Saturday, December 31, 2011

Fun Factoid of the Day

The first proper, official mention of the Time War comes during the novelization of 'Remembrance of the Daleks', when the Special Weapons Dalek recalls fighting in "the time campaign, the war to end all wars". This carries with it the interesting implication that for the Imperial Dalek faction at least, the Time War has (in part, at least) already happened. Meaning that perhaps this is the incident that Dalek Caan rescued Davros from...and the Seventh Doctor is participating in events out of synch with the Gallifreyan timestream. (Which is strangely in keeping with the Seventh Doctor's persona...)

It also confirms my general belief that the novelization of 'Remembrance' is actually the starting point for the 2005 series, conceptually if not actually. Which, in turn, confirms my general belief that Ben Aaronovitch is freaking metal.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

If the 112th Congress Were Your Roommate

Day One: You settle into your apartment, and you each agree on an equitable share of rent and utilities. The two of you sign the lease, taking an equal share of responsibility for making the apartment work.

End of Month One: Your roommate explains that he's starting his own business, which should bring even more capital into the system. He explains that for a little while, he needs to reduce his contributions to rent, but that this will pay for itself in the long run. When asked about the short-term, he suggests that the household just "run a deficit" for a little while. He shows you his business plan, and you agree.

End of Month Two: You find out that the business plan your roommate had was just a bunch of random guesses, and he's not spending any of the money he withheld on his supposed new business. When you confront him on this, he gets very upset that you're calling him a liar, and insists that you're just greedy and want his money. He tells you that if you want to balance the household budget, you could maybe cut the food budget (since he's eating out all the time anyway) and cut back on your heart medication and maybe turn out the lights when you leave the room. After a five-hour argument, you agree to turn out the lights when you leave the room. He does not concede anything.

End of Month Three: You're now having to kick in extra money to make ends meet on the household budget. Your roommate responds to this by suggesting that since you're clearly "hoarding" money, he should respond by reducing his contributions even further to get his business going and make the household function again. You point out that he hasn't spent any of the money he already has on his business. He accuses you of hating babies and caring more about homosexuals than you do about him. You insist that he start contributing his fair share again. He suggests that you look at the bills again next month to see if things change. When you refuse, he threatens to stop giving you any money at all and to let the landlord evict the pair of you.

End of Month Four: Your income is now stretched pretty much to its limit, as your roommate isn't even giving you all the money he promised to give you. When you point this out, your roommate suggests that you could probably make up the shortfall by selling your car, as he knows a friend who's in the market for one. He admits that his friend is aware of your financial troubles and won't offer too much, but some money is better than none, right? You point out that this is a short-sighted plan that will wind up costing you more in bus fare than it saves in gas, and he tells you that beggars can't be choosers. Reluctantly, you agree to sell your car.

End of Month Five: Your roommate is now driving your old car. He doesn't see why you're upset about the agreement he had with his friend to share it if you wound up selling it.

End of Month Six: Your roommate refuses to pay the phone bill, because he no longer uses the landline. You point to the agreement you signed with both your names on it. He shrugs. You pay the phone bill.

End of Month Seven: Your roommate finally agrees to pay the phone bill. A few hours later, you hear him in his room violently arguing with himself. A few hours after that, he comes out of his room and explains that he can't pay the phone bill after all. He appears to have hit himself a few times.

End of Month Eight: After another five-hour long argument, your roommate finally admits that his business plan has a few problems. He agrees to create a new business plan. The next day, he shows it to you. It's the same business plan he showed you seven months ago, only with pie charts and a new name.

End of Month Nine: Your roommate mentions that he got another angry call from the landlord yesterday about the rent, and he's not happy about having to deal with it. He suggests that you maybe stop spending all your money on drugs and prostitutes and work on making the apartment a better place again.

End of Month Ten: You find out your roommate has a $1000-per-week drug habit and has been bringing hookers into the apartment when you're at work.

End of Month Eleven: Your roommate starts pointedly reminding you that the lease is up soon, and that he's not sure he can support a deadbeat like you anymore. When you point out that he hasn't actually paid you his share of this month's rent yet, he calls you greedy. You find him in your room a few hours later with a tape measure.

End of Year: You start looking for a different roommate. Your roommate insists on being present every time you talk to someone, and calls them all communists.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The All-Crushed Team

I don't know about you, but I'm really excited to see the trailer for 'The Dark Knight Rises'. It looks like we're going to get a genuinely intelligent Bane, a socially-conscious Catwoman, and even some football. The scene where Hines Ward outruns not just the defense, but the collapse of Gotham City's football stadium, looks to be a major set piece. But who exactly are we going to see on the field, plummeting to their deaths behind Ward?

This came up at breakfast today...um, no, really, it did. I live in a strange household...and we were talking about who we'd want to see killed by Bane in a brutal attack on Gotham's most beloved football team. For starters, we're pretty sure it's going to be a gadget play, with Michael Vick and Tim Tebow both on the field. Tebow would take the direct snap, behind the old Denver offensive line, but would lateral the ball to Vick. Vick would be planning to throw the ball to Tebow, but would find that he was being covered by Deion Sanders (who probably came out of retirement again, just to show everyone he was still as good as he said he was.) With Albert Haynesworth and Bill Romanowski advancing on him quickly, he looked to dump the ball off to Terrell Owens, but he'd quit on the route. So he had to pray for a long bomb to Ward.

That's where we left off--anyone else you'd like to see on the field for that play? Leave your choices in the comments!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Why I Don't Like Ballot Initiatives

It should probably go without saying, but people who know me will tell you: I'm a pretty big fan of democracy. I vote, I encourage others to do the same...heck, I've even suggested in this blog that we make voting mandatory. It's not just a civic right, it's a civic duty, and it should be treated as such. And because I'm such a big proponent of democracy, it usually comes as a pretty big surprise to people that generally speaking, I think ballot initiatives are a terrible idea.

When someone said as much to me ("Are you against democracy?"), I replied with the simple statement, "No, but there's a big difference between democracy and mob rule." A ballot initiative is a single policy statement, made in a vacuum, usually vaguely worded and not made by experts. Rarely can those experts revise it subject to the realities of the situation. Frequently, the election surrounding it is subject to demagoguery and misinformation. To anchor your entire legal system around such statements generally cripples the creation of actual, sensible policy.

Take California, for example. California has been a big fan of the ballot system for a long time, and it shows in their budgetary crisis. They've had ballot initiatives that have overruled necessary-but-unpopular measures like tax increases with rules that hamstring the ability of the state legislature to raise money, passed by people who then turn around and complain that the legislature is ineffective in providing the services they need to live their daily lives. Initiative follows initiative follows initiative, like tying knots in a cord, until the law no longer stretches to where it needs to go.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that lawmakers are always sensible and wise and all-knowing. I read the papers just like everyone else. But the solution is what it's always been. Elect better lawmakers. Term limits and ballot initiatives and other gimmicks to save our system of democracy from itself only create new loopholes for canny criminals to game; the best solution is what it's always been, to put our best people into office and let them make their best decisions.

And to stop voting Republican. Because by this point, it's pretty obvious that "our best people" excludes them almost by definition.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

An Interesting Interpretation of Stephen King's 'IT'

I re-read 'IT' recently...well, relatively recently. Time moves pretty fast when you have a busy life, which is why I'm posting my Monday entry on Thursday. The point is, on re-reading it, I was struck by the idea that It doesn't actually seem to be very intelligent. That is, in all the scenes where it's interacting with people, it seems to be calculating and manipulative, finding people's secret phobic pressure points and skillfully working on them to extract the utmost in paralytic terror...

But in the scenes towards the end that are told from Its perspective, it doesn't seem to be much more than a mindless animal that kills and eats and sleeps. And it's interesting to re-read it in that light and consider the idea that maybe It's not intelligent at all. After all, just because something is capable of complex behavior doesn't mean it's actually reasoning; beavers build very complicated dams, but they do so purely on instinct. What if It works the same way?

Assuming It's telepathic (which seems pretty obvious from the book), it seems likely that it's capable of finding and reflecting our fears without ever actually understanding what they are. "If I look like this," It says to Itself, "and I make these noises that I see in that person's head, it will make them scared because this is what they are most scared of." Whether that fear is the Creature from the Black Lagoon or prostate cancer, it doesn't really matter to It. The fear is ours, the shape comes from us. Like all the old stories of a glamour, what we really see is ourselves reflected back at us. Even its attempts to scare off the Losers is nothing more than the blind reflex of a cornered animal, no different from a cat hissing or a rattlesnake's rattle save that we give it a more nuanced texture with our own thoughts.

Which means, of course, that in the end It's faintly pathetic. Because if It needs fear, if It feeds on fear (something King is ambiguous about...at one point, he suggests that the feeding is only because it's such a primal fear, but at another, he suggests that the fear merely seasons the meat...) Then it's never realized that it could live just as long by scaring the same people over and over. We're always scared by the same stories, always trembling at the same myths. Unlike animals, who eventually calm down once they no longer have the threat of harm, people can be scared again and again and delight in it each time. Whatever It is, It's old and sad and probably needed to be put out of Its misery.

(Unlike Misery, who probably should have been left alive. That writer was just being a dick. But that's another post.)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Top Ten Missing Episodes

For those of you who haven't heard the wonderful news, two more episodes of 1960s-era Doctor Who were recovered today ('Galaxy Four' Episode Three and 'The Underwater Menace' Episode Two), bringing the total of recovered episodes to 36 and reducing the number of missing episodes down to 106. As always, this is a day of rejoicing for Doctor Who fans; as I mentioned in my post over at Mightygodking.com, no other fandom can really understand what it's like to not be able to sit down and watch every episode of their favorite series.

Interestingly enough, one article (full disclosure, written by a friend of mine who has a very good blog called "The TARDIS Erudotorum") cited these episodes as "not on anyone's Top Ten list of episodes to be recovered." Which led me to the interesting question, what exactly would the Top Ten list be? So, I thought, why not give mine? Keeping in mind, of course, that we have to keep it to individual episodes (so no "All of 'Marco Polo'") and also that, suckily enough, we can wish as hard as we want but that won't make it happen. So here are my picks for the most desired recoveries, should a benevolent deity grant our wishes.

