Friday, July 31, 2009

Queen of the Slayers


FROM THE ARCHIVES (Buffy book reviews)

Since this review was originally written, Joss Whedon's "Season Eight" comic series for Dark Horse has rendered this novel officially non-canonical.

QUEEN OF THE SLAYERS

Nancy Holder (2005)

RATING: 4/5 Stakes

SETTING: After Season 7

CAST APPEARANCES: Buffy, Dawn, Xander, Willow, Faith, Robin Wood, Kennedy, Giles, Rona, Vi, Andrew, Oz, Marie, Senaya (first Slayer), Whistler, Tara (as ghost), Nikki Wood (as ghost), Anya (as ghost), Angel, Gunn, Illyria, Spike

MAJOR ORIGINAL CHARACTERS: The Immortal; Aram, Bey (Immortal’s servants); Lucy Hanover (ghost of former Slayer); Lord Ambrose-Bellairs (Watchers Council); Cesare Borgia, Lucrezia Borgia, Antonio Borgia (villains); Belle, Ornella, Haley (Slayers); Golden One (Oz’s master); Janus, Eo, Shri-Urth (other-dimensional deities), Malfeo.

BACK-OF-THE-BOOK SUMMARY: “With the closing of the Hellmouth and the awakening of hundreds of potential slayers, Buffy Summers thought she had earned herself a much-deserved break. But the thrill of victory is short-lived. The forces of darkness are not ones to graciously accept defeat, and the collective rage unites disparate and powerful parties more eager than ever to reclaim dominance. Willow's magickal distribution of the Slayer essence left girls across the world discovering their latent power. Giles races to reorganize the now much-needed Watchers Council, and the Scoobies relocate to Europe. And there, in Rome, Buffy is drawn to the Immortal--a charismatic, if inscrutable, figure. But then comes word that a number of the fresh Slayers are being coerced to join an army of Slayers governed by the mysterious ‘Queen of the Slayers,’ an awesome evil determined to claim the intoxicating Slayer essence for herself. Xander is sent to Africa to learn more about the origins of the slayer essence. Instead he returns to report that, alarmingly, there’s not enough good in the world to counteract the overabundance of evil and that the deciding apocalypse is drawing much too near. Alliances are formed and loyalties betrayed as it comes down to Slayer versus Slayer, leading to an ultimate battle of champions--from Buffy’s past and present. And then an unimaginable gift arrives. . . .”

REVIEW

Queen of the Slayers, although not the best, is certainly the most important Buffy novel for fans of the show. Why? Simply because it tells the story of what happens to the Scooby Gang after the Hellmouth closes and Sunnydale is swallowed up forever. Indeed, until a movie or some other Joss-penned work contradicts, the novel line (and perhaps comics) are the only places to look for the official, canonical exploits of Buffy and her friends. It will be very interesting to see in the coming years if the editors work hard to maintain strict continuity between future novels (a la the Star Wars novel line) or allow for multiple tellings of what happens after the Hellmouth closes. One of the virtues of Queen of the Slayers is how well it is integrated into Angel Season Five.

On the whole, Queen of the Slayers should satisfy most fans curiosity about life after Sunnydale. The story picks up *right* after the end of Season Seven, when Buffy and crew are still on the yellow schoolbus speeding away from the crater. The aftermath of the battle is portrayed well by Holder, who, after several novels, has a good grasp on the characters and their unique personalities. In particular, Buffy’s grief over Spike’s “death” and Andrew’s hilarious dialogue are captured perfectly.

The main plot takes a bit to get started, and then suddenly it seems like there are several major plot threads to be resolved. In order to avoid major spoilers, I’ll stick to the most basic: Faith and some of the Slayerettes head to Cleveland where the Hellmouth has opened completely, wreaking enormous havoc; Buffy ends up in Rome living with the Immortal, as they try to summon Slayers from all over the world; and Giles moves to London to work with the newly-formed Watchers’ Council. Of course, three Hellgods from another dimension have decided to try to seize the initiative to land a foothold on earth, as have the enormously powerful Borgia clan of vampires and a rogue, evil Slayer who fashions herself “Queen of the Slayers”. The Borgias are given extremely satisfying personalities and backgrounds, and halfway through the novel I couldn’t help but think this was by far the best Buffy novel ever written.

Unfortunately, things start to go downhill at the end. Holder has a real leaning towards cosmic, epic stories that lack the punch of the more “realistic” stories (for example, Cleveland is rendered post-apocalyptic, earthquakes are swallowing whole islands, tidal waves are wreaking havoc all over the world, etc.). In addition, the book concludes suddenly and in a disappointingly abstract, metaphysical way. After so much excellent build-up, Queen of the Slayers feels like the first in a trilogy, but as far as I can tell it is intended to stand alone. It’s almost as if Holder was forced to stop writing a few weeks early and wrap everything up in a single chapter. The “unimaginable gift” that arrives is, to my mind, both slightly creepy and extremely silly. Queen of the Slayers is a very good book and worth reading—just don’t get your hopes up too much.

Reading Between the Lines

FROM THE ARCHIVES (Daily Nebraskan columns)

Reading between the lines

Bar Association overstepping First Amendment rights

Jeremy Patrick (jhaeman@hotmail.com)

January 13, 2000

"If there is any fixed star in our Constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion or other matters of opinion..."---U.S. Supreme Court

In the middle of the 20th century, the Supreme Court ruled that government censorship of books violated the First Amendment guarantee of free speech. In the 1960s, they made a huge contribution to freedom of the press by restricting libel law. In the 1970s, they allowed even a despised group of racists like the Ku Klux Klan to march in public. In the 1980s, they protected flag burning, and in the 1990s, they struck down government censorship of the Internet. The battle for free expression is over, and we've won, right? Perhaps not.

Consider the case of Paul Converse, a graduate of the South Dakota School of Law. Converse moved to Nebraska and applied for admission to take the Bar exam. The Nebraska Supreme Court refused to let him take the exam because Converse "lacked the requisite moral character." His crime? While a student, Converse posted a picture of a woman's naked backside on his study carrel, circulated a satirical pamphlet about the dean and sent letters critical of a professor to two federal judges. None of these actions even violated the law school's honor code, much less the criminal law. If Converse had done these kinds of things after getting his law license, he would probably be protected by the First Amendment. Instead, because of the delicate sensibilities of the Nebraska Supreme Court, he's lost three years of his life and tens of thousands of dollars.

Consider also the case of Matthew Hale. Hale, an avowed racist and founder of the World Church of the Creator (a white supremacist religious group), took the Illinois Bar Exam. Hale passed the exam, including the portion on ethics, but was refused a law license because of his political and religious views. The Bar is afraid Hale won't be able to treat black clients fairly. If, as the U.S. Supreme Court asserts, freedom of expression is the "fixed star" of the constitutional "constellation," then the law should only prohibit actions and not words.There is no evidence that Hale has ever acted in a discriminatory manner toward blacks, nor has he ever threatened to treat black clients unfairly.

This failure to separate mere words from actions creates a dangerous precedent. If a Southern Baptist applies for a law license, should he be denied because he might not treat women or gays fairly? I've probably said all kinds of things about Christians ... should I be denied because I might not treat them fairly? Simply put, lawyers don't need to like their clients to do a good job. When lawyers defend rapists, embezzlers and murderers, do you think they like their clients?Probably not, but they're still ethically bound to do their best. Converse certainly acted immaturely-- he could have taken his grievances through proper channels instead of airing them in public. Hale's views are despicable and wrong. But the point is that no one, not even Bar Associations in all of their monopolistic splendor, should have the power to decide what kind of speech is allowable. At the very least, Converse and Hale could have been granted probationary status for a set period of time while an experienced attorney supervised their cases to make sure no problems took place. These small incursions on free speech occur more often than we realize.

Take a look at a UNL Housing poster for example. It prohibits "insensitive language" towards members of certain groups as a "serious violation of housing policy." Does your copy of the Constitution say that there shall be no law abridging freedom of speech "unless the speech is insensitive?" Mine doesn't. I'm certainly sympathetic to the problems minority groups face because of name-calling, but I don't think infringing upon the First Amendment is the solution. When the Constitution protects the likes of Converse and Hale, we can be sure it will protect all of us. The days when the government burned books and imprisoned writers are gone. But the day when all speech is truly free has not yet come.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Fire and Brimstone

This was my first column for the student paper, The Daily Nebraskan, and, as I mentioned in yesterday's introduction, I was far more polemical then. The piece garnered quite a lot of attention, both in the letters section and elsewhere. An acquaintance of my father sent it to him, which meant that soon my whole family had read it--it certainly made for an interesting Christmas vacation home that year!

The nephews I talk about in this piece are teenagers now and each one has gone on Christian mission trips overseas--I'm probably a bit of a "weird uncle" to them, but we get along okay.

