Monday, March 31, 2008

Riding the Storm Out

About 5:30 or so this afternoon, I packed up my laptop and headed home. The sky was dark and overcast as a storm was moving in from the NW. A quick check of the WSDOT site indicated that there was a backup in downtown Bellevueon 405, but most of the trip south from there was OK. It also showed a traffic cam shot of I-5 in downtown Seattle, under a torrent of rain.

I headed home. Now one of the confounding things about Seattle traffic is that one cannot plan for it to be universally horrible or good. I've seen reports like this before, and ended up in hour-long traffic jams. This time, the west side was already jammed up from the rain, and I zipped home in record time. As I headed south, it was black behind me, and to my right, across Lake Washington, there extended a roiling pillar of clouds, coming my way.

It caught up with me as I pulled into the driveway saw the first flash of lightning. Growing up in thunderstorm country, I started to count, automatically. When I heard the long, rolling cast of thunder, I knew it was about a mile away.

I made for the house and two minutes when the hail started. Hail, the size of frozen peas, covering the lawn, the driveway, and the road itself. A pounding hail that reverbed off the skylights and pounded the plants out front. And then the lightning, closer and brighter, with no separation between flash and boom, the thunder striking so loud it set off the alarms in the car.

I kept away from the various machines (we lost a TV to a storm back in Wisconsin years ago), and I sat, curled up with a book, as the hail moved slowly to sleet and the time between lightning and thunder lengthened. After about an hour, it finally subsided, which is long for this type of weather in this area.

And at that point I flipped on the TV to catch the weather. The locals had it right, showing a bright red cell over Renton, moving south and east, and more trailing down the Juan de Fuca straight, beelining in on Seattle. The Weather Channel, safely tucked away in some county back east, stated that it was clear in Seattle, with a small chance of rain.

Moral? Always trust the reports on the ground.

More later,


So, a couple months ago, when we had the revelations of high lead levels in children's toys? There was much crying and rending of garments and cries that we should be thinking of the children.

And now there's a bill on the governor's desk that strengthens and increases the amount of permissible lead, cadmium, and phthalates in childrens' toys. And there is more crying and rending of garments and thinking of the children. But this time its from the toy companies, who are following the standard playbook on how to approach imposing legal regulations.

Hasbro and Mattel (the latter being more involved in the recent scandal, the former with a large presence on the Washington State Ports), are leaning on the governor to veto the measure, as testing for lead levels (and other nastiness) would be a cost they are unwilling to front. But that is happening behind the scenes. The textbook (and public) approach is to highlight how this law will affect the "little guy" - in this case Archie McPhee.

Archie McPhee is a Seattle institution that I first encountered a couple decades ago through Dave "Zeb" Cook, who got their catalog of gimcracks. They sold novelty products in a world that had become increasingly complex. Stuff like rubber spiders and boxing nun puppets and a bag with 100 plastic ants and devil duckies. Now most of the market of these are not kids, but rather young people in their first desk job looking for something to decorate their cubes and remind themselves that they were still young and hip.

Now the stories covering this issue point out that, should this law go through, Archie McPhee threatens to shut down, because most of its cheap toys come from overseas and testing them all would be cost prohibitive. And the potential threat has a lot of the young hipsters in a tizzy, along with old-guard Seattleites who point to every change in NW Life to be a sign of the apocalypse.

I sympathize. I love Archie McPhee, and regret that I lack the space for more of their stuff. But I'm not willing to balance my floating devil ducky on the back of potentially poisoning kids. This boils down to the standard corporate response to anything that reflects consumer protection laws - any new law would be too difficult to enforce, too expensive to the consumer, and in the end, would be the end of life as we know it. It always is, but if we want to protect the kids, its a risk I'm willing to take.

And with this comes the counter threat that Washingtonians would flood to Oregon to buy their lead-based knick-knacks. Not that I've noticed. California has the tightest car emissions laws and that hasn't slowed down the car culture there. Texas has the most restrictive textbook requirements, and textbook manufacturers write to fit the Texas law. The presence of a tight Washington law will serve to bring everyone else up. Someday we may even reach the same level of protection as, say, Europe.

So right now I'm thinking of the children, and think that governor should sign this bill.

