Archive for May 2010
A Lot of books, and book-like things (comics, graphic novels, gamebooks) have been jumping into my path lately and mutely begging me to read them. I love books, and book-like things. I can’t stop myself from picking up a few of them. Not having done anything truly entertaining yet this week, I thought I’d talk about all the books I’m trying to read right now.
So, here they are, in no particular order.
Number 1. Jeff Freels is a friend of mine. He’s an artist, a writer, a game designer, and the bravest man I know. 99% blind, he has a little bit of vision in one eye, and he needs a jeweler’s glass to use that. He still produces countless line drawings, and the occasional colored picture like the cover of his book. The book is a collection of stories in a shared world context. I have Trollworld. Jeff has Elmspire. The two places have a kind of thematic fantasy similarity, but Jeff’s world is more human than mine. I’m on page 211 of 312. Marl’s Tale is a novelette of how a spoiled noble kid learns to be a decent human being. There are monsters and marvels aplenty–it could be Trollworld. I liked his wolfweres–wolves who sometmes turn into humans under the light of the full moon. His second tale, THE GREY KNIGHT, is a sad little tale of loss and reconciliation about a knight who has outlived his purpose and is going blind. Talk about writing from real life. Jeff and his wife have a blood condition that requires dialysis once or twice a week. With all these handicaps, Jeff remains cheerful and creative. I had the pleasure of meeting him a year and a half ago on my one and only trip to Seattle. He’s tall, thin, and pale–he made me think of a blind elf assassin. We had the pleasure of exchanging games and autographs. He has a site here: http://jfreels.com/. I encourage my readers to visit his site, check out his offerings, and buy something if you see anything you like.
Number 2. It would be presumptuous of me to claim that I know Jane Yolen. We have exchanged emails back in the day. I once submitted “Murder at the Ruptured Troll” for an anthology she was doing. She turned it down, but apparently got a good laugh out of the story. She was then, and is now, an incredibly talented fantasist–I read everything I see by her. This is a true graphic novel–not a collected comic book like something featuring the Justice League or the Hulk (both of whiich I have right now and plan to read this weekend). This is a fairy tale, and a growing-up story, about a young modern swordswoman who is also a defender of good. It’s modern urban fantasy, and the first 60% of it reads like your conventional teen tale of angst in high school. Outcast girl with one real talent falls in love with the impossibly handsome new guy at school. The art is engagingly done by Mike Cavallaro–I don’t know anything about Mike except that he’s a fine artist and suits this book to a T. One clever conceit of the book is that our young heroine, Aliera, is color-blind, and so we see all the pictures in shades of greenish gray, until . . .
Find FOILED. Read it! It won’t take you long. Of all the books I’m talking about today, this is the only one that I’ve finished. I did not know ahead of time, but I was quite pleased to see that one of the main characters would be right at home in Trollhalla. ( http://trollhalla.com ).
Number 3. My tale of connection to the authors I’m reading continues, although those connections are getting very tenuous now. I saw D.J. McHale in August of 2009 at the Borders bookstore in Phoenix, Arizona. He talked for about an hour of how he wrote the Pendragon series of books for teens. He had a plan, and it worked brilliantly for him, and McHale is now a very successful teen fantasy author. His new series is Morpheus Road. My son, Corencio, is reading this series, and this was the book he wanted to buy last week when we visited Borders again for Mother’s Day. I helped him get it. He has finished the book, and I have taken it, but so far allI have done is look at the rather macabre cover. I suppose I’ll have more to say when I actually finish reading the book.
Number 4. I don’t know Glen Cook at all. I just admire his writing tremendously. This is book two in a series called THE INSTRUMENTALITIES OF THE NIGHT. I don’t know much about it yet. I’m only on page 32 of 492. It reads a bit like his Black Company novels, but is clearly a completely different world.
Number 5. I saw George at LepreCon last weekend. He was the main Guest of Honor, and he was all over the place, apparently having a fine time. We exchanged about two sentences during the Meet the Pros party. I have read most of his GAME OF THRONES fantasy series–great gritty fantasy that feels like medieval English history. Yet the tale seems unfocussed–too many warring parties and a supernatural threat building that the main players are unaware of. And have I ever mentioned that I love superheroes? Well, I’m a huge comics fan and I do. This is the 19th book in his Wild Cards series of a world where superheroes are commonplace. Like most of the books, this is an anthology of conected stories, and George’s main function is editor. Good stuff. I’m currently on page 146 of 384, and plan to read more later today.
