Saturday, December 31, 2005

Just a Meme Before The Year's End

1. You have $10 and need to buy snacks at a gas station; what do you buy?

Diet Coke, Beef Jerky, a Can of Pringles Potato Chips, two rolls of Sweet Tarts

2. If you had to be reincarnated as some sort of sea-dwelling creature, what would you be?

A chambered nautilus, a perfect combination of a hard and soft, flesh and mineral, always moving forward but always carrying its past with it.

3. Who's your favorite redhead?

The Lovely Bride

4. What do you order when you're at a pancake house?

A stack of silver dollar pancakes, and a side of link sausage

5. Do you own any... naughty toys?

I don't know. What is this year's definition of "naughty"?

6. Have you made out with anyone on your friends list?

I do not keep a friends list. I have the blogroll on the side of this site, and of that . . . no.

7. Describe your favorite pair of underwear:

Baggy grey cotton shorts with a string tie

8. Describe the last time you were injured:

Its been years since I've broken a bone, and have had nothing much to complain about other than occasional scald or cat scratch.

9. Are there any odd things that make you feel comfortable?

If they make me comfortable, they aren't odd, are they? Here's one - going into bookstores in a strange city.

10. There is no Question 10 on this list. What happened to it?

Question 10 was removed by Homeland Security. By reading this sentence you give tacit permission for us to look into your hard drive.

11. Tell me a weird story from your high school years:

Bob Bannerjee and I took over the morning announcements for a week. We were funny in a "Come hear the music that made Beethoven what he was - Totally deaf!" sort of way.

12. What is the wallpaper on your cell phone?

The default fish swimming back and forth. If anyone knows how to change it, sure, send me a note.

13. Soda?

Thanks. Diet Coke, caffene free. No, Pepsi is not all right.

14. Flavor of pudding?

Chocolate, old enough to have a thin layer of skin on it, with just a bit of milk on top.

15. What type of shirt are you wearing?

Slippery Rock Cow-Tipping Team T-shirt

16. Prescription medication?

No. Tums, but that isn't a perscription

17. If you could use only one form of transportation for the rest of your life, what would it be?

I like the Hybrid

18. How many people are on your friends list?

No friends list, but I have 37 entries on the blog roll to the left.

19. How many people on your list do you know in real life?


20. What are you listening to right now?

Desolation Island by Patrick O'Brian

21. Most recent movie you watched?

King Kong. See the most recent entry.

22. Name 5 things you have with you at all times:

Wedding ring. Wallet. Key Ring #1 (house keys). Key Ring #2 (car keys), Watch hanging from my belt. Hope for the Future.

23. Would you rather give or receive a foot massage?

Give. I am ticklish, so it never works out.

24. Name a teacher you had the hots for:

None that I can remember. Of course, my parents were teachers in the same school district, so I always assumed they got together and shared gossip.

25. What is a saying that you use a lot?

More later,

26. What's one piece of advice that you think should be passed on to every child?

Flee! Flee, you Fools!

More next year,

Thursday, December 29, 2005


So John mentioned that a group was getting together yesterday afternoon to go see King Kong, and I hoisted myself out of my office chair to go with the Lovely Bride. John and Janice were there, along with T'ed, Marc, and a surprise appearance by Stan of the Stannex, up from San Diego.

The movie was amazing and wonderful and long. That is probably where most people will have comments - where to cut. Marc felt it dragged in the opening scenes, getting the team to Skull Island. I actually though that the opening section was great (capturing the feeling of the other island in the movie - Manhattan of the 30's), but the early sequences on Skull Island lingered too long for me on "spooky shots of skulls". And that the movie captured in full the feeling of vertigo one gets when being carried around eternally by a giant ape.

Yet there is a lot packed into the movie, even at its length, a testament to the original and to this re-presentation (I can't call it a remake because it feels so fresh). There is the adventure story, and the funny bits, and the horrific bits (the "survivors attacked by vermin" sequence was a shut-your-eyes-tight nightmare), and the monster on the rampage, and the lost world, and the love story (Actress Darrow and Kong) and the love triangle (Darrow and author Driscoll and Kong). And there is something else - in the subtext, as they say. It is a film about the creative process.

No, really. One of the group mentioned that if the director also writes the screenplay, you end up with a writer as a protagonist. And while that is true more often than not (and that's another rant), the fact that the Driscoll character is an writer is new to the mix (Bruce Cabot was Driscoll in the 1933 version, but was First Mate on the ship). Driscoll writes "meaningful" theater for the National Theater Company, but lets his friendship with movie producer Carl Denham get him onto the ship in the first place. Denham, desperate for the script, stalls Driscoll as the ship sets sail. Driscoll runs to the railing to find there is about 50 feet of the East River between him and New York City. Denham tries to console him.

Carl Denham: You see, Jack, there's no money in theater. That's why you should join film.
Jack Driscoll: I love theater more then film.
Carl Denham: No you don't. If you love it, you would've jumped.

Denham WOULD have jumped - indeed, the ship casts off early to keep creditors from shutting down the movie. Denham is willing to sacrifice everything for his movie - his fortune, his film team, even the lives of everyone involved. The Jack Black's version of Denham is more malignant than Armstrong's 1933 version, and walks the fine line of becoming the true monster of the film (Jack Black is known for best known for playing the protagonist's lumpy stoner funny sidekick in romantic comedies - he shows himself as an incredible actor here). When the survivors of one of Kong's attacks mourn their dead, Denham mourns the loss of his film stock. And in the end, showmanship wins out for him, transforming Kong into an obviously tawdry and highly successful broadway show. The question of "what would you sacrifice" runs through the entire film, from Darrow and Kong's relationship on down.

Black was incredible, selling himself as a misguided villain as opposed to a happy, bumbling windbag. And Naomi Watts shows you can act against special effects and really act - she beats Fae Raye where Jessica Lange never could. And Andy Serkis as the man in the digital monkeysuit creates another fully-rounded, completely believeable, completely imaginary character.

I have said that it has taken a while for story to catch up with Special Effects in movies. We took a huge leap forward in the seventies and eighties, but the stories slipped a few cogs, not keeping up with the tech. This faithful expansion shows a time where the movie and the tech were in synch, and produced great work. Even at the length, even with the more squidgy sequences (again, faithful to the original), it is a wonderful movive. It is worth making the jump.

More later,

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

A Meme of Fours

[It used to be Fives, but there have been staff reductions]

Four jobs you've had in your life: Game Designer, Author, Structural Engineer for air pollution control devices, Order of the Arrow Coordinator.

Four movies you could watch over and over: The Longest Day, Casablanca, the Maltese Falcon, The Thin Man (it shouldn’t surprise anyone that all of these are in black and white – I almost added the first sixteen minutes of The Wizard of Oz).

Four places you've lived: Pittsburgh, PA; Lake Geneva, WI; Mesa AZ; West Lafayette, IN

Four TV shows you love to watch: The Simpsons, Curling on the CBC, Seahawks Football (even when they aren’t winning), KTCS Cooks.

Four places you've been on vacation: Kangaroo Island, Australia; Kono Beach Village, Hawai’i; Paris, France; Crater Lake, Oregon.

Four websites you visit daily: News from ME, FARK, Monkey King, Horses Ass.

Four of your favorite foods: Deep Dish Chicago Pizza, Maguro Sushi, Smoked Salmon, Grilled Swiss Cheese (but not all at once).

Four places you'd rather be: Kona Village on the Big Island; The Art Institute in Chicago; Los Gatos Canyon in California; Five feet away from here, on my back porch, in High Summer.

Monday, December 26, 2005

The Day After


Happy First Day of Hanukah, a Very Bonnie Boxing Day, and a Pleasant and Respectful Feast of St. Stephen. Or as we at Grubb Street have taken to calling it, Happy Recovery Day, a day of resorting the house after the Holiday Feast, which includes disposing of the leftovers, finishing the remainder of the mixed drinks, and hand washing the glassware that doesn't fit in the dishwasher.

The Feast itself was wonderful as always. We had eight guests, I managed to expand my cocktail-making repetoire, aided by a shaker and measuring glass that the Lovely Bride got me for Christmas. For appetizers we served rumaki (bacon-wrapped olives and scallops) and salmon-stuffed mushrooms. The salad course were arugula mixed greens with hazelnuts and persimmons and a citrus dressing. For dinner we served our signature brined turkey, baked ham, mashed pototes with herb bernaise butter. green beans with wild mushrooms, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sause, and homemade poppyseed rolls. Desert consisted of a chocolate hazelnut cherry brownie with choclate mousse and a green tea cheesecake with raspberries.

It was, of course, wonderful. Our guests were both vibrant and very comfortable with each other (we have done this for at least four years, and I realized when putting out the place settings that everyone had been here before). Bill brought a great late harvest reisling and John his selection of teas. Everyone brought conversation and appetites.

The only downside for the event was that the 22 pound turkey, dubbed "Turkzilla" by Shelly, was uncooperative, getting to the party an hour later than planned (the Lovely Bride and I have the meal planning broken down in ten-minute blocks, and were well ahead of the game before the turkey brought everything to a halt). By the end of it, Turkzilla's doneness was determined by which thermometer was used and who was jabbing the turkey with it, but it was fully cooked and succulent and delish. The only danger was I was going to run out of cocktails before it was ready. (I am up to three for the holiday party now, plus a non-alcoholic blush for the expecting and the temperant).

Of course, the lateness of the turkey gave me the chance to deliver the toast that I always considered previously:

"As God is my witness, I swore turkeys could fry".

Happy Recovery Day, the first day of the weeklong Festival of Leftovers!

