Tuesday, March 29, 2005

"Mr. Rockford? This is Filler."

I tend to taunt my fellow corporate creatives/bloggers when they are swallowed by their jobs and don't post, but it is my turn in the hopper. Several things have erupted all at once like a nest of Alien eggs, and lest I want my face grappled, I have to turn my attention elsewhere. However, in the meantime, have some TV Trivia links.

Want a full list of everything Bart has written on the chalkboard at the start of the Simpsons, go here. Couch gags in the opening sequence? Go here

That dense block of text at the end of Dharma & Greg episodes? Go here.

And all the messages left on Rockford's answering machine (back in the day when answering machines were new and cool)? Go here.

I'll give you original content when I'm good and ready, by gum.

More later,

Monday, March 28, 2005


The Monkey King clued me into this. A fellow named Qwantz broke down the Ghostbusters theme song in a list format, and has sparked a new meme on the boards. Here's mine, from Paul Simon's Graceland album, since Memphis, Tennesee looms large in my mind at the moment.

  • Mississipi Delta
    • Shining
    • National guitar

  • River
    • Following (on highway)
    • Historical note
    - Civil War (cradle)

  • Graceland
    • Where I am going
    • In Memphis, Tennesee

  • Others going to Graceland
    • Poorboys
    • Pilgrims (with families)
    • Traveling companion
    - Nine years old
    - From previous marriage
    - Ghosts
    - Empty Sockets
    - Empties (may also be sockets)

  • Reason for Travel
    • Belief in being received (all)
    • Undetermined
    • Desire to visit (partial)

  • Reason she returned
    • Inform me of departure
    • Why I would know this already
    - Familiarity with bed
    - Familiarity with her hair care

  • Losing love
    • Heart (window)
    • What everyone sees
    - You’re blown apart
    - Wind blow

  • Girl
    • New York City
    • Human trampoline (self-identified)

  • Understanding her meaning
    • Falling
    • Flying
    • Tumbling in turmoil
    • Bouncing (Graceland)

  • Obligations
    • Defend
    - Every love
    - Every ending

  • Question if obligations exist
    • Restatement of reason for travel
    • Restatement of destination

More later,

Interoffice Memo

Monday, March 28, 2005
Good morning everyone!

This week our company will enable all synergistic applications!

We want to maximize start-up metrics.

According to our current President and CEO, "No one can pull the trigger on the world’s cutting-edge deliverability better than us!"

We will lead the way in extending the world’s leading mindshare.

Nope, not original, but rather a toy from yourdictionary.com. But I have read memos like this before.

More later.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Cat Update

We’re three months into the new three-cat regime at Grubb Street, and everyone seems to have settled in. The Lovely Bride and I have adapted to upgunning the household to multi-animal status, as well as adapting to the personality quirks of the various beasts (Emily, Harley, and Vic, for those coming in later).

First off, we’re still adjusting to larger amount of food and litter we have to pick up. Original cat Emily was eating a little dry food, a little wet, and we worried about her weight loss. Now, not only the two new cats are hoovering up everything in sight, but Emily’s appetite has rebounded. Indeed, she seems more alert now that she has two younger siblings to terrorize. Downside is that she wakes up at sunrise (6ish nowadays) in order to be fed.

Similarly, we're getting a lot more litter. The young kids are, shall we say, enthusaistic about their litter box duties, so that the gravel is frequently flung far from the box. We keep dustpans by all the litter boxes these days.

We’ve also become aware that we cannot leave things out on the counters anymore unless we want them to become cat toys. Of particular intereest to the new cats are tomatoes. Cats don’t eat tomatoes (Garfield aside, its bad for them), but the kids love to roll them around on he floor and bite them like they were little, red, oozy mice. So we have had a number of tomato-casualties, laying on the ground with little tooth marks puncturing their skin.

Both of the new cats are fascinated with the outside, particularly with the big backyard filled with birds, squirrels, and other cats. Harley is the one who wants to get out, which means that opening the outside doors always involves shoving her away to keep her from escaping. We have let the previous cats out, but they in general have had the sense to keep near the house and away from the road. I’m not sure that Harley is that smart.

Vic, on the other hand, is the cat-most-likely-to-be-accidentally-locked-in-a-closet. She moves around at the edges of rooms, very quietly, and often sneaks into any open space. We’ve taken to double-checking before we close doors to see if the ghost-cat has snuck in.

All three are lovable. Emily controls the bedroom and the bed, and stands on top of people who are (trying to be) asleep. Harley sprawls in the middle of the room. Vic remains standoffish, until she decides she wants attention, then she’s all over you.

All in all, its working out.

More later,

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Manhattan Phone Book (Abridged)

Wow. Just that. Wow.

Elizabeth Bear posted the link on her journal, and I'm posting it here to get some throw-weight to it to those who do not tune into her. And to say, um, wow.

So I've been a fan of John Varley's since he first popped up on the scene in the late 70's, primarily in Galaxy magazine and later in his collections and novels. He disappeared for about a decade in the mid-eighties, swallowed by Hollywood, who took one of his good stories and turned it into a not-so-good movie, and now he's back. I missed this particular short story back when if first came out in '84.