More later,

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Theatre: Stories and Accordions

How? How? Why? Why? Why? by Kevin Kling, Directed by David Esbjornson, Seattle Repertory Theatre, March 13- April 19, 2008

So one of the joys of season tickets is a performance like this - you're in the audience because you bought the rest of the package, along with the Moliere and the Shakespeare and bit by the guy who wrote "Tuesday Afternoons with Morrie", not because you're expecting great things from this particular play. And indeed, a monologue from a Minnesotan who's a feature on NPR, with accordion accompaniment is not the sort of thing I'd donate a Sunday afternoon to in and of itself - in fact it feels - vaguely familiar.

And then the lights go down and Kevin Kling comes out, and, by twists and turns and stories and punchlines, makes it a worthwhile and delightful experience. Immediately you notice that he is disabled, a birth defect giving him with an asymmetric form and a twisted, shortened left arm. But soon you realize that his right arm is also paralyzed, due to a motorcycle accident. And thereby hangs a number of tales about life and death and hope.

Kling loops his stories back upon themselves. He starts off fictionally, with the tale of a young farmer badly injured in a motorcycle wreck that turns his farm into his art, then moves on to his own, similar, personal experience, inviting comparison between his earlier fiction and his later fact. Along the way he covers love, art, mortality, god, prayer, the power of cocktail weinees, and the nature of the dachshund.

Kling invokes a lot of common ground with me. Not only the mild Fargo-esque, Yaheydere accents of the northern chunk of the country, but the time and events of my own childhood - valentines and little leagues and band and go carts and carnivals for muscular dystrophy. And he also spins in references to Victor Hugo and Dante, and though he doesn't do a name check with Joe Campbell, he keeps returning to the story of the Hero's Journey, where the protagonist enters the underworld and emerges victorious but changed.

Kling is aided and abetted by accordionist Simon Perrin, who acts not only as musical interlude and greek chorus, but sounding board and respondent, taking on Sunday School teacher, old girlfriends, and appreciative audience. Her presence makes it not quite a monologue in the Gray/Daisey tradition, but its not quite a conversation either - its a one-and-a-half person monologue, and it works very, very well. And armed with an accordion, an archaic instrument even in my youth, she belts out a better "Boots" than Nancy Sinatra, and for our performance, an encore of "Ring of Burning Fire" (with Kling on trumpet - yeah, it works).

In the end Kling spins stories and charms us, and when it is all said and done, you're left with a lot of interwoven data that hangs together in a coherent picture, and feeling of hope and promise. And like I said, one of the little joys of season tickets.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Party Party Update

So I got an email from another blogger who is paying a lot more attention to this sort of thing nation-wide. His missive pretty much confirms the sneaky suspicion I've been harboring about Washington's new "Top Two" election law. We call it a "Louisiana Primary" but we haven't checked out how well that works out in Louisiana itself.

Turns out, someone at the P-I did look (though the links to their blog, not the paper), and discovered that far from creating balanced contests between moderates, this format instead it resolves in more polar contests between extremes. No reason is given, but I would guess that the hard-cores gravitate to their ends of the political spectrum, while the middle ground is a little softer (the "Independents" who don't commit right up front), and divided among more potential candidates.

The killer line the article for me is this, referring to the polar nature of LA primaries: "Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed, a supporter of the top-two primary, has said he believes that Washington's reasonable, thoughtful voters would not fall into that pattern." Riiiiight. That's a little bit of state-elitism there that spackles over the potential problems.

This pretty much it confirms something that I've been feeling about this - all of this has been an attempt to "fix" a problem that I think is pretty minor to start with. A greater potential for mischief was presented in the last primary, where Republican gadfly Richard Pope switched parties at the very last moment to become the Democratic candidate for the office, resulting in much moaning and rending of garments. That's not the public creating mischief - that's the candidates, and expect more of the same moving forward.

The bogey-man of cross-over primary voters has given both major parties (and the Libertarian Party, who are in on the lawsuits for reasons I STILL am not clear on) the chance to game the system to an end that is more acceptable to party as opposed to public (and, oh yeah, the Louisiana-style primary is ALSO under siege in Louisiana - go figure). They STILL don't have what they want, so expect another lawsuit or two as we move to the August state primary.

More later,

Thursday, March 27, 2008


So it snowed up on Grubb Street yesterday. Not much, just enough to stick on the grass and give everything a nice frosting. It did not reach the lowlands which are just as gray and green and marshy as they ever are in March.