Fire and Brimstone

Question authority or just believe?

Jeremy Patrick (jhaeman@hotmail.com)

October 14, 1999

I was driving my nephews home from the mall one day this summer when I heard Cameron, 7, whispering something to Timothy, 4, in the backseat."Um, Unca Jay?" Tim said."Yes?""Umm, Cameron says you, umm, don't believe in God."

"Yes ... yes, that's right." I responded, surprised by the question."But Unca Jay, if you don't believe in Jesus, you're gonna go to hell!" I was taken aback of course - how often does a four-year-old tell you that you're going to hell? I guess I should have expected something like that when my sister married a minister. Not that he's a mean fire-and-brimstone type of preacher - he's actually one of the nicest guys I know.

"Well Tim, you see, I don't believe in hell," I finally said. And then I found myself in one of the oddest situations of my life - I was arguing religion with children! I tried to change the subject, but they were adamant about converting me. Cameron especially knew his Bible and kept telling me how I'd miss out on the "raptor" (I think he meant "rapture").

I wasn't sure how to respond, and I especially didn't want my sister to get mad at me for "corrupting" her children. At the same time, I'm an argumentative jerk and won't let anyone, even my dear nephews, think they've beaten me in a debate about something I'm passionate about - like religion.

So I started telling them all about theodicy, about the problem of Cain's wife, about how I thought it was silly that all Christians think all non-Christians are going to hell, just like all Muslims think all non-Muslims are going to hell, etc., when no religion offers any better evidence than any other.

Not that my arguments worked, of course. Part of the reason was probably that they were philosophical and abstract, difficult to convey to kids who think Santa Claus is real and delivers presents on Christmas. Part of it is that "Jesus" is a fact told to them by their mom and dad, and at that age, Mom and Dad can't be wrong. After our discussion ended, and we got back home, I took them to the park. I watched them on the swing set laughing at nothing in particular, just because they were happy. (When did I lose that ability?) I wondered why anyone would worry their kids with ideas like "sin" and "damnation" and "hell." They'll grow up soon enough - why not let them just be kids?

I worry about religion - about how it makes people afraid to think critically, afraid to question what they're taught. I worry about the effects it's had and continues to have on society - the subjugation historically of blacks and American Indians because they were "un-Christian" and therefore considered savages; and the forced servility of women based on biblical teachings. And of course as a bi man, I get to see the detrimental effects of religion firsthand everyday. When Cameron and Timothy grow up, will they too vote to keep me from getting married or adopting?

To 95% of Christians (and other theists), why I disbelieve doesn't matter one bit. Logic and reason mean nothing to them when it comes to religion, because to question is to sin. Any inconsistencies or absurdities you force them to confront are solved with the magic wand of "The Lord works in mysterious ways." Adults who believe in God are like children who believe in Santa Claus - it's almost impossible to convince them they're wrong, and even if you somehow succeed, you feel somewhat guilty for shattering their happy illusions.

Religion is a crutch - people rely on it when their lives get difficult. I'd rather stand on my own two feet and risk falling.

I actually think what my nephews tried to do was kind of sweet - it showed that they care about me, and the funny thing is, they seem to like me just as much now as they did before they learned that I was going to hell. Just in case, however, I think I'll slip some books on dinosaurs and evolution in with their birthday gifts. Hey, it's never too early to plant the seeds of doubt.

© 2001 Daily Nebraskan Online (www.dailyneb.com)

Heat


FROM THE ARCHIVES (Buffy book reviews)

HEAT

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)

REVIEW

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.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Lost Slayer


FROM THE ARCHIVES (Buffy book reviews)

The Lost Slayer

By Christopher Golden (Omnibus Edition, 2003)

RATING: 4/5 Stakes

SETTING: Season Four

T.V. CHARACTER APPEARANCES: Buffy, Willow, Xander, Anya, Oz, Giles, Olivia

MAJOR ORIGINAL CHARACTERS: Camazotz (bat demon), Lucy Hanover (ghostly Slayer), Clownface & Bulldog (vampires), Zotziloha (Camazotz's wife)

BACK-OF-THE-BOOK SUMMARY: "Buffy Summers's adjustment to life at U.C. Sunnydale has not gone smoothly. She feels awkward, insecure, and jealous that Willow's all over the college life. So when she is visited by a prophecy of impending danger, the timing couldn't be worse. There's plenty of evil afoot as it is: a unified troop of vampires has descended upon Sunnydale, and tension between Buffy and Willow gets in the way of demon hunting. Before long, a single moment of bad judgment catapults Buffy into an alternate future dimension where vampires reign supreme. Imprisoned in the body of her 24-year-old-self--and confronting friends and foes the likes of which she'd never imagined--the Slayer must uncover her past misstep and correct it, or risk facing a terrifying monster that she herself has created. . . ."

REVIEW

The Lost Slayer is an interesting and ambitious book, that takes place in two major time periods: the "real world" of Buffy Season Four and an alternate future five years later, where Giles has been turned into a Vampire King and Sunnydale and much of Southern California has fallen under his evil sway. Through some magics gone awry, Season Four Buffy inhabits the body of future Buffy, while the mind of future Buffy inhabits the mind of Season Four Buffy, leading to some interesting scenarios.

The alternate future is an interesting one, and includes much darker versions of Xander and Willow, along with some characters not otherwise present in the book like Parker, Harmony, Wesley, Spike, and Drusilla. The Season Four material is fairly well done, though it involves Buffy learning her usual lesson that it's okay for her to rely on her friends. The main bad guy--a bat demon/god of some type, and his hyped-up vampire cronies--are about average for a Buffy book.

The overall tone of the novel is dark with some brutal, well-done action scenes (a scene where future Buffy kills another Slayer is nothing short of ghastly) and believable dialogue.
All in all, this is one of the better Buffy novels that contains some nice surprises and tense scenes. It's definitely one worth picking up.

[Note that this was originally released as a "serial novel" in four separate books; the version reviewed here is the "omnibus" one.]

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Daily Nebraskan

Funny enough, the thing I remember most about my first year of law school had nothing to do with law--it had to do with writing for the The Daily Nebraskan, the university newspaper. I know now that it wasn't that remarkable, but I remember being amazed by the paper when I first moved to Lincoln--a daily student paper full of exciting and thought-provoking columns on politics, sexuality, philosophy, and more.

After a few months of reading the paper, I decided to send in a "guest column" and they published it. I remember both how exciting and mildy apprehensive I was it when first came out--to have a "public persona" for the first time. Right before Christmas break, the paper asked me to sign on as a regular weekly columnist. I know it's perhaps an odd memory to pick, but the bus ride home for Christmas break, with the stress of law school exams just behind me and the thrill of writing for the paper just ahead of me was one of the happiest moments of my life. I felt at the forefront of things for the first time--that I had something important to say and a platform on which to say it, in front of 20,000 people would be there to applaud or mock.

I wrote for the paper for about a year and a half. Often, my column would be matched with an opposing columnist in a "Pro-Con" format--my main antagonist (I had forgotten about this for a long time) was a strongly right-leaning Christian female. If I remember correctly, while we each wrote for the paper, I clerked for the ACLU and she interned for a Republican politician.

Sometimes the columns would be picked up on U-Wire (basically, a wire service for university newspapers), which meant my columns might be reprinted in student papers across the country.
The Daily Nebraskan had staff artists who would often draw illustrations to go alongside the columns, which always made for an interesting surprise. And even on the days my column didn't run, I would eagerly check the Letters to the Editor section to see the frequent letters of condemnation or occasional letters of support. Every couple of weeks there would be a columnist staff meeting, where we'd brainstorm ideas--I always looked forward to them, though I think some of the columnists saw them as a chore.