It is one of those stories that rattles you, and makes you want to go hug a loved one. You know the old joke that "Actor X would be great reading the phone book"? Well, John Varley is amazing reviewing the phone book.

More later.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Not a Break-In

Excitement like this I do not need.

At about 1:30 this afternoon I got a call from T’Ed, with a message to call Bill. Bill had earlier gotten a call from Brinks Security about the security alarm going off at my house.

Backstory – A few years ago our house was burglarized in the middle of the day, when Kate and I were both away. They got in through a blind corner of the property not visible from the street, and took the TV, all our CDs, a broken computer, and a pin made out of a skull from the Terminator movie. Only the last piece was irreplaceable. They missed Kate’s more valuable jewelry and all the original art on the walls. Soon afterwards we got a security system installed.

When the alarm goes on your system, the security company tries to call you at your work number. Failing that, they have a backup, a friend or family member to contact. If they can’t reach the backup, they call the police automatically. Bill is my backup. The alarm went off over lunch, so he came back to his office to find the message on his machine. That was about an hour after the initial report.

Bill and I agreed to meet at the house, and I drove in a fury up the hill, worrying if I was dealing with gutsy, deaf thieves (the alarm is rather noisy). There is no sign of entry, but only a bright green tag hanging on the front doorknob from the King County Sheriff, noting that they had investigated, found no visible signs of entry, and warned of civil penalties for multiple false alarms. The time on the report indicates that while they were not Batmobile-style fast, they would have gotten there about the time the would-be-thieves were loading the TV onto the back of their truck, were there any thieves. There weren't.

Bill and I checked out the house and the alarm system, which indicated that a door on the upper balcony was open. And that was our problem. I had not secured and locked it the previous night, and the wind (yes, we have winds up on the hill) blew it open. No thieves.  No break-in.

I called both the Sheriff's office and the security company to confirm that there were no additional problems, but it all left me a little rattled. I am not only glad I have a system in place, but that it functioned as well as it did given all the small things that went wrong (no one was available for the initial calls, my backup couldn’t reach me, etc . . .). While I felt badly to have had a false alarm, it was comforting to know that the system works.

More later,

The Fate of the Big Box

So, the nominations for the Origins Awards have been announced, and my fellow judges revealed (look at the bottom of this page). And I have to say I was generally pleased with the results in that as a disparate group we were pretty much in agreement. The only regret is that every judge had some cool “Small Press” project in their top five, but we all favored different “cool projects”, so none of them made the final list.

But what of the Big Box of Games? What was its fate?

Well, even after taking out the stuff I would use/keep, it still was pretty prodigious. So I brought it into the WotC offices and gave the people that had earlier helped me scout down copies the first crack at it. The rest went to the WotC gaming library for future use.

I’d like to thank the various companies that submitted products for review, and reassure them that their stuff got a good home (as opposed to showing up on, say, E-Bay).

More later,

Monday, March 21, 2005

Comics Stash

So the Comics Stash is winding down. I intended to only run it for a month or so, and we’re at the point where books are already looping back around. Part of this because of schedule shifts, but part of it is also that some books go “semi-monthly” these days, which means two books in the same month, to increase sales and interest.

That’s why there are repeats in this write-up. Just so you know. Don your Spoiler Helmet and follow me (for likely the last time) into the Comics Stash.

It seems that this week was “everybody mambo!” week, where more and more guest stars were added to the mix of the team books, until you need a scorecard to identify the players. JLA #112 has the team fighting The CSA, and the JLA has pulled in the JLE and JSA* to help, and then the New Gods show up for some yet-unrevealed reason. In Uncanny X-Men #457, they’re still fighting dinosaurs, but have added the Savage Land Mutates** to the mix. And in Teen Titans #22, the eight members of the team are getting whupped by Doctor Light (who kidnapped Green Arrow for this week’s Green Arrow appearance), so they throw another twenty or so former Titans at him, including a new Hawk & Dove.

Flashbacks are also big this week. Incredible Hulk #79 has Mr. Green Genes on an island fighting supposedly dead opponents, while flashing back to Banner’s childhood, where the Hulk is Bruce’s “imaginary friend”, a gamma-irradiated Hobbes to his Calvin. Captain America #4 *** has the Captain flashing back to a WWII which may or may not be true, as he investigates the desecration of the graves of two former Captain Americas. Black Panther #2 continues in the same fashion as #1, wih an NSA briefing for the Marvel Universe’s version of Condi Rice. The briefing lays that the Black Panther and his home nation of Wakanda doesn’t want or need any help from the US, making both of them a danger to national security. And Young Avengers #2, starts revealing secret origins of a group of mini-frosted versions of Cap, Thor, Iron Man and the Hulk. In this issue, Iron Lad is revealed to be the younger version of the villain Kang the Conqueror, who fled back in time to avoid his own future. This last book also brings back the Vision, who was messily slain, what, three months ago?

