Saturday, April 30, 2011
Monday, April 25, 2011
Blood and Fog
Nancy Holder (2003)
RATING: 3/5 Stakes
SETTING: Season Six
T.V. CHARACTER APPEARANCES: Willow, Buffy, Anya, Xander, Spike, Tara, Drusilla, Darla, Angelus, Dawn, Giles, Olivia
MAJOR ORIGINAL CHARACTERS: Elizabeth (1888 Slayer); Sir James (1888 Watcher); Thak/Jack, Milak, Banshee, MacNair, Balor (faeries); Flinn (leprechaun)
BACK-OF-THE-BOOK SUMMARY: "Buffy Summers is on the trail of a killer demon in Sunnydale, and reluctantly accepts the help of Spike. Anything's better than his moping around. But Spike--as usual--has his own agenda, and it involves something the demon is carrying: a vial of pure magickal power. Spike knows plenty of people and demons who will pay top dollar for this vial. Spike has encountered this power before. In the good old days in Victorian London, when Spike, Drusilla, Angelus, and Darla ran through the night in pursuit of dark fun, another evil being was stalking the streets, dispatching young women with brutal efficiency. But when the so-called 'Jack the Ripper' struck too close to their twisted 'family,' the vampires found themselves on the same side as the Slayer of that time. Working to bring down Jack, and running afoul of the dark Faery of Celtic times, Spike and the Slayer formed an uneasy alliance, which followed Spike all through the twentieth century to present day Sunnydale, now blanketed in a mysterious fog. . . ."
The best parts of Blood and Fog are the scenes that have little to do with the plot. Holder has a great feel for the characters and their conflicts during Season Six, and she does an excellent job depicting Buffy's turmoil over her attraction to Spike, Willow's inability to stop using magic, Giles feeling useless in England, and more. Dialogue and characterization are strong.
As for the plot itself, I for one was unable to buy into the idea of Jack the Ripper being a faerie from Irish folklore or get myself interested in the idea of war between competing faerie kingdoms. In other words, the forced melding of faerie folklore and the modern-day scenes resulted in a rather dull mix. So although the scenes set in 1888 and dealing with a Slayer named Elizabeth are pretty well written, the modern-day story beats just never grabbed my attention. There's quite a cataclysmic battle at the end, something Holder has done in other Buffy novels, but it's hard to care much if you know that all the characters you care about are going to survive and the new characters, who may actually be at risk, aren't ones really worth caring about. There's also a surprising number of typos, but that's not Holder's fault, of course.
Sunday, April 24, 2011
Oliver Twist is a bit of an odd duck in that the title character disappears from large portions of the book, while supporting characters are moved to the forefront. The early chapters are the most famous (and usually the focus of movie and stage adaptations): Oliver at the workhouse, Oliver meeting the thief Fagin, etc. About a third to a halfway through, entire chapters are devoted to seemingly minor characters until it gets to the point where Oliver becomes just another supporting character in his own book. Indeed, it's almost as if Dickens got bored with his creation, and I can understand why: Oliver is a bit of a whiny goody-two-shoes who rarely does anything interesting or exciting. This means London's criminal underworld and its inhabitants get most of the attention. Overall, Oliver Twist shows clear signs of it having been written in serial form, as it's somewhat meandering and frequently changes focus and tone.
The Worth Press edition comes with three essays. Ian Fenwick writes about Dickens' views of London and how Oliver Twist reflects his social reformist beliefs. Paul Eustice provides some great context to the story, explaining the cultural and legal milieu in which Dickens worked. Finally, Janet Lewison writes a less useful essay on nightmare and imagery in the story.
Saturday, April 23, 2011
This should be the last of these for a while.
What I Read (2003)
Jan. 1, 2003 Angel Chronicles Volume 1 by Nancy Holder "Novelizations of three Buffy episodes"
Jan. 1, 2003 The Medium is the Massage by Marshall McLuhan & Quentin Fiore "Interesting little book about effects of media. Argues that environment sets ground rules for content."
Jan. 5, 2003 Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis "Christian apologetic. Not nearly as persuasive as expected. Primary proof of God's existence is that inherent sense of right and wrong must be created by supernatural force."
Jan. 8, 2003 Night of the Living Rerun by Arthur Byron Cover "Buffy novel--worst I've read so far. Plot involves attempt by Salem-era spirits possessing people to free the Master."
Jan. 19, 2003 The Angel of Darkness by Caleb Carr "Thriller about serial killing mother set in early New York. For some reason, I really enjoyed this book, much more so than The Alienist."
Jan. 21, 2003 The Xander Years Volume 1 by Keith R.A. DeCandido "Novelization of three Buffy episodes; pretty well done."
Feb. 1, 2003 New Directions in American Religious History edited by D.G. Hart & Harry S. Stout "Collection of papers. Heavily focused on Protestantism, and mostly overview-bibliographical essays. Not terribly good."
Feb. 2, 2003 Angel Chronicles Volume 3 by Nancy Holder "Novelization of three 'Angelus' episodes. Very faithful to scripts."
Feb. 10, 2003 Germinal by Emile Zola "Story of Etienne, a miner who starts a labor revolt. Amazing detail and pathos, great mob scenes. Definitely worth reading."
Feb. 15, 2003 The Willow Files Volume 1 by Yvonne Navarro "Novelization of 3 Buffy episodes. One on 'Dead Man's Party' fills in a few gaps."
Feb. 28, 2003 Vanity Fair by William Thackeray "Story of Amelia, chaste & demure, and Becky, manipulative and cunning, and their respective fates. Ironic narrative style helps meandering flow."
Mar. 2, 2003 Buffy, the Vampire Slayer by Richie Tankersly-Cusick "Novelization of the movie. Some interesting differences--Merrick kills himself and Lothos is killed with a pencil."
Mar. 6, 2003 Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot by Al Franken "A hilarious book of political satire."
Mar. 9, 2003 Return to Chaos by Craig Shaw Gardner "Buffy book about a group of druids coming to Sunnydale to cast a major spell. Gets better as it goes along and ends up being a reasonably good story."
Mar. 18, 2003 Public Religion in American Culture by John F. Wilson "Discussion of concept of 'civil religion' in U.S. Rather theory-heavy & boring."
Mar. 19, 2003 Honest to God by John A.T. Robinson "Exploration by an Anglican Bishop in the 1960s about how Christianity needs to change in order to survive. Good discussion on re-envisioning God from 'out there' to in-between. Very radical for its time but well-written."
Mar. 26, 2003 A Preface to Morals by Walter Lippman "A book on morality after the 'acids of modernity' have dissolved belief in God. In many ways a great explanation of humanism. Specific details vague, but worth keeping in mind."
Mar. 30, 2003 Exile and the Kingdom by Albert Camus "Selection of short stories. A couple of nice ones, one great one: 'The Artist at Work.'"
Apr. 8, 2003 After Many a Summer Dies the Swan by Aldous Huxley "Story of an English professor's trip to America and a search for immortality. Damn good!"
Apr. 27, 2003 The Gulag Archipelago by Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn "An amazing book, a nonfiction chronicle of the gulag and Stalin's herculean effort to send almost everyone there. Terrifying."
