Monday, April 27, 2009

Freaky Mondays

I love a good marketing ploy as much as the next guy. Especially one aimed at kids, and their parents. But sometimes, enough is enough.

What brought that one? Why the discovery of this picture:

I had flashbacks to that scene in Alien, where the monster comes ripping out of that guys chest.

Then I had flashbacks to Total Recall.

Still trying to figure out which one made me feel worse, but I'm thinking Total Recall.

Of course talking about flashbacks, has released an image of their new t-shirts in which they take a classic piece of artwork by Ralph McQuarrie and turn it into an abomination promoting their rather ugly characters from the Clone Wars television series.

It's one of those things which make me cringe upon seeing it.

In honor of that, I have created this:Well, I was amused.

Now that I have that out of my system, it's time to start thinking about the upcoming summer movie season. It is after all, the time of the year when genre movies seem to get released the most.

Anyways, on my list for things I absolutely must see are:

  • Star Trek
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
  • 9
  • Where the Wild Things Are
  • Astroboy
  • Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
  • G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra
And of course, there are things that I want to see, but am willing to forgo (or at least happily wait for DVD):
Well, that's enough lists for this week I think.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Monday Ramblings for 4/20/09

I know that it's no longer morning, but I still managed to get out today's rambling. And in honor of the day, though why it needs honoring I have no clue, except for maybe the two things geek that I've really enjoyed watching the past few days--or at the least made me laugh.

The first was the awesome movie, Fido. This came to my attention via a discussion on Zombies, and I have to say it is one of the best zombie movies I've seen. I laughed. Then I laughed some more. And even my beloved wife--no big fan of zombies mind you, she didn't even particularly like Shaun of the Dead--laughed.

The second one, which I enjoyed less than Fido, was a recent episode of CSI. Specifically, the episode featuring the Star Trek spoof, and the SF Fandom convention. Good times, though the jokes were a bit labored, and harbored that whole "let's point at the geeks and laugh" vibe.

Regardless, it is now time for me to return to my labors, and finish what I'm trying to get done.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Review: Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi: Outcast

The latest in post-RotJ Star Wars EU is a 302 paged book from Aaron Allston entitled Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi: Outcast (ISBN: 978-0-345-50906-2). Which for ease of use, and general laziness on my part, I shall henceforth refer to it merely as Outcast. Outcast was a fun, fun ride, a continuation of the trend, started by Millennium Falcon, that replaced the NJO/LotF focus on depressing, non-fantasy story lines. Set 40 years after A New Hope, it begins with a tight focus on Valin Horn's situation where he's coming under the sway of what I can only assume is the major plot point of Fate of the Jedi--a plot point which is described on the dust jacket as "a mysterious psychotic break." While the novel itself was a fun read, well-paced, nicely structured, and generally oozing the "feeling" of the GFFA, I was still left with the feeling of something being off.

I must confess something here, even after two reads, I'm still trying to figure out just what the plot is for this story. There's a lot happening, and a lot of characters doing things, but it's not really tightly coupled together with a plot. As stated above, we have this nice defined "A" plot involving psychotic Jedi, and there's the whole peace summit that folks are talking over, and suddenly, we're dealing with three distinct groups, doing three distinct things, none of them really related to what I perceived as the A or B plots from the opening chapters of the novel.

Ultimately I think the problem is in the fact that there's not a clear-cut villain for any of the various plot points which our cast-of-heroes find themselves. The only exception would be the one of the narrative thread bit where the environment itself is the antagonist. We have all these narrative threads--and no true antagonists in any of them. Sure, the protagonists are doing things against people (or the environment) but none of them come across as a threat to the hero; they're just macguffins to get through.

Maybe I'm old fashioned, but I just enjoy a book more when there's an overarching reason for the novel; when there's a good guy and a bad guy.

In the end, I think what we're seeing here, is what one often sees in the first chapter of a Dean Koontz novel; it's the section where people tangentially related to the plot, but aren't a focus of the story. do things to let you know that bad things are happening.

Speaking of people, the protagonists here are the usual mixture of Star Warriors in the form of the remaining heroes from the movies and their remaining children. In fact, the Dramatis Personae is somewhat... lacking this time around. For the start of a nine-book series, Outcast only features eleven characters in the DP (for comparison, Betrayal had 28 characters listed). What's sadder, is that if they had added just one more character to the DP, then it would've just been a listing of POV characters rather than the list of characters that play a role in novel--and no, they're not the same thing.