The writing in Black Panther is very good, but the best plotting in the Marvel Universe this week is over in its Ultimate universe, where you recognize the heroes (mostly) but they have a slightly different spin. Ultimate X-Men #57 has a different take on a handful of mid-eighties characters – Longshot, Mojo, Arcade, and Spiral, and plays them off in unexpected ways. Also unexpected is Ultimate Spider-Man #74, who, without the baggage of hundreds of appearances in the mainstream MU, can be fresh and react to things like a teenager again. And in The Ultimates 2**** #4, the Ultimate universe’s version of the Avengers have taken care of the Hulk and now are turning on Thor, who may or may not be mentally unhinged. The Ultimates are also interesting in that most of them are jerks to one degree or the other, so the de facto assumption that they are right because they are heroes does not apply.

There are others in the stash– Stormbreaker #3 of 6 continue the fight between Beta Ray Bill and a Herald of Galactus. Wonder Woman #214 wraps up a crossover from Flash #219. Exiles #61 wraps up their tie-in with the resurgent Age of Apocalypse. And Fantastic Four: Foes #3 of 6 inadvertently underscores one of the problems for the mainline FF – they are beyond the reach of a lot of their bad guys these days – Annihilus, a mysterious and potent force in the Ultimates version, is written off quickly here, as is the Superskrull.

OK, that’s it for the time being. I think we’ve looped around now into a full month, so next time I get to do some analysis.

More later,

*The CSA is the Crime Syndicate of Amerika, the “Evil JLA” of another universe. The JLE is Justice League Elite. The JSA is the Justice Society of America. There also was a Justice League Europe, a Justice League International, and a Strike Force Justice League, but lets not muddy the waters further (too late).
**In the Marvel Universe if you DNA was kinked a birth you’re a mutant, if your DNA gets kinked as an adult, you’re a mutate. Potato, potahto.
*** He’s alive in this book, though he was shot dead in another book. However, his former sidekick, the Bucky of the fifties, has been shot and stuffed into a trunk.
**** That would be issue #4 of the second series of the Ultimates. Again with screwy numbering series.

Sunday, March 20, 2005


So last night about 60+ people gathered in Kent to see off Stan! of the Stannex, who is leaving Seattle to go to Sunny (?) California for a new gig with Upper Deck. It was a fine sendoff, masterminded by Tammy Ryan and Sue Cook, and involved munchables, soda, cake (in the form of one of Stan's Comics), speeches, music, gossip, dancing, and, Stan being involved, Karoke. A good time was had by all, but the merriment was tinged with sadness at the fact that Stan must be going.

Best of luck, Stan! And come back soon to visit!


(Above, The Lovely Bride, Stan! and Our Flounder)

More later,

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Andre Norton

Fantasy author Andre Norton has passed on at the age of 93. More information is here.

Andre Norton has, over the course of her career, written over a hundred novels.The most important, for the authors who followed her, was Quag Keep, which was the first D&D novel (Though published by DAW, not TSR, as TSR did not publish books at that time), and was set in the World of Greyhawk.

Those of us who have followed in her footsteps offer our thanks.

More later,

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

And the Nominees Are . . .

This is the penultimate entry on the Big Box (I think) and the saga of the Origins Awards nominations. The other gentlemen of the jury got their votes in, and GAMA has officially announced the nominees. The full details are listed here, but here are the results of the category I helped put together:

Best Role-Playing Game Nominees: (Role-Playing College)
Ars Magica 5th Edition - Atlas Games
Dungeons & Dragons Basic Game - Wizards of the Coast
GURPS Basic Set, Fourth Edition - Steve Jackson Games
The Authority Roleplaying Game and Resource Book - Guardians of Order
World of Darkness Storytelling System Rulebook - White Wolf

Best Role-Playing Game Supplement Nominees: (Role-Playing College)
Dark Champions - Hero Games
Eberron Campaign Setting - Wizards of the Coast
GURPS Dragons - Steve Jackson Games
GURPS Fantasy - Steve Jackson Games
Unearthed Arcana - Wizards of the Coast
Vampire: The Requiem - White Wolf

I'm pleased - these are good games. All the results were in my top ten, though not all of them were in my top five. There are things I voted for that did not get on the list, because while I may have thought well of them, that opinion was not held by my fellows (or, more truthfully, they felt that other projects rated higher in their esteem). Most of the entries had at least three of the five jurors putting them in their top tens. All in all, its a pretty good representation of the industry as it stands in 2004.

What happens next? Well, there will be voting by the Academy membership, and announcement of the winners at the Origins convention in Columbus, Ohio. Nope, no open voting this year - its more like the Oscars than the People's Choice Awards. However, membership in the academy is free, with the following requirement - "Any person with a verifiable published credit for writing, design, sculpting, illustration, graphic design, editing, line development, or brand management in three or more gaming products is eligible for admission to the Academy. Admission to the Academy is free to those eligible." More information for those interested (and the preceding definition includes a number of the readers of this journal) can be found here.

