Monday, July 31, 2006
When I was younger, I used to check out a dozen or so from the library every week or so. The problem was that our local library did not have a good selection; I usually wound up checking out the same issues of The Avengers or Archie over and over and over again. The other problem was that since they were basically kept in a big heap, making it pretty impossible to keep up on storylines.
Through the years, I've dabbled in comics every now and then. I subscribed to Star Trek: The Next Generation for a while until the writing of Michael Jan Friedman drove me away. I bought a series of Punisher, where the Punisher goes on a rampage throughout Europe (I can't seem to find these anymore). I also made sure to buy the issue where Superman died and I've even gone onto e-Bay to purchase the entire Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew series. That one might seem a little inexplicable, but they were comics I found in the library's heap and I had to see them again.
I'm also a big sucker for graphic novels now. 1602, The Watchmen, Superman: Red Son, The Runaways ... okay, I'll stop.
What I've gotten into in the past couple of weeks, though, are web comics. A friend of mine on Red vs. Blue clued me into the one that got me started (thanks, Swooper).
The first one is Dr. McNinja:
That's right. He's a doctor. And an Irish ninja. He's battled Ronald McDonald, a child who grew into Paul Bunyan, a group of pirates who kidnapped his family, and most recently, a man with such well-developed abs that he grew an organic jet-pack. Yes, you read that correctly. Dr. McNinja is truly bizarre and quickly got me hooked. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, you can guarantee I'm checking the site to see if the newest page is up.
One day, while reading the latest page of Dr. McNinja, I noticed a banner for another web-comic, one named Stuff Sucks:
It piqued my curiousity, so I clicked and found myself in a comic written by Liz Greenfield. It's the story of Daniel who works in a record store. The plot got started a little slow, but soon I was enraptured as a con artist named Zemi made Daniel's life difficult by trying to steal the ring he bought for his girlfriend. Sounds like an odd premise for a comic? Maybe, but I check this one at the beginning of every week for new art.
And then, one day, I noticed a link at the bottom of Stuff Sucks that caught my attention. The name itself was enough for me to raise my eyebrows. I mean, Striptease?
Get your mind out of the gutter. It's not about that. Instead, it's the story of a guy named Max who draws a comic called "Neato-People". Last night, I decided to get caught up on the six years worth of back issues there was. Yes, it took me a while, but it was worth it.
The story was a little slow at first but things really picked up. Max falls in love with a girl from a rival comic company named Alli, who his editor and friend, Emily, doesn't approve of. Things get a little hairy as Alli's boss blackmails her into stealing Issue #2 of Neato-People. Things just get more convoluted from there as more and more people come out of Max's past, which only complicates the on-going rivalry he's developed with an evil comic book writer. When we last left our heroes, they were trying to rescue their Goth friend from the Cage of Apathy in a fetish night club. Yes, you read that correctly too.
Striptease is a bit more adult than the other two but the stories are so engrossing, I really didn't mind. Sure, they're not that realistic (pay attention to the storylines that deal with Alli's evil twin sister, Naomi, and you'll see what I mean), but the relationship between Max and Alli will keep me coming back. Only problem: the writer/artist who does this one has to take the summer off to work in a caricature booth in an amusment park and doesn't have the time to really update it. That's okay. I can wait.
I'm sure I'll stumble across more as I go, but it's kind of fun to let my inner comic book guy out once in a while.
I'll be the first to admit, I'm a sucker for counterfactual history. This is history with a twist, where a learned (or not so learned) writer takes "the way things were" and throws in a major "What If?" factor that sets everything on its head.
My favorite counterfactual author by far is Harry Turtledove. Mr. Turtledove is perhaps the master of the genre. I've read a number of his books, most of them set in an alternate history where the South won the Civil War. He's made it up to World War II now and I keep tracking down his books to see what happens.
Jill, my wife, knows that I love reading Turtledove books, so one day she came home from the library with Alternate Generals, edited by Harry Turtledove. She found it on the library's free bookshelf, where anyone in the community can leave books they're done with so someone else can take them. She thought I might enjoy it.
