Tag Archives: Chris Miller

Summer Reading List 2009

I’m taking a page from Ken Newquist‘s book (or rather, his blog and podcast) to present my Summer Reading List. As we’re well into the season, the list includes books I’ve read since late June, those I am currently reading, and those I intend to read before summer comes to a close. The last of these three lists is—to put it lightly—mutable, as which book I pick up next is subject more to whim than design.

Pages Past

  • Shambling Towards Hiroshima by James Morrow. During World War II, a B-movie actor is hired to play the part of a giant, fire-breathing lizard in order to convince the Japanese to surrender or have a trio of Godzilla-like creatures unleashed on their cities.
  • The Touch by F. Paul Wilson. The third installment of The Adversary Cycle tells the tale of a doctor who suddenly gains the ability to heal with a touch. It wouldn’t be a medical thriller if there weren’t a terrible price to pay. This isn’t my preferred genre, but I enjoyed The Keep and The Tomb, so I thought I’d continue the cycle; The Touch isn’t anywhere near as creepy as its predecessors, but it’s a pretty entertaining tale.
  • Glasshouse by Charles Stross. In a far-flung future where technology makes changing your gender, race, and even species as commonplace as changing your shirt, and humanity has been through a great Censorship War, Robin wakes with no memory of his past and a killer on his tail. How much of what makes you you is determined by your physical being, your memories, and your relationships with other people? This was really a fascinating read.
  • His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi NovikHis Majesty’s Dragon (Temeraire · Book 1) by Naomi Novik. During the Napoleonic Wars, the H.M.S. Reliant, a British naval vessel, captures a French ship and siezes a most unusual cargo: a dragon’s egg. When the dragon hatches and bonds to Will Laurence, the Reliant’s captain must leave the Navy behind for His Majesty’s Air Corps. I love Novik’s writing style and the relationship that forms between the dragon, Temeraire, and Laurence is beautifully executed. This is definitely my favorite book of the summer so far.
  • Anathem (Audio) by Neal Stephenson. The audio version of this lengthy tome consists of twenty-eight compact discs and took me eleven weeks to complete. As Chris Miller pointed out to me, Neal Stephenson doesn’t so much write novels as essays stitched together with bits of story. Much time is spent explaining how the world in which Anathem takes place is different from our own, complete with excerpts from The Dictionary (4th Edition, A.R. 3000) that mark the beginning of each of the eleventy-three thousillion chapters. Anathem follows Fraa Erasmas of the concent of Saunt Edhar as he ventures out into the sæcular world during (and after) Apert. And to explain every term in that sentence would require more space than I’m willing to devote to a single bullet point right now.

Pages Present

  • Lamb by Christopher MooreLamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore. The Bible doesn’t go into a whole lot of detail where the first thirty years of Christ’s life are concerned, and now Levi (who is called Biff) has been resurrected by the angel Raziel to fill in the gaps. Chris Miller and I will be discussing this somewhat-apocryphal gospel on a future episode of The Secret Lair.
  • The Strain (Audio) by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. Vampires!
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (Audio) by Susanna Clarke. Magicians!
  • The Way of Shadows (Book 1 of The Night Angel Trilogy) by Brent Weeks. Assassins! (Sorry: wetboys.)

Pages Future

Finally, here is a fourth list, which may be considered a bonus by some and entirely excessive by others. I have been using GoodReads to track my ever-expanding library and hummingbirdlike reading habits, but there are a number of similar sites and as I become aware of one I can’t help but set up an account and import at least a portion of my books, just to see how it compares to the others. Here is a list of said sites (I don’t claim it is comprehensive, and if you know of another please leave a comment with a link to it.) that I’ve been using recently, in the order I joined:

  1. GoodReads. Very well put together. The interface is generally very intuitive, though management of group “shelves” could be enhanced. GoodReads is, unfortunately, ad-supported.
  2. Readernaut. My favorite of the bunch so far. Pages aren’t as “busy” as those on GoodReads or LibraryThing and there’s a lot of flexibility around tweaking books (I especially like that I can upload my own cover images). Pages tend to render poorly on some installations of Internet Explorer. Readernaut is not currently ad-supported.
  3. Shelfari. My least favorite by quite a large margin. I’m not a fan of the default “shelf” layout and though the add/edit book interface is nice and streamlined, it is also rather limited. Shelfari is ad-supported.
  4. LibraryThing. I haven’t played with this one very much, but I do like that there is space for BookCrossing IDs (though it’s been months since I last logged in to BookCrossing) and they seem to pack in a lot of information about individual titles. LibraryThing is not ad-supported, but offers both free and subscription-based models, so I can only assume that the size of my library (as a free user) has a limit.