10-9. The Invasion, Episodes 1 and 4. This one is the most interesting, even though it's at the bottom of the list, because it's the most likely. Rumors have persisted for years, started by none other than the late Nicholas Courtney, that a private collector has copies of the two missing episodes of this classic late-Troughton story, but that they're holding the BBC over a barrel and demanding an exorbitant fee before they allow the Beeb to "recover" them officially. (Courtney claimed to have actually seen copies of the film, which had picture but no sound. The BBC, as with all missing episodes, has sound but no picture. Any A/V club geek could resolve that problem.) Of course, this one is already "restored", in the form of Doctor Who's only (canonical) animated episodes, but it'd be nice to be able to watch the story as interpreted by the actors and not the creators of "Danger Mouse".

8-6. Power of the Daleks, Episodes 1-3. This is actually one I'd love to have in its entirety, but I'm trying to stick to the "individual episodes only" rule, and I just don't have the space for the full serial. And from the sound of things, to be honest, all the good stuff really happens before the Daleks give up on being cunning manipulators and just start killing people; the first few episodes are filled with tense political intrigue and the Daleks actually being clever and subtle, which is such a twist for them that I'd love to see it. Couple that with Troughton's first three episodes in the role, and I would love to see it come back home.

5. The Tenth Planet, Episode 4. And speaking of "regeneration stories", this is probably a lot of people's Number One missing episode. It's certainly of tremendous symbolic significance; the final appearance of William Hartnell, the first actor to take the role, is a major cultural touchstone among fans of the series. But I suspect, having seen the first three episodes, that it's more interesting as a "religious relic" than as an actual story, which bumps it a bit below everything else on the list.

4. The Massacre, Episode 4. Yes, I know. It does seem a bit odd that I'm actually prioritizing the first appearance of Dodo over the final appearance of Hartnell, but I really want it for all the bits prior to that. This is, by all accounts, a remarkably intense episode, with a shocking and devastating climax to the events in France followed up by a genuinely emotional confrontation between Steven and the Doctor. It would be well worth the small price of Dodo's near-nonsensical introductory sequence to get the scenes preceding it.

3. Mission to the Unknown. This has always sounded like one of the truly fascinating, quirky episodes of the series; a one-part story in an era where six and seven-parters weren't at all unusual, a story that features absolutely nothing of the Doctor, not even a mention, and a story that ends with the nominal hero dying at the hands of the Daleks, the Doctor's arch-enemies, with his dying message lost. I don't think it'll ever have the impact that the original story had (especially when it was followed up on with a four-parter that had nothing to do with 'Mission'...for almost five weeks, fans watched the show with the lurking knowledge in the back of their heads that the Daleks were out there, getting ready to conquer the universe, and the Doctor didn't even know about it.) But I would dearly love to see it.

2. Evil of the Daleks, Episode 7. This is another "Dang, I want every one of the missing episodes of this one!" story. But if you can only have one on the list, then it's got to be Episode 7. Absolutely got to. The Doctor's final gambit against the Dalek Emperor, the revolt of the humanised Daleks, the civil war on Skaro...this was epic stuff, and we've been denied it.

1. The Daleks' Master Plan, Episode 12. And speaking of "epic", this was a freaking twelve-parter. That's almost a whole season, one of the grandest and most ambitious stories ever done in the history of 'Doctor Who'...and the climax, involving the death of a companion (well, possibly, depending on how you count these things) and the destruction of worlds and Daleks melting from existence and great big huge exciting stuff, is gone. Possibly forever. **sniff** Could we have it back, please?

Thursday, December 08, 2011

What's Worse Than Pedantry? Inaccurate Pedantry!

At this point, it's almost as big of a cliche as the cliche it's making fun of: Whenever someone says, "I want everyone to give 110%!" someone else responds with, "You can't give more than 100%. It's the maximum amount possible." Cue people smirking at the stupid guy who delivered such a tired and lame motivational gimmick, or at least that must be what people do because jokes about mathematical fallacies rarely bring in the real yuks.

Except that it is entirely possible to give 110%. If I work at a call center, and the goal for the week is to take seventy calls a day, and I take seventy-seven, I have given 110% of that goal. If I sell vacuum cleaners, and my average sales-per-week is 200 vacuum cleaners, and this week I sell 220, I have given 110% of my usual effort. If I am a running back, and my personal best is a 100-yard rushing game, and I have a 110-yard rushing game, I will have given--guess what? That's right, 110% of my personal best.

Numbers greater than 100% exist. They are used routinely in mathematics and everyday life. When you tell someone "You can't give more than 100%," all you are really telling them is, "I'm not only a smug and arrogant cynic, I'm also bad at math, too!" Which isn't exactly the message you want to be sending. (I hope.)

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Crazy Fan Theory of the Day

Why stop with Season 6B?

Think about it. The stories normally associated with a Second Doctor who served as a secret, deniable agent of the Time Lords in between "The War Games" and "Spearhead From Space" feature a Patrick Troughton who looks considerably older than he did at the end of Season Six. (Admittedly, Steven Moffat chalks this up to "shorting out the time differential", and suggests that Time Lords revert back to their youthful state when no longer around their future selves, but he doesn't say that they can't look old because they're old.) He mentions his age as roughly 400-450 in "Tomb of the Cybermen", and Romana gives it as 759 in "The Ribos Operation", meaning that there's a 300+ year span of adventures in there (with plenty of room for gaps, especially in between "The Deadly Assassin" and "The Robots of Death", but the point is there's a lot of time to be accounted for.) And the Time Lords discuss a change of appearance, but they don't really present their actions at the Doctor's trial as a capital crime (or 1/13th of a capital crime.)

And when the Doctor regenerates, it is always into the form of a man in the prime of his life--of all the regenerating Doctors, only Pertwee was over 50 when he was cast in the part. And we don't see that regeneration. And according to fan lore, there's a gap in that space where missing adventures occurred. And the Third Doctor has plenty of suspicious gaps in his memories.

What if the Third Doctor, as well as the Second, operated for years as an agent of the Time Lords? After finally regenerating due to old age, he regenerated into a young, fit Jon Pertwee (who I for some reason picture as dressing like John Steed from 'The Avengers') who eventually, after a long period of service to the Celestial Intervention Agency, was finally sent to Earth to begin his official exile. This Season 6C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y and Z would also explain where the new Doctor picked up his driving skills, Venusian karate and aikido, and tattoo.

I propose that once the Past Doctor Adventures return, we...what? I can dream, can't I? I propose that once the Past Doctor Adventures return, we see the final adventure of the Troughton Doctor, and the first adventure of his young successor. What do you say, BBC?

Monday, November 28, 2011

I Atent Dead

I just haven't felt a whole lot like writing these last couple of weeks. Not in an "I'm depressed and miserable and sunk into my dark squalor of the soul" sort of way, just in a "writing feels too much like work and I'm taking a break" sort of way.

Then I remembered that the last time I did this, I started a blog to make myself write to a schedule so I wouldn't get into the habit of not writing. And oh yeah, this was it. So it's back to blogging, even if I don't feel like it. Today, we discuss being stupid.

Exhibit A: Governor Sam Brownback. For those of you who haven't heard, he's the governor of Kansas, and he apparently has given his staff orders to monitor Twitter and Facebook for mentions of his name. So when an 18-year-old girl on her way back from a school trip to the state capitol made a joke on Twitter about telling the governor that he "sucked", they went to the high school principal and read him the riot act. And he, being fully willing to pass the pain downward, summoned the girl in question to his office and berated her in an attempt to browbeat her into writing a letter of apology. The girl, to her infinite credit, refused.

(Well, okay, not to her infinite credit. After all, she is trying to make it a point of principle that she should be allowed to tell someone they suck so long as she meant it as a joke. Hopefully, she has learned a valuable lesson: You can never be sure that the person you're saying bad things about won't hear it. Never say anything to anyone that you'd be ashamed to say to their face.)

But the point is not about bullying, or about abuse of political power. The point is, and the reason why the governor (or, strictly speaking, his staff--he's apologized and disavowed the act, if you want to be charitable and assume he's telling the truth) was stupid, was because nobody would have heard about this if he hadn't said anything. Teenage girl saying "the governor sucks"? Tweeted to sixty people, most of whom forgot it two minutes later. Teenage girl being forced to write letter of apology to thin-skinned, tinpot dictator of a governor who has a paranoid obsession with social media? That's the kind of thing that's in the news for days, nationwide. What he did wasn't just an abuse of power, it was counter-productive.

It's like Harlan Ellison said, when talking about the man who rejected his screenplay for 'I, Robot'. "Every new director asked to see the script I wrote," Ellison said, "and he said, 'We're not making that script, he said I had the brains of an artichoke!' Which just goes to prove me right. After all, I wasn't spreading it around town."

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Evil Toy Monkey--The Series!

One of my favorite MST3K movies is "Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders". I actually like it, even on a level above and beyond finding the riffing funny. The reason for this has a lot to do, strangely enough, with the decision to re-use footage from another movie to pad out the film.

For those of you who haven't seen the movie, it's the adventures of Merlin in the modern day; he decides to travel to the present and open up a store that sells enchanted tchotchkes in an effort to bring back belief in magic and restore the prestige of wizards. (Which actually sounds vaguely creepy, but...) The movie is clearly an old TV pilot that was repurposed as a movie after it didn't go to series, and the plot abruptly shifts halfway through to focus on a cursed toy stolen from Merlin's shop that he's trying to recover. (There's also a framing sequence that pads the film out further, which has Ernest Borgnine as a retired screenwriter telling the story to his grandkid.)

The thing is, only the first half is an old TV pilot. The second half is a heavily edited version of an existing movie, called "The Devil's Gift", about a cursed toy that slowly grows in power and threatens the life of a father and son. They cut the film down heavily, edited in some footage of Merlin looking for the toy (one of those little cymbal-playing monkeys, which does, in all fairness, look really damned creepy--every time it claps its cymbals, something dies.)