But as a result of this, the Lovely Bride and I got into a discussion of how high we were, as in elevation. She pulled her topo program and I hit the Internet, and we found that the corner was at 489 feet, and in addition the nearby "summit" of the ridge, labeled "Snow" is 513. So when you hear "snow levels down to 500 feet, well, that's us.

The cause of the cool temperatures and white stuff is a Low pressure system parked off the coast of British Columbia, churning cold wet stuff out. Which is not horrible - if it was WARM wet stuff, the massive snowfields in the mountains would go all at once, and flooding would be a definite danger to the lowlands.

I think I'll be comfortable with the snow.

More later,

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Party Party!

So a decision on the Washington State primary system came down last week from the Supreme Court, approving the "Top Two" primary system for this state's local elections. I've been reading up about it, and from what I gather, no one has any idea what this is going to mean for the next election. That includes me.

Here's the backstory. Washington State, in its rebellious, frontier way, had an "open primary" for the local offices, which meant anyone could vote. And if you were a Democrat, you could go in a vote Republican just as easily as Dem - secret ballot and all that. I think such events existed more in theory than practice, for while tempted, I've always voted with an eye towards putting the best person in the office (but then, I'm old-fashioned). The local parties didn't care much for this system, and challenged it in court, and the open primary went away.

Their argument, by the way, was an open primary was unconstitutional from the aspect that it denied the parties their right of freedom of association, which is to say, by saying anyone could vote, they were forced to let in people who did not share Dem (or GOP) values, and were voting just to make mischief. Yeah, it sounds wonky, and it is the rational behind such ideas as keeping gay pride groups out of the St. Patty's day parade in NYC. Or by the same token, keeping the klan from crashing your book club.

So the open primary is gone, and the political parties should be happy. Well, no, because it was replaced by a "Top Two" primary, similar to that of Louisiana (a hallmark of good and transparent government, I know). Under the top two, the two highest vote-getters go on to the main election.

What does this mean? Well, it depends on who's answering the question - to those supporting the idea, this will make elections more competitive again by preventing obvious blowouts in areas where one party is much weaker than the other. So you get your choice of which Dem gets to run things. I'm not sure this is a good thing.

Another argument is that you'll more often see rebellions within the party, where a rebel Dem or Republican will run against the party anointed choice, and do well enough to force a general runoff. This may mean more centrist candidates, since a candidate that doesn't hold much of a chance against the hardcore base of the party (right for GOP, left for Democrat), can survive to the general and therefore appeal to a larger population of the previously cut-out individuals. This is probably why the parties don't much care for it.

And I've seen the idea posted that when you have two party-chosen candidates (such as the upcoming rematch of Rossi and Gregoire, or Burner and Reichert), you get the bonus of having to vote twice for the same matchup (Yeah, that's going to go down well with the voters, and make the more paranoid among us wonder how a 56-44 split becomes a 51-49 split in the final).

And here's one more possibility - this will be the death of the small parties in the general election, not that they have been horribly successful. There are enough base Dems and core Reps that if there in anything representing a fair fight, the Greens, Socialists, and Independents are gone. I think this is the one that's going to happen, but stay tuned.

So what happens next? Well, the parties are STILL not happy, but they got their court decision and now have to abide by it. And I have to express a little irritation that we're spending public money to settle THEIR fights, but that's the nature of the beast. The only thing to do is go hull down and see how this plays through the next season. Because your guess here is as good as mine.

More later,

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


So I'm standing here at the corner of Gygax and Clarke, and thinking about Clarke's Third Law and how so many people hear it, nod, and go off in the wrong direction.

Here's how it goes - you've heard it before:
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

As laws go, its pretty succinct, and from a writing standpoint, it frees you from dragging the reader into the nuts-and-bolts of explaining your stardrive unless said stardrive has a purpose within the plot as opposed to getting your characters from A to B. And it provides a nice point of us dumb cavemen trying to understand the sippystraw technology of the advanced aliens.

But the thing is, indistinguishable is not identical. There may be a way to determine the difference between the two, but you just don't have it at hand, or haven't had the chance to examine it. We can breed an orange to be indistinguishable from an apple, but it doesn't make it an apple.

And the problem is that once we think indistinguishable = identical, then if science = magic, then magic = science. And there the fun begins, as we attempt to classify magic, and in doing so, ground it into some framework of reality. I'm more guilty of this as anyone else on the planet.

