Tuesday, December 18, 2012

I'll Get to It, I Swear...

Just a quick note to let my three avid readers know that I do intend to finish my James Bond posts - but when I get some free time to sit down and write, it always seems like there's something more pressing: an upcoming game, the Gonen's World game design, the struggling Chase Paxton novel...so bear with me, my blog will take back off as soon as I get caught up on higher-priority projects!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Bondage, Pt. 19: The World is Not Enough

Halfway through the Pierce Brosnan era, we reach this, The World is Not Enough, which, among other firsts, is the first Bond film my son saw in the theaters. I wish it would have been a stronger one, especially since this is the last entry in the series to feature Desmond Llewelyn as Q.

Somewhat darker and more serious in tone than the other Brosnan films, this one is unique in having two strong villains and a Bond girl who does not appear until somewhat late in the film.

Synopsis: Elektra and her lover, Renard, attempt to blow up Istanbul and destroy the main Russian oil pipeline, which will increase the value of Elektra's own oil, which is in a pipeline that goes around Istanbul. With the help of a sexy, brainy, nuclear scientist, Bond foils the plot. Meanwhile, M is abducted, giving the character the first real field experience in the series.

The Villain: There are two. The first, most obvious one is Renard, played by the always-entertaining Robert Carlyle. Renard is a Russian terrorist, who, in a previous assassination attempt by Mi6, was wounded, and the bullet in his brain destroyed his senses, leaving him immune to pain. He's a classic psychotic megalomaniac sort of villain, in a much more obvious and violent way than, say, Elliot Carver in the previous Bond outing. His lover is a former kidnapping victim, Elektra King, whose British father used her as bait to snag Renard. She apparently succumbed to some form of Stockholm syndrome and became Renard's lover, colluding with him to kill her father in the assassination attempt that opens the film and makes it obvious to Mi6 there's a plot afoot that Bond must investigate. Elektra is played by the beautiful Sophie Marceau, and although Bond falls for her earlier in the film, I found her to be somewhat cold and distant - more like a lovely statue than a living, breathing woman. However, it's a nice twist when her villainy becomes obvious.

The Henchman: We've got a whole handful of 'em in this one, but the role of the henchman is somewhat diminished because of the dual villains. The main one is Elektra's bodyguard Gabor, played by former Australian and British Gladiator John Seru, who is shot by Bond. Slightly more interesting, and more intimidating-looking in his own way, is Davidov, played by Dutchman Ulrich Thomsen, Elektra's head of security. He's also shot by Bond. The "Cigar Girl" assassin (who dies nicely in a hot air balloon) who gets things started off is one of Renard's henchgirls (Italian actress Maria Grazia Cucinotta). Bond's Russian buddy Zukovsky has a henchman named Bullion, played by British DJ Goldie, who has an important role to play when he blows up Elektra's command center.

The Bond Girl: While this appears, at first, to be Elektra, the real bond girl turns out to be Denis Richards as Christmas Jones (a fine entry in a nice long list of ridiculous Bond-girl names). She is an American nuclear scientist who, at first, blows Bond's cover on purpose, and later works with him. She is played - rather surprisingly capably - by Denise Richards, who I have little use for outside of her role in Starship Troopers, mostly due to her staggering bad sense in once wedding uber-idiot Charlie Sheen. There is, however, no denying that she is a looker, and has a flashy, light-up-the-room sort of smile. But seriously. Charlie Sheen?

The Sidekick: Once again, as with many later-period Bond films, the sidekick role is ably filled by the Bond girl. But Bond's Russian buddy and former KGB rival Valentin Zukovsky (Robbie Coltrane) returns in this one, only to die saving Bond by shooting Elektra with his cane gun. Thus a very compelling sort of anti-Felix Leiter character dies, perhaps much too soon. I think Zukovsky had more to offer the franchise.

Gadgets: We get quite a few for a later-period Bond movie. There are, of course, Bond's x-ray specs, which he uses, among other things, to see through clothing and bemusedly note ladies carrying handguns in their underwear at a casino. There is also a modified Walther P99 that has a "flash" stun Bond uses to great effect, an inflatable jacket, a transmitting lapel pin, Zukovsky's cane gun, Elektra's torture chair, and more. The best is briefly glimpsed in the obligatory Q scene: a flamethrowing, machinegunning set of bagpipes.

Music: The theme song was performed by the rock band Garbage and penned by John Barry's successor David Arnold with Don Black (who co-wrote Thunderball, Diamonds Are Forever, The Man With the Golden Gun, and Tomorrow Never Dies. I'm not saying it's a bad song. It's probably a very good song. But I can't remember the melody right now, and I can even remember the very, very shitty one from the next film, so I'm not sure what that says about it. Garbage also contributes some rock music to some action sequences.

The Director: Believe it or not Peter Jackson was offered the opportunity to direct this one, because producer Barbara Broccoli was a big fan of his Heavenly Creatures. After she'd made the offer, she screened Jackson's The Frighteners, with Michael J. Fox, and disliked it so intentionally she withdrew the offer, which Jackson has since stated was a big disappointment. Michael Apted, who directed Coal Miner's Daughter and the excellent, underrated Gorky Park, ended up getting the job. He was a big fan of Judi Dench and thus gave M a much larger role in this film than the character has had in any other.

Fun Facts: I don't know how fun this is, but as mentioned up top, this was the final film to feature Desmond Llewelyn as Q. Llewelyn added a real touch of both class and comedy to the Bond movies, and I for one really miss him in subsequent films. Llewelyn didn't die of old age, as one might suspect (he'd been in almost every Bond movie since From Russia With Love) but in a car accident just a few weeks after the film's premiere. Ironically, though he was not officially retiring (he'd planned to go out with the last Brosnan film), in this one he's training his replacement, played by John Cleese (a great, if short-lived, casting choice).

Favorite Lines: Only two really stick out for me. The first is when Q introduces Bond to John Cleese's character. Bond says, "If you're Q, does that make him R?" Cleese replies, "Ah, yes, the legendary 007 wit. Or at least half of it." The other has to be one of the best and cheesiest sexual innuendos in the history of the franchise, when, at the end of the movie, Bond and Christmas Jones are in bed together, and Bond says, "I thought Christmas only came once a year."

Other Stuff: The title of the film is referenced in the much earlier On Her Majesty's Secret Service, when it is revealed as the Bond family motto. It was, in fact, the family motto of the descendants of the historical Sir Thomas Bond (who deserves a whole article someday), who were known to Ian Fleming. As something of an Alexander the Great buff, I was pleased to see Wikipedia knows the real origin of this phrase, "Orbis non-sufficit," which was Alexander's epitaph.

Next up, the final Pierce Brosnan film, Die Another Day, which has the distinction of having my least-favorite theme song in the franchise. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Bondage, Pt. 18: Tomorrow Never Dies

Pierce Brosnan's sophomore effort as Bond was the sole Brosnan Bond film not to open at No. 1 at the box office...probably because it came out the same day as Titanic.

Synopsis: Evil media mogul Elliot Carver tries to use a stolen American-made GPS system to instigate WWIII between China and Britain, in order to set up a Chinese government that will offer him exclusive broadcast rights.

The Villain: Elliot Carver is played by the excellent and vastly underrated Jonathan Pryce (who accepted the role after Anthony Hopkins turned it down). The character is a scathing parody of both Robert Maxwell and Rupert Murdoch. He's utterly without regard for human life, and totally ruled by his own megalomania and ambition. The character is an interesting choice for a Bond villain, and, unlike many of them, is a strong reflection of the times in which the movie was made. Pryce is somewhat campy, making Carver a hateful, but humorous, villain.

The Henchman: Three guys could be considered henchmen in this one. One is more of an assistant, sort of like Boris in GoldenEye - this is Henry Gupta, an American "techno-terrorist" in Carver's employ. He procures the GPS system vital to the plot at a Russian arms bazaar just before the British blow it up with a missile (against M's wishes - Bond was present there, investigating, and he's obliged to escape in a stolen Russian aircraft). Gupta is played by Ricky Jay, who is always entertaining. He's one of a long line of assistants and henchmen who is killed by his villainous master. The more classic "henchman" is Stamper, played by Gotz Otto (see "Fun Facts," below). Stamper is one of a long line of big, bad, blonde henchmen, heir to such characters as Red Grant and Necros. He outlives his boss and has an underwater fight with Bond, who kills him by trapping him in a missile-firing mechanism and swimming away before the missile goes off. Finally, instantly-recognizable character actor Vincent Schiavelli plays an assassin named Dr. Kaufman who does work for Carver, such as killing his wife. Bond dispatches him handily early in the film.

The Bond Girl: Wai Lin is a Chinese spy on the same case as Bond. After initial mistrust, they team up (in more ways than one). She's played by Michelle Yeoh (from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), and joins Kissy Suzuki as one of only two Asian Bond girls. Like all Bond girls of the more modern era, she's an action hero in her own right, and the only swooning thing about her is that she, like all women, is susceptible to Bond's unstoppable charm. Teri Hatcher plays Paris Carver, the villain's trophy wife, who had a previous relationship with Bond. It leads to a bad end for her.

