Monday, July 31, 2006

Big Old Pile of Books (Comics Annex)

What's that I see on my floor. Could it be . . . carpeting? It IS. I honestly have carpeting in my office.

Who woulda thunkit?

This one is about comics I've been meaning to talk about:

Showcase Presents: Justice League of America by Gardner Fox, pencils by Mike Sekosky and Carmine Infantino.
So how can you pass up 500 pages of comics from the 60s? Black and white versions of those comics, mind you, but 500 pages nonetheless!

There's a reason for it being black and white, by the way. Back in those days, before computer coloring, the coloring would would be done by hand. Kinda. You'd have a stat of a complete comic book, words and pictures, and then the colorist would come in and say what was in the various areas, in terms of three colors - cyan, magenta, and yellow. You would also be able to define by percentages of those colors - 25, 50 and 75, usually. This is why the comic heroes of my childhood were made up of large, bright colors - they were easier to color them that way (they were called four-color because the fourth color was - black!).

So after the colors were assigned, they would go off (I was told) to a bunch of little old ladies working for the printer, who would then cut stencils for the various shapes, which then go to the printer and be shot, the stencils showing what inks went where. Mistakes were made, which was why you would sometimes see a hero mis-colored, or, more commonly a triangular "floater" of color would appear where it wasn't supposed to.

So the original black-and-whites, with the (hand-drawn) lettering on them? They would go into a warehouse in Jersey in case they needed to reprint the story later (another common practice). So they have these resources that have been sitting around forever, and these 500-page giants (the Marvel version is called "Marvel Essentials") are now excavating and presenting them because it is easier to scan in the old B&W versions and store THEM.

(And as a personal note, all the above was why it was so easy back in the mid-80s to get pickup art for the Marvel Super Heroes game out of Marvel - they just went down to the warehouse, pulled a stat, and charged us ten bucks for it. So this was a practice that made MY job easier as well).

So what about the book itself, a trip down my childhood? Well, in a modern, comic-book clogged world, it is astounding to see how repetitive the plots were. There's this menace, see, and the JLA finds out about it. Sometimes its a mystery, but usually its a menace. The menace or mystery has several parts, so they split into teams to do something about it. Batman and/or Superman show up briefly to say that they're not going on the adventure (sort of like Wolverine in the current New Avengers book). The JLA are nearly overcome by the challenges. Green Lantern will inevitably face something yellow. Martian Manhunter will be confronted by fire. Bad science will be presented. The heroes will overcome their challenges, and get back to their cave, where they will tell Snapper Carr how they did it.

And that's it. Every darn time. Mind you, a bimonthly publishing schedule and a market that was supposed to grow up through these in a couple years should allow some repeating. The other thing I come out of are these long horizontal panels to show all the members of the team.

Still, its amusing, and a nice bit of history, and we should wave these things at the young whipper-snappers to show them that they have it easy as comic fans, and this is the Golden Age.

The Elephantmen #1 by Starkings, Moritat, Comicraft, and Ladronn
And as Exhibit A for these being a Golden Age, I give you this little number, a tale of humanoid animals in the future. The Elephantment, munts, or Unhumans are genetic creations melding animal with man as warriors, so we have an elephant-headed ex-soldier and a hippo-headed detective.

Anyone who knows Spelljammer knows I am a big fan of animal-headed humanoid avatars (the Giff, and the Yak Men of Al-Qadim), and I've seen ads over the years for an earlier, related title called Hip Flask. However, I never SAW an issue of Hip Flask for some reason, and always put it in the 'promised but never delivered' category. Now, however, I have an issue in hand from this world, and will recommend it for those looking for good storytelling and interesting concepts. The tales themselves are very simple (a young girl talks to an elephant, an ordinary human is freaked by the strange new world that has such creatures in it), but they are told elegantly and beautifully. Thisone joins my pull list.

The Five Fists of Science by Matt Fraction and Steven Sanders.
Here's Exhibit B, also published by Image. A teamup between Mark Twain, Nikola Tesla (Patron saint of geeks) and Telsa's one-handed assistant (the five fists), who build a battlemech to fight the evil sorcery of Morgan, Edison, Marconi, and Carnegie. Yeah, its a weird alt-history bit that has Tesla playing Batman at one point and Twain coming off very much like J.J.Jameson.

It's a one-shot, and a very nicely done one. If anything, it has the feel that this was a screenplay that was started when League of Extraordinary Gentlemen came out, and failed to get optioned in the wake of the movie version of the same. A lot of it makes more sense on the big screen than in comic story-telling, and could use a bit more exposition about the black magic the evil industrialists are using, but it is still a nifty little book.

Godland by Joe Casey and Tom Scioli.
I should mention that both this one and Five Fists were recommended to me by various comic blogs, at a time when I was tossing mainstream books aside for a while. Such is the power of the 'Net. Anyway, Godland is another nostalgia trip, though this one is into the Realm of Jack Kirby, who between Eternals and New Gods and Jimmy Olson clones was one of the trippiest artists of my youth. Godland embraces that trippiness with Adam Archer, an astronaut invested with cosmic power after a failed Mars mission, who is the next step in evolution. And it has Kirbiesque weirdnesses of giant green alien dogs, chrome-plated assasins, Archer's three younger sisters as a support team, and my favorite, a drug-tripping green skull floating in an aquarium-shaped helmet named Basil Cronus. Add solid writing and Stan Lee-era philosophizing and stir.

