gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
I'm still deep in research and character creation for Task Force Singh and hope to have more concrete bits for all of you at some point soon. I've been dealing with some other issues that have kept me from being as diligent as I should be. Again, mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

But I must admit that I've been pleased with the feedback I've been getting, and want to address some of the comments and suggestions I've received both on Dreamwidth and on Facebook. Let's make this a great ship and setting!

First of all, on further research, I'm changing something I stated earlier. At first, I didn't want ships traveling in hyperspace subject to detection by ships and stations in normal space. While reading multiple descriptions of naval combat in Castles of Steel, it's become clear that "spotting smoke" was quite often the signal for ships to rig for battle, or at least go to a higher state of readiness until the approaching ship or ships could be identified.

So now ships in hyper can be detected, but that detection is limited to the knowledge that there is something moving nearby in hyperspace. Extended observation can reveal a general course and measurement of speed, and in the case of multiple contacts, a rough count. But nothing beyond the roughest idea of size. At some points, three cruisers traveling together could present the signature of a single battleship.

While this ability is most important to solar systems for traffic control and the early warning of hostile craft, it also aides ships traveling as a squadron in station keeping. To keep the fog of war intact, this sort of detection isn't always available or certain. As with everything, distance equals loss of signal strength, so if the ship approaches a system far from the detectors, there will be little warning.

The same goes for ships in transit together. It is quite possible for a ship to wander "off the beam" and lose track of their squadron. Since warships travel under strict orders, it's entirely possible that a UN Destroyer, as an example, might not know the final destination of their group.

I almost used "flotilla" there. While I can transfer a lot of naval terms, that one won't fly.

A number of people asked about the Vajra's ship's mascot. While it's a fun idea, I'm vetoing that one. Hyperspace travel is harmful to anything that requires electrical fields to operate, including pretty much all forms of life that we know of. So it would be heartless to subject an innocent animal to the constant trauma of FTL flight, especially on a ship that makes runs of frankly dangerous distances at high speeds, two factors that increase the onset and severity of Hyperspace Adaptation Syndrome. Sorry, no space monkeys on the Vajra.

Nicknames. This one has come up a few times. Since Vajra means both thunderbolt and diamond, I'm thinking The Big Bolt. I'd love to connect to some Hindi speakers to find what a properly scatological nickname bestowed by the lower-ranking crew. I have a list of Hindi pejoratives to use when it comes to what the engineers call the engines, power plants, and all the damn things that break.

Ship's traditions. I'm open to suggestions. Just remember this is a ship of the Deep Space Fleet, under strict military discipline, operating in an environment where everything can kill you. So shenanigans should be subdued.

The Vajra was the first of her class to be built. Going back to the Dreadnought building war of the late 19th century, we can say that the Vajra was the first of her kind to be built. Perhaps it was a quantitative improvement in gravitics or fusion plant output that allowed for more heavy guns to be carried with more armor without sacrificing real-space acceleration or speed in hyperspace.

The real revolution in the Vajra-class was not installing Autonomous Attack Vehicle tubes and support in addition to the grasers. The Vajra was designed to be a brawler, built with ten 200 Gigajoule grasers in heavy two gun turrets, 12 108 Gigajoule graser turrets, and 12 64 Gigajoule rapid-fire grasers in barbettes. Devastating at close range, she has no long range punch. She was built to be the center of a squadron with other ships handling the AAV duties.

The changes were probably mostly cosmetic in the later hulls. No two warships are identical, and in her long life, the Vajra has probably been overhauled several times. The main difference between DSF Vajra and her newer sisters is the latest generation battlewagons will be bigger, faster, and carry heavier guns. Which is why at the beginning of the book the Vajra and her battle group are flying the flag far from the main action.
gridlore: Photo: penguin chick with its wings outstretched, captioned "Yay!" (Penguin - Yay!)
Ah, the Fantastic Four. Along with Spider-Man, Marvel's iconic characters. For over fifty years, they've fought cosmic threats to our world, confronted Dr. Doom over and over, bickered endlessly, broken up and reformed . . . and made terrible movies.

I'm serious. There has never been a good FF movie. Which is a shame, because they deserve it. Because great movies are about great characters, and the Fantastic Four are filled with them. To that end, allow me to present my concept for a great Fantastic Four film.

First off, no origin story. I'm not wasting twenty minutes retelling the same story over. It doesn't matter how they got their powers, they have them. Secondly, we see them as an established team already. Forget the fumbling starts and transformative moments. They've been around probably as long as the Avengers. Which brings me to my third change: I'm moving them out of New York. NYC is filled with heroes already.

My first choice is Boston since it is close to both Harvard and MIT, both of which would appeal to Reed Richards. But let's go farther afield and send them to Los Angeles. CalTech and Harvey Mudd would be happy to have Reed around as an occasional guest lecturer, and God knows Angelinos love seeing LA destroyed in the movies.

Now, out characters. Reed Richards, aka Mr. Fantastic. A brilliant scientist and engineer, with a body that is elastic and extremely durable. He can stretch his body out like rubber, and take blows that would kill a normal man dead. He's also autistic. It's so bloody clear to me. Reed is somewhere on the spectrum. He has trouble with interpersonal relationships, is more comfortable with his theories than practical life, and doesn't get most normal references. It's why he decided to fly an unauthorized flight in an experimental spaceship with his friends! I see Reed as being in his late thirties. Reed is married to . . .

Susan Storm-Richards, the Invisible Woman. Strong, independent, and deeply in love with Reed but growing frustrated with his habits. She sees herself as the designated adult of the group. Along with turning herself invisible, Sue can protect invisible force fields in almost any shape. She can use these to protect people, hold things up or down, or restrain a combatant. Sue is younger than Reed by about eight years in my vision. Sue's brother is . . .

Johnny Storm, the Human Torch. Still in his mid-twenties, Johnny has been a thrill seeker all his life. Before becoming the Torch, he raced dirt bikes, surfed, and had gotten into BASE jumping. As the Human Torch, he can transform into a humanoid creature made of fire. In this form, he can fly, project blasts of concentrated flame from his hands, and is highly resistant to injury. As a last resort, Johnny can "nova burst", creating a massive high-temperature explosion centered on himself. He is usually shocked back to human form and left drained by this act. Johnny is the one member of the team who revels in what he's become; accepting endorsement deals and dating starlets.

Lastly, Benjamin Grimm, the Thing. Left feeling deeply isolated by his transformation into a rock-skinned monster, Ben is often angry and sarcastic, lashing out at both friends and foes. He still blames Reed for the trip that led to this state for him. One thing I'd like to show in the film is Ben's faith, as he is supposedly an observant Jew. As the Thing, Ben is immensely strong, able to life items weigh many tons easily. His rocky skin makes him nigh impossible to hurt, although he can still feel things the way most people do.

There's the main cast. We start the movie by zooming into the Baxter Building (wherever it ends up) and coming into a room where the team has for. . . a merchandising meeting. PowerPoint, bullet charts, the whole deal. One by one the team makes excuses to leave. Reed left an experiment running, Johnny has to make a date for a movie premier (just for fun, I want him to say he's meeting Alison Blaire for the film. Just a nod to the Dazzler fans.) Ben just announces he's bored and leaves. Sue looks at the executives and says that once again, she's left to make the decisions.

So we've set the dynamic. What follows is a set of attacks on each of the characters when they are away from each other. Reed gets attacked at Harvey Mudd (Cathy can tell me what building she wants to be trashed), Johnny gets ambushed at an after party, Ben while walking through a park. All these attacks are tough, but each member is able to fight them off. Except for Sue. She gets jumped and captured.

At which point the remaining team members receive a message. From Victor von Doom.

Doctor Doom is the classic megavillain. Arrogant, overwhelmingly powerful, yet honorable in his own way, he's been the FF's main antagonist for years. Always clad in his trademark armor, face always masked to hide his scars, he speaks of himself in the third person and is playing four-dimensional chess at all times. Doom has two goals. Bring the world to order under his rule, and the utter destruction of Reed Richards, who he blames for his injuries in their college days.

Again, I'm amused by the idea of Dr. Doom being a Mudder. West is Best, Crush the Others Like Vermin!

Anyway, the team comes together, tracks down where Doom is holding Sue, release her, and have the big battle against Doom. Just Doom. No waves of troops, no big hole in the sky, Just Dr, Doom in all his glory. The fight will be epic. But in the end, the heroes prevail. Doom falls, and the team pulls off his mask to reveal. . . a robot. It speaks.

"Were you so foolish as to think that Doom would bother with you personally so early in the game. This has been a test, and you all performed as I expected. Fear not, Richards, for the seeds of your destruction have been planted, and soon Doom will reap his just rewards."

Then the robot blows up. Credits

The after credits scene is six weeks later at an OB/GYN office where Sue is being told she's pregnant. The doctor says that everything looks normal, but because of the parents, they want to monitor it closely. Reed and Sue walk out, obviously back in love again. The receptionist watches them go as lines of green text scroll down her eyes.

This sets up the next film and the birth of Franklin Richards. The third movie can be the coming of Galactus, not just to eat the Earth, but to destroy the threat of Franklin Richards to the Universe itself!
gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
OK, I've been really bad about writing. Which pisses me off after successfully finishing the March challenge to write my 750 words every day of the month. I said I'd take a few days off, but I've gone way over that.

Part of it is stress. I'm dealing with the ongoing tumor treatments on my back. This is particularly annoying, as it is so drawn out. I have three sites. Each one has to get an approval for a biopsy, approval for a removal after the biopsy, and then repeating the process for the next site. The largest basal-cell tumor (the size of a freaking cashew) was removed, and the next removal is in two weeks. But this means that I have to do wound care and deal with some discomfort from having stitches in my back almost all the time.

Then there's the new tattoo. Yeah, I got it, and I was a stressed-out mess in the day leading up because, between my medical history and my history with bad tattoos, I was a bit worried about my appointment. Luckily, my tattoo artist, Alex at Black Dolphin, was great and I have my new tattoo is great! But again, I'm dealing with wound care for the tattoo. Still, love it.