The Sidekick: Wai Lin is both Bond girl and sidekick in this one, although American CIA agent Jack Wade reprises his role from GoldenEye. Why they used Jack Wade through this period instead of the traditional CIA Bond-friend Felix Leiter is beyond me, unless we're expected to believe he is recuperating after his bad turn in the final Timothy Dalton film. He does not return until the Daniel Craig era (when he becomes black).

Gadgets: The most obvious has to be a mobile phone that doubles as a remote control for Bond's car, which he manages through a car chase in a not-so-oblique reference to popular video games. There's also an exploding cigarette lighter, phone fingerprint scanner, and a few other traditional things.

Music: Longtime Bond composer John Barry wanted to sit this one out, and recommended the excellent David Arnold, who scored Stargate and Independence Day. Like his predecessor Eric Serra, who scored GoldenEye, Arnold opted for some modern touches to the soundtrack, working with rockers Propellerhead for some chase sequences. Unlike Serra, Arnold also attempted to merge the modern with the classic, re-using some musical phrases heard in From Russia With Love. It's probably the best score of the Pierce Brosnan years. Multiple artists contributed theme songs, and one by Cheryl Crow was ultimately selected. Arnold had written what I think is a far better song, Surrender, performed by k.d. lang (why do some folks insist on not capitalizing their names?). It's played over the closing credits and the melody is heard throughout the film. Finally, Moby did an interesting revision of the traditional Bond theme that works well.

The Director: This job was offered to GoldenEye director Martin Campbell, but he didn't want to do two Bond films in a row. It went instead to Roger Spottiswoode, who had previously done such screen classics as Stop or My Mom Will Shoot and Turner and Hooch (sarcasm intended). Nevertheless, he does a fine job on this one, and gives the film a very "big" feel.

Fun Facts: Parts of the film had to be rewritten at the last minute, as it focused on Britain giving Hong Kong back to the Chinese. By the time the film started shooting, this actually happened in real life. A fun fact about Gotz Otto, who plays the henchman Stamper, was that he was given 20 seconds to audition for the role. He did in five, saying, "I am big, I am bad, I am blonde, and I am German." Terri Hatcher was hired because the producers wanted "Sela Ward, but 10 years younger." Some locations that had been used in the Bond movies Goldfinger and The Man With the Golden Gun were re-used in this one.

Favorite Lines: As Bond is sleeping with his language tutor, he quips, "I always enjoy learning a new tongue." The best line comes from the villain, Carver, who says, "The distance between insanity and genius is measured only by success." Finally, M, now a female, has a good line when an admiral tells her she doesn't "have the balls for this job." Her excellent response: "Perhaps. But the advantage is, I don't have to think with them all the time."

Other Stuff: This was the first Bond film made after the death of longtime producer Albert Broccoli, to whom the film is dedicated. He had been involved with every production since the first, although in GoldenEye, his health already failing, he had a limited role.

Next time, we look at The World is Not Enough

Monday, October 22, 2012

Bondage, Pt. 17: GoldenEye

After a seven-month break, I now return to my reviews of each James Bond film. In April, I took a break at the close of the Timothy Dalton years. Now we look at Pierce Brosnan and later, Daniel Craig, including the newest film, Skyfall, which will hit theaters on Nov. 9.

But first things first - Brosnan's first outing as Bond in GoldenEye. This movie broke new ground, installing a woman as M and ensuring that James Bond could survive the Cold War - which was by no means a guaranteed thing at the time.

Synopsis: Just after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Bond must stop a former 00 agent from using a satellite to take out London and cause a global financial crisis.

The Villain: Alec Trevelyan, the former 006, fakes his death in Russia in 1986 (depicted in the pre-title action sequence), only to return much later as the dreaded leader of the Janus crime syndicate. He has a bone to pick with Britain - he's a descendant of Cossacks who collaborated with Nazis during WWII. He blames the British for the death of his parents. He plans to steal a giant pile of money from the Bank of England, then use an electromagnetic pulse from the GoldenEye satellite to destroy the bank records and ruin Britain's economy. Trevelyan is ably portrayed by Sean Bean, so you know he dies at the end. Sean Bean's characters always die. As a villain, he's somewhat classier and more Bond-like than many of them. Much like Scaramanga, he is sort of a dark antithesis of Bond himself.

The Henchman: She's one of the best: Xenia Onatopp, a sadistic killer who appears to derive sexual arousal from violence and death. This was the first time most audiences saw Famke Janssen in anything, well before she ditched her villain status to play a good guy. Xenia is somewhat over-the-top and obvious, but he best henchmen are, and, like most women in Bond movies, she's easy on the eyes. A less attractive henchman is rogue Russian General Ourumov, who abuses his leadership of Russia's Space Division to further Janus' schemes.

The Bond Girl: She's not Bond's first Russian, but she might be the best-looking. Natalya Simonova, a computer programmer. She is the only survivor of an attack on a Russian satellite station orchestrated by Janus to steal the control disk for the GoldenEye satellite. She's played by Izabella Scorupco, a Polish singer, model, and actress, and I'm surprised we haven't seen more of her. Like most of the Bond girls of this era, she's far more self-reliant and talented that earlier Bond girls, but she's not above swooning for our suave double-0.

The Sidekick: Rather than focus on Bond's sidekick (which is pretty much the Bond girl, although he does get some help from the Russian mob in the form of Robbie Coltrane and an American CIA agent, Jack Wade) I'll focus on a character that could be considered Trevelyans's sidekick: the computer programmer Boris, played by the underrated Alan Cumming. He helped Janus hijack the GoldenEye satellite in the first place, and serves as the lead computer expert for the bad guys. Supposedly a friend and coworker of Natalya, he betrays her. His  habit of clicking a ball-point pen leads him to a bad end and helps Bond save the day. Boris is one of those humorous bad guys that you kind of like in spite of yourself.

Gadgets: The most important is the grenade pen Bond gets from Q; he gets it into obsessive-pen-clicker Boris' hands to cause an explosion that helps him save the day toward the end of the movie. Bond also uses a normal-looking belt that disguises a piton in the buckle, which he uses to escape the Russian archives. Finally, there's a laser watch Bond uses to cut a hole in a train and escape just before it explodes.

Music: Bono and The Edge, of U2, wrote the theme song. It was performed by the less oddly named Tina Turner, and I think it has good use of traditional spy-type Bond music in a pop context. French composer Eric Serra, who composed the music for The Fifth Element, did the score after longtime Bond composer John Barry declined the job. Serra's score was a departure from the big, brassy sounds of the past, and met with mixed reviews. This is evident in the very beginning, when Cerra toyed with the traditional Bond music during the famous gun-barrel sequence that starts each film.

The Director: Martin Campbell directed two Bond firsts - this, Pierce Brosnan's first outing as Bond, and later, Daniel Craig's first in Casino Royale. He got the job after John Woo was offered the helm and declined it. Despite only having done a handful of films, Campbell was able to bring a certain intensity to GoldenEye that was regarded as a successful resurrection of what many considered a dead franchise.

Fun Facts: This was the first Bond film not to use material from Ian Fleming stories as inspiration. However, the name is an homage to Fleming, who, while himself an Intelligence officer during WWII, wrote a plan called Operation Goldeneye - a contingency for the possibility of the Nazis invading Spain. Joe Don Baker, who plays Jack Wade in this one, previously played a villain in The Living Daylights.

Favorite Lines: Trevelyan has a good one when, after delivering a scathing remark during a confrontation with Bond, says, "What's the matter, James? No glib remark? No pithy comeback?" Judi Dench as M says to James, "...I think you're a sexist, misogynist dinosaur." Bond himself is rather short on memorable quips in this one.

Other Stuff: It's worth noting this was the first film where Judi Dench played M, a not-so-subtle reminder that in real life, Mi5 had been taken over by a woman, Stella Rimington. The film also spawned a very successful series of first-person shooter console games that were highly regarded at the time.

Next up we look at Tomorrow Never Dies, in which Bond prevents war between Britain and China.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Time Travel For Dummies

Apparently this guy talks to time travelers all the time. All you've got to do is just learn the Fifth Dimensional Travel exercise presented on his web site.

Who knew it was so easy? All I've got to do is trick one of these chrononauts to give me a copy of Grays Sports Almanac.

All kidding aside, physicists say time travel happens all the...time. Check this out.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Medieval Demographics Made Easy

I'm a big fan of S. John Ross, but I'd not yet taken the time to read this article. My good buddy blather recently sent me a link. It's incredibly useful to anyone who needs to come up with plausible medieval/fantasy demographics: "just how many shoemakers would be in this city, anyway?" Now you know.