Now, I'm a big believer that the horse race is as important as the result, and I hope to see reactions to the list - which game is the obvious favorite, which ones should not have made the list, and the obvious travesty of justice that left out "Fuzzy Bunnies: The Heckening"). And I think that's good. The day before the Oscars, everyone talks about you. The day after, you're the answer to a trivia question. Part of the reason for awards is recognition, but part is also promotional. So if you're nominated, go promote - if you didn't have a good game, you wouldn't have made it this far. It is an honor to just be nominated.

And I just saw on someone else's journal that they picked up the D&D Basic and Vampire, mentioning in passing that they were Origins nominees. so I think my work here is done.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Comics Stash

Yes, this week’s Comics Stash is late because of the Adventure of the Big Box, but it was a light week as well. This review process has been very interesting (to me, at least) because it’s shown my own comic-book habits as well as an idea of what’s going on in the industry.

So, the Spoiler Light is on, and we move into this week’s (well, last week’s) Comic Stash.

Let’s start out with Shining Knight #1 of 4. This is part of Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers project. This is the first payment on the creative promise written in Seven Soldiers #0, and is pure Morrison – visceral, cerebral, and sometimes obtuse. Young Sir Justin witnesses the harrowing of Camelot by the hero-hunting alien Sheeda. He’s the junior member of Camelot’s version of the JLA. He also has a flying, talking, horse who at one point pulls out a green lantern (continuity alert) to drive back the bad guys. Boy and horse end up in 21st Cent. LA as a result of the battle. Yep, it’s a first issue, and a very interesting one at that.

Once upon a time the Golden Age heroes of DC lived in Earth-2, and the Modern Age ones in Earth-1. Now if you want to do a teamup between the two you have to do time travel, and that’s what JSA #71 does, sending the current JSA into the 50's to convince their old counterparts to put the band back together. It’s a time-travel that has spent the past five issues or so gathering the players together, and now they’re finally after the big bad, a Time Traveler out to kill the President.

Thunderbolts #6/87* uses the hook of a bunch of second-banana Marvel villains who try to turn heroes. Its got tons of characters zipping about, so you need a scorecard, but that's not the interesting thing in this issue. What amazed me in this issue was that the Big Bad, Baron Strucker, set off nukes in Manhattan. Yeah, its so Radioactive Man (the original, green Chinese supervillain, not the Simpsons character) can absorb the blast, and the Speed Demon (I told you these were second banana bad-guys) could run the last bomb into New Jersey, but the idea of such offhand mass violence is a sign that the comic book universes are finally recoveringfrom the trauma of the Towers’ Fall.

Speaking of massive municipal destruction – over in the DC Universe they sunk half of San Diego and turned its inhabitants to water breathers (this is what happens when you have a major Comic Book Convention in your town, I guess ). This “sub-Diego” has been the thrust of Aquaman #28, who was a mystic hero only about two years back, so is definitely looking for his "niche". This is a transition issue in the series – Aquaman has a female sidekick who he doesn’t consider a sidekick. A new potential sidekick, a mutated shark man, shows up to “help out”. Aquaman gains a reporter contact. Atlantis shows up again. And it turns out that a corporation has put the patent of Aquaman’s DNA. It’s all setup, but it underscores the lack of foundation the character has had in the past and need to give him some grounding.

No comics stash is complete without a mention of Green Arrow, who appears in his own book, Green Arrow #48, with his team of three other archers (former sidekick, long-lost son, new sidekick). They are fighting robotic cowboy, which is every bit as stupid as it sounds, and ends up with blowing up a building. Again I note that the comic books have recovered to the point that massive destruction is once again a good thing.

Adam Strange is a favorite silver age character – one of the great science heroes, who, like John Carter of Mars, goes to another planet to become a hero. Adam Strange’s adopted planet was always threatened by weird things like flying magnifying glasses and tornado men. There have been a couple attempts to resolve his story, but none of them have taken. Adam Strange #6 of 8 has him back on the science trail, finding out where someone has stolen his planet. The series has also been a tour of the present-day DC aliens and space teams, with Thangarians (Hawkman’s people - militaristic fascists), the Omega Men, and the LEGION (which is not the Legion of Superheroes, but does have a modern day version of Brainiac 5) all showing up

Ultimate Fantastic Four #16 is a reinvention of the original team. In this universe the FF got their powers much earlier, in teen-genius Reed Richard’s teleporter experiments. The Thing is a jock, not a war hero. The Invisible Girl is as smart as Richards. The Human Torch is still a weenie. And in the Negative Zone, they still meet a guy named “Annihulus”, and they still don’t get a clue that he’s a bad guy (well, the Thing does, which is why they bring him along).

And lastly we have the Fortean Times #194 – Huh? What’s that doing in the stash? Well, Bookworld ,where I get my comics also carries the magazine out of the UK, so I make it part of my stash. It’s a collection on the interesting and weird, UFOs and Bigfoot, and in this issue, they cover EVP** (in connection with the now-forgotten White Noise movie), and Foaf-tales (Foaf = Friend of a Friend). The most stable part is the reviews, which cover a large amount of popular weirdness.