D&D is partially responsible for this domestication of magic, but it is by no means the only culprit. Writers and game designers are comfortable with the concept of "If you do A, then you should always get B". It is safe, dependable, and fair. But magic is traditionally portrayed as an art, which means that the incantations and enchantments don't always work the way you expect them to. That can create some interesting stories if the stories are about how magic is tricksy. If you want it a component for a larger tapestry, and a dependable component, then it has to be tamed, and follow laws.

A good example of these laws is the Vancian Magic System embraced and expanded by D&D - spells of particular power levels, loaded into the brain like bullets in a gun, using a magical energy field through particular verbal, material, and somatic components. Its a bit of a sprawl, but has served very well for years. But it is a set of rules, and one that tames the wild fires of spellcasting to make it fair for the players.

But once comprehended, magic can expanded and utilized and taken in unintended directions. The fact you have a teleport spell opens the door to teleporation devices which results in the abandonment of roads for magical power. If detect lie is readily available, your magical mystery novel has to dodge that particular bullet in order to succeed. I've said in the past that the Realms is more like the year 1870 than 1370, in that we understand the principles of magic and are starting to use them for our own ends - Arcanapunk, if you will, where the magic meets the street.

But magic does not have to be that way - it can be closer to art than to component technology. Where, when you start the incantation, you are not quite sure where you will end up. Tolkienesque magic feels that way - rare and misunderstood and never there when you need it. By the time we get to Harry Potter, we have schools and ministries on the subject, trying to boil it down into easily-understood components, a variant of advanced technology. But magic is not technology, and to treat it as such we may be diminishing it.

But that's just a thought for a rainy Seattle evening.

More later,

Monday, March 24, 2008

Sunday, March 23, 2008


So we celebrated the first Sunday following the first full moon following the vernal equinox with a small feast which, being us, quickly got out of hand, and involved us raiding the Pike Place Market yesterday morning, along with massive amounts of last-minute assemblage this morning to make it all work. Here's the menu:

Salmon with Green Sauce
Roasted Asparagus wrapped in Prosciutto
Fresh Mozzarella, Tomatoes, and Basil drizzled with a balsamic reduction
Pesto with Snow Peas
Rye Bread
Rosemary Garlic Bread

And for desert:

Buttemilk Panna Cotta with Strawberries
Strawberry Short Cake

And to drink - Champagne, mimosas, OJ, tea, and as a desert wine a macademia honey wine brought by Monkey King and Shelly.

Guests included Bill, Mi'ko, Steve Miller (no, not the singer, the other one), the aforementioned King and Shelly and Heidi. A good time was had by all, but we once again cooked way too much, and have spend the afternoon just sort of laying around. Meanwhile, the weather has turned weird outside, with bands of hard rain followed by beautiful blue sky - the Lovely Bride and considered a walk, but by the time we got around to it, it was raining cats and dogs.

But I Digest (heh).

More later,

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Won't You Fill Up, Jack Benny?

Yeah, if you remember that old jingle, you ARE old.

But it is actually a modern spate of commercials that have me thinking. It's those ones for small economy cars, increasingly for hybrids, that show people NOT filling up, or going past gas stations, or forgetting which side of the car the gas cap is on.

Nice concept. Real life? Not so much. I seem to fill up just about as often for my driving around. And I had it confirmed for me by a recent Seattle Times article on the front page which covered high fuel prices. Yep, its gotten so bad, that the media is donating valuable space on the front page about gas prices (though by Saturday, the topmost feature was on a young woman who is literally crawling hee way into the Guinness book of world records, so things get back to normal pretty quick).

Anyway, the article has a sidebar which talks about how much it costs to tank up various vehicles. Listing fuel tank sizes and MPG, it then tells you how much for a full tank. The problem is, one's MPG doesn't affect the cost of a full tank, only the price of that tank, and how many miles you can go between fill ups.

And it confirms for me something I had believed for a long time - that smaller cars, with smaller fuel tanks, fill up just as often for the same number of miles.

Here's the numbers they give:
Honda Civic - 13.2 gallon capacity, 34 MPG highway = 448.8 miles between fill ups.
Ford Taurus Crossover - 19 gallon tank, 24 MPG = 456 miles between fill ups.
Toyota Tundra - 26,4 gallon tank, 17 MPG = 448.8 miles between fill ups
Chevrolet Cargo Wagon - 31 gallon tank, 20 MPG = 630 miles between fill ups
Peterbilt Semi 150 gallon tank, 7 MPG = 1050 miles between fill ups.