Action Philosophers! by Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey.
This is a compilation of the first three issues of this series, which cover a total of nine philosophers - Plato (presented as the Hulk), Nietzche, Bodhidharma, Ayn Rand, Jefferson, St. Augustine, Freud, Jung, and Joe Campbell. As a teaching tool for philosophy, these make a good introduction, though lighter fare than Cartoon History of the Universe. TVan Lewnte and Dunlavey capture some of the history of the figures, the nature of their philosophy, and where those philosophies tend to hit a rock - Jefferson's natural philosophy colliding with his slaveholding, Rand's rational equality imploding when her intellectual equal took a younger lover, Nietzche spinning in grave over the Nazis mis-using his thinking as philisophical cover for their evils. And in addition to all that, it has the best explanation of St. Augustine I've seen, explaining it with a Jack Kirbyesque universe (which Joe Campbell would point out as part of the Monomyth). Worth looking at.

More later,

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Big Old Pile of Books (Fictional Nonfiction Section)

So I started yesterday to dig through the big pile of books that have been sitting next to my office desk for about forever. It is down from mini-fort size to speedbump-size, and I am actually finding research texts that I swore were lost. This bunch is all nonfiction, but all deal with imaginary stuff, so go figure.

Dungeon Master for Dummies by Bill Slavicsek and Richard Baker.
Expecting a bunch of snarkiness, right? It's a "for Dummies" book, an easy target in the bookstore. And add to it that the title doesn't trip off the tongue (I guess it should be Dungeon Mastery for Dummies, but Dungeon Mastery isn't a registered trademark).

But I got this book because I wrote the foreword to it, after talking about it with Bill. I asked at the time, what can you say about DMing? Well, a lot. While the earlier D&D for Dummies book concentrated on the rules themselves, coming across as a simplified version of the Player's Handbook, this new volume is a lot more about the style of play - preparation, narative and play styles, tailoring your game to fit your players, and world and NPC-building. Pretty impressive stuff, actually, and worth a look even if you're an old crusty DM.

For Want of A Nail by Richard Sobel.
I really loved this book when I first read it in the early 70s, and I hunted it down in the present day to see if it still stood up. It is a scholarly work on an alternate history. Now, in our post-Turtledove world, alternate histories (where the South won the Civil War, or Lindburgh became president or Custer fought Little Big Horn with zeppelins) are now pretty common, back in the day they weren't, and a scholarly book (complete with footnotes and a bibliography) was a rarity.

Here's the short version - during the Revolutionary War, Burgoyne gets his reinforcements in time to win the Battle of Saratoga (he surrendered in our reality). The Hudson River is controlled by the Brits, New England is cut off, the Revolution fails, the rebel ringleaders are hung, and the surviving rebels make an exodus into what our world calls Texas, but they name Jefferson.

In this way two major nations are founded on the North American continent instead of three. The Confederation of North America wins dominion status from England, while Jefferon/Texas forms the driving force of the United States of Mexico. Both nations grow, argue, and spar in a history that runs through alternate world wars, development, and depression.

So how does it stand up, thirty-plus years later? Not bad, though the more I've learned about our neighbors' history the more I see that we are looking at an Expanded Canada and a Revised Mexico. The CNA is cool, bureaucratic, and mildly utopian - it has scandals. The USM is expansionistic, agressive, and tumultuous - it has revolutions.

What is interesting is that this dovetails in with an occupant on my abandoned book pile, The Cousins' War by Kevin Phillips (who wrote The Coming Republican Majority and its sequel See, I Was Right!) In his thunderous tome Phillips puts forward the idea that the English Civil War, the American Revolution, and the American Civil War were all the same war between the same general groups of people - Low-church reformers versus High-church aristos. Indeed, the CNA feels very much like his "Greater New England" (which runs across the north part of the country) and the USM has a lot in common with the "Greater South" (since renamed "Red State America"). I wonder if For Want of A Nail was on his reading pile as well (indeed, in his intro Phillips also pegs Saratoga as a turning point).

But all in all, For Want of a Nail is just as I remember it - a different creation, rigorously planned. The late Dr. Sobel was an economist, so his is an economic history, playing with planned growth in the CNA and a powerful, rebelious multinational in the USM. It would have been interested to see how he would have played with the Internet and the Energy Crisis if he had continued this, and with the potential of Climate Change in our modern era. Worth hunting down.

The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana by Jess Nevins.
This is a favorite book for "waiting-for-the-web-page-to-refresh" reading, a humungous (1000+ pages) collection of characters from 19th Century literature, including the founding figures of the fantasy, science fiction, western, and mystery genres. Familiar characters are here, like Hawkeye, Dracula, and Well's Time Traveler, as well as three versions of Sping-Heeled Jack, two bands of Martians, the dime novel versions of Edison as well as Jesse and Frank James, and the elephantine Steam House. In addition there are broad entries on Lady Detectives, Anarchists, and Future War novels, the last the precursors to the Clancy technothrillers.