More later,

*Remember I talked about Marvel’s strange numbering system? Well, this comes out of that, but in this case the first T-bolt book died a messy death, then came back as this one.
** Electronic Voice Phenomena - the dead want to talk to you, and they are willing to use AM Radio to do so. Insert dittohead joke here.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Karen Wynn Fonstad

Cartographer Karen Wynn Fonstad has died of complications from breast cancer. The information is here.

In addition to producing the wonderful Atlas of Middle Earth and Atlas of Pern, Ms. Fonstad created the Dragonlance Atlas and the Forgotten Realms Atlas, and was was instrumental in transforming text from novels and game product into full representations of Krynn and the Realms, and grounded these fictional worlds with a sense of detail and reality.

More later,

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Play: Death and Princesses

The Secret in the Wings, created and Directed by Mary Zimmerman, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Through March 26.th

Mary Zimmerman created two of my favorite plays - Metamorphoses, which took on the stories of Ovid and the ancient Greeks, and Odyssey, which brilliantly retold the saga of Ulysses. Both made ample use of a talented cast and the interweaving of individual stories, with an admixture of modern sensibilities and a wry sense of humor. The Secret in the Wings, which applies the same process to the Grimm fairy tales, is an earlier work, and if a little murkier than the later two, is still brilliant and thoughtful at the same time.

Its no surprise that the original pre-Disney fairy stories were much darker than their santitized, modern descendents (a fact impressed on me by an episode of the Dick Van Dyke Show but it is a fact which is re-"discovered" every few years). And the Grimm tales that this production is built upon are grim indeed - infanticide, incest, self-mutation, being buried alive, murder, cannibalism, a veritable laundry list of the dark times these tales came out of. And the production neither pulls punches nor titilates, but rather barrels through, taking the dreamworld of faerie at face value and underscoring the tales told.

The organization of the play is like a set of Russian dolls, or the involuted tales from the Arabian Nights. Each story pauses at a climactic moment to allow another tale to begin, which spawns a third tale, and so on, and finally, closes every parenthesis in working its way back up to the original story like a diver rising from the murky depths. The outer framework is Beauty and the Beast, recast into a darkened midwestern cellar where young girl has to deal with a ogre babysitter who both has a tail and a tale. Each story fractures within the story before, until reaching the story of the Seven Swan Brothers, which completes in full, and then in turn answers each tale before (the Princess who never laughed, the two snakes of healing, the Princess who fled rather than marry her father), until returning again to the Beast, who is not a beast after all.

The tales, like the text, is ripe with uncomfortable sexuality on multiple fronts, yet handled with a deft touch, pulling from the rhythm of the told tales. The Princesses of the tales run the gammut but come out poorly (drowned, blinded, horribly lost). And the tales, like the original text, are oddly truncated, as loose ends abound and logical holes appear. Indeed, one sequence within the play shows the onging battle between reason and dream, between maturity and childhood, between reality and dream.

The company (most of whom have been on previous Zimmerman productions) is brilliant, comfortable, and solid. The stage dressing gave me problems, in that while it captured the spooky basement of a midwestern home (1001 Wisconsonian Nights, perhaps?) some of the set blocked the actors. So too, the use of a greek-style chorus on the speakers captured the moody, dreamy nature of the tales, but were distorted to the point of being incomprehensible in places. The intent seems to be to capture the half-heard, muddled feeling of fantasy, but it leaves the viewer wondering if he had missed something.

And yes, a working knowledge of the stories does help. I knew most of the Ovid and Homer from previous productions, but my own childhood lacked the scary horror stories of traditional fairy tales (I seem to remember coming across them in various tomes in the library with color-co-ordinated names). And while Zimmerman's later works seems sharper, The Secret in the Wings left me with thinking of dreams and childhood and old stories, grimm and otherwise.

More later,

Saturday, March 12, 2005

While You Were Out . . .

Despite the empty patch on the blog, the world continued to happen around us. Here's an update, for those who use this blog for news and information (and I worry about that, sometimes):

How's the Economy? You know the old joke - it's a recession when you get laid off, it's a depression when I get laid off? Well, it's a recovery when three friends get gigs over the course of a week - Congrats to Brainstormfront, Stan!, and Mystical Forest on the new jobs. The stock market is bumbling along at just under 11000, and the dollar is weaker than a talk-show host's monolog, but at least there's hope.

Social Security? Turns out there isn't a crisis after all, unless we screw around with the system like we're planning to.Then we've got a crisis.

Homeland Security Alerts? The Technicolor rainbow of doom may be going the way of the dinosaur with new management in Homeland Security. On the other hand, Ferry security is getting an upgrade.

Clear Skies Initiative? The most cynically-named piece of legislation since No Child Left Behind didn't even get out of committee. Now they're back to trying to drill in ANWR. Bruce Cordell has details on that.

