game among people who design games. I know a lot of people who design in the "heroic" fantasy of traditional and computer RPGs, that when given a chance to play, hunker down with the eldritch horrors and mind-numbing terrors of CoC.

Part of what's intriguing about the question is that the game system is pretty primitive by modern design standards. The game mechanisms are primitive, and share with the original D&D design the idea of creating a new mechanic every time they need something new. Much of what you need to know to survive combat is found in the skills section. Yet we have a player in our current CoC game who is using rules from the original edition (It is up to 6 editions now, for those bemoaning D&D's continual revisions), and except for some power creep (negligable when fighting Nameless Spawn), he's more than holding his own.

I'd put forward that the simplicity of the rules and short-term life-span of the player characters are reasons WHY Call of Cthulhu is popular among game designers. The rules are ornate but most of the time are easy to grasp, and the disposability of the characters steer the players to concentrating more on story than on personal power and possessions.

But I think one of the real attractions to the game (and it has taken me long enough to get here) is that the playing style of the game dovetails so neatly into the Weird Tales of Lovecraft and others. The name of the game is also that of a short story, where the narrator (much like a player) doesn't really DO anything but check out a list of reports from his dead uncle, who in turn didn't do much except check out OTHER peoples reports on the Cthulhu mythos, leaving the original narrator with a sense of dread and horror at the universe. Sort of like the game.

And then there are the handouts. The original CoC story is filled with things pulled from the narrator's uncle's old box of stuff, a mechanism that is repeated in the CoC game as news reports, old books, and testimony is physically passed between GM and player. The pacing of the story is matched in the game, without any need of external game mechanics to enforce it. The only comparable thing in D&D (guys meet in a bar and decide to go into the underground to fight monsters) is in Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and Grey Mouser. But the passage of deadly (SAN-losing) information from GM to player is sort of dark communion within the game.

But all in all, I'm not sure why a) CoC is popular amoung this particular group (game designers) and b) why its not as popular beyond those borders. I don't know if it says something about the game, or about our community of gamers.

Scratch a designer, find a cultist.

More later,

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Six Ages of Lovecraft

So I've been running a Call of Cthulhu campaign for the past few weeks - "Tatters of the King" for a large group of friends. And its been going OK, given that my friends are much smarter than the adventure considers, and they have been keeping me busy. But it has gotten me thinking about Lovecraft's canon and work, and that of others placed in his canon. I think I have broken it down into six general categories. This has been brewing for a while, and while I don't consider myself a Lovecraftian expert, it may provide a basis for more exploration.

(And while I call them generations they are more like rough categories, as the presence of the next gen does not preclude the previous groups)

Generation 0: The Progenitors: These are the fantasy writers that predate the Mythos, who were evoked by Lovecraft and his contemporaries, and, as we shall see, later grouped into the mythos long after their earthy remains had rejoined the soil. Lord Dunsany is here, as is Arthur Machen, and Robert Chambers and his Yellow Sign. They are laying the foundation work for the shared universe that is Lovecraftian horror. They are Romantics to a great degree, and seeking to evoke an emotion in their work.

Generation 1: The Originators. Lovecraft, of course, and I would include Clark Ashton Smith as well. They were notable not only for their writing, but also for the fact that they corresponded frequently (the primitive Internet), critiqued each other, and most importantly, shared their creations back and forth. It was a bit of game in that a Lovecraftian creation popped up in a Smith story and vice versa. We are not looking at a coherent mythos here, as the creations sometimes varied from story to story by the same author (making opportunities for later writers). They are looking for mood and effect, and the mythos horrors are tools to that end. Their motto - "Here be uncaring monsters of the universe- gaze upon them in wonder."

Generation 2: The Organizers. August Derlith, who kept the flame alive, is the central figure of this generation, thought Lin Carter is also of this group and maybe Robert Bloch. These are the folk who have seized on the idea of a unified mythos and expanded it out. They conceived the mythos as an organized pantheon. The downside is that they (Derlith in particular) put into handy slots and assigned elemental sides, the Great Old Ones don't look nearly as great. Their motto: "The Monsters are definable"

Generation 3: The Explainers. Call these the 50s and 60s generations where Lovecraft's horror is adopted fully by Sci-Fi with the result that the gods are not uncaring beings but merely scientfic archtypes. Azathoth is a nuclear reaction, Cthulhu the dreamstate id, and the Mi-go are from Pluto, not Yuggoth. Fritz Lieber was the American version of this generation, but the king was Brian Lumley, who converts the big bads of the Cthulhu mythos into hapless villains to be foiled by Titus Crow, who travels through space and time in a grandfather clock that is bigger on the inside than the outside (What is this "Doctor Who" of which you speak?). I'd throw a lot of Lovecraftian movies into this bunch where they seek to explain the mythos. Their motto: "The Monsters are nothing more than science. They can be beaten".

Generation 4: The Gamers. We jump track entirely from short fiction to RPGs as the chosen vector for expansion. The Call of Cthulhu game by Sandy Peterson, of course is the heart here, but Lovecraftian tentacles are found throughout the gaming industry, right down to the D&D mind flayers. The gamers went back to the hopelessness of fighting the mythos to create a different type of story than the standard RPG "Kill-the-monster-take-the-treasure". As they expanded, they are more responsible for gathering up the Generation 0 and Generation 1 creators and putting them into a one-stop shop for all your mythos need. The team-approach of Derlith is pushed aside as is the rational successes of Titus Crow and his crowd. Their motto: "The monsters are unbeatable - take what solace you may."