I have to say, I was a bit hesitant at first. The back cover copy made me roll my eyes:
At Gaugemela the Macedonians had Alexander and the Persians had -- Darius. Result: world conquest. But what if the Persians had -- Erwin Rommel. Or what if George S. Patton had commanded Southern forces at Bull Run, and Lincoln had become a Confederate prisoner?
When I saw that, I feared the worst. Were they simply going to transpose major historical figures into battles they weren't connected to?
Thankfully, that wasn't the case. This is a pretty good collection of counterfactual short stories, all revolving around famous battles and wars. Some of them are very well done. Some of them aren't.
Part of the problem is with me, I suspect. In some cases, the author picked a battle obscure enough that I didn't know what the original outcome was, which then made it difficult to revel in the cleverness of the counterfactual proposal. In one case, I didn't enjoy the style. But there were some great tales in here:
- The Test of Gold by Lillian Stewart Carl - The tale of the Romans conquering the British Isles. Very well done and, as the first story in the collection, whetted my appetite for more.
- The Charge of Lee's Brigade by S. M. Stirling - What if America never gained its independence and a General Robert E. Lee went to the Crimean War as part of the British Army?
- The Craft of War by Lois Tilton - Written as a Socratic dialogue, Sokrates discusses how an exile from the East helped the Persians win their battles against the Greeks. The exile's name, in Greek, was Sontseus. Can you guess who he was?
- Billy Mitchell's Overt Act by William Sanders - By far, the best story of the bunch. What if the Americans had intercepted the Japanese fleet before they could strike Pearl Harbor? What if the Americans fired the first shot in World War II? Great, great stuff.
- A Hard Day for Mother by William R. Fortchen - This one was just very well done. It involves the Battle of Gettysburg.
- Bloodstained Ground by Brian M. Thomsen - A has-been, washed out Samuel Clemens is sent on assignment to cover the funeral of President George Custer.
- Vati by R. M. Meluch - What if the Nazis had jets before D-Day? Sound weird? This is a great story too.
There were other stories in here but I just didn't enjoy them. Some were so bad that I simply skipped over them. I guess I did learn one thing about myself: I don't enjoy naval stories.
Oh well. This one was good, but not good enough to keep. It's going to be released on Book Crossing eventually.
Friday, July 28, 2006
The story is basically about Matt Saunders (played by Luke Wilson) who goes out on a date with a girl named Jenny. What our hero doesn't realize is that Jenny is really G-Girl, a superhero. At first, our hero thinks that this is pretty cool, but as he realizes that he doesn't love Jenny but is in fact in love with someone else, he has to break up with Jenny, who doesn't take it all that well.
The plot was very funny. Luke Wilson was great as Saunders. Rainn Wilson turns in a great performance as Saunders' sleazy friend. And Eddie Izzard! Oh my gosh! I had forgotten that he was even in this movie. I loved his character, Dr. Bedlam, a man with a connection to Jenny's past that drove him to supervillainy. I almost fell out of my chair when the end credits listed him as Bedlam. He was absolutely pitch-perfect.
I also appreciated the plot because it made me wonder something: so many superheroes gain their powers through exposure to some foreign element (i.e. a radioactive meteor, a radioactive spider, cosmic rays, a mystic hammer, etc.) that seems to only affect them physically. It rarely changes them mentally. Why is that?
This movie, though, had a few negative points. First of all, Ivan Reitman liked his computer generated blurry effects too much. The first time I saw G-Girl fly, she was trailed by a blurry effect that I thought was kind of cool. The only problem is, you see that effect just about every time she uses her power. Very annoying after a while.
Second, the performance of Anna Faris kind of fell flat. At first, I thought she did okay as perhaps the only straight man in the entire movie, but eventually, I realized that she basically kept showing the same emotion, dull surprise, over and over and over.
And the third and final gripe really isn't about this movie in particular. Why do people consider Uma Thurman beautiful? She does absolutely nothing for me. Oh well. To each their own, I guess.
While we're at it, let's talk about the previews that we saw with this movie. None of them made me want to go to the movies:
Pathfinder - A Viking boy is left behind after a raid on Native American villages. He's raised by the Native Americans and, when the Vikings come back, he fights to save the tribe. Eh.
Beer League - Artie Lange leads a group of slackers to an eventual victory so their team can stay in a beer league as opposed to a team made up of jerks. I think I may have given away the entire plot there, but you know what, I don't care. This looks like a movie that would just be a waste of two hours.