More later,

Friday, December 23, 2005

Merry Christmas

Grubb Street wishes you and yours a very happy holiday season.


Peace on earth, and to all peoples, good will.

Oh Christmas Tree

We have had the tree up for a while (and by tradition, will have it up until after the Lovely Bride's birthday in January), but only now have I gotten around to hooking the camera up to post a shot of it:


After much discussion, we once again decided the theme for this year's tree would be "These are our ornaments, we hope you like them". We have a wide variety of ornaments from various origins. Some are from our parents' households, some are purchases, and some just showed up one day and are on the tree because they have always been. There are paper cranes and nutcrackers, a yellow submarine and wooden dinosaurs, native american woodcuts, Spider-Man and Superman, a zeppelin, a cable car, and a gardener's glove, along with all manner of glass orbs of various ages.It is topped by a star in which is set a dove.

I have no idea who made one of my favorite ornaments, visible on the left-hand side of the tree. It was made (I think) by one of my mother's students from when she was teaching grade school, and is a long white spindle of lacquered paper, with metal settings a a great blue glass gemstone on the front. I don't know who made it, and assume that whoever did has kids 9may grandkids)of their own now, but it always makes me smile when I put it on the tree.

The presentation is always based on physics - heavy stuff towards the bottom, paper and other unbreakables on the side that flanks the entranceway. nothing glass low enough where the cats can take a swat at it. Birds towards the top, cranes to cover up the spots where the lights are not. All in all, a very nice job (Kate put on the lights this year - I tend to bury them deeped in the foliage).

Oh, yes, that is Harlequin on the left of the tree, manifesting her new mutant ability of Cat-Vision, moments before making a lunge for one of the metal bells formed in the shape of an apple.

More later,

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Flip Flop


So if you've been around the journal for a while, you got this entry about ANWR and the then-attempt to authorize drilling in it. And how a group of Republican Moderates stood in the path of that attempt, and how I sited Dave Reichert in particular for being among those moderates.

So this past week ANOTHER bill comes up, a defense bill which MUST pass, to which the GOP brass attached the drilling ammendment AGAIN. Now, I would have problems connecting drilling in Alaska with the defense normally, but in this case about 60% of the oil would be going to foreign markets, so making it necessary for US Defense is a bit of stretch. And on THIS bill, Dave went the other way, supporting the right to let Big Oil drill.

Now, this is part and parcel of the difficulties of being a representative, in that you have pick your fights, and to choose between your constituents and your party (or to more precise, your party's donors). Mr Reichert gained a lot of good karma for his stand on the first bill, and similarly needs to be rapped on the knuckles for his vote on the latter one.

And, as chance (and bad timing for his office) would have it, it turns out I just got one of the mailers from Congressman Dave's office, headlining across the front "Dave Reichert - Protecting our Environment". It has one of those "mail-in and tell us what you think" cards, and question number 1 is "Do you believe that the US should drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska?"

I'll be glad to tell you, Dave, but it sounds like you made up your mind already. But thanks for asking.

More later,

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Cats that Came for Christmas (Update)

So it has been a little more than a year since the household gained its two new members, Harlequin and Victoria. About a year ago a friend, Brainstormfront, moved back to Wisconsin, leaving the two four-year-old cats with us.

The cats are doing well, one year later. For most of the year, they had run of the house, with exception of the top floor, which was Emily's domain. With our elder calico's passing, they now fling themselves throughout the house at high velocity between naps.

Harley and Vic are big cats, as large as Longshot was in his prime, and more muscle than fat. The two are similar in appearance, and only the fact that Harley has white socks on his paws makes her dramatically different than her sister. Harley is the social animal, and during the Lovely Bride's game nights, can usually be found at the gaming table (and often ON the gaming table) demanding attention. Harley is also the escape artist, and never seen a door that she did not want to go through. This has resulted in her being locked in closets on numerous occasions, and at the end of the day, I do a "cat patrol" to make sure the kittens are in the house (and not, say, in the garage).

Vic remains more of an enigma. Very much a on/off cat. She will flee from people, then turn around, jump in their laps, and demand full attention. Then, once her tanks have been topped off, leap away. Of late she has been jumping into bed and kneading the Lovely Bride (this is a bad thing as far as the Lovely Bride is concerned). Vic gets expelled for her crimes, then thumps on the doors until she is let back in. The only way to stop her is to pick her up and lavish attention on her (hold her and pet her and call her George). This mortifies her and she runs off again.

The cats have found the cat toys of Rogue, Emily, and Longshot, and are often dragging, batting, and leaving them around the house. Their favorite toy is a set of rawhide bootlaces from my old boots. Harley will drag them into the room, expecting me to drop everything and run around the house with her (she is usually correct). Vic waits for Harley to get the human to play, then she leaps in as well. Another favorite is the laser pointer, which they know is connected to my hand but don't seem to care. We use the latter to distract the girls from the outer doors (one human brings stuff in, the other distracts the cats).

So the pair of them have settled in nicely. Last year they ignored the tree (since it was here when they got here, and they were hiding behind the bookcases for much of it. Now, they are intrigued the idea of a tree filled with shiny dangling things, and I add to my duties the location and replacement of lost ornaments.

But more about that another time.

Monday, December 19, 2005


So after the play (see below), the Lovely Bride and I left the theater and saw a gathering at the Seattle Center Fountain. We wandered over and discovered that it was the Solstice celebration for Winterfest (yes, Solstice is still a few days, but this was the celebration). It was a wonderful (if chill in the gathering gloom) experience, with fire performers ringing the fountain, figures celebrating the old and new years, and people representing the planets, in orbit around the fountain. Mercury was a kid on rollerblades weaving around the fire performers, a heavily wrapped Venus next out, Earth Mother in the next ring out, Mars in camo, Jupiter regal in purple. Most of the crowd were at the Jupiter orbit (the ground level surrounding the fountain). Further out, slowmoving Saturn, Neptune, Uranus, and solitary Pluto moving very slowly and lonely at the outmost edge of the lawn. No sign of Charon or other Transplutonian bodies.

Interesting thing is that there is a bit of closure for our year as well. Way back here, I mentioned that there were firedancers practicing at Gasworks Park. At the time I saw a lot of strange rigs - stuff that looked like sunbursts on pikes, fans, and hula hoops. This was part of the same group as performed here, and yes, they set the hula hoops on fire (for the record, the fire performers were Cique de Flambe, Ignis Devoco, and Northwest Fire Conclave).

In the end we got light-stick bracelets (provided by the Science Center) and headed home, but it was a sweet, mystical end of the day. Wish I had brought a camera.

More later,

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Play: Rocky Marriage Picture Show

Restoration Comedy by Amy Freed, directed by Sharon Ott, Seattle Repertory Theatre, thorugh January 7, 2005

The Holiday Play. Always a thorny issue within the scheduling of the theatrical season. It is not a time for deep thought or controversy. You can go with season fare - the Christmas Carols and Black Nativities, or you can go for something light and frothy and humorous. The Rep has gone the latter direction to produce a Christmas cookie of a play - oppulent outfits, clever stagecraft, a familiar spice of Rep regulars, and good actors. But the cookie is made of two conflicting tastes, creating a weird admixture in the end.

This is another theatrical chimera in this season that is a hand-off between artistic directors, a new play by Amy Freed (who wrote the appealing Shakespearean romp The Beard of Avon) built on two earlier works. Restoration Comedy is a slamming together of two plays. The first, Love's Last Shift by Colley Cibber, was a sentimental comedy, which spurred in turn The Relapse, by John VanBrugh, which was quickly written, debuted on Boxing Day, ran for but a week in its original production, and has been better remembered by the ages. Freed merges the two into a single, not-necessarily coherent whole.

Love's Last Shift is the first act, which is the tale of a wastrel husband returned to London on the news of his loyal wife's death. Unfortunately for Loveless, the husband, his wife Amanda is alive and wants him back, and to do so intrigues to become his mistress. Under the tutelege of Loveless's friend Worthy, she picks up enough deceptive skills to bed him and bring him to heel, making him foreswear his wicked ways. Virtue triumphs.

Hang on, says VanBrugh, in The Relapse, which is the source for the second act. VanBrugh uses the main characters from the first play to show that the leopard doesn't change his spots, that the problem lies within the wife's expectations, and pretty much blows up the resolution from the first act. The various sources I have present The Relapse as a response, argument, or blastback from VanBrugh, but Cibber himself was in the second play (according to my old Britannica, portraying his creation from the first play, the faddish Fashion Vanity (promoted to Lord Foppington within VanBrugh's work, much as Cibber was promoted).

Its a bit of hairpin turn as far as plot goes. We establish the reality of the characters in the first act, then overturn that (all-too-suddenly) in the second. We go from the triumph of virtue to the easy necessity of vice. The second act (and The Relapse itself) also involves an unrelated subplot of Lord Foppington's brother stealing away the Lord's bumpkin bride, which is sort like the "B-plot" in a sitcom - what do you do with the actors who are not in on the main plot?

The actors, as usual for the REP are excellent. Stephen Caffrey vamps and swaggers through the role of Loveless, who as a character has an arc as tepid as a hamster's heartbeat. Caralyn Kozlowski has more to work with as Amanda, and I think that this revised work more is her story than his. Suzzane Bouchard sizzles as Berinthia, the temptress of the second act, utterly believable and delightful as sensual flirt. REP regulars Laurence Ballard and Bhama Roget hoist a number of comic supporting roles broadly and admirabily. Jonathan Freeman' Lord Foppington makes you smile, but could be even more over the top - while Amanda holds together the two acts, his character has to lash together the two odd halves of the second act.