But the reason I like it is that in "The Devil's Gift", the story ends with the toy monkey just straight up killing everyone. At the end, after the hero (the dad) thinks he's gotten rid of the monkey for good, Grandma finds it and brings it home and it blows up the house with everyone inside it. Brutal, miserable, joyless, bleak, unsatisfying ending...but "Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders" changes it. In this version, Merlin shows up at the last second, stops the toy, and saves everyone. He takes it back to his shop, scolding it with the words, "I'll deal with you later," like he's dealing with a naughty pet.

I love this idea. I love the idea of Merlin actually going into the unhappy ending of another movie and stopping the main characters from dying. It feels like what a true hero should be doing, far moreso than the first half of the movie (the actual pilot, where Merlin delivers the comeuppance to an obnoxious reporter by luring him into dabbling with magic.) I think that they should do this with more old movies.

Hence my idea for the regular "Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders" series. Every week, they take an existing horror movie (like, say, "Night of the Living Dead") and recut it, adding in scenes of the Evil Toy Monkey being responsible for everything and Merlin wandering around looking for it. (Picture Barbara looking at the stuff on the mantelpiece, and then they cut to the Evil Toy Monkey.) And of course, at the end, when things were at their worst, Merlin would show up, grab the Evil Toy Monkey, and everyone would be saved! (Cut to shots of random zombies outside the farmhouse collapsing as the spell is broken.) And every week, Merlin would take the Evil Toy Monkey back to the shop, saying, "I'll deal with you later."

...or I could just be out of my ever-loving mind...

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Amazing Race 19, Week Five

And after a second non-elimination leg this season (although arguably, the first one didn't really count as it was immediately followed up by a double-elimination leg) we take the short trip from Phuket to Bangkok. (Which does not make me feel quite as "twelve" as Phuket did, mainly because there are fewer ways to amusingly mispronounce it.) But first, there's some more Phuking to do. The teams set off by taxi to a place that gives elephant rides. Guess what they're doing?

Andy and Tommy, in first, get to the elephant ride, to the Road Block (where one partner has to dive into a pond and look for a package wrapped in burlap), through the Road Block, and back to their taxis all without apparently even seeing another Racer. In fact, they make it to the second Road Block (this leg's twist--each Racer has to do a separate Road Block instead of just one) before all the Racers have set out. Needless to say, this does not bode well for the Doublemint Twins.

The second Road Block is actually quite vicious, despite every team's anticipating it and trying to minimize it. The teams are first told they have to disassemble a Spirit House (a little model of a home with some tiny figurines present) and bring it to get the next clue...and only then told that one of them has to reassemble it, with no model or reference points beyond their own memory and the other models assembled a long taxi ride back the other direction. Andy and Tommy suspect it, but their memory isn't as good as they think it is, and they have to leave the Buddhist temple to get a second look. (And not, as might be suggested by their dialogue throughout the episode, because they are deeply offended by the temerity of foreigners to worship a god other than the One True Christ. Sorry, but evangelicals of any stripe rub me the wrong way.)

Jennifer is a lot nicer when she assembles her Spirit House, and she's also bright enough to borrow their cab driver's cell phone to snap a few pictures of the completed work for reference. I'll admit to some grudging respect for that, even if her brother and her bring out the worst in each other. The other teams show up, one by one, and separate themselves out into "smart enough to take notes" and "about to take an extra taxi ride." (Zac and Lawrence come the closest we've seen this whole race to bickering, as Zac repeatedly mentions that notes would be a good idea and Lawrence brushes him off, only to turn around and suggest that it's not his fault that Zac can't remember where everything goes.)

Meanwhile, several hours after the first team and a full hour after the closest team to them, Liz and Marie set off...and promptly hit a Speed Bump. Which they treat as the best experience of the entire Race, and quite possibly their whole lives to date. They get to shovel elephant manure (which they're actually happy about, so great is their love of pachyderms) and then wash an elephant...and yeah, I might be hardened and cynical, but it is hard to remain cynical in the face of twins cooing over an elephant and talking to it like it was their kitten. Definitely one of the high points of the Race so far.

After that, everyone jumps into buses to go to Bangkok. There is much drama over who gets on which bus and how much they have to spend on taxis, but at this point I will spare you some of the angst and cut to the chase: Nobody's stupid mistakes come back to haunt them because Liz and Marie are way behind, out of money, and relying on the kindness of strangers to limp to the Pit Stop. And they get eliminated. Which is a bit of a shame, as there are teams I liked less, but I wasn't enamored enough of the Doublemint Twins to get upset at their exit. And now there are seven, as we head to Malawi!

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Self-Taught Superheroes, Part Fifteen

"Page 4A," the man said, roughly yanking Lord Raptor's helmet off his head. "Last paragraph of the continuation of the front-page article." We still couldn't see who he was--Lord Raptor's helmet did a pretty good job of concealing people's identities along with protecting them from stun-blasts--but he had a pretty obvious mad-on for Lord Raptor. Which put him on our side.

He put his gun right up to Lord Raptor's cheek, prodding deeply into the flesh. Lord Raptor played it pretty cool, but you could see from his eyes that he was nervous. And he knew better than we did what that thing could do at close range. "'Several locals are missing in the wake of the attack; local authorities are co-operating with the federal government to investigate.' Sorry, but I decided not to wait."

"I don't know who you are," Lord Raptor said, his voice tight with tension, "but you should know you can't possibly get away with this. I have hundreds of men--"

"You can call me John Q. Public, pal. Nobody in particular, nobody someone like you would care about. The kind of guy someone like you steps on and ignores, right? You didn't even think about those people you kidnapped, the kids that might be waiting for them, the families that don't even know if they're alive or dead..." His finger tightened a little on the trigger. "Yeah, you might have hundreds of men. And they're all on the other side of this snazzy glowing wall of yours, aren't they? In here, it's just you and me."

Lord Raptor's eyes darted to the force field, then back to John Q. Public. (Which isn't his real name...I think...but it's what he calls himself, even to the rest of us. Josh has been trying to get him to open up, but he just kinda smiles and says he's fine answering to 'John'.) "Kill me, and they'll slaughter you."

"But you'll be dead," John replied. "I've been watching you for about a week now. Switched places with a guard during your raid on the steelworks in Pittsburgh. You talk big, but I'm pretty sure you don't have a lot you're willing to die for. You surrender now, tell your men to stand down and get the authorities in here, you get to live to try being crazy another day. You try to be a hero, I guarantee you're gonna be a martyr. I'm betting you won't take that trade."

The two of them stared at each other for a long moment. Josh and I looked at each other, then back to them. We weren't about to say anything, because we had no idea what to say or what to do. We were both pretty sure we didn't want anyone killing anyone...well, I was, and knowing what I know now about Josh I think he was, too...but it wasn't like we could do much about it. The tension turned seconds into minutes. Finally, Lord Raptor spoke. "Captain Williams!" he called out.

One of the men outside the field snapped into action. "Sir!" he responded, snapping off a salute.

"Contingency 14-B, I think," Lord Raptor said, as calmly as if he'd been ordering dinner. The captain snapped off a salute, and relayed the order through a comlink. "There, Mister...Public...we've activated Contingency 14-B. Now if you'll kindly put your gun away..."

"Not until I see this place so full of soldiers they can't breathe out too hard without being busted for fraternization, pal," John replied, giving a little jab with the gun to punctuate his sentence.

"I think you misunderstand," Lord Raptor said. He smiled, but it didn't touch his eyes. "Contingency 14-B means that we've put all of the hostages...formerly the laborers...under armed guard. There are currently seventy-two menials in the holding cells that are at hazard--not the full prisoner populace, of course, there are a few prisoners who have turned out to have valuable expertise that I'm not willing to lose--but more, I wager, than you're willing to sacrifice on my behalf."

He paused. "Think of all those sons and daughters, all those husbands and wives you'll have to break the sad news to. And all because you put my death ahead of their lives." He picked up his wine glass, raising it in a mock toast. "Or you can just put the gun down, surrender to my relatively tender mercies, and at least know that you saved seventy-two lives."

John's hand hung in the air for a second, but we could tell he'd already made his decision. He slammed the gun down onto the table without a word.

"There," Lord Raptor said. "Wasn't so hard, was it? Don't get me wrong, I admire your initiative, lad. But I have planned for every contingency. That's why these men follow me, because I know what to do in any eventuality."

That was when the force field switched off. A second later, so did the lights.

TO BE CONTINUED...

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Amazing Race 19, Week Four

Yes, I'm aware that I am significantly behind in my Race recaps. I don't know whether or not I'll be able to catch up, but I thought it over and decided that I would rather have the entire Race three weeks late than have it abruptly cut out midway through. After all, these entries have ages to be there after they cease being relevant as live events, but failure to finish is forever. So with that in mind, let's recap Week Four!

We begin in Jogjakarta again, with the teams heading to Phuket, Thailand. The Race dwells on this for a long time, making a fairly big deal out of the lead two teams' mistakes (they didn't spend enough time researching flights at the airport and wound up an hour behind everyone else instead of maintaining their lead...) But since it turned out that there was a huge Hours of Operation stopping point, the sequence is only really relevant for Lawrence's statement that he "couldn't remember" if he'd ever been to Thailand (either he's a very well-traveled man, or a really ambitious partier) and some really amusing mispronunciations of "Phuket". Yes, I am sometimes mentally twelve years old. Your point?

Frankly, I know that there's a lot of complaints about "bunching" on the Amazing Race, and generally I disagree with them. I think that winning a leg should be enough of a competitive advantage that teams want it, but making it insurmountable takes a lot of the excitement out of the Race. So I'm fine with bunching, in moderation. That said, this was a bunching point that happened after the show had tried to make a lot of drama out of who was going to get to Phuket first, and red herrings in a reality show are a little more obnoxious than usual.

Still, they made up for it with an excellent Detour. One choice involved making an artificial coral reef and placing it in a lagoon, which was difficult but could be completed quickly if the team worked together and knew their way around boats and water, and the other involved setting up beach chairs and umbrellas according to a display set up elsewhere on the beach, which was time-consuming but rewarded patience and attention to detail.