Apr. 25, 2003 The Comic Book Companion by Ron Goulart "A short book of info on major comic book series and characters, focusing on the Golden Age."
May 4, 2003 Buffy X-Posed by Ted Edwards "Book on Buffy. Nothing terribly new or interesting."
May 7, 2003 The Plague by Albert Camus "A damned good novel about a city under plague. Shows effect of plague by portraying how the non-infected live."
May 15, 2003 The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics by Dennis O'Neil "Some good info but sparse on the practical details."
May 25, 2003 A Passage to India by E.M. Forster "An amazing book, Forsters' finest, on imperialism. Great novel, great characters."
June 30, 2003 Winter's Heart by Robert Jordan "Book 9 in the Wheel of Time. Slow-paced and relatively uninteresting until the very end when Rand cleanses Saidin."
July 8, 2003 Purity & Danger by Mary Douglas "Examination of the concept of purity and pollution. Some interesting insights but focused too heavily on 'primitive' cultures instead of 'modern' cultures."
July 21, 2003 Buffy: Pop Quiz by Cynthia Boris "I'm in Willow's study group."
Aug. 21, 2003 Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Controversial Psychological Issues (9th ed.) edited by Brent Slife "A nice collection of essays on all kinds of topics."
Aug. 21, 2003 Animal Farm by George Orwell "Best allegory I've ever read."
Aug. 23, 2003 Chicago Guide to Your Academic Career "Useful, general advice."
Aug. 28, 2003 Separation of Church & State by Robert Cord "Argument that Constitution was not intended to prohibit non-preferential aid to religion. Interesting research but methodology is suspect."
Aug. 31, 2003 True Believer by Eric Hoffer "Analysis of mass movements and their origins. Argues that frustration is the key to fanaticism. Several interesting passages."
Sep. 2, 2003 The Establishment Clause by Leonard W. Levy
Oct. 29, 2003 Chosen "Buffy novelization of the 7th season. Needs proof-read."
Nov. 6, 2003 The Master Builder by Henrik Ibsen "Play of an aging architect and new love; rebellion against God & fears of new generation."
Nov. 11, 2003 Danse Macabre by Stephen King "Nonfiction discussion of horror in movies, television, and literature. Fairly interesting."
Nov. 2003 The Truth About Stories by Thomas King "The Massey Lectures, some very interesting stuff on what stories are and how they shape reality."
Nov. 2003 Spike & Dru: Pretty Maids All in a Row by Christopher Golden "Best Buffy novel yet!"
Nov. 26, 2003 The Necklace and Other Short Stories by Guy de Maupassant "I was damned impressed by these stories. Guy is fascinated by prostitutes but presents them as real human beings with real feelings. I should read more."
Dec. 1, 2003 Halloween Rain (2nd time) by Golden & Holder "For some reason, I enjoyed this one more the second time--it would have made a solid first season episode."
Dec. 7, 2003 Sociology of Religion: A Canadian Focus edited by W.F. Hewitt "A few interesting essays on 'cafeteria religion', Catholicism in Quebec, and religious 'nones.'"
Dec. 8, 2003 Slayer's Handbook by Various "Buffy RPG book on playing Slayers."
Dec. 13, 2003 Buffy Core Rulebook by Various
Dec. 14, 2003 Watcher's Guide Volume 2 by Various
Dec. 21, 2003 See, I Told You So by Rush Limbaugh "Truly one of the most arrogant, annoying bastards."
Dec. 23, 2003 Lost Classics by Various "Short essays on books the authors think are neglected but important."
Dec. 24, 2003 Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain "Story where a prince and a pauper trade places. Focused on the unjustness of laws applied to the poor. Decent."
Dec. 26, 2003 Used & Rare: Travels in the Book World by Lawrence & Nancy Goldstone "Fairly interesting."
Dec. 26, 2003 Coyote Moon by John Vornholt "Buffy book."
Dec. 28, 2003 Ghoul Trouble by John Passarella "Buffy book."
Dec. 28, 2003 Night of the Living Rerun by Arthur Byron Cover "Buffy book."
Dec. 30, 2003 Everything's Eventual by Stephen King "Collection of short stories. Several good ones but a few complete clunkers."
Adventure number 6, "Destroy the Dracolich", looks tougher than it is because Gravestorm the Dracolich is such an imposing monster at first glance (the largest miniature in the game, twenty hit points, breath attacks, etc.). It turns out, however, that the adventure is quite manageable with a little careful planning. First, we made sure each of our heroes (we used 4) had the power cards that dealt out the most damage (Fireball for the Wizard, Flamestrike for the Cleric, and the one for the Fighter--I forget it's name--that does 4 damage on a successful hit). Second, we kept our heroes spread out just enough that when the Laboratory tile appeared (4 tiles away from the Arcane Circle) we were able to quickly Feystep the Wizard there to destroy the Phylactery, which cuts Gravestorm's hit points in half. After that, we were able to just surround him and keep bashing away. His breath attack is pretty nasty, but (at least in this adventure) he only gets to use it once and his melee attack is actually no more powerful than that of some of the ordinary monsters in the game. We were able to finish this one on our first try with a healing surge to spare, so I guess the moral of the story is: Don't be intimidated by the Dracolich!
Friday, April 22, 2011
The situation: The Secret Society of Super-Villains have hatched a crazy plan to destroy the members of the Justice League. To wit: instead of attacking the entire League, they're going to try to pick them off one by one. Brilliant! Why did it take until 1977 for them to think of it? Well, anyway, Batman and Green Lantern are already down for the count when those nefarious villains turn their attention towards Wonder Woman. Knowing she lives in New York, the evil Society attacks and begins to topple the United Nations Building!
That was some punch by Bizarro! But Wonder Woman is on it. She telepathically summons her invisible robot plane (!), leaps onto a wing, and somehow tosses her lasso around the entire building!
Then, using a peculiar form of leverage while on the wing of the moving jet that, were I an expert, would seem to me to surely violate a law of physics or two, pulls the building upright!
That, my friends, is a magic lasso.
(and on the next page she gets punched unconscious by the stupidest super-villain ever, The Angler, but that's neither here nor there).
All pic courtesy of The Secret Society of Super-Villains Special (1977)
Thursday, April 21, 2011
I'm finding all kinds of fun stuff as I get ready for the big move. One of my favorites is an assignment my class was given when I was maybe nine or ten years old. It's titled "This is My Life" and asked us to describe and draw what we were like at ages 1, 2-4, 5, 7, and what we would be doing at age 16 and age 25. Here, from my private files, released publicly for the first time ever . . . THIS IS MY LIFE!
AGE 1: "When I was a baby I probably cried a lot. When I was one I fell down a lot." (Picture: me on a my back shouting "OW")
AGE 2-4: "I learned to walk when I was three. When I was four I rode a tricycle." (Picture: me riding the most oddly proportioned tricycle ever--I would need arms about eight feet long to reach the handlebars)
AGE 5: "When I was 5 I started school. My teacher was Mrs. Taylor." (Picture: Me standing at a table that has seven legs, all of them on one half of the table)
AGE 7: "When I was seven years old I played t-ball. I played second base." (Picture: Me swinging a massive bat at a ball that is likely to fly over my head)
AGE 16: "When I am sixteen I am going to drive a car. I am going to get a job." (Picture: Me driving some sort of jeep that has a partially-erased machine-gun emplacement in the back. Fairly successful prognostication! I DID drive a car and have a job at 16! My car did not have a machine gun.)