Then there's simple writer's block. I can't tell you how many times I've opened 750words.com and just stared at the blank screen in frustration. I've tried my usual writing exercises, wrote rants about the Giants' slow start to the season that petered out after 200 words, and ended up rage-quitting the site.

Damn, it'd be nice to be able to drink booze on days like that.

But I'm trying. As I told Kirsten the other day, I need to buy a new notebook to organize my notes for the novel. I'm hoping to begin to block out a timeline and chapter outlines soon, along with a full list of major characters on both sides of the story. I can see where I want to go, the real task is getting things down. As this is going to be my National Novel Writing Month project, actual writing will commence November 1st. Expect calls for beta-readers around that time.

What else is going on, as I strive to find another 350 or so words to fill this out? Work on the Free Trailer Beowulf continues. This weekend, as the rains appear to have finally tapered off, we're painting the red stripe and the Imperial Sunburst man stencil. We tried to do the stripe with tape, but it didn't hold that well. So we have very nice red paint and a reflective covering coat. The Man is doing to be in black. We still need to make or buy the "Free Trailer Beowulf" lettering stencils.

Also on the list is installing the new roof vent. As I think I've mentioned before, the person who built this trailer installed a vent cover instead of an actual vent hatch that can be closed. This is an issue that probably led to the mold problem. We need to install and seal the new window we had cut at Tap Plastics. Finally, the guy who owns the custom door and window shop next to Kirsten's warehouse has offered to spray coat the interior with a dark stain and a sealing coat. Which will make the interior look amazing, as we've picked up glow-in-the-dark stars to put on the walls and ceiling.

It's going to be amazing when it's done. I just want it done. Which leads to another source of spoon-eating stress for me. I have a lot of trouble helping with these activities, because of the damage that I'd accumulated over the years. I get tired too fast, lose my words, and can't remember what I'm doing.

Such is life.

So, writing. I have to be better about this. I need to set aside a four-hour block each day for research, note-taking, writing drafts, and editing. I need to plot out some short stories and submit them until something sticks somewhere. I need to write enough articles for Chris Garcia until he gives up and produces the Douglas Berry issue of Journey Planet. I need to reclaim the discipline that I learned in the Army.

Because writing is what I have left. I'm never going to be a truck driver or dispatcher again. I can't go back to school with this Swiss-cheese brain, and my odd of getting drafted by the Giants to play left field are growing dimmer by the day. (Although, given the recent play of our outfield, you never know.)

So, this is a new start. They may not always make sense, but there will be something every day, or I'll tell you why I missed a day.
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
A look at one of the major, if not the most important, settings in Task
Force Singh: The GNJ Vajra, hull number BB-3126. The leading ship of her class, the Vajra has been in service for twenty years and is now considered a second-line capital ship.

Vajra is a Sanskrit word meaning both thunderbolt and diamond. Additionally, it is a weapon won in battle which is used as a ritual object to symbolize both the properties of a diamond (indestructibility) and a thunderbolt (irresistible force). When it was first laid down, the new ship was the first of the big battleships to take advantages of improvements in materials technologies that allowed for heavier armor and more powerful weapons without sacrificing speed.

The ship is a slightly flattened cone 1,200 meters long and 500 meters wide at the stern. The interior decks are stacked perpendicular to the direction of thrust. There are 150 manned decks, which much of the interior space given over to power plants and munitions storage.

Beginning at the bow, you find a cluster of sensor arrays and the navigational deflector, a weak gravitational beam used to push dust and pebbles aside at high speeds. Attempts to ramp up this technology to a true deflector system able to push aside incoming penetrators have been unsuccessful, as the energy requirements are just too high.

Moving back, much of the forward quarter of the ship is given over to storage and docking facilities. The Vajra carries several shuttles, each able to move a hundred men and several tons of cargo between the ship and a planet's surface. The forward stores include fresh water tanks, replacement parts and raw materials for the machine shops, and enough dry goods storage to allow cruises lasting over a year. Also in this area are the ship's hydroponic gardens, which grow much of the food consumed by the crew. (Most Arjunans follow a mostly vegetarian diet, so fresh greens are vital.)

Behind this area, and clustered around the ship's core, is the main bridge and associated facilities. Senior officer quarters are found on these decks. The bridge itself is two decks high (roughly 4 meters) to allow for a large holographic display. Control stations are arranged in two tiers around this display, with the captain's station at the base. Just off the bridge is the captain's day office, a small mess mostly handling mid-watch snacks, and "crash rooms"; small spartan rooms for quick naps during extended operations.

Moving down the core, past a ring of fusion plants and magazines, is the main crew quartering areas. The Vajra has a crew of 258 officers and 7,740 ratings. The highest ranking petty officers and most commissioned officers get single accommodations. Junior officers and petty officers live two to a room, while the bulk of the crew live in six-man bunkrooms. Policy to mix-up the assignment of bunks so that crew working in different jobs live together. This encourages the cross-training the navy relies on.

The one and two man quarters enjoy private restrooms. The ratings make do with common showers and freshers. There are many mess facilities throughout the ship. As a rule, officers are encouraged to eat with the ratings as often as possible, to foster a sense of teamwork. There is a formal mess near the bridge for the senior staff. The mess crews compete to have the best food and cleanest facilities. They are not above sabotage in these competitions.

Also in the crew areas are the scattered medical facilities, with the main medical station being the equivalent of a small hospital. All the inhabited areas of the ship are built to be as open as possible. Wherever it is feasible, live plants are found. This not only helps with keeping the air fresh, it is a psychological boost as well. The crew is constantly urged to take the various classes offered while on a deployment, work to become cross-qualified in another technological specialty and strive to make their section the best on the ship.

Beyond another ring of fusion plants (the Vajra carries 36 plants in total) and more magazines for the ship's weapons, there are the engineering spaces. The Vajra uses four massive thrusters to maneuver in real space and has a powerful hyperdrive capable of hurling the ship at 270c if needed. In real space, the engines can accelerate the ship at a constant 1.8g.

That's a look at the insides of the battleship Vajra. Tomorrow, I'll write about the important parts, her armor, and her weapons, as well as dealing with the heat issues.

Folks, I really would like feedback on this. The Vajra needs to be a character, not just a name.
gridlore: One of the "Madagascar" penguins with a checklist: [x] cute [x] cuddly [x] psychotic (Penguin - Checklist)
Yeah, I've been slacking a bit. I promise to be better about keeping up on my writing.

So the news today is that I have an appointment for getting my first tattoo in 32 years on Monday. If you've ever seen my one tattoo, the World's Worst Grateful Dead Tattoo, you'd know why I've been a little wary of adding to my inked hide. Why take the risk? I know the circumstances of the WWGDT were a tad unusual, but you can see why I was a little needle-shy.

There's also my changing tastes. I didn't want to end up with a design celebrating something now passe or downright embarrassing. The Dead art, while horrible, is at least a good story and Deadheads have always been a loyal tribe. There's also my ongoing health issues, which for years made me worry about getting my hide pierced a few thousand times with an ink-injecting needle. But when I asked, the anticoagulation clinic staff only asked what the design I was getting. They did say that working my appointment in to the times I'm off the Warfarin for the ongoing dermatology visits would be best.

So what is the design? Nothing fancy, just a list of the medical issues that have either drastically affected how I live my life or came close to killing me. They'll be down my right biceps, listed by the ICD-10 code, under a header reading, oddly enough, "ICD-10."

We're going in chronological order, so the festivities start off with G72.3, which is Hypokelemic Periodic Paralysis. This is a genetic disorder, so I've had it from the time I was a fertilized egg, but never knew it until a year or so ago. What it is is my body has a hard time channeling potassium properly when I'm under high levels of stress. Rather than sending the potassium to the muscles to help things move correctly, it gets locked up in red blood cells. This causes the extremities to lock up at the joints, mainly.

Looking back, I can see where I might have had an attack and just passed it off as something else. Like when I was running a marathon at Fort Benning, and my legs locked up at the 20 mile mark. I thought I was just not strong enough, or hadn't eaten correctly. But more likely I had put my body under so much stress that the HPP struct. I'm very fortunate that my threshold for attacks is very high. Some people deal with daily attacks of their limbs freezing up.

Next is C81.09. Stage IV-B Hodgkin's Lymphoma. Diagnosed after the removal of my spleen in late July of 1995. Stage IV means that the cancer was all through my lymphatic system and had jumped to my liver. At the time, I was given a 60% chance of living to see my 30th birthday, and that was with harsh treatment.

I made it, obviously, but the cancer and the treatment combined to really wreck my health. I was left with almost no immune system, I eventually lost my teeth, and all the other things on my list can be traced back to the fight of my life against Hodgkin's.

But before I could even start to fight the chemotherapy, I had to deal with I82.401, Deep Vein Thrombosis in my right hip. When I had my spleen removed as part of the lead up to my cancer diagnosis, my platelet count skyrocketed. Which led to an amazingly painful blood clot in the very large vein that drains the right leg. As a side note, I was in this kind of agony when i found out that Jerry Garcia had died. I was beginning to feel a bit like the Biblical Job at that point. Treatment required that I be hospitalized for three weeks. During this time, my weight dropped to 113lbs.

Next up, and this came quickly on the heels of the end of my chemotherapy, is J18.9, pneumonia. I have had eight or nine diagnosed cases of this disease since the first one in February 1996. Probable a baker's dozen more than never got the nod from the medical establishment. The first two cases came damn close to killing me. My lungs crackle when you listen to them, that's the damaged alveoli (air sacks) that were wrecked in my many fights with this problem.

I have never been fashionable. I've never been one to go with the latest trends. But I was on the cutting edge once, and boy did I hate it. This is when I got hit by J09.X2, the H1N1 Influenza. I never quite needed to be hospitalized, but it was close, and I was in the hot zone for people in danger of dying from this particular flu strain. Since then, I get my flu shot early.

After having the flu, my lungs continued to torture me. This one really hurts, because it cost me my job driving for Lord&Sons. I26.09, Pulmonary Embolisms. These are blood clots in the lungs, and are horrifically dangerous. Never mind the fact that they kill off sections of your lung tissue, they can move into your heart (and kill you) or into your brain (and kill you) or just stay where they are and eventually kill your lungs. Which is bad.