The Return of the Native

Kris Johnson, OverlordWhen I asked Chris Miller if his return to Cleveland would be similar to his arrival in Los Angeles nine months ago—specifically, heralded by the blasts of ten thousand trumpets as he rode atop an eight-story-tall flaming lion-bear-shark hybrid attended by a squadron of Mark V rocket-propelled android shock troopers—I was not at all surprised at his simple, yet elegant, response.

“No,” he said.

I asked if he would instead descend from the sky in a massive dirigible, bristling with armaments such as have never been seen even in the pages of Soldier of Fortune magazine, surrounded by a swarm of insectoid attack drones, and again he responded in the negative.

“Besides,” he said. “That’s David‘s schtick.”

Would he rise from the depths of Lake Erie in a submersible, escorted by an exotic array of cephalopods, cyborg sharks and the entire race of freshwater mermen we recently subjugated? Again, no.

“I get a little queasy around watercraft,” he said. “And that’s more Natalie‘s bailiwick, anyway.”

Yes, the man said “bailiwick”.

“So what’s the plan?” I asked. “Ride a spout of molten lava through the Earth’s core?”

“I’m not going for a big entrance,” he said. “Nothing too flashy this time.”

“Well how the hell am I supposed to know you’re back?” I asked.

“I will slip in quietly,” he said, “like a ninja in a minivan. The setting of the sun in the West will announce me, and as dusk descends upon northeast Ohio you will know that the passing of the light marks my arrival, for as the day is laid to its eternal rest so shall I rise again to conquer all upon which I have set my eye, my heart and my will.”

“Sounds good,” I said.

“Also,” he said. “I’ll send you a text.”

If you’re wondering whether I received that text, the answer is yes. Nearly two days ago, in fact. Why did I not disclose its receipt until now? Because I wanted to let the feeling of dread that undoubtedly descended upon you at 11:33pm on Monday the 20th of April sink in—absorbed like so much moisturizing cream of evil into your parched skin—for a while before I let you know what caused it. That’s how I roll.

Mr. Miller is back.

Brace yourselves.

Non Sequitur: Fun Facts (Round 1)

Recently, I spouted a series of “facts” about some of the folks I converse with on Twitter. In their original form, these all contained 140 characters or less. For ease of use today I have expanded the names of the Factees, so some individual facts may exceed the 140-character limit.

BONUS QUEST: Savvy readers might be able to determine the impetus for this exercise in lunacy if they examine the list carefully.

  • FUN FACT: Sam Chupp has not one but two arms, each with a five-fingered hand at the end. Individually, the hands are incapable of clapping.
  • FUN FACT: Jared Axelrod can go from clean-shaven to a goatee in seven minutes flat if he concentrates.
  • FUN FACT: Chris Miller once stabbed a minor Internet celebrity in the face…WITH HIS EYES!
  • FUN FACT: J.C. Hutchins loses all his super powers if he sees the color chartreuse, but only if it is actually Pantone® 14-0445.
  • FUN FACT: Contrary to popular belief, Bob is not married to the daughter of a prominent Mafia Don…ANYMORE.
  • FUN FACT: Evo Terra would just as soon kill you as look at you, but in actuality HE DOES NOT WANT TO LOOK AT YOU.
  • FUN FACT: Kris Johnson had a triple-shot venti mocha from Starbucks after lunch, and now his BRAIN IS ON FIRE.
  • FUN FACT: Ken Newquist has never been within arm’s length of an extraterrestrial being, but only because he has RIDICULOUSLY SHORT ARMS.
  • FUN FACT: Ivan has a removable face, used to switch expressions and show emotion, but he never changes it because he is ALWAYS ANGRY.
  • FUN FACT: Mur Lafferty once wrote a romance novel under the pseudonym Karyn Van Heusen. The title: LOVE’S FORBIDDEN FILLING.
  • FUN FACT: As a master of several forms of martial arts, Jason Penney knows 114 ways to immobilize a man, seven of them using JUST HIS GILLS.