AGE 25: "When I am 25, I am going to ride in my Trans Am that Nick made me and turn the radio up loud. I will make weapons for the government." (Picture: Me--captioned "me"--in a building--aptly titled "Weapons Makers"--holding a funky looking rifle. I never did get that Trans Am, nor did my plans to join the military-industrial complex ever pan out. I have, however, on occasion, turned a radio up loud.)
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
"Martha can handle herself--she's been in worse situations than this."
Season Two, Episode Six ("Captain Jack calls in Martha Jones to investigate mysterious deaths, and one of the team members has a life-changing experience.")
WHAT I LIKED
* Martha and Jack's banter--witty and a good way to show how much they bonded in their short time together over on Doctor Who.
* A solid plot hook--people turning up dead who were too healthy.
* The fact that the evil doctor in charge of the alien parasite project at the Pharm knew all about Torchwood and had connections high up in the government--it's rare to see foes who seem worthy of Captain Jack & crew.
* Ianto's description of Jack in the boudoir: "innovative, bordering on the avante-garde."
* Owen & Tosh finally making a date (completely manipulative by the showrunners, of course, given what happens at the end of the episode).
WHAT I DIDN'T
* That the Pharm was destroyed in a single episode--the show could use some recurring villains other than the relatively boring weevils.
WHAT I'M NOT SURE ABOUT
* Once again, nothing.
* The cast and crew's excitement over having the character of Martha appear, along with a brief discussion of how she would be portrayed as slightly more "grown-up".
* Some talk about making the Mayfly alien and trying to keep it both scary and sympathetic.
* More excitement over getting the actor Alan Dale to appear. He's apparently very famous over the pond for a show called Neighbours, which I must admit never having heard of before. And although he seemed mildly familiar when I watched the episode, I hadn't realized until reading his Wikipedia entry that he played Charles Widmore on Lost.
* A discussion of the decision to kill Owen; I completely agree with Russell T. that sometimes shows have to off major characters in order to keep the show from seeming like a cartoon where everyone is always okay in the end.
Monday, April 18, 2011
I don't know about you, but I for one am getting excited by the return of Torchwood this summer. Here's what's in issue # 22 of the (now-cancelled) magazine:
* A convention diary by Tom Price (PC Andy). Mildly amusing. I'm guessing that PC Andy will be one of the characters unfortunately stranded by the show's move to a predominantly U.S. setting.
* A fun little Torchwood "Choose Your Own Adventure" type story involving a deadly plant invading the Hub. Unusually for such things, I actually succeeded the first time through.
* An episode guide to the Torchwood radio dramas. Very thorough and interesting look at Lost Souls, Asylum, The Golden Age, and Deadline.
* A short story by James Goss titled "The Package". Aliens are planning to invade Earth (what's new?) and to stop it, Torchwood has to find a single parcel in a packed post office. Tongue-in-cheek, about average.
* The three winners of the "Take Over Torchwood" contest, in which magazine readers were invited to submit their own short story. They really are short--a page or two each. The line-up consists of "Ash to Ashes" (an ash monster attacks Cardiff; inspired by the "ashtastrophe" when that Icelandic volcano erupted a while back), "Rift-Raff" (a piece of alien tech catapults Gwen back and forth through time), and "Lockdown" (the SUV's lockdown systems are triggered with Gwen, Jack, and Ianto still inside). Overall, the stories are okay, but none of them are amazing--I think it was a mistake to have the "usual suspects" of authors who write the novels be the judges in the contest, as that ensures the winners will fit pretty closely to a certain set of preconceived notions of what a Torchwood story "looks like."
* The second half of "Shrouded", the comic strip written by Gareth David-Lloyd (Ianto). Great artwork and an interesting story, with a nice twist at the end.
* "Rare Earth", a short story by Kate Orman. A solid tale about alien refugees being hunted down by Torchwood. Interesting present-to-past structure.
Sunday, April 17, 2011
The Final Transformation was an interesting and challenging adventure. The goal is to escort a villager named Kavan through Castle Ravenloft in order to find the lad a cure for the vampirism he is infected with. In game terms, if Kavan is left alone on a tile or is on a tile with a monster, he transforms into a deadly monster. Once the heroes find the Dark Fountain tile, they have to keep Kavan on it for five turns before he's cured, but uncovering that tile also means that additional monsters will appear nearby, placing the heroes in a difficult position.
It took us three tries to get through this one. The first two times we attempted it with three heroes, and the third try we went with a fourth. The advantage of more heroes is that you can move through the five turns on the tile quickly, but the downside is it means even more monsters appear. Our strategy was to always keep one hero on "Kavan duty", staying adjacent to Kavan the whole time and turning over no new tiles so no monsters would appear on his tile (overall, this worked quite well--once in a while an Encounter card would screw stuff up). We had the other heroes turn over tiles but stay within a tile or so of Kavan and his escort, in the hopes that when the Dark Fountain appeared, all the heroes would be able to move quickly to it. Of course, on all of these scenarios you never know how much of success/defeat is due to clever strategy and how much is due to dumb luck--on our second try, we thought we were doing quite well and then drew a bunch of the hardest monsters after uncovering the Dark Fountain and got massacred, while on our third and successful try we were hurting early on but drew easier monsters near the end and, even better, rolled two natural 20s to level characters up and give them extra hit points.
Time for another fascinating installment in the pulse-pounding What I Read series. Tonight: 2002!
Jan. 2, 2002 Dubliners by James Joyce "Straightforward narratives of poverty and sadness in Dublin lives. Some damn good short stories."
Jan. 5, 2002 Cyrano De Bergerac by Edmond Rostand "Entertaining play about legendary swashbuckler. Becomes tragic in final scene."
Jan. 22, 2002 Theodicy by G.W. Leibniz "Leibniz' answer to theodicy by stating that this is the Best of All Possible Worlds."
Jan. 26, 2002 Great Short Stories by American Women edited by Candace Ward "Nice collection from late 19th to early 20th centuries.
Jan. 31, 2002 Beyond Good and Evil by Nietzsche "Discussion of slave vs. ruler morality. Not as interesting or groundbreaking as I remember."
Feb. 17, 2002 A Room With a View by E.M. Forster "Surprisingly good novel about lovers who meet in Italy and rekindle romance in England."
Mar. 20, 2002 The Approaching Storm by Alan Dean Foster "Star Wars novel, prequel to Attack of the Clones. Same plot as fifty Star Trek novels (make peace among competing groups on planet) but still pretty good."
Mar. 23, 2002 Empire Building by Garry Jenkins "Story of making of Star Wars. Very interesting."
Mar. 31, 2002 Bag of Bones by Stephen King "Horror novel about haunted house and man's attempt to find out why his wife died. Not that good."
