Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Wordcount Wednesday

I'm still in the "mulching" process for Failstate. More and more pieces are coming together, but thanks to an extended Christmas break, I haven't done much more formal and official work on it.

But I did want to make this post to encourage all of you to head over to the Anomaly and cast your vote in Marcher Lord Select. I've mentioned this before, but it bears repeating because this is the final round and I'm still in it! So if you are so inclined, please head to the Premise Contest ballot and cast your vote for Numb. And since you can vote for two, please consider voting for Dying for Dragons. It's by a friend of mine and, I think, one of the best of the bunch.

The Externally Focused Church

I first heard about The Externally Focused Church at a clergy meeting and was intrigued by the idea of congregations that are focused not on themselves, but on the communities surrounding them. So I tracked down a copy and, in my down-time post-Christmas, I took a swing through this text.

It was eye-opening to say the least. Authors Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson make the very persuasive argument that the Church has to get out of her four walls and into the community, acting as servants that do as well as tell. That means finding and targeting specific needs in the community around them, working to meet those needs, motivating members to serve in the community, and engaging people where they are, not necessarily to "win them for Christ" (although that would be a great thing should it happen) but to serve them out of Christian love and devotion because that's what God seeks in His people.

To put it bluntly, it's given me a lot to think about. And that's always a good thing.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Hunger Games

Imagine a world where the continent we call North America has been divided up into thirteen districts. Thanks to a failed revolution, one of the thirteen have been destroyed. The remaining twelve must send two "tributes" to The Hunger Games, a demented reality show with tremendous stakes. Only one tribute can win. The winner receives special dispensations for his or her District for the year, including food, prestige, and bragging rights. The losers are all dead.

That's the world of Katniss Everdeen, a young woman from District Twelve. She's a poacher from a poor and derided District; they haven't produced a Hunger Games winner in thirty years. When the Hunger Games roll around when she's sixteen, she winds up the female tribute for District Twelve. Now she's thrust into more than just a deadly reality show competition. She has to navigate both the tricky waters of politics within the cruel nation of Panem and the even more dangerous seas of her own heart.

Okay, that last sentence was a bit over the top, but holy cow! I loved this book. Collins creates a vibrant and engaging world, one that I can sadly believe could come to pass. I mean, look at how ridiculous some reality TV shows have already gotten. It's not long before we'll see people duking it out to the death.

Katniss is a fascinating heroine. She's wily, resourceful, and more than just a little charismatic. In some ways, the plot is a little predictable; I was able to call most of the major twists as they came. But I didn't care because I was so invested in seeing Katniss succeed. There were a few times when I wanted to smack her for being dim, but I figure that was the point at times.

Anyway, great book, and I can't wait to read the next one.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Psychology of Superheroes

I honestly thought this book would turn out to be more interesting than it was. The Psychology of Superheroes, a collection of essays written by psychologists about ... well, you get the idea ... purports to put the heroes on the couch, crack open their minds, and see what makes them tick.

Sadly, that's not always what happened. More often than not, it seemed like the essay authors had a personal pet theory to promote and glommed them on to whatever superhero seemed to fit the bill best. Oh, there were a few essays that sparked my interest, but by and large, I wound up skimming the essays looking for those sparks. Usually I wound up disappointed.

Oh well.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Trinity Volume 1

I actually heard about this book while I was doing my research on Failstate. Someone (and I don't remember who) pointed out that the DC universe has a trinity of heroes in Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman and that someone finally decided to do a story acknowledging that. So when I spotted Trinity Volume One at my local soon-to-be-closed B. Dalton (so I could get it for half off), I snatched it up.

Basically the plot boils down to this: bad guys are trying to take over the world using a magic spell that somehow involves Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. Tarot cards feature heavily in the plot for unknown reasons. And just about every DC superhero is involved in some way, shape, or form. Oh, and so is some alternate universe where everyone is evil.

In all seriousness, I had fun reading this one. Granted, I don't know all the backstory in it, which is okay. I'm somewhat conversant in names, identities, powers, and so on thanks to the various animated series put out by Warner Brothers and DC. I know, that's probably heresy to fanboys. Well, deal with it. I still didn't know who everyone was, but that's okay, it didn't really matter in the long run.