Nevins gives each a summary, and then a modern examination of their books. He is affectionate but honest with the fiction of the era, and it is a browser's dream.

Nits? Sure. Looking for something in particular may be a chore, since the character you are looking for may be covered in another entry. And some of the cross-references are blind alleys. And a couple things I expected were not there, such as Dr. Syn (the Scarecrow of Romney Marsh) and Violet Strange, both early 20th Century figures, but still within the look and feel of the Victorian era (and indeed Violet Strange was a creation of Anna Katherine Green, whose other creations, Amelia Butterworth and Ebeneezer Gryce, are in the book).

All in all, this is an eye-opening read, and from a roleplaying standpoint, a great bit of source material. Any one of the plots described can be easily ported over to your local Call of Cthulhu campaign. and indeed, how can resist basing an adventure on something called The Vampire Bomb?

More later,

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Big Old Pile of Books

I mentioned this a while back - It has been getting harder and harder to get to my desk in the home office because of a growing pile of books. These are not research books, but rather books that I've read and I've been meaning to talk about on this journal. So my options are either to review 'em, or to throw a big blanket over them and make a fort, and we can sit under the blanket eating Girl Scout Thin Mints and telling ghost stories.

Mmmmmm. Girl Scout Thin Mints.

So here's the summarized versions of a buncha reviews for your general entertainment, just so I can get these off my floor. Some have spoilers. You've been warned.

A Meal to Die For by Joseph R. Gannascoli with Allen C. Kupfer.
This is the one that started the pile - I got an advanced reading copy from a friend in New York, who knew I was a foodie. And I read it and enjoyed it for the most part, with one big hitch, but the street date (day of release) came and went and I didn't get around to it and it's been on the floor next to my desk for longer than I would like to admit. Oh, yeah, Gannascoli is an actor who's on The Sopranos but I don't get HBO so that part doesn't really matter to me.

Anyway, it's subtitled "A Culinary Novel of Crime" and it has a really nice conceit - it takes place over the course of a meal that Benny Lacoco, a mobbed-up chef, is cooking for the a meeting of the local outfit. He knows at least one of those present isn't going to make it to cigars and brandy. He's worried that the target may be him. The plot is built around the menu, and each item on each course gets a brief recipe. And we switch between Benny acting as host and him flashbacking through his own life.

It's a good conceit and a good plot, but there's a point where the wheels fall off on Benny's character. For the early flashbacks, he's got his reasons and rationalizations for what he's doing. He's helping the family, he's helping a friend, he's trying to make up for a mistake. Typical mob thinking. Then around the meat course he's knocking over butcher trucks just for the heck of it. OK, Benny's so far in he's stopped justifying, but there's not even a hand-wave at his ethics falling awa. Its a jarring point for a character that has otherwise been built up as sympathetic. Months after reading this, it still stays with me.

Old Man's War by John Scalzi.
This one I tuned into because of the Monkey King, who was flisting Scalzi's blog (flisting = Putting it on his Friend's List for those who were thinking it was something dirty). I was a Powell's and picked up a copy.

Its a neatly-written little book, a Heinlein juvenile with more sex. A good a response to The Forever War as that book was to Starship Troopers. Here's the central concept - when you get old, you volunteer for the space corps, the CDF. They give you a young man's (or young woman's - hence the additional sex) body and you fight against a universe with more unreasonable races than reasonable planets. If you survive your two year hitch, you get a homestead on a new planet. You don't ever get to go home.

So this book out-Heinleins Heinlein in that not only because you are dealing with an all-wise military organization, but that military organization is three steps ahead of you at the get-go, but doesn't mind explaining to you that it's already thought about the problem and has a pretty good solution. There are no bureaucratic screwups from the homefront, no Gallipolis, no Battles of the Greasy Grass, no My Lais. There are massacres, but you get a better idea of the hows and whys. Human error is still there (though not from the commanders), along with the problems of radically different tech levels. But I didn't see any where where the CDF bombs a wedding party, or gets caught in its own friendly fire. So it posits a place where we get the art of war down to a more advanced science.

Anyway, here's a danger of taking your damned sweet time about these reviews. This book's up for a Hugo, so most people already know about it, what good is a review? (and the voting closes Monday, so if you're on the fence, start reading).

Blind Lake by Robert Charles Wilson.
I picked up Darwinia when it first came out because it was the only new book on the shelf that wasn't part of a series, wasn't a license, and wasn't by a dead author. And I liked it a lot, and kept with him through Bios and Chronoliths and his short story collection, Perseids, which has one of the creepiest stories I ever read, since it logically proves that I am immortal (and you are too). But Blind Lake went onto my abandoned book pile for the longest time before being rescued.

You read enough of an author and you pick up his tendencies. With a Wilson story, the odds are good you will be dealing with isolation, in that a group is cut off from the rest of society. You'll also have an initial mystery, and about two thirds of the book Wilson will reveal what is REALLY going on, and you'll find out, though it wasn't something you were expecting, he was playing fair with you the reader all through the book.