While you're at it, strolling around the Cumberland Games & Diversions site is a pleasure.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Dark Feast in Drizzlezan

This was a quick short story I whipped out for Lynette's birthday about her RPG-boyfriend. I'm sure it could be improved but all in all it's not bad for a day's work. Thought I'd share it.

Liona was a good and cautious girl, and when she gathered cherryberries in the Drizzlewood, she always obeyed her Grandam’s command to be home by nightfall. She’d been especially careful for the past fortnight, ever since the Brangdon boy’s bones had been found gnawed clean. Two days later Goodwife Hannah, a hale woman of 25 years, went missing during a night hunt for mushrooms. Her husband and the other frantic searchers hunted the woods and found, too, her bloody bones. And just a few days ago, Old Andy from the village of Griddle’s Hollow said the miller’s boy had gone missing after sneaking out for a midnight swim.
But no one had yet gone missing in the day, and if Liona was just dying for cherryberries, she knew everything would be all right as long as she got back to Drizzlezan by nightfall.
But now, the scraps of sky that showed through the treetops was a sullen purple, and here beneath the trees, all was washed in gray shade. She’d fallen asleep beside one of the countless brooks that meandered down to the Phloon. No sooner had she closed her eyes – just for a moment, she told herself – than she opened them again to see the sun had raced across the sky! Her Grandam would be furious.
Liona’s footsteps crunched on the new-fallen leaves that covered the path from the High Valley back down to Drizzlezan. Always moving downill, the path wound in and out, back and forth, and it would have been difficult to run if she’d tried. Yet she hurried as best she could, casting fearful glances into the trees on either side of the path. She’d heard many a tale about children who disobeyed their Grandams and came to a bad end.
Suddenly a wretched, rag-covered man stepped out from behind a pile of tumbled boulders. He strode into the path and stood there, blocking it, his hands on his hips, a look of smug contempt on his face.
Liona stopped and slowly backed away. The man’s lurid grin spread across his face as she backed up into another man, who grabbed her arms and whirled her around to face him. He was filthy, with shrunken skin stretched across an overlarge nose and cheekbones.
“Hello, girlie,” he hissed, spewing foul breath. Liona shuddered.
The other man came up behind her and pulled her arms down behind her back. “You’ll make a fine treat,” he growled, “and you’ll serve us well before we eat you.”
“We hasn’t eaten in days,” sighed the boney faced man, sliding a knife from his rags. Just as he was about to slide it into her bodice and pop the seems, he fell away, pushed by a white blur. He was already dead by the time Liona realized what happened, and a huge white wolf, red blood dripping from his fangs, stood before her, head lowered, menacing. Her blood froze.
“Easy, doggie,” the man behind her said.
Liona screamed as the beast leaped fully over her head. She flinched, ducking, raising her hands up instinctively. As she did, she felt her captor’s grip release and his gurgling scream tear through the night. Turning, she looked down in horror at the white wolf, who had ripped open the man’s throat.
The white wolf turned to stare at her.
Liona was frozen to the spot. Every nerve in her body strained to run, but she could not move.
The wolf stared at her for a moment, then, turning, dashed into the trees.
Liona immediately lurched into a run, stumbling several times on the downward-winding, darkened path. Her knees and the heels of her hands were scraped bloody by the time she reached the sour oat field of the Hannigan’s farm.
Out from under the forest eaves, she looked up into the stars and caught her breath in the twin glow of the moons. Everything would be all right now.

The white wolf, obscured behind tall shafts of sour oats, watched the young girl until she reached the wooden palisade of Drizzlezan, where her mother shrieked in relief and wrapped her in a great cloak. A single militiaman stood watch, and lectured the girl on the dangers of the woods at night. He closed the ponderous gate behind him. Only then did the white wolf turn and run back across the Hannigan’s farm to the edge of the Drizzlewood.
It was not the white wolf, but the man Dacian, who emerged from the stand of sour oats. It was his tall, leather-armored and green-cloaked form that jogged back up the path into the Drizzlewood. The wind rustled in his long brown hair; the moonlight occasionally glimmered in his melancholy eyes.
Dacian paused at the scene of the attempted abduction, long enough to get the scent of blood. Once he had it, he resumed the form of ithu delnab, the white wolf, and followed it back the way the miscreants had come.
He was exhausted. Though he possessed endurance far in excess of a normal man, Dacian had run here over the past few days, all the way from Metrozium. There, a young Velvet Knight called Matthias – little more than a boy, but already brave – told him of a message he’d just received from Drizzlezan. Folk had been taken. And, seemingly, eaten. The villagers looked for a beast, Matthias said, but he felt certain it was something else.
Dacian was well-known to the order of Velvet Knights, who were sworn to protect the land of Cytherea. He himself possessed an older calling to a higher power. He was one of the shepherds; men who lived to help the helpless.
He had no time now to ponder his origins – only to fulfill his mission. He had arrived in Drizzlezan this very afternoon, and had taken a meal in the tavern to hear what he could hear. Every tongue in the Drizzle Inn wagged about the disappearances. Every tongue placed the blame on a wolf, a bear, or even worse – a monster, some foul aberration of Nezeb. Dacian watched the girl leave the village and followed from a discreet distance in wolf form. Part of him was watching out for her as shepherd, but another part was using the tools that presented themselves: in this case, bait. When the girl napped by the brook this afternoon, the white wolf watched over her, and followed her home.
Now, Dacian followed a trail of footprints and other signs that grew more obvious the further he followed it – up, off the path, across a sloping hillside strewn with gigantic moss-covered boulders. The trees covered all, letting through little of dim moonlight. But the white wolf needed no light, and it was the wolf that gained the far edge of the sloping hillside to discover a sudden valley gouged into the highlands. Its lower end opened onto the plain that watered the distant Phloon, the mists of which could be seen even now. The upper end of the valley, to the wolf’s left, was a rocky tumble of scattered boulders and strange rock formations. Dacian knew the place of old, and had half-expected the trail to lead here. The earliest Cythereans had called it Giant’s Quarry, for it opened onto a series of huge subterranean vaults. Folk said they were made by the Bolg, the giants who ruled Cytherea long before the age of men.
The white wolf prowled close to the valley’s upper end, through columns of twisted rock and around huge, half-submerged boulders. The red-orange glow of firelight loomed in the darkness ahead, leading the wolf to the verge of a huge arch-shaped hole in the hillside, surrounded by steep bluffs on three sides.
Inside, a pitiful creature crouched, hugging his knees. A few strands of hair were plastered to his pate with greasy sweat. His eyes bulged, staring into the darkness, and yet the man never saw the white wolf, even after he reached up to staunch the flow of blood coming from his jugular, wondering what had knocked him to the ground.
Leaving the sentry dead at the archway, the white wolf entered a shaft of shadow and emerged as Dacian. He followed the firelight into another cavern. It was large and chaotic in shape; no sane quarryman would dig like this. Several fires burned on various sloping platforms, illuminating the great chamber but leaving vast regions of shadow. Moving between these pools of shade, Dacian moved through the chamber, which, despite its fires, seemed deserted. And yet he could sense that more men were present, deeper in this ancient complex.
Beyond the great quarry chamber was a ramp leading farther into the earth. It was broad, with a pool of red light at its bottom.
Then Dacian heard a voice.
“Seekers after knowledge,” it said. It had a croaking, frog-like quality, and carried clearly up to Dacian. “You are gathered here to thank your father for the bounty you are about to receive. You will feast and you will praise his name. Let the power of this young life flow into you; let the wisdom of Nezeb be yours!”
At the words “young life,” Dacian rushed down the ramp, but moved quietly, running almost tiptoe in his soft leather boots. Crouching at the bottom of the ramp just long enough to get his bearings, he saw a great square chamber with a sloping roof; in the center was a crackling bonfire on a large central dais. A small figure stood upon it, speaking, face eerily illuminated from below by the flickering firelight. He was emaciated, stick-thin, and his high, domed, bald head seemed overlarge. His thick, waxy lips were a contrast to the rest of his shriveled body. He was naked but for a scrap of loincloth, yet he bore a large, gilded staff that was totally out of character with his appearance. Its golden gleam reflected the firelight, and the bright crystals embedded in its tip sparkled and sent off bright shafts of reflected light as the creature waved it about.
Dacian grimaced. It was a gnome – the horrid children of the evil god Nezeb, who made them in his image.
Below the gnome slumbered a plump boy in a peasant smock. Dacian realized the child must be drugged.
Beyond the dais were some dozen emaciated humans; men and women, gazing on the scene, licking their lips, stomachs growling hungrily.
As the gnome made no immediate move toward the boy, Dacian took a few moments to familiarize himself with the terrain and seek out other exits. There were none. The gnome continued his tirade.
“When you eat the flesh of your own, you give your body the tools it needs to unlock the secrets that your father Nezeb has placed inside you! This glory would be no secret if the liars and hypocrites of the usurper god Xerxes had not blinded you! Eat of your own, and let the doors of perception be thrown open!”
Dacian needed to hear no more. Whipping his elven bow from his shoulder, he sent three shafts flying, straight for the torso of the preaching gnome. Each stopped short in midair about a foot from the creature, and the crystals in the gnome’s staff suddenly brightened at the same instant.
The gnome’s eyes finally fell upon Dacian, and, raising the staff above his shriveled skull, cried, “An intruder! Enemy of Nezeb! Kill him, and feast upon true power!”
The crowd rushed Dacian, who flung the bow back upon his shoulder with one hand and drew his longsword with the other, rushing forward to meet them. As they crashed together he swung the blade in a great figure-of-eight, slicing up through the belly of one cultist, across the throat of another, back down through the shoulder and chest of a third, and removing the thigh of the last. The others leaped back, aghast, and hovered at a distance in a cowering way, casting quick glances at their gnomish master.
But the Nezebite merely laughed.
“Witness the power of Nezeb!”
From a blue crystal on the staff, a shaft of light arched out toward Dacian. It crackled with energy. He threw himself to one side, and in so doing, pushed another cultist behind him. The magical wave struck the hapless fool in the back, and he immediately lapsed into huge, body-wracking spasms as blue light shone from his eyes, ears, and mouth, before falling dead with smoke coming from those holes.
At this, the cultists scattered to the far edges of the chamber. Dacian leaped onto the platform between the gnome and the drugged boy. The child turned over and snored.
“You cannot penetrate my mystical shield,” the gnome croaked. “The power of Nezeb protects me!”
“Then why are you backing away?” Dacian asked. Indeed, the gnome slowly retreated before the longsword, backing toward the fire. “It is not the power of Nezeb that protects you, but that staff. Where did you get it? It has the look of far Ramtanagar about it. I’m sure it’s quite a prize. But in the end, it’s just a toy. It may protect you from fast-firing arrows, but as we both know…”
By this time the gnome was gnashing his teeth as he backed up to the very edge of the flames.
“…it is useless against a slow-moving hand.”
He dropped the longsword and with his other hand, slowly reached out and pushed the gnome into the fire.
The thing screamed and writhed, and made to leap out; but Dacian strode almost into the flame, put his foot on the creature’s chest and held it there. The flames seared his boot, and the flesh beneath it, and crawled up his thigh. Dacian grimaced against the pain but held steady, even as the smell of his own roasting flesh assailed his nostrils. Soon enough the gnome was a charred husk, all life burnt away.
Dacian pulled his leg out of the flame, turned, and knelt by the boy. Ignoring the cultists who cowered at the edge of the scene, horrified, Dacian closed his eyes and willed his flesh to heal. The cultists were awestruck as light filled Dacian’s burned limb. He felt the pain subside, and his leg showed clean and pink through his burned and tattered leather leggings. He scooped up the staff from where it had fallen, and snapped it over his knee. The sound of thunder echoed through the chamber, and the light in the staff’s crystals was extinguished.
Dacian scooped up the sleeping bow in his arms and stepped down among the cultists.
“You have not yet eaten of the flesh?” he asked.
“No, lord,” cried one of the women, tears streaming down her cheeks. The others nodded furiously. Something in their eyes made Dacian believe them.
“But others have,” he said.
“Yes, lord,” she said.
“How many?”
“A dozen, lord, just like we are…were.” She gazed, fearful and wide-eyed, at the pieces of her fellow cultists that lay in a pool of blood nearby.
“Where are they now?”
“Walking about in the land, lord, sowing the power of Nezeb within it!”
Dacian sighed. “I should kill you all,” he said.
“Oh no, lord! Please! We was bewitched!” said one.
“Taken from our beds in a trance!” said another. They all nodded together once more.
“Get out of my sight,” Dacian said. “Go back to your homes and do no more evil. If you do, I will know. I am no man. I am your shepherd.”
“Like those spoke of in the stories?” said the woman.
“The very same,” Dacian said. “If you relapse into wicked ways, I will find you, and I will kill you.”
With that, he strode past them, carrying the boy out into the night.

