Monday, June 13, 2011

A Year of Horrors

I think of myself as a horror fan. I read magazines like Rue Morgue and Shock Cinema. When I found out that Famous Monsters of Filmland had risen from the grave I bought an issue even though it was $13 and funds were tight. I have an opinion whether Gary Oldman, Bela Lugosi, or Leslie Nielsen made a better film Dracula. I want to know why Damian Hellstrom, the Son of Satan, hasn't teamed up with John Constantine.

Yet I consider myself a dabbler. I don't watch all that many horror movies, maybe five a year. Ditto for novels, and in the case of novels there's a lot of questions regarding categorization and hair-splitting and tight or loose definitions of genre: the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series is definitely within the paranormal romance sub-genre, but most of them have genuine moments of suspense and enough gore to satisfy many splatter aficionados. Is that good enough to call it horror? Twilight on the other hand, is a horror only to feminists and lovers of good prose.

So, I've decided to start a project. For the next year, I will try to once a week view a movie, read a book, or read a comic book within the horror genre. I will report back to you my findings. I will probably be using a broad definition of the genre that includes supernatural horror; mystery/suspense/psychological/thriller; monster mashes, like Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman or Van Helsing; paranormal romance; dark fantasy; morbid poetry like “The Raven”; scary science fiction, like Day of the Triffids; maybe even a little Japanese kaiju eiga,like Godzilla or Gamera.

Who knows, if I can keep it up? I start a lot of projects and then get distracted.

I did finish reading a novel yesterday that I'm going to count toward this project, and I'm writing up a review on it. So, that's one week down already.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

I am Very Disappointed in you Ms. Quinzel

Funds have been short. I haven't picked up my comics from the Outer Limits in a couple months. Today I had 3 bucks and bought one: Issue #21 of Gotham City Sirens. This is not a full review, just a short comment. It contains spoilers, so if you want to be surprised by the ending of a 3 months old issue of a C-list in terms of fame and sales comic book read no further.

I liked the initial premise of Harley breaking in to Arkham to kill the Joker. It was high time she did something like this. I was disappointed in the ending where Joker says he misses her and all is forgiven. Way to be a strong woman there Harleen... Not! Of course, this could be an attempt at a realistic depiction of Stockholm Syndrome or Battered Woman Syndrome or something.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Review of The Young All-Stars Issue #5

Review of issue # 5 of Young All Stars

What Is It? A comic book in DC's “New Format”. Approximately 24 story pages, all color. Cover date is October 1987.
Plot Summary: It's 1942. World War II is happening. Some youngsters adjunct to the All Star Squadron are in Hollywood/The Los Angeles area for a dance/bond rally. Intragroup squabbles cause a pair of them to leave early. They end up at the closed Santa Monica Pier Amusement Park.

Another pair of these Young All Stars tail them. Axis America, a group of super-powered saboteurs, fight the four All Stars. Three of the four All Stars are knocked out and captured by fight's end. This leaves Dan the Dyna-Mite to lead the rescue effort. And there's the cliff-hanger ending.

What's Good About It? Writers Roy and Dann Thomas write stories that combine a Golden Age feeling with certain Modern Age sensibilities. Just to bring up, a random example: Internment Camps for Japanese-Americans. Today we can look back at them as a mistake. At the time, very few dared to speak up against them. Well, Roy and Dann Thomas do try to bring up some of the moral points against Internment Camps, yet the script still conveys a sense of World War II patriotism.

The letters page is another small point in the book's favor. I like to read them. It gives a sense of what the fan community was like before the rise of the World Wide Web.

What's Not So Good About It? Some of the WWII-era patriotism comes off weird to my sensibilities. Maybe it seems a bit jingoistic or something of that nature.

What The... Moments: I'm not sure as to whether it was the massive ret-conning of the history of the DC Universe in the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths or something else, but the casting seems to involve rather a lot of knock-off characters. There's Flying Fox (a Batman knock-off), Iron Munro (a Superman knock-off), Fury (a Wonder Woman knock-off), and Neptune Perkins (an Aquaman knock-off).