SECRET BONUS QUEST: If you are extremely observant (and I suspect you are), you have already noticed that each of the names mentioned above is actually a hypertext link to another area of the Interwebs altogether. If I were to suggest that a CODED MESSAGE can be revealed by reading the fifth word of the most recent blog post (as of 18 January 2009) at or near each of these locations, I WOULD BE LYING. If I were to suggest that the first person to embark upon such a wild goose chase and comment here with the unscrambled message might win a prize of not-insignificant fabulosity, THAT WOULD ALSO BE A LIE. You should not do this. There is no message. There is no prize. Any effort you expend in attempting to glean such a message in order to attain such a prize would be UTTERLY WASTED. I am absolutely not kidding.

Non Sequitur: Sixteen Things

Once again, I have been tagged to enumerate some random tidbits (factual, one presumes) about myself. The magic number here is sixteen and the tagger was none other than Chris Miller.

Off we go.

  1. My most recent meal (as of this writing): four sliders and half an order of Not-So Fries at Yours Truly. This is just part of the reason I’ve found the weight I lost last summer.
  2. I play with my wedding ring a lot; it drives Laura nuts. On long trips (such as driving up to my parents’ house), I occasionally take the ring off and place it on the little joystick for adjusting the side mirrors. I often take it off or switch it to my pinkie finger when I’m typing.
  3. I still have my tonsils and they are ginormous, even more so when they’re infected (which seems to happen once or twice annually).
  4. The first Star Wars film I saw in the theater was Return of the Jedi at the Lode Theater in Houghton, MI. I was a little concerned that my eight-year-old brother, Adam, might not be able to keep up with the subtitling of Jabba the Hutt’s dialog, but I don’t think he had any problem with it. After the movie, we ate dinner at the Douglass House across the street. As we were leaving the restaurant, I realized I’d left my jacket in the theater, so went in to retrieve it. Luke and Leia were chasing scout troopers on speederbikes and I found my jacket with no trouble.
  5. I once lived in an apartment above a video store and still could not return a rented movie on time, even though I could have easily dropped the tapes through the hole in my bathroom floor directly into the video store.
  6. The last time I assembled one of these lists, my wife indicated that she could come up with seven weirder things about me than I had. She has yet to deliver.
  7. Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition, No. 12
    image-1706
    I still remember the cover of the issue of The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition my mother bought me the day I got my first pair of glasses, way back in elementary school. The feature that I remember most distinctly: Stilt-Man’s leg, which is the only part of the villain visible on the cover and extends up beyond the boundary of the image.
  8. I have smoked precisely one cigar in the thirty-five and a half years I’ve been on this planet. I do not intend to smoke another, no matter how many more years I remain here.
  9. I once stuck my tongue on a metal handrail in the middle of winter. I was at school and had snuck outside, so no one knew where I was. After a brief bit of panic, I tore my tongue loose, and the next several meals I ate were incredibly unpleasant. I didn’t tell anyone about it until years later.
  10. If I were compiling a list of United States I don’t feel compelled to visit, I would probably put Idaho at the very top, but only because I’ve already been to New Jersey.
  11. I spent two weeks trying to “hack” a broken copy of Hacker II: The Doomsday Papers for the Apple //GS before giving up and calling Activision Customer Support only to learn that the game was not supposed to boot to a command prompt after all. They sent me a replacement copy and I eventually beat the game.
  12. The only items of clothing I have purchased for myself since getting married are hats, gloves and winter boots. I will probably purchase a pair of gloves on the way home from work today.
  13. I always put my shopping cart in the corral; if there’s no corral, I’ll return it to the store. I do this simply out of a desire to feel morally superior to those people who leave their carts in the middle of the parking lot.
  14. The Rocketeer' class=
    image-1707
    I think The Rocketeer’s helmet is one of the coolest things ever. If I could have one accurate replica prop from a movie, that helmet would be it. If I could have the entire costume, I might never take it off.
  15. It was a list like this one that convinced Laura she needed to introduce herself to me more than fifteen years ago.
  16. I often clean my glasses in the morning with the underwear I am about to don. The cloth is clean, soft and apparently lint-free, so it’s pretty much perfect for the job. I’m well aware that this is probably something you neither needed or wanted to know, but that’s the risk you take when you read one of these lists. Let it be a lesson to you.