My writing style was very different then than it is now. Back then, I loved frequent quotations and a more polemic style. Some of what I wrote back then embarasses me now and sometimes I think I was a lot smarter then than I am now. Anyway, in the next few months I'll be posting them here as part of the continuing process of porting over the contents of my soon-to-be-defunct website. I hope you have at least a fraction of the fun reading them as I did writing them.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Monster Island


FROM THE ARCHIVES (Buffy book reviews)

MONSTER ISLAND

By Christopher Golden & Thomas E. Sniegoski (2003)

RATING: 4/5 Stakes

SETTING: Season Five or Six

T.V. CHARACTER APPEARANCES: Buffy, Xander, Willow, Tara, Spike, Giles, Dawn, Anya, Angel, Cordelia, Fred, Gunn, Wesley, Lorne, Harry Doyle, Willy the Snitch

MAJOR ORIGINAL CHARACTERS: General Axtius (main villain); Guhl-iban (flesh-eating demon); Haborym (fire demon); Calvin Symms (L.A. teen); Charlie Nickels (informant); Abner (friendly demon); Elijah Carnegie (friendly magician); Zeke (Miquot informant); Captain Hobbs (sailor); Dai'shu (sorceror demon); Ephraim (Sage of Monster Island); Garth (Elder Demon); Ileana (Vapor demon); Shikah (Bazhripa demon)

INSIDE-FLAP SUMMARY: "Since he arrived in Los Angeles, Angel's mission has been to help the helpless. He has saved countless innocents in his city. However, one escaped his grasp: Doyle, the hard-drinking, easy-living half-demon who came to Angel on a vision quest. Doyle sacrificed himself and in turn reconciled his internal conflict toward his own demonic heritage, leaving Angel (with Cordelia, and ultimately, a new cadre) to carry on with the good fight. And fight they do. But as the group squares off against evil in the City of Angels, little do they know that back in Sunnydale trouble is brewing as usual. A shakedown of snitches yields info: Someone other than Buffy has been slaying--and whoever it is, he or she is strictly after half-breeds, going so far as to lie in wait to attack. It doesn't add up, and the Scoobies are stumped. Back in L.A. the picture becomes clearer when Angel Investigations is visited by an unexpected guest. It's Doyle's father, a Brachen demon named Axtius. He's come to give Doyle a gift: Daddy's going to rid Doyle of his pesky human side. In fact he's looking to rid the world of half-breeds. He's not happy to learn that Doyle's gone, and if someone is to be blamed, it's Angel. But Axtius doesn't have time to point fingers--he knows where the mixed-blood demons have set up camp. Before long Buffy and her avengers have assembled right alongside Angel and Co. Both slayer and vampire have skirted the boundaries of humanity, but neither can support a massacre. A crime against monsters is a crime nonetheless. . . ."

REVIEW

Monster Island was a crossover between the Buffy and Angel novel lines, and received the deluxe treatment with both hardcover and paperback versions. The plot, as the title indicates, revolves around a magically-hidden island off the coast of California called Questral, home to hundreds of outcast half-breed demons trying to make a peaceful home for themselves. Something, of course, has to disturb their happy lifestyle and in this particular case it's a massive invasion by an army of "pure-bred" demons led by the Brachen General Axtius.

How do our erstwhile heroes get involved? It turns out that Axtius is the father of Angel's deceased friend Doyle, and wants revenge on the vampire-with-a-soul for his son's death. Throw in Doyle's ex-wife, several new characters, and the cast of both shows, and you have a novel packed with a lot of people running around.

With dozens of Buffy and Angel novels and comics to his name, Christopher Golden knows the characters inside and out, and there aren't any "so-and-so would never do that!" moments. Along with his co-author, Golden weaves an interesting story with some great action scenes and an exciting ending. With so much happening, the plot takes precedence over the interaction of the two casts, but there are some really fun Xander/Cordelia moments and it's interesting to learn what happened to Harry Doyle after her husband's death.

The bottom line is the Monster Island is a strong adventure story; it won`t make you cry or reveal surprising new insights into the characters, but it is an above average Buffy novel and worth reading.

Batman Unmasked: Analyzing a Cultural Icon


FROM THE ARCHIVES (book reviews)

Book Review: Will Brooker’s Batman Unmasked: Analyzing a Cultural Icon

By Jeremy Patrick (jhaeman@hotmail.com)

Published in The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide, v. 8 n. 6 (Nov.-Dec. 2001)

Traditionalist academics may scoff at the idea that a student could earn a doctorate from a well-respected university by writing a book about Batman. After reading Will Brooker’s Batman Unmasked: Analyzing a Cultural Icon (Continuum Books), however, many such skeptics will quickly change their minds. This is a serious study about the evolution of the figure originally designated, "Bat-Man."

Brooker begins his book by discussing the character’s beginnings in 1939 as a grim, solitary vigilante who didn’t hesitate to use handguns or allow his opponents to die. It wasn’t long, however, before fan reaction and editorial control forced the writers of the comic book to lighten the tone by not having Batman kill his foes, and by introducing Robin, the Boy Wonder. Subsequent chapters chronicle the character’s place in American popular culture during the 1950’s censorship scares, the 1960’s period of camp and television stardom, and the 1980’s movie phenomena and their "dark and gritty" Batman.

Brooker makes it clear that the evolution of the character and its influence on (and from) its audience has been more complex than commonly thought. GLBT readers may find particularly interesting the chapter on queer readings of Batman and the controversy surrounding Dr. Fredric Wertham’s allegation of homosexuality in his famous 1955 book Seduction of the Innocent, which called for censorship of comic books and led to the Comics Code.

Batman Unmasked is a model for books about the place of literary figures in popular consciousness. It’s well-researched and extraordinarily readable. Brooker has made an important contribution to a field that doesn’t receive nearly as much respect as it should.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Border Princes


This was the second Torchwood book released, and is definitely longer and denser than the others I've read. It has a great atmosphere of mystery and the uncanny, and I read the first several chapters with "what the hell is going on!" (in the good way) in the back of my mind. It does a nice job tying subplots (some of which don't concern the cast at all) into the main plot at the end, and includes some brutally vicious action scenes (a plus in my book).
Here's the SPOILERY details on the plot: an alien race on the "far side" of the Rift occasionally sends agents across and places them in deep cover--one of the agents is placed into Torchwood and, through alien mindbending technology, convinces everyone that he's been there for years. In this respect, the book shares a lot of similarities with the Buffy episode Superstar and the later Torchwood series two episode Adam. Meanwhile, a rival alien race's android killing machine has activated itself and is tearing through Cardiff. Like I said, it's all very mysterious and exciting, and includes concepts I would like to see revisited.

The main loose end is that this fake agent of Torchwood, James, has been sleeping with Gwen for weeks and eventually convinces her to leave Rhys--even though the book indicates that the members of Torchwood will eventually forget that James ever existed, won't Rhys be a bit torqued? It makes Gwen even more heartless: we know she slept with Owen and lusted after Jack, but now we find out she hooked up with this James guy (that is, there's no indication she was brainwashed into doing it, just brainwashed into thinking James was a long-time member of the team). Ah, well. I was never a huge Gwen fan anyway . . .

Blood and Glory

Captain America is struck down by a sniper's bullet while walking down the steps of a federal building in Washington, D.C. Thousands mourn and he's given a hero's funeral before turning up alive sometime later. One of the events of the Marvel's major crossover, Civil War? Yes. But also, one of the events in Blood and Glory, a three-issue "bookshelf format" miniseries published in 1992 that features a team-up between Captain America and the Punisher. I was trepiditious (is that a word? if not, it should be) before reading this, as I foresaw two major problems: Captain America portrayed as a sanctimonious, dorky boy-scout or the Punisher portrayed as bloodthirsty, kneejerk maniac. Fortunately, the mini-series avoids both pitfalls and introduces an interesting theme: Captain America as a symbol of World War II (uniting America against a common enemy) and the Punisher as a symbol of Vietnam (tearing America apart). Both characters have believable personalities and dialogue, and the action scenes are top-notch. The story is a bit of a bore, involving agovernment conspiracy to smuggle guns and drugs to third-world countries, but on the whole this definitely turned out better than it could have been.

Torchwood Magazine # 2


Issue two of Torchwood Magazine seemed a little bland--it's basically all cast and guest star interviews (Eve Myles, Freema Agyeman, Gareth David-Lloyd, etc.) along with a couple of the usual pieces on how they do the CGI special effects (in this case, the giant alien whale in the episode Meat, the mayfly-like alien insects in Reset). As everybody interviewed also says the same nice things about everyone else, and features on making CGI creatures are in the special features sections of so many DVD movies, there just wasn't a lot here that was particularly interesting.

Children of Earth: Day Five (SPOILERS)














I thought Torchwood lost a little of its dark, edgy feel during Season Two. Well, Children of Earth was about as dark as it gets.

* World leaders agree on a plan to send 10% of Earth's children to aliens in order to stop an invasion--and the haunting thing is, their debates and discussion seemed realistic. First, ensuring that the leaders' own children would be safe; second, talking about random selection to ensure "fairness", and finally, deciding that the lowest scoring children on school aptitude tests should be selected.

* The UK government official (Frobisher) in charge of negotiating with the aliens is asked by the Prime Minister to sacrifice his own children in order to make it look like "the government suffered too" once the news of what is happening reaches the public. In order to keep his children from becoming grotesque alien slaves, Frobisher shoots his wife, his two children, and then himself.

* Gwen makes a recording to explain how the world ended and answers her own question about why the mysterious Doctor doesn't always show up when terrible things happen on Earth--"It's because he's ashamed of us," she says.

*Jack's first attempt to stop the aliens through sheer bravado and reputation results in Ianto and an entire building of government workers being murdered by the aliens, while his second attempt requires him to willingly sacrifice his own innocent grandson.


