Wednesday, May 28, 2008

My Electrogrammaphonic Recording Collection Adventure

When I first came to the place of my current residence, I resolved to go down to my local merchant in audioautorecords and buy a new electrogrammaphonic recording with every paycheck I got. Rather than taking the usual route and seek out albums that I knew to be good, or at least from artists I enjoyed, I decided to take a rather more puckish approach to it. I decided to buy albums based entirely on four criteria:

  1. Cover artwork
  2. Band name
  3. Album title
  4. Song titles
Another rule was that I could not have heard of the band previously.

The result was quite fun, though obviously rather draining on my bank account and time-consuming to boot. I have therefore let the project slip of late, and now I think that it is time to finally put the whole thing to rest. So, as a sort of send-off, here are the albums I purchased, in order and with commentary:

Inquisition - Into the Infernal Regions of the Ancient Cult

Best Song Title: Mighty Wargod of the Templars (Hail Baphomet)

This one was chosen with the help of my associate bluefish, who was visiting at the time. Great album and band names, and songs like "Summoned by Ancient Wizards Under a Black Moon." Unfortunately, the songs themselves aren't quite up to snuff, and on closer inspection the cover art looks like something from the cover of a high schooler's notebooks. Not the strongest start.

Pig Destroyer - Painter of Dead Girls

Best Song Title: Blank Dice

This one is an absolute gem in terms of both album title and band name. I also thought that I was doing well when I saw no less than seventeen songs on the back: if the band was less than stellar, at least I'd be getting a lot of music for the money. Unfortunately, the songs are rarely even a minute in length, and the whole album is not even twenty minutes long.

However, one nice surprise was that their book of lyrics, which clearly has no connection with what they are singing, has some very imaginative and disturbing poems in it. I especially enjoyed Rejection Fetish.

At this point, I was seriously considering giving up the whole enterprise....

Amebix - Arise!

Best Song Title: Axeman I cheated somewhat, and got one that was recommended by the people at the store. Amebix turned out to be quite a solid blend of punk and metal, and a fine addition to the collection. The cover is also excellent: just shady enough to make out the weapons flourished by the people in silhouette. Classy! This is the first of my purchases that I have saved permanently to my computational engine.

Trivium - Ascendancy

Best Song Title: Pull Harder on the Strings of Your Martyr

I later discovered that one of my friends knew of this band, much to my chagrin. Nevertheless, I had never heard of them, so it's a fair purchase. I should also point out that this was bought with the help of two of my friends who, to the best of my knowledge, do not have blogs, so I cannot link to them in thanks.

Their sound is sadly generic, being neither good nor bad.

God Forbid - Gone Forever

Best Song Title: Soul Engraved

This one wasn't a true entry, as it was bought concurrently with Ascendancy. It was also disqualified for having a cover that was, while awesome, too "classy" and not "metal" enough. ("Metal" in this case defined as "something to play Dungeons & Dragons to")

I found them to be about as generic as Trivium, or even more so. Still, not bad.

Wolves in the Throne Room - Two Hunters

Best Song Title: I Will Lay Down My Bones Among the Rocks and Roots

Besides having, hands down, the best name for a band in this list, Wolves in the Throne Room is also my favorite album to listen to. With only four songs, they still manage to clock in 46:16 of sound. Now that's metal! Their sound is probably the most melodic of the group, starting the album with the sound of rain.

Mastodon - Blood Mountain

Best Song Title: Bladecatcher

Rounding out the list is Mastodon, another surprisingly good album. I think that, in the end, what really killed the project was the knowledge that I had gotten lucky with the last two and ended up with better albums than I should have, which led to the realization that I would probably not be as lucky again. Well, that and the expense, of course. This album was used, and therefore mercifully cheap; if you can find it thusly, I would very much recommend you to give it a chance.

So what have I learned? Choose one of the following proverbs to finish:
  • You can't judge a book...
  • A fool and his money...
Do you have any suggestions of albums that you would recommend based entirely on their presentation?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Steampunk: Victorian or Post-Apocalyptic?

Based on my limited knowledge of the subject of steampunk as a subculture, I believe that there are two distinct versions of steampunk. One of them takes place in an alternate past, in mid-to-late 19th Century Europe. In this version of the past, advances in science took place that never occurred in our real past, leading to a predominance of airships, steam-powered robots, and other engineering marvels. The other takes place in a possible future, one in which people have run out of or are unable to get to more usual sources of energy such as oil and nuclear power, and are therefore forced to turn back to steam power as a way to fuel their devices. I suppose there might be another take on this, in which people voluntarily give up other forms of fuel in favor of the simpler, more abundant alternative that coal provides.