The next morning, the villagers of Griddle’s Hollow crowded around the doorway to the miller’s house. Inside, the plump miller’s son lay abed, his family crowded ‘round him. His eyelids fluttered.
“He’s awake!” his mother cried. “Oh thank the Gods he’s awake!”
“Son!” the miller said. “We found you here, in bed, when we woke! The Gods have returned you in the night!”
The boy reached for water, drank a sip, and sat up.
“It weren’t the Gods,” he said. “It were the white wolf.”

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Where You're Coming From

Occasionally, I look at the "stats" page for this blog, but I've only ever looked at number of page views. Not being the savviest or technically proficient blogger on the Internet, I only just now realized I can track where the traffic is coming from, and even what search phrases led folks here.

I would have thought that most of my page views would have come from Gonen's World. But I would have been wrong. Most comes from Google when people search for stuff that has nothing to do with me.

This list amuses me: it's the search phrases that have most often led people to my blog. It is not what I would have expected. These are in order from highest (35) to lowest (3). These are linked to the page that I mentioned the search phrase on.

"Virginia Hey nude" (no doubt those 35 folks were disappointed); "Jan Stenfors"; "Corinne Clery"; "Jane Seymour Sinbad" (can't blame those guys - insert tiger noise here); "Nasty Suicide"; "Seann McAnally"; "Classic Traveller character sheet"; "whatever happened to Lynn Holly Johnson,"; and, connected to that last one, "roller skate fetish." Oddly, all three of that last one came from Australia. Weird. Maybe it was the same guy.

You'll see that almost all of those link to one of my "Bondage" posts where I reviewed the Bond movies (up through the Timothy Dalton era; I'm doing the rest in November to celebrate the new Bond movie). But apparently I get the occasional Hanoi Rocks fan or the Aussie roller skate fetishist.

So, for my three Australians, I leave you with this: Lynn-Holly Johnson on skates.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Seann's Table Seasoning

This is a custom table seasoning I am thinking of inventing. This is the result of strenuous research (not really). What do you think of this?

4 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon ground celery seed
1 teaspoon mace
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon garlic & onion powder
1 teaspoon dry mustard

Mix and put in a shaker. That's all.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Welcome Strangers

Usually, when I delete my facebook account, I get a spike in page views here. This blog only has one follower, but every now and then I get a ridiculously high number of page views. In looking back over the blog stats, it seems this usually happens when I've deleted my account. I figure maybe folks are doing a Google search for me or something, hoping to figure out why I'm not on facebook. Otherwise, I've only got one follower (my dad) and maybe two other readers beyond that (my friends Ryan and Colin) so when I blog here, it's basically for them. But it's clear that every now and then, I get other visitors, and I've noticed a serious spike today within a few hours of deleting my facebook account (my highest number of unique page views ever, in fact, which is only 35).

I've decided to leave my facebook account deactivated until after the elections in November. Here's why.

If you're my facebook friend, I want to like you. We may not be actual friends - it seems "we were in the same fourth grade class" or "my brother knows your brother" is a good enough reason to get a friend request. I actually know less than a quarter of my friends.

But the fact remains I want to like you. But frankly, if you're against equal rights for homosexuals - including marriage - if you're against paying taxes to help ensure a social safety net, if you publicly thank Jesus for bringing a Chic-Fil-A to your town (which one "friend" has done) then the truth is, I don't like you, and I don't want to be your friend. 

Unfortunately, many people I went to school with have fallen into that category of people. They feel the need to post about their beliefs regularly; I am obliged to view such things unless I remove that person from my news stream (which I have done). In fact, if I used to get worked up about your posts, but I no longer do, it's because I can't see them. It's easier than getting pissed off about your intolerant, hateful, fearful, selfish beliefs.

This election season is going to get worse before it gets better. I'm not interested in discussing it, hearing about it, or doing anything about it other than voting. No one is going to change anyone's mind with snottily-worded facebook posts. But that's ALL THERE IS RIGHT NOW. So I'm backing away, slowly, to return when things tone down a bit.

If you're one of those 35 anonymous viewers from the Midwest looking for some of the same drama here I occasionally get up to on facebook, you won't find it. This is my special place, for myself and for my friends, where I can be free of such things and just share stuff I care about. If you're interested in sticking around, great. I'm glad to have you.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Old School Hack

I'm not going to offer any commentary on this other than to say...awesome.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Ainu Tablets of Latvia

A friend of mine put this up a long time ago. It's still there. If you saw this would you think it was real? I did, at first. But I'm gullible like that.

This is a great example of mock scholarship. Check it out!

Monday, August 27, 2012

"You're No Hero..."

I normally blog about gaming over at Gonen's World, but I wanted to make a quick note here about Dungeon Crawl Classics. I got this at first thinking it was another OD&D retroclone, but the truth is, it's perhaps closer to 3e than 1e in everything but attitude and presentation.