Generation 5: The Gamers II? The Interior Horrors? The Apocalyptics? The Pagans? A different type of story showed up with Delta Green RPG, and the works of Glancy, Tynes, and Detwiller. A break with the attitude of the earlier game, part of it harks back the Titus Crow level recognization of the Mythos and people actively fighting it, though that battle is lost (The origin of this branch goes all the way back to "A Shadow Over Innsmouth" with the government sealing the down and depth-charging the reef). But it also builds a connection between us and these eldritch creations, as the protagonists do horrible things in order to prevent greater horrors. In short: We are becoming the Monsters we fear".

Anyway, these ideas have been bouncing around in my brain for a while now, and I just wanted to get them out so other things can replace them. I'm not sure if they are valid categories, nor doubt that others could pare the mythos differently. But its a start.

More later,

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Figures Don't Lie, but Liars ...

... make maps.

Look at the map above. A similar one showed up in the pro-viaduct Seattle Times this week. The actual vote used to produce these maps said 70% no to a proposed waterfront tunnel, and 57% no to a viaduct rebuild. But the WAY we present the information distorts these facts in three interesting ways:

1) The Brand X Comparison: They compare the tunnel to the viaduct. The viaduct was only slightly less odious than the tunnel, so therefore the maps show more people preferring the viaduct. If you look at the map in passing, you'd assume that the viaduct won, when in fact both lost. The two, oddly enough, are not connected, and lack of preference for one does not indicate a preference for the other.

2) Land Votes, Not People: The denser urban core (which is going to have to deal with both the inconvenience of construction and the final product) voted strongly against the viaduct. But that is a smaller space than the more expansive areas in the west or north which had fewer voters, but occupied more territory. This is the scam used by the GOP whenever they do a national map, where Montana is a huge swatch of red, while the more populous NYC is an ignorable dot. Its a good way of thinking if we're thinking about 17th Century Virginia, where only landholders got to vote, but less accurate here.

3) Rounding Up: Looking at these maps, you'd assume that the majority likes the viaduct idea. After all, a lot of the area is colored in. But only the deepest shade makes any real difference, as that is the 50% plus category. In every other location other than the deepest red, this vote lost. By claiming everything of 30% up as a win, the viaduct is claiming support where it actually has none.

The three items, taken together, produces as fraudulent an image as Reagan's tear on the recent cover of TIME. Then, who are you going to believe, the facts, or your lying eyes?

More later,

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Why I Married Her ...

Picked up comics the other day.

Picked up a copy of the new Buffy the Vampire Slayer book, written by Joss Whedon.

Left it at the Lovely Bride's place at the table.

She read it and laughed at the "Nick Xander, Agent of SHIELD" lines.

And she wants me to pick up the next issue.

More later,

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The 100

Given that a LOT of the individuals involved have their own blogs or other access to the Internet, you may see this particular release a lot over the next day or so. So be it - it is worth noting.


Essay Anthology to Feature All-Star Line Up

March 21, 2007--SEATTLE, WA: What are the best hobby games of the past 60 years? Green Ronin Publishing and award-winning author and editor James Lowder put the question to 100 of the industry’s most influential and outspoken hobby game designers, authors, and publishers. Their answers will be revealed this August in Hobby Games: The 100 Best, a remarkable essay collection set to premiere at the 2007 Gen Con Game Fair.

One hundred different writers were asked to select a single hobby game and make a case for its place on the list. The only restrictions were the writers could not select a title they designed, or a game in which they have a financial stake. The problem for most of the authors was limiting their selection to a single game.

“The range of games the writers chose was terrific,” noted editor James Lowder. “The essays cover some titles that are familiar to everyone, but many others that will be revelations. Even the most experienced game fan will come away from the book with new titles to seek out and fresh perspectives on old favorites. And if you haven’t played many hobby games before, or only know about certain types of games, Hobby Games: The 100 Best will open up whole new worlds for you.”

The list of games covered in the book will be a tightly kept secret until its release. Speculation will no doubt run rampant leading up to its Gen Con debut.

“This is a book we simply had to publish,” said Green Ronin President Chris Pramas. “The lineup of essayists Jim recruited is impressive and both the authors and the games chosen cover our industry from its birth to the present day. If you are passionate about games, you will love this book.”

Product Information

Editor: James Lowder
Publisher: Green Ronin
Release Date: August 2007
ISBN: 1-932442-96-0/978-1-932442-96-0
Format: 400 pages, trade paperback
Cover Price: $24.95 US

