Non Sequitur: The Other Apprentice

When I speak of “my young apprentice,” I’m referring to Kyle, who is now eleven weeks old and has decided that he likes diaper changes very much. This is a relief to Laura and I, as Kyle used to pitch an unholy fit whenever we began the process of changing his Tinkle-in-me-Elmo undergirding. He also smiles a lot now, and not just because he’s got gas. He smiles when I do silly things like playing the alien greeting from Close Encounters of the Third Kind on his nose, cheeks and chin.

It occurred to me yesterday, however, that I currently have another apprentice — though perhaps “protégé” might be a better word. This other apprentice goes by the name of Stuart (or s2), and I am in the process of transferring my current duties to him so that I can pursue other opportunities. If the phrase “pursue other opportunities” sounds like workplace jargon, that’s because it is. Generally, when people use that phrase, they mean “find another job,” which is not the case with me. I’m just going to focus on different types of projects once the brain dump to s2 is complete. I could probably be more vague, but obfuscation is a lot of work, and I’m on my lunch break.

One of my apprentices (apprentici?) cries and fusses when he’s hungry, has a tendency to stare at lights and occasionally spits up on himself; the other is a cute little baby.

There you go, s2, you’ve been mentioned in the blog. You can stop pouting now.

Podcast: Misfit Brew Episode 9

Head on over and download the latest draught of Misfit Brew, featuring essays by game designer Sam Chupp, unquiet desperado Chris Miller, master misfit Mick Bradley and a song from musical misfit Rae Lamond.

What is Misfit Brew? Well, in Mick’s words, it’s “[a] podcast from a misfit, distilled in the basement of the House of the Harping Monkey…” It’s a stout, hearty, geeky concoction with no bitter aftertaste. In episode nine, Mick rants about dysfunctional gaming, Chris wishes he could get his game on, Sam extolls the virtues of the misfit, and Rae brings “a magic far beyond all we do here.”

Oh, and if you have to ask, this is John Wick.

Podcast: The Round Table, Episode 23

The latest episode of The Round Table has been posted over at The House of the Harping Monkey. If you want to hear three adults discuss the mythology of SpongeBob Squarepants and The Rocky Horror Show, head on over to the site and download the episode. Better yet, subscribe to the podcast with your favorite podcatcher (I use iTunes). You do have a podcatcher, right?

The Assignment

After work last Thursday I met with Charley, one of the Cleveland-area Wrimos who blew the doors off 50,000 words back in November. We chatted about writing as we sipped our ridiculously huge “not compensating for anything” café mochas.

Charley brought up an exercise he used to do with his college roommate wherein they would write stories based on a random assortment of words. I’ve done this sort of thing before, so I asked Charley to send me an e-mail with a half-dozen words that I could use as the seeds for a short story.

These are the words that showed up in my inbox last night: dichotomy microverse gulp indictment pests scrape.

Pfft! Piece of cake.

Bookstuff: Wild Cards and A Song of Ice and Fire

Once upon a time, I was a member of the Science-Fiction Book ClubActually, it’s at least thrice upon a time, as I seem to re-join every six or seven years for some reason.
and I forgot to promptly return the “Selection of the Month” cardThis happened more than once, and I have several books on my shelf because of it. One other that I can recall off the top of my head is Marrow by Robert Reed, which I’ve not read. Yet.. As a result, one of the books I received was George R.R. Martin‘s A Storm of Swords. I probably would have sent the book back, but I’m a huge fan of a series of books that Martin edited back in the 1980’s called Wild Cards.

The Wild Cards series is a sort of alternative history of Earth, one that diverges from our own history slightly after World War II. The key event is the release of an alien virus into the atmosphere; a virus that radically alters a significant portion of the population of first New York City and eventually much of the world. Those affected by the Wild Card virus gain super-human abilities (Aces), become hideously deformed (Jokers), or die immediately (referred to as “drawing the Black Queen”).