Now, you don't PAY as much to fill the tank, but the MPG advantage is balanced by the amount of gas you're putting in. So those commercials where you never fill up the tank because it has such great gas mileage - not true, because the gas tank is now smaller.

My own little Insight gets about 50 mpg (real world) but has a 10 gallon tank, so it falls into the rest of the pack fairly neatly. But when the zombies take over, and I'm trying to get to Chicago without promise of gas stations between here and there, I'm stealing a Peterbilt.

More later,

Friday, March 21, 2008

Government At Work

Contractors working for the State Department have illegally accessed the private and personal information of a presidential candidate, but that's OK because:

a) It's no big deal, really.
b) We sacked the people who did it.
c) We weren't going to USE the information, or anything.
d) There wasn't anything juicy in it.
e) Did we mention we sacked the people who did it?
f) We also illegally accessed the private and personal information of the other two presidential candidates.
g) We won't tell you who got into the files. That's private and personal information.
h) All of the above.

Yeah, these are the guys that are telling you they want to listen to your phone calls. But it's cool, you can trust them.

More later,

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke

Arthur C. Clarke has passed on at age 90. He was one of the writers that brought me into science fiction, with 2001: A Space Odyssey (The book, in my opinion, was better than the movie, which I encountered years later in college, and the movie wasn't that bad at all). After that I hunted down his collections - Wind from the Sun and Tales of the White Hart, and from Clarke I got into Asimov and Ellison and Bradbury and Analog and Galaxy and everything that followed.

But what I loved about Clarke's fiction was his hooks and his stingers. Clarke could bring you into a story quickly and effortlessly, and leave you a little spike at the end of a short story that would turn it into a tiny epiphany. And his words stay with me long after other stories have faded from my mind.

For example, the first line of 2001 -

Behind every man now alive stand thirty ghosts

Or the last line of his story, "Reunion", from the collection Wind from the Sun -

If any of you are still white, we can cure you

Clarke had the ability to hook the reader in, and use everything up to last period to serve his story. He will be missed.

More later,

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Mean Streets

So a few months ago, I was surfing among the cable channels, and came across McQ, a John Sturges film starring John Wayne and the Ingram MAC-10 submachine pistol. Wayne is McQ, a cop so tough he doesn't have any vowels in his last name, who fights drug dealers and corrupt cops. In Seattle. Yeah, Seattle.

And the part I caught involved a chase scene shot in Seattle, which had a lot of locations recognizable even 30+ years later. I've driven on these streets, though not at these speeds. And I wondered if someone would kindly go through the chase scene and identify all the locations.

And the Internet, in its wisdom, has done just that. Here it is, courtesy of SLOG.

More later,

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Comics: RSEs

You'd think that since I was getting back into "The Comix Bidness", that I would lay off talking about the shared worlds of comic book creativity.

Yeah, dream on - consider the geek light to be lit.

For the past two years, both of the majors have been in the grips of multiple RSEs. By RSE I mean Realms-Shattering-Events, a term that came from the gaming side of the universe, after a spate of major trilogies in the Forgotten Realms, each one portending huge changes to the setting. Some changes were made, some quickly forgotten, and there were some opportunities that were not taken. But the continual major-league shake-up left some fans frustrated with the continual "crisis grind" of the stories, such that to this day change is considered a bad thing, to be greeted warily.

So too in comics. The big two have barely gotten out of one RSE before the next one comes barreling down the highway. These macro-events have gone too far, such that there is no longer a baseline of "reality" that can then be changed - "Forever".

Over at DC, the first big event of this type was in 1985, with Crisis on Infinite Earths. There were heroes crossing over between books before that, and major "events", but this one really went to town - "Worlds will live, Worlds Will Die" and all that. And part of the stated goal was to clear up the "Infinite Earths" of the DC universe. You had Earth-1 which was the "normal earth" and Earth-2 where the golden age heroes lived and Earth-X where the Nazis won WWII. It was madness! Absolute madness!

Flash ahead twenty years to 52, a yearlong weekly series that ended up returning, not infinite earths, but "a large-but-finite" number of earths (52, to be precise). And they've spend the time since then pretty much showing people that multiple earths ARE a bad thing, with characters shifting between the worlds pretty much at random so the level of continuity confusion is higher than ever. And after mixing everything into a froth (After a One Year Later and Countdown stunts) they are supposed to sort it all out again with Infinite Crisis, where the world goes down to one again. Or not. I'm really not sure anymore, and I've been trying to keep up.(Update, Nope, its not Infinite Crisis, it is Final Crisis that they are supposed to wrap things up with. Infinite Crisis was part of the 52 thing. So many Crisis, so little time ...]