Who Needs It? Superhero fans, fans of DC's 80s-90s Secret Origins series,and fans of Roy Thomas's writing should find this book to be worth their time.

Rating: 5 Stars (out of five)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

But Wait There's More

I have this sort of pet theory about employment:

Almost every job has an obvious component that you are aware of and that gets mentioned in the interview. Take a fast food job for instance, going in you expect that the job will involve either making food or ringing up orders for food and collecting money.

The remainder of this theory is: almost all jobs also have a somewhat less obvious component, often one that might make you think twice before accepting a job offer. To continue the fast food example: Quite a lot of it is dealing with the aftermath of having customers in the store- wiping down tables, restocking condiment packets, sweeping floors, changing trashes, and washing dishes. It's amazing how much time goes to things like that. In my experience at Burrito Gong and Sandwich Emperor, I've found that on a typical day at least half the day is spent at this clean up work.

If I have a point, not always a certainty, it's this: next time you're at a job interview and it looks lie it's going well, ask for a written list of all duties you might be asked to perform. Then think it over carefully. Also save the list and have fun pointing out- I didn't sign on for this.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Speculative Fiction, notes for a lecture I didn't actually deliver

I spent some time deciding how much contextual detail was needed to share this. I think I could summarize the story thusly: I was asked whether I would like to participate in an event intended to promote literacy. I said sure, why not.

The format and topic of my presentation was left entirely up to me. I knew the audience would be parents with their children, but wasn't really given any numbers or age range. I decided to write a short (fifteen minutes or less was my estimation) lecture on the joys of speculative fiction, written for an about first grade or higher audience.

When I saw what I was dealing with as far as an audience, a lot of toddlers and a very small number in my intended age range I cut things down considerably: if I talked a whole five minutes, I would be surprised.

This is the full version of the notes I had written for this lecture:
So how many of you saw at least one of the six Star Wars movies? Or maybe one of the Lord of the Rings movies? Or Harry Potter or The Chronicles of Narnia? Did you leave the theatre going- “Wow! What an exciting world! I wish I could spend more time there!”

Well, I want to share one way that you can. I'm going to talk a little about one of my favorite kinds, or to introduce a new vocabulary word, genres, of books: speculative fiction. Genres, again that's a word meaning kinds or types or categories, can be big or little and can even contain other genres that are smaller. Speculative fiction is a big genre that contains the smaller genres of science fiction, fantasy, supernatural horror, and with Twilight being the latest big thing, paranormal romance.

Fantasy is any work that involves magic or the clearly impossible: Harry Potter, both the books and the movies, belongs in the fantasy genre. So do the Chronicles of Narnia and the Lord of the Rings. Star Wars might also be called fantasy, with the force being just another word for magic. Star Wars does dress itself up to look like science fiction, though.

Which gives me a good segue into science fiction. The science fiction genre tries to stay within the rules that scientists say the world works by and then adds an element of speculation. It asks questions often starting with the words "what if?". For example: "What if technologically advanced aliens made contact with Earth?" or "If technology keeps progressing at its current rate, what will the world look like in 500 years?". Even though Star Trek sometimes becomes another example of fantasy in space similar to Star Wars, it mostly stays within the science fiction genre. The Day the Earth Stood Still is another good example of science fiction. Oh, and The Day of the Triffids (when I was doing this lecture I was wearing my Day of the Triffids shirt).

Supernatural horror uses the magic and impossible stuff from the fantasy genre... Here's another vocabulary word: trope. The stuff in a genre, the defining elements, are also known as tropes. Elves, magic swords, and magic rings are tropes of the fantasy genre. Space ships, laser guns, and robots are tropes of the science fiction genre. Supernatural horror uses elements that are tropes of the fantasy genre, like vampires and werewolves, and uses them to try and tell a story that creates a sensation of fright, or well, horror. Dracula is supernatural horror. Most of Stephen King's better work, such as 'Salem's Lot, The Stand, and Christine, are supernatural horror.

Paranormal romance uses tropes from the fantasy and supernatural horror genres in service to a romantic plot. Again, vampires an werewolves would be good example tropes. Twilight is probably currently the most well known example of the paranormal romance genre. The Sookie Stackhouse books by Charlaine Harris, which were adapted into the TV series True Blood, would be another example.