Do I even know sixteen people to tag? Let’s try Jason Penney, Rachel Ross, Eric Feldhusen, Rae Lamond, Eric Bork, Sam Chupp, David Moore, The Bearded Goose, Sudrin, Jude, Not Andrei, The Cynical Optimist, Wesley, Jaxvor, Slowhand and Laura Johnson. Yes! Laura Johnson, who does not have a blog. Get one! Your husband can help!

How Not To Grow a Beard Month 2008: The Halfway Point

As we approach the middle of november, the beards on display at HoNoToGroABeMo.org are…well, I don’t think words can really do them justice, so here are a few of my favorite photo submissions from the first half of the month. Many, if not all, of the photos below can be clicked for embiggening.

HoNoToGroABeMo: Bob, Day 01
image-1439

Day One: Bob kicks things off with his Creepy Stare theme, which has continued through the first two weeks.

HoNoToGroABeMo: Kris, Day 04
image-1440

Day Four: Is this really the face of democracy?

HoNoToGroABeMo: Chris, Day 06
image-1441

Day Six: Chris has already gone over to The Dark Side of The Beard.

HoNoToGroABeMo: David, Day 08
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Day Eight: I am convinced that David has only two facial expressions. This is the other one.

HoNoToGroABeMo: Nev, Day 10
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Day Ten: Nev shows off his pearly whites. In the United Kingdom, “jammyknashers” is common slang for “teeth”. ((No. Not really.)) English is a beautiful language.

HoNoToGroABeMo: Wesley, Day 11
image-1444

Day Eleven: Wesley survived this vicious gargoyle attack, but just barely.

HoNoToGroABeMo: Jeff, Day 12
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Day Twelve: Emo Jeff is emo.

HoNoToGroABeMo: Gus, Day 12
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Day Twelve: Gus is more beard now than man; twisted and evil.

Finally, we have an honorable ((“Honourable” for you, Nev.)) mention from Day Seven, featuring far, far too much Jeff.

HoNoToGroABeMo: Jeff, Day 07
image-1447

Non Sequitur: Seven Random/Weird Things. About Me.

I have been tagged by Jason Penney, and that makes me “it”, I suppose. To comply, I must do the following:

  1. Link to the person that tagged you, and post the rules on your blog.
  2. Share 7 random and/or weird facts about yourself.
  3. Tag 7 people at the end of your post, and include links to their blogs
  4. Let each person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

I’m going to ignore rule number four, just because I don’t like leaving comments that aren’t related to posts.

Seven things, eh? Random and/or weird. Oh, I can handle that.

  1. FACT: I can cross my eyes independent of one another.
    Crosseyed
    image-1435
  2. FACT: The first compact disc I ever purchase was from a group named Holiday Ranch. I split the cost of the CD with my friend, Eric, because I didn’t own a CD player at the time. I have no idea where that disc is today.
  3. FACT: I created my first web page in the early 1990s while working as a “lab consultant” at the Center for Computer-Assisted Language Instruction at Michigan Technological University. The only content I can specifically recall was a scan of an Arlo and Janis comic strip. Yes, my first web page prominently featured copyright infringement.
  4. FACT: I am a founding member of the Benevolent Order of Scrimshankers.
  5. FACT: I do not like cold Swiss cheese.
  6. FACT: I once dreamed that I was being pursued by Darth Vader, who was driving a white van and intended to cut my legs off when he caught me; it has been at least twenty years since I had that dream, but I still remember it quite clearly.
  7. FACT: I have never seen any movies in the Godfather or Rocky series. I actively avoid the latter. There is no rational reason for this; I just do.

Now, to the tagging of others.

  1. Chris Miller. This one is a total cop out, as Jason already tagged him.
  2. Nycteris.
  3. The Bearded Goose.
  4. Greg Howley.
  5. Sam Chupp.
  6. Technohippybiker.
  7. The Cynical Optimist.

The Amazon Rush: Comes the Apocalypse

As August of ought-eight was drawing to a close, a new composition by an enterprising and imaginitive young woman named Mur Lafferty was made available for purchase to those individuals with the means to connect their personal computational apparatuses to the Internets. The very idea that a woman would have not only the time to write a book—I suspect her child routinely goes unfed, her floors have not been scrubbed in weeks, and her husband rarely arrives home after a hard day’s work to find dinner a-table—but the audacity to publish it raises moral questions aplenty, ((To speak nothing of the home environment that allows a woman to become enterprising and imaginative in the first place.)) but that is an issue for another time. For the moment, let us allow that Ms. Lafferty has written and published a tale of sheerest fantasy, a yarn involving citizens who are possessed of extra-ordinary abilities, quite probably as a direct result of consorting with Satan; it might well be an allegory, but as it is told through the pen of a woman, the moral and metaphor—if they exist at all—have escaped me entirely.