Over in the Marvel end, its major milestone was 1984's Secret Wars, which pretty much had all the big heroes fight all the big villains, More recently, they pitched hero against hero in their Civil War over the challenge of super-hero registration, and the verdict pretty much is that Captain America's anti-registration side won. I say this because Cap himself was martyred, and since then, not a week goes by without Pro-registration boss Iron Man gets kicked in the crotch. No, I'm serious. Somebody has been beating the crud out of him on a weekly basis, and if not him, then his proxies, which include the heroine Tigra and SHIELD. Particularly SHIELD. Once upon a time, even THREATENING to crash the SHIELD Helicarrier was a big deal. Now its happening about once a month. Forget how much we're spending on Iraq, we're losing big money on those flying battleships!

At least kicking Iron Man around (who has a MOVIE coming up, so you'd think they'd treat him better) at least gives you something to look forward to. Instead they shifted immediately into blowing up most of New York City in World War Hulk (remember, the event that kicked off the Civil War was a supervillain blowing up a school, so the level of tolerable collateral damage has gone up again). Then they decided to undo Spidersman's marriage, and in doing so, undid his public identity (well, that lasted long). And that one is just wrapping up when they can unleash a Skrull Secret Invasion on everyone.

Too much happening, too fast. RSEs are not in and of themselves a bad thing, but they need to be the spice, not the main dish. Not only can the center not hold, there is no center to hold anymore. Even the most jaded continuity geek is overstressed, while the casual reader (are there any anymore?) needs a lot more that a single page summary to get onboard.

Now, there are some good comics out there. Out of the Civil War at Marvel came a extremely readable book - The Order, which, of course, has been cancelled. Over at DC, The Brave and The Bold, which is an old-school geekfest that teams up writer Mark Waid and artist George Perez (who did the original Crisis twenty-plus years ago). Wonder Woman under Gail Simmone has shown a lot of promise, but WW has no where to go but up. A lot of the interesting stuff is Independent at the moment - Paul Dini's Madame Mirage at Top Cow, Jonathan Hickman's alternate history Pax Romana from Image, Gerald Way & Gabriel Ba's The Umbrella Academy, Matt Wagner, back with a new Grendel series, and the "season eight" of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (all Dark Horse). And the guys from Action Philosophers are back with Comic Book Comics from Evil Twin, a history of the medium which ties things in deeply both with technology and political issues at the dawn of the comic books (nice job on that).

So there's hope, but you have to lay off the seasonings for a while and just let comics go without blowing up the universe for a little while.

More later,

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Spectrum of Excellence

Spectrum is an annual art show and published art book featuring the finest fantastic art of the previous year (and by fantastic, they mean fantasy, science fiction, and comics). It is a submitted, juried award which produces a volume of the finest art of the year. This year is Spectrum 15, and includes no less than eight ArenaNet artists will be honored by inclusion in the show and volume. They are:

Richard Anderson
Matt Barrett
Daniel Dociu
Jaimie Jones
Jason Juan
Kekai Kotaki
Jason Stokes
Doug Williams

In addition to inclusion, art director Daniel Dociu took both the gold and silver medals for the Concept Art category. This is high praise, and if you check out his site, you see he deserves it.

It is really cool to work with excellent artists. It is even cooler when the rest of the world realizes how good they are.

More later,

Monday, March 10, 2008

Back in Comics

Back in the early days of the Forgotten Realms, I wrote some comics for DC as part of their license with TSR. AD&D#9-12 were first tast of writing for the medium, and I hung around to write the Forgotten Realms line, most of which were illustrated by Rags Morales. Since then I've done little bits and pieces (a Spelljammer fill-in, a Superman tale), but nothing major.

Until now. Diamond has just solicited The World of D&D #3, featuring "Eliminster at the Magefair", a story by Ed Greenwood and adapted for the four-color page by yours truly. That's the cover to the left (I hope - this is an experiment with the blogger images, in the hopes of getting rid of the can't-see boxes - click on it to get a bigger view).