And all that is in Blind Lake. The name is the place of scientific research facility, who, through science that just dances off my fingertips, out of grasp, is watching an alien life form on another planet. Suddenly the facility is cordoned off by the military, with no explanation. Did they find something? Did a sister facility, watching another planet, find something? Is there an invasion going on? In the midst of this are a trio of reporters, a twitchy administrator, his scientist ex-wife, and their creepy daughter. And Wilson does deliver and explain everything and you feel at the end the author played fair with you. Sort of the M. Night Shymalan of SF.

So why did it sit on the abandoned pile for so long? I stalled out. The twitchy admin who has been doing some nasty stuff was about do some truly nasty stuff and I didn't want to follow him there and I put the book aside. Which is a pity since exactly two pages AFTER I bailed, everything pulled together, the true mystery began to surface, and the book worked.
Mores the pity since I didn't pick up Wilson's next book, Spin, is ALSO up for Hugo this year. And I haven't even gotten to it yet, but I've been told it deals with isolation and its really, really, good.

Oh, and The Scar and The Iron Council, both by China Mieville, are worth hunting down and reading. I already raved on Perdido Street Station and this is more of the high-class, steam-fantasy, politically ept, incredibly well-written fiction you would expect. And Charles Stross is rapidly becoming the new Larry Niven/John Varley with his future-verse featured in Singularity Sky (which I finished and enjoyed), continued in Iron Sunrise (which I'm reading) and into Accelerando (which is, of course, up for a Hugo).

OK, that's a chunk of the pile. More later,

Friday, July 28, 2006

Old Friends

Last night some old and dear friends were in town, and we had a great chance to sit down and have dinner together.


Background left to right: Tracy, Margaret, The Lovely Bride, myself. Foreground upper left: Patti the waitress's finger blocking the lens.

More later,

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Data Points

So after four days of record temperatures, Seattle is returning its more pleasant but still warm summer.

So of course today the HVAC at work conks out.

No, it had nothing to do with the stress on local resources, though most of the US is still laboring under the heat and parts of LA and NY are without power. Rather our outage is because we are expanding our digs, which involved some modifications to the AC, which in turn knocked it out for a little while. So we worked in the dark, shut down unneeded power sources (but kept the fans aimed at the servers on) and the problems were readily fixed by the competant building staff. No, really.

But this was the second time tech failed me this week. The first was on Monday, when I forgot my cell phone (we don't have desk phones, a blessing since we work in a bullpen environment), and Tuesday, when I brought it, my battery died in mid-conversation. But as a result of this and the previously mentioned HVAC situation, I'm feeling how precarious our hold is on the modern world.

And yes, it is climate change, as I've noted before. If you call it global warming you're just setting youself up for heartbreak when we get the first cold snap. I mentioned earlier that a hot summer is just a data point, and this has been a significant point for the future. Things were stressed here, but not overloaded, and I hope that as things calm down we can help sent our hydro energy to other places that really need it.

Speaking of data points, I notice that both the Mariners and Pirates are in last place in their divisions. That's a data point. But Seattle is still excited about its team, while the Pittsburgh Press is looking forward to the first heavy snow and the season coming to a merciful end. The difference is another set of data points - the Mariners are only four games back, while the Pirates are 20+ games out of the hunt (everyone else the Mariners' division are also having the same levels of success as the M's). I just mention it because its data.

And lastly, the DOW have plunged up and down around the 11000 mark several times since I last talked about it. But it has not been anything resembling the soft rise and fall of a few years back, but rather huge, sweeping leaps upwards and plummets downward. I have noticed that every major rise gets heralded by the business section, while the 100+ point drops are quietly mentioned as they move to cheerier, more profit-oriented news.

Any point here? Not at the moment. I've just been following this set of numbers for a while, and thought I would check in.

More later,

Monday, July 24, 2006

Film: Yo Ho!

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest Starring Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightly, Written by Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio, Directed by Gore Verbinski.

So I spent most of the hellishly hot weekend writing, a very pleasant experience that involved minimal movement while still allowing me to sweat like a hog. But we did make an excursion out to the new Pirates film, which is now more than just a movie and is now a franchise. The theater was packed by others escaping the heat, and I would like to know how much the recent boom in film attendance is due to the heat than the quality of the movies.

Spoilers abound within this review, but you really have to have be working at it to remain in the dark about the secrets of the film. Indeed, I had two parts of the film spoiled by toys for god's sake. About a week before release, a friend of mine picked up the "Jack Swallow figure with escape coffin" and the "Davy Jones figure with heart box". Way to telegraph the plot, folks. And indeed, even US Today and the other mags loved to show off Davy Jones' octopoid face (pity he has gone downhill from the Monkees) and the special effects.

But how was it as a movie? It was the middle bit of the film trilogy, created after you realized that the first one was a hit and stretching its way to the third one. It has a collection of action scenes, some good lines, and a return of familiar characters. It spends the bulk of the film getting the characters together, and involves a continual passaround of various McGuiffins - the key, the box, the jar full of dirt. It also seems to operate in a strange zone where the mysteries and magic of the previous movie are taken for granted, and the idea of Davy Jones is known to both pirates and to representatives of the Crown safely in port.