I ought not dwell on the particulars of Ms. Lafferty’s fantastickal tale, for my purpose here to-day is not to discuss the merits and moral abiguities of said tale but rather the means by which it had—prior to appearing in the on-line marketplace—come to my attention. As has been previously noted, Ms. Lafferty is a woman of enterprise and imagination, and she posited that it was possible to increase awareness (and thus, potentially, sales) of her tale by giving it away to the public at no charge. Reckless seekers of thrill and vice who were savvy enough to access the Internets could, by means involving daemons named “Syndication” and “Enclosure” and “Pod-catcher”, freely partake of the tale as told in Ms. Lafferty’s own voice. In making her story thus available, Ms. Lafferty was able to ensorcell a number of unfortunates who would eventually become her pawns, a throng of adherents only too willing to transform their mistress’ every whim into reality. Despite my iron resolve, despite my nigh-indomitable will, despite my every precaution, dear reader, I was drawn into this web myself, a web that stretched the world wide.

On the day when Ms. Lafferty’s manuscript became available for purchase at on-line retailers, the authoress bade her disciples ((I hesitate to mention that they are often referred to colloquially as “Mur’s Bitches”, for the moniker gives rise to even further suspicions that Ms. Lafferty—and, indeed, those who supplicate themselves at her feet—truck with The Devil. The simple fact that her devotees do genuflect in her presence, coupled with Ms. Lafferty’s penchant for tiaras, smacks of idolatry.)) to engage in something known as an “Amazon rush”. This, I am relieved to report, has nothing at all to do with legions of Scythian warrior women; rather, it is a concentrated free-market assault on a single on-line purveyor of books: Amazon.com.

Set loose upon the unsuspecting merchant, Ms. Lafferty’s loyal flock exchanged the currency of the land for bound copies of her fanciful narrative. When the sun set upon this particular day of commerce, the rabid fanatics had propelled Ms. Lafferty’s manuscript to the very zenith of one particular column on the merchant’s ledgers: that column titled “Science Fiction”. In the space of four and twenty hours, the loyal adherents had made Ms. Lafferty’s tale a best-seller. In doing so (and, more imporantly, while doing so), the disciples had flooded the tubes—the very tubes that form the circulatory system of the Internets—with electronic missives acknowledging that they had complied with their mistress’ wishes and encouraging others—particularly the unensorcelled—to do the same.

It is important at this juncture to note that the concept of the “Amazon rush” did not spring forth fully formed from the mind of Ms. Lafferty. The tactic had been used with similar results (up to and including the flooding of the tubes) by several of Ms. Lafferty’s peers. The earliest documented case being April of ought-seven, when fantacist Scott Sigler encouraged a group of erudite and learned bibliophiles to purchase his tale of science-gone-awry, Ancestor. Mr. Sigler’s success encouraged other authors to follow in his footsteps, and ought-eight saw no less than four such “rushes” between April and August, including a cooperative effort from Tee Morris ((I include Mr. Morris here only out of a sense of duty to report the facts fully and accurately. While I hold Mr. Sigler, Mr. Harwood and Mr. Selznick in high esteem, the same cannot be said of Mr. Morris, for he is a unapologetic gadabout.)) and Philippa Ballantine ((Ms. Ballantine was the first female author of whom I am aware to rush Amazon.com, setting an uncomfortable precedent as well as a singularly unwholesome example for the fairer sex. However, Ms. Ballantine is from New Zealand, a country known for its loose morals and relaxed attitude with respect to the proper role of women, and I would expect nothing less from a country so perilously close to Australia.)) scarcely more than a fortnight before Ms. Lafferty unleashed her hordes upon the merchant.

Jack Wakes Up by Seth Harwood Infected by Scott Sigler Brave Men Run by Matthew Wayne Selznick The Case of the Pitcher's Pendant: A Billibub Baddings Mystery by Tee Morris Digital Magic by Philippa Ballantine Playing for Keeps by Mur Lafferty

Each of these “rushes”, as I have previously noted, caused considerable flooding of the tubes. As men more qualified to speak on the matter than I have already attested, flooding the tubes in such a fashion can lead only to disaster. When I realized that the veins and arteries through which the lifeblood of the Internets flowed were at nigh-constant risk due to these “rushes”, the scintillating threads and strands of bedazzlement spun by Ms. Lafferty began to clear from my mind and I beheld the looming peril: with the tubes so flooded, there was room for little else. In a delirious panick, I dispatched an electronic advisory to my friend and colleague, Mr. Chris Miller. In doing so, I drew back the gossamer veil that had covered his eyes and he, too, saw the threat.