Apr. 24, 2002 Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut "Story mixing bombing of Dresden with UFOs from Tralfamadore. Pretty good & quick read."
Apr. 30, 2002 The Norton Reader (10th edition) by Various "Great collection of wide variety of literary forms."
May 11, 2002 The Patchwork Girl by Larry Niven "Story of Gil 'The ARM' Hamilton and solving of a 'locked-universe' mystery. Not too shabby."
May 15, 2002 Slightly Chipped by Lawrence & Nancy Goldstone "Rambling anecdotes about book collecting. Surprisingly interesting."
June 1, 2002 On Liberty by John Stuart Mill "Norton Critical. Still believe in harm principle after reading."
June 2, 2002 A Ready Defense by Josh McDowell "Christian apologetic. Not as persuasive as I thought, though some good work on historical Biblicism."
June 3, 2002 Critiques of God edited by Peter Angeles "Anthology of classic and modern atheism. Best essay I've ever seen on theodicy."
June 3, 2002 The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain "A lot more humor and much more fun than Huck Finn."
June 11, 2002 Prime Evil by Diana C. Gallagher "Buffy novel about destroying reincarnated witch. Okay."
[DIGRESSION: This was the first Buffy book I ever read, shortly after I became obsessed with the series.]
June 11, 2002 The Assurance of Immortality by Harry E. Fosdick "Argument for immortality. Well written, but not very convincing."
June 14, 2002 Nausea; The Wall & Other Stories by Sartre "Existential thought. Some good, like 'Childhood of a Leader', others boring."
June 29, 2002 Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad "Story of Jim who faces universal shame after jumping from non-sinking boat and flees to native village. Interesting psychological exploration of mankind, presenting a somewhat dismal picture."
June 30, 2002 The Harvest by Richie Cusick "Novelization of Buffy premiere. Very faithful to episode, but fun."
July 2, 2002 The Fox by D.H. Lawrence "Story of same-sex couple and man who kills one of them to murder the other. I had a very difficult time understanding her (seduced) characterization, and the story seemed hurried."
July 7, 2002 Bridge to Tarabithia "Children's story about a boy befriending the new girl and setting up the magical kingdom of Tarabithia. First story to make me tear up in a long, long time."
July 8, 2002 The Rise of Silas Lapham by William D. Howells "Novel about Silas losing his fortune in painting, a young man choosing surprising daughter for marriage."
July 11, 2002 Halloween Rain by Golden & Holder "Buffy novel about an animated scarecrow. Well-written, especially on the dialogue."
July 23, 2002 Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy "Wonderful, progressive knowledge on the meaning of marriage and social convention."
[DIGRESSION: I've never felt more well-read than after I made a clever reference to this book while in the company of two literature professors. It was also probably the only time I've ever made a clever reference to a book.]
July 28, 2002 Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling "Collection of children's stories supposing how a leopard got its spots and so forth. Not terribly entertaining."
Aug. 10, 2002 Child of the Hunt by Golden & Holder "Buffy novel about the Erl King & Great Hunt. Okay."
Aug. 14, 2002 The War Between the Pitiful Teachers & the Splendid Kids (second time) by Stanley Kiesel "Young adult novel about fantastic plans kids come up with to suck all teachers into the sewers. Amusing, but not great."
Aug. 15, 2002 I'm Free: The Complete Are You Being Served? by Richard Webber "Television book."
[DIGRESSION: When I first moved to Toronto in the summer of 2002, every weeknight before going to bed I would eat a bowl of cornflakes and watch an episode of Are You Being Served?]
Aug. 21, 2002 Magic, Science and Religion by Bronislaw Malinowski "Essays by anthropologist on distinctions between magic and religion and on myth in 'primitive' societies."
Sep. 1, 2002 The Great American Novel by Philip Roth "Fictional account of the great Patriot League and its most inept team, the Ruppert Mundys. Very good blend of history and makes you wonder just how insane the 'author' really is."
[DIGRESSION: I honestly have no recollection of this book whatsoever, or what the last sentence is supposed to mean.]
Sep. 5, 2002 Why Not Me? by Al Franken "Very, very funny story of author's rise to the presidency. Recommended for sure."
Sep. 8, 2002 Complete & Utter Failure by Neil Steinberg "Great book on failure in different areas: product design, mountain climbing, spelling-bees. Engrossing narrative and philosophy."
Sep. 10, 2002 Alilolani Hale: A Sentinel in Time by Victoria Kneubuhl "History of famed Hawaiian courthouse. Interesting."
Sep. 14, 2002 Angel Chronicles Volume 2 by Richie Tankersley "Novelization of 3 episodes. Follows scripts word for word, but funny."
Sep. 17, 2002 Queen of Spaces & Other Stories by Alexander Pushkin "Short stories. Queen of Spades about man who thinks he discovers secret to winning gambling. None are terribly interesting."
Sep. 21, 2002 The Zap Gun by Philip K. Dick "Sci-fi. Story about weapons designer whose creations are immediately 'plowshared' into consumer goods. Very good, interesting social critique."
Sep. 25, 2002 Night Shift by Stephen King "Collection of short stories from 70s. Some predictable, but a few really good like 'Quitters, Inc.' and 'The Last Rung on the Ladder.'"
Sep. 27, 2002 The Gambler by Dostoyevsky "Shorter novel about Russian tutor's love and gambling. Interesting psychologically but otherwise unremarkable."
Sep. 30, 2002 On Writing by Stephen King "Autobiographical parts are hilarious & fascinating--I read the entire book at Indigo. Encouraging."
Oct. 7, 2002 The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams "Funny farce about the destruction of the Earth and 42, the answer to the ultimate question of Lie, the Universe, and Everything."
Oct. 7, 2002 Watcher's Guide Volume 1 by Golden & Holder "Buffy background stuff for first two seasons. Pretty interesting."
Oct. 27, 2002 Insider's Guide to Getting an Agent by Lori Perkins "Some good advice."
Oct. 31, 2002 It by Stephen King "Great long horror novel about adults returning to place of greatest terror as kids."
Nov. 9, 2002 The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman "Story of young Lyra and her daemon, Pandaimon, as they try to stop the Gobbers from severing children. Very well done, fast paced, very original."
Nov. 11, 2002 The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman "A good sequel, though Lyra's character is far too submissive and uninteresting."
Nov. 15, 2002 Coraline by Neil Gaiman "Widely-lauded children's book about girl who finds door into world like her own but not. I wasn't terribly impressed by either the language or the story."
Nov. 20, 2002 The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman "Last of an amazing trilogy. One of the best endings of any book I've ever read. Bittersweet, philosophical, inspirational. Something to think about."
[DIGRESSION: Once again, my independent recollection of this book varies dramatically from what I wrote. I remember it being okay but probably over-hyped.]
Dec. 12, 2002 Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy "Story of Anna's adulterous affair with Vronsky & Levin's marriage to Kitty. Very realistic scenes. Anna kills herself but it's not clear to me why. The story is not didactic or moralistic, although Levin's conversion at the end is annoying."