John Tucker Must Die! - No way. Not gonna happen, not even after watching the trailer. As Jill said so well, "This would be two hours of my life that I would never get back." I mean, we've seen this kind of crap before. How much you wanna bet this is the plot: Cheater-boy John Tucker has broken the hearts of X number of girls. They get a girl to pretend to fall in love with him so she can break his heart. Instead, she falls in love with him and he with her "for real", much to the frustration of the X number of exes who eventually fall in love themselves and forget their mad-cap scheme of humiliation.
But I will say this. Does anyone else think Jesse Metcalfe in this movie bears a striking resemblance to Mark-Paul Gosselar from Saved By the Bell? Maybe they hoped Jesse's jet black hair would conjure up memories of Zach Morris.
Thursday, July 27, 2006
You may think that would disqualify me from writing a review, but I would submit that the fact that I skimmed is indicative of the book's problem. This month's book is What Would Your Character Do? by Dr. Eric Maisel and Ann Maisel.
The premise for the book appeared solid. Dr. Maisel, a psychologist, had written thrity personality quizzes that you can drop your story's characters into. How would he/she react if placed in this or that situation. On the surface, it seemed like a really good idea. Even if your character isn't going on a road trip (Quiz #15), you can see different facets of his/her personality that will help your writing.
At least, that's what I thought would happen. Not exactly the case.
First of all, the way that Dr. Maisel worded the questions and the scenarios he chose aren't quite as helpful as I thought they'd be. It might help shed some light on your character in a very general way, but it seems more like these quizzes would help you write very specific stories about very specific characters. For example, Quiz #6, "Stranger in Town", deals with how your character would react if he/she was stranded in a strange town and the townsfolk were acting hostile or suspicious. That'd be a great story, but really, how is that supposed to help me write a sci-fi story?
The second major problem (and the reason why I skimmed the end of the book) is the fact that for each answer, Dr. Maisel tries to layer on extra psycho-analysis, most of which I thought was either arbitrary or shallow.
This book might be helpful to a writer so long as you ignore Dr. Maisel's additional comments. It could also be useful to brainstorm story ideas. But I'm not sure it's worth the money I plunked down for it.
Thursday, July 20, 2006
They're More Than Meets The Eye!
The logo looks cool with what I'm assuming is Megatron's eye hovering over the Earth. And even the new slogan is pretty cool too. But then I watched the trailer and, I have to say, I'm a little concerned.
Why? Well, I was a big fan of the original Transformers cartoon. The first DVD I bought was a copy of the Transformers movie when Optimus Prime dies. When I accidentally lost that copy, I went out and bought a new one. When I heard that they were making a live-action Transformers movie and that Steven Spielberg was one of the producers, I got kind of excited. Surely Steven wouldn't let us down, would he?
And yet, after watching the trailer, I'm a tad worried. Here's why:
1) What are the Transformers doing on Mars? I mean, creative license aside, that doesn't make a lot of sense. But hey, I'm willing to let that one slide.
2) Michael Bay is the director? That ain't good. This is the same guy who brought us Pearl Harbor and The Island. Granted, I haven't seen The Island, but I've blogged about it. I'm not sure I want to trust beloved childhood memories to the guy who didn't realize his last movie was plagiarized from another.
3) The big thing that's missing. Did you notice? If not, go back and watch the trailer again. Pay special attention to the end when the big space ship whatever-it-is transforms into the title and then the release date. There's something important missing.
That's right. The classic Transformer noise. All we get is a little mechanical whirring.
I'm sorry, but that just doesn't cut it with me. I don't care if you update the Autobots and the Decepticons in how they look (I suspect you'd almost have to, given the simplistic style that the original cartoon followed). Heck, send 'em to Mars first and bring them here. Come up with a new backstory as to why they're here (although the Decepticons coming to steal all of Earth's energy to transform into energon cubes could go a long way given the rising price of oil and such).
But don't mess with the Transformer noise! It's a little thing that's quintessentially Transformers. If it had been in the trailer, I would have geeked out immediately. Now I'm just nervous.
Time for another book review!
This time, it's Dragonspell by Donita K. Paul. It's the first book in another fantasy series, so you can expect to see more reviews of Paul's books here in the future.