The only thing that really torked me off is the fact that they kept making references to trinities of different sorts (mostly steeped in the occult and tarot) and they missed, well, the obvious one. You know? Big Three? One of them has a supposed birthday coming up in a day or two? grumble grumble grumble. I know from my reading that both DC and Marvel tend to avoid Christianity (for the most part; I know about Nightcrawler), but come on.

My only other complaint is one of my own making. I had thought that this was a self-contained volume. Nope. A quick check reveals there are two more volumes out there for me to read. And I doubt I'll be able to get them at a ridiculously discounted price. Better start saving my pennies now.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Star Wars Tales Volume 3

So I think I may be starved for some light fiction reading or something. I polished off another collection of comic stories, namely Star Wars Tales Volume 3.

I've got a small collection of these books sitting on my bookshelf. They're mostly good. Some of the stories they contain are pretty out there (an honest to goodness Star Wars/Indiana Jones crossover is by far the strangest). Since I tend to collect as much of a series as I can, I jumped at the chance to buy Volume 3.

All in all, it was about average. There was no overall theme to this one (unlike other volumes), just a scattershot selection of Star Wars tales. By far the best one is the first in the book, a fight that pits Darth Vader against Darth Maul. The rest are hit or miss, mostly misses, so far as I'm concerned.

Oh well. It's not a loss necessarily. I mean, Vader vs. Maul is still pretty cool.

Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?

As part of a blow-out liquidation sale at a local B. Dalton, I snagged a copy of Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? I justified this purchase by claiming it's research for my next novel. Ahem.

Anyway, let's get to it. The story was written by Alan Moore, the genius behind Watchmen, V For Vendetta, and other classics. According to the introduction, this was written about the time of the Crisis on Infinite Earths. And while I have some inkling of what that is, said inkling is not enough to make me really care.

So basically, this story came about when an outgoing editor at DC decided to "wrap up" the story of Superman. How would the Man of Tomorrow's career wind down? Who would ultimately stop the Man of Steel? In the first two parts, we see how Moore tells the tale. Superman faces down some of his greatest enemies, all told via an interview with Lois Lane ... er, Elliot, as the case may be.

Much to my surprise, the story wasn't all that fun. I guess I expected more from Moore. Part of the problem is that you have to be pretty familiar with the Superman mythos and continuity, especially from about the '50s through the early '80s. I, once again, have a little more than an inkling of understanding of said mythos thanks to an anthology book I used to check out regularly from my local library when growing up. But you had better know, for instance, that in the late '70s, early '80s (or thereabouts) that Clark Kent became a television reporter, and so on, or parts of this plot won't make any sense. While the final twist at the end of the story was a nice one, it ultimately left me indifferent.

The second story in the book was a crossover between Superman and Swamp Thing. This one too left me a bit disappointed. It didn't strike me as a big deal, more like it was filler.

The final story was pretty good, entitled For the Man Who Has Everything. Interesting story, fun to read. The small problem is, this story was adapted into an episode of The Justice League, so I pretty much knew what was going to happen. It was interesting to see how closely the TV show hewed to the source material. And seeing Jason Todd in action as Robin was certainly instructive. I can't say I'd want to see him blown up by the Joker, but I could understand why, in large doses, some people might.

So there you go. Not the best, not the worst. An interesting read nonetheless.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Holy Superheroes!

So I'm continuing my research for Failstate, and that brought me to Holy Superheroes! by Greg Garrett. In the interest of fairness, the Amazon link I've provided is to the new expanded edition of the book. I read a borrowed copy of the original edition. That being said, I'm not about to rush out and buy a new copy because in the end, this book left me largely disappointed.

I was actually kind of excited to read this one. Seeing as Failstate is going to be a superhero story with some major Christian underpinnings, I really wanted to see what Garrett had to say about how faith and comics intersect. The book was, granted, a bit on the light side, much lighter than some of the other books I've read on the subject, but I was hoping it'd be chock full of theological goodness.