In Hobby Games: The 100 Best, the top designers, authors, and publishers in the hobby games field write about the most enjoyable and cleverly designed games of the last fifty years. Their essays cover the gamut of the hobby market, from roleplaying games to collectible card games, miniatures games to wargames to board games, with titles both familiar and esoteric. These are the games that the designers themselves play, the ones that have inspired their most popular creations. Writers include such legendary designers as Gary Gygax (co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons), Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson (co-founders of Games Workshop), Richard Garfield (creator of Magic: The Gathering), and Larry Harris (creator of Axis and Allies); best-selling authors R. A. Salvatore, Tracy Hickman, Douglas Niles, and Ed Greenwood; computer industry notables Warren Spector (Deus Ex), Bruce Shelley (Age of Empires), Jack Emmert (City of Heroes), and Bruce Nesmith (Oblivion); as well as dozens of other prominent and award-winning creators, including Richard Berg, Monte Cook, Zeb Cook, Greg Costikyan, Bruno Faidutti, Jeff Grubb, Steve Jackson (US), Tom Jolly, Marc W. Miller, Alan R. Moon, Christian T. Petersen, Sandy Petersen, Mike Pondsmith, Ted Raicer, Greg Stafford, S. Craig Taylor, Martin Wallace, James M. Ward, Jordan Weisman, Stewart Wieck, and Teeuwynn Woodruff. Hobby Games: The 100 Best will also feature a foreword by board game legend Reiner Knizia and an afterword by SPI founder and wargame legend James F. Dunnigan.

Editor James Lowder has authored several best-selling novels, including Prince of Lies and Knight of the Black Rose, and designed game material for a wide variety of publishers and magazines. He’s helmed more than a dozen critically acclaimed anthologies, with subjects ranging from Arthurian Britain to zombies. He’s been a finalist for the Stoker Award and International Horror Guild Award, and is a two-time Origins Award winner.

Green Ronin Publishing is a Seattle-based company known for its dedication to quality books and games. Founded in 2000 Green Ronin has won more awards for excellence and innovation than any other game company in the new millennium, and took home the coveted ENnie Award for Best Publisher an unprecedented three years running. With great licenses like Thieves’ World and Black Company, groundbreaking games like Mutants & Masterminds and Blue Rose, and a roster of top flight designers and illustrators, Green Ronin Publishing is a leading light in the hobby game industry.

Green Ronin Media Contact
Nicole Lindroos

More later.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Four Years

I tried to find something humorous to say about this, but I don't have it in me at the moment. It seems like the big reason that we're at war is that, well, we're at war, and it starts and ends there.

I'll have something snarky to say later, though. It is not like the Gummit hasn't been busy making other mistakes in the last four years.

More later.

Saturday, March 17, 2007


There are a lot of pet owners who stroll down Grubb Street, so I want to give everyone a heads-up on a major recall of pet food. They are recalling cans of wet cat and dog food that was causing kidney failure and vommiting. The company doing the recall is Menu Foods, which you probably haven't heard of, but the affected brands include Iams (which Harley and Vic feast on here), Eukanuba, and a wide variety of store brands. Check out the full release as a starting point here.

The recall affects a particular type of wet food processed at a particular plant, so check not only the label but the plant code number (second line on the bottom of the cans, third line on foil pouches).

Aside from the concern for our four-footed companions, this is a reminder how interlaced everything is these days, and that with central hubs providing materials to a wide variety of brands, how any corruption of the food stream (wheat gluten from a new vendor in this case, field-washed spinach from a single field in California in 2006) can have a wide impact.

In the meantime, check the cans and foil packages.

More later,

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Script in Your Head

So you know how you sometimes get a song in your head, that won’t go away? They’re calling that an Earworm, a name which pretty much conjures up the irritating feeling it gives you.

Do I get earworms? Sure, my head is a recording studio for every catchy tune in history. I’ve learned to live with it.

But worse, I get Ear-scripts!

Here’s what happened. I was talking with agent the other day, on getting some books sent up to me (Author copies of a compilation work on including The Last Guardian, my Warcraft novel). And over the course of the conversation, he mentions a recent news story:

A woman comes home and finds a strange man sitting on her bed. The man says, “I’m sorry, I have to tell you, your husband paid me five thousand dollars to kill you. I think we should call the cops and both be here when they arrive.”

And I responded, “No, no, no. If this was a movie, then SHE would say. OK, I’ll pay you five grand to whack HIM, at which point it becomes a film about betrayals.” And he laughed and the conversation moved on to other things.

The thing of it is, thought, that now I can’t get that idea out of my mind. I thought about more, and I realized that whacking the husband doesn’t happen yet. First the wife wants to know WHY her husband wants her whacked. And the hit man doesn’t know, so that starts us out. And it is about who is in charge of a relationship?

And then I got to thinking about how one would go about hiring a hit man in the first place. Particularly if one didn’t run in those circles in normal situations. Like if you were a white-collar husband - how would you pull off this crime if your were an engineer. And of course, why would you want to bump off your wife, as opposed to just divorcing her?

And so it has been for the past day or so. I have been writing a movie in my head. One of those thrillers where everything makes sense, and which has a gimmick to it (Flashbacks!), and where one member of the triangle has to survive, and you know who it is, but you have to get to the point that it makes sense who that person is, even though it is surprise. And I have a tag line ("Violence Never Solves Anything. Except Problems.") and know what classic song is playing over the end credits (Talking Heads Once In A Lifetime).

I know what this is. This is my brain in rebellion. I have no real desire to write a movie, and though I have come over the years to respect those that due (even really crappy movies). This is about the fact that I have four major things I have to write right now (one of which is being revealed in this month’s issue of PC Gamer, mailed out today – I’m the one in the rust-colored shirt in the pictures), and this is my brain saying “No, I don’t want to write all of this stuff you've agreed to – I want to go out and play. And THIS looks like shiny plaything.”

And when I get done with all this stuff, I will look at this movie idea and say, Yuck! What was I thinking to want to write about THAT!