The author states the DCC RPG is neither a part of the so-called OSR (old-school renaissance) or totally compatible as a new D&D game under the OGL (open game license). What it seems to do is blend old and new, keeping the best parts of both and adding some satisfyingly wonky bits (like using d7, d14 or d16 occasionally, which I won't bother to go into here).

The game clearly seeks to emulate gaming of the 1970s, and has a few notes about how RPGs should be played that seems a little crusty or bitter. In short, Goodman is not afraid to take pot shots at younger players, or at least the way they play (while simultaneously encouraging older players to accept the changes younger gamers bring to the table). It also does not necessarily live up to its dramatic back-cover material that states "NPCs are there to be killed," and other material designed to strike a chord with old-school gamers.

That minor amount of what I can only call "inconsistent grognardery" aside, DCC RPG is right up my alley. The artwork is spectacular, in a hobbyist sort of way, and the rules are clean and simple. Sure, the book is 450 pages in length (it's as big and bulky as a hardcover phone book) but much of that is supplemental material such as "fumble charts," monsters, a few adventures, and so on.

The game abandons traditional D&D attributes in favor of a new mix of names, and uses saving throws from 3e (which makes sense to me), and adds some great critical hit tables that are obviously influenced by Warhammer (another reason I think my group would like it). Instead of feats it includes a rule for Mighty Deeds of Arms that is pretty much a codification of the stuff players try to do anyway (for example, if you roll right, you can specify some effect other than, or in addition to, causing damage, such as pushing someone down the stairs or whatever). But in most other ways it's very much in the spirit of OD&D. And that's the key here - it's in the spirit of OD&D. It isn't OD&D. It isn't new D&D. It's something else, and I like it.

Most intriguing is the suggested "funnel" method of character creation, where each player creates 4-6 zero-level characters without a class; these are pitted against something horrible (the first dungeon, or some crisis their community must deal with). Most of them will die. The ones that live through it all choose a class that's reflective of what they actually did during their first adventure, and become "the party." This would certainly not be to everyone's taste, but I'd love to try it. You'd think you'd get really attached to those guys who made it through, and those characters would all have a great backstory for how they became adventurers.

Can't wait to give this one a spin with my gaming group sometime. I've always liked OD&D better than the newer versions, mainly due to the relative simplicity and lack of 19 bazillion options and arbitrary "balance" between characters, which I've never thought was all that important. But let's face it, as much as we all love Gary there was stuff in older editions that was not well thought-out. DCC RPG cleans up the new, fuses it with the spirit of the old, and creates something that should appeal to both camps. I'm impressed.

Here's a pretty fair review that goes into much more detail than I have.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Goodbye, Eureka...

I know, it's been a few weeks since the final episode, but I wanted to make a quick note about how much I will miss this show. I think the writers did a good job wrapping this up in a satisfying way (spoiler alert: in the first scene of the first episode, Jack and Zoe drive into town and see themselves leaving; the last scene of the last episode is them leaving, and seeing themselves arriving...my dad predicted that one after he watched the first episode. I could see it coming, but I would have been disappointed if it hadn't).

Eureka always managed to be clever, and if it relied a little too much on formula, at least the ideas within that formula never seemed to get old. It's also blessed with a likeable cast, especially Colin Ferguson (this one, not this one) as Jack. He's got to be one of the most downright likeable leading men on television, in my opinion (and his real-life personality, glimpsed in the Ticket to Ride episode of Tabletop, seems just as cool). I hope Ferguson winds up on another show soon.

Of course, I was a little disappointed not to have a return of Nathan Stark for the last episode, but we were lucky to get something almost as good with the return of Dr. Grant (James Callis).

I think other than Jack I'll miss the character of Fargo the most. Like most shows that run for a while, some of the actors that started with the show didn't make it through to the end. But late additions to the cast, geek-culture darlings Felicia Day and Wil Wheaton gave this show a nice breath of fresh air.

Since it's been established that Eureka shares a universe with Warehouse 13, I can only hope that one day Jack Carter shows up to help out Pete and Myka. And I didn't know this until looking up how to spell "Myka" but apparently the show Alphas also shares this universe.

Eureka will always have a special place in my memory. Part of that is because the years it was on roughly coincide with the years Connor has lived with me, and it was a show we always watched together. Part of it is that Eureka is simply a clever program that is smart, funny, action-packed, with plenty of geek references, refreshingly free of the cynicism that accompanies many other shows.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Made it Back to Mars!

An update on my last post, as if you needed to hear it here: but Curiosity landed OK. Here's a neat blurb about it. Can't wait to see/hear more. I'm actually going to follow this one, and I'll be sure to share my thoughts about it here.

Keeping my fingers crossed for life.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Curiouser and Curiouser

It's really easy for me to lose touch with news about the exploration of space. I avoid news on TV, and turn off any political news when it comes on the radio (because I'd rather be sane than well-informed), so I tend not to hear about developments in the field of space science unless I purposely go looking for it.

In a brief burst on NPR this morning between uninteresting blurbs, I learned that NASA's new Mars rover, Curiosity, is expected to touch down on Mars this weekend. From the Washington Post coverage:

It’s the most ambitious, the most costly ($2.5 billion) and the most high-stakes mission ever to another planet. It was also described last week by the agency’s top scientist, former astronaut John M. Grunsfeld, as “the most important NASA mission of the decade.”

I watched Carl Sagan's COSMOS religiously as a kid, and still revisit the show every few years. In the episode "Blues for a Red Planet," Sagan imagined a future where millions of people would be glued to their television sets, watching through camera eyes as robots explore Mars. Sadly, that hasn't come to pass - yet. I'll be keeping fingers crossed for Curiosity - I still haven't given up on the possibility of life on Mars. OK, so maybe no thoats or tarks or red princesses...but it would be cool if there were something there.

Here's a good article about it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Lamentations of the Flame Princess

I'm completely geeking out over this European RPG company. I won't go into it here but I did review one of their gorgeous and imaginative products on the Gonen's World blog. If you're a gamer, check it out!

Monday, July 23, 2012

"Bad" Bad Guys

I've been reading DC's Flashpoint, thanks to a loan from Joebeslaus, and that's got me back into the superhero groove for a while.

One thing the Cape City setting has always been missing is more really great supervillains. I think Penny Dreadful is about played out for now, and can languish in prison for a while (incidentally, like most great super-ideas, Penny appears to be taken). As we think up some new Cape City Villains, some cautionary examples of really dumb supervillains might be in order. 

Here's a great article on some of the worst supervillains of all time, and here's an earlier one on the same blog. They include such losers as Mr. Polka Dot, Stiltman, the Purple Piledriver, Mister Doll, the Porcupine, Crazy Quilt, the Calculator, and Kite-Man...

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Christian Left

I didn't even know this group existed. What a liberation. For years I have struggled to be a person of faith while simulteneously being disgusted by the actions of the most vocal Christians. I have never believed good people go to hell and I have never believed gay people shouldn't get married and I have never believed the government should make laws based on religion.

Honestly, I thought I was alone.

Here is a great quote from their web site:
We are The Christian Left. We’re all around you. We’re among the people. Take a look. We’re part of the Body of Christ. We’re Christians. We’re Liberal. We make no apologies. In fact Jesus' ways are “Liberal.” That’s why He was killed. The Pharisees and the Sadducees were the conservatives of their time. This is clear.
...and another:
Unfortunately in this country today, we have a sort of spiritual revival of the Pharisees --people who don’t want to practice love, grace, or compassion, but would rather try to bury people under legalistic demands that they themselves aren’t capable of keeping. Culturally crusading right-wing Christians have substituted the Gospel of Jesus Christ for a Gospel of Morality. They've made it more about following rules than loving God (having a relationship with Christ) and loving their fellow brothers and sisters.  This is unacceptable. It's exactly what Jesus spoke out against. People are stuck in the Gospel of Morality. They are drained by the shame it produces. Far too many are repulsed by this false religious system they can't live up to.  This insanity must stop. When we walk with Jesus, he refines us as he sees fit, by his Spirit. Proponents of the Gospel of Morality don’t get that on some level. Jesus didn’t say “Get refined then follow me.” He said “Follow Me … and get refined, the way only I can refine.” Isaiah 64:8; Jeremiah 18:2; Jeremiah 18:6; Romans 8:28; Matthew 4:19
...and another: 
“Many on the Christian Right are fond of posing the question WWJD?-- What would Jesus do? I’d like to remind them what Jesus DID do: He cared for the poor. He did not condemn the woman caught in adultery. He prayed alone. He commanded us to love our enemies. He preached peace. He ate, drank, and lived with ‘tax collectors and sinners’ -- the lowlifes and outcasts of his day, while reserving his condemnation for the religious leaders who, from a place of privilege, imposed their legalism and literalism on the people they were responsible for leading.
...and finally, this quote from Billy Graham, which I was staggered by. I can't believe he even said this. What a nice surprise:
"I don't want to see religious bigotry in any form. It would disturb me if there was a wedding between the religious fundamentalists and the political right. The hard right has no interest in religion except to manipulate it."
— Rev. Billy Graham, Parade, 1981  
I'm not here to preach to anyone. I'm well aware that almost none of my friends think you can both have a brain and be a Christian. It stopped bothering me long ago. But I no longer feel alone. I haven't seen or heard anything that made me feel good about religion in years. What a revelation.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Repairman Jack

I started a new job recently and my boss turned out to be a big fan of Jim Butcher and other paranormal fiction. I told her I'm and old buddy of his from high school and maybe that helped get me the job, heh. But she recommended F. Paul Wilson's "Repairman Jack" novels and lent me The Tomb, first in the series. At first I started reading it to please my boss, but I got hooked fast!