So, we have a lot of costumes - opulent day coats and gowns, but also heavy on the tight corsets, heaving bosums, and thigh high boots. Delightful eye-candy, but also working against the arguments of virtue in the first act and a celebration of the moral murkiness of the Restoration period. The set design is clever and the play swings amusingly through anachronism, throwing accuracy to the wind (velcro? head mikes?) in order to underscore is un-serious nature.

In the end, it was one of those plays that works well if you don't think too much about what it is saying. Which makes it a relief in the holiday season. But this is a play that almost demands it OWN sequel to wrap up the characters, left in midflight at the end of the play.

More later,

Friday, December 16, 2005

We Three Dragons

With everything that has been going on, I have been remiss in a little shameless self-promotion in this holiday season. Available now in your finer stores (and in your less-fine stores as well), is the We Three Dragons collection, which is a collection of three stories by myself, James Ward, and Ed Greenwood. Each of us took a traditional Christmas tale and gave it a fantastic spin. Mine was "The Knight, Before Christmas", is the shortest of the three (Ed took on "A Christmas Carol" and James re-imagined Oscar Wilde's"The Selfish Giant" in a draconic vein).

Just a note, in case you're looking for that stocking stuffer!


More later

Thursday, December 15, 2005


So, I'm back, and my fingers ache a little from all the typing I've been doing for the past week. But that's not what I want to talk about.

For the past week, it has been cold here in the Puget Sound area. I don't mean Wisconsin 30-below-with-a-wind-chill-that-comes-from-Minnesota cold, but cold for the region, enough to send the weather wimps into a tizzy. Highs in the 40s, and lows just below freezing. For the weather wimp I have become, it is time to pull out the fleece and wear a sweater around the house. I tend to like to keep the house temperature low during the day - the Lovely Bride has the gizmo controlling the heat to drop it during the day, then bring it back up for when she comes home - I know she will be coming back because the heater kicks on and I start getting sleepy from the warmth.

But what has been particularly interesting is the freezing fogs that have rolled in. Because of the temperature just hanging at the freezing point, combined with the moisture in the air, we are getting fog in the evening, which quickly becomes water on the road, which becomes a thin layer of pebbly ice, perfect for curling but less than ideal for walking on. It has been a bit perilous in the evenings around here, and the lawn has been white with frost every morning.

In other news, the yuletide spirit has hit World of Warcraft There are wreaths and lights and a device that turns people into Santa Gnomes and Santa's Workshop Elf Gnomes. And snowballs. Lot of snowball fights in Stormwind this time of year.

More later,

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


I'm not ignoring you, I'm just busy. Deadlines. If you need a bit to chew on, here's Ted Chiang on Magic versus Technology, which I find pretty interesting.

More later.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Frosted Mini-Rants

There are things I think, things I know, and things I think I know.

Coming back to Seattle after a near-month on the road, I was interested to see the local Starbucks move out out of its niche next to the Fred Meyers and into what had previously been a Burger King. So now they have a drive-through, I thought at the time. Then a couple days later, I noted that ANOTHER Burger King, this time in Burien, was gone, replaced by ANOTHER Starbucks (with a drive-through). Once is an accident, twice is an incident, and three times will set precident. I'm wondering if BK is abandoning the field in the South End, much like Dunkin' Donuts, which quietly pulled out last year, turning its franchises into a gaggle of independents.

In other news, The War on Christmas is back. It's sort of the "silly season" for rightie pundits - there is nothing else they CAN talk about at the moment, so they go back to the old favorite of "Everyone Hates You!" in this season of Peace on Earth. Of course, this year it has been blowing up in their faces like badly-baked fruitcakes, when everyone from Fox to the President is saying "Happy Holidays" (since they obviously didn't get the memo), driving the pundits to even greater levels of caterwauling. And like the fruitcakes, my own take on all this is now a year old.

And speaking of misfired messages (and sounding like Andy Rooney), I never "got" Doctor Pepper commercials. I mean, they advertise for a lot of crap on the tube that I would never buy, but at least I could respect the thought behind the ads. Not on this carbonated nightmare-inducer. Not only did the "Be a Pepper" jingle leave me cold, the attempt to co-opt niche musical genres (hiphop, motown, country, and salsa all come to mind) with an "established star" and a "rising star" belting out their love for the product just left me scratching my head. So it should be no surprise that the current ads, with a a bunch of young teenage boys crushing on a mini-van driving mom who has the drink in her back seat (with the not-so-subtle musical score "Tracy's Mom has got it going on"). Somehow, it has lecherous overtones - all that's missing is a heavy-breather saying "Candy, Little Girl?"

So burn that image from your brains as I note that the bowl games are announced, and I think there are more college bowls than there are NFL Playoffs. Twenty-eight of them according to my paper, and still no real idea what it will resolve. OK, I can get behind the Rose, Orange, Sugar, Cotton, and Gator Bowls. I'm not a total barbarian. I'll even give you the Holiday and the Liberty. But the Houston, Music City, Emerald (San Francisco) and New Orleans (Lafayette) bowls seem to be spreading it all a bit thin. Then there's the sponsored bowls - the GMAC in Mobile, Alabama, the MPC Computers Bowl in Boise, Capital One in Orlando (What's in YOUR backfield?) and my fave for this year, Mieneke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte (where, I understand, you're not going to pay a lot for that penalty). And then there are the ones I have no clue about if they're sponsored or not - is the Alamo Bowl pushing for car rentals? Is the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando plugging chicken wings and beer? Is the Insight bowl about computers, or merely personal revelations?

I dunno, but I'm not watching any of them. This holiday season, I am trying to embrace this thought, ganked from John Kovalic:
More later,

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Wonder World

And a favorite comic/game store is shutting down.

Wonder World, based out of Burien, is shutting down at the end of January. Situated in among a series of strip malls and small local businesses, across the street from a struggling (later defunct) department store, Wonder World was a smorgesbord of gaming, comics, anime, paperbacks, figures, miniatures and toys. When I moved out here eight years back, I was impressed with the depth and scope of this place. I quickly filled out a lot of my back stock (Harn supplements I hadn't seen in years), and hit the store every week or two, to see what was in (and picked up a lot of games that otherwise I would have missed). Even when I had my comics held by another store (more recently Book World), I would rely on Wonder World for the missed issues as well as exposure to new books that might not be ordered by other stores (such as Ex Machina and Invincible).

What is boils down to, however, is real estate. As I've noted elsewhere, comic shops (and game stores and used book stores) depend on cheap commercial space, and lots of it. The reason that Wonder World was so large and diverse is that it was in a backwater area, where the rents were cheap. I was talking with Dave, the owner, who stated flat out he was getting the space for "warehouse rates".

Not anymore. That defunct department store across the street? That and its entire block is going to be ripped up for one of these big upscale mall/condo operations that are now in vogue. Recharge the downtown district! Make Burien a destination! Improve the tax base! The net result of this is that the owner of the building that contains Wonder World wants to go upscale as well. making major renovations and hopefully bringing in more profitable tennants.

Exit, Wonder World, at least as a brick and mortar. They're already doing a good Internet business, and the plan is to disperse the stock into storage and keep going with the company online. But the ability to go and brouse through back issues of forgotten games and low-distribution comics will be gone. I support Dave and his gang for their decision, and at the same time I'm going to miss the place.

More later,

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Hardsell and Numbers

A storm blew through my dining room just now.

I don't know about you folks, but we get a lot of calls about refinancing. Most of the time I ring off with a "we-don't-take-phone-solicitations-please-put-us-on-your-do-not-call-list". Sometimes the Lovely Bride calls them on it, challenging them to beat her fixed-rate mortgage (which is pretty good - the Lovely Bride handles the family accounts, and the only debt we're carrying is the mortgage, which, this being Seattle, is pretty durn high).

So about a while back a money management marketing guy cold-calls in, and Kate says, "Can you beat an X percent fixed mortgage?"

The MMM guy says "Yes, we can."

The Lovely Bride says, "Fixed rate?"

The MMM guy says, "Uhuh."

The Lovely Bride says, "Just a mortgage refinance."

The MMM guy says, "Yep."

So the marketing guy dispatches two of his people over the house this morning. I have their cards, but let's call them Hardsell and Numbers. Hardsell is tall, loud, and passionate about what his firm can do for us. Numbers is shorter, quieter, and has his calculator out within minutes of sitting down at the dining room table. Not quite Bad Cop/Good Cop. More of Blustery Cop/Quiet Cop. They remind me of Penn and Teller, who unfortunately are NOT the people you want the thinking about when you're renegotiating your mortgate.

The Lovely Bride has the files out, ready to do business. I am there as the least-knowledgeable being in the room (only because I had to lock the cats up to keep them off the table).

And it became quickly clear that they could not beat an X percent fixed mortgage, that they would love to get us involved in larger financial planning, and that the plan is to sell us the latest "hot thing" in adjustable mortgages (presented in a jumble of acronyms, - a START with a 1 percent ARM (and maybe a 2 percent LEG)). My BS detector at this point is screaming like the Robot in "Lost in Space".

The Lovely Bride is not amused. Restates what she's looking for. Hardsell pushes harder. Numbers and I get real quiet. Stormclouds start to gather along the dining room ceiling, and lightning flashes in the Lovely Bride's eyes. Hardsell starts using phrases like "We want to educate you" and "If you will only listen." The Lovely Bride states for a third time what she wants. Hardsell finally, exasperated, admits that this was impossible. The Lovely Bride thanks them for their time. I show them out. Hardsell is literally muttering as he storms out, Numbers slides out after him with a weak smile.