I came away disappointed. The book is more pop psychology than theology. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is quoted more than Christ. Garrett even quoted himself (in a previous book on the Matrix trilogy) more than Christ. That should pretty much tell you what you need to know. But to get into more specifics, each chapter was superficial and shallow in how it treated its subject. Ultimately Garrett's book was more about social justice without any sort of grace-based foundation.

I might be too harsh on this, I don't know, but in the end, I wasn't impressed with Garrett's work.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Superheroes and Philosophy

Faster than an ontological imperative. More powerful than an existential quandary! ... um, okay, I can't actually keep that up. As part of my superhero reading splurge, I finished off Superheroes and Philosophy, a collection of essays that examines superheroes and how they intersect with philosophical ideas and ideals.

It's an okay book. It's relatively accessible, never delving too deeply into philosophical teaching. I could remember a lot of what they were discussing from the few philosophy classes I took in college. I chuckled when I realized that two of the authors reference the Ring of Gyges myth from Plato in their essays. That's always been one of my favorites. Even wrote an X-Files spec script based on it back in the day. But that's a different story for another day.

The most fascinating issues revolved around whether or not superheroes should use their powers for good. I also really appreciated Tom Morris's essay about Daredevil and his possible Catholic faith. There were fun issues about whether or not the Hulk and Bruce Banner are the same person. All in all, not a bad book.

Hitler finds out they cancelled "Dollhouse"

So yeah, Fox did it again a while back and decided that Dollhouse would only get half a season this time around and then it's done. Who woulda thought that Adolf Hitler would sum up my feelings on this news so well?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Wordcount Wednesday

Look! On the web! On this blog! It's a Wordcount Wednesday! Been a while since I've done one of these, huh?

I could claim that it's not my fault. I've been distracted by something vaguely writing related (more on that in a bit). In reality, though, I've been putting off writing for supposedly good reasons and some really stupid ones.

Stupid ones first: computer games. I don't know why, but I've been sucked into computer games lately, more so than usual. I don't know why that is. But I've been playing Tropico 3 a lot lately and just a day or two ago, I fired up The Sims 3 again and created a real dirtbag of a Sim. I've been having fun making him as much of a jerk as possible. But those aren't good reasons to not write, and I know it.

I've also been on something of an MST3K binge lately. I don't know why, but I can't get enough of movies with theater seats in front of them. Huh. Can't explain it.

The good reasons are the usual: the job/ministry, family, friends, so on and so forth.

But never fear, intrepid blog-reader! I'm starting to get myself into the proper writing frame of mind. I'm sussing out ideas for a novel that I'm dubbing Failstate. That's the working title, obviously. It could change as I work. And Failstate is the reason why I engaged in a bit of superhero-themed writing (and why I have the clown wearing his underwear on the outside). Failstate is going to be a novel about superheroes.

I have no idea if I can pull this off. I'm already having trouble steering clear of "done before" concepts (I started outlining one idea to Jill tonight. She gave me a surprised look and said, "Incredibles?" And I realized that yes, I had basically ripped off the first ten minutes).

I'm not quite ready to start writing yet. I'm still doing some low-level research (i.e. reading some books about superheroes. Such as The Physics of Superheroes and Superheroes and Philosophy) and tonight, I sent out some e-mails to law professors to try to nail down some of the legalities surrounding vigilante activity.

Either tonight or maybe tomorrow, I'm hoping to fire up Randy Ingermanson's Snowflake Pro software and start putting together an outline. I don't know if I'm quite ready for that yet, but we'll see what I can come up with as I work.

So yeah. Some writing stuff going on here.

But like I said, my attention has been somewhat distracted lately. As my regular readers (all none of you) are probably aware, I'm taking part in Marcher Lord Select. Well, it's round three and I'm still in the Premise Contest with Numb. So I have two questions for you:

Have you voted yet? And if not, why not?

Sunday, December 06, 2009

The Muppets: Bohemian Rhapsody

Why is it I always find out about these things after 9 million other people have already seen it? Oh well. LOVE IT!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Why I'm wary of Twilight

More than a year ago, I subjected myself to Twilight and was left feeling a little empty inside. But there was one thought that kept surfacing, reiterated by other people and echoing in my own mind. How healthy is the relationship between Edward and Bella? A lot of people saw glimmers of what could be an abusive relationship. That, in and of itself, isn't necessarily bad. If the purpose is to shine a light on the abuse so young women will avoid similar situations, fantastic.