Together, Mr. Miller and I resolved that we would not sit idly by in the face of the coming chaos. When my impassioned pleas to Mr. Selznick went unanswered, Mr. Miller issued a statement decrying the use of the “Amazon rush”. “The danger,” his first draft read, “is imminent; the consequences, dire. This practice must be abolished at once, not only for the good of those who will yield the brunt of the coming storm, but for those who will follow us and feel its echoing reverberations in years to come.” ((Alas, the published version of Mr. Miller’s warning does not hew so close to the truth of the matter; I suspect his tone was tempered not with cool reasoning, but with cold, hard currency. His further statements on the matter lead me to believe that the veil I so abruptly tore from his face has been replaced and is now stitched to his very flesh.))

As I write this, the debate rages on. In my desire to alert the world to the dangers of the “Amazon rush”, I may have inadvertently done more harm than good, for even now the tubes fill with comments from authors and statements issued by pundits. The demise of the Internets, it seems, may be a self-fulfilling prophecy, and I its unwitting prophet.

Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

Game Night: Outbreak!

Game Night Badge courtesy of FreshBadge.comIt seemed like any other Game Night: Chris was running us through another session of his homebrew campaign (based heavily on the world of Amber, created by Roger Zelazny), we were spending about as much time on conversational tangents as actual roleplaying, and there was cake.

A Tuesday night like many before it, until the deep, concussive sound of an explosion rattled the windows of the International House of Johnson.

“What the—?”

“Holy—!”

“Was that—?”

Dave, Chris and I ran for the front door. Laura turned on the television and tuned to the local news on Channel 5. Rachel sent a message to Twitter from her cell phone; 140 characters announcing to the Internet that something nearby had exploded.

We scanned the treeline and saw it: a large mushroom cloud—too small to be nuclear; besides which we’d already be dead if it was—to the northeast, somewhere near the junction of Route 2 and SOM Center Road. No sooner had we registered the cloud than we heard the screaming. People all through the cul-de-sac had come out of their homes and the sounds of agony surrounded us. We watched in horror as across the street Rick fell to his knees, his face a mass of hideous, black blisters that burst and sprayed a tar-like substance over the pristine concrete pad of his driveway. Something in the house next door exploded, a soft whump followed by the shattering of windows…then flames licking toward the early evening sky from inside.

The idea that I should attempt to extinguish the fire was pushed to the back of my mind by more screaming, this time from right behind me. I turned to find Dave in the grip of some unseen agony. Unseen, that is, until his shirt split at the seams and I caught a glimpse of green scales. I took a step back and nearly tripped over whatever it was that now occupied Chris’ t-shirt and khaki shorts. The thing—gelatinous and translucent, seemed to melt, oozing out of—no…no absorbing—the clothes and coalescing into an amorphous blob that slid down the gentle slope of my lawn toward the street, leaving a wide scar of burned grass in its wake.

Dave was on the ground now, writhing and twisting as his body expanded well beyond the capacity of his clothes. I took another look…and ran. Ran away from the horrors that used to be my friends and back toward the house.

There was no question about what had just happened: somehow, somewhere nearby the wild card virus had been released in the eastern suburbs of Cleveland. Rick—and most of my other neighbors, it seemed—had drawn the Black Queen: a mutation that meant death, usually a very, very painful death. The same appeared to be true of Chris, while Dave had probably drawn a Joker as the virus invaded his body. A Joker meant that Dave would live, though whether that made him better off than those who didn’t might be a matter of perspective; the virus didn’t kill him, but it was mutating him into something that probably wouldn’t resemble a human being for much longer.

I dreaded what I would find inside. There was no screaming from, but that could mean that Laura had drawn the Black Queen, too. No, there she was, very much alive and looking very much like Laura. She was  kneeling over a prone figure on the floor.

Rachel, like Dave, had drawn a Joker. A spiral horn had erupted from her forehead, and I couldn’t help but think of unicorns…and faeries—a pair of gossamer wings spread from between her shoulderblades. Her hair was longer, too, at least waist-length and a rich red in hue.