Only three teams, Liz/Marie, Cindy/Ernie and Lawrence/Zac, went straight for the beach chairs. As it turned out, there was a fairly brutal sting to this one; a strong wind sent their umbrellas blowing all over the place. Advantage: Coral! ...um, except that it's also hard to paddle in a strong wind, too. Oh, and there's a strong current to go with that strong wind, which practically disintegrates several teams' coral frames. By the time it's over, only two teams (Andy/Tommy and Jennifer/Justin) have managed to actually succeed in placing their coral; everyone else has moved over to the other leg.

Advantage: Liz/Marie, Cindy/Ernie and Lawrence/Zac! Well, except that Liz and Marie turn out to be really, really bad at sticking beach umbrellas into the ground so they'll stay. Despite getting to the challenge first, they are passed by every single team one after another until they're left to scream at each other, all alone. When the going gets tough, the tough bicker at each other and fail!

From there, the episode loses a certain amount of tension through no fault of the leg design. The teams have to do some actual navigating to get to the Road Block, which is a fairly well done rock climbing challenge (they actually make it about the climbing, not rappeling or using a mechanical climber, so athletic teams have a chance to gain time.) They then have to navigate to the Pit Stop as well, with an actual map! There's quite a bit of excitement over who will wind up in which position...with the unfortunate and clear understanding that the Doublemint Twins will be dead last.

And so they are...but lucky for them, elimination is staved off for at least one more week by Phil and his non-elimination wizardry. They get to move on from Phuket to Bangkok and try to make up some of the ground they lost. (I gotta say, even without the benefit of a couple of weeks of hindsight, it seemed unlikely.)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Storytelling Engines: All-Star Comics

(or "The Sportsmaster? SRSLY?")

Looking at the 70s revival of 'All-Star Comics', it seems like a good idea. Much like the 80s revival of the Justice Society seemed like a good idea, or the 90s revival of the Justice Society, or the early 21st-century revival of the Justice Society, or the revival of the Justice Society that we're probably going to get in about five years when they've sorted out all the continuity fallout from 'Flashpoint' and have decided what the Justice Society is going to have been in the new DC Universe. After all, we're talking about iconic, classic heroes who've had a fan following for decades, being brought into the Modern Age with all-new adventures and all-new heroes joining them. How can you go wrong?

Actually, you can go wrong by assuming that just because a character is old, they're automatically classic and iconic. One of the big reasons that Julius Schwartz had as much freedom as he did to revamp the Silver Age versions of the JSA was because the franchises were so moribund; characters like Al Pratt and Alan Scott didn't really stir much of a memory in fans. Part of this, of course, was attributed to a general decline in interest in superheroes during the post-war era; with comics of so many other genres on the ascendancy, superheroes were considered to be kind of passe. (Looking at the newsstands of 1952 would come as an utter shock to a comics reader of today--between war comics, westerns, romances, true crime and horror comics, and sci-fi anthologies, the only heroes that could muscle their way onto the spinner racks were Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman.)

But was it really a case that superheroes were uninteresting, or was it a case of the genre not having many interesting superheroes? When you look at most of the titles that faded away, you'll notice that none of their revivals have had much success either. A Green Lantern who got their powers from a generic "magic lantern", and who owned a broadcasting company, does not have as many interesting and engaging story hooks as one who is a space cop who works for aliens and travels the universe and through time. And Alan Scott is one of the better Golden Age heroes. Al Pratt, the original Atom, is just kind of short and punches people. It's not a lot to hang your hat on.

The original Justice Society, indeed a lot of the original Golden Age characters, were the result of creators working out through trial-and-error what was interesting and what wasn't. We have been conditioned, as readers of modern comics who have seen plenty of love letters to the Golden Age, to see these as important and valuable simply because they were pioneers of the "superhero" genre, but really, a lot of them are hard to write for. It's hard to bring back villains like the Sportsmaster and make them relevant and menacing, or to make the Star-Spangled Kid seem like a sympathetic and interesting hero. The Silver Age versions of the characters can be seen as "second drafts" in that light, reworked to make it easier for writers to generate story ideas that will get the reader interested. Origins, rogues' galleries, day jobs, supporting casts...all of these need a serious rework on Golden Age characters simply to make them palatable to modern audiences.

And that's before you decide to treat their World War II adventures as canon, age them all into their fifties and sixties, and saddle them with the confusing "this all takes place in an alternate universe" scenario. Setting the whole thing in an alternate universe with a confusing backstory did more harm than most people realize; it's no coincidence that the most successful revamp of the JSA, the Geoff Johns run, took place post-Crisis. Batman will always have a more compelling origin than an adult Robin, Green Lantern will always have a more exciting reason to fight crime than his twin kids, and explaining why Superman has gray hair and can't fly is just one more thing that bogs down a story and prevents it from really getting started. The more continuity baggage your character has, the less time and energy you have to write new adventures for them.

None of which is to suggest that 'All-Star Comics' is bad. There's plenty of exciting adventures in there, and Power Girl and Huntress work effectively as a young, exciting, female version of the World's Finest in a universe that no longer has a Batman/Superman team. But the question should not be, "Why are these Justice Society relaunches so unsuccessful when they have such great characters?" It should be, "What is wrong with these characters that keeps them from working as a team and a series?" When you look at it that way, and then look at the elements of their storytelling engine, you quickly find the problems that keep the series from taking off. As long as the relaunches are determined to keep all of those elements, whether out of simple nostalgia or a belief that they're what readers are looking for, the Golden Age will forever stay a part of the past.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Self-Taught Superheroes, Part Fourteen

Bombs.

It was kind of at that moment that I remember it really sinking in for the first time, that the weirdness was all really real. It wasn't just that I was running around in a costume; real people had really been doing that for years. It wasn't even that I had actual honest-to-goodness superpowers. No, the moment where it fully sank in that the world had become something that we only used to see in movies or in comic books was when I heard Lord Raptor explain that he had an actual plan to hold the world's capitols for ransom by teleporting bombs into their national landmarks. It was like...I was about to say, "It was like finding out that James Bond was real," but that's not true. James Bond is easy to believe in. It was like finding out that the crazy guys he fights were all real, every single one of them. It was a weird, shivery feeling that I don't think has ever fully left me since that day.

I didn't have much time to think about it, though, because Lord Raptor was still explaining his plan. "The teleport devices can travel to any point on Earth just as easily as they can tune in to other dimensions, you see." He gestured, and the soldier inside the force field with him refilled his drink. "We still haven't managed to sustain the portal effect--we're extending the duration almost every day, but it's a matter of meeting the power requirements--but a couple of seconds is long enough for a bomb to pass through, especially when we materialize it beneath the bomb and let gravity do the rest."

He took another slurp of his wine. It was bad enough to be harangued by a megalomaniac, but did he also have to be a sloppy eater? The energy barrier was spotted with little flecks of food. uGH. "And of course, there's absolutely no defense against an attack like that. No matter how much security you have, no matter how carefully you guard, we can just drop a bomb into the center of the Oval Office. Or 10 Downing Street, or the Kremlin, or..." He waggled the hand holding a chicken finger, letting a splash of barbecue sauce splatter onto the tablecloth. "You get the idea."

"And you'll do it if they don't pay up," Captain Light said. His whole body was taut, like he was barely constraining himself from just throwing caution to the winds and seeing how many soldiers, war machines, and robots he could take out before they brought him down. (Oh, yeah. Robots. Humanoid from the waist up, ten-legged spiders from the waist down. In the dream the legs weren't even metallic, they were actual hairy ugly spider legs. Not an arachnophobe, but ICK!)

"I have no interest in money," Lord Raptor said. "Only the things it purchases. And in this case, my goal is pure research. My payment will be in plutonium, molybdenum, exotic metals...you get the idea. The sort of thing that can power reactors, construct additional fusion generators, build larger portals that can transport regiments. Once I can sustain a portal long enough to fully explore my new domain, I will of course repay my debts. Think of this as a small business loan to an American entrepreneur."

"Can I instead think of it as a crazy guy planning to blow up the White House if America doesn't give in to his terrorist threats?" I asked, my face a picture of mock innocence. "Because I kind of am."

"I expected as much from you, dear girl," he said. I kicked the force field under the table. It hurt my foot, but I felt a lot better. "You're little more than a child, educated in a liberal school system to believe all that hippie socialist nonsense they spout. But I had hoped that Captain Light might understand that we do not live in an ideal world."

"Doesn't mean we have to give in to our worst impulses," Captain Light snarled. His fists glowed. I don't think he even noticed. "You're a thug, a madman, a terrorist and a warmonger. You make a scientific discovery that outmatches Einstein, you find a whole new universe, and all you can think of is how to strip-mine it. If you expected me to condone this madness, I'm happy to disappoint you."

"How unfortunate," Lord Raptor said. "Still, I believe we have a few holding cells left open. You can join our menial laborers and contribute to the effort in your own small way."

"Holding cells?" I said.

"Menial laborers?" Captain Light said. We looked at each other, both thinking the same thing.

"An unfortunate necessity," Lord Raptor said. "We have a need for menial labor, and my men have better things to do than haul and carry. We have conscripted a few individuals into service--they'll be compensated for their efforts when all this is said and done, but for the moment, the threat of force will have to suffice. Mostly people of the lower classes, those who won't be missed--"

"Except by me," the 'waiter' said, pulling out his sidearm and putting it to Lord Raptor's head.

TO BE CONTINUED...

Monday, October 24, 2011

Amazing Race 19 Recap, Week Three

And so, after last week's Double Elimination, we are once again at the Episode 3-appropriate nine teams, all of whom are in Indonesia with only an hour or so separating the first place team from the one that barely squeaked by last time. And since they're not leaving Indonesia for this round, there will be no airport bunching, so that hour-long head start is going to matter a lot.

But not at the beginning, right? Because they start off with a bicycle ride through the streets of Jogjakarta, which is almost certainly just going to be a simple time-waster filled with local color, cute scenes of Andy and Tommy popping wheelies, and no chance for anyone to gain or lose spots going into the Detour...right?