So, why do I like speculative fiction so much? Well, the real world can get to be a drag sometimes and a good book, particularly a speculative fiction one, can provide a bit of an escape into another world for a while. It can make your heart pound with excitement or laugh or even feel a bit angry or sad but in a good way. Everything you go to the movies for, except the popcorn, can be found in a book. In fact books are better because:
1) they're cheaper (libraries loan them out for free and Good Will and other thrift stores sell used books cheaply).
2) Anything can happen in books. They aren't held back by the limits that movies have as far as special effects. It's like having the absolutely best computer animators and other effects wizards work for free.

Now, I'd like to share a short passage from one of my favorite speculative fiction works ever, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (my original intent was to read the entirety of a short chapter pages 89-91 of the hardcover omnibus edition that I own, the bit about the whale and the bowl of petunias. Instead, I cut it down to about a page, just the actual thoughts of the whale and the bowl of petunias without the rest of the setup.).

Saturday, March 5, 2011

[Let's Read] Legends & Lore 2e Installment 2

Originally Posted by Legends & Lore
When reading and using Legends & Lore, it is important to keep its intent and purpose firmly in mind. This book is not, in any way, a judgement on the value or validity of any religion practiced in any part of the world, either currently or in the past. It does not encourage or discourage belief in any of the deities listed herein, nor does the omission of any religion reflect in anyway upon that religion's value or validity. Such judgements have no place in fantasy role-playing.

This disclaimer may have been sort of obligatory, but it's kind of interesting. It is a way of saying: Just because Thor and Zeus are in this book and God/JHVH/Allah and Satan/Lucifer/Azazel aren't doesn't mean we do or don't believe in any of the aforementioned entities or are trying to influence your beliefs about them in any way. I think this book, and maybe TSR of this era more generally, come off as worrying about offending certain segments of Christianity (and maybe Jews and Muslims too) but aren't too afraid of Asatru Heathens, Hellenic Pagans, Shintoists, and Hindus.

Originally Posted by Legends & Lore
Nor does Legends & Lore make any claim to being a scholarly work. A comprehensive study of the mythology of even one culture would fill many volumes of this size.
Another disclaimer that this book is for entertainment purposes only, for external use only, not to be taken orally, void where prohibited, warranty void after 90 days... It might be necessary, but it's getting kind of repetitious. Anyone who uses this book on the works cited page of their research paper for ninth grade world history gets what they deserve.

That comment about comprehensiveness and page count does put me in mind of something that I noticed: each iteration of the official deities book for (A)D&D loses pantheons. Apart from the legal issues surrounding the Cthulhu and Elric chapters of the 1e Deities & Demigods, this book (2e Legends & Lore) lacks the chapters on the Babylonian, Finnish, and Sumerian mythoi that 1e Deities & Demigods had. Similarly the 3e version of Deities & Demigods loses the American Indian, Arthurian, Aztec, Celtic, Chinese, Indian, Japanese, and Nehwon chapters that had been in the previous versions.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Let's Read Legends & Lore 2e

Okay, before you get much further, this is a cross-posting of something that I started as a thread on

I am not one hundred percent sure what a Let's Read thread is. It seems to be one guy giving sort of his review notes for a large work bit by bit with commentary from the peanut gallery. I thought I'd try one for Legends & Lore, the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition version. There doesn't seem to be any sort of committee or approval process: Just one man with a mad idea, seeing who else will bite. Well, this is my mad idea, who's gonna bite?

One note: I do not have internet access at home. I can almost certainly get to the library once a week to use the internet. When I do so, I will update this. So, probably weekly updates. Not the hectic daily schedule (un)reason is doing on his Dragon threads. In case you're wondering: I am typing this in wordpad from notes I handwrote out in pen earlier, copying the end result RTF to a flash drive and taking the flash drive to a library, where I will copy and past it here.