There are also a plethora of characters, old and new. I recommend the would-be viewer watch the first movie, just so you can catch up on who's who right off the bat. Not only for things like the undead monkey, but the big reveal at the end of the film that sets up the final movie.

But what about the film? It reminds me of Empire Strikes Back and suffers in comparison. There the characters were advanced, new figures were introduced, there was a stunning revelation, someone meets his father, and the most interesting character was apparently removed from the series. But Empire was primarily about Luke, and the others were supportive. Here, the weight of the lead seems to be Knightly's Elizabeth Swann as far as character development, but the action seems to be carried equally by Depp's glamrock Swallow and Bloom's stalwart Turner. Swann's sudden development at the end should have elicited gasps and/or cheers, but instead was duly noted as a plot point by the audience as they moved to the Cthuloid finish.

And the audience was strange. Packed house, but you almost feel that they were there for the air conditioning, not the film. They weren't bad-tempered by any means - if fact they were the opposite. Quiet. Too Quiet. There were only a few chuckles of amusement and a gasp or two, but for the bulk of it they were just glad to be out of the heat and non-responsive. They went to this film because they were meaning to eventually and boy is it hot today.

The audience could react - they were into the trailers - hooted for Taledega Knights, cheered for Invincible. For the movie? Polite attention. Which I suppose was better than they reacted for the Transformers trailer, which was met with dead silence. If I were on that movie, I would be concerned.

So final review on the Pirates film? Good reason to get out of the heat, but not a lot more. It has the trouble of secrets that the magic of the world has been revealed, and now its just a matter of living in that world. Empire turned out to be the best of the Star Wars films, but I doubt that this will rank up there. The excitement of the first film is replaced with a lot of chasing around as characters had to meet their destiny with various set pieces and props and special effects. Good, but not great.

More later,

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Havin' A Heat Wave

Temperatures have been in the 90s for the past couple days with higher than normal humidity. Its been worse in much of the country (It is topping over 100 over the passes, and on the other side of the country, Queens is without power), but it is felt here since Seattle is usually so temperate.

And that temperate nature means we don't plan for extremes in weather either direction. Arizona has air conditioning down to a science. Here? Not so much. So our general plan is to keep windows open and maybe pull the fan out of the closet. And in a land that is suddenly bereft of breezes, it is pretty durn miserable. The cats have morphed into long, flat, fur-covered pillows, and the TV room (the lowest room in the house) is now considered a safe haven.

It should all lift in a day or two, the winds returning and we getting that hot-but-not-too-hot nature that is the Seattle High Summer. But for the moment it is slow going all around.

More later,

Friday, July 21, 2006

A Little Self-Promotion

Today, the new Magic:The Gathering set, Coldsnap hits the street, with an impressive "Fat Pack". Said Fat Pack not only includes my legendary novel Gathering Dark, which kicks off the entire Ice Age, but also a brand new story by yours truly on the big bad guy of Coldsnap, Heidar, who wants to do nothing less than stop the world from melting. It was a delight to write up a character so horribly and logically moonbat crazy.

There is no truth to the rumor that the current national heat wave is merely a promotional device for this cool set.

More later,

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Local Politics: Mauled

Readers of this journal should not be surprised that I am no friend of Big-D Development. The great development wave has reached only half a block away from the house now, as a pretty horse pasture has become the hard-packed dirt lair of Caterpillar tractors and backhoes. I drive through not one but two road construction projects before I get to the highway, because More People = More Roads = Potential for More People. Even my mom-in-law, visiting from Jersey, was surprised at the population density in these new developments. And there is a likely initiative coming up on the fall ballot where the locals will have to pay the Developers if they want to enforce development laws (more on that later).

But every so often there is a case where I can get behind a developer, Case in point - The Landing in Renton. North of the downtown district was once one of the two major Boeing Plants in region. Boeing has been reducing its "footprint" over the years, and emptying its former offices. In a move that almost smacks of good planning, the local Renton government (Who I also regularly beat about the head and shoulders) has put together a plan for renovating the area with a mall, threater and condos. There was even a brief flicker of putting up a stadium for the Sonics on the site.

Now, I am no fan of development, but the land was previously manufacture and office buildings, so moving it to a residential/commerical hub is not a bad idea at all. Its not like you're ripped up farmland or an already-existing residential district or killing spotted owls to install this. Who could complain?

The answer is: The owners of a rival mall.

No kidding. I got this one from the nice guy that runs HA, but it bears mentioning again. The big sprawl at where 405 meets 5, known the locals as Southcenter but renamed by its new Australian owners as Westfield is supporting a move against the Landing. They're picking up the legal tab for a non-profit group which tries to look grass roots, but has that sick plastic smell of astroturf.

This battle is particularly interesting since the Westfield mob is cheerfully direct about funding the attempts to throttle its potential rival, not only shrugging off when the media has uncovered its involvement, and declaring that legal-bombing its competition is perfectly OK, since its shareholders must be protected (as opposed to say, its customers).