Iraq? We're still there. Afganistan, too. The good news is that my friend's daughter has rotated back from Kuwait, where she did her BOG. Bad news is that another friend in Kate's RPG group may be rotated out to the Big Sandy come fall.

Weapons of Mass Destruction? Never were any. Sorry about all the fuss.

Volcanoes of Mass Destruction? Why yes, Mt. St. H let off a good-sized plume of ash and steam, which drifted Northeast into the Yakima valley and beyond. You could see the plume from Portland. People in Seattle say this a lot - You can see the active volcano from Portland. Portland.

Weather Very, very dry. Horribly sunny. Miserably pleasant. Only Seattlites get worried about the lack of rain, and for good reason - we rely on the rainy season to get us through the summer months in our aquifer and snowpack. The Gov has told people to prepare for a very dry summer, and already plans are going into place. Seattle should be able to weather it without too much, at least for one season. It's the Eastern half of the state that's going to catch it in the teeth.

Gregoire? Still governor.

Rossi? Still trying.

Osama? Still missing.

More later? OK, more later.

Friday, March 11, 2005

What was in the Big Box?

For the past week and a half, Grubb Street has been practically untouched. My World of Warcraft characters have been on extended leave. My tapes of Iron Chef are gathering dust on the television. And my comics stash sits, unread, at a corner of my desk. And all because of the Big Box. The Big Box has dominated all my free time. So what was in the Big Box?

Games. Games were in the Big Box. A lot of games were in the Big Box, and I needed to read them all.


Here's the story: Every year the Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design gives out awards for best games of the previous year, to be awarded at the Origins Game Convention in Columbus. This year, they are handling the nomination round differently. Instead of the normal free-for-all, they have chosen five experts in each field, who will among themselves choose what the final ballot for their category will look like. I found about about this through Matt Forbeck, and volunteered to help out as a Judge in the RPG category.

I volunteered for a number of reasons. I'm a believer in trying something before complaining about it. I don't have any product in the running in that category this year (I do have potential nominees in the miniatures category, which I'm not involved in). I thought it would be good thing to contribute. I'm a bit of old gaming grognard now, and can use my experience to help future generations. Why, yes, free copies were involved. And it was a bit slow at the office at the moment.

And it was not as if I was reviewing everything that was published last year. Getting a product to nomination is a two-stage process - the product had to be submitting for nomination (either by the manufacturer or one of the creatives), and then copies had to be sent to the Judges. There were very good products that were not under consideration simply because they were not submitted for nomination, or because copies were not sent for review.

So I volunteered, and got a Big Box of stuff. The Big Box took its time getting here, more the fault of UPS than the Awards Committee, but the time-frame for review was already pretty tight, in that we were expected to go through a large amount of product in a small amount of time (hey, we volunteered). I was fortunate that I had read some of the material under consideration in advance, but the missing box caused me to put out an APB with friends at Wizards of the Coast for their copies of some of the material.

And the pros at Wizards stepped up - Bill Slavicsek, Jonathan Tweet, Michelle Lyons, and John Rateliff all lent me products to get a leg up on the reviews. They got me a lot of product that was not otherwise available, including a lot of product from other manufacturers. Thanks guys.

So I've been reading. And creating characters. And running short combats. And reading outside reviews. And making calculations. Our gang (I'm not going to "out" any of my fellow judges) came up with a quick method of analysis to ultimately produce a "top ten" list from each judge, which would be combined to produce a nominations ballot. It worked out pretty well, in that the approach supported some products I knew were good, and also brought to my attention products that I might otherwise have passed on.

So my review is done, and the contribution turned in. And it's been a very interesting experience. I'll pass more information on as I get it. But it has sucked up every moment of available time.

More later,

Monday, March 07, 2005

Frost and Snow

Eighty years and two ago, Robert Frost's poem, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening", was published in New Republic magazine. Go ahead, read it. Yes, you can sing it to the tune of Hernando's Hideaway, if you must.


More later,

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Play: These and Those

The Chosen Adapted by Aaron Posner and Chaim Potok from the novel by Chaim Potok, Directed by Aaron Posner, Seattle Rep, 5 Feb - 20 March

The Box and its younger sibling are both now here, and, having disgourged their contents onto my downstairs table, demand attention. Yet despite those demands, Kate and I got out Saturday afternoon to a wonderful performance of The Chosen.

The original piece has mileage on it - It was a good book in the 60's and and good movie in the 80's, and the theatrical version showed up in 1999 (At Pittsburgh's City Theatre, no less). It is the story of two Jewish boys who meet as opponents in a heated baseball game and become deep friends. Reuven (Connor J. Toms)) is Orthodox, 20th Century, and Americanized. Danny (Gabriel Baron) is Hassidic, Talmudic and Old World. It's Brooklyn. It's the End of WWII. It's generational change. Reuven's world is warm, cluttered, modern, and chaotic. Danny's world is colder, organzied, and pre-ordained. Reuven has an easy relationship with his academic father David (Larry Paulsen), while Danny and his rabbi father Reb Saunders (Eddie Levi Lee) do not speak, unless to discuss the Talmud. Each youngster is changed by the other, and both simultaneously disappoint and delight their fathers.