But bear with me in the meantime, and be glad that you just have to worry about getting David Byrne caught in your brain.

And you may find yourself in a beautiful house,
With a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself
Well...How did I get here?

More later,

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Why A Duck - Reducks

So the vote is in, let the spin begin!

The advisory vote yesterday shot down the tunnel concept by a heavy 70-30 margin and the rebuilt elevated viaduct by a still-hefty 55-45 margin (in a universe where 51% majority is considered a "mandate"). So now all the pieces are being picked up, best faces are being put on matters, and pigs are being imagined with lipstick.

The Tunnel Supporters have the worst of it - they got a "Hell No" on the idea, which means they have the choice of Scooter-Libby-level denial (The voters didn't really understand - Stupid voters) or Safeco-Field-level betrayal ("You know this was just an advisory vote. Now we'll make the REAL decision"). Never declare anything dead in politics, but the grave for this one is deeper than the tunnel itself would have been.

The New Viaduct Supporters at least have the delusion that people hate their idea less. One supporter said that 45% was a good base. Alas, 45% is a victory only at self-esteem camp, or if you're a Mariners fan who doesn't understand that this may be Ichiro's last season. Still, there will have to some pushback from reality against these folk who believe that voters truly support a kick in the shin over a sharp poke in the eye.

The Surface/Transport guys can claim victory in that the option that their option wasn't even on the ballot, so OBVIOUSLY people preferred it. Unfortunately, there is no data to support this other than the time-honored "rewarding the uninvolved". Not every double-no vote is a vote for Surface/Transport, or a big park, or a bridge, or a depressed roadway, or even hoping that when the Big One hits, the Viaduct falling down with be the least of our problems.

So it sounds like back to the drawing boards for the lot of them.

More later,

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


So the question is, which is more in free-fall – the Current GOP Administration or the Marvel Universe? I mention the idea that whenever I think either one has hit bottom, the floor opens up and we go spinning further down the rabbit hole.

Over in the political world, we have the Veep's Chief of Staff guilty for four counts of perjury, obstruction, and lying. We have revelations that after sending troops into combat without enough battle armor, we are now not taking care of them when they're wounded. We have revelations that the Fish and Wildlife Service is being leaned one to downplay the fact that the olar-cap-ay is elting-may. We have the FBI abusing the PATRIOT Act after swearing they never would do something like that (suprise!). We have the revelations that the government pitched a number of Attorney Generals out the door because they wouldn't play ball with the administration politically.

And this was just last week. Oh, and to top it all off, one of the lead bloodhounds going after the previous administration for illicit sex admitted that while he was doing so, he was having illicit sex. And he's running for president.

Yet given all of the above, last Wednesday, the NY Daily Post put on their front page the "Death" of Captain America, and everyone shrugged and said it must be a slow news day.

Now, the Masters of the Marvel Universe seem to occupy the same general sphere as the planners in the White House- deploring the "Reality Based" world and declaring that they define what reality is. Now, in a shared creative universe such as Marvel, this is ACTUALLY TRUE. They DO have the power to determine the reality of their characters. Not that they've been doing real well with it.

Last time you tuned in, two weeks back, the Civil War was over, and the smart guys (Led by Tony (Iron Man) Stark) won because Captain America surrendered. The next two weeks, in a real world, would be made up with dealing with repercussions and continued conflict. Here? Not so much. The dead-enders go into hiding. Everyone pulls together under the new regime, and Tony suddenly is in charge of SHIELD, Nick Fury's old organization of super-spies.

In the next week, it was revealed that our friend Tony was manipulating control-nanites to force the original Green Goblin to shoot the Atlantean ambassador (a plot line in one of the supporting books), therefore creating a threat from the Atlanteans which the heroes can unify behind. A couple reporters find this out, and bring down the house of cards.

Hah! I kid! In the reality-defining world, the reporters confronted Tony, and told him they were going to keep quiet about it, since it was for the greater good. Go, fourth estate! I wonder how they would have felt about Tony if they knew he's pulled this stunt before, getting the Titanium Man to attack Congress to underscore the dangers of superhumans.

OK, so another week passes and now Cap is shot. For those who didn't get past the headlines, he was winged by a sniper while on the courthouse steps for a highly publicized (verging on show-) trial. Then in the confusion, with all the media cameras running, Cap's girlfriend, a SHIELD agent, runs up and pumps five slugs in his gut. OK, so she was hypnotized by some of Cap's enemies, but still, this is a PR disaster for SHIELD.

In fact, that may be what they're talking about in a promo book called the Initiative, which is supposed to be the NEXT big thing. Spider-Woman runs into Ms. Marvel (They come out of the same 80's Clairmont era, so they bond, even though they were on different sides). SW accuses Tony of killing Cap. Ms M says no, Cap's alive, and being kept on life support elsewhere. Outside continuity, the powers that be have declared Ms. Marvel to be lying, which further reduces any good feeling about her. But I think this story was written before the ending of Civil War was determined, when the very likely chance existed of Cap getting killed in final conflict with Tony (Which sort of explains the fairly lame ending the highly-touted series had). However, you go to war with the reality you have, and Ms. Marvel is tossed under the bus to support that reality.