Here's a clue to the Hardsells of the world. When you use the phrase "We want to educate you" you're being condescending and insulting. When you have to use the phrase "If you will only listen," you're already lost the sale. The best you can do is get off the field with your dignity intact.

And you might want to think twice before sending in another team to contend with the Lovely Bride.

More later,

Monday, December 05, 2005

Dan Hooker

Dan Hooker, my agent at the Ashley Grayson Agency, passed away on November 24. While I have worked with both Ashley and Dan, Dan was the one to steer me through my first non-TSR/WotC books, Liberty's Crusade and The Last Guardian, and held my hand when I needed it. More information can be found here.

I never met Dan in the flesh, and did not know he was ill. It didn't even register that most of the negotiation for a current book was being done with Ashley. I deeply appreciate the breaks and advice he provided over the years. I'll miss him.

Authors, have you hugged your agent today?

More later,

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Susan Knapp Root

Margaret Susan Knapp Root, my cousin Susie, passed away on 27 November, after a long battle with liver cancer. Suzie was eight years my senior. She was my mother's sister's only daughter, and with her husband Tracy, owned and managed restaurants in Nantucket, Massachusetts and Naples, Florida. More details may be found here

My deepest sympathies to Tracy, and Susie's surviving brothers, Brad and Jay, and their families.

More later.

Friday, December 02, 2005


Believe me, I would rather be writing about the snow - its about two inches at Grubb Street's real-time offices, under a fog-shrouded sky. Pretty as a Christmas card.

However, Wizards of the Coast yesterday laid off 15 employees. Many who have been let go are people I know and like and have worked with previously. They include Peter Archer (director of book publishing), John Rateliff (games editor), Charles Ryan (brand manager, D&D), Joe Hauck (VP marketing, but I know him from his work in card design), Wendy Wallace (graphic design), Katie Roe (IT), Tim Thomas (web), Michelle Lyons (games editor), Mike Elliot (director of design, designer of Hecatomb) Teeuwynn Woodruff (new products), and Cornelius Lee (senior veep, marketing). The shoes continue to drop as the news filters through our various support system, so I apologize for missing anyone.

Most of those affected were long-term veterans with a deep, ongoing relationship with the company, many of them starting at the bottom and working up to management positions. A lot of history went out the door yesterday. My sympathies and support for those who were laid off, as well as for those that are still at the company - the post-layoff work environment tends to be pretty horrible, in particular if the work load remains at pre-layoff levels.

In addition, WotC closed 7 open positions (unfilled job positions). No word on contractors or temps affected, as their numbers sometimes disappear in the official counts. If there are additions, I will report them.

News on the layoffs can be read here. The ever-placid and elegant NikChick shares her thoughts here.

Me? I'm going to watch the snow for a while. More later.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Welcome Home (here's your bill)

So there was no hot water upstairs when we got home.

Let me explain something about this house. It originally was a tri-level, one of those houses were the entrance is on the second level, with a half staircase going down and a half staircase going up. About ten years back, the owners put in a fourth level (over the second level) and expanded the kitchen and dining room. In the expansion level they put in another 30 gallon water heater for the upstairs master bath. And, it turns out, they routed that water heater to the expanded kitchen as well.

We discovered this when we got home and found out there was no hot water upstairs or (to our suprise) to the kitchen either. Calls were made to Pat's Plumbing, who helped us with a shower problem the previous year (we had lost the lower hot water heater about four years back, and the guys who did it did not hook up the gas correctly - they were not invited back). Anyway, Pat's got out here the same day, and investigation indicated that the inner tank on the upstairs heater was going. There were already leaks, which killed the heating unit and had dripped down the adjacent flue into the fireplace. But no flood, yet. We ordered a new heater and watched as they manhandled the old heater out of its narrow space and installed the new one. Brought things up to code. Put in earthquake straps that will hold up to the point the wall falls in. I'm not sure, but somewhere along the way I think I approved underbody coating.

The guys doing the job were nice and professional, but I'm left with the frustration that I don't know my house very well, leaving me prey to this sort of thing (Kate loves banging down walls and rewiring, but will not touch plumbing, after having twisted a rusted shut-off valve, only to have it come off in her hand). The feeling is deepened, when we discovered this morning that sometime in the repair process, the water to the bathtub was shut off and not turned back on. We have no idea where the turnoff valve is and what they did. So another plumber has been dispatched.


More later,

Update: So the second plumber has come and gone. His initial ideas were that either something was blocking the pipe from when they emptied to the old water heater or that the valve failed (I marveled that a valve in an unrelated part of the plumbing would choose to fail immediately after plumbers visited the house). It turned out to be the former, but the tub handle was reattached too loose, frustrating him since the screw threads holding it had been stripped out. So we have hot water AND a functioning tub BUT we await a third plumber to get a new handle. I remind myself that for the bulk of life her, my bathroom has been a quiet, uncomplaining room that rarely called attention to itself.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Home is the Hunter . . .

To discover, that while he was away, all of November was taken from him.

Back in town from Duesseldorf. From Pittsburgh. From New Jersey. Long travels now come to rest. Digging through the mail, the emails, and trying to figure out why the upstairs water heater conked out in our absense. Yes, I have more to winge and moan about, but that will be for later.

More later,

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Light Blogging

Still mostly offline, still trying to figure out how to re-attach my laptop to the Internets, still in contact with the outside world based on the kindness of other people's systems, still in New Jersey. Will rectify all of this one way or the other very, very soon.

However, I caught the local news on Black Friday (only our business community aided by a compliant press. could try to spin that name into a positive thing). In the local paper, the "Big Sales Launch Great Christmas Season" story was on page 1, while the "Local shoppers riot, cops called out, people hospitalized" story got bumped to page 3.

More later (quit pushing),

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving

From Grubb Street. I have been kept offline by travel and a not-always-reliable Internet connection (Oh, and the smoke alarm going off from the turkey). When I get back online for any appreciable time, I'll update with a bunch of stuff.

More later (no, really)

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Back in the USA

So I got back Sunday afternoon, slept for 18 hours, caught the Lovely Bride's cold, and am dragging myself around the house like some tomb-lost lich, bemoaning my fate and trying to keep up with various promises.

More later, when I recover. Promise.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

The Old Job and the New

So, Duesseldorf.

A week ago Friday I left my job at Pokemon USA. Two days later I got on a plane for Germany.

No, nothing was wrong with Pokemon, USA. I was pleased with the work I had done, some of which has shown up, some of which has yet to appear. I liked the challenges, the people and the view, though I detested the commute with an ever-increasing passion (which is odd because it is the same commute I had with Wizkids). And my corporate masters seemed pleased with what I doing. But no one had had "the talk" with me about keeping me on once the contract elapsed, so I kept my ears open to other opportunities.

Enter Blue Byte Software, a subsidiary of Ubisoft. They were looking for a story writer for a new title and had gotten my name from someone in the Seattle/Vancouver area and would I be interested? Several emails and story pitches later, they offered me a contract position, initially for a few months but, like Pokemon USA, with the potential of turning into something much more long-term. I thought about it, and the new job would be a great opportunity to build a computer game's story from the ground up. I said yes.

Good, said they, can you come to Germany? Say, early November?

And that, children, is what I am doing in Duesseldorf right now. I've spent a very productive week working with the core team (Benedikt, Andreas, Alex, and Arne (hi guys!)), understanding both their process and their goals with the new game. Things have gone remarkably well - they are a talented bunch, both receptive to new ideas and forgiving when they have to explain that they had already thought of my latest brainstorm and had to discard it for some reason I had not realized. It has been a bit of a whirlwind, and I am surprised that I have fit in as smoothly as I have.

Of course, I can't tell you what I'm doing until the project is much, much further along, but when I can say, I shall. But I'm real excited about what I'm doing, and eventually you will be too. Trust me on this one.

More later,

Friday, November 11, 2005

The Battle for ANWR

So, you going to talk about Dusseldorf?

You mean Duesseldorf? Yes, but not yet. Instead I want to talk about good news that happened because of a Republican's principled stand.

You're kidding.

Not even for a moment. Most of the time I hear the plaintive wail "I would support the GOP if only they had sane candidates." But here's a case where a Republican did the right thing and has as a result significantly increased his chances of re-election.

Here's the deal. For years now, Big Oil and their sock puppets in national government have been agitating to get into the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve. Having gutted most of the North Slope for crude, the now-rich remains of this easily-reached oilfield is just there for the taking, if only for the fact that, you know, those pesky animals live there. So there have been regular, increasing attempts to give the go-ahead to bore drillheads into this fragile pristine landscape. Most of the bills to allow it have been defeated by ever-smaller numbers. Eventually, the thinking went, they would succeed.

So most recently they put the permission to drill in a big budget bill. The only way you can vote against it is to vote against the budget. The GOP controls both sides of the Congress, so that was not expected to be a prob. Even if the Dems vote against it, it would go through, if the Reps showed their acclaimed party loyalty.

They did in the Senate and the bill sailed through. Not so in the House, where a group of 22 moderate Republicans dug in their heels and pointed out you once you start the omlet, you can't uncrack the eggs. They were going to vote against the budget if the odious rider was attached.

Now normally this would have resulted in some arm-twisting and deal-making, but in the case the GOP managers blinked, and dropped the rider.

And what makes this interesting is that amoung those 22 rebel moderates was my district's Rep, Dave Reichert. Being a first-termer usually means you lay low and toe the party line on votes, but Reichert has proved to be independent on issues that he has been knowledgeable on. This in the past has included police and national security (he's the former King County Sherrif). Now he's willing to buck his party's conventional wisdom on environment as well, reminding his brethren that he represents his constituents, not the party brass.