This was the point when I first filed for permanent disability, and was awarded it. However, the feds have an interesting idea of what permanent means, and a year later they declared me fit for work! I got a gig doing dispatch and reservation work for a small limousine company. But just over a year later, on July 31, 2013, Kirsten heard a crash in the bedroom and found me wedged between the bed and the dresser, totally unresponsive. A fast ambulance ride and a long two days (which I didn't noticed, due to the induced coma I was in) and we learned what a G45.9 Transient Ischemic Attack is. It's a stroke. My blood thinners just stopped working, and a blood clot made its way into my left parietal lobe. It's called a transient attack because the clot resolves on its own. In my case, I hit my head pretty hard going down, and that might have been enough to shake the clot into pieces.

But afterwards, I couldn't speak clearly for more than a few sentences. My memory was shot, and I had almost no proprioception on my right side. I had to learn to walk again. I had to teach myself to speak. I spent three weeks in between the hospital and the in-patient rehab clinic learning the skills possessed by the average 2 year old child. It was very frustrating. Follow that with about 3 months of outpatient rehabilitation. And sill i was never going to be the same.

Like a good mystery? Then try to explain why I developed G62.9 Peripheral Neuropathy. The sensory nerves in both my legs are dying, leading to near constant pain and sudden bursts of extreme shocks of pain. We call those the "floor weasels", because that's what it feels like most of the time; weasels ripping into my feet. Then there the involuntary muscle contractions. Usually later in the day, I'll get everything from twitches to fell on, kick like a Rockette, leg spasms. Which makes sleeping difficult. None of my doctors can figure out why this developed in me, and why it's so severe. One of the reasons i try to walk as much as I can and do my gym time is that regular exercise can slow the progress of the condition.

At this point, many of you are wide-eyed in horror, and thinking "Oh my God, the poor guy! Next time I see him I'm going to buy him a beer!" Hahahahahahaha Fuck My Life. No beer for me, you see, because about the same time I found out about the Hypokelemic Periodic Paralysis I also found out about my raging case of K85.20 Acute Alcoholic Pancreatitis. After years of moderate but steady drinking (my barracks had a beer machine, I loved the Army) and with all the other slings and arrows it had suffered. my pancreas stopped playing nice with booze. One can of Budweiser could make me sick for days. So I switch to non-alcoholic beers (I still like the taste) and face the world sober.

So that's it, my new tattoo explained. These are my campaign ribbons, showing the battles I've fought and the ones I'm still fighting. The ink will be starting high on my right arm and extend down. That way, I have room for more entries.
gridlore: A pile of a dozen hardback books (Books)
The title is half of one of my favorite Grateful Dead lyrics.

Went up to Half Price Books today, it what is probably the last load of decluttering books for some time. While waiting for them to tabulate my payoff, I wandered around for a bit.

Wandering the history section, I scored. My friend Bruce Norbeck had suggested two books for me as part of me research for Task Force Singh, "Dreadnought" and "Castles of Steel", both by Robert K. Massie. The first is a detailed examination of the people and events that shaped the naval arms race between the United Kingdom and the German Empire in the decades leading up the First World War.

It's an amazing read, as Massie takes the time to introduce to characters like Kaiser William II and Admiral Jackie Fisher as people. Indeed, the book spends more time on how the personalities of the movers and shakers interacting with each other shaped the balance of power in Europe. This style also gives great insight to these powerful figures as human beings. Otto von Bismarck was a brilliant statesman, but also a petulant, petty jerk. King Edward VII was pretty lost as a monarch, happily deferring to his government on almost everything. And Winston Churchill had the crappiest childhood you can imagine.

All of this is wrapped around the whirl of European politics in the wake of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870; the war that made the scattered German states into a single empire while causing the fall of France's Second Empire. It's really fascinating to see how England was stuck in the ideal of the Splendid Isolation, secure in the knowledge that the Royal Navy was a bulwark against any invasion. Even as the age of sail began to fade, the hide-bound traditionalists of the Royal Navy clung to sail. It took true revolutionaries and mavericks to drag the navy into the modern age.

In Germany, the Kaiser faced a similar problem. German had little coast line and limited access to the North Sea, so a navy had never been a concern. Besides, Germany's power was her armies. Vast, disciplined, and well led by a professional officer class, the Imperial German Army could crush any of her neighbors. Convincing the Reichstag to spend huge piles of marks on building battleships and improving the Kiel canal to allow them access to the North Sea was the work of years, and involved no small amount of dishonesty and gambling. Several times, the Kaiser ordered ships to be laid down before the funds had been approved, and then presented the assembly with a fait accompli.

All in all, a fascinating read. But as long one, and quite dense. I've already had to renew the books once, and the Santa Clara library never guarantees endless renewals. "Dreadnought" is almost a thousand pages long, and the next one is about the same length. But there's so much good material in here! I've already cribbed three characters, some setting details, and the casus belli that sets off the who plot.

Since these are library books, I've taken to taking pictures of important passages that I want to remember and emailing them to my self. Rather clumsy, but it works. I tend to do most of my reading in bed lying down, so taking notes would be an act of some contortion, and even I can't read my own writing these days.

So these books must be returned, and possibly soon. Which brings me back to Half Price Books. As I said, I was wandering the store, glancing at this and that, when I spied the Ballantine Books paperback edition of "Castles of Steel", which is more directly on point for the style of warfare I'm hoping to describe in Task Force Singh. New, this book goes for $20. I got it for about nine bucks, which I just took out of what I got for the books I was dropping off.

Now I can highlight, margin note, and page mark to my heart's content! I can take time, reread important bits, and really digest the material. Because I really want the foundations of the novel to be as strong as possible. As I mentioned in my writing group this morning, getting the basics right makes the whole story sing.

My next step in laying that foundation, is to design the Vajra, the Arjun battleship that will be one of the main locations for the events of the book. I'll be using GURPS Starships for at least an initial pass on making the ship more a place than an idea, but will be working out details of the living ship. Because down properly, the ship can become a character in its own right.
gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
OK, some changes and expansions of the setting for Task Force Singh. I'm still building the state my main protagonist comes from (there are actually two protagonists in opposition to each other, but this is the guy I thought up first.)

The Beta Hydi system was settled roughly 300 years before the book's starting date by way of a huge colonization effort headed by India. The effects of climate change and the ravages of the Warpox epidemic was leading to mass famine. Volunteers from across southern Asia begged to be included in the mission. All told, over 5 million refugees were packed into colony ships and sent out.

The rigorous conditions on their new home, named Arjuna after a mythical hero, led to the creation of a strict hierarchy and a strong work ethic. Shelters needed to be dug and fitted out, vast hydroponic farms put into operation, and a million other details worked out. The colony thrived with an isolated oligarchy running things. For the Traveller players reading this, it was a Feudal Technocracy.

Power has concentrated in the hands of the Jagirdar; landed nobles who ruled through sheer economic power. The Jagirdar were the captains of industry and operators of the vast warrens of worker housing. As the colony grew to exploit both the resources of Beta Hydri and those of nearby stars, conflict among the Jagir houses grew to near warfare. To end this, the houses agree to elect a dictator and form a constitutional monarchy.

Today, the Arjun Samarjy (Arjun Empire) controls eight star systems besides the home system. The ruler, the Samrat (Emperor) has full executive power. Technically, the assembly of Jagirdar elects the Samrat; in reality the ruling Samrat appoints his eldest child at birth and the nobles approve it.

The Jagirdar meets as an upper house of the government, known as the Gomed Hol (Oynx Hall) for the chamber they meet in. The Gomed Hol serves mainly as an advisory body, producing little legislation, as its members tend to be busy seeing to their own holdings.

The people are represented in the Samsad (Parliament) which is based on population. Currently the Samsad seats 573 voting members and numerous non-voting observers from the colonies. Members of the Samsad are elected from regional councils, which are elected by the people. One of the greatest issues on Arjuna is the growing demand for direct representation and more regional power. The Samsad is considered to remote, with each member speaking for an average of 3 million citizens. The Samsad is where legislation is introduced, debated, and passed. The state operates on a theory of implied royal assent. When a bill passes the Samsad, it is held for three days after the Samrat has been informed of the bill's passage. After that thime, the bill is law. The Samrat has the power to veto any bill. This power is almost never used.

The Samrat is the head of state. The head of the government is his Chancellor, a post selected by the Samrat himself. The Oynx Hall has the power to refuse to allow the Samrat's choice for office, but it takes a super-majority and has only been invoked twice. The Chancellor is charged with appointing officers to the various ministerial posts and running the day to day operations of the state and government. Chancellors are usually chosen by the party with the majority in the Samsad, or by coalition vote. The Samrat is usually quietly consulted as well. Chancellors remain in office at the pleasure of the Samrat or until his party falls out of the majority and a new Chancellor is called for.

There are several parties in the Empire. The major players are:

The Imperial Expansionists. They support a strong central government and expanding the Imperial holdings. Currently hold a slim majority in the Samsad.

The Traditionalists. A conservative, religious party dedicated to returning to old Hindu ways and promoting religious unification under one faith. The more radical members want a return to the caste system. They are partners with the Expansionists in the current government.

The Unionists. Their main platform is full membership in the empire and full citizenship for those living on the colony worlds.

The Democracy Now Party. They demand the dismantling of the imperial state and full suffrage and free elections under a new constitution. The hold a small number of seats, but are quite vocal and vote as a solid bloc.

The Consolidationists. Bitter foes of the Expansionists, they advocate spending precious Rupees on building infrastructure and improvements in the territories already controlled by the state, and improving the lot of the citizenry.

The Isolationists. The fight defense spending and expansion tooth and nail. Once the strongest voice in the Samsad, they've lost dozens of seats over the years and are now a distant third after the Imperial Expansionists and the Unionists. Natural allies of the Consolidation Party, they break on several issues so a true union seems impossible,

More to come.
gridlore: One of the "Madagascar" penguins with a checklist: [x] cute [x] cuddly [x] psychotic (Penguin - Checklist)
Sitting on this barstool talking like a damn fool
Got the twelve o'clock news blues
And I've given up hope on the afternoon soaps
And a bottle of cold brew
Is it any wonder I'm not crazy? Is it any wonder I'm sane at all
Well I'm so tired of losing- I got nothing to do and all day to do it
I go out cruisin' but I've no place to go and all night to get there
Is it any wonder I'm not a criminal?
Is it any wonder I'm not in jail?