* Torchwood as an institution is pretty much destroyed and Jack leaves the planet out of guilt for all of those who've died under his leadership.


Dark, but amazingly well-written, courageous, and full of surprises. I really hope there's another season of what's quickly become my favorite t.v. drama.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Cursed


FROM THE ARCHIVES (Buffy book reviews)

CURSED

By Mel Odom (2003)

RATING: 3/5 Stakes

SETTING: Season 6 Buffy, Season 3 Angel (not harmonized)

MAJOR ORIGINAL CHARACTERS: Tarl Dannek (gangster); Arrag, Doxxil, & Muullot (Quorqoth demons); Lord Hyde-Pierce (gentry); Lyanka, Gitana (gypsies); Chavula Faa (demon villain); Tobar (henchman); Bill Wynowski (lawyer).

CAST APPEARANCES: Spike, Angel/Angelus, Gunn, Wesley, Cordelia, Connor, Drusilla, Darla, Lilah Morgan, Fred, Lorne

BACK-OF-THE-BOOK SUMMARY “Sulking around the Slayer in Sunnydale, the vampire Spike has often run into demons intent on punishing him for throwing in with the White Hats. But when there are hints of a more organized campaign dedicated to vanquishing the vampire with a chip in his head, Spike sets off on the trail of whoever’s put a hit out on him. Meanwhile, in the City of Angels, the vampire with a soul finds that the search for a mystical object is tied to his days as the vicious Angelus. Then Spike—his former partner in carnage—arrives in L.A. Each nursing a grudge, and with the specter of Buffy in both of their (cold, dead) hearts, the two vampires reluctantly work together . . . until their torturous past catches up with them!”

REVIEW

Cursed is one of the handful of books in the Buffy/Angel crossover series of novels. The crossover is somewhat one-sided, however, as Spike is the only character from Buffy’s cast to make an appearance. The book picks up directly after the episode in which Buffy tells Spike that their relationship is over. Spike, hoping to win Buffy back by putting her financial troubles at ease, decides to take part in a demon-ran heist to obtain a valuable, rare artifact called a Foundation Stone.

It turns out, in the way these things often do, that the Foundation Stone is actually just one of a set of seven that (when put together) open a mystical portal to another dimension. A powerful demon named Chavula Faa has spent decades trying to assemble all seven stones so that he can subjugate this other dimension, and Spike gets himself into all sorts of trouble. While all of this is going on, Angel is set on the trail of the stones as well. Near the end of the book, they meet up and help a group of gypsy-type demons called the Kalochner stop Chavulaa Faa.

Although the plot’s a bit on the hokey side, Cursed is a half-way decent novel. There are some nice actions scenes and the characterization of Spike and Angel are pretty good (though they’re not nearly as much fun when together as they are on television). The main villain, however, is not particularly interesting, nor are the tedious flashbacks to the nineteenth century. Given the overall disappointing line of Buffy and Angel novels, Cursed falls squarely in the average category.

Homosexualities


FROM THE ARCHIVES (book reviews)

Book Review: Stephen O. Murray’s Homosexualities

By Jeremy Patrick (jhaeman@hotmail.com)

The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide, v. 8 n. 5 (Sep.-Oct. 2001)

Discourse about homosexuality usually revolves around the question of whether it’s a "socially constructed" phenomenon or whether it has biological origins of some kind. Proponents of the former view sometimes hold that homosexuality is a recent invention that’s specific to a few Western societies.

A convincing refutation of that perspective is provided by Stephen O. Murray’s Homosexualities (University of Chicago Press). Murray is one of America’s pre-eminent scholars in the field of sexuality and the author of dozens of articles and books on the subject. His latest work demonstrates that what we call "homosexuality" exists in literally hundreds of societies around the world. Far from being a new or emerging pattern, according to Murray, homosexual behavior (and sometimes identity) has as long a history as heterosexual behavior in most cultures, and that homophobia is not a universal phenomenon.

Well-researched and packed with information, the book has a limited audience in mind. Aside from the author’s penchant for making cutting remarks about followers of Foucault, the writing is sober and even monotonous, as the author surveys one culture for a few pages before moving on to the next. There’s little real synthesis until the final chapter, which is rather technical and probably useful only for other social scientists. Nevertheless, Homosexualities provides a thorough history of its subject and will be a useful reference source for researchers.

Children of Earth Days Three & Four (SPOILERS)


I don't know about you, but I am loving the mini-series format! A substantive story you can sink your teeth into, exciting cliff-hangers at the end of every episode, and major shake-ups of everything we thought we knew about Torchwood.

* In 1965, Jack turned innocent little kids over to aliens!

* The UK has plans to turn over 10% of all children on Earth!

* Ianto gives up the ghost!

As far as I'm concerned? This is awesome t.v.

The Sin Eaters


I can't find the Torchwood audio books in stores, so I hacked into my sig-other's account and downloaded The Sin-Eater from ITunes (shh!). This was a far more substantial (2 hours +) story than the shorter (45 minute) ones recently released by the BBC. Gareth David-Lloyd (who plays Ianto) is a good narrator, and does a surprisingly nice Captain Jack and Rhys. It also has the Torchwood theme and background music, though no sound effects per se.

The story itself has some similarities with Something in the Water insofar as they both concern an alien menace lurking in Cardiff Bay. In The Sin-Eater, swarms of tiny, insect-like aliens prey on human guilt and shame--which seems like a pretty good deal, until those humans start turning up dead.

The story is really atmospheric and scary, especially towards the end. There's great interaction between Captain Jack and Ianto (who is given quite a strong personality) and between Rhys and Gwen. My favorite moment, although it bordered on cheesy, was finding out that the Torchwood SUV was designed to convert into an aquatic vehicle--except the design fails miserably, and the SUV begins to sink within seconds.
The only difficult thing I find with the audio books is when/how to listen to them--that is, it feels a little weird just lying on the couch and listening to one, but if I do much else I find I'm not paying as much attention to the story.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Blasphemy in the St. Thomas Law Review


I'm happy to say that my article Blasphemy in Pre-Criminal Code Canada: Two Sketches has been accepted for publication by the St. Thomas Law Review. Since the original draft went up on SSRN, I've been able to incorporate findings from some additional secondary sources to help validate the research methodology and add more context to the case studies. Next up in the dissertation writing is a chapter on Canadian legislative and media reactions to blasphemy.

Seven Crows


FROM THE ARCHIVES (Buffy book reviews)

Seven Crows

John Vornholt (2003)

RATING: 5/5 Stakes

SETTING: Season Seven (alternate)

CAST APPEARANCES: Buffy, Dawn, Angel, Fred, Riley, Samantha Finn

MAJOR ORIGINAL CHARACTERS: Raul, Machete (vampires), Clete Barton (Sheriff), Frederick Tatum (pear farmer)

BACK-OF-THE-BOOK SUMMARY: “In a sleeply little town on the border between Arizona and Mexico, Agent Riley Finn and his operative wife, Sam, have tracked down an international smuggling ring involving vampires. Suprisingly, the call for reinforcements is answered by Buffy Summers and the atoning vampire Angel. Now tempers are flaring in the heat of the day—and night—as people are dying and locals are turning a blind eye to the deadly events. Bodies are turning up in the surrounding desert, some drained of blood, some having succumbed to another, fast-moving death. Riley Finn is noticing the arrival of more and more crows to this area, ominous portents of the events ahead. But even Mr. Secret Agent Man is distracted from his job when his wife goes undercover with Angel. . . .”

REVIEW

Simply put, one of the best Buffy novels out there. The action starts quickly as we see a young illegal immigrant narrowly survive death at the hands of Raul and Machete, two vampires who smuggle people across the border (and, sometimes, make a meal out of them). When Riley and his wife Sam are called in to investigate, they get the run-around by the local sheriff and a powerful landowner. Buffy and Angel get called in to help, and the storyline really starts running hot. Add in drug tunnels, werewolves, and a touch of jealousy and you’ve got a great book.

There are a lot of things that make Seven Crows so good. First, the setting. The area around the Arizona and Mexico border has never been the location for a Buffy story, and John Vornholt does a good job describing the landscape and inhabitants. Second, and I’m as surprised as anyone to say this, Riley and Sam. Somehow these two characters, often rather bland in the show, sparkle in the book and seem far more interesting. As a bonus, the fact that they’re not major Buffy stars means Vornholt has more flexibility in making permanent changes to the characters. Last, the characterization and dialogue is top-notch. Buffy and Angel’s first meeting is hilarious, and their subsequent . . . awkwardness around each other is played perfectly.The plot is solid but probably have used a few tweaks near the end, which seems to come too quickly. Still, this is definitely one worth seeking out.