Fine, so in the same week Tony reorgs the Avengers, which consists entirely of easily-manipulated bricks (Sentry, Wonder Man, Ares) and women Tony has slept with (Ms. Marvel, Black Widow, and Wasp). So Tony is showing the same reasonable decision-making capability that has carried him so far (By the way, what number on Reed Richard's Hundred Great Ideas was shooting the symbol of the USA?). But at the end of that issue, Tony's armor is taken over (again), and morphed inside out (apparently killing Iron Man in the process) and a new female Ultron takes over. Mind you, the last time Ultron showed up, another hero (Vision) died, so this conclusion is not out of the question.

Of course, the apparent Iron Man death will be explained away (but it is nicely drawn by a brilliant artist, Frank Cho), but it underscores the impermanence of death in the Marvel Universe- Cap was presumed dead since the end of WWII, and has died a few times since – he's always gotten better. Ditto Iron Man. Green Goblin? He was dead for a long time, but is back. Vision? Dead, back again. Spider-Man? Dead, and recently, too. So there is no prob that Captain America will be back in some form.

And even if they hold the line, and state that the Steve Rogers/Captain America is dead, dead dead, that will only hold as long as those in charge declare it to be so, In a consensus reality, such declarations last as long as those making the declarations are in power. In my capacity as a licensee with Marvel, long ago, I was assured (and sometimes ordered) that certain characters and incidents would never appear again, and should not even being addressed (Random example? - Gwen's Clone). All have since appeared again, as the great wheel rotates and different people come into power. So all this will change yet again.

And that may be the case on the national level as well.

More later,

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Why A Duck - More History

So while I bash on the Seattle Weekly for its increasing distance from matters that concern, you know, Seattle, I have to call out that this past Wednesday, they actually delivered a nice bit of Viaduct history. The story confirms a few of the surmises that I had picked up - that the viaduct was originally intended as a bypass, not a route into the city, and that the mid-century years of Seattle history were just a tad murky in regards to record-keeping about large structures being built in their midst.

The article is here, because their web site is miserable for navigation.

And don't think about it as voting "no" - think of it as voting "Future hazy, ask again later".

More later,

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Play: Country Road, Take Me Home

Fire on the Mountain Directed by Randal Myler, Written by Randal Myler and Dan Wheetman, Seattle Repertory Theatre, February 22-March 24, 2007

Fine, says the Seattle Rep. So a play about an African-American math professor who is out of touch with his heritage didn't thrill you, eh? So how about YOUR Heritage?

What heritage? I could easily reply, smirking. I grew up in a suburb.

But the suburb was in Pittsburgh, which I always imagined as the north-west tip of the sweeping coalfields of Appalachia. Its not, really, the mountain range and the fields reach further north and west, but in that urban hub, it felt like the mountains ended there.

To go even further, mentally, the Pennsylvanian coal fields ended underneath Foster Public School. My father always said you could stand in the school's basement, and hear the ring of the picks through the walls from not-too-distant mines. And yeah, the region was crisscrossed with underground passages following the seams.

So yeah, I am influenced by the region. Coal dust is not an admixture to my blood - my ancestors worked oilfields and lumbermills, schools and banks, and many, many farms. But still, I am influenced, and when I came into the theater and saw the stage bedecked with, among other things, a sign for the Peabody Coal Company, I gave a small nod.

And soon afterwards the performance reached up and thwacked me hard. It is musical revue, the type that the Rep puts on every other year or so. Light on the plot, heavy on the music, and the music was out of the hills. Bluegrass mixed with blues mixed with ballads mixed with union songs. Banjo, mandolin, fiddle (don't even think of calling it a violin). Good strong voices. And yeah, it drew me in. The history, the buyouts, the lack of safety and environmental regs, the unions. All in the songs.

And when they started in the first chords of Paradise, I knew I was doomed. I had played that song when I was a lad (It was a John Denver special - you only had to learn three chords). And it was cathartic. And by cathartic I mean I wept like a child and sang softly along.

No, I don't have a lot of coal dust in my veins, but I have somewhere along the line picked up a miner's sensibility for work and relying on one's coworkers. And a nasty suspicion of large organizations, and a nastier suspicions of those where the decision makers are nowhere near those doing the work. Which has, over the years, served me pretty well. And so I connected, and connected more strongly than in most plays, on a basic emotional level.

The ensemble of singers and musicians was strong, their voices ringing from the mountaintops. "Mississippi Charles Bevel" (his credit comes complete with quote marks) and co-creator Dan Wheetman were particularly good. The staging was bits of coalyard memories, with two large projection screens, but the flashed images did not overwhelm the music, which was the star of the production.

What plot there was served well as a history of the mountains, though for the most of the time it felt trapped in the mid-20th as far as look and feel, so that when one character shows up at the end as a modern miner (Teflon helmet, one-piece jump, breathing mask), he looks like something out Disney's Tomorrowland. And a bit forgetful that we've been losing miners over the past few years due to some folk don't think we need to enforce mine safety laws anymore. Just because a revue wraps up on an up note doesn't mean the battle is won.

But the music was heavenly, and enough to make a boy from Western Pennsylvania weep. So I did.

And daddy won't you take me
Back to Muhlenberg County
Down by the Green River
Where Paradise lay
Well, I'm sorry my son,
But you're too late in asking
Mister Peabody's coal train
Has hauled it away
---John Prine

More later,

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Nominees Are ...

On to other, less-brooding matters.