The joys of being retired, sick and recovery from minor surgery at the same time. I'm bored. I have things to do, but between the thankfully lessening pain of the incisions and the general yuck I've picked up, I'm well out of spoons after doing nothing. Even playing Civilization VI seems out of reach today. I've tried doing some writing and research on Task Force Singh, but nothing's there.

To make matters worse, we're currently a one-car household until we can Kirsten's car fixed in a few vital spots. That's happening this weekend, hopefully. But it means that right now I'm at home with no wheels.

Is it any wonder I've got
Too much time on my hands, it's ticking away with my sanity
I've got too much time on my hands, it's hard to believe such a calamity
I've got too much time on my hands and it's ticking away from me
Too much time on my hands, too much time on my hands
Too much time on my hands


But even if I had the truck, where would I go? I suppose I could go sit in the library and read graphic novels, but I'm tired. I'm going to want to lie down in a bit and nap. I do that a lot these days. Dealing with the whole back epic, and trying to get work down on the trailer, and waiting for news about Baycon panels . . . it's all contributing to a spoon deficit that I never make up.

I'm even falling behind on the little housework I do here. I have to get one load of laundry down today. But I feel like the gravity has been set on high here. I am in one of those stages where doing anything at all has become an epic chore. Even writing this, even with the big chunks of song lyrics, is a battle.

Well, I'm a jet fuel genius - I can solve the world's problems
Without even trying
I have dozens of friends and the fun never ends
That is, as long as I'm buying
Is it any wonder I'm not the president
(He's not the president)
Is it any wonder I'm null and void?


While I'm sure there will be better days, the fact is that right now I'm in a bad place physically and mentally. I keep getting reminded that I'm disabled. That sounds odd, I know, but most days I'm at least marginally functional. I can get through a day with a few errands, some creative work, and a little housework. I still have a spoon left when I go to bed, or at least enough of a spoon remnant to make it that far.

But these last few weeks? Whew. Too much happening. And that has forced me to scale back my activities, which causes stress when I see what isn't getting down, which causes spoon loss . . . you can see the cycle.

But this is the reality until we finish with my back. Which will be several weeks at this rate. I'm going to have stitches after every biopsy and removal. Meaning pain, not much activity, and more boredom. I've gotten quite good at adjusting to the new normal. I just don't have to like it.

It's 1537. I guess I'll start the laundry and watch old Law & Order episodes on Sundance until it's done. Then it's nap time. Tomorrow is another flipping day. I'll try for a good night's sleep, see if I can't raise the energy level a little, but as with everything, it's hard.

Is it any wonder I've got
Too much time on my hands, it's ticking away at my sanity
I've got too much time on my hands, it's hard to believe such a calamity
I've got too much time on my hands and it's ticking away from me
Too much time on my hands, too much time on my hands
Too much time on my hands


It's funny. Years ago when I got my job at PODS I wrote a piece like this using Styx's "Blue Collar Man" in a similar fashion. Who knew that this would be the band that wrote the themes of my life.

"Too Much Time On My Hands" written by Tommy Shaw, 1981
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
Naming things, characters, places, even entire stories, has always been the bane of my creative existence. If I were an artist working in a visual medium, you'd see a lot of "Landscape No. 12" and "Unfinished Portrait of a Chihuahua No. 3" hanging on gallery walls. It's just part of my existence.

A big part of the problem is that I've always had trouble remembering names. For as long as I can remember this has been the case. Unless that name was presented to me daily over a period of months, it would slip away. This even goes for things like schools I attended. So, faced with the need to name things for the novel, I try to take the easy route so I can focus on the important things like the plot and the tension caused by the game of blind chess the two commanders will be playing over dozens of star systems.

There are several tools at my disposal. For example, there are dozens of great websites that generate names for you from any number of cultures and races, real and fictional. Using one geared to naming conventions of the Indian subcontinent has allowed me to name both my protagonist, his wife, and a few other characters of note. Other crew names are more generic Indian. I don't worry too much about mixing northern and southern names, as these people have been living on a different planet for centuries. Things have most likely gotten blurred and mixed in that time.

Other non-Indian names are needed. Both for the characters who are part of Task Force Singh and for the opposing forces. As the main opposing force is a UN flotilla, I can draw inspiration from pretty much the whole spectrum of human names. My main antagonist, for example, is a Zulu. I can use several generators to quickly name the critical characters and even the minor ones and the spear-carriers with ease. A few of my favorite name sites even allow you to select how odd you want the name to be. Very helpful.

The system Task Force Singh is going to be trying to reach is a failing set of Chinese-settled worlds, so I'll need to do research on Cantonese naming conventions. I'm trying to get it right. They are in a situation analogous to the threat faced by the Ottoman Empire in terms of the Russians, so I may make that threat a Manchurian interstellar state that is also facing instability, and wants the traditional shirt, victorious war to prop their government.

Finally, last year when we were fund-raising for the Istanbul trip, we promised to Tuckerize people who pledged at a certain level. I still have that list, and those names will be used, never fear.

Personal names are pretty easy, so long as you do the research to make sure you're getting the naming conventions for each language right. Things, however, open a whole new can of worms. Take ships.

Ships are kind of important in a military science-fiction novel about a tense set of fleet actions. Sadly, the Indian Navy doesn't really have the kind of names I could steal. More research is needed. Searching on Hindu legends and gods, I find Vajra. Vajra is a Sanskrit word meaning both thunderbolt and diamond. Additionally, it is a weapon worn in battle which is used as a ritual object to symbolize both the properties of a diamond (indestructibility) and a thunderbolt (irresistible force). Perfect for the first of a new class of battleship! Which gives me the theme for the rest of the fleet, heroes and legends.

For the UN force, I've already identified the battleships as the Continent-class. Starting with Earth's continental masses, later builds would use land forms from UN-controlled worlds. I've also made it clear that a class of heavy missile cruiser is named for large cities. I can follow the naming conventions of the US and Royal Navy here for convenience.

Now worlds. Doing Beta Hydri was pretty easy. The first three worlds, small and unusable, I wanted to have whimsical names. So I cam up with Mongoose, Cobra, and Rat, all eternally chasing each other. For the others, I picked great leaders and martyrs of the Indian independence movement. So far, so good.

But I wanted something special for the main world. I picked the Hindi translation of "New Home" as a placeholder. I'm still mentally working out how this place was settled, so the name might reflect a challenge of or hardships. Given how I described it, I might look to see if there is a famous system of canals in India to name the planet after. But what ever happens, New Home is probably changing.

Lucky for me, most of the action will take place in systems with little or no population, so I'm good there. Fewer planets to name.
gridlore: The word "Done!" in bold red letters. (Done!)
The setting for my novel is really starting to gel nicely. After much searching, I've finally settle on where the main character hails from. As I worked, many details about the planet, it's culture and history, and the form of government came together.

I had originally wanted to put my system in Epsilon Eridani. But that was soon discarded. The system isn't right, and far too close to Earth for my purposes. E.Eri might show up as a setting for some important scene or the other, or just be discarded. What I ended up with was Beta Hydri, a type G2 IV star some 24.33 light years to our Galactic south. A very old system, with on;y 500 million years left before expansion and death, but time enough for humans. It's much brighter than our Sun, and as I generated it, has eleven planets.

The first three are airless, tidally-locked rocks all within 1 AU of the star. They are named Mongoz, Kobara, and Chooha (Mongoose, Cobra, and Rat.) There is occasional mining and scientific operations, but the tiny worlds are pretty useless. Moving out, all the worlds except the main world of the system are named for heroes from India's fight for independence from Great Britain. Lakshimbai is a sub-Jovian world with a small family of moons, and is the headquarters of the Hydran Navy's operational arm.

Naya Ghar (New Home) is home to the bulk of the system's 7.9 billion residents. Slightly smaller than Earth, with .77g of gravity and an atmosphere 1/5th as dense as ours, the surface is nearly half water, with the planet carved into a series of landmasses separated by channels and small seas. There is life, mainly in the oceans. Land forms are mainly plants and smaller animals. There is considerable evidence that the world once had a thick atmosphere for a long period.

Cities are a combination of underground warrens and sprawling surface facilities. Going outside on a summer's day requires a respirator and emergency oxygen supply. The days are 18 hours long, a year is 2.13 standard years. or 1,037.6 local days. Older cities tend to be named for Indian cities on Earth, while newer settlements are named for local terrain features.

Naya Ghar has two moons, both of which are in fairly distant orbits. Their tidal forces are relatively weak, with the exception of those times when their orbits cause them to exert a tidal pull on one side of the planet. "Flood days" are a well-known phenomenon and are seen as part of life on the shores of the many waterways.

There is an ongoing effort to terraform Naya Ghar. Working with the powerful firm Planetary Development Incorporated efforts have begun to thicken the atmosphere in hopes of reaching double the current pressure with an oxygen level that would allow people to walk outside freely. Critics point out the amazing diversity of life already on the planet and the probability of this life being destroyed.

Next out, at 2.78 AU, is Khan, a small Mars-like world wracked by near constantly dust storms. Virtually worthless, it has become home to a colony of Punjabi Sikhs who tired of the Hindu majority on Naya Ghar. Despite near poverty, the colony has become something of a tourist destination and the Hydran military has a strong Sikh component.

The next four worlds are all large gas giants, all with smaller than normal sets of satellites. Chandrasekhar, Bismil, Lahiri, and Bhagat all support vibrant Helium-3 scooping and refining operations. The system's hyper-limit as at 11.04 AU, between the orbits of Bismil and Lahari.