Number 6. I don’t know Sarah Hoyt at all. Never saw her. Never talked to her. Baen Books sent me this along with several other freebies back in January of 2010. They send me a package of free books every month. Sweet! I can’t possibly read them all. And I told them that I’m not on the Nebula novel committee any longer, and they needn’t send me all these books to read and review. I picked this one up when I needed something to read about four months ago, because I wanted space opera and it has a great sexy cover by Allan Pollack. I don’t know anything about Allan either. I am currently on page 206 of 370. Sarah writes great acton sequences and gets into the mind of her heroine well enough, but . . . DARKSHIP THIEVES is really a romance novel. It has science fictional settings and vocabulary, but classic romance structure, plot, and character development. Ergo, it’s a romance novel. That may be why it has taken me over four months to finish, and I’m only half done. I will say one thing for it, and others of its kind. Romance novels that masquerade as science fiction usually read a lot better than science fiction novels that masquerade as romance.
Number 7. I think I hinted up above that Glen Cook is my favorite heroic fantasy author right now. He will never replace Robert E. Howard , J. R. R. Tolkien, and Fritz Leiber in my affections as favorite all-time fantasy authors, but they’re all dead, and Glen is going strong. I know several fantasy authors including the formidable Michael A. Stackpole. I fancy myself as a fantasy author. I hate to say it, but I think Glen is a better writer than my friend Stackpole, and much much better than I am. (Not that either Mike or I are bad–Glen is just a better writer.)
Once again I picked up AN EMPIRE UNACQUAINTED WITH DEFEAT thinking that it would be more fantasy fiction like his Black Company novels. It isn’t. It turns out that this is an anthology of some of Glen’s earlier fantasy short stories. In those days he wrote like a combination of Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber. That is exactly the way I’d like to be able to write. These stories are less grim and more amusing. I’m on page 85 of 248.
Number 8. Glen Cook is definitely the star of this blog. Last on my list of books I’m currently trying to read is WHISPERING NICKEL IDOLS. This is another adventure of Garrett, private investigator, in a fantasy world. Sam Spade with a sword instead of a revolver. A sordid (sworded) tale of one slightly tarnished hero in a seedy decadent city full of elves, dwarves, trolls, and less wholesome creatures. Always a mystery with a magical twist to it. Funny stuff from beginning to end. I highly recommend the whole metallic series to anyone who likes their dames deadly and fantasy funny. I just started this one. I’m on page 5 of 359. My excuse for not being farther along was that I wasn’t certain that I hadn’t already read it. There have been a bunch of these Garrett books, and though I grab them when I see them, I don’t always see them.
And there are many, many, many more books, comics, graphic novels, and games around here that I really need to read some time soon now. If I can find the time . . .
Right now, I need to take a break, have some lunch, and then play some Runescape. I’m falling way behind in that fantasy world too.
From left to right, Corencio St. Andre, Ken St. Andre, Harley Klutz playing THE STARS ARE RIGHT in the LepreCon 36 game room
I spent most of last weekend at LepreCon 36. Here’s the link for their web page. http://leprecon.org/lep36/ I spent most of the time while I was there in the game room playing various games including: Magic, Shadow Fist, Apples to Apples, Munchkin Cthulhu, and The Stars Are Right.
The game of the weekend was a Steve Jackson game called The Stars Are Right. Steve Jackson Games released it in September of 2009, which made it a new game to us. (Corencio and me). Jessie, our local Steve Jackson GM brought it to the Con and taught us how to play it the first afternoon we were there. This game proved to be a perfect match for the twisted genius that is my son, but instead of spending a lot of time here describing it, let me just say that in-depth reviews and descriptions are available on the web, and you can hunt them down if you wish. (That means that the hyperlink I tried to include here was so long that it didn’t work.) We wound up playing this tile-shifting card game of combinational madness three times, and Corencio won all three of them. My own play was fairly solid, but not inspired enough to actually win any of them. The second time he won at THE STARS ARE RIGHT, he also WON THE GAME. Jessie gave it to him as a prize. I know that made Corencio’s weekend worth while.
BoardgameGeek does an excellent review of THE STARS ARE RIGHT and many other games. Track him down for the details.
As a participant, I was supposed to do two panels for the Con, and run a Tunnels and Trolls game. No one signed up for the T & T game. I missed the tarot panel I was supposed to do on Friday, but only one person showed up for that, and she came late. But the interactive media panel with Mike Stackpole, Jack Mangan, and Rick Novy was a big success. We had about ten attendees, and they now know the proper way to use Twitter and Facebook to generate more than noise and babble. However, imho, what really made the panel good was the interchange of ideas among the four of us panelists. We are all working science fiction or fantasy authors in our ways, and being on that panel strengthened our local network.