But that's not the point of the Twilight books. This relationship is "sooooo romantic." Edward is "soooooo dreamy." Rather than warn the readers, "There really are jerks who wish to destroy their partners," young women might be learning that destructive relationships are the pinnacle of romance.

Am I overreacting? Maybe. I haven't read any of the other books past Twilight and I haven't seen any of the movies, so it's hard to judge for myself.

But I'm not the only one concerned. Through a round-about clicking of links, I found this post that elucidates my concerns so much better, by someone who has seen the latest movie:

What Do You See In Him Again?

Just a warning: this rant has a few profanities in it, so be forewarned. But keep this number in mind: 15.

Why is this held up as so great a romance again?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Scrubs reboot

So here we go, the little show that could. Scrubs is back with a somewhat major retooling. Gone is the old hospital, gone is the Janitor. Is Ted still with us? I guess we'll find out.

Coming in are a new crop of characters. We have "new JD" Lucy. Some kid named Cole whose parents bought the hospital. A med school flunky who's back for more. Plus an Australian extra.

Carrying over: JD (for now) and Turk. Dr. Cox and Dr. Kelso. The Todd is still kicking. And Denise "Jo" Mahoney survived the culling of the old cast.

I've loved Scrubs since almost the beginning and I'm not sure what to make of this. There were some genuine laugh-out-loud moments which is always good. Dr. Cox was his usual snarky awesomeness. I mean, he's always good for a tirade or two and a new crop of semi-incompetent med students will be great fodder for Cox.

But I'm not sure about this. What I'm worried about is if the new characters will be able to keep up the momentum. Lucy, for example, the female JD clone. Her "fantasies" haven't been as wacky as JD's, which is a good thing. If she had been total random weirdness, I'd be extremely frustrated. She seems flawed yet hopeful enough that she might be able to carry her part of the show.

I worry about the others. Rich-kid Cole, for instance. If he gets broken down, what will we find underneath? Is he just another Elliot in the making, soon to be cut off from his rich parents and have to make it on his own? How about what's-his-name, Dr. Cox's new protege? I'm intrigued about what happened to him his first go-through in med school, but once that mystery is revealed, what else will be there?

We'll have to see. Call me cautiously optimistic.

The Physics of Superheroes

This one made my brain hurt but in a good way. I stretched mental muscles that I haven't used since high school.

I finished reading The Physics of Superheroes by Dr. James Kakalios last night. Dr. Kakalios endeavors to teach basic physics principles via illustrations from comic books. I first heard of Dr. Kakalios because of his connection to the abysmal Watchmen movie. He apparently was a technical consultant (or something like that) who advised the movie folks on their science. I want to make this clear: I do not blame Dr. Kakalios in any way for the giant mess Watchmen became.

This book is based on a freshman seminar that Dr. Kakalios teaches at the University of Minnesota. I found one of the statements he made at the beginning of the book hilarious. He opined that many of his students didn't like science classes because they weren't sure how they would apply what they were learning to the real world. He goes on to note, "Interestingly enough, whenever I cite examples from superhero comic books in a lecture, my students never wonder when they will use this information in their 'real life.' Apparently they all have plans, post-graduation, that involve protecting the City from all threats while wearing spandex."

For the most part, Dr. Kakalios kept all of the principles and ideas accessible, using basic algebra to explain the math behind the ideas. There were plenty of times when the discussion started to scrape my scalp, but for the most part, I think I tracked with him. And the comic book examples did indeed help. For example, Dr. Kakalios was able to suss out the planet Krypton's gravity based on how high Superman could jump (before he learned to fly). He also figured out how much food the Flash might have to eat. He posited theories on how Kitty Pryde's power works. And he proved that Spiderman is guilty of manslaughter.

Don't beleive me? Watch the video and he'll explain it for himself:

I'm not sure if this helped me in my upcoming writing project, but it was a great read and worth the time.