The play is compact and fits perfectly into the Leo K theatre. The backstage is divided into the fathers' studies - Reuven's study a cluttered, vibrant mess, Danny's a stately, imposing temple. Forestage takes up the rest of the actions - baseball field, hospital room, class hallways, with a minimum of set design. The cast is similarly compact at five - The two boys (wonderfully acted), the two fathers, and the elder Reuven (Aaron Serotsky), who glides beautifully between narator and bit player through the action. The cast is comfortable, and it no doubt helps that the director was also an adaptor of the original work.

This is a "Jewish play" in that it is rich Judaic history and lore, from Gematra to the Holocaust, but its also a "guy's play", which means its about communication and affection and how difficult it is to break through and how worthwhile it is once you do so. It has laughter, tears, pain, redemption, and fires off naturally and effectively. The narated framework works in that it doesn't distance the audience from the young men, but instead provides a link for them into a now-distant time and place.

If you get a chance, go see this one. It's been extended a week in its run.

More later, for the Box awaits.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Comics Stash

The Big Box has finally arrived, and its Evil Not-Twin-Brother Box is outside Spokane as I write this. No, I can't tell you what's in them - yet, but their very presence has caused me a lot of effort so far this week, and will cause spotty communications over the next week or so. However, it was a light week of comics as well, and I wrote the following before Big Box #1 arrived, Here's another spoilerific installment of Comics Stash.

Back when I was a lad, Marvel was the "simple" Universe, and DC was the "confusing" one. DC's stories took place mostly on Earth-1, but the Golden Age ones took place on Earth-2, which was the same as Earth-1 but Superman was around for WWII and you had things like the grown-up version of Robin and two Flashes and real old heroes like Mr. Terrific still hanging about. And there were Earth-3s, Earth-Primes, and Earth-Xs as well, which all led up to the Crisis on Infinite Earths, which solved the problem, except it didn't. Marvel, on the other hand, had the Marvel Earth, and while there were all manner of alternates out there, most of the tales took place in the same universe. This was before the "What If?" story explosion and various future timelines, back when the Avengers fighting JLA clones known as the Squadron Supreme was a big thing.

Nowadays, Marvel exists in a whole heaping handful of universes, all with analogues of your favorite heroes, so there's no bet who, what, or where your character is. Tales from the past, tales from the future, tales from the futures that no longer apply, tales from universes where Spider-Man is a kid again, tales from the past of that universe where Spider-Man is a kid again. Take a dinner plate, hold it out at an arm's length, and drop it. The resulting pattern on the floor represents the state of Marvel Continuity.

Let's start with the Ultimate Marvel Universe, generally a good place for re-imagining Marvel Characters (see previous notes on Ultimate Nightmare). Ultimate Spider-Man # 73 re-introduces Harry Osborn, son of The Green Goblin, giving him some basis to become the Ultimate Hobgoblin, and giving him multiple grudges against Peter Parker and Spider-Man. Pretty good. On the other hand, Ultimate Iron Man #1, written by Orson Scott Card (more stunt casting in the writer's department) robs Tony Stark of his humanity, turning him into a kinda-mutant when his pregnant scientist mom gets infected by a super-monkey virus while carrying him (don't you just hate it when that happens?).

Meanwhile, in an alternate timeline of the Marvel Universe from about ten years back, the bad guy Apocalypse took over the world to create the Age of Apocalypse. Supposedly this future was wiped out, but now its back for the an anniversary with Age of Apocalypse#1 of 6 and the Age of Apocalypse one-shot. Neither adds a lot to the original, except to show a world that rebounded incredibly quickly from the nightmare Apocalypse-world of the first series. Add to this Apocalypso Exiles #60, which sends a band of heroes, whose job it is to bounce between the various Marvel "What If" universes, into this particular dimension. I'm as nostagic as the next geek, but how can I miss it if it won't go away?

So I mentioned the Squadron Supreme, Marvel's pseudo-JLA from another universe. J. Micheal Stracynski (see the last "Comics Stash"), has re-imagined the characters so they are an entirely new universe (so now with Earth-Marvel-Squadron-1 for the old versions, and Earch-Marvel-Squadron-2 for the new versions). Doctor Spectrum #5 is the story of the Squadron's Green Lantern clone, who has an alien power gem mounted to the back of his hand. It is back story while the main tale continues elsewhere.

Marvel Team Up #6 is a relaunch of the old title, though it does not stop at merely teaming up X and Y. The Spidey/Wolverine teamup is tied into a Doc Strange/FF team up which moves to a Spidey/Wolverine's daughter team-up and now a Captain America/Blackwidow/Spidey/Wolverine's Daughter teamup. The big bads in this story arc have been a kid that explodes, a Tony Stark from an alternate future Marvel Universe where he turns into Doctor Doom, and a nasty badguy who stays in the background for the entire arc, only showing up to beat up Sunfire, who doesn't Team-Up with anyone. Its a bit of a muddle, and a good analogy for the core Marvel Universe.