If you know me, you know which group I stand with. To me, it is not truly steampunk unless it's Victorian. A large part of what I like about steampunk is the British and Victorian sensibility of it. That's not to say that it absolutely has to happen in England; after all, Jules Verne was hardly British, was he? You could even have Oriental adventures, perhaps with clockwork geishas made of wood and paper. But it's important that, somewhere, Queen Vic is sitting on her throne (or speaking to an advisor, or strolling the garden, or inspecting the thousand-foot-long airship that bears her name, or...)

If you're a fan of the postapocalyptic setting, you might suggest that, in the future, people decide to go back to Victorian modes of dress, speech, and culture. This just doesn't work for me. It's implausible, for one, and it's not genuine. Why have people recreating Victorian things when you can simply set your story in Victorian times?

So there you go. That's just my take on it, of course. In any case, it was something I felt like addressing. As usual, I welcome any ideas you might like to share.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Last Exile: Being a Review Replete with Sarcasm

As the heavenly bodies shift in their spheres, making their eternal music, they occasionally come into alignment, and that alignment can have a major effect on our lives. Sometimes, it means that gibbering madness strikes the mind of a great man, and he begins making gargantuan brass automatons to bring death and destruction to the world. Sometimes, it means that the mystical realm of the faerie is brought close to our world, and the diabolical workings of the dying species of "good people" wreaks havoc on our advanced civilization. Sometimes, it allows creatures of vile dimensions to pour forth onto our unguarded world, bringing terrors with them too dark for the human mind to hold. And sometimes, it means that I spend my evenings in front of my computational engine, watching a programme until I have exhausted its line entirely. This was the case recently. The elements brought into alignment were:
  • Consecutive image magic lantern shows from the mysterious Orient, also known as "Anime series;"
  • Steampunk, which you, my esteemed colleagues, are all familiar with;
  • Dr. Cornelius Netflix's "Watch It Now" device
When these three things came together, they formed a phenomenon known as "Last Exile." Add to it a projected rating of over four stars on Dr. Netflix's "Rate-O-Scale" and I really had no choice about watching the show.

This review owes a huge debt of gratitude to the wonderful Vanship Soaring site, which is where I found most of the images for this review!
First, my initial reaction: fans of some of the more well-known aspects of Steampunk will be disappointed to know that there are no lighter-than-air craft in Last Exile. No balloons, no dirigibles, no zeppelins to be found. Nor are there ornithopters, autogyros, or even those ingenious fixed-wing aircraft that seem to be all the rage. Instead, we have heavy airships that clearly owe more to World War II-era battleships than to anything from the Age of Steam. There are also the so-called "vanships," smaller two-man vehicles that look like bobsleds with lightbulb filaments attached underneath.

I do hope you like the idea of a vanship, because, believe you me, you will be seeing many of them.

Readers who are familiar with typical anime plotlines will not be surprised to discover that the hero of the story is a spunky, courageous, but occasionally lazy and emotional young man. This one goes by the name of Claus Valka, and like so many other anime heroes before him, he is completely unremarkable except for his courage and his one amazing talent that just happens to coincide exactly with the one talent the plot calls for its hero to have. In this case, that talent is vanship piloting.

Our hero is joined by Lavie, the spunky redhead who has been his friend since they were tiny children and who serves as his mechanic. If I have to inform you that she is harboring romantic feelings toward our hero, you really are not paying enough attention.

During the course of the story, these two come across an adorable little orphan named Alvis (called "Al" throughout the show). She was being rushed via vanship on a top-secret mission when the vanship got shot down. Our heroes take it upon themselves to complete the dying pilot's mission and deliver her to Alex Row, captain of the notorious independent ship known as the "Kill 'Em All" Silvana.

Now that the cute child quota for anime has been fulfilled, the heroes face the latest challenge: Guild ships are looking for Al, and they must see that she is delivered safely to Alex Row. If you were hoping for chunky pistons, exposed engines, and billowing steam coming from the Guild ships, you will be saddened to hear that the Guild's technology is outrageously advanced. Their fighters look like four-pointed stars and can fly just as well flat side-forward as they can in more traditional aeroplane-like alignment. They also transform into walking robots when they land on something, which they do often.

Our heroes get Alvis safely delivered to Alex (now might be a good time to mention that there is a minor character named Alister). However, they decide that they must keep Alvis safe and remain to watch out for her. After all, Alex's ship, the Silvana, is black, as is his uniform, and we're sure it didn't get the name "Kill 'Em All" because it has state-approved day-care facilities.

