Monday, June 21, 2010

Bad movies and boxer shorts

Father's Day, and I'm truly touched. My family loves and appreciates me, of that there is no doubt. How did they choose to show that this year? Well, my wife asked me what I'd like, and I replied that I wanted some new boxer shorts. Please excuse my vulgarity, but that was my answer. That, and I also let her know that I would be ordering a new roleplaying game in the coming days (see below).

From my sons, I received the following:
  • the second expansion to Munchkin Cthulhu
  • Little Debbie's version of Twinkies
  • two decks of Yu-Gi-Oh cards
  • two really awesome greeting cards about farts
Now, the details:
  1. Munchkin Cthulhu 3: Unspeakable Vaults - This purchase means that there are only three fragments of the Munchkin franchise that we do not own: Munchkin 6: Demented Dungeons, Munchkin 7: More Good Cards and the one my wife & I really want, The Good, The Bad, and the Munchkin (western themed game). We are marketable that way. Hmm. I never noticed the similarity of "marketable" and "mark" before. We even have the new 'boosters' "Fairy Dust" and "Waiting for Santa", although the boys don't know it yet!
  2. Little Debbie snack cakes - This was a very thoughtful gift from my oldest, but the story behind it pisses me off; see my supplemental post on the subject.
  3. Yu-Gi-Oh - My sons each selected a pre-built YuGiOh Structure Deck for me from their vast collections. This way, I have two decks with which to practice my combat gaming. I'm up against two experts here, so this gift is a very gracious gesture on their parts. They want to make it easy for me to join in their hobby; I love it.

For me, Father's Day wouldn't be complete without a couple of bad horror movies. I treated myself to the newest episodes of Doctor Who, which, this season, is falling deeply into the abyss of suck. I also took in the scifi time warp movie Triangle. It was better than I expected, once you accept the fact that it's about a temporal anomaly, and therefore not likely to stand up to plot scrutiny. I also watched American Psycho 2, but I really don't want to talk about it.

My other Father's Day pursuit is the new RPG, Icons, by Steve Kenson, published by Adamant Entertainment. Kenson created this game to fill a void in the current array of superhero roleplaying games. While there are several great game systems out there for supers roleplaying (namely, Mutants & Masterminds), there weren't any games out there to address the need for "pick up" gaming - being able to roll in with friends and spontaneously play a superhero RPG.

Icons fixes this. Steve Kenson based this game on elements that he liked from all the various older games from the 80's and 90's. The thing I like best are random character generation and roleplaying Aspects (taken from the FATE system). I'll probably wax more poetically on this in the future, after I have a hard copy of the new game.

Now reading & drinking: Bimbos of the Death Sun and Legend Brewery's Brown Ale

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Oh Nikola Tesla, where have you gone?

Nikola Tesla was the greatest mind America has ever seen. It's a fact! Directly because of him, we have cheap and efficient electricity in our homes, we have broadcast radio, and we could’ve had particle beam weapons if only the military would’ve taken on his contract.

One of the coolest things he invented was broadcast power. He built a transmitter (look up Wardenclyffe Tower) in New York that could’ve powered the entire city easily. But then his earlier patents expired, reducing his royalties and thus his primary source of funding for the project. And once they realized that broadcast power meant *free* power, his other backers dropped out.

What I’m saying is that in 1900, Nikola Tesla almost gave us broadcast power, and broadcast wireless telecommunications. If Tesla had the support he needed, we could've had widespread 3G phone coverage, Wifi everywhere, and wireless power in place everywhere by 1950. Now, sure, the consumer technology wouldn't have been ready by then, but that infrastructure would have spurred on its development.

Which means we also would surely have jetpacks by now.

Coincidentally, after his death, the US military seized all of Tesla’s research notes and laboratories. And no doubt locked them away in a secure facility guarded by “Top Men.”

So that’s why we don’t have jetpacks and lightsabers. That’s why we’re only now getting handheld computers and smartphones. And that’s why I have to drag that danged power cord from room to room with my laptop, causing me to repeatedly trip over it, snag it on furniture, and nearly drop my beloved computer. And THAT’s why my ankle hurts.