Revolutionary Voices


FROM THE ARCHIVES (Stepping Out book reviews)

Book Review: Amy Sonnie’s Revolutionary Voices

Jeremy Patrick jhaeman@hotmail.com

Stepping Out v. 1, n. 7 October, 2000

An interesting concomitant of the GLBT rights movement is the increasingly early ages that adolescents are self-identifying as queer. Hundreds of high schools across the country now have gay-straight alliances and same-sex couples at the prom are not quite the shock they used to be. Frequently, however, the voices of queer youth are silenced and co-opted by older queer activists. A recent attempt to let queer youth speak for themselves is Revolutionary Voices (edited by Amy Sonnie, Alyson Publications, $11.95 paperback, 259 pages).

Revolutionary Voices is a collection of poems, short essays, and interviews written by queer youth between the ages of 14 and 26. The anthology "was created as a forum for today’s queer youth movement to address the issues that shape [their] lives," and includes a diverse array of writers: it seems almost every race, sexual orientation, and gender identity is represented.
The anthology covers a nice mix of topics—not the standard collection of coming-out stories. One youth tells about his struggle as an intersexed (born with multiple sex organs) individual. Another tells about how her acceptance of a queer sexuality helped to end her eating disorders. Two of the selections deserve special praise: "Private Anniversary With Mom Or, On Coming Home With Short Hair" by Alix Lindsey Olson and Jessica Arndt made me laugh more than any poem in quite a while. "Manifesto," a sad but inspirational poem by Margo Kelley Rodriguez should be copied and pinned to bulletin boards everywhere.

Revolutionary Voices is a noble attempt to open a dialogue with queer youth but it ultimately disappoints. Only a handful of the writings are really quality work; the rest seems the sort of thing one could read in a freshman creative writing class. Each of the 56 authors has his or her own biography page, and the flip of each biography page is a reproduction of the cover. Since almost 112 pages of the book is introductory material and 22 more is for the glossary and list of resources, only half of the book is really original material.

However, with the current paucity of queer youth anthologies, Revolutionary Voices is currently the best way we have of getting insight into the views of a much-neglected portion of our society. In this respect, at least, it’s worth reading.

(c) 2000 Jeremy Patrick

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Torchwood Magazine # 1


This first issue has some good interviews with John Barrowman and James Marsters about the awesome reunion of Captain Jack and Captain John at the beginning of Season Two. Barrowman talks about how proud he (rightfully) is about portraying the first bisexual lead character in genre television and Marsters about how this role was the first one he's ever had which required a same-sex kiss. The comic strip has great artwork and an interesting story about Ianto's mentor at Torchwood One, Rupert Hayworth (it has a bit of a hasty conclusion, but that's common with most short comic strips). The more I see of Torchwood Magazine, the more I think that the strips collected in Rift War were the worst of the lot. Finally, there's an odd interview with Naoko Mori (Tosh), where the interview consists solely of random generic questions that could be used with any subject--stuff like "What makes you happy?" "What scares you?" and "What drives you mad?"

The Hands of the Dragon


It's not often I come across an Atlas comic in a back-issue bin, but I always buy them when I do. Atlas was a very short-lived company that published comics in 1975. The line was edited by Stan Lee's brother Larry Lieber, and launched with something like 12 or 13 titles, far too many for a brand new comics company. Suffice it to say, the whole venture went under after a few months and none of the titles made it past issue # 5 or so.

Near the end, Atlas launched a new series called The Hands of the Dragon. Martial-arts characters were popular in the 70s (Iron Fist, Shang-Chi, etc.), and this title was very much in that vein. "From the Holocaust of an Atomic Explosion Comes the Toughest Kung Fu Fighter of Them All!"
Two orphaned brothers are raised in a remote temple and taught larger than life Kung Fu--as these things tend to go, one of the brothers grows up a heroic type ("The Dragon") and the other grows up to be a villainous fellow ("The Cobra"). The Cobra joins up with a super-bad guy by the name of Dr. Nhu in a plot to assassinate Japan's Prime Minister (why? I'm not sure). Dr. Nhu likes to spout classic villainous dialogue, like this choice bit "Fool--you cannot stop my crusade of evil! You will share the Prime Minister's Fate . . . Both of you will DIE!"

In this first issue, Dr. Nhu succeeds in gunning down the PM, but he didn't count on The Dragon owning a mystic doo-dad amulet that can apparently heal people. Although Dr. Nhu and The Cobra escape, the introspective Dragon ponders his future as the issue ends "Where will they strike again? What evil plans are they now putting into action? I must find and stop them!"
Although the next issue box promises us "Dragonkill!", Atlas went under before they could deliver and (as far as I know), the Dragon, Dr. Nhu, and the Cobra faded into obscurity.

Children of Earth, Day Two (SPOILERS)

* The Hub destroyed!

* Best prison break ever!

* Jack's Butt!

The excitement continues!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Children of Earth, Day One (SPOILERS)


OMG!

* Captain Jack has a kid! Christ, a grandkid!

* Ianto has a sister! And he comes out to her! And he lets the Torchmobile get stolen!

* Gwen's preggers!

* There's a new doctor! And a new receptionist-type!

* And I may be over-excited!

Torchwood: Return of the Vostok




This is a bonus comic strip from Torchwood magazine published exclusively online at the website of a digital TV channel called Watch (http://uktv.co.uk/watch/gallery/aid/612675). Basically, it features the invasion of a ice-producing alien race called the Vostok and is, all in all, pretty lame.

Torchwood Magazine # 15


I can't wait to see Torchwood: Children of the Earth which airs tonight (in Canada) on Space. Until then, I must content myself with Torchwood Magazine # 15, the first one I've read in the series. Along with the usual snippets of info about upcoming books and merchandise, it has a lot of behind the scenes stuff about Children of the Earth (which I've avoided due to potential spoilers), an interview with John Barrowman, part two of a short story (which I'm skipping until I get part 1), and the first installment of a five-part comic strip Broken, which features Captain Jack, Gwen, and Ianto investigating strange disappearances at a hotel--this strip was far better than the strips collected in Rift War, and had great artwork and witty dialogue.
UPDATE: I managed to track down the previous issue and have thus read both parts of the short story Gordian by Steve Savile which features a planet-eating alien entity. I don't think the story was necessarily a terrible idea, but it's simply too big and cataclysmic and dramatic to really work in short story form--as the capstone episode in a five-part miniseries like Children of Earth, maybe.

Clone Wars Campaign: Recap # 23

This session got the campaign moving again after the not-so-good previous session. I especially liked the opening scene here--it was fast-paced and exciting. The characters hadn't spent a lot of time in wilderness adventures, so I tried to add a lot of detail and game mechanics to their survival in the jungle. I also had a lot of fun with the cut-scene of Asajj Ventress and the Neimodian (I think I did a fair job with the accents, to boot). The Ssi-Ruuk are drawn from the novel Truce at Bakura; here, they're caught up in a conflict with the Separatists that was presumably never recorded in Republic (later, Imperial) archives.


SESSION 23

Years ago, Separatist leader Count Dooku erased more than 30 sectors of space from Republic planetary datafiles, including the cloning planet of Kamino. Now, bullied by a Republic intelligence agent, the crew of the Broken Tiara have ventured far into the Unknown Regions to ascertain what lies in Sector Zeta-11. But their trip has been an eventful one! After being nearly destroyed by a Separatist picket ship, the maiden voyage of the Broken Tiara may also be its last.

Seconds after reaching the apparent safety of hyperspace, the crew of the Outcast Tiara realize that their peril continues. Thick, black smoke fills the cockpit as the shield generator overloads, knocking Natany and Zero unconscious before Arresta manages to bring the fire-suppression systems on-line. Meanwhile, Zee temporarily stops a major radiation leak in the port engine room and decides the ship needs to drop out of hyperspace and shut down all systems except for battery-powered life support. A thorough examination by the ship's repair droid provides bad news: unless a new fusion regulator is found and installed, the ship can return to full power for only an hour before the radiation leak becomes unmanageable. Zee remembers that one of the ship's lifeboats had been upgraded with a x15 hyperspace drive. The crew debates whether to continue on to Zeta-11 in the lifeboat and hope to obtain a fusion regulator there, or to abandon ship and head back towards Coruscant. After some discussion, they choose the first option, but the still-unconscious Natany and Zero are left behind with a note, tended to by a droid. Hours pass aboard the lifeboat, punctuated by Arresta's confession that she is pregnant.