It turns out that Alvis is the key to something called Exile, which explains why everyone is after her. Like any good anime Macguffin, Exile is mysterious and powerful and nobody is quite sure what it is. What they do know is that they want it.

I mentioned in passing the black uniform of the Silvana crew. Well, let us take a closer look:

Let me remind you that, despite the sinister appellation of their vessel, these are the show's heroes. Most of the other characters have appropriate 19th-Century naval uniforms, but apparently when you're the brooding captain of a rogue vessel, you can make your own dress code. Brooding is, after all, what Alex does best. He's doing his part to fill that anime quota, by the way.

While I am on the topic of dress code, I should say something about the Silvana's Vice-Captain, Miss Sophia. If you will excuse me for saying so, she does manage to make that uniform look quite fetching. Ahem!

Also joining the crew of the Silvana is a rogue Guild noble, Lord Dio, with his servant Luciola. Dio may have flown on the enemy's side, but he decides that Claus is more interesting, so he will hang around on the Silvana for a while. Despite being far and away the creepiest main character on the show, Dio somehow manages to be likable with his childlike enthusiasm for things.

The show continues with plenty of drama, heroism, and flying. We get more characters, such as the show's villain, Delphine, who also happens to be Dio's sister and Alex's nemesis. We also get Vincent, a secondary character who at least manages to put some effort into his Steampunk wardrobe.

I'm glad someone got the memo.

The show, for all its impressive graphics (it boasts some of the best animation I have seen), somehow never gets around to explaining what has really happened. I will avoid posting spoilers, but I will only warn you that you should be willing to take a lot on faith.

The show delivers on some Steampunk elements, while completely lacking others. Goggles, you will be happy to hear, are found in abundance, as are gauges and clockwork. Connoisseurs of engines will be disappointed to learn that the show's main power source is Claudia, which is a mystical blue liquid created by the Guild. We get precious little shots of engines in action, gears grinding, piston stamping, etc. We do get 19th-Century-inspired uniforms, which is nice.

So, in the end, it's an entertaining show, and well worth looking into if goggles and flying machines are your cup of tea. I will continue to keep an eye out for interesting Steampunk shows and movies, and bring you my thoughts on them as I get to them! Cheerio!

Super Con

I'm going to completely break character for this one and simply rave for a while.

I just got back from Super Con a little while ago, and it was an awesome experience. Not because of all the people in costumes. There was a creepy portly guy dressed as Speed Racer and a dude in a Predator costume that looked like it was made by Nerf. It wasn't because of all the people selling comics, which seemed to be all the area comic book stores taking the opportunity to sell their back issues to excited fans. It wasn't because of all the no-name comic book artists who, though seriously talented, I had never heard of and therefore couldn't get excited about. It was because of the uncrowned (as far as I know) King of the Geeks: Wil Wheaton.

WIL WHEATON... has a hilarious blog!

WIL WHEATON... has written several awesome books!

WIL WHEATON... is the voice of all geeks!

WIL WHEATON... yes, he was Wesley Crusher on Star Trek!

Now, some obligatory pictures of me completely failing to keep my composure at the idea of having my picture taken with Wil Wheaton:

But it's not just that I got my picture taken with Wil Wheaton. It's that before and after the picture I got a chance to chat with him and hang out. Now, I had heard before that Wil Wheaton is awesome to meet and talk to and all that, but I really wasn't prepared for how easygoing and friendly he was.

We also saw him read from one of his books and his blog. The audience was disappointingly small, which led to my realization: when it comes to appearances like this, what's bad for the guest is good for the audience. To me, all I was thinking was how awesome it was that there weren't a lot of people around, because it meant that I could take every opportunity to talk to Wil Wheaton. To him, however it was disappointing, because he had to come all the way up here and then drive all the way down, and he probably didn't get to sell as much swag and meet as many people as he had hoped.

People actually walked out during his reading because the con people had scheduled the dude from Lost to appear at the same time, and when people realized that they were at the Wil Wheaton speech instead, they just stood up and left. All I can say is... whaaaaat? I'm sure the guy from Lost is hot (I'm not sure which guy from Lost it was, that's all I remember hearing: "That guy from Lost.") I'm sure he's more famous to mainstream audiences than Wil Wheaton. But at a convention, that shouldn't matter for beans. At a convention, geekdom should count, and nobody has more of that than Wil Wheaton.

