Thursday, February 26, 2009

New CCLA Leader

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has named Nathalie Des Rosiers the new General Counsel/Executive Director of the organization: I'm not sure what to think of the announcement. Neither myself nor anyone I've talked to who is involved in the organization has ever heard of her, and she doesn't seem to have a particular commitment to civil liberties advocacy in her bio. On the other hand, it's nice to see a rather conservative organization name a female chief and Des Rosiers does have ties to Quebec and academic circles, both pluses in my book. I guess we'll just have to wish her the best and see what happens . . .

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Aladdin Effect

Marvel's original series of numbered, oversize graphic novels are out of print and difficult to find anywhere but through online back-issue vendors. Luckily, I managed to snag # 16, The Aladdin Effect, in a bargain bin for $ 1. The story is set in the Marvel Universe and has an interesting premise: weeks ago, an invisible force field sprang up and cut off an isolated Wyoming town from the rest of the world. As the inhabitants bicker among themselves and try to figure out how to survive as food and supplies run low, a mysterious voice commands them to turn over the "power source"--except, nobody knows what that means. In Mighty Marvel fashion, the answer isn't as interesting as the set-up, but it's still a pretty good story that also involves four of Marvel's 1980s female super-heroes: Storm, Tigra, She-Hulk, and Wasp.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Clone Wars Campaign: Recap # 10

This was the first session for a new player and his character 8P-MD-4, a medical droid from the Arms & Equipment Guide. 8P was a decent character, but the player kept forgetting he had the Surgery feat and other expertise in healing people. The NPC casino bouncers, Mr. Vym and Mr. Vigor, were light-hearted fun (Mr. Vym spoke with a very Brooklyn mobster accent).

Episode 2.2, "The Ominous Silence" Session 6

Time begins to run short in the Ansion system. As Republic operatives find themselves poised for an attack on a possible terrorist camp, just a few scant days remain before the anomaly becomes accessible, necessitating difficult choices. Will they spend their time readying weapons and supplies for the trials that lay ahead, and trust that preparation will carry them through? Or should they attempt to infiltrate Soerrg the Hutt's operation, and possibly nip these terrorist attacks in the bud? Or risk searching the asteroid field for a missing Jedi Master, and thereby gain a powerful ally? The fates of thousands depend upon the strength and wisdom of a would-be Jedi, a princess far from home, and a mercenary with a hidden past.

On board the Broken Diamond, Tarn, Marpa, and Arresta receive a message from Ycram aboard the Xoorzi Skyhook: it seems that a ship hailed the station at long range, looking for Tarn, and that the ship bore the transponder signal for Delia's Ultimatum even though visual identification showed it clearly wasn't. Trips warns the group to watch out for ferocious predators called shanhs and introduces 8P-MD-4, an autonomous mobile medical droid. After getting turned around in the jungle, the four adventurers find their way to the suspected terrorist camp. Arresta conducts some initial scouting but falls into a pit trap and sets off a landmine, alerting the camp. Tarn rushes into the middle of the camp but, after some scuffling with Ansionian terrorists, is battered into unconsciousness by a direct hit from a hovering Cloakshape fighter's blaster cannons. 8P-MD-4 helps stabilize Tarn and is taken prisoner, but Marpa and Arresta continue the fight and with three well-placed satchel charges the group manages to destroy the Cloakshape seconds before the Broken Diamond arrives. With two dead terrorists and two having fled into the forest, a search of the camp reveals a communications rig. 8P-MD-4 and Marpa successfully break the encryption and trace the signal back to a man named Vym in the coastal city of Hurkaset. The group flies back to Cuipernam, desperately in need of a private hospital's bacta tank.

[74 AG]

By early afternoon, the group is fully healed. After some heavy shopping and a trip back to the camp site to retrieve Tarn's lost lightsaber, they set out for Hurkaset aboard Delia's Ultimatum.