Oh. Guess not. Looks like Ernie lost a pedal on his bike and by the time it was fixed, they dropped all the way to eighth. Well, that should put a little urgency into things.

And sure enough, it did. Not for Andy/Tommy and Laurence/Zac, who had a strong lead going into the Detour and made almost no mistakes as they went through the motions of feeding and watering a sheep(note the "almost", there; Andy and Tommy didn't fill up their grass bag all the way the first time, which gave Laurence and Zac a chance to catch up, while Laurence and Zac didn't read their clue all the way through and used extra buckets to fill the water trough faster, which will be significant later on.)

But the other teams had to move like crazy to get through the Detour. Lisa/Kaylani and the Doublemint Twins both decided to plant rice seedlings, while everyone else loaded themselves up with a pair of sheep and ran for it. They came out of the Detour in a very close pack...and then Marcus and Amani got there. This was kind of a theme of the episode, right up until the very end.

But before that end, there was a Road Block to get through, and this was the "brutal counting challenge" I mentioned last week. One member of each team had to climb to the top of an absolutely gorgeous Buddhist temple and walk around it counting statues of the Buddha...and recognizing, from the minimal hints given in the actual clue, that you had to not just count the statues but recognize that each one had a distinct hand position and you had to mimic that position when giving the count to the judges. The total number of statues was 69, but you actually had to give the judge a count of "17, 17, 17 and 18" while doing hand gestures. (No, not like that! Respectful and reverent hand gestures that the Buddha would make!)

Tommy and Laurence decided to work together, on the grounds that they got there at about the same time and get along well and are both nice guys and it's easier to do with two people counting. Have I mentioned how much more I enjoy the Race when it's got intelligent, competent, nice teams doing sensible things instead of starting pointless drama? They got the right answer on the first try, but it took them one more go before they figured out that they had to do the gestures. They sprinted off at the same time...but Andy and Tommy had to go pay their cabbie first, because they told him to wait. This was a) unbelievably significant for later, and b) why Laurence and Zac got to the mat first.

Only to get the Dreaded However from Phil. In this case, Phil finally mentioned that they misread their clue and incurred a 15-minute penalty. Not bad, but it was the difference between a comfortable second place and a trip to Dubai. (Andy and Tommy, by the way, were very sweet and apologetic to the other team when they checked in first.)

This left seven teams struggling to avoid last place. In theory, despite straggling in just as Andy and Tommy were leaving, Marcus and Amani should have had a huge advantage because Tommy just straight up told them the answer. Unfortunately, by this point in the Race, Marcus and Amani were already tired and frazzled enough that they just straight up forgot what Tommy told them by the time they got to the clue box, leaving them in the same boat as everyone else.

What followed was shot after shot of people wandering around, trying to figure out which statues they should be counting, how many there were, and how to report them to the judges. Numbers like 423, 201, and 68 got tossed around, but ultimately the teams had to pool their resources and work in groups to figure it out. Bill didn't join in, but he also figured it out on his own and got out of there before the other six teams. The Ernie/Marie/Jeremy/Justin axis figured it out not long afterwards, and bringing up the rear (but not by much) was Lisa and Marcus. After a pretty well-designed leg with clever challenges that actually force the Racers to think, it was still very close coming towards the Pit Stop.

Which is where that taxi thing came into play. Amani/Marcus and the Silence gained a huge lead in the final run to the Pit Stop because (ironically enough) their taxi drivers were so lousy that they figured they'd be better off getting a whole new driver if they had to go anywhere else. (In the case of the Silence, their taxi actually broke down about a half-mile from the Road Block and they had to hoof it.) Everyone else lost ground to one degree or another, which was why Bill got out of the Road Block in third but he and Cathi came in 7th, and why the Doublemint Twins dropped from the middle of the pack down to 8th, and why Lisa and Kaylani got eliminated.

All around, an exciting, close episode, and I'm looking forward to next week's Thailand leg!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Cheap Joke of the Day

Pundit A: "The biggest problem Herman Cain has right now is that his economic plan is nothing but a collection of catchphrases and buzzwords disguising an incoherent disaster of an idea that will bankrupt the country, plunge the economy into another Great Depression, and cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands through the hardships of poverty and starvation, all while siphoning money to the pockets of the ultra-rich."

Pundit B: "I thought his problem was that he had trouble distinguishing himself from the rest of the Republican field."

Pundit A: "Po-tay-to, Po-tah-to..."

Thursday, October 13, 2011

An Entirely Unfair Partial Review Of 'And Another Thing'

I know. You're all probably thinking the same thing. "Why on earth would you even buy such a thing? 'Authorized sequels' to the works of famous dead authors tend to be on a par, in literary terms, with microwaved three-day old leftovers of gourmet meals. They are like finding out that the Lion's Tap is out of ground beef, so you decide to stop by McDonald's because you're really in the mood for burgers." (This is a reference that makes a lot more sense if you live in the Twin Cities.) "Why would you even bother reading one?"

The answer is, basically, that I really hated the ending of 'Mostly Harmless'. It was a bleak, morose read that even Douglas Adams said was not the place he wanted to leave the series, and it was only the fact that there was one deadline even the world's most famous procrastinator could not ignore that kept him from writing another book. A sequel to 'Mostly Harmless', even a sequel by someone who was decidedly not Douglas Adams (and really, apart from Douglas Adams and possibly Neil Gaiman, who is?) was superior to leaving the series where it ended.

And having gotten a bit over two-thirds of the way through the fully-authorized sequel, what do I think? Well, I'm not actually embarrassed to have bought it. But if I was Eoin Colfer, I think I might be embarrassed to have written it.

The real problem is the humor. Let's face it, Douglas Adams was known for creating brilliant, intricate, chinese puzzles of sentences that made his digressions so famous that everyone assumed he didn't create proper plots. (The actual truth is that he did create proper plots; it's just that his main characters made a point of not necessarily caring about them or even understanding them, so you had to read the novels several times to realize they had happened.) He was inventive, almost carelessly so, and his dialogue was full of strange and beautifully warped language.

And Colfer...Colfer is one of those people who thinks that it is tremendously funny to quote other people's jokes. He is the sort of person, in any conversation, who will try to crack you up by reciting Monty Python and never actually realizes he is the sort of person that XKCD made fun of. His attempts to pastiche Douglas Adams revolve around sly, winking little references to "forty-two" and ""Hotblack Desiato" and "tea" and the lines that Adams generally wrote a joke about and then moved on to writing new jokes about new things. He brings back characters as though this is generally more of a reunion special than an actual, proper book. And the plot, such as it is, mainly revolves around getting the characters out of the scrape they were in at the end of the last book and to what could reasonably be considered a happy ending. It is, suffice to say, not particularly ambitious.

And yet, I more or less expected exactly that. I didn't have high hopes for the book, I didn't really care if it would be any good--and that's not any kind of slight against Colfer, who I am given to understand is a very popular writer when he's not being asked to finish off someone else's story without the benefit of notes. So yes, it is unfair to complain about a book being bad when I didn't expect it to be good and haven't even finished it yet.

And yet, here I am doing it. This is why you couldn't pay me enough money to do an authorized sequel, because I know that there would be people out there like me waiting to write reviews like this about it.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Self-Taught Superheroes, Part Thirteen

Dreams are weird things. Even when they feel totally real, even when you're dreaming about something that really happened, things that make perfect sense and feel totally natural to you turn out to be utterly surreal when you wake up. You surface out of the dream wondering just what the heck was going on in your subconscious.

All that is by way of explaining that Lord Raptor didn't really serve us chilled monkey brains at dinner that day in his headquarters. There was also no course that involved slitting open a dead python stuffed with baby eels. We actually got chicken fingers and french fries, for the record. I guess Lord Raptor didn't trust us with the good silverware.

Actually, he didn't trust us, period. We sat next to him, one of us on each side, but his chair was separated by a shimmering curtain of pure force that I didn't think even Captain Light could bust. At least, not before the hundreds of armed soldiers charged us; we were at the grown-up's table, but this was a full-on mess hall for Lord Raptor's troops. I counted eight hundred men in all, not counting the kitchen staff. (Lord Raptor had a guy behind the force field with him, passing him food and drinks from a hatch in the wall. I'm not sure if it counts as paranoid when you have a guy who can punch a hole in the side of a battleship sitting next to you and glaring angrily.)

"You might not realize it," he said conversationally between bites of monkey brain, "but I'm actually something of a philanthropist." (No, I wasn't freaking dreaming that. He actually said that to us.) "I want to bring about a new Golden Age of prosperity for the American Empire. My men, my fortress...these are just sensible precautions, that's all."

"You're a petty thief with fancy toys," Captain Light replied. He wasn't eating, just sitting there with his arms folded and his face set in a stony glare. (I, um, kinda was eating. Hello, hyper-metabolism!) "Tell yourself whatever lies you like, that's never going to change."

"Thief?" Lord Raptor actually smiled behind his helmet, his eyes twinkling with mirth. "Definitely. Petty? Anything but." I had a weird flash of insight, a sudden understanding of why all those supervillains in the comics and the Bond movies talked at heroes instead of just killing them. He was a total narcissist; in his head, this was just the first act in some kind of mental script that ended with us giving in and admiring his genius. He wanted validation, and we were a means to that end.

"My Exploratory Corps--the men you see around us--do you really think they would remain so committed to simple looting and plunder?" His arms swept out as if to encompass all of his mercenaries in a giant hug. "No, they are true patriots to a man. Patriots who want their fair share of the prosperity they bring to the United States, of course, but that's part of the American Dream."

"Let me guess," I snarked. "You're going to take over the world? Enslave the lesser races, subdue the indigenous peoples, and strip-mine the natural resources of all the piddling countries out there that have the nerve not to speak English?"

"Oh, my dear girl, you wound me!" he replied. "My new America will merely be the first among equals. Once my new technology has been perfected, a whole new frontier will open for the human race. A frontier filled with vaster and more exotic resources than the human race has dreamt of in all its vistas of exploration."