Now, just so that I can pretend to have some semblance of Steampunk to this post, I should mention that I asked him if he likes Steampunk, to which he responded that he *loves* Steampunk, especially the Steampunk aesthetic and the Victorian feel of it. So there you go: Wil Wheaton is awesome. Enough said!

Monday, May 12, 2008

For Your Consideration: Some Links

For those of you who don't subscribe to Brass Goggles (for shame!), here is a link to a riotous video about steampunk ray guns. True, they only made it to promote their shamelessly overpriced product, but the video is so nifty that it's hard to complain.

Also, you should check out my two favorite articles of all time, just because I said so:
The 9 Most Badass Bible Verses
The 10 Most Insane "Sports" in the World

Finally, check out PMOG, a steampunk-style game you play by browsing the web! Quite ingenious, I must say.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Announcing the Newly Presented Trailer to Conflicts Among Solar Bodies: The Human Duplicate Campaigns

If you have not already seen the new trailer available on Mr. Lucas's web site, please stop reading this matter here immediately and click this link.

There has been quite a split among fans of the franchise about whether the animated shorts produced by Mr. Tartakovsky and now the computational device-generated successor to that seiries are worthy of the material that preceded them. Rubbish, I say! Star Wars has always been more than the movies. From the Holiday Special to the Ewoks movies to the cartoons dealing with the adventures of Droids and Ewoks, Star Wars has endured--and survived--some surprisingly poorly-made stuff over the years. Compared to those the "Clone Wars" cartoons are solid entertainment.

True, the quality of the episodes varied widely, from action-filled episodes glorying in stylized violence without a single line of dialog, to poorly-written time-wasters that neither moved the plot along nor developed the characters, the show had plenty to both attract and repel viewers. My hope lies in the stronger production these new CGI (Computationally Galvanelectrodized Image) episodes will have.

I, for one, am very much looking forward to them. I carry the original episodes about with my on my portable recored videogrammatophonic playback Pod, and I am counting down the days until I can see the new, doubtless superior episodes to come.

Mr. Lucas, you and I have had our differences in the past, and sharp words have been exchanged (though admittedly in only one direction, as Mr. Lucas has been quite a gentleman about not replying to the dreadful accusations I have made about him in unguarded moments). Nevertheless, I wish you the very best of luck in your undertaking.

Oh, and when you make the live-action series, you had better include Quinlan Vos and Vilmarh Grahrk, or else I will be forced to demand satisfaction.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Cup of Brown Joy Now to Be Found on Your Most Excellent Tube's Frontmatter Page!

Well, that says it all, really. Bravo, sir!

The Fourth Edition of "Subterranean Expeditions Among Draconidae"

A friend of mine who, like myself, is an enthusiast for the game "Subterranean Expeditions Among Draconidae" recently sent me a link detailing the rumors and previews that have been released for the fourth edition of that pastime.

I perused the information presented and found it to be quite a revelation. In truth, I found it ludicrous; a transparently derivative pap that so clearly appeals to a certain audience that it only needs "World of..." in the title to complete the transformation. I shall share here some of the most heinous of proposals (the emphases are mine):
  • The only difference in the classes are their ’special ability’ talent trees.
  • A wizard will never completely run out of spells.
  • One thing WotC is looking at having DMs decide how much total xp an encounter should and then “buying” monsters with that xp. In addition, there will be several types encounter, including chases and social encounters. There are going to be some actual mechanics to back these up.
  • Aggro will be core. (A creature will want to attack someone more then others)
  • Magic will be more prevalent to all classes.
  • The whole idea of powers.
  • Monsters will have different versions which will scale their difficulties. The different versions of monsters will be minion, standard, elite, and boss.
  • Tiefling and Dragonborn PC races.
  • Warlock and Warlord PC classes.
These things, quite frankly, ruin precisely the main appeal the game had over games played on elecrographological machines. The original game was strong in all of those places that had no rules; a player could affect the course of the game by insulting the king, seducing the princess, and making a deal with the ogre king to take over the kingdom. (Of course, such behavior is completely ungentlemanly and is not condoned in any way by this author!) Now it seems that the Wizards who Dwell on the Coast would like to attach rules to as many things as possible. Their reasoning? I imagine it is this: excitable, caffeine-addled players like rolling dice. Embarrassingly awkward children like using abilities with names like "Darktalon Blow" and "Eviscerating Strike." They care nothing for storytelling or having to spend five or more minutes without making a skill check.

I imagine that young people who grow up on this game will no longer excitedly tell their friends about how they fight dragons, solve riddles, get wondrous treasure and rule a kingdom. Instead, they will boast to their friends about the abilities they have selected to maximize the damage their characters can do. And we already have enough games like that, I believe.