[75 AG]

The ship touches down on the outskirts of Hurkaset around 2 a.m. 8P-MD-4 enters the city and scouts the coordinates, which turn out to be the Ansion Dream casino. The droid notices that at the back of the sparsely-attended casino, a locked door is guarded by a wookie. After catching up on some much-needed sleep, the group spends the day in Hurkaset purchasing formal wear, elegant mounts, and equipment so as to pass themselves off as wealthy gamblers. Marpa and Arresta enter the casino first. Marpa loses at pazaak and then faces the indignity of having to swallow a 5,000 credit extortion demand from the Rodian duelist Twitch. Marpa leaves the casino and heads back to Delia's Ultimatum; a quick fly-by of the city shows a ship fitting Ycram's earlier description parked on the outskirts of town. Back inside the casino, Arresta catches the eye of the manager, Mr. Vym, and gets escorted to the back room and then invited to see the off-site high stakes tables. However, Arresta suddenly whips out a blaster and holds Vym at gunpoint. Angry that she spurned his advances, Vym snatches the pistol out of her hand, smashes it on the ground, and takes off in a huff in his landspeeder. Meanwhile, Tarn and 8P-MD-4 have decided to come looking for Arresta. Tarn encounters the pirate, slaver, and all-around rogue Jocasta, who thanks him for his help back on Mongui and says that "Soerrg knows you're here, and he'll come for you, tonight". After realizing that Arresta has been gone for some minutes, Tarn and 8P-MD-4 try to get past the wookie bouncer (Mr. Vigor), but he irritably swats them out of the way. Before long, Arresta and Marpa have returned to the casino and, just after midnight, the entire group steps outside to try to figure out what to do next.

[76 AG]

The group receives a message from Trips: "Broken Diamond headed into the asteroid field to find General Sarigar, precise coordinates would improve survivability."

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By Nancy Holder (2004)

RATING: 3/5 Stakes

SETTING: Buffy Season 7 (mostly)

T.V. CHARACTER APPEARANCES: Buffy, Lilah Morgan, Jhiera, Angel, Spike, Fred, Gunn, Wesley, Xander, Dawn, Willow, R.J., Principal Wood, Anya, Lorne, Nathan Reed, Willy, Connor, Landok

MAJOR ORIGINAL CHARACTERS: Lir (other-dimensional demon); Qin (warlord); Xian (Qin's consort); Fai-Lok (Qin's sorceror); Sam Devol (student cultist)


Heat is a Buffy/Angel crossover novel set late in each series' run. The plot involves an immortal, body-jumping Chinese warlord's attempt to set free a massive other-dimensional demon incarnated in dragon form. The story is actually more complex than most, as the "bad guys" are divided into multiple factions: the warlord's consort is planning to betray him by joining up with the court-wizard, the other-dimensional demon has its own plans, etc. Suffice it to say, Buffy and Angel and their respective crews get involved when a travelling display of terra-cotta soldiers hit museums in Sunnydale and Los Angeles.

The continuity in Heat is very strong and incorporates several details from earlier seasons. Holder has a good sense of the cast members' personalities, but has a thing for in-jokes (like referencing Nathan Fillion of Firefly fame, the band who does the theme song for Angel, etc.) which, depending on how you look at it, is either clever or a bit annoying. Anyway, I can't say the story itself is particular novel: medium bad guys trying to summon/raise/create apocalyptic bad guys has been done to death in the Buffyverse. Still, the various evil-doers do have decent personalities and the heavy use of the single-episode character Jhiera spices things up. Unfortunately, the worst part of Heat (much like Holder's Queen of the Slayers) is the incredibly botched ending: it simply seems rushed to completion in a wholly unsatisfactory way.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Latourette's A History of Christianity, Volume I