"Oh," I said. "So your men aren't in this for the looting and plundering. They're in it for the noble harvesting of the resources of a vast new frontier. And I suppose this exotic new frontier has, perhaps, a few natives already living there before you discovered it?"

"To be honest," he said, "I'm not entirely sure. We've only been able to sustain the dimensional portal for a few seconds at a time, not long enough to send a team through. We need more capital and resources before we can begin to truly explore. That's why we--"

"Loot and plunder," Captain Light said. "But you don't enjoy it." He and I exchanged a glance. If the force field hadn't been between us, I would totally have high-fived him.

"No, it's a regrettable necessity that takes us towards a greater good," Lord Raptor said. "Much like the bombs I have at the ready, should Washington decide not to fund my plans."

TO BE CONTINUED...

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Amazing Race 19 Recap, Week Two

After a non-elimination leg last week, this week gives us the ominous Double Elimination on the Amazing Race. They spelled it out last week for the losing couple, and this week they make it clear to everyone; coming in 10th is just as bad as coming in 11th. This ups the stress level a little for everyone as they head to Indonesia, and we get plenty of reaction shots of people whimpering and panicking and generally saying, "Wow, this sucks!" (Maybe these people are a little under-ambitious, given how many of them seem to be worried about not coming in 9th.)

There's a lot of airport bickering, which is genuinely unfortunate; Justin and Jennifer have the kind of sibling relationship generally described in a Eugene O'Neill play, and we're stuck watching it. We get a long, brutally whiny sequence between the two of them, and then they blessedly go off to sulk at each other while we fly to Jogjakarta!

After that, we get what looks like a genuinely terrifying taxi ride to the Road Block (seriously, there are countries where you take your life in your hands when you get into a moving vehicle, and Indonesia looks like one of them. The taxi drivers looked like the only laws they obeyed were the laws of physics, and then only reluctantly.) Bill and Cathi, last week's last-place finishers, got a cute little Speed Bump where they had to untangle some climbing ropes, and then everyone went spelunking. (Personally, I think "spelunking" is a better term for throwing heavy rocks into deep bodies of water. Spelunk! Spelunk!)

The Road Block was decent enough--the Racers had to rappel down into a hollow lava tube, retrieve a ceremonial mask and dagger, and return--but it's really not the sort of thing that gave the later Racers a chance to catch up or the early Racers a chance to fall behind. It was more or less just a straightforward, "What order did you get here?" challenge. But the Detour...

Okay, the Detour wasn't that exciting either. It was a split between one of the Race's fairly blah "try to get money out of strangers" challenges, which I've never been a big fan of (something to do with the fact that people from an affluent nation who are also trying to win obscene sums of money are also begging for cash from people who probably can't spare it)...and another "try to get money out of strangers" challenge. Meaning that no matter which Detour they chose, we had to see people doing stuff nobody wanted to try to wheedle change out of strangers who had better uses for the money. If I wanted to see that, I'd go to New York. (Rimshot.)

But after the Detour, that's when the Race went from the mediocre to the absolutely sublime. Because when the Racers collected their cash, they had to go to an orphanage and turn it in to get their next clue. That's awesome in and of itself. The Race has done a few things like this lately, where the Racers actually have to do something constructive and decent for the people of the country they're in, and I can't approve enough. And what happened next was even better.

You see, there was a little sign next to the grateful orphans who all cheered and clapped at the friendly Americans handing them money. And what it said was, in essence, "Don't stop with the money you collected on the Detour; give all the cash in your possession to the orphanage before you leave." The orphans still gave the clue that led to the Pit Stop, mind you. You could still leave without reading the sign and you would know where to go. But when you got to the Pit Stop, Phil would (and did, several times) tell you to go back and give until it hurts.

And so, the actual question of who would get eliminated was determined not by luck or even physical skill, but by attention to detail and careful reading skills. Several of my favorite teams became even bigger favorites by stopping to read the sign like any good team should, and I got a little bit of a schadenfreude charge out of seeing a couple of my less-favorite teams get the "However" from Phil. (When Lisa and Kaylani showed up, Phil reversed it by saying, "You got here tenth...however...a whole bunch of other teams failed to read the sign you read, so you came in 3rd." The response, "I hate you so much right now.")

In the end, irritatingly gimmicky Survivor survivors Ethan and Jenna came in 10th, and adorable but out of their depth gay couple Ron and Bill came in 11th. Both are now gone, and short of seeing Justin and Jennifer get the boot, there's really not a whole lot that could improve my mood. Most of the remaining teams are nice, lots of them are interesting, and there's a lot of people I can root for here. I'm looking forward to this Sunday's episode!

(Which, from the looks of things, will involve an utterly brutal counting challenge. I always love these!)

Thursday, October 06, 2011

If Arthur Dent Was In 'The Dark Knight' Instead of Harvey Dent

"Mister Dent?"
"Hello? Yes" said Arthur.
"Some factual information for you. Have you any idea how much protection that coin would offer if I just let this building blow up?"
"How much?" said Arthur.
"None at all."

"All right," said Bruce. "How would you react if I said that I'm not a dissipated old-money playboy at all, but actually a brutal street-hardened vigilante who dispenses justice at night in the alleys of Gotham?"
"I don't know," Arthur said, taking a pull of beer. "Why, do you think it's the sort of think you're likely to say?"

"You barbarians!" he yelled. "I'll sue Commissioner Gordon for every penny he's got! I'll have him hung, drawn and quartered! And whipped! And boiled until...until...until he's had enough."
Batman was running after him very fast. Very very fast.
"And then I will do it again!" yelled Arthur. "And when I've finished, I will take all the little bits, and I will jump on them!"

"So this is it," said Arthur, "we are going to die."
"Yes," said Rachel, "except...no! Wait a minute!" She suddenly lunged across the chamber at something behind Arthur's line of vision. "What's this switch?" she cried.
"What? Where?" cried Arthur, twisting round.
"No, I was only fooling," said Rachel, "we are going to die after all."

Arthur blinked at the walkie-talkie and felt he was missing something important. Suddenly he realized what it was.
"Is there any tea in this warehouse?" he asked.

"Look," said Arthur, "would it save you a lot of time if I just gave up and went mad now?"

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Self-Taught Superheroes, Part Twelve

I will remember my first sight of him until the day I die. He gleamed as though he was lit by sunshine wherever he stood, as if he stood in a slightly brighter world than the rest of us. His hands glowed with that same summer light, but even stronger; when he fights, sometimes it's hard to actually see his fists beneath the aura they project. His costume was a mix of bright, vivid red and rich blue, with the scales of justice emblazoned in pure white on his chest. (And okay, not that I'm really into him because he's way older than me and it'd be creepy if he actually wanted to date a sixteen year-old girl, but he's a total hottie.) And somehow that silver headband with the sculpted wings looked just right on his head.

I should stress, for the benefit of everyone who might be forgetting that I was dreaming about that day, that the Groucho Marx glasses and big fake cigar are not part of his actual ensemble. (Adam, on the other hand...)

The two of us stared at each other for what felt like forever. Probably more for me than for him. Finally, he spoke. "Hi," he said. "I'm Captain Light."

"I know," I said. "Um, I mean, I saw the picture of you in the Herald. The one where you stopped the bank robbery. It was kind of blurry, but um...not hard to miss." I paused, wondering what to say to the hero who'd inspired me. "Oh, right. I'm Hummingbird." I waved a little. "Hi."

"Hi," he said again. He smiled shyly. I suddenly realized that he wasn't sure what to say either. It kind of crashed in on me in that moment that the big famous superhero that inspired me to fight crime, the man whose name was synonymous in the newspapers with "heroic", hadn't even been doing this for a full year yet. He didn't really know much more about what he was doing than I did. It was a little like going up in a plane for your first flying lesson and finding out that your teacher had just gotten his pilot's license last week.

"I, um...I followed one of their planes here," he continued. "Normally I can't keep up with them, but this one had suffered some engine damage. Slowed it down just enough that I could stick with them. What about you?"

"I stowed away," I said. I tried to make it sound like an actual plan. "I was looking for their communications center, figured maybe I could bring the army down on them."

He nodded. "That's a really good idea," he said. "Better than mine. I was just figuring that if I found Lord Raptor himself and brought him in, then maybe the group would lose direction. Or something. I'm, um...I'm actually still figuring this whole thing out as I go." His eyes widened, painfully blue and earnest beneath his mask. "I just feel like if I have these powers, I should do something good with them, you know? Something to help people."

I nodded so fast my head blurred. "Yeah!" I said. "I mean, there are people out there getting powers practically every week, it seems like, and what do most of them do? They go out and rob banks, or beat up people who ticked them off, or just wreck stuff for fun. I don't get it."

"Not all of them," he said. "I've met a couple of people like you, really nice people who want to do something to make the world a better place. Like--" His fists suddenly surged with light. "Oh, right," he said. "Um, we should probably save this for later."

I turned around to see another dozen or so of Raptor's goons. They were all hugging the walls, probably because if they didn't they'd get stomped on. And looking at the thing that would do the hypothetical stomping, it would probably leave them pretty permanently unable to get up.

It stretched maybe twenty feet down the hallway, and looked like a giant mechanical lizard with eight legs. The "head" was actually a shielded canopy, with a human pilot in the cockpit. Twin shoulder-mounted cannons looked like they were a lot more lethal than the stun guns that the infantry was packing, and the "chest" had racks of missile launchers that I didn't want to think about. It's hard to dodge things like clouds of toxic gas or walls of expanding flame.

Captain Light didn't hesitate. He flew right past me and charged, hammering his fist straight into the cockpit of the mecha. (Oh, yeah. Anime as well as D&D.) There was a coruscating sunburst of light, and a sound like a jackhammer striking a gong...but the metal barely even dented. The mechanical beast wasn't even rocked backwards.

Loudspeakers clicked into life as the man in the cockpit spoke. "Lord Raptor requests the pleasure of your company for dinner," he said. The cannons swiveled to target us both. "Formal dress is not required."

TO BE CONTINUED...