The only Marvel book to stay in its home universe entirely this week is Captain America and the Falcon #13. And in this, an Evil Cap is running around acting like the Punisher working for the Neo-Cons. The Falcon is reverting to his urban "Snap" personality. And the real Cap gets shot in the head by a punk and dies. I'll admit I'm curious about how this turns out.

Over in DC, Justice League Elite #9 is grappling with the same problem as the Invaders over in Marvel - the team is supposed to play rougher than its parent group, but without the common ethics of being "super-heroes", the group has pretty much self-destructed. The team consists of heroes pretending to be villains, villains trying to be heroes, a villain trying to be a hero but turning out to be a villain, and Green Arrow, because Green Arrow is the Wolverine of the DCU and needs to be everywhere, every week. So far on the team we have one death, one suicide, one betrayal, one apparent betrayal, and a lot of carnage without a lot of upside.

Lastly, The Intimates #5 belongs to the Wildstorm universe, an offshoot of DC (The Authority lives there), and deals with a bunch of super-powered kids at super-powered high school. What I like about the book is that it comes with footnotes, making it the most text-heavy book of the lot, but pulls it off in a smooth fashion that works with the storytelling. The theme in this issue is one of teen suicide, and the characters handle it like, well, high school students.

That's it. Big Box has arrived - things will quiet down here for a little while.

More later, but later than you would expect.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Novel: Borges in Waterdeep

Perdido Street Station by China Mièville, Del Rey

Here’s an ugly secret about writers – when they read other people’s work, they’re always thinking, “Yeah, I could do that.” Seriously. Whether its Joe Conrad or Tom Clancy, Naked Lunch or The Da Vinci Code, at the heart, the writer who reads is evaluating, comparing, thinking, “Yeah, I could have done that, given enough time/interest/encouragement/drugs”.

And then you hit something like Perdido Street Station and you just let out your breath in a whistle of admiration and admit that you’ve been beat.

The first 400 pages or so of this book are fantastic and fascinating, engaging in a way that few books are. Mièville takes the time to spin out the world around his characters and brings the plot in slowly, growing organically from his characters’ actions and desires. And it’s a jewelbox of a world, a beautiful setup necessary for what is to come.

The center of the book is the city, New Crobuzon, a fantasy city in a fantasy world. But it’s an advanced fantasy of wheel-lock pistols and steam engines, melded effortlessly with thaumaturgic engines, flesh-twisted humans, and scientific approaches to spellcasting. It is a multi-racial city as well, with humans predominant but other races such as bug-headed khepri, vulture-like garuda and cactus men, all of which have their own outlooks both as races and, more importantly, as individuals. And lastly, it is a city of transitions, as the flavor of one neighborhood flows into the next, changed by purpose, population, and industry into a new thing, but difficult to say where the change occurs.

The city feels like Paris, which I have visited, but it also feels like Buenos Aires, the one I only know from reading Jorge Luis Borges. It is alien and accessible and always viewed in different lights and from different angles. It is always in motion, and always at rest.

Most of the book is all about transformations, evolutions, and transitions. New Crobuzon is in the Interzone of William Burroughs, a city made up of disparate, often conflicting parts, and his main players are similarly creatures that live in the gaps between worlds. Isaac is a young mad scientist whose brilliance gives him a long tether from his university masters. Lin is his lover, an insect-headed xeno whose art defies the norms of her more traditional sisters. Both are given commissions for work, Isaac by a wingless vulture man who wishes to fly, and Lin by a polyglot crimelord looking for a self-portrait. These challenges set in motion a series of events that ultimately unleashes a plague of nightmare creatures on the city itself.

And through the bulk of the book, Mièville pulls it off elegantly and smoothly. He missteps once when action is finally demanded, descending into the organizational melee rounds of keeping track of multi-body combat, and again when he calls in “adventurers” to help (the societal role of an adventuring “class” in a fantasy universe is the subject of another essay). At this point, he teeters on the edge of mere pedestrian reporting, to the point that I can say, “yeah, I could do that.” But he recovers through the actions of his characters who are characters first, and heroes fourth or seventh or tenth. He flirts with genre but does not embrace it.

I have always felt that Conan’s creator, Robert E. Howard, would be comfortable among the barbarians of Greyhawk, and that Grandfather Tolkien would be at home at the Old Skull Inn in Shadowdale. New Crobuzon is someplace that Bill Burroughs and Borges could be found playing chess at a sidewalk café. Furthermore, New Corbuzon feels like it could have been an influence on WotC’s new Eberron setting. The similarities are striking, from techno-magical devices to living constructs (ReMade in the novel, Warforged in Eberron), to the whole “lost generation” noirish feel that pervades the air around the cities. If you’re a fan of Eberron, this would be a book to check out. Even if you’re not a fan, it’s a rich, rewarding novel, which encourages me to find the author’s other work.

Because I am not afraid to say that I might (I said MIGHT) be able to do something this good, but it would be an uphill fight.

More later,