[AG 252]

Arresta, Zee, and Krevlax are treated to a strange sight when the lifeboat finally arrives in the asteroid-heavy Sector Zeta-11. A Trade Federation battleship, The Liquidator, has been heavily damaged and has withdrawn from a major starship battle between Separatist forces and unknown attackers. Nearby, Separatist fighters patrol a cloud-covered planet. Zee intercepts communications with the help of some droids and learns that the attackers are called "Ssi-Ruuk" and that at least one of their dropships have reached a nearby planet. Arresta manages to outwit and outrun the Separatist patrols and lands the lifeboat in the middle of a thick jungle. Scanners shows a major power source about 50 kilometers to the north, while a quick reconnaisance shows smoke rising a few kilometers to the west.
The trio cover the lifeboat with branches to mask it from the air and then set off toward the smoke with two droids in tow. The heat and humidity of the jungle proves burdensome and distracting, causing Zee to walk right into quicksand. As Krevlax pulls him out with a long branch, Arresta quickly dispatches a Separatist dwarf spider droid that had wandered into their path--but not before the droid was able to send a signal.

Meanwhile, elsewhere on the planet, a strange, fan shaped starfighter lands in front of a huge dome. Waiting near the ship are several droid guards and a small group of Neimodians. An exotic looking bald woman emerges from the ship and says with a scowl "Where is Kraten Binth?"

A nervous looking female Neimodian in expensive purple robes walks forward and bows deeply. "Ahhh Co-Mander Vontress. Pleased to maake your acquaintance. We were not expecting you to come yourself.

"It is your negligence that wastes my time, Admiral. I have been sent to personally oversee the defence of this planet."

The Neimodian bows deeply again. "Ahhh Co-Mander Vontress, you muhst understand that the invaders came from a direction we weren't expecting. Our fleets have skirmished for several days but only one dropship has made it through our defense network."

Asajj Ventress narrows her eyes. "Scour the jungle then and destroy every living thing you find within it."

Back in the jungle, Arresta, Zee, and Krevlax emerge from the thinning jungle and see a river ahead. A few hundred meters away lies a collection of primitive huts. Krevlax stays under cover with the droids, while Zee and Arresta advance. At the edge of the village, they are greeted by a middle-aged Ryn female named Jorassa. Arresta returns to where Krevlax is hiding, but Zee is treated to a fish dinner and conversation.

Jorassa claims that she and the other villagers (several Ryn, a few humans and a Bith) arrived on planet almost twenty years ago aboard their ship, the Wanders as Dust. They had been traversing the galaxy, looking for a quiet place to call home, and eventually found Zeta-11. Although their ship crashed in an area called the Blasted Land, Jorassa says they have no desire to leave the planet. She explains that the Blasted Land is a place of great danger and that only one villager, the now-missing Frazon, knew the way back to it. Occasionally, she says, "mechanicals from the great mountain" come by to make sure the village isn't a threat. She also claims to have seen in recent days a shooting star that may have been a crashing ship hit the ground several kilometers to the East.

After receiving a fishing pole as a gift, Zee makes his way back to the others. As they converse from their hiding place, they see a shuttle circle the village and several B-3 Ultra Battle Droids begin deployment. Fire and screams begin instantly as the villagers are massacred. Although his companions stay in hiding, Krevlax attempts to intervene. He wrestles with one of the giant droids but is forced to escape capture by jumping into the village and swimming away.

The party makes their way back into the jungle and sets up camp for the night, but are interrupted by one of the Ultra Battle Droids that had tracked their movements. However, caught in a crossfire between Zee and Arresta, the droid is quickly destroyed. The group decide to stay near the cool river during the heat of the day, and then to travel back to the lifeboat by night.

[AG 253]

Krevlax gets himself lost and separated from the party during the trek back through the jungle. Menaced by a four-legged predator, the Anx street fighter decides to climb a tree for safety. Unfortunately, while trying to leap across to another tree, he slips and falls on his back. The predator pounces and sinks his teeth in Krevlax's throat, but Krevlax manages to flip over and pin the predator and then break its neck.

Meanwhile, Zee, Arresta, and the two droids make their way back to the lifeboat. Zee notices a small scout crab droid scurrying around the hull of the ship and (loudly) tries to blast it off. The crab droid climbs to the top of the lifeboat and Zee decides to climb up after it. The crab droid springs at the unwitting bodyguard and snaps its mechanical pincers deep into Zee's abdomen. Zee fires down at the droid and destroys its central processor, but the pincers remain snapped tightly shut. Losing blood and almost unconscious, Zee manages to pry the pincers open using a tool kit. Arresta bandages him up inside the lifeboat.

Return to Clone Wars Campaign Main Page

Monday, July 13, 2009

Fall of Cthulhu: The Fugue (Boom! Studios)


Wow! This was just plain . . . amazing. A perfect understanding of how to tell a Lovecraft-type horror story set in the modern era, with beautiful artwork, fully-fleshed out characters, great dialogue, haunting moments, and a well thought-out plot.

Daisy

Our second session in the Waterdhavian Unusuals campaign is on Sunday, so as a special treat, here's the character sheet for my sig-other's character, Daisy:

------------------------------------------------------

Daisy and Dolf de Jumeau were born to wealthy parents, whose anxiety over their inability to conceive had begun to take over their lives. Despite their money and prominence in their town, they had no heirs and greatly feared that their lands and wealth would be lost without a new generation to continue the family.

Their concern was much eased by the birth of two healthy infants. Still, something strange had taken place during their birth. In the middle of their labour, their mother’s eyes had taken on a strange, unearthly green light and she had grasped the hand of the mid-wife in an iron grip:

“Herein is born the one who shall bring glory to this family. This one shall help bring about the downfall of great evil, bringing strength to your name.”

All present agreed that this had been a strange and blessed omen – one that indicated great glory for their family in years to come. Moments later, when the twins were born, they realized that they had been doubly blessed – in addition to the new heir, Dolf, who they immediately knew must be the one in the prophecy, there was his twin, Daisy.

Daisy and Dolf were always extremely close and were each other’s chief playmates growing up. Physically, they share few similarities, beyond dark hair and eyes.

Dolf is tall and muscular. However, his imposing stature belies his gentle nature – and the sharp wit and intelligence he uses to promote his and his sister’s interests. Since the family knew that Dolf would have an important future, he was given the best education money could buy.

Daisy, who definitely does not share her brother’s high intelligence, is slim, lovely and of a trusting nature. Daisy was taught good womanly accomplishments such as needlepoint, knitting and cooking. On the surface, Daisy is the perfect example of a the “fair maiden” perpetually in need of rescuing.

Just as Dolf’s brutish looks disguise his great intellect, Daisy’s long hair and rosy cheeks hide the heart of a berserker. Fiercely protective of her beloved brother, Daisy has been known to fly into terrible rages and to wreak great havoc. Using whatever articles are at hand, or the axe her brother has habitually carried for her, it is Daisy who is likely to be the one to start – and end – any fight.

Travelling together to “see the world”, Daisy and Dolf look out for one another. Often, Dolf’s appearance and his ability to ease most situations with wit and diplomacy have kept them out of trouble. When that hasn’t sufficed, Daisy, slow to anger but explosive when provoked, has kept them safe.

Dolf takes his guardianship of Daisy seriously, knowing that he, or a trusted friend must always be there to make sure that no one takes advantage of his sweet, but deadly sister.



It's Not Mean If It's True


FROM THE ARCHIVES (Stepping Out reviews)

Book Review: Michael Thomas Ford’s It’s Not Mean If It’s True

Jeremy Patrick jhaeman@hotmail.com

Stepping Out v. 1, n. 6 September, 2000

In our tense, politically charged times, a little humor is a good thing. Michael Thomas Ford, writer of the syndicated newspaper column My Queer Life, is one of the better-known queer humorists. Ford has authored almost 40 books and has two bestsellers to his credit: Alec Baldwin Doesn’t Love Me and That’s Mr. Faggot To You. In It’s Not Mean If It’s True: More Trials From My Queer Life (Alyson, $12.95 paperback), Ford returns with a third collection of humorous essays covering everything from why bigger is better to why dogs are better than children.

Each essay is short (6 to 10 pages) and breezy. Some are pure farce, such as "The Condensed History of Gay Pride" and "Ah-Choo: A guide to the New Hankie Code," while others have a bit more substance, such as "Why I Am Queer" (discussing the choice of labels) and "Test of Faith" (arguing that Christians have exploited Cassie Bernall of Columbine fame). Each of the essays will make you laugh out loud and some are quite funny, but the laughs come mostly from good one-liners; this is not the pure hilarity of Philip Roth or Joseph Heller.

Ford succeeds best when he talks about himself. In probably the funniest essay in the book ("Cheaper by the Dozen"), Ford recounts his experience as an eighth-grader forced to "parent" an egg in the face of "assassination" attempts from fellow classmates. In essays like "Out of Style" and "Along Came a Spider," he talks about his neuroses in a funny but believable way.
Collecting almost 40 essays, something in It’s Not Mean If It’s True should appeal to almost everyone. However, humor like this only works once; this is not the sort of book that bears rereading. I probably wouldn’t shell out $15 on a book like this, but if I had an hour or two to spare at Barnes & Noble, I’d buy some coffee and sit down for a few quick laughs.