Now drinking: Pyramid's Audacious apricot ale (theirs are good summer beers) while listening to Rob Zombie's Educated Horses 

Friday, June 11, 2010

Goblin Quest

Book review 2010.10

Author: Jim C. Hines

Goblin Quest came to me as a recommendation from someone on an e-mail group. I don't often read the fantasy genre because it seems that the standard tropes are hard to break away from so it tends to feel like the same old derivative story. But this one is different. Yes, it is just another story of a character journey; one person's transformation from unimportant peon to dramatic hero.

But in this case, that character is a goblin. Jig is the nearsighted, runt of his tribe who gets no respect from his fellow goblins. One day he gets captured by a band of adventurers who are exploring the tunnels where his tribe lives, and then gets no respect from humans, dwarves and elves too.

Jig is somehow different from his fellow goblins. For one thing, he's observant. He pays attention to other people and understands their motivations. When he falls in with the adventurers, it would never occur to Jig, but we quickly see that he's probably the smartest member of the group. The group is led be a human prince who's ethics aren't very different from the typical goblin. The prince's brother, the party wizard, is half-crazed by his own power. The party's dwarven cleric is steadfast and uptight about his map-making. The party is rounded out with an elven thief who, like Jig, has been pressed into service by the prince.

At first Jig is awed by the level of fighting skill displayed by the adventurers and how they work as a team in combat. Of course, combat is about the only way they function as a team. We get to see the inter-party dynamics of a typical group of "heroes" who are on a major quest to recover an eons-lost magic item of wondrous power. And this group has issues.

The setting of the story is as interesting as the characters. It's a dungeon crawl of the most traditional sense. The dangers grow stronger as the party delves deeper, until they finally reach the monster at the end of the book. Then a hero is born as Jig rises to the challenge of becoming an adventurer in his own right.

Without getting into specifics of the story, in Goblin Quest, Hines turns the fantasy genre upside down. Here, adventuring groups are a dime a dozen, always wandering into the goblin tunnels and causing trouble. The goblins don't mind so much because it gives them something to do and makes for fresh meat in the communal stew pot. Through Jig's eyes, Hines explains why goblins are always nothing more than fodder for the standard adventuring group's sword practice. It's all due to goblin culture and attitude.

Goblin Quest was a lot of fun to read. The story is interesting, and the characters and setting are fresh takes on the standard fare. Even the evil necromancer gets a juicy twist. Hines' writing style is easy to read and he delivers lots of story details without using tons of exposition. The information flows from Jig's observations and interactions of the characters. Hines masterfully lets the characters' actions speak for themselves to tell us about their personalities and at no point does he have to tell us what kind of person a character is. I look forward to the other two books in the series.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Voyages of the Pyramid Builders

Book review 2010.09

Author: Robert M. Schoch

One of my other passions has always been anthropology. If my university had offered it, it would've been one of my several majors, maybe even the one I got a degree in. In this book, Schoch synthesizes an incredible amount of historical and anthropological data to create a picture of history that is far-seeing and, well, just frikkin' neat.

The first chapter covers the high incidence of pyramids located all over the world. Then Schoch moves into comparing the myths of the many pyramid-building cultures to build a ground work for his later discussions.

Apparently, if you're not a professional anthropologist, archaeologist, or historian of the ancient world, there is lots you don't know about ancient cultures and how they spread around the world. Schoch spends lots of time discussing the accepted theories of the spread of peoples into the North America, and then discusses what the evidence shows. It's WAY more interesting than crossing the Bering land bridge.

There's a lot of information collected in this book. Personally, I thought that the author spends a little too much time showing how ancient peoples could've traveled and related with one another. Just when I was getting bored, he moved into chapter eight, which is the crux of his presentation. Essentially, his theory for why people originally settled the Americas has as much to do with comets and meteors as it does with hunting and gathering. While Schoch does wax poetic on occasion, he incorporates geological data, mythology, and physical evidence to support every statement he makes.

After a deep and very believable treatise on ancient cultures and their pyramids, Schoch then sets all that explanation aside as the set up for his closing remarks: If we're only now in this modern era learning how culturally advanced and well-traveled our ancient ancestors were, couldn't it be possible that THEY had ancient ancestors of their own? Even older civilizations and cultures who influenced THEIR growth and development.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and have done enough prior research that not everything hit me out of left field. I recommend it for all of my friends who are into cultural anthro or ancient history. He knows who he is.