When a politician does the right and the principled thing, he deserves to be rewarded. Good move, Mr. Reichert. I speak for the people of the 8th when I say I'd like to see more of it.

More later,

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Electoral Post Mortem

The results are in. The Monkey King and Jason have both done post-election reports. Here's mine (for those living out of state who have had to listen to my observations) and a few notes.

I mentioned the initiatives earlier in the journal, and the results were in general pretty good. I-900, which supported performance audits, passed, as did I-901, the more stringent smoking ban. I supported the first, did not support the second. I've spent the past four days in Duesseldorf, Germany, which has a good population of smokers, but really have little to complain about. The evil twin medical initiatives, I-360 and I-363, both went down to defeat, though the anti-lawyer one lost by less than the anti-insurance company one. Despite the defeats, I think the amount of heat and invective poured into the campaigns should be a sign for our legislature to address the issues raised.

Excuse me?


You just said you were in Dusseldorf?

I've seen it spelled Dusseldorf and Duesseldorf, but yes, I've been here for the past four days or so. I am currently writing at 6 AM local time (jet lag is a pain) at the window of my hotel on Kurfurstenstrasse, since that gives me the best reception for the hotel's wireless hub. Moving on, I-912 . . .

No, no, no. WHY are you in Dusseldorf?

I'm talking to a software company. When things finally gel (and the contract is in the last throes of rebellion now), I'll pass things along. May I continue?

Oh . . . OK

I-912, the anti-gas tax initiative went down to a glorious and explosive defeat. For all of the call-in show bloviation and stories of taxpayer rebellion, the bulk of the populace got the message that people wanted safer roads and were willing to kick in for them. The final outcome of the initiative did two things - it showed a unity among a hugely diverse group of interests from enviros to corporations, from fiscal conservatives to social liberals. It also showed that a lot of drumbeating from the radio waves on behalf of this initiative was an echo chamber, something that usually pops up on liberal blogs, where everyone quotes each other and creates the illusion of a popular will. And in this case, I-912 was more smoke than fire.

Similarly, Ron Sims reduced his GOP opponent to a fine, red electoral paste (13 points up on him, the last figures I had). Just three weeks back, there was a poll showing the two men in a tight race, but since then a lot of attention on the blogs and other media went into really looking at the challenger, and finding some problems.

This actually reflects a pet peeve on the national level for me - you see polls saying that the president would lose badly to "A democrat" if the election were held today,which ignores a)that election is not being held today, b) the president never has to worry about this situation ever again, and c) "A democrat" would not be running, but rather an individual. I think the earlier polls reflects a concern about Sims' activist policies (and he is all over the joint), but when "A republican" solidified into "Dave Irons", then people took a good, hard look and decided that Ron wasn't that bad at all.

OK, back to local. Most of the rest of the field was pretty expected. Susan Rahr took King County Sherrif handily. Greg Nichols, unapposed by an official GOP candidate, won Mayor, the independent running against him doing almost as well as Dave Irons did against Ron Sims. All the "incumbents" for King County Council were elected, including Reagan Dunn for the 9th and Julia Patterson for the 8th. The makeup of the KC Council is 5 Dems, 4 Republicans, with one of the Dems a wild-card (Ferguson of the 1st). The big-business candidates tended to edge out the blue-green labor/environmentalist candidates at the Port of Seattle (of which I probably should have said more at the time, but the Port Authority is this large, sprawling semi-elected operation that required a lot more time to investigate it - the Mgt. regrets not wading in deeper). A city initiative for a shorter Monorail line was voted down, leaving that project in limbo, and perhaps finally dead.

In general, this election has been a vote of confidence for the local incumbents. The voters turned out big for a politically gutsy move by the Governor and state Dems and GOP to help repair the roads. The more radical initiatives went down, though people want a bit more oversight. People are generally happy with where we are, but still have ideas as to where we are going.

It was a good day for Democracy.

More later,

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Public Service Message

Well, it is Election Day evening back in Seattle, and the early results are coming in. But before I dedicate an entry to the mourning after, I want to make a plea to the public at large.

The election is over. It is time to remove your bumper stickers.

I'm not talking about the stickers from today's election. I am talking about the stickers from LAST year's election.

It's time to go. I'm talking to you, the Saab-owner with the Kerry/Edwards bumper sticker - you're a mobile stereotype. The same goes for the owner of the pickup truck with the "W" sticker - yes, there's a ragged edge where you tried to pull it off with your fingernails, but now's the time to remove it entirely. Ditto for that Range Rover with Dino Rossi sticker and the suspcious key marks along the side panels. Give it up. And the hybrid with the "Kucinich for President" sticker? That's right up there with "Don't blame me, I voted for Kodos" in the irony department. We got the joke. Now move on.

It's time to give it all a rest. Deep breaths, folks, and just take them down. Now. From here on in, you can gripe about the results of THIS election.

More later,

Monday, November 07, 2005

Deja Vu (Local Politics Version)

Before I get into all this, I want to point out to fellow Seattle-natives that Shelly in Seattle has put her recommendations on Initiatives. She and I don't agree on everything, but I think she makes a lot of good points, and I recommend you tune her in.

Done? 'Cause let me sit down because I'm getting deja vu all over again with the upcoming election for King County Executive. It feels like it is the year 2000, compacted down to a county-sized bite.

Here's the sitch - we have a Democrat who has brought the county from a nasty economic time to its best rating ever, strong on environment and family, but is plagued by a scandal (in this case the voting huggamugga from the last Governor's election - a scandal that produced much more heat than light). On the Republican side, we have one of those guys who swear he's going run the government "like a business" but who owes his business experience to his family name and backing, and who jumped ship (as COO) from one company just before it augered in. Add to that some murky issues of personal integrity (which has resulted that not only his former co-workers but his own family coming out publicly against him), a now-hidden agenda or two (involving previous support for running a highway through Seattle's watershed, not talked about much now), and baleful cries that the Dems are saying horrible things about him (Like sending out mailers showing him holding a Bush/Cheney sign, knowing full well that our commander in chief's approval ratings are only slightly above freezing).

Does any of this sound familiar?

Oh yeah, add a third party candidate to the race who operates on the left but is positive that he will take as many votes from the GOP as the Dems. NOW does it sound like the US back in 2000? Does King County finally have the chance to fall off its high horse and choose the pig in the poke? Do we have a chance to prove that we're just as dumb as the rest of the country?

Hang on, because it does get worse. In a last-moment assault, the State GOP loudly and publicly "found" almost 2000 "illegal" voters, bringing back the questions of that scandal-prone vote count (never mind they never came up with anything - the accusastions are enough under a relentless drumbeat of repetition). Trouble is, the next day they had to back-pedal on about ten percent of their accusations (and more coming) as those disenfranchised turned out to be both a) real voters, and b) real angry about this stunt.

Yep, it's our old favorite, Vote Supression - if you make it tougher for people to vote the odds are that your core voters will count for more. Because, it is unlikely that the people who were "accidentally" bounced off the voting rolls would vote GOP (at least, not anymore).

So here we are again, with a flawed vessel of a candidate being put forward by a strong-arm campaign. The thing is, the GOP stands a decent chance, because it has been two terms of a Democrat who has never met an idea he didn't want to play with. (some of which I like, some of which I don't). So some folk think it may be time for a change.

Not this time. We need to send a message of our own about all this, so I am strongly recommending and endorsing Ron Sims for King County Executive.

'Cause, yaknow, the similarities are so striking, that if the Republicans get in, by this time next year we'll be invading Pierce County.

More later.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Medea on Trial

Purgatorio by Ariel Dorfman, Directed by David Esbjornson, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Through November 26, 2005

The stage is a bare white room with white furniture, brilliantly lit. The actors are but two - "Man" (Dan Snook) and "Woman" (Charlayne Woodard). The plot moves forward of its own volition and counts on you being bright enough to catch up. And you're thinking - OK, we're trapped in another interesting backchannel of theatrical world - the postmodern play.

And it is, but its really a lot more than that. It's an excellent play about redemption, healing, forgiveness, and personal growth. It makes loops in time and character development and leaves the viewer connecting dots that may or may not truly be connected. It engages and makes you think. That's a good thing.

The white room is one of millions in the afterlife waystation of Purgatory. This is not Dante's Purgatory, but something closer to Albert Brook's Defending Your Life, where souls are placed for therapy to determine if they are fit to be recycled into new life or obliterated entirely. The Woman is Medea from the play by Euripides - she who gives Jason the Golden Fleece, runs off with him, bears him two children, is cast aside for another woman, and kills other woman and children. The Man is, well, an angel or servitor or other spirit who is her counselor, evaluator, and sole contact in this afterlife, who will make the decision on her continued existence.

Woman/Medea rails and collapses, advances slowly but surely, fails and recovers and rages, and is forced to face her worst fears and the horror and responsibility for her actions. Then we blackout and reverse roles. When the lights come up, Man is the prisoner in this Purgatory, and is Jason, who pulled Medea away and then betrayed her and killed himself. Woman is now the counselor, evaulator, and contact. Man/Jason moves through a similar-but-different process, and then we black out and flip again. By the end of the play you have a connection between Jason and the Male counselor, Medea and the Female counselor, Jason and Medea, and both with the nature of Purgatory itself in a funhouse mirror resolution.