Dec. 16, 2002 Coyote Moon by John Vornholt "Buffy novel about a pack of carnival were-coyotes. Somewhat cheesy plot and not much humor, but not terrible either."
Dec. 30, 2002 Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky "Story of three brothers, one a rationalist, one a sensualist, and one a Jesus figure. Murder of father connected to atheism, a la Crime and Punishment."
Dec. 31, 2002 How I Survived My Summer Vacation by Various "Collection of Buffy stories set in between first and second seasons. First couple are very good, others mediocre."
[DIGRESSION: Often when I see books in my collection, I'm able to recall the time or setting in which I read them. For this one, it was in a Washington, D.C. hotel room the day I saw Penn & Teller do a special New Year's Eve show]
Thursday, April 14, 2011
The interesting super hero duo of Cloak and Dagger, originally introduced in the pages of Spectacular Spider-Man in 1982, received their first solo appearances in a 1983 limited series. It's solid stuff, with appropriately gritty artwork that perfectly fits a story set in a New York that, at least in popular conception, was very different than it is today. The series introduces two supporting characters that would reappear in several future stories: Father Delgado, a Catholic priest who would provide a temporary home and father-figure for Cloak and Dagger; and Brigid O'Reilly, a cop who would be hot on their trail before becoming more sympathetic over time. Although each issue leads into the next, there's not a single over-arching plot. In issue # 1, Cloak and Dagger try to help out runaways who have recently come to New York. In # 2, some creep is putting poisoned aspirin on store shelves. # 3 sees Cloak stop the robbery of a church, and the first real disagreement between Cloak and Dagger over whether they should effectively kill criminals by exiling them to Cloak's limbo-like dimension forever. The fourth issue, probably the most important of the bunch, sees an extended origin for the characters that would be summarized frequently in later comics. By introducing their stomping grounds, generating persistent supporting characters, and providing an origin, the limited series succeeds in giving Cloak and Dagger the groundwork necessary to be successful in an on-going series (necessary, but not sufficient, as their future series never lasted long . . .).
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
You know how sit-coms used to cheap out from time to time by packaging clips from old episodes with a new framing sequence? This post is kind of like that, except the framing sequence is even dumber than usual. Here are some of my favorite posts from the last three years of Jhaeman's Detritus:
* My Brush with Celebrity (Or, as I like to think of it, how Kevin Sorbo became a close, personal friend of mine.)
* My Amazing Race Fix (as The Wife has learned to her dismay, everytime there's a boring airport scene or frustrating bunching on the show, I bring up my awesome fix that would solve both problems)
* Three Random Football Questions (if pro football ever returns, I will spend a chunk of each game I watch wondering about these three questions . . .)
* Worst Comic Book Subplot Ever (I'm willing to entertain other candidates, but so far, this is the worst I've seen . . .)
* My Underdark Campaign (I think I spent more time writing this post than any other, but it flew by . . .)
* Five Things to Say to Your DM (good advice, if I do say so myself, and now that I'm playing in a regular campaign, I have to make sure I practice what I preach)
* My Worst Gaming Experience Ever (I re-read this over the weekend, and until then didn't realize how much of this I had repressed from my memory due to the trauma inflicted)
* Aunt May or a Lich? (arguably, the earrings give it away . . . but it's still a close call!)
* Actual Comic Panel, Taken Out of Context (the funniest unintentional thing I have ever seen in a comic book)
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Buffy the Vampire Slayer # 21
Dark Horse (Volume 1, 1998-2003)
Creators: Christopher Golden (writer), Cliff Richards (penciller), Joe Pimentel (inker)
Setting: Season Four
T.V. Character Appearances: Buffy, Willow, Xander, Sheila Rosenberg (flashback), Giles, Willy the Snitch,
Major Original Characters: Felicia (old co-worker), Joe Burgess (bully), Tergazzi (demon informant), Brad Caulfield (demon summoner), Xerxes the Blind (demon?)
Summary: While Buffy, Willow, and Xander picnic out at the quarry, they run into Felicia, an old co-worker of Buffy's from the Popsicle Parlor, and Joe Burgess, Felicia's boyfriend. Later that night, the Scoobies come upon Joe's car wrecked on the highway--an injured Joe claims that "Mad Jack" was responsible. Willow and Xander explain to Buffy that Mad Jack is an old Sunnydale boogeyman legend. Buffy and Giles start researching Mad Jack, only to be interrupted by the demon snitch Tergazzi; he leads them to Willy's, where they discover that all the demons in the place have been massacred, and that only the human Brad Caulfield is still alive. Buffy decides to explore an ancient stone structure near the quarry, and encounters a demon that she quickly kills. Although Buffy thinks she has destroyed Mad Jack, she soon discovers that she was wrong, as Brad Caulfield turns up dead soon thereafter. Unbeknownst to Buffy, the demon she slew was a mysterious guardian, and now Xerxes the Blind is summoning his master to Sunnydale.
Review: Now we're cooking with gas. New writer Christopher Golden has a good understanding of how to craft Buffy stories and a great understanding of each character's "voice." Bringing in some old characters originally introduced in the comic, like Brad Caulfield, and referencing details like the Popsicle Parlor add to the idea that the comics have some sort of continuity, at least with each other instead of being a disposable series of one-shots where everything starts over each issue. The twist with Buffy killing a demon that was actually protecting Sunnydale worked well, and I'm looking forward to seeing what happens next. Perhaps my favorite part of the issue was a series of brief flashbacks showing Willow and Xander as pre-teens; very sweet.
* Twice in the book speech bubbles are attributed incorrectly. First, Willow and Buffy are mixed-up in the first panel on page five, and then Buffy gets Willow's dialogue in the second panel on page thirteen.
* Above right are young Xander and young Willow, drawn almost manga-style
* This issue was released with two speciality covers by Dynamic Forces: a "Gold Foil Edition" and a "Red Foil Edition." The artwork is much cooler than on the standard art cover, and I'll have to add these to my collection someday . . .
* This issue was released with two speciality covers by Dynamic Forces: a "Gold Foil Edition" and a "Red Foil Edition." The artwork is much cooler than on the standard art cover, and I'll have to add these to my collection someday . . .
Monday, April 11, 2011
Transcription of the recently-unearthed book log continues.
Jan. 5, 2001 Fathers and Sons by Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev "Story of conflict between young nihilist Bazarov and aristocratic Paul Petrovich. Great integration of philosophy. Last paragraph sucks."
[DIGRESSION: I'm really curious now what was in that last paragraph . . . I'll have to dig out my copy some day]
Jan. 8, 2001 The Two Cultures by C.P. Snow "Snow's famous thesis that a gulf of communication lies between scientists and humanities scholars. Interesting, though dated."
Jan. 17, 2001 The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James "Really disappointing. Long and dense, but little useful info."
Jan. 22, 2001 The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien "What can one say about the book that started it all? So many of today's archetypes in their original form."
Jan. 29, 2001 The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien "Lots of fun, friendship with Sam is best part."
Feb. 6, 2001 The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien "Battle outside Helmsdeep was very exciting and makes you want to cheer. Part w/ Shalob also good."