Finally, the is frozen Bahdur, 41.4 AU from the sun. A sub-Jovian, Bahdur has been judged as too distant for economically feasible scooping operations. It has become the main training ground for the Imperial Hydran Navy due to, in the words of one Admiral "It has plenty of worthless rocks to blast into worthless gravel." The planet and it's immediate surrounds are marked as off-limits to unauthorized vessels.

The central star, Beta Hydri, is either called Hydri or just Ravi (Hindi for "Sun") by the residents. As most of the population lives in sealed cities and rarely see the sky anyway, the name doesn't matter to them much anyway.

The system's population is primarily from the Indian subcontinent. After the spasms of the mid-21st century and the Warpox plague, reducing the excess population of India became vital. Later waves of immigrants came from North America and Central Asia. Hindi and English are the languages most spoken, with Hindi being the official language of the state.

Tomorrow, the Great Hydran Empire! Or the Mahaan Haidraan Saamraajy (The Raj, to most people.)
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
I was ranting a few days ago about how comics never change. Nothing affects the status quo. Death, dismemberment, crippling injuries, nothing is permanent. Even in cases where we see the damn body, where it is absolutely clear that the character has died, inevitably he comes back, good as new in a matter of months.

Take Green Lantern, for example. Simple enough concept.. Hal Jordan is brought to the side of a dying Abin Sur who tell Jordan that he is heir to Sur's position as a Green Lantern. Jordan gets a ring that gives him power limited only by his imagination and strength of will. The ring needs to be recharged on a regular basis. Series goes on for a few decades, with Jordan stepping aside as the Lantern once or twice. Then he goes crazy, becomes a being called Parallax, tries to destroy the sun, is defeated, becomes uncrazy, and dies. Dies. Dead. We have the body. Open casket funeral. Jordan's spirit becomes The Spectre, a major magical being on the DC universe. Pretty cool, huh? We had a new Green Lantern, An established hero had gone on to become one of the most powerful beings in existence, and other characters had to deal with the aftermath of all this happening.

Until DC changed everything back.

Now I understand why the comics companies do this, they are heavily invested in the established mythologies they've created, and changing things brings up the threat of losing fans. But just think what it would be like if the threat of death and the ravages of time were very real in these settings. Take Batman, as an example.

Batman first appeared in May, 1939. Let's say that he was 27 at this time. That would have made him around eight when his parents were killed. Plenty of time to train obsessively and build an arsenal of weaponry. Robin first appears a year later as a boy of 10 or 11 years. Being completely insane, we'll give Bruce a 25 year career as the Batman before he realizes that time is catching up to him. Bruce Wayne is still a very spry 52, and Dick Grayson would be in his mid-thirties and ready to take over as Bats. But after that?

Well, since Bruce Wayne had suffered seeing his parents die at his feet, he was well-known for his philanthropy when it came to the needs of orphans and other children in need. The Wayne Orphanage (est. 1943) was hailed as one of the best facilities of its type. Later becoming the Wayne Fund for Children, Bruce was a vocal advocate for extending a helping hand to the kiddies. That, and he was looking to train his eventual successor. By the time that Bruce hangs up his cowl in the mid-60s, his team (and he'd need one) has become very good at selecting and training promising candidates and instilling in them the vigilante mindset. Even the ones not selected to be Robin would be more likely to wander off and set up shop as a street level hero. In my universe, Oliver Queen was an angry kid who found a home at the Wayne program and an outlet for his anger in archery... At the worst, Wayne has an corps of trained reconnaissance agents on the streets. At the best, the kids stop minor crimes in the way they were taught.. quickly, quietly, and without being seen. Most of these actions are attributed to Batman, only increasing his legend. The kids who are recruited tend to earn scholarships to prestigious universities and fund jobs waiting for them at Wayne Enterprises.

Today we're on our fifth Batman. The people of Gotham are aware that ever so often there's a new person filling the role, but they don't care. The various parts of the Wayne legacy are run by Dick Grayson, although he's turning over more and more of the day-to-day operations over to younger executives. Industry watchers have noted how insular Wayne Enterprises (and the Wayne Family Trust) is, with very few executives coming from outside the corporation. Wayne Manor is the headquarters for the Trust and the charitable activities, and is also where Bruce Wayne is buried. A good number of people suspect that the Wayne empire and the Batman are closely linked, only only a select few ever learn the whole truth. Even the recruited kids are led to believe that the Wayne family worked with the original Batman. When a new Robin is selected, he gets told the whole truth. Retired Batmen serve as advisers to the new guy.

Then we have the Joker, one of the most enduring villains in comics, having plagued the DC universe since 1940. One thing about the Joker is that he is not buff. Indeed, most portrayals have him being thin unto being cadaverous; yet he has survived multiple bouts of hand to hand combat with the Batman with no long term injuries, and has even fought actual metahumans (including Superman) and not only survived but shown no long term effects. He's also insane. The Joker's schemes run from the pathetically silly to the horrifically deadly, and he himself is shown as not knowing much about his past.

Could it be that he vat of chemicals that bleached the Joker's skin also gave him a healing factor that makes Wolverine look like a piker? The Joker's body is constantly rebuilding itself.. including his brain. Normal people have fairly stable brain structures, with new connections being made only when necessary. The Joker is constantly rebuilding, which results in muddled memories and a short-circuited decision making process. The one thing that does stick in his head is that he wasn't always this way and Batman is to blame.

The Joker may well be immortal. Short of actually blowing him up or burning the body in a crematoria, he'll heal and come back to Gotham time after time (indeed, at times he may not remember there is anything outside of Gotham.)

So, what happens when a Batman retires or dies? The Joker needs a focus, he needs someone to blame. He'd probably not care about the changing chins underneath the cowl, all he knows that this is the Batman, the one who made him the Joker. In time, the Joker would even come to truly believe that the new hero was the original one who pitched him into that vat.

I can even see where one of the reasons for keeping the Bat motif is to keep the Joker focused on the Batman, so he doesn't go off on innocents.

Just my two cents.

(large portions of this were previously published in my journal.)
gridlore: A Roman 20 sided die, made from green stone (Gaming - Roman d20)
I'm really pleased by how well my proposed D&D campaign was received the other day. Having several people say "I want in!" is a refreshing change. I'll start finding maps and doing the research to make this game a cool reality.

If it does happen on roll20, I might ask for players to help fund a gamemaster's membership for me to help make for the best experience. This would allow me to get all the goodies that make online tabletop games great. Based on my current experiences with roll20, I'd probably want to use Skype for communications.

But I do have a complaint. "D&D meets Twilight: 2000" was a way of giving a quick analogy for the game's setting, not a promise to mash two entirely dissimilar games and settings together. The setting I'm planning is a take on the Battle of Manzikert, fought in 1071 between the Byzantine Empire under the Emperor Romanos IV against the Seljuk Turks under Arp Arslan. In the real battle, Romanos was betrayed and captured. Arp Arslan asked his royal captive what he would do if their roles were reversed. "Kill you, more than likely." was the reply. The Turkish warlord told Romanos that he was going to something much worse: let him go.

Historians point to that battle as the point where the Roman Empire began its long slide into ruin. It's also a great setting for the type of game I want to run, a game where the characters are already established, and have an immediate, pressing, need to work as a team to survive.

Thinking about it, the campaign could take several paths, all of which could run into each other with some meta-plots running in the background.

First of all we have The Long Road Home. This is the most basic concept. The characters, after coming together in the wake of the rout, decide to work their way back to civilized lands. It's a reasonable goal, and would make for a fine episodic campaign. The push is obvious, survive to reach home. The pull could be a desire to expose Constans Logios as a traitor, or to raise a new army, or to just get back to normalcy. All sorts of fun roadblocks to throw here, and a recurring foe in the agent of the enemy sent to hunt them down.

Secondly, the players could decided to be the Merry Men of Cappadocia. They steal from the evil and give to the good. The area where the battle took place still has many humans, now enslaved and forced to farm and labor for the enemy. They need heroes to save them! Again, this would a good episodic game. The characters would need to find a safe hide-out, gain allies, and then begin striking the enemy where it hurts. This would also lend itself to a running villain. I like boss fights at the end of a campaign. This one would require a more detailed map of the area the players will be operating in.

Next, is the Lawrence of Cappadocia option. Forget raiding, raise an army among the locals and wage guerrilla war against the oppressor! I think in this case a more constant style would work as the characters work to recruit their army from local nomads and lead them to victory. While fun sounding, this one might bog down into a wargame, and I haven't read the mass combat rules yet. But still, it would appeal to players who want to change things on a larger scale.

Then there's the "Run In The Wrong Direction" possibility. Like the first, it involves getting away from the battlefield and heading home, but in this case, the characters are forced further and further into unknown territory until they have a much longer road. I really like this concept, because it gives me a chance to really do so world building on a grand scale in a fantasy realm. Keep pushing east and you come to places like India, Southeast Asia, China, and beyond. How do you ever get home? Admittedly, this option is the hardest for me as a game master, as it would require a ton of creative work. Plus, the players have to agree to a railroad for the first couple of adventures. Still, if you like road trips. . .

I can absolutely see these ideas merging. The campaign might start off with trying to get home, then coming to the defense of a small village and sticking around to protect the locals, who eventually form the nucleus of a resistance. If that resistance is shattered, the crew might find themselves many leagues from any known landmark and hunted by an army.

All good stuff. I'd be interested in seeing what people like from these ideas.
gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
We meet my hero, two brothers who will be a big part of the "below decks" plot, and a truly evil (to snot-nosed midshipmen, anyway) Crown Warrant Officer.

"The ship should be shaking."

The comment wasn't supposed to be overheard, Aman Singh realized. It had come in one of those rare moments on the Vajra's bridge where everyone had paused for breath at the same moment. Smiling, turned his command couch to face his very junior aide.

"Shaking as the guns roar out bolts of lightning to pummel the fierce space pirates? As the heroic captain -- that would be me I suppose -- rallies his crew with a stirring speech while waving his laser cutlass around?" Aman chuckled. "Sorry, Lieutenant Metz. I read those same books when I was younger. The reality is that if the Vajra is shaking, we have some very serious problems."

Aman glanced down at the repeater mounted on the left arm of his couch. Their target, an ancient freighter refitted as a target drone was on it's last legs after getting pounded by the big grasers for more than two hours. Time to finish this exercise. With a little change in plans he thought as he stroked his beard.