Wild Cards is a collaborative universe, with stories written by George R.R. Martin, Walter Jon Williams (Dread Empire’s Fall), Melinda M. Snodgrass and Roger Zelazny (Chronicles of Amber), to name a few. The authors each created several characters that inhabited the Wild Cards universe, from Doctor Tachyon, the alien who brought the virus to Earth to Father Squid, the Joker priest, to Jack Braun, the Ace known as The Golden Boy (and later The Judas Ace).

Wild Cards: Death Draws Five

The series spans seventeen volumes, but I only have the first thirteen. There was also a four-issue limited series comic book published by Marvel’s Epic imprint, which I own in its entirety, and a GURPS supplement, which I do not. Though I thought the comic book was a merely mediocre, I absolutely loved the novels. I’ve re-read most of them at least twice, and went through all thirteen volumes I own last year. The most recent installment, Death Draws Five was published just last month. Volumes fourteen through sixteen have proven to be somewhat difficult to find, but I’d certainly like to complete the set eventually.

A Storm of Swords is the third volume of George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire. Since I’d enjoyed Martin’s collaborative work in the Wild Cards series so much, I thought I’d give his solo stuff a shot. Rather than jumping into the middle of the series, I went out and picked up a copy of the first volume, A Game of Thrones. I read the first few chapters and then something new and shiny caught my eye, so I set it aside. The novel (which weighs in at 800+ pages) sat on my shelf for several years, until I was looking for something to take to the hospital when it was time for Kyle to make his debut. In the week Laura and I spent running back and forth to the Cleveland Clinic, I managed to read about a quarter of A Game of Thrones, quickly learning that the point where I’d stopped reading years ago was the chapter immediately before the plot took a very interesting turn.Should you happen to be reading/have read A Game of Thrones, I am referring to an event involving a young lad who likes to climb things.

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

A Song of Ice and Fire puts the “epic” in “epic fantasy.” In the first volume, Martin is setting the pieces on the board, but it is very clear that the game is already well underway, and has been for quite some time. It’s a big game, too. Each chapter focuses on one character, and eight characters share the spotlight in A Game of Thrones. Six of the characters are from a single family, the seventh is a dwarf who is at one turn admirable and at another replusive, and the eighth isn’t even on the same continent as the others. All of these characters are involved in a “game of thrones,” attempting to prevent one faction or another from siezing control of the Seven Kingdoms, plotting to take the throne themselves, or even simply watching helplessly as the game is played out around them.

I finished A Game of Thrones just yesterday, and I’m itching to run out and buy the second volume, A Clash of Kings. The fourth volume, A Feast for Crows was released last year, but at about eight hundred pages per installment—not to mention dozens of other unread books on my shelves—I’ve got plenty of reading to keep me occupied until it is released as a paperback. Of course, between volumes two and four is A Storm of Swords, which I already own in hardcover and will probably purchase in paperback just to make the reading experience a little more enjoyable. I should keep that in mind the next time I’m tempted to join The Science Fiction Book Club again.

Coming Soon: Hellboy Animated

While writer Mike Mignola and director Guillermo del Toro work on Hellboy 2: The Golden Army for a 2007 release, Tad Stones and company are working on two animated Hellboy movies that will be aired on Cartoon Network’s Toonami sometime this year. The animated movies feature Ron Perlman as the voice of Hellboy and John Hurt as Doctor Broom.

Hellboy Animated: What Will It Look Like?

Tad Stones keeps a production diary at Hellboy Animated, which I found only yesterday. No sooner had I subscribed to the RSS feed than Tad made the Toonami announcement.

I’m also psyched (do people say that anymore?) that Toonami will have a Fantastic Four animated series, the second Ultimate Avengers movie, and an animated Iron Man feature.

Doctor Angus: 1; Gastrointestinal Fortitude: 0

Shortly after Kyle and I got back from the coffeeshop last night, Laura called from Burger King; she was on her way home and asked if I’d like her to bring some dinner.