The International Association of Media Tie-In Writers has announced the nominees for the first annual Scribe Awards, honoring excellence in licensed tie-in writing (in many ways the Rodney Dangerfield of the fiction section) for books published in 2006. The Awards will be presented at Comiccon in San Diego. The nominees for best novel are:


Stephen (Sully) Sullivan and Matt Forbeck are both long-time veterans of the gaming industry AND members of the Alliterates. Congratulations to both, and we look forward to seeing the two square off in a steel cage match for the prize.

Joking! Joking!

More later,

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Play: Long Night of the Soul

Blue Door, written by Tanya Barfield, Directed by Leigh Silverman, Seattle Repertory Theatre, through 4 March.

So one of the things that doesn't show in this blog is the occasional block. I mean, I write about just about everything, so when I stop writing about a particular subject, it goes unnoticed. It is not that I don't have thoughts on related subjects, it is just that unless I get over it all an unburden myself on ONE piece that's bothering me, nothing else can be done.

I'm that way on books. I have a book I've been meaning to review, and I've been hesitant. So nothing else gets reviewed until I either decide that I finally get my act together to review it, or take the lesser course and tuck my tail between my legs and retreat.

And similarly, this play. I saw it a few weeks back, but unless I say something now, I'm pretty much taking myself out of future reviews, or hiding that I missed one. I mean, when I did miss seeing a play, I had Steve Miller take a bullet for me on The Great Gatsby, so that doesn't make much sense to dodge. So, like the protagonist in the play, I have to confront it, or be lessened for not confronting it.

And what I have to confront is simply this - for the first time in a long time I am of two minds about a play. On one level I see it as well-crafted, well-written, and very well-acted. On the other, it left me cold, and even repelled me in places. In the terms of a relationship, it was a bad date. No chemistry. And though it sounds lame beyond my years, I have to say, it wasn't you, it was me.

Here's the deal: Lewis (Reg. E Cathey) is having a long dark night of the soul - his wife has left him, his career is endangered, and he's frankly cracking up. He is visited by three ghosts or visions or halucinations, all played by Hubert Point-Du Jour - dead relatives, all - brother Rex, his Great Grandfather Simon, and his Grandfather Jesse. And they tell the family stories.

But a big part of what is driving Lewis's dying marriage, professional self-destruction and personal instability is his inability to be black, or to be sufficiently black, or by his betraying of his black heritage by being a Math Professor. And his ghosts tell him stories of slavery and drugs and lynchings, and he comes to some terms with his heritage, gets a bit of illumination, and there is some closure.

And it left me cold, and I still can't figure out exactly why. Part of it is that there is a bit of anti-intellectualism at work here - that being smart is being white, which is a bad thing. There's a headnod at the end about him being the family's achievement and the ancestors being proud, but the grit that is winding Lewis down is that he is too smart for his own good, that it doesn't fit with his heritage, and that knowledge causing him to flake out. And because the play delves deep into racial differences, that puts education as a "white" thing, which is something that I just can't buy into.

That's part of it. And part of it the revisiting of a horrific picnic-basket lynching. And by that phrase I mean one where where the hanging of a human being becomes a party, people show up with dishes to pass, have their pictures taken with the corpse, and make postcards of the event. All too true, but there were shocked tsks from some of the mostly-white audience, as if this was the first they had heard of it. What, you didn't know that is part of our heritage? And by ours, I mean American heritage, not just parts of the south that are brought out as the usual suspects in such cases. It is not just that a gruesome crime was added to the mix, it was that beyond the walls of the theater is was much worse and much more widespread.

Yet that's not exactly it either. I want to like the play - the actors were top-knotch, and I simultaneously Lewis and wanted to shake him. I rail about plays with easy answers and pat pacing, yet when presented with something like this, here I am poking and prying at it and try to solve it like it was a math problem. And I don't think it is a play to be solved as much as embraced, and I don't feel like embracing it.

So as I said, it's not you, it's me.

On the other hand, I've been pacing around with this for my own long nights of the soul for the past two weeks, which is more than most plays give me. So on one level, perhaps it was a very good play after all.

Yeah, I'm leaving the matter unsettled, because that's the way I feel.

More later.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Why A Duck?

This is a long one, so buckle in.

One of the big political firestorms out here in Seattle is the fate of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, an elevated concrete highway that runs along the western side of Seattle, between the city and the Sound. NikChik has gotten a ballot on the issue, which gives a choice between two badly-thought-out and worse-explained options which are in any event not binding. On the other hand, at least they're asking her. Down here in the sticks, we're just supposed to put up with whatever others decide.

Let me give you a really brief history on the Seattle Waterfront so you know the background - does a nice job in general points. Seattle's waterfront was originally a working waterfront, set up to bring goods to the city by boat and trees away to the mills. The early waterfront was wood and burned to ground in the 1880s. The rebuilt waterfront had access by railroad as well, and started building out on piers into the sound. The resulting Railroad Avenue was a hazardous mixture of wagons (and later cars), engines, railcars, and wooden planking. The bits were filled in behind to form a seawall. Eventually, cargo capacity outstripped the limitations of the wharves, and a lot of the traffic moved further south.

Highway 99 (also called the Pacific Highway) at this time wound through Seattle. With the railroads winding down on that part of the Waterfront, the city (or state- this seems to be the "dark ages" of Seattle history) moved the route to waterfront, and in the early 50s built the concrete viaduct that we know today. Makes sense, since that was the line of least resistance. About a decade later, in the sixties, the federally-funded I-5 punched its way through, framing the OTHER side of the city. And I do mean punched. Houses were either moved or torn down that were in the way of THAT juggernaut.