Dragonspell is the story of a young girl named Kale who goes on a quest. At first, she believes her mission is simply to bring a dragon egg she's found to the city of Vendela. But she soon discovers that she has a unique talent: she can sense where dragon eggs lay. She actually finds seven others.
This gift sends her on a new quest, given to her by the mighty Paladin: she must recover a meech dragon egg that's in the clutches of an evil wizard.
I really enjoyed this book. Paul weaves a very fun world to explore with unique creatures. One thing that always bugs me about fantasy books is the fact that they're often retreads of the characters you find in The Lord of the Rings: elves, dwarfs, goblins, orcs, etc. Some of the creatures in Paul's book (such as the tumanhofers) are all-too-familiar, but others, like the emerlindians and the kimen are fresh and unique only to her stories.
The story of Kale is engaging as well. I never tired of hearing about Kale's adventures and I look forward to seeing who else pops out of the eggs she's carrying. Gymn the fainting green dragon and Metta the singing purple dragon were delightful characters.
The only minor complaint that I have about the book is that the allegory wears thin at times and you can catch Paul preaching a little. There are definite "moral" moments where Paul, a retired teacher, makes sure that her reader catches the lesson. It didn't so much annoy me as make me want to start skipping sentences and paragraphs to get back to the adventure. But given the fact that this book is likely targeted for readers younger than me, it's not a deal-breaker by any means.
So there you have it. Go check out this book when you have the chance. And expect a review of Dragonquest, the next book in the series, in the next couple of weeks.
Monday, July 10, 2006
Instead, I wanted to plug Adventures in Dating, a machinima series I'm sort of involved in.
For those of you unfamiliar with machinima, it's the process of taking footage from a video game and turning it into a movie. I know I've talked about it before, but if you're looking for one of the greatest examples of machinima out there, look no further.
Anyway, AiD is a series put together by a person named Decorgal. She asked me to do the voices for one of the characters in the series a while back and this character is finally going to make his debut.
I've watched the first four episodes of this series and I'm simply blown away by how great it is. Decorgal does some superb machinima work with the Sims and I'm sure you'll get a kick out of it.
So go check out Adventures in Dating and see if you can figure out who I am.
I'm a sucker for Star Wars novels. I've got tons of them. The thing is, I have my favorite authors. If the book is written by Stackpole, Zahn, or Allston, I'm there in a heartbeat. The others, I can take or leave. But I decided to take a chance with Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader to see how James Luceno continued Vader's story after Episode III concluded. I especially wanted to see if Luceno could erase Vader's ridiculous temper tantrum from my mind.
For the most part, he did. Luceno presented what might be called a "bridge version" of Vader, showing his first few halting steps from newly fallen Anakin Skywalker to the menacing Dark Lord of the Sith we meet at the beginning of A New Hope.
The story itself revolves around a small group of Jedi who manage to survive the infamous Order 66 that wiped out the rest of the Order. It also deals extensively with Vader's transition to life inside the suit. I think Luceno did an excellent job portraying Vader's confusion and outright frustration with his new situation.
There were a few things that bugged me, mostly because I'm a continuity man . For example, the first time that Vader fights in the suit, Luceno describes it as awkward and difficult since the cybernetic parts aren't graceful. At the end of the book, when Vader fights again, he's suddenly become more graceful. This makes little sense to me since nowhere in the book did Luceno say that the parts got upgraded or Anakin became more used to them.
All in all, though, this was a pretty good book. I'm glad to have read it. Luceno's not entering the constellation that Stackpole, Zahn, and Allston occupy, but he's definitely someone I would read again.
Saturday, July 08, 2006
This book series follows the adventure of Billy Bannister and Bonnie Silver, two children with unusual pedigrees. It turns out that they are both the descendants of dragons. Billy learns the truth when he discovers that he can breathe fire. Bonnie knew from a very young age since she grew a set of dragon's wings when she was little.
Both Bonnie and Billy discover that they're part of a larger prophecy, one made by Merlin during the time of King Arthur's court. They face off against a horde of enemies: humans who are the sworn enemies of dragons, demons, fallen angels, and a sinister woman named Morgan (yes, that Morgan if you're familiar with the Arthurian legends).