Repairman Jack is one of the most likeable antiheroes I've come across in a long time. He lives off the grid, and makes his living by fixing people's problems. He's not afraid of a little violence, is paranoid about the government, and has a strong smart-ass streak, but he's got a heart of gold and a righteous sense of justice that transcends the courts. Of course, it's tough to go to the police when your problem is a horrible monster, a family curse, or some other supernatural trouble. Who do you call then? Not Ghostbusters, but Repairman Jack.

A Repairman Jack film is in development. It's just an internet rumor but they say Nathan Fillion is one of the actors being considered for the part. Trust me, he'd be perfect. 

I can't wait to continue this series!

Thursday, July 12, 2012


Here's a link to an interesting post by Space: 1889's Frank Chadwick about ebooks surpassing hardcover sales. Not sure what to think about it. You?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Hoodless Joe

A few weeks ago, as Lynette and I were driving home from a Burning Wheel session, a fellow in front of us at a stoplight backed into my car. My hood crunched and popped up and there was damage to my left headlight. The latch assembly of the hood was destroyed so that even if the hood wasn't bent, it wouldn't close.

All in all, minor damage. No one was hurt. No big deal in the grand scheme of things.

Of course, the guy took off. He fled the scene. But I got his license plate number. We called the police, they took a report, and long story short, they caught the guy. He admitted everything. He said he got scared and ran off because he didn't have insurance. My liability policy isn't going to cover the damage. So, in a word, I'm screwed.

I decided to call the guy and offer him the chance to fix my car. If my car was fixed prior to the court date, I told him, I'd have no reason to push for court-ordered restitution. He apologized profusely (of course, he was caught - it's not like he would have tracked me down and apologized otherwise) but seemed to indicate there was little he was going to be able to do about it. A friend of my mom's helped me take the old hood off (the car is still drivable, and my headlight even works, though it's cracked, so the car is even legal), and he'll help me put all the parts back on if I can get the parts (a hood, a latch assembly). But I don't really have the wherewithal or know-how to get out to Pick-n-Pull and take those things off some old Chevy by myself. I also don't have a way to move a whole hood.

We had a court date today, but the guy didn't show up - the case was continued. In the meantime, I'm going to have to pay someone to go out and get me those parts and bring them back to me. But my regular mechanic (not the guy who helped me take the hood off) isn't answering the phone. He quoted me $450 for the whole job. I called Pick-n-Pull and the parts cost a grand total of $58. I told him I knew what the parts cost, and I wanted to clarify that he wanted to charge about $390 in labor. Never heard from him again....

So, until I figure out what to do, if you see a guy driving around the KC Metro area in a silver Chevy Lumina with no hood, it's me. Give me a wave!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

It's Not You, Facebook - It's Me.

I have deleted my facebook account (again) and while I will probably start it back up again sometime in the near future (there are too many people I'll lose contact with, and, after all, I giggled like a schoolboy when one of my personal heroes, Andy Hopp, sent me a friend request - that's kinda hard to walk away from), but I'm not going to until I can learn how to 1) behave myself, and 2) ignore others who are bugging me. Frankly, I just don't think I'm mature enough for facebook.

I have an unpopular opinion that I can't prove about facebook status updates; they're a perfect avenue for passive aggression or actual aggression, and this is what many people use it for, whether they really know it or not. The favorite pasttime seems to be to post something purposely provocative, then crying foul when someone is upset by it ("what? I'm just giving my opinion!"). Well, your opinion sucks and it pisses me off. So there. I'm tired of looking at it. Even more annoying are those generalized, vague posts that are clearly and angrily aimed at a specific person, written in such a way as to garner support from sympathetic friends. I find it all irritating. In fact, I spend much of my time irritated about one thing or another, so I guess all I'm doing with my "facebook stalk-off" is to eliminate a source of annoyance until I'm better able to cope with annoying bullshit. I mean, I know I can go through and stop certain people from showing up in my newsfeed, but that's an awfully big pain in the patootie. So, really, giving your opinion about something in your facebook status update is basically the same as putting it on a sign and placing it in my front yard.  

I do need facebook for professional purposes, so I've made another one that is "the work me."

If anyone from facebook is looking for me and somehow found me here, hello. I'll be back on facebook eventually. In the meantime, this is "the real me." Please let me know you were here, if you're not one of my two readers.

13 Days to Warehouse 13

Ooh! I just realized the new season of Warehouse 13 starts on July 23. If you don't watch this show, you ought to try it. Warehouse 13 is sort of like Eureka (it shares a fictional universe, and characters sometimes cross over). By that I mean it's not too deep, just good silly entertainment with plenty of action and feel-good teamwork-related stories. When you've just finished, say, Pillars of the Earth, Game of Thrones, or similar material, it's nice to sit back, watch a show, and NOT get pissed off at the main characters. Joanne Kelly is adorable,and Eddie McClintock is likeable as a tough guy with a touch o' geek. For my money he's a better leading geek-TV man than David Boreanaz, because, let's face it, while legions of Buffy/Angel fans adore Boreanaz, you all know down deep that he's the guy who used to kick your ass in high school.

Like I say, Warehouse 13 ain't Shakespeare, but for escapist entertainment it's almost (not quite, but close) as good as it gets. It also proves that good entertainment can still be clean and more-or-less positive and uplifting, and I always like to remind myself of that when I'm feeling too dark or cynical.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Fantasy Gold

After doing three installments of "Fantasy Cheese" a month or two ago, I thought I'd do a list of really well done fantasy movies of the 1980s. The good stuff. Fantasy Gold, if you will. In looking at other lists, I found myself nodding in agreement a lot at this one. Why write one myself, then?

I'm not sure I'd put My Neighbor Totoro on the list (not because it's not awesome - it is, and I've got a lot of great memories of watching it with Connor when he was little - but because it just doesn't seem to fit the swords-and-sorcery mold. It should be No. 1 on a different list).

I realize The Beastmaster might not live up to every viewer's Gold standard. Perhaps it's nostalgia that makes me enjoy it. I admit it doesn't hold up quite as well as some of the other stuff on the list. It's a little too good for Fantasy Cheese, though. Don't forget, it was directed by Don Coscarelli, who's done some very good stuff.

If you know me, you know I love 1982's Conan the Barbarian; I think it's a flawless home-run of a movie and I'd have given it much higher marks than this guy gave it. I'd certainly have ranked it higher than Ladyhawke, which is, nevertheless, still deserving of a place on this list. Except for one glaringly obvious exception, I see very little that is cheesy in Conan the Barbarian. That exception, is, of course, Arnold himself, and I think casting-wise, Jason Momoa makes a far better Conan (even if they put him in a fair-to-middling film; certainly, it is the inferior of the 1982 film). But let's face it, if there was any role Arnold was simply born to play, it's Conan, the Terminator, or both. I find this movie beautifully shot, well-written, well-acted for the most part, with heavyweights like Max Von Sydow and James Earl Jones...it's also quite true to the Robert E. Howard books without actually adapting any of them. I could go on and on about this one (and may already have in another post - it's been a few years now on this blog and I've repeated myself more than once).

Otherwise, I'm pretty much in agreement with everything this guy says. I'm particularly happy to see his positive review of Excalibur, which is one of my all-time favorites. Highlander, of course, is also right up there.

If you haven't seen any of the movies on this list, they're all worth watching.

Movin' On.

I try to keep diary-type entries off my blog (because, really, who the hell cares? But then again, you could say that about the entirety of anyone's blog, including this one). But I've reached a turning point in life that ought to be recorded.

After many years (too long, in fact) I am leaving the newspaper business. I've taken a job with an international women's friendship and service organization as editor of a bi-monthly magazine and all in-house publications. I wasn't looking for a job, but an old friend recommended me. The rest happened pretty quickly. Now I find myself a week and a half out from a new job where I'll have grown-up stuff like an office, an assistant, benefits, and a salary that doubles (a little more, in fact) what I'm making now.

The money is great, as are the benefits. There's even some travel involved in the summer. But the most exciting thing is that I'll be editing, and that's it. No classified ad sales, no deliveries, no folding and stuffing envelopes. I don't resent that I have to do all that now: the newspaper business has been hit hard and I'm blessed to have had any job at all. My current (soon to be former) employers have been as good to me as they've been able. I'll always be thankful to them. I'll miss 'em.