Another thing that I fear is that the new edition of this once-beloved game will be turned into even more of an opportunity to sell their materialistic game of cheaply constructed, unreasonably priced sculpture tokens. This thought is enough to make me wish to stop this line of inquiry altogether. Good night!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Amateur Authors and Time Investment: Critical Mass

I recently completed a draft of a short story that I've been working on for a while, which got me thinking about what it's like being an amateur author. I decided that one of the things that separates amateur authors from the pros, aside from the fame, the money, and the talent, of course, is the difference between the amount of time it takes to generate a work and the amount of time that the work ends up entertaining others for.
Obviously, it takes more time to generate a piece of writing than it does to read it. A novel can take a novelist many months or even years of working several hours a day, and then be read in a couple of days by a fan. Every word that the author agonizingly pulls out of his or her brain and then revises and re-revises until it feels just right is quickly read over and digested by the reader, who happily traipses over the whole work and then moves onto the next thing.
Generally speaking, an amateur author spends more time writing something than the sum of the time spent by everyone who will ever read it. There is a deficit of time investment for the author. This makes sense, because we normally think of amateur authors as doing it "for fun." It doesn't matter that they create a deficit of entertainment time, because for them the act of creation should not be a chore, but entertainment in itself.
For a professional, however, writing is a job, not fun. The professional writer, however, has thousands of fans who read his or her work, and even though each individual reader will not spend as much time on the story as the author did, all together they will spend much more time reading and enjoying the work than the author spent creating it. There is therefore a surplus of time created; the author's investment of time spent writing has created a positive return on joy and happiness in the universe.
Writers therefore reach critical mass at the moment that their audience spends as much time reading the work as the author spent writing it. Let us throw out some arbitrary numbers that you should not analyze at all.
Let us suppose that it takes a hypothetical author an hour to write 1,000 words. With revising, copy editing, and time spent staring at the computer screen, let's say that the time drops to 500 words per hour. Now let us say that this author's novel is 80,000 words long. Ignoring the revision and editing process, it takes this author 160 hours to write the novel. Again, don't think about these numbers. I'm just throwing them out here.
Let us suppose that a reader can read 80 pages in an hour. Depending on the novel's genre and the writing style, this can vary enormously, but whatever. 80,000 words is about 320 pages, so it's going to take the reader four hours to breeze through the novel.
So now you see the math of it: it took the author 160 hours to create something that a reader gets through in only 4. That means that it takes the author 40 times as long to create the novel as it takes the reader to consume it. The novel must, therefore, be read 40 times for the author to break even on the time he or she invested in writing it, and when the 41st person reads it, the author will have made a contribution to the joy of the world.
It's taken me about half an hour to write this blog. Let's say that it takes three minutes to read. Can I get ten people to read it? I highly doubt it. Do me a favor anyway and send it to your friends. I would really be chuffed to think that I had made a contribution.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Tales of a Gentleman Encased in a Suit Made of Ferrous Material

This weekend I enjoyed the latest praxinoscopic-grammaphonic showing of Sir Jon of Favreau's latest work of moving pictures and associated sound recordings, entitled Iron Man. It was a most enjoyable time. Before the showing, I was just settling into my seat when I heard a distinguished lady from a nearby balcony observe to her friend, "So this is based on a work in the graphically presented adventure format." I thought the declaration to be quite apropos, though perhaps a connoisseur of the format as myself found it superfluously so.

The work itself was hugely enjoyable. Special mention must be made of the younger Robert Downey, whose talent was readily on display. The associated phantasmagoria was also overwhelmingly delightful. It is my belief that these "special effects" will catch on and be all the rage in coming years.

Persons attending the showing would do well to remain after the final symphonic presentation of names for an added treat. Followers of M. Millar's "The Ultimates" should be especially thrilled. I must confess that I found myself applauding at the final revelation.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Maker Faire

So it looks like, barring any attacks from ancient Atlanteans armed with crystal-powered electrocasters and hoversharks, I should be going to the Maker Faire tomorrow! If all goes according to plan. If I can drag myself out of bed. If I can figure out BART. If you really can get tickets at the door.

Now I'm just making myself nervous, so I'll leave it at that. With any luck, I'll have gobs of pictures here soon for all of you. Cheers!

EDIT: Dratted Atlantean hooligans! They seem to have thrown a wrench in the works. Ah well, one must keep a stiff upper lip and all that, wot wot?