“Bring me one of those Angus burgers,” I said. “A big one, with no tomato. And some onion rings.”

Kyle had already eaten.

Of course, my choice was directly affected by my purely platonic love for Doctor Angus, ((I also love the Burger King himself: the plastic-headed, grinning mascot that many people find extremely creepy. He just seems so darn fun-loving to me, and there’s a glint in his eye that suggests his idea of fun may include tossing kittens in an incinerator or pushing your grandmother’s wheelchair onto a busy interstate highway. I should point out that I do not enjoy or condone such activities. Really.)) fictional pitchman for Burger King’s line of gourmet hamburgers. “I’m Doctor Angus,” chimed the voice in the back of my head, “and I’ve got a PhD in cheesy.”

Minutes later, dinner arrived and I attacked it with vigor. The burger was pretty darn tasty, and the onion rings were still warm enough that they hadn’t been rendered inedible. Add a monster-sized raspberry iced tea to wash it down and I was a pretty happy camper.

Until about three hours later. I won’t go into the gruesome details, but my night involved three trips to the bathroom and a cleansing ritual that likely changed weather patterns in the Swiss Alps. ((To be fair to Doctor Angus, it is not at all uncommon for Burger King to have that effect on me. And to be fair to Burger King, Laura suffered no ill-effects whatsoever from her Whopper meal. Whenever I eat the food from Burger King, I do so with the full knowledge that it may turn my digestive system into an expressway. It doesn’t happen every time, but often enough that I am aware of the cause-and-effect relationship.))

You might be surprised to learn that my feelings toward Doctor Angus have not been altered by the assault his cap leaf lettuce, freshly toasted corn-dusted bun and signature steak sauce made on my innards. He has won this round, but he is a formidable opponent and I still admire his cheesiness.

Next week: I know he’s singing “big buckin’ chicken,” but it sure as hell sounds like something else. It’s the new Tendercrisp Cheesy Bacon. Buckin’ chicken.

Effective Marketing?

I have a secret shame and his name is Doctor Angus (AKA Harry Enfield). I enjoy every one of the Burger King commercials featuring the faux motivational speaker, especially the most recent one in which Doc Angus declares, “It’s that easy; it’s that cheesy!” What the hell is wrong with me?

Despite the fact that I will rewind the TiVo to watch Doctor Angus commercials, I’ve never tried the Angus burgers at BK. Oh, I’ve been tempted to, but I almost never think about Doctor Angus while I’m actually at the drive-thru. Weird.

I also enjoy the new VW ads featuring my favorite pancake lover, Peter Stormare. Stormare, dressed in white and speaking with a thick German accent, “unpimps” a series of rides by flinging them with a trebuchet (“Oh, snap!”), flattening them with a shipping container, or otherwise demolishing them. Yes, I rewind these ones, too. No, I don’t plan to purchase a Volkswagen anytime soon. Snap, indeed.

Oh, and did I mention that the upgrade to WordPress 2.0.2 is complete and comment screening is deactivated? The upgrade to WordPress 2.0.2 is complete and comment screening is deactivated.

Game Review: LEGO Star Wars (Xbox)

LEGO Star Wars (Xbox)

LEGO Star Wars (Xbox)

I was on the fence about picking up LEGO Star Wars because it covers Episodes I – III of the movie trilogy, and I’m not a big fan of the prequels. However, I’d heard some pretty good things about the game and I was curious to give it a shot. Then two things happened: the game moved to the “Platinum” series—which essentially means a new box, a twenty dollar price tag and (I believe) compatibility with the Xbox 360—and I found out that the game features cooperative multiplayer capability, which is almost enough to get me to buy any Xbox game.

Miscellaneous G™ and I played LEGO Star Wars for about five hours one evening, completing both Episode I and Episode II. A week or so later, it only took us a couple of hours to finish Episode III after which we started running through the game in “Free Play” mode, playing whichever characters we liked (G avoids playing Jar-Jar Binks, for some reason) and trying to find all of the hidden mini-kit parts. Successfully collecting these parts doesn’t affect gameplay, but the parts are assembled into various vehicles from the Star Wars universe that can be viewed outside of Dexter’s cantina (the LEGO Star Wars equivalent to Cheers).