But I'd be lying if I said I'd miss the newspaper business. I'm proud of my journalism career, don't get me wrong. When I was a kid, I said I wanted to be a rock star, teacher, or journalist when I grew up. Well, I came close enough to rock star (close enough to sort of lose interest in the "star" part - now only the music is left, which is the only part that ever mattered). I've worked at four newspapers, learned how to write, edit, and do graphic design, won several prestigious awards from the Missouri Press Association...I feel like I've "been there, done that," and I'm ready to move on.

As for that third childhood dream of being a teacher, well: I'm young yet. Check back with me in 10 years.

So goodbye to the newspaper world. I'm not making a big announcement about it; I'm not even writing a farewell column for the paper. I won't go out with a bang. I'll just sneak away.

Now I face the future with a bunch of excitement (and a twinge of fear of the unknown). But the bottom line is, after years of struggle, I made it. I was never good at making the "right" decisions in life, and now I'm in a position where I must make them, all the time, to keep this great new thing I've got. But I know I have it in me. One of the biggest lessons I've learned over the past decade is that other people often have far more faith in me than I have in myself.

Let's hope they're right. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Skyfall Trailer

When I stopped my "Bondage" series a month or so ago after the Timothy Dalton era, I said I'd continue this November when the new Bond film Skyfall comes out. We're one step closer to that, and here's the trailer.

I'd hoped Craig would do at least three - I think he's done a great job breathing new life into the series - though I'm still holding out hope for Michael Fassbender as a more traditional Bond in the future.

Radio Rivendell Fantasy Awards

Looks like Erdenstern, the fantasy background music band from Germany, won top honors for their album Into the Light. Players in my gaming group will recognize this song ("Into the Red") from them as one I use all the time in our games. I've not heard Into the Light but it, like most of Erdenstern's albums, is keyed to a theme: this time, steampunk.

You can check out the rest of the winners here.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Kneel Before Boog!

Here is a another snippet from Lyn and I's novel, Ritual of the Mark. I was re-reading it and was surprised how much I enjoyed this, almost as if someone else wrote it (I've never really enjoyed reading my own work - maybe I do this time because it was a collaboration?).
Surprisingly, most of the sick parts (like whipping Kyrasoth's bare butt) were not my idea (maybe now you'll want to read it more, heh).
This is from the "centerpiece" of the novel, which is a lengthy dungeon crawl. I realize all the references, taken out of context, might be confusing, but I thought this section, better than any other, is very representative of the book. Disclaimer: We've not done the third (and hopefully final) draft yet, so there could be typos or mistakes in here. Please ignore them!