All this is backstory - Working waterfront to rail lines to highway. It is important because one of the questions that is kinda-sorta being asked is: What do want to do with the waterfront? Since the 60s, a thriving tourist trade has grown up along the waterfront itself - hotels, restaurants, the aquarium, and all. But is has been separated from the city itself, for good and ill, by this big concrete highway.

And the big thing I want to throw in here is that the Viaduct is not so much a highway TO Seattle as it is a highway THROUGH Seattle. Its lone downtown exit is a perilous hard turn dumping one out on the streets. Whenever I am heading downtown, though I may take 99 in the general direction, I get off before it becomes the Viaduct to reach my destination. Oh yeah, that's another thing to consider - North and South of the Viaduct? Surface streets. With lights. Just so you know. Now back to the story.

A large, fifty-year old concrete structure on land filled in from the sea might be considered a risk in an earthquake zone, and with the Nisqually Quake in 2001, chunks of the Viaduct fell off, and general opinion was that it was probably time to retire the old girl before someone got hurt. But the question is: With what, and that's what we're all in a tizzy about out here. Sides have been chosen, mud is flying, power is flexing, and the people of Seattle are being asked to vote so that one side can claim the "will of the people" for this. Or just ignore them.

Actually, though there are two options on the ballot, and each of those two has a number of variations, I count no less than seven different options that I've seen at various times, and there may be more. Here's what we have:

Option 1: The New Viaduct. Replace it with another structure. Actually, to meet code, it has to be a lot wider than the present structure, pushing out further. Good news is you know what it will look like. Bad news it is another fifty years of the same sort of structure downtown. And it will be expensive. One particular option of this that was batted around was a wide, three story tunnel with baffles on the side and a park on the top. In effect, they created an elevated tunnel. And now you understand why this whole thing is strange. The Governor likes this option.

Option 2: The Tunnel, sometimes modified into a Tunnel/Surface option, which means "Its not ALL Underground". We submerge the roadway and lid it over. Out of sight, out of mind, people get past Seattle, seems to work. Plus, it will force us to address the seawall. Bad news - even more expensive, and tougher to repair if something goes wrong. The Mayor likes this one.

Option 3: Surface/Transit options. Not on the ballot. We tear the Viaduct down, replace it with surface streets and increase Transit options. Downside - traffic has to go somewhere. On the other hand, when we're doing ANY of the other options, that traffic is going to have to go elsewhere anyway. The time of "going elsewhere" varies according to whom you talk to from six months to 12 years. Given the history I've laid out above, this option almost makes sense - I-5 did come along 10 years later and negate a lot of the need of the old Highway 99. On the other hand, I-5 is pretty jammed up already, and the I-405 bypass now passes through another large city in Bellevue. Who likes this option? Us old hippies.

Option 4: The Park. Not of the ballot. Crank option 3 up another notch. Tear down the Viaduct and build nothing in its place. Put out a big park along the waterfront. Pittsburgh did that with the Point, which long ago was a mess of warehouses and rail lines. Take the traffic that gets moved away from Option 3 and increase it because there is no traffic. Also crank up all the problems from Option 3. Sorry guys.

Option 5: The Bridge. Not on the ballot, and stop laughing. Instead of building on land, we turn the viaduct into a bridge that parallels the shore, swooping out in the north and rejoining near Elliot Bay. Of course, now we're sinking piers into the sound, and if you don't like the idea of the viaduct blocking your view, boy-howdy wait for the bridge. And of course, we'll have to make it tall enough so the Ferries can clear it.

Option 6: The Sunken Bypass. OK, this is the one I am partial to, and the only way I've heard about it is that I was at a bar, and another former engineer pitched it to me (I wish I had kept his name - I would credit him accordingly). We dig a tunnel and don't put a lid on it. No exit for downtown Seattle - that moves to surface streets north and south. Traffic passes below grade level, so it opens the view. Bridges cross to improve connection between city and waterfront. Fixes the seawall problem. I've been trying, and can't come up with a way to punch a hole in it. Of course nobody seems to know about this one.

Option 7: None of the Above: So we keep patching what we have, and hope that it doesn't fall down, or if it does, it doesn't take too much with it. At its most positive version, it is called "Repair and Prepare" - give the money to duct tape it together now, and make long-term plans to fix it (because, of course, such construction will be cheaper in the future). There is a bit of wishful thinking about this proposal which involves plate tectonics, but I have to be fair - I have spent more time underneath the viaduct (parking) than on it (driving), and never really worried about it.

OK, so we have a right bloody mess at the moment, with a lot of sides are shouting at once. And there are lot of things given the short shrift here - container traffic moving north, the creation of urban living space downtown, the ongoing improvement of the waterfront, the local businesses, and the commuters. And we have this handy gallon of gasoline called an advisory ballot going out that gives two gray, fuzzy versions of Options 1 and 2, which can be rallied around should one prevails, or ignored if the various factions involved choose to. Sort of voter participation as magic eight-ball.

So I wish those involved good luck with the vote. Alas, they don't ask the rest of us that might be using that highway on occasion, but them's the breaks.

