Saturday, November 29, 2014

And we'll see no more of giants

What is death but a traversing of eternities and a crossing of cosmic oceans?
 - Robert E. Howard

Most of people I am in touch with via social media are aware, but if anyone hadn't heard yet - my father, Richard McNamee, passed away on Wednesday morning.

He was 83. The only way I can describe it was that it was medically unexpected, but in hindsight, there were signs & portents. A few coincidences, and he seemed to get more serious about being prepared for such an event over the past year. Whether he just knew the odds or something was guiding him - well, that's all to what and how much you believe. 

He was in the hospital for other ailments - none which were thought to be critical. We were assured that his heart was strong through all of it. But, there must have been a blood clot lurking. The nurse told my mother that he was in good spirits one moment and then gone (heart attack) the next.

Folks have been asking after us and our Mom. I'd say we're okay as can be expected. My Mom is the most stoic person I think any of us know. As stunned by his death as we might be, we are all equally stunned by her unwavering, unblinking acceptance that my father is with ancestors and passed friends now. And she is "thrilled for him" that he went suddenly and didn't linger.

I also know that yes - he died the day before Thanksgiving and the day before my birthday, it could be a very dark time. But thankfully, my head isn't going there. I consider the birthday a passing of the torch, and Thanksgiving for his long life and everything he gave us.

We're waiting on final obituary proof and I can link to that once it gets published. And also, as time goes own, share happier stories of his life.

His wake & funeral will be combined affair on Tuesday morning.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Doctor Who month

Last year was the 50th anniversary of the first broadcast of Doctor Who. That makes this November the 51st anniversary, and there wasn't any of the hoopla. The eighth series of the 'new' show wrapped up early in the month, and things got quiet.

I decided -  Whovian that I am - to explore some other areas of Doctor Who this month. I read two novels and listened to one of the audio-dramas from Big Finish.

The Dalek Generation by Nicholas Briggs

The Daleks benevolent? The Dalek Foundation, creating habitable worlds for throngs of human beings? An entire generation raised up believing the Daleks are rarely-seen philanthropes? What are the Daleks really up to?  That is the mystery the (11th) Doctor must solve.

Briggs has a good handle on describing the 11th Doctor in prose. That was a strong point. The Doctor did not feel like a placeholder, or a rewritten different Doctor. He rang true as the 11th Doctor.

Ironically, the issues I have with the story are the Daleks. The plot is a fun conceit, and it is impishly enjoyable to read as the Daleks behave, engage in bureaucracy and simmer under the surface just dying to let loose with guns and screams of "Exterminate!"  The trouble is, because of that setup, there isn't a whole lot of Dalek action in the story.

The Daleks' villainous plot is another weak point. It's vague, at best. A bit of hand-waving (sucker arm waving?) at the end. Some great power (unexplained what) will cause massive galactic changes (unexplained how.)

It is a fairly fun, quick read to pass the time - as long as you don't analyze it too much.

Engines of War by George Mann

Through a bit of creative retroactive continuity, it was revealed during last year's anniversary barrage, that there had been one regeneration of the Doctor that shunned the name of "Doctor." He became a soldier and a warrior who directly engaged the Daleks in the great Time War. In the end, it was he who destroyed both the Daleks and the Time Lords, to put an end to the war.

That 'other' Doctor (or, 'War Doctor') was played by John Hurt and only appeared briefly in one episode, and then was a central part of the anniversary special that followed.

This novel gives a look into that Doctor, and also events that drove him to such genocidal actions. Engines of War is a very good story that pulls together various threads of two episodes - "The End of Time" and "The Day of the Doctor." In addition there are plenty of other references for the fans without coming off as poor fan fiction.

The Daleks' villainous plot(s) are well realized. The Time Lords, too, have their own maniacal plans to halt the Dalek advance - even if it means sacrificing billions of people to succeed. Plenty of murderous, dangerous Dalek action, too.

Can the Doctor stop the Daleks, and the Time Lords, and still come out ahead?

I liked this one, a lot. One of the best Doctor Who novels I have read.

The Light At The End (audio)

While the BBC were creating their own anniversary special last year, the folks over at Big Finish audio came out with their own celebratory story, too.