Monday, October 03, 2011

Amazing Race 19 Recap, Week One

Oh, hey--the Amazing Race started again! Sorry, I really did mean to say something about this earlier, but there was a lot of blogging to do, and then there was a season finale to Doctor Who that was a lot of fun, and before I knew it the second episode had already aired. So let's at least try to catch up with events in the first leg so that we can get around to recapping the second leg before the third leg airs, okay?

Said first leg begins in California, in a very picturesque Buddhist temple near LA. We are introduced to the eleven teams...and since this is a big chunk of the episode as well as just generally important, since they're our "cast" this season, let's take a long look at them. In no particular order...

Laurence and Zac: This is already a favorite team of mine, as well as probably a favorite to win. The kid has already circumnavigated the globe in a sailboat; needless to say, "killer fatigue" is not going to be one of his big issues. The dad seems active enough to overcome his age differences, and they both seem relentlessly polite, quiet and nice. These are the kind of low-drama, high-competence teams favored in our household.

Ernie and Cindy: Oh, look. A dating team, one of whom describes themselves as a "control freak" and talks in self-deprecating terms about how they fight but love each other. Toss those on the pile with the rest, will you? Admittedly, they don't seem to be as spectacularly train-wrecky as some of the "bickering couples" we've seen on the Race, and I give Cindy major points for saying thank you to people in Chinese on this leg. But nothing has convinced me yet that they are going to be enjoyable to watch. They seem competent enough, though, and I suspect they'll be around for a while.

Jeremy and Sandy: Technically speaking, they are on the Race. All the evidence seems to suggest it. Their names are on the credits, they are listed in the Wikipedia entry for the season, the CBS website lists them as being in the show. However, I must admit I have no memory of them. Neither good nor bad. Their appearances made literally no impression on me. If the Silence were running the Amazing Race, this is what they would be like. (Minus the electrocutions, of course.)

Justin and Jennifer: Hate hate hate die die die shutupshutupshutupshutup! But enough about their dialogue for the entire first episode, what do I think of these two? (Rimshot.) Seriously, they cannot exit the Race fast enough for my tastes. They are whiny, they are in perpetual bicker mode from Second One, and they actually act, in interviews, as though this is endearing behavior. Elimination is too good for them.

Ethan and Jenna: This season's token "stunt couple", they are both winners of Survivor and he is also a cancer survivor to boot! Presumably, they also are searching the world for the hook-handed man who kidnapped their infant daughter to induct her into their ninja clan, unknowing that she is actually the last heir to Narnia. Oh, and despite all that they're still remarkably boring.

Andy and Tommy: Apart from the fact that I keep expecting the bearded one to break into "The Rainbow Connection" at any second, these two actually seem like nice guys. They also seem like they're dumb as posts, the pair of them, but appearances can be deceptive...and athleticism and a positive attitude can carry you past a lot of challenges in this series.

Kaylani and Lisa: Why is it, whenever there are two women on this show that start right out by telling everyone how they're not stupid and lots of people think they're stupid but they're really a lot smarter than they look and sound, that it immediately makes them come off as dumb? I wish I knew, and I'm worried that it might be me. In any event, they are this season's Pretty Women Who Will Show Everyone That Pretty Women Are Competent. (They are not off to a great start in this episode, but more on that later.)

Liz and Marie: Unfortunately for them, they have already been nicknamed the Doublemint Twins in our household and they don't seem likely to be able to do anything to shake that nickname. They also don't seem likely to last very long; they're young, they don't seem to have a whole lot of reserves of patience, and they don't have the life experience to teach them how to deal with stress.

Bill and Cathi: They seem nice. Boy do they seem nice. They seem like they would instantly make friends with all the other Racers, the kind of friendships that last well beyond the Race. Even years later, I see them as the type that are still sending out Christmas cards to Liz and Marie and cooing over Jeremy and Sandy's baby (who may be named Melody and may not be theirs)...and all those connections will be forged on the strength of about three episodes, because that's how long I give them.

Amani and Marcus: This season's Overcompetitive Guy and Supportive Wife, Marcus seems to at least be one of the nice Overcompetitive Guys who runs around and makes grunting noises, as opposed to one of the Overcompetitive Guys who trash-talks everyone else and pouts whenever anything goes wrong. Still better in small doses, though.

Ron and Bill: They seem like the "sweet gay couple" version of Bill and Cathi. Really nice, very friendly, definitely the kind of people you can root for...but you can just tell after about five minutes that they're going to go out early. Very, very sweet though.

So after all these characters are introduced, they all begin racing! The first challenge is to find an umbrella with letters on it that complete a word puzzle involving the teams' first destination. I like the idea, but unfortunately it's yet another Race puzzle with a brute force solution, and most of the teams simply sprint back and forth between Phil and the umbrella stand until they find the one they're looking for. The last team, Kaylani and Lisa, add injury to injury by getting a Hazard for being in last. (Hate this. Bad Race design to penalize the team that's already furthest behind. But given that Kaylani and Lisa manage to screw themselves far worse than the Race designers could even dream of, heck with it.)

Which is what happens next, as Kaylani and Lisa lose one of their passports at the first gas station. Much drama ensues--and for the record, this does not feel like a "bickering team" thing to me. This feels like, "We are completely and totally FUBARed and we haven't even hit the first airport and I am very upset." I think that anyone who thinks they would handle this well hasn't gone through it.

Luckily, a random stranger finds the passport, discovers from Twitter that the women with camera crews following them around are probably on the Amazing Race, and drives it to the airport on their behalf. I am not saying they wouldn't do this for the 62-year-old couple, but it probably didn't hurt that they were astonishingly beautiful women.

From there, we all just skip to the chase and get to Taiwan, where there's a beautifully designed puzzle that tests everyone's mental abilities. No brute force solutions, just a simple case of listening and repeating a key phrase. This is the kind of simple, yet sublime challenge that I love about the Race when it happens.

...of course, Bill and Cathi are four hours behind everyone else because they can't find the clue that leads them to the Road Block, but that too is part of the Race. They wander around for ages while everyone else does the challenge (and the subsequent relatively simple Dragon Boat race afterwards), nothing but Amazing Editing ever suggests that they even come close to seeing another team, and honestly, they are the luckiest recipients of a non-elimination leg ever.

And next week, which is now last week, we get a double-elimination leg to make up for the non-elimination leg! I wholeheartedly approve. Talk to you about it before Week Three!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Now It Can Be Told!

1969. The offices of Marvel Comics.

STAN: So, Jack...we've built up the Marvel brand, established ourselves as an exciting new comics line for adults as well as children, and created some iconic characters that will stand the test of time. I think it's time we dealt with our major competitors.

JACK: Walt Disney?

STAN: No, I think our plans for Disney will have to be...longer term. No, I was referring to DC. Their brands continue to be more recognizable than ours, and their reinventions of classic Golden Age characters are proving to be dangerously popular. I think it's time to crush them. Are you ready to implement "Plan Poison Pill"?

JACK: The alliteration thing, Stan? It's got to stop. It's become a sickness.

STAN: I don't know what you're talking about, my astonishing artist of pencil-pushing perfection! My magnificent mind is every bit as alert as an amazing aardvark, and my brain is bursting with brilliant bideas bat brush balefully babble bubble **slaps self** You're right, Jack. But I only have to hold it together for a few more years before I can pass the editorial reins on to my disciples. And we won't have to worry about competitors, not if you're willing to do your part.

JACK: My part? I've been working on every book we publish for almost a decade, Stan. I've strip-mined my imagination for every sellable concept I ever came up with, from the Fantastic Four to the X-Men to Captain America. We even threw in Toomazooma the Living Totem, Stan! Let's face it...I can't come up with another best-selling idea.

STAN: I know, Jack. That's not what I'm asking you to do. What I'm asking you to do is far more sinister, far more devious...a plan that will cripple DC for decades to come. I want you to defect, Jack.

JACK: Defect? But they'll never--

STAN: Of course they will. We stage a falling out. Some nonsense over money, we'll funnel your royalties through Swiss bank accounts for a while. You'll decide to look for a better deal elsewhere, and who better than our major competitor? And then...

JACK: And then what? I write their titles? I don't exactly think that's going to cripple them, Stan. Not unless your plan is to have them trip on piles of money.

STAN: Oh, you'll make them money. That was never in question. But it's what else you'll do to them that interests me. Remember those "New Gods" ideas you had? The ones we agreed were cool but uncommercial?

JACK: ...I think I see where you're going with this one, Stan. You want me to introduce them into the DC Universe.

STAN: Exactly! They'll never sell, but DC's writers and editors will be fascinated by them! They'll keep trying to launch them and relaunch them, make them the centerpiece of their mythos, maybe even launch a gigantic company-wide crossover based on them! But they'll never be anything more than a cult phenomenon. DC will slowly sink into obscurity trying to make them popular, while we will rise to the heights of popularity!

JACK: And I get to finally write all the characters we thought were too crazy to publish! Kamandi, the Forever People, Mister Miracle, Glorious Godfrey, Granny Goodness, Devil Dinosaur--

STAN: Wait. Let's hang on to that last one. I kind of like the sound of it.

JACK: Seriously, Stan. Get help.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Self-Taught Superheroes, Part Eleven

Surprise doesn't take long, when your mind moves at superhuman speeds. Shock takes a little longer, though. When I got ambushed by two gangs of Lord Raptor's mercenaries, each one about eight people strong, each one equipped by a wide-beam stun projector that pretty much negated my speed advantage, I just stood there for a long moment in stunned panic. The alert sirens blared, Lord Raptor's men shouted, and I felt the panic stretch out into an eternity.

Somewhere at the end of that eternity, I realized that they were shouting at each other. I also realized that the alarms weren't about me.

Obviously, I wondered what they were about, but now that the shock was over, I was back in the zone. I broke right, sprinting headlong down the corridor towards the first group of thugs and diving into a skid as they finally realized that they needed to keep their attention less on the new situation and more on the superhero right in front of them. They blasted the stun projector over my head just as I grabbed the ankle of the guy holding it and dragged him backwards into his buddies. They went over into each other in a tangle of limbs, and I'm not ashamed to say I bounced a few heads off of the floors to make sure they didn't get up.