LEGO Star Wars is geared toward the younger gamer, but has proven to be quite enjoyable for the more “mature” player as well. The total absence of clumsy dialog and wooden performances (can little plastic people emote?) made the prequel trilogy a bit more enjoyable for me, and “accidentally” killing Anakin Skywalker from time to time is quite cathartic.

Most of the story focuses on tromping through various familiar settings armed with a lightsaber or blaster, but each episode throws one vehicle-based mission into the mix (e.g., the Episode I podrace). The Episode II vehicle mission, which takes place on the surface of the planet Geonosis, reminded both Miscellaneous G™ and I of the classic arcade space-shooter, Zaxxon.

Whether traipsing through the Kashyyyk forest as Chewbacca or fighting a space battle as Obi-Wan Kenobi, points are scored by collecting LEGO “studs” of varying colors. Studs are used as currency at Dexter’s cantina to purchase game cheats and hints or unlock new characters. Characters are also unlocked in the course of regular gameplay, and there are more than thirty playable characters in all, good and bad guys alike.

Levels are designed in such a way that it is impossible to collect all the secret mini-kits during “Story Mode,” thus requiring that the level be replayed in “Free Mode” with different characters. This isn’t as annoying as one might expect, as there are a lot of characters to choose from, each with his or her own interesting ability. Blaster-wielding characters, for example, have the ability to rappel at certain points, while Jedi and Sith characters can use the Force on various objects. Young Anakin can slip into spaces larger characters cannot access, droids can open doors, and Jar-Jar Binks can jump higher than almost anyone else. Then there’s Yoda, who hobbles along at a snail’s pace until the Jump button is pressed, at which point he zips along on his personal repulsor craft. Once the aged Jedi Master activates his lightsaber he is a barely-contained, highly dangerous Super Bounce Ball. With the lightsaber in hand, Yodo jumps everywhere. It makes him a formidable opponent, but it also makes him rather difficult to control.

The biggest problem with LEGO Star Wars is the camera. All too often in multiplayer mode a misstep by one character can lead to a chain of unstoppable deaths for one or both players. If one player moves toward the edge of the screen, he may drag the other player along with him, often resulting in the other character falling to his or her death. As some of the levels are very platform-heavy (with bottomless chasms abound), this can become a major problem. If the character is not dragged to his death he may disappear, only to reappear in a very inconvenient location that will ultimately lead to his death anyway.

Despite the poorly-implemented camera and drag mechanic, LEGO Star Wars remains a light-hearted, enjoyable and often challenging (in a good way) game, and thanks to the wide array of playable characters, replayability is high. I give LEGO Star Wars three dismembered limbs out of four.

Mini Movie Reviews: Good Night, and Good Luck and The SpongeBob Squarepants Movie

Good Night, and Good Luck (Widescreen DVD) @ Amazon.comGood Night, and Good Luck (2005)

Starring David Strathairn, George Clooney, Patricia Clarkson, Frank Langella, Jeff Daniels, Robert Downey Jr., Tate Donovan and Dr. Alec Holland.

Directed by George Clooney.

Good Night, and Good Luck is another one of those movies that I meant to see in the theater and was almost surprised to find on the shelves at Blockbuster. That shouldn’t be construed as commentary on the quality of the film, but rather on how quickly time seems to be passing for me lately.

For a movie that is so dialog-driven, Good Night, and Good Luck moves along with surprising speed. Though the story takes place over a couple of months, the conflict between Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) and Senator Joseph McCarthy seems to escalate very quickly, and there’s always a sense of urgency when Murrow, Fred Friendly (George Clooney) and company are putting together one of their segments.