And it a bizarre twist the discussion went immediately to invoking Godwin's Law. The Renton Chamber of Commerce President played the outsider card, saying "To have some outsider try to put a jackboot on our economic throat is not going to fly,", to which the Westfield spokemen fired back that the Chamber of Commerce was making "an anti-semitic attack".

Uh-huh. The jackboot is connected with Napoleon, Nazis, and totalitarian Communists, all noted pro-semitic supporters. So this fight has just started and it is already spinning out into the whackier frontiers of reasonable discussion. And while I am more than happy to see the normally pro-business Chamber take on a big business, I think Westfield has shown a remarkable tin ear to the entire proceedings - you beat your opponents through superior service, not lawsuits and accusations.

Just say g'day, mates, and move on.

More later,

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Brunch Eternal

I spent most of this weekend at brunch. No, really.

Saturday, Monkey King and I headed out to Port Townsend (Motto - "We're all here because we're not all here.") for a brunch with Brainstormfront and his young lady Sarah. BSF had spent the previous day packing up his storage unit to move it back east to Grand Rapids. I was up at the unseasonable hour of 7 AM, picked up the Monkey King at 8ish, and headed for the Edmonds ferry docks.

Two and a half hours later, we arrived at Kingston on the other side of the sound. Nice Saturday in Summer equals absolute nightmare on getting on board. Add to this another hour and change of low-speed chase on single-lane highways and brunch sort of evolved into lunch. The lunch/brunch, celebrated at Finn's on Water Street, was excellent - I had a wild mushroom and shrimp grinder which was intriguing at the very least. And it was good to see BSF and Sarah off.

So since this would be likely the last time Monkey King and I got to go to Port Townsend (because with BSF gone, there was little need for the four-hour trip), we hit some bookstores, visited the wooden boat museum, and took in the sites. Then a trip back to Seattle, where the ferry gods smiled upon up (drove up just as the ferry was loading, and there was space), while the bridge gods turned a sour face our ways (not one but two breakdowns on the 520 Bridge). We came directly to chez Grubb, where MKs lovely bride Shelly came down to join us. My Lovely Bride minded their young spawn while they went out to a dinner party. So most of my day yesterday, about 10 hours, was taken up by Major Task: Brunch.

And this morning, I had brunch again, this time at Salty's on Alki, with a great view of the city across Elliot Bay and in the company of the Lovely Bride, the Lovely Bride's Mom (visiting from back east), and John and Janice, who were celebrating their 14th wedding anniversary. The Salty's spread was wide and filling, and the commute was much less than the day before. So that took me to noon.

So what did I do with the rest of my weekend? The Lovely Bride had purchased a quilted hammock, so I broke it in, reading a copy of A Mariner's Miscellany by Peter H. Spectre. So there was a break from the brunching, at least.

More later,

Friday, July 14, 2006

Post Design Depression

I mentioned "Post Design Depression" in the last post, and it raised a few comments. No, its not serious in the fashion of a full blown depression or a postpartum depression. Its just a feeling of lethargy, exhaustion, and ennui that grips me after a major deadline. In this case, the rush and drive to get all the voice parts recorded for my current project.

Post Design Depression was first diagnosed by James M. Ward, creator of Gamma World and a long-time boss of mine. When, after finishing a hardback, I slumped into his office and slouched into one of his chairs and let out what can only be called my "Crusty the Clown" noise of exhaustion. He pronounced that I had "Post Design Depression" and that he had seen it before in me, and I should just get over it, because it will pass anyway in the fullness of time (this, in Wisconsin, was what we called "holistic therapy").

So I tend to work through it, and my plate is sufficiently full that I cannot just veg off with a mental health day. But it has been a slow process, made more difficult by the fact that the Lovely Bride has been in California this week with her sisters and her mom (she gets back tonight, thank goodness).

And despite my supposed lethargy, I've been busy every night this week. Monday night was a rump meeting of the Alliterates, Tuesday night my Tai Chi classes started back up, Wednesday Brainstormfront and his charming young lady Sarah arrived from the midwest and stayed the night (and we had a great dinner at the Melose Tavern and talked late into the night), and Thursday I was running Warhammer (more on that later (maybe)).

So I've had a full life, but I haven't been able to shake the weariness that has gripped me since last weekend. Because despite the achievement of wrapping the initial taping, there is a LOT that still needs to be done. So as James has said, I just need to get over it because its going to pass anyway in the fullness of time.

More later,

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Cat Update

So I've been wrestling with post-design depression for the past few days, and have been dodging the journal. But I should mention what is up with the cats.

We've seen a flip in cat hierarchy since Gozer arrived as our step-cat. Originally I would say that the heavier, more regal Victoria was in charge, and Harley playing her good-natured assistant. Gozer (lighter, but with claws) has pretty much intimidated Vic, so for the next month, I would expect Goze to be top cat.

Yet Harley has surged forward and expressed her own dominance now, and makes it her job to follow Gozer around and keep an eye on her. Sometimes it is too close an eye, resulting in low growls and one making a run on the other (it varies - they are still sorting out who is in charge). There have been chases in the house, and one occasion when a plant was overturned in their rush.