It’s an unknown fact that I helped found LepreCon way back in the day. The Con was the brain child of a friend of mine named Terry Ballard. Back in the day 40 years ago, Terry was something of a rebel organizer. He was the genius behind the first Phoenix science fiction fan group, LepreCon, and a couple years later the Phoenix Fantasy Film Society. He grew up to become an academic librarian in New York. However, what I’m saying is that I was there at the beginning for LepreCon number 1, and I was Con Chairman for number 9 in 1979. I have only missed a couple of cons along the way. There are perhaps half a dozen of us left from those earliest days.
Terry Ballard, founding father of Phoenix Fandom
Conventions are usually a source of fannish swag of some sort. Corencio got the game. I got a mixed bag of 12 old comics at the Charity Auction. I tried to buy various games that were for sale there, but was outbid on every one of them. When the auction price outruns the retail price of an object, it is time to stop bidding. Oh well, it will take me two or three weeks to read all those comics, and there is no place in my house for any of the bulkier things that I lusted after.
I go to local Cons mostly to reconnect with old friends that I have no reason to see during the rest of the year. There weren’t very many this year. I did enjoy my talks with Meredith Julian, Mike Stackpole, Jessie the Game Master whose last name I can never remember, Gary Swaty (the Filk Master of Phoenix), Lee Whiteside (my amiable host and Con Chairman this year) and Paul Tanton (Tmuwo of Trollhalla). Notables viewed from afar included George R. R. Martin, Melinda Snodgrass, James Vess, Emma Bull, and Will Shetterly. Rick “Ironsides” Cook has perhaps lived past his period of being a notable, as have I.
It is worth mentioning that the Con Suite had the best munchies ever this year. Ever! In 36 years of LepreCons, the attendees have never had a better support room than this year. The treats included solid food every once in a while, and I made about 3 complete meals there.
Mournful thought: the attendees were an old bunch. I would put the average age at 60, and that’s including the few teens and younger people that I saw there. And there weren’t very many of us–probably less than 300. These old style sci-fi cons are being replaced in the 21st century with newer, more focussed cons. ComicCon will be here in Phoenix in two weeks–it will be huge, but I won’t be there. There are new conventions and celebrations happening, but they are for younger people, and they’re passing me by so that I don’t even know what and when they are any more. And, being old and tired, I don’t much care.
Summary: I had fun at this year’s LepreCon, although I wasn’t very successful at any of the things I wanted to do, but I think we’re getting pretty close to the end of my Con attending days. Except for the gaming (and the food) there really wasn’t much for me at LepreCon. I could have had just as good a time with a few friends at home, some pizza, and some DVDs on the tv. That’s a sad analysis, but true. My prediction is LepreCon, as an entity, is almost done. I’ll be surprised if it makes it to number 40.
Friday night, May 14, son Corencio and I stayed at LepreCon especially for the purpose of participating in Marty Massoglia’s Regency Period Dance instruction. We had danced with Marty a couple of times in the past, and although I have two left feet, I enjoyed it, as did Corencio, who was eager to attend this one.
However, there weren’t many people at the ballroom this year–only 6 of us. We practiced the basic Georgian line dance. Practice was all it was. I couldn’t call it dancing.
Ideally, the dance should have looked like this:
But in reality, it looked more like this:
except that these guys look about three times as good as we did last night.
But Corencio and I did the lesson anyway. Perhaps we’ll be better at regency dance the next time we get to try it. Here’s a brief description of the dance for you:
Men and women stand in two lines facing each other, not touching, but alternating: man woman, man woman, etc. As the music starts the couples pass each other in fours steps to the right and turn to face each other. Repeat that to return to original positions. Then do a back to back where the partners circle each other being briefly back to back and return to original position in eight steps. Now men turn to their left, women turn to their right to face a new partner. Repeat the passes to the right, and the back to back, then turn back to the orignal partner. Take one step up, join hands and revolve around each other 360 degrees, exchanging arch glances and flirtatious remarks–you dance divinely, Miss M.. Then turn in line and join hands with the person beside you, revolve 1.5 times while linked so that the couples exchange places in line. Turn back to your original parner. Now the woman and the man separate and perform a figure 8 motion between and around the couple they just changed places with finally returning to the places they started. These actions are all taken by the A couples in the line. The B couples are the ones who get danced around in the figure 8 movement. They make all the same moves except they don’t get to traipse around in a figure 8.
This pattern of steps will make the A couples progress toward the foot of the line while the B couples progress toward the head of the line. And sometime during the dance each man dances with each woman and vice versa.