(c) 2000 Jeremy Patrick

These Our Actors


FROM THE ARCHIVES (Buffy book reviews)

These Our Actors

Ashley McConnell & Dori Koogler (2002)

RATING: 4/5 Stakes

SETTING: Season Five

CAST APPEARANCES: Willow, Xander, Buffy, Anya, Tara, Spike, Giles, Cecily, Spike’s Mother, Drusilla, Angelus, Darla

MAJOR ORIGINAL CHARACTERS: Albert Addams (Cecily’s father); Laurie (stage manager); Cyril Lasher (rival of William); Denholm Reed, Denbigh, Jack Moreham (friends of Cecily’s father)

BACK-OF-THE-BOOK SUMMARY: “Willow Rosenberg is disappointed when her best friend Buffy, aka the Chosen One, decides to drop drama class in order to concentrate on her Slaying. Willow decides to stick with the class on her own, however, and this once-shy wallflower is pleased to find herself way bitten with the acting bug. It’s no surprise to Buffy and the Scoobs, then, when Willow decides to pitch in with the drama club’s latest production. Of course, Sunnydale being Hellmouth Central, Willow soon discovers a link between drama and magick; in fact, many ancient Greek performances were actually invocations to the Gods. Spike, who in his pre-vamp days had been a great patron of the arts, confirms this fact. He also takes an unusual level of interest in Willow’s extracurricular activities. When strange paranormal occurrences—and the appearances of a ghost or two—threaten Willow’s safety, the witch starts to wonder if it isn’t time to exit, stage left . . .”

REVIEW

These Our Actors is really two stories, tied together by a common antagonist. In the present-day tale, Willow decides to help out with the drama club only to find that the drama professor is busy summoning ghosts and trying to bring back the dead. In the tale told through flashbacks, we see Spike, just weeks after having been sired by Drusilla, trying to get revenge on Cecily for humiliating him and spurning his love. The common antagonist? Cecily’s father, Albert Addams, who has apparently discovered a way to extend his life through dark magicks.

The present-day story is pretty much average. Willow and Spike have a few interesting scenes together, but there is otherwise not much of interest going on. Buffy, Tara, Giles, and others make only brief appearances. Present-day Addams plan to use a special ritual to accomplish his evil ends is standard Buffy fare.

However, These Our Actors really shines in the flashback to Spike’s early days. The authors have a good grasp on Spike’s personality, as well as his companions (Drusilla, Darla, and Angelus) during this time period. As Spike sets out on a plan to make Cecily pay for her “crimes”, the tension mounts and exciting story elements are brought into play. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t fit into continuity very well with the revelations (at least in the comics) that Cecily became a vengeance demon.To sum it up, if you’re interested in the early years of Spike, pick up this book. Otherwise, you can do better.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Clone Wars Campaign: Recap # 22

This was the first session with everyone back together again after a long summer break. It's also the one session during the campaign that I walked away from feeling like I just hadn't done a very good job directing--the pacing was weird, I railroaded too much, I didn't have interesting stuff prepared for moments that weren't directly plot-related, etc. (though the recap makes it appear more exciting and smoothly plotted than it was). Thinking about this session is always good motivation for me to work harder not to repeat the same mistakes.

Over the course of the summer, some of the players had idly chatted about buying a ship, which I latched on to more seriously than I probably should have by designing an adventure that wouldn't really work unless they did, indeed, buy their own ship or I gave them another "loaner" ship (which eliminates any incentive to spend their hard-own credits buying one). For some reason, I just haven't been able to make space combat an exciting and interesting part of the campaign--part of it may be the system, part of it may be my players' lack of interest in it, and part of it may just be my inexperience in creating interesting starship battles. Anyway, my idea for the story arc was to try and get a little bit of the Star Trek feeling of a ship sent outside the known boundaries of civilization, all by itself, to investigate a mysterious sector of space.


This session was the last for Zero and Natany and the first for a character named Zee (played by a new gamer, who would soon move on to playing a longer-lasting character named Doxen).

EPISODE 2.6: THE SECRET WAR

SESSION 22

Turmoil has wreaked havoc on the group of Republic operatives that originally met on Mongui. Ycram Notwal wanders Coruscant, babbling incoherently about lurking menaces. Marpa Zalon has disappeared and hasn't been seen in months, while Tarn Tamarand's public dalliance with Princess Arresta D'avilos has gone sour. Yet, new friends and old enemies are always lurking around on the corner. At a cantina on Coruscant called The Stowaway, a reunion is about to take place . . .

[AG 235]

In a Coruscant cantina called the The Stowaway, Zero and Natany meet up with Arresta for the first time in weeks to discuss the possibility of buying a starship. Arresta is accompanied by her new bodyguard, Zee, while watching the group from the corner is the formidable Anx street-fighter Krevlax Mex. As terms and proposals are traded back and forth, the cantina quickly fills with youths and street toughs wearing clothing bearing a sunburst design--the mark of Purity First, a xenophobic group holding a rally nearby. Soon members of Purity First's "Security Force" arrive: an intimidating quartet of soldiers wearing silver armor and nicknamed "Whitecloaks." Shortly after Arresta, Zero, and Natany manage to tentatively agree that Arresta will buy a ship with Zero and Natany crewing it for a share of the profits, the bartender asks the group to leave because tensions are mounting. Zee, Arresta, and Krevlax depart, but Zero and Natany stay and soon find themselves in the middle of a bar brawl. Zero gets cut by a broken bottle but, with some assistance from Krevlax, the pair of scoundrels manage to escape before serious injuries occur.

Outside the cantina, Krevlax re-introduces himself--months ago, he helped Arresta, Zero, and Natany destroy a small Purity First cell. Since then, Krevlax says, Purity First has received significant training, arms, and money from an unknown source. Krevlax was hoping to find out more about the ominous organization at the rally, but with the streets of Coruscant becoming dangerous to non-aliens, he convinces Arresta to let him help crew the soon-to-be purchased ship.

The group arrives at the nearby Kaliko Heights Small Freight & Trade Ltd., a boutique shipyard specializing in new and used transport ships. The group settles on a Ghtroc 720 and several days pass while Arresta applies for permits and Zero supervises the difficult installation of an expensive new hyperspace drive and three gun emplacements.

[AG 244]

Just when they're about to give their shiny new toy The Outcast Tiara a spin, the group hits a snag: the ship's licenses have been "Suspended by Decree." After being directed to a gray, labyrinthine skyskraper, the group finally reaches a cramped, smoky office. Inside, Arresta, Zero, and Natany are mercilessly belittled for their past performance as freelance Republic Intelligence operatives, but "graciously" given one last chance to "redeem themselves" by exploring one of the many sectors of space deleted from planetary archives by Count Dooku many years ago. The mission, as presented by the man (who never introduces himself or even offers payment), seems simple: travel to Sector Zeta-11 in the Unknown Region, stopping at Firrerre (sparsely populated) or Bakura (Separatist-controlled) if necessary, and return with a full report of what the sector contains.

After some debate, the group decides to take on some cargo and set hyperspace coordinates for Cerea.

[AG 246]

At a Cerean cargo spaceport (part of the Outsider Citadel), the group makes a small profit off-loading freight. However, no one in the spaceport cantina seems to have ever heard of Zeta-11. Zee posts a request for help on a Cerean message board and gets a possible lead to a survey operation on Firrerre.

[AG 248]

The group drops out of hyperspace near Firrerre, a planet of great natural beauty. Inquiries inside the planet's only spaceport eventually lead the group to former surveyor "Old Man Pather" in a scavenger yard on the outskirts of the capital. Pather did indeed travel to Sector Zeta-11 almost a year ago, but unknown to the group he was captured and returned to Firrerre with a "request" to store three crates and press a signalling device if anyone came around asking about the lost sector. The signalling device, pressed by Pather when the group comes by his shanty, activates three droideka battle droids programmed to destroy all intruders. The fight goes poorly until Zee blasts one droid in a critical spot and Krevlax discovers he can pass through the shields of another. The three droidekas are reduced to scrap, but not before stray blaster fire burns down Pather's home. Fortunately, Natany rescues him from the fire and the group discovers a key card to a hidden safe in the hut. Inside the safe are two crystal ingots and Pather's ship's log with usable coordinates for Zeta-11.