The World of D&D is an anthology book, each book containing adaptations of famous stories from the various D&D fantasy worlds. Whenever possible, they've tried to get the original authors for the adaptations, but Ed was tied up and recommended that I step in (thanks, Ed!). In addition to "Elminster at the Mage Fair", issues #3 and #4 will also have one of James Lowder's stories, "The Rigor of the Game", set in the world of Ravenloft. There will be two cover versions, one for each story - this one is has cover art by Nadir Balan, inks by John Beatty, and colors by Lovern Kindzierski.

It has been a real treat for me to get back to working with the world of graphic storytelling again, and to handle characters like Storm Silverhand and old old favorites like Elminster and Lhaeo. And Ed's been reading over my shoulder (via the Internet) and giving advice.

Yes, you'll hear more plugging about this as we get closer to the release date, but for the moment, I'll just say I've seen the pencils by Juanfraun Moyano, and I am delighted by them!

More later,

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Gygaxian Notes

So the DOW has punched back through the 12000 floor, but that’s not what I want to talk about. Instead I want to chat about Gary.

I think Gary Gygax would be pleased (or as pleased as one could be, considering the circumstances) with the reaction to his passing. The outpouring on the net and in the media has been astounding. When JRRTolkien died, it was a brief blip on the nightly news and an obit tucked away in the back of the papers. Gary’s passing has been everywhere.

Part of this has been the change in media itself, both with the fact that there is more “space’ to be filled in our 24/7 news cycle and the rise of individual reporting of blogs and web sites, many of which are manned by nerds, geeks, and wonks who at one point in their lives sat around the table and ran lawful good paladins (which, as uber-wonk Steven Colbert points out, is redundant). It has been an amazing sharing of when individuals first encountered the game, how it changed their lives, and the warmth they still feel for it.

A great fan obituary can be found here. And there have been a number of webcomic tributes, like here, here, and here. All in all, there has been an outpouring of feeling for the man.

The media has been reporting heavily as well – NPR, CNN, and BBC. The Seattle Times used the Washington Post obituary on their page 2, while sending a potential war in South America to page 7. The Post article messed up the number of kids Gary had by each wife, and badly mangled a quote by designer Mike Mearls, but in general got it mostly right. The BBC did an article of 5 things D&D made happen (Quick version - Online RPGs, Geek culture, Bringing fantasy fiction to the fore, Gaming panic (though concern about what the kids are doing did not originate in the 70s), and Polyhedral dice (which existed before D&D but have become part of the culture). I think the important one was keeping fantasy at the forefront, making the current fantasy renaissance in movies and television possible.

And he made my career happen, with the hobby game industry, with the increased interest in fantasy as a genre, and with laying the groundwork for the modern computer game industry. Why is WoW the way it is? D&D.

People are playing games this weekend and invoking Gygax as make their saving throws. But pay attention to the other founders and old men of the industry who are still with us, and pay them their due. Dave Arneson, co-founder and master of Blackmoor. Jim Ward of Gamma World, MAR Barker of Empire of the Petal Throne. And Kim Mohan, one of the quiet ones, editor of DRAGON for oh-so-many years and now editor at WotC, a line of continual experience for longer than I have been involved in the hobby. And even the creatives from my generation are all-too-mortal. Ed Greenwood and artist Larry Elmore have both suffered heart problems, Margaret Weis is a cancer survivor. Drop them a line, meet them at a convention, and just say thank you for what they’ve done (and in Ed’s case, give him a hug – Ed has no problem with hugs).

Now people are already falling into arguments over what Gary intended for the game and the hobby, quoting chapter and verse from long online correspondences. You can point to quotes by him supporting by-the-book adherence to rules and freeform play, encouraging both storytelling and immersive goals in roleplaying, and he was both supportive and critical of various editions. That’s part of the nature of who he was. While working for him I came up with the conclusion that game design was a conversation between creatives. The conversation is not over just because one strong voice has fallen silence.

Gary has an enduring legacy, and its going to do OK as it passes fully into the hands of younger generations. In short: The kids are all right, and I want to know what happens next.

More later,

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Theatre: Big Mo (Lière)

Molière's The Imaginary Invalid Adapted by Constance Congdon, Directed by David Schweizer, Seattle REP through March 22, 2008

The first thing I noticed this time out was the audience - prepped for "the usuals" that could be found at a supposed Seattle Rep production, I was instead amused at the large number of apparent theater newbies - those who had problems finding their seats, that had been away from the theater for a while, and not sure about the proper forms of theater-going. And I wondered, why would these folk come to this play.