Due to lack of people and the fact that Sci Fi jeopardy was going on next door, we only practiced the one dance. We had a much better turnout last year.
My lovely and talented instructor, Marty Massoglia is a Los Angeles sci fi book dealer who attends lots of cons in the western U.S. He’s wearing blue jeans.
Marty and his wife Alice have been teaching regency dance for decades at western SF conventions. If you get a chance to dance with him, you should go for it. It’s always a lot of fun.
Hey, Comics Fan, how do you think of Superman? Is he the big blue boy scout for you? Is he the most famous of all aliens living on Earth as super heroes and villains? Does he seem too good to be true? Do you think he spends all his time fighting super villains and stopping alien invasions?
He didn’t start out that way. It might surprise you to know that the early Superman of Siegal and Shuster was a thug, an outlaw, a bully, and a killer.
Yesterday I finished reading volume 1 of the Superman Chronicles–D.C.’s reprints of the earliest Golden Age Superman comics. It was interesting and informative to see how the most famous superhero of them all got his start. The first story was in the June 1938 issue of Action Comics–Action Comics number 1. That’s the one with the famous Superman wrecks a car cover.
In the first issue, Siegal and Shuster established the basic shape of most of the Superman stories to follow. Clark Kent was the star reporter of the Daily Star (not planet)–a great reporter, but a spineless coward and weakling. He wants to romance his co-worker, Lois Lane. Lois is not a fearless reporter, but is instead the Sob Sister for the newspaper. She covers the society pages and gives advice to the lovelorn. Clark takes Lois out dancing, but gets pushed aside by a thug who fancies her looks. Lois slaps the thug, tells Clark she hates him, and gets herself kidnapped. Superman chases down the fleeing kidnappers–they’re in the green car you see above, shakes them out of the vehicle, and destroys a perfectly good car. Having saved Lois from crooks, he pretends to be quite indifferent to her charms–the old hard to get ploy. Also in the episode, Clark saves the life of a woman about to be executed for murder. He does this by bullying the true murderess into a confession–you get to see that happen in Superman Comic #1 which would appear slightly over a year later, and be the first to actually show his origin on Krypton. He also breaks into the state Governor’s house by force, manhandles and terrifies the butler in order to get to the Governor who sleeps behind a locked steel door. I kind of doubt that any Governor in the world has a locked steel door on his bedroom.
Siegal and Shuster established the theme of their Superman in that first issue. His mission in life was to defend the helpless, and get a good story for Clark Kent in the process. In July, Superman goes to a South American country and stops a war –a war being fought solely for the benefit of a greedy munitions maker. Superman terrorizes the businessman into joining the San Marcos army and experiencing the terrifying life of a soldier. In the process of stopping the war, he strongarms the opposing generals and ignores the national rights of the nation. Superman did not make the front cover of Action #2.
In Action #3, Superman reforms a cruel mining magnate–a robber barion who runs an unsafe mining operation and doesn’t care a bit for the safety or well-being of his workers. He is not the cover star here either.
Superman gets into sports to thwart a crooked coach and his gangster associates in Action #4. He does this by kidnapping and impersonating a scrub on the team–that scrub suddenly becomes a superstar. Of course, Superman cannot be stopped on the football field. The crooked coach is defeated. The kidnapped player winds up winning the hero worship of his girl friend, based on Superman’s exploits. Not being a man of particularly high moral character, sub Tommy Drake gleefully takes advantage of the girl’s infatuation, so everything works out all right. Having accomplished his purpose of defeating the crooked coach, Superman never gives the situation another thought.
In the October issue Lois Lane rashly gets into a situation where she should have died. A dam is breaking, and a valley will be flooded. Superman is not able to save the dam, but he is there in the nick of time to rescue Lois from drowning when her car is carried away by the flood waters of the broken dam.
In November of 1938 Superman exposes the schemes of a crooked advertising promoter who is selling Superman’s name and image all over the place. Lois, who is by this time willing to do anything to meet Superman again, arranges to meet the promoter and his Superman, exposes the fact that there is a Superman imposter, and is threatened with death. Superman arrives in the nick of time to save her life. This is the third time in the first six issues that he has saved her life.
In December of 1938 Superman finally gets back on the cover of Action comics again. In this 13 page story he saves a small circus from crooks by becoming a circus performer to draw big crowds. Lois exposes the crooks, and Superman saves her life again. That’s four out of seven.