Laura saw me then, and we quickly reassured one another that we were fine, though Laura said she felt “weird”. (I chalked it up to the fact that something had blown up near our neighborhood and our friends were mutating into bizarre conglomerations from J.R.R. Tolkien’s nightmares.)

“We have to get Rachel to a hospital,” Laura said.

My mind raced in a hundred different directions at once, but I couldn’t focus on a clear course of action. I nodded, glad to have the decision made for me. I half-lifted, half-dragged the unconscious Rachel to the front door.

“Where’s Chris?” Laura asked. “His van is blocking the driveway, we’ll have to take it to the hospital.”

“I…I think Chris is dead,” I said. “He…he melted.”

“Take…my…Humvee.”

I whirled toward the source of the pained, gutteral words. Dave was on all fours, doubled over in pain. Scaly protrusions outlined the ridge of his spine and a thick, green tail jutted from just below the small of his back.

Dave’s gas-guzzling, military-inspired monstrosity was parked on the curb. The keys were in the shredded remains of his pants and Laura, when she recovered from seeing the ex-Navy SEAL transformed into a human-lizard hybrid, retrieved them with trembling fingers.

I shouldered Rachel into the back seat, then went back to help Dave. He was impossibly heavy; there was no way I’d be able to even drag him across the lawn, much less lift him into the vehicle. He fought through the pain, staggering to his feet and stumbling toward the Humvee.

“Drive!” he muttered, climbing into the back seat next to Rachel. The Humvee listed as Dave managed to somehow cram himself—tail and all—into the back seat. Laura climbed into the front passenger seat as I pulled the driver’s door closed.

I hadn’t driven a standard transmission in at least ten years, but necessity trumped nerves and seconds later the Humvee was swinging around the cul-de-sac and roaring toward Euclid Avenue.

I uttered a curse—probably several—and slammed on the brakes. Euclid was a snarled mess of cars and trucks, some trying to maneuver toward East 305th Street, others stalled or crashed and now blocking traffic, their drivers either dead at the wheel or having abandoned the vehicle in the street. As bad as it had been in the cul-de-sac, it was a thousand times worse on the most traveled surface street in Lake County. Horns honked, people shouted (or screamed, as the Black Queen took her sweet time finishing a few of the unlucky ones off) and a logjam of steel and fiberglass stretched out in both directions.

It took me a moment to free myself from my usual minivan mindset and realize that I was driving a Humvee. I shifted into four-wheel drive and pushed the big truck into the fray. Metal shrieked, glass broke and rubber stuttered on concrete as I pushed cars out of my way, not caring whether their occupants were alive or not. Ploughing toward the opposite side of Euclid Avenue, I finally encountered an obstacle that the seemingly-irresistable Humvee would not move: a large black SUV.

I uttered another curse and felt the Humvee rock on its suspension as Dave hauled his bulk out of the back door. Slack-jawed, I watched as Dave—at least eight feet tall now—gripped the rear bumper of the Escalade and lifted. The SUV rocked and I recovered my wits enough to let my foot off the Humvee’s brake. With Dave’s help, I pushed the Escalade onto its side and we were able to squeeze past it.

We ploughed along, parallel to Euclid Avenue, cutting through the parking lots of a lawn tractor dealership, a bar and grill, a convenient store. Dave added his power to that of the Humvee when our forward progress was arrested and we rolled through—and in one case, over—the dozens of parked cars between us and East 305th Street.

It took us an hour to reach Route 2, the freeway I hoped would whisk us to downtown Cleveland and The Cleveland Clinic, but the sight we found when we finally crossed the railroad tracks made my heart sink: a virtual lake of vehicles, none of them moving, many of them sporting familiar red-and-blue flashing lights. Route 2, and by extension The Cleveland Clinic, was simply out of reach; we were going nowhere.


With apologies to Chris Miller. We didn’t mean to kill you, really.
Wild Cards CakeThe Game: Wild Cards, a Mutants & Masterminds sourcebook from Green Ronin Publishing. Written by John Joseph Miller and designed by Steve Kenson.

Wild Cards is based on the series of novels by the same name, edited by George R.R. Martin and featuring stories by Melinda Snodgrass, Roger Zelazny, Walter Jon Williams, John Joseph Miller and many more.