The Master, the Doctor's arch-enemy renegade Time Lord, has thrown all laws of time out the window. He crosses his own future (the Master here being played as an incarnation from the past) and sets a trap that causes the Doctor to meet his previous incarnations, tearing apart his own timeline and history in the process.  Can the Doctors unite and escape the ultimate trap before the Doctor himself is wiped from all time & space?

This was fun. The story meshes the Doctors together very smoothly. Of course, a story like this could be a convoluted, confused time travel story, but the causality plot-line is not overly complex. The reveals are well-paced enough to keep the mysteries engaging. The Doctor actors play off each other very well. There are even actors performing good mimic to the voices of the first three Doctor actors who have passed on.

A very fun romp.  Well done.

Monday, November 17, 2014

recent reads; digital graphic novels

I read through a lot of digital comics this weekend. Much easier than reading prose when multitasking, a.k.a. minding kids.

Gotham by Gaslight (A Tale of the Batman)

Not steampunk, but a Victorian take on a late 19th century Gotham with a prowling Batman, Jack the Ripper and art by Mike Mignola. Who could say no? It was good, though I guessed who was the Ripper fairly early on. Good twist with Bruce Wayne nearly at the gallows for the crimes, which did make for a suspenseful moment - perhaps in this alternate world Bruce/Batman would turn out to be a mad murderer? You'll need to read this one to see for yourself.

The Tower Chronicles: (Volume1) Geisthawk

John Tower, investigator/mercenary for hire when you have a supernatural problem. The art by Simon Bisley is excellent. All manners of creatures pop up along the way; vengeful ghosts, vampires, kobolds, demons. Tower also has a history with a secret society, The Brotherhood of the Rose, who weave their unwelcome threads along his immortal history. I am looking forward to reading the second series.

Buck Rogers, Volume 1 Future Shock

This was fun. This Buck Rogers ends up in a future where men are meat and intelligent animals, "The Pack, threaten mankind. All the while he must also discover who he is and what to make of himself in the new world. Lots of pulpy fun here. Flight suits, spaceships, atomzier pistols., etc.

Buck Rogers, Volume 2 Brave New World

The fact that I kept going onto Volume 2 immediately should tell you that I did indeed enjoy Volume 1.

This followup had even more space opera derring-do. Instead of one enemy, Buck goes from breathless adventure to breathless adventure. He saves the world from underground mutants, air pirates, and rogue robots on the moon.

I don't know what became of this series. Volume 2 ends on a cliffhanger with the promise Rogers will be back. Of course, that was back in 2010. I can't even find these listed at Comixology for sale anymore. I don't know if something fell through with the rights. (There is a new, retro Buck Rogers now from Hermes Press with art by Howard Chaykin.) Too bad. I would have continued with the Dynamite storyline it if it kept going.

Trinity (Superman / Batman / Wonder Woman)

A stand-alone tale of the famous trio's first team-up. In this story, Batman and Superman know each other, but Wonder Woman is a new arrival. A mystery villain recruits a rogue amazon and frees Bizarro from the Antarctic ice (where Luthor put his failed experiment for safekeeping.) The hand is soon revealed to be Ra's al Ghul. He is on yet another mission to purge the world of the evil elements of mankind.

In addition to a decent villainous plot and heroes interplay, I appreciated that there wasn't a cliche "battle of heroes over a misunderstanding." When Wonder Woman first confronts Superman, thinking he is guilty of a crime committed by Bizarro, she uses diplomacy (appropriately enough) before any fisticuffs. Wonder Woman and Batman almost come to blows, but Superman keeps the peace. In other words, this is indeed a team, no "versus" here.

The one negative here was implication of Ra's al Ghul as a rapist. He threatens such on Wonder Woman and invades Themyscira making comments about Amazon "breeding stock." It seemed a bit ignoble of the character - but I'm not well-versed in the character's comic history, either.

Again, my highest compliment would be to see this one animated as a movie by DC/WB. I think it would be a fun one.