And then it hit me - it was all about the language requirements in High School. All these newcomers had taken High School French, and were subjected at that point to Molière (Jean-Baptiste Poquelin) in either his original form or in some bastardized youth-friendly version (or in the case of the Lovely Bride and I, hauled off for a field trip to watch the play in its original French). And after all this time, after the scarring episode of trying to decipher the 17th century playwright put up there in lights with Shakespeare, they have returned to figure out if it was all worth it.

And the answer is, yeah, it was. Molière is farce (thank god nothing in the promotion materials hit it up as a romp), and the presentation remains true to the form, though ranging wildly into commedia dell'arte, vaudeville, and just a touch of the Catskills. Adapter Congdon is confronted with not one but two hurdles to bring the play to its audience - one of language and culture (French), and one of 400 years of time. And she pulls it off, by retaining the skeleton and building up new flesh on top of it. I went back to a summary of the play and yes, she edited out at least two character, but at the same time kept the framework and the beats, building with frantic anticipation to the finale.

Yes, to the irritation of purists, the pastoral shepherds at the start, singing the praises of good King Louis, are gone, replaced with the ensemble cautioning about doctors and quacks, more in line with the play itself. And this works very well in that it established each actor as playing dual roles - their assigned role within the play and as part of the ensemble - recognizing themselves as part of the production and therefore self-aware of its foolishness. A nice touch, and hard to pull off.

Farce is played broadly, and the actors do their best with the meaty material they have. And this is an advantage of Repertory style - we've seen a number of these people before from comedies and more serious roles, and are prepared to see them go over the top in their current assignments. Again, the dual presence as ensemble and assigned role works out well - they KNOW they're going over the top, and YOU know that THEY know, and THEY know that as well. It makes for a comfortable comedy conspiracy.

Ah, the plot - Argan is the titled hypochondriac, who seeks to marry off his daughter Angelique to the idiot son of his doctor, Purgeon. Said idiot son, Claude, is about to be made a doctor himself, and Argan seeks free treatment for his imaginary ailments as a result of the match. Angelique, though, has fallen for young, handsome Cleante. Argan's (second) wife, Beline is meanwhile conspiring with M. de Bonnefoi, her notary and lover, to send Angelique off to a convent and seize the family fortune. Working against Argan and Beline's plots is Toinette, the maid, who is the wise servant to Argan's foolish master.

It all unspools much smoother than the summary, aided and abetted by a comfortable cast who get across the sense of fun. Rocco Sisto and Alice Playten have to hold the center as Argon and Toinette, and the former whines and moans continually while Toinette provides that strong Vaudevillian/Berkshires tone of attitude, accent, and asides. Zoe Winters as Angelique is channeling Carol Burnett, and Andrew William Smith as her true love Cleante is similarly invoking Keanu Reeves. Comfortable mainstays like Julie Briskman (the cackling Beline), Ian Bell (the cloddish, chicken-like Claude), and David Pichette (excellent and underutilized Dr Purgeon) all throw themselves into the work.

And some throwing may be necessary - the stage itself is an ingenious contraption of a moving outer ring, rotating walls, and a mostly bare center, dominated by Argan's sick chair, his throne for the proceedings. Yet is is all quilted in white fabric, which both creates the vibe of a padded room (probably intended) and just screams "deathtrap" to any actor who has to dance across it (probably unintended). Normally I point out such stagecraft as jiggery-pokery that detracts from the play itself, but here, it most definitely works, and contributes to the ever-increasing franticness of the play until it culminates in a mock ceremony where Argon is made a doctor, so he can tend to himself. This last Vegas-style song rings out the play, and yeah, only after you're a safe distance from the theater, can you start poking holes in it.

But why? It is a farce, though an industrious and professional one. Its comedic intentions do not reduce the amount of effort and sheer talent of the craft. And while the crowd did not rise for an ovation (at least not for the matinée), they did something I had not seen in a long time - on the way out, they were laughing and repeating jokes. I've seen serious productions that have left the audience a little shell-shocked, but in this case, they carried the good feelings with them (The Lovely Bride is still singing chorus of that last number).

And that, is a success. May the Farce be with you (Oh, you saw that one coming, right?)

More later,

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Gary Gygax

Troll Lord Games has reported the passing of Gary Gygax, co-creator of D&D and, at one point, my boss.

He will be deeply missed. Rest easy, Gary.

More later,