All three cats remain affectionate on their own, and have become more playful (Harley is back to playing with her rawhide string, Gozer has a canvas sack labled catnip, and Vic loves the laser pointer), but they just are not getting along together. In about a month we send Gozer to her original parents, and the other two will mope around the house and miss her.

Yeah, right.

More later,

Saturday, July 08, 2006


So I would like to say that I hate Los Angeles, not only because it would allow me appear fashionable, but it also would allow me to riff on Randy Neuman and use I Hate LA as a title, or I suppose I H8 LA, But actually I don't hate LA that much, not with the same passion as I do, say, Las Vegas. And this most recent trip has pretty much enforced that pleasant ambivilance I have towards the place.

It's actually a bit of surprise, since I have a lot of scar tissue grown up in the LA area. Here's where TSR fed me to Ester Shapiro during the Dynasty debacle. And here was the site of the rathole TSR poured a bunch of money down when we had our first West Coast operation. And here's the site of the rathole TSR poured a bunch of money down for our second West Coast operation. So I should have a hefty chip on my shoulder about the town, but I don't. Part of it may be that it doesn't seem to have any real center to hate, only an undifferentiated mass of civilization in which notable architecture and artifacts bob up and down, artifacts notable only because they have been pressed into our mass-mind by the fact they are in LA.

So I was down there for three days making the recordings for the upcoming game I'm working on. And frankly, it was a great experience. We were camped out in a luxurious recording studio that was decorated like Zorro's Bordello, the staff and crew were on the job, and the voice talent was just spot-on. My greatest regret was that I was hunched over my script for the bulk of the time, checking these excellent voices against my work. Some phrases look better on the page than coming out of the human throat, but for the most part the changes were minimal, and my spirits are lifted as we now get the bulk of the recordings in the can.

And I've picked up some things about LA, even given my confinement. For example, never get on Highland when there is a concert at the Hollywood Bowl. Don't worry if the people in Pirate costume on Hollywood Boulevard are actors or fanboys -they are likely both. The food at El Coyote near the corner of Beverly and La Brea is recommended, but be aware that Thursday is the night gay couples tend to dominate the scene. And no matter what the booklet says, the Citywalk up at Universal Studio is does NOT contain. "The hottest restaurants on the coolest street in America" (a phrase that amused my boss to no end).

Other than that, I have nothing to rail against. The hills were brown and scrubby, and it looked like at any moment a fleet of medical choppers would come over the rise, heading for the 4077th. And the highways were every bit as white-knuckled as I anticipated, though navigation was aided by a margarita from El Coyote (they make them strong). But all in all, it was a pleasant business trip, though I intend to completely blob around the house this weekend as result.

More later,

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Go Fourth!

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Ah, the Fourth of July. Call it Independence Day, but just tacking it to a specific day makes it tough to shuffle to nearest weekend, and puts employers in the bind of either choosing to give the employees a couple days off when it falls in mid-week, or just face up to the fact that half the staff is going to be out anyway.

Why the 4th? We'd been fighting the British for more than a year by that time. The first motion for independence was on June 8th. And the first vote (12-0, New York abstaining courteously) was on July 2nd. Adams thought the Second of July would be the big holiday as a result. And the document itself was publicly read on the 8th of July. What made the 4th important?

The 4th is when they agreed to the language and, more importantly, it was sent to the printers. And as every writer knows, that is the moment that dreams are made real, ideas are crystalized, and reality is fashioned out of wish and hope. When the presses roll.

Have a happy and safe Fourth of July.

More later,

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Civil Crisis of the Infinite War

So. Comics.

Between the X-Men and Superman movies, and the big events like Infinity Crisis and Civil War, comics have been getting a lot more attention, and some of the articles take the form of compare/contrast of the big two companies - DC and Marvel. The Washington Post declares that DC is the comfortable one, while Marvel is edgey. On the other side, Hypnoray makes an excellent case that Marvel embraces Modernism while DC has gone Postmodern.

For my part, I see the similarities between the companies styles and stories more than the differences. In particular, I'm looking at both DC's recent Brave New World, and Marvel's sprawling Civil War event.

Brave New World first. It is a dollar comic, 80 pages long, which hypes six new series coming up from DC. It is taglined "In the Wake of Infinite Crisis" showing that there is still mileage to be had from its last super-event. I could argue that only three of the series come out of Infinite Crisis, and one in addition found its origin in the earlier Identity Crisis, but, regardless, if you're looking for "try-out book", this is a good thing.

What struck me as odd, however, is that it seems like one of the infinite earths folded back into the world was the mainline Marvel Earth (also called Earth 616). The Martian Manhuner has gotten grimmer and grittier, has pitched his harness for a full deep X-man style battle suit, and is suddenly sporting a Skrull-like set of chin ridges, which may be the ET version of the soul patch. Similarly, the Monitor is back, watching the Earth, but is really a whole race, similar to the Watcher up in the Blue Area of Marvel's Moon. And the new Atom, though involving and having double set of kicks at the end, had Byrne art that gave the scientific gloss on the tale the vibe of Byrne's time on the Fantastic Four.