I picked up a copy of Kenneth Scott Latourette's A History of Christianity, Volume I: Beginnings to 1500 at a used bookstore a year or two ago, and its place has finally come up in my queue. I have to say it was quite a chore to read and extremely disappointing. There's a lot I don't like about the book, so I'm not sure where to begin. First, Latourette has such a pro-Christian bias that it is hard to separate out his judgments based on an objective analysis of the facts from his judgments based on his own personal religious beliefs. This is tied into a second major problem: there's no footnotes or other citations, which means that the reader has no idea whether any given assertion is well-grounded in historical fact or scholarship. Third, Latourette likes to make extremely broad generalizations and has no tolerance for conflicting evidence or interpretations of history. He accepts, uncritically, that everything in the four gospels are historical fact, has little interest in discussing why certain texts were canonized in what today we consider the Bible and others weren't, spends just a handful of pages on the Crusades, writes barely a single page on the Inquisitions, and makes a pathetic attempt to explain away Christian support of slavery as having offered "dignity" to the working man (p. 246). For what it's worth, I can say the book has a thorough (if boring) discussion of monasticism and the Eastern Orthodox Church. Still, suffice it to say, I have no interest in picking up Volume II.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Wild Space

Of the many Star Wars books I've read since I began directing a role-playing game set in that universe, the best one I've come across is the recently-published Wild Space by Karen Miller. Judging by the cover, I was expecting a limp, kids-oriented tie-in to the animated t.v. series with a heavy emphasis on the clones. Instead, I found an engrossing tale of how Senator Bail Organa and Obi-Wan Kenobi forge a unique bond during a mentally-grueling and physically-punishing mission to uncover a rumored planet possessing Sith artifacts. One of the most surprising things about this book is how little there is in the way of "action scenes"--there's hardly a blaster fired or a lightsaber ignited in the whole book. Yet, the dialogue, the personalities, and the plot are more than sufficient to keep the pages turning. If novels tied to the animated series continue to be of this quality, I might just manage to forgive the annoying continuity mess the show makes out of Anakin's having become a Jedi Knight just weeks after the battle of Geonosis.

Blood Engines

Every yuletide, I ask my sig-other to surprise me with some books I haven't asked for and know nothing about, in the hopes that I might thereby discover something cool to read that I normally would never stumble upon. One of the success stories of the most recent wintermark was Blood Engines by T.A. Pratt. The novel is in the urban fantasy genre, and starts off in the middle of the action as Marla, the sorceror-ruler of an industrial East Coast city has to travel to San Francisco in order to find the key to protecting herself from an emerging coup. I think what I like most about the book is that it doesn't embrace conventional moralism--the protagonist certainly isn't your standard goody-goody heroine and the plot has some nice twists and surprises. It also a nice sly sense of humor which always makes fantasy novels a little easier to swallow. I'm definitely planning on picking up the sequel.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Avengers: Terminatrix Objective

As I've mentioned in other posts, I'm not a big fan of time-travel stories because the inherent causal paradoxes make my fragile brain hurt (something that has made me less than enthusiastic about the current season of Lost). As you can imagine then, a time-travel centered miniseries like Avengers: The Terminatrix Objective (1993) is not really my cup of tea. The Marvel Universe has quite an elaborate mythos about a collection of time-manipulating warlords (known as the Council of Cross-Time Kangs or somesuch), each of whom rules an empire both "horizontally" (specific sectors or planets of the galaxy) and "vertically" (over say, the 14th through 16th centuries). Each warlord has all types of schemes and plans to extend their own empire. For whatever it's worth, I will confess this is an original and intriguing idea. Anyway, suffice it to say that in The Terminatrix Objective one of these warlords teleports three heroes to help her with some sort of task, causing one of the other warlords to teleport three different heroes to foil the plan, which causes the two groups of heroes to have the obligatory fight with each other before realizing they need to team up. This may all sound hopelessly vague and confusing, but then that's part of the reason I hate time-travel stories. Now I'm not even sure why I wrote this post. If I could go back in time and tell myself not to I would, but then I wouldn't have written the post to begin with and wouldn't have a reason to go back and tell myself not to do it which means I would still write it and well, nevermind . . .