Davis does a superb job borrowing from Arthurian mythology and transporting the characters and concepts into the modern age. I have to admit, I was a little worried when I started reading this. After all, dragons in Christianity are usually associated with the "Big Dragon" (Rev. 12-14), namely Satan. But my doubts were put to rest after reading the very first page of the very first book. Davis handled the connection between Satan and dragons admirably.
Yes, this book series is intended for children, but I found that Davis was able to work in some very adult topics as well. He uses humor, sci-fi elements, and some really good Christian storytelling to make a great series. Go out and check it out for yourself.
Friday, July 07, 2006
One of my (obsessive) hobbies is playing computer games. A few months ago, an acquaintance of mine told me about a game called Total Extreme Wrestling 2005. In it, you become the head booker of a professional wrestling promotion. You run a company, hiring and firing talent, booking matches, deciding who wins and who loses, who the champs are, all that sort of thing.
I kind of fiddled around with it for a little while, but then I found a way to really have some fun. On the website for the game, there are what are called dynasties. These dynasties are written by people who are playing the game. They post the results of their matches, they tell what happened, they tell the stories that they're telling in the game. Some are good. Some are great. A lot of them ... well, aren't.
Anyway, I started a dynasty for the Supreme Wrestling Federation, the game's version of the WWE. My dynasty has some loyal fans and I've had a lot of fun writing it.
This month, my dynasty was given a special honor of being stickied for all of July. My SWF dynasty will be at the top of the list so people can always find it. It's the way that the game developers reward what they consider good dynasties.
I had been hoping for this honor for a while and I'm glad it happened now. My dynasty is in the middle of a storyline that I've been wanting to run for a long time. The SWF has been invaded by a group called Karma and...
Wait. Why should I spoil everything? Click on the shirt below and see for yourself. Just remember. "Karma's going to get you!"
Wednesday, July 05, 2006
I realized recently that I don't exactly update this often. It seems that what prompts me to blog is if I've seen a movie in the theater. That's kind of boring.
Then I realized that what I do and do often is read. I'm constantly reading one thing or another. Usually I like what I pick up, other times not so much. So I decided to add book reviews to this blog. When I get done with a book, I'll post my thoughts here.
So our first book to be officially reviewed under this new program is Miracles by C.S. Lewis.
Personally, I'm a Lewis junkie. I had read Screwtape Letters when I was in college, but I really didn't discover what a genius Lewis was until the Seminary. Now I try to pick up one of his non-fiction books and read it to really give the apologetic side of my faith a good tune-up.
Miracles is Lewis' answer to those who say that miracles can't happen. I'll admit, I had some trouble diving in at first; the intial chapters deal with Naturalism and Supernaturalism quite extensively and it bogged things down. But once you get past the initial nitty gritty, things really begin to fly.
There were a lot of "Aha!" moments for me, including one that I've been looking for since I began reading Lewis, namely Lewis' belief that the parallels between pagan mythology and Christianity are purposeful.
For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, some people have compared myths where the pagan gods die and rise (such as Osiris) to the story of Christ's death and resurrection and come to the conclusion that Christ is just a rip-off of the pagan myths, one that has succeeded where the others failed.
Lewis takes this argument and turns it on its head, saying that yes, there is imitation going on here, but that the pagan gods are imitating Christ.
Sounds weird, right? How could the Osiris myth (or the Odin myth, etc. etc. etc.), which surfaced hundreds if not thousand of years before Christ, be a copy?
Lewis' argument is simply that Osiris and the other dying and rising gods are fertility gods. Their death and resurrection stories describe the cycle of death and rebirth in the seasons of the year. Lewis stated that this idea of death and resurrection was such a part of who God is that it just naturally embedded itself into Nature when God created everything. The ancients picked up on this and since they had a rudimentary understanding that this death and resurrection stuff had something to do with the divine, they crafted stories that expressed it. Then Christ came and fulfilled the true Death and Resurrection that God had been harboring since the dawn of time, expressions of which found pale imitations in pagan mythology.
Lewis does a better job explaining it. I was just excited to finally read his words about it.
There are some problems with the book. Lewis wrote it in 1947, so his understanding of science in such areas as embryology is a little off. But it's still a good book and an enjoyable read.