Feb. 14, 2001 The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien "Last of the trilogy. Spends surprising amount of time after destruction of the Ring on the return to the Shire. Great book, discussion of the end of the age leaves a bittersweet feeling."
Feb. 19, 2001 Hearts of Gold by James Magorian "Farcical account of hunt for a lost gold mine. Takes place in NE. Funny, and nice to see local color."
Feb. 25, 2001 Virgin Islands by Gore Vidal "Collection of essays from 1992-1997. Pretty good, though a bit paranoid on the political stuff. Attack on Updike was wonderful."
Feb. 27, 2001 Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson "Tale of a young orphan kidnapped and taken on sea voyage before escaping and inheriting fortune. Not fascinating."
Mar. 5, 2001 The Lost Prince by Jeffrey Moussaief Masson "Story of Kaspar Hauser, who lived first 17 years in a dungeon. Interesting historical drama."
Mar. 9, 2001 Best American Essays, 2000 "Some real good ones, including 'In Defense of the Book', 'The Resurrectionist', 'Gray Area', and 'A Designer Universe.'"
Mar. 15, 2001 The U.S. Constitution for Everyone by Mort Gerberg "Mainly patriotic propaganda, but does have entire text with comments."
Apr. 1, 2001 The Complete Stories of Saki by Hector Hugh Munro "The best short stories I'ver ever read; funny, ironic, scathing. Of the best, 'The Lumber-Room' is best of the best."
[DIGRESSION: That's strange, my memory now is that the Saki stories were a bit of a slog to get through, with only one or two gems in a big collection]
Apr. 13, 2001 Funny That Way by Joel Perry "Collection of short humorous essays by queer columnist. Well done, if shallow."
Apr. 15, 2001 Why I Am Not a Christian by Bertrand Russell "Second reading."
Apr. 20, 2001 Down & Out in Paris and London by George Orwell "A great fast-paced read, great realism and insight. Some passages are hilariously funny."
Apr. 23, 2001 The Death Penalty: For & Against by Pojman & Reiman "Good arguments, only wish they had critiques of 'desert'".
Apr. 28, 2001 Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë "A great novel! Much better than Jane Eyre. Dark & moody, great characterization."
[DIGRESSION: I re-read Wuthering Heights in November of last year, and thought pretty much exactly the same things: "A great piece of gothic literature, with memorable characters, moody settings, and a very readable plot."]
May 6, 2001 Speaking for the Generations: Native Writers on Writing edited by Simon Ortiz "Most essays weren't terribly interesting, but did learn about Native views of the land and community. Really liked Mayan essay."
May 10, 2001 The Essays by Francis Bacon "Collection of 1-2 page comments on everything from atheism to truth to gardening. Not terribly worthwhile."
May 17, 2001 Atheism in Our Time by Ignace Lepp "Psychiatrist examination of varieties of belief; reasonably interesting, could use more depth."
May 30, 2001 Prejudices: A Selection by H.L. Mencken "Collection of essays on various topics, many rather dated but some good stuff."
June 30, 2001 The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant "A great book! Very readable intros to the classic philosophers, their lives and beliefs. Great for reference as well."
June 30, 2001 Homosexualities by Stephen O. Murray "Sociological survey of varieties of 'homosexuality' in various places throughout history. No original research, but good reference."
July 1, 2001 Shelter: A Cold War Memory by Peter Huidekoper "Told from a child's perspective during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Well done, shows what its real impact was."
July 10, 2001 Even More Letters From a Nut by Ted L. Nancy "Third in series. Not as funny as first, but poetry submissions are hilarious."
July 10, 2001 Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck "Narrative of cross-country trip through America in 1960. Interesting & fast reading."
July 15, 2001 Batman Unmasked by Will Brooker "Very interesting cultural studies look at the Batman, including queer, camp, and other attributes. Good history too."
July 21, 2001 Marvel Universe by Peter Sanderson "A great, very interesting history of the Marvel Universe. Great explanations of big events."
Aug. 8, 2001 Dracula by Bram Stoker "The classic gothic horror story. Great narrative structure and faster paced than expected."
Aug. 11, 2001 Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson "Collection of interlocking short stories. Very insightful, some great stories such as 'Hands.'"
Aug. 23, 2001 God: A Biography by Jack Miles "Examination of Tanakh's God as a literary character. Very interesting, great way to examine book."
Sep. 3, 2001 Sons & Lovers by D.H. Lawrence "Semi-autobiographical novel about his tension between mother and romantic lovers. First part is really good, but then it slacks off."
Sep. 15, 2001 The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells "Classic story. Much better than the movie, especially ending."
Sep. 28, 2001 The Story of My Life by Clarence Darrow "Autobiography. Avoids much of the legal intricacies I would find interesting."
Oct. 9, 2001 Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll "Classic children's story. Very enjoyable read--reminds you of that aura of childhood fantasy. Also great to see where many of the great literary characters come from."
Oct. 19, 2001 Home Fronts: Controversies in Non-Traditional Parenting edited by Jess Wells "Some interesting essays, especially on family structures with more than 2 parents."
Nov. 11, 2001 Melmoth the Wanderer by Robert Maturin "Famous gothic novel about immortal wanderer who tries to convince others to take his place. Layered narrative drags."
Nov. 19, 2001 A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole "Very good novel about a great character, Ignatius J. Reilly and his misadventures in New Orleans."
Nov. 23, 2001 How the Other Half Lives by Jacob Riis "Classic indictment of 19th century tenement housing. Doesn't hold up well."
Dec. 18, 2001 The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky "Novel about a Christ-like figure's interactions with wealthy. Pretty good."
Dec. 20, 2001 Religion and Science by Ian G. Barbour "Great history and synthesis of scientific thought. Bland argument that science and religion are compatible."
Dec. 21, 2001 O Pioneers! by Willa Cather "Good novel, great impression of plains life. Surprising twist with double murder."
Dec. 22, 2001 The Subjection of Women by J.S. Mill "Surprisingly progressive, but now standard, opinions."
Dec. 23, 2001 Pudd'nhead Wilson by Mark Twain "Novel about black child raised as white and vice-versa. Pretty good."
Dec. 24, 2001 The Birth of Tragedy by Nietzsche "Argument that great tragic art stems from Apolonnian & Dionysian influence."
Dec. 27, 2001 Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann "About entertainment industry; every person is cruel, manipulative, dishonest, and addicted."
Dec. 31, 2001 Thus Spake Zarathustra by Nietzsche "Written in Biblical style, includes idea of Superman and Eternal Recurrence."