More later,

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Bits and Pieces

Stuff that I've been meaning to say:

So after a bit of thought and experimentation, I chose to remain with Blogger as opposed to going over to LiveJournal. I've experimented with LJ and will continue to poke around, but I like the interface, in particular the spellcheck, on Blogger better. LJ does have the potential for icons, which is nice, and allows you to friendslist, but I keep an RSS feed so people can hook up this blog as they see fit, and, as I mentioned before, I check Monkey King's Flist more often than I check my own.

This came to me second-hand, off a newsletter from Publisher's Lunch: Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman's DRAGONSHIPS series, drawn amongst a back drop of Viking-like warriors, three opposing groups of Gods, ships powered by dragons and the ultimate quest for salvation and survival, to Tom Doherty at Tor, with Brian Thomsen editing, at auction, in a major deal, for seven figures, by Christi Cardenas of The Lazear Agency (for Weis) and Matt Bialer at Sanford J. Greenburger Associates (world English). Good for Trace and Margaret!

And speaking of Brain Thomsen, he's got a talk at the end of the month for his book, The Awful Truths, which I talked about here, March 28th, at the Mid-Manhattan Library.

Moving away from the book bidness, most folk know I am originally from Mt. Lebanon, PA, a suburb of Pittsburgh. I keep up with what is going on with back there through the online version of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (which I often refer to as the Press, which has been gone these many years), and a number of blogs. This one, from BlogLebo, covers very local Mt. Lebanon news. Local politics and sports works well with Fester's Place. And for Burgh snarkiness try out Carbolic Smoke Ball and Angry Drunk Bureaucrat. (Warning, neither use particularly mature language, put on the plus side, they hate Joey Porter)

Speaking of blogs, I do read cooking blogs and chef blogs. I'll fess up - I'm a foodie. But when chef and author Michael Ruhlman gives his ally Anthony Bourdain access to his blog, well, sparks are going to fly. Bourdain in the author of Kitchen Confidential, and is the new century's official New York cooking punk, usually seen wearing a leather jacket and smoking a cig. Sort of what the Ramones would have been if they had gone into food service. Bourdain's chief recommendation for an aspiring chef is to learn Spanish, so you can talk to your kitchen staff. Anyway, he's been firing off volleys, including reviews of all the Food Network folks.

Now I'm going to disagree with him and say that there is a good place for "easy-cooking" shows that use preprepared products. I am a big fan of Alton Brown, but waiting a day for a pizza as the dough rises sort of defeats part of the pizza experience. But yeah, Mario deserves to get his own show back.

And as a final note, I came across this site, for a Stephen Fry alarm clock, which will gently roust you from your slumbers with plummy tones and long elocutions. Me, I think the sound that will get any cat-owner immediately awake is that of their pet heaving up a hairball. Someone could make a mint off of that idea.

More later

Friday, March 02, 2007

Going to China

So this week I found out (I think through the Stranger Blog) that China Mieville was going to be at the University Bookstore reading from his new novel, Un Lun Dun. I really have live China's novels and wanted to hear him read. I mentioned it to the Monkey King, who had previously done a lot of work with Mr. Mieville on a huge recent issue of DRAGON magazine (still available in your finer stores) on the world China presented in Perdido Street Station and other novels.

So we met down there. It was an excellent turnout (to be read: they had to set more chairs to handle the crowd). China read for about ten minutes, and in those ten minutes, convinced me to buy the book. The book (a young adult novel) has that hidden London vibe of Gaiman's Neverwhere, but in addition some beautiful passages, as well as pictures of meat-eating giraffes and trashcan-shaped Binjas (British pun).

China himself looked and sounded good, though seemed a bit worn from the tour. But there is nothing like a British accent for a reading. He was patient with all of the questions, though preferred to be talking about the new stuff as opposed to the earlier books. His favorite volume of his earlier trilogy was also mine, he recommended books on Pirates and garbage, he explained his writing process (binge and purge), and generally gave the viewpoints into writing that the outside world demands but does not fully understand. The question I wanted to ask was "do you feel that Revolution can only be sustained in a moment of time", but when I got his autograph, all I could do was congratulate him on his monsters.

Afterwards Wolf and I retired to the Big Time Pub on University Avenue, where we were accidentally joined by most of the Paizo publishing staff, who were also at the reading. Paizo publishes Dragon and Dungeon Magazines, so they know Monkey King, but of the group I only knew Erik, and then remember him as a young pup at WotC (yes, my age is catching up with me). The "new kids" were Jason, Wes, James, and Erik's young lady Danika, and I remembered that the last time I was at the Big Time, former Dragon Editor Dave Gross was telling me his Shakespear conspiracy theories. Ah, the passage of the generations. Still, we had a fine old time talking about Milwaukee, the viaduct, old games, older gamers, and new projects.

And a fine time was had by all.

More later

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Someday, We All Will Be on YouTube

So a long while back I mentioned that I had a tiny bit part in a movie, The Gamers: Dorkness Rising which should get a release real soon now. And we had a party which we showed some of the movie, including my tiny bit part. Well now the clip with my tiny bit part has made it to YouTube, along with an tiny bit of the interview I did that afternoon for GGTV.

And the only reason I found out was that one of my fellow Tai Chi students was a "stunt ninja" in the shoot. "You're on YouTube!" was the phrase he greeted me with. Not quite "Your Chi is Mighty!," but it will do.

Please count this against my 15 minutes of fame.

More later,