Aman touched the all-hands button on his display. "Attention. For the remainder of the exercise, Sublieutenant Metz has command. Captain Singh out." Unbuckling his restraints, Aman stood and offered the command position to the shocked young officer. Aman noted that whereas the lad had been pink with embarrassment a few seconds ago, he was now an alarming shade of white.

"There's nothing to it, Brendan," Aman said quietly as he helped with the straps, "pick one turret to finish the target off, listen to the targeting crews, and give the order to fire. You did this in the Academy simulators, you can do it now."

Even though Metz was taller than his captain by a double handful of centimeters, he seemed to shrink in the couch. Then, swallowing hard, he spoke up. "Turrets one and three, cease fire. Turret two, continuous fire until further notice." Confirmations quickly showed up on the command screens. "Helm, please keep turret two in optimal firing position. Guns, range to target?"

Commander Kapur, obviously amused by being addressed in such a familiar way by a man twenty years his junior, replied in a perfectly professional tone. "Captain, range is just over six light seconds. Targeting in the main tank." The holographic display in the center of the bridge went from showing the general tactical situation to a detailed look at the target, still driving to reach the hyper limit. Ahead of the target drone was a multi-hued teardrop showing where the ship was likely to be when the graser bursts reached the vicinity. At the center, stretching from the rear tip to near the middle was the cool green of highest probability. Around that as yellow fading to red as the targeting computer and the human operators evaluated what their opponent was capable of in terms of maneuver and acceleration.

Evidently pleased with what he had seen, Metz tried to nod knowingly before fumbling briefly with the communication panel. "Turret two, you may fire when ready." Aman shared a grin with his executive officer at the gunnery station. At least the boy's voice hadn't cracked.

--

"Well, did'ya hear that? Sounds like your brother has seized control of the ship!" Crown Warrant Officer Nigel Linnet cackled evilly. He always sounded evil, Midshipman Morgan Metz though gloomily. His Middie cruise was not nearly as fun as he hoped it would be. He continued staring at the Secondary Turret Control panel like it contained the secrets of the universe.

"Well now, since Captain Metz" another chuckle from the depths of hell "has given us the honor of blasting that junk pile into very small pieces, it seems only fair that I continue your education by giving you command." Linnet was now the model of formality. "Mr. Metz, what are your orders?"

Morgan sat speechless for a very long second. Before Linnet could begin one of his training speeches, Morgan remembered what to do. As he began to work, he remembered that he was supposed to explain what he was doing at every step.

"OK, targeting display is up. Based on previous data and range, I'm placing the shots here," he said, using a stylus to mark the desired target point, "and locking the guns on that." What next? Right! "Both chambers show good cans loaded, system primed, all boards green." He picked up the old fashioned hand microphone. "Clear the bay for firing." Down below, the gun crews moved to their shelters, signalling the control booth when everyone was clear.

Morgan reached up for the pistol-grip trigger above his head, pausing to look at the CWO. Linnett gave the bare hint of a nod. "Firing," Morgan said, and pulled the trigger hard.

Inside the turret, there was the slightest hint of a rumble as fusion explosions took place in both firing chambers. Inside each of the canisters, the tremendous energy released by the explosions was channeled and focused by precisely formed rods until most of the energy was in the form of gamma rays flying down the barrels, where the energy was compressed and focused even more by gravitic generators. An outside observer would have noticed a brief purple flash from the muzzles as the guns fired.

Six seconds later, the twin bolts reached the target hulk. Two blasts of 200 gigajoules each turned to heat when they impacted, ripping the already weakened ship apart even further. High temperature ceramics shattered, steel vaporized, and more of the ship's infrastructure was melted to slag.

"Good hit!" Linnett chortled. "Now we do it again, yes?" The gun crews were already making sure the next two cans were in place and safely sealed. Morgan ran through the procedure two more times, only needing to be reminded once to make sure the crews were clear, before getting the ceasefire from the bridge.

"You did good, Mr. Metz. We killed an enemy of the Coalition. Or at least pretended to do so." Morgan allowed himself a smile. "But next time," Linnett said thoughtfully, "next time I think I disable the targeting repeaters. Make you figure it by hand. That will be fun, yes?" Morgan groaned and buried his face in his hands. The man is evil. Pure evil. Over Linnett's laughter he could hear his brother standing the ship down from battle stations. Of course Brendan got to sit on the bridge and give orders. He was so lucky!

--

"Captain, we are secure from battle stations and have resumed Condition 3 cruising. No damage or injuries to report. Is there anything else, sir?" Brendan tried to keep from sounding like he was pleading. Thankfully, Captain Singh was in a merciful mood.

"That will be fine, Lieutenant. I have command. Good job, your first command and it was the Vajra! Now, if you will be so kind, I'm having a small dinner for senior staff, please make the arrangements and layout my undress uniform, Dismissed." Brendan acknowledged the orders and moved to the lift station as fast as he could without running. All he could think off as he pushed his way down the zero-g tube was his annoying little brother running Turret 2. Loading cans, pulling the trigger, and not having the entire command team plus the Captain staring at you while you worked. He was so lucky!
gridlore: A Roman 20 sided die, made from green stone (Gaming - Roman d20)
I've had an idea for a D&D campaign I'd like to try out for a local group, if possible, and if not locals then on Roll20. Here's how it goes.

The Emperor had called for a great crusade to throw back the monsters pouring out of the east. Half the empire was now under darkness, as orcs roamed freely while other, more dire creatures lurked in the shadows. Leo III declared that he himself would lead the army, and what an army it was!

Every noble landholder pledged his due to the war, legions of leather clad spearmen, some on horseback, some afoot, marching alongside their lords in their fine armor and gleaming ancestral blades. Those unable to fight, or needed at home for vital business, paid for mercenaries to take their place. Fierce barbarians from the west and north, corsairs off the Middle Sea, even bands of elvish warriors fighting for their own inscrutable reasons.

The center was given to the legion of dwarfs seeking to regain their homes in the eastern mountains. They marched with grim purpose, never singing or making merry at camp. Near the Emperor were the representatives of the Gods, clerics and holy warriors bearing relics of great power. Their prayers and blessings were a constant source of strength for the ever-growing mass of troops heading east.

Even the mystics of the magical guilds agreed to participate, although everyone agreed they hadn't done it without exacting a price. Their wagons rolled along with apprentice and journeyman mages keeping anyone from annoying their masters with trivialities.

Behind this horde came the usual camp followers. Tradesmen, entertainers (or all sorts), baggage trains and engineers; all drive east with one goal in mind: liberation of the empire's rightful lands!

Leo III was a wise man, and had planned carefully. All along the route great depots had been stocked with grain and fresh water. Huge bakeries were just waiting for the word. There was no scouring of the countryside to feed the army. There was a little looting, but that was expected.

Finally, the great force reached Caesarea, the last fort held by loyal forces. Now the work began in earnest. For the next few weeks, victory would follow victory as the Army of Vengeance (as the troops had taken to calling themselves) sent the foe flying in each encounter. Leo declared that the army would take Samosata, a once great city, and winter there.

That is when disaster struck. The army was advancing on the enemy drawn up in front of the city in a howling mob of orcs and goblins. The center was led by Durgar the Ironcrown, leading his division of dwarfs with their axes gleaming. The left, mostly heavy cavlary, was lead by Constans Logios, Leo's uncle and trusted adviser. One the right flank, the honor went to Mithander the Red, an outlander mercenary general who had proven himself in many fights.

Battle was joined, and it seemed at first that the disciplined ranks of the imperial forces would once again shatter their foes. Arrows rained down on the enemy center, weakening it greatly. On the right a great melee was taking place, with the enemy being pushed back step-by-step. The Emperor Leo, observing from a captured sentry tower, saw an opening and called for the Lord Constans to charge the weakened enemy center.

Instead, betrayal! Lord Constans' horse troops wheeled from the fight and fled at a full gallop. The enemy fell on the now undefended flank with howls or murderous joy. Two dragons, before this concealed in the city ruins, flew out to add to the devastation. The imperial army dissolved in a full rout, with many thousands killed as they ran for the dubious safety of the distant mountains. What became of Leo, no one knows.

__

So that's the start of the campaign. The characters will be survivors of the disastrous Battle of Samosata. They'll have to work together to survive and find their way back to civilization. Or perhaps become a guerrilla force of their own against the foul evils. In case you don't know the place names I used, this battle takes place in what is now Southeast Turkey (the city ruins were flooded by a dam built in 1982.)

If you ever played Twilight:2000, you might recognize this start. I like the idea of dropping characters into a situation with no real choice but to move and stick together to survive. I'll be working on all sorts of fun distractions and side quests, but this is going to be campaign where gold is far down the list of priorities. Friendly cities and temples with be rare. Every hand against you, nowhere to hide.

I like the idea. How about the rest of you?
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
Ever thought about what you'd do with three wishes? Found that magic lamp or ring, got the djin in a good mood, and the universe is yours. Congratulations, you are so screwed.

See, traditionally wishes are the worst thing you can get in traditional folk tales and more modern fiction. Because magical creatures of such power tend to be either overly literal or annoyed at having to serve such inferior creatures as mankind. There's plenty of warnings in Irish folk stories about the insanity of dealing with the Gentle Folk in way other than backing away as fast as possible.

Let's take a great example from fairly recent (compared to the source material) story, Disney's 1992 "Aladdin". Once he realizes what is being offered, and being head over heels for a princess, his wish is "make me a prince."

This is where the movie goes wrong. See, there were so many ways to twist this wish. Aladdin becomes a prince of Agrabah, Jasmine's older brother. Since he's now the heir, Jasmine can be married off to some random noble in another city. It's not like Aladdin could marry his own sister! Oh, and since he's the heir, Jaffar is now going to be trying to get him out of the way as well.

Or Aladdin becomes the prince of a city that has warred endlessly with Agrabah for decades. Now not only is Aladdin more than likely going to be charged with killing his lady love, she's going to hate him on sight. Good times.