Sunday, April 10, 2011
The hardest part of this adventure is interpreting its rules. The premise of this adventure is that the heroes are going to sneak into Strahd's castle during the day and steal as many of his magical treasures as they can. After a certain number of tiles are turned over, the sun sets and the adventure becomes much harder. So far so good, but the difficulty lies in figuring out exactly what the Victory portion of the adventure rules mean when they say the heroes have to escape with 12 "Treasure Cards". At first blush this seems easy enough--treasure cards are what you draw every time you kill a monster. The difficult is in the fact that only about half of the cards in the treasure deck are actual items that heros can carry around; the other half are "fortunes" or "blessings" that are supposed to be played immediately and then discarded. So are heroes supposed to collect twelve cards of any type to when, or twelve items? The former seems to fit the language of the victory condition better, but is a little bit odd because normally many of those cards would be discarded; the latter makes more in-game "sense", as the heroes are trying to steal magical items, but it also makes the adventure much harder to beat as it basically means turning over at least twice as many tiles to find that many items. Another difficulty of interpretation is whether starting treasure cards count towards the limit (every hero is supposed to start with one); for an adventure that is designed for 2-5 players, a group with 5 players would start with 5 treasures, already halfway to the goal.
There's a lot of discussion online about how this adventure is supposed to be run (and good arguments on either side), but no guidance from Wizards of the Coast. The Wife and I decided to go with the twelve treasure cards interpretation (though we agreed that our heroes would receive not receive the special benefits of any fortunes or blessings put in the pool). Operating under this method, the adventure was fairly easy--we succeeded on our first try and had both healing surges left. I'm still not sure which way is the "correct" way, and it's definitely a sign that the adventure book needs some official errata and clarification.
Saturday, April 9, 2011
This was another good example of a session I mostly directed by the seat of my pants, as the PCs went in an unexpected direction. It started out as I expected, with Daal trying to hack into the computer systems at the ARC to find out where Jocasta had hidden his mother. Having Sunset Cassandra be the architect of Jocasta's computer security, and Daal's virtual opponent, worked out well. The part with the Dejarik game was fun, as I found the "actual" rules online and had made a real board and cut-outs of the various monsters (it's the game that Chewbacca and Threepio are playing in the rec-room of the Millenium Falcon, with the flickery creatures on something that looks like a dart board). Daal's player turned out to a savant at the game and creamed me, quickly gaining the info he was looking for.
I had spent most of my prep time for this session on the Dejarik trap and the prison-ship where Daal's Mom was held; it was full of all kinds of cool obstacles and would have made a fun set piece. The only flaw in my plan was that I completely failed to foresee that, having worked so hard to gain the knowledge of where she was, Daal and the rest of the PCs would decide not to worry about rescuing her. The decision makes a certain kind of sense--she wasn't going to be any worse off later than now, and Jocasta had always kept her word in the past--but it meant I had to scramble when the PCs instead decided to pursue the main plot I had set up in earlier sessions.
The scene on the orbital refueling station around Reecee was a good example of one of the weaknesses I feel I have as a director: creating interesting NPCs and memorable non-combat encounters on the spot. I'm pretty good at ad-libbing when I know the settings and NPCs involved, but not so good at coming up on the spot with anything other than forgettable stock NPCs. The scenes on Arkania went a little bit better, as I ran with the idea (gleaned from a quick search of Wookiepedia) that Arkanians tend to be arrogant ass-holes.
There were some funny moments this session created by PC ineptitude with the die-rolling. Lucef's player botched a Stealth roll to open Arresta's luggage without leaving a mark, and then rolled terribly on his Disguise roll to make it seem like normal wear-and-tear by throwing it on the ground. Having the blaster inside go off was a fun result. Later, A'tel's player had the memorably crazy idea of trying to interrogate a prisoner by using the Force to squeeze the prisoner's heart. I set a fairly high DC on the check for using the Force with that much precision, and A'tel wasn't known for having a lot of skill with the Force to begin with. The predictable cardiac arrest and near death of the prisoner meant that that particular interrogation technique was never tried again in the campaign.
SESSION # 45
Just over four months ago, the corsair Jocasta and the sniper Doxen visited the Nal Hutta estate of Kordo Deshilich, Hutt Space’s most notorious purveyor of slave labor. Jocasta came away with two middle-aged Duros and 600 crewmen of a captured Republic freighter. Doxen came away with revenge for a wrong done to his people. Now, on the planet Etti IV in the Corporate Sector, each of these actions have had surprising ramifications as Daal Mordo tries to breach Jocacsta’s security to find the whereabouts of his mother, and Doxen prepares to set off to find the clansmen of the Rodian Harno, whom he so brutally murdered . . .
After Daal and A’tel are released from the medicenter, the group returns to the ARC in the early morning hours to find the remnants of the botched party. They meet the facility’s logistics droid, which informs them of the following: the decommissioning process is on schedule to finish at noon and evacuation is recommended prior to that time as the process would be ‘detrimental to organic life.’ Daal is informed that both the prisoner and his father are still on the grounds. He reluctantly decides that the safest place for his father is in the Corporate Sector, even if it means spending months in a refugee facility while Ms. Prentiss pushes through the application for asylum.
Doxen and A’tel stand guard while Daal and Arresta work to gain access to the mainframe computer’s restricted files. Finally, at 11 a.m., Daal pierces the mainframe security protocol only to be told by a recorded holoimage of Sunset Cassandra that the information he seeks can only be accessed through a secure terminal in Jocasta’s office. With only one hour remaining before the facility is destroyed, the group immediately relocates, with Doxen breaking off to remove the prisoner and Daal’s father from the building.
Inside the office, Daal takes a seat at the terminal. The face of Sunset Cassandra pops up and asks a question: Do you want to play a game? Daal selects yes and his feet are suddenly enclosed in steel bands that emerge from the chair. Over the next 50 minutes, Daal plays a high stakes game of Dejarik – a brutal game involving strategy and lethal combat. Each time Daal loses a piece, he suffers a mild electric shock. With his friends urging him on and offering tips over his shoulder though, the savvy Duro is able to secure complete victory and gains unrestricted access to Jocasta’s network (and an image of Sunset Cassandra pouting). With only ten minutes remaining before the building is shutdown, Daal dumps as much data as possible from the computer and runs outside with Arresta and A’tel. A few minutes later, the building undergoes an organized implosion. Doxen departs for the spaceport to board The Gentle Lover, bound for the planet Firrerre, where he hopes to pick up the trail of the kidnapped Senator Orelus.
Daal eagerly reviews the data and determines that his mother, Bai Du, is being held on a lightly-armed transport which spends the majority of its time in hyperspace. The transport only drops into real-space at specified times in a three-stop circuit (Coruscant, Etti IV, and Nal Hutta). When the ship appears, if a signal is not transmitted within ten minutes, the ship departs again. Because the signal is not included in the downloaded data, and believing that a forced rescue would require intense planning and more resources, Daal decides that his mother is probably safer where she is for the time being.
Daal also learns that Jocasta has ordered the mad Kaminoan scientist Gemma Vous to direct a massive cloning program of the power-giving creature encased within the lightsaber found within the anomaly.
Meanwhile, Arresta contacts Lucef and arranges to depart that evening. She informs Daal and A’tel that she will meet them at The Flaming Halo but that she intends to spend the day with her family. Before heading off, she tells A’tel that her intelligence network shared with her that another ship, of the same configuration as A’tel’s, landed recently in an auxiliary spaceport about 200 kilometers away from Monnder.