They proceeded deeper into the cave, taking Dacian’s lead for the most part. The floor sloped downward, generally, though it was punctuated with out-jutting platforms of rock and occasional crevasses. The downward path narrowed as they got deeper inside. The sunlight could not penetrate this far back. Kyrasoth conjured a hovering light to illuminate the way. Here Daz and Zobe took point, followed by Ludo and Kyrasoth, with the veterans bringing up the rear. Occasionally they heard faint sounds: whispers, thumps, furtive rustlings and strange sloshes.
For nearly three-quarters of an hour, the companions trudged along the main passage. Here and there, cracks and fissures in the sloping cave walls issued more disturbing sounds, but the gaps were much too small for even Ludo to investigate.
A short time later, the path opened up into an immense natural chamber. It was so large, they could barely make out the opposite side. Random sections of the walls were coated in heavy dew; drops gathered slowly, grew heavy, and rolled down to the floor, where it gathered in foul pools. The companions stood agape as they gazed in wide wonder at the scene – but it was not the size or oddity of the chamber that awed them.
A slum from Metrozium appeared to have seeped through the rock and reassembled itself, haphazardly and without order, in this forgotten cavity. Small groups of diminutive folk clustered around fire barrels that cast a baleful, dancing red light across the chamber. A number of the figures cooked unidentifiable hunks of flesh, holding them on skewers over the fires. Those cave denizens who were not cooking at the fires were plastered against the moisture-bearing walls, noisily licking them. Others hung upside down from rock outcroppings, like bats. The figures were essentially humanoid, about Dwarf-height, but lacking the stockiness of that hardy race. These were lanky and chorded with sinew. Their flesh was pale gray-white. What hair they had was brittle, sparse, and the color of tallow. Noses, by and large, were flat, as if squashed into the face by some mighty fist. The wretches were dressed in rags, and many wore no more than squalid loincloths. The women were bare breasted.
Soon, the creatures became aware of the companions, and dozens of large, milky pale eyes turned out of the red darkness toward them. Some pointed long, bony, sharp nail-tipped fingers, and some pointed similar toes. Thin webbing stretched between their digits. Lips were full and glossy, and when drawn back, showed crooked teeth of yellow and brown – but they looked razor-sharp for all their unhealthiness.
“Gobboes,” Matthias said under his breath.
“What-oes?” Ludo asked in horror.
“We should have seen this,” Dacian muttered to Matthias.
Ludo gripped Kyrasoth’s arm when a small deputation of creatures detached itself from the main group. One was slightly taller than the others. He wore a tall, black hat that, unlike everything else in the cavern, was in pristine condition. He also carried a fine black walking stick.
“Intrudersss,” it said as it got within earshot, pointing the walking stick at them. Its voice was full of wheeze and gravel. “You will kneel before Boog!”
Dozens more of the foul things crept forward, emboldened by their leader. The party soon found themselves surrounded by Gobboes. Many brandished battered and rusted old weapons; more were drawing them.
Matthias heaved a sigh and knelt on one knee. Dacian followed, and the others – all except Daz – joined him.
“I’ll not bow down to any Gobboe!” he growled. Kyrasoth reached up and yanked him to his knees. Daz grumbled incoherently, but stayed where he was.
“There are too many,” Dacian said, laying a hand on Daz’s shoulder.
“For you, maybe,” Daz replied.
The leader of the Gobboes – Boog, presumably – looked pleased. His waxy lips stretched across his face.
“Thisss isss very goodie-good. They obey like intruders ssshouldie-ssshould,” he said. “Boog liksssey-wikesssy.”
Suddenly the Gobboes around him began to chant. “He likesssy-wikesssy! He likesssy-wikesssy! He likesssy-wikesssy!”
The chant faded, and Boog twirled his cane as he turned his attention back toward the party. He rested his big eyes on Matthias.
“You could, you would, you maybe might, ssspeak asss leader, Velvety Knight?”
“I do,” Matthias said with a curt nod.
“Excccelent,” Boog said. “Answer, if you darey-dare, what brings you to the Gobboes’ lair?”
“We seek passage into the old tunnels, those the Bolg made before the reign of Men.”
Boog nodded. “The giant’sss tunnelsss, we know about; perhapsss we can work sssomething out.”
A large group of the more important-looking Gobboes surrounded Boog, whispering together quickly and excitedly. Their sing-song wheezes blended together into an unpleasant din.
“Devolved subterranean societies fall into the same category as occupied wizard-towers,” Ludo said, eyeing Dacian none too kindly. “They warrant a warning.”
“Encounters with them are rare,” Matthias said. “Most people do not believe in Gobboes.”
“But you did,” Daz barked.
“I am a Velvet Knight,” Matthias replied. “I know everything.” Daz huffed, but Kyrasoth saw the smile behind Matthias’ white stubble.
“Doesn’t that underline my point rather nicely?” Ludo asked.
Zobe cut in. “What are our options here? We can save the verbal sparring for when we’re not engaged with an army of Gobboes.”
I’m not afraid,” Daz said, gripping the shaft of his hammer.
“More to the point, what are their options?” Dacian said. “It’s likely they’ll attempt to kill and rob us. They’re a foul and cunning folk. They sneak up out of the sewers in the middle of the night and attack folk who are weak: babies, children, the sick, the elderly…and they eat human flesh.”
“…and from what I’ve seen, their kitchen-craft is atrocious,” Ludo declared.
“We are easy victims,” Dacian continued. “We’ve got items of value and we’re greatly outnumbered, which they like. There are hundreds of them right here – ”
“Counted ‘em, did ya?” Daz said.
Dacian ignored him. “– and that doesn’t count those who are hiding in shadows and side passages and whatnot. I would be very surprised if messengers are not already carrying word about our arrival to others.”
“Well, as long as you keep your optimism,” Ludo said in a withering tone.
“Their other option,” Dacian said, “is that they’ll wish to trade with us. I think that will be their choice.”
Kyrasoth scowled. “So how much is this going to cost us?”
Dacian shot Matthias a grim look. The knight said, “They will not ask for gold.”
Zobe, catching the look, said quietly, “They’ll want Kyrasoth.”
Matthias nodded solemnly.
“How much do you think we can get for her?” Ludo said.
 “That’s not funny!” Zobe said, heat in his voice.
“No, it’s not,” Matthias said.
Dacian stepped close to Kyrasoth and took her hand. He looked into her eyes. His were unhappy, but with a strange calm.
“We will exchange Kyrasoth for safe passage out of the lair, and a guide to the Bolg tunnels,” Dacian said.
“It is our only option,” Matthias agreed.
“You cannot be serious!” Kyrasoth hissed, trying to jerk her hand back. Dacian held it firmly.
“Trust me,” he whispered.
Now you show your true colors,” Daz snarled. “Werewolf!”
Ludo stood beside him and crossed his arms. “We do not like this plan! We may play pranks on our friends, we may say nasty things about them, but we don’t sacrifice them to Gobboes!”
Zobe placed his hand on the hilt of his sword and stepped toward Matthias.
“Kyrasoth,” Dacian said, leading her off to one side. Boog and his minions, still engaged in enthusiastic debate, did not seem to notice.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Zobe said.
“It’s all right,” Kyrasoth said. Dacian led her into the tunnel they’d just come down, out of direct eyeshot of their companions or the Gobboes. The others tried to follow her, but Matthias convinced them with soft but stern words to “…let them have a moment. I swear to you Dacian would never harm her.”
Dacian finally let go of Kyrasoth’s hand, only to press a glass vial into it moments later. “Kyra, you must trust me,” he said. “Everything will be fine, but we need your blood.”
Suddenly the enormous white wolf stood beside her. After the harrowing training session, she felt a flash of fear. The wolf opened its huge jaws and placed its mouth on her forearm. A sharp pain ran up her arm as one fang broke the skin. The wolf released pressure and nosed at the vial in her hand. She let the blood flow into the vial, though she was mystified at how this was going to help matters.
Kyrasoth felt a faint rush of movement, and when she looked up, the white wolf had run back up the path they’d taken here; its tail winked out, swallowed by darkness, as Kyrasoth looked on, aghast.
Within a few moments, she mastered herself. She heard Dacian’s voice in her head, telling her she was strong and smart enough to know what to do.
The Gobboes seemed to be wrapping up their frantic discussion as she returned to the chamber. Ludo, who’d been pacing, looked up. “Where did your lover go?”
“He’s not my…I don’t know. But I’m certain he has a sensible plan.”
Daz looked doubtful.
“I’m sure he does,” Matthias said, smiling. “I assume he has a way to track us…?”
Kyrasoth handed him the vial.
“Ah!” Matthias said. “Excellent!”
Suddenly the sinister chatter ceased, and Boog emerged from the crowd.
“The sssad-eyed sssulky one, where did he go?” Boog asked. “He mussstn’t go wandering, noney-no-no.”  
Kyrasoth glared defiantly.
“I wouldn’t worry,” Ludo said, waving a hand dismissively. “He does that all the timey-time.”
To their surprise, it was Boog’s turn to wave his walking-stick dismissively. “He’ll provide a welcome feassst when later we releassse the beasssts.”
He then looked at Kyrasoth, his horrid mouth gapping to show his green, yellow and brown teeth, his saucer-like eyes bulging, taking her in from head to toe. Boog then cleared his throat and addressed Matthias.
“We have sssomething you needy-need,” he said, “and visssca-versssa, indeedy-deed!”
The others began to chant. “We needsss it ssso much! We needsss it ssso much! We needsss it ssso much!”
“Give your proposal then, if it pleases you, Master Boog,” Matthias said.
“We sssshow you the sssecret way,” Boog said, then gestured at Kyrasoth. “And the breeder isss the priccce you pay.”
Zobe swelled up his chest and stepped forward, but Matthias held up a hand to stop him. Boog smirked, setting Zobe a-quiver with rage.
“Now that hardly seems equitable, Master Boog,” Matthias said. “This one is of the Elven race, and has long life. She is not yet thirty and will bear children for over a century hence. She is quite fetching, and is of an exalted bloodline. I need not tell you she will improve your breeding stock immeasurably. And you offer us only safe passage to the tunnels in exchange?”
Boog looked disappointed, then angry, then thoughtful. He whirled around to confer with the other Gobboes, who swarmed into a whispering huddle. They conferred for a few moments, then Boog whirled back toward Matthias.
“Cavernsss go back far, far far!” he said. “Windy, twisssty, that they are! Here all Gobboesss have their ssspaccce, but elsssewhere isss a bigger placcce! Gobboesss do not wander there, for that leads to wicked Fessster’s lair! Thisss isss where the giantsss dug, and made their treasssuresss sssnuggy-sssnug!”
“Dug and made their treasssuresss sssnug! Dug and made their treasssuresss sssnug!  Dug and made their treasssuresss sssnug!,” sang the chorus of minions.
“Boog ssshall give you a mappy-map, ssso you’ll fall into no trappy-trap, to the giantsss place that you mussst ssseek – but passst the Fessster you mussst sssneak!”
“Passst the Fessster you mussst sssneak! Passst the Fessster you mussst sssneak! Passst the Fessster you mussst sssneak!”
“We got it,” Ludo said. “Sneak past the Fester.” He rolled his eyes. Matthias shushed him.
“To hisss lair we never go,” Boog declared. “Gobboes won’t face Fessster, no, not for any gift you bring – even for baby-making Elf-Thing!”
“Baby-making Elf-Thing! Baby-making Elf-Thing! Baby-making Elf-Thing!” rang out the Gobboes.
Matthias rubbed his chin for a moment, seeming to consider it. Then he nodded. “We accept your offer,” he said with a short bow.
“No!” Kyrasoth cried. The latest chorus got louder and more frenzied.
“Baby-making Elf-Thing! Baby-making Elf-Thing! Baby-making Elf-Thing!”
“Trust me,” she heard Matthias say to the others as he forcefully herded them away from her. Reluctantly, they allowed themselves to be led away, casting frequent glances back at Kyrasoth.
Boog turned to her and a slow, cruel smile spread across his face. When he did, his skin stretched like dough rolled too thin. He ran his tongue over his already-slimy lips. The Elf was unable to suppress a shudder.
“To the Tribe we’ll offer you asss a presssent, for many will want you when I am ssspent,” Boog wheezed.
He snapped his long, bony fingers and instantly several female Gobboes rushed forward. They grabbed Kyrasoth roughly and began to drag her deeper into the chamber. She kicked and struggled, but their grips were like iron. They dragged her through a hole in the wall and through several lesser tunnels. She lost her sense of direction very quickly. It did not help that every time she slowed, or so much as turned her head, she was given a sharp blow by her escorts. Soon, they emerged into a smaller room guarded by two heavily armed and armored Gobboes. More were inside the room, and all of them were naked. Kyrasoth turned away in disgust.
Her pack and her mother’s bow were ripped from her and taken from the chamber. “Remove your clothesss or earn our wrath,” barked one of the armed males. “We need to get you to the bath!”
“I will not, filth!” Kyrasoth snapped, spitting in his face.
The Gobboes roared with laughter. The side of her face exploded in pain as the male backhanded her. The rest closed in on her and she was forced to the ground. They roughly removed her boots and soft leather breeches. She screamed in fear and outrage, which only intensified the Gobboes’ rude laughter.
She was flipped onto her stomach and felt hot, stinging pain on her buttocks and thighs. One of the naked male Gobboes wielded a whip.
“Thisss will go better if you do asss we sssay,” he said, “of courssse it isss more fun thisss way!”
They yanked her to her feet. “Now take the top off, breeder, quick, or take a punch, a jab, a kick!”
She shook her head and tried to cover herself. “I would rather die than let you touch me!”
The whip stung her again and again, and she stumbled back into a cave wall. The creatures crowded in on her, punching, kicking, clawing her face and pulling her hair. Blow after blow rained down on her. She fought back fiercely, but the Gobboes overwhelmed her.
“Sssubdue the breeder onccce and all,” she heard the whip-wielder say. “We have no time to bruissse and brawl!”
The Gobboes held Kyrasoth down and a female stepped forward. She held out her palm and blew something into the Elf’s face.
Instantly, a wave of drowsiness hit Kyrasoth like crashing surf. Her struggling became sluggish. She felt strangely serene. The room began to pulse in and out of focus. She found she did not really care all that much anymore what they did to her. She just wanted to lie down and take a nap.
“Maybe I’ll just drift off for awhile,” she said, slurring the words, and joined the Gobboes in their subsequent laughter. They took her shirt and armor off of her. She did not object or resist.
“The bath, the bath, the bath!” the Gobboes cried.
She was lowered into a tepid pool of filthy water, and one of the females climbed in with her, holding a sponge, and began to scrub Kyrasoth thoroughly. Somewhere, deep down, Kyrasoth felt humiliation when the Gobboe pushed the sponge roughly at her breasts, but it was hard to focus on that, hard to care.
The other Gobboes hooted and howled. “The bath, the bath, the bath!”