The actors are simply excellent. Charlayne Woodard was previously in In Real Life at the REP, an autobiographical one-woman show of her time with Ain't Misbehavin' (before I started keeping this journal, but trust me, she was great). Here she moves with the power of the sorcerous and sensuous Medea, raging against life and afterlife and driving the play forward. Dan Snook starts with the lower-key, reactive roll, but as the play's plot unspools, his very reserved nature makes sense and folds back in on his behavior, and he becomes a volcano about to go off.

There is a third character, even more quicksilver than the two players - a Purgatory that exists without heaven or hell. As we move through the play, the nature and rules of a time-bent place seem to curve back on themselves. Purgatory is in turns a mental hospital, a place of judgement, a prison, and a faceless bureaucracy. It has both a healing hand and fascist armlock. Just as the characters affect each other, they seem to warp the nature and the rules of the white room they occupy. As a result, at the end, you're thinking about both characters and place and the redemptive natures of Dorfman's universe.

This is a thinking person's play, and the REP pulls it off well (though again, it is one better suited for a more intimate stage, though for different reasons that King Stag). It is well-recommended if you are the type of theatre patron that likes to see the play, then spend the next hour or so taking apart its meaning over Thai food.

The Lovely Bride enjoyed this as well - she knows her Medea legend well, and liked how, within the minimalist environment, the author has curved everything back on itself, to create a play that is both tidy and open-ended. Oh, and of great importance to her - no puppets this time. For this she is greatly appreciative.

More later,

Monday, October 31, 2005


We put our eldest cat, Emily, to sleep this afternoon. She was 18 years old, and the last of the cats that came with us from Lake Geneva. A temperamental calico, she was noted in her youth for both her hunting abilities (both mice and birds) and her mercurial moods (she came with a warning sticker). Starting last year, age began to catch up with her, and she eventually confined herself to the upper bedroom. She had many illnesses, setbacks and recoveries over the past year, but in the past week deteriorated quickly, to the point that the Lovely Bride and I made the horrible and hard decision.

This afternoon we planted a flowering cherry tree under grey skies, and on Halloween laid to rest an orange and black friend. She is survived by two much younger cats, Harlequin and Victoria. The former of the two is sitting at my door with a leather bootlace in her mouth, waiting for me to drag it around the room.

Those who wish to honor Emily's memory should play with their pets this evening, and give them a treat. Emily would note that the smoked salmon is excellent.

More later,

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Movie: A Silent Call

Call of Cthulhu: adapted from the H.P. Lovecraft story by Sean Branney, Produced by Sean Branney and Andrew Leman, Starring Matt Foyer, Noah Wagner and Ralph Lucas.

It is a small surprise that I don't talk about Lovecraft and the Cthulhu mythos more than I do in these entries. I'm a fan of Lovecraft's eldritch horror, as are many other game designers (and I would go so far as to say that the RPG version of the mythos is most game designer's second-favorite game, right after the one they are currently working on). Lovecraft is the creator of one of the most enduring shared universes, where numerous creatives have put in their two-cents worth during his lifetime and in the decades following his death.

However, Lovecraft is notoriously hard to film, and most cinemagraphic treatments I have seen over the years appropriate his trappings but then tries to harness them to the requirements of modern cinema, producing mutilated abominations that work best when you try to forget the Lovecraftian elements and take them as the slasher/chiller/scary monster picture that they were intended to be by their producers.

This is because that Lovecraft's horror is subtle, evoking from the page and curling around like a miasma in the mind. His universe is one of inhuman, uncaring gods and a sense of ultimate futility, incurring the sense of dread and fright in the reader that does not translate well to the screen. Lovecraft's cornerstone of his mythos, Call of Cthulhu is more problematic than most. In this tale the protagonist does little more than investigate the papers of his later uncle, uncovering through widely-separated instances a cult devoted to a sleeping octopoid deity who will return to destroy the world "when the stars of right". In learning of it, he realizes both he and humanity are doomed, and sadly accepts his fate. This is not an action movie plot, and difficult to pull off.

Branney and Leman do it through a wonderful conceit. They make a movie that would be shown in 1925, the year the story is set. This means that it is in black and white, and is a silent film, with dialog boxes. As opposed to being hokey, this is perfect for the story, and brings out the flavor of Lovecraft's time. Instead of bending or breaking Lovecraft's story to fit the movie, they pretty much film the story, modifying it slightly in its plot to give it a self-contained resolution, but otherwise remaining amazingly true to its source.

The use of silent black and white film allows them to use both modern movie techniques (green-screening) and old traditional movie tricks (forced perspective, stop-motion animation) to create a movie from the 1920s. The acting is a synthesis of both modern tropes and traditional film language - the actors avoid the overblown gestures of what you is normally thought of a "silent movie acting", and create a subtle, engaging narative. The movie is silent, but is supported by a musical score, which does a fantastic job carrying the weight of the haunting, brooding story. In places the movie reminds me of King Kong and in others The Cabinet of Dr. Caligara.

The film is an independent production, which means you might see it at a local show (Fellow Alliterate Steve Sullivan got permission for it to be shown in its Wisconsin debut), or more likely, on the tube as a DVD (where I saw with fellow Lovecraft fans). Its definately worth seeking out. Here's the web site for more information.

Cthulhu Fta'ghn!

More later

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Keith Parkinson

It has been reported elsewhere of the passing of artist Keith Parkinson from complications from leukemia.

Keith was one of the on-staff artists at old TSR when I was there, and was instrumental in the creation of the look and feel of such lines as the Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms. The TSR operations were a bullpen operation at that time, in a room at the end of a vaultlike floor with glass block windows for natural light. Keith's compatriots at various times were Larry Elmore, Jeff Easley, Clyde Caldwell, and Jeff Butler. The artist shared space, traded quips, and worked together on creating the art for much of the classic TSR product of the mid-eighties.

Keith defined the Forgotten Realms with the unamed horseman on the cover of the original grey box. We (the authors) didn't know who this guy was - there was nothing in the text about him, but he was evocative as the nature of the Realms as we saw it - grittier than worlds previous, and more realistic. His mysterious nature and fog-swept background was a bonus. I think we gave him a name later, but it honestly never stuck in-house - he was always the FR Horseman or Keith's Horseman.

My favorite piece was not that one, though, but rather the cover of Waterdeep and the North, which showed the beholder crime-lord Xanathar and his court - A female drow assistant, mercenary captain, accountant, and a pair of brain-headed intellect devourers. What I liked about that piece was something that Keith brought a new concept to the beholder itself - previously it was this ball with eyes. He armored it up with plate-like scales and gave it jointed, anthropod-like eyestalks. The myriad subspecies of beholders from Spelljammer started with that piece.

Keith had both a sense of epic scope and detail. One of his great Dragonlance pieces was a flying citadel, with riders fleeing ahead of it. The sense of motion and weight of this huge flying rock studded with citadels was amazing (in the pitch documents, the flying citadels were on big flat plates). And on the original (gods know where it is now), you can see that on one of the ledges, Keith had painted in a TARDIS, Doctor Who, and K-9.

The TSR bullpen evolved and changed and eventually broke up. Keith and Larry formed their own art studio, the Art Dogs, and Keith went on to covers for other fiction houses and game companies. We saw each other on occasion, usually at conventions. He would be working on concepting new video games (and is probably best-known these days for his Everquest art). Yet his art continued to evolve, gaining depth and life and an inner fire that was uniquely its own.

And now he has passed on, but his art remains. Go take a look at it here.

More later,

Thursday, October 27, 2005

This is My Life!

Pulled from Hygelak the Dread with profuse apologies for being so didley-idley cheerful!

This Is My Life, Rated
Take the Rate My Life Quiz

I-912: The Pony Initiative

Hey, kid, wanna get a free pony?

Every election there is what I call a "pony initiative". It's usually some faux-populist claptrap pushed by a special interest with deep pockets that proposes to give you the voter something for nothing, and to rescue you from the horrible duties of citizenship (usually taxes). It's a promise of free lunch. It's your shot at rebellion at the fat cats who supposedly run things. It's a free pony.

Sometimes these Pony Initiatives succeed (car-tabs) and sometimes people see through them to grok what's really going on (slot machines). This year's Pony Initiative is I-912, which will roll back gas taxes.

Sounds good on the surface? Sure. That's why it's a pony initiative. You vote for it, you get a pony. Just ignore the rabid flecks of foam around the muzzle.

Here's the deal. In a suprising act of actual governance, State Democrats and Republicans put together a bi-partisan highway bill that addressed some of the most serious highway problems in the state. It includes stuff all over the state but also the precarious Alaskan Way Viaduct. There was a price tag on this - a raise in gas taxes of 9 cents.

That's a hefty price jump, though mild compared to the ratcheting up of prices over the past couple years. But the bill dictates exactly where the money was going to be spent, and the Department of Transportation has shown itself to be very good of late at bringing projects in on time and under budget.

OK, it's the price of getting good roads - someone has to pay for them, right?

Wrong. A pair of local talk show hosts, already incensed over the fact that GOP candidate Rossi lost the governor's race simply because he got less votes, switched that anger (and that of their listeners) over to this obvious horrible excess on the part of State Government. Its an outrage to pay high gas prices (though the bulk of those recent raises have been going, uncommented upon, into the oil companies' pockets). All the money is going to King County projects (no it isn't). You don't know where it's going (yes you do). They campaigned hard for the initiative (so much so that a judge declared them an in-kind political contribution), and got a massive outpouring to get this measure on the ballot.

Its an "I Wanna Pony" initiative - I want my roads, but I don't want to pay for them.