While Daal drops his father off with Ms. Prentiss and Arresta heads home, A’tel boards a commuter mag-lev train toward the auxiliary spaceport. After spending some time investigating, A’tel finds to his way to a small hanger where an Aethersprite is parked. An older Lurmen Jedi named Loo Mae Wyn is waiting there and confronts A’tel with the fact that Wyn had followed him from the Majestic and was eavesdropping the previous day when A’tel instructed his astromech to leave a false trail. Wyn tries to convince A’tel to remain with the Order and not to be swayed by his attachment to his friends, arguing that “they do not feel bound to you the way you feel bound to them.” A’tel explains that he can no longer believe in an order that sends Clone ‘children’ in to fight wars for them and that there are better ways to comprehend the nature of the Force than that chosen by the Jedi Order. Wyn sadly shakes his head and says he will not try to stop A’tel from leaving, but that the now-former Jedi should turn over his lightsaber. A’tel accedes and then returns to Monnder.
When Arresta returns to her townhouse, she finds the household already preparing for departure. Since he is aware that she is leaving, Stefan has decided that there is little point to him and Allegra remaining on Etti IV. He suggests to his wife that since the Corporate Sector is rather clinical and the Republic is in the midst of a bloody civil war, the Hapes Consortium or the Centrality may prove better places to raise Allegra. Arresta is pleased with the idea, but does not like the idea of her husband and daughter beginning such a journey without her. She tries to convince Stefan to wait for her, but he has already made up his mind. Instead, he agrees to leave word for her with shared contacts on both Tannab and Coruscant so that when her journey ‘to help her sick Uncle’ is over she can rejoin her family. Arresta agrees and while Stefan supervises the packing, she checks on the baby and investigates the expensive mobile that Stefan purchased. As far as she can tell, it is perfectly ordinary. The Cassadine family spends their last day together for some time as a family, sending Arresta’s trunks over to The Flaming Halo with two of Stefan’s guards so that they can put off their parting for as long as possible.
Lucef receives Arresta’s luggage and attempts to surreptitiously unlock one of the trunks to see what’s inside. However, his attempt to pick the lock not only fails, it leaves deep grooves etched into the metal. In an attempt to cover his tracks, Lucef hoists the trunk over his head and throws it down hard on the deck plating to try and make it look like the trunk was damaged during transport—an idea that might have worked, except for the fact that the force of the impact sets off one of the hold-out pistols inside and the resulting blast blows a large hole in the side of the trunk. Lucef decides to slide the damaged side of the trunk against a wall in Arresta’s quarters and hope for the best.
Meanwhile, Daal and A’tel decide to interrogate the man they caught attempting to steal data from the ARC. They douse him with liquor and take him to a hotel, pretending that their prisoner is a drunk friend. After bribing the desk clerk not to call the Espos to investigate, A’tel and Daal are able to get a room. A’tel decides that it would be best to use intimidation on the non-cooperative prisoner. The former Jedi attempts to frighten the prisoner into compliance by massaging his heart with the Force, but such a risky technique fails in a predictable way: the man goes into cardiac arrest! With no medical kit and little training in cardiopulmonary resuscitation, they decide that the only way their prisoner is going to survive is if they call for emergency medsupport. Daal is frustrated and departs immediately, while A’tel stays around and makes sure that the man receives assistance. He successfully conceals his identity from the Espos and then makes his way out of the hotel.
Daal and A’tel separately travel to The Flaming Halo and retreat to their separate quarters. Shortly before the scheduled departure, Stefan and Allegra escort Arresta to the docking bay. Arresta is emotional and Stefan’s attempts to soothe her by telling her to hurry so she doesn’t miss too much of Allegra’s babyhood twists the knife in her heart. She kisses her husband good-bye and heads off on her secret mission to rescue her former lover.
After receiving clearance to depart Etti IV, the group consults with Captain Sen Diablo and decide that Arresta’s intuition about where Tarn is located is not precise enough to risk a direct jump. Instead, the ship will take several smaller jumps to get closer and gauge the accuracy of her insight.
Five days in hyperspace pass quickly, punctuated only by Arresta’s conflicted emotional state, as demonstrated by her bursting into tears when A’tel casually notes that, given the time-jump they experienced while searching for Tarn last time, she could return to find her daughter a grown woman. Daal examines the blaster and the harness taken from the ARC spy. He determines that the harness is beyond repair, but that the blaster fires silent, invisible bolts and has enough power left for six shots (fuelled by a rare gas from Orto Plutonia).
The Flaming Halo drops out of hyperspace near Reecee and docks at a run-down orbital refuelling station. Lucef goes in search of supplies requested by his passengers, who mostly stay on board out of fear they will face arrest by Republic agents. A’tel borrows several thousand credits from Arresta in order to find the necessary parts to build a new lightsaber. Unfortunately, the only crystal he is able to find is a cracked, synthetic gem that would only power a lightsaber intermittently. The former Jedi also spends a few credits to buy a dubious star map of the Arkanian Nebula from a pick-pocket.
The next stop is the planet Arkania itself, a world covered in tundra and ice. The ship sets down in the capital city Adascopolis and the crew is able to stretch their legs and briefly explore a planet know for technological innovation, the high cost of goods and services, and a culture that openly and arrogantly believes it is superior to all others. Arresta connects to the planet’s intranet, where she is able to track down a masterwork jeweller who is willing to act as a consultant for a substantial fee. The haughty jeweller is able to confirm Jocasta’s claim that the bracelet, when activated will provide a short (5-10 minute) energy shield and will also send a distress call to a pre-programmed signal. After an additional exorbitant payment is rendered, the jeweller is able to isolate the signal built into the bracelet Arresta wears and add Stefan’s comlink frequency. A’tel takes advantage of the jeweller’s presence to purchase another potential lightsaber crystal. Noticing this, Arresta buys another crystal and asks A’tel to manufacture a second lightsaber, which she intends as a gift for Tarn.
Later that same day, The Flaming Halo lifts off and enters hyperspace on a course which they hope will take them into a small “eddy” in the massive Arkanian Nebula, a massively-dense and unchartable collection of ice, rock, and corrosive gases that has proven historically impenetrable to explorers.
Five days into the voyage, disaster strikes. The combination of Arresta’s intuition and Daal’s vague memories is not precise enough and the ship is yanked out of hyperspace by a terrifying gravity well: a black hole! Fortunately, the ship is far enough away from the black hole’s center that it is easily able to escape the event horizon. Still, The Flaming Halo’s hull has buckled in several places and extensive repairs are required.
With Daal having patched things up as best he can, the ship resumes course. A’tel is able to complete construction of a new lightsaber for himself and a spare lightsaber for Tarn.
This time the ship drops safely out of hyperspace and into a small “clearing”, with the swirling Arkanian Nebula all around. Arresta’s lingering connection with Tarn is sufficient for her to point out a small planet in the distance. Before the ship can reach it, however, strange clumps of spinning, metallic orbs appear and head on an intercept course for the The Flaming Halo. Sen Diablo manages to temporarily outrun the orbs by diverting all energy to the ion drives and flying straight through corrosive tendrils of the Nebula. With clever piloting (and orbs still in pursuit), The Flaming Halo breaches the outer atmosphere of a small rocky planet and skims the surface of a black, jagged, blasted landscape.