In general, though, the book didn't push me in any direction for the various releases. I like the idea of the Creeper being a left-wing pundit with his own show (hey, its a fictional universe - they had Lex Luthor as president), and that the Shazam family has re-formulated itself as a "fighting evil D&D creatures" sort of gig (the big red cheese now has a Rogue-like skunk stripe on his forehead). I've been in a cut-back mode in buying comics for a while (the Flash and Aquaman relaunches both left me cold). So it didn't work for me. On the other hand, I've had enough comments from other fans, both live and on the net, to say that this was a good attempt to bring new people in. But part of the attraction is that it is more Marvel in nature.

Over in the Marvel Universe, on the other hand, they are in the grips of their Civil War. A tragedy in a superhero-versus-supervillain fight kills a lot of innocents, and there are demands for registration of all superheroes. The superhero community is split down the middle, with Iron Man being the strong pro-registration guy and Captain America standing for individual freedoms. Spider-Man has of this writing sided with Iron Man, to the point of revealing his identity on national TV. The law passes, Captain America is forced underground, where he is recruiting other anti-registration types.

Now, this in turn feels like the old DC universe, where humanity would turn on Superman with startling regularity. You know, it looks like Supes killed a kitten, and within three panels everyone hates him and throws tomatoes at him and forces him to leave earth, and then its revealed that the kitten was in reality an alien robot, and Superman leaving was part of the plan to make the aliens reveal themselves. Similarly, this seems to be moving with a speed where we have moved from tragedy to legality to open warfare with astounding ease.

What the heck is in this registration act anyway? Originally it starts with the idea that heroes must register with the government (which brings up security issues in a world where laptops are regularly lost). Then it becomes that the heroes have to publicly reveal their identities. THEN it becomes they are obligated to hunt down those who refuse. And THEN the guys doing the hunting suddenly have "Capekilling Armor"? Even Iron Man, on day after the act is passed, uses the phrase "before the dying starts tomorrow." This is an embodiment of the "slippery slope" where you start with a relatively sound idea (Heroes are responsible for their actions) and move quickly into totalitarian enforcement.

And while we're on the subject, where is the wisdom in making Iron Man the poster boy for his side of the conflict? Ignoring the fact that he has had alcholism problems and a tendency for his armor to be controlled by others and/or gain its own sentience, at one point he was replaced by his younger self from an alternate earth and he already has gone rogue to hunt down misuse of his own technology (the "Armor Wars"). Having him spout off "Burn the village in order to save it" lines (along with "I have a list of 137 heroic secret identities") doesn't really advance the idea of presenting a balanced view of the proceedings.

If it really turns out that Marvel is going becoming more like DC, then Tony Stark will turn out to really be Loki in disguise, or the Space Phantom (harking back to early Avengers) or something, and Odin will return and reset everything back to something that resembles its original form. And Iron Man will rescue a kitten from a tree.

I'm not saying it's going to happen, but if it does, you read it here first.

More later,

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Oh, Canada

I was going to go on about comics, so consider yourselves lucky. Instead I want to celebrate Canada Day, and not just because I watch curling on the CBC.

Canada Day commemorates the creation of the Dominion of Canada on July 1, 1867. I remember it as Dominion Day as a child, and as that oddly-named note on the Calender three days before the 4th of July. The renaming, however, is another case of a holiday shifting itself around as it makes itself comfortable. It was first proposed as a celebration on the first anniversary of Canada's creation, but people up north have only gotten around to seriously celebrating it for the last twenty years or so. The always-practical Canadians decided to wait a century to make sure this was a going concern before running out and buying fireworks.

The Dominion of Canada was created by the British North America Act, or BNA, out of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and the Province of Canada, split up into Ontario and Quebec (thirty years previous, they were Lower Canada and Upper Canada, lumped together by another act).

Part of the reason for the forming of the Dominion was the fact that their neighbor to the south, the US, was getting a little frisky with all of its "manifest destiny" talk, and before and after the enactment of the BNA was the time of the Fenian Raids, when Irish Veterans from the US invaded Canada, with the idea that they could take it over, then trade it back to Britain for a free Ireland. It actually sounds like a better plan than it was. Here's part of the entry from the Wikipedia:
Fenian soldier's song

We are the Fenian Brotherhood, skilled in the arts of war,
And we're going to fight for Ireland, the land we adore,
Many battles we have won, along with the boys in blue,
And we'll go and capture Canada, for we've nothing else to do.

Along with such things like the War of 1812 and the Oregon Boundary Dispute (fifty-four-forty-or-fight!) convinced the Canadians that they had a rowdy downstairs neighbor and the best thing they could do was get organized. While the discussions that led to confederation were in the process for years - the 1840 Act of Union which smushed Upper and Lower Canada was coming apart - but the noises of the Americans bowling with kegs in the downstairs parlor probably speeded the deliberation just a tad.

So Happy 139th, Canada, and we look forward to a big shindig next year!

We are the Canadian Borg.
Resistance would be impolite.
Please wait to be assimilated.
Pour l'assimilation en francais, veuillez appuyer le "2".

--- Tag line lifted from somewhere on the net.

More later,