On September 15, 1946, the alien xenovirus known as Takis-A was released over an unsuspecting New York City. The virus killed most it infected instantly, while a lucky few were granted superhuman abilities and others were horribly mutated.

On August 26, 2008, a new outbreak of Takis-A occurred in the east suburbs of Cleveland. How the virus was released is not yet known, but northeast Ohio will never be the same…

GM: Gus “I don’t exist in this reality” Gosselin
Players: Dave “Scales” Berg, Kris “I Feel Fine” Johnson, Laura “I Feel Funny” Johnson and Rachel “@TheInternet OMG, Something Just Exploded!” Ross.

Up Next: Aces! (Session 1, Part 2)

The Secret Lair: Expansion

Things are a bit turbulent over at The Secret Lair these days. Chris Miller, my co-overlord, has packed up his belongings and moved to California, where he will take command of The Secret Lair West, our new facility located somewhere near Los Angeles. During one of his pre-move trips to L.A., Chris managed to accidentally shakes things up a bit and our own Secretary of Artistic Propaganda, Natalie Metzger, immortalized the event as an episode of The Secret Lair Webcomic.

The Secret Lair Webcomic - Episode 008

Meanwhile, closer to home, I’ve had to deal with not only the ramifications of Chris’ departure, but the day-to-day administrative duties of running an illegal, covert facility near what passes for a major metropolitan area in northeast Ohio.

As a result of the hubbub, we anticipate that our podcast release schedule will be even more sporadic than normal, though we did recently release our final face-to-face episode for the foreseeable future, recorded during Game Night at the International House of Johnson and including a number of very special guests.

Once the dust has settled (and we’ve determined that it’s not radioactive), we’ll fire up Skype and get back to what we do best. And if anyone out there knows exactly what that is, please let us know.

EDIT: Like the sands through the hourglass, so have fallen links to The Secret Lair.

Podiobooks to Print: Playing for Keeps by Mur Lafferty

Another podcast novelist makes the leap (over a tall building) to print on Monday, 25 August as Mur Lafferty‘s superhero novel, Playing for Keeps, debuts from Swarm Press.

I read Playing for Keeps about a year ago, when a pre-overlord Chris Miller and I were asked to assist with some of the “Stories of the Third Wave” supporting material for the podcast release of the novel. Unfortunately, I had to drop out of the production after only one episode due to some conflicting obligations, but the story of super-powered people whose abilities aren’t quite good enough to make them full-fledged superheroes is right up my alley and I’ve often speculated that my own “Third Wave” power could be anything from killing hard drives to sipping coffee just before it has cooled down to the point where it won’t burn my tongue.

Here’s the official press release from the publisher:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

August 25 Release Date for Mur Lafferty’s Playing for Keeps

Swarm Press is pleased to announce the upcoming release of breakthrough podcaster and author Mur Lafferty’s newest novel of superheroic action Playing for Keeps. Originally a self-released “podiobook,” this new printed version of Lafferty’s novel is due to hit shelves on August 25, 2008.

Playing for Keeps by Mur Lafferty.

Welcome to Seventh City, the birthplace of super powers. The First Wave heroes are jerks, but they have the best gifts: flight, super strength, telepathy, genius, fire. The Third Wavers, like bar-owner Keepsie Branson and her friends, are stuck with the leftovers: the ability to instantly make someone sober, the power to smell the past, absolute control… over elevators. They just aren’t powerful enough to make a difference… at least that’s what they’ve always been told. But when the villain Doodad slips Keepsie a mysterious metal sphere, the Third Wavers become caught in the middle of a battle between egotistical heroes and manipulative villains.

Playing for Keeps grabbed me and kept me reading straight through when I should have been plotting a new fantasy series for Tor Books. Mur, thank you. Tor, however, does not thank you.” – David Drake, author, Hammer’s Slammers.

Mur Lafferty is an American podcaster and writer based in Durham, North Carolina. She attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and graduated with a degree in English. Her nonfiction work has appeared at www.SuicideGirls.com, as well as in the magazines Knights of the Dinner Table, PC Gamer, Computer Games, Scrye, and SciFi Magazine. Her short fiction has appeared in Hub, Escape Pod, and Scrybe. She was, until July, 2007, the host and co-editor of Pseudopod, and is currently the host and creator of the podcasts Geek Fu Action Grip and I Should be Writing. Visit Mur online at www.murverse.com

Playing for Keeps is still available as a free audio production at Podiobooks.com.