Overall, a good batch of stuff, I am happy to report.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Doctor Who; Series (Season) 8

(Note; UK television does "shows" that come in "series"; US does "shows" or "series" that come in "seasons")

I've debated writing a post about this, simply because I'm lazy and I believe my wordcount could be better spent.  But as a long-time Whovian, I just wanted to sum up my thoughts on the latest Doctor Who season.

In my humble opinion, it was not a good season.

There were some good moments, and even some good episodes. I can name my top three or even top five of the season. The problem is that it would not be a list of gradual decline. There is a huge gulf between the ones I liked and the rest of the list.

My top episodes of the season were the ones where we got to see Peter Capaldi playing his Doctor to the fullest - not retreading past Doctor traits or playing second fiddle to other characters. Capaldi is an excellent Doctor. He did not fail - the writing did.

Not surprisingly, the ones I favor also had minimal moments of rule breaking or world breaking. Often, the rule breaking was done just to sell a crazy idea.

Other people have noted this tendency of showrunner and head-writer, Steven Moffat. Some fans noted it early on as being problematic.  Personally I thought Moffat generally got away with it. But this time around, the plotting seemed either repetitive or muddled or inexplicable - sometimes all three. It seemed that not only was Moffat going for the "crazy splash page," he was also going for big visuals (e.g.; Cybermen coming out of graves) and "moments." But to arrive at those visuals, concepts and moments, the plotting often contradicted character and established "rules" of Doctor Who. Characters (companions and the Doctor) were grossly inconsistent from episode to episode.

Moffat has also mentioned the (not unusual) idea that the companions are our window to the Doctor. Because he is alien, we need their viewpoint. That is a fair analysis. What I don't buy is when Moffat goes to the next level and states that the show is really about the companions. No, no it isn't. The Sarah Jane Adventures are about companions. Doctor Who is about, well, the Doctor.  To me, Moffat really pushed that concept too far this season. I am not the only one who felt like we were watching The Clara Oswald Show, guest starring the Doctor.

By the time I watched the season finale, I didn't even feel like I had watched an episode of Doctor Who. All the elements were there - UNIT, the TARDIS, the Doctor, Cybermen. But the parts did not add up to the sum.

Too much style over substance. Too many gimmicks. (Nicholas Kaufmann sums up my own feelings about the 2-part finale quite well, btw.)

Some people seem to have enjoyed the season. Power to them, but I just don't see it.

My favorite of moment of the season - and even with all this season's faults, perhaps one of my top ten Doctor Who moments  - occurred during the episode, "Into the Dalek." The Doctor speaks to a Dalek;

"You see all those years ago, when I began, I was just running. I called myself the Doctor, but it was just a name. Then I went to Skaro. And then I met you lot. And I understood who I was. The Doctor was not the Daleks!"

It was an insightful character moment that harkened back the very first encounter between the Daleks and the original Doctor.

I wish Series 8 had more of that.

Monday, November 10, 2014

recent read; Fantastic Four: The Life Fantastic

After my local comic shop's 50%-off sale for Halloween, I resolved to slow down my print purchases for a while until I read through my ridiculous backlog of reading material.

Then the store acquired a huge collection and put up another big sale over this past weekend!

I am weak. I came away with 12 books. The prices were a steal.

After the usual horror and fantasy grabs, I made myself try some superhero titles. I don't read much Marvel, and I've been on the lookout for a Hulk storyline that interests me. Of course, that was the one thing the collection didn't have much of.

I did wind up with this one - Fantastic Four: The Life Fantastic. I am not a huge FF fan but I thought with the Hulk it might be interesting. Turns out that it contains four short stories - it's not just the Hulk story.

Also, to be different, I read it this weekend instead of putting it in the "to be read" bookcase.

I enjoyed the Hulk FF tale a lot. It helps that the writer was J. Michael Straczynski. The other stories featured other writers. The second tale was a 40th anniversary special. Not much going on but it was fun and even had 'cameos' by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby. The third story features a battle of wits and wills between Reed and Doctor Doom, and I found that again, I was pleasantly surprised and I liked it. The final tale was one of time travel and causality. It took a while to get going, but once it did I thought it was well done. Bonus for a Lovecraftian moment. (literally - the word "Lovecraftian" was used!)

I don't know if I would have bought the book new but in a 3 for $10 pile, it was worth it.