So many ways to twist these things. I'll admit that my experience with phrasing wishes comes from playing role-playing games with sadistic game masters who twist every word. I recall the player in our Fort Benning game who got a wish for his fighter. Unknown to us, during the week he went to the Army's legal aid office and got several Army lawyers to draft his wish for him. It was ironclad, they had fun, and the game master allowed it.

But that's the thing. A wish changes the nature of reality completely. There are plenty of stories about the unintended consequences of this sort of wish. You need to be very, very precise in your intent and wording. One slip and you face the aftereffects of an overwhelming power giving you exactly what you asked for.

There is a way to get a mostly risk free wish. That's to perform some service for an entity capable of granting one. But then you have to ask, if you are dealing with a being that can twist reality on a whim, what does he need you for? Beware the Sidhe that asks for help!

I've often wondered what I'd wish for if I was given the traditional three wishes. I haven't consulted any lawyers, but these are my rough drafts:

1. "I wish that the next lottery ticket I buy for the California State Lottery or the multi-state Power Ball be the sole winning ticket for the draw it is part of." Just wishing for money is bad, because the wish can be twisted. Wish for a million dollars and your spouse dies, and she had a million dollar life insurance policy. Or it turns out that the money was part of an embezzlement scheme. Wish for a sure-fire way to get the money in an accepted way.

2. "I wish that all the damage done to my body by illnesses, injuries, genetic disorders, and any and all treatments be repaired; bringing my body to normal health while not adding any new conditions." Wishing for perfect health and immortality is a fool's game. So many ways to screw with that. What if perfect health burns out your immune system? Immortality? Next day you're hit by a cement truck and paralyzed from the neck down. Stick with fixing what's wrong with you.

3. "I wish that I was a highly talented juggler." Always go for something simple. Juggling is cool.

That's it. Money, health, and a skill I can use on Playa at Burning Man. No Trump bursting into flame, no dirigibles coming back into style, just a couple of life changes. I could have wished for a more successful military career, or to have been a Hall of Fame ballplayer, but those would have eliminated parts of my life that I like. Like being married to Kiri.

If wishes were horses, dreamers would ride, so goes the old saying. But those dreamers would be screaming in horror as their wish-horses turned out to be dragons.

Put the lamp down. It's not worth it.
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
And here comes the rain again. Ever get something you really need, and then get too bloody much of it? That's California and water this year. After four years of severe, devastating drought, we finally got the good news that the storm doors had opened!

Blown off the hinges, actually. We had the wettest January and February in the state's history. Buckets of rain and, in the higher elevations, snow came crashing down. Joy at the possible end of the drought turned to concern then to fear as water kept deluging our dry hills and valleys. In many places, hillsides stripped of trees by the past few fire seasons gave way, leading to landslides all across the state.

And still the rains came. Reservoirs that had been nearly empty filled with such speed that hydraulic engineers, facing this problem for the first time in decades, had to deal with dams bursting at the seams. At Oroville Dam, the tallest dam in the United States, the main spillway crumbled under the rushing waters, sending multi-ton chunks of concrete tumbling down to the Feather River. The emergency spillway, which had never been used in the dam's 50 year history, was opened up and nearly collapsed itself as the raging waters eroded away decades of growth and top soil.

It was all too much! Everywhere you looked there were streets filled with standing water and blocked storm drains. A fish hatchery had to evacuate over a million baby salmon lest the debris and silt pouring down the Feather River kill them all. All over the state our aging infrastructure gave up the ghost and stopped functioning. At least two levies failed.

There was so much water coming down the various river systems in Northern California, and so much silt and debris in that water, that San Francisco Bay turned brown and was briefly considered to be a freshwater feature. There was a warning issued to all mariners operating in the bay or coming through the Golden Gate to be aware of debris up to and including large trees and portions of buildings.

And still the rains came. Even here in the usually dry Santa Clara County, the waters were causing havoc. Anderson Dam, to the south of us, couldn't be allowed to fill completely due to needed seismic upgrades. Yet as was the case everywhere else, the reservoir was rapidly rising. In a stunning breakdown of communications, water was released into Coyote Creek too quickly, and without evacuation orders going out to residents along the creek banks. The result was the worst flooding seen in the county in a very, very long time.

An amusing side note to the Coyote Creek flood, a gold course grounds manager discovered just how many homeless people were living on his course when he took a boat out to inspect the damages and found 50 people up trees.

Not that funny, I know, but you take it where you can find it.

The sad thing is that even with all the rain we've gotten, and even with the record snow pack up in the Sierra Nevada mountains, we're not out of the woods yet. California has been draining the subterranean water table almost everywhere to fuel our state agricultural juggernaut. It would take several years of weather like this to recharge it. I suggested in all seriousness that the state should have opened levies all across the San Joaquin Valley and in other agricultural areas once the size of the runoff became unmanageable. Flood millions of acres of farmland with water rich in silt and (let's face it) dead biomass. Recharge the soil and the water table a bit. As usual, my voice wasn't heard.

Yeah, I think we're all pretty done with the rain for this year. On the upside, the waterfalls in Yosemite are more stunning than usual, and should remain flowing through August. But that's a minor plus to a series of devastating storms. We now face a race to rebuild and repair not just the Oroville and Anderson dams, but our water infrastructure all around the state. We put it off for far too long.

The real nightmare, though, is that this year was an anomaly. A blip in the weather pattern caused by a series of factors that lined up perfectly, and that next year the rains will stop again. Because despite living in a place where droughts are common, Californians still have goldfish brains when it comes to water conservation. They see a wet winter and immediately go back to wasteful ways, and we can't afford that. Because the next drought is right around the proverbial corner, right behind the storm door that can close any time.
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
Some spoilers for Iron Fist lie ahead. Be warned.

So I've just binged the first few episodes of Iron Fist on Netflix. Despite the professional reviews dissing it, I'm having fun with the realization of one of my favorite characters from the strange pool of ideas that was Marvel in the 1970s. But that's not to say I don't have some issues.

For those not familiar with the character, Iron Fist is Danny Rand, a young man raised in the mystical city of K'un-L'un. The comics and the TV show differ on how young Danny gets there, but the end result is the same: dead parents and years of training in the martial arts. As Iron Fist, Danny is able to channel his chi into one fist, making it "unto a thing like iron."

Danny returns to New York, where he eventually teams up with Luke Cage in Heroes for Hire, Inc., and later the Defenders. He is very much a street-level hero, better suited for fighting more mundane threats as opposed to the Avengers, who can take on huge threats.

My issues with the series start with them keeping the "scion of a billionaire family who returns from the Mysterious East with amazing abilities" trope. Seriously, this is the biggest cliche in comics. It's the regular attempt to recreate Batman in a different suit. Even on television, we currently have Green Arrow having the exact same background. Chang it up!

Then we have the fact that some of the Netflix shows have a terrible sense of story pacing. Danny arrives in New York shoeless and shaggy. He sleeps in a park while trying to prove that he is in fact this kid who was reported dead 15 years ago. Regaining who he is could have been the first season. It would have given us a longer arc of him becoming a hero for the homeless and ignored. It would have established who Daniel Rand is in our minds, this man who has the values of a mystic warrior monk.

Instead, by the 4th episode, he's already in the corner office with 51% control of his family business. Too quick! I hate that nobody wants to do a striptease with the plot reveals anymore. It took Babylon 5 two full seasons to fully reveal the threat!

I do like that the writers did play a bit with the idea that maybe this "Danny Rand" was crazy, but let's be honest. This is New York City a few years after the start of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Harlem has been devastated by the Hulk and Abomination, A major tech fair was attacked by flying drones and defeated by Iron Man and War Machine, and an entire alien army led by a Norse God beat the shit out of lower Manhattan! It is publicly accepted that a WWII hero was frozen in ice for 70 years and that one of mankind's greatest defenders is another Norse God!

You would think that mental health professionals at this point would be slightly more accepting of the possibility that the young man in front of them did in fact spend 15 years in a mystic monastery.

But the one thing that has a lot of people talking is the fact that Danny Rand is a white guy. A white guy who uses Chinese martial arts and speaks fluent Mandarin. There have been cries of whitewashing and cultural appropriation leveled at the series. Some have questioned who do this series at all?

First of all, you can't whitewash a character who was originally conceived, written and drawn as a blond white dude. The characters' who point is the place he was trained only opens to the outside world every fifteen years, and was brought in to save his life. Is the idea that this master of the arts and the power of Iron Fist a white guy racist? Possibly. But remember that at the same time Marvel was also riding the martial arts craze with Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu, a Chinese character. This was also the birth of Luke Cage, Power Man among other more diverse characters. Marvel was trying to be better about race and gender representation in their books.

Cultural appropriation? Where? Again, from the age of about 9 or 10 to 25 Daniel Rand lived in this mystical place. It was his culture! He had no choice, he didn't decide to watch his parents die and become a monk. Ridiculous charge.

Lastly, as I mentioned above, Marvel is planning a Defenders series for Netflix in the future. As many of the comic-book Defenders (and there have been many line-ups and versions of the team) are either tied up in legal problems or wouldn't fit with the lower-budget Netflix projects, it was decided to reunite Iron Fist with Luke Cage for the series. Perfectly reasonable. It took us half a dozen feature films to get to the Avengers, after all.

I'm liking Iron Fist. I just hope the rest of the season is paced better, but I was spoiled by how well Luke Cage was produced.
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
So yesterday I wrote about my on again, off again relationship with comic books. Boiled down, I liked them, but factors like expense and storage space, plus the lack of any real character movement, led me to be a somewhat edge consumer. Now that I've learned just how much infighting and office wars are behind the rather bizarre changes we've seen, I understand a little better why things get so wonky.

But I do love superheroes and physics-defying worlds they live in. For a long time, I've fed my jones through - wait for it - role-playing games like Champions and Villains & Vigilantes. The latter is enjoying a new life with an upcoming third edition headed by some of the original designers. This makes me happy. Iron Horse may yet ride again!