The pacing makes for a short film, too; Good Night, and Good Luck clocks in at about 97 minutes, not counting the end credits. Despite the abbreviated length, there’s a lot packed into the movie, including a sub-plot involving Joe and Shirley Wershba’s (Robert Downey Jr. and Patricia Clarkson) illicit marriage and another showing the effect that McCarthy’s witch-hunt had on news anchor Don Hollenbeck (Ray Wise).

Good Night, and Good Luck is a compelling look back at a time when government officials were reaching beyond the limits of their power to ferret out alleged enemies of the state, and when citizens who voiced concern over the situation were often declared to be in league with those enemies. It’s a sharp, well-performed piece that resonates very strongly today, and anyone who disagrees is clearly a Communist.

The SpongeBob Squarepants Movie

The SpongeBob Squarepants Movie (2004)

Starring Tom Kenny, Bill Fagerbakke, Roger Bumpass, Mr. Lawrence, Carolyn Lawrence, Scarlett Johansson, Jeffrey Tambor, Alec Baldwin, David Hasselhoff, Jill Talley, Mary Jo Catlett, Kristopher Logan and The Kurgan.

Directed by Stephen Hillenburg.

If you’re asking yourself why in the name of all things absorbent, porous and yellow I would rent and watch The SpongeBob Squarepants Movie, the answer is simple: David Hasselhoff.

Okay that’s not entirely true. The real reason is that Chris Miller gave me a homework assignment. “Go,” he said. “Find something that one might not normally consider mythic, and make it so.”

I’m paraphrasing, but that was pretty much the gist of it. Mick Bradley, Chris Miller, Rae Lamond and myself were supposed to — for once in our lives — stop thinking about the works of Joss Whedon, J.R.R. Tolkien and George Lucas and search for mythic elements elsewhere. On Wednesday, we’ll all (well, all but Mick, who has unfortunately had to bow out) get together, present our findings, and engage in a lively and informative discussion which will become episode 23 (or 2.3) of The Round Table. Enough about that for the time being; back to SpongeBob.

I thoroughly enjoy SpongeBob Squarepants in general, and the movie was no exception. For some reason (probably the same reason I like Ren & Stimpy) I find the goofy, childish humor really appealing. This should not come as a surprise to anyone who has spent more than five minutes in a room with me.

The SpongeBob Squarepants Movie has the same goofy spirit of the television show, but adds David Hasselhoff. Really, whatever else could be said about making SpongeBob bigger and better for a theatrical release, it all comes down to Hasselhoff. If you don’t believe me, consider this: the filmmakers built a thirteen-foot, seven hundred pound Hasselhoff replica to use when filming some scenes where it simply wasn’t possible to include too much Hasselhoff.

That’s putting a lot of stock in Hasselhoff, and what I’m about to say next may seem like sacrilege given what I’ve just asserted. See, the most amazing, life-altering aspect of The SpongeBob Squarepants Movie for me wasn’t Hasselhoff (I promise that will be the last time I use his name in this review), it was Eugene Krabs or—as SpongeBob calls him—Mister Krabs. How is this possible? Well, until the end credits rolled, I didn’t realize that Mister Krabs is voiced by none other than Clancy Brown. I was stunned that I hadn’t recognized his voice, and shocked to hear Mister Krabs’ words coming out of Clancy Brown’s mouth.

I recognized Alec Baldwin as Dennis and Jeffrey Tambor as King Neptune almost immediately, and though I couldn’t place Scarlett Johannson as Princess Mindy I wasn’t terribly surprised to see her name in the credits. Of course, I pegged Bill Fagerbakke as Patrick the very first time I heard his voice on Nickelodeon. But Clancy Brown… how could I have missed that? I mean, come on, I recognized William Fichtner as the unseen marriage counselor in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, didn’t I? What the hell is wrong with me?

Anyway, it’s a fun movie. And Clancy Brown is in it. If you’ll excuse me, I’m pretty sure I have to turn in my credentials until the board can review my case and determine whether or not I should be allowed to continue calling myself a geek.