I looked down to the other end of the corridor, hoping I might see a group of semi-conscious mercs at the other end, but no such luck. The armor they wore protected them against their own weapons. They'd shrugged off the stun blasts easily...

...and at hummingbird speed, I had just managed to get the chestplate off of the lead soldier and duck behind it when they got their first shot off.

To the soldiers at the other end of the hallway, it probably seemed like they were fighting under a strobe light. The stun cannon fired so rapidly it lit up the hallway almost twenty times a second, but even on full auto, that left me plenty of time to pop up and run about five steps before I had to duck behind my improvised shield. The strobe effect probably made it seem like I moved even faster; I could see the expression of sheer terror on the face of the trooper holding the gun just before I kicked it out of his hands and laid into them.

A few seconds after that, and it was all over. Mind you, I was sweating like a pig and craving Kool-Aid so bad I could almost taste Sharkleberries, but I had taken out sixteen full-grown battle-hardened mercenaries with my bare hands. My adrenalin was pumping like a freaking beast.

I went for the door, but my opener had stopped working. So I grabbed one from an unconscious soldier. On further thought, I grabbed them all. Even if I didn't need them, I figured that was sixteen guys who weren't going anywhere soon.

Every few minutes, I had to track down a new goon to get a fresh one, but I really felt like I was making progress. There weren't nearly as many soldiers, and the ones that I did bump into seemed distracted and panicky, easy to evade. After a while, I started following them just to see what the fuss was about.

Pretty soon, I found out. A squad I was following charged through a bulkhead that slammed shut behind them. I heard the zap of stun projectors, a bone-jarring crunch that was like no sound I'd ever heard in a fight, the crash of metal hitting metal. Then silence. I ventured towards the door cautiously, uncertain of what might be on the other side...and then I found out.

The bone-rattling thud sounded again. Then a third time. The door began to buckle under titanic strain, its surface bulging suddenly with each blow. Finally, it crumpled completely and a man stepped over it to face me.

And that was how I met Captain Light.

TO BE CONTINUED...

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Storytelling Engines: Web of Spider-Man

(or "Spider-Man, Part Four")

When you read the first eighteen or so issues of "Web of Spider-Man", there's a very real sense that this is a title in search of a direction. You can hear the different writers (and there was something of a revolving-door creative team at the time, as writers shuffled off of other Spidey books and onto "Web") struggling to find out what makes this Spider-Man series unique, what sets it apart from the other titles featuring Peter Parker and makes it a series that people will buy for its own sake.

It's really about half-way through that they seem to figure out the answer to that is, "Nothing much, really."

This isn't to say that the series is bad by any stretch of the imagination. There are a couple of issues in there that I would probably put up in the first tier of all-time Spider-Man stories (there's a great one where Peter finally gets fed up with Jonah's harassment of him in print and gets ready to beat him to within an inch of his life.) There are good Spidey stories, indifferent Spidey stories, goofy Spidey stories (Peter gets arrested on a vagrancy charge and winds up in a "Most Dangerous Game" pastiche...) But there's nothing that couldn't have been told in any of the other books. New villains like the Vulturians, old villains like Doc Ock, these are all the kinds of stories anyone could tell in any Spider-Man book. It uses the exact same storytelling engine as "Amazing", which in turn uses the exact same storytelling engine as "Spectacular".

And you know what? That's okay. It's okay because Spider-Man is one of those characters with a particularly amaz...um, spect...well-designed storytelling engine, one that generates large numbers of stories very easily. His supporting cast is large and interesting in its own right and can sustain lots of subplots, his job and his personal life provide him with lots of entry points into new stories, and he has a wide and varied Rogues Gallery that can easily hold an audience's interest over multiple appearances. This storytelling engine is so good that it can generate three good story ideas a month without any real difficulty, and the character is popular enough that there is a demand for three Spider-Man stories a month.

Although not exactly equal demand; for some reason, despite offering plenty of good stories, and plenty of crossovers and tie-ins, "Spectacular" and "Web of Spider-Man" never had quite the same level of sales as "Amazing". Which is why, eventually, they just decided to start publishing "Amazing" three times a month. Different titles, but the principle is pretty much the same...the more Spider-Man audiences get, the happier they are.

And because it's Spider-Man and not, say, Brother Voodoo, we're just fine with that.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Sef-Taught Superheroes, Part Ten

My dream kind of skipped ahead to the point where I got caught.

In real life, it didn't happen right away. In real life, I managed to shift some of the sacks of rice around to the point where I could make a little bit of space for myself to squeeze into (I'm not actually very big. Like I said, I think I've probably got one more growth spurt in me. Either that, or I'm always going to wind up with a reputation as a dirty fighter solely because enemy groins are actually closer than their chins.) Lord Raptor's men unloaded the goods with the kind of bored, passive indifference you might expect from people who were hardened mercenaries dealing with non-threatening groceries, and left me in the pantry.

I pulled myself out of the rice as soon as they left. I figured they were probably leaving the putting away of the food for the actual kitchen staff, and I didn't want to hang around while someone put each bag of rice on the shelf and noticed the toy surprise at the bottom. I slunk over to the door, keeping an eye out for security cameras the entire way...and the door didn't open.

That was a little awkward, to say the least. Although superhuman reflexes did save me from smacking headlong into it.

After a few seconds of examination, I found the electric eye located alongside the door, and it didn't take a genius to figure out that Lord Raptor's men had some kind of device to open it. It was actually a really good idea; even if someone did get into the base, they'd have no way of moving from room to room without an escort, while Lord Raptor could maneuver troops around freely. It was the kind of detailed, extremely significant intelligence on Lord Raptor's operations that I really wished I'd known before I snuck into their base.

Then the door opened. I'm not sure who looked more startled, me or the guy staring at me.

He didn't stay startled for long, though. One of his hands was already reaching for his belt when I grabbed it and dropped my hips into a throw that sent him sliding into a few dozen cartons of eggs. (Jujitsu. Seven point six minutes, seven hundred ninety-six in the Dewey Decimal System. Time well spent, I think.) Because I didn't stay startled for long either. I covered the distance between us in a sprint that would have made Usain Bolt slink away in shame and converted my momentum into a kick that had very little mass, but lots of velocity. The mercenary's eyes rolled back in his head and he slumped into unconsciousness.

I searched him for anything I could find that looked like it might be a door opener. Took me a couple minutes, but I found what I was looking for. After that, it was off into the rest of the base. That was about when I realized just how stupid I really was when I came up with my plan. The base was huge, with miles of featureless corridors and no maps to be seen anywhere. Probably Lord Raptor's men drilled for ages to learn where the barracks were and how to find your way to the bathrooms and stuff, but I didn't know where I was going even if I knew how to get there, which I didn't. And of course, I was wearing a bright green and white outfit with a red mask covering my mouth. I could not have stood out more if I'd actually been wearing the cheerleader outfit I was dreaming about.

And I didn't know it was even worse than that. The doors were linked to a central computer system, and each door opener had its own unique serial code. As far as the computer was concerned, Raptor Soldier #97681 had just wandered away from his station and was taking an erratic walking tour of the entire base. Took them about ten minutes to decide to go after me and about thirty seconds to find me after that. Well, that's just a guess--it's not like they gave me their split time or anything--but given that they could track my exact location every time I went into a room, I figure it wasn't exactly hard for them.

Which was right where my dream jumped to. Me, in the middle of what seemed like endless featureless corridors that branched onto endless featureless corridors, suddenly finding herself trapped between two groups of soldiers wearing stun cannons.

That's when the alert sirens went off.

TO BE CONTINUED...

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Empire Strikes Back Love Must Stop!

So I decided to indulge my love/hate relationship with John Scalzi's opinion pieces this morning by reading a column he did for Film Critic on how Ripley's status as the preeminent female character is as much due to the dearth of genuinely well-written female characters as it is due to Ripley being awesome, well-written, and well-acted. (I also decided to indulge my love of starting a blog post with "So I...", which I try not to do so much anymore.)

And what do I find? Apart from an actually extremely well-written essay about the way that even the "strong female characters" in sci-fi and fantasy are really just male fantasy figures, only nowadays they can kick people's ass, that is. I find this quote: "Some distance behind Sarah Connor is Princess Leia, who looks great on paper (a senator at 19! Leader of the rebellion! Feisty with Han Solo!) but who is woefully underwritten in every film she's in except The Empire Strikes Back and who isn't the focus of the series in any event."

So let me get this straight. When Princess Leia was risking her life by covertly spying for the Rebel Alliance, when she withstood brutal interrogation and truth drugs, when she cunningly stalled for time by "confessing" false information under duress, when she single-handedly took charge of her own rescue and shot her way out using someone else's blaster, then planned her own escape route, then deduced that the rescue was too easy and that they needed to act as though they were on a timetable...that was the "woefully underwritten" Leia.

When she got dragged around like a sack of potatoes by Big Strong Man Han Solo, when she carped and whined about every decision Han made only to be proven wrong at every turn because Han knows better about such things than a silly little girl, when she got forcibly kissed by Han only to swoon into his arms because all a woman really needs is a take-charge man who knows what he wants in the bedroom, when she hung out in her room changing her outfits and doing her hair and leaves Han and Chewie to make sure the Falcon gets repaired and C-3P0 gets found, when her primary contribution of the entire movie was to have a sudden "female intuition" that Luke is in danger...that's the strong female character who almost competes with Ripley.

This is how badly fan opinion has ossified in regards to the Star Wars trilogy. Even on a level where one movie is blatantly, demonstrably, provably superior to the other, even when a respected and devastatingly brilliant sci-fi writer like Jeanne Cavelos has already published a scathing essay pointing out how obvious it is that Leia becomes less and less feminist as the series progresses (my comments above owe a great debt to said essay, BTW)...we still get a token, "Empire is the best movie" thrown in there. Because it's just the Truth now, and facts only get in the way.

And since there are no comments on that column, I have to rant about it here and hope he sees it. Hey, it worked once before...