But, even then, we can cull our list of characters further, gathering just Luke, Ben, Jaina, Han and Leia as primary--and by extension important--characters.

First, Luke Skywalker, hero extraordinaire, and beloved Jedi Master--actually remembers what it means to be those things. He's wise, he's decisive, and he's not scared of silly soldiers with blasters and itchy trigger fingers. But above that, this book manages to successfully pull off what both LotF and the NJO failed to do: which is remove Luke as the power-house that can solve the problems of the overarching plot in 5 minutes, and thus leave the Fate of the Jedi "A" plot to the little Jedi to plod along until end of the nine books (which I have a bad feeling will feature Luke returning and setting things right). The thing is those earlier stories did remove him as instant problem solver, but they did so at the cost of his characterization. Allston managed to do this, and still keep him as the decisive hero that Luke is supposed to be.

The only thing that left me annoyed with his characterization here was a discussion between Luke and the Chief of State, in which he takes the time to poke at her over her old flame in order to protect his stance in the conversation, but when she attacks Kyp Durron for something he did 30-something years prior and was pardoned by the New Republic for, he doesn't bring up things she did--and was not pardoned for--during the same time frame. It seemed like he was willing to let Kyp get fed to the wolves there. But a single conversation where he doesn't act quite right is better than where he is way out in Left Field in terms of character in 12 out of a 19 book series .

So, after this beautiful handling of Luke Skywalker, we must glance over at his partner-in-crime for this particular novel; his son, Ben. For the first time, I've actually enjoyed Ben's characterization. He's no longer the cardboard cut-out which appeared in the first half of the LotF, additionally, he's coming into his own as a valid character--and an interesting mixture of Corran Horn and Luke Skywalker. I distinctly like the thought of a Jedi who approaches things using investigative techniques (including interrogation ones) rather than just following their whims and calling it the "Will of the Force."

Unfortunately, he's still not a character that just screams HERO the way Luke did during the early years, and Anakin Solo did during the early NJO. Still, his character is a lot more sympathetic and generally good, than the little StormTrooper which was Ben in LotF.

Speaking of good little Jedi, we next get to look towards Jaina--who is anything BUT a good little soldier in this novel. She's a perfect example of her mother's wit and fire and well, rebelliousness in relation to authority. Additionally, she seems to finally be over her soap-operatic ways and Mando-adoration and has thus settled into her role as Sword of the Jedi. But, still, she lacks that special something which would make her the Hero of the story, but she's much closer to having it than Ben, or her LotF incarnation.

The final duo of our primary characters are the perennial couple of couples, Han and Leia Solo. This was the same Solo couple that we got in last year's Millennium Falcon novel; loving and happy, and willing to do just about anything for a friend.

I do feel the need to bring out one additional detail that Outcast needs praise on, and that is the fact that long-time Jedi Master Kenth Hamner actually gets a personality above and beyond "Stern Master #2." Yes, he has that whole retired military officer thing going for him, but just how he interacts with others, including (or maybe especially) Jaina, display him in a much more.... personable light.

Settings are slim here. We get Coruscant, Kessel and Dorin, home of the Kel Dor and the prequel-era Jedi, Plo Koon. Of those, both Kessel and Dorin get decent descriptions, and emphasis on the alienness of the planets as opposed to such terrestrial planets as Corellia.

Now while dealing with the Theme of this novel, I have to start and wonder if that sense of disquiet, that "not rightness" that I felt while reading was intentional. The book was titled "Outcast" and there were numerous references to being exiled, and leaving things behind. I have to wonder if the author intentionally built what should be, and on the surface is, a fundamentally sound Star Wars story but structured in such a way that when one thinks about it, it leaves you with a sense of disquiet. As if the story itself is an outcast from the greater narrative which is the expanded universe--or at least our expectations of that narrative.

Which in turn leads nicely to the lack in that narrative, that absence of a Campbellian Hero, which has been at the crux of how everything has played out since the last Campbellian Hero was forcibly removed from the narrative. We're still dealing with the ramifications of the Anakin Solo-shaped hole in the narrative; we're looking at the fact that the narrative exiled itself from the Hero's Journey which is at the root of Star Wars.

We're missing things here, things are separated from how they "should" be. Even above and beyond Luke's exile from Coruscant, this is a book, a narrative, that has exiled itself from the morality play roots of Star Wars. Outcast is a Good vs. Evil story with no defined evil, and no defined Hero to fight that evil. Just a cast of protagonists, going about doing things they feel they need to do. It's not Campbellian, if anything it is episodic operatic drama; a literary version of a daily soap opera or procedural police drama from American TV so to speak.