Page 1: I think most people skip the title page, but that's a shame.
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition
Legends & Lore
Then there's a nifty, big drawing by Jeff Easley reproduced from the cover in black and white without the text from the cover cluttering it up.
At the bottom it says: The all new, fully revised edition of an AD&D game classic!
One of the things I love about this title page, is the classic dragon-shaped ampersand (or ampersand-shaped dragon) in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition logo. Seeing as to how it was replaced with a more normal ampersand for the Player's Option books and 3e used a different version, it can be argued that the demise of the classic dragon-ampersand was the beginning of the end.
Hooray for aliteration too.
The exclamation point at the end of the blurb is their own. I guess it's somehow part of the sales pitch.
The image is pretty nifty too. Clerics of rival Gods engaged in epic battle while their Deities cheer them on. This is what D&D is meant to do. Also it's easier to find Easley's siganture on the black and white reproduction of the cover artwork here than on the actual cover artwork. Jeff Easley was one of the artistic treasures of the late 1e to early 2e era.

Pages 2 and 3: Contents pages with the credits, copyright notice, and company address crammed in at the bottom of page 3.
Again another are that might be normally taken for granted, but let's take a look at this for a moment. This is a good table of contents page. Every individual God covered is easy to find here and thus find in the book.
Looking at the credits I see it was designed by Troy Denning and James M. Ward with additional design by Timothy B. Brown and William W. Connors and edited by William W. Connors. I am jsut this side of positive I have seen at least three of these four names elsewhere in connection to RPG products, with Timothy B. Brown being the one exception that doesn't really ring a bell. I could of course, actually verify this by looking through my library a bit to cross-check these names against other books I have, but that would take more effort tahn it takes to sit at Wendy's and drink Dr. Pepper and listen to Ben Folds Five on my headphones while I jot this down in my notebook. I wonder if I could get any money for that bit of product placement.
These credits are exceptionally specific in some places, listing credits for things like keylining, typesetting, icons, and cartography (what the heck is keylining?) and vague in others: Cover illustration doesn't get its own credit line. Instead I had to search the image for an artist's signature, in this case Easley's, and then check it against all the names credited for color artwork.
The copyright of 1990 indicates that this is early in 2e's history, seeing as how the core books just came out the previous year. I turned nine in the summer of 1990.
That brings me to a little confession: For me, this is not a book I am already quite intimately familiar with having owned and treasured for many years and read cover to cover more than once. I bought it on ebay a year or two ago, and while I have looked into it here and there, I haven't given it even one thorough cover to cover reading yet.
Wow I mined three content-lite pages for two pages of handwritten notes and according to a recent print preview of this as an RTF, a solid page of typed up text.

Ok. Page 4. The Introduction. The real book begins to begin.

Originally Posted by Legends & Lore
There comes a desperate moment when every hero looks skyward in search of divine favor, when he raises his arms to the heavens and calls upon the cruel fates to spare his life.
Who hears him?

You could do worse for a sales pitch than this. It explains why DMs would want this book and why players of non-Priest PCs would care at all about what's in it.

Originally Posted by Legends & Lore
It is a complete rewrite from top to bottom, with many completely new entries. Even the old entries have been researched again and examined in a fresh light.

More sales pitch/justification for this book's existence. Oddly enough, I had a copy of the 1e Deities & Demigods (a later printing without the Elric and Cthulhu material) for a good number of years before I acquired this one. I never bought the 1e Legends & Lore because it looked like too much rehash from Deities & Demigods. I was always a little disappointed in Deities & Demigods because it was sort of just a turbo-charged Monster Manual. Before Spheres and Specialty Priests there wasn't really a good crunchy reason to specify your Priest PC's God. Now with this book and the 2e rules in general there is.

Originally Posted by Legends & Lore
No doubt, some readers will take issue the content of some of the entries themselves. In a project of this nature and scope such disagreements are unavoidable.

Actually I'm not sure where the [sic] should go, or if I should have just inserted a "with" in square brackets[] into the phrase "take issue with". Besides pointing out a typo, I wanted to say: Got that right! Between this book, 1e Deities & Demigods, 3e Deities & Demigods, and probably 1e Legends & Lore (although that one I don't really know, never having owned/read it), I have never seen a good official (A)D&D handling of the Greek God Hades in their Deities books. I'll get back to that one, if I survive to the Greek Gods chapter.