The other outlet was TV and film. Like everyone else my age I was enthralled by the first two Superman movies with Christopher Reeve as the the Man of Steel, quietly crept out of the theater during the third, and drank heavily when they announced the fourth film. But other than that, and some rather disappointing TV efforts in the early 80s (Greatest American Hero being an exception, and where's the reboot we were promised two years ago, huh?) we had to wait until 1989 for a truly great superhero movie to come along.

Tim Burton's Batman. Dear gods, this movie was great, even if I found many pieces a bit over the top. Great casting, great action pieces. It was a fun film that got the Dark Knight *right.* Then DC proved it couldn't pour piss out of a boot while reading the directions on the heel by releasing a series of increasing horrible sequels. Are you sensing a trend here? But still, most of them were pretty, and I will claim that Jim Carey got screwed by having his Riddler share space with Two-Face and a writing team that didn't know what actually constitutes a riddle.

But we soldiered on. In 2002 we got the first of the three Spider-Man movies starring Tobey McGuire. These films were good for the first two, then fell flat. But then, at the end of the decade, comic book move fans hit the jackpot. Iron Man was released in 2008, and it was something new. There was a plan to release films that worked together in an extended plot that would bring the heroes together in a way that made sense. So we got Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger; all of which led up to The Avengers.

This was good and amazing. We also got the "unfilmable" Watchmen movie, which was very pretty and I like it and you can fuck off with your whiny complaints about the space squid and Tales of the Black Freighter. It was a GOOD MOVIE, a movie with enough glowing blue dick for everyone.

Sorry. I'm a bit passionate about that film.

But that was just Phase 1 of Marvel's three-part plan for their movies. Phase 2 ended with Ant-Man in 2015, and we're well in Phase 3 with many more movies to come! This is reason to keep living! To say that I squeed like a fanboy when Doctor Strange was announced is an understatement. The Sorcerer Supreme has always been a favorite.

Not content with the big screen, Marvel also decided to conquer the small screen. "Agents of SHIELD" has been not only a fun show, but it's been a magnificent way to both set up and continue the story lines from the movies. Netflix has several great shows giving us some of the lesser-known characters like Daredevil, Luke Cage, and Jessica Jones; all of whom tie back into the big meta-plot. I'm curious to see how they handle Iron Fist.

DC, while failing miserably in the movie department, has quietly put out some pretty damn good TV. Green Arrow and Flash were the first, and both have benefited from very strong casts and a willingness to address the logic holes in the superhero business. Supergirl, which started on CBS and migrated to the CW, has been a bit more hit and miss, but is solid. Sadly, Legends of Tomorrow has lost me completely. There's just no chemistry on that set, which makes it look like a bunch of people cosplaying rather than heroes traveling in time.

The one thing all this that make me very, ver sad is that no one has ever made a Fantastic Four movie. Nope, It has never happened. Ever. I will claim this until I die. Claims of FF films are fake news.

Excelsior!
gridlore: A pile of a dozen hardback books (Books)
I was just on the phone with my mom, and asked her what I should write about. As I had just been encouraging her to watch the special musical episode of The Flash next week, she suggested comic books. Good topic.

I can still remember what was probably one of the first comics I really read, That was Avengers #160, featuring the Grim Reaper invading Avenger Mansion. There was another comic, probably bought for me on a long car trip or flight to Milwaukee, that was a Spider-Man comic where he was battling in the Museum of Natural History and all the dinosaur skeletons came to life. (It was an illusion.)

Comics were an occasional thing for me as a kid. I never really got into following them mainly because I played role-playing games, and that swallowed my weekly allowance whole. Every week I'd do my chores, walk down to the bus stop to grab Line 27 and a day pass, ride into Los Gatos where I'd pick up either Line 60 or Line 62 and head for Campbell and the legendary Game Table. Where I'd buy something for Traveller or the latest issue of Dragon magazine.

All of this for $10, including a stop at a taco place.

No, for me comics would wait until I was stationed in Hawaii at Schofield Barracks. The on-base recreation sucked, and Honolulu was too expensive, so I was left with Wahiawa - the town just outside Schofield and Wheeler Air Force Base - for my amusement. That's where I found the most amazing comic store ever. Central Oahu is made up of knife-edge ridges and deep ravines. Wahiawa has several ravines running through it. To get to this store, you had to walk down three flights of wooden stairs to a lanai that looked out on lush rainforest with the sound of a stream rushing nearby. There was the store. I went in that first time looking for gaming stuff.

I came out with issue one of The Dark Knight Returns. I was hooked. I began reading more and more, storing what I could and selling back what I couldn't. I gravitated to the best artists; Alex Ross, George Perez, and the like, and loved the so-called Iron Age of grittier heroes. At one point, my weekly order was about 25 books, plus Comic Relief magazine. Boy, we could use that one back these days.

But slowly I began to grow troubled with the comic universes I was reading. There was no consequences to any actions. Death, a fairly serious life event, was temporary even when we had the body. DC cleaned up their messy multiverse with an epic event with their Crisis on Infinite Earths, then immediate started messing it up again. Change was forbidden.

The RPG GURPS even poked fun at this in their Infinite Worlds campaign. There's a timeline where superheroes exist, but every thirty years their stories reset and change slightly. That really accurate.

The straw that broke the camel's back for me was the bullet that broke Tony Stark's back. Stark, the Incredible Iron Man, had been dating a Hollywood starlet who turned out to be a bit deranged. She shot Tony, leaving him paralyzed from the sternum down. I will note that no time did they mention the actual effects of this sort of paralysis, like needing a colostomy bag and assistance breathing. Being dead from the chest down has severe life consequences. Strike one.

"But great," I thought, "Tony is a known alcoholic. This might drive him back into the bottle. Or he might become addicted to the Iron Man suit since it allows him to walk normally! There are all sorts of great story lines we can get from this!" But know, within a year - 12 issues - Tony had magically repaired his own nervous system using an alien nanovirus. Good as new, story never mentioned again. Strike two.

Oh no! The alien nanos are killing Tony! In a moving deathbed scene he leaves everything to longtime pilot and sidekick, James Rhodes. The he dies. The Iron Man is dead, long live Iron Man! "This is really going to be great this time!" I once again thought, "A new Iron Man, a very different character, and the stories about him adjusting to being rich and the owner of Stark's empire will be fascinating!"

Not so fast. Rhodey was Iron Man for the Secret Wars miniseries, and a limited run of the main book, but then it was revealed that Stark had faked his death while he fixed himself again. He's back, and wants all his stuff again. I was waiting for Rhodes to say "No, you lying SOB, it's mine. Get out." But no, he just passes everything back and goes back to being the bloody sidekick! Strike three, and I was out.

I still read selected comics. We both loved Transmetropolitan, and Mike Grell's "Green Arrow: The Long Bow Hunters" remains a classic. But for the most part I ignore comics these days. Expect for in movies and on TV, which will be another post.
gridlore: One of the "Madagascar" penguins with a checklist: [x] cute [x] cuddly [x] psychotic (Penguin - Checklist)
Well, it's that time again. March Madness. When America grinds to a screeching stop so we can pretend not to bet on a college basketball tournament. Even though i won't be doing my part by wasting billions of dollars of productivity following the games, I've filled out my brackets.

Two of them, actually. One on ESPN and one on Yahoo, both of which will mark the only time I use those accounts all year. The annual Filling Out Of The Brackets has become a holy ritual, with some people spending more effort determining whether Seton Hall has a better free throw percentage than Xavier than they will on their taxes. Which explain much about this nation.

By the way, I'd totally pay more attention to college basketball if "Xavier" was actually the school from the X-Men comics. I mean, is it traveling if you fly with the ball in your hands? But alas, that dream must stay in the realm of the comic book that I demand be on the shelves pronto.

There's even a term for this national obsession with obscure schools you've never heard of: "Bracketology." If you listen to sports radio in late February you will hear grown mean discussing how to fill out your bracket in the way I was told how to save my life if I was exposed to nerve gas: in great detail and deathly serious. For eight years the President of the United States would host ESPN in the White House so he could reveal not a secret plan to send Rush Limbaugh to Mars, but his picks for the NCAA Tournament. It was a show! And boy do I miss that guy right now.

But I'm not a basketball fan in the least. Despite being a total sports goober basketball never appealed in the least. Even though I grew up in the glory days of Dr. J, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and witnessed the deification of Michael Jordan, I was just never into the game itself. Too many weird fouls, I suppose. It would be action action action *tweet* and everyone marches to the other end of the court.

I also blame my mother. As was required by law, our house had a basketball net mounted on the garage. This was put up despite one kid being legally blind and the other two being sports-adverse. But on warm summer nights we'd dutifully file out for a game of Horse. If you're not familiar with the game, one person shoots a basket. If they make it, the next person has to replicate the shot or get a letter. Spell Horse and you're out.

Which would be fine, except my mom was an undiscovered basketball prodigy! She'd nail hook shots, jumpers through the horrible sap-ridden tree branches, and even from the end of the driveway! And then I'd be handed the ball and told to try my best! Ha! There's a reason I became a dedicated bookworm.

There you go, the reason why basketball and I aren't friends. We just don't get along well, and I think we're both good with that. I cheer for the Warriors when I hear about them, and can name at least three team members; although I have to admit that comes from listening to news radio all day, not actual interest.

But I did fill out my brackets. On both I picked Duke to win because I heard someone say that Duke was the bookmakers' favorite. So of course Duke will be beaten in the first round just to screw up my entire bracket. A more likely scenario is I'll have a good first round, get my hopes up, and then watch the entire thing burn down, fall over, and sink into the swamp.

I know everyone reading this is dying to know my secrets to picking a bracket. Do I compare stats? Check the teams comparative records? Examine the coaching philosophies? Seek out the wisdom of wiser heads and heed their advice?

No, most years I pick almost at random. I usually go for the higher seeded team unless I like the other school more. For example, I always pick Wisconsin to do at least moderately well, due to family ties and the fact that I like badgers. My other method is to play Mascot Deathmatch. Which mascot would win a fight? This is why in the years Stanford has made it to the tournament I've never picked them to win. Their mascot is a tree. Trees are terrible fighters.

Go brackets! Do me proud, and I'd like to apologize to Kirsten for my annual descent into March Madness.

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gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
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