[AG 251]

Unknown hours away from Zeta-11, the ship is abruptly pulled out of hyperspace by a Separatist Trade Federation battleship's gravity well projector. The Outcast Tiara is ordered to power down for inspection as vulture droid starfighters approach, but Zero decides to head straight for the battleship at full speed. Krevlax manages to destroy one of the starfighters with the ship's main laser cannons, but the remaining three pepper the freighter with laser and missile fire until its shield generators are overloaded and its engines damaged. The battleship withholds fire expecting the comparatively tiny transport to finally surrender. Fortunately, Zero's crazy-seeming gambit pays off, as Natany manages to bulls-eye the battleship's gravity well projector (which, to operate, must project past the ship's shields). With the gravity well dissipated, Arresta punches the hyperdrive and the Outcast Tiara, heavily damaged but narrowly avoiding capture, returns to hyperspace en route to Zeta-11.

Return to Clone Wars Campaign Main Page

Le passeur


Lois Lowry's Le passeur ("The Giver") was a fascinating book set in a strange, almost utopian community where each individual receives their lifelong work assignment at the age of 12. When the novel's main character, Jonas, turns 12, he suffers the shame of being passed over for a work assignment--what he doesn't know however, is that he has been chosen to be the next recipient of the community's collected historical memory (transmitted to him by an elderly man known as the Giver). The normal citizens of the community don't know about colors, music, pain, snow, or love, along with many other things--such knowledge would disturb them and disrupt the finely-regulated life of the community; however, occasionally difficult decisions have to be made where these things would come into play, so the Giver alone holds these secrets and dispenses wisdom to community leaders from time to time. The novel has a great aura of mystery and the uncanny, especially because the community isn't obviously evil--there are no thought police, obviously evil rules, or exploitation--just a strange and unnerving lack of most of the things that we think of when we think about what human lives are like. I'm probably not explaining it well, but this is one of those books I really recommend highly.

Lost Souls


Torchwood Season Two Spoilers Below

Since I had to spend a couple of hours the other day printing out reply envelopes for the wedding invitations, I decided to make the time go by faster by picking up the Torchwood audio play Lost Souls. Considering it's only about an hour long, it's a bit pricey compared to a standard audio book, but it did include some interesting interviews with cast members. The story starts with Martha Jones calling Torchwood in to investigate after the mysterious disappearances of employees at CERN, the real-life massive scientific research facility in Switzerland (I'd be happy to read more non-Torchwood stories about this place--it's basically a massive underground city employing more than 10,000 scientists in an unprecedented multinational bid to discover the fundamental particles of existence as we know it). I'd rate the story as about average, but it was set during a time period I was curious about: soon after the deaths Tosh & Owen at the end of Series Two. Martha plays the interesting role of the person the others individually turn to in order to share their grief. Like the story, the dialogue isn't stellar, but it is passable. As with the BBC audio plays I reviewed last week, having the authentic theme and background music, sound effects, and the actor's own voices makes a big difference in helping it seem like "real" Torchwood.

The Elusive Embrace


FROM THE ARCHIVES (Stepping Out book reviews)

Book Review: Daniel Mendelsohn’s The Elusive Embrace: Desire and the Riddle of Identity

Jeremy Patrick jhaeman@hotmail.com

Stepping Out v.1, n. 5 August, 2000

As GLBT individuals increasingly become assimilated into mainstream society, a divisive issue in current queer literature is the meaning of being gay. One position is that held by Andrew Sullivan and others, which argues that there is no real difference between gay identity and straight identity except for the obvious distinction in who the individual is attracted towards. Another view, held by Urvashi Vaid and compatriots, is that being gay is a radical redefinition of identity which includes particular political, cultural, and spiritual beliefs.

One of the most recent contributions to this debate is provided by Daniel Mendelsohn in The Elusive Embrace: Desire and the Riddle of Identity (Knopf, 1999, $12 paperback, $24 hardcover). Mendelsohn, a lecturer in classics ad Princeton, takes the middle-ground, arguing that gay identity is a paradox: "You can, some of us have learned, be ‘queer’ and ‘mainstream’ at the same time, someone equally committed to your family in the suburbs . . . and to the pleasures of random encounters with strange men in the city . . . someone who argues eloquently for equal rights but insists on living in an all-gay, all-male enclave; someone who desires love but also loves desire" (p. 34).

Although marketed as examination of queer identity in the manner of Sullivan and Vaid, The Elusive Embrace is really more of an autobiography that occasionally veers into discussing larger social issues. The author begins by telling what his life was like growing up. Next, he tells of several of his early forays into same-sex relationships, including vivid descriptions of cruising on the streets of Chelsea. Perhaps the most interesting part of the book is where he tells of becoming a pseudo-father to the child of his best friend, a straight woman.

The Elusive Embrace is well written and interesting but doesn’t succeed on the level of a book about queer identity. At most, it is another anecdotal example to add to the ever-burgeoning crop of queer life stories. The reason it doesn’t succeed on a higher level is that Mendelsohn overgeneralizes his own experiences and asserts that they apply everywhere.
For example, in one passage he tells of the frequently random and unemotional sexual encounters among gay men in Chelsea and Fire Island. In Mendelsohn’s view, this is how life is like for gay men everywhere, or at least how it would be if gay men had the freedom to bring it about: "It merely suggests what is obvious about gay men—and, therefore, of men in general, since gay culture is nothing if not a laboratory in which to see what masculinity does without the restraints imposed by women: that sex for men is finally, separable from affect" (p. 82). Thus, to Mendelsohn, gay men are inherently promiscuous and society’s tendency towards monogamy is foisted upon it by women. How this assertion fits with the fact that for centuries many of the world’s cultures had a monogamy norm even when its women were virtually powerless is never explained.

In the end, The Elusive Embrace succeeds as autobiography—it provides a clear, interesting, and often funny look at one gay man’s life and his immediate surroundings, urban gay culture in New York. However, it isn’t rigorous enough to succeed as a thoughtful look about queer identity. Mendelsohn spends too much time on himself and his fascination with Greek and Roman myth to formulate a workable view on what it means to be gay, except for the aforementioned belief that, as men in general, gay men are inherently promiscuous. This leaves too many questions unanswered: why are men this way, how was it limited historically, and what does this say about the gay men who are in monogamous relationships?

Crossings


FROM THE ARCHIVES (Buffy book review)

CROSSINGS

Mel Odom (2002)

RATING: 3/5 Stakes

SETTING: Season Five

CAST APPEARANCES: Buffy, Willow, Anya, Xander, Spike, Willy, Tara, Giles, Dawn, Amy (as rat)

MAJOR ORIGINAL CHARACTERS: Robby Healdton (Xander’s friend); Stephie McConnell (Robby’s girlfriend); Bobby Lee Tooker (demon hunter); Derek Traynor (medium); Dredfahl (villain); Malik (demon); Torqualmar (demon)

BACK-OF-THE-BOOK SUMMARY: “Buffy and Dawn are having difficulty settling into their new roles, now that their mother is gone. Buffy herself is reluctant to cross over to the role of parent, and the two are bickering more than usual. In fact, Buffy’s distraction prevents her from noticing strange behavior among the video-game crowd. One of Xander’s friends goes medieval outside the Sunnydale movie theater, laughing and babbling that he can’t be stopped—he’s only in town on a temporary visa. Puzzled, Anya and Xander investigate. It seems that people who’ve been testing a new video game have been demonstrating creepy tics. As the Slayer attempts to put all of the pieces together, Anya is abducted into an alternate demon universe. Buffy had better figure out how to get her friend back to Sunnydale, before the game is over, for good. . . .”

REVIEW

Crossings is a solid, standard Buffy novel with a straightforward plot. In a demon dimension, a bad guy named Dredfahl hopes to resurrect a powerful demon named Torqualmar by assembling all of the latter’s bones. In other to quicken the search, Dredfahl has hit upon a clever scheme: he uses virtual reality video game testers on Earth as the minds and souls of actual demons in his native dimension, thus increasing the demons’ intelligence and combat ability.
While playing the “game”, however, the gamers’ own bodies on Earth are taken over by the demons’ original minds. As expected, chaos ensues (though the back-of-the-book summary contains a mistake and Xander, not Anya, ends up in the other dimension).

Set shortly after the death of Joyce, author Mel Odom does an excellent job developing Buffy and Dawn’s grief, as well as Buffy’s difficulty figuring out whether she should try to be a sister or a mother (or somehow both). Although more humor would be a plus, the characterization of all the Slayerettes is good, with Xander and Tara getting more of the spotlight than usual for Buffy novels.

Two new characters have potential, although their introduction seems somewhat unnecessary: Bobby Lee Tooker, a southern musician-turned-demon hunter and Derek Traynor, a John Edward-style psychic medium. The action is exciting and easy to visualize, and the heroes figuring out the problem early was actually refreshing. The main downside is the villain, Dredfahl. He has no personality to speak of and his major motivation, resurrecting a powerful demon, is now extremely clichéd in the Buffyverse and should be ruled out of bounds for all future stories.

All in all, Crossings is a middle-of-the-road Buffy book. There are others I would recommend before it, but on its own terms it’s not bad.