And it stands a pretty decent chance of passing. Never mind that the corporations, labor,liberals, conservatives, and major Seattle media have all pointed out how utterly boneheaded this tax revolt is. Never mind that even the GOP candidate for King County Executive thinks its a bad idea. Never mind that the information is out there that shows were the money is going to be spent, and what the track record is. Never mind that doing this will make some of the most dangerous highways in the state even more dangerous while we scramble to find out out to fix them.

It stands a decent chance because, at the end of the day, it's going to be you, and you alone, in the voting booth, with the question in front of you. And you're going to hear a small voice, whispering . . .

"Hey, kid, wanna get a free pony?"

More later (oh, yeah, vote No on I-912)

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Taking the Initiatives

Though I regularly skew into the political, I don't particularly think of this as a political blog. Most of the ones I know, regardless of their place on the left/right, blue/red, up/down scales, just require too much care and feeding. You have to be upset about something ALL the TIME. It's a hungry beast to feed - we've seen it happen on talk radio and 24/7 punditry, where the players are reduced to drug addiction and sexual perversion. We can keep it from happening here.

But we do have an election coming up, and, like many in Washington State, I got an absentee ballot (I'm a big proponent of going to the polls, but I know I'm one of a dying breed in that regard). I won't be here on election day, for reasons that I will eventually make clear.

So I grit my teeth and with grim determination steer this fragile craft into the storm-tossed waves that are local politics.

The big heat, of course, is on the Initiatives. Originally an attempt to put "the people" more in charge of the system by allowing them to influence law directly, it has, as with all things that touch the grimy surface that is politics, become overrun with special interests, pet causes, and pundits intent on "delivering a message".

A lot of that message consists of "Who do you hate?" Here's the short form:

I-330 - We hate Lawyers!
I-336 - We hate Insurance Companies!
I-900 - We hate the Government!
I-901 - We hate Smokers!
I-912 - We hate Ourselves!

A little more detail, please? Sure, step into the funhouse. . . .

I-330 and I-336 are twisted, cojoined, mutant siblings, both intend on addressing high malpractice insurance costs. I-330 wants to do it with caps on damage awards, and is supported by insurance companies (who have been using some of their doctors as sock puppets) I-336 wants to put more scrutiny on insurance rate increases, create supplemental malpractice insurance, and put a few more teeth into the idea of bouncing bad doctor. This one is being heavily financed by the lawyers, as the pro-I-330 ads keep drilling home (It's GOT to be bad - Lawyers want it! Booo, Hiss!).

Actually, the pair of initiatives are massive tomes of fine print, even by initiative standards. I-330 runs 7.5 pages and reads like its been written by your insurance company. I-336 runs 12 pages in the Voter's booklet and reads like its been written by your lawyer. These are presented to a voting public that has trouble understanding its home heating bills, and you're expecting rational thought. Yeah, that's going to work. Isn't this why we have elected officials?

Here's the part neither side tells you - It's not an either/or. You can support both of these ideas (and I'm partial towards the ideas of I-336, though I'd rather see it as a law as opposed to a initiative). Or you can vote them both down. I'm really for the later. NO on both of this beastly pair.

I-900, on the other hand, is a pretty neatly written initiative, and I've been looking for the trap door in it, and I can't find it. It calls for the setup of a performance audits in state government (actually, we have them, but this calls for stronger ones, with some teeth). Its pretty clear. It tells how much money we should spend on it, and where the money comes from. The guys putting this one together have a track record (much of it bad) on populist initiatives, but I can't find the flaw in this one - it just reeks of good government. I'm saying YES on this one.

I-901 sends all smokers to Yakima. OK, no it doesn't, but it does prohibit smoking in buildings and vehicles open to the public and places of employment, including areas within 25 feet of doorways and ventilation. As someone who smoked the occasional cigar in the nineties (but, to use the common excuse, I didn't inhale), I'm pretty tolerant of smokers, as long as I'm upwind of them, and for the most part the smokers I've encountered have been pretty considerate (Have I ever mentioned that the Dog & Pony, our usual Alliterate hangout, is non-smoking?). While the opposition to this initiative has been pretty bizaare (the anti- I-901 yard signs announce that this would mean New Taxes, which I can't see - it makes me wonder if the signs were left over from a previous campaign), I think its that type of overdoing it that Initiatives are notable for. I say vote NO (and watch, I'll be caught in the elevator with a heavy smoker tomorrow).

And finally there is I-912. Sigh. I-912 has a history that sounds like a Marvel Comic Book, and deserves its own writeup. For the moment, let's just say NO and I'll go into the tale of woe and intrigue with its own separate posting.

More later,

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Local Menaces

So the past week's Seattle Weekly talks about the potential lahars coming off Mt. Rainier. These massive mudslides could shrug off the shoulder of the mountain and come barrelling down the valleys, including that of the Green River, burying everything in its path. A similar article in the Seattle Times when we first moved out here was one of the leading reasons the Lovely Bride decided we needed to get a house up on a hill.

We could move to a safer locality, of course, but even my home town of Pittsburgh has its endemic problems.

More later,

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Additional Linkage

I was originally going to name this post "housekeeping", but that carries with it at least the tacit promise that I've thrown something out. Instead, I've expanded the listing to the right of this Journal, adding more friends that I check, as well as some sites that I'm aways looking at (and to be frank, you should be too).

I should go through the steely implement of editorial death and get rid of those links that update once per lunar rotation (Colin and Phil are both guilty), or who have gone mostly private (Dave). But I'm not at that stage yet, and so I'm keeping everyone. Your first warning that they're off the list is when they're off the list.

First off, I've updated the Alliterates section. The big news is the creation of Popcorn Press, a small e-book operation put together by Lester, Sully, and Rob. I've read Rob's "Humors" and think it is both scary and hilarious. I have also added the two most recent additions to the West Coast Alliterates - Lorelei Shannon and Scott Hungerford. Go check 'em out.

I've also put a few additional links to the Cool Journals list - James Wyatt is one of the WotC-era "young turk" D&D designers who has done incredible things with the game, including most recently the Eberron Game setting. Go check him out. In addition, my old comic book artist from the days of the Forgotten Realms book, Rags Morales, now has a blog. Rags has gone on to bigger and better, and shows off a lot of his work. Check it out.

I'm also adding Making Light. This is an exception in that, unlike everyone else on the list, I don't know these people personally ("These people" being Theresa and Patrick Hayden, aided by Jim Macdonald). However, I like what they say about writing, and I keep tuning in. You should, too.

I'm also adding a new area for comics I keep checking daily, so I can pull them from a particular page.PVP is a daily dose of geek humor focusing around the employees of a gaming magazine, but taking loops out into personal lives, MMORGs, and D&D. Penny Arcade is thrice-weekly, color, much edgier, and often incomprehensible without a native guide (the link I provided goes to a text page that in turn links up with the cartoon. Warning - these guys cannot get out of the strip without using the word "penis". No, I correct that - they often cannot get out of the FIRST PANEL without using the word "penis". PVP and PA are kinda-sorta rivals, kinda-sorta allies, two sides of the same gaming coin.

For the pure D&D Geek, go with Order of the Stick, which is a D&D strip in which a party of D&D characters (who look like Playmobil "Little People") know the D&D rules and act accordingly. Three times a week and color, they have deep archives to plunge through. If you're playing 3.5 (and even if you're not), you should check this out.

Finally there is Girl Genius, from Phil and Kaja Foglio, which has some of the most luscious, luxurious, downright animated art in an online comic book. Phil's been at his craft for nigh-on aeons, and it shows in his work. They've gotten the early stuff online too, so you can follow the adventure from the start.

OK, that's it. I'm doing this because things are going to get strange here fast, and I've been meaning to update the links for a while. No, I'm not saying what's going on. Yet.

More later,

Friday, October 21, 2005

Galactus Loves Gumbo!

Yes, it has been nearly a week since the last update, and I have stuff to tell you about. But I've been very busy, and I'll tell you why in the next couple days.

In the mean time, I need to tell you that Wizkids is auctioning off a Heroclix Galactus figure, signed by myself and Jon (Nothing Good) Leitheusser, with the entire proceeds going to hurricane relief from Katrina and Rita. Auction runs until October 26. If you wanted one of these babies, here's an autographed one.

More later,

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Play: Hey Joad

The Grapes of Wrath: By John Steinbeck, Adapted by Frank Balati, Directed by Lina Hartzell, Intiman Theatre.

The Lovely Bride wanted to see this one, so we headed out yesterday for the Intiman, located a scant fifty feet from the Rep. The Initiman has more of a theater-in-the-round setting with a projected stage, and has a lot of that intimacy (yeah, I see the pun) between actors and audience.

The play itself I don't have to explain, since you read the book in high school. What, you didn't? Well, at least you saw the movie with Henry Fonda. No? Not even on cable? Well, at least you know about the Okies, the Dust Bowl, and Route 66 before it became "The Midlife Crisis Highway". What's that?


OK, here's the short form. Back in the early thirties a good chunk of the Great Plains dried up and blew away. Farm families couldn't raise anything on their dust-choked land and the banks foreclosed. A lot of them, being told about new opportunities in California, headed west on the Mother Road, Rte. 66. A lot of them were from Oklahoma, hence the name Okies.

The Joad family was one of those families. Tom Joad, newly released from prison, finds his family about to pull up stakes and head west. He and a former preacher Jim Casey go with them. The large family sheds both members and beliefs as they head westward, dealing with death, desertion, and diappointment. And when they get to California, they find that there is no work there, either, because everyone has moved west and the landowners can choose the hungriest for the least amount of pay.

The story is about promise, of dreams dashed and reborn, and the unkillable nature of human hope. The entire first act is about the heading west - burying the old and embracing the new, despite numerous warnings that things are not as rosey as promised. The second act is the crushing reality and growth of a new hope, of organization and gathering together. And though that is crippled as well, still there remains hope, where there remains life.