In January of 1939 Superman finally crosses the line. Attempting to help some tough kids who are being led astray by a petty criminal, Superman interferes with police officers who are attempting to capture the criminal kids, breaks one out of custody, and then gets the bright idea to demolish the slums where they live so the federal government will have to step in and build clean new modern dwelling places for everyone in the affected area. Naturally, the property owners object. The police and even the national guard come and try to stop the alien wrecking crew, but they can’t because he’s Superman. From that time on, Superman is actually a wanted man.
In the next issue a tough but somewhat crooked cop from Chicago arrives to capture Superman. He fails in a comedy of errors. Then Superman meets an escaped prisoner who tells of a brutal chain gang, in another state. All the while, Superman has been terrifying petty criminals by leaping around with them. Superman gets himself arrested, infiltrates the brutal chain gang, and winds up turning the tables on the cruel overseer. He also uses the whole setup to get a great story for his newspaper and save his own job there.
In the following issue Superman accidentally drops a criminal that he is trying to terrorize into confessing. The terrified man falls to his death. Well, he was a crook. Who cares if a crook gets killed, especially when it’s his own fault for resisting?
Two words–reckless endangerment. Superman has repeatedly used his leaping powers to try and intimidate people. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it didn’t. The tough kids of a few issues back begged him for more. So does Lois when he tries to use that strongarm tactic on her.
A year after his first appearance, Superman finally meets a super-villain, the Ultra-Humanite. This guy is an old bald man of super intelligence. Could the Ultra Humanite be the progenitor of Lex Luthor? At the end of the story, the Ultra-Humanite and a couple of henchmen try to escape in an airplane. To stop them, Superman leaps up and crashes into the plane’s propellor. It crashes to Earth, killing the two henchmen. Somehow the Ultra-Humanite escapes. Although these are bad guys, killers in their own right, they had no chance against Superman. What he does to them is cold-blooded, pre-meditated murder.
It’s easy to say that those were simpler times. The author of the stories, Jerry Siegel was still a teenager. What did he know of right and wrong? He saw Superman as a social crusader who used his great physical powers to redress the wrongs of society, without any regard to the rights of other people. He was, in effect a super bully. Nothing could harm him, and he did entirely what he wished to do, frequently indulging in the illegal destruction of property, crimiinal assault, reckless endangerment and other illegal acts including murder.
In the years to come other more mature and responsible writers would clean up Superman’s image. Judging from the stories of the first year, it was a job that badly needed doing.
Saturday, May 1, was Free Comic Book Day this year. It’s a minor holiday, but I like it a lot more than I like, say, my own birthday which happened on April 28. Comic book store owners spend their own money to provide giveaways to get people into their stores and interested in comics. It’s a good idea, imho, and it has spawned Free Role-Playing-Game Day which has helped introduce a lot of people to role-playing also.
So, I took the long, slow way home and stopped by my two favorite comic stores in Phoenix. At All About Books and Comics I had a nice chat with my old friend Alan–the store owner–and picked up half a dozen comics. The limit there was supposedly three, but the day was over, and he told me to take whatever I wanted. Frankly, the offerings this year were junk, or else, because I got there late, I missed all the good stuff. That’s probably more likely.
I asked Alan if the day was a success for him, and he said it was. The store made a profit for the day, and that’s both good and important. I want to see comic stores flourish.
Then I went a mile and a half down the road and visited Samurai Comics. Again, I got to speak to the owners, Mike and Moriya. Their day had been even more successful. So successful that the place was virtually cleaned out of free goodies to be taken. There was nothing left there that I even wanted to pick up. Oh well.
The important thing is that both store owners said the day accomplished its purpose. Lots of people came into the stores and were exposed to comics. Both stores made money on the celebration. That’s what I call a Win-Win situation for everyone involved.
I wonder how far this idea can be extended. We have Free Comic Book Day and Free Role-Playing Game Day. What other geek concepts could be promoted? How about Free Miniatures Day? Go to your favorite game or toy store and pick up some promotional minis. Maybe get a lesson on painting them? Buy some brushes and paint? You think it would get kids interested in the subject? I think it would.
Free Puzzles Day? Free Boardgames Day? Free Hats Day? Free Toys Day? Free Dice Day? Free Tarot Decks Day? Free Card Games Day? Free Movie Pass Day? I’m just brainstorming here, but don’t you think we could have free goodies days scattered throughout the year? Maybe one different one every month? (Do you have an idea for a good new Free Whatzis Day? Post it in the comments down below, please.)
Free Comic Books Day is a winner for comic book store owners. With the right kind of promotion behind it, all these other free types of days could also be winners. I wonder if it wouldn’t even have a salutary effect on the recession. These celebrations get people into stores where they spend money and acquire new spending habits. The way to beat recessions is to get money flowing again. Free Goodies Days just might be a way to do it.