It's not bad per se, but it's not classical Star Wars either. And that separation, especially coupled with narrative threads that should be Star Wars is what lends itself so well to that disquiet, that sense of disconnectedness with the narrative, that I felt while thinking about the story.

As unintended end result of editorial influence on the author to have XYZ happen in the book, and nothing else, it works. If it was intentional on Mr. Allston's part (whether due to editorial influence or not) it is utter and sheer genius.

And on that note, I feel it might be time for my final thoughts on the novel, and my final thought has to be that I liked it. I liked the way that the absence worked with the greater narrative, but above that I liked the fact that I actually enjoyed it while reading. Sure there were an issue or two that made me stumble over the narrative. I'm not entirely certain how well I enjoy the characterization of Tahiri Veila here, or how much I enjoy the thought of Tarc coming back into the overall storyline. on the flip side of the coin, I did enjoy seeing a handful of secondary, non-Jedi characters during the Kessel scene.

In the end, I have to give this a 3.8/4. All the good things done right here, far outweighs the few bad things--and even on just the chance that that sense of disquiet I felt while reading was intentional makes me all sorts of happy.

Rambling in Awe of Idiocy

Saturday, me and the Beloved Wife were wondering about, performing a few errands. As we were leaving one store, we were jumped so to say by one of those groups asking for money-well, this one was selling baked goods in exchange for money.

Now, here's a secret. I've never really given money to those folks. Even when in high school, and those who were performing the road-block were folks I know. Sure, on occasion, they'll tickle my fancy, and I'll give something, but it's rather rare for me to actively be the person instigating the donation.

Well, the group in question was the Lego Robotic League. It was just one of those things that I couldn't not do. After all, it was LEGOS and ROBOTS. My poor beleaguered wife, was confused for a few minutes as we perused the baked goods. But, she had figured it all out by the time we made it to our car with the brownies. At which time, she just gave me one of those exasparated sighs.

One does have to love the Beloved Wife.

Which is part of the reason I'm somewhat dumbfounded by some recent news out of Japan. Well, the article ws from 10/31/08 but I just found it a few days ago. The article in question (on the Comics Alliance site) is entitled: Japanese Man Petitions for Right to Marry Comic Characters.

Now, I know that the folks over in Japan love their anime, and I can admit that they are some pretty pictures invovled. But that's all they are, pictures.

Of course what makes this the most amusing of all, is that just moments before I read the article in question, I stumbled across the image to the right there on the I'm Not Alone blog.

It couldn't have been a more perfect picture.

Well, I was amused.

Sadly, the other news from the past week isn't quite as amusing. D&D co-creator Dave Arneson has finally lost his long battle with cancer.

To offset, this sad news, I must congratulate SF (or is that SyFy now?) author Tobias Buckwell's wife had twins on Saturday morning.

I'm a firm believeer that children are the ultimate in speculative fiction: unlimited possibilities, that we get to watch come true.

Monday, April 6, 2009


That there is my little Jedi. What you don't know, is that he's holding a stick, and at the same time held this conversation with my Beloved Wife:

YubYub: Mommy, I'm gonna fight you. (he's holding a stick)
BelovedWife: Oh really, is that your sword?
YubYub: Nope.
BelovedWife: Ok, is that your light saber?
YubYub: (in an exasperated tone) No mommy, it's just a stick!

You've got to live kids.

Anyways, I'm still on light-time duty due to overwhelming demands regarding the testing of my current software system which needs to be delivered rather soon. As such, I lack the sheer time needed to normally generate one of my rambling posts, so you get this nifty mini-rambling post.

But, good things are happening right now in Geek Culture. It's the start of the Spring Anime Season for one, including a new series about the FullMetal Alchemist--whose first episode I actually did enjoy, even if overfilled with "short" jokes.

Then of course was the recent release of the first novel of the Fate of the Jedi series. I'm about 8/10ths of the way through that novel, and should have it finished in time for a review on Friday.

And Harper's Island is starting sometime soon. I have a kind of vague hope that this will at least be entertaining television, though I fear I am setting myself up to be let down (and made somewhat bored) as is so often the case when dealing with TV (glances towards Fringe and Dollhouse).

Oh well, that is it for this issue of the rambling Geek.

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