The play is presented by an ensemble, with most of the huge cast taking numerous parts. Erick Kastel creates a flinty, wind-blasted Tom Joad, returning to a world changed beyond his remembrance. Todd Jefferson Moore breaths life into Jim Casy, the former preacher who finds the need to still help others. The rest of the cast is excellent as well, and while some of the lines are familiar (Hank Fonda's "I'll be there" speech in the movie) they given new life in their presentation.

One challenge to the play is that the original Grapes of Wrath was a book, and a fair-sized one at that, and shrinking it down into two hours and change of acting is a task. This adaption was made in 1988 by Frank Galati, and took the 1990 Tony for Best Play. Yep, a lot of parts of truncated (the salting of the pig, the time spent in the Weedpatch camp), but in general Galati has cored down to the nub of Steinbeck's writing And when he used Steinbeck's language (through narrators), you get the feeling of power of the original work.

The other challenge is that the original Grapes of Wrath was also as big as all outdoors. It is a book about the open country, whether it was the blasted lands of Oklahoma or the road west or the migrant orchards of California. Very little of the action takes place in enclosed spaces, and though the staging struggles with conveying that openess with sparse, wide staging, it is still clear that it is something outdoors moved inside, and constrained by limitations of the media. This also goes for the fact that despite the huge cast and number of changing rolls, the book deals with a multitude on the road, of an entire nation pulling up stakes and moving elsewhere.

And hanging over the proceedings are the spectres of Katrina and Rita (and Wilma - we've finally reached the end of the huricaine alphabet - if there is another storm, we go back to the "A's). The play takes on an added importance as the travails of the Joad clan are mirrored in the uprooted peoples of the Gulf Coast, of struggling to stay human as a world turns against them. There is one sequence where a pair of gas station attendants are talking down on the Okies passing through - saying that the travelers are foolish, they're stupid, they're subhuman, they're gorillas. If it were happening today, the gas jockeys would be pundits on the 24-hour talk channels. No, the situation hasn't changed all that much.

We just don't have a Steinbeck to spare at the moment.

More later,

Friday, October 14, 2005

He Who Steals My Trash, Steals Garbage

Someone stole my trash. Actually, someone stole my trash can, and the trash that was in it.

I'm serious. I put out the trash yesterday for pickup and today it's gone, can and all. And it wasn't the garbage men who took it - they were outside when the Lovely Bride came out (the recyling bin was also overturned, but still there).

And I'll be frank, it's weirding me out just a little. I mean, who would take it? Identity thieves? (And LEAVE the recycling, which would be mostly PAPER right beside it?) The Government? (Why not take the garbage and leave the can to avoid suspicion?) Fanciers of stylish metal garbage cans? (Then why not wait for the garbage guys to pass by and THEN take it?). Pranksters? A private investigator for a major corporation looking to hire me? Investigators for a telemarketer I yelled at? Martians?

Yeah, nothing really makes a whole bunch of sense, and it leaves me with this weird, unsettled feeling.

The Thieves/Investigators/Government Agents/Martians got away with a steel garbage can, mostly loaded down with kitchen waste and cat poop. We empty the litters into a bag in a laundry pail, and from there into the garbage can. I can't think of anything of value we have thrown away recently, or any information that would be valuable enough to justify the late-night theft of my garbage (and yeah, we also shred all personal documents before tossing them in the recycling, too).

It's weird, I tell you. Very, very weird. And of course, I would want the can back. Minus, of course, the cat poop. You can keep that. No, it's no trouble at all.

More later,

Dyvil Take The Hindmost!

OK, here's the last reminder - We're giving away Dyvil; First Edition for the low, low price of FREE! In fact, I'm kicking into the Red Cross a buck for every copy that you take (According to Steve, we're over $200, so I'm going to have to write another check). Yes, it's been a month, and a big chunk of the Gulf Coast is STILL not there and a big chunk of its population is STILL in need of support, so this is your chance to get a simple RPG AND know that somewhere, someone is doing something for the good of humanity.

So write to Steve Miller at and put "Dyvil: First Edition" in the header (Sorry to those readers in Israel and Japan, but Steve reads neither Hebrew or Kanji, but he got the gist of your messages because you used the words in the title bar - Thank you!)

The offer ends tomorrow night (the 15th) at Midnight, Seattle Time. After that, we do the Dyvil: First Edition Deluxe Version (Now with a price tag!) This is your chance - don't be kicking yourself when this sweeps the Origins Awards with its hip sensibilities and indy cred!

More later,

Thursday, October 13, 2005

What I Do For A Living

So, this morning, 1 AM (local time)/10 AM (in Germany), at the Essen toy fair, Pokemon-USA announced that it was releasing a new Pokemon Trading Figure Game in Europe and Australia (Not America, yet). At that time, we also announced the web site for the game, at

Did I create this game? No, it was the work of Pokemon TCG creators. Did I do the graphics? Nay, they were the work of Rick, our graphics designer. Did I do the writing? No, that was done through the Marketing Department and edited ably by Mike. Well, how about uploading the entire beast? No, that was done by Eric, our Web Tech Guru.

So what the heck did I do? Monitoring everything that happened, tracking down resources, making corrections, keeping people updated, talking to people, and keeping folk from jumping out of windows as we kept adding features. You know, that management thing.

And I feel pretty accomplished by it all.

More later,

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Leave Your Meme at the Sound of the Tone.

So there's a meme spreading through the blogosphere like bird flu. It is called "Needs". You put your name and and the word needs in the Google search engine ("Jeff needs") and then write down the first fifteen things it comes up with.

Instead, I decided to got with "Jeff Knows". Then I rearranged them into found verse:

Jeff Knows about tapping.
Jeff Knows what to do.
Jeff Knows it isn't for a visit.
Jeff Knows All.

Jeff Knows her.
Jeff Knows Everyone.
Jeff Knows Chris's death still haunts him.
Jeff Knows that we are trying to develop Joey.

Jeff Knows this:
Jeff Knows that.
Jeff Knows he is innocent.
Jeff Knows he is in a trap.

Jeff Knows government is a public business, and the public has a right to know.
Jeff Knows and understands the issues.
Jeff Knows something else that is cool, too.
Jeff Knows All.

I'm thinking it would be something Tom Petty could wrap his throaty voice around.

More later,

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Play: Terms of En-Deer-Ment

The King Stag by Shelly Berc & Andrei Belgrader, from the Original Play by Carlo Gozzi, Directed by Andrei Belgrader, Seattle Repetory Theatre, September 24-October 22, 2005

Weird season at the Rep so far - the first production was a puppet show, which puts a distance between actor and viewer, while the second is commedia dell'arte, another old form - one which brings audience and actors together closer, but which comes with its own requirements and limitations.

And it's an odd venue for what should be a sprawling, engaging form of humor - the Bagley Wright theater is a volumous space, and despite putting audience members on stage and sending cast members into the audience, it is a tough distance to bridge. Add to that that it has a cold opening (a man-servant pulls the huge parrot cage of his transformed magical master, and then "wams up" the audience), makes it a tough climb upward. And add to that the fact the play itself is a 21st century adaption of an 18th century play of a 16th century artform. And lets not start on the plethora of Italian names. The play already has a number of hurdles to vault.

And the play itself is an odd duck, such that you're not sure what parts belong to which era. There is broad humor, and some of the language is questionable for younger viewers, while the action takes place in wide strokes that is more direct and kid-oriented. The villain is abusive in ways that are uncomfortable, and his stutter, while important part of the plot, encourages guilty laughter from the audience (though never sympathy).

The plot is this - The evil chancellor sets up for the good king to marry the chancellor's daughter, who in turn loves another. The King is wise and good, in part due to two magical gifts given him by the wizard (now turned into a parrot). One gift is a lie detector, the other a spell that lets the user's spirit posess the body of a dead creature. Using the first, the King knows that the Chancellor's daughter is in love with another, and that the daughter of another advisor is his true love. The Chancellor uses the second gift to trap the King's spirit in a deer, and then take up residence in the King's body, claiming the other advisor's daughter, who realizes that not all is right. The plot resolves with a complete magus ex machina ending in which the true lovers are reunited, evil is punished, and the audience is sent out with something weirdly appropriate by Neil Diamond.

The posession is handled very nimbly with masks. When I saw the masks, I winced in that this was one more element between the actor and the viewer, but like the stuttering villain, it proves to be needed, and pulls off very neatly the switching identities. Much of the rest of the stagecraft is spinning building elements, overdone in places, and the costuming is two parts Dr. Seuss, and two parts raided from the alien species on the original Star Trek series.

With so many challenges, the play rests heavily on its actors, and after a slow start, they perform incredibly well. As the evil, stuttering, abusive chancellor, R. Hamilton Wright commands the stage and makes the play his character's story, relishing in his evil and eventually taking the fall for it. Micheal Urie and Sarah Rudinoff also get high marks for their work. Urie is both the manservant/clown charged with flirting with the audience at the start, as well as the advisor (beneath another mask) whose daughter marries the king. Rudinoff takes a secondary role (as another of the candidates for marriage), and delivers a Bette-Midleresque performance.

So, does the play succeed? The first act is overly long, leading up to the posession, while the second, resolving the situation, feels truncated, too short for the questions and opportunities that come out of the first act. The actors are up to the task of the script, but the script feels like an odd hybrid of different centuries, a theatrical chimera. The house was light (another problem with the huge theater), so go for